Chapter 28: Nora (I)
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
I’d been following the news and was disheartened to see that the radical demonstrations had completely eclipsed Ned’s efforts to show the city the value of vampires as policemen. So I didn’t expect to see Ned again until that was over and the vampire cops could grab attention once again. Ned always hated to talk about a job half-done.
But I kept an ear open, and late on Friday night I heard Ned’s familiar call coming from the yard. Our parents were already in bed. Ever since Dad’s heart attack, he and Mom retired early, by 10 PM, and it was 10:45.
Detective Kammen’s warning had stuck with me. I grabbed a knife on the way out. I didn’t know what I could do against a vampire or sorcerer, especially if they already had trapped Ned, but I was ready to do whatever I could.
I got out behind the shed, and there was Ned, ready to give me a hug. He pulled back, looked at the knife in my hand, smiled at me and said, “Ready to put a knife into me?”
He was almost just like last time he visited. But I could tell something was wrong. His tone, his expression — he was hiding something, something that was bothering him. So I indicated we should sit down, and as soon as we were settled, I asked, “What’s wrong?”
He looked chagrined. “Is it that obvious? And here I was hoping I had a poker face.”
I had to laugh a little. My brother with a poker face? Never.
At least he took it in stride, seeing me laugh. He chuckled himself. “No, I suppose not. So for that, you get the good news first. The Chief of Police has sent me a message saying we can be reinstated, with me in charge.”
Oh, that brought a smile on! Reinstatement! Ned as the leader of the new police bureau! And then I had to keep the smile up deliberately, because I knew there had to be something, some sort of catch, if Ned was worried. So I reached over, took his hands in mine, and said, “That’s great! That’s everything you wanted!”
His smile was as half-hearted as mine. “Yeah, great. Thanks, Nora. But there are a few conditions. We won’t be a bureau, only a task force, and they’re only going to make me a lieutenant.”
“And?” I asked.
Ned hesitated, then answered, “We have to track down and kill Martha Fokker. She’s a cop killer, and the Chief says we can best show our fitness by dealing with a criminal vampire.”
I didn’t know how he would take it, but I had to ask, “Wasn’t Detective Kammen supposed to be tracking her down?”
Ned looked up at the sky, frustration written on his face, before he looked back at me. “He … something’s happened to him. Martha’s come back into the city, I don’t know where she’s based, and she told us he’d been in an accident and wouldn’t be rejoining us any time soon. She says she wasn’t responsible, but I have to wonder.”
A cold chill ran up and down my spine. Detective Kammen had warned me that he or Ned might disappear. And now he had, apparently at Martha’s hands. He’d feared something was going to go wrong. And it had.
I couldn’t understand my brother’s attitude toward Detective Kammen. He had fired Kammen, and I suspected he had chewed him out for seeing me, but Ned seemed genuinely sorry that something had happened to him. So I didn’t tell Ned what I planned for the next day.
The central library was open on Saturday mornings, and I walked right in toward the reference desk. And then I wondered exactly what I was supposed to do. Just mutter Kammen’s name under my breath? Shout it out? Ask the reference librarian? Who naturally saw me there, looking puzzled, and asked, “Do you need help?”
I colored with embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I was expecting to meet Detective Sherlock Kammen from the police department here. I didn’t mean to bother you.”
She gave me a censorious look. “That’s fine. But could you please step out of the way so I can help people with genuine questions?”
I must really have been blushing with shame. I walked away, muttering “Sherlock Kammen” over and over again, and looked for someplace nearby I could sit or stand inconspicuously without looking as if I were haunting the place. Five minutes of that and I caught the reference librarian looking at me again as if I were on the loose from a madhouse. I started to walk away, and almost bumped into this elderly woman standing in the hall. “I’m sorry,” I said.
She didn’t look pleased. “Some people should watch where they’re going,” she said. Then she got a good look at me. “Oh, you’re the O’Donnell girl. You’re supposed to come with me to meet your detective friend.” And she turned and walked toward the front door.
I was so surprised that it took me a few seconds before I hurried to catch up with her. I held the door open for her, and we strode out onto the street.
For someone with gray hair, thick glasses, and a cane, this old lady walked at quite a clip. And she said nothing, nothing. I finally asked her, “Where are we going?”
She didn’t even look at me. “To see your detective friend. Now be quiet. I need to think of how best to get there.”
That was her for the entire trip. We rode two buses and walked a fair piece, and all she would say was that we were going to meet my detective friend. We finally came to a building which turned out to be a branch library building. I could see it wasn’t open. But she told me the door was unlocked, so we went in. It was strange, walking through a deserted building, with the echoes of our footsteps coming back to us. We went across the main hall to a side door, that opened up on steps down to the basement.
I pulled open the door, and held it open to let the old lady through. But when I looked back, she wasn’t there. Instead, I heard a voice from the basement, a female voice, say, “Come on in, Nora O’Donnell, and shut the door behind you.”
I walked in. The door closed behind me. And I found myself standing face to face with Martha Fokker, the vampire who had killed my brother Ned.
I shouldn’t say I was standing face to face with Martha. She was about half a foot shorter than me, so I was looking down at her. She looked like a teenager, from the straight dark hair, cut rather short, down to the crooked smile on her face. My first thought, once I recognized her, was to regret that I hadn’t brought a kitchen knife with me. My second thought was that I wasn’t sure I could kill the thing in front of me. It looked too much like an innocent girl. But I could at least show my contempt for what she had done. I slapped her across the face.
I had never before seen anything like what happened next. Martha changed. She went from looking like a girl to looking like a raging beast. Her face suddenly looked old and animal-like. Her fangs came out. She grabbed me by the throat, and then we hurled through the air until my head and body whacked against the wall behind me. The impact almost knocked me out. But that hardly mattered. Martha was choking me, I couldn’t breathe. All I could see was her distorted face, and the smell of dried blood on her breath poisoned the air around me.
Then she dropped me. I fell to the cement floor with a thud, banging the back of my head against the wall again. Between the pain in my head and my throat, it was a few minutes before I could sit up and pay attention to my surroundings. Martha was sitting on the floor a few feet in front of me, her back turned to me. She was shaking as if she were laughing or sobbing, but she made no noise. On either side of her, about seven feet in each direction, were closed coffins.
I could make no sense out of what happened, except to assume that one of the coffins was Martha’s and one was meant for me. I stood up, finding I’d twisted my right ankle in falling, and limped over to the door. But try as I might, I couldn’t turn the knob. I heard Martha moving behind me, sounding as if she were getting up. I tried even harder, then banged on the door. Nothing.
Martha’s voice came from behind me. “Try opening the door now.” I reached for the knob, and it turned! I pulled the door open, prepared to leave. But I had to see. I looked back. There was Martha, looking as she had at first, standing there looking at me. She must have seen the question in my face, because she said, “This was a mistake. Leave. Go away.”
Naturally, once I knew I could leave, I felt safe enough to ask a question. “What happened to Detective Kammen?”
Martha didn’t respond at first. Then she shrugged, walked over to one of the coffins, and opened it. She wordlessly beckoned me to come over.
I debated a moment, then let the door close and limped over to the coffin. There inside was Detective Kammen. The expression on his face was terrible. He looked to be in agony, his eyes tightly closed, his mouth open as if yelling about some horror. I barely noticed he wasn’t wearing any clothes. I turned to Martha. “What did you do to him?”
She closed Kammen’s coffin, walked over to the other coffin, opened the lid. I hobbled over. In there was a girl, about my age, maybe a bit older. She also didn’t have any clothes on. One of her arms was a shrunken, dead-looking thing. Some of her scalp was red and raw.
Martha finally spoke in a leaden voice. “See the arm? See the fading scars on her body? Kammen tortured and dismembered her, turned her into a vampire. And this is the part you will not understand, Nora O’Donnell: it was not his fault. Well, at least he normally never would have done such a thing.”
I looked at her. Her expression was grave. I needed answers, not riddles. I demanded, “Explain this to me.”
“On one condition: you let me feed from you.”
I looked at her in horror, stepped back, almost fell thanks to the ankle. “Why? What does that have to do with Kammen?”
In that same dull voice, Martha answered, “You want to understand what happened to Kammen, you need to understand what vampires are like. This way, you’ll know. Otherwise, you’re just an ignorant girl who’s in over her head and you should leave.”
Now that I look back on this, I realize just how stupid I was. Martha was essentially taunting me with my ignorance and inexperience, just like guys at school had taunted me about being a virgin. I hadn’t fallen for their attempts to manipulate me. But I fell for Martha’s. Maybe it was the idea that I was acting to help Detective Kammen and my brother that made the difference. So instead of just leaving, I asked, “This won’t turn me into a vampire, will it?”
Martha shook her head. “No. I’d have to drain you of all your blood. I’m not going to do that.”
“What do I have to do?”
She pointed to the space between the two coffins, directly under the light bulb that illuminated the basement. “Sit there. You’re too tall for me to do this standing.”
I limped over and sat down with my legs crossed Indian style. Martha came over and sat down in my lap. She wasn’t as light as I would have expected, and my ankle hurt a bit with the weight of her pressing on it. We were facing each other.
Suddenly Martha opened her mouth and her fangs showed, large and white and sharp. She grabbed my head and pushed it to one side, hurting me, exposing the left side of my neck. Then I felt the points of her fangs dig in. It hurt. It hurt badly. It got worse. I could feel her fangs slicing into me. I tried to scream, but her hand pushing my head aside kept my jaw clamped shut. The pain became hideous. My fear of being confined and trapped kicked in. I panicked, tried to get away. But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything. The muscles in my neck strained in agony from the way she pushed my head to one side. I could still feel her teeth digging in. And then I completely lost it, because I heard a noise. It was Martha, sucking my blood and my life away.
And then I felt wonderful. My blood was flowing into Martha’s veins. I was helping her live.
I could feel Martha’s fangs pull out of me and was disappointed. Why wasn’t she going to take more from me? I realized she wasn’t holding my head back anymore, and brought it forward to see her. She was licking the last of my blood from her lips. Then she smiled at me. “How are you feeling, Nora?”
I had to smile back. “Great.”
“Happy I fed on you?”
I nodded to that.
“Would you like me to drain you, make you into a vampire?”
I was so happy I kissed Martha, bared my neck to her.
She leaned forward, whispered in my ear, “Remember what it was like when I first bit into you? Imagine being able to do that yourself to your victims.”
And I did imagine. I wanted to bite people and hurt them and make them scream and turn them into vampires.
Martha climbed out of my lap, stood up. I started to get up, but she waved me down. “Stay seated, Nora. Tell me, you remember the difference between how you first felt when I bit into you and later on, how at first you were frightened?”
I had been frightened, but that was silly. I kept smiling at Martha. “Of course.”
Her smile died. “That’s the difference between what happens when you’re your normal self and when you’ve been enthralled by a vampire, Nora. And now your enthrallment is over.”
There was no feeling of transition. I had felt wonderful. Now I felt faint, and utterly sick at heart. I had liked being attacked by a vampire. I had adored Martha for sucking my blood. I had wanted to become a vampire, desired to hurt and terrify people while I took their blood. It was horrible. I couldn’t believe it of myself. I couldn’t help myself. I just cried. I cried and cried. And I felt a fury rise up in me and looked up at Martha standing there and bawled at her, “You . . . you liar! You creep! You promised . . .” I couldn’t remember what she had promised. I didn’t care. She had made me into an evil thing like her. I leaped up and tackled Martha.
Fat chance I had at that. She easily blocked me, grabbed me, and without much effort just tossed me against Kammen’s coffin. The impact knocked the wind out of me. I just lay on the floor a few minutes, recovering.
Finally I looked up, and Martha was standing over me. She said to me, “You got more than you bargained for, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” I replied. I was going to add some more things, many of them derogatory of Martha’s character, when she cut me off. “That’s what happened to Kammen.”
“What?” My head hurt because it had been banged up enough, so I was a bit short on insightful questions.
Martha sat down beside me, leaned back against Kammen’s coffin, and closed her eyes. In a tired voice, she said, “When he was human, Kammen was what they call a sado-masochist. He associated pain with sex, usually pain to his partner, sometimes to himself.” She opened her eyes, turned to look me in the face. “You understand now how someone can enjoy causing pain?”
I recalled how I had just wanted to bite and hurt people. I’ve got it now, thank you, bitch. (Pardon my French.)
Martha read my answer in my eyes. She leaned back and closed hers again. In that tired voice, she continued, “Give Kammen credit, he sought out only willing partners, of which there are a lot more than I ever would have figured. Now, imagine how tough it must have been for him to become a vampire, where you have to hurt people without their consent to survive, after you’ve trained yourself never to hurt people without their consent.”
I could imagine.
Martha droned on. “He did well as a vampire, Kammen did. He’d had years of practice trying to avoid thinking about hurting people, so he did his best not to, even when he was feeding. And then he ran into a bit of sorcery that inadvertently broke down all his carefully built defenses against himself. More than he bargained for. More than he could handle just then.”
I was beginning to understand. “You told my brother Detective Kammen had had an accident.”
She nodded. “Your brother would never let Kammen back as a policeman again if he knew the truth. He wouldn’t understand.”
No, he wouldn’t. My brother was a good man, and even though he was now a vampire he was still trying to be a good man, a good cop. It came naturally to him. I’d like to think it came naturally to me, too. But Martha had . . . well, she hadn’t made me evil, rather she had made me feel what it would be like to enjoy hurting people . . . and to enjoy being hurt by someone. “And that’s really why you did what you did to me, isn’t it, Martha? So I’d understand.”
She opened her eyes, sat forward, and looked at me. My brother had told me Martha was old, and for the first time I saw it in her face. She still looked young, but the expression on her face belonged to someone much, much older. Compared to her, I was the child. “Yeah,” she said, “What I did to you was necessary for one of the two things I want you to do.” She stood up.
I stood up beside her. “Which are?”
She didn’t look at me, just stared at Kammen’s coffin lid. “You came here to help Kammen and your brother. The first thing is for Kammen alone. Kammen is eaten up with guilt. He values your opinion. I want you to tell Kammen you understand what happened to him.”
“I can do that,” I replied. And I could.
After she didn’t say anything more, I prodded her. “And the second thing?”
She turned to me, a grim expression on her face. “I’ve pissed off Edward Cross, the most powerful sorcerer in Chicago, without even trying. He wants me dead. That’s why your brother has orders to kill me if he wants to be reinstated. So I’m going to war against Cross, and I’m going to need your help.”
End of chapter twenty-eight