Chapter 29: Nora (II)
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
After getting some food to build back my strength, and a stop in the bathroom to find out to my relief that Martha’s bite marks weren’t very noticeable unless I arched my neck, I went over to the apartment of Officer Sally Truax, who worked in Internal Affairs. Martha had explained that Officer Truax was a friend of Detective Kammen’s, and might be able to help us.
When I explained who I was (meaning that I was Ned’s sister) and that I was there to enlist her help in getting the vampire cops back on the force, she lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. She threw up her hands and said, “Finally!” and welcomed me in. We sat down in her living room, and she got a glass of root beer for me before sitting down with a beer herself.
Then she asked about Detective Kammen. I was stuck as to how to reply, and repeated Martha’s lame explanation. “He had an accident.”
Instantly, she was all concern, and wanted to know what happened. And when I couldn’t immediately come up with an explanation, she got out of the chair she was sitting in and came over and sat down beside me on the couch. She took one of my hands in hers and begged me to tell her the truth.
The moment she took my hand, I was overwhelmed with . . . I don’t know, visions, memories, thoughts, I didn’t know what they were. But they were of Sally Truax and Sherlock Kammen, not as friends but as lovers, as if I was both of them at once. It was fascinating, exciting, and for someone with no sexual experience like me, far, far too bewildering. I didn’t know what else to do but to jerk my hand away.
Officer Truax thought I was rejecting her, or didn’t want to answer her, and she leaned forward as if to demand an answer. Then she saw the bite marks on my neck. In a horrified voice, she asked, “Did Kammen bite you?”
I’d got my wits back enough to understand what was going on again. Officer Truax was leaning over me, looking concerned, angry, and frightened all at once. I couldn’t deal with that, not just yet, and jumped up and went over to a window and looked out on the street below. Once I’d caught my breath, I answered her. “No, it wasn’t Detective Kammen. He wouldn’t do such a thing.”
I could hear her breathe out a sigh of relief. Then her voice turned steely. “Then who?”
The truth would get me into more trouble. But I don’t like lying, and wasn’t up to trying. I turned around and faced Officer Truax again. “Martha Fokker did it. But I let her.”
Officer Truax looked shocked for an instant. Then she grew angry. “No. No one lets a vampire bite them willingly. She’s made you think you let her. You’re under her control. It’s a trick vampires pull.”
You have no idea, Officer Truax, I thought to myself. But, I realized, she did, and before I thought through the implications I said so. “You mean the way Detective Kammen bit you?” And then seeing her turn white as a sheet, I realized I had gone too far. “I’m sorry, Officer Truax, I shouldn’t have said that.”
I was still standing by the window, and she was sitting on the couch. Her head dropped, and I could hear her crying. After a few minutes, in a barely audible voice, she said, “Sherlock told you that?”
“No.” I went over, sat down beside her where I had been before. “I don’t know how I know that, Officer Truax. Somehow I think it’s because I saw Detective Kammen only a short while ago and then met you. Maybe that set up some sort of connection between you, and I was in the middle of it.”
That seemed to stop her crying. After a minute or so, she excused herself, stood up and walked out of the room. I could hear running water coming from another room.
I felt miserable about having brought up Officer Truax’s relationship to Detective Kammen. I shouldn’t have. But then, I shouldn’t have known they had one. How did that happen? The connection theory I had just offered Officer Truax was just a guess and explained nothing. I had an ill suspicion that what had happened might have been some weird consequence of Martha Fokker biting me. But saying that to Officer Truax would have done none of us any good.
And then Officer Truax came back, her face washed, her eyes still a bit red from the tears she had shed. She sat down on the couch again. Looking me directly in the eye, she said, “Tell me truly. You’ve seen him?”
I couldn’t afford to hesitate. “No. You know, well, you know how he liked, well, how he liked pain when . . .” I could feel myself turning red. Here we go again.
Officer Truax saved me further embarrassment. “I know. I imagine that’s hard for someone like you to understand.”
That got me really blushing, after what I had just seen of how she and Detective Kammen had been lovers. But I could truthfully say, “That’s why Martha Fokker bit me. It was to show me how I would feel if I liked to hurt people. So, yes, I do understand.” Officer Truax looked perplexed, but I forged on. “Detective Kammen ran into some sorcery that made him lose control, and while he was under that influence, he hurt a girl badly.” Tell the whole truth, girl. “He killed her. And now he blames himself.”
I thought she’d take that badly. She didn’t even flinch. Still looking me straight in the eye, she told me, “I need to see him.”
I shook my head. “I promised to keep his location a secret.” Before she could object, I added. “I keep my word, Officer Truax. So I’ll make another promise right now: I will do my best to get you permission to see him.”
She wasn’t happy. “Who did you promise this to?” Seeing the face I made at that question, she got up, went back to her chair, took a sip from her beer bottle. “Maybe you’d better just start at the beginning of this whole thing. How do you know Sherlock Kammen, and how did you get to meet him today?”
It took quite a while. Officer Truax asked a lot of questions. But once I got through it all and explained what Martha wanted, Officer Truax understood and wanted to help.
Not everything she told me in response was good news. When I brought up Martha’s idea of having Edward Cross arrested, she shook her head. “Not going to happen. Oh, I could come up with charges and we could find evidence linking him to all sorts of official corruption. But most of that is business as usual in Chicago, and there’d be too much opposition to trying to prosecute Cross on those grounds, as too many other people would be implicated. Besides, both my cousins who are on the City Council say Cross is untouchable so long as Mayor Daley’s behind him. And I doubt the police could hold a sorcerer like him.”
I had to call my parents and explain I wouldn’t be home for dinner. It wasn’t until I mentioned I was with a police officer and, no, I hadn’t been arrested, that my mother gave her permission. Even then, she had to speak to Officer Truax and be reassured that I wasn’t going to come to any harm. Sometimes I wonder how my brothers and sisters were ever allowed to leave home.
Our next mission from Martha was to go talk with the leader of the black vampire gang, a man who was known as Scratch Wilson. We were supposed to find out if any sorcerers had been coming by lately, looking into the vampire police or Martha. I was surprised Officer Truax was willing to have me come along. When I told her so, she explained, “You’ve been bitten by Martha Fokker. The other vampires are terrified of her. It’s safer for you to visit them than it is for me. Of course, getting there is another story. Can’t have you mugged on the street. That’s why I’m coming.” I appreciated her honesty, though it made me even more uncomfortable to be bearing the mark of Martha’s fangs.
I’d never been down to the Black Belt before, and I guess it showed. I’d never seen so many black people, and I started staring at them, to see how they were different from white people. And then they stared back, and their stares weren’t friendly. Finally, Officer Truax said in an undertone to me, “Quit staring. They can tell I’m a cop, and they think you’re going to finger someone for something they didn’t do.”
I gasped. “I would never do such a thing!”
Officer Truax’s voice turned cynical. “Yeah, well just go up and tell that to everyone you’re staring at. It will reassure them.”
I took her point. I just tried to act normally. But there were all these strange things, from strange food smells to store-front churches that I just wanted to stop and look at. Someday I was going to have to come back here, maybe with someone who lived here, so they could explain things to me.
We finally turned off the sidewalk and down a short flight of steps to a basement entrance. Officer Truax led the way. Once we got in, I realized we were in a pool hall.
This big black man came up to us. “I think you ladies are in the wrong place,” he said.
Officer Truax didn’t even blink. She pulled out her badge. “I’m Officer Sally Truax, CPD. I’m here to talk with Scratch Wilson. I won’t take kindly to anyone who tries to stop me from seeing him.”
The big guy seemed unimpressed. “What makes you think Scratch wants to talk to the cops? And you got a warrant?”
I could see this wasn’t going anywhere good, so I chimed in, “I’m her warrant.”
Both the big guy and Officer Truax looked at me as if I had three eyes in my head. The big guy scowled at me. “What you mean by dat?”
I turned my head, pointed to the bite marks on my neck. “See those? Martha Fokker made those. We’re here under her protection.”
When I turned my head back to look at the big guy, his expression had changed from contempt to worry. I guess Officer Truax was right about how much they feared Martha.
A tall black woman with very dark skin came forward. “Martha, eh? I thought she had left the city.”
I turned to her. She was at least a head taller than me, and I saw she was wearing a lot of knives on her belt. “She had, she’s back,” I told her.
“And you are?” she asked.
“My name is Nora O’Donnell. Maybe you’ve heard of my brother, Ned, the head of the vampire cops?”
The woman turned to the big guy. “Shee-it,” she said. “Martha Freakin’ Fokker must be running through whole families now.” She turned to the two of us. “OK, you two, come with me. We’ll see what Scratch has to say to you.”
Officer Truax motioned me to go first, and as I passed her, whispered in my ear, “Good play, Nora.”
We passed several pool tables. Each time we passed one, the game would come to a stop while the players stared at the three of us. The second time it happened, the tall woman said to the players, “Don’t worry, boys, you’ll get your chance at their necks a bit later!”
It wasn’t until then that I realized that some of these people had to be vampires. Scratch Wilson was a vampire. Apparently so were the players at that table. What about the rest of the people in this place? Were they all vampires? There were so many of them. And they were all black. I was still thinking of vampires as being like the ones in the Dracula movies. And this after knowing my brother was a vampire and after being bitten by Martha. Nora O’Donnell, sometimes you are just so slow.
The woman took us to this table most of the way toward the back, just across from the bar. There were two guys at the table. One was a light-skinned black man, dressed in a fancy dark brown suit. The cufflinks looked to be real gold. He didn’t wear any rings or chains, though. He had a big Afro. I kind of wanted to reach out and feel it, but I knew that would be rude. The other fellow also had an Afro, but otherwise he looked white. He was wearing an undershirt and nothing else on top.
The nicely dressed man looked up. “What is this, Darlene?”
Darlene, the tall woman, replied, “Cop who wants to see you, and Ned O’Donnell’s sister. Says she represents Martha Fokker and claims to have been bitten by her.”
The nicely dressed man, who had to be Scratch, raised an eyebrow to that, got up, and circled around the table to me. He stepped right up to me, and in surprise I backed away. He gave me a smile. “Nothing to worry about there, miss, especially if you are what you say you are. I just want to see the bite mark.”
I tilted my head. And then I jumped, as Scratch quickly put his nose on my neck right where the bite mark was and then pulled away.
He laughed, turned to Darlene. “That’s Martha’s bite all right. Guess Kammen got it wrong about her leaving town.”
Darlene sneered, “Kammen is a coward.”
I could see Officer Truax was getting hot under the collar and was going to say something cutting to Darlene. But then my attention was diverted. Something was going on down front. Someone had entered and was causing a stir. I heard voices getting louder. Scratch Wilson noticed it, too. He strode over to Darlene and put a hand on her shoulder, while telling her to hush.
Then there was a flash, and the body of the big guy at the door came flying through the air, crashing down on the nearest pool table. I got a whiff of something that had burned on him. People started getting out of their seats or throwing down their pool cues in alarm.
A loud woman’s voice cut through the uproar. “No one move, unless you want to die like your fellow vampire there. Where is Scratch Wilson?”
The hubbub immediately stopped. People stood uneasily, not knowing what to do next.
Darlene loudly whispered to Scratch, “Get out of here. I’ll cover for you.”
Scratch pondered, shook his head. “Against a sorcerer? No.” He looked over to Officer Truax, who had taken her gun out, shook his head again. “Put that away. It won’t do any good.” Then he strode out into the aisle by the bar, and in a loud voice announced, “I am Scratch Wilson. This is my place. Who comes in here uninvited?” Sounded impressive, but I could see from the nervous way his fingers twitched that he was frightened.
This woman came walking through the pool hall. She was white, of medium height, and although her hair was gray, she wasn’t that old, maybe fifty. As she came into the light near us, I could hear Officer Truax gasp. A quick glance told me she recognized this sorceress.
Darlene started to make a move, but Scratch shot her a warning glance. He did not want her to do anything. Once the woman came directly before us, Scratch said, “I am Scratch Wilson. These people here are all under my protection. Who are you and what do you want?”
She offered a mocking bow. “Why, your assistance, I hope, Mister Wilson. I’m looking for . . .” Then she saw Sally and me. She stopped short, and an evil smile crossed her face. “Why, I’m looking for you to help me rescue these two white women from a fate worse than death.” She strode up to me, reached up, and grabbed under my chin, tilting my head to one side. She saw the marks Martha had left behind on my throat, and said, “It appears I’m too late for this one.”
Officer Truax tried to intervene. She turned to grab at the sorceress’s arm. There was a flash, and Officer Truax was flung back, tumbling into a table and some chairs before falling onto the floor on her back.
The sorceress released me, turned and glared at Officer Truax. In a cold voice, she said, “This is the second time you’ve gotten yourself involved with the wrong people, Officer . . . Truax, is it? I thought I’d let you destroy yourself, but it seems the process needs some help.” Officer Truax had rolled over and was on her hands and knees by now, just about ready to stand up. Before she could, the sorceress aimed a vicious kick that struck Officer Truax in the soft spot on the side of the head, behind the eye. She let out a yell as she fell over. But she wouldn’t stay down. She started to get up again. I could hear her swearing under her breath.
None of us moved to help Officer Truax. The vampires knew better, knew that a sorceress could take them apart. But I didn’t. And yet I still didn’t even try. It shames me to remember this, even though I know now it wouldn’t have been of any use.
Then the sorceress took advantage of Officer Truax’s changed position to kick her just as hard on the other side of her head. This time she barely let out a moan before falling flat on the floor. There she just lay still, blood flowing from a wound on one side of her head, her eyes open but glazed and unfocused.
The sight of blood, the smell of blood, excited all the vampires nearby, included Scratch and Darlene. I could see Darlene’s fangs start to edge out. The sorceress looked around, saw it, and laughed. “I see how easily the humans go from allies to prey in this place.” She turned back to me. “And which one of these creatures made you his minion?”
She was looking right into my eyes, and I couldn’t look away. I could feel her sorcery trying to force me to speak. But I wouldn’t, if I could help it. Martha had done something like this to me. I wasn’t going to let it happen again. But her eyes, they were so big and so brown and so overwhelming, they seemed to be pulling at my thoughts and at my mouth. I was trying hard not to answer. I could see the sorceress get annoyed. She threw even more magic into her voice, “Tell me!”
I was defeated. I couldn’t stop myself. “Martha Fokker.”
At that moment, Darlene made her move. She moved fast, but not fast enough. She pulled a knife and tried to thrust it into the sorceress. But she had no better fortune than Sally. There was another flash, and she, too, was flung back and landed sprawling on the floor.
The sorceress turned away from me in a fury. And then she saw Darlene and the knife, and she laughed. “You poor pathetic creature, you think a vampire can attack a sorceress? I must think of a suitable punishment for you. Kicking you in the head would not be enough. Stand up.”
Darlene stood up in obedience to the sorceress’s command. She stood there, unmoving, sullen.
The sorceress looked her over, noticed the knives hanging from her belt, the one in her hand. “So, you walking corpse, you like knives. Let’s see how much you like them.”
Darlene bent down and retrieved her knife. Once she stood up, she held it at arm’s length, with it pointing back at her. And then she slowly started to bring the blade closer to her face. It was only then that I realized the sorceress was controlling her movements. Darlene, of course, had known it from the start. She had at first looked surprised, then shocked. Now she looked terrified as she could see that the knife was coming closer and closer to her right eye. But she wouldn’t speak, wouldn’t admit she was scared, even though her eyes grew wide and her breathing labored as she strained unsuccessfully to stop her hand as the point of the knife closed in.
Scratch spoke up. “Stop it.”
The knife stopped. The sorceress turned to Scratch. “And why should I, prince of corpses?”
Scratch ignored the taunt. “Darlene was trying to defend me. That’s her job. If you want to punish someone, punish me, not her.”
The sorceress considered. “Is she good at throwing them?”
Scratch answered with some reluctance. “Yes.” And then pride kicked in “She’s the best there is, human or vampire.”
The sorceress nodded. “Very well then, Mr. Scratch Wilson. This is what you will do. Take the female cop up off the floor, and go stand over there,” she said, pointing to the far end of the hall where the dart boards hung. When Scratch did not immediately move, she added, “That was not a request.” Scratch shrugged, picked up Officer Truax, and went over where the sorceress indicated. He tried to get Officer Truax to stand up. She seemed to be semi-conscious, but the best he could do was get her standing while leaning against him. She didn’t seem to understand what was going on.
Then the sorceress turned to Darlene. She spoke with sorcery. “Put your weapon back and walk over to the end of the bar over there.” You could see the look of relief on Darlene’s face as she brought the knife point away from her eye, only to be succeeded with anger as she had to do as she was told.
With a wave of her hand, the sorceress moved all the tables out of the way in between where Scratch and Darlene stood. And then she spoke again with sorcery. “All the rest of you are going to shut up and sit down and not interfere or try to escape.” She turned to me as I started to sit down. “And that includes you, sweetie. We’re going to have a nice little chat about Martha Fokker after I’m finished with these creatures.”
Once I sat down, I found I couldn’t speak or move. At least I had a good view of whatever was about to go on. There was no one in front of me.
The sorceress walked over to where Darlene was standing, motionless, facing Scratch. “Listen, you,” the sorceress said. “I’m going to offer you a choice. You see your lord and master there, with the lady cop?” Scratch was standing about forty feet away, beyond the end of the bar. He was holding up Sally, who seemed to be semi-conscious now. Darlene looked at them, looked back to the sorceress, nodded.
“Good,” the sorceress said. “Now I was told you’re very good with knives, so I’m going to give you a chance to win my favor back. You get to throw two knives. The first one should kill the cop, the second one should kill Scratch. Do that, and I’ll let you live. I’ll even let all the other vampires in the room go free. Fail, and I’ll kill you all. And you’ll get to watch them all curse you as I kill them.”
Darlene pulled out a knife from her belt, but rather than throw it, she contemplated it while holding it in front of her. Finally she turned to the sorceress. “How do I know I can trust you?”
I knew she couldn’t. And somehow the sorceress’s spell lifted off of me, and I blurted out, “She’s going to kill us all anyhow, Darlene.”
The sorceress turned in a bewildered fury. “I commanded you to be quiet!”
I was bracing myself for whatever she was going to do next, when I realized that in shifting my eyes from Darlene to the sorceress, I had seen something very odd. The sorceress had ordered all the rest of us to sit down, except for four people: Scratch, Officer Truax, Darlene, and herself. But behind the bar in the shadows of a darkened doorway, there was a fifth figure standing. And that figure was carrying a knife in an upraised hand, a knife that just barely glittered in reflected light.
What happened next happened very, very fast. Darlene chose to go for broke. In one fluid motion, she pivoted, raised her hand, and hurled her drawn knife at the sorceress. And at the same moment, the figure behind the bar threw a knife, too. A deadly duet of blades hurtled through the air with the sorceress as their target.
The sorceress must have felt something coming, for she began turning, instinctively. She didn’t need to, for her protective spell destroyed Darlene’s knife when it came within about a foot of her. There was a great yellow flash and sparks as Darlene’s knife disintegrated in flight.
Almost at the same instant, the second knife struck the sorceress’s protection. There was yet another bright flash, silver and white.
But this time, the sorceress’s protection failed. That second blade was neither destroyed nor diverted. A bright blazing object, the knife crossed that last final foot on its course and struck the sorceress square in the back. And as it did it flared once again, this time a bright red.
For two seconds, no one moved. The sorceress stood there, glowing knife in her back, horrified look on her face.
Then the figure came out from behind the bar. It was Martha. I’d seen her look like a teenager, and I’d seen her look like an animal. This time, she looked like something else, a shadowy, ancient woman with a grim expression on her face, as she advanced on the sorceress. The sorceress turned, saw her, too, and reached back to try to grab the knife. The moment her hand touched it the knife flared again, and she pulled back her hand, shrieking.
Martha was upon her. She struck the sorceress a heavy blow that caused her to crumple to the floor, stood over her, pulled out the knife, and brought it down hard once more into the sorceress’s back. The sorceress screamed once, and then just lay there. She was not dead, but between being stabbed and struck by Martha she could take no more.
Martha shifted her attention from the sorceress to the rest of us. She scanned the room, and then in a weirdly crackling voice she ordered, “Scratch, take that cop, Darlene, and Nora and go into your office. I’ll come for you when I’m through. The rest of you, clear out of here and don’t come back until Scratch tells you so.” No one moved immediately, so in a darker tone she added, “Anyone who doesn’t get moving right now is going to share the sorceress’s fate, understand?”
That got people moving. The next thing I knew, Scratch, Darlene, Officer Truax, and I were in Scratch’s office. Through the thick door, we could hear dull screams coming from the main room.
Officer Truax was still only semi-conscious, and bleeding on one side of her head, to boot. Scratch had a first aid kit, which he told me was for prey who had been badly handled and for vampires with knife wounds. I was a candy striper, so I did most of the work bandaging Officer Truax up. I managed to stop the bleeding, but she didn’t look good. And she still didn’t seem fully conscious.
All the time, through the door, we could hear moans and screams and crashing noises, the sound of the sorceress being tortured by Martha. At one point, I’d had enough, but when I tried to go out to the main hall and interfere, Darlene took up a position blocking the door. Scratch said to me, “Trust me, kid, you may be her prey and think she’s wonderful, but you don’t want to cross Martha in a bad mood.” That was far from what I thought of Martha, but I didn’t think it worth arguing.
Martha came in at one point and carried out Officer Truax by herself. There were one or two more screams in the next fifteen minutes, and then Martha came back in with Officer Truax walking beside her under her own power. Officer Truax still looked a bit dazed, but she saw me and gave me a brave smile before she sat down.
Martha looked like her young self again, as if she’d not been torturing a sorceress to death for some time. She offered us a jaunty smile. “Before I finished with her, I used some of the sorceress’s magical power to help fix up Sally Truax here. Nice to know that horrid creature was good for something.” She smacked her lips in evident satisfaction, then tilted her head to indicate the main hall. “I’ve left you a bit of a mess in there, Scratch. There’s blood and body parts all over the place. You and Darlene will have to clean it up. Then shut the place down, leave, and don’t come back until either I or Ned O’Donnell or one of these two tells you it’s OK. The sorcerers are going to be out hunting vampires in earnest. Just keep away from them for now.”
Martha, Officer Truax, and I all left together. We didn’t talk much while walking to the nearest bus stop. I was worried about Officer Truax, and to her credit, so was Martha. We plied her with so many questions that she turned to Martha and said, “Would the two of you just shut up? I have a headache.” We shut up. After a few minutes, she turned to me and said, “Sorry, Nora. I’m just . . . tired.” I noticed she didn’t apologize to Martha at all.
We eventually split up, with Martha saying she’d take Officer Truax home. To my surprise, Office Truax didn’t object. So I arrived home by myself. I had hardly set foot in the door before I got a long lecture from my mother about how much she was worried about me, and why hadn’t I called, and why was there dirt and tears in my skirt, and all that. It wasn’t that late, but I was tired, and she wore me down, and I finally told her I’d been out helping Ned.
I could have bitten my tongue off the next instant. I knew my parents had been ashamed that Ned had become a vampire. They had seen the stories about the vampire police, and Ned, so they knew he was out there, but they’d not said a word to me about them. And they didn’t know I’d been seeing him in our back yard. So I got a long lecture about keeping secrets and improper behavior. Oh, and a few million questions about how Ned was doing. To my surprise, my mother seemed to be proud of Ned now, as well as worried and concerned for him. I ended up having to promise not to go off gallivanting on any more adventures until our mother had a chance to meet Ned. Since the alternative was being grounded, period, I agreed.
I went up to my bedroom, took off my blouse and skirt, and opened the door to my closet to get out my nightgown. And there was Martha! She held up her finger to her lips, then whispered that we should wait to talk until my mother was asleep. Almost immediately, my mother was at my bedroom door. I hurriedly closed the closet door, and told her to come in. She spent several minutes talking to me about how I was her youngest, and how she always worried about me, and how I had to take better care of myself. It was unfair, but I couldn’t help secretly laughing at the thought of Martha jumping out of my closet and explaining to my mother how she was sucking my blood. Anyhow, she finally left, though not until she had tucked me in and turned off the lights.
Martha emerged about ten minutes later, came into the room and sat down in the chair beside my bed. In a voice barely above a whisper, she said, “Sorry I sent you into that business at Scratch’s. Bad luck that damn sorceress should decide to pay a visit while you were there. Once Cross finds out, there’s going to be hell to pay.”
Mention of the sorceress reminded me of the sounds we’d heard through the door. “You mean once he finds out that you tortured her to death.”
Martha sat there silent for some time. Finally, she replied, “You did well understanding Kammen. Now try to understand this, Nora O’Donnell. There’s no law out there among vampires and sorcerers. There are customs, rules, but they wouldn’t have stopped that sorceress from killing everyone in that room, and if she wanted to torture them beforehand, too bad. If your brother can ever enforce law over vampires and sorcerers, maybe that sort of thing will stop, someday.”
But Martha by reputation was the most vicious thing out there. And I remembered Ned’s story about the time he tried to stop Martha from attacking some human cops. So I said, “And then he’ll have to try to put you away and you’ll kill him.” I couldn’t restrain the bitterness in my voice.
Martha didn’t answer immediately. She made an odd droning noise for a bit before she spoke. “You bear my mark on your throat, Nora. You’re still my prey, until that fades. That’s how I knew you were being attacked by a sorceress. That’s why I was able to come and rescue you. And yet I ask for no thanks, and I do not stop you from criticizing me to my face. What makes you think I’d kill your brother if he’s doing his job, a job I’m trying to help him get?”
I was defiant. “He wouldn’t let you torture and kill people if he was in charge.”
“If he’s in charge, Nora, if he can enforce the law among creatures with supernatural powers, I will obey the law he enforces. I will not torture or kill anybody in this city. In fact, if your brother succeeds with what he proposes, I will leave Chicago. There will be no place for me here.” She paused, as if to emphasize the point, and then went on. “But for now, understand what kind of world you live in. Why do you think I tortured that sorceress?”
I hadn’t really considered why, I was too outraged. But I’d seen movies, read books. “You wanted to get information from her.”
Martha shook her head. “I got everything I needed from her in the first few minutes alone with her. No, the reason I tortured her is because I wanted to, because I had to. Because we’re fighting sorcerers, and I’m a vampire. Because normally when a vampire goes up against a sorcerer, the vampire ends up dead. But I’ve killed sorcerers before tonight, more than once. It’s a rare vampire who can say he has killed even one. To do that, to overcome sorcerers, I need all the power and rage and viciousness I have at my command. Your brother doesn’t have that kind of power, and couldn’t and wouldn’t use it if he did. He cannot win, not today, not against someone like Cross. Maybe someday, but not now. I can. And that’s my explanation for why I tortured that sorceress, my only explanation for some of the other things I’m going to do. And I care not if you or anyone else approves. I can’t afford to care about such things, not now.” I could hear the cruelty in her voice.
She did not want my approval, she would not get it. But I couldn’t think of what to say in reply to her. Don’t fight for my brother? Find a nicer way? The sorceress had badly hurt Officer Truax, and was forcing Darlene to kill people to save herself. She was no angel. And yet I could not approve of Martha. Still, her comment about getting no thanks had stung. I said to her, “Whatever I think, I should have thanked you for saving us. I apologize. It was rude of me not to do so.”
In the light from the window, I could see Martha slowly smile. Without looking at me, she said, “You’re a bit like your brother, Nora O’Donnell.” Then she stood up, turned to face me. “I need to go, else what little advantage I’ve gained by killing that sorceress will be wasted. One last word. Everyone else believes it was Darlene’s knife that brought the sorceress down. You’re the only person who knows otherwise. Do us all a favor and just keep that fact under your hat.”
“Why –” I started to ask, but she was out the window before I could say another word. I heard her feet strike the ground, scattering leaves, and then the sound of her running down the sidewalk.
I got up, closed the window, and tried to settle down to sleep. It wasn’t easy, after that extraordinary interview. I went over it in my head several times before I could let it go and try to sleep.
For all she said, it was that last bit that kept nagging at me the most. No one else knew it was Martha’s dagger? I couldn’t accept that at first, but then I made out how it might be so. If no one else had seen Martha throw a dagger, they might assume the knife that struck the sorceress was Darlene’s.
All right, but then why didn’t Martha want people to know? Modesty was hardly among her qualities. The way she had used that dagger must point to something that Martha didn’t want people to know.
By that point, I was tired enough that I put the whole business aside for morning. But one last thought crossed my mind before I went to sleep. If Martha hadn’t told me not to mention her role, would I have thought about it as much? Was Martha hiding something, or was she trying to tell me something?
End of chapter twenty-nine