Chapter 4: Of kings and rippers
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
As I expected, Martha isn’t around when I wake up. Fortunately, as Martha promised, I’m also no longer plagued by thoughts of sucking the blood of my family and friends dominating my mind. After the way last night ended, I am grateful for some sort of improvement.
I summon Homer. He arrives. I wonder if I can still drink from him, considering this is vampire sex. I tell myself this is food, not sex, and try to ignore that it’s a human being either way.
Something wholly unexpected happens as I drink from him. For the first time, I don’t feel like draining him to the point of unconsciousness. It’s like I’ve finally gotten enough blood for once.
In fact, I feel a lot better, and it even feels as if my brain is finally working as it should. I’m a cop. OK, I’m an ex-cop, but I’m still a cop. Time to act like one.
“Homer,” I say, “Please help me sit up.” I tense for a moment, wondering whether something will interfere with that as well, but, no, Homer does lift up the top half of my body. He and I squirm around a bit, and I end up with my back against the top of the coffin, with the pillow that was under my head providing some back support. It’s not much, the coffin isn’t all that deep, but I’m comfortable sitting up. After so many days lying down, it’s a relief.
I look around. The basement doesn’t have much in it. Some stacked wood, a furnace, and some old paint cans in various places around the basement. There’s a trunk against the wall on my right. The light comes from a single naked bulb with a pull chain at the foot of the stairs. No other way out. There are what are probably windows high up along two walls, though there’s cardboard blocking them. I have Homer pull the cardboard away from one window. The panes are painted black. As usual, Martha is thorough. I have Homer put the cardboard back.
I have him open up the trunk, which has no lock on it. To my surprise, what he pulls out is my uniform. My heart rises at the thought of my gun. Not for long: the gun belt is there, but there’s no gun in it, and Homer tells me it’s not in the trunk, either. I guess Mother isn’t going to let me shoot her. I think to ask Homer if he has a gun, and he tells me “no.”
How stupid have I been? I never even thought to examine what clothes I’m wearing. The spooky thing is that they’re mine. I was wearing my uniform when Martha took me, and these clothes would have been back in my bedroom. Martha knows where I live, or lived. Wouldn’t take much to figure it out from the ID I carried. She must have gone and visited, taken clothes out of my dresser. I don’t know whether to thank her for being so thoughtful, or be worried that she could just waltz into my parents’ place and kill them if she wanted to.
Oh, and the stake Martha held over my chest? It’s over by the woodpile. There are five other stakes there, all carefully sharpened. Martha has a use for stakes. What the hell is she doing, killing other vampires?
I think about having Homer attack Martha, but abandon that idea. Martha lifted me up as if I were a feather. Homer had to make a considerable effort. So I have Homer lower me back into place, getting a knock on the head in the process. Once that’s done, I send him home, telling him to bring something to write with and on for tomorrow night. Oh, and a beer.
The moment after he leaves, I cuss myself out. I should have asked him what building I’m in, what neighborhood of Chicago I’m in. Face it, Ned, you’re not used to being a captive. Looks like you’re going to be getting plenty of experience. I have no idea when, or realistically even if Martha will release me. She says so, and so far everything she says checks out. But that doesn’t mean she really is telling me the truth all of the time.
There’s one hopeful thing I do notice, something Martha didn’t mention. The fingers Martha first broke are healing already. Martha said I’d be getting tougher, and, as usual, she wasn’t lying, but she didn’t happen to mention this. If I can keep from pissing her off, I might yet be fit enough to tackle her when she finally lets me free.
I lie there in my coffin, contemplating my situation. I’m a vampire, and damned in this life. I suppose I’m damned in the next life, too. It doesn’t seem fair, but this whole situation isn’t exactly a sterling example of justice. Though Martha would undoubtedly say otherwise, because we killed her vampire buddies.
The only way I can see to redeem myself is to be what I am, a cop, and bring Martha to justice. I need to tell my brother officers where I am, and find a way to arrange it that they come here when Martha will be here. Or I have to find out where Martha lives and sleeps. I was hoping it was in this basement, but Homer and I didn’t find another coffin lying around. My biggest problem is that the moment the cops know where I am, they’ll come to kill me whether or not Martha is here. I’m resigned to dying, but I want it to count for something.
I’m tossing around all sorts of ideas when I hear the basement door open and a light step come down the stairs. It’s Martha. She walks around to the side of the coffin, looks at me as if she barely recognizes me, and sits down. She’s not very tall, so not much of her shows. But I can see her face. She looks so sad and pitiful, I actually try to be nice to her. “Are you OK, Mother Fokker?”
Martha has lit up every time I’ve used her name. Not this time. She looks at me, not in a friendly sort of way, and sighs. “Nope, Ned. Bad night. You know the cop I killed yesterday?”
“I know you did, but I don’t know who he is.”
“Yeah, well, he’s really dead tonight. Woke up, drank from several people, recovered his wits, and turned ripper. Had to kill him for good.”
“I don’t understand. What’s a ripper? A vampire with fangs that are too long?”
Martha sits there, staring off into the distance. After a while she speaks without looking at me. “You know how I told you people’s characters stay the same when they turn vampire, Ned? Not entirely true. People do change. They have to. But some change more than others. Some people are really dark inside, truly vicious. And becoming a vampire brings it out. They become indiscriminate killers, vampires who like to torture their prey before they kill them, vampires who prey even on other vampires. They’re called rippers. And there’s a rule about rippers: rippers must be killed. Period. End of story; end of life.”
I think about the way Martha acts like a psycho. In a quiet voice I ask, “Are you a ripper, Mother?”
She shakes her head. In a tiny voice she says, “No. Maybe. I don’t know.” And then that shadowy transformation of her face begins, and she turns and reaches toward me, puts her hands on the ropes tying me, and her face grows much darker. Yet with an effort she pulls away and gets up. She walks out of my sight, and I can hear her pacing the floor.
After a few minutes, she comes back, looking almost like her normal self, serious, though. She sits down, fixes me with a stare, and says, “You want to ask about why Homer couldn’t untie you, or were you just going to pretend it didn’t happen?”
So much for my secret. Since it’s out, I might as well take up her invitation. “Yes, Mother Fokker, I was going to pretend it didn’t happen. Why couldn’t he untie the ropes?”
She smiles again, but only for a moment, before reverting back to a serious expression. “Thanks for not trying my patience, Ned. Here’s tonight’s lesson. We’re not the only supernatural creatures around. There are werewolves and ghosts and ghouls and such. And there are sorcerers and sorceresses. We have a limited form of magic, pretty much limited to what we need to get prey and to survive. Sorcerers have more complex magic and more magical power at their command. You run into a sorcerer, Ned, be polite to him, and get away as fast as you can, when you can. Not that they bother with vampires much. To them we’re just a lower form of life, hardly worth thinking about.”
“And the ropes? What do they have, some kind of sorcerer’s spell on them?”
Martha brightens up. “Exactly. The sorcery on them binds vampires so they can’t escape or transform into another shape, and no one can take them off except me or another sorcerer.”
“And you got these from a sorcerer? I thought you said they don’t bother with vampires much.”
Martha looks surprised, then gives me a genuine smile and leans over the coffin to deliver a kiss to my forehead. She leans back, still smiling. “A-plus, Ned. They don’t. The circumstances under which I got these ropes were unusual.”
I keep following up. “And vampires can transform?” I think about the movies. “Bats, wolves?”
Martha nods. “Both, but in the city there’s no point in being a wolf. Stick to bats, Ned. And hold on a second.” Martha gets up stretches, walks around a bit, settles back down by my coffin. “Talking with you is cheering me up, Ned. So we’re going to have your first formal lesson tonight. Hope you have a good memory.
“First rule: you’re a vampire, you need human blood. Not every day, though that works. Take too much, kill people, turn them into vampires, and people will hunt you down. So the safest place for a vampire to live is where there’s a lot of people. Cities.
“So you’re in the city. So are a whole lot of other vampires. We all want the same thing: human prey. So we compete. Strong vampires kill weak vampires. Weak vampires form gangs to kill strong vampires. Pretty soon, many or most vampires in a city are part of a gang. Gangs have leaders. You pledge allegiance to a vampire gang leader. If he likes you, you become one of his officers, immediate subordinates. Only gang leaders and their officers are allowed to carry weapons. Every gang stakes out its territory. You take prey only in your gang’s territory. Do otherwise, and it’s an act of aggression on whichever gang’s territory you’re poaching.
“There’s no benefit to all-out war, so in most cities the gang leaders try to establish an agreement to keep the peace. It’s easier to do this if there’s a small number of gangs. And if there’s one dominant gang, its leader will usually take the title ‘king.’
“You’re a smart one, Ned. You got all that?”
I think it over. “Sounds a lot like street gangs or the Mafia, so, yeah, I think I’ve got the idea. What’s the set-up in Chicago? Is there a king?”
Martha shakes her head. “Nope. Four major gangs and a bunch of independents who survive only so long as the gangs tolerate them. Some vampires aren’t worth having in gangs. We call the really weak and stupid ones pixies. They always end up obeying a stronger vampire. The really tough independents are treated like honorary gang leaders. But most vampires belong to a gang.”
“And what about you, Mother Fokker? Which gang do you belong to?”
Martha gives a sinister laugh. “My own.” She gives me a pat on the head. “And when we go out in public, you’ll be considered a member of my gang, Ned.” She pauses, as if thinking what she wants to say. “You see, the gang I came in with were visitors, we weren’t part of any established gang here in Chicago. We didn’t intend to stay or mix in local vampire politics, so we made no allies and tried not to make any enemies. When you cops started hunting us down, the rest of the gangs stood aside, happy to get rid of us and not wanting to get sucked into trouble with the Man. All the other vampires I came in with are dead or left the city, but I stayed behind to take revenge. Two gang leaders were afraid I’d start a general war between the cops and the vampires, so they objected to what I was doing. I killed them both. Their gangs broke up. After that, the other gangs decided to leave me alone.”
With that, Martha stands up. “Time for me to go, Ned. Need some blood myself before dawn. Anything that you want to bring up right now?”
I think back. “Why didn’t you break one of my fingers for trying to escape?”
Martha looks amused. “Because I’d probably try to do the same thing in your shoes, Ned. Because you didn’t actually disobey me, since I never told you not to escape. Because it’s not really a sign of disrespect to me, just a dislike of being tied up. That I understand. And finally, because, well, where are you going to go, Ned? Your family? They won’t want you once they understand what you are. Your girlfriend? Going to suck her blood? The cops? They’ll kill you ASAP.”
She shakes her head. She stands there, looking at me quizzically. And then she says, “Tomorrow I’ll remove the ropes, Ned. And now I have to go.” And she heads over to the stairs, turns out the light, and I hear her leave.
I am confused. All this trouble thinking about how to escape, and Martha’s going to make it easy for me. What is she up to? And all I can think of is that she really believes there’s nothing for me to do except stay with her.
The sad thing? She may be right.
But again she’s given me a lesson I don’t think she intended. Two vampire gangs opposed Martha, didn’t want her attacking the cops. Yeah, she destroyed their leaders. But that’s something to look for, signs of internal divisions among the vampires. Maybe some of them could be used to destroy the others. And if Martha’s going to turn me loose, I may get the chance to check into that possibility soon.
But her story is worrisome, too. She took out two other gang leaders? Cripes, I know she keeps telling me how tough she is, but she isn’t even five feet tall. I’d like to think that this indicates that most vampires are a feeble bunch. But it’s quite possible Martha really is as tough as she claims. I need to figure out some way of testing her. If she does indeed get me out of these ropes, I should be able to contrive an opportunity to test her. Whether I’ll survive the test is another matter.
I go to sleep.
End of chapter four