Underground Vampire, page 10
Finkelstein’s voice called to him, pulling him back to the room that was a basement, a tavern, a gambling den and a door to some other cosmology, “The cube calls you, that is good, another sign fulfilled,” was what Ortega heard while stumbling into the present.
“What is that thing?”
“The cube is the sacred geometry derived from the Tree of Life.”
“Cover it with a rug or, better yet, paint it.”
“You will get used to it,” beamed Mr. Finkelstein.
“The killings, what about them?”
“The question, my friend is where did they come from or, more accurately, how were they made.”
Reeling, Ortega’s confused mind croaked, “Who are you talking about,” as he turned to the windows, avoiding the diagram on the floor.
“The Monsters,” said Mr. Finkelstein, clearly exasperated with Ortega’s powers of concentration, “who else?”
“Of course,” nodded Ortega, “forgot about them.”
“We keep track of the forces, both good and evil, and study, always study, so that we are ready.”
“Yeah, but ready for what?” said Ortega, “Monsters?”
“Yes,” said Finkelstein walking to the front door, “down there,” pointing down the gloomy sidewalk, “you will find them in the shadows, living in darkness.”
The sidewalk stretched away along a series of old storefronts to the corner where another sidewalk intersected. Ortega couldn’t see past the corner and wished he’d brought his flashlight. But, he said to himself, it’s not my fault; I didn’t know I was going down a dark tunnel looking for Monsters. Colored light from the overhead glass provided not enough light to see lurkers in the gloom, alternately casting yellow, green and purple across the walk.
“Is this part of the underground tour?” asked Ortega. “I’ve never been on it.”
“Nah,” scoffed Finkelstein, “that’s a couple of blocks over. The city condemned most of the underground as unsafe, which is ok with us, and the night people discourage anyone from pushing in.”
“Go on,” Finkelstein urged, giving Ortega a push, “Take a look.”
Ortega took a few steps down the tunnel. The old sidewalk was rough and uneven, the pool of light from the bar was behind him and the glass blocks overhead just made the scene creepy. He pulled his service revolver out of his shoulder holster as he got to the intersection and peeked around the corner. It was darker down there without the light from the bar, and a strong odor floated his way. He turned around and walked back. Finkelstein was standing where he left him. “Back so soon?” he said, “You didn’t get very far.”
“I’m going to need a light and some backup,” Ortega said.
“No, no one else,” said Finkelstein, “Just you.”
“Look,” said Ortega, “I’m not going down there alone. You say there are Monsters, hell, there could be anyone down there. People are getting their throats torn out; we should send the whole precinct in there. I’m not going in without backup.”
“So now you want to follow rules. You must do this alone; if you call in the police there will be a war; hundreds, maybe thousands, will be killed,” hissed Finkelstein.
“I am the police, we’re already here, and the two guys who helped you before, remember the guys up on the wall, one of them didn’t do so good; the files say he got his throat ripped out, too.”
They turned back from the door, Finkelstein wondering if Ortega could possibly be the one and Ortega ready to go back to the station and rearrange the papers on his desk. As they started across the room, a figure in a long leather coat became visible under the stairs. She stepped forward and Ortega went for his gun. Finkelstein said, “Welcome,” as Ortega barked “put your hands where I can see them.” She stepped into the light and he recognized her from the medical examiner’s.
Finkelstein’s face beamed with delight, “Look, your backup is here.”
“Well hello,” said Ortega, emphasizing the ‘hello’ in a cheesy come on, “look who’s here.”
“Why are you here,” she demanded.
“Like before,” answered Finkelstein, “he is the one, it is in the book, we predicted and here he is.”
“No,” said Arabella, looking at Ortega, “go home.”
“She’s gonna back me up?” Ortega asked, completely baffled.
“No, you misunderstand,” said Finkelstein.
Ortega looked at her and started laughing, “If she’s the backup, we’re in trouble. What are those?” pointing at her feet, “What did you do, put on the Pomeranians this morning?”
“Brian Atwood’s,” she replied, holding out her ankle so he could get a clear view, “Pazza pumps, very stylish,” explaining culture to a savage.
“They look ridiculous,” Ortega scoffed, “You are wearing purple shoes, who has purple shoes.”
“Not purple, Fuschia. I have them in Leopard Print Pony, but a print seems over the top for stomping the crap out of Monsters, don’t you think?” she explained.
“What is sticking out of the top, are those feathers? You have feathers stuck on your shoes!” he exclaimed bending over to get a closer look.
“Why is he here?” she said to Finkelstein, who scurried between them making nice.
“Fuschia is a color?” bored, condescending attitude oozing from judgmental ignorance belittled her wardrobe.
“He has been called, the crisis brings the savior, the times make the man,” intoned Finkelstein, trying to save the moment. “He is necessary.”
“When I eat fast food or wear plastic shoes then he might be necessary, but until that pedestrian day, I don’t want him or need him.”
“Lady, these are expensive,” retorted Ortega, pulling up his warm ups to show off a pricey pair of running shoes with bright orange slashed in plastic inserts down the sides, “in case you didn’t know.”
“Have your neon shoes take you home,” she sniffed, “if they can find the way.”
“He’s the one. You must help each other,” Finkelstein explained, as if that would settle it.
“Wait a minute,” interjected Ortega, “I’m not helping her and she’s not helping me. She’s some kind of a doctor. I need back up, not a physical, not that I wouldn’t let her examine me, if you know what I mean,” leering at her.
Suddenly, she was behind him with his gun in her hand, “I don’t want to examine you, I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t even want to look at you.”
“Hey,” was all he could manage as he reached for his gun, “you can’t do that.”
“You are in over your head and I don’t have time to teach you, so take your toy and go home,” she whispered in his ear as she ejected the magazine from his gun.
Ortega scrabbled across the floor retrieved the magazine, saying, “You can’t do that; I’m SPD.”
She handed the empty gun to Ortega saying, “There, now you can’t hurt yourself.”
As Ortega stood waving his gun, Arabella turned to Finkelstein, making a point of ignoring Ortega and sweetly asked, “Have you seen the Ratman, I would like to talk to him.”
“He should be here. I sent word through his relatives,” replied Finkelstein, his eyes flickering to an old heat register in the wall.
Arabella glided across the room, ripped the grate covering the heat duct out of the wall, dropped to her knees and stuck her arm up to the shoulder into the wall. A high pitched squeal pierced the room and a furious banging started up. “Hold still,” Arabella yelled over the commotion, “you’ll only make it worse if you keep squirming, and stop that squealing.” Instantly, the racket stopped and she withdrew her arm from the hole in the wall. Clutched firmly in her hand was a mass of greasy grey black hair attached to the head of the filthiest person Ortega had ever seen.
“Still sneaking about and spying on people, I see,” Arabella said as she held the dirty ragamuffin up by his hair. “Good, that’s exactly what I’m looking for,” she grinned.
The words had a profound effect on him and he started skittering his feet on the floor trying to escape, and when he began squeaking she shook him by the hair, thundering “Silence.” Instantly he froze and calm descended on the room.
Ortega finally got a clear view of the creature, for that is what he most resembled: a half man, half animal creature. He appeared to be less than five feet tall with round protuberant ears poking out of sleek greasy hair. His face was pointed with a bristly sparse moustache that resembled whiskers as much as hair, thought Ortega, as he stared fascinated at the creature’s sharply chiseled teeth. Continually wrinkling its nose he appeared to be taking in the odors of the room and Ortega had the distinct impression when its beady black eyes focused on him that he was being smelled by the creature. Covered in dirty rags, Ortega wondered if the creature ever changed or if it just added more scraps to the pelt as it went along.
Arabella held him at arm’s length with no effort, casually inspecting first his front then his left side then the other side. His legs and feet swung out as she twisted her wrist, so that he resembled a raggedy Ann doll shaken by a terrier as much as a living person as she spun him back and forth. All the while he squeaked softly and chittered his teeth as his toes stretched for the floor. Finished with her inspection, she released her grip and he tumbled to the floor. Quick as a rat he scrabbled across the cement floor towards the wall, trying to make his escape.
“Hey,” shouted Ortega lunging from across the room hoping to block the exit. Without haste, Arabella stepped across the room and stomped the heel of her pump down between his legs, pinning him, or some part of him, to the floor where he thrashed about until she said, “if you break the heel on my new shoes or even scuff them I will be very angry with you.”
Instantly, he stopped thrashing about and became still as a mouse, only his eyes darting this way and that, hoping for freedom, looking for escape. “I’m going to release you and you will crawl into the center of the room. If you try to run, I will have my friend shoot you, do you understand?” Vigorous nodding of the head signaled that she had his attention and cooperation.
“I’m not shooting anyone,” said Ortega.
“If I say shoot, you shoot him,” said Arabella, rolling her eyes at Finkelstein.
The creature slowly stood, furtive eyes darting from one to another until finally he settled on Arabella, waiting like he was next in line for hanging. In turn, she said nothing, scrutinizing him until the tiny beads of perspiration on his forehead turned to drops and ran down his face, revealing tiny furrows of pink flesh below the grime caked on his skin. “Ratman meet Ortega, Ortega meet Ratman. You know Mr. Finkelstein; he’s been feeding you, I’m sure, and of course you and I are old acquaintances.”
“I haven’t seen anything,” Ratman blurted.
Arabella waited still as a statue in a park.
“If anyone’s broken the Law I don’t know anything about it,” he whined, servile and pleading.
Finally, she blinked to show that she was alive. “Broken the Law,” she said, surprised at the prospect. “What do you mean, broken the Law, has something bad happened while you were crawling through the sewers, did you come across something, hear something?”
The sweat was pouring from Ratman’s hair until it looked like he would melt; it was so thick, thought Ortega, that a mudslide might start on his face dissolving him into a puddle on the floor.
“Tell me,” she barked, “what have you seen sneaking around under the City, rooting in the trash?”
“Gathering, assembling,” he squeaked out like the air leaving a balloon when you pinch the valve, “deep underground, I myself haven’t seen them; my brothers told me.”
“How many,” she asked, nonchalant.
“They are eating us, Ratman blurted.
Arabella’s face displayed revulsion at the news. Recovering her composure she asked, “How do you know this.”
“Driven from the depths, my brothers and sisters have come to the surface to avoid being eaten,” he replied, his face flashing defiance.
“Abomination,” blurted a disgusted Finkelstein.
“That explains how they’ve stayed hidden,” observed Arabella.
“What are you talking about,” demanded Ortega, shoving forward to get into Ratman’s face, “Are you claiming that there are cannibals here or what?”
“No, you idiot, the Vampires are eating the rats; they’re killing them to drink their blood, to survive,” pushing Ortega back from the cowering Ratman. “Please be quiet, you are frightening him.”
“Excuse me, Lady, but from the sounds of things there’s some kind of crime going on here.”
Arabella looked at Ortega and then turned away, pointedly ignoring him, his concerns and conclusions.
“How many?” asked Arabella, gently this time.
Stepping close to Ratman, Arabella took his grimy hands in hers, holding him until he finally brought his face to hers. “I know we have not always been friends,” she said.
“Not you,…her,” the shriveled little man whispered, “but you are hers.”
“Yes, that is correct, I have always told you the truth, have I not,” she continued.
Rather than speaking, the Ratman nodded his head a curt assent.
“I will help you save your people,” she said, “but you must help me.”
The Ratman considered the statement and began to tremble, which, thought Ortega, resembled a trash pile tossed in the wind, finally managing a, “What do you want?”
“I need you to tell me how many there are. You can count can’t you,” she inquired in a straightforward manner so that Ratman wasn’t offended by the question.
He began reciting his numbers proving he could do it. Arabella let him get to twenty-three and when he next said twenty-five she stopped him, congratulating him on his skills and inviting Ortega and Finkelstein to applaud his prowess.
Mr. Finkelstein gravely pronounced the counting as the best he’d ever witnessed, worthy of the highest university in the land; Arabella glared at Ortega until he forced out, “Yeah, good job.”
“Send out your family,” she exhorted, “find them, count them, tell me where they are, where they sleep.”
“And, if we do this for you?”
“Then I will rid the Underground of them; that is what I will do for you.”
He nodded his assent, dropped to his hands and knees and scuttled off through the hole in the wall, the only sound soft thumping as he ran off through the duct work hidden in the walls.
“What’s going on,” said Ortega, “and while you’re at it, who is that guy?”
“He’s raising an army,” she mused, ignoring Ortega.
“It’s worse than we thought,” moaned Finkelstein.
“They’ve created a secret army Underground, subsisting on rat blood; they must be insane,” she said.
“Vampires, of course, now this all makes sense,” he mocked, still waving his gun around, “I suppose that’s what you are, right?”
Suddenly, she was in front of him with her hands at his throat, “Yes, I am.”
Incredulous, he stared at her and, mouth gaping, inadvertently pointed the gun at her.
“Would you please stop waving that gun around,” she said, “you might shoot Finkelstein.”
Turning to Finkelstein, she gestured towards the door and windows, “you’ve got to secure this; they could be coming at any time.”
“Don’t worry,” he replied, “we are safe here. None may enter without an invitation, and we are protected by
“They will be different; they are not subject to the same restrictions.”
“So how did you get in,” asked Ortega, “I mean, let’s see your invite,” he snickered.
“His great-grandfather issued the first invitation, after him his father, then Mr. Finkelstein gave me entry,” she said, formally bowing her head to Finkelstein who acknowledged her with a bow of his own.
She watched Ortega try to do the math in his head.
“One hundred and twenty-three years ago,” she said.
“I was getting there,” he shot back, “Just give me a little time.”
“Well,” she sweetly replied, “Maybe you should take lessons from Ratman, you could both improve your counting skills.”
“That makes you what,” he sneered, “a hundred and fifty years old?”
“A little more,” said Mr. Finkelstein.
Unable to restrain himself, he started laughing, “Am I on camera now? Enough of this, no more fairy tales.” He looked around the room trying to discover a hidden camera, pulling the furniture out and looking behind the old bottles on the makeshift bar.
“This is who you want me to work with,” she growled to Finkelstein. “At least the last time they were grownups.”
“He‘ll be fine once he calms down. Maybe you should show him something, a little demonstration,” pleaded Finkelstein.
“Magic for the ignorant.”
“Think of it like a training exercise, so he understands what we’re up against,” said Finkelstein, desperate to keep the two of them together, “just this once, for me, please.”
Turning toward Ortega she said, “Shoot me,” like she was saying one ice cream please, a nice polite voice.
“Are you crazy? I’m not gonna shoot you,” he replied not at all calm.
“Finkelstein, shoot me,” she held out her .45 by the barrel so that he could take it by the grip.
“Where would you like it,” he inquired, “stomach, chest?”
Ortega started to pull his weapon and Finkelstein casually pointed the .45 at him saying, “Put your gun on the floor, we really don’t have time to explain and I think a little demonstration will help. You know, a picture’s worth a thousand words and all that. Go ahead set it down, that’s good, now kick it away and back up to the wall, wouldn’t want you interfering.”