Underground Vampire, page 29
“It matters not to me,” she sniffed, uninterested in Jesse’s fate. “I tire of him; kill him now, kill him later,” a Gallic shrug dismissing the matter as of no account.
Petulant, robbed of his little moment by her indifference, Oliver jerked the chain arching Jesse’s neck, exposing the thumping artery. For a moment all were tableau, the only sound Jesse’s heart reverberating steady through the cavern. At that precise moment, a moment frozen in time, Jesse looked at her and they locked their eyes and he mouthed, “Kill him.”
The cavern was large, conical and hot. She could not guess how deep she’d come, but the air was stifling here, poisonous with gas and debauchery. Jesse was showing the effects and she knew she had to free him soon.
Oliver was ensconced on a cone of rubble pushed together in the center of the chamber. Like a pasha of old, he sat as she approached, then majestically rose to his full height. Shocked, Arabella stopped at the sight of him; no longer even vestigial Human he had transformed to an old world Vampire. And he was big; towering above her, she estimated that he was at least twelve feet tall. Wings had sprouted from his back; unfeathered, they were covered with the evil grey skin of a diseased bat. Bony appendages grew from the bottom of his folded wings, bastardized hands; the edged bones had the look of horned fingers.
This close, his horrid head loomed over them, the features a grotesque parody of a Human face, all dominated by the cavernous maw filled with three rows of teeth, each at a different angle so that the effect was that of a rasp, as he absentmindedly plucked what was left of a thigh and leg from the abattoir that was his throne and ground it against his face in a profane act of dining.
“Have you come to put me in a box, dear Arabella?”
“No, not that,” she said, “I’ve come for a visit.”
“Join me,” he said, pieces of meat falling from his teeth, “It will be like the old days, you and I together again.”
Jesse perked up at ‘together again’ and, raising his head, mouthed “together again, again?”
Ignoring him, she pushed her way up the cone, “Doesn’t look like there’s enough room up there for two of us,” she said. “I’ll sit below you.”
Smiling his hideous face, Oliver looked down upon her as, with impeccable elegance and grace, she sank to a stone below his feet, slightly bowing her head to him in the universal symbol of obeisance so loved by bullies and tyrants throughout history.
“Why are you here then, Arabella?”
“I’ve come to take what’s mine,” she said.
“Not that again,” wheezed Jesse.
“He is mine now,” roared Oliver
“Finally,” was all she said, “it’s killing time.”
Oliver rose, wings extended, a roar echoing through the chamber, a roar becoming a scream as, still sitting, Arabella slashed Oliver’s left leg. Rising into the air, Oliver flew to the ceiling where he inverted and, grasping hold with his wing’s talons, hung upside down, malevolent eyes hating her.
Smashing into the chain with her sword she shattered a link and, pulling Jesse to his feet, pushed him toward the tunnel. Instead of running, Jesse stood and stared at the abomination hanging above them.
“What the hell….”
“Nice, isn’t it,” she said, “He’s degenerated into Vampire horror show.”
Above them bat ears focused on them like radar dishes listening to their every word. “Yes stay, both of you,” he said, “You will save me from hunting you once I’ve disposed of Arabella.”
“Come down from there, abomination; it is the end of time for you.”
“There is no time for me,” he wailed as he released his grip and, like a prehistoric dinosaur, circled above them gliding on his leather wings, slowly dropping to swoop above their heads barely out of range of Arabella’s sword.
“Be careful,” she warned Jesse. “He wants you; when he comes by, duck.”
“I’m not hiding,” he retorted.
“Yes, you are,” she said whacking him behind the knees with the flat of the sword.
Tumbling to his knees, cursing with a mouth of dirt, he turned to see her deliver an overhead slash into a wing slicing through skin, causing Oliver to careen awkwardly across the cavern crashing into the opposite wall.
She was on him as he gathered himself from the ground, harrying him so that he could only retreat before her onslaught. His wounded leg hampered him on the ground, giving her the advantage. He stumped about, less agile than he would have been but still formidable, trying to get airborne where he would have the advantage. Stalemate arose between her sword and his talons, neither able to penetrate the other, neither able to disengage. To the side Jesse could only watch, superfluous to the main action.
Slowly they circled about the rubble-filled chamber, the flashes of flame from the fissures to the depths the only light. Pushing forward, Arabella began a series of cuts left and right, Oliver parried with his talons taking the brunt of the silver cuts and visibly wincing at the pain inflicted at each stroke. Not stopping, she pushed closer into his grasp, relying on her sword speed to block his rasping claws. Twice he was able to penetrate the whirlwind of her blade and rake her with bloody strokes.
Torn, her silk top glistened with her sweat, the bloody streaks a parody of fashion. She ignored her injuries and the damage, pressing ever closer until, mid-cut, she grasped her sword and, springing forward, thrust it into Oliver’s stomach. Reflexively, he curved his wings around her to immobilize her action. Ignoring his wings tearing at her flesh, she bulled forward until suddenly his back was to one of the fissures in the floor of the chamber, a fracture deep beneath the city leading down to the fire at the center of the Earth.
Teetering, they balanced on the edge, his taloned foot grasping the edge, she twisting and turning the blade deep within him till he could hold no longer and, falling backward, he folded his wings around her, embracing her in the long fall to the flame burning at the center of the world.
Jesse ran to the edge of the fracture, leaning over as far as he could, hoping for a glimpse of her. Boiling steam and noxious fumes forced him back with a fit of coughing, his throat and lungs burnt raw from the fumes. He crawled back several feet searching for clean air, then pushed forward again, determined to find a way in and down.
He stayed as long as he could and several times crawled back to the edge, each time repulsed by the heat and smoke. He tried shouting to Arabella but got no response. He found himself calling out to her, telling her the things that lovers didn’t say but always meant to, or never meant to say but came spilling out when they were gone. No matter, he talked himself empty lying alone on the infinite floor until there was no more he could say, and he had the moment of clarity where he saw she wasn’t coming back that day or any other day.
Drawing to his feet, he trudged out of the chamber and up following the Way. For a while Jesse kept track of the destruction, a harmless distraction, but simple counting proved too taxing and finally, head down, he concentrated on walking up until, rounding a corner, he stumbled into the Indian and Ismaeli who said, “Welcome back,” as he collapsed to the ground, free from the Underground but lost to himself.
Waking in the apartment was the start of another day. He knew it would be like all the ones before, long and lonely. He got out of their bed and put on jeans, a sweatshirt, green Convers low cuts and, glancing out the window, a windbreaker for the rain. The dog waited at the front door, waiting while he brushed his teeth and hair. At the front sidewalk they turned in the same direction they did every morning and walked up the street, him ignoring the city, the dog burying his face in every disgusting bit at nose level. The dog stopped at the coffee shop and sat patiently waiting for him to get in line, buy the biggest cup of coffee they had and get back out so they could walk to work.
The front door of the Blue Anchor was buttoned up the way he’d left it last night. Peering through the front windows, he took his time and examined the interior fo
“Anything down there?”
“Rats and bugs.”
“I’ll take a look later, after I open.”
“No need, I swept the tunnel, it’s clean.”
Jesse grunted, whether in agreement or not you really couldn’t tell, and set about opening the bar for another day of business. The Indian plugged in the Rock Ola table, got his supplies from the closet and set about cleaning and polishing the table as he did every morning. Opening didn’t involve much as Jesse and the Indian did the entire cleanup at closing so the Blue Anchor was good to go each morning. When he took over, Jesse changed opening to noon to accommodate his late night schedule. Between the two of them, they covered the bar till 2:00 am closing time. Mr. Finkelstein still came in once a week to meet with his group in the basement studying the books, casting spells and watching the Underground.
After Jesse retired from the force, Finkelstein said, “What are you going to do?”
Jesse had no answer other than keep looking. Finkelstein took off his apron and handed it to Jesse saying, “Well it’s yours now.” He stayed long enough to show Jesse how everything worked and how to pay the bills. As he walked out the door he pointed at the Indian saying, “Oh yeah, he gets free beer as long as he wants.”
Jesse looked at the Indian standing at the shuffle board table. Finally, he said, “Free forever?”
“Yep, it’s a very good deal.”
“I don’t know,” said Jesse.
“You’re not going Indian Giver on me, are you?”
“No, I was thinking more like partners.”
“Do I still get free beer?”
“All you want,” said Jesse, “Its half yours.”
“Kinda takes the fun out of it.”
The only change they’d made was to organize a shuffleboard team challenging any tavern with a table to home and away matches. It had proved extremely popular and a league had formed. One of the Underground Vampire bars put together a team called Goth Forever and did quite well.
Retiring from SPD had been easy, like a cloud lifting from him. He put in his papers, went to the interview, got his release, handed in his badge and gun and rejoined society. Malloy came by saying it was a mistake he should reconsider. Apparently, the Queen had him on the short list for personal spy within the department; Malloy was moving up to minister plenipotentiary, whatever the hell that was, and was going on the road visiting Clans all over the world. Malloy wanted him to take over Special Matters, but he wasn’t interested. When Malloy asked him if he really wanted to throw it all away to be a skid row bar keep, he wanted to throw Malloy out on his ass. Instead, he asked Malloy if he knew Prunella was dirty. Malloy said no one knew for sure, it was impossible to say what was real with People of the Night where relationships and grudges lasted decades, if not centuries. Jesse asked if Ireland was good training. Malloy said yes it was, hate is easily transferable.
So when you sent us in, you knew it was a trap, said Jesse. Malloy was drinking the whiskey pretty good, maybe it was confession time, thought Jesse. No one ever knows, was all he said. He drank the rest of his drink and held his hand over glass, no more.
“What are you going to do?” he asked again.
Jesse said nothing till finally Malloy gave up and stood. “The Queen says you’ve taken to roaming the Underground; be careful down there, it’s a dangerous place.” Malloy walked out and the Crown Vic pulled to the curb, his promotion must have come with a driver, thought Jesse.
He wiped off the bar, cleaned Malloy’s glass, and put away the whiskey bottle. Walking out from behind the bar, he took off the apron that the men of the Blue Anchor wore when they worked and headed for the stairs.
The Indian put his apron on and, tying it about his waist the way they did, said, “Be careful, I hear it’s dangerous down there.”
“I’ll be back for closing,” was all he said.
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David Lee, Underground Vampire