Underground Vampire, page 4
Commander Gunderson had been waiting at the landing; he’d smartly tied off the mooring lines and extended a hand as she stepped from the gunwale to the dock. Two sheriffs stood on the beach, both trim in pressed and creased uniforms with short hair that had become stylish in spite of their efforts to disdain artifice. Gunderson didn’t bother to introduce them as they went past, so Arabella stopped, held out her hand and introduced herself. Comfortable with being ignored, the startled sheriffs came to attention, garbled out their names and pumped her hand a regulation three times.
Gunderson, oblivious that she’d stopped, continued across the beach. Turning from the sheriffs she admired the house and the surround of trees. Glancing back, she caught the two sheriffs ogling her behind in her grey wool slacks. Wiggling her butt to keep them occupied, she followed Gunderson who was prattling rubbish about the sanctity of the crime scene and liberal juries letting criminals free.
“If it was wolves there won’t be a jury, will there?” she asked, keeping her voice flat.
Gunderson snapped about. “Who told you that?” he demanded.
“Dr. Izanagi,” she replied, “the examiner I assisted at the morgue.”
“That’s confidential information,” he snorted. “Any disclosure will be treated as intentional interference with an ongoing police investigation and subject you to criminal consequences.”
“Don’t worry,” she confided, “I would never dream of telling anyone your only suspect is a wolf.”
Walking past him, she entered the house. A sheet of plywood covered the shattered window, casting discordant shadows across the beautifully proportioned room. Inside, the blood had turned brown with age but the metallic tang lingered in the air, sparking her hunger. The splotches unnerved her for a moment and she tamped the desire to feed, the thought of contact with Gunderson disgusting. He continued to natter as only the self-important do, laying out theories and biases with the brio of proud ignorance.
“They were here,” she said, finding an excuse to interrupt his discourse on nothing.
“Yes they were found there and there,” indicating body outlines on the floor, which any cretin could see.
“But they weren’t lying on the floor to start, were they?” she questioned. “Or were they?”
“No, of course not.”
She stared at him wondering if he could get to it.
“They were on couches, ridiculous little things; I’m told they cost a fortune.
“Oh, I don’t see them.”
“Evidence; they’ve been impounded. We have them. If you want to see ‘em, you’ll have to go to the warehouse. Like I said, ridiculous, useless little things,” he said, as ignorant concerning design, she was pleased to note, as he was at detection.
“They were here,” she said, indicating with her hands, “the little couches, about here,” standing in front of the plywood boarding up the broken window.
“Do you happen to know the color?” she asked.
“Color,” he replied apparently stupefied at the concept.
“Red, I would imagine.”
“Yeah, somewhere over there,” he replied, bored with her sudden interest in interior decoration. “They were covered in blood; they must have been attacked on the couches and all this,” waving his arm like a cartoon conductor, “was excess spillage.”
“Excess spillage,” she murmured, walking about inspecting splotches and drips.
“So, they saw their demise coming up the beach,” mused Arabella admiring the view, “reclining on their ridiculous little couches while a storm broke the window and a wolf trotted up the beach?”
Gunderson folded his arms across his chest, pointedly ignoring her for the rest of the inspection.
Breaking her reverie, Arabella faced the Queen. “No, I didn’t go down, I didn’t need to,” she replied, “I could tell from the damage to the corpses what had caused the injuries; I went to the scene to see if there was residual energy from the attack, something to tell me who it was.”
“Was there?” the Queen asked, calm and collected like they were old friends sharing a story. “Was there any sign of the perpetrator, the killer?” She’d relaxed the power circling Arabella’s neck, enabling her to breathe and speak.
“Yes, I could sense it. Whoever it was tore their lives out; it was as much an orgy as a feeding.”
“After all this time he must have been very hungry,” the Queen shrugged as she returned to her chair. “The question is, did he escape by himself or did someone help him. What do you think, Arabella? I’m sure the thought occurred to you while you were lounging about on your sea voyage. Tell me, what do you think, or do you know that answer?”
“She’s looking for a plot,” thought Arabella, “she doesn’t know what is going on.”
Moments like this were dangerous for the Clan. For those in the bloodline, any hint of disloyalty could lead to suspicion, which led to death unless a very convincing explanation was quickly produced. The Northwest Clan had been founded by the Queen, and all its members had been made by the Queen or by one of hers with her explicit permission. All in the bloodline owed obligations to those who made them, and absolute duty to the Queen. Some, like Petru, had been made centuries ago in Europe and had made the trip to the New World with her to carve out a territory free of Old World duties and obligations.
Many of those European ties extended to the Clans of the East Coast, prompting the Queen to push West on her arrival in America. Ultimately, she chose the Northwest because it was out of the East-West axis of the continent and considered an uncultured backwater. With most of the Clans occupying the Northeast cities and the rest fighting over the shambles of the South after the Civil War, natural expansion for an ambitious Vampire was through Chicago and Kansas City along the rail lines, then onto San Francisco.
Noticing a vacuum and without any organized opposition, the Queen was able to establish a presence in Seattle, nurturing a Clan to full strength and ultimately dominating the Northwest. By the time the San Francisco Clan decided to see what was going on up North, she was entrenched from Alaska to Portland and easily rebuffed their advance.
Petru played a singular role in the negotiations by abducting the initial foray from San Francisco and imprisoning them in a metal cage. On a spectacularly sunny August day he exposed them to the sun until, one by one, they smoldered into flames. The powdery remains were returned to the San Francisco Clan in an exquisite Chinese porcelain bowl with a charming note suggesting that from now on, any emissaries properly present themselves and request permission to enter her territory.
Every Vampire residing in the Northwest, everyone except her, Arabella knew, was of the bloodline. She was the only outsider, a status that afforded her some freedom, as she had no blood allegiance to a maker, but left her alone and vulnerable to suspicion at times like these. In matters of treason the Queen would start with her; she would be the first suspect.
Arabella faced the Queen now, ignoring Petru. If this went against her, she knew she was no match for the two of them. Facing Petru alone would be fifty-fifty at best; add in the Queen and she wouldn’t last more than a minute. She knew that any preemptive attack on the Queen would bring Petru onto her back with his nails and fangs deep into her neck, so thoughts of that were just that, useless thoughts, a distraction from the danger in front of her.
“Oliver escaped, with or without the help of others I don’t know. If you remember, I wanted to cut off his head; I still do,” she said, facing the Queen and speaking softly, with great respect. “The only reason I would free Oliver from his grave would be to complete the task I undertook those many years ago. He’s too powerful to leave alive and too charismatic to ever trust. You brought me here to capture him and I did. Then you decided he should live. I did as you directed, even though it placed me at peril, as him alive leaves an enemy behind. Nevertheless, I put him in his coffin and threw him into the Sea; Petru was there and is my witness.”
She and Petru, she embracin
“Whether others have located him and are helping him, I do not know. I did not rescue him nor do I know who might have helped him, if anyone did. Although not of your blood I am loyal to you and have been since you allowed me membership,” Arabella finished in a rush and waited for the verdict.
She stood calm and peaceful, at ease in the middle of the cream rug; if the Queen’s suspicions had settled on her, then there was nothing to do. She could not escape and the facts were as she had said. Behind her she felt Petru shift his position. He was directly behind her now and a step closer. Her future, if she had one, was out of her control; she’d lived long and if it was to end she was ready.
“You need to find him,” the Queen ordered, “find Oliver.” Whether it’s him alone, or with a group, find them all,” she hissed, reminding Arabella of the Komodo dragon that devoured the renegade Shin Tsu after she had staked him to the soil of Rinca in the Indonesian night. Ignorant of the lizard’s existence, she had watched as the beast surged from the shadows swallowing Shin Tsu’s head. The ten foot long lizard lifted the unfortunate into the air, his arms and legs akimbo and twitching like an insect on its back in an attempt to swallow the prey whole. Finally, frustrated, the beast repeatedly rammed Shin Tsu’s hindquarters into a handy tree, forcing the torso down its engorged gullet until Arabella’s last memory of Shin was the lizard’s forked tongue flickering between Shin’s protruding feet.
Since her Chinese masters had stipulated that she produce proof of Shin’s demise (the usual form being ashes in a presentation vase), Arabella was forced to track the beast until it regurgitated the gastric pellet. Collecting the bones, teeth and jewelry proved relatively simple, although the cloying odor of the beast’s insides required her to undergo cleansing ceremonies involving bales of sage.
“And when you capture Oliver, I want him before me, alive, with a tongue in his mouth or at least able to nod his head. The others I don’t care about; rip out their tongues as you root out the treason. Show no mercy. Do you understand? No mercy.” Peevish, she plucked at the antimacassar like a hen pecking for bugs in the dirt.
“I understand,” said Arabella, thinking insanity was rampant.
“Good,” smiled the Queen, standing up and posing like a model with her left toe pointing forward, “do you like my hat?”
“Yes,” she replied, struggling for a compliment, “it's quite charming.”
“Off with you then,” she ordered, jabbing at her with the knife nail on her index finger. “Times like this people become unsettled, some see an opportunity for advancement, others just like to cause trouble.”
“Of course,” said Arabella not at all sure what she was talking about.
“You have always known your place and most important you never try to rise above your station, I like that about you.”
“I am content to serve you,” seemed an innocuous, safe reply to a puzzling turn in the conversation.
“Others may have pretensions to my chair, to my house, to my power.”
Arabella was unsure about the direction the conversation was going and tried to look like she certainly had no pretensions. If it was up to her she would burn the house and the chair to ashes, so hideous were the furnishings, so oppressive the atmosphere.
“If you are referring to Oliver…”
“Not just Oliver,” shrieked the Queen, “it might be anyone.”
“Of course,” said Arabella, “anyone.”
“You understand, then. Go and get them.”
Arabella turned and walked to the door, her footsteps quiet in the thick carpet. She wished only to be free of this oppressive room. As she reached the door Petru, once again the loyal retainer and polished servant, reached across and opened the door, polite and gracious. She nodded her head in thanks for the courtesy when, from behind she heard, “Petru doesn’t appreciate your sarcasm. He has no sense of humor; come to think of it, neither do I.”
“He still keeps the old ways. You might try a return to the dirt; it would do you good,” as the door closed quietly behind her, leaving the Queen in the dark room, plotting and planning with Petru.
Escaping the oppressive room, Arabella descended polished stairs and impulsively turned away from the front door toward the back of the house. A wood and steel advertisement for industrial home cooking, the kitchen had been designed, fabricated and installed by a Swedish company, specialists in creating culinary environments for people with great wealth and no inclination to cook.
Next to floating metal racks, which served as pantry étagère for spices and condiments unknown to all but the most discriminating epicures, she opened an architectural door of forbidden Brazilian Rosewood. The entrance, artfully obscured by bouquets of herbs drying in artificial light, gave off a delightfully illegal floral scent as it silently swung shut behind her.
Descending, she entered the original servants’ quarters, hidden parts of the mansion built to obscure the serving class. It never occurred to the Queen to upgrade the quarters during her successive renovations, so visiting was to enter a lath and plaster maze of narrow passages and steep stairs stuffing as many servants as possible into the least amount of space. Separate and hidden, the old quarters held a quaintly esoteric attraction to the subversive personality.
At the bottom of the stairs was a narrow hallway; lining it were doors to claustrophobic rooms with no windows. The rooms, she knew, were empty of all but dust, spiders and the faintly sweet odor of old mold. The hall ended at the cheap door to a bedroom with a closet on the right hand wall. The closet was tiny, hardly worth having, she thought, as she thrust her hands into old clothes hung on wire and, pushing the rear panel, stepped through as it ali babad open.
She stepped into a cave carved out between the basement retaining wall and the hillside sloping from Highland Avenue to the back of the property. Decades of burrowing and amateur construction only a building inspector could appreciate had produced rooms smelling deeply of original earth, primeval dirt never touched by sun, undisturbed from the beginning of time. The trogs found it ideal for sleeping and the earth the perfect heat sink for their Cray.
The room stretched the width of the mansion and into the hillside as deeply as anyone wanted to dig. She wondered why the front yard hadn’t collapsed, assuming that the trogs had somehow reinforced the ceilings. A hamster maze of what she thought was industrial grade plastic spaced the room; dividers hanging over one by fours laid loosely across four by fours served as flooring.
The inhabitants favored spray paint as a medium, splotching obscure glyphs where ever a spot presented and the spirit moved. She recognized some as now forgotten WWI totems; others took meaning from the universal raised fist of resistance or Bob Marley pictographs. In between were obscure symbols of revolt and anarchy apparent to those steeped from birth in complex dialectics of oppression and struggle.
The result was a vague space of indeterminate dimensions, all visible through translucent sheeting. In the center of it all was their monolith, the super computer they’d somehow smuggled down here. They’d proudly shown it to her on her last visit, with detailed exclamations of teraflops and petabytes and scaling capabilities until she said it looked like the cabinet where the cleaning crew kept its supplies except shinier.
Data streams danced down the hall; she thought she recognized banking information but the sym
As the battle in the courtyard unfolded to the climactic death, she glimpsed the trogs supine in distant rooms. It had been years since she‘d actually seen one of them up walking, their virtual immortality nourished by blood and nutrients delivered through a system of pumps and tubes so the background was a hum of pneumatic swooshing.
It was one of her favorite spots in Seattle and the only place in the mansion she ever relaxed.
Exploring the basement one day, she’d stumbled upon it. Passing the movie test, an easy one with hordes of soldiers with flags on their backs attacking the castle Kurosawa style, she’d been allowed to witness their gestalt. Solving problems that required a physical presence cemented the relationship and they reciprocated by maintaining a constant watch on her data cloud. The slightest hint of interest in her was detected, analyzed and dealt with seamlessly. Now with the Cray she understood they could mine world data, correlating, analyzing, predicting. For what purpose was a bit hazy, but ultimately it was aimed at their desire to go machine. Vampire geeks.
Since their latest evolution, they communicated exclusively by net, creepy communiques with no source, only text, images, video appearing on whatever device she happened to be using. More than once she’d noticed their movies on public monitors, proof that they’d invaded the security systems of everyone in Seattle. She was used to seeing her name flashing at odd moments as she traversed the city; what at first felt like stalking had become a comforting presence.
The dominant feature of the cave was cable snaking through the plastic halls and into shadowy rooms, either office or bedroom there was really no distinction. At some point the trogs installed an electrical panel on the inside of the cement retaining wall that was the back of the basement and tapped into the street side power line pulling enough energy to operate several blocks of houses.