Vampire Esquire's War: A Novella, page 3
Working in the White House didn't allow time for much else. She didn’t do it for the money, but Bridgett kept telling herself it was worth it.
"Oh hey Mom. Sorry I didn't call you yesterday. I was up all night working on a memo regarding...well...I can't say what it was about," Bridgett chuckled.
"Glad to know you still have your sense of humor, but how long are you going to continue on with that job? It seemed great at first, but after almost two years, it seems the newness would wear off."
"Mom, that's the way things go. It isn't bad. Really. I like it."
"You aren't convincing me."
Hot anger rose up on Bridgett’s neck. She and her mother had the same fight several times a week. Her mom married right out of college. She had Bridgett less than a year into her marriage, and she didn’t know why Bridgett didn’t feel the need to follow the same path. Her mom didn’t understand her, not now and certainly not if she ever learned the truth.
Working in the White House taught her things were often not what they seemed. The world was infinitely complex, and “correct” answers rarely existed. Shades of gray existed in every facet of life, and she didn’t realize this until after a few months of working in her position.
The world teetered on the brink of disaster and utter collapse almost everyday. Threats never thought possible often arose: plagues, chemical warfare and unexplained phenomena, the last of which concerned her the most.
Bridgett believed the world could be divided into two groups: those who knew the world was infinitely complex, much of it unknowable, and those who waltzed through life unaware and unaware that they were unaware. Bridgett was part of the first category, and her mother was part of the second category.
Bridgett spent he free time searching out the Internet for so-called “hair-brained conspiracy theories” because she found them interesting, although she did believe some of them were true.
“I’ve got to go mom,” Bridgett said. She pressed the button before her mom could respond.
Roland Walker fought when he got drunk. And he drank far more than he should. It used to be he drank only when on a break, but, after seeing the Iraqi boy in Fallujah dying from the gunshot wound, he couldn’t deal with his emotions.
While he was in Iraq—and after the war too—the military did a horrible job of addressing the mental health traumas and subsequent emotions inflicted by the sights, sounds and general atrocities of war. Men walked around either zombies, broken men or both. Roland, a vicious combination of both, sleep walked through battle, but then he felt the emotional weight of the things he did and saw later.
His drinking, which he used to escape the past, made the present worse because it dulled his judgment, allowing him to make more mistakes. He didn’t intend to do bad things, but the results were the same.
“The usual Ronnie,” said Roland. Roland preferred to drink alone at his favorite local bar known as the Honkey Tank Angel. It had been named for a line in the David Allan Coe song, ‘My Long Hair Just Can’t Cover Up My Redneck.’
Ronnie poured Jim Beam into a tumbler and added a splash of Coke. Roland liked his drinks strong. “I hope you will go a little easier than you did last time.”
Roland waved him off with both hands. It was a friendly wave, but Roland didn’t usually stay friendly. The death and carnage of war had a way of roaring back into his consciousness and searing itself on his brain. So he drank to forget, but it didn’t always work that way.
Out of the corner of his eye near the blinking Budweiser sign he saw the television, and the ticker under it spoke of a “Mysterious Coming Threat.” The threat is already here, and it has always been here, thought Roland.
“What do you think of that shit Roland?” asked Billy Jenkins, who sat a few stools down.
“I never liked the term coming threat. Best I can tell it is a threat is either a threat or it isn’t.”
Billy cocked his head and smirked when he met Roland’s eyes. “Spoken like a true Marine. Nothing gets past you.”
“That’s right Billy. You were a Marine. First Gulf War, right?”
“Yep,” said Billy proudly.
Roland glowered. “That was a different war. Didn’t last very long. Hell, barely anyone died.”
Billy didn’t like this. So he walked off, and Roland let him go.
His mind drifted back to his own experience and the pointlessness of war. Few things were worth fighting for, and he wasn’t sure if he would ever get over the death and destruction he saw. It made you question the viability of the human race long term.
Roland wasn’t philosophical by nature, but liquor had a way of talking to him and summoning his inner demons. And those demons had a way of saying strange things to him. Lately it seemed these demons would never shut up. Eventually something had to silence them because they preyed upon his thoughts like vampires.
“Vampires,” he said out loud and laughed.
“You want to watch True Blood Roland,” said Ronnie. “We got HBO last week, and we host viewing parties on the Sunday nights.”
Roland smirked again. “No, I think I will pass. I already have enough bullshit in my head.”
Vampires sucked people’s blood then killed them. Given his past sins, this hit a little too close to home. War taught him he didn’t like killing or death in general.
Roland came to the conclusion there was rarely, if ever, a legitimate reason to kill any living person. Few causes were righteous. The president, Congress and the Republicans told him the Iraqi war and the Afghani war were righteous wars, but they didn’t have to see the faces of the innocent dead with their dark, lifeless eyes. He found it hardest of all to see dead eyes because eyes show life, yet eyes also saw horrible things. Those children saw the guns drawn, and their eyes told them they were going to die. What an incomprehensible thing to see impending death.
Roland had no other place to go but where he was now in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. But he was no Abraham Lincoln. That was for sure. “I bet old Abe Lincoln could kick the shit out of a vampire,” Roland said to himself.
“But that’s just a shitty movie. Damn I think of dumb shit when I am drunk,” he said
Roland knew he was going through a period of transition. The end of his military career made him feel bad, but he was glad to be home. The war and the military had disillusioned him, and he didn't want a part of either one. He just needed to figure out something else to do with his life, something to make up for his past.
He tapped the battered, mahogany bar for good luck. The bar had character, but it had seen better days––so had he, though. The bar personified Roland, battered yet reliable and substantial, and this realization comforted him. In this uncertain world, at least he could relate to something.
After the first drink he felt better.
Maybe he would go back to school and work part time at a sporting goods store. He supposed his skill as a marksman wouldn't hurt him. In fact, he was counting on that to allow him to start over again. The only problem with all of this was the dishonorable discharge. And that's what nagged him. How would he ever start over again with this mark on his record?
"Hey, get me another Jack and Coke. Three fingers of Jack. It's Friday. Why not?"
John leaned over in Roland's face, his whisky-soaked breath hot against Roland’s cheek. He remembered John from high school, a real asshole, who was the star quarterback on the football team. He and John had fought several times usually to draws.
“Roland, for the record, I know what happened to you over there was bullshit. Everyone knows you are a good guy."
Roland smiled. Maybe he could move past this. Perhaps he had misunderstood and been too on edge.
As soon Roland thought things might be looking up, Erik Butcher (another former football player) walked in the bar. Erik had been a high school football star, although years before Roland, and he went to Southern
"I guess they will let anyone in this place,” Erik shouted in Roland's direction. “How you been trailer trash?"
Roland tensed up, but he decided to ignore Erik.
Erik still carried himself like an athlete, but he moved a little too well for someone in his mid-30s who drank like a fish and didn’t work out. He moved with an animal litheness, but his face bore an ashen pallor with light red veins on his neck. Veins lined his eyes too, and the skin under his eyes was yellow. Erik didn’t appear to be a drug addict, but something about him wasn’t well.
He’d seen the look before in battle. In battle he witnessed things he never thought he would see again, for sometimes he saw men move more like supernatural beings than soldiers. He thought this may be part of a mental illness or some sort of battle induced psychosis.
"I guess you aren't responding to that anymore. That's right. Your mama moved up in the world. So maybe that term's not accurate anymore. How about it coward? Isn't that why you were dishonorably discharged?" Erik roared with laughter. "I'm just kidding. We are friends now Roland. Get my man another drink, Ronnie. We’re just two old high school buddies shooting the shit after not seeing each other for awhile."
Erik made the mistake of grabbing Roland's shoulder. Roland spun around. He hit Erik in the windpipe, but Erik seemed unfazed by the blow.
Erik roared, his veins growing more red. His muscles tensed, and they rippled like a bodybuilder. Jesus, this guy is stacked, thought Roland.
Instinctively Roland grabbed for a pool cue, and he broke it off to form a wooden stake. He wasn’t sure why he made a sharp wooden stake, but something told him he needed to do it or Erik was going to kill him.
“That won’t do any good against me asshole,” Erik shouted, his voice, deep, loud and powerful.
Erik bolted forward at Roland with more speed than he’d ever had in high school. Roland jumped left and stabbed right, planting the stake into Erik’s leg. Erik winced in pain, and he stumbled forward.
Neither man saw John in the background, but John ran forward at Erik trying to grab him. “You’ve always been a dick, Erik,” John said.
Erik shoved John to the side, but John’s head hit the bar. His neck snapped back.
The fight stopped temporarily.
A blond with big hair ran to John. She babbled, and tears rolled down her cheeks. She shouted something, and it her mouth seemed to say, “Someone get an ambulance. He’s not breathing.”
Roland couldn’t hear her. He couldn’t hear anyone. He saw blood on a wooden bench made of the same mahogany that had previously given him comfort. He didn’t feel sad. He didn’t feel afraid. He felt nothing. Feelings were overrated. He didn’t care anymore.
Erik lurched towards the door, the stake still sticking out of his leg. Then he picked up speed and fled into the night. Roland chased after him, but it was too late.
Roland went outside and sat in his car. He knew the police would be there soon. He had a lot of explaining to do.
Roland felt a mixture of sadness and self-pity. He started the series of events that led to a man’s death, and he made worse his already difficulty post-military life.
The first night in jail was the hardest. “I’m not supposed to be here,” he said aloud.
“Shut up,” a drunk from a few cells over yelled waking Roland from his nightmare while pulling him into a living one.
The rest of the night went this way. Roland would drift off to sleep, but each time the dream was the same: some drunk asshole would yell or piss on the floor.
He knew it was a prelude to what was coming. If he went to prison, it would be worse.
Roland expected bad news when he sat in the waiting room to talk to his lawyer. He’d become accustomed to the scratchy orange jumpsuit and the blue slip on shoes. He sat on the plastic chair behind the metal table and waited.
Instead of his attorney two men in blue suits walked in. Both flashed Secret Service credentials. The tall white man said, “I’m Agent David Davis.” He motioned to the tall black man, who appeared to be an agent out of a movie, “This is Agent Thomas Watson.”
“Where’s my lawyer?” asked Roland. He’d seen enough cop shows to know he shouldn’t say anything without a lawyer present.
"The DA has decided to drop all charges on a few conditions.”
Roland laughed in disbelief. "Seriously? I don’t even know why there are charges."
"Oh there are, and you don’t want any of that. If you play ball, you are getting out of here. You release is conditioned upon your following instructions.”
“I’ve heard that kind of shit before,” said Roland. “They told us to ‘play ball’ before the fuckers sent us off to war.”
Neither agent responded, letting the comment pass.
This doesn’t make sense, Roland thought. He’d heard crap stories like the one where he was supposed to tell in military court. He didn’t buy that story and refused to tell it, and it hadn’t ended well.
“Agent Watson of the Secret Service will escort you to Chicago where you will meet with the appropriate people. At this meeting, you will be told what you need to do."
Roland didn’t have much choice. Besides, he didn’t have anything better to do.
"I accept," Roland said without hesitation. How could his situation be any worse than it was now?
"Mr. Leblanc, I presume," said a man’s voice
Leblanc turned around to see a tall man with a long olive trench coat, black hat, and CAT work boots. The man wore a brown beard, which appeared to be a similar shade to his intense, yet kind, brown eyes.
"That's me. I won't say the only one living because I'm...well...you know."
"Undead," the man responded with a knowing smile. "Let me formally introduce myself. I am William Magnum. I appreciate your meeting me. I assure you I would not have bothered you if the need were not great.”
Magnum paused, giving Leblanc time to respond. LeBlanc said, "I figured it was and urgent matter.”
"And what do you think that urgency is?"
"There is a vampire with influence who wants to take over and who has the means to take over. Am I correct?"
"You are." A tall African-American man emerged. He looked familiar. “Pierre Leblanc, let me introduce you to US Secret Service Agent Thomas Watson.” The two men shook hands.
"Mr. Leblanc, thank you for being here. I am here on behalf of the president. Only the president, Magnum and you are aware of this meeting."
Pierre had met the president just once when Elder was in his first term in the Illinois State Senate, but he knew Elder didn’t remember him. He had heard the rumors of vampire hunting and membership in the mysterious Society of the Silver Stake, but no one knew who the members were other than the members.
Leblanc knew many great men (political leaders, captains of industry, writers and athletes) who had hunted evil vampires.
Chicago had a higher concentration of vampires than any city in the United States other than New Orleans, a fact which Leblanc contributed to the large number of Eastern European immigrants. Many of the immigrants were vampires and hundreds of years old. This made them stronger and less susceptible to the ill effects of sunlight.
Agent Watson stepped forward, and he spoke to Pierre, "Mr. Leblanc, what the president wants you to do is meet with a man he has chosen to be trained as a vampire hunter. The man's name is Roland Walker. We got his charges dropped condition upon him agreeing to be trained as a vampire hunter.
"Mr. Walker is not a bad person. He was also involved in a horrible accident that cost the lives of many Iraqi civilians during the war. Since coming home, he has lacked direction, and he acted out foolishly. But he is not without redeeming qualities; he is troubled, though. He is motivated because he has something to prove, and the president feels Mr. Walker is the only man for the j
Leblanc considered this. Then he responded "What kind of job?"
"Staking the vampire who seeks to kill the president and stopping his plot. And Roland Walker will help you once you train him. Now there is more to the vampire plot as I am sure you’ve heard.”
Leblanc nodded his head. “The Vampire Restoration League.”
“I figured you had heard of them.”
Leblanc didn’t hesitate. Resolve flickered like a hot flame in his eyes. "What do I need to do?"
"We will be in touch with you," responded Agent Watson. "As you may have gathered, Magnum is part of the illustrious Society of the Silver Stake, so at least you know who one member is. Very few people know about this mission, and, if all goes well, very few people will ever will."
“And if it doesn’t go well?”
“Then we will all grow fangs.”
Thomas Watson went back to Springfield and picked up Roland. Then he dropped him off at the bus station in Chicago. Roland boarded a city bus.
The bus dropped Roland Walker at an abandoned factory in Chicago’s meat packing district. He’d only been to Chicago a few times, but he had never been in this area. He did know whatever he had to do was a much better deal than years in prison, and that realization buoyed him.
He stood for several minutes, and his eyes scanned the area. The black street had gray dust on it. Even though it was bright outside, the metal buildings rose up around him blocking the light. He felt hemmed in by the buildings as he stood in their shadows. Roland imagined this area once teemed with workers but not anymore. Eventually, the buildings would be snatched up by developers; overpriced apartments buildings would be built; and the sad buildings would be forgotten. The struggles of the workers who toiled in the meat-packing industry would be forgotten as well. Bury the misery of the past, he thought to himself. When it was your misery it was harder to bury and forget.