DETECTIVE Ron Hewitt stared at the dregs in the bottom of his coffee cup. Sighing, he drained the cold, bitter liquid and flipped over a new page on his legal pad. “All right, Travis,” he said, “Why don’t you tell me the whole story this time?”
Rebecca Knafo, the public advocate, looked over the top of her wire-frame glasses at the detective. “He already did.”
“Yeah, well, he lost me when you got to the part about the vampires.”
The thin young man seated next to Rebecca at the battered table slowly looked up. “You’re spelling it wrong.”
“You’re spelling it wrong. Its ‘y’, not ‘i’. V-a-m-p-y-r-e.”
Hewitt tapped his pen on his legal pad in annoyance. He took some pride in his spelling. “I’ve never seen it that way.”
“You wouldn’t.” Travis returned his gaze to the table.
“So what’s the difference?”
“A vampire with an ‘i’ is made up, like Dracula. Vampyres, with a ‘y’, are real.”
“Drinking blood, and all that?”
“Some of them,” Travis said. “Not like in the movies, though. Only a little at a time. Usually from somebody who wants to donate.”
Detective Hewitt pursed his lips. “Sounds unsanitary.”
Travis just shrugged.
Hewitt glanced at the kid’s file again. Male Caucasian, age sixteen, six-foot-one, one hundred sixty-five pounds. Lived with his mother and stepfather, who were waiting outside. That stepfather was a piece of work; Marine-style crew cut topping off two hundred and forty pounds of barely controlled rage. Hewitt felt a twinge of sympathy for the kid. Could be rough when they got home.
Hewitt sighed again. “All right, Travis, let’s go over this again,” he said, switching on the pocketsize recorder. “We’ve got a guy dead, three witnesses including the shooter, and you’re the only one who’s even telling me his name. Travis Dean, age sixteen, male Caucasian—should I call you a vampyre?”
The black-clad youth shuddered. “Not any more.”
* * *
Travis Dean, like many sixteen year olds, was a misfit. Lacking mass for his height, he had that ungainly, spindly appearance teens have before they fill out. A mop of long, dark hair that often hung over his face contrasted a fair complexion, which was lighter than it might have been because Travis spent most of his free time holed up in his room.
He didn’t have the physique or the attitude to hang with the jocks; he was too smart to fit in with the burnouts; he wasn’t motivated enough to be one of the brains. Forget drama or the debate team. Music didn’t interest him, either, except for what snaked through his headphones while he lay on the floor of his room in the dark.
He’d been wearing a lot of black lately. It set him apart from the herd and it fit his mood most of the time. Life dealt him a pretty weak set of cards.
His dad moved out when he was six. Travis hadn’t heard from him in more than three years and had no idea where he was. Jack, his new stepdad, seemed to think fatherhood was about coming home late, drunk, and ready to fight. Travis figured Jack married his mother for maid service, clean clothes, and the hot meals she kept waiting until he finally made it home from the bar.
Travis would have bet money that Jack was cheating on his mother. In fact, he hoped he was. Maybe then his mother would finally stand up to him.
Most days, the world moved past Travis in double time, flowing around him without seeing him, like that guy, the barber in the movie The Man Who Wasn’t There. In the grip of forces beyond his control, he let the tide carry him along, a ship that left no wake as it sailed the sea of life.
Until he met Cassandra.
She came to him one day at lunch. He was staring out the cafeteria window at nothing, his mind empty as he waited for the next bell to tell him where to go and what to do. He was surprised to hear a soft, melodic voice at his side say, “I know how you feel.”
“Empty, powerless, sick of others controlling your life.”
“Yeah, right.” He found it hard to believe she was talking to him—sitting next to him! Girls never paid attention to Travis. And here was one of the prettiest girls he’d ever seen, appearing from nowhere like an angel.
Her brown eyes were beguiling, and short, coal black hair cut in a postmodern style framed a face more cute than beautiful. He glanced around to see if anyone was watching and laughing; he wouldn’t have been surprised to find she was there on a dare.
She wasn’t. What’s more, she seemed to really like him.
“My name’s Cassandra. You’re Travis, right?”
“Uh, yeah. Hi.”
“Trouble at home, huh?”
“Yeah,” he said. “My stepfather’s a bastard.”
“Mine, too,” she said. “I hate him.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
Cassandra smiled and Travis felt his insides turn to water. He was suddenly terrified of looking like a fool.
“I’ve been watching you for awhile,” she said. “I think you’re cute.”
Travis blushed, unable to speak.
“Do you party?” she asked.
“Some friends of mine are having a party later. Want to go?”
He managed to stutter, “Yeah, great.”
“Cool,” she said. “Meet me at Dorsey’s around eight.” Cassandra smiled as she stood. “See you later.”
Travis stared as Cassandra walked away to join a group of girls dressed in black at a nearby table. His head spun and he could barely breathe. He ran the conversation through his mind again and again to make sure he hadn’t misunderstood.
A girl—a beautiful girl—had asked him out! Gravity lost its power over him, and Travis felt so good he didn’t even flinch when Tim Cottingham, the center on the basketball team, bumped into him on purpose in the hall after third hour.
The rest of the day lasted about ten minutes longer than forever.
Night finally came, and Travis made his escape from the house with a minimum of effort. It helped that Jack hadn’t found his way home yet. “Going out, Mom,” Travis called, with the front door halfway closed behind him. His mother’s answer was covered by the slam.
Dorsey’s was a fifties-style diner, two thousand square feet of red plastic, white tile, and stainless steel. Air saturated with the smell of frying beef and potatoes greeted patrons who’d been packing away saturated fats from Dorsey’s kitchen since 1938.
Travis chose a corner booth with a view of both entrances. He ordered a Coke and small basket of fries; a snack, but nothing he couldn’t leave behind on a moment’s notice. The place was nearly empty, and it was only a minute before his order was called.
He picked up the orange plastic tray, and as he turned to head back to his seat, he nearly collided with a young man he hadn’t seen.
“Whoa, sorry,” Travis said.
The young man was tanned, with dark, wavy hair that reached his shoulders. “Sometimes things are not as we wish them to be for a reason.” His brown eyes burned into Travis with frightening intensity.
“Trials are often necessary to make us stronger.”
“Uh, right.” Travis wanted to be away from this nutball, right now. He moved to get around the stranger and back to his booth.
The stranger stopped Travis with a touch on his shoulder. “Be careful,” he said. “People are often not—”
“Hey, Travis!” Travis turned around to see Cassandra waving as she came through the door, followed by a couple of friends.
“Hey,” Travis said, his breath catching in his throat. She looked even more beautiful than she had at school. Her low-cut black dress highlighted her wonderfully curved figure, and Travis couldn’t tear his eyes away. He didn’t notice as the stranger silently left the restaurant and disappeared into the night.
“Are those for me?” she asked with a coy smile.
“Uh, yeah, sure.” His mind was wrapped in fog and his tongue in cotton. He allowed Cassandra to guide him back to the booth.
Cassandra’s friends were dressed in black, like her, and both of them had more jewelry in their heads than anyone Travis had ever seen. “This is Erzsebet and Hector,” she said, indicating her companions.
Erzsebet was dressed in what might have been considered a Victorian style, if her dress and accessories been a color other than black. At least nine silver rings of various size and shape hung from her ears, nose, and lips, which were painted with black lipstick. Hector’s shoulder-length hair was swept over the right side of his head, and he wore white makeup with black accents around his eyes. With his black t-shirt and jeans, he looked like a mournful Goth mime.
“Cassandra told us all about you,” Erzsebet said. Hector nodded.
Travis was speechless, overwhelmed. It was hard enough to believe that Cassandra was talking to him, but talking with others about him was inconceivable.
“We think you’re one of us,” Cassandra said.
“What do you mean?”
Cassandra leaned forward conspiratorially. “A vampyre,” she whispered.
Travis laughed in spite of himself. “Yeah, right.”
Her face grew serious. “I mean it.”
“Uh, a vampire,” he said. “Like Dracula? Drinking blood and all that?”
She laughed, a musical sound that tickled his heart. “No, of course not,” she said. “That’s Hollywood. Not all vamps are sangs.”
“Blood drinkers,” Hector explained. “A lot of vampyres are psi-vamps.”
“Psi-vamps,” Cassandra repeated. “They feed off the psychic energy of other people.”
“Their souls,” Hector leered, grinning and arching his eyebrows.
“Think about it,” Cassandra continued. “Didn’t you feel a rush when I talked to you today? More energy?”
“Yeah, I guess I did.” Which was an understatement.
“See? That’s because I was sharing some of my energy with you.”
It made sense. “So, you’re saying…”
“You can do that with anyone, once you learn how.”
“We’ll help you through your Awakening,” Elzebet added.
“When you discover your true nature,” said Hector.
Cassandra looked at her watch. “We should go before it’s too late,” she said. “Ready to go?”
“Sure,” Travis said. He would have followed her anywhere.
From that day, Travis orbited the dark sun that was Cassandra. He was in her thrall, and she shared with him the secrets of the vampyre.
His feelings of isolation and loneliness were symptoms of his true nature, she said. Sleepless nights, daytime fatigue, frequent listlessness and lack of energy were all part of the pattern. He felt different because he was different—inhuman, and yet more than human.
Dracula was fiction, but the two of them were real. She was the one, the only one, who truly understood and accepted him for who he was. The time he spent with her was the only time he really felt alive.
On a brisk October night about two weeks after their first meeting, as they sat next to one another on a barren hilltop overlooking the town, Cassandra whispered in his ear, “It’s time for you to meet our sire.”
“Your sire?” By now, Travis was used to Cassandra explaining things he needed to know. Still, the way she breathed the word sire, almost with reverence, made him a little uncomfortable.
“He wants to meet you,” Cassandra whispered again. “He’s been waiting to meet you.”
Discord was an all-ages club in a converted warehouse that squatted in the middle of a blighted industrial district just outside downtown. It catered to an eclectic mix of Goths and the various Goth subcultures. The location was perfect; “normals” weren’t likely to mistake it for a sports bar and stumble in by accident. Black was the dominant color; the walls, ceiling, and floor were black, and most of the patrons were dressed exclusively in black.
The hypnotic bass line of an old Bauhaus tune was thumping through a powerful sound system as they arrived. In the dim indirect light, he saw several dozen people dancing, a few clustered at tables, and others watching a bizarre music video on a big screen. At least, he thought it was a music video. It might have been lifted from one of the cable channels that showed real surgical procedures.
“Wild,” said Travis.
“This is the only place around for vamps, especially underage,” Cassandra said. “Come on.”
She led Travis by the hand past the writhing forms on the dance floor to the opposite side of the club. She knocked twice on a door that was hard to see, opened it, and guided him into an office that was even darker than the club.
The room felt small, even though Travis couldn’t see the walls. He smelled old paper, stale cigarette smoke, and sweat, and the heat in the room was uncomfortable. Travis looked for Cassandra who had let go of his hand and disappeared into the gloom.
Travis jumped as a spark ignited and caught, blazing a yellow-orange sphere of illumination about six feet ahead of Travis. A match, held by a powerful-looking man with dark eyes and slicked hair, seated behind a large, ornate wooden desk. The man lit a cigar at least ten inches long, drawing on it until the tip was glowing orange.
“Travis,” he said, with a deep, resonant voice, “I am Andras. I’m so pleased to meet you.” He grinned, and his broad smile revealed straight, perfect teeth.
“I thought vampires had sensitive noses,” Travis said. The cigar was potent.
Andras laughed. “You need to quit reading Anne Rice. She writes to entertain the voyeurs and the wannabes. Bloodsuckers,” he sneered. “Real vamps deal in souls.”
“So, uh, Cass said you wanted to see me,” Travis said. He stuck his hands in his pockets and shifted nervously. His eyes finally adjusted to the dim light, and he saw that Cassandra was standing behind Andras’ left shoulder.
“Indeed,” said Andras. “I think I can help you.”
“You have a problem with your stepfather.”
Travis snorted. “Jack.”
“I understand,” Andras said. “As I said, I think I can help.”
The cigar glowed more brightly for a moment, and more smoke billowed from behind the desk. “He drinks.”
“Sometimes. A lot of the time.”
“Alcohol depresses the nervous system,” Andras said. “People who drink are prone to accidents.”
It took a moment for the full weight of that statement to hit Travis. “Wait,” he said. “I don’t… You mean, kill him?”
Andras raised an eyebrow. “You say that as if it were a bad thing.”
“Well, yeah,” Travis said. “I mean, I hate him, but…”
“But what, Travis? You don’t deserve to be treated the way he treats you.” Andras leaned forward. “Your mother doesn’t deserve him, either. She deserves better. But she won’t leave him, will she?”
Travis shook his head. “No.”
“It’s for her own good, when you think about it,” Andras said, leaning back in his high-backed office chair. He took another draw on his cigar.
The smoke made the room seem almost foggy, dreamlike. Travis found his thoughts confused, slow. He wanted Jack out of his life, and he really didn’t care if Jack lived or died. But killing him?
“It would be an accident one who drinks might have on his own,” Andras said. “One that he might suffer even without help.”
“I don’t know,” Travis said.
“There will be life insurance money, enough for you and your mother to live for awhile. In fact, your mother might be able to quit working altogether.”
“How do you know?”
Andras grinned. “I do my research before making a business proposal.”
Travis pondered the offer. “You’re sure it would be an accident?”
“I can guarantee it.”
“Like he might have anyway, from being drunk?”
“I don’t want to do it myself.”
“That wouldn’t be necessary,” Andras said. “You wouldn’t be responsible in any way.”
Travis hesitated, considering the implications of his decision. Finally, he said, “Okay.”
“Excellent,” Andras said, standing. “There is just one other thing.”
“Well,” said Andras, moving around the desk, “If I am to do this for you, then I need something from you in return.”
Andras, two inches taller and nearly sixty pounds heavier, stopped next to Travis and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Your soul.”
Startled, Travis tried to turn so he could face Andras, but he was unable to break free of Andras’ grip. “Hey,” was the only word he could manage.
“Those are the terms, Travis. Won’t cost you a dime—just your soul.”
“Uh,” Travis said, trying to squirm away from the bigger man, “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Andras said, drawing closer, “That I get your soul when you die.”
“Yeah, but…is that for real?”
Smiling, Andras said, “Who knows, Travis? Depends on which religion you ask. Why worry about it? Jack is here, ruining your life now. Get rid of him and worry about eternity later.”
His face was relaxed, even friendly, but Travis saw a startling desire—no, a hunger—in Andras’ eyes. It suddenly struck Travis that the power of that hunger was not very different from the depth of what he felt for Cassandra—and the shock of that realization was as unexpected and chilling as being awakened with a bucket of ice water.
“No!” Travis said, pulling away. “No, forget it. Forget the whole thing.”
“Too bad,” said Andras. “And too late.”
“You ask a hell of a lot of questions, boy,” Andras said. “Let me be brief: We’ll take your soul anyway. I can’t let you leave, not after the little talk we just had. You might do something unpleasant, like call the police. So I’ll just close the deal now—and maybe have some fun with you before you die.”
“What—Cass? What’s going on?”
Cassandra hadn’t moved since she assumed her place behind Andras’ desk, and now she simply stared straight ahead, unblinking and mute.
“She doesn’t hear you,” Andras said, “And tomorrow she won’t remember you. Now come here.”
Andras grabbed Travis by the arm and pulled. His grip was a vise and his strength was inhuman. Off balance, falling, Travis saw a brilliant flash of light, pure white and brighter than the sun, dazzling in the feeble glow cast by the single lamp in the office. Whether it was real or a product of his head’s impact with a filing cabinet on his way down, he couldn’t say. What was real—or seemed to be—was the sudden appearance of the man who tried to talk to him at Dorsey’s two weeks earlier.
Stunned by the blow, Travis sat on the floor and gawked, trying to make sense of the unfolding scene. How did he get in?
Dressed in the same black clothing he’d worn that night, the stranger stood between Andras and the fallen Travis. “Andras,” the stranger said, “It is not his time.”
“What business do you have with me, Samael?” Andras’ face was so contorted with rage that he looked like a different man. “He is mine!”
Travis, grateful for the interruption, roused himself and scooted across the floor, crab-like, trying to remember how to stand.
“His days are not yet measured in full,” the stranger said. “You may not have him.”
“He is mine!” Andras grew as he spoke. But as he expanded, his form twisted out of true, a corrupt, degenerate copy of what must have been a magnificent creation. The darkness around them increased, flowing and swirling toward the center of the room as if it were alive, one with Andras. Travis was frozen with horror, back pressed against the door, unable to move.
“It has been decreed!” cried the stranger, finality in his voice. Raising his arm, a bolt of blinding white light leapt from his hand to Andras’ chest, impelling Andras backwards to leave him sprawled across the top of the massive desk, lifeless, blood everywhere. A roar so massive that Travis felt rather than heard it left him momentarily deaf.
His hearing returned just as Cassandra began to scream.
* * *
“Wait—you said his name was Samael?” Detective Hewitt’s legal pad was full of notes, and two more empty cups of coffee sat inside the first.
“Yeah,” Travis said.
“And you’re sure this was the same guy you saw at the diner?”
“Sick sense of humor,” Rebecca Knafo said, brushing a strand of hair away from her eyes.
“Huh?” Hewitt asked.
“Religious legend, mythology, whatever,” she said. “In Jewish tradition, Samael is supposed to be the angel of death. The Grim Reaper. The one God sends when your time is up.”
Travis stared at her. The kid looked like he was ready to throw up.
“Okay.” Hewitt wanted to wrap things up. Dinner was already going to be late, but with luck he’d make it before it got cold. “So you saw this Samael shoot the victim?”
“Travis didn’t say he shot him,” Rebecca said.
“Look, the guy’s got a hole in his chest you could put a baseball bat through. What would you say caused it?”
Travis shook his head. “I saw a flash of light and heard a noise. What did Cass see?”
Checking his notes, Hewitt asked, “Cassandra Wilson?”
“She’s not talking,” Hewitt said. “In fact, she’s not responding at all. Just sits there with her knees pulled up to her chin.”
Travis nodded, as if he understood something that escaped the detective.
“All right,” Hewitt said. “You didn’t see the gun when he fired.”
“You don’t get it,” Travis said. “He wasn’t holding a gun.”
“There has to be a gun.”
“He wasn’t holding a gun.”
Detective Hewitt tapped his pen on his legal pad while he fought down his rising frustration with the kid. The odds of a hot meal tonight were fading by the minute. “Look,” he said, “You hit your head when you fell, right?”
“Is it possible you were just dazed and didn’t see what really happened?”
Rebecca held up her hand to silence Travis. “Did you find a gun?”
Hewitt thought for a moment, considering whether he ought to release that information. “No,” he said at last. “No, we didn’t find the gun. Yet.”
“Any powder burns?”
Sighing, Hewitt said, “The lab report’s not back yet.”
“So you didn’t.”
“No. Not yet.”
The young man examined the detective’s face. “Maybe I really saw what I saw.”
Hewitt waved a hand, dismissing the idea. “Bah.”
Without warning, Travis grabbed Hewitt’s arm. “Did I see it? What I said?”
Hewitt’s first instinct was to palm-strike Travis in the nose, knock the kid back, away from his sidearm and a potentially deadly situation. He was stopped by the kid’s eyes—intense, desperate, haunted.
“Did I?” Travis repeated. With the force of a punch in the gut, Hewitt realized the kid really, truly did not know.
The door to the interrogation room burst open. “Hewitt! I need you. Now.” Captain Greevey’s face was drawn, and the permanent worry lines across his forehead were deep enough to have been carved with a chisel.
“Excuse me,” Hewitt said, twisting his arm free as he stood.
In the hall, Hewitt asked, “Is there a problem?”
The captain’s voice was low but forceful. “Can you explain, detective, how a suspect escapes a locked interrogation room?”
“Who? The shooter?”
“Yes, the shooter. He’s gone, and nobody saw him go.”
Hewitt suddenly felt light-headed. “The door?”
“Saw him go.” Captain Greevey finished his thought, his voice rising in anger as he spoke. “Got out of a locked room and walked the length of the office, past at least a dozen law enforcement professionals, and nobody laid eyes on him. Thank God he didn’t take a shot at one of us!” The captain’s tone made it clear that his remark was directed at everyone within earshot.
“Wasn’t our time,” Hewitt said.
“Excuse me, captain,” Hewitt said. He opened the door and stepped into the interrogation room, pulling the door closed behind him. Travis sat, arms on the table, staring straight ahead.
“Travis,” Hewitt said. The young man turned to look at the detective. “You’re free to go.”
“I… Okay.” The boy looked confused. No wonder. “Uh, sir?”
“Are you gonna have to tell my parents about that deal I…the thing about my stepfather?”
“That’s pretty serious, Travis,” Hewitt said. “Conspiracy to commit murder.”
Travis nodded slowly and stared at the floor.
“Look,” Rebecca Knafo said. “Bottom line, he turned the offer down. He’s cooperating, telling you everything he knows. No powder residue on him—is there a need to make this more difficult?”
Hewitt nodded. “All right. But—look at me, Travis.” The young man gradually raised his eyes. Hewitt waited until they met his own. “Travis, I don’t know what really happened tonight, but the bottom line is this: You could be dead right now. You should be dead right now, and you’re not. You’ve been given more time.”
The detective paced slowly to the far corner of the room, gazing absently at the yellowed acoustic tiles on the ceiling.
“Six years ago,” he said, “I had a partner, when I was still a beat cop. We chased a guy from the scene of an armed robbery down a blind alley. He was behind a dumpster, and we missed him. Tyrell—my partner—tripped on something, I don’t know what, just as the guy pulled the trigger. Caught him right here.” Hewitt touched his right temple. “I should have died, and instead, he died in my arms.”
Hewitt turned around to face Travis, who was watching him intently. “I got a second chance. Why? That’s the big question, isn’t it? Why did it happen? I’ve thought about that a lot—every day for six years. I think about his wife, missing him, and their kids, growing up without him. A split second made the difference. A split second sooner or later, and it would be my wife and my kids staring at an empty place at the dinner table tonight instead of his. Why him? Why not me? Why am I still here? What am I supposed to do with this extra time?”
The young man’s eyes were wide. He shook his head slightly. Hewitt smiled ruefully. “I don’t know, either.” He sat down at the table across from Travis. “Look, we’re all here for a reason, and only for a short time. Seventy, eighty years, maybe. Not so long, when you think about it. You and me, we’re only here because somebody else paid the ultimate price. So this extra time we’ve got is worth more than we can ever imagine. We probably shouldn’t waste it.”
Detective Hewitt stood. “Now, get out of here. Don’t let me see you again in an official capacity.” He held out his hand to the young man. “But if you come up with any answers, or even if you just want to kick a crazy idea, call me.”
Travis shook the detective’s hand. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and walked away.
“Detective,” said Rebecca, as she gathered her papers.
“Pleasure as always,” Hewitt said.
He watched Travis Dean and Rebecca Knafo disappear around a corner of the hallway and then turned to fetch his notes and empty coffee cups from the table. He could volunteer to help with the search for the escaped gunman, but somehow he was sure that the suspect was well beyond the reach of the police. Besides, his wife and children were waiting for him. It was time he went home.
© 2003, Derek P. Gilbert