By: Carl R. Merritt
Matt Perez, an ex-gang member who had once attempted to steal Abe's skeletal remains, was on guard duty at the entrance to Darlene's cavern. In keeping with his promise to the beautiful vampress, he was no longer pestering Darlene to go out with him. Instead, he was spending his time reading a book he had borrowed from the town's library. A year ago, going to a library would have been the last thing in the world he would have considered doing, but along with everything else recently, that part of his life had changed since joining forces with Abe and the assault team.
If only my old gang buddies could see me now! he thought, flipping to the next page. They'd laugh themselves to death!
The book was a horror novel, a genre he could relate with since his duties now called for him to be guarding two lovely female vampires. He found it interesting that most of what the book purported was actually correct when it came to killing the undead. Darlene once told him that the sun would fry her like an egg if she would venture outside in the daylight. She also told Matt that holy water being a way to kill a vampire was a myth right along with a crucifix, but the stake through the heart was very deadly to her kind. Garlic had no real effect on vampires, but running water was another story. If a vampire got caught in running water of any type, the immortal's skin would peel away in a heartbeat.
Matt tried to imagine what it would be like to always be afraid of the sun or never being able to take a shower, only bathe. He thought of all the troubles of traveling only at night would bring. No, he thought. Being an immortal vampire couldn't be easy. Not for the first time, his heart went out to Darlene. He really wished there was some way he could help her, but he knew it was impossible. The only thing he could conceivably do for her was stand guard duty, help keep her safe from the crazy mortals who thought all vampires were evil.
Vampra, cousin of the benevolent vampire, Darlene, let out a loud screech that told Matt that his reading time was over. From experience, he knew that once she started acting up, there was no stopping her until Darlene went to comfort her. And that was impossible right now . . . Darlene was out partying with her mortal friend, Bret Talman. They wouldn't be back until about a half hour before sunrise.
Sighing and putting his book down, Matt gave some thought to his new "gang," the assault team that Captain Long had put together when he attempted to destroy Abe some months before. Despite all he had once thought about cops, they were turning out to be some of the nicest people he had ever known, especially the policewoman, Marcia Lewis, who was due to relieve him of his post in less than ten minutes. Since Matt stopped hitting on the vampress, Darlene, it was now Marcia who has become the recipient of his romantic endeavors. So far, she hadn't seemed to mind. In fact if anything, she's seemed to enjoy their dinner dates and the times they went out dancing together. I wonder if she is just trying to enjoy life more after her brush with death a few weeks ago? he wondered. He knew that sometime in the future, he would have to ask her about that.
Hearing a strange noise within the cavern, Matt checked his watch and figured it must be Marcia, coming a few minutes early to relieve him. He began gathering his stuff together in preparation to leave so he wouldn't have to do it while she was talking. Marcia Lewis was one gal he wanted to show his respect to, if nothing else.
While Matt was bending over, stuffing his book, flashlight and his Walther 9MM into his knapsack, the unexpected happened...
He was attacked.
They jumped him from behind while his attention was diverted. There were at least two of them, Matt knew. One was on top of him, pounding away at his skull with fists that felt as if they were made out of steel, and the other was making his way down the tunnel towards Vampra's cell. Suddenly, Matt had it figured out who his attackers were . . . vampire hunters!
Bringing a knee up fast, Matt caught the first one between the legs. As the man screamed in pain, Matt smashed him in the face with the palm of his hand. He felt the man's nose break. Managing to get to his feet, the ex-gang member reverted back to his old tactics by kicking the man in the neck while he was still down. Matt no longer enjoyed being this cruel, but with Vampra's fate hanging in the balance, he knew he had to put this first attacker away fast so he could pursue the second man, who by this time had to be very close to Vampra's cage.
Running through the tunnel with all the speed he could muster, Matt made it to the cavern just in time to see the second man pull out a crucifix and wave it in the air in front of the feral vampress. Darlene had been right, it was having no effect on Vampra except in making her very nervous and agitated. But the time wasted with the crucifix gave Matt the time he needed to reach the man. Just as the vampire hunter realized the crucifix was doing nothing to harm Vampra, Matt plowed into him from behind, both of them crashing to the cavern floor. Taking advantage of the situation, Matt quickly got to his feet and kicked the man hard in the face, knocking him into the tightly woven steel mesh of Vampra's cell.
Then the unimaginable happened. Vampra, sensing her first meal of human blood in months, attempted the impossible task of using her incredible strength to tear away the steel mesh. To Matt's horror, he saw that to some extent, she was succeeding. Within seconds, the inhumanly strong vampire managed to make a hole in the mesh just large enough to get her arm through. Vampra, now in a frenzy that could only be satiated by blood, immediately reached through the torn mesh and bars, grabbing the vampire hunter around the chest, straining to somehow get her canine teeth into the soft flesh of his neck.
It was impossible, Matt knew. Even if the feral vampress somehow managed to rip away all the mesh, there was still the matter of the bars. The mesh was only there in case...
"Oh, shit!" Matt cursed, looking around the cavern for something to plug the hole with. He knew that if any sanity returned to Vampra, she would remember that by turning into a bat she could make it through the hole in the mesh! His eyes searching Darlene's cavern feverishly, Matt forgot all about the vampire hunter Vampra had in her grip. It's your own fault, buddy! he thought as he heard bones crack under the extreme pressure of Vampra's arm. I've got other things to worry about! If I don't find something to plug that hole with, the whole town may wind up just as you are now!
"Damn it, Darlene!" he swore. "Why do you have to keep this place so damned neat?" Thinking that even a slab of wood might do some good . . . at least until Marcia arrived, Matt searched frantically, but found nothing. Darlene just kept her cavern too damned clean. Then, out of shear desperation, an idea occurred to the young man. He knew Captain Long wouldn't like it, but in his own mind, Matt knew it was better than Vampra escaping.
Marcia Lewis knew something was wrong when she called out Matt's name and no one answered.
She was still about twenty yards from the guard table, but could already see that her friend wasn't at his post.
And that wasn't like Matt at all. No matter what he had been in the past, Marcia knew that the young man was now pretty responsible.
He would never leave his post unattended unless there was a very good reason.
"Matt! Answer me! Where are you?"
No reply again. Yeah, there's trouble here in paradise! she thought, drawing her weapon. When she saw the stranger laying on the ground unconscious, Marcia immediately felt for a pulse. Finding one, the policewoman made a quick search of his body and found two things she had hoped never to see within Abe's caverns . . . a wooden stake and a mallet. A vampire hunter! Then, searching the ground, she found a set of footprints she knew didn't belong there. Whoever had come this way was wearing tennis shoes, something no member of the assault team was allowed to wear! She knew then that there was a second assailant, probably at this very moment somewhere inside Darlene's cavern. That has to be where Matt is! she thought. He's subduing the other vampire hunter right now!
The policewoman was tempted to go to her comrade's aid right away, but Marcia remembered her orders. She must report in and tell them back at the station what was happening. It was a stupid rule, Marcia thought, but she knew she must obey, or risk Captain Long's wrath. That was a part of her boss she never wished to see again.
Marcia quickly put cuffs on the first attacker and called on her radio for backup. But while explaining the situation to Sergeant Baker, another member of the assault team, a horrible thought struck her. Vampra was quiet. Marcia knew that with all this commotion, the vampress should be screaming her head off. But there was nothing, no sounds at all coming from within Darlene's cavern. The policewoman dropped the radio and ran full speed down the tunnel. What she saw when she reached the huge cavern made her sick. Marcia Lewis, a law enforcement officer as tough as they came, bent over and began heaving. She never would have believed that her friend would have the potential to commit such a vile act. But there Matt was . . . stuffing the second attacker's arm through a hole in Vampra's cage so she could feed.
Fifteen minutes later, Abe's tomb was a madhouse. Captain Long had arrived on the scene with Sergeant Baker and two other officers.
Paramedics had come to look after the wounded assailant. Darlene had been contacted, being advised to return with Bret right away and Charles Peterson had come to get the story for his paper.
No one had seen Abe as yet, but everyone was pretty sure he was somewhere near.
As expected, Captain Long had taken Matt off to the side to get his story first hand. No one had doubts as to the young man's future with the team. Simply said, he didn't have one. It just wasn't permissible to purposely kill a prisoner, no matter what the circumstances.
"But, Captain, there wasn't anything else I could think of to do! Sooner or later Vampra was going to get smart, turn into a bat then fly out the hole! There was nothing to plug it with!"
"You killed a man, Mr. Perez. Not only that, but the manner in which you did it... "
Matt's recent opinion of the police was quickly deteriorating. He was beginning to think he had been right all along in that all cops were nothing but a bunch of rule following losers. How in the hell can they blame me for saving the town? he wondered. "Well then, suppose you tell me what you would have done! Would you have tried taking your damn shoe off to block the hole? You know the power Vampra has while in her bat form! She would have knocked the thing right out of my hand! There was nothing to block the hole with and I had to come up with some idea to keep her in there. Feeding her seemed like the only choice at the time! Come on, cop, tell me what you would have done!"
Captain Long considered Matt's attitude and came to the conclusion that regardless of what might be said, it would make no difference. The young man was just too caught up in his old way of life. His former gang had instilled in Matt the need to survive, regardless of the price. Captain Long had no choice either...
"Matt, I'm truly sorry. I'm going to have to suspend you from the team. We can't... " Captain Long stopped in mid-sentence when he noticed the sparkling light off to his left. It was Abe, materializing within that infamous swirl of stars everyone was so used to.
"MATT PEREZ WILL GO UNPUNISHED AND WILL REMAIN A PART OF YOUR TEAM." Abe announced the moment he solidified. It was clear that his words were not a suggestion, but rather a command.
"Abe, he broke my trust! He was purposely brutal, and he took a man's life! I will not have a man on my force I cannot depend on!" Captain Long knew he was putting his life in jeopardy by talking to the ghoul this way, but this was something he believed in strongly and wouldn't . . . couldn't . . . back down.
"THE REASON MATT PEREZ IS A PART OF YOUR TEAM TO BEGIN WITH IS BECAUSE OF HIS UNORTHODOX METHODS AND TALENT FOR TAKING THE INITIATIVE. WITHOUT HIM AS A MEMBER OF YOUR TEAM, YOU LACK THE SKILLS NEEDED TO SURVIVE. THE NEXT FEW DAYS IN PARTICULAR WILL BE A TRIAL FOR YOU ALL. BUT IN THE YEARS TO COME, HIS SKILLS WILL BE INVALUABLE. I REPEAT . . . MATT PEREZ WILL REMAIN A PART OF YOUR TEAM AND WILL GO UNPUNISHED." Abe had been looking off in the distance while he had been talking, but as he finished, he turned his head towards Captain Long, daring him to argue further.
It was a challenge Captain Long knew better than to accept. He knew that there was nothing he could do; defying Abe could very well be suicide. Sighing, he said, "Fine, whatever you say, 'ole lord and master! Matt will remain with us and . . . unpunished."
Abe, seeing that Long was going to comply, simply vanished in that same swirling mist, leaving Captain Long standing disgusted alongside Matt.
"Well, it looks like there's somebody around here with some sense," the ex-gang member whispered, as much bewildered as his boss. "Cap, what do you suppose Abe meant when he said the next few days will be a challenge for us all? Does he know something we don't, or are you holding something back from the rest of us?"
Captain Long looked at Matt in exasperation. He had heard his first little comment, of course, but thought better of saying anything about it. Perhaps it would be best if I simply act as though nothing has happened... "I don't know, Matt. But I'm going to find out." Spotting Sergeant Baker approaching, he asked, "Find anything Sam?"
"Yeah, and it's big trouble, sir! Look at these papers. I found them in the first guy's pockets!"
Taking the papers and giving them a quick glance, Captain Long drew in his breath sharply when he realized what he was looking at. One of them was a handbill, originating in El Paso, Texas that proclaimed a bounty of fifty thousand dollars for every vampire killed. The second sheet of paper was even more disturbing. It was a fact sheet concerning Moore's Lake and the two vampires it held, Darlene and Vampra. In short, it was a death warrant.
"We've got big trouble! We're about to be overrun with vampire hunters!" The captain used his quick mind to come up with a decent strategy, knowing of course, that he would have to revise it when he came up with something better. "Sergeant Baker! Find Darlene and Bret Talman. Escort them back here under heavy guard. Matt, I want you to stay here with Marcia. I know you just came off a shift and you're tired, but I want two people on guard duty now at all times until this is over. I'll get somebody to relieve you as soon as possible. Peterson, is there any way you can use your paper's resources and find out the story behind this new bounty on vampires? Anything you can learn will be a big help. Also, speaking of help, see if Abe can lend us a hand with this. You're closest to him and he'll listen to you more so than anyone else."
"What are you going to do, Cap?" Matt asked, forgetting about their recent differences and concentrating on his job again. While he listened, he was digging into his knapsack for his Walther 9MM. He was going to be ready in case the cave got overrun.
"First, I'm going to contact the State Police again for additional manpower. I just don't have the extra people we need for this. Next, I'm going to see the mayor about issuing a curfew for Moore's Lake - from dusk to sunrise. Then, after that, I'm coming back here with heavy weapons for you and Marcia. You'll have M-16s here within the hour. Finally, after you're set up here, I'm going to go back to the station again and have a little talk with our new prisoner. He's going to tell me everything he knows about who's behind this! If... "
"Uh . . . Captain," Sergeant Baker cut in, not knowing if he would get chewed out for cutting in or not. "That automotive parts plant has a second shift in operation. They're not going to like shutting it down again. They lost a lot of money during that last curfew when Vampra was on the loose. The management there will at least want an explanation of why they have to shut down their night operations."
"The answer is simple, Sam. The first week we had Darlene and Vampra among us, I did some research on the kind of people they attract. There's a group in Texas called the 'Crusaders for the Salvation of Humanity.' They're vampire hunters. They go from town to town in search of vampires and then kill them. Trouble is, they don't always take the time to verify if the person they're driving a stake into is a vampire or not. I don't want innocent civilians killed by these clowns. Tell that to the plant's management and I'm sure we won't have any difficulties with their night shift."
The next morning Captain Long was at the station making even more preparations for the war that he knew was sure to come when Charles Peterson came walking through the door.
"Over here!" Long called out, filling out a requisition for the armament he had distributed the night before to his men. Having been up all night, the captain was tired, barely able to keep his eyes open.
"Roscoe, you look terrible! Haven't you been to bed yet?"
"I plan on catching a few winks in the back office after I get everything ready," Long replied, putting together the last of the paperwork and stapling it together. "What did you want to see me about? Did Abe agree to help us?"
"No, he didn't. I don't think he's going to help us at all. He told me that the time was not yet right. But he says if they go in his tomb and ask for help, he'll see what he can do."
"Oh, that's terrific! What's his problem anyway? He likes Darlene just as much as we do! And he's already promised to look after Vampra! Damn it!" Captain Long knew he didn't have time to vent his frustrations, there was simply too much yet to do this morning. He also knew that no amount of convincing would change the ghoul's mind, so, giving up on the subject, Captain Long asked, "Did you get that info on the Crusaders I asked you for?"
"A little, not much. I found out that the man behind it all is a millionaire in El Paso named John Livingston. He formed the Crusaders for the Salvation of Humanity around three years ago by recruiting mercenaries. From what my sources can tell me, he's got about three hundred of them on his payroll. He's financing the whole operation out of his own pocket."
"Whew! Must be costing him a bundle! What the hell has this guy got against vampires anyway?"
"Damned if I know, but it must be something good. With your permission, I'd like to take a member of your team with me when I go there to find out. Can you spare Matt Perez for about a day?"
"Well, going to see the man is a good idea, buy why do you want Matt to go with you? There's plenty of other officers that... "
"For one thing, like me, Matt is not from Moore's Lake. Abe won't prevent him from leaving the area."
Yeah, not from Moore's Lake. Captain Long had forgotten about Abe's directives concerning the citizens of Moore's Lake. It was the ghoul's command all those months ago that no one born within the city limits can leave town to escape his influence. "You have another reason, don't you?"
"Very good, Captain. Yes, I do."
Charles Peterson was going to let it go at that, but Long wouldn't let it happen.
"And that would be... "
"I have a very good idea that I'm going to need someone just like him," Charles said, sighing, not really wanting to go into the details with the captain.
"Explain, Charles. Or else he's not going." Without sleep, Roscoe Long was definitely not the man to play games with.
"All right. Just remember that you're the one who pushed for an explanation," replied the reporter, not really wanting to cause his friend any more problems than he already had. "You see, I think you made a mistake yesterday when you wanted to punish Perez. The young man was right, and you should have known it. There was simply no way to keep Vampra in her cell other than to feed her. Perez was brilliant just to think of it with the pressure he had to be under. He is a very unorthodox and imaginative fighter, Captain, and he can think on the run. Not only that, but he's not afraid to do what's right, even if he knows he'll get punished for it. I'm going to need a man like that if I'm going to be dealing with hundreds of mercs. Those, Captain Long, are the other reasons I want him to go with me."
Roscoe knew Peterson was right . . . with everything, including the part about the captain making a mistake the day before. But to purposely feed a man's arm to a hungry vampire? It just went against a police officer's grain to even contemplate such a cruel and vicious act. Maybe Abe was right yesterday also, Long thought. Maybe we really do need Matt when we deal so often with the supernatural.
"Take him. He's still at the cave. Matt didn't like the 'qualifications' of the man I took over to relieve him and he refused to leave Marcia Lewis without adequate backup. So I told Matt he could stay and took him a folding cot to sleep on at 3:00 AM this morning. Take Sergeant Baker and Marc Lamas with you to take over down there while you're at it. Lewis and Perez have been there too long already."
"Who did you take to the cave to relieve Perez last night?"
"Jake Anderson," replied Long, sighing and knowing the response he was going to get from the reporter. "He was the only officer I had left available."
"Anderson doesn't know a thing about small arms. Bombs . . . yes, but how could he defend a cavern with those?"
"Have a good trip to Texas, Mr. Peterson. And tell Mr. Perez he still has guard duty the day after tomorrow. I'll expect him to be here."
"Shit! The damned guy has me pinned down and there's no way to call the boss for help!"
Marcia cursed under her breath, ducking behind the cavern wall as another burst from an automatic weapon chipped away at the spot she had just been.
Marcia had been caught completely off guard by a lone gunman just seconds before while Matt had still been asleep. The assailant's first few rounds had destroyed the portable radio, and Marcia had barely escaped death by diving away from the wooden table and behind the relative safety of an outcropping of stone.
Matt, awakened by the gunfire, came running from where he had been asleep in Darlene's cavern. Behind him was Darlene herself, her leathery wings extended fully and her canine teeth exposed as she snarled, ready for action if needed. They both fell to the ground beside Marcia and quickly took in their situation. Matt tried to come up with some type of plan, but he didn't like what he saw a damned bit. The gunman was hidden behind a set of large boulders, firing at will. The only way to hit him with direct fire was if he was stupid enough to get out in the open. "Sounds like he's using a Mach 10. Not good for accuracy or range, but a beautiful weapon to use in here!"
"How do you know what a Mach 10 sounds like? They're illegal as hell," Marcia asked, using the M-16 Captain Long had brought to spray down the area the assailant was in.
"I used to have one a couple of years ago," replied the ex-gang member, shrugging. "You have any ideas how we're going to take the guy?"
"Just one. About twenty minutes ago, Captain Long contacted me and said he was sending Baker and Lamas to relieve us. I think our best bet is to just wait for them so they can give us a hand. When they get here, we'll have the gunman trapped between us."
Matt was about to agree when he heard a metallic clanking against the stone floor. He had an awful feeling he knew what it was. "Cover your ears!" he cried out, jumping on top of Darlene and the policewoman.
A second later all hell broke loose. The grenade landed about twenty feet from their location, but within the confines of the cave, the effects of the explosion were tremendous. Chips of rock flew over their heads as the flash of light temporarily blinded them. All three had been partially deafened by the blast and there was thick smoke everywhere. But even worse, there was a deep rumbling sound in the ground that Matt, Darlene and Marcia all feared was the beginnings of a cave in.
There was a draft within the cave so the smoke was beginning to clear, but nowhere near fast enough for Matt and Marcia.
Before the gunman could take advantage of the three of them being down, Marcia took her M-16 and blindly sprayed the entire clip into the remaining smoke. If the gunman had been using it for cover, he was most certainly dead now.
"I don't think he's that stupid, Marcia. If I were him, I'd wait to see if we were still alive after the smoke clears. Trust me, he's still over there."
"He's not dead," Darlene stated. "I'm reading his mind right now. He's considering throwing another grenade!"
Knowing they may not survive another grenade, Matt came up with an idea. He thought it would work, but his little Walther wouldn't do the trick . . . Marcia's M-16 would.
"Marcia! Aim for those big stalactites above his head. Put it on full automatic and let it rip!"
Understanding completely what Matt had in mind, Marcia fed another clip into her weapon, cocked it and fired. Round after round hit the giant stalactites, making them break away from the cave's ceiling. They turned into heavy bombs, falling directly onto the surprised mercenary. The man screamed as hundreds of pounds of solid stone crashed down upon him.
Knowing the guy was out of action for at least a few seconds, Matt rose from cover and ran. He stopped when he reached the mercenary, gratified at what he saw.
One of the stalactites had landed on the man's head. The skull was split apart like a melon.
"Look in his hand," Darlene said, pointing. The dead man had been ready to throw the grenade and was still clutching it tightly.
"You just saved our lives with that idea, Matt. Good job!" Marcia said, going to her toes and giving her friend a peck on the cheek.
"I think you're right," agreed Darlene. "Another second or two would have given him time to pull the pin!" She would have given Matt a little kiss also, or at least a big hug for saving their lives, but the sight of the dead man's blood was starting to get to her. Already her desire to feed was becoming stronger and it was only morning. That last thing any of them needed was for her to lose control while kissing Matt and biting him on the neck. Darlene was just thinking about going back to bed inside her motor home when a voice startled her.
"Everybody all right?"
All three spun at the sound of the voice. Matt and Marcia raised their weapons, but lowered them as soon as they saw it was only Sergeant Baker and Marc Lamas. With them was Charles Peterson, the reporter. All three had their weapons up and at the ready.
"We heard the gunfire. What happened?" the sergeant asked, taking a good look at the corpse and removing the grenade from the dead man's hand.
"Our young hero here saved our lives," Darlene said, pointing at Matt.
Marcia went on to explain while Darlene went back to her cavern. By the time the story was finished, Charles Peterson knew he had made the correct choice in selecting Matt.
"Mr. Perez, may I speak to you for a moment?" he said, calling him away from the others.
Jake Anderson, patrolling the city streets in search of any mercenaries, heard the report of the shooting at Abe's tomb and had called in immediately, asking if they needed his help.
The answer was just about what he had expected.
"No," Captain long replied on the radio. "Continue patrolling the streets and call for backup in case you spot any mercenaries. Do not try to apprehend them alone."
Jake felt useless. Okay, it's true he wasn't as good with a firearm as the other members of the team, but he could still use his head. He would gladly put his life on the line to protect Darlene and Vampra. "I still have a damned brain! It's not like I'm useless, or anything!" he mumbled, still searching for any signs of out-of-towners.
Jake knew there were more mercs around town, all the out of state license plates confirmed this. He took special note of the cars from Texas, marking down their numbers and the type of cars. But he saw none of the occupants, they just weren't showing themselves.
"I feel like a damned meter maid!"
Disgusted, Jake went into the local hot spot. Its name was Gothorama and it was a gothic bar that had sprung up shortly after the arrival of Darlene and Vampra. It's strange, he thought, the fascination people have with vampires! During the evening hours, it was normally filled with young adults all dressed in black and wearing the most outlandish hair and makeup. But with the curfew now in effect, the bar had changed its hours whereas it closed an hour before dusk.
Taking a seat in the nearest booth, Jake ordered a coffee and sat back to watch the patrons a few minutes. He knew it was time he took a break anyway, his feet were beginning to tire and his mind was becoming fuzzy from lack of sleep. The coffee would do him good.
Sitting at the bar were a group of goths. Like everyone else, they were dressed in black. One woman, Jake noticed, was wearing a flowing black dress which went down to the floor. Black silk gloves that went to her elbows and looked as though they were made of spider webs did a lot to enhance her appearance as a "goth queen." With that long black hair, she sort of looks like Darlene, the policeman thought. But he knew if the woman really wanted to look like his favorite vampress, she would have to exchange that godawful dress for a leather jumpsuit.
Jake had to smile at the diversity of people and went back to sipping his coffee. He didn't want to spend too much time inside the club, there was still too much trouble out on the streets.
Taking a sip of the scalding hot brew, Jake just happened to look up and saw a man approaching the bar. He was dressed in blue jeans, an army green fatigue shirt and an old baseball cap. Jake just about choked on his coffee when he saw what the man had in his hands.
Holy Mother of God! A wooden stake!
Jake flew out of the booth and, while running to intercept the assailant, tried to guess who the man was after. As far as he could determine the mercenary was advancing on the woman in the black dress that Jake had noticed earlier. Oh, no! The dumb bastard thinks she's a vampire! Why?
The police officer tackled the man a few yards away from the woman and they both went rolling. Jake, being the first one up, pulled his revolver and said, "All right, buddy! Stay on the ground and put your hands straight out to your sides!"
Complying, the man did as he was told, the wooden stake still in his hand. After kicking the stake away and cuffing the mercenary, Jake looked over at the woman again, who by this time was huddled in a group of her friends, all frozen in fear. "Hey, lady!" Jake called out to her. "I'm curious about something. Can you come over here for a moment?" Watching her flow over to him in that elaborate outfit, Jake asked, "Why did that guy think you're a vampire? In a place such as this, where everybody is dressed up like it's Halloween, why did he home in on you?"
The woman didn't say anything. She simply smiled and showed Jake a set of canine teeth that would rival those of Vampra. Then, still smiling as if this were all a big joke, she reached up and removed them. They were plastic. "It's part of my identity," she claimed. "I'm known in here as the 'Queen of Darkness' and I have to keep up my image!"
Jake tried to explain to the woman the dangers of dressing up like a vampire, but knew she wasn't really paying attention. All she wanted to do was get back to her friends and party. Disgusted once again, Jake turned to gather up his prisoner and leave.
And was immediately knocked out by some unseen person from behind.
A few minutes later, Jake regained consciousness. With a head that felt like he had been drinking for a week, the police officer scanned his surroundings to discover his problems were just starting. The whole room was full of mercenaries and they had the woman in the black dress held captive. The mercenaries had her pinned face up on the floor and they were about to drive a wooden stake through her heart.
"I don't understand why I have to do this," Matt commented as they flew into a cloud bank.
Knowing time was of the essence, Charles Peterson had taken the liberty of using the newspaper's money to contract a private jet to El Paso. Nonstop, he figured it was about a four hour flight. "I have the feeling your talents will be needed," was all the reply Charles gave his traveling companion.
"What talents? The only talent I have is the one I have for getting into trouble! And another thing . . . I can't stand airplanes!"
Charles knew this last part to be true. He could tell by the expression on Matt's face that the kid had a fear of flying. There wasn't much he could do about it though. They had to see John Livingston and they had to be back in Moore's Lake before the following night. The only way to do that was fly.
"It'll be okay, Matt. This Lear is the one my boss uses. It gets checked out before and after every flight and its maintenance records show that it has very few problems. Don't worry, we'll be fine."
"You mean it has problems?!"
With a sigh, Charles smiled and said, "Why don't you try and get some sleep. We'll be there in a few hours and I think that once we attempt to contact Livingston, we'll need all our wits about us. Go ahead. Close your eyes and sleep."
"No way, man! Not while I'm a hundred thousand miles up in the air, for god's sake! There's not a chance in hell I can rest!" But even as he said it, Matt's eyes were getting heavy. Five minutes later, he was dead asleep.
Jake saw that the woman was about to die and knew he had to think of something very quickly.
But what? he wondered. They didn't tie me up, or anything, they thought I would be unconscious for quite a bit
longer. But they took my gun! What can I do?
Bluff? Try to reason with them?
"Wait!" Jake called out just as the mercenary leader was about to use a mallet to drive the wooden stake through the woman's heart. "Before you kill her, I'd like to suggest something!"
"Get on over here and say what you have to say! And make it snappy, we don't have all day!"
The police officer rose to his feet and, feeling the lump forming on the back of his head with his hand, decided that common sense was the best way to go while dealing with these idiots.
"Before you drive a stake through her, why don't you take the time to see if she's a vampire first? It'll only cost you a few seconds of time, and you might save yourselves a murder rap if she turns out to be mortal." While Jake walked towards the group of hired killers, he gathered all the information he could by scanning the room. There was the woman, of course. She was being held by three men, one on each arm and one holding down her legs. She was scared out of her mind, screaming and trying her best to thrash about. The guy holding her legs down was having a hell of a time. The other customers who had been in the club were now gone, presumably chased out by the mercenaries. Why the group of killers would let witnesses free to run to the police, Jake had no clue, but he supposed he had to be grateful for small blessings. The last thing that Jake noticed, and perhaps the most important, was the fact that all the mercenaries, ten in all, were armed to the teeth. They carried various types of automatic weapons, handguns and grenades. When he reached the group of hired killers, Jake took a quick look at the woman and said, "I can prove to you that she's not a vampire if you'll let me. For example... " Reaching down, Jake slipped a couple of fingers into the girl's mouth and extracted the fake teeth. Holding them up, he continued. "These are plastic. This woman is one of the club members who dress up as goths." Seeing the doubt on the faces around him, he said, "Okay, if you still don't believe me, pour some water on her while you've got her on the floor. See if the skin on her face melts off. Or better yet, take her outside into the sunlight and see if her skin burns to a crisp! What's the matter, guys? Afraid that you'll be wrong? Come on, let's all take her little butt outside right now and see if the sun affects her!"
Jake's planned anger had worked out just fine. Everyone was so surprised at seeing a police officer lose his temper that they automatically assumed Jake was right and they were all wrong. One of the two men holding the woman's arms rose to his feet and helped the "queen" to hers. He said, "All right, cop! We'll take the bitch outside. But you better just hope you're right!"
Taking a deep sigh of relief, Jake led the way by walking between the woman and the nearest mercenary. Jake was acting like he was their best friend, his arms around their shoulders. He even cracked a joke as he held the door for the woman and the first few mercenaries. No one thought this was too strange.
Once the woman was outside, she walked out of the shadows and directly into the sun. While everyone else watched the woman soak in the warm sunlight, Jake went around to the mercenaries and patted them all on the shoulders, wishing them better luck next time. Again, no one thought anything of this.
"All right cop," the one mercenary said, "we were wrong this time. The woman ain't no vampire!"
"But she sure looks like one, doesn't she?" Jake asked, pointing to the woman again. "Honey, if I were you, I wouldn't be dressing like that again. Not for the next few days anyway. Now get out of here . . . NOW!" Once the woman had run down the street, Jake turned his attention back to the mercenaries and said, "She looked like a vampire, so naturally, you guys just wanted to drive a stake through her heart! That is sick! Everybody who goes to Gothorama dresses up for trick-or-treat!! What are you guys gonna do, kill everybody who goes in there?"
"We're just looking for the one that's a vampire, buddy! That's all! We know that this here place is her favorite hangout and we figured if there was one vampire that comes here, there just might be two!"
Yeah, that fact sheet you guys got was pretty damned accurate if it told you about this being Darlene's favorite nightclub! Jake thought, wondering just who in the hell made it that accurate.
"Your gun is in the trash can by the men's rest room, cop. Sorry about the trouble."
For the most part, the mercenaries all turned to go their separate ways, but Jake wasn't quite through with them yet.
"Uh, gentlemen!" Jake announced, holding up an index finger to help get their attention. "I'm afraid we're not quite finished yet. You see, while we all got to know each other in there, it seems you all broke some laws. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to take you all downtown and place you under arrest." Jake's demeanor wasn't threatening or intimidating, it was more like Barney Fife trying to arrest the whole Dalton gang single-handedly.
"And just what laws did we break . . . cop?" They were all laughing . . . even Jake was smiling now. No one could envision any possible way that a lone police officer could capture an entire gang of highly trained, heavily armed mercenaries.
"Assault on a police officer for one. Then, the theft of his weapon and lastly . . . not complying with the town's hygiene regulations. Some of you guys really need to take a bath!"
That took the fun out of the situation. One or two of the mercenaries went for their weapons, but discovered that a few parts were missing. Same thing for most of their handguns, no clips, no bolts, or else no slide. Nearly every gun in the lot was sabotaged in some way or another. Jake had been busy while slapping them all on the back, acting like their pal. His biggest surprise for the mercenaries came when he raised up three grenades that he had hidden in his shirt. He pulled the pin in one and held it high in the air for all to see.
With his expression dead serious, Jake now said, "Gentlemen, if I don't see every weapon on the ground in less than five seconds, and you all with your hands against that brick wall over there five seconds after that . . . I'm going to lob this here grenade right into the center of your little group."
No one doubted that Jake would carry through with his threat, not after being knocked out inside the club. All ten mercenaries began to lay down their weapons.
Just before nightfall, WWIII erupted in the streets of Moore's Lake. Mercenaries from all over the country were converging on the small town in hopes of finding Darlene or Vampra.
Already, the death toll was alarming. Four state troopers had been killed so far, along with seven mercenaries.
Worse . . . a city bus was hit by gunfire during one of the battles. It immediately exploded and fourteen civilians died.
Captain Long had been forced to mobilize not only all his off-duty crews of police officers, but other city workers as well. He had clerks patrolling the streets right along side seasoned cops. There were city engineers carrying M-16s down the middle of the street and even armed garbage collectors using their trucks like tanks.
The captain knew it wouldn't be long before there were some serious accidents happening. You just can't have that many untrained people carrying around firearms without something going wrong!
There were now ten officers guarding Darlene and Vampra at the entrance to their cavern. The eight state troopers that were there helping out kept glancing nervously over at the entrance to Abe's tomb, hoping not to see the ghoul. And despite the dangerous situation, everyone still had their orders to let anyone pass who wished to see Abe.
So far, no further mercenaries had attacked the cave, but they all knew it was just a matter of time.
"We are never going to get in there," Matt commented as he saw the heavily armed men guarding the entrance to John Livingston's huge estate.
"There are ten sentries just at the gate! Care to take a guess at how many are inside the compound?
Inside the house?"
"No, I wouldn't," Charles Peterson replied, envisioning his plans going up in smoke. "But I'll tell you, Matt, without Abe's help, seeing Livingston may be the only thing that saves Moore's Lake. We've got to get in there somehow!"
Matt knew the situation was desperate, but how much luck could one hope for? How were two men, only one of which really knew how to use a firearm, going to get past God only knew how many armed guards? And getting past the guards wasn't the only problem either. Once inside the estate, how were they going to approach Livingston?
"Maybe I'll go back to Moore's Lake, go inside the tomb, and ask Abe to take care of all this for us."
"And exactly what words would you use to ask him?" Peterson asked, amused that his young companion could make a joke at a time like this.
"Hi there, Abe? Could you get rid of all the mercenaries for me?"
"He'd probably put them all inside your apartment," the reporter commented dryly. "You know how he works. Abe never does anything the way people expect it."
The ex-gang member chuckled and said, "Yeah, and he'd probably have me cooking for them . . . cleaning up after them."
Matt sat back where they were situated behind some bushes and gave some serious thought as to how to get inside. After a few moments, he cleared his throat and said, "You know, Mr. Peterson, there is a way to get inside, but I don't think you're going to like it."
"Is there any type of choice?"
"None that I can think of."
"Then let's hear it, lad!"
Captain Long sat at his desk staring at a map of Moore's Lake. In his mind he visualized all the troop placements and wondered if they were capable of stopping hundreds of armed mercenaries. Already, the captain had requested that the mayor place a call to the governor in hopes of having the National Guard help patrol the streets, but that didn't seem too likely. For one thing, the governor didn't actually believe in the existence of vampires or ghouls, and thought the whole thing was nothing more than a big publicity stunt to attract vacationers and sightseers to Moore's Lake.
Damned fool! the captain thought. The whole town could go up in smoke and the guy won't even lift a finger to help! And to think I voted for him!
The governor was just one problem, Long knew, letting his mind drift to other matters. Thanks to Jake Anderson, the jail cells were full. When he had initially brought in the ten prisoners, everyone clapped him on the back and told him what a good job he had done. But then everyone realized that guarding those prisoners would require manpower they couldn't afford. Still, there wasn't too much choice in the matter.
In addition to everything else, more and more mercenaries were arriving by the hour. The street patrols were reporting over three hundred out-of-state vehicles, most of which were from Texas. In direct relationship with the number of out-of-state vehicles reported were the number of incidents being called in, most of which involved gunfire. Long considered it just a matter of luck that only a few police officers have been killed so far.
Maybe I should see Abe, the captain thought. It would probably be worth whatever he does to me if it means no one else will get killed.
The captain's thoughts were interrupted by the police radio. It was Sergeant Baker over at the cave.
"Long here, Sam. What have you got?"
"We're under heavy attack here, Cap! We count ten to twelve mercenaries and the sombitches are using rockets and grenades! Already I have a state trooper down! Lewis caught some rock fragments in her arm, but she's still fighting! We're holding our own here for now, but we need help and I mean fast!"
"I've got twenty-five troopers on standby alert here at the station! They'll be there in five minutes! Long out!"
Captain Long ran down to the ready room, thinking more and more with every step about seeing Abe and requesting his help.
End of Part 1
Due to a family emergency, it will be a few weeks until the conclusion of Blood War can be posted. I'm sorry to keep you all waiting, but I promise to put it up as soon as possible. -Carl
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E-Mail the author at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com