To Thy Own Self...

(The conclusion of Blood War)

By: Carl R. Merritt

        Captain Long was dying, of that much he was certain.  The bullet in his chest was not going to just disappear.  But what bothered him more than his own death was the fact that the other members of his team were in the same shape.  Marcia Lewis lay to his right, blood flowing freely from a gash in her neck.  She was bleeding to death and there wasn't a thing he could do to help her.  Jake Anderson, Bret Talman and Marc Lamas were already gone, their bodies blown apart by rockets.  Sam Baker and Charles Peterson had injuries that compared to those of the captain, their bodies riddled by heavy machine gun fire.  Only Matt Perez was left standing.  But how long could he last against perhaps a hundred well trained and heavily armed mercenaries trying to overrun the cave?  Two minutes?  Three?
        "Matt!" Captain Long gasped from the cavern floor, blood running from his lips.
        Not able to look away from the fighting, the ex-gang member emptied another clip towards the hoard of assailants and replied, "Yeah, Cap?  I can't get away right now, but... "
        "Forget about returning fire!  Run back and tell Darlene to take Vampra and escape!  Their only hope now is to turn into bats and fly outta here!  Go tell them!  Now!  And once they're gone, you stay back there and hide!  Understand me?  Also, give me your weapon, I'll try to hold them off for a minute!"
        "Cap!  I just can't... "
        "You can and you will, mister!  That's an order!  Go!"
        Long could see the hesitation in Matt's face.  Clearly he didn't want to abandon his captain, but he knew the orders were justified all the same.  Jamming a fresh clip into his M-16, Matt handed the weapon to the captain and took off in a dead run for the back of the caverns towards Darlene's lair.
        Using what little strength he had remaining, Long pointed the M-16 in the general direction of the mercenaries and let loose a short burst.  He knew there was no way in hell he was going to change the clip, so whatever rounds he had would have to do.  He had to make them last as long as possible.
        The return fire from the mercenaries was increasing.  It was as if they knew that there was no longer anyone inside the cavern capable of defending it.  When the captain noticed two of them rising from cover, he fired again, catching one of the mercenaries in the chest and knocking him back.
        Smiling, perhaps for the last time, Captain Long held his fire and waited for more targets to show themselves.  He figured he couldn't have more than four or five more rounds in the clip and the bullets were still coming strong from the mercenaries, bouncing off the walls of the cave.
        Suddenly the captain heard a noise from behind him.  Twisting in agony, he saw that it was Matt returning.
        "I did what you said, Cap!" he said, out of breath.  "Darlene is freeing Vampra right now!  I told 'em to turn into bats and get the hell out of the cave as fast as possible!  Darlene wanted to stop and see you first, but I told her if she tried, I'd drive a stake through her heart myself!  I think they'll do as I said, but I'm... "  He stopped talking and a funny expression came to Matt's face.  When he turned towards the attackers, Captain Long saw that the young man had been shot in the back.  It looked like the bullet severed his spinal cord.
        Matt fell to the hard cavern floor . . . dead.
        "Nooooo!" the captain cried out.  With his last few rounds, he sprayed the woods where he knew the mercenaries were hiding.  Hopefully, he would hit the one that had just killed Matt.
        With no ammunition left in his M-16, all Captain Long could do was wait for the inevitable.  He knew very shortly the mercenaries would realize that no one was firing from within the cave and they would come.  His only wish now was that somehow, Darlene and Vampra would survive.
        Hearing flapping sounds, the captain looked up and saw two bats flying swiftly toward the opening of the cave.  Darlene and Vampra! Good!  At least they will make it to safety!  But then, the unthinkable happened.  It was an explosion at the mouth of the cave.  One of the bats went fluttering to the ground, one of its wings torn off.  The other bat circled around the first, as if wondering if it could be of any help to its companion.  Captain Long knew the first bat would survive the injury, of course.  Gunfire and explosions could not kill a vampire.  The bad part was, that first bat would still be helpless when the mercenaries come rushing into the cave.  They would take whoever it was, Darlene or Vampra, and wait until she returned to human form.  Then, they would simply drive a stake through her lovely heart.
        To make matters worse, the uninjured bat was still in the cave.  It refused to leave and soon Captain Long noticed it floating towards the ground, about to transform.
        "No!  Get away!  Save yourself!"  But the captain's words were ignored, the bat alit and immediately changed into human form.  Oh, God Vampra!  And she looks hungry!
        Once transformed, Vampra looked out into the woods and saw the armed men approaching.  Appearing not to care, the naked vampress turned her attention back to Captain Long.  There was a hunger in her eyes that could only have meant one thing, she was going to feed on the only mortal left alive inside the cave before she departed.
        "No!  Get out of here!  Don't you understand?  Those people outside will be in here any second!  Change into a bat and get . . . Aaugh!"  Vampra's sharp canine teeth sank deep into the captain's jugular.  He felt the vampress begin sucking away the little bit of blood he still had in his body.  The last thing he saw before he died was a mercenary . . . driving a long wooden stake through Vampra's back.

        Captain Long screamed and awoke from the nightmare shaking like a leaf, sweat running into his eyes and his heart pounding like a bass drum.  Looking around, he saw that he was still at his desk at the station.  He went to the water fountain and, splashing ice cold water on his face, wondered how in the hell he could have let himself fall asleep like that.  True, he hadn't had a decent night's sleep for three days now, but that was no excuse when there were people out there . . . his people . . . depending upon him.
        The station was nearly empty.  Every available cop and city employee were out patrolling the streets.  Only the secretary was there to keep him company and to help out by answering the radio.  Fortunately, she wasn't at her desk and probably hadn't heard the captain scream.
        Thank the Lord for small favors!
        Long went to the situation desk and looked over the latest reports.  He didn't like what he saw.  He checked his watch and became disgusted with himself.  I must have been asleep for over an hourLook at all that's happened!
        Since he had last checked, there had been a fire fight over by the mini- mall.  Two more officers were down, both state troopers.  Again, one had been killed.  That officer would still be alive if I would have seen Abe! the captain thought, full of grief.  I've got to go see Abe now and put a stop to all this senseless killingI don't know what the price will be, but I can't live with myself if I stand by and do nothing!
        The police captain steadied his nerves and headed for the door, determined to make a request of the ghoul no matter what the cost.  But as he was walking out the door, a young woman caught his attention.  She was just getting out of a cab.  Her arm was in a sling.
        "Lewis!  Out of the hospital already?  How's your arm?"
        "Fine, Cap.  It was nothing. really!  The doc said it'll be fine in a couple days.  Now, what have I missed?"
        "A lot, I'm sorry to say," Long replied to one of his most trusted officers.  Then, an idea came to the captain.  "Marcia, let's go inside for a minute.  There's something I have to discuss with you."  Once inside his office, the captain offered Marcia a seat and then sat down behind his desk.  "Officer Lewis, I'm hereby placing you in command of the station until I return.  I'm not sure when that will be, uh . . . if ever.  Your job will be to coordinate things with... "
        "Wait a minute!  Where are you going?  If you're thinking about going out there and rounding up mercenaries, I'm not going to let you!  You're too valuable to... " Marcia saw the look of dismay on the captain's face and knew she somehow had it wrong.  She also knew he was much too good of a commander to risk his life by trying to arrest mercenaries.  Suddenly a horrible thought struck her.  "You're going to make a request of Abe, aren't you?"
        "That was my plan, yes."
        "That's what I thought," the young woman said, turning to leave the small office.  "Hang on a minute.  I'll be right back."  Marcia returned less than thirty seconds later, one of her hands hidden behind her back.  When she brought it around, she was holding a small automatic, the one she used to use for a backup when she first joined the force.  Marcia had it aimed right at the captain's left eye.  "I may as well shoot you now and save you the misery you're going to have to face later," she said, dead serious. 
        "Lewis, what in hell's name do you think you're doing?"
        "Captain, I'm not going to stand here and see you get punished for making a request of Abe!  Period!!  He punishes those who ask him for something that they can handle by themselves!  You can take care of this problem by yourself!  You don't need the ghoul's help!"
        Maybe the captain was curious, maybe he just wanted his ego stroked, but he asked, "And how can I do that?"
        "With your imagination!  That's how!  Look . . . why was it that the mayor put you in charge of the force instead of the police chief?  Come on, answer me that."
        The captain sighed loud enough for it to be heard for a city block.  He knew Marcia already knew the story . . . everyone in Moore's Lake did.  Richard Townsend, the seventy-five year old police chief of Moore's Lake, was more or less retired.  He was senile.  Townsend lived by himself now on the Southern side of town and held the position of Police Chief in name only for the simple reason no one had the heart to relieve him of it.  Also, in every election some politician would always submit Townsend's name and somehow, the chief always got re-elected.  Townsend had been a good man in his day, but his time had come to an end.  He could no longer make the good calls.  Needing someone in charge of the force who had the drive, intelligence, common sense and courage to insure the safety of the town, the mayor had given Captain Long the responsibility.
        "Okay, I see what you're getting at, but that doesn't tell me how!  How can I handle this situation without Abe's help?"
        With a sigh of her own, Marcia lowered her weapon and tossed it on the captain's desk.  "Remember blasting Matt for doing what he thought was right?  He used his imagination and came up with a solution to a problem no one else thought of.  You've got that same imagination, Cap.  Use it."
        "There's nothing I can do, Lewis.  I don't do things like Mr. Perez."
        "How does that old saying go?  Umm... 'To thy own self be true?'  Is that how it goes?  Anyway, you're lying to yourself, Cap.  There's a lot of Matt in you but you just don't want to admit it.  You can think of something to stop those mercenaries and everyone here at the station knows it.  Pull a Nike and 'Just Do It' for cryin' out loud!"
        Having said her mind, Marcia stomped out of the office in a fit of rage.  The captain had never seen her like this before.  Her attitude said a lot about how she felt about him and Long felt more pity for himself than anything else.  Am I really like MattIs that why I jumped all over him the way I didWill it be Matt that pulls a rabbit out of his hat down in Texas and not Charles Peterson?  For some reason, the captain thought it just might be possible... 
        Shaking his head, Captain Long picked up Marcia's automatic and left his office.  He dropped the weapon inside a drawer in her desk as he left the station.  His destination - Abe's tomb.

        The ten guards at the gate noticed the car approaching while it was still over fifty yards away. Immediately, ten full automatic weapons were cocked and aimed at the vehicle.  As the car slowed nearing the gate, tensions eased and one of the guards stood in its path, signaling it to stop.  Going to the driver's side of the car, the guard cautiously looked inside and was surprised at what he saw.
        There was a young man driving, and by the way he was dressed he was obviously a mercenary.  Sitting in the passenger's seat was an older gentleman who looked to be nearing retirement age.  The man was tied and gagged.
        "We come to see Livingston," the driver stated, looking down the barrel of what he recognized as an Uzi.  Acting as though he belonged there, he continued with, "Man, get that thing outta my face!  I got a man here that Livingston will want to see!  He's the friend of those vampires living in Moore's Lake!  Now tell the man I'm here before I get out of this car and shove that piece of garbage down your throat!"
        "You keep your mouth shut and keep your hands where I can see them!"  The weapon still trained on Matt, the guard then motioned for one of his buddies to make the call. 
        Moments later, the second mercenary came back to the car and told his friend, "The boss wants to see them all right, just like the punk said he would.  I'll ride with them so they don't get in any trouble."
        Grinning from ear to ear, Matt waited for the guard to get in the back seat before starting the rental car and proceeding through the gate.  The first hurdle was past them now.  Matt and Charles were inside the compound.  The rest should be easy, he thought.  All we have to do now is survive!

        As Captain Long approached Abe's cavern, his senses were on full alert.  He knew that there may very well be dozens of mercenaries hiding somewhere in the woods at this very moment, just waiting for an opportunity to shoot him down.  It was a known fact that at least a half dozen mercs were still around the area somewhere, that much had been in the last report Long had read.  Trouble was, with all their military training, his police officers were having a hell of a time locating them.
        So what am I doing here by myself? he wondered.  I give orders that no one is to go through these woods alone, and look what I'm doingSeven police officers already dead, and I'm trying to make it eight!
        Captain Long quickened his pace through the heavy brush, knowing that he was making more noise than a bull elephant.  If anyone was in the heavily wooded area, they would surely hear him coming from a long ways off.  Twice, he thought he caught movement in the shadows, but the captain didn't let that stop him.  He had to see Abe.

        Bound and gagged, Charles Peterson was led by Matt down the long hallway.  There were five guards escorting them, two in front and three to their rear.  All five of the mercenaries were armed with automatic rifles.
        "Come on, Peterson! Move it!" Matt ordered the reporter, who by this time was giving his accomplice in this charade some real dirty looks.  The ex-gang member accented his command with a jab to the ribs.  "I said move!  I've had enough of your slow ass!  Get going, or I'll shoot you here and now!"
        The guards smirked as they witnessed this.  Even as they watched Matt acting as though he ran the whole estate, they knew who was really in charge.
        The group made their way to a large room which was obviously a library.  Along the far wall was an elaborate solid oak desk.  Behind this desk, working on a computer, was the man Matt and Peterson had come to see . . . John Livingston.
        Upon entering the library, the guards stopped and simply stood silently and waited, motioning for Matt and his "prisoner" to do the same.
        One glance at the man behind the desk was enough to tell Matt how powerful of an individual he was.  His posture, facial expression . . . his whole demeanor just declared confidence and power as well as if he had it tattooed on his forehead.
        Shifting his weight from one leg to the other, Matt found himself becoming impatient.  He couldn't see the point of coming all this way, going through with this entire deception, just to stand around and wait for some guy to quit playing around on some stupid computer before they all got down to business.  Matt decided to get the ball rolling.
        "Mr. Livingston, my name is Matt Perez.  I'm here to... "
        Matt never got the chance to finish.  He was struck in the stomach by the guard standing to his left.  Before he could even draw his first breath, Matt was immediately grabbed from behind and held with his arms pinned to his side.
        Just as another of the mercenaries was about to deliver a blow to Matt's face, the young ex-gang member heard a voice . . . a voice that he knew must belong to Livingston himself.  Matt just couldn't imagine anyone else in the room having a tone so authoritative, so demanding.
        "That's enough!  I want that man to be able to talk!"
        Looking up, Matt saw Livingston come around from behind the desk.  He took long strides and was standing in front of Matt in a surprisingly little amount of time.
        "In this house, there are rules to follow, young man.  The first of which is this . . . do not speak unless spoken to.  Am I making myself clear?"
        "Yes, sir." Matt managed to gasp out.  Waiting until he caught his breath hadn't even occurred to him, Livingston's voice was that commanding.
        "Okay then, now that we know who is in charge here, let's talk.  I see you brought me someone.  Who is he and why should I concern myself with him?"
        Matt realized that Livingston must already know who the reporter was, or else he and Peterson never would have gotten this far.  However, to ensure that he didn't get slammed in the stomach again, he thought it best to play along.
        "His name is Charles Peterson, sir.  A newspaper reporter in Moore's Lake.  He's also a close personal friend of Abe, the ghoul that reigns over the town.  One reason I came here today is to deliver him to you to use as a hostage.  He's important enough that you might be able to trade him for the vampires."
        "You said that's 'one reason' you came.  The other?"
        "Sir," Matt started, glancing at the guards.  "I'm not sure you'd like me to go into that right now.  I think you might want to keep this next part private."
        "You better give me a clue, son.  Otherwise, I'm going to have you shot and fed to my dogs for wasting my time.  You see, I've already researched Captain Long and his police force and there's no way in hell the man is going to compromise his principles by making any sort of trade.  So unless you have something of interest to me... " Livingston let his words trail off.  He knew there was no point for further explanations.  The implication was perfectly clear.
        "Gold," Matt replied, taking in his surroundings once again.  "Almost enough to fill half this room."
        The mention of the word "gold" caught Livingston's attention like a moth to flame.  Right away, his breathing became more noticeable and his eyes took on the glint that has claimed men's souls for centuries.  After a few seconds he composed himself, but Matt could tell the gears in his head were still turning like those of a clock.
        John Livingston stood there studying Matt for a moment, evidently trying to determine if the story held a grain of truth.  Then, after having made up his mind, he walked back behind his desk and said to the mercenaries, "I want to speak to this man in private.  Take Peterson out and keep him under guard."
        Once they were alone, Matt needed no prompting to continue with his story.  He knew if he didn't, he would probably wind up as a tasty meal for some pack of ferocious canines.  "Inside the caves, sir, there's Abe's tomb, of course.  There's also the cavern in which Darlene and Vampra live and . . . another cavern.  The third cavern is where the ghoul has his hidden treasure."
        Doubtful, Livingston asked, "First, how do you know about this?  Second, exactly how much is there?  And next . . . if you know about the gold, why is it you're not attempting to get it yourself?"
        "Easy questions to answer, sir.  You see, after you put the bounty on the vampires, I was . . . I think . . . the first mercenary to arrive in Moore's Lake.  I got there as soon as I could so I could study the place, determine the best method for killing the vampires.  That first night, I happened to go inside this nightclub called Gothorama.  According to the fact sheet, it was supposed to be the favorite hangout of one of the vampires.  It was.  I met Darlene there almost right away and started buying her drinks.  Uh, she kinda loosened up a bit after the third or fourth round and we became sort of bar buddies.  She told me about the gold and how Abe guards it.  As for how much there is . . . no way to tell, sir.  All she said was that if it ever had to be moved, it would fill at least two semi-trucks.
        "And as for why I'm not trying to get it for myself . . . well, I'm just not that stupid, sir.  I know I don't have the resources to even get near it.  I figure someone of your wealth does, and I would be happy to take just a measly five percent 'finder's fee' for telling you about it."
        Livingston was quiet while he considered everything that Matt had told him.  He appeared to come to a decision and said, "I know about the ghoul, of course.  I researched that town for over a month before I put the bounty on Darlene and Vampra.  However, I did not know about the gold.  Now tell me this, what makes you think it's possible to get that gold away from Abe?  He is, in all likelihood, just about the most powerful entity that has ever roamed the face of the Earth."
        "Sir, in all your research, did the story of Abe's skeleton being stolen from his tomb ever come up?" Seeing Livingston's nod, Matt finished with, "I was the guy who planned that operation."

        Captain Long was met by a hoard of State Police and two of his own people as he neared the cave.  Standing in the very front of the group was Marcia Lewis, the look on her face determined, unrelenting.
        "You know," she began.  "I really hope you're not here to see Abe.  Because if you are, I'm gonna have to stop you.  And if I do, you know what Abe is gonna do to me!  And if you're not here to see the ghoul, then just turn right back around and go back to the office where you're needed, because I'm not going to let you pass.  You can reprimand me in the morning if you want, but you are not going any further."
        Ahh, hell!  The captain thought, knowing better than to admit to anything out loud . . . for Marcia's sake.  Lewis came up with a strategy that she knew would workShe knew there was no way I would endanger her life, so she beat her little butt over here ahead of me and is now trying her best to get out of this with not only her own skin intact, but mine as wellNow how in the hell can I get past herHow can I see Abe without Marcia going against the ghoul's directives?
        "I can tell you're trying to think of some loophole, Captain, but it's not going to work and you know it.  Abe's rule to let anyone pass who wishes to see him is very explicit.  And to even slow a person down who admits to wanting a wish granted is a big no-no.  To do so means the wrath of Abe.  Now, Captain, are you going to see me get punished like Marc Lamas did after he tried to stop someone?  I think we both know that the next person who defies Abe will have a punishment much worse.  Do you hate me that much that you'll tell me you're here to see the ghoul?"
        Hating you isn't the issue! Long's mind screamed out.  I don't hate you at all, in fact, you're like a daughter to meBut if I don't see Abe and put an end to all this madness, more lives will be lostWhy can't you understand that?  The captain knew Marcia had him.  There was nothing he could do unless he admitted to wanting to see Abe.  And if he did that, she would still try to stop him.  And suffer Abe's wrath.  Was she right earlier when she said I had it within me to think of a way to stop Livingston and his mercenariesA year ago, I'd say yeah . . . I could have thought of something.  But nowAfter witnessing so much of the supernaturalSo much of the unknownBefore this past year, I would have tried something overly simple, some stupid little trick that was so far beyond common practice, no one would have thought it would have workedBut... !
        Then, all of a sudden, Captain Long knew how to put at least a temporary stop to the fighting.  And he could do it right here, right now . . . and without having to see the ghoul!
        "Officer Lewis, I don't know what the hell you're talking about!" the captain said, his voice carrying well beyond the officers.  "I'm here to tell you that it's all over!  Livingston was arrested by two of my men down in Texas.  With him in custody there's no more bounty!  No bounty, no problem!  Now . . . go back inside the cave and remain on guard just like you always do.  I'm gonna relieve you of all this extra manpower now that it's not needed anymore!"
        With that, Captain Long motioned for the state troopers to follow him back to the station, leaving Marcia standing alone to guard the cave.  Her mouth was gaping as she watched the captain leave.
        Along the trail back through the woods, the captain and the troopers all saw over a dozen mercenaries moving off, leaving the area.  One or two of them were talking on short range radios, relaying the news about Livingston.
        They fell for it! the captain thought.  It'll only last for a little while, but at least I've got 'em fooled into quitting for nowThere's no way those men are going to risk their lives if there isn't any money in it.  The rest is in the hands of God nowYeah, and maybe those of Charles and Matt too.  Come on, MattThink of something, boyLet's see if Abe was right about you!

        Matt was about as nervous as a turkey a week before Thanksgiving.  Not only was he in an airplane once again, but he was in that plane with Livingston, two of his most trusted mercenaries and, of course, Charles Peterson, who was still bound and gagged. 
        They were on their way back to Moore's Lake.  As Matt had figured all along, old man Livingston would want to verify that the gold was indeed somewhere inside Abe's caverns.  To do this, he had to go to Moore's Lake and talk to someone who supposedly had knowledge of the gold . . . meaning Captain Long, or one of his deputies.
        What worried Matt the most was the fact that the two mercenaries had orders to shoot both him and Charles Peterson if either acted up, or if the story about the gold turned out to be false.
        Yeah, right! Matt was thinking.  I guess I can expect to live until about twenty minutes after we land.  As soon as Livingston's men find someone on the assault team and discover there is no gold, Peterson and I have had it!  But then Matt started thinking that there may be another alternative.  He decided to try and find out some information about Livingston.
        "Sir, we've got about an hour yet before we land.  Mind if I ask you a question?"
        WhewNice choice of words... "Well, if you don't mind me asking . . . why do you hate vampires so much?  Why go to all the expense of putting a bounty on them?"
        "They're evil.  Left alone to do as they please, it won't be long until the planet is inhabited by nothing but blood-sucking, immoral creatures that don't even have the common sense to die.  Godless animals they are, put here by Satan himself to destroy everything that is good in this world.  I plan on the extermination of every damned vampire on Earth!"
        That was just about what Matt had expected to hear and was all he needed to know.  Matt now had the beginnings of a plan and still had plenty of time to put on the finishing touches before they landed.  Nodding his head in agreement, he mumbled softly, "We'll just have to see about that... "

        The trick the captain had pulled on the mercenaries hadn't lasted for as long as he had hoped.  He really hadn't expected it to and therefore, had spent the last hour and a half gaining yardage in this war.
        After arriving back at the station, Captain Long had ordered the pickup of every mercenary attempting to leave town.  There were roadblocks at the on-ramps to every highway and at every major intersection.  This turned out to be much easier and safer than trying to flush the mercenaries out from cover.  Since deceiving them all back at the cave, the state police had captured forty-three soldiers of fortune and had confiscated over sixty thousand dollars worth of military hardware, including M-16s, foreign made assault weapons, and even small rocket launchers.
        Now Captain Long was back at the cave again, this time with a fresh batch of State Police.  They were under fire once more after the mercenaries had learned the truth, that Livingston had not been captured.  Between the deception and the fact that most of their buddies were now behind bars on account of it, the remaining mercenaries seemed to be out for vengeance.  Bullets were streaming into the cave at an unbelievable rate and everyone knew it wouldn't be long before another officer got hit.
        "It looks like about seven or eight of 'em, Cap!  If they don't use them damned rockets again, we should be able to hold 'em!"
        Captain Long knew that the cave's defenses were about as good as they were going to get, but he still thought there should be something more he could do.  There were only a few officers left available to call for backup and even if they could arrive in time, they'd be sitting ducks out there in the open.  What in the hell can I do this time?
        As he stood there taking in the situation, knowing if he didn't come up with something damned quick the cave would soon get overrun, his nightmare suddenly came back to him.
        I got it!
        "Sam, I've got an idea.  The way those guys are pouring fire into this cave, they must surely think they're hitting something.  Right?  And they can't come out in the open for the same reason we can't, return fire would tear them to shreds.  So how 'bout this . . . we slowly start dwindling our return fire . . . make them think that they've hit a few of us.  A few minutes later, we slow our fire down even more.  Maybe in . . . five minutes . . . we stop firing altogether.  What will they be thinking?"
        "That we're all dead!  Then, when they come out into the open, we blast them with everything we've got!  Very good, Cap!  I'll spread the word!"

        With the pilot now gone and one of the two guards off to find someone who might be able to verify the incredible 'gold' story, only three people remained aboard to keep Matt company: Charles Peterson, Livingston and his guard.  The plane was safely tucked away in its hanger and the lone mercenary was standing at the exit with his Uzi pointing away from everyone.  Matt knew he would never get a better opportunity than this.
        "This guy has got to hit the toilet," Matt stated, nodding his head towards Charles.
        "No way!  He stays where he is until my buddy gets back!" the guard by the exit replied, bringing the Uzi around.
        "And just what happens if your pal doesn't make it back soon?  Are we supposed to just sit here and smell it, Bonehead?"
        "The young man has a point," Livingston commented.  "Untie Peterson and escort him to the lavatory.  Stay back there and keep an eye on him.  If he does anything stupid, shoot him."
        "Yes, sir."
        While Charles was being ushered off, Matt was alone with Livingston, who was holding a small automatic and aiming it at the young man's nose.
        It's now or never! Matt thought.  That curtain separating the back of the plane will just have to be good enough!
        Knowing Livingston was watching him, Matt began looking around as if interested in the interior of the plane.  Suddenly, widening his eyes and pointing at a window, he shouted, "Vampra!"
        The vampire's name was all that was needed to make Livingston's head turn towards the window.  The moment it did, Matt was all over him, wrestling the gun from his grip.
        "No!  Don't do this!" Livingston pleaded, disarmed and finding himself now at gun point.
        "Shut up.  One more word and you're dead." Ignoring the man, Matt backed away a few feet and glanced towards the plane's rest room.  He knew the guard would have heard the commotion and would be rushing out very soon with his gun at the ready.
        Matt took aim where he thought the mercenary would appear through the curtain and waited.  For long moments he stood there poised to fire . . . ready to kill without hesitation.  Finally, hearing footsteps, Matt began to put a little pressure on the trigger and hoped he would be faster and maybe a little bit better of a shot than the mercenary.  Then he saw the curtains starting to move...
        "Don't shoot!" Peterson yelled when he noticed Matt about to fire. "For Christ's sake, Matt, didn't you think I could handle myself back there?"
        "Where's the guard?" Matt asked, lowering the gun and taking a deep breath to calm his nerves.
        "I knocked him out with a fire extinguisher.  He made the mistake of looking back here when you shouted Vampra's name.  I spent the rest of the time tying him up."
        "Fine, then let's get this show on the road."
        Matt motioned for Livingston to get moving with the automatic.  They were soon out of the plane and leaving the hanger.  Their destination . . . Abe's tomb.

        Only a few of the mercenaries were still alive and returning fire after the captain's trap had been sprung.  The three who remained were nearly in shock over the deaths of their comrades and were seriously considering fleeing the scene when suddenly, they were in for yet another surprise.
        "Now that's enough!  Put down your weapons and just maybe I'll let you live!" 
        It was Jake Anderson, standing behind them with a grenade in his hand and fifteen state troopers at his sides.
        Seeing that Jake had already pulled the pin to the grenade and that the troopers had them covered with M16s, the mercenaries had no choice other than to surrender.  Dropping their weapons to the ground, the held their hands high and slowly rose to their feet.
        Captain Long and the others ran from the cave and joined Jake, who's smile was contagious.
        "Damn, did I ever make such a good choice as when I made you a part of this team!" the captain said, also smiling and giving Jake a slap on the back.  Looking down at the weapons the mercenaries had surrendered, he added somberly, "I see they had rocket launchers.  They could've killed us with those if you hadn't come along when you did!"
        Jake was about to make a smartass reply when everyone heard a noise not too far away, from somewhere behind a cluster of trees.  Putting a fresh clip in his weapon, Captain Long took Jake by the elbow and led him about thirty feet deeper into the woods.  From this angle, they could see a small group of people moving their way.  At least one of them had a weapon held at the ready.
        "Hold your fire!" came a shout from the newcomers.  "It'd be a real pity to be killed now . . . after finally getting out of that damned plane!"
        "It's Matt and Mr. Peterson!  And they've got two prisoners!" Jake shouted, searching through his pockets and trying to remember what he did with the pin for the grenade he was holding.
        It took Matt and the reporter a few minutes to explain all that they had been through and by the time they were finished, they all found themselves at the entrance to Abe's tomb.
        Matt looked at the man responsible for sending all the mercenaries to Moore's Lake and said, "Livingston, now that we're here, I want to introduce you to a very special gal.  It'll be beneath her standards to talk to someone as pitiful as you, but I'm sure with a little bit of insisting, she can be persuaded.  Come on.  Let's go inside."

        Two hours had gone by and Livingston was still talking to Darlene inside her cavern.  They were seated at a table about forty feet from Vampra's cell and Livingston was already aware that he was falling for the charms of this lovely vampress.  At first, the idea of even looking at the vampire without driving a stake through her heart was repulsive to the man.  However, after five minutes of talking to the beautiful and big-hearted girl, he began to realize that he may have been wrong in his assumption that all vampires were evil.
        "You've had a terrible past, Darlene!  How did you ever cope with being more or less a slave to that 'Vince' guy?"
        "It's one of those things that you either deal with or die.  Gail and I didn't have a choice.  Vince was the one who turned us into vampires and we were forced to obey his every command.  Only when he died were we able to think for ourselves again."
        "Darlene, I see now that I was wrong.  All vampires aren't evil.  I guess as a whole, they're just like anybody else.  You've got some good ones and some bad ones.  I'm going to call off the bounty on vampires as soon as I get a chance.  Maybe I can still get a hold of some of my men.  I can..."
        "No need for that, you just told 'em," Captain Long said from behind Livingston.  With him was Sam Baker, Marcia Lewis and Jake Anderson.  They were ushering in four mercenaries, the three captured in front of the cave and the one that Matt and Charles Peterson had captured on the plane.  "I'm turning these guys loose on the condition that they tell all their buddies down in Texas.  Anyway, there's no more room in our jail cells for them and it's going to cost the town enough as it is to prosecute what we already have.  I figure we either shoot these four now, or let them do some good.  It was a tough choice, but I decided on the latter.
        "But you, Livingston," Long began, watching the mercenaries run out of the cave, "you're another story.  I'm sure our judge will see to it that you spend the rest of your life behind bars."
        Just the thought of prison nauseated Livingston.  He knew it was going to be difficult adjusting from a life of wealth and power to living the life of a prison inmate.  He hung his head and for the first time in years, was speechless.
        "LIVINGSTON'S FUTURE IS ENTIRELY IN HIS OWN HANDS," Abe announced, making his usual entrance in a swirling array of stars.  "HE HAS A CHOICE."
        It didn't take Livingston but a moment to catch on.  I can make a request! he thought.  I can ask the ghoul for anything I want!
        "Abe!  This man deserves to be locked up forever!  Why would you want to... " Captain Long was once again stopped short by Abe's look.  It was beginning to be something of a habit with Abe, stopping the captain in mid-sentence with just a turn of his skeletal head.
        Livingston, never one to turn down a good thing, said, "You better bet your bones I do!  I want an eternal life of freedom with all my acquired wealth . . . in gold!  And somewhere away from Moore's Lake!"
        "GRANTED!" Abe said in a voice dripping with an evil that had taken nearly a century to get just right.
        At that moment, Livingston disappeared from the table.  An instant later, he materialized inside Vampra's cell.  The vampress, as mean and feral as they come, noticed the mortal inside her cage right away and slowly advanced upon him.  Pouncing on the man with a hunger that's been building for months, Vampra slammed the human against the steel cage and pinned him there as she sank her sharp canine teeth deep into the soft flesh of his neck.
        "NOAugh!  Abe, what are you doing?  Get me out of here!"  The pain was unbearable.  Vampra's razor-sharp teeth were like acid being poured into a gaping wound.  She was mauling him, sucking away every drop of his life-sustaining blood.
        Suddenly, Livingston felt himself becoming light-headed, about ready to pass out, about to die. 
        "YOUR WISH IS BEING GRANTED," was all Abe said, watching the gruesome scene with amusement.
        "Abe!  This isn't right!  She'll kill him!" Long was just about to put his own life on the line by intervening, but the ghoul had already acted once again.
        Livingston simply disappeared from inside Vampra's cell, leaving the feral vampress only partially fulfilled.  She screamed in frustration.
        "What did you do with him?" Long asked frantically, looking around the cavern.

        John Livingston found himself on a deserted beach.  Just where this beach was located, he didn't know.  A few yards away, the man saw a huge pile of what looked like gold bars, all stacked up neatly.
        This isn't so bad, he thought.  Wherever I am, I should be able to find my way back to civilization.  And, just like I asked for . . . I still have my wealth!
        Startled at the voice, John Livingston spun around and saw Abe behind him, hovering a few feet off the sand.  "What do you mean?"  Already, Livingston was beginning to understand that all may not be as it seemed.
        Quick-minded, Livingston knew right away that he had a serious problem.  "I'm a vampire now?  But if I'm alone, how will I feed?  I'll die of starvation!"
        John Livingston hated rats.  To his way of thinking, they were the most disgusting form of life on the planet.  But, of course, Abe probably already knew that.
        "Abe, listen for a moment!  I just made a little mistake!  I... "
        Having said the last words Livingston would ever hear another say, Abe vanished, leaving the once rich and powerful man alone on the island with only the rats and his gold for company.

        Matt was halfway back to his small apartment when Captain Long caught up with him.  Tired and still not quite over the plane ride, the younger man was hoping his boss wasn't going to ask anything more of him . . . at least until he had a chance to shower and get some sleep.  Matt was surprised when all Captain Long said was, "Matt, I was wrong about you.  You make a fine addition to the team.  I just wanted to tell you that before you leave."
        Alarm bells started going off in Matt's head.  Leave?   What kind of an assignment am I on now?   "Where am I going, Cap?"
        "Well, that's sort of up to you, isn't it son?  Who am I to tell a man where to go on his vacation."  Seeing the look of surprise on Matt's face, Long decided to put the young man's questions to rest.  "Look Matt, you've done good these last few days, so I'm giving you the next week off with pay.  You deserve it.  Just make sure you're up to par when you get back.  Understand?  This is Moore's Lake, the home of Abraham Wilkes, ghoul extraordinaire.  Who knows what's going to happen next?"  Thinking back to what Marcia had said in his office, Long thought it best to add just a little more.  "Look, all I'm saying is, I see a lot of myself in you.  And if I had a week off with pay, I'd probably do all sorts of crazy things.  Just be careful and get back here in one piece, okay?"
        Matt's mouth was still hanging open as he watched Captain Long turn and leave.  "Well I'll be damned," the young man muttered, totally confused.  "I wonder what's gotten into Cap?"


The End


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