Looking For Some Lunchtime Reading?
INTERLUDE: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
Grease covered my fingers. I had a mouthful of the steak-and-cheese sub and chewed very, very slowly. The barrel of a gun aimed at you can make everything slow down. Even when you can’t see it.
The man across from me in the red plastic laminate booth smiled like he’d just managed to win the lottery and bed Hollywood’s hottest starlet in the same afternoon. “Caught you with your pants down, Lawson. Imagine that.”
I swallowed. Outside, the mid-afternoon sun stabbed westward and as it did, I caught the glint off the scope atop what was no doubt a sniper rifle on a roof across the way.
I let my eyes track back to the man in front of me. “Whoever that is, he any good?”
“He won’t miss.” Stegman pointed at the sub. “Want to finish that? Your last meal and all.”
I frowned. Stegman was supposed to be in Helsinki right now. Not sitting across from me in a booth in a pizza joint in Allston. A first class ticket for a 5:30pm flight on Fin Air sat in my breast pocket, proof the Council wanted me to hunt Stegman down and execute him for laundering money for Moscow’s new power elite. Stegman’s activities would draw attention from Western intelligence agencies and could possibly expose the fact that a race of living vampires existed in secret alongside humanity.
I took a sip of the Pepsi and leaned back, keeping my hands on the table so One-Shot-One-Kill across the way didn’t get jumpy. “You know it won’t end with me. The Council will just send another Fixer after you.”
“Killing you like this will give them pause,” said Stegman. “And allow me to disappear from their radar.”
I smiled. “Not possible. The Council will find you. Eventually.”
“By then it won’t matter. Not once I have enough money to find the Cloak of Despar.”
I smirked. “You’re hunting folklore?”
“Laugh all you want, but you know as well as I what that cloak will enable me to do when I find it.”
I frowned. Every vampire child knew the Legend of Despar and how he’d supposedly worn a magical cloak that kept him safe from a wild pack of humans intent on hunting him down as he made his way through the Khyber Pass almost three centuries back. Given to him by the vampire monks of Tibet, the cloak allegedly made the wearer invisible and acted like amazing armor in case of battle.
But it was a fairy tale. And no one I knew actually believed it.
Correction: Stegman apparently did.
“You’re chasing a legend.”
He shrugged. “You think so? I don’t. I found Despar’s journal, written after he successfully made his way home to Florence. He left specific instructions for locating the cloak.”
“And you know where it is?”
Stegman frowned. “Almost. I have one or two things I need to acquire before the exact location can be discerned.”
“Hence the money laundering operation you’ve been running.”
“The collapse of the Soviet Union left a power vacuum. Now there are people coming to power with no knowledge of how to grow their money.”
“Or hide it.”
“Naturally.” Stegman grinned and looked out of the window. “Corruption is a natural by-product of chaos. The Russians need someone they can trust.”
I shook my head. “You’ll attract too much attention. You know the Council can’t allow that.”
Stegman eyed me. “You’re out of your league here, Lawson. The man on the roof will kill you the moment I give the signal.”
“He’ll need a bit of luck to take me down through the plate glass window here. I figure the distance is at least a thousand feet. Plus wind. He’d better know his stuff.”
The way Stegman said it didn’t fill me with much confidence. It was entirely possible he’d tracked down someone who knew how to make that shot easily. There are a lot of vampires who wouldn’t mind taking a Fixer out.
We’re so unappreciated.
I stared at Stegman. “So, you get the cloak and then what? You keep laundering money for other people?”
He shook his head. “I’ve been funneling most of it into an offshore account in Grand Cayman for months now. The money buys me the life I want. The cloak affords me the security I need.”
“Not much of a life always looking over your shoulder.”
Stegman glanced at his manicured nails and shrugged. “You manage.”
I smiled. “Most of the people I meet end up dead very quickly.”
I hefted the large cup of Pepsi and shook my head. “Don’t count on it.”
As Stegman frowned, I jerked my right hand, launching the Pepsi all over the window even as I already started to slide out of the booth around to where Stegman sat.
The plate glass window shattered as the first round crashed through, scoring a line across the back of the seat and impacting the floor inches from my foot.
I yanked Stegman down and out of the booth, using his body to shield my own as another bullet slashed through the air. Those sniper bullets would fragment lignum vitae wood into my bloodstream and that would make for a real unpleasant day. The two people behind the counter screamed and high-tailed it for the back door.
Stegman put up a fight until I drew my pistol and thunked him on the side of the head with it. His body went limp.
The sniper would need to break the rifle down and stow it before coming down. We made the back door and I risked a look outside. I’d only have a problem if Stegman had back-up.
But no bullets shattered the doorjamb and I eased us outside, keeping Stegman’s body in front of mine.
The wail of sirens told me my time was limited. Human cops would swarm all over the area, looking for the culprit who shot out the windows at the pizza joint. That meant the sniper would run.
Stegman started to come around. I jerked him up by his collar. “Who’s the shooter?”
He shook his head. “You’ll kill me if I tell you.”
“You’re dead either way, buddy.”
I could see the look in his eyes. Stegman had never impressed me as much of a big fish and the look of acceptance now confirmed it. Not all of the bad guys I chased were impressive.
“He washed out of a Specter unit for drug use.”
I frowned. Specter teams were the guys who didn’t make the cut to become Fixers and instead served as security for vampire towns and villages. Drug abuse wasn’t limited to humans, though.
Stegman looked up at me, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk anymore. I pressed the barrel of my pistol to his chest and squeezed the trigger. A single pop sounded and Stegman’s face contorted in agony as the wooden fragments exploded into his bloodstream. His fangs extended their full length and then began to retract as death came for him.
I let his body slide behind the dumpster and glanced around. The sirens were about ten seconds away and I needed to be anywhere else.
I hoofed it around front then slowed, finding my way to my car two blocks further down as the first cruisers screeched to a halt behind me. I gunned the engine and slid out and away from the commotion. Better for me to be elsewhere.
My cell purred in my pocket. Niles, my Control. I flipped it open. “Yeah?”
“You at the airport?”
“No need. Stegman found me.”
“He brought a friend. He got away.”
There was a pause. “That’s a bit unlike you.”
“Guy was a sniper. Had the drop on me from a thousand feet.”
“We know who he is?”
I smiled. “Not yet. That’s where you come in.”
“I assume you’ve got details.”
“Former Specter. Washed out for drugs.”
“We can work with that. What happens then?”
“Only so many holes a guy like that can climb into. Just a matter of me finding the right one.”
“Before he finds you.”
I smirked. “There is that small possibility.” I hung up the phone and cruised down Commonwealth Avenue toward the city. As the evening descended, one more shadow would slink across the city tonight.
At least until I found him.