The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Ten

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Ten

 
“My name is Lawson,” I said.
 
She looked me up and down and then drew herself up to her full height with a deep inhale. “I am Kiyoko Mononobe.”
 
Something about that name made me wonder if she had royalty in her bloodline. I could see the pride with which she spoke. I wracked my brain and spoke it before I even realized I’d remembered it. “Mononobe no Moriya.”
 
Kiyoko’s eyes went as wide as basketballs. “How do you know that name?”
 
I smiled. “I make a point to study history.”
 
She grunted again. “The name of my ancestors is not known much these days. The youth of this nation have forgotten. Despite my family’s connection to Emperor Jimmu. None of that seems to matter much anymore.”
 
“Your family would be proud to know that you still carry on their name.”
 
“I am the last of them,” said Kiyoko. “There are none after me. My family name dies with me when I am finally blessed to depart this land.”
 
“You sound like you’re ready to go.”
 
“I’ve been ready for a long time,” said Kiyoko. “But you didn’t come here to listen to an old woman complain about her life. You said something about the deaths.”
 
“Yes. I did.” I paused. “I heard a rumor that you reported seeing some sort of animal. I’d like to ask you about that.”
 
Her eyes narrowed. “I did see an animal. A large cat.”
 
“Not a dog?”
 
“Dogs leave claw marks,” said Kiyoko. “I’ve lived in these mountains my entire life. I know the tracks that a dog makes. This wasn’t a dog.”
 
“And when did you find tracks?”
 
“Couple days back, but the rains a day ago washed them away. They were big though. I followed them for a while. But there’s only so far I can go given my age. I’m not as spry as I used to be when it comes to climbing the mountains.”
 
“You seem to be doing pretty well,” I said with a smile.
 
“I can get around all right. But not beyond the village.”
 
“And you said you saw a cat?”
 
“Big one,” said Kiyoko. “But I’m not surprised. Cats have always been mysterious things in my culture.”
 
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The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Nine

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Nine

But even still, visiting with Higashi had been necessary.  At least now he knew who I was and what I was up to.  If someone saw me prowling around town and called him to report a suspicious person, he’d know it was me.  I was comfortable with that.  Especially since that was exactly what I was planning to do.

Niles’ file had mentioned an old woman who had supposedly seen a giant animal lurking in the woods.  And I had her address. 

Outside, the October sky had turned a dark gray as if rains or snow might threaten to ruin the day.  I hurried to my car and took my time driving slowly through the town.  It was orderly, with a few side streets branching off and in short order, I was able to find my way to the old woman’s house.

I felt the first drops of rain as I got out of my car.  Whatever cheeriness this day had dawned with was a distant memory.  The sky looked positively ominous.  And it wasn’t without a small measure of dread that I walked up the carefully raked gravel walkway leading to the wooden house.

As I came up, a shoji screen slid back on its rails and I saw the old woman.  She peered at me with a quizzical look on her face as if to say, “who the hell is this guy?”

But speaking fluent Japanese gave me a definite advantage.  I bowed respectfully and asked if I could speak with her for a few minutes about the recent deaths.

She grunted and the shoji screen closed.  For a moment, I thought I’d blown my chance, but then the door opened and she came outside with surprising agility and speed. 

By the look of her, she must have been over eighty.  Old enough to remember when the US dropped a pair of nukes on her country.  Old enough to still harbor some resentment toward anyone who looked like an American.  Fortunately, I was Canadian.  Or at least as far as she was concerned.

She seemed to glide down the path and stopped just short of four feet away from me.  She wore a loose-fitting shirt, baggy pants, and a pair of simple shoes.  Her hands were wrinkled and speckled with spots while her face was drawn taut over her skull with bright dark eyes that shone with curiosity.

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The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Eight

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Eight

Higashi gestured for me to take a seat across from him.  As I did, he sighed deeply.  “Such a waste to lose one so young.”

“Indeed,” I said.  “As you can imagine, his family is distraught and have tasked us with finding out exactly what transpired.”

Higashi shrugged.  “There is little to tell unfortunately.  The young man was found with several grievous injuries to his upper torso and severe blood loss.  He was cold by the time we reached him.”

“And what sort of creature could do that sort of damage?”

Higashi leaned back.  “In these mountains?  We only have a few species that could be the culprit.  Bears mostly.  They might have attacked the young man as he hiked.”

“I heard a rumor that there was another death here recently.”

Higashi frowned.  Clearly he wasn’t thrilled that I knew that.  “There is nothing to discuss about that particular case.  The woman was old and her death was attributed to carelessness.”

I smiled and gave him a look that told him I didn’t buy that for a minute.  “How tragic.”

“Indeed.”

“It’s the most curious thing that carelessness could result in the same loss of blood as the young college student, wouldn’t you say?”

Higashi’s jaw tightened.  “I would hate to think that you are trying to establish the idea that we have a serial killer here, Lawson-san.  Especially since you have only just arrived here and are unfamiliar with our town and its inhabitants.”

Higashi obviously wasn’t going to play ball and that was fine.  I hadn’t expected him to.  “You are correct, of course.  I would like to take a few hours to walk around and familiarize myself with the area.  That is, unless you have any objection to me doing so?”

“None whatsoever,” said Higashi.  “I have several errands to run anyway.  Perhaps we could meet back here later to discuss any further inquiries you have before returning to Tokyo?”

“That sounds excellent,” I said rising.  “Thank you very much for your time, Higashi-san.”  I bowed and walked out of the office. 

Higashi’s reaction wasn’t exactly surprising.  I was a foreigner and this was a small town.  The combination of those two factors didn’t exactly endear me to the populace, let alone the police in charge of a murder investigation.  If I was going to get any sort of real intelligence, I was going to need to find it on my own.

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The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Seven

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Seven

I had mail waiting for me in the morning; I opened the manila envelope and took out the credentials I’d need to pose as a Canadian official, courtesy of a rush job by some talented vampires.  After a filling breakfast, I drove down the road out of town and snaked my way through the mountain passes that led to Satoshima.  As I drove, a small brook ran parallel to my route overgrown with tall reeds that hemmed the waterway.  The terrain sloped up at a severe angle from the road, disappearing into the mountains as I drove.

I reached Satoshima within about a half hour and stepped out of my car into a landscape that looked as though it had been forgotten by time.  A wooden sign marked the entrance to the town itself and a single main thoroughfare split the town in two, lined by small shops, a few tiny eateries, and a car repair place that looked like they still serviced Model Ts.  Beyond the thoroughfare, I could see a smattering of wooden houses that dotted the countryside, their peaked roofs sticking out of the foliage. 

The local police station was down the street snuggled up next to a noodle stand.  According to Niles’ file, one of the deaths was a Canadian citizen studying abroad for a year. 

As I walked in, the man in charge sized me up and rose from his desk.  His uniform was disheveled and wrinkled, which surprised me considering most of the Japanese police officers I’ve met have been utterly meticulous about their appearance when in official capacity.  But as I approached, I could smell the booze on this guy’s breath.  Something told me that he was happy pulling down a salary without needing to do any real work in a town this small and remote. 

I bowed once and then addressed him in fluent Japanese.  “Good morning.  Are you the chief of police here?”

The look of surprise on his face was evident.  But I’ve had years to perfect my language skills and most members of my race speak at least a dozen languages fluently.  And for those in my line of work, we learn even more in order to be able to operate internationally.

“I am.  And you are?”

“My name is Lawson,” I said flashing him my credentials.  “I’m with the Canadian embassy in Tokyo.”

He gave the documents a cursory look and then sat back down.  I could have probably showed him my old video rental card and he wouldn’t have known the difference.

“My name is Higashi.  I am the regional police supervisor for this area.”

He stuck out his hand and I shook it.  “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“What brings you to Satoshima, Lawson-san?”

I smiled with a touch of sadness in it.  “This unfortunate business with the death of the student, I’m afraid.”

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The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Five

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Five

Satoshima was an even smaller town about ten miles from where I was.  If I could avoid it, I never usually stayed where I operated.  That might raise suspicions of any of the people I was tasked with investigating and potentially eliminating.  Better to lay low elsewhere and be able to do my work without much attention, if possible.  Gaijin might be a regular sight in the big cities, but a white guy in a small Japanese town was going to draw attention anyway you cut it.

Given the late hour, I’d drive over in the morning and see if I could find out what had happened.

Niles’ file was scant on details, but that was nothing new.  His job wasn’t to fully investigate but put me onto the case as soon as it became apparent that we might have an exposure problem.  Usually, I developed the situation on the ground and fed him updated information.  Or vice versa.  Sometimes Niles would get more information from his team of Ferrets – vampire intelligence analysts who pored over new leads and threads to help the guys on the ground.

Two bodies.  Blood loss.  Supposedly a giant cat.

I frowned and switched off the computer.  I’d gone hunting on far less, but even still, this was far from ideal.

Speaking of blood…I opened my bag and removed my shaving kit from inside.  Under a false bottom, I eased up the lid and fished out one vial of fresh blood.  Usually, I hate drinking it like this.  I prefer to have it chilled.  And even then, I don’t like drinking blood as a general rule.  Unfortunately, I need it or else I eventually die.

A vampire who doesn’t like drinking blood.  Go figure that one out.  I’ll wait.

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