26. My Fangs

Rounding the corner of the creaking staircase, I catch a violet glimmer on the floor below. Leaning over the handrail, I search the stairs winding around the pit to the lobby four floors down. Decay and rot flow down the steps. Dampness rises up the well. Thumping music permeating the walls nearly drowns out the carnal sounds of lovemaking. Nothing stirs on the stairs.

Reaching into my coat, I wrap my fingers around the handle of my gun strapped under my arm. Tingles race down into my legs. It isn’t nerves, or the sinking feeling in my gut that holds me. I know it’s him. His scent rides on a wave of mold.

It’s not amnesia. That’s for damn sure. Maybe Steve doesn’t have memories of his own, instead surviving on the memories borrowed from others. Like his knowledge of history, and how he knows how I like being kissed. And backwards. Except for the borrowed memories, everything seems new to him. He doesn’t remember our past because it’s in his future. Like him wearing a modern suit over a century ago, appearing out of nowhere to rescue Yasmine. The creepiness of it all sends shivers down my arms.

The dead should stay dead and out of my head.

I listen to the gasping breaths, squeals of delight, and bedposts banging the wall behind me. If Steve is here, he is on the other side of the shadows. Purple Hell. Stepping away from the handrail, I lean against the wall letting the beat creep inside. The booming electronic music upstairs works into the wall shattering bliss. I consider slipping inside, watch the sweaty bodies move to their music, listen to their heartbeats. Laughter rumbles upstairs. Hunger calls.

The room is three doors from the stairs. Music thunders within. There’s a party here nearly every week, and plenty of tasty morsels. Without knocking, without opening the door, I step into the shadows, my foot passing through the ethereal door. It’s a trick Steve taught me. Glancing around the rising purple mist, I search for him. Nothing, not even one of those creepy shadow things. I slip inside the smoky den.

The chatter roars fighting the blaring stereo system for attention. On the table near the door, sticky pizza leaves cheese trails back to stained boxes. Beer bottles in hands, they chat in small groups taking chugs between chortles or drags on cigarettes. On the sofa, two topless women bounce and dance spilling beer. Orange and yellow auras rise from their warm flesh.

Intoxication makes it easier, but too much alcohol spoils the meal.

Riding the edge of shadows in and out of the silence, I make my rounds. Stepping back into the world, music thundering, I let a man catch a glimpse of me. Gliding behind a woman in dark clothing, I slip back into the silence. Drifting deeper into the shadows, their forms pale into ethereal, nearly frozen shapes. Selecting another, a topless girl on the sofa, I position myself in her line of sight and return, the thud of music and laughter slamming my ears. She spots me and returns my smile, then turns her attention back on her dance partner. Looking at the other topless girl, I recognize Sabrina painted in dark mascara and black lipstick. What is she doing here? Slipping back into the shadows, I continue browsing the selections nearly frozen in their time. Finding potential targets at the back, I return to the world.

In the corner, a man leans in close to a woman talking her up and out of her blouse hanging from her shoulders. His finger traces the black strap onto lacy fabric. She bats his hand away and grins into a giggle.

I lean against the wall between the amorous couple and door opened a crack. Tapping my leg and nodding my head to the beat, I scan the room. A girl topples backward off the couch knocking a lamp over. Laughter erupts, and several men raise their bottles in a cheer. Taking advantage of the distraction, I push the door open and peek inside. A bathtub rests along the wall on the far and toilet on the near side. Empty. Turning my attention back to the party, I find the couple in the corner hugging each other. The woman runs her hand over the prickly unshaven face while the man watches me.

I smile.

25. Kandy

I always knew there was something terribly wrong about him even before I bit him. He looks and smells so human, but his blood is death.

The rain comes and goes like a blues musician plucking away at the guitar searching for the right sound. It patters on the roof, trickles down the window. At the the other end of the block, across the street at Necropolis, people wait in line as the doorman checks their passes. In the dreary night, their forms glow orange like an aura, all except the doorman. His Itoril body radiates a cool blue.

Above the club, somewhere behind the glossy windows within the dimly illuminated apartment, the owner, Yasmine, plans her transition into the role of magistrate years ahead of schedule. Stratton almost seems flummoxed by the sudden change of heart among key elders. It’s her particular charm. As a babe, her lust for blood overwhelmed her glamour leading to a public execution. Maybe it was the threat of burning alive, or lessons from other Itoril. She has grown up considerably since that night.

The night I first saw him. What did Yasmine call him? Ezekiel. He had that same damn suit and tie he always likes wearing.

The car rocks and settles on its springs.

Glancing over at the passenger side, I see him. Like the other times over the last few days, he just appears. At the kill, twice at the house, he rises out of the shadows like a ghost. His aura appears so human. Steve. He calls himself Steve Reynolds.

Trying not to bring attention to his sudden arrival, I stare at the gauges behind the steering wheel. The fuel marker shows the tank on its last quarter. Searching for something to say, I realize I’m already blabbing about my job.

I tell him I always expected some honor maintaining the law among Itoril.

Spotting Steve staring out the windshield at the building across the street, I follow his gaze finding a light on in the apartment over the club. Yasmine insists on romancing the youth with vampire fantasies risking everything. For this, the magistrate fears her. And loves her for her boldness. Glancing back, I find Steve watching me.

His gaze pierces into me, but I hold on trying to make sense out of his blue eyes.

“This is a man’s world, Steve,” I say, only half paying attention to the conversation. “And the Itoril men want to make certain it remains that way.”

“Didn’t females once rule Itoril?”

A smile robs my composure. The man can’t remember where he lives or anything from his childhood, but he remembers history lessons and other silly facts about the world. He knows it well, or at least as well as I do.

Those ancient women were monsters and deserved to die.

“Why don’t you retire?”

Losing myself in his eyes, I force my gaze down at my hand squeezing the steering wheel. I feel him as if he’s inside my head.

Death is the only retirement. It’s the way it’s always been with executioners, and the only way I’ll have it.

I realize I’m rattling on again, something about my old club turning into a record store. He asks me about the quiet place. That’s what he calls it. Purple Hell is a better name. There are things in there, hidden in the depths. Usually I just feel them, but sometimes I catch a glimpse of their smoky shapes. He wants to know how many Itoril can get there.

“Not many,” I say. Closing my eyes, I picture the faces of the ones I’ve met with the skill. Stratton’s bodyguard, Xavier, is a master. Zee can get lost in there for a bit. There was another man I saw once in there. “Some Itoril can appear to move fast for a short period, but very few know about the quiet place. I didn’t before I met you.”

Steve screams, a painful howl.

Opening my eyes, I find I’m alone in the car.

Peering through the raindrops on the glass, I find the illuminated window above Necropolis. A dark shape moves before the light; someone stands at the window. Not Yasmine, it’s a man’s form. Steve is likely working for her, if not for her charm then her money.

Reaching into my coat pocket, I tug an envelope out and study the blue seal, the jagged crack cutting through the impression of three crossed swords, the symbol of the magistrate’s office. Sometimes they arrive directly from the magistrate. Other times Zee delivers them as he did this one twenty years ago. Pulling the card out, I read it for the fifth time this week.

Steve Reynolds a.k.a. Ezekiel.

Whatever the reason, it may have been forgotten, but law is law and the execution order still stands. How does one kill a ghost? I push the card inside the envelope and shove it in my pocket.

I curse at the rain, and turn the ignition. The engine erupts, cylinders pounding into a roar, music to my ears. Slipping into gear, I work the throttle controlling wheel spin, and drive frightening clubbers off the street. I flash my headlights at a man lumbering on the crosswalk against the light. He doesn’t respond, so I push the throttle eliciting a roar that gets the jaywalker’s attention.

I curse at the man.

Leaving the lights off, I wind my way into the bad part of Roseland. Passing streetlamps are yellow clouds like dragon’s vapor. I curse the lights. Slamming my fist on the steering wheel, I yell an obscenity. A heavy lump slides into my gut. Accelerating onto the freeway, I speed around cars listening to their blaring horns receding behind me. I drive, water howling in the wheel wells, my car tearing up the night.

I curse Steve Reynolds.

The dead should stay dead.

24. Executions

Turning the corner into a short hall, Steve steps into the shadows. Peering through the walls, he finds the room with the door on the opposite side. It is a closet full of the ghostly shapes of brooms, mops, and dust bins. A shelf against the near wall holds boxes of cleaning supplies. Concentrating on the memory, he passes through the wall like a ghost.

Out of the violet gloom, a familiar form appears. Dressed in his dark rockstar clothes, Zee faces the other way with his feet wide apart. In his left hand, he holds a gun aimed out the crack in the open door. Finger squeezes trigger, a flicker ignites.

Steve lunges smashing into Zee’s backside. Arms wrapping around, he grasps for the hand holding the gun. Chin against leather, he gazes over the shooter’s shoulder down the length of the extended arm. Beyond the gun, out the door, a wraith occupies the hall.

The creature is shadow, dark wisps flowing behind. Even without color, there is no mistaking the suit. Swinging to the side, the slender necktie erupts into smoke. Feet dissolve into nothing, smoky wisps climbing legs up over the hand holding gut. Erupting from the eye sockets, violet smoke flows back around its head. The wraith dissolves into the shadows.

Pinning Zee against the doorjamb, Steve pulls on the leather coat swinging the lanky man twirling around back into the closet knocking brooms over, a mop bucket rolls and bounces off the wall.

A gunshot smashes the air, and a box tumbles off the back shelf spilling green cleanser crystals onto the floor. Another gunshot, duller. The third shot sends tissue paper flying off the shelf.

Steve falls back into the shadows, silence surrounding him, but his ears continue ringing. Slipping from his grasp, Zee slides down fading into a ghostly figure, boots slipping on the floor kicking the etherial mop bucket. The lanky man sits on the floor at Steve’s feet, and the gun rests discarded between the outstretched legs. The world returns in a dull roar.

The Itoril coughs, the sound muffled behind the ringing. “Shit, man,” says Zee. He coughs again. “That hurt.”

Glancing at spilled cleaners, at the scattered paper, at the shelf where the packages fell from, Steve realizes the shooter is on the other side of the wall. He spots three pinholes of light.

Reaching into his jacket, he draws his gun and pushes the safety off. Aiming at the wall, he fires repeatedly. Boxes scatters, papers flutter, and holes appear in the wall as the hollow point bullets scream into the hall on the other side. The gun kicks hard, but he keeps firing a swath of pinholes across the back wall. Julio delivered.

Emptying the gun, he steps into the shadows. Ringing fills his ears. He strides into the shelf and melts through the wall. Pulling the empty clip from the gun, he shoves it into his pocket and snatches the other. In the hall by the dressing room, he glances around and spots ghostly forms on the other side of the dressing room. Popping the clip in place, he storms the dressing room, passes through the wall and onto the stage.

Sin crouches against the bars, fear on her etherial face. Sitting calmly in her seat, the Yasmine ghost watches Sin.

Slow strides carry Steve out the open door into the front hall passing two men running in slow motion. They don’t seem to notice him, a ghost blurring by in their perspective. He walks through the beaded curtain and finds her.

23. An Encounter With Sin

“They told me I’d find you here.”

“Ah, Mister Reynolds,”says Detective Silver, waving his hand. “I’m taking one last look before we release the scene.”

“I remember what happened.”

“Excellent.”

Steve gazes down at the dance floor where Julio stood, at the nearby stone column. The stains are gone, but he spots an open folder in the detectives hand where a photograph reveals the blood.

After the talk with the magistrate about collective decisions, Fate and her tapestry, it feels as though he has been running on rails since the beginning.

Given the expense and complication of producing vampire ice, the venom issue must be a plot to convince the elders that they need change. That part seems straightforward. He has not seen any vampire ice. The vials at Torx’s apartment could have held anything, and Torx gets his fix straight from Kandy. The forgetfulness nature of venom takes care of the rest. It’s Stratton’s other implied message that chills his bones. Will the magistrate accept his end?

He clears his throat. “I was hit on the head.”

His notes mention how Julio describes the incident. Two ghosts, a spray of blood from nowhere, and then nothing. There are very few that fit the description. Maybe Zee, but two others were present during the crime. Kandy and the wraith circling around the chaos, somewhere on the other side of the shadows.

“Do you remember who attacked you?”

He shakes his head as the image of Kandy striking him burns his soul. “Like a ghost.”

Silver points at the dance floor. “What about the other victim?”

“Sorry. I wish I could be more help. I just wanted to let you know what I recall.”

Silver nods. “Come by the station tomorrow. We have a lead on your identity.”

“Truly?”

22. Magistrate

Following the note from the bike messenger, Steve finds a tall glass building, headquarters of Stratton Enterprises. He avoids security by stepping into the quiet place. No sense in turning over his gun. He nearly expects to dive underground to some secret dungeon, but the elevator carries him to the upper penthouse. The outer offices offer a view of city lights glowing within the drizzling haze. A guard opens a door into the core of the building, a dimly lit windowless vault.

His shoes tap on the black-and-white marble. Itoril seem to have admiration for checkerboards, or maybe his own interpretation of memories makes it seem that way. Standing against the wall, shady looking men in dark outfits watch him cross the room. Or it feels like they watch. It’s hard to tell what they gaze at through their dark glasses.

“Welcome to Roseland,” says a man, rising from behind a large oak desk standing on a dais. “I’m Charles Stratton. Magistrate.”

Steve inclines his head.

“Mister Reynolds,” says the magistrate. He pushes his golden hair from his shoulder and shakes his head. “It is customary to greet the magistrate and ask permission for operation within his domain on arrival. Yet, I hear you have been working within my city for several weeks.”

“My apologies.” Uncertain if he should bow, he nods. “I’m unfamiliar with many of the Itoril customs, and well, I’m not Itoril.”

“Of course. You seem quite human.” Stratton touches his finger to his chin. “How is it that Yasmine knows of you, and I do not?”

“Yasmine claims I saved her life when she was young. To my embarrassment, I must admit that I don’t recall the event.”

Stratton chuckles. “She’s not a forgettable woman.”

“Please, Magistrate Stratton, you have me at a disadvantage. I know nothing of what Yasmine may have mentioned, and I’m in need of education on Itoril politics.”

“Of course,” says Stratton, nodding. He glances over at the guard near the back corner, and sits. “Honestly, Yasmine has told me very little about you. Including the details about your business here in Roseland.”

“I’m investigating a matter.”

“The slaying of Itoril,” says Stratton, his eyes narrowing. He glances over at the same guard. “For venom.”

Heap of dark hair hanging over his shoulders, the guard stands motionless. Unlike the others, he doesn’t hide his eyes behind dark glasses. Instead, he stares at the checkerboard floor.

Stratton throws his hand at the air. “We are conducting our own investigation. You need not worry. This matter is in capable hands.”

“That might be the problem.” Plucking his notepad from his pocket, Steve flips to the most recent entry. “Your capable hands is the subject of my inquiry here tonight.”

Standing, Stratton leans over placing his hands on his desk. “Do you dare?”

“I do indeed, sir. Isn’t the magistrate’s office most capable of carrying out such a crime?” Pen extended, he points at each bodyguard ending with the one in the corner. “Extensive protection. Resources. An executioner at ready, and I assume a team to handle cleaning up. Wouldn’t you say all the necessary resources are here?”

Stratton’s blue eyes burn red.