The Light of an Oncoming Train
by Gregory W. Ellis
I met Guido and Luciano a few blocks away from the transfer point. I went over the plan, but we all smelled a trap. The Disciples simply didn’t play the way they said they were going to. Luciano had scoped out the area for a few hours before and agreed. We would be walking into a trap.
With that kind of information, it’s usually best just to call the whole deal off and walk away, planning to make contact again later, but I decided against that. The Disciples might be pissed off enough to destroy the property, and I couldn’t afford for that to happen.
“Guido, Luciano, you guys hang back and cover my ass,” I said. “I’ll go in alone. They’ll know I have backup, but they won’t know where you are. If things go bad, you guys come in hard and fast.”
“And if you buy it because some bad boy drills you with a machine gun?” Luciano asked.
“Then you demonstrate to the Disciples my regrets, with extreme prejudice, and collect the rest of the money owed me from the client,” I said. I knew the risks.
Plus, if I had really bought a ticket upstairs, neither of them would rest until the Disciples had been taught a serious lesson about messing with my boys’ cash flow.
Guido and Luciano liked cold hard cash more than they liked me, but once bought, they stayed bought.
We headed for the meeting point, or at least I did. Guido and Luciano peeled off at strategic points along the way to do their own thing. I knew they’d be guarding my back and wondered idly how many Disciples out there were going to die trying to keep them from doing it.
My guess was it would be more than a handful.
The meeting itself had been arranged at an old warehouse, naturally, which was deep inside the Disciples’ territory. It was definitely a safe area for them. I had no problem with that and entered the side door and held out the note Vinnie the Finn had handed me. A couple of boys approached, took the note and read it, then patted me down for weapons.
The bastards had one of those metal-detecting wands they use at celebrity events these days. God, they were good.
They took my .45, my .40, my boot knife, and the buckle-butterfly knife I thought no one knew about. They snagged the pepper spray, the extending whip-baton, and the brass knuckles from the inside pockets of my jacket. They checked my shoes and found the flip-out knife blades. I walked on barefoot and cold, deeper into the warehouse, holding my hands behind my head. I could hardly be accused of holding anything out on them.
A large crate dominated a cleared space in the center of the warehouse. As I walked closer I noted there were actually three crates. Each was about eight feet long, four feet wide, and about four feet high. Two were still wrapped with that plastic wrap stuff they use. The third had the plastic wrapping ripped up and draping loosely around the sides and the top appeared to have been pried or broken off.
Three young Hispanic men stood nearby. One of them had a large briefcase sitting on the floor beside him. Another had a burlap sack which was dark and wet on the bottom. Something dripped from the bottom of the bag, leaving dark red stain on the dark concrete floor. He stepped forward as I approached and tossed the bag on the floor in front of me.
“The head of the puta who stole from el Principe,” the man said. The bag rolled to a stop near the end of my feet. I lowered my hands, but didn’t try to pick it up. “You, take his property, our money as payment for his trouble,” he slid the briefcase forward with a foot. “And go. Go quickly. Rapidamente.”
I lowered my hands, looked around. There were only the three guys. Hell, they really couldn’t have been much more than boys. I figured the rest of the gang was probably hiding out, waiting to see what would happen next. I relaxed a bit. Big mistake.
“What about the truck?” I asked. “And I can’t move these crates by myself.”
“That’s your problem, gringo,” bag-boy said. He stepped forward and spat on the floor.
“Actually, it’s yours,” a familiar voice said from over my shoulder. I caught the odor of decay and wretched.
“Goddammit, Vlad. Get some breath mints or something,” I said without thinking. That happens a lot with me sometimes.
Vlad didn’t have much of a sense of humor apparently. He swatted me across the room. I never even saw his hand move.
I landed in a heap of cardboard boxes and broken wood. My back broke my fall. I was going to have some heavy-duty bruises in the morning. If I managed to live that long.
As I struggled to catch my breath Vlad moved. He seemed to almost fly across the room. He caught bag-boy by the throat. The boy screamed as Vlad used his fingernail to slit his throat ear-to-ear and so deep I lost sight of the finger in the flesh. Blood fountained almost to the ceiling in a long crimson gout. The kid’s screams cut off suddenly as Vlad broke his neck with a casual twitch of his thumb. He threw the body across the room in the other direction from me.
I struggled to my feet, groggy from crashing into all those boxes, looking for a weapon, anything I could use against a vampire. My hand closed around a length of broken wood from the pallet the boxes had been piled on. It might have been sharp on one end. I didn’t really look. My eyes were glued on the terrible thing that had spilled from the crate I had crashed into.
It was old, incredibly, unbelievably, inconceivably old. It was withered and dried, and dressed in the dusty rags of what might once have been a fine set of robes. But it wasn’t dead. Far from it. It was bound in chains, but it moved, struggling, wriggling from the crate with snake-like movements and its long fangs gnashed, chewing at its own lips. Its blood-red eyes burned with a fierce hate and a longing hunger that started to draw me in.
I managed to break the thing’s gaze and looked back at Vlad only because I was more afraid of him at the moment.
Vlad killed the second Disciple, who was trying to pull a gun. He slapped him so hard I swear his face came off. His eyes exploded from their sockets and across the room in a gooey spray. Vlad turned to the third Disciple.
I guess I became a believer in the instant I saw those incredibly long, sharp canines, in the instant Vlad locked his red eyes on me in the instant before he ripped the Disciple’s throat out with his fangs. He wasn’t kidding around. He was the real deal and I was next on his hit parade. I almost dropped the makeshift stake I held, but then the moment was gone as the vampire looked away for the briefest of moments.
There was no way I was going to match his speed. I let him come to me.
He grabbed a handful of my shirt and coat, lifting me clean off my feet with one hand and all the effort he might have used to lift a pencil.
‘I suppose you’re curious,” he said.
“That’s what my mother always says,” I managed to choke out.
“Laughing all the way to the gallows, Mr. Dallas? I like that about you.”
“That’s me. Never say die,” I said and hit him with what I hoped was the pointy end of the stick I was holding behind my back, driving it upwards below his left ribs and up towards the heart.
Vlad held me there for a second or three. I don’t know. I was too scared to count. Then the realization of what had happened seemed to hit him all at once. He looked down, still holding me out with one hand while the other scrabbled at the stake in his guts. I rammed the stake in deeper with all the strength I had. I was going to be pulling splinters out of both hands for days — assuming I had any days left.
A look of complete shock and surprise came over Vlad’s face. “Who the hell do you think you are?” he wheezed. “Van Helsing?”
I felt the strength leave him as he threw me backwards into a wall. I bounced and cracked both of my knees on the floor. Vlad clutched at the piece of wood protruding from under his ribs, staggered backwards, and fell to his knees. He toppled over on his back, clawing at the stake with both hands, but unable to get a good grip on the blood-slicked haft.
I crawled across the floor to him, barely able to keep him in focus, and batted his hands away from the stake. I slapped them away again as he tried clawing for my eyes.
My God, why wouldn’t he die already?
Then, as if a great balloon had suddenly been popped, Vlad II Dracul seemed almost to deflate, to dissipate, and turn to dust in front of my eyes. There was no great explosion of fire, no terrible wind. There was almost nothing left of him in the end.
Guido and Luciano found me a few minutes later, leaning against the crate the Disciples had broken open. I had kicked and dragged and basically brutalized the thing it contained back into the crate and slammed the lid closed again, but I could hear the thing inside, scrabbling around and gibbering mindlessly. I didn’t have the strength to move away.
I told my buddies to stash the things in the crates, the Disciples too just to be safe, and torch the entire place. The cops would think the Disciples had burned down a meth lab. I snagged the briefcase on our way out. The Count’s money wouldn’t go to waste and neither would the Disciples’. I looked; there was a lot of money in that case.
* * *
“So, who were they, those things in the crates?” Vinnie asked as he swished cognac in the snifter he held.
Now that I’d suddenly come into money Vinnie and I had become much better friends. My debts were paid and he was looking to score more cash off me if I couldn’t control my gambling habit. He had a couple of ponies he said he had tips on, and I was thinking about laying down some serious cash. I thought about what he had asked for a moment before replying.
“It had to be somebody Dracula hated with a vengeance,” I said. I took a sip from my own brandy snifter before continuing. “I did some research. Vlad II Dracul had a major hate on for some of his old foes from the Ottoman Empire. I think those three were the Sultan Radu, his son Mehmed II, and this guy named Vladislav II from Wallachia, whom he blamed for burying his brother alive.”
“So, if that really was the Dracula of legend,” Vinnie said, “he kept the three people he hated most alive all this time to torture them?”
“Slow torture,” I said. “By starvation and probably some kind of undead life. Trapped, chained up, and forced to starve in a coffin forever.”
“No wonder the one you saw looked insane,” Vinnie said. “I did some research of my own, you know. Not that I believe a word of this vampire crap, of course.”
“Of course,” I said. “It’s just another wild story from your favorite alcoholic gambler P.I.”
“Right, but according to the legends — let me ask you, did you cut off his head after you drove that stake in his heart? Did you burn the body?”
“Huh?” I choked on some brandy. “No, there wasn’t time. I wouldn’t have known about that anyway. Vlad just kind of disappeared in a cloud of dust and fog when he went.”
Vinnie looked at me for a moment, then put down his snifter. He pulled a drawer open and took out a small wooden cross necklace, placing it around his neck. Vinnie wasn’t exactly a religious type. “I’m sorry, Quint.” Nobody called me Quint except my friends or someone who was about to cheat me out of money. “I’m afraid I can’t take your markers anymore. Cash on the barrelhead only.”
“Why, what’s up?” I asked, too stupid to realize what Vinnie was thinking.
“The proper way to kill a vampire, according to legend, is to stake it in the heart, cut off its head, burn the parts, and bury them in separate graves,” Vinnie said. “You didn’t do that, which means that you didn’t kill Dracula after all. He’s still out there.”
“And I just killed the three people in the world he hated the most?” I said. “Just how screwed am I?”
“Very,” Vinnie said. “You didn’t kill them either, probably. They might be a while coming back, but they’ll eventually come back. I don’t know for sure.”
“Crap,” I said, just coming to the realization that I’d just pissed off a millionaire vampire with diplomatic immunity who could move around in the daylight. I’d released the three things he hated most in life and freed them from his vengeance after centuries. If they didn’t come after me, Vlad certainly would.
In short, I was so screwed. I looked at the cross around Vinnie’s neck, a cold chill creeping up my back.
“So, how good are those things supposed to be against Muslim vampires?”
Copyright © 2010 by Gregory W. Ellis