All the official reports say that vampires are dead--extinct since the late ’80s, when FBI agent Arkeley defeated the last vampire in a fight that nearly killed him. But when state trooper Laura Caxton calls the FBI looking for help in the middle of the night, Arkeley is unsurprised to hear that it sounds like a vampire attack. He’s been expecting such a call to come eventually. Sure, it has been years since any signs of an attack, but Arkeley knows what most people don’t: there is one left. In an abandoned asylum she is rotting, plotting, and biding her time in a way that only the undead can.
Laura Caxton is out of her league on this case and more than a little afraid. Arkeley made it clear there is only one way out. The worst thing is the feeling that the vampires want more than just her blood. They want her for a reason, one she can’t guess; a reason her sphinxlike partner knows but won’t say; a reason she has to find out-or die trying.
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Incident report filed by
Special Deputy Jameson Arkeley, 10/4/83
(recorded on reel-to-reel audiotape):
Through the rain there wasn't much to see. The all-night diner stood at the corner of two major streets. Its plate glass windows spilled a little light on the pavement. I handed the binoculars to Webster, my partner. "Do you see him?" I asked.
The subject in question, one Piter Byron Lares (probably an alias), sat at the diner's counter, hunched over in deep conversation with a middle-aged waitress. He would be a big man if he stood up, but leaning over like that, he didn't look so imposing. His face was very pale, and his black hair stood up in a wild shock of frizzy curls. An enormous red sweater hung off him--another attempt at camouflaging his size, I figured. He wore thick eyeglasses with tortoiseshell rims.
"I don't know what they teach you at Fed school, Arkeley, but I've never heard of one of them needing glasses," Webster said, handing me back the binoculars.
"Shut up." The week before I had found six dead girls in a cellar in Liverpool, West Virginia. They'd been having a slumber party. They were in so many pieces it took three lab technicians working night and day in a borrowed school gymnasium just to figure out how many bodies we had. I was not in a good mood. I had beaten one of the asshole's minions to dust with my bare hands just to find out his alias. I wasn't going to slow down now.
Lares stood up, his head still bowed, and took a leather wallet out of his pocket. He began to count out small bills. Then he seemed to think of something. He looked up, around the diner. He rose to his full height and looked out at the street.
"Did he just make us?" Webster demanded. "In this weather?"
"I'm not sure," I said. About a gallon of bright red blood erupted across the diner's front window. I couldn't see anything inside.
"Shit!" I screamed, and pushed my way out of the car, across the sidewalk, the rain soaking me instantly. I burst inside the diner, my star bright on my jacket, but he was already gone and there was nobody left alive inside to be impressed. The waitress lay on the floor, her head nearly torn off her body. You read about them and you expect vampire wounds to be dainty little things, maybe a pair of bad hickeys. Lares had chewed most of the woman's neck off. Her jugular vein stuck out like the neck of a deflated balloon.
Blood spilled off the counter and splattered the ceiling. I unholstered my service revolver and stepped around the body. There was a door in the back. I had to stop myself from racing to it. If he was in the back and I ran into him in the shadows by the men's room I wouldn't survive my curiosity. I headed back out into the rain where Webster already had the car running. He'd been busy rousing the locals. A helicopter swooped low over our heads with a racket that was sure to get complaints tomorrow morning. The chopper's spotlight blasted holes in the shadows all around the diner. Webster got us moving, pulled us around the alley behind the restaurant. I peered through the rain at the Dumpsters and the scattered garbage. Nothing happened. We had plenty of backup watching the front of the restaurant. We had heavy weapons guys coming in. The helicopter could stay up there all night if it needed to. I tried to relax.
"SWAT's moving," Webster told me. He replaced his radio handset.
The Dumpster in the alley shifted an inch. Like some homeless guy inside had rolled over in his sleep. Both of us froze for a second. Long enough to be sure we'd both seen it. I brought my weapon up and tested the action. I was loading JHPs for maximal tissue damage and I had sighted in the pistol myself. If I could have gotten my gun blessed by a priest I would have. There was no way this psychopath was walking away tonight.
"Special Deputy Arkeley, maybe we should back off and let SWAT negotiate with him," Webster told me. His using my official title meant he wanted to go on the record as doing everything possible to avoid a violent takedown. Covering his ass. We both knew there was no chance of Lares coming peacefully.
"Yeah, you're probably right," I said, my nerves all twisted up. "Yeah." I eased my grip on the pistol and kicked angrily at the floorboards.
The Dumpster came apart in pieces and a white blur launched itself out of the alley. It collided with our car hard enough to knock us up onto two wheels. My door caved in and pinned my arm to my side, trapping my weapon. Webster grabbed for his own handgun even as the car fell back to the road surface, throwing us both up against our seat belts, knocking the wind out of me.
Webster reached across me and discharged his weapon three times. I could feel my face and hands burning with spent powder. I could smell cordite and nothing else. I was deaf for a good thirty seconds. My window exploded outwards, but a few tiny cubes of glass danced and spun in my lap.
I turned my head sideways, feeling like I was trapped in molten glass--I could see everything normally but I could barely move. Framed perfectly in the shattered safety glass was Lares' grinning, torn-up face. Rain was washing the blood off his mouth but it didn't improve his looks. His glasses were ruined, twisted arms of tortoiseshell and cobwebbed lenses. At least one of Webster's shots had gone in through Lares' right eye. The white jelly inside had burst outward and I could see red bone in the socket. The other two bullets had gone into the side of his nose and his right cheek. The wounds were horrible, bloody, and definitely fatal.
As I watched, they undid themselves. It was like when you run over one of those shatterproof trash cans and it slowly but surely undents itself, returning to its former shape in seconds. A puff of white smoke in Lares' vacant eye socket solidified, plumped out into a brand new eyeball. The wound in his nose shrank away to nothing and the one in his cheek might as well have been a trick of the light. Like a shadow it just disappeared.
When he was whole and clean again he slowly removed the broken glasses from his face and threw them over his shoulder. Then he opened his mouth and grinned. Every one of his teeth was sharpened to a point. It wasn't like in the movies at all. It looked more like the mouth of a shark, with row after row of tiny knives embedded in his gums. He gave us a good, long look at his mouth and then he jumped over our car. I could hear his feet beating on the roof, and he was all at once on the other side. He hit the ground running, running toward Liberty Avenue.
The SWAT team arrived at the corner before he did, sliding out of an armored van, four agents carrying MP5s. They wore full helmets and riot armor, but it wasn't standard issue. Their commanding officer had insisted I give them a chance to modify their kit. We all knew what we were getting into, he told me. We'd all seen plenty of movies before.
So the SWAT guys had crucifixes hot-glued all over them, everything they could get, from big carved-wood Roman Catholic models with gruesome Jesuses hanging from them to dime-store nickel-plated crosses like you would find on a kid's charm bracelet. I bet they felt pretty safe under all that junk.
Lares laughed out loud and tore off his red sweater. Underneath it his torso was one rippling mass of muscle. White skin, hairless, poreless, writhed over the submerged lumps of his vertebrae. He looked a lot less human with his shirt off. He looked more like some kind of albino bear. A wild animal. A man killer.
Incident report filed by
Special Deputy Jameson Arkeley, 10/4/83
"Don't fucking move!" one of the cross-covered SWATs shouted. The other three dropped to one knee and raised their MP5s to their shoulders.
Lares rolled forward from the waist, scooping his arms through the air like he could reach over and grab them from a distance. It was an aggressive movement. It was meant to be aggressive. The SWATs did what they'd been trained to do. They opened fire. Their weapons spat fire at the rain and bullets tore through the dark air, narrowly missing our unmarked car. Webster shoved his door open and stepped out into a big puddle. I was right behind him. If we could catch the bastard in a crossfire maybe we could damage him faster than he could heal.
"The heart!" I shouted. "You have to destroy his heart!"
The SWATs were professionals. They caught their target center mass more than they missed him. Lares' big body spun around in the rain. The helicopter came roaring overhead and lit him up with the spotlight so we could better see what we were shooting at. I fired three rounds into his back, one after the other. Webster emptied his clip.
Lares pitched forward like a tree falling down, right in the gutter. He put his hands down to try to stop his fall, but they slid out from under him. He lay there unmoving, not even breathing, his hands clutching at handfuls of the tiny yellow locust leaves that clogged up the sewer grate.
The SWATs traded hand signals. One of them moved in, weapon pointed at the back of Lares' neck, ready to take a brainstem shot, a traditional kill shot. He was aiming at the wrong place, but I didn't think it mattered at that point. There were no visible bullet holes in Lares--they must have healed instantly--but he wasn't moving. The SWAT stepped closer and kicked at one overly muscular leg.
Lares spun around on his side without any warning at all, far faster than a human being could move. He got one knee under him and grabbed at the SWAT's arm to pull himself up. He had no trouble whatsoever getting a grip on all those crosses. The SWAT started to react, bringing his MP5 up, ducking down in a firing crouch. Lares grabbed his helmet in two hands and twisted it right off. The policeman's head came with it.
For a second the decapitated SWAT stood there in a perfect firing crouch. Blood arced up from his gaping neck like a water fountain. Lares leaned forward and lapped at it, getting blood all over his face and chest. He was mocking us. He was goddamned making fun of us.
The SWAT leader started shouting, "Man down, man down!" into his radio, but Lares was already up and coming for him. He plowed through the rest of the SWATs in a single motion, his fingers tearing at their armor, his mouth fastening around the leader's neck. Those sharklike teeth bit right through the SWAT leader's padded collar. They bit right through a wooden cross and snapped it into pieces. I made a mental note: the cross thing was a myth.
The SWATs died one after the other and all I could do was watch. All I could do was stare. I brought up my weapon as Lares turned and jumped right at us. I would have fired, except I was afraid I would hit Webster. Lares was that fast. He went low, diving to grasp Webster around the waist. My partner was still trying to reload his weapon.
Lares tore Webster's leg off at the thigh. He used his mouth. Blood was everywhere and Lares drank as much of it as he could get down his throat. Webster didn't start screaming for a long, horrible second or two. He had time to look at me, his face registering nothing but surprise.
When Lares had finished feeding, he rose to a standing posture and smiled at me. His half-naked body was caked with gore. His eyes were bloodshot and his cheeks were glowing pink and healthy. He leaned toward me. He was a good seven feet tall and he towered over me. He reached down and put his hands on my shoulders. His eyes stared into me, and I couldn't look away. The hand holding my weapon lost all strength and dangled at my side. He was weakening me, softening me up somehow. I could feel my brain itch--he was hypnotizing me, something, I didn't know. He could kill me anytime he wanted. Why was he wasting time with my brain?
Over our heads the helicopter chewed angrily at the air. The spotlight lit up Lares' back and made his hair glow. His eyes narrowed as if the light hurt him a little. He grabbed me around the waist and hauled me up to dangle over his shoulder. I could barely move. I tried to kick and hit and fight, but Lares just squeezed me harder until I felt my ribs popping like a string of fireworks. After that it was all I could do to breathe.
He didn't kill me. He had such strength in his arms that it would have been easy to kill me, to squeeze me so hard that my guts shot out of my mouth. He kept me alive, though, I assumed as a hostage.
He started to run. My body bounced and flopped on his shoulder. I could only see what was behind us. He was running toward the Strip District, toward the river. When I was planning this takedown I had convinced Pittsburgh Traffic to shut down a big patch of city, to keep the streets empty. I wanted a safe environment in which to pull off my showdown. Lares must have sensed the unusual quiet of the streets. He ran right out of my safe place, right into traffic, cars slaloming all around us, steam from the pouring rain rising from their hot lights like the breath of angry bulls. Horns shrieked all around us, and I panicked and called out for God--if one of those cars hit us it might not damage Lares at all, but I would surely be crushed, broken, impaled.
I could barely see for pain and wet eyes and the stabbing blare of headlights. I was barely cognizant of the fact that Lares had run out onto the Sixteenth Street Bridge. I could feel the helicopter above me, following me, its rotor blades pulsing in the dark. I felt Lares bend and flex his legs and then--freefall. The asshole had jumped right off the bridge.