Part I - Lares
Though far and near the bullets hiss/
I've scaped a bloodier hour than this.
-George Gordon, Lord Byron,
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 local liaison. “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 tortoise-shell rims.
“I don’t know what they teach you at Fed school, Arkeley, but I’ve never heard of one 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 decide 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.
No. More like a straw.
Blood spilled off the counter, blood had 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 back there. 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 checked 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 off on my grip on my pistol and kicked angrily at the floorboards.
The dumpster came apart in pieces and a white blur launched itself outward, 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 half minute afterwards. 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 they slowly but surely undent themselves, returning to their 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 took the broken glasses off 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 down to dime-store nickel-plated crosses like you would find on a 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 mankiller.