Officer Takeshi Sato sighed as he dropped into his ragged leather seat in front of his desk. Officer… he thought bemusedly, fingering a shiny new Brass nameplate bearing the title “Detective.” I need to start thinking of myself as more than a patrolman.
Officer Takeshi Sato sighed as he dropped into his ragged leather seat in front of his desk. Officer… he thought bemusedly, fingering a shiny new Brass nameplate bearing the title “Detective.” I need to start thinking of myself as more than a patrolman.
Takeshi had spent the last two years’ worth of nights attending classes in criminal psychology and pathology, as well as numerous other classes designed to train him to be a puzzle solver, someone who could take a person and their list of behavioral patterns, and make reasoned judgments about them and how to predict what they would do next.
He loved it, truth be told, but the classes seemed far easier than in real life. The ink on his diploma and the pay-raise still being “worked on”, and he had his first official case: The New York Organ-Snatcher.
Rubbing at his eyes, he pulled out the thickened manila folder that he’d created about the case some months ago, and began reviewing the newer material he’d been given this morning about his three freshest kills.
“Time of death between nine thirty to ten thirty… a very narrow window there.” Takeshi mused to himself as he flipped past the photos of the dead, not needing to see the precise cuts that were done on the men. “Precise, but not precise enough.”
What he meant by that was that the subject wasn’t a surgeon or doctor, perhaps maybe a veterinarian or a former mortuary worker, but not a trained cutter. His precision came from practice, as skills like his often do. That very thought was one he’d yet to voice or write into his reports out of fear.
Fear that he would be doubted, or that nobody would believe that such a thing could go on unnoticed for so long. Fear that he would be asked to explain how he could justify this belief, without having any tangible evidence besides the forensics team’s comments on the matter.
Fear that he could be right.
His sneaking suspicion was that this sudden spree of serial killings wasn’t sudden at all. Was that this killer had been somewhere where the bodies couldn’t be found as easily, or that the people didn’t care if bodies turned up. Former countries like Chechnya had been breeding grounds for sick minds like the one Takeshi had been tasked with tracking. The fact that he avoided taking technological devices paid credence to this theory, as someone like that wouldn’t know, or want to know, about such technology.
They’d be stuck in the old ways.
Add to all of it that the forensics team had yet to find a single bit of DNA or fingerprints made this far too clinical for Takeshi to like, especially when the skills presented weren’t as up to par as someone so clinical would be.
The other New York Police Department detectives had all agreed on several things that Takeshi didn’t; they believed the killer to be young, no older than thirty-five if one is to judge the way he can physically handle his victims. Takeshi knew far older men could face much larger challenges and still emerge victoriously. His grandfather had won a karate tournament at the ripe age of sixty, and actively trained with younger opponents, to keep himself strong. The way the most recent victims had been found would suggest a skilled opponent, not a strong one.
While some would look at the forensic report and say the killer took the organs based on the damage inflicted, others would say he attacked with the organs he wants in mind. This wasn’t some bloodthirsty freak with issues, like Jeffrey Dahmer. This was someone who had the age and experience necessary to take enough precautions to prevent any form of identification from occurring.
To Takeshi, in his mind’s eye, he was imagining the killer to be an older gentleman of foreign nationality, somewhere distinctly European (where the majority of these horrible wars were being waged while also maintaining a higher than average education level), perhaps even Asian (China could easily breed a monster like this and not speak of it, the same being said for North Korea). While he would have to be in reasonably good shape, he was in no way the bodybuilder that the other detectives were making him out to be. The bruising on the corpses was too methodical, too similar across these mere three, not to mention when compared to his other kills.
Looking out the window of his small office, Takeshi could just make out the sliver that was the New Moon waxing into being. Takeshi always enjoyed watching the moons progress, thinking back on all of the stories his mother would tell him as a child, of the princess in the moon and other silly children’s stories meant to put a child to rest.
Suddenly, and with great distress, Takeshi spun back to his manila folder, flipping through report after report and looking at the dates. Growing up, he’d loved and learned of his heritage well, a large part of that being a memorization of the Lunar Calendar. It was something he still did, due to his activities with the Asian population of New York and all of their festivals and frivolities.
Between the five confirmed mass killings, all had involved a sort of scuffle, and all had a degree of bruising that showed that the fights were decidedly one-sided. But looking at the dates, Takeshi began swearing in Japanese at how stupid he’d been.
Each of the killings had occurred during the New Moon, a time when the city would be darkened even further, and a time that held a great deal of spiritual meaning to a dozen different cultures. Predators were far more active during these periods of time, and so man had come to look at them as times that were very dangerous, times when the supernatural would become all too natural and stalk the world for the flesh of man.
That also meant something far worse, if Takeshi was correct.
He’d plagued the city over the past seven months, with five sites where they discovered the bodies, generally hidden only with the barest of effort. The last three had been lined up to look like bums to the casual observer walking by, while a large Mormon family had all been placed upright in their family Van, all seven strapped in as if they were off to go on vacation. All coincided with a New Moon, when the sky was darkened like a curtain of black satin thrown over the world.
That meant there were two more groups that they hadn’t found, two more that were left to rot.
And that he had less than a month to figure out who this killer was before he struck again.
I hiss as I awaken, the sudden pain of the body coming back to life, the heart beating at a normal rate instead of the pulse or two a minute, is one that I have endured since I first contracted this sickness in the fall of 1942, at the hands of the Angel of Death himself, in Block Ten of the Hell on Earth that were the camps.
He kept me as a test subject for nine months before I was able to escape, poking and prodding me to test the limits of my death. He was especially fascinated by the way I would “die” within seconds of the sun rising, only to reanimate seconds after it set. It was thanks to him I learned that my heart rate slowed to a single beat a minute during the day, assuming I’d fed recently.
He enjoyed seeing the effects of starvation upon me, and would often go days, sometimes weeks without feeding me, just to document the physiological changes I would undergo. Moaning as the pooled blood in my back begins to warm and circulate; I pop and twist in agony as my body becomes usable once again.
This is why I seen no true saving grace in the itinerant Rabbi that was Jesus. I’m told he died for my sins, which is a fools declaration if I’d ever heard one, and that he’d spent three days in Hell before coming back to life.
I spent three years in Hell, only to leave it as a diseased monster that comes back to life nightly. Jesus Christ does not impress me, nor do his followers, a prime example hanging a few rooms away from me.
Twisting to look at the digital clock I have duck taped above my grave, I smile at the flashing numbers before me. The Wedding itself started about half an hour ago, but should last for a full hour. Long enough for me to clean myself of the dirt I have covered my naked form, to sup on a light snack, and to ensure the presents are in order.
Weddings are celebrations of life, and if I were to show up without presents, that would cast ill luck on the impending marriage. I mean, how good is it for Death to come to wedding reception?
I climb from my hole, pushing up the trapdoor in the closet and crawling out from it, my body feeling ice-cold as my ancient heart fights to move the mass of coagulated blood resting in my upper back and lungs. I step out of the closet, after wiping my feet on the rug and wiping my hands on a towel folded and placed on a low shelf for this very purpose.
As I move to the shower I stop to check my mail, which is always kindly tucked through the mail slot every day by my elderly neighbor, who believes me to have quite the strenuous day job. Sorting through the letters, I come across two that I’ve been expecting.
Allowing my nails to distend into claws, I use my fore claw as a letter opener, pulling a thin piece of white paper, all type-written, with lists of needed organs. The other letter was the same, just from a different Hospital nearly four counties away. Between the two, they need five kidneys, two livers and one eye from a younger donor, a left one. The list of needed blood types per organ was laid out for me, allowing me time to begin tracking down people worthy of being donors.
After all, I had a month before I needed to really do any actual hunting.
I use a lighter on the two letters, reducing them to ash, which I was down the drain as I step into the shower, turning on the hot water with a blissful sigh. This should help loosen up my blood and provide me with relief.
Allowing the water to pound down upon me, filling my bathroom with steam as I allow my aged muscles to relax. Tonight’s wedding is… oh lord, what is the name… Goldberg? No Goldberg had been last week. Epstein! Tonight they were crowning a new Epstein through the sanctimony of marriage. Thankfully all the tripe in movies was pretty much false, save for my aversion to direct sunlight. Everything else is total bunk, so sacred ground is by no means taboo to my unholy frame.
What few tricks I did possess were nothing more than glorified parlor magic, things like flushing out light from any given area, or making it harder to notice me. Very small, petty things that I’d actually found great use of over the years. Both are really and truly useful to me and my given hobbies, but when compared to other creatures of the night, I fall short of the “Terrifying” category, and into the “Mildly Threatening” category.
Just the way I like it.
From the few fellow Vampires I’ve encountered in my brief time as a walking medical experiment, I’ve learned that most of them do their best to try and be as terrifying as possible. Some have taken to sharpening all of their teeth, or shaving their body and having it tattooed black. The others are terrifying because of their complete dissociation with humanity, making them true monsters in regards to mercy.
I recall one that I had the pleasure of hunting with during Russia’s capture of Berlin. Such a chaotic time that was, with the Russian soldiers looting and murdering as much as they could, raping little girls in the streets while making their fathers watch. Truly twisted things that made me, as a recently risen Vampire, feel somewhat angry with them.
“Why to be so cruel?” I mutter to myself as I close my eyes and allow the water to wash away the painful memories. It fails to do so yet again, the vivid images of Berlin aflame, hunting the remaining German soldiers almost openly now that they were fully retreating. That’s when I’d met Septimus.
He was tall, with a Slavic goatee and Greek scarification done over his arms, a former Spartan if I his tales were true. He was wading through the sea of civilians fleeing, a shark amongst minnows, slicing out the throat of one before fading into the crowd, driving them into a stampede of screaming German women and children, all the men dead from fighting the Russians. He seemed to make a game of it, as I recall, seeing how many people he could get trampled to death before he was forced to strike again, to get them moving in a panic.
“Why to be so cruel?” I repeat to myself, remembering the joy on his face from encountering another Vampire, a joy that left it over the coming days as he realized we were in no way like each other. I wanted to kill soldiers; he just wanted to kill.
And the scariest part was he saw nothing wrong with it. “They kill each other, we eat them, and there are too many to count!” He’d said to me in a tone one would use with a child or slow person. “Why not kill them?”
We’d parted ways soon after that. I heard he was caught during the daylight hours by some Polish Vampire hunter about fifteen years ago. How he made it so long without getting killed surprised me to no end, especially with how frivolous his killing was!
I turn off the shower and move to dry myself off, thinking about what I could wear to this wedding. I needed to appear as a wealthy cousin, whom all Jewish families has, but not too wealthy so as to get the men interested in my business, or the women trying to get me interested in their daughters. My son still laughs every time I tell him about that, tales he loves to hear. Perhaps I should visit him soon?
The synagogue is nearly as old as I am, having been built in the early twentieth century by the fledgling Hebrew community here in New York City. They’d taken from their roots and created a towering gothic temple, a great dome held aloft by buttresses and columns that led into the center of the great hall, where all of the holiest ceremonies were performed.
Like tonight’s wedding.
Tugging on my suit to once again ensure it isn’t wrinkled (an old habit beaten into me by my mother before she died) I stroll past a group of chattering men and women standing at the temple’s steps, smoking their last cigarettes before the service. I feel their eyes latch onto my silken Armani suit, my golden pocket watch… they know who I am, and in tones so hushed even I can barely hear them I listen as they begin guessing over what gift I brought for the lucky couple this evening.
Everyone here knew me Zayde, essentially referring to me as their Grandfather. I’d made it clear many years ago that I was a member of this Temple far longer than any other, including most of the Rabbi’s, and consistently donated great sums of money every Hanukkah, to keep myself in the good graces of the parishioners.
You never know when you’ll need a friend.
A young boy approaches me, his mother chatting with three other hens, all wrapped tight in their fur-lined coats. I stop as the little boy looks up at me, a few of his front teeth missing, his eyes wide and innocent as he smiles at me. Dressed in his little suit, I can only smile back at him as I kneel down to take a better look at the boy, slowly reaching out with my leather-clad hands to grasp his face, turning it from side to side as I always did.
I can feel everyone’s eyes upon me now, wondering what I’m about to do: due to my place within the Temple, nobody ever dared approach me in such a way as this child, for fear I wouldn’t look upon them kindly. I’d helped at least a dozen business’s and families out over the years, but only to those that showed me respect.
Sniffing long and hard, I can smell the sugary sweet scent his blood carried; feel the pumping of it thrumming through his veins. He merely continues to smile at me, even as I let go of his face and stare at him, waiting for him to speak.
“Zayde!” He says with childish glee, holding out his arms for a hug. His mother, now realizing that her little boy is no longer by her side, rushes up to him and tries to take him by the hand, apologizing to me profusely for his rude behavior.
Instead of allowing her to snatch him away and berate him publically (as my mother would have done) I scoop him up in a hug before moving him to sit upon my shoulder, standing from my crouched position so that I can stare his mother in the eyes.
“Gloria Epstein, if I’m not mistaken?” I enquire, knowing full well who she is. I was at her wedding some nine years ago. Glancing at her neck, I see she’s wearing the jeweled pendent I gave her as a wedding gift. An intricately woven piece of golden wire and filigree that grasped a small emerald that, if examined closely, resembled a human heart. I’d connected all of the filigrees to the precious stone as if the thin golden cords were veins, creating a wonderful piece that I’d been proud of for years.
“Yes, Zayde, I’m so glad you were able to make it tonight!” Gloria gushes, a faint blush rising to her cheeks at my sudden attention. When her husband had left her three years ago, I’d given her close to forty thousand dollars to go back to school and earn a degree, so that she could make something of herself. While I made it clear I in no way ever expected the money back, she always made it a point to give me something every time we met.
She fishes into her purse, an oversized handbag with metal links serving as the strap, and pulls a small parcel wrapped in brown paper, shoving it into my face with a smile. “For you,” she says, nodding at the package, “For all your help these past few years.”
I set the boy down gently as I give Gloria a disapproving look. “If this is money I’ll have no part in it, you know that Gloria.”
“It’s not! I know you won’t take my money, no matter how often I try and pay you back, but… just open it.” She says in a rushed breath, her heartbeat racing within her ample chest. Looking at her, I can see she’s lost some weight and put on a tad bit of muscle tone; by no means an athlete, but a healthy young woman in her prime to be certain.
I play along and begin carefully unwrapping the gift, my frown fading away into a full smile as I see what lies beneath the carefully wrapped paper.
“A jewelers kit… a Swiss one at that.” I murmur, turning the book-sized case over in my hands to analyze the numerous tools within the glass. “You shouldn’t have…”
“Oh don’t be that way Zayde! Thanks to you I can support my son and me at a job I love!” She says, moving in to give me a quick, light hug. “You saved my family when that schmuck of man walked out on me!”
“As I would do for all of my Nechedim, you know that. I need no gifts from my grandchildren; just the occasional letter or talk at Temple is enough for me.” I tell her loud enough for all of the eavesdroppers to hear. Patting her boy on the head, I smile and tell him to run along inside. She thanks me once again before grabbing her boy by the hand and making her way into the Synagogue.
I can hear his heartbeat before his voice, the irregular thumping bringing a worried frown to my face as I turn to greet Rabbi Sloan. For thirty-three years he’s served as a Rabbi here, and for thirty-three years he’s aged, as men are wont to do, while I have not. He’s jokingly asked me how I manage to stay so young, but never seriously delved into the matter: he respects my privacy enough to know better. Robert Sloan, as I know him, is a good friend that I will soon have to mourn if my gamble is right. I shake his hand and pull him into a brief hug, inhaling deeply his scent… A positive.
“I see you made it Zayde,” He says with a wrinkled smile, leaning heavily on his cane as he walks. “I had a feeling you would be here tonight.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I say with sincerity, smiling at my old friend. I’d considered turning him a few times, but the later in life one is turned the more esoteric their dark gifts can be… turning him now would be far too much of a wild card. “How’re your nieces? Sarah and Elizabeth?”
“Bah!” He said, raising his hands in the air while shaking his head. “Sarah is still the same as always, looking for attention. Her daughter is growing up to be a darling little copy of her as well, I’m sorry to say. Elizabeth is… going through a rough patch still. She’s abandoned the faith entirely.”
I wince for my poor friend’s loss, knowing how much such a thing would hurt him. Even now I can hear his decrepit heart beating faster and faster at the very mention of his dysfunctional family.
Over five years ago, his niece Elizabeth had caught her fiancée cheating on her three weeks before the wedding with the maid of honor. Needless to say, this hadn’t gone well and the wedding had been canceled. Ever since, the poor girl has been through therapist after therapist, every time I greet her the smell of strange, exotic chemicals pouring off of her in waves due to the medicines they have her on.
The only reason I pay so close attention to my friend and his family is due to the fact I’m actually his grandfather. My son, his father, had contracted a deadly disease in the early nineteen seventies, horrible cancer that spreads through his body like wildfire. To save my only son, I’d shared my blood with him, turning him into an abomination like myself. He’d made me promise to watch over his family as best I could, as Vampirism and Cancer were apparently not good diseases to mix, leaving him an emaciated creature bound to the coffin on a private plot of land where I had a home built for him. It would seem that the same illness that had plagued my son was now plaguing his.
“How go the treatments?” I ask, not bothering to beat around the bush as I so often do.
He shakes his head once more. “Poorly. My liver is all but on its last leg, and getting a donor isn’t really an option thanks to my age. The doctors tell me without a transplant, I’ll have only a few years of life left to live.”
I try not to smile too widely at his statement, instead going with a grim smile and a pat on the back. A liver! I can get him a liver with ease! Finding a healthy donor with the right blood type will take me a few days, but I can get him a liver within a week if I begin my monthly hunt early. Might do me some good, hunting earlier than usual; throw the police off their game a little to find a fresh kill so close to the last ones.
My thoughts quickly drift to the present as an attendant announces that the seating is ready for any and all who wish to enter the Temple. All of us bustle in quickly, away from the bitter chill of the New York autumn’s eve.
The ceremony was as formal as they always are, with about half an hour of self-written vows and tear-stained handkerchiefs. I sit towards the back, watching Sloan perform the ceremony with a deep, resonating voice and a shaky hand, leaning a bit too heavily on the podium he had set up prior to the wedding. In the light of the Temple, his balding head and heavy-rimmed reading glasses make him almost to be a turtle, his long nose and thin fingers reminding me of the past Ghouls I’ve created.
Still, for a man well past his prime he’s doing fairly well, cancer aside. The lovely couple kisses for a cheering audience before we all begin to move into the side room, a large dance hall full of circular tables, all before one long table on a raised dais. A buffet has been laid out to the side near a makeshift bar, something that would have once been taboo in yesteryear, alcohol on holy ground.
We all make our way to our seats, save for me, of course, seeing as I never know where my seat actually will be at these functions. Walking over to one of the wedding attendants, a curly-haired youth in a suit a size too big for himself, I clear my throat to pull his eyes from his clipboard.
Seeing his face, I smile even wider as his face goes from annoyed to panic within moments. Young Abraham here is the son of a couple who’s wedding I attended some seven years ago, his father remarrying within the Temple this time around. Abraham, a lad no older than eleven or twelve, had been the ring bearer that fateful night.
He also happened to have a certain gift that let him see people for who they truly are, as well as the ability to see the dead. One thing I’d learned that day is that for every person you kill in cold blood their ghost is forever tied to you, apparently bemoaning their fate while waiting for your eventual death.
The second thing I’d learned is that there is no way to calm down an eleven-year-old boy after seeing a cloud of tortured spirits swirling around a living dead man. Even now, I can see his hands start to shake as they go white from his grip on the clipboard. I lean in close to him, allowing a bit of red to filter into my eyes, my fangs distending from my upper palate. He stands stock still as I take a deep, long and shuddering sniff of him, before leaning back to smile at him.
“Healthy as a horse Abraham, healthy as a horse,” I say to him with a sadistic grin, “Though I’d cut back on the sugary drinks you smell a bit… syrupy. Myself, I’ve never cared for it but my son on the other hand…”
“Please!” He all but shouts, drawing looks of confusion from the people filing past us, heading to their tables. He visibly calms himself, letting out a long sigh and closing his eyes before speaking in a calmer tone. “Please stop. What is it you want Mr. Salinger?”
“Why, what anybody would want from an usher at a wedding,” I say with a mock grin, allowing my fangs to recede and my eyes to fade back to a normal hue, “Where am I sitting?”
“Oh,” He sheepishly says, eyes opening to look down at his clipboard and scanning the page, running a finger over the diagram of the great hall, “It looks like you have a seat next to the Rabbi at the head table, third chair on the right.”
“How are you doing Abraham?” I ask a little quieter now that the hall is beginning to fill up. “All games aside, you know I care for my people and-”
“-And I have no earthly idea what the hell you are, but I know that whatever it is isn’t human!” He hisses at me, leaning close and trying to look calm. “I don’t know why you’re here, or even how you can walk into our most sacred of places with those… things scrabbling about you, but the answer is still no!”
“But this gift of yours is one that should be nurtured!” I insist, falling back on an old argument that I seem to have with the boy every time I see him. “I’ve seen only a handful of people with the raw talent you possess, and none of them could hold a candle to how well you have it under control. I have friends who could help you, help you better yourself and better our community.”
“The answer is still no Mr. Salinger,” He says resolutely, looking back to his clipboard as if the conversation is finished.
I brush over his surface thoughts, probing here and there to see what his most recent fears are, what he dreads and what he aspires for and to be.
“Think it over Abraham,” I say with a tone of finality, “If you agree to serve as an apprentice to a friend of mine, I’ll personally finance your way through college. I’ll even arrange so that your father can get the treatment he needs, sooner than he’s been told… no man should suffer from Sarcoid in such a way without treatment.”
“How do you...? Stay out of my head!” He growls out at me, but I can see behind those brown eyes of his the seed has been planted. I incline my head to him, patting him on the shoulder as I slip on of my smaller money clips into his pocket, a mere five hundred dollars and a lone business card bearing my name. The lad could use the money, and will most likely spend it on getting his father more medicine to treat his lung condition.
Moving on, I weave my way through the crowd, sniffing as I pass by the parishioners of the Temple, trying to find and sick or weary people with whom I could seek out and try to help. If dear Sloan is the shepherd to these fine people, then I am most definitely the guard dog.