“Why eleven?” I asked Marq.
“Because it’s one more than ten,” Marq responded, shoving the map with the marked locations of the bombs into his coat pocket. “If Mickey’s gonna do this, he’s going to need a place to lay low for a while once the smoke clears. Get ready to make his next move somewhere no one’s gonna find him, you know? So he sets himself up a fake bomb and hides it with the real ones. Figures we’ll either miss it or we won’t have the time and manpower to deal with it.”
“But we do, right?”
“Ohhhh, you bet your ass we do.”
“So that’s where he’ll be then…” I paused. “One more question. How do you know all of this?”
Marq shrugged. “It’s what I’d do.”
“Yeah, about that. You sure about this, Marq?”
“Yes I’m sure,” Marq said resolutely, suiting up in full riot gear with the rest of us. “I want a piece of this bastard just as much as you do. Two pieces if I can.”
I grimaced, remembering the conversation we’d had when Nayeli told him about what almost happened in Central Park. Marq had gone fucking ballistic. I distinctly remember him saying something about slow-boiling Mickey’s testicles and wearing his spleen like a paddy cap.
Marq buttoned up his flak jacket, straightening his tie.
“First he kills my men, then he tries to rape my girlfriend… nothing’s gonna be left of him when I’m done,” he muttered. “Not a single fucking thing.”
“A-fucking-men, brother,” I said.
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t do that,” said a young voice behind us. Romeo Vitali walked out of the crowd of pigs and goons we’d assembled. “Some of us still respect that prayer.”
“It’s a free country, Romeo. He can say what he wants,” Marq said quickly. “Not like anyone gives goddamn except you…”
Romeo frowned. “Taking the Lord’s name in vain is even worse.”
Marq sighed. “Why are you here, Romeo?”
“Why, whatever do you mean?” he said, feigning ignorance.
“I mean what are you doing here? You’re the capofamiglia of the Vitalis. Realistically speaking, neither of us should be here to begin with. I’ve presented my excuse. Now what’s yours?”
“You just want to get rid of that homunculus, don’t you?”
At first, Romeo didn’t say anything. That’s how I knew it was true. He didn’t have anything to deny. My blood went cold. I couldn’t hear what he said next. I only saw his lips move, the sound coming in like an echo what felt like seconds later. But I knew what he said. I could see it on his lips.
I felt something wriggling and chewing inside me then. Some nasty shit that had been brewing in the pit of my stomach for years while it waited to show its face again. You couldn’t see it by looking at me, but it was there. Worse than frustration. Worse than anger. Worse than despair. It bubbled and boiled and spilled over the top of my throat into my mouth, the taste of bile burning like a fire.
That fucking foul taste from fourteen years ago was unmistakable. This feeling was rage.
I started seething and seeing red almost immediately. I could practically see myself reaching deep and punching his teeth into his shitter, like I was outside my body watching it happen. The desire was so strong I could feel it, literally feel it on the skin of my fingers. After all she’d gone through, this was the way the gods were going to treat her? This was their judgment? It was too cruel. It wasn’t fair. I wasn’t going to allow it.
Before I lost it, before I couldn’t control myself anymore, I decided to give him a chance. One chance to explain himself, and asked, “Why?”
“Why not?” I whipped my head around when I heard Marq’s voice. “That’s what you were about to say, right Romeo? After all, it’s just a homunculus. It’s not like it’s against the law to kill them. They shouldn’t even exist.” Marq looked disgusted. “I bet you used the same justification when you lynched that vampire five months back.”
Romeo looked at us coldly.
“Don’t talk about it like it’s human. It’s a just a crude facsimile of God’s work brought to life by illegal magic, the sword of a pagan deity housed in a body defiled by evil. It’s dangerous, and its very existence is a sin, so no one should have the right to complain if I kill it.”
I let myself lose it. I lunged at him.
“A sin?!” I yelled, grabbing him by the collar and slamming him against the brick wall. “You’ve got to be joking me! What sins did she commit?! The sin of existing? The sin of being born? Or was it the sin of expecting your pity, you heartless son of a bitch?!”
“Alfonso!” Marq yelled, using my full name. “That’s enough!”
I hesitated. The bastard didn’t deserve it, but I let him go. Back on solid ground and standing on his own two feet, he brushed himself off, checked his collar and his cufflinks, and then decked me right in the fucking face in return. Mickey aside, I don’t think there was ever a time I wanted to kill someone as badly as I did then.
He waved his hand around, like the pussy had somehow hurt it clocking me. There was a bright red bloodstain about the size of a dime and a pin on the knuckles of his gloves, which were whiter than laundry detergent, and I realized then I was bleeding.
I laughed wheezily. “You son of a bitch…”
“Hey!” Marq yelled. “That’s enough, Romeo!”
“Now I’m going to have to get these things washed…” Romeo mumbled, still limp-wristedly flapping his jerk-off hand. He cast a glance at me and Marq. “I’m going to let this slide, since we’re all on edge here today. Don’t forget we’re all on the same side here. We’re all still human.”
“Well fuck you too, pally,” I said, spitting blood onto the pavement. “I’m only demihuman. Wanna see my card?”
Romeo raised an eyebrow. “That so? You look human enough. Also, I would be more careful when spreading rumors, Marquis. Those hanging allegations were never proven, and the Lord does not abide a liar and a gossiper.”
He turned to leave, picking his hat up off the ground and dusting off the brim. He put it back on, uttered a cursory “gentlemen”, and then turned his back to us and walked off. Arrogant prick.
Marq picked me up and took a step back, because I didn’t need any dusting off. My suit was dirty enough as it was. No use polishing a turd. He gave me the look.
“The hell did you do that for?”
“I thought you said that stuff because you were egging me on. Didn’t think you were just gonna let me get punched in the face.”
“Yeah, well I said that to get him pissed, not you.”
“Why the hell would you do that?”
“Have you met the guy?”
Looking around, I spotted my smoldering cigarette butt going to waste on the ground. Bending down, I picked it up and stuck it back between my teeth. I took a breath.
“Well, I have now. Thanks for warning me about him, by the way.”
Marq shrugged. “I told you they were assholes, didn’t I?”
Sostene dropped down next to us, coat flapping like a cape in the wind.
“I’m here. What did I miss?”
I smirked. “Just the Pope’s pet shit-weasel.”
“Nothing. Whaddya got?”
Sostene sighed. “Well, they’re definitely in there, I can tell you that much. My guess is, so’s the bomb.”
“Your guess?” Marq questioned.
“Sorry boss, but ‘guess’ is the best I got. ‘Soldier’ and ‘engineer’ are not on my resume. I couldn’t tell a bomb from an engine block if my life depended on it. Which in this case, it probably does.”
“You’re talking about the white phosphorous,” I said, immediately grasping his concerns.
White phosphorous was some nasty-ass poison gas, but that wasn’t the real reason the army instruction manual read “apply liberally”. It doesn’t just choke, it burns. Not much unlike your distant cousin’s syphilis, white phosphorous spreads like wildfire, and everything it touches, it ignites. What’s worse, once it’s stuck on you, it doesn’t come off without help, something which as history has shown us is pretty hard to get when you’re flailing around on fire. Most victims die when they spread it all over their bodies trying to get it off, clawing at their throats and faces while third degree burns slowly develop over 90% of their bodies. So, you know. Fun stuff. Great for parties.
Now, the astute among us will remember what I once said about how vampires respond to being lit on fire. It’s pretty much the same reaction you’d have if someone dumped a backhoe full of hot, wet shit on you, except the shit’s also sticky like glue and full of pissed-off fire ants. Luckily for vamps, they tend to have a significant advantage in that they’re much faster than 90% of everything that’s trying to light them up like a witch hunt.
Too bad incendiary gas falls into that other 10%.
Marq frowned. “How many of the bombs are WP?”
“No way of knowing,” Sostene said. “I smelled garlic in there, but…”
We all looked at the glowing neon sign lighting up the restaurant back-alley, and the dumpster full of stale, unused ciabatta. Just our luck that we had to find this thing in an Italian restaurant.
I growled. “Mickey’s fucking with us…”
True to form, Marq played the part of the responsible leader and kept his cool. Taking a smoke, he ordered Sostene, “Have our scouts and sniffers working double-time till they’ve worked out all these bombs. I wanna know the fake from the fireballs before it’s too late. Or before Mickey catches wind of what we’re doing. We may not get any guarantees, but at least we can increase the odds of our success before going in. Sostene, get Thompson on the phone. Have him double check our coordinates.”
Sostene nodded, and disappeared.
“Thompson?” I asked.
“Yeah. Officer Thompson,” Marq replied. “He’s an old friend of Sostene’s.”
“And you think he can help?”
“With a lycan’s ears and nose? Yes.” Marq lit up the cigarette he’d been twiddling in his fingers. “Those experimental K-9 bomb units they’ve been deploying in other cities are supposed to have a success rate of 100%. Even an untrained sniffer can make out the chemical scent of a bomb when their sense of smell can detect a scent in the air in parts per trillion. He can give us an even more accurate readout of this place than Sostene without even leaving the office.”
“… Remind me again why we don’t employ more guys like this?”
Marq laughed. “That is something you’ll have to take up with my father. If I was the capofamiglia, it’d be different, but he’s a bit stuck in his ways. No Jews, no mickeys, and no freaks.”
“Except for me and Sostene.”
Marq shrugged. “I pulled some strings. Anyway, no one’s infallible. At best our odds would increase by maybe five tenths of what they already were if we employed more guys like Sostene and Thompson. It’s not a worthwhile investment right now. Not while human/demihuman relations are still so strained.”
“And yet somehow I can get a job with the pigs before I get to work with you.”
The voice sounded like it was right next to me, breathing into my ear, but when I turned around, there was… nothing. It was like I had a voice inside my head.
“Looking for me, shortstuff?”
There it was again. I was started to get a little fucking freaked out here.
“Okay, who said that?!” I said, whipping around trying to find the voice. But there was no one. No one was talking except me and Marq. No one within earshot anyway.
“It’s me, you jackass. Officer Thompson.”
“Oh, Thompson. Good to hear from you,” Marq said.
“Wait, I’m confused,” I said. “Is this a spell? I don’t see any ingredients but this has to be a spell. How can we hear him from all the way across town?”
“He’s a ventriloquist, Al,” Marq said, like that made any sense. “And he’s the real deal too, unlike those sideshow fakers. He can actually throw his voice like he’s making a telephone call, then pick up what’s being said on the other end with his little doggy ears.”
“Relax, I’m pulling your leg,” Marq said. “Sorry, but the books are still closed. You’re talking to one of our newest recruits right now.”
“Seriously? Man, fuck you Marquis. I told you I’ve been wanting that job for ages!”
“And I told you Daddy doesn’t want any of what you’ve got. Only reason I got Al accepted is no one would guess he’s not human just by looking at him.”
“Oh, so he’s a medium then?” The voice sighed. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me with this shit. Fucking mediums; always getting a free pass on everything. You’re a goddamn asshole, kid, you know that?”
“Excuse me?” Who did this guy think he was?
“I’m the only one keeping you assholes from getting blown up,” Thompson said. No. No fucking way. “I can’t hear your thoughts either, by the way. I just know what you’re thinking because you mobsters are just that fucking predictable.”
“Watch it,” Marq reprimanded him. “‘We mobsters’ don’t appreciate talk like that, especially from someone who just wants into the New York books for the pretty dames and pretty cars.”
Thompson snorted. “Isn’t that what we all want? Sounds like I’d fit right in.”
“… he’s got you on that one, Marq.”
“Put a sock in it, Al. Take some pride in your work,” Marq muttered, lighting a cigarette.
“… Anyway, I figured I had better things to be doing besides going over this week’s latest vampire gangbang -and trust me that’s a lot less sexy than it sounds- and decided to help you guys out.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Marq snorted. “Nothing like a good ol’ hate crime to wash away the workday blues.”
So there’d been another one, huh? I cringed, remembering the Bifeld v. Romeo trial from a few years back. Our charming prince Romeo was, or so the story went, “falsely accused” of perpetrating a racially-motivated homicide in which thirty-two year old vampire Hayden Bifeld was lynched and hung out to dry from a tree branch just a few miles outside the city limits. They found his body still baking with a sign hung around his neck saying ‘kiss the sun lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way’. Evidence found at the scene pointed straight to the Vitalis, but Romeo managed to grease the right palms and got the whole thing swept under the rug like an ugly stain on the carpet of his reputation.
As a demihuman myself, I could appreciate the tension lingering in the air, but I knew it had to be nothing compared to the pressure vampire community was under. People still hadn’t forgotten. You could feel the fear as people walked across the street. Vamps always wondering when their luck would just run out and they’d be strung up like Bifeld. Humans living in a constant state of apprehension as they kept their eyes peeled for signs of retribution. It was scary how easy it was for a vampire to kill a man. It was scary how easy it was for a mob to kill a vampire.
Looking at Sostene though, I couldn’t help but wonder if vampires had unintentionally been the patsy this entire time, drawing people’s attentions away from the real dangers. No one wants to confront the reality of homicidal doppelgängers or humanoid typhoons like Nayeli, but a vampire is an easy target. They’re dangerous, but not too dangerous, they spread like wildfire, and they feed on human beings and make them their undead slaves (more on that later), making the morality of killing a vampire seem incredibly stark in comparison to say, an elf; whose only crime is looking beautiful and stealing jobs away from honest, hard-working Americans-… sorry, got carried away there.
But really, how much of that is true and how much of that is just our preconceived notions of them as humans? And yes, despite what’s on my card I still count myself as human. And why shouldn’t Sostene? I mean, he was too at one point. Does becoming a vampire just automatically invalidate the human life you had before all that, everything good and bad you’ve done up until then? Or is that just what we like to think because it makes it easier to kill them; to ignore that everything they are is in us too?
“… What the fuck are you spacing out about?” I whipped around to find Nayeli standing right behind me, arms crossed.
“Nayeli?!” Marq said, sounding just as surprised as me. “I thought I told you that you were on escort duty! The hell are you doing here?”
“Found a replacement,” Nayeli answered calmly.
“Replacement?” I asked, dumbfounded. “Who the hell could replace you on a security detail?”
“A few distant relatives, for starters. No way of knowing if they’re alive or dead though,” she said, dropping her dufflebag full of equipment. “Besides, Percy’s becoming a real bitch in his old age. Last time I saw him he was actually complaining about goiters, for crissakes…”
“So then who did you get?!” Marq and I both yelled, for different reasons. Nayeli threw up her hands.
“Relax, I got it under control! The Big Guy’s covering for me.”
“The Big Guy?” Marq asked.
“He’s one of Paulie’s hired goons. My guess is he works for Byron,” I explained. “I thought he was in the hospital.”
“Yeah, well, turns out one of his not-so-distant relatives was a godchild, which makes him… 1/8th god, I think? 1/16th? Anyway, he says he’s fine. The bullets don’t even hurt anymore.”
“What, you mean they didn’t even take them out?” Nayeli looked at me. “… Stupid question.”
Damn. Just damm.
Marq sighed. “I guess that’ll do, but I’d really rather have you there than here.”
“If you’re going in, I’m going in,” Nayeli said staunchly. “No buts.”
“And what are you gonna do? Break your head on the bomb until it disarms itself?” I asked, laying on the sarcasm thick.
“… I’m going to punch him,” Nayeli said, looking to Marq for permission. “Please tell me I can punch him.”
He smirked. “Maybe later.”