: THE CRIMSON CALLING
Author: Patrick C Greene
Centuries after the eradication of vampires and the death of their Queen in the Great Fire of London in 1666, the vampire population now numbers in only the hundreds. A few of the remaining survivors have regrouped and formed a High Council to unite their numbers. Now a new threat has arrived: modern day military is not only tracking members of the council, they are attempting to create their own vampire soldiers. Enter Olivia Irons. Ex Black Ops, doing her best to live a normal civilian life, but it never feels right. No family, no friends, trouble always close. When the Sanguinarian Council offers her the chance of a lifetime, the biggest risk of all seems like the only path left to choose. How will she answer The Crimson Calling?
The Italian Job
Sergio Toscatti wiped down the pristine MP5, the last of the guns that had arrived earlier that day. His crew, having inventoried this latest shipment from their American source, was already lighting cigarettes, rolling blunts, and pouring wine.
Sergio looked down the long, scarred work table and discreetly scanned the faces of his crew as he always did, looking for any signs of chicanery, potential betrayal, or worse, growing conscience. He had eliminated more than one of his employees in the past, and was sure he would have to do so again; all part of the black market gun trade. It was the last of the evening’s immediate business matters.
He tapped the old school long barrel .38 holstered at his side, the piece that had earned him the nickname “Blue Eyes” despite his irises being so brown they were almost black. The title was based on The Man with No Name character played by Clint Eastwood in the trilogy of westerns produced by Sergio’s countrymen in the mid-sixties.
The big gun was both an insurance policy and a flashy fashion accessory. If Sergio had run the statistics, he would have found nearly all of his “transactions” had gone much more smoothly since he had begun wearing the rig. As an added bonus, he also got laid more consistently.
Melina, exhaling smoke through lips parted and shaped perfectly to suggest a blowjob, returned Sergio’s gaze with eyes very much the blue of Eastwood’s iconic character. “Seeing what you want to?” she purred.
Sergio only smiled, noting both Carlo and Pierre deliberately avoiding his gaze. “You’re just such a sexy band of rogues. I can’t get my eyes off from you,” he answered in his charmingly slaughtered English.
Carlo ventured a nervous glance at Sergio, receiving a wink in return.
Melina nodded, crossing her arms and leaning back against the edge of the table. Ballsy little bitch she is, thought Sergio.
“All right. Listen up,” he shouted.
The others lined up along the front of the table, passing along a roll of sanitary wipes for the gun oil on their hands. Starting with Pierre on the end, Sergio inspected each of the four with the scrutiny of a drill sergeant. The Frenchman’s gaze darted around the sparsely lit warehouse like he was watching a pinball game, never landing anywhere for more than a split second, never meeting Sergio’s at all.
The American headbanger Muffin, who looked like a satanic Chris Cornell and knew it, smacked his chewing gum and brushed dust from his Iced Earth shirt, clearly bored.
Carlo, slight of build and far from confrontational, relied on a dazzling smile in any instance which did not absolutely require violence, and he flashed it now as he raised his wine glass, ever the charming bastard. Sergio imagined quick-drawing his six-shooter, shattering the glass with a precisely placed bullet and a pinging ricochet sound effect.
Her eyes never leaving Sergio’s, Melina wagged her head slightly, as if implying she was contemplating a renewal of the sexual element of their efficient, but often stormy working relationship.
“Congratulations to everyone, and thanks for all your hard works.” Unlike his marksmanship, Sergio’s English was hit and miss at best, but it was the only language they all knew. “By far, this is our biggest shipment yet. Already in this afternoon, I have buyers for roughly sixty percentage of all these guns.”
The crew responded with celebratory claps, whistles, and the raising of glasses.
“We will be very rich peoples in a matter of weeks.”
High fives, fist bumps.
Sergio narrowed his gaze, as he deliberately zeroed his keen stare on Pierre. “Hey, Pierre. Tell me something. What will you do with your cut of the monies?”
Pierre pointed at himself comically, his eyes suddenly as wide as silver dollars. “Me?” A nervous laugh escaped him. “Oh I dunno. Maybe, go to America? Vegas?”
Beside him, Muffin laughed cynically. “America sucks. And Vegas blows.”
Sergio suddenly drew his gun, spun it on his finger like Eastwood, dropped it smoothly back into the holster, and returned his gaze to his crew, never missing a beat. “You, Carlo. What will you do when you get paid?”
Carlo was speechless, startled by the furious quick-draw display. Sergio slowly stepped closer to him, letting the clacking sound of his hand-tooled cowboy boots echo through the gloomy warehouse.
“Something is wrong with Carlo. Don’t you think something is wrong with Carlo, Pierre? What could it be?”
Pierre pointed at himself again. “You want to know what I … what I … think is wrong?”
Muffin issued a quiet, fake cough, pushing away from the table and stepping past Sergio, careful to remain in his periphery.
Pierre glanced forlornly to his side, toward the guns lined along the table, none of which were loaded.
Sergio continued to stare a hole through Carlo.
Carlo smiled his dazzling smile, laughed his disarming laugh. “Hey, hey, Sergio. I feel like you are not trusting me right now. What can I do to prove I’m with you? Eh?” When Sergio didn’t answer, Carlo held his arms out wide, as if expecting an embrace. “Come on, my brother. I would never want to ruin what we have here!”
Sergio tapped the six-shooter. “Carlo, my friend. I swear if I was a faggot, I would fuck you so hard.”
All of a sudden, Sergio drew the gun, pushing it against the hollow of Carlo’s throat, drawing a startled gasp.
Pierre glanced at Muffin, Sergio’s ever-loyal enforcer, and knew Muffin would give chase if Pierre ran.
Melina uncrossed her arms and slowly walked backward to stay clear of any flying grue.
“No no no no no, come on, old friend!” Carlo sputtered.
“A few crates from our last shipment have gone missing … old friend,” Sergio said. “And you, Mister Charming, smart business dude, you have been acting strangely.”
“Wait! What … what about Pierre?”
“Pierre? Oh, Pierre knew, didn’t you, Pierre?” Sergio said, arching his dark eyebrows. “He just wasn’t sure how to tell me. Isn’t that right, Pierre?”
“Oh yes!” Pierre pointed at himself again. “I was waiting for the right time!”
Sergio sharply turned the gun to Pierre, taking a long step back from Carlo, who gasped, before deflating with relief.
“The only right times are the nows, Pierre,” Sergio intoned. Melina tried to stifle it, but snickered at the clumsy sentence structure. Sergio spun the gun toward her, infuriated by her disrespect. She merely rolled her eyes, every inch the jaded sexpot.
Sergio had almost decided to gun them all down and start fresh—when the lights went out.
“Shit! What the fuck?” Carlo cried.
Remaining cool, Sergio drew his Maglite from its little nylon sheath as deftly as he had the six shooter. He had it clicked on and was scanning the crew before any of them could react to the sudden darkness. “We’re all here, no?”
“We’re all here, boss. Relax.” Pierre, who Sergio would have expected to be the first to bolt, drew closer.
Sergio pointed the Maglite into Carlo’s eyes, the six shooter at his chest. “Are you doing this, Carlo?”
“No no no, boss. Never!” Carlo’s denial was as emphatic as a liar’s. But Sergio saw a fearful sincerity in his eyes.
“Muffin. Check the breakers box.”
Cursing under his breath, Muffin stalked away.
A flickering, dim beam suddenly emerged from Melina’s position, followed by a pair of smacks, the girl trying to coax more juice into the bulb. She raised it to inspect, casting herself in eerie, campfire-tale light. “Fucking piece of shit …”
There was a restrained rustling in the air above them, crossing Melina’s beam. She had only a millisecond to look up before a large pale spider leapt onto her face. With a yelp she was suddenly lifted into the high darkness. Her light clattered to the floor and fell black.
Pierre and Carlo gasped, and Sergio realized it wasn’t a spider that grabbed her, but a hand.
He shushed his men, shining his Maglite into the air where he’d seen Melina take off like a rocket. Crates of various goods were stacked twelve feet or higher, above which there was only whirling dust and space and rafters.
Keeping the thin beam trained on the edge of the top crate, Sergio stepped back carefully, now cursing the loud boot-steps he had relished just moments ago. Carlo was in cuddling range, preferring the man who was planning to murder him over the unfathomable darkness. His breath danced unnervingly across the little hairs of Sergio’s neck.
A small hand appeared at the edge of the crate, gripping it with shivering fingers. Carlo tensed, drawing even closer to Sergio.
Then Melina’s terrified face was there, shock visible in her eyes even through the long, curly strands of auburn hair falling before them. She brought her other hand around and made a “come on” gesture. She spoke with great effort. Sergio could not hear her, only read her lips: “Shoot … me …”
Obscenely long fingers clapped across her face and wrenched her head back, her muffled gasp echoing through the rafters. Her body was dragged out of sight in an instant.
Sergio realized Carlo was clutching his left arm like a woman. Whatever this did for Carlo, it offered Sergio no comfort. “Get your ass off me!” he stage-whispered. “My left boot, another gun.”
Carlo relinquished his death grip to grapple with the cuff of Sergio’s tight jeans, finding the little .25 after sending chills up Sergio’s spine with his scrabbling, corpse-cold fingers. Sergio shook his leg impatiently, sending the little gun sliding into the blackness.
“Dammit!” Carlo exclaimed, his voice shaking, as he searched on hands and knees. “Shine the light, Sergio!”
But Sergio ignored him, keeping the beam pointed at the swirling dust motes where Melina and her spider-fingered assailant had just been. “Muffiiiinnn!” he called, not liking the thin, high tone in his voice.
“Here!” Muffin called back. “What the fuck is going on?”
“Just get your ass over to here!” Sergio answered. He suddenly remembered Pierre. “Pierre! Where are you?”
Pierre had no intention of sticking around. From what he knew of the sellers with whom they had just done business, it was a simple leap of logic to realize they’d been set up. After seeing that bone-white killing hand, Pierre knew he was better off on his own.
Pierre felt his way along the crates, knowing when he reached the end it was only a few meters to the door, and the industrial sector beyond, where a rat or a coward, or even a shady gunrunner with a future, could hide-and-seek his way right into the heart of the city.
He found the door handle and pushed it, relieved it opened onto moonlit fog and wasn’t barricaded. His foot never touched the outside ground though. Something grabbed his collar, yanking him back inside with impossible speed.
Slamming back first into the crate, Pierre saw something like the finale to Star Wars in his mind’s eye; all starlight and explosions. Bouncing off the crate and hitting the floor, he scrambled to a stand. Pierre cried out, feeling his shattered ribs crunch and flex so painfully he could barely move. But move he would, if only so he could die outside.
He stumbled right into the chest of a man. A man who seemed rooted to the floor, for he did not move a fraction of an inch when Pierre ran into him. The impact left Pierre crying out as the shockwave registered in his ruined ribcage. He fell to his butt, holding his sides, trying not to breathe.
Then, eyes blazing with the cold white light of damnation were drilling into his, breath like grave dirt blasting his nostrils. Pierre tried to scream but had no air in his lungs. Icicle fingers grabbed his chin and wrenched Pierre’s head to the side. In his last seconds, Pierre remembered something from history class that had always terrified him.
Something about vampires.
Fangs pierced his neck like a giant staple, but did not stop there. The vampire clamped its jaws together, taking a huge bite of the muscle and tendon in Pierre’s neck, growling like a jungle cat as it wrenched its head sideways. Pierre died contemplating the strange feeling of blood pumping from his neck.
Sergio hadn’t responded when he asked what was happening, but Muffin could still hear the cowboy boots scraping and clopping about, and it sounded like a small firearm had clattered to the floor as well. That meant either Carlo or Sergio had had it hidden and now it had come into play. There had been no gunfire, so either they were struggling over it, or something else had come up. Judging by the power outage, the latter seemed more likely.
Sparking his Zippo, Muffin found his Glock where he’d hidden it between the wall and a supporting brace. He let the lighter go out and checked the magazine, happy to feel the weight of a full load, the smooth cylinder of the topmost bullet. He slapped the mag back in and skimmed the Zippo across his jeans to re-light it, holding it out to the side with his left hand while pointing the Glock straight ahead with his right.
The breaker box was about twelve to fifteen paces dead-ahead, well outside the light output of his lighter’s flame. He thought he heard an exit door open at the other end of the warehouse; likely Pierre making an escape. Good. Muffin never liked turning his back to the Frenchman, much less being with him in pitch black darkness.
Something shuffled between the rows of crates he was passing. The Zippo’s sphere of illumination extended eight feet or less, and the shuffling sound seemed to have come from a bit farther.
Muffin cursed the confining crates, wishing Sergio had made a deal with somebody else for their business headquarters. Warehouses were so fucking cliché anyway.
The boot clatter stopped. “Sergio!” he bellowed.
Muffin didn’t like this feeling, his heart pounding, something softly shuffling inches from his range of vision. It was nothing like the adrenaline rush of a well-lit gun battle. “SERGIO!” he called.
His heart sank as the darkness and silence grew heavier. Then: “TURN ON THE FUCKING BREAKERS, DUMBFACE ASS!” Sergio yelled. Muffin had never been so relieved to hear such obnoxious butchery of the English language.
Turning back to the aisle between the crates, Muffin almost jumped out of his skin. A squat, bald man dressed in dark military fatigues stood there. Muffin might not have seen him except his exposed face and hands were pale as white satin, and his eyes were like glowing ice.
Muffin raised the Glock. “Bad plan, crashing our party, fireplug,” Muffin quipped, then fired twice.
In the second that it took for his eyes to adjust from the muzzle flashes, the figure had disappeared.
“Muffin! What are you shooting?” Sergio demanded.
“Fuck this,” Muffin said to himself, turning to make a bee line for the exit—only to find the squat man standing in front of him, grinning with jackal’s teeth. Muffin tried to take a deep step back to make room for shooting, but the pale assassin grabbed his lighter and snatched it away, along with any hope of escape.
“NO!” Refusing to accept the inevitability and ease of his demise, Muffin discharged another two rounds, seeing in the muzzle flash that the demon was not in front of him but at his side, opening its toothy mouth wide.
Muffin’s long hair was a convenient handle, used to pull his head back so violently it broke his back. Muffin had the sudden idea of blowing his own brains out, but no longer had the necessary motor control. He didn’t even scream as the jagged teeth sliced and crushed his esophagus.
When the metalhead did not answer, Sergio realized his chances of survival had dropped dramatically, for there would be no light to expose their attacker. He finally relented and brought the Maglite beam down to help Carlo find the .25.
He instantly regretted it, for the expression of sheer terror on his countryman’s face nearly destroyed Sergio’s already decaying fighting spirit.
The erratic beam finally danced briefly across the handgun, and quickly returned to it.
“There! Go get it,” Sergio commanded.
Desperate, Carlo looked like a hideous man-monkey hybrid shuffling on all fours toward the prize. But once he had it, he rose to the height of a man. “Now we get this bastard, Blue Eyes.” Carlo ran to Sergio and the two came back-to-back, pointing their weapons into the threatening blackness.
“Now you see my loyalty,” Carlo said, and Sergio allowed himself a moment of regret for nearly killing the slender Sicilian. Then he realized he might need Carlo as a distraction.
“Okay, Carlo. We walk together to the corner where we can see everything, and we wait. You walk in front, and I shine the way. We see something, we both shoot.”
“You sure about this, Sergio?” Carlo asked, sensing Sergio’s motives. “We fight together, right?”
“Just go,” Sergio ordered, turning and pushing Carlo in front of him with the barrel of his pistol.
Carlo managed only a single furtive step before the side of his neck exploded, sending a hissing spray of steaming blood into Sergio’s beam. Carlo spun, looking to Sergio for help.
“Mi Maria, Mother of God …” Sergio whispered.
The tall, beefy vampire who had just slashed through Carlo’s jugular stepped into Sergio’s beam, smiling a bloody grin as he caught his victim mid-collapse.
“We share the last one,” the vampire said.
It took Sergio a moment to realize the nightmare with the crew cut had been speaking not to Sergio, but about him.
His skin crawling, he spun and found the bald one standing there, wiping his mouth with Muffin’s blood-soaked Iced Earth shirt. Sergio raised his gun, shooting the musclebound monster directly in the eye, and was comforted to hear a cry of pain.
Sergio wasted no time waiting to see how much damage he’d done. Keeping the Maglite beam as steady as he could, he plunged forward, in the general direction of the same exit door where Pierre had met his demise.
The taller vampire landed in front of him from an impossible leap, only three or four meters away. Sergio raised his pistol, squeezing off round after round in the general direction of his assailant, switching courses to head between a row of crates, and immediately cursing himself for it. The tight row left him trapped. If the pale killers decided to cover both ends-assuming the one he’d shot in the eye could still function-he was S.O.L. He wasn’t about to underestimate the fuckers.
But it wasn’t the vampires he found waiting at the other end of the row. It was a trio of … aliens? No. U.S. military operatives wearing night vision gear.
Sergio grew hopeful at first; assuming the soldiers were the proverbial cavalry, come to kill the monsters. Then the leader of the trio, a lustfully fit female, removed her headgear, exposing her face in Sergio’s Maglite beam.
It was the woman Devereaux, who hours ago sold him the very gun shipment he and his crew just processed. Only now she was in military tactical garb.
“What are you d—” Sergio’s question died when Devereaux essayed a perfect left crescent kick, breaking his wrist and sending the pistol clattering along the aisle to bounce off the crates like a hockey puck. She continued her momentum into a full spin, her right boot crashing into Sergio’s gut with wrecking ball force.
The gun runner fell to his back, smacking his head on the concrete floor. Now hurting fiercely in three places, Sergio simply lay there groaning.
Then the lights came on, and his eyes hurt too.
“What the fuck went wrong?” Devereaux impatiently asked one of her troops, Belfort, as he removed his night vision goggles.
“This one’s starting to … dissolve,” came the response.
Devereaux started down the aisle, pointing to Sergio and speaking to the soldier on her right. “Porter. Stay with him.”
The soldier grinned as he stepped close, nodding at Sergio. Sergio, trying to catch his breath and holding his broken hand gingerly, didn’t have it in him to stare Porter down, even if he could focus. Instead, he looked down the aisle to see what Devereaux was doing.
“Oh, you wanna watch?” the black soldier asked in a cocky, almost whimsical tone. “Come here.” Porter dragged Sergio by the collar. Seeing what was transpiring, Sergio almost felt sympathy for the predator who had nearly slaughtered him.
The squat bloodsucker was on his knees, shaking so violently he was a blur, blood and brain matter spewing from his eye socket. Six more soldiers, two of them wearing some kind of tanks on their backs, stood a few paces back, watching. Except for the stone-faced Devereaux, they seemed not only shocked, but dismayed. The taller vampire was leaning against the crates wheezing, a strange look of pained terror on his face.
As the bald vampire’s convulsions became more intense, the soldiers began to back away, warily looking toward the end of the aisle in case they needed to retreat. Blood and other fluids sloshed around the doomed vampire, hitting the floor with a sickening splatter.
A moment later, his entire body simply collapsed upon itself like an inflatable Halloween decoration just unplugged, putrescence oozing like molasses from his sleeves and pant cuffs.
The soldiers stared at the mess with grim expressions.
“This doesn’t look good for you, my friend,” Devereaux said to the other vamp standing nearby.
One of the soldiers picked up Sergio’s six-shooter and handed it to Devereaux. She opened the cylinder and dumped the remaining bullets and empty shells into her hand. She inspected them, rolled them around a bit, and turned toward Sergio. “Standard .38s?”
Sergio didn’t give an answer, but Devereaux didn’t need one. She handed the shiny pistol back to the soldier and stepped toward the still wheezing vampire. “Can you describe what’s happening, Frakes?”
The tall vampire, his icy eyes watering and his chest heaving, struggled to speak. “… You have to … help me …”
“Frakes, you knew the risks. You agreed to continually provide us with information on your condition, even if things went wrong,” Devereaux said coldly.
Frakes’ legs and hands shook. And in his eyes: good old-fashioned fear for his own imminent demise. “… No … help me, now … and I’ll … I’ll tell you whatever you need to know.”
Devereaux shook her head impatiently. “You’re obsolete now anyway.” She turned to the two soldiers with tanks on their backs. “Hose him.”
Frakes, feral in his desperation, tried to push away from the crate, hissing at the approaching executioners. They aimed what amounted to large-gauge pesticide spray nozzles at the shaking bloodsucker and blasted him. Frakes lunged at the nearest one, but dissipated into a roiling, hissing cloud of steam in the time it took Sergio to gasp.
Devereaux was already on her cell phone. “Devereaux here. Phase one successful. Phase two? Not so much. The stress of combat seems to overload their systems. Both subjects crapped out, one from a fucking bullet wound. Full report by 1200 tomorrow. Weapons recovered, test control subjects eliminated.”
Looking to Sergio’s babysitter, she made a thumbs-down motion. Sergio screamed his pleas to be spared—but Porter quieted him via a sharp blow with the butt of his assault rifle, before turning the gun around to make use of the other end.