Henry stomped into his apartment in Boston’s Bay Village neighborhood, slammed the door, dropped his keys, turned on the TV, poured a drink, and started peeling off his shoes. Each gesture glided with purpose into the next, an efficient, practiced routine of someone who just wanted to get on to the next thing.
The phone rang at him.
"damnit, can't even get in the fuckin' door –" he muttered as he dropped a canvas All-Star sneaker to the floor next to a scattered pile of records. He perched on one foot to untie the other shoe.
The phone rang at him again. He threw his shoe at it.
The shoe missed, he’d thrown wide, but he hadn’t really tried to aim. And a shoe wasn't a baseball or a knife. The shoe ricocheted off a wall and landed on a pinball machine that plinged! in protest. Henry made a note of where it landed, for when he’d need to find it tomorrow.
Finding the shoe could be a problem. Henry had problems finding anything specific here.
Henry’s apartment served as a monument to clutter, or a number of small monuments, or even a clutter preserve, maybe. An umbrella, a baseball bat, a hockey stick, a wooden bokken practice sword, a shotgun and an assault rifle stood leaning up against the wall behind the door. Work boots, hockey skates, a basketball, a baseball glove and a baseball kept them company on the nearby floor.
A short bookcase housed books, guns, and socks in roughly equal proportions, topped by a dim lamp with its crooked lampshade, and antique Japanese swords displayed in a sword rack. Posters of Patti Smith, the Clash, the Ramones, and Star Wars covered the walls, punctuated randomly by Red Sox banners.
A large TV set sat on the floor, and a larger stereo system towered over it. A single striped, stuffed chair sat opposite the two. The pinball machine stood in the kitchen where others might put a table, with a hockey puck next to the shoe that had recently landed on it.
Books and records, newspapers and magazines, Star Wars action figures and boxes of ammunition, paperwork, maps and photos, crates, file folders and file boxes, it all had come to rest in unrelated piles around the room. Clothing in various shades of clean and dirty was strewn liberally throughout.
Henry had way more important things to do than to keep this place straight.
The phone continued to ring at him.
Probably Sam. Again. The only thing more frustrating than her calling every night was the reason for her calling every night.
Henry dropped his 9mm pistol onto the TV tray where the phone sat next to the beer mug of AB positive he’d just put down, a battered copy of the latest Riff magazine, and two tickets to see the Lost Keys here in Boston in two weeks. He didn't know who would accompany him, Lila had backed out, and Rosa had zero interest. Maybe he'd just give the spare away. Too bad Rachel wasn't local, she might have fun with the whole thing.
The phone rang at him relentlessly.
Henry picked up the mug, and took a long pull.
Sam. Dear dear Samantha. It’s not like he wouldn’t have called her a few minutes later, anyway.
The too-frequent calls were getting on his nerves. While he wished they would stop, he wished more that there wasn’t a damned good reason for them in the first place. He’d been limping along for weeks now, with no idea when he’d be at full capacity again. And so, the calls.
He put the mug back down, now half-empty.
The mug left a damp, red ring on the pages of the magazine, which featured a mug shot of Jonny as a teenager and an urgent message to “see this band before they self destruct.” Henry figured a few days should be soon enough. They’d be at DeeDee’s Anti-Disco down in New York this weekend, along with a bunch of other bands he’d kill to see. But the idea of setting foot in that wretched heap of a city set his teeth on edge more than ever now.
The diplomatic arrangements alone just wouldn’t be worth it, even if they meant anything. Nobody trusted Sebastian to keep his word, not anymore, nor Marion to do her job. Not after what happened to Lisabet. And Henry couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t throttle Marion over the whole fucking mess.
If only he’d been able to escort Lisabet that night, like they'd planned, she might still be around. Or maybe he'd’ve been staked & scorched along with her. He didn’t take anything for granted. But at least she’d’ve had a chance with him there.
The phone stubbornly continued its blasted ringing noise, and Henry decided he was ready to answer it.
"Make it quick, Sam!" he quipped into the phone, no reason to be happy or polite about it, and she expected worse of him anyway. He took another swig.
“How quick do you need it?” growled her deep, rich voice at the other end of the line.
"As quick as you can make it, honey!"
“But I usually slow it down, better for you to understand.”
Henry sputtered a bit. Sam didn't banter much, so it always caught him off-guard. At least he could discern it this time. Sometimes even he couldn't tell her infrequent deadpan from her usual seriousness.
"And here I thought you talk slow because you're still learning the language after all this time!"
Henry heard an irritated grunt through the phone, it didn't take long to reach the end of her sense of humor. That didn’t stop Henry from trying to push the boundaries. He’d gained little ground over the decades, but he still had fun with it. She was like an older sister to him, and he messed with her the same way he’d done with his actual sister, long ago.
Henry and Samantha, his former mentor and fellow Bloodrunner, touched base a couple times a week. They had plenty of reasons to – news or information to share, facts to sift out from rumors and gossip, sense to make out of the whispers and clues – they’d made a habit of that decades ago.
But she’d recently started calling every night, even if they didn’t have anything new to discuss. And it was driving Henry nuts.
At least they didn't talk about why, and just stuck to talk about the job.
"What have you learned about last week's dust-death?"
Henry cringed, did any vampire still use that term? Dear Samantha.
"Not a whole lot. Some Sal bad ass slithered up from New York. Picked him up in a bar. Coulda been Scylla, that's her technique. Damn, I'd love to pull the trigger on that bitch."
A group of displacements from Dallas had found their way across the country, and ended up setting up camp in the humdrum wasteland between New York and Boston. Then one had gone missing, and missing rarely meant anything but ashed. What a waste, making it this far looking for a new home only to end up as dust on the doorstep of safety. Henry didn’t give the group a lot of credit. What sort of vampire would set up in Texas to begin with? The city had probably taken less than a Sal’s cough to fall.
"They gotta get some more 'runners down there. Niels can only handle so much, and I can’t drive down to Hartford every fucking night, and neither can you."
“And yet if we do not support them, their problems become ours all the sooner. You and I each have one foot in the canoe, one foot in the boat.”
“What the fuck does that even mean, Sam?” He knew what she meant, he just liked to tease. She had the oddest sayings. A vampire typically tried to assimilate to the local dialect of wherever they’d settled, to give the human world one less unusual thing to notice about them. Sam hadn’t bothered much yet. To be fair, her original dialect had been local long before his.
“It means neither of us can stay out of the river much longer, with things as is.”
“Yeah, I know, I know. Anyway, I got Wendy working with Niels on it. Iris has the rest of the group staying at the Flamingo for now. Should be safe enough."
He picked up the magazine and flipped through. His head moved things around fast enough that he didn’t need to devote full attention to much of anything.
"I got the final numbers from Philadelphia,” Sam said. “Quite grim."
"Of course it's grim. It's always grim. That's just another pile of shit hitting the fan, Philly and all the refugees on their way here. You know New York's next, then we're really against the wall. Why can’t any of these fucking incoming be Bloodrunners?”
"Because they kill us first." The words hit him like a gut-punch.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, that was rhetorical, my dear humorless tactless Samantha.”
Sam could be so goddamned stiff sometimes. Perhaps if he’d seen the things she’d seen in her longer life, he might understand why. But right now, it was more tedious than he could handle. Philip had put her up to all this – the frequent check-ins, trying to get him to talk.
He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.
Adding to his distraction, some late night entertainment show was on the TV, with a bit on DeeDee's little punk love fest of crazy, whatever she was calling it. He'd gladly turn both his ears over to that.
He really might’ve gone if all that shit hadn't gone down, and if New York wasn't well, fucking New York. Fuckin’ Sebastian. Way to absolutely screw up a once not-quite-perfectly visitable city. Now it'd be a long time before any vampire from Boston would visit New York, even if they wanted to. He’d be half tempted to sneak in and sneak out again, if it weren’t for his current condition. And this political climate. He had a friend just over the bridge in New Jersey who’d give him a place to stay overday.
He kicked a crate that sat next to his chair.
“Whether New York stands or falls, their infestation will soon climb like rats over our walls.”
Now she was just keeping him on the line, making chit chat. He knew she wanted him to tell her how he was doing. He wouldn’t say until she asked, and she wouldn’t ask until he brought it up. It was as close to professional courtesy as they got in their exchanges.
Henry resisted pointing out the frequency of them, because then she’d respond by stating why. And then they’d be talking about it again. Catch 22. Yeah, Philip had put her up to it, no doubt. Asshole.
He could just cave in and tell her he still felt like shit, about the same as yesterday but a little less shitty than last week. But why spoil their perfect record of not talking about it since it happened? What’s it been, three months now? Fuck. Three months. Fuck. Yeah, he’d happily stick with the chit-chat over thinking on that.
"Sebastian may as well let them have the city,” he snarled, “all the good he's done. If that fucker has some trick up his sleeve, he better use it soon. And shit, real soon now that Marion's gone full-fledged fear junkie. Sam, promise me you’ll just stake me if I ever end up like that.”
Silence for a moment. Hey, if she could have her tactless faux pas, then so could he.
“I would stop you long before you got that far, my friend. And do not forget for our tribe to the south has a hidden guardian in Andrew.”
“Yeah, sure, but how long's Andrew gonna last? Poor bastard. Shoulda been his city.”
“Andrew may yet surprise all of us.”
“One could only hope. Lissen, I gotta go, I'll let ya know if I hear anything from Niels. See ya."
He couldn't hang up fast enough. He loved Sam and all she’d taught him, they worked well together. But this smothering bullshit would have to end soon.
As soon as the shit stopped aching. As soon as he felt like himself again. He poured himself another AB positive and turned up the TV. New York, New York.
It gave him a headache to think about what Sebastian had made of the once-strong city. Of course, Sebastian thought the dump stronger than ever. Fucking idiot. Even with DeeDee & Silas, he didn't have half the sense or leadership they had here in Philip. Of course, Philip was drier than Samantha covered in sawdust in the desert at noon, but hell, he got things done, and done right. If only he could conjure up more Bloodrunners out of thin air, Henry would kiss his ass to the end of days.
He settled into the night and tried to forget about New York, Sam's fussing, and the growing number of vampires they had to protect somehow. And the ache in his chest.
He cleaned a few guns while he soaked up what was left of the night’s broadcast.
Henry tried to take it one crisis at a time, one bullet at a time. You had to, in this gig. This job never ended, hunting the fucking hunters, and he would know, better than most.
It struck him as odd, sometimes, that he’d opted into eternal life only to put his neck on the line, and likely get killed faster and younger than just about any other vampire.
But there was little more he’d rather do, and someone had to protect their sorry asses. The world would be a bit too quiet without all them around anyway. He just wanted them spread out a little more, to quit piling up on his turf. The remnants of vampirity would not fit under his shield, or even throughout the spread of cities within a few hour’s drive, regardless of how meager their numbers now were.
When the guns were clean enough, he re-read half the magazine and tried not to think too hard on what he'd miss this weekend. Several of his favorite bands, and few more destined to be his favorites, all in one spot. All night long for three nights. Fucking DeeDee. Fucking Sebastian. Fucking New York.
Only one of the bands would head up to Boston afterwards, and hell yeah, he had tickets. The Lost Keys were the one punk band that had more than one record out, like it was all they did. Must be nice, doing nothing but music all the time. Each album sounded amazing, all three got more play than most others in his collection. He might have to buy new copies soon, he'd nearly worn the things out.
He didn't mind settling for this one show. Hell, if he had to pick one band out of all of DeeDee's guests, he'd pick The Lost Keys, hands down. He was too fucking busy these days anyway. Too much down time had bit him in the ass.
Dominic hadn't attracted many bookings lately, thus the dwindling entertainment. Henry, while eager to blow off some steam, couldn't fault the man. DeeDee might show him up for this brief moment in time, but Dominic had way better mojo for putting a fucking good bash together. She just got lucky with her timing.
DeeDee’s luck had its limits, too – she’d attracted a swarm of flies with the crazy protests and their brewing shit storm. The thing was headed straight for a showdown between the protestors and the bands. DeeDee might pretend to enjoy it, but she wouldn’t for long, not if someone were to sniff around her club long and deep enough to suss what the private events were all about.
Not my fucking problem, he thought, though he knew full well that anything that happened in New York had a ripple effect to everywhere. Fucking New York.
He tossed the magazine aside and pulled out a file. One of the thin ones, hardly anything in it to chew on. One of the ones that bothered him the most. Just three names at the top, iffy physical descriptions, and then a long list of dusted vampires chalked up to them. Many of them Bloodrunners. Some of them friends.
He pulled this file out a lot these days. Just three names. Viper. Thorn. Bricks. There hadn’t be a single report or rumor of this New York based team in months. Not even a whisper. Not a single thread of recent intelligence could be connected even remotely to them. That never meant anything good. The fuckers were up to something, something that might very well knock on his door soon. While he was still recovering.
He shoved it aside and let it fall to the floor. Until something else connected, he was just spinning his gears.
He went to the kitchen to pour one more pint, this one B negative, his favorite. The AB positive was supposed to help with the healing, but damn, that shit was thick, too gritty. He stared out the window until his eyes started to dropp and the sky showed a tiny hint of growing lighter.
One crisis at a time.
He quaffed the last of his drink, and headed into the bedroom. He stripped off his clothes, climbed into the closet, curled up on the floor around his favorite sword, and fell into the dreamless sleep of the undead.
• • • •
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