The bulb flickered at the top of the lamppost where I locked my bike, its light only intermittently illuminating a For Sale sign in front of an empty one-story-with-basement home in one of the low-rent patches on the south end of Capitol Hill. It probably wouldn’t be long before someone bought it and either flipped it or tore it down to build something new, and given that I was delivering to it that time would probably come sooner rather than later. This wouldn’t be the first time I was called to deliver food to a real estate agent or developer who needed a calorie boost while they mused over an offer for a complicated property.
As I walked up the steps I pulled the delivery bag out of my backpack: a paper sack containing a club sandwich, soda, and a bag of chips. Combo number one on the Kal’s Deli menu.
The doorbell was silent when I tried it, but the door flew open anyway only a moment later, revealing what I suspected was a vampire rather than the real estate agent I expected. Besides an anachronistic fashion sense—this vampire was sporting a tweed suit in a Victorian cut—there aren’t many physical clues to determine if someone is a vampire, but he had the top two: sun-deprived skin and a predatory smile. He his amber eyes flared, sending a thrall my way like a warm flash flood.
“Come inside,” he commanded, his voice flowing over me like honey. I obeyed.
Inside, the house was dark, dusty, and had the musty smell of a home left alone for too long. Nice trick on the vampire’s part. They can’t enter someone’s home uninvited, so using this address had been a nice workaround without having to actually buy his own house. I guess he could’ve used a hotel, but that would probably be too public for what he intended.
Idly, I wondered if this was a typical feeding strategy among vampires. They usually behave like successful human serial killers and target those whose deaths would go largely unremarked. I briefly worried that I had fallen into that category, but maybe he liked the flavor of regularly-exercising bicyclists. That interpretation made me feel a little better about myself, even as I suspected it wasn’t really true.
Then again, I didn’t really want to find out either way. I had no interest in being a juice box for this guy.
When he stepped past me to close the door I sprang into action. In a quick, smooth motion I pulled a silver folding knife from the back of my belt and flicked it open. When the vampire turned around again I was already on the move, catching him completely by surprise. The blade sunk into his chest to the handle. Unfortunately, I didn’t hit his heart on the first go and he shoved me away with enough force that I briefly experienced flying until the wall slammed into me. I could feel damp sheetrock cave in behind me, and I counted myself lucky that I’d managed to avoid hitting a stud.
The vampire was swearing and pulling at the blade in his chest as I pushed myself up to my feet. The serrated part near the handle probably made pulling it out hurt worse than the initial blow. Not to mention that a deep wound from a silver blade would burn like it was covered in acid.
He tried to enthrall me as I came at him again and was still bellowing “Halt!” when I plowed into him, grabbing the hilt of the knife and using my weight to force the blade deeper as I angled it towards his heart. My momentum toppled us over moments before he disintegrated, so I fell onto a pile of dust and clothes. I coughed and rolled away, spitting out corpse powder with disgust. Vampire remains are supposedly sterile, but so are autoclaved maggots and I don’t want them in my mouth either.
I laid on my back, not yet ready to experiment with standing up, and stared up at the water damaged ceiling as I fished my phone out of my pocket. The adrenaline was wearing off and I was starting to feel the ache of my freshly bruised ribs and the bite of the winter cold in this derelict house.
The phone rang twice before Peter picked up. “Hello, Jack,” he said cheerfully. Peter was the human who ran the household of my favorite vampire and martial arts teacher.
“Hey, Peter. Is Saul up yet?”
“Yeah, I’ll get him.”
There was only a brief pause before Saul’s rich voice was on the other end. “Hello, Jack. How are you this evening?”
I was past the point of being able to deal in pleasantries, so my answer was curt. “I just killed a vampire.”
There was no hesitation to indicate disapproval before he asked, “Are you all right?” I’ve yet to meet another vampire with Saul’s consensual feeding habits, and Saul trusted me enough to believe I wouldn’t kill one of his fellows without just cause.
“Bruised, but breathing. I just thought you’d like to know, to update your register or something.” He’d never confirmed it, but I got the impression that Saul kept tabs on any vampires who spent time in his territory.
“Yes, thank you. Where did it happen?”
I gave him the address, which I’d managed to memorize as I was biking out to “deliver” to it.
“I’ll come and check around, make sure he didn’t have friends. I don’t want anyone else getting hurt in my city.” Did I mention that vampires are territorial? Saul at least was. There weren’t any other vampires living permanently in Seattle, and I had reason to think Saul was the reason.
“Hey, Saul,” I interjected before he could hang up. “I sort of promised Detective Bidarte I’d clue her in when something unusual happens to me. Are you okay if I call her about this?”
“As long as you don’t tell her anything about me, I have no problem with it. You won’t see me, but I’ll let you know what I find.”
I ended the call and was quietly grateful that Saul had enthralled me once before. It had been purely benign, mind you. Saul is very particular about his privacy and the first time I’d gone to his house for training he had wanted to make sure I had no ulterior motives. Later—and somewhat recently—I’d learned that once I’ve been exposed to a particular kind of magic it doesn’t work on me a second time, and apparently that included vampire thralls in addition to fireballs, locating spells, and the soporific effects of a Hand of Glory. If not for the fact that my immunity seemed to hold true for really helpful things like healing magic as well, it was a pretty neat super power.
I scrolled through my contacts for a moment, trying to remember if I’d put her in as “Alize Bidarte” or “Detective Bidarte”—it was the second one, apparently I’d stored her number a long time ago—and hit the button to call her.
“This is Detective Bidarte, who is this?” came her professional voice over the phone.
“It’s not like you don’t know it’s me,” I said reproachfully. “Everything has caller ID these days.”
“Yes,” she answered. “But there’s a good chance that one of your bogeymen is going to kill you and the next call is coming from some other homicide investigator wondering what a detective’s info was doing in their victim’s phone. I’m maximizing my deniability.”
“That’s…pragmatic,” I allowed. She was right. My penchant for getting involved with the supernatural has led to my presence at more than one crime scene. I’ve never been charged with anything, but I’m sure plenty of cops assume it’s too much for coincidence and I must be up to no good. In fact, Bidarte used to think so as well, at least until she learned the hard way that magic is real.
“Look, I just killed a vampire,” I finally said, bringing myself back to the topic I’d called about. “Do you want to come check it out?”
I got the pause I’d missed when telling Saul, though for different reasons. “Really? Where? Don’t touch anything, I’ll come to you.”
I answered her string of questions in a string of answers, then obeyed her instructions, save nudging the door closed enough that no one else in the neighborhood would get suspicious.
While I waited I called work to say I’d been knocked over by a slow moving car and wouldn’t be coming back tonight, but it was near the end of my shift already so nobody minded much once I’d assured them I was okay. Winter is kind of slow for us anyway. Not as much call for cold deli sandwiches in December. No, this is the dawning of the age of hot Thai and hot pizza.
Twenty minutes later Bidarte pulled up in a sedan so forgettable I couldn’t remember the make even while I was looking at it. She wasn’t wearing her typical suit, instead sporting jeans and a puffy down jacket that added some bulk to her lithe body. Her dark brown hair was unfettered and bunching around her shoulders in generous waves. I could almost forget she was a cop, but she’d clipped her badge and 9mm to her belt. She also toted an aluminum cube case out of her trunk.
“Have you touched anything?” she asked as she opened the case to reveal a small forensics kit.
“I’m fine, thanks for asking,” I answered sarcastically.
She brushed that off. “Of course you’re fine. You called and aren’t in the hospital. Did you touch anything?”
I sighed. “Not really. He opened the door before I could even knock. All I’ve touched is the floor around the pile of vampire ash here,” I indicated the former assailant. “Also that hole in the wall is from me.”
Bidarte inspected the pile of dust before turning to the door. “He wasn’t wearing gloves, right?”
I shook my head. “No, so you might get something off the knob.” I’d barely finished talking before she had a brush and powder out, dusting down the brass fixtures. “Don’t you want to get one of your crime scene techs to do this?” I’d never seen Bidarte work a crime scene by herself. I was used to a small cloud of specialists poking around while she observed.
“And tell them what, exactly?” Bidarte retorted, not bothering to look at me as she continued. “A friend of mine killed a vampire and I’m wondering what kind of trace evidence was left behind?”
“Okay, I guess that wasn’t a great idea.” I needed to learn to think before I made suggestions, particularly around Bidarte. Despite my best efforts, I always ended up feeling just a little stupider around her.
“Yeah. They don’t come out to a scene without an active case, and this is going to stay strictly off book. As it is I’m going to be pulling strings and calling in favors to get any of this processed at all, and I’m likely going to have to imply that one of my friends thinks her cousin is stealing from her or dealing with organized crime or something innocuous like that.”
Leaning against the wall, I watched as she carefully wrapped the doorknob in clear sticky tape. “So why are you doing this at all? What do you think you’ll get out of it?”
Bidarte pulled the tape off and re-adhered it to the paper backing, revealing what looked like a solid two and a half fingers. She sighed in satisfaction and carefully filed it in her case before turning to answer my question. “I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple months since I found out about…all of this.”
“Are you sorry you found out?” I interrupted. I’m always kind of curious what it’s like for other people who get abruptly thrust into this world. I’d grown up seeing monsters and magic, so I didn’t really have anything else to compare it to.
“Sometimes. It was simpler before. But that’s where these forensics come in. I know I’ll never be able to prosecute a vampire for enthralling a sandwich delivery boy, but if I know that the vamp is dead and I can find out if he’s linked to any other open cases, then maybe I can at least focus my energy on something I do have a chance of officially solving. A normal, human murder, for instance.”
I nodded. “I guess I can see the logic behind that. I’m happy to help.”
Pulling a plastic bag and a small trowel out of her case, Alize crouched over the pile of ash, scooping up a cup or so.
“You’re not going to find anything interesting there,” I told her. “There’s nothing to distinguish between vampire dust and human.”
She arched an eyebrow at me. “And how do you know that? Been spending a lot of time in the lab lately, sandwich boy?”
I considered calling her out on the ‘sandwich boy’ remark, but she was smiling so I let it pass. “No, but I’ve got friends who…” I trailed off, looking at the pile more closely. “Can I borrow a glove?”
Bidarte wordlessly handed me one from her case. I crouched over the other side of the dust pile and poked at something her trowel had dislodged in the mess of clothes and leftover vamp. Reaching in, I gingerly picked up a flip phone, pinching one corner between my thumb and forefinger. It was open, ready to receive a phone number. There was a ‘0’ dialed on the screen.
“He was making a call when you killed him?” Detective Bidarte asked.
“Not that I’d noticed. But then I was working on looking dazed, so I probably just missed it.”
I offered the phone to Alize and she did the little tape trick to get prints off, the dust having been helpfully donated by the vampire. When she was done I took it back and opened up the contacts, but there were no numbers saved.
“Looks like a burner,” Alize observed. “Anything in the call history?”
I checked. “Nope. Looks like he was about to make the first call.” I dropped it into the open bag Alize held out to me.
“Who could he have been calling?” Bidarte asked me.
Shrugging, I replied, “Beats me. Maybe he had friends in the area waiting to bundle me into a van for a shared snack.” Though probably not, I privately thought. Even ignoring the fact that vamps are bad at sharing, if there had been anything else suspicious around Saul would have found it by now and called to warn me. “Really, the only thing this phone tells me is that someone, somewhere, might start missing this guy. And I’m the one who killed him.”
Bidarte considered that for a moment. “You know, Severn, typically cops tell people not to leave town. But in this case I’m wondering if a vacation might not be in your best interest.”