It was a night full of mistakes, and sure as the red sun rose, more were on their way. Vincent could feel it. His senses tautened. The black waves of hair on his head Fought the urge to stand on their ends, but the electricity in the air was too strong-too potent to resist.
For a moment, he was as still as the grave. His right hand hovered mere inches away from the moulting blue paint of the apartment door but didn’t dare knock. His left was frozen in time, coiled tightly around the gangly straps of a black duffel bag. There was something about that tight, nameless hallway in Georgetown. It was begging him to fill the small space with one more deadly mistake.
Cammy stood beside him. She watched the door to the stairwell. Being seen wasn’t a problem. As long as no one remembered their faces, they would be in the clear.
A half a second. That’s how long it took for Cammy to realize something wasn’t right with Vincent. He wasn’t afraid. No, Cammy could sniff out fear like a bloodhound. This sensation was something different.
“Go on. Knock. Let’s get this over with,” she said. Cammy was smart enough to keep her voice at a hush. Still, its gravelly texture made it sound louder than it really was.
“No. Maybe you should go in through the window,” he said.
“Don’t get cold feet on me.” She wasn’t watching the staircase anymore. No, Vincent felt her big, murky eyes rolling up and down him. ”Come on. It’s almost sunrise. Knock on the door.”
Vincent didn’t move. He knew as soon as he knocked on the door, a chain of events beyond his control would unfold. This wasn't going to be a friendly chat with an old coldblood. Things weren’t that simple. What would follow would be a game of chess played with stakes higher than death. And like all games of chess, it would begin the moment a white pawn moved.
Cammy's voice dropped an octave. “Vincent. Look down.”
His eyes pulled away from the scar tissue that striped his knuckles. His senses awoke to the here and now, and he felt the tugs and tangles of his duffel bag. The heavy thing inside rattled and stirred like a newborn. It wasn’t awake yet, but it would be soon. How much time did he have left? Five minutes? Maybe ten if he played his cards right. It didn’t matter -- what did matter was that when the beast inside finally awoke, it would be exceptionally hungry.
“Sneak in through the window,” he whispered. “I’m serious this time. I saw a fire escape outside. You can climb in and get the jump on him when he isn’t looking.”
The stern expression on Cammy's face unwound. For a moment, she genuinely seemed worried. “You’re not the soft-type, Vincent. You’re not getting old and stir-crazy on me, are you?” she sharpened the last few syllables to a jagged point.
Vincent rolled his fist against the apartment door four times before dropping it to the pocket of his letterman’s jacket. Cammy should’ve been happy with that, but no. She did one better, slamming the back of her hand against the door. The hard plastic ends of her biker gloves dragged away from a few chips of paint. Any rougher, and the door might have launched off the hinges.
The thing in the duffel bag stopped moving. Cammy's unnecessary force must have scared it into submission, but neonatal states like that only lasted for a fleeting moment. It was only a matter of time before it started twitching and turning again.
A thin shadow snuffed away the light creeping through the bottom of the door. It didn’t move from its place. It didn’t pretend that it wasn’t there. It stood one with the quiet, only moving to open the door when it felt like the odds were in its favour.
“Hello there. Just a moment,” said the low voice on the other side of the door.
A symphony of locks untethering themselves filled the air. Cammy didn’t like that. Her subtle grin flattened into a narrow white line. She knew the inner circle outfitted every asylum with three locks, one in the doorknob, one in a deadbolt, and a hinge at the top of the door. It sounded like the undoing of five or six locks. There was a thin line between being careful and being paranoid. The old coldblood on the other side of the door must’ve crossed it decades ago without even realizing it.
At last, the door fidgeted its way open. The flickering fluorescent lights above poured their way beyond the hollow frame. The coldblood inside looked younger than Cammy expected, but that was par for the course. She spotted the beginnings of a few wrinkles on his forehead. His eyes and laugh lines plunged deeply into his face. He stood tall, dressed in his Sunday best -- signet ring and all. It wasn’t doing him any favours.
“Oh, Vincent. It’s pleasant seeing you tonight,” said the old coldblood.
“Hey, Herbert. Long time,” answered Vincent. “Mind if we come in?”
Herbert peeled his eyes away from Vincent for just a moment. His breaths teetered between deathly slow and dangerously quick when his eyes fell on Cammy. She could sense him looking through her, carefully eyeing the red exit sign over the stairwell door. She almost wished that he would try something.
“Oh, uh, Camilla. It’s a pleasure seeing you here as well.”
Cammy cocked her head to the side and fired off a smug, toothy grin. She kept her face up for a few seconds longer than usual. Her canine teeth were sharper than the last time they saw each other, and it was about time he realized that. “A pleasure seeing me? Really? That’s a first.”
“I was just being courteous. Here,” sighed Herbert, taking a step aside. “Come in. Make yourself at home. I have a few gifts from Armand – transfusion bags mostly – in the fridge if you’re-”
Cammy trampled over his words just as easily as she trampled over his off-white carpet. “Cute, but we’re not thirsty.”
Vincent followed behind. The duffel bag felt like an anchor. Even without it, Cammy's pace was hard to follow. Some nights she packed more energy than three coldbloods combined. This vitality made her good at her job, but not much else. She was already halfway through the apartment before Vincent had even crossed through the door frame.
Herbert raised a hand to Vincent’s chest. The acute amount of force was enough to hold him in place. “What’s this all about?” Herbert whispered.
“Sorry. I’m still trying to figure that out.”
“I know you are. That’s good. It’s Camilla I’m worried about. She likes to draw her own conclusions no matter how wrong they are.”
“This won’t take long. We just have a couple of questions and then will be out of your hair.”
“All right. Just… I hope your partner behaves herself. Armand may be your boss, but he is still a close friend of mine.”
Cammy's eyes circled the middling apartment. She shook her head. “Bueno, mierda,” she whispered.
“Hm? English, please,” said Herbert.
“It’s nothing. Just, uh, this place kinda sucks. Seriously, how long have you been around? Maybe ninety years and some change? You think Armand and the rest of the proconsul crew would give you something better than a crappy studio above a tile shop.”
“I quite like it here. Armand knows this, so there’s no point in fixing what isn’t broken.”
Her head tilted back to let out a cheeky laugh. The lengths Herbert would go to lie to her face were impressive. If only he did it better. Maybe then it would have worked.
Vincent settled himself on the sofa in front of the bed. He kept the duffel bag between his legs. Through his jeans, he could feel the beast inside squirming to its heart's content. A quick kick with the bottom of his heel kept it in check.
Herbert plucked an empty wine glass from his cabinet and extended it to Cammy and Vincent. “I take it you’ve both come a long way to get here. And that duffel bag certainly looks heavy. Last call. A drink?”
Silence. Where there should’ve been words, there was only an empty, voiceless void. What little power Herbert had over the situation was gone. It shifted like the tides, just out of reach. Now, it rested in Vincent and Cammy's hands. And with it, Cammy hissed a single low and ominous word. “Sit.”
Herbert set the glass down on the coffee table. He took a seat in his lived-in recliner. Long fingernails nervously wrapped around the stitches holding together the armrest. He swallowed his fear and modestly listened to what the two young coldbloods had to say.
“Have you heard anything lately about an incident at the Woodley Park station?” asked Vincent in a soft tone.
“Woodley Park?” Herbert raised his eyebrows. “No. I don’t think I have. What kind of incident?”
“A 23-year-old female struck by a train a little after 10:00 p.m. tonight.”
“Yeah,” added Cammy. “It was on the local news too. You get that channel, don’t you?”
“23 years old? My God, that’s young,” said Herbert.
Vincent nodded. “Do you know anything about it?”
“No. This is my first time hearing about it. I suppose that’s one of the follies of living in asylum. I’m a bit downstream from the rest of the inner circle.”
As Herbert droned on about the difficulties of being a coldblood living in a ratty apartment with all its amenities paid in full, Cammy moved towards the old CRT Television in the corner of the room. She dragged her gloved finger over the array of plastic buttons. No dust. She felt the top of the screen. It was warm. For fun, she turned on the TV. The old screen flickered to life – scan lines and everything – and from the darkness emerged the friendly face of a local newscaster.
“Would you look at that,” laughed Cammy. “The evening news with Deborah De La Cruz. I thought you didn’t watch the news. What do you gotta say about that, Herbie?”
“I don’t. I haven’t turned on the TV in months,” answered Herbert.
Cammy rolled her eyes. Was he trying to set a record of how many times he could lie to her face?
It was clear he wasn’t getting anywhere by arguing with Cammy. He turned his head back to Vincent just in time to see the black folds of the duffle bag twitching and writhing around. Herbert swallowed hard. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down like it was trying to break free from his skin. His face was the colour of ash.
“Herbert. Look at me. Eyes up here,” Vincent snapped.
“Something is in that bag, isn’t it?”
Cammy crossed her arms. “Nothing’s in the bag. You’re seeing things.”
“I certainly am not,” he said. “Even if I was, you both know the rules of delusion. Playing any sort of trick on anyone in an asylum is a violation of the Inner Circle's principles. I could have your hands cut off for something like that.”
“No one is playing any tricks on you,” said Vincent.
“Then tell me what’s in the bag.”
“Holy shit, this TV is blurry,” sighed Cammy, her eyes practically glued to the flickering glass. “Does that little number on the ticker say 5:12 a.m.? No, that’s a six. 6:12 a.m. You’re looking at 23 minutes until sunrise.”
Herbert rose from his chair. His mouth fell open, but it took a moment before the words began pouring out of his rancid breath. “I’ve had just about enough of this. You asked about the incident at Woodley Park station, and I told you that I didn’t know anything.”
Cammy stopped listening some time ago. She was more interested in fastening all the locks on the apartment door. Her hand tightened the last deadbolt. The thunderous click caught Herbert off guard. He stared wildly at Cammy. He had underestimated her as just another rebellious Latina coldblood – all spunk, no punk. Well, she had just locked his only way out. Sure, there was a window, but if he tried to go for it, she’d tear his throat out before he could finish his third step.
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but when Armand hears about this–”
Vincent cut him off before he could finish. “He already has. Why do you think we’re here?”
“This is in the 1880s, or the 1930s, or whatever your blood went cold,” smiled Cammy. “You’re living in a surveillance state. No matter where you are, someone or something is always watching you.”
“Cammy, quit playing with your food,” said Vincent.
Herbert pivoted to him, hoping for some way out or some deal he could strike. Unlucky for him, Vincent was a good coldblood. He followed the rules a little too well.
“There were cameras in the station. They saw everything,” explained Vincent. “They saw the suicidal girl walk into the station. They saw her leap in front of the train. Worst of all, they saw a hand drag her beneath the tracks right before she hit the third rail. That hand had a signet ring on it.”
Veins of all disgusting colours bulged from Herbet’s neck. His crown erupted with a thick, gleaming layer of sweat. Watching this sort of anguish unfold on an old coldblood was a thrilling delight for Cammy. For Vincent, this was just the cost of growing old. The disease would only let itself be held down for so long. Everyone snapped eventually.
Herbert shoved his shoulders back. Backed into a wall, it only made sense that he would lash out. So he did. The guttural laugh that came pouring out of his lips was deranged and heinous.
“So what?” he smirked. “I drank the blood of some suicidal sorority girl. And you know what? I’ve never felt better. Warm blood keeps the vampyrism at bay. Drinking from transfusion bags isn’t healthy, let alone a way to live.”
“The problem is you didn’t drain her,” said Vincent.
“You didn’t drain her, and now she’s turned,” Cammy added, arms crossed in front of her leather jacket.
Herbert couldn’t care less. “So what if she’s turned? Wasn’t like I meant to do it. I don’t kill. I don’t murder. Isn’t that your job? You’re not murderers per se, but you do clean up these inevitable mistakes for the general welfare -- if not, for Armand.”
He was right, at least to some degree. Vincent was a magistrate – someone who buried mistakes for the greater good. With the right timing, any amount of flames could be snuffed away.
“Well, It’s a little late for that,” said Cammy.
“To wipe away your little mistake. It would’ve been just a mistake if you drained her dry. Hiding her body would’ve been easy. There is a great spot in the Potomac where no one would find her. But you didn’t. She’s turned now. You may have made a mistake, but now you’ve made a mess.”
Cammy ambled her way around to the back of the sofa. She kept a safe distance between herself and Herbert. It was for his own sake more than it was for her’s.
“I don’t think Armand will be pleased when he hears two of his magistrates entered my asylum to belittle me. Imagine if you took this time to find that turned girl,” scoffed Herbert.
“We already did,” answered Vincent.
The duffel bag twitched again. The thing inside shifted and wiggled like a handful of spasticity worms. At last, its voice rose above the sounds of scratching nylon. It said no words, just gasps. No, the first two weeks after being turned were always the worst. At best, it was a neonate. And at worse, it was a murderous spawn, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of anything in its path.
“It sounds like your little girl wants to meet daddy, Herbie.” Cammy was practically singing with joy. “About a family reunion?” she asked.
“No… No! You can’t do this!” howled Herbert. He stumbled backwards over his chair. The tip of his foot knocked over an old lamp, shattering into bits. The electric cable remained stuck between his legs like the end of the long black snake.
Vincent pulled back the zippers on the duffel bag and YankedFree a bloodied stake. Inside, a mess of limbs and black hair began to snap back into place. Fitting the body in the bag wasn’t that hard, but it did require relocating several of the poor girl’s bones. The stake was the only thing holding them in place.
When they were preparing for this trip, Cammy seemed all too eager to splinter the bones in two. Her bloodlust was strength, but sometimes she took it too far. He told her to treat the body with respect. Did she listen? Maybe. She reminded him that the turned girl had more in common with the wild animal. She wouldn’t remember a thing once her wits returned to her.
Piece by piece, the turned girl's body contorted itself back into something vaguely human. Cammy and Vincent watched as The young girl crawled out of the bag. It was a slower awakening than they hoped. The poor thing spent more time trying to claw towards Herbert, then liberate itself from the nylon duffel bag.
“Jesus Christ! Put that damn thing back in the bag! Stake it! Kill it!” Herbert cried. ”Armand will–”
“Armand sent us here,” confessed Vincent.
The blood-red beast pushed itself forward to Herbert. Before he could scream, her rabid teeth were already digging through its rib cage. The onslaught lasted no longer than three seconds before his bones snapped and his body went limp. Spurts of cold red liquid mounted themselves against the peeling wallpaper. His insides reduced themselves to nothing more than a feast.
Cammy didn’t admit it, but she was envious of the ecstasy on the turned girl’s face. Vincent, however, didn’t say a word.
In an hour, Herbert’s body would turn to ash. His bones would crumble, indistinguishable from the dust that caked his former asylum. The blood would steam, sizzle, and then evaporate into the air. Any entrails that the turned girl didn’t consume would shrivel, then petrify into small wrinkly stones. But time wasn’t on their side. In a matter of moments, there would be a red sunrise to burn any of their kind from existence. The cleanup would have to wait.
“What a lying prick,” added Cammy. “Let’s stake her before she thinks we’re dessert and get back to the Metro. Vincent?”
“I don’t like this.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know. Something about this just doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t feel like resolution.”
“That’s because she’s still alive. Give her two weeks. Wait for her senses to come back.” Cammy plucked the stake from Vincent’s hand and twirled between her gloved fingers. “Armand will make an example of her to anyone who turns innocents irresponsibly, and then we're good. Conflict, meet resolution.”
Vincent’s eyes refused to leave the rabid vampyre. “So, she was born just to die?” he sighed.
“We all are, Vin.”
And so, a white pawn was moved.
Thus began the game.
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