3392 words (13 minute read)

Chapter 5

He didn’t have to wait long. Sitting on a chair in the middle of his apartment with the front door open, Mike watched the two officers from earlier enter with their guns drawn. When they noticed him sitting, Mike gave a two-fingered wave.

“Welcome to my humble abode. You two ready for our second date?” Mike said. “So, since you two are my new drivers around Chicago, I figure we could get to know each other a little better. I, myself, am a huge fan of Project Runway, I hate Ma Po Tofu with a passion, and when I grow up I want to be the Chief of Staff.” He put his arms out wide and gave his best performance smile.

The warm smile from earlier was gone from the female officer. She rolled her eyes as she gestured for her partner to flank Mike as the handcuffs once again came out. “Cuff him.” she said, then turning to Mike as she holstered her weapon and took his bag. “Lets just play this out. You stay quiet, let us do our job, and you’ll be back to binge watching Project Runway in no time.”

The cuffs squeezed tighter on Mike's wrists and felt even colder than the first time. He was pretty sure the big guy could bench press him with one hand. “So, how about some names? I mean, I can start guessing, but you don’t really want that. I’ll just start making up drag queen names for you.”

“I’m Officer Winter and, that’s Officer Matsen.” Winter said as he put his massive paw on the back of Mikes head pushing him off to the side into a corner like a child in time out. “Janine, what’s in the bag?”

Officer Matsen was going through the bag with her flashlight pulling out its contents. “Nothing special, a set of pool table balls, gloves, duct tape, socks…. “ she paused as she held up a set of Thundercats boxers and stared at them, eyes back to Mike and then to her hands. “A set of clean underwear.”

“Mom always said to be prepared. Janine eh? Nice name, I dated a Janine once---” Jerked into the wall by Winter, Mike let out a loud grunt and spat on Winter’s shoe in protest.

“Stuff the sock in his mouth and duct tape him, I can’t handle a car ride with a chatty anarchist.” Winter said.

Mike gave his best puppy dog eyes as he accepted their makeshift gag. His plan was to go with them after all, not fight and make a run for it. His shoulders let tension release as he watched Officer Matsen pack all of his bag contents and brought them with.

They drove to the Drake Hotel. The taste of sweaty socks in his mouth was only a fraction better than the Chinese food Doc ‘forced’ him to eat earlier at his office. Next time I do this, pack clean socks. The man with the checkered scarf tapped his foot while three security guards paced behind him as they arrived. Mike glared out the window at him to get a clearer picture of his adversary. Mike’s assumption earlier about his age seemed about right. He was clearly in his late forties, the wrinkles around the eyes and the five o’clock shadow speckled with grey hairs gave it away.

“He’s all yours. You don’t want us to remove the gag. He won’t shut up.” Winter intoned.

“I think our guest can use some proper hospitality. We are gentlemen after all. Mr. Auburn is not going to violate any rules of etiquette is he now?” He said while holding two fingers under Mike's chin and looking into Mike’s eyes. Mike gave him a nod.

“It is a pleasure to finally meet your acquaintance Mr. Auburn. You may call me Edward. Edward Morris.” The cuffs came off.

Mike clinched his eyes shut to brace himself as the duct tape was ripped off. It didn’t work. “Son of a… man that stings….” Mike said as he grasped his jaw, half wondering if he just got a fresh shave. “Edward Morris eh?” Mike thrust out his hand giving his best business handshake to Morris. “So, whats the deal? You realize a phone call and a fruit basket would have worked.”

“It is not my place to explain such things. I am merely the head of....security. This operation and my employer requested your presence. We will escort you to him and his associates waiting for you at the pub.” Morris started to straighten Mike's collar and cleaned off the ratty coat a bit, but his eyes never left Mikes. “Under no circumstances, are you to speak louder than casual conversation or make any sudden movements. Are we clear?”

Somehow, Mike heard his statement reverberate through him. I am to speak no louder than casual conversation nor make any sudden movements. It was a fact to him. He wasn’t sure if it was the gravity of the situation that made it sink in, but the goosebumps rising along his arms added to the weight of it. “Yeah, crystal. Bar then? Let’s get this over with.”

Mike's eyes glanced sideways to Officer Matsen and a coy smile crept along his face. “Can I have my bag? What are you doing next Thursday night?” Mike got his response when she dropped the bag at his feet.

Victorian opulence inside Chicago’s older hotels never impressed Mike. Everything was gold and red with twisting patterns carved into every surface. Massive crystal chandeliers tried to hide cracked plaster and nicotine stains from the good ol’ days when smoking indoors was allowed. At four-thirty in the morning, the only people seen were a pair of new carpet cleaners in the main lobby trying to wrestle their machines. The bar matched his expectations, dimly back-lit bottles lined the wall and it empty except for employees and Morris. Not many associates after all. Looks like the boss has a hard time making friends. This is meant to be a one on one meeting anyway.

The goons accompanying Morris stood at attention at the entryway, reinforcing Mike’s thought. Morris pulled up a chair at the end of the bar and reached over to grab a half-full bottle of red wine. Unsure of what to do, Mike thought he deserved a drink after the crazy night and sat down at the bar. The bartender, sleeves rolled up with an open vest, had polished the bar so much Mike could see his reflection.

“Whiskey” Mike said.

“You’re a hard kid to push.” The bartender said while pouring Mike’s drink with a swift fluid motion. “Had a rough day I heard.” He slid the drink over to Mike.

Mike concluded that the bartender looked like an old man you would see playing Vegas slot machines all night and day. “It’s been a peach. So where is everyone?”

“Here.” He said gesturing to the empty bar. “You see what you want when it suits you. It’s much easier to ignore the crumbling world hidden just out of sight.”

“Yeah clearly you don’t know me very well… “ Mike craned his head to spy into the back room behind the bar expecting to see mobsters smoking cigars and playing cards. He turned back to his whiskey when he only saw an empty room.

“Did you know that Senator McCarthy led another campaign concurrent with the Red Scare? They call it the Lavender Scare. His quest was to eradicate homosexuality.” The bartender said.

“Yeah, he was a freak. You should have heard what he told his therapist.”

“It’s never brought up that the Vatican and the Catholics were the driving force behind that. Even forced a friendship between McCarthy and the Kennedy family.”

“Another one of the dynasty families that really pull the strings.” Mike gave a nod. Where you going with this buddy..

“The Lavander Scare was only used as an experiment to see if the Vatican could control a nation by sacrificing its minorities for a sense of greater good. McCarthy became the villain in history, Kennedy later won as the first Catholic president and sparked the imagination of the nation to put a man on the moon.”

He gave a salute to a nicotine stained american flag dangling in the corner before continuing. “One nation Under God. Yet putting a man on the moon was an act of science and the concept would have been heresy by the same God hundreds of years before. What changed upstairs that could spark such change? Or was that change done below..”

“Okay, now you are just jumping the shark. I got shit to do.” Mike pushed his stool away from the bar and stood up planning his assault. Guy is a crackpot.

“Kid, I’m going to level with you, the night is almost over so I’m going to cut the bullshit for the sake of time. My patrons and myself have an aversion to the sunlight, and as their caretaker I need to make this quick. You have the deathsight. It happens every now and then, someone brushes with death enough times, they start to see the world as it really is. You’re one of them. I want you to come work for me. Do some real good in the world rather than waste away and rot with the rest of the world.” He put his hands on the counter and leaned in. “It’s going to be undergoing some… changes soon.”

“What? The bar? It’s old sure, but it’s perfectly reusable. Maybe hang some new drapes?”

The man smiled. “The world.”

Mike nodded, not to what the man was saying, but to his own internal conclusion. Yup, I’ve officially gone insane. “Who are you? What happened to Doc? Are you this O’Neil guy? What changes? Deathsight? Aversion to sunlight? Do you offer dental?” Mike pointed and raised his glass in a toast and slammed it back feeling the burn down his throat. It was the most refreshing thing today and cleaned out the taste of sock.

“Your friend Joseph Daneka is perfectly okay. His research took him too close to secrets sooner than the timetable allowed. I take kindly to researchers who start piecing the puzzle together like him. A potential future prospect. The Unification, my employer, takes a more violent approach. I made the call to scoop up Joseph. His father was a member of the Unification, so I can call off the hounds. You needed the message sent, to force you out of your slump.” He smiled and started polishing his bar again. “Technically it’s the Unification Proclamation, but that’s only the name of the treaty that vampires signed years ago. Monsters are real Kid, and we do indeed offer dental coverage.”

O’Neil let Mike reflect before he continued. “We’ve been watching you since you were born. You refuse to be passive, you notice people who others don’t, and you’ve had a rough life. These are some of the beginning signs of a prospect for me. What really got our attention, however, is when you started seeing our organization for what it really was. Frank isn’t a figment of your imagination, he had his skin ripped off in the 70’s as he went through the change. Everyone in this room, has their own unique story that caused them to shed their innocence. Normally, everyone is so blissfully ignorant of the dead, or the creatures in their midst. The Unification likes to keep it that way. People live happier lives if they are kept in the dark. Can you imagine the mass panic? We barely made it out of the dark ages. Reason and silence had to become our tools. Otherwise the human race would have died off long ago. The Nazi’s were our last big threat to unraveling everything by thrusting the occult world out in the open. Until now...”

Mike nodded his head half-tilted and pointed to below the bar. “Hey buddy, you're going to need the whole bottle right next to me here if you want to continue the full history lesson.”

O’Neil reached down and pulled out a bottle filled with black ichor from a cabinet and set it down. Mike’s eyes went wide as he looked at the counter top. He felt hairs on his neck rise as he saw no reflection of O’Neil. Deep down inside he wanted to scream, get up and run away, to dive back. He felt Morris place his hand on his shoulder. Hold still... He heard Morris in his head again.

Mike’s hands shook while he reached for the bottle but Morris placed his hand on the bottle first. “I’ll handle this.” He said. “Boss, you sure you wanna do this? This kid’s a rabble-rouser, defiant, not to mention a socialist bordering on the king of progressive who-” He let the thought trail off as Mike felt an unnatural degree of strength pinning him to the bar stool. “He’s got a built-in resistance to control. It’s taking all of my concentration just to get him to sit still. I think we would be better off throwing his soul in as fuel for Vryce with the Society at Site Three.” Morris wrinkled his brow as he tightened his grip on Mike’s shoulder. Mike could not shake the feeling that Morris was afraid of the old man.

Mike looked at the stare-down the two of them were having and butted in. “So why me? Why Doc? I’m just a construction worker. Because I saw you? That’s why you want me?” He said.

The barkeep added “Most people who develop the deathsight end their lives, kid. You keep running into danger to trigger it. That means you have guts deep down inside. It means we can train you.” He looked at Morris and continued. “It means you are worth bringing into the fold. If we didn’t reach out to you and bring you in, someone else would eventually find you. I assure you, that’s not a scenario you want. Since you haven’t shed your innocence yet, you can only see us for what we are right after you’ve had a close encounter with death. It’s why you think this room is empty.”

“Like the 80’s movie Flatliners?” Mike asked.

“No, nothing like that.” O’Neil looked behind Mike. In the dimly lit mirror behind the bar, Mike noticed that Morris began to bleed drops of black blood by his right eye. O’Neil placed his hand on Mike's shoulder to keep his attention. “Listen, I want you to come join us before the month is out, work for me. Put that fight you have inside to some proper use. World changing events are going to happen shortly. The kind I’ll fill you in on once you decide which side of the fence you’re on. Our side, or those good folk out there.” O’Neil gestured out the window to the city.

“That’s a pretty easy choice if you’re asking now. When did I strike you as the kidnapping, accident-causing, horror movie stand in like yourself?” Mike chortled.

“Lady Fate is a fickle bitch, Kid, and I’ve wagered my name on protecting this city. The Second City has been chosen as a safe haven for what’s to come and the damned who survive. You can be a leader, or just another face in the horde. Make your choice, no rush, but time’s running out. You might not have much of a mouth left to voice your choice after it’s burned off by demonfire.”

O’Neil snatched the bottle out of Morris’s hand and uncorked it. A rich aroma of sweetness filled the room. Mike thought he heard chairs slide out of place and suddenly he felt a bit crowded in a bar with only the three of them. “Morris, would you be so kind as to keep an eye on our guest. Make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble or a demon doesn’t sniff him out in the next three days. Keep Winters and Matsen on him during the day.” O’Neil said. “Remember that we already have our eyes on the Twin Cities Site Three. Delilah Dumont has secured more than enough fuel for her master. We need men like him here in case that goes wrong.”

Morris placed his hands over the glass defying O’Neil while Mike’s hand was still trembling. “We are already considered the rejects of the Unification. None of us have reacted to the blood well. Most of us have been so badly scarred by our own life’s history that we are only fit as informants or soldiers. Now we hide in the shadows like hungry lions for the coming global change. Are you sure you want to bring this kid into the Unification? By making him Nosferatu? What makes you think he’ll be different?” As Morris spoke, Mike had the feeling that he was in a crowded room. He could almost hear the whispers from behind him, yet Morris was keeping him pinned.

O’Neil placed a towel over his arm and rocked back and forth on his feet, letting the silence sit while he contemplated. His gaze wandered across the entire bar before finally resting on Mike, who he regarded with a wry grin. “People like you are born once a decade. You never even know it, but Lady Fate will spin you into action one way or another.” O’Neil grabbed the bottle from Morris without further protest and slowly poured the thick black ichor into Mike’s glass. “So drink up.”

Mike raised the glass and took a sip. It tasted like an incredibly sweet peach, with a fiery burn as it went down. He licked his lips and held up the glass for closer inspection. “What the hell is this?” Poison, probably. Now he’s going to say if I don’t accept his offer, I don’t get the cure. I am way too tired to be doing this. He didn’t feel tired, however. He felt as alive as ever, the pain in his wrists and legs washing right out of him. A sense of renewed vigor filled him.

“Demon’s blood,” the bartender said. “Has a different effect on everyone. Kills some people and gives others strength. It only lasts as long as the blood is in your system. Takes a few days to set in. You're gonna take that bottle home and finish it off. I’ve already taken the liberty of getting you a replacement for your job. Daneka is going to stay with us for a while and study his father's missing notes. You figure out if you like where your life is going and make your own choice."

“Morris will get you a cab home. The sun is coming up soon. When you’re ready to talk again, we’ll be here, kid. Remember though, it’s okay to gamble with your life, but Lady Fate will make you pay thrice if you gamble with others.”

He reached over and rubbed Mike’s head like a father tussling his kid’s hair. “Hey, you’ll be fine. Your life is going to come into focus. Now get outta here before my associates decide to make a meal of you.”

Mike began to feel more than a bit drunk, and was grateful for Morris helping him outside into a cab. He didn’t pay attention to the instructions, he didn’t remember what Morris told him, and he didn’t notice skinless Frank driving him home and tucking him into bed. Mike only noticed that he felt like a paradox. Half wanting to scream and shout at the world, and half wanting to cuddle up with his pillow and sleep. At least I brought clean underwear… was his last thought of the night.