Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Order of the Benevolent Souls

The Order of the Benevolent Souls
By Daune O’Shaunnessey
“Sorry now, what kind of charity is this?” I asked the man who sat next to me in the passenger seat of my car. I gripped the leather steering wheel, feeling the stretch in my swollen fingers. I cannot believe I decided against a shot of Bushmill’s before I came here.
Dr. DeVillier stared out the window at the monuments in Glasnevin Cemetery. It appeared he was not listening to me. After deVillier somehow opened the lock on the front gate, we parked in the dark on a circular drive surrounding an obelisk that towered over us. Cool humid air streamed into the car, remnants of a thunderstorm earlier in the day. The sounds of crickets and distant traffic from nearby Finglas Road fluttered in on the heavy air. I read an article last year in the Irish Times which stated that totaled the body count in Glasnevin at around 1.5 million.
“What kind of referral meets at 19:00 in a graveyard?” I raised my voice a bit. “My car parked alone here is suspicious, especially with you and I in front seat. A Garda cop will think we’re a couple of pervs.”
DeVillier turned to me. “That never crossed my mind, Dr. Lynch. Thank you. I do hope we can avoid any unpleasantness with the law.” DeVillier’s accent confounded me. He did not speak with a D4 or a Wicklow accent, or even an Irish accent that I could tell. He seemed to throw a few Irish colloquialisms into his speech to sound authentic.
“I’m on a slippery slope with visitation rights with my teenage daughter,” I said. “I don’t need to be arrested for suspicion of lewd acts in public.”
“We’re not doing anything of the sort,” deVillier winked at me. “It’s too bad, Desmond. You needed an attorney like mine at your divorce. He would have kicked your wife's butt. Your wife contended the drinking cost you your job.”
His knowledge of my past surprised me. No doubt, he checked my background before he invited me into his charity, The Order of Benevolent Souls. My jaw tightened. “That is not the reason I lost my job.”
“Here now, Desmond. I shouldn’t have implied such. You were a premier surgeon, at least until they diagnosed you with Psoriatic Rheumatoid Arthritis three years ago. After a year and half, the condition became bad enough you could barely hold a scalpel,” deVillier said. “With early retirement and investments, you’re bank account blossomed. The hospital transitioned you into a teaching role. Comfortable, but very dull. Once boredom set in, the drinking started. When the addiction overwhelmed you, you began teaching while drunk. They dismissed you on the quiet with benefits. Once your career disappeared, the personal life followed. Your wife conducted affairs with prominent doctors, and she kicked your arse in the divorce. Not that I’m judging. You should have taken her to the cleaners in court. The poor disabled doctor whose wife cheated on him. Anything I missed?”
“Yeah, you avoided my question.”
“Yes, I did,” deVillier flashed a Cheshire cat grin. “I don’t feel it’s to my advantage to disclose the nature of The Order now. Let’s say, it’s not what it appears.”
“It doesn’t appear to be anything as far as I can figure out.”
“Grand, it appears I’ve accomplished my goal,” deVillier clapped his hands. “You are not anything like I expected. You don’t remind me of a typical doctor.”
“Probably why I’m no longer one.”
“You strike me more as an artist. Long hair, casual dress,” deVillier said. “Train your binoculars on Eamon De Valera’s grave and watch what happens. The referral should start any moment now.”
DeVillier’s long fingers lifted the binoculars to his eyes, his long eyelashes flattened by the eyepiece. I wondered if he used eyeliner, or guyliner like my daughter says. It sure looked like he did. DeVillier licked his lips in anticipation. He tugged at the tidy goatee, which gave him a mischievous appearance. Even in the lowlight, I marveled at his flawless bronze complexion.
He pointed. “Look now, Desmond.”
I panned the binoculars across the horizon before I located the gravesite, not being terribly familiar where they buried the first Irish President. A muscular man leaned against a headstone, smoking a cigarette. He wore dirty jeans and a t-shirt with the sleeves cutoff. I saw his bare arms tattooed from elbow to wrist, a sleeve of tattoos. He thrust his hand into his pocket while he scanned the foggy cemetery. He appeared very awkward and unnatural to me
“That man is our referral to the client,” deVillier said. “His name is Toby Barrington.”
“Just out of prison?”
DeVillier cocked his head. “Right. What gave him away?”
“Primarily tattoos. We received training at the ER where they taught us to examine the style of the tattoo. When the tattoo is only an outline or ragged, it suggests a prison tattoo. If we were closer and could see his hand, there would probably be a five-dot or quincunx tattoo there, or a teardrop on the face. Also, notice his uneasy stance, the hallmark of someone either out of prison or someone who committed a crime and fears capture. Maybe both.”
“Good inference. In our case, both are correct,” with a smooth motion, he returned the binoculars to his eyes.
“Why is he a referral?”
“We’ll get to that point later.”
“Who is the client?”
“Keep watching.”
I noticed a shadowy figure several headstones away from Barrington. I strained my eyes through the binoculars, but I saw no features on the figure.
“Barrington believes our client intends to sell him cocaine,” deVillier said.
“You setup a drug deal?”
“Not really.”
“You lied to the referral?”
“Just watch. Lucky we have a full moon, easy to see tonight.”
The figures glowed from the luminous light of the moon. I watched in combination of fascination and anxiety. I felt like a dirty peeping Tom as I watched the meeting. Features on the dark figure began to materialize and I saw a man with a distinctive chiseled face offset by black hair draped over his shoulders. Barrington turned, he appeared startled by the client. The two spoke briefly, then Barrington turned away from the client. He dug into his pocket and removed a wad of Euros.
Barrington counted the money at a laborious pace with his back turned. Behind him, the Client became a blur, as he disappeared from one spot and appeared directly behind Barrington. The client’s eyes glowed red just before he grabbed Barrington by the shoulders and sank his teeth into his neck. Barrington kicked and struggled in the grasp, after a few moments his movements slowed and stopped. The Client laid him on the ground.
The creature, for it was the only name imaginable in my mind, crouched and scanned around him. His eyes briefly stopped on us, as our eyes met I shivered. He returned his attention to the body. To my horror, with a clean motion of his clawed fingernail, the creature ripped into Barrington’s neck. The creature knelt and appeared to drink from the wound. I was unable to look away for several minutes while the creature’s upper body bobbed. When the creature lifted its head, his mouth and face were covered in blood. He lifted Barrington’s body and floated away in the mist like a ghost.
The bile in my stomach climbed into my throat. I threw open the door, leaped from my seat, and threw up in the grass. While on the ground, I heard the other car door open. Footsteps approached me on the asphalt. I lifted my gaze and deVillier passed me a handkerchief.
“Take your time,” he said. “I’ll drive. When we get there, I’ll explain.”
“Okay, spill it,” I shouted over the din of the Stag’s Head pub. I hid my shaking hands under the table on my swollen knees.
DeVillier swallowed a quarter of his beer before he wiped the foam from his goatee with long fingers in short precise movements. He traced the edge of the circular high-top marble table with his fingernail. My mouth watered at the sight of the beer and, to my surprise, at the smells and sounds of the pub. The sight of the large deer head over the bar to my right reminded me of my university days at Trinity.
“I think it obvious in saying this is not exactly a charity, so to speak,” deVillier said.
I rolled my eyes. “You don’t say? What did I witness and why?”
“You saw a vampire attack.”
“Do you doubt it?”
I rested my chin in my palm and scratched the stubble on my face. Based on the strange events I witnessed this evening, the only conclusion, no matter how illogical, was that a vampire attack occurred.
“I am a vampire hunter,” deVillier said. “Technically, you could say I’m doing a charitable act by ridding the world of these evil creatures.”
I leaned back and rubbed my forehead. “The statement has one flaw: The vampire is the client and you seem to be feeding them as opposed to killing them.”
“I know this is will sound cruel. I first must gain the vampires trust in order to get close enough for the kill,” deVillier said. “The only way to gain the vampire’s faith is by offering victims. In our case, the victims are criminals and a few terminally ill patients. Also, I prefer not to think of them as people. I call them referrals.”
“How polite. The charity arranges meetings between referrals and vampires under the guise of drug deals?” I asked.
“Not always drug deals.”
“The referrals have no idea the client will rip them apart, do they now?”
“Well, no. They probably wouldn’t show. The dying referrals believe this will be a peaceful way to go.”
“If you were critical, and you wanted your suffering to end, would you end it violently? I consider cancer a blissful alternative in comparison. I’ve dealt with terminal patients. They want pain to end, not end it with more pain. You’re lying to them.”
“Touché,” he said.
“We could spend hours debating. As a doctor—“
“But, you’re no longer a doctor.”
“Thank you for the reminder. Okay, once the vampire trusts you, then what?”
“This is where you come in,” deVillier said.
“What good is an arthritic alcoholic former surgeon against a vampire?”
“You are better than you realize,” deVillier said.
“Are vampires allergic to the smell of single malt in my blood?”
DeVillier chuckled. “Almost.”
“What’s the joke?”
“Vampires are indeed allergic to your blood,” deVillier said. “However, it’s not the alcohol. I discovered the secret to beat vampires. They call you Garlic Blood. Your presence will weaken vampires and lower their powers. You are like Kryptonite to vampires.”
“Your arthritis,” deVillier pointed a finger in the air. “Specifically, Psoriatic Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is a complex combination of symptoms. RA bothers vampires, but PRA is like a nuclear bomb to them. Since PRA is an affliction of the blood and because vampires smell blood, this makes your smell deadly.”
“I weaken them and you kill them?”
“Right, Desmond,” deVillier said. “We’re a team.”
“How do I know this is true?” I asked. DeVillier sipped his beer. I kicked myself for not ordering a shot. I had a better chance of dealing with this conversation if I were pissed. “I may walk into a blood bath if you’re wrong. Don’t get me wrong, we just met, but I don’t trust you yet. Forgive me if I don’t bet my life on your word and walk up to a vampire to test.”
“Fair enough,” deVillier twisted his signet ring. He snapped his fingers. “I have an idea.”
He opened his briefcase, and produced a stack of note cards. He set the cards on the table. The cards were an elegant stock with his initials at the top in script. Next, he removed a lancet from a blood test kit.
“A fresh drop of your blood on these cards should do the trick.”
DeVillier pricked my finger with a lancet. He squeezed above my knuckle and dripped blood on several parchment cards. He sealed one card in an envelope and placed it in an old briefcase we purchased at a thrift store.
I drove us to deVillier’s posh Ballsbridge mansion. Inside, he led me down stairs leading to the basement where he kept a commercial refrigerator stocked with bags of blood. I resisted the urge to question him. The less I knew the better. DeVillier removed a small bag of blood, opened it, and doused the blood on the outside of the briefcase.
He caught the crook eye I directed his way.
“Bait,” he said. “A vampire will smell blood, it attracts them,” He paused. “Why else would you think I’d keep blood in my house?”
“Because you’re insane,” I only half joked.
He looked at me for an uncomfortable moment. I forced a smirk and deVillier bent over while he laughed.
We traveled in separate cars, parked on separate side streets, and took station at different ends of Grafton Street. DeVillier planned our ruse to happen in an empty alley on the pedestrian street. We bumped into each other in front of the alley. I fell to the ground and feigned injury. We used packets of stage blood to enhance the scene. I landed on the brick road and a gash appeared on my forehead. DeVillier insisted he escort me into the restroom of the café across from the alley. In the chaos, I left my blood covered briefcase in the alley.
The hoax exposed me for the bad actor I admit I am. DeVillier said vampires are a suspicious lot and constantly kept watch. We retreated to the second story of the cafe and watched the alley.
Ten minutes elapsed. I nearly suggested we abandon this idea when a deep shadow skulked from the alley. As earlier in the cemetery, the figure appeared non-corporeal. In the light of the street, the features of an incredibly pale woman appeared. All the veins I could see were visible. I observed her elongated fangs, even from this distance. She amazed me with her quick movements when she snatched the briefcase and held it against her face and inhaled.
“The scent of blood drew her,” deVillier said. “That’s why I squirted blood on the attaché.”
The vampire licked the blood off the surface of the case before she opened it. She rifled through the contents, and pocketed anything of value. She came to the envelope and studied it. Using a long fingernail, she clawed open the seal.
The vampire removed the card and stared at the parchment. Before her body language changed, her expression changed. It was only thirty seconds before she broke into spasms. The sight horrified me. The vampire made no sound at all, not a screech or a scream. She did not melt, implode, or explode in the way I expected vampires to die. While her shaking evolved into a full body throe, the parchment remained clutched in her hand, not dropping until she fell to the ground.
Her prone body lay defenseless in the street.
As I looked back on my life over the last several years, my little show of ultimate power over a vampire should have made me happy.
It did not. Wielding such power appalled me.
What I did that night made me feel lower than at any point of my tumble. Within my personal suffering lay the power in vanquishing vampires. My deliberations contradicted my feelings. My concept was that a vampire is an evil creature that killed people. Despite that, it was living and my training compelled me to heal not kill.
No matter how evil or wretched, I could not be responsible for the slaughter of a living creature. Even a vampire.
DeVillier left me with me no time for pondering the philosophical nature of my dilemma. He needed me to attend a meeting with the client we witnessed at Glasnevin.
“His name is Claudius,” deVillier said. “His coven lives in a posh warehouse loft in Summerhill.”
“Posh in Summerhill?”
“Believe it or not,” deVillier said.
“Is he the head vampire?”
DeVillier leaned back and gave a belly laugh. “Do you mean to ask if he turned all of the vampires in the coven, or if we kill the leader will all of his vampires die?”
“I guess both.”
“As the head vampire, he turned the entire coven. Claudius has a physiological bond with each coven member. He controls them,” he said. “As far the latter, I think not. If the leader dies, his vampires remain alive, or undead. Claudius is not old, relatively. He has gathered quite a coven of vampires. An ancient vampire named Suzanna turned him in their native Romania. They arrived in Dublin when Eastern Europe became too hot for them. I think Claudius is only a couple hundred years old.”
“Age makes them powerful. Do you know why? Look at it like this, almost everyone is a moron or a boghopper, right?” deVillier said.
I considered an argument for the point, and remembered how many times I made similar statements. I nodded in agreement.
“I’ll give you a fact: People are not smarter upon becoming a vampire. The IQ remains the same. Though after time they will gain wisdom, if they live long enough,” deVillier said. “People think that a vampire is immortal. In a way they are. But, a vampire can die in many ways. Sunlight, running streams, holy water, sucking the last drop of blood out of a victim, stake through the heart, fire, and a lot more than I know about. Now they have PRA to worry over. A vampire who’s a plonker, on average, doesn’t survive a week.”
“The old ones are tough,” deVillier continued. “They grow more powerful when they get older, gaining wisdom with the passing years, gaining strength, gaining supernatural powers. They are always smart. You’ll never meet a dumb vampire who is more than two hundred years old. A vampire has to be smart in order to live that long.”
“With that in mind, you suppose we’re going to waltz in their den and outsmart them?” I said. “You think they don’t know about my kind?”
DeVillier leaned back against the wall of the booth and crossed his arms over his barrel chest. “I don’t know if they are fully aware of the power of PRA. They may have encountered a PRA sufferer on the fringe. The smell may repel them and discourage them from feasting. Few humans test this. So, yes, I think we will surprise them.”
“Vampires are a distrustful lot,” deVillier said. “I just can’t stroll in with you. Claudius is old world. I will recommend you to the master of the house. Only then can I announce you to the coven.”
The warehouse warren was located in a rundown industrial area of Summerhill, next to the Royal Canal. The potent odor of sewage from the canal thirty yards away assaulted my nose. The Coven avoided any outside attention, and based on outward appearances, they succeeded.
The oversized sliding door opened to the stark contrast of the splendor of the interior of the den. I waited in the parlor while deVillier went in to meet with Claudius. The sitting room appeared to be a model of Victorian splendor, at least in my interpretation of that style. A large fire roared in a hearth, the flames lifting higher than my head. With the absence of windows, the sole light came from the hearth and several candles. The myriad angles of the fire cast shadows that danced off the carved furniture with intricate edges. Shades of dragons cavorted on the ceiling and walls.
Hushed voices murmured around me. I reminded myself that I sat in the home of more than twenty vampires, which only intellectualized the grounds for my nerves. The Queen Anne chair I sat in irritated my back, the ache moved down my left leg. If I had to run, I doubt I could sprint twenty paces before I fell in pain.
I thought about the reasons for my participation in this, which was more upsetting than the reality.
I was helping my insane new friend kill vampires, because I had the power of Arthritis.
All this without a drop of alcohol in weeks.
A problematic question popped into my mind. Had I trusted deVillier too soon without any real knowledge of him? Will he negotiate my demise? Am I a “referral”? After all, the other referrals ignorant of what they signed up for. Is it possible that the whole meeting was a ruse?
I attempted opening the door that lead to the interior, only to find it locked. A swell of panic rose from my groin to my throat. I tried in vain to slide open the large industrial door exit, the only thing that happened was a minor spasm in my back ached.
I settled back into a seat, this time I reclined on an overstuffed sofa. I focused on relaxation to calm my nerves. Breathe in for fifteen seconds and breathe out for seven.
“They are ready,” the sound of deVillier’s voice from behind me interrupted my meditation. I stood up and faced him.
DeVillier beckoned me through the door. Maybe my imagination projected it, I spied the hint of an evil smile on his face and the sight sent a chill through my body.
DeVillier led me through a long dark hallway. The only visible light came from the crack of the double doors at the end of the expanse. With a flourish he opened the doors and revealed the spectacle of the room beyond. The chamber was more reminiscent of a gothic Elizabethan ballroom than a warehouse. Scarlet curtains draped around the area of the room and they fluttered in a draft from behind. None of the curtained walls held a door. I imagined there was no wall behind them either. Gilded chandeliers hung suspended from the tiered ceiling, a dozen candles in each. A large fire in a central pit shed light and heat across the room. Despite the many flames, an oppressive darkness enveloped me in the room. A second story balcony overlooked us on three sides with an elaborate spiral staircase which descended to the floor. A stone dais rose from the floor in front of the fire, the carcass of the referral Barrington laid on the surface. A semicircle of couches surrounded the center of the room with figures lounging on them.
The vampires.
Blood covered the faces of the coven members. To my right, a female vampire licked blood off the face of a male counterpart. I wanted to look away but I was transfixed on these bizarre creatures with their heads cocked sideways studying me while I walked. Some vampires licked their lips and others leaned forward. The nightmarish visions appeared human to me, but there was something inhuman about them. These creatures at once appeared eloquent, full of mirth, and savage. The vampires of the coven appeared in various states of disrobe and expressed passion with each other, regardless of their sex. To my eyes, they were creatures of desire not morals without any inhibition. Their haunted eyes locked on me and filled me with dread. I heard their voices invade my mind. The snakes of their consciousness twisted through my thoughts and memories.
“What’s happening?” I whispered, while I looked at the vampires, who showed no reaction to my power. “They’re not—“
“Shush. There’s too much of a stench in the room and they won’t get the full affect at this distance,” deVillier whispered. “Don’t worry. Give it a minute.”
“You better not set me up.”
“Don’t be insane. I’d be setting myself up at the same time.”
We walked around Barrington’s corpse. When I cleared the flames in the central pit, I faced Claudius. Even though I saw him earlier, this was my first time to study the old vampire close. To my surprise, Claudius stood several inches shorter than I, with an ordinary physique. I knew his stature did not mean anything, because my mind still saw the image of Claudius’ gruesome attack on the larger man. The stress and adrenaline in my system made the arthritis in my shoulders ache. I wondered if he grew larger when he went in for the kill. No lines or wrinkles appeared on his smooth face to go along with strong cheeks and a prominent chin. His dark hair hung over to his shoulders, with a long braid on the left side. The violet hue of his eyes shimmered. I met and held his gaze, and I struggled with confidence to hold his gaze.
“I present my colleague, Dr. Desmond Lynch,” deVillier extended his arm toward me. “Desmond, may I present Claudius.”
“Sir,” I bowed low in respect.
“Doctor,” Claudius’ calm voice was smooth in timbre, with a hint of a lisp. He lowered his head. When he opened his mouth, I saw his prominent canine teeth extend over his bottom lip. “Thank you for showing respect to us.”
The first effects of my powers came from behind me in the form of a gasp. The volume increased to a keen before it developed into a wail, it rippled through the circle. Each vampire reacted in a distinct manner. A minute passed and several vampires fell unconscious to the ground while others convulsed in agony. Two vampires fled through the curtains out of the chamber.
I moved closer to Claudius and witnessed the first wave hit him, initially a raised eyebrow, the shine in his eyes dimmed when they registered a twinge of concern. The coven leader impressed me. His age and strength made him react different to my powers. His breath labored and I noticed a twitch in his hand. DeVillier stepped in front of Claudius and pressed his palm in the center of the vampire’s chest. With a light finger push, Claudius crumpled to the ground.
“Splendid work, Desmond,” deVillier said. “I believe you are even more powerful than I first thought.”
I did not share his delight. The sight of the once regal leader shocked me. I reduced Claudius to a mound convulsing on the ground. The bile rose into my mouth while I witnessed, as well as caused, his pain.
“I’ve changed my mind. I want to leave,” I said.
“What’s the hurry, Desmond?”
“I don’t like what I’m doing to them.”
DeVillier focused his attention on Claudius. He removed a parchment card from the briefcase, similar to the ones we used earlier.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “Let’s stop messing around and do what we came here to do.”
“My dear Desmond, this is what I came here to do,” deVillier said.
“Claudius, do you remember the contract we agreed upon on over the phone? You signed it by mail when we started to do business together?” DeVillier asked.
Claudius turned his head across the floor and looked at deVillier, he made no comment.
“Well, in the fine print of the contract, which you may not have read, it states the final documents will need signed at a later date in accordance to the bylaws of the Order of the Benevolent Souls. When you signed said document, you agreed to those bylaws by proxy. I know it’s a nitpicking of a legal point, but it is important to me.”
Claudius stared at deVillier and did not answer.
“Well, I need those documents signed tonight. My new colleague allows me to force you to provide a special signature.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
DeVillier pricked Claudius’ finger with a lancet and he squeezed until several drops of blood dropped on the parchment. A shimmer moved from Claudius to deVillier’s body. From deVillier’s face, it appeared like he was having an orgasm.
“It feels better than I hoped. Absolutely incredible,” deVillier said.
A breeze whirled around the room making the curtains flutter. A spray of hot and acrid air smacked me in the face. DeVillier’s eyes opened and stared into my eyes with a hard gaze, the pupil of his eyes glowed red. DeVillier’s body grew, his Italian suit ripped at the seams, his feet burst out of his shoes with long yellow claws. His skin mottled with black and red pustules. His fingernails lengthened into black claws and a bulky tail jutted from the back of his suit. He stood at twice my height. A low grumble emitted from his throat and I was not certain if I saw a smile.
“What are you?” I backed away from deVillier, the concrete floor made the soles of my sneakers squeak.
“Desmond, I am what you call a demon,” he said. “I was at ninth level. I feel new powers. I must be at least tenth level now.”
My mind struggled with deVillier’s statement. I felt like I was back at Trinity College when I struggled through a String Theory Concepts class to impress a girl. I did not understand that, and I did not understand what was happening now. The notion of a demon that walked the land made me lightheaded.
“Come now, Desmond, you’re brighter than this,” he said. “Ask yourself: What do demons do?”
“Umm,” I stammered. “Cause mayhem, counter the Jesus, tempt people to sin?”
“Well, yes, all that,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. Turning people away from that S.O.B. Christ is fun. Some demons only tempt people. Every time I throw back a few with Beelzebub, all he does is talk about countering Christianity. It annoys me. He quotes scripture and labours on about his devices to fool people to question the Bible. He’s so bloody sanctimonious. It’s like going out with a holy roller. Seriously, to get souls like Beelzebub does, you have to work so hard. You can get people to doubt, that’s easy. If they continue to doubt until the day they die, then you can collect their soul. It’s too much work to cast doubt every day and I don’t want to make that much of an effort. I look for more bang for the buck. I’m a modern demon.”
“Sorry, I still don’t understand.”
“Ultimately, demons collect souls. Souls give us power. The more souls we have on our ledger sheet, the more power, and the higher we move on the list and the more we get noticed by the big guy.”
“The big guy?”
“Satan, of course,” deVillier said. “Hell is like a big multi-level marketing organization. Because Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Sallos, Asmodeus, Baal, Marchosias, and other brownnosers have such a head start on me, I needed to get industrious. When you sign someone and claim their soul, it is worth one point, a one for one deal. If you trick a soul into sin and they are not repentant at the time of their deathbed, it is worth two points. Like I already mentioned, that’s too much work, even for double the points. I discovered evil souls are worth two points. That’s cool. Double the reward. As a bonus, I found if I signed the soul of a murderer, I not only received two points, but an additional point for each person they killed. I can’t tell you what a huge discovery this was. I established a way to increase my earnings exponentially.”
“What do you mean by signed souls?” I asked.
“Like what you did.”
“You signed your soul to me when we smeared your blood on my card,” deVillier said.
“Wait a minute. I didn’t know what I was doing. You said it was a test for the vampire. That doesn’t count!”
“You know, most people use ignorance like that as a defense. If you read the invitation to come meet me, it stated if you accompany me on a referral, then you accept in accordance with the specifications of the Order of the Benevolent Souls. If you bothered to do due diligence before the interview, and if you followed all the fine print hyperlinks, you would have known what I was up to. You didn’t take the time, Desmond. Not my fault you’re careless. Now you belong to me. By default you signed when you accompanied me, the card was just the final nail. Because of the language in the referral or in the invitation, I can force you to sign because you already agreed and it counts.”
“Are you saying I sold my soul to the devil?”
“Oh, Desmond, don’t be overly dramatic,” deVillier said. “You were on your way to hell anyway. Look on your left arm.”
I fumbled with the buttons on my sleeve. A dark mole appeared on my arm. No matter how hard I rubbed, the mark remained. I bent closer and spied it. It was the shape of the letters DV.
“The Mark of the Devil,” deVillier said. “Back to my story, I began to search for serial killers. I made some progress. The upside is simple, your average insane serial killer is only too happy to make a deal with the devil. I found many cons to serial killers. True serial killers are difficult to find. Once you find them, most are in jail or in Garda custody, and its hell to get interview time with them. When you do, you are separated by Plexiglas and I can’t touch them or get a blood sample.”
“Jails can be frustrating that way,” I said.
“I think I’m going to like working with you. You are very funny,” deVillier cackled loudly. “Well, I own a soul in the Garda law enforcement organization. One day he calls me to tell me to come to the Cabra Garda Station. He said there was a potential serial killer in custody and that I better hurry before they ship him off to Phoenix Park HQ. You can’t get anywhere with the security at Phoenix Park. I show up with my psychiatrist credentials. My access allowed me into the interrogation room with him alone. I’ll tell you, the bloke was insane, completely gone in the head. My normal tricks didn’t work, and it made me curious. I didn’t have much time and needed to act fast. I simply asked for his soul and, surprisingly, I received a sample of his blood. Put a Santa cap on me and call me Randal, it was the biggest rush, better than any serial killer, seriously.”
DeVillier paced around the fire. “With the important stuff out of the way, I wanted to find out what made him crazy and why he felt so good. By this time, dawn broke. When the sunlight from the high window hit him, the bugger burst into flames and disintegrated. You could have put the heart crossways in me, I was gobsmacked.”
“He was a vampire,” I stated.
“Yes, he was. Now, I’ve known of the existence of vampires for ages. We demons are not colleagues of theirs, contrary to popular myths. Vampirism is a physical condition allowing a dead physical body to endure using blood for sustenance. A normal soul at death moves on to Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, or Limbo. A vampire’s soul remains in the physiologically altered body. This is not an act of evil. While some vampires are evil, mostly they are chaotic and hard to predict, almost always narcissistic. There was no reason to deal with vampires before this event. I never once imagined vampires have souls. They do.”
DeVillier sat on a couch and propped his clawed feet on Claudius. “When you sign the soul of a vampire, you receive ten points, as well as a point for every person he killed, and ten points for every vampire he’s turned, a point for each person the vampire killed, and so on down the line. I was onto a huge coup. Today, I’m challenging Haagenti, maybe even ready to pass him.”
“Only if I help you,” I said.
DeVillier chuckled again. “Oh, Desmond, when you say it like that, it’s like you really believe you have nothing to lose,” deVillier said. “But, you’re not thinking clearly. You have friends, many of whom don’t speak to you currently, but they are friends and you do care about them. You have an ex-wife, maybe you’re not crazy about her, but you don’t want her dead. Your daughter—well, do I really need to go there?”
“You wouldn’t,” I said.
“No, Desmond, I shouldn’t. You have no choice other than to work with me. Therefore, you might as well give in and let’s have some fun. I offer many perks. There are many supermodels in my stable to hook up with.”
DeVillier stood and walked to me. He stooped his massive body and stared in my eyes. The waves of heat from his body smacked me in the face and his foul breath assaulted me.
“Don’t even allow a plot to kill me wander into your conscious. I will freely disclose to you that my death rescinds the deal on your soul, as well as everyone else I own who is still alive. I feel I must warn you, it’s wicked hard to accomplish. You see, we have a connection, and I know what goes on in your head when your synapses fire. I will know about any plot at conception time.”
DeVillier stepped back and studied me. “Such as right now, you ponder two things. First, how do you get out of here? Second, where is the closest pub where you can have a drink and get ossified? We might as well be friends.”
DeVillier turned to Claudius. “We don’t need him anymore.”
With one hand, deVillier’s lifted Claudius by the hair, and with a stroke of his nail on the other hand, he severed Claudius’ head. DeVillier held the head in front of him, studying it, before he tossed it into the fire.
The morning rays of sun streamed through my blinds. I covered my tired eyes from the bright light. I sat in bed and wondered whether last night was a dream. Remembering a point, I looked at my arm. My heart sank at the sight of the mark of the devil.
I lamented my wasted life. Too much booze, too little family, and too few friends. I opened a prescription bottle of Methotrexate and tapped out eight tablets into my palm. Chemotherapy in a pill for my PRA. My stomach already sick, I felt ready for the addition of chemo nausea. My intention was to waste the day in front of the telly.
As if to drive his point home, deVillier called me several times that morning. The calls let me know that he knew my thoughts at that moment they happened. Each call increased my fear and annoyance. When the morning progressed, my mood swayed from feelings of helplessness to feeling trapped.
Up yours! Can you hear that thought, deVillier?
A text message beeped on my mobile.
My mobile chimed I’m Shipping up to Boston by the Dropkick Murphys. I almost ignored the call. Normally, I ignore calls from unfamiliar numbers. Abandoning that notion, I answered the phone.
“Mr. Lynch,” a soft singsong voice said. “My name is Suzanna.”
“I made Claudius a vampire,” she said. “I watched you and the demon butcher my love.”
My mouth dry, I tried to swallow, but my throat ground to a stop. The sound of my voice was only a whisper, barely audible. “I’m sorry.”
“You need to know our covens do not kill people at random to feed,” she said. “It’s the reason we wanted to feed on criminals. We would never kill an innocent person. Other vampire covens may not operate like we do. We are peaceful. I was with Claudius for two hundred years.”
“I’m very sorry,” I managed.
“I listened to your conversation with the demon,” she said. “I know he played you. I am sorry, as well.”
“I’ll manage somehow.”
“No, you do not understand,” she paused. “Because the demon intends you to be his instrument against us. I am sorry that we have to strike and eliminate you.”
“What?” I said. “Wait a minute, how do you plan to do this if you can’t get near me?”
“You’re human. We can hurt you in other ways.”
I listened to her voice and identified the threat behind the words, and dared not provoke Suzanna. “We hope you will come to eliminate yourself. We have your daughter, Cori. If you don’t sacrifice yourself, we will turn her into a vampire.”
“Don’t hurt her,” I pleaded. “I’ll do whatever you want, only don’t hurt her. Do you promise?”
“Yes, we promise,” she said. “Come back to us at 20:00 in Summerhill. Wait for us outside.”
The line clicked dead.
I ran to the bathroom and vomited.
I stood outside the warehouse, the uneven parking lot contained many fissures in the concrete. A fence surrounded the lot, beyond lay the backyards of old rundown row houses. I looked at my watch, five minutes past the appointment time. Earlier, I tried to call Cori and my ex-wife. Both went to voice mail immediately and they never called back. My legs were like rubber, and I was not certain if it was from chemo or fear.
A hand touched my shoulder.
I spun. It surprised me to see deVillier back in human form. I did not hear him approach.
“Desmond, you should know better than to do something stupid and not expect met to show.”
“I have to save my daughter.”
“Desmond, they want to kill you. I can’t have you killing yourself. You will spoil all my fun. However, I can’t stand this moping around either. If it’s important, we’ll go inside and get your daughter, they can’t stop us.”
“They will kill her before we make it inside,” I pointed to the tinted globe security camera on the building. “They know we’re here.”
“Well, you’re no use to me dead and annoying as hell right now.”
The shrill squeal of tires punctured the night silence. Two vehicles turned in from the drive on the front of the building and stopped on both sides of us. A black limousine parked in front of us and a grungy white van in back. Doors on both vehicles opened in unison.
The driver of the limo sprinted toward me, the dark mop of hair on his head fluttered with the effort. He lowered his shoulder and drove me into the open door of the van, knocking the wind out of me. Once inside, the he closed door behind me. I wrestled with the driver and another person who held me. Hampered by my inability to breath and from the chemo, they easily subdued me.
DeVillier peered into the van, his eyebrows knitted together in confusion.
A woman stepped out of the rear of the limo. Soft features gave her face a fey appearance, dirty blonde hair dangled and floated about her face. Compared to deVillier, her petite body appeared miniature. DeVillier turned to the woman. I was surprised to see deVillier back away from her.
“Let me go,” I growled.
“Do you want to save the demon?” The driver asked.
I stopped my struggles. “Wait a minute, why aren’t you affected by me?”
The driver’s mouth stretched into a large smile. “I’m not a vampire. But she is.”
My gaze moved back to the window. “Suzanna,” I said.
When Suzanna opened her mouth, she showed long canine teeth. Her eyes glowed with a vivid blue. Suzanna frightened me more than anything prior in my life. She leapt at deVillier, and before the danger registered with him, Suzanna already buried her teeth into his neck.
“What good is biting a demon?” I asked in panic.
The driver chuckled. “If he were in demon form, it would have no effect on him. But, he’s in the human form now, isn’t he?”
“You mean—“
“He can die in human form and she can turn him, if she chooses” the driver said.
Already deVillier appeared frail as he crumpled on the ground. Suzanna sucked his blood and deVillier’s faced paled of color. He looked into my eyes and I felt conflicted. I was unsure whether I should pity deVillier while he suffered or feel glee at his demise. I chose the latter.
Suzanna knelt beside deVillier’s horizontal body. She cut her wrist and held the incision to deVillier’s mouth. When he did not respond, Suzanna bent to his ear and whispered. DeVillier’s eyes glazed and he drank her blood.
After several moments, she stood and wiped the blood from her mouth with the hem of her dress. She walked to the window of the van. Her face appeared both beautiful and terrible to me at the same time.
She lifted a phone to her ear. My mobile rang.
“Desmond Lynch,” she said. “You are free.”
I ripped off my jacket and stared at my bare arm. Relief washed through me, the demon mark disappeared from my arm. My joy was only temporary, for I remembered why I came here.
“My daughter,” I said.
“She was never here,” Suzanna said.
“I don’t understand. I tried to call her and it went to voice mail.”
“Our electronics blocked their signals,” she said. “We needed to make it appear like we abducted her.”
“If I told you my intentions, the demon would have known instantly,” she said. “I tricked you to come here. We counted on you saving your daughter at the cost of your own life. Because you chose to come, you drew the demon out. We were right. The demon couldn’t stand to lose his weapon.”
“You wanted to save my soul?”
“That was our intention all along, Desmond Lynch,” she said. “You are a good man, and apparent to us you disliked what it is you were forced to do. I felt sympathy toward you.”
“And deVillier?”
“Since he was in human form, he was susceptible to the same things humans are,” she said. “We didn’t give him time to transform. Fear not of reprisals, Desmond. He is under my control and the codes of the coven and we will make him suffer. He will suffer the indignity of moving from alpha to omega. We won’t permit him to harm innocent good people. You, Desmond Lynch, are a good innocent man.”
“Thank you, for everything.”
“Get your life in order. You’ve wasted enough precious time. If you need assistance, don’t hesitate to call. My driver will give you my card.”
When I exited the van, I no longer saw Suzanna. Happily, I noticed my knees no longer shook. In the old days, I would drown in my insatiable desire to drink. There was no urge to throw down a few. I only desired to see my daughter.

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