Blood Money, a Short Story
Blood Money by Tamara Wilhite
The bright light streaming through the windows glowed like a beacon among the falling-down buildings. The neighborhood had been falling apart for longer than he’d been alive, but World War 3 or 4 with Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and terrorists borrowing a few weapons to take out the people they didn’t like meant now everything was falling apart. But this place wasn’t.
The building had solid walls, a store on the first floor, offices like his attorney’s on the second floor that people were living in now, maybe an attic up top. It had enough uncovered glass to say yes, we had stuff to sell. Everything on the second floor and up was totally dark, though the first floor was lit up. Then again, you wouldn't want to advertise where people were standing in case snipers took you out.
It was surprising the store owner had power, though he might be bribing someone on the Council to get gas for it – and then the food would not go bad as fast, and that was worth a fortune. Hell, the canned spam, ketchup, nuts and cigarettes that were scattered on the shelves were worth a fortune. Hardly anyone here could get to the ration trucks in time when they showed up occasionally, and fewer had anything left to pay the gangs that got control of delivery vehicles. Alejandro’s group tried to be those distributors but had failed in their last two tries.
People fought over looting rights for stores that were closed, and this guy had stuff. Amazingly, there wasn’t a line of security guards inside and out. He could see the old Asian owner from time to time. An older lady came entered, bartered some script, and came out with a couple of cans, running as fast as her legs could carry her. Later, an old woman came in with a kid, put down jewelry. That’s when Alejandro saw a shadow move rapidly, pass them and seem to disappear again. That was the guy’s security. They did the deal, and the two walked away with the kid’s backpack full of food, scurrying home like scared animals. Alejandro saw another security guard’s shadow pass the door before disappearing.
The rumors were true - this place was still in business. Better yet, it was lightly guarded. Maybe the owner had been paying blood money for police protection and not made his last payment. That made it perfect if they acted fast.
The last fight over the supply lines had cost them dearly. The last few times they’d scored, they’d had little left after feeding themselves, their girls and a few brats to sell to their neighbors, but it didn’t matter, because none of them seemed to have anything left to trade. None of the local women were even worth it anymore, deteriorated into something so sick no man would want her unless high on meth – and even the meth had dried up.
Tito had staked out the place during the day, and surprisingly, it was locked up tight. Bullet proof glass, thick metal bars, barriers so you couldn’t crash a car in, no way in but burning through and they didn’t want to lose the food.
They argued over it for days, verifying that he did get a stock delivery one night. Maybe he was closed during the day because most people would show up then, and this kept out all by the determined or pre-approved. Or he said he was a store, got inventory, and it all went to the black market except for some to his friends. They’d hit it after the next food delivery, to maximize their own returns.
They sent Maya and Maria in first. Two young women could get the security guards’ attention, in whatever way was necessary.
The women, the shop keeper and one of the security guys were in one corner of the store when Maya gave the signal that the door was unlocked and unprotected. The dozen guys in waiting charged. They were able to get in before the shop owner could do anything except take shelter in the bullet proof cage near the register. Alejandro laughed as the security guard took a position close to the shopkeeper. Were they paid only to protect the owner? If so, then his crew had open season on the food.
The girls ducked down behind a shelf and started filling plastic shopping bags with food. Good girls.
Alejandro directed his attention to the security. All three were dressed in all black, faces covered with ski masks and sunglasses, gloves, high boots. Dressed like security goons who didn’t ever want to be recognized, leave fingerprints or have to wash the blood off in the shower. One of the guards asked in a deep voice, “Gloves on or off?”
Alejandro pulled out a gun, and others followed suit. “I’ve brought a gun to your fist fight.”
“Off,” the owner said in a thick Arab or Pakistani accent.
The guards started moving, the gang started shooting, and the bullets didn’t seem to stop them. Alejandro heard the locks engage with a loud click while he seemed to go flying across the floor. His vision was blurred from the force of the impact with the wall. His friends seemed to go flying, twisting, and flailing. The girls were screaming and trying to run away. The guard closest to him seemed to be biting Beto, who was screaming as high pitched as the girls. Alejandro tried to back up, trying to make sense of it all while searching for his gun. The girls were still screaming, but the men had started screaming, too. More gunshots rang through the store. It seemed like forever when the carnage stopped.
His vision started to clear, and he realized only a few minutes. The girls were huddled together in the aisle in front of him, cans of chips and dip and beanie weenie rolling on the floor from their abandoned bags. They were staring in abject terror at the security guard in front of them, between them and Alejandro. He aimed and fired at the guard.
The guard had started to turn toward him as the bullet ripped through the side of his head. The guard fell to his knees and started to pull the face mask and sunglasses off, as if that would help in any way after being shot in the head. The guard ignored Alejandro as he fired again and blew a hole in the guard’s upper left arm.
The guard didn’t scream. He stopped working with the left arm and finished pulling the sunglasses with the right, black blood and goo sticking to one side of it. He finished taking off the remains of the face mask so that it became visible, as he turned his face to Alejandro.
Eyes brown with whites turned gray, reddish-brown skin turned ashen underneath, it was not a man’s face. It tilted the head as if to keep his brains from falling out, and Alejandro realized that he had blow off part of its skull. It took the gun from Alejandro’s hand and began beating his legs with them. Alejandro started screaming as his legs were broken in multiple places. The world went black.
He briefly wondered if he was dead, until the agony in his legs roared through his body. He moaned in pain before he cut it short. Someone made noise in response, and Alejandro looked around for the source. The girls were still together, bound to something so they’d have a hard time escaping. He’d seen things like that in an S&M dungeon or rape rooms the police used when they ran out of truth drugs.
The guards came in so fast it was a blur until the trio of vultures was standing over him. They didn’t bother with masks here, the faces drained of blood and excess flesh apparent. He knew which one he had shot; the skull was half-reformed in that section. The guards seemed to have a conversation he couldn’t hear, fast and furious. An argument? The stairs behind them creaked in a more normal rhythm.
The owner had come in, tired but unafraid. One of the creatures spoke. “The girls?” The voice was strained, as if speaking was an unaccustomed effort.
“They’ve seen you and your actions. They’ll tell.”
“Breeding stock?” another asked.
“They’re thieves. They’re with violent men. I can’t trust them,” the owner said. “And if you let them go, they’ll tell and bring others like this. And I can’t stand cleaning up messes like this any more than I have to.”
The two uninjured guards approached the girls, appraising them. One of the guards said, “If you can’t tolerate them, neither can we.”
Those two guards then pounced upon the girls. For a moment, Alejandro thought they were being raped as their bodies spasmed and shook as the men were on top of them. He heard sounds of guttural pleasure from the two guards. Just as quickly, the girls were still and quiet now, either voluntarily letting the men have their way or unconscious.
“You’re fast,” the injured one said. “None of the others could react nearly as fast.”
“Are you going to kill me?” Alejandro asked.
“One way or another.”
The two guards turned away from the girls, fangs retracting, blood around their mouths absorbed through osmosis as they swallowed what was in their mouths. The injured guard looked to the shop owner. “Do you want him here?”
“You’ve kept my family safe, our business open, suppliers and customers safe enough to be willing to come. And I understand you want a fourth to be able to protect us, but I don’t want it to be him.”
“It’s your home,” the injured one said.
Alejandro asked, “I saw others come and go! What about them?”
“The old can’t run if the vampires can’t find enough young fodder like you. Let the old ones taking care of grandchildren get food, so that I have customers in the future, a good façade to get the attention of cannon fodder like you, and the vampires … have a future and a reason to see that I have supplies to keep up a flow of people.”
“But they’re killing people!”
“Wasn’t that what you were trying to do?” the owner retorted. The vampire was growing impatient, yet he didn’t argue. If the owner said, they had to go, and they didn’t want to go. Why ever leave, too, if they had meals delivered?
The shop keeper waved his hand dismissively, and the vampire fell upon Alejandro. The shopkeeper joked, “I’ve always had to pay blood money in this neighborhood, but never was it so literal.”