Vampyrs Anonymous Chapter Seven
The Crocodiles Beneath...
6:30 AM, that morning
Barnard was not an advocate of using alcohol to solve a man's problems, but in this case alcohol did solve the problem of how to keep James from resisting as he helped him settle in for the night. A vampire's tolerance for alcohol varied from person to person and James' level was quite economically fast. But even unconscious he was a very kinetic sleeper. If he wasn't making a guitar motion with his hands he was thrashing out against some unseen enemy, no doubt reliving his battle with the werebeast.
James was never much of a fighter. He always seemed to avoid physical confrontation and he rarely ventured far into the city accept to pick pockets and then it was rare to see him far from the waterfront. So when Barnard finished making his deliveries at the harbor community church he was quite surprised to find James being chased into the city by a wounded weretiger who had just shifted to human form before entering the city.
Barnard got to them as fast as he could, finally having to leave his father's Chevorlet in the parking lot of a 7-11 so he could follow them on foot. Where he could he jumped onto window ledges and climbed up the sides of buildings to use the advantage of his abilities on the rooftops. He arrived just in time to prevent the tiger from brutally ending James life.
Several hours later Barnard sat at James's side, wondering how best to explain things to the boy, who was no doubt surprised to find that the werebeast blood didn't kill him as it would have killed most other vampires. All ready James' body was making use of the weretiger's blood, quickly healing his wounds and acting as a counter to the effects of the twenty-year scotch Barnard had used to pacify him.
Finally as a morning fog drifted up from the bank, James was asleep enough that Barnard believed it was safe to leave him on his own. He left the bedroom door open so that James could find his way out without stumbling in the dark and kept the curtain's drawn to prevent sunlight from getting in. Barnard went to the supermarket to get pork roasts. On his way there he called Odhran to tell him the news.
“That fool,” Odhran cursed. “He is becoming more trouble than he is worth.”
“Now Father, don't overreact,” Barnard said. “I told you the situation isn't as bad as it could have been. But I'm afraid James is going to have questions now.”
Odhran made a noise that said he didn't agree.
“That boy would not ask for ice water in Hell if all one had to do was walk up to the devil and apply for a job.”
Inwardly Barnard sighed. There was a day when he wouldn't have dared to contradict his father but those days were long past now.
“Will you tell him, or will I?” He asked.
“You are going to deal with the werebeast, are you not?” Odhran asked “Will you not have enough on your plate, as they say?”
“I'm a glutton for punishment, father. And right now I'm going for second helpings.”
Odhran laughed. Barnard could count the number of times his father had laughed on his hand.
“Very well,” Odhran said, finally. “I will be the one to explain it to him.”
“Over dinner then,” Barnard insisted. “At my apartment in the city. Do you remember where it is?”
“I'm old, not senile. Call my mobile when you're ready to have me come.”
Barnard pocketed his cell and cast an uneasy glance at the sky. Though he wore a high potency sunscreen manufactured specifically for vampires, his natural instincts were to run for cover as the sky grew brighter. The clouds were a small comfort. Barnard had certainly been in worse. And seven hundred years ago they hadn't invented sunscreen yet.
He spent the first half of the morning trying to find which impound Odhran's car had been sent to. He then had to drive all across Boston in daytime traffic to find the spot where he encountered James and the weretiger to see if anyone was awake who could talk about what happened. As often was the case the witnesses closest to the event were of little use as everyone had his own interpretation of events. And the only ones who would swear before God that they saw a naked black man jump from one building to another directly across the road, would likely not have thought twice before telling that same story to a psychiatrist. Barnard tried to pick up the scent of the weretiger's blood but it was no use during the day with the smells of a busy city assaulting his senses.
Barnard returned to the house to check up on James. He was still passed out on the cot, so Barnard started opening the pot roasts and emptying the blood into one of the IV bags he kept in the storage locker. It wasn't fresh blood but it would do. When he was able to get a full pint into the unit he carefully inserted the needle into James' arm and left it hanging from the stand before going back out.
He was on his way to a jewelry shop, where two three hundred year-old necklaces of his were currently on display when he caught the scent of the weretiger from last night. It was coming from a Blick art supply shop near Fenway Park. Barnard went inside and did his best to look like a customer.
It was in the far corner of the shop, next to a display for making custom canvases and frames. In human form, the weretiger wore a red apron with the Blick logo printed on the front.
“Can I help you, sir,” he asked, making an effort to hide his agitation and failing miserably.
“Are you all right?” Barnard asked in a low voice.
“Thirty-six by forty-inch?” The weretiger spoke up for the benefit of his coworkers and the customers. “Right this way sir.” In a lower voice he whispered, “You've got a lot of nerve coming in here.”
“I didn't know you worked here,” Barnard said, honestly. “But I wanted to be sure you made-”
“Here's the thirty-six, by forty-inch canvasses.” The weretiger gave Barnard a pointed glare as he finished, “I'll be going on my lunch break now. Is there anything else I can help you find today?”
Barnard smiled and said no. He waited for the weretiger to leave and spent a few moments perusing the canvasses. Then he decided he wasn't interested and left the store. He found the weretiger sitting on the steps outside of Best Buy eating a sandwich. Barnard could see that it was packed with raw beef.
“How are you feeling?” He asked.
The weretiger looked up and took a huge bite of his sandwich, chewing loudly. A rather childish gesture, Barnard thought, but then he expected hostility.
“I only wished to be sure that you were all right.” Barnard held out his hands to show he meant to harm. “There was a lot of blood and I regret not being able to help you right then and there. But if you are well then I will leave.”
Barnard got two steps before the weretiger asked, “Would you like me to wash the coat before I send it back?”
“It's up to you. You can keep it if you like.”
“I don't need charity.”
Barnard turned around as the weretiger finished his meal. He stood up and crumpled the aluminum foil wrapper into a ball before tossing it a trash bin, then he gave Barnard a quick once over.
“Might I have the honor of your name?” Barnard asked, politely.
That was easy.
“Balki, pleasure to meet you,” Barnard held out his hand. Balki seemed hesitant, but he took it and pumped it firmly before letting it go. “That's a Greek name isn't it?”
“My heritage is not up for discussion,” Balki snapped. “I thank you for your help but I had every right to kill that leech. What's done is done.”
“He didn't really break our laws,” he explained. “And James is resting peacefully at my apartment-”
“He's still alive?” Balki took a step closer. Barnard held his ground, refusing to be intimidated. “But I fed that little bastard my blood. It should have killed him!”
An old woman passing by stopped and stared. Barnard smiled and shrugged as he tried to lead Balki away from prying ears. Balki brushed his arm off.
“It's not quite that simple,” Barnard said speaking in a low voice and suggesting that Balki do the same. “James is a sentry.”
“What do you know about vampire biology?”
Balki scoffed. “I know enough to kill them. I don't care much about how they tick so long as they stay out of my way.”
“Well, suffice it to say that James, along with a very special handful of our kind, is different than the average vampire. He is able to ingest the blood of werebeasts without suffering any ill effects and can in fact use your blood to his advantage...if he knew how.”
“So he lives another day,” Balki summed up. “Fine. But that doesn't change the damage he has done.”
“Why don't you tell me a little more about it. Did he kill this man in view of witnesses? Was he a friend or an employee of yours or your sister?”
Balki seemed to think about it. He checked the time on his cellphone before answering. “We didn't know who the man was. There are a lot of homeless people living in Orson. But the police were all over the place asking questions and people were watching the place like they had nothing better to do.”
“Well surely no one thinks your sister had anything to do with it. What did the police say?”
“The police wanted to investigate further. But one of your servants was there: an EMT who declared it a suicide.”
Barnard nodded. “He wasn't one of our servants, as such. There are many men and women in the medical profession who know of our existence and they do what they can to protect us from the general public. They're there for you and yours as well.”
Balki couldn't tell if Barnard was lying or not. He seemed to be an honorable man, but vampires were nothing if not capable actors. Then again it wasn't as if vampires had the market on dishonesty and manipulation cornered.
“I'd like to talk to your sister if I may.” Barnard said. “If her fear is that her business might suffer for this I would be happy to try and compensate her.”
Eve might well take him up on that. To her money was money, no matter who was buying a drink in her establishment. And if the coat was anything to go by this vampire had enough money to buy plenty of drinks.
“I'll give her your business card.” He said. “You left a bunch of them in the pockets, or did you realize?”
“I guess in the heat of the moment I forgot what I had in there. It goes to show you we don't have perfect memories in spite what the movies would have you believe.”
Balki understood that. There were plenty of misconceptions about werebeasts as well. He didn't know if Barnard was trustworthy or not but at least he was easy to relate to and personable. He could get to like this vampire.
“I have to get back to work.” Balki said.
“Well then I hope to see you again, my friend.”
Barnard turned and walked away. After seven hundred years he had seen many things on and off the field of battle. Balki wasn't as sadistic as he appeared to be last night and after the initial hostility, which Barnard took to be a simple matter of flexing his muscles, he seemed willing and able to negotiate a more peaceful solution. But what happened between him and James last night seemed fueled by something much greater than a misunderstanding. A wound in battle certainly made people more desperate to survive but Barnard had seen men who had lost limbs show more mercy than Balki had shown.
Barnard forgot about his business in the city and went back to his apartment, hoping James could shed a little more light on the matter.