The Standard Tech Case Files: And Sanctuary For All
by Joshua Corbeil-Stoodley
Akisha cowered as the brutes advanced. They were faceless, formless; their bodies made of the same ever-shifting shadows that made up the alleyway. Only Akisha was solid, only Akisha was real. And yet Gloria still couldn’t reach her sister, still struggled through the shadowy world as if the shadows were made of molasses. The hazy brutes had no such problem; they advanced on the cowering dame with the practised ease of sharks. No, not sharks, Gloria reminded herself. Pigs.
“Akisha!” Gloria screamed. “Akisha, run!”
But she couldn’t, no more that Gloria herself could. Akisha stumbled backward, slamming against a shadow wall that had all of a sudden became as solid as if it had been made of brick. There she lay, curled like a hedgehog, as one of her tormentors broke away from the pack.
“Get away from her!” Gloria screamed, looking around desperately for something, anything she could use as a weapon. Something she could use to save her sister.
The shadow-brute who had broken away from the pack was now standing behind Akisha, dragging her roughly to her feet. She clawed at his form feebly, having no more effect than Gloria had.
“It’s time you became a man, Herbert,” the shadow said. “And you know what makes a boy a man? His first kill. Come on, nephew. Here she is, a soft little sheep. Your first kill.”
“Looking forward to it,” another one of the shadows said as it, too, broke away from the pack and marched up to where Akisha was being held. First the shadow caressed her face, like she was a favoured pet, and then he took a swing. And another. And another.
“No!” Gloria screamed one last time as the shadows killed her sister, a scream that turned into a howl at the end.
A howl that continued into the waking world as Gloria woke up. At first she lay there, frightened and confused. She was more than half-expecting Akisha to be leaning over her, face drawn tight with concern and making a bad joke about having to dump ice water on her or something. But no. Akisha was dead, murdered in some grubby back alley by a boy Gloria thought she could trust. Murdered by her, essentially.
And now Herbert was gone too. Killed by the vampires in a trial meant to draw out his uncle, the corrupt police chief Jeffery Rollins. But Rollins had been more than willing to sacrifice his nephew to the vampires to save his own skin. It had hurt his popularity somewhat, but not enough. Not that it would ever be enough for Gloria, not until she saw that pig slow roasted over an open fire.
Gloria, now fully awake, edged herself slowly out of bed. Slowly, she padded down the hall until she reached the bathroom. For a minute, Gloria just stared into the mirror. She didn’t look any different. Her skin was still black, her hair still kinky. In fact, she looked a lot like her mother. Same nose, same thick build, same brown eyes. It was there, in the bathroom, as she washed the sleep out of her eyes, that she heard them. The unmistakable sounds of a SWAT team getting ready just outside the apartment door. Gloria’s eyes went wide with terror and she lunged towards the bathroom door hoping to lock it. But the SWAT team was faster, and with a roar the front door to the apartment exploded. Heavily armoured cops, looking for all the world like Stormtroopers from Star Wars ran through the main hallway. One officer burst through the bathroom door to find Gloria cowering in the shower.
“On your knees!” the pig shouted. Redundant, because the only way Gloria could be more on her knees was if she grew another pair.
“Please! Please don’t hurt me,” she begged. The pig kept his gun pointed at her for another minute or two, and then finally reached out grab Gloria by the hair. She screamed but to no avail. The pig dragged her out of the tub and towards the living room. Once there, he threw her hard against the coffee table, knocking all the wind out of her.
“What did this one do?” another pig asked.
“Resisted arrest, sir,” the pig who’d grabbed Gloria said.
“Of course she did,” the other pig said. “That’s what all you animals do, isn’t it? Think the law doesn’t apply to you. Think you’re better than the law. That you have rights. Guess it’s time to teach you a lesson.”
“Please. Please we don’t have any money,” Gabriela Jones, Gloria’s mother, said. She was on all fours in front of the coffee table, hands on her head. Gloria tried to inch forward so she could lie beside her, only to receive a vicious kick to the ribs for her trouble. Gloria took the hint and settled into the same pose as her mother, only beside the coffee table and not in front of it. “Please-”
“Shut up!” the lead pig said, backhanding Mrs. Jones hard enough to split her lip. “If I wanted to talk to animals, I’d go the zoo.”
From the corner of her eye, Gloria saw more pairs of booted feet come out of the bedroom. “Nothing there, sir,” the pig reported. “No drugs, nothing of value.”
“Of course there isn’t,” Gloria said through gritted teeth. “You’ve already taken everything we own-”
“He said shut up!” the pig who’d grabbed Gloria early snapped, slamming the butt of his rifle into her cheek. Gloria went down hard, blood filling her mouth. As soon as it did, Gloria felt the suicidal urge to rip the gun out of the pig’s hands and kill them all. They were nothing but pigs after all; prey animals who had gotten uppity. They were no match for her. Gloria suppressed the urge. A vampire might be able to take them all, but she sure couldn’t. And her dog, the fairy hound she’d named after her dead sister, was in one of Standard Tech’s kennels because the Rayman Arms didn’t allow pets. Gloria was alone.
“Where are the drugs?” the lead pig demanded, sticking his gun into Mrs. Jones’ face.
“There are no drugs. We don’t have any drugs. I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she sobbed.
“Shut up!” the lead pig said again. “I don’t want to hear another word out of you. Unless you can tell me where the drugs are, where the guns are or where the money is, keep your fat mouth shut!” Mrs. Jones sobbed. Gloria gritted her teeth.
“Hey, Sarge! You’ll never believe this. Turns out we got the wrong building. They’re over at the Raymond Arms, waiting for us,” another of the pigs called out.
“You know, just once I wish the staff weenies would get it right,” the lead pig said philosophically. “It can’t be that hard, right? To copy down the correct address and the name of the building. You’d think even a pencil-pusher would be able to get that much right. And just think what this is going to cost us in gas money!”
“Hey, at least we get paid overtime,” another of the pigs said.
“That’s true,” the lead pig said, eyeing the Joneses. “And at least we managed to put the fear of God into these two animals. Right? You two won’t be hurting anybody ever again, will you? No, you won’t. ‘Cause we’ll be watching you. And if you do hurt somebody, if you even about putting a toe over the line, we’ll hit you like the wrath of God. You understand? Good. Move out!” One by one, the stormtroopers moved out. They didn’t even bother to prop the door back up this time.
Gloria waited until she could no longer hear their thick-soled boots thudding heavily against the carpet and then crawled to her knees. Glancing at the clock on the wall, Gloria saw that it was five thirty in the a.m. About time she was up anyway.
Spitting the blood out of her mouth, Gloria said: “C’mon Mom. We’ll have breakfast and then go downstairs to see what other damage the storm troopers did.” But Mrs. Jones wouldn’t budge. She just layed there on the floor on all fours, sobbing relentlessly. Fighting the urge to rest beside her mother and do the same thing, Gloria instead draped her mother’s arm around her shoulder and helped the older woman up. It was going to be a long day, Gloria thought.
Thirty minutes later, all that remained of the Jones family made their way into the Rayman Arms lobby. The place looked like a war zone: the plate glass windows had been shot in, chairs hacked to pieces and the carpet still bore scorch marks from where the flash bangs had gone off. The door to the emergency stairs, just to the right of the elevators, had been kicked in just as thoroughly as the Joneses door had. Walking around the lobby, picking glass shards and the remnants of the lobby chairs were several of the Joneses neighbours, most of whom looked back at the Joneses with resentment. Gloria fought back her own rage and resentment that had been crawling up her throat like trapped scorpion, desperate to escape. This had been her home, dammit, and now Rollins and his jackbooted thugs were taking it away from her, piece by piece. What was worse was that she knew it was her fault. If she had listened to Akisha while she was still alive, none of this would have happened! But it had, and now she and her mother had to face the consequences.
“I think we need to talk to Macgregor,” Gloria said to her mother, quietly.
“Busybody,” Mrs. Jones sniffed.
“Maybe,” Gloria said. “But she is the landlady. And the owner. And Rollins and his thugs are doing this to get to us.”
“Oh, honey no,” Mrs. Jones said, turning to face her daughter. “I’m sure it was just an honest mistake. Police do things like that all the time.”
Once, her mother’s naiveté had amused Gloria. Now she just wanted to grab hold of the older woman and shake some sense into her. Recognizing that that was as much her own guilt and frustration as anything else, Gloria quietly moved past her mother and walked towards Macgregor’s office. Hesitantly, Mrs. Jones followed behind her.
What Gloria saw when she reached Macgregor’s office almost made her sick with rage. Inside lay Bobby McCall, McGregor’s long-time maintenance man, his leg having been blown clean off with a shotgun blast. On each of his sides stood McGregor and Monk, McCall’s apprentice handyman.
“Well at least you managed to stop the bleeding,” Gloria said with a fake smile, pointing to the wet bandages that had been wrapped around the stub of McCall’s leg. Only McCall laughed, the other two stared at her. “Ah, it was a bad joke anyway,” Gloria said.
“You need to leave,” McGregor said bluntly as Mrs. Jones walked up behind Gloria.
“We can’t go!” Mrs. Jones said. “This is our home!”
“This is the third time in as many weeks the cops have done one of their so-called drug raids!” McGregor countered. “And every time, your family is always the target. They don’t come after anyone else.”
“Cops make mistakes sometimes!” Mrs. Jones said. “And it’s not like this place hasn’t been raided before! Or did you think those bullet holes just magically appeared in your door?”
“Look! Look at what happened,” McGregor said, jabbing her finger at McCall. “He tried to stop them and look what happened!”
“It’s all right,” McCall said. “It’s all right–”
“You lost your fucking leg, Bobby,” Gloria said quietly. “That’s about as far from all right as you can get.”
“I don’t mind sticking it to those fascist assholes,” the aging hippy said, jutting his chin out defiantly.
“Yeah, well I care about people dying or getting hurt because of my mistakes,” Gloria said. “They’re here because of me, to punish me. You shouldn’t have to lose your leg because of me, Bobby. That just ain’t fair.”
Mrs. Jones turned on her daughter, probably to give her another lecture on how it wasn’t her fault when Monk piped up.
“This isn’t all they’re doing,” he said. “The raids I mean. They’re also rounding up everybody in the building who protests and charging us. Nickel-and-dime shit, not even enough to get you in front of a judge. But enough to go on your criminal record.”
Gloria winced. “Jesus, I’m sorry Monk,” she said.
“It’s okay,” he said with a shrug. “Believe it or not, this isn’t actually your fault. It’s not like you’re actually a criminal, right?”
“No,” Gloria agreed. “But now you can’t get a job anywhere else but this rotten town.”
Monk snorted. “Guess you haven’t been paying attention to the news lately. Cops everywhere are pulling this shit. It’s bad all over.”
“You see Gabriele? You see what kind of damage this is doing?” McGregor asked. “I don’t think you should be run out of your home either, but I literally cannot afford to keep you. The door they kicked in last week was the last spare door we had! I can’t afford to buy any new ones. If the cops keep coming after you, I won’t be able to keep this place open a month.”
“All right, even assuming this is some kind of campaign against us by the police,” Mrs. Jones said. “Where are we supposed to go? We can’t afford to live anywhere else!”
“Sanctuary,” Gloria said quietly. The others looked at her strangely, but Gloria carried on: “Sanctuary is where we can go. It’s safe there, and no pig will get through Bianco’s defences. Besides, Jen’s been bugging me to move in any way.”
“That’s… that’s the home of the vampires, right?” McGregor asked, gulping loudly.
“Well, some of them anyway,” Gloria answered. “It’s the home of the Black Coats, at least.”
“Vampires are dangerous,” Monk warned.
“Oh yeah, ’cause humans are so harmless,” Gloria said.
“Your sister got killed because she worked for a vampire,” Monk said.
“By a human,” Gloria said. “By a human I trusted. By a human who couldn’t escape from his uncle’s tyrannical grasp. And the only person who seemed to care was a vampire. Somehow, I don’t think we’ve been told the whole story.”
“Maybe not,” Monk said. “But you still can’t trust them!”
“Oh, they ain’t so bad,” McCall said. “They helped us put that door back up, remember?”
Monk turned to the senior handyman, staring at him as though he wasn’t quite sure what to say. McGregor said it for him:
“They still aren’t human.”
“Right now, that’s kind of the point,” Gloria said. Glancing at her watch, Gloria added: “Look, I’ve got to get to work. It’s my last day and I can’t be late. When I get home, I’ll help pack and everything.”
“No, you just go to work honey,” McGregor said. “Me and Monk and your mom will get everything packed and sent over. When you’re done, you just go right on to Sanctuary.”
“Gee, you’d think you’re eager to get rid of us or something,” Gloria said. “Seriously, though. Thank you. For, you know, everything.”
“It’s all right,” McGregor said. “We know it’s not your fault. And… I’m sorry about Akisha. I know I said some things that she didn’t deserve to have said about her. I was wrong, and I apologize.”
“Thank you,” Gloria said. Turning to her mother she said: “Goodbye Mom. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“I’m still not convinced this is necessary,” Mrs. Jones said. “But if we have to then we have to I suppose. Quick, give your mother a hug first.”
Gloria did and then headed off to work. A long day wouldn’t even begin to cover it.
Gloria got off the bus at Demon’s Alcove and walked around the block towards the Captain Burger where she worked. The late night/early morning crowd was never exceptionally busy, and Gloria looked forward to saying goodbye to her friends and getting out of this rotten job.
Gloria’s expectations were just a little off the mark.
As soon as she rounded the corner, Gloria saw them. A mob, easily fifty people strong, had gathered outside the Captain Burger’s front doors. In their hands were signs with big lettering on them demanding justice for Herbert and calling for an end to the vampires high-handed justice. Others wore placards and billboards demanding much the same thing. All poorly spelled, too. You’d think that if someone was protesting the death of someone, they’d at least bother to get the victims name right. Apparently not.
As Gloria watched in stunned apprehension, a middle-aged dame with curly black and tanned skin got up on a box and started speaking into a megaphone.
“These vampires must be brought to justice!” she said, her voice high and shrill. “These vampires kidnap our children and brainwash them! They rob our cradles! They infect our children with sinful desires! With their bloodlust! And then, when a noble young man such as Herbert Moon tries to rescue one of their victims, they kill him for it! And let’s be honest here, does anyone doubt that the vampires killed poor, pitiable Akisha Jones to satisfy their own unnatural urges and then killed poor Herbert to cover up their heinous crime?”
A resounding “No!” came back from the mob, loud enough to rattle the windows. Gloria stood there, just out of sight, her expression a mixture of horror and guilt. Was this what she had sounded like? Had she been this ignorant and bigoted? Slowly, keeping an eye on the crowd lest they turn violent, Gloria edged her way into the alley beside the Captain Burger and slipped through the back door. Inside, she heard Pete Fink, her manager, and Sydney Gutiérrez, the team lead, arguing.
“You’re preaching to the choir Syd, honest! But unless they do something violent, I can’t exactly break out the shotgun and start blowing heads off!” Pete said. Pete was a scrawny, pimply-faced teenager, dressed in the manager’s version of the Captain Burger uniform. Today his face was flushed red and sweat dripped down his face. A small bead of sweat hung off the end of his nose.
“Bullshit! You’re the same you always were, a dirty little coward who can’t fight for himself. What are you gonna do when they break in here, run away!?!” Sydney demanded. Sydney towered over the scrawny Fink though that wasn’t hard. Her skin was a rich olive tone as yet unmarred by the grease and sweat native to working with hot ovens today, and her uniform bore the five-pointed star of the team lead. Her ears had been decorated with skull-shaped earrings and series of bracelets woven out of the same dark fibre hung loosely about her wrists.
“If they break in here, then you take the guns from behind the counter and kill as many as you want,” Pete answered coldly. “Kill them all if you can. But until then, they’ve got every right to be here.”
“Look, just because they support your ‘friend’ Herbert,” Sydney began.
“I don’t know I’d call this support,” Pete said, cutting her off. “More like rearranging the facts to fit whatever paranoid fantasy they’ve come up with this time. But again, Syd, what do want me to do? Call the cops?”
“Yeah, I just got woken up by Fort City’s finest,” Gloria said. “I’d really rather you didn’t call them in.”
Amy Koh, a petite dame with slanted eyes that were orange with contacts, pale skin and black hair that had been cropped short, chimed in: “You and me both sister. I don’t like these people any more than you do, Syd, but we don’t really have any options here.”
Sydney scowled at the other woman, then turned on her heel and marched further into the labyrinth of ovens at the back. Gloria walked up to Amy and said:
“Is it really that bad?”
“Yeah,” Amy said with a nod while adjusting her uniform, identical to Gloria’s own. “I don’t think we’re going to get any customers today.”
“Definitely not,” Pete said with an angry chopping motion. “In fact, we’re shutting this place down today.”
Amy and Gloria both looked at him in shock. “You can’t be serious.”
“Serious as cancer,” Pete said with a grim smile. “My dad owns the franchise for this place. Used to make him a fair bit of money, too. Only he decided to speak out against Herb. Said the poor dumb bastard knew exactly what he was getting into got exactly what he deserved. All of a sudden, his ‘friends’ up in Blood Park decide that maybe they can do without his friendship after all. So they start putting the pressure on. Can’t walk around the streets without getting garbage chucked at us. Cops have been busting in the house lately, too. On ‘mistaken’ drug raids.”
“Can’t imagine what that’s like,” Gloria muttered bitterly.
Pete looked at her sympathetically and said: “Look, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. Akisha was a good kid who didn’t deserve to get iced in a back alley.”
“What the hell do you care? Your friend murdered her,” Gloria said.
“Yeah, he did,” Pete said, crossing his arms. “And he murdered her because he was a fucked up kid who lived with a fucked up uncle who egged him on. I won’t lie and say I don’t wish the vampires hadn’t found a way to save Herb, but that doesn’t change what happened. Or the fact that Rollins left his nephew, the only living reminder of his sister, to die at the hands of bloodsuckers.” Pete shook his head. “No. I may not have lost as much as you, Gloria, but I did lose. And I’ll be damned before I support those nutjobs out there,” he finished, jerking his thumb in the direction of the mob outside, which was now chanting obscenities against the vampires.
“Right,” Gloria said. “Is Harper in?”
“Yeah, she’s in the back disconnecting the ovens,” Pete said, pointing in that direction. “And I’m serious Gloria. I want to be out of here within the next couple of hours, so whatever you got to talk to her about, do it quick.”
“Right,” Gloria said again and made her way to the back of the ovens where Harper Lee was working. Harper was a sharp-faced, sallow-skinned dame with dark brown hair and brown eyes permanently narrowed in suspicion. Well, except for when Gloria kissed her. Then Harper’s eyes went wide with joy. Gloria still wasn’t sure what their relationship was yet, but she relished every second of it. Almost as much as she enjoyed watching Harper bent over while working on the ovens, her tight bum wiggling in the air.
As if she could sense Gloria’s gaze, Harper poked her head out from under the oven. “Hey,” she said, her voice a low and throaty growl.
“Hey yourself,” Gloria said with a small smile.
“You staring at my ass again?” Harper asked as she turned back to the oven she was currently disconnecting.
“What can I say? It’s a beautiful ass,” Gloria said. So nice, in fact that she was tempted to reach out and touch it. But she wouldn’t, not while Harper was busy with something as dangerous as disconnecting an oven.
“Pervert,” came the muffled reply from inside the oven.
“Birds of a feather,” Gloria said.
“Touché,” Harper replied. Then, poking her head out again, said: “C’mon, we ain’t got all day. Pete wants us out of here before ten. Hell, before eight if we can.”
“So no admiring the merchandise until all the work is done, huh?” Gloria said, grabbing a wrench and getting to work. “Shame. I’d much rather stare at you all day.”
Harper blushed and said: “What’s gotten into you lately? You were never this forward before. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. I just don’t know where it’s coming from.”
“I just don’t care anymore Harper,” Gloria said as she wrestled the wrench onto the nut. “About what people think, I mean. Do you have any idea how freeing that is? To just not give a shit about humanity?”
“Preaching to the choir, babe, preaching to the choir,” Harper answered. “But I dunno. I’m thinking this all kind of started when you got that tattoo of yours.”
Gloria looked at the inside of her right arm, where the coat of arms of Isaak ben Jacob, vampire Baron of Fort City, had been inked into her skin. “Maybe,” she said. “Knowing there’s another species out there, a different option other than humanity helps a lot. I guess, I don’t know. I watched the chief of police, who’s supposed to protect people like me, and Akisha and even Herbert fail. No, not just fail. Actively conspire to hurt people. To hurt me. And my sister. And his own nephew. And the people who care about that? Who tried to make things right? Are members of species that evolved for the sole purpose of eating us. That’s just a little disillusioning.”
“Just a bit,” Harper agreed. “But I dunno. I still you’ve changed since getting that tat. Not in bad ways you understand, but I don’t think just being disillusioned or done with humanity accounts for all the changes.”
“Maybe not,” Gloria admitted, pulling loose the hose from the wall. Twisting around, she now sought to loosen the hose from the oven itself. “I dunno Harper. I feel… wilder, freer. There’s an animal inside me now, and she wants to get loose.”
“Like I said, I’m not complaining,” Harper said, pulling herself out from under the oven she was working on and moving on to the next one. “I think this is more you than that ‘good girl’ act you were putting on before. You could be as wild as Akisha ever was when you wanted to be. You just bottled it up and never let anybody see.”
“Yeah,” Gloria agreed, biting back a curse at whoever had designed and installed these ovens. “Yeah, you’re right. I had to be the responsible one, the good girl who never took risks and never did anything wrong. Didn’t work out all that well for me in the end. And I definitely feel more like me now than I ever had before, if that makes sense.”
“Makes total sense,” Harper said.
“Come on girls! I wasn’t kidding when I told you I wanted to be out of here in a couple of hours!” Pete called out.
“You aren’t the only who’s changed,” Harper said, poking her head out again.
“No kidding,” Gloria said, finally disconnecting her oven and moving on to the next one. “But for better or worse, do you think?”
“Worse,” Harper said grimly. “Definitely worse. Pete’s gone mad since Herbert died. Been brawling with customers, screaming at the vultures, chucking people out. He’s carrying some heavy heat, too. One of these day’s he’s going to snap and it won’t be pretty. I hear his dad’s taking them both to Vermont, get out of this burg.”
“Probably a good thing,” Gloria said, wriggling back underneath the oven. They worked in silence for the next six hours, dismantling every piece of equipment in the restaurant, even the plumbing. Pete was a slave driver, working them through their lunch break. Nor did he take any breaks himself, instead rushing through the paperwork needed to shut the Captain Burger down and helping the dames wherever they needed it. But no matter how hard Pete drove them, now matter how fast they worked, the complete tear down of a restaurant takes time. A fact that was about to haunt the employees of Captain Burger in general and Gloria Jones in particular.
Gloria was just washing her hands in the last sink that worked before Pete shut the water off when she heard it. The crowd outside had been growing all day as new protesters and vultures all started hanging around. Gloria had so far managed to avoid confronting any of them, mostly by staying in the back kitchen and not going anywhere near the windows. She had hoped to be able to sneak out the back way again. Unfortunately, by the sounds of it, the crowd was trying to break through the door.
Gloria edged away from the sink and sneaked over to the edge of the kitchen closest to the front door, careful to keep her head down. Peering over the edge of the counter, she saw the crowd hammer at the door seemingly uncaring about what the broken glass would do to them. Before Gloria could raise the alarm, the group kicked the door down. They poured into the Captain Burger, a school of piranhas eager for human flesh.
“Where is she?” they shouted. “Where is that traitorous little bitch?”
Several of them were pressed hard against the kitchen counter, so they looked over it and saw Gloria cowering by the heat lamp apparatus. “There she is!” they said, and Gloria screamed as they dove over the counter to get at her.
Two shots rang out at the opposite end of the restaurant, by the corridor that lead to the manager’s office. “Get the fuck out of my restaurant,” Pete said.
“All we want is the Jones dame, we don’t care about the rest of you!” somebody in the mob said.
Another shot rang out, this time into the crowd. Gloria couldn’t see, but judging from the scream at least two, maybe three people were hit. “Well that’s just too fucking bad, isn’t it?” Pete said. “Cause you can’t have Gloria. In fact, if you don’t get out of my restaurant right the fuck now, you are all going to die.”
Somebody else in the crowd snorted. “There’s fifty of us easy,” they said. “And there’s only one of you! And the only gat you’ve got is a sawed-off scattergun! You can’t kill us all!”
“Try me,” Pete said.
The crowd surged away from Gloria and towards Pete, who responded with the distinctive boom of a shotgun blast. Praying that Pete and her friends would be all right, Gloria picked herself up off the floor and ran like hell.
Gloria burst out of the Captain Burger and straight into a vulture, knocking him off of his feet and shattering his camera on the alley’s gravel.
“You stupid bitch, do you have any idea how much that cost?” he demanded as Gloria picked herself up and ran down the alley. “Hey! Hey, it’s that vampire bitch! Go get her!” What remained of the crowd that hadn’t forced its way into the Captain wheeled around and surged after her, a swarm of locusts eager to strip the flesh off of every living thing in their path.
Gloria ran towards the bus stop, figuring that if she could get on the bus she would be safe. But once she got there, the times posted on the stop shattered that illusion. The next bus wouldn’t come for another half-hour. As the swarm rounded the corner, Gloria took off again, this time through the alley where her sister had died. Her only hope was to get to Sanctuary, but that was on the other side of the city! She’d never make it. Unless…
Barrelling down the sidewalk, knocking over pedestrians in her path, Gloria rushed to the subway stop. Unlike the buses, the subway ran every five minutes all day long. If she could make it into the subway station, she would be safe. Safe enough to get on the train and head to Sanctuary, anyway. But as she approached the station, she saw another mob, dressed in the same white clothing as the mob that had chased her. Gloria skidded to a halt and turned to run down another alley. But too late; a member of this second mob had already seen her. With a shout, he gathered his fellows and chased after her.
Gloria now knew that the whole thing had been a set-up; a trap laid out specifically for her. To kill her, maybe, while the vultures filmed their snuff film and got off another successful murder caused by the protectors of the union. And by all appearances, it was a trap likely to succeed. Gloria couldn’t outrun them forever, couldn’t reach Sanctuary and didn’t know of any other vampire businesses or homes or whatever that might take her in. She was on her own.
But still she pressed on. Now that she was out of Demon’s Alcove and onto the streets of Fort City, she could lose herself in the crowd. It wasn’t much of a crowd, not enough to stop the swarm chasing after her, but it did slow them down. And as she ran through the blind alleys of the Fort, she knocked over garbage cans, terrified cats, rats and anything else she could throw in the way of her pursuers.
For two hours this chase continued, the mob having seemingly blocked off every avenue of escape. Gloria was exhausted, sick with hunger and dehydration. By now she had made it to the Lethe Bridge, overlooking Tartarus Street. She could hear the crowd behind her, growing ever closer and knew that this was it. Gloria could not run anymore, she was too exhausted, too sick from the chase. The cooling air of the evening penetrated her thin uniform. Still, she had to press on. She would not die here today. Not while Akisha’s murderer still lived.
As she ran across the sidewalk portion of Lethe Bridge, her foot caught on something, sending her crashing to the ground. Gloria picked herself up off the ground; face bloody, hands and knees scraped to the bone. But she didn’t get very far; as Gloria tried to move, she found she couldn’t put any weight on her ankle. She must have sprained it in the fall.
Gloria sunk into a sitting position against the wall of the bridge laid her head against her knees and started to cry. Endless sobs wracked her body; she knew that this was it. The mob would catch her and kill her. And the vultures would make sure it was all over the nightly news. Another ‘tragic tale in Fort City’. Rollins would use it as an excuse to militarize his department further, and more dames would suffer as she had. So lost in her despair was she that Gloria didn’t hear the car pull up. Or it’s doors open and slam shut. Or anything really, until somebody who sounded like a skeleton doing a Humphrey Bogart impression said:
“I think you’ve seen better days, pup. I mean, I could be wrong. But offhand, I don’t know anybody who would call getting hounded by the local vultures, piranhas and sharks a good day. Just saying.”
Gloria’s head snapped up and around, to stare in the grinning face of Death Himself. All right, so it wasn’t actually death but Joey Bianco, the vampire who had investigated her sister’s death. But he looked a lot like Death. He was rail thin and taller than a bean pole to begin with; with a face like a skull, skin just a shade too pale for a normal human, and a thin almost lipless smile. His black suit, trench, fedora, and cheater’s all added to his modern Grim Reaper look.
Jen, his squire, hurried her boss and squatted in front of Gloria. She pulled out a handkerchief and started wiping away the blood on Gloria’s face. Jen’s pale face was flushed red with rage, highlighting her freckles. She had flipped up her own cheaters to get a better look at what she was doing, allowing Gloria to see those storm grey eyes of hers. Like her boss, Jen wore a black three-piece suit, trench coat, and fedora. Unlike her boss, she was short and curvy with a round face that usually lent itself to good humour. Seeing the hot murder in her eyes, though, Gloria could well understand why Jen had been feared on the playground of her school years.
“There’s a– there’s a,” Gloria began, but Jen cut her off.
“Shush, honey. We know, we got ’em,” she said, continuing to wipe the blood off of Gloria’s face.
“We introduced them to my good friend Boxer,” Joey said. “You’d like Boxer. He’s a gentle old soul, very friendly.”
“Till you piss him off, anyway,” Jen said with a wink at Gloria. Gloria didn’t think it was all that funny.
“There’s got a be a hundred people there,” she said. “You gotta do something!”
“Somehow, I don’t think a hundred unarmed nitwits with the collective brain power of a zombified tortoise are going to cause a problem to twenty soldiers with guns,” Joey said.
“What?” said Gloria.
“Lieutenant-Colonel Boxer happens to be our field CO for our army,” Jen said. She had finished wiping the blood off of Gloria’s face and so folded the handkerchief back up and put it in her pocket. “Well, army. It’s really more of a SWAT team/riot cop combo. We don’t actually fight any wars anymore. World War Two kind of soured the idea, you understand.”
“Oh,” Gloria said. “I didn’t realize you guys had an army.”
“Eh, technically all vampire cops are also vampire soldiers,” Joey said. “We never did split policing duties into its own thing the way humans did. But Jen’s right, we don’t actually wage war anymore. So mostly they’re just cops with Army titles. Can you stand?”
“Um. Stand, yes. Walk, no,” Gloria said. Joey bent down and scooped her up, carrying her to the car. Jen picked herself up and hurried to get the door open for them.
“Is the car really called the Anti-Pimpmobile?”
“No,” Joey said.
“Yep!” Jen said at the same time. “Painted black with the blood of pimps, gangster and crooked cops, too.” Joey shot Jen a dirty look, who ignored it completely. Gloria giggled.
“Do you think your Boxer will really be okay?” Gloria asked as Joey set her down on the far side of the Anti-Pimpmobile.
“He’ll be fine,” Jen said. “He’s done this a hundred times before.” She had gone around the other side of the car and was now in the driver seat. Joey clambered into the back with Gloria, who edged herself into the middle and leaned her head against him and burst into tears once again. Joey first did his seat belt, then Gloria’s and finally wrapped his arm around her and held her close. They sat like that all the way to Sanctuary.
Gloria woke up just as the Jen pulled the car into Sanctuary’s garage. She was still nestled in the crook of Joey’s arm and, for a moment, simply snuggled in deeper. But then the car stopped and she knew she had to get out and face the real world again. Joey gently pried himself off of her and walked around the other side of the car and lifted her out. Gloria snuggled deeper into his chest but didn’t cry this time.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Because you have so much to be sorry for, of course,” Joey said, carrying her through the garage and out the door.
“It just seems like you get into an awful lot of trouble for the Jones’ sisters,” Gloria said.
“Contrary to what Rollins may think, it’s a cop’s job to get into trouble,” Joey said. “Rescuing lovely damsels and thwarting evil moustache-twirling villains is actually our job, believe it or not.”
“I just don’t want to be a bother,” Gloria said, shivering in the night air.
Joey and Jen exchanged sardonic looks. “Trust me, Gloria, you’re not,” Jen said firmly. “And you’re not the first kid we’ve carried in here all beat up and bloody.” She opened the door into Sanctuary and Joey brought Gloria through.
“Would like to know who convinced you that you were a bother, though,” Joey said. “I think I need to chin with this person, know what I mean? A little heart to hear.”
“Going to have to chin with the whole universe, then,” Gloria said. “She doesn’t seem too fond of me at the moment.”
“One of these days pup,” Joey said, carrying Gloria through the house and into the back left common room, the one reserved for the Black Coats. “One of these days.”
“It’s called ‘first-aid,’ Galahad. You ever hear of it? Bandages up pretty little dames real good and keeps the blood off of your car seat. It’s a miraculous invention really,” a husky female voice said. Gloria twisted to see the vampire named Jess. She didn’t look all that different from the trial; same dark brown hair, same flawless ivory skin, same piercing blue eyes. She was shorter than Joey, but so was everybody. At the moment, she wore a dark blue blouse and equally blue trousers held up by a black leather belt. Her arms were crossed in front of her and she looked at Joey with an expression of mingled amusement and exasperation.
“You know, funny enough I have heard of first aid. But somebody took my first aid kit from the car and you know, it’s just a bit hard to bandage a dame up when you don’t have any bandages,” Joey said as he handed Gloria over to Jess.
“Sorry that was me,” said a male voice, one that was a little high and raspy.
“Uncle Misha!” Jen said, spinning around and stomping her foot.
“Getting you a new one, getting you a new one!” said the voice as it ran past the common room. Jess rolled her eyes and carried Gloria over to the couch where two dames with black skin in black T-shirts and leather pants sat playing a video game. Gloria didn’t recognize it; her family had been too poor for games and besides she preferred books anyway. The two dames moved to the edges of the couch so Jess could set Gloria down, and then moved the coffee table in close enough for Gloria to rest her leg on it. Gloria sighed in gratitude.
“Congrats pup. You have now completed the time-honoured ritual of being carried into Sanctuary while injured,” one of the dames on the couch said as she took a sip from a bottle that had been on the table. She was tall for a dame, with a lithe build and sleek muscles that suggested a runner. Her knuckles bore tattoos that read ‘Cage Match’. On her bicep was a stylized lioness. “How do you feel?”
“Like hell,” Gloria said, wincing as Jess examined her injuries. “And what do you mean time-honoured ritual? There can’t be that many people here who come in all broken like me.”
“Everybody,” said the dame to Gloria’s right. She was shorter than her companion with a thicker, more robust build. She too had a stylized lioness tattooed on her bicep and knuckle tatts that Gloria couldn’t read. Like her companion, she wore her hair in micro braids. Both dames wore black lipstick and eyeshadow to emphasize the curve of their eyes. Unlike her companion, though, the dame to Gloria’s right wore extensive jewellery, mostly of an Egyptian bent. “Boss even set a record,” she continued, point at Joey. “And besides, you ain’t all that beat up. Came in here missing chunks of my lung once. Hot damn but that was fun.”
“Gloria, I’d like you to meet detectives Daya “Cheetah” Hall and Zuri “Panther” Knight,” Jess said, continuing her examination of Gloria’s injuries. “They’re two of Joey’s jokers.” Jess stood up and continued: “well, you don’t look too bad, Gloria. I don’t think you sprained your ankle and we can fix up your scrapes real easy. Just let me go get the home kit.” With that, Jess left in search of the home first-aid-kit.
“Cheetah, did Gloria’s mom make it in okay?” Joey asked.
“Yeah, boss. Her and Gloria’s friends are all upstairs, moving all their stuff in,” the dame to Gloria’s left said. “Why? You want me to go grab ’em?”
“No, I got ’em,” Joey said. “Jen, go make sure Tchaikovsky actually put a new kit in the car.” With that, he too left.
Jen didn’t move. “You sure you gonna be okay?” Jen asked Gloria.
“I’ll be fine,” Gloria said. She never noticed it before, but Jen had tiny skulls tattooed underneath her eyes. “Seriously Jen, I’ll be okay. Thank you.”
“Right,” Jen said slowly, moving towards the door. “You keep an eye on her for me, okay?” she said to the two detectives. “She’s got kind of a guilt complex going, I don’t want her to hurt herself more.”
“We got ya,” the detectives said, raising their bottles in unison. With that, Jen too left.
“I cannot believe that a pair of hard-boiled detectives drink root beer of all things,” Gloria said with a laugh.
“It’s sarsaparilla,” Cheetah said, not taking her eyes off of the game. “It’s entirely different. And blame the boss, he got us hooked on it.”
“Isn’t he a vampire? Shouldn’t he be drinking blood?” Gloria asked.
“He does,” Panther said, reaching down to grab her own bottle while using when hand to play the game and never taking her eyes off of the screen. “He also drinks sarsaparilla. Oh! And look who beat you again doll-face. One handed this time, too.”
“I see that,” Cheetah said. “Who would have thought there was someone so low, so reptilian in their nature that they would cheat at Super Smash Bros. Can you believe that Gloria? Can you?”
“Oh, so I’m a cheater now am I?” Panther said, taking a long sip of her drink and grinning. “I don’t think I should stand for that. Think maybe I oughta kiss you. Kiss you real good if you know what I mean.”
“Oh yeah? What kind of kiss?” Cheetah said, setting her own controller down and leering at her partner.
“I’m thinking a good left hook oughta do it,” Panther said. “Kiss you right on that glass chin of yours.”
Gloria was just about to say something when she heard excited barking. Looking to see what it was, she saw a flash of white mixed with red come into the common room and dash across Panther’s lap. Suddenly, the flash of white resolved itself into a white puppy with pointed red ears and flashing red eyes. Once the dog saw Gloria, she barked happily and then snuggled in protectively beside her.
“Nice to see you too, Akisha,” Gloria said with a smile. “Though I think Panther might have liked it better if you hadn’t jumped on her lap.”
“At least she didn’t spill my drink,” Panther said, finishing off the bottle in question. “Your moll, Harper, told us to pick Akisha up on our way here. Hope you don’t mind.”
“‘Course I don’t mind,” Gloria said, snuggling deep into the fairy hound’s soft comforting fur. Just then, Mrs. Jones bustled into the room.
“Oh, Gloria! Oh, my god, we were so worried! After Mr. Fink told us what happened! Oh, are you all right?” Mrs. Jones demanded.
“I’m okay Mom, really,” Gloria said.
“If that’s what you consider fine, honey, then I’d hate to see what you think is bad,” Sydney Gutiérrez said, leaning against the door jamb of the common room and pointing at Gloria’s bandages.
“Okay, so I wasn’t fine earlier. But then Joey and Jen rescued me and Jess patched me up, so I’m fine now,” Gloria said.
“That Jess,” Mrs. Jones fumed. “Who does she think she is?”
“She thinks she’s everyone’s mom,” Panther said. “No, seriously. That’s what she thinks. She may not come out and say it, but she definitely thinks it.”
“It’s a vampire thing,” Cheetah added. “Suckheads are pack animals to the core, and they pretty much baby anybody they handle. Jess is half-human though, so she takes it up a couple of levels.”
“Huh, I didn’t know Jess was a dhampir,” Gloria said. “Cool. But I’m more interested in you, Syd. How did you and the rest of the crew get out?”
“Well, you bolted so the crowd started pouring over the counter to get at you,” Syd said. “Pete decided he didn’t like that, so he fired into the crowd. A lot of them started pushing back out the way they came, but a lot of them went into the kitchen, too.” Syd shook her head. “Oh, man. You should have seen it, G. Harper took one look at these losers and man she just berserk. Total kung-fu action girl warrior goddess, man. Just started breaking people. Didn’t kill anybody I know off, but put a lot of them in the hospital. Then finally the crowd broke up and we called copper to Standard Tech and these two cats picked us up. Oh and then we went back to your place, packed, and brought everything here. So that was our day, how was yours?”
“I just told you,” Gloria said, petting Akisha. “But I would have been in trouble if Joey hadn’t found me.”
“Too fucking right you would have,” tiny little Amy said as she hurried through the door. She stood at the other end of the coffee table and glared at Gloria. “You ever hear of a cell phone motherfucker? So you can, you know, call for help? Or at least call your friends and let them know you’re okay?”
“Good to see you too Amy,” Gloria said with a smile. “You can come out, Harper. I know you’re hiding behind the door,” she added.
Harper walked in shyly, being constantly prodded in the back by Pete Fink. None of them had yet switched out of their Captain Burger uniforms. Behind Pete was a surprise; Mr. Fink himself, a cold, arrogant looking old man with pale skin and hot eyes in a brown suit.
“Hi,” Harper said.
“Hi yourself,” Gloria said. “Glad you made it out okay.”
“Yeah, you too,” Harper said.
“You wanna know something? You two suck,” Pete said. “I mean, I realize she’s a little banged up know, but as soon as Gloria recovers you should really give her a big fucking kiss. And a hug. And maybe some comfort sex while you’re at it.”
“Fuck you, Pete,” Gloria said with a laugh. “And thank you.”
“Hey, no problem. It was worth it to see those bastards run,” Pete said.
“What are you gonna do know?” Gloria asked.
“Oh, we’re gonna head to Vermont. Get out of this burg. I’m thinking of maybe hooking up with Bernie Sanders, ending this kind of nonsense you know?” Pete answered. His dad clapped him on the back, an unmistakable look of pride on his face.
“Good luck,” Gloria said.
“And you guys are always welcome here,” Cheetah said. “All of you.”
“Got blood on our hands,” Harper said quietly.
“So? You think there are any innocents here?” Cheetah said. “Cause if you do, then have I got news for you, sister.”
“Besides,” Panther added, “that sign out front says Sanctuary. And Sanctuary For All. No ifs ands or buts. Clear?”
“Crystal,” the others said in unison, and Gloria swelled with happiness.
She was finally home.