Vampire Games (Chapter Forty-three)

We were sitting on his balcony.

Jiggly Jill was long gone. It turned out that Jill wasn't much of a girlfriend. She had been someone he'd picked up tonight at a party. I doubted she would go to the police. Truth was, she hadn't a clue what had happened to her or what was going on, and just before she left, just as she was pulling on her clothes, I gave her a very strong suggestion to not go to the police.

She merely nodded, grabbed her stuff, gave Andre one last, fearful look, and headed out front to wait for her taxi.

"Don't look so sad," I said. "There's more where she came from."

Andre was presently pressing a bag of frozen peas to his right eye and alternately smoking. It was multi-tasking at its best. I suspected the cigarette might be accelerating the rate at which the bag of peas was melting, but decided to keep my hypothesis to myself.

When we listened to a car door open and heard what we both assumed was the taxi speeding off, Andre ground out his cigarette and looked at me.

"Who the fuck are you?"

"A private investigator."

He blinked. "You're kidding."

"Nope."

"Where did you learn to fight like that?"

I shook my head and motioned to the pack of cigarettes. He reached down and shook one out for me. I plucked it out deftly. He next offered me a light and I leaned into it and inhaled. I exhaled a churning plume of blue-gray smoke, and said, "If I told you, I would have to kill you."

"Fine," he said. "I've never come across someone like you."

"And I doubt you ever will again."

He studied with his free eye; the other being, of course, hidden behind a melting bag of Green Giant peas. "I believe it."

I had a thought, and wondered just how far I could go with this mind-control business. I waited until he caught my eye with his one good eye, and said, "I will tell you what I am, but when I leave your house, you will forget it completely. Understood?"

He looked at me – and looked at me some more – and finally, his one good eye went blank. He nodded. My suggestion had sunk home. A moment later, the dazed look disappeared, and he looked at me again as he had a moment or two before: with confusion and maybe a little awe.

"I'm not human," I said. "Not really. I'm something else. Some call me a vampire."

He lowered the bag of peas. His other eye was nearly swollen shut. I saw it working behind all the puffy folds, trying to see through. "You're serious?"

"Deadly."

"And that explains why you're so fast?"

"Yes."

"And strong?"

"Yes."

He had witnessed my skills firsthand, had seen me doing things he had never seen another human do. It wasn't hard for him to accept that I was perhaps something different.

"But I thought vampires were, you know, only in books."

"A form of them are, yes."

He was about to ask me another question and I shook my head. "We're not here about me, Andre. Do you understand?"

He nodded again, resigned. He returned the peas to his swollen eye and sat back a little in his chair.

I said, "When did you learn the dim mak?"

"Years ago. From a master in Japan."

"Have you used it before?"

He brought his cigarette to his lips. "Can't vampires read minds or something?"

"Often."

"So it would do me little good to lie."

"Little good."

"And what will you do with this information?"

"I haven't decided yet."

"Will you go to the police?"

"Maybe. But I doubt they'll believe me."

He chuckled lightly. "True."

Andre Fine was thirty-six years old and well spoken, but I sensed an urban roll to his words. No surprise there, since he had grown up in New Jersey. I knew he had a long list of priors, some of them violent. He had spent six years of his life in various prisons. He was a street fighter – no doubt, a natural fighter – one who had honed his skill into something deadly.

As I sat there looking at him, I suddenly knew why he did what he did. And how he could afford such a lifestyle. Whether it was a psychic hit or not, I didn't know. But I suddenly knew the truth.

"You're a hired killer," I said.

He glanced at me and shook his head and smiled. "You're good, lady."

I waited. He waited. I knew his every instinct was rebelling against talking to me, but I knew he would, even without my prodding.

"Yes, I am. Of sorts."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I can't always guarantee death. Some survive the dim mak." He shrugged. "Others don't."

"Caesar Marquez was one of those who didn't."

He shrugged again. The sign of a true killer. Nonchalance about life and death. Would I ever be that way? God, I hoped not.

"So, people hire you to kill people?" I asked.

"That's how it works, lady."

"Only you can't guarantee death."

He nodded. "It's impossible to guarantee death."

"The victim dies two weeks later," I said, "so no one expects foul play."

He grinned at me, his cigarette dangling from his lower lip. "That's the beauty of it, lady."

"Your hands are registered as lethal weapons, are they not?"

"They are. So, you're really a vampire?"

"I really am."

"Jesus."

"He's not a vampire, as far as I'm aware. Give me your hands."

He did, hesitantly, setting aside the peas. I wasn't compelling him to do what I wanted, but I think he thought I was, and that was good enough. I took his hands and instantly had image after image of bar fights and street fights and back alley brawls. In all of them, Andre was wearing a hood and shades. In disguise.

"So, you often pick fights with your unsuspecting victims."

He shrugged. I'd seen the dim mak being delivered, a ferocious blow that left his opponents reeling and dazed.

"You've killed dozens of people," I said.

He shrugged again. "Who's keeping track?"

I stared at him, unblinking. He looked back at me, and promptly blinked and looked away. I sensed his fear, I also sensed he was about to do something stupid.

I said, "Who hired you to kill Caesar Marquez?"

He shook his head. "Sorry, babe. That's where my cooperation ends, vampire or no vampire."

Except as he spoke the words, I saw a brief flash. An image. It appeared briefly in his thoughts and was gone. I released his hands and he sat back with the bag of peas.

"You can't prove any of this," he said. "No one would believe you."

"True," I said. "They wouldn't believe me, but they would believe you."

He sat there and thought about it and smoked, and high above us, a low cloud briefly obscured the stars. The wind also picked up. Somewhere in the Malibu Hills, a coyote howled.

"No one can know about what I've done," he said.

I said nothing and watched him closely. I was certain I hadn't blinked in many, many minutes. He went on.

"My family is so proud. Everyone is so proud. That feels good. It feels good knowing that I did my family proud. We were so poor. The money was so easy." He was babbling now, and I saw the tears. "Just one punch and I make thousands, tens of thousands. Sometimes, even more."

I watched and waited, catching a brief glimpse of what he was planning on doing.

"I can't let my family down. I can't. They're so proud."

I said nothing, and watched as Andre Fine, a five-time champion fighter, was reduced to tears and incomprehensible mumbling.

I got up and left him there on the balcony.