Vampire Games (Chapter Thirty-five)

I was familiar with boxing gyms; not so much with dojos.

Andre Fine's Kenpo Karate Studio in Long Beach was about what I expected to see: lots of floor mats, lots of mirrors, two punching bags, a trophy case and tons of newspaper and magazine clippings adorning the entrance/lobby room. A schedule next to the door indicated the next class would start in two hours.

Presently, there wasn't a soul around. I heard someone talking in a back office. On the phone, if I had to guess. Single voice speaking, pausing, then speaking, then yelling. More yelling. Then a slam.

Oh, goodie, I thought. At least they'll be in a good mood.

A man appeared a moment later, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He had a small beer gut and thick arms and a lot of muscle around his shoulders and neck. Probably, when he was in uniform and wore a karate robe, it bulged and opened around his mid-section. He probably hee-yahed! with the best of them. And I had no doubt that he had punched his way through many a wooden board in his time.

The man, who might have been talking to himself – and not very kindly – looked startled when he saw me. "Can I help you?"

"I'm here to see Andre Fine," I said, reaching in my purse and extracting a business card. I held it out to him. "I'd like to ask him a few questions regarding a case I'm working on."

He took the card, read it, and then handed it back. Most people don't hand my cards back. Most people hold them politely and talk to me civilly – then throw them away as soon as I leave. Handing my card back irritated me. Handing my card back made me hate his face. Handing my card back stirred a surprising amount of anger in me.

Down girl, I thought.

The anger subsided enough for me to reach out and take the card back and not break his fingers in the process. And as I took the card and slipped it back in my purse from whence it came, I had an image of me slamming this stranger up against the trophy case and…

Drinking from his neck.

Jesus.

This wasn't a normal reaction from me. This wasn't how I handled animosity. Not with anger. Not with violence. Maybe with a cute quip. Or to just brush it off. Not with images of violence.

It's him, I thought suddenly. It's his thoughts. His anger. His violence. The thing inside me.

"Hey, you okay?" asked the guy. To his credit, he looked a little nervous.

He should be nervous.

Again, that wasn't my thought. I wiped the sweat from my brow and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Is Andre around?"

The guy looked at me some more, then got around to my question. "Sorry, but Andre doesn't actually work here. Sure, his name is on the sign outside and all the letterheads, but the truth is, he rarely shows up anymore. I thought you might want your card back because I would hate for you to waste it on me when he's never around."

I paused and collected my thoughts. "Thank you. Where…where can I find him?"

"These days? Pick any one of his many girlfriends. Sorry, I shouldn't say that about my boss, but he's a hard one to pin down lately."

"Why's that?"

"Hard to say. Too many distractions maybe. Too much success. Too many endorsements. Too many women."

"What would he say if he heard you say that?"

"I don't know. And I don't really care. This place is going to hell in a hand basket and he doesn't care. I just got off the phone with another parent who's pulling her kid. I don't blame her. It's hard to pitch a world-class studio when the head guy rarely, if ever, makes an appearance."

"Is it common for karate champions to own a studio?"

"Common and expected. And the ones who do at least make a courtesy appearance every now and then to keep everyone happy, maybe a demonstration here and there, something to keep the customers coming back."

"I've heard rumors that Andre Fine has been trained in," I paused, picking my words carefully, "other areas of martial arts."

The big guy crossed his hairy arms. "Oh? In what other areas of martial arts?"

I sensed that he knew immediately where I was going with this. I sensed that I wasn't the only one who had asked him this question. I also sensed that such accusations had been whispered about Andre Fine for many years now. But these were much more than just feelings. I had slipped briefly into the big guy's thoughts. I had done so effortlessly. All I had needed were a few moments with him. Now we were connected mentally. Only, he didn't know it.

"What do you know about dim mak?" I asked suddenly. "Or the touch of death as some call it?"

He chuckled lightly and blew air through his flat nose, air which ruffled his thick mustache. He waved his hand dismissively. "Dim mak is a bunch of hooey."

His thoughts gave him away. He didn't want to talk about it. In fact, he very much wanted me to leave and was thinking hard of an excuse to give me.

No excuses, I thought. I hadn't planned on directing his thoughts. I hadn't planned on anything of the sort when I arrived here just a few minutes earlier.

But seeing the direction he was going with his thoughts, sensing his intention to mislead and misdirect me, I instinctively stepped forward. I had not been aware that I could direct another's thought until speaking with Hanner last month – and watching her manipulate a theater of police officers.

I had thought I would never do it.

I had thought I would never resort to controlling another human being's thoughts.

But something within me wanted to control his thoughts. Needed to control him. Needed him to do my bidding. I suspected I knew what this something was.

I didn't want to control him. All I wanted was the truth. I wanted to know what he knew about Andre Fine. It was as simple as that.

Tell me what you know about dim mak, I thought.

He glanced at me, and as he did so I saw something disconcerting. His expression went blank. Dead. He opened his mouth to speak, faltered, then tried again. "Dim mak is not very well understood." He spoke in a flat monotone. "But it is real."

"Has Andre Fine been taught the dim mak?"

"Oh, yes. He's spent many years in Japan learning it from those who specialize in it."

"And what does the dim mak do?"

"It kills if struck correctly."

"And you believe this?"

"I have seen this."

"You have seen Andre Fine perform it?"

"No, another."

"And what was the result?"

He looked blankly. "Death."

"How long ago did this happen?"

"When I was in my twenties. I was a new fighter. We had all heard rumors that it was going to be performed in a fight."

"Tell me about the fight."

He did, speaking in his dead monotone. The fight had been an arranged fight. Both fighters were highly accomplished, and both were reputed to have mastered dim mak. The fight had occurred in a field, well away from the city. The fight itself had been a fairly long one, with both fighters evenly matched. That is, until one fighter struck the death blow. The dim mak.

"And what happened after that?"

The guy licked his lips and said, "The other fighter went down."

"Was he alive?"

"Yes."

"When did he die?"

"Two weeks later."

"And you believe it was because of the dim mak?"

He looked at me…and smiled emptily. "I know it was because of the dim mak."

Later, as I drove home, I realized that I hadn't even gotten the guy's name. I had controlled his thoughts, made him do my bidding, and I didn't even have the decency to know his name. Seemed rude.

Yeah, I thought. I'm a monster.