The V-shell, along with the need for its reported use, are both myths.
— Crispin Dench, January 17, 1946, testimony, The MI5 Hearing into Wartime Occult Phenomena, Paris Sec.
The decency of flesh and bone, independent of mind and character, isn’t obvious until overcome by its closing stillness, when the delicacy of atomic bonds is revealed, and the eyes speak the fated honesty of the dead.
Franco Durante wiped his mouth with his sleeve, then laid the boy’s ruined body down onto the damp grass. The boy’s last words, clear in his dead eyes: terror, hell, deliver me from….
“He’s empty,” said a young Oriental woman, standing nearby. “You want more, Honey? I’ll find you some more.”
“No, Kiko,” he hissed, still lusting. He shuddered and wanted more. “We’ve gotta be careful.”
The hunger was like that; it wasn’t rational. But survival hinged on caution. Cautious Ages, Ages of caution. There would always be more like this one lying on the grass. Franco kicked the body gently, almost with affection, wondering if there was a shred of life remaining. But there wasn’t.
The moon had set and the suburban streetlamps surrounding the park were dim. Discovery was always possible, nonetheless, and awkward.
“Let’s blow,” he said.
“No,” said Kiko, taking his hand and falling in as a lover, her cheek against his chest. “I know we have to go, but I’m always afraid we’ll forget such lovely suffering. Just look at him, at how the dead pose so handsomely.”
“The dawn is hunting,” Franco said. “We’ve got to go.”
From Vincent Fountain Column, “Blood and Shadow”, Vancouver Sun, October, 17 1947:
To assign gender to a genderless thing, or human traits to a thing that lacks them under its surface, is often done for the purposes of clearer narration. But this writer will not opt to call what I have pursued for the last month either a “him or her”, or say that it holds any wholesome human qualities.
Instead, I will report that it is a lurking thing that feeds on blood and shadow, and has committed crimes so heinous that the police won’t reveal their nature to the public, or even to the dead’s own next of kin.
Trudy Parr didn’t read on. Instead, she put down the previous day’s newspaper, determined to return to the article later. She knew Vincent Fountain to be an excellent investigative reporter, but also a writer of some flamboyance who was not above overstatement. It was how he kept his desk on a top floor of the Sun Tower. But she could only take a crumb or two of his plummy prose at a time. She knew what the column was about, anyway. She’d assisted him in his investigation.
It was hoped that the column, and the ones in the series to follow, would blow the trashcan lid off of a story that would stun the city, the world. But she couldn’t help her doubts. The citizenry was still absorbed with the war’s end; Berlin, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And the police were stonewalling, an unnamed City Hall source stating that the Mayor didn’t want panic in the streets, and that the families of the victims had been gotten to in some way that had cooled their yearning for justice.
Changing her focus, she opened a file folder on her desk, and considered its significance—what she’d taken on.
The folder held details of a meeting with a surviving loved one. A woman named Willie, short for Wilhelmina. An old friend of Trudy’s from before the war, from the old days in the East End. Murder had strolled recently into Willie’s life, and it had been a strange murder, like so many of late. So strange, in fact, that though the police held a corpse cooling somewhere in a closet, they denied the murder had taken place, in hopes that more acceptable facts could be manufactured. For Willie Urquhart, though, it was a certain detail in the murder of her beau, Doyle Wells, that had become her obsession.
“It’s such a small thing,” Willie told Trudy Parr, as they sat at Willie’s kitchen table, each with a cup of tea, the morning of their meeting. The furnishings in Willie’s apartment were sparse and threadbare.
“It’s just a little square of paper,” she said, sliding it across the table to Trudy Parr. “But it has a mysterious sort of weight to it. I only have a few things of Doyle’s left, like his pool cue, some clothes. This little sheet of paper too, I guess. I even had his gun, for a while. I don’t know why he needed it. It was so small. He told me it was a thirty-two.” She shrugged. “It sure didn’t do him no good when he needed it, though. I pawned it because it made me sick to look at. I never understood what he did to pay the rent, or the circles he moved in. I asked, but he wouldn’t say. I guess it was pool, but how do you make a living off that?”
“Carefully,” said Trudy.
“And he died so awfully,” Willie said. “But if the cops wanted to keep it a secret, then somebody made a big mistake because they asked me to identify his body. I was all he had, so who else? Then, after that, the cops came and told me to keep my mouth shut, or else.”
Willie stopped talking a moment, and sipped her tea. Then she said, “You should’ve seen him, Trudy.”
“Why? What did you see, other than that he was dead?”
“Half his neck was gone.” She shook her head, still in disbelief. “I asked if it was a bullet that done it, but the cops didn’t say nothing. It looked like a dog had ripped his throat out. And the look on his face….”
“It was awful, but there was something pure about it. There was something pure in his eyes. As pure a thing as I’ve ever seen. Do you understand?”
“I don’t know that I do, Willie.”
“It was like pure,” Willie struggled. “—oh, I ain’t got the words. It was something like—pure horror. That’s it. Frozen there in the eyes. I wanted to touch him, brush his brow maybe, touch his hair, to make that look go away, but I couldn’t. I could’ve always taken his worry away when he was alive, with just a touch, but I was afraid to touch him when I saw him lying there. I loved him, but couldn’t touch the horror. There were traces of bloody brown tears down his cheeks, too. He was crying blood when he died, and he wasn’t the crying type.”
Trudy shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “I’ve seen that face on a lot of corpses, Willie,” she said. “Most people don’t want to die.”
“Not like this you ain’t. I don’t care what you saw, or where you saw it.”
Trudy Parr paused a moment, thinking of Paris. She’d found friends there with those wounds, on the streets in the bloodless dawn. Fearless members of the night-blue La Résistance, torn to shreds when a simple bullet in the head would have satisfied any SS agent. And their faces—horror was a good word. There were things in the old city too ancient to explain, that could tear a man apart, then vanish or stand watching arrogantly in the distance. The Nazis got eaten, too. The evil didn’t take sides. She and Dench had devised a material defence, but had abandoned it to the cache of weaponry they’d left behind, believing—hoping—it would never be necessary again. Now, though, the evil was surfacing in her city, and she blamed herself. She’d sensed it coming since returning from the war, where she’d learned the things to look for. Now the truth of it was a nightmare she took to bed each night, rather than facing it down at twilight. That was her fault.
Willie tapped the note with her finger, bringing Trudy back into the present.
“It’s simple,” Trudy said. “It’s an IOU.”
“That’s what I thought,” Willie said. “I guess it’s how a guy gets killed, the wrong people owing him money. He left it with me before he went out that night. That’s what’s crazy. As though I could cash it in, when he couldn’t. And he made out like it was a going away gift, like in case he didn’t make it home. ‘I don’t know what you can do with it,’ he told me. ‘Under the circumstances, that is. It’ll be hard to cash in. Maybe you’ll never try. That’d be best, but it’s all I have to give you. Be careful with it.’
“See how mixed up he was? He made it sound like I should just tear it up, so why give it to me? I don’t know who belongs to this name, either.” She pointed at what, to the uninformed eye, would look like an indecipherable scribble. “That adds to the mystery. Is it who wrote the IOU?”
“That’s usually how it works.” Trudy Parr recognised the scribble. It wasn’t a signature, naturally. Signing such a document with a legitimate signature was dangerous, leaving little wiggle room if questioned. It was a symbol, and she knew to whom it belonged. She wished she didn’t.
“So,” she asked Willie, “what do you want me to do with it?”
“It’s ten thousand dollars,” said Willie. “That’s a lot of money, in my book. I guess I want you to collect it for me. You do that kind of thing, right, since you opened the Agency?”
“Not really,” she said. “This is work for an entry-level thug. I don’t use brass knuckles.”
“Well, I can’t cash it in,” Willie said. “And there’s another thing that was kind of scary.”
“It’s sort of weird,” she said.
“Well, this woman knocked on my door the other night. Japanese I think, and wearing a real fur coat and this swell outfit. She just stared at me when I opened the door, like for a whole minute. It was creepy. Then she smiled, and her teeth…!”
“What about them?”
“They were like animal teeth. Is that possible?”
“Kiko,” Trudy said, almost a surrendering sigh. “What else?”
“She said that if a guy like Doyle was to leave behind a certain document after he died, the person who held on to it might be in some real trouble.”
“Then she jumped at me. It wasn’t much of a jump, she stopped at the threshold. But her mouth was open wide, like she was gonna take a bite outta me.”
“Then what happened?”
“She laughed like hell. I’d screamed and fallen on my ass because she looked like some kind of monster when she came at me—a pretty monster, though. I mean she was real beautiful in an eerie sort of way. Pale, pale skin. Dark eyes. Like someone a knight in shining’ armour would want to rescue if he could, except she didn’t need no rescuing. Then she held out her hand, reached in from the hall and helped me up like we were old friends. It was real cold, though.”
“What was cold?” Trudy said.
“Her hand, it was like ice. When I got up, she said she didn’t want me to be one of those things that went bump in the night. I guess that means I shouldn’t go after the money, huh. But it’s all I got right now to set things straight. I can take it and leave town, maybe.”
“Maybe,” said Trudy Parr, “but these are some nasty characters.”
“What do you say? I’ll give you a cut, of course. What do you charge for something like this?”
“Street says twenty-five percent,” Trudy said, looking across the table at Willie, a woman who’d been drawn into a very dangerous world few could comprehend. “Let’s say five, though.”
An IOU is a white flag, a tangible token of surrender. In the case of this marker, however, the issuer was a poor loser who rarely paid a debt.
She left Willie’s without another word.
Now she sat at her desk. She’d finished Vincent Fountain’s column, and had moved on to a story of a missing child, found dead in a park. The circumstances of his death too ghastly, the reporter said, for the police to release the details. There’d been a lot of that going round lately. She paused at the end of the article and considered doing the crossword, but she never did the crossword. It was the pastime of victims and inmates. She was realised that she was procrastinating. She wanted to change the feeling of dread in her gut to something else, maybe her typical contempt for enemies and monsters.
She took the IOU, and began to copy it onto a page in a small notepad.
There was a knock on her door. Looking up, she saw a familiar and welcome silhouette through the mottled glass.
“Come,” she said, and Crispin Dench entered her office.
“G’morning,” he said, taking a seat. “And a lovely morning it is, no?”
It was raining, torrential. She looked over her shoulder, through her office window, and saw it falling.
“So, what’s cookin’ this morning?” said Dench. “You’ve got that disagreeable look in your eye. Someone’s gonna get it, right? Can I watch?”
“Don’t be funny.” She copied on.
She handed over the IOU.
Dench gave it a glance and grunted, “This is an interesting document,” he said. “Why’s it in our offices?”
“So you recognise the scratch at the bottom.”
“And for ten grand.” He whistled. “That’s some chunk of change. You intend to collect it?”
“This guy’s dangerous.”
“Yeah,” Dench said. “A guy who’d rather kill you than pay a debt. Or at least try.”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, “possibly.”
Trudy Parr looked him in the eye. As she did he changed his posture in the chair, and looked back like a silent code had passed between them.
“Collecting on an IOU is a chump’s gig,” he said.
“I’m doing it for a friend, and some chump off the street would mess it up. This one’ll take more than a bad attitude and a baseball bat.”
“I hope you’re charging the full 25%.”
She pulled a Gitanes from its pack and lit up.
“So you’re not charging the full twenty-five,” Dench said.
“We’ve got a good thing going here, Crispin,” said Trudy Parr. “Government contracts, consulting work, bank investigations, real pennies from heaven. We’ve got a duty to provide the occasional job, pro-bono.”
“Not this one, though.”
“Yes, this one.”
“Okay then, you’ll need my help. When and where?”
“No. I’m going in solo. Too many of us will just complicate things.”
Crispin Dench stared silently, across the desk. Then, “I repeat myself,” he said. “Durante’s dangerous.”
“So am I,” Trudy replied, “and I don’t need you to rescue me.”
“He’s more than dangerous,” Dench said, “and we left this work behind when we left Paris. We’re civilians now. It’s up to the police to handle this.”
“We’re the only ones who know what we know.”
“But we aren’t equipped, like in Paris.”
“I know that’s what you told MI5,” said Trudy Parr.
“You don’t believe it?”
“Sometimes we keep secrets, even from one another. Let’s not deny it.”
She had a point. He didn’t rebut.
“Just let me see if I can handle this without starting a war,” she said, then grinned. “I’ll be subtle and cunning.”
“If I do start a war, though, then there’ll be plenty of time and opportunity for us to arm ourselves. If anyone can, we can.”
“Death wish,” said Dench. “If it is a war, it’ll be a like nothing anyone’s ever seen, not in this little burg. Not anywhere this side of the Atlantic or Pacific.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” she said, “but I’m ready for it. They found a dead kid in a park this morning.”
“I heard,” Dench said, considering the angles. “Fair enough.” He got up and went to the door.
“What’s on your agenda for today?” said Trudy.
“I’m going to the courthouse,” Dench said. “They’re sentencing Dexter Rice today. We worked hard on that case, and I wanna see the judge give him the rope. Then, all of a sudden, I think I want a shoeshine. After that, a late lunch and then the Mercy City Lounge for cocktails.”
“You should forget all this and come along,” he said. “We don’t have to take on every lost cause that comes our way.”
She drew hard on her cigarette, then said, “Call me a sucker.”
“Not a chance.”
The five childhood rules of hunting vampires:
- Never speak a vampire’s name, especially in his presence—doing so will instantly turn you into his slave.
- The number nine repeated nine times in a vampire’s presence will turn him to sand.
- Surrounding a vampire in a ring of Bazooka Bubble Gum and butterscotch Lifesavers will immobilise him.
- An oak stake is always the best tool for killing a sleeping vampire, but a four inch galvanized nail taken from your father’s workshop during a full moon, will do in a pinch.
- Not all vampires are evil, but they all eat people. So, they’ve all gotta die.
As a child, Trudy Parr, and her small cadre of friends, each a savage outcast, lived by this list of rules that existed nowhere but in their own splendidly intrepid minds. Dark cellar quorums had been convened, and arguments made for the inclusion of more conventional rules that already existed in the mundane vampire annals. And once a bucktoothed boy with crazy eyes named Eddie Strange said nine said nine times would never work. Why not just say eighty-one? ‘Cause things are just that way, the nine year old Trudy said, and suddenly she believed it more than anything else in the world. The other four rules might just be imagination, but the Rule of Nine was gospel.
The list of rules remained as it was, and was strictly adhered to whenever young Trudy was the first to enter a dark room in an abandoned house, with nail and hammer in hand.
It was 11:45pm.
She parked a few doors down from Franco’s Barbershop, thinking it funny the things a woman thought about when facing death. Maybe it was what they meant by a dying person’s life passing before her eyes.
He’s more than dangerous, Dench had said.
The Rule of Nine, she mused.
She lit a cigarette and waited until midnight.
Franco’s was an all-night operation. Barbershop out front, booze-can and gambling in the back. And it was a man’s place. The barber who greeted her at the door said as much.
“This is a man’s place,” he said, dressed in his white barber’s tunic, comb and hair tonic in his chubby hands.
Women weren’t welcome.
“This ain’t no place for a woman,” he said. “You ain’t welcome.”
In fact, it wasn’t a place for a woman under any circumstances, unless she was a hooker passing through, looking for her pimp or a customer.
“This ain’t no place for a dame unless she’s a hooker looking for her pimp,” said the barber. “You a hooker looking for your pimp? You sure don’t look like a hooker. You look like a whole other kinda trouble. That your kink?”
“No,” Trudy Parr said. “I’ve got kinks that’d kill a man, so mostly I leave ’em alone. I’m looking for someone, but not a pimp.” She handed him her card, and he held it at arm’s length, squinting as he read it aloud—
“Trudy Parr, Dench and Parr Investigations. You some kinda private eye, that it?”
“Some kinda,” she said.
“Who’s this Dench character?”
“He’s a guy, right?”
“Yes he is.”
“Then why ain’t he here, then? Why’d he send a skirt? He think a pair of legs and a set of tatas are gonna make a man cough up the dirt?”
“Dench doesn’t send me anywhere, fat boy,” said Trudy Parr. “And who says there’s any dirt to cough up?”
Looking round the shop, she saw a man in a barber chair with his face wrapped in a hot towel, and another whom she recognised, reading a copy of Dime Detective Magazine. He was dressed in a silk claret vest, a starched white button-down and bow-tie, and a freshly pressed pair of blue pinstripe trousers. He was seated at the shoeshine stand, “Justice Weekly,” she said, surprised. The man gave her a casual wave. “Since when do you shine ’em this side of town? I thought you worked downtown.”
“I get around,” Justice shrugged. “Just started here tonight. They couldn’t get no one for the late shift. So I thought I’d take it on, and make a little extra cash.” He flipped a page. “I do women’s shoes, too.”
The barber, not liking her tone or demeanor, had stepped round and blocked the door back out onto the street. If it was meant to intimidate, he failed.
“Tough guys come and go,” she said, facing him. “Mostly they go. Sometimes I think they’re an endangered species.”
Then he heard a snapping sound, and when the barber looked down at her small hand, he saw an open switchblade, six inches of glinting steel. The barber was one of Franco Durante’s human lackeys, sensitive to the possibility of a gutting.
‘You know how to use that thing?” he said.
She gave him a calm and practiced assassin’s stare, and said, “Try me.”
It was enough. In spite of pretending otherwise, he knew Trudy Parr by reputation. He licked his lips.
“Ha! That’s rich,” said a dapper man, sticking his head out a door at the back of the shop. “She’s got you cold, Burt. By the short hairs. Yer in a real pickle, too. This one’s the killer, for real.”
Burt had gone pale, stepping back a half step. Trudy Parr folded her hands in front, the knife blade pointing down. Then she looked past the fat man, at the man at the rear of the shop.
“Franco Durante,” she said. “Frankie, the fucking torpedo, Durante comes out from his hole.”
“Ain’t no hole,” Durante said. “This is a swell joint, you know that.”
“Word on the street says it’s a dump. You water down your booze and your cards are marked.”
“Those are mostly lies,” said Durante. “Come on back, and I’ll show you. We can talk while Burt goes and changes his drawers.”
“Alright,” she said. “Outta the way, Sweeney Todd.” She gave Burt an easy but firm shove as she passed by.
Justice Weekly chuckled, as he read on about damsels mummified by Martians, found beneath the Empire State Building.
The backroom was a windowless chamber, dimly lit by low wattage bulbs hanging from the ceiling. It was smaller than she expected, thick with shadow and tobacco smoke. Four uniform cops and a priest in a collar sat at a table, each holding a poker hand. A vampish looking Kiko sat in a dark corner, her face eerily lit by the ember at the end of her cigarillo.
“You in Franco?” said the priest.
Durante picked up his hand from the table and looked. “Nah,” he said, throwing it back onto the table, facedown. Then he sat and invited Trudy Parr to do the same.
“So, what’s it about?” said Durante. “Don’t worry. I ain’t got no secrets from this crowd. Father Russo even hears my confession occasionally.”
“The ongoing saga,” Russo grinned.
“It’s an IOU,” Trudy said, holding a chit in her hand. “Says you owe Doyle Wells ten large. He gave it to his girlfriend before his demise. She’d like to collect.”
“Ain’t no one owes nothin’ to someone as dead as Doyle Wells,” Durante said.
“That’s verging on a double negative,” said Trudy Parr.
Franco Durante sat back and put on a serious face. “Doyle Wells,” he said, “that little shit, was a pool hustler. No one legitimately beats me at pool ‘cept a hustler, right fellas?”
The men round the table nodded, shrugged nodded and looked dubious.
“Then I guess you got hustled,” said Trudy, “too bad. It’s your mark. That means you pay.”
“Let me see it.”
She handed over a small square of paper. Durante scanned it briefly, then lit it on fire with a Zippo.
“Now, like I said, I don’t owe no one nothin’.”
The mood in the room had suddenly changed.
“Partner and me gotta get back on the road,” one of the uniforms said, placing his hand face down on the table. “We fold.”
“But you each got twenty bucks in the pot,” said the Russo.
“We gotta go,” said the cop. “There’s crime to fight.”
“Me too,” and “Me too,” said the other two cops.
They followed each other out, through a door onto the back alley, as Durante picked up a hand one of them had left behind. Full house. “Fuck,” he said.
“I call,” said Farther Russo, laying down a pair of sevens. “And now I have to go say Mass.” He raked his cash winnings into his hat.
Durante check his watch. “Mass? Now?” he said.
“Eventually,” said Russo, putting on his coat and disappearing into the alley.
“You can sure clear a room, Trudy Parr,” Durante said.
“It’s a gift,” she said, still standing.
“Yeah? Well fuck you. Go home. Your IOU’s ashes. Our business is over.”
“That how you deal with your debts Franco, by burning them. That doesn’t make ‘em go away.”
“Does in my book,” he said.
“Well I’m calling you on it,” said Trudy Parr.
“Maybe that was a counterfeit you torched. I do pretty good work, as it turns out.”
“You’re full of it.”
“BS ain’t my style,” she said, “and you know it.”
“Then where’s the original?”
“In my sock drawer.”
“People die for less.”
“There’s also the matter of the recent body count,” Trudy said. “I didn’t care when you were feeding on your enemies, but why’d you turn to little boys”
“What body count?” said Durante.
“You’re a fucking vampire.”
He stopped, nonplussed. “You don’t know anything,” he said.
“The hell I don’t. I smelled it on you first time we met, back when I was a kid and you were just a cut-rate neighbourhood mafiaso. I didn’t know what it was all about back then, your eyes a little too green, your tint a little too anemic. And that dead smell that just won’t wash off. You had it then and you’ve got it now.”
“I got bad kidneys. I see a doctor.”
“Funny,” said Trudy, “but you know, Dench and I iced a few of your kind in Paris.”
Trudy Parr was pissing him off. Durante had finally passed the point of denial. He smiled broadly, hoping to make a game of it. “Yeah,” he said. “I heard rumors about that, but I never figured out how you did it. The Paris coven’s ancient, deadlier than most.”
“And you’ve turned some of your mob, too. Sure, Burt out there’s one of your human minions, but Chief Vampire’s gotta have others nearby, to keep him company. How many of your mugs are out there feeding, besides you?”
“Some,” he said.
“And the cops?”
“Some of them, too.”
“So, you gonna eat the whole city?”
“Like a plate of Gnocchi,” said Franco Durante, suddenly all fangs, and a white steaming flesh.
Trudy Parr drew her .38 automatic, and took aim.
“You should know better that,” Franco Durante said.
She did know better, and felt the fool as she pulled a crucifix from her handbag, holding out and hoping for the best, hoping Durante was weaker than members of the Paris Coven.
Durante laughed out loud. “Damn it woman,” he said, “didn’t Paris teach you anything? How do you expect that work if you don’t even believe it?—you don’t, do you.”
He was correct, she didn’t.
“A trinket like that just gives me gas,” he said.
She tossed it aside.
“Looks like you showed up to a vampire slaying without a stake. Unless there’s one in that spiffy Versace bag of yours?”
“Forgot my galvanized nail, too.”
“So you’ve come to sacrifice yourself, is that it?”
“Just pay the IOU, Franco. This doesn’t have to get ugly.”
“Maybe I should turn you,” he said, “instead of just eating you. Then lock you in the basement and feed you rats.”
“That would be stupid. You have your little sect to protect. I’ve left instructions round town, suggesting what to do in the event of my disappearance or demise.”
“With Vincent Fountain, no doubt. I’ll eat him, too.”
“And a lot of others,” said Trudy Parr. “Fountain knows he’s on thin ice, himself. So he’s shared instructions of his own, with others. People you’ve no way of tracking them down.”
“So it’s a war you want. You’re here to instigate a war between my people and yours.”
“Why’s it always the cowards who shout the word war first?”
“You’re unhinged,” Durante said.
There was a moment of silence.
She was running out of options and things to say. It was time to stop winging-it and start improvising.
“You’re right about one thing,” she said. “I don’t believe in crucifixes, but I do hold some things to be true.”
“The Rule of Nine,” she said, hoping her belief in it was strong enough. Her childhood vampires were imagined. Durante wasn’t.
He sneered, “What’s that shit?”
“I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again—nine. Now that’s twice.”
What happened next, happened fast as Durante’s rose from his chair and grabbed Trudy Parr by the throat.
“You’re wasting my time,” he said.
“Nine,” she gasped, eyes wide. He was lifting her off of the floor by her neck. “Nine, nine, nine, nine, nine….” That was seven.
Then Franco threw her down onto the floor, fell on her and covered her mouth with his hand. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but you better shut your mouth.”
Struggling beneath his supernatural strength, she only managed to shift his hand once and choke out the number—for the eighth, and maybe last time—”Nine!”
Hearing the racket in the backroom Justice Weekly looked up from his magazine and said, “That might be our cue.”
“I think you’re right,” said the man in the barber chair, getting to his feet, and throwing down the towel. It was Crispin Dench. “Sounds like playing nice isn’t working,” he said. “Where’s the weapon?”
Reaching round behind his stand, Justice Weekly produced a shotgun and tossed it across the room. Dench caught it, midair.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“It’s dinnertime,” Durante hissed, holding Trudy down, his fangs growing sharper, his breath an August abattoir. “I’m gonna make such a lovely mess of you.”
Trudy struggled to spit out the final nine, and almost did when the door came crashing in. Crispin Dench stepped in and drew a bead on Franco Durante. Justice Weekly followed close behind.
“Damn,” Durante said, looking up at the shotgun, still holding his hand over Trudy’s mouth. “Another fucking armature.”
“You know about Paris,” Dench said.
“I know that the Paris vamps were eating the city alive,” said Frankie the Torpedo. “And, sure, I heard rumors that you came up with some gizmo that saved the day, but I figure they were only rumors. I think you were just lucky. You laid low until the Nazis quit, and then you came home.”
“That’s real interesting,” Dench said. “So you don’t know what a V-shell is.”
“No,” Durante chuckled. “What the fuck’s a V-shell.”
“Some say it’s a myth,” said Dench. “Just like you.” He pumped the shotgun.
“I hear it’s a real killer,” said Weekly.
“Looks like you’re the appetiser,” Durante said, standing.
He ran at Dench, and Dench took aim at the vampire’s heart. The voice of the gun firing in the small room sounded to Trudy Parr like every car-bomb she’d ever rigged and detonated.
“Holy fuck,” Franco said, looking at the wound, then up at Dench. “So that’s a fucking V-shell.” He fell down dead.
“That’s quite a toy,” Kiko said, rising out of the shadow.
“Who’s that?” Weekly said.
“Another one,” said Dench, pumping the gun again.
“Wait!” Kiko said, moving too fast to see. “Me and Franco’s trolls have got a lot of cash stashed round town. I’ll give you the ten grand, and a lot more.”
“For what?” Dench said.
“No,” said Trudy Parr. “The body count’s too high already, and now you’re eating kids.”
“Yeah,” Kiko shivered, showing her fangs. “They’re sweet, but we can change our ways. There’s still enough bad guys in this town to sustain us—half the Police department and City Council for starters.”
“Shoot her,” Weekly said “right in the heart.”
Kiko vanished, and reappeared behind Justice Weekly, grabbing him from behind, her arm tight round his neck. “This demonstrates a major flaw in your weapon,” she said. “A vamp moves too fast, and once she knows she’s in yer sights, she’s gonna move, faster than you can see.”
“Shoot her,” Weekly coughed. “She’s fucking strangling me.”
“No,” said Dench. “It’s got to be a heart shot. She’s holding you in the way.”
“Don’t worry shoeshine boy,” Kiko said. “You’re relatively safe. I don’t strangle my food before I eat it.” She opened her mouth wide, ready to sink her fangs into Weekly’s neck.
“Hold it, Kiko” said Trudy Parr, “I’ve got a question to ask before you finish him off.”
“Finish me off?” Weekly choked. “Waddaya mean, finish me off?”
“Life’s hard, Justice,” Trudy said. “She’s got you cold.”
“Damn it, Trudy,” he cried, “at least try do something.”
“Working on it,” she said.
“Working on what bitch?” Kiko shouted. Her preternatural voice shook the room. “What are you working on that’ll make a damn bit of difference?”
Dench look at Weekly, in desperation, then back at Trudy Parr.
“Just one question,” said Trudy.
“What for Christ’s sake? And you know yer pissing me off when I say something like that.”
“As I understand it, you’ve been in this room all night?”
“Yeah, why?” Kiko said.
“And did you hear me mention a certain number?”
“Yeah, multiple times. It was really pissing me off, too.”
“So you heard me say that number eight times, right?” Trudy said, “And I know how much vamps love to count shit, so don’t lie.”
“Okay, you said it eight times,” said Kiko, her interest piqued.
As she spoke, Trudy Parr saw Eddie Strange’s shitty buck-toothed grin in her head, wondering if he was right, hoping any fleeting crisis of faith wouldn’t spoil the moment. “Then I have something to say,” she said.
“What?” Kiko shrieked. “Spit it out.”
Dench took aim again. “Maybe a head shot will work.”
“Damn it, Crispin,” Weekly said, feeling Kiko breathing into his ear. “You’ll take off my head too.”
“One of life’s hard choices,” said Dench.
“What?” Weekly wept.
“Wait,” said Trudy, stepping between Weekly and the shot gun. “I want everyone to pay attention.”
The room went quiet, frowns and dark curiosity.
“Nine,” she whispered, and waited.
“What have you done?” Kiko screeched, blowing open the back door, popping lightbulbs and violently shifting furniture. Her eyes wide and oddly innocent as she collapsed into a pile of sand, the colour of pink cherry blossoms.
There was just sound of rain falling in the back alley, in the hush that followed.
Weekly stood alone. “What just happened?” he said.
“You’re gonna live to shine more shoes,” Trudy said.
“All’s clear?” said Burt, skulking into the backroom.
“Don’t push your luck,” said Trudy Parr. “Get out before more of Durante’s trolls show up.”
“That’s the plan,” he said. “I’ve got a Roadster parked out front. Tank full of gas and a suitcase in the trunk. But first….” He held out an envelope. “Take this for that Willie dame. Doyle was a good guy.”
Dench took the envelope and opened it. “The ten grand?” he said.
“More like fifty,” said Burt. “It’s half of what we had onsite. Half for me, half for her.”
The V-shell (V for vampire), though reported to be a myth of war by its developer, Crispin Dench, is in fact a reality. See below.
A V-shell is a self-contained cartridge containing “shot” made from oak wood, and replaces the “stake” traditionally used to slay a vampire. It is fired from a smooth bore shotgun, and differs from oak “bullets” in that, unlike a wooden bullet, the pellets of the V-shell do not disintegrate when passing through the barrel of the gun.
— Squadron Officer Natalie Falls, January 20, 1946, testimony, The MI5 Hearing into Wartime Occult Phenomena, Paris Sec.