|At the Old Morgue|
Dim shapes whirled outside the dusty clubhouse windows. A gust bottomed out and they settled - a slow colored rain, then the boughs creaked and a wheel of leaves lifted in the twilight. It was autumnal beauty, the bright burnt orange of the maples and sumac forming a giant eye. An eye made of dead things, like the eye of the vampire they were hunting.
Joey slowly shifted his gaze from the revolving leaves and the ravine-side, looking to the far exit and the lane. He could see the gang filing out - windblown teens in jackets of either black or brown fake leather. They moved under a broken streetlight, and he saw a flash of white legs as Angie and some of the women popped into a Ford Electro. Most of the guys were unlocking their racing bikes, except for Alex, who owned a Yamaha.
“You wishing on stars or something?” Danny said. “Come on, we'll take a last look at the list.”
Turning on his heel, Joey mopped his straight dark hair behind his ears. “There's nothing on that list. Maybe I'll get out of vampires and into music. The Neo Raging Pumpkins are playing tomorrow night.”
“Music doesn't last - not forever like vampires do.”
“Huh. We've been wasting time forever.” Joey frowned. “Fifteen we've followed. Fifteen big disappointments.”
Danny pored over the list, scribbling notes. His young face was moon healthy; otherwise, he would've resembled a budding bureaucrat. An impish grin suddenly grabbed him. “It wasn't all disappointment. We found out a lot of interesting things.”
“Sure, interesting -- if I learn any more about people's private perversions I'll scream.”
“Checkmate,” Danny said. He dropped his pencil and crumpled the papers into a ball, which he tossed into a wastebasket across the room.
“So, you're giving it up, too?”
“Nope.” He pulled a sheet of paper from the drawer. “We have one more person to tail. I got the info from Alex. If anyone's a vampire this guy is.”
Danny's blue eyes glittered with hope. Joey slumped his shoulders and tried to look bored. But he couldn't - it was like trying to resist the last potato chip. Curiosity had always been his weakness. Because of curiosity, he'd joined the club. There were joggers and walkers who sometimes came up litter-strewn Elmfield Lane, and they all retreated quickly when they found it to dead-end at signs that said CHILDREN OF DRACULA and NOSFERATU, the words resembling splashed blood. Only Joey had gone inside to find a clubhouse and some members of a teenage vampire society.
They'd come down to clubhouse by subway, but for the investigation they decided to go on roller-skates. Joey fastened his windbreaker while Danny locked up. Having no serviced streetlights, the dead-end lane was dark. A gibbous moon was rising, spilling faint light through high-rises. Leaves skittered down the incline, riding on strings of wind, and their slow progress enhanced the feeling of mystery. There was teenage glamour in having a hideout at the bottom of a cul-de-sac; it made them feel proud enough to challenge vampires for ownership of the night.
Avoiding a neon Milky Way of major streets they raced on the smooth asphalt of side roads. In general, Toronto followed a barely perceptible incline down to the lake, and they were headed in that direction, flying on that advantage. Joey was sure most people who saw them thought they were nuts to be rollering in the autumn. It would blow their minds if they knew about the vampire hunt they were carrying out.
Moonlight glistened on the roads, and with the pools of lamplight formed a ribbon of mercury under their wheels. Three kilometers fell away into some gutter of history, and they halted at the crest of a steep hill. Joey looked at the brilliant signs below and then to Danny. Nodding, Danny took the lead. The hill was too fast, so he bent his left knee and kept that skate rolling out front while dropping his right skate back for horizontal drag. Joey did the same and they did a long posed slide down, letting go near the bottom so they could flash over to a park bench.
This was Taylor Park, and they were facing an older, poorer part of town. Sidewalks were left cracked or filled in with asphalt here, something you'd never see in the better neighborhoods. A mortuary with a showy sign was directly across the street. CASTLE VALLEY, Home of Peace spelled in hellishly bright letters. Quite a large affair, a pile of rough-faced stone blocks with a newer white brick building attached. Lights were on behind some of the windows and they were panes of frosted glass that revealed only vague shadows.
“Here comes our man,” Danny said, giving his head a toss right.
The rest of the street was a solid brick wall notched with small shops and upper apartments. A number of people were moving on it, but Joey had no difficulty spotting the man. He had a bold stride and was dressed all in black; black sport coat, shirt, shoes and trousers. His head was melon bald with neat black hair at the sides. Long features excluded him from the handsome department, though he was well built and was one of those guys who seem made for baldness.
“What's your gut feeling?” Danny said.
“Looks like he's on his way to a casual funeral. A weird priestly sort of guy. He feels important; you can tell that by the way he walks. Notice how he fastens the top button on his shirt even though he's not wearing a tie. Only nerds and mommy's boys do that. He doesn't strike me as a vampire.”
Heels clicking and echoing the man walked over the mortuary parking lot and in a side door. He didn't appear to notice them.”
“Gregory Black is his name, and he prefers to be called Gregory. He's an embalmer. Lives with his mother. He's single and forty one.”
“Why did Alex pick him as a vampire?”
“He has a black Mercedes 300-E with darkened windows. In daylight he goes everywhere in it, always parking in the shade. Never goes out in the sun, like he's allergic to it. Buys all sorts of stuff for his skin. His job is nightshift, and he haunts the sleazy parts of town at very late hours. No girlfriends or boyfriends, a loner.”
“You mean the corpses keep him company.”
“He might be drinking their blood when he's supposed to be draining them. If we could get inside and take a look--”
“Forget it. I refuse to break into a mortuary. The guy is just another pervert. He probably wears his mother's skirt and sings while he finger-paints the bodies.”
Gregory Black blew into obscurity with the falling leaves. There just wasn't enough in him to keep Danny and Joey interested, and they soon found themselves working on another problem. Since they hadn't discovered any vampires, gang democracy elected them to a new post. Halloween was a week and a half away, and the task of decorating the clubhouse was theirs. The treasury was handed over to them and with the small sum they were expected to make the place into a spooky cavern.
It was all coming along fine. They had some lights and black netting festooned to the ceiling. Boxes of strange odds and ends were stacked in the closets. An online bulletin magazine that advertised freebie junk was their source of information, and Joey was reading it while Danny studied a new vampire novel on his e-reader.
“Wow!” Danny said. “The guy's unarmed and cornered in a cavern by a monster breed of vampire. He's finished for sure, and then he leaps up, rips a stalactite from the roof and stakes one monster. His pal comes around the corner and blows the other one's head off with a silver shotgun slug. Their bodies just crumble and rot. Scabs and clay chunks.”
“Here's a new ad,” Joey said. “Rubber bats, all you want for a quarter each.”
“Over in Cabbagetown.”
“Let's skate over now before they're all gone.”
An arched bridge crossed the ravine and from the railing, they could see heaps of leaves and a shadowy trail below -- a perfect haunt for monster vampires. They didn't go down. Instead, they rolled on into Cabbagetown, coming immediately to a couple of police officers standing by their cruisers. Danny grinned and said hello, having learned from experience that being friendly was the way to avoid getting trouble from cops.
Heading into a side street, they began an easy skate down toward Carlsview Street and the bat stash. Lampposts and the hookers leaning on them were the scenery. Being teenage boys and without money, they were nearly invisible, but solid enough to get stuck at an area where construction sawhorses blocked the sidewalk. A stretch Limo parked in the middle of the road forced them to brake.
Turning, they looked back up the road. A tall street hooker with a short leather dress and fat legs was switching her hips as she walked down to the Limo.
“Wow, what a sleazy tramp,” Danny said.
Farther up a curly blond beauty was out on the road. She wore red hot pants and was revealing most of her breasts to a car curb-crawling up to her.
“Say,” Joey said. “Isn't that Gregory Black's Mercedes 300-E?”
“Sure is. Let's watch and see what he does.”
As it turned out, there wasn't much to see. The passenger door opened and cold air and the hooker were sucked inside. It was impossible to see any more because of the tinted windows.
A moment later, the stretch limo blocking them started backing up. Having rejected the fat-legged woman, the passenger was now eyeing them.
“Shit, that guy thinks we're hustlers,” Danny said.
Joey looked at the man in the limo, at his heavy beard and hollow eyes. Even his worst nightmares weren't quite as bad as the idea of having sex with him. Gregory was now backing up the street, so Danny punched Joey on the shoulder and wordlessly they skated off, following the Mercedes up the road.
Even though Gregory drove slow it was hard to tail him. It was hard to tail anyone on skates. They didn't want to be obvious and sidewalks choked with leaves and pedestrians made that difficult. The Mercedes kept to side streets, weaving its way east. Since the roads were mostly speed bumped, they managed to keep him in view.
“He's got her doing something to him,” Joey said. “That's why he's going so slow.”
Danny was too winded to reply. He was beginning to trail Joey. Just as they were about to give it up, the car nosed in at the gates of a cemetery. Gregory Black popped out and produced a key from a pocket in his leather jacket. He glanced around, the little bit of hair he had at the sides was mussed. He didn't appear to notice them skating in the shadows a half block away.
Moving to the sidewalk, Danny and Joey tripped along in thick leaves, watching as the car drove in.
“I know that cemetery,” Danny said. “It's big and there's a charnel house back a ways. His mortuary must own it.”
Joey smiled. “I bet he takes the woman into the coffin shack and pays her to play cold dead while he does his thing.”
“Yeah. I knew he was a weirdo.”
The gate was closed but Danny tried it and found it unlocked. It opened soundlessly and they skated in and up the road a piece. Crunching through the leaves, they came to a huge tiered stone, sat and removed their skates. They had runners in their backpacks, and they surveyed the graveyard before they put them on. Lights of the city were reflected in the sky. The cold fall wind was blasting parchment from the trees and leaves spun and skated. Large stones were everywhere - obelisks, statues and rectangular markers. Gregory's car and the stone coffin house were at the bottom of a low hill. A wedge of yellow light showed at the base of the door.
“The guy moves fast,” Joey said. “He's got her in there already.”
As they were going down the hill, Joey realized they'd made a mistake in not taking the road. The blanket of leaves crackled viciously and the mounds were becoming deeper near the bottom. It made for strange fear; if there was an open grave under one of the mounds they could get sucked down quicker than a scream.
Leaf dust covered them and they brushed the worst of it away as they stepped out on the road. After a glance around they crept up to the door, and then halted, both of them afraid to peek in.
It seemed like wind, the door was suddenly thrown open and they were confronted by Gregory Black. His eyes were wide, and icy with a glaze of light from the sky, but he didn't hold them there with mesmerism. He held them with a gun. A Colt pistol specifically. Shadows on his face began to drip, and they saw that it was blood.
Danny almost fell over.
“He really is a vampire,” Joey said.
Gregory Black sneered. “Try cannibal and you'll be closer. Those are nice reflector buttons you boys wear. They're visible from about a mile away.”
Danny looked at the button on his jacket and choked. Joey did nothing other than stare.
“Get inside,” Mr. Black said, waving his gun.
They shuffled up the steps, their courage failing them. Gregory sure didn't look like a mommy's boy now. His features were long and wickedly fierce, his bald head like a nut about to crack from the intensity of his warped mind. Black suited him perfectly, he moved like a shadow.
Dim light from a near-dead tube illumined the cobwebbed walls. Coffins gleamed in the room. Then they noticed something hanging on the wall. As it grew clear, Danny fainted dead away, thumping softly to floor.
Joey was stone still, a victim of the Gorgon, staring at the thing on the wall. Long frayed hair meant it had once been human. The face was withered and voodoo-doll hideous, a black swelling protruding from a hole where the lips had been. Long incisions had been made to open the chest and ribs, which were neatly split and tied apart, opening cage-like to reveal the gory hollow of the breast … only a black hunk of meat remained, pinned there by a dagger. Scraps of flesh remained on the dangling legs.
“Don't just stand there!” Gregory barked. “Drag your friend to that coffin and put him inside.”
Doing as he was told, Joey dragged Danny over. But he couldn't lift him. He was too limp and heavy.
“Never mind. Prop him up and leave him there. Now open the black coffin.”
Trembling, Joey stepped over to the black coffin, fearing that Gregory was going to shoot him and dump him in with a corpse. He lifted the lid and wiped sweat from his forehead. The hooker was inside, bound and gagged, staring up with terrified eyes. He wondered if she saw the relief on his face.
“That's Melinda in there,” Gregory said. “She's tonight's dinner guest.”
“Yes,” Joey managed to say, the word barely stealing past his hammering heart.
“It's on wheels, so wheel her to the table.” He pointed to a small scarred table set-up near the corpse. An assortment of knives gleamed and they weren't dinner cutlery or embalmer's tools. They were tanto and dagger points, dart points and a big Intruder Bowie. A deadly collection of the sort an assassin would keep.
Using all of his cool, Joey prevented himself from bolting. Common sense was echoing in his head, telling him he couldn't do anything unless Mr. Black put down the Colt. Getting behind the coffin, he found it moved easily. Ever so slowly, he wheeled it to the table.
Although bound, Melinda was able to move, and she bolted upright and stared at Gregory. Her pretty eyes were blue crystal balls foretelling her death, and Joey was wondering if it wasn't this cruel end and evil power that had put her on the streets in the first place.
Gregory gestured for Joey to take the chair, and he did. It was an uninviting dinner. The cutlery was expensive, but the meat was a little stale and the ladies were uncommonly quiet.
Something on a wire took to banging out in the rushing autumn wind. A hail of leaves scraped the stone walls. Danny groaned, lifted his head, and then passed out again. Gregory was unconcerned to the point of looking dead. His eyes went up and maggot white, then he folded his hands and said a silent grace.
Temptation was cooled by fear and Joey was left impotent. If he acted he was sure he would lose the struggle and get shot. There was also humiliation as Melinda implored and begged for help with her eyes.
Grace was short, a few more mumbled an evil words. When it was finished color came back to Gregory's cheeks and his eyes stabbed at Joey.
“Her heart is black,” Gregory said. “Black with sin and food for Mr. Black. Now bring me that heart!”
Rays of rage showed in his eyes, his stare all but burning the corpse off the wall. Joey turned slowly, trying to force himself to obey the command. His eyes rediscovered the opened ribcage, the dagger and the chunk of black heart.
Gregory's hand twitched on the gun, and Joey popped up and stepped cautiously to the corpse. Close up, the reek was incredible. Fumes reached like tentacles down his throat and soured his stomach. Holding his breath, he removed the dagger and the rotten meat.
Its backside was putrid green and it jelly shivered, threatening to squirm off the knife and onto him. Turning back to Gregory, he was nearly sick, and Gregory banged the gun handle impatiently on the table as he moved around to him. His face was scabrous with dried blood and a rope of drool swung from his chin. Without a doubt, he was mad, and his madness was hunger.
Taking the dagger and meat with his free hand, he ordered Joey to the other side of the table with the Colt. Hesitating for a moment, Joey saw a wet bulge in Gregory's pants, and it sent him back speedily to the chair.
“She must see that darkness of the female heart; see it eaten before she goes to the slab. Then she’ll understand that fate devours unfaithful ladies of the night.”
He put the meat to his lips and bit into it sweetly, chewing delicately. The light settled on him like a wax mask and he looked as real and wild as ghouls Joey had seen in the horror magazines they collected back at the clubhouse.
Melinda was unable to bear it; she convulsed, hardly able to hold back the choking vomit.
Sick ecstasy grew bright on Gregory's face. He put the Colt down and selected a large Tanto knife, and then he swallowed the heart, stared into Melinda's eyes like he might be in love with her, and lunged. Her bonds prevented her from squirming out of the way, and he drove both the Tanto blade and the dagger into her throat. Blood spurted to a fountain as he pulled out the knives. Throwing them down he seized her by the shoulders and sank his teeth into her wounded neck.
Terror and shock hit Joey, he moved to jump left, then right, and both times his eyes held him. He stared at the bloodsucking maniac, then the moment of fear rose to lighting and he scrambled up on the table, snatching the Colt before falling to the hard floor. He banged the back of his head and he felt his right knee pop; rolling he found himself staring up at a face bearded with blood. More blood was sprinkling over the table and there was the gleam of a knife. Then the face moved for him, a slow, horrible giant dropping down.
His hand shook so much it was swinging from side to side, but he still managed to pull the trigger. He didn't miss, a hammer blow knocked the head away, and as the sound of the blast filled his ears, he saw blood paint the ceiling. Two hard thumps followed as Melinda's corpse fell back to the coffin and Gregory went backwards with his chair to the floor.
Gobs of gore and brain tissue were glued to the ceiling, like tea leaves, and as Joey fell back and gasped, he could see the face of a vampire in the blood. And as the face spun into darkness and void, Gregory flopped his legs for the last time and coldly greeted the black-hearted slab.
. . . . . . . . . . .