Chapter XXVI: The DaneWearily, I pushed open the door to The Last Round.
'Got 'em, Damsel. Every last fucking one of them.' I leaned on the doorframe, running a hand through my hair.
'That's cool', I deadpanned. 'You're still a pissy bitch. In a good way.' I grinned, giving her a shove.
'Whatever, I'll keep that in mind.'
Is that what I am? An Anarch? Which road are these feet of mine taking me down?
Shrugging off such brooding thoughts, I decided to pay Max a visit. Afterall, he said he'd reward me if I figured out the cause of the outbreak. Plus, I wanted to see the look on his face when a 'neonate' achieved something he couldn't.
'The epidemic is over. The biohazard crews are already pulling out of town. Seems when the illness was cured, it was pretty much instantaneous.'
'A plaguebearer who called himself Bishop Vick. He gave it to a vampire called Jezebel Locke who spread it amongst the hookers of LA, and to a nosferatu called Brother Kanker, who focused on the homeless population.'
Strauss' eyes narrowed in thought, his tone grim.
'As I said Max, he said his name was Bishop Vick. Part of a cult he called the Ninth Circle, spreading disease as a harbringer of apocalypse. He didn't sound to rational, to be honest. Why's it so important?'
Strauss seemed to talk more to himself than to me, stroking his chin, eyes distant. He nodded once, then looked at me, his tone congratulatory.
I thought. Money I could get anywhere. I had a few more rings to pawn, and a car stereo I'd 'found'. Larry would probably want that one. A talisman, well, they were so much harder to find.
'I'll take the first.'
Not so unworthy am I know, huh Maxy? I turned, walking towards the door. 'I'll bear that in mind. Now I must be off, LaCroix wants me to look at a boat for him.'
The item given was the Bloodstar, a seemingly harmless trinket. However, I felt power resonating within it, pulsing in my hand like a heartbeat. I had a feeling it would prove useful. Closing the door behind me, I walked to the waiting cab.
'Where to?', intoned the driver in his usual brogue.
'Santa Monica', I replied, sinking into the seat. And here was me thinking I was done with that place.
Slamming the car door shut, I made my way back down to the pier to be welcomed by a familiar face.
I smiled, slapping Mercurio familiarly on the arm.
'Not a problem my man, you're looking better than the last time I saw you.'
I nodded. Time to see if Mercurio was as good as his word.
'Listen, I might have a need to get my hands on some decent firepower in the future. This fucking .38 just isn't doing it for me.'
Mercurio chuckled, crossing his arms.
'Just tell me what you need, and I'll see what I can do.'
'For starters...', I paused. If I was going to be facing vampires like Vick again, a good shotgun would come in handy. 'What about a combat shotgun, rather than this hunting gun I have here?'
'Great, I'll pick it up soon. Now, what about a sniper rifle?'
I was impressed. Seem if you could point the barrel at someone, Mercurio could get hold of it. I was struck by an idea.
'What about a flamethrower?' I said in a half-joking manner. Mercurio rubbed his temple, obviously taking my request seriously.
Now I really was impressed. And somewhat perversely excited.
'Excellent, that would be appreciated. Who knows what I might need to use it on.' I saw E and Lilly standing off to one side watching our conversation. I gripped Mercurio's hand, pumped it once, and made my farewells.
'Well, if it isn't the lovebirds?', I called.
'You want my advice, leave LA E. Seems that the less pure you are here, the less they want you.' The less worthy you are, the more they seem to fear you...
I looked at E., slightly puzzled. 'Alright then, I'll bear that in mind. You take care of her this time, don't lose her.'
Stepping onto the waiting motorboat, I zipped across the water to the large freighter on the horizon.
Once I was within earshot of the ship I switched off the engine, masking myself as much as possible. The boat idled up to a rope-ladder which had been strung over the side of the Dane, allowing me to climb up and over. Watching the sea was a police officer. As my feet landed on the deck, he turned, walking towards me. I cringed, wondering how to deal with this. I was specifically told to avoid notice, and wondered whether this included stunning security. As I moved my hand, ready to use my gift to daze the cop, he whispered to me.
'Pssst, over here, and keep your fucking voice down.' Bemused, I crept up to the shadow cast by the roof of the ship, and listened to what the man had to say.
I kept my face passive, yet inside my mood was amusedly exultant. He'd mistaken me for a journalist! It seemed Santa Monica's finest had a mole. I was happy to leave him to believe what he believed.
'Jacobson didn't really tell me much at all', I replied, feigning nervousness and just a hint of snivelling sycophancy. 'I didn't realise it was a black tie affair.' Wouldn't it be easier to just cut his throat? Drain him dry, toss him over the edge, no-one the wiser? The thought was troubling. Was I losing myself to the Beast in such a way as to start viewing humans as irritating obstacles? I'd have to ask Jack when I got back - he seemed to know more about the Beast than anyone else I'd spoken to. He seemed more willing to talk about it.
I looked over the handrail towards the ship's engine rooms. A guard patrolled along the doorways, eyes observant. I figured that if there was one here, there was probably one in front of a security monitor somewhere.
'So, any advice on how to get there?'
'Got it', I responded, turning to walk down the stairs.
'Hey, tell Jacobson that I expect twice my usual cut for this one.' I nodded, already dismissing the man from my mind.
I crept down the stairs, hearing the informant calling his patrolling colleague over. 'Hey check this out!', he yelled over his shoulder. 'Looks like a whale to me!'
I rolled my eyes, waiting for the guard to pass before looking around.
The blood was sprayed across the room in an almost artistic statement. A man would have to be rent limb from limb for that sort of effect to be achieved. Whatever had done this was powerful, and vicious. I continued through the trawler, opening the previously guarded door and stepping through.
Blood also marked this hallway. I examined it closely, wondering why the cleanup crew hadn't removed the bloodstains. I paused, looking closer at the imprints. 'Bootheels', I murmured, touching the dried blood. And not police issue either. Something felt wrong here, but I couldn't place my finger on it. Stepping through another door, I came to an open chamber, with a door labelled 'Records'. As good a place as any to find the manifest. I opened the door, to find the manifest sitting in plain sight on top of a rudimentary desk.
So, the Ankaran Sarcophagus was on board. Next stop was security.
Walking up to the computer system, I cracked the password on the ships log. According to the captain's reports, the voyage had started as any other, although he had found it necessary to discipline members of the crew for telling unsettling ghost stories. As the log progressed, members of crew had begun to disappear, leaving only swathes of blood as testament to their existence. The crew began to panic, but no culprit or evidence could be found. The final entrance from the captain read '...the ship is damned...'
Bizarre. Using the 'lighthouse' password given to me by the cop, I switched on the security system, setting the secondary monitor to focus on the cargohold.
There was the sarcophagus. Although the tomb itself was sealed, the crate containing it was torn open, seemingly from the inside, palm-prints and bloodstains smearing the inner curls of the metal storage container. Whatever had torn open the crate had possessed strength unimaginable, even to what I had seen from vampires. Switching off the security system again, I quickly yet cautiously to the waiting motorboat, unsettling thoughts coming to my mind, my stomach heaving. Suddenly Skelter's talk about Cain, antediluvians and the end of days wasn't seeming so far-fetched after all...