About a year and a half ago, I wrote a short story for an upcoming anthology from Moonstone Books about vampires (coming out this year, I believe). The story features a reporter for the Weekly World News (my former employer), Leo Persky, who writes under the byline Terrance Strange. The first line of the story is, “First thing you’ve got to know is, everything we publish is true,” and with that premise in mind, Leo’s sent to a small town in West Virginia (the town is real, I lived there as a kid) to check out reports of a vampire. After a long, sweaty bus ride, Leo arrives and goes into a bar for a drink where he promptly pisses off the locals and gets the crap beat out of him:

© Paul Kupperberg

There’s an old chestnut I’m always seeing in mystery novels where the P.I. stirs the pot by charging around like a bull in a china shop and, when someone tries to kill him or beats him up to warn him off, he’s happy, figuring it means he’s getting close to cracking the case.

I might’ve been close.

Or maybe I’m just an obnoxious prick most people naturally want to pound on. Either way, I got my nose bloodied, one eye blackened, a lip split, a couple of ribs that felt like they were rattling around loose in there, plus a swell assortment of bruises, abrasions and contusions. And arrested.

On the upside, my knuckles were unmarked. I never got in a shot.

I was booked, photographed, fingerprinted, then given ten minutes with a wad of paper towels and a sink to clean myself up before being planted in the interrogation room, i.e. a table and two chairs in the corner of a file room.

Much as I was ready to stereotype him as a small town hick lawman, Lieutenant Ward Baker of the Morgantown P.D. was anything but a Sheriff Hogg-type. He was well-spoken, immaculate in his pressed uniform, and polite. He offered to send me to the hospital if I wanted medical attention (I declined), then listened patiently to my side of the story.

“You said ‘anal probe’ to those guys?” he asked, not bothering to hide his grin.

“Yeah, well, in retrospect…”

“Look, Mr. Persky, you don’t strike me as a naïve man,” he said, the local Appalachian twang still in his voice, just buried, like the coal in the nearby mountains, under an Eastern education and a few years living someplace else. “You start poking around in this sort of nonsense, you’re not going to make any friends around here.”

“Lieutenant Baker,” I said with a smile that caused me to wince from my split lip. “I’m not really interested in making friends here or anywhere else. I’m funny that way. All I want to do is get my story and get the hell out of Dodge, so let me spell it out:

“You have yet to indicate in any way, shape or form that you think I’m a lunatic or a fool from a fake-news supermarket tabloid looking to shake up some bullshit for the sake of a story. Well, okay, I am, except for the ‘fake news’ part … but, unless you happen to know that vampires, Bigfoot and/or aliens are real, your first reaction’s going to be that I’m some crazy conspiracy theory nut. I’m not naïve, you’re right, and I know what people think when they talk to me.

“Take you, for instance. You’re looking me straight in the eye and treating me like I’m a rational human being. Know why? Wait, that’s rhetorical. Because you know I am.

“So, what’d you want to tell me about the vampires?”

Baker leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest, spending the next few moments chewing on the inside of his cheek and looking at me. I didn’t interrupt his revelry.

“By rights,” he said, “I should toss your ass in the can for a few days or boot it out of town.”

“Haven’t you read the Patriotic Act? We don’t have any rights left.”

He shook his head and said, “Shit.”

I smiled.

“Shit” always meant they’d caved.

He said, “Come on.”

# # #

The morgue was in the basement of the hospital Baker had earlier offered to take me to for treatment. It was a big block of a building, up on a hill, about halfway to a bulge in a few miles of road called Grafton, and it stood dark and cold against the evening sky.

Morgue. Basement. Where else? The short of it was, soon me and Baker were standing with the coroner, who doubled as the hospital’s chief pathologist, or vice versa, along with a trio of bodies, covered by nice, clean white sheets in a vestibule outside the doc’s cutting room. His name was Dr. Sanhar Muthupalaniappan, “but you may call me Sandy.” No, I couldn’t. He wasn’t a Sandy. Sandys were happy-go-lucky brown-haired dudes who played tennis and watched golf on TV. I don’t know what a Muthupalaniappan was supposed to be, but just in case it was “alumnus of one of my own autopsies,” I stuck with calling him Dr. Muthupalaniappan.

“We’ve had four cases, all involving exsanguinations via dentally induced puncture wounds,” he said in a pleasant sing-song voice that belonged more to PeeWee Herman than Uncle Fester. “The forensic evidence indicates in each case the bodies were found where they were killed, but the volume of blood in situ did not add up by one third.”

“So someone’s taking the blood,” I said.

“Doesn’t mean they’re drinking it,” Baker said.

“No, of course not. It’s just that no one’s yet invented anything better than teeth to puncture human flesh in order to get to the blood contained therein.”

“Cult killings mimicking vampyric behavior are not out of the realm of possibility,” Dr. Muthupalaniappan interjected with a happy grin.

“Yeah, they are, statistically,” Baker corrected. “According to the FBI, there’s never been an actual, documented cult killing in this country.”

I snorted. “You sleep better believing that, my friend.”

Baker stared, pop-eyed. “Just because there might be something to this vampire stuff doesn’t mean I’m buying into the rest of that garbage you print.”

“We’re getting off the rails here. The topic’s vampires. You got any of the vics on file, doc?”

“Of course, yes. The lieutenant called me you were coming.” He took a step to his left and whipped back the sheet of the nearest gurney. I gave him extra points for style. “May I present Miss Wanda Olivia McMartin, age twenty-three, T.O.D.,” he said, glancing at his wristwatch, “two days and little more than eighteen hours ago.”

Like a vampire myself I went straight for the neck but Muthupalaniappan stopped me, pointing to the south end of the gurney. I indicating her mid-section, then her thighs, getting a negative head shake both times. The young lady had once been attractive enough, but near three days dead from massive blood loss had left her dry and ghostly white. The twin puncture wounds stood out like two pink Good & Plenty (were the pink ones the good or the plenty?) in the middle of a bowl of white ones.

On her ankle.

“What’ve we got here? A sucker with a foot fetish?” I mumbled. I leaned in for a closer look. It took me only a second to know that what I was looking at wasn’t right.

“This isn’t a human bite,” I said to Dr. Muthupalaniappan.

“Of course not. What human would do such a thing? I thought you suspected a vampire.”

“Yeah, but they start as human. They still are, just undead ones who subsist on blood, so fangs aside, the dentations should be human.”

The good doctor grabbed a magnifying glass from an instrument tray and shouldered me aside. He hummed a single note as he poked, probed, and examined the wounds.

“Where were the others bitten?” I said.

“Two neck, one femoral artery, one ankle,” said Dr. Muthupalaniappan. “I assumed there would be some non-human deformation for vampire bites. I have, as you might imagine, scant experience with this manner of homicide. But … if not vampire, this is some manner of dog bite.”

Baker looked at me, the poster boy for miserable. “A dog bite?”

“Some manner of, yes,” Muthupalaniappan said, “but the canines are in a strange formation.” He popped a collapsible metal pointer from white lab coat, extended the tip and inserted it into one of the bites. He pressed it in, then marking the depth with his thumbnail, pulled it out. It sounded wet. My stomach fluttered.

“Two inches deep. That is one heck of a dog, yessiree.”

“But it’s not a dog, is it?” Baker said.

“Two-thirds of her blood missing?” I said. “Not a dog.”

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply