French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 03
New York City, 2010
For a moment, the entire table went silent, everyone staring at Douglas.
Finally, Dylan managed to speak. “Kilotons… A nuke?” His gut churned.
Both Sacco and Daniel looked just as horrified as Dylan felt. “Who in their right mind would nuke the frogs? Not that they’ve done anything useful. When was the last time they won a war?”
“Does that matter?” Sacco said. His face was grave. “What horrible news.” He shook his head.
“What did I just say about you young punks being cowards?”
“Will you two stop it!” Dylan snapped. “This is serious shit. Nothing else? I mean, where in France was this?”
“Paris.” Frasier answered quietly. “Centered at the Cimetière du Peré Lachaise.”
That silenced everyone again for a moment. Paris. One of the greatest cities of the world… nuked? Dylan almost couldn’t grasp the idea. And a cemetery? “Who the hell would blow up a cemetery?”
“An interesting question, indeed.” Professor Frasier nodded at their expressions; Dylan suddenly recalled that Frasier’s field was nuclear physics. “Strange thing about the pictures coming out of there, though,” he said frowning. “It looks to me as though it was an implosion. If it was a nuclear weapon, the blast would be radiating outward, not in. Same if it was a bolide, a comet fragment or something getting down into the atmosphere and detonating. This… looks as though something sucked everything towards its center. Never seen anything like it.”
Daniel’s head snapped up in an instant, his gaze narrowed. “Really, laddie? Were there any witnesses? Because if you’re right, that sounds like magic to me. Dark magic, from the old days, from before I was born.”
“Don’t know about witnesses; it’s just being reported now, and anything like witnesses? That’s going to take time. Or be silenced fast, if the witnesses saw something the League doesn’t want talked about.”
The professor shook his head. “Now maybe you’re right, but if so… well, that’s one of the things Liam doesn’t talk about, which brings us back to his lack of sharing.” Frasier stared into his wine glass. They stopped talking as a waitress dropped by with baskets of mozzarella sticks and chicken wings. They smelled heavenly. By God do I miss eating.
Both Daniel and Douglas dug in; there was a short silence after the waitress left, broken only by the noise of the surrounding patrons.
“Have you suggested couples therapy?” Sacco ventured abruptly. Dylan wasn’t entirely surprised by this sudden shift in subject. Doc Sacco tended to do that if something really upset him. “Concerning the lack of sharing, that is; it might help him trust you more, especially with things like this. It might be connected with some childhood trauma.”
The idea of the ancient first-century Celt in couples therapy was ridiculous, and a welcome distraction from the gravity of the situation. “Dude, you do that. See how it works. No, Doc, this isn’t about normal couple’s problems. It’s about critical need-to-know information like magic that works like a nuke.”
“No, it doesn’t work like a nuke, that’s my point as to why it isn’t a nuke, and aye, I’m afraid he’s right. Liam’s so tight-lipped about his past, he just insists I trust his judgment like everyone else does,” Professor Frasier said, dipping a mozzarella stick in sauce. “And getting him drunk doesn’t work. He only gets cranky.”
“Never get him drunk,” Daniel advised. He tore flesh off his wing and chewed thoughtfully. “He’s a moody son of a whore.”
“Aye, ye don’t have to remind me,” Professor Frasier agreed.
“Not bad — the wings, I mean.” Daniel tossed the bones into his basket and grabbed another. He slathered it in blue cheese and started to gnaw on it. “Never talked to me either, Doug. Hell, he’s my sire, always been a tightass.” He stopped for a moment and thought about his words. “I wasn’t shaggin’ him. I fancy birds, not fellas.”
It was an awkward moment, and Dylan noticed Professor Frasier blush. “Right, shagging. Yes. We were talking magic and what he’s keeping from us younger lads.”
Daniel was drunk and on a roll and very difficult to redirect. “Damn it, I’m gett’n there, boyo! Have some respect for an old man! I call it as I see it. You’re shagging him, right? Look, Li’s occasionally been a mandrake, er, it’s ‘gay’ now right?”
“Yes, though LGBTQ is preferred.” Dylan said. He was tempted to bury his head in his hands. Sometimes Daniel was such a dinosaur.
“Right, we never talked about it back then. I guess today they talk about it.” Daniel grabbed a mozzarella stick. “If he’s courting ye, he trusts ye, that’s all that should matter to ye! He doesn’t talk, can’t make him something he’s not. See? He comes from a time that you trusted your leaders without question. It’s the way he is. Just like you can’t stop being an egghead. They still use the word egghead, don’t they?”
“No, that went out with the fifties.” Dylan told him. “Geek or Nerd is okay.”
“Right, okay, you’re a geek. Nothing wrong with that.” Daniel tossed another wing in his basket and downed a gulp of Guinness. “So, stop trying to get blood from a stone!”
Professor Frasier sighed. Dylan understood Daniel’s point, but they needed more than pats on the head and being treated like chess pieces on a board. Liam claimed to work with the council, but there were times when he held back crucial information. Everyone knew he was just using the council as a puppet to put on a convincing imitation of democracy.
“Aye, grin and bear it as the old bastard pretends there’s nothing wrong while the world’s falling about our ears, all because he hasn’t told us something critical linked to his past!” Professor Frasier said. “Or better yet, when he’s planning something. It’s called ‘Living with Liam Farney’! Every day is one big unexpected surprise! Like this implosion, you’re not telling me it has nothing to do with them, the old highbloods sitting in Europe, they’re up to something, and he knows it!”
“Dude, talk about conspiracy theories! Why would they do this? Everything’s cushy for them,” Dylan said, worried and angry. “I mean, they’ve got everything they want. Mortals working with them for the promise for eternal life, economies to bend to their wills, nations to start wars whenever they want to exploit a resource across the globe, the world is their fucking oyster! This… this is insane, not something they’d do at all!”
“And why the bloody French?” Daniel demanded. “New York City, the war in Iraq, I could make sense of, but a graveyard in Paris with nothing worth blowing up except a few famous corpses don’t make sense.” Daniel looked perplexed. “Highbloods… Murray, Tamir, Liu Guang, Varnava, Eniola and Gaiseric only care about their comfort and power. They only attack if something threatens them, or if they can make a profit. America, that threatens them. France? That’s Blanc territory, why threaten a Fae sanctuary? That’s not their bailiwick. They wouldn’t do this.”
Sacco looked up from his fish; as always, the Italian had been intensely listening to the discussion. “I think you are missing other possibilities, Daniel,” he said, tearing into a piece of fish. “There are other, non-politically-affiliated forces beyond Lucius and his highblood empire, and the entire world is a threat to them as it is. Any of them — other ancient highbloods who are not associated with the League, the remaining Fae (present company excluded) who haven’t been stamped out, the few remaining Gods or Demons who want to go back to the old days, any of them might think it’s about time to put Lucius, his children, and the mortals in their place. Think about the Bomb, and the power humanity has now. It rivals the mythical magic of the good old days. Doesn’t it bother you? It bothers me. And I know it bothers Professor Frasier here. Even we humans have only used the weapon twice because we’ve seen it in action and know it’s not something to be used, only held in case of ultimate extremity. Think about how a nature spirit or a Fae from the ancient days would feel about the thing.”
The old vampire shrugged. “Kee showed me stuff on the Bomb,” Daniel said. “I remember when the Yanks dropped Big Boy or whatever it was called — ”
“Little Boy and Fat Man,” Dylan said, trying to keep the exasperation out of his voice.
“Yes, that’s it,” Daniel said, either ignoring or not hearing Dylan’s tone. “I know it was ugly, but people aren’t stupid; that’s why it’s only been used twice.”
Sacco shook his head unconvinced. “It does bother you, Daniel, you even said it earlier. Bombs and modern warfare bothers you, there is no honor in it. Think about what the other beings in this world feel! It terrifies them!”
The Irish vampire shrugged his massive shoulders. “Aye, I get your point.”
It occurred to Dylan that young upstart vampire industrialists and their American government allies were engaged in a technological secret war. It would likely make old highbloods like the Murray family very uncomfortable. “Doc Sacco is right; I mean, if this is magic, and done by a fossil, something has them spooked. As for other powers, it’s possible. I mean they’re not all gone, they just might decided it’s time to make a stand.”
“Well, it’s a theory. No proof. Not unless he tells us something,” the professor replied.
The tapping of high heels drew the attention of all four men to the shapely form of an attractive blonde woman dressed in a long brown coat, stylish boots, a knee-length skirt and bright pink sweater. Her long blond hair was bound up in pigtails and her face was made up subtly to bring out her bright blue eyes. Looking around the pub, she eased her way around the crowd of bar patrons towards their table.
“Bunny,” Dylan said.
“Blokes-only night, which of you blokes told her to come?” Daniel said almost defensively.
Dylan lifted a brow.
“She’s never asked what we do on Fridays?” Frasier asked into his wine.
“No, never. Last I knew, she was working shift at the center. She was with a patient.” Sacco picked up a piece of fish dropped it into his mouth. “But I can’t say anymore, HIPAA act and confidentiality.”
“HIPAA don’t apply to us.” Dylan told him.
“Well, our patients deserve the same kind of privacy mortal patients have, don’t they?” demanded Bunny, stepping up to the table and putting her hands on her hips. “So this is what you fellas do on a Friday night!”
There was an awkward moment where they all exchanged glances, then, Sacco quickly picked up his lunch, and Professor Frasier picked up his glass, both men quickly moving to give up their seats, while Daniel and Dylan tried to clear the table of the baskets and shove themselves against the wall.
“Bunny, my dear, please have a seat!” Sacco offered politely.
“I’m taking the tab, if you want a drink, ” the Professor added.
The blonde sighed and waved them back to their seats. “Oh, don’t be silly. Both of you, sit down! I’m not here to take your seats or to drink. I appreciate the gallant offer, Doctor Sacco, and Professor, so sweet, but you forget, I’m not your kind of vampire. Liam, Jason, Danny and you are unusual. I can’t eat or drink, any more than Dylan here. So sorry.”
Reluctantly, Doctor Sacco sat down, followed by Frasier.
“So if you’re not here to get pissed among mates, what are you here for?” Daniel asked gruffly. He ran a large hand over his head and scratched his neck.
Dylan notice Bunny glare at him disapprovingly. For the thirty years he had known her, Bunny had been a prim and proper lady, always polite and always quick to the point. “Bunny, is this about Angelus’s friend, Carmen? Don’t know if it helps, but it was a barghest that got him.”
The woman’s face became serious. “Thank you, Dylan. Yes, I heard; Angelus came and told us what you found out. The boy was doing all right until around six this evening.” She looked around the room, uneasy, and leaned onto the table, pale fingers spreading across the wooden surface. “Around then, we started to lose him, all of a sudden. I can’t explain it.”
What? “Barghests eat souls, but it shouldn’t have a hold on him now. If they can’t make a kill, they lose their grip, so to speak.” Dylan looked confused, and glanced to the others. Had the thing been strong enough to leech from the kid’s wounds, even from distance? That would be terrifying.
“Is there a medical explanation?” Doctor Sacco asked.
“You said this happened around six o’clock?” Frasier asked at the same time. Dylan noticed he was gazing over his shoulder at the television when he said it. He was still looking at CNN as he continued, “Troubling. Does he have any prior medical conditions?”
“I’m sorry, Doug, HIPAA.” Bunny looked apologetic. “What I can say is, this wasn’t anything ordinary. Doctor Smith had to do something which was not… medical, if you understand my meaning.”
The small group exchanged glances. “You mean Doctor Smith did some unholy ritual?” Dylan had never felt comfortable around the strange, ancient vampire who went by the name of “Doctor Smith”. He gave Dylan the creeps.
Bunny rolled her eyes. “Dylan, that’s very disrespectful. Black magic does very little to help souls! Whatever he did was a good thing!” She looked at the group. “But that’s why I’m here; Liam’s called a council.”
“Really?” The professor reached down and gathered up his coat, looking grave. “Did he say why?”
“The barghest?” Dylan guessed.
“Not the barghest, Dylan,” Bunny said firmly. “Not that that’s trivial, but it takes something far more upsetting to get Liam to call a council. Danny, he wants you there too.”
Turning away, Daniel took a slug of his ale. “Tell him to piss off! I’m not interested in his council!”
“Hey, I’ll go. I felt it. Maybe I can help.” Dylan put on his hat and started to pull on his coat.
Bunny looked at him. “Felt… what?”
Oh yeah. I didn’t mention that to anyone yet. “Something… bad. Disruption, like my Sight was on overload; for a minute it was like I was somewhere else. Right around when we were tracking the barghest.”
Bunny nodded slowly, as he continued getting his coat on. “By the way, when am I going to be on the council?”
Both Douglas and Bunny looked at each other with pained expressions, and Bunny sadly shook her head. “I’m sorry, Dylan. You’re still too young. I’m sure some day Liam will feel you’re ready, but you’ll have to be around a while.”
“Doc Sacco been around here forever, and he’s not on the council.” Dylan pointed out. “Sure it ain’t an undead preference thing?” As long as he’d been in New York, the SoHo council had only had vampires on it, none of the other types of supernatural residents.
“That’s because I’m always turning them down.” Sacco explained, slathering his salmon in wasabi. “Politics are too stressful. I’d rather work with my patients without worrying about whose pockets to grease to keep the center open.”
“It’s much more than that. And besides, ever since Isabella became Magistrate, the League can do very little to hinder our operations. New York is a free city!” Bunny told him.
“So I can’t go?” Dylan flopped back into his booth, disappointed, and pulled his hat off. “Wonderful. Look, I have a really bad feeling about the whole situation. We were just talking about it, right, guys? France?”
With his coat buttoned up Douglas joined Bunny. There was a faint blush to his cheeks, and Dylan wondered how well the meeting would go with a college professor who couldn’t hold his wine in attendance. “Aye, it wasn’t a nuclear weapon, I’ll guarantee that. I’ll explain the physics behind it when we get there.”
“Horrible, isn’t it?” Bunny paled and fingered her purse. “Terrible loss of life. Yes, Dylan, that’s what this meeting is about.”
Dylan noticed that she said nothing about his vision, or whether it, too, might be connected with the mysterious event in France. Instead, she straightened and let her gaze fall on Daniel. “Liam thinks your boy is involved.”
That sobered the moody Irishman up real fast. “Why the bloody hell didn’t you say so?” The merchant marine grabbed his battered old peacoat and pulled it on.
It stuck Dylan suddenly that if Danny’s kid was involved, Anna might be involved too. Furious, Dylan almost jumped to his feet, but Doctor Sacco’s hand on his shoulder kept him from moving. “They know about Anna, Dylan. Take it easy. How about a flask? I have one with a little type O from my favorite blood liquor store, cheap but it has a kick!”
“Prof, so help me God, If Anna’s involved, you better damn well tell me!”
“Of course I’ll tell you, lad. I’m not Liam. But right now I don’t know anything, do I?”
Dylan forced himself to sit back down. Professor Frasier was right; at the moment, they knew nothing, and getting all in a froth over Anna would do none of them any good, especially him. Dylan needed to wait. Liam had to arrange an investigation. Once they figured out what happened in Paris and who was there, they’d do something.
What in God’s name could the event in Paris have to do with Daniel’s adoptive son? Dylan took the flask offered by the ghoul and gazed at it. Drinking blood whisky was like eating raw flesh, but he never lost his mind to drinking, only when eating what he hunted. Resigned, he looked at the flask, and decided he did need a drink. As long as he didn’t make it a habit, he’d be fine. That was a lesson he’d learned the hard way. Right now, he needed something to calm his temper. His fingers shook as he unscrewed the lid and he took a swig.
“Hey, boyo, you’ll be all right, won’t you?” Daniel asked, looking down with a worried frown.
“I’ll make sure he gets home, Danny.” Sacco said. “And I’ll see if Filipe can keep an eye on him tonight.”
“I don’t need no fucking babysitter.” Dylan grunted. “I’ll be peachy. Just need to play a little Left for Dead, you’ll see.”
He could tell Bunny and Douglas were reluctant to leave. Bunny gave him a sympathetic look before leaning over and kissing him on the brow. “Don’t do anything stupid, Dyl. Take care; you know we all love Anna, just like you do. We want her home safe. We’ll do everything we can to bring her back.” Beside her, Professor Frasier nodded, and Daniel gave a nudge to his shoulder.
“I know, Bun. Thanks guys.” He felt tears, but stubbornly refused to notice them. “Okay, get out of here, guys. Danny Boy is champing on the fucking bit. Have fun.”
He watched the small group of vampires leave. Wordlessly he took another swallow from the flask and grimaced. It was strong, but not bad for cheap blood booze. He had to hand it to the bootleggers; they made some damn good stuff. “You still have your still, Sacco?”
“If you are asking if I still make my own wine, yes. I still grow my own Concords, too. The only Italian wine is the wine you make yourself, with an added little ghoulish touch of course.” The ghoul finished the rest of his fish and packed up the garbage.
“So, how about going back to your place?” Dylan said. “The twins are closing tonight. Café is in good hands. We can drink a bottle and watch some Bogart films.” He gathered his coat up and dropped his hat on his head. He needed air, and as much as he wanted to go back home, right now the place would just remind him of Anna. They had built it together. The café was their labor of love.
The therapist watched him for a moment, worry etched in his thin-skinned features. “Well, I guess there’s no harm in that. You do know it’s been five years, Dylan.”
“I know. I’m still not ready to let her go, okay?” He was a revenant; they couldn’t let go, not really, it was their nature to cling to the past, and Anna was how he came into this world. Anna saved him. In truth, he knew he couldn’t be alone that evening. He’d just end up going out looking for trouble, a gang to take his anger out on. He might even lose control.
With a shrug, Sacco slid out of the booth and shouldered into his frock coat. “Well, I could use the company. I have an excellent collection of films, too. Second only to Daniel’s, I suspect.”
“Hey, I’ve got a damned good one too.” Dylan told him. Once his coat was on, he handed the flask to his friend. He already felt its warmth spreading through his body. It was a strange feeling; he almost never felt warm. He was always cold, except when he baked in the kitchen.
“You’ll need more than fifty years to catch up to either of us, I fear,” Sacco told him as they nudged their way past the crowd of mortals. “Then again, the amount of work you do, I really can’t imagine you having any time to watch any films in your collection.”
They stepped out into the street. It was late, and the streetlights were so bright they blotted out the stars. Overhead, high rise buildings towered above them, making the street feel more like a canyon than a part of a city. Dylan pulled on his gloves, already feeling the chill.
The air was heavy with the smell of gasoline, dust, and sweat. Yet, as they walked, Dylan O’Reily smelled something else. It was a sharp, fresh smell he remembered from growing up in the Texas hill country. The smell of ozone, the smell of lightning and power, hovered in the air like static, made the hair stand up on the back of his neck, and he was struck with a sudden conviction. The world around him had changed; he didn’t know how, he didn’t know what the change meant, but he knew one thing for certain: this was only the beginning.