Chris took one vacation a year. Hell, the place could burn down and the wife could be banging the mailman and he wouldn’t care till Monday. She was away on her vacation though; a week in the Bahamas. Chris on the other hand never went anywhere, claiming having his wife on one of her long Caribbean holidays was vacation enough. He squinted at the mounds of clothes, half–eaten pizza and porno tapes that littered the floor and stepped lightly through the collected mess on his way to the phone. He knew who was on the other end before he even picked up. Only one person would dare to call him while he was on vacation.
“Boss, any other time I’m glad to hear from you and all, but come on…” he stopped short and listened for several moments. “Can’t this wait? I mean, Jes…” he listened for a few minutes then jotted some notes on the back of an envelope. “I’ll take care of it. Yeah… consider it done. Did you get the fruitcake? Great… yeah, and a merry one to you, too” Chris hung up the phone and held his head in his hands. His beard was matted and gummed with something. God knew what. “All right, damn it…” he mumbled to himself as he made his way to the bathroom, “…but I’m taking Monday off, too.”
After a shower and a good conditioning rinse for his voluminous beard he hefted his 400+ pound frame into a pair of old, faded jeans, favorite Harley ‘T’ and battered, ancient and ever–comfortable black leather duster. Not the type of outfit that a man in his position usually wore, but to hell with appearances. Technically, he was still on vacation. These little side jobs were more a hobby for him anymore, and he only did them when no one else would do. It would be flattering if it didn’t involve risking his neck in one fashion or another. Chris rinsed his mouth from a fresh bottle of scotch hidden away from his wife in the toilet tank then walked back to the large oil painting on the far wall of the bedroom. He pressed a corner of the frame and stepped back as the painting slid up and into the wall.
It'd been years, but he was confident his reflexes and aim were as good today as they were when he did this kind of thing for a living. He lovingly passed his hands over several small machine pistols and pulled one from its mooring, checking the action and finding it as sweet and quiet as he remembered. The weight felt good in his hand, and when he extended his arm and flipped on the laser site the red dot never wavered from its spot on the wall. Chris threw the pistol on the bed and dug through the collected arsenal in earnest. By the time he was done, ten magazines, boxes of ammo, a shoulder rig and other items were piled there. The guns wouldn’t be enough though. If the Boss was right, the bullets may help but wouldn’t solve the problem. And the Boss was never wrong.
Chris moved down the line and pulled several long daggers and a ballistic belt lined with more than a dozen tiny shuriken. These joined the guns on the bed, along with a shortened katana and scabbard. He closed the arsenal then went to work dispersing the weapons. The pistols rode in their shoulder holsters, the custom–designed weapons barely leaving their mark through the heavy leather coat. He slung the belt around his ample girth then secured daggers to his forearms by special sheaths of his own design. The sword completed the arsenal and slid smoothly into a long, thin pouch sewn into the lining at the back of the duster by his loving wife many years ago. Chris thought about his promise to her, that he wouldn’t take these jobs any more. But right about now Sarah was sunning herself on some white sand somewhere. He should be back in plenty of time, and with any luck she would be none the wiser.
He opened a box of ammo and struggled to pull a single shell from the plastic packaging before simply dumping the contents on the bed. For a man with fingers like sausages, loading the slim magazines was an exercise in sore digits. He reached over to the nightstand and hit the intercom. “Rex, get in here” Several seconds later Chris heard the small, tinny voice of his most prized assistant come over the speaker.
“Boss? I wasn’t expecting to hear from you till at least tomorrow afternoon, figured you’d be out of booze by then” Rex said.
“Just get your ass in here, would ya’?” The line went dead and the door swung open.
“Yeah, Boss?” Rex was a small man but he had a temper to match his employer’s and feared nothing. Loyal to the end, he was one of the few people Chris could ever say he could trust with his money, life or wife. The diminutive aide looked down at the bed and saw the scattered shells and magazines then cocked his head at the big man. “Let me guess… don’t tell the missus, right?”
Chris got up from the bed, his nearly seven foot frame towering half–again over Rex.
“Technically, I’m still on vacation”
“Sure, boss. Where you going, anyway? You know, in case the missus calls or something?” Rex asked.
“Just tell her I’m out. I’ll figure something in the unlikely event she can leave the cabana boys alone long enough to call” Chris knew he shouldn’t talk about his wife that way. While he knew Sarah could be a flirt he also knew that a more loyal and loving woman couldn’t be found. And Christ she could cook he reminded himself as he absently patted his expansive middle. He felt a sharp twinge just behind his eyes and grimaced through it, chalking it up to the excess scotch mixing with the natural high of going on a job.
While Rex finished Chris went for a bit of the hair of the dog and threw a bandana over his white hair. He marveled at the way the little man’s fingers flew over the bullets and magazines with the dexterity of a pianist. But what Chris lacked in grace, he could certainly make up for in sheer power and an animal cunning the likes of which few men possessed. “Aren’t you done yet?”
“Almost...” Rex said without looking up. He smacked each magazine against his calloused palm and left them in a pile on the bed. “Hey, Boss… ain’t you getting’ a little, you know... old for this kind of thing?”
“Rex, you know better than that” Chris said.
“Yeah, but what if something happens? I’m not sure if the place could go on without you. Union or not, you know we think the world of ya’. And you know it would just devastate the missus” Rex said.
Chris sighed and pulled a pair of sunglasses from his coat and adjusted them in the bedroom mirror. “Rex, we’ve been together a long time. Have you ever seen a punk that could make me turn tail and run, from the boardroom to the bar room, or make it so I couldn’t run at all?”
“No. But I’ve never seen him call you out from vacation before, either. Is it a bad one?” Rex asked.
“No; maybe worse than some but it’s better than others. It’s nothing to worry about. I’ll be home before the old lady gets back. You just make sure Greg and the guys keep their asses moving. Just ‘cause I’m on vacation doesn’t mean they are” Chris said.
“I’ll call up the boys in the front office personally, Boss” Rex said. Chris nodded and swept up the magazines in his massive hands and slid them into the pouches on his belt. “Hey Boss, how you getting’ to wherever it is you’re goin’, anyway? You want the usual?”
“No” Chris said over his shoulder after a moment’s thought. “Call the garage and tell them to get the bike ready.”
“The bike? Boss, its winter and all… you don’t want the bike” Rex said.
“It’s okay, mom… I’m wearing a warm coat and clean underwear” Chris said as he left the room and stalked down the long hallway. He passed Rex’s “ready room”, a converted closet that left just enough room for his intrepid aide and all the security monitoring gear he had installed in the house and plant over the years. Rex had convinced him long ago that since he insisted on having his home so close to the factory that he should at least take the same precautions he took for the factory itself. Every inch of the grounds had a camera on it at some point, and the electrified fence and guard dogs were certainly a nice touch though Chris believed the dogs were more for Rex’s benefit than that of household security. Chris had the only guard dogs he knew of that could roll over, play dead and bring their pipsqueak of a master a beer on command. He thought all the security measures were a bit much, though. Anyone that would want to come for him wouldn’t be stopped by a few dogs and volts. But gigs like this helped convince him that the missus would feel a bit safer in case his side work ever came home.
Chris took the stairs two at a time, surprised at how good he was starting to feel. You could take the hit out of the man but not the man out of the hit, he supposed. Maybe he should take a few more of these jobs once in awhile, just to keep in shape. After all, the wife had been on him about his weight.
Chris checked his watch against the night sky and found he had enough time for a bite. Pulling into an alley, he stashed the bike and walked to a small diner just down the block. Several portions of steak, potatoes and eggs later he dropped a hundred on the worn table and made his way out into the full, cold Pennsylvania night. Chris rationalized the dinner stop, though his wife would have scolded him for what amounted to a heart attack on several plates. His prey wouldn’t be out and about until true night fell. No sense in wandering about aimlessly. The target wouldn’t be concerned with the warehouses and docks in this part of town; too many people and too many time cards that would wonder where victims had run off to. But the area also boasted several clubs, some with reputations that would bring his prey. The Boss’ intelligence had pointed to the area. All that was left to do now was find him.
Chris had almost given up after the third dead-end lead when he found he could almost smell his prey as he walked through the fourth door that night; a ramshackle warehouse that had been converted into a posh, trendy club, its music so loud and forceful that it thrummed through the soles of his boots. All he had to do now was find the target through the press of sweating young bodies.
The place was packed with dancers. Even a figure as imposing as he took some doing to get through the bodies in various stages of clothed sex. Chris finally made his way to the bar and ordered a drink. A young girl with more piercings than she had years laughed and yelled over the din that this was a juice and water bar. Scotch was a nationality here, not a drink. Chris shook his head, settled his bulk onto an undersized barstool and waved the girl away. If this was what the world was coming to, when a man couldn’t even walk into a bar and get a decent drink, he didn’t want any part of it. In this line of work it was always wise to prepare for anything, and the silver flask that had kept him warm on more than one cold night proved useful here, too. Chris took a few pulls from the flask and scanned the room with a practiced eye. Even at this hour the place showed no signs of letting out. If he was going to find the target it would have to be on the hoof. He pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit up only to have the barmaid yell at him for the act. Chris shrugged her off and started stalking through the crowd, pushing through the largest groups of them when common sense wouldn’t do.
He made his way to the back of the room and found thinner crowds around a doorway marked CHILL. He shrugged, put his cigarette out in a stray glass of juice and made his way through the heavily–beaded curtain. True to its signage, the room was cooler and dimmer than the dancehall and populated with dozens of overstuffed couches and chairs filled with young bodies stinking of perspiration, cologne and perfume. As Chris made his way to the back of the room he was hit with a sudden impression of darkness bordering on pure evil. The scent filled his nostrils and turned his head to a back corner. He pushed through the lighter crowd to tower over two figures stretched out on a sofa. With speed belying his girth Chris reached into the darkness and grabbed a too–warm pair of bare shoulders. He had to grip the young woman tightly to keep the blood smeared on her skin from loosening his grip as he hauled her from the couch and threw her into a nearby chair. A young, gaunt and quite startled man with skin so pale that it almost glowed in the darkness save for the crimson–black smear across his chin gaped up at him.
Chris drew both pistols and started firing. Instead of screaming, the man hissed and clawed even as dozens of bullets pounded their way through his chest. With unnatural speed and grace the man rose from the couch without first standing and shot up into the air, still hissing over his shoulder at the burly assassin. If he'd had any doubts about the man being his target, they were gone in the haze of gun smoke.
Chris tried to follow his prey as he clung to the rafters like a fly but the gunshots had caused the room to erupt into panic. Chris plowed through the crowds but his unnatural prey was simply too fast. Someone threw on the houselights and the fire alarm to aid in clearing out the club, and by the time Chris’s vision recovered from the sudden light his prey was gone. He holstered his weapons and was forced to drop several bouncers to unconsciousness as they tried to stop him at the back door. The last of them Chris spared, telling him to find the young girl he’d separated from his target to make sure she received medical attention before he kicked open an emergency door to the alley.
He walked off, away from the sounds of approaching sirens, and crossed several streets and alleys before finding one in which to rest. He knew the bullets would do little to the thing. The intent had been to stun his prey long enough to bury a silver blade deep in his heart. But the target proved exceptionally strong, recovering from the attack too soon for Chris’ taste. He'd underestimated his target and had allowed his youthful appearance to fool him into believing the creature was inexperienced. But he dimly recognized the thing that had once been a man, and Chris never forgot a face. He leaned back against the ice–cold bricks of a building and closed his eyes, scanning his mind to match the face with a name. After several long moments, he pulled out a cell phone and pressed a button.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear from you, Boss." Rex said. "You done yet?”
“Not hardly. Hold on a sec’” Chris pulled a small ear bud from his coat, pushed it into the phone then attached the phone to his belt to free his hands. “Target gave me the slip” He pulled his pistols, ejected the spent magazines then jammed the weapons against his belt to meet the magazine ports with the specially–designed sheaths for his clips. The fresh ammunition seated with a satisfying click. “I need you to run this guy through the database. Name’s Gerhund, Thomas Gerhund… origin early 1800’s. Definitely a bad guy. Check the Slavic lists first” Chris said.
“Sure Boss. Hold on” After less than a minute, Rex came back on the line. “Got it Boss. It’s been awhile, though. How come this guy ain’t dead?”
“He is, Rex. He is. Triangulate the target’s current position relative to my location. The sun will be up soon” Now that he had the target’s name, Rex could track Gerhund anywhere he went. Chris let the ashes fall from his cigarette and sent the slides on the pistols home to chamber their rounds. “Come on, Rex, I don’t have a lot of time here”
“Give it a sec’, Boss. We have to go through some old records here. Wait… got him. One block south of your current position, 150 yards west, looks like he’s pretty deep into a big building. You sure you don’t need any help?” Rex asked, concern creeping into his voice.
“Got it under control, Rex” Chris said.
Chris made his way to Rex’s coordinates; an old, abandoned warehouse. It was a wonder it hadn’t been turned it into another nightclub. He found several boards pried away from a low window and removed a few more to allow for his frame, revealing the building’s hopelessly dark interior. After a few moments to adjust Chris made his way across the floor and listened as countless tiny feet skittered around him, telling him he should be on the right track. Rats wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t food. He just didn’t want to think about the leftovers they would be having here. On the other side of a ragged and splintered doorway he found a wide, open room with steel pillars every few yards to support the upper floors. Chris made a mental note to tread lightly. Old floors had a way of letting go at inopportune times. Every step he took sounded like thunder in his ears but it didn’t matter. He knew the target could hear him regardless of how softly he tread. “Rex…?”
“Still here Boss” Rex said.
“Gerhund… he still in the same spot?” Chris asked.
“Yeah. Scan shows he’s not alone though. Without names I can’t get a good fix or even how many there are. Sure you don’t want me to send in the boys?” Rex asked.
“Not necessary, they should be working anyway. They are working, aren’t they?” Chris asked.
“Sure, boss. Why wouldn’t they be?”
Chris crept across the floor and looked for a way to the basement. He could make out piles of bottles and other refuse, some old and others still relatively fresh, and the darker stains covering various parts of the floor spoke of other appetites. Judging from the size of some of the debris piles and the stains, there was no telling how many could be waiting for him. No wonder the Boss wanted this one. Apparently, no one had explained the Pact to Gerhund. Or, worse yet, Gerhund had chosen to ignore it.
Chris sensed movement behind and spun to his right, pistols leveled. He could see the snarling faces and gleaming fangs in the muzzle blasts as a pair of young women crossed paths with dozens of his slugs. The force of the bullets changed the women’s momentum, throwing them back several feet to land in a twisted pile of arms and legs. Chris wasted no time and charged at them. He holstered a pistol and drew a long silver blade, burying it in the heart of the one on top. An unearthly shriek played counterpoint to the rattle of the auto pistol in his other hand as he placed it against the neck of the second and used the stream of lead to sever her head from her body. He waited a moment before pulling the dagger from the corpse and watched as both bodies aged years in moments, ending as piles of bones and gore. Chris sniffed away the momentary yet overpowering stench of a century’s worth of decay occurring in seconds, the smell both heartening and steeling him. Gerhund had obviously become truly naughty.
There was no use now in being quiet now. He could hear echoing sounds of pounding feet to his far left, revealing the way down he sought as the edges of the room suddenly came alive with movement. “Boss,” Rex said in his ear, “I count 12, all room temperature. Eight from up the stairs, four more at the compass… you sure you don’t need help?”
“Just like the old days” Chris said.
Gerhund had obviously been busy creating an army of undead in violation of one of the primary tenets of the Pact. Chris knew not all of these could be as strong and ancient as Gerhund, and it only made sense that the least powerful of them would be used as fodder. He launched away from the stairs and ran directly for the closest one. It stopped in its tracks, unsure of how to react to the burly human charging towards it. The vampire opened its mouth to bear its fangs only to have the muzzle of an auto pistol bury itself deep in his throat. One burst from the weapon tore open the back of the beast’s head and severed the spinal column with only a few bits of skin remaining to keep the head from falling to the floor. This one had been recently-turned and simply didn’t have the power and strength to regenerate or to even keep going. With a look more of surprise than pain he crumbled to the ground and disintegrated. “One!” Chris counted off into his headset.
Another had rushed Chris as he dispatched the last and gripped his shoulder. Chris swung his arm in a circular motion to dislodge the talons and continued the movement to land a huge hand over the face of the undead, squeezing with unearthly might to shatter the cheekbones and upper jaw. All the monster could do was screech as Chris turned his body, pulled his hand away and balled it up into a fist. He clocked the thing on the side of his head and didn’t bother to wipe away the gore when the left eye exploded from its socket.
“Can’t die, huh? Can you feel pain?” Chris growled. The rest were approaching more slowly now, wary of the big man. Chris raised a massive boot and without looking away from the advancing horde let it fall on the one he’d just put down, reducing the head to only an inch or so thick as the other eye and a generous portion of gray matter sluiced across the floor. “Two…” Chris hissed into the microphone. He could feel adrenaline and power filling his old bones now and chose to take the battle to them.
Chris stalked across the floor to the remaining group. Apparently bravery didn’t accompany their gifts from the grave as several of them backed away despite their numbers. Staccato gun blasts ripped through the darkened warehouse with the occasional flicker of light glinting from Chris’s gore–stained silver blade. Rex could hear Chris counting off his kills between the sounds of gunfire, shrieking and the constant tinkling of spent brass hitting the floor. Three through six came quickly. Seven, eight and nine proved slightly more difficult. Ten and eleven were destroyed in vicious hand-to-hand combat, his employer slaughtering and beheading those two with nothing more than his bare hands. Rex knew better than to speak now and break his employer’s concentration. Only after several moments of silence did Rex hazard a word.
“Boss, you okay?”
“Yeah, Rex, just looking for number twelve. Wait… don’t tell me” Rex could hear the heavy steps and slow breathing through the phone, Chris’ rendition of come out, come out, wherever you are enough to make him shudder. The sound of breaking wood and shattering glass burned through the phone and made the small man wince as he imagined Chris pulling the hapless creature back through a window that it thought had offered escape. “Twelve”
“I don’t have any more movement on your floor, boss” Rex said as he watched the screen. “Heh heh… bet it must stink pretty good in there, huh boss?”
“You have no idea” Chris said. Actually, Rex did have some idea. He’d been along on more than one of Chris’s assignments in the old days. But time had not been as kind to the Chris’s right hand man, and Rex found that just getting out of bed of the mornings created all sorts of sounds a body just shouldn’t make. “I’m goin’ in, Rex. Give me positions and a headcount as soon as you get the info. I doubt you’ll get much of it before I do, though.”
“Boss, why don’t you wait till daylight, huh? Let me send in a few of the boys to mop up the place. I got a bad feeling about this one” Rex said.
“This punk is nothin’ I can’t handle…” the line went dead. Rex tried to reestablish it but it was no use. He could still use the phone to keep track of Chris’ movements, and he could even see where several humanoid figures were appearing around him. But without the open line all he could do was watch, helplessly, as the screen became polluted with monsters set on destroying his life-long friend.
Chris’s conversation with Rex died on his lips as he felt strong hands try to grab him from beneath the stairs. He brought his foot down on the old, rotting risers with the intention of crushing the clawing hands beneath his steel-shod boot. Instead, he crushed the step below, causing a chain reaction that brought fat man and staircase down in a heap to the concrete basement floor.
Chris could feel their filthy claws as they tore through his coat and into his flesh. Several well–placed kicks and punches sent more than a few sprawling. Two of them managed to bite into his flesh. The pain was intense and it was all Chris could do not to black out. With Herculean effort he was able to reach his silver blade and started hacking at every piece of dead flesh he could see. The wounds he caused with the argent dagger would pain and bleed, leaving them unable to heal until the beasts could feed again. He could already feel their hellish poison coursing through his veins from their bites though as he stood and shrugged off the last few. A soft, mocking clap of applause came from somewhere in the darkened basement as the remaining creatures backed away. Chris removed a glove and felt the wound on the side of his neck and the rushing pulse of his blood as it spurted out. He could see two of the undead lick at lips now stained crimson from his blood.
“I don’t know who you are, or even what you are” a voice said. It had a soft quality with a hint of an accent, one that the speaker would have tried hard to lose over the course of almost two centuries. “But I do know that you are now mine” Gerhund walked towards Chris, the crowd of the dead parting for him. “You have been infected by my children, my strong yet stupid friend. And very soon, you will be my pet.”
Chris winced at the pain. He could feel Gerhund’s mind as the master vampire tried to establish his sickly influence, trying to control him. Chris heaved a sigh made all the grander for the rise and fall of his immense bulk. “Gerhund…” he whispered weakly, “You have no earthly clue who you are fucking with.”
“You have me at a disadvantage. So how is it a fat slob like you would know my name?” Gerhund asked.
“Easy” Chris smiled and spat out a wad of blood, hitting one of Gerhund’s spawn on the arm. The vampire lapped at the blood hungrily, mocking Chris with his eyes and gestures. “I know everyone, everywhere that has been naughty, or nice. You broke the Pact. That was naughty. Then you killed all these innocent people and turned them; more naughtiness.” He straightened and turned his neck to the left then right. The wounds from their fangs glowed softly then closed over, the jagged flesh knitting together before their undead eyes. “Gerhund, I have to tell you this… I absolutely, without a doubt, hate vampires. But more importantly, so does the Boss. You exist only because of the Pact, just like me” As Chris spoke, the two that had attacked him and the one that had so happily lapped up his bloody spittle began acting strangely. Their faces contorted and gurgling sounds came from their throats as the flesh on their faces seemed to slide down their jawbones and their mouths opened in silent screams. The rest of the host backed away from the three and watched as they melted from the inside. “Guess they ate something that didn’t agree with them. Guess that makes me one of the good guys, huh?”
Gerhund eyed him warily as the rest of his brood circled. Chris laughed in his hearty way as comprehension slid across the ancient vampire’s face. “No… you don’t exist” Gerhund said. One of the vampires launched at Chris but the big man was far faster and caught her up by the throat. This one was stronger but her inexperience trumped her hell-born strength. Chris brought the thin body down across his meaty thigh and slammed his fist down on the back of the vampire’s neck, the heel of his hand not stopping until it smashed completely through the base of the skull. Gerhund backed away while the rest surged forward. “Kill him!” Gerhund screamed.
Chris dropped his hands to his sides and pulled out handfuls of silver–plated shuriken then stepped forward and let fly with the dozen silver slivers of death. They flew through the space between them and him, deadly and argent, burying themselves deep into necks and cheeks. The vampires howled in chorus as they clawed at the metal. The silver burned them at the touch, causing more wounds to their hands and only serving to increase their pain. Five of them fell to the floor, writhing in agony as their flesh rotted from within at the touch of the pure metal.
“You better watch out….” Chris belted out as he drew his short sword and spun it over his head. He let go and watched as it spun in perfect balance across the room, neatly cleaving the head from another before coming to rest by biting into a rough wooden pillar. “You better not cry…”
Chris crouched as the remaining three prepared to pounce. Their hesitation showed they were afraid, and rightly so. Bloodlust overtook the jolly old elf as he dove forward and produced two finely–edged daggers. The blades were nearly lost in his broad fists, but enough protruded to spell pain and anguish as he fell upon them, moving among them so lively and quick that their talons and fangs met only empty air. These were far stronger than the rest he had faced, and Chris knew that unless he took the time to bury the silver deep in their hearts or remove their heads he couldn’t completely eliminate them. But he'd already lost sight of Gerhund, and one as old and crafty would surely have planned an escape route. Chris left the trio on the floor and charged past them into the darkness beyond.
“You better not pout, I’m a tellin’ you why…” Chris continued as he slowed his pace and found himself in a room of shelf units laid out in rows. His sight was excellent, a byproduct of working exclusively at night, but with such clutter he knew that a true creature of the night would have the advantage. He reached deep into a pocket in his coat and pulled out a handful of glittering dust. Chris took a deep breath, held out his palm and blew on it. His pure breath and powerful lungs carried the dust, and wherever it alit it emitted a soft glow producing more than enough light to see by in the old tool room. It was good to have connections within the Pact, especially with the fey and their kin. “…’cause…Santa Claus is comin’ to town…” he bellowed in his best ‘Jersey–tinged Springsteen. He’d grown tired of the song after so many decades, but at least the E-Street version was less pretentious than all the choral crap. “I know you’re in here…” Chris growled as he wound his way between the tall racks. “I can see you when you’re sleeping, and I sure as hell know when you’re awake” Chris said as he pulled a pistol, keeping the muzzle in front of him.
“You’re not real.” Chris heard from somewhere in the gloom. Gerhund’s voice was soft and nearly lost in the space, making it difficult for Chris to pinpoint his location. “Who are you?”
“You know who I am, Gerhund. I’m as real as you are. You know the Pact; it’s the whole reason why things like you and me exist. Your boss put all kinds of you in the world; vampires, werewolves, ghouls, lawyers. In return, and in His infinite wisdom, my Boss chose to allow your types to remain on the mortal coil instead of wiping you out wholesale. His way of leaving a few more options for people and enough rope to hang themselves. But He had to balance the scale. So He sent a few of us down here to act as the ‘polar opposite’, no pun intended. Whoever turned you should've told you all this. They should've also told you to lay low and keep your thing to a minimum. By creating this little hive, you’ve not only threatened the balance and violated the Pact, you’ve really pissed off the Boss” Chris hadn’t stopped moving through the room as he spoke, and more than once he could hear soft movement as Gerhund tried to shift his position.
“I know of no Pact…I was never told” came from the somewhere in the room. “A deal then, fat man; I will abide by this Pact as you call it and trouble you no more if we leave this little episode as a stalemate. What do you say?” Gerhund looked up when he heard the screech of tearing, rusty metal as the shelf he hid behind was pulled from its moorings. He tried to move but hesitated a moment too long as the shelf unit crashed to the floor in a cloud of dust and motes of fairy light, pinning the vampire’s legs beneath it. The old elf perched on top of the prone shelves, adding more weight than even the vampire could move easily.
“Sorry, sparky,” Chris said as he stood over Gerhund, “but you’ve been a very naughty boy. No deals with naughty boys” Chris pulled a long silver dagger and took it in both fists, blade down. “This is going to hurt you way more than me” Chris said as he leaped into the air, intending to fall upon the vampire and bury the silver deep in his heart. Gerhund had not lived so long by being stupid. As soon as the big man’s bulk lifted the vampire summoned up his strength and in a display of desperation pulled himself from the wreckage, slipping off across the floor like a spider. With no soft body there to meet Chris or his blade they hit the concrete floor directly, the force of the landing shattering the blade and leaving Chris with an empty hilt as Gerhund regained his feet and sneered at him.
“Ah, no silver for the jolly old elf, eh?” Gerhund’s sneer turned into a smile as he flexed his talon-tipped fingers. “You can’t truly kill me without it, elf” From the other room, they could both hear the sudden sounds of booted feet moving across the floor. Short bursts of gunfire erupted and voices shouted for Chris. Apparently, Rex hadn’t listened. Chris took the moment and drew his two short daggers. They sailed across the room and buried themselves in the vampire’s chest and shoulder. He knew they wouldn’t be long enough to pierce the heart, but the diversion would be enough. Chris charged the wounded vampire and covered the last several feet by launching himself through the air, slamming into the creature with his airborne weight. Gerhund couldn’t even hiss as the pain from the daggers and the crushing force of Chris’ bulk slammed him against the wall. Still, the vampire would not fall.
“I wouldn’t let you die so quickly anyway, Gerhund” Chris growled at him. He took a step back and sent a huge fist flying. It struck the pommel of the dagger protruding from the vampire’s shoulder, sinking the silver blade up to its hilt. Gerhund screamed, the sound borne of hell and with all the shrill quality of a banshee’s keening. Black blood shot from around the hilt, speckling Chris’ rosy cheeks and running down the vampire’s chest. With power ripped from damnation and desperation, Gerhund forced his hands out before him, his claws piercing Chris’ coat and the flesh beneath then tore downward. Chris roared and fell back a step, giving the vampire the chance to move. Gerhund climbed up the wall with horrific grace, still facing the assassin.
“You will die, elf… make no mistake. I’ll drink the blood of virgins from your skull!”
“Virgins? Find one. I dare you. Remember, I have the inside track on that one; naughty and nice covers a lot of ground” Chris stood straight, ignoring the searing pain and his blood as it ran in torrents down his chest. He was known for having the largest heart in the world, but that massive muscle betrayed him now as it pumped his life away. He would have no time to concentrate and allow his nature to heal his mortal wounds and still fend off the vampire.
Just then, several diminutive figures burst into the room. Decked out in body armor and submachine guns, they looked for the world like the militant arm of the Lollipop Guild. Chris knew that Rex must have mobilized them in a hurry since many were still wore the green, pointy–toed and belled slippers they favored in the workshops and storerooms back at the ‘Pole. He would’ve laughed had he not known just how effective his people could be. After all, he’d trained them.
The elves flew into the room in a standard entry formation, red laser lights dancing across the room like fairy fire. Several had already trained their tiny points of death on the vampire clinging to the wall above them. Gerhund hissed and made to leap from the wall but several of the elves caught the minute muscle movements and instinctively opened fire. Chris backpedaled out of reflex and watched as the tracers marked the paths of the bullets and smiled, knowing that the glowing rounds were capped with pure silver. Gerhund couldn’t move fast enough in his weakened state to avoid the barrage as they bore into him and burned in his flesh. He fell from the wall in a heap but was able to untangle his limbs quickly. Now more feral than thinking, his taut leg muscles tensed to spring on the big elf.
Chris saw him move and determined Gerhund would still reach him in the micro–seconds it would take to produce a weapon. Chris also realized in that split-second his body was blocking the sight-path for most of his elves to regain their target. If he moved out of the way of the vampire’s attack it would only serve to deliver Gerhund into the press of his elves. At such range the tiny warriors could do little against the monster’s ferocity. Though their nature was nearly as supernatural as his, they were not wholly immortal. The vampire would easily slay the bulk of them before Chris could intervene.
Chris braced for Gerhund’s impact and lowered his stance just as Rex sprang into the room, waving the big assassin’s sword he’d freed from the pillar then heaved it across the room. Chris closed his eyes and sensed the flight of both sword and monster as he moved into a spin. On the backward side, Chris plucked the sword from the air as if it were a softball, allowing the incredible momentum propelled by his girth to complete the spin. Still moving, Chris braced the bottom of the hilt with his off hand, kneeled then rose up on his thickly–muscled legs. The sword caught Gerhund in mid–air, the tanto point piercing the monster where his neck met his chest as Chris’s upward motion worked with the vampire’s momentum to run the length of the sword through the roof of Gerhund’s mouth, through his black and murderous mind to exit through the top of his skull. With a massive effort, Chris continued spinning, this time dropping his arms and bringing the monster to ground. He could feel several of his muscles as well as a tendon or two tear as they were forced to shift not only his own weight but the weight and momentum of the vampire. Gerhund hit the floor hard with a force that would have killed any mortal man.
“Ho ho ho…” Chris growled at the creature at his feet. “Rex! Is the sun up yet?”
“Just rising, Boss!”
“Get out of here. I hear sirens. Last thing we need is to get caught in here and try to explain that we’re just spreading some holiday cheer. Where’s the sleigh?” Chris asked.
“On the roof Boss… where else?”
“Of course.” Chris said. He was breathing hard now and had to work to control the squirming, shrieking thing impaled on his blade. He kicked the vampire a few times for good measure then followed the retreating elves. The small soldiers had gained the basement by way of ropes, but there was no way that Chris could keep the vampire immobilized and climb a rope at the same time. Of course, he wouldn’t need to. After the elves had scurried up the ropes, Chris hauled the vampire into the air with one arm and held it as far away as he could to avoid the scrabbling claws then laid a finger to the side of his nose and up, up, up to the first floor he rose.
Chris’s legs were pumping well before his feet touched the warehouse’s ground floor, creating a rather cartoon–like effect until his heavy boots found traction he was off, dragging the hapless vampire behind him. He’d dealt with vampires before, and though beheading worked in most cases this one was particularly ancient and powerful. Sunlight would leave nothing to chance. The sirens were very near now, probably on the same block. He pushed himself and angled his body towards a boarded–up window nearly as tall as he and only a few feet from the floor. He hit the window at full speed and crushing weight, dropping his shoulder at just the right moment. The window exploded in a shower of splinters and glass as he brought his legs up to avoid the wall. Gerhund’s flailing body was punished even more as it was drug over the sill through the jagged shards of glass like shark’s teeth remaining in the window’s frame to rend his flesh as Chris drug him through and into the open air beyond.
Chris hit the street hard and was forced to let go of the sword to leave Gerhund lying a few feet from him on the pavement, the weak light of the early morning winter the first sun the vampire’s skin had seen in nearly 200 years. Chris looked around and found several police cars, their occupants keeling behind open doors, their weapons trained. The cops weren’t sure what was happening, and it took several moments for them to realize that a man lay bleeding and impaled on a sword through his head. Several of them shouted for Chris to get down but he paid them no heed as Gerhund’s body began to writhe and burn. The vampire’s flesh melted away in a ghastly display while Gerhund speeded the process, clawing at his own arms and face as the sun burned him with invisible flames. Many of the officers lowered their weapons in confusion while others kept calling for Chris to surrender between their gagging and choking at the stench of the melting body.
“Yeah, Rex, I need an extraction. I’m not worried about discovery now. No one would believe them, anyway” Chris said into the phone’s microphone then turned to face the police and raised his hands over his head. They took his action as surrender and fanned out around him, carefully avoiding the reeking pool of gore that was once Thomas Gerhund.
Before they could decide between them who would be the one to put Chris in handcuffs a mighty chorus of sleigh bells rang out through the chill air. The sun cast a long shadow over the alley as a miniature sleigh and nine tiny reindeer swooped down from the sky to follow the empty alleyway just a few feet above the ground. A bright red light like a solar flare erupted from the team before the sleigh, temporarily blinding the officers. The few shots that were fired went wild, more a product of fear than aim. As the sleigh passed, several small arms snatched Chris’ extended hands and hauled him onto the sleigh, the damaged muscles in his arms and shoulders letting out a final shriek as they brought him aboard. The cops recovered their sight just in time to see the sleigh pivot almost completely to the vertical then blast straight up and into the morning sky.
“Boss!” Rex screamed over the wind, “What about the bike?” Chris shook his head weakly and pulled out a small red bag. Inside was his beloved Hog, no larger than a toy. Santa had to have a way of carrying millions of toys at a time, and it was nice that the technology could come into play in other areas. The sleigh leveled off sharply and far more violently than Chris usually pushed the reindeer, nearly sending him and several elves over the side.
“Ease up on Rudolph, Stan!” Chris called out to the elf on the buckboard. “Putting out that much wattage makes him testy!” He saw the elf bob his head in recognition and soon the sleigh slowed to a more tolerable speed high above the clouds. “I thought I told you to stay put.” Chris said to Rex.
“Sorry, Boss.” Rex said, his head hung low, “When I lost contact, I thought you might be in trouble. So me and a few of the boys decided to come down and see if we could help.”
It was hard for Chris to be mad at his diminutive warriors. He watched as they spoke in soft whispers, sitting below the gunwale of the sleigh to be able to hear each other over the rushing air. He had made a promise to them long ago that he would try not to think of them as “cute”, though as they sat there, reloading magazines and wiping black blood from their little pointy shoes, faces and knives that profane word kept running through his mind. Several of them turned and caught the look on the jolly old elf’s face. He faked a coughing fit and tried to hide his face as they looked on. Rex continued to try and minister to his wounds but Chris simply shrugged him off. Now that he could rest and concentrate, the wounds would heal.
The next morning, it wasn’t the phone that woke Chris but the face of his dear wife. While it was true that she did sport a head of silver hair, it was merely a dye job. Sarah was much as he was, a member of the Pact with a body not much over 30 years in appearance. And, baking gingerbread cookies was only one of her talents. Sarah's face was a bit shadowed this morning as she held up an empty scotch bottle for him to see.
“You’re back early. How was your trip?” Chris said as softly and innocently as he dared.
“I can’t leave you alone for five minutes, can I?” she barked. Chris was in the throes of a full–on hang over, and each syllable raked across his soggy, aching brain like a rasp. He covered the sides of his head for a moment and waited for her voice to stop echoing between his ears.
“Sarah, please. Not… so… loud…”
“So, you went on a little joyride, did you?” she asked, modulating her voice to where she knew it would be uncomfortable, just not unbearable. “Even took a few of the elves with you, did you now?” Her Irish brogue, usually quite attractive and sometimes downright sexy to him did nothing more this morning than cut through his skull like a knife.
“The Boss called, needed me to take care of something. How could I say no?” Chris asked.
“Easy….you just say no. See? Not so hard now, is it?” Sarah said.
“And you know I can’t do that.” Chris said.
“And did He tell you to get pissed off your feet and take a few elves with you? Stan and Phil are still draped face–down outside. It looks like they were writing their names in the snow and passed out in the middle of it!” Sarah said, fuming.
“A few got antsy and went looking for me. We were just celebratin’ a job well done…”
“Aye, and boys will be boys, is it now? Well, I hope you enjoyed wasting the last bits of your vacation gallivanting around the world solving problems for someone what shouldn’t have any” Sarah said.
“I extended my vacation an extra day” Chris got out of bed and found he was still wearing the same jeans.
“Christopher Kringle! If you got blood all over my sheets, I’ll…” Sarah caught sight of the ragged wounds down his shirtless chest and looked him over with the scrutiny of a doctor. “What the hell did you do? Those look like they’re infected.”
“They’ll be fine, just need to rest a bit” Chris said.
“I just don’t understand why it always has to be you. There are plenty o’ others out there He can call on. He shouldn’t even need to bother any of us for that matter, just snap His fingers or nod His head and poof!” Sarah said. By the tone of her voice, Chris wasn’t sure if she was angrier with him or with his Boss.
“And you know as well as I He won’t do that. You’re of the Pact, too” Chris said, letting his voice drop to a more soothing tone. Sarah sighed and placed a gentle hand on his barrel chest. The simple act made even those grievous wounds feel better.
“I just don’t even see why the Pact is needed in the first place. He is everything. Why tolerate the upstarts? Just recognizing them has caused nothing but grief since the Day” Sarah said.
“Humans have to have choices to make; good or evil, right or wrong, regular or menthol. Their side of the Pact does what it can to try and get mortals to make all the self–serving choices it can. Our side tries to show people the error of their ways and tries to enforce that good conquers all. If the Boss got involved personally, sure, the problems would go away. But that would give ole’ Beel’ the ability to do the same instead of working through his second string. Of course, the Boss would win. But the cost in mortals’ lives and the removal of their free wills when there wasn’t anything else to choose from would kinda’ defeat the purpose” Chris pulled a battered cigarette from his jeans pocket and fumbled for a light. Sarah watched him flounder for a moment before winking at him. The cigarette flared violently to life, startling him. Chris winked back through the haze and inhaled deeply. “Are you trying to say you want your wings back?”
“No, no dear heart” Sarah whispered, “I could never leave you here alone. I mean, what would you do without me? I know why we’re here. But you do enough of the good work, don’t you? Where is Gabrielle or Michael during all this? I thought this was their forte” Sarah said.
“Both are on sabbatical. Last I heard, Gabe snapped and tried to play in a jazz trio in New Orleans. Boss had to stop time to fix the damage. ‘Least he didn’t get to the solo” Chris said. Sarah gave him a gentle hug and pulled his face down to meet hers with a playful tug on his belt–length beard.
“I want you to do something for me” Sarah whispered into his ear while she stroked his voluminous whiskers.
“Anything for you, my little sugar plum…” Chris answered.
“Something only your strong arms and…hmmm” she purred while she ran her tongue along his ear lobe, “…incredible all–night stamina can do.”
“I’m all ears” Chris’s breathing had become heavier now as his shoulders tensed.
“I want you to take me… take me… shopping” Sarah said, drawing out the words. Chris dropped his head and sighed heavily. Perhaps he deserved it. “The elves made reusable shopping totes for me, the same as your work bags” she continued, her voice back to its original quality. “They do well for making the sizes manageable, love, but they don’t help much with the weight” Chris sighed as her school girl giggles were lost in his beard.
“But… I’m on vacation…”