The Turned - J. Robert Kennedy - ebook
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USA TODAY and BARNES & NOBLE #1 BESTSELLING AUTHOR • “A MASTER STORYTELLER” • OVER 800,000 BOOKS SOLD • OVER 3,000 FIVE STAR REVIEWSZander has relived his wife's death at the hands of vampires every day for almost three hundred years, his perfect memory a curse of becoming one of The Turned--infecting him their final heinous act after her murder.Nineteen year-old Sydney Winter knows Zander's secret, a secret preserved by the women in her family for four generations. But with her mother in a coma, she's thrust into the front lines, ahead of her time, to fight side-by-side with Zander.And she wouldn't change a thing.She loves the excitement, she loves the danger.And she loves Zander.But it's a love that will have to go unrequited, because Zander has only one thing on his mind. And it's been the same thing for over two hundred years.Revenge.But today, revenge will have to wait, because Zander Varga, Private Detective, has a new case. A woman's husband is missing. The police aren't interested. But Zander is. Something doesn't smell right, and he's determined to find out why.From USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy comes The Turned, a terrifying story that in true Kennedy fashion takes a completely new twist on the origin of vampires, tying it directly to a well-known moment in history. Told from the perspective of Zander Varga and his assistant, Sydney Winter, The Turned is loaded with action, humor, terror, and a centuries long love that must eventually be let go.

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The Turned

Zander Varga, Vampire Detective

by

J. Robert Kennedy

From the Back Cover

FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY

Zander has relived his wife’s death at the hands of vampires every day for almost three hundred years, his perfect memory a curse of becoming one of The Turned—infecting him their final heinous act after her murder.

Nineteen year-old Sydney Winter knows Zander’s secret, a secret preserved by the women in her family for four generations. But with her mother in a coma, she’s thrust into the front lines, ahead of her time, to fight side-by-side with Zander.

And she wouldn’t change a thing.

She loves the excitement, she loves the danger.

And she loves Zander.

But it’s a love that will have to go unrequited, because Zander has only one thing on his mind. And it’s been the same thing for over two hundred years.

Revenge.

But today, revenge will have to wait, because Zander Varga, Private Detective, has a new case. A woman’s husband is missing. The police aren’t interested. But Zander is. Something doesn’t smell right, and he’s determined to find out why.

From USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy comes The Turned, a terrifying story that in true Kennedy fashion takes a completely new twist on the origin of vampires, tying it directly to a well-known moment in history. Told from the perspective of Zander Varga and his assistant, Sydney Winter, The Turned is loaded with action, humor, terror and a centuries long love that must eventually be let go.

About J. Robert Kennedy

With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.

"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard

"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford

"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity

"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen

"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer

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Books by J. Robert Kennedy

The James Acton Thrillers

The Protocol Brass Monkey Broken Dove The Templar's Relic Flags of Sin The Arab Fall The Circle of Eight The Venice Code Pompeii's Ghosts Amazon Burning The Riddle Blood Relics Sins of the Titanic Saint Peter's Soldiers The Thirteenth Legion Raging Sun Wages of Sin Wrath of the Gods The Templar's Revenge

The Special Agent Dylan Kane Thrillers

Rogue Operator Containment Failure Cold Warriors Death to America Black Widow The Agenda Retribution

The Delta Force Unleashed Thrillers

Payback

Table of Contents

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Table of Contents

Beginning

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Acknowledgements

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About the Author

Also by the Author

“Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Matthew 16:28, King James Version

“The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.

Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.

Why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.

And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?

Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?”

John 18:19-23, King James Version

“And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.”

Mark 5:9, King James Version

1

Outside Kaba, Hungary

1722

“Zander!”

Her scream tore through the fields, through the snorts of the ox, the scrape of the plow it toiled to pull, and my own grunts as the harness, slung over my shoulders, squeezed into my flesh, the muscles and tough callouses built up over the past decade of plowing the family field in my youth, and now on my own, providing little relief. I stopped, the ox gratefully yielding.

I listened.

Again, another cry, the desperation clear. I tossed the harness off my shoulders, and stumbled across the rough field. Reaching the edge of the tilled area, I grabbed my pitchfork, and crested the berm built years ago to protect the house below from the occasional flood waters.

What I saw stopped me in my tracks.

My wife, pregnant with our first child, was held by two men, while a third appeared to be kissing her neck. She screamed again, and my legs urged me forward. I raced down the hill, pitchfork extending out in front of me, apparently unnoticed. I remained silent, fighting the urge to yell at them to stop, knowing my only hope against three men was the element of surprise. The one on the left saw me first, his eyes shooting open wide, his mouth opening in warning.

I ran him through the stomach and he dropped. This brought the notice of his two friends. I wrenched the tines from the first man, but he grabbed the staff and it broke. I twisted and drove the remaining shard under my arm and up, burying it in the chest of the one who had been kissing my wife. He gripped his chest, a look of shock spreading across his face, as he suddenly froze, then, much to my own horror, began to turn slate grey, freezing in position, and finally collapsing to the ground in a pile of dust.

I stopped.

But his friends didn’t. The third man gripped my arm holding the staff, now freed of the body that had disappeared, and his friend, whom I had assumed was out of the fight, stood and took hold of my other arm.

I didn’t struggle. I simply stared at the pile of dust at my feet, wondering what possible magic, what possible evil, could be at work here. My wife, no longer propped up by her captors, collapsed to the ground, moaning. The door to our humble home slammed open as two more men stepped out.

“What the hell happened?”

The two remaining men bowed slightly, as if in deference to their leader. The one I had impaled spoke. “He killed Basile.”

“What?” He stepped forward, his figure imposing, at least half a head taller than me, and I have never considered myself short. He reached out and gripped me by the neck, lifting me off the ground, his strength incredible. As my throat was slowly crushed, he eyed me as if I were a mere curiosity, his head tilting to the side. “How did this pathetic human kill one of us?”

Human?

What the hell was he talking about? If I’m human, then what were they? I kicked out, my boot making contact with his genitals. He winced, his grip loosening slightly, his arm lowering slightly. I kicked again and he roared in anger, tossing me to the side. I landed hard, my back screaming in agony as it broke across the trough used to water the animals.

“Get her,” the apparent leader said, pointing at my wife’s limp form. Two of the men grabbed her arms and hauled her to her feet, dragging her to my shattered body. The leader motioned for them to put her beside me. I turned my head to look at her, and reached out to try and take her hand. Before I could grasp it, the leader bent over and grabbed me by my shirt, lifting me back up, excruciating pain radiating throughout my body. He looked me straight in the eyes. “You killed my friend. You, a pathetic, lowly human. And for that, you will pay.” He tossed me back on the hard wooden frame, then leaned over and kissed my wife’s neck again.

She moaned.

Why would she moan? Is she enjoying this? A flash of jealousy tore through me, the rush making me forget the pain consuming me moments before. I reached over and grabbed him by the collar of the ankle length leather jacket he wore. Pulling at him with all the strength that remained, I yanked him from my wife.

His head whipped around, his eyes narrowed, red, glaring. But it was his teeth that released my bladder. What I could only describe as fangs, were bared at me, as if some vicious dog were staring me down, a vicious, hungry, animal.

With blood dripping from the teeth, smeared across his lips and chin.

“Your wife tastes lovely,” he said, rising, shrugging his shoulders to rid me of my now weakened grip. He waved his hands at the others. “Have a taste, but leave the final taste for me.”

The others descended on my wife, each sinking their now bared fangs into every exposed area of my beloved, her moans becoming weaker as blood drained from her body, spilling onto the ground, and judging from the bouncing Adam’s apples, swallowed by her thirsty attackers.

It only lasted a couple of minutes, all breaking their grips at the same time, as if they could sense that she was near death. Her head lolled to the side, her eyes opened faintly as she stared at me.

“I love you,” I whispered, my hand caressing her cheek. A flash of recognition, of life, momentarily reflected in her eyes, as the leader jumped on her body, straddling her. He bent down and sunk his teeth into her neck, pain flashing across her face as he growled, the sucking sounds making me sick to my stomach. As those interminable seconds went by, I watched the life slowly drain from the eyes of my beloved wife.

He stood and wiped his face on the back of his jacket sleeve, looking down at his handiwork. There was no doubt she was dead, her skin so pale, I doubted any blood was left.

He kicked my foot. “Thanks for sharing.”

The others started to laugh and he joined in. I glared at them, helpless, my broken form no longer under my control.

“You will burn in Hell for what you have done.”

The laughter stopped.

The towering figure placed one foot beside my head and placed his elbow on his knee. “You intrigue me.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, but he never gave me an opportunity to respond.

“After all you’ve seen, after all we’ve done, you still speak without fear.”

“I fear no evil.”

He laughed. “What, God will protect you?” The way he said the word ‘God’ clearly indicated a complete lack of reverence.

I nodded. “Yea,though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

He dismissed my quotation with a wave of his hand. “Do you know why what you just said is irrelevant?”

I could see no possible way. God was the protector, and judge, of all. Who did this man think he was, to think he was unanswerable to the ultimate authority over all?

I shook my head.

“You need to die.” He stared down at me. “I see you’re confused. I”—he jammed his thumb into his chest—“have no intention of dying. Ever. So I will never be answerable to your God.”

“Nor shall I!” said the one I had run through. He was immediately echoed by the others.

“And if we never die, we will never be punished for what we did here today.”

“What manner of demon are you?” It was the only explanation I could come up with. They must be demons. If they died, they’d merely return to the hell they had come from, not answerable to God, because God had already judged them, and found them lacking.

The man tossed his head back and roared in laughter, looking at his companions who joined him. “You think we’re demons?”

Again, I could do nothing but nod.

“You have no idea what we are? Who we are?”

I shook my head.

He leaned in close to my ear, and whispered. “Vampires.”

My heart hammered my ribs as the rush of blood pounded in my ears. I had only heard terrified whispers of vampires, mostly ghost stories told around the campfire, or idle threats used by parents to keep their children in line. It had never occurred to me that they may actually be real. But wait. Vampires? It made no sense. It was ridiculous. But then, when was the last time I had seen a body turn into dust before my very eyes?

“In time you will be judged. And I just hope I’m there to see it.”

The man smiled, looking down at me, then turned his head to look at the others. “You know, he’s given me an idea.”

“What’s that?” asked the skewered one.

The leader turned back to me. “You want to be there when I am judged?” He leaned in even closer, his breath oddly cold on my skin. “Then here’s your chance.” Before I could react, his head darted and I felt a sharp pain in my neck as his teeth sunk in. For the first time in my life I could feel my blood actually pumping through my veins, and out, as he sucked the life giving fluid from them, then pumped it back in. What this was doing to me, I didn’t know, but I could feel a change. I was cold already, part of my body sitting in the trough water, but now my entire body was slowly getting cold. But there was something else. The pain. It was almost gone, even the pain in my neck, at first excruciating, now merely dull. Was this death? Was I moments from dying, so free from the pain?

He let go.

I could feel the teeth slowly extract from my neck, a slight tug as the skin of my neck loosened from his incisors. He stood to his full height, wiping his chin.

“Now you are one of us.”

The sickening feeling that shot through me caused my stomach to churn. Terror quickly replaced it. Then an odd sensation began to grip me. A hunger. Slight, not unlike the hunger experienced before waiting for dinner.

“You feel it, don’t you?”

I glared at him.

“It’s the hunger. The thirst. Soon you won’t be able to control it. Soon you will need to feed.” He pointed at my wife. “Soon you too will feed like we did.”

“Never!” I cried, surprised at the strength I now felt.

He twirled his hand in the air. “Time to go.”

They all turned, walking toward a group of horses grazing nearby.

“Wait!” I yelled.

The leader turned back, raising his eyebrows.

“Who are you?” I needed a name. I needed to know who to blame.

The man walked back to me, his companions following him. He leaned over, a smirk on his face. “You want a name to fuel your hate?”

I glared at him, my lip curling slightly. “I need to know who I’m going to kill.”

He tossed his head back, his long hair flowing free as he spun his head around to look at his companions. “I like him.” He returned his gaze to me. “I am Lazarus of Tyrus, the oldest of my line, and creator of this line”—he tossed his hand behind him—“a line you should feel honored in just joining.”

He stepped aside and the skewered one stepped forward. “And I am Jan Kovacs, honored to be turned by the great Lazarus.”

“And I am Lukas Baal, honored to be turned by the great Lazarus,” announced one of the men who had been in the house.

His partner stepped forward. “Tarkan of Antioch, honored to be turned by the great Lazarus.”

The final man stepped forward. “Augusto Lupino, honored to be turned by the great Lazarus.”

Lazarus pointed at me. “And you, are you honored to be turned by the great Lazarus?”

I spit at him. “Why so few?” I asked. “If you are one of the oldest, shouldn’t there be more?”

He smiled. “There have been. And there are. But many have died over the years, as one did today. As well”—he paused, a smile spreading across his face—“I like to eat.” He smacked Lupino’s arm with the back of his hand, triggering a round of laughter. Lazarus tipped his hat at me. “We’ll be off now.”

And they left, climbing on their horses, and leaving me there, lying across the trough, my wife’s drained body limp at my side.

And an unquenchable thirst building from within.

2

Detroit, Michigan

Present Day

A quick sniff of the air told me everything I needed to know. He was definitely a he (you never can be sure nowadays), and he most likely worked in some sort of manual labor job based upon the stench of grease and sweat. But a hint of antiperspirant suggested he cared about the ungodly BO. It all pointed to the end of a long day of honest, backbreaking work. And that he was type O-negative.

My favorite.

The object of my pursuit may have been a hardworking, good American, but he also had something I wanted. No, not a late night snack, that I could get anywhere, but according to the email I had received, he knew where Tarkan was. The name Tarkan had been on my lips for almost three hundred years. Three hundred years since he had helped kill the woman I loved.

And made me who, and what, I am today.

A vampire.

Some vampires were born this way. Pure bloods seem to think of themselves as the only true vampires, but with all the interbreeding amongst human concubines over the millennia, were there truly any pure bloods left? There was even some debate as to whether or not there was any such thing as a pure blood. Nobody could remember two vampires successfully breeding, and all children born through a concubine ended up stillborn, the stories of successful births old and difficult to prove. Basically the oldest of us, those at least a thousand years old, claimed to be pure bloods, or at least, purer bloods.

But that was a debate for others who cared about bloodlines far more than I. I’m not even a half-blood. I’m what they call ‘The Turned’. The one who had turned me, however, may actually be one of the few who could call himself a pure blood. He was old. One of the oldest. If the whispers were true, he stalked the land when Jesus did.

The typical vampire was turned in one of several ways. They were a tasty treat rather than a meal, and were tossed aside by the sonofabitch who was just having fun. Sometimes they did it in exchange for some service provided, where the person wanted to lead the immortal life of constant hunger. And in other times, it was done as punishment, one worse than death. A life the victim typically never wanted, and is horrified at what it drives them to do, the hunger always proving too much.

The hunger always wins, the hunger drives you to eat anything and everything, until sated. And once done, the overwhelming rush of energy, an orgasmic rush of power surging through your veins drives you to crave the taste even more. It is an addiction that few have been able to master. Those that have, like myself, live fairly normal lives. But those who don’t, live from one victim to the next, preying on the weak, the lost, the ones who won’t be missed. The homeless, the addicts, the prostitutes, the undesirable of society. And the desperate. Over 100,000 people are missing in the United States alone. How many of those are not missing, but rotting in some landfill somewhere, their final moments terror filled as a vampire fulfilled his bloodlust?

But tonight I was after Tarkan. One of the five who had taken the life of my wife in such a horrible fashion, it fired my nightmares every time I closed my eyes, their revenge on me, for killing one of them while defending my wife all those years ago.  I hadn’t known who they were; they were ruffians out to murder, to pillage, to take what little we had, and to take all I had.

My beloved Kristyna.

I would never forget that morning. I could never. One of the curses of being a vampire was eidetic memory. I remembered everything, could forget nothing. It was one curse I could never conquer, only momentarily drown out with alcohol or drugs, but to trade one addiction for another sometimes led to undesirable consequences, some so horrible, I was grateful for the momentary reprieve from total recall.

It was the ultimate revenge. I killed one of them. They killed my beloved, then turned me, so I could remember what they had done to her, for eternity.

As one of them.

And tonight, after almost three hundred years, I was going to feast on one of those who had fed on my wife. Or die myself. Definitely a possibility. But in three hundred years, rather than spend my time feasting on the innocent, spreading fear and terror through an unsophisticated society, I spent my time learning how to control my hunger, learning ways to feed yet avoid the innocent, and to train. To train in every form of combat I could. I knew them all. I had mastered them all.

But my aim today wasn’t to kill. It was to interrogate.

Vampires, no matter their age, always adapted to the age within which they found themselves. They embraced technology, whether it was a brick size cellphone, or social media. They were on Facebook, Twitter, the web. Always anonymous, always under the radar, but sometimes blatantly in public. Just search Facebook for Vampire groups and you’ll find hundreds if not thousands. The vast majority are Twilight loving teenagers or adults who never outgrew their Goth fetish, but a rare few are real. Membership was applied for, and you were asked a question.

Who turned you, and when?

And if you couldn’t answer, you were rejected.

But if you could, you were vetted. Your story was posted. And if confirmed by an existing member, especially the one who turned you, you were admitted.

None of those I was after had ever joined any group I had managed to find, but I was lucky enough that those who had participated in the murder of my beloved, and in my turning, loved to boast, and boast they had. They had told the story everywhere they travelled, for centuries it apparently was one of their favorites. And as a vampire, especially in modern times, you did your boasting to other vampires.

Or your thralls.

Those pathetic souls who followed vampires around like groupies when they discovered the legends were true.

And many of us loved it. Thralls were indeed like rock ’n roll groupies; used as sexual objects, or as gophers to fulfill the wishes of their masters, from manservant, to playing audience to their egos.

All in the hopes of being turned themselves.

Fools.

But some fools are useful fools.

One thrall hopeful claimed he had been turned by Tarkan Antioch.

Someone called BS.

And I had my first lead.

My first lead in decades.

The responder revealed him to be a thrall wannabee he had seen in Detroit with Tarkan, and knew for a fact he hadn’t been turned.

I was on a train to Detroit that same day, today, in fact.

He had been easy to find. Pretty much any database in existence was available to me through contacts. Living for hundreds of years had its advantages. The key was never meeting your contacts over more than a ten year period, and, if possible, having them vouch for you to their replacements when they retired. An old friend in the FBI had run down the name for me and now I was mere yards away from him, having picked up his trail at the home address I was given.

The pig hadn’t even showered after work, merely put on a change of clothes and deodorant, rushing from his apartment with a large bundle under his arm. He was probably too excited about heading to wherever he was going to take the time. My hope was that he was going to meet Tarkan, to lead me to one of those who had taken my beloved Kristyna, who might then, if I were fortunate, lead me to Lazarus, my ultimate goal.

He stepped inside a Laundromat.

Why not stink while doing the laundry?

He wasn’t going to be meeting Tarkan. Disappointed! Now what should I do? Should I wait, stalking him for days before he may finally meet Tarkan? Or confront him now, and scare the information out of him?

My stomach rumbled.

If he wasn’t careful, he just might become the snack I needed to satisfy that hunger.

Sometimes I wondered if my stomach rumbled because it was hungry, or because my body hungered for blood, and my brain interpreted that as a need for food, it simply not wired for this life. Over the years I had come to think of it as an infection. I never bothered researching it, for mixed reasons. If it were an infection, then I might become obsessed at finding a cure, and I couldn’t have that before I had fulfilled my goal of killing Lazarus and his men. As well, if I were to find it wasn’t an infection, then that faint bit of hope I held onto would be lost.

And hope was all I had to fight against the hunger.

And the need for revenge.

I looked through the window of the Laundromat. John Pinkerton sat alone in the back, his clothes now in the washer, reading a magazine. There was one other person inside, a young woman, lost in whatever music she had playing on her iPhone and her text messages, apparently oblivious to the world around her.

Some people just beg to be victims.

I opened the door and stepped inside. Pinkerton looked up from his magazine, the girl never even noticed as she texted to friends she probably had never met in person. My eyes fixed on Pinkerton, and I rounded the machines, striding directly toward him, my alligator skin boots clicking on the linoleum. Pinkerton never took his eyes off me, and I could smell the fear oozing off him. I threw my well-worn duster open and placed my hands on my hips.

“John Pinkerton.”

The man, trembling, nodded.

“It’s my understanding you know where Tarkan Antioch is.”

He shook his head.

Suddenly I smiled and sat down beside him, changing my attitude to throw him off his guard. “I think you misunderstand. He’s an old friend of mine, from Hungary, a couple of hundred years ago.”

Pinkerton’s eyes shot open, his eyebrows retreating up his forehead.

“You mean—”

I nodded and lowered my voice. “I’m like him.”

He gulped. I could smell a combination of fear, sweat and Right Guard. “A v-vam—”

I raised my finger, cutting him off. “Never say it.”

His head bobbed like a doll, his lips sealed.

“Now, I understand you know where I might find Tarkan. Him and I used to hang around in Europe, then lost touch over the years.”

He smiled. “I’m seeing him tonight.”

I’m sure my face hid none of the elation I felt at hearing this. “Awesome! Where?”

“He has a sweet little setup in an abandoned factory. Here, I’ve got the address written down.” He fished a piece of paper from his worn and torn wallet, and showed it to me. “Want me to copy it down for you?”

I smiled and tapped my forefinger to my temple. “Perfect memory, remember?”

He blushed slightly, his head bobbing some more, his nervousness and rapid motions making me think of him as a self-aware animal who knows he may become a meal at any moment. He put the paper back in his wallet.

I rose and so did he. “Thank you,” I said, and started to walk away.

“Can I come with you?”

“No.”

“Please?”

It was a pathetic plea, like that from a child asking to go on the rollercoaster one more time as his parents walked away.

“Go home, John. Tonight the adults are going to play.”

I swept by the girl still engrossed in her iPhone and she stopped, jaw dropping, as she stared at me.

Then smiled.

I tipped my cracked and faded black barmah hat, and gave her a wink as I opened the door and strode into the night.

I could smell her too, and it wasn’t bad at all.

But she wasn’t my beloved.

“Is that you, Varga?”

I froze. He had obviously caught my scent. Each was unique, and with perfect memory, we all knew everyone we had ever met after being turned.

“Yes, it is I.”

I cringed. It is I? What year is this?

His laugh echoed through the abandoned factory. He knew who I was. I had tried to stay upwind, but now inside, that was impossible. “Always so dramatic. I remember when we fed on your wife, you were a little Bible thumper.”

“I’ve become much more.”

A pipe rolled to my right. I spun, crouching, readying myself to spring at my prey, but found nothing. Footsteps clicked to the left, reverberating off the walls. I needed to get higher. I leapt to the catwalk above, grabbing the bottom bar and swinging silently to the metal grating. I quickly scanned the floor below, in a crouch. There he was, on the other side of the assembly line I had just stood behind.

And he had no idea where I was.

I swung my legs over the side of the railing and shoved off, sailing through the air. I grabbed the railing above him, the loose metal rattling, sending a warning to my prey. He looked up as I dropped. His eyes shot open wide, but not with fear. He leapt, hands outstretched, directly at me. I had a split second to react. Reaching forward, almost touching my toes, I kicked back with both feet, flipping to meet him head-on like an Olympic diver. We slammed into each other, grappling for the advantage as we both plunged to the ground. We were matched nearly equally in strength, and if I were to survive this encounter, it would be my training, and a little luck, that would see me prevail.

But I had one disadvantage.

He was fighting to kill me. I was fighting to capture him, then kill him. He had essential information I needed. He knew where the others were. At least I hoped he did.

He got a grip on my neck, his fingers sinking into my flesh. I swung my left arm from the inside and easily broke the grip, but felt the cool feeling of blood flowing down my neck, his nails having done their job. My hand darted out, partially collapsing his wind pipe. He stumbled backward, and drew a large knife from behind his back.

“I’m going to remove that head from your neck.”

My foot darted out, kicking the hand with the knife. His arm swung back, but he retained the grip, laughing. He flipped the knife around so the blade would be toward me, the blade extending along his forearm. Any further kick of the arm would only wound me.

We circled each other, my own knife now shadowing his. As the thrusts and parries continued, I eyed our surroundings. Was there something I could use? Something beyond brute force? Chains hung everywhere, and my mind flashed to the stereotypical ending seen repeatedly in movie after movie, the hero kicking the antagonist, him becoming entangled amongst the chains, and somehow, miraculously, a chain would twist around the neck, suffocating him, or, my favorite, carry them into a fiery furnace.

I kicked, hard. He flew backward and became entangled in a series of long, looping chains behind him. He growled and ripped them from their tracks above, the lengthy chains cascading down from above, rapidly growing piles of links accumulating at his feet. I shrugged. I guess the movies lie. Or didn’t take into account someone who on average could kick Ahnold’s ass in his prime.

The chains continued to pile at his feet, and we both looked at each other. There were a lot of damned chains. I might have laughed if I wasn’t about to kill this bastard.

He sneered, and lifted his foot to free it of the pile surrounding his legs. He stumbled. I leapt forward, knocking him off his feet, grabbing a length of the still falling chain and looped it around his arms twice before he could react. He shook against the chains violently, but I yanked on both ends with all my might, cinching his arms to his sides. I looped it around several more times, standing over him, both ends of the chain wrapped around my forearms, my boot on his chest, the pose reminding me of steering the ox on the fields I used to plow so long ago.

“Give it up, it’s useless.”

He stopped shaking, glaring at me, but resigned to his fate. He knew he was going to die. And he was right. He had feasted on my wife, and he would die. I removed the wood stake tucked into a loop on my leather belt, and pressed it against his chest.

“Where is he?”

He spat at me. “Who?”

“You know who. Lazarus.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “How should I know?”

I pressed harder, the stake piercing his skin by half an inch. A flash of fear crossed his face, then defiance. “You expect me to believe you don’t know where your master is?” I pressed harder.

He turned even paler, if that were possible. “Even if I knew, I couldn’t tell you.”

Slightly harder. “Sure you can.”

He shook his head. “What he’d do to me would be worse than anything you could possibly do.” Suddenly he shoved himself forward, sinking the stake deep into his chest, piercing his heart.

“No!” I screamed, pulling out the stake, but it was too late. His entire body turned a dark grey, frozen as if in time, then slowly crumbled into ash, the chains once encasing him dropped to the floor with a crash, nothing left but his clothes.

I dropped back on my haunches and stared through the roof and at the heavens. “Why?” I needed him alive. I needed to question him.

And I needed revenge.

His death was too easy, too painless, too quick. I wanted him to suffer, I wanted him to suffer like my wife had, to suffer like I have. Yes, I was still suffering. I have never been able to get over her death, my new, perfect memory allowing me to relive every moment, every sound, every smell, every scream of terror, every moan of pain. I would never forget, not until I too was dead.

That day would come, but not before I had achieved the revenge that consumed me. A rage filled me every time I thought of that day, but through the knowledge I was getting closer, it had abated slightly. It was only over the past couple of decades, since the invention of the Internet, that I had been able to make true progress. For almost three hundred years I had searched, moving from town to town, questioning the locals, reading the local papers when they were available, looking for any evidence of unusual deaths, missing people—any clue that they, or others like them, had been there.

And I had learned to control my hunger. It was a hunger that thankfully I had learned how to partially sate almost immediately. I had fed on my cow. The poor beast had screamed in pain, trying to run, but using my increased strength, I had hung on, forcing it to the ground as I fed off its helpless form.

I had loved that cow. It had been our first, given to me by my father to help start our own farm when I had married. I had cared for it every day, milked it for years, and in one frenzied, horrific attack, filled its last moments with terror and pain. My thirst, my hunger, had been satisfied, but I carried that guilt with me forever.

I looked down at the pile of dust and clothes at my feet. I grabbed the clothes and searched the pockets for any clues as to where he had been. A pack of matches with an odd symbol on it, a stylized skull with fangs, was all I had for my efforts, no wallet, no money, no ID to be found.

I shoved the matches in my pocket and sheathed my knife, concealing it under my duster as I walked outside. The sun was just starting to break in the distance. I flipped my collar up, pulled my hat low, threw a pair of sunglasses on and slipped on my gloves. Climbing in my rental, I returned to the train station where I had stowed my gear in a locker, and boarded a train for home.

3

New York City

I stepped inside the lobby of the hellhole I called home and climbed the stairs rather than trust the claptrap elevator that on a good day only worked until the third floor, leaving the other tenants to hoof it. I was fortunate to only be up one floor. I entered the long familiar hallway of offices occupying the second level, passing by each door on my way to my own, the names long since permanently etched on my brain.

Half were private dicks, half were import/export companies. In other words, smugglers.

This was Chinatown baby, and it ain’t nice.

But, the rent was cheap. Nobody asked questions. You could go about your business, rarely saw anyone in the hallway, so no one knew your comings and goings. It was perfect for me, especially since I’m more of a “night owl”, shall we say.

I stopped in front of the door for my office and sighed as I read the sign:

                   Zander Smith

                   Private Investigator

Eight years I’d been using that name now. I refused to count how many names I’d used over the years, because once I’ve done that, I’ll know the number, and never be able to forget it. It was a mystery easily solvable, but one that would remain a mystery as long as I remembered to never count them.

I tried the handle.

Unlocked.

Sydney must be here. I opened the door and stepped through.

“Hiya, Zee!”

“Hey, Syd.”

She rose from her seat, her hourglass figure curving around the desk as she rushed over to help me with my duster. She gave me a peck on the cheek, her thick red lipstick most likely leaving its calling sign.

“Zee, you look exhausted.” She reached up and rubbed my cheek, removing the evidence of her presence. “So, success?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Sort of.”

She dragged me to the inner office that was mine and pushed me onto the worn leather couch that had been here when we moved in. “Tell me all about it.”

I shook my head. “Ten cent version. Found the guy, got an address, fought with Tarkan, and he killed himself before he could tell me anything.” I reached into the pocket of my faded 501s and pulled the matchbook out. “This is all he had on him.”

She took the matchbook and examined it, inside and out. “No name. That’s odd.”

“That’s what I thought. Makes me think private club or something.”