"So..." Victor asked. "...Seems you've got something rockin' your brain matter. Spill it, man. Whatchya got for me?"
Taking a heavy gulp from my beer, I sat up to lean forward a bit myself. I didn't allow my intense eye contact waiver from his. Not one bit. For once, I wanted to look into those eyes and try to decode what was going on in there.
"I'm curious...what are you, exactly?" I asked.
"I'm an unsigned rock star, man. The unknown soldier. The boogie man in the bushes." He grinned, taking a sip of his own beer.
"You know what I mean." I said. "You're obviously not human."
"Not anymore, I'm not." He replied. "I'm not too big on labels. I live long, I live good...and on occasion I find myself a decent supply of blood to keep me looking good."
I stared at him for a moment. "So, for all intents and purposes...you're telling me that you're a vampire. Do I have that right?"
His grin widened considerably. "Well, I ain't quite the pimp that Christopher Lee was with the cape and all, but...if the term vampire is what you want to go with, I can dig it, man. Whatever curls the hair on your chin, chief."
Another mental note that I made sure to remember. That might explain why I never see him out during the day, why he was so fast...so strong...and why his fangs were so sharp when he decided to reveal them in anger. Vampire. Interesting.
If that's what he identifies with...then I wonder how closely related his 'kind' were to the myths of legend.
"And this is why you need blood?"
"Every now and then." He said. "I get my fill, but the old gas tank runs low from time to time. I've gotta dash out and get me a refill before the well runs dry."
"And what happens then?" I asked. "When the 'well runs dry'?"
I think Victor could tell that I was picking his brain at this point, and I decided to pull it back a bit, hoping to have him write it off as random curiosity. "You tryin' to burn me down, man?"
"I said that I wanted to get to know who I'm dealing with. I need to know whether or not to watch my back when your tank's getting low." I said, still not breaking eye contact.
He gazed at me for a moment, and I actually began to feel something happening to me. Almost as if...my thoughts were being scrambled somehow. As if he was shifting through them, bringing certain ones to the surface. Keep him out of your head, Jack. Concentrate. Victor leaned back and said, "Let's just say that it hasn't happened yet. And I doubt it will any time soon."
"Doesn't give me a whole lot of comfort." I told him.
"Tough cookies, man."
He was getting defensive now. Not what I wanted. I wanted to keep him talking. I raised my can of beer up to my lips and took a few more exaggerated gulps, sighing out loud when I lowered it again to let him see how much I enjoyed the cold, bubbly, liquid. It was a subtle manipulation on my part, but it always has the desired effect.
Victor predictably raised the can to his lips as well, mimicking my motions in the hopes to feel the same rush from the alcohol that I was. But I was certain that his tolerance was nowhere near as high as mine was. At only seventeen years old, he was still guzzling his drink, unrestricted, like it was apple juice...unaware of the sudden crash of drunkeness that was sure to come his way from his lack of restraint. It was going to hit him hard, and I'd notice it right away, once his eyes glazed over and his head leaned back.
Drink on, kid. Drink on.
"So...I take it that you've been around for a while now, am I right?" I asked.
"A while. Yeah. You could say that."
"That means that you've been getting your 'sauce' from people in the streets long before I came along. So, what did you do before finding me outside of that diner a few days back?"
Victor took another long sip of his beer. Almost emptying the can already, as if he was in competition with me to race to the bottom. With a little belch, he said, "I find what I can, when I can. I stayed on the outskirts before...didn't have much fuss. Moving to the city has been a whole different ballgame though." He seemed to be opening up a bit more. Faster than I could have predicted. Good. "There's a lot of people like me out in those streets, Jack. Trust me, there are things out there in the shadows that you would never want to know about, Buddy Boy. Bad things. A heck of a lot worse than me."
"And here I thought I was something 'special'." I said, causing him to smile at me again.
"You're special in your own way, Jack."
"That may be..." I told him, "...But if you've been getting along just fine without me for all this time...why the sudden knock on my car window? I can't imagine that I could build on your supposed perfection. Exactly what is it that you think you need from me?"
"It ain't the killing, Jack. That part is easy. It's getting away with the killing that's the hard part. Once somebody like me starts putting up some serious points on the scoreboard...it begins to be a problem. I need a 'cleaner'. I need to pair up with somebody that's going to satisfy my needs and keep me from getting pinned down by the pigs in the process."
"What's wrong with you cleaning up your own messes?" I asked him. "It can't be all that difficult. Smart little punk like you? I would have thought that you'd be more of an entrepreneur about this."
With a slight cough, and another sip of his beer to finish off the can, Victor grinned, "Do I look like the type of guy to be held down by that kind of hassle, man? I'm more of a freebird, if you know what I mean."
I stood up from my chair and walked past him to go over to the fridge, grabbing two more cold cans of beer to bring back to the table and keep us drinking before he was able to take a break from it. But as I left his line of sight...I felt that strange sensation again, my head swimming with a slight dizziness as certain thoughts and details from my day came back to me in vivid color...seemingly for no reason. I paid more attention to the effect it had on me this time. Another mental note...to hold on to for later.
I came back to sit down, handing him the cold beer and watching him open it right away to keep his thirst going strong. "Well...if there are as many 'vampires' in the city of Chicago as you say...I'm thinking that you are all going to have to get together and come up with some kind of plan, aren't you?"
"Now that's where things get wild, man!" He said. "Apparently, we ain't gotta do shit. I've heard whispers, man. Little rumors, here and there...about how this whole growing population thing is being turned over to the feds to handle. People like me? We've just got to sit back and wait for them to work this shit out for us."
Intrigued, I asked, "You're saying that the Chicago police department knows that there are vampires running around...feeding on people? Heh!" I scoffed, but Victor only got more animated.
"Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Rio, London, Dublin, Tokyo...even the fuckin' Vatican, man! There's nowhere on the planet where you won't find us. We're too deeply embeded in your history to get rid of us now. I'm guessing the higher ups felt it was better to work with us than against us." He said, still drinking. "Folks keep talking about them putting some sort of 'slag hunter protocol' together i the next couple of years, but I don't think they've figured out how to do that just yet. Then again...if they can put a man on the moon, they can do just about anything, right?"
I can't say that I was buying that part of his story. We've definitely had our fair share of liars, thieves, and scoundrels, in the White House...but I'm thinking that there's a limit to what the American people will let them get away with. And there always will be.
With another muffled belch, Victor leaned forward again and said, "Alright, Jack...tit for tat." Sometimes, his smile seemed more offensive than welcoming. I found myself being annoyed by it, as he only flashed it when he was being somewhat obnoxious. "You mind if I ask you a question or two? Since we're here...being all friendly." I nodded gently, and he asked, "What I'm most curious about when it comes to you, Jack...is...what was it that finally broke you?"
Calmly, I responded with, "Funny thing...I didn't realize that I was broken."
"Ohhhh, you most certainly are. And that's not a criticism. I just want to know how you found a way to set your true nature free."
"My 'true' nature, huh?"
"Not just you. But all of human kind. We hide it from the rest of the world ninety-nine percent of the time...but every now and then, somebody touches that particular nerve, man. They push that button, they pull that string...and you get to see what somebody's really about when the gloves come off." He said. "Some people snap like a twig for a couple of moments, and then they go back to their original program. Everybody falls out of line every now and then when you put the screws to 'em, man. But then...there are the others. The ones that step out of line and find true freedom just outside of society's formal parade. They don't bend, they don't stretch...they 'break'. And YOU, my friend, have definitely been broken."
"I'm not sure I know what to tell you, kid." I said, using my tactic to drink more and get him to drink more to follow me. "I've already given you my confession about why I do what I do, and what it means to me. There's nothing all that complex about it."
"Hehehe, you mean that jive you told me about your 'art' and preserving the goodness within last night? Come on now, Jack. You can do better than that."
"What about you? Your hands are just as dirty as mine from what you're telling me. Maybe the answer you're looking for is closer to your heart than it is to mine."
Victor gave me a wink. "Are you pulling the old switcheroo on me, man?" He giggled to himself, but his expression changed rather quickly. "You're not gonna con me, Jack. I was honest with you, I want you to be honest with me too. I want to know what caused your life to take such a dark detour."
"So you're saying there's no comparison between you and me."
"None at all. I kill to keep living. You live to keep killing. There's a difference. You got yourself a crazy fever for slicing those girls up the way you do. You feel it in your bones. It's like a symphony in your head, manifested through the most murderous acts. And that ain't just a mental defect, man. You weren't born with it. You practiced it, cultivated it, grew your methods and watched them blossom like roses in a personal garden in your back yard. A talent like that had to come from somewhere. It doesn't just pop up at random." He said. "So...I'll ask you again, Jack...what was it that finally 'broke' you?" I didn't answer. Instead, I just went back to drinking my beer, and rubbing my stomach as I allowed myself to relax back in my chair. And again...I could feel my thoughts being shifted. Rearranged. Shuffled like cards in a high stakes game of poker. "It couldn't have been parent abandonment issues. You never knew your father. And your mother gave you up to her sister when you were only seven years old. Do I have that right?"
There was that cocky smirk of his again. I gritted my teeth as I found him scrolling through my most intimate memories without permission. Using them against me. Knowing more about my life than he had any right to know. But...after our last brief meetings...I had prepared myself for this. And now I knew exactly what it felt like when he was prying his way into my thoughts. Another mental note. Clearly received.
"Now...how would you know something like that about me?" I asked, keeping my rage in check while staring into his eyes with a menacing glare.
"I know a lot of things about a lot of things, Jack." He smiled. "You never saw your dear sweet mom ever again, did you? I'm sure that must have torn you up inside." I fought the urge to let my fists ball up in my lap, but it wasn't easy. In fact, I could hear the crinkling of the beer can in my hand as the aluminum was crushed in slightly from the added pressure. I took another healthy gulp to conceal my negative reaction, but I was sure that he could feel it anyway. "Your aunt, Cindy, wasn't the nicest of gals, was she?"
"She kept food on the table, made sure that I stayed in school...I'd say she did a pretty decent job of raising me." I told him.
"Bullshit." He said. "You hated that woman with a passion."
"She took me in. I was a guest in her home..."
"You were a prisoner in her dungeon. That's what you were. A ragdoll for her to smack around and talk down to whenever she was feeling down on herself. Isn't that right?"
"I loved my Aunt Cindy..." I growled.
"No, Jack. You didn't." He answered. "You say that you did, because that's what you're supposed to say...but I can feel the truth within you, scratching to get out." Victor gulped down what was left in his second can, and this time, he got up from the couch to walk over to the fridge to grab two more for us to share, putting it down on the table in front of me. "It's alright to say that you hated her, man. I'm not gonna bash you for it, Jack. It's honest. That woman took pleasure out of torturing you the way that she did. You know that, right?" As he continued to piece through the veil of my conscious thoughts, I could feel some of those long forgotten emotions being dragged back up to the surface along with them. Even the ones that I had bottled up and pushed aside for the sake of building a mask of normality in my every day life. Whatever special ability he had to read minds and decipher my innermost feelings and desires...he had honed it to a tee. I had never felt so 'invaded'. "Is that a part of why you do what you do? Because of her? I'm willing to bet that it's a BIG part of who you are and how you feel. Isn't it?"
"I think you need to learn a little something about boundaries." I said.
"Did she?" He replied. "You remember it, don't you? Aunt Cindy bringing all of those men over to the house when you were younger. Gentlemen callers. Hehehe! She had some sense of decency, telling her to send you to bed early. But those walls...those walls were awfully thin, weren't they?" He was deliberately trying to get a rise out of me, and I had to admit that it was working. I didn't let it show on my face, but my eye contact wasn't as prevalent as it was before. I'm sure he noticed. As I said...a true predator can sense these things.
"What she did in that house was none of my business." Was my only verbal defense.
"It turned you on...didn't it? Sure, she was family...but I know that you could picture it as it was happening. Her moaning, her high pitched whimpers, the feeling of some faceless trick sticking the beef to your ol' lady just on the other side of that bedroom wall. You may not want to admit it...but it turned you on, didn't it? Deep down, you wanted it to be you in that room, getting your Aunt's hot candy while somebody else was forced to block it out while putting a pillow over their heads. It made you feel dirty. Sick in the head. But it aroused you anyway. Yeah, I hear you, man. Stuff like that changes a person inside. Even when they're too young to know it."
I finished the beer that I was drinking, and was quick to open the next one that he had sat down on the table in front of me. The drinking really had become a competition, and now I was locked in as this conversational power struggle continued. "Perhaps. What has that got to do with me now?"
"Everything, man." He smiled. "Listen...the world is a fucked up place. I mean, most people go on and on about it for the sake of sounding wise about that shit, but things are MUCH worse than you could ever imagine. If you could look into the minds of the people you meet on the street, if you could see what I see...you'd know just how wild the world really is, man. There's no innocence left. I'm pretty convinced that there never was any to begin with. It was just easier to brazenly lie to a naive population that didn't know any better."
"No innocence left, huh?" I smirked.
"Not the kind of purity that you claim to be looking for. Not as far as your 'art' is concerned. I've seen people bang on each other over a parking space. I see these tatooed suckas bash each other's heads in just to get a rep on their block. Politicians sending people overseas to kill people they've never met, and not give a damn about whether they come home or not. Bigots keeping kids from going to school, or getting jobs...burning down churches...and then turning around to say that they don't add anything significant to society when THEY were the ones kicking them when they were down in the first place. People strung out on drugs because it's the only escape they have from the life that's crushing them every second of every day. And people just don't CARE anymore, Jack! We've all accepted that this is how things are, and this is how they should stay. It's a goddamn tragedy."
As the intoxication began to take hold of him, I noticed Victor becoming a little more vulnerable with what he was saying to me. And I made sure to silently document it all in the back of mind for later.
"Sounds like a bunch of 'hippie' talk to me, kid." I said. "I don't think anybody is going to leave it up to a bloodsucking vampire to go out there and change the world for the rest of us. You might be 'killing to live', as you so eloquently put it...but I'm sure that you push aside the horror and the guilt of the 'killing' part when you need to get your own needs met. Just like everybody else. You're right here in the mud with the rest of us, just trying to pay attention to what you can handle, and trying to avoid what you can't."
"Hehehe, touche, man." He said. "Don't get me wrong...I really tried to care. I just found it exhausting. Soooo many people have given up on what's right. What's sane. At least I can appreciate you for having a fucking purpose, man. You don't do your thing for the sake of being accepted. You do what you do because it's you. It's raw. Primal. It shows that you are striving to stand for something real." He said. "I look at these people and the secrets they hide, usually to their own detriment...and it's disgusting. Pointless. They lie and live a phony life until they run out of breath. And what did it accomplish? Nothing. You say that you're trying to preserve the goodness in these people...but it doesn't exist, Jack. It's just a hangover cocktail of rampant ignorance, mixed with deliberate hypocrisy, and garnished with a self induced sense of denial about who they really are inside. Most of these entitled, two-faced, piglets couldn't STAND to look themselves in the mirror for more than a few seconds for fear that they wouldn't be able to tolerate the image staring back at them. And I'm supposed to cry for them when you slash these pieces of human trash to ribbons? I should feel bad for draining their life essence, when they serve no other purpose outside of being a late night snack for a superior lifeform? I feel nothing for them. Absolutely nothing. They're weak and misguided and make NO efforts to evolve into anything better. And yet, they want to call US the monsters."
Already, Victor was beginning to slur his words. It made me wonder if the moment of truth was near. Best to play it safe for the time being though.
"So...I hear your complaints. What's your answer?" I asked. "I assume you have a solution for ridding the world of humanity's wickedness."
"Not at all, man." He said. "I don't want to 'fix it'...I just want the world to see it for what it is. Recognize it. Embrace it. And stop trying to pretend that we're any better than the junkyard dogs we work so hard to look down upon. If you ask me...a human life is no more special or more important than the hogs we send to slaughter for our morning bacon. We've simply created this dark fairy tale to protect ourselves from feeling bad about it. I thought someone like you would understand that better than anyone, Jack. It was a crazy part of what I admired about you, man."
I began to wonder if Victor was losing his faculties faster than I had expected, but as I saw him tilting his beer can back, further and further, I decided to guzzle down what I had left, and got up to grab two more from the fridge. At first, Victor refused another drink, but I told, "Just one more. One for you, one for me...and then we'll go out and see what we can do about...getting you 'fed'. How's that?"
I could see Victor roll his eyes slowly, and this time...even though he seemed to be scrolling through my thoughts and memories with ease...I found it easier to hide what I needed to hide from him this time. Either he was getting sloppy due to his growing intoxication...or I was strengthening my ability to focus on keeping his penetrating senses at bay.
"You know...even if you fuck me up with the brewskis...I'm still going to be stronger and faster than you'll ever be, Daddy-O. So don't think you're putting anything over on me." He said.
"You're too paranoid, Victor. That's not a good trait in a partner." I said, this time opening the beer for him and reaching out to put it in his hand. "I'm gonna need you to relax if we're going to do this tonight."
"Riiiiight on, man." He smiled. "Relaxed. I hear you."
"Enjoy." I said, lightly bumping my can against his to continue our celebration. It's almost time. Don't want to miss my window of opportunity. But I don't want to jump the gun either. My darkest instincts have taught me patience. Control. Balance.
All things that Victor was losing with his every sip. It wouldn't be long now.
Everything is going even better than I had planned.