Vampire Cabbie - Chapter 18


Full Circle

Jenkins found. See the Bruja,Catemaco,Mexico .

The terse message quickly obscured all other concerns, etching its way into my memory, the telegram read and read again until the paper, through excessive handling, grew to resemble parchment.

Suddenly, the sparseness of my drab abode became all too apparent. No longer could the shortcomings be obscured through a conscious lapse of attention to these details.

But no longer!

My bed would be the most exquisite of carved mahogany, the mattress like clouds, the sheets the finest Chinese silk money can buy. The splendor of my new abode would be such to even dazzle the most jaded of aristocrats.

After departing work, I returned to this temporary home, listened to a scratchy recording of Rossini and studied the atlas, closing my eyes, imagining where next I would call home.

Iwould have my revenge. After retrieving my fortune, Jenkins would watch in horror as slowly his skin was peeled off his quivering skeleton, the chest ever so slowly torn open, his heart ripped from his chest, his life blood squeezed into my mouth from a heart beating its last.

Catemaco was found in my atlas as the Italian maestro reached a stunning crescendo. Yes, this tiny pueblo on the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Vera Cruz, seemed perhaps a good place to lose oneself; Jenkins would never suspect the visitor he was about to entertain.

It seemed an easy task, thanks to the typically excellent and thorough job by my former aide-de-camp, Bob Johnson. Simply travel to this quaint little pueblo and seek out the local witch doctor who would direct me to my quarry. Travel expenses would eat up much of my savings, but this seemed quite the clever investment. Quite clever indeed.

****

I have been too long away from the tropics, too long exiled in the deadly silent, lifeless wasteland calledWisconsin . Strolling through the jungle surrounding Catemaco, jolts of electricity coursed through my body, the sweet scent of mammoth flowers wafting into my nostrils, along with the musk of all that hidden life. A jaguar screeched, monkeys shrieked, macaws squawked, toads croaked and a thousand insects clicked, chirped and whistled. This symphony of life filled me with the indescribable vitality of all that impending essence out there just for the taking.

With my first step inside Catemaco, my boot sank into the mud of what was considered a street, a waterlogged quagmire in a place that apparently possessed no knowledge of cement, asphalt or even gravel. Six blocks was the mere extent of the village. Above, a lone electrical cable snaked from one end of the pueblo to the other, satisfying Catemaco's modest desires for power, a strong contrast to the insatiable hunger back in theUnited States . There, high tension wires connect the vast gulfs separating communities, mounted upon those ubiquitous steel structures so much like the persona of those poor souls crucified in ancientRome . This procession leading from community to community has always reminded me of the accounts of how the Romans had lined the entireAppian Way with crucified Spartans. Indeed, all roadsdid in fact lead toRome !

Darkness had descended prior to my arrival. Most of the inhabitants seemed to have retreated into their modest casas, built from sun-hardened mud or sod, roofed with tin or palm thatching, the occasional corrugated steel abode a sign of wealth and status.

A loud crash drew my attention to a nearby cantina. Silence, then a shouted exchange: one low, gravelly voice,"Pindejo!" and a high-pitched reply,"Chinga tu madre," then a cacophony of smashing furniture and broken glass, leading undoubtedly to the spilling of blood.

Bloodwould be spilled tonight, but not that of these peasants, fighting over insignificant insults that would surely be forgotten on the morrow. Blood would be spilled because of this insult to me: that someone in my employ could take my fortune, rob me of my livelihood and force me to serve others like a common mortal.

The sounds of the fight inside the cantina faded from my hearing as I focused on the sounds from the jungle creatures rising in the night, fighting their ongoing battle to survive, killing merely because it is what they do.

Ahead stood the Catemaco's only church, its spire majestically piercing the blackness of night. The Catholic church was my marker, for so often theBruja lives next to the church, being a religious as well as a medical leader in any given community.

Without seeing the church, the bitter scent of datura, along with the smell of garlic and a dozen powerful herbs, said the lovely hacienda next to the church was the place I sought. An immense shrub bearing several brilliant white-trumpeted flowers of datura sat before the abode. I smiled ironically at how beautiful the flowers were, yet how badly the drug had been misused by those unfortunate miscreants. Surely, they would exist today had they been instructed by this, or any,Bruja instead of that dangerously deluded vampire whom they had called father.

This was not a rich person's hacienda, but with its stucco sides, corrugated steel roof and the shiny propane stove in front, it looked like the home of one well-off.

The townBruja would be well off. Her skills would be well appreciated by the community. Her wisdom would bring gifts of gratitude. I carried a pocketful of coins, which hopefully would be sufficient compensation for the information she would provide.

I walked through the open doorway and crossed the threshold of her home as the pleasing aroma of all those herbs entered my nostrils. I looked up at the ceiling and was amazed by the collection: cloves of garlic, fresh cinnamon, parsley, basil, oleander, more datura, sacks of rice, sacks of beans and large bunches of bananas.

The room was dark, except for a lone kerosene lamp and three candles. I took a few steps toward a figure sitting motionless in a tall wicker chair in the deepest corner of the room, but was intercepted by a plump woman, wearing a lovely embroidered dress, her long black hair tied in a rather effete bun, bright red lipstick and blue mascara clearly visible in the flickering candlelight.

Just short of an arm's length away, the woman stopped, her expression shifting from astonished to frightened, the steadiness and relative grace of her bearing transformed to twitchy nervousness.

Diablo!the woman exclaimed. "Ay! Maria, esta aqui un hombre del Diablo!"

"Claro," replied a serene voice from the darkness. "Nos vemos a la mañana, Leta."

The plump woman crossed herself and quickly left the hacienda. A bony shape, draped in fabric, rose from the chair, using a cane for aid. Once standing, she stood tall and straight, the candlelight all at once illuminating a face deeply creased and craggy. She was very old, yet the long hair hanging loosely about her shoulders was black, marred not by even a single gray hair. She wore a light green dress, covered with many kinds of birds embroidered in bright red, blue and yellow thread. A pair of large, gold hoops dangled from her ear lobes, and a thick, silver crucifix hung from her neck. Like her assistant, she wore bright red lipstick and blue eye shadow.

I stood motionless as she moved toward me, her eyes studying me, peering into me, her expression that of earnest curiosity.

"Diablo?" she asked calmly.

I shook my head.

"Not human," she replied in Spanish.

"Certainly not. But not a threat."

She continued to meet my eyes with a steely gaze. "That I can see. Not a threat, but exceptional. You honor me with your presence. Why have you come?"

"Information. I am looking for a man."

"Does a man really matter to you?Can a man matter to you?"

"This one does."

"You seek the gringo who lives on the other

side of Vulcan San Martin, do you not?"

"I seek an American, but I do not know his exact whereabouts. How is it you know whom I seek?"

She smiled broadly, showing perfect white teeth. "All of you from el Norte, you are only concerned with yourselves. We concern you not at all. When the gringo arrived seeking solitude, I knew another would follow, seeking him."

"Will you tell me how to find him?"

With a nod, she took my arm and led me toward the door. TheBruja pointed upward with her cane. Ahead, under a nearly full moon, loomed the silhouette of a small volcano.

"Directly on the other side, on the beach, nearly on the ocean. That is where the man you seek lives. That is where he seeks death."

"Que?"

"You seek retribution, but he seeks death. They bring him mezcal every day, and he finishes all that they bring." Her voice raised a decibel. "They laugh and bring more than the day before. He pays gladly and drinks all that they bring."

"I merely seek satisfaction, señora." Satisfaction indeed! Hopefully, he had not squandered my entire fortune on cheap liquor.

"I wish you good luck in finding it." She turned away then faced me again, a certain sadness in her eyes. I reached into my pockets for the coins within, hoping the offer would not be insulting. Seeing what I was doing, she shook a hand in protest. "Por favor, señor."

"But I wish to give you something."

She shook her head. "Come and honor me with your presence again. There is likely much I could learn from one such as you."

I left knowing the same was true about her.

****

With a shrieking snarl, the jaguar leaped from the darkness. Splintered moonlight flickered off protruding claws and bared fangs, at the last moment betraying the cat's attack, which had been so cleverly masked by the shifting wind. The hunted had become the hunter.

The cat struck me hard in the chest, knocking me to the earth. Claws ripped fabric. Flesh tore. A paw raised, poised to finish me off with a hard strike to my throat, but a quickly-thrust forearm deflected the cat's blow.

Taking advantage of the jaguar's momentary loss of balance, I boxed its ears and, summoning all my strength, flipped the cat onto its back, plunged fangs into its muscular neck and drank of its blood, not stopping until my stomach was full, and the jaguar lay on the jungle floor, now food for the local carrion beasts.

By the time I reached Jenkins's home at the beach, my wounds had healed, the flesh underneath the torn fabric completely unmarred.

The house was the lone structure on the beach, its deplorable condition a blight on the beauty of this place. Had Jenkins no shame? Refuse surrounded the modest house, its clapboard sides patched with crates, pieces of driftwood and strips of cardboard. A pile of debris sat alongside the building, waiting to be used to repair the many remaining holes.

Jenkins sat before the ramshackle structure in a weathered wooden chair, staring at the moonlight-dappled crests as they rose and broke at the shore, the salty mist blown inland by a soft breeze. A semicircle of empty liquor bottles surrounded him.

Long moments passed as I watched this corpulent, pathetic lump of flesh. Even from a distance, he reeked of cheap mezcal, tobacco and sweat, fresh and stale. Though Jenkins's heartbeat echoed loudly inside my skull, my observation remained unnoticed. Despite my recent meal, hunger welled inside me, but I willed my fangs to stay within their enamel housings - for now.

He took a swig directly from a bottle, burped then finally turned toward me. "Mister Farkus," he said, his tone flat, but his enunciation surprisingly clear, "I knew someone'd find me. Didn't think it'd be you, doing your own dirty-work."

I moved toward him, anger welling inside me at the utter flippancy of his manner. Standing over him, blocking his view of the crashing waves, I peered inside the small structure. The floor was dirt, and there was no furniture save a soiled mattress and a square enamel table standing valiantly on three legs. "My money, Jenkins. I have come for that which you stole from me."

He laughed. "And I thought you were here to kill me."

It was my turn to laugh. "Do not worry. I shall not disappoint you. But first, my money."

Jenkins shrugged his shoulders, his lips forming an innocent smile. "Sorry. Money's gone."

"What do you mean, gone!?" Angry red lightning flashed before my eyes, then I was straddling his knees, lifting Jenkins to his feet, my mouth wide open, fangs dropped in place. He stared at me, his eyes still barely slits.

"What kind of creature are you?" he asked, his tone surprisingly bland.

"As you Americans are so fond of saying, I am your worst bad dream."

He laughed again, flooding me with his foul breath. "I think you mean to say, 'I'm your worst nightmare.'" His laughter resumed and would not stop.

"Silence," I commanded. "You will cease that infernal laughter and tell me where my money is."

"What's the matter, Al? You pissed 'cuz I'm not scared enough? Sorry to disappoint you. I'm probably too drunk to be very scared."

"I simply want my money."

"I don't have your goddamned money." He paused, studying my features closely, his expression that of curiosity, not fear. "Seen 'lotta strange things since coming down here. My old boss being a vampire don't really surprise me."

The fingers gripping his collar loosened, and Jenkins dropped back into his seat, his bulk causing the wood to creak, buckle and nearly break. I stared down at him, feeling my eyes burning into his, boiling the liquid inside, leaving dried, shriveled flesh in the sockets. "Then, it should not surprise you that I am a creature capable of flaying you alive. Ever so slowly and painfully peeling flesh from bone. Opening your chest and ripping out your still-beating heart. So, I ask you again. Where is my money?"

His laughter resumed, and it took great discipline not to tear open his throat right then and there.

"Go ahead, Farkus," Jenkins said blandly, "kill me. I don't care anymore. A visit from a killer. Fine by me. I don't wanna live anymore."

"I am not a killer," I replied, still straddling his knees.

"That so?" Jenkins smiled broadly, studying my face for some kind of reaction. "I thought vampires were killers. Ain't that how you eat?"

"Too much Hollywood. Some vampires are killers. I am not."

"But you're gonna kill me. Kinda makesyou a killer, don't it?"

He was distracting me. "My money, Jenkins!" I slapped him hard across the face. "Where is my money?"

Jenkins flinched not at all. He must have been very drunk. "How do you rationalize that kind of thinking, Farkus? Saying you're not a killer when you're here to kill me. Makes you a killer, doesn't it." This time, not a question at all, but an accusation.

I took one short step backward. "The issue here is not sophistry, Jenkins. The issue is my money and where it is and how you will return it to me."

"Tell you what. Show me yours, and I'll show you mine. Answer my question and I'll tell you about your money."

This was getting most tiresome, but patience was necessary because Jenkins could provide no answers after I had killed him. "Very well, Jenkins, ask me your question."

He grinned almost childishly. "You say

you're not a killer, but don't you kill when you eat?"

"No. I take what I need and no more. Those I take from are left relatively unharmed."

He rubbed his chin and stared thoughtfully toward the beach. "You're here to kill me, but you claim you're not a killer. Kill anybody else recently?"

Blood spilled across the canvas of my inner sight. Frank Nelson, Bobo, his brothers, their father. Motherless spawn of Satan! These hands had killedfive beings in the past year?Five? The necessity to kill had not made itself apparent for forty years and now -

"Yes," was my only reply.

"But you're not a killer."

"They deserved to die. One was - "

"Deserved?"

"Do not interrupt. One was self-defense - a mortal - the other four were vampires who I killed to keep them from killing mortals."

"Hmmm," Jenkins replied. "Justifiable, I'll give you that, but what gives you the right to make that kind of decision?"

"Jenkins, confusing the issue with sophistry merely serves to prolong your pathetic existence."

"Yeah, okay, maybe. But you're here to kill me, and that's just for revenge, no other reason. How can you kill me and not be a killer?"

"I kill only when necessary. Killers kill indiscriminately."

He smiled, and I realized that he had backed me into an untenable position in this debate. "You don't have to kill me. Killing me don't mean anything one way or the other."

Quite the inhuman growl escaped my throat. Jenkins cowered visibly. "I have answered your question to the best of my ability. Now, where is my money?"

"Like I been trying to tell you, your money's gone. Like poof! Gone." He threw his hands up in the air, seeming to take strength from this cavalier gesture.

My mouth opened in a feral smile. Fingers clenched, the razor-claws wanting satisfaction. Blood filled my sight. Jenkins's beating heart pounded loudly. To Hades with the money! I wanted his blood, wanted to rip into his flesh, imagined his heart warm and still beating, could see the steam as hot blood struck my cold tongue, could feel his blood gushing down my throat.

I exhaled loudly through my mouth, fighting for control. Only through patience and discipline would my money be returned. "Please, Mister Jenkins," I said with almost no animation, "tell me exactly what happened."

He paused a moment, well aware that his life would continue for at least a little while longer, knowing it had almost ended just then. He smiled. "You never should have hired me, Farkus. I'm a pretty lousy financier. I did as bad a job on my own portfolio as yours. Got too greedy. Didn't feel like I could ever have enough money. Made some really stupid investments. Managed to piss away most of what I stole, and that was only the half of it."

"Yes."

"Well, I tell you, it's pretty hard to embezzle a lotta of money. Every monetary transfer caught someone's attention. There was always somebody wanting a cut. And, on top of that, being on the run, always having to look over my shoulder 'cause I knew you'd be after me, well, people can sense that. Everywhere I went, there was always somebody with a hand out. I'm sicka running. I've got about a hundred thou left, so here I am, last stop, end of the line. Since the day I got here, I knew I would die right on this beach. Today's as good a day as any."

He lit a cigarette, took a long sip from the nearest bottle and stared wistfully at the surf. Waiting for me to kill him, undoubtedly. Our eyes met, and his dull, bloodshot orbs did not flinch at my gaze. Then, they disappeared, replaced by golden, feral eyes with a bloated oval moon of black. Those eyes slowly glazed over, the bloated oval closing to a mere sliver, as if forced shut by a blinding light as darkness descended.

I had killed the jaguar. Killed it! How could I have killed that magnificent predator? How could I have shown it such contempt when it served no purpose to do so? And this wretch, this swine, this bloated mass of decaying flesh was absolutely correct. How could I kill him out of revenge and not be a killer? Had I not long evolved from that to a state able to kill when only absolutely necessary?

My gaze broke away from his, but from the corner of my eye, I could see that he continued to stare forward, as if my eyes still fixed upon his. "Have you no interest," I said, facing him once again, "in hearing how I managed without a fortune?"

Jenkins laughed and took another sip from his bottle. "Sure, what the hell. Had to get a job, right?"

"Precisely, I moved toMadison,Wisconsin and secured employment with a worker-owned-and-operated taxi company."

Jenkins howled with laughter. "Al Farkus, vampire cabbie. Hauling students?" He interrupted himself with his own laughter.

"It really was not such a horrible thing."

"Why should it? Hell, nothing wrong with working for a living. Most people do it, you know. 'Sides, Madison's a great town."

"There is certainly nothing wrong with working. Maybe I had forgotten, but now I know it for sure."

"Tell me all about it." Jenkins leaned forward, opened another bottle and lit fresh cigarette.

"I shall spare your pitiful life. In exchange, you may be my audience, my confessor even."I took a seat on the sand in front of Jenkins, pausing to listen to the crashing waves, to enjoy the salty scent of sea breeze. It seemed amazing that this story began merely one year ago. In an existence where a century feels like yesterday, where a decade feels like a mere moment, what is one year? Yet, it seemed like a year since I had drawn my last breath.

"Well," I began, "I might tell you the story begins inParis . Or maybe it might be more accurate to say the story really begins in the Black Forest of Germany. Or maybe the story begins simultaneously in both places. In a Parisian discotheque, a driving synthesized beat pounded repeatedly against my skull, a beam of sheer force, thick and blunt, until the edges smoothed, transforming into the rapidly beating heart of a deer fleeing through a dark forest, a predator closing, sensed but unseen, closing then overtaking, easily bringing it down, then plunging sharp fangs into its muscular throat.

"Playing with, but not drinking the glass of Pernod before me on the faux marble table, my eyes narrowed. Through clouds of blue smoke, the tightly crowded dancers became tree trunks, the flashing lights transformed into splinters of moonlight - gone from this rather unsavory Parisian district to the unspoiled confines of the Black Forest, a whole month spent in feral bliss, devoid of civilization, of words, of even clothing, not pretending to blend in with humanity, but wallowing in the fullest extent of my predatory nature, arising at nightfall, running free through the woods, stalking game, gorging myself on hot, wild blood, then burrowing in the ground before first light, only to rise again the next night. I even allowed myself to be stalked by a black bear who followed my scent and the trail of carrion for nearly a week before finally attacking. However, at the last moment, I turned and countered, barely managing to muster the leverage to send the bear toppling to the forest floor. My fangs sank into his neck, and that great creature's essence streamed into my mouth. I drank, but left him with life, this done out of respect, from one predator to another.

"A man approached my table...."