Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Danger is Not My Middle Name #11

Danger is Not My Middle Name #11

“What the hell are you DOING?”

The voice sliced through my preoccupation with the scrap of paper like a knife. I turned and saw Marlon, our cabin steward, standing in the doorway, surveying the damage.


For a moment, Marlon looked flummoxed. Then he rephrased: “What the hell are you doing, sir?”

(They teach Princess staff to be polite.)

Marlon stood there surveying the damage, quivering with dismay and the keen desire to put everything right. Immediately. I had the sense I was in the presence of a worker ant.

“There was this other worldly creature that drifted through the walls,” I explained. “It was looking for what was under the bed.”

Marlon inched closer to me. I suspected he was trying to smell my breath, which considering the stress I’d been under tonight, wasn’t a good idea.

“A creature, sir?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Drifting through the walls?”

I nodded again.

Marlon looked at me with skepticism, which was completely understandable under the circumstances.

“If you say so, sir,” he said softly. “If you give me ten minutes or so, I can clear this mess up.”

He stood there, looking at me expectantly, almost as though I hadn’t just told him a supernatural being had ransacked my stateroom.

I nodded once and left. As soon as the door closed, I heard many sounds of things being firmly put back in place along with Marlon’s soft but distinctly hostile muttering coming from within.
I went to the only place I could think of where my people resided: the Internet Lounge and collapsed into a chair, all the better to examine the note.

Across from me was the same couple I’d seen at breakfast a few days ago.

The man was sitting behind a closed laptop, eyeing his wife, who was frantically typing on the keyboard, totally ignoring him.

“I thought you said five minutes,” he said. His voice held out no hope at all that this was going to be the actual case.

“I have just a one more comment to make,” she said, without looking up or slowing her typing.”

“You said that ten minutes ago, Sheree,” he replied with a sigh. His voice was full of resignation. No anger. Just resignation. He must be married, I thought.

“Flickr’s like that,” she said. “You know that.”

He said “Uh huh.”

“And I need to buy another 1,000 minutes,” she said.

He said “Uh huh.”

He saw me looking at them and half smiled and winked. I winked back, hoping it wasn’t like some gay thing.

Then I unfolded the note.

There was a sequence of numbers and the letter “G.”

I didn’t graduate in the top 84% of the Ray Hunker Correspondance School of Detection for no reason. I knew what the numbers had to be within just a few minutes. It was the one thing overlooked by the creature. It had to be a phone number – a phone number I was supposed to protect with my life. Why?

WWBD? I asked myself. (“What Would Bogie Do?)

I went to a telephone and dialed.

When the voice on the other line said “hello” – I nearly swallowed my tongue. I knew precisely who it was.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #10

Danger is Not My Middle Name #10

My body was having a difference of opinion with itself.
Legs: “Holy crap. We gotta get out of here. Let us run, okay? Right freaking now!”
Heart: “Holy crap. We’re gonna die. But I’m up for a run if the legs are.”
Mind: “This makes no sense at all. How can a creature step out of mist? We should go have a closer look and figure this out.”
Legs and Heart: “Are you freaking cracked?”
Mind: “I fail to understand what the problem is…”
‘Male Orbs’: “I’m hiding. You guys just let me know when it’s over.”
In the end no one did anything. I stood there. I don’t think I could have moved if I’d wanted to. My feet, silent because they knew they had the ultimate say in whether we went anywhere, were rooted in one spot, like lead weights.
And the creature moved quickly. It’s feet didn’t touch the ground, although some form of legs still seemed to set it’s course. It moved quickly – but didn’t seem in a hurry. As it drew nearer, I saw that the black was not so much a body as black mist swirling around the creature.
I can’t describe it to you, other than to say it was “otherworldy.” There seemed to be an upside down “U” that kept folding in on itself – and the contents of this “U” and the area immediately outside of it were in a constant state of motion. There was something in there looking out – but I had never seen anything like it before.
My chest tensed and my lips moved soundlessly. Dimly I realized you were supposed to yell at moments like this – or show yourself to be bigger than the ghost…or vampire or…was that bears? No sound came out of me because there was no sound that would have been louder than the pulsing blood pounding in my ears.
Vaguely I was aware that the thing was holding me in place with as much effort as I would exert to keep a baby still. It had no need to hurry. It came up to me and stopped just a few inches from my face. I was aware of a breeze on my face and some dark dread dead smell.
Is this how I go out? I wondered. Is this how I would slide into the Big Sleep? Is this how I would be sucked right off the mortal coil?
The creature paused for a moment and I knew I was again being studied by something much more powerful than myself. Then it drifted past me and through the wall.
How did I know it was making for my stateroom? I just did.
I tried moving my feet experimentally. They cooperated. My mind was excited about this because it thought we were now going directly to the stateroom to have a closer look at the mystery creature. My legs and heart were incredulous that we were even considering something so colossally stupid. They thought with every protesting tensed sinew that we should be going the OTHER way.
But the instant I could walk – I made a bee line for my cabin. I’d already deserted my friends. I’d already run away from one fight. I could feel my loins girding anew (or maybe it was the male orbs peeking out to see if the coast was clear) and I made tracks for my room.
I tugged against the door – but it was held tightly closed, like it was fused to the frame. I considered throwing myself against it, but I knew I would get an owie on my shoulder for no good reason. The door wasn’t moving.
It sounded like there was a gorilla in there, tearing the place apart. Glass shattered, furniture crashed – the walls vibrated with the sounds of violence from within.
Then it stopped and there was the sound like the dying breath of old man and the door was no longer held fast. It opened so easily that I stumbled against the wall.
My cabin had been torn apart, the bed completely turned over and an empty cloth bag…a very old looking cloth bag…lay on the floor, ripped open. A fragment of paper was under the bag. I took it gingerly in hand and read what was written there.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #9

Danger is Not My Middle Name #9

Jennifer pushed me hard up the stairs. My ordinarily unflappable partner was moaning with something that sounded suspiciously like terror. The stairs felt slick and even smaller than they had been before.
“Holy crap,” I muttered, guiding myself along the stairwell by running my hand along the wall in the pitch blackness. The wall was also covered with that viscous, sticky coating.
“Listen, Diamond,” puffed Jennifer, struggling along behind me. “I need to go help Gerald…otherwise those things will…they’ll…”
“Suck the life right out of him and leave a lifeless husk behind, an unclean thing destined to become another creature of the night?” I offered hopefully.
Pause. “Yes. Something like that.”
I nodded – and then realized there was no way she was going to see that in the darkness so I muttered something like “okay.”
“If we don’t come out of here you need to look under the bed in the stateroom, understand? And you need to keep it safe.”
“Keep what safe?”
“Never mind. And if you see either Gerald or me in…in the night….under absolutely no circumstances are you to let us into your room. You understand me? If it’s me I won’t come to you unless it’s daylight. If I come to you in the night...don’t look into my eyes and don’t…”
Her voice cracked into silence and statement hung in the air between us, crackling with everything she didn’t say.
“Holy crap,” I whispered again.
“When you get out of here – you need to get back to the ship. Don’t wait for me. Don’t wait or Gerald. GO!”
She shoved me hard and I took four steps at once, nearly tripping over my own feet . Arms pin wheeling wildly, I managed to regain my balance. My breath was coming in agonized gasps and I wished I had brought my inhaler. But a private dick with an inhaler? One of these things was not like the other. You never saw Bogie with an inhaler. Or George Raft.
I ran upward. There seemed to be a thousand steps. In the end I ran directly into the door so hard that stars flared in front of my eyes. My hands clawed for the handle. Below me I could hear the sounds of fighting, heated snarls and all too human sounds of exertion. But it was all far away.
What would Bogart have done? He would have gone back down there and kicked some undead ass. Concluding with every step that I wasn’t Bogart, I ran to the bottom of the hill and congratulated myself because I hadn’t peed in my pants. Much.
I waited there for five minutes that felt like five hours. My pseudo girlfriend and the guy I was supposed to be following were probably getting torn to pieces inside there – their lifeless husks would soon be twitching back to undead life.
I suppose I should have felt guilty. If I was in a movie – I would gird my loins, slam through the door and rescue Jennifer from the scuttling advance of the head vampire guy in just a nick of time, feeling her warm body fall into my arms in a surrendered swoon.
But this wasn’t a movie and those things scared the snot out of me. So after several heated arguments between my mind and my heart, my mind (ever the self-preservationist) won. I sighed and made my way back to the ship alone, really alone, for the first time. If they had won or even survived, Gerald and Jennifer would have been here by now.
I made a beeline for our stateroom. I needed to know what was under the bed. I guess I fixated on it, having failed at everything else.
I was walking down the outside deck to our stateroom, thinking that I may have been the only one to survive the night…well…survive the night with actual blood and stuff…when I saw a dark cloud of mist appear half a ship away. Then I saw the creature step out of the mist and start shambling slowly and purposefully toward me.
“Holy crap,” I breathed. Again.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #8

Danger is Not My Middle Name #8

He came out of the darkness at us like a moving shadow.
As he moved into the weak light I stifled an unmanly sound. The light glinted briefly on something in his hand. The man was Fitzroy, the guy we had been hired to follow.
His face was tight with tension and surprise. His lips were drawn into a bloodless line, his eyes narrowed and in his hand was an ornate but very business-like blade, halfway between a sword and a dagger. As he saw us the sword moved in a blur of motion toward Jennifer’s neck. She didn’t move.
He froze.
“Jennifer?” he said.
“Gerald,” she responded. Her tone made me think of the way you’d greet a relative with a chronic sinus infection who was settling his sweaty butt down beside you at the dinner table.
“What are you doing here?” he hissed.
“Everyone has to be somewhere,” she said.
“Figured that all out yourself, huh?” he responded. Ooooo…hostile, thought I.
There was something between these two, the tension crackled in a way that made me, okay, just a little jealous. Jennifer was, after all, my pseudo girlfriend and I wasn’t at all sure I liked her talking to this sword wielding man of mystery.
But at the back of my mind, okay – and rocketing to the front of my mind – was the idea that we were hundreds of feet underground, in the nest of something undead and really dangerous.
“Maybe this isn’t the place for banter,” I said.
Both heads swiveled to regard me like I was a hairy bug that fell into their oatmeal.
“Sam D. Diamond,” I whispered by way of introduction, since Jennifer was obviously no going to do the honors.
Gerald laughed mirthlessly. “I know who you are.”
“…you do?”
He snorted. Not a good sound. “You’re the worst tail on the planet.”
“No he’s not,” Jennifer said.
“Thank you, Jennifer,” I said, drawing injured pride around me like a cloak.
“Shut up,” she said.
I was about to pierce her with my rapier sharp wit when what little light we had flickered and dimmed. As it faded, I saw a whisper of movement. Gerald’s sword was a blur in that fraction of a second and as the lights went out entirely, I heard a meaty thud on metal sound and a soft cry…then the papery sound of something falling.
Jennifer’s hand was on my back, pushing so hard I nearly fell over.
“We need to get out of here,” she hissed. “And we need to go right NOW.”
There were many sounds. Imagine furious paper, whipping itself into a storm. That’s what was boiling up the stairs. There were snapping, snarling growling sounds too.
I turned and ran, slipping and falling upward, knowing those things, whatever they were, were coming faster than we could escape.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #7

Danger is Not My Middle Name #7

It stank in that passageway. I won’t even describe what it smelled like in case you’re eating. I’ll just try to explain that it stank like something undead and decaying would stink after three or four days in the hot sun.

Jennifer gagged beside me.

“Breathe through your mouth,” I whispered. “I used to have to change my baby brother’s diapers. It’s the only way not to puke. Trust me. As a matter of fact--”

“Shut up,” she hissed back, coquettishly.

So I lapsed into a sulky silence. If I were Bogart, it would have been called a manly-yet-deeply-injured silence. So I decided to sulk in a manly manner. I was wondering if teasingly asking Jennifer if she had her cranky panties on would help or hurt me when my mind jumped tracks to a completely different train.

Was this passageway designed for humans? It felt wrong. The stairs were too narrow, the tunnel too tight. The angles were wrong in ways I cannot describe to you. The walls were slick with something wet and sticky at the same time.

The light was murky as a politician’s heart, but some things could be made out. I saw a white sphere perched precariously on a narrow step before me. My foot barely touched it and it teetered uncertainly for a second and then, in slow motion, slid off the stair and rolled downward, sounding like two garbage can covers being slammed together by an angry gorilla in the silence.

We stopped and stood very still.

“Idiot,” hissed Jennifer in my ear, still playing hard to get.

We both heard the slithery sound in the living darkness before us at the same time. We froze. Then we heard it again.

Much closer.

Something was coming our way and in the narrow passageway there was nowhere to hide.

Danger Is Not My Middle Name #6

Danger Is Not My Moddle Name #6

We watched as our subject came into view. He moved slowly past the front of the Unfinished Church, almost a shadow himself. As he appeared, the creature on the wall froze and it made me think of a huge bug trapped in the light. But there was an alertness about it…a predatory focus…even from my vantage place at the bottom of the hill I could feel intensity rolling off it.
Maybe our subject, the occult investigator codenamed “Fitzroy” felt it because he stopped as well, frozen in place. It was a strange tableaux, the scuttling wall thing was just a few feet above him.
Abruptly Fitzroy moved around the back of the building.
Then the shape on the wall slowly crawled down. When it reached the ground it disappeared from view.
“Holy crap,” I said.
Jennifer was silent.
We waited a few minutes more and then crept around the back of the church.
There was an area marked off with worn looking caution tape, but there was a stench rising from somewhere inside the building. The scent of something undead. As we grew closer, we saw a door slightly ajar.
Jennifer moved toward the doorway.
“You’re not seriously thinking about going in there,” I said.
She paused and looked back at me, her face puzzled.
“Well…yeah,” she said slowly. “It’s our job.”
“Don’t you watch horror movies,” I hissed. “People who follow the creepy monster down into basements wind up with garden trowels in their foreheads.”
She looked at me one moment longer, shook her head, and went through the door.
I thought about it. I am reasonably sure my heart moved into my throat. I could feel it pulsing there. Then, telling myself I was a moron, I followed her down into the dank darkness.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #5

Danger is Not My Middle Name #5

The beautiful girl and I are on a hill at the foot of an unfinished gothic style church, which looks a little like it has a sad face on it. The wind is a live thing swirling around us. There are only a couple of hours left until darkness – something that really seems to bother Jennifer. We are lying on our bellies and very suddenly I see something so horrifying that I have to suppress a very undetective-like scream.

I will tell you what I saw in a minute…right after I explain how we got to be here in the first place.

There are a lot of things I feel guilty about in my life. But there are three big ones. The first: telling my aging father that if he didn’t keep the lid securely capped on his newly purchased memory stick that the information would fall out. The second involves a burning bag, a misunderstanding about some goats and a small but really annoying Scottish terrier and the third has to do with a girl, a quart of Newfie Screech and the careful application apple sauce.
But I didn’t feel guilty for staring at Jennifer Jonas’ gams. They were long and shapely, the kind of legs that went all the way up to her hips. She was leaning forward, getting ready to do some talking. Her face was serious and she chewed on her lower lip in a manner that could have betrayed nerves…but was starting to look really hot.

“You’re staring at my legs, Diamond. Stop it,” she said.

“…what?” I responded quickly.

“I am going to have a conversation with you. Something serious. And you are staring at my legs.”

“Well…they’re nice legs,” I said. Rakish was failing me now. Even my fedora seemed to be drooping – which is not a good thing when you’re a dick like me. I could only see her eyes, her legs, those full lips and my mind was wandering into its happy place.

“…going to get killed. A long and painful death.”


“I said that unless you focus, you are going to get killed. It will be a long and painful death.”

“Oh,” I responded quickly. “Alrighty then.”

“Are you focused?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, trying to summon a crooked yet charming smile to my lips.

“Really?” Her voice was like silk, with an underlying purr to it.

“You’ve heard of Bram Stoker?” she asked.

“Yes,” I lied.

“Who is he?”

“Lead singer for the Rotting Maggots?” I guessed.


“Fullback for the Green Bay Packers?”

She sighed. “No. Bram Stoker wrote Dracula. You have heard of Dracula, right?”

“Everyone’s heard of Dracula,” I responded sardonically. “He invented lasagna.”

“No.” She started to speak. But I silenced her with a finger pressed against her lips, so the rest of her words sounded like “yummmfp.”

“Dracula. Transylvanian vampire.”

She nodded. “Yephh,” she said.

“I know who he was, toots,” I said. I took my finger off her lips, even though it wanted to stay and die there.

“Don’t call me toots,” she said.

I shrugged. Was there a club or something?

“Stoker’s book wasn’t fiction,” she said.

I first sniffed and then kissed my index finger, which had been pressed to her lips, even as I waggled my eyebrow her way.

“There are vampires out there?” I asked. “Undead blood suckers?”

She frowned at me and then shook her head. “No. Not like that exactly. Stoker led a very ordinary life. As dull as dishwater. Then one day he comes out with this story. Where did that story come from?”

I shrugged. So she was loony tunes…what was that to me? My heart was having a wild party inside my chest because she had allowed me to press my finger to her lips and hadn’t even thrown up a little bit.

“He was a researcher into the occult. He was a member of a small group of men, determined to find out if occult stories were based on truth…or lies.”

“Uh huh,” I responded, nodding my head slowly. Definitely loopy. That could work for me, I thought as I began scheming.

“He found vampires, Diamond,” she said.

“Sure he did,” I responded reassuringly. “Probably in an old castle, surrounded by bodies and a hunchbacked minion.”

“You’re being a jerk,” she said, refusing to pout, which made me just a little sad. She actually was doing a fairly credible job of starting to look seriously pissed.

“Real vampires aren’t anything like that. But how could Stoker communicate what he had learned to his colleagues? There was no internet…no fast post…no way to publish a text book. So he wrote Dracula and included codes and symbols only his colleagues would recognize.”

“Bram Stoker did that?” I asked.

She nodded eagerly.

“Would that be called the B.S. Code?” I observed wittily.

She sighed again and looked up at me with very tired looking eyes.

“I don’t know why I am trying to help you. But I am going to try one more time. We call the creatures he found “Stokers” since he was the one who uncovered their first nest. They don’t drink blood. They drain life. They must drain human life to live.”

“Like that face sucking thing on Star Trek?” I said. Star Trek, the TOS (The Original Series to the mundanes) was familiar ground. I could hold my own here with anyone. “Everyone thought she was just this hot babe Kirk was going to bag and—"

“Sure, sure. Whatever,” she said with a dismissive wave of one slender hand. “The point is that the Stokers are real. They exist. The group Bram Stoker belonged to, called the Keepers, is real. It exists. The man we are following is one of the key Keeper investigators. His code name is Fitzroy.”

“Uh huh,” I said, slowly processing the information. She seemed pretty level for someone who was totally animal crackers. Hot…but nuts.

“He’s going to a place called The Unfinished Church in Bermuda. It’s a gothic ruin now. We know he’s meeting someone there. Someone or something. It’s the next port we put into. We’re following him there.”

All of which goes to explain how I came to be here, standing on a windswept hill, somewhere in St. George, Bermuda, tracking the undead.

Jennifer was crouched down beside me, her body warm against the cold night and I—

“Stop it, Diamond,” she said.

“Stop what?”

“What you’re thinking. Knock it off.”

I was about to lie and claim complete innocence when we both saw something so impossible we were stunned into silence. We watched breathlessly as a dark form moved somewhere in the murky darkness. The form was big and dark, crawling down the wall of the deserted church, like a large loathsome spider. And I DO mean that it was crawling DOWN the wall of the church toward the ground in complete defiance of gravity.

“Holy crap,” I said softly.

“Yeah,” whispered Jennifer. “Holy crap.”