Officer Blake Hornsby rapped on the door of apartment 4D with his baton, once. Shifted his gut out of the way and prepped himself for forced entry. His partner, Trevor Norris, cupped the handle of his gun still resting in its holster, not so quick to abandon a vocal summons. For the second time, he requested the resident of 4D to receive them peaceably.

“Kenneth Rant, this is the sheriff’s department! We have a warrant for search and seizure, open the door!”

Blake signaled his actions with an eager eye; for a man of his girth, he was better conditioned for physical challenges than some might think. He was even quite successful in foot pursuits, incomprehensible to both fellow officers and fleeing criminals.

But now Trevor cautioned with a patient hand. He did not expect that forced entry would be necessary in the case of Kenneth Rant, confirmed droner and delinquent-vamp. Growing curiosity from neighboring tenants was an unwanted issue, too. The less excitement the better. And never mind that dusk had crept up on them too quickly, either. Staring eyes did not yet reveal any devil-red glares, but the danger of territorial vamps could never be discounted down here.

Trevor certainly wanted this arrest to go swift and without incident or the use of force. Ken was there, he knew, and given that he was not unconscious, tranced out or dead, he would eventually oblige the two officers.

As their shameless audience gathered to either end of the second floor breezeway, Blake became antsy. “You all go back inside, this is police business! Go on! Get!” The people flinched at his orders but hardly abided.

“Kenneth Rant! Sheriff’s department! Answer the door now! Final warning or we’re coming in!”

The clamor of disorder echoed from within, like a resurrecting automobile in a junkyard. The two officers looked at each other, anticipating anything like they were trained to do. Kenneth had never been known as a violent offender but these gutter vamps were so easily corrupted by their primitive allures that who could chance familiarity?

Unlatching locks and the dramatized finagling with the door knob indicated either hesitance or disorientation. As the door finally exhaled open, all of Trevor’s senses drew upon the metaphor of an exhumed casket: the chill, the stench, the sight. Kenneth appeared less and less like the garden variety high school hoodlum of four years prior. So blue and emaciated, Trevor doubted very seriously that Ken had even the strength to hurl a football, presently. Gone were his young developed biceps and chiseled good looks. The skin clung to protruding bones in his face and his shoulders and all of him, in make-shift form.

Momentary aloofness led Trevor to believe that Kenneth’s memory had finally detached. Even though they’d had many dealings with him, he viewed the officers as something new and unimportant. Then a glimmer of bored familiarity unearthed itself and Kenneth admitted the two officers in.

Blake grabbed Ken’s left wrist and twisted it around his back; then grabbed the other hand and brought it in place to be cuffed. “Kenneth, you haven’t been to your parole meetings in three weeks. Why not?”

“My parole? What?” he tried, at first pleading ignorance. Or maybe he was just ignorant at the moment.

“You don’t look so good, Ken,” said officer Norris. “What have you been up to?”

Ken shook his head, oblivious of Trevor’s meaning, light on his legs and ready to sag in Blake’s firm grip.

“We’ll be checking your apartment, Ken. Anything we’re going to find?” Trevor took hold of Ken’s other arm and nodded for Blake to begin quick investigation.

“Get the hell outta here!” Blake had to yell first at the sneaking heads, peaking through the open doorway. Trevor shuddered at the red eyes that were now taking interest in the proceedings. Vamps had random propensity for acts of loyalty. Especially these gutter vamps who may be hostile first and analytical second (if at all). Otherwise, they’d just as soon eat each other alive as not, which only intensified the officers’ hazard now that dusk was fully upon them.

Blake rummaged through Ken’s belongings, calling out items of paraphernalia: silver-fanged mouthpiece, nail-studded fingerlets. He didn’t find any syringes or strong narcotics that vamps used to subdue their live-drones while they fed sparingly; they wanted to keep their drone alive but submissive. But anything could be overlooked in the slum of his apartment. And this wasn’t the kind of drone-head that Kenneth was known as, anyway.

“Bingo!” cried Blake. “Damn big one, too!” He took two steps back as the towering zombie lumbered forward from the bathroom. Totally naked, vacant expression, a giant surgical scar up the sternum and across the chest.

Trevor started at the size of this particular one. “How in the world did you get him here, Ken,” he said amazed. “You didn’t drag him here, did you?”

Ken only gaped and stared around with red bobble eyes.

“Stinks like hell,” said Blake and covered his mouth and nose.

“No time for that, Hornsby. Pop it and scan it.”

Blake drew his pistol, aimed slowly and fired center-head. Ken jumped to the instant disconnect of psychic link; stared away unbelieving. The drone toppled backward like dumped furniture. Holstering his weapon, Blake then produced a scan piece, hunkered down beside the dead weight and aimed it at a barcode seared into the flesh of its inner thigh. Reading the message prompting from the opposite side, he said, “Malcolm McCarthy. Reported missing from Gateway Hospital yesterday evening.”

Trevor turned back to Ken with disapproving eyes. “How many times, Ken? Huh? The blood’s not even safe to drink, for crying out loud. Look at you!”

Ken was still in disbelief. The stark reality of managing his own thoughts was overwhelming. Missing pieces of memory was the result of chronic droning. Replacing these missing pieces was the motivation to continue droning. Recovery was rare.

“Let’s get him in patrol, Hornsby.”

Blake snatched one of Ken’s arms and hoisted him upon his feet. But Ken was struck with disabling apathy at the moment. If Blake wanted not to have to carry him to the patrol car like luggage, he could only hope that mindless motor skills would take over the vamp’s body.

A combination of the two, it seemed, walking and dragging him. Blake barked all the while at their irreverent audience.

“This is a damn crime scene, everybody! If you don’t get out of here now, I’ll have you all hauled off for interfering with police business!” Which was a lie. He could do no such thing, so long as they didn’t interfere. But the threat seemed to loosen their throng and many disappeared into their apartments or away into the night.

He packed Ken in the back seat of the patrol car and hurried around to the trunk, where he produced a camera.

“I’ll call in for body retrieval, Hornsby. Let’s take the shots, lock up and get out of here.”

“The sooner the better. Last time we were here, we arrested the Thomson twins.”

“Vowed us dead as I recall.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“Back on the streets now, Hornsby. I suppose that needs reminding. You just get back up there, do a second-over.”

To that Hornsby was away, growling at onlookers in passing. Trevor notified Gateway of Malcolm McCarthy’s body and requested a fast retrieval, which might be within a half-hour. Response time for body retrieval was slow, naturally; no emergency.

He looked up. The night sky had foregone its early salmon glow of dusk and was now leaving the final plum hue of evening for the black of night. Soon, Highland Avenue would be blooming with gutter vamps. Hornsby was right; the sooner they got out of there, the better.

It was difficult not to feel some resentment for this drone-head, lumped in the back seat of his patrol car. Placing Blake and him in danger once again. He’d tried to help Kenneth too many times. Futile efforts, every one. Frustration at the loss made him flush red. One more chance, Ken, is all you get. If that. We’ll let state decide on you.

Quickly enough, this anger made way for caution. Red eyes flashed in the dark. Not a mob of them. There weren’t that many vamps in the city. But every one could be unpredictable, unreasonable and deadly. So, he waited outside the car, hand against his holster and every bit of his professionalism weighted against a ready trigger finger.

Complete story available in the print edition of Big Pulp Winter 2010


Jeremy Ryan writes science fiction, fantasy and horror. His work has appeared in Alien Skin Magazine.

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