The sudden explosion of brilliant white light stabbed Niles Gule’s eyes as fireworks celebrating the Fourth of July spangled the dark sky. The resounding concussion made him wince. As a vampire trying to pass as a human, Niles’ hearing was ten times more sensitive than a human’s just as his eyes had evolved to see exquisitely in the dark. He was in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on the steps of a small amphitheater where carnival acts often performed during the day. For Niles it was prime time, ten at night. The vampire hour.
Officer Jonas Williams stood beside him ostensibly surveying the crowd in case of trouble, but actually watching the fireworks with childlike delight.
Although Niles was a patriotic American, as a vampire, he’d never understood humanity’s obsession with fireworks. The explosions hurt his ears and the sudden blaze of light as each spread across the heavens made his eyes ache. So Niles wasn’t watching the fireworks. Instead he did the job Baltimore paid him to do, night surveillance. He studied the crowd.
Most of those gathered were families with children who stared with bright dazzled faces at the display overhead. Niles noticed several young couples using the cover of darkness to snatch an illicit kiss or two, his night vision able to make out every thread of their clothing and his ears each gentle sigh. He looked wistfully at the elderly couples who stood holding hands enjoying the show. How lucky they were, thought the one-hundred and fifty-seven year-old vampire. They had each other, their children and grandchildren. A lifetime of memories spent together. While he, the lone vampire who claimed Baltimore as his home, had nothing to remember but a lifetime alone.
His nose caught a familiar scent even in the midst of the people standing around him. He could memorize hundreds of such scents and recall them at a moment’s notice. This was a man the Baltimore PD had been searching for. Niles studied the crowd, seeking the face that matched that scent. When a yellow firework cast a warm glow over the crowd, Niles found him. A thin, sallow man, more bone than flesh, stood about fifty yards away. Rodrigo the Shadow. He was a capo in Lenny the Brute’s drug cartel and a man with a host of warrants for his arrest.
Niles jerked on Williams’ arm. “The Shadow’s here.”
Ignoring Williams’ grunt of surprise, Niles started picking his way through the crowd. Another brilliant burst of white dazzled on Niles’ honey blonde locks. At six-foot-three, he towered over the crowd. Rodrigo happened to glance his way. Saw that sheaf of pale hair and knew to whom it belonged. He bolted.
Cursing, Niles gave chase. His legs were twice as long as Rodrigo’s but the little Hispanic had agility on his side. He flashed through the crowd, shoving to the ground anyone who got in his way. Then he was in a dead sprint along Calvert Street. Niles dashed after him. Only because of his excellent night vision was he able to stay on the Shadow’s trail.
Niles saw his prey make a left onto Key Highway. The cretin ran like a gazelle south along the harbor. Niles’ long legs carried him swiftly in pursuit. He heard Williams panting to keep up.
Rodrigo darted into a brilliantly lit bar whose door stood open. A crowd of people mingled on the patio, drinks in their hands, as a woman’s voice sang over the rumble of conversation. Niles slowed, not wanting to scare Rodrigo into doing something stupid in the midst of a crowd. His eyes made quick note of the notice board by the door. Little Havana Welcomes Dani Hoy. Corona longnecks two bucks.
As Niles edged into the bar, his hand fell on the haft of his vampire hunting knife. Rodrigo was no vampire, but the knife was Niles’ only weapon. He couldn’t get a license for a gun.
The voice of the singer, Dani Hoy, lofted melodiously above the conversation. The lady’s got talent, he thought, as he shoved his way through the crowd. Rodrigo was ahead of him, heading for the stage on the far side of the bar. The felon shot a nervous glance over his shoulder and saw Niles heading towards him. His dark eyes flashed with panic.
Niles saw the man draw his knife. He leaped onto the stage, startling the singer so that she strangled off in mid chorus. Rodrigo grabbed her and shoved his knife towards her throat.
“Stop!” he yelled, “or I’ll kill her!”
Niles knew better than to hesitate. There were too many people in the bar, most of whom had frozen at the sudden silence when Dani stopped playing her guitar. Niles crashed through the last of them and dove for Rodrigo. His long, lithe body barreled into the smaller but beefier man, separating him from Dani who kicked Rodrigo in the shin. Niles and Rodrigo crashed to the stage while Dani spun to the side. Niles landed hard. Rodrigo slashed at him with the knife. Niles recoiled and reared backwards, trying to grab that flashing hand. It jabbed at him, almost relieving him of an eye.
Something dark flashed then Niles heard what sounded like a piano being smashed. Rodrigo howled and fell flat.
Niles blinked up at the little woman who stood over him with sparkling brown eyes, a destroyed guitar in her hands.
“Thanks,” he murmured.
“You owe me a new guitar,” she insisted as she offered him her hand.
Niles rose slowly. “Ok. Why do I owe you a guitar?”
Dani rattled what was left of her prized Martin in his face. “Because this was my best guitar! I assume you’re police. If you’d done your job right I wouldn’t have smashed it saving your ass!”
Niles glanced down at the moaning Rodrigo as Williams, who’d finally caught up with them, slapped cuffs on him.
“I’ll send you a check.” Niles offered.
Dani glared at him. “I’m on a plane for Key West tomorrow night. I don’t trust you sending me a check. You’re buying me a new one as soon as the stores open.”
Niles protested. “I work the night shift.”
“I don’t care!”
Niles’ boss, Sergeant Tan Lo, shoved his way through the chattering crowd that had gathered around the stage. The little Asian beamed happily.
“I’ll need statements from both of you,” he said to Dani and Niles.
“I need a new guitar,” Dani insisted.
Niles turned to Lo. “I need tomorrow off.”
When Lo blinked at him, he added. “I’m apparently buying a guitar.”
© 2016 Newmin
Niles comments: I’ve long been a fan of the Tropigal, Dani Hoy. Her music is an effervescent mix of country and rock with some Caribbean spice. You can find her working most weeks somewhere in Key West or throughout southern Florida. Sometimes she comes north and we get the chance to see her in the Baltimore area. I was lucky enough to catch her that night in Little Havanna, and yes, I did replace her guitar for her.
Check out her website: http://danihoy.com/music/
Her music is for sale as CDs and downloads. Click here for her title song Tropigal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrzyE2sJwB4