Niles Gule couldn’t imagine a worse scenario. A humid summer night in Baltimore, the air so thick he could feel its brush against his pale white cheeks even though not a breath of wind stirred. The harbor steamed, perfuming the city with a dank, murky smell unique to the Crab Cake Capital of the World. It overwhelmed even the smell of crab cakes frying. People were out in droves, filling the restaurants around the harbor, shopping in the Pratt and Lombard Street Pavilions, streaming between the Inner Harbor, Borders Bookstore and the Hard Rock Café. Thousands of people were loose in the city, enjoying the wealth of entertainments available there.
The Power Plant was no exception. A street, and yet a mall and a music venue, the Power Plant was a series of restaurants and bars lining a courtyard that had been transformed into a concert hall under the stars. At one end stood the stage where the band Tommy’s Rocket was pounding out Green Day’s American Idiot in a feverish fashion, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. At the other end stood Leinenkugel’s Beer Garden filled with people swigging beer, eating pretzels and singing off key songs that were not Green Day. The space was a flickering collage of light and shadow as the band’s strobes flashed in multi-toned jewel colors. The people shifted as a dark mass, coalescing in bunches and breaking apart like leaves swirling in a stream’s eddy.
With so many people in the street and so many dark corners for cover, the location was a vampire’s dream. The territory begged to be hunted. Niles would know because he was a vampire. Had he still been one who indulged in hunting humans, he would come here for his meal. Right here. Next to the fountain just outside the Power Plant courtyard. He could watch the flow of humans around him, seeking, as all predators did, the weak, the elderly or the foolishly alone. He found them all in plenty that night.
His blue eyes swept the area, occasionally flickering yellow with both barely restrained lust for blood and irritation that his fellow Baltimoreans had set such a perfect trap for themselves. Although he’d taken a vow of abstinence, Niles nevertheless considered Baltimore his territory and its people his people. He’d become protective of them. He watched over the city like a benevolent godfather, always seeking the vampire interloper who would poach on his land.
“Is our perimeter set?” Sergeant Lo’s voice sounded fuzzy over the radio.
“Fountain area is set,” Niles responded.
“Beer garden set,” radioed the voice of police officer Deshawn Jackson.
“I’m good,” said Niles’ partner, Mariella Cruz. She was stationed upstairs in Angels’ Rock Bar with a view of the crowd below.
Additional calls came from other officers scattered through the crowd.
“Are we sure a vampire is working here tonight?” Niles asked officer Jonas Williams who stood beside him.
The big man shrugged massive shoulders that strained his uniform. “We’ve had five people turn up dead from vampire attacks. The mayor is understandably annoyed. Doesn’t help with his re-election campaign if your buddies keep eating his constituency.”
“They aren’t my buddies,” Niles growled. His eyes scanned the wide yard that extended from the Power Plant towards the street. Shadowy people wove around him. Finding a single vampire in that maelstrom of movement would be difficult, even for a man with eyesight like his. “How do we know the vampire is working here? Couldn’t the victims have come from anywhere?”
“They were all young, well-dressed, and party loving.” Williams gestured at the courtyard. “This is where those types come for fun. And they all came here before they were murdered. So either the vampire is working this crowd, or he’s choosing his victims here but killing them elsewhere. Whatever. He’s here. We’ve got to find him.”
“But do we know he’s going to be here tonight?” Niles turned in a circle, trying to examine each person in the courtyard. Not only did the crowd’s milling make that difficult, but standing beside the fountain obliterated any chance he’d hear a vampire hunting cry. Nor could he smell a darned thing. The fountain had a chlorine smell, which along with the stink of the harbor and the aromas from the restaurants, overwhelmed his sensitive nose. If he’d been stationed somewhere else, he might have had a chance to sniff out a vampire because they had an odor distinct from humans. He’d protested to Sergeant Lo about his placement next to the fountain but Lo had brushed off his concerns.
“Nope.” Williams didn’t sound concerned. In fact, in Niles’ opinion he was too unconcerned. Instead of focusing on the job, he seemed to enjoy ogling the young women in their skimpy party dresses. When a pair of girls strolled by each with a pair of girls popping from their too small bandeau tops, the man’s tongue almost kissed the pavement.
“Then why the huge police turnout?” Niles knew probably half the night shift was in on the sweep. Even those who normally had the night off. Perhaps fifty in total. All to catch a single vampire?
Ordinarily, once the police discovered vampire activity, they tossed the case at Niles and left him to his business. What he did to drive his brethren away they neither knew nor cared, just so long as the city was rid of the vermin. The Baltimore PD had never staked out a vampire before.
“So why are we here?” Niles couldn’t let the puzzle go. He was a police detective after all.
“To catch a vampire.” Williams shot him an evil look. “The mayor wants a show of force. Lo’s giving him a show of force. Are you done questioning your superiors now?”
Niles gave the look back then returned to his surveillance.
“I’ve got something up here!” Cruz’s voice was urgent.
“Converge on Angels’ Rock Bar,” Lo commanded. “All personnel, converge on Angels’. Keep a sharp eye. Don’t let our perp sneak through our lines.”
“Not happening,” Williams responded. “We’ll get him.”
With Niles at his side, Williams plunged into the crowd. Niles, being taller but more slender, allowed the brute to bully his way past the beer garden. As they approached Angels’, Jackson and his partner Krewelski joined them. When they attained the stairs, Williams’ partner Cooksey fell in behind them.
“No weapons,” Niles warned as they climbed the stairs. “We don’t need to panic all these people.”
“You’ve got your knife, right?” Williams asked.
Niles nodded but didn’t draw his silver knife. The weapon was the most effective available against vampires. Bullets maimed but seldom killed his kind.
Williams motioned Niles to take the lead when they reached the top of the stairs. Angels’ main room stood before them, half lit and filled with people. Niles scented the air, seeking the telltale aroma of cold vampire, but instead caught a shot of warm, bloody meat. He flinched at the rush of pleasure that ran through him even as his mind tried to parse why he’d smell something so luscious in a bar. His long fingers tightened on the hilt of his knife although he still didn’t draw it as he edged forward.
As soon as he turned the corner, the house lights blazed on, blinding him. He threw his arm up to shield his vision as a chorus of voices yelled, “Surprise!”
Blinking against the glare, Niles made out first one face, then another. Cruz’s Latina face beaming, her dark eyes adance. Little Lo grinning like a fool. And Gundersen, Bailey, Detweiler and on and on. Virtually the entire night shift of the Baltimore PD surrounded him, plus a few other humans Niles had come to know, like Lis King from Lancaster, and Julia Buzinski and her family from Philly. Even Brenda the former widow had managed to make an appearance.
Cruz bounded to his side and kissed his cheek. “Happy birthday, Gule!”
Niles lowered his arm as his eyes adjusted then his lips tried to twitch into a smile which he fought down.
“Not funny,” he said, pretending to glare at his co-workers.
“Yes it is!” Williams chortled. “You should see your face. Who knew a vampire could go white?”
Niles plugged the man in the ribs with his elbow then allowed himself to be ushered to the gathering.
“Better blow out the cake before we burn down Baltimore!” Lo called.
Niles considered the celebratory offering. In the center table rested two cakes, one a human birthday cake with so many candles, it could start a major conflagration, while next to it rested what could only be a creation Cooksey had dreamed up. A tower of raw, bloody meat awaited him, decorated with flowers made of thin slivers of air cured meats. A wedding cake could not have been more elaborate.
With his teammates egging him on, Niles blew out one-hundred-fifty-eight candles. The cheer when he was done was almost as dense as the cloud of smoke that rose from the cake.
“May there be another one-hundred-fifty-eight,” Cruz said, sneaking her arm around his waist.
Niles gazed down at her affectionately. “You know, for the first time in all those years, I don’t find the thought of living that long horrible anymore.” He lowered his head and pecked a kiss on her cheek.
“What was that for?” she asked.
He smiled. “For being here this past year. Thank you.”
Niles comments: Can you believe it? One year ago this week, I began this adventure, telling my stories to my biographer and posting them here weekly. I would never have thought it would last this long. Here’s to another year. Thank you for reading.