Ride to Revenge: A Caleb Ride Origins Story
Caleb Ride never asked to be a vampire, never even knew they exited. Like most folks, he thought of them only as legends and myths.

Well, what you don't know can do more than hurt you. As Caleb discovered, it can pull your life up by the roots, drop it in a food processessor and hit the sushi button.

Follow Caleb as he attempts to bring to justice the vampiress who turned him

Ride for Vengeance
by Chuck McDaniel

Taking a Bite Out of Crime
Short Story Page
It was January, 1933, and everything was frozen. President Hoover was frozen, twiddling his bootstraps till FDR could ride to the resue, which wouldn't happen for a good two months. The country was frozen, holding its collective breath, praying for a savior, someone to stem the economic tidal wave that was crushing families and making them sift garbage for food.

The landscape was frozen. Long icicles dangled from the eaves of crumbling buildings, sad structures decorated with peeling paint and broken windows. Showers of snow blew by, lifted right off the ground by the bone-chilling wind screaming off Lake Michigan. It tore through the streets, shoving sharp-edged crystals before it, piling them high against any stationary object in their path.

A thin layer of frost covered every exposed surface, from the dinged-up jalopy parked at the curb to the city bench on which I sat, in darkness, the street lamp above me having long since burned out.

Oh, and my backside was frozen, which ticked me off and made me more than a little cranky. I'm not overly fond of the cold. But what do you expect in Chicago in mid-winter?

Of course, not all folks were suffering from the Great Depression. Especially the ones who preyed on suffering themselves.

Opposite me, on a street littered with foreclosure signs and shuttered businesses, rose a tall, clapboard house, its freshly-painted exterior gleaming in the cold, its brightly-lit front door set in a bunker-like brick alcove. You knew the building had to house some kind of illegal activity--for two reasons. One, any law-abiding citizen with the money to fix the place up would have moved to a better neighborhood long ago. Two, the entrance was heavily guarded.

I stared across the square at the enormous bouncer manning the speakeasy door. A local staggered up, already a little greased. He tried to sweet talk the bruiser into admitting him, but the goober didn't know the password. Quick as a flash, the behemoth grabbed him by the coat and propelled him fifteen feet through the air. He landed smack in the middle of a large puddle. Lucky for him it had frozen solid. I heard the ice fracture, even at that distance. The sot's tailbone might be cracked, but at least his suit wasn't ruined.

I shook my head and asked myself the same question I'd raised a thousand times since I left Houston.
Caleb, are you some kind of idjit?

Now you may ask what this Texas boy was doing so far from home in such inhospitable weather. Fact is, I was stalking the woman who killed me. Okay, "killed" might be a bit strong, since I wasn't technically dead. To be truthful, I was stalking the woman who ended my life as I knew it. And to get to her, I had to get through that door.

No sense freezing my tuckus off. If I had to tangle with the monster guarding the entrance, I might as well get it over with. I stood erect, straightened my coat, and tipped my bowler hat forward at a jaunty angle. Then I sauntered across the square like I owned it.

Cerberus eyed me as I came close. He pulled his lips back, baring his teeth. I gave him my warmest smile and my best British accent.

"I say, my good fellow, is this the establishment known as Carla's
Caberet Allemande?"

The leviathan looked down on me, something I wasn't used to, seeing as I measure in at six foot three. "Password," he growled. They hadn't hired him for his scintillating wit and extensive vocabulary.

"Of course," I replied, spreading my smile wider. "Let me see. My good friend Johnny told me. Ah, yes, I remember. It's 'strawberry'."

Cerberus grinned. "Wrong answer. That was last week's."

So our informant's information was out-of-date. Happy to have another victim, the doorman reached for my throat. He was fast, but he was still a Norm, completely human. And I wasn't.

The bouncer's fingers stopped two inches short of my Adam's apple, because I had snagged his family gemstones and squeezed them ever so slightly. Slightly by vampire standards, and vampires are a special kind of strong.

I squeezed a little harder. Cerberus would have fallen to his knees if he could have. He gulped like a fish, and his eyes pleaded for mercy. I winked at him.

"So sorry. You're right. That password is passe. This week's password is 'Benjamin,' is it not?" I held a hundred dollar bill under his muzzle. "Am I right?"

The monster waggled his head up and down in rapid jerks. He whimpered when I released him, then gingerly pulled the bill from my fingers and gave a series of coded raps to the door, which swung open the second he finished.

"This guy's okay," he croaked. When he stepped aside, I could see the fear in his eyes. He was right to be afraid. If he hadn't let me in, I'd have killed him.

On the other side of the door I found a brightly lit entry hall and foyer, with deep red velvet wallpaper, a solid mahogany table and chair set, and a few discrete prints hanging from the picture rail. Oh, and three more bruisers, each as big and deadly as the one outside. However, these three were dressed in black tie and tails, like butlers in a mansion, only magnified.

The largest stepped forward, made a slight bow and held out his white-gloved hand. "If I may take your hat and coat, sir?" His voice was cultured and cool, and he waited patiently, his hand extended.

I surrendered my accessories. "No" wasn't an option.

"Delighted, m'boy," I said, adjusting the red carnation in my lapel. "I can tell this is a high class establishment, if for no other reason than the quality of its help."

The butler giant bowed again. "Thank you, sir. You are aware of the house rules, no doubt. They require these gentlemen to search you for weapons, if you have no objections . . . ?"

I spread my arms out from my sides. "None at all. Search away."

As the other two butlers gave me a thorough going-over, I noticed they were no ordinary servants. They patted me down with the efficiency of ex-policemen, and they knew their business, where to search and what to look for. Making my situation more precarious, they were heavily armed themselves, from the pistols in their shoulder holsters to the extras hidden in their Wellingtons. If they found anything on me, they'd kill me, no questions asked.

Thank God I came unarmed. When they commissioned me as an Enforcer, my new bosses had warned me to leave my gun behind for this, my first assignment. I was to bring back the woman who had broken vampire law when she turned me. Alive if I could, dead if I had to.

The tribunal was testing me, of course, to see if I could be of use to them, which they doubted. They gave me information, a wad of cash and a bottle of lotion they said would mask my vampire smell. Then they left me to my own devices.

Which was okay with me. I was used to exceeding low expectations. When I left for Houston after high school, everybody said I wouldn't last a month. At the end of that month, I had a job as a Houston cop. Two years later my colleagues said I was too young to make the Texas Rangers, but I earned a spot by challenging the top Ranger marksman to a shoot-off. He knocked three bullets through the heart of a target over 100 feet away. I not only placed my three shots in the heart, I overlapped them, an "ace of clubs." Rangers took me on the spot.

When the tribunal turned me loose on my "maker," they were playing the odds. They figured it would be easier to extradite the criminal after she killed me. 'Course, I wasn't about to let that happen.

Step One: change my appearance. It needed to be drastic, so I shaved my head bald. That, plus the pencil-thin moustache I spent a month growing made me look considerably older than my twenty years. When I gazed in the mirror, I didn't recognize myself. I doubted my quarry would.

But that wasn't enough. My disguise required a change in demeanor as well. No problem. As a boy, I'd always been a fair mimic, keeping my friends amused with spot-on imitations of famous radio personalities. (My favorites were Will Rogers and President Coolidge. Don't ask.) For my new persona, I decided I'd be British, like Sherlock Holmes. I pitched my voice up a hair and practiced until my accent was flawless.

Which still didn't solve my biggest problem. I'd be entering a den of thieves, and they'd all be armed and I wouldn't. My vamp speed might let me take out a few thugs, but no vamp can outrun a bullet, and sooner or later, one of them would get me. I had to have a weapon.

Again my childhood provided a solution. When I was twelve, Mama took me into town to see the movie
Oliver Twist. I don't remember much, just the scene where Fagin and Oliver played the pickpocket game. Tres cool. When we got home, I talked mama into letting me practice on her. She thought it was sweet, so she let me practice every day.

Before you knew it, I was having the time of my life, playing practical jokes on my friends, making their stuff disappear and reappear at will. That was the way to arm myself. I wouldn't carry the weapons in. I'd acquire them once inside.

And the "butlers" were very obliging. As I said, all of them carried serious heat under their arms, but I left those pistols alone. Close personal weapons you check continuously, like your wallet and keys. Those they would miss.

Instead, when they bent me down for the frisk, I snitched the secondary weapons from their boots. One butler had a six-shot revolver tucked in an ankle holster. The other had a two-shot derringer and a Bowie knife. By the time they pronounced me clean and admitted me to the club, I was armed and lethal.

Inside the entryway, a fifth bruiser, the biggest I'd seen yet, led me down a dim hallway and up a flight of stairs, where he handed me off to a waitress wearing the standard flapper uniform: heels, feathered headband, beaded dress. Her slinky skirt swished as she escorted me to a table close to the stage. I'd tipped her well for the privilege. She took my drink order (whiskey, neat), then informed me the show would start in a few minutes. In the meantime, I should sit back and relax.

Relaxing was out of the question. Instead, I scanned my surroundings, which sure didn't belong in a Chicago gin joint. According to our intelligence, the interior was an exact replica of a Berlin cabaret. How it came to be the toast of the Chicago speakeasies was quite the tale.

In the early 20s, my quarry involved herself in several criminal enterprises, and when things got too hot, she fled to Europe. There she met and seduced a high-ranking German vampire who made the girl his acolyte. (Think personal food provider and sexual companion, but with iron-clad, contractually-assured benefits.)

The German vamp was so smitten he acquired a Berlin nightclub to showcase his beautiful "discovery." A year later, and at the girl's request, the German vamp turned her, which was his mistake. As soon as she had vampire powers, the lady dumped her benefactor and returned to the States. She had bigger fish to fricassee.

Short-circuiting my musing, the waitress returned with my drink, then sidled up beside me and inched her hand up my thigh, asking if I might like some company for the evening. I knocked back the whiskey and tipped her a fifty, saying I'd rather be entertained by the show's star, if that was possible. I made sure she saw my wad of cash. Without hesitation, the waitress said she thought something could be arranged. Then she whisked my glass away and promised to bring me another before the show started.

While I waited, I let my eyes play across the cut-glass chandelier and the fancy mirrors and the room-length polished oak bar. Carla had so much. But it hadn't been enough. She had to take everything I had as well.

I'd been plotting my revenge since I emerged from the "conversion coma," a frightening experience, even when you haven't been turned against your will. In my case, my first moments as a vampire were terrifying. When I came to, all I could think of was,
I'm dreaming. I'm Jack, I've climbed the beanstalk, and now the giant is about to eat me.

Because a giant was looming over me. As my vision cleared, I saw it was Dr. Charles Robinson, the black surgeon who lived close to our house, just across the tracks. He'd recently returned to our tiny town to visit some distant relations.

I'd seen Dr. Charles on the street a few times. Some of the locals made comments about the "uppity Negro," but I always nodded to Dr. Charles, and he nodded back. I figured anybody who makes it through medical school deserves respect. Besides, Mama raised me to judge people by what they do, not how they look or who their daddy is. Dr. Charles had accomplished more in his life than most yokels ever would. He earned the dignity he carried himself with.

Of course, that didn't explain what he was doing in my bedroom. I tried to sit up and question him, but my throat was so parched I couldn't speak. Dr. Charles eased me back onto my pillows.

His bass voice boomed, though he was trying to be quiet. "You better take it easy, son. You've had quite an ordeal."

At that moment, the door banged open, and Mama flew into the room. "Is he awake, Doctor? Is he going to be okay?" Mama scanned my face, fearful. Since daddy died falling off that roof, I'd been all the family she had. I could tell she thought she was going to lose me, too.

Dr. Charles smiled, reassuring her. "He'll be fine, Mrs. Ride. I just need to give him a treatment. Would you ask my assistant Gerald to step in here please? It should take only fifteen minutes or so. And then you can spend all the time with him you want."

Mama came over to me and kissed my forehead. Then she beamed a ray of sunshine at Dr. Charles and slid out of the room.

Dr. Charles' face went troubled, which made my hands go clammy.

"Doc, just . . . just give it to me straight," I sputtered. "It's more serious than you told her, isn't it?"

"It is serious, indeed, but not the way you think. You are in no danger of dying. In fact, you are healthier than you have ever been. But with . . . alterations."

Before he could continue, his assistant arrived. A stocky black man with a friendly face and dimpled cheeks, Gerald gave me a concerned look and held up the silver lunch pail he carried. "Is he ready, Dr. Charles?"

"Almost." Dr. Charles put a hand on my arm. "The fact is, Mr. Ride, in the last seventy-two hours, you've changed."

Panic started to set in. "I'm weaker, you mean. Is it my heart?"

"No, your heart is fine. I think it will be easier to show you." Dr. Charles took the lunch pail from Gerald. "You haven't eaten in three days. You must be hungry." He opened the pail and pulled out a barbeque sandwich wrapped in wax paper. "Take a whiff, Mr. Ride. Tell me what you smell."

Seemed kind of dumb, but it was doctor's orders. I sucked a lungful of air in through my nose and opened my eyes wide in wonderment. I could smell everything in the room, and I do mean everything. The rose in the vase next to the bed, clearly Mama's touch; the dust under the dresser; the sweat of Gerald's skin--and an unusual scent I'd never encountered emanating from Dr. Charles.

As for the sandwich, it was a tangle of smells: beautifully smoked beef brisket, a brush of honey glaze, the mingled odors of tomato paste, onions, brown sugar, cayenne--barbeque sauce at its best. I gaped at Dr. Charles, bewildered. What had happened to my senses?

He waved the sandwich under my nostrils. "You're hungry, Mr. Ride. Take a bite."

My stomach gave a growl. Dr. Charles handed me the sandwich, and I bit a big chunk out of one side, desperate to sate my hunger. And nothing happened. The sandwich had no flavor whatsoever, like I was chewing paper. I spat the first bite out and tore off another, but it was no different, so I spit it out, too. Now I was scared. Was I doomed to starve to death?

Dr. Charles patted my shoulder. "Don't panic, Mr. Ride. Gerald, if you would."

Gerald pulled out a pen knife, made a small incision on his left wrist and extended it toward me. I couldn't figure out what he was doing, and then the smell of his blood hit me. It was slightly metallic, iron and copper, and I couldn't help myself. I seized his wrist and began lapping at it for all I was worth. I lost myself in the taste, and before I knew it, Dr. Charles was pulling me away.

His voice echoed in my skull. "You've had enough. More than enough. Normally you will only need one cup per week, but since this is your first feeding, you received a pint. You must learn yo restrain yourself."

Good thing Dr. Charles was so big. I was on the verge of losing it. If he hadn't clamped me in a vice grip, I'd have destroyed the room.

I clenched my teeth. "What's wrong with me?"

Dr. Charles spoke softly in my ear. "Nothing is wrong with you. You're just different. You've been turned. Turned into a vampire."

My body went limp. Dr. Charles eased me onto the floor and learned me against the foot of my bed. "Here, Mr. Ride. Let me show you something." He moved over to my dresser and slid one hand under it. "Watch and learn." Then he lifted the dresser off the floor, as if it weighed no more than a box of tools.

"One of the advantages of being a vampire is an increase in strength. Come here, Mr. Ride. Try it youself."

I was skeptical, but I had to know for sure. So I let Dr. Charles hand me the dresser, fully expecting the heavy piece of furniture to crash to the ground. To my surprise, it felt light. Very light. I eased it back onto the floor.

Dr. Charles pointed toward the window. "Take a listen. Tell me what you hear."

Suddenly I could hear our dog breathing on the front porch and water dripping from the outside pump and a fly buzzing around a peach tree over one hundred yards away.

Dr. Charles followed my gaze out the window. "One of the compensations of being a vampire. All your senses are sharper. And you can move faster, run farther, and shoot straighter than any Norm in the world."

I shook my head. "I don't understand. What did this to me?"

Dr. Charles picked at the five-o'clock stubble on his chin. "Not what, Mr. Ride. Who."

And then it came back to me. I knew damn good and well who had done this. And for the first time in my life, I felt hate in my heart, hate for one . . .

"Carla Calloway!"

I started at the sound of her name. The show was about to begin, and someone had just announced her act. A new whiskey sat before me, the waitress having slid it to me without breaking my reverie. I knocked it back, not worrying about my state of mind. Alcohol has no effect on vampire metabolism. I might as well be drinking Kool-Aid.

The lights dimmed, and the object of my quest oozed onto the stage. I had to admit, she was a knockout. Jet-black hair, cut short under the ears. Penciled arched eyebrows. Pouty red lips and a sheer black dress which showed more cleavage than I thought she had. A gold chain encircled her porcelain neck and plunged into the yawning crevice between her breasts. I felt a stirring in my loins, in spite of myself. Bad boy!

To my surprise, the biggest-bruiser-of-all escorted her in, and, before she moved to the microphone, she gave his hand a little squeeze, making him more than her bodyguard. Perhaps her acolyte? I'd have to keep that in mind. If he was in love with her, he fight to the death and I didn't want it to be mine.

Surprise number two, Big Bruiser moved behind the piano and began to play hot jazz. I thought his hands were too large and clumsy for that. Note to self: watch the big guy's hands. He'd know how to use them.

The giant came to the end of a riff, and Carla glided in, her voice low and silky, pitched just right to make a man go wild with desire. She had every guy in the joint drooling, yours truly included, despite what I knew about her. And how good was she? In the 60s, when they staged the musical
Cabaret, it was about Carla Calloway's little club in Berlin, her being the original "Sally Bowles." Talk about a man-eater.

All through her number, Carla riveted me with her attention, blowing wet kisses my direction, giving her performance to me and me alone, like I was the only guy in the worled she wanted. The waitress must've tipped her off to the possibility of a big score. I wondered what I could get for my money. A private session in her dressing room? With sex? Would her acolyte mind or would he watch through a peephole? Would he get a cut of her "earnings"?

Something hardened inside me, flint-rock cold, and all my desire drained out, like water from a busted radiator, hot and hissing. This woman had come into my mother's house and defiled me. She'd destroyed my future with no more thought than you'd give a flea. For that she'd pay.

I don't know how the myth got started that vampires can't come into your home unless they're invited. Truth is, we can go anywhere we damn well please. Just my luck.

On the night I lost everything, I was at Mama's house, preparing for my wedding the following week. I woke to a hand clasped around my throat and a mouth nipping at the tender part of my neck, just above my collar bone.

At first I thought it was my intended, Mary Jo, but Mary Jo was a good girl and we'd waited, the both of us. We were young and from a small town where everybody knew your business. Sure, I had opportunities to rectify my virgin status once I moved to Houston, but I couldn't betray Mary Jo. I loved her and wouldn't hurt her for the world. We'd just have to figure it all out on our wedding night. I was looking forward to figuring it out.

Which is why I knew Mary Jo was not in bed with me. I glanced down and saw a black head of hair, pearl white skin and a supple figure in red panties and matching bra. Definitely
not Mary Jo, who was blond and big-boned, with huge curves in all the right places.

The woman looked up and puckered her blood-red lips, her dark eyes cutting straight through me. Carla, Mary Jo's older sister. Now I was really confused. Though we all grew up together, Carla had run away nine years before. She'd sent Mary Jo a few postcards from around the country, and even Europe, but she never returned.

Then, out of the blue, Mary Jo gets this fancy letter from Carla saying she's rich and living in Chicago and Mary Jo should come stay with her. Of course Mary Jo laughs and sends her an invitation to the wedding, with a personal note begging her to come be maid-of-honor. Carla never answered.

And now Carla was in my bed, nearly naked and snuggling for all she was worth. Tempting though she was, I did the honorable thing and told her, no thank you, I wasn't interested. Then I tried to move her hand from my neck. It wouldn't budge.

When Carla clutched me around the throat, I felt vampire strength for the first time in my life. She was half my size, and I was helpless. She held me down and said, "It's not about you, Caleb. Don't think that. It's just . . . my sister, my perfect little sister who our parents love so much better than me, she doesn't get to live happily ever after."

Then she bit me.

At first it was pleasurable, and I went into a kind of daze. I could feel Carla climbing on top of me, doing things to me, the kind of things I'd saved for Mary Jo, but I couldn't move and couldn't stop her. I felt myself shudder with release, then slip into a stupor, but Carla slapped me awake. She wanted me conscious.

Carla fingered the St. Christopher medal I wore, a gift from Mary Jo when I first moved to Houston. She laughed and said, "This is pretty." She undid the chain and fastened it around her own throat.

"Does it look good on me?" she asked, modeling her newest trophy for a moment. Then she bent down toward my neck. "Don't worry," she whispered. "You'll never miss it." And she bit me again.

This time I felt the pain, a harsh ache burning deep into my flesh. I flailed a little and blacked out.

Next thing I knew, Carla slapped me back to sentience. She planned to kill me. I could tell from the way her eyes sparked. She'd been waiting for this moment.

"Here's the way it works, sugar," she said, tapping my left cheek with her forefinger. "Time to roll the dice. You have a chance to live. I'll give you odds, one in three, and that's me being generous."

Up to that point in my life, I had never hit a woman. My mama raised me better than that. 'Course, my mama never prepared me for the predicaent I was in, either. Figuring Carla had forfeited her right to lady treatment when she forced herself on me, I swung for her jaw, hoping to knock her out so I could stumble to safety.

Though feeble in force due to my blood loss, my punch caught her off guard and bloodied both her lips. She hadn't expected resistance. I'd always been quick, but with her vamp speed, Carla could have dodged my punch if she'd been ready.

"You like it rough, huh?" she chuckled. "Here, have a taste of rough." She forced open my mouth with one hand, leaning down like she was going to kiss me. Instead, she parted her lips and let her blood dribble in between mine. The second it touched my tongue I wanted to vomit, but she clenched her hand tight, opening my esophagus to the trickling gore. I felt myself weaken as the blood flowed into my stomach, where it churned like bile.

Carla licked her lips, which had healed during those few moments of torment.

"You tasted mine," she said, turning my head to the side. "And I taste yours." Then she bit me once more, this last pain more excruciating than any I'd ever felt.

As the blackness closed in, Carla murmured in my ear, "If you're lucky, Caleb, you'll die. If not, you still won't have her. I win either way."

Now here I was, in Carla's club, giving in to my dark side, lusting for revenge. I could still see Mary Jo's teary eyes when I broke off our engagement. Not that I wanted to, but since vampires don't visibly age, long-term commitments to Norms are forbidden.

Of course I couldn't tell Mary Jo that. Instead, I lied and said I had cold feet, that I wasn't in love with her any more. I don't know which was worse, Mary Jo's broken doll face or the betrayed glare Mama scorched me with when I left to go back to Houston. Carla had made me hurt the two women I loved most in the world. Because of that, I meant to kill her that night, even if it cost me my own life.

When Carla finished her set, she stroked her man-mountain on the cheek, took a bow, then sashayed over to my table to meet the mark and size him up. She scooted in next to me and laid her hand on my thigh, just like the waitress before her, standard operating procedure for the establishment. I saw her acolyte scowl. He might put up with her shenanigans, but he didn't have to like them.

Carla brought her mouth close to my ear and cooed, "I hear you're a big fan. The question is, how big, Mister . . . ?"

She left it hanging, waiting for my name. I rested my hand on hers and played it coy. "Names are unimportant, my dear. Actions are what count, am I right?"

"You are." She rubbed her body up against mine. "Is this the kind of action you have in mind?"

I let her rub. I was feeling cold, not dead. "Actually, Miss Calloway, there's one special action I'm interested in, but I'm not sure you'll like it."

Carla nibbled at my ear. "Oh, I can like anything. For a price."

I let out a sigh of feigned pleasure. "I don't know if you can put a price on this particular action."

"Tell me what it is and I'll give it a try."

I placed a hand on either side of her face and rotated it towards me, so I could look her in the eyes. "Justice."

"I . . . I don't understand," she stammered.

I pulled back from her, a gold strand of chain in each hand. "You will, my dear. You will."

The chain snaked out of her bosom, carrying the St. Christopher medal along with it. I secured it around my own neck and tucked it under my shirt, dropping my British accent along the way. "Good to see you again, Carla. Mary Jo says, 'Hey.'"

The light of recognition dawned in Carla's eyes. And the fear.

"Caleb?" For a second she couldn't believe it was me. Then she shoved me hard and leapt to her feet, shrieking, "Help! He's a cop! He's come to arrest me! Help!"

Evidently yelling "COP!" was like screaming "FIRE! MURDER! SODOMY! CANNIBALISM!" Everybody went bat loco bonkers and bolted for the exit. Everybody except Carla's piano player, that is.

He ran forward, and she hid behind him, the coward. She knew I was a vamp, which meant he couldn't match my strength and speed. She was sacrificing him to buy herself time.

At that moment I had an epiphany, an insight into my place in the world, what I had to do both now and in the future. Though I would not let myself be killed, I would, to the best of my ability, refrain from killing others, especially the Norms. Instead, I would protect them, from Carla as well as themselves.

Carla's acolyte pulled an enormous pistol from his coat. I crushed his hand with a downward slap, and the pistol fell to the floor. Then I thrust a shoulder into his belly and shoved with all my might. He flew across the room and slammed into the opposite wall. All the air went out of him, and he slumped to the floor, stunned and out of the action.

"Carla, wait," I shouted.

To my surprise, she wasn't running for the exit. She was heading for the bar.

"I'm not here to kill you," I continued. "I just want to take you back for trial. There's no need for anyone to die."

Carla ignored me and dove behind the bar. Then the three "butlers" burst through the door, guns at the ready. I pulled the six-shot out of my belt as they opened fire. Lucky for me those boys were mediocre shots. Still, we were in close quarters, and in spite of some fancy dodging, I caught one bullet in my calf and a graze on my right shoulder.

Pain and anger made me focus. I fired six shots in rapid succession, knocking three guns out of their hands, and disabling all three of their shooting arms. The biggest butler used his left hand to pull a second pistol, but I threw the Bowie knife and took out his other shoulder as well. I drew the derringer from my pocket, thinking I had the situation under control. Big mistake.

Before I knew what hit me, the derringer went flying. Carla's acolyte had recovered, run at me full tilt and grabbed me in a bear hug. I was about to break his grip when Carla popped up from behind the bar, a tommy gun in each hand.

She glowered at me, her eyes black with loathing. "I should've killed you the first time, Caleb. I won't make that mistake again."

I dove for the floor as she opened fire, riddling the bodies of all three butlers and her acolyte to boot. As she swept the deadly spray my way, my hand touched metal. The acolyte's gun. I rolled to my right and fired three quick shots. Carla's head snapped up, stunned, a trickle of blood seeping from the "ace of clubs" decorating her forehead. She was dead before she hit the floor.

Unfortunately for me, Carla's shooting had shattered numerous bottles of bootleg booze and caused an electrical box to spark. Fire roared to life, consuming the bar and blocking the exit. Not good. I might be the last vampire standing, but vampires burn a lot quicker and hotter than Norms.

No time to lose. I pulled the Bowie knife from the dead butler's shoulder and used it to cut down the only drapes not ablaze, the ones on the north window. Then I wrapped myself in the cloth, took several steps back and ran at the casement, smashing through the glass and landing in a deep snow drift piled high against the far side of the building.

Fiery bits of wood fell sizzling into the snow as I hobbled clear, my calf wound hurting like hell but not serious. From a safe distance, I watched the flames transform Carla's
Cabaret Allemande into a mound of ash, but I felt no satisfaction.

The dead Norms, Carla's jealousy, my despair--it all seemed like such a waste. Still does.

My St. Christopher's medal had popped loose during the fighting, and I scoured its surface, as if it held some divine cosmic meaning. Or not.

St. Christopher, the patron of nomads and bachelors. Carla had made me into both, doomed to wander forth on a journey not of my choosing, alone, no lifetime companion by my side. And that I could never forget. Or forgive.

I kissed the medal, the last gift Mary Jo would ever give me, and placed it inside my shirt, close to my splintered heart. Then I limped away, turning my back on the smoldering remains of Carla's carnal enterprise and losing myself in the darkness.