A WORKING LUNCH By Adrian Tullberg

Pinkerton walked warily to the restaurant, briefcase clutched in a sweaty, flushed grasp. His other hand fingered a crucifix in his pocket. Even though it was daylight he wasn't going to take chances - just because they couldn't survive direct sunlight didn't mean that they couldn't wrap themselves up like the proverbial mummy and attack the unwary - he saw several homeless nearby which he gave a more than usual berth.

Major Carl Pinkerton was and always had been a career bureaucrat through out his nineteen-year tenure in the army. This resulted in a gangly frame accented by a potbelly and a strong laugh whenever he told a girl at the singles bar that he was a professional soldier.

He had transferred to a clandestine domestic operation code-named 'The Initiative', because of the rumours that it participated in regular covert actions - actual combat. Not that he had any intention of participating in anything resembling armed action; even his boot camp gave him nightmares, but if you wanted promotion, signing on to something resembling action was always desirable.

At least that what was he thought. Now, the whole project was going downhill, and Pinkerton had no intention of going down with the ship. If he played his cards right, this appointment would guarantee that he would come out of this untarnished.

Pinkerton went into the French restaurant, feeling very out of place in his three-hundred dollar suit. The waiter gave him a glance which intimidated him more than his drill sargeant's constant ravings.

"I...I'm with a ... I'm at Mr. DeVieres' table."

The arrogance fled to be replaced with a warm smile. "Ah yes! Mr. DeVieres is waiting for you, right this way?" The waiter led Pinkerton to a small table with a panoramic view of a local nature preserve - presumably the best table in the house. A man was reading The Wall Street Journal with avid interest, framed in a shaft of sunlight like a stage spot.

The man looked up - he was wearing a white suit vaguely reminiscent of a nineteen-thirties summer suit, complete with white fedora and smoked glasses. He was in his late twenties or early thirties, had brown close-cropped hair, almost a crewcut, and a thickened neck indicating bodybuilding or athletics or both.

He smiled, showing a large array of white teeth. "Pinkerton! My dear chap, do sit down."

Pinkerton noticed that the waiter was already pulling out the chair, and the officer awkwardly sat down. "Mr. DeVieres..."

"Edward. I insist."

"Edward ... I brought what you wanted..." He tapped the briefcase meaningfully.

The man smiled. "Splendid! Knew I could count on you." With that, he took the briefcase, and cracked it open, Pinkerton looking around anxiously.

"Edward ... those are top-secret materials..."

The Englishman nodded cheerfully. "Well, I won't tell if you won't."

"I mean ... somebody might see..."

"No problem." DeVieres opened up an orange-tabbed folder and started scanning the contents.

"I really don't think...."

Not looking away from the folder for a second, DeViere's voice grew cold. "Nobody will listen in on us because I've bought all the tables within earshot. We're too far away from the windows for a laser microphone to do any good, and I've examined everything on this table for anything resembling a listening device. We're also out of direct line of slight so if anybody does want to see us we'll see them long before they can do any damage." He looked up, and his tone grew conciliatory. "Corporate Espionage does tend to make you aware of the tricks, Major. Have some of the brandy, and wait for the order. I hope you don't mind me ordering ... but since you've never stepped into a French restaurant in your life, that's probably best, don't you think?"

With that, DeVieres went back to his scanning, and Pinkerton took a gulp of the brandy, wondering how he could get out of this one.

Despite what critics of government policies said, the military-industrial complex did not throw around cash like ticker-tape paper. Every dollar had to be accounted for. So if a permanent clandestine installation had to be set up, the finance and logistics made the usual paper hurdles and problems were multiplied ten-fold, because the cash not only had to be obtained through the proper channels, it also had to be made untraceable. You couldn't throw it under the 'black budget' umbrella because the whole operation was supposed to avoid the whole 'congressional and senate scrutiny' concept.

The budget for the Initiative easily ran into seven figures, making the first necessary recruit not a soldier, but a banker. An international financier who could move the massive funds needed, spin them around the world, and hand the result to the Initiative, freshly laundered.

One person's name came up; Edward DeVieres. A businessman that had developed an oddly reclusive nature until a few years ago, making his money from various blue-chip investments all over the globe. Massive chunks of shares in nearly every major corporation, but stopping just short of owning a seat on their boards. He also had many friends in the Senate and Congress, a major contributor to both parties, and scores of contacts in the financial world, not to mention the scientific and pharmaceutical fields. Reputed to be something of an impressive amateur scientist in his own right.

There was also a rumour that during the eighties, he had moved massive amounts of funds for the Cocaine Cartels, before they were replaced by the less sophisticated Mexican cartels.

Somehow he had heard of the Initiative, and offered to move the cash through the various shell-games needed in order to make the operation untraceable - in return for a small slice of the pie, and the end results of the research performed.

DeVieres had finished with the results and was shaking his head in amusement. "Quite a cock-up, don't you think?"

Pinkerton hissed at the senior civilian operative of the Initiative. "Please! This is serious!"

"Oh, I appreciate the seriousness of this ... ah." Pinkerton looked up, to see the waiter bringing his food ... something unidentifiable.

DeVieres was poking at his food with a fork while leafing through a folder with his free hand. He took a photograph of a bleached-blond man, a still from a security camera. "Aggressive looking chap."

Pinkerton glanced at the image. "That's the escapee, Subject Seventeen. He had the generation one implant before..."

"William the Bloody." Murmured DeVieres. "The bleach job is new, but I recognise the features from the lithograph."

"You know him?"

"I've been performing some research ever since I heard about the Initiative. Quite fascinating. Did you know that this man-" DeVieres tapped the photograph meaningfully "-used to hammer railroad spikes into his prisoners? That's his nickname I believe, Spike."

"Where did you get that information?"

DeVieres looked at the frantic officer placidly. "The Internet. There's several pages dedicated to mythology. If the implant is working correctly, he can't do any harm, can he?"

Pinkerton nodded, calming. "Yes, the first series of implants worked perfectly."

DeVieres gave a brief smile. "Quite an ingenious little device, isn't it? Aggressive surge plus humanoid subject equals one enormous whopping headache. I mean, to recognise the endorphin surge from an imminent attack is simply a means of trial and error, but to 'read' the visual cortex to see if that surge is directed at humans - or humanoids? Genius, simply genius. Walsh is ... sorry, was brilliant."

"Walsh was the problem." Snapped Pinkerton, trying to get the conversation back to the saving of his neck.

"Oh come now, without her, the whole scheme of recruiting vampires to become a covert army would be impossible. The next generation of implants would have recognised specific people, and also administer punishment if the subjects failed to obey a command. You can't buy something like that off the shelf."

Pinkerton knew that DeVieres would defend Walsh, the initial idea of putting her on board was the financier's - although, he had convinced others to make the recommendation for him. "Yes, the implant was integral in our scheme, but her handling of the operation..."

"You wanted ... or your superiors wanted to create an army of vampires. Ideal, really, since they automatically reach the physical peak without years of expensive training. You could even convert homeless people into the undead ... I believe that was one of the selling points of the whole operation? Turning street bums into superhuman soldiers who were ready - no, desperate to kill? No shortage of candidates, and no family to cry in front of the cameras when the cannon fodder ran out."

Pinkerton stabbed at his food moodily. "Since their psychosis made them impossible to control, the implant proposed by the then Doctor Walsh..."

"Initially designed for violent criminals, wasn't it?"

"And any convicted drug-users. I remember it was rejected for being 'barbaric' and 'no better than a high-tech lobotomy' "

"I must admit ... shades of 'A Clockwork Orange' there. Still ... I've always found that sentences for drug-related offences are dangerously draconian. Do you realise that you could get seven years for possessing the herbal equivalent of two bottles of scotch?"

"Mr. DeVieres ... we need to discuss how Professor Walsh royally screwed up this operation. Her mishandling of the Initiative directly contributed to the current state of affairs."

DeVieres shook his head. "Still worried about your career, Pinkerton?" He put down his fork, and looked directly at the officer. "Very well then ... are these the only copies of the original files?"

"Yes. Everything has been replaced with the 'edited' files that you developed. I replaced every material file and reformatted the mainframe, editing the backups."

"Removing your name from anything involving a decision or an action ... and protecting the financial files. Everything else regarding Walsh's research has been exaggerated so make her sound like a deranged madwoman..."

"That was the easy part..." muttered Pinkerton.

"And we should come out of the whole deal smelling like the proverbial rose ... the innocent bystanders. You know, you're quite adept at covering your rear."

"You try surviving in the Pentagon B-ring."

"There's still the little matter of ... what you deserve, isn't it?" DeVieres gave a conspiratorial smile. "Come with me."

DeVieres led the bemused officer to the back of the restaurant, to a side door. Pinkerton looked back, concerned at leaving top-secret material in plain view - particularly, secrets he had stolen.

Opening a side door, DeVieres led Pinkerton into an adjoining alleyway, which terminated into an L-shape, a cul-de-sac which possessed a dumpster.

DeVieres opened the dumpster, and retrieved a Haliburton case. "Sorry about this, but while the staff couldn't care less about files and reports, they still get suspicious-" DeVieres opened the case, and retrieved something small "-about the old brown envelope."

This envelope was white, and Pinkerton opened it eagerly. Inside was a statement on good quality paper - a stock certificate.

DeVieres pointed to the paper. "Worth fifty-thousand now. In a few months it'll be worth seven hundred and fifty thousand. By this time tomorrow you'll have an indisputable record of how you've been saving up and buying various stocks."

Pinkerton nodded, and pocketed the paper, retrieving something from his inside pocket - a CD case. "The Initiative research results, including their cybernetics development."

DeVieres took the CD, smiling. "The password?"

Pinkerton touched the stock certificate in his pocket. "Snafu."

DeVieres shook his head. "Wonderful." He took Pinkerton's hand. "A pleasure doing business with you, Major." DeVieres used his left hand to cover Pinkerton's right.

Pinkerton automatically used his left hand to add to the vigorous handshake, while looking at the outsize case. "Why such a big case?"

"Oh it didn't just have the certificate - it also has a change of clothes and two dozen rancid eggs."

"Er... why?"

"For this."

With that, DeVieres suddenly moved his hands so that he was grabbing Pinkerton's wrists. Then he bent sharply up.

Pinkerton felt a shock of nauseating pain as his bones broke at a forty-five degree angle. He shrieked, DeVieres watching with an amused smile as the man backed away, looking at his flopping hands with a terrified expression. "Wh ...wh ..."

"I did that so you don't grab that crucifix in your left-hand pocket." DeVieres remarked casually.

With that, DeVieres spun on one foot, the other thrusting out and catching Pinkerton in his gut and slamming against the brick wall, breaking an elbow.

Pinkerton looked at DeVieres uncomprehendingly, as the businessman's face smiled, seemed to warp...

...and transform into a heavy brow, animal-like eyes and massive canines.

Pinkerton's brain refused to function at this point, as DeVieres slowly stalked him. "I...I thought..."

The vampire shook his head. "Good god, death is staring you in the face, and all you can do is point out the obvious?" A sigh. "It's very simple. When a scheme to turn your kind into a politically disposable death squad comes across your desk, you don't just sit around, you do something about it. You get yourself into the hierarchy as soon as possible, then you suggest the technically brilliant but tactically naive scientist is placed in charge. Also having some of the worst people skills on record is something of a bonus when you want to sabotage a project."

DeVieres moved to the shivering civil servant, and draped his arm around the man. "Walsh was perfect. Army authority, but sheep-dipped into a civilian for another covert project years ago. So she seems perfect for the job - on paper, that is. Whereas actually she's single-minded, arrogant, possesses a god-complex, no combat experience whatsoever, guaranteeing that she'd ignore commonsense activities like gathering intelligence and actually performing background research on her subjects. Did the same thing when kicked out for performing unethical experiments on criminals. Saw them as procurable units rather than enemies to study and plan against. Didn't even hear about the Slayer."

DeVieres lifted up Pinkerton's chin, his 'demonic visage' smiling. "And now you've eliminated all my fingerprints."

Pinkerton licked his lips. "You ... you're in the sun..."

"You're still bordering on the obvious. I've been researching vampire biology for over a century." This last statement was spat out with venom. "The destruction of vampire tissue under the bombardment of direct-energy photons and UV radiation is a biological process. Biomolecular chemistry allows me to interrupt the process - I've invented a chemical which gives me immunity to sunlight."

Pinkerton tried to edge away from the vampire, put was lifted from the ground by arms of corded steel. "It's been a while since I killed anyone..."

With that, Pinkerton was pulled towards DeVieres with rattlesnake speed, and a horrible, bowel-loosening pain was lodged in his neck. Just before he succumbed to the darkness, the last words he heard were...

"...just like riding a bike...."

***

DeVieres walked out of the alleyway, case in hand. His face had regained it's human state, the adrenaline surge which triggered his transformation now gone. His demonic visage - rather, the expansion of the subcutaneous porous system which allowed any blood to be absorbed osmotically through the dermis and into the capillary system - had absorbed the blood spilled on his face, but stained his clothes, requiring the change in the dumpster.

The two-dozen eggs hand been thrown into the dumpster along with the corpse, which would cover up the smell, and prevent anyone from looking too closely. Thanks to the former Mayor Wilkins, Sunnydale possessed one of the most unmotivated and lacklustre forces in America today. Any investigation would by brief and cursory. And who would notice one vampire attack out of the several performed in this town every night?

DeVieres walked into the restaurant, collecting the files, and tipping the waiters generously. Walking outside, he stared at the sun though his sunglasses, and smiled.

One less threat to vampires eliminated ... or rather one indirect threat to him. The Watchers could be monitored, the Slayer avoided, the random weekend warriors either bought off or framed by placing a brick of pure cocaine in their homes. However, a direct military intervention could mean that sometime along the line, he could find himself with a virtual leash in his head, fighting for a covert op which was designed to save a Senator's foreign holdings.

Fighting for the future, thought DeVieres, as he walked to the valet station. A bored-looking young man, not even out of his teens was lolling around the little tent.

He perked up when he saw the businessman. "You're the Porche, right?"

DeVieres nodded as the young man took the key, and legged it to the tarmac. DeVieres wondered idly if anybody would miss Pinkerton ... friends, family, colleagues. Wether killing him was necessary when the man was well and truly paid off.

DeVieres shrugged. No use crying over spilt milk now. Besides, the man certainly couldn't talk now.

His car roared up to the valet's station and screeched to a halt. The valet bounded up from the driver's seat, face flushed from driving the powerful vehicle.

"I gotta tell ya, that's a nice car."

"I hope so, I paid enough for it ..." DeVieres glanced at the nametag "...Xander."

DeVieres suddenly did a mental double take. There wasn't a single other 'Xander' in this town. This had to be the Slayer's ally.

His face was impassive, and he walked around the car, ostentatiously looking for scratches, using the time to think ... was the Slayer spying on him?

By the time he had completed the circuit of the car, he had decided on the negative and chalked this one up to coincidence. He looked up at the boy. "Well done ... last time I used valet parking the whole left side was covered in scratches."

"Well, I respect a quality machine. Sir."

DeVieres chuckled, as he felt in his pocket. "Got a girlfriend, then?"

"Ah, yes. Yes I do."

"I thought so." DeVieres pulled out three hundred-dollar notes. "I saw a jewellery store a half-mile from here. Get her something nice."

The boy took the money, eyes gleaming. "Yes sir." DeVieres got into his car and roared away.

His excursion to Sunnydale had been a complete success - although that boy could recognise him on sight. Still, since he wasn't planning to return in a hurry, there was little chance that he would associate him with a hundred-year plus vampire.

Not to mention the funds he had skimmed off the top of the Initiative budget, netting himself seven million plus as well as his percentage. Now that the project was on the skids, any trace of his actions would disappear.

And if the Initiative somehow survived ... well, he was still connected enough to ensure that he could throw another spanner in the works.

DeVieres laughed, as he headed to the airport. A very good day indeed.

***

A sequel to Edward; the Vampire Scientist, buy the same author.

Please send any and all feedback to atullberg@my-deja.com