"If the Irish want home rule that much they should go back to Ireland and stop picking the pocketbooks of their Irish brethren here. Life is hard enough in America without bringing the troubles of the old country here," I heard myself saying.
It was not the most politic route to take, considering that the tavern was full of Irishmen. I forced my thoughts back to the woman whose husband spent his pay on whisky and contributions to the Fenian society devoted to freeing Ireland from England. Unable to pay for the medicine I'd proscribed, the woman died, leaving behind three children to the indifferent care of her drunken husband.
"Let Ireland go to the devil, and the Fenians with them," I said loudly.
Pushing my untouched glass away, I rose from the bar, tipped my hat curtly to the scowling barkeep, and strode out the door.
It was a relief to be out in the clear evening air, away from the smoke and stench of cheap liquor-sodden humanity in such close quarters. I paused in the street outside, gazing up at the night sky as I contemplated my next move. It was my night off work at the hospital. I didn't usually walk about in the poorest area of town where policemen were few and far between. Not that one such as I had much to fear from the miscreant population of Chicago. I enjoyed the crisp night air a moment longer, then set off walking east towards Goose Island, that odd wedge of land bordered by canals.
I hadn't been walking long before I heard them. Four, no five sets of footsteps. I was being followed. I quickened my pace as much as I could without creating surprise or speculation from the innocent humans I passed on the street. Instead of transferring their attention to less fleet prey, my pursuers continued to follow, breaking into a jog to keep up.
Ducking down an alley redolent with rotting garbage and human waste, I held my breath until I reached the other side. The smell didn't cause the men following me to pause in their pursuit. By the time they reached the end of the alley, I was already across the next street. Before me stood a row of abandoned factories, their broken windows gaping portals in the red brick walls. The windows were all on the second stories, too high to jump without exciting suspicion as to my true nature. The lingering odor revealed that one of them had been a tannery. I made my way toward it just as a shout from behind me alerted me to the fact that I'd been spotted. The five sets of footsteps broke into a run. If I'd been a mere human, I'd have been terrified at the sound.
Smiling grimly I darted around the side of the old tannery, but all I saw was solid brick. The building next to it, however, showed a gap where a wooden side door lay in pieces from some past act of vandalism. I plunged through it, ignoring the splinters that burst forth at my passage.
Ruined machinery coated in dust confronted me silently. A quick glance about showed me that the only other exit was blocked by fallen masonry from the floor above, and as in the other buildings there were no windows on the ground floor. An iron staircase led to the upper floors. With no other option, I mounted the steps and headed upwards. The iron squealed under my weight but held. Rodents scurried furtively below at the sound of my ascent. The crack of breaking wood informed me that someone was following me into the building.
"I've got him!" a man's voice yelled hoarsely. "Go around the back, make sure he doesn't get out the rear."
As if I could without displacing half a ton of fallen brick and mortar. Ignoring his words, I continued up the stairs, passing four landings without pause until I reached the fifth and last. A narrow hall terminated in a ladder set into the wall at the far end. Closed doors on either side of the hall did not tempt me. Enclosed spaces were traps in a pursuit. I chose the ladder. I grabbed onto the rusty bars set into the wall and climbed. At the top was a trapdoor. A quick push with my hand and it flew off its hinges. It slid across the rooftop, scraping along the surface until it came to rest against a balustrade, a sort of low wall surrounding the perimeter of the flat roof.
Climbing out on top, I stood and surveyed the area. Some time ago the owner of the factory had stored boxes and barrels of some sort of millinery materials up here. Mice and rats were nesting in the remains of cotton and wool scraps, and the rotted wood of the containers had collapsed in on themselves, leaving heaps of slats and rusted circlets of iron that had once banded barrels in their proper shape. Apart from the sad remains of leftover supplies, the roof was empty, offering no cover at all.
Using my vampiric speed, I darted quickly to the edge and saw a stone quay with the inky water of the Goose Island canal beside it. Glancing to my left and right, I saw tall buildings on either side, far taller than the one on which I stood. Leaping up to either roof was out of the question, for I could hear the other men milling around below. If any of them were to glance up and see my superhuman leap, the Volturi's cardinal rule would be violated. Any other vampire would simply kill the lot of them and throw their bodies in the canal.
I was not any other vampire.
I'd leaned too far over the wall. A man on the quayside below pointed and shouted. I'd been seen.
Fingers scrabbled on the rooftop. There was a grunt as the man who'd followed me into the building lifted himself off the ladder and onto the roof.
Four faces stared up at me from below as I awaited my nemesis.
Drawing a deep breath in human fashion, I turned to face him.
Piercing brown eyes glared out at me from under a dark green cloth hat. He smelled of sweat, whiskey, and tobacco. His tweed jacket and trousers were nondescript and a little worn at the elbows and knees. A dirty grey neckcloth lay askew against his open collared shirt.
I remained still as he came near enough to touch. He regarded me silently for a moment, chest heaving. It was a long climb to the roof.
"British loving!" he shouted as he came at me suddenly, shoving hard against my chest with both palms square against my torso.
The back of my legs caught against the low wall and I was falling down, down, past the dark factory windows, black smears in a red wall.
The most difficult thing about it was keeping my body relaxed and quelling my natural instinct to twist about and land in a crouch. If I walked away unscathed from a fall from a six story building my secret would be out.
I landed hard on my back. I felt the rough stone of the quay crack a bit under me, but the loud 'thump' of my landing masked it. My back and legs ended up crookedly splayed. I kept them as they were when I hit the ground. Allowing my head to loll to the side, I kept my eyes open, staring blankly without expression at the back wall of the factory a few yards away.
Footsteps drew near. A pair of black work boots, scuffed and scratched beneath heavy cotton trousers blocked my view of the wall. I remained still and waited.
"He's done for," the voice belonging to the work boots proclaimed.
Another of the men nudged at my leg with his toe. I kept my limbs relaxed and allowed my leg to move when he pushed at it.
"Best be sure," another said.
The work boots moved back out of my line of sight, deferring to a pair of plaid coated legs that knelt in front of my face. A large palm pressed against my mouth, feeling for breath that never came. He kept his hand over my lips for over a minute.
"Dead," a gruff voice pronounced. "He's already cooling."
The hand was removed and the man stood.
"World's well rid of that lot," muttered a soft tenor voice I hadn't heard before.
He sounded younger than his companions. Trying to impress them, perhaps? The others growled their agreement.
"Altamont did good." The last voice said with grim approval.
"Aye, that he did," came the gruff voice again. All spoke with thick Irish brogues.
Footsteps drew near, coming from the direction of the factory building. He walked unhurriedly, his heart just beginning to return to a normal beat after the exertion of climbing back down five flights. The others waited for him in silence, the faint scuffing of shoes on concrete alerting me that they'd turned to watch his approach. I wondered what their expressions were like. How did one greet a murderer?
"So we're square, then?" my 'killer' Altamont asked sharply.
"You're in," work boots agreed.
"Tis good to hear," he answered, the light-hearted satisfaction in his voice an odd contrast to the gravity of the situation.
"What about him?" the tenor asked as I felt another nudge at my leg.
"Leave him for the rats," work boots suggested. "Canal rats'll strip a man to bones in days."
"No, throw him in the canal," the gruff one stated with an air of authority.
"Whatever you like," Altamont answered.
In short order I felt sinewy arms coming under my shoulders and wrapping around my chest from behind as the unmistakable odor of the man who'd shoved me from the roof filled my nostrils. He began to drag me towards the canal. I let my chin sag against my collarbone, and closed my eyes. I could only see his face now in that instant of memory before he'd laid hands on me and pushed.
"Here, let me help," one of the Irishmen prefaced before grabbing my legs. He wheezed in a breath as he hefted my limbs.
"He's a heavy one, that he is."
I heard a derisive snort from one of the others. It was unfair, as I knew very well that vampires were heavier than humans. The change that increased our physical beauty also gave us a more efficient musculature with denser, more compact tissue, hence our near impenetrable skin.
"Just heave him over the side and stop complaining," work boots growled.
"Aye," came the sullen response.
Again I was falling, a shorter distance this time, into the canal. The water splashed beneath me then closed over me as I sank. My back landed against timber, the crumbled remains of a loading dock. I opened my eyes and stared up through the water. I was only three or four feet below the surface. Two pale ovals of faces stared down at me, disfigured by the rippling water. After a moment, they disappeared.
I waited, immobile. Water obscures all but the loudest noises, even to one with enhanced hearing. I had no way of knowing if they lingered at the canal's edge to talk or if they'd gone. Minutes passed. I began counting seconds to pass the time.
An hour passed.
Then a face appeared above me, and a hand extended out towards the water that covered me.
I sat up, gathered my feet beneath me on the uneven timbers, and jumped. I passed by the unspoken invitation of the hand, and landed on the quayside in a crouch.
Water immediately began to pool under me, turning the concrete from grey to black. I stood, and so did he.
Familiar brown eyes regarded me searchingly from beneath a dark green cap.
"My apologies about the dunking, Cullen," he said, thrusting his hand out again.
"Not at all," I returned, taking his hand to shake it firmly. "It's good to see you again, Mr. Holmes."
To Be Continued…
A/N: Leave a review and let me know if you think the story is worth continuing.