A voice whispered in the darkness to me. I stumbled inside a doorway in Josef's basement towards the voice. Mick had sent me out of one of the living room in the apartment complex Josef lived in a few floors up, short of breath from running around the main floor to find Josef. I hoped it was Josef. He hadn't answered his cell all day. Usually he would at least give Mick a call back, hours later while I was half-asleep trying to stay on vampire time, with a quip about how Mick never answers his phone.
Mick thought something was wrong. The apartments were too quiet. The evaluator was out as well which was odd. Not that Josef or anyone else needed an elevator in that complex, they were all vampires, but it amused them, the slow lifting box. Mick gave me his set of keys to the car with the mini flashlight on it, after we found out the lights in some of the rooms were out too. Who knew what crazy situation Josef had himself in now, especially in this new case.
With the tiny beam of light from the key flashlight, I tried to fish out the light switch out of the ancient Victorian looking wallpaper. I found it and flipped it, a bright flash of industrial-made lighting consuming my vision for few moments. As my eyes adjusted, I flicked off the flashlight and turned my attention to seeking out the source of the voice. I didn't have to look long.
"Beth, help me." The voice whispered, a little louder and more emphatic.
I edged further into the middle of the room and swiveled on my heels.
It wasn't Josef.
A gasp escaped my lips as I realized who it was.
A woman hung on the wall adjacent to the door on a long wide plank board, held there by heavy, dated chains, rusting and encrusted with blood. Her blood. Under the unforgiving industrial bulbs, the woman looked ghostly, jagged and bent in all the wrong places. Her right eye was black and the skin was swelling. Her hands and wrists were turning a purple hue from the bruises, pinned out and above her head. I think a few of her fingers were broken as well by the way they didn't move.
"Anna?" I whispered. I stood frozen, my mouth agape. She hardly looked like herself pinned there, her dark brown hair wild and her neck and face streaked with sweat. Her breath came in jolts and starts, but she still gave me a small smile through cracked lips. It was Anna. My mind reeled
"Who did this you?" I asked, still frozen in place as if the whole thing would somehow go away if I didn't touch her. I had seen so much blood and dead bodies when I was on the job with Mick that it hardly fazed me now, but this, this was something awful, something new. My rational mind was far off, whispering that I should have never gotten involved. My heart fought for supremacy over my ribcage, pounding at it, telling me to run, get out of there. Something was wrong; something more than Anna's bloodied state, lurching on the edges of my mind's eye.
I launched into action, finally. I stretched out my hands to the cuff on her left hand and shook it, looking for the lock.
"Key is in the corner." Anna whispered, sounding exhausted. Her eyelids fell and she blinked hard. She was going into shock.
I fumbled for my cell in my jean pockets as I walked towards the far corner in the dank room. Only found Mick's keys. I must have dropped it in the dark. Damn, I needed Mick here and fast. Could he hear me if I screamed down here? We must be at least five flights down. There were no windows here either. Josef said he had a bomb bunker, this looked old and spare enough to be a part of it. A medieval torture chamber however, he had failed to mention in his first tour of the complex.
I moved fast over the locks on her hands and feet. As she peeling off the rack she groaned, clutching her side as she half-fell half-slide off the wood. I helped her down as quickly and gently as I could. Anna stumbled into the wall, no help from me. She sank down against it, her hands trembling. I took off my jacket and wrapped it tightly around her waist hoping to keep her upright and stop the flow of blood. Where was Mick?
Her head lolled back again the wall. I had to keep her talking if I wanted to get her out of here alive.
"Anna," I said forcefully hoping my tone would carry the right sense of urgency, "who did this to you?" That wasn't the real question: "who could have done this to you?" Bounty hunters were notoriously hard to kill, Anna van Helsing was no exception. I hadn't even seen her get a scratch in all her rough tumbles with vampires on the west coast.
"Josef," she breathed.
I bit my lip. She was lying. I'd seen that small, nearly imperceptible shift of expression when interviewing. Why was she lying about this? Why was she protecting the one who did this to her? Mick had told me not to trust Anna. Maybe this was the reason. That she was dangerous.
Yet, she was starting to pass out, exhausted. Her hands clutched the fabric of her scarf-tie around her neck, in an attempt to stay awake somehow. I bit my tongue trying to think of how to carry her up all those flights of stairs, wishing I had added more upper body strength classes to my regimen. I was going to have to leave there. She was in no good shape, not even to walk after being tied to those boards for hours. I swallowed back the fear that by the time I found Mick, Anna would be gone.
"Anna," I said to her, trying not to let the dry-mouthed fear show in my voice. "Anna, I need you stay awake and don't try to move. I'm going to look for Mick."
"He'll be on the top floor." Anna said, her breath coming a bit slower, smoother now. Maybe she was healing now, like a vampire. I'd never actually asked her whether she was an immortal creature of the night. I just assumed she was invincible as well as insufferable to be around.
I looked at her, confused. But I didn't think it would be good to ask her why she thought Mick would be in Josef's attic right now. I figured it was shock, or some spider sense that Anna had that annoyed Mick so much. She had followed him home once, even after he told her pointblank never to see him again and he traveled through all the underground shortcuts to get there.
Now it all just seemed wrong. Anna was not really Anna right now. She wasn't the girl with thick boots and patchwork jeans, who had turned up at the last crime scene, ignoring Mick's wariness of her. She couldn't be. The woman on the floor of Josef's basement, oozing blood, her body broken wasn't the Anna I knew. With one last glance back at Anna clutching her side, I ran from that room, far too quickly. It all made me remember Josh, blood pouring from his wounds, dying. It brought back my childhood nightmares of Coraline, sentenced to a hellish death, by Mick. I always tried to forget that part, by Mick. Sometimes I could pretend it was someone else who nearly killed his wife, who threw the match and watched her burn, and left Mick the task of saving me.
As I ran, I tried to forget how broken Anna looked, I tried not to feel too sorry for her, as horrible as that sounded. She had been a thorn in all our sides when she came to the city. Anna's claim had intrigued all of us at first, despite the whole tabloid headline appeal of it. Anna van Helsing, huntress, bounty hunter. The last van Helsing alive according to her scatterbrained story. All prime gossip interview material if I still had my old job. Her charm and wickedly sweet smile and her small crossbow were interesting enough to get Mick to look into her past life on the east coast. Her first name had always been Anna, but her last name changed from city to city. She was off-center, a maniac Mick said, conning people into taking her on as a hunter. The only truth in her story was the crossbow. That never changed. And she was an dead-shot.
None of Mick's research explained her surprising strength, resilience, and charm when hunting vampires out stepping their bounds. She never was rash, never too quick, except with the crossbow, which was always lethal, lithe, and at the ready like a detachable appendage at her hip. Silver arrows tipped with something she called Agni, a poison that was like fire in a vampire's dead veins. Something new that could kill vampires from the inside out, an agonizing death.
Anna's claim had been our only case for a while, doing our part of damage control for weeks as she murdered the bad guys for us. Mick was a little put off by that, but he enjoyed a few more quiet moments with me. In way, Anna made our lives easier, and at the same time, harder.
Then just this week a girl died, and Mick leapt at the chance to solve her case with no hints of Anna anywhere near it. The girl hadn't been a vampire. But she had been stabbed through the heart. Mick got Josef to help him track down the killer, but every morning they always came back empty handed. Mick would immediately hit the freezer, not even wanting to say good night to me. Until last night. Josef had been excited about something; in that morbid deadpan he had seemed gleeful as he hovered in the doorway to Mick's apartment, and conveyed cryptically that he needed Mick help him capture the killer.
They left me without so much saying goodbye, saying they (meaning Mick) would call when they found the killer and that I should stay put. I was too close to the police department, or rather I had been, before Josh. I thought my unruly ties with the department might help in the long-run. I tried to get some sleep, wrestling with the pillows and the too-cool sheets for some comfort.
Mick came back to the apartment sometime later in the afternoon. I had overslept. He shook me awake and told me he could not find Josef. I remember not seeing his face, him sort of hiding in the shadows as if he had something to hide from me. A secret.
I ran up as many steps in the stairwell of the apartment complex as I could, knowing the clock was running against me. I looked for my phone on every landing in the stairwell, but no luck. Did I leave it the apartment? Fine time to start losing things. By the third flight I started yelling up the stairs, hoping Mick would finally catch my voice with his superman eardrums.
As I reached the second flight landing, I heard a flutter of fabric and a quick intake of breath behind me.
"Will you stop screaming?" said the voice.
I could almost hear the arrogant smile in his voice. Josef could be infuriating, sometimes, but now I just glad he was here.
"Where have you been?" I said, turning to face, not even trying to hide the fact I was actually happy to see him.
I almost didn't notice his fangs, or his almost animal-like dark eyes. I had gotten used to that look. It surprised me right then though. I think he noticed that and reverted back to his human form.
"What did you do to my elevator?" he said, crossing his arms, eyebrows raised.
"I didn't do anything to it." I said, angrily. Then I said as coldly as I dared, "Anna is in your torture chamber."
Josef's eyes narrowed. He didn't believe me. And he resented me calling whatever he referred the room as a torture chamber.
"Where's Mick?" He asked softly.
"He was looking for to you."
Josef took a deep breath and huffed as he always did. But anxiety, a curious expression on his face, was planted solidly there even so.
I felt a slight breeze next to my hand, and he was gone. He had gone to get Anna. I hoped.
I continued up the stairs, slower now, keeping an eye out for my cell as I ascended to the top floor. Everything was quiet. Unnaturally quiet. I was about to call Mick again, when I heard scuffling through the door.
I ran forward catching the door handle with the heel of my left palm in my hurry and I burst through it. The room was one of Josef's hidden unfurnished studies. Books lay in thoughtful even stacks along the walls, waiting for shelves to be put up. A few naked light bulbs light the room.
Mick was inside, lying on his back, staring aimlessly at one of the bulbs. A wooden stake stuck out of his chest, like he was a lollipop or a skewered fruit. It took a moment for me to remember he was only paralyzed, not dead. It still terrified me.I ran to pull it out. He looked at me with unstaring eyes, his expression blank. I carefully pressed my left knee into his chest and wrapped both my hands around the stake. It was deeper set then the first one I had pulled out of him those few months ago. Whoever did this was strong. Another vampire maybe? I pulled it out with a sickening squelch. Mick gasped for air beneath me and I threw the bloody thing aside.
"Are you okay?" I asked, wrapping my hands around his head, pulling him close, not caring about getting blood on my clothes, his dead blood.
He coughed into my chest.
He didn't sound fine. His voice was distant somehow.
We helped each other get up and he eased himself to the wall, still weak. The hole in his chest wasn't healing as quickly as it should. He groaned as his shoulders met the wall.
"Is there anything I can do?" I asked.
Mick shook his head; sweaty, shaggy locks fell in front of his face. He placed a useless hand over the hole. It looked somehow worse than before.
"Did you find Josef?" He asked, breathlessly.
"He found me," I said, "on the stairs. " I hesitated.
"He getting Anna right now," I continued, watching him for a look of surprise that never came. Only resignation was there. "She was tortured in a room in the basement. -Mick gave me a sharp look, nostrils flared. -She's lost blood and she's pretty beaten up."
Mick didn't say anything. We didn't speak. He groaned again a moment later, clutching at the hole. He went down then, slumping against the clattering piles of books, a first edition of something by Kafka cracking against his head as it fell.
"What's wrong?" I asked, holding my hands out to help him up. Instead, he lay there.
"She did something," Mick choked. A horrible thought grabbed my heart and pulled it.
I took two steps and reached down for the stake, and scanned it for signs...signs of anything.
A gold-like hue showed through Mick's blood on the tip.
Anna's fire poison.
The door flew open and there she was suddenly, all breath, heat, and blood. Anna. Josef was behind her like Mercury, his fangs out and his eyes once again dark. Anna lunged towards Mick. A wild light was in her eyes, twin fires burning with hatred and loathing.
How was she moving so fast? Even beaten, her black eye clearly pronounced now, she moved with extraordinary speed. Josef growled a warning at her as he thrust himself between her and Mick. She ignored him. He went for her legs as she tried to leap above him to get to Mick.
I pinned myself in the corner farthest away from them, looking for an opportunity to get Mick out of there.
Something flew towards me as Josef and Anna continued to scuffle, little gods or birds fighting over a dead mate. Anna's crossbow. The weapon lay on the floor at my feet, an arrow hanging off it. I had no time to think of where she had hid it or how she had found it again after being tortured. I stared it at disbelieving that her most precious object could be detached from Anna so easily as a few grabs and scraps with a single vampire. Josef must be a better fighter than I thought.
I picked up the crossbow and held it stupidly in my arms for split second before taking action. I've fired a gun before, but a bow? I think I took archery at summer camp once, years ago. The crossbow was heavier than I thought, despite its size. I fumbled, trying to figure out the right way to handle it. It took several tries to draw back the trigger but I got it. Anna was much stronger than I was.
I finally could see why she liked this archaic weapon. She liked the adrenaline rush, the feeling of power you get looking down its narrow line of sight. I took in the scene before me.
Mick lay on the floor, prostrate towards the door, Agni poison running through his veins. He was dying. Slowly, like those murdering wretches Anna had killed last week. Josef and Anna were still at it, wrestling, clawing each other. For some reason Josef wasn't trying to hurt her. He was only trying to capture her arms in a vice like grip, to stop her momentum. He didn't seem to be worried about his self-preservation at the moment. Anna, even with her wounds, was still trying to claw the vampire's eyes out.
I yelled at them, crossbow at attention. Anna stopped long enough to notice I had it, and then Josef grabbed her shoulder and head in a vice like grip and squeezed. Anna stopped struggling, frozen, tense, watching what I'd do, what Josef would do. In the tiny room, I might hit her, but imagining one her own arrows ripping through Anna's body and burying itself into the wall at that force was not something I thought of lightly.
I couldn't shoot her, not even with Mick now writhing in pain on the floor. Tears began to stream down my face.
"Anna, you need to stop this." I said, gritting my teeth. "Give me the antidote."
Anna always kept a vial of Agni antidote in on her somewhere Mick and I had learned in our research. She kept it with her in the extreme case that she hurt someone who was not a vampire, or a vampire she would rather see alive a little longer for more information.
Her breath sounded like an old woman's ragged wheeze. She shook her head at me. Josef squeezed her shoulder. I leveled the crossbow at her head, warningly. She hissed out a breath and whispered:
"He did this to me."
I blinked back my tears, feeling numbness crawling into my bones. She meant Mick. She meant Mick had chained her, tortured her in secret. I could have laughed if weren't so horrible. She couldn't be talking about Mick, the one lying on the floor, his back arched in pain… not my Mick.
I looked him, expecting him to defend himself, or scoff half-heartedly as his body suddenly froze, free from trembling with fire in his veins. I expected grim lines of resignation to explaining later what went wrong this time, maybe a hint of anger in his eyes. Instead, his face fell as I stared at him, wanting his silent, unnecessary promise, that he didn't torture Anna.
He looked away. Ashamed.
Mick had hurt Anna. My mind reeled.
No, my mind screamed, no, not my Mick. She was lying. She had to be.
I lowered the crossbow a few inches.
I looked at Josef, afraid even to look back at Mick. His face was stone. Josef was trying to keep his anger from showing but it bled through. Mick had done it alone.
Anna began to soften, crumple in Josef's grip.
I raised the crossbow again, taking a few steps her. I could taste the salt in my tears.
"The antidote," I whispered, suddenly feeling numb.
Josef let her reach into her shirt pocket and Anna trembling, slowly withdrew a vial of what looked like tiny specks of gravel. She put it in my waiting hand. I thrust it into Mick's warm hands, not quite throwing it at him, not trusting myself to look into his face. He took it and swallowed the gray stuff down. I let go of the crossbow and let it tumble to the floor. I heard his breathing instantly slow and the scuffle of his feet on the faded red carpet behind me.
Anna fell against Josef then, and began to sob. Josef held her, awkwardly. Maybe she was crazy, but nothing she ever did, would justify this.
"You killed a little girl." It was Mick behind me.
Silence filled the library.
"She was nine. She was human."
Anna did not answer, she sobbed louder.
"Her parents are probably dead by now," echoed Josef quietly, sighing.
They were talking about the case. The case we had gotten a week ago with the dead little girl. The case that had started their rampage through the night in order to find the killer and had put her parents in the hospital. Then the parents had disappeared, kidnapped. It was all about Anna. Mick had tortured her for the antidote, and for the kidnapped parents' location. I realized then the crossbow, the only thing the woman was afraid, was probably a murder weapon now. The arrow half cocked on the bow was tipped with gold.
"They had taken the cure," Anna breathed, wiping away her tears. "They had murdered hundreds of people. And you wanted me to just leave them be?"
Josef and Mick eyes' met. Josef brow darkened. He would not forget this lightly, as it should be. But they exchanged looks, coming to some sort of understanding. A truce for now.
Mick didn't look at me as he scooped up the crossbow and broke it into pieces. As if, that action was his atonement somehow. I slipped down the wall in a puddle of books and watched Josef try to comfort Anna in his own way, suddenly soft and gentle. He held her hands in his, pinning her again him as she held her finger bones snapped themselves back whole. He refused to look at Mick. Mick slumped against the wall, staring at the pieces of the bow and arrow now shattered. He would not meet my gaze locked on his, pleading with him to see that I was ready to forgive him, even now. There we all sat, waiting until dawn, where matters would, of course they had to, become clear and all the night's damning actions pass away.
A/N I've been thinking about this for a while, and I don't know if this is a one-shot or something could be longer.
What you do think?