French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 02

Chapter 2.

New York City, 2010

It was later in the evening, and after dropping Angelus off at the SoHo Rehab Center, Dylan found his way to McSorley’s Old Ale House. It was an old pub, dating back to 1853, and a constant, reliable landmark for the older members of the Rehab staff Dylan had befriended. It was an historic ale house with well-used wooden furniture that had seen better days; varnish was worn away in places, and the tables never had chairs that matched, but the overall effect was to give the place a homey, comfortable feel that matched its age and history.

On the bar walls were photos of days long gone, some of them crooked, with dust covering their faces. Other oddities from masks to wooden fish, tankards, old musical instruments, buoys, hats, and lanterns and assorted junk hung from the walls and ceiling  —  the décor that chain restaurants like TGI Fridays and others tried to imitate, but here was real in every detail. It was a nostalgia-lovers’ paradise, right down to the battered wooden bar, cast-iron woodstove, and ancient bar taps lining the walls.

Dylan found his friends Professor Frasier and Daniel in the second room away from the crowded bar, in the back at a booth. Frasier’s first name was Douglas, but he was often called “Professor Frasier” or “Prof”.

There all three sat for some time, making small talk, while Dylan pondered the vision he had seen, and why he had had one now, after thirty-some odd years of having none at all. It just didn’t make sense. His sixth sense worked just fine, but the psychic bullshit hadn’t been around for decades. Perhaps it was just a fluke brought on by stress?

“You know what really annoys me?” Daniel Farney’s voice drew Dylan’s attention back to the smalltalk at hand. The Irishman place his mug of Guinness on the booth table with a thud. “Your sign, Dylan. O’Reilly is spelled with two L’s, not one!”

Sighing, Dylan leaned back in the booth and glanced with resignation at Professor Frasier as the Scotsman nursed his wine, not involving himself in the debate. “I know the regular name has two, Daniel. I used one ‘L’ because there are like fifty billion places out there named O’Reilly’s. I wanted something different.”

“I don’t care if it’s unique, Dyl! You’re an Irishman, for God’s sake, be proud of it. Give the place and yourself a proper Irish name!” Daniel was a rugged fellow with a head of short wavy dark hair and grey eyes and spotted cinnamon-gold complexion. He was very large indeed, over six foot six and a mass of solid muscle. He was also very proud of his heritage, and currently very drunk, which was why he had come back to a very old argument… again. Though Dylan guessed there was something more driving Daniel’s “Irish” tirade, he just didn’t know what.

“Danny-boy, it’s already too late.” Professor Frasier said quietly. “It’s not like the lad can just take down his sign and change the name, it’s been around for ten years; and just like with a man, you lose your name, it takes twice the years to get it back again.”

Leaning on his elbows, Dylan studied the two older men. By sight, one would never guess that Professor Frasier, with his wild strawberry hair (touched with gray) and weathered middle-aged features was the younger of the two. The professor worked at a local university, and at one time had helped Dylan finish his education. In theory, they were peers now, but that just felt odd to Dylan.

“Leave it, he’s on a roll.” Dylan told him. “Better than hearing him talk about…” he paused trying to recall the latest girlfriend that Daniel had recently broke up with. “… Caitlyn?”

“That was last month, I believe.” Douglas corrected. “It’s sweet Ellen this month.”

“Ellen!” Daniel took a slug of his beer. “It was Ellen. She told me I needed someone more my age.” His face fell and he cupped his ale. Dylan noticed the slight webbing between his fingers. “More my age? Now where am I to find a bird on this side of the pond over the age of four hundred?”

“Canada?” Dylan offered. “French Canadians might have someone.”

“Someone that’s Catholic?”

“That’s your problem, Daniel!” Professor Frasier threw his hands up. “You’re a blasted dinosaur. You’re looking for a nice Catholic girl over the age of four hundred who’s not yet married? Well, you’re not going to find one. They’re all bloody babes in the woods here, and most of them aren’t practicing Catholics!” Then more gently, “Mary’s been dead and gone for over three centuries, you’re not going to find another Mary!”

The big man grunted, and stared at his glass. “So, you and Li doing any better?”

The change of subject didn’t surprise Dylan, nor did it appear to surprise the professor. Both Dylan and Frasier knew that Daniel, as much as he would love to, would never be able to return to his beloved Ireland. “About the same.” Frasier sighed, and turned to his wine. “Which means he’s still as stubborn as an old mule when it comes to speaking about important things.”

That was Douglas-speak for Liam being an ancient sod unable to change his old stubborn Celtic warrior ways to fit a more modern, sensitive culture.

Dylan had lived in New York for over thirty years, and just about all he knew about the elder vampire who went by the name of “Liam Farney” was that he funded the SoHo Paranormal Rehabilitation center and was behind the Free Paranormal People’s movement in the United States.

The movement had three chapters now: one in LA, one in New Orleans, and one in New York. Liam was a rebel in vampire circles. He upset the applecart by keeping the company of ghouls, shapeshifters, and revenants, when he should by all rights be killing them. In a world where monsters were the biggest secret, genocide was a regular practice. If you threatened the secret, you died. The entire idea of rehabilitation was alien to those in power, especially to the humans working with the vampire elites in government. Yet Liam Farney had funded  —  successfully funded  —  a center with a dedicated staff and integrated monsters back into society with a ninety percent success rate.

That was likely why Professor Frasier stuck with him. He saw something special in Liam. Liam was different than the other old ones.

“What sort of important things are we talking about here? Sex? Financial stuff? Or his political stuff?”

The Scot blushed. “What d’you think I am? No, it has nothing to do with sex! Politics! Doesn’t it always have to do with politics?”

“I could have told you it was about politics, boy.” Daniel said, an amused tone in his voice both at the question and Professor Frasier’s embarrassment. “Li hates politics but always gets his pawns well positioned on the board anyway. Always has, even when I was a lad. He’s gotten soft lately, though. He cares about his pawns.”

“Nice to know, Dan.”

“So, who’d he set up this time?” Daniel looked at each man, curious.

The professor didn’t answer immediately. The silence was uncomfortable; Dylan really wished he could have a drink. The downside of being a revenant was that you couldn’t eat or drink mortal food. Unlike his vampire friends, he was cursed. Sure, since he was nurtured by a vampire he could regenerate faster if he had blood, but there was always a downside. Madness  —  a killing madness  —  was the real threat if he overdid it. So he avoided blood most of the time. He only took it if he really needed to beef himself up.

He looked to Daniel. “Did he ever set you up?”

Daniel frowned and scratched his head. “Well, I did bodyguard for the Murrays for two hundred years. He thought my compassion would make it a good career move. Reckon that was a set up.”

Dylan knew that name, and not in a good way. One of the huge shipping empires, run by a truly ancient vampire and his line. And, he knew, responsible for kicking Daniel out of Ireland and separating him forever from his own family, including his ward and charge Keenan. “He arranged for you to work with the assholes who stole your kid?”

Daniel shrugged. “To be fair, Kee’s their kid; I was just his bodyguard. He was wild. They let him do what he pleased; I was the only one who dared to give him any boundaries, and he kind of looked at me as a dad.” He looked into his beer. “Despicable lot. Poor lad, those devils messed him up good when they initiated him, I just couldn’t leave him with them, but… Eh, water under the bridge now.”

“Danny, Liam couldn’t have known about this kid back in the eighteen-hundreds, could he?” Dylan understood Daniel’s need to vent about “his” boy. He suspected that losing Keenan was why the big man spent more times in bars drinking and womanizing than working steady jobs.

“That would not be possible. Not even he can predict the future.” Professor Frasier said flatly. “Though he’s very good at guessing. That blasted Smith, now him, he’s a different kettle of fish.”

“He didn’t have Smith then,” Daniel said. “If you ask me, Smith’s been a pretty good influence on him. Now what’s Liam done that’s got you so pissed, Douggie?” Daniel was the only person who was allowed to call Douglas by that particular nickname.

Dylan folded his arms behind his head, well aware of what was bothering the professor.

“He fixed the election, that’s what! Not that I disagree with having one of our people in office  —  those bloody League bastards are always culling the area and independents usually work for Blackwell. But I don’t agree with using the same tactics they do to get one of our people in office!”

“None of us like murder, extortion and bribes, dude, but that’s how League politics work.” It was the first Dylan had heard of Liam fixing the election, but he wasn’t surprised. Liam was known for arranging the murders of vampires and their demon allies who were attempting to murder their way into areas around SoHo. Vampire politics were archaic and rough, murder and tossing around cash was commonplace for territory lords. Liam was an ancient, and protected his territory and everyone within it with tactical brilliance and brutal efficiency.

“We’re a free city now, no culls.”

“At the cost of how many mortal lives? Dylan’s? Angelus’? Anna’s?” Professor Frasier drained his glass. “Lord knows what Anna was doing when she vanished.”

His wife’s name was like a sick jolt in his gut, even now, six years later. He tried not to show it. “Looking for Reggie, her sire.” Or so he hoped. If Liam was involved in her disappearance, Dylan would have more than a few words to say about it, and Liam wouldn’t like them. “And to be fair, Prof, I walked into that myself. I volunteered to hunt the Red Fangs for him; I had no idea it would make me go full revenant and destroy any chance of being human again.”

You didn’t know that, but he did, and he knew you wouldn’t listen to Anna or me, and he did the same thing to Angelus. He let both of you become monsters.” The professor’s cheeks were red from alcohol mixed with fury. “I know it’s in the past, but it’s not the first time he’s done it, and it’s not the last time, and this election is just another example of his meddling with the lives of others! Isabella was one of my students at the center! And he’s gone and dragged her into his world!”

Daniel sighed and drained his glass of Guinness. Beside him, the professor finished his wine. “It’s your round, Douggie.”

“Aye.” The professor took the glasses, and stood up. “Dylan, you should have brought a flask. John mixed blood and whisky and food all the time.”

Dylan missed his fellow revenant and friend John Baker. A few years back, John had moved to New Orleans with Tina and two other friends to set up their own organization for paranormal victims. “That’s because John was a freak among freaks,” he said fondly.

“If the boyo wants to get bladdered, he can always tap a patron before they leave,” Daniel said. “Fetch me a pint of the black stuff, would you, lad?”

“Aye, if you promise to behave yerself, you old goat.”

“Don’t worry about me, Professor,” Dylan said.  “I would have grabbed something earlier this evening but; Angelus had me hunting for a barghest.”

Professor Frasier paused a moment before leaving. “Barghest? Are you bloody mad? Those aren’t creatures to be taken lightly. Angelus, he’s just a boy, Dylan. Defending territory is one thing, but killin’ soul-eating beasties is not something he should be doing!”

“Christ, he’s more than adult enough to deal with devil dogs!” Daniel said, obviously in a contrary mood. “The real question is, why would there be one of those beasts in New York?”

Dylan shrugged. “Spirits don’t know borders.”

Douglas picked up the mug and his glass and shook his head before leaving. “Barghests in the park? It was bad enough with all the damn gremlins and hauntings! What is this city coming to?”

Dylan watched him weave his way through the crowded pub. It was a Friday night, and in New York City that meant everyone was out.

“You know, I’ve been here almost four years now.” Daniel said with a sigh. “Four years, six women, and three jobs.”

“At least you have work. This economy sucks.” Dylan tried to spot the Professor but couldn’t see the brown v-neck sweater anywhere. “Anna’s been gone five years today and the coffee bar we started is barely breaking even. Halfway house I’m running is doing okay, but it’s sucking away everything I’m making. Didn’t think it was going to be this hard.”

Daniel shrugged. “I’ve seen better days.” He looked distant. “Dylan, I wish I could tell you what happened to Anna afterwards. I was there when they grabbed her, but after that? No.”

Folding his hands on the table, Dylan tried to control his temper. It always flared when Anna was mentioned. “I know. It’s not your fault; Aedan Murray took her. Hell, I know how powerful an ancient like that is, even to an old fart like you.”

Shame cast Daniel’s face down and the old vampire leaned his brow onto his knuckles. “Lousy maggot… Aedan’s stronger than Liam, even. He’s demon-blooded, Dyl. He’ll bust your dial faster than you can blink an eye!” He drew a breath. “I let them down, both of them.”

Dylan swallowed the lump in his throat. He still had hope Anna was out there. She was multitalented; she danced, painted, baked, sang, kickboxed, and learned anything lightning-fast. Even an ancient would have use for her; what would be the point in killing her? Dylan just needed to find her, and rescue her someday.

“Look, Danny, Anna’s a smart resourceful lady. If she hasn’t already escaped, she’s found a way to keep a low profile and keep them both safe.”

The man tried to smile. “Whatever, kid.”

“Am I late?” asked a kindly voice. The two men turned their heads to see a cadaverous old man wearing a fedora and a frock coat, and carrying a brown paper bag. He had a head of graying hair and a gentle smile despite his yellowing pointed teeth.

“Hey, Doc Sacco!” Dylan scooted over, taking his heavy coat and hat with him to make a space for his former therapist and friend. He eyed the bag as the older man placed it on the table and took off his hat before sitting down.

“I hope you fellas don’t mind, I brought my dinner with me. I had to work late.”

Dylan’s nose twitched. One could never tell what the old ghoul would bring in. He had friends who worked the funeral homes, but most of the time, the Doc stuck to raw animal flesh. “As long as it’s not from the morgue.”

“Sashimi,” Sacco said with a sideways smile. “Kae made it for me. Told me I was her favorite customer!” The ghoul placed a plastic container of sliced raw fish on the table.

That got a grunt from Daniel. “Ate a shark raw once. Damn frogs sank my ship, off the coast of Spain. Had to walk back. Learned a lot about the seabed that way, mostly that it’s a bloody pain to find your way back when it’s always pitch-black.”

There were times Dylan just didn’t know if Daniel was bullshitting him or not. The man would come out with the most outrageous stories sometimes, but… he had the background to make them believable. Daniel had served in the Merchant Marine for the Murray family and captained for the East India Trade Company in his early days.

“Your life is far too violent for me, Daniel, all those wars, more than four hundred years of them, and piracy too!” Sacco said, waving a hand. “World War One and Two were enough. Trenches, ghastly places.”

“Dude, World War One was one of the most violent wars we’ve had in history, and World War Two was the deadliest. Anything he fought in before that is piddly,” Dylan pointed out, glad they were no longer talking about Anna.

“We fought like men then. None of these peashooters and cowardly chemical crap you boys use today,” Daniel said, folding his arms. “All these weapons of mass destruction and drones have made it so you kids forgot how to fight like men. You’re a bunch of toddlers tossing bombs for the sake of who kills the most women and children. Downright cowardly.” He emphasized that last with a fist to the table that rattled the salt and pepper-shakers on their tray.

“Danny, the point of the big bombs is to keep people from having a war in the first place. And drones keep our soldiers out of the line of fire, rather than putting our soldiers in the field,” Dylan said. Coming from a family of vets, Dylan’s sympathies were more with Douglas; avoiding war was by far the preferable course.

The Irishman snorted. “The point of war is combat between men, so women and children are kept safe. If you keep killing women and children, what do you got? Nothing! You’ve got nothing to protect! Just a bunch of angry blokes. You guys have no honor. You need to look your enemy in the face and fight honorably.”

“Ah, the gang’s all here,” Professor Frasier said as he nudged his way through the crowd and handed Daniel a dark glass of foaming ale. “Your pint. It’s my round, Sacco, is there anything you like?”

“I’m quite fine for now,” the Sicilian ghoul said, splitting his chopsticks. “A little later, maybe.”

Dylan pressed his head into the soft cushions on the booth and looked across the room. Something was odd. A crowd had gathered around the bar and were watching the television. Usually the pub played the sports channel, but by the look of the talking heads on the screen it was the news, CNN by the red-orange scroll on the bottom. “Wasn’t there a hockey game tonight?”

“Aye, but didn’t you hear about the terrorist attack in France?” Professor Frasier asked, sitting down. He sipped his wine. “I put an order in for hot wings and mozzarella sticks. I haven’t eaten all evening, bloody starved.”

“I hope you doubled it,” Daniel said. “I’ll toss in a few Euros.”

“Dollars, and fine, I did,” Professor Frasier corrected.

“So what about this French terrorist thing?” Dylan asked, curious. He leaned with his elbows on the table.

“Yes, do tell,” Sacco added. “Last time I was in France was during the war.”

“Which one?” Daniel asked.

“The second. I worked in one of the hospitals there,” Sacco said. “I had to have access to… well, you understand, I was struggling with my condition.”

France, guys.” Not that he blamed them for going off on tangents; Dylan’s companions were a lot older, and often talked about their youth, and like many vampires or ghouls felt detached from the modern world. The youngest of them, Douglas, had been born in 1908 and just celebrated his 102nd birthday. At fifty-two, Dylan was the baby of the group. To the older immortals, whatever happened in Paris was just another war, or act of human violence which would pass in time, and life would go on. It wasn’t important.

“They don’t know yet,” said the professor, tapping his wineglass absently. “But the telly says…” He hesitated. “They think it was a ten, fifteen kiloton device.”