Paradigms Lost — Chapter 28

Chapter 28: A Nice Evening Drive, With Gunfire

“Why the hell not?”

I gestured at the ornate gold ring. “Why not, Verne? If he’s going to be satisfied with the ring, just give it to him! Then we hit him later.”

Verne rubbed the ring gently, turning it about his finger and making the ruby send out sparks of crimson. “The reason he would be satisfied with the ring, Jason, is because he knows that I will never remove this ring. Never. I gave my word many, many years ago, to one who meant more than life itself to me, that I would wear her ring until the final death claimed me.” He looked up; his eyes were black ice, cold and hard. “I value my honor, Jason. Nothing, not even God himself, shall compel me to break my word.”

“That’s asinine, Verne! We’re talking Sylvie’s life here, and you’re worried about honor! Whoever your lady was, I’m sure she’d understand!”

“You are probably right,” Verne said, his eyes unchanged. “But I cannot decide on the basis of what might be. She and she alone could release me from my vow, and she cannot, unless she be born again and regain that which she was. I do not expect you to understand; honor is not valued here as it was when I was young.”

“Where is the honor in letting a friend die?” I hurled the question at him.

He closed his eyes, drew one of his rare deep breaths. “There is none in that, my friend. I have no intention to let Sylvia be killed; did I not also give my word that she would not die?” He opened one of my drawers, looked inside.

“Then you are going to give me the ring,” I said, relieved.

“No,” he said, taking something out of the drawer and handing it to me. “You will take it from me.”

I looked down. In my hand was a magazine for my automatic; one loaded with wooden bullets; a vampire special.

It took a minute for that to sink in. Then I threw the magazine against the wall so hard it left a dent. “Christ, no! Kill you?”

“It seems the only way. I would rather die by your hand than his, and only my death will satisfy him; else Sylvia dies.”

“Look,” I said, glancing back at the pistol magazine, “Maybe if… well, I could shoot your finger off, I guess.”

He made the dismissing gesture I’d come to know so well. “Impossible. It matters not how the ring leaves my possession, my word will still have been broken if it leaves my possession with my connivance and I yet live.”

I couldn’t believe this. “You want to die?”

“Of course not, Jason! I have spent many centuries trying to ensure my safety. But I will not break my word to her whose ring I wear, nor shall I break my word to you. That leaves me little choice.”

“Bull!” I couldn’t really understand this; how the hell could anyone take promises that seriously? But I could see he was deadly serious. “You only made that promise to make me feel better. Forget it, okay? I release you from that obligation. Whatever the formula is. You know as well as I do that Virigar has no intention of letting any of us go. For all I know, he’s got a hit squad waiting outside.”

He relaxed slightly. “I thank you, my friend. Yes, I also doubt Virigar’s benign intent; but I had to make the offer. None of you would be imperiled were I not here… and were you not my friends.”

“Bull,” I said again. “Maybe we wouldn’t be on today’s hit list, but we’d sure as hell be on tomorrow’s menu.” I looked at him again. “Is this the same Verne Domingo who sent me out to take on Elias Klein with nothing more than a mental shield and moral support?”

For the first time I saw his features soften, and his smile for once held nothing unsettling. “No, my friend. For you are my friend now. I have had no true friends, save those in my household, since… well, since before your country was born. In the past few months, you have shown me what a precious thing I was missing. More; you have given back to me the faith I lost, oh… more centuries ago than I care to remember. That, Jason, is a debt I shall be long in repaying.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say; I guess I didn’t need to.

As quickly as it had come, Verne’s gentle expression faded and his face returned to its usual aristocratic detachment. “We are agreed that Virigar’s offer is without honor; thus we cannot follow that course of action. So what do you suggest?”

I stared at the ring again. “Well, even if he isn’t trustworthy, if I did deliver the ring it might give us some advantage.”

“I have already explained to you that I cannot–”

“I know that.” I said, cutting off his protest, “I’m not saying take it off.”

“Then just what do you mean?”

“For guys rich as you, jewelers make housecalls. Surely one could make a duplicate in a few hours?”

That stopped him. He looked very thoughtful for several minutes, but then shook his head. “I’m afraid it would never work. The time element aside–and we would be cutting it extremely close–you are underestimating Virigar. He would undoubtedly check the authenticity of the ring; I would not be surprised if he were himself an expert in jewelry. Moreover, we have no way of ascertaining if he has watchers about our residences; a visiting jeweler would tell him all he needed to know.” He shrugged. “In any case, it is irrelevant. He would know that ring in an instant, for it is more than mere jewelry.”

“Seriously, Verne, could he really spare that many to watch us? I mean, we killed one and injured another; how many more could there be?”

He gave me a look reserved for idiots. “You are the expert in mathematics, my friend. Calculate how many descendants a single pair could have in one hundred years, assuming a twenty-year maturity age.”

I winced. “Sorry, so I’m slow. That’d be eighty from the original pair alone that’d be full-grown.”

“That, of course,” Verne admitted, “assumes that they maintain normal human birthrates and take no ‘breaks,’ so to speak, from parenting. In reality this will not be the case, but even so, I would be surprised if there were less than a hundred or so all told.”

A hundred! Christ! I didn’t even have that many silver bullets! “Outnumbered and outgunned …” Suddenly one of my favorite, if crazy, quotes came to mind: “It’s you and me against the world… When do we attack?”

I put the viewer’s headband on, fitted the straps, then took it off and packed it carefully in a foam-lined bag. “We’re both targets as it is; the only chance we have is to attack. Get him off-balance, surprise the crap out of him. I’ve got to hope that one of the gadgets I’ve got can spot the buggers; I’m going to get to the hospital and protect Syl.”

“And I… ?”

I grinned nastily, remembering what Verne had done to a drug-lord’s estate and his thugs. I pulled out another drawer, and handed him the rings inside. “All silver rings; I got them because I liked the looks but I just never wear any of them. You are going to put those on and go down and beat Virigar’s door in. Any werewolf that jumps at you then, just give him a left hook and keep going.”

He put the rings on slowly. “I cannot enter a dwelling without permission of the residents, you remember.”

“I didn’t say enter; I said beat his door in… and his walls, and everything else. We have to disorganize him.”

Now he smiled coldly, the fangs lending it the right predatory look. “Precisely so. Shall we…?”

“After you.”

We left by the back door; Mjolnir was parked in that alley.

I got into the car, locked the doors, and nodded to Verne; he faded into a cloud of mist, and then disappeared. I still stared at that; I don’t think I’ll ever get used to vampires. I started the engine, put Mjolnir in gear, and began to pull out of the alley.

With a shuddering thump a shaggy, glittering-fanged nightmare landed on the car’s hood. Then the car jolted to a stop; in my mirror I could see a werewolf that had grabbed the rear bumper and lifted the wheels clear of the ground. I swear my heart stopped for a second; then it gave a huge leap and tried to pound its way out of my chest. I yanked the gun out and pointed it at the one on the hood; the glass was bulletproof but hopefully it didn’t know that.

It didn’t; the werewolf rolled off the hood and to the side. I shoved the pistol into the gunport the previous owner had thoughtfully installed and fired twice. Neither shot hit it, but the werewolf decided that retreat was a good idea. I hit the hidden release and part of the dashboard flopped out and locked, revealing the small control panel. As the one in back began to yank harder on the bumper, trying to tip the car over, I pressed the second button.

Mjolnir’s engine revs rose to a thundering shriek as the nitro supercharger kicked in; blue flame shot two feet from the tailpipe, and what I’d hoped for happened; the werewolf yipped in startlement and pain, and dropped the bumper.

I mashed the pedal to the floor; the V8-318 engine spun the wheels, throwing rubber smoke in the things’ faces, and Mjolnir hurtled onto the street. By the time I passed Denny’s I was doing fifty. A glance in the rearview almost made me lose control; three hairy killers were in hot pursuit, and they were closing in!

I searched the panel for any other tricks I might play, wishing I had James Bond’s armamentarium… or even Maxwell Smart’s. I triggered the rear spotlight, blinding them momentarily and gaining me maybe a hundred feet before they recovered.

Mjolnir shuddered as I hit a series of potholes at sixty-two miles an hour. I wrenched the wheel around, skidded onto the interstate entrance ramp. Behind me, I could see my pursuers catching up fast. On the straightaway I hammered the gas again, watched the speedometer climb towards triple digits. I heard myself talking: “That’s right, come on, come on you little bastards, let’s see how fast you really are!”

At seventy-five they started to fall back; the largest made a final desperate dive and hooked onto the rear bumper. I tried to bounce it off by running off and on the shoulder, but the creature just snarled and held on tighter. It started to claw its way up the back.

If Mjolnir had been an ordinary car, those crystal claws would’ve torn straight through and the thing would’ve climbed right into my lap. Instead, its talons made long gouges in the armor but failed to get any real purchase as I swerved the car back and forth. The werewolf scrabbled desperately at the trunk, but there was nothing for it to grab; with an indignant glare it pitched off the rear bumper and somersaulted to a defeated halt. I gave it a salute with my middle finger as it disappeared in the darkness. Then I turned down an off-ramp and headed Mjolnir towards St. Michael’s Hospital.