Hot Iron: Part 2

3.

Kennedy Hart, a full-time nurse at Neo-Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, had seen just about everything someone in her occupation could. Between the ICU and ER units in a metropolis, she’d tended to her share of GSWs, horrendous accident victims, every type illness and infection known, and more than an abundance of O-Ds. In short, she wasn’t the squeamish type and had the chops to back it up.

She fast-walked toward the E-R doors in teal scrubs. Her brunette locks were wound up in a bun under an elastic band that bobbed from the half-nod she gave the receptionists. The sea of non-emergency admissions were fixated phones, tablets, and the large flat-screens inlaid into the walls, there to steal attention from those unlucky saps that deserved it more. Comprising more than half the ER’s visitors in the night, it left the unit short-staffed, rushed, and half its patients unstable and spilling over into ICU when they should’ve still been in the ER.

As usual, Kennedy would have to deal with it. She shoved her way through double doors as a buzzer unlocked them at her approach. The RFID chip in her hospital I-D, and its readers stationed around the facility, were probably the most useless, advanced form of technology they had. Funds had been appropriated from various, other places to install the readers. In the process, short-staffed units got overtime when they should’ve gotten new staff. Such was the way of the “industry” these days.

Kennedy emerged from a long hallway for the nurse’s station. Station was a liberal term. It was a desk stacked with black-screen charting tablets, and a pair of flat-screen monitors. Behind it on the wall was a second pair, massive in comparison, and probably costing more then Kennedy’s car. Subdivisions of vitals read out the two-dozen patients’ states networked in from their rooms. From here, a nurse could watch and chart the various EEGs, heart and O-2 monitors before shooting off and up the hall. There, she’d draw meds, pass them out, then double chart and check the patients again for “posterity’s” sake– in other words, to keep from losing her job to a network error.

Given her enormous school debts, the amount of time it had taken to attain her RN status, and the general ire of those she worked with, she found it difficult to believe anyone walking into her field was sane. She certainly didn’t feel like it anymore.

She grabbed a charting tablet off the desk, engaged its screen to thumb at it. Two, equally over-worked, and underpaid women watched with general disapproval. She was too young, too inexperienced to be in charge, or so they felt, anyway. Evidently, their superior felt otherwise. Kennedy loathed her for that.

“Two new admits?” She asked the older, grayer of the two women.

“Mhmm.” Her fingers tapped information into a digital form. “Man and a woman.”

“Severe Burns?” Kennedy said, flipping through the pages. “Who the hell sent us burn patients?” The woman only shrugged. “Christ, clocked in five minutes and already screwing me over.”

“That surprise you?” The less-gray woman asked.

“No, it pisses me off.”

She rounded for the patient rooms, tablet in-hand as she skipped through the last few hours of charts. The new admits had been stuck across from one another, nothing unusual, but certainly not something she’d expected. According to the information, they’d been admitted at the same time, moved from the ER, and into the ICU with orders to treat as burn-ward patients. That was impossible, especially on an understaffed ICU.

She rounded the hallway for their rooms. A line of police officers speaking in hushed tones were clustered through-out the hall between the patients’ rooms. They were packed densely enough Kennedy had to force her way through with a command. She sidled past badges and body-cameras, pushed her way into the first room.

According to her charts, the woman had been placed in a medical coma due to the severity of the 3rd degree burns on her back and side. Kennedy couldn’t see them directly, but the bandage wrapped along her side, back, and angled forward over her shoulder and chest, left no doubt of the severity of her state. The bandages would have to be changed every four hours, the wounds scrubbed, and the anesthetic drip replenished.

Kennedy fumed. There was no way in hell they were equipped to handle a burn victim of this magnitude. They barely had enough people to administer meds on schedule. The kind of intimate care required for a lone burn victim was extensive. Several people and powerful meds were needed to keep them stable, even to clean and re-bandage the wounds. Caring for two was going to be impossible.

Kennedy growled futility, checked the woman’s vitals as quickly as possible, and entered the information into the tablet. She noted the name “Mendez,” under the time, then pushed out and through the crowd for the other room.

The man was considerably worse off– in a way that stung Kennedy’s usually hardened heart. The whole right-half of his face was hidden under bandages, the left side streaked with debris wounds that reddened his olive skin. Little else on him was visible, save random, small bits of unaffected skin between bandages.

Kennedy swallowed hard, felt her chest tighten, then lifted the chart to read “Torres.” Her knees turned to rubber from sickness curdling in her gut. A shaking index finger trembled against the tablet to scroll through the information: Torres’ entire right-side and back had been scorched extensively, it said. The images accompanying the report were grisly. Freshly charred skin mingled with the burned impressions left by super-heated armor plates. According to the O-R report, he’d been operated on for four hours to extricate melted fabric and plastic from his wounds. It was a wonder he was alive, to say the least, but what the hell happened to him, and when? The report was days old.

She ran her quick check, then returned to the nurse’s station to make a call to a superior. When the woman answered she was quick to tell Kennedy someone was already headed down to explain things. The call ended immediately after.

Kennedy was dumbstruck, put off by a finality in the woman’s tone that held something more beneath. The only thing she could place it as was fear, but what scared a burnt-out nurse in one of the busiest hospitals, in one of the largest cities in the world? Kennedy wasn’t sure, but it couldn’t be good.

She turned for the hall and straight into a man with a suit cut sharp it made her eyes bleed. She was stunned. He pulled out a bi-fold wallet, flashed a badge that vaguely registered as FBI.

“Missus Hart?”

“Miss,” she corrected habitually. “Yes? Can I help you?”

“Miss Hart, would you come with me please?”

Kennedy glanced at the other nurses behind the station. They stared up, open-mouthed. Kennedy cleared her throat, stammered out a reply, then followed with a curious amble. The FBI man directed her into a room with other suited men and women, extended a hand to a offer her a seat, and shut the door behind him.

Kennedy eased into her seat, and the room sat together. A man at the head of table examined her for a long moment. Then, with a lean, he interlocked his fingers on the table, “Everything you’re about to hear is a matter of National Security, should any of this be repeated outside this room, you will be jailed and tried for high-treason. Do you understand?”

Kennedy stared.

4.

There was a literal, full minute of silence before Kennedy’s mouth shut and she stammered out a response, “Wh-what’s this all about?”

The man at the head of the table, his face cloaked in dim shadow, cleared a gravelly throat. Someone flipped a switch below the table, and a projection appeared in the middle of it. Two images, side-by-side, were repeated in four places, like a three dimensional cube connected at its vertical faces with the table forming their base. Judging from the ID-like images, and the obvious collars of NCPD uniforms, the two people projected were her patients.

She almost didn’t recognize Torres. It only worsened her gut-sickness. Combined with the clandestine feeling of the dark room, its air, and the people in it, she guessed things wouldn’t be getting better anytime soon.

The gravel-throated man all but confirmed her hunch as he began to speak. “The two patients currently occupying your ward are members of NCPD’s SWAT team. Several days ago, Officer Juan Torres conducted a raid on a suspected heroin refinery. The exact location is classified. We’ve been fortunate to retain media black-out, but several officers were killed in the explosion. It is our hope that we may work together to ensure these two officers do not suffer the same fate.”

A woman down the table, whose only identity lay in the overt confidence of her tone, continued from there, “Miss Hart, we believe these patients may be targeted for retribution by certain suspects or their associates. Given their states, and the care required, it is necessary to reallocate them, as well as their care-givers, to your ward from others units across the campus.”

“Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency hope you will accommodate us in this matter,” the man at the head of the table added. It sounded more like a casually veiled threat than anything.

The room settled back into a ringing silence. Kennedy still stared. She wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. Everything beyond “retribution” had been lost on her. Who the hell sought retribution against cops for something like this? And why’d she have to be worried about it? Moreover, why the hell did they choose the ICU of all places?

The questions kept coming. With no answers in sight, her mouth finally shut. She readied to reply as formally as possible, the situation evidently hinged less on her compliance than her job did. She let out a short breath, “I will, of course, do whatever I can to ensure the safety of my patients. But I’m charge-nurse… for tonight. My job, for tonight, is to act as liaison for the unit’s nurses and our superior. I don’t really have any power.”

“From here on out,” a man said nearer to her. His features were dark, eyes unyielding. He slid over a micro SD card, “You will act as liaison between us and those assigned to these patients. The staff directly in charge of them will take your word as ours. Your other duties are suspended until such time as the two officers make a full-recovery.”

Kennedy drew the tablet over with a hand, slotted the card to access it. A pair of folders appeared with patient ID numbers as the names. Those numbers were the same as the ones used by the various machines reporting their vitals and meds through the hospital’s network. Kennedy could ID both of the patients by them alone.

She gave an outward look to no-one in particular, “I can offer compliance in my case– I certainly can’t refuse anyway, but I have questions.” A resonant pause ushered her onward. “First of all, why have you assigned these patients here, instead of the burn-ward?”

A woman with slightly less confidence than the last explained, “We believe anyone seeking retribution will know to check N-C’s burn-wards. We hope placing them here will better obscure their presence and still allow for the care they require.”

The dark man nearer her added, “Upon closer inspection, you’ll see those files have been doctored. Their real names do not appear anywhere.”

She took his word for it, “Okay. Then my next question–”

The man at the head of the room anticipated her, “We believe the person, or persons, targeting these patients have access to internal NCPD and FBI intelligence. In order to draw them out, and ensure the officers’ survival, we must allow all agencies involved to believe both Torres and Mendez are dead.”

Her eyes widened, “There are thirty cops in the hallway, and you think you can contain this?”

Another man spoke, one that hadn’t yet. From his air of superiority and vernacular she suspected him a doctor, a veteran one at that. “That is why, once your team is in place, you will simulate a cardiac incident on both patients. We will prepare everything externally necessary. Otherwise, you will receive further instructions soon. For all intents and purposes, it will appear as if your patients have died.”

Kennedy’s eyes narrowed skeptically, her tongue sharp– the same way she was when she dealt with her ex that’d left her a week before their wedding. “You want me to fake their deaths!?” Another resonant silence. Awkwardness underlined it this time. Kennedy felt herself squirm involuntarily. She swallowed hard, “I… don’t see how I can refuse, but I’d like it noted I have reservations.”

“Duly noted, Miss Kennedy,” someone said.

She didn’t see them speak, was too busy wrapped in her thoughts. Losing not one, but two patients would look bad on her record. She could lose her job. More importantly, she could lose any hope of getting another if this assembly decided to take charade the next step and “investigate” her. If the media ever did get wind of it, she’d be black-balled faster than she could click a pen.

She spoke to this effect, “I can do what you request, but it will take time. More importantly, I can’t allow this to permanently affect my license. When this is over, any public knowledge must be officially retracted so my livelihood isn’t lost.”

The man at the head of the table replied firmly, “Your livelihood will not be permanently affected, but you may have to follow through with things. We will brief you in time on what that may require.”

With that, the projected image dissolved and the table rose together, save Kennedy. She was stuck in place for another, full-minute before she rose snatched up her tablet and followed after them. She stepped into the hall to find they’d disappeared. The one, confident woman remained behind to speak to an officer. Her hair was fine, golden threads in the lights that reflected off it in a wet-like sheen and gave her a glow that modestly accented tanned skin.

Clearly whatever she did officially allowed for more fun in the sun than being stuck in an ICU all day or night. Kennedy envied her for that alone.

She returned to the empty nurse’s station just as the uniformed officers began to disperse. Two men and women remained to stand guard on either side of the patients’ doors. The blonde woman clicked and clacked her way past along the hall, her face fixed with indifference, and her mind consumed by her work. Her heels sounded her progress past, then disappeared into a stairwell beyond a heavy, closing door.

The grayer of the two nurses appeared, snapping bright-orange, nicotine gum in her jaws, “S’that all about?”

Kennedy shrugged, checked her watch, “Hell if I know.”

Hot Iron: Part 1

1.

Coffee tainted the air with its rich scent through the steam from two-dozen Styrofoam cups. Most were held by uniformed officers, but plain-clothes cops, and suited detectives and admins didn’t escape the fold. Between the coffee, donuts, and field of blue, the room might as well have been a coffee-lover’s convention, or Donuts Anonymous. It hardly seemed like a serious, morning briefing. In fact, only one man appeared to be taking it seriously; he was clothed in pre-vest swat uniform, with “Torres” slapped across the left breast.

Juan Torres was built like a brick shit-house, some might say. Hell, Torres might agree in proper company, but here was no proper company for brevity. Everyone present was his subordinate, at least for this mission. Given he’d learned first-hand the folly coddling those below you, he found himself at odds with an entire room of gun-toting boys. The few men he didn’t include in his pointed, sweeping gazes knew their jobs, and they’d do them to the letter, just like Torres.

He mounted a small lectern at the front of the room, hands behind his back as though still “at-ease” a world away. He began with, “Good morning.” Then with another glancing sweep, he continued, “Some of you know why you’re here. The rest have some clue. I’m going to do this as quickly and painlessly as possible. If you have questions, direct them to your department heads after the brief.”

He nodded to someone and the lights went dark. A 3D projection between Torres and his audience splayed upward, then unfurled. It swiped right from an Neo-Chicago PD logo to large words that read “Operation: Hot Iron.” The words fizzled away, and a man in his late-fifties appeared. His short-cut, graying hair framed vaguely English features. He held a cell-phone to his ear, other hand on the door of a modest sports car meant more to blend in, rather than standing out.

Torres continued behind the image, “Approximately thirty-six hours ago, our undercover officers observed a deal between the local street gang Eighteen-Seven and this man, Kieran Walters. After being identified, the deal was allowed to proceed so our officers might tail Walters while a group of uniforms made the Eighteen-Seven bust.” Torres digressed for a moment. “Some of you are here today, and I want to say congratulations.”

There was a murmur and nodding from heads in the crowd. It was good to show appreciation for a job well done, but a lone sentence and nothing more or you risked inflating egos. Torres knew that folly too, and he wouldn’t repeat past mistakes.

He refocused and the projection shifted again, “What they found was this;” A car’s trunk appeared, loaded with wrapped, white bricks. “Three hundred kilos of pure-white heroin, likely freshly produced. We believed the shipment had come from Colombia, however, we now know differently.”

The projection slid sideways. A fish market appeared in a two-dimensional image. Around it, various harbors and piers made a jig-saw cut of the land that framed the darkened blue of Lake Michigan behind them; a usual scene for Neo-Chicago’s Chinatown.

The image fizzled to a narrower angle, and a warehouse focused. Rusted sheet-metal glared in contrast to the peeling paint of an aluminum sign that bore a large, pink salmon. Chinese script was plastered above the fish, a line of English reading, “Happy Fish Imports.”

“We’ve known for some time of illicit elements operating within Chinatown. However, the local gangs’ hydra-like operations has made going after any, one group a waste of resources. It has always been the policy of NCPD’s Narcotics division to seek the larger fish, if you forgive the pun.” There were a few, muffled chuckles. Torres wasn’t amused. He continued as such, “We know now that the source of drugs, and thus the gangs’ funding, is not local and headed by Walters.”

The projection changed again; this time to a three-quarter view of a 3-D blueprint of the warehouse, pier, and a curious, rectangular structure beneath the water outside them. “At our request, both State and Federal governments ran U-A-V thermal and topographical scans. Combined with satellite readings and local surveillance, we have a general layout of the warehouse and its surroundings. Due to the clandestine nature of this new addition below the water, we’re unable to gain a clear reading on its interior.”

He focused on the freshman, obvious from their clean-shaven faces and spotless uniforms. They were so green they still bore the factory-polish on their dress-shoes. They were utterly useless for anything outside parades.

“SWAT will position to breach while the U-Cs watch entrances from six points around the building. A three-man contingent will be stationed on a cutter off-shore with a SWAT sharpshooter for cover while uniformed officers will patrol the perimeter for any external threats.” Torres now addressed the entire room, heads of departments included, “You will follow SWAT’s lead on this one. We believe the under-water addition is a volatile heroin refinery, which means a probable civilian presence. Check your fire, and make your arrests, but don’t play hero. I want everyone coming back on this one, understood?”

A unanimous din affirmed his words. Then, with a quick dispersal of patrol-men orders, Torres ended the brief. The room cleared out in nearly half the time it had taken to fill, everyone freshly caffeinated and ready for the day ahead. Hot Iron wouldn’t commence for another eight hours, but by then everyone had to be ready.

A department head approached Torres as he keyed off the projection and gathered papers into a leather briefcase. Roberts was nearing retirement, and an asshole to boot. He’d gained more than a paunch over the years, and somehow managed to stuff it into the polyester rags he liberally called a suit every morning. Torres had seen his type a million times over. They were as much burn-outs as the pot-head teens he used to bring in before the M-R-A made pot legal again.

Roberts waddled more than anything, and right up to Torres, “You gotta’ lotta’ nerve pullin’ rank on this one, Torres.”

Juan zipped a pocket on his briefcase closed, “How long you run SWAT again? Twenty-five years? Then they stuck you behind a desk and fattened you up with benefits?”

“The balls on you.”

Torres lifted his case, swiveled to meet Roberts face-to-face, “How many men’d you lose in those twenty-five years? Fifteen? Sixteen? Most in the first ten years, right? ‘Til you got smart, cautious?”

A corner of Roberts’ mouth lifted in a snarl. “What’s your point?”

“Twelve years,” Torres said stiffly. “And not a man lost yet.” Roberts’ face hardened, his eyes ablaze. Torres readied to leave, “Next time you wanna’ blow smoke up someone’s ass, get a hose. I don’t have time for this shit.”

Torres turned and strolled from the room. Roberts’ eyes followed him, “Sonuvabitch.”

2.

Torres laced his boot tight and double-knotted it. He rolled a balaclava down over his face, and slipped on his AR glasses. A HUD flickered on with a boot screen, then splayed along the sides of his vision. He zipped his tac-vest shut over his dragon-skin armor, and rose to face his team from the front of the box-truck. Their call-signs and names appeared over their heads that he minimized with an flitting eye.

He steadied himself on a loop hung from the cargo-area’s ceiling, an MP5 slung across his chest. His free hand rested atop it as the truck lumbered forward, jostled its passengers to and fro. The self-contained driver-section held two undercover officers in Happy Fish jumpsuits. Their gray-blue cotton hid just as much body armor and firepower as Torres sported.

The truck rolled to a stop outside the warehouse, settled into a diesel idle that lasted all of thirty-seconds before Torres keyed his glasses’ in-built comm, “Alpha team at position-one, waiting for Charlie’s confirmation.”

A quarter-mile offshore, SWAT’s sharpshooter swept the building’s exterior with his bolt-action L96. Its digital scope called out a series of markers. He shuffled through them eye-movements, minimized all but the faintest ticks above the other officers. Its view shifted to infrared, outlined the hundred or so bodies shuffling about the pier and warehouse interior. With another eye-movement, he flicked away the officers, focused only on those unidentified bodies carrying weapons. He found none on the building’s exterior.

Charlie’s call-outs appeared in Torres’ glasses as the sharpshooter radioed in, “Charlie team copies, Alpha. You are go for advance to position two.”

Torres was at the van’s doors, his team behind him. He pushed out, followed by a line of fatigue-clad men and women whose only identity was the white “SWAT” across their backs. Torres and another man stuck a breaching charge to a door, stacked up against sheet-metal. A command was shouted.

The door exploded inward. Debris and dust belched from the hole. Torres’ HUD flashed. In a blink, the smoke was nullified. Skeletal lines of bodies rushing about appeared, highlighted, processed those armed and unarmed, minimized those that weren’t.

The team advanced, a dozen voices all shouting at once. The wire-frame bodies dispersed, the warehouse’s innards wide-open. Low-tables covered in fish and chum made for sparse cover across the expanse. Workers fled, screaming. Torres ignored them, powered through the stink of dead-fish. He surged through the crowd like a locomotive, MP5 the cow-pusher.

“Move! Move!” He yelled to his team, “Keep formation. Push through. Don’t break ranks!”

Halfway through the warehouse, Brittany Mendez, shouted, “Contact!”

A second later she was in cover on the near-side tables with the others. Torres’ glasses called out red warnings. A reticle appeared. Muzzle flashes sparked beyond it. The chatter of Russian Kalashnikovs and Toporevs mingled with Sig Sauers and Glocks over workers’ screams. Blood splattered the air from errant rounds, cut down fleeing bodies, mated metal-on-metal behind the SWAT team.

“Charlie team, covering fire!”

The sharpshooter radioed back a “Roger.” He shuffled his digital scope to zero in on red targets carrying weapons. SWAT MP5s and Sig 551s joined the chatter across the warehouse. The last of the workers fled through a door while Gunmen moved in. Suits and military fatigues mingled with muzzle flashes, as if some mercenary-business meeting had been interrupted. New call-outs took cover behind pillars, tables, wall-corners and stacks of ice and fish-filled boxes to spray hopeful gunfire.

A man’s head exploded from a hole in the back wall.

Charlie team called in, “Tag one tango.”

“Bravo team, move in!” Torres ordered.

A double-wide pair of doors split open at the front of the warehouse. A grenade soared inward. The AR lenses blackened. Their comms screeched a painless frequency to muffle external sounds. The grenade hit, erupted with a shock-wave and lightning strike’s flash to anyone sans glasses. Several men across the room scrambled, blind and deaf from the grenade.

Bravo team filtered in from the far-side of the warehouse. Call-signs and names minimized with a blink as Torres and his people rushed the downed aggressors. One tried scurried to aim at Torres. His AR reticle went hot, and his MP5 barked off a round. Other bodies fell, cut down with identical, pinpoint accuracy and another explosive tag by Charlie.

In a moment, the fire fight was over and Bravo team were zip-tying incapacitated gunmen, their call-outs now blue. Torres and Alpha were already down an interior hall, headed for an access shaft and a ladder leading down. Torres advanced along a second hallway beneath the first. It was obvious they were underwater; concrete walls and floors were lined with heavy rubber to seal cracks between pieced-together sections.

The place felt like walking an underwater tomb before being filled, Torres thought. Somehow, he knew, things were about to go completely fucking sideways.

He pushed forward, sickness growing in his gut. No one down here seemed to know of the fire-fight upstairs– or rather, if there was anyone here. The AR lenses were idle, a desolate eeriness in them that tainted the air of the empty hallways. It only strengthened when they stacked up outside the place’s lone door that would lead to the refinery room.

Torres and another member readied a battering ram in place of a breaching charge.

Torres whispered beyond his comm, “Check your fire. There’ll be a lot of explosives in this room. A stray round will bury us all.”

He gave a quiet three-count, and the battering ram collapsed the door inward. It dangled half-off its hinges. The team filed in shouting orders and brandishing weapons. Red, explosive warning call-outs cluttered their vision across an empty room. The team went silent. A hundred or more barrels and industrial chemistry sets formed makeshift divisions of the refinement process across the room, but there was not a person to be found.

Torres’ stomach churned. Bile curdled, forced its way up his throat. He fanned the team out through the room, filed them through to search every nook and cranny. They all came up empty. The team regrouped in the room’s center, Torres ready to call the op a bust.

Their comms screeched. HUDS flickered and flashed with blinding images that Torres couldn’t decipher. The frequencies forced the team to their knees, then the ground, writhing. Torres’ temples throbbed as if about to explode. He jerked away his glasses, yanked out their connected comm, pulled Mendez’s away beside him.

A voice boomed from the air all around them. It shook Torres’ body, stabbed at his chest, “Checkmate, pigs!”

The voice apexed with a shock-wave that sent them rolling like rag dolls. Something bit the air with ozone. Torres’ gut lurched. He threw himself atop Mendez.

Off-shore, the sharpshooter’s lens met the underwater facility. The thermal view flared red-orange. A geyser of water and flame sprayed upward. Debris and water rained along the docks, chatter streaming from the radios. The boat came about, jetted toward the explosion to seek survivors. The sharpshooter had doubts they’d find any.

Bonus story: Preparing For The Hunt

She sat at the bar in one of the nondescript dives darkened against its regulars ugly mugs. Stale beer and smoke lined the air in a visible haze with more than hints of desperation and depression beneath them. Places like this were a dime a dozen in a mega-city like Neo-Chicago. Over the decades the hustle and bustle of white and blue-collar bodies and El-trains morphed into the steady bob and weave of crowds two and three times their elder’s size. Over them were the intermittent whir of the light-rails and near-silent engines of electric, public and private transports. Gusts of wind from the city’s collective– albeit quiet– roar, made the Windy City’s name all the more apropos.

She’d been there at least six hours, had nursed two or three drinks in that time. Obviously of the Femme Fatale variety, she was all decked out in leather, calf-high boots, and pierced just about everywhere to be seen– and in a few places that couldn’t be. The metal accented piercing, blue eyes that would swallow whole anyone whom looked into them. Straight, brown hair fell around her leather shoulders that folded and crinkled in as she sipped a warm beer.

Her eyes were drawn sideways as a man entered the bar across the room. A gust of wind blew his clothing with a wild tousle from a passing train, sucked the door shut in a slam. He marched up to the bar, ordered a scotch, threw it back. He slammed the glass down, motioned for another pour. She watched him carefully, one leg crossed over the other at the knee on a high stool.

“Rough Day?” She asked behind a drink.

He made a half nod, slugged back another shot, slammed the glass down again, “Laid off.”

She raised a brow, spoke with a curiously still upper-lip, “Sounds rough to me.”

He cast a glance at her, saw her in full; a hint of arousal tainted the air, as it did with all the men that saw her for the first time. Most never got past the first advance, but something about her said she might let him go further, if not all the way, just for the fun of it.

He leaned on an elbow to face her, “Never seen you here before.”

She gave a sly smile, “I’d imagine I’m here when you’re working.”

He smirked, “Well my the day’s not so rough then. What d’you do then?”

Her mouth made grandiose motions with the words, “This and that.”

He inched along the bar toward her. She could smell the half-erection in his pants, the course of arousal that stank like a high-school boy’s locker room– all testosterone and revving engines. She tilted her head toward it for a silent, subtle whiff. He missed the movement, sensed her interest from the slight glaze of her eyes. In truth, her heightened sense of smell was as much a weakness as a strength– especially when hunting. All she needed was one, minor whiff to trigger the animal inside her.

She tongued her sharpened incisors and canines, kept them hidden from him. They were frightening at first appearance, kinky afterward. The result of a failed attempt to embrace an illness she’d received in her teen years, she’d learned the hard way not to show them prematurely.

He seemed to make a motion, as if to hesitate and ask her permission. She made no protest. He moved forward, allowed by the dulled glaze her thoughts had left in her eyes. Between her heightened senses and her careful evasion of baring her teeth, most of her inner-resources were too occupied to notice him before he’d sidled up beside her in his lean.

He slugged back another shot, eyed her body with a heavier breath than his last. Most would have missed it, even she might have, were she not so intent on remaining focused after the last oversight. The erection was probably full-on by now, or at least as full-on as denim would let it get. Her ultra-attentive eyes flitted downward at a lump, each breath through her nose tinted by his scent.

He ordered another shot with a twist and a wave that shifted the air toward her, bathed her in testosterone and pheromones. Her body trembled, her groin warm. Hot blood flowed through him, but she wanted it hotter, faster. She slid off the chair without volition as the bar-tender slid over shot.

She stopped him from drinking with a quiet lean, whispered into his ear, “I want you.”

The erection was full-on now. She eased back with a long, sensual inhale through her nose. Beneath her leather coat and t-shirt her nipples hardened, panties already wet with anticipation. She slugged back the shot, made eye contact. Her piercing blues swallowed him whole. He swayed after her as she led him out by a hand.

His feet clomped along, leaded by a curious insulation that left him numb to the world, but kept his body fiercely alight. They maneuvered out of the bar and into the alley beside it. It would’ve smelled of piss and trash were it not for the overpowering scents of animal lust. She pulled him to the back wall, the least offensive smelling of its depths. An aggressive shove threw him against the wall. Her hands writhed as her tongue fought to take control of his. He submitted, hand loose against her side as she slid down, ready to swallow him more wholly than before.

When she came back up a few moments later with a long swallow, she kissed up a trail his neck to suck at his collar bone. Then, her tongue skirted his jugular. Numbed by pleasure and confusion, he almost didn’t notice when she her teeth sank in. Hot blood flooded her mouth. A hand grabbed her hair with passion. Then, pain; his eyes went wide, neck struggled against her. He was light-headed by the time he saw his death coming.

She climaxed with loud, wailing moan as his last bits of blood drained from his pale body. She pushed away from the wall, chest heaving. His corpse slid sideways, limp and empty. Her tongue circled her mouth. She swallowed hard, the mixed ambrosia of sweet cum and coppery blood a cocktail of Nirvana. HPPD– Hypovolemic photo-phobia disease– had given her half the recipe, but she’d concocted the rest on her own. It made it all the sweeter to suck them dry before she drained them, once more embraced the term “vampire.” It was a romantic notion of course, she was just another afflicted soul, but whatever she was, she was grateful for it’s gifts.

She returned to the bar, gave the tender there a knowing look. When she sank back into her seat, she lifted her beer to nurse it, only to see a gaggle of men enter ready to drink and party. She tongued her sharpened teeth and once more prepared for the hunt.