He tucked the small leather pouch under his shirt.
The office air was stuffy, piles of cigarette buds collapsing from the ashtray onto the mahogany desk. The latest report of another missing person rested on top of the stack. I should probably open the window. Let some fresh air in.
“Briggs and Cunnings are back,” his secretary, Vivian, said.
He waited to hear what he already knew.
“Employees at the bakery confirmed seeing miss Austen leave at the end of her shift,” Vivian continued. “This was at 1:30 AM. They said she was tired and was planning to go straight home. That was the last time anyone had seen her.”
Rachel Kamilah Austen, the latest victim to disappear. Is it you, Mortensen? After five years, are you recruiting again?
Damien grimaced. Nearly two boxes of cigarettes and his thoughts were still foolish.
“Her boyfriend didn’t call us until 2:17 PM,” he said, looking out the window. When has it gone dark outside? “Assuming he woke up for work at around 6 AM, that leaves a period of more than eight hours in which he did not know where his spouse was.”
“You think he’s hiding something?”
“Yes,” Damien said. “His neglect for his spouse.” He was being too harsh. The man probably just didn’t want to call the police for nothing.
“We have a period of close to thirteen hours before we were notified of Rachel’s disappearance.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “Now she’s been missing for more than twenty-one hours. That is a lot of time.” Too much time. And not a single lead.
He heard Vivian walking over to his desk and put something there. He turned around and noticed the report from the bakery. There was also a single printed page of a city bus schedule attached to it.
“What is this?”
“A clue,” said Vivian and curved the right corner of her mouth into a smile. “Rachel’s boyfriend said she always took the bus. And the employees at the bakery said the bus station was less than a ten-minute walk from Rachel’s workplace. A bus driver or a passenger may have seen her.”
“And if not, then we would know she disappeared somewhere between the bakery and the station.” Damien nodded. “Good work, Viv. Sometimes I get the feeling that I should be the one bringing you coffee.”
She laughed. “Perhaps you could tell that to my husband, sir.”
He smiled and quickly went through the report. Vivian pretty much summed it up for him already. Then he checked the bus schedule. It was Wednesday, the middle of the week, so chances were that the same driver was on route and the same passengers would commute. Damien could call the bus company, but there was no way they’d know which passengers were on board at the time. The best way was to go for a ride himself and ask in person.
He took his coat and umbrella from the rack. “What is the name of that bus stop?”
“I don’t know if it has a name, but it’s the 17th stop on that route, from Pincer station.”
He nodded. “Wish me luck.”
“Good luck, sir.”
The April weather was on full display. Raindrops fell with a steady pace and the cold moist air dampened everything that the rain didn’t. But it felt good to be out of the office. He’d been cramped inside for too long.
Damien glanced at his watch. 1:37 AM. The bus should arrive in less than five minutes, according to the schedule. Good, he was starting to get cold.
Were you standing here last night, Rachel? Waiting for the bus under an umbrella?
He closed his eyes and imagined it. A young woman, waiting in the rain, alone at night. A stranger walks up to her. He offers her his umbrella. She thanks him and they both squeeze underneath. Then-
“Cold as a bitch, huh?”
Damien opened his eyes. A young man, perhaps a teenager, stood next to him, hands in pockets, wearing only jeans and a hoodie.
“You’re asking for pneumonia, dressed like that.”
The teenager looked at him. Then he laughed. “Nah, man! I’m stoned as fuck! Can’t feel a thing!”
Damien hesitated. “I am a police officer,” he said. Leave the kid, Ross. You’ve got more important matters to worry about.
The young man looked confused. “Yeah, cool.” He started shifting nervously from one foot to the other.
“Do you commute often?”
“Nah, man,” the teen replied. “I mean, no sir. My friend had a birthday party… But I’m going home. Got school tomorrow.”
“So you weren’t here yesterday at this exact time?”
He shook his head. “No sir. A- and I’m not even that stoned…”
Damien grimaced. “Look, kid, I’m on a case here so I don’t have time to deal with that. You’ve got off lucky this time. Do realize, though, that you’re only hurting yourself, smoking weed. Might want to choose your friends more carefully.”
They waited in silence, listening to raindrops pelleting an umbrella and a hoodie until the bus came. Right on time.
“Evening,” Damien greeted the driver, and he stepped up. He flashed his badge. “I am detective Damien Ross and I have a few questions.”
The bus driver, an elderly gentleman blinked. “Oh, right now? I’m on a schedule and all… What’s this about?”
“I promise to be quick,” Damien said. “Otherwise we can talk while you drive. The road is empty. I am investigating a missing person case and would like you to have a quick look at this picture.” He fished out a printed photo of Rachel from his coat and handed it to the driver. There were only two passengers on the bus, both sleeping.
“Yes,” the man said. “I know this woman. She’s a regular.”
Damien felt a jolt of excitement. “Did you pick her up here last night?”
The man shook his head. “I only do Wednesdays and weekends. A colleague of mine was on duty last night.”
“Can you tell me his name?”
“Sure. It’s ol’ Morty.”
Damien frowned. “Morty?”
“Oh, pardon me, sir. That’s how we call him. His name is Ebenezer Mortensen.”
“Son of a bitch!”
The bus driver jumped in his seat, shocked. The two people that were sleeping woke up and the kid who stood out in the rain still, leaned closer to hear more.
It cannot be! It’s been five years! Would he be so foolish to give his real name?
No, surely there are many people with that name. But it’s too much of a coincidence…
“Please, I beg your forgiveness,” Damien said, his hands trembling. “Ebenezer. Can you describe what he looks like? Do you have a photo of him?”
The driver was visibly uncomfortable. “We drive the same bus. His card should be in the drawer...” The man opened a compartment and fished out a bus driver’s license. He handed it to Damien. On it, a photo of a man with black hair and blue eyes stared back at him.
“Sir? Are you alright?”
It is him. Devil take my thoughts, but my hunch was right!
“Sir, you’re bleeding…”
Damien felt a warm trickle at the corners of his mouth. He wiped it with his hand and looked. Blood.
“Thank you for your help,” he said to the driver and handed back the card. “That would be all.” He stepped off the bus and into the rain, leaving the bus driver and a teenager stare after him in confusion.
My teeth hadn’t bled for five years, Damien thought as he drove back to the station, one hand on the steering wheel, one clenching the small leather pouch around his neck. A bloodied napkin rested on the passenger’s seat.
It was no coincidence. It was Mortensen. He was recruiting new Nightborn.
But why? Why be so sloppy to leave such an obvious clue after all that time? Damien spent five years hunting the man down but had no success. It was like Mortensen was mocking him, showing that he’s not afraid to come out of hiding. A dark thought crossed his mind. He is planning something.
Damien noticed he was exceeding the speed limit and slowed down. Calm yourself, he thought. You can handle it. You can handle him.
But could he? Sure, he kept in shape all these years and practiced with the gun regularly, but could he handle the supernatural when it struck him? He wasn’t sure about that. He did fail once already, after all.
Damien arrived at the police station and parked the car. As he walked into the building, he was going over in his mind the tasks that he’ll have to do tomorrow - contact the bus company, request the drivers’ timetable… Or should he simply bring Mortensen in? Part of him knew the man was behind this, no, he was certain that the man was behind this. But protocol would allow for only 24 hours of custody. After that, Mortensen would walk free if there were no charges and would be aware of Damien’s suspicion of him.
Goddamn prick, why couldn’t he just roll over and die…
He waved at the officer on night duty, distracted in thought.
“Detective Ross, sir?”
“You have a visitor.”
Damien blinked. “What? At this hour?”
The night officer, Willis, shrugged. “He said it was about the latest case, sir. Said he was the victim’s partner and had some vital information he forgot to give earlier. He’s waiting at your office.”
“Why didn’t he just call then?”
The man shrugged again. “You were out of office, sir.”
I was. “Fine. Thank you.”
He hurried up the stairs and navigated through the familiar hallway in darkness. Everybody had left, the hour was inhumanly late, save for the night officer on duty and the front security guard. What information could be so important?
Damien found his heart beating quickly as he came to the hall where his office was. He noticed a figure sitting on a bench in front of his office. The hall was dark so he tapped the light switch.
“Evening, Mr. Chambers, I’m back-”
Damien froze. With a flicker, the old halogen lights came on and illuminated the figure, which stood up. It was not Rachel’s boyfriend.
“You…” Damien whispered, shocked. He should have known.
“Good to see you, old friend,” Mortensen said and tipped his fedora. “I see you weren’t joking about the whole detective business.” He eyed Damien from head to toe. “The suit suits you, I must say.”
Damien’s initial shock of seeing the man he both feared and hated the most passed and he quickly pulled out his gun.
“Take one step and I shoot,” he said, heart pounding. “Did you take that girl?”
Mortensen’s mouth spread in a grin. “My, my, straight to the point. If you’re such a straight shooter with your gun as well as your mouth, then I’m in big trouble.” He raised his hands slightly, mocking surrender.
“Answer the question!”
“You know the answer, Blaze,” Mortensen said. “I bet you could feel it.”
“Don’t call me that!” Damien barked. “The man you knew is gone! I will not be toyed with again. You will stand down and I will take you in, bastard!”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Mortensen shook his head, the tip of the fedora covering his eyes. “I was afraid you’d grown stubborn over the years. Now I see it’s true. I was hoping you could help me out, Blaze. Like you did the last time.”
Damien’s hand began to tremble with anger. “Stop calling me that! I’m over with your games!”
Mortensen looked from under his hat. “Is that so? Then why do you still carry your fangs with you?”
“I’m not-” He paused. He noticed that he was clenching to the leather pouch with one hand while holding the gun with the other. “Curse you!” He snapped the string around his neck and threw the pouch down the hall. A pair of white fangs fell out and slid on the linoleum floor.
Mortensen chuckled. “Once a Nightborn, always Nightborn. You thought that pulling those out would make the nightmares go away? Make you human again?” He grinned, letting his fangs show. “It doesn’t work like that, Blaze.”
Damien was losing the war with his nerves. Old instincts were beginning to resurface. Desires he thought he had rid off. The night hides so many unseen fears and mysteries…
“Yes,” smiled Mortensen. His eyes were shining and he spread his arms. “Come back, brother. Plans have been set in motion. I need someone I can trust by my side.” He took a step forward. “Just like in the old days, Blaze.”
Damien gripped the gun with both hands. No. Not this time. He was a changed man. A better man.
“I told you not to make a single step.”
“Oh?” Mortensen seemed disappointed. He paused. “But I’ve made it. What will you do now?”
“What I should have five years ago.”
He pulled the trigger. Once, twice, he emptied the chamber, screaming. Gunshots echoed down the narrow hall and all bullets found purchase. Mortensen took the first few shots to the chest, apparently not expecting Damien to shoot. The Nightborn nearly fell over. But then his wickedness returned and he turned around, running down the hall on all fours, trailing bright red blood behind. Damien kept pulling the trigger even after all the bullets flew and Mortensen paused before the window at the end of the hall. He was leaking blood everywhere, a gun hole through his cheek, but still standing. And smiling.
“You do shoot straight,” he said awkwardly, blood squirting out the hole in his cheek. “Boy, this is gonna hurt tomorrow. Seems like you forgot one important detail, though.”
Damien heaved in deep breaths. Silver bullets. He had them in his drawer. He cursed at himself for not taking precautions, but how could he know?
“See you around, detective,” Mortensen said. Then he threw himself through the window, breaking the glass and falling into the night. There was no sound of his body hitting the ground.
My nightmares have caught up with me.
Damien stood there, full of adrenaline as he heard running footsteps. Mind racing with all that’s happened, he found enough wit to recollect the two fangs on the floor, before the night officer turned a corner.
“Sir?” Willis’s gun was out and his eyes darted from Damien to the blood on the floor and the window.
“I’m alright,” Damien said, shaking. “Call every officer. Wake them all. An extremely dangerous man is on the loose. And he’s gathering more like him. Something is happening, but I don’t know what… We need to establish a police hour, keep innocent lives off the streets-”
The officer placed a hand on Damien’s shoulder. “Sir, it’s alright. You’re in shock. Sit down, I’ll call an ambulance.”
“I’m fine!” He smacked the hand off his shoulder. He sighed deeply. What am I thinking? Nobody will believe me.
“Who’s blood is it?” Willis asked.
From a man that does not die by bullets. “The other guy’s. We need to issue a warrant, get his picture to all other stations.”
Willis looked at Damien. “A warrant, sir? Judging by all this blood, I’m pretty sure he won’t live long enough. Did he jump out of the window?”
Damien nodded. Third floor. Not that it mattered for a Nightborn.
Willis went to look out the window, gun still ready. He leaned outside. “Sir, I don’t see the body.”
That’s because there is none. “Go check up close. But be careful.”
Willis nodded. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes,” Damien said. He needed to think. “Go.”
The night officer’s eyes revealed he didn’t believe him but argued no further. Pretty soon the police station would be swarming with officers and press, the gunshots must have been heard by all neighboring residents.
What are you planning, Mortensen? Why have you revealed yourself? Why now?
And what have you done with the girl, Rachel?
Damien reached for the keys in his pocket and unlocked the office door. He dropped the empty gun on his desk and searched the drawers for a box of cigarettes. The warm smoke helped ease his nerves a little. But the words echoed in his mind, regardless.
Once a Nightborn, always a Nightborn. Join me, Blaze.
Damien crushed a cigarette bud on the tray and noticed the filter was red. He reached his mouth with the back of his hand and found that he was bleeding again.
Bleeding from where he pulled out his fangs five years ago.
Bloody hell, Blaze, he heard a voice in his mind. His own voice. I think they’re growing back.