hank you for continuing to read DARK PRINCE. I'm glad you're enjoying it.
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I would like to refer you to my other stories appearing on Nifty: GAMES AT DEAUVILLE currently appearing in the Beginnings and historical folders as well as FLIGHT AT PEENEMÜNDE that is complete at both folders.
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Ronnie Barber pretended for the umpteenth time that he was hiding in an alley and pointed the hand-launched dummy Stinger missile at the car mock-up. He did not like the Great Smokies. They'd been at this isolated cabin in the middle of enough trees to make a jungle for two weeks now, and he still didn't like it. Maybe it was finding the bodies that had left the bad taste in his mouth.
Well, maybe not bodies exactly. He had to admit the two men who'd lived here didn't look like any dead men he'd ever seen, not when he found the first one lying almost at the steps of the cabin. Clothes sort of covered the bones, and sort of didn't. The flesh torn from the bones, the gnaw marks were pretty obvious.
It was downright disgusting to think about some damned animal tearing a man's guts out. He figured everything from bears to mountain lions had got to them. Trellum had ordered them buried, and Ronnie and the ten men he brought with him had dug a hole and put what remained of the two men in it.
"Group Captain!" Ronnie raised his head and saw that Trellum was standing on the porch looking at him.
"What now?" he grumbled as he pushed himself off of the ground, brushed himself off, and started trotting over to Trellum and the cabin.
"When do I get to fire a real one?" he asked the Black man as he came up on him. "It's been two-weeks."
"Come inside please, Group Captain."
Inside, the shutters were open on all the windows. It was almost as bright in the large room as it was outside. Ronnie stood in the centre of the room and watched as Trellum sat down beside the short wave radio and turned to look at him.
"Do you know why you and your men have been here the past two-weeks?" Trellum asked.
"I figure we're going to take somebody out. Somebody important that hasn't made his peace with the Christian Center -- and isn't going to have a chance to do it later."
A tight smile appeared on the black man's lips. Ronnie noted the man's eyes were not smiling.
"That's close. You're going to take out the president of the United States."
"The president you say?"
"I thought he was -- you know -- like on our side or something."
"He's proved to be a very troublesome ally." He shrugged. "Besides, the country is ready for the Christian Center to take over and start healing all of its wounds."
"I thought those limos that presidents ride in were armour-plated or something."
Trellum laughed. "Stingers brought down more than a hundred commie attack copters in Afghanistan during the 80's. They've brought down some of ours too when they got in the wrong hands. They'll do the job on the president's car, Group Captain."
"Okay, so we give the man a one-way ticket to meet his maker early. Where do we do it?"
"He'll be going to the Capitol Friday morning at ten o'clock to meet with the leaders of both parties. Only, you and your men will get him as his car is turning into the drive up to the Capitol building."
He looked down at his hands, studying them. "You and your men ship out at three this afternoon. You'll stay in Arlington where you'll be given your final orders and the ordinance with which to carry it out. You'll also be given the route of the presidential motorcade. I'd suggest you reconnoitre the terrain so you can get out if something goes wrong."
Ronnie nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me."
"Just think that there's going to be a lot of confusion when you hit him. Get a couple of blocks away and act normal and you'll be okay. But get your ass out of Dodge as fast as you can."
"And do what?"
"Connect back up with your CMUM first strike operation. Lay low until things begin to relax a little."
"Where are you going to be?"
"In Atlanta when it happens. Then I'll be back at Fort Meade -- or in the Washington area somewhere." He smiled. "Don't worry, I'll find you."
Ronnie heard the clump-clump-clump sound of a helicopter then and wondered why he hadn't heard it earlier.
Trellum stood up and grabbed the bag that sat under the radio. "That one's here for me. Get your men ready to go."
He looked towards the door and then back at Ronnie. "Keep your eyes open, Group Captain -- and don't leave your back uncovered. Coups never come off exactly as they're planned."
The helicopter had got closer, sounding like it was landing in the little clearing by the stream just beyond the cabin; but Ronnie thought he heard the black man grumble that this one hadn't been planned at all. But Trellum was already walking fast for the door.
He was still fuming when the chopper lifted out of the clearing. All of the planning, all of the work -- up in smoke. Thrown out without a word of discussion. It had taken years to move things to this point. Years of building up trust. Years of putting up with smelly, unwashed mountain men. Years of getting them to look past the colour of his skin and trust him. Closed minded, dumb -- even insane -- men. Like Barber.
Yeah, everything and everyone was in place. Yeah, the American people were scared to go out at night. Yeah, every poll showed that people wanted safe streets and had come to accept the repression concealed behind the moral rejuvenation that would save them. It ought to be time to pull off the coup, the man in the street was ready for it.
Only, something or someone was going around pell mell killing off the people he'd spent so many years pulling together. Davis Trellum still couldn't believe the brothers who'd led the Great Smoky Mountains Militia were dead.
Not even the FBI had been able to find them up here in their hideout. Something had, though. And he wasn't about to believe the two of them had just stood around letting some bear or mountain lion kill them.
Even if they were dumb as hell and stank to high heaven, they knew their woods and mountains. And they were dead -- like the Aryan Order. Like those first strike units.
Couldn't Patterson see why they had to wait? They had to know who was tracking them before they took the final, irrevocable step of assassinating the president and starting the coup. Only, the preacher wasn't waiting. The president was going to die on Friday.
Davis Trellum was still fuming as the helicopter set down on the farm outside Ashboro. He grabbed his bag and ran for the waiting Learjet.
"Hello, Davis," Bob Patterson greeted him as he entered the cabin.
Trellum froze. The Reverend Bob Patterson never came out into the open like this.
"Come on in, son," he continued and pointed to the chair on the other side of a small round table. "We've got a lot of things to talk about before we get to Atlanta."
* * *
They were still climbing into the cloudless sky when Patterson took a packet of photographs from inside his jacket and handed them to Trellum. "Look at these," he said simply and turned to look out the window.
Trellum took the pictures and immediately recognised the gym changing room from the church in Towson, Maryland. It was much too easy to imagine what had happened there. His stomach began to burn and he swallowed slowly as he turned to the next photograph.
In spite of being prepared for what the picture showed, he shivered. The pastor's body hung suspended between the doors of two lockers, his hands tied to their hinges. His throat had been torn from him, the front of his clothes darkened by his dried blood. His eyes were open and spoke of the horror that was the last thing he'd seen. Trellum stared at the photograph, unable to move on to the next one.
"Those were taken this past Sunday. Two CMUM first strike unit leaders were with him," Patterson said calmly. "Your west coast man and the boy you put in charge of New York. They were supposed to intensify the street fighting between the skinheads and that Queer Nation group." He sighed. "Of course, they never made it."
"Did they have their throats torn out too?" Trellum nodded. "One did. The other had his neck broken, a lot of other bones too. It looked like he'd been thrown across the room."
"I wish," Patterson mumbled. "Fortunately, we have some sympathisers within the Towson Police Department. We've been able to test the saliva found in the neck wounds. It's close to human but isn't exactly."
Trellum jerked around to face Patterson. "Not exactly human?" he asked softly, fear dampening his voice.
"Several months ago, I laughingly suggested that you had a vampire working against you, Davis. I suspect I was close to the truth and didn't even know it."
"It's something. It probably looks human and even acts like one. But whatever it is has some nasty canine teeth." Patterson pulled a smaller packet of photographs from his jacket pocket and handed them to Trellum. "These were taken yesterday, shortly after dawn."
Trellum forced himself to look at the first picture. It was of the base of a monument and a human-shaped lump lay in its shadow. "Where is this?" he asked.
"The Iwo Jima monument."
Trellum moved to the second photograph. He was looking at an army officer lying on the ground; it took no imagination at all to figure he was dead.
"He's in dress uniform," he mumbled and turned to the third photograph in the packet. It was a facial shot. Only, the skin looked leathery, almost wizen. He couldn't recognise the officer. It took him several moments to remember where he'd seen similar corpses.
The Aryan Order compound. More than half of the men in the barracks had looked dried out -- like Egyptian mummies. This man looked like that. Trellum felt cold and clammy at the same time. "Who was he?" he forced himself to ask.
"It looks like something sucked the life right out of him," Trellum mumbled as he shivered again.
"Like a vampire, Davis."
"You ordered the coup moved up again. How? Howell was the only man we had who could get away with mobilising the army."
"Reed's already found himself a Marine colonel he likes. The man checks out well. He's one of us, all the way. We'll go with what we've got -- remember the order for martial law will come from Reed after he's sworn in as president."
"How can we? This..." Trellum glanced down at the photographs in his lap. "You called it a vampire -- it's staying with us step by step. I don't know how it gets its information, but it knows what we're doing."
"Just guessing, but I'd say it's been reading your mind, Davis. At least, I'm acting as if that was fact."
Trellum stared at the man sitting across the table from him. The craggy face had never seemed to change or even age in the years he'd known him. The eyes -- always evaluating, appraising -- they were the same too. The silver hair with its gentle curving was collar-length. Nothing about Bob Patterson suggested insanity.
"What do you mean?" Trellum asked slowly.
Patterson released his restraint and stood up. He stretched and began to pace the centre of the cabin, his arms behind his back.
"When you're in the capital, Davis, nasty things happen to us -- whether it's in Idaho, California, or DC. When you're not there, things work for us without our men being killed off."
"I wasn't there for almost two weeks before the church was hit or Howell was killed," Trellum protested.
"I admit, Davis, that those had me worried as I began to hone in on my conclusion. In the end, though, I accepted that both events were the exceptions that proved the rule." Still pacing he continued: "If whatever this is can read minds, it somehow got to yours. It knows the organisation's structure, the structure you've given it."
"How does that explain Howell? Or the church?"
"It knew of the general and the church through you."
"And that's going to let it read every mind out there? There are millions of people in DC alone."
"We don't know that it read General Howell's mind -- or anyone's at the church, either. It killed them. And it knew about the Towson church and the general from you -- it wouldn't have taken much to stand around the vice president's office and wait for a general to come out. It could have done whatever it has to do to hone in on him then. All it had to do in Towson was appear at the church."
Trellum couldn't pull his gaze from Bob Patterson. The man really did believe this vampire stuff. He had to know better -- he'd spent his life making money selling the same kind of bullshit. Like those guys pushing Atlantis and Mu and Bigfoot. And, still, he'd bought into it -- hook, line, and sinker, it sounded like.
"So, you've moved the coup back up to -- what?"
"The first week of May."
"And this Marine colonel is going to secure the army for us?"
Patterson smiled patiently. "No, Davis. Reed is going to invoke a legal decree of martial law and the military is going to carry it out. Every branch of the Armed Forces will be there like the good soldiers they all are."
"What's to stop whatever this is from stopping us on that front?"
"It's pretty obvious that there's only one or two of them involved and that their powers are limited."
"Limited? I saw what it did to twenty men at the Aryan Order's compound."
"It -- they -- can control twenty men -- maybe another twenty on top of that. But they can't handle an army."
"All this thing has to do is wipe out Reed Stephens like it did Howell -- you and Reed."
"Reed is in Georgia this week -- out at the lake. Nobody's going to get close to him." He chuckled. "And I'm staying away from anyone I don't already know."
"I'm getting the impression that you don't want me to return to Washington until this thing is underway."
"That's the idea." He smiled again. "I decided to take this little trip today to ask you to take a long vacation."
Trellum stared at the man who was his biological father. They both knew what Patterson was telling him to do. He was being shoved out the door.
"The briefcase on that chair...?" Patterson nodded to the seats in the back of the cabin. "It contains two million Euros. That's yours. Whatever you've managed to squirrel away in Switzerland is also yours."
"In other words, you want me to get lost permanently."
"You're smart enough to have made some contacts with the Russian organisation -- their mob ... Use them, Davis."
* * *
The face of Tom MacPherson was drawn and his eyes feverish from lack of sleep, but he smiled at me as I focused on him. "You were close, Karli," he told me in accented American English.
I didn't understand. I remembered nothing after lying down Monday and seeing the streaks of light spreading across the eastern horizon. He chuckled.
"You very nearly died in your attempt to save me, dear one," he explained.
Weaker than I could imagine being, I brought my hand to my face and felt the new soft skin that had grown there. And felt no eyebrows. My fingers moved to my scalp. I felt only stubble but no hair.
He reached out and took my hand, pulling it from my head, his face was a comforting smile. "It burnt off."
"My hair?" I managed to ask, still grappling to understand.
"Exposing one's nude body to direct sun-light was always the favoured method of suicide among vampires in the old days, Karl." He smiled. "At least, until Dr. Guillotine perfected his painless method of decapitation. You came close to dying Monday; even another minute out there and you would no longer be with us."
It took me long moments to work through his explanation and there were wide gaps in my understanding. But I did comprehend the one reality that explained the strangeness I felt in him. "You're Sergei Alexandrovitch!" I groaned.
He nodded. "You needed me, Karli. Emil wouldn't have known what to do; and Tom was in a state of shock, his jaw broken."
He chuckled. "I had need to repair it that I could tend you, dear one."
"Will you remain with me then?" I asked, a nearly forgotten hope growing again in my heart.
His lips curled into a tight smile. "It is impossible. Not like this -- not in total control of this body as I am now."
"Why?" I felt strangely tired -- and weak -- as my head collapsed against the pillows, the cloth feeling strange against my bare new skin.
"I am Tom -- just as Würther is. We are but different faces of the same person, different aspects of the larger personality. He is, however, the sum total of our experiences and his own. He has things he must experience still -- events that force him to grow -- a growth that is his alone, though it affects us all."
He smiled ruefully. "There are events that require his knowledge of things and methods unknown to me in my time. If I stay as myself, there is only stasis." He smiled again and shrugged. "And life doesn't exist in that kind of void."
There was a knock at the door.
|Enter!| Sergei Alexandrovitch called without turning and Emil cautiously opened the door to look in on us.
"Is he awake?" Emil asked as he entered the room.
Sergei Alexandrovitch nodded.
Emil stared at me from the foot of the bed and I could see in his eyes how horrible I had to appear.
"I guess we'll just have to become used to him being bald," Emil offered, forcing a smile to his lips. "Actually, it's sort of sexy."
"It'll grow back," I growled with a sudden flare of anger.
Sergei Alexandrovitch sighed. "It's been an active three days since you fell asleep on us, Karl. The men who attacked Tom Monday, they were sent from the Christian Center -- something called a first strike unit."
"Sergei Alexandrovitch and I picked through their thoughts."
Sergei had? I stared at Tom MacPherson's tired but still lithe, young body sitting on the edge of the bed beside me. "You can't read minds! You're..."
"Not a vampire?" he finished and grinned impishly. "I had that dubious distinction several lifetimes ago and, though mortal synapses are gods-awfully slow and unwieldy, I have learnt how to make many of them function like ours."
I peered at him in disbelief.
"I was able to call to you back in the winter, remember?"
I nodded slowly.
"And I called to Emil here -- he teleported in from San Francisco three days ago. When you were a skeleton with a few scraps of gristle still clinging to it."
I remembered waking up to his being attacked then. I remembered it all and wished I could have at least forgotten the pain of my body melting away from me.
"What happened to the men attacking you?"
"I showed them inside, Karli. They have been in the cellar since that afternoon."
He chortled. "This is the city, Karl. An American city in 2005. People don't call the polizei -- even when they're watching a murder being committed. Besides, I suspect people were at work -- the joggers and strollers who'd have made a 911 call."
Sergei Alexandrovitch sniggered. "They're still down in the cellar but have lost their minds. You're going to need to feed soon and you're in no shape to hunt. Emil or I will kill them and drain them for you."
He didn't shudder as he said the words. He didn't even frown. If nothing else had done so, this statement proved he was Sergei Alexandrovitch to me. Imminently practical Sergei Alexandrovitch Romanov. He had an ill vampire on his hands; he also had two living pieces of rubbish in the basement with more than enough warm, living blood to feed his ill vampire. Voilá!
I hoped the spiritually developing Tom MacPherson didn't know everything that Sergei Alexandovitch was doing while he was in possession of his body.