This story was written in response to a couple of cousins dissing my home town, Chicago. I got annoyed and said "Al Capone could whip LaCroix any day of the week, and twice on Sunday!" (or words something to that effect...) That got me to thinking about how he would do that, and this is the story that resulted. (And cousin-baiting is so much fun!)
The girl looked behind her, cautiously, hoping against hope that there wouldn't be anything there, then breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that the street was empty.
"I must be getting paranoid, with all the War planning going on. Now I'm imagining things! I haven't worried about being followed since the fourth grade when I was pretending to be a spy for the CIA." She smiled, remembering taking a different route home from school every day for a month, practicing losing a 'tail'. And trying to listen to people's conversations without being seen... Her mother had really gotten upset when she caught her in the pantry, eavesdropping on her conversation with Grandma. "But I didn't even know what a slut was! I wouldn't have even remembered it if she hadn't yelled so much," she grumbled, remembering the incident that had put an end to her young career as a spy. She walked on up the street and into the warehouse, too engrossed in her memories to notice the figure standing against the dark wall of the butcher's market.
"What's the password?" the woman on the other side of the door asked.
"What's the...? Oh, come on, you know who I am, let me in!" she replied querulously.
"Come on, Cousin, we were told at last week's meeting that we have to tighten up on security, now that the War is so close. Those upstart Mercenaries are causing trouble, and you never know when they might try sending an undercover agent. Now, what's the password?"
Darn, what was this week's password? she thought. "I don't suppose you could give me a hint, could you?" she asked hopefully.
"Give me the password or go home!" the doorkeeper answered, annoyed.
Password, password... maybe I wrote it down, she thought, rummaging in her purse, looking for her notebook. The outer door opened, admitting two women dressed all in black. She stood back, letting them approach the inner door, smiling hesitantly as one of them looked at her questioningly. "Hi, Cousin Lisa," she said, hoping the senior cousin wouldn't ask what she was doing standing around in the antechamber.
"Hello, cousin. Aren't you a little cold standing out here?" Cousin Lisa asked.
"Um, well, you see, Cousin Gisele won't let me in..." she started, nervously tugging at her coat buttons. "I seem to have forgotten this week's password." She looked down at her shoes, not wanting to meet her superior's eyes.
"Oh, cousin!" Lisa said, exasperated with the child, "You were at the meeting last Tuesday when the password for the next meeting was announced — why don't you remember it?"
"Well... that must have been when I was talking to Cousin Laurie about this fan-fic that I'm working on. She was giving me some really good advice on characterization, and I must not have heard the announcement. I'm just about finished with the story — I don't suppose you would read it, would you? I'd really love to get your opinion of it!", she finished eagerly.
"Oh, it's too blasted cold to be standing around out here talking about fan-fic!" the other woman said irritably. "Let's just go inside and get on with the meeting! Open the door, Gisele, I'm freezing my tush off!" she said, pounding on the door with her fist.
"Hold your horses, Cousin Candice!" the doorkeeper said. "I need to hear the password, or I'm not opening this door to anyone, not even Uncle LaCroix!"
Invoking the name of the ancient vampire stunned the other cousins into silence for a moment. Lisa smiled through the peephole at the doorkeeper and said, "Very commendable dedication to duty, Cousin Gisele. Although I don't believe for a second that you would bar the door to Uncle! All right, the password is..." and, leaning to put her mouth next to the peephole, whispered the short phrase.
There was the sound of first one, then a second bolt being drawn back, then the crossbar was lifted off and laid down, before the final sound of a key turning in a lock, then the door creaked open. "Come on in," Gisele said. "You're the last ones to arrive — everyone else is here, so we can start the meeting now."
"If you're so eager to start the meeting, why didn't you let us in sooner?" grumbled Candice as she came in the door and started to strip off her layers of winter clothing. Lisa came in and let down her hood, but left the cloak on, as she stood looking across the room to where the other members of the group were gathered. The young cousin rushed in with a little "eep!" as Gisele made to shut the door again. The two glared at each other, but outright violence was avoided as Cousin Lisa asked "Why is everyone gathered over at the refreshment table?" in a puzzled voice. "We usually wait until the end of the meeting to eat."
"Cousin Caile brought her 'Black Death' chocolate cake for the occasion, and everyone couldn't wait to get a piece." Gisele answered. "I had to stay at the door, but now that everyone is here..." her voice dopplered away as she rushed across the room to claim her piece of the rich dessert. "Yumm, sounds good!" said Candice as she followed in the wake of her fellow cousin. Lisa laughed, and started to take off her cloak.
"Cousin Lisa?" the young cousin said hesitantly.
"Yes, cousin?" Lisa said.
"If you don't mind my asking... what was the password tonight? I didn't really hear what you said, but it sounded familiar."
Lisa grinned evilly as she leaned toward the other girl's ear to whisper "You can't suck a brick..."
"Oh, yeah! I did hear that last week, but I didn't realize it was the password — I thought it was just some kind of joke."
"It is, dear, it is!" Cousin Lisa said, as the two of them started to walk toward the rest of the group. They had gotten half-way across the room when the door flew open and slammed against the wall with a loud CRASH.
Startled, everyone turned toward the door in time to see a man in a black pin-striped suit enter, followed closely by two men holding sub-machine guns. He smiled, and removed the cigar from his mouth. "Now, nobody moves, and nobody gets hurt, see? I just needs a little information outta youse."
The regular Tuesday night meeting of the Cousins had never been invaded before, let alone by hoodlums with guns. Everyone stood stunned, too startled to speak, until Cousin Gisele said "Who the hell are you?" At least, that's what she meant to say, but all that emerged from her mouth was "mmffppphh..." and lots of chocolate crumbs. The cake almost lived up to its name as the two men with the guns turned toward her, but the boss hoodlum held up his hand and they didn't shoot her, although they looked as if they wanted to. Gisele went pale, and tried to be as still as she could be, which was difficult, since her mouth was still full of chocolate cake, and she needed to swallow.
Lisa realized that as the senior cousin, she should talk to this interloper and try to find out what he wanted. She cleared her throat, and said timidly, "Excuse me?"
The three men turned toward her and she gulped, finding the guns now trained on her. Cousin Gisele also took the opportunity to gulp, and managed to swallow most of the cake she had left in her mouth.
"Can I help you... gentlemen?"
The man who was obviously the boss said, "Yeah, ya can help us. Now shut up, and I'll let youse know how."
Another man, also in a pin-striped suit, entered and walked up to the older man. "The men are in place outside," he said. "How many do you want inside?"
"Oh, let's make it about a dozen — make sure we have some 'a dem cross-bow guys in here wit' us."
Cross-bows?! Lisa thought in amazement.
The younger man left, returning shortly with twelve men armed with various weapons, and all dressed in dark pin-striped suits.
What did they do, Lisa thought distractedly, raid a pin-striped suit warehouse? Then she took a closer look at their weapons... four of the men were carrying very modern-looking metallic cross-bows, which seemed to be armed with long pointed sticks. Stakes!? she thought, and her blood ran cold. Hmmm, is this how vampires feel with cold blood in their veins? She shook herself (mentally — there were still those guys who had guns pointed at her), and thought, Get a grip, Lisa! This is important!
The men arranged themselves around the single large room of the warehouse, in the process rounding up the group of cousins into an area near the older man who seemed to be in charge. The younger man joined him and said, "We're all ready, Uncle Al."
Uncle Al?! the cousin thought, startled. No, just a coincidence.
The man turned to the cousins and said, "My name is Al Capone, and I'm an old friend of your Uncle LaCroy. I need ta find 'im, an' I'm hopin' dat youse will be able to assist me in dis undertaking."
The other cousins still seemed to be leaving the talking up to her. Great, thought Lisa, I have to negotiate with a lunatic who thinks he's Al Capone!
"Umm, what, exactly, do you need to talk to, um, 'Uncle LaCroy' about?" she said cautiously.
"Dat is my business, babe! Now, can you tell me where ta find 'im?"
She decided that, in this case at least, honesty was indeed the best policy (although it did go against her natural inclination). "I'm afraid I don't know where he is — he finds us when he needs us, but other than that, we just have a phone number where we can leave a message for him."
He waved his hand, like he was shooing away a fly. "Dat don't help me; I already got dat number — it's a dead-end." He came closer to the head cousin, and fixed her with his eyes. "Don't tell me dat youse don't know where he is. I know how close all 'a youse are ta him. If you don't tell me, and soon, people are gonna start ta get hoit!"
Suddenly, Lisa got angry. She was damned if she was going to let this gangster waltz in and threaten her and her cousins! "Even if we did know where to find him," she said hotly, "we would never tell you! We have more loyalty than that! And, by the way, the real Al Capone died over 40 years ago!"
The boss gangster snarled, revealing his sharp fangs. One or two cousins gasped as they saw them. The pale skin that Lisa had taken for prison pallor suddenly took on a whole new significance. This actually explains a lot! she thought bemusedly, thinking about what little she knew about the history of the Mafia over the last couple of decades.
"Uncle Al," the younger man said, "I thought you weren't going to, um, 'reveal' yourself. There are too many people here..."
"Shut up, Albert! I'm gonna do what I gotta do ta get information! LaCroy has gotten too powerful. He's gotta learn that no one can stand up ta me and get away wit' it! If I let him get away, it sets a bad example for the Family. I'm da boss, and I'll always be da boss, and if that means eliminating LaCroy, I gotta find him first!" the boss gangster yelled at his nephew. "And I'll use whatever or whoever I need ta do dat!"
Lisa realized that she and her cousins were to be hostages to a quarrel between this man, er, vampire, and her Uncle. She looked around again, noting the quality and quantity of the gangster's firepower. She resolved that, come what may, these men would not use them to trap her Uncle! Firming her resolve, she focused her mind as much as she was able (under the circumstances), and thought as hard and clearly as she could, Uncle LaCroix! You're in danger! Stay away! Stay away! Hoping her message got through, she watched Al approach her with a determined look in his eyes — which turned red as she watched. He stopped about a foot in front of her, locking gazes with her.
"Since ya know what I am, ya know what I can do ta ya, don't ya?" he said with a leer.
"Yes," she replied as calmly as she could, watching his fangs slide out over his lips. She could feel the effects of his mesmerizing gaze, and she tried to resist, with every mental trick that her Uncle had taught her.
"Oh, you're real good at resisting, ain't ya?" he sneered. "Fat lot 'a good it's gonna do ya. I can always find a way in." He glared at her for a minute, and she could feel him battering at her tenuous shields. Suddenly, she felt him withdraw from her mind, and she gasped, almost losing control in her relief from that mental pressure. "But right now, I don't got da time ta play games. So I'm gonna have to use... cruder methods."
He looked at the crowd of cousins standing behind her. He pointed to one, and said to his men, "I'll use dat one." Two of the men put their guns down and went to get the cousin he had indicated.
When they touched her, she started to scream, and continued with the blood-curdling sounds until she had been moved up until she was standing next to Lisa, facing the gangster. He said, "Shut up!" barely glancing at the girl, and she quieted instantly. Lisa sneaked a peek to see who it was, and her heart fell. It was the young cousin who had come in with them earlier. Lisa knew this one would have no resistance to Al at all. Then she brightened; after all, the girl wouldn't be able to tell the mobster anything!
She looked back to Al, to find him looking at her. He smiled almost pleasantly, and said, "Now here's da deal. I know dis one don't have anything ta tell me — I already talked ta her before, and made her forget about it." He noted Lisa's start of surprise, and smiled. "Yeah, I been planning dis for a while — wit' a little help. But if she don't know nuttin, I figure you do. So if you don't tell me what I wanna know, she gets hoit. Da longer ya hold out, da more she gets hoit." He looked at the glowing end of the cigar he still held in his hand, then back up at the now fearful cousin. "Ya wouldn't want dat, would ya?"
She glared back at him, hating him more than any other creature on the planet (and that was saying a lot, considering how many creatures there were on the planet). She looked again at the young cousin, who looked back at her with mute desperation in her eyes. Oh, why do we recruit them so young? she lamented. Then she looked back at the self-satisfied crook, smirking at her over his cigar. She lifted her chin, and said, "You win. I'll let you read my mind, not that it will do you any good." She looked into his eyes, and let down her defenses...
When Lisa came back to her senses, she looked around her to try to get a sense of the situation. She stopped when she saw the gangster vampire, looking even angrier than before.
"She was telling da truth," he said in disgust. "Dey don't know anything! I've been lied to!" He looked at his nephew. "Bring her in," Al said. His flunky left hurriedly. Al stood, puffing on his cigar, glaring at the huddled cousins as he waited. His nephew returned, followed by a short figure dressed in a dark raincoat, her bootheels clicking softly on the concrete floor. Lisa's eyes widened in shocked recognition. "You! You bitch!" she hissed through her clenched teeth.
The diminutive figure smiled and bowed in her direction. "Always a pleasure to see you and your cousins." She looked around the warehouse, and said, "And such a charming...clubhouse you have."
Lisa snarled again, cutting off mid-snarl and almost choking as Al turned his redly glowing eyes toward her.
The red-headed mercenary turned to the mobster, and asked, "You wanted to talk to me?"
Suddenly, he was in front of her, staring down at her. Lisa blinked — she would never get used to vampiric speed. The mercenary did not flinch, however, and calmly gazed up at the angry vampire mobster (if that phrase isn't too redundant).
"Dey don't know anything," he growled. "You promised me dat dey would be able to tell me where ta find LaCroy!"
She raised an eyebrow, replying, "I made no such promise. I simply said that this was the best lead that I had so far. I know that he travels so much that it's hard to pin him down to one location, but that if anyone would know how to contact him, it would be one of his minions here." She glanced at the group gathered at the end of the room, and added, "He even shows up sometimes to these meetings. It was my professional opinion that, given the occasion, he might make such an appearance tonight." She looked back to Uncle Al, and said quietly, "And that is what is in the contract we signed — information, opinion, deduction. No promises, no guarantees." Smiling, she said, "It would be against Mercenary Guild policy to make a guarantee!"
Uncle Al leaned down to her, and asked icily, "Do ya t'ink I care about contracts?" He grinned at her and said, "I put out contracts, I don't follow dem!" His gaze turned colder as he added, "Remember — I could always put one out on you, girlie!"
The mercenary matched him glare for glare (although hers wasn't glowing), and said, "You had better follow this contract! You know what happens if you kill me — no more mercenaries. The Guild doesn't look kindly on clients who kill the mercenaries they hire. You'd be boycotted, and you don't want that!"
"Who needs ya?!" the mobster replied, but it was obvious he was thinking about what she had said. "I got my own sources 'a information!"
"Then why come to me?" She smiled. "It's a fact of life that we're necessary for you to do business. Who else are you going to trust to give you accurate, honest information? Your 'Family'? If you trusted them, you never would have needed to hire me and my colleagues. No mercenaries, and your business suffers."
He glared at her, but his eyes were no longer red. He said, "Some day, you're not goin' ta be so indispensable. We'll see how brave ya are den!"
She smiled at him again, and said calmly, "Someday."
He started to turn away, then glanced back at her as she continued to look at him. "Well, ya can go now — dere ain't nuttin else ya can do for me — unless ya got any more ideas on how ta find LaCroy."
"I haven't been paid yet", she answered him.
He glared again, but then snapped his fingers at his nephew and said, "Pay the...lady".
"Uncle Al", the young man muttered urgently, "that's a lot of money to spend without getting any results! Let me take care of her!", he said, looking hotly at the mercenary, while fondling the gun he had stuck into the waistband of his pants. Al backhanded him across the face and roared, "I said, pay her! Don't give me any lip, boy, or I'll kill you!", the vampire said, looking like he'd like an excuse to kill somebody that night. Albert pulled a fat envelope from the inside pocket of his pin-striped jacket and reluctantly handed it to the mercenary.
"Merci!", she said as she took it and placed it in her pocket. She turned, as if feeling the heat from the combined glares of the assembled cousins, and looked at the crowd. "Au revoir, mes enfants." She blew them a kiss, and sauntered toward the door, followed only by the psychic growls of the cousins.
"Don't ya want ta count it?" Al called out.
"No, I trust you...insofar as money is concerned." she replied, without turning around, as she walked out the door.
The mobster and his nephew turned and looked at the assembled cousins. "What now, Uncle Al?" Albert asked, "Do we just keep them here and wait, hoping that LaCroix will show up?"
"Nahh, dat won't woik," Al said disgustedly. "LaCroy will be able to sense dere fear, and will know somethin's wrong. It would have been better to take him by surprise, and just stake him before he knew what was up." Lisa flinched, hearing the word 'stake'. He glared at the crowd, then turned and waved up two of the gunmen. He said, "Eliminate dem," then turned and walked out the door.
Lisa watched in horror as the gunmen turned and trained their deadly-looking sub-machine guns on the crowd of cousins. Then the air was rent with gunfire and screams as they opened fire. Everyone was crying out in fear and anger, and trying to find cover where there was none, even turning over the refreshments table and trying to hide behind it. Lisa thought insanely, I would have liked to try some of that 'Black Death' cake, as the assorted cakes and decorated cookies went flying, then she was too busy trying to dodge the gunfire as she ducked and ran. She saw, with growing horror, the splashes of red that appeared on cousin after cousin as they were hit by the gunfire and fell to the floor moaning and writhing in pain. She fell to the floor and tumbled, rolling to try to avoid being hit. She felt something strike her leg, then her back, as she desperately tried to live. She hit a wall, and cowered, covering her head with her arms, waiting for the end.
It was a minute or two before her ringing ears realized that the gunfire had stopped. I'm still alive she thought in amazement, as she tentatively opened the eyes that she had squeezed shut.
She rolled over, and looked at the still bodies of her fellow cousins sprawled across the concrete, tears welling from her eyes at the sight of the carnage and the blood everywhere. Bright red blood.
Bright red blood? She looked again, and realized that the 'blood' wasn't dripping and pooling under the bodies as it should be. She started as several cousins started to move, and then to sit up, looking dazedly around them.
She looked down at her leg, where she had felt something strike her, and wincing, saw the splash of red against her black pants. She looked more closely, and noticed something adhering to the fabric. Something that looked like part of a... gel cap?! She reached down and carefully peeled it off the pants, holding it up and looking at it. It's a paint capsule! she realized in amazement, then looked around the room with a new awareness. We've been shot with paint pellets!
Various cousins, realizing that, against all hope, they were still among the living, started to get up, chattering hysterically as they saw in amazement that no one was dead.
Lisa looked around, and realized that the only ones present were her cousins. The gangsters were all gone, having made their getaway while the cousins were distracted. She saw something fluttering on the floor in the breeze that was coming in the door, which was still standing open. She staggered over to it on legs that were still trembling with the aftereffects of the fear and adrenaline, and bending down stiffly, picked up a piece of paper. Turning it over, she realized that it was a valentine — one of the cheap cards that grade-school children give to each other by the dozen. It had a bright red heart, surrounded by doily-ish lace, with the sentiment "Be My Valentine!" printed in the middle of the heart in a swirling script. Written under the heart was a single red "M".
Lisa swore the most inventive curses she could think of (and they were inventive indeed). "M — for Maureen — for 'Mother' — for Mercenary! Well, M can also stand for Murder, and that's what I'm going to do if I ever get you in my sights, you money-grubbing wench!" (this is a G-rated tale, after all!) Crumpling the valentine in her hand, she raised her fist and swore, "As LaCroix is my witness, you will pay for this humiliation, if it's the last thing I do!"
Standing on the roof of the building across the street from the unfortunate scene of chaos, eyes glowing redly, He whispered, "Yessss, they will be made to pay! What you do to mine, you do to me!"
And in the cold, quiet air of the night was heard... a snicker. "Wait'll they find out that stuff doesn't wash off!" Maureen chortled as she started the motorcycle with a kick. "Uncle's charge account at Sak's is going to get a lot of use." And her laughter drifted back as she roared off into the night.
Well, there it is, my first story. Now I know what other writers mean when they say the "characters got out of my control" — this turned out to be a rather darker tale than I had first intended. I had originally planned a much lighter romp. There's just no trusting those vampire mobsters!
Comments and compliments gleefully accepted, flames and hate-mail happily deleted.
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