“Who the fuck are you!?!”
Unknown Quarter rat
Saturday night, 12 December 2015, AM
GM: Rampart Street.
It’s the gutter where Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off.
Among the kine, it’s where one can go to find (cheap) prostitutes, pushers, junkies, and other unfortunates pushed to the French Quarter’s periphery, just along the border with poverty-stricken Tremé.
Between two houses, a man moans and shifts uneasily in his sleeping bag.
He’s an old man. His face shows a lot of years—or maybe just hard years.
There’s blotches over his many wrinkles. His hand-length graying beard is stringy and unkempt. His teeth are yellowed or missing. Even inside his sleeping bag, he wears a thick raggedy coat. He looks crazy to other people when he wears it, especially during the summer, but he really is physiologically colder, not just disoriented as to the time and place.
A discarded needle lies to the side, amidst his scattered belongings. He moans again, and his dog licks his face.
The dog’s ears suddenly flatten as it looks up.
A furious growl emanates from its throat.
Then it growls no more, and a shadow falls over the sleeping man.
He’s not the best pick.
But he’ll do.
An observer would see nothing untoward. No more than usual, at least.
Just the outline of a woman, equally disheveled-seeming but indistinct in the dark, bent over a sleeping form. A motionless dog lies nearby.
But to those with ears to listen, the telltale slurp is unmistakable.
To those with eyes to see, the motionless canine is not sleeping.
To those with scars to know, the homeless man’s moaning is not solely the product of a damaged mind.
And to those in whose hearts the Vigil burns bright:
The call to action is undeniable.
Louis: Heeding that call, the alley sheds a man.
He wears trouble. Trench coat, long and dark. Tie, slim and darker. Shirt, white as a coroner’s coat. Sensible shoes, the kind you wear to stalk devils. Felt hat, banded and tugged down like a salute to the shadows. A man, obscured.
But perhaps not a man. Not really, not anymore. Not for a long time.
He’s more. And less.
But he’s here. Le Loup of Nouvelle-Orléans. The Last Knight of St. Balacou. The Wolf of Wolves. Lope.
Some say that Lope is just a myth. A made-up story hunters tell each other when dusk comes and their knuckles whiten with fear. A tall tale to make them feel like they can prevail against the horrors of the night. Others say the legends are true, but the man is long gone. Long dead, just like the scores of blood-suckers he turned to ash. And others, others say he’s more than a man, a spirit of vengeance that returns every generation as the preyed-upon souls of New Orleans summon him with their cries for aid, for justice. For blood.
The man listens to those cries. The sounds of his city. The city he loves—and that loves him back like a kiss paired with a punch to the solar plexus. Far off, the banshee wail of police and fire sirens rise and fall, never silent for very long. Twenty-four hours a day, somebody in New Orleans is running, somebody else is trying to catch them. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people are dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People are being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People are hungry, sick, bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is.
The man might claim he doesn’t have one. That he doesn’t care. That he just wants a drink and to go to bed.
But he’d be lying.
Truth is, the man’s here for blood, and he’s not asking for donations.
Beneath his gumshoe armor, the man stirs. It’s time. It’s been time, actually. Past time.
Still, he hesitates. It’s not fear that holds him back, not the fear of failure at least. He knows what he has to do. He knows how to do it. But once he steps from these shadows, he’s committing to a path that will take him to hells far worse than Rampart Street. Maybe he survives, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he doesn’t deserve to.
Either way, tonight is a bottle that won’t drink itself.
That thought turns the lapsing alcoholic’s attention back to the present. To the imbibing vampire and victim down the street.
Rampart Street. A block away, she looks good. But up close, she looks like she’s made to be looked at from a block away.
Chasing that thought, the man looks down the alley, to where rests an idling ’64 Chevelle. Bubble-gum pink coat. Powder-white soft-top. A radio incapable of playing anything but Rat-Pack classics. And most importantly tonight, a spacious trunk.
The man doffs his hat, as if signaling the occupants of the Chevelle’s darkened cab. Doing so reveals his face. Grim and unlovely, but not unloving. A face riddled with scars that rat out old injuries like bad alibis. Atavistic brow. Thick-slabbed nose, mangled from kissing too many fists, crowbars, and brick walls. Iron-brush hair. Jutting underbite. Lantern jaw.
But no cigarette dangles from his lips.
It’s the first tell that something’s changed. And then there’s his stride as he finally steps from the shadowed alley. It’s faster. Stronger. As if he’s swapped his diet of Jimmy Dean and Jack Daniels for four-square meals a day. That, and his shoulders seem straighter, like he’s shed the weight of sleepless nights. Or some of them, at least.
His meat-slab hand—the only one he’s got—reaches into his trench. Past the pair of well-oiled revolvers that lightly sleep in a single shoulder-holster. Rather, his hand slips into a pocket and pulls out a switchblade. Its handle is a gaudy affair, a Mardi Gras parade of purple, yellow, and green glitter with a plastic king cake’s baby head as the pommel. Its blade, however, is all business. Sharp. Long. Hard. And most importantly to the hunter, anointed with blood. Blood that the man now smears with his forefinger into a puissant Cainite veve. At its completion, a rush of blood fills his hangdog ears. And he feels it. The blade. It’s heavier now. Hungrier. Like a jackhammer praying for concrete.
The Lope hears its cry.
It mirrors his own.
A thirst for vengeance.
Lou’s footfalls are like smoke as he slips down the alleyway. His prey is distracted. Hunched over. She never sees it coming—just like her own prey. Jacques doubtlessly delights in the irony—assuming Bloody Jack of Bourbon Street is watching. But Lou does not indulge in such idle thoughts. Rather, his mind is like the blade in his hand. Sharp. Focused. Deadly.
That veve-anointed knife descends in a lightning fast flicker. It’s no Parisian colichemarde from the Sun King’s court, but the blade allows far quicker, alley-tight strikes—especially in the hands of the supernaturally fast hunter. Lou’s ice-pick grip amplifies that speed and punching power, causing the knife to stab perhaps a dozen times into the vampire’s back before its undead psyche registers the first bright, blossom of pain that ushers in a cascade of agony. And unlike Rampart’s typical alley fighters, Lou keenly understands his prey’s peculiar anatomy. Each strike is that of an occult vivisectionist. One after another, those acupuncture-precise strikes fall on—and through—the Kindred’s winter coat, as the puffy insulation muffles the sounds of Lou’s cement-cracking blows like a suppressor. The coat’s stuffing also keeps the vampire’s punctured back from leaking everywhere. After all, the hunter has his own Masquerade to protect.
For each blow, he silently recites a name of a former friend, a fallen hunter.
The names are many.
So too are the vampire’s wounds.
And due to the blade’s veve, such wounds will not, cannot heal.
Not tonight at least—and Lou does not intend to let this monster see another.
GM: There are too many.
Too many names.
Too many friends.
But not too many blows.
Lou falls upon the Quarter rat (for what other vampire would feed upon Rampart Street’s homeless?) like a cat upon that same prey—deathly silent one moment, and then a storm of pain and steel. The expertly placed knife strikes slice through flesh and bone and coat alike. Any human would be dead. Dead before they hit the ground. His foe is already dead, but she still screams, caught completely by surprise as Lou all but vivisects her back and then tackles her off her prey. The homeless man screams too, as the warring alley fighters disturb his sleep. He doesn’t throw punches at any of them. He grabs as many of his things as he can in one motion, then bolts for his life. His sleeping bag is left behind.
But better to sleep upon hard streets than to sleep six feet under.
Or sleep in a wall, if you die in this city.
Or sleep in a hunter’s safehouse as their vitae farm, if you’re a vampire.
Lou can make out her features under the dim light of the moon. She looks young. Very young. Brown. Not brown of skin, which is white, but brown because her dirty face, matted hair, torn clothes, and tattered Doc Martens are all saturated with the color. She smells as bad as he used to. She looks barely a step above above the homeless man she tried to drain. Lou can see her warring against the Beast in her furious eyes as she snarls in his face.
Then she arches her back and howls.
Lou can hear them converging on him from all sides, even if his eyes can’t make them out in the gloom. Shapes. Low. Bestial. Four-legged. Canine growls split the air.
“You picked the wrong lick to fuck with, juicebag!” the pinned vampire snarls out.
As one, the snarling dogs leap.
Louis: But the alley is a chokehold—and the man’s squeezes his grip on it with uncanny speed, strength, and familiarity.
He knows his city’s gutters. Especially in the Quarter, their dimensions have changed little over the centuries. Nor have the monsters that inhabit them.
The old man, however, has picked up a few new tricks during the same time, and as the dogs leap, he uses both old and new to his advantage.
For all the curs’ numbers, they cannot fully surround him, not in the tight alley built for late 18th century needs. Moreover, the narrow corridor restricts the dogs’ movements, subtracting their potential strike vectors like Harrah’s draining its patrons’ bank accounts.
He further stacks the deck by hauling up the Quarter rat in a smooth, yet complex and frighteningly fast and inhumanly strong, movement that simultaneously locks one of the vamp’s arms between them as well places her in a headlock with Lou’s prosthetic-capped arm. His other arm—and sole hand—is thus left free to drop his switchblade. He doesn’t need its power anymore, not tonight at least, and besides, the power itself was only bestowed to the knife by his hand and blood. Any other weapon could suffice.
And tonight, that other weapon is a flashlight.
Unlike the bulky maglites he used while walking the beat with Lebeaux and Broussard, this flashlight is small but no less dangerous. It’s a tactical flashlight that snugly fits into his hammer grip, like a roll of quarters in a boxer’s fist, that also extends his striking distance by a few inches with its scalloped steel rim. But the PI is less interested in the weapon’s bone-shattering strength than its blinding 2,000 lumens.
As the mongrels converge, he perfectly times his thumb upon the flashlight’s back button, clicking it on and off to repeatedly blind the Kindred-summoned dogs. He waits, then shifts and sidesteps, allowing their fangs to accidentally rip into one another and the vampire that he cunningly uses as a meat shield. His strobe both gives him sight, but also denies them theirs. The intense light causes the dogs to reflexively, unwillingly blink, wince, and turn away, providing the perfect openings for cunning kicks and quick, killing jabs with the flashlight. Most of these jabs, though, are saved for the vampire in his coils.
Ultimately, the dogs are just a distraction.
The man knows his true enemy.
GM: The first blow smashes into a dog like a sledgehammer and sends the beast careening aside into the wall. There’s a whine as it hits the ground. Another blinded canine proves effortlessly easy for the already effortlessly graceful man to duck past, even in the cramped alleyway and with a headlocked vampire in one arm. The dog smashes headlong into another mutt racing down at Lou from the alley’s opposite side. Two more lightning-quick and crushingly hard blows ensure they don’t get up. A third blow takes out the first dog too for good measure.
The fourth dog, initially blocked by the others, has enough time to recover its vision and leap straight at Lou—just as the Quarter rat produces a knife with her free hand and rams it into Lou’s gut. Just as the dog’s slavering jaws reach his throat. There’s no escape, not through both of them. Stab and tear. Another man would be dead. Maybe the Lou of three months ago would be dead.
But Lou is not another man.
And he’s not the Lou of three months ago.
No, the Lou of tonight hasn’t dulled his mind with liquor, and sees it all coming. The Lou of tonight hasn’t dulled his body with starvation and cigarettes. The Lou of tonight ducks low beneath the dog, releases the Quarter rat, and runs straight towards the wall.
Then he runs up the wall.
The dog and Quarter rat don’t even see it coming when the flashlight descends from above with bone-breaking force over the canine’s head, putting the beast down for the count. The Quarter rat whirls and comes at him with the knife. Steel streaks towards the falling man’s chest. He can’t dodge.
Lou doesn’t try. He seizes the vampire’s wrist hard enough to make her scream, still while he falls, and yanks her off her feet. The centuries-old detective breaks his descent with a roll as the Quarter rat crashes against the alley wall. When she hits the ground, eyes wide as her prior wounds refuse to close, the stake from Lou’s coat pocket is already descending towards her chest.
She gets out one question before the wood pierces her heart:
“Who the fuck are you!?!”
Louis: Lou’s reply is swift and sharp as the stake—or it would be if he doesn’t have to pause to catch his breath. Still, he manages to cough out a sardonic answer, more to the alley than the immobile monster at this feet.
“Nobody special. Just a man who… needs a drink, a lot of life insurance, and a vacation.”
“Too bad… you can’t help me… with the last two.”
He wants to sit down, to massage his aching joints. He wants a damned cigarette. And a bottle of bourbon. He wants a lot of things. But the sober man has learned to push past his wants. Most of them at least.
Trabaja cuando estés vivo. Descansa cuando estés muerto.
(Work when you’re alive. Rest when you’re dead.)
The old words flit against his brain like the moths trying to commit suicide with Rampart’s streetlights. They were his father’s words. Words used whenever his son tried to substitute leisure for labor. Which was often.
The ghostly words stir the old man’s callous-clogged heart. And for a moment, he remembers. Not only the words, but also the voice of his father. His face still evades Lou’s memory, but the sound of his father’s voice, even chiding, makes him want to cry.
But that’s another want he pushes past.
After all, there’s work to be done, and he’s not dead yet.
And so, with naught but a brief, sad glimpse back at the dogs, he stuffs the staked vampire into the hobo’s sleeping bag. He then retrieves his switchblade and quickly covers up any other sign of his presence, before clicking off and stowing his flashlight. Once more in the dark, he slings his bag-zipped prize over his shoulder and shuffles down the alleyway.
Once more, the alley swallows the man. But the city remains confident that when she calls her Lope again, he will answer.