March 12th 2010
Pete sighed. He actually couldn’t decide which he liked less: fighting demons, the impromptu supernatural cram session the mysterious men in black had put him and his new companions through, or the overly long plane ride seated next to one of the most ornery old men he had ever seen, or for that matter heard of. But it was finally over, even walking through the airport was therapeutic because it gave him a reason to use his legs. Transportation after this wasn’t in his plan, the world was moving too fast lately, but there seemed to be plenty of cabs lined up, and he didn’t have the patience to search for more economical transportation. But if there was anything the seminary had never needed to teach him, it was prudence, the south side had done that just fine, and besides, this seemed like a good opportunity to extend Christian charity to those who would seem to be our enemies. “Excuse me, sir, but the transportation in this town is priced ludicrously, and since we’re both headed to the Holiday Inn, I thought I would offer to split the fare between you, my companion, and myself.” The old man sighed heavily, but accepted, and was appropriately gracious. Pete knew people well enough to know he wasn’t necessarily happy about it, but his ethics would never allow him to pass up a deal.
The first cab that opened its doors to them was nothing special, just as dented and grimy as the other dozen cabs lined up in front of the arrivals gate. What was different was the driver. At first he seemed to fit the bill perfectly; a license reading Vidal Alejandre with a picture just similar enough to him to fall below the legal threshold for suspicion, a thick accent, a tenuous grasp on English, and an extroverted demeanor that his work demanded as a prerequisite for keeping his sanity. To the casual observer, he was an immigrant cabbie right down to the stereotypical bone, but something about him just didn’t ring right with Pete, and a few years in the confessional booth had taught him to trust his instincts. Their driver’s choice of radio stations only increased his suspicions, as in a short time the phrases the Father’s half-listening ears had picked up included hunter, holding the candle, blood-sucking leeches, and the vigil, before a new, smooth voice took over to announce “Keep your dial pointed to 1337AM for more on the occurrences all over the city tomorrow night, as every night. And as the sun sets over the City of Brotherly Love this is Radio Revolution After Dark, and we’re locking down for the night. We’ll catch you tomorrow at 6 after 7 in the AM and be with you until 12 after the same hour in the PM. I’m Gumshoe Grimm reminding you to stay vigilant, Philly; and carry the candle bravely into the shadows. Revolution, is coming.” Pete hadn’t been in the monster hunting business long, and he wasn’t sure how well informed or trustworthy the men from Canada were, but they had used almost all of those phrases, those same metaphors for what they did, for fighting monsters, for the hunt. Something was definitely up, and if his recent trials had taught him anything, it was that he needed to get to the bottom as soon as possible. Pete sighed. For some reason, he thought Philadelphia was going to be quiet.
Dylan was starting to relax, at least as much as the recent changes in his life made relaxation possible. Less than 2 months ago, he had everything he ever dreamed of; his own show, fans, a devoted nerdy base, and the prestige of a rising young Hollywood player. Sure, the show had problems, but they could have overcome them, if it hadn’t been for that night…
Dylan shook himself. It was easy to divide his life into 2 sections, everything before the night he had fled Los Angeles as his real life, and everything since as its horrible, unrealistic, genre-shifting sequel. Having a vampire invade your house while you sleep, reveal its true face, then make it very clear that you needed to skip town or die will do that to you. Of course he knew now that all of the tragedies and setbacks that had happened on set were almost certainly orchestrated by the vampire conspiracy that so feared him exposing their true nature, even if it was only in fiction. Thinking back on it, it wasn’t even the revelation that the monsters he had made his name writing about were real that threw him the most, it was that, by entering his home, they proved to follow his rules, and not Joss Whedon’s. Even at the ‘Kindred’’s height, if an interviewer had suggested that he would have yelled blasphemy like the good fanboy he still saw himself as, but with incontrovertible, physical proof… No, it still felt wrong to try to put himself above his heroes. On that subject, he had to wonder if the vampires and other illicit forces had a hand in Buffy, or any of the other horribly inaccurate vampire and supernatural fiction churned out by Hollywood. They certainly had the pull, and he was sure Twilight was a vampire conspiracy years before he knew they existed, but what did this mean for all the shows and movies he had loved so much? Could Joss be a ghoul?
“Excuse me, Sir?”
The voice from the back seat shocked him back to the here and now, just in time to keep his cab in the appropriate lane. Philadelphia drivers weren’t the warm, forgiving types he had gotten used to in LA, who would just riddle your car with automatic fire if you cut them off. No, these people were spiteful.
“Sir? Um, Senor Alejandre?” “Oh, yea… Si, si padre?” Shit. He had gotten so in his own head that not only had he ignored his passengers, he had let his accent slip. It wasn’t the best ruse in the world, but the Dominicans in his new neighborhood didn’t know what a Catalonia accent sounded like, and it let him get away as a non-native speaker in both English and Spanish. “I was just wondering where you’re from, my child” “Oh, uh, outside Barthelona, padre.” “Yes, I see…” Shit shit shit. The priest wasn’t buying a word of his story, he could tell. He couldn’t be a vamp, there was still a sliver of sun, but he wouldn’t put it past them at all to ghoul up a clergyman and send it after him. They probably thought he would hesitate to hurt something wearing vestments, but maybe their ages were finally showing, they were behind the times…
“Hiya.” Dylan jumped in his seat. He was lucky that was all he did, his hand had just been reaching in between the front seats for his 9mm when the young girl had suddenly opened his front passenger’s door and casually gotten in at a red light. Under almost an circumstances, this would have been enough for him to shoot someone, and have probable cause to boot, but something about her jumped out at him, he had seen her before. It only took him a split second to remember where: the boards! She was one of the very few posters to the Netzo forums that wasn’t shy at all about showing her face or giving out her name, that alone made her a little famous. This was Natashia Quaker, local film student, hunter, and eccentric. In another split second, the gun was resafetied and back in its hiding spot. Without even stopping to ask for fare or destination, Dylan started driving. He had to get his fares where they were going, but he wasn’t about to kick the first hunter he had ever met face to face out on the street.
“Excuse me, but who is this young lady and why do you think its even remotely ok for her to poach on our cab ride?” The words were sharp. The rap upside the head with a heavy, metal handled cane was sharper. The old guy in the middle seat looked grumpy, and he apparently didn’t go any deeper than that. Dylan didn’t have the patience for this right now.
“Look, buddy, its not costing you anything extra, and she hasn’t done anything to piss you off, so how about you sit back, be quiet, and we’ll be to your mid-priced hotel before you know it?”
The cab was silent. Dylan, after a very confused 3 or 4 seconds, was the last to figure out why. That hadn’t even been close to his fake accent. Anyone with training could probably even pin that as a north Chicago suburbs accent. One second of not thinking, one inconsequential outburst, and he might have just brought the wrath of an entire kingdom of vampires to his brand new, roach infested doorstep.
“Barcelona, you say?” The Priest mused quietly, walking the line between smug confirmation of a suspicion and moral superiority that they must teach on the first day of seminary. There were two ways out of this. One involved trying to take out at least 3 people in the backseat before any of them could distract him enough to send his cab into oncoming traffic and kill them all. One didn’t.
“Look, I’m sorry about the whole funny foreigner routine,” Dylan said in his own voice, “But you’re going to have to trust me that I’m not a criminal or a terrorist, just a normal guy who doesn’t want to be found.”
“I don’t have to trust you about anything,” the hardened older man snarled, “I need to get to my hotel, get out, pay you a fair share of the price of the ride and not a cent more, then never see you again.”
“I will pay for the girls portion of the fare, sir, there is no need to be confrontational.” Leave it to the priest to calm things down, and for now Dylan couldn’t have been happier. The old guy might have been getting a little gray, but he looked as solid as a rock and that cane was not meant to support his legs so much as to break others.
“No one here needs to know my name.” Dylan now knew that this cane was new. He just didn’t know what was scary enough to have shoved the old one so far up this guy’s ass.
Natashia immediately glared at Dylan with a mix of fear, doubt, suspicion, and a steely preparedness to jump him like a caged animal that it actually stalled him in his tracks for a second or two, before he could come up with a meek “I know you from the boards. My handle is Metrop0lisRefugee. Hi.” It definitely wasn’t his smoothest first words to a girl, but it was far from his worst, and she seemed to buy it enough to back off from throat ripping mode.
“Dylan Kent? The Dylan Kent? ‘Kindred’ Dylan Kent?!”
The outburst was surprising, but by this point in the night Dylan had used up his capacity to be shocked. The Asian guy had been quiet all ride, that kind of not quite in his own mind that makes people look straight through you even if you aren’t particularly trying to hide. A few months ago, a reaction like this would have made Dylan’s night. He never got tired of people becoming so engrossed in his creation that they stepped off the edge of rational literary appreciation, even if they hated it. In a year and a half as a Hollywood showrunner, he’d spent dozens of hours talking to fans and hundreds arguing with detractors. But tonight, someone recognizing his name registered just enough emotion for him to reach back between his seat and the one beside it and begin fumbling for his gun’s safety.
“You’ve got the wrong guy. Common name. I get that all the time” “No, you’re him, I remember your picture!” “Look, if I was a famous and brilliant writer and producer, what would I be doing driving a cab on the evening shift in Philadelphia?”
Toshi paused for a breath, but there was a mischievous gleam in his eye. In a softer, much less enthusiastic tone, he said “I always liked that show. The only thing I couldn’t stand was how they made all the vampires bad guys and kept them out of the sun, sparkling is half the fun of a vampires show.”
Dylan’s toes curled. He bit his lip. He gripped the steering wheel hard enough to feel the cheep pleather start to flake off in his hands. He almost had himself contained until the formerly quiet guy in the back continued “I mean, I know not everything can be as good as Twilight, but…”
“Listen, Twilight is a piece of shit, and Stephanie Meyer is going to whatever Hell Mormons believe in for writing it. But people don’t want a quality story, they want something to follow the current pop romantic bastardizing of fanged monsters. We had real goddamn vampires. Vampires are evil spawn of the pit, they do not go out in the day, and they do not fucking sparkle!”
The cab was silent for what seemed like the hundredth time that ride. Everyone, including Dylan, was taken aback at the sudden display of nerd rage, but Toshi, just reclined in his seat and quietly said to himself “I knew it. Awesome!”
After that, there was a few moments triumph for awkward silence, and Dylan welcomed it enough that he wished he believed in something he could send prayers of thanks to. When the priest, after not even the full playtime of a song, cleared his throat to speak, Dylan immediately withdrew the sentiment.
“So, that is a very interesting radio station you have on there, Dylan. I was especially intrigued by the message about carrying the candle and maintaining the vigil when we first got in. Toshi and I seem to be hearing that message a lot lately.”
Now Dylan’s mind was really moving a million miles an hour. Had he really had the good fortune to wind up with a carload full of hunters after spending 2 months in Philadelphia not finding one? Or was this the most elaborate trap ever set? One glance at Natashia revealed she was thinking the same thing; these guys obviously weren’t with Netzo, but they seemed to know at least the basic keywords of the lingo. Dylan hadn’t even finished processing the Priest’s statement, let alone deciding on a response, by the time that Natashia turned and said “Yeah, really interesting. Look, I have this video project up in Cobbs Creek Park that sounds right up you guys alley, care to tag along and lend a hand?”
“Oh no, I’ll film. I just wanted some more people around, you know… experienced people. The park has some problems with dogs. Really big dogs.”
The proverbial lightbulb over their 3 faces could have lit up the care, but in effect it just cast the old man in the middle into deeper shadow.
“I don’t know you people. But you apparently know each other. You are in speaking in code, and the things you are saying make little sense. I am a former law enforcement officer, I do still have allies on the Philadelphia police, and unless you give me a very good reason not to I am about to subdue you all and report your cult to the authorities.”
Dylan was prepared for the shocked silence this time, it had almost become a cliche. But that still didn’t mean he could do anything to convince his body to unfreeze his blood or make his jaw or vocal chords work.
“No need to call anyone,” Natashia beamed, “You’re perfectly welcome to come along and see for yourself that nothing is going on.”
Dylan was either in love with this girl or terrified of her. And which ended up being true greatly depended on whether she was able to stay this much on her toes due to sharp wits or a borderline sociopathic removal from human entanglement. In any case, in the here and now it appeared to have placated the crazy ex-cop in his back seat, and that was a good thing.
“Fine,” muttered the crag in the middle seat, “but turn that meter off, drive straight there, and when we get there, no funny business.”
Dylan took a deep breath. He had asked for this, after all. Two months of writing comics for nothing, driving a cab 10 hours a day, and living on ramen had made him desperate for something to do, something to be able to strike, some way to feel in control of his life. This looked like that opportunity, and now that it had been dropped in his lap he wasn’t sure he wanted it. But with a cab full of 3 hunters and one extremely hard to pleas ex-cop, there was no backing out now. He was about to find out whether he really deserved to be called a hunter, or if all he had to look forward to was a short life of uploading second rate comics and waiting for a vampire hit squad. Oh well, he thought as he steered the cab through the warm Philadelphia spring night, still better than another night of ramen.