CHAPTER SEVEN: FOUR YEARS AGO
Angel walked carefully through the cemetery. It was well past midnight, and dawn lay only a few hours off. The entire night’s patrolling had been uneventful, and it looked like the cemetery was deserted. He was somewhat surprised but definitely not upset by this turn of events. He resolved to call it good and turn in for the day when he noticed that one of the newly installed grave markers was already cracked. It wasn’t unusual for vandals to go on tombstone-tipping sprees, but it was strange that only one would be broken in this whole area of the cemetery. Walking closer, he noticed that some of the tombstones seemed to be dripping. He looked up at the sky—no clouds, no rain.
He put a finger to the liquid to see what it was, but drew his hand back quickly when his fingers burned. He thrust his hand in his pocket and tried to wipe off as much of it as possible. No doubt it was holy water. Further investigation yielded several tiny wooden darts. He pocketed a few.
He wondered what was going on. Did Buffy stay in Sunnydale after all? This didn’t seem like her handiwork. Was another Slayer in town? He remembered with a shudder how Kendra had locked him in that cage, seconds away from being toasted by the sun before Slick Willy had rescued him. But no, Giles would know and would have mentioned it if another one had come to town. Whatever was going on, it was clear that someone—or something—was now prowling the streets of Sunnydale. Not that another vampire hunter would be bad, Angel thought to himself. As long as it realized that he was different than the others. But it was too late to do much more this night, and it was too early to talk to Giles. Maybe tomorrow he would look up some of his informants and see if they knew anything.
He walked wearily through the streets back to his place, too restless to sleep but too tired to do much of anything else. Patrolling wasn’t just walking around waiting for something to jump out at you. It meant carefully and silently making your way through deserted and often unlit places, with your senses always on edge and jumping a little at each cricket or car door slamming. A few hours of patrolling like this could fray the nerves and exhaust one’s patience. How did Buffy manage to patrol several nights a week and still attend a full slate of classes each day? That must be why she’ s always on edge.
Summer and early fall was always a frustrating time of the year for him—just eight or nine hours of darkness each night meant he had to spend the rest of the time cooped up in his room. Maybe I need a vacation to Alaska, he thought as he opened the door. Six months of 24-hour darkness. I would be just like anyone else there, able to go where I please, when I please. As long as I remembered to leave before the 24-hours of daylight kicked in. He climbed down the stairs to his basement apartment, unlocked the door and switched the lights on.
He dropped the bundle of stakes near the door and grabbed a book from the nightstand—Proust’s Swann’s Way—and reclined on the bed to try and relax. His apartment was spacious but largely spartan. Paintings of various styles from the past two-hundred years were on the walls, as were sculptures and knick-knacks he had picked up in his travels around the world. Small piles of books sat along the walls, and a few artificial plants hung from the ceiling.
There were no mirrors of course, and few photographs. One of them was of Buffy—her sophomore yearbook photo. In the picture, her hair was done up and she wore a goofy grin, but in spite of it all she was beautiful. He thought back to what Giles had told him about the night before, and remembered the conversation he had tried to have with Buffy the weekend those monster-eggs were taking over everyone’s bodies. He had tried to get her to think about the future, to confront reality. But she wouldn’t—it wasn’t that she was terrified of it, or didn’t care—but more like she just wanted to, or perhaps needed to, focus on what was now as opposed to what might happen someday.
He rolled over on his stomach and continued trying to read. He could remember reading the novel when it first came out in the original French, back when Proust had to publish it at his own expense because he couldn’t find a publisher. Normally it was engaging and helped pass the time. Tonight he just couldn’t seem to concentrate—something kept nagging at the back of his mind. Something was wrong. Something about his place was different. The smell, he realized, rolling over and jumping to his feet. Someone else had been here—recently!
“What did you mean when you said I should leave well enough alone?” whispered a voice from the doorway. Angel turned and saw that a tall, thick man was blocking the exit. He seemed to be around Giles’ age, but his face was contorted into pure rage. He wore a long coat, but underneath it Angel could tell he was wearing a shiny, metallic body suit of some kind. It seemed to be composed of small, flexible plates that overlapped one another. Was this one of Spike’s brood? Angel didn’t recognize the man, but his instincts told him he was dangerous.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Angel said carefully. “Have we met before?” Even with a great memory, one forgot a lot of faces after being alive for over two centuries.
Tintsman stood there silently. Someone like Angel was not who he expected to find. He always thought it would be some half-mad demonic vampire, or some foul, withered, bloodsucking old crone. Not some handsome young kid who looked barely old enough to run for student body president at a community college. He hesitated a second, before remembering what had been taken from him. He had traveled across the country to finally find this “Angel.” Hatred bubbled up inside him. Vampires were nothing but murderous leeches. And this—this filth has the gall to deny he was even a part of it, he thought. Maybe he’ s killed so many he can’ t even remember the recent ones.
“This is for Maggie and Katie.” He was so enraged he could barely vocalize the words, but his finger managed to find the trigger of the small pistol he was holding. Angel didn’t have time to consciously react as a jet of water shot across the room, but his instincts led him to dive out of the way just in time. He hit the floor hard, knocking over a lamp and plunging the room into semi-darkness. Only a few scant drops of the liquid had touched Angel’s skin, but by the burning sensation, he knew what it was.
Angel recovered quickly and jumped towards the man, kicking the pistol out of his hand. It didn’t fall, however, as it was connected by a hose to a container strapped to Tintsman’s back. Angel landed a solid punch to his attacker’s ribs but was knocked to the ground by a sudden backhand. He could hardly believe how strong his attacker was. No human can do that!
Angel watched as his attacker pulled another weapon from the coat—it looked like a rifle, but Angel knew it was no ordinary one. He dove under the bed and pushed up hard, knocking both frame and mattress on their side, forming a shield between him and this psycho who was after him. The spraying had stopped, but a strange clicking had started from the direction of the doorway. Smoke and the sound of gunshots filled the small room and Angel’s only defense was riddled by small wooden projectiles. One of the darts grazed him on the shoulder, taking a patch of skin along with it before hitting the wall behind him.
It was time for a strategic withdrawal, Angel realized. He pulled the bed back down to its normal position and rolled over, face down on the floor. Even a vampire didn’t live for over two hundred years without learning a few tricks, such as always having a second exit to any resting-place.
With one hand, the intruder flung the mattress and bed aside. A trapdoor was clearly visible underneath. He opened it and peered into the darkness within. “I’m coming for you Angel!” he shouted into it, but he knew it was too late. The vampire probably knew the tunnels below like the back of his foul hand, and he wouldn’t be coming back here anytime soon.
Tintsman stood up, his face contorted with rage. He holstered the small rifle and tried to calm himself down, but to no avail. So close! After all this time! He strode into the main room of the apartment purposefully and walked along the walls, sweeping artwork and knick-knacks to the ground as he went. Precious treasures that Angel had collected over the centuries were broken and ground into the floor. When almost everything in the room had been shattered, Tintsman stood in the center and looked around. He started to breathe again. I’ll simply have to find another way, he thought. Whatever it takes.
Saturday night was usually jumping at the Stop-On-Inn truckstop off Highway 322, and tonight was no different. Saturday was not only a popular travel day for weekend trips, it was also one of the few nights many locals came out for chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy, and anything else one could rarely find in town after 10 p.m.
It was shortly before the witching hour that almost a dozen motorcycles roared in. Sam Mills, the night manager, stood there in a checkered shirt and baseball cap, watching them circle around the parking lot a few times before they stopped and removed their helmets. He wasn’t worried though—bikers had a much worse reputation than they usually deserved. Often they were more polite and better tippers than the townies, at least.
Most of the bikers headed for the front doors, but a few circled off around the back. All the customers looked up as they came in. Sam noticed that there was one in particular who stood out from the rest. Although dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and a leather vest like the others, there was something about him—some indescribable presence—that clearly marked him as their leader. He walked as though he was ready to order an army into battle or meet the Queen of England with equal ease. Striding in front of his followers, he stopped in the middle of the store. In front him was a long counter that separated the truck stop from the cooks and waitresses who worked there. Off to his right was a long row of booths, most of them filled, while off to his left were the packaged snacks and cheap souvenirs and trinkets one finds in every highway convenience store.
“Yes, this will do nicely,” Castillo said to one of his lieutenants behind him. Inwardly, he smiled. He had been spending far too much time in the office and at interminable meetings. Although it was obvious that power and money came much easier through politics and trading invisible pieces of invisible entities called “corporations,” there was simply something visceral about being on the hunt that could not be matched in the boardroom. Sometimes he longed for the Spain of his youth—prowling the alleyways for courtesans or noblewomen, leaping aboard ships and terrifying the crews just for the sheer joy of it. Yes, this was definitely something he needed to do more often.
He clapped his hands loudly, and every face in the store stared at him curiously. “Friends,” he began, loudly enough for everyone to hear “I am pleased to inform you that tonight is the very last night of your miserable, pathetic little lives on this earth. Now please, line yourselves up by height and then blood type.” Several of his companions guffawed behind him, while the customers didn’t seem to get the joke.
A shapely young waitress walked over. “Do you want a table or do you want to peddle your keesters out of here?” she called, as if she were wasting time by even being in their presence. In my day, we would have called her a ‘saucy wench,’ Castillo thought to himself. Why was it the most apt phrases always go out of style so soon? His hand lashed out, grabbing her around the waist. She gave a little startled cry as he pulled her off of her feet and pushed her to the waiting arms of his men. He paused and listened to the slurping and sucking sounds that were music to his ears.
The customers, who had assumed this was all some kind of stupid prank, changed their minds when they saw the waitress fall face down and hit the floor hard with a loud crack, the blood drained out of her. They panicked and ran for the exits. Castillo knew a dozen ways he could have handled tonight’s events without causing a stir—for example, he could have had his men wait patiently and ambush customers as they entered and exited the store, with none inside the wiser. But that missed the point—the tumult, the confusion, the panic, the terror, the screams—that was what made being a vampire fun! And what would eternal life be, if it wasn’ t fun? Castillo thought rhetorically as his men fanned out and began tearing the place apart while picking out their prey. With all of the exits blocked, many of the customers formed themselves in a small bunch towards the side of the store as the vampires advanced.
Sam Mills had seen various incarnations of Dracula on late-night cable enough times to know what had to be done. He wasn’t a hero--but he wasn’t about to let himself be torn apart by vampires either. He decided to risk it and sprinted for the souvenir section of the store, feeling triumphant when he reached the display of imitation- gilded crosses. Grasping the largest one he could find, Sam thrust it bravely in front of him as Castillo walked over with a thin smile.
“Back demon of the night! Back by all that is uh . . . holy!” Sam shouted, trying to remember what exactly it was that Dr. Van Helsing always said.
Castillo chuckled softly as he walked right up to Sam and grasped the cross without hesitation. He gently pulled it out of Sam’s hand and crushed it into a ball and tossed it on the floor. It slid into the base of a postcard display before stopping. Castillo shook his head slowly, for he knew what all humans--and even most vampires-- did not: disbelief could be as powerful as belief. There was nothing intrinsically powerful about a cross that harmed vampires; instead it was the fact that a person’s mental and spiritual energies were being focused into the cross that was important, much the same as it was the residue of these energies that kept a vampire from entering a domicile uninvited. When these energies were focused into a tangible object, that was what gave a vampire pause and could even harm them. Thus, a Jewish person could focus on a Star of David, a Muslim on a crescent and star pendant, or, for that matter, a skeptic on a volume of Hume. In this case, Sam’s faith was nothing compared to Castillo’s disbelief.
Castillo looked up and realized he had simply been standing there thinking, while all of his men were staring at him expectantly and Sam was trembling in shock. Castillo extended his thumb and index finger, as if to pinch something in the air, and then in a flash jammed them into Sam’s neck. He pulled out Sam’s carotid artery and began to suck from it as if it were a straw, as the humans eyes closed for the last time.
Blood Lite. Tastes great, less filling, Castillo almost said out loud before catching himself. Despite all of his precautions, the relentless American drive to commercialize and advertise everything was getting to him. The thought made him shudder, and he resolved to have all channels except PBS permanently blocked.
The entire truckstop burned as Castillo and his men road away to the west. Once the flames reached the underground gas tanks, there would nothing left to identify what had happened. Not that it mattered much, Castillo knew. No matter how obvious it was that vampires had attacked, the authorities invariably came up with serial killers, drugs, or Satan-worshipping cults as the cause.
They rode for several more hours in the cool night air before turning into a rest stop. There lay two large, black semi-trucks with their cargo doors opened and ramps extended. The bikers slowed down and rode their cycles up the ramps and into the darkened holds. Here they would rest during the daylight while the trucks took them farther west.
“Have them hurry,” Castillo said to one of his men, indicating the cab of the semi. “I want to be at Arctic Ridge by tomorrow night. The Slayer is no doubt there already, and I don’t want her to leave without us being there to send her off appropriately.”
Several hundred miles and a nearly a dozen states away, another black semi-truck pulled into Sunnydale’s small warehouse district. It stopped in front of a low, brown warehouse on the edge of the town. Just as the rear doors of the semi opened and several men in blue uniforms jumped down to unload it, the huge double-doors of the warehouse slowly pushed open as well.
“You’re late,” said a man standing within the doorway of the warehouse. “You’d better hurry. Dawn is in less than an hour.” He carefully wiped the dust off his hands with a handkerchief, careful not to get any on his suit.
“Why don’t you stop yapping and start helping,” retorted one of the men struggling with a large container. Each crate was marked “FRAGILE—SENSITIVE ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT” and “ELECTROTECH, INC.”
“Because I don’t have to worry about bursting into flame or disintegrating into ash or whatever it is that you do when the sun comes up,” the man, Wittingstone, said snidely. “And besides, moving the equipment is your job. My job was to watch the Slayer, find us a base, track down your preliminary target for tomorrow night, and eventually prepare for the final demonstration. As you can see, I am simply much too busy to engage in manual labor.”
When the truck had been unloaded and had driven off, the movers sat in a semi-circle on the floor of the warehouse as Wittingstone handled each of them a manila folder labeled “DOSSIER—CONFIDENTIAL.”
“Inside,” he said, “you will everything we have on your target for tomorrow night.”
“I don’t get it,” said one of the men, flipping through his folder quickly. “The boss didn’t send four of us for this guy!”
“We had anticipated one or two more targets. But still, even alone I wouldn’t underestimate him. Mr. Castillo is simply being prudent, as always. This ‘Rupert Giles’ is reputed to be quite resourceful. Not only is he the Watcher for one of the most powerful Slayers in history, he is also rumored to be quite skilled in sorcery.”
“Worse yet, he’s a librarian!” snickered one of the men.
Wittingstone sneered at him disdainfully. He was not a humorous man, and he despised insolence. “In any event,” he continued, ”I will return this evening with our target’s final location.” He nodded and walked towards a small door in the back of the warehouse. He was careful to open it only enough to squeeze through, so as not to flood the place with sunlight.