From the Unlife and Curse of Sean Becker
I can’t believe that kid Artemus knew all about this. Of course, because he’s a vampire, he may be a lot older than he looks, so “kid” might not be accurate.
We spotted each other about the same time in a public library branch in Las Vegas. I was browsing the stacks while he was surfing the web on one of the library’s public access computers.
Spotted might not be the right word, since appearance isn’t a very good indicator of our kind. It was like there was something in the air, more like a vibration than a scent. The last time I had this feeling was when I was in the presence of Moshe Cohen, the vampire who had created me. I didn’t know what that feeling was at the time, but the second I locked eyes with Artemus, I knew. So did he.
I was shocked and just stood there staring, but he got up and walked right up to me.
“Hey, brother. Why don’t we step outside and have a chat.”
He was short, maybe five foot eight, dark, bushy hair, jeans, dark windbreaker over a black t-shirt. He wore sunglasses indoors, even though our kind, that is vampires, can tolerate interior lighting pretty well. Looked somewhere between fifteen and eighteen years old, but like I said, vampires don’t age, or do so very slowly, so he could have been fifty for all I knew.
I silently followed him down the stairs to the main lobby. I didn’t mind the interruption. I was just killing time until it got late enough in the evening to hunt my next victim. In a place like Las Vegas, there was bound to be someone around at just about any hour.
Anyway, turns out Artemus wasn’t just surfing the web, he was on a private forum…for vampires. Actually, it’s for any nightwalker, natural or supernatural, who for whatever reason, prefers to operate in the dark and doesn’t go out in the light.
Do you know they even have a job search for vampires? No, I don’t mean “Will suck for money,” but legitimate jobs (and some illegitimate) for people who only work at night.
Artemus spotted me for a “newbie” and said he’d help me out. Wanted to pass the favor along since a few years back, another vampire pointed him in the same direction. He told me how to find the gateway website, how to set up a secure login, and what to do first.
Then he was gone, probably hunting.
That’s how I got this job. Sean Becker, Private Eye.
Okay, I’m not a private detective. That takes a license and a bunch of forms and I don’t have a legal identity. Aidan Burke however is a licensed private investigator. He doesn’t look like much, certainly not like all the tough guy actors in the old movies I used to watch as a kid, but then again, his job isn’t all that glamorous.
Mainly following spouses suspected of cheating, trying to get proof for divorce court or tracking down someone a business partner or whoever suspects of embezzlement or other shady stuff.
Burke knows who and what I am. He’s part of a group of people called “Allies,” not like allies of gay people, but of nightwalkers like me, human beings who think vampires, or some of us anyway, have gotten a raw deal. They want to help out. They can’t give us our lives back, but they can employ us, under the table of course, so we can buy what we need and not have to steal.
This appealed to me a lot. Sure, the job is seedy, but how many employers are going to overlook the fact that instead of a coffee break or lunch hour, you need a little time in the middle of your shift to drink blood?
I see great in the dark, can move with almost complete silence, and hide very well in the shadows. Perfect for following around a woman suspected by her husband of cheating on him.
Her name is Edna Bryant. Her husband, Hugh Bryant is the jealous type, a December-May marriage. Figures she’s got a young guy on the side. Says she goes out to do charity work. I’m supposed to follow her.
I do and guess what? She stops off at the Los Angeles Mission on 5th Street and helps serve up dinner. She does this three or four nights a week. Looks like charity isn’t dead.
By day I sleep in a room at Burke’s. It just has a bed, a nightstand and a clock. The windows are locked and they have blackout curtains. Perfect place for a guy like me to spend days.
We make a pretty good team. Burke does all the day time investigations and gives me the night work. He gave me little tasks at first and then taught me the tricks of the trade. I can’t go around flashing a badge or calling myself “private investigator,” but I know the night, don’t intimidate, and don’t mind asking questions. When you’re a vampire, you get used to the darker side of life fast.
It’s been six months now, and I’m getting pretty good at it, so good, that Burke can take most nights off.
Our relationship is mostly professional. We don’t hang out together. I get the feeling he’s not entirely comfortable with me, even after all this time and, after all, I do live in his house (and it’s a good thing he’s not a family man). I wonder why he is doing this, helping me I mean?
Another night. Oh yeah. I’ve been following Cab Jackson and it paid off. He’s definitely selling his company’s “secret sauce” to a business rival. Cab’s a senior developer, but I guess he didn’t think his paycheck from Teknology Corp was big enough. I’ve got it all on tape and backed up with photos.
Love these little directional mikes and cell phone cameras. I didn’t even have to get that close to the meet. Stayed in my nice cozy alley while a saw and heard everything that went down on the loading dock across the street.
Then I feel a big meaty hand land on my right shoulder. The guy behind me must be almost seven feet tall.
“Let’s say we go have a talk with the boss.”
Without looking up and behind me, I reply, “Let’s say we don’t.”
My speed and reflexes are enhanced, so I duck out from under his grip, move forward, and spin around to face him before he can even begin to react. He’s reaching into his jacket, probably for a gun. I launch myself forward and the impact causes him to fall on his back.
We tumble back into an alley which is perfect. I haven’t eaten dinner yet.
He’s unconscious when I’m done and won’t remember a thing. He wouldn’t have even crept up behind me if I hadn’t been so intent on taking pictures.
Another night in paradise.
I get home early but for some reason, Burke got up even earlier. He’s looking at a photo album when I walk into the living room, but the second he sees me, he slams it shut.
“Good news, Burke.” I hand him the recorder and phone. He takes it without a word. “I got the evidence on Jackson. You can show it to his boss Langley in the morning. Everything he suspected turned out to be true.
“Great work, Becker. Thanks. Any trouble?”
“One of Tony’s thugs got behind me, but he wasn’t a bother. Saved me having to look for lunch and he won’t remember he even saw me.”
At my mention of “lunch,” I can see Burke tense up. I’m standing over him. He’s still seated in his easy chair, closed photo album in his lap. He put the phone and recorder on top of it.
He stands, lifting the album like a tray. “Thanks again, Becker. You’re a great help.”
Then he walks down the hall to his bedroom. I notice he’s in just a t-shirt and pajama bottoms, like he couldn’t sleep. Wonder what’s in the album?
I ask Burke if I can have a night off once a week. Seeing Edna Bryant volunteering at the Mission made me realize that I’ve missed actually helping people. There’s having a job, but then there’s also giving back.
I serve dinner and then clean up at a homeless shelter in Hollywood once a week. I’d like to do more, but between my job and being a vampire, I don’t have all that much time. Working for a private detective means there’s no such thing as weekends off. You never know where a job might take you or how long you’ll need to finish it.
Getting to know the guys at the shelter makes me feel kind of guilty for preying on the homeless out on the streets from time to time. Unlike what most people think, homeless people are just people. A lot of folks are living just one to two paychecks away from homelessness. What would happen if you suddenly found yourself without a place to stay?
She’d just gotten off a bus and was headed toward a rundown apartment building. The place must have been built back in the ’40s. She’s getting her keys out to unlock the front door. It’s in an alcove so there’s plenty of shadow. I suppose the light above her is burned out.
I doubt she knew I was there before I clamped my hand over her mouth. I take what I need and am gone while she struggles to make sense of what just happened to her. I keep telling myself that there’s no harm done. She’s not really hurt and she’ll have no memory of my attack.
It doesn’t help.
Another short night, but when I get home, Burke’s not there. His car is gone, so maybe he had some early morning business.
If I were an ordinary guy, I’d make myself a sandwich and have a beer before turning in, but I’m hardly ordinary.
Burke must have been looking at his photo album again but he forgot to put it away. It’s sitting on the end table next to his favorite chair. He’d probably mind, but I pick it up anyway. He acts so strange when he looks at it, at least those times when I see him look at it.
It’s a family album. What’s so odd about that?
A very young Aidan Burke with who I assume is his wife and a little baby boy. The wife’s name is Sheryl and their son’s name is Sean. Well what do you know, he has a son named Sean.
I’m thumbing through it. Nothing out of the ordinary. Family life. Christmas presents for three-year-old Sean. First day of kindergarten for Sean. Sean learning to ride a bike without training wheels. Cub scouts, summer vacation in Hawaii, Junior High dance, High School graduation. College graduation.
The photos end abruptly not long after that and there are several empty pages in the album, so they didn’t end because the book got full.
I never knew Burke was married. He never mentions it. Certainly never mentions he has a kid. Of course, I don’t tell him about my family, either, but where did his go?
It’s Burke. I thought he’d left for the day but I was wrong. Must have been a pre-dawn meeting, maybe to exchange information with a client who wants to keep a low profile.
I put the album back on the end table.
“Have a good time prying into my family life, Becker?”
I have this urge to make some joke about our mutual profession and suppress it. Instead I turn to face him.
“Sorry, I was just curious.”
He doesn’t look angry, which surprises me. It’s more like he’s sad or pensive. I can’t figure this out.
“Want to talk about it?”
Now he starts to get angry, then stops. It’s like he didn’t want to talk, but then I suggested it and he started thinking.
I take the sofa leaving him his chair. He takes it, picks up the photo album next him and causally turns the pages.
“I loved my family very much, Sean.”
It’s the first time I can recall him using my first name.
“After he graduated from UCLA, Sean, my son, wanted to take some time off and tour Europe. You know, young guy, footloose and that sort of thing, before settling down and finding a job.”
He’s looking at the last page of photos. Sean’s graduation pictures.
“He was going to take a redeye out of LAX to New York. He never made it.”
He shudders for a moment then composes himself.
“His body was found in one of the parking structures. I’d dropped him off at the terminal myself, so I don’t know what happened. Cops think his assailant met him inside and somehow convinced him to go to the parking garage.
“Cause of death was blood loss, a sudden massive drainage. Coroner couldn’t explain it.”
It’s my turn to shudder. That was the cause of my death as well.
“I think you know what comes next.”
“You son was killed by a vampire.”
“Yeah, but there’s more. Three nights after we buried Sean, he came back.”
I remember the night I first rose, when I realized what I’d become, when I first felt the blood lust. I had the exact opposite reaction. I was horrified to let my family see what I’d turned into and got as far away from them as I could. It took me more than a year to go back and see them again, and even then, I could never let them see me.
“It was late. Sheryl couldn’t sleep. We were sitting in the living room together just talking about Sean, sharing our stories of raising him together. Going over this book.
“I heard the key enter the lock on the back door. I wasn’t a PI then. Didn’t own a gun, but I’m pretty good in a fight if I have to be. I stood and faced the kitchen where I knew the intruder would be and tried to look as tough as I could.
“That’s when Sean walked in. I couldn’t talk. Sheryl kind of cried out a bit and just sat their shaking.
“He said he just came to say good-bye. He wouldn’t tell us what had happened and we didn’t figure it out until sometime later. He said he had to go. He couldn’t be our son anymore. He wanted to thank us for being great parents and said he’d always love us.
“Then he was gone, back into the night.”
“How did you find out what happened to him?” He obviously knew his son was a vampire, but from what he said of that night, Sean didn’t actually tell them what he was.
“I couldn’t let it go. Sheryl was crying herself to sleep every night. She didn’t eat. Quit her job. It was all just too much for her.
“I requested a copy of the coroner’s report. Started digging for similar deaths. I couldn’t get access to any official information, but the Internet’s a great place. There’s all sorts of underground info. Eventually, it led to vampires.
“I got to know a few, as people I mean, not monsters. Realized none of them were vampires by choice, just like Sean. They didn’t make more because they didn’t like what had happened to them.”
A pang of guilt shot through me. A year ago, when I had my chance encounter with the real-life version of Frankenstein’s Monster, a strange reaction to drinking his blood first temporarily cured me of vampirism, then when it wore off, turned me into a raving, murderous maniac. By the time I came out of it, I found out I had killed three people and brought three more vampires into the world.
“It was one of them, you’ve met him…Artemus, who told me what finally happened to Sean.”
Maybe my meeting with Artemus all those months ago in Las Vegas wasn’t a coincidence.
“I can’t even imagine the pressures people like you undergo night by night. Artemus told me some don’t adapt as well as others. They don’t make the transition and continue to hold onto their former lives.”
“Your son took his own life. The second death.”
Aidan’s looking down at that last page of photos in his lap. Teardrops are falling on the plastic.
“There was a big warehouse fire in Atlanta some years ago. Artemus wasn’t there, but another nightwalker was. He saw Sean walk right into the building. He never came out. Not enough left of him to ID even.”
Aidan is silent for a long time. We sit in quiet and solitude together. Finally he speaks again.
“Sheryl divorced me. Couldn’t stand looking at me. I was a constant reminder that her son hadn’t just died but he came back as something not human. I didn’t tell her about Atlanta. Let her believe he’s still alive out there somewhere.
“She’s living with her sister in Modesto. She sees a shrink but Beth, Sher’s sister, she says she doesn’t think Sher will ever come to terms with reality again.”
Aidan’s lost everything and he still keeps going. I want to touch him on the shoulder in some lame attempt to reassure him that everything’s going to be okay.
That would be stupid.
“By rights, you should hate all of our kind after what happened to Sean.”
“That’s just it. I hate the son of a bitch who did this to him, and if I ever catch him, I’ll torch him myself. But for the rest of you, you’re just like Sean. You didn’t ask for this. You don’t want it. You’d give anything to go back to who you used to be.”
“After Sean died, I kept thinking that if someone had reached out to him, tried to find a place where he’d fit in. Maybe he’d still be alive out there, even as a vampire.”
“Did Artemus make the suggestion?”
“Yeah. He said there was a network of people, allies to vampires, helping them with jobs, fake IDs, giving them a place to stay during the day and something productive to do at night.
“By then, I quit my job, became a PI, I was pretty green at first, but I worked for an agency until I learned the difference between up and down. Finally opened up my own office. Kind of like being a lone wolf.
“Then Artemus told me about you.”
“Including my first name.”
“That sealed the deal for me. If someone couldn’t help my Sean, I could help someone else’s son.”
“Thank you, Aidan.”
We had one of those awkward moments when we didn’t know whether to hug, shake hands, or just let it be. We chose option number three.
“Sun’s coming up. You’d better…”
“Yes, I know.” We both stood.
“Aidan. Remind me to tell you about my family this evening.”
“I’d like that, Sean. See you tonight.”
That was the day Aidan and I became friends, a man who had lost his son, and me, someone I hoped would restore his faith in living just as he was restoring mine.
This is the seventh story of the “unlife” of Sean Becker. I introduced Sean in the tale Even Coffee Doesn’t Help. I’ve created links at the end of each story to the next one so you can start there and click-through to read them all in order. Enjoy.
The next story in the series is The Lady by Night.