From the Unlife and Curse of Sean Becker
This is an open police investigation, so why am I involved? Because my boss, private detective Aidan Burke is paying me to be involved. More to the point, Conrad Grey, a wealthy commercial real estate tycoon, hired Burke to find his only granddaughter, thirteen-year-old Marianne. The kid went missing almost two weeks ago. LAPD thinks she’s a runaway. Grey thinks she’s been abducted. That’s why I’m walking the streets, contacting my informants, trying to get a lead.
Oh, by the way, my name is Sean Becker and I’m a vampire.
Officially, I can’t be licensed as a private detective because I’m dead. I work as Burke’s assistant by night, and sleep in his spare bedroom by day.
Being a vampire, I can cultivate information sources the police would never get close to. A few are other vampires like me, some with legit night jobs, others living on the edge of society, making it anyway they can.
Others are outcasts, counter-culture types, drug addicts, occultists, and anyone else with tastes that run from the unusual to the macabre. Some know I’m a vampire and are totally into having a blood drinking associate. Others know there’s something a bit “off” about me, and are more comfortable around me because of it.
Lenny’s a 15-year-old kid who’s been living on the streets since he was twelve. A part of me wants to get him in a shelter and away from prostitution, but he’s been on his own too long to give up the life and try being a kid again. He trusts me, but that trust only goes so far.
We’re eating in a burger joint, well, he’s eating, I’m just having coffee. I had my usual dinner earlier in the evening. Lenny likes to talk more over a meal, especially when someone else is paying.
“Yeah, man. it’s even beginning to spook me a little. I mean life on the street is dangerous and all, but four kids have disappeared in the last week.”
“You mean four runaways?”
“Three of them were straight up runaways, one was a street worker like me.”
“What are the cops doing about it?” I should know more about what the cops are up to, but he lives a life that’s a lot closer to these missing teens and what’s happening with the police.
“Nothing as far as I know. You know how it is. As long as the cops think they’re just runaways and they aren’t causing trouble, they won’t do much.”
“What else do you know?” I can tell he’s holding back, that he’s scared. It’s not like Lenny to be scared of anything, including me. I have a pretty good idea he knows what I am. I even think it excites him.
“Hey man, this is going to sound freaky, even to a dude like you.”
He lowered his voice. He really is scared. What does he think will sound strange to me?
“Like three kids, ones who disappeared a few weeks back when this all started.” He goes silent for a minute, his burger only half eaten. He hasn’t even touched his Coke or fries.
“Like three kids…the cops found them, one in an alley and two stashed in an abandoned dive bar. They were dead.”
“Dead? There’s nothing in the news about that. What happened.”
“The cops are keeping it quiet ’cause of the way they died.”
I sit silently waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Their heads were cracked open. Man, their brains were missing. You know, like the zombie apocalypse.”
He’s right. That is pretty freaky, even for a vampire.
“So someone is grabbing kids off the street and what, killing them and eating their brains?”
“Yeah, that’s the word. A couple of kids went to a shelter just today, and Fast Mary and a few others went to other counties to hustle. They figure it’s just a matter of time ’til they get taken.”
Tell me where the three dead kids were found.”
He gives me a couple of addresses.
“Maybe you need to get disappeared along with Fast Mary. I don’t want you to get dead, Lenny.”
He nervously takes another bite out of his burger. “Nah. I think I’ll hang. I know how to take care of myself.”
That probably means his partner Nick is staying and Lenny won’t leave him for anything.
“Okay. If you change your mind and need me for anything, you know how to reach me.”
“But only at night, right?”
The kid’s too smart for my own good or his. If I were a different sort, I’d have him for dessert as soon as I caught him alone.
“Right, then.” I leave enough cash on the table to pay the bill and a generous tip. Lenny didn’t give me information just for the price of a meal, so I slipped him a couple of twenties under the table. I’ve always had the feeling he doesn’t work with me just for the money. He runs deeper than most people give him credit for.
“Thanks, man. You take it easy out there. I’ve got a feeling whoever or whatever is doing this will be tough to bring down, even for you.”
“Appreciate it, but all I want is to find one missing girl. If I find out anything else, I’ll give it to PD and let them handle it.”
I stand up and the look Lenny gives me seems to say, “If you can’t handle it, there’s no way the cops can.”
I can’t help him. I can’t help any of the other street kids. Hopefully though, I can help Marianne Grey.
I stopped by the alley first. I can see pretty well at night and my sense of smell is excellent. Along with odors of garbage and excrement, there was just a hint of death, the smell of flesh just beginning to decay. Nothing that would help.
My next stop was the abandoned dive bar. The crime scene tape was still up and the doors were locked, but Aidan was a good teacher. Among other things, learned the time-honored art of picking locks pretty quickly under his tutelage.
Dust, dirt, stale booze, more death and decay, but stronger. These deaths were more recent.
There was something else, very faint. I could just barely detect the odor nearest to where the bodies were found.
I didn’t know what it was, and for a guy who can even detect the smell of a vampire, that was something. I was beginning to think Lenny was right. If the killer were human, I might still be able to get their scent, but this was nothing human.
How did whoever or whatever get in here to deposit the bodies? Locks weren’t forced. Thieving skills? I’m willing to bet that the perp killed the victims elsewhere but brought them here to remove the brains and then to store the bodies afterwards.
If the police tape weren’t outside, the murderer might come back a third time, but not now. If I were a cop, I’d say to heck with the tape and set up a trap.
I wish I knew if Marianne was one of the vics. Unlike on TV or in the movies, private detectives never have a “friend on the force” to feed them inside info.
Come to think of it, Marianne’s probably still alive. The cops might not make this sort of thing public, but they’d still inform next of kin. If she were dead, Grey would never have hired Burke to find her.
It’s getting late, or early depending on your point of view. Sun will be up in an hour. Better get back to the car, get home, and report to Aidan on what I’ve found out so far. Wonder how he’ll react to the bombshell?
It wasn’t Lenny or any of the other street kids who gave me the much-needed clue, it was Sparkle. That’s what she called herself. No one knew her real name or where she came from.
It was a week later when I met Sparkle in a dilapidated warehouse converted to an artist’s workshop. Sparkle painted, but used themes so Satanic that it (strangely enough) made me nervous even to be around her work.
We picked a quiet corner. It was a slow night with only a few people around, and they were all focused on their projects.
“Ever been to Vermont-Slauson?”
“Any reason I should go there, Sparkle?”
She looked like a typical goth, black everything, hair, eye shadow, lipstick, fingernails, t-shirt and stretch pants. Multiple piercings, ears, nose, tongue. Lots of tattoos on the amount of skin I could see, pentagrams, some Egyptian symbols. For all that, she was naturally upbeat, at least most of the time.
“There’s an area between West 54th on the north to West Florence on the south, and from Normandie Avenue at the west to South Figueroa to the east where a lot of kids started hanging out after things got too hot downtown. Lately, it’s been deserted, at least after dark.”
“They started disappearing again, it’s like whoever’s doing this has followed them.”
A hunting ground. The perp has established a hunting ground. That’s where I’ll find him.
“Thanks, Sparkle.” I start to reach for my wallet.
“Nope. That’s not what I want. Let me see them.”
I can’t believe she’s asking me this. I look around. No one in sight. Then I open my mouth and hiss. She’s not frightened by the fangs, she’s excited by them, sexually I mean.
“Won’t you? Even for a little bit? I’ve got a cot upstairs.”
“I only promised you a look, nothing else.”
She pretends to pout. She wants me to have sex with her and bite her neck as she orgasms. Not a chance.
“Hope you change your mind someday.”
I turn and go, trying not to imagine what sort of fantasies she has about me.
Vermont-Slauson is mostly residential, but there are several businesses. There’s a shopping center, McDonald’s, T-Mobile in one block, lots of smaller places, some schools including a Catholic School at Vermont and West 56th.
The perp could be using any one of hundreds of residences as a lair, hunting by night. I’m hoping though that the predator is in one of the vacant businesses. The dive bar tells me that he or she prefers vacant buildings to houses. Besides, houses have neighbors, and even here, some of them might get nosy and call the cops.
Canvasing even the most likely locations still takes hours. I’m walking alleys off of West 58th and Normandie when the scent hits me.
It’s strong here. The smell of death along with that other scent, the one the killer gives off, the predator, my prey.
I told Lenny that I was just out here trying to find Marianne Grey and I’d let the police handle everything else, but if I’m right, Marianne has already been taken. I just hope she’s still alive.
I hear a door slam open ahead of me. A figure running closer, a girl.
“Help me! Oh please help me!”
I can’t believe it. Marianne. She should be afraid of me, a strange man walking alone in a poorly lit alley. Whatever she’s running from must be more terrifying than I am.
“Marianne. It’s okay. I’m here to help you.”
Whatever she’s running from didn’t come after her, which is puzzling. The kid reeks of death and the killer’s scent. She must have gotten out of the lair, one of the abandoned buildings to my left, just minutes ago.
I’m torn. If there are other kids in there, they need help, but I can’t just leave a panicked thirteen-year-old alone in an alley.
“Come with me.” I’ve got to risk it, get her to safety and then go back.
I get her out to Budlong and Slauson and point east. “There’s a supermarket halfway up the block that’s still open. You’ll be safe there until the police come. Run.”
“Please come with me. I don’t want to be alone. She might come after me.”
“I’ll stop her. Just run! Go!”
I can be pretty intimidating when I want to be, and this time she does what I told her to do. She runs.
I pull a burner phone out of my pocket and dial 911. I tell them where to find Marianne. Once they find her, I’ll only have minutes before the cops come for the killer…and for me.
The door, a heavy metal fire door, the one Marianne came out of, is closed but not locked. She’s in the middle of the room. Can’t be more than fourteen years old. Blonde, almost white hair, pale skin, wearing cut offs and a halter. Doesn’t leave much to the imagination. She could be a teenage hustler like Lenny, except she’s bent over a figure. His skull is open.
“So you’re the dickhead whose been looking for me. You have lousy timing. I was just about to eat dinner!”
I’ve never felt so much malevolence from anyone. I’ve done some terrible things and seen some terrible beings, but she’s pure evil.
Oh God, no! Please no! Her victim. It’s Lenny.
I see three other kids, chained to the far wall. They terrified, filthy, starving. She’s been taking kids and storing them here for future meals.
“That little bitch escaped because my latest meal managed to keep me from stopping her leave after she got out of her chains. That put him at the top of the list. Or maybe it should be you.”
Somehow Marianne got away and before this…thing could stop her, Lenny must have held her back so the kid could escape. It cost him his life.
She stands up. I notice the crowbar in her right hand. It must be what she killed Lenny with…what she used to open up his head.
“You’re not killing anyone else.”
She runs at me with the metal bar raised ready to strike me. She’s pretty fast, as fast as I am. I grab the bar and use what Judo Aidan taught me to throw her off-balance and onto the floor.
She chuckles as she sits up. “You’re something special. This is going to be fun. I’ll teach you never to mess with Sally when she’s eating.”
She rushes me again. She’s strong, supernaturally strong, but she’s still just a kid. In this case, mass and experience wins. That, and the sound of police sirens. Marianne must have told them where she had been held.
“Next time!” Sally throws the crowbar at my head. I dodge it, but that gives her time to run out the still open door.
She had left the keys next to the electric lantern on a table in the center of the room.
I’ve developed a strong stomach, but have to fight off retching at the stink of days vomit, urine, and feces. There’s a definite downside to having a hyper-developed sense of smell. “It’s okay. The cops are coming. You’re going to be safe.”
They’re too terrified to do anything but whimper and then collapse to the floor in their own filth as I unlock them from their chains.
I can’t let the cops find me here. Too many questions I don’t have answers for. I leave the kids behind and run out the door. Sally’s nowhere in sight and my nose is too messed up from the smells inside to detect her scent.
The cops are coming from the south so I run north and then east to the shopping center parking lot where I left my car.
I had to leave Lenny behind. Oh God, Lenny.
The police release a statement the next day saying that a serial killer, a young girl known only as Sally, had been kidnapping runaways and murdering them. They reveal the cause of death, but leave out the fact that Sally ate brains.
It’s been a week and no more disappearances. I guess Sally left town to find someplace else to hunt. The kids gave the cops a description. She was a hustler. That’s how she mixed in with the street kids and made a buck on the side. That’s how she blended in until she was ready to strike.
I wonder how many other places Sally has victimized people? I wonder how many police departments have covered up the news because the facts were too bizarre.
The cops didn’t know where to find Nick and probably didn’t even know he was Lenny’s next-of-kin, if you want to put it that way.
It was a Wednesday. Normally, I’d be at church in a Bible study, but I couldn’t put it off any longer. I found him at home, a rundown apartment he shared with Lenny and another gay couple.
When he answered the door, he knew why I was there. I didn’t say anything at first. Just gave him a hug as he started to cry. It was going to be a long night.
When I created the character of Sally in this short story, I mused about whether or not to have Sally meet Sean. She is his antithesis, or so it seems. Amoral, vicious, loves the taste of brains, and actually enjoys being a zombie.
How did this happen to a teenage girl and what’s her back story? I’ll have to work on that sometime.
Sean Becker was first introduced in the short story Even Coffee Doesn’t Help. As with all of my series on this blog, at the bottom of each story is a link to the next. Read and click through all of them and you’ll bet back here.