From the Life and Curse of Sean Becker
I haven’t had a meeting like this since I stood face-to-face with Moshe Cohen, the vampire who made me.
Oh, my name is Sean Becker and I’m a vampire. I also work for a private detective named Aidan Burke in L.A.
Tonight, I’m sitting across from the famous mystery novelist Brian Vail in one of my favorite restaurants, The Original Pantry Cafe on Figueroa. If memory serves, I think Vail even mentioned it in one of his books.
“Look, I just want to know that I’m not going crazy. First I see a ghost and now a vampire?”
Vail’s keeping his voice down and chances are no one else here can hear him, but I’m still nervous.
“You’re not crazy, Vail, but if I’m what you say I am, what are you?”
I remember the night I was briefly caught in Vail’s headlights. He was pulling out of a parking lot and I was walking on the sidewalk in front of him. I turned. I couldn’t see his face against the glare, but I got a strange feeling. I get it sometimes when I come across another vampire or someone else not quite human.
I got it for a second or two the other night, before I ran, before Vail pulled out into the street and drove into the darkness.
“I’m not sure who or what I am, Mr. Becker. I have some sort of family…curse. It lets me see visions. They’re never the same twice in a row. When I saw you that night, I saw what you are. I saw your wife, your kids, how you rose from the…”
“I get the idea.” I lift my hand telling him to stop, begging him actually. It’s like this guy has been following me around, talking to my friends and family, learning all about me. Now I know why people don’t like private detectives.
“What do you want from me, Vail?” I take another sip of my coffee. Almost gone. The waiter appears and obediently refills my cup. I look up at him for a second, “Thanks.”
When he’s gone, Vail finishes chewing another bite of his Barbecue Chicken Salad and then answers. “I keep getting these visions about you, other people I don’t know, someone named Sally who looks like she’s not all there.”
When he mentions Sally, I stiffen. Vampires are one thing, but Sally is a Zombie who likes what she does. Me? I hate being a vampire, but since I have no other choice, I’ve learned to live with it, if this is living.
“I’ve met Sally. Believe me, the less you know about her, the better.”
“I know you work for a private detective. I know you use your unique lifestyle to help people. From what I know about my…gift, I’m supposed to help people, too. Maybe we could collaborate.”
“This isn’t a club, Vail. The fewer people who know about me, the better.” I can see the disappointment on his face. He finishes the last of his salad. He said he’d pick up the check.
“Look Vail, you seem like a nice guy and all. This isn’t personal. But there’s another side of life that most people chalk up to urban legends, fantasy, and fake news, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Mr. Becker, hasn’t it occurred to you that I’m part of that life now?”
It had. I’d hoped to steer him away from it. It’s no way to live, especially if you get to sleep at night and walk around in the sunlight. I have no idea how his eyes work, and I’m not sure he does either. Maybe like me, he has no choice but to have the visions and then follow whatever he sees.
“Think it over, Mr. Becker.” He pushes a business card in my direction. I pick it up and put it inside my jacket pocket without looking at it.
“I will, and while you’re at it, call me Sean.”
We shake. I’m used to people wincing. I have cold hands.
Brian waves over wait the waiter. He produces the bill and the writer pays in cash, leaving a generous tip.
When Sally was kidnapping runaways and street kids for her food supply, in the aftermath, we found the living and the dead. All of the kids were accounted for except one. Her name was Jenny Le.
Her Dad was an immigrant, works as a mechanical engineer. Mom was born here but her parents were from Vietnam, too. Jenny was their youngest. They have two older sons. Michael’s a senior at Stanford, and David just started attending UCLA last fall.
Jenny’s disappearance was a shock to the Le family. The cops called it “runaway,” but according to her parents and brothers, she was the happiest and most stable High School Junior in the world.
When she went missing with the others, I figured she was another of Sally’s victims, but she was the only one we found no trace of. I’d been looking for months and all the trails had gone dry.
I was meeting with the Le family at their home in Brentwood, trying to console them. I didn’t want them to waste more of their money on paying Burke and me to keep looking for her, but they’d rather keep paying us than resign themselves to never knowing what happened to her.
As I was saying my good-byes, I put my hand in my pocket and felt Brian’s business card.
I pulled away from the Le residence, but stopped two blocks away, pulled out my phone and called his number.
“The visions are spontaneous, Sean. I don’t make them happen just because I need information.”
We’re sitting in Burke’s office the next night. I convinced Aidan to sit this one out. He’s got another case he’s working on anyway, so he doesn’t have the time to meet with Brian. Besides, I promised Brian not to tell anyone else about him, so this is our secret, at least for now.
“Give it a try. Have a look at this stuff.”
I’m sitting behind Aidan’s desk and Brian’s on the other side. On the desktop, I have photos of Jenny, a few articles of clothing I convinced Mrs. Le to let me borrow. She liked to draw, so I have her most recent sketch pad and her pencils.
Brian looks down. Picks up one of the photos, a professional portrait. She is, or was a beautiful kid, genuine smile, innocent looking, like the girl next door.
He casually touches the blouse, the scarf. Flips through her sketch pad.
Then he gets this shocked look on his face. He stands up so fast, I almost think he’s going to jump me, but he doesn’t.
“No! No! I don’t believe it!”
“Brian, what is it? What do you see?” He’s got his eyes closed tight, pressing his palms into them.
Then his hands are at his sides and his eyes are wide open. They look like anyone’s eyes, nothing strange about them, except that he can see what no one else can, not even me.
“I know where she is or where she’s going to be.”
“So she’s alive.” I haven’t felt this hopeful about anything in months.
“No.” He settles down into his chair again and picks up the photo he was looking at a few moments before. Staring at it, he says, “No, she’s not alive. That’s the problem.”
Putting the photo down, he looks up at me.
“She’s dead, just like you are. She’s a vampire, and in an hour, she’s going to commit suicide.”
Brian said he couldn’t start the visions, and now he can’t stop them. We’re driving to a steel refinery. It’s almost midnight. My guess is that there won’t be much of a crew there. If a vampire throws herself into something hot enough, she’ll die, really die. That’s probably her plan.
“Someone passing through town. I can’t see her clearly. A vampire. Jenny’s walking the dog. The street was empty. She was grabbed from behind. The dog ran.”
Yeah, Jenny had the world’s smallest lap dog. Cute, but utterly useless otherwise.
“She’s dead. Drained.”
Good thing I’m driving. Brian shut his eyes tight again. He might as well be blind, a blind man who can see everything.
“There’s a construction site. The vampire buries her there. Three nights later…”
That explains why no one found her body. Buried for three nights, and then she rises as a vampire. The poor kid. She couldn’t possibly have known what happened to her…just like me when I first woke.
“Where the hell has she been all this time?”
I’m almost yelling at Brian. I don’t mean to, but Jenny’s been out there for months. There’s only one way she could have survived and that’s off the blood of others.
“Random victims. She only takes a little. She’s never killed anyone. She has to feed to survive. She’s manic at the time, but afterward she gets so depressed.”
Brian opens his eyes and looks at me. “She’s so tired, Sean. She wants to end it. She can’t stand who she is anymore, never able to see her family again…”
Those strange eyes of his have tears in them. He does more than just see. He feels in the visions, too. He’s got his own little hell, just like I have.
I pull into the refinery’s parking lot and we get out. Not many people around, but the place isn’t empty either. I take a chance on the frontal approach. No way we’re getting in without being seen.
“You the foreman?”
“Yeah, that’s right? Who are you?”
I flash my fake ID. A vampire can’t actually be licensed as a private investigator or anything else.
“Sean Becker. I’m a private investigator. This is my partner Brian Vail. We’re looking for a runaway girl and got a tip she’s here tonight.”
“Are you nuts? Get lost. How’s some kid going to get in here?”
My best guess is that she puts the bite on anyone who tries to stop her. Once she does, they have little or no memory of what happened, so by the time they come to their senses, she’s gone. That’s how she was able to feed all these months undetected.
“Please just let us have a look around. It can’t hurt.”
“Blow, you two. If you think your runaway’s here, send the cops.”
So much for the frontal approach.
I catch sight Brian out of the corner of my eye. That look on his face. He can see her. He runs.
Foreman’s going to call out to someone to stop Brian. So far, no one has noticed us. I do what I don’t want to do. I drag the foreman, “Saunders” is the name on his badge, around a corner. I’m too strong for him to resist, and he’s a big guy. I take just a little of his blood, but what I put back will have his head swimming for minutes. After that, he won’t have a clear memory of what happened, including, I hope, anything to do with Brian or me.
Others notice us, but they’re too far away, too busy to do anything about it except call the foreman. We disappear into another part of the refinery.
I’m running after Brian. The place is a hot, steaming maze to me, but he acts like he knows exactly where he’s going. I’m catching up to him because I’m fast, but he obviously works out.
He’s just ahead, climbing metal stairs leading to a platform overlooking a vat of molten steel. I feel her presence. She’s up there.
Brian’s running footsteps stop. He’s talking to her.
I’m at the top step and I stop, too. She’s standing at the edge of a platform. There was a chain blocking the way but she must have removed it. I’d hoped to reach her first, talk to her, tell her I know how it feels.
“My name is Brian. I know what’s happened to you. I want to help.”
She’s still looking down at the steel. “Leave me alone. No one can know how I feel.”
“I’ve seen you, Jenny. I’ve seen what’s happened to you. You didn’t ask for any of this. I want to help. Please turn around.”
Amazingly she does. She whirls around and bares her fangs.
“Is this what you’ve seen?”
His voice is calm. Anyone else faced with a vampire’s fangs would have panicked. I keep reminding myself that he’s seen all this before in his visions.
She’s really ramped up. She could turn around and jump, or she could attack Brian. He’d never survive. I don’t want to spook her, but I can’t let either of them die. I take a chance and slowly walk forward. All of her attention is on Brian. She probably senses me, but she’s inexperienced. She doesn’t know what it means.
“Yes, I’ve seen that. I’ve seen the woman who did this to you. I saw her…bury you.”
Jenny closes her eyes. I can see her body shudder at the memory as she cries.
“How can you help me?”
“I’m not sure I can, Jenny, but a friend of mine might have an answer.”
She notices me for the first time and I stop walking.
“Who are you people? Why are you here? What do you want?”
“Jenny, my name is Sean. Brian and I came to find you, to help you. There’s another way.”
“How? How can there be?”
She starts to walk backward. Another couple of yards and she’ll fall into the vat and die.
“Jenny, my name is Sean and I’m like you, a vampire.”
I can see her starting to panic. I don’t have to get visions to know what she’s thinking.
“No, we’re not all monsters. What the other one did to you is horrible, but we don’t all do that. You don’t do that. I don’t do that.”
I feel a wave of guilt because for a single night in my unlife, that wasn’t true, and I brought three vampires into the world. The news said they were a construction worker, a chiropractor, and an art student. I never knew any of that, but I’ll never forget their faces.
“I don’t kill, Jenny. You don’t either. We don’t have to. There are others who want to help, others like us, vampires working with regular people like Brian.”
I can see her being pulled in two directions, the desire to end the nightmare, and the slender thread of hope. She’s stopped walking backward. I extend my hand.
“Let me help. Let us help.”
I’d better make this fast, Jenny and I can stay up here indefinitely, but the heat is getting to Brian. A few more minutes and he could pass out.
“Like I said. There are people, we have a network of places to stay, jobs, friends.”
She’s crying again, sobbing. “My Mommy and Daddy! My brothers! I can never see them again!”
She’s right. Even if I talk Jenny out of committing suicide, what will I tell her family?
“We’ll work it out.” I’m still holding my hand in front of me. “We need to get out of here. We’ll find a way.”
She takes a step toward me. I take one back. Brian walks slowly toward me from the side. We can’t frighten her. That’s how we get her down the stairs and away from the molten steel…slow, one step at a time.
People know we’re here, but there’s another exit. The foreman’s forgotten all about us and is puzzled when some of his workers mention unauthorized people in their plant. No one’s gotten by him, or so he believes.
We get back to my car. Brian sits in the backseat with Jenny. I call Artemus on my cell. He could be anywhere in the world, but for Jenny’s sake, I hope it’s someplace where it’s night.
He’s in San Diego. If we can keep Jenny with us until tomorrow night, he’ll join us. I hang up the phone and know he’s already working on a plan for Jenny’s future. It won’t be an easy one.
I look into the rear view mirror thinking maybe Brian’s seen that too, but he’s just quietly talking to her. She’s silent. She’s still trying to make sense of what happened, who she is, hoping she made the right decision coming with us.
I drive on into the night and hope so, too.
The next night, Artemus shows up at Burke’s house. It was the only safe haven I could think of for Jenny. She’s almost too passive. I’m worried.
Artemus was my first contact, the one who brought me into the network. He found me in Las Vegas. He got me this job, a place to stay, a purpose. It’s not much of a life compared to what I had, but it beats wandering the streets looking for my next victim.
Jenny goes with him. Artemus is playing this one close to the vest. As near as I can figure, he’s high up in our network. Maybe he runs the thing. He doesn’t look that much older than Jenny, but we stop aging when we make the change, so he could be a hundred or a thousand years old.
I hope he tells me what happened to her someday. She looks a little better, but I know a tortured soul when I see one.
Aidan tells the Le family we have to drop the case. They don’t want us to, but there’s nowhere to go.
We can’t tell them she’s dead and we can’t tell them she’s alive. The only thing we can leave them with is their own private hell that on one night, their little girl vanished forever and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
I feel like crap.
“Thanks for your help, Brian.” I’m on my phone. It’s a week after Jenny left with Artemus. Brian’s at his place in Long Beach. The sun set an hour ago and I’m getting ready to hit the streets on another case, hopefully not as heartbreaking as the last one.
“Don’t mention it, Sean. Does this mean I’m part of the club?”
I know he’s kidding around, and I know the humor is forced. He wants to help, but he’s also compelled to help.
“Yeah, Brian. You’re in. Just be careful what you ask for.”
“Sean, neither one of us asked for this.”
I’m about to answer when I hear Brian cry out on the other side of the connection.
“Brian. What’s gone on? What’s happening?”
I can hear him breathing fast, then it slows a little, then a little more.
“I’m okay. It just happened so suddenly. Oh Sean, I am so sorry.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I saw her, the vampire who attacked Jenny. I know who she is.”
“Who? Where is she?”
He pauses. He doesn’t want to tell me but he has to. A suddenly feel colder than usual.
“Marcy Parker. She was nineteen when she died. You killed her.”
I can still picture her face. “The art student.”
“She was, Sean. I know it wasn’t your fault. You lost control.”
“That doesn’t make it right!” I’m angry. I’m taking it out on Brian and I shouldn’t. I lost control and killed two men and a young woman. Three nights later, they were unleashed upon the world as vampires.
“I know where she is, Sean.”
“Then we have to stop her.”
I never expected to see Brian so soon again. There’s a dangerous killer out there and it’s because I made her. She’s a dangerous killer who can make a nearly endless supply of other dangerous killers. She can create an endless supply of ruined lives like Jenny’s, like her family. She has to be stopped and if we can’t do that, then she has to be killed.
I introduced Sean Becker in the short story Even Coffee Doesn’t Help. His most recent appearance in his own series is when he encountered a zombie in When Sean Met Sally, and events in that story have a direct bearing on this one. Sean also made a brief cameo in Brian Vail’s latest story What I See When I Look At You and Brian first appeared in the story Tunnel Vision.
I decided to bring these two characters together to see what would happen. Let me know what you think.