As we left, the men from the ambulance started removing the dead man from his chair and put him on the stretcher. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. His body seemed to be stuck to the cushions—which was the point that I stopped watching and moved a little faster as I followed Mateo out the door.
As we got on our bikes, he said, “I’m going to stop about a block from here.”
I didn’t question it and rode behind him until he turned right into the cracked remains of a concrete driveway that sat in the middle of an otherwise green lot, the last remains of the house and garage it led to having disappeared long before I started my internship. The nearest house I could see was on the far end of the opposite side of the block. The block on the other side had three houses, but none of them were close either.
Through his helmet communicator, Mateo said, “I didn’t feel like waiting until we got back to the base. If we talk through the helmets comms, no one should be able to hear us, and if they can, it’s your fault, right?”
Updating their communications had been one of my projects. “I guess, but the helmets are soundproofed and the communications are encrypted, so it shouldn’t be an issue unless they’re a telepath. If they are, blame Working Man, I wanted to put anti-telepathic technology into the helmets, but he wouldn’t let me due to the cost. He’s not wrong. It wouldn’t have been cheap, but it’s worth thinking about.”
Nodding, Mateo said, “I remember that discussion. Getting back to my reason for stopping, what did you think about everything we saw back there?”
Even though Working Man or V8 were the senior heroes on the team, I’d spent most of my time with Mateo who’d only been out of Stapledon for a couple years at most. At the same time, he was both good at teaching and at street level work. That was the Masks’ main thing.
“Well,” I began, “she already knew the answer she wanted. She didn’t give us the victim’s name and she chose you specifically even though the Unity team has Chromatic. He’s some kind of dragon wizard, right?”
Tilting his head to the side, Mateo didn’t say anything for a moment, but then nodded. “Chromatic isn’t much of a people reptile. I don’t know where he’s from, but I get the impression that humans aren’t worth much there. Besides, he’s all about blasting people with elemental magic and not so much about gathering information. She wouldn’t have gotten much out of him, but she knows I give them what I can. The police have been put through the ringer here—the undead like places like Detroit. I’d bet that she’s right about the vampires, but there are so many vampiric undead that I don’t dare tell her yes without more information.”
I nodded. “So, what are you going to do?”
I saw him grin through the tinted helmet. “First, tell me what you’re going to do.”
“Call Bloodmaiden. She knows about vampires. Then maybe call Red Hex and see if she has any ideas.”
He nodded. “That’s good. What I’m going to do is call one of our contacts on the police force and see if I can’t get all the names and exactly where they were found. While I’m at it, I think I might check if any of their friends ever disappeared.”
“That sounds like a good idea, one I probably should have thought up on my own.”
Shaking his head, he said, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have contacts on the force and I’m supposed to keep them secret because they’re too sensitive to pass on to an intern.”
I shook my head. “Okay. It does make sense. I wouldn’t want to get them in trouble by accident or something.”
Mateo gave a twisted smile and tapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. Working Man’s careful. Too careful, maybe.”
A couple cars passed us on the road. One of them was a police car. It didn’t stop, but the driver glanced over at us. I turned back to Mateo. “Did you see anything over there? Bloodmaiden’s got some kind of magic vision and I’m assuming you’ve got the same?”
He nodded and glanced over at the road. “It’s not exactly like hers, but it’s similar. Not everyone in my family can do it. It seems to be my mask adapting to me. I can see magic and spiritual forces.”
“Because you’re a priest?” I asked.
“I don’t know. The masks have their own goals—good ones, we think, but we don’t understand them. We know they want us to fight evil, stop oppression, and other priorities that change over time. Fighting the undead isn’t normally their focus, but it sometimes is for me. Whatever was there came in the front door. When I looked, I could see hints of it there and in-between the door and the chair. I think it had been back into the kitchen too.
“The good news if there is any, is that the dead man had touches of undead power around his neck, but nothing inside. When they turn someone, I see a kind of seed inside which expands into the entire body in a day or two. There wasn’t one here or I never would have let them take the body away.”
He stopped, frowned, thinking maybe of times where he had seen the seed he’d talked about. I asked, “Is there anything that makes you think it couldn’t be a regular vampire?”
“Not so far, but if the police go in assuming it is and die, it’s our fault.”