Available in Print and Kindle. Look for "PILATE: Director's Cut coming soon in Print from MorbidbookS

Chapter One

The insistent noise from the intercom burns a hole in my sleep. I press the button: “Trouble?” I ask through the hidden speaker.
“Yeah, Pilate,” my Second tells me, “Big trouble.” Juan relays what our runner just said.
“I’ll be right up,” I reply.
I release the intercom button and lay back on the bed. I am ravenous and beginning to get short-tempered because of it. I keep my eyes closed a little while longer, but the brief respite does not make me feel any better. Now I have to go to the spot to deal with this before I can feed. It’s been three days since I had last fed and that brings me right up to the edge.
I rise. My cold skin is nude and beginning to prickle with hunger, my normally absent breathing is making itself known.
I dress quickly and leave the vault where I sleep my protected sleep. I head upstairs to the kitchen and open the refrigerator door. Inside the freezer there are a few frozen I.V. packs of consolidated red blood cells. I put one in the microwave to defrost it. The blood is normally used between my twice-weekly feedings. But now I am forced to use it to stave off the need for fresh blood. Packed cells do carry some oxygen, but there is no significant amount attached to red blood cells in this form. It is the oxygen I so crave.
I park myself at a chair by the table. Juan comes in and sits with me. I remember the time Juan asked to be turned. I told him the truth. That there is no way to turn a human into a vampire, that vampires are born, not made.
Vampires all house an inherited recessive genome that will spell the end of the lineage unlucky enough to sprout a nosferatu. Vampires can’t reproduce. It’s nature’s way of not perpetuating a genetic mistake. Juan was greatly disappointed, as I recall. He wanted so bad to believe the mythos and legends. I, on the other hand, am quite glad the tales are fiction. The human herd would thin rather quickly if there were squads of vampires out there. Herod is trouble enough.
I put nasal prongs into my nose and turn the oxygen tank on. The microwave beeps. I retrieve the defrosted blood and tear open the package. I proceed to squeeze the warmish goo into my open mouth, swallowing all 500cc of the blood at once.
I concentrate on pulling in supplemental oxygen through my nose. What is efficient for humans; is woefully inadequate for vampires. The blood I consume and oxygen I inspire will increase my deficient oxygen levels a mere twenty percent. If I relax, this treatment’s enough to quench my need for fresh blood until the following day. Then I will have to feed. If I find myself under extended duress, my oxygen reserves will swiftly evaporate. This will leave me weak and vulnerable.
“I’m going to check it out,” I say at last. I was getting so very hungry. I turned the tank off and remove the nosepiece. “I’ll feed before my return.”
“Okay,” replies Juan. “Do you need us?”
“No,” I state and rise. “I’ll return soon enough and we’ll discuss what I find when I do. Mary will give me some rows and we’ll figure all this crazy shit out together.”
Juan nods, looking like he is feeling better with the return of our routine. We always discuss business while Mary gives my long hair some nice tight cornrows.
I study Juan’s face, sensing his concern. “I’ll bet it’s the quota,” Juan states. He looks up at me. He suggests, “Maybe we should cash some in, you know, catch us up with Herod. Get him off us for a while, give us time to figure this out; negotiate a different price or some of the other ideas we talked about.”
I have considered dipping, but I still must decline. I am stubborn about Herod’s quota demands. I feel that the hit Plata is taking should be shared by all in the organization, not dumped solely at our feet.
“Don’t worry,” I reply instead, “I’m sure it’s nothing, some sort of misunderstanding. We’re only, what – thirty grams short for this whole year? I sincerely doubt that we can get moved without notice, without a word over an ounce. What is it we push, forty-five, fifty zees a year? And Herod is getting pissed off over one?”
“Doesn’t seem likely,” agrees Juan.
“Anyways as long as it isn’t approved by Herod, his flunkies will see the light. I’ll bet they’s nothing more than a bunch of dumb cowboys playing dress-up. We shouldn’t worry about it too much. Herod will have to be a raving lunatic to bounce me. Look at how much money he gets from us,” I smile, “you’d think he’d be happy.”
I can feel from my tongue that my partially starved state is making the sharp fang tips poke out of my pink-gummed smile. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” I repeat, then get up to leave.
Juan follows me down to the basement of our old abandoned church. This is the place were Mary, Juan and I call both home and work and have been doing so for going on five years now. Juan watches me as I leave out the back door. I turn to him, smile once. I easily leap over the tall property wall and then disappear into the mushrooming dusk. Ready for anything and down for whatever.

Chapter Two

It is late dusk in The Harbor and the shadows are deepening quickly. I am within the yawning gloom of a crumbling vacant building and I stare with great interest at the group manning my corner. The drug runners, their dealer, and the cops protecting them stand my spot. I choose with my yellow eyes the dealer. This dirty cop will die first. I can smell his blood. I think he smells delicious.
I crouch in the deepening shadows and gaze in silence at the police officer and his entourage. The mortal isn’t wearing a uniform, but I have no trouble making him. The cop’s name is Theodosius and he’s one of Herod’s up and comers.
I begin to breathe deeper as the hunger for oxygen-rich blood grows strong. Breathing is pain for a vampire – a not so subtle reminder of physiologic need. My need is food and I’m going to need it real soon.
Theodosius is standing my spot, talking animatedly with other cops. He has a whole grip of his young toughs milling about and acting tough.
The cop’s crew have shut my doors and opened up their own shop. They are taking money out of my pocket and none of my runners are anywhere to be found. And with the presence of Theodosius, there is no doubt of Herod’s blessing. Enraged; my jaw clenches and bites. A thin string of brackish blood slides down my chin.
“I’ll have Herod’s teeth for this,” I grunt, “hanging from my neck.”
It’s time to take care of this miscarriage of ghetto justice. I yawn deeply, stretching out the stiff muscles in my back. I step with purposeful noise from gloomy shadows to dying sunlight.
The mortals turn to look. I listen as I pull back my tightly curled hair into one long ponytail. I am just out of earshot, for a mortal.
Theodosius and crew catch my movement from the darkening shadows. They could see me, but just barely.
“Who’s that?” Theodosius asks. I stand straight as a runner answers his boss: “That’s Pilate,” he say.
“Are you sure?” Theodosius snaps, gripping the boy’s shoulders.
The boy sneaks a quick peek over to me and I stand waiting. My eyes, I know, are twin orbs of murky yellow. They are backlit like a beast.
“Yeah,” little dude replies, “that’s him.”
“Pilate,” he mutters real low, “Oh, no.”
But, vampire hearing brings it crisp to me, where I wait for more.
“Never thought I’d see him,” the runner says, “I wasn’t even sure he’s real.”
The dirty cop’s fear he cannot hide. That, more than anything else, decides it.
“I’m gonna give him what he come for!” Theodosius declares, fear exploding. He shoves his right hand beneath loose fitting coat, finds his weapon and pulls it.
I stare intently, sensing the group’s growing concern. It makes my head swim. The delicious smells of this fearful herd bombards my senses. I can hear their hearts’ increased force and speed, the way they’re doing little trip-hammer dances in their collective chests. The lungs suck in air to saturate hemoglobin in the blood with volumes of oxygen. This oxygen is what makes my mouth water. My pupils dilate. The murky yellow surrounding the black holes grow in intensity.
The rich, heady scent clouds my reaction and bullet-spit from the cop’s concealed auto pistol cuts a furrow through my left shoulder. The stream of rapid fire bullets pulverizes my muscle tissue as I am already leaping backward and down into the gloom.
I then run, unseen, across the street from those shadows. I stop and watch as a second quick spray tattoos the old brick façade of the crumbling Boys and Girls club, the one where I was standing a moment ago.
Firing stops. I squat behind a stripped sedan, to the right of Theodosius’ crew. They were looking left at the cement dust kicked up by bullets and still hanging as a cloud. I lower my face and fold my hands together as if in prayer. I welcome the exquisite pain of the lengthening fangs and the pointed growth of talons as they split my bleeding fingertips. The blood shimmers from where I’d been shot.
Then I stand.
One of his runners spins around and beholds me. My smile, full on, the teeth long and sharp, I display in an open mouth. The boy’s eyes roll up in his head. He faints dead away. He crumples to the ground just as Theodosius turns and raises his weapon at me again.
I close the distance of twenty feet in the blink of an eye. First I am beside the wrecked sedan and the next instant I’m six inches from Theodosius. The cop’s face is vacant. Comprehension as of yet has not set in. The runners follow their leader’s arm as it arcs, staring where I’d been beside the car.
Before anything registers, I sink my talons deep inside the mortal. Theodosius glances from my yellow vampire eyes, to the already healing shoulder, to my fingers sunk in his very own belly.
“But…” Theodosius manages. I ignore him. Instead, I behold the crew and pull all of their attention to me. It is magnetic and they cannot begin to resist.
I scan the group and glean the herd’s weakest, easiest to control. I locate the little dude and turn to him.
“Shut your eyes,” I whisper to the young lad, not even old enough to drive, “but stay alert.” The rest of the crew I order quiet stillness. “You do not witness,” I tell them.
The boy’s eyes are closed as commanded and I refocus my hold on him. The boy stands tall and rigid, at attention.
“Why are you here?” I ask him.
“Herod say you missed the quota three months in a row, so he give this spot to Theodosius.”
“Impossible,” I angrily reply, “this here my spot. I brought it to Herod. It belongs to me.” My voice is getting raspy, dry and painful. “He can’t give away what don’t belong to him.”
The boy is shivering. He’s so very healthy with lots of bright red life inside, sludgy-thick with oxygen. My patience is dangerous thin. My hunger’s getting deep, clawing at me. Soon it will uncheck. Heaven help the poor slob’s who’s dumb enough to still be near me when the other shoe drops.
“When this happen?” I snap.
“Yesterday,” chokes the boy. His tears are welling and his lips quiver.
“Be calm,” I advise and I gotta say the boy did try. The others were nothing more than standing clay statues: ignorant, motionless and awaiting their next command.
Now I am boiling with a powerful rage. The monthly quota the boy was talking about is missed by only a few grams of Plata. This powerfully synthetic heroin-meth mixture makes slaves of users and normally has hordes of fans. In the last few months, however, the trend reversed. Now they are getting pissed because their pockets aren’t as swole as they once was.
The missed quota does give me pause, but it’s not validation for losing The Harbor’s most lucrative spot to peddle drugs. Even short, my crew is still pushing more cake than any, so Herod’s logic is suspect.
The boy waits silently. Only the chattering of his teeth can be heard as the darkness snuffs out the dusk. And what lies beyond pale streetlight glow succumbs, becoming deep shadow.
“Open your eyes and see,” I command. All of the attention the boy can muster is aimed at me.
The boy, my captive audience, is spellbound in stunned silence as I lift the rapidly dying Theodosius, my talons seeking spine. I find it and grasped the hard, knobby bone, lifting still. My left hand reaches over Theodosius’ back. I pierce his rib-cage muscle with my three-inch talons, below where the neck joins his spine. I grab hold tightly.
I bring his torso to me. I bite below where the left and right sides of his ribcage meet in the center. I chew gobbets of flesh and spit them onto the cracked sidewalk at my feet. I punctured a big artery with my pointed tongue. I raise Theodosius above my head and I let my jaw unhinge. I am a predatory snake. I twist the mortal like he’s a wringing, soggy rag. A huge bucket of blood from his ruptured abdominal aorta spews forth in an orgy of velvet fluid. The spine pops bubble-wrap staccatos. I twist and drain Theodosius of every last drop of his living blood.
I finish. My breathing abates, as does the mortal I empty. I drop the limp bag of bones to the dust and ease my lower jaw back into place. The blood delivers oxygen to my starved body. Subtle, steady euphoria ripples from the center of my chest and on out to every square inch of my cold, hypersensitive skin.
I calmly suck the remnants of the dead cop’s blood from my fingertips as the talons recede. The crew waits.
I speak. “Tell Herod,” I say, “Pilate does not get replaced.”
The boy waits. I nod. The boy turns and runs fast out of sight. His untied sneeks left empty from where he jumped out of them.
This is it, the way mess like this go down. There is nothing left for me here tonight. I have got myself plenty of trouble now. Shit.
I start walking away. When I near the periphery of deep shadows, I raise a hand above my shoulder. As if on cue, the crew scatters. They dissolve into darkness. They are shelter-seeking roaches escaping the instant kitchen light.
With my shoulder mostly healed and flush with blood and oxygen, my breathing is no longer required. The carrion: I left that Theodosius piece of shit where it fell.
I need to return to my lair. Juan, my Second, and Mary Magdalene await my return. I need to confer with Juan and shed these bloody clothes. I want Mary to braid my hair before continuing my nightly rounds. Where I stay mostly out of site, sitting in my car, hidden from everyone I can. Let the growing legend build itself. Occasionally I’ve got to come out like tonight. It will, assuredly, add another volume to my ruthless and wicked cred, but will also stir up a swirling shit-storm with the powers that be.
My runners are missing and they need locating. Plata still has to be flipped and I need to plan. Herod will not let this go unchallenged. I shall have to try the Pharisees myself, go on up past Herod. I need to see what I can salvage out of this mess.
I step over the bodies of Theodosius and his unconscious runner. I melt into darkness.
The night is my ally. It swallows me whole.