London Days Demon Nights
The world is not what it seems. There are vampires, demons, shape changers, mermaids and sirens. The underworld is real and the people of twenty-first century England don’t know a thing about it.
The Commission is tasked with seeing to it that the people of England can continue to enjoy their state of joyful ignorance.
The world is not what it seems. There are vampires, demons, shape changers, mermaids and sirens. The underworld is real and the people of twenty-first century England don’t know a thing about it.
The Commission is tasked with seeing to it that the people of England can continue to enjoy this state of blithe ignorance. Their chief enforcers against demonic wickedness are Major Jameson, formerly of the Guards Regiments, Gaston, a Jamaican who was formerly a sergeant in the Paras—and the vampire Karla, who has been (quite unwillingly) recruited to their service.
They are glad they have Karla, though, however surly she may be. Without her, they would be hard-pressed to handle the other vampires, witches, shapechangers, sirens, wielders of cursed rings—all the monsters that comes their way in the darkness of London nights.
“For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright, who art as black as hell, as dark as night.”William Shakespeare, Sonnet 147
Gaston was used to waiting. The unofficial motto of the British Army was ‘hurry up and wait.’ Gaston had reached the rank of sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment—the Queen’s own Royal goon squad, not bad for the illegitimate son of a Charing Cross streetwalker. He had joined up after his mother’s pimp had beaten her senseless with a red-hot coat hanger. Gaston had taken a white-hot poker to the pimp in retaliation. The local police had found the incident hilarious but a kindly bobby had suggested that Gaston should join the Queen’s colours for a while to keep him out of circulation. The pimp was connected to one of the more vicious Kosovan white slaver gangs that imported teenage girls for the sex trade in Central London.
In Afghanistan, Gaston had come across something much older and far more dangerous than the Taliban, something that stalked and killed his section, one by one. Gaston had survived and even fought back. The Commission team that finally put down the beast had been impressed enough to recommend that the soldier be recruited. His mother was dead by then so Gaston was footloose and free. He was quietly discharged from the ranks on health grounds and disappeared into the Commission’s tender arms.
Gaston sat on the floor in the back of a battered van with three others. “For Christ’s sake stop drumming your fingers, MacDowell,” he said.
“Sorry, Sarge,” MacDowell said. He guiltily placed his hand in his lap.
Gaston closed his eyes again. The one thing a soldier learnt was to sleep when he could. You never knew when the chance might come again. The spearmen who followed Achilles knew this, as did the legionnaires who marched behind the Caesars. The important things never change.
The mobile vibrated in Gaston’s pocket. He pulled it out and checked the message. It read simply ‘She’s in.’ “Okay, boys,” said Gaston. “It’s on.” He would have preferred to wait for daylight to deal with a Code Z but his orders were precise.
The van might have looked old and battered but the side door slid back in well-oiled silence. The four men debussed and moved purposely towards the cottage carrying bulky equipment. Two of them moved to the front door while the others knelt down in the garden. Gaston inserted a device into the door lock. A light flashed on the equipment, briefly illuminating black body armour, topped by a helmet with a reinforced visor.
The door lock opened with a noticeable click and the men froze, listening. When nothing happened, they pushed open the door and crept inside. Inside, the cottage was in darkness. The men opened the doors to each room with the barrels of bulky guns, scanning each room before entering. They moved confidently and silently through the darkened rooms, using the light enhancement technology in their visors.
Eventually, they had searched all the ground floor without finding their quarry so they clustered around the base of the narrow staircase. Gaston silently designated an order by pointing at each man and indicating a number with his fingers. The men filed up the stairs behind Gaston in the indicated sequence, keeping one metre’s distance apart.
Gaston stepped on a loose board that creaked underfoot. All the men stopped and waited but the cottage remained dark and silent. Finally, they started moving again but each of the following men stepped carefully over the treacherous stair.
They stopped at the first bedroom door on the top landing and repeated their room opening ritual. The door was ajar. Gaston and a partner stood each side of the door and pushed it fully open with their gun muzzles. When there was no reaction, they moved inside, the second two members of the team taking their place at the entrance.
The room was empty except for some basic furniture. The bed was solid and the wardrobe door open, so there was no possible hiding place. Gaston started to back out when, for some odd reason, the second team member looked up.
Chaos theory insists that a single flap of a butterfly’s wing in China can change the direction of a hurricane in the West Indies, sparing one island to devastate another. This may or may not be true. Certainly Chinese butterflies continue to irresponsibly flap, giving absolutely no thought to the welfare of their relatives in the Americas.
Human beings consider themselves to be inestimably superior to mere butterflies because they have created opera, organic vegetables and the Oprah Winfrey Show but in terms of irresponsible body movements they may not have advanced much further than the Lepidoptera.
The second team member looked up, changing several lives. It certainly changed his own life. Orange streetlight leaking through the window gently illuminated a lady all in black, crouching against the ceiling. She wore black leather trousers and a biker babe jacket. Long black curly hair trailed down over her face. Her face was starkly North European pale. She crouched, hands and feet against the roof as if gravity was reversed.
The woman dropped down on the team member before he could move. Somehow, she twisted in mid air so that she dropped astride him as he fell to the floor. She grabbed his helmet with both hands and jerked hard. His neck broke with a noticeable crack.
Gaston hit her hard across the shoulders with his gun, driving her back. She hissed at him, opening her mouth to show impossibly long fangs. There was a great flash and crack of discharging capacitors that filled the room with indigo light and ozone. Invisible ultraviolet raked the woman’s face causing her to moan in agony. The whine of recharging capacitors filled the room with high pitched sound. As she dropped, disorientated onto her knees, Gaston stepped up to her. He had not fired yet. He placed his gun muzzle directly against her face and discharged it. The flash flipped the woman onto her back.
“Quickly, get the restraints on.” Gaston spoke for the first time since they had entered the cottage. Working with polished speed, the men slapped heavy silvered restraints around her wrists and ankles. One of the team pulled a thick leather bag over her head and fastened it at the neck.
A team member knelt to check the pulse of the man down on the ground. “He’s dead.”
Gaston unclipped a mobile phone and triggered a number. “Send a clean up crew. We got her. We have one friendly casualty, terminal.”
The woman on the floor sat up.
A soldier walked over to her, “You killed Frank, you bitch.” He kicked her in the face, as hard as he could.
“There’s the Code Z,” said Farley. “She’s already had the preliminary treatment. Only the oaths are left.”
“What do we know about her?” said Jameson.
Farley opened a file. “We know she has been using the name Karla. We are not sure who she really is or how old she is. She can still pass as human well enough to function to a limited degree within human society. She has made at least five kills in the red-light zones. Three clients and two prostitutes have been drained to our certain knowledge over the last two years. Given that she would need regular meals, the low frequency of deaths must mean that she mostly stops short of a kill. That suggests she hasn’t yet descended into animal irrationality. Frankly, I never thought that R&D would ever find a suitable candidate. It certainly took them long enough.”
Jameson did not comment. Code Zs became more dangerous as they aged. Young suckers were more malleable but the old ones were the real prize for the experiment. Mental deterioration set in past a certain age, though. That was why immortal Code Zs did not overrun the world. Some became twisted obsessive maniacs that were too damn dangerous to do anything but destroy–if you could. Most shut down mentally and retreated into non-sentience to become the basis for monster and demon legends.
The two men stood behind a shield of one-way armoured glass. The woman in black leather was chained to a heavy steel chair that was itself bolted to a concrete floor, like it was in some demented dentist’s surgery. She sat with unnatural stillness.
The interrogator pulled the hood off her head. She didn’t move but blinked in the bright, artificial lights, watching him.
“Can you understand me?” the interrogator said.
She looked at him without speaking. The man sighed.
He raised his hand and a guard in body armour walked around him and pointed a weapon at her torso. It looked like an assault rifle but had a much thicker barrel and magazine.
“That is a Model YR03 rail gun. The electromagnetic coils accelerate a steel cored wooden bolt up to 200 miles an hour. At this range it will punch clean through you.”
She still did not respond so he spoke again. “You are useless to me if you refuse to cooperate or you are too far gone to comprehend instructions, and we might as well use you to test the gun. So, for the last time—can you understand me?”
“I understand you,” she said. “What do you want?” Her accent was impossible to place, like one of those Eurotrash playboys who had lived in so many places that they had picked up something from all of them.
“That’s better. We want you to do something for us,” he said. “Are you willing to cooperate?”
“You need me for something?” She spoke without emotion.
“You will undergo a magic ritual. You will be required to do this voluntarily and to make the appropriate actions and response when prompted.” The man looked at her intently.
“Yes.” She licked her lips.
“If you do anything to interrupt or corrupt the ritual then you will be immediately destroyed without a second chance. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” she said, again.
“You don’t say much do you,” the interrogator said. She did not answer.
The man got up and left the room but the guards remained watching her.
A woman approached carrying a bag of arcane objects and herbs.
“Witch,” whispered Karla. For the first time she looked apprehensive.
The woman set out her magic paraphernalia on the floor. She lit scented candles, dimming the lights. She put various herbs in a bowl and ground them up in Buxton spring water from a plastic bottle. Closing her eyes, the witch recited an incantation sitting cross-legged on Karla’s right.
“I think this is your cue, old boy,” said Farley.
“Yah.” Jameson opened the door and walked in. He knelt down in front of Karla.
The witch paused while Jameson found a comfortable position, then she started the ceremony proper.
“Tied in chains that can’t be seen,
Tied in chains that can’t be parted,
Tied in chains that bind her being,
Hecate, Queen of night,
Hear me, Hecate, hear my summoning
She offers body, mind and heart,
Come Hecate and hear her promise,
Bind her body, mind and heart,
He is here and waits possession,
An open channel for your purpose,
On his head the geas falls,
Hear her, Hecate, work the magic,
Bind her body, mind and heart,”
The witch chanted on and on until Karla’s eyes dropped. Little will-o-wisps danced in green and white and blue around the three and the candles flared. It looked like a clip from a soap advert dreamt up by a planner who had pushed too much white powder up his nose. Jameson couldn’t move. The witch arched her back and sighed deeply.
“Hecate, Queen of Darkness, she comes, she comes.”
Then she slumped forward as if exhausted. The candle flames subsided and the will-o-wisps faded. There was a long pause and Jameson’s hands and feet tingled with “pins and needles” as if the circulation had been temporarily cut off. The witch sat up and snapped her fingers, waking Karla up. She offered Karla a bowl. Yellow vapour flowed gently from it onto the floor.
“Drink and say ‘With all my heart I offer,'” said the witch.
Karla hesitated, took a sideways look at a guard, then bent her head forward.
The witch put the bowl to her lips and Karla drank. “With all my heart I offer,” she said.
Jameson took the bowl in turn and drank “I accept the responsibility.”
The witch blew the candles out slowly and ceremonially. She said a small incantation as each flame was extinguished. When the last was out, she left the room. The guards followed and closed the door.
“Hello Karla, my name is Jameson. Well here we are, all alone.”
Jameson had done some hairy things for the Commission but this was the most dangerous. He feigned casualness out of some personal sense of pride. There was no real point. He knew Karla could smell his emotions and he must reek of fear.
“We will soon have you out of all those chains.” He chatted amiably and pointlessly as he worked.
He unclipped her ankles first, then her arms and wrists. Karla shot out of the chair and moved warily to the back of the room. Jameson stood still, turning to watch her. She tested the armoured glass and walls with the heel of her hand. She hit like a pile driver but the room was reinforced. Then she tried the door without success.
“I have the door key.” Jameson showed it to her then put it in his pocket.
She walked up to him and opened her mouth, revealing elongated canines. He wanted to run, oh boy, how he wanted to run, but he was locked in with her. There was nowhere to go. She stopped and looked puzzled.
“I feel your fear,” she spoke to him for the first time. “I don’t . . . I don’t like the feeling.”
He pulled a rail pistol from under his arm. It was a three-shot weapon that could be easily concealed as a last ditch defence. Jameson’s weapons instructor had always said that if you needed to fire a second time at rail pistol range then you were already dead. The three shot magazine was a luxury.
Jameson held the pistol at arm’s length pointed at her heart. “Pay careful attention, Karla. I will kill you if you feed on a human being. I will kill you unless you kill me first.”
She made a half-hearted move towards him, claws and teeth extended, but hesitated. He slapped her across the face, causing her to recoil. “What have you done to me?” she whispered.
“I will kill you if you ever feed on a human being unless you kill me first. Do you understand me?”
She then did something utterly unexpected. She backed away from him to the corner, curled up into a ball and shook. What was he supposed to do now? He squatted down beside her and put his hand on her shoulder. She shrank away.
“It’s alright, Karla. It’s alright,” he said softly stroking her arm. “You don’t want to kill me, the magic won’t let you, and I don’t want to kill you. You will tell me when you need to feed and I will get you blood.” After a while she stopped shaking.
“Come on, get up,” he said, cajolingly.
“What have you done to me?” she repeated.
“You’ve been bound to me,” he said gently. “The witch’s magic has bound you. Come on, get up.”
This was ridiculous; he was treating a man-killing monster as if she was a frightened woman. The trouble was that she looked like a frightened woman, albeit one with metallic green eyes. She allowed him to haul her to her feet.
“Now we are going to leave this place. You will stay close to me and remember; attack a human being and I will kill you.”
Jameson unlocked the door and walked out. He didn’t look around but he heard her follow him. They walked down a corridor and into another room full of people. Everyone in that room was a volunteer and everyone was scared. They were all dead if she went into a killing frenzy. Jameson held his pistol inconspicuously at his side. Karla looked in and opened her mouth, showing long teeth. She looked at Jameson and then backed out into the corridor.
“It’s okay, Karla. Follow me.” Jameson grabbed her hand and pulled her behind him. She looked rigidly ahead as he paraded her through the room. He took her to a door that opened out into a courtyard.
“Well, Karla. You passed the test. I guess the spell works, or at least it has so far.”
Jameson walked to where his car was parked. The blue Jaguar two-seater sports was his beloved. He clicked the remote and the car chirruped a welcome, flashing its amber indicators. He opened the left-hand door. “Come on, Karla. Get in.”
She shrank back. “Smelly, noisy.”
Jameson held out his hand to her. “We have to use the car to go home. Come on, I’ve even fitted darkened windows,” he said, encouragingly. Home was too far to walk and it was too late for the tube. The thought of taking her on a tube train was–disconcerting.
She climbed into the Jag and perched on the edge of the seat. Jameson got in the driver’s side and clipped his belt on. He tried to attach hers but she stopped him and shook her head. “I guess the seat belt laws don’t apply to you,” he said. Actually, very little of the United Kingdom’s legal code had been written with her in mind.
He started the engine. She seemed fascinated by the parade of lights that flicked across the dashboard. “Karla, have you been in a car before?”
She shook her head.
“I suppose the technology has only been around for a hundred years,” said Jameson, with heavy, and wasted, irony.
He pulled out of the bay and up to the security barrier. His chipped identity card lifted the bar. At this time in the morning, even the streets of London were empty and the big Jag ate the miles. Jameson was a fast, confident driver and, as he got into the mood, he swung the car through the wet streets, letting the back step out as he used the accelerator to steer. He flicked the player on.
The Jag had a state of the art MP3 system. Jameson downloaded the latest CDs into it every month. He had the system rigged to random mood selection. Theoretically, the system analysed his driving and the weather to select appropriate tracks. Jameson also had set it to favour recent recordings.
Katie Melua’s perfect, crystal-clear voice infiltrated their air space.
“Piece by piece is how I’ll let go of you, Kiss by kiss, will leave my mind one at a time.”
A hand gripped his thigh.
Karla gripped the roof handhold with one hand and his leg with the other. “Fast,” she said. “Go fast.”
Good grief, thought Jameson. Jaguar sports cars had a well-deserved reputation as totty-magnets but this was ridiculous. But her enthusiasm was infectious especially to a man who still possessed a strong boy-racer streak.
He pulled the gear selector down and across to drop it two gears and he opened the throttle as they joined the Cromwell Road. The bonnet lifted as the V12 dug the rear wheels into the tarmac. The Jag shot past the gothic cathedral-like building of the Natural History Museum. Not only the dinosaurs watched them pass, a trail of flashing speed cameras winked in their wake, like photographers behind a Hollywood starlet parading up the red carpet. The car was registered with the diplomatic plates of a small African country so the traffic police could only sigh and tear up the tickets.
She gripped him hard as the Jag accelerated. “Um, Karla, you’re hurting my leg.”
She turned shining emerald eyes on him and released him fractionally. “I can feel your blood pumping.”
There was, he thought, no answer to that. He turned off the A4, southwest to Richmond.