"You can't do this," the man croaked as I brought my knife closer to his eye. His voice was shaky, and his breathing was rapid and shallow. He was scared. But he still wasn't telling me what I wanted to know. I looked the man in the eye and saw the fear. The smell of it drifted off him in waves, and it had filled the air enough for me to almost taste it. He was in a strange place, tied up in front of a strange woman who held a knife a hair's breadth away from his eye, yet he still refused to talk. I thought I had been doing it right, but it seemed television had lied to me. It wasn't as easy as I had thought it would be.
"Dave?" I asked, waiting for an answer. "It was Dave, wasn't it? I'm terrible with names, so you'll have to forgive me." At his nod, I smiled. It was the smile of a predator, the one I displayed when I had my prey right where I wanted them. "Well, Dave, no one is here to stop me." I let a hint of malice creep into my voice. "I killed your Master earlier tonight, remember? I sent him back to Hell, and I will do the same to you if you don't tell me what I want to know." It had been a hard kill, too.
Vampires, as a rule, aren't an easy enemy to deal with, regardless of the situation, but Dave's Master had been tougher than usual. The older ones usually were. It came from living long enough to realize immortality doesn't mean they'd live forever. It meant they'd live until some random Hunter was good enough or lucky enough to send them back to Hell. I had been good enough, with a bit of luck thrown in as well. And Dave here? Dave was the former vamp's Feeder, a human who gave himself up willingly as food. Scum of the earth, at least in my mind.
"Look," he said, "I don't know where it's coming from. All I do is buy it for my Master and he takes it from there."
I pulled the knife away and knelt down to pick up a tiny clear plastic bag containing a white powdery substance. It had fallen from the Feeder's pocket when we tied him to the chair. The substance was Plast, a new drug that had appeared on the streets about six months prior, one that had been picking up steam in the vampire community. Myself and the other Hunters around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex had been working overtime to find out why. Answers had been hard to come by, when we had been able to find them at all. The distribution was tightly regimented. As far as anyone knew, my run in with Dave had been the first time anyone managed to corner someone with more than a hit or two. "Do you know what this stuff does?"
He gulped and nodded. "I don't use," he said, "but I've seen what happens when an addict comes down." Dave had just nailed the reason we were so interested. When someone took Plast, they went into la-la land, but when they came back, it triggered some of the baser instincts of human nature. Violent crimes had been on the rise ever since Plast had first hit the streets. And the addicts? The longer someone took Plast the more violent they became when the high disappeared.
Normally we would have let the DEA and the local police deal with the situation, but since the vampires seemed to be the ones dealing Plast, we had decided to take a hand in the matter. None of us had been fans of the idea. Our methodology was more suited to a "shoot first, ask questions later" approach. To be honest, I couldn't have stated why I was standing in front of Dave in the first place. It had seemed the thing to do when I'd stumbled into him carrying a box full of Plast, but the longer I stood there with him trembling and me with my knife in my hand, the more I felt like the bad guy. He had to know something, I felt it in my gut, but I was at a loss for how to coax it out of him. With his Master gone and the reality of his situation, he should have popped.
I swallowed my doubt and leaned in close, pressing the knife against his throat. "And you're not bothered by it?"
"Does it matter?" he asked. I heard a slight catch in his voice, as if he'd made up his mind on something. I pulled back and noticed his breathing was less ragged, more even. The fear was going away. Not good. I'd spent too much time acting as if I was about to do something to him, and not following through.
I licked my lips and tried for a sadistic grin. "Maybe. Maybe not. But even if you're a heartless bastard, I have a hard time believing you don't know anything. I mean, come on, Dave, I found you carrying close to two pounds of the stuff." I pressed the knife closer, and nicked the skin. I prayed it would be enough. "Tell me where you got the stash."
"I found it lying around," he said, his voice even and unemotional. The fear was gone. He knew I wasn't going to do anything to him. If I was, I would have done it by then. I growled in frustration and pulled away, storming into the next room where my companion, Tank, was watching from the shadows of the doorway.
He didn't look happy. "You sure he's hiding something?" he asked. I stopped pacing and whirled on him, causing him to back up a step. He knew I was angry, and I thought it a small point of pride that a man who was a foot taller and about a hundred pounds heavier than I was felt it prudent to get out of my way. "Had to ask," he said, his hands up in a placating gesture.
I took a deep breath and forced myself to calm down. "No," I said, "I asked you to help me, so you have every right to ask." It had been Tank who held Dave down as I had strapped him to the chair with zip ties. "But to answer your question, yes, he is hiding something. I'm just not sure what I can do to get him to talk."
Tank leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. "Maiming and killing only works when we're dealing with vampires," he said. "You know the rules. Feeders like Dave may be in deep with the vamps, but they're still human and that's a line we do not cross. Subdue them, truss them up if we have to, but only if they attack us first. We don't do things like this." He waved a hand at the room. I could hear the frustration and disappointment in his voice, most of it directed at me.
"You could have declined when I asked for your help," I said as I pinched the bridge of my nose. I didn't need Tank's disapproval on top of being stonewalled by Dave.
"I might have if I had known your intentions."
I snorted. "Because tying a Feeder up displays good intentions." I flicked a hand towards Dave. "Not that it's done me much good." I growled and kicked at a wad of paper on the floor. I didn't appreciate being so close to answers only to be hindered by a self-inflicted rule about not being the bad guy. I pinched my nose again and tried to think. I couldn't help but feel as if Dave was our only shot at moving forward. To squander the opportunity would simply prolong the situation with Plast, and I couldn't let it go by without trying something to take advantage of the tools I'd been given.
"How many addicts did you have to deal with last month?" I asked.
Tank shrugged and said, "About a dozen or so."
"And the others?" All told, there were a dozen or so Hunters spread out over the metroplex. It was usually enough, but the sudden need to deal with Plast had spread us thin.
"I'm not sure but it's probably a similar number. Why?"
"I ran into about twenty. That's double from two months ago. I can't imagine any one of us not experiencing the same increase." I folded my arms and took a defensive stance. "The numbers keep going up. How much higher do they have to go before we get another breakthrough?"
He didn't immediately answer, folding his arms and leaning up against the wall. His face suggested that he was analyzing the situation. Tank didn't look the part, but he was smarter than many people would have given him credit for. Not many had the ability to see the big picture, to pick out each individual tree in a forest and know how it fit in the whole, but Tank was one of them. So when he said, "I don't know," I knew he couldn't come up with an easier way to approach the situation.
"I don't know either," I said. "What I do know is time is running out. Eventually this will be way too much for us to handle, and we both know the local authorities aren't prepared for an extended campaign. We have a Feeder who I caught carrying more Plast than any one man could ever hope to use. Even if he doesn't know where it's coming from, he had to get it from someone. Maybe they know. We need to follow the bread crumbs, so to speak."
"But he's not giving us a trail to follow, and that's the problem."
He was right. It was a problem. Tank voicing it out loud forced me to face it head on and make a decision. My father told me a long time ago the key to success is finding the lines you've set for yourself and knowing when to cross them. I was a Hunter, but my game focused on the minor demons and vampires who found their way out of Hell. I left the humans supporting them alone because they were harmless for the most part. By himself, Dave was harmless as well. But he had information I needed which would ultimately help save people's lives.
It was time he coughed it up.
Tank must have seen something come over me, because he pulled himself off the wall and said, "Don't do anything stupid, Cheryl."
I didn't answer him, I just reached around to the holster I kept hidden in the small of my back and pulled out the Glock 19 my friend Don had gotten me when I'd turned eighteen. I walked into the room and chambered a round, the distinctive sound causing Dave to eye me cautiously as I approached.
"Hey now," he said, his voice back to being shaky, "what are you going to do with that?"
I walked up to him, pressed the barrel of the gun to his kneecap, and pulled the trigger. The explosion of sound was followed by a spray of blood and bone, then suddenly by Dave's screams. I let him cry it out as Tank rushed into the room and pulled me back.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what the hell was that for?" yelled Tank
I pulled his hands off me and looked at him. "You think he'll talk now?" I asked, the emotion gone from my voice. When he didn't answer, I went back to Dave and shut him up by putting my gun in his mouth. Once he quieted down I said, "A few years ago a friend of mine told me if you really wanted to fuck someone over, all you had to do was take out their kneecaps. Done properly, the bone shatters, and is nearly impossible to repair, rendering them somewhat of a cripple for the rest of their lives. One kneecap is good, but two is better. Do you want me to make it two, Dave?" He shook his head as best he could. "Then start talking." I pulled the gun out of his mouth.
In between sobs he said, "Every week at the same time I get my Master's stash from a guy named Jamal. He's a small-time dealer down near the VA. He's never in the same spot twice, but it's easy to find him because he drives a green caddy with spinners. I don't know where he gets it from, and I don't know how my Master found out. I'm just a courier."
I put my gun to the other kneecap and asked, "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure! I'm sure!" he cried. "I swear to God, I'm sure!" Dave broke down into painful sobs, rending his words unintelligible.
I waited a moment before I pulled the gun away. "Okay." I stood up and walked out of the room, putting my gun back into its holster. It was too early in the morning to make it over to the VA and hope to follow up, so I was going to have to wait until later. Still, it was progress. I had a name. It was more than I'd had before.
"What the hell, Cheryl?" Tank said as he came back into the room. "What the hell?"
I had rattled him. We'd known each other for a couple of years and had backed each other up more than a few times, but we had always played by the rules. I had asked him to help me because I had needed the additional hands, but now I was beginning to think I should have tried to question Dave by myself. I knew I had crossed a line, but I also knew in time I was going to be able to look back and see it as a good decision.
It didn't stop me from finding the nearest trashcan and throwing up in it, though. There wasn't much because I never went hunting on a full stomach, but what I did have emptied out completely and was followed up with several dry heaves. Tank shut up and helped me to my feet once I was done. A bottle of water found its way into my hand, and I quickly washed the taste of bile out of my mouth. "I don't want to go there again," I said, still feeling queasy. "But at least he talked."
Tank ignored my comment and asked, "What do we do with him?"
I thought about leaving him behind. He willingly served vampires. It made you little better than the demons in my book. Maybe he would live, maybe he wouldn't. I sighed. Leaving him would have been one more step down the path I started walking on when I'd blown out Dave's kneecap. I wanted to avoid going any further if I could manage it. "We'll drag him out to the alley. Someone will find him in the morning." Tank nodded. He was thinking the same thing I was. We'd give him a chance to recover, but doing so was the extent of our compassion for someone of his ilk.
A short time later, Dave was moaning against a wall in the alley behind the building, with the remains of his pant leg wrapped around his knee to help staunch the bleeding. I grabbed his face and turned him towards me. "I don't know who you are, Dave, and I really don't care. But if I run across you again in connection with any vampires, I'll take time out of my very busy schedule to make sure you lose your other kneecap. You feel me?" Dave nodded vigorously. "Smart man." I let go and walked out of the alley to where Tank was waiting. "Heading out?" I asked.
He nodded. "Gonna make one more run through my territory. You?"
"Home," I said. "Bed. Though I'm not sure if I'll end up sleeping."
"Well, do me a favor. The next time you feel the need to go off the rails, avoid taking me with you. I'll give you this one," he said, holding up his index finger, "but one is all you get, so I hope this ends up being worth it."
I managed a weak smile. "It was worth it," I said, even though I couldn't be certain. "You'll see."