By Mark Cunningham
Cardinal Donal travelled on a diplomatic passport so customs in New York was quick and painless. A TSA agent, manner alternating between officious self importance and deference to the Cardinal’s station, guided him swiftly under the ropes. The two Swiss Guards who had accompanied him collected his bags and they were soon in a large town car, on loan from a wealthy catholic family on Long Island. The Catholic Church was not only one of the largest landowners in America, but through a long established network of patronage, reaped the rewards of its flock.
They drove for about forty five minutes. Donal passed the time by studying the folder Umagwe had prepared for him.
The Everto Quaero had sent word to the Vatican through a Bishop in New York City that they had evidence of vampires. They had requested an audience with a Vatican representative, promising to reveal information unknown to any but themselves. This information they would reveal only in person to the Vatican representative. Their message implied that the Everto Quaero was aware of the Vatican’s activities with regard to tracking the vampires. They had also included a detailed list of worldwide deaths and disappearances that had occurred over the last five years, every one of which the Vatican team had traced to vampires. This last bit of information was particularly troubling to Donal. What did they know, or at least think they knew? It was imperative that he learn everything that they actually knew, while revealing as little as possible.
Somewhere just before the Connecticut border, Donal’s private cell phone rang and the voice on the other end gave them an address that turned out to be a small diner. The cardinal had a small, flavorless breakfast and was about to ask one of the guards to find him a newspaper when two men entered the diner. Donal wore mufti, the robes of a Cardinal attracting more attention than the situation called for, but he saw the recognition. They walked to the booth he was sitting in.
“Your Eminence.” The first man bowed quickly. He was a big man. Donal guessed him to be in his early forties. “My name is Frank DeMilo. I am a defender and friend of the one true church.”
Donal fought back visible disgust and succeeded in invisibility, knowing that this was how the Everto Quaero introduced themselves. He nodded, making a vague hand gesture. The man stood until the Cardinal made a further gesture for him to sit. He was softening slightly and had lost most of his hair, but Donal guessed that his membership in the Everto Quaero came from the same thirst for glory that he had chased on a football field in his youth. DeMilo sat down. The other man slid into the booth next to him.
The second man was silent. He looked younger, perhaps in his early thirties. He knew before DeMilo spoke that this one was an outsider, both to the Everto Quaero and the Church itself.
“This is David Heber your Eminence. David has not accepted the friendship of the Church, but he has proven to be a valuable ally.”
Donal studied the man silently. The eyes betrayed nothing, penetrating and blue, but cold and indifferent. There were frown lines in his forehead, deep and permanent. The face was familiar, though there was no question of them ever having met. After a time, Donal spoke.
“You have seen war.” It wasn’t a question. There was no mistaking the familiarity.
“Afghanistan.” When Hebert answered, the question in it hung in the air between them.
“The Falklands.” Donal’s reply hung back until DeMilo broke the silence.
“We have much to discuss your Eminence. We greatly appreciate that you have travelled so far to meet with us.”
“Your message was compelling.” Donal turned back to face DeMilo, but knew his Swiss Guards would be focused on his companion Heber.
DeMilo whispered and Donal was forced to lean forward to hear him. “We are grateful for your help…for the help of the church. “ Here he faltered. His eyes were wide, full of fear and self doubt.
Donal sighed and leaned further forward. He took DeMilo’s hand in both of his and spoke.
“There is much that is troubling in these times my son. Much that would trouble the stoutest of hearts even if the dead were not rising to prey on the living.” Donal looked at DeMilo with compassion and weary strength. “Put your trust in God. Look to him for strength.”
DeMilo looked back at him and Donal nodded reassuringly. “Talk to me Frank. Your message spoke of more information regarding the undead.”
DeMilo answered in a whisper. “Your Eminence, we have been fools. They have played us like children, like simple children. “ He took his hands from the Cardinal’s grip and made gestures to compose himself. Donal gave him a moment, then pressed him.
“You speak of the vampires Frank.” Donal kept patience in his voice, although he wanted to shake the man, scream at him to spit it out.
DeMilo looked up at him with something in his eyes that wasn’t immediately apparent.
“We have been tracking them Cardinal. Until recently, we were reluctant to involve the Church.”
“Reluctant?” Donal asked him, recognizing the look of disappointment, a look he had come to understand. It was the beginning of the questioning of faith. he had seen it before. He had seen it in the faces of parishioners and fellow priests. He had seen it in the mirror.
DeMilo looked down, his face reddening. Heber spoke for him.
“That surprises you?” Heber’s voice was even, slightly curious.
DeMilo spoke before Heber could continue. He spoke, but did not look up.
“We feared that the size of the Church would make maintaining secrecy…difficult.”
“I see.” Donal could feel Heber’s eyes on him, though he refused to look.
“We have been tracking these creatures for longer than you have Frank. We have been able to keep the secret…” Donal regretted his words as soon as he spoke them. Heber’s interruption replaced the need for a pause or for brief, but awkward silence to follow.
“Let’s cut through all that right now. Remember who it was that called this meeting Donal.” Heber leaned forward and Donal turned his head to face him. “We know more than you do. I can say that unequivocally because I know exactly what you know. I even know what you think you do, which is by the way, most of what you know. As for secrecy? You have to be kidding me. Like I said, remember who called the meeting.”
“Fair enough Mister Heber. You say you have information that is unknown to the Church. You have both my undivided attention and my piqued interest at your disposal. I also grant you that I am disturbed at your suggestion that you aware of activities by the Church that we had thought unknown to anyone outside our organization.” Donal leaned back in his seat and waited. Disturbed was a remarkable understatement. Donal was furious. How much did they know? He cursed the implications of a leak.
“They are old your Eminence.” DeMilo spoke softly and slowly. His eyes were red and the lids hooded. He began looking at the door, then quickly back to his hands that were folded on the table. “They are everything that is evil and they are old.” DeMilo’s mannerisms were taking on the look of a tic, but without the precision of familiarity.
“We know they are old Frank. We have been tracking them…”
“You don’t know. That is the information. They have been playing you.” Heber interrupted him.
“Some of them are ancient Cardinal.” DeMilo stopped looking in circles and shot his head up, to look directly into Donal’s eyes. It was a look that made the Cardinal sit back even further.
“Vampires are old in human terms, but they are hardly ancient.” He ignored Heber, who had begun chuckling, a sound that conveyed no humor. What did they know?
“There are some older than the church itself.” Donal heard the finality and bitter loss in DeMilo’s voice.
“Mr. DeMilo, vampires, or vampire like creatures, have existed in legend from the beginning of time. The vampire is an archetype of Evil from the Lay of Gilgamesh to Grendel and Count Dracula.” Donal paused again. Heber was studying an aluminum napkin dispenser, apparently finding it as mirthlessly amusing as the conversation. The sound was distracting, but Donal chose to ignore it . He looked back at DeMilo. ‘The vampires that you have discovered are known to us. We know their origin. The oldest of them is less than three hundred years old.”
DeMilo’s interrupted, his lip quivering. “Cardinal, you have been deceived. They are organized and have been for thousands of years.”
“Frank, the first real vampire…the father of all vampires alive today if you will…began its unholy existence just before your American Revolution. That is old, but hardly ancient. We know this to be true. We have evidence to support it.” That was as far as he would go. They knew something; that much was clear. There was also the matter of the leak. “Now you say that you have information that I do not, but I have heard nothing but vague assertions. It is time for you to fish or cut bait, as we say back where I was bred and buttered.
“That is exactly what they have planned for you to think” DeMilo’s voice cracked. He ran both his hands down his face and abruptly began to cry.
Heber put down the napkin dispenser and looked directly at Donal. There was no trace of the laughter and when he spoke, there was no trace of judgment in his voice. “You have been relying on faulty intelligence.”
Donal turned to face Heber. DeMilo was quietly sobbing into his hands. Donal made a subtle signal to his guards to be ready.
“Mr. Heber. I do not know what the Everto Quaero have told you about vampires. I do know however, that everything they actually do know on the subject, is based entirely on circumstantial analysis of recent events.” This had to be the case, he thought to himself, then continued speaking. “The Church on the other hand, has been tracking vampires for over one hundred years. I can only guess that they engaged your…services to destroy the monsters?”
“You guess correctly.”
“The Cardinal studied Heber. Donal had known mercenaries. He began to consider the possibility that Hebert might have to be dealt with permanently. He found the thought distasteful and disconcerting, but considered it anyway. “Tell me then…were you successful?”
“Was I successful at destroying them? The ones I destroyed would agree if they could. But maybe my success is best measured by something else.” Heber smiled again.
“And what might that measure be?”
“First answer this Cardinal. How have you measured your success? How have you measured the success of the church?”
Donal stopped to consider the question. “The only measure that matters would be containment.”
“Containment?” Heber chuckled ruefully. “And you think you have successfully contained this?” There was danger in the laughter. Donal sensed his guards reacting and held up a steadying hand.
“Gentlemen, you contacted us. The list of attacks you sent is impressive, but it reveals nothing we do not already know. Your message indicated that you have more information that you would reveal only to a Papal Legate. I hold that office. There are things that you do not know.” Donal paused. He again considered the very real possibility that an accident would need to occur when these men left the diner.
“We have identified the first group of vampires. We have managed to keep them on the run Mr. Heber. We have managed to slay most of their progeny within the first year of their existence, all within the second. While it is true that the original group have eluded us, we are making progress. I have told you more than I ever intended, especially as you have shown me nothing. Tell me what you came to tell me, or let your silence serve as both your answer and a signal to end this meeting.”
“I suggest the measure of our success serve as my answer then.” Heber answered. “That success is measured by the fact that I learned more in just over a month than you have in over one hundred years.” Heber ‘s smile was merely an ornament. “Everything you think you know about vampires is a lie. They have been laughing at you for two thousand years”
“Mr. Heber. I have seen evidence that supports the fact that until the year 1754, vampirism was isolated to a small tribe of Seneca Indians that lived in what is now your state of Pennsylvania. Vampirism was a relatively uncommon occurrence as the communal life of the Seneca people made detection immediate. Vampires were dealt with quickly and effectively. The first vampire that was not a member of that tribe, the one that spread the infection to the group you are tracking today, entered into its dark existence in 1754. We know this. We have traced the source. We are not the Everto Quaero. We have battled Evil in many guises.” Donal replied. “The Society is old. The Church is older.”
“You are so convinced that you deserve to win.” There was no trace of laughter left in Heber’s voice. “How did you ever survive a firefight?”
“The first vampire was named Laurent Jalbert.” Donal had grown weary of it. It was time to end it. “Jalbert was a…”
“Laurent Jalbert was a Captain in the French Army. He became a vampire in 1754. It happened in a valley in Pennsylvania after members of the Colonial Virginian Militia and their Mingo Indian allies engaged some French Army scouts.” Heber’s voice was impassive. “I have read the files.”
Donal was stunned. The Vatican was a difficult place to keep secrets, centuries of intrigue had created an atmosphere where information was traded for wealth and access, and he had known the Everto Quaero had access to high levels of the church, but the secret of vampirism had been carefully guarded. Knowledge of Jalbert specifically was limited to scarcely a handful, all men that Donal trusted. Ice kissed the length of his spine, causing him to shift. It was slight but he saw that Heber had marked it.
“You have read which files?” The damage was done, however accomplished
“All of them. Yours are remarkably detailed.” Heber seemed to allow the ghost of a smile.
“If you have seen the files then you know I speak the truth.” Donal spoke with some urgency, unable to mask his concern. “There are eye witness accounts. We have been scrupulous in our efforts. You have seen the evidence.”
“Yes, I have seen the evidence. I know what happened after the Battle of Jumonville Glen.”
“Then you know beyond certainty…”
“I know beyond certainty that Laurent Jalbert became a vampire. I also know beyond certainty that he was not the first one to go off the reservation as it were. There have been vampires in Europe for thousands of years.”
“You say you have seen the files?”
“Yes I have.”
“Then you know that there are absolutely no documented cases of vampirism before 1754?”
“I have read the files. I agree there is no documented evidence of vampirism before 1754, other than Native American oral histories.”
“And you acknowledge that every vampire we have traced since then, not most, not virtually all, but every single one has been traced back to the Jalbert infection?”
“Yes, I noticed that.”
“You have read the letters; the letters pertaining to the Jalbert incident?”
“Yes I have.”
“And you have read the journal entries of the commander of the Colonial Militia, an eyewitness to the events?” A slight smile escaped Donal. “You are perhaps familiar with his name? You perhaps have a passing acquaintance with his reputation for honesty?”
“I have read the entries of Lieutenant Colonel George Washington. I have also heard the story about the cherry tree. I can’t vouch for that one, but I know beyond certainty that he lied about what happened on May 28th, 1754.”
“But Mr. Heber, surely you recognize that there is more than just the account of George Washington. We have gathered the memoirs and papers of more than a dozen eyewitnesses to what occurred. They have been authenticated. We have spent over one hundred years chasing Jalbert and his coven of vampires.” Donal paused. “What evidence do you have that contradicts our research?”
“I have done my own research. It is more accurate.” The certainty in his voice was infuriating.
“And what makes it so Mister Heber?” Donal’s voice was full of patronizing sarcasm. He had had enough of this mercenary.
“Your research was based on recorded eyewitness accounts. While these accounts are convincing, they are inaccurate. In some cases these inaccuracies are a result of misleading statements made by those eyewitnesses, Colonel George Washington among them. In other cases, there have been alterations and fabrications. The end result is the same. Your research is flawed.” Heber paused. Donal thought he might have seen sympathy.
“Flawed in what way?”
“Ask yourself how they have managed to stay ahead of you for over one hundred years.”
“We have kept them running.” Donal whispered it, trying to keep the doubt out of his voice.
“You have relied on faulty intelligence. They have been laughing at you even as they pulled your strings.”
“How can you know all this? What evidence could you possibly have that trumps one hundred years of scrupulous work by my order?”
“Everything you know about them stems from what happened to Jalbert at Jumonville Glen, but everything you know about the events that transpired there is based on the word of men who have been dead for hundreds of years. You lack context Cardinal. You rely on history. I, on the other hand, have a firsthand account.”
“I do not understand.” Donal blinked in uncertainty. Heber shook his head slowly. Sympathy and contempt congealed on his face.
“We took one of them. And not just any one of them, of that I assure you. We took an important one” He said finally. “I interrogated it. It took some time, but he broke. It turns out it was there.”
“You took one of them?” Donal was incredulous.
“That’s right Cardinal.” Heber said. “We took one that was there at Jumonville Glen. He was a witness to everything that happened. He has confirmed that Jalbert was turned to a vampire just prior to the battle. We took one and it sang, it sang like Edith Fucking Piaf too. I was, as you say, scrupulous in my techniques. I haven’t gotten around yet to asking whether Cleopatra was as fun in the sack as I expect she was or whether the Sheriff of Nottingham really was the asshole he is supposed to have been, but I bet he could tell me.”
“That’s why we summoned you Cardinal.” DeMilo joined in. “We knew you would want to examine it.”
“Examine it?” Donal was almost stuttering. “Were you able to preserve it? How?” Vampires who were extinguished burnt to ashes quickly. There had never been a trace afterwards.
“Preserve it?” Heber began laughing again. ‘We preserved it alright. He is waiting to meet you.”
“You have a live…” Donal stopped talking as the implications exploded through him.
Heber smiled. “I guess we should get the show on the road then.” He got up and stood next to the booth, a taunting smile still on his face. Donal hadn’t moved.
“So you’re a mercenary then Mr. Heber?” Donal quietly spat the words at him. “Tell me, what exactly is your fee and who exactly will be paying it?” The Cardinal signaled one of the Swiss to be ready to react. He would follow up with either a disable or kill command, depending on how things proceeded. Under no circumstances would he leave an actual sentient vampire in the hands of a mercenary, or with fanatics like the Everto Quaero for that matter.
“What is my fee?” Heber looked down at him and there was death in his eyes. “My fee is a stake through the heart of the monster that took my wife and made her a monster too. As for who is going to pay for it? That will be me. You see, I’m going to need two stakes. The second one is for my wife. After that, I’m either going to get drunk or blow my brains out. I haven’t gotten that far yet” He held Donal’s gaze until The Cardinal looked away. Wearily, Donal motioned for the Swiss to stand down. Heber saw the signal and nodded before sitting back down in the booth.
After that they discussed practical matters for a few more minutes before leaving together. Donal and the Swiss followed the Volvo that DeMilo and Heber had come in.
Donal sat in the back seat of his town car. He was on his way to meet a vampire. He began to pray, his hands quietly shaking in his lap.
The Lord is my shepherd…