Vampire 2.0 – Schematic Acquired

(Enjoying the read? The story begins over yonder…)

Schematic Acquired

Through much of the flight, Vlad was silent. Staring down at the earth below as they skimmed over it, one knuckle in the corner of his jaw, Brand thought the Boss might have been asleep. Even if his eyes were open, which was incredibly creepy to the gargoyle. Keeping still in his own seat was almost impossible; he wanted to squirm, to chatter, to tell the Boss how great things were going to be. Or maybe just to ask what the vampire was planning.
His issues began to fade as the neon oasis of Vegas began to loom in the windshield, creating an artificial sunlight with the thousands of kilowatt hours they were burning every second down there.His mind turned to the convention, and excuses he might use to slip away – just for an hour or two – and check it out.
Brand was rudely yanked from his fantasy of Rubenesque flesh in one hand and an appletini in the other by Vlad’s voice.
“There.” The vampire was leaning over the pilot’s shoulder, pointing with one gloved finger. “That’s the place.”
Maxwell bobbed her helmeted head, and began bringing the helicopter around, pointing it towards the Bellagio. He felt a moment of pride, having been the one to suggest they apply for permits to land on most of the local casinos; like many of his suggestions, it had initially met with resistance from the Boss, but his determination had won through. Now, look: here they were, using it. Just like most of his other suggestions.
Vlad had settled back into the cushy pleather seat, and was looking down at the gargoyle, his expression unreadable between the absolute stillness of his face and the wide mirrored lenses he was wearing. Brand glanced down, picking at a bit of imaginary lint on his slacks.
“So, uh, Boss…” Brand coughed into his taloned fist. “You didn’t say why we’re here. I mean, I’m cool with it, don’t get me wrong, I love the night life, gotta boogie and all that, but I don’t think ya picked here just because of the cons, ya know?”
Vlad snorted, shaking his head.
“No, Brand, I did not. The fact that your beloved convention is in town has little to do with our business. Though…”
Vlad tapped his finger against his pointed chin for a moment, cocking his head as though considering. Brand felt a small flower of hope blossom in his blackened heart.
“If we conclude our business quickly, we might find time to attend. Perhaps.”
Brand had to clench his talons together in his lap to avoid applauding. Of course, there was still the issue of what exactly their business was, but he was used to such things. He wasn’t the idea man, and he wasn’t the plotter; he knew his place. He was the one who got things done. Always had been, and always would be.
“That’s great, Boss, you’s a prince, a real prince, and not just of darkness, ya know what I’m sayin’?”
He cawed avian laughter at his own joke, raising a placating hand as Vlad’s lips began to turn down in a scowl.
“Just kiddin’, just kiddin’. But, I still don’t know what our business is, ya know? I mean, what, we’re lookin’ for somethin’ in particular, or you just wanna try out the superhero routine out here where nobody’d notice much or what?”
Vlad’s scowl reversed itself, twisting his full lips upward in a smile that allowed the smallest hint of his fangs to peek through. Brand shuddered, glad – as always – that it wasn’t directed at him. People who got that smile pointed at them had a tendency to disappear, and not in the concrete overshoes way that Brand preferred.
“Van Helsing. He’s still here. And we are going to find him, and have a small…”
He tapped his chin again, his slightly forked tongue flicking out over the tips of his fangs.
“…discussion. Yes. A discussion. With him.”
Vlad glanced out the window as the helicopter began descending, the lenses of his sunglasses reflecting the dancing fountains as they began their routine. Brand shook his head, wondering – and not for the first time – what the Boss had been like when he’d been alive. If he’d been half as crazy as we was now, it was no wonder his brother had tried to kill him and the devil had gone out of his way to recruit him.
“Well, alright, Boss. Gonna rock his socks, eh, give him the ol’ one-two, teach him to mess with you?”
Vlad’s smile didn’t change.
“All in good time, Brand. All in good time. Suffice it to say that Mr. Van Helsing will be suffering an unfortunate change in his living conditions.”
Brand’s forehead raised up an inch as he cocked his head.
“His livin’ conditions, eh, Boss? That’s a good one. Should I call my guy, see what kinda price we can get on concrete at this time of night? Maybe a bulldozer?”
Vlad shook his head, reaching down to straighten his sport coat and fluff the crease in his slacks.
“Not in the slightest. Once he is located, I will be tending to him. Personally.”
Brand opened his mouth, though what might have come out was unknown; as he was preparing to speak, the helicopter bobbed and shuddered briefly. Maxwell glanced over her shoulder.
“Sorry, boys. Bit of a crosswind.”
Vlad flapped a hand dismissively, unconcerned. Brand found himself gripping the edges of his seat and forced himself to relax before his claws ruined the leather. He had never been a big fan of flying when not under his own power. Plus, Maxwell just creeped him out. Always with that bubble-shaped helmet and aviator shades, never moving anything except her hands while flying, speaking in brief monotones. She made him think of robots, and that made him think of the puppets at Disneyland, and that was just a terrible train of thought for him to be boarding when things were already pretty bad.
The helicopter gave one final shudder followed by a thump as it touched down. Brand could hear Maxwell muttering into her microphone, probably letting the staff know they had visitors. He released his deathgrip on the seat and stood up, making a show of spiffing out his lapels.
Vlad rose, brushing past him and hopping down to the concrete before taking a few ducking steps away from the spinning rotors and turning back. He arched a brow at Brand, making a beckoning gesture.
Brand sighed and tucked his head down into his shoulders. Turtle-like, he scuttled out the door and away from the helicopter with none of his employer’s grace or poised. Vlad sighed, shaking his head.
“I will never understand how a creature capable of flight can be so unnerved by the experience.”
Rolling his shoulders, Brand curled his beak downward in a poor approximation of a grimace.
“You just don’t get it, Boss. When I take the duct tape off, take to the skies… that’s me. That’s all me. I was born to do it. Well, among other things, know what I mean?”
He elbowed Vlad’s knee, punctuating it with a chuckle. Watching the vampire’s frown deepen, he continued.
“That thing over there?” He gestured toward the helicopter. “Ain’t natural. Besides, even havin’ wings and all, that thing goes down…”
He shook his head and pursed what lips he did have, emitting a whistle that swung downward through several octaves.
“Poof. I’m gonna make myself a very nice piece of street art, capische?”
Vlad continued staring down at his servant for several seconds, prompting Brand to start tugging at his collar self-consciously. The vampire sighed, casting his gaze skyward for a moment as though collecting himself.
“I suppose. Perhaps my recent encounters with mechanical transportation have made me more sympathetic to such notions. Anyway. Come along, Brand. We have much to do.”
Vlad turned on his heel, stalking towards the elevator that serviced the helipad. Brand fell into step behind his master, nodding.
“Right. Gonna find Isaac, give him the ol’ one-two. So… uh… Boss?”
Vlad pressed the button that summoned the elevator, glancing down at the gargoyle and arching a brow.
“How we gonna find him? I mean, Vegas is kinda a big place, and I don’t think he’s gonna be puttin’ signs up saying’ ‘One incompetent vampire-hunter, right here!’ I mean, he is pretty stupid, and he might even be that stupid, but still, I gotta give him at least a little credit. Ain’t like we knew he was in town until he shot up your love nest, ya know? And he’s probably keepin’ his head so far down he’s looking between his legs these days, at least if he’s got anything in that fat little head of his besides jello.”
Vlad nodded.
“Quite right.”
The elevator made a small musical chime, and the doors slid open. Not one to waste time, Vlad slid into the cabin the moment the door was wide enough to admit him, Brand cramming in a moment later.
“But he is a dedicated shopper,” Vlad continued. “And dragon’s breath rounds are a particularly rare commodity. Not a lot of traffic in them. But someone did make a purchase of fifty such shells less than twenty-four hours after his pathetic attempt at a home invasion.”
Brand’s forehead creased. He tapped one talon against his chin.
“Well, I guess that does sound kinda suggestive; probably needed to replace what he tried to use on you or somethin’, or maybe he was tryin’ to stay prepared if you came after him. But how d’ya know it was him and not some other schmuck who likes playin’ with fire?”
Vlad’s full lips twitched. Had the movement been more prolonged, it might have been considered a smile. As it was, Brand caught the briefest hint of Vlad’s fangs protruding and little else.
“There are cameras everywhere these days, Brand. Everywhere. And while I may not the entirely certain that these… upgrades… are quite as impressive as Dr. Franks claims, I find that their best usage is the ability to tap into those cameras.”
Vlad slid a hand into his pocket and produced a small square of celluloid. Handing it over to the gargoyle, his smile surfaced again.
Brand looked at it, puzzled for a moment at the plain white square. Then he slapped his forehead and flipped it over.
It looked like a grainy printout from a bad mobster movie. Brand would know; the walls of his house were decorated with dozens of similar stills, often autographed by the actors in them. Two of the three men in the shot could have been extras in any of his beloved flicks, but the third man looked like he’d taken a wrong turn on his way to the anime convention.
Isaac Van Helsing was standing in the center of a warehouse room filled with crates, most of them with the distinct grease stains that indicated car parts, automatic weapons, or both. He was holding out a backpack, unzipped, that seemed to contain a healthy amount of cash. The idea that Isaac could pull together that much scratch on short notice was vaguely distasteful to Brand; he wondered where the little geek had gotten it from. Probably from Gramps’ retirement fund, he decided.
“You got picks for the dweeb buyin’ his shit, Boss?”
Brand couldn’t keep the lilting note of amused excitement out of his voice. After all, if the Boss could dredge up pictures of illegal weapons deals, who knew what other sorts of cameras he could dig into? The real question was whether he’d be willing to do it for Brand… or if Brand could find a way to do it himself. Maybe the hackers weren’t so crazy after all.
Vlad nodded.
“Yes. I have pictures. Full video as well, when and if I want. With an exquisite audio track. I suppose I should thank those arms merchants for being so paranoid as to install such a fully featured system. But think, Brand; don’t you suppose that the local authorities might be interested in such items? Perhaps even find it worthwhile to commence a search and seizure, hmmm?”
Brand clapped his claws and cawed with delight.
“Oh, that’s beautiful, Boss! They’ll drag him in for us! And then, when he’s alone in his cell…”
Dozens of images danced in the gargoyle’s head. The ladies at the convention were momentarily forgotten as he contemplated driving a burning cigar into the webbing between the dweeb’s fingers. It’d be the last time Van Hamstring messed with the Boss. Or directed any short jokes at Brand.
“Contain your excitement, Brand. There will be time enough for it later.”
Vlad pressed the button for the parking garage.
“And please tell me we have something other than that obnoxious battle tank you call a car in storage here?”
Brand arched his shoulders and narrowed his eyes.
“Um. Well, about that, see, you know we were looking into cutting costs, and hey, that long term parking, that’s a killer, ya know? I mean, you’ve got the Audi at your place… well, you had your Audi at your place, and that seemed like enough, so I might have had the guys ship most of the stuff back to the place in Cali.”
Vlad pulled his glasses down to the top of his nose, skewering Brand with his bale, mechanical gaze.
“Most,” he said. His voice was slow, dripping with the rain of pending stormclouds of rage.
“Yeah, s’what I said, most,” Brand replied, beginning to twist his hands together as though playing cat’s crade. “I left one here, just in case, but… yeah. You’re not gonna like it.”
Vlad sighed, pushing his glances back into place and resting his fingers against his temples.
“The battle tank,” he sighed.
Brand tried to put on a facade of good cheer, and almost made it. It probably would have fooled anyone who didn’t know him well, but the smile and expressive hand gestures were red flags for folks like the Boss.
“Yep! The tank! C’mon, Boss, it ain’t so bad. Sure, the mileage is a bitch, but them Hummers, you can’t beat ’em!”
“Right,” Vlad muttered.
Brand relaxed as the elevator put an end to their discussion. It didn’t seem like there would be any further storms about the car. The pair stepped out and into the garage, walking towards long-term storage. Vlad remained silent, though Brand continued to prattle about the advantages of owning a decommissioned military vehicle – not the lease of which would be the opportunity to drive it over Van Helsing’s cojones if given half a chance – the whole way.

(The story continues here…)

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