Kit had to admit to herself that Bruce wasn't a total wanker. Like most field agents, he was intelligent and physically fit, two attributes that Kit found admirable in any man, though the intelligence was sometimes optional. He was, as far as she could tell, completely devoted to protocol. He was a stickler for rules and regulations and insisted that she learn each of the standard operating procedures that the Committee had developed over the centuries. As Kit's officially assigned mentor, Bruce had complete control of Kit's life in her newly chosen profession, vampire hunter. No, Bruce wasn't a total wanker, nobody is perfect.
In her more generous moods she had to admit that it would be very difficult for anyone to be her mentor. Unlike most hunters, Kit was recruited by the sitting director, Jean. The Committee had developed a policy of calling everyone by his or her first names, even the director. She had been drawn into his last case as a field agent and was instrumental in helping him track down and destroy one of the more notorious vampires.
Flush with the glory of his kill, Jean had assumed the directorship from Rene. Rene had held the post for ten years and had overseen many successful hunts. Under his direction, the Committee had grown and prospered. Its coffers swelled and his agents spread into more dark corners of the globe. Jean had big shoes to fill.
Because of her relationship with Jean, many of the trainers either treated her with kid gloves or abused the hell out of her. Some felt that they could score points with the new director by treating his hand picked agent tenderly, while others felt that this was a good reason to lean on her as hard as they could. She wasn't sure if this was to show the new boss that they had the "right stuff" or merely trying to show her her place. She wasn't happy with either approach, though in the end it kind of evened out.
Kit had been in training for two years now and she was growing restless. She had been given a taste of a field agent's life and she wanted more. It wasn't the expense account because only blue level (top level) agents got to live the life that she had been exposed to with Jean. He had lived in luxury apartments, flew around in a private jet and had credit cards with no limit on them. As a junior agent, Jean had proven his worth to the Committee and when his mentor, Rene, became director Jean was promoted to blue level. At the moment Kit did not have a color.
There were four designations: black, red, gold and blue, in that order. No one alive had any clue as to why those were the colors and why they appeared in that order. Bruce was a red level agent and that gave him some latitude in his actions, though he did have a strict schedule of check-in's that he had to maintain. He would often get pulled off case as he got close so the gold or blue agents could complete the job. Bruce was the perfect company man and never complained. He did, however, have complete authority over Kit and he seemed to have years of pent up organizational frustrations to work out on her.
Kit was determined to be an exemplary trainee, but she was learning that that was not in her nature. Bruce was critical and demanding. He would find fault in her every move and decision. It did seem to Kit that he was unlike her instructors that were hard on her because of her relationship with Jean. She felt he would be this awful with anyone he was to mentor. Kit dreamed of getting her black designation, she could taste it.
As a black agent she would be assigned much of the scut work. Arranging transportation, making and maintaining contact with local law agencies and minding work, but she would be an agent, she would be on her way. Mostly she would be out from under Bruce's thumb.
For all his lack of imagination, Kit knew that Bruce was someone to be taken seriously. He was a good researcher and he laid the foundation for three very important kills in his career. He knew how the game was to be played and he played it well. He was a complete professional. Kit knew she would never be an agent like him, but knew she could learn from his discipline and adherence to rules. Kit also knew that, though she hadn't had anything remotely resembling a sex life in the last few years, she was a sadomasochist and could take anything this guy could dish out.
Her previous experience with pain had served her well in her training, especially her fighting classes. Her instructors taught a combination of Savat, Jujitsu and Tai kickboxing. There was no attempt to teach the art of any of these systems. They just drilled her endlessly in various grappling, blocking and striking techniques. They would spar with her for hours. She was determined and never submitted to them. She would leave her sessions black and blue and more than once with a fracture. She was earning a reputation independent from Jean and this pleased her very much.
At least her reputation as a skillful and persistent fighter had pleased her. Her reputation as someone who cut corners and questioned authority at every turn embarrassed her very much. She was thankful that Jean never intervened for or against her, either would have been mortifying beyond words. She had seen him often, they were friends and he was married to her best friend Ginger. He never discussed work when they were together, though she was sure she felt his gentle hand in her assignment to Bruce.
Bruce was taking her on a "Bug hunt". When she started her training, Kit assumed that all vampires were like the one that she had helped Jean kill. She found nothing could be further from the truth. Vampires came in many "flavors". There were the Lords and Ladies, wealthy, smart and crafty. There were gypsies, nomadic solitary and elusive. There were leaches, stationary, territorial and shy. They were hunting a band of "bugs": instinctual, pack oriented and blood thirsty. Bugs were easily the stupidest vampires, but they were deadly nonetheless. They lived short and spectacularly bloody lives. The assumption was that their transformation eroded their sanity and that they didn't care if they died, only how many they could take with them,
Bugs would often make frontal assaults on their hunters. This was invariably a suicidal move because you never hunted bugs without extensive back up. This was cold comfort, however, if they managed to kill you along the way. You had to be very careful with bugs. You had to pick your moment and strike without mercy
Technically, she had already killed a vampire. A vampire lord to be exact, but it was unarguable Jean's kill. She would blacken the eye of anyone who would dare to say otherwise.
Jean had directed every aspect of the hunt and had taken a .357 slug for his troubles. No, in every way it was Jean's kill. Kit was, however, credited with saving the lives of two civilians from a servant of the vampire who had attacked them. Kit was very proud of this.
The civilian in question was named Pat. He was the servant's best friend before he had fallen under the influence of the monster. He was trying to kill Pat to show his worthiness to his new Mistress. It was Pat who had helped Kit carry the body of the vampire into the light of the setting sun. It destroyed her instantly.
Pat had also gone to work for the Committee after the incident. Unlike Kit, he became a researcher. He was a student of human behavior and was getting good at explaining and predicting the movements of his targets. Kit's friend Ginger was turning into something of a computer wizard and the two of them were turning into a productive team.
It was also Pat's job to act as liaison for Jean to David. David was the servant of the vampire. He had been released from her influence upon her death, but he had lost most of his sanity along the way. David had killed one of his friends, seriously injured two others and tried to kill Pat. This weighed heavily upon his conscience. He also harbored a deep and unyielding hatred for Jean. Though he understood the evil power of his former Mistress, who had become a part of him, he never could forgive Jean for her destruction, even if he admitted the she deserved to be destroyed.
David was also something of a psychic. All vampires possess some psychic abilities, but vampire lords possess truly formidable powers. She had wormed her way into David's psyche through a computer chat link and endowed him with some of her power. He retained some of this power after her destruction, though he lost his ability to control it.
The main manifestation of David's power was a link he created with his friends. He was now linked to Pat and his wife Julie, to their friend Samantha (who was now an elementary school teacher in Ohio) and to Kit and Ginger. Both women had been David's chat friends. That was what drew them into the drama in the first place.
David now had flashes of his friend's psychic states. There were two problems with his power however. The first was that he had no control over it. He would suddenly get blinding flashes of emotions and images that usually terrified him, though less so if Pat were close at hand. The second problem was a matter of time. Kit had learned that time is irrelevant to psychic energies; in fact, so was space. David's flashes could be from the past, the present or the future. He once woke up screaming after reliving Kit's rape, which had happened more than ten years earlier. He had more than once relived his attack upon his friends. David was a mess.
Jean had instructed Pat to watch David and help him. He truly cared about David's health. He also knew he would be a valuable asset if he could learn a way to control his power. No one was really optimistic about this happening, but they tried anyway.
"So tell me about this gang of bugs?" Bruce had asked.
Bruce was a strong believer in the Socratic method. He endlessly quizzed Kit on everything. He might have easily asked what the first contact protocol was for gypsy vampires. He knew the answer and he wanted to be sure Kit knew the answer, even if she had been asked the same question an hour earlier.
Kit knew there was no point in arguing with Bruce or trying to put him off. She had more luck arguing with her computer. She had once considered offering him sex to get him to ease off, but knew it would be futile. He would probably quiz her about the Committee's position on sexual harassment while they made love.
"We have a band of three, maybe four bug vampires." She recited.
"In the past year there have been seven attacks on biker bars throughout the southwest and mid-west. There were never any survivors or witnesses to these attacks. The police assume that a new rival gang is attempting to mark out a name for itself. Announcing itself with authority, so to speak."
Bruce winced, "Please don't editorialize."
"Yes Sir." She tried her best to keep most of the sarcasm she felt out of her voice this time.
"Intelligence indicates that it is, in fact, a bug gang that's likely headed by a former motorcycle gang member, either from one of the gangs attacked or from a rival gang. The attacks occur sometime after three a.m. and before five a.m., which would indicate that the bugs at least have the presence of mind to stake the bar out before attacking,
"Each bar is always isolated, either a desolate roadhouse or after-hours club in a deserted part of a city. The attack in Omaha occurred in the warehouse district. It is likely that the pattern persists because gangs like this type of bars. The bug is familiar with these bars and they can hit and run with little fear of detection.
"Each attack, while spaced almost equally apart in time, betrays no pattern in location."
"What does this tell us about our prey?"
"That they are using the time between attacks to cover their tracks and then stake out the new location. It is possible that they are even using this time to infiltrate the target gang."
"Good." He said and she waited for the other shoe to drop. "But tell me something that isn't in the briefing manual."
Kit was shocked. It was not that he would praise her and then try and throw her a curve, he always did that. He could never just say she had done something well and leave it at that. Her success was always met with a higher challenge.
No, what shocked Kit was that he had asked for her opinion about something, not just something from the book, the file or the report.
"Excuse me, Sir?" She wanted to be sure before she crawled out on a limb.
"Tell me what you think all this means. What conclusions have you drawn about this case so far?"
"You want my opinion?" She stretched this last word out for emphasis.
"Damn it, Kit. Give me your best idea! If you ever hope to be more than a black level agent, you'd better learn to think."
"Yes Sir, just wanted to be sure I'm clear about what you want." He exhaled in a snort at this.
"All right, what I'm thinking is this: the fact that the location is random while the time isn't means that they are completely stupid or they can't control the time variable."
"And?" he prompted.
"And for some reason they have to attack when they do."
"Why would that be the case?"
"Sir, the only reason I can think is that they have a non-vampire with them."
She took a breath "Sir, all vampires, including bugs, are known to control their blood lusts. Some of the Lords can go for decades without killing at all. Most bugs can go a year or more if they have to."
She was on a roll and he hadn't stopped her yet "Now, we know they have some smarts because that they attempt to cover their tracks. So, it would make sense that the attacks would be varied by time as well. The attacks, however, are regularly spaced out. The variance of time can be measured in days. So either they are incredibly stupid, which doesn't seem likely, or they travel with someone or something that can control it's own lust nearly as well, even with their help."
"What might this other be?"
"The first thing that comes to mind is a werewolf. You know, I've had some experience with them and I know a little on how they work. There are still a few leftover from Jean's last kill. It could be one of them. Possibly, he was the one to put the bug gang together. He could be using them to control his lusts."
She thought a second, "Though I don't know much about them, it could be a ghoul or other flesh eater. It could also be a witch of some sort. He or she could be using the attacks as an opportunity to perform blood rituals. The most frightening possibility that I can come up with is that it may be a demon of some sort. This demon may need the blood to stay in the realm of the living."
He thought a second, "I suppose it could even be some sort of ghost or spirit. Some damned soul using the blood to keep out of hell."
She was amazed again. Not only had he not ridiculed her conjecture, he had added his own opinion to it. She didn't know he had any opinions.
He returned to his quiz. "What do you know about the intelligence on this case?"
"Some has come from the Committee snoops." All agents called the researchers and psychic's in the home office snoops. "But the file shows some kind of undisclosed informant. The Committee suggests that it may be coming from a gypsy."
"What does that tell you?" This was not an opinion question. The Committee had definite rules about gypsies.
"All gypsy information is to be considered false or at least dangerous until it can be verified and even then, nothing is ever to be taken at face value. All advantages to the supplier must be considered. The Committee will not be drawn into a conflict among the undead or knowingly expose its agents to a trap."
"Why do gypsies supply information?"
"Mostly to cover their own tracks. Most gypsies learn to live without killing at all. They still need human blood, but they get this from sipping."
"Sipping?" he prompted. He hated her use of jargon.
"Attacking many victims, but only taking a small amount from each. An accomplished gypsy can leave the victim believing that he or she just got a really good hickey.
"Gypsies survive by moving and drawing as little attention to themselves as possible. They seldom inform on Lords because they are afraid of them. Bugs are fair game and a real threat to them because they are so reckless, they call attention to the vampire community in general. They sometimes inform on leaches, but they don't often feel the need."
"What are the ways that the different types of vampires are likely to attack?" He changed the subject just a little.
"A Lord will use elaborate plans and schemes. Their intended victims seldom see the attack before it too late. A leach uses stealth, they hide until they see a chance to strike and then it is sudden and violent. Gypsies typically run and hide, they are cleaver and try to get their enemies to fight each other. Bugs just come straight at you in a blinding and vicious assault."
She looked at Bruce and waited for his next question. He leaned back into the seat of his car and sipped his coffee. He was done asking questions for now and that he hadn't been hard on Kit was a major victory for her. She had learned his silence was about the best praise she could expect from the man.
They had been parked outside of a small roadhouse north of Bismarck, North Dakota. The car was well hidden and they were in radio contact with a minder team in a stake out twenty minutes away to the south. There was a strike team poised in a small airport between the two. The plan was that if either team reported trouble, half a dozen well armed agents would be in back up in less than two minutes. That was the plan.
Kit's experience with the Committee had renewed her childhood belief in God. It was hard to fight vampires and other supernatural beings without acknowledging the existence of Satan. If you knew there was a Satan, you really needed to believe in God, but on a night like this she was reminded that men make plans and God makes storms. It was mid spring and a freak blizzard was headed out of Canada into North Dakota. It was 2:00 a.m. and they were going to loose their back up as soon as the storm hit, which was going to be any minute now.
It was biting cold and a few flurries were already evident. If it were light, you could see the cold front looming from the northwest, but at night all you could do was smell the impending storm. Bruce's phone squawked. He answered and mostly listened to the voice on the other side. He said, "Got it" and hung up the phone.
"We're loosing our back up. The helicopter won't lift off with the storm. We're done."
"Kit, it was a long shot anyway. We have teams stretched all over the area. There's not much hope we'd make contact anyway."
"No, we already have."
"The vampires just showed up."
"How can you be certain?"
"Three motorcycles just pulled up."
"So, get your head of the manuals and look around. I meant we just lost our air back up and you don't question the fact that three people just showed up riding motorcycles. In this weather?" She added the last for emphasis.
"Damn." He hissed "Too bad we have to let this contact slip though our finger."
"What?" Kit yelled.
"We don't have back up. There is no way we can face down three vampires ourselves, even if they are bugs. We're lucky they didn't attack us first."
"Kit be quiet. Getting ourselves killed won't help anything."
"Damn it, Bruce there are people in there. You know what's going to happen."
"So tell me how our dying will help them if we go in."
She looked at him with her mouth open for a second, then slumped back into her seat. Bruce started the sedan and they drove back to their hotel as the storm started in earnest. Kit felt a compulsion to look back, but she remembered the lesson of Lot's wife and she had full faith and knowledge of what she would see. She hoped against hope that people in the bar were degenerate killers and somehow the world might be better with their passing. She knew however, that it didn't matter. No one deserved what they were about to get.