by Lawrence Watt-Evans
I had been hanging around the Springfield library all afternoon, but I was starting to get bored and was thinking of going home when the phone rang. I decided to wait a few more minutes and see if this call was anything interesting.
Mrs. Garcia answered it, and I sort of tried to listen, you know, not really snooping, just standing around nearby with my ears open. I couldn't hear much, though -- whoever was on the other end wasn't shouting or anything.
Then Mrs. Garcia covered the mouthpiece with her hand and looked around and of course she saw me, since I was standing right there, and she said, "Billy, have you seen Mr. Pinkerton around?"
"Sure," I said. "He's in the stacks." That's what they call the shelves where they keep all the books, the stacks.
Mrs. Garcia frowned and looked around, then uncovered the phone. "If you could hold on a moment, sir, I'll see if I can find him," she said. Then she put the phone down on the desk and got up and headed for the stacks.
I guess I shouldn't have done what I did next, but I just couldn't resist, and no one had actually told me not to. I just wanted to be helpful, really.
And I was excited. I admit it. I wasn't bored any more, because it sounded as if Mr. Pinkerton had a new case!
I was sure it was a new case. I couldn't think why else anyone would be calling him at work. He didn't have a wife or kids or anything, so it must be a case, and he was going to go off fighting monsters again.
And maybe I could go with him!
At least, if he was talked into taking the case, maybe I could. He had never really liked helping people get rid of monsters; he was just good at it.
He hadn't gotten started dealing with monsters on purpose. It started when a maniac turned a whole bunch of zombies loose right here in Springfield, Indiana, and no one but Mr. Pinkerton was able to get rid of them.
I helped, a little. I happened to be in the library at the time, and Mr. Pinkerton needed a hand with some of the details -- but he did most of it himself, including all the dangerous stuff.
I was really impressed then with how much Mr. Pinkerton knew about monsters. When my brother who's in the Navy mentioned that they were having trouble with a giant squid I suggested he should talk to Mr. Pinkerton, and next thing I knew the Navy had hired Mr. Pinkerton as a consultant, and... well, since then, a lot of people have hired Mr. Pinkerton to help them get rid of monsters, and I've managed to tag along sometimes and help out. It's pretty exciting.
But he doesn't like to do it. If the monsters aren't hurting anyone, he won't touch them.
I don't want anyone to get hurt or anything, but I have to admit, when Mrs. Garcia went hurrying back into the stacks I sort of hoped that monsters were causing real trouble somewhere. And I picked up the phone, which I probably shouldn't have.
"I'm Billy Barnett," I said into it, talking in my deepest, most mature voice. "I'm Mr. Pinkerton's associate. Could you tell me a little about your situation, please?"
"My name's Aloysius Brown," the voice on the other end said. He had a southern accent, like the country singers on TV. "I'm the sheriff of Brokentree County, Tennessee. Seems as if we might have a vampire loose here, and we'd like Mr. Pinkerton to come and take a look."
"A vampire?" I said. "I wouldn't think that would be all that difficult to deal with, once you know it's a vampire." After all, everybody knew about vampires from the movies -- you kept them away with crosses and garlic, and killed them with stakes through the heart.
"I wouldn't have thought so, either," Sheriff Brown said. "But this one's giving us plenty of trouble. We've got two good people dead so far."
That scared me a little. If people were getting killed, this was serious.
It meant that Mr. Pinkerton would take it seriously, too, though. He wouldn't be able to turn this one down.
"Sheriff," I said, "Mr. Pinkerton should be here in a minute, and you can tell him all about it, but first, let me explain a few things about how Mr. Pinkerton works. If he does decide to come down to Tennessee, we'll need two seats on the first available flight and we might need to send a few things by air express freight, as well. You'll be expected to cover all our expenses, and pay an additional fee..."
That was as far as I'd gotten when I saw Mrs. Garcia and Mr. Pinkerton coming back. I quickly said, "Here comes Mr. Pinkerton now," and put the phone down.
Mr. Pinkerton had seen, of course -- he doesn't miss much. He didn't say anything about it, though; he just picked up the phone and said, "This is George Pinkerton."
For a minute then he just listened. Then he said, "I'm just a librarian. Yes, I know a lot about monsters, because I've studied them in books, but anyone could do the same. And if this is an ordinary vampire..."
Then he stopped, and frowned.
"Two people have been killed?" he said. "Both exsanguinated?"
"Both what?" I asked.
He covered the mouthpiece. "Exsanguinated," he said. "It means, 'drained of blood.'"
I marveled at that -- who'd think there would be a word for it?
"You've searched for a coffin?" Mr. Pinkerton asked. "It wouldn't necessarily look like a traditional coffin, you know -- any wooden box..."
Sheriff Brown must have interrupted him, because Mr. Pinkerton didn't finish the sentence. A moment later he sighed.
"I don't promise I can do anything," he said, "but I'll try. Tell me how to get there." He fished a pen and a piece of scrap paper off the desk.
He listened, and took notes, and then suddenly he threw me a look. I sort of grinned back, pretending it was nothing. He settled a few more details with Sheriff Brown, then hung up the phone and glared at me.
"My associate, huh?"
He glared a moment longer, then threw up his hands. "Oh, why not," he said. "If it's okay with your family, you can come."
I smiled a big wide smile of relief.
A few hours later we were on an airplane to Knoxville, and Mr. Pinkerton told me more about the case.
There had been two murders in this tiny little town called Brokentree, and nobody seemed to know what to do about it. If they'd been ordinary murders Sheriff Brown would have taken care of it himself, most likely -- Mr. Pinkerton thought the sheriff sounded like a pretty smart man, someone who could handle his job pretty well.
These murders were something special, though.
The first one had been a Mrs. McGillicuddy. She had been found dead on her porch. The sheriff said that she had always slept out there on hot nights, to save on air conditioning, and one morning last week Mrs. McGillicuddy's sister had found Mrs. McGillicuddy lying there in her bed on the porch, dead.
They had called a Dr. Curran in from Oak Ridge, which was a big town just a few miles away, and the doctor took a good long look at the body, and then announced that there wasn't a drop of blood left in Mrs. McGillicuddy's veins.
Well, everyone in town had known what that meant. They had all seen plenty of movies on TV, or read the stories. Sure, a few folks had said it was all nonsense, that there wasn't any such thing as vampires, but most of the people in Brokentree didn't take any chances. The sheriff said that the K-Mart down the road in Brileysburg sold out their entire stock of crosses in just two hours once the word got out. The local supermarket sold out of garlic by suppertime, and some of the nearby jewelers spent the whole day melting down silver to make bullets and more crosses.
Just in case, a few people in town had even added stars of David, or Islamic crescent-and-star emblems, or other religious insignia. And Father Genetti, the priest in Brileysburg, had even let anyone who asked fill squirt-guns with holy water.
It hadn't done any good. Two nights later old Mr. Densmore was killed. Exsanguinated, as Mr. Pinkerton called it -- all the blood sucked out through a hole in his neck.
And Mr. Densmore had been a timid old worry-wart, with garlic flowers, a cross, and a Star of David at every window, a squirt-gun of holy water at his bedside, and another cross around his neck. The vampire, if it was a vampire that killed him, had apparently smashed right through one of the windows; the crosses and garlic didn't seem to have bothered it a bit.
After that, the sheriff and his men had looked everywhere for any sign of the killer, without success. One deputy thought he'd seen a faint trail from Mr. Densmore's house down to the river, but he wasn't sure, and no one could find a single footprint.
So now the entire town of Brokentree, Tennessee was terrified. Having a vampire around was bad enough, but a vampire like this, that wasn't stopped by the usual methods, was really awful.
Sheriff Brown had organized a posse to search every attic and basement in town, in hopes of finding the vampire's coffin, but hadn't found anything -- no coffin, no oversized trunks, no big wooden crates, nothing. Sheriff Brown had even considered calling in the state police, or the FBI, but what did they know about vampires?
And he'd remembered seeing a newspaper story about Mr. Pinkerton's work for the Navy, and the article had said that Mr. Pinkerton had worked at the Springfield library, and here we were.
Once we'd landed, Mr. Pinkerton rented a car, and loaded all his supplies in the trunk, and then got us a hotel room -- it was too late to go on up to Brokentree. It wasn't until the next morning that he drove us out of Knoxville, up past Oak Ridge, where the government does a lot of research on nuclear power, and through Brileysburg, and on to Brokentree.
I don't know whether the sheriff had made some sort of announcement or what, but word got around somehow. When our rental car rolled into town, practically the entire population of Brokentree, Tennessee was standing on Main Street watching.
Not that that was a really big crowd, or anything. Brokentree was tiny. I guess that just about any stranger in a town like that would have been noticed, but we were a special case. Mr. Pinkerton was the man who was supposed to save them from the bloodsucking fiend who had killed Mrs. McGillicuddy and Mr. Densmore!
So everyone watched eagerly as our blue Ford pulled up to this little wooden building with a flag and a sign saying "U.S. Post Office" out front.
I watched their faces when Mr. Pinkerton opened the car door and got out. Most of them tried not to show any disappointment, but I bet a lot of them were thinking, "That's the famous George Pinkerton, monster hunter?"
If they read the newspaper stories they'd probably been expecting a big, heroic figure in some sort of uniform or something, but Mr. Pinkerton's just average height, with narrow shoulders and a bit of a potbelly. He's got a beard and thick glasses hiding most of his face, and he was wearing a baggy striped shirt and old jeans.
"Mr. Pinkerton?" said a man in a brown uniform and a Smokey-the-Bear hat. He stepped forward and held out a hand. "I'm Aloysius Brown."
"Pleased to meet you," Mr. Pinkerton said, as he shook the sheriff's hand.
"If you'd like to come to my office, we can discuss the case," the sheriff said.
Mr. Pinkerton hesitated, and looked around at the tiny town. "There's something else I'd like to do first, Sheriff. Right away, in fact."
Sheriff Brown was puzzled. "What would that be?" he asked.
"I'll explain in a moment," Mr. Pinkerton said. "Now, you think you have a vampire loose around here?"
"That's what it looks like," the sheriff said. "Dr. Curran can tell you..."
Mr. Pinkerton held up a hand. "We'll start with this idea of mine first, if you don't mind; then maybe I'll talk to your doctor."
The sheriff frowned. "What idea?"
"Well, first off, I see Brokentree is, if you don't mind my saying so, a very small town. Perhaps a hundred people?"
"Ninety-two," the sheriff said. "It was ninety-four a week ago."
"So you'd notice a stranger. I saw that when I drove in, you seemed quite sure who I was."
The sheriff nodded. "True enough," he agreed. "We don't get many strangers."
"But you have cars of your own, so it's not unusual for you folks to go down the road to Oak Ridge, or even Knoxville?"
"Well, then, maybe you've already thought of this, but if you do have a vampire here, chances are it's one of your ninety-two people. You'd notice a stranger."
Sheriff Brown blinked. "Well, I'd thought something along those lines..." he said.
Mr. Pinkerton nodded. "So you searched all the attics and basements. That was good. But right now you can do something else." He waved at the cloudless blue sky and the bright sun. "Your traditional vampires don't come out in open sunlight. It looks to me as if you have just about the entire town standing around right now, listening to me talk about this." He gestured at the little crowd in the street. "Well, you can count your people and see who's missing. If everyone's here, then at least you know that it wasn't one of your own who became a vampire."
The sheriff looked sort of impressed, and I smiled. Mr. Pinkerton might not look like a Hollywood hero, but he was sure smart.
"Good point," Sheriff Brown agreed. He turned, raised his arms, and called out, "All right, everyone, line up! Let's see if we're all here!"
Ten minutes later, Sheriff Brown had run down the line and counted ninety-one. That included himself and ninety citizens of Brokentree who stood lined up on Main Street.
"Who's missing?" a boy asked, puzzled.
"You forgot Mr. Pinkerton," a man suggested.
"He doesn't live here!" someone called back from far down the line.
"Well, someone's missing," the sheriff said. "Where's Tom Adams?"
For a moment everyone looked back and forth.
"He's not here," that boy said at last.
"He must be the vampire!" a woman shouted.
"Oh, don't be silly," another woman protested. "He just didn't know Mr. Pinkerton was coming!"
"Let's go see!" a girl suggested.
Several people thought that sounded like a fine idea, but everyone looked at Sheriff Brown, to see what he would say.
Sheriff Brown looked at George Pinkerton.
"Who's Tom Adams?" Mr. Pinkerton asked.
"You might say he's the town hermit," the sheriff explained. "He lives by himself in a cabin down by the swamp." He pointed.
Mr. Pinkerton nodded thoughtfully. "And where were the two killings?"
The sheriff pointed again, in almost the same direction. "Mrs. McGillicuddy lived in the last house on Willow Street, and Harvey Densmore's place is at the bend in Water Street." He saw Mr. Pinkerton's inquiring expression, and explained, "We've got three streets running east and west -- Main here in the middle, First Street to the north, and Water Street alongside the swamp to the south, running down to the river. The cross-streets are all named for trees -- Willow's at the foot of the hill."
"And this Tom Adams..."
"His place is back off Water Street a few hundred yards."
"And Mrs. McGillicuddy lived at the corner of Water and Willow?"
"More or less," the sheriff agreed.
"Well, I must admit this Tom Adams is a likely candidate, then. Let's go have a word with him."
A few minutes later Sheriff Brown knocked on the door of Tom Adams' cabin, while Mr. Pinkerton and I stood by, watching. Mr. Pinkerton and the sheriff had convinced the rest of the town to stay back; there wasn't any point in confronting Adams with a mob.
No one answered the sheriff's knock, not even when he pounded heavily on the door with his fist.
At last the sheriff stepped back and charged at the door with his shoulder, just like on TV. The latch snapped, and the door burst in.
I hurried in, before anyone could stop me. I sort of wish I hadn't, though, because it meant I was the first to see what was left of Tom Adams. I made a noise, sort of a gasp, sort of like I was going to be sick.
Tom Adams wasn't the vampire. Tom Adams was the third victim. His throat was all torn open -- the holes weren't neat little spots like in the movies, they were great big red openings. They looked horrible.
I turned away so I wouldn't be sick, but Mr. Pinkerton and the sheriff went right up to the body on the bed. The sheriff studied it closely, looking at the wound and the pale skin.
Mr. Pinkerton barely looked at the corpse. Instead he studied the bed around the dead man, and the floor nearby, and the smashed window in the cabin's rear wall.
"It's wet," Mr. Pinkerton said. He pointed to the braided rug on the floor, and the rumpled blanket on the bed.
Sure enough, I could see it for myself, they were damp.
"Well, the swamp's right out back," the sheriff pointed out. "Whoever did this probably waded through it to hide his trail."
Mr. Pinkerton frowned. "Your traditional vampire doesn't need to hide his trail," he said.
"Maybe it's not a real vampire at all," the sheriff said. "Maybe it's just some crazy person who sucks out blood." He shuddered. "They'd have to be crazy to wade through Brokentree Swamp!"
"Oh?" Mr. Pinkerton asked, interested. "Why?"
"Because it's full of snakes and leeches and bugs," the sheriff said. "Used to be gators, too, though nobody's seen any lately."
Mr. Pinkerton nodded thoughtfully. "Perhaps we could go back to my car," he said.
The sheriff nodded, "I need to get the doctor," he said. "And if whoever did this went through the swamp we won't be able to track him, anyway."
Together we all hiked back up to Main Street. Sheriff Brown headed for his office to call Dr. Curran, and Mr. Pinkerton headed for our rented car, where he opened the trunk.
Some of the townspeople were still around, watching, and I bet they didn't expect to see what Mr. Pinkerton had in there. They probably expected to see ordinary luggage, or fancy monster-hunting equipment.
But what they did see was books.
The entire trunk was full of books, hundreds of them -- old ones, new ones, big ones, little ones, hardcovers and paperbacks. After all, as he always said, he was a librarian -- everything he knew came from books.
When Sheriff Brown came back out of his office he found Mr. Pinkerton sitting on the pavement beside his car, reading from a big black book, with several other books stacked up around him. He looked up as the sheriff approached.
"I've been doing a little research," Mr. Pinkerton said. "We are clearly not dealing with the traditional western vampire here, since they can't pass the cross nor tolerate garlic, nor do they leave a trail, or need to break in a window to pass through it."
"Maybe the vampire heaved a rock through the window to knock the stuff out of the way," I suggested.
Pinkerton shook his head. "No, I'm afraid that simply isn't the way vampires work. Tom Adams was wearing a cross around his neck, in any case." He put down the black book and picked up another. "Now, the Chinese vampire, or kiang-shi, is violent and brutal, and would not be stopped by crosses, but cannot abide the smell of garlic. I think we can eliminate that possibility. The Australian yara-ma-yha-who never enters homes, but only attacks travelers. The Ashanti obayifo, from Africa, and the Malaysian and Filipino vampires, prey primarily on children, rather than adults." He slammed the book shut and set it aside.
"What we are dealing with," he said, "is not any known variety of vampire."
"Well, then what the heck is it?" I demanded. "What else sucks blood?"
"The sheriff told us," Pinkerton replied. "Think about it. Sheriff, I would say that in this case, crosses and garlic and stakes through the heart are not what we need. Do you have a shotgun I could borrow?"
Sheriff Brown blinked in surprise; then his eyes narrowed. "A shotgun?"
"And buckshot," Mr. Pinkerton said.
"I told you something?" the sheriff asked, puzzled.
"Indeed you did," Mr. Pinkerton said, getting to his feet and dumping an armload of books back into the trunk of his car. "You told me exactly what I needed to be reminded of. I'd be glad of your company, Sheriff -- I'd like to do a little hunting."
The sheriff looked at me, but I just shrugged. I didn't know what Mr. Pinkerton was talking about any more than Sheriff Brown did.
"You're the expert, Mr. Pinkerton," he said.
Twenty minutes later, Sheriff Brown and Mr. Pinkerton were wading out into Brokentree Swamp in heavy boots -- the sheriff had scrounged up an extra pair to loan Mr. Pinkerton. Each of them carried a twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun.
I wasn't with them; I just watched from the edge of the swamp. Mr. Pinkerton didn't want me going out there, even in boots.
I could hear them talking, though, and I could see them sloshing along through the black water. I thought I saw something else in the water, too. I squinted hard and tried to see what it was -- maybe there were gators out there, and I sure didn't want to see one of them eat Mr. Pinkerton.
It didn't look like an alligator, though, it just looked like a black shadow under the water -- an old log, maybe.
"What are we hunting, Mr. Pinkerton?" the sheriff asked, as he squinted into the gloom under the thick, vine-covered trees. "I'd think you were after gators, but they don't suck anyone's blood, and no one's seen any this year anyway." He poked at some weeds with the barrel of his shotgun.
That shadow almost seemed to be following Mr. Pinkerton, I thought. Then I realized that maybe it was his shadow, so of course it was following him.
"The gators gave me a clue, but they aren't what we're after," Mr. Pinkerton said. "I think you'll see soon, and if I told you, you wouldn't..."
There was something in the water, and it was moving, I was sure of it, and all of a sudden I knew it couldn't be Mr. Pinkerton's shadow because it was on the wrong side, the side toward the sun. I still couldn't see what it was, but it was big and black and it was moving straight toward Mr. Pinkerton!
"Behind you!" I shrieked. I started running out into the water, boots or no boots.
The two men turned to look at me, and Mr. Pinkerton shouted, "Billy, go back!"
I stopped -- not because I was scared, but because I didn't want to distract Mr. Pinkerton any more. "Behind you!" I shouted again, and I pointed.
A big humped black shape started to heave itself up out of the water, and there wasn't anything more I could do about it. I couldn't possibly get there in time, all I could do was keep on shouting and pointing. I watched in terror as that thing reared up and up and up... it must have stood eight feet out of the water, a hideous black monster reaching a horrible gripping mouth for Mr. Pinkerton's shoulder.
Mr. Pinkerton finally turned and saw it, and dived sideways, splashing into the swamp.
Then the sheriff's shotgun roared, and the creature exploded, splattering the surrounding swamp with more blood than I had ever imagined anything could hold. The water turned an ugly red for a dozen feet in every direction, and the sheriff and Mr. Pinkerton were soaked in gore.
Sheriff Brown ignored the blood as he sloshed forward and pumped two more shots into the oozing black mess, just to be certain it was really dead.
Then he stood, panting, and stared down at it as the echoes of the shotgun blasts faded in the trees.
"What was it?" he asked.
"A leech," Mr. Pinkerton said, as he stood up again, splashing and dripping. "A giant mutant leech. When you and Billy asked what else sucked blood, and you mentioned leeches in the swamp, I put two and two together. Something must have changed it, made it grow into a monster -- maybe radiation from the experiments at Oak Ridge." He shuddered. "It was a hungry giant mutant leech -- it must have killed all the gators growing to that size, and then there wasn't anything left in the swamp big enough to feed it, so it went ashore to hunt."
The sheriff looked sick.
I thought about leeches -- those nasty black slimy bloodsuckers an inch or two long that can get on you in the water sometimes. I thought about a leech ten feet long, and smart enough to come up on land.
"Ewwww!" I said.
"You'll want to keep an eye out in case there are any more, but I'd say we've solved your problem," Mr. Pinkerton said. He used a dry corner of his shirt to wipe blood from his glasses. Then he turned to the sheriff, trying to look businesslike even though he was standing in the middle of a swamp, dripping blood and water. "Now," he said, "about my consulting fee and my expenses..."
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