“That could’ve gone better,” remarked Vasco, licking his hands.
“Yeah, it could have,” I agreed. “Maybe it would’ve if someone had been a better distraction.” I looked pointedly at Maria.
She shrugged. “I did what I could, Den. Wasn’t my fault that he didn’t see the colors.”
“You still could’ve tried harder,” I mumbled.
“Oh, whatever. He’s dead, isn’t he?” she asked. I looked down at the body by my feet. It hadn’t been easy—the guy apparently took some self-defense classes—but he was definitely dead. I’d tried to get him from behind the recliner he was sitting in, but he’d seen me in the reflection of the T.V. or something and turned around before I could cut his throat quick the way I preferred. After that we wrestled around some and he almost got my knife, but Vasco was there and when I asked him to help me out the guy turned around to look and that’s when I got him right in the throat. It wasn’t clean, what with him being on top of me, and so I was all bloody. Vasco was too from lifting the guy off of me, only he didn’t mind so much on account of being a vampire and getting a kick out of that kind of stuff.
“Could you stop doing that?” I asked, as he continued to lick the blood off his hands. He just smiled at me with his red-stained teeth and kept on doing it.
“That’s totally gross,” Maria said, which made him stop. He always listened to her, even though I was the leader of our little gang. We called ourselves The Nightmares, on account of us only killing people at night. And because I guess we were like a nightmare to all the baddies out there. If somebody was going around hurting people, we were going to stop them, because that’s just what we did since…well…I don’t even know how long. Since I could remember.
“What do we do now, boss?” Vasco asked.
“I think we’ve done enough for tonight,” I said. “Let’s go home.” We left the dead guy where he was, sprawled in front of his T.V. We didn’t even turn it off or anything, just left it on a rerun of The X-Files because Vasco thought that was funny.
“It looks like it was one guy, in and out,” said Detective Rawlins.
“But why this guy?” asked Detective Sanchez, bending over the bloody recliner to examine the victim.
“Robbery gone wrong?” suggested Rawlins, shrugging.
“Nothing’s missing,” Sanchez pointed out.
“Then I don’t really know what the motive was here, man,” said Rawlins. “You said the neighbor saw something? Let’s see if we can’t get a sketch.”
Our house was not really a house on account of being a basement in somebody else’s house. We lived in this little corner of the basement of this old lady who wouldn’t know it if a train came in through her front door. Sometimes we even sneaked upstairs to use her bathroom and the kitchen and stuff and she didn’t even notice. We were pretty lucky that way.
In our corner we had three sleeping bags and a radio that Vasco had rigged up to listen to what the police were saying. Every night we would sit around and listen to the radio and keep our ears open for news of any baddies on the loose. The thing about The Nightmares was that we only went after the bad guys like that guy in the recliner who hit a kid with his car and ran. We listened to the radio and figured out where the baddies were going to be, and then we went after them so the police didn’t have to. We were much better equipped than them, on account of the powers.
In addition to Vasco being a vampire and a computer geek, Maria could mess up people’s heads like nothing else. She did this weird hand-waving thing and all of a sudden a person could think they were on a beach in Hawaii or something. Sometimes she just made them see a whole bunch of colors or hear loud noises that distracted them so that me or Vasco could sneak in and take them out. The thing about Vasco, though, was that for how fast and strong he was, he wasn’t so good at thinking on his feet, so mostly it was me who did the killing. I didn’t mind though, because that made me feel better about not having any powers. I guess that’s kind of why I was always the leader, too. The being good at thinking thing.
We were sitting in the basement one night doing nothing when the radio started crackling. That’s usually what happens right before we hear what the police are saying. I couldn’t hear it when they started talking but Vasco leaned in real close and listened with his vampire hearing. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“Shut up,” he told me, putting an ear to the speakers. As I watched, he started smiling real big so that his fangs showed.
“What is it?” Maria asked.
“It’s our guy,” said Vasco, all excited.
“Our guy? Are you sure?” she asked.
“Where’s he at?” I asked.
“By 34th, by the docks,” said Vasco.
We had been chasing down this guy for a while. He had been running around our town, breaking in to places, hurting people, just scaring everybody. The police kept getting leads but they just weren’t too good at their jobs, which was why The Nightmares existed in the first place. We’d been listening in for leads and trying to take the guy out, but he’d gotten away from us every time so far. This time felt good, though, like we had a real chance of getting him.
We stole a car, on account of us not really being able to afford one in our line of work, and drove down to 33rd street, where we parked in an alley. I had my knife and lock picks with me, Vasco had his fangs, and Maria had her colors. We had heard that the guy had some business going on down by the docks and was supposed to meet someone around midnight.
It was kind of cold out but the stars were bright and pretty as they reflected on the water. Vasco didn’t feel the cold so much, but Maria was shivering, so I offered her my jacket, threadbare as it was. She said no, though, because Maria liked to look tough in front of us, I guess. Anyway, we made our way to 34th and walked down close to the docks. We passed a cop just sitting in his car on the way, but Maria started doing a thing with her hands that made it so that people couldn’t see us, which was pretty handy. Down at the gates, I got out my picks and opened the lock on the gate. I opened it real slow so it wouldn’t make any noise and we stepped through. “Where’s the guy supposed to be?” Maria asked Vasco.
“Not sure, exactly, just somewhere,” he said.
“Just somewhere?” I asked. Between what must’ve been a hundred boats, shacks, and dark corners around us, there were only about a thousand places somebody could meet somebody else.
“If you would shut up for a second maybe I could hear him.” I did, and Vasco turned around real slow with his eyes closed. In a minute, his eyes came open and he pointed toward a boat floating in the distance.
“You think he’s in there?” I asked Vasco.
“Nah, I just point at boats for fun,” he snapped.
“You know—“ I started, but Maria cut me off.
“Will you two both just shut the hell up? We’ve got a guy to catch and it’s almost midnight.” Sometimes Vasco and I got a little caught up in arguing and Maria had to break us up. I didn’t ever have any siblings, but I thought that the three of us were probably like siblings on account of us fighting and making up all the time.
“Sorry,” Vasco mumbled.
“Okay, so we can’t exactly cover all directions, since there’s only one, so I say we just go for it. Once he’s cornered, the only place he can go is into the lake,” I said, because leaders don’t have to apologize.
“He won’t see us coming,” Maria assured us.
“Where do you want me?” asked Vasco, all serious now. Even though he could get on my nerves sometimes, I had to admit that Vasco could really be the professional-type when he needed to be.
“You go first since you’re quieter, then be my backup once we’re on the boat,” I decided. He nodded. He always got to go first on account of vampires blending into the night and all.
“You want me to stay down here?” asked Maria. I nodded. Maria wasn’t so great at the fighting part, so she usually hung back a little and helped us out with the colors.
After a few more minutes of planning, we agreed on a course of action and started to move. Vasco said he could tell the guy was in the wheelhouse of a yacht a ways down and we made our way toward it real quiet. I almost blew our cover a few times because it was one of those floating docks and my balance isn’t real great, but we made it up the side of the boat and onto the deck without the guy hearing us.
I was taking a second to enjoy the view on account of not being by the water too often when something off to the side of the boat caught my attention. At first I thought it was my own reflection, but then I realized that it wasn’t mine at all. It was the guy’s.
He’d walked out of the wheelhouse without anyone hearing and he was right behind us. I caught a glimpse of a knife and barely had time to warn Vasco before he started waving it around like a crazy person. He came straight at me and I ducked and lunged to the side to avoid the knife. I tried to get a leg out and trip him, but he didn’t go down and came at me again. I yelled for Vasco, but I couldn’t tell where he was. I yelled for Maria to take care of his eyes, but I didn’t think she heard me because the guy was still coming straight after me.
After a lot more ducking and dodging with both of us taking a few nicks, I managed to kick the knife out of his hand, but I had somehow lost mine too over the course of the fight and I didn’t know where it was. I kept yelling for Vasco, but he was nowhere to be found and I didn’t have the breath to keep yelling. The guy just kept coming and he was just as strong as me, so it was taking a lot of effort to keep him off. Just when I thought I might be getting the upper hand, I tripped up and he got me pressed up against the railing of the boat. He just about had me when a bunch of noise and lights started making a commotion down on the dock. The guy turned just a little to look at the police that had just now followed up on their own lead, and I took the chance to twist hard and throw off his balance enough to grapple him over the edge of the boat. It would’ve been a cool move, only he was still holding onto me, and I went into the water, too.
I don’t know how long I was under, but when I came to after the shock of the cold wore off, the guy was nowhere in sight. I ducked under water real quick so the police wouldn’t see me and swam a ways away until I found a pile to pull myself up on that was out of sight. I stayed crouched in the shadows for a long time waiting for the police to leave, and then I snuck out the gate with the open lock and made my way back to our stolen car, where we’d agreed we’d meet if things went sideways. Vasco and Maria were already inside, keeping an eye out for either the guy or the police.
“Don’t beat yourself up about it, boss,” Maria said when I slid into the back, shivering from my dip in the lake. The car wasn’t running yet, on account of Maria and Vasco trying not to be conspicuous, and it was just as cold in there as it was outside.
“I’m not,” I snapped. “Where were you guys up there?”
“I was right there where you said I should be! I only ran when I saw he got away,” said Maria, all defensive now.
“Well he wouldn’t have gotten away if he hadn’t been able to see me.”
“Hey, leave her alone,” said Vasco, cutting in.
“And what were you doing the whole time?” I demanded, turning on him.
“I couldn’t do anything,” he said, looking at his lap.
“Why not? The guy almost took me out!”
“Yeah, but you were both bleeding,” he said.
“Oh.” The thing about Vasco was that when he got all excited, like in a fight or something, he sometimes couldn’t figure out who the good guys and the bad guys were. And if there was any blood involved, that just made the whole deal even worse. The nick in my arm wasn’t bleeding anymore, but there was more blood down my arm that meant it had probably been dripping pretty steadily at one point. “Sorry,” I said to Vasco.
“It’s fine,” he said, shrugging.
“Everything’s fine,” I said, sighing. “We didn’t get him this time, but next time for sure. This wasn’t anybody’s fault, we just need to have a better plan of attack next time.” I thought that was a very leader-type thing to say, and I was glad when Vasco looked up and Maria did her little half-smile. We were all kind of misfits, what with Vasco being the only vampire around, Maria having her colors, and me not having any family to speak of. They were all I had, so I couldn’t be too hard on them.
“The night’s not over,” said Maria. “There’s a guy I heard about on the radio yesterday we could take care of. Let’s swing back to the basement and get you some clothes, then head out.”
“I’m starving,” said Vasco, smiling with fangs.
“Sounds like a plan,” I said. “But I’m driving.”
“Alright, what the hell?” growled Rawlins, shining a flashlight on a smear of blood on the yacht’s railing.
“Nothing’s missing. Again. Dockmaster said he saw a guy matching our guy’s description get on the boat and heard a commotion. Called right away,” said Sanchez.
“Did he see another person?” asked Rawlins.
“Said he didn’t, but it looks like something went down,” said Sanchez, nodding at the blood.
“Anybody find any weapons?” asked Rawlins.
“First officer on the scene found this. Said that’s why he called us in,” said Sanchez. He was holding an evidence bag with a chipped knife inside.
“You really think that’s our armchair killer’s weapon?” Rawlins asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Looks like,” said Sanchez.
“Did they find anything else?”
“Nope. Just the one knife.”
Once we went by the old lady’s house and I had a new set of clothes and a different knife, we headed after a lead Maria had gotten on the radio. She said there was a guy that lived in the fancy Rosewood neighborhood downtown that strangled a street girl he paid to spend the night. The police probably weren’t going to go after him, on account of the girl being a prostitute and the guy having fancy lawyers that said she was a druggie. Maria was especially excited for this one because she thought that maybe her mom was a prostitute but she didn’t know for sure on account of her taking off when Maria was real little.
Anyway, the guy lived in this mansion of a place with one of those little guard houses with an actual guy in there, so we drove by but then ditched the car so we could sneak up on foot. “Okay, so Maria is going to distract the guard while Vasco and I go through the gate. Mess with his head a little so he doesn’t follow, then come after us,” I said, directing the last part at Maria. They both nodded and we set off straight toward the guard house under Maria’s invisibility. She took the lead, marching straight up to the little window, but when she got there she turned around and shook her head at us. The guard wasn’t there anymore.
“Maybe he went on a patrol,” suggested Vasco. I nodded.
“Okay, so you and Maria go left and I’ll go right. Put him down if you see him, then meet me at the back of the property.”
“You got it, boss,” said Vasco, and they set off to the left of the little house while I headed to the right. I figured it was best to send them together on account of Maria not being so great in a fight and Vasco being real good at sneaking around and having vampire powers. Also, I might’ve wanted to prove that I was good enough to go alone, even though I didn’t have any powers.
Anyway, I headed around the front of the yard, real close to the fence that went around it. I’d learned how to move real quiet from Vasco, and I stayed off the paths snaking all around and kept to the shadows. I was on high alert, except for a few times when I got distracted by my surroundings. Even out here by the fence, I had to sidestep clumps of fancy-looking flowers and avoid getting smacked in the face by flowery trees. For a murderer, this guy really had a thing for flowers.
I also found myself staring at the house itself from time to time. From where I was at the bottom of the big hill that led up to it, it rose out of the night like some fairy tale castle. It was big enough to fit a whole army inside, which seemed like a little much to me, but it was really a thing to look at. There were lights all around that lit it up a bright white and showed the big columns that went all the way across the front. It was fancier than anything I’d ever seen. Anyway, I was trying to focus, but I kept getting distracted because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much money a person has to have to live in a place like that.
I was so distracted that I almost didn’t hear the guard coming around a bend in a path until he was almost on top of me. Luckily, I heard his foot slide on the gravel path and I dove behind a tree. He walked past me none the wiser, and I snuck up behind him and hit him hard with the hilt of my knife. It was my big knife with the bone handle that I stole on a job, so I put him down fast. I thought about slitting his throat quick, but I thought that maybe he wasn’t a bad guy like his boss. I made sure he was really out, then dragged him behind a tree and left him there.
“I didn’t find anyone,” said Vasco, “but it smells like you did.”
I glanced down at my knife, which I had a little of the guard’s blood on it. “I took care of it. Have you seen any other security?”
“I think there’s some sort of system on the doors, but I’m not positive,” said Maria.
“Why do you think that?” I asked.
She shrugged. “There was one of those little blue signs in the yard.”
“It doesn’t matter, because I can disarm anything,” said Vasco, like he was one of those movie computer hackers. Maria rolled her eyes so that only I could see, but smiled at Vasco like she believed he was that good. She was nice to him like that.
“Well, I hope so. It looks like maybe they’re all asleep, and we want it to stay that way,” I said. The windows of the house were all dark, which made sense on account of it being the middle of the night.
“One sec,” said Vasco, and he took off in a blur of vampire speed around the house. Me and Maria stood around for a few minutes in the cold before Vasco appeared again with a big, fangy grin on his face. “It’s done.”
We decided on the big double doors at the back of the house for our entrance point because it would be easier to get back out that way if we needed a quick escape. I picked the locks quick and eased the doors open without making a sound. As soon as they opened, though, an alarm started blaring at us. “What the hell!” I yelled at Vasco.
“I thought it was off!” he yelled back.
“It doesn’t matter, now!” I said, shaking my head. “Maria, could you help out with some of the noise? We’re going to have to move fast, now.” Maria nodded and shook out her hands, but nothing happened.
“We can still hear it, but no one else can,” she explained before I could ask.
“Okay, we’ll do this like we did the guard. You guys take the downstairs and I’ll go up. If you don’t find him, we meet back in the kitchen.” Both of them nodded and took off down a wide hallway to our left. I moved toward the front of the house, looking for the staircase. It wasn’t hard to find, on account of it being one of the huge ones with the bannisters and everything, and I ran up the stairs. I didn’t even have to be quiet because the fancy carpets covered up my footsteps anyway.
The top of the staircase ended at a long hallway lined with big fancy mirrors. I crept down it as quiet as I could, nudging open each door in the hallway as I went. There were more rooms up there than anyone could ever need, so it was slow-going. All of them were unlocked, though, which made me laugh, since their security was so easy to get through. I thought that it must be nice to have enough money to feel that safe.
After the fourth door, I felt that prickly feeling you get when someone’s watching you and I slowed down a little, listening for footsteps. There were statues and some little potted trees in the hall big enough for someone to hide behind, and even though I had checked most of them, I started thinking someone else was in the house. It couldn’t have been Vasco or Maria because they wouldn’t hide from me. It was starting to freak me out, but I acted like I didn’t suspect anything, walking down the hallway and checking rooms as I went. After a few doors, though, I turned around real quick to surprise whoever it was, and I nearly dropped my knife.
It was our guy.
There he was, standing by a mirror in the upstairs hallway of this rich guy’s house, staring at me like I was the last person he expected to see, too. What was he doing there? Was it possible that he was going after the same guy as The Nightmares? But no, I realized. He must have followed us. We had thought that we were after him the whole time, but really he was after us.
A knife dangled from his hand like he had forgotten it was there, but he got over the surprise real quick and lunged at me. At the same exact time, I lunged at him, and we collided like two battering rams. I heard something glass-like break and saw stars for a second before coming back to my senses. The guy had sprung back and was a little further down the hall. I ran after him, but he was just as fast as me, and he took off down the hall. Right at the top of the staircase, though, he vanished. I caught up to where he had been and felt around, looking for some kind of hidden door or something, but I didn’t find anything. I yelled out in frustration, forgetting about needing to be quiet, and before long I saw Vasco and Maria come into view at the bottom of the staircase.
“What happened?” hissed Maria.
“It was the guy! He was here!”
“Our guy?” asked Vasco.
“Yes! He was here!”
“But how—“ Vasco started, but he was cut off by a new sound that cut in over the wail of the alarms. We all turned toward a rhythmic thumping noise at the front of the house.
“I think—“ Maria started, her expression turning panicked. Before she could finish, though, there was a huge cracking sound, and all of a sudden it was joined by the thud of boots on marble.
“POLICE!” a voice yelled over the pounding boots and the security alarm.
“Get out the back!” I had time to scream at the other two, before a small army of uniformed men swarmed into the foyer. I didn’t see if they listened before I was running down the stairs with my knife raised. I didn’t have good odds, but I figured maybe I could give Vasco time to get Maria out of there. I met the first officer and aimed a kick at his chest, but he was a solid guy, and it didn’t do much. I swiped at him with my knife instead and managed to get him across the thigh, sending him down. Then I met the second, and I swiped at him, but he got ahold of my wrist and another officer wrenched my other arm behind me. Before I knew it, I was face down on the fancy marble floor. I tried one last time to rear up and at least headbutt somebody, but I got my face smashed into the ground for my efforts, and everything went dark.
I came to in the back of a cop car. I was glad to see that I was alone, because maybe that meant they didn’t get the rest of The Nightmares, but I was also pretty upset on account of being in handcuffs. Only a few minutes later, the car stopped and a mean-looking lady hauled me out of the back. She shoved me all the way into the police station and then into a room with a big mirror on one side and a chair and a table with a metal link embedded in the top on the other. She hooked my handcuffs to this and shoved me down in the chair, then walked out the door and shut it behind her with a final-sounding thud. They left me alone in there for what seemed like forever and my face hurt and it didn’t seem like anyone was coming for me anytime soon, so I laid my head down and closed my eyes.
Some time later, I woke up to whispering coming from inside the room. The voices were familiar, and they were debating whether or not they wanted to wake me up. I opened my eyes and sat up to see Vasco and Maria across from me, with Vasco standing and Maria in the other chair. “What are you guys doing here?” I hissed.
“We’re here to break you out,” said Maria, like I should’ve figured that out.
“How did you even get in here?”
“Maria did her thing and we slipped in without anyone seeing us,” explained Vasco. He started pulling on my handcuffs, but they wouldn’t budge. “Just give me a second.”
“Seriously, guys, you should get out of here,” I told them.
“We weren’t just going to leave you behind,” said Maria, as Vasco kept fiddling with the cuffs. “We’re all we’ve got, you know?”
“I know, but—“ I started, but then I heard the door behind me starting to open. I turned around as much as I could to face whoever was coming in, even if I couldn’t do much about it on account of being cuffed to the table, and yelled at the other two to run. The cop walking in looked confused, like he didn’t know who I was yelling at. Maria and Vasco didn’t bolt for the door right away, so I turned back to yell at them again, but they were gone. I was confused for a second, but then remembered Maria’s powers, and I hoped they had slipped out when the door opened.
“Who were you talking to?” asked the cop, coming around to sit in front of me. “And why have you been rattling your cuffs around? It’s not going to do you any good.” I didn’t say anything. “Well, anyway, my name is Detective Rawlins and I need to ask you a few questions about several murders and the break-in we caught you at last night.” I just glared at him.
Halfway through his questions, I zoned out, looking into the mirror behind him. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have seen what I saw next: standing behind me, hidden in the shadows in the corner of the room, was the guy. He was here, in the police station, and it was like the detective couldn’t even see him. I whipped around to face him, but he moved real quick out of sight and I whipped around again, pulling at the handcuffs. The detective just looked confused again and asked me what was wrong. “It’s the guy! The guy you really want! He’s in here! He’s in this room!” I screamed at him. “Let me out!” He stood up and moved his hand toward something at his belt, maybe the keys, and I thought he was going to free me, but he just backed around the table to the door, feeling for the handle and letting himself out. It closed behind him with a final thud, and I was alone with the guy. He was standing across from me now, looking crazy with his eyes wide and his hands shaking in front of him. This was it, I realized, the final showdown, and with a scream he came at me. Handcuffed or not, I knew that it was me or him this time, and I wasn’t going to let him win.
“What was he screaming about?” asked Detective Sanchez. Rawlins shook his head.
“I don’t know, man, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to stand trial for the murders or the Rosewood break-in.”
“At least we finally found the psycho,” said Sanchez. “And at least the family wasn’t home last night.”
“Mm. Did anything turn up from the house they searched?”
“Not much, just a sleeping bag and a broken CB radio. It looked like he’d been living there for a few months.”
“No evidence of anyone else?” Rawlins asked. “No accomplices or anything?”
Sanchez shook his head. “The house had been abandoned for over a year. It was just him in there. And I think we might know who he is, too. He’s looking like a match for that criminally insane escapee a few months back.”
“Sounds about right. But whoever he is, I’m just glad we got him off the streets,” Rawlins said. “Maybe the people in this neighborhood can finally get a good night’s sleep tonight.”
“You know they were calling him The Nightmare?” asked Sanchez.
“Sounds about right,” agreed Rawlins. “The Nightmare. What a lunatic.”