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The Damned

Do you sometimes feel like your job is your life? Do you hate what you do? It could be worse, you know. It could even be that your job is much worse than you even consciously realize.

“I’m curious why you would want to do such horrible things as this, Mr. Ambrose.”

Ambrose squirmed in his seat, his gray hair thinning around a bald patch at the back of his head, his light tan shirt contrasting in a sickly fashion against the pallid whiteness of his neck. He leaned forward and spoke clearly, “I don’t do this because I want to do it; I do it because I must. The vampires are a threat to the entire human race, and they must be stopped. I find it all extremely unpleasant, but somebody has to do it!” He fell back against his seat as he finished, once again leaving a space between himself and the young lady.

Ambrose continued to shift nervously, apparently unable to find comfort in his seat, a Victorian-style chair with warm wood tones carved in a delicate pattern along the back and legs. The chair, like the rest of the office of Belle River Psychiatric Institute’s Chief of Staff, would seem warm and inviting to most people. A series of ornate wooden bookshelves lined most of the walls from ceiling to floor, filled with the collective knowledge of scholars and psychologists from across the centuries, each section of shelves set apart by one of a trio of exceptionally tall windows which welcomed bright sunlight into every corner of the room. Two delicate crystal chandeliers hung dormant above, sparkling in the glow of mid-afternoon while Ambrose continued to fidget. He leaned toward the woman again, staring at her curiously as though hoping to uncover her secrets.

She was striking, her auburn hair flowing down over the top of a matching Victorian-style chair directly opposite him. Her festive dress of yellow and white flowers stood out against the burgundy patterns of the seat cushion. She was young for a psychologist, only twenty-nine years of age, but she was considered the best criminal psychologist in the city and a very talented chief of staff. Today’s patient, however, the man seated before her, Ambrose, would be the greatest test of her clinical detachment and patient analysis since the Arlington Rapist case two years ago in 1977. Each time she looked at Ambrose she alternately wanted to collapse into her grief or release her pent fury upon him for what he had done. The past two hours had been a struggle simply to remain calm while gaining his trust. Her gaze seemed to be directed more at Ambrose’s chest than his face as he began to speak again, quietly.

“Why are you so interested, Miss Dupree? What makes you so curious about an old Vampire Hunter?”

Miss Dupree forced herself to appear calm and steady, gazing straight forward into Ambrose’s eyes and forcing a soft smile. “I’m fascinated by your stories, Mr. Ambrose, and I would like to hear more about your exploits in detail. You were telling me earlier about the woman you killed in the alley off 42nd Street; could you go into that again in more detail?”

“She was not a woman!” Ambrose replied angrily. “She was a vampire. Don’t you see?”

Miss Dupree showed no signs of concern at Ambrose’s biting tone. The old man had been prone to similar outbursts all afternoon, and Miss Dupree made sure to quickly appease him whenever she spoke in a manner that made him upset. “Yes, I’m sorry Mr. Ambrose. I simply meant that you had described her as a female vampire. Tell me, how do you know that they are in fact vampires and not women. You told me yourself that they look just like you or me.”

Ambrose twisted in his seat and sat forward. He spent nearly a minute observing her once again, seemingly gauging her sincerity. While he stared at her, Miss Dupree grabbed a small pad and pen from beside her chair and began to write, as if taking notes. She wrote only one thing on her pad, however – a name repeated over and over, the name Sarah, the name of her dead lover. Ambrose broke her reflections as he finally chose to speak.

“The women vampires are easier to identify than the men,” Ambrose began. “I suspect that the males simply swoop in on their victims and use brute force to knock them out, but the females are more cunning. They trick their victims into going somewhere alone with them and letting down their guard. They play little mind games to beguile their victims and tempt them with sex. Since they look just like us their behavior is the easiest way to spot them, but the females often have bright red lips as well – something about staining from the blood I imagine. They are active at night, of course, and they are often quite shameless in their pursuit of victims.”

“I see,” Miss Dupree stated, not looking up from her pad, her left eye blinking twice quickly in a nervous tick. “That doesn’t sound like much to go on. How can you be sure they aren’t simply women looking for a good time or even just companionship? How can you be absolutely sure they are vampires?”

“Companionship! Bah! These creatures have no morals! They’re reprehensible! They have no shred of humanity left. Once you have stared in the face of a vampire and known it for what it is, you know how to tell.” Ambrose became agitated again and bounced against his seat. “I can’t be held here any longer, young lady! It will be dark soon, and I have much preparation to do.”

“ Be calm, Mr. Ambrose,” Miss Dupree cooed, forcing herself to keep her tone neutral. “There’s plenty of time before dark, and I still have so much I want to ask you.” She rose from her seat and retreated across the room to a large, ornate mahogany desk covered with opened file folders and papers.

Miss Dupree set down her notepad and picked up a folder marked ‘Police File 2038-C’, a stamp of ‘Under Investigation’ smeared red on the manila face of the file. She opened the folder, revealing ghoulish photos of the remains of three different young women, one of whom she had known intimately even though the photographed body no longer held any resemblance to the vibrant, beautiful young woman she had loved for seven years. Miss Dupree’s lips drew tight and she cast a hard glance at Ambrose. She closed the file and steeled herself against the throbbing in her head and the bile rising in her throat. Overwhelming depression and desires for revenge welled up in her each time she saw the images of her murdered lover. She knew that her feelings could work against her, that she had to completely suppress her emotions if she were to hold Ambrose’s trust and draw him out of his fantastic stories of vampires to reveal the true motives behind the series of murders and mutilations he had committed. She swallowed hard and cleared her mind, the tick in her left eye blinking twice again, as if struggling to show emotion in her otherwise temperate face.

For Miss Dupree, too much depended upon uncovering the truth. Each of her seven predecessors in this assignment, the best collection of criminal psychologists in the city, had learned that direct questioning about the motives for the murders would draw explosive results from Ambrose, and any continued attempts at analysis would then be completely useless. Miss Dupree, having a personal connection to the case, had initially been recused from service, but the repeated failures of her peers, along with Miss Dupree’s reputation and her insistence that she be allowed to try, had convinced the district attorney to allow her to at least make the attempt. Miss Dupree knew that she had to be cautious with the phrasing of her questions; she still had much that she needed to learn. She paused before speaking, returning to her previous passive attitude before looking up from the closed file.

“How do you kill these vampires, Mr. Ambrose? It can’t be that simple, I imagine.”

“No, not at all. You see, the classic approach is to drive a stake through the heart, but I always worried that they might somehow come back from that, maybe if the stake was drawn back out somehow. So I hit them with the stake first and then cut off their arms and legs and burn them. I figure there’s not much chance of them coming back from that, and so far none of them have come back … at least that I know of.”

A small shudder ran through Miss Dupree but she regained her composure quickly as she replaced the file on the desk and scanned a nearby memo from the district attorney. The memo revealed that the DA considered evidence to be plentiful in this case, but no motive was at all clear. Unless Ambrose’s true motives could be revealed and his stories of vampire hunting discredited, he would surely escape the death penalty on an insanity plea. Unless Ambrose received the death penalty, Sarah would never receive justice, never receive revenge – not only revenge for Sarah but also for the countless other women Ambrose had murdered. Miss Dupree paused and pursed her lips as she rested both hands on the desk and leaned over the collected paperwork. She gazed at Ambrose, his struggling unabated but clearly useless in his efforts to work free from the wide leather restraints which bound him to the chair. The continuous struggling against his bonds had caused Ambrose’s wrists to chafe and bleed under the constricting straps, but he seemed unaffected or unaware of any pain from his arms. His pale face, overgrown with the stubble of a few days, showed no signs of fear or weakness as he stared back into her eyes.

Miss Dupree sighed and pulled herself upright from her leaning position. She nervously pulled at her hem to straighten a wrinkle from her dress as she crossed the room and resumed her seat before the agitated form in the opposing chair. “Mr. Ambrose, can you tell me about the first vampire you killed? How did you know it was a vampire if you had never seen one before?”

Ambrose became completely still for the first time since his arrival. His eyes glistened in sockets that were aged and haggard, and the corner of his mouth tuned down apart from the rest of his face. He released a breath of air and spoke in a clear voice devoid of any emotion. “It was my wife.” He took a breath and continued. “It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I killed her. Those damned vampires turned my wife into one of them, and I had to kill her. I didn’t have any choice.” Ambrose grew silent and still.

Miss Dupree paused a moment before she spoke, the room deathly quiet around them. “Why, Mr. Ambrose? Why kill her? What made you think she was a vampire?”

Ambrose looked at her steadily, suddenly relaxed in his chair. “She wasn’t the same any more; she wasn’t my Martha. I wasn’t sure why at first, but I could see the changes. She wasn’t the same woman I had married twenty-two years before. At first I just thought it was a cold or a bit of a bad time, but then I started to see how vicious she could get. She’d be outright mean and hateful to me for no reason, no matter how hard I tried to talk to her, and then she was going out every night – usually for the whole night. One of them got to her somehow, I know it, and she turned into one of them. By the time I figured it all out she was already using her unnatural charms to draw in men she’d meet at night – one after another. None of them ever came back, and I knew she’d sucked all of the blood right out of them. She’d have sucked the life out of me, too, if I hadn’t killed her. I was already feeling weak and strange by the time I figured it all out.” He paused again. “And then I did it. I had to end the ugly thing she had become.”

Miss Dupree rose from her seat and looked down upon Ambrose. The corner of her eye twitched once and then once more as she stood still and watched the crazed man before her. Ambrose slumped in his seat, drained by his telling words, and Miss Dupree realized that he had been stating his true motives all along, any sense of the reality of his actions lost long ago in his grief for his own lost love. There would be no conviction, no death penalty. Sarah’s death would not be avenged by the DA.

Miss Dupree passed Ambrose as he sat slumped in his chair, and she exited through the large double doors of her office. She walked across the room, past her secretary and two of Belle River’s attendants who had, hours earlier, brought Ambrose to the office from the sterile confines of his padded cell in another wing of the psychiatric institution. Miss Dupree turned as she reached the door to the restroom and directed the attendants to sedate Ambrose and return him to his cell. Her secretary explained that the DA’s office had called repeatedly during the afternoon, hoping for encouraging news. Miss Dupree shook her head, leaving only silence between them.

Turning away, Miss Dupree entered the restroom, closing and locking the door behind her and leaning her forehead against the cold wooden door as she tried to form her next plan of attack. Images of Sarah formed in her mind, visages of her lover in life and in death. As each image faded she would see Ambrose, ugly and crazed, staring back at her with his dispassionate eyes. After a few minutes she leaned back and crossed the small room to the sink, running warm water and splashing her face as though hoping to wash away her thoughts. As she dried her face with a towel the last of her makeup was wiped away, revealing her pale smooth skin and her bright red lips. Through the window she could see the last light of day fading, and she swore to herself that she would not rest until Sarah was avenged.


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The Damned, by Paul Cales, © September 2003