A body starts to decay the minute it’s dead. It may take weeks, years, depending on the environment and the temperature before the body has fully decomposed. In some cases, in dry, arid areas, a corpse becomes mummified. That wasn’t the case here. It was wet, muddy, and downright miserable underground. Mud and dirt in his nose didn’t prevent the smell of the body above him seeping inside. It was in his pores, hair, and every molecule of his being. It shouldn’t matter. He was a dead man, after all. Dead men stick together, yeah?
He wriggled his feet. The mud clung to his shoes. His fingers found similar resistance. He stilled. It was no good moving about. The ground above him might fall away, exposing what lay beneath. Two corpses: only one still moving. He sensed it was day. The sun would finish him more permanently than the men who had thrown him here.
Angel had a hell of a headache. It didn’t throb like it would if he were human; it sang to him, its searing song deep in his skull. He wondered how much of his head and brains he had left. The bullet had taken him in the head, and judging by the smell of the cadaver with him, a couple of nights ago.
He was new to the city, but like most cities he knew it like the back of his hand. There was the business district, sometimes more than one, usually central, at the hub of civilization. Housing, high rise and not, was scattered in and out of suburbs, around malls, entertainment blocks, parks and schools. The industrial area was busy with factories, smoke spilling out in some places, announcing to all what business it was they were in. Old and new jostled side by side. The aged, tumbling buildings left abandoned; the new, enticing and irresistible.
The docks nestled along the shoreline - funnels and masts and long, long ships being picked at by insect-like cranes and crab-like beasts, hauling and carrying. It was here that he had stumbled upon a knot of humanity doing mischief. Drugs, if he wasn’t mistaken. Human vice wasn’t what he was about but he couldn’t ignore a man screaming in pain. There was also the dead body to consider. A man was on the ground, the look of him telling Angel what he already knew. The limbs were in the careless repose only one of the recently dead could assume. The man beside him was curled over in pain. He was being beaten with an iron bar. The man wielding the weapon was three hundred pounds of muscle. Bones were broken, he was sure. Three men stood beside a car, their cruel eyes enjoying the spectacle. He couldn’t walk away.
A burst of vampire speed and he had the muscle man by the arm. Twisting his hips, and getting a grip on the man’s torso, Angel threw the man across the concrete expanse. Without thinking about it, instinct kicking in, some innate supernatural sense he had kept his body turning. His fist hit the man charging up behind him. Something hard smacked into him. When he spun about a man with a steel bat was swinging at him again. He pulled the bat from his grasp and shoved it back at him, hitting him in the face. The man stumbled back, moaning. Angel heard a loud retort, several, chattering away behind him. His body jerked a few times and, as he stumbled, he knew it had been the sound of a machine pistol. He didn’t feel the bullet that blew away part of his head.
Angel was missing. Again. Nothing ever changed, she thought, as she worked at tracking him. She wasn’t as good a bloodhound as Angel but she knew how to track. Plus, he had told her he was going to the docks. That was a good place to start. He had left her the car so finding it somewhere wasn’t going to happen. And his cell phone wasn’t on, which was just typical of him.
A hive of activity had her hurrying along. A cordon had been set up. Police and forensic people were studying the floor of an open warehouse. Crates and boxes, and a forklift standing idly by, filled most of the interior. Lights had been set up and the shadows were pushed back, the area being meticulously examined. Dock workers watched from behind the tape, their coveralls and vests in stark contrast to Buffy’s bright pink spring coat.
A police officer confronted her.
“What are you doing here, Miss?”
She thought about it. Should she tell him her boyfriend was missing? That would lead to more questions. What could she say? My vampire boyfriend didn’t come home last night and I’m afraid he might be a pile of ash somewhere?
“What’s going on?” she said instead, trying to peer around the policeman’s stocky build.
“This is a crime scene, Miss. Please stay back.” He stalked away.
“There’s been a shooting,” rumbled a deep voice beside her. It belonged to a tanned ox of a man. His grey eyes were kindly, though, looking down at her.
“Last night?” she asked, peering up at him before focusing her attention back to the crime scene.
“Yeah. Last night.”
“How many bodies?”
“Two, they believe.”
Buffy didn’t know what to make of that news. Was it good, or not?
“How do you know that?”
“There’s a witness.”
Buffy went tip toe, trying to see. “Is the witness here?”
“Nah. He’s in the hospital. Lucky to be alive, I reckon.”
“I don’t suppose you know which hospital” she asked, giving him the good old Buffy smile.
The policeman standing guard at the door nodded to her as she scooted past him. Buffy straightened her borrowed nurse’s uniform and pushed the small medical trolley to the bed. The man in it was awake. His arms were in plaster casts and his face a battered mess. One eye was open, staring at her, watching her.
“Blood pressure?” he mumbled to her.
Buffy glanced over her shoulder to the door. It had closed behind her. She shook her head.
“I’m not here to take your vitals,” she said, reaching into her memory and plucking out medic-speak from many a watched T.V. show. “I heard about the shooting, and…”
The man in the bed opened his mouth to call out. Buffy shushed him. She put a finger to her lips. She figured his were too bruised.
“Please. My boyfriend’s missing. He was at the docks last night. I’m trying to find him.”
He subsided, blinking at her. He mumbled something. Buffy smiled when she worked out what he had said. “No, I’m not a reporter. I need to know what happened.”
“What’s he look like?” he managed to say, trying harder to speak clearly.
“Tall, dark hair, wears a lot of black.”
The man’s eye closed as if in pain.
She leaned in closer. “What is it, Mr Rochman?”
“He was there. I was being beaten. My partner was already dead. Your boyfriend, he…he came out of nowhere.” Rochman licked at his lips.
Buffy was there with a glass of water. She held the straw for him to use.
“Thank you.” He stared at her. “He saved my life. He pulled the man off me. Then…then they shot him. I managed to get away in all the confusion. Last I saw of him he was on the ground. I’m sorry, miss, the number of times he got shot, he wouldn’t have survived.”
Buffy was worried. Not that Angel was dead, he had been hurt bad and she hated that he would have suffered the pain of it all, but she knew he would survive it. What was worrying her was that he hadn’t made it back last night.
She said, “People have survived multiple gunshots before.”
He thought he detected hope in her voice, and he couldn’t let her go, believing that. Better to get it over with so the girl could start grieving.
He would’ve reached for her hand if he could. “Half his head was blown away. I’m sorry, darling. He was dead before he hit the ground.”
Buffy felt the blood drain out of her head. The room spun for a moment. Could vampires survive having their brains blown away? Would Angel be brain damaged when she found him, if she found him?
Her voice was shaky when she asked, “Did you see what they did to him?”
“I was too busy getting out of there. They broke my arms and a few of my ribs.” He lifted on of his arms to demonstrate. “If it hadn’t been for your boyfriend I’d be fish food.”
“Is that what they would’ve done to him, thrown him in the water?” God, she hoped not. She would never find him. He would be a pile of ashes floating in the ocean when the sun had come up, or worse, being eaten piece by piece at the bottom of the sea.
“I don’t know. It’s just an expression.” He squinted at her with his one eye, just realizing he didn’t know her name. “Who are you, and what was your boyfriend’s name?”
“Who are the people that killed him?”
He sighed, and licked his lips again. Buffy gave him another sip at the straw.
“Erik and me, Erik was my partner, we’re cops, but I suppose you know that already. We were undercover: it was a drug deal, only it went down wrong. I don’t know if they knew who we were, but something spooked them.”
“Have they caught them?” Buffy hoped that would be a no. She wanted to have some alone time with them. Find out what they had done with Angel, and if that warranted breaking some bones, then even better.
“It won’t be long before they will be, and they’ll be screaming innocence.”
“But the evidence, and there’s you,” she pointed out.
“They’ll have alibis, and I’ve taken a beating, which means I could be mistaken. That’s what they’ll say. The blood could be from a brawl: no bodies, no murders. Listen, kid, they have lawyers that can wriggle them out of mass murder. It’s the way they work. We need the bodies.” He fell back, exhausted.
Buffy listened to the faint hum of the machine maintaining the steady flow of his drip.
“What if I could get you a body?”
He opened his eye. “Who are you?”
Her fingers skimmed his chest in the lightest of taps. “I’m Buffy, and they picked the wrong guy to kill.”
Catching up the trolley, she said, “Get well soon, Mr Rochman.”
Puzzled, he watched her disappear out the door. The girl hadn’t shed a tear.
Buffy rarely gave up, but being new to the city she had to admit she was stumped. She had pounded the pavement all day. She had hung around police stations trying to catch snippets of information, walked through rough neighbourhoods, frequented bars in the evening and she hadn’t any more of a clue on who had shot Angel than when she had first started. Her last option was to wait for the police to arrest the drug dealers responsible, and if and when they were released on bail, follow them back to their lair and do some questioning of her own. If Angel hadn’t reappeared by then, the criminals would be begging for mercy when she was done with them.
The television was on. Buffy was waiting for the late night news. She hoped that when the scum bags who did this to Angel were arrested, it would be reported. The police just loved to brag about drug busts, and why shouldn’t they? They put their lives on the line every day. And if it was mentioned which precinct had the honour of holding said scum bags, even better. Still waiting, she fell asleep through an infomercial.
Behind the wheel of the car, Buffy was eating a sandwich she had bought at a delicatessen down the block. Her coffee cup sat on the dashboard within easy reach. She was watching the station, waiting for her prey to emerge. Most of the media had disappeared by the time she had arrived. There was a tall, redheaded woman, a reporter, and her camera man lurking about. Buffy observed her speaking into her microphone, give a shake of her head, and the man shooting the footage stepped towards her. They chatted for a few minutes before heading over to a car parked further up the street. They climbed in and appeared to just sit. A couple of men waltzed out of the police station. Buffy straightened up. They were laughing: one of the men slapped the other on the back. She watched as they disappeared down the street and around the corner. She relaxed, yawned, mouth full of food, swallowed, and reached for her coffee.
Her phone chirped.
He had come awake slowly, the pain in his head singing bright. His hunger, all devouring, clamoured for satisfaction, gnawing at him in spite of the torment in his head. The rest of his body was a dull ache of wounds, secondary in his concern. Eyes closed, lungs inert, he moved his hands and arms. Clumps of clay, earth, and mud fought him, and gave way. Bone, flesh, and rag above, yielded the field to him, surrendering in their retreat. A head, torso and limbs erupted from the cloying earth, eyes sightless and milky white beneath a patina of dirt. Following in its wake another corpse emerged. Angel shook himself hoping most of the dirt would be shed. It wasn’t. The ground was soaking wet and, when he looked, Angel could see that he was sitting in wasteland. Half of the land was submerged in stagnant water. It stank of refuse and decay. Angel staggered upright, filthy and dripping. He needed to find a telephone; his own a mangled mess inside his coat. On that thought, he bent down and hunted through the pockets of the other dead man. The man’s phone was in pieces. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. Cell phones and water weren’t a happy combination. The trouser pocket contained a wallet and a few coins.
There on the corner, under a street light where a payphone stood, was a mud-encrusted figure resembling a man. It was sitting motionless, propped up against a wall. Buffy’s heart was beating fast, she had broken several speed limits in getting here, and now the hairs on the back of her neck were standing to attention. By the state of him, Angel looked like he had climbed out from the bowels of the earth. He might as well have been. He had been buried alive. No, not alive, never that. He had been thrown away like garbage, buried by murdering thugs, and her heart ached for him. One of the most frightening, horrific experiences she had ever had was clawing her way out of her grave. It had nearly driven her mad. She pulled the car to a stop beside the figure and dashed round to the sidewalk.
“Angel?” she cried.
The figure lifted its head. Its mouth moved; her name a whisper.
“Thank God, Angel.” She went to throw her arms around him. He stopped her, holding his hands up.
“Don’t. Look at me. I’m filthy,” he complained.
She grabbed his hands and squeezed his fingers tight. She was trembling. She stared at him. The mud on his head prevented her from seeing what damage there was. “I thought you…I heard you were shot in the head. I was worried I wouldn’t see you again.” She blinked away the tears threatening to spill.
“Yeah, it’s not something I’d recommend.” His teeth were white against the dirt on his face.
“Does it… do you think you…you know…are you alright? Let me look.” She let go his hand. Her fingers drew close to his head.
He grimaced and pulled away. “How about we get out of here?”
She helped him stand. He wobbled on his feet a little. He insisted she laid newspaper on the seat before he’d sit in it.
Once he was settled, he said, “There’s a body. A man called Erik Moreno.”
She leaned in through the open door. “He was a policeman. Undercover. His partner’s in the hospital.”
He appeared not to have heard. “It’s not far. A piece of wasteland a couple of blocks away.” He turned his head so he could look at her. “I think there are more bodies buried there.”
“I’ll ring the police, leave an anonymous tip.” She stepped over to the payphone, leaving Angel to stare out the windscreen.
“Partner?” he asked her when she slid back into the driver’s seat.
“Phillip Rochman. I went to see him. He said you saved his life.”
She pulled the car away from the kerb. Angel was silent, staring out at the night.
“Those men will pay, Angel. Erik Moreno’s body will attest to that.”
There was a red light. They pulled up. “What’s that?” she asked.
“And they say dead men don’t tell tales.”
Buffy glanced over at him. The white of his teeth betrayed his smile. It was a welcome sight. The muscles in her shoulders relaxed. The tension in her fingers eased. She smiled back.
Several weeks later, Detective Rochman was sitting in his favourite diner, eating his evening meal. His usual place was near the window, enabling him to watch people going by. He had been assigned light duties on his return to work. He wasn’t fit for active duty yet, so he was chained to his desk and the mountain of reports that came across it each day. He had been notified while still in hospital that it had been an anonymous phone call that had led to Erik Moreno’s body. The caller had been a woman. Other victims, who were no more than bone and tattered sinew, had also been found. Of the young man who had tried to intervene on his behalf there was no sign.
A familiar face caught his eye. He stared at the couple walking hand in hand. The blonde laughed at something her companion was saying. It was the young woman who had visited him in the hospital. The man holding her hand was tall, dark-haired, and… dead. It was impossible, he knew, but he was sure it was the man who had been shot saving his life. And just as he was telling himself that it couldn’t be, the man turned his head and stared at him through the window. The woman did too, and smiled. By the time he dashed to the door they were gone.
Feed Ares Visit Ares
Summary: Where do dead men go when they’re, well…dead? Set sometime in the future, post NFA.
Disclaimer: Not mine, dammit.
Thank you, Jo, for looking this over. You’re brilliant.
Sepulchre – Noun: a tomb, a grave, a burial place; Verb: to place in a sepulchre; bury