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Father Rodriguez was just making a last circuit of Santa Marta's when he was startled to see the light on over the confessional. There was, the old priest knew, only one person who was likely to seat himself in the confessional at 11PM -- and who could do it so quietly that Rodriguez never even heard the church door open. He entered the worn booth and slid open the panel. He nodded and allowed himself a smile as the strong baritone rang out from the penitent's seat -- he doubted that El Toro even knew that he always used his in-ring voice.

"Bless me father, for I have sinned."

"I doubt that very much, Victor. Have you eaten? I was just going to have some dinner."

Father Rodriguez was always amazed that Victor could work his way through two full bowls of cochinita pibil and manage to never get so much as a spot on his suit. Somehow, he never got food on his suit. Blood, though -- yes, the old priest had seen blood on his suit too many times. He remembered a dark night, some five years before, when Victor had arrived at Santa Marta's at 3AM, covered in blood -- much, though not all, his own. If the padre had been a little slower, or been sleeping a little more soundly -- but no. His mother always told him that the world provided trouble enough without inventing more, and Victor had lived through that night -- and all the nights after -- and was alive now. Though he could not remember ever having seen him so troubled.

When they had finished eating (and El Toro had cleared the dishes, as he always insisted he should), the big man sat and looked at his hands for a long, long time. People often mistook Victor for being stupid, which Father Rodriguez felt was unfair. Victor was careful -- with his words, as with his strength. He could hurt others, or himself, if he wasn't.

"It used to be simple. Not often easy, but simple. You find what evil you can, you fight what evil you find. But now -- now, that isn't enough. My friends will die; most of them horribly. I have always known this. But, until recently, I don't think I've believed it. Understood it. I cannot escape that understanding any more. It haunts me. Battling evil is not enough; my life, given to this fight, is not enough." Victor spread his hands helplessly, and cast his eyes around the room, looking perhaps for comfort, perhaps for answers, and finding neither. "It is all I have, and it is not enough."

"You've done a lot, my son," Father Rodriguez said, wishing he could find less hollow words for a man who had done so much, suffered so much, and asked so little in return. "You've done all that one man could possibly do."

El Toro looked at him suddenly, a smile lighting his broad face. For the first time that night -- in many nights, Father Rodriguez had to admit -- El Toro had the old fire in his eyes. "Padre, I do believe you're right."

El Toro went to his bag and removed from it the most lovely cross Father Rodriguez had ever seen. This struck him as odd, as it was almost entirely without ornamentation. Still, the sight of it felt to the old priest like the first rays of the rising sun. He even went so far as to look out the window, in case they had talked until dawn. But no, the night was still dark outside the little church -- dark, but somehow less full of terrors than it had been a moment before.

"This is for Santa Marta," El Toro told him. "I can think of nowhere better for it to be, and no man more deserving of it than you. May it lift up your faith, the way you have always lifted up mine."

El Toro put the cross down and wrapped his arms around the old priest, as he always did when he was getting ready to leave.

"I'm going home to Mexico, Father. I'll be back, though." Renewed purpose lent even more power to the luchador's voice than it usually had.

"And I'll have company."
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Epic × 2!
Looking Back
From the Journal of Police Commissioner Stan Lewankowski

I remember the day the letter from the governor arrived. I was reading situation reports from officers in the waterfront district, where we believed the last of the vampires were dug into their nests. Sgt. Adams walked in and dropped it in the overflowing in-box on my battered desk in what remained of the central district headquarters. "I think you want to read this one, Chief," he said.

I opened the letter and saw the official letterhead. Adams should have dismissed himself, but was trying to be invisible. I let him stay, absorbed in what was in front of me.

Mr. Stan Lewankowski,

In light of the evidence and overwhelming positive reports on your actions during the recent crisis in Baltimore... blah, blah, blah... (more flowery stuff)... providing leadership after the murder of the mayor and suicide of the standing police commissioner... blah, blah, blah... thousands of lives saved... blah, blah, blah... organizing surviving police, emergency personnel and community volunteers... blah, blah, blah... developing guidelines for special weapons and tactics for these highly irregular emergency circumstances and sharing with police departments throughout the state and the National Guard... blah, blah, blah...

In honor of your service, I, Governor John Whitby of the State of Maryland, hereby formally pardon Stan Lewankowski for all crimes committed within the State of Maryland following his dismissal from the Baltimore Police Department nine years ago, up to and including the present day. I further officially acknowledge Mr. Lewankowski's service under the self-appointed title 'Acting Chief of Police'. Lastly, as of the date of this letter I am requesting Mr. Lewankowski to accept official appointment to the Office of Police Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department.

No single person has done more to rebuild and reorganize the police and emergency services in Baltimore, and there is simply no one more qualified for the position, or who has developed more trust and confidence with the people of the City of Baltimore.


Hon. John Whitby, Governor of Maryland

I was quiet a long time, staring at the paper in my hands. Adams cleared his throat and brought me back to reality.

"Good news?" he prompted.

"I guess you can say that," I said. "Seems like I won't have to ditch town as soon as we open the borders and drop martial law conditions." I handed him the letter. "Get a memo out to all the precincts. Drop the fancy talk... just the facts. I'm the new Commissioner, but you can keep calling me Chief... I like that better."

I drove home that night to Marie and Bill's townhouse. I was staying there whenever I didn't simply crash on the cot in my office. Bill had lost his job a while back. He'd been helping me out with logistics for emergency services. He was a wizard of organization. It was good to see him with a purpose in life again.

Marie arrived home for dinner not long after me. She looked better too. I think the knowledge of what really happened to their kids and that the devils behind it were well and truly destroyed saved them from a downward spiral. It was good to see them both really living again. It was good for me to have family again too. I was back in my city, back home at last.
Session: Season 1, Episode 13 - Sunday, Oct 26 2014 from 11:30 PM to 5:30 AM
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Epic × 2!
Stan's Weekend Getaway - Part Three
Read Parts One and Two First

I knocked on the steel door outside the old industrial building along the railway. "Ruiz Custom Machining and Fabrication" was stenciled on the door. Several feet above the door was an older sign that simply read "Ruiz Machine Shop".

I could hear the TV on inside. I turned the knob and gently pushed the door aside as I peered in. Alex half turned from the TV, putting a 9mm pistol back down on the workbench as he saw it was me.

"Come on in, bro! I can't believe you did it," he said as he gestured at the news program. "I've been glued to it for hours. Work of art, my friend, a work of art."

"It will do for payment then?" I asked.

"Oh, hell yeah, esse. More than enough. Those fucks fuckin' fucked me over!" he grinned. "Oh, no one got hurt though, right?" he added as an after thought.

"There were two security guards on duty," I said. "I made sure they had an escape route before I started. They'll be fine. What'd those guys do to piss you off, anyway?" I asked.

"Freakin' corporate suits, man. They hired me for a couple of jobs. I thought, man, I'm finally making some real money for a real company. I'm going places. But they'd rather fuck the little guy than do the right thing," Alex said, turning more serious. "They got me to trust them. I showed them around the shop... some of my other projects. Next thing I know, they've stolen my ideas and are trying to bring them to market."

"Really? Well, you are a talented man, Alex," I said. "That's why I came to you." I'd met Alex through his older brother Lucas. He and I went through basic together. Later, when I was a cop, Lucas came to me because his little brother Alejandro was running with a gang. He'd gotten himself shot up pretty bad in a drive by. Luckily he'd survived and was smart enough to see it as a wake-up call. I put in a good word for him and the city dropped the charges they had on him for felony possession of a firearm. It'd been a good bet that turned out well. Alex started working in his dad's workshop, and eventually took over the business. Now he had four employees and business was growing.

"Turns out I'm not the first they screwed over. They spend more money on their legal department than on R&D for all of their divisions, can you believe that? They'd have tied me up in court and bankrupted me if I put up a straight fight. I've talked to others, and that's exactly what happened to them. It's not a one time thing, it's a freakin' business model."

"Glad I could help, then. This ought to set them back a few years. I made it look like something that went wrong in one of the labs. A "malfunction" in the fire suppression system let it spread throughout the building. Whatever work they stole from you is up in smoke, my friend." It wasn't my usual style, which is just as well. I wanted to keep a low profile, for now.

Alex smiled. "OK, let's get to why you're here. Come on in back and I'll show you the new suit."

I followed Alex's limping form back through a door, passing traditional machine shop tools like a metal lathe, drill press, and milling machine. Through another door and we passed a small area with computers showing 3D models of some of Alex's current projects. Two differently designed and very DIY looking 3D printers hummed away, while a CNC machine milled parts from a sheet of aluminum. Finally we entered a room at the back. Alex flipped on a light and I could see we were in a storage room with lots of shelves of parts and equipment. In one open corner stood the suit on a rack.

"Well, man," he said grinning ear to ear, "what do you think?"

"I think a military surplus shop threw up on the Batman costume," I said as I took in the heavy looking armored get up suspended on a rack.

"More like a cross between modern tactical gear and a medieval suit of armor," he said. "Actually I got a lot of ideas researching that old stuff. I thought you'd like the urban camo look."

"The camo pattern is fine. How much does that thing weigh?"

"Not as much as you'd think, esse, I promise," he smiled. "It's all modern composite materials. There's a framework of supports throughout that'll help spread the force of impacts across the structure. In between are carbon fiber-resin surfaces that are super tough."

I must have looked doubtful. "Look man, I based everything on the requirements you described: ability to absorb a lot of blunt force, tear proof surfaces, covers almost all of the body, lots of protection around the neck, and... why the hell did you want all that silver anyway?"

"I'd rather not get into that-"

"Whatever, man. Look, all the edges are rimmed with silver piping, brushed so it won't be too reflective. But the really cool bit is the resin. I used silver dust for the aggregate and woven silver fibers throughout. I don't understand why you wanted as much silver as I could manage. It doesn't add anything functional, but it doesn't take away anything either."

"That's brilliant, Alex!"

"That's what I'm sayin', man!" he beamed. "Even though it makes no sense to me. What are you going up against anyway, a freakin' grizzly bear?"

"That's a close enough estimate."

"Well, I wouldn't want to do it, but if I had to... I'd want to be wearing this. Come on and we'll get you suited up. You start with this padded Kevlar under-layer..."

Two hours later, I was beginning to get used to the added weight and the changes to mobility. Alex had made dozens of adjustments, fine tuning the suit to my body.

Alex tossed me a matching helmet that looked like it might have started life as either a police riot or motorcycle helmet. The visor was shatter-proof polycarbonate over the eyes with the lower section more armored carbon fiber matching the suit. When I put the helmet on it nested neatly in the high protective collar of the suit, leaving little or no openings to be exploited. I pulled on the gauntlets and lowered the visor and asked, "How do I look?"

"Fuckin' badass, man. You look like someone's nightmare in that thing."

"Exactly right," I grinned back.

Time to head home. I got what I needed.
Session: Season 1, Episode 10 - Sunday, Jul 20 2014 from 11:30 PM to 6:30 AM
Viewable by: Public
Epic × 2!
Stan's Weekend Getaway - Part Two
Read Part One First

I drove the van to another part of town and pulled up diagonally opposite to another familiar place. A townhouse I used to know pretty well.

Signs of neglect here were even worse than at Marie and Bill's. Garbage bags were piled just inside the front gate, and some junk that was once a motorcycle. I knew that bike. I'd helped the Captain work on it weekend after weekend all summer. He loved that thing, and now it sat in disarrayed pieces.

It was later now. Into the small hours when things get still and quiet. My time.

Getting inside was easy. I knew the place, but even had I not, the front porch light was out and the alarm unused. I made use of one of those lock pick guns Baxter introduced me to. Nice toy.

All quiet inside. My eyes adjusted and I saw the inside was worse than outside. Half folded laundry overflowed a basket on one side of the couch, with a dozen beer bottles on the small table next to it. Two, no three pizza boxes sitting on the coffee table. By the smell they had been there a while. No one downstairs. I crept up the stairs staying to the side where the supports near the wall would make the boards creak less.

I might not have bothered. Half way up the stairs I could hear heavy snoring coming from the master bedroom. I peeked into Jerry's room on the way down the hall. It looked like no one had been there for a while. You can tell, somehow.

Down to the room with the snoring. I pushed in and looked around. Even more of a mess here. Sleeping on one side of the disheveled bed was the Captain. No sign of Maggie. This certainly didn't look like how I remembered her keeping house, either.

"Wake up."

Surprisingly, the Captain woke quickly and went for his bedside holster. I'd already emptied it. I cleared my throat and waved the gun non-threateningly, I felt, in my gloved left hand. Then I placed it out of reach.

"Who's that? What do you want? Why are you-"

He slowed, recognition dawning. Dim light from the street light filtered in past the shade a little. "Stan, is that you?"

"It's about time we had a little talk. About the monsters."

"Oh, Stan. Stan, I'm so sorry. I really am, man. You deserve an explanation. You do. But I can't. I can't tell you about it. It's too dangerous for you, and definitely too dangerous for me."

"No," I said. "You're going to talk to me about it. You're going to tell me everything I want to know... and I want to know a lot."

The Captain had sat up in bed and pulled the covers around his waist and legs. Now he started to look a little panicked. "Did any one see you? Does anyone know you're here?"

"Not a soul."

"Look, no one can know you came to my house. They watch the place sometimes. I know they do. If they knew you were here..."

"You are going to tell me."

"I won't. I don't care about myself. You don't have anything to hold over me. Maggie took Jerry and left. The strain of the job was too much for us. I could have fought to stay together, but something told me they'd be better off far away from me. They left the state, but they could find them. It's gotten so bad. It's so much worse than it was when you were here last."

"You will talk to me."

He just started shaking his head and wouldn't stop. "No, no, no, no, no," he was in a full on panic now.

I unsnapped a pocket and pulled out the picture. I tossed it at his face and he reflexively snatched at it. It took a moment for him to focus on it and turn it so he could see.

Will and Annie. The picture was taken in the Captain's own back yard. Summer vacation and the kids home from school. His own son Jerry was in the background.

"Let's talk," I said. More kindly, I hope. I think I heard him sob. I could sense the change in his resolve. He'd open up.

"I already know a lot," I started. "There's a whole bunch of vampires in the city. And a network stretching out to other nests in other cities all over the country. I know."

He looked up at me now. Seeing me clearly for the first time. "You've changed some, Stan."

"I know. I know what's going on. I know they can corrupt the police and probably just about anyone else they want to. But I'm still going to stop them. I've been fighting the monsters, Captain. It's what I do now. I can make this stop. And you don't have to do anything really... just share a little information."

He looked at me like I was crazy. Well, I couldn't really blame him for that. But there was something else in that look. Was it a shadow of remembered hope? Slowly, he started talking. Sharing more and more. Finally talking nearly non-stop, the information I needed pouring out of him.

Locations. Numbers. Habits. Confirmation that they owned the police and other civil authorities wholly now. He talked for a couple of hours, until there was nothing more to say.

"You should get out of this city," I said. "Just leave one day very soon and don't look back until it's safe. You'll know when. You'll hear about it."

I'm not sure he believed me, but there was really nothing more I could do for him. Poor lost soul. He used to be my Captain. I backed out quietly when he leaned his head on the bed post and closed his eyes. I doubt he noticed when I left.

A useful stop. Just a couple more little errands to do before heading home.

Session: Season 1, Episode 10 - Sunday, Jul 20 2014 from 11:30 PM to 6:30 AM
Viewable by: Public
Stan's Weekend Getaway - Part One
While everyone was recuperating, I decided to take care of a little business back home in Baltimore... and maybe do a bit of scouting.

First stop, Marie's house. I figured I'd see how she and Bill were getting along since... well, since the incident. Not so good, it seems. The house didn't look the same. Even in the dimming evening light, I could see the lawn was untamed, and Marie's normally well-kept garden had gone to seed.

I wasn't going in. Hadn't been in contact since I went off on my own. I knew too much they didn't know. I couldn't face them. Too many questions with answers they wouldn't accept and didn't deserve to suffer through.

I just sat in the van parked down the street, not directly across. I'd redone the paint again. Hertz rental this time. I sat and watched the quiet house and looked for signs of life. As the last light faded, the kitchen light turned on. I saw Bill's form moving around, getting dinner ready. Pouring himself a drink... and another... and another. He didn't used to drink hardly at all. Maybe one or two beers at a weekend BBQ. Not a good sign.

I might have dozed a bit. Still pretty banged up from the fire fight. Aches and pains bringing back memories of what caused them. My attention came back to the house as a car pulled up. Same car, just a bit older. It parked in the driveway and out stepped Marie. Same Marie, just a bit older.

The lights on the driveway had turned on when the motion sensor caught the heat of the car moving through its field of view. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I automatically cataloged the detection range and angles. Filed away like I was on a stake out or surveilling a target.

The light caught Marie's face and I caught my breath. She'd aged. Even from here I could see grey hair and lines that didn't used to be there. Her face unguarded in what she thought was a private moment, I saw resignation and emptiness. She seemed to steel herself before walking inside.

I sat and watched them a while. They ate. They talked a bit. Something was missing. I know what was missing. So did they. And nothing was going to bring it back. I'd seen enough. Time for my next stop.
Session: Season 1, Episode 10 - Sunday, Jul 20 2014 from 11:30 PM to 6:30 AM
Viewable by: Public
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