S e p t e m b e r   2 0 0 1

Guest Writer

Part Eight: Let's eat in tonight ...
by Jess Gulbranson

Mel lost his motel in a poker game in Part 1; he met a man who claimed to be an alien in Part 2; in Part 3, he found himself in alien surroundings; in Part 4, Mel befriended some strange beings looking for barroom trouble; Part 5 seemingly found Mel back on earth, face to face with a green-sweatshirted man who otherwise looked exactly like Mel; in Part 6, Mel discovered the parallel world of Stumptown; and in Part 7, he happened upon Frank Burley, just the man he needed to find ...

Part Eight: Let's eat in tonight
"Welcome to my humble joint," said Frank Burley, as he ushered Mel up the stairs. They reached the top and a steel fire door opened into an expansive loft.

Mel was struck by the sheer amount of crap. Shelves lined the walls of the large oblong space, and piles of miscellaneous items leaned up against them, climbing to the ceiling. "Alright, I'm a packrat," said Frank, "but in my line of work you keep everything."

"Just out of curiosity, what is it, exactly, that you do?" Mel took a proffered chair and sat.

Frank snorted. "Now I know you're not Smith. Our mutual acquaintance is well aware of what I do for a living." Frank walked over to a stereo, well-concealed by a mound of books, and pressed a button. Raucous music belched out at extreme volume before Burley turned it down to a conversational level.

"White Sabbath, huh? Anyways, I'm a supernatural investigator. I deal in the out-of-the-ordinary. Haunted houses, UFOs, psychic powers, sorcery, monsters, dungeons, dragons … you name it."

"What about vampires?"

"Hmm … funny you should mention that. Most S.I.s love to hunt vampires. It's glamorous … high profile, more bang for the buck. I don't hunt vamps. I prefer to negotiate."

Mel thought suddenly about the sign outside: Frank drinking beer with Dracula.

"Just wondering. You seem like you can help me, Frank. The situation I'm in right now, I'd definitely call out of the ordinary."

"Mel, you'll have to explain more in a minute, but I think I'm getting the drift."

Frank found a chair for himself and cracked open the hard cider. He pulled two thick tumblers off a table, and, finding them reasonably clean, filled one and passed it to Mel.

"You got pulled out of your happy little world and dumped into this one. Now, to get home, some old biblical bastard says you have to find your evil twin, with help from an occult dick … stop me if I'm wrong ... Have you heard of the 'many worlds' theory?"

Mel shook his head.

"It's the belief that a whole universe exists for every separate possibility. Ever. So, there's a world where I didn't brush my teeth this morning, one where I did brush my teeth this morning, one where I brushed my teeth with a dog turd because the kings of England have told us to since we lost the Revolutionary War … you see where I'm going with this? Well, it's true. I studied with a shaman in South America and ate some of his crazy mushrooms, with him guiding me. Gave me a real Whitman's Sampler of alternate universes. So I believe it. That's why it isn't so shocking to see the No. 1 pain in my ass beg me for help and act like he doesn't know me."

"I suppose you'd like to hear my story now."

"That would help."

Mel told his story in attentive detail, from gambling away his motel up to the convenience-store robbery. Frank nodded throughout, occasionally looking as if he was spacing out, and scrawled a cryptic note now and then.

At last Mel was done. Frank rose, scratching his head.

"What do you think? Can you help me get what I need from that green-shirted loon?"

"Problem is, we don't know what you need, exactly. My guess is, Doubting Tom wanted me in to make him tell you."

Frank grimaced.

"Your double is not a nice man. Now, I'm no angel … but the bad things I do are usually for a good reason. Smith is just plain evil. He runs this city like a puppet show, and to no end that anyone can figure out. A lot of people have tried to take him down, and they've all died. Horribly. From the clues I've gathered, Mr. Smith isn't quite human … something a little more and a little less. And now he's gunning for you, and probably me, too, if that perv executive kid has gotten back to him."

"I doubt I can get in to talk to him as easy anymore," said Mel. "Smith seems pretty paranoid."

"Well," said Frank, "we're definitely in need of some prep time. I'll call some people, get some gear together … you say Smith has that zapper? Do you think he knows how to use it?"

"Just point and shoot," Mel said, pointing his finger at Frank. "Zap! But for some reason I don't think he'll use it. He let it drop in the corner, and looked at it like it was a bear trap or a bag of dirty needles or something. Weird."

"That zapper is a wild card in this game. One of several. You know what I think, Mel? Seems like the worst things have happened to you at the exact worst times. Smells like you got set up, my friend."

Mel thought of the alien escorts, Dimpe, the Gray Hand, and his interrupted journey with the dogmen.

"Frank … why won't you hunt vampires?"

"I knew you'd ask that. Don't miss much, do you?"

For once, Burley looked almost sad. "When I was a young buck, I was in Prague doing some research on a local phantom. In a catacomb beneath the university, I found a stone coffin. When I opened it, guess who I found?"

"Dracula!" Mel joked.

"On the nose. Vlad the Impaler, lord of vampires. Not fictional at all. He was taking a little nap, so after a minute of pro-and-conning the situation, I snapped my pick handle over my knee and gave it to him good with the splintery end, but apparently not good enough.

"He wasn't real happy about that. Beat me to a damn bloody pulp, then nursed me back to health with some spooky old Slavic magic potions. Then he made me promise to do two things. One was to warn other hunters not to bother him. No one believed me. The second was to never hunt another vampire. He said if I did, anywhere in the world, he would come for me. Once I took an oath, he was very polite and graciously took me out for a beer before somehow having me deported. So, the moral of the story is: I prefer to negotiate."

"Beer with Dracula … speaking of which, we need refreshments. Shall I head downtown and pick up some dinner for us?"

"Mel, I know you're not that stupid. You'd get a cap peeled in your ass if you went downtown."

Frank rooted in his junk for a minute and removed two hefty old six-shooters. He offered one to Mel.

"You want some for … um ... home protection while I'm gone? I'll just pick up some Chinese down the street."

"I don't like guns, but thanks."

"Suit yourself. Colt Dragoon, 1867. No better gun has ever been made – like using an artillery piece in each hand. I carry them out in the open so I don't have to have a concealed weapons permit."

Mel snickered. "Makes sense."

"I'll be back soon. Feel free to read a book or something."

Mel grabbed one off a pile next to him. It was an ancient leather-bound book, entitled "Necronomicon." He cracked it and had just a peek at a page full of strange symbols when Frank snatched it from him and pitched it into a far corner.

"Not that one. It's not exactly … light reading. Try some Tom Clancy. Back soon."

Mel started "The Hunt for Blue October" as Frank headed downstairs. He had barely read a page when gunshots went off. They were huge reports, like artillery. Twelve of them. Mel listened, and after a moment, heard footsteps on the stairs.

When the door opened it was Frank. He had a misting of blood on his face and chest, and the reek of black powder cartridges followed him in. Slamming the door, Frank dropped the guns onto a cluttered roll-top desk and plopped back into his chair.

"Tell you what," he said. "I think I have some tater tots in the freezer. Let's eat in tonight."

Find out more about Mel in our archives.

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