R. J. Robyn and I have returned to writing Bloodleggers. As originally planned, we will release the popular vampire serial in episodes once a month here and on the Friday Frights website as a part of Serial Sunday.
What’s It About
When FBI Agent William Knox is sent to Denver to investigate a rash of missing persons, he meets indentured vampire, Regina Todd, and together they must unravel a dark maze of crime syndicates, secret blood running, and humans turning on their own kind.
“I don’t want to die. Especially I don’t want to die in the street, punctured by machine gun fire. That’s the reason I’ve asked for peace. I’ve begged those fellows to put away their pistols and talk sense. They’ve all got families, too. I know I’ve tried since the first pistol was drawn in this fight to show them that there’s enough business for all of us without killing each other like animals in the street. Competition needn’t be a matter of murder, anyway. But they don’t see it.”
– Alphonsus “Al” Capone
November 18, 1924, 23rd Street and South Prarie Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Emanuel “Manny” Brancato threw his bleeding back against the cold surface of the door. Blood trickled down his skin from the gash that crossed his back. His right hand wavered as he stabbed the Colt 1917 revolver at the shadows in the alley around him, while at the same time, he pounded his fist against the door behind him, wondering where Dan “Meat” Giancomo, the idiot bouncer, had gone to.
All around him, the slow sizzle of rain fell through the shadowy alley, pushing down the rising mists of the late autumn night. Manny’s head swiveled furiously, searching the night. “Come on you son of a bitch,” he shouted into the alley. “I’m one of Johnny Torrio’s men, and you’re in it deep for this. Get your ass out where I can see you.”
Only the sound of the moths flittering around the single bare light bulb on the wall behind him answered his call.
A low moan crossed Manny’s lips as the fiery pain laced through his back. The cut felt deep and wide, and heat penetrated through to his spine, replacing the chill he’d felt for five hours on guard duty outside the speakeasy.
“Goddamit Meat, where are you?” he muttered as he continued a slow steady pounding on the wood door with the heel of his hand.
As he scanned the shadows for movement, Manny puzzled over the identity of his attacker. He had no real enemies. He was just a small cog in Torrio’s Chicago Outfit–the gang that controlled all the bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution in the South Side of Chicago. He wondered if his recent promotion to “Made Man” had angered someone higher up in the organization.
Manny and Frankie had come to the gin joint to relax this evening. But Capone had been moving out all the muscle just as they’d arrived, and Torrio was worried about raids with the new Chicago Mayor cracking down on the rum runners. Frankie and Manny had pulled cards for guard duty, and Manny had drawn a three to Frankie’s queen. Manny thought he’d been through with guard duty when he’d made his bones, but he’d been wrong.
Manny ceased hammering the door. “Look,” he shouted into the darkness, “if you’re one of Capone’s guys, I ain’t gunnin’ for nothing or nobody. Capone’s the one who gave us the orders to do the hit.” He listened carefully, straining for the slightest sound: the scuff of a shoe, or the click of a cocked gun hammer. Nothing made a sound but the soft murmur of the rain on pavement.
“If you’re one of O’Banion’s guys, it was nothing personal. That bastard Garlioni was rocking the boat, and Dion told him he was going to get rubbed if he didn’t knock it off.”
Still, the only sounds around him came from the rain, now pouring down harder.
Manny recommenced banging on the door, this time with the heel of his shoe. The shudder of the door reverberated against the open wound on his back and he winced from the pain. But no one answered his plea through the grill on the speakeasy’s door.
Manny flashed back to the night he and Frankie put the hit down on Johnny Garliano. Capone, Torrio, and O’Banion had been off in Cicero celebrating their take over of the city. Capone had provided the threats, Torrio the money, and O’Banion the muscle. Now it looked like the truce between the Irish Gang of O’Banion and Torrio’s South Side Gang would be controlling the city through the puppet mayor they’d put into place.
Garlioni had been one of O’Banion’s right hand men until Capone announced that he wanted to take Cicero. Garlioni had gone nuts, pushing for O’Banion to break off the truce between the gangs. A truce that was all that stood between Chicago and all out gang warfare. Just before he’d stormed out of the meeting, Garlioni spat in Capone’s face. “I’ll never let Cicero go down to some scar-faced sumbitch like you!”
So Capone had put the hit on Garlioni, and he had tapped Manny and Frankie to do it. They’d arranged a dinner meeting with Garlioni, who Manny thought of as a greasy, black-haired bastard in a five hundred dollar suit. Manny had put so much Mickey Finn in his drink it should have dropped five men. But that pale-skinned Sicilian thug just got a little drowsy. When they’d walked him out of the club and into the deserted streets, it’d taken both of them beating Garlioni with a tire iron to get the lanky Sicilian to quit fighting. When they were done, his whole head was a bloody pulp. They’d grabbed some carpet scraps and some logging chain and dumped him off the pier at Belmont Harbor. All of it inside the “Gold Coast” that Dion O’Banion thought he controlled.
The pain in Manny’s back was throbbing worse now, sending waves of pain down his arms that made his gun hand wobble. “Okay, asshole, where are you,” he shouted, then waited for an answer. “I know you’re there. Come out and fight like a man.”
Through the darkness and rain came a guttural sound that repeated and sent chills down Manny’s spine. He strained his ears, trying to pick up a source, but his hearing failed against the echoes in the alley.
It was the sound of someone laughing. Low and nearly inhuman, it tapered away. Then a voice came instead, quiet, and sibilant. “Why should I fight like a man when I am not a man?”
Manny swallowed in terror and ground his back against the door, exacerbating the burn in his wound. He hissed in pain. There was something familiar in the voice. He looked to both sides, trying to pick a silhouette out of the shadows. Whoever it was, he wasn’t in the circle of light from the bulb, and that gave him a chance.
He turned towards the door, leveling his pistol where he knew the bolt was on the other side. If he could just blast the door open, he could get help. Before he could squeeze the trigger, his legs spun to the side like they’d been hit by a truck. As he landed hard on his left side, he managed to hold onto the pistol, even though it bounced off the cobbles. Manny tried to stand, but lightning pain arced up through his legs, causing a deep moan to burst from his throat. While he caught his breath, his senses honed in on the slash that had hamstrung both of his legs and formed the bloody pool beneath him.
Still unable to stand, he used his hands to drag himself to the wall, gritting his teeth through the red haze of pain. Finally, he settled into a sitting position, his right half against the cold bricks of the wall, left half against the rough wood of the door. The air burned in his lungs and he coughed.
Manny thought about his wife and their new baby girl back home. A house instead of his run-down old apartment because of the blood money Capone had paid him for the hit on Garliano. He thought of his wife’s face and the pain it would bring her if he didn’t come home.
Drowsiness settled in on Manny and he shook his head to clear the cobwebs but froze abruptly when he saw a shadow jump out of the corner of his eye.
He fired his Colt at the movement, only to shatter the corner off an empty wooden crate. “Goddamn moths,” he growled as he realized their fluttering against the light bulb had cast the threatening shadow.
“They chase the light,” said the whisper from the night, “but I prefer the darkness.” With a pop of imploding air, the light bulb above him shattered, plunging him into a coal-black abyss.
Bile rose in Manny’s throat as he started a panicked drumbeat on the door. Fighting the darkness, his eyes tried to adjust to the misty twilight of the alley as he flashed the gun wildly around him. Where’s that damn bouncer?
Manny tried to catch his ragged breath, coming now in rasping gasps as the numbness crept up his legs to his waist. His eyes were failing him, but his ears picked up the tiny creek of wood and the rub of leather on fabric from above. Then he grinned when the back of his gun hand prickled from minute specs of dust that dropped from the awning.
While pointing the Colt skywards, he squeezed down on the trigger again and again. The repeated roar of his five remaining shots slammed through flimsy cloth, assuring him there was no way he could miss his attacker.
Still, he was taking no chances. Manny yanked the speed loader from his pocket, sweeping it across his body toward the empty revolver, but it caught on his coat, sending it tumbling to his right. As the brass clinked onto the pavement, he heard the heavy thump of something hitting the ground to his left.
Manny flung himself towards the speed loader, ignoring the protests of his back and legs. His left hand closed around it and he wedged it towards the back of the revolver. Just as the cylinder snapped back into the revolver, he wrenched himself back over and forced himself to sit up so he could level the gun.
He saw only a blur of motion as a grip of steel smashed his right hand to the ground. The revolver skittered and spun away into the darkness as rivers of pain rip across his chest. An unstoppable force slammed his left shoulder into the ground, and the back of his head hit the cobbles with a blow that left his ears ringing and his vision swimming.
The whispering voice was in his ear now. He could feel the hot breath on his neck, and the weight of his attacker pressing him into the cobbles. “We Sicilians believe in blood feuds, Brancato, and I take my blood feuds to heart.” Manny realized that he knew the voice, and his blood went cold.
“Garlioni,” he breathed.
There was the sound of crunching cartilage as Garlioni leaned into the side of Manny’s neck, and the slow gurgle of a last choking and pained breath. Then the body of Manny Brancato relaxed down onto the cobbles, his skin pale, and lips blue. A small streamer of blood trickled down his neck from two small wounds, but his heart had already stopped pumping, and the splashing rainwater slowly washed it away.
* * *
Johnny Garlioni stood up over the body of Manny. He was tall and thin, with skin so pale it nearly glowed in the feeble light filtering into the alley. His dark black hair was oiled and slicked back like it was cast in concrete. A harsh face beneath razor thin black eyebrows smiled grimly. As his hands straightened the lapels of his suit and pulled the wool trench coat around himself, his fingers searching the fabric for the five bullet holes that he knew would be there. A flicker of annoyance shaded his face as he found each one.
The small metal window behind the door grill slid to the side, and the thick brows of Dan “Meat” Giancomo looked through. “Hey, Manny, I was just off talking to Frankie. He says he’ll be out to relieve you when he’s damn ready.” There was a brief pause before Dan’s deep voice came again, sounding puzzled. “Hey, why’s it so dark?”
Garlioni’s hand punched through the window, tearing through the metal grill like tinfoil and wrapped around the thick neck of the bouncer. Giancomo’s eyes bulged as the grip tightened on his throat. He began to kick and push against the inside of the door, in a futile effort to free himself.
Garlioni’s dark eyes looked at Giancomo through the window. To Dan, the dark pupils seemed to be backed by a fire-red glow. “Ah, Meat… What an appropriate name for an aperitif between courses. So, Frankie is here too. That will save me some time.”
The bouncer’s meaty hands pried at fingers gripping his throat with no effect. He managed to choke out, “Garlioni, you’re O’Banion’s man. This is a Torrio joint. You can’t drink here.”
The red eyes flashed in anger, and the sharp crack of a neck being snapped penetrated even the thick wooden door. “No one is ever going to tell me I can’t have a drink when I want it.”
Garlioni loosened his grip and the sound of Giancomo’s heavy body hitting the back of the door rattled the frame. He gripped the cast iron handle and the squeal of straining metal cut through the night as the bolt on the inside of the door was sheared off. Garlioni stepped over the body of the bouncer and then there was a rattling thump as the door was pulled closed again. For a few moments, panicked screams filtered through the ripped open grill of the door. Then silence filled the alley, except for the falling rain which sizzled off the pavement and dripped down the cold, staring eyes of Emanuel Brancato.