Jack steered the oyster sloop away from the South Brooklyn wharves where ice had begun to form, bearing to the Narrows strait that flowed between Brooklyn and Staten Island. In an effort to masquerade as river pirates, and because Jack liked fine clothes, the three of us were dressed as dandies, though we were all about killing that frigid January night. On top of nets and coils of rope in the sloop’s cabin, we had loaded an assortment of bowie knives, bludgeons, pistols, a mace, and two staves, of which Jack had said one would be mine for the marking of the demon.
I had one knee on the cabin’s roof to brace against the gentle sway of the boat. My hands were shoved in the pockets of a new Brooks Brothers overcoat that Jack had spent 18 dollars on, but I was shivering, partly because I needed the drink. But it was cold. I felt like a wedge of ice, packed in ice. I also wore a new Brooks Brothers suit and white shirt with a high collar that cut into my neck. I hadn’t been so clean and scrubbed since I was a child. But at twenty-five-years of age, I was characterized by a dark, sullen nature. There was no way a bath and shave could change that.
We sailed past warehouses and factories set along the Brooklyn shore, then smaller offices, pubs, and counting houses and then rows of detached homes that rose up a hilly landscape. The only boats in the bay that January night were moored. There sounded the creak of the rigging and the sometimes flutter of the sails. I didn’t see a soul and my gaze went to the curl of chimney smoke, back to the small waves, and then to the moon and stars. When I could take it no more, I slipped down into the dark cabin that smelled of fish and went for the gin.
Jack kicked open the cabin door from the deck. “Best to forget about the drink for now,” he said, as he reached down with his foot to hold open the door.
“O, come on now, Jack! Tis’ cold.”
“If you can’t say no to the drink, you won’t survive long with us.”
“Tis’ cold!” I cried again, and leaned back on my knees, caressing the bottle of gin between my thighs. The door knocked shut. Without taking a drink, I wrapped the bottle up in rags, placed it between layers of netting, then went back on deck.
At the helm, Jack gazed off into the heavens. The gorilla eyed me from the starboard side of the cabin. I didn’t have to look at him to know he was smiling. He had white teeth and smiled often. The day before at the bar I had learned his name was Gabriel Burgh. Soon after, I had lifted my drink and said I thought “the gorilla” was a fine nickname for him. “I have many nicknames,” he replied with a wink and a smile, “and have killed a man who called me one I didn’t like.”
The three of us searched the head waters. Lights were visible all the way out on the Staten Island shores. The gorilla leaned closer to Jack and cried, “Too soon to say we’ll have business tonight, but I think they’re very close.” He pointed with an unlit pipe in his hand, out to the Narrows entrance to NY Bay. From there all sea faring traffic first set their eyes on the island of Manhattan and its magnificent waterways.
“What do you see?” I asked.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” the gorilla said.
I gave a blank stare, before I turned to Jack. “Before he died,” I said, speaking about the man whose place I had taken, “I heard Tom Bickers say what you do isn’t worth all the money in the world.”
“I will tell you about Tom Bickers,” the gorilla said in shrill voice, eyes flickering with a maniacal twinkle. “He was afraid of his own shadow!”
“We’re searching for a ship,” Jack said calmly. “We believe it will enter the harbor this very night. On it is a blood-sucking demon, a vampire. We’ll follow the ship to port. Kill as many on board as we can, and mark the demon.”
“Why mark the demons and not just kill them?” I asked.
“They don’t die easily, so we brand the demons in order to identify them in the day as well as the night. Though after a long voyage, unable to satiate their blood lust, most are easier to combat. They can’t switch shapes and forms as easily. But we take no chances. It’s best just to mark them, then the others can track and kill them in time.”
“The others,” I said to myself, thinking there was so much I didn’t know. But there was something more pressing I needed to know. “What do you see in me?”
“As we like to say, ‘you have a bit of the demon blood in you,’” Jack said, and looked at the gorilla who frowned. “You have just enough to let you see into their world. It will help you to become one of us. You also have a good size.”
I was a big man, but Jack and the gorilla were both massive, each close to six feet five inches tall. Jack was wiry, while the gorilla had a notably bigger frame. He was mad in the head, too. And as made evident by our first proper meeting, the gorilla clearly loved to kill.
“How do you know a demon is coming?” I asked.
“If you truly have the sight, you can see the thin trail of blood smoke,” the gorilla said in a musky voice and pointed high into the sky. “At night, you can see it from Manhattan.”
I scrunched my eyes and picked up a thin red vapor. It was in the sky, just east of the Narrows.
“We think this one coming in, which looks more and more like it will be tonight, might be a 500-year-old Irish vampire. We know this through our contact in Rotterdam. He has gotten word from a watcher in southern Ireland, that nearly two months ago a ship bound for NY was loaded with boxes of turf, soil, and boxes that could hold coffins.”
“Why come to NY?” I wondered.
“It has become too dangerous where they live,” Jack said. “They’ve murdered and possessed far too many, and have been found out. America, offers new promise, more places to hide. And what better place than New York. If the vampire gets by us unmarked, there’s a vast wilderness in and around this city to seek shelter, while there is a large population to prey upon.”
“It’ll be tonight,” the gorilla said, focused on the Narrows.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Thirty-Eight