Detroit, Michigan-Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Eli glanced at the wall clock in the rear of the lecture hall. He’d finished fifteen minutes early. "We’re done for this evening. Next week there will be a short quiz at the start of the period on tonight’s material. Any questions?" Several students groaned, but no hands went up. "Please read chapter thirteen for next time."
While he packed up his notes, one of the female students approached him. "Professor Howard, I just wanted to tell you how much I’m enjoying this class. Your perspective makes it sound like you were there and experienced it."
Every semester that he taught Black History 1865-to-present, he could count on at least one student making that remark. He always replied with, "I was born in 1838 in Jackson, Mississippi. I was there." The student’s eyes would invariably widen and a smile usually-but not always-would follow from the assumption it was a joke.
"I appreciate the compliment, Miss Michaels." Eli shut his attaché case. Out of curiosity, he tapped into her thoughts.
She wasn’t sure which surprised her more: the remark itself, or her history professor pulling a presumed joke out of thin air.
"And I will see you next week." He donned his leather coat and left, with her gaping after him.
Outside, the Wayne State University campus streets glistened from the brief thunderstorm of an hour before. The storm had left muggy air and deserted campus streets in its wake.
Ahead of him, a young woman exited a classroom building carrying a folded denim jacket on top of the books under her arm as she walked toward the parking lot. His light-sensitive eyes easily discerned her attractive facial features and flawless skin. He also spotted the two individuals lurking in the shadows nearby. He stopped next to a tree and set his attaché on the ground. The Blue Light Phone at the far end of the lot wasn’t close enough for quick access by either of them.
Three cars remained in the parking lot. The woman pulled a set of keys from her jeans pocket and pointed her keyholder. The door locks on the red Saturn thunked. Maybe she’d reach her car in time and he wouldn’t have to intervene.
The two men sprinted toward her. She jerked her head up at the wet squeak of sneakers on the asphalt and quickened her pace. The more muscular of the two, a clean-shaven White in his late twenties or early thirties, darted out of the shadows. The woman lunged for her car and slipped on some wet leaves. She caught her balance, but her books, jacket, and keys fell and scattered on the asphalt. The man pressed himself against her back, squeezing her between him and the car. She screamed.
Eli fought to control his emotions. He projected a thought at the man. No effect. The distance was too great even for him.
The man clamped his hand over her mouth. "Shut the fuck up, bitch!"
She struggled and attempted an aikido maneuver Eli recognized, but she wasn’t experienced at it. The man turned her around and wrestled her to the ground, ripping her blouse in the process. She screamed again.
The man slapped her, then pinned her arms and straddled her. "Don’t piss me off, bitch. Ain’t no one around to hear you."
The second man, slender and a few years older, exited from the shadows. "Hurry up, Donny. I want some, too."
"Get your lazy ass over here and gag her!" He leered at the woman. "Quit fightin’ and you might enjoy it."
Emotions too long suppressed rose inside Eli. Several long strides brought him behind the two men. Now he was close enough. His telepathic stun temporarily disabled the second man. Almost simultaneously, Eli dug his fingers into the back of the other man’s neck and yanked him off the woman.
"What the fuck!"
He spun the man around and stared hard at him.
"Who the fuck are you?"
The man jerked back; Eli’s strong fingers wrapped around his neck and found the pressure points. Deep inside him, a door unlocked. Behind it lay memories of a different world, a different time, and a different Eli Howard, one well acquainted with anger and violence. The worst of those memories pushed the door ajar.
The man choked; his face turned red. The smell of his fear mingled with the humid, fall-scented air. With his feet nearly dangling, the man’s eyes began to close.
Eli abruptly dropped him. He stepped around the woman to where the second man was reviving and pulled him up by the jacket. Forming his left thumb and forefinger into a V, he pressed them under the man’s throat, lifting him, while gagging him. He drove his free fist into the man’s nose.
The man gurgled. "Fu-" escaped his lips a moment before the telepathic blast put him to sleep.
Eli stood there, facing away from the woman while he reined in his emotions. He couldn’t change what she had seen, but in her hysterical state of mind she might believe some of it imagined or exaggerated. He turned to her.
"Are you all right?" he asked in a tone he forced to be calm and soothing.
She scrabbled away and pushed her back against the side of her car.
"I am not going to hurt you. I’m Professor Howard, and I teach night courses here." He proffered his hand.
With short, rapid breaths, she pressed her hands onto the pavement. An imposing, six-foot-three Black man-he hadn’t gotten used to being "African-American"-dressed in black and with a shaved head would not instill confidence under the best of circumstances.
He stepped back and took out his cell phone. "I’ll call the University Police."
She shivered against the car while he reported the incident. Distrust filled her eyes.
"They’re on the way. I’ll wait with you until they arrive."
"Th-thank you." Her sobs had lessened.
He proffered his hand again. Trembling, she reached to accept it. He effortlessly pulled her to her feet, then retrieved the items she’d dropped and handed her the jacket. "Put this on."
She turned away while she did, as if she’d just realized her state of undress.
He pointed at the two unconscious men. "They won’t bother you further. If you wish to file a report, I’ll be your witness."
She shook her head. On the streets of Detroit, unless the attempted rape could be proved, little or nothing would be done. On campus, she stood a better chance of justice. The University Police, while commissioned police officers, were a different breed. Still, she would have to file a report and relive the nightmare.
In the distance he heard running footsteps. Moments later, two male officers arrived. "What happened?" one asked.
"I’m Professor Howard," he said. "I was on my way home when I saw those two men," he pointed, "running at this woman." He had already fixed the rapists’ faces in his mind. "I tripped one. He landed on his face; I think he broke his nose. The other one had grabbed her and torn her blouse. I pulled him off by the throat, overzealously perhaps."
The officer nodded and proceeded to cuff the two men.
"Are you all right, Miss?" the other one asked.
Her breathing had become less labored, but the tears were starting. "If h-he hadn’t been here…"
"Do you need me for anything else?" Eli asked the officers.
"Not right now, sir. We’d like a statement, but you can do that tomorrow. Is there a number where we can contact you?"
After giving them his home and office numbers, he walked out of the parking lot and turned right onto Second Street. When the weather accommodated him, he preferred walking to driving. Reaching Woodward, he headed north. Years of practice with his telepathic powers had enabled him to make people not notice him on these streets. Tonight, he didn’t care. Let them see him.
Crime had existed in Detroit for decades, but never this bad. For over eighty years, Detroit had been his home. He remembered when young women could walk these streets without being assaulted. Detroit used to be a proud and safe city, where white people weren’t afraid to go Downtown.
Three blocks later, a hustling drug dealer shoved a small packet at him. "I’ll make you a deal, special price tonight."
Eli stared at him. A simple telepathic command made the dealer drop the packet and run. If only it were that easy to rid Detroit of all the drug dealers. He picked up the heroin and put it in his pocket to dispose of later so some kid wouldn’t get his hands on it.
A woman stepped into his path. "Fifty to make ya happy? Hundred for the night."
Young, still attractive. For how long? "No, thank you."
When she reached out to rub his groin, he stopped her. "It’s half price. Big, han’some men don’ come by here much."
He peered into her mind. She had a kid. Handing her a hundred-dollar bill, he said, "Buy something nice for your son."
Detroit was rich in Black history. Once comfortable with his vampire side, he’d come here to explore his racial heritage. He chose a random cross street and walked east. From one of the rundown houses raised voices pierced the night air: shouting; cursing; blaming.
At Oakland he turned north again and several blocks later entered the Boston-Edison district. He stopped in front of an old house, once a prominent dwelling in this neighborhood. Now it was forgettable. A cracked sidewalk led up to his porch and the dark living room beyond it. Adrian must be out clubbing instead of enjoying the new big-screen TV he’d convinced Eli to buy.
"You have to keep up with the latest technology," Adrian had said.
Just as well Adrian wasn’t here. The twenty-two-year-old didn’t always take things as seriously as he should and frequently resisted advice and guidance. On the other hand, the suggestion that Adrian take money from his trust account to purchase the TV had resulted in, "I thought the trust fund was for my retirement. You’ve got more money than you could ever spend anyway."
Smiling at that thought, Eli resumed walking. After tonight’s events, several things inside him had to be reconciled.
Detroit-Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Eli came up beside Ling Lu on the Detroit RiverWalk, looking out across the black, nighttime water. With the moon and a few distant streetlights the only illumination, his night sight easily discerned the details of her Asian beauty and the warmth of her brown eyes. Her modern suit had classic Oriental red and black colors. She didn’t wear this one often. In it her slender body appeared delicate. Ling was anything but.
He gave her a light kiss on the right cheek. "Thank you for meeting me here."
"Your call worried me." She turned her head at him. "You look like hell."
He shut his eyes. All last night, he’d walked, finally returning home to sit in his library, reading, meditating, finding ways to distract himself so he could relax and get some sleep.
"I’m tired of it," he said. His soft voice barely rose above the faint rippling of the water. "I’m tired of all the pain here." He rubbed his hands down the sides of his face and braced his palms against the metal railing.
"But it can’t touch us," she said.
He didn’t believe that. "In 1920 when I arrived, Detroit was so different. Today, kids can’t play safely on the streets, they respect nothing, and everyone sells drugs."
From the corner of his eye, he saw her shake her head. "You’re living in the past, Eli. These are human problems, not ours; they’ll pass us by."
All vampires received that same indoctrination. He couldn’t fault her for echoing it. "If humans die out, so do we," he said. "We’re still mortal; we still depend on them."
"They’ve been around longer than we have, they outnumber us, and they haven’t died out yet."
"It’s not like our kind haven’t tried more than once to encourage it," he said. "I know you care about them."
She studied him. "Since I’m twenty years older, take some advice from your elder and don’t get involved."
He thought of her as a sister, never as an older sister. "My mother would probably have said the same thing. She died three years before I was changed, a blessing in a way. She wouldn’t have understood what I became."
"You’re already doing enough," she said. "You teach young people how to avoid the sins of their predecessors."
"That’s too slow a process to affect the present." In some ways he was proud of the dual aspects of his life. As a teacher, he helped others understand man’s conflict and struggles. Would the day ever come when he’d be teaching about vampires?
"Why do you want to help humans now?" she asked. "What has changed your attitude?"
He clenched his jaw as he stared out across the water. "Last night, on the campus, I nearly killed two humans who tried to rape a woman. I…lost control."
He heard her breathing speed up slightly. "I’m not surprised. You declared yourself a pacifist and have ignored what’s going on among our kind for the past half-century. You’ve had no stress. Your hot-blooded emotions haven’t been an issue."
She knew most of his past, but he knew little of hers before she came to the U.S. "I’m a pacifist for good reason." His hands gripped the railing.
"I don’t doubt you believe that." She put her arm through his. "When we first met, sixty years ago, you still had a feisty spirit. Despite the best intentions, no man or vampire-not even Eli Howard, not even over the course of a century-can force himself to change so drastically." She had so much wisdom. Her voice became stronger. "One vampire against all the evil of humankind is too large a task for even the great Eli Howard. Even if you-we-can prevent a few crimes, even if we do make a small difference, humans will undo it soon enough."
"Does that mean you’ll help?" he asked.
"I didn’t say that. I do agree that crime here is a little out of control."
"What can only two vampires do to stop it?" She put her head against his shoulder.
"Between us, we’ve got over three hundred years of experience with humans," he said. "We can make the city better. Others of our kind will observe and follow our example to make their cities better. It’s not like we have anything else to do."
"Do you honestly believe those interested in keeping crime and their drug trade alive will let you terminate their activities? Where whole governments have failed, you expect to succeed?"
"I thought you, out of all of us, would understand," he said.
"I do, Eli, but the odds are not in our favor. If one sleepless night has you this haggard, I don’t want to see you when you fail in this endeavor."
"I’m that bad?"
"Tonight you are not a handsome man." She bent his head down toward the water. "The ripples are doing you a favor. Maybe talking to Dietrich and the Council could help. They’re meeting here at the end of this month."
He already knew what the answer would be. Dietrich was his mentor, and the Council’s adviser, but he wouldn’t help in this. Beyond keeping the two species from fighting one another, Dietrich didn’t care what humans did to or among themselves. As for the Council, they’d follow Dietrich.
Years ago, Dietrich and he had disagreed over how and how much vampires should be involved in human affairs. Dietrich sidestepped the issue by suggesting Eli get his Masters and teach. They had not corresponded since. He found it ironic that this semester he was also teaching a special topics course in peace and conflict studies.
"We both know they won’t do anything," he said.
Ysabel De La Cruz, the head of the Council. She lived in Detroit. He couldn’t remember when he’d last spoken with her. Yes, she’d listen. Whether she could help… "Maybe I’ll call her," he said.
"Have you thought this through? How will you carry on this fight and still teach?"
"I only teach part-time."
A faint sigh escaped her lips. "What you propose is a full-time job. Have you talked to Adrian?"
"I’m not sure he should be involved."
"You’ve mentored him well," she said softly. "Give him the benefit of the doubt. This is more his generation than ours you’re dealing with."
Ling put her arm around his waist while he gazed into the river. The peacefully rippling water offered no answers and no reconciliation with last night’s events.