Playing the Queen short story by Iris Carden
Five storeys below Brisbane’s Roma Street Police Station, is the headquarters for the Human Defence Unit. Its members are drawn from among the highest performing members of military, intelligence, and police forces throughout Australia, along with select highly specialised members of the civilian population. The Human Defence Unit and its elite staff are neither police, military nor intelligence. They do not exist.
HDU Senior Agent Jo Burns and Police Inspector David Webber were talking in the foyer of the Roma Street Police Station.
Jo was there waiting to meet two new transfers from the New South Wales HDU.
A woman Jo recognised as journalist Kerry Perry walked in the front door, saw Jo and approached her.
“Hi Sergeant Burns,” she said.
Kerry had done the police rounds for a small local paper for years. Most local police knew her. Jo didn’t dislike her, but was very wary about what she could say to any journalist.
“Hi, Kerry. It’s not Sergeant any more. I quit the force after my daughter was murdered. I’m just a civilian now. I work down in the basement, in payroll.” Apart from the bit about being “just a civilian,” and “working in payroll,”it was true. The best lies were hidden behind a wall of truth.
“That’s weird, because I had a call about you the other day.”
“Yes, this woman was accusing you of police harassment. I thought that was weird, because, I haven’t seen you for a long time, but you always had a reputation as a straight shooter. But this woman, Anastasia Arafami, told this story about how you had ordered police to search for her because of a personal grudge, when she hadn’t been charged with any crime.”
“The Countess contacted you?” Jo was mystified.
Of course actually acknowledging she knew the woman was a mistake. How would she cover for that? “Most cops know the Countess. Sometimes she’s European aristocrat. Sometimes she’s a thousand year old vampire. She’s only dangerous when she’s off her meds. If she is off her meds, stay away from her. Can I suggest you not publish anything about her? You wouldn’t want it to look like your paper was exploiting a psych patient.”
David decided to throw a rescue line. He said, “Actually, we are looking for the Countess at the moment. She was in a secure psych ward and escaped. Her psychiatrist says she really should be back in for her own safety. If you know where she’s hiding, you’d actually be helping her if you told me.”
“Yeah, telling police how to find someone who claims they’re being unfairly targeted by police doesn’t seem a great idea, protecting sources and all that. Thanks for that though, Inspector. Sergeant, or I guess it’s Ms Burns now, I really thought if any woman was going to break the glass ceiling here, it would be you. I never expected to see you just give it up, but that whole thing with your daughter was just messed up, and you saved all those other kids. It wasn’t fair.”
“No. It was far from fair.”
“I had trouble writing that. I don’t know how you managed to live through it. That man was a monster. Sorry. I know you knew that.”
A monster? Yes the killer had been a monster; the first actual monster Jo had ever seen.
“Anyway,” the reporter continued, “I hope they’re treating you well in payroll, and I’m sorry that happened to you.”
She left them. Once she was out of earshot, Jo said to David, “What the hell was that about? Why would the Countess risk revealing herself by talking to the media?”
David was thoughtful a moment. “I think it’s like chess.”
“You know I don’t like chess.”
“Still, go with the metaphor here. The queen’s the most powerful piece. She’s their queen, and you’re ours. She wants to get the opposite queen off the board. Trying to get at your reputation, have you exposed in the media as crooked. But she found a journo who actually knows your story, and apparently respects you. If she tries another one, the lid could be blown off everything. Everyone would know about monsters, and how small a group of people is protecting the world from them.”
“Doesn’t the queen protect the king? Who’s the king in your analogy?”
“On our side? The city. The state. Humanity. Everything you’ve fought to protect since Katie died. On her side? The vampire community she wants to build. The one she was building before she was taken out before.”
“Well, if it’s chess we’re playing, with Kurt and Harry dead, and Marissa still on sick leave, I think we’ve lost enough pieces. Let’s find a way to win this game.”
Later that day, while Jo was showing her new members of staff around the HDU offices, David received a call from Kerry Perry.
Anastasia Arafami had called her again. This time she had said both that she was a countess, and that she was a vampire, and would kill Kerry if the story about Jo did not run. Kerry didn’t know where the Countess was, but she had a phone number, which she passed on to David.
David called Jo. He couldn’t trace a mobile phone without a warrant, but Jo could.
Jo called a meeting, with David, Trainee Agent Kate Murdoch, recently inducted agent Andrew Harrison, the Yowie, and the two transferees, Agents Scott Cooper, and Elizabeth Jones.
Jo caught everyone up to date.
“From what happened with Harry, we know that killing the Countess will mean everyone she’s turned will become human again, but we also know she had the bloodstones of two other ancient vampires. If she’s brought them back, they could also have turned people. We don’t know how big a group of fangs we might walk into, but the first order is to take out the Countess, then go for anyone else who looks old, and anyone who we can’t avoid killing.”
The new agents were a bit wary of the Yowie, and of Andrew, who while no longer a slave still had his zombie strength. Andrew went with David, the Yowie with Jo, while the two new agents were with Kate. The plan was to approach from different directions, to try box in the Countess and whatever vampires were with her.
Everyone carried intense UV laser pointers, and mini crossbows that shot wooden stakes.
As they drove, the flashing dot on the gps which indicated where the Countess’ phone was, moved. All three cars adapted their journey. The Countess was going somewhere.
It was a nondescript house Jo and the Yowie took the front door, David and Andrew took the back, the others entering through a large sliding door at the side.
They moved stealthily through the house. A couple of vampires apparently on guard duty were silently despatched with hand-held stakes.
In a back room, they found the Countess, surrounded by other fangs, with Kerry Perry tied to a chair.
“Once you are a vampire, you will do as I have instructed. You will help take down Jo Burns and her team of vampire hunters. This city will belong to us.”
Without announcing their presence, Jo fired the crossbow. The Countess went down and turned to dust. Vampires around her began vomiting blood, and collapsing on the floor.
“They’re turning back,” Jo said to her team, who were all in the room now. “It looks like there aren’t any other older vampires here, so we just need medical help for these. Call Helen. She’s the closest thing to an expert we’ve got. Someone untie Kerry.”
Jo dug through the dust to find a red stone. She was not going to keep the bloodstone and risk the Countess coming back this time. Jo pulled out her service weapon and shot the sparkling red stone, shattering it. “I want that spread over a s great an area as possible,” she said.
“I knew you couldn’t just be down in the basement doing payroll,” Kerry said.
“Sorry I lied,” Jo said. “Monsters are real, and my team stops them taking over. I’m going to ask you not to write the story.”
“Because everyone would freak out and there’d be mass panic?” Kerry said.
“Yes, because of that,” Jo answered.
“How do I help?” Kerry asked.
Human Defence Unit Stories
- They Do Not Exist
- Techno Ghost
- Save Daddy
- Full Moon
- The Red
- Playing the Queen
- Something New
- Neighbourhood Watch
- A Plan Comes Together
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Kerry’s second to last line, understatement of the year, lol. Yay for the HDU….I certainly hope that’s the end of the Countess….but where are the other 2 bloodstones?
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Where, indeed. Hopefully those two older vampires decided to leave town, but we can’t count on that, can we?
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