Russell watched the sergeant’s slate-gray eyes and listened to the timbre of his voice. Nothing indicated a lie. Scores of captured enemy soldiers had lied to him in both English and their native tongues. Lie detectors measured changes in blood pressure, skin conductivity and other physical traits. Smart people could fake them out. Russell’s observations had proven more accurate. Boyd wasn’t lying.
He was nuts.
“Boyd, why would you say that?” the major asked.
“I have a hunger—no—a craving for blood. Unless I satisfy it I become agitated. Things happen to me I can’t explain. That’s why I asked if the surgeon could look me over.”
Russell rolled his chair back and stood. It took a couple of heartbeats for his C-Leg prosthesis below the right knee to adjust. As he opened the door, he called to Flynn.
“Sergeant Major, please call the battalion surgeon. Ask him to report to me as soon as he can,” Russell said.
“Yes, Sir,” Flynn said.
As the major returned to his chair, he watched Boyd. The man was completely relaxed.
Nutcase, Drifted through Russell’s mind.
“Sergeant Boyd, how do you think you became a vampire?”
“Major, it was my stupidity. When I received orders to come here, to Afghanistan, I had some time off. I went to New Orleans. I’m single, so I looked for female companionship. I found a gorgeous woman in a bar just off the French Quarter. I figured she was a prostitute and was going to engage her services. Turns out she wasn’t. She apparently wanted much more than money.”
A knock on the door. Boyd started to rise.
“Wait. Boyd, don’t talk about this to anyone else. No one.” The sergeant nodded.
“Come in,” Russell said.
A short, wide-bodied man, of Asian extraction, entered. He wore the bars of a Captain on his camouflage uniform.
“You needed to see me, Major?” he said.
“Yes, I want you to take Sergeant Boyd over to your clinic and give him a thorough physical. When you’re finished, write up a summary report and bring it, with the sergeant, back to me.”
“When do you need this done?”
The doctor started to reply, but looked Russell in the eyes. The blue there could have been gunmetal.
“Yes sir. Sergeant, come with me.”
As they left, Flynn stepped through the open door, closing it behind him. Without being asked, he sat.
“What’s with Boyd?” Flynn said.
“Don’t know. He may have a physical problem, or even a mental disorder. I’ll know more when the doctor reports back.”
“Boyd’s an MP, I’ve never trusted them. Goes all the way back to the days when I was a private in the 82nd and they roughed me up in the bars in Fayetteville. I’ll have to admit that I was a bit of a pisser though,” Flynn said.
A wistful smile flitted across the NCO’s lips.
“Bobby, you and I share a lot. Neither of us is comfortable in a logistics outfit like this. Hell, I had to kick some ass just to get weapons for the two of us other than the 9mm pistols. The CAR-15s and .45s give me a better feeling in case the shit hits the fan. From the Army’s point of view, we’re damaged goods. You’ve got your brace and I’ve got my computer chip leg. We’ll open a new bottle of bourbon soon and drink at least a toast or two to technology. I’ll tell you what I find out about Boyd.”
“Most of these supply and support people are pretty good folks, but they think you and I are Neanderthals,” Flynn said.
“In a way that’s good. Bark at them and they’ll soil their undies. No discipline problems we can’t handle,” Russell said.
They smiled to each other in a way that some of the junior officers and privates would have shuddered to see.
Just after 1700 there was a tap on Russell’s door. “Yes?”
“Sir, the Surgeon and Sergeant Boyd are here.” Flynn said.
“Bring them in Sergeant Major and stay with us,” Russell said.
The doctor, then Boyd, entered. Flynn closed the door. The Surgeon looked around as if he wanted to sit. Russell didn’t invite him to do so. Boyd stood beside Flynn.
“Doctor, do you have a summary report on Sergeant Boyd’s physical?”
“Yes, Major, the sergeant is in excellent health. Here is the report as it stands. I’ll provide you with details tomorrow.”
The doctor handed Russell a single sheet of paper. The major glanced at it, then back up at the captain.
“Good, Doctor. I’ll be interested to read it more thoroughly. Thank you for doing this on short notice. Just send the additional details by email. I’ll call you if I have questions.”
The Surgeon understood the tones and left the office, closing the door behind him.
“Sergeant Major, please allow me to talk to Sergeant Boyd in private,” Russell said.
“Sir, I’ll stand by in the outer office in case you need me,
“Good. It won’t be long. I’ll call you on the intercom.”
Boyd had followed the exchange with his eyes, but hadn’t moved or spoken. When Flynn closed the door, Russell motioned him to a visitor’s chair. He sat and faced the major silently.
“Boyd, I’m glad to know you’re physically in good health. We need to discuss your mental state.”
“What makes you think you’ve been turned into a vampire?”
As Russell spoke the final word of his question, Boyd’s eyes flared briefly. To Russell, it was like watching an ember’s quick glow when touched by a passing breeze.
“Sir, the woman I mentioned. The one in New Orleans is a vampire. She told me she loved me enough to transform me. I thought she was crazy, but the sex was amazing, so I played along. She did it. She sipped from my blood and made me taste hers. I changed.”
Russell leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes for more than a blink. When he looked back at Boyd, the man was watching him, his eyes like still waters of a frigid lake.
“You don’t have fangs that I can see. Should I have garlic around the room for protection? If you go out in the midday sun, will you catch fire? Do crosses frighten you?”
“Major, with all due respect, all those notions are bullshit. There are physical changes. I can’t fly, but when the hunger—and it isn’t exclusively physical—comes on me, my muscles are temporarily altered. It also happens when I get really pissed off. I can jump and run beyond Olympic records. I can see in the dark as long as there’s any form of light, even dim starlight. I don’t have fangs that sprout. And, no, I don’t fear crosses. I was a Catholic before she caused the change and still am. I guess she told the truth.”
“What truth?” Russell said.
“That she would transform me. She also said that vampires are not undead. We are living people who have been altered.”
Russell absorbed the words, but the ideas were difficult.
Too alien for a pragmatic mind.
“Sergeant, you told me you’d taken the sheep and killed them. Was that because of what you call your craving?”
“Yes sir. I drank their blood. I’ll be fine for a week or so. I may have to figure a way to buy sheep and keep them for my needs. I normally don’t need so much, but I’d been without satiation for three weeks and I gorged.”
Russell didn’t—couldn’t— believe Boyd’s story but his imagination began to sizzle.