The Black Thorn

"What a way to go." Cathrin murmured and sat back in the hard, wooden pew.
"I heard it was a two-thirty-eight." said the man next to her. She drew in a sharp breath.
"Good thing Larryís dead or else heíd be mighty embarrassed at having his arse kicked by a two hundred and thirty eight year old." she said softly.
"Evidently, there wasnít much of poor Larry left, so thatís why weíve got a closed coffin today." said the woman on Cathrinís other side.
An elderly woman in the pew in front of them turned and glared at them, raising a finger to her thinned lips.
"Oh, shush yourself. Canít you see weíre paying our respects?" Cathrin snapped at her. The womanís eyes widened and she turned back to face the front of the church.
"Good one, Cathrin. The old bag had it coming." that came from a man two seats away.
"Shut up, Marty." said Libby, the woman next to Cathrin, and elbowed Marty in the ribs. "Itís a funeral, youíre not supposed to insult people."
"Well, she did." he muttered sullenly.
"Is it just me, or is this more than a bit suspicious?" Cathrin asked. "I mean, a two-thirty-eight? Thatís an insult to all of us."
"Except maybe Marty." Jonathan, the man beside her muttered.
"Hey," the other man objected.
"Shut up you two." Cathrin told them.
"I agree with the Hunter. It isnít like Larry to be sloppy, even with a two-thirty-eight. Anything under three hundredís like taking candy from a baby." Libby said softly.
"You think something else offed Larry?" Marty asked, leaning forward to give Cathrin an inquisitive, hazel-eyed look.
"I just donít think it was a two-thirty-eight." she said and glared at the elderly woman who turned around to hush them again.
"Either that, or it was a real shithouse of a day for good olí Larry Westminster." Jonathan muttered under his breath.
"Any day with a vampire is a real shithouse of a day." Libby said with the smallest of smiles.
"Here, here." Cathrin agreed, followed by Marty then Jonathan.
"Are you suggesting that we find the ghoul that did this and make Ďem pay?" asked Marty with a vicious smile.
"Why not? The police wonít mind, one less parasite to deal with." said Jonathan with a shrug.
"And itíll make the leeches think again. They usually get damned cocky after the death of a hunter. Iím sure we all know what happened after Stephen died." Cathrin said. All four hunters fell into a heavy silence, each of them remembering the bloody turn of events after the death of their colleague.
"At least this time round, weíll have some inside information. Iím sure Cathrin can go running to her Master." Marty said, breaking the silence.
"Shut up, Marty. You have no idea what happened." she hissed.
"And yet you managed to bag Andrews, the vicious bastard, and the little runt Calahan. Whoís next? Quin the Devil?" he hissed back. "Of course not, youíre the Devilís Advocate, youíre his servant. So the worst of the lotíll stay here in the Cove."
"Youíre just jealous I got Calahan and Andrews in one foul swoop." she told him, seeing his mouth tighten. He knew she was right.
"Stop it, you two. Weíre at a funeral!" Libby told them both, glaring at each in turn. Marty sat back, muttering under his breath.
Presently, everyone stood and the funeral march was being played.
"Say, do you want to get out of here before the big, black box gets to us?" asked Jonathan. "I mean, you see one planting, youíve seen Ďem all."
"Hell yes. I donít want to miss out on lunch." Libby muttered and patted her stomach. "Havenít had a bite all day."
Marty groaned. "Bad choice of words, Slayer."
"Then quit complaining and shove off. I want to get outa here!" she said and gave him a push. For once, Martin Walsh didnít argue. He got to his feet and shuffled out into the isle. He waited patiently for the rest and together, they made their way out of the church. They were walking down the steps when a man in a black suit came striding up to them.
"Sorry Iím late, traffic was a bitch." he said with a quick smile. Cathrin stopped a step above him and looked questioningly at her colleagues. Jonathan shrugged, Libby shook her head. They didnít know him.
"Who the fuck are you?" Libby asked. Gotta love her for tact.
"Itís Larryís trainee." Marty said flatly.
"Larry had a trainee?" Cathrin asked in surprise.
"Uh, I do have a name." interrupted the stranger.
"Then tell us, donít leave us guessing." Jonathan said, surprise thick in his voice.
"Charles Bernstein." he introduced himself.
"Yeah, Charlie here wants to be a hunter. Cathrin, heís all yours." Marty said with a small smile.
"What? Youíre not passing off some wannabe on me!" she protested.
"Look, you and Larry are the only ones who hunt the Overlords, thatís what Charlie started learning, itís up to you to finish him off, so to speak." Marty said seriously.
"Donít I get a say in this?" asked Charles and shuffled nervously.
"No." all four hunters told him.
"Gee, you canít just dump this on someone without notice!" Cathrin protested.
"And you work alone, I know, I know." Marty said and rolled his eyes. "But Jesus Christ, Hunter, you of all people know you never leave a hunter in the lurch."
"But heís a trainee! Heís not a hunter!" she snapped.
"And we were all trainees once."
"I wasnít."
"I donít give a fuck. Larry said that if anythingó"
"Larry told you that if he kicked the bucket Iíd get his fucking student? Why didnít he tell me?"
"Because youíre playing both sides!" Marty snapped. "Youíre a blood sack, a sell out!"
Cathrin clenched her jaw in anger and balled her hands into fists. "I am not a sell out, Marty." she growled. He suddenly pulled the collar away from the left side of her neck, revealing a pink, crescent shaped scar.
"Then explain the mark. You donít get one of them in a fight. Not on the neck." he snapped.
She lashed out, punching him in the jaw. Marty staggered back a couple of paces, nearly knocking into the pall bearers carrying the ebony coffin.
Cathrin rubbed her neck. "Fuck you, Marty. You wouldnít get it." she told him and turned to the gaping Charles Bernstein. "Go home, get a decent job, youíll live longer."
She pushed past him and made her way down a side street.
"Wait!" came a shout. She ignored it, and fished out her car keys from her jacket pocket.
"Wait!" came the shout again and something grabbed her arm, spinning her around. She came face to face with Charles.
"Let go of my arm." she told him. He abruptly let go.
"Just donít walk away from me, please." he said. "Larry told me that you werenít the most cheerful person in the world, but donít take it out on me. All I want to do is learn how to hunt and Iíll be out of your face."
"And because Larry and I were the only ones who hunt Overlords, you came to me. Jesus!" she finished and raked her fingers through her red hair. "Just tell me this, why hunting and why Overlords?"
He looked at her for a moment with serious blue eyes before answering. "Hunting is a part of my family and I want to be the best." he said carefully.
"Itís also a part of mine, but I didnít take it up because of that." she said and began to walk off again. Charles hurried after her.
"Then what do I have to do to get you to teach me, Hunter?" he demanded. "What do I have to do to get you to take me?"
"Youíre not going to leave me alone, are you? Not until I accept your training?" she asked and came to a stop beside a Jeep which had seen better days.
"Absolutely." he said and set his jaw stubbornly. She couldnít help but smile.
"Persistence. Thatís good. It reminds me of me. Get in." she said and unlocked the passenger door.
"WellÖ" he seemed hesitant.
"You said traffic was a bitch. Itís always a bitch, but more so if you take public transport, so Iím assuming you came by bus." she said and checked her watch. "Itís nearly lunchtime, youíre my trainee, thereís no time like the present to get started, now, is there?"
Once in the car and winding through the streets, Charles spoke.
"Well?" he asked. "What now?"
"If I knew Larry like I did, you would have had to read volumes of lore, yes?" Cathrin said, concentrating on driving.
"Yes, butó" he said, but was cut off.
"And what did you learn from all that heavy reading?" she asked.
"I learned all the stories of vampires." he replied without hesitation. She choked back a laugh.
"You obviously hadnít been with Larry long. Right then, forget everything you though you knew about vampires. And are you an atheist?" she said as she pulled into the car park of her apartment building.
"No, and Iím not and why should I forget everything?" Charles said, glancing around.
"Because nine times out of ten, itís not true. And youíll get yourself killed. Trust me, running around with garlands of garlic wonít stop you from having your throat ripped out." she said and parked the car. She looked at her passenger, who was looking a little squeamish. "And if youíre an atheist running around with a crucifixÖdonít count on being alive by dawn."
Cathrin got out of her car and waited patiently for Charles to join her before locking it and making her way toward the elevator. "Larry was more into theory, learning before the big test." she continued. "Me, Iím a firm believer in the fact you learn from experience."
Charles seemed to light up with a smile. "So, youíll take me on hunts?" he asked eagerly as they stepped into the lift. She choked back a laugh and failed.
"No. Not until Iím sure you wonít kill yourself or me." she said, trying to be sombre. His face fell. He looked like she had just kicked a puppy. "Hey, Iím training you, look on the bright side." she told him. "It could be worse. You could be stuck with Libby. Sheís had four trainees in the last two years. None of them have chosen the field of vampire hunting as their occupation. Trust me on this."
"Youíre not very reassuring, Hunter." he mumbled as the elevator doors rumbled open.
"Iím not trying to be. Iíll do my best to dissuade you from taking up this kind of thing. But in the end itís up to you." she said and began walking down the hallway, fishing her keys from her pocket.
"I wonít give up." he said determinedly, catching up to her.
"You say that now, but laterÖ" she trailed off with a shrug as she unlocked her door.
Once inside her apartment, her attention was immediately drawn to a vase containing three roses; one red, one white, and one dark enough to be black, sitting on the kitchenette bench.
A card was propped against the base of the vase. Ignoring Charles for the moment, she went over and opened the card.
Sincerest condolences over the loss of your colleague. However, he wonít be missed, at least by me.
No love lost, Quin.

Cathrin screwed it up and threw it in the bin. Charlie, on the other hand was looking interestedly at the three blooms, one blond eyebrow raised.
"Ex trying to get back into the good books?" he asked. She sighed angrily.
"No, not an ex. A never was." she muttered and pulled the roses from the vase, throwing them in the bin also. "Rule number one; there are two things you never discuss with me; your personal life and mine. I donít give a ratís arse about yours and you have no business in mine, understood?"
He blinked a couple of times before nodding. "I understand." he said finally and drew in a deep, sharp breath. "Well, Larry was right about one thing, you definitely are not one person to mess with."
"And only now you figure that out?" she asked, moving into the living room. "Gee, I thought old Vlad wouldíve bitched a bit more about me. Especially after what happened last month."
"Vlad?" Charles asked, confusion crossing his features. She began searching a shelf in a bookcase, but paused and glanced over her shoulder at him.
"Larry. The leeches called him the Impaler, but Vlad for short. Know your history, Charles." she said and pulled a large folder out of the bookcase.
"Charlie, I hate Charles." he said absently, flopping down in an armchair and setting his feet on the coffee table. She pulled his feet off of it and sat opposite him on the couch, laying the folder down between them.
"Then you shouldíve introduced yourself as Charlie, Charles." she said with a small smile and began flicking through the folder.
"Are you always such a smartass?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at her.
"Marty seems to think so." she said with a careless shrug and pulled out a photograph, laying it so it faced him. "Okay, trainee, time to play spot the vampire. Somewhere in the photo, thereís a vampire. You have three bullets, so three guesses. I want to see how good you are."
He frowned as he looked at the photo. "Her." he said, pointing to the image of a girl tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.
"Why?" Cathrin asked.
"Sheís too pretty. She doesnít fit in." he said and looked up at her. "Am I right?"
"Surprisingly, yes." she replied. "But itíll get harder, trust me."
"Youíre asking for a lot of trust." he muttered under his breath.
"Yeah, but itíll keep you alive. At least, while youíre under my wing. When youíre on your own, if youíre on your own, you wonít have the luxury of friends." she said and nodded toward the kitchenette. "Help yourself to food if you want. But you might not want it after this next batch of photos."
What she meant by that was crime scene photos sheíd managed to get hold of from the police. Charlie took one look at the first one, paled and excused himself, asking for the bathroom. She wasnít surprised. She had nearly done the same thing, only at the scene.
"You all right, Charlie?" she called once the sounds of retching had stopped.
"No, but Iím better." came the weak reply. He appeared a few moments later, still looking ashen against the black of his suit.
"You think youíre up to travel?" she asked. He raised his eyebrows and paled further.
"Youíre not going to show me anything like that," he said and pointed a shaky finger at the black and white photograph. "Only in real life. No way, I am not going to see a dead body. Or whatís left."
"Relax. I was thinking weíd visit Larryís final resting place." she said and stood, shrugging off her jacket.
"You mean the cemetery?" he asked as she began pulling the cushions off the couch.
"Nope. I mean the subway." she replied and undid a small latch in the base of the couch, lifting it to reveal a chest of weapons. She heard him whistle softly.
"Geez, all you need is a flame thrower and you could have enough shit to rival the army." he muttered.
"Some of it is army. And I donít have a flame thrower. Theyíre too messy, effective, but messy." she said, pulling on a shoulder holster.
"Uh, I know this might be stupid, but why the guns? And donít I get one?" he asked as she was checking a hand gun.
"The subway where Larry was found was the Parks station. The Parks, as any good hunter should know, is vampire territory. The subway is underground, therefore, it could be crawling with them. You donít get a gun, I donít trust you and youíre too inexperienced. I donít want to get shot by you." she said, holstering not one but two guns along with a couple of extra clips of ammo. She handed a couple to him. "But you can look after the bullets." she added with a smile.
"Gee, I feel wanted." he said, pocketing the clips, a bitter smile on his lips.
"You wanted to learn. You wanted experience. Now, are you with me to visit Larry or do you want to go home? But I warn you, if you go home, you donít come back." she told him, pulling her jacket on to hide the holster. He just looked at her for the longest moment.
"You canít get rid of me that easily, Hunter. Iím here for the long run." he said finally. She smiled.
"Funny," she said. "A vampire said that to me once."
"What happened?" Charlie asked.
She shrugged. "I blew his head off five minutes later."

Chapter 2