The National Inquisitor
Downtown Angel City
Thursday, January 9, 2014
The phone intercom chimed in while David was busy talking to Debra on his iPhone. “Mr. Zabloski, there’s a call for you on line six,” the front desk receptionist said with the same crusty monotone voice which always reminded David of Roz, the old lady from Monsters Inc.
Irritated beyond the normal irritation he felt whenever he heard Miss Virginia Jackson, the receptionist speak, David pushed his desk phone’s intercom button. “Miss Roz…I mean Miss Jackson, can you please take a message?”
“I would, but the man on the phone is being pushy.”
“Did he happen to give you his name?” David asked, hoping she was catching on to his irritated tone.
“He said his name was Dante.”
At the mention of the man’s name, David quickly got back on his iPhone and after promising to get together with Debra at their favorite restaurant after work, he immediately switched over to his desk phone.
“Mr. Dante,” David said as he fumbled for a pad of paper and a pen. “I’ve been trying to contact you for days.”
The voice on the other of his cell phone sounded a little like Christian Bale in the role of Batman in The Dark Knight series. “Yeah. I kinda figured considering the amount of voice messages you left. Sorry, but I was out of town for a while.”
“I was wondering if you can drop by my office sometime soon,” David said. “Dr. James Lindon spoke highly of you and recommended that I contact you regarding any unusual assignments I may need help with. You may not remember me, but we’ve met before. I was with you when the morgue—.”
“I remember you. You’re the reporter who packs heat. Well listen, how about you drop by my place tomorrow afternoon so we can talk. As a matter of fact, I’m going to be working on a case this weekend that you may find interesting. It might be perfect for an article for your tabloid—.”
“—magazine.” David corrected.
“…magazine.” Dante conceded.
Downtown Angel City
Friday, January 10, 2014
David’s iPhone’s GPS showed that he was at the right address. But looking around, all he saw were some rundown old warehouses and ruined buildings that had seen better days. David was beginning to wonder if being in this part of Angel City late on a Friday afternoon was a good idea.
David was about to put his BMW in reverse when a nearby warehouse gate slowly started to open.
When the gate was halfway up, David noticed a man in his mid to late twenties standing at the top of a large ramp to a huge warehouse. Black hair hung loosely from a green beenie he had on. He also had on a pair of faded jeans and a black T-shirt with a message on the front that read, “I don’t want to kill you and you don’t want to die.” He also sported a pair of black biker boots. Tattoos were visible on both his arms.
David immediately recognized Dante.
When the warehouse’s massive gate reached the top, Dante waved for him to drive his BMW up the ramp and into the warehouse.
He did and found himself parked inside a large industrial warehouse which had somehow been converted into a rather large, spacious home. The ground floor was large enough to park two cars in and still have room for a kitchen, a huge living room complete with leather couches, a pool table, a fully-equipped bar, an old Wurlitzer juke box, a dart board on the wall and a wall-mounted 60" flatscreen TV. David also spotted a Ducati Diavel parked right next to the leather couch.
Just past the living room area, the warehouse had a work area equipped with an array of machinist’s tools.
Next to the work area, David noticed a gym complete with the latest equipment to rival the LA Fitness club David hadn’t gone to in a while despite the exuberant annual fee he had grudgingly paid for.
Factory-like stairs led up to the warehouse’s second floor which David assumed led to the bedroom, or bedrooms, considering how much space there was available.
Under the stairs, David saw an office built with a large window looking out into the living room. From where he stood, the office was equipped with the latest Apple towers, monitors, and wall-mounted interactive touch screens one usually sees on TV shows like CSI: Miami.
Dante walked up to David and shook his hands. “So what do you think of the place?” Dante asked David who, out of habit, tapped the car alarm fob on his keychain. The BMW’s alarm chirp seemed a thousand times louder inside the warehouse.
“I think I clearly picked the wrong line of work to be in.”
For the next hour, David and Dante caught each other up on their latest encounters with the paranormal. It had been nearly two years since they last worked together and a lot had happened since.
David talked about all that happened on Catalina Island during the past summer and what little he found out about a government experiment regarding something called the Lazarus Effect. Despite the island-wide outbreak of some virus which turned those infected into fast-moving ravenous zombies straight out of a movie like 28 Days Later, the government did a good job of covering up the whole incident and explaining the outbreak as a new strain of avian influenza, or bird flu virus, that had contaminated the island’s water supply.
David also told Dante about the more recent events involving Professor Fairchild’s attempt at summoning one of the Dark Gods.
Dante was fascinated by David’s experience on Catalina. He said that it seemed to match events similar to what he experienced on a recent case in Arizona. The case took him to a small Hopi village near the Mexican border. Strangely enough, the village was also only a few miles from an army testing facility.
Dante explained how the village was infected with a virus that had quickly spread to every man, woman, and child. A relative of one of the villager who lived in Tucson called Dante and asked him to investigate what was happening to the village and its people.
When Dante arrived, the village was swarming with infected villagers who were all trying to eat every living thing in sight. Dante barely managed to escape but not before a convoy of soldiers from the nearby base came in with guns blazing. From atop a distant hill, Dante helplessly watched as the army decimated the entire village then quickly quarantined the area.
Just like the incident on Catalina, the government covered up what happened to the village and blamed it on a bird flu outbreak.
David couldn’t believe the similarity in their experiences.
“It sure looks like you’re doing alright,” David said looking around the warehouse.
“I’ve been lucky enough to land a client like Katherine Vanderhill,” David said. “She’s hired me on as a personal private investigator.”
“Katherine Vanderhill.” Dante said. "I’m surprise you’ve never heard of her. The Vanderhills are one of the top ten richest family in America. Mrs. Vanderhill is an eccentric old lady who lives in a secluded mansion in the Palos Verdes Estates. The Vanderhill family history reads like a who’s who of scandalous, adulterous, murderous, and any other “ouses” affairs."
David was intrigued. “So what are you investigating for Mrs. Vanderhill?”
“Mrs. Vanderhill believes an old relative of hers had checked himself into the Healthy Minds Hospital in Boyle Heights back before the hospital was shut down in 1925. His name was Samuel Vanderhill. He had checked into the hospital and was never heard from again.”
“That name sounds familiar.”
“It should. He was the mayor of Angel City at the time of his disappearance. To date, no one knows where he disappeared to. Samuel Vanderhill was a bit hysterical at times and, according to some secret files I came across, frequently checked himself into Healthy Minds for two to three-day stays. He always felt better after his stays, but when he felt his mind beginning to crack, he would hurry back to Healthy Minds for his regular therapy. Naturally, his staff looked into his disappearance. The hospital denied ever having him as a patient.”
David nodded towards Dante’s office with its expensive equipment. “So, how difficult would it be to look up if someone was a patient at the hospital? These days, celebrities can’t go unnoticed checking themselves into hospitals for plastic surgery, rehab, or for trying to escape their cursed fame.”
“It’s harder than you think,” Dante said. “I tried to access any files or records from Healthy Minds online. I even tried to go to the county archives’ office and didn’t get anywhere.”
“Too many files to go through?” David asked. “Maybe I can help.”
“Too many files would be a nice problem to have,” Dante said.
“So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is…there aren’t any files to search through at all.”
David was stunned. “What do you mean there aren’t any files? The hospital’s files must have been archived after it closed…right?”
“That’s just it. Apparently, the files were never moved. It was as if the doors of the hospital were unexpectedly closed without notice. There are no records of files ever being removed from the facility.”
“Okay, so what about the patients? Where did they get transferred to?”
“That’s where it gets really weird. There are no records of patients being transferred at all.”
“You mean…the patients were left at the hospital when it closed down?”
Dante was slowly nodding.
“What kind of hospital did you say Healthy Minds was?” David asked despite knowing what the answer may be.
The answer sent chills up his spine. “So…know any good places to eat around here?” David inquired trying to change the subject.
“Sure do.” Dante said. “I know a great hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant on the west side. Their Chicken Marsala is to die for!”
Downtown Angel City
Friday, January 10, 2014
“Dante!” Eddie Settimio, Josephina’s chef and owner, said as he gave Dante a hug. “It’s been a while. How come you don’t drop by more often, eh?”
Dante said that if he came to Josephina’s as much he would like to, he’d have to hit the gym twice as hard every time. Dante then introduced David to Eddie, his wife Vicky, and their college-age daughter, Marilee.
Eddie offered both men a table and told them to order whatever they wanted. He said for them not to worry since their meal was on the house!
Soon the two were busy eating. Eddie was also gracious enough to pair their meal with a bottle of the restaurant’s finest Barbera, a varietal wine produced mainly in the Piedmont region and known for its dry but intense berry flavor. It went perfectly with their meal.
“This Chicken Marsala is amazing!” David said. “It’s the best I’ve ever tasted.”
“I knew you’d like this place,” Dante said biting into another forkful of spaghetti, his favorite dish at Josephina’s.
“So tell me more about the hauntings at this restaurant,” David said sounding like the investigator he is. “What you told me about it on the way here sounded interesting.”
Dante began telling David about the building’s rather strange and even sordid past. According to what Eddie Settimio told Dante, the building was built in 1897 and housed a general store until 1907, when it became a barber shop until 1918.
It reopened in 1920 as a gentleman’s club, but really it was a speakeasy and brothel. The brothel was the site of several murders, including that of a prostitute named Emma May Frye, who was stabbed to death by a drunken customer in 1927. It was closed in 1930 and remained shuttered until it was bought by Eduardo Settimio in 1938.
An immigrant from Italy, Eduardo left his native Italy to escape the fascist regime that he knew what slowly destroying his beloved country. A chef by trade, he quickly established the restaurant and named it after his young wife, Josephina. With hard work, a talent for quality food, and patience, Josephina’s thrived and Eduardo, now called Grandpa Ed, was able to pass the restaurant on to his son in 1978, who did likewise when he passed away in 2000. Eddie Settimio is the third and current owner and his wife Vicky is the manager. Their daughter, Marilee, helps by waiting tables and making home deliveries.
Grandpa Ed passed away in 1993, and soon after the family noticed strange goings on in the restaurant. Objects would vanish and reappear in odd locations, lights flickered for no reason, and the odors of Grandpa Ed’s favorite dishes permeated the restaurant long after the kitchen closed. The family attributed it to good old Grandpa Ed and didn’t think much of it. Until recently that is.
Pablo, the busboy, and Eddie have also claimed to have seen the ghost of a young woman in the upstairs dining room. The apparition seems to only appear in the presence of men.
Soon after Thanksgiving, Grandpa Ed’s antics took a nasty turn. Pots, pans, and glasses rattled for no reason, the gas burners ignited by themselves, and both patrons and workers have been shoved, scratched, or tripped.
Marilee seemed to have taken the worst of the abuse. She’s even received bruises . Vicky was once locked up in the dry and cold storage room. She swore that although Marilee was upstairs in the office at the time, no one was in the kitchen when the door closed on her.
“And it’s been like that ever since?” David asked.
“From what Eddie has told me, yes.”
“Any idea what caused Grandpa Ed to go postal on his family?”
David looked to where Eddie, Vicky, and Marilee were busy tending to the restaurant’s numerous customers. “Well, something happened. I’ll question everyone after the place closes and see if I can figure out what’s got Grandpa teed off.”
“Sounds good.” Dante said. “I considered calling Father Blatty about maybe performing an exorcism here, but the Settimio’s not willing to exorcise Grandpa Ed out of their lives. Can’t say I blame them. But, they do want to get to the bottom of this before anyone else gets hurt.”
After the restaurant closed, David began questioning everyone who worked at Josephina’s.
He started with Eddie who simply repeated the building’s history and brought up seeing the young woman upstairs.
David then interviewed Vicky who didn’t add anything new, except how a few nights ago, she overheard Marilee talking to a couple of people out in the back alley. When Vicky went to see if Marilee was alright, she insisted that no one was out there—despite Vicky seeing two men leaving in a car at the end of the alley.
David sat down with Maggie, the young woman Eddie and Vicky hired to help wait on tables during the holiday crowd. Maggie reminded David of a Goth with her heavy mascara, pasty white skin, and darkened short-cropped hair.
When David introduced himself, Maggie’s face lit up. “Are you the David Zabloski who writes for The National Inquisitor?” Maggie asked sounding a bit giddy for David’s comfort.
“You’ve heard of me?”
“Of course! My friends and I love your articles and blogs about all those strange stuff. Wow! Wait till I tell my roommates that I’ve met you. Can I please have an autograph?”
While David penned his signature on a copy of the restaurant’s take-out menu, he asked Maggie about the going ons in the restaurant both strange or otherwise.
Maggie gave the same account as everyone had so far, but added that she had seen Marilee talking to a couple of tough-looking guys in the alley several nights ago. When she asked Marilee about it, Marilee denied talking to anyone and told her to mind her own business.
“Is there anything else you can tell me?” David asked noting how heavy Maggie’s mascara really was. He wondered if the gothic subculture was a direct result of the increasing amount of supernatural presence in the world, or were goths—like so many other subcultures—representational of the forlorn, yet paradoxically angst-driven youth of the current generation.
The world may never know, David thought.
“I’m worried about Marilee,” Maggie said sounding genuinely concerned. “I know enough to tell that…she’s on something. I mean…I’ve seen friends look like that…and she’s definitely on something.”
David thanked Maggie and promised to look into what she said. He then went upstairs to talk to Pablo and Marilee.
Pablo mentioned the same strange occurrences that had been happening in the restaurant since he started working there three years ago. He also mentioned seeing, in the upstairs dining area, the ghost of a young woman dressed in a revealing lingerie; a vision he wished would haunt his house sometime. “I wouldn’t mind that chica hanging around mi casa,” Pablo said.
When asked about any other unusual sightings, Pablo said he had seen a car driving away from the alley a couple of times during the past week. Each time, Marilee was in the alley. When he asked if she was okay, Marilee just ignored him and walked back into the restaurant.
David decided it was time to ask Marilee some questions.
He found her in the office. Just before he stepped inside, he noticed that she was on her cell phone but had quickly placed the phone down when he stepped into the office.
“Marilee,” David said walking into the small office. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you some questions about what’s been going on.”
“Go for it,” Marilee said. She put her cell phone away then began sorting through some customer receipts piled on the desk.
“Can you tell me about anything out of the ordinary going on in your parents’ restaurant?”
Marilee told David about the usual hauntings and ghostly sightings but would not elaborate on anything beyond what David had already heard from everyone he’d questioned.
Knowing he wasn’t getting anywhere, David decided to thrown down his cards. “Can you tell me more about the people you’ve been secretly meeting in the alley doing the past few weeks?”
The look on Marilee’s face was revealing.
“I…I, don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marilee lied.
“Look, I’m here to help. I know about your meeting with whomever those people were. If you’re in some kind of trouble you need to tell me so I can help.” David tried to further persuade her to admit what he already suspected.
Marilee’s eyes began to water. “I’m in a lot of trouble and I’m afraid of what might happen to my Mom and Dad if they found out.”
“Who are those guys you’ve been talking to in the alley?”
“Drug dealers.” Marilee confessed. “I’ve been using meth and I owe them a lot of money. Besides getting the stuff I need, they’ve forced me to hide some of their supplies in the restaurant’s storage room.”
“How much do you owe, and who’s your main dealer?”
“About fifty thousand to a guy named Butch Miller. He’s even tried to pimp me out to repay him, but I refused to do that!” Marilee starting crying some more. "I’m scared. Butch is called “The Butcher” because of what he’s done to people who—"
“—David!” Both Marilee and David heard Dante’ yell from downstairs. “You need to come down here…now!”
When David arrived downstairs, he saw two tough-looking guys standing by the kitchen. One had a bat in his hand, while the other held a switchable.
Dante was standing near the closest goon.
David raised his hand to try to reason with the man holding the switchblade. “I know why you guys are here. Maybe we can work something out.”
David looked to where Dante was while trying to decide on his next move.
“Mind your own business,” the man with the bat warned. He pointed the bat at David. “or I’ll knock out your pearly whites with this Louisville!”
David saw Dante quickly move towards the man with the switchblade. Dante punched the man in the gut, but he may as well have struck a wall by the way the man ignored his attack.
In response, the man’s mouth hyperextended as he let out an unearthly roar! Teeth that were once normal grew into a mouthful of jagged fangs resembling those of a piranha’s. He then buried the switchblade into the nearby wall while his hands transformed into sharp claws.
A wave of fear threatened to sweep over everyone in the restaurant at the sight of the horrific creatures.
The man—or whatever he was—then tried to rake Dante across his chest.
Dante was barely able to dodge the attack.
David moved past Dante and pulled himself over the order counter. He landed inside the kitchen next to the other goon with the bat. He took out his Glock and fired twice striking the man in the torso. To his horror, the bullets didn’t seem to have much affect on the man.
The man opened his mouth to reveal rows of razor-sharp fangs. “If that’s the best you can do, you’re dead meat!” it snarled.
Eddie, who was standing in the kitchen next to David, tried to hit the man with an iron skillet. The man brought his arm up and slapped the skillet aside.
A glass container came flying through between David and Eddie. It struck the man in the chest. Its lid opened, spilling what smelled like garlic powder all across the man’s torso. The man hissed, seemingly bothered by the garlic powder which covered most of his body.
Meanwhile, Dante took out his gun and shot the goon in front of him. His bullet went through just below the man’s shoulder blade. The shot didn’t even phase him.
The sound of a car horn blared in the alley.
Both men then turned and began running out towards the restaurant’s back entrance.
One made it out, but the other didn’t take two steps before David struck him hard in the back with the butt of his Glock.
By the sound of it, David had broken the man’s spine with a single hit!
The man fell screaming.
His body then began to bubble and burst into flames. Within seconds, nothing was left but a small pile of ashes where the man had once stood.
Everyone heard the screech of a car peeling away in the alley.
Dante was already moving towards the front door. “David, let’s go after them!”
“You could use some practice chasing bad guys in a car,” Dante said to David sarcastically. “Maybe I should have driven.”
David sat in the driver’s seat of his BMW and looked out of the windshield towards the dark mansion at the end of the street. “At least they weren’t any better. I didn’t lose them, right?”
“Good point.” Dante said as he marked their location on his iPhone’s GPS. The GPS placed them deep inside Bel Air, an affluent neighborhood in Westside Angel City.
“So now what?” David asked.
Neither was sure about what to make of the attack at the restaurant. They didn’t know what they were up against. Neither had encountered anything like the two creatures before.
Rather than risk themselves any further, they decided to head back to Josephina’s to make sure everyone was alright.
When they got back, Marilee had told them how she had confessed everything to her parents. Although distraught, Eddie and Vicky were relieved that no one was hurt.
“I think I understand why Grandpa Ed’s antics have been more malevolent lately,” David said. He went on to explain how perhaps because of Marilee’s involvement with drugs and those—whatever they were—, Grandpa Ed’s spirt was angry. After all, he clearly loves his family and would be naturally bothered by anything that would harm his family or the family’s business.
David said he would give his friend, Detective Dean Lazarus of the Angel City PD a call in the morning to see what he can do to help.
Meanwhile, Dante suggested that Eddie lock up the restaurant and that they all go to his place where it was safer for the family to stay. Pablo and Maggie who were both upstairs when the incident occurred went home.
Before leaving the restaurant, Dante looked for the stash of drugs Marilee had hidden for Butch. He flushed it all down the toilet.
The next morning, using the computer in Dante’s office, both David and he did some research as to what they were up against. They discovered that they were indeed fighting what they feared: vampires. Fortunately, they learned that unlike the traditional kind of vampires like Dracula , which everyone knows about, there are other kinds of vampires as well.
The kind they fought and had slain last night matched the description of a Vampire Minion. Relatively easier to kill, Vampire Minions have an aversion to garlic which explained why the goon with the bat was annoyed by the garlic powder Vicky Settimio threw at him. Although garlic doesn’t hurt minions, it offers some protection against their attacks.
They also learned that weapons made from wood inflict more damage against the bloodsuckers. However, bullets and all weapons that simply “pierce” flesh do little harm against vampires.
“We need better weapons,” Dante sighed. “I’m glad my Katana comes in handy against them.”
“Yeah, we need to go shopping for more effective weapons than our pistols.” David said. “I’ll call Detective Lazarus. He’s my connection with the ACPD. He might be able to offer us some backup.”
David called Detective Lazarus who wanted to help David but was unable to. He did however share that his department had had problems with drug dealers on the streets at night who, according to certain eye witnesses and police reports, exhibited superhuman strengths and abilities.
The descriptions on the police reports matched the descriptions David gave of the two goons who threatened the Settimios.
Lazarus suggested that David have Dante get a search warrant and then contact others who might be able to help them investigate the mansion. He offered to help as soon as he was able.
David took out his iPhone and began searching through his contacts for anyone who might be able to help them fight against the bloodsucking undead.
To be continued in The Lair in Bel Air, Chasing Shadows: Act 2…
(Investigative Reporter for The National Inquisitor)
Special Appearance By:
John Philips Dante
(Private Investigator and Shadow Chaser)