"Don't forget the wipe cloth, Vicki. We can't leave a thing behind."
"I know Rene." I replied a little too quickly. Rene stood up tall and stepped over to the pile on the floor. Her even taller shadow taunted me.
"Are you upset with me Vicki?"
"No." I scooped up the last of the collateral damage and tossed it onto the pile.
"No? It sounds like you're upset about something."
I shrugged my shoulders and pulled off my glasses to wipe the damp lens with the front bottom edge of my button down white shirt, which was soiled with sweat, dirt and blood.
"Why don't you just tell me what's bugging you?" She pressed the buttons on her elbows and her five-inch titanium nails contracted into her purple-bruised finger knuckles. She proceeded with the ceremonial fitting of her brown leather gloves, one hand at a time, cracking her knuckles at the end.
"I just...never mind." I dug into my shirt pocket and pulled out the box of matches. The welder's mask on my head flipped down when I touched the switch by my ear. I didn't think Rene noticed me shaking my head.
"Oh for Christ's sake Vicki. Out with it!"
"Fine." I lifted the mask up. "Do you have to be so damn flamboyant?"
"With the twirling and back flipping, posing after each kill as if someone is taking a photo of you. It's as if you enjoy doing this shit."
"I do enjoy it. I love what I do. I kill vampires. It's my job. It's our job."
I sighed and flipped down my mask again. "Our job indeed."
The lighted match rotated in perfect circles as it made its way from my fingers onto the pile of inanimate arms, legs, torsos and heads. The chemical formula of my specialized lighter fluid set the mountain ablaze instantly and burned the carcasses at a rapid rate. The evidence of the evening's mutilations were erased within minutes, leaving only a black stain of ash on the concrete floor of the abandoned warehouse. The stench would be gone by morning.
Rene and I walked back to our bikes in silence except for her stiletto boots echoing across the desolate boulevard, as if announcing our presence to those who were looking for a fight. I wondered if she was stomping her feet on purpose. If she was, I wouldn't be surprised.
"Victoria," Rene said as she mounted her nail-polish red Panigale. "I'm sorry that we are tasked to do this, but it is our duty."
I slam my helmet down onto the seat of my bike. "It is the way you carry out your duty that angers me. No...it hurts me. You forget they did not choose their state of being. It wasn't their choice to become monsters. By being such a showgirl, you take away the little human dignity they had left."
"They aren't human, Vicki. They're undead."
"They were human once, and they remember it." Now my voice was echoing down the streets. I took a long, deep breath to calm myself down, to clear the tightness in my throat. "You forget they were once human. You disrespect your enemy. It's unbecoming of you. This is a job. This is our duty. This isn't fun and games."
Rene blinks at me with unfeeling eyes. Her face is devoid of emotion.
Exasperated, I turn away from Rene to mount my bike. "It hurts me to watch you like this. It hurts me to see how you've come to enjoy this wretched chore." I searched for the precise expression I was trying to convey on the glossy back of my helmet. I swallowed hard the instant it came to me. I continued staring at my helmet as I spoke the words. "The Rene I love wouldn't love doing this."
I waited a few seconds for a response, for an apology, for a sign from Rene that would have proven she understood my position, or at least protested my criticism. But as always, she did nothing.
The rich leather grain of my motorcycle gloves slid luxuriously across the back of my hand, and I felt suddenly unworthy of possessing them. A customized royal blue Streetfighter, expensive leather biking gear, and endless bottles of wine to celebrate our victory back at Maria's mansion...why did I have such extravagances when so many people are dying? Why was I allowed to live? Why was I given the right to kill? And I've killed so many vampires: men, women, elderly, even children.
The children. Their begging. Their screams. The nightmares and sleepless nights that followed. I press my eyelids shut and shake my head to scatter my thoughts. Those days are long gone. I'm a professional now. I kill coldly and sleep soundly, and I never ever disrespect. Sometimes, I even pray for the undead before lighting them on fire. Damn...I forgot tonight. I must remember next time.
The pain of my fingernails bending from the leather pressing against my fingertips was a sign that I had been tugging on my gloves long enough. Rene hates my ritual reminiscing afterwards, the inevitable self reflection. She believes it to be toxic. I believe it strengthens me, keeps me from losing myself in this war.
Still no acknowledgement from Rene. I might have already lost her.
I glanced back and saw her staring down at her hands folded over her helmet, her lips pursed in concentration. A sign of hope. "Try not to make too much noise when you get home," I said before she could look up at me. I put on my helmet, turned on the engine, and rode off into the night rain.
~ * ~