Two days later, Judy interrupted a morning exercise Branko was conducting in the HAMC3. “Branko, I just got a call from NYPD. They’ve a triple homicide that looks like it belongs to us. They didn’t have time to explain.” She handed Branko a printout.
Branko glanced at the printout and handed it to Marty. “Get us zere fast.” Marty punched in the address on his dashboard GPS -- a super version. A map appeared showing multiple routes to the address. It also depicted current traffic patterns and weather. Marty selected a route and the HAMC3 started forward in the self-driving mode. The route took them down FDR drive to Old Ship Street and then down a narrow alley to a warehouse. Several patrol cars were blocking the alley. The HAMC3 was guided around the patrol cars and closer to the warehouse.
While the HAMC3 was moving, Branko and Alex slipped into their outside uniforms which consisted of leather pants and shirts like bikers’ leathers, boots, gloves, and a special helmet with a sun visor that could flip down when needed. With the helmet, they didn’t need umbrellas. Both applied a special sunscreen to any exposed skin around the neck and wrists, helping each other when needed. Alex saw Mike watching. “Vamps need all the protection they can get from the sunlight,” she said. “If you’re a good boy, I’ll let you put on my sunscreen.” Mike smiled at the thought.
When the HAMC3 stopped, Marty said, “I guess this is as far as we go.” Marty grabbed his body armor and stepped into the grey morning light.
Branko stopped him. “You and zhe others stay in zhe HAMC3 for now. Mike and I will check it. We do not need a crowd in zhe crime scene. Keep your ears on.”
After Branko and Mike left, Marty shook his head and turned to Alex. “What does he mean, ‘Keep your ears on?’”
Alex laughed. “You forget Branko is like a hundred years old. His expressions are ancient. He meant for us to keep our commo lines open, so he can talk to us.”
Marty shook his head again. “Why didn’t he say so? It’s not like we have a choice.”
All FBI field agents have a cochlear device implanted at the academy in their right ear. The implants are wired to a processor attached to the skull just above the right ear. The processor is smaller in diameter than a quarter and about the same thickness. A thin flap of skin hides a tiny microphone and processor. The processor is voice activated. The implants are invisible but enable agents to communicate with each other on several channels using boosters.
Branko led the way inside the warehouse. Most of the warehouse was dark except at the far end where some lighting was set up. A small group of detectives and policemen stood inside the circle of lights. The crime scene was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. An officer stood by the tape with a clipboard. Beyond the tape were three bodies hanging upside down a couple of feet from the floor, suspended from a ceiling beam by a steel cable that ran through their Achilles tendons. No other restraints were used. Branko approached and identified himself and asked who the CSI team leader was. Branko signed the ledger and then found the FBI agent who was the CSI team leader, William. (Bill) McGarry. He was the same height as Branko but a lot thinner with a thin mustache and thick glasses. He had been in the FBI longer than Branko. Branko felt Bill resented him because he rose up through the ranks much faster.
“Hello Bill,” Branko said. “You got zhe lead on this one?”
“No. Senior Special Agent (SSA) Francis gave the lead to you,” Bill said with a slight smile. “I just have the crime scene and the forensics.”
“Fine. Give me a status report.”
“The police got a call from a maintenance guy a couple of hours ago. He came in to repair a leak and found them like this. My crew is still working the crime scene. We’ve tagged all the evidence. We haven’t moved anything since we knew you guys were on the way. ME is on the way – stuck in morning traffic.”
“Find any weapons or ID?”
“No, but we’re still searching the building. Here’s the odd part and the reason I told Agent Francis to call you; the bodies have been drained of blood. There’s no blood anywhere. Except for the bodies, the crime scene is clean. There are puncture wounds on the arms, neck and Achilles tendons. Their teeth and finger tips are missing too. Looks post mortem. They were drugged. Probably killed somewhere else and brought here. It looks like a ritual bloodletting.”
Branko shook his head. “No. They were killed here. You could say they bleed to death. Let me view zhe bodies for a few minutes.”
“Okay, I’ll check back in ten. I got plenty of things to do.” Bill turned and sauntered away.
Branko tapped Mike on the arm. “You first. See what you can discover. I will record.” Branko turned on his cellphone and held it up. “Team, commo check.” Marty, Judy and Alex all responded. “Alex, get on line and see whom owns this warehouse. Okay, team, listen to Mike’s observations.”
Mike turned his cellphone on too and turned the camera toward the bodies. “Are you receiving this?” Everyone answered in the affirmative. Mike slipped on latex gloves and stepped closer. “Three bodies, all naked and hanging upside down. Three Caucasian males, appear to be middle aged. The only restraint is a medal cable strung through the Achilles tendons.”
Branko interrupted “Any restraint constricts zhe flow of blood.”
Mike continued, “I see puncture wounds on the sides of the neck and on each arm at the bend of the elbow.” He pointed at the chest of one of the victims. “What’s this? Appears to be a tattoo.” Branko zoomed his camera lens on the tattoo. “Each victim has the same tattoo on the left side of their chest. Looks like some type of bow and arrow.”
Branko interrupted again, “It is zhe emblem of a Romanian Recon Regiment. Our vics were members of zhe Regiment. Every member got this tattoo – same place.”
Mike looked at all the victims. “The vics all appear to be near the same age.” He focused on one victim. “However, this one is unkempt – not as clean cut. The other two look like business men – nice haircuts, wore watches and wedding rings which are missing.”
Branko interrupted again, “Judy, check your sources and see if there are any missing persons reports in Neu York. Alex, see if you can get addresses for ex-members of zhe Romanian Army living in Neu York.”
“Negative, Branko,” answered Alex. “All military records of the veterans from Romania that signed the London Accords were destroyed as part of the general amnesty of the London Accords.”
Banko sighed. “I know that, but veterans joined together in organizations after zhe war. They have records. Zhe Romanian Army has a vets’ organization headquartered in Romania euth chapters in zhe US. They should have a list of names and addresses. Tell then we need zhe info to ID a body euth zhe Hunter tattoo. They will cooperate.” Branko turned toward Mike. “Get closer.”
Mike bent down near the face of one of the victims and sniffed. “Chloroform.”
Branko smiled. “Yeah, I smelled it as soon as we came in. They subdued zhe vics euth chloroform and then brought them here and drained their blood.”
Mike used a thumb to open the mouth of one vic so Branko could zoom inside. “The teeth are all knocked out.” He held up one hand of the vic. “Finger tips are cut off. I guess they wanted to make it hard to ID these guys.” He stood up and turned to Branko. “You’ve seen this before.”
Branko nodded. “It is a ritual bloodletting, except for zhe teeth and fingers. We used to do it during zhe war.”
“But why now? There’s plenty of human blood available.”
Branok shook his head. “They weren’t after zhe blood. Even in zhe war, we were not after blood.”
Mike noted that Branko said ‘we’. “What then?”
“Whoever did zhis wanted to send a message. I am guessing zhe perps are Vampire Freedom Fighters. They are sending a message to zhe Hunters.”
“What’s the message?”
“Zhe war is back on.”