In the early days after the discovery of MBEX (Magical Blood EXtract) in 1968, blood from Magicals was usually extracted from volunteer donors. Most of these were participants in various experiments and studies at universities and hospitals throughout the world.

When MagX entered the illegal drug markets in the late 1980s, the supply declined rapidly. The manufacturers of the drug used different methods of acquiring MBEX, but soon turned to the raw material itself—magical blood. Illegal clinics were established, where Magicals could come and sell their blood. Demand for the new drug increased almost exponentially, and in a few years, it was clear that the rogue Magicals willing to sell blood could not give the manufacturers nearly enough for their needs.

Criminals started “hunting” Magicals, often forcing the victims at gunpoint to allow the perpetrator to exsanguinate blood. Eventually, the word “Harvester” became a common and scary term in the Magical community. In the mid-to-late 1990s, Harvesters were unorganized and mostly collected the blood before leaving the victims.

When researching for the Ruby Morgan series, L did some digging into the dark web, and got in touch with “Jake ZZ”, a Harvester operating the streets of London. L got him to agree to an interview, and met him at a coffee bar in the summer of 2019.
Jake ZZ sits at a table in a corner, his back against the wall. I presume it’s because he wants to keep an eye on everybody. He looks like, well, a young man in London, basically. If he walked through the gates of White Willow University, he’d fit in with his six foot frame, black Vans hoodie, jeans and Converse sneakers. Pilot shades hide his eye colour. On his neck, I spot the upper part of what looks like a tribal tattoo. When he reaches out his hand to greet me—still sitting—I see more ink running up his arm.

L: I presume your real name isn’t Jake ZZ?
Jake: Nah, but it’s as good as any, right?
L: It is. Does it mean anything special?
Jake: Couple of mates and I used to hang out at the old skate park down by Clapham Common. Sometimes slept there, when my Dad was on a bender. “Jake’s catching his z’s in the park,” they said. Well, not Jake, but you get it. So, Jake ZZ.
L: How did you go from skating to Harvesting?
Jake: I was quite good early on. Won the local Vans tryouts twice. Never got to go to the finals, though.
L: Why not?
Jake: Dad wouldn’t let me. Said there was no point, as the sponsors already had decided on their favourites. No way a punk like me would get a break. But I know I would’ve beat them all. One day he up and left with this girl. Mum jumped down the drain and I didn’t want to be there anymore.
L: She alive?
Jake: Guess so. Got a pulse, at least. But not a life, really. Anyway, Banger—that’s one of my mates—said we should catch a Mag. He knew a bloke who’d pay good money.
L: And did you?
Jake: I did. Banger and Mash got—
L: Banger and Mash. Really?
Jake: Yeah. They were twins. Not really, but you know how they say a dog starts to look like its owner? That’s Banger and Mash. Best mates. Looked nothing like each other at 10. Bugger me if they weren’t identical at 15.

Jake fishes out an e-cigarette from his pocket. The blue light on the tip reflects in his Ray Bans.

Jake: So, Banger and Mash got cold feet, but I caught the Mag myself. Went to Banger’s mate and got five monkeys for him.
L: And what happened to the Mag?
Jake: Dunno. Taken to a farm, I guess. The bloke gave me a card and said to call the number the next day.

I notice how matter-of-factly Jake speaks about having turned a Magical—a man with Shapeshifter abilities, he tells me later—over to what most likely is captivity and/or death. Chills run down my spine when all I can see where his eyes should be is my own reflection. And two blue dots every time he takes another drag on his e-cig.

By the late 1990s, more organized groups had established themselves in Europe, with two of the largest residing in England. There were rumours of “training facilities” and organized crime syndicates funding the growing industry—much like the drug cartels of South America.
Magicals were kidnapped and as the brutality increased, several never returned, or their exsanguinated bodies were dumped at different locations. The most infamous case in the early days of the organized “harvesting” was the discovery of 23 bodies in an abandoned warehouse south of Guildford in 1998. Along with the bodies, the police also found medical equipment and implements of imprisonment, indicating that the Magicals had been held prisoners for prolonged periods of time. Thus, the Harvester or Harvesters operating the facility could presumably drain more blood from each Magical than before.

L: And the number was to whom?
Jake: You speak better English than me, lady. Whom and all. A recruiter. Said I was to go to this address, tell nobody, and never expect to meet any of my old friends and family again.
L: Just like that? No time to go home and pack or anything?
Jake: Listen, L or whatever your name is. I’m just a part of your imagination, you and that old chap on the spin bike. You know I didn’t get no time to pack. What, I should get my Gucci overnight and maybe an extra shirt for dinner? Ain’t the way the Harvester Academy works, right?

I smile. He’s clever, I’ll give him that. I guess street smarts is a better term, and one I presume is vital to succeed as a Harvester.

L: Right. So, where is this Academy?
Jake: Nah, can’t tell you. Or, I could, but then—
L: —you’d have to kill me, I get it. Am I in danger, Jake?

He smiles. As he stands, he lifts the Ray Bans and looks deep into my eyes. His eyes are so blue, I almost blurt out they could be rubies, but then again, that would be silly. Rubies are red, and J would never let me off the hook if I said it.

Jake: No, lady. No danger. Just had to check if you’ve got any magic powers.

Jake ZZ leaves the coffee bar and disappears into the crowd outside. I tap the button on my phone to stop the recording. Then I see it. Next to my phone lies a business card. It’s off-white, quite thick, and with a single word embossed in black. It reminds me (or J, since he’s the one writing this, and he doesn’t know whether I’ve seen the film) of the scene in American Psycho. Granted, the font isn’t Roman. Maybe the colour is egg shell, and not off-white. Anyway, the text reads:

ReTrac

I shudder, the images in my head playing vividly. Scenes from the book “Harvester Academy” that will be on sale from April 3rd 2020.