He was a dead man from the moment he stumbled through the doors of the restaurant. A posse of waiters descended on him from all angles, whipping out their rifles from the baguettes that hid them. Peppered with garlic-tipped wooden bullets, the vampire expired in a pungent flambé.
The late-night diners at Le Coeur Rouge clapped, but my one-eighth-vampire heritage kept my hands firmly gripped on the cutlery. The rifles returned to the baguettes and the waiters went about their more usual business. I fixed my date with what I hoped was a suitably hypnotic, irresistible stare. Twenty-eight years old, with a wide face and crew cut black hair, he did a desk job near the railway station. Graham was tallish, niceish and acceptableish.
“Remind me, Graham, why did we come here tonight?”
“Aren’t you enjoying your meal?”
“Oh, absolutely. Guess I didn’t know that the Anti-Vamp Squad owned restaurants.”
“Really? A stand’s got to be made somewhere.”
“Why are you looking in that dessert spoon?”
“No reason.” He put it down altogether too quickly. A sure sign that he was checking for vampires. Luckily, it took some pretty specific circumstances for my reflection to disappear, while my bloodlust only manifested itself in a bias towards certain meat products. Both symptoms were kept in check by my experimental medication. My expensively discreet Harley Street doctor had promised that the symptoms would be permanently suppressed after just one course of treatment, although I’d begun to suspect that one course meant the course of one lifetime. Oh well, that was private medicine for you. The NHS must’ve had more urgent cases to deal with, like thorns in the paws of full-blown killer werewolves. “Actually, Connie, I do have an ulterior motive for bringing you here. Marcel will explain.”
The Head Waiter drew a chair up to our table and joined us. Clearly, I was at the centre of a well-choreographed pincer movement. A small, portly man, perhaps a decade older than Graham, he wore the classic waiter’s garb.
“Mademoiselle Hewlett, there’s an extremely vicious fiend on the loose. A fiend that only you can deal with.” I nibbled a bread stick. I should’ve feigned a lighthearted laugh, but the terror of the Anti-Vamp Squad reduced my response to a limp smile. Funny, how a veil of fear could reduce a would-be attitude-challenger to a state of spineless compliance. Where were my fine arguments now?
“You’ve read the local paper, Mademoiselle Hewlett? The people found dead from blood loss?” I nodded and nibbled. “Four dead within a mile of Saxmundham in the last month, twelve in East Anglia since last year. That’s what brought the Anti-Vamp Squad from mainland Europe. They say there’s a vampire out there.” He leaned closer. “What they say is true. Therefore, we need the help of a vampire bat, such as you can become.”
“What makes you think I can change into a bat?”
They nodded wisely.
“Ah,” said Marcel.
“Hmm,” said Graham.
“Bloody hell, Graham, these people kill vampires. What exactly did you tell them about me? Marcel, I swear he was joking.”
Marcel shushed me with a flutter of his plump hands. “Do not be concerned for your safety. We are aware of how so very minor your heritage is. Stopping the fiend is bigger than you, I, or La Brigade Anti-Vamp. Your secret is safe with us.” A frying sound began in the kitchen. A nearby diner dropped two lumps of sugar into her cup.
Sure, I thought, bigger than any of us it may be. But what happens when the vampire is dispatched? Regardless of which, I played it cool, deciding that any sign of discomfort would be bad for my longevity. “What information do you have?”
“The creature strikes on Friday nights. The victim is always a person on his or her own. Male, female, old, young, all have fallen prey to this undead stalker. Today is Friday.”
Marcel and Graham looked positively triumphant.
“Graham mentioned that you could control your change to a vampire bat. No, do not start. It is the fact that you exert control that persuaded La Brigade to ask for your assistance.”
Persuaded you to let me live, you mean, however long for. I wondered if they’d reached that decision easily, and whether the vote had been unanimous. My gaze darted to the other waiters. None of them paid me any attention. No surprises there, because I needed to make a serious effort for any waiter to acknowledge me. Even so, they might well just give me a cheery wave and attend to someone else.
“You are no doubt wondering how the plan will operate?” Marcel asked.
“What? That is, yes, go ahead.”
“This is the plan. You will wander alone in the countryside around Saxmundham tonight, a potential victim for the foul creature.”
“Back up a little there, Marcel. I’m to be a victim?” The expression “foul creature” sounded a smidgen judgmental to me.
“Just a potential victim, Mademoiselle Hewlett. You will naturally evade it, turn into a bat and raise the alarm with us. We’ll do the rest.”
“Naturally. Sounds almost too easy.”
“Your sangfroid is admirable.”
I turned to my alleged date. “What’s in this for you, Graham dear?”
“As secretary of the local tourist board, I’m keen to see local business benefit from an up-turn in trade. So you could say that I’m in it for the money.” Well, I didn’t see that one coming. Then again, because it was his honesty that attracted me to him in the first place, I could hardly complain at his candour.
I spotted Bloodsucker Boy within 10 minutes of leaving Marcel, after I climbed over a wooden gate and walked slowly across the brow of a low hill. He kept a reasonable distance to my rear on this moonless, warm September night, though clearly he possessed no tracking skills, not caring how much noise he made. With a shudder, I realized that this murderer wanted to be heard.
Hands trembling, I gave myself two tablets and took a swig of white wine from my hip flask. This was my recipe for becoming a bat, which I’d discovered quite by chance. I’d be airborne soon enough, but would that be soon enough? When in doubt, ask an awkward question. So I turned around, took out my trusty torch and switched it on. A vampire stood blinking with surprise, much closer than I’d anticipated. Worse still, it was Graham.
“Damn it Graham, it’s too much of a coincidence that the one person you required for this job should be your date. How long had you been stalking me before we met at the bookstore?”
He grinned in a frankly unhealthy way, raised his red-lined black velvet cape by extending his arms upwards and chuckled meanly.
“And don’t pretend to be drunk, either. You’ve hardly touched a drop all evening.”
He put his arms down and stopped chuckling.
“Go on, and the stupid grin.” He frowned. “Much better. Now, I can take you seriously.”
“It’s because you’re the one person who could do this job that you have to embrace your heritage and join me,” he pleaded. “Forever. The vampire story is actually great for local business. So somebody dies once in a while. Do you think Saxmundham could afford such a swanky restaurant as Le Coeur Rouge otherwise?”
“But, the vampire that the waiters killed?”
“Part of their bait for you, sweetheart. He was an amateur. The Anti-Vamp Squad would’ve caught him soon enough anyway.”
“No, I don’t accept it.”
“Don’t accept what?”
“That my vampire heritage consists of a dodgy velvet outfit and an altogether dodgier outlook on life.”
“Connie, you have no choice.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I only have no choice if I accept that I have no choice.”
“That isn’t your real medicine, so there’ll be no flying away. Well, not until I’ve bitten you and buried you. That hedge over there is quite scenic, wouldn’t you agree?”
“You’ve tampered with my medication?”
“There’s no reason to look at me like that, my beloved afterlife partner. Yes, I sneaked into your bedroom and stole them. No, no, it doesn’t mean that you can’t trust me.”
I let myself be drawn falteringly towards him, stumbling at the final step. Which allowed me to grab my own gun, from the holster concealed under my jean jacket. The weapon was loaded with garlic-tipped wooden bullets, and I aimed for Graham’s so-called heart. Like, I’d go out without a backup means of defence. Jean-Jaques, the sous-chef, had kindly loaned it to me. Graham did the flame roast thing and I recoiled from the sudden heat. Phew, I’d never get used to that stench.
I’d go back to London and lie low. With no more killings, the Anti-Vamp Squad would be redeployed. If I’d been undecided before, now I was certain. Whatever the form of funeral, I’d never want a traditional death.
* * * * *
(c) T. P. Keating, All Rights Reserved
Tags: Bleeding Hearts, Bloodlust-UK, Dracula, Keating, Short Story, T. P. Keating, Vampire, Vampire Fiction, Writers
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