by Nicki Vardon
Slick suit, greased hair, bleached fangs, pasty and glittery skin from ultra-sunblock; the man that steps into my bar definitely looks the part.
The bar is empty and I’m cleaning out glasses like some spaghetti western saloon keeper. Everyone is still in a recession and I’m happily on the verge of spilling out of my corset to draw attention and clientele. Any clientele.
The stranger sits himself on a barstool. I glance over his shoulder at Dieter, my pile of boyfriend slumped into one of the booths, snoring underneath a copy of the Lincolnshire Echo.
Fang Boy catches me watching, smirks and dares a wink, then checks out my chest. He winces.
Sure, I could have punched him, but then I remember and cover the crucifix.
“Entschuldigung.” I unlock my necklace, then drop the charm down the front of my top. “Must have slipped out.” Thank God for freedom of religion.
“Oh my.” The grin grows to unsightly proportions. “German, are we?”
“I’m not,” I say. “My linguistics course is.”
“Ah.” He flicks out his wallet as he peers over his shoulder at the sleeping guy in the muscle shirt.
“What’ll it be? A Type-O? A Duffy Demolition? AB with a Rhesus Rasher?”
“Your finest B-neg will do, sweetheart.”
Could he stop quirking his eyebrows for a second? If he’s going to have a cheap dose of B-negative, why is he flicking the notes in his wallet so close to my face? Trying to prove something are we?
I bend for the fridge and tip out a transfusion bag. Three more of B-neg left. I hope he doesn’t plan to overdrink himself. I hate ordering that stuff. Paperwork’s endless.
As I pour him his blood, he ogles the lace off-set of my bodice. He must suspect I won’t hit him as long as he has the contents of his wallet showing. He might even be right.
“You have a name, lovely?”
“Adrienne,” I say. Because it is.
“Ah, Adrienne. Welch ein wunderbares Name.”
I cringe accordingly. The blood sloshes as I smack the glass in front of him.
“Have you ever been to Germany?” His finger glides down the back of my hand as he lifts an eyebrow, sharp as an inkline, shaped with a razor. He nods back towards the booth. “Or is that lowlife keeping you? That ought to be disallowed. One would think slavery was never banned eons ago.”
“You should talk,” I mutter.
“Adrienne, we’re not the leeches everyone perceives us to be.” Quirked eyebrow is followed by lip curl. “Not all of us anyway.”
I even get a fang-glint. Lucky me.
“What is it you want?” I rattle my nails in alternate rhythms on the oaken bar top. “You come in here flaunting your cash, making passes at me in front of my boyfriend, and I don’t even know your name. Give me some credit, will you?”
No, seriously. Give me some credit. Bugger it, I need cash.
“Deals can be made in a heartbeat, Liebchen.”
“It’s our specialty,” he says.
“Besides sucking blood?”
He squints and pretends to lick a paper cut from flicking his money back and forth. “No offers for nothing.”
“I still don’t know your name.”
“Julian.” He reaches out his hand. “At your service.”
At first I suspect he wants to start anew, but no. As soon as I accept the waxlike fingers, he brings my hand to his mouth with faux-chivalrous flair.
He savours it. Arteries under the surface. Warm. Beating. They might drink their blood chilled, but fresh and pulsing is an outlawed delicacy. A treat they have to scheme and swindle for.
They’ve become politicians. Investors. Strategic geniuses inking in legislation one bill at a time. Before we knew it, we gave off thirty per cent of all transfusions for consumption, categorised garlic as a class A drug and served B-negative on ice in our bistros. Cunning is an understatement. Bloody hell—in quite a literal sense.
What’s one little bite for some cash, right? Bills need paying, and my next blood donation isn’t for at least a few weeks. There are people that need blood a lot more than them, but why would they care?
“Adrienne.” He says it how I served his drink—chilled over a load of ice. Insistent and overflowing. “Look at this place: spider webs, cracked plaster, frazzled carpets, glasses are chipped, no patrons save for one humble vampire with his heart still in the right spot. This is your lucky day, Adrienne. Come with me. I have so much more to offer you. Germany, if you wish. Austria. Switzerland. Slovakia. Hungary—”
“What if I like it here?” I don’t, but that’s beside the point.
“This grey, rain-sodden trampled rug of a country? Adrienne, I offer you bearskin rugs and gold-threaded tapestries and you say no? Lovely Adrienne, don’t waste your wishes.”
“I’ve known you all of ten minutes, Julian,” I say, disgruntled. Becoming an undead bride has never been part of my five-year-plan. “I don’t see why I should trust you. You’re after my blood, like all of your kind.”
“And you’re after my money, like all of your kind. We’re not so different. Wouldn’t you prefer the lavish beauty of the continent? Come with me, Adrienne. One sip every once in a while, that is all I ask.”
“You must have been deprived.”
“I’m not taking it illegally. I’m asking you. I’m offering. That’s a privilege.”
“But you don’t expect a no.”
“Details. Besides,” he says, chuckling like a demented garden gnome, “where will your no bring you? No further than Gainsborough. I could show you Prague, Vienna, Berlin. All you could ever want to see. Here you have electricity bills, plasma taxes, blood quota. That’s hardly living, is it?”
True, very true. And whose fault is that?
Nevertheless, Germany has been on the wish list for a long time. I peek towards the booth. Dieter lies there near-comatose as he has for most of the day.
I sigh. Julian grins.
“I need a drink.” I head for the special cupboard underneath the peanut dispenser. “Next one’s on the house. It’ll be the sweetest thing you’ve ever tasted.” I lean closer. “Save for what I have for you in the back.”
“Cheers.” He chugs the shot and licks his lips. “That is sweet.”
I beckon him to follow me behind the bead-curtain. My eyes adjust slowly to the darkness of the storage room. One dusty top window, but I know my way blind through the stacked chairs, the foosball table with one-and-a-half team left, and the score board from pub quizzes of yore. I pace myself to the clock in the back, several hours slow, but the second hand is accurate.
Five rows of chairs in, I prepare, comb my hair aside from my shoulder. I expect the touch of cold paws to my skin, but not to have my arm wrenched and shoved against my back. My cheek hits wall plaster, and the crucifix in my bra prods my chest. No way to reach it; he’s too strong.
“Ah, Adrienne. You elusive little blood smuggler,” he says into my ear. It’s awkward to expect hot breath and instead receive instant brain-freeze. “You have no idea how well-read your description is in the House of Ghouls circulars. Five foot eight, twelve stone two, AB-positive.”
“I really need to fire my bookkeeper.” I can’t glance at the clock and my heartbeat is no reliable measure. Vampires are fast and strong, but none so far have treated me to an arm-lock. I’m supposed to be better than this. “And kill my publicist.”
Julian laughs. That strange metallic giggle you’ll only hear from them. “Oh, he’ll see his day. Unfortunately, Schätzchen, you have the higher price on your head.”
The cracked chair leg is painfully out of reach. The quiz tally flashes in a stroboscopic ray of British, cloud-filtered sun. “So you hand me over to your high-end courthouse buddies. What else is new?”
“Not necessarily. The offer still stands, if you want to stay out of their clutches. I would. What do you have to lose?”
I tune him out and count down with the clock in my head. Not long now. Let him talk.
“I hear Budapest is wonderful this time of year.” He does that thing, sniffing my hair like I’m some perfumed, fresh heap of prey. “And nothing says holiday more than a personal… mini-bar.”
“Gross.” I don’t even want to try and understand the mechanics behind that.
The clock ticks. Five, four, three…
Julian retches between a belch and a hiccup. I hope that’s not all over my clothes. His breath smells sharp and familiar, like a spicy recipe passed down through countless generations. The clench on my arm weakens. I reach for the engraved old chair leg and stab.
An undeserved look of shock graces his face as it flurries to the floor in a fine ash cloud.
“You vampires need a better election plan.” I prop the stake back into place, chalk another win on the score board and fetch my dustpan.
Boyfriend wakes up when I return, corset dusted. Dieter ruffles his hair, grabs his newspaper, and stumbles for the bar.
“Not very busy today, is it?” He yawns and stretches, then grabs his back. “Next time, Matt can call in his own removal service. I broke my spine on that piano.”
“Still hurts?” I ask, plunging the used glasses in water before he sees them.
He nods. “I’ll get back to job hunting tomorrow. There’s some hopeful adverts in here. You have that bag of A-positive on ice and ready, I’ll get us some plane tickets before Mum has another faint.”
“What if I pay this time?” I smile, fondling a sealed paper bag filled with the main component for SPF 250+ sun lotion behind my back. Big money on the black market, vampire ash. Funny how that works. Just like the fact that a solid piece of aspen cannot be prohibited by law. Or sugar. And didn’t my Mutter-in-law teach me how a little sugar tones down the sting in my pasta sauce? “And maybe we should stay there for a while.”
Dieter beckons me over and kisses me. Then sniffs. “Is that garlic I smell?”
I raise my eyebrows and lips in a satisfied smirk. I’ve had enough of that example all evening. Thankfully, Dieter is not so obnoxiously obtuse.
“Du Vieh,” he says, deliciously without accent, and opens up the small ads.
Nicki Vardon Bio: Hard-core scientist, soft-hearted metalhead, seasoned night owl and part-time catsitter. When not writing her thesis or fiction projects, she is involved with excavated skeletons and picking bones apart. She can be woken up in the middle of the night for – or by – metal concerts and tea with honey, but always at one’s own risk.
© 2012 All rights reserved Nicki Vardon