Paradigms Lost — Chapter 20
Chapter 20: An Unusual Consultant
Red liquid swirled warmly in the crystal glass, throwing off crimson highlights. Verne Domingo sipped. I swallowed some of my ginger ale, noticing how little I was affected these days by the knowledge that Verne was drinking blood.
“Why doesn’t it clot?” I asked idly.
“Heparin, my friend. A standard anticoagulant.”
“Doesn’t that give you any problems?”
His warm chuckle rolled out. “Not in the least, Jason. Nor does anything else within the blood. Disease and toxins cannot harm me. It does change the taste somewhat, and on occasion I do need some fresh blood; but that, too, can be arranged.”
“How’s things going?” I asked, realizing I was evading what had brought me here… but now that I was here I found myself a little nervous. “Your new business and all?”
“Oh, well enough. Sky Hashima was to have visited either this evening or the next, but he had a family emergency; his daughter apparently managed to break her leg and develop appendicitis at the same time.”
“The description was a bit… disjointed, but I gather that the infection came on quickly, and when she was trying to come down the stairs the pain hit, she tripped, and fell. So she is now in the hospital, having surgery for a ruptured appendix and a complex fracture.”
“Holy crap. I’d better send them a card or something. I hope she’ll be okay.”
“I believe she will be, and am sure they would appreciate it.” He gazed at me levelly. “Enough of these pleasantries, Jason. Tell me what is bothering you.”
Okay, I can’t hide much from him, can I? “An awful lot of things, really. This has been the kind of day that makes me think I should have just slept on to tomorrow.” I put the glass down and fiddled with my keys. “I really don’t want to bother you, either. I guess any problems I have would seem pretty insignificant to you anyway.”
“Perhaps not, my friend.” He took another sip. “I am many centuries old, that is true, and such a perspective makes many mortal concerns seem at best amusing conceits. But the affairs of the heart, and the concerns of a friend, these things are eternal. Those… immortals who lose sight of their basic humanity become as was your friend Elias Klein. Something I was myself in danger of becoming, and had come very close to becoming more than once in the past.”
He put the glass down. “Truly, Jason. I am interested. It is a rare thing for me, remember, to again think of, and take part in, the ordinary things of humanity.”
That much was true. “Well, first there was a call from Renee,” I said finally. “This kid, Xavier Ross … well, long story short, his brother was murdered in a nasty way, cops closed the case awfully fast, Xavier had reason to think they were wrong, he came to me. I found some other evidence, he took it to the police but they wouldn’t re-open the case, so he waits a few weeks and then takes off on his own — best guess that he’s heading for LA like he’s some kind of hero.”
Verne nodded. “And…”
“And Renee called today; they managed to track him to Chicago, and he just disappears. Some kind of gang fight right in his last vicinity, and they found a lot of blood and a couple traces of clothing that matched his.”
“So,” Verne said seriously, “then you blame yourself?”
“I should’ve cut him off from the start. Damn, Verne, he was sixteen. He shouldn’t have been …”
“Understandable, indeed. Yet… I feel there was more. You must have ways of letting go, so to speak.”
I sighed. “Yeah. Yeah, I do, and mostly I know he made his choices on his own, and it’s not my fault or lookout. But still, that took me a few hours to dig my brain out from under, so to speak, and then I get out of work and Sylvie wants to… talk to me.” I hesitated.
He smiled. He probably meant it to comfort me, but the kindly effect was slightly offset by the sight of his fangs. “I can guess, my friend. The affaire d’amour, eh? And you are, I have noticed, a bit uncomfortable with the subject.”
I stared carefully at my drink. “That obvious, huh?”
“Quite.” He raised his glass and drank. “A word of advice, if you will take it? Women are indeed different from men in many ways – even as they are much the same in many others; but both sides like things that are certain and predictable. If you do not intend a romantic involvement with the young lady, then comport yourself accordingly. I know you, my young friend. You are attracted to her, but at the same time I can sense that you are, to put it bluntly, petrified at the thought of such an involvement. When she demands a decision, she is not telling you to either become involved with her or she will leave; she is telling you to treat her as either lover or simple friend, not something of each. It may be easy for you to behave as your impulses lead; it is hard on her.”
I stared harder at my glass. That was a cutting analysis. I hate having to see myself like that. But he was right. “Sylvie… she’s different from everyone else. It’s strange, really. You intimidate me a lot less than she does.”
Verne laughed. “Now that is odd, my friend. I agree, most certainly, that the lady is different. She has a Power which is rare, rarer even than you or she realize, especially in this day and age. But for a man who has dueled one of the Undead and emerged the victor, a talented young lady should hardly be a great threat.” His smile softened. “It seems to me that, just perhaps, the reason is that she is more precious to you than any others because of this talent — she sees within the souls of those about her, and thus you know she accepts what you are more fully than anyone else living could. To a bachelor such as yourself, she is a grave threat indeed.”
I couldn’t restrain a nervous laugh of my own. “I couldn’t be that clichéd, could I?”
The old vampire smiled again. “I am afraid, my friend, that we are all too often the clichés of our times. I am only unusual because I have outlived all those who would recognize me. Yet, in your own fiction, I have found myself being stereotyped once more.” He finished the glass of blood and set it down. “Was there anything else, Jason? Though I will admit that a young life in jeopardy due to perceived responsibility on your part, followed by friendship troubles is quite enough to make a bad day, I suspect something worse would be needed to make you come here.”
I nodded. “You could say that.” In a few sentences I outlined the horror in the clearing. “So you see I had to come here.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t quite see that you had to come here.”
“Reisman may be thinking ‘psycho’ right now, but that’s because your little hypnotism job, or whatever you call it, keeps her from remembering that there’s a local vampire who could do that to someone a heckuva lot easier than an ordinary nut. And since the guy was a Fed… I had to find out from you if you did have him killed.”
His lips tightened. “You offend me, Jason. Once before you suspected me of being a murderer, but then I had been well framed for the part. Now you know me, and yet you would think I would kill someone in such a grotesque way?”
“Look, I’m sorry, Verne. It’s not that I suspect it. It’s a question I have to ask because Reisman can’t ask it. I don’t believe it. But Elias knew you were a drug-runner, and though we conveniently made that disappear when we did the great vampire cover-up, Renee Reisman could easily find it out again, and then she would be up here grilling you. Even though you’ve changed your profession since, the fact that you were ever involved in that kind of thing won’t look good.”
He sat back slowly, and I relaxed a bit. Pissing a vampire off isn’t the way to ensure a long life — what he’d done to Carmichael’s estate had shown that all too well. “I did have another couple of reasons. I thought you might know something, maybe about another vampire that for some ungodly reason decided to move here.”
He shook his head, hesitated a moment, then spoke. “As you know, vampires are one of the few sorts of beings that I cannot sense automatically. Unless your hypothetical newcomer were to introduce himself, I’m afraid that I would have no better idea than you of his presence.
“Besides that, it stretches the bounds of reason to suppose that three vampires would be found in such close proximity.” He chuckled slightly. “We are a rare race; were the environmentalists aware of us, I would not be surprised to find us on an endangered species list. I am still somewhat puzzled by Klein’s presence; he obviously became a vampire relatively recently, yet his maker seemed unconcerned with either Klein’s behavior or survival.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You mean his maker might have objected to what he did?”
Verne nodded. “His maker should have objected, or in fact have controlled him. As a general rule, they try not to make waves, so to speak, for other beings that live in the twilight world between your civilization’s ‘reality’ and the lands of myth. And, not to sound overly egotistical, I am an extremely well-known member of that group. I would have expected his maker to be extremely concerned about annoying me by involving me in the manner Klein did. And, indeed, if I discover who was responsible for making him and leaving him uncontrolled, I will… have a talk with that person.”
“We never did find out how or why Klein became a vampire; couldn’t this killing be due to whoever Klein’s maker was?”
Verne rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It is possible, of course. It would eliminate that element of coincidence; if this was the case, then Klein’s behavior might even have been precisely what his maker wanted. But still… a vampire who had decided on such a bizarre and savage method of killing… I find it difficult to believe such a creature would waste so much of the essence of the living. But you said ‘a couple’ of other reasons. What was the other?”
“The murderer apparently phoned headquarters… and he gave his name as Vlad Dracul.”
I would never have believed it was possible, but the blood drained straight out of Verne’s face, leaving him literally white as paper. “Vlad Dracul… that is not possible. It must not be possible.” His voice was a whisper. I felt gooseflesh rising on my arms; Verne sounded afraid.
I didn’t even want to imagine what could scare him. “Of course it’s impossible. Vlad Tepes, the Dracula of legend, died a long, long time ago.” Another thought occurred to me. “Unless… given the initials… you were him.”
He made a cutting gesture with his hand, his ruby ring flashing like a warning. He stepped to the window; for several minutes he stared out at the moonlit landscape. “No. I was not… him. But that name has… meaning…” He paused. “I’d rather not discuss this now, Jason. I must make some inquiries.” He turned back to me. “I’m sorry to cut this short, but you’ll have to leave now.”
One look was enough to convince me not to argue. “Okay, Verne. Can you just tell me one thing?”
“Is it another vampire? Is that what you think?”
A very faint, eerie smile crossed his face. My skin prickled anew. “A vampire? Oh, no, not a vampire.”
That smile stayed with me all the way home.