by Sarah T.
It was almost dinner-time at Alexander Lucard's castle,
and his kitchen was abuzz with activity as two sous-chefs
put the finishing touches on several dishes. At one end of
the room, feverish with anticipation, Jane Linster
carefully lifted the souffle out of the oven. Magnificent,
no, perfect, she thought, catching the marvellous smell;
this time, I have truly outdone myself--
Suddenly, the swinging door at the other end of the kitchen burst open and the three kids raced through into the kitchen, nearly knocking one of the assistants down and causing the other to spill a sauce all over the floor. Jane, who was practiced in dealing with this sort of situation, hastily lifted the souffle above her head, backing up against a table as the kids darted past her. She sighed in relief as they got through without causing any more damage. Too late, however, she realized that they were making for the door to the outside.
"No!" she shouted, but they paid no attention. As the older boy yanked the door open, a blast of warm air blew into the kitchen--and the souffle fell. Jane threw the dish after the kids, but they were already gone. The plate shattered against the closing door.
An icy silence prevailed in the kitchen for just a moment as the two assistants hastily backed away from their infuriated chef, who stood in the aisle, fists clenched, eyes flaring, drawing in a deep breath. As soon as she had gotten enough air to let her voice really carry, "I--quit!" she shrieked at the top of her lungs, and stormed out of the kitchen, knocking aside one of the men, nearly slipping in the sauce as she went.
Lucard, dressed for dinner, came to the door of the drawing room as she went by. "Shouldn't you be looking after the final preparations, Jane?" he inquired.
She skidded to a stop. "I recommend you call out for pizza! Tonight and for eternity!"
"That would be a drastic step indeed. What's the matter? A mishap in the kitchen?"
"A 'mishap.'" She snorted. "A mishap in the shape of three children who have no idea what drafts do to souffles! Or what scorching does to a sauce, or what too many juniper berries does to a casserole, or how hard it is to get good saffron! This is the last time your lifestyle ruins one of my creations! I cannot work under these conditions! It would be more peaceful working in one of the busiest restaurants in Paris at the height of the tourist season! I quit!"
"Jane, Jane," he said soothingly. "Surely we can come to an arrangement--a raise in salary, perhaps--"
"No! I am an artist, Lucard, not an...an army chef! You'd better find someone who likes working under combat conditions to be your cook, because I...am...through!" She stormed off.
Lucard turned on his heel and went up to his study, muttering, "And to think that I let the children escape because I didn't want to be late for that souffle!" He paused in the hall to pick up the phone directory, and flipped it open to "Pizza--delivery."
As she struggled up the hill with her groceries,
Elizabeth Birkenhead was regretting, yet again, that she did
not have a car. You could have afforded one, she chided
herself, if you had not decided to pay extra rent for a
house with a view this summer. And the house had turned out
to be such a disappointment, too, she thought sourly as she
came around the curve within sight of it. Oh, it was a
lovely enough old place, with a great backyard sloping down
the hill, and it did have a marvellous view, but--
"Hey, baby, can I help you with that?" a young man sitting in a lawn chair in front of the house two doors down from hers called. "Or anything else you might need taken care of?"
She raised her chin and stalked past him with as much dignity as she could manage, laden down with bags as she was.
"What's the matter, babe? Think you're too good for me?" he called after her mockingly. Three other young men, hearing the conversation, came outside, whistling and adding rude remarks. She scowled and tried to unlock her door without dropping any of her bags. As she raised one of them onto her hip, a box of eggs fell out of it and smashed on the porch. A burst of laughter greeted this accident.
Of all the places for a summer colony of American frat boys, she thought as she got the door open and went inside, leaving the mess for later. When she had decided to spend the summer as far away from grad school as possible, she had chosen this little city as one of the most peaceful places she could find. And the Bergstrasse itself, high above the river valley and filled with large, airy, old-fashioned homes, had seemed quiet enough--Music began blaring as she put the groceries away. The Eagles, she groaned. She had no problem with pop music, but--
At two a.m., a full seven hours later, the music was still going. In fact, it was louder than before. Elizabeth had turned up her own Bach, but her stereo could not hope to compete with whatever monstrous system the boys had rigged up. She sat at the old oak table that dominated her dining room, books spread in front of her, trying to study, but all she could think of was how pleasant it would be if she could organize her neighbors for a lynching. Unfortunately, she thought, even if I did, this neighborhood is full of tiny old ladies, great at baking cookies, but not much use in making up bloodthirsty mobs.
Lucard was not pleased to see his secretary hovering in
the hall outside his study, looking uncertain. She was a
temporary filling in while his reliable Ariadne vacationed
in the Alps, and had proved totally unable to cope with any
crisis on her own. "What's the matter, Susan, did the price
of postage stamps go up?" he snapped.
She flushed but pointed to a table across the hall, on which was piled a substantial number of shirts, suits, and various accessories. "It's the cleaners. They say they won't take your clothes anymore. It takes too long to get the blood out."
Well, at least she recognized an emergency when she saw one. "Confound it! There are no cleaners half as good within a hundred miles!"
"What about the ones I use--on Koenigstrasse?"
"Manzoni's? Don't be ridiculous!" He waved his hand. "They are rank amateurs!"
"But I've never had a problem with them."
"You've never had a blouse that actually looked white, either," he said dryly. Embarrassed, she looked down at her shirt and he seized the opportunity of her distraction to go past her into the study.
"What do I do with these suits?" she called after him.
"I don't care--just get them cleaned! Properly!" he said, slamming the door.
When Lucard was choosing the site for the headquarters of his new corporation some six years ago, he had been constrained in his choice by his insistence on having a castle nearby in which he could settle. This city had had its disadvantages, but when the realtor had shown him the study and its adjacent library in the former Castle Meinster, he had without a moment's hesitation adopted it as his new home. Unlike some of the other parts of the castle, he had done very little to make these rooms modern, preferring the old stone, the leaded glass, the wooden panels on the fireplace, to anything his architect had proposed to him. He found they calmed his temper more throughly than anything else besides a particularly spectacular revenge, and even now they were having their effect. He sank into a heavy carved wooden chair and reached absently for his latest book--then hissed in dismay as he felt the dampness of the pages. The ceiling was leaking! In fact, he realized, looking up, it had leaked directly onto the shelf which held his particularly prized books.
In Transylvania, he thought, we built our castles with a little more skill at keeping the rain out! "That's it!" he said aloud. "It is time for renovations!"
Sophie, Chris and Max were walking in the pedestrian
district downtown, trying to find an appropriate birthday
present for Uncle Gustav. So far, they had been unable to
agree on anything. Sophie had liked an old lamp they had
found in an antique shop, but the boys had scoffed at it,
saying that there was enough old junk in the house already.
Chris had argued strenuously for a better stereo system, but
Max had pointed out that he really wanted it so that he
could play his own music louder, and besides, that would
cost much more money than the small sum they actually had.
Max himself had suggested a set of the "amazingly cool"
Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown series which they had
come across in a used bookstore, but Chris had only laughed.
"You don't take those things seriously, do you, Max?"
So they continued along, window-shopping and arguing. Suddenly, Max raised his head and stared at the Castle Lucard, which overshadowed the town. "What's going on up there?"
"At Lucard's?" Chris said, craning his neck. "What do you mean?"
"There are moving vans up there."
"That's odd," murmured Sophie.
"I think we should go investigate," Chris said quickly.
"I don't know," Sophie frowned, "it might not be safe."
"Oh, come on! It's in the middle of the day! Lucard can't do anything to us now!"
"Well...all right. Max, you go tell Uncle Gustav what we're doing."
"No way!" the younger boy answered. "I'm coming with you guys."
So the kids made the trip up to the castle, Max always a few yards ahead. When they finally came to the building itself, they could see that he had been right-- there were a couple of moving vans out front. But the movers were taking their lunch break, and Lucard was nowhere in sight.
"How're we going to find out what's going on?" Chris asked.
"Leave that to me," Sophie said. She straightened her jacket out and walked up to the patch of green where the men had spread out their lunch.
"Oh, hello," she said, smiling. "You look awfully tired."
The movers all looked at her, and one of them said, "You got that right. That Lucard is a slave-driver. And so fussy--you'd think we'd never moved anything fragile before the way he kept barking orders at us. Good thing he pays well." This got a chorus of agreement from the other men.
"Monsieur Lucard is moving? I didn't know that," Sophie said innocently. "It's such a pretty place, why would he want to leave?"
"Oh, he's not leaving for good," the mover said. "They're just remodelling part of this old place, so he has to stay somewhere else for a few weeks. And then we're going to have to go through this all over again." Someone groaned in dismay.
"So where will he be staying?"
"On the Bergstrasse, over there," he said, pointing across the river valley to a street running along a ridge of the mountains not much lower than the castle itself.
"Well, at least it's close. I'm sure you can manage it."
"Yes. Although why he needs so much stuff for only a few weeks is beyond me," he said, shaking his head. "What are you doing up here, anyway?" He glanced behind her to Chris and Max, who were apparently intent on inspecting one of the cars parked in front of the castle.
"Just taking a walk with my friends," she said, smiling. "I should start back down the hill. It was nice to meet you."
"Well, come by any time," the man said. "You're much better company than Lucard."
She laughed. "Thank you."
As she rejoined the others, Chris said, "Nice work." Sophie gave him another version of her innocent smile. Max was dancing with excitement. "We've got to tell Uncle Gustav. This might be a great chance to get Lucard!"
Sophie immediately looked serious. "You may be right, Max, you may be right."
lizabeth could hardly believe her luck. Early that
morning, she had been awakened by a tremendous racket
outside her window. Thinking that the movers who had been
at the house next door yesterday had come back, she had
slipped on a robe and gone out onto her porch to complain,
only to find that it was in fact the boys packing one of
their cars for a road trip. Her appearance had drawn the
usual hoots and whistles, but she was so delighted to learn
that they were going away for a week that she hardly cared.
She even waited there a few minutes in her slippers until
they finished loading the car and drove away, so that she
could wave goodbye. As their car vanished out of sight down
the hill, she turned to go back into the house, when she saw
something in the corner of her eye...a curtain in one of the
front windows of the house next door falling back into
place. Curious, she looked at it again: was her new
neighbor up? She had not even seen the new tenant yet,
although she assumed it was still another of the old ladies.
But there was no further sign from the house. Shrugging,
she had gone inside, feeling as if her vacation had begun
She worked all day on her research, for the first time in months able to concentrate. She had not realized just how irritated her nerves had been until now that she was able to relax. The silence had been so blessed that she had not even wanted to put on any of her own music, so she sat at the dining room table in the profound quiet, moving only to turn a page or take a note, until well after dark. She might have kept working until dawn if a firm knock on the door had not suddenly woken her to her surroundings. That's odd, she thought, that doesn't sound like one of my neighbors. The older women of the street had come to rely on her for those tasks which advancing age made difficult for them, and she had always helped them out cheerfully, receiving in return a bounty of fascinating stories of the past, not to mention canned and baked goods. But no tiny little woman with arthritis would knock like that! Hoping that nothing had happened to bring the boys back, she went to the door and opened it.
Standing on her porch was a strikingly handsome blond man in a black suit and silver tie. "I beg your pardon, I hope I am not intruding," he said in English, with a strange accent that was not the locals'. Though his words were apologetic, his manner was extremely assured. "I saw that your light was on."
"No," she said, intrigued. "I was working, but it was time for a break. What can I do for you?"
"Allow me to introduce myself. I am Alexander Lucard, and I am renting the house next door for a few weeks."
She was startled--this was no silver-haired widow who would need her cat rescued from the roof but a man she had heard spoken of as one of the richest in the country! She glanced up at the castle, which towered above the Bergstrasse. "I have heard of you, Monsieur Lucard. But I thought you lived in that wonderful old castle."
"Wonderful it may be, but it is also regrettably leaky," he said dryly. "I have taken the house while the renovators do what they can to correct this problem." He tilted his head slightly. "May I inquire--"
"Oh, yes, I am Elizabeth Birkenhead," she said hastily, blushing, offering him a hand. He was one of the few men who knew how to shake hands firmly but not crushingly, she noticed with approval. His skin was strangely cool. "I'm a grad student, studying for my exams."
"You chose a charming neighborhood in which to do so."
"Charming enough," she said a little sourly. He raised an eyebrow but did not pursue the subject.
"The reason I am troubling you is that I need some ginger, and was wondering if I might borrow it from you. I was obliged to give my chef a vacation while the remodelling is going on, so I am fending for myself. It is been a while since I have had to shop for groceries, and I neglected to buy everything I needed." He smiled.
"Ginger, of course," she said. "I have some. Come in, come in." He followed her into the living room. "If you can just wait a minute--"
"Of course," he said, sending an alert, comprehensive, and discerning glance around the room. She went quickly into the kitchen and unwrapped the piece of ginger she had bought a few days earlier. Her hands shook slightly as she cut it. As an American who had travelled a great deal in Europe, she had never put any stock in the legend of a peculiar European gentility or culturedness. Europeans, in her experience, were just as vulgar or refined as their American counterparts, in just as much of a variety. But in the few minutes she had spoken with Lucard he had managed to seem as if he had stepped out of a Henry James novel, all assurance and cultivation. It was remarkable. Of course, she thought a little ruefully, he won't have much reason to be over here. She felt unusually awkward and gauche, and silently rebuked herself for doing so. At least, she said to herself, at least I had ginger!
When she returned to the living room, she found Lucard, his hands clasped behind his back, inspecting her bookshelves. He turned and inquired, "You are a student of history?"
"Yes," she said, offering him the wrapped root. "Early modern French."
"Ah, the Revolution," he said. "Such an exciting time. 'Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!'" He quoted this line with peculiar feeling, so that she looked at him with curiosity.
"Yes," she said. "Are you...interested in the period?"
"I...have taken an interest in its events, but I am afraid I do not know a great deal about it," he said calmly. "I am a businessman, and I do not have as much time as I would like for intellectual pursuits." He took the package from her hands. "Thank you, Miss Birkenhead; you have rescued me from another night of pizza. If I may be of any assistance to you, please, let me know."
"You're welcome," she said, and went to let him out. For just a moment, she watched from the door as he went down her walk with a measured, confident stride, then she shut it, going back to work that suddenly seemed a great deal less fascinating.
ucard was just getting into his limousine when she
came out to get her paper the next morning. The early
morning sun glinted in his hair as he half-raised his hand
to her, then disappeared into the long black car.
"A limousine," she muttered. "Of course." She had intended to spend the day reading, but once again her work was interrupted by a knock at the door after only a few hours, and once again she opened the door to find a stranger on her porch. This time the man seemed more likely to belong to the neighborhood; he was an elderly gentleman, slightly shabby, who nonetheless had an air of vitality and good spirits about him.
"Hello, miss," he said. "I'm Gustav Helsing, I was wondering if I could talk to you."
"Helsing?" she repeated. "The Gustav Helsing who wrote Medieval European Folklore And Its Survivals?" What a strange week this has been, she thought. Who will turn up on my porch next--Kenneth Branagh?
The man looked inordinately pleased. "You've heard of it?"
"I have indeed. It's an honor to meet you, sir. Please, come in." She held the door open wide for him and then took him into the living room. "My name is Elizabeth Birkenhead. Won't you sit down?"
Helsing was looking around with a smile. "What a pleasant place. The houses on the Bergstrasse have always been so nice. Of course, it's not quite the same as it used to be--this city is a great deal sleepier than it once was-- but these houses remain charming."
"Yes, I've found so," she agreed. "Have you lived in this city long?"
"Only a few years, actually, but I've read the local histories. As a folklorist, I naturally am interested in all the musty old facts. The Bergstrasse used to be a very fashionable quarter."
Elizabeth laughed. "You and I have that in common--a fondness for musty old facts, that is. I'm a graduate student in history. That's how I came to read your book."
"Oh, you are? Well, what did you think of it?" he asked slyly.
"Very thorough and sensitive. It's not my field, but I get the impression sometimes--Many folklorists, even today, tend to condescend to their subjects--not in the old- fashioned way of calling them ignorant and superstitious, but by refusing to take them seriously on their own terms, turning the old tales into post-modern tropes of gender negotiation or what-not. Not you. You take them as they are. I like that."
Helsing beamed, then gradually grew serious. "Well, I have had to."
"What do you mean?"
"It is a long story. But I am glad you respect my approach, because that will make it easier to tell."
"I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand."
His tone was guarded. "Have you met your new neighbor?"
"Monsieur Lucard? Yes. He's...remarkable. Do you know him?"
"Better than I would wish." His kindly face grew cold. "He's a vampire."
"What?" Elizabeth was as astonished as if the unassuming old man had suddenly gotten up and begun capering madly around the room. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, I don't expect you to believe me right away," he said. "But believe me you must."
"Are you saying that that man, the president of a major corporation, whom I have seen walking around in the daylight, is an immortal being who feeds on human blood to survive?"
"I know it sounds ridiculous," Helsing said. "But--"
"Prof. Helsing, forgive me," Elizabeth said, "but I think you have been studying too hard. There are no such things as vampires."
"You yourself said he was remarkable," he countered, leaning forward intently. "And he is. He has been alive for over five hundred years in one identity or another. Now he has begun a real bid for power through Lucard Industries. My family has been opposing him for generations, and I hope- -with your help--to be the one that ends his evil forever."
Elizabeth shifted uneasily. "Professor, I'm sorry, but that's ludicrous. I saw him this morning in full daylight. And last night he came over to borrow some ginger to make dinner with. Vampires don't--"
"I know what the American image of the vampire is," he said, "but it is not accurate. Vampires can go about in the daylight, although their powers are greatly diminished then. And they can eat normal food, although they are not dependent on it for life. If you read the original Dracula, you will see that this is true."
She shook her head. The old man was so serious, he was almost convincing, but the idea was crazy. She felt sad that such a great mind should have ended in such...confusion. "I just can't accept that. It's impossible. Can I offer you some coffee, Professor?"
He frowned. "You think I'm suffering from dementia, that I'm some sad old man who can't tell the difference between his books and reality. Well, that's just what Lucard would want you to believe." His voice grew hoarse. "But you are in danger--no one is safe when Lucard is around. He has done such terrible things, worse than you can imagine--"
He stopped, seeing the pity which she could not keep from appearing in her face. "You don't believe me. Very well." He took out a piece of paper and pen, and wrote. "Here is my phone number. If you should change your mind, please call me. I hope to heaven that you don't find yourself forced to." He rose abruptly. "I'll see myself out." He left her looking after him, sad and a little uneasy.
Susan Renfield had never had a more difficult week. It
had been hard enough working for Lucard when he was staying
in the castle, where she lived just a few corridors away
from him. No matter what she had done, she had never been
able to satisfy him. But now that he was staying in the
Bergstrasse, she spent half her evenings bringing papers
back and forth, and invariably she brought the wrong ones.
Every time there was a problem in the evening, she had to
call him, and she had come to dread his sharp, dry "Yes,
Susan? How is the world coming to an end this time?" When
he needed something, she would have to get up, no matter
what the hour, and go after it. And as she drove around on
these errands, in the back seat of her car was that accusing
mound of dry cleaning. She had been consulting all her
friends for the name of a good laundry, but most of them
never even used the dry cleaners--they were all barely
college graduates, after all. She herself had had to buy
two outfits when she went to work for Lucard Industries,
which although it did not have a dress code seemed to be
teeming with men who wore suits compulsively--mindlessly,
she thought when she was most annoyed. "Haven't they ever
heard of dress-down Fridays?" she had often wondered. It
became clear Lucard hadn't. He expected nothing less than
perfection, and stylish perfection, too, in everything from
the shirts his people wore to the paperwork she was forever
struggling to prepare to his satisfaction.
Now she was trying to withstand his frown as he sat in his chair at the office, looking at the report she had laid in front of him. She well recognized the preliminary glower which meant she was going to catch it as soon as he had finished surveying her errors. Finally he looked up, full of clear, fine disdain.
"Arriviste hired Jane? I thought I told you to talk with Signor Donizetti!"
"I did," Susan said. "I told him just what you said. He said he couldn't reject such a qualified chef. He said half a dozen other restaurants would take her if he didn't."
"You are inadequately persuasive, Susan. Thank heaven Ariadne is coming back next week." She flushed. "Meanwhile, what information do you have for me about Miss Birkenhead?"
"Oh--I left that in my office," she remembered.
"Of course," he murmured, half-shutting his eyes and templing his fingers. "Susan, I hope you are not planning on making this your life's work."
"No, Monsieur Lucard," she said, stung. "I want to be an executive."
"Oh, really?" he said coolly. "I would recommend you investigate the possibilities in fast-food management."
Embarrassed, she turned to go. His precise, critical voice came behind her: "Don't bother with that report. But do get those clothes cleaned, Susan. If you're capable of it. My supply of suits may seem infinite to you, but I assure you it is not."
She left as fast as she could. A hundred miles to the next good cleaners? she thought. It's a short journey. I wish I could put a thousand between me and him. This weekend I'll make the trip. It would be great to end this job by dumping all those clothes onto his desk. He's going to give me a terrible recommendation anyway...
lizabeth had hoped to see more of Lucard that week,
but had caught only glimpses. His hours were peculiar: he
left for work every morning at exactly 8:30 am, but he did
not come home until well past seven. Often he then went out
again around eleven, and the limousine would not purr past
her window once more until 2 or 3 am. On Wednesday after
dinner she saw him come out onto his porch in full evening
dress, talking on a cordless phone, fastening his cuff-
links, and she realized that his work must require his
attendance at many formal events, but the hours did not seem
quite right. Who gave a ball that began at eleven pm?
Still, he was obviously extremely busy; a woman who
Elizabeth supposed was his secretary was forever pulling up
in the evening in an ugly little red car and struggling up
to his door with a heavy-laden briefcase, only to come out
again visibly dispirited a little while later.
Nonetheless, she would have liked to have the chance to talk to him again. Not simply because he was so charming, but because the conversation with old Prof. Helsing was more disturbing every time she thought about it. He was a reputable scholar, and he had been so sure, and so apparently sane in every other way. She would have welcomed the chance to reassure herself of Lucard's normality, which had seemed unquestionable the first time she had spoken with him and no doubt would again if she could spend a few minutes inquiring after his cooking. None of the ladies of the neighborhood had had anything but good to say of Helsing when she asked about him; he was such a pleasant old gentleman, looking after three darling children. Oh, his manner was sometimes a bit abrupt, and he was terribly untidy, but really, there never was a kinder fellow. Monsieur Lucard, on the other hand, was said to be perfectly charming, but a little distant. None of them had had anything to do with him before he moved in, and now he didn't seem to have much time for the neighborhood. Indeed he had been seen shooing one of the local cats, who didn't like him at all, from his porch in a way that was not very nice. He was unfailingly polite, but the only time he had shown a genuine interest in anyone from the neighborhood was when Mrs. Abercrombie had brought him some fresh-baked poppy-seed muffins. Then he had been delighted enough. Of course, Elizabeth thought, none of this went towards proving that Lucard was a vampire--particularly the business about the muffins--but she would have been better pleased to hear a hint or two that Helsing was not quite right in the head.
And the week was drawing to a close, which meant that her peace would soon be shattered again. She determined to spend her Friday night, the last night she would have to herself, quietly at home, enjoying the air of calm which had diffused itself over the neighborhood since the boys' departure and Lucard's arrival. Instead of establishing herself at the dining room table with her books, she had gone into the back parlor, which offered the glorious view down the hill. She left the lights off, put the Bach cello suites on, and simply sat in the darkness for a while, enjoying the gleam of the stars and the shimmering, contemplative music. Quickly, however, the stars faded and it became obvious that a storm was coming on. Almost as soon as she had realized this, in fact, it was upon her. It was vigorous, and Elizabeth thought she could hear the clatter of hailstones against the roof. She got up and went to look out the window, which was partially obscured with rain, to determine if it was indeed hail.
She immediately saw that it was, but a more curious sight drew her gaze away from the tiny white grains which were scattering across her backyard. Lucard was standing in the rain on his back porch, jacket off, sleeves rolled up, face turned intently up to the sky, allowing himself to be soaked to the skin, not stirring a muscle. How odd, she thought--but not characteristic behavior for a vampire, as far as I know. She returned to her chair, feeling dissatisfied and curious. The storm grew more and more intense, drowning out her music, and the hail grew larger and larger, until suddenly there was a loud crack and the window shattered. Glass rattled across the floor almost to her feet. A tremendous gust of icy air rushed into the room. Elizabeth sprang up in dismay.
Almost immediately over the cry of the wind she could hear Lucard's voice. "Miss Birkenhead? Miss Birkenhead, are you there?"
His blurred image appeared at the back door, and she quickly opened it to admit him. He was sopping wet: his hair was plastered to his head, and his white shirt to his chest. She stared at him for a moment until his question brought her back to reality: "Are you hurt, Miss Birkenhead?"
"No, no," she said, shaking her head, "but I don't know what I'm going to do about this!" She gestured at the mess on her floor. "And in the middle of a storm, too!"
He glanced out the window with a peculiar abstraction on his face. "I think it will end very soon." Indeed, even as he said so, the fury outside began to abate. Elizabeth hardly noticed, however, for she was staring at the glass on the floor, where she could see her own reflection cast back at her in a hundred crazy and distorted shapes. That was what had first caught her attention, but what held it now was that there were no similar images of Lucard scattered across the floor.
Helsing's chapter on vampires came unbidden to her mind. "The outer form of the vampire is not his true one. Therefore, since the mirror cannot lie, no vampire can cast a reflection." A sudden terror overcame her distraction, and she forced herself to look away. "Good," she answered, "good."
He looked back at her. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes," she answered, making herself meet his eyes, which indeed had suddenly doubled their fascination. Although his expression was one of polite concern, their light grey-blue seemed remote and fathomless. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you so much for coming over to check on me, Monsieur Lucard, but now I need to clean up this mess. I guess I'll tape something over the window-frame tomorrow to keep the drafts out."
"A good idea. Drafts can be...most troublesome. Good evening, Miss Birkenhead." He bowed slightly and slipped out the back.
As the thunder rumbled over the city, Sophie shut the
window of the Helsing living room in dismay. "We can't go
out shopping in this."
"But Uncle Gustav's birthday is tomorrow, and we still don't have a present for him," Max answered.
"We could have had one already if you guys had just been sensible," Chris grumbled from above his guitar.
"Don't be ridiculous," Max said. "Uncle Gustav doesn't need a new set of baseball stuff."
"Oh, yeah? Well, he needs it more than a--" Chris fell silent as Gustav came into the room, looked around knowingly, and settled down in his chair with the paper.
"Look, kids, there's a special on schnitzel this week at the deli," the old man said with delight. Chris and Max groaned. The phone rang, and Gustav picked it up.
"Elizabeth. Oh, yes? I'm delighted, but it's better not to talk on the phone. Is he home now? No? We'll be there as soon as we can, then." He hung up and looked at the kids seriously. "That was the girl who lives next to Lucard. She's changed her mind. We need to get up there right now."
A half an hour later, Gustav was sipping coffee in Elizabeth's kitchen, quizzing her on Lucard's schedule. "You see why this is such a great opportunity for us, Elizabeth. Not only is Castle Lucard heavily guarded, but it is very old and very large, and he knows it intimately. It is almost impossible to track him down there. But while he's staying in a normal house which you say doesn't seem to have much security at all, he is vulnerable. All we need to do is figure out when he sleeps, and break in then."
Elizabeth explained what she had observed, feeling strangely reluctant. It seemed ridiculous that she was standing in her kitchen discussing over coffee ways in which to kill a vampire. How had her life crossed over into a horror movie? You saw the proof yourself, she reminded herself sternly. You are supposed to judge evidence impartially. But there was another source of her reluctance, she realized guiltily. The part of her which admitted that Lucard really was a vampire was fascinated by one thought and one thought only. What he must have seen! Like any good historian, she would have given almost anything to be able to interview an eyewitness to the events of her period. Through the strangest of circumstances, she now had the opportunity--but there was no way for her to use it.
"Tomorrow is Saturday, so he probably won't go in to work, but he will go out to hunt. So tomorrow evening we can wait until he comes home for good, and then go over there and do what we must," Helsing said with determination.
"Already?" she said, vaguely alarmed.
"Certainly. The more time passes, the more likely it is that Lucard will discover that we've found out that he's staying here and are planning to attack him. We'd better just stay here until tomorrow evening--there's too much of a risk he might observe us coming or going."
"All right. But I'm afraid I can't put you up very comfortably."
"A night on the floor is worth a shot at Lucard," Helsing said. "I'm sure the children feel the same way."
"'The children--'" she echoed uneasily. "Is it quite safe for them to be involved in this?"
"I'm getting to be an old man," Gustav said, "Lucard will go on forever, unless we succeed in destroying him. Vampire-hunting is a tradition in my family, so we have always had someone to oppose him, but I have no children. Someone must be prepared to take up my work when I am gone. Chris and Max are my nearest relatives, and Sophie--there are special reasons that Sophie should be involved."
Elizabeth nodded. "If you say so, Professor." What was one more ridiculous aspect of the situation on top of all the others? She put her mug down. "What sort of tools do you need?"
Gustav smiled and patted the little black bag he had put on the floor. "It's all right here. All we need is the opportunity to use them. And you've given us that. I can't thank you enough, Elizabeth."
"You're welcome." I think, she said to herself.
It was Saturday, about one p.m., and the period of
peace and quiet was over as if it had never been. First,
Elizabeth had had to deal with having an old man, a pair of
teenagers and a nine-year-old in her house. Gustav had
proved fussy about his breakfast cereal. Sophie was quiet
and well-mannered enough, but Max had sent one of her few
precious antiques crashing to the floor, and Chris had
grumbled and moped about being confined to the house all
day. Elizabeth had become far too accustomed to living by
herself, and it did not take long for her guests to begin to
get on her nerves. Then, around noon, the boys had come
back. She could hear them whooping and hollering all the
way up the hill. She had decided to go buy some food for
her guests while her unbearable neighbors were unpacking.
Now, climbing slowly back up the hill, she felt tremendously
disinclined to go any further. So what are you going to do?
she scolded herself. Dump the food by the side of the road
and check into a motel?
The jeers and catcalls arose immediately as she came into view of the frat-boys' house. They were almost drowned out, however, by the wretched music they were playing at an incredible volume. Evidently they had missed their stereo system and were making up for lost time.
"Hey, babe, you should have come with us! We had a great time, lots of chicks--none as pretty as you, though," one of the boys leered from his porch steps, where he sat with a beer in his hand. "Hey, guys, look who's here!" he called into the house, and the others straggled out to add their own comments. They were abruptly cut off, however, by the appearance of Lucard, in suit and tie even on the weekend, on his own porch.
"Do you gentlemen suppose you might turn that music down somewhat?" he inquired coolly.
"No," said one and burped. "We don't suppose." "Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?" another said. "Yeah," the third added, vainly attempting to imitate Lucard's accent. "Do you suppose you might shut the hell up?"
Lucard smiled slightly, and his eyes flickered upwards almost imperceptibly to the sky. "Very well, then," he said, and looked directly at Elizabeth. "Perhaps you will change your mind later." He turned and went back into his house. Elizabeth sighed and walked as quickly as she could to her own.
The afternoon proved just as trying as she had expected. She could not get the chance to fix her window, so busy was she trying to prevent chaos in the form of two boys from overwhelming her house. Gustav was too distracted to restrain them effectively; doubtless he was planning for the evening ahead. Worse than this, though, was the continual drone and crash of her neighbors' music through the windows. It went on all afternoon, unceasingly, an inescapable background irritant sapping the patience she might otherwise have had with her guests. After a few hours, it was impossible even to imagine that the neighborhood had once been peaceful or that it might ever be so again.
The sun finally set, and Elizabeth began serving out the casserole she had made for dinner. Max wrinkled his nose, but fortunately his comment on her cooking was lost in the general din. She had just taken her own seat when silence fell. It was so startling that she jerked her head up and gasped.
"Thank goodness," Gustav said, eating with great relish. "I was beginning to think they would never stop."
Elizabeth felt an unspeakable relief. "It's a miracle," she agreed, and started on her food. Soon the air was filled with nothing except normal family table talk.
But then, unbelievably, the music began again. This time, however, it was at a reasonable level--and it was no college anthem, but a waltz. "My God," Elizabeth said, dropping her knife in astonishment. She loved waltzes, and this was one of her favorites. To hear the sophisticated lilting music of the Strauss family issuing from that house was the last thing she had ever expected. She had no time to comment on this, though, because a knock came almost at once on the door.
"Quick!" Gustav hissed. "Hide, kids!" The family sprang up, and she hastily saw them into closets and under couches as the visitor knocked again. "Coming!" she called, and went to the door.
To her relief, it was not Lucard--it was the boys, carrying several parcels. They would be easier to deal with, she hoped, but she was puzzled to see them there. She drew back slightly, ready to swing the door shut, but one of them said, "We've come to apologize, Miss Birkenhead. We've been terribly rude to you and inconsiderate about the music. We were wondering if you would let us make it up to you by fixing your window that got broken last night."
Elizabeth was at a loss for words. Was this some sort of trick? In the awkward silence, the waltz continued its easy elegant sweep. After a moment, the boy cleared his throat, looking uneasy. "Please, Miss Birkenhead. Please?" He cast a nervous glance in the direction of Lucard's house. She turned her head to follow his look, and saw Lucard standing on his porch, leaning on one of the posts, arms folded, gazing steadily and expressionlessly at the boys.
"Of--of course," she said, opening the door wide and stepping back. "I was just having dinner, but if you want to--"
With the four of them working together, quietly,
efficiently, carefully, the task took only about half an
hour. As they left, they chorused, "Just let us know if you
need anything else this summer." She shut the door behind
them, too shocked to answer.
Max was covered with dust mice when she whispered to him that he might come out from under the couch. "What was that all about?" Gustav said, half-falling out of the closet as she opened it.
"My neighbors," she said. "They play bad music sometimes, but they can be very helpful." Her thoughts were in a whirl, following out a chain of thought that could end in only one conclusion. The waltzes had continued for a while, but now the neighborhood had settled down into the calm silence of an early weekend evening. There was no doubt in her mind what was going on, and that the peace would be permanent, if--"I'm sorry I couldn't get rid of them faster."
"That's all right," Gustav said. "We'd better be getting ready now, though. Has Lucard left yet?"
"No, I don't think so," she responded abstractedly. More than half her attention was given to listening to the gentle chirp of the crickets. Far away, a cat meowed.
"Okay." He turned to the kids. "Come on, let's make sure we have everything together."
"Excuse me," she said, and went into the kitchen. They were rummaging through their bags in the living room, speaking excitedly to each other, and paid her little attention.
Elizabeth carefully shut the door behind her and picked up the phone. For a long moment, she listened, motionless, to the dial tone, which was the loudest thing she had heard for several minutes. The rest of the summer like this, she thought. Then she set her mouth and began dialing a number.
Gustav stood on the hill, looking up at the house that
Lucard was occupying. All the lights had been out since
about two a.m., a half hour earlier, when the limousine had
returned with the vampire from his evening out. The kids
stood beside him, nervous and excited, clutching their
crosses. He had asked Elizabeth not to come with them--in
case anything went wrong, it would be too dangerous for her
if she were recognized. She had stood on the back porch,
watching as they slipped through her backyard into Lucard's,
but had vanished back inside once they were across. Now he
was straining to hear any sound from the house, but there
was not so much as a footfall. He raised his hand, a signal
to the kids, and they crept forward.
They had examined Elizabeth's back door and found that it would be easy to knock out a single panel of glass and reach around to unlatch it. Max, however, forgetting the plan, grasped the doorhandle and pulled--and it proved to be unlocked. Long security has made Lucard careless, Gustav thought. All for the better. They slipped into the house one by one, each of them alert and breathless, each of them scarcely able to believe that they might tonight finally accomplish the goal which had eluded the Helsings for so long.
They knew from the layout of Elizabeth's house that from the back, the way to the upstairs bedroom lay through the kitchen. Gustav carefully stepped into the room, then flicked on the light so that they wouldn't trip over anything. He blinked in the sudden flood of florescent white. There was a table against the far wall, and on it stood a plate of cookies, a bottle of milk, and four glasses. Next to the plate lay a note. Max picked it up and read it out loud.
"'My dear Helsing, I regret that I am not at home to visitors this evening. But do make yourself comfortable. Maximilian may finish off the pizza in the refrigerator if he likes proscuitto. Yours faithfully--Alexander Lucard.'" Max lifted his face, astonished. "He knew we were coming!"
"He must have seen us in the neighborhood," Gustav said. "We'd better get out of here quickly, before he comes back."
"Wait," said Max, starting for the fridge. "I want the pizza!"
"Don't be ridiculous," Sophie said, catching him by the ear. "We have to go!" The foiled vampire hunters beat a hasty retreat out the back door and down the hill. "What about Elizabeth?" Sophie asked as they hurried through the darkness. "We daren't compromise her any further," Gustav explained. "He probably doesn't think she cooperated with us, since he can't possibly know that we stayed there, but if he saw us going back--" His words trailed off. "We'll call her once we're safe at home, to let her know what happened."
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and Susan was
happier than she had been in a long while. Neatly arranged
on her back seat were several suits wrapped in the plastic
of an expensive cleaners in the capital. She had had to
make a two-hour trip along bad roads each way, and to spend
the day in the big city waiting, but it was worth it to know
that for once she had gotten something right. There is no
way Lucard can criticize this, she thought, humming along
with the radio. They look beautiful. She pulled up at his
Bergstrasse house just as a large delivery truck was pulling
away. She wondered idly what he had just received as she
went up the walk, loaded down with clothing.
The front door was unlocked and she made her way to the dining room, where Lucard normally worked. Sure enough, there he was, in his shirt-sleeves, spooning bits of melon into his mouth as he talked on the phone.
"Jane," he said passionately, "Jane, I cannot go on like this any longer. I need you. Things will be different this time, I promise." A pause, then he continued coaxingly, "I've remodelled the entire kitchen. Not only did I put in all the improvements you could ever dream of, but it no longer leads to the outdoors. You should never be troubled by unwanted participants in your cooking again." He raised his eyebrows as Susan came in triumphantly and lifted his hand for silence.
He listened for a moment. "No, Signor Donizetti will have no difficulty letting you go. I'll speak to him. Yes, you may have a raise. Yes, and another assistant. No, but not another week's vacation. Excellent. Very well. I'll expect you back next week, then." He put down the phone, smiling to himself. She waved a bag-filled arm to catch his attention.
"Here!" she said. "It took me hours and hours, but I found the place the president uses. They're gloriously clean. Clean!"
"I'm very happy for you," Lucard said, taking a drink of water, "but I gave up on your managing that several days ago and paid a visit to my tailor. The new suits and ties just arrived. They're in the living room. Since I am leaving this place, I think you'd better take them all back up to the castle."
Susan stood there speechless. He said patiently, "I know it's an onerous task and a strain on your abilities, but it should be the last thing I ever require of you. Ariadne will be back tomorrow. You needn't trouble coming in."
Frustrated, she spun around and stormed out of the room. She picked up the new suits with difficulty and struggled through the door. As she went, she heard Lucard say, in quite a different tone of voice, "Elizabeth, you cannot starve yourself back into your former condition. Come and have breakfast." Elizabeth? she wondered, but kept going. There was only one thought in her mind now.
Max kicked dejectedly at a stone. "Yesterday was Uncle
Gustav's birthday, and not only didn't we get Lucard, but we
spent so much time trying to do it that we didn't get a
present for him!" The kids were walking along the promenade
that ran next to the river. It was beautiful outdoors,
clear and fine, but after yesterday's disappointing
experience, they were all a little gloomy.
"I don't think he's worried about that right now," Sophie said. "He's more concerned that that Elizabeth isn't answering her phone."
"Don't be silly," Max replied. "He wouldn't forget his own birthday. I wouldn't."
"Well," Sophie sighed, "we'll just have to try to find something now, quickly."
"On a Sunday? None of the stores are open in this stupid country on a Sunday," Chris grumbled.
"I think--" Sophie began, but she stopped as a little red car zoomed up to the edge of the promenade. A harried- looking young woman, heavily laden with clothing wrapped in plastic, sprang out and ran down to the bank of the river. She flung a shirt out over the water. For a moment, it billowed and fluttered in the wind, then sank down onto the surface of the river. In a few moments, nearly a dozen expensive-looking shirts, suit jackets, and pants were floating down towards the bridge, spinning in the eddies of the slow-moving stream. "Now they'll be really clean, Lucard!" the woman shouted. The kids all looked at each other in astonishment, uncertain about what to do. Moving a bit more slowly, the woman went back to the car and returned with another armful of suits and an open boxful of new ties. She began disposing of these in the same manner, more leisurely this time, watching with an expression of glee as the cloth tumbled into the water.
"Wait!" Max suddenly called out as she tipped the box of ties over the river. The woman stopped and looked at him.
"Are you just going to throw those away?" he asked, pointing at the ties.
"Yes," she said, laughing. "It feels wonderful."
"If you really want to annoy Lucard, you'll give them to us."
"Just trust me," he said, reaching for them.
"Well--all right," she surrendered the box distractedly, then went back to flinging the clothes away. Max started walking back towards the house. Chris and Sophie ran to catch up with him.
"Are you crazy?" Chris said, panting. "What are you going to do with a bunch of Lucard's ties?"
Max grinned as he crossed the bridge. "They're the perfect birthday present for Uncle Gustav, stupid!"
They all laughed. Upriver, they could see the glint of sun on metal as a pair of suspenders went flying into the air.
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