Vampire Cabbie Chapter 1

Author: Fred Schepartz

Genres: Fantasy

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Ruined

Fall, 1987

I shall spare your pitiful life. In exchange, you may be my audience, my confessor even. I might tell you the story begins inParis . Or maybe it might be more accurate to say the story really begins in the Black Forest of Germany. Or maybe the story begins simultaneously in both places. In a Parisian discotheque, a driving synthesized beat pounded repeatedly against my skull, a beam of sheer force, thick and blunt, until the edges smoothed, transforming into the rapidly beating heart of a deer fleeing through a dark forest, a predator closing, sensed but unseen, closing then overtaking, easily bringing it down, then plunging sharp fangs into its muscular throat.      

Playing with, but not drinking the glass of Pernod before me on the faux marble table, my eyes narrowed. Through clouds of blue smoke, the tightly crowded dancers became tree trunks, the flashing lights transformed into splinters of moonlight - gone from this rather unsavory Parisian district to the unspoiled confines of the Black Forest, a whole month spent in feral bliss, devoid of civilization, of words, of even clothing, not pretending to blend in with humanity, but wallowing in the fullest extent of my predatory nature, arising at nightfall, running free through the woods, stalking game, gorging myself on hot, wild blood, then burrowing in the ground before first light, only to rise again the next night. I even allowed myself to be stalked by a black bear who followed my scent and the trail of carrion for nearly a week before finally attacking. However, at the last moment, I turned and countered, barely managing to muster the leverage to send the bear toppling to the forest floor. My fangs sank into his neck, and that great creature's essence streamed into my mouth. I drank, but left him with life, this done out of respect, from one predator to another.

A man approached my table.

"Monsieur," he said in a gravelly voice.

My eyes focused wide on a gold razor blade the man had dropped on the table, my skin chafing suddenly against my silk shirt, the Armani suit I wore feeling quite constricting. I plucked the blade from the table, inspected it and, with a nod, handed it back to him, giving him quick study. The sallow flesh under his quickly shifting eyes drooped. He was unshaven. His heart beat rapidly. Yet, he looked quite smart in a double-breasted blazer. He turned and walked to the water closet. I followed momentarily, with each step the soles of my Gucci's loudly unsticking themselves from the chipped tile floor, slipping between women blooming like fragrant flowers, some in black leather, some in high heels and tight dresses with the shortest possible hemlines, gyrating around unwashed, unshaven men in black leather or well-tailored blazers.

The WC reeked of urine and vomit. The man sat on a sink, his back to the mirror. He scratched his stubbly chin and withdrew a plastic bag from the hip pocket of his blazer. It was full of folded paper packets.

I stood before him and peered into the bag, the back of his head and shoulders visible in the mirror in front of me, my own frame a barely discernible outline. As his fingers reached inside the bag, our eyes met. Black dots danced before my eyes, growing into large discs that began to pulsate and dissolve into a pair of bubbling red masses.

Quickly, my fangs sank into his neck as I shoved his prone form onto the sink, his legs dangling above the floor. I drank hastily, taking about a pint before leaving the man atop his porcelain perch, images from his immediate memory filling my crimson-tinted sight: a back alley, a flash of steel, the crisp line of red, then nothing as shutters slammed shut, sparing me from this man's thoughts; too long in the wilds, I had forgotten to screen myself from the thoughts and feelings of my victims. Before departing, I returned the bag of goods to his blazer pocket.

"Merci," I said, leaving quickly. An appointment awaited. After a month incommunicado, surely there would be business requiring my attention.

For late November, the night was crisp and pleasant, allowing for an enjoyable evening at a sidewalk cafe, sitting in the warm night air without anyone thinking it odd that one should sit alone in the cold. A French newspaper lay on the table in front of me, shadows from the flickering candlelight dancing on the newsprint. I took a furtive glance at the paper, taking care not to appear to be reading in the darkness though the words would certainly be quite visible to my eyes in little or no light. Besides, my associates were due to arrive any moment.

Rapid footsteps pounded against the flagstone, then fingers tapped none too lightly against my shoulder.

"Monsieur Farkus! Thank God I found you." It was Jacques LeMeux, my European commodity dealer, the commodities generally being art, rare coins and various antiquities of a rather eccentric nature. The normally reserved Frenchman was out of breath and sweating profusely.

"Please have a seat, monsieur," I said, snapping my fingers. A waiter instantly appeared, a rather tall and willowy fellow with long chestnut hair, who I was certain, if he had been another animal in a previous life, had surely been an Afghan hound. "Pernod, s'il vous plait."

"Merci," LeMeux said. He sat back, leaned forward, laid a hand on the table, which he covered with the other before leaning back, arms crossed tightly against his chest.

"Is something wrong, Monsieur LeMeux?" I asked gently. Onewould think that after a thousand years, one would be able to read distress in another's bearing.

LeMeux leaned forward again. "Monsieur Johnson will be here shortly. He will provide a full explanation." The waiter returned and placed the Pernod in front of LeMeux. My French agent promptly drank half the contents in one gulp.

Somethingwas amiss; LeMeux was normally quite the gregarious fellow and certainly would normally exhibit more composure than this twitchy fellow sitting before me. "Monsieur LeMeux, I am asking you, is something amiss? Did something happen during my absence?"

LeMeux downed the rest of his Pernod. His heart beat rapidly, and beads of perspiration dotted his forehead. "Please, Monsieur Farkus. Monsieur Johnson will be here shortly. He will provide a full explanation."

Very well then. Something had happened, and Bob Johnson, my aide-de-camp, would arrive shortly to explain. Disaster? Over the centuries, if I have learned nothing else, I have learned that disaster is a relative term. How many "disasters" had I endured? How wrong could wrong be?

Quite wrong perhaps. Johnson had always tried to get me to carry a beeper or a portable phone on my long "vacations." But where was the practicality or purpose in that? Surely, my affairs could stand a certain degree of my absence, and my confidence in Johnson's administrative abilities could not possibly have been higher. Let him worry; that was why he was paid the princely sum he was paid.

Johnson finally arrived, indeed looking worried, in fact looking grim. "Ah, Robert, good to see you," I said. "Please have a seat. Would you care for a beer?"

"Please," he said blandly. The florid, big-boned American took a seat, fidgeting nervously.

I snapped my fingers, and the waiter reappeared. "A bottle of Beck's and another Pernod, s'il vous plait." The waiter nodded, a frown most prominent. I smiled at his reaction to my order of aGerman beer, knowing full well that it might be more palatable to drink from the penis of a rutting goat than from a bottle of French beer. Germans brew beer; the French create wine.

"What is it you Americans say, Robert?" I said. "Back in the saddle? Apparently, I have been too long absent. Prepare my Learjet. Notify the staff at theNew York office that I will be there very shortly. Surely, there is much to be done."

"You don't have a Learjet anymore," Bob replied sharply. "If you're flying toNew York , you're going to have to fly commercial."

LeMeux nodded in agreement. "We searched everywhere for you. Like Monsieur Johnson has told you many times, you should wear a beeper when going on holiday."

"Look," Bob said, "you know I'm not one to mince words."

"Yes," I replied, "you have been in my employ for a long time and, as you Americans say, I do know you are not one to mince words. So, what is it that has happened?"

"While you were away, the American stock market crashed. I mean, a major crash, and ... and ... you're ruined."

I laughed in disbelief. "Ruined? What do you mean, ruined? What were my assets most recently valued at? One hundred million dollars American? One hundred million dollars does not simply disappear."

Bob stared down at the marble table top. This was perhaps the one time I remembered him not looking me in the eye. He always looked me in the eye. He was one the few employees who could do so and not flinch.

The waiter returned and loudly slammed the bottle of beer and a glass in front of Bob. He took a long sip from the bottle and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his jacket. "When you systematically liquefy your assets, theycan disappear very quickly under the right circumstances. I warned you about the market."

"It had been quite profitable before my absence."

"Yes, and you wanted to make akilling ." Bob placed special emphasis on the word "killing" and took another long sip of beer. "It started on a Friday. The market dropped about two hundred points. The following Monday, it fell another six hundred."

Silence overtook me as the reality of the situation came clear. "The American economy has not entirely collapsed, has it?"

"No. Actually, it's bounced back fairly well. It'll take awhile, but the market should recover nicely."

"Then, so should we, correct? Surely Jenkins hedged against this sort of thing."

The mention of Jenkins caused both men to straighten in their chairs as if receiving substantial electric shocks. Bob toyed with his beer bottle. LeMeux downed his entire Pernod in one gulp.

"Your former financial manager has disappeared," Bob said.

"Motherless spawn of Satan! Robert, just what the devil has happened?" Heads turned as I had momentarily forgotten how loud my voice can boom.

"I tried to reach him," Bob replied. "When the market crashed, I was inEurope . You'd told me to sell some of your real estate holdings so you could buy more stock."

"Yes, I remember." Bitterness tinged my words. Jenkins had advised me that the market would continue to rise for at least another two years and had suggested selling my European holdings, which would be dropping dramatically in value, thus allowing me to buy them back later and make a handsome profit in the process.

"That fool, he didn't tell me what he was doing." Bob sounded angry. LeMeux searched forlornly for the waiter. "I'd been telling him he was being too optimistic, but he wouldn't listen." He paused and took another sip, emptied the bottle and waved it at the waiter. "Jenkins thought he was getting a bargain when it turned out he was buying at what would be an all-time high-water mark for the Dow. But he was so sure of himself that he made a huge, and I mean huge, purchase on margin - "

"He did what!" Again, heads turned. I lowered my voice to an angry whisper. "He did what?"

"Jenkins took out a loan against your entire portfolio a week before the crash."

I buried my head in my hands and cursed silently in a long dead language. "And then the brokerage house called in the loan, and we had to make up the margin, correct?"

"Yes," Bob replied. "We had to liquidate almost all your assets just to cover the margin call.

But then, apparently, Jenkins panicked. He sold off what was left of your portfolio."

"Sold! The cretin should have been buying."

"Yes, he should have been, but like I said, he panicked." The waiter returned and slammed another bottle of Beck's in front of Bob, while gently placing a fresh Pernod in front of LeMeux, who immediately downed about half in one gulp.

"I hopped the earliest possible flight," Bob continued, "but there was no sign of Jenkins by the time I made it back toNew York . He was gone, without a trace."

"And I presume he, as you say, cleaned me out?"

"I'm afraid so. He liquidated what was left of your portfolio, then drained your Swiss accounts. Then, just flat out disappeared."

"Motherless spawn of Satan," I spat. "We will find Jenkins. I will find Jenkins, and when I do - "

"Monsieur LeMeux," Bob interrupted, "can you please excuse us?"

LeMeux rose, looking relieved. "I am truly sorry about this regrettable state of affairs, Monsieur Farkus. If there is anything I may do to help, please feel free to let me know."

"Thank you, Jacques." I rose and clasped his hand. "I want you to know that I appreciate your service." I turned to Bob. "There is still some money, is there not?" He nodded, then produced a checkbook, hastily wrote a check and handed it to LeMeux.

"Thank you, Robert," I said, returning to my seat after LeMeux left. "I do forget myself sometimes." I leaned forward and lowered my voice to a whisper. "But when I find Jenkins - "

"You'll do what?"

"I will peel his flesh from his cowardly bones. Slowly! I will rip out his heart and squeeze the blood into my open mouth. While he watches!"

Bob shook his head sadly, but he appeared not the least bit shocked; as a very close and trusted advisor, he did in fact possess knowledge of most of my secrets. "Al, Jenkins is the least of your problems right now."

"How much am I worth at this time?"

"Cash reserves, about fifteen grand American. There's still a few objects which could be sold. They couldn't really get you enough to live on for any length of time, but - "

"No," I said sharply. "Those antiquities will not be sold in a panic, not when we cannot get an optimal price for them. They are my reserves, to be sold only in the most dire of circumstances."

Bob finally stared piercingly into my eyes. "These are not dire circumstances?"

During the mid 17thcentury, I had lived inGermany . I was quite well-off, the lord of a rather substantial manor. One lovely summer evening, while riding through theBlack Forest , I encountered a quintet of highwaymen who ordered me to yield all my valuables. Instead, I dismounted and quickly bested the brigands, then galloped into the night. The next night, I was confronted by the local burgermeister, accompanied by the quintet, their faces badly bruised.

Despite the coming of the Age of Enlightenment, the burgermeister wanted to try me as a witch. If not for the timely intervention of a few human friends, I would have been burned at the stake. As it was, I escaped with little more than the clothes on my back, my prospects for the immediate future dependent upon shallow pockets and a few letters sent to friends and acquaintances throughoutEurope explaining my desperate, nearly destitute situation.

I eventually received an invitation to study independently atOxford . Following a few years of diligent work, I earned a degree, then conducted patronized research inEngland for the next several years, finally "retiring," wealthy once again.

In the interim, however, only the sale of a golden, ruby-and-emerald-encrusted necklace belonging to the Byzantine Emperor Basil had kept me from complete destitution, thus allowing me to remain within civilization. In comparison, this latest situation was hardly that dire, yet it had been centuries since I was anything but wealthy. "Robert," I asked, "what options have I?"

Bob sipped his beer and shrugged his shoulders, running a hand through his silver hair. "Most millionaires, when something like this happens, they gotta go out and find a job. For those who started with nothing, it's no problem. Others, well - " His voice trailed off. "Of course, you're not just anybody who's lost a fortune. I'm sure there's ways for you to get your money back that aren't available to others."

"What exactly are you suggesting?" My voice sounded suspicious.

A crooked smile crossed Bob's face. "You could go up to Donald Trump, look him in the eye and tell him to loan you a million dollars seed money so you can start over. Hell, you could just tell him to give it to you. And, of course, he wouldn't have any choice."

I shook my head vigorously. "That is not an option. As a suggestion, that is dishonorable and completely disagreeable and rather disappointing. What else might you suggest?"

Bob placed the beer bottle on the table and pressed a pair of steepled fingers against his lips. "Why not go back into the woods, Al? You seem to enjoy yourself there, and it doesn't cost you a thing."

Indeed. When too long among the civilized minions, I pine for the wordless solitude where my feral side may run free, yet when in the wilds for too long, I miss the comforts of well-tailored clothes and silk sheets. I miss humanity.

"Robert, quite regrettably, I have become too attached to my material possessions. And - I like to travel. I like people."

Johnson flashed a slightly embarrassed smile, obviously a bit amused by the irony of my last remark. "Then, you have to get a job. Youneed money. Money means security because you never know when you might have to suddenly disappear. You need capital, and the only way you're going to get it is to work and save money. Lots of money."

"Agreed." Indeed. It was not like I have never had to do this before. "Do you have any ideas of where I might secure employment?"

Bob smiled slightly. "Didn't you tell me something about some sort of science degree fromCambridge ? Of course, there's no telling how long ago that might have been."

"Actually, it wasOxford , sixteen-seventy," I said with a laugh.

"Well, I imagine you've at least made an attempt to keep up with all the advances over the centuries," Bob said, frowning.

I nodded.

He laughed nervously. "Well, I got you a job. I guess I didn't really lie about your qualifications. I said you had a PhD, but didn't say when you got it."

"Excellent work," I replied, feeling extreme warmth for this man who had served me so faithfully for the last fifteen years, realizing how truly fortunate I was that he had not chosen to abandon me when there was little benefit for him personally.

"Well, I don't know if you're interested, but it's at a major American university. There's this professor who's got a long-term, continually running experiment that needs to be supervised twenty-four hours a day."

"And I would be there supervising during the 'graveyard' shift, as you might say. Does he not have graduate students for this task?"

Bob shook his head. "It's too much to ask even of a grad student to babysit a lab experiment at three in the morning, seven days a week. So, what do you think? Interested?"

"Maybe," I replied. "I find myself forced to earn a living, and my employment options are somewhat limited."

Bob smiled. "The experiment is funded by a long-term grant, so the job would be secure. The hours are nine at night until five in the morning, five days a week. All you'd have to do is keep an eye on the equipment to make sure it doesn't explode. Most of the time, you'd be free to read, work on your own experiments or do whatever. The professor said he could pay twenty-thousand a year."

"This experiment must be very important to him." I groaned. The work sounded steady, but dreadfully boring. And it was work, something I simply had not had to endure for such a long time. "This sounds like a possibly viable option. What other choices do you have for me?"

Bob bowed his head, for a long time staring down at the table. "Al, I'm really sorry," he said finally. "I was able to get you this job by calling in a couple favors. Professor Hanson owes me from way back, but really is happy about having such a qualified full-time person, and he said he could probably afford to pay more later."

"Was this all you could find?" Bob nodded so subtly that it was barely noticeable. "I appreciate your efforts," I said, reaching a hand across the table and patting him lightly on the forearm, "but surely there must be many occupations in which I am quite capable of serving."

Bob shook his head vigorously. "Youare qualified to do many things, Al. Many things! My God, you're one of the most exceptional people I've ever met, a true Renaissance man, but the world doesn't value Renaissance men anymore. We live in a world dominated by specialists. Ever hear the term, 'jack of all trades, master of none'?"

I nodded, knowing full well that my able assistant had never spoken truer words. My resume - if I had one - would appear rather spotty. And how could I explain all those gaps in my work record? In a world that demands explanations for a month of unemployment, how could I explain a century? "I also imagine my 'special needs' must have made your task more difficult as well."

"You've always had a talent for understatement, Al," Bob replied, a relaxed smile finally spreading across his face. "This particular job, you'd be working at night and alone, away from scrutinizing eyes."

"I enthusiastically applaud your effort," I said, smiling broadly. "Call your Professor Hanson and inform him that I will accept his generous offer of employment. So tell me, where is this university?"

"MidwestAmerica ," Bob replied. "TheUniversity ofWisconsin , inMadison,Wisconsin ."

"Very well then." I reached for LeMeux's discarded glass, raised it in the air and clinked it against Bob's upraised beer bottle. "A toast then. ToMadison ,Wisconsin , my new home for who knows how long."

Bob drank deeply from his beer, slouching back into his chair. He looked relaxed for the first time that entire evening. In fact, he looked quite tired.

"Of course," I said, "let us not forget about Jenkins. I will have my revenge, as well as the full return of what was taken from me."

Bob sat upright once again, and the relaxed smile fell from his face. "Jenkins is the least of your worries."

"I will have him, Robert. Mark my words. He will not escape my wrath."

"Your wrath is going to have to wait a little while, Al." Bob sipped his beer and leaned back in his chair. "The reality of the situation is this: he ran off with about twenty million dollars. That's more than enough money to allow someone to disappear and not be found. You just don't have the resources to find him."

Always a man of blunt honesty. "I am sure you are correct. Still, I will not forget about Jenkins."

"Neither will I." Bob snapped his fingers as the waiter passed near our table.
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