The blast, coming out of the nearby darkness as it did, startled me considerably. Matters did not improve when the source of the explosion came under the influence of a streetlamp and I beheld the vampire.
He was traditionally clad, which made for easy identification. His pallor was interrupted by a bright red nose, which he blew into a silk handkerchief.
Vampire or no, my manners remained unruffled.
“God bless you.”
He gave me a nasty look.
“Oh. Right. Sorry.”
“Neber mind,” he replied sourly.
Had I possessed any quantity of sense, I would have taken advantage of his debilitation and fled. Instead, I struck up a conversation.
“I say, I didn’t know vampires could catch the common cold.”
“News to be, too,” he said thickly. “Two nights ago I was looking for food. First guy I come across has a terrible code. I didn’t know I could get it from him. I’ve drunk the blood of bubonic plague victims without incident. I’m undead, after all. But that guy’s code has really laid be low.”
“You should be in your coffin, resting. Not prowling around these dank, chilly streets at this hour of the night.”
“Believe be, I’d rather be in my nice, warm coffin. But I’m hungry again, so here I am.” And this seemed to remind him of why he had been lurking in the shadows for me to pass. A meaningful look came across his eye as he gazed at me.
“Oh, I say, no. I mean, surely you don’t intend…”
“I do intend. You look healthy.”
“Fit as a fiddle,” I agreed. “And I have designs on remaining so, not of dying or joining your legions. I would much prefer you leave my neck and blood out of this.”
“A vampire’s godda eat.”
“Well … yes, strictly speaking, I suppose so.” I knew I had to deter him from lunging at me. Fright lent a decent speed to my thoughts. “But one healthy specimen is scarcely what you need in your condition.”
“Huh?” he queried. A bit déclassé for an aristocrat, but he was ill.
“No, you require a veritable feast of healthy necks. Gallons of rich, pure blood, just like mother used to make. I know the perfect smorgasbord to help resurrect you. Cure you, I mean. Sorry.”
“Whadda ya habe in mind?”
“Let me take you to a home I know wherein reside a gentleman, his wife, and their six pot-bellied youngsters, all under the tender age of 12. All that succulent young blood should put you right back on top of your game and have you feeling in midseason form almost immediately.”
“So … I leabe you alone and you take be to all these sleeping people?”
He pondered briefly and his cogitation was interrupted by another astounding sneeze. When these vampires get sick, they really do it up right. I restrained my impulse to wish him the Lord’s favor.
“All right,” he said, and blew his trumpet again. “Led’s go. I could use some nice, fresh kids for a change.”
“Kids,” I thought, not “children.” He was sounding more like a common dockworker and less like a count of the old nobility every minute. Perhaps this vampire was dressing above his station.
I led him on a jaunt of nearly a dozen blocks. I am grateful it was no more as he was obviously tiring and preparing to dine on his guide if the trek did not end soonish.
We stopped at the back door of an overgrown house.
“They’re right in here. You should have no trouble finding them.”
“Okay. Thank you, by friend.”
“And thank you, sir. I bid you gesundheit and good night.” And I beat a retreat.
You are surely thinking me the cravenest coward that ever wore both the yellow stripe and the white feather. But neither you nor my sharp-toothed companion could be aware of a few valuable facts.
I had taken him to the home of a prosperous merchant, a man who had immigrated from Italy and made his fortune. The family, I felt certain, were adherents of the Church of Rome and had no doubt festooned the walls with crucifixes. Further, the poor bloodsucker didn’t have a hope of sniffing out, with his battered nose, that the businessman’s trade was in garlic.