My Life In Darkness
32. The Tall Man
A few days had passed. I was glad to be back at work. For now I had managed to persuade Astrid to allow me to continue working at the bookstore. The recent abduction gave her further ammunition against me having a job there, but I had convinced her I would be happier still having employment. It galled me that it seemed I needed her permission to work, but at least Astrid’s attention was diverted for the moment, which is probably why she let the issue go so easily. The last few days she was focused on searching for the identities of the people who had abducted me. The Camaro that had been sitting in the driveway for a couple of days had suddenly disappeared, but Astrid wouldn’t reveal to me where it went. I shuddered to think what would happen to the abductors if Astrid did get her hands on them. I imagined they might spend some time down in the cellar until she was finished with them. Still, I now always kept an eye out for any suspicious activity around me when I was away from the house.
The first few days I came back I noticed there was a person browsing our stock that I hadn’t seen before. He was very tall and thin. His hair was grey and he also had a trimmed beard. He looked to be in his sixties or seventies. He was also always dressed in an impeccably smart suit that looked expensive, at least to my eyes. Every day he would come in and look around for a few minutes and then leave. I noticed each time he was slyly scoping me out. Then one day he picked up a book from out of the horror section and strode purposefully to the counter. He placed the book on the counter before me. It was on vampires. I looked up at him quizzically. He gave me a thin smile.
“An amusing book. Of course it’s rather incorrect about vampires, from what I know, and from what you would know as well I imagine.” He said to me. His voice was very deep and there was an unmistakable English accent.
“I’m sorry?” I replied, feigning ignorance. Who the hell was he?
“Come now. Let’s not pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.” He stated. I frowned at him.
“And you are?” I asked him.
“My name is Maximilian.” He said holding out a rather large but slightly wrinkled hand at me. I shook it uncertainly. It was warm, so I guessed he wasn’t a vampire.
“And I’m Melissa.” I replied, not sure why I was giving him my name.
“Yes I know.”
“Do we know each other or have a mutual friend?” I asked him.
“Not really. I wanted to ask you out for lunch.” He told me.
“I’m sorry but I don’t fraternise with customers.” I replied. He raised his eyebrows at me.
“Okay so I’ll just stand here and let your boss overhear specific details of your life, such as your socialising with known vampires, which includes having sexual relations with them.” He said with a look of distaste.
“Okay! I’m taking a lunch break in an hour. How about we meet in the cafe that’s in the next block?” I replied feeling rather flustered and wanting to get rid of him quickly lest Helen overhear what he was saying. He smiled. It was a grim smile.
“That would be most acceptable.” He answered. With that he turned around and left the store, leaving the book on vampires lying on the counter.
By the time my lunch break came I was close to having a panic attack. I wandered down the road with my heart beating wildly. Who was this man who seemed to know more details about my life than he should? When I got to the cafe he was sitting at a table in the courtyard waiting for me. It was the same table that Astrid and I had shared when we first met. I sat down on the other side.
“I’ve ordered some coffee for you. I hope you don’t mind.” He told me. He pulled out a box of cigars and offered me one.
“No thanks, I don’t smoke.” He took one out for himself and then closed the box with a loud snap. He then lit the cigar and the thick smoke began to waft over me. “So why do you want to talk with me?”
“To help you.” He stated.
“To help me with what?” I asked confused. I hadn’t asked for help.
“To help you with your vampire problem.”
“Vampire problem?” I repeated. He sat back in his chair.
“You are under the thrall of a vampire. I can help you with that.” He revealed.
“And how precisely can you help?”
“I’m a hunter. Getting rid of vampires is my specialty. But I will need your assistance.” I let his words sink in.
“You don’t know anything about me.” I countered. He stared at me and then pulled out a small notebook.
“Your name is Melissa Jefferies. You are 28 years old. You have no siblings and both your parents are dead. You were born in this town. You went to the University of New Kingsport and majored in English Literature. While there you became involved in a lesbian relationship with a Nicola Evans. The relationship ended a couple of years ago. On a side note, Nicola jumped off a bridge six months ago. Around a year ago you came back to live here. You lived with your father until he died from a heart attack, also around six months ago. You then leased an apartment in your family’s old homestead and lived there until quite recently, though you still lease it. Just over a month ago you entered into another lesbian relationship, this time with Astrid Eriksdottir, a known vampire. From the mark on the right side of your neck it suggests you have been bound to her. The scarring on the right side also suggests that Astrid feeds on you quite regularly. I suspect you allow her to. I can go into further detail if you wish.” He told me. He closed the notebook and put it away in a jacket pocket.
“So you’ve done your homework.” I said looking away.
“Yes I always research carefully.” Maximilian replied.
“How did you know Astrid was here?” I asked him.
“I didn’t. I came to Lawrence to investigate reports of exsanguinated bodies found in the towns graveyard, which suggested vampirism to me. And then I saw her: Astrid Eriksdottir, a foe I have hunted for most of my life. When I found she was living here I knew this would be a rare opportunity to finally rid the world of her. You being connected to her gives me a way in, if you are willing assist me.”
“Why would I help you? Astrid says you hunters are hypocrites. You align yourself with dark forces that are in opposition to the Council and want to destroy it.” He raised his eyebrows at me.
“While it is true I don’t have anything to do with the Council, I know of no other force that opposes it. There are individual entities that do not adhere to the Council’s laws, but they are few in number and are certainly not connected with each other, at least not in a way that I know of. The Council itself is a corrupt organisation that harbours vampires, dark wizards, shapeshifters, and other undesirables. It would be nice to get rid of it, but that’s beyond my abilities. All I can do is focus on individuals the world would be better rid of, such as Astrid Eriksdottir.”
“What’s so bad about her?” I asked, wanting to know more.
“Well aside from being a vampire, which should be reason enough, she’s a butcher. She had gone through the last millennia killing countless numbers of people.” He revealed. “These killings were often sanctioned by the Council.”
“You’re referring to her work as an Inquisitor?” I asked as he blew more cigar smoke over me.
“Yes.” He replied. “The Council uses her to get rid of their enemies, or people they just don’t want around.”
“And she’s a lesbian.” I added. Maximilian smiled grimly again.
“Yes, while I don’t approve of your lifestyle choices, it’s not reason enough to kill someone.” He stated. At the mention of “lifestyle choices” I rolled my eyes. Like I really chose to be attracted to other girls…
“Good to know!” I replied sarcastically.
“So my question to you is: are you willing to aid me in destroying Astrid Eriksdottir?” He asked me, ignoring my tone.
“You do realise you’re talking about destroying my girlfriend?” I put to him.
“Yes a girlfriend who feeds on you and controls you. Who gets rid of your friends and family so you are totally isolated and dependent on her. Are you really content with that?” He asked me pointedly. I looked away again.
“Maybe I’ll think about it.” I conceded.
“Good. That’s all I can ask you to do. Think about it and then we’ll meet here again in two days time.” Maximilian said. I finished my coffee and then stood up.
“I have to get back to work.” I told him.
“Remember if Astrid dies, then you will no longer be bound to her. You will be free again to do as you wish.” I nodded at his words in acknowledgement and then left.
Though my break wasn’t yet over, I walked back to work knowing I had a lot of thinking to do.
Next episode: Learning Magic
©2019 Joanne Fisher