Authors: Helen Harper
By Helen Harper
Copyright © 2014 Helen Harper
All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
For Adrianna, Kimchi, Molly, Tux and Mumpkin
Chapter One: Clients
Dr Love knits his hands together and gazes at me with a fatherly smile. I’ve elected to come to his office rather than continue to run the gauntlet of the Montserrat mansion. Even though I left the Family with the secret encouragement of Michael, Lord Montserrat, the vast majority of my ‘siblings’ regard me as a traitor.
The small room is sparsely decorated and possesses a remarkable lack of personality. I suppose Love’s clients make up for it. There’s a wall calendar and an impressive array of scholarly medical tomes on a heavy bookshelf, but the walls themselves are an unobtrusive beige and there’s no artwork. There’s not even a family photo on his tidy desk. The
smell of bleach mingles with some potent kind of herbal tea. I can see several soggy, discarded teabags lying in the bottom of his wastepaper basket. Unless he has a team of extremely lazy cleaners, I can only surmise that he’s already on his seventh cup. But then again, it is 7pm in the evening.
As a newly-fledged vampire, I’m not strong enough yet to withstand the sun’s rays. Consequently I have to wait until dusk before I can venture outside. To say living nocturnally makes my life complicated would be the understatement of the year. At least with winter approaching, the days are shortening. I’ve never looked forward to November before: in England, even here in the warmer south, it’s typically a grey affair, with depressing skies, endless rain and little prospect of sunshine. I can’t wait.
‘So, Bo, how have you been?’ Dr Love asks the question with absolute sincerity, as if the weight of the world lies on my answer.
‘Fine.’ I rearrange my limbs. Every part of me wants to hunch over, cross my legs and fold my arms to create as much of a barrier as possible between myself and the psychiatrist. I need him to think that I trust him, however, so I force myself to relax and look open and receptive.
He raises his eyebrows. ‘Have there been any more hallucinations?’
I shake my head. ‘No. In fact, I feel remarkably chipper.’ I beam at him to add credibility to my answer.
‘You can tell me the truth,’ he says.
No, I really can’t. If I told him that a Kakos daemon with the catchy nomenclature of ‘X’ had touched my temples and sucked out whatever darkness was rattling around in there, he’d probably throw me in the nearest loony bin. And then X would eat Dr Love’s heart. I am under strict instructions from the daemon not to tell a living soul. There are only three people who genuinely terrify me: X, my grandfather and Michael Montserrat. And as far as the latter is concerned it might be my own feelings and desires that are scary rather than the vampire himself. I haven’t quite made up my mind yet.
‘Honestly, I feel great. I mean, I’m worried about how things are going with the humans and their growing hatred towards bloodguzzlers. And goodness only knows when Medici is going to make a move. But, yeah,’ I shrug, ‘other than that, I feel fantastic.’
Dr Love rests his chin on his hands. ‘It’s interesting that you use the term bloodguzzler.’
I stiffen. ‘Is it? I think you’ll find it’s the word most of the world uses to describe vampires. And it’s what we do. We guzzle blood. We suck it from the tender jugulars of fresh, innocent people. We thrive on its iron-rich goodness.’ My voice is bitter.
‘You continue to feel an aversion towards drinking blood then?’
I start to cross my legs then stop, planting both feet firmly back on the floor. ‘I wouldn’t call it an aversion, exactly.’
‘Really? What would you call it then?’
Disgust. Hatred. ‘A mild dislike of the process,’ I say.
‘Do you drink every day?’
‘I have to. I can’t function unless I do.’
Dr Love rubs his chin thoughtfully. ‘And you still use Connor? The ginger man who works with you at New Order?’
‘Yes. He says he enjoys it.’ My lip curls.
‘You don’t believe him?’
‘I have no reason to think he’s lying.’
‘Tell me, Bo. Are you still seeking a cure?’
I don’t have to. It’s hiding behind a slab of chocolate in my fridge. ‘No,’ I answer truthfully. I choose my words with care. ‘I’m told a cure doesn’t exist.’
Unfortunately for me, the good doctor deals in half-truths all day long so he’s not about to ignore mine. ‘You’re told? You mean you think it might still be out there?’
‘Some people tell me there’s a God. Some people tell me we’re descended from aliens. Some people say that Jack the Ripper was a human.’ I shrug. ‘I like to keep an open mind.’
I receive a faintly disapproving look in return. ‘I’m going to set you a little challenge,’ he says. ‘Once a week, you need to step out of your comfort zone and drink from someone else.’
‘Well, for one thing it can’t be good for Connor to lose so much blood so regularly.’
‘I don’t take a lot.’
‘You’re not the only vampire working in the office though.’
‘Matt doesn’t use Connor. He goes back to the Montserrat mansion during the day to sleep and drink from the vampettes who line up there.’
‘It’s unusual for two fledglings to be given such freedom.’
It’s more than unusual, it’s unique. ‘I suppose we’re special cases.’ I look the doctor directly in the eye, challenging him to question this further. Instead, he glances at his watch.
‘Time is almost up. What are you planning on doing with the rest of your night?’
‘New Order has been open for almost a fortnight?’ I nod. ‘Have you had much interest?’
‘Nothing so far that’s going to help us change any attitudes.’ I try to remain ambivalent. ‘It’s early days yet though.’
New Order is the brainchild of Michael Montserrat. Ignorant of the fact that the majority of the Families are made up of reformed criminals, the media used to glamorise vampires while the general populace admired their longevity and increased physical prowess. All that changed when a recent recruit called Nicky subverted a daemon’s virility enhancement spell to bend male vampires to her will. There were a lot of deaths, and the fallout from her actions was considerable. There’s a growing antipathy towards our kind that shows no sign of abating. We may have succeeded in bringing Nicky down but I often wonder whether it was her who had the real success.
New Order is acting as a conduit between the vampires and humans. It is a sort of investigative agency, tasked with dealing with complaints, queries and delicate incidents. There are six of us in the agency: two humans, two Sanguines and two vampires. We all have some sort of tie with the Montserrat Family but, if things work well, the other Families will join the organisation. Except for the Medici Family. Their Lord is determined to maintain the status quo; he thinks that giving any ground to the humans will ultimately weaken every vampire in the country and he’s prepared to go to almost any lengths to stop our little agency from prospering. Not that there’ve been many signs of prosperity recently. The constant picketing outside the office puts most humans off. The dentist using the ground floor space has already complained to the council twice. I can’t blame him really; his business must be suffering too.
It’s fairly early when I get back to Covent Garden so the group of humans chanting and holding placards above their heads is still quite large. Not big enough to make headline news but enough to create a headache. When they see me coming, their shouts get louder.
‘Fuck off back to where you came from, bitch!’
I’m from London, so that’s a non-starter.
As if they’d pre-planned it, the group forms a barrier between me and the office entrance. I do my best to ignore their yells and search for a route inside. We’re going to have to use the back windows as our exit and entrance point if this keeps up. That’s easy enough for me and Matt, and Peter would probably manage it too. But Arzo is still in a wheelchair and I’m doubtful that there are the necessary muscles within Connor’s skinny freckled body. Besides, even if my grandfather was spry enough to manage it, there’s no way he’d demean himself in such a fashion.
I’m tempted to push through the protesters. The danger is that if I so much as touch any of them, they’ll call foul and claim I assaulted them. And there’s no point in attempting to reason with them. There may only be thirty or so of them but they have a crowd mentality and are goading each other on. I bite my lip then shrug. I’ll just have to show off.
I loosen my knees slightly, trying not to tense my muscles too much and inadvertently make myself fall. It certainly wouldn’t do to screw this up and have them witness my embarrassment. I’ve already clocked the German tourists who have their smartphones out so they can record the action; I don’t need to end up on the wrong side of a viral video. Taking a deep breath, I launch upwards, springing from my toes until I’m several feet in the air and high above the protestors’ heads. Several of them reach up to try and hit me with their placards but I’m too fast; I’m already somersaulting then landing on the opposite side of the crowd. I curse inwardly as I have to step backwards to maintain my balance; it’s a move I’ll have to practise if I want to get it perfect. Still, despite the jeers, I’ve made it to the door. Without a backward glance, I slip inside and run up the stairs.
When I enter the office, Connor is perched on Peter’s desk, chatting amiably. Peter’s not paying any attention to him. He catches my eye and looks relieved.
‘Bo! Great!’ Leaving Connor in mid-sentence, Peter scoops up his jacket and almost runs out of the door. I open my mouth to warn him about the protestors but he’s already vanished. A beat later there’s a roar of delighted disapproval from outside as he exits the building. I listen carefully in case he needs help but, when the crowd subsides after a few seconds, I realise he must have made his escape on his own.
‘Mr Blackman said you were to go and see him as soon as you got in,’ Connor says brightly.
I raise my eyebrows. ‘Mr Blackman?’ I suppose we should at least be thankful he declined that bloody knighthood when he retired from MI7 a few years ago.
Connor’s eyes dart from side to side and he lowers his voice. ‘I called him Arbuthnot yesterday. He wasn’t very pleased. In fact, he made me feed the cat as a punishment.’
I would laugh if I didn’t possess similar feelings of antipathy towards my grandfather’s fat ginger moggy. For some reason he insists on bringing the sodding thing with him to the office every day where it gets in everyone’s way. Even Arzo, who reeks of power, is afraid of it. Last week, he spent a full hour rearranging the filing cabinet rather than use his computer because the cat was asleep on the keyboard. In fact, the only person other than my grandfather who doesn’t seem to tiptoe round the damn thing is Peter. Peter only seems wary of humans or tribers who try to pass the time of day with him .
Leaving Connor to dwell over the horror of his punishment, I knock on my grandfather’s door. It swings open to admit me, the result of a simple spell to reward lazy people. My grandfather doesn’t usually hold with such ‘white-magic-fangled rubbish’ as he puts it, but after three days he was so fed up of us walking in whenever we felt like it that he engaged the services of a local witch to set it up.