All Hallows Eve - A Dark Tale & A Little Strange Love

by John M. Joyce (Nov. 2008)


Late on a still All Hallows evening, with a mist rising in wreaths from the river, the huge container ship Titan nosed into the docks at Tilbury on the Northern shore of the Thames estuary opposite, with no significance at all as it will turn out, Gravesend.
 
The arrival of that great ship was completely unknown to the worshipers at Compline in the parish Church of St. John. It was unknown, also, to the faithful similarly foregathered in the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and its arrival went completely unremarked by the good Sisters in the Convent of Mercy secure, as they thought, behind their stout walls and their invincible Faith. Even those few of the Elder Faith undertaking the weekly polishing and dusting in their Beit Knesset on Dock Road failed to mark its arrival.
 
Unusually, it was the only vessel into Tilbury that fateful Sunday evening and the sole Inspector from Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Service on duty paid its manifest but scant attention. That is not to say that he did not perform his duty as prescribed – he boarded the ship, he checked each of the Custom Seals on each container as he should – but he failed to notice, or had not the wit or knowledge to notice perhaps, the black container in the forward hold sealed in Dubai and consigned to Britain by Tagalog & Cie, SA.
 
***
 
Lord John, thirteenth Marquis of Raltende, ‘Jack’ to his close friends, Junior under-Secretary to the Senior Deputy under-under-Secretary to the Deputy Senior under-Secretary to the Senior under-Secretary to the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Permanent Secretary to the Secretary of State at the Home Office was, that fateful Halloween, ensconced in his commodious official quarters in Queen Anne’s Gate. It was well after midnight and he was trying desperately to make sense of some of the many documents which had landed upon his elegant and tidy, burr-walnut veneered, desk in the last seventy-two hours. For reasons which he could not fathom, several reports from MI5 and MI6 had ended up on his desk – some still having their CIA imprimatur plainly visible, and some, in execrably bad French, all too plainly originating from that moribund and hopeless institution on the Quai d’Orsay, which passes in these modern and debased times for the French attempt to understand the rest of the world. All in all, they seemed to give warning that some sort of terrorist attack was planned by some shady and malevolent Islamic group (is there any other sort of Islamic group he, naturally, wondered) against the United Kingdom. Plainly, everyone involved in this alert thought that he, and his small Department, should know about this, but why? Yes, that was the question: why should this concern his small and insignificant Department?
 
Quite suddenly a noise like a steam-hauled express train filled his elegant office. He felt a hot breathe, as hot as the fires of Hades, momentarily upon his neck!
 
“Oh, now that’s not fair,” an educated and deeply masculine voice said, “ Honestly, garlic impregnated aftershave. That’s just cheap!”
 
“Good-evening to you, my dear Count,” Lord John said, suavely, for he was used to this sort of thing, “Do take a seat. Would you care for a small libation?”
 
“Don’t mind if I do,” the Count replied, “As long as you have it warm enough. You’d be surprised what I’m offered nowadays. Honestly, some people who should know better just don’t know anything at all. What on Earth is the education system in this country coming to when no one seems to know what the naturally body temperature is. Shocking, I tell you, quite shocking. I always expected better of my adopted homeland, don’t you know!”
 
“I can assure you, my dear Count, that here, at any rate, your drink will be served to you at precisely ninety-eight point six degrees Fahrenheit,” his Lordship replied, a little acerbically, “And in a proper leather-rimmed glass so that you may bite down as appropriate. Some of us still know what is correct, don’t you know. As to the state of British education, well, I share your concern, but that is not my Department, don’-cher-know. If you’ve any complaints then you must take them up with the relevant Ministry, for I cannot possibly comment.”
 
“Quite, quite,” agreed the Count, accepting the pre-warmed glass of the ruby fluid and taking a generous swig, whilst allowing his impeccably shiny, white fangs to sink deeply into the fine Chamois leather rim-dressing of the exquisite seventeenth century Bohemian wine glass, “Ah, now that is excellent. It’s a blend, obviously, but a fine one. Caucasian, in the main, I think, with just a little Caribbean and a hint of Japanese to provide an exotic overtone. Am I correct?”
 
“Quite correct,” the Marquis stated, “ But I think that you did not seek me out this e’en simply in order to discuss a full-bodied blend – wonderful though the various blends provided by the National Blood Transfusion Service are. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Oh, may I top your glass up before I sit down?”
 
“Please, and you can add a generous slug of the Talisker which you’re drinking, also, if you don’t mind. ‘By the light of the peat fire flame’, and all that! I have great memories of Scotland, don’-cher-know.”
 
“Really?”
 
“Of course, lots of blood feuds on various misty moors. It was great fun! Doesn’t take much to bring out the evil in men, you know.”
 
“The Jacobite rebellion?” Lord John gently asked, drawing a shot at venture.
 
“Nothing to do with me, old bean,” the Count replied, a little too urbanely, “Others might have, of course, but not me. Might not have been us, at all. After all, some men are just naturally daft, don’t you know.”
 
“Quite! I work in the Civil Service and I’m sure you will understand when I say that I appreciate that last most fully!”
 
The Count cracked a broad smile and saluted his Lordship with his glass in an ironic and world-weary gesture. However, as he lowered his glass a grave light crept into his eyes and Lord John, ever percipient and watchful when it came to the Count of Transylvania, noticed at once.
 
“Your Excellency, is there something which you need to tell me?” his Lordship asked.
 
“There is, my Lord,” Count Dracula replied, “And you’re not going to like it, I’ll wager, any more than I do.” At that, the Count rose from his chair and walked agitatedly across to one of the windows and flung the heavy, fully lined to blackout standard, gold brocade curtains wide. He stood silently for several moments staring into the dark street below, obviously wrapped in his own thoughts.
 
Quietly, the Marquis got up, walked over to him and placed a hand lightly upon his shoulder. A glance through the panes informed his Lordship that an uncommonly thick autumn fog had thrown a weird halo around each streetlight. One of the Count’s hands stole up and covered his in a gesture which he knew instinctively was one of friendship. They stood together in the window embrasure, in a strange moment of intimacy between man and vampire man-killer, for no more than a few seconds, but it was enough for each to confirm the mettle of the other in their own minds and enough, moreover, for each to be reminded of the very delicate friendship between them which had to safeguarded, no matter what the cost, for the good of all who dwelt in these Sceptred Isles – and, perhaps, for the good of all those who dwelt outremer, also.
 
The Count released his Lordship’s hand and, with a small, wry, sad smile, led the way back to the comfortable, winged armchairs in front of the elegant desk. When both were seated once more, and glasses replenished, the Count shook himself out of his reverie and, looking at the Marquis, said, quietly, “I think it’s over.”
 
His Lordship had been prepared to meet this moment for many years and so was able to reply quite composedly, “You mean The Agreement between the Secretariat Of The Supernatural at the Home Office and The College Of British Vampires?”
 
“No, not that! As long as there is a member of COBVa then The Agreement with SOTS will stand! You have my word on that! None of us want to go back to pre-1939 days!” the Count said, angrily and impatiently, “It’s just that there may not be any COBVa members left within a few days.”
 
“What the devil...?” the Marquis exploded, but before he could continue the Count silenced him with a raised hand.
 
“A ship docked at Tilbury very early this evening,” the Count said, launching into his overdue explanation quietly, but with obvious difficulty, “On board that ship was a container which contained Vampires from the Middle East...”
 
“All are welcome here, so long as they sign The Agreement,” Lord John interrupted, “You know that as well as I.”
 
“Ah, but that’s the problem! Those Vampires will not, and cannot, sign The Agreement!”
 
“You’re the Lord President of COBVa, so, surely, all you have to do is make them sign? You have the legal power to do so and to enforce your will over Vampire-kind on these Isles in any way which you deem to be necessary as long as what you do conforms to The Agreement. For Heaven’s sake, all Prime Ministers since ’39, and numerous appeals to the Law Lords, have confirmed that power to you, and we at SOTS have always supported you in your judicious use of that right. We’ll all support you now, and you know that.”
 
“They’re Muslim Vampires!” the Count snarled at him, impatiently, “They’re our worst nightmare and your downfall! Just hear me out, please.”
 
Suddenly, the memory of the Intelligence reports, which he had been poring over for much of the night, came back to him and the Marquis fell silent. He indicated with a slight movement of his hand that the Count had the floor and should continue.
 
The Count collected himself slowly, and then resumed, “Muslim Vampires cannot be eliminated by any of the methods which you used to employ against us before The Agreement was signed back in ‘39. Garlic means less than nothing to them. Stakes through the heart don’t work, for they have no heart. Beheading doesn’t stop them, for that is a thing which the mortals do in the societies from whence they spring and, so, it has no effect upon them. They can, it seems even tolerate the mild sunlight in these Northern climes for they are desert bred: made in a part of the world where sunlight really is fierce! In short, we ‘Christian’ Vampires, if I may use such an expression, know of no way to stop a Muslim Vampire. That, however, is not the worst of it so far as I, and my kind, am concerned: they can kill us!
 
“You mean that they can send you back to the innermost circle? But how?” Lord John asked in some surprise.
 
“Simply by biting us,” the Count replied, “ And no, that doesn’t send us back to where we came from, that eliminates us, kills us. If they bite us, anywhere upon our bodies, we are ended, reduced to less than dust – reduced to soil.”
 
“And you’re sure that there is no known way to send them back or to kill them?” the Marquis asked.
 
“None which we know of,” came the chilling reply, “That’s why we, your kind and my kind, are losing in places like the Lebanon and the Sudan. That’s why the ummah think that they can win. They are why we, yours and mine, lost Egypt to the ravening Muslim horde, why the Crusades failed, why North Africa and Spain fell to the Islamics. OK, we recovered Spain, but you should know, now, tonight, that yours is not the first Agreement. We once fought for Ferdinand and Isabella and that Agreement cost us dear – thousands of my kind, Vampires, perished, but it was worth it. Oh, don’t take me up in the wrong way, the Two Monarchs fulfilled their agreement to the letter and the spirit: CDVE still honours its Agreement, as does the Spanish Crown.”
 
“CDVE?” queried the Marquis.
 
“Council Of Spanish Vampires,” replied the Count, “ of course, in Spanish its Consejo de vampiros espanoles, but that’s Spanish for you. It always was a contrary language. Do you know that NATO is OTAN in Spanish?”
 
“Yes, I do. But surely the Crescent of Islam, or the Star of David, or even our own Crucifix, works against them?”
 
“No, not one single symbol of faith that we’ve ever been able to discover actually works to stop them. Anyway, they don’t bite their own faith. But anyone of another faith bitten by them becomes a Muslim Vampire!”
 
“I’ll admit that that is odd, OK. But what damage have they done so far? Do we know for certain that these particular Muslim Vampires are here to harm us? Perhaps they’re just here to get away from the fundamentalists amongst them? Maybe they’re just looking for a better life. Shouldn’t we ask them what they want before we wage war against them? Shouldn’t we offer them the chance to sign The Agreement and integrate with us?”
 
“Phwah, there speaks a British Civil Servant,” the Count guffawed. He raised his hand and the ornate double doors of the Marquis’s office swung open with a loud crack. Upon the thresh-hold stood two muscular young Vampires. Even before his Lordship had a chance to utter the words of denial the Count had beckoned them into the office.
 
“Take him,” the Count ordered in thrilling terms which could not be denied, “Take him to this night’s killing site!”
 
The two young Vampires took the Marquis firmly by the arms and, in an instant, moved him rapidly into the street and, wraith-like, through the fog and eastwards.
 
The movement of Vampires over the face of the Earth is swift, but not instant. During his rapid journey the Marquis had some little time to observe his captors. The young and well-made Vampire which had a hold on his right arm was obviously of a taciturn disposition and not inclined to respond. He was dressed in well-fitting evening clothes which accentuated his strength and musculature but which, by their elegant cut, marked him out as the usual, and obedient to The Agreement and the Count, traditional type of Vampire; but the one on his sinister side was comely, young, blond and smiling, and wore a tight fitting white tee-shirt and an altogether too revealing a pair of tight, black trousers. Around his neck, for forms sake his Lordship supposed, there loosely hung a bow-tie There was little about his physical functionality which could not be deduced through those very thin layers of cloth!
 
Lord John, thirteenth Marquis of Raltende, permanent, and hereditary, and no fool, Junior under-Secretary with responsibility for the Secretariat Of The Supernatural at the Home Office, flashed his sinister dark angel a somewhat louche smile and was rewarded by a change of grip – the youngling Vampire took hold of his Lordship’s left arm with his left hand and his right hand wandered ... rather interestingly!
 
‘Ah-ha,’ Lord John thought to himself, ‘So that’s the lie of the land. But really, not even a trace of lace, not even a swirling cloak – just that ridiculous tie wrapped around his bare neck as some sort of homage to tradition. I’ll really have to have a word with His Excellency when this is over.’
 
Within a very short period of time the Marquis’s two supporters deposited him gently on a pavement in front of the open double doors of a nondescript building and the Count alighted with great style in front of him – almost as if the fog, which had become quite thick, was itself gently handing him to earth.
 
Lord John shot the Count a quizzical glance.
 
“This is the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy in Tilbury,” the Count said, in response to his look, “Shall we go in?”
 
“ ‘We’?” the Marquis asked, “This must be consecrated ground. Surely you cannot enter?”
 
“It has already been desecrated and no soul herein is alive so I am free to enter,” he answered, “I hope that you have a strong stomach, my Lord, for you will not like what we are about to see!”
 
The Count was correct. Throughout the entire Convent all the good Sisters lay dead, their exsanguinated forms strewn carelessly, as if by some great wind, all through that small House of Prayer and Goodness. The bloodless, lifeless form of the Mother Superior herself lay atop the altar in the Convent’s small Chapel, her neck and throat and wrists a mass of frenzied bite marks, her Crucifix clasped uselessly in her right hand.
 
The shock of that last sight was almost too much for the Marquis. He felt his knees begin to give way under him and the bile rise in his throat. As he tottered towards the nearest pew the young, blond, well-made Vampire which had helped carry him to Tilbury sprang to his side and helped him to a seat. He was grateful for the support and weakly smiled his thanks. The youngster shot back a smile full of sympathy and concern – and worry – and Lord John could not help but notice the two tiny diamonds embedded in his fangs.
 
“This is none of your doing, is it?” Lord John asked, stated to, the Count.
 
“No,” came the bald and truthful reply, the Count’s face grey with worry, “ ‘Tis not, as well you know my Lord! But others will think so...”
 
“...And put everything in jeopardy,” his Lordship finished for him.
 
“Yes.”
 
“I need tea,” Lord John said, “I desperately need a cup of tea.”
 
“Strangely, so do I,” the Count offered, surprise in his voice “There’s a kitchen here. Let us repair to it and see what it can offer.”
 
They duly did so and within a very few minutes the Marquis’s taciturn dexter flight assistant produced for them a surprisingly palatable brew. Granted, one could have tanked foundations against ground-water inundation with that pot of tea, but it was what they both needed at that moment. They drank their first cups in silence and the Marquis was relieved to see the Count’s colour return to its customary pallor.
 
As they sipped their refills Lord John could not help but reflect that the Count had become very British over the centuries. Oh, his Lordship had no doubt that His Excellency would, at this moment, prefer to be supping the blood of some nubile maiden to assuage his shock, rather than tea, but that that tea had become, even if only for the moment, an acceptable substitute, was a mark of the Count’s commitment to they new order which he himself had been instrumental in negotiating with the British Government in the dark days of the closing months of 1939.
 
“Vlad,” Lord John asked, “What do we do now?”
 
“I don’t really know, Jack. The Sisters have to be sealed into escape proof coffins before dawn, obviously, otherwise tomorrow night they will rise as convert, revert as they would have it, Vampires, and wreak more havoc. Can you get a team down here and have them deal with that?”
 
“No sooner said than done,” Lord John stated, reaching for his mobile ‘phone. Just a few minutes conversation was sufficient to apprise his operatives back at SOTS as to the state of affairs pertaining at the Convent and his Lordship cut the connexion in the certain knowledge that all would be done as he had instructed.
 
“That’s just damage limitation, Vlad. What should we do next, do you think?”
 
“Jack, they can kill us, they can kill you and revert, sorry, convert, you without a qualm. There’s no talisman which anyone knows of that can afford protection against them,” Dracula summed up, his eyes meeting the Marquis’s in, for a Vampire, a patently honest gaze, “From now on, it’s going to be damage limitation all the way. Even if we find their lair they will probably be able to move around in daylight in this weak Northern winter sun – which we can’t. I think we’ve lost, dear friend! It’ll be slow, but I think we’ve lost!”
 
A heavy silence fell in that quarter of the Convent’s large kitchen in which they both sat in a small pool of light provided by a lone, bare, overhead electric bulb. The scrubbed deal table between them seemed as resigned to its fate as, at that moment, they both felt themselves to be. Lord John opened his mouth to speak for a sudden thought had come to him, but, before he could utter a word, there came a squeal – a very camp squeal, it has to be said – followed by a rather sickening thump, from the far end of that dimly lit Convent kitchen. In an instant the Count, Lord John and the quiet, perhaps surly, but well dressed, Vampire flight assistant, were on their feet and moving swiftly into the gloom.
 
At the far end of that kitchen, despite the deep shadows which enveloped it, they were quite capable of making out the form of the young, blond, well muscled, tee-shirt clad Vampire standing over the crumpled form of one of the Sisters of Mercy, which had obviously tumbled out of the walk-in freezer, as it had been opened by him. It took but a few scant seconds for all present to realise that she was dead – frozen to death and clutching in her arms some monstrous joint of meat as if to protect herself from something which she, obviously, from the horrified expression on her face, greatly feared.
 
Quick glances were exchanged between the Marquis and the Count.
 
“I dare not, yet, touch her” the Count said, “She was dedicated, you know – a bride of Christ. You must tell me how she died, for it’s not obvious. Are there ... marks?”
 
‘Twas Lord John, therefore, who knelt down beside her and, using both his hands, forced the frozen meat off her and felt for any sign of life. There were none, but neither, he noted, were there any bite marks!
 
“No, no marks,” he said, “But she died in terror!” That last said with some emotional violence.
 
“Not our doing,” wailed the silent and taciturn one, suddenly, his voice rising into the higher octaves with every sentence uttered, “You have to help us. We didn’t do this! We would never break The Agreement! All I want is my grant from English Heritage towards the cost of restoring my Crypt. I get thirty thousand visitors a year. It’s a major tourist attraction for the village. Do you know how much black beeswax candles cost? I can’t be mixed up in all this. Mr. Jones at the shop stays open until after dark especially for me on Thursdays so that I can collect Tomb Weekly as soon as it’s distributed. What will the neighbours say...”
 
There came a crack, a snap, a hard slap of flesh, if one could call it that, striking flesh. Raltende looked up just in time to see Count Dracula wince and nurse his right hand as the previously taciturn one crumpled into a sobbing heap at His Excellency’s feet.
 
“Sorry! But I had to stop him.”
 
“Yes, quite alright. That meat is really greasy,” Lord John said, “I’ll just wash the fat off then we must talk and plan.”
 
He walked back down the kitchen and turned a hot tap on at one of the large, stainless steel sinks. As the hot water flowed over his hands he broke into a huge smile. Carefully drying his hands, he turned to his following Vampire helpers – those true British Vampires which he now knew that he could trust absolutely – and said, command and certainty filling his voice:
 
“Count. I think I have a plan which will work. Meet me in my office as soon as maybe!” he instructed, politely.
 
“Take me,” he ordered, pointing to his previous flight assistants, “To the all-night supermarket nearest to my office!”
 
They did so, and he purchased so many bags of one type of grocery that the cashier almost, almost, but not quite, called her supervisor. She was stilled in her impetus only by the look of certainty in his eyes, and the swooning glances of a most elegantly dressed and wonderfully set up young man who appeared to be accompanying, as some kind of servant, the profligate spender at her till. She did not care for the over-muscled, in her opinion, blond bodyguard in his too revealing, over-tight clothes. She, most positively, did not care for the silly white bowtie on his bare neck! What a wise young lady she was!
 
In just a few short minutes the Marquis, and his manifold purchases, was back in his office. Colonel (R’td) Sir Vlad Dracula, Count of Transylvania, VC, GC, CBE, Her Majesty’s Commander of the Trois Ports, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of B----shire, had arrived before him.
 
“Do you mind telling me what this is all about?” the Count asked, “You know that they will be here shortly. To take Britain they have to take you down and SOTS with you.”
 
“Yes, that’s what I’m counting on, but there’s no time to explain!” the Marquis said, “Help light the barbeques!”
 
Recognising the imperative in the Marquis’s voice, the Count did as he was instructed. Hope blossomed in the Count’s breast. Perhaps this man, this mortal idiot with whom he’d had some sort of friendship for years, had a plan which might work, which might save them all!
 
Slowly, oh so painfully slowly, the smells of frying bacon and roasting pork filled that elegant office. When those desperate Muslim Vampires crashed open those elegant doors, as they had to if they wished to take Britain, of the office of the Junior under-Secretary to the Senior Deputy under-under-Secretary to the Deputy Senior under-Secretary to the Senior under-Secretary to the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Permanent Secretary to the Secretary of State at the Home Office and strode, oh so confidently, into that citadel they all, unwittingly, took on the might of the British Civil Service, ‘gainst which no-one has ever prevailed. One breath of the miasma which filled that office was their undoing. They crumbled into soil! All of them! In their overweening confidence all of them had made the assault and all perished in the attempt.
 
They were vacuumed up on the following morn by the cleaners and dumped, with rest of London’s rubbish, far out in the North Sea ‘mongst the effluent and leftovers of yet another, very ordinary, London day!
 
***
 
The following evening found the Marquis sitting at his desk in his office, which still smelled slightly of roast pork and barbecued pork products, drafting a report on the previous night for his superiors and for the Intelligence services. Once again there came that steam-engine-travelling-at-speed noise as the Count arrived, and once again the Marquis felt that familiar hot breath upon his neck.
 
“Yuck!” the Count ejaculated in disgust, “Garlic and pork fat. That’s horrible!”
 
“Good-evening, Count,” the Marquis replied, getting up and going over to the drinks cabinet, “Care for one?”
 
“Yes, thank-you. I feel in need of some sustenance after last night’s affair. You wouldn’t care to fox it a little with some of that really excellent Talisker, would you?”
 
“Certainly.”
 
His Lordship finished pouring and indicated the comfortable armchairs. They sat down with their drinks.
 
“What gave you the idea that pork would work against them?” the Count asked.
 
“Well, I noticed that your blond muscleman...”
 
“...Bobbie.”
 
“Bobbie the Vampire!” the Marquis said, with obvious humour in his voice, “It doesn’t, as moniker, have much of a ring of terror about it, does it”
 
“I’ll grant you that, but this is the twenty-first century, you know, and it’s not against the law to employ someone who is gay,” the Count replied somewhat defensively, “Indeed, it’s almost compulsory! Anyway, he’s obedient and good at his job.”
 
The Marquis inclined his head in polite agreement and resumed the tale.
 
“Anyway, I noticed that he, um...Bobbie, had had to remove some sort of metal rod from the door-handle of that freezer before he could open it. Those wretched Muslim Vampires had obviously deliberately left that poor nun in there to die. But why? That was the question which I couldn’t immediately answer. However, you will recall that she was clutching a very large piece of meat in her hands, much as if she had been using it as a shield – it was frozen to her hands and her habit, in fact, and I had to prise it off her before I could check her over.”
 
“Ah-ha!” the Count interrupted, seeing the point, “It was pork, wasn’t it?”
 
“Yes. But I didn’t know that until I washed my hands and the hot water released the smell of the meat in the cold grease on them.”
 
“Excellently well deduced,” the Count said in a congratulatory manner whilst raising his glass to the Marquis in a sincere salute, “We make a good team, I think.”
 
“Indeed we do, Vlad, indeed we do!”
 
“You know that Bobbie’s fallen in love with you, Jack?”
 
“Yes, he was here earlier protesting his undying, naturally, love and generally being something of a nuisance.”
 
“You could do worse, you know. I’ll give him to you if you want.”
 
“Really!” the Marquis said in a scandalised voice, “My late wife is hardly cold in her grave and here you are suggesting that I take a lover – and a male one, to boot. How could you, Vlad. I thought that you liked my Agnes?”
 
“I did. I miss her a lot, Jack,” the Count said with kindness and sadness in his voice, “I could have kept her going for you, you know, as I’ve done for old Professor Hardy, that one whose knowledge and skills the Ministry of Defence can’t afford to lose, if you remember.”
 
The Marquis was deeply touched for he was well aware of what it cost a Vampire, even one as strong as the Count, to bite a terminally ill person and turn them into a Vampire. Count Dracula had been weak and ill for many, many months after helping out with Richard Hardy and it was only then that his Lordship had realised just how much SOTS, and The Agreement, depended upon the Count. By no means every Vampire could do as the Count had done. For most the body would rot and whatever they were would end up back in the Innermost Circle – branded as failures for all eternity. Somehow, the Marquis didn’t want that to happen to this erstwhile denizen of Hell. In fact, he was rather fond of the Count – and fonder still of the peace The Agreement had brought to his country. All in all, Vampires had integrated rather well and they had made a huge and significant difference, one could almost say a sterling difference, to Britain’s position on the overnight money and shares markets. Indeed, Vampires and bankers seemed to get along rather well together!
 
“Thank-you, Vlad, but she didn’t want that and we both knew that the risks were, for you, too great. She fully understood how important you and The Agreement are.”
 
“I think,” the Count replied gently, “That she also understood how important you and SOTS are, too.”
 
At that the Count stood up. “Must go,” he said, “Places to terrorise, people to bite. I’ve promised Terry that I’ll help him fill out the forms for the English Heritage monies.”
 
“Terry! Terry the Vampire! You’ve got to be kidding me?”
 
“Modern times, old friend, modern times!”
 
As if to accentuate his last statement the Count’s exit was accompanied by a sound far more reminiscent of a diesel locomotive than a steam one.
 
The Marquis grinned appreciatively and returned to his paperwork.
 
***
 
The Count closed the lid of his coffin just before dawn the following morning and took out his laptop. On his Outlook Calendar under the thirty-first of January for the following year he set two reminders for himself.
 
The first read: ‘Scare the living daylights out of the clowns at English Heritage re Terry.’
 
The second was: ‘Send Bobbie back to Jack.’
 
He then logged onto the talkboard at Crypt and Coffin Monthly.
 


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