by Dan Klefstad
“Why O-negative? Why not O-positive or something?” I watch Daniel pour the red liquid into a crystal decanter.
“Something about the taste.” Daniel shrugs. “It’s entirely aesthetic, like the crystal we use — Waterford instead of Baccarat.”
“My grandma had a set of Waterford.” I watch as Daniel transfers the decanter to a glass tray with the same pattern, followed by a single stemmed glass. “Is she Irish?”
“I think she was born there, but I don’t really know.”
The last 24 hours have broken open my entire world. I met my first vampire and got my first job working for one. But Daniel’s response is too much for me to absorb. “You said you worked 35 years for Fiona. How come you know so little about her?”
He scowls. “Our conversations focus on the day-to-day. What stocks are hot? Should we invest in bonds or gold? What’s our supply situation? Did that new connection deliver as instructed? We don’t have time for personal stuff.”
“But you would, if she stayed around instead of going out.”
Daniel takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “That’s her business. Our role is clear: do your job, don’t ask questions, collect your pay. Like any other job.”
“Except the money.” I still can’t believe the paycheck Daniel promised next Friday. He said I’d earn even more when “fully operational.”
“Indeed.” With one hand, Daniel slides the tray from the counter to a wheeled table of the same height; the O-neg casts a moving shadow on the white tablecloth. “Follow me.” Daniel pushes the cart to her bedroom door and knocks three times.
A bolt clicks, the door opens, and Fiona stands wearing a silk kimono, rose-colored, with a long black bird down one side. A faint odor of death invades my nostrils; I didn’t smell this when I met her last night.
Fiona steps aside as Daniel wheels the table to the center of the room. I pause at the threshold, looking at both of them for guidance, but they have their backs to me. Finally, I step in.
Fiona glances in my direction as she spritzes perfume on her wrists and between her breasts. Her eyes redirect my attention to Daniel, who is holding the decanter in his left hand, opposite the dangling right sleeve. “We fill the glass halfway.”
I watch as he pours. He gently sets down the decanter and carefully wipes the rim of the glass with a napkin. “We want to avoid drips.” He stuffs the napkin in his pocket. “Then we leave, unless Fiona has questions or instructions.” He turns to her. “Anything?”
“No.” She sets down the perfume and begins combing her hair. Daniel’s head bows a little before he walks toward the door. I begin to follow, then half-turn. “That’s Lismore, isn’t it? The pattern. My grandmother had a set. It belonged to her mother.”
Fiona looks at me and gives a slight nod. I press further. “She put the decanter and stemware on a silver tray with a lace — oh, what do you call it — doily made in Ireland. She was from County Cork, near Blarney Castle.”
Fiona just stares at me, and I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Let’s go.”
* * *
“She doesn’t say much, does she?” I watch Daniel count the pint bags in the refrigerator.
“Goddammit, we’re short for tomorrow.”
“I see nine.”
“She needs ten. Every night.” He shuts the door. “I need you to go out and bring back eleven bags.” He scratches the order on a notepad. “Take the Prius. Punch Northwestern Memorial in the GPS. Your contact is Marcos.” He tears off a sheet and hands it to me. “I’ll call him, but I wrote his number at the bottom. Text him with the code when you arrive.”
“BERLIN. That’s our signal for when we’re short.” He takes a stuffed envelope from a drawer, opens it, and lays $100 bills on the counter. When he gets to $6,000, he scoops them into another envelope, which he hands to me. “Get going.”
“What will you do?”
“I have to sell stocks. That’s a whole different level of training we’ll get to next week.” He points to the key rack.
I grab the remote tagged “Prius” and head for the garage.
“Oh don’t mention the silver tray again. We never use silver.”
* * *
No silver. What about mirrors? I forget whether Fiona’s room had one. I can picture lots of perfume bottles, combs and brushes, plus an unmade bed with purple sheets that looked like silk. There was also a large painting of a castle in a gothic landscape that covered a space where a window might have been.
All this foreground memory competes with an undertow of attraction and revulsion; the silk stretched over her nipples, the whiff of decaying flesh quickly followed by a spritz of mountain flowers... My brain is stuck in a zone that gets murkier as I approach her food source.
The reply takes a few minutes: RM 404 PATIENT LULU GARCIA
* * *
In 404, Nurse Marcos takes a blood pressure reading while a TV is showing a news program
Marcos tells me to follow him. We go to a room at the end of the hall with just one patient who’s comatose and hooked to an iron lung. Marcos lowers his voice. “What’s your name?”
“Short for Wolford. Wolford—”
“No last names. And you work with Daniel?”
“Tell me something about him.”
“Just one arm. Left.”
“He is... completely without humor.”
Marcos chuckles. “He wasn’t always that way. You want eleven pints of O-negative?”
“That’ll be eight thousand.”
“Wait, it was supposed to be six thousand.”
“The price went up.”
“Did you tell Daniel the price went up?”
“That’s not how this works. You should never assume anything.”
My face gets hot; I’m sure it’s bright red. My ears start ringing, but I hear a muffled voice that sounds like mine: “I am not leaving without those bags.”
Marcos crosses his arms, biceps bulging beneath his scrubs. “And I’m not letting them go for under eight.”
I take out a pocket knife and cross to the other side of the patient. Then I pick up the cord to the iron lung and wrap it around the blade. “Eleven bags of O-neg. Now.”
“Go ahead, cut it. You’ll have swarms of people here in a second.”
“Really? Have you ever been a patient? This guy will die before anyone responds, and you’ll get the blame.”
“All right, just stay cool.” Marcos takes out his phone. “I’ll have someone meet you by your car.”
“No. He comes here with the bags in a cooler— ”
“Of course they’re in a cooler.”
“Here. Now.” I point the blade at him. “You don’t leave this room, and you don’t make any moves I don’t like.” Then I point to a chair. “Have a seat.”
* * *
Marcos and I watch as a CNA named Cathy opens a cooler and shows me the eleven bags.
“Hold one up so I can see the label.” She glances at Marcos, but he offers nothing, so she complies. “Okay, close it and set it over here.” I take a deep breath. “Cathy, I want you to know something. My employer understood that today’s order would be six grand but Marcos upped it to eight at the last minute. He didn’t tell you that, did he?”
She looks at him again, but Marcos just glares at me.
I glare back. “This asshole tried to cut you out of that extra two grand.” I toss her the envelope. “There’s six. I suggest you keep it all.”
“Son of a bitch!” Marcos leaps up and hurls himself at me; an alarm sounds as both ends of the cord fall to the floor.
* * *
“Well done, Wolf.” Daniel stacks the bags in the refrigerator. “I am disappointed about Marcos, though. He’s been reliable for years.” He takes an ice pack out of the freezer. “Here.”
I wince as I put it against my left cheekbone. “Cathy sure was pissed. She pepper-sprayed him.”
Daniel smiles. “I’ve already reached out to her.” He opens a decanter of Scotch and begins filling two glasses. “She’ll get us twenty bags by Monday for a reasonable price.” He caps the decanter and looks at his watch. “Fiona should be home by now.”
“I am.” Both of us turn to see her enter the kitchen wearing a peasant-style dress — full length, low cut — showing off the palest breasts I’ve ever seen. She stops in front of Daniel, one hand motioning toward her face; he bends down to inspect her, then straightens and nods. She turns and locks her eyes on mine. “Come with me.”
* * *
“Would you like me to pour you a glass?”
“No need. Sit down.” She points to a chair by the vanity — which has no mirror — before stepping behind a three-panel screen with Japanese artwork. I hear her unzip. “That’s quite a shiner. Marcos?”
“God, it’s so hard to find a human you can depend on — present company excepted. I mean, why would anyone risk a solid business relationship for two thousand dollars?” She steps out wearing a kimono. “Daniel will drive you back to Chicago. There’s a park. He’ll need you to dig the grave.”
I swallow, trying to bury a lump in my throat. “When do we leave?”
“In a few minutes. After your drink.”
I tilt the glass and swirl the dark liquid in my mouth before swallowing. Then I hold it up to the light. “Lismore again.”
She sits on the edge of her bed, grabs a pillow and squeezes it against her. “I was born in Waterford — the first time, I mean — in 1767. My full name is Fiona Miread Fitzgerald. I became... what I am... twenty years after that.”
“That painting” — I point toward the wall — “is Waterford Castle?”
She nods. “My brother’s descendants built it on another castle long after I left. The foundation dates back to 1500. I remember playing in those ruins when I was a child.”
“Will you ever return?”
“Maybe.” Her hand goes up to cover a yawn. “It’s a hotel now.” She places the pillow against the headboard. “I need to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”
I take my drink toward the door. Before I grab the handle, I half-turn. “Good night, Fiona.”
“Good day, Wolf. And thank you.”
Copyright © 2017 by Dan Klefstad