That Time With The Vampires
Chapter 4

I was filthy after pulling weeds, and I was tempted to go back to the mansion exactly like that. I was pretty sure they'd have a fit if I got dirt all over their precious fancy house. However, if they were responsible for what happened to Todd, I didn't need to annoy them. I needed to fit in as much as I could. So I asked to use the shower and the washer. I cleaned myself and my clothes, borrowed some of George's things, and while my clothes were drying on the line I asked George to see the letter. He brought it to me, and I sat down at the kitchen table to read it. It was written on a Steno pad paper, with pencil. It claimed that their argument was the reason he couldn't stay around anymore - it had been the last straw, it said. I looked over at George, who was fiddling with a percolator. "Do you have any other samples of his writing?" I asked.

"Samples?" he asked me.

"Yeah. Anything else he wrote, like unfinished letters, a journal, anything," he said. "That way I can compare them, see if it matches or not."

"I think he had one of those - a journal, I mean," George said. "Hang on a minute." He went into another room, then came back with a composition book and set it down in front of me. The edges of the cover were stained with dirt, so apparently Todd hadn't been too careful about washing his hands before writing. The insides were sometimes written in ballpoint pen with blue ink, sometimes in pencil. Then I saw that the handwriting was different from the letter - a little messier, and the letters e and s were formed differently. What if it had been dictated? I asked myself. If someone had written the letter on his behalf, of course it would look different. So how could I know for sure whether it was forgery or diction? I took a deep breath and used my acting skills to put myself into the place of Todd, the man who wrote the journal, and read it over. Putting myself in his position, I could more easily pick up on a warm, positive attitude flowing from his work. He loved and cared deeply about what he did, and he cared about everyone, friends or strangers. In one entry where he was upset, he felt he must have been partially at fault.

Then I took the letter and did the same. But Todd's emotions and concern for others were absent. Instead it was cold, detached, and self-absorbed. I frowned and pushed the letter away. "It's fake," I said. "The letter's fake."

"Fake?" George asked.

I nodded. "The handwriting doesn't match, and it doesn't even sound like him at all. It's two different people here."

George shifted uncomfortably. "Well, who'd wanna kidnap somebody like Todd?" he asked.

"That's a good que-" I began. Then it hit me all at once. "Actually, I know just the asshole." Thomas. He was exactly this cold, and I had no doubts he wouldn't think twice about draining the blood from someone like Todd. Of course there were other vampires, so he wasn't my only suspect, but he seemed like the most likely.

"Really? Who?" he asked.

"I'll tell you more later," I said. I didn't want to give him too much information, lest he decided he needed to start investigating, too. Such things had happened before. "I need to check out a few things and make sure." I spent a few more minutes analyzing the fake Todd's letter. I noted the word choice, the emotions that he seemed to feel when writing on certain topics, and for good measure I read some of the lines out loud under my breath. I didn't have a photo of the mystery writer, but I had a fair snapshot of their personality.

After that I wrote down a few gardening tips to leave George and Letha with. And then when my clothes were dry (or at least, weren't too damp), I changed back into them. Then I bid them goodbye and walked out a distance from the house before taking off into the air again. I went to the mansion and rang the doorbell again, and once again I was lead inside by the doorbell. Michael was playing backgammon with Amanda in the sitting room, and the pair of them looked up at me.

"I was starting to think the hippies had eaten you for dinner!" Michael said with a grin. "What took so long?" he asked.

"Fell in a ditch," I said. "Had to get my clothes cleaned."

Amanda wrinkled her nose. "That explains why you smell like cheap laundry detergent."

Michael sat up a little. "So what did you think? You see what I mean about these guys?" he asked. "They're just over there living in dirt and they're happy with it. They don't wanna put in some hard work so they can live like kings and princes."

There was a lot I wanted to say. I wanted to point out the garden. I wanted to point out that princes were often as not lazy brats who exploited the hard work of the commoner. I wanted to ask him when the last time was that he'd been poor and had to struggle for everything he had. But I was here to solve a mystery, and that meant I had to hold my anger down, at least for now. I had to stay in their good graces for now. So I just nodded and sat down on the embroidered sofa. "Oh yes, I see what you mean," I said.

Michael smiled at me, a broad smile full of satisfaction over seeing me "see the light." It made me feel nauseous.

"So how are we going to fix the hippie problem?" I asked. "I don't suppose you're running a business where you plan to hire them? Train them with skills? Give them housing so they aren't laying on the streets anymore? I mean - sorry if I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm just curious what the plan is."

Michael barked out a laugh. "Adry, for a guy who's so old, you are so naive. It's not our job to just hand everything to them. They need to clean up their acts and act like respectable people."

"Yeah, but what's the plan?" I asked. "How are we going to get them to do that?"

"Adry, it's not our job to give them handouts," he said again, more firmly. "If that's what you want to do, you should go work in charity."

They say refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other party to die, but I don't think I've seen anyone say that playing nice with a terrible person is like drinking poison and pretending that it's not making you sick. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself and refrain from both laughing and screaming at the fact that they had no plan. I nodded softly. "I see," I said.

"Do you?" Michael asked me, a faint note of challenge in his voice.

"Yeah, I do," I said. Maybe I didn't see things exactly from Michael's perspective, but I sure saw more than he wanted me to.

Then he immediately relaxed, and looked at me with an oily smile. "May I get you anything? Food? A drink?"

"Yes, please," I said. I hadn't eaten since breakfast.

Michael rang an old-fashioned servant's bell, and a young woman with a waifish figure dressed in a Victorian maid's dress came into the room. I wondered if these people forced her sleep in a damp basement and had her working every waking hour of the day, as had been done with real Victorian servants. Michael sent her off to bring refreshments - tea and small sandwiches.

"Now there's a hard worker," Michael said, a hint of something like admiration in his voice. "Does what she's told when she's told to do it, and never once complains!"

I swallowed back my anger and devoured the food as quickly as I could without being impolite. Now I needed to be able to look around unsupervised. "Do you have a library?" I asked.

His face lit up. "We do!" he said. "Come on and I'll show you!" He leaped to his feet and led me into a very large room filled with bookshelves, each one stocked full of books. Looking around, I saw works by numerous authors, including Chaucer, Plato, Ayn Rand, and Rudyard Kipling. I eventually picked up some book or other that interested me (it was probably a cookbook or something like that) and sat down to read. As I'd hoped, Michael soon left me alone. I put my book back and went to start looking around. The first thing to do, I decided, was get the lay of the place worked out. If for any reason I ended up needing to run out of here (such as if they all caught on to what I was doing, and decided to drain me of my blood), I'd want to know my way out and not corner myself.

The house couldn't have been more than forty years old, but it was styled in 18th century French design (or so I estimate). Some of the pieces seemed to be real antiques, but many of them were reproductions. Many of the rooms had thick curtains drawn in them - to make things more comfortable for the vampires, I supposed. So while these rooms were elegant, they also felt stifling.

I found the music room, where Theodora was playing the piano. As with other rooms, the curtains were drawn and there were no lights. I stood there for a few seconds debating whether or not to ask her any questions, until she looked up at me. "Is there something you want?" she asked me.

For the second time today, I was caught off-guard by a question I wasn't prepared to answer. But I quickly thought of something. "I was just listening to you play," I said. "Though now that you mention, I'm a little curious about vampires. I mean, you're nothing like what I've seen in the movies."

"Oh. Of course not," she said. "We're not monsters."

I nodded, and a question occurred to me. "If it's not wrong of me to ask, how do you become vampires?"

She was silent for a moment. "On purpose," she said. "A lingering bite... and then you change. And that's it."

"So... if it's on purpose," I began slowly, "why did you choose it?"

Theodora was quiet for a moment, and then she took a deep breath. "I..." Then she took another. "I suppose I just... didn't want to die and be forgotten. I just..." Her gaze fell on the ivory keys and stayed there.

A flash of intuition hit me. "You wanted to matter," I said softly. "To do something that matters."

She nodded. "Yes."

"So have you accomplished much since joining the Undying Society?" I asked. "Besides just talking to other immortals, I mean."

"I..." She frowned. "What are you trying to imply?" she asked me.

"Nothing. Just curious what this place is all about," I said. "Anyway - do you drink blood, like in the movies?"

"Yes, we drink blood," she said, looking down at the ivory keys of the piano. "But it's mostly just animal blood."

"Mostly?" I asked. So they did drink human blood - at least sometimes.

"Sometimes the servants give us some of theirs," she said. "It's like a donation."

"And they don't mind that?" I asked.

"Well, they don't complain," she said. She looked up at me. "Listen, I know you don't think very highly of Lord Coldstone, but he's done more for us than you'll ever know."

"Lord Coldstone?"

"The one who owns this place," she said. "Only Michael calls him by his given name - and don't you forget that." She fixed me with a stern look that was very nearly a glare.

I nodded. "All right then," I said. "I'll leave you to your piano." I didn't need to ask Theodora anything else, at least not that I could think of. However, there was someone else I wanted to speak to.

I left the room and went off to find the kitchen. It was a pretty large room, obviously designed for cooking a lot of food if necessary. Evening light came in through a window that wasn't exactly large, but still provided enough light that it was positively cheerful compared to the other rooms I'd been in. The maid who'd brought me tea earlier was in here preparing dinner. Laying on the counter near her was a fashion magazine - which she picked up and dropped into the trash the moment she realized she wasn't alone.

She turned toward me, though she didn't look up at my face. "Do you need something, sir?" she asked in a mild voice.

"Just a glass of water," I said.

Her meek demeanor vanished instantly; she looked up at my face and grinned. "Oh my god, you're actually a normal person," she said. She filled a glass with water and gave it to me, then grabbed her fashion magazine out of the trash and brushed a few apple peels off the cover.

I chuckled. "A normal person?"

"Sure," she said. "Those other guys ring for everything. None of them just come to the kitchen." Looking at her now, I doubted she was much older than twenty. Her pale skin told me that she hadn't been spending a lot of time outside like young women her own age often did, so she was probably working indoors a lot. Then she frowned a little. "But if you're here and they haven't put you to work... you must be one of them," she said.

I shrugged. "Well, I am pretty old," I said. "But-"

I didn't get to finish my sentence. "But what?" a sneering voice behind me asked. I turned around to see John Phillips. He stood there with his arms crossed and he fixed me with a knifelike stare. "Are you this nosy everywhere you go?"


"Theodora told me how you interrogated her," he said. "And I see you've come to interrogate the help, too."

"We were just talking," I said.

John narrowed his eyes at me. "Sure. Also, it didn't escape my notice that you've been over every inch of this house."

"I was exploring," I said. "Admiring the decor."

"Well, it seems to me you've done enough admiring for one day," he said coldly.

Clearly I had, if he was already that suspicious of me. "All right," I said. I finished my drink and left the kitchen. I was going to have to slow this down, make my efforts less obvious. Since it was evening, I decided I ought to at least go home for the night. I found Michael and told him I had to leave, and thanked him for having me over. Then I left and drove back to my apartment.

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