Friday, December 2, 2011

My Nanowrimo Novella!!

Well things have been a bit quiet on the blog lately.  That's a combination of two things really, one, the day job, and two, I've been participating in Nanowrimo, this challenge to write a 50k word novel in one month.

This had been my first year in Nanowrimo, and I'm happy to say I lived up to the challenge and hit the 50k target.  You can check out my stats here.  As you can see, there were a couple of weeks I just blew it off and somehow I still managed to hit the target.  Next year I'm gonna try and hit 75k just to push myself.

I used it as a way to jump start the next novel, but it didn't quite turn out the way I intended.  Instead of advancing the next novel I ended up writing this weird little novella, a kind of prequel if you will, to the second book.  It's mostly about the back story of the two main villains to the second novel and how they come together.  I'm not entirely sure I'm going to put it in the next book as it gives away too much of the story, and it doesn't really fit, but that seems a shame for a couple of reasons.  First, I really like it, and second, it solidified in my mind the villains motivations and characters for the second book.  So it deserves a hearing, but it just might not happen in the book, so I'm considering posting it here.

As usual, this is very rough, I haven't even been through it a second time myself, so please be forgiving of typos or just flat out bad grammar.

Also, THIS IS FULL OF SPOILERS.  It basically gives the plot to the second book away, and reveals several critical things about the bad guys and their goals and powers.  So be warned.  If you haven't read the first book, this will spoil some things, but nothing critical, but it is very spoilerish about the second book, right from the start.

So if you don't like spoilers...go no have been warned.

It also gives a little back history to some of the characters in the first book.  Most of this happens before the events in Limbo's Child.  We get to see Wallach, vampire master of Rivenden in Philadelphia in his prime, and we also find out how one of the minor vampires joined the clan.  Miles is also back for a short but critical role as well.  But mostly it's about our Big Bad for the second book, (well one of them at any rate) The Cowboy, and his sidekick, Rattlesnake Annie.  Hope you like 'em.

So here's the first twenty pages or so.  I'll publish the next twenty in a couple of days.


Night Train
Wallach crossed his legs and examined his clothes carefully and raised an eyebrow and brushed some non-existent lint off of his sharp pinstripe suit. He didn’t much care for the clothes of these days. The cut was too conservative, the fabric too plain. The pants hung loosely and concealed the fit form of the calf and the leg. The suits didn’t fit the man; they fit the job and concealed the man. You couldn’t tell the lean body of an aristocrat who lived in the saddle from the soft body of a bank clerk whose bottom never left the stool except to go home at five o’clock.
He hardly knew if he fit in anymore. The suits had hardly changed in the last thirty years, yet still he wondered. Was the suit out of style? Would people notice? Would they see he just didn’t fit in? That he didn’t belong in this age? Even if they did would they recognize the man beneath the suit? Would they see the fine features of Prussian and Romanian heritage, the latent nobility, the dark eyes and hair of an ancient proud race, or would they just think he was another immigrant just off the boat in a second hand suit? He guessed not. In the old country you could see quality and pedigree even when dressed in a peddler’s cloak. It wasn’t a matter of clothes, it was a matter of bearing, the proud glint of the eye. Here all the Americans saw was money. The suit was rich enough, it would pass. You could put a hobo in a good suit and everyone would think he was a Rockefeller or a member of President Roosevelt’s cabinet. Wallach sniffed. Roosevelt and Rockefeller were little better than hobos in good suits as it was.
America, he thought. What a high-spirited mediocrity. When he had come to America more than a century ago it held such promise for him: revolution, peasants rebelling against the old order, freedom, opportunity. When he was just seventeen he knew he had to come and join the fight. He was so assured of its certainty, its inherent justness. It was so romantic. His father was outraged, both at the very thought of rebellion and that his son would want to join up with a bunch decadent bohemians that spoke of transient nonsense like liberty and democracy instead of honor and duty. Such things were not done. People needed to know their place. Without the aristocracy, there was disorder, madness, chaos. Wallach had disagreed and fled and fought, and survived, after a manner, but now that he was older, much, much older than even his father could have imagined, he knew his father was right. He had seen the country manors and rolling fields of Germantown, swallowed up by the rowhomes of clerks, cobblers, and common merchantmen. The growth of the city was made possible by the whistle of the locomotive, the din of trolley cars and finally the honking of automobiles. Whatever promise this country had had at its birth it had squandered it on idle entertainments and diversions and noise. America was nothing more than an irrational exuberance belched forth on the world, all trace of nobility long since hunted down and strangled by the calmor of machines and ragtime and minstrel shows and now Jazz and talking pictures. No, no one would recognize him as a man of quality, let alone a noble. No one at thirtieth street station or on the train had recognized him as a noble or as second son to a count of a fiefdom that had ceased to exist after the Napoleonic Wars more than a century ago, and not a single soul would recognize that he was a vampire either.
Wallach uncrossed his legs and crossed them again. He looked out the window of the train car at the passing scenery as the scattered moonlight fell through the clouds on the grey autumn landscape. They were in New Jersey, somewhere between Trenton and Newark. Anytime now. Still, he was nervous. It had been a few years since he had left the manor for so long, and he had never been this far from the source before. But it wouldn’t do to have the source so close to him when he first met the cowboy. For this to work, he needed to appear weak, keep the source from him as long as possible, until the very end of the encounter.
He thought about his opponent. It was clever really: a sleeper car on a night train. A little advanced planning was all it required. An accurate schedule, a departure in the early morning hours or early evening, some heavy curtains, and an arrival after dark and a vampire of means could travel anywhere in the country in comfort. Pay off the porter and you could guarantee your privacy during the day, far superior than traveling in a hearse. Despite the gothic novels, vampires didn’t especially like traveling in coffins, but they were the only guaranteed way to travel long distances safely during daylight without arousing suspicion. He had always wondered how he had done it; how the oldest vampire in North America had managed to travel and meet all his appointments, all of his performances. He felt stupid that the he hadn’t thought of it before, but then he didn’t leave the manor very often any more, sleeper cars were still new to him.
He checked his pocket watch. He noticed very few wore them anymore, mostly old men, but the wristwatches were chafing. He wondered if he would outlive all the beloved fashions and habits of his age. Would he only be able to wear the clothes he loved inside the manor, far away from human sight? He snapped the pocket watch shut. He was getting impatient waiting for the person that had summoned him for this meeting. He never came himself. He didn’t even send one of his lackeys. They had only communicated by telegram. The Western Union boys would wander around the walls of the estate for hours and never could find the entrance. No mortal could. At first Wallach ignored these futile attempts to contact him, but his pursuer was persistent. Day after day new boys on bicycles came and they idled on the street corner, waiting. All day they waited. Then they started waiting on the corner past sunset. Then they started waiting until dawn. Forzgrim was practically beside himself. It was like dangling raw meat in front of a mad dog just an arm’s length outside his cage, but Wallach had forbad his hungry lieutenant from taking any action. If the uniformed boys with yellow badges and bicycles started disappearing, there would be uniformed men in blue, and then the attention would never stop. “The Cowboy” would know he was sending the telegram boys to the right place. “The Cowboy,” Wallach sniffed to himself. What a ridiculous name for a master vampire. How cloy. Well the cowboy certainly was very persistent, and annoying.
When the boys started standing on the street corner shouting out “Telegram for Mr. Wallach!” he had no choice but to take action. The boy lived, and returned a message, under the name “Samuel Benjamin Bitten V,” (He only used the name ‘Wallach’ with other vampires.) A reply came the next day, from a “Mr. Travis Lee,” this time addressed to “Mr. Bitten.” This one was sent from a hotel in Oklahoma of all places. It wasn’t galling that The Cowboy had found him, he always suspected he would eventually, it was just insulting that he wouldn’t come in person, or even send one of his Renfields, but when the most powerful vampire still living on the North American continent summoned you, you had to come. Only the chance of meeting him face to face had been enough to tempt Wallach out of his stronghold at Rivenden. He only hoped he was clever enough to come out of the encounter alive, but with some careful planning, he might come back with even more.
After a lot of empty pleasantries the last message had been refreshingly simple. “30TH ST. STATION. STOP. MIDNIGHT. STOP. COME ALONE. STOP.” At the courtesy counter a first class ticket for a sleeper cabin on the night train to New York was waiting for a Mr. Samuel Benjamin Bitten V. Boarding the train Wallach hadn’t noticed anyone unusual. No one was waiting for him, so Wallach settled into the club car and ordered a glass of wine. He hadn’t been able to taste a thing since a turning a few weeks after the Battle of Germantown, during the Revolution. American wine probably tasted awful anyway, but he could remember. He idly pretended to nurse his wine and read the Inquirer, but he was carefully watching the other nightowls. None elicited any suspicion. He suspected that The Cowboy would remain unseen, partly to avoid him, and partly to avoid his newfound fans. Celebrities were an odd breed. They worked for nothing but fame and notoriety and then once they had it they detested it when it dared followed them anywhere, even in their private moments. It was an odd affectation for anyone to seek out such attention, but even stranger for a vampire. When it was clear that none of them were the cowboy, or even any of his servants, Wallach asked the porter to take him to his sleeper cabin. He gave him a heavy tip to make sure he would be left alone. Since then, he was sulking in the cabin waiting. If the Cowboy was so anxious to meet him he would have to come and find him.
            He didn’t have to wait much longer. On the opposite side of the door to his cabin came a sharp knock. Wallach winced. It was light and jaunty and not at all serious in tone. He debated internally going to the door but uttered only “Come in.” instead. The door swung open slowly to reveal a buxom brunette woman with dark eyes, wearing a red evening dress and a fur wrap and matching red shoes and lurid red lipstick.
“Mr. Bitten?” She said brightly, not a trace of fear in her voice. If anything, it was sarcastic.
“Yes.” Wallach said coolly.
            “My name’s Elizabeth Sherman, but y’all can call be Betty.” She paused when he didn’t respond. “Mr. Lee will see you now.”
To be summoned like a low level clerk to a meeting with his manager! thought Wallach. The insults just kept coming. Wallach said nothing but stood upright slowly. He picked up his overcoat and homburg hat where he had set them on the seat beside him and draped the coat elegantly over one arm. He kept the hat in his right hand. The woman smiled and stepped aside and gestured for him to come out into the hall.
            As he passed she looked Wallach up and down quickly and suppressed a smile that told him the truth. His suit was out of style.
“If y’all just follow me, now,” She said with a wry smile and a slight Texan accent, “Mr. Lee has been just dying to finally meet you.” She even hit him on the arm in a playful way. She walked away down the narrow passage with a confident sashay and a swing to her hips. Wallach followed and as she walked she let the wrap she was wearing fall off her bare shoulders intentionally and turned back to smile at him. He smiled back but in a cold way. She was pretty, in the common familiar and vulgar way Americans appreciated, but she was no vampire. The Cowboy had no clan, no den or family. Rumor had it he surrounded himself with only female Renfields. Wallach guessed she was supposed to be a diversion, a temptation, whether as a potential companion or prey, it didn’t matter.
This whole endeavor, being forced to wait, being summoned like a servant, the girl, as if he could be so easily distracted, was all engineered to make Wallach feel small and inferior. Wallach was angry at himself for how successful it was. They passed down the narrow halls quickly. Most of the other passengers were already in their cabins, but there were still a few porters they had to turn sideways to squeeze by, and they each made every attempt to flirt with the woman. As they crossed from one sleeper car to the next, a rush of cold wind would blow her hair and wrap back in a flurry of snow kicked up by the speeding train. She would toss her hair and giggle like a little girl in her first snowstorm. The porters would hold the doors in the rushing wind between cars and reach out an arm to help her step across the jangling and dangerous gap, using every occasion to flirt some more. Each one got an over-enthusiastic “Why thank y’all kindly,” before she moved on. She actually blew a kiss at the last one. Wallach didn’t know whether to feel relieved that the porters didn’t think the two of them were together or emasculated that they didn’t consider him enough of a threat to care. In his manor in Rivenden no one treated him like this, no one would dare, but he had to control himself. He had to be patient and wait. He needed to know what the Cowboy had to say to him, what he wanted him for.
She led him nearly to the end of the train, passing through several cars until they reached a larger Pullman sleeper near the end. It was brand new from the look of it. Latest model, polished stainless steel, but Wallach hadn’t seen it before on the platform. Yodeling on stage seemed to be paying well; it should, for the cost to your dignity. There was no porter here, the woman opened the door herself and let Wallach pass through first. As she shut the door against the wind and adjusted her hair she spoke absentmindedly.
“Mr. Lee has a private car. He doesn’t like to draw too much attention to himself.”
Then maybe he shouldn’t prance around on a painted pony in a silver fringed suit. Thought Wallach, but if the woman noticed his sneer she didn’t show it.
“We have an agreement with Pennsylvania Railroad. The car was only coupled to the train after all the other passengers had boarded.”
Wallach smiled, but he had already noticed the heavy thump before the train pulled out and guessed as much. She led him down another hallway and opened the door on a clubroom that took up half the car. It wasn’t as bad as Wallach had expected. He had expected saloon doors and knotty pine paneling hung with spurs, branding irons and rusty horseshoes. Instead, it was restrained and modern, art deco, with only a few colorful touches: a cowhide, a Navajo blanket, a lariat and a saddle thrown over a sawhorse. Leaning next to them was an ornate silver guitar, but those were stage props, not decor. The Cowboy’s garish stage wardrobe was there, hanging in an open trunk stood up on end, a tasteless profusion of spangles, leather tassels and ornate silver buckles. The room was full of many trunks and cases, the typical traveling gear of a performer, covered in the hotel stickers from all the places he had toured – Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Tulsa, Cedar Rapids, Miami, Detroit ­– but the Cowboy himself was sitting in a modern leather chair in a rather conservative understated suit, although of a western cut. Even his boots were understated. He was leaning forward over the table looking at what appeared to be his press clippings.
The second Wallach entered, The Cowboy looked up and smiled enthusiastically. He stood up and strolled over to him earnestly like an insurance salesman making a sale.
            “Mr. Bitten! What a gen-u-whine honor! I can not tell you how long I have wanted to make your acquaintance. I couldn’t be more pleased if I were a pig in a holler.” He spoke with the same boisterous and overwrought open-mouthed western accent he used on stage and held out his right hand robustly. He was taller than Wallach had expected, and more handsome too. He looked older than Wallach, like a man somewhere in his early thirties. He was lean, muscular and jocular, seemingly straightforward and without guile, everything a cowboy should be, thought Wallach. He seemed even more charismatic in person than in his press photographs. He had small dark sparkling-eyes and wavy dark hair. He was masculine and rugged looking, unlike Wallach who had his mother’s fine and sharp eastern European features. There was not hint of pallor around him, but he was a ruddy as a workman who spent all day outdoors. No wonder the Americans loved him.
Wallach said nothing but slowly turned back to look at the woman, “Betty” and held up his overcoat. He had deliberately draped his overcoat over the right arm and picked up his homburg hat in his right hand to give him an excuse to avoid having to shake the cowboy’s hand.
            “Yes of course, where are our manners?” The cowboy said brightly, ignoring the sleight. “You’d a thunk we jus’ fell off the turnip truck and that this was our first rodeo! Betty if you wouldn’t mind.” Betty smiled slyly and took Wallach’s coat and hat. “That’ll be all Betty, us two ol’ boys can git along jus’ fine for a minute. We have horse-trading to discuss.” Betty fluttered her eyes knowingly and slowly turned and left the room, sashaying even more slowly than usual. Both Wallach and watched her go. When the door shut Wallach turned back to face the cowboy, who was still grinning, his hand still outstretched. Wallach slowly put his hands in his pockets.
The cowboy just laughed and put the hand down. “Now that ain’t no way to start a friendship, is it now Mr. Bitten.”
“It’s just Wallach actually, Mr. Lee.”
            The cowboy just laughed off Wallach’s snide tone, “That’s a bit better, and you can call me Travis. C’mon…let’s get this pow-wow started.” He slapped Wallach hard once on the shoulder before turning to sit down.
Pow-wow? Thought Wallach. The old vampire certainly was just laying it on a bit thick. The cowboy walked back over to the other side of the room and plopped himself down unceremoniously in the same leather chair as before and indicated silently that Wallach take the one opposite him. Wallach crossed the room slowly and sat on the edge of his chair like a man prepared to bolt. “Travis” just leaned back in his like a man confident of his position. There was a large engraved silver-plated six-shooter with a pearl handle in a holster hanging on a wide gun belt slung over one of the arm’s of the cowboy’s chair. Wallach was certain the bullets in the gun belt were silver. The cowboy must have seen Wallach’s eyes flit to the gun and just laughed.
“What this ol’ rig? Aw, that’s nuttin’ but a stage prop, pardner, full of blanks. You ain’t got nuttin’ to fret about.”
There was a long uncomfortable pause where no one spoke until the cowboy broke in again.
            “I’d offer you a scotch or a Cuban cigar or sometin’ but we both know that just won’t do for neider of us don’t we?” The cowboy actually winked at him then. “I could always rustle up some grub if yer want, something fresher, something rarer, if you had the notion.”
Rustle? Notion? Pardner? Ain’t got nuttin’ to fret about? There was something a bit too precious about this performance. What was the cowboy up to? He had to know that Wallach wasn’t one of his starstruck cornfed idiot fans. Why keep up the pretense? Or was he just trying to lure him into a false sense of security by playing the fool? Either way, Wallach had to buy a little more time and play along with the fop for a while longer. Newark was still a ways off.
“I’m fine, Thank you.” Wallach said coldly, folding his hands in his lap. “Tell me, Travis, do you keep up these ridiculous pretenses for the benefit of your fans or have you done is so long you just enjoy deluding yourself?”
The cowboy just laughed again and leaned forward in his chair. “Now why do you have to go and be like that before we even git down to business? We are both self-made men, Wallach, us more than anyone else living. That’s no way for us to act. In this land, is this age we can be whatever we want to be. If you want to be some dried up relic and hermit, fine. Shoot! I don’t care! That’s your business, no skin off my back. And if I want to be a singing cowboy, then that’s what I am.”
Wallach wasn’t looking at him when the cowboy began that little monologue. Instead he was idly pretending to clean his fingernails, but when the cowboy finished he felt compelled to look up, directly into the cowboy’s large eyes. There was something strange about what he had just said, and not just because he had dropped most of the hoakey colloquialisms. He had started rolling his “r’s” instead of dropping them too, but that wasn’t it exactly either. It was the way, he had said it. It was almost…magical. It made Wallach want to listen.
Wallach turned back to his fingernails. “Still,” He began diffidently, holding up the back of his hand to examine his perfectly clean nails, “It is a bit unseemly don’t you think? The last two ancient vampires of any significance in North America, perhaps even the whole Western Hemisphere, meeting on a train passing through New Jersey, around so many mortals.” Wallach tried to sound bored, but he had to shoot a glance the cowboy’s way to gauge his reaction. The cowboy was still smiling. “It would have been so much better to have met at my manor at Rivenden. We could have had some real privacy, perhaps even a genuine feast. I have lots of fresh meat in my larder.”
The cowboy sniffed, “I bet you do,” He leaned back in his chair and smiled and folded his arms across his chest. “But we both know that if I had stepped into that den of thieves of yours I never would have stepped out.”
Perhaps,” Wallach said not unlike a petulant girl, who’s just been insulted. Den of thieves, indeed. Thought Wallach. Better a master of thieves than a rodeo clown.
There was a pause before cowboy laughed again, great big rolling guffaws and then he slapped his thighs and shook his head. Wallach had to lean back to withstand its intensity.
“The two last ancient vampires in the Western Hemisphere!” He laughed. “Do you really believe that song and dance Wallach?”
“Well, if you don’t count the Turk.” Wallach said casually. “He’s been known to wander to this side of the planet on occasion.”
The Turk?!” The cowboy laughed. “Aw shucks, I thought he was just a legend. Do you really believe he exists?”
“People have asked me the same thing about you.” Wallach replied coldly.
The cowboy laughed again, even louder this time. Wallach winced at the vulgarity.
When the cowboy composed himself, he shook his head and smiled. “The Turk, The cowboy, The aristocrat,” he said in a mocking tone, “Where do vampires get these dopey names? Huh?”
Wallach raised his eyebrow and tried to contain a spasm of rage. No one had dared called him “the aristocrat” in his presence and lived. We wondered what his Father would have thought, an age where the very word, aristocrat, was an insult. The irony!
“I guess you don’t get to pick your own nickname though do you?” The cowboy went on.
“Quite.” Wallach said simply.
“Still if you’re stuck with it you might as well embrace it and make it work for you.”
            There’s embracing and then there’s abject surrender, thought Wallach, but he said nothing.
“Still, it must have been galling when they used to call you the aristocrat.”
Two thoughts struck Wallach at once. The cowboy was trying to manipulate him, play on his vanity, push him over the edge into recklessly revealing something, but this was overwhelmed by two simple words that surprised him.
“Used to?” He hadn’t meant to speak them out loud. The cowboy was getting to him.
The cowboy leaned back and turned his head inquisitively, then smiled the biggest smile he had all night. “Oh you can’t tell me you haven’t heard what they call you now?! That’s just plum incredible!”
Wallach tensed. He didn’t know.
“Well that’s just too good! That’s just as crazy as tits on a bull.”
Wallach felt odd. The cowboy was so vulgar, so common, but also so compelling. He knew he was toying with him, but he couldn’t help himself. Usually he didn’t care what others said, but now? Now he wanted to know what the rabble was whispering about his name when he was out of earshot, but he looked nervously to the cowboy, and his tight-lipped thin smile. The idiot wasn’t going to tell him. He was going to make Wallach ask. The ignominy of it all. Still, he felt almost flush and warm with excitement. It was a feeling he had not felt since he was mortal, since all those years ago when he first stepped off the boat onto the shores of America to make his way as a hero and a patriot of the new country. All the promise. Since then the closest he had felt was…hungry.
“What do they call me…now?” He blurted out quickly. He couldn’t conceal his interest though he tried to appear aloof and bored.
The cowboy smiled an even broader grin, and then spoke clearly, the phony accent almost completely gone. “They call you the ‘Devil Dog.’” The cowboy spread his hands before him and looked up as if he were reading the name from a movie marquee.
Wallach waggled his head from side to side and looked up. That wasn’t bad. A bit common sounding but it was far more intimidating than the “Aristocrat,” but the cowboy wasn’t finished.
            “Or sometimes the ‘Hound of Hell.’”
Hound of Hell, thought Wallach. That was even better. He tried hard not to smile, but the cowboy still wasn’t done.
“They call you…” the cowboy hesitated and paused on every word, “The Shadow…of…Death.”
And Wallach did smile this time. He even put his fingers to his lips. “The Shadow of Death!” It sounded so appropriate, so resonant, especially the way that the cowboy said it. It was so wonderful, so very perfect, so very…flattering. The warm feeling evaporated instantly. His eyes shot back to the cowboy, who was smiling as always. The cowboy had made him lose his concentration. This wasn’t just common flattery. The cowboy was doing something to his voice, something supernatural.
“What do you want?” Wallach spat out almost defensively.
“Enough small talk huh?” The cowboy laughed. “Now we get to the matter at hand.”
The cowboy stood up and walked around the cabin, pacing around the small coffee table with its press clippings. “You’ve always had a reputation for ruthlessness Wallach. Not many who cross you have ever lived to tell the tale, but something has changed.”
“Changed?” Wallach said curiously.
The cowboy smiled and walked around behind the back of Wallach’s chair. “Not to worry, your reputation is intact, it’s just that there have been certain rumors, rumors that are hard to explain…even for a vampire.”
“How so?” Wallach said idly looking up at the ceiling.
“Rumors of certain new abilities, rumors of specific new…shall we say…powers? Powers rare and unique even among the world of vampires.”
“Oh? And what would those be?” Wallach said playfully. It was time to make the cowboy ask.
“Well the ability to change into smoke or a monstrous dog for one.”
“Oh really?” Wallach said like an indolent spoiled child, who was telling his nanny he no idea how the vase got broken.
“Yes really.” Even though he couldn’t see him, Wallach could hear the smile in the cowboy’s voice. Wallach himself smiled at the thought of what they were saying about him. “They say you can heal from any wound almost instantly, that you can see the future, that you can steal a vampire’s very powers.”
Wallach smiled more as each of these were spoken in turn. It was so gratifying to know how much he was feared. How much he was envied, but then he remembered himself. This was what the cowboy wanted, for him to let his guard down while entertaining flattering daydreams.
And…” and here the cowboy paused for dramatic effect, “they also say that you have the power to walk in daylight.”
Now it was Wallach’s turn to laugh, but it wasn’t a warm laugh like the cowboy’s, it was a cold mirthless one. It was an awkward attempt at concealing Wallach’s growing urge to confess something, like a child bursting with secret pride of some sinful act. In the end he managed to contain himself and stick to the plan, the trap was baited and the cowboy was about to strike. “And you believe these stories do you?”
“You know we wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”
“And of what interest is my supposed new abilities to you?”
“I have my reasons…but first I need to know if they are true.”
The cowboy had taken the bait. Wallach smiled deeper this time and had to look away to restrain the deliciousness of it all. It had to be played just right from this point out, if it were to work, or Wallach wouldn’t survive the rest of the trip. Wallach sniffed indignantly. “You really shouldn’t be so gullible Travis.”
            “So it’s not true?” The cowboy said, sounding surprised.
            “Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. Walking in daylight!” Wallach said trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, “And who, may I ask, is telling you all these wonderful fables, hmm?”
            “No one I want killed by you.” He said chuckling, “Besides, it’s not who’s telling them that convinces me, it’s who’s not telling them. The Prendergast clan for example.”
Wallach’s smile abated just a little. He fidgeted in his seat and fingered the stitching of the armrest on the leather chair. “You saw them?” He asked not looking up.
The cowboy walked back around in front of Wallach. “I saw what was left of them.” He said simply.
Wallach was practically beaming with delight, as much as he tried to contain it.
            “Oh? They came into some trouble did they?” Wallach looked away like a child trying to avoid his mother’s gaze when caught lying.
“You could say that.” The cowboy laughed. “I’ve heard you’ve done some dirty low things in your time, like those five sisters you killed off in their nightgowns?”
“I was feeling peckish.” Wallach said dismissively.
“But killing off a whole clan? One of the oldest clans in America? That’s excessive, Wallach. Even for you.”
The Prendergasts got what they deserved thought Wallach. It had been fun killing them, the stuffed shirt Southern Bluebloods of the Carolinas, but not as much fun as seeing the shock on their smug little faces turn to panic before he snuffed them all out and eliminated the last major clan other than his own on the east coast.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you are talking about.” Wallach said dismissively, but he couldn’t hide his beaming eyes. It was fun being coy for a change, then Wallach stopped short. This was what the cowboy wanted, to see him pleased with himself, to see the confirmation in his eyes. Wallach realized that this was all just another form of flattery. He would have to be more circumspect. He quickly regained his composure. His smile vanished, the cold exterior returned.
“I perhaps have been a little more robust, in my business dealings of late, but I assure you nothing…unusual…has merited the change.”
“That so?” The cowboy said simply.
“Yes indeed. Walking in daylight…I mean honestly Travis. Can you really believe that?”
“That’s what the people are saying.” The cowboy said simply.
“Yes, but you better than anyone should know the power of a…” Wallach paused and thought as if something just occurred to him, “suggestion.” He said flatly eyeing up the vampire sitting opposite him.
“Suggestion?” The cowboy said coolly, narrowing his eyes. Wallach was gratified that he had planted the seed of suspicion in him.
            “Yes.” Wallach said, “One must maintain a public persona, whether a performer or a vampire, or in your case both.”
            The cowboy raised his eyebrows at him.
            “We’ve all heard the legends, haven’t we?” Wallach went on casually. “Vampires that can turn into animals or smoke, vampires that can walk in daylight, a magical green stone that can restore a vampire to mortality, silver chains that can steal a vampires powers, or how about the great Father of All Vampires, what is he supposed to be called?…Oh! Yes!” Wallach said snapping his fingers as if the answer just came to him, but he knew it all along. “Hokharty-Ra! Who will come and restore us and make us rulers of this world. There are so many tall tales, Travis, so many rumors, I merely encouraged a few to take root about my person.”
“Really?” The cowboy said, and for once his smile disappeared and he seemed disappointed.
“Verily,” Wallach replied pompously as he stood up. “Fear is a great motivator, Travis. You can hardly blame me for encouraging it in others.”
“So that’s all this is, just some flim-flam, just some story to keep the other vampires at bay?”
“I’m afraid so,” Wallach said standing up, “Now if that’s all, I’ll have to excuse myself, I really can’t be detained by idle chatter about fairy tales.” Wallach made as if to go, but hesitated, waiting to read the cowboy’s reaction. The bait had been taken, but he needed to provoke the cowboy to act before Wallach’s reserve arrived.
The cowboy shrugged as if disappointed and then stood up too. “Well that’s the way it goes I guess. Y’know, when I heard the stories that’s all I thought they were too, just stories,” he waved both hands in front of him as if to sweep the whole topic away, “I mean shucks, people get spooked and make up all kinds of crazy things, especially when they are scared. Not even vampires are immune to an over-active imagination, if ya get my meaning…so no hard feelings right?” he held out one large hand, and this time Wallach regarded it closely. Wallach felt as if he couldn’t refuse, not in the sense of a polite obligation of courtesy, but as if his mind would not let him refuse. It was strange. He took the hand hoping to get it over with quickly, but the second Wallach’s hand touched his he found himself in an implacable iron grip. Then the cowboy slapped the other hand down hard on Wallach’s shoulder and locked his gaze on him. Instantly Wallach’s will left him. It was like being frozen, paralyzed and Wallach suddenly became very anxious as the cowboy leaned over to speak to him, his faces just inches from his own. As paralyzing as the grip was, the voice was worse, like thick poison dripping in his ear, soft and unstoppable.
“You’re not going anywhere, Mr. Bitten. I didn’t believe the stories either.” The cowboy whispered. “That is, not until just now when you walked into this room and I saw you in person for the very first time.” The one hand squeezed the shoulder and Wallach felt the bones crack. He was frozen. Immovable! Riveted to the ground. But it wasn’t the cowboy’s grip that was doing it. It was his voice!! The rich baritone tone was pouring into his being like hot lead, burning through him, crumbling his spine and drying up his innards and making his teeth clench so hard his molars felt like they were cracking. Wallach was stunned at the power. His eyes were locked in their sockets, rigid, unable to look away from the cowboy and his grinning stupid hammy face. His whole being was breaking down into nothingness and just as when it felt he might crumble into ash and dust, the cowboy let go of his hand and let the other slip from his shoulder and walked away.
Wallach stood panting and if he had been still mortal he would have been sweating. His whole body ached like tetanus, but he managed to look down into his stiff right hand and saw a crumpled press clipping that the cowboy had slid into his hand when he was frozen to the spot. He carefully and painfully uncrumpled the gray piece of newspaper. On the front of it was a picture of a modern and austere skyscraper. Wallach recognized it immediately. It was the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society building on Market Street. The clipping was from the dedication of the building a few years back. The photo was of a large crowd gathered outside the building, waiting to be among the first to go in and see this strange new structure unlike any previously built in Philadelphia, unlike any previous built in the United States. There in the middle of the crowd with a circle around his head in pencil was Wallach, patiently waiting amongst the rabble wearing his Homburg hat. It was small, and blurry, and only half his face was showing, but there was no doubting it was him. He had turned at just the right – or wrong – time, looking back over his shoulder just as the photographer’s flash popped. He was even wearing the same suit as he was now. Wallach crumpled the small piece of paper into a tight ball in his fist with what little remained of his strength.
            “You do not disappoint, cowboy.” Wallach said weakly.
“Thank you, that’s what all my fans say,” the cowboy said graciously, as if he was hosting a friendly cocktail party instead of a showdown between two rival ancient monsters, “Please sit down, if you can,” he added sarcastically as he went back to his seat.

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