Lord Greywood, vampire [ep. 36 of 36]


Historical fiction novel, by Dimitris Apergis. Exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS in 36 weekly episodes, in English and Greek languages.

Synopsis: London, 1824. The boss of London's Crime Syndicate, Wilbur Barnaby, assigns two men to travel to the -revolting against the Ottomans- country of Greece and locate the renowned poet Lord Byron in order to obtain a gambling debt of his to the underworld. One of the two men is Welsh Bugs Hamhaduke, the so-called "neckwringer." The other is the enigmatic Lord Greywood. The two men will embark on an adventurous journey to the Greek city of Missolonghi via Paris. None of those involved, however, is aware of Lord Greywood's terrible secret: That he actually belongs to the Order of Strigoi Morti, the oldest and most dangerous generation of vampires.

ISBN : 978-618-00-1549-2

CONTENTS

  • PRELUDE : Guilá Naquitz (1 chapter)

  • PART ONE : London (4 chapters)

  • PART TWO : Paris (10 chapters)

  • PART THREE : Vampires (10 chapters)

  • PART FOUR : Missolonghi (10 chapters)

  • EPILOGUE : Los Angeles (1 chapter)

[ep. 36 of 36]

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EPILOGUE

Los Angeles

                                                      

 

 

Half an hour.


Just about. That's how long I waited outside the Los Angeles Art Museum. The Wilshire Boulevard was quite busy at ten in the evening. Not many cabs though. After half an hour I found a cab and stopped it. On its roof there was installed a billboard of LED. Fluorescent photos from Lust & Fury 's new silver lingerie collection. Shapely hips, long legs, perfect busts. Bras and thongs made of expensive silver-coloured satin.


Not bad at all.


"Where to, sir?"


“Downtown."


"Yes, sir."


The cab driver started the taximeter and then pressed the gas pedal and we got mingled with the other vehicles on the boulevard. The reason I chose the cab ride that night was because I had given Earl fifteen days' leave. Earl is the African-American driver of my limousine. I trust him completely because he is one of the very few people in the world who can handle my favourite Lincoln with admirable skill. The truth is that I missed the comfortable lounge and minibar of the limousine. Even so, I had no problems with cabs whatsoever. You learn a lot from cab drivers.


"Sir, I suggest we get the I-10 from Fairfax Avenue. Any objections to that?"


"Through Venice Avenue?"


"That's right."


"I was under the impression that the W 6th Street route to San Pedro would be shorter."


"No, sir. Not at this hour. The W 6th Street will lead us to W 8 th Street. Between nine and eleven in the evening, the W 8th Street is run by the geriatric patrol."


“Geriatric patrol? What the hell is that?”


"Cabbie slang ... From nine to eleven, the W 8th Street is crowded with old people driving old Ford Mustangs and head for the I-110 to Pasadena. They all drive very slowly, thirty miles per hour max. They will inevitably drag us into their own pace and delay us."


"The W 8th Street is quite wide. You could pass them over."


"Oh no, sir. Can't do that. You see, if I do that, everyone will take out their cell phones at the same time and call the Olympic Police Department and complain about a manic cab driver with license plate number 1NBR019 trying to kill people on the W 8th . The area will soon be filled with patrol cars looking for me."


"Bullshit."


"No, sir, I'm not working you. I dared to do so two weeks ago with a persistent passenger. The Olympic Police Department contacted my boss at the cab depot and informed him that they had received nine calls for my reckless driving. They even asked him if I had a clean criminal record. The boss told me that if I pulled any similar stunt again, he would stuff the firing paper in my bottom."


"What's your name?"


"Name's Neil, sir."


"Neil, are you sure you're not making all this up? Are you sure you don't wanna just squeeze an extra fiver out of my wallet?”


"Sir, I swear to you, it is the absolute truth. And I assure you, I don't give one damn about the extra five dollars. My shift ends in a quarter from now and then I take the cab to the depot. The only thing on my mind right now is to cuddle with my lady on the couch and watch HBO on TV until I fall asleep. In any case, this is your ride, so you decide."


"All right, Neil. You win. We'll do it your way."


"A wise choice, sir."    


As I said before, you learn a lot from cab drivers. Anyway. Let's go back to Earl. Lately, Earl had been buzzing my head about a girl he met, the famous Mary-Jane. It was an indirect tactic of his to ask my permission to go on vacation with her. As it was June and apparently their relationship was apparently heading towards marriage, I gave him the coveted leave and he immediately disappeared with a smile on his face. I like to treat my employees leniently. I do not believe in the hardcore model of employer. I believe that those who treat their employees as authoritarian tyrants have shit for brains. That's what I think, anyway.


"Living in Los Angeles for a long time, sir?"


"Seven years. Quite long, don't you think?"


"It is a long time, indeed. Some love Los Angeles and stay here for a lifetime. Others, most of them, came to leave. What do you think of it?"


"Um, I don't know, Neil. It's too sprawled out for a city. And its neighborhoods are too cut off from each other. "


"Yes, it's true ... You know what they say about Los Angeles. It's not even a city. It's a huge community. And it just looks beautiful in the cinema. "


"Yes ... If it wasn't the third largest economy in the world, I might had been living elsewhere."


"You could try New York."


"Oh, no ... Too crowded for my taste. LA is calmer. "


"Calm? LA's calm? Forgive me, sir, but you do not sound like a man who's been living in Los Angeles for seven years."


"I meant compared to New York, Neil."


"Maybe the crime rate is lower than in New York, yes. But the nature of crimes here is far more abominable. The crimes that take place in Los Angeles are sometimes horrific. This is probably what makes LA somewhat ugly, unsettling."


"What is it exactly you are referring to, Neil? Could you be more specific?"


"The crimes, sir ... The crimes that take place in Los Angeles from time to time defy any kind of rationalization. I am not talking so much about violence between gangs. This was an expected symptom in a metropolis full of ghettos of all nationalities. I am referring more to individual crimes, those committed by independent persons. To give you an example, did you hear about the crime that took place in West Hollywood the other day? I'm talking about the mass murder of the child pornography circuit ... Twenty-three dead..."


"Yes, I read about it in the newspapers."


"Well, here you go then. What I mean is ... I can't psychologize the man who committed these murders. Of course, I share his motivation. This circuit consisted of bastards, there is no doubt, how else would you characterize all this scum that had set up a whole cartel of child pornography by raping and then killing young children? But, sir, this man ... The authorities only mention one ... So what kind of sick mind can this man carry too? I'm talking about the way he wiped out the ring. Did you learn about it in the news?"


"Yes, I did hear a few things."


"The guy opened two holes with his teeth - or with fake teeth - in everyone's throat and drained everyone's blood. Twenty-three people. Now that makes me wonder. If these twenty-three scums had such twisted minds, how much more twisted can this man who exterminated them be ...? I mean that, the will to do something like that ... The time it took to do all this, the energy it took to complete this show ... And the power of this man ...! And all this for what? To convince the authorities that he is a vampire or a secret vigilante or something like that, anyway. The fact that such a person gets about amongst us here in Los Angeles gives me the goosebumps, sir. It would be fair to say that I am more afraid of him walking around free than of the twenty-three cretins. Be that as it may, this proves one thing: To destroy a beast, a worse beast is ultimately required. The beast can be defeated only by a beast."


The reason why I visited the Art Museum earlier was to honour the invitation of Evelyn Lansfield, the thirty-year-old artist of modern sculpture, whom I met at Elevate Lounge in a great evening with a full moon and while in our glazed view from high above posed the illuminated skyscrapers of the Financial District. I was enjoying a cool bacardi when the fellow-drinkers of my company happened to mingle with the company of Evelyn's which consisted of members of the art-loving elite. I tend to be somewhat agoraphobic when I'm introduced to strangers, this unfortunately remains an inextricable quirk of mine. However, Evelyn won my sympathy by being a personality of spark and liveliness. So I responded to her invitation and attended her new exhibition hosted at the Art Museum. The exhibition's title, "The Angels". The angels in the City of Angels ...


"You look like you've lost your faith in humanity, Neil ... Or am I wrong?"


"Sir, it's somewhat hard for someone to keep their faith in humanity whilst being in the jungle of Los Angeles. But I don't wanna sound pessimistic. I recall my position. Humanity is what it is. It may not satisfy all our tastes, but it's the only dish that's served to us."


"I consider it a great mistake to lose faith in humanity. Of course, it would be foolish for anyone to think that the human race can be completely free from wars or crimes or from hatred or from any vicious blemish of human nature. But it would be just as ridiculous to lose faith in that wise sense of humanity. Because, Neil, at the end of the day, no matter how cynical one is with the world around him, the one thing he wants to believe in with all his might is the highest wisdom of people. It becomes a fundamental need of his, the hope in human understanding, in human compassion, in some indisputable criterion of common human logic. It defines his own instinct for survival, this hope. I suppose one must sometimes forgive or justify even the most paradoxical and unacceptable facts of humanity. Otherwise, what's the point?"


"Excuse me, sir, but you sound like you're trying to defend the cartel's manic killer."


"Oh, no ... I wasn't thinking of him..."


Evelyn's style of sculpture dictated the welding of fine zinc sheets and the subsequent application on the uniform arrangement with a solidifying grease to achieve the desired coagulation. This, of course, was not an original practice, but Evelyn's sculptures nevertheless managed to transmit a transcendental aura with their aesthetics. Sometimes Evelyn's attention was focused on the faces of the angels with their eerie expressions, sometimes on their skinless figures with the elongated bones forming strange geometries. At other times, she enlisted all her virtuosity upon the wings of the angels which stubbornly insisted on their symmetry, despite the anarchic formation of the other parts. During my tour amongst the exhibits, I felt seduced, self-conscious, surprised, amazed, intrigued. Whatever I felt, it was definitely ninety minutes of my time which I didn't regret. And that was what mattered most.


"So what do you do, sir? If you don't mind me asking, of course..."


"You are the cab driver, Neil. Why don't you make a guess? You cab drivers are usually psychics in such matters."


"Yes you are right. It was a rhetorical question. You're a stockbroker, right?”


"Bingo! CEO at an investment company. So, will you tell me now how you figured that out?"


"It's your suit, sir. The suit betrayed you. It's a Leon suit, right? Special order and made by a personal tailor for your measures."


"Well done, Neil. It's Leon all right. Was that clue strong enough for you to figure out that I am a stockbroker?"


"Its texture mainly. Gray glossy cashmere. Too fancy for lawyers, too discreet for insurers. Only a stockbroker would fit such a suit. "


"Thank you for the information, Neil. I'll keep this in mind the next time I move about. You see, I don't wanna look like a stockbroker. I prefer the mystery."


"Hearing the speech about faith in humanity you've just made, it'd be hard to assume that you are a stockbroker."


"So what you're saying is that we stockbrokers don't have a soul? Is that it?"

"No, I'm not saying that. You are just heathens. You offer exclusive worship to the god of money. That's all."


"Yeah ... As a stockbroker, I dare say I'm ranked first in the wild predators taxonomy..."


"Not quite, sir. Lawyers are first. Brokers come second within reach."


We exchanged a condescending smile through the windshield mirror. The plexiglass divider between us was full of fingerprints. We had already passed the I-10 and now Neil was taking the exit to Hoover Street. Every now and then we would enter the multi-layered clusters of road arteries that looked like majestic labyrinths. The towering lampposts paraded on our right, emitting their white fluorescent light on the asphalt, and behind them prevailed the black darkness. Basically, not exactly black darkness. One could easily see the vast alleys of parked cars and the cheap electric signs with the words AUTO ACCESSORIES. Further on, shimmered the lights of the detached houses at the foothills of San Bernardino. Occasionally on our route, popped up above us an overpass with barbed wire and the usual alcoholics would walk on it, holding the whiskey bottles hidden in paper bags. Small herds of coyotes appeared here and there in the desert with their eyes glowing in the middle of the night. Huge trucks with lit red flashlights bypassed us furiously from our left.


"You don't seem to like stockbrokers so much, Neil. Am I wrong?"


"Nah, they don't bother me much. Especially since they're the kind that prefers taxis and rarely uses the MTA ..."


"I'm afraid I'll disappoint you there, Neil. I have no problem with the MTA. On the contrary, I often like to use the subway. As long as it's not too crowded. "


"You are hurting me. Nevermind. I once tried to get a stockbroker's license. It was a long time ago. Unfortunately, I could not fit with their kind and I gave up. The truth is that I didn't possess much talent in this department. But one also needs brass balls to become a good stockbroker, sir, and forgive the foul language. Also, a good stockbroker must be a little bit of a scum. Or an amoralist, to use a more appropriate word."


"People say I'm a good stockbroker, Neil."


"Good for you, sir."


"Would I rate high in your esteem if I told you that Human Attend is one of the companies I manage in my portfolio?"


"You mean the humanitarian organization that operates in war zones?"


"That's right."


"Non-Governmental Organization, right?"


"Yes."


"I am sorry, sir, but I tend to be extremely suspicious of humanitarian organizations, and especially the non-governmental ones. They smell from afar of green fresh dollars. And in fact not entirely legal."


"Oh really?"


"Yes, I'm afraid so."


"You're not far from wrong there, Neil. In the beginning, Human Attend was the emerald of the international capital market. I was proud of it, it was my child. We took action in the war in Afghanistan and had the largest distribution network for food and medical care. It would be fair to say that we had the monopoly down there. Hell, we got bigger than the Red Cross. And we made millions in sackfulls. I mean, everyone was happy. The Army was making enormous earnings through volunteering, the doctors were getting salaries they hadn't even dreamed of in their wildest imagination, government funds and donations were pouring into our coffers, the investors collected their initial capital three times over as I'd promised them and they vanished it for laundering in the Cayman Islands, the supply companies increased their profits fivefold and their stocks skyrocketed. And of course - God forbid - we also took care of the victims of the war. We built an entire settlement for them in Kandahar Province, near Reg Alaqadari. A settlement under the protection of the alliance of American and Afghan armed forces, with a school and a hospital and with a rich life, far from battles and Talibans. We had built a small financial oasis down there, in Kandahar. We're talking a lot of money, Neil. And 90% of it, tax-free."


"Do you always talk so freely about your businesses, sir?"


"This is a free country, Neil, so I choose to speak freely."


"That could get you into trouble, sir."


"I have good lawyers in my payroll. Now, do you wanna hear the rest of the story or not? ”


"Yes of course. Please continue."


"So as I was saying, we had built a paradise in Kandahar. But our paradise was too dreamlike to last forever. Soon, the big US conglomerates from all over came into play and each wanted their own share of the pie. The Congress aligned with them. They changed the legislation, overturned the rules, put new pawns on the chessboard, senators as bellwethers. They finally managed to approach the booty we'd grabbed first. And so, our little economic oasis was written off the map and scattered like a confetti in the air. That's the little bittersweet story of Human Attend. "


"But the Human Attend still exists, doesn't it?"


"Yes, it still exists. But it is marginalized and vegetates. It is already showing negative balances of millions on an incremental basis. It is only a matter of time before it turns into what we call 'financial carcinoma'. And then I'll have to get rid of it."


"And there's no way to save it?"


"Absolutely none. Not with the current economic system. It is doomed to collapse."


"Do you mean to say that you have a company that produces a growing deficit of millions? It's too crazy to believe it, sir."


"The damage it causes is still sustainable. The rest of the divisions in my portfolio can support it for the time being. After all, it doesn't bother me so much to keep Human Attend active. I mean, it helps people, it doesn't hurt anyone but me."


"Are you serious?"


"I'm serious, Neil." 


"Well, if you're really serious, then I only have one thing to say, sir. This tactic will make you extremely unpopular in the financial circles. The Human Attend may tarnish your reputation forever."


"May tarnish my reputation? It won't just tarnish it, Neil. It will destroy it, it will crush it, it will annihilate it. I'll be the laughing stock in a pool dominated by relentless sharks."


"Then ... Then why do you insist on this tactic?"


"Because -amongst other things- it will give me a stronger motivation to speed up my next move, it will give me more impetus. And it is precisely this next move of mine that will put me back on top."


"And what will be your next move, sir? If you don't mind me asking of course ... "


"I will have to locate a 'loophole' in the current economic system. Once I locate the 'loophole', then I will attract trusted investors. And then we're back in business."


"What exactly do you mean by 'loophole', sir?"


"I mean a combination of vague legal provisions and temporary socio-political developments. Such a combination will give me the appropriate freedom to maneuver appropriately. It may sound complicated at first hearing, but it's not that much, Neil. The Human Attend was founded upon this very philosophy."


"And how do you know there is such a 'loophole' in the current economic system?"


"There is no economic system without 'loopholes', Neil. No system is perfect. All systems have flaws at birth. This is the beauty of a system: that it is functional by bearing an Achilles heel in its structure. There is always a weak point through which the catholic deconstruction of the system can take place."


"And you're so sure you'll be able to locate such a 'loophole' in the system, sir? Do you consider it so preordained?"


"But that's what I do, Neil. That's my job. I locate the 'loophole', I set up the business within the bounds of the 'loophole', I gather the credible investors, we evolve by bending the ambiguous codes of the system to our own benefit, I enter the capital market as an underdog and score a triumphant victory over my opponents in their own ground. And since I'm an insignificant underdog with a tarnished reputation, the victory becomes more glorious and the profits I make become greater both for me and my investors. This is, more or less, my tactic. I establish the idea of ​​myself as a force of inversion in a given status quo."


"Um, I see.., I mean... I think I get the point."


Neil remained silent for a while. His silence lasted whilst we crossed the industrial zone just outside LA Downtown, the purgatory with the yellowish smoke of the chimneys and the blinding light of halogen bulbs revealing heavy metal infrastructure. I felt Neil's discomfort. He was reviewing our discussion, it was obvious. This caused me a slight sensation of amusement but I restrained myself. Soon on our way, the tall, curved palm trees appeared on our left and right. The skyscrapers of the Financial District were now shining brightly on our horizon. The blazing signs of neon were burgeoning in our vision, the Chinese sushi restaurants, the nightclubs with the buzz of their loudspeakers, the slender starlets with the tight rhinestone dresses, the horizontal three-colored traffic lights of the junctions, the fancy graffitis upon reinforced concrete, the crystals of bistros glistening in the candlelight, the spotlights of Staples Center that sent their blue laserbeams to the dark sky, the blurred silhouettes in the windows of Ritz-Carlton, the constant throb that vibrated the entire LA Live, the mass movements of the crowds in every direction. Coming to think of it, I didn't have many reasons to dislike Los Angeles.

"I wish I had the opportunity to maneuver financially as comfortably as you, sir. Unfortunately, I do not know much about investments or stock exchanges. If I knew, I might not have had to be a cab driver. Not that I have a problem with the cab, of course. I have come to love this job by now."


"You may just need a good financial advice, Neil. Maybe that's what you need right now."


"Yes, I may need one. A financial advice from someone experienced."


"I could help you with some advice."


"Hmm, how much do you charge?"


"I never charge for the first advice, Neil. For the next ones, I get percentages depending on the level and style of the investment."


"All right then. Let's talk."


"What's your capital?"


"Let's say ... Let's say I have a thousand dollars."


"A thousand dollars. I imagine a thousand dollars that you have deposited in your savings account. "


"Exactly."


"So I guess what you're looking for is a flexible short-term investment with a quick but decent profit. Correct?"


"You're reading my mind, sir."


"Hmm, okay ... Do you know a company called Northup Systems?"


"No, I don't think so."


"It's an American company based in Wyoming. It manufactures weapon systems for military purposes. Next Monday, Northup Systems launches a new type of machine gun. Nothing particularly fancy, just an advanced version of the M2 Browning with a stronger shield and longer firing range. The presentation of this new model will take place at the Fort Hood military base in Texas on Monday. So on Monday you will invest your thousand dollars in Northup shares. Logically, each share will cost you close to one dollar, so you'll get around one thousand shares. Do you understand so far?"


"Yes."


"You will buy the shares on Monday and will get rid of them on Thursday. Remember this because it is very important: You will get rid of them on Thursday. No sooner, no later. Thursday, before the Stock Exchange closes."


"Mmm, I see ... And what's the catch?"


"Oh, nothing great. You'll simply increase your initial capital tenfold. On Thursday you will sell your shares for ten dollars apiece. That's all."


"You mean I'm going to make a profit of nine thousand bucks in three days?"


"Exactly. Provided you follow my advice to the letter, of course. You must get rid of the shares on Thursday. After Thursday, Northup shares will take a huge dive and are likely to remain low for some time. In that case, you will not get anything out of it. "


"Are you serious, sir?"


"Neil, this is the second time you've asked me if I'm serious. I'm beginning to take it personally."


"I just don't like risks."


"I don't like risks either."


"You don't sound like the type of person who avoids risks, sir."


"That's also part of my job. And my charm. "


"Mmm ... And whom should I have to kill if the whole story turns out a fiasco?"


"Me. Here, let me give you my card. But you're not going to kill me. Most likely, you will fall to your knees in tears and kiss my shoes. But I'm pretty sure you're not even going to take the risk of investing your thousand dollars. You'll just wait and see if I get verified. And as soon as you see that I am finally verified, then you will come looking for me holding in your hand ten thousand which you had until then rotting in a chest. In this case, I will charge you a small percentage of the profits as this will mark the second financial advice I'll be giving you."


We arrived at the Metropolis Tower C, that is, my residence. Howard the doorman, wearing the burgundy livery of the long epaulets, stood upright and motionless like a mannequin in front of the building's glass entrance, his face half-hidden under the brim of his cap. If I had arrived with my limousine, he would have rushed to open the car door for me. Now that I came by taxi, he couldn't figure out it was me. I gave the twenty dollars with my card to Neil and he gave me the change. He studied for a few seconds the embossed font of my card and then took a look at the glass beast of Metropolis, at the mirrory height of one hundred and forty meters. Something was still puzzling him.


"Robert Harrison ... CEO of Highmark Investment Group ... Is that you?"


"That's right, Neil."


"And you live here? In Metropolis?"


"Yes. In the penthouse. Fortieth floor."


"Classy place."


"Until you get used to it."


"There is something that insists on bothering me, Mr. Robert Harrison, CEO of Highmark Investment Group. There is something about you that has not convinced me yet."


"I'm all ears, Neil."


"It's about the Human Attend and this whole strategy you've described to me about how it's losing you millions and how you will overcome the loss and find yourself at the top again. I don't buy it, Mr. Harrison. You haven't managed to convince me as to your true motives."


"And what is the explanation you give to the issue?"


"Explanation?"


"You've surely formed your own explanation as to my true motives. That's what I'd like to hear, Neil."


"There's no rational explanation, sir. I can't figure out the meaning of a loss-making company that's bleeding millions. And your carefree attitude on the issue complicates things more than solving them. But if I was obliged to give a rational explanation to this issue having a gun against my head, then I would dare to claim that your intentions are purely charitable. But that would be an extremely frivolous explanation." 


"I'll try to solve your queries as best I can, Neil."


"Please do."


"Have you ever experienced an epiphany in your life?"


"An epiphany?"


"Yes. An idea that seems to have derived from some divine inspiration. A very simple and concise thought that makes you reconsider some of your very firm beliefs."


"Oh, I do get plenty of those. I get plenty of epiphanies in my head. Sometimes a six-pack does the job."


"Well, that's the kind of epiphany I had some time ago. I made a thought. Or a guess, if you prefer. I thought that all people have in their psychosynthesis a vulnerable point, a weak and fragile spot, a sensitive nerve that gathers around it all the phobias and anxieties and worries and passions of man. An 'Achilles' heel', to refer to an earlier statement. And this Achilles' heel is sometimes capable of bringing man down just by itself. It is sometimes able to drag him completely into a negative vortex from which man finds it difficult to escape. Do you agree with all that, Neil?"


"Yes ... I guess so ... All people have their own worries..."


"Exactly. Now, I wonder why man was created with this vulnerability in his structure. And one of the assumptions I made - and here's the epiphany - is that this vulnerability is deliberately installed in humans in order to form a connecting link with other people. In other words, man is given the choice of whether to exploit this sensitive nerve of his in order to connect and communicate with other people, at higher spiritual and emotional levels than before. So, based on this simplistic theory, I explore its rational value by helping my stranger fellow man as much as I can, by contributing as much as I can to the happy development of humanity. And I had no better opportunity than Human Attend for that purpose. So, through  Human Attend I conduct my experiments to see if my theory will be verified. And that's all."


"That's all?"


"That's all."


"My God, you're really crazy."


"Yes maybe. Romantic would be a more appropriate word."


"And what will you gain if your theory is verified?"


"I'll be happy. I presume. I hope."


"Right. And what if it's not verified?"


"Then it will be enough for me that I tried, Neil. That will satisfy me. At least I tried. And I insist on trying. See it as a hobby. Everyone has a hobby. And that's mine. I try to extract some meaning from human pain, I try to grasp some indisputable truth from this mad and unstable world in which we live. I'm trying. And I will keep trying. At least I'm trying, goddamn it. At least I'm doing that."


"You have a very expensive hobby, Mr. Harrison."


"Still, it beats the fruit machines of Las Vegas, don't it?"


"Pass."


"Good night, Neil."


"Goodnight sir." 


I got out of the taxi and Neil slowly got into the traffic of San Francisco Street and left. I would see him again. I was certain of that. He would call my secretary a week from now to schedule an appointment. My secretary, Carol, would ask him a very quick and relaxed questionnaire to diagnose his financial profile. Very formal questions, such as what is this all about, if this is his first appointment with me, how did he learn about Highmark Investment Group. Trivial things.


Experienced in this type of analysis, Carol would rank Neil in the profile of small investors. To this would greatly contribute Neil's chewed accent, an accent that betrayed by West Virginia. So Carol would squeeze him into my schedule, giving him an appointment after two weeks. Grudgingly, Neil would accept the date of the appointment. Then it would take him two weeks to reflect on the quality of the cooperation he would like to have with me. Two weeks would be enough for him make the right decision. Hell, San Francisco Street has a lot of traffic tonight.


"Good evening, Mr. Harrison. How was your night without the Lincoln?”


"Depressing, Howard. How are you today?"


"Typical LA routine, sir. If the Lakers don't win the championship, this is going to be one long and melancholy summer."


"I dunno, Howard. The Celtics had a very hot season this year."


"LeBron James is the answer to my prayers, sir."


I crossed the foyer of the building and took the elevator to the fortieth floor. Penthouse. Entering the apartment, I turned off the alarm and then uttered the word ' lights ' in a stentorian voice. The automatic speech recognition system accepted my order and the living room was flooded with soft beige lights. I served myself a martini, cold with a lime peel. Velvet, wide, soft, anatomical sofa. Feet on the low table of crystal mosaic. My view at the glass partition, the moonlit night and the giant skyscrapers that reflected the strobe lights of the roistering city. In the skyscraper of California Plaza, the windows of the real estate agencies were still lit and inside them were the agents around circular tables holding meetings. The real estate agents were probably the only ones working these late hours.


My working hours were strictly at night. And they never included more than two business appointments. Always at night, never during the day. A matter of prestige. It could not be done otherwise, as a matter of fact. I let out a lukewarm sigh as I thought about my spacious bedroom with the postmodern paintings on its walls. It would admittedly be a wonderful bedroom, a feast for the eyes, were a double bed placed in its space instead of a polished ebony coffin.


●●●●


Well yes, it was me. I 've no reason to be secretive anymore.


It was a dark night that one, with the moon in a meniscus phase. Just about its slimline scythe managed to appear in the darkness of the sky.


I didn't need the moonlight. Not for where I was going, anyway. The darkness suited me. On top of that, Juan Felipez had duly informed me about the layout of the place. Poor Juan was probably so frightened that he began to tell me in every detail the geography of the area. Not that I didn't know West Hollywood. It is simply impossible, I dare say, for anyone to know the hidden parts of such a big city if they've not grown up in its grounds. And Juan Felipez was the most suitable to give me all the useful instructions since he was a native-born of West Hollywood.


My destination was the district of Sunset Strip and for this reason I began walking the Sunset Boulevard from Los Feliz. No, I'm not kidding. I walked close to ten miles without stopping. And the time was past two at night. A couple of street gangs gave me dirty looks as they passed by me on the boulevard. I returned the dirty look towards them, and that was it. I think they were taking into account the possibility that I might be carrying a loaded wallet on me. The truth is, I did have about a thousand dollars in my pocket. And since I didn't carry a gun on me while they would certainly hide a pistol or a knife in their jackets, I guess I was just a prey to their mercy during those weird hours. Oh hell, here's me babbling again. I apologize. Let me proceed.


There was absolutely nothing fancy in my outfit that night. No Leon suit, no Oxford leather shoes, no Rolex gold watch on my wrist. Oh, maybe I did wear a Rolex, I'm not sure about that. Anyway. What was I wearing that night? I wore a blue bucket hat on my head, the one that retirees wear when they go fishing. In Bulgaria, this hat is known as idiotka, meaning 'the stupid's hat', and I can't guess why. The long-sleeved polyester jacket that covered my body from the neck to the waist was also dark blue. It also had a zipper that closed as far as the collar and front pockets. A wide faded pair of jeans. And as for shoes, a cheap pair of white sneakers with stickers instead of laces. I was also wearing an inner sweatshirt but I don't remember which one.


The point of Sunset Strip I was heading to was secluded, away from the brightly lit marquees of nightclubs and boutiques, away from the spectacular billboards that entranced the eye throwing the mind into dizziness and ecstasy. Away even from the peculiar medley of Sunset Strip's sounds, the bizarre chords between jazz and rave and the horns of the shining Porsches. The spot I was heading to was in a remote area, in a dark and quiet place. Oh yes, o my brother, in a place dark and quiet like a grave. 


Arriving at the spot, I knew immediately that I was at my destination. The scenery before me perfectly matched Juan's descriptions. A desolate complex of warehouses fenced with barbed wire. All warehouses were crudely made of aluminum panels, abandoned to the ravages of time. In the area stood only one lamppost with two iodine lamps illuminating the sandlot that looked more like an old junkyard. The one light bulb was dying flickering.


It's hard for anyone to believe, but all of the complex's crudely made warehouses were set up to provide movie studio services. And since they did not have soundproofing or any other functional specifications for this purpose, one can imagine what kind of films were produced in there. Anyway, I didn't give a damn what the other warehouses were doing. I was focused on the warehouse I was looking for from the start, the most isolated one. The one with the inscription from rusty sheet metal: JUAN FELIPEZ MOVIE PRODUCTIONS. Without the inscription, this eyesore could very well be a garage.


I guess I'm becoming somewhat tiresome as long as I am not mentioning the historical context of my visit to this particular point in Sunset Strip, so I'm proceeding straight away to restore the narrative harmony with all the required information: Puerto Rican Juan Felipez maintained a cheap DVD porn company. The booming and rapid growth of the porn industry in Hollywood soon threw Juan into great doldrums. The unfortunate Juan did not have the business acumen to compete with the other porn producers who were entering the game increasingly and dynamically. And how could he anyway? Being a dimestore pitchman from his origins, Juan did not have the luxury of hiring the juicy models and the negro cocksmiths as the others did. And, of course, the films he made with the skunks and the scabs groping themselves with bodies full of heroin injections, anything but sought after were in the market.


Juan soon fell into a psychological condition that the average psychiatrist would diagnose as bipolar disorder. For me, of course, that I learned a few things about him, Juan was just a tedious schoolboy, a passive homosexual who was plagued from those unbearably commonplace mid-life crises. In short and plain speaking, Juan was simply melancholy when he found out that his former lovers were dumping him one after another as the graying of his temple increased in contrast to his ever-shrinking wallet. He eventually became particularly vulnerable as was inevitable and, of course, the occasion hereto anything else but desired was to the malicious powers that approached him.


These powers therefore expressed their desire to rent Juan's wasted studio - his only asset - for a hefty monthly fee. Juan ceded his warehouse, despite the fact that the purpose of the lease was never stated. The agreement reached between them also had a very strict clause: Juan's absolute silence on the issue.


Even an idiot like Juan understood that he was dealing with a ruthless organization whose actions were obviously illegal, however Juan accepted the money offered to him and thus regained the slack bliss which characterized him before his bipolar disorder. His main ambition, after all, was to start feeling important again in his idle entourage, which he succeeded in doing.


He maintained absolute confidentiality about this business relationship, he kept his mouth shut even when he once learned - motivated by his feminine curiosity - that this organization was active in the field of child pornography, especially the hardcore one. Such was Juan's happiness with the money he received on a monthly basis that he was not moved by the fact that this ring were raping poor children on camera, mostly imported from Puerto Rico, his hometown. As far as I'm concerned, this was Juan's last ever mistake.


I do confess that I was surprised by the level of mobility that resonated from within the warehouse. Some of their sounds I did expect since I knew there would be gathered around twenty people inside, sounds like speeches, music, crunches of duct tapes, nailings on pallets. Other sounds I didn't expect, but the one that surprised me the most was the sharp whish of the welding torch. Equally enigmatic was the spectacle of sparks produced by the torch on a metal surface, a spectacle which I witnessed through the small gap of the warehouse's sliding door. I couldn't imagine the reason for the torch, but I would learn it very soon anyway.


Of one thing I was certain and which Juan had assured me of: There would be no children in the warehouse that night. This suited me very well as I intended to impose a mostly unpleasant justice upon those involved and this would certainly not be a spectacle suitable for minors. So I broke the barbed wire's chain and set off for the warehouse.

I opened the sliding door and entered quietly, so quietly that none of the twenty-three scums who were there noticed me right away. There was no particular reason for them to notice me anyway, since each of them was absorbed in his own activity. Others exercised with dumbbells and bars on the benches, others pounded on wooden boxes with hammers, others trained in boxing on a makeshift ring, others polished with lubricants the kalashnikovs they were flaunting all pompous, others edited the pornographic footage in the computers with the accompaniment of Kristallnacht's music buzzing from the loudspeakers, others sniffed cocaine on the rosy bed of filming surrounded by cameras and spotlights.


You could hardly distinguish one from the other: Shaved heads, hypertrophic arms, tattoos with swastikas and upside down pentacles, black undershirts with pipings of Wehrmacht, bracelets with metal skulls, necklaces with the monograph of Aryan Brotherhood, black leather armbands with metallic ungulae, one long knife strapped on each one's waistband for charm. Decor? A red flag with the SS emblem on one wall, a large poster with Hitler's photo on the opposite wall, a glass display case with bullets and shells from World War II. There was so much cliché spread in the atmosphere, I was in danger of pathological yawn.


As I was still curious about the reason for the welding, I immediately went to the man with the lit torch in his hand. I stood right next to him but he didn't notice me as he wore the helmet with the protective glass on his head. There were stacks of black metal boxes around the man. The man was soldering some silver plates on the boxes. The plates bore the organization's logo, a smiling joker of a playing card, and below it the inscription El Comodín (meaning 'the wildcard' in Spanish).


I couldn't resist the temptation and opened one of the stacked ready-made boxes. It contained two or three animated DVDs (for the preliminary stages, I presume), ten porn- DVDs with minors sorted by the age of the victims, twenty popper ampoules, a pair of handcuffs adorned with pink and blue fluffy tassels, a vial of lavender extract, a vibrator, a metallic razor blade and a black USB stick with a prohibitive red X. Now, for all the accessories I had more or less an explanation. But the USB stick set me into a whole new circle of curiosity.


I nudged the guy with the torch. He turned, looked at me, and then extinguished the torch's flame. Taking off his heavy helmet, the swastika tattoo on his shiny skull appeared majestically. He stared at me with eyes puzzled but also (surprisingly) well-intentioned as if he was enlisting all his civility to be of service. His teeth were bright white and his breath smelled of mint toothpaste.


"What can I do you for, mister?"


"I have a question. What are these?"


"These are the premium kits for VIPs. They cost more than the standard kits."


"I see. And what is this over here? ”


"This is a USB stick."


"I can see that it is a USB stick. I meant, what does it contain ..."


"Snuff."


"Snuff?"


"That's right."


"Snuff with children?"


"That's affirmative."


“Authentic snuff? Or set up with effects and fake blood?"


"Of course it's authentic, mister. We are marines. When we kill, we kill for real. Real and clean. Squeaky clean. What the hell did you take us for?"


"Who the fuck is this motherfucker and what the fuck is he doing in here!?"


We both turned our heads towards the thunderous voice. It came from the man who exercised with the barbell on the bench. He had thrown the barbell on the floor and was looking at me with a stare full of indignation. I guess he was the sergeant of this bunch since he was the most monstrous in figure, if such thing was possible. With him, the others turned their gazes on me. Their bare skulls shone like the pin-heads under the light of the oblong fluorescent lamps. There were also the instinctive reactions of some here and there, some armed the Kalashnikovs, some took the knives out of their waistbands.


"Please do not be alarmed, gentlemen. I shall be very concise in my procedures. I do not intend to waste much of your precious time."


"How the hell did you get here?"


"Juan Felipez gave me all the necessary instructions on the location of the studio. I owe you an apology for not informing you in advance of my visit. I'm sorry, but time was pressing me."


"Juan ... I had warned that wop greaseball to keep his queer pals away from here."


"I am not a pal of Juan's. Anything but, I 'd say."


"All right, mister. In case you didn't know it, this is a forbidden zone. Which means that once you get in, you don't get out. So I'll give you exactly five seconds to tell us who you are and what you want before I stick this knife in your ass and fillet you in two halves."


"My name is Robert Harrison and I just came to make sure of the work you're performing in here."


"Why? What are you? Are you a cop? Or a Fed? You certainly don't seem to be either."


"No. I'm no cop or fed. I am the CEO of Highmark Investment Group."


"You don't look like a CEO either. Now will you explain to us what you are doing in here? I'm already losing my patience, Mr. CEO."


"I'm interested in what you're doing."


"You are interested...! Um, that's a good one... Interested in porn or investing?"


"I am an investor so I am always looking for a good investment. But I don't mind porn every now and then."


"So you want to invest in the business, eh? Well, you shouldn't talk to us. We can't help you. It's someone else you should talk to."


"I know that. The famous El Comodin. The mysterious mastermind of the organization. Don't worry, gentlemen. His own time will come. And quite soon, as a matter of fact. I shall meet him too."


"No one ever meets El Comodin in person, mister. Not even us. He communicates with us exclusively via Skype and always has his face hidden."


"Oh, he will meet me. Be sure of that."

A brief shock wandered over the group's shiny but empty heads. It was amusing for me to watch them in sync with their puzzlement. They all seemed to have been cloned from the same test tube, so similar was the expression of astonishment on their faces.


"Where is Juan? Why isn't he with you?"


"He couldn't make it."


"How come?"


"Health problems."


"Flu?"


"No. Death."


"Death?"


"That's right."


"You killed him?"


"Yes I did. I killed him on his favorite pillow. Juan always slept hugging his favorite pillow. Without his pillow, he was unable to sleep. He suffered from sleep disorders, amongst other things. And guess what his favorite pillow was. It was a king-size doll of Winnie the Pooh. Fluffy, cotton and yellow like lemon. I bet you didn't know that, did you νος? So I did him a favor and killed him out with Winnie in his arms, as he asked it. I didn't want to be hard on Juan. He wasn't worth it, truth be told. He was just a naive dullard. But with you, gentlemen ... Oh, with you I shall have a ball."


The sergeant's eyes hardened. They examined me in every detail now, frowning eyebrows, cheekbones swollen as if they were about to explode. Unwilling to waste any more time, he began barking orders at two of his puppets. I 'd almost forgotten that the gentlemen declared themselves marines. So I was forced to remind myself of it and then to comply with their military tactics, no matter how capricious they appeared to me. For the time being, the brutal sergeant was concerned about whether I was possibly wrapped with any explosives around my body like the suicide bombers as well as whether I was alone or with other accomplices.


"Worm ! Check the door to see if the place is clear! Fiji! You check this motherfucker!" he ordered with firmness.


“Sir! Yes, sir!” yelled Worm and Fiji, and each ran straight to the job assigned to him.


Worm, holding the Kalashnikov in his hands, approached the sliding door and looked around at the deserted sandlot. Fiji approached me, aiming the barrel of his own Kalashnikov at my chest. I remained still to make it easier for him to perform his search. He grabbed me by the collar forcefully and then started searching me with blunt moves from head to toe. Of course, he didn't find anything on me. And as for Worm, he realized that the sandlot outside the warehouse was completely clear and that I had gone there alone.


“Sir! The place is clear, sir!" cried Warm.


“Sir! He's clear, sir!" shouted Fiji.


The sergeant calmed down. And as he calmed down, his first move was to tighten his arms and shoulders, showing off his trained muscles. The rest of the group did the same after getting up. With so much testosterone concentrated in one place, I considered the possibility that we would all be blown up by quantum entanglement. The long sharp knives all came out of their cases and posed threateningly in search of a nugget of fear on my behalf. And since there was no fear, the sergeant felt awe and excitement at the same time. There was no doubt in my mind that the sergeant was taking me for a loony, one of the thousands in California. The bucket hat I wore on my head also contributed to this impression.


"Well, you know something, pal? You are one goddamn crazy sonofabitch. But you have enormous balls and I admire that. Hell, I like you already. I 'd even jerk you off if you belonged to my beloved platoon. But as things stand, I'll probably be content to fool around a bit with your asshole. But tell me something, dear sir, before we start our processes with you. Who else knows about this place? Did you talk to anyone about what we're doing here?"


"Absolutely nobody. I came all alone and I am the only one who knows that I 've come. I give you my crystal word of honour."


"Are you sure about that? Didn't you say anything to the cops, Fo example? Didn't you even try to contact the FBI? You know, the more honest you are with us, the more tenderly we will treat you."


"To the cops? Why talk to the cops? Isn't Commissioner McKelvy on your payroll? And isn't he, in turn, taking care of half the LAPD with tips? And the FBI ...? Talk to the FBI? The same FBI that's under the Department of Justice which in turn is under the administration of Attorney General Benjamin Applegarth? You know, of course, which Benjamin Applegarth I mean. That Benjamin Applegarth who is a fruit and a pedophile, and whom you keep blackmailed with damning evidence. Or am I wrong? No, gentlemen. The Police and the FBI are not involved in this. There's only you and me. And, of course, Mr. El Comodin, whom I shall sort out in due course."


"Who the hell are you, man? And how the hell do you know all this? You're not a cop, you're not a fed, and fuck me if you're even a CEO in an investing company. What the hell are you, doddamn me?!"


"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."


"God Almighty ...! You are a goddamn movie star ...! Guys, get the camera ready! Two cameras! Tonight we are writing history! I want this man's gutting printed on film, in continuous shots without cuts, cinema verite style. My dear friend, I 've been waiting for someone like you all my life. Your ass belongs to me now."


"You still don't know what this is all about, do you?"


"No, pal. We do not know. Please do enlighten us. What is this all about?"


"I bring you the Apocalypse, dear gentlemen. Through me you shall meet a horrible death and the beast within you shall be crashed by me forever. But fear not. For through me, vice versa, the beast shall be reborn into beauty, free from all sorts of malice. For the flower of virtue may flourish from the hindmost ugliness, clear waters may spring from the squalidest mire, vine tree may grow from the ashes of hell. Oh, what a barbaric necessity death is on this occasion ...! It deeply saddens me. I do confess, I shall especially miss the comicality of your harebrained flock. But justice must be imposed. And it shall be imposed."


"My friend, you are in the most inappropriate place, at the most inappropriate moment, among the most inappropriate people. I feel nothing but love for you and this very love I shall declare to you with actions. Rog, Kansas, Ringo and Hogg! You grab the honorable gentleman and lay him on the bed! Kid, Maggot and Straps! You bring the scalpels, knives, scissors, hooks and clamps! We'll perform a surgery! This is gonna be a time consuming and delicate operation! And the patient must remain alive to watch it with his own eyes! Move it, ladies! This is an emergency situation!"


“Sir! Yes, sir!”


And so they approached me and grabbed me with brutal ungainliness and laid me on the bed, guided by their vicious passion. And I let them act on me undisturbed without the slightest reaction, o my brother. And I whispered to myself, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" even when, with methodical and coordinated moves, they tore my flesh apart with the scalpels while the rage was shining demonically in their eyes. And I refused to betray pain even when the two louses with the video cameras zoomed in on my face, recording each of its expressions.


Are you, by any chance, wondering why I didn't react right away, my brother? I dare say I can now confess the reasons. After all, you have a vague idea more or less as to what the outcome of the situation will be in this case. I dare say you are entitled to a straightforward explanation.


As outrageous as it may seem to you at first impression, o my brother, it was difficult for me from the outset to discern the lightning bolt of malice in the mongrels before me despite their bestial deeds. And this is because in my eight centuries on earth I have happened upon such multifarious evil in man that these brainless snots were no longer regarded but as a drop in the vast ocean.

I realized fleetingly and with great bitterness how apathetic I had become from the myriad experiences in the world and how shamelessly I had been drained of the romantic idealism that inspired my route in space-time. I was anxiously searching - o I do confess it, my brother! - to find some stimulus around so that I could immediately reverse what was happening to my detriment and set everything correct.


And in the midst of this desperate search, my gaze eventually fell on the massive computer towers where the wretches edited their obscene material. And in my ears now rung the cooling fans that kept the memory's hard drives at low temperatures in order to prevent some possible overheating and destroy the multitude of audio-visual files.


And then my eye turned as if of its own accord towards the screens of the plentiful inches and it saw the appalling sight of the Puerto Rican minors being raped with relentless cruelty by the gentlemen. And before each sequence, the logo of the organization was displayed for about five seconds, with the smiling wild card filling the screen and the calligraphy El Comodín below. And then another minor, another horrible rape. And the camera constantly zoomed in on the children's frightened faces because it was of course this fear that constituted the main attraction of each video.


And I do have to admit now in this retrospection of events that it was precisely this spectacle that tickled me to react, even more so than the sad sodomizing of my buttocks with a sharp curved blade by the enraged sergeant. All I could do now was to allow the Strigoi Morti 's dark superpower act its own ploys away from my feeble jurisdiction until I 'd be finally given the opportunity to practice what I always like to define as intuitive improvisation. And since I consciously abstained from drinking human blood for a long time (call it, ethical self-restraint), the last image I keep deep in my remembrance from that majestic night of my rapture was the sight of the gentlemen's frightened faces as my body was being transformed before them into a green mist under the sounds of demonic roars.


Half an hour.


Just about. It took me almost that long to bloodsuck the gentlemen of the gang one by one. I don't remember many things from the upheaval which undoubtedly took place while I was swooping on them and burying my sharp fangs on their necks. And that's because, as I said, it'd been a long time since I gulped human blood in my throat. Therefore, the enormous amount I sucked that night was enough to throw me into a paralysis first and then into an unperturbed serenity. And I dare say that it was precisely that serenity which is now responsible for my unfortunate amnesia.


Anyway, I am not bothered by the amnesia one bit in this case, since I managed to touch once again the domains of ecstasy as the miraculous blood aroused my haunted body. In case you didn't know it, o my brother, only human blood can cause such a resurgence in a vampire. The blood of all other animals is nothing but a vile substitute.


After I got out of the delirium into which I had fallen and my thoughts were finally put in some order, I found myself enthroned on one of the wheeled office chairs standing in front of the computers. I traced the space around with my drunken gaze and could no longer see anything but bloodsucked corpses piled up on the floor and pools of blood here and there. No relation whatsoever with the hypertrophic muscles I happened upon when I entered the space, they had all shrunk into skeletal burlaps. I also saw some holes in the walls that were caused by the shots of the Kalashnikovs. My clothes were full of the gentlemen's blood as my bulimic appetites did not allow me to faithfully follow the rules of savoir vivre as usual.


It is worth noting here that I did not feel completely satisfied with the bloodsucking of these people as I was well aware that these impressive muscles were the result of anabolic substances and therefore their blood was anything but uncontaminated. This was also noticeable in taste, but I guess I touched upon the issue enough.


It was then, in those magical moments of the recapture of the senses, when the computer sounded the alert of Skype 's incoming call, the monotonous melody of the six musical tunes that seemed to come from a children's harmonium. Looking at the screen, I noticed that the caller was none other than His Majesty, Mr. El Comodin. This was evident from the smiling wildcard logo that dominated the monitor's digital pixels.


I had no reason not to answer the call, so I acted accordingly, activating the computer's video conferencing so that Mr. El Comodin could see me during our conversation. Of course, I did not receive an analogous courtesy. El Comodin preferred secrecy and instead of his face I had the organization's logo before me.


"Pronto."


"Who are you?"


"Nevermind that. Not for now, anyway. My name will be the last concern in your head when I find you, I guarantee you that."


Overcautious as he was in his business dealings, El Comodin always spoke through an electronic voice distorter. Hence his voice sounded exceedingly heavy and with increased resonance. I would say that it sounded like the Magister's voice somewhat, but without sharing its supernal depth or that metallic hue that pointed the mind to transcendental meditations.


"Where is Skidrow?"


"Skidrow ... Are you referring to the bunch's sergeant? A tall monstrous guy with the Luftwaffe emblem etched on his right arm?"


"That's right."

 

"Bad news. He's dead."


"Dead?"


"Yes."


"What happened?"


"I killed him. Him and the rest of the crew. I'm afraid you ran out of staff at the California branch. And it'll be quite difficult to find skinheads with such a low IQ."


"Are you the same person who exterminated my Pittsburgh connection?"


"Bingo. The three Chinese Stooges. Now, I don't think you wore yourself out to find them, did you?"


"I was dying from the burning desire to meet you, Senior."


"You won't like me. You shall find out for yourself when you meet me in person."


"So I guess you're deconstructing my empire little by little until you finally reach me?"


"You? Reach you? Just you? No, you're not alone at the top anymore, my friend. The monster you've created became too big for your exclusive administrative talents. You have now become an executive. Leading executive, but an executive nontheless. I'll need to take on other rascals, high standing rascals. People like Commissioner McKelvy, for instance. Or Attorney General Applegarth. As you can see, you have long since lost your monopoly on the throne. Your throne is now crowded with too many butts."


"Wow. You sound intent to invade even the White House, senior."


"If needed, I shall do that too. I don't quite look forward to that, though. I do look forward to seeing you, that's for sure."


"Do you really believe you'll just eradicate a global network that makes half a billion dollars a year?"


"I do not believe it. I know it. Don't confuse belief with knowledge."


"You have great ambitions, senior. Too great for your size, I'm afraid."


"I'll take my chances. Anyway, I've already attached myself emotionally to your business now."


"Well, you know something senior? It would be a shame for a man with your skills to be left untapped. People like you are always useful. And they are paid generously for their services”


"What the fuck is that? A job offer?"


"Why not? You sound like a sensible person. Maybe we can find a solution."


"I'll pass."


"Pity."


"I don't think so."


"So, tell me something, senior ...-"


"Why don't you finally cut the bullshit with the 'seniors' and the phoney Latino accent !? You are no Argentinian as you wish everyone to think so. Hell, I doubt you've even set foot in Argentina."


"So you've conducted an analysis of my profile?"


"It wasn't so hard. You are not exactly what we'd call an 'undecipherable personality'. Originality is not your strong point. "


"All right then, Mr. Anonymous. Tell me more. What else have you diagnosed in me?"


"You are European. If I had to limit my guesses, I would bet on Scandinavian countries. The elongated vowels and the rough consonants rat you out. Even if you apply ten voice distorters, you're unable to conceal northern Europe. Not from me, anyway."


"I am impressed. Please go on."


"You don't particularly enjoy pornography and you certainly don't have any taste for child pornography. You are distanced from all this despite the fact that you practice the profession of pornographer. But you don't do pornography for money either. It's true, you make a lot of money from this business. But you don't need it. You don't spend it or invest it anywhere to cream it off. You don't care about it. You live a refined life but not expensive. You don't even have a family to take care of."


"Go on."


"Then why does the famous El Comodin do what he does and keep himself involved in all this bullshit? That's the big question, isn't it? The answer is simple: You're just excited to see people serve coordinate the system you've invented. You are aroused to an orgasmic degree when you observe your machine functioning at full harmony, when you examine cogwheels doing their perfect cycles. You gave life to a monster but you are not interested in the monster itself, you are interested in the life inside it, the breath you gave it to make it autonomous. You feel awe before its self-efficiency, so much so that you think of yourself as god or some omnipotent creator."


"Go on..."


"You rarely come to America. And when you come, you don't stay for long. You just do it to get a hasty sniff from the flower bud you planted and to make sure there is no 'leakage'. You just want to see your machine well-oiled, that's all. And then you abscond unfettered. America does not suit you. Speaking of which, no part of the world suits you beyond the one you've chosen to live in. And the place where you live is in Europe, it couldn't be anywhere else. You are emotionally committed to your place of stay, so much so that you never leave it except for the short trips to America. It must be a picturesque part of Europe. Europe is full of such. Tuscany, Florence for example. Or Vienna. Or Budapest ..."


"Well, what can I say ... I'm impressed. Really impressed."


"I'll find you. And when I do find you, I will crush your skull with my bare fingers. And as the bulbs of your eyes will pop out of your head like erect nipples, I shall allow them nothing else but look me straight in the eyes."


"You are laboring in vain, Mr. Anonymous. You will never find me. I have many faces. And I'm moving fast."


"Me too."


"You'll be dead before you even reach within a mile from me."


"I'm already dead."


And that was it. Mr. El Comodin closed the line, and that's where our conversation ended. We had nothing more to say, after all. Sometimes words are indeed unnecessary.


Hell, human blood had really stunned me ... It was such a big dose I had sucked that I occasionally fell into vertigos. I should have prepared myself a little after so much abstinence. I should have taken a small dose before giving in to this rampant spree. I had to take advantage of Juan since he was available. I did not do it.


The truth is that I couldn't go to trouble with Juan, he was completely indifferent to me. I just killed him. I wrang his neck, to be exact. I wrang his neck whilst he was lying on his favorite Winnie the Pooh. I wrang his neck just as Bugs would have wrung it.


Bugs ...! How the hell did he spring to my mind now...!


●●●●


Prague, Czech Republic.


I should have scented it, I should have been more careful. All the evidence pointed to Prague, but I still ignored it like a novice. Had I put aside my pompous self with his smart-alecky one-liners, I might have been here much earlier and the whole affair would have ended a very long time ago. Ah, what is the point of these thoughts now, goddamnit...


I calmed myself by gazing at the flowing waters of the Moldova River from the Charles Bridge. I stood between the statues of St. Ludmila on my right and St. Francis of Assisi on my left. I guess of the thirty statues that adorned the balustrades of the bridge, I was the saddest and loneliest. As a statue I also felt in their company. And in fact the oldest of them. Oh, why was I not made of stone, like thee? 


Before zoning out on the Charles Bridge, I had taken a short walk at the streets of the Old Town of Prague. It had been long since I last visited Prague and now that I saw it again I was wondering over the reasons why. It's a beautiful place, indeed.


I was a little upset when I saw at the Astronomical Clock in the Square, the medieval Orloj. I was expecting to see the original clock, the one I saw a few centuries ago. Unfortunately, it was bombed by the Germans during World War II in 1945. In its place now, on the wall of the Old City Hall, loomed a faithful copy of the original. The three coaxial gear wheels were there as I remembered them: the first showed the movement of the Sun, the second the Moon and the third the relative position of the zodiac circle in relation to the Sun. There stood also the four statuettes that adorned the Clock, as I remembered them: Vanity, Greed, Lust, and Death.


What did I do during World War II? Where was I in 1945? Most likely in some sewer, running amongst the waste in the form of a rat. Or in some swamp of the Indian jungle, transformed into a king cobra. Or holed up deep underground, below the hot sand of the Sahara, in the form of a yellow scorpion. Wherever I was, whatever I did, one thing was certain: I was not human.


I had shed the form of man throughout the twentieth century. I preferred the form of various animals, being in close contact with nature, studying the grandeur of nature in each of its manifestations, feeling awe both in its tiny details as well as in its most imposing phantasmagorias. And I did all this by employing the lower consciousness of animals, extricated as much as I could from human intelligence. I lost some of man's greatest achievements of the twentieth century. I do not regret the moments I lost. I would say that this was a consequence of the pursuit of a supreme ideal. Besides, I just needed some time off from what was happening in humanity.


The truth is, o my brother, that I was horribly saddened toward the end of the 19th century. And the reason I was saddened had nothing to do with human nature itself, in the cycles of which I had by now properly indulged. I had learned more or less about man, few things on him surprised me or made me wonder. That is why I did not feel any disgust at the atrocities that took place during the twentieth century, especially those of World War II. I was aware of what man was capable of doing to his fellow man, I was not that ignorant after so many centuries on this planet.


No, the reason I left humanity was different, and maybe - I say maybe - you'll be surprised when you learn it. The reason was the birth of a new art. And the name of it, cinema.


Exactly, o my brother. Would you ever believe it? I, an enthusiastic art lover, unequivocally committed to the vital existence of art, was heartbroken when I saw a new art frolicking in its blossom. Don't be fooled into thinking that I considered cinema a cheap art. On the contrary, I have adjudged and continue to adjudge that cinema is a magnificent art, perhaps the most wonderful of the seven.


But I was melancholy - I do confess it - as I watched scenes from the life of the sunlight on the big screen. I burst into tears at the images of the Lumiere Brothers' film, the Exit from the Factory, facing the unity among the workers as they left the gate of a factory on a happy March day. I realized how lacking my presence in the world was, lame like a crescent moon.


Equally painful was my experience at the screening of Georges Melies 's Le Manoir du diable, but the reason in this case was different: I could not bear the spectacle of Mephistopheles being transformed into a bat and vice versa. I guess this little movie by Melies was the last straw and I made the harsh decision to disappear from human sight. Even with the primitive effects of the time, the transformation of man into a bat was rendered with admirable verisimilitude. I ascertained with bitterness that vampires hadn't become but comic caricatures in common consciousness, outworn in human imagination by quite some far.


And so I acted accordingly and left mankind adrift its rapid progress, its technological revolution, its nuclear energy, its exploration of space. I preferred the path of the naturalist, the true nature lover who extracted the sweet meanings of the world from the point of view of an animal instead of a human being, who substantiated the hidden codes of cosmogony based on overt simplicity.


I admired the microcosm in its magical moments, moments such as the love-making between two snails on a green leaf or the carrying of a grain by a lone ant or a locust that crunches the maize. I was dazzled by the majestic extravaganzas of the macrocosm: the purple ionized nights of the Aurora Boeralis or the spill of lava from the volcano of Erebus in the icy seas of Antarctica or a flock of blue whales playing with the mighty impetus of a whirlpool in the midst of Atlantic Ocean.


I had enviable experiences, indeed. However, my choice to follow that path was not the most ideal, as I conclude in a retrospection of things.


For man soon transformed into a beast that nature itself could not juxtapose with an analogous one. This beast was dictated by two devilish erinyes, overpopulation and overconsumption. Consequently, wherever I was standing, I could see the heavy footstep of man approaching and raping nature as if she was a pro bono prostitute. Even the air changed, it was charged by carbon, the ozone was pierced, the seasons were abolished, the climate became frenzied. I had nothing to do anymore but to re-assume a human form, not to punish man or to oppose him, but to coexist peacefully with him and to strike a balance between humanity and nature.


I spare no effort to keep this balance unbroken, I sometimes feel like Atlas carrying the Heavenly Sphere on his shoulders. But I strive and will continue to strive for this goddamn balance, mainly because any alternative is deemed completely unacceptable, at least as far as I'm concerned.


My return to human events at the beginning of the 21st century did not, of course, occur without the unfortunate side effects. The 9/11, the discovery of water on Mars, God's particle, all turned out to be very advanced for my numb intellect. I am still plagued by the crises of cultural shock, and technology is unfortunately not my forte. But enough now. I guess that was all I wanted to say about the issues of myself in this case. I have no desire to expand any further and I don't have much to say anyway.   

      

After I made my rounds in the Old Town and saw the many modern statues that adorned it (such as that of Kafka riding the body of a headless figure - hell, I ought to meet Kafka), I set off for the Charles Bridge. And on the bridge I was left in my deep meditations while the Moldova River ran incessantly under me. I really had to acclimatize to the Prague environment, I felt that was an urgent need. I had a duty to reap the splendor of the city before taking the next steps to achieve my purpose, the purpose that brought me here in the first place. And that purpose, of course, had a name, and its name was El Comodin.


Why, after all, did my eye - amidst my meditations - constantly detect the house No. 135 of the Alsovo Bank? It was that old two-floor stately dwelling with its long narrow windows overlooking the river. I was absolutely convinced that El Comodin would long for such a view from his home: water flowing non-stop behind a pair of naked acacias. As I had told him during our Skype conversation, I would find him. And I did find him. And now that I found him, nothing would stop me from imposing the most severe punishment I had in mind for him.


However, something bothered me in this whole case. It was a silly thought, a stupid suspicion that insisted on infiltrating my collective like a woodworm devours the wood in bulimia. This ridiculous idea offended my senses while I was walking in the area around No. 135 on the Alsovo bank. Deciphering the picturesque serenity of Prague, I was constantly analyzing El Comodin's psychological profile based on the data I was given. However, I always came to conclusions that stood contradictory between them. Maybe El Comodin wasn't as common or predictable as I thought.


To this gradual permutation of my initial impressions constantly contributed the deadly aura that hovered in the ethers as an overhang threat, that macabre, unbearable odour that overwhelmed the atmosphere and hit my sensitive nostrils starting off undesired questionings. And since I have no desire to beat around the bush, o my brother, the damned question that arose was this: Could El Comodin be a vampire after all?


The time came when the long narrow windows of No. 135 shone from the interior light of their living room. As far as I was concerned, this was the signal for me to begin with all the relevant procedures. I was not at all surprised by the fact that the window light came from lighted candles instead of an electric light. Having taken my walks around the area, I had already discovered the gourmet restaurant Vévoda z filé that stood just two blocks away from No. 135. I had also taken care to be informed that El Comodin was dining at that restaurant every night. Studying the decoration of the restaurant as well as the sophisticated menu, this information was completely accord with the image I had formed for him. Decoration strictly stylized with baroque aesthetics and exclusively illuminated by candle flames. The restaurant's specialty, rare fillet with sweet potato puree and red wine sauce. El Comodin's favorite hangout, no doubt about it.


Approaching No. 135, I noticed El Comodin's silhouette standing behind the satin curtains on the balcony door. Although I could not know for sure, I would bet he had his eyes fixed on me. I could feel his eyes examining me as I walked along the Alsovo bank, my senses did not deceive me.


This was proved in all its glory when my cell phone rang while I was walking. It was as if that dim figure was shaken by the abrupt electronic ringing and he sat straight in a chair instead of standing up. I took my cell phone out of my gabardine. I saw the incoming call. It was from Los Angeles. From the headquarters of Highmark Investment Group. Not now, Carol. I tossed the cell phone at the Moldova River.


I continued my way to No. 135 until I reached the polished door made of walnut wood. The door was ajar. El Comodin was waiting for me.


Upon entering the house, I found myself before the stuffy hall. Walls lined with tapestries of repetitive arabesques and sconces with spermacettis. Floor covered with soft burgundy carpet. The lighting was dim, just as I had predicted. El Comodin's eye was not receptive to glare, on the contrary he sought everything that ranged between absolute darkness and the said home lighting.

I went up the stairs and at every step, the old wood was squeaking with meows. My presence in the two-floor dwelling was now anything but secret. With so much noise I was making, there was not the slightest chance that my eccentric host would not have been aware of me. However, there was absolutely no reaction from him. As if he was eagerly waiting for me, with the genuine willingness to meet me in person.


Arriving at the vestibule of the floor, I stood outside the sliding stained glass door of the living room. It was ajar too. Through its opening, I saw the figure of an elderly man sitting in his office with his back to me. His gray hair was long and arranged in a braid falling behind.


The living room looked suffocatingly full of trinkets and antiques and furniture, however it was three elements that caught my eye: the quill with which El Comodin wrote on sheets of paper, the large snowglobe placed by his side on the desk, and the cockatoo with the dense yellow crest standing on a gilded upright just one meter to the desk's right. As soon as it noticed me, the cockatoo shook its head nervously back and forth and croaked uninvited! three times in a piercing voice.


"Oh shut up, Fabio." said El Comodin indifferently, and the bird fell silent.


This was not a strange voice. It was a familiar voice. However, in order to confirm the spontaneous conjecture that flashed through my mind, I had to listen to a few more of its words.


"Oh, don't stand at the door. Please do come in, my dear fellow. Or should I call you Mr. Anonymous?"


I did not err in my guess. I suddenly fell into an extreme nervewrack. Like a train loaded with heavy and spikey metal crushed me under its wheels. Of all the people in the world, I was destined to fall onto him. Sorry, of all the vampires, I meant to say.


"Sit comfortably wherever you want. Forgive me for being busy. I'm just finishing some memos that need to be submitted tomorrow. Tiny details, nothing of great importance. I'll be with you in less than a minute." said El Comodin.


Or should I call him Zsigmond?


I lived with this vampire for fifty years. For fifty years we shared the same dormitory in Guilá Naquitz Cave. For fifty years we were consumed together in our endless contemplations but also in those deep lethargies with strange dreams and unbearable nightmares. Half a century marked by one-on-one discussions, supporting each other, healing our open wounds.


And now the tragic irony of fate confronts me with this creature, and in fact in an issue that does not allow amnesty. My initial rejoicing over the horrific martyrdom I was about to inflict on the famous El Comodin was inadvertently turned into a powerful sting in my stomach.


I sat in the velvet armchair that stood at the corner of the living room. Zsigmond was hurriedly writing on the pages on the desk, diving every now and then the edge of his quill in the inkwell. His jacket was made of high quality cashmere, a special order at a personal tailor, and his wadding was slightly overemphasized. His shirt was made of beige crepe de Chine, with the front opening line defined by a discreet pleated garnish that reached to the neckline. Turning my gaze further to the side, I could see his closed coffin. Ebony too, like mine.


Zsigmond was just as I would have imagined him in the outside world. Proponent of a peculiar neoclassicism, an opponent of any modernist trend. Hell, he even hated electricity in his house. He unequivocally preferred the lighted bronze candleholders on every piece of furniture available, whether it was a nightstand or a chifferobe or a boudoir.


But enough, now. I was there for serious business and not for socializing. I anyway did not intend to deviate from the purpose of my visit. Not even for my dear Zsigmond.


"Do you believe in diabolical coincidences, Zsigmond? Because if you don't, you'd better start now."


His hand froze straight away and stopped writing on the pages. He faintly raised his head and then turned towards me and looked me in the face with eyes surprised and sufficiently goggled. He was gray, he had lots of wrinkles on his face. Maybe I would pass by him indifferently if our paths ever crossed, I might not have recognized him at first glance. His dumbfoundment in this case was not a usual trait of his. On the contrary, Zsigmond always exuded an aura of icy self-control.


"Istvan ...! Is that you...?"


"Bingo, Your Highness."


"By Zeus and all twelve gods of Olympus! I have to admit it ...! I was fooled like a simpleton. Even in a thousand years, the idea that you are hiding under this hypostasis would never ever cross my mind! Let me see you better in the light ... Blond hair, blue eyes, rosy skin ... Nothing to do with the Istvan I knew in Guilá Naquitz...! Where are those dark eyes that haunted our dormitory, my dear friend? Where is your dark hair, where is your pale complexion that was strolling around anxious in the damp undergrounds? You deceived me with admirable mastery, you rascal old friend of mine."


"I go about with a fake identity as Robert Harrison. I am supposed to be from Philadelphia, USA. Hence I needed an all-American look." 


"I acknowledge my defeat ... This is truly a diabolical coincidence, just as you said it... You know, I was dying from the desire to meet the one who destroyed my connection in Pittsburgh. But when you continued your tactics with the Los Angeles ring, I confess I became somewhat concerned. A man with a wild will like this does not cease to be dangerous despite the fact that he is a common mortal. And when the media later began to rage at the news of the ring's bloodsucking, I realized that I was dealing with a vampire. With an idealistic vampire, no doubt. So I waited patiently for the moment when that vampire would one day find me. Because only a vampire would be able to find out where I was hiding and who I was, this would be an impossible feat for humans. But, by Zeus, I never imagined it'd be you, Istvan. My mind speculated, taking into account every possibility, even the most unacceptable one. By I never ever thought of you. Oh, what a cold shower this is indeed! That's enough to stop me from boasting again about my insightfulness in the centuries to come, that's for sure."


"That makes two of us. Because the idea that the famous El Comodin would be you never crossed my mind. The scandalous fate has deceived us both, Zsigmond. "


Zsigmond nodded condescendingly and turned abruptly his gaze elsewhere. It was an instinctive move of his, an awkward move, a move that betrayed bewilderment. As if he wanted to avoid my persistent stare. Then he smiled faintly, looking at the double-leaf showcase of the china cabinet made of mahogany standing on the other side. The bottles of red wine posed on its shelves.


"In my wine closet I keep a bottle of Chateau Georges, from the year 1937. It is one of the hardest to find treasures in my collection. This decade we are going through is the culmination of its maturity. I prayed that someday the appropriate occasion would come where I would share it with someone who deserved it. My prayers were finally answered. Well? What would you say we shared it? For old times' sake."


I lowered my eyelids with forced tolerance in order to hide the fiery red hues that appeared on the irises of my eyes. Because it was precisely those hues that made Zsigmond uncomfortable in this case.


"I'll have the wine with you, Zsigmond."


"Splendid!"


Full of excitement, Zsigmond took the bottle out of the cabinet and served the red wine in two crystal glasses. He offered me a glass and we stared at each other, deeply as if we were processing each other's inner thoughts. In vain we engaged ourselves in these counter-analyses of this ignominious sort. With the experience of centuries that we both carried, we did not see in each other but absolute nothingness. This empty we had become by the passage of time.


"To the good old days." we both said raising our glasses and taking the first sips.


Zsigmond was right. The Chateau Georges was indeed at the peak of ripening. The sweetness of fermentation tickled our palate, causing momentary flashes in our intellect. I did wish the good wine would be enough to remove all my negative predisposition against him. Unfortunately, this was not the case.


"Why, Zsigmond? ... Why?"


"I was expecting that question from you. Why. Your favorite adverb. You remained the same inquisitive Istvan I knew. After so many centuries the word why  is still hanging from your lips. You were always wondering about the whys of this world, you always did have this odd habit. Your blemish however was that you always focused your curiosity on one specific why without giving a damn about the other whys that sprang weeping from all other sides. Why the technological progress? Why the constant wars? Why the ecological disaster? Why man's criminal indifference to fellow man and to nature itself? Why the decay of morals and justice? And of course ... why has Zsigmond set up an organization that rapes and kills innocent children? I guess I'm currently monopolizing your interest. Me or the famous El Comodin. Same thing."


"Are you trying to justify yourself by addressing my personal ethics? This is far below your standards, Zsigmond. I would expect something spicier from you."


"Yes ... You shall need to forgive me for occasional character slips such as these. It's because in your place I was expecting another vampire, more novice, more inexperienced. In such a case, I intended to transform every speck of idealism into the young Strigoi Mort and then make him a partner in this little creation of mine. In your case, however, I know from the outset that any similar attempts of mine will fall directly into the void."


"Precisely. And to be honest with you as I owe to, Szigmond, I came here to end your vicious creation once and for all."


"But of course...! The Istvan I met in the catacombs of Guilá Naquitz, same and unchanged ... I would never have hoped anything more from you. Istvan Czonka, the uneducated peasant boy who became a vampire unwillingly, always compassionate towards humanity, a passionate explorer of the highest spirit of Strigoi Morti, a fanatical abjurer of his own bloodthirsty instincts. The same Istvan, the faithful terrier in the service of the Magister. Oh, please tell me once again the laws of the Inviolable Triptych of Albtryrk-aud. I am absolutely certain that you have preserved them in the depths of your memory. Don't tell me you forgot them, I shan't believe it."


"Oh, do shut up finally, Zsigmond. I wish you would shut your mouth for once and reconsider the excremental doctrine that's thickened like butter in your head. But of course such thing would be impossible for you. How could you ever truly accept your own doubts about what you stand for? The idea alone causes you terror, you would not even dare to start such a process with this hollow brain you're carrying. You always like - always liked - to constantly undermine the Diet of Cluj, highlighting the supposed contradiction in its legacy. There has always been a flaw in the Diet's teachings for you, you always discerned some annoying inconsistency in its traditions, there was always something that just wasn't right. You were a heretic from the very first moment you set foot in Guilá Naquitz, your pseudo-meditations in there were just a pretext to confirm your childish beliefs. You never comprehended the reason for the existence of the Diet, you were too inept to understand what exactly this Inviolable Triptych of Albtryrk-aud was or why the senators were catechising its laws with such zeal."


"I therefore assume that you have the answers to my questions, since you are endowed with such intelligence. So tell me, my old friend Istvan, what is the reason for the existence of the Diet of Cluj? Do enlighten me, I beg you."


"To hell with the Diet of Cluj! To hell with the Magister! To hell with the Inviolable Triptych! Here is the answer to your questions. It's all bullshit, the Diet of Cluj is just hot air, a bubble of soap, a hollow institution! This is exactly what you have never been able to understand. A vampire of the Order of Strigoi Morti is capable of bringing destruction upon the whole universe just by himself alone, he has the power to destroy humanity like a conflagration forever. We all knew that about the Strigoi Morti, the senators of the Diet knew it too, maybe even better than us. The Diet of Cluj has always been wise enough to know that it stands weak against the will of one vampire alone. The Diet was and is merely a smokescreen, nothing more. Their teachings had only one basis: to prevent us from putting an end to the world. That was all. That's exactly what you've never understood."


"So you're embracing that principle? Are you committed to safeguarding the continuity of this world? Are you eager to defend this miserable and pathetic human race? To perpetuate all this lameness that surrounds us?"


"We knew what the situation was at the very moment we were anointed vampires. We had the world and its imperfections in mind, we knew what was coming to us. We who have chosen to continue our course as vampires over the centuries, have also made the decision to assimilate the ideology of Cluj in our stance . And that was not some complicated ideology, Zsigmond. It was no riddle. It was just as Magister attributed it in his whispered monologues: Let the river of universe flow by singing sweetly in your ears."


"So you hear some sweet song in this world, Istvan?"


"Based on your question, I am inclined to conclude that no song reaches your ears. Isn't that right, Zsigmond? "


"I only heard noise. Unbearable noise. Until I once dedicated myself to the establishment of my venture and gave myself the title of El Comodin. Since then, divine melodies have permeated my senses and space-time has become the comic jiggle of a jester."


"Really?"


"Yes, really. But I don't expect you to understand. You could never capture the beauty of such an invention. Your perception remains weak to withstand the ecstasy of my creation. How could your own vulnerable eye enjoy human nature manifest itself in its most despicable form? You are too fragile in your construction to bear the sight of the human beast mercilessly devouring its own flesh. You would just reject such a grim spectacle as abominable and turn your gaze elsewhere, to something more elegant and counterfeit, away from the harsh realities that define the world."


"You really made a monster that shocked me, Zsigmond. I ought to give you credit for that. I happened to catch some sneak peeks from the images of disgrace. It happened the night I bloodsucked the twenty-three scumbags in that Sunset Strip warehouse. I bow before your genius, old friend. I have been on this world for so many centuries, and yet there have been few the times when I yealded in horror before an awkward spectacle. Those images of rapes far exceeded my stamina and - I dare say - shall never be erased from my memory. Now, this is truly an accomplishment."


"Oh at last! Glory to mighty Zeus! You might be mocking me, but for the first time tonight you uttered a correct saying. So do you agree with me that mankind has long been derailed from its right tracks and that it is now leading itself to its own self-destruction? What more am I doing, a humble soul like me? I'm just accelerating the process! Because man is doomed to fall from man himself. It only takes a quick study of what happened in the twentieth century to verify this view in all its glory."


"I could not express an opinion about the twentieth century based on my own experiences. I spent the whole of the twentieth century transformed into all kinds of animals except man. So everything I know about this century I've learned it from books."


"So, this is how your light naivety is explained then. You've missed some of the most glorious moments of human atrocity, my dear friend. Atrocity analogous to the rapid technological progress that characterized the twentieth century. Atrocity advanced, refined, more efficient. You only have to find yourself within the explosion of an atomic bomb to get a good taste. You only have to look at its giant cloud, a colossus of smoke in the shape of mushroom. And the innumerable corpses scattered at the feet of the colossus, myriads of deads within seconds. And the smell of burning ... Oh, that macabre scent of futility... Not even a Strigoi Mort with scientific credentials could conjure such a satanic invention. I discovered the horror in all his glory when I visited Nagasaki. I looked at the terror in his face and he just sent back the stare at me like an invulnerable mirror. Then I confirmed that man had now reached the absolute heights of his power, those for which he was destined from the beginning but was occasionally hindered by prejudices and silly fixations. The twentieth century freed him from his shell, and the oppressed barbarism finally manifested itself from within him."


"You're too aphoristic, don't you think? Man has achieved some good things in the century. He explored the Universe, orbited the Earth. Hell, he set foot on the moon. Isn't that something too?'


"My dear Istvan, only the frivolous tend to refer frequently to the human exploration of the universe. They usually refer to the conquest of the Moon as the most glorious moment of the last century. But they are only trying to deceive themselves with this deplorable claim. Man on the moon? Is this achievement enough to offset the horror of the bomb?"


"Didn't it move you that the man finally set foot on the moon?"


"I was melancholy if you sincerely want to know how I felt. I was hoping for a transcendental truth. I expected the moon to be more than a rock full of potholes."


"Oh, don't tell me you were disappointed to learn that the moon was just rock. That was something we knew from astronomical studies, a long time ago."


"Indeed. But as I have always connected the moon with my nocturnal contemplations - with my deepest reflections - I was expecting a metaphysical version, a secret that would overturn worldly conventions. Unfortunately I was belied. The moon stood incapable of competing with the bomb."


"So it was the atomic bomb that inspired you to turn against humanity?"


"Not exactly. Technological advancement was what I hated so much. I always hated it but it hadn't shown its real teeth until the arrival of the twentieth century. The bomb merely confirmed my phobias. How would Lord Byron put it, in his own poetic way? This is the patent age of new inventions for killing bodies, and for saving souls. All propagated with the best intentions."


"I find your reference to Byron charming, Zsigmond. However, it does not fully explain the El Comodin circuit. If you really wanted to destroy the human race, you could definitely have schemed something more crucial, more drastic." 


"The El Comodin's project is for the time being a tiny bacillus, I prefer to liken it to a very small spider that spreads its web slowly and methodically to the infrastructure of human nature. The spider will one day mutate into a Black Widow whose venom will spread deadly upon the world and eliminate any trace of false unity between humans. And then you shall see a world war like you've never seen before, you shall see unbridled hatred, you shall witness people eating each other like rabid dogs until their genus is eradicated. Those few who will survive will no longer have any prospect but their submission to their new master: the Order of Strigoi Morti.»


"So that's what this is all about then... That's why you set up this whole network of perversion. To bring the Order of Strigoi Morti to power one day."


"Why not? Think about it for a moment. The Strigoi Morti are the most powerful creatures on earth. And what is our reward? We wander secretly through the nights like fearful rats, with our reputation tarnished in people's consciences, ridiculed by pulp fiction, oppressed by derision and disbelief. Now it's our turn. Not abruptly, not in a hurry. Slowly and methodically, as I said before. Initially by bringing man face to face with his own weaknesses, with his own voluntary degeneration. And then, by forcing him to submit to our proud Order. To our persecuted race that has suffered for so many centuries in obscurity."


"And how exactly do you intend to impose yourself on people? How exactly do you envision the Strigoi Morti 's authority over humanity? Do you have in mind some specific tactics, such as e.g. terrorizing virgin girls in their bedrooms? Do you want us to be the boogeymen of the weaklings?”


"This is an amusing thought. However I had in mind something more grandiose, more timeless. My vision - I do confess it - is not much different from an empire of the Maya from the glorious past, complete with majestic pyramids and bloodthirsty human sacrifices. Before you rush to misinterpret me, keep in mind that I do not claim the exclusivity of the monarch. On the contrary, I want equality and isonomy amongst the Strigoi Morti. No special privileges will be enjoyed among the representatives of our species. This, I dare say, catalyzes any prospect of dispute between us."


"That's very considerate of you, Zsigmond."


"Thank you, my good friend. You know of course that every compliment coming from you has a special value for me, in spite of our differences."


"So why didn't you present your ideas to the Diet of Cluj like you did with me? Why all this coup d'etat stratagem? Why all this secrecy and underground processes? Hell, you are distinguished by such zeal and you support your positions with admirable backbone. Why didn't you apply for a hearing in the Senate with all Strigoi Morti present as the protocol dictates? "


"And you think the Diet would approve my views? ... Oh, Istvan ..."


"No ... Probably not, they wouldn't approve of them. They certainly wouldn't approve of them. But they would recognize your vigour to highlight important issues concerning our Order. They would give you credit for the courage of your opinion, no matter how radical it may sound. All the other vampires would do the same, I would assume. They would honor the sense of urgency with which you promote your concerns, concerns that have to do with the course of the Order itself. They may even would have ordained you a senator! Instead, you chose to act as a common charlatan and to insidiously manipulate the will of your own race. You have become a treacherous traitor to Strigoi Morti instead of their savior, Zsigmond."


"Oh, do leave aside the so-called 'correct' alternatives, Istvan. Even you don't actually believe them deep down. You know very well that I had no choice in this case. The only way to stand up to the Diet and present my groundbreaking proposals was to juxtapose unassailable arguments. And what other argument could convince the Diet and the rest of Strigoi Morti from the very sight of human decadence? I only need a sample of man's innate corruption in order to refute any stupid sermons on behalf on the senate. Because - let's not fool ourselves - with stupid sermons they will try to prevent my ambitious plan. The Diet's views remain too obsolete to accept such a pioneering change. That's why there are so few of us left."


"There are just enough of us left, Zsigmond. The necessary were left, no more no less."


"Nonsense. We are the last of our race, the remnants of an endangered species. We were even forced to withdraw from Guilá Naquitz to settle elsewhere, out of sight. We left our own headquarters, in the name of Zeus! Is there a better proof of our decline than that?”


"This is not the first time the Diet has moved its headquarters to other places, Zsigmond. It happened in the old days too when the Diet left the Carpathian Mountains to move to Guilá Naquitz. I guess you know that, don't you? And the reason why the Diet is moving its headquarters away from human settlements is not because vampires fear or detest humans. It is because vampires often want to find peace in deserted places. How would Lord Byron put it in his own poetic way? Then stirs the feeling infinite, so felt in solitude, where we are least alone.»


"Byron's counter-verse cannot be counted as acumen in this discussion, Istvan. Because this is exactly the mentality of defeatism that brought us here where we ended up! Hell, why do you stubbornly refuse to see the truth? You can't be so ignorant ...! I shall have to put great effort to transform this castrated perception into a triumphant excursion. But something insists on telling me that I shall fail, and in fact bitterly. Even if the El Comodin's circuit acquires the gigantic dimensions that I predict it will acquire, I can imagine the Magister's words in this instance: My dear child Zsigmond, why did you dirty yourself with the human gutter instead of assimilating the highest of human virtues? Go back to the world and listen to the sweet song that's whispered from its breathless insides. Like another Narcissus, the world stands enchanted by its own beauty and sings softly with the voice of a silly clown. Listen to the poor simpleton and laugh yourself to tears.»


"So? Don't you believe the Magister's words?"


"I don't give a damn, Istvan. I don't care one bit about the Magister's worldviews. I only believe in one thing and that alone matters. For the first time in so many centuries, my intelligence is blossoming from its rampant oestrus, and its ideas now define shape and structure. And -by Zeus- I do not intend to give up now that this mind of mine is finally enjoying the laurels it always deserved. I shall complete the vision which I started from its lilliputian roots. I shall fulfil the decrees of my own intellect, even if I am in danger of being characterized as the greatest bastard in world history."


"No, Zsigmond. The bastard characterization would be a euphemism in your case. Because even the bastard is the fruit of the tree of love and therefore the outcome of noble nature. You, on the other hand, just happened by yourself. You are the accidental symptom of an unremarkable and lazy masturbation, a sperm pointless that just found its way into some filthy womb. In your face, I see everything I detest about an intelligent entity."

"So you detest me then!? Interesting. But why do you detest me, my good friend? That, I would like to know. Is it because I became the famous El Comodin and offended your moral aesthetics?"


"No. My aversion to you has older origins, since the time we shared our dormitory in Guilá Naquitz. You always bragged about a non-existent intellect and with such arrogance that would dumbfound even the most experienced interlocutor. From you I learned the concepts of empty pride, conceit without value, unjustifiable exhibitionism. Since then you have become a point of reference in my own conscience as I have met others of your kind and inevitably compared them to you."


"By Zeus, you are full of surprises, Istvan. I ought to acknowledge this to you. Well then, something good was extracted from this meeting after all. Otherwise you wouldn't be given the opportunity to make such a straightforward confession to me. So I represent such an infamy in your eyes, my dear friend?"


"Yes unfortunately so. And you know something, Zsigmond? After all these centuries, I have come to the conclusion that all of us - humans and vampires altogether - are walking in this world as half beings, half existences with half hearts. And we all seek to fill the other half of ourselves and be completed, each in their own way. But your kind is the lazy kind. Instead of filling the other half of yourself, you choose to look at the murky sinkholes where nothing exists but filth. This narrow-minded tactic then encourages you to boast that you know -more or less- everything in the world since where you look at stands nothing. Freed from ambition and ideals, you rest in the bed of your convenient delusion until once lies and truth become an inseparable concept as there are no limits to distinguish one from the other. Do you want me to continue or have I tired you?"


"Oh, please, my dear Istvan, do continue! Your psychograph is so thorough that I am unable to resist it."


"Good. That satisfies me. Because I now intended to get to the point. Your kind, Zsigmond, is unfortunately not content with its own autonomy. Its bulimic moods turn towards its surroundings. And this is where the problem arises, if you will. Because you and your alike circulate your pitiful disease all around, contaminating everything beautiful that tends to manifest in the world. Therefore and in short, Zsigmond, your kind must be eliminated. It must be eliminated since it offers nothing and causes nothing but harm. Unfortunately for you and your kind, we need mankind with all its flaws."


"But of course we need mankind! I never claimed otherwise."


"No, no, you don't understand. We need mankind unenslaved. We need the human spirit free, untouched by our spell."


"Even if that means the destruction of all of us?"


"Yes. Even then. Otherwise, where is the sense of adventure?”


"The sense of adventure ... Ha! That's a good one."


"Yes ... Isn't that funny, Zsigmond? If you look back at all the disagreements we've had between us in the past - even from the old days in Guilá Naquitz - you'll probably find that this has always been the central core of our opposition. Meaning, we looked at mankind with different eyes."


"Maybe. Maybe. I am therefore inclined to conclude that you are maintaining your initial stance to putting an end to this ambitious endeavor of mine."


"I'm very much afraid so, yes, my dear Zsigmond."


"Pity..."


"No, it's no pity. It's a blessing."


"And ... how exactly do you intend to destroy my creation?"


"Through the eradication of its trailhead. And when I say trailhead, I mean none other than you personally, my dear friend."


"What!? Are you planning to start a war against me? You intend to exterminate me?”


"An undesired corollary of the procedure, but sadly an imperative one. I'm truly sorry, my dear Zsigmond."


"I'm a vampire considerably older than you, Istvan. Don't you think you're a little ... out of your depth?"


"You're indeed older than me, Zsigmond. But there is one essential detail that you fraudulently pretend to overlook. You chose to become a vampire out of curiosity. On the contrary, I was forced to become a vampire out of hatred. Now tell me, doesn't that give me some points of supremacy?”


"Hmm, nicely put. And how exactly do you aim to exterminate me? Hell, you're going to have an extremely difficult task to accomplish. Or not?"


"No, Zsigmond. It won't be difficult. It will be very easy. In fact, I won't even have to bother entering a duel with you."


"I have never felt the curiosity in my skin as much as I do now. I beg you, my dear friend, do tell me the method you will apply. Don't leave me thus tormented by the ruthless query."


I lowered my gaze once more, this time out of compassion. And who would really imagine that I would get to the point where I'd feel compassion for a monster like El Comodin!? I was however unable to keep my feelings coldly indifferent in regards to Zsigmond. How could I anyway? Fifty years of cohabitation are not few, even for a vampire. However, I had to satisfy his query in this case. And this is because the hapless Zsigmond still maintained the illusion of his genius unchanged after so many centuries. Unchanged to a degree of hubris, I would say. As far as I was concerned, this was his Achilles' heel.


"This is an interesting spot you've chosen for a residence, Zsigmond. I am particularly fascinated by the view from the front window. It is a view that befits a poet's study room, really. Two naked acacias whose branches do not come into contact during the winters. With a little luck, these two acacias touch each other in the spring as their foliage blossoms. And behind the acacias, the Moldova river flows silently and uninterruptedly. Now, if nature had favored me with the anointing of the artist, I would only look at the flow of the waters to get a good idea of ​​the time that does not regard a pause in its passing. One look, I dare say, would be enough for me to ascribe some effortless inspiration upon a writer's paper or upon a painter's canvas or upon a composer's music sheet. Don't you agree, Zsigmond? Please correct me if I'm wrong. But I would also like to make a special mention of this mystical fog that hovers over the river. Particularly pompous in its presence, don't you think? Its texture is so blurred that it hides the illuminated opposite bank of Mala Strana and its boring crowds. Now, if my demeanor was completely disrespectful, I would immodestly comment that this fog seems like an uninvited visitor or a boorish guest making annoying noises to draw attention to himself. But not for you, Zsigmond, right? I bet this fog is manna from heaven on your occasion. Electricity and overcrowding are two elements you prefer outside of this window's frame. I will kindly urge you once again to correct me whenever you think I am wrong in my guesses."


"Oh, don't you worry yourself, Istvan. You are not wrong in your guesses so far. Please continue ..."


"This is a really warm and comfortable house and it emits an enviable geniality, Zsigmond. Justifiably, therefore, I could liken this house of yours to a shelter that keeps you well protected from human progress and its ugly manifestations. I can only suspect your immense serenity when you come out of your coffin every sunset and face the almost motionless view of the window. And of course I couldn't even imagine your terrible sorrow if you missed this precious window view from your daily life. This would undoubtedly mean an unbearable loss for you. Isn't that right, Zsigmond?"


"By Zeus, you really do have a talent for building suspense, Istvan. But I guess now you reserve for me what I would refer to as coup de grâce. So do come, my dear, to the desired point."


"Oh Zsigmond, how saddened I am by your being prejudiced against me. I did not reserve some coup de grâce hereto. I was just trying to take a historical look back with you to the brutal times of the Middle Ages, aided by the exquisite Chateau Georges of course. I traveled for a moment - and with all the clarity that the mature wine provides me - to the outbreak of the Great Plague in the 14th century. Those were great times, Zsigmond. Those were the glorious moments of Yersinia Pestis, oh what a naughty bacillus this was indeed! So, Yersinia Pestis started its genocidal campaign from the far corners of Asia and eventually arrived in Crimea. And from there, it spread relentlessly across Europe, decimating entire populations by millions. You know, of course, that the Yersinia Pestis plague was first spread amongst black rats before it spread to the masses of mankind. Although a cunning and resilient animal, the rat proved powerless in the face of the deadly rage of Yersinia Pestis. So much so that crowds of rats' corpses flooded the cities in the same way that humans later followed. Now, if you had your beautiful house in those days, Zsigmond, from your window you would see the Moldova river full of dead rats floating in its waters. The rats' cousins, the myocastors, would avoid the river for a while and would prefer to stay in the nearby trees. Myocastors are just as smart as rats, but they do have an indomitable obsession with wood. They especially like to gnaw it and make fortifications with it. So they would climb on your two favorite acacias and very soon they would cut them into small pieces to build their fortress in the waters of the river as the myocastors are semi-aquatic creatures and need their daily swim. Needless to say of course, this mystical fog that now haunts the river would not have existed during the Great Plague's period since the innumerable corpses of the rats would prevent the rise of water vapor into the atmosphere. As such, you'd clearly see the opposite bank of Mala Strana with all that would entail. Yersinia Pestis ...! Now, that's whom I'd call a real bastard ...!»


"This was a sufficiently vivid and especially educational retrospect, Istvan. But be now clear and do finally get to the point of the matter."


"Oh, how strange ...! I had the feeling that I got to the point of the matter already."


Zsigmond's eyes hardened. And as the gray eyebrows frowned in anger, one could see in his wrinkled face the pain of a wounded wolf. Poor Zsigmond! It would be - dare I say - a dramatic blow for anyone to stand before his weak spot in this inelegant and harsh way. The slip that Zsigmond always succumbed to as far as I was concerned is that he thought of himself above all psychoanalysis, since it is admittedly difficult for a common mind to decipher a genius of large calibre. I empathised, therefore, with his bitter disappointment.


"You'd never dare any such thing. You remain too attached to humans to kill them with such ease."


"Oh Zsigmond, this is a direct insult, far below your level. Because you should know very well after so many years of living with me that one of my passions has always been the science of microbiology. So I studied the mischievous Mr. Yersinia Pestis and recreated from his malicious structures a bacillus of my own, brand new. My bacillus only affects rats and no other living thing. I would name him after me but I avoid such comic peculiarities of character. You should also know very well that one of the qualities I developed as a Strigoi Mort is the ability to govern and guide the rat societies. Therefore, if I want rats in Moldova river, that's exactly what will happen. And on the spot, without delay. Now, before you rush to point out that this method will destroy Prague's tourism economy, let me inform you that people will attribute this phenomenon of the mass extermination of rats to the aftermath of global warming since my bacillus will not be detectable. After all, this ugly phenomenon will not last long as you shall not be able to withstand even three days the sight of the disorganized view in your window. Was I clear enough for your standards?"


"Yes ... I have no complaints ... That was really an artful coup de grâce.»


"Was it indeed?"


"I will fight you."


"Yes, most likely ... This would be the first thought that would cross your mind. And I'm pretty sure you'll act as such. But how long will you bear the empty sunsets? And where will you move if this is deemed necessary? And most importantly: How will you stop me from visiting you again and again?”


"I see ... What is it exactly you are asking of me, Istvan?"


"I ask absolutely nothing of you but your end."


"My end? ... You must be joking ..."


"No, Zsigmond. I'm not joking at all. Your crimes are too terrible to forgive and ...- »


“Terrible? My crimes? Maybe you should turn on the TV occasionally and watch a news bulletin, Istvan. Maybe you should take a look at the world to see what's going on around you."


"Please...! Like I said, I can't forgive you. However, a duel with you would not give me any pleasure. On the contrary, it would create unnecessary inconvenience for both of us, and especially for your beloved Prague. So I would be eternally grateful if you took me out of the awkward position of exterminating you myself. I would especially appreciate it if you could put an end to yourself. I shall offer you this night to think about my proposal. This is the deadline I'm giving you. If at the end of it you insist on existing, I shall commence all the necessary procedures for your extermination. And that, I dare say, completes everything I had to tell you about tonight."


That's what I said. And after I said that, I got up from the velvet armchair and headed for the exit.


"I will fight you!" growled Zsigmond with a choked sob.


I stood at the sliding stained glass door of the living room. I couldn't find any meaning in continuing the conversation with him and, to be honest, I didn't want any further conversations with the gentleman anyway. However, I did owe a farewell conclusion as the immediate future would keep us apart, one way or another.


"Do as you wish. But before I leave, I want to answer your previous question. You asked me if I hear the sweet song of the world. My answer is yes. I do hear it, Zsigmond. But I don't expect everyone else to hear it just because I do. This would constitute on my part to nothing but plain ... vanity." said I and left the No. 135.


Going out on the road of the Alsovo Bank, I let the cold air of the night hit me again in the lungs. The atmosphere in Zsigmond's living room had become too stuffy, so much so that I was unconsciously looking for oxygen. The humidity of the river also refreshed my eyes, which had turned languid due more to the stupidity of my host than to the stale air of the room. 


As I embarked on my walk on the cobbled alley of the Alsovo Bank, I happened upon a pleasant surprise, of those surprises that often make their way into people's lives and cause either a smile in the prospect of a happy memory or awe before coincidences almost metaphysical. I met on my way a cheerful street sweeper who swept the ground with a large straw broom and was completely given to his singing. It'd been long since I happened to be close to someone who sang with such shameless passion at work, even if the voice of that particular person did not fit in with his contagious temperament.


My my my Delilah

Why why Delilah

I could see, that girl was no good for me

But I was lost like a slave that no man could free


Listening to him, one would wish he was as talented as Tom Jones. Oh hell, who cared? Certainly not me. I took a hundred-bill of Czech korunas out of my gabardine and moved about to shove it into the small pocket of his overcoat. But before I could reach out my hand, an indignant bray sounded over our heads.


"Oh do shut up at last, you foolish greaseball! Keep your lame voice in your useless lungs!”


The voice was Zsigmond's. He had opened his window and was so enraged that he was about to fall down.


"Gosh...! The Alsovo Bank has acquired some very irritable residents lately...!" the street sweeper looked at me with goggled eyes.


"Don't pay attention to him. Just keep singing. Prague is too beautiful to hand it over to such feeble folks." I replied and put the banknote in his pocket.


"Oh thank you! Thank you very much sir!" cheered the street sweeper and saluted me by taking out his cap.


I continued my walk along the Moldova River until I turned left to continue to the center of Prague. Walking down the dark Platnerska Street, the song of the street cleaner persisted in my ears. Even if I was given endless alternatives, I would never choose a different musical background than this one.


My my my Delilah

Why why why Delilah

So before they come to break down the door

Forgive me Delilah I just couldn't take any more


The next day's sunset found me leaning on the balustrades of the Charles Bridge, like the day before. This time, however, I did not expect a signal from No. 135 on the Alsovo bank. The candles in Zigmond's dwelling were already lit. I had no idea what that might have meant but I did not intend to waste my time trying to solve the mystery from afar. Hence I started my walk towards the dwelling without hesitation.


Was it a trap? Or was Zsigmond hoping for a truce? These were more or less the questions that flashed through my mind and then disappeared into the void of the dark night. My decisions had already been made and were subject to no alterations whatsoever. Zsigmond was a done deal. End of story.


I finally arrived at the ajar door of the dwelling and went inside. Quiet. All the sconces were lit. I went up the stairs to the top floor. The sliding stained glass door of the living room was also ajar. I opened it completely. Fabio, the cockatoo, looked at me shaking its head, but did not make a sound.


The living room looked stuffy and heavy-burdened, just like yesterday. Nothing had changed in it other than the fact that Zsigmond was absent. Actually, he wasn't exactly absent. His ashes were scattered in his ebony coffin, in the center of the living room. I sighed in relief. Or out of anger? I couldn't decide which of the two. Zsigmond had made the right decision. The only decision that benefited him.


My eyes fell on his desk. The snowglobe bore into its crystal shape a miniature of the Charles Bridge covered in sparkling glitter. I took it in my hand and shook it with force. Studying the glitter's microgranules forming whirlwinds around the bridge, I spontaneously considered the possibility of real glitter whirlwinds around the real Charles Bridge. Tasteless. As tasteless as Zsigmond himself was.


There was also a letter on the desk sealed with wax and next to it a porcelain urn in the shape of a vase. The letter was intended for me, this was indicated by the inscription For Istvan on the envelope. I took out the letter and read it:


I guess the least you could do for me is to dedicate my ashes to the Moldova River. This river was what I loved most in this charmless and meaningless world in which I leave you. I wish you good luck with the mire you chose to serve.

Z.


"All right, Zsigmond. This favour, I can do for you" I thought. I gathered Zsigmond's ashes with a small dustpan and placed them in the urn.


I don't want to hide the truth from you, o my brother. And the truth is, I was deeply envious of Zsigmond for the end he had set for himself. The truth is that I desire a similar end for myself, if and when I decide so. I would like the seductive burn of the sunlight to captivate my senses as I look at the view of some favorite landscape. I want one final sweet image from the sunny world before I hand over the hollow chrysalis I keep in my sternum back to its unseen exegete.


I threw the ashes of Zsigmond into the Moldova River as he asked me so. Faint was the murmur of the waters en route towards the bright crescent moon. I envied Zsigmond once again.


My business in Prague was over.


●●●●


Yes, Zsigmond was telling the truth.


The Diet of Cluj has indeed been moved from the Guilá Naquitz Cave to another location. But, o my brother, I am not allowed to inform you of the Diet's new base. This is a secret that I am strictly forbidden to reveal to any mortal. I hope you are not offended by this. After all, everyone has secrets, why not me?


Secrets ... Ha! And lies! Secrets and lies, this is the cancer of the world. I doubt science will ever find a cure for this cancer. Unless some dominant force from beyond us someday lobotomizes all together and we find thus the meaning of life all united. But in all fairness, the truth alone does not present the best prospect of all, does it now? It seems suffocatingly tedious. Like an all-white and cold marble carved into a perfect cube.


Poor Zsigmond...! I guess I shall refer to him as poor in the centuries to come. So this poor Zsigmond thought that the Strigoi Morti were destined to rule. How wrong he was... Vampires are destined to survive, not to rule. But to survive with grace and subtlety. They are committed to the humble instinct of self-preservation but with an elegant aptitude towards beauty, always with a dose of charming superiority, always with a slight smirk of contempt towards those who live only to live, always with a bohemian sigh and with a philosopher's unreasonable boner. Vampires are equipped with a skill that is now quite rare in our world: class. Survival with romance, that is the purpose of vampires.


Survival ...! How silly this word indeed sounds when articulated by a creature that's dead like a vampire. In that sense, all words lose their meaning when set against the vampire's hypostasis, not just this one. Because words have no other purpose than to define shape and form within a landscape that'd otherwise be a Babylon of anarchy. But when the hapless syllables collide on the vampire's sight, they immediately relinquish meaning and substance and origin. So the vampire is called upon to capitulate with all this chaotic drivel around him. Do not rush however, o my brother, to speculate this condition as a curse. The vampire stands above the babels of men, spoiled by a freedom that is not subject to context or horizon. 

 

I guess at some point I'll have to give an end to myself too, just like Zsigmond did. I can't imagine my existence to continue thus false upon the world, forever adrift in the wilderness of nights. I guess my time will come too. Five or six times I came very close to the fatal decision. I always regretted it, and I went back to my sad self and his sadder ambivalence. The reason for this, of course, is not the fear of burning. The burning of the sun at dawn is an experience I long to obtain someday, for sure. It is just that I'm reluctant to leave this world, lest I miss some magical spree or some honeyed knowledge that will stir up consciousness and lay new foundations where there are otherwise ruins. Or some miracle that will overturn all the conventions of the world, that will blow up all the musts of the eternal reality.


Must ...! Of all the words invented by man, this is the worst, the most satanic, the most vicious, the indisputable proof of an intellect in a sadomasochistic delirium. This word was coined - without a doubt - by some moody linguist who had a penis rotted by gonorrhoea and was rabidly masturbating it in empty bottles of whiskey. This word has no roots or origins, it has no etymology, it was born by itself, there is no daddy and mommy for it. It started its course as a quantum side effect during the Big Bang and since then it stuck like a stain upon the world's thermodynamic entropy. As the universe expands, so does the stain. Even its sound is barbaric, a gasp that best suits Homo Sapiens of caves.


I assume that whatever I may miss from the world's events as I surrender to the mercy of burning will be counterbalanced by the spectacle of consummation. However, this will be a spectacle only for my own eyes, I shall be the sole spectator who'll enjoy it whilst leaving the world. I shall secretly withdraw from the cogwheels of the cosmic generator, I shall fly away from the hubbub of space-time and with me, I would presume, will slip a drop of grease. And then the generator will commence the bangs and moans, but -don't be fooled, o my brother- it won't be shorted out irrevocably. It will simply roar with frictions and sparks before it continues its cycles unabated.


With frictions and sparks, I shall depart, o my brother, and in this final flight of the senses I shall leave not a single moment unattended from the metropolis of neon that will accompany me like a temptress siren. I shall allow the shining bright city to captivate me with light and music and with sinful sprees, I shall be lost in the vast cyberspace of digital colors, every photon from a fluorescent ray will enjoy the special attention of my eyes. And if by any chance I happen upon whirlwinds of naughty bosons or threatening spectrums of stimulated pixels or deafening rattles from aluminium sound columns, I shall never feel fear as this journey will have a final destination with no detours and grinding stops.


And when this final tour in the glorious metropolis ends, I shall immediately shrink into a dandelion's fluffseed and anchor myself upon the antimatter's everbreeding womb. Like a forgotten dream, I shall perish in the dawn's awakening, no trace of mine in the universe's consciousness, not even a faint reflection in the depths of memory. Do not rush and mourn for me, o my brother. For I shall be an ethereal traveller in the stratosphere of ideas whilst you'll be standing humbly in a cloak of flesh and bones, struggling to seize a tiny bit of the pleasure I will be enjoying in abundance.


I served myself another martini, cold with a lemon peel. Hell, why not ...


Everything I said will happen as soon as I make the crucial decision. Until then, I choose to exist. For now, I choose the worldly as they are, being stigmatized only by the flaw of eternity. As another Ozymandias, I look at the brightly lit Los Angeles that stretches across the glass view of my penthouse, and secretly murmur to myself behind the clear glass:


My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!


I'm laughing. I am laughing at myself. And why shouldn't I laugh anyway? Having before me the towering skyscrapers of the Financial District, such pompous frenzies of the mind do have some rudimentary foundation, they are not that unjustified. So let them be forgiven. Let them be forgiven because I have no idea if and where and how I shall be at the next sundown. Because I remain that which I was before. Enormous like a sandgrain and null like the vast universe.


My name is Robert Harrison. I am also known as Istvan Kzonka. Also known as Lord Greywood. I'm a vampire.


What I want - before and above all - is to make my time in the world as enjoyable as possible.

 

 

 THE END

 




A few words about the author


Dimitris Apergis was born in Larisa, Greece, in 1978. He graduated in BA (Hons) Film Studies in the UK. He lives in Greece.


His books are published in both English and Greek languages, by the OKYPUS PUBLISHING. https://en.okypus.com/okypus-publisher


Dimitris Apergis has received several awards for his literary work.

In 2018 he received the First Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his novel Gerard & the father. Additionally, in 2018 his novel Gerard & the father also received the First Literature Award at the 8th International Literature Contest held by E.P.O.C. (Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus) under the aegis of UNESCO.


In 2017 his novel ‘At the Whiskey County’ received the First Literature Award at the 7th International Literature Contest held by the Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus under the aegis of UNESCO.


In 2015 his novella ‘Jazz Room’ received the Second Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers.


In 2013 he received a Praise from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his short story Labyrinth.


In 2012 he received the First Literature Award from the MONITOR Press for his short story Acid Rain.







 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

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