“I was starving, I couldn’t help it.” Camilla wipes blood from her chin and points. “He’s in the car.”
“How could you be starving?” I put my stump in one jacket sleeve while my left arm hurriedly finds the other hole. “You had at least six pints before you left the house.”
“Okay, then, he was delicious. What’s wrong with enjoying a meal?”
A Corvette convertible sits at the edge of the park, red finish partially lit by a perfect half-moon. I lower my voice. “Front or back seat?”
“I put him in the trunk.”
“Please say the interior isn’t white.”
“Okay. It’s some other color.”
“Don’t play with me.”
“You’re the one who’s playing.” Her bare feet make no sound on the grass. In contrast, my loafers seem to find every leaf that gave up the ghost during the recent drought. I shine a light on the driver’s seat. “It’s like Jackson Pollack was here. Fiona was never this messy.”
“You don’t work for her anymore.” She folds her arms. “And I like Jackson Pollack.”
“Did you forget our agreement? I raise money to buy blood and you don’t kill people. We don’t need police sniffing around.” I open the trunk and see a man in a polo shirt and plaid shorts. He looks 35, maybe 40.
Camilla leans against the fiberglass body and runs her hands over it. “I want this car.”
“We have to ditch it.” I reach into the man’s back pocket and take out his wallet.
“Oooh.” She sidles up. “Make it look like we robbed him. Clever.”
Camilla’s been watching a new police show. Maybe it’s an old one, those procedurals are all the same. One minute in, someone finds a body. After the first commercial detectives arrive, and five minutes later something threatens to derail the investigation which leads to the climax. A quick, pithy observation follows, and it ends at 22 minutes. The wallet opens and my thumb lands on metal. Oh God, no. Please, no. I put the flashlight between my teeth. “Fuck me.”
“That’s not in our agreement,” Camilla snaps back. Then she groans as her hands encircle her belly. “I’m too full anyway.”
“You killed a cop.”
I stare at her, flashlight dangling from my teeth. Finally, I remove it. “Cops never stop looking when one of their own… Oh, Jesus Christ.” I slam the trunk and turn away, gathering my thoughts. Camilla is only six months old, but Fiona warned me she’d never learn caution. I can’t believe I signed up for four years of this.
“Is that what I think it is? Cool.”
It’s best if I hide the body several miles from the car, but I haven’t used a shovel since losing my arm. And Camilla? She’s allergic to manual labor. But, just now, I remember a secluded lake about a mile from here. Perhaps we could find weights to keep him down…
“What the fuck?” I whip around to see smoke curling up from a pistol. Camilla can’t stop laughing at the hole in her left hand. “I shot myself.” Her excited eyes meet mine. “Coppers back home don’t carry these.”
“Give it to me.”
“No, I’m gonna keep it.”
“You have no need for a gun.”
“We’re in America now.” She waves it in front of me. “Everyone needs a gun.”
“Camilla, I need you to give that to me.”
Her face moves right up to mine. “You’re not the boss.” I feel the barrel against my ribs. “I am, remember?”
“If you kill me, you’re on your own.” I stare back. “Think you can survive by yourself?”
Our standoff lasts several seconds. Finally, she grins. “You’re right.” She turns and walks away. “You’re always right.” She tosses the gun in the bushes. “Good luck with this mess.”
It’s after seven when I get home. Camilla’s been asleep since 5:30. Everyone else on our street is scurrying to work, or wherever normal people go in the morning. In the kitchen, I pour myself a scotch, then remember the final item on my list before waking at eleven to check our investments. I walk down the corridor and turn the handle to Camilla’s room to make sure it’s secure. I always order the bolt installed on the inside to protect my employer when they’re most vulnerable. To her credit, Camilla always locks it. So, there’s hope. When I return to the kitchen, I see a letter from Rome on thick, faded stationery.
How’s life back in the States? Is Camilla behaving herself? Despite her wild ways, I have every confidence you’ll guide and protect my progeny during these difficult early years. I just hope she’s paying you enough. Speaking of money, please find the enclosed check which should help with surprise expenses. I do hope we work together again someday. My current guardian isn’t even close to your level.
All the best,
The check is for $10,000, not much in our world. Still, it would be enough if I were to buy a one-way ticket to the Equator where the sun shines twelve hours every day. No doubt, a spurned Camilla would die pursuing her revenge. Fiona, ever more cautious, would send human assassins, but most working today have less experience than me. I could stay hidden for years thanks to secret deposit boxes filled with cash, false passports, and gold. I’m still calculating the exact number of years when I hear her voice:
I turn and see her door slightly open. My eyes immediately go to the window shades to make sure they’re down. “Yeah?”
“Can you come here for a second?”
I walk to the entrance and see a teary eye staring out. “What’s wrong?”
“For being… difficult.”
“I’ll forgive you. Just give me a day or two.”
She sniffles. “It’s just that I feel so unprepared.” Her eyes roll. “That’s probably really obvious to you. But I’m finding it hard to adjust to… this.”
“I understand. Fiona said it took her a couple decades. Try to get some sleep.”
This is new; Fiona always slept through the day. “Want some B positive?”
“No. What are you drinking?”
“Whisky. You wouldn’t like it.”
“Can you sleep with me – just for a little while?”
“I know it’s not part of our agreement.”
“I’ve never slept with…”
“I just need someone to hold me.” An icy hand takes mine. “Please?”
I follow her in and lock the door. We face each other for a few seconds — she in silk pajamas, me in slacks and a button-down shirt – before she lifts the covers and slides in. I remove my shoes and lay down next to her.
The last time I did this, I had two arms and one grew numb. For the first time, I learn one arm can be a benefit. I press my chest against her back and immediately feel her relax.
“Please don’t leave.”
“You mean, stay all day with you?”
“No, you can go once I’m asleep. Just don’t take off permanently. I don’t know what I’d do on my own.” Both her hands press mine against her chest. “God, I hate being so dependent.”
“Everyone depends on someone.”
“Who do you depend on?”
“I left myself open for that. Touché.”
She turns to face me, eyes searching mine. “You know I’m here for you. I just need to know what you need.”
The next evening, I’m reading the news, swiping at my tablet, when something catches my eye: a story about a body, drained of blood, in an alley. Enraged, I push open her door and hold up the tablet. “You did it again.”
She’s in her closet, topless, sifting through dresses. “Hello, that door still means something. What do you want?”
I step in. “Someone sucked a body dry last night. It’s all over the news – we’re exposed.”
“I didn’t do that.”
“Then who did?”
She’s smiling when she faces me. “Congratulations!” She kisses my cheek. “We’re parents.”
“It’s a miracle.” Still smiling, both of her hands take mine. “Remember that cop from two nights ago?”
“The one you killed, and I dumped in the lake?”
“I’m calling him Austin – hope you like the name. He’s alive and living nearby.”
My breathing becomes shallow as I extract my hand and grab her upper right arm. “Are you saying you sired that cop?”
“We sired him. We had sex and I gave Austin some of my blood…”
“His name was Officer Jared Brown and we had sex after you killed him.”
“I don’t remember the order — I don’t know how this works — but aren’t you happy? We have a son.” She tries to move, looks at my hand gripping her arm, and fixes her gaze on mine. “Let go of me.”
“Walk me through it. You were alone with him in the car, and you drained him. When did you give him your blood?”
“I can’t REMEMBER.” She yanks herself free. “Really, I thought you’d be happy – at least for me. I didn’t think I could sire someone.”
“Camilla, listen: You brought a being into this world that we can’t protect…”
“We brought him into this world.”
“…and once the police catch him, they’ll start looking for others…”
“But you can teach him to survive – like you’re teaching me.”
“STOP ACTING LIKE I’M HIS FATHER.”
Blood pools in her eyes as her body shakes. She points toward the door. “Get. Out.”
I point at her before I leave. “We will talk about this tonight.”
“GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE.”
Finally, an order I agree with. Fiona’s check is still on the kitchen table. I pocket that and grab my tablet. Before leaving, I open my go-bag and feel all the way to the bottom. I pull out a pistol, a trophy from a battle that now seems ages ago. The magazine contains regular bullets. Reaching back inside, I find the other mag containing wood-tipped rounds. One through the heart is all that’s needed.
A moment later, I’m driving to the neighborhood where the latest body was found. I’m testing that TV trope that says a criminal always returns to the scene of his crime. It takes several minutes to find the alley, which still has pieces of yellow tape on the ground. I get out, put the gun behind my belt, and begin walking, occasionally looking through a thermal imager. It takes ten minutes to find him. He’s still wearing the polo and plaid shorts, although this time he’s 28 degrees and walking several paces behind a woman registering 98.6. He glances back once, briefly making eye contact. He knows I’m there for him. Still, inexperienced and consumed by hunger, the two-day-old continues his pursuit.
I quicken my pace, already thinking beyond the ultimate crime of rendering mortal what was supposed to be immortal. No doubt, Camilla will come after me for killing “our” child – for shattering the illusion that this creature would bind us forever. She’ll disregard her own safety, and the universe will act accordingly; there’s a reason most vampires die before their first year. Still, a longing has settled in, one that threatens to haunt me for the rest of my life. She certainly got to me with that fire in her eyes, and the smell of her hair. How each breast felt when I held it. How she tasted.
This is all my fault. I broke the first rule of guardianship, and the consequences couldn’t be clearer for all involved – including me. But perhaps I’ve been wrong all along. I’ve made a career out of helping others cheat death. Now, for the first time, I see mortality as a gift. It forgives, wipes the slate clean, and allows you to forget difficult memories. For this, Officer Jared or Austin or whatever you call yourself — You are welcome. Just stay dead.
You can find Mr. Klefstad’s novel, Shepherd & The Professor, online, here.