Grief, how I detest you.
eing a vampire has its perks. Julien was yet to decide if they outweighed everything he missed out on.
The promise of eternal love seems possible to every mortal being. At least to an extent. Living an eternity with one love is a completely different scenario. Julien and Raquel had lasted three lifetimes, or more accurately, 264 years, 3 months, 10 days, 6 hours, 22 minutes, 3 seconds. That’s when the door slammed shut, Raquel on the other side of it, disappearing from his existence.
There’s no getting over a love that’s endured for that long. It was more about accepting that she was no longer in his life. He’d set about doing all the things they would not have done together. Belly dancers and tiger hunting in India; scaling the Himalayas; learning how to build an igloo. Even fighting in the human Wars, as Misty had reminded him, one of his more recent endeavours.
Raquel’s death... Raquel’s being dead, gone, no longer in existence. Julien felt odd about it. This shocked him. He hadn’t been in touch with her in over a hundred and fifty years. This is a long time, even to a vampire. There had never been any intention of seeking her out. But now, out of some sense of morbid curiosity, he wanted to know about her life. Most importantly, he wanted to know about her death. Because dying is not something vampires have a tendency to do.
She’d washed up on the shores of Galicia, in North Western Spain. Found by the Civil Guard, her body unclaimed, she’d been labelled a Jane Doe and buried in an unmarked grave. Pictures of her had gone around, from country to country, each government in turn denying knowledge of her. A drowned woman brought a certain amount of speculation with it, of course. She made the news, all across Europe. Eventually the story died down, no foul play apparent. Another cold case.
It wasn’t until her picture made its way to New York that her identity was known and her passing mourned. However, the vampire world being one of secrecy, her body was to remain unclaimed, at least until sufficient time passed. When you have an eternity to wait, time passes faster than you can imagine. The body would not deteriorate, and any killer would likely be of the vampiric kind, the passing of time was merely a formality to help keep their profile low. Knowing a visit to her tomb would raise questions and eyebrows, Julien visited New York instead, the home of the vampire.
Year 2010 – New York
New York, now that was something. Having visited both old York in England, a city so quaint when placed side by side with its younger Americanized New York, he couldn’t help but compare them. He liked York more, in many ways, it was a place he’d much rather live. But he suited New York, with his need for anonymity. So he visited York Minster in the fall and New York’s skyscrapers in the spring, opting to live in neither place for too long, always on the move.
Arriving in NY was different from what it used to be, all the glory having been sucked out of it. He saw the irony of a vampire having to take off shoes and belt at JFK. Julien did so diligently, head bowed to keep his smile from prying eyes that would suspect the worst of it. Being patient with the human ways, that’s how you survived. The long queues of people, their scents mixing in the air hypnotically, they would swarm away from Julien if they knew what he was. He enjoyed their aroma far too much to want to drive them away. There was time for him to play along with their games, but sadly, he knew they didn’t enjoy the same advantage.
Seeing what it cost people now, to be in the land of the free, Julien noticed how little things changed in time. Abolishing slavery merely to enforce a slavery to culture, to society. People would always be bound. Without the rules, the ties, people had a tendency to slip into the abominable.
Julien had played the role of detective long before its human invention. Each vampire had its own sense of duty. And whenever the community needed his services, he’d arrive on scene. Misty, she was a natural born gossip, the role of messenger fit her like one of those long gloves she always wore. Although Julien wouldn’t have admitted it, he knew her allure made it impossible for anyone to want to shoot the messenger.
In the fifty years since his last case, Julien had been living in Europe, bouncing from one country to the next. The occasional visit to the Americas and Canada were always a must. Especially worth the trip for the Canadian women. To think that Raquel had been in Spain, so recently, when she had set up home in New York so long ago. He’d been so close to her place of death and not known that it had occurred.
The community always welcomed a talented torturer. Raquel may have gone under the guise of inquisitor, or even attempted to pass off as a detective on occasion, but her ability to inflict pain was supernatural. They would be mourning her loss for a long time. Thinking of the slow agonising deaths she’d caused, one question stood at the front of Julien’s thought process, how do you kill a killer?
Julien was a keen observer, a people watcher. This served him well in his role as detective. The attribute was also useful for more selfish ends. Clocking people watching him, he’d take note of those with a certain glint in their eye. Then months, sometimes years later, he’d find them again. Using people’s belief in destiny, fate or some sense of “other” to take a human pet was not the most admirable of Julien’s qualities. It didn’t make him a gentleman, but it was a ploy that could rarely backfire. The worst thing that could happen was an unlikely rejection. Because Julien figured the odds of one of his conquests to be turned were stacked in his favour. However, he was also known for being proven extremely wrong once every century or so, and this century his luck was running on one broken leg. He was due a trip up.
A car waited for him just outside the airport. The driver looked young and nervous. Julien side stepped the chauffer and whistled over a cab instead. One could never be too careful. A fare share of frenemies worked for the community, until he was safe inside their building he opted for trusting only one person, himself.
The cab ride passed uneventfully, stopping and starting along the busy wide roads of the city. The location of the community’s building was central enough. Left of here, right of there. The modern layout of the city was lost on Julien. His sense of direction came from his first long stay in the city. By his directions the community building was two blocks from his favourite theatre, round the corner from an ok-ish bar at which he’d met quite a few well known faces.
A claim to fame is good for anyone. It helps to make contacts, it’s always a conversation starter, and in some situations it can help save your life. In the vampire world, knowing a dignitary, a prime minister or president, could change your life, as long as they too were vampires.
The Trifecta were the top people to know. Befriend one of them and you’re untouchable. Julien had been turned by the youngest of the Trifecta. He’d been the last vampire she made, and as such was the favourite. Taking advantage of his position came naturally, like the youngest child demanding all of his parent’s attention.
Raquel had been the daughter of a Trifecta. Her loss would be felt by all who were linked to her, much like within a family. Their union had been smiled upon; it was like marrying two tribes together. Their separation, however, has left him isolated. A self imposed exile had impressed the Trifecta, so no loss of face was felt.
He reached the building and rushed in. The decor was art nouveau, bronze fixtures and paisley prints in mint green, still pristine despite the passing of time. There was an air of sophistication and elegance that clung to the place like wallpaper. The lobby was deserted, an indication that grief had struck the place down. Julien felt rather smug as he stepped into the elevator, the doorman politely seeing him up, on his way to fix their problems. The corridor he stepped out onto echoed with a hollow eeriness. It was an unnatural stillness, and it put a small dent in Julien’s attitude.
Oak double doors stood slightly parted at the end of the stretch of corridor. Each of his footsteps resounded off the walls, keeping pace with his heartbeat. Not normally the nervous type, Julien shrugged off the emotion. His hand pressed firmly on the door, he pushed it inwards, into the dark office beyond.
‘Aalirah?’ Julien called out for his maker. When no reply came he took another step forward.
‘Mr Morris?’ silence.
‘Markos?’ still silence, the Trifectas not responding to his call.
He walked further into the room, the complete darkness not affecting his sight in any way, just muting out the colours. The room was large and open plan, small sections divided off. Eventually a stirring in the far corner of the immense room gave an indication of life. Confident steps led him right to the noise where he discovered the Trifecta, shrouded in grey clothing, intent in prayer. Julien had heard this was a daily ritual favoured among some of the high standing vampires, though he’d never known the Trifecta to take part. The act was about thanking God for their existence, the Trifecta had lived through many different eras, seen how religions had formed. Julien felt curious about their partaking.
Not wanting to interrupt, he swiftly vacated the room and stood waiting in the hallway. An hour passed, then two. When almost three hours had gone by, a ping from the elevator brought him out of his thoughts. Or at least he’d thought it brought him back to reality. For a moment he wasn’t quite sure. Because the girl stepping out of the elevator and looking straight at him was one he’d left stranded in Australia 20 years earlier. Surely this had to be a doppelganger, there was no human way she’d still look 23 otherwise.
The words ‘no human way’ played on his mind. In the short amount of time it took her to close the distance between them, realisation hit him. Although nothing human could preserve her youth, there definitely was something else that could. Without a pause to address him, only a wink from her green eyes, she stepped into the room behind him and closed the door. For a moment he remained frozen.
It had definitely been her, the luscious black hair, the pale clear skin and an eager to please smile. These were all features that had drawn him to Erika, who was particular about the K in spelling her name. He’d picked her up in a bar in Seattle, having caught her eye when she was eighteen and backpacking with friends in Venice. She was twenty years old in 1987. He’d kept her for three years. Her personality made her much more of a pet than any other girl he had kept before or since. During a trip to Australia he’d overheard her talking on the phone to a friend, detailing her suspicions of his imminent proposal. This being an unlikely turn of events, he opted to just walk out of the hotel room, leaving her and his belongings behind. Her turning up twenty years on was not part of his plan.
The doors behind him opened again. Erika’s eager to please smile must have been etched onto her face at birth, because it was still there as she looked at him now. Commitment. That’s what she’d wanted. And the desire for it still emanated from her like a pungent perfume. But Julien, when it came to commitment, how did the saying go? “Once is the duty of every man, twice is the act of a fool.” Julien may have been many things over the years, but foolishness was not something he could accomplish.
Julien’s confidence rocked in his shoes. It was unnerving to see her face, completely unchanged. The room behind her was now filled with light. The blinds had been drawn, and the Trifecta sat around a small table in the centre of the room.
‘Ah, Julien my boy!’ Markos, Raquel’s maker, called out to him.
‘Don’t be shy,’ Aalirah smiled at him, beckoning him into the room.
A few steps led him to her side, where he stood rigid.
‘I see you remember young Erika,’ the grin on Markos’ face spoke volumes, he’d noticed Julien’s reaction to Erika’s presence.
‘When did this happen?’ Julien asked in return.
‘Twenty years ago you were in Australia, yes?’ Mr Morris cocked his head to one side, his silver hair slicked back, a single strand would not fall loose.
‘Yes, sir.’ The young vampire nodded, a terse motion that showed his discomfort.
‘And you took this girl with you, yes?’
Julien nodded again, sensing a distaste in Mr Morris towards Erika.
‘We came searching for you,’ Aalirah’s soft voice drew Julien’s attention.
‘You searched for me?’
‘As soon as we heard about Raquel,’ she added, barely a whisper.
‘As soon? But, Misty has only just told me.’ Julien’s normally smooth features twisted into a deep frown.
‘I see,’ Aalirah bowed her head in thought. ‘We found your belongings. And this girl,’ there was no distaste in her voice when she spoke of Erika. ‘She looks so much like Raquel,’ Aalirah looked over at the girl in question. ‘We were unsure, at first, we thought perhaps we had gotten to you too late, that someone else had told you of the news.’ Her small hand rose to brush a strand of hair away from her face. ‘When Erika said you’d just vanished... We suspected the worst, I must admit. We sent Misty to deliver the message of Raquel’s passing to you, almost immediately upon returning to New York. We have been in mourning, so we have not felt the twenty years. Misty knows of the waiting period, I suppose, for this type of crime. She must have played with that to delay passing the message on to you. Such liberties...’
‘Should not be tolerated, yes?’ Mrs Morris completed her thought.
‘She’s been dead twenty years?’ Julien’s question, spoken aloud, silenced the room.
‘You’ve been gone for a long time, my dear.’ Aalirah slipped her bronzed hand into his.
‘Why is Erika here?’ the question was blunt this time, it practically fell out of his open mouth.
‘She looks so much like Raquel.’ Aalirah repeated, her hand falling away from Julien’s.
‘We weren’t leaving her there. Alone. No friends or family.’ Markos grunted out. ‘She was so much like my first daughter. And Raquel had always wanted a sister,’ was that a tear Julien saw glistening in his eye?
‘Quite,’ Mr Morris broke in, ‘you could not leave her, yes?’
‘Let me clarify. You kept her, turned her, because she looks like Raquel?’ Julien raised his voice.
‘Do not belittle our feelings, dear,’ Aalirah sighed. ‘Grief, it can be displayed with many guises. And it has blessed us with Erika’s company.’
Erika beamed at her maker’s side. Julien detected some smugness in her stance. She seemed to know a secret she was eager to share. There was something about their attitude, the Trifecta had always been so warm towards him in the past. Aalirah beckoned Erika to her side, who bounced over to Julien. Finally Aalirah looked up at Julien.
‘We have decided to send Erika with you. While you investigate Raquel’s -' she paused, seemingly having lost the appropriate word, ‘case? She will keep us in the loop. We do not mean to question your methods Julien, but your tendency to drop off the radar, it just won’t do this time. Raquel was one of us. We trust you will want our interviews first, our time is at your disposal.’ There was no room left between her statements to query the decision.
But Julien still needed to know, ‘is that an order or a request?’
‘Sorry?’ Aalirah appeared startled by the question.
‘Bringing the girl with me, request or order?’ Julien reiterated.
The room paused. The only sound Julien could hear was the blood rushing through his body. Being agitated always made his heart pound. His slim fingers clenched, his skin paling along his knuckles. Aalirah’s hair, pinned back gracefully, loosened, letting out a dark wavy stand at the base of her neck. Julien’s gaze did not drop away from hers. It was a challenge. And with a sigh escaping her full lips, he saw his defeat.
‘An order if it must be. Julien, she will go with you. You will not attempt to lose her. And whatever you do, do not leave her in Australia again.’ Her words bound him to obedience, a blood tie. He knew she resented the action, but there was no other way Erika was going along for the ride.
‘Erika, lead Julien down to the interviewing rooms, yes?’ Mr Morris waved his bone pale hand.
Julien strode to the door, not wanting to wait for Erika, dreading the conversation in the elevator. He didn’t get far. Before he’d even left the room she was at his side, lacing her fingers with his and beaming at the frown it created on his face. Two frowns in one day, that was a first.
Grief. That’s what had brought him to this moment. Other people’s grief. He resented Raquel for having died and he resented being drawn to Erika for the resemblance. And now he was stuck with her. Great.