Bonus Story

Here’s something I wrote last fall, a dramatic departure from what I usually write. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t accepted for publication, or perhaps it’s because I’m a better novelist than a short story writer (they are vastly different skills). Either way, I rather like the story, so I present it here.

Stake Seasoning

by Christie Meierz
     An impartial observer would never accuse Lisa Deweese of
being too smart. She sat with her new boyfriend—at least, she seemed to think that’s
what Tip was—in Sorenton’s swankiest restaurant—a rundown diner—and failed to notice
the shudder vibrate the shoulders of his suit jacket.
     “Really?” she asked, her cigarette-hardened voice cutting
the air the way Audrey Hepburn’s didn’t. “You really think I’m perfect for the
part?”
     Tip’s smile could light several small cities. “Oh yes,” he
replied. “Absolutely.”
     Lisa wiggled on the old checkered booth seat. It had seen
better days, and so had Lisa. Somewhere in her forties, time had left her with
a body shaped like a fireplug and a face ravaged by tobacco and a heavy hand
with make-up. Painted-on lips curved in a perfect cupid’s bow at odds with her
mouth’s natural shape, and drawn-on eyebrows climbed her forehead toward
bottle-black hair topped with yellow ostrich feathers. A matching sequined
flapper costume emphasized each lump and roll and revealed legs one would
expect on a much slimmer woman.
     Tip succumbed to another slight shudder, but the smile
didn’t slip. “I don’t,” he continued, “expect you sign tonight, of course.
You’ll want to speak with your lawyer—you do have a lawyer?” He didn’t wait for
an answer. “What I want to do tonight is introduce you to some people you’ll be
working with, if you have no prior engagements?”
     Her voice dropped to a husky drone. “Baby, for you, I’m free
as a bird.” Then she laughed, and a glass or two on the counter trembled.
     Tip slipped out of the booth and held Lisa’s faux mink coat
for her. She scooched out of her side with a kind of bouncing motion that
revealed to casual observers she went commando. Smiling, she thrust both arms
into the jacket.
     “Where are we going, babe?” she asked.
     “To a party.” Tip smoothed the coat across her narrow
shoulders and pulled a thin wallet from an inside pocket of his jacket. He
tossed a bill on the table. “A very exclusive
party.”
     “Who’s gonna be there? Anyone I’d recognize?” She
appropriated his left arm as they walked toward the door to the street.
     Tip listed to port. “That would be telling.”
     Another laugh. This one rattled the silverware on the table
next to the entrance. Unable to extricate himself from her grasp without using
force, Tip pushed the door open with his free hand just as a chattering mob of
costumed children filled the sidewalk in front of the diner. Lisa gasped and
dropped his arm to clap both hands over her mouth when they passed. At the curb
sat Tip’s shiny black Lincoln stretch limo.
     She looked up at him with shining eyes. “You really are a talent scout!”
     “Of course,” Tip replied. “I have made dozens of
discoveries. Did you doubt me?”
     “Well…” Lisa bit her Ravish Me Red lips. “Maybe a little,
but only because you wouldn’t give me any names.”
     “Confidentiality is my middle name.”
     “I guess I can understand that.”
     A chauffeur in black opened the limo’s rear door and stood
out of the way. Tip helped Lisa in and followed, pausing long enough to murmur,
at a tone just loud enough for her to hear, “The party, James.”
     “Very good, sir.”
     Tip entered the limousine and stepped past Lisa, who had
plugged herself into the end of the salon seat and stared at the minibar with
rapt admiration.
     “Would you care to celebrate with champagne?”
     “Hell yeah!”
     Tip popped the cork on the iced and waiting champagne bottle
and poured. Lisa snatched the glass closest to her.
     “Bon appetite,” he said, as the glass touched her lips.
     “Bone appeti-tay,” she replied, then frowned. “Isn’t that
for food?”
     “Indeed it is.”
     “Gotta get up pretty early in the morning to put one past
me!”
     Tip inclined his head.
     Lisa slurped her champagne.
     When the woman sprawled unconscious on the carpet, Anton
slid out of the shadows in the rear of the limo. Tip nodded.
     “Where did you
find her?” Anton asked.
     “At the bar three doors down from the diner,” Tip said.
“What do you think?”
     “She’s perfect. Is she sober?”
     “As a judge.”
     Anton grinned and took a long inhale, savoring the woman’s scent.
Aged to perfection, with a nicotine tang. If he could salivate, he would have;
instead, his fangs ached. He ran his tongue over them.
     “Go ahead,” Tip said, his eyes glinting. He lifted a hand.
“No reason you can’t have a taste.”
     Anton moved to where she lay at the foot of the minibar and
took the offered hand. He examined the plump fingers, flicking them until they
reddened. Then he glanced back at Tip. Predatory interest lurked in his human
friend’s gaze. Anton locked eyes with him and sucked Lisa’s middle finger into
his mouth, running one fang into it.
     Sweetness exploded across his tongue as the skin broke. He
closed his eyes and groaned.
     “That good?” Tip asked.
     “I could almost keep this one.” The finger muffled his
words. Continuing to suckle the finger, he opened his eyes on Tip’s brilliant
grin. “Don’t let it go to your head.”
     “Too late.”
     Anton pulled Lisa’s finger from his mouth and punched the
intercom with it. “Driver, how much longer?”
     “Thirty-five minutes, sir.”
     Tip’s mouth thinned to a line. “His name is James.”
     “I know.”
     The human crossed his arms.
     Anton shrugged. “I refuse to participate in your
stereotype.”
     Eyes rolling, Tip settled
back into the upholstery. Anton popped another finger in his mouth and
punctured it.
     “Careful with the merchandise,
Anton.”
     “I’m hungry. She’s delicious.
Sue me.”
     “I can’t—you’re legally
dead.”
     “So I am. What a pity.”
Snoring began to vibrate the finger in Anton’s mouth. “Did you give her
something new?”
     “A veterinary sedative.” Tip
patted a breast pocket and lifted his voice to be heard over the catatonic din.
“I have the antidote. It’ll leave her alert but suggestible. Convenient, since
I haven’t your… talent.”
     Anton grunted around a plump
finger. “I could change that.”
     “One of us needs to keep
banking hours.”
     “I thought no one needed to keep
banking hours in your new ‘online’ world.”
     Tip snorted. “Running a
business such as ours requires face-to-face connections, preferably over a meal,
frequently over lunch.”
     Anton shrugged a shoulder and
continued snacking on Lisa’s fingers while the silence stretched. Tip seemed to
fall into a meditative state, staring at the lights on the mini-bar. Anton ejected
the finger from his mouth.
     “How does our business fare?” he asked, examining the next digit.
     “I raised prices again and several
patrons asked if I would open a restaurant in Paris.”
     He chuckled. “And will you?”
     Tip leaned forward, an eager
light in his eyes. Anton regretted the question the moment his friend began to
outline a complicated business plan. Thirty minutes later, a faint vibration
signaled tires on gravel, and Tip interrupted himself to swivel his head.
“We’re there,” he said, his gaze traveling out the windows.
     Anton followed the gaze. Their
restaurant shone with light and hopped with costumed arrivals. The limo turned
to follow a private drive around the back of the mansion-turned-steakhouse.
James drove the vehicle into a purpose-built garage.
     With a theatrical sigh, Anton
laid Lisa’s hand at her side and returned to the shadows. Tip dropped onto the
floor beside her, a small bottle in one hand. He dribbled a few drops of its
contents into her mouth.
     “Lisa!” he called. He patted
her cheeks. “Lisa!”
     “Ung?” she said. Her eyes
fluttered open. “Wha? What am I doing down here?”
     Tip helped her to sit up.
“You should have told me you don’t hold your liquor well.”
     “Huh?” She rubbed her eyes.
“Sure I do.”
     “An allergy, then. Have you
ever had champagne?”
     “Just the one time, at my
cousin’s wedding.”
     Tip nodded. “That must be it.
It only takes one exposure. Don’t ever drink champagne again.”
     “Oh.” Lisa’s face registered
disappointment. “That’s too bad. It was real good.”
     James opened the door. “Does
Madame require assistance?”
     Lisa laughed. James flinched,
but she didn’t seem to notice.
     Two young women dressed as
French can-can girls approached—a blonde in pale blue, and a brunette in dark
red.
     “Take Miss Deweese to the
costuming room,” Tip ordered as he supported Lisa to her feet, “and help her
find something to wear better suited to someone of her importance.”
     “Aw, but honey,” Lisa
protested. “I like this dress.”
     Tip flashed his teeth. “And
well you should, my dear, but I want to see you in the very best money can buy.
Francoise and Melanie will take very good care of you, and you’ll see me again
at the party. Off you go.”
     The can-can girls each took
one of Lisa’s arms, murmuring to her in accented English. Lisa flounced out of
the garage between them.
     Anton exited the limo. “The very best money can buy evokes streams
of complaints.”
     “It tastes funny,” Tip said
without turning.
     “I wouldn’t know.” Anton
brushed imaginary lint from his jacket lapel. “I shall attend to my meal and
meet you later.”
* * *
     Anton gave the costumerie door a gentle tapping with
the head of his mahogany cane. The melodious giggling filtering through to the
hall stopped. Lisa’s increased in volume. Francoise opened the door and met him
with a curtsey.
     “Monsieur,” she said,
standing aside.
     Lisa was a vision. Melanie
could do little about the hair color on short notice, but she had transformed
Lisa’s face into something an aging starlet would be proud to see in the mirror
and dressed her in an empire style Regency dress that somehow managed to
flatter her cylindrical figure. The inky black hair swept upward and cascaded
in ringlets which didn’t… quite… reach her neck. He laid his cane aside and
bowed over her hand, fangs aching again.
     “My name is Anton,” he said,
breathing in what of her delicious scent could leak through the cotton fibers of
her gloves. “Melanie has merely begun your transformation. I am here to
complete it.”
     Lisa flushed, then looked
around and noticed the French girls had absented themselves. “Where did Fran
and Mel go?”
     He caught her eyes. “You no
longer require their services.” The words reverberated into her.
     She smiled and turned a
flirtatious shoulder toward him. “And what about your services?” She threw her head back and laughed. Crystals in
the chandelier tinkled.
     Closing the distance between
them, he slipped an arm around her waist. “You have nothing to fear from me.”
     Her pupils dilated. She
grinned. “Of course not! I could never be afraid of you!”
     He stroked the soft skin of
her neck where an artery throbbed. She moaned and tilted her head, exposing it
even more. His fangs throbbed in time to her heartbeat.
     “Perfect,” he whispered,
lowering his head. She squeaked and began to struggle as his fangs pierced her
skin, and then he didn’t care. Clamping his arms around her, he lost himself in
the sweet, smoky drug of her blood and the music of her racing pulse.
     When her struggles weakened
and her heart slowed, he withdrew his fangs and lifted his head.
“Ah, sweetling,” he murmured,
voice thick with blood. “Would you like to be immortal?”
     Vacant eyes met his. She
nodded, jaw slack.
     “I thought as much.” He
pulled up a sleeve and bit into his own wrist. “Drink.”
     The empty gaze moved from his
face to his dripping wrist. He pressed it against her lips.
     “Drink,” he repeated.
     She sucked. Her eyes popped
wide, and the sucking turned greedy.
     “Yes, sweetling. Take as much
as you need.”
     …which wouldn’t be much. His
blood, after all, was very potent. It
was all a matter of diet.
     Lisa gasped.
     Anton braced himself.
     A shattering scream ripped
from her throat. He dragged her around a screen and muscled her onto the
hospital bed hidden there. As Lisa began to thrash, he used straps attached to
the bed to restrain first her ankles, then her wrists, and then her chest and
thighs.
     Francoise entered the room
through a different door. He gave the final strap a tug and turned to face her.
She curtseyed.
     “Did Monsieur enjoy his
meal?” she asked between screams.
     He bowed. “Excellent, as
usual.”
     Lisa’s shrieks crescendoed.
The chandelier resonated.
     “Monsieur Tip asked me to
tell you he can be found in the Blue Room.”
     “I will join him shortly.”
     With a final, ear-splitting
screech, Lisa arched within the restraints and collapsed. The thundering
silence that followed encompassed only young Francoise’s gentle breathing. She
curtseyed again and left.
     Anton half-sat on the bed,
examining Lisa as her body settled into the mattress. When her face relaxed and
the wounds on her neck sealed, he consulted a pocket watch and nodded to
himself.
He gave her cheeks a gentle
pat. “Now, sweetling, it is time to wake up.”
     She opened her eyes.
     “Please do not break the
restraints.” He began unbuckling the straps. “We have further use for them.”
     She blinked and looked at
him. “I’m a vampire?”
     “Quite a strong one.”
     “Stronger than you?”
      He chuckled. “Let us say… you
have the potential. But no, you are not stronger than I am, not at present.”
     “I’m hungry.”
     “Of course. We will see to
that shortly. Until then, I expect you to behave appropriately.”
     He unbuckled the last strap
and put a hand under her shoulder to encourage her to sit. Lisa sat up, rubbing
chafed wrists.
     “So is it all true about
vampires and stakes and sunlight and all?” She swung her legs off the bed.
     “Only the part about stakes.
Those can kill you.”
     Her laugh rattled the
windows. An ultrasonic alarm went off. “Oh, I’m looking forward to this!” She
laughed again, louder.
     The alarm stopped, and two
security guards ran into the room from the private door, stakes in hand.
     “False alarm, officers,”
Anton said.
     “Can I eat one of them?” Lisa
asked, pointing.
     He grabbed her arm. “No,” he
said. Then, to the security men, “Leave. Now.”
     Lisa struggled against him as
the men hurried out the way they came.
     “I’m hungry!” she hissed.
     “You will be fed later.
Behave now, or I will stake you myself.”
     She subsided into a pout.
     “Good girl. Now, sweetling,
come with me. You have a screen test to perform.”
     “What? You mean, that was
real? How many stars are vampires?”
     Anton towed her into the
hallway. “There is a little vampire in all of them to begin with. Now—take my
arm. When we reach the end of the hall, there is a broad staircase down to the
restaurant foyer. Smile, be gracious, and do
not try to eat the patrons
. Do you understand?”
     She pouted again. “But they
smell so good.”
     “Yes, they do, but you don’t
see me trying to eat them.”
     “That’s because you ate me.”
     “Details. Behave yourself.”
He patted a side pocket containing a distinctive bulge.
     Her eyes widened. “Okay,” she
squeaked.
     Lisa sniffed her way down the
hall, athirst from the scent of gathered humanity wafting up from the lower
floor. It gave even Anton itchy fangs, well-fed though he was from feasting upon
Lisa. When they emerged at the top of the staircase, a crowd in the restaurant
foyer broke into cheers and wild applause.
     “Oh!” she said, clapping her hands
over her face. “Oh!”
     “Now sweetling, don’t cover
your face. They want to see you.”
     She lowered her arms and
performed a creditable curtsey. He proffered an arm.
     “Shall we?” he asked.
     She nodded and gripped the
arm, and they descended into the babbling, camera-flashing crowd. A few humans
reached out to touch Lisa; when the hands belonged men, she touched back,
farther south. Anton captured the roving hand.
     “Later, sweetling,” he
murmured.
     “Can vampires have sex?”
Lisa’s eyes locked on a face any woman her age would recognize.
     “You have no idea.”
     “I can make him want me.”
     “Yes, you can. After the screen test.”
     She grinned, a pungent smell arising
from her. It seemed she still went commando. “All right. Let’s get this over
with. Then I’m going to make Geor—”
     “Sweetling.”
     She sighed and let him pull
her along.
     The Blue Room—so called
because it featured walls painted midnight blue—had once been the mansion’s
private theater. A handful of chairs and lounges faced the far end of the room,
where a screen filled the wall on the other side of a gleaming floor decorated
with concentric circles. Tip stood on the carpeting just short of it.
     “Lisa, my dear, you look
ravishing,” he announced, as the door latched behind her with a solid click.
     She giggled and abandoned
Anton to rush toward him. Anton smoothed his jacket.
     “If you will excuse me?” he
said, repairing to the control booth while Lisa attempted to use her newfound
skills on his friend.
     “That doesn’t work on me,” Tip
said, his voice tinny in the booth’s primitive speakers.
     Anton smiled at Lisa’s groan
of dismay. “Oh, never mind then. What do you want me to do?”
     “Stand in the middle circle
there.”
     Lisa, obedient, moved to the
indicated spot. She stooped down to examine the floor, the inside of her knees
knocking the outside of her shoulders. “Wow!” she exclaimed. “This floor sure
is clean!”
     “You could eat off it.”
     Tip raised a hand and waved.
     Anton flipped a switch. Even
through the thick, protective window, he winced at the full-spectrum light
flooding the room outside.
     Lisa’s voice cut off
mid-scream.
     “And now your transformation
is complete,” Anton said to himself. He returned the switch to its original
position and waited a slow count of ten before leaving the booth.
     “Outstanding!” Tip exclaimed
when he emerged. The human pointed at an impressive pile of dust in the middle
of the shiny circles. “She’ll last for weeks!”
     The door to the foyer opened,
and several workers in protective coveralls, carrying a covered crystal bowl
and a variety of spoons, spatulas, and brushes, headed toward the now-dusty
floor.
     “To your rooms?” Anton asked.
     Tip strode toward the foyer.
“The table is already set, and Francoise had orders to bleed the winner of the
donation lottery the moment you and Lisa entered this room.”
     Anton followed, fangs tingling.
“Such a talented young woman.”
     “In more ways than one.”
     “Do you think she could be
persuaded to take up smoking?”
     “No more than I.”
     “Pity.”
     Tip took the stairs two at a
time. A table set for two occupied the middle of a private dining room. One
place featured a salad, a goblet of water, and a glass of red wine; the other,
a wine glass filled with thick, red, foamy liquid. Anton licked his lips and
sniffed.
     “Male,” he said.
     “Yup.” Tip slid into his
chair and tucked into the salad.
     Anton joined him at the table
and picked up the wine glass. He tilted a sip into his mouth. “Italian.” He
took another small sip. “And American.”
     Tip smiled around a mouthful
of leaves. Anton shuddered and concentrated on the blood. He swirled a tiny
amount around his mouth.
     “Eats organic.”
     “Getting warmer.”
     The house photographer slunk
in and stuck a tablet in front of Tip’s nose. Tip reared back and glared at the
photographer, then focused on the tablet.
     “That one,” he said, stabbing
it with a finger.
     The mouse-like woman turned
it toward Anton. A smiling image of Lisa gazed out at him.
He frowned. “Make her hair
lighter. Dark brown with red highlights.”
     “Yes, sir.” She even sounded
like a mouse. “Hang it in the usual place?”
     “Just inside the entrance,”
Tip said.
     Anton waited until she left.
“Gets plenty of sun.”
     Tip muffled an answer around
more leaves, nodding.
     “Straight.”
     “Now you’re showing off.”
     Anton named a Name.
     “Got it in one.”
     “I shall let it go to my
head.”
     Tip rolled his eyes.
     The aroma of steak, cooked
rare, wafted under the door. Moments later, the door opened, and the restaurant
maître d’ brought in a covered plate. A faint sizzling emanated from it. He
placed it before Tip and removed the cover to reveal an inch-and-a-half-thick
cut of filet mignon.
     “Ah,” Tip said, with an
appreciative sniff. “Now we see what we have wrought, my friend.”
     Anton settled back with his
wine glass and took a sip of blood, watching Tip crosscut a small piece of
steak. His companion wrapped his mouth around the fork and groaned in much the
same way Anton had when he tasted Lisa.
     “Now you see why I could not
stop nibbling on her.” Anton swirled the blood in his glass.
     Tip swallowed the
vampire-seasoned meat. “This is the best yet.”
     “While it lasts.”
     The human raised the glass of
red wine. “To Sweetling Steak House and Grill. Best steaks anywhere.”
     Anton smiled and lifted his
glass. “To Paris.”