“Are you Frankenstein?”
The question was laughable. I was seven feet tall, with a head flatter than the Netherlands and twin electrodes sticking out the sides of my neck. I was either Frankenstein or the latest in Halloween shoe trees. After returning to Geneva from a two-year exile at the North Pole—a hideout I’d recommend to anyone while the heat was on—I’d opened a detective agency. With some fanfare, I’d adopted the name of Frankenstein. Victor, being dead, didn’t need it anymore, it beat the hell out of “monster,” and it was what most people wanted to call me anyway.
“That’s me. What can I do for you?”
I took one look at this twitching middle-aged man and knew he was missing most of what makes life worth living: self-esteem, confidence, love, and security. I could only hope he wasn’t going to hire me to find all those things.
“Your name is associated with…other monsters. No offense.”
This was another case of my reputation doing my work for me. I didn’t actually hang out with the wolfman, the creature from the black lagoon, or the mummy, but it didn’t hurt to allow people to think I had such contacts. Being a monster myself gave me a certain insight.
“None taken. What’s your problem?”
The bluntness of my question caused him to fall apart, as if he were the Incredible Melting Man. “I think a vampire is attacking my daughter,” he said, blubbering. He landed in my chair, glancing off the raised arm. I waited for him to reconstitute himself, then asked for details. He spoke in a deliberate voice.
“My name is Christof Heinzmann. I own a public house called the Kronnenhall. My daughter Alessia, until recently, worked there as a barmaid. She was popular with the customers and fairly responsible, for a 19-year-old. But in the past month, she has been too weak to get out of her bed.”
“So she spends all her time inside.”
Heinzmann sat up. “No! She vanishes at night. Every evening, I sit in her room, but you know how vampires are, they have that ability to make you fall asleep. When I wake up, Alessia is gone. She always returns just before dawn, but I can never get her to tell me where she’s been.”
She sounded like a normal teenager to me. “She doesn’t say anything?”
“Just that she couldn’t sleep and needed to go for a walk.”
This had Dracula’s teeth all over it. I told Heinzmann I’d take his case.
Dracula and I weren’t friends. For one thing, we kept different hours. He liked to burn the midnight oil, while I tended to get cranky if I wasn’t shaking hands with the sandman by 10:30 p.m. We both liked young people, but whereas I liked to pat them on the head, he liked to bite them on the neck. He also had a horrible accent. I’d worked really hard with a speech therapist to transform my “arrghs” and “rowlls” into standard English—no one was going to hire someone who sounded like a junkyard dog—but Dracula still never met a “w” that didn’t knock him for a loop.
I didn’t know where he laid out his coffin these days, but that didn’t matter. There was a sad predictability about Dracula. All I had to do was sit up in Alessia’s bedroom and wait. Around 7:00 p.m., I strolled into a coffeehouse and downed enough coffee to animate a corpse. I then reported to the Heinzmann house, carefully noting the location of the bathroom. Though I’d put on a tie and Heinzmann introduced me, his wife, a plump, long-haired woman, hit the ceiling. After we scraped her off, Heinzmann led me to his daughter’s bedroom.
It was like stepping into a Gothic castle. The walls and the drawn window curtains had been painted black. A rusty pair of handcuffs sat on top of a small dresser. Portraits of grim, sallow-faced men and women stared at me, as if criticizing the fact that I was alive. I motioned toward them.
“Are those ancestors?”
Heinzmann shrugged. “I don’t know who they are. I just know they’re creepy.”
The reverence for death in this room was palpable. I used to be dead, and let me tell you, it’s nothing to write home about. As a matter of fact, it’s nothing period. The other thing I didn’t get was how Gothic worshippers went to great pains to be like monsters. I’m a monster and not proud of it. Why would anyone want to add to the pain and misery in this world?
In the twilight, I saw the sleeping figure of Alessia, her black sheet half covering her tiny body. Youth had left her pretty, but she was all skin and bones. This was just the way Dracula liked them, except she had a high metal content, her body liberally pierced with rings. Her dyed black hair and black lipstick contrasted with her pale face.
I turned to Heinzmann. “Did you tell her I was sitting with her tonight?”
He grasped his hands together. “Yes, but she never listens to anything I say. It doesn’t matter. She won’t wake up until she is about to leave.”
“All right. You two get a good night’s sleep. By morning, we’ll know more.”
Heinzmann retreated to his bedroom. Behind a closed door, I thought I heard Mrs. Heinzmann say, “I’m supposed to sleep with him in my house?”
In the corner of Alessia’s room was a wooden rocking chair that went with the rest of the room like a baby carriage in a funeral home. Figuring Heinzmann had put it there for my use, I sat down and, for one of the few times in my life, I rocked. The pendulum of a cuckoo clock ticked hypnotically. With all the caffeine in my system, I wasn’t worried about falling sleep—I was more worried about ever falling asleep again. Nor did Dracula frighten me. He liked his necks about a third the circumference of mine.
A short interval after the cuckoo sounded twelve times, I heard a tapping on the window. It was softer than my rocking, yet somehow Alessia stirred. In a trance, she rose to her feet and opened the window lock. Silhouetted by the moon, a six-foot-–tall man in a cape stepped into the room. Alessia fell into his arms. To my disgust, I heard a soft growling, as Dracula opened his mouth wider than any human.
“You really do have a way with women,” I said.
The vampire let go of Alessia, who crumpled to the floor. “Whoooo’s theeeeeer?” he asked. A speech therapist wouldn’t know where to start with him.
I rose to my full height. “Frankenstein, private detective. I cannot allow you to take this innocent girl.”
He laughed. “You haff ze wrong guurl. Zare is no-thing innnnocent aboooout hurr.” From this point, I will dispense with the dialect, which was nearly as irritating to listen to as to spell.
“Be that as it may, you have no right to her.”
“Hmm. I’m sure I don’t have to explain my needs to you.”
“I’m not interested.”
“I wouldn’t expect interest from a monster formed by the unnatural union of a diseased mind and a revived dead body. Do you even know whose rest was disturbed so that you might live?”
“No, and it’s irrelevant.” Had Victor not unearthed this body, it would have decomposed long ago. Its former owner was not affected. Be that as it was, I had no desire to match monster ethics with a vampire.
Dracula ran his claw-like hand through his hair. I noticed we both had that plastered-to-the-skull look. “Do you plan to spend the remaining evenings of this girl’s life rocking in her bedroom?” he asked. “Time means nothing to me. I will be back.”
He climbed out the window. I couldn’t fit, so I rushed to the door and chased after him. He laughed, transformed into a bat, and flew away. I retreated to the bedroom and laid Alessia on her bed. I then shut and locked the window and resumed my rocking chair vigil. The rest of the night proved uneventful.
In the morning, I brought the Heinzmanns up to speed.
“If Dracula wants my daughter,” Heinzmann said, “how can we stop him?”
“Leave that to me,” I said, sounding more confident than I felt.
The truth was I needed help. My large size and lumbering gait made it difficult to tail anyone clandestinely. Besides the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China, there were few landscapes I blended into. I needed to hire someone small, loyal, and desperate for money. Igor, Victor’s former servant, would be just the ticket.
I asked around the city bars and was pointed towards a depressing basement flat, a far cry from his Frankenstein castle days. The lock on his door was broken, and I found him passed out, his head lying on the table top. In that position, the summit of his body was his hunchback. He slobbered several oaths as I roused him.
“What are you doing here?” he snarled.
The ceiling was low and I had to bend my head. His bed offered the only other seating option. I pointed to it. “Do you mind?”
He sighed. “Go ahead. I don’t usually get that far anyway.”
I sat, the mattress protesting. “I need your help.”
“Ha! Why should I help you? You killed my master!”
“I didn’t kill him. The North Pole did. I didn’t ask him to chase me up there.” After I said that, Igor’s harsh features softened. We had one thing in common. I didn’t ask to be born a monster, and Igor didn’t ask to be built like a camel.
“I’m not so good at helping myself,” he said finally. “What makes you think I can help you?”
I explained I needed someone unexpected to tail Dracula to his home. He chuckled weakly at the vampire’s name, as if his life revolved from one monster to another. Sensing his interest waning, I laid it on about how one way we as monsters could redeem ourselves was protecting the innocence of others.
“And you’ll pay me for this, up front?” he asked.
“Name your sum.”
“A thousand Swiss francs.”
I grimaced. “Now name a sum that you have some hope of getting.”
“You just want me to follow him to his home?”
“Because if he attacks me, I don’t think the world is ready for a hunchbacked vampire.”
“Just find out where he lives.”
He leaned his chin on his fist, giving the appearance of deep thought. “I could do it for a hundred.”
For the next couple of nights, Igor hid in the bushes outside the Heinzmann home while I sat in Alessia’s bedroom. Despite what I said about Dracula being predictable, he didn’t show up. During the day I noticed, for apparently the first time in weeks, Alessia showing some color besides white skin and black clothes. She also showed ill-temper, ridiculing my appearance and adding, “As a sleep aid, you’re a real zero.” Heinzmann made excuses for her, but he needn’t. I recognized vampire withdrawal when I saw it.
“Maybe you scared Dracula off,” Heinzmann said hopefully, but I knew that wasn’t the case. Living for hundreds of years, Dracula had a different perspective. What could I threaten him with? A stake in the heart? I would have been doing him a favor. He was in a perfect position to just bide his time.
On the third night, I learned a woman was attacked on the street near Lake Geneva. The victim was young, attractive, with no memory of her assailant. If she didn’t have two cut marks on her neck, I’d eat my smoking jacket. Had my interest in Alessia caused him to hunt elsewhere? I received an answer two mornings later, standing in my doorway.
“Our boy was prowling in the bushes outside the Heinzmann house last night,” Igor said importantly. “You’re not going to believe this, but I followed him to the basement of St. Paul’s Church.”
“That’s impossible. He can’t stand in the presence of a cross.”
“Perhaps not, but that’s where he went. There’s a side entrance to the basement. Maybe he closed his eyes when he got close to the cross.”
The more I thought about it, the more brilliant it seemed. Nobody would look for Dracula in the basement of a church. Nobody except me.
That evening when the lid of Dracula’s coffin rose, I was surprised by several things that didn’t happen. I didn’t hear the screech of rusty hinges turning, nor did Dracula show alarm when he saw me standing in front of him like a hanging judge. His bushy eyebrows merely lowered and he scowled. “I’ve woken up to worse.”
“Nice digs,” I said. The basement was dusty, dark, and cluttered, a repository for broken furniture, cracked vases, and unwanted paintings.
He stiffened, and he was already stiff. “I am used to more ostentatious housing but, in truth, my wants are simple.”
“What’s it like to hear a sermon and discover you’re the subject?”
“Thankfully, there is no activity at this church during my active hours. Besides, I’m sure there’s no shortage of devout churchgoers that find themselves in the reverend’s sermons.”
Dracula enjoyed verbal jousting, but I found it tedious. “Your attacks on Alessia Heinzmann end here.”
He frowned. “I haven’t touched her in nearly a week.”
“That’s because I’ve been sitting in her bedroom. You would have touched her last night.”
He climbed out of the coffin, shut it, and sat on top of it, looking more like a transient than a caped aristocrat. “I choose my contacts carefully. People call me unnatural, yet this girl is merely following her inclinations. You spent time in her room. I didn’t put those paintings on that black wall. She was worshipping death before I met her. I am helping her move toward self-actualization.”
I hated the sound of my laugh, which resembled a wave of groans, but I couldn’t help myself. “How is it self-actualization to drain a human body of its blood? The self is you.”
“I’m talking about her. Alessia is self-destructive. The other night by Lake Geneva I found a substitute for her, but she’ll just as certainly find a substitute for me. To escape her clueless parents and immature peers, she’ll turn to alcohol, drugs, and abusive sex.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I’ve lived for hundreds of years. I do know that. But…” He raised his bony white hand. “I give you my word I will leave her alone.”
“What good is your word? Do you cross your heart and hope to die? There’s only one way to end this.” I patted a box I had placed on the floor. “You know my philosophy. Speak softly and carry a hawthorn stake.”
Dracula laughed mirthlessly. “You brought your tools, did you? Good. This place could use some touching up.” I felt his icy breath as his eyes bored down on me. “Do you think I’m so stupid that at dawn, I’ll saunter back here, lay down, and let you play ‘Pin the stake in the vampire’? Do you think I’ve lived this long with only one coffin? I have a coffin in every port!”
“I’m sure you do,” I said, clamping my ape-like right hand onto his arm. “But that doesn’t matter if you can’t get to it.”
He struggled, but for once we were playing to my strength. He turned into a bat, flapping his bony wings like a storm-ravaged sail, but I just tightened my grip. As I held him at arm’s length, his claws could rake only the air. He grew limp, then reassumed human form.
“So you’re just going to hold onto me for ten hours?” he asked.
“I have nowhere else to be.”
He nodded. “That’s your tragedy.”
We sat on top of his coffin. The hours passed slowly as the muscles in my right arm throbbed. I thought about my sins: the deaths of my master’s beloved Elizabeth and, indirectly, Victor himself. At least I’d tried to tame the monster within me, while Dracula had accommodated his. Destroying him was a small step toward my redemption. I suggested he reflect on his centuries of crime. He said everyone knew vampires couldn’t reflect.
Then I saw angels, or perhaps birds. It wasn’t very clear.
Just before that, in the corner of my eye, I saw Alessia, wielding my own hammer in the direction of my skull.
I woke up alone with an empty coffin and, incredibly, a flatter head than I’d started the evening with. I put two and two together and got nothing. Apparently, despite a week’s lapse in their physical relationship, Dracula still had some power over Alessia. He’d sent her a telepathic message: Come to the church and free me. Blunt object provided.
With that turn of events, you might think they lived miserably ever after, but no. Dracula shipped out to parts unknown, leaving Alessia to self-actualize without him. Figuring I owed it to my employer, I kept an eye on her. She wasted no time filling in the void, frequenting the most disreputable taverns at all hours, engaging in sordid activity I haven’t the stomach to describe. She even dated Igor a couple of times. She must have noticed me tailing her, but she never told me to leave or even acknowledged my presence. As she stumbled home on the last night, I broke the silence.
“Alessia,” I said. “I know you can hear me following you.” The clump of my boat-sized feet left a wake of open window blinds. “I need to say one thing.”
She halted so abruptly that I almost ran her over. “You made him leave!” she hissed. Her eyes were as brilliant and unfocused as a Turner painting.
“He didn’t care about you.”
“He made me feel good.”
“He created a need that he satisfied temporarily.” I grabbed her shoulders. She cringed, but didn’t fight me. “Listen now and remember later. There is an attraction to being a monster. You mistake the ability to destroy, to break the rules, to hurt, as power to wield against disappointment and pain. It’s less of a weapon and more of a disease. You reduce your world to a wasteland and yourself to waste. At some point, we all tire of being monsters.”
She laughed in my face, long, full, and final.
I didn’t have a way with women.
The next day, I visited the Heinzmanns. In view of Alessia’s continued downward path, I offered to forfeit my fee. Heinzmann insisted on paying, however, as I had successfully removed Dracula. I urged both parents to remain open and available to their daughter.
Later, I wrote up some notes in my office. I thought of the long, winding path that brought me here. The prospect of closure had drawn me to the detective field. Unfortunately, while some cases are open and shut, others are like a creaking door whose sound you can’t get out of your head. Even with Dracula out of the picture, I knew the root of Alessia’s problem still flowed in her blood. I promised myself I would check on her from time to time.
When I next looked up, a heavy-set middle-aged woman stood in the doorway. Her gloved hands clasped tightly to a faded purse.
“Are you Frankenstein?” she asked.
The question seemed more pertinent now.
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