A Transylvanian Prince in Southern California

I finished my second novel, iHunt!

This is a lie. Well, it’s more of a half-truth.

I finished the first draft of my second novel, iHunt!

Now, I’m in that phase where you’re supposed to walk away for a while, so you can come back with fresh eyes. Like Stephen King said in On Writing:

“How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneading—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll also be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development…It’s amazing how some of these things can elude the writer while he or she is occupied with the daily work of composition.”

I don’t know if I’m going to take six weeks. I already have a lot of plans in mind, and know where I want to change the book to make it better. But we’ll see.

That said, a single sentence I wrote in the first draft inspired a short story, or more appropriately a novella. Right now, a lot of Amazon authors are saying that short fiction is doing pretty well, so I want to experiment. Besides, this gives me a chance to play with form a little bit. It’s “fun writing.”

I love iHunt. I love my protagonist, Lana. In a lot of ways, she’s more like me than Dylan in Blood Flow. A lot of her internal dialogue is about social and economic issues, which I’m playing at with the iHunt premise, the actual iHunt app. If you haven’t already read the first chapter of iHunt, you can do that here.

This story I’m writing now, tentatively called A Transylvanian Prince in Southern California, is an experiment with Lana. It’s set before the events of iHunt, and indeed before the iHunt app even exists. It’s a little bit noir, it’s a little bit gothic, it’s a little bit romantic, there’s a little bit of cocaine, and a little bit of MDMA.

Anyway, here’s the first and second chapters.

CHAPTER ONE

MDMA

I take two small pills from a cellophane bag in my purse. Each has a little design imprinted on the front. One’s pink, with a peace sign. The other’s green, with what I guess is supposed to look like Kermit the Frog. Kermit, Peace Sign, and I are staying in tonight and having a ménage a trois tonight.

I like MDMA. I like MDMA a lot. I don’t have a lot of free time, and when I do have free time, I spend most of that injured from the hunt. Those rare times when I’m feeling completely, 100% okay, I like to kick it up a notch and explore every single one of my senses for a few hours. I completely expect to spend some quality time in my bathtub with my vibrator tonight.

I swallow Kermit and Peace Sign. I take off my leather jacket, and toss it against the far wall.

Then, my phone buzzes. It’s a text message from “My Teacher.”

“Lana. I think it’s time. I have a job for you. Your first solo assignment.”

“My Teacher,” in this case, is my trainer, my mentor. She’s teaching me how to hunt monsters. I’ve been working with her for four years now. My previous mentor, I worked for five. I started young. I call her My Teacher because I don’t know her name. She always wears a mask, or covers her face. She won’t let me know her name. She says in the monster hunting business, it’s best if we don’t use names because we’re so prone to dying that it’s not good to get attached.

I fire back a response.

“Great. Can we meet and talk about it tomorrow?”

I lie back into my futon and take a few deep breaths. It takes about 20 minutes for the E to take effect, but I find that controlled breathing speeds that up a little bit.

She doesn’t respond. I relax. Ten minutes pass. Fifteen. I’m feeling the mushy feeling in my muscles, the little tickle at the bridge of my nose that says I’m just about ready for a good night.

Then there’s a knock at my door.

I ignore it. Fuck that.

There’s another knock. “Lana. Open the door.”

It’s My Teacher. Great. These people have no concept of boundaries. 

I push up from the futon and go to the door. “Just a damned minute.” I’m not supposed to curse at her. But she’s in my goddamned neighborhood now. Uninvited.

I open the door. She’s in a long black London Fog coat and a royal purple niqab. There’s no fucking excuse for a coat like that in California. Not even in the dead of winter. Especially not in my neighborhood. Most everyone walks around in tank tops and flannel. She looks like an extra from the X-Files after their corporate bosses demanded they add more diversity.

“Good evening, Lana.” She steps in. She’s even wearing leather gloves. I don’t have the heart to tell her that you can’t be secretive when you stand out like a sore thumb.

I close the door behind her. “Evening Teach.”

She hates when I call her that.

“I hate when you call me that.” She sighs and stands by the door, arms crossed. “I’m giving you this job because I have faith in you. Don’t tell me my faith is ill-placed.”

That’s Teacher code for “this job pays well.” 

“I’m sorry, My Teacher.” I give a little bow. My senses spin. The Ecstasy’s kicking in real hard, real quick. I grab the coat rack to stop myself from falling over. “Your faith in me will not prove disappointing. I’ll execute the mission with the utmost efficiency.”

“Good.” She nods softly, then waves a hand to tell me to stand. I do. “You must meet with a young woman tonight. Her name is Meena Hagavane. Her fiancé is missing. You need to find what’s happened to him.”

“And we’re sure it’s not cold feet?” I say, breathing slowly, concentrating on balance.

“It’s not cold feet. It’s vampires. She’s done her research, and she came to the very convincing conclusion that her husband fell victim to a vampire near Bear Pines Bluff.”

“Bear Pines Bluff? Really?” My breath tickles my lips. I smile, betraying my defiance.

Bear Pines Bluff is not part of San Jenaro. I don’t even consider it part of Southern California. It’s half way to San Francisco. It’s mostly ski resorts and hunting lodges. It’s where rich people go to feel rustic without ever having to see a poor person.

“You’ll find more from her. I want you to meet with her tonight.” She pulls a business card from her pocket, and hands it over.

I look it over.

Meena Hagavane

Paralegal, Notary Public

438 Valencia Blvd.

Palo Verde, California

“And we’re sure I can’t do it tomorrow morning?”

“It’s important.” She turns and puts her hand on the doorknob.

I sigh and nod.

CHAPTER TWO

THE CLIENT

Meena Hagavane’s in Palo Verde. It used to be movie studios and high-end theaters. Now it’s just tourist traps and overpriced office space. The office building is the kind of place that used to be utterly beautiful. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, this kind of place was iconically American. I guess in a way, the withered husk of a 1950s icon is pretty iconically American today. It’s late, so the main door’s behind a metal security gate and locked. I ring the buzzer for her office, 308. The streets are mostly quiet this time of night—if it was a weekend, there’d be tourists out wandering, pickpockets and con artists fleecing them, a few drug dealers, and maybe a couple of buskers. But on a Tuesday, it’s as dead as I expect Meena’s husband is.

Meena opens the door, then the metal security gate. God damn, was she trouble. Huge, dark eyes that looked she was listening to every word you said, even before you’d said a word to her. Long, dark hair, wavy and parted down the middle. Shiny and perfect, like a shampoo commercial. When she speaks, it’s with a soft but authoritative British accent. “You must be Lana. I expected you’d be older.”

I feel like I should protest. But she’s right. I’m young in this line of work. Then again, none of us live to old age. Every hunt, every job is a game of Russian Roulette with a half-filled gun.

“Sorry to disappoint.”

She unlocks the door and opens it, then closes it and locks it again once I’m inside. The building’s still lovely, but in the way you might expect a statue lost deep in the woods a thousand years after an apocalypse. The green carpet is still beautiful, but I’m sure it was a shimmering emerald before I was born. Now it’s just sort of a dull moss. The lights are dull, sort of brownish. That’s probably for the best, since my senses are kicked up to superhuman levels. Even those lights, which barely put the hallway above pitch black, have these radiant halos bursting outward.

“It’s no bother. Come, come.” She turns on her heel and walks upstairs. Every fall of her heels has this sharp clacking sound. I feel like there’s a dozen echoes each time. I’m not sure if that’s real, or just me. She smells like some bombardment of flowers. I couldn’t identify any given one if I had to, but it’s nice. Relaxing. Entrancing.

I feel like the roles have reversed. She’s paying me, but that accent and attitude, a lot of people would pay her for the privilege of being told what to do. I follow, and can’t help but to watch her legs. Her dress is this form-fitting red thing, but relaxed and not tight. It ends just about at her knees, except up the right side, where it’s slit up another six inches or so. She walks like royalty. Like a fashion model. Like everything about her exists to be admired. While I’m behind her, feeling like I must look like a lowland gorilla compared to her.

“I apologize, the elevator’s out. The landlord is quite the dawdler.” I don’t mind taking the stairs behind her. I’d be suspicious of anyone who did mind it. This woman is art. I think about her legs, about her rear. I’m still tingling from the ecstasy, and soft curves like hers would feel like heaven right now.

Then I realize I’m ogling a woman distressed because her husband’s missing, and I snap to attention. “No problem. If I can’t handle a flight of stairs, how am I supposed to handle the forces of darkness?”

“I suppose you’re correct.” She says, and walks me down the hall and opens up a door. It has the classic frosted lettering on the glass pane in the door. “Hagavane Real Estate Services.”

I realize when I snapped to attention, it was a little like a soldier in a movie boot camp. I snicker.

“Excuse me?” She says, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, nothing. Sorry.” I blush and head in.

This place could have been a film noir private detective’s office. Maybe it has been. Maybe it has been a few times over the years. It’s small but open, with a couple of sofas and magazine racks, and a couple of desks near the back wall. That back wall is full of big oak windows with slightly yellowed venetian blinds which hide what’s probably an amazing view of the San Jenaro skyline.

Or a skyscraper. Let’s be honest: It’s probably a skyscraper.

She motions me to sit in an old wooden chair at an equally old, equally wooden desk, and I do. She sits across from me. “Excuse me if I’m brief. I presume you know that my fiancé was working in Bear Pines Bluff, and has gone missing. What other information will you be needing in order to find him?”

“Well, for starters, I’m not a very good private detective. I’m a monster hunter. My teacher said you think it’s a vampire? Why?” She chair’s hard. Uncomfortable. The armrests are raw and pokey. I feel like I could get a splinter if I’m not careful.

She opens a MacBook, and quickly navigates through it. “Very simply, because the symptoms fit, and because I’ve investigated the man he’s working for, and all signs point to his being a vampire.” She turns the MacBook around. “This folder is my research. If you’d like, I can print it out for you.”

I poke through the files. The trackpad feels nice. The metal’s cool and smooth.

It reminds me of ice cream. No. Frozen yogurt. Definitely more like frozen yogurt.

The computer smells a little bit like her. Mircea Cartarescu is the man. He’s an antiquities dealer from Romania, who has lived in London for some time. She’s also featured art of a man named Mircea III Dracul, a Wallachian prince, and grandson to Vlad III Dracula. Yes, that Dracula. At a glance, yes, the modern guy and the art look similar. But that could just be my prejudices and implicit biases coming out. All these guys look the same to me. If you put them all in a lineup and asked which took his holidays clubbing in Ibiza with his shirt unbuttoned at the top, and which was a sixteenth century Transylvanian voivode, I’d have no idea.

“So he looks like an ancient Wallachian prince? That’s not exactly a smoking gun.” I say, flipping through articles and pictures. “But go ahead and print this stuff if you can.” I turn the MacBook back to her.

“If you look into his holdings, many of the relics he’s selling are from the period where he was prince. I’ve found numerous comments in local newspapers when he left Romania, where the locals were joyous that ‘the old vampire’ was ‘finally’ leaving the region after centuries.” She does a couple of things on the computer, then the printer comes to life. Admittedly, I jump a little in surprise.

I shrug. This isn’t me denying her. This is me seeing if she’s made any other leaps. It’s in everyone’s best interests that I test her convictions. “I talk about my landlord like that.”

“Yes.” She sighs. “But, your rudeness and impropriety toward your landlord aside, my husband’s emails also tell a story.” She gets up and stands in front of the printer, bending over and showing off her backside.

“That story is?”

“This man, Cartarescu, hosted my husband… fiancé… in a hunting lodge while they did their business. Every day, he’d send me many text messages and emails. That was, until the mobile reception faltered. Then the emails came slowly. At first, once or twice a day. Then, every two or three days. The last I received was after a week.” She takes some papers from the printer and begins organizing, stacking, and stapling them into small collections. “He was seeing things. Hearing things. Animals. Shadows. First I wondered if it was cabin fever. But then he sent me this photo.” She takes a picture from the printer, and puts it on the desk in front of me.

I look it over. He looks tired. Ashen skin. But the really telling part is these two tiny bruises on his neck. Some things can be coincidences. The old-fashioned vampire bite marks are never coincidences. At very least, they’re always worth looking into. “Alright. I think you’re right. I’ll find what happened to your fiancé.”

“Thank you.” She gets the last of the papers in order. I take them. I realize I should probably get a messenger bag or something. Then, I leave.

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