I had less patience than usual for Woodley’s twaddle. With hindsight, I can see that I was being a little unfair. He had agreed to meet me very late in the evening. Most people would not be so understanding of my foibles. Still, I was tired after my flight, and I was tormented by an unusually strong thirst. Those are the only excuses I can offer for what happened. I cut him off in mid-sentence.
“Do we have an agreement, or not?” I asked.
“Not.” He swallowed. “I mean, not yet.”
“And when, precisely, do you expect that to change?”
A vein pulsed on the side of his throat, betraying his nervousness. I could almost count his heartbeats. He raised one hand towards his mouth, caught himself, and adjusted his tie instead, which was just as damning a gesture. Then he spoke the lie: “It’s, ah, coming together. People are showing interest.”
I sighed. Years of writing, editing, compromising, rewriting, and now it had come to this. I wanted to throw back my head and scream. I turned away from him and walked to the office window and leaned on the sill. The cool night air, with its promise of rain, wisped against my cheeks and the backs of my hands. Somewhere in the alley below, a cat hunted in the dark. I counted the rooftops, slowly. Counting is what I do when I feel agitated. Anything at all, it doesn’t matter. I count the mistakes I’ve made. I count the people I’ve hurt. I count the people I need to make amends to. I count the days since I last drank, and when I falter, I start at zero and try to count them again.
“It might help if you would meet some of the potential publishers,” he offered.
“That’s not possible. You know why.”
He changed tack. “The literary stuff, it’s very high brow. It’s a niche market. Have you considered writing something else?”
“Vampire fiction? The teenagers go nuts for that stuff.”
I whirled around to face him. “Do you know how insulting that is? I am an artist.” I may have pounded my chest to emphasise the point. “Did Hemingway write vampire fiction? Did Steinbeck?”
“What’s funny?” I asked.
“All due respect,” he said, chuckling nervously, “but you’re hardly Steinbeck.”
I advanced on him. I saw the bump of his Adam’s apple quiver, once. Drops of sweat appeared on his forehead, three of them, as if by magic, and a blush rose in his cheeks. That was the trigger. I really couldn’t help myself. I lunged across the desk and surrendered myself to the thirst and the anger. My fangs plunged into the side of his neck and I gripped his arms around the biceps, using all my weight to force him back into the chair. His scream was muffled. It’s hard to vocalise your terror, or to object in any fashion, when one of my kind is clamped to your carotid artery. A growl of satisfaction rumbled in my throat, and my nostrils snuffled wetly as I struggled to breathe and drink at the same time. I slaked myself on the torrent until his heels ceased their drumming on the floorboards, and then I stood and massaged my aching jaw.
Of course, my shirt was ruined, and I hadn’t brought a spare. This was honestly intended to be a business meeting, not a feeding. And I have no doubt that I left enough evidence to occupy a team of forensics officers for a week. It was practically dripping from the ceiling. I made myself as presentable as I could, under the circumstances, and left the same way I had arrived, through the window. I counted the rooftops as I flew over them.
I feel some sympathy for Woodley, I really do, but what’s done is done, and he knew what I was since our first meeting. It’s his own fault, in a way, because if he had been a better agent then the whole sorry incident would never have happened. Rather than being too appalled at myself, I’ll just start counting the days again. Tomorrow, it will be one day since my last drink.
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