“The White House has been stolen!”
The young horseman raced down Pennsylvania Avenue through the dark Washington night, a lantern gripped in one white-knuckled hand and the reins of his frothing horse in the other, as he tried awkwardly to point with the hand holding the lantern. He shouted again, trying to make his voice heard over the clatter of hooves on cobblestone, terror creeping into his voice.
“The White House has been stolen!”
Gliding through the air alongside him, silent but for the sound of his sleek velvet cloak flapping in the air, was a tall, slender man whose pale, aristocratic face reflected the moonlight like a signal mirror. Although the horse was galloping at a full gallop, the floating man had no trouble matching its pace. In contrast to the horseman’s wild-eyed panic, his eyes were the exact opposite of wild.
Without slowing, he turned and spoke in a voice that was rich, honeyed and mysterious, like a steak dipped in honey and then hidden under a pillow.
“Simon, calm down and lower your voice. Surely you know my night vision far exceeds yours. I noticed that the White House was missing six blocks ago. But let us not jump to the conclusion that it has been stolen. Besides which - if it has been stolen, we might yet happen upon the thief, if you have not scared him off with your girlish alarm.”
The lack of a functioning circulatory system had many advantages...but one of the most important for a man in a position of power and responsibility was literal cool-headedness. Simon lowered the lantern, took a deep breath, and nodded silently. He had learned to take strength from his Dracula’s confidence and steely resolve.
“But Senator, who would want to steal the White House? And why? And more importantly, who?”
Senator Dracula’s pale, ageless eyes narrowed, and his thin, bloodless lips cracked the barest hint of a smile. “That’s what we’re going to find out.”
January 12, 2016
Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.
Senator Dracula’s eyes opened slowly and focused on the fine-grained wood of the coffin’s interior.
This was perhaps his favorite coffin, a sleek burgundy casket hand-carved from coastal redwood, rich and lustrous. It had been a gift from the famed conservationist John Muir in 1898, after Dracula fended off attempts by William Randolph Hearst to construct a massive redwood-fueled boiler to heat San Francisco Bay, for reasons unknown.
In gratitude, Muir had constructed the coffin from dozens of fallen redwood branches. While Dracula thought that modern-day bans on such extravagant gifts to members of Congress were good for the republic, he treasured the coffin. Lying in its inky blackness, he traced his fingers over the engraved message Muir had left on the inside of the lid.
Thank you, Senator. Because of your efforts, those trees you saved might even outlive you. Ha ha, just kidding. You will never die. Hope you enjoy this coffin!
Your friend, famed conservationist John Muir.
P.S. - As a reminder, I’d be ok with being turned into a vampire, and I’m not getting any younger. Just saying.
Dracula smiled, remembering the series of increasingly urgent telegrams Muir had sent near the end of his life, begging to be made immortal. The truth was, Muir would have made a terrible vampire. He was a man of his era, and had never contemplated the ecological impacts of eternal life - the guilt of buying his hundredth pair of hiking boots or his thousandth walking stick might well have driven him mad. Environmentalists are not well-suited for immortality.
The senator cocked his ear. Like all vampires, he could hear the sun, usually audible as a sort of low-pitched, cranky groan, occasionally punctuated by a solar flare, which sounded exactly like what you would think a solar flare would sound like. Hearing nothing, he pushed the lid open and sprung forth from the coffin like a novelty snake from a fake can of peanuts.
208 years of seniority in the Senate earned a nice office, and his was second to none. On the fourth floor of the Russell Senate Office Building, it had a view overlooking the Capitol from the northeast, enough room for four of his best coffins, and 14 foot ceilings from which the senator could hang in bat-form. This came in handy when he was feeling contemplative, or -- as had happened on more than one occasion -- when he wanted to make a visiting lobbyist feel particularly uncomfortable.
He strode to his desk and pressed the intercom button on his phone. “Miss Anderson,” he commanded, “I have awoken. What is my itinerary for this evening?”
A room away, Dracula’s personal secretary Madison Monroe sat up with a start. Even after working for the senator for three years, the late hours taxed her. She napped at her desk whenever her boss was cocooned deep in his dreamless slumber, waiting for night to descend upon the city like a smoky black shroud.
Madison pressed the intercom button on her own phone, her finger quivering slightly. She still was not used to the raw power of the vampire’s mesmerizing charisma. After just a few words from the undead lord, Madison felt as if her blood cells in their millions were vibrating in resonance with his voice. In fact, while speaking with him, she often found herself gradually, unconsciously tilting her head to expose her carotid artery - a habit the vampire, not usually the jovial sort, never tired of joking with her about.
His effect on her could be a little unsettling. But it was the price she paid to work for the senator she believed to be the most principled and effective legislator in history. America was a more free, prosperous and just country thanks to Senator Dracula’s service since the earliest days of the republic. And if effecting meaningful change meant living in a waking fever dream, caught in the orbit of an ancient vampire at the height of his dark powers, it was cheap at the cost. Plus, she wanted to go to law school, and a letter of recommendation from a renowned, successful vampire would help her application.
Madison took a deep breath, splashed cold water on her face from the bowl of cold water she always kept at her desk for that purpose, and responded in her most professional voice, which she thought of as “Susan.”
“Good evening, senator. It is now 5:02 pm. Sunset was at 4:59 pm, and sunrise in Washington, D.C. will occur at 7:25 am tomorrow.
“Your first scheduled appointment is a meeting with your senior staff at 5:30 pm to discuss ongoing projects, the beginning of the next session of Congress, and any unusual dreams or portents.
“At 7 pm, you are scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Senator Rosenthal at The Capitol Grille. As a reminder, she asked if you would entertain her donors by allowing the chef to sever one of your fingers, and then regenerating it.
“You also have a request from the Secretary of the Interior to meet at 8 pm. He said it is regarding ‘The Blue Vanishings,’ and that you’d know what he meant.”
Madison heard a harshly uttered curse in some long-dead tongue from the senator’s office. The next thing she knew, he was gusting through her doorway as a cloud of black smoke and materializing in corporeal form just inches from her. His eyes were blazing with cold fire, and his voice gripped her like a talking clamp.
“Miss Anderson, I need you to think very carefully. Are you quite certain that he said “The Blue Vanishings?”
She nodded, afraid but also certain. “Yes, senator. I wrote it down on a Post-It and stuck it to my computer screen. See, right there!” Dracula’s eyes darted to the note, just above one that said “don’t forget, Madison, refill bowl of water on desk!”
Without pausing, he extended a long, pale finger to the note. Instantly, it - and the computer monitor - burst into a venomous green flame.
Before Madison had time to even think about dousing the fire with the other bowl of water at her desk (the one she kept for putting out magical fires started by Dracula), the monitor and its notes were reduced to a pile of gray dust, crackling with sparks of green electricity.
Dracula turned to her and frowned.
“Miss Anderson, I respect Interior Secretary Brown, but he was careless to speak so freely. Now, forget that you ever heard that phrase - wipe it completely from your memory.”
Madison frowned. “Well, I’m happy to try, senator, but you know how they say that if you tell yourself ‘don’t think of an elephant’, it’s basically impossible to stop thinking about an elephant because even by thinking ‘don’t think about an elephant’ you're thinking about one and…”
Dracula interrupted. “I apologize - I am still half asleep. Please let me try that again.”
He cast his hand in a slow, graceful arc, light from the overhead fluorescents glittering off his bejeweled rings in a dazzling rainbow of reds and blues. He leaned forward, his eyes drilling into her like the “eye drill” he’d kept around his castle during the middle ages, for emergencies.
“Forget that you ever heard that phrase - wipe it completely from your memory. I command you!”
Madison’s eyes glazed over. Sleepily, she asked, “What phrase, senator?”
Dracula nodded. “Thank you, Ms. Anderson. Please tell the senior staff that I am ready for our meeting. And please take the evening off, starting at 8 pm. I expect my meeting with Secretary Brown will be a long one.”
Madison perked up. “Oh really? Thanks! My boyfriend and I have been wanting to go see this new movie…”
Dracula again raised his hand to interrupt her. “When I said ‘take the evening off’, I really meant ‘you can leave a little early and work from home or something like that.’ I guess it’s ok if you go see part of a movie, if you use it as your lunch hour, and keep your cell phone on, and work quietly at your laptop while in theater.”
* * * * *
Interior Secretary Barnabus Brown sat in his office, gazing warily at the leatherbound tome sealed with an ancient and rusting padlock, and bearing the inscription “The Blue Vanishings” on its dusty, cracked binding.
He remembered the day he’d first seen the book like it was yesterday. And he didn’t even have a good memory. That’s how important this book was.
Following Brown’s Senate confirmation as Secretary of the Interior, the outgoing secretary had approached him after the floor vote, gripped his shoulder, and asked in an urgent whisper, “Barnabus, do you like books? Because I have a book that is going to blow your mind.”
Brown hated books. But he was still too new on the job to admit it, so instead he had simply nodded slowly, and said, “Books are my jam. I hope I get to read one soon. What have you got?”
And thus began his initiation into the deepest, darkest mystery of the United States - the mystery of the The Blue Vanishings.
Brown had listened, his jaw cartoonishly dropping lower and lower, as his predecessor told him the shocking truth. Since the earliest days of the republic, some of most important physical symbols of the nation had inexplicably vanished, seemingly into thin air. Beginning with the disappearance of the White House in 1798, this phenomenon had been going on for decades.
Worried that these vanishings would undermine Americans’ confidence in their young country, or in objective reality itself, the Founding Fathers had decided to keep them a secret. They and their successors replaced the lost objects with copies as quickly as possible, and revised history books, newspaper archives, and personal diaries to resolve any nagging inconsistencies between the original object and its copy.
The effort to maintain secrecy had been successful. You could fit into one large, William Taft-sized bathtub the number of Americans who knew that the original White House was -- as designed by George Washington -- a featureless black marble pyramid with no entrance or exit.
But no satisfactory explanation for the vanishings had ever emerged. And no matter what safeguards were put in place, treasures kept disappearing right under the country’s nose. Including literally, when Teddy Roosevelt’s 2,000 pound granite moustache was stolen from Mt. Rushmore in 1965, and had to be replaced overnight with a concrete facsimile designed by an amused Andy Warhol.
The “The Blue Vanishings” book chronicled each of these disappearances, and served as a record of generations’ efforts to solve the mystery. It was passed down from Interior Secretary to Interior Secretary, each one adding any clues discovered during their tenure. Aside from the business cards that said “Secretary of the Interior,” it was the most important thing inherited by each incoming Secretary of the Interior.
No bookworm, Secretary Brown had asked his wife to read the tome after it was entrusted to his care. She told him that one name appeared over again and again throughout the decades as the American who had done the most to try to crack the case: Senator Dracula. And so when he found himself facing a Blue Vanishing of his own, Brown knew there was only one person he could call: Senator Dracula’s scheduler, to set up a meeting.
* * * * *
Senator Dracula had been invited into the Department of the Interior many times before. So, having been invited, he had no need to go through security. He could have simply transformed into a bat and entered the building through a cracked window or mail slot.
But if years of working in Washington had taught him one thing, it was that people resented it when you cut corners and broke with established protocols. So Senator Dracula passed through security along with the mortal visitors, politely declining a security guard’s request that he pose for a picture with him by pointing out that the vampire appeared in photos and videos only as a ghostly shimmer that was cool to the touch.
Secretary Brown was waiting in his office, idly flipping through the The Blue Vanishings book looking for illustrations. He stood and shook hands with the vampire, whom he’d known since his own days in Congress.
“Dracula, pal, it’s great to see you, and thanks for coming on such short notice. I know my message was probably a little cryptic.”
Senator Dracula sat, crossing his long legs and leaning back into the chair, then leaning forward when he realized the secretary had a pair of pants draped over the back of the chair.
“Barnabus, you know that no subject will galvanize me like the The Blue Vanishings. I count my failure to protect this country’s historic treasures, starting with the White House, as among my greatest disappointments - second only to my failure to prevent slavery from gaining a foothold in the Thirteen Colonies.”
Secretary Brown nodded. “My greatest disappointment was probably the series finale of ‘Lost.’”
Dracula frowned. “Yes, well. What brings us together this evening, Mr. Secretary? Have you discovered new information that might lead us to the culprit?”
Brown shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, Dracula, I’d be lying if I said we’d spent a lot of time on this lately. Honestly, these days, I’m pretty focused on the seal.”
Dracula nodded, an expression of concern crossing his smooth, ancient face. “Yes, I’ve heard about the challenges the elephant seals are facing - in fact, I’ve cosponsored a bill to ban offshore drilling in California. But…”
Brown shook his head. “No, senator, not seals. Seal. Our Departmental Seal.
“It has a buffalo on it, which used to symbolize great wide open spaces and America’s rich natural beauty.
“But these days, focus groups are telling us that when people see a buffalo, instead of thinking about the Great Plains, they think about bison burgers. Which isn’t really on-message for us. So we’re researching whether to change the buffalo on our seal to some other animal. Maybe a seal?
“But there are some other considerations too - the American Buffalo Promotion Board wants us to keep the buffalo on our seal, and they’ve gotten the Senate Bison Caucus to lean on us, so there’s...”
The senator rolled his eyes upward...then continued to roll them all the way around until they emerged again from his lower eyelids. Brown’s words petered out and he involuntarily shuddered at the reminder of who he was dealing with.
Dracula smiled. “Are you finished? Good. I don’t have all night - I want to be back at my office by 9:35 so I can call my secretary Madison to make sure she kept her cell phone on during the movie. Now please tell me what news you have of the The Blue Vanishings.”
Brown gulped, and nodded. “Yes, of course senator. It’s quite simple, actually. I got a report this afternoon from our Miami office that I suspect might be related to the The Blue Vanishings. But I can’t be sure, and I wanted your advice.”
Dracula leaned forward even farther than he’d already been leaning, and only his supernatural agility prevented him from toppling forward onto the carpet.
“You see, Dracula, it’s about the Florida Everglades.”
“What about them?”
Brown pounded his fist on his desk, his fury rising like a pot of ramen noodles about to boil over.
“Senator Dracula, the Florida Everglades have vanished!”
* * * * *
Dracula’s head was spinning as he left the Department of the Interior, reeling from the shocking Florida news that had been dropped on him like swampy, muggy bomb.
As various bureaucrats recoiled in terror at the sight of his rapidly spinning head, he walked out of the building, passing from the comparable warmth and coziness of the agency’s headquarters into the cold, dark Washington night.
A heavy snowfall had begun, and the senator paused on the sidewalk to reflect on the latest vanishing. His black cloak waving in the night breeze like a pirate flag, he tilted his face back and tried to collect his thoughts, as the snowflakes collected on his cold, lifeless skin, one by one.
The age-old vampire’s earliest years had been spent along the Mediterranean, stalking the warm, mosquito-haunted nights along the wine-dark sea. But as the centuries passed he had moved north, to the snow-blanketed pine mountains of central Europe.
Ever since then, he had felt most at ease in a world gripped by the cold hand of winter. And the feathery sensation of snow accumulating on his face reminded him of the countless nights he’d spent lying alongside some remote dirt road deep in the forest, still as a stone and lost in thought under a snow drift, waiting for solitary traveler to pass by.
The Florida Everglades! The Blue Vanishings thieves had not struck Florida since 1982, when they had stolen the Florida Citrus Bowl. With no time to create a convincing copy of the magnificent original, with its crystalline spires and hanging orchards, the Bowl had been replaced with a massive sports stadium in the hopes that the football-crazed locals would be too excited to remember what they had lost. The plan had worked - but only just barely.
Dracula brushed the snow off his face with one elegant gloved hand and walked toward the nearest Metro station, occasionally levitating to avoid a snow drift or icy patch.
* * * * *
As the Metro train lurched into motion, the senator heard a sickening crunch, and his eyes darted opened like a pair of spring loaded roller blinds improbably being raised in unison.
At the other end of the empty train car sat a dark figure, hunched low, its face hidden by a shapeless hat. As Dracula watched, the head moved in a bobbing motion, like a sinister pigeon drinking from a fetid, oil-slicked puddle. Maybe a puddle of blood. And with each bob of its head, there was a wet crunch, as if it had crushed a rotten bone between misshapen teeth to suck the greasy marrow within.
Or, possibly the person was eating an apple or a pear. Dracula had some experience with the sound of jaws crushing bones, and the more he listened, the more he was certain it was instead someone snacking on fresh produce.
With this realization, anger rose in him like a disgruntled ex employee taking the elevator to the top floor to confront the boss.
Eating was specifically prohibited on the Washington Metro. In Dracula’s view, this alone kept at bay the entropic forces that had turned the New York subway into a kaleidoscopic nightmare of filth and decay. Enforcing the rule was not within the normal purview of a U.S. senator. But Dracula believed, like his old squash partner Edmund Burke, that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Dracula rose like a lightning-creased thunderhead swelling to fill the sky. His pale eyes shifted to a dull, throbbing red, and the air around him filled with an angry hum. He stood, his power crackling audibly like a bad fuse, and waited for the scofflaw to look up so he could patiently but sternly explain the Metro system’s unbending rules on food and drink.
But the solitary figure at the end of the train car seemed to take no notice. Its birdlike, jerking motion continued, punctuated by the occasional sound of moist chewing.
For the first time in a long time - or at least since Secretary Brown had told him about the theft of the Everglades a few minutes earlier - Senator Dracula felt a hint of unease.
The train car was empty but for him, and the cloaked, chewing fiend. Glancing past the seated form, he noticed the next car was empty as well. Fighting a hiccup of irrational fear, he turned and looked behind him. The next two cars in the other direction were empty as well.
With growing concern and just a hint of alarm, Senator Dracula extended his senses out in either direction down the train, focusing his long-dead eardrums like radio telescopes to catch the faintest sound of a pulse or rustling cloth. There was no human sound. The entire train was empty.
But tuned to their highest possible sensitivity, his ears noticed something else. The slightest whisper of lips over teeth.
Under its hood, the figure at the end of the train car was smiling.
The jerking motion and crunching sounds stopped.
Dracula’s unease blossomed into fear like food coloring dropped into a child’s bath to distract them from trying to eat soap.
The vampire had dwelled on the earth for centuries. But he was not immortal. He could be killed, and in his long years he had seen many careless vampires destroyed. He felt dread creeping toward him down the length of the train. This was no different than the irrational panic Dracula sometimes felt when he was climbing the stairs up out of the basement, and felt the blackness closing in behind him. He simply needed to confront this miscreant.
“You there, in the hat. There is no food or drink permitted on the this train system. I strongly recommend that you disembark at the next station and dispose of your snack, before someone alerts the transit police and they ticket you.” Dracula let that implied threat hang in the air.
The figure did not react. It remained perfectly motionless. Or rather, it was bumping around from side to side, but that just seemed to be because the train ride was so bumpy. Dracula thought the figure would have been motionless if it were sitting on the couch or something.
Determined to press the issue, the vampire took a step toward the figure, then another, then another.
“I repeat: there is no food or drink permitted on this train. You are in direct contravention of Metro’s rules. Why do you not respond when I address you directly?”
Dracula stood directly over the mysterious rider. It was draped in layers of heavy clothing, and Dracula could not see its face, or hands, or any other part of its body. And, infuriatingly, it still had not acknowledged his presence.
Dracula decided he had had quite enough. He was a centuries-old vampire. He had seen the Parthenon built and the library at Alexandria destroyed. He was the seniormost member of the United States Senate. He would not be ignored.
“I insist that you attend to me! Eating on this train is absolutely forbidden, and I command you…”
The figure’s head snapped back and faced Dracula. Its hat was still pulled low, and only a broad, moist mouth was visible, grinning widely. With one gloved hand, it flourished a half-eaten head of garlic like trophy, and sneered in a man’s voice, “Senator, your days of commanding are over!”
Before Dracula could react, the man spat a pulpy mash of raw, chewed-up garlic all over the vampire’s face!
Dracula collapsed to the floor of the train, his mind twisted by searing pain. As he rubbed his face against the train’s carpeting, trying in vain to wipe off the garlic, a hand gripped his ankle like a vise and pulled him down the aisle. Dracula kicked, but in his garlic-weakened state it was a light kick, like playfully kicking a malfunctioning TV. He frantically tried to dematerialize into a cloud of smoke, but the agony of the burning garlic prevented it. He called out hoarsely.
“Identify yourself! It seems relatively unlikely that you just happened to be eating raw garlic on the same train car as me. So I can only assume this isn’t just another case of someone getting mad when I scold them for eating on the Metro. Who are you and why have you attacked me?”
The garlic-spitting attacker hissed in response, his voice dripping with even more derision and hate than a hissing voice usually does. Whatever you are imagining, it was even more intensely hate-filled than that.
“There is a natural order of things, Dracula. History is river. Some among us, like a majestic sturgeon, will swim its length. Others, like an old refridgerator someone dumped off the back of a pickup truck, will just sit in the muck at the bottom of the river and rust. You are sitting in the muck. You have been stuck, immobilized by your narrow-minded perspective on this country and its destiny, for the past two hundred years. It is time to haul you out and dispose of you properly so that the river can flow unimpeded to the sea.”
Dracula heard the door at the end of the car kicked open and felt himself dragged toward it. The low drone of the train’s massive wheels rolling relentlessly over the tracks was loud and close. Vampires could be destroyed by decapitation, and the senator knew immediately that his attacker meant to throw him under the train.
Grasping for handhold with one gloved hand while frantically wiping garlic off his face with the other, he stalled for time.
“But you haven’t told me who you are. Why does history need your help attacking an old, weary vampire who is just trying to keep the Metro system clean?”
There was short barked laugh.
“The only thing keeping you in office is inertia, old man. This system is rigged to benefit incumbents - when was the last time you faced a viable challenger? So long as you’re in a position to keep funneling federal dollars to the Dracula Center for the Study of Blackout Curtains at Dartmouth, the notoriously greedy people of New Hampshire will keep electing you to one six year term after another.”
As the man spoke, Dracula suddenly remembered his pocket square. The senator wore it as an affectation and rarely thought of it as having any purpose other than to make him feel fancy. But it was made of the finest cashmere, a gift from King Malcolm II of Scotland after Dracula drove Scotland’s troublesome native ogres into the North Sea, where they turned into oil.
The handkerchief was soft, attractive...and absorbent. Dracula ripped it from his pocket and wiped it down his long, pale face, the garlic coming away in thick wet glops. Almost instantly, his focus returned, and his terror turned to anger. But like an enraged possum bent on blood-drenched revenge, he played possum, waiting for his moment to strike. The hissing man continued his rant.
“But I, and my allies, refuse to let these New Hampshirites continue to send you to Washington, where you pose an obstacle to the ambitions of those whose vision for the future exceeds your own.”
Feigning weakness, Dracula gasped out, “But who are you? What allies? What vision? Before you destroy me, at least let me enjoy hearing the totality of your evil scheme!”
The man again laughed. “Well, I guess there’s no harm in that. You see, I…”
But before he could utter another word, the man was interrupted by the train’s loudspeaker. “This is McPherson Square, transfer to the orange and blue lines, doors open left side.”
The train lurched as the conductor applied the brakes. Unprepared for the deceleration, Dracula’s captor tumbled backwards out of the door to the next train car, arms flailing as he grasped desperately for the doorframe.
Dracula leapt up, all pretense of weakness gone, and reached out to grab the man before he fell onto the tracks, determined to hear the end of his story. But his clawlike fingernails hooked only the man’s weird hat. Without another word, the man lost his balance, fell off the end of the train, and was crushed beneath the wheels like a misplaced sack of rats someone lost on the subway.
Dracula stood in the doorway, the man’s shapeless hat in his hands, looking down at the tracks as they rushed by. It had been a close call - not his closest ever, but close. A close call to being his closest close call.
And he was not sure what to make of the man’s strange ramblings. The hissing, garlic-spitting commuter had spoken of “allies,” and “those whose vision exceeds yours.” Was he an assassin sent by a shadowy cabal bent on imposing some sort of dark, terrifying “vision” for the future? Or a lone gunman, his soul poisoned by a violent hatred of the Senate, or vampires, or New Hampshire, or all three? And most importantly - was this related to the disappearance of the Florida Everglades?
Only one thing was certain. The enigmatic man had spouted a lot of nonsense about Dracula only winning elections because he was an incumbent. Hearing that kind of crap made Dracula feel like resigning his seat then running as a challenger, just to prove that he could.
July 14, 1967
Senator Dracula looked out over San Francisco Bay, his black cloak whipping in the wind like a velvety sting ray having a seizure.
The moon rose large and milky white over the water, illuminating a scene of frantic, breakneck construction. Hundreds of steelworkers, clad in black jumpsuits and communicating only via hand-signals and the occasional obscene gesture, were placing the final beams of a magnificent span across the bay.
Hovering aloft were four firefighting helicopters whose water tanks had been filled with reddish orange paint. Dracula knew that the instant the last steelworker finished screwing in the last bolt, the bridge would be sprayed down with quick-drying paint.
By morning, no one would ever suspect that the Golden Gate Bridge had been stolen.
“Quite a sight, isn’t it, senator?”
The woman next to Dracula was gazing at the bridge through binoculars with a wolfish grin. The binoculars were large, but not even the largest binoculars could conceal her stunning, icy beauty. In fact, the length, curves and binary symmetry of the binoculars seemed to accentuate those same qualities in her long, curvy, symmetrical body.
While Dracula’s own carnal desires for women were literal rather than figurative, he understood why his aide Todd kept stealing glances at her. To keep from having to memorize too many new names over the decades, Dracula always called his aides Simon. And while this Simon was better than most, he was, like the others, disappointingly human.
The vampire responded to the woman's question by nodding. Then he realized she couldn’t see him nod with the binoculars on, and spoke.
“I will admit that it is quite a sight. Although it cannot help but fill me with sadness, because it reminds me of the original bridge that was stolen just hours ago, and this is but a shallow imitation.”
The woman’s full, pillowy lips twisted into a sneer like a pillow twisted by a long night of tossing and turning. “I’m sorry you feel that way, senator. Although my company has created a bridge that looks identical to the original, so as to keep the theft a secret, we have also improved on the original bridge in dozens of ways. For instance, it now has two spans. And it’s made out of steel, instead of fool’s gold left over from the rush of 1849. It’s now a much stronger bridge.”
She lowered the binoculars and turned to face Senator Dracula. “Why, it might even outlive you, senator.”
Dracula met her gaze, suspecting that her comment was a veiled threat, or possibly even a regular threat. He decided to respond in kind. As chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, he could have prevented her company from winning the secret contract to replace the Golden Gate Bridge - and he could easily block government work for her company in the future.
“Nothing lasts forever, Ms. Evil. Not bridges, not the ageless undead, and not even corporations. What percentage of your firm’s revenue derives from federal government contracts?”
Elsebeth Evil shrugged. “It’s well known that Evil Industries does a lot of work for the government - that’s been the case since my great, great, great-grandfather Horatio Evil wove blankets out of cobwebs for George Washington’s army at Valley Forge in 1778. But you’d be mistaken to assume that we rely on your committee’s money, Senator - or on anyone else’s. Evil Industries’ history of smart investments means we literally have more money than we know what to do with.”
As if to punctuate her point, Elsebeth took off a garishly large diamond earring and threw it into the bay. Dracula made a mental note to retrieve the ring when sea levels dropped during the next ice age. Oblivious to his mental glaciation period calculations, she continued.
“In fact, we took on this project not because we needed the money, but out of a sense of duty as good corporate citizens. I expect to lose money on this project - I’m sure you noticed that our bid was quite low.”
Dracula frowned, and nodded. He had noticed. It was the only reason he had allowed the contract award to proceed in the first place.
* * * * *
Four days earlier, the crimson red phone in Dracula’s office that connected directly to the Oval Office had begun to ring. The senator had put his flagon of blood down on the desk and eyed the phone with concern, worried that an old cycle was beginning anew.
In his experience, presidents reaching the end of their administrations became increasingly obsessed with securing their legacies. And, more often than not, this meant calling on the vampire to use his unholy powers on their behalf.
Sometimes it meant asking him to solving a thorny policy problem. Sometimes it meant begging for the dark gift of immortal life, so that they could continue to write tedious, score-settling memoirs long after their political adversaries were gone. And sometimes it simply meant asking Dracula to talk them up whenever future generations of historians were compiling “best presidents” lists.
So when Dracula saw that President Lyndon Johnson was calling, he frowned. He had already offered to help Johnson extricate the United States from Vietnam by conjuring an otherworldly, disorienting fog over the whole of Southeast Asia. At the time the proud Texan had denied him haughtily, but he might now have changed his mind.
As it turns out, Senator Dracula had misread the situation entirely.
“Dracula? This is Lyndon. Are you there?”
The Texan’s accent always reminded Dracula of the Magyar-accented German of the Hungarian nobles who had ruled over his lands in the Carpathian Mountains during the 16th and 17th centuries. Much like President Johnson, while they they held nominal power over the vampire, they admired his wisdom and approached him with respect and caution.
“Yes, Mr. President, it is I, Senator Dracula. To what do I owe the pleasure?” .
“Well, Dracula, it’s a helluva thing. I guess you know about The Blue Vanishings, don’t you?”
Dracula hit the ceiling, literally. Then, taking a deep breath, he calmed himself and slowly drifted back down to the floor.
“Drac, are you there? Hello? Hellooooo?”
The vampire cleared his throat.
“Yes, Mr. President. I am, of course, familiar with the The Blue Vanishings. In fact I helped investigate the very first one - the theft of the White House, where you sit at this very moment.”
Johnson interrupted. “Dracula, let me stop you right there. I’m not sitting, I’m standing up. Helps with the circulation.”
Dracula responded curtly, anxious to get to the topic at hand. “Well, on behalf of vampires everywhere, thank you for maintaining a robust circulation. Now, you were about to reveal tidings of The Blue Vanishings?”
“Yes, of course. Dracula, at approximately six o’clock this morning California time, a commuter reported the Golden Gate Bridge missing. A Park Ranger confirmed that fact about 15 minutes later. He tried walking out on it and it wasn’t there, so this definitely isn’t an invisibility situation. It’s just gone.”
Dracula nodded. “Has anyone else noticed? As you know, historically we’ve managed to keep these disappearances out of the public eye.”
“Well, as luck would have it, the boys in Langley were already running an operation involving pumping massive amounts of nutmeg into the San Francisco water supply in order to freak out hippies. So, we’ve just had them quadruple the dose.
"My advisers say there may be some long-term affects to the area’s economy, but for now things are ok. Anyone who claims that the bridge is missing is being told they’re in the middle of a dream.
“But Dracula, this is a short-term solution at best. Our strategic nutmeg reserves buried under Mt. Hood are running low, and pretty soon folks are going to catch on to the fact that bridge is gone. I know you’ve been involved in a lot of these situations in the past, and so I wanted to reach out to you for help.”
Dracula leaned back in his chair. From his desktop, he picked up a small glass vial filled with crumbling dirt - a memento from the cavernous hole left behind when the White House had gone missing. He had sworn that he would keep the dirt until the day he solved the mystery.
That day had not yet arrived. He replaced the vial next to the long series of similar ones, each of which represented another missing monument. And another failure.
When visitors asked about the strange vials of soil, he told them they held soil from his many graves around the world, and that only if every one of these graves were blessed and exorcised of his otherworldly energy could he himself be destroyed. Then, when they looked confused, he would sigh and say, “like a horcrux.”
This was, of course, a lie. Any sunny day could bring an end to his long tenure in the Senate. But the tale distracted people from the terrifying truth: no fewer than 32 of America’s most powerful national symbols had been mysteriously stolen.
“Mr. President, thank you for calling. I am at your service. I have walked this earth for many years, but in all that time few mysteries have vexed me like this one. I am, of course, sorry that another treasured monument has been stolen. But if there is a silver lining, it is that this theft affords us a fresh opportunity to rain vengeance down on the culprit.
"My advice is that we act swiftly, before any pertinent clues evaporate. And needless to say, we also need to act quickly to replace the bridge, before anyone notices it missing and a general panic ensues.”
Johnson agreed. “I agree, senator. I’ve got a plane fueled up at Andrews and ready to fly an FBI team out there. We’ve already spoken with a few contractors who handle large-scale construction work and solicited bids. Evil Industries, out of Bethesda, came in with the low bid. We’re expediting the approvals now.”
Dracula leaned back in his chair, frowning. “Mr. President, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but I am not among Evil Industries’ admirers. Precisely how low was their bid?”
“Dracula, you’re not going to believe this. Their bid was one dollar! To build a whole bridge! Admittedly, we’re talking 1967 dollars, but still, that’s a pretty low bid!”
The vampire raised one soot-black eyebrow. He reached up with a pale finger and brushed the soot out of it, smiling as he remembered the wastepaper basket fire he’d started earlier that evening in the men’s restroom. “Mr. President, that sounds a little too good to be true.”
Johnson make a little “hmph” sound by blowing air out of his nose. “Dracula, that’s still a dollar more than we would have had to spend if the bridge hadn’t disappeared. From my perspective we should be thanking Evil Industries.”
Johnson paused to take a breath, and Dracula started to wonder if all this audible breathing was some sort of typical Lyndon Johnson alpha male power display to make Dracula feel self-conscious for not needing to breathe. While the vampire pondered this thought, Johnson continued.
“And they’ve assured me that they can keep this a secret. Their attractive CEO Elsebeth Evil told me none of their construction workers would ever breathe a word about it anyone. Specifically, she said that as soon as the workers finish that bridge, they’re not going to be saying anything to anyone about anything.
“But Dracula, here’s my question: should we keep this a secret?”
Senator Dracula stood, walked to his office window, and gripped the windowsill. On the street, a parade of citizens strolled by in their bell bottoms and beads and fringed leather jackets and Afros and paisley shirts, enjoying the night air and the freewheeling spirit of the 60’s.
And, perhaps, enjoying their ignorance.
He sighed. Johnson had asked a good question; one he himself had pondered for centuries and debated with some of the nation’s greatest minds. Should the American people be told about The Blue Vanishings?
Throughout history, there had been those who insisted yes. How can a government ruled by the people endure if the people were kept ignorant of the greatest threats facing them, they would ask, a little sanctimoniously.
On the other hand, there were those with a darker view of the human heart. They argued that the country’s freedoms, such as they were, could not survive the revelation that a shadowy, unstoppable power could strike into the heart of America and steal its greatest treasures at will, like pigeon swooping in and stealing hot dogs from a picnic table, one after another, until all the hot dogs were gone.
Dracula could still hear the arguments echoing throughout the ages. Then he realized it was just Lyndon Johnson’s voice, squeaking tinnily from the phone receiver. He returned to his desk and lifted it to his pointed ear.
“Dracula, hello? Helloooo?”
“Yes, Mr. President, I am here. I was reflecting on your question. It is one that occurs to every president at one time or another.”
“Dracula, that’s exactly what I thought. Because listen: do you think this missing bridge counts as a great challenge? People always say presidents can only be truly great if they’re faced with great challenges, and I’m worried my window is closing to be presented with a great challenge. So is it a mistake for me to keep it a secret, and pass up this opportunity to be remembered?”
Dracula closed his eyes, feeling the weight of the ages upon him. “Mr. President, in this case, I think it would be best to maintain secrecy.”
* * * * *
Dracula fixed Elsebeth Evil with his mesmerizing stare and nodded. Seagulls spun overhead, scrying the choppy waters of the bay for fish.
“Yes, Ms. Evil, I am perfectly aware that your company submitted the lowest bid. Unbelievably low, in fact.” The vampire gathered his cape about him and rose up to his full height. “And now, if you will excuse me, I intend to continue my investigation of the crime scene.”
Elsebeth nodded and smiled. “Of course, senator. May I accompany you? I’d love to see a master at work. I understand you’ve investigated many, many of these crime scenes over the years. Many of them.” Her smile had turned into a smirk by the time she was done talking.
Dracula rolled his eyes and looked over at his aide Simon, who was humming a Janis Joplin song and reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and otherwise trying to help everyone remember it was the 60's.
“It is a free country, Ms. Evil. I will not tell you where you can and cannot go. But do not impede my investigation.”
The three of them approached the bridge through a broad, grassy field. Dracula glided inches over the ground, dew from the grasstops collecting on the toes of his jet-black boots and soaking into the leather of some long-dead and best-forgotten creature.
Elsebeth, wearing stiletto heels, picked her way carefully across the ground like some kind of long-legged, sexy insect wearing impractical shoes.
Dracula knew they had left the grass and reached pavement when Elsebeth’s heels began to click, and Todd’s sensible loafers began to make a sensible rubbery sound. They’d reached a large, circular parking lot located just at the entrance to the bridge.
The vampire had only owned a car once, during the 1920s, when he had engaged in a race from New York to Los Angeles against F. Scott Fitzgerald. So he was admittedly no expert. But still, given that there were no cars in it, and there were no nearby buildings, and that it was not connected to any road, it seemed like an odd parking lot.
Then lowered his feet to the ground and discovered something even more odd.
Dracula’s internal body temperature matched that of a frozen grave in dead of a wintery night, so he was particularly sensitive to heat. He could sense the presence of a warm-blooded creature from dozens of yards away, even through thick walls. And so he noticed immediately that the pavement was warm.
“Simon, reach down and feel the surface of this parking lot.”
Dracula immediately sensed Elsebeth tensing ever so slightly, like a guilty thief who is tense because you just discovered an important clue that could unravel her whole evil plot. Simon was limited by his mortal senses and, oblivious to her sudden discomfort, he reached down and touched the parking lot.
“Do you notice anything unusual?”
Simon frowned. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Touch your cheek to it.”
Simon, with unfailing trust in the senator’s instincts, bent over and touched his cheek to the pavement. “I think maybe it feels warm?” he said, uncertainty in his voice. He sat back up...and his cheek was covered in yellow paint.
“Simon, your cheek is covered in yellow paint!” Dracula looked down at the parking spot the congressional aide had pressed his face against - the yellow line demarcating the spot was slightly smeared. “This parking lot is warm, and freshly painted.”
He turned to Elsebeth. “Is this your doing? A new parking lot is not included in your scope of work.”
She laughed nervously. “Senator, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe the city hired a contractor to build a parking lot who used some kind of child's watercolor instead of road-grade paint? As to the warmth, it’s just the sunlight from the day. You wouldn't know, but it was an uncharacteristically warm and sunny day today. Case closed.” She made a gavel-banging motion with her hand. In the meantime, Simon knelt back down on the pavement and again pressed his cheek against it.
“Senator, there’s something else strange. I use a pumice stone to exfoliate, to keep my skin looking young. And this parking lot, sir - it’s made out of pumice.”
Dracula’s brow furrowed. “Simon, I appreciate that you try to look your best. But my skin cells are just as immortal as every other part of my undead body, so I have no need for exfoliation, and no idea what pumice is.”
“Senator, it’s lava stone. This parking lot isn’t asphalt - it’s cooled lava.”
The vampire’s furrowed brow became even furroweder, and he smiled, which is a difficult facial expression to pull off, even for a vampire. “Well,” he said, “not completely cooled.”
He turned to Elsebeth, his entire body pivoting to face her like an antiaircraft battery tracking an enemy fighter. “Ms. Evil, how does this new finding fit your theory?”
The CEO took an unconscious step backward. Even in the pale moonlight, Dracula saw her pupils dilate as adrenaline pumped into her system, and he heard the deep thrumming of her blood quicken. But she quickly mastered herself. As the vampire gazed at her, her heart rate returned to normal, and she smiled and shrugged.
“You’re the detective, senator, not me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go supervise the final stages of bridge construction, and make sure the workers...get what’s coming to them. I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again.” She turned and walked away.
“Of that, you can be sure,” said Dracula.
Simultaneously, Simon said, “Not if we see you first!” which made no sense in context of the situation. Dracula frowned at him.
The vampire never flew on commercial airplanes, where it was difficult to guarantee safety from sunlight. Even an overnight flight might get ensnared in a holding pattern, circling endlessly over some overloaded air hub, while the sun crept above the horizon and roasted the senator in his seat like an in-flight meal.
A private jet would have solved this problem. And part of him liked the idea of traveling in his own blackout-curtained jet, swooping over the countryside like a gleaming metal bat. And him within it, also like a bat! A bat within a bat! Spreading terror and democracy at 500 knots per hour!
But ultimately Dracula was uncomfortable with political rulers setting themselves above their citizens with ostentatious wealth. Not to mention how the voters of New Hampshire would respond to a senator who owned a plane. They already tolerated his black cloak, bejeweled rings and ermine fur collar, and Dracula didn’t want to push matters any further.
So he traveled by bus. But what a bus! The interior was an opium fever dream of burgundy leather, mahogany, purple velvet and the rich dark green of plastic ferns that have never seen the sun. And in fact, they had not. Every window had been replaced with a monitor connected to a camera on the vehicle’s exterior, allowing the vampire’s living guests to enjoy the passing sun-dappled landscape.
But driving down Interstate 95, there was little scenic beauty to savor. For mile after mile, the road ran straight through an undifferentiated pine forest. Dracula had not been to Florida since the highway department had carved the road through the forest like a sticky finger carving a groove through the soft green icing of a St. Patrick’s Day cake, and he did not like it. He felt as if he were a traveling down a long green corridor with no end.
Which in turn reminded him of the long green corridor in Baron von Freyerich’s estate in the mountains above Zurich, late in the 16th century. Dracula didn’t know what lay in wait at the end of this road. But at the end of of von Freyerich’s corridor had been the amateur alchemist’s diabolical laboratory, where he conducted experiments on the “ensoulment” of porcelain dolls. Dracula smiled, remembering the mad baron and his extraordinary end.
The vampire turned to look at his chief of staff Tom Pyrzynski, who sat in a blood-red, high-backed leather chair tapping away on his Blackberry, oblivious to both the monotonous Florida landscape and to his boss’ nostalgic reverie. The Senate Majority Leader had announced her legislative priorities for the session, and it had created a flurry of electronic correspondence for Tom and other staffers as they plotted and maneuvered to get provisions attached to the year’s main legislative vehicles.
“Tom,” Dracula asked, “did I ever relate to you the dark, twisted tale of Baron von Freyerich? He was the wealthy Elector of Brandenburg, and he came to believe that by imbuing porcelain dolls with the souls of local weaverwomen, he could create an army of obedient weaving dolls who would work tirelessly and require neither wages, nor food and shelter, nor maintenance of any kind beyond occasional lubrication of their tiny joints with petrolatum.”
Tom looked up from his Blackberry. The senator continued. And as his memory cast back hundreds of years to his days in Central Europe, there was a barely perceptible thickening of his normally slight accent. He continued.
“It was an ingenious idea that in many ways anticipated the industrial revolution. But it failed in implementation, because while the Baron succeeded in creating animated dolls who could walk, think and weave, he failed to engrave them with unfailing obedience.
“To his regret, after equipping them with steel knitting needles, he learned that they were obedient only to their own burning lust for vengeance against him for taking their lives when they were still flesh-and-blood!
“The only thing those dolls ever wove was the Baron himself, and the fabric they made therefrom was hardly fit for commerce. The Vatican dispatched a company of warrior monks from the Order of the Knights of St. John to destroy the dolls, and no one in Europe attempted automated weaving for another 200 years.”
Dracula smiled, leaning back in his seat. “I hope you will tell me if I begin to slip into the vacuous nostalgia of old men, Tom. Luxuriating in the rose-tinted past is far too easy for any man of years, let alone one such as I who has walked the Earth for so very, very long.”
Tom guffawed. “Please Senator, all you ever want to talk about is some Ottoman prince getting assassinated while on a trade mission to the Imperial Chinese court, or how some obscure appropriations rider got blocked in the Harding administration. It’s not new, and it doesn’t bother any of us. You’re a living history book!”
Dracula chuckled, a rare expression of mirth from the normally stern vampire. “Well, perhaps not living.”
Tom grinned. “Fair enough. Now, do you want to spend a few minutes chatting about what to expect once we get to the Everglades? Or rather, what used to be the Everglades?”
Dracula stroked his long, white chin like a patient dairy farmer trying to coax milk out of a reluctant, bony udder.
“First, let us discuss we can expect this session of Congress. Please tell me it will not be health care again. I take my commitment to serve the people seriously, but it is difficult to feign interest in the topic of health care. All mortal men must die, and yet year after year we must debate endlessly about policies to prolong the inevitable. Why not welcome the cold embrace of the grave when it comes for you, Tom?”
The seasoned counselor rolled his eyes. “Ah yes, how could I forget the Welcome the Cold Embrace of the Grave Health Care Act of 1982,” he said sarcastically. “It’s amazing it didn’t make it out of committee.”
The vampire sniffed. “I prefer to call it the Dracula-Thurmond Act. But yes, I take your point. In any event, is it going to be health care this year?”
Tom shook his head. “Nope. Energy. The White House is making a big push on climate change, and Majority Leader Haskill wants to move some legislation that includes incentives for developing renewables, among other things.”
Dracula sat up. “Well, that is fantastic news. It is past time we addressed this issue in a serious fashion. This is certainly something I can support.” Tom cocked his head to one side, and frowned.
“Senator, it might not be as simple as that. The main component of the proposed legislation involves approving a new energy project being pushed by Evil Industries.”
Dracula’s eyes widened and flickered red, like a load of whites in the dryer that someone sneaked a red sock into. “Evil Industries? I don’t need to tell you my views on that menace. What is the project?”
“Well, senator, it actually sounds really interesting. It’s a geothermal project. And they’re claiming that if they are allowed to do it, it will develop clean, carbon-free energy for the entire country.”
Dracula leaned back. “Continue.”
Tom nodded. “As I understand it, the big limitation with geothermal is that it’s so expensive to sink shafts down deep enough in the earth to get access to the really hot stuff - it’s just not cost effective unless you’re in a volcanic region where magma is close the surface crust.
“So what Evil Industries is proposing is that instead of going down to the magma, we bring the magma to us. They want to bore a massive hole down to the Earth’s core, and bring millions of tons of molten rock and iron up to the surface. They say that while the up-front capital investment would be considerable, it would basically provide clean, free energy forever.”
Dracula frowned at him.
“First, Tom, forever is a long time. Believe me.
“Second - venting molten iron and rock from the Earth’s core to the surface sounds rather risky. And, for that matter, it seems like it could well contribute to a rise in global temperatures.
“Third...do I need a rally third? Venting the Earth's molten core to the surface?”
Tom shrugged. “Well, I don’t know, I think it sounds interesting. The backers have already lined up a lot of support for project ‘Flood the Earth with Awesome Renewables.’ Everyone’s saying it’s probably already a done deal.”
Dracula leaned back, watching pine trees and billboards for personal injury lawyers flash by on the monitor that displayed the bus’s exterior view. Silently, he scanned through his vast storehouse of memories, like a shopper scanning the snack aisle trying to pick the right brand of chips for an evening alone watching TV in the bathtub eating chips.
“Tom, it occurs to me that I dealt with Evil Industries on magma issues once before. In the late 1960s. It was a matter of national sensitivity and I cannot share the details. But suffice it to say that it involved cooled magma, and Elsebeth Evil.”
“Ahh, the old lady,” said Sam. “She’s getting up in years, but she still chairs the board and people say she’s sharp as a whip.”
“Whips are not sharp, Tom. They are swift, and long, and leathery. I imagine Elsebeth is at least some of those things.”
“She’s all three of them, Dracula. I met her last year at a fundraiser for Governor Brickhouse. I wouldn’t underestimate her.”
Dracula shrugged. “The Evil family has been a force in this country ever since they arrived in 1768 and changed their name from Yvesille to avoid anti-French prejudice. I expect I will be dealing with one Evil or another for as long as I am involved in national politics.”
At that moment, the black silk-wrapped speakers in the passenger compartment crackled into life. “Senator, this is the driver speaking. You asked to be alerted when we reached mile marker 332. We’ll be there in about two minutes.”
Dracula stood. “Thank you. Please drive off the highway and into the woods - go far enough that the bus will not be visible the highway. Tom and I will continue on foot.”
There was a pause as the driver digested this instruction. “Senator, there’s no road into the woods. This bus is heavy, and I think we could get stuck in the mud out there.”
Tom barked a short laugh, and the vampire smiled cooly. “Driver, I appreciate your prudence. But my deathless vigor makes any concern unnecessary. I singlehandedly pulled the U.S. Capitol’s iron dome down the C&O canal all the way from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, DC. I pushed the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown back into the Atlantic after President Nixon drunkenly insisted on taking the helm and crashed it through the boardwalk in Atlantic City. I assure you - I am more than capable of pulling a bus out of the mud.”
It was a moonless night, and nearly pitch-black. Tom could barely see his hand in front of his face and eventually resorted to putting on his glow-in-the-dark gloves so that, at a minimum, he would stop bumping into his own hand.
The soil was moist and spongy, like an angel food cake stored for the summer in a damp basement, and Tom’s wingtips were soon muddy and sodden, creating a rhythmic “squish-squish-squish” as he marched through the woods.
Dracula, as always, moved in eerie, absolute silence, which he broke only to occasionally say, “This way, Tom” when his chief of staff began to blindly stumble in the wrong direction.
“Senator,” Tom asked, “Why would someone want to steal the Everglades?”
Dracula shrugged, elegantly. “I can think of many reasons an enterprising thief might have stolen the Everglades. Perhaps they represent Scotch whisky distillers who are seeking a reserve supply of peat. Perhaps they are investors who shorted the stocks of airboat manufacturers, and hope to cash in once news of this disappearance becomes public and demand for airboats plummets. Perhaps they work for rangers at a rival national park who are trying to eliminate their competition, one by one. I could go on for pages. I mean, days.”
Dracula stopped, and he put his arm out to stop Tom. Because Dracula was not wearing a glow-in-the-dark glove, Tom walked into it.
“Tom, do you hear that?”
“Well...I hear crickets, and mosquitoes, and the snapping of bones where the anaconda we passed a little while ago seems to be crushing an alligator. And I’ve had one ear bud in this whole time, listening to ‘Fresh Air’ on NPR.”
“No, Tom. It’s your shoes. They’ve stopped squishing. We’ve reached dry land. Here, take a look, I brought you a pair of night-vision goggles.”
Tom glared at the vampire, took off his glow-in-the-dark gloves, and put on the goggles. The thick pine forest had ended, and they stood at the edge of a vast, dry, barren plain that extended as far as Tom could see, which admittedly was not very far given that he was using night vision goggles.
“Tom, this is where the Everglades should be. We should be knee-deep in disgusting muck, tripping over cypress roots. You should be swatting at mosquitoes and peeling off leeches, while I watch amused and nostalgic for the days when there was still a parasitic food chain I did not rule from above.”
Dracula walked out onto the dry, hard-packed soil. He inhaled deeply, stirring the ancient dust collected in his long-dead lungs. “I can still smell the cloying, moldering scent of decay. The swamp has not been gone long.”
Tom considered. “Senator, could you follow the scent? Could it lead us to the thief?”
Dracula snapped his fingers, igniting a burst of green flame that briefly caused Tom’s night-vision goggles to flare out. “Tom, that is an excellent thought.” He sniffed the air, rose off the ground by half a foot, and began to glide forward, slowly at first but picking up speed. As Tom chased after him, goggles bouncing awkwardly, the vampire traced an arc as the smell of the swamp grew stronger, and stronger, and then abruptly stopped...at the edge of a small creek.
Dracula’s hands clenched into fists, his razor-sharp, French manicured-nails digging gouges into his bloodless palms that quickly healed themselves with tiny hisses of steam. He stomped the ground, the motion sending him several feet into the air, where he remained, glowering.
“Tom, they’ve gone into this creek to try to throw off anyone following their scent. The trail is dead.”
Tom considered. “They had to emerge from it somewhere though, right? Could we just walk along the creek until you pick up the scent of the Everglades again?”
The vampire shook his head angrily, tendrils of smoke rising from his slightly pointed ears. “The sun will be up in an hour. And by tomorrow night, the scent will be gone.” He looked around. “There must be some other clue. Do you see any fingerprints anywhere?”
“Senator, we’ve discussed this. I can’t see fingerprints.”
“Tom, I have put “learn to see fingerprints” on your list of 12-month objectives during each of your last eight annual performance reviews. Your failure to achieve this goal is beginning to reflect poorly on you.
“Fortunately, I am able to see fingerprints,” Dracula continued, “and there are none...wait!” He shot across the creek and swooped down like a pelican seizing a tasty fish. But instead of a fish, when he arose he was holding a pair of sunglasses. He smiled, fangs gliding out over his lower lip.
“Tom, look hard at these sunglasses. What do you see?”
“Well--they’re sort of wraparound, and tinted…”
“No, no, look harder!”
Tom set his jaw. “Senator, If you’re trying to get me to see fingerprints, I cannot see them. How many times do we have to go through this?”
“Well, I can see them. A reverse counterclockwise whorl, with a small scar on the right thumb. These are very distinctive prints. Tom, I’d like you to get these to the FBI and have them see if they can find a match.” He tossed the glasses to his chief-of-staff. “And one more thing, Tom. Do you detect an odor on those glasses?”
Tom sniffed the sunglasses, holding them a with a plastic bag to avoid putting his own fingerprints on them. “They kind of smell like rotten eggs... Senator, are you egging people again? We’d agreed that you would stop until after the next election.”
“No, Tom, I remain true to my pledge, although the injustice of leaving certain federal agencies un-egged enrages me. What you’re smelling isn’t rotten eggs--it’s sulfur.”
Tom bit his lower lip, confused. “Is that another vampire thing? Do you sometimes smell like sulfur? I’m sorry, but I honestly lose track of your powers sometimes. Although I’m not sure smelling like sulfur would necessarily count as a power.”
“It would indeed be a formidable power, Tom. But no, I do not smell like sulfur, except when I’ve been egging people. I suspect that these glasses smell like sulfur for one reason only - they’ve recently been in close proximity to magma. It seems like quite a coincidence, don’t you think?”
Tom slapped at a mosquito. “Do you mean because of the whole magma energy thing?”
Dracula raised one eyebrow. “Actually, I was thinking of a time in the late 1960s when I smelled magma. But now that you mention it - that is also a pretty big coincidence! Thank you for reminding me of various ways magma has been popping up lately.”
Even as a mortal man, centuries earlier, he had eschewed ales, ciders and meads, associating them with the unwashed, axe-wielding barbarians who periodically threatened the borders of his mountain comitat.
But of course, now this was moot. The senator’s sole thirst was for a darker, richer elixir. He had ordered the ale to make his companion feel more at ease, and also because he felt guilty sitting in a tavern for four hours without ordering something.
“Is the drink not to your liking, senator? I suggested this establishment primarily so that we might preserve some anonymity, but still, I’ve always found their ale to be pleasingly robust.”
Dracula looked up from the puddle of ale foam on the bar, in which he had begun idly tracing increasingly ornate letter d’s, and glanced at his companion. The middle-aged man was handsome and outfitted in the latest fashion from Paris. The dark hair receding from his scalp like a dark, hairy tide going out to sea gave him a distinguished air that suited his former profession, if not his notoriety. His warm hazel eyes did not look like the twitchy, bloodshot eyes of a killer. But not only were they the eyes of a killer—they were the eyes of the killer of Alexander Hamilton.
“Mr. Vice President,” Dracula began, “I do not know how familiar you are with vampirism, but as it happens, the quality of the ale is immaterial to me. This mug is purely an affectation, like a monocle, or a hat, or a middle name.”
Aaron Burr, the former vice president of the United States, laughed. “Oh, Dracula. I studied vampirism extensively at Princeton. I know you don’t enjoy any human refreshment; except, of course,” he laughed, a twinkle in his eye, “in the most literal sense. And yet you are visibly discomfited by the ale. Why, I wonder?”
Dracula glared at Burr. “I find the thought of men guzzling tankard after tankard of this yeasty, gaseous slop to be repellent.
“But,” the vampire continued, shrugging his ermine-cloaked shoulders, a resigned look on his cadaverous face, “I respect its egalitarian nature. Only those of great means can own a distillery or a vineyard. But any man, from the wealthiest plantation owner to the lowest fur trapper, can dump a warm mush of boiled barley into a tub, let it sit and molder until it has turned toxic, and then drink it. In this, ale reflects the spirit of our young country.”
The senator leaned backward on his stool, using his levitative powers at the last moment to keep from toppling backwards embarrassingly onto the tavern's sawdust-covered floor. “But surely you did not ask to meet me to discuss ale, Burr. What is it you wished to discuss so urgently?”
Burr wiped foam from his lip with a velvet sleeve and smiled cryptically.
“Senator, we haven’t always seen eye to eye on politics.”
This was the understatement of the year. (And it was 1815, so that is saying a lot. You guys know what I'm talking about.)
Many Americans despised Burr for his killing of Alexander Hamilton in a pistol duel on the banks of the Hudson River years earlier. But Dracula was not opposed to dueling. He found it to be a refreshing change from mortals’ cringing fear of death.
In fact, he had proposed at the constitutional convention in 1789 that “the right of citizens to duel to the death with pistols, swords, or fists and teeth shall not be abridged” be added to the bill of rights as the 11th Amendment. Ironically, it was Burr himself who had worked to block the amendment, arguing passionately that legalizing dueling would sap it of all joy, and that if the convention legalized dueling then he would refuse to challenge the founding fathers to any more duels.
No, it was on a deeper question that Dracula differed from Burr. After leaving office in infamy following his killing of Alexander Hamilton, Burr had treasonously sought to establish an independent, sovereign state in the western half of the continent, with himself as its leader.
Dracula had not crossed the Atlantic on his black ship “Nosferatu” and helped found the new nation only to see a rival state emerge to the west. So he had taken a prominent role in undermining and exposing Burr’s schemes. The former vice president had never forgiven Dracula, which is why the invitation to drinks had been unexpected.
The vampire’s eyes narrowed. “Call it politics if you like, Mr. Vice President. I call it treason. Between the British, the Spaniards, pirates, and ale, America has enough powerful enemies. You sought to create another.”
Burr held up his hands. “Senator, that’s the worst sort of calumny! If there were any truth to it, I’d be in prison, or worse.
"But let me ask you hypothetically—what if I had been accused not of seeking to establish a rival to America, but a second America? One whose strength and might would only help to strengthen the first? You are reputed to be an amateur mathematician, Dracula; surely you can agree that two are better than one?”
Dracula frowned at all this italicization and and stroked his chin, which had become shiny over the centuries from so much thoughtful chin stroking.
“Well, yes. Some of my greatest work as a mathematician was writing the proof of ‘Dracula’s Theorem’, also known as the ‘Two is Better than One’ theorem. Typically, two is better than one, when it comes to things like cookies or puppies or tankards of blood. But not always. One bedbug, for instance is better than two. And at the risk comparing America to a bedbug, as our critics are so wont to do, I fail to see the benefit of a second America.”
Burr raised one eyebrow conspiratorially. “Do you really not, senator? Don’t you think that we could do better on our second try? Do you believe this America to be perfect?”
Dracula harrumphed. “Certainly not. But I have walked this earth for a long time, and I have participated in many forms of government. ‘Of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made,’ as my old friend Immanuel Kant used to admonish me while I was a building a new clocktower for the city of Koenigsberg out of human bones. No country is perfect, or even perfectible.”
Burr leaned forward, and Dracula had the sense that he was arriving at the heart of the matter.
“But senator,” he whispered, glancing from side to side furtively, “what if we could create a second America —wherein we had extinguished the sun!”
Dracula’s chalk-white face contorted in rage like a Halloween vampire mask being crumpled by a child who was expecting his parents to buy a more original costume. “Are you suggesting that because I am a vampire, I would support an America twisted to my own predilection for eternal night, even at the cost of depriving my countrymen of the sun’s life-giving warmth?”
As he spoke, his eyes began to glow with a dull red fire. “Why stop there? Why not simply create a so-called 'second America' whose mortal citizens are kept in pens like cattle, waiting for me and my brothers of the night to feed?”
At a loss for how to vent his anger without literally venting phantasmagoric steam from his ears, Dracula dipped more ale foam onto his finger and flicked it at Burr. The former vice president seemed seemed surprised by the gesture, which suggested to Dracula that he had not studied vampires as closely at Princeton as he claimed.
“I came to the new world and helped found this nation not because I wished to create some sort of vampire paradise—indeed, a vampire paradise is what I left behind in the fog-shrouded Carpathian mountains! I came here because I believe in the dignity of all men, living and undead, and their inalienable freedoms and rights to pursue happiness.” He shook his head, his anger cooling slowly, like a bowl of hot, creamy soup left out on the front step in the summer to confuse visitors.
“Burr, if you have truly studied vampires, then you know that an ancient and powerful being such as myself follows the laws of men only by choice. If I wished, I could win every vote in the Senate simply by using my mesmeric powers to twist other senators to my obsidian will. But I believe in representative democracy, so I will not distort it by casting a glamour over the world’s greatest deliberative body.
“And just as I will not use my powers to win votes in the Senate, I would never support policies that the people of this country would probably not support, such as extinguishing the sun.”
Burr sat silently, then nodded. “I had hoped you might have a different perspective, Senator. I know you to be a vampire of principle, but I also thought you were one of vision.”
He smiled broadly. “But why are we even talking about some imaginary new sunless America! I asked you here to talk about something else entirely.”
With these words, Burr glanced at his pocket watch, then set it on the bar. He looked up at Dracula, then back at the timepiece, then back at Dracula. And so on a few times.
Dracula tapped one long finger on the bar impatiently. “Yes, Burr?”
“Um...well, it’s....actually, I need to use the privy. Too much ale! Would you keep an eye on my pocket watch while I’m gone? It’s very precious to me, I stole it from Thomas Jefferson’s credenza at Monticello. Be right back!”
With those words, the notorious former vice president hopped lightfooted off his barstool and darted out the tavern’s front door, ducking to avoid clipping his head on the low timber doorway and scampering up the stairs to the muck-encrusted colonial streets.
Curious, and assuming Burr would be gone for at least a few minutes, Dracula hooked one hooklike finger under the watch’s chain and lifted it to eye level.
It was one of the newer models that included an alarm. And examining it closely, he noticed the alarm was set to go off in less than one minute.
Was Burr timing his own visits to the facilities, Dracula wondered? It would be in keeping with the man’s boundless ambition and relentless desire to master his environment. And, it would certainly explain the haste with which he had fled the bar.
The vampire turned the watch over. The reverse bore the engraved monogram “T.R.E.”
Dracula frowned. Colonial spelling conventions were unusual, what with nouns being capitalized and “f”s being used as “s”’s and so forth. But why would Jefferson’s initials be spelled T.R.E.?
And with that thought, it hit Dracula like a cannonball. Burr had lied about stealing the watch from Jefferson! And if he had lied about that, he might also have lied about needing to relieve himself! The vampire looked back at the watch’s second hand. Forty seconds left until the alarm!
Relying on the gut instincts for survival that had preserved him over eons in a hostile, sun-dappled world, Dracula stood and, for the first time in ages, unleashed his power to reach inside men and bend their minds like soggy noodles to his unyielding purpose.
“Attend to me, mortals! This tavern is under dire threat—I command you to flee, in an orderly but swift fashion, up the stairs and out to the street. Do not wait to finish your ales, but rather leave immediately!” Dracula cocked his head to one side, thinking for a moment. “And from this day forward, ale will taste like ash on your lips, and you will choose a more civilized repast!”
The tavern’s patrons leaped to their feet, some spitting out gouts of ale as they stood, and raced for the exit.
With twenty seconds left on the clock, Dracula closed his eyes and extended his senses in an attempt to identify the source of the threat.
He heard the clatter of horseshoes on the cobblestone street, and the wind rattling a loose slate tile on the roof. Through the soles of his shoes he felt the steady thrum of the steamworks at the new textile mill two hundreds yards upriver, and the light splash of the river’s water against the pier by which the tavern stood.
Dracula frowned. Something in that splash was not right. He brought his superhuman hearing to bear on the river, his very slightly pointed ears curving toward it and reading the patterns in the river’s waves like some brackish, watery script. There was a large ship in the river. He leaned forward, and cupped both of his hands to his ears. By the sound of their steps along the deck, he know the men aboard the ship were not barefoot like most sailors, but instead wore boots. In fact, from the barely audible brush of brass buttons against wool, he could tell that they wore uniforms as well. A naval ship!
Then he heard a long match being struck, and for the second time, a thought hit him like a cannonball—it was a warship, and they were about to fire!
As the last of the patrons fled the tavern, the wall behind the bar exploded in a fiery cloud of plaster, pieces of eight, pewter mugs and shattered bottles of sassafras. Dracula leaped away to dodge the blast, but even with his superior reflexes, he was not quite fast enough...and he was hit, by a cannonball!
The ten-pound ball of searing hot iron tore Dracula’s right arm from his body, sending it spinning off toward the fireplace, and the vampire went careening toward the picket fence posts that the barkeep had mounted on the wall to make things feel more rustic and homey. With no time to alter his momentum and avoid being impaled on the unnecessarily sharp wooden posts, Dracula transformed himself into a cloud of black smoke, which splashed against the wall harmlessly.
Large chunks of plaster were falling from ceiling as the weakened timbers began to give way. The remains of the bar were quickly catching ablaze—the oil lantern that hung low over the bar had shattered and spilled hot whale oil across the wood and caught flame, which meant the formerly cozy tavern had begun to smell like woodsmoke and whale meat.
At any other time, Dracula would have paused to savor this smell, remembering the salty, windy year he had spent about a Nantucket whaler on the cold north Atlantic, serving as the night watchmen, night cook, night harpooner, and occasionally diving into the inky water himself to personally grapple with a fierce sperm or right whale.
But now was not the time for nostalgia. Dracula, still in smoke form, flowed toward the fireplace and absorbed the smaller cloud of smoke that was his arm. Then he oriented his smoky senses toward the gaping hole that had been torn into the side of the tavern. There on the wide river was a 12-gun, three-masted warship that had just fired. The stout ship flew no flag, and the sailors’ uniforms were a flat black with no insignia.
As the vampire watched, the men began hauling in the anchor and raising the sails. Dracula flowed out through the newly made hole and resumed his corporeal form, testing his arm to make sure it was well-attached. The sailors were seeking to make their getaway, and the ship had already started to make its way up river.
Dracula smiled, and his razor sharp, ivory-white fangs grew until they were an inch long, gleaming in the darkness. Whether flying, running, swimming or—on the rare occasion— crab-walking to add a fun Japanese horror element, the vampire could outpace any human vehicle. Dracula rose several feet into the air and performed some stretching exercises to limber up his long-dead muscles and ligaments before commencing his chase.
But as as he rotated his head several times to loosen up his spine, there was a blinding flash and ear-splitting roar from downriver. The warship had exploded in a ball of white flame! The shock wave pushed Dracula several feet up and back; the heat singed his eyebrows, which immediately grew back, but the delicate lace ruffles on his cuffs were not so lucky.
As he watched, the burning hulk of the ship slipped beneath the dark water, weighed down by the red-hot bronze cannons. Senator Dracula swooped out over the river, scanning the waves for survivors, but there were none—every sailor had been incinerated by the massive explosion. Within minutes, nothing remained of the ship except the smell of gunpowder and a few pieces of charred wood floating on the waves.
During the war for American independence, Dracula had led a team of naval commandos responsible for sabotaging the British warships anchored in Boston harbor. On the darkest, most moonless nights, he and his squad would swim aboard the vessels, silently capture the grog-befuddled crew, and light a long fuse leading the the barrels of gunpowder in the ship’s magazine. As they swam away, pulling the tied and bound British sailors with them, the burning fuse would finally reach the magazine and the ship would erupt in a dazzling fountain of light and flame. Sometimes the thousand-ton vessels would be literally flung into the air by the force of the explosion, before quickly falling back to the ocean and sinking into depths.
General Washington had repeatedly asked Dracula to stop blowing up British ships. He argued that it would be much more useful to capture them, collect any valuable intelligence aboard, crew them with loyal sailors and add them to the nascent American fleet. But Dracula felt strongly that the spectacle of a giant warship exploding in the night was awesome, and he told Washington they would have to agree to disagree.
So Dracula had become very familiar with the look of a deliberately scuttled warship. And there was no question in his ancient, spiderlike mind that the warship had been deliberately blown up.
Levitating over the water, he rotated his body lengthwise until he was upside down, and then darted like a fish into the water. As he swam towards the river bottom, looking for clues, he considered the events of the last few minutes.
There was no question that Aaron Burr was a man with exceptionally good luck. Hamilton was notorious for cheating at duels, and it must have taken great luck to survive one of Hamilton’s standard attempts to distract his adversary by crying, “Quick, look behind you, it’s a double rainbow, I promise I won’t shoot you while you’re turned around!” But even Burr’s luck could not account for a stopwatch set to the exact moment of the cannon shot. This had been an attempt to assassinate Dracula by cannonball. It had almost succeeded, and Burr had lured him into it.
Dracula soon reached the deepest part of the river, where even with his catlike night vision he was all but blind. The water was almost completely opaque, because the shattered warship had disturbed the silt that lay thick on the riverbed like the dust that is on top of your refrigerator, right now, even as you read this sentence.
As he swam through the cold, cloudy water, the vampire speculated on why the ship might have been capsized. In his long centuries on the earth, he had been involved in many intrigues. And he knew plotters would often arrange to have their own assassin eliminated, so as to conceal the trail leading back to them. This, he thought, was almost certainly why the ship had been destroyed. Whoever had dispatched it to kill the vampire did not want their identity known.
Dracula felt his way along the riverbed, finally reaching the charred remains of the ship. He was unable to see more than a few feet in the silty water. But he could feel heat. And on the white flesh of his long-dead hands, he began to feel warmth and swam towards it, playing an all-too-real game of “hot or cold.”
The heat led him to a cannon, warped by the explosion so that it resembled a gigantic bronze macaroni. In fact, it was surprisingly similar to the monument the Italian national movement had erected outside Milan in an attempt to build a sense of Italian unity and shared culture. Dracula swam towards the cannon and ran his hands over the still-warm metal.
It was fine workmanship, albeit plain—most foundries included some decorative touches, but this piece was plain and workmanlike. And why not, he thought to himself—like the plain uniforms of the men aboard the ship, it had not been made to impress, but to accomplish a single task: ending his own long, deathless reign upon the earth.
But why? He had always had enemies who sought his end, even as a mortal man. But constructing and crewing a warship solely for the purpose of killing him was an effort requiring significant investment. Who had both the means and the incentive for this extraordinary attempt? How was Aaron Burr involved? And most importantly: why would anyone want to kill him, a simple, honest, hardworking vampire statesman?
On a whim, Dracula reached one arm inside the mouth of the cannon, running his tapered white fingers along the metal. Within moments, he found what he suspected: carved into the bronze cannon was a maker’s mark. Two concentric circles, with the letters “NA” inscribed in the center.
When the cowardly New England bankers refused to do so, Dracula had used his considerable wealth to help finance the American forces during the recent conflict with Great Britain. In this role he had inspected many cannons for purchase. And he had never seen this particular mark, nor did he know what “NA” might stand for. But he intended to find out. Right after he visited his tailor in Paris to have his lace ruffled cuffs replaced.
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Energy and Natural Resources Committee Room
The committee chair banged the gavel furiously against the dais, her face red with exertion. As the blows rained down on the hardwood like the the fists of an old punch-drunk fighter boxing the side of a house, every eye in the packed committee hearing room watched her with bewilderment. She stopped, gasped for breath, and brushed the hair out of her eyes.
“And that’s what I’ll do if anyone disrupts this hearing! This is your only warning. I know this legislation is controversial, but I won’t put up with any Code Pink-type shenanigans. So just watch it, people!”
Senator Dracula watched the committee chair, Senator Corine Maxwell of Georgia, with bemusement. He, and everyone else who followed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, knew that she opened every hearing this way, whether the topic was controversial or not. In fact, he’d heard rumors that she’d had the gavel weighted with lead, like a pinewood derby car, so that she could deliver a more resounding smack.
But he was unconcerned—theater was part of leadership at any level. He had chaired the committee himself, in the 1950's and early 1960's, and during that time he had begun each hearing by using his mesmeric powers to hypnotize every senator present and command them to take off their shirts. It was essentially a parlor trick, but one that kept the rank-and-file committee members in line. This was Maxwell’s committee now, and he did not begrudge her her own idiosyncrasies.
And besides—she was not wrong that the legislation was controversial. The F.E.A.R. Act of 2015 had quickly emerged as the most polarizing bill of the session, and the nation’s attention was on it. Or at least as much as the nation’s attention could ever be on a piece of legislation. Dracula thought it possible that as many as one or two thousand people outside of Washington might be talking about it—and talking in heated tones.
In the eyes of some, the F.E.A.R. Act deregulating and subsidizing “magma power” was the silver bullet that would solve America’s energy problems. No more carbon emissions, no more radioactive nuclear waste, no more people whining about the increasingly affordability of solar power—just limitless energy, waiting in the Earth’s core to be devoured like a Tootsie Roll in a Tootsie Pop.
Others were less sanguine. What if, they asked, this situation was less like a Tootsie Pop...and more like a Blow Pop? Instead of a delicious, waxy Tootsie Roll, what if we end up with a tough piece of gum that loses its flavor after half a minute of chewing, and then we have to swallow it because there’s no place to spit it out, and it stays in our digestive system for seven years? Venting magma from the Earth’s core to the surface was, they argued, an essentially untested and unproven technology, and one with the potential for catastrophic accidents.
While he had no patience for lollipop metaphors, Dracula and his advisors had studied both positions closely. He had become convinced that the plan to bore a gigantic tunnel down to the Earth’s core and “just see what happens,” as phrased in the backers’ Politico, Roll Call and Metro station, ads was ill-considered at best. And he would not support any legislation allowing it to happen.
The vampire turned away from the long dais where he and the other senators sat waiting for the hearing to begin. Each had an aide or two sitting behind them to offer counsel, or to try to look cool on C-SPAN, insofar as such as thing is possible. Tom Pyrzynski and Dracula’s Legislative Assistant for energy policy Chuck Samuel were hunched together, conferring. Dracula cleared his throat, making a noise like a cold wind blowing through an old stone catacomb, and both men looked up.
“Gentlemen, what are we to expect today?”
Pyrzynski collected his thoughts, and began counting off on his fingers. “The only witness today is Elsebeth Evil, Chair of the Evil Corporation, which leads the “Magma Consortium” seeking to bore the magma tunnel. Needless to say, she’ll be testifying in favor of the bill.
“This falls under this committee’s jurisdiction in part because he Magma Consortium wants to begin their tunnel in Death Valley, which means getting permission to drill in a national park. The White House hasn’t announced a position on the F.E.A.R. Act, but rumor has it that they’re leaning towards it. Gas prices are rising, and the Consortium is making some bold promises about freeing us from dependence on foreign oil with magma-powered cars.”
“Flying cars!” interjected Chuck.
“Yes, thank you, Chuck. Flying, magma-powered cars. The Consortium’s proposal really is interesting, Senator. Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider supporting it?”
Dracula glared at the man. “Must we discuss this again? I have reviewed the proposal and find it objectionable.”
Pyrzynski pressed. “Senator, I have to be frank with you. You’re up for re-election next year. And there’s a risk that people will find your opposition to flying cars selfish. They could say ‘Dracula can already fly, so he doesn’t care about supporting policies that will help the rest of us fly.’”
“I am emphatically not opposed to flying cars,” the vampire insisted. “Why, I invested a considerable amount of capital in Benjamin Franklin’s prototype kite-powered flying hansom cab before I learned that it was not a hansom cab at all, but simply a common household key.” Dracula shook his head. “Nor am I opposed, in theory, to the proposed magma-powered high-speed trains, magma-powered refrigerators, or magma-powered smartphones the Coalition claims will be forthcoming if their bill passes. Rather, I am unconvinced that Evil Industries and the other members of the Coalition are in a position to do all these things safely.”
He turned to Chuck. “Mr. Samuels, you’re my energy policy expert. Do you feel confident that their plan can deliver magma power safely and affordably?”
Chuck, a 24-year-old whose sole qualification for the job was a minor in a hard science (biology), frowned. “Well, it’s hard to say. This is really uncharted territory—there’s not a lot of basis for comparison. I will say, though, that I did an experiment in my kitchen last night with a “build your own volcano” kit I got for my birthday. Once you pour the vinegar and baking soda in, it’s nearly impossible to control where it goes. My roommates are all annoyed at me for making a mess.”
Dracula leaned back. “Yes. And that’s exactly what I’m afraid of. And Tom, on a wholly, completely unrelated matter, do you have a status update on the sunglasses we found at the scene of the disappearance of the Florida Everglades? Has the FBI been able to identify the fingerprints on them?"
Pyrzynski was about to answer when the committee chair banged her gavel once more and opened the hearing.
“I’d like to thank our witnesses for being here today,” she began. “This is a complex and emotional issue. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think America’s energy future is in red-hot, liquefied stone. But I think we’ll all benefit from hearing a range of opinions on that matter.”
“Normally I’d make an opening statement, but quite honestly, I’m too anxious to hear what our witness has to say to wait one more minute. We’ll begin by hearing from her, then proceed to questions from our committee members. Ms. Evil, if you’d like to go first, you may have five minutes for an opening statement.”
Elsebeth Evil smiled, nodded, and moved the microphone a little closer. When she spoke her liquid tone was both soothing and commanding, like a masseuse giving you a relaxing back rub while telling you that from now on, your new name is “Sue.”
“Chairwoman Maxwell, Ranking Member Lopez, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for inviting me here today.”
“The story of America is the story of energy. Our decades of continuous progress, advance and expansion have relied on—and been driven by—energy.
“But believe it or not, there is a dark side to this insatiable thirst for energy. Our demand has long since outstripped the ability of the land to provide it. Despite the fracking boom, it has been many decades since America was energy self-sufficient. And our reliance on imported energy leaves us vulnerable to the whims of foreign despots, and the inherently volatile and untrustworthy nature of everywhere in the world outside our borders.”
“Advocates of increasing imports of oil and gas from Canada are willfully ignoring the dangers of relying on that country. What would happen if Canada suddenly decided to renounce the monarchy and expel the U.K.’s Governor General, and the U.K. responded with military force? What if Quebec attempted to secede, and the ruthless hawks in Ottawa responded by sending an amphibious invasion force across the Riviere de Outouais? Would we be prepared to invade Canada in order to keep oil flowing from the Canadian tar sands?”
“Damn right!” shouted Senator Ruddbucker of Tennessee, jumping to his feet and shaking his fist in the air. Elsebeth turned and looked at him, surprised by the interruption. Ruddbucker seemed to suddenly awaken from a reverie—he reddened, looked around sheepishly, and sat back down, mumbling, “um, I apologize for the interruption, Ms. Evil. Your message moved me and I got a little carried away. I want to be clear that I do support the F.E.A.R. Act.”
Elsebeth smiled graciously. “There is no need for apology, senator. Many us of dream of avenging the defeats of the War of 1812 by the colossus to the north. But this should be done on our terms and on our timetable, not because an energy crisis forces our hand.”
She returned her attention to the full committee. “Various hippies argue that we can solve the problem of energy dependency by building solar and wind farms. But I say this is simply trading one form of dependency for another.”
“Is the sun in your home state, Senator Maxwell? Or yours, Senator Lopez?” She turned to Dracula. “Senator Dracula, I suspect that even you, who cowers in fear from the sun, knows it is not in the great state of New Hampshire.” Dracula glared at her, his eyes briefly elongating into the demonic rectangular pupils of a goat. She continued.
“Of course, I am being facetious. The sun is in none of your states, because it is not anywhere in America. It is, unambiguously, a foreign source of energy, and one we have even less control over than the turbulent middle east, or the frozen Canadian north.”
“Wind is no better. Does the wind originate in any of your states? It does not. The wind is constantly circulating the earth, generally blowing from west to east. That means our national supply of wind comes directly from the the west. And which countries do we find if we head west? Russia! China! North Korea! Iran! France!”
“Do we want to build a national energy strategy that assumes these countries will continue to let the wind flow towards our country unimpeded? I feel quite certain I know where most of your constituents would come down on that question.”
“So how to achieve true energy independence? The answer lies beneath our feet. The Earth contains literally billions of tons of molten rock and iron—enough stored energy to last us for thousands of years. This energy is clean, cheap, and within our national borders. It’s there for the taking!”
“In fact, there’s just one downside. The same ocean of magma under our feet is under the feet of our adversaries. And if they start tapping it before we do, there’ll be less left for us...and maybe none at all. Are you ready to tell your children and grandchildren they can’t enjoy magma power because you didn’t move fast enough to seize it? I know I’m not.”
“Let me put it simply. It will be a betrayal of generations of Americans to come if we do not vent the Earth’s molten core to the surface. And that is why I ask you to pass S.B. 1120, the F.E.A.R. Act. Thank you.”
As Elsebeth sat down, the room erupted into thunderous applause. Both the committee chair and the ranking member were on their feet, clapping frantically. The normally staid Senator Lopez of Colorado had tears running down his face, and the committee chair was putting her thumb and index finger to her lips in a futile attempt to whistle. From behind Dracula came an impassioned cry of “Encore!,” and when he turned he saw that it had been his aide Chuck, who immediately looked down in embarrassment.
The vampire gazed out at the committee room, feeling weary. It was hard, sometimes, to maintain his confidence in democracy.
Gradually, the applause, tears, and spontaneous hugs abated. Senator Maxwell banged her gavel and resumed the hearing.
“Ms. Evil, thank you. I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but that was deeply inspiring. There are too many people who think America’s greatest days are behind us, that the country the beat the Nazis and visited the moon can no longer achieve great things, and that we’re in a spiral of decline that will end with the Chinese flag being hoisted over this building.
“Well, to those people, I’d like to say ‘you need to meet Elsebeth Evil, and hear her inspiring message about moving the Earth’s molten core to the surface!’”
Elsebeth nodded solemnly in a barely convincing imitation of humility. Dracula rolled his eyes. Maxwell continued.
“Now, normally at this point in the hearing, each senator would have five minutes to question the witness. But frankly, I don’t think any of us want to embarrass ourselves by trying to follow Ms. Evil’s compelling testimony. And I’m sure she’s already answered all the questions any of us might have. So unless anyone objects, I’ll gavel this hearing closed and we can all line up for Ms. Evil’s autograph.”
As she raised her gavel, already rising out of her seat in the hopes of getting an early spot in line, Dracula said “Ahem.” His voice was quiet but carried throughout the room like a sharp, pungent smell. Maxwell, surprised, turned to him.
“Chairwoman Maxwell, if you would indulge me, I do have some questions for the witness.”
Maxwell frowned, confused. “Senator, I can’t imagine what you might need to ask her. If you’re looking to buy stock in Evil Industries, I’ve already asked her like five times, but it’s a privately held company and they refuse to sell any shares. Even to me, their biggest fan!” As if to prove her point, she lifted her worn coffee mug, which had “Evil Industries #1 Fan!” printed on the side.
Further down the table, Senator Ruddbucker sputtered. “Now wait just a damn minute, Corine! We’ve been over and over this! Just because you bought a mug on the Evil Industries factory tour doesn’t mean you’re their number one fan! After I was the swing vote on the “Evil Industries Offshoring and Tax Liberation Act of 2005,” Elsebeth gave me a note on her personal stationery saying I was their biggest fan. Here, I’ve got it in this locket, let me show you…”
Elsebeth let out a nervous laugh as Ruddbucker started unbuttoning his shirt. “Uh, Senator Ruddbucker, you don’t share all the secret notes a lady gives you, do you? Please, Chairwoman Maxwell, I’m sure Senator Dracula has some interesting questions for me.” She turned to him and smiled sweetly. “I’ve known him for a long time, and if there’s one thing he can be counted on for, it’s weird theories and consequently bizarre questions. Senator, what is it you’re confused about this time?”
Dracula glowered down at her. “Ms. Evil, you’ve suggested that bringing the earth’s magma to the surface will provide near-infinite clean energy. You’ve also said you intend to drill the borehole down to the center of the Earth from Death Valley.”
Elsebeth clapped excitedly. “Senator, that’s right! You’ve been paying attention! I know that’s no small feat for someone of your years, and I do appreciate it.” There were titters throughout the room. Ignoring them, the vampire continued.
“How much magma will you bring up to the surface?”
Evil shrugged. “Oh, however much we need. It’s basically an unlimited supply, greater in volume than the moon.”
“But where do you plan to put it all? And how exactly will you draw energy from it? I’ve read through your proposal closely, and it doesn’t seem that have plans to build any magma storage capacity, or a magma power plant.”
She shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “Senator, I know your familiarity with things like this may be limited, given your roots in a pre-industrial agrarian society. I’d absolutely defer to you on, say, ways to squeeze a bigger turnip harvest out of the peasantry. But there’s a lot about projects like this that are probably foreign to you. For instance, one doesn’t plan out every last detail of a project like this before beginning—otherwise, no one would ever start building anything!”
She continued, building momentum as she spoke. “Do you think Eisenhower had a fully fleshed-out plan for a national network of travel plazas, weigh stations and adult book stores when he built the interstate highway system? No, of course not - he had confidence that the country would figure out ways to capitalize on the interstates once they were built. Do you think Jefferson had a specific vision for 15 new states when he bought the Louisiana Purchase? Or did he simply see an opportunity, and seize it?”
Dracula interrupted her. “I assure you that Jefferson had a very specific vision in mind for the Louisiana purchase. It was to be a single state named ‘Jeffersonia,’ with St. Louis as its capital. It would use the metric system, have an economy based on tobacco plantations, and be ruled by a ironwork philosopher-king.
“Thomas had the whole thing planned out rather meticulously, including a scale model of Jeffersonia in his ballroom at Monticello with working miniature water wheels that powered a small philosopher-king automaton. The automaton was simply a proof-of-concept design, unable to do much more than play chess and write middling Latin poetry. But Thomas had great hopes that the full-sized version device would be sufficiently wise to deserve election by the people of Jeffersonia every four years.
“So to respond to your suggestion, Ms. Evil—yes, Jefferson knew exactly what his next steps would be upon acquiring the lands west of the Mississippi. And so I ask again: where will you store this magma, and how will you create energy from it?”
Ms. Evil looked up from her phone. “Oh, I’m sorry senator, were you still talking? I was just checking the number of signatures on the ‘Tell Congress to Pass the F.E.A.R. Act’ online petition. We’re up to almost fifty million!” The committee room again began to break into spontaneous applause, and Dracula waited for it to subside.
“Ms. Evil, you don’t seem to have an answer to that question, so I’ll ask another. The molten core of the earth is under incredible pressure. If you open a channel directly to the surface, it will erupt with almost inconceivable force. How will you prevent the core from emptying its red hot lava entirely, coating the earth in a miles-deep layer of fire and death?”
Elsebeth looked at Dracula. She smiled. “Senator, I’d be happy to explain to you how large-scale geothermal projects work. But the truth is, it’s quite involved. And so I’m afraid to say that if I walk you through our plan to keep the magma from destroying the earth’s surface, I won’t have time to sign autographs after the hearing.”
With that, the committee chairwoman seemed to awake with a start. A look of panic in her eyes, she started hammering on the table with her gavel. “Thank you, thank you, Ms. Evil! It’s always an extraordinary pleasure to have an entrepreneur and visionary of your stature visit us. I call this hearing to a close.”
Lost in thought as he entered the underground hallway leading back toward his office in the Russell building, he almost didn’t notice the young man standing in the shadows of the bookshelves outside the Congressional Research Service’s office and looking around furtively. As Dracula passed, the man whispered, his voice equally urgent and desperate.
“Senator Dracula! Senator Dracula! I have to talk to you!”
In terms of celebrity status, Dracula was no Elsebeth Evil. But nor was he unfamiliar with being importuned by strangers. Between the ruthless young climbers seeking to claw their way up through the Washington power structure on the one hand, and the more traditional sociopaths who hoped to be transformed into vampires on the other, he was frequently buttonholed by strangers seeking a job, a reference, or the dark gift of blood-fueled undeath.
Dracula stopped and appraised the man. He was wearing an expensive, tailored suit, designer shoes, and a gold watch. Dracula looked approvingly at the man’s pocket square—the handkerchief-free “business formal” dress code diminished the Senate as an institution, in his opinion—but then noticed that the white silk was slightly marred with some sort of black. He leaned closer...and caught the scent of sulphur.
“Yes? What can I do for you.”
The man looked left and right, a guilty expression on his face.
“Senator, I work with Evil Industries—I joined up after college and I’m been with them ever since then. It’s actually kind of a family business—my dad was a structural engineer with Evil Industries until his mysterious disappearance on a business trip to San Francisco in 1968, and my grandfather disappeared on assignment at the Old Cathedral in St. Louis.
Dracula began tapping his foot. “I’m sorry for your losses, but I fail to see why you are relating them to me.”
The young man nodded. “Well, senator, once I joined Evil Industries, I started getting interested in my family history, and I researched my dad and grandfather in the company’s HR files. And that’s how I learned the dark, shocking truth behind Evil Industries, and the whole magma energy project.”
Now the man had Dracula’s full attention. “Continue.”
“Senator, I heard you asking Ms. Evil about the magma plan during the hearing. Here’s the thing: I’ve seen the plan. I came across an internal Powerpoint slide laying out the whole F.E.A.R. Act strategy. It’s pretty high-level, but it had enough detail to scare me pretty badly. I wanted to give it to someone who might do something about it, but I don’t know who to trust—Elsebeth has just about every government agency and politician in her pocket. All except for you.”
The man reached into his pocket and withdrew a folded piece of paper. Looking around again, he held it out to Dracula.
“This is a printout of the Powerpoint slide. Please, don’t tell anyone where you got this—I’m risking my job giving it to you. I still believe in the mission of Evil Industries to bring clean energy to the world, and I want to play my part in it. Both my dad and my grandfather died in the service of this company, and I don’t want to think that their sacrifices were in vain. But I just think that the company’s leadership is taking things in the wrong direction.”
Dracula took the folded paper with one elegant, pale hand, and opened it. It was a single Powerpoint slide.
“Thank you, and I assure you that I will not reveal you as the source of this document. Do you have any knowledge of these terms? What is ‘NA’?”
The man cocked his head to one side. “Well, Senator, I’m pretty sure NA stands for…”
But before the man could finish the sentence, the his body went rigid as a board, his jaw clenched and shaking. Dracula grasped him by both shoulders, catching him before he fell to the ground as his muscled seized.
“What is it? Are you unwell? I’m afraid my centuries of immunity to illness, infirmity and pain have left my unfamiliar with the various maladies that afflict mortals.” Dracula knelt to lay the man on the ground...and noticed the throwing knife emerging from the his back, sticky with some sort of green, tar-like poison.
The poison was effective—the whistleblower was dead in seconds. And Dracula recognized it immediately. He had seen this poison in action once before, many, many years earlier. It had been part of one of the most terrifying episodes of his long, deathless reign upon the Earth. And seeing this rare and unusual poison made him realize that that event, and this assassination, were linked.
He looked up and down the long corridor, but it was empty. Whoever had thrown the knife had vanished into thin air.
Or into the ground, as seemed more likely, given the increasing prominence in this story of people digging underground tunnels.
Kingston, New York
Inside, the wind dragged a low-hanging tree limb across the crumbling slate roof, making a sound like skeletal fingers clawing across a stone crypt. Flickering chandeliers lit life-size portraits on the wall. The dark figures were hard to make out in the dim light, but it was apparent that the artist had taken the tradition of mementos mori to an extreme by posing his subjects with nooses, bloody hatchets, and severed heads.
Basically, the whole scene was super scary.
But not to Senator Dracula. He sat in the drawing room of the old house, reviewing a leather-bound notebook. It held the clues he had collected regarding the most recent The Blue Vanishings case—the disappearance of the body of Vice President George Clinton from his Kingston, New York grave.
At this point in the investigation, the clues were fairly sparse.
- - Body reported missing from Vice President Clinton’s grave.
- - Attractive coffin: walnut and teak, satin upholstery, silk pillow.
- - A dark sense of foreboding in the graveyard. Very pleasant overall.
- - Footsteps in the mud leading from VP Clinton's empty tomb up a hill to a sprawling Victorian mansion.
- - A dead-eyed woman wearing a tattered nightgown answered the door of the mansion, silently led us into this drawing room, and left us. We’ve been sitting here for some time and it is now approaching midnight.
- - Team getting antsy. No patience for the basic, unglamorous spadework of detective work. Not sure why they wanted to become Senate staffers in the first place.
“Team,” he said, tucking the clue notebook inside the pocket of his jacket, “You seem antsy. I must urge you to have patience. Even a run-of-the-mill grave robbery takes time to solve. And this is not a run-of-the-mill grave robbery, but rather grave robbery of national importance. You simply must be patient. This may take a while.”
The vampire held his slender arms out, indicating the cavernous house around around them.
“At least we are not out in the storm! I must say, even in my many centuries upon the Earth, I cannot remember seeing such a powerful storm arise so quickly. One minute we were admiring the cold white glamour of the full moon as it shone upon the graves of the dead. And then in the time it took us to walk from the graveyard to this old house, dark clouds had masked the sky and burst into a downpour so heavy it was hard to find our way!
“Well, you know what they say about upstate New York and every other place on the planet, though—if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes! Ha, ha! Oh, I must say, this environment has me invigorated.”
Dracula’s staffers exchanged glances. As if by mutual agreement Harvey, the chief of staff, spoke for all of them.
“Senator, we’re not antsy. We’re creeped out by this place. And you’re absolutely right that it was hard to find our way in the storm, and that’s why I’m so worried about our intern. I’m pretty sure he was walking right behind me as we left the graveyard, but when I turned around a second later to say something, he was gone. I still think we should go look for him.”
Dracula shook his head. “Harvey, you are a good manager, but you still have much to learn. People cannot improve if you are constantly holding their hand, and not trusting them to tackle difficult tasks. If we go out and look for our young intern now, it will send the unmistakable message that I do not think he can find his way through a graveyard in a torrential thunderstorm in the dead of night.
“Besides, what message would it send to our hosts if we left without speaking to them?”
Joachim looked nervously to the dark doorway the silent woman had left through. “Senator, why are so sure we have hosts? Don’t you think it’s a little weird that the woman who answered the door didn’t talk at all, and just led us in here and left? And did you notice that she was barefoot, and her bare feet left wet footprints on the floor? And it’s been over two hours since she left us here—don’t you think all of that is strange?”
The vampire shrugged. “Maybe her feet were wet because we interrupted her bath. Maybe she does not speak English, and it did not occur to her that I speak dozens of languages, very likely including hers. Maybe she had to awaken her servants to prepare a hot meal for us. Who knows. I am simply grateful that she was there to invite us in. As you well know, I cannot enter a home unbidden, but it is quite clear that the trail from Vice President Clinton’s tomb led directly here. I am not inclined to call President Reagan and tell him I was unable to investigate the theft because I could not prevail upon someone to let me in.”
Shelly cut in. “Senator, how long do you intend to wait here? We haven’t seen any more sign of that woman, or of anyone else, except when I heard those footsteps in the room above us, and the sound of something being dragged across the floor.” She hugged herself, remembering the unsettling sound.
Dracula rolled his eyes and stood. “Oh, very well. Personally I find this room and this house perfectly charming and am in no hurry to leave. But I will indulge you. Let us find our hosts and ask them about the footprints leading from Vice President Clinton’s grave to their front door.
“Obviously this is a very large house, with multiple wings, dozens of rooms, and probably a musty old attic and a dark, dank cellar. To search most efficiently, I recommend that we split up. I’ll take the east wing. Harvey, why don’t you take the cellar. Michiko, as we entered the house I noticed a hallway leading to a dark and overgrown greenhouse with a few broken panes of glass, why don’t you search there…”
Dracula’s staff again looked at each other worriedly. Again, Harvey spoke. “Umm, Senator, if you don’t mind, why don’t we search in teams of two or three? I don’t think any of us like the idea of wandering off into this house alone.”
The ancient vampire rolled his ageless eyes. “First you say we have waited too long. Then you decline to search in the most efficient manner, thus keeping us here longer. I think you do not know what you want.”
Before Harvey could reply, there was a knock at the front door of the house, the sound echoing down the hallway. Dracula and his companions looked toward it.
“Well, I imagine that must be our intern. You see, Harvey, I told you we could have confidence in him. Now the woman who greeted us will let him in, and we can all share a laugh about your misplaced fears.”
There was another knock at the door, then another, then another. The knocks grew increasingly frantic and intense, but there was no sign that the door was being answered. After a few moments Dracula stood.
“I am loathe to answer the door at someone else’s home, but I am equally loathe to make someone stand outside in this terrible storm any longer than necessary, even if it is just our intern. I will answer the door. If the woman who let us in returns before I am back, please apologize for my presumptuousness.”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but our car crashed, and cell phones haven’t been invented yet. Could we please use your phone?”
Senator Dracula stepped backward and held the door open. “You are welcome to enter. But be warned—it is I, Senator Dracula, who greets you, rather than the resident of this home.”
The man peered at him. “Wow, yeah. I didn’t recognize you. How come you look so different in pictures?”
Dracula harrumphed in annoyance. “The fault is not yours. My image cannot be captured by photographs or any other sort of film. So when the media report on me, they use a sketch, or an actor, or a puppet to represent me, all with equally poor results.
“My aides have proposed I wear a “Hi, my name is Senator Dracula” nametag when I go out, but that feels a little ‘Hey everyone, look at me!’ But I digress—please, come in, come in.”
The family shuffled into the house as thunder rolled across the hills, rumbling like the tires of a car driven by a solitary driver on an isolated highway as she pulls over to pick up a hitchhiker. Dracula shut the door with a loud creak (the door creaked, not him) and led the family back to the drawing room. He found that his staffers had moved to the center of the room and were standing back-to-back, his chief of staff Harvey gripping a tarnished bronze candlestick. Dracula was, needless to say, mortified by the behavior of his employees.
“Harvey, what on earth are you doing? You need to hold a weapon like a mace or a flail up, with your elbows high, so that you’ll have power in your downstrike. But that aside, why are you holding a weapon, and what has gotten into you all? I have only been gone for a minute!”
Harvey kept a tight grip on the candlestick, his eyes wide with fear. “Senator, while you were gone, the lights suddenly went out, and the whole room turned dark, and we heard a little girl giggling, from right in the center of the room.
“Then there was a flash of lighting, and for a split second I could have sworn I saw a little girl sitting on the couch next to me, but facing towards me, and her eyes were completely black. Then the lights came back on and she was gone. But this old porcelain doll with crossed out eyes was sitting on the couch, and I swear it wasn’t there before. I mean, I think that’s the kind of thing I would have noticed. I threw it out of the room, down the hallway—you probably saw it on the floor out there when you came back.
“Senator, I don’t know what’s going on in this house, but we need to get out!”
Dracula ushered the rain-soaked family into the room. “No, I did not see a doll with crossed out eyes in the hallway. Harvey, I hope you’re not holding that candlestick in case you need to hit a child. Because, as you see, we have a young boy here now, and I think he is frightened enough as it is without having to worry about you and your candlestick. Even though he’d probably laugh off a stroke you delivered from that stance.”
The vampire chuckled. “Why, that reminds me—did I ever tell you about the time I was in battle against an Ottoman raiding party, and a Janissary officer attempted to club me with his morning star from horseback? He shouted some Turkish curse at me, and then tried to swing backhanded, with only the strength of his wrist behind the blow! As a vampire I was impervious to even the most powerful strike from such a weapon, so it didn’t really matter how hard he swung. But this blow wouldn't have cracked an egg!”
Dracula smiled, wistfully. “Ah, memories. I think I still have that morning star somewhere in my attic. But where were we? Ah yes. Please put the candlestick down. I want you to meet…” with this, Dracula turned to the family. “I’m sorry, I did not catch your name?”
The husband stepped forward. “I’m Joe. Joe Salem. This is my wife Deborah. We were in an accident down at the bottom of the hill.”
Harvey put down his candlestick, reluctantly. “Joe, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Harvey Pine, Senator Dracula’s chief of staff. An accident, huh? At the bottom of the hill? Where the graveyard is? What happened?”
A confused look crossed the man’s face. “You know, actually, I don’t know. The last thing I remember we were driving down the road, and the next thing I knew we were walking up the hill toward this house. Now that I think about it, I can’t even remember where we were going, or where we were coming from, or what year it is.”
“It’s 1985!” said Dracula helpfully.
The man frowned. “That doesn’t sound right.”
He looked around the room, then at his wife. “Honey, do you remember what happened in the accident?”
She looked at him but didn’t responded.
Then the boy said, “We died, Daddy. We died in the crash.”
Harvey let out a scream and reached for his candlestick, as the lights went out and the room was plunged into darkness. Outside, the wind rose, filling the house a low moaning sound. Dracula said “Hmmmm,” and Michiko uttered a sharp gasp and said “Darnit Harvey, that was my shoulder. Cut it out with that candlestick.”
A second later, the lights came back on. The family was gone.
“Where’d they go?” gasped Joachim, eyes darting right and left. “That wasn’t enough time for them to get out of the room! And why did that boy say ‘we died’? Boss, I’m freaking out—this is wicked scary.”
Dracula nodded approvingly at his use of the slang term wicked, which helped to remind everyone, in case they’d forgotten, that he and his staff represented a state in New England. “That was indeed unusual.”
Shelly spoke up. “But Senator, you can see in the dark, can’t you? What happened when the lights went out? Where’d they go?”
Senator Dracula nodded solemnly. “Indeed, I can see quite well in the dark. So when the lights went out, I decided it would be a good opportunity to update my clue notebook with the latest events. Unfortunately, I was looking down at it and did not see what happened to the family. Oh, wait, there they are! Out the window!”
He pointed out window, down the hill. Lightning flashed, and for a moment the Senate staffers saw the family standing there across at the edge of the graveyard, staring up toward the house, with blank expressions on their faces. Michiko screamed.
“Oh really, Michiko. I do not see why you are upset that they have gone down to the graveyard. If I were not responsible for investigating the disappearance of Vice President Clinton’s body, I would want to be down there admiring it as well. You cannot fault them for having good taste in graveyards!”
Harvey stared at him incomprehensibly. “But Senator, how did they get down there so fast? They were here ten seconds ago!”
Dracula raised an eyebrow. “Maybe, Harvey, you should not ask how they can move so swiftly, but rather why you and my other staffers move so slowly in comparison? What are they doing that you are not? I am going to record that question in my clue notebook; let us discuss it later.”
Joachim interrupted. “Senator, you can see in the dark—are they still standing there in the graveyard?”
The vampire waved his hand. “I don’t know, and I don’t care to know. I decline to look down there. I don’t want to torture myself with seeing them enjoying a nice midnight stroll in a graveyard while I have to work. Maybe they are in the graveyard, maybe they are back in this house lurking in the shadows somewhere. Who knows. Speaking of which, it is time to split up and explore the house!”
Dracula and Michiko walked along a dark, wood-paneled hallway, looking for the woman who had let them into the house. Michiko gripped her marble bust with white knuckles and seemed to shrink in on herself with fear, but Dracula appeared to be enjoying himself immensely, calling out into the silent, cavernous house almost boisterously.
“Hellooo? Is anyone home? I am Dracula, the senior U.S. Senator from New Hampshire. I am investigating the disappearance of the body of the late Vice President Clinton. Clinton succeeded Aaron Burr as vice president but then died mysteriously while in office. Just as an FYI in case you are not up on your vice presidents. In any event, I would very much appreciate it if I could speak with whomever lives in this fine house. Helloooo?” But there was no response.
The two arrived at a closed door set into the side of the hallway. Dracula knocked briefly, then opened it.
Inside was a magnificent ballroom, high-ceilinged and broad enough to fit hundreds of people. The walls were paneled entirely in mirrors, and the coating of dust on them suggested the room had been unused for a long time.
Dracula strode in and beckoned Michiko to follow. The vampire, of course, did not appear in the mirrors, so she had the unnerving sight of watching herself enter the ominous room alone.
Dracula held out his arms and slowly turned in a circle. “This is a wonderful ballroom—reminiscent, in fact, of the ballroom George Washington kept at Mount Vernon! General Washington was both an extraordinary dancer and also somewhat vain, and he loved dancing in front of mirrors. If I’m not mistaken, he’d originally planned to construct a mirrored ballroom at the White House and was hoping to fund it with a whiskey tax, which is why the Whiskey Rebellion so vexed him.”
As Dracula spoke, Michiko wandered over to one of the mirrors. Hesitantly she brushed dust from it, peered into it as her eyes adjusted to the room’s low light, and then jumped backwards.
“Senator, that’s not me in the mirror!”
Dracula looked up, irritated at being interrupted from his George Washington reverie. “What’s that?”
“Senator, I know this sounds crazy, but the woman in the mirror isn’t me! She looks like me, but she’s not me. I don’t know how I can tell, but I can. She’s someone else, staring back at me. And I think she’s angry. Or hungry. Hangry, I guess.”
She began edging backwards towards the door, looking with growing terror at the mirrors surrounding her on all sides—dozens of images gazing back at her, walking backwards in step with her. “Senator, what’s going on?!”
He walked over to the mirror. “As you know, mirrors hold no particular interest for me. But I agree that the woman in the mirror looks exactly like you.
“As to whether this is something to be concerned about—well, I hope it is not too indelicate of me to say so, Michiko, but I’m glad you had a chance to see what a mess the rain made of your hair, makeup and outfit. Is this how you want to present yourself, and me by extension, to our constituents? Maybe we can find a lavatory where you could freshen up. Let’s keep looking.”
“Senator, did you hear that? What was that?”
He frowned. “I’m afraid that was Joachim. I heard him make the same scream once on the Metro back in D.C., when a tourist was standing on the left-hand side of the escalator and not moving aside for more hurried and important Metro passengers. We had better go investigate—he might be letting some tourist agitate him again. The stairwell to the second floor is by the drawing room where we started out; let us head back there.
They turned and were brought up short by the sight of a small girl sitting in the middle of the floor at the end of the hallway. Her head was down, and long dark hair concealed her face. One pale hand held an equally pale porcelain doll by the arm.
Michiko instinctively took a step backward. Senator Dracula smiled and waved. “Hello, young lady! I am Senator Dracula, of New Hampshire! Perhaps you have heard of me? I am hoping your parents might be about—I am in need of some information regarding a missing corpse.”
The girl’s head tilted up towards them. Her eyes were obscured by the hair, but her lips were wetly black, as were her tiny, sharp teeth. She spoke in a low hiss.
“THERE IS NOTHING HERE FOR YOU BUT DEATH, VAMPIRE. I WILL CRACK YOUR BONES AND DRINK THEIR MARROW, AND THEN DO THE SAME TO YOUR SERVANTS.”
She stood and took a step forward, as the dim hallway lights began to wink out, one by one. Michiko screamed and threw the heavy marble bust. There was an explosive, shattering sound, and Michiko gripped Dracula’s cold, iron-hard arm through his velvet cloak. “Senator, can you see her? Please do something!”
The lights came back on. The bust was shattered against the far wall, shards of white stone stark against the blood-red carpet. The girl and her doll were nowhere to be seen. Dracula was writing in his notebook, and reading the words aloud to himself as he wrote.
“Michiko claimed reflection in mirror was not hers, did not respond when I suggested she freshen up. Heard Joachim scream, similar to Dupont Circle station scream. Went to investigate, saw small girl holding doll—same girl and doll Harvey saw back in the parlour? Too early to say.” With a dramatic flourish he poked a period on the end of the sentence.
“Yes, Michiko? You are holding my arm rather tightly, is everything ok?”
“Senator, that girl! She said she was going to kill us! There was something wrong with her mouth, it didn’t even look human! Did you see where she went when the lights went out?”
He shook his head. “No, I was admiring the notes I took earlier this evening, and adding some new ones. But I presume she went back down the hallway in the other direction. I propose we see if we can find her—she must be the daughter of the woman who originally greeted us.”
“But she said she was going to crack your bones and drink your marrow!”
He shrugged. “Rock music! This is probably a rock music song. You know how children are these days.”
He strolled down the hallway, calling out “Hellooooo? Little girl?” Michiko—even more afraid of being left alone than of the girl—rushed after him, snatching up a long, sharp shard of marble from the carpet along the way.
“Joachim, where are Harvey and Shelly?” What has happened to you?”
Joachim did not look up at the senator, but kept rocking back and forth and repeating the strange mantra to himself.
Michiko began hyperventilating with fear. She cried out softly in a pleading, quavering voice. “Senator, there is something happening in this house! Something here is trying to kill all of us! We have to get out of here before it’s too late! Please, I’m begging you!”
Dracula examined Joachim, leaned in close to him and sniffed, then stood. He withdrew his clue notebook, jotted down a few notes, and returned it to his pocket. Only then did he turn to Michiko.
“Michiko, I understand your fear. It is true that there may be strange things going on in this house. But just as I trusted our intern to find his way here in the storm without me being an ‘umbrella boss’, as it were, so I ask you to trust me here.
“I have existed for a long, long time. I have explored every nook and cranny of this world and have experienced far darker and stranger things than any we have seen tonight. The supernatural world has a hierarchy. I am at its peak. If that little girl is a ghost, she poses even less threat to me than would a living girl. On any given night, the smallest child could find my coffin, pry it open, and drive a tiny, child-sized stake through my heart. But a ghost? I reign supreme over spectres and ghasts. They are to me like wind to stone.”
The senator turned to Joachim and rose to his full height, filling the corridor with malignant power, his eyes glowing like embers. When he spoke, the force in his voice rocked Michiko back on her heels.
“Joachim, it is I, your dark lord and senator, Dracula of New Hampshire. I command you to awaken, rise, and relate to me what has befallen you and the other members of my staff. And so it shall be done!” With those final words, he cast his hand through the stale air, and Michiko saw dust motes ignite and flare out. Joachim jolted, looked upwards, and stood.
“Senator, I...I don’t know what came over me. Thank you, for whatever you did.”
“There is no need to think me. Well, not for this. But I do provide you with employment and I would appreciate periodically being thanked for that. But anyhow—tell me what happened to you, and where Harvey and Shelly are.”
Joachim nodded. “Right, of course. Well, as you ordered, we went to search upstairs to see if we could find the silent woman in the tattered nightgown with the dead eyes who let us in. Or anyone else. Preferably anyone else, frankly.
“We heard music, and followed the sound to an old, musty library. Inside was a young man playing Mozart’s Moonlight Sonata on a violin…”
At this, Dracula interrupted him. “How do you know it was Moonlight Sonata? You’re not a particularly cultured man, as we discussed in your last annual performance evaluation.”
Joachim frowned at him. “Uh, yeah, Senator. I remember perfectly well. You gave me a cost of living adjustment downward because I told you I don’t listen to classical music. You said 'a life of boorish amusements is cheap,’ and so I should be able to make do with less.”
Dracula nodded, stroking his chin. “Yes, a wise management decision. So how did you recognize the music? Because I do not pay you enough to attend concerts.”
Even in the middle of a haunted house, having narrowly escaped being devoured by its evil, Joachim glowered at Dracula. “That is definitely true. But as it happens, he told us.
“When we walked in, the young man stopped playing and looked up at us. He said his name was Thaddeus, and that this was his house, and it had been his house for a long, long time. Harvey said ‘Our boss would like to talk to you,” and this guy said, ‘the vampire will be speaking with me soon enough.’
“Then he asked us if we liked his playing. He said it was Moonlight Sonata, and that he played it often, to remember his wife. He said his wife had been taken, far too young, in this very house. That she had drowned in the bathtub while he played Moonlight Sonata. He asked us if we would like to see the bathtub where she died—that it was just around the corner.
“Harvey started to say thanks but no thanks. But then the young man looked past us, out into the darkness of the hallway, and said, ‘It’s too late. She is here.’
“We all turned around to look...and when we turned back, the young man was gone. Just gone, like he was never there. And there was a violin on the chair where he’d been sitting, but it was bashed-in and destroyed.
“We went back out into the hallway, pretty shaken up. Harvey said, ‘This is ridiculous. We need to get out of this house,’ and we started walking toward the stairs. But we’d taken a few turns and couldn’t find it.
“Shelly told us she knew which way it was, and that we should follow her. So we did, but she kept walking faster and faster, and it was hard to keep up. She turned around once and smiled at us with this weird expression on her face, and then she started running down the hall, and when we tried to chase her, Harvey twisted his ankle. We found one of her shoes, but that’s all that was left. I don’t know what happened to her.
“Harvey and I tried to retrace our steps back to the stairwell but we were hopelessly lost, and his ankle was so swollen that we had to sit down. He told me to go get help.
“I was trying to find my way back when I saw the woman who let us in. She was standing in front of a window, with her back to me, looking out at the storm. She was still wearing that same nightgown and it was dripping wet. I was afraid but I didn’t know what else to do, so I said, “Miss, excuse me. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on here.” But instead of turning around and facing me, she slowly turned and walked down another hallway. I tried to follow her, but when I turned the corner she was gone.
“That’s when I heard something behind me. I turned around, and she was right there, only a foot away from me. Then she said in this weird, flat tone, “The hour is come and you will be the sacrifice demanded by my daughter.” And I screamed…”
Dracula interrupted. “Yes, yes, we heard you scream. It was just like that time on the Metro, remember? When you were mad at that tourist for not moving to the right hand side of the escalator?”
Joachim glared. “Senator, do you mean the time my shoelace got caught in the escalator, and it pulled my foot in and my big toe got chewed up in the gears? And then I had to go to the hospital? And that’s why I walk with a limp, because I don’t have a big toe on my left foot? Is that the time you’re remembering?”
Dracula snapped his fingers, creating a green spark that briefly illuminated the look of delight on his cadaverous face. “Oh that’s why you were screaming. I assumed it was over the tourist blocking the escalator. That actually makes more sense, now that I think about it. I always forget about the existence of pain. In any event, please continue.”
“OK, fine. So I screamed and ran away. I thought I could hear her right behind me, water dripping onto the carpet and scattering from her arms as she reached for me. Somehow I found the stairwell and just sort of tumbled down, and everything after that went black until you found me.”
Senator Dracula nodded slowly. “Thank you, Joachim. That was a good recounting. Very detailed. Maybe a little too detailed, actually. I felt like it kind of bogged down a little in the middle, frankly. But I like you, and I will not record that assessment when I write it down in my clue notebook.”
The vampire withdrew his clue notebook, then paused. “Actually, Joachim, on second thought, I do think I need to record the longishness of your story in my clue notebook. Sorry. But I’ll do that later, because it occurs to me that we should probably go see if Harvey and Shelly are ok. Let us head upstairs!”
Dracula lifted the man to his feet. “Harvey, my vampiric powers, while prodigious, do not include the power to heal sprained ankles. If you like I could wrench your lower leg off at the knee and cauterize the wound by conjuring eldritch flame from my fingertips.”
Harvey looked at him. “Umm, let’s keep the leg. But boy, am I glad to see you guys. After Joachim left I tried crawling on all fours, but it felt too defenseless, so instead I sat with my back to the wall, trying to keep an eye on both ends of the hallway.
“I kept thinking I saw things move out of the corner of my eye, but when I looked they were always gone. And I kept hearing weird noises—scratching on the walls, water sloshing, heavy breathing. The worst was when I felt something tickling my face. I thought it was a spider dropping down on me, which would have been bad enough, but it wasn’t. It was a hair—a long, black hair. I don’t know where it came from.”
Dracula interjected. “Well, Harvey, have you been having an affair? I seem to recall your wife is blonde. If you’re having an affair, I’m going to have to record it in my clue notebook. It would be a pretty juicy clue.”
Harvey looked at him incredulously. “No, Senator, I’m not having an affair. The hair came from inside the house.”
The vampire shrugged. “Well, still, please let me know if you’re having an affair. Now, lean up against me, and let’s go find Shelly, shall we?”
“Senator? Where am I?” She shook her head. “I thought I was dreaming. Is this a dream?”
Dracula frowned. “Well, if it is a dream, it is my dream, because I’m real. And my dreams usually have a lot more blood in them than this. So no, I don’t think it is a dream.”
She shook her head, as if to clear it of cobwebs. “I thought I was dreaming. Or maybe I was dreaming. I was running down a golden hallway, and there was some sort of amazing thing I was trying to get, if only I could catch it. Then I was here and I knew that if I jumped off the balcony I would be able to fly.”
Dracula raised one eyebrow. “Well, if you can fly, then by reimbursing you for travel between New Hampshire and Washington I have been defrauding the taxpayer. So for both of our sakes, I hope you cannot fly.”
“Of course I can’t fly, Senator. But in that strange, mysterious haze, I really thought I could, and I was about to leap off this balcony to the pavement below. Oh, what if you hadn’t shown up when you did? I would have died! Thank you, Dracula!”
The vampire looked out over the balcony. “Well, we’re only two stories up. You probably would have been fine. And if you hadn’t, at least there’s a graveyard right there. But let’s get back to business. It’s time to get to the bottom of this whole thing. I’m ready to put this whole haunted house adventure behind us and get back to our more normal types of experiences in Washington.
“When we first entered this house, I was so focused on our strange, silent host that I didn’t stop to look for fresh clues. But look!” He squatted down close to the ground. “There is a very slight dusting of grave soil here— perhaps imperceptible to the rest of you…” he looked up for confirmation and they all nodded, eliciting a slightly smug expression from the vampire, “but perfectly clear to me. As is the trail it makes. It leads this way. Follow me.
“And be assured that you have no further need for these ridiculous weapons. Nothing in this house can threaten you so long as you are with me. But Shelly, hold on to that copy of the Necromonicon. I gave my old signed copy to Henry Kissinger as a retirement gift and I need a new one.”
The senator led them through a long-unused kitchen filled with rusting knives and the reek of decaying flesh, past a bathroom where a dark, misshapen figure moved slowly behind the translucent shower curtain, and into a child’s nursery.
Hundreds of dolls perched on shelves along the walls, all with their glass eyes crossed out with red paint. Against the wall, a faded mobile dangled over a rotting wooden crib. Dracula lifted the crib with one hand and cast it against the wall, sending dolls flying in every direction. Under it was a hatch.
“And here, team, is where the trail from Vice President Clinton’s grave leads. Into the cellar.” He lifted the hatch to reveal a steep wooden ladder disappearing into inky blackness. “Who wants to go first? Shelly? Joachim? No one? OK, your loss.”
One by one, the senator and his staff descended the ladder. The low-ceilinged cellar had no electric lights, but several oil lamps sat on hard-packed dirt floor underneath the hatch. Dracula lit these with his phantasmagoric power, revealing a room filled with barrels and crates of various sizes, leaking dark and oily liquids into the dirt. In the center of the room was a rectangular square of rough stone, flush with the ground. It was the source of the room’s strong odor of sulphur.
Dracula approached it. He took his notebook out, opened it— then tore out a blank page and dropped it on the stone. The paper burst into flame. The stone was red-hot.
Well, not red-hot. It wasn’t glowing. But it was very hot. As hot as a hot pizza stone, let’s say. But a creepy pizza stone that has been used to cook a rat pizza or finger pizza or something.
Senator Dracula looked around the room. “You might as well come out, whoever you are. I can sense that you are here. There is no escape from this cellar other than than back up the ladder, and my staff will defend it with their lives.” At that there was an audible “hmph” from the direction of the ladder, but Dracula continued.
“I am a powerful vampire. But I am also sworn to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution. I believe in due process and the rule of law. Surrender to me now, without struggle, and you will not be harmed.”
At those words, a large man holding a shovel emerged from behind a stack of boxes. He was shaking with fear.
“Honestly, Mr. Senator, I don’t care if you do harm me. This house is so freaky that I’d rather turn myself over to a vampire than be down here by myself another minute. I keep hearing whispering around me, in all directions, but I can’t make out what it’s saying.”
Dracula nodded. “Yes, yes, that will happen in houses like these. You never have to drink alone when you live in a haunted house, ha ha! But enough frivolity. Who are you and why are you here?”
The man removed a grimy hat. “My name’s Sam Threadbone. I just got out of the joint on a seven-year stretch for grave robbing. I meant to go straight, but I just couldn’t find work.
“Then a woman came up to me at a bar one night and said she knew who I was. She said she’d give me a thousand bucks to steal Vice President Clinton’s body, bring it here, and drop it into this tunnel in the cellar. So I did it. She was here, and gave me this as payment.”
With that, he held up a gleaming gold coin with the letters ‘NA’ on it, then returned it to his pocket. “Then she dropped down into the tunnel herself, and a minute later it filled up with red hot lava. That’s when I heard you all come into the house, and I’ve been hiding down here ever since, waiting for you to leave.”
Senator Dracula extended a finger to him, and spoke with an unmistakable tenor of command. “Describe to me this woman!”
“Well, she was tall, thin, blonde. She looked rich and she talked rich. Also, she mentioned a couple times that she was rich. And it didn’t really even come up organically. Just apropos of nothing she would mention that her job is really hard and that she has tons of responsibility, but that it’s worth it for the money because they have to pay really well to attract employees who can handle it. She never told me her name, though.”
“Would you recognize her if you saw her?”
“Sure I would.”
“Let me see the coin.”
But as the man reached into his pocket, a knife flew out of the darkness like a metal bat and buried itself in his chest. He gasped and collapsed the ground, his body spasming and bloody foam oozing from his clenched teeth. In seconds, he was dead.
A second man emerged from the shadows. He was wearing a dark jumpsuit, and held a second knife in his hand. It shone with a coating of green slime. He smiled broadly.
“Well, that was close, Senator! Good thing I was here to stop him! I’ve been watching him for the past half hour—he’s got a toothpick in that pocket, and he was probably about to stab you in the heart with it. Close call!”
The vampire clenched his long, bony fingers into fists. “A toothpick? Are you mad? Who are you and why have you killed this man, an honest grave robber just looking to pull himself up by his own bootstraps after paying his debt to society?”
The man in the jumpsuit bowed. “Senator, don’t underestimate toothpicks. I can throw a toothpick as well as I can throw a knife— it’s all part of my training. My name is Xavier. I work for Evil Industries and we’ve recently been subcontracted by the Capitol Police to provide executive protection for senior members of Congress. I’m your new bodyguard!”
“What? This is ludicrous! I have never met you or even laid eyes on you! How can you possibly be my bodyguard?”
The man shrugged. “I don’t want to brag, but that’s just how good I am at my job. The best bodyguards are the ones who are never even noticed by their principal. If not for this attempt on your life, you’d have never known about me.”
Dracula fumed, his fangs elongating as rage boiled in him like a cauldron of blood set on a bonfire during an unspeakable secret ritual. “Yes, indeed. And if not for your interruption of this alleged attempt, this grave robber would have been able to identify the woman who hired him.”
The man snapped his fingers. “Why, you’re right! He would have been! Well, I guess he won’t be identifying anyone now, will he?.” Again, he smiled broadly. “And don’t you worry, Ssenator. If anyone else tries to come out of the woodwork like that, I’ll be there to stop them.”
For a moment, everything seemed to blur. One moment Senator Dracula was by the dead graverobber, and the next he was across the cellar standing over the man from Evil Industries, gripping the back of his skull and twisting it backward to bare his neck. Dracula’s other hand held the man’s knife, having disarmed him too quickly for the human eye to capture.
The vampire’s fangs had extended to their full length and hovered over the man’s pulsing carotid artery. When Dracula spoke, the room shook.
“Let me make myself perfectly clear. I do not need a bodyguard. And especially not from Evil Industries. I do not care if your firm has been contracted by the Capitol Police. Now that I have your scent, I will always know if you are nearby. If that happens, you will deeply regret it.
“And do not think I overlooked your veiled threat about being able to kill me by throwing a toothpick. If you dare to throw a toothpick at me I will literally catch it in my teeth and use it to pick them. That is how swiftly I can move. You do not understand the power you are dealing with, nor do your paymasters at Evil Industries.”
With that he released the man, who fell to the floor, gasping.
Dracula turned to his staff. “And now it’s time to go. We’ve seen enough here. Harvey, let’s hold on to this knife. Something tells me that at some point in the future, maybe even decades from now, knowing that Evil Industries uses this sinister green poison will be the clue we need to crack some future case.”
Harvey took the knife from him and put it in his pocket. “But Senator, shouldn’t we go find Tom?”
The vampire looked at him quizzically. “Tom?”
“Tom Pyrzynski, our intern. He vanished in the storm when we were walking here from the graveyard? I mean honestly, if I were him I’d be pretty upset by now.”
Dracula shrugged. “Well yes, I suppose he might be upset at us for letting him wander in this haunted storm for hours. But I am sure he will get over it over the next several decades, and that he will not harbor a secret wish for vengeance, waiting for the moment to repay me for his awful night of terror.”
National Press Club, Washington, D.C.
Senator Dracula to Reveal Centuries-Old National Secrets, Criminality of Revered and Influential National Figure
WHO: Senator Dracula (R-NH)
WHAT: Shocking announcement
WHEN: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2016, 7 PM EST
WHERE: Ballroom, National Press Club, 529 14th Street, N.W.
Senator Dracula (R-NH) will deliver brief remarks unmasking the culprits behind the most brazen series of crimes in U.S. history–a series of thefts, kept secret until today, of the most extraordinary and important artifacts of American civilization.
Senator Dracula’s investigation, in its 218th year, has finally unearthed the shadowy entity that has stolen an extraordinary array of national treasures, and the time has come to tell the American people about these dastardly deeds, and bring the villain to justice.
“Tom, is my cravat straight? I must tell you, I can't remember ever being more vexed that mirrors are of no use to me.”
Pyrzynski sighed. “Senator, relax. Your cravat is fine. Besides which, keep in mind that you’re making a huge announcement here. None of these reporters are going to include anything about your outfit in their stories.”
Dracula frowned, and looked at his communications director. “Darth, is that true? Are these reporters not going to include my outfit in their coverage? Why, that seems totally irresponsible! This cravat is made from the Union Jack that was lowered over Yorktown after the British surrender in 1781. My collar is made from the fur of a bear killed by Davy Crockett when he was only three. And this is a Prada cape. Candidly, Darth, if they don’t include my outfit in their stories, I have to wonder if you're doing your job. It’s important that my constituents not start to think I’m just another boring, gray-suited Washington bureaucrat.”
Vader began to respond, but Tom put out his hand to stop him. “No one is going to think you’re boring. Your outfit looks great, but this is a huge announcement you’re about to make, and even the greatest outfit…”
Dracula interrupted. “What do you mean 'even the greatest outfit'? What are you implying? Tom, I value your counsel, but I don’t need you undermining my confidence right before I go onstage.”
Tom sighed. “Senator, I was just trying to say that the news will overshadow your outfit. This is all anybody is going to be talking about.” At that, the chief of staff smiled. “Why, I think it’s safe to say that even you will be surprised by the impact of the announcement.”
The vampire shrugged. “Well, if you say so. But Darth, I’d still like to see come coverage of my outfit. I tell you what: if at least three news stories comment positively on what I’m wearing, I’ll double your year-end performance bonus.”
Vader looked up from his phone. “So, I’ll get two autographed copies of your memoirs, 'The Courage to Bleed,' instead of just one?”
Dracula frowned. “Well, Darth, just because you got an autographed copy of my memoirs as your annual bonus last year doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get one this year. You had a pretty good year last year, and so far you’re not on track to match it. But we’ll see.”
The vampire turned to Tom. “Tom, I’m still a little surprised that the White House didn’t object to my making this announcement. The Blue Vanishings have been a closely-held secret for many years, and I would have thought that they’d insist on announcing my conclusions themselves. For that matter, I would have thought they’d want to make an arrest first.”
Tom shook his head, smiling. “I’ve been in close contact with the White House. I told them that all the clues pointed to one culprit, and they agreed. And actually, they said that they insisted you be here at this time.”
Dracula clapped his hands. “Well, that all sounds in order, then. I cannot detect any ambiguity whatsoever in your response.” He leaned back slightly in his chair, looking contented. “Tom, Darth, you may have had the experience of working toward something for a few years, then eventually achieving it. But your feelings of achievement have been paltry and insignificant compared to what it feels like to achieve something you’ve worked toward for literally hundreds of years. Why, I haven’t felt this good since I my centuries-long effort to overthrow the French monarchy finally succeeded. Tom, did I ever tell you that story?”
The chief-of-staff looked as his watch and sighed. “Yes, Senator. For as long as I've been working for you, you’ve called a staff meeting at midnight every Bastille Day and told us all the story. And as much as I’d like to hear it again, it’s seven o’clock. Are you ready to start the press conference?”
The vampire rose from his metal folding chair, unconsciously smoothing out his pants and tugging his gold-and-ruby medallion. “Well, okay then. This is a dramatic announcement, so I hope I look like someone who is about to shock the world.”
Pyrzynski stood as well. “Senator, I think it goes without saying that you are about to shock the world.”
* * * * *
Pyrzynski stepped to the podium first. “Ladies and gentleman, I’d like to thank you for joining us on such short notice. Senator Dracula will be making a brief, shocking announcement. As a reminder, the Senator does not appear in photographs or film. There is a pool courtroom artist sketching today’s presentation, and her drawings will be available to all of you. You’re also always welcome to download a digital version of the Senator’s oil painting portrait from the media kit available at dracula.senate.gov.”
A reporter called out. “Tom, is the senator going to be taking any questions?”
Pyrzynski laughed, a cryptic expression on his face. “Not from you he’s not.” Standing off to the side, Dracula cocked his head quizzically at this comment, but the chief of staff continued. “And without any further ado, here he is.”
Dracula stepped up to the podium, and with a wave of his bejeweled hand disabled the microphone. He had no need of amplification–even at a whisper, the roomful of reporters would hear his voice throbbing deep in their heads. He began.
“Reporters and editors usually make terrible choices when it comes to deciding which stories to cover, but you have made an uncharacteristically sound decision in being here today. For I, Senator Dracula – that’s d-r-a-c-u-l-a – will today reveal something so amazing, so extraordinary, that covering it will be the high-water mark of your lives. All of you.” The vampire paused, as if waiting for applause, then continued with a slightly disappointed look on his face.
“This great republic, to which I have dedicated the last 227 years of my eternal night watch upon the earth, has been the target of a series of brazen crimes of almost unbelievable proportions since almost the day of its founding. These crimes began in the year 1798 with the theft of...the White House!”
Around the room, reporters frowned in confusion and glanced at the notebooks of their neighbors to see if they, too, had heard Dracula say “White House.” The vampire continued.
“President Adams made the fateful decision to conceal that theft from the people, fearing that it would shake their confidence in an open society. He had a new White House built in secret–the White House that stands to this day–and scrubbed any reference to the original from the record books. In fact, the original, secret purpose of the Library of Congress was to centralize control of all published records so as to conceal this hidden history.” Dracula paused. “Well, that, and to help Thomas Jefferson unload his book collection in order to make more room at Monticello for hundreds of unsold copies of his vanity project of a book, ‘Notes on the State of Virginia.’ But I digress.”
“Over the years, dozens of the nation’s most treasured monuments and landmarks vanished without a trace. Most recently, the Florida Everglades were stolen and then furtively replaced with tens of thousands of kiddie pools, a layer of opaque pond scum, and a few dozen alligators that were found in the Manhattan sewers.
"This series of thefts became known as the Blue Vanishings. And every time one of these vanishings occurred, I, Senator Dracula, was called upon to investigate. My immortality, supernatural powers, and unquenchable thirst for justice meant I was the ideal detective to solve such a daunting, long-running series of crimes. But to my continued frustration, time after time I was unable to crack the case!”
In the middle of the room, a reporter raised her hand. “Umm, Senator, if you could back up for just a second..are you claiming the Everglades are actually just hundreds of square miles of inflatable pools?”
The vampire nodded solemnly. “I realize this may be difficult to believe. And so I would encourage you to confirm it yourself–just try poking the Everglades with a sharp stick, like this, and you’ll find that it will start draining out. So wear shoes you don't mind getting wet!”
The vampire stopped pretending to poke the ground with a stick, and continued. “As I was saying, it has been deeply vexing to see landmark after landmark disappear and feel powerless to do anything about it. But the clues in this mystery have finally reached a critical mass. I have solved the case. And now the truth can be told.”
Dracula paused. “Well, actually, not right now. I feel like an announcement of this magnitude requires a little more dramatic buildup. So before revealing the culprit, I’ll ask my chief-of-staff Tom Pyrzynski to walk us through the clues.” With that, the vampire stepped backward and, with a flourish of his caped arm, presented Pyrzynski to the crowd. The chief-of-staff turned the microphone back on, beaming. He cleared his throat and began.
“There have been a number of clues over the years that, by themselves, seemed to mean nothing. But today, with the benefit of historical perspective and modern forensic techniques, they point to a clear perpetrator, and I’m pleased to report that federal agents will be making an arrest shortly. But first, the clues.”
“Clue number one: sulphur. At many of the crime scenes, there’s been a noticeable scent of sulphur, such as you might smell if you were around rotten eggs, magma...or some other unusual source of fire and smoke.”
Dracula, standing to the side, nodded energetically. “I can attest to this from personal experience. At every single crime scene, the scent of sulphur has been quite noticeable. Why, it’s gotten so bad that I now associate the smell of sulphur with the Blue Vanishings, which means I can’t even enjoy my own sulphurous, phantasmagoric powers like I used to.” To demonstrate, he briefly produced pillars of cracking green flame from both upraised palms, then shrugged sadly as if to say, “See, I should have enjoyed that, but I didn’t.”
Pyrzynski grinned. “Thank you for that display, Dracula. Very instructive. Now on to our next clue. There has been a prominent national figure on the scene at nearly every Blue Vanishing. They’ve given a superficially plausible reason for being there–specifically, they’ve claimed to be serving in an official government capacity. But isn’t it a little too much of a coincidence that they’d keep showing up at these scenes?”
The vampire clapped Pyrzynski on the back, briefly buckling the man’s knees. “Yes, Tom, well said. I mean, come on. It beggars belief that so many vanishings would include this particular...well, not ‘person,’ exactly. Let’s say ‘entity’. I refuse to believe that this entity, in its various forms, would keep showing up at the Blue Vanishings locations if it weren’t somehow involved.”
Pyrzynski regained his footing, and turned to look at the vampire, smiling again. “Yes, Dracula, that’s a great point! This ‘entity,’ as you call it, does indeed show up on these scenes in various forms, doesn’t it! And it makes perfect sense that the culprit isn’t a person, because no human being could keep showing up, decade after decade, long past the lifespan of any single person. This entity would have to be something that wasn’t bound the the human lifespan–an entity that could, in theory, keep going forever. Right?”
The vampire nodded. “Yes, that’s absolutely right. It’s been one of the core mysteries. These thefts have gone on for centuries, so clearly no human being can be responsible. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to know how we missed the obvious answer!”
“Dracula, I couldn’t have said it better myself. But moving on - the third clue is that all of these disappearances all took place at night. The entity responsible clearly preferred to operate under cover of darkness, avoiding the sunlight at all costs.”
With this, Dracula frowned, and confusion entered his voice like a disoriented houseguest wandering into your laundry room. “Well, it’s certainly true that the thefts took place at night, Tom. But that’s not a clue we’ve discussed previously. And honestly, I’m not even sure it constitutes a clue. Almost all robberies take place at night, so this doesn’t really help narrow things down.” He paused, tugging his bony chin with long, pale fingers. “Well, except that it excludes thieves who are afraid of the dark. But the United States hasn’t had many problems with thieves who are afraid of the dark since Mayor Westervelt rounded up New York’s notorious orphan gangs in the 1850s and put them to honest work in the salt mines. So I’m not sure where you’re going with this.”
This time, Tom did not turn to look at his boss. “You’ll find out soon enough. And now, on to our last and final clue. At the scene of the theft of the Everglades, the thief left behind a pair of sunglasses.”
“Fingerprints!” called out Dracula, unable to contain his excitement. “Tom, was the FBI able to identify the fingerprints on the sunglasses? You didn’t tell me that! This is truly exciting. I thought I knew exactly how this press conference was going to go, but now apparently there’s going to be a thrilling and unexpected twist. I can’t wait!”
Pyrzynski reached inside his jacket and withdrew a plastic baggie containing the sunglasses, which were frosted in white fingerprint powder like the world’s least appetizing frosted doughnut, or possibly the world’s most delicious sunglasses. “You don’t have to wait, Dracula.”
He looked up at the reporters, most of whom looked like they were still trying to digest the bizarre claim that the White House had been stolen in the 19th century. “Yes, the FBI was able to identify the fingerprints on the sunglasses. And what they learned was consistent with every other clue in this case. For the fingerprints on the sunglasses belonged to…”
Dracula interrupted. “Wait, let me guess first. They’re Elsebeth Evil’s fingerprints, right? We know Evil Industries is the entity behind all of this, and that it’s tied in somehow to their magma plan. But I’m guessing that the fingerprints the FBI identified are Elsebeth’s specifically. Am I right?”
The vampire’s chief-of-staff sneered. “No,” he said, and turned to the vampire.
“The fingerprints are yours, Dracula! You are the culprit behind the Blue Vanishings! You have been at the scene of every vanishing. You frequently put off a sulphurous odor. And you operate only at night. Your centuries-long crime spree is finally over. A warrant has been issued for your arrest, and the FBI are here to execute it.”
Pyrzynski pointed at Dracula. “Men, arrest this vampire!”
At those words, several black-suited agents stepped from the shadows and began to converge on the podium. Each held identical duffel bags, from which they drew large, high-powered water guns.
The vampire’s expression had gone from excited to confused to alarmed as his chief-of-staff spoke, but now his features settled into a cool anger. But cool in a calm and controlled sense, not cool in the sense that he put on a pair of sunglasses. Touching those sunglasses back in Florida had already gotten him into enough trouble.
Keeping an eye on the FBI agents with the water guns, he turned to Pyrzynski.
“So, Tom. This is how you repay me for decades of gainful employment? By betraying me to Evil Industries and their diabolical magma schemes?” He shook his head. “Needless to say, I’m going to have to ask you for your two weeks’ notice. And in all candor, you should not use me as a reference in the future.”
Tom threw back his head, laughing maniacally. “You’re not going to be serving as a reference for anyone, bloodsucker! You’re going to get locked away in a hole so deep you’ll never be heard from again. Those FBI agents are wearing earplugs, so you can’t use your mesmeric voice power to command them, and their water guns are filled with garlic-infused holy water. There is no escape for you! You’re going to be buried, and Project F.E.A.R. will finally come to fruition!”
For a moment, the vampire wore his long centuries on his face. He closed his eyes, collected his thoughts, then spoke. His tone was calm, but the power behind it rolled across the room like a thunderclap, freezing even the earplugged FBI agents in their tracks and causing several reporters to stop checking Twitter for a moment.
“Listen to me carefully, all of you. I am innocent of these charges. I have been on the scene of every Blue Vanishing for one reason only: I was charged by the president of the United States with investigating them. As to these sunglasses with my fingerprints–I mean, I insult your intelligence by even mentioning this, but I do not own sunglasses. I am never in the sun, and I always look cool.”
He turned to look at the FBI agents, who had become anxious as an invisible but palpable vortex of power built around him as he spoke. But when he addressed them directly, his tone was one of reassurance.
“Lo these many years ago, I left a land where the mighty did as they wished, running roughshod over the weak. Figuratively, but also literally, during the annual 'running of the peasants' festival after the fall harvest."
“I have seen firsthand how untrammeled power corrupts those who wield it. I came to America because I wanted to help create a different world–a world where men and women and vampires were bound not by the limits of their natural powers, but by the law.
“If I believe in anything, I believe in the rule of law. These FBI agents have no need for weapons, and no reason to fear my unholy vampiric wrath. If they have a valid warrant for my arrest, I shall comply with their orders and submit myself to the justice system.”
At those words, the lead agent stepped forward. “Senator, I really appreciate that. My men aren’t afraid to squirt you, but they don’t want to if they don’t have to.” He motioned to the back of the room, and two agents wheeled in a large iron coffin draped in ropes of garlic cloves.
“I’m sorry to have to do this to you, Senator, but my orders are to lock you in this box, wrap it in garlic so you can’t escape, and then take you to a secure, undisclosed location where you’ll be held for questioning.”
Dracula stood, admiring the coffin. He wondered why he had never considered having an iron coffin made for himself. Just imagine: waking up at sundown every day with the intoxicating, blood-like scent of iron filling your undead nostrils! It was amazing how, even after all these years, he could still discover new ways to enjoy his unending existence upon the earth.
“Um, Senator? I said, ‘My orders are to lock you in this box, wrap it…’”
Dracula shooed the man. “Yes, yes, I heard you. Very well. This is all completely unnecessary, as I respect the authority of law enforcement. But if you insist on this theatricality, I will play my role.” He turned to shake hands with Vader, then climbed into the coffin. As the agents closed the heavy metal lid, he remembered something, and called to the man. “Darth, please contact my attorney–I’ll want him present when I’m questioned.”
At that, the FBI agent closing the coffin shook his head sadly. “Senator, you don’t get a lawyer. You’re not actually being charged with a crime.” The agent’s eyes began to mist over, and he rubbed at them with his free hand. “Senator, I’m from Nashua, and my family has always supported you. Why, I bet you don’t remember, but you came and spoke to my AP History class at Nashua High School about your experiences during the Hundred Years’ War, and you told me I was a dead ringer for King Charles the Seventh.”
In the coffin, shifting around to find the most comfortable position, Dracula shrugged. “Well, you are correct, I don’t remember you. To be perfectly honest, I tell a lot of people they resemble Charles the Seventh. Charles had a very common face; I pretty much think any man with a bulbous nose and thin eyebrows looks like him. But thank you for your support–it means a lot to me.”
The agent’s tears flowed freely, and he began to sob. “Senator, I can’t tell you how much I hate being the one to do this to you. It’s so unjust that it should happen to you, one of our country’s greatest champions for civil liberties. But the reason you’re not being charged with a crime is that it’s been decided you can be held indefinitely without charge. The FISA court ruled that as a non-human, you don’t have any constitutional protections. They’re not going to try you for anything. They’re just going to lock you away and forget about you.”
With that, the coffin clicked shut, and Dracula heard the ropes of garlic being wound around it like a shroud. The ancient vampire tried to soothe himself with that calming image, closed his eyes, and waited.
* * * * *
Dracula was in the coffin for six days. It was the closest thing he’d had to a vacation in years, and he spent much of his time in the cold, dark metal box reminiscing about nights past. It felt good to unplug from work, go completely off the grid, and just be present, in a box.
But he also had ample time to reflect on his current situation. In retrospect, it seemed clear that Pyrzynski had been collaborating with Evil Industries from the start. This explained his chief-of-staff’s pressure to support the F.E.A.R. Act, as well as the fact that he had recently bought a new Chevy Malibu with power steering and heated seats. The Senator had always made it a point not to pay his staff so well that they could afford this type of ostentation, and so Pyrzynski’s sudden luxury purchase should have raised red flags. Instead, it had simply raised one of Dracula’s dark eyebrows when he first saw the man pulling his car into the garage like some kind of gilded age industrial magnate.
But questions remained. How, and why, had Evil Industries stolen the landmarks? If they hadn’t been pawned, or broken down and sold for parts, where were the White House, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the other stolen monuments being kept? And perhaps most mysteriously – why was this iron coffin getting so incredibly cold?
* * * * *
Dracula was passing the time by trying to remember the exact seating arrangements at the wedding of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt when he finally heard the garlic ropes being unwrapped from around the coffin, followed by the sound of a door opening and closing. After a moment, a tinny, distant voice said, “You may open the coffin now.”
The vampire pushed open the 100 pound iron lid as if it were made of balsa wood and sat up. He was in a small, windowless room. It was frigid and pitch black. Aside from the coffin, the room was empty except for a metal door and an intercom panel mounted on the wall. Frost covered all four walls, and the floor was literally a sheet of ice. He guessed it was 20 degrees below zero.
The intercom on the wall crackled.
“Dracula, we haven’t even locked the door to your little hut, because there is nowhere for you to go. It is the middle of the summer where you are. That means the sun never dips below the horizon. It is daylight, 24 hours a day.”
The was a long, ominous pause. “Dracula, welcome to the South Pole.”
The vampire promptly pressed the intercom button to respond. “Thank you!”
Saint Louis, Missouri
The winter wind gusted down on the mighty Mississippi River like a child blowing on a cold, wet birthday cake. Up and down the St. Louis riverfront, paddle wheel steamboats unloaded cargo by lantern light: cotton bales, sassafras, hardtack, crinoline, bustles, whale tallow, trolley cars, ragtime music sheets, and other various and sundry 19th Century goods. The buzz of commerce was almost as thick in the night air as the dense coal soot that choked the city. It was hard to believe that it would ever end.
But as he looked out over the scene from the bluffs on the Illinois side of the river, the gaslights of the city twinkling in the smoky air like hundreds of flirtatious cats winking at him, Senator Dracula knew the writing was on the wall. In this case, literally.
Months ago, the city burghers had assembled at the Planter’s House inn to discuss the future of St. Louis. One wealthy shoe merchant, uninhibited after several cups of hot bourbon punch, had soaked a bread roll in brown gravy and written on the wall, to the distress of the proprietor.
Guys - trains are not a fad. They are probably going to render paddle wheel steamboats obsolete. We need to get on the train train, so to speak, or else St. Louis will get surpassed by some hamlet like Chicago as the urban hub of middle America. I foresee a day, far in the future, when one of our two cities will be so prosperous it can construct a gigantic metal bean and place it downtown, to the wonderment of the world. Let’s make sure that city is St. Louis!
He had to re-gravy his roll several times to complete the message, but it was compelling. And the city fathers had acted quickly. First, by dining and dashing to avoid paying both for their punch, and for the damage to the fine damask wallpaper. And second, by developing plans to construct a mighty bridge across the river.
It would be the longest bridge in the world. The first bridge made of steel, and the first bridge to use only cantilever suspension (whatever that is). It would draw rail traffic away from Chicago like a great railroad magnet, and prevent that recently-burned city from growing to replace St. Louis as the fourth largest (!) city in the country.
But the magnificent plan hit a snag. Not a literal “snag,” which were the submerged logs and tree trunks that sank riverboats with astonishing regularity. But rather a metaphorical snag, that sank plans to build an awesome bridge.
The design by architect and engineer James Eads called for two supporting pillars to be sunk into the bedrock under the river. This, in turn, required that construction crews work in submerged, pressurized towers called “caissons.” In theory, the plan was airtight, so to speak. Workers would enter the caisson through an airlock at the surface, climb down to the river bottom, and start digging away. While they worked, the highly pressurized air in the caisson would keep the water from seeping in and drowning them.
Obviously, it was a fantastic plan. Using only the technology available in the 1870's, send workers dozens of feet below the surface of the largest river in the world and have them start digging.
But shockingly, more than a dozen of the men had died mysteriously, convulsing in pain and expiring shortly after returning to the surface. The remaining caisson workers had refused to continue working, and so the construction of the bridge had ground to a halt.
That is when Senator Dracula received an urgent telegram from his old Senate colleague, Missouri Governor Benjamin Brown.
DRACULA - NEED HELP - (THATS A STATEMENT - I NEED HELP - I AM NOT ASKING IF YOU NEED HELP) - BRIDGE WORKERS KEEP DYING AND CHICAGO IS GETTING BIGGER EVERY DAY THIS BRIDGE REMAINS INCOMPLETE - YOU ARE OUR COUNTRYS GREATEST EXPERT ON DEATH - PLEASE COME TO ST LOUIS POSTHASTE AND HELP US DETERMINE WHY THESE MEN ARE DYING - IF YOU TAKE THE TRAIN FROM WASHINGTON KEEP IN MIND OUR BRIDGE IS NOT FINISHED YET - I GUESS THATS OBVIOUS FROM CONTEXT BUT YOU NEVER KNOW - THANKS - YOUR FRIEND BEN BROWN
But even if Dracula had not considered the former senator a friend, he did consider himself to be the country’s greatest expert on death, and he did not want to miss an opportunity to show off. So the same night the telegram arrived, he commanded his personal valet to pack for a trip west.
* * * * *
“Dracula, it’s the darnedest thing. We’ve hired the best pneumatecist in the world to make sure we’re pumping enough air into the caisson. And so long as the workers are down at the bottom, digging away at river muck in the gloomy, fetid darkness, they seem fine. But after they come back up to the surface they get sick, and 15 of them have died. Our physicians have tried everything - bloodletting, amputation, trepanning - but nothing seems to work!”
Governor Brown pointed at the half-completed bridge. Illuminated by moonlight, the steel-and-brick span stretched out from the bluffs on the west bank of the river, but stopped well short of the first caisson.
“We can’t build the bridge out any further if the workers keep dying. Well, not if they keep dying at this rate, at least.” He tugged his long, bushy beard in frustration, like Santa Claus contemplating a high worker fatality rate among toymaking elves. “They start complaining of joint pain, dizziness and headache, then they bend over, then they die. Dracula, in all your years on the earth, have you ever seen anything like this?”
Dracula peered out over the dark, slow-moving water. He had not been to St. Louis since 1809, when Thomas Jefferson had asked him to check on an increasingly melancholy Meriwether Lewis. Dracula had visited the then-governor of the Louisiana Territory and reminded him that human life was vanishingly short, and thus everything in his life was essentially meaningless, so he should not his mounting debts bother him. Unfortunately, some people just refuse to be happy, and Lewis had angrily kicked Dracula out.
The vampire turned to Governor Brown. “Governor, were these bridge workers elderly, by chance? In my experience, the elderly are often stooped-over, and they often experience joint pain.”
Brown shook his head. “Absolutely not. This job requires great vigor, and our contractor will not employ any worker over the age of 18. In fact, they prefer workers more in the 10-12 years old range, because they need less oxygen, and you can pay them in tobacco instead of bank notes. But the local tanneries and slaughterhouses pay better, so they snap up most of the workers that young.”
Dracula frowned. “What about poison? Is it possible these workers were poisoned?”
Brown shrugged. “I suppose anything is possible. But for the sake of efficiency, these workers do not receive any breaks for water, food or whiskey. Most of them smoke pipes down in the caisson, to give them the energy to shovel tons of wet sand and mud. But unless there's something unhealthy in their tobacco smoke, I can't imagine how they could be poisoned down there.”
The vampire nodded. “The truth is, I am not too familiar with caissons. Perhaps someday, an engineering student here in Missouri will develop an informative and well-illustrated presentation that explains how this caisson works. But that day has not yet arrived. I will need to inspect the caisson myself.”
“Certainly. I anticipated as much, and I've arranged for the lead contractor on the project to be available - Colonel Archibald Evil, of Evil Amalgamated Industries, out of Richmond.”
A dark look crossed Dracula’s face. “Archibald Evil? You are aware that Evil’s company was one of the main suppliers of cavalry sabers, harmonicas, and sideburn trimmers to the Confederacy? I understand the need to reconcile with our countrymen south of the Mason Dixon line, but enriching a war profiteer like Evil and his entire Evil family seems uncalled for. Why have they been given the contract to construct this bridge?”
Governor Brown raised an eyebrow. “This is a federal project, Senator. That’s a better question for your colleagues in Washington. Or you can just ask Archibald himself - he's waiting to greet us at the caisson.”
But anyhow! As Brown and Dracula pulled their rowboat alongside, Colonel Evil walked to the platform’s edge and looked down at them, holding a lantern. He squatted and reached one ermine-gloved hand down toward the boat. “Senator Dracula! Let me give you a hand up. How good to see you again! ”
The vampire glared at Evil. With slow, contemptuous deliberation, he levitated up out of the boat, ignoring Evil’s offered hand, and settled on the caisson. “Colonel. I’m surprised you would feel that way. I believe the last time I last saw you was when I infiltrated your ironworks at Mobile and sabotaged the ironclads you were building for the Confederate Navy.”
Colonel Evil laughed jovially, and withdrew his hand, tucking it back into his coat like a small pet ermine that lived in his pocket. “Yes, indeed! Well, needless to say, I wouldn’t have invited you into my factory if I’d known you had such mayhem in mind. But what can I say! I love to play host so much that sometimes I’m my own worst enemy.”
The vampire’s expression darkened and his eyes glowed red. “Do not dare to presume that you are your own worst enemy! I, Senator Dracula of New Hampshire, am your worst enemy!”
In the long, awkward pause that followed, the only sound that could be heard was the rush of the river around the caisson, and Brown’s repeated requests for someone to help him up out of the rowboat. Evil shook his head sadly. “Senator, the war is over. Your side won, mine lost. But if we are to be united states once again, shouldn’t we let bygones be bygones? Great projects such as the bridging of this river are best accomplished if we work together, Yankee and Southerner, politician and businessman, human and vampire, are they not?”
From the boat below them, Governor Brown called out. “Senator, I really have to agree. Archibald and his company have been most helpful. He has forsworn his secessionist desires and re-sworn his allegiance to the United States. Isn’t that right, Archibald?”
“Oh, yes, absolutely, governor. Why, looking back on it, the Colonel Evil who armed the Confederate military seems like it was a completely different person! I have absolutely no interest in creating a separate country. All that is behind me!”
Dracula peered at him. “Evil, why do you have one hand behind your back?”
The tycoon laughed nervously, as he continued to hold one hand behind his back. “What? Oh, I just have an itch. Even the rich aren’t immune from dry skin, you know. These midwestern winters! I can’t wait till someone invents the humidifier.” He moved his hand back in front of him. “I believe you’re here to investigate the strange caisson illness our boys have been experiencing, yes? Well, there’s no time like the present.”
The man took a sleek silver case from his coat pocket and withdrew a cigar, lighting it with a waterproof match. He also put on a silk tophat, just to complete the look. “But frankly, Senator, I have my doubts that you’ll get to the bottom of the particular mystery. As I always say whenever workers are killed on the job at my ironworks, sometimes bad things just happen! Fortunately, though, I think I have a solution. I’ll tell you about it when you come back up.” He smiled, and kicked open the hatch that led down inside the caisson.
* * * * *
Inside the caisson, a wrought iron staircase descended more than forty feet to the digging surface. The structure was constructed of oak timbers sheathed in iron plates, and as it rocked gently in the river’s powerful current there was the creak and groan of stressed metal and wood. Lanterns were hung from hooks all the way down, and as they swayed they cast shadows though the staircase’s complex latticework that whirled and danced, as if the ghosts of the dead caisson workers had returned to live beneath the river’s dark and glossy surface forever. All in all, Dracula found it quite pleasant.
A coal-fired steam engine constantly pumped air into the caisson, keeping the interior pressurized so that the river’s water would not begin to seep in. In fact, this pressurization was one of the most mysterious elements of the caisson illness. Dracula knew that living mortals thrived on air. So it stood to reason that air pumped with great force into a room full of humans should, if anything, make them more healthy. And yet worker after worker had died shortly after leaving the caisson. Contemplating this dilemma, the vampire drifted down the center of the caisson, his dark cape billowing around him like a great black jellyfish that has taken a job as a 19th Century bridge construction worker.
The sounds of the timbers straining under the pressure of the river reminded him of his long-ago voyage across the Atlantic to America, slumbering in the depths of his ship Nosferatu by day and pensively roaming the deck by night, imagining the new world to come. It seemed so long ago! Part of him wished he could go back and tell that younger vampire the things he knew now. Buy land in Manhattan. Invest in wagon wheel grease. Don’t trust Aaron Burr. But much like the Mississippi River, time was a river, and it flowed in only one direction.
His nostalgia was interrupted when his boots came to rest against a wet, sticky muck. He had reached the river bottom. Scattered around it were shovels, picks, and...let’s just say a complicated bucket-and-pulley system for sending dirt back up through the top of the tower, because obviously they had to put all that dirt somewhere.
The workers had not made it far down into the muck and silt; Dracula estimated that they had more than six stories to go before reaching the bedrock. But unless he solved the mystery of the caisson illness and found a way to keep workers from dying at the end of their shift, chances were good that they would never get there, and experience the joyful sense of accomplishment that comes with standing and the bottom of a deep, muddy pit, and knowing that you made that pit yourself.
The vampire paced in a circle, running his hands over the rough walls of the caisson. He sniffed the air for noxious gas, and scanned the mud for abandoned weapons. Somewhere, there would be a clue.
But no, actually. There wasn’t.
The vampire had been in the clue business a long time and he recognized that fact almost immediately, and so he was able to spare everyone some kind of excruciatingly exhaustive CSI-style search. There were no clues. So far as he could tell, the caisson was devoid of anything that might cause people to die after abruptly after leaving a pressurized environment.
Dejectedly, he found a relatively dry spot on the river bottom and sat down. He dreaded telling Brown and Evil that he’d failed to solve the mystery. At the very least, he thought, he should spend enough time down in the caisson, so it looked like he’d put some effort into the thing.
With one pale finger, he began to practice his signature by scratching it into the ground...and was momentarily surprised when his finger sunk through the dense, sandy mud with no resistance.
He sat up excitedly. Of course! He had so many vampiric powers that it was sometimes hard to keep track, but one of the most critical was the power to effortlessly dig with his bare hands. Without it, vampires would never be able to claw their way up from the grave after being buried by well-meaning but ignorant loved ones.
The vampire examined the sleeve of his coat. It was rich worsted wool in a herringbone pattern, tailored on Savile Row. The thoughts of letting the grime of the river bottom ruin it filled him with an almost physical pain. But weighed against the fate of the city of St. Louis, it was...well, it really was quite a nice coat. But still, he had no choice. He wasn't willing to let Evil see him fail.
After caressing the fine fabric and quietly thanking it for its service, he drove his fist deep into the earth, his undead arm sinking into the river bottom mud all the way to his shoulder. With a grunt, he thrust the other arm into the soil, and methodically, machinelike, began to dig down toward the bedrock where the bridge’s pier would be set.
* * * * *
At the top of the caisson, Archibald Evil was gesturing enthusiastically to Governor Brown, who was huddled against the cold and kept peeking down into the airlock to see if Dracula had returned yet. A passing steamboat illuminated Evil’s sparkling eyes, and the calliope music lilting from its dancehall gave his speech a fun, jaunty, "The Music Man" feel.
“Governor, it’s a shame these caisson workers keep dying. No, really, it is, I mean it! But listen: my engineers at Evil Amalgamated Industries have come up with the solution. It’s a steam-powered locomotive engine, but instead of pulling train cars along steel tracks, this device bores a hole down into whatever plot of earth you like! Simply aim this “Plot Boring Device” down toward the bottom of your caisson, and it will dig a tunnel down to the bedrock in minutes.”
“In minutes, you say?”
Evil nodded excitedly. “Not only that, but it has the power to continue digging right on through bedrock. Why, if you wanted to, you could use it to hollow out the center of the Earth! Ha ha!” Evil paused, and bit his lip. “But, umm...obviously no one would ever want to do that. I don’t know even know why I brought it up!”
Brown frowned, confused, as Evil continued. “Listen, governor, I won’t lie to you - this machine is amazing. Now, I won’t claim to understand how it works. It was invented before I was born, by one of the most diabolical geniuses in American history…”
Brown interrupted. “Wait, did you say ‘diabolical’?”
Evil’s eyes widened, he and clapped one hand over his mouth. “Umm...no. I said...ummm…what I actually said is ‘semi-tropical.’”
“It was invented by one of the most semi-tropical geniuses in American history?”
But before Evil could think of another word that rhymed with“diabolical,” Dracula burst forth from the airlock into the night, muck scattering in every direction, his arms outstretched like a dark, muddy angel. Brown and Evil jumped backwards, gazing up at him in shock as he levitated in the air.
When he spoke his voice boomed, resonating deep in the chests of both men.
“I, Senator Dracula, have solved the problem.”
His words echoed down the river, startling a seersucker-clad card sharp on the deck of a casino boat who fell into water, windmilling his arms hilariously, until the current sucked him under. Evil frowned, and glanced at Brown. “Well, Senator, the governor and I were just discussing a solution to the problem, it’s my company’s new Plot Boring Device, and I think we…”
“Silence!” commanded Dracula. “There is no need for men to toil in the dark on the river bottom, shoveling mud, to build this bridge. Using my unholy vampiric power to dig in the earth -- admittedly one of the less well-known vampiric powers -- I have excavated down through 70 feet of mud to the bedrock. The hole has been dug.”
Brown’s jaw dropped. “Why, senator, that’s amazing! It’s only been a few minutes! Did you also solve the mystery of what’s been killing the caisson workers?”
Dracula’s glared at him. “There was no need to solve it! I resolved the issue by digging the hole, even though it ruined my suit! I could have easily solved the mystery, if I had needed to. But there are a lot of mysteries around the country that need my help, and it does not make sense for me to solve ones for which my awesome vampiric powers have made a solution redundant!”
As Colonel Evil glowered at Dracula, the governor spoke apologetically. “Well, Senator, please don’t take this as a criticism, because speaking for the people of Missouri, we really appreciate you digging that hole. But the fact is, the workers still need to go down into the caisson to actually, you know, build the bridge’s support pillar on the bedrock. And we still have more holes to dig and piers to set. So thank you so very much for digging that hole, but we can’t finish the bridge if we’re not sure what’s been killing our men.”
The vampire folded his arms as he hovered in midair, the brisk wind blowing droplets of mud from him onto Evil, who attempted to dodge them without success.
“Governor, I am not sure what to tell you. I feel like I have really gone above and beyond the call of duty of a U.S. Senator here. And this isn’t even the state I represent in the Senate! I traveled all the way out here, I ruined my outfit digging in the mud...and, as if that’s not enough, somehow this caisson ruined my ‘energy drink’!”
He reached into his mud-soaked jacked and removed a shard of glass. “I like to carry around a glass vial of blood that has been hyper-saturated with nitrogen. I work long hours, and sometimes I need to quick shot of energy to help me solve a crime or finish writing a piece of legislation or whatever.”
“But when I emerged from the caisson, the vial in my coat pocket exploded! Presumably because the nitrogen expanded when it left the high-pressure environment. So there’s that too, on top of my ruined suit, and the long and dreary train ride out here to “ride-a-train-through-it country.”
But instead of looking sympathetic, Governor Brown snapped one finger. “Eureka! Senator, that’s it! When the workers leave the caisson abruptly, shifting to a much less pressurized environment, the nitrogen dissolved in their blood is expanding and killing them! Why, in retrospect, it seems obvious!”
The governor started fumbling at his pockets for something to write on. “What we need to do, then, is make the transition from high-pressure gradual, to give the body time to adjust. That will keep our workers healthy and allow them to complete the bridge.
“And obviously, we’re also going to need to find a man of science to claim this discovery as his own, because it won’t do to have the people of Missouri learn that their governor is a secret chemistry prodigy.”
Both Dracula and Evil eyed at the governor. The vampire floated down to the top of the caisson. Evil spoke first. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Governor Brown, but you sound a little eggheady right now. What are you talking about? What does this mean?”
Before Brown could answer, Dracula snapped at him. “I’ll tell you what it means, Evil! It means I didn’t need to get all muddy digging that hole. It means I didn’t need to come to St. Louis at all! What a waste of time.” Dejectedly, the vampire kicked at one of the clumps of river mud that had fallen from his cloak.
Gamely, the governor sought to console him.
“Dracula, I’m sorry. And I don’t blame you for feeling upset. But look at it this way - don’t you think it might come in handy, at some point in the future, to know that you can easily use your bare hands to bore tunnels deep into the earth?”
The senator rolled his eyes. “Umm...no. No offense, Brown,” he said as he flew back into the air, “but there’s a reason you’re not in Congress anymore. You’ve got a weird sense of what being a senator entails. And now, with the supremacy of St. Louis over Chicago ensured, I will return to Washington. Farewell!”
Evil and Brown both waved as Dracula flew east across the river to catch the train back home. As he vanished into the sooty fog, Evil turned to the governor. “Governor Brown, that reminds me. I’ve got some ideas for making St. Louis grow and prosper more than Chicago. What do you think about having the city of St. Louis secede from St. Louis County? It's a can't-fail strategy for municipal growth!"
February 28, 2016
Tiny Shack, The South Pole
Senator Dracula was in a small, windowless metal shack at the North Pole. The vampire was imprisoned not by locks, but by the near-24 daylight of the Antarctic winter. Leaving the shack for even a moment would mean his destruction, as the sun’s rays cooked him on the ice like a 19th century polar explorer cooking penguin meat with a magnifying glass.
Part of him didn’t mind his imprisonment. For the first time in ages, he was almost completely off the grid. He had no phone, no laptop, no blackberry—there was no way for his staff, his constituents, or his Senate colleagues to pester him with “do you have a sec to look at this,” or “time for a quick call?,” or “help me senator ive been kidnapped im typing this with my nose plz save me.”
In theory, he could have just kicked back and enjoyed the solitude, closing his eyes and falling backwards through centuries of memories.
Except he was not off the grid. Instead, the grid had extended one slender copper tendril out to him, in the form of an intercom nailed to the shack’s wall, which squawked every few hours to taunt Dracula with news of his enemies’ seemingly unstoppable progression from strength to strength.
Dracula did recall. Unlike mortals who might need a little exposition to help them remember the plot line of something they’d read on the internet a few months ago, Dracula’s brain cells were as immortal as the rest of him. Like an elephant —and especially like a vampire elephant—he never forgot.
So he remembered the events leading up to today all too well.
The centuries-long series of thefts of the country’s greatest monuments and landmarks, which came to be known as “The Blue Vanishings.” Dracula’s equally centuries-long series of failed efforts to catch the thief. The unexplained presence of industrial conglomerate Evil Industries whenever one of the vanishings occurred. That same company’s relentless efforts to pass the Flood the Earth with Awesome Renewables (FEAR) Act in Congress, lowering all regulatory barriers to pumping magma to the Earth’s surface to use as an energy source. Dracula’s discovery that Evil Industries was responsible for the Blue Vanishings. And, finally, Dracula’s betrayal by his chief of staff, Tom Pyrzynski, who set him up for the vanishings, leading to his imprisonment in a tiny shack in the perpetually sun-bathed summer Antarctic.
“Senator Dracula, hi, it’s me, the guy on the intercom. Guess who has been named the sole contractor to dig the first exploratory magma well! Can you guess? Well, this is a one-way intercom, so I don’t know whether or not you guessed, so I’ll just tell you. It’s Evil Industries! Bechtel, Halliburton, and a few other construction majors came in with bids in the hundreds of millions, but Evil Industries' bid was zero dollars. Zero! In a statement, they said “We are willing to dig this hole for free because we are confident that controlling it will lead to total global dominance. Wait, market dominance. Market dominance, not global dominance. This is off the record, right? Don’t print that I said global dominance, that part of the plan is still a secret.”
But in the meantime, he had to endure daily taunts from the voice on the intercom.
Evil Industries was going to drill the magma hole in his adopted home state of New Hampshire? Senator Dracula had become deeply skeptical that the company had the ability to control the magma once it began venting to the surface. He had no intention of letting New Hampshire be ground zero of Evil Industries' risky experiment. Why, just off the top of his head, he could think of half a dozen better-suited sites for venting magma, next door in Vermont.
Angrily, he grasped the copper wire leading to the intercom and ripped it from the wall...and noticed that the wire led down into the ice floor. For the first time, it occurred to him that the man speaking to him was on the other end of that wire.
Well, that, or some kind of radio transmitter. But it was still worth a try!
Dropping the wire, the vampire held both hands flat over the ice floor and closed his eyes. With a “whoosh,” which he said without a trace of self-consciousness, twin pillars of green flame shot from his hands and began melting the ice around the copper wire.
Dracula thought there might be hundreds or even thousands of feet of ice at the South Pole. But to his surprise, after melting through several feet of ancient ice, he reached dry, hard-packed and frozen earth. Which just goes to show that you cannot trust what you read on Wikipedia about the depth of ice in Antarctica. Looking around the shack one last time, he raised one eyebrow at the intercom, smiled, and—using his magical vampiric digging powers—he dug, straight down, following the copper wire.
What a strange and amazing life he’d led! When he was a boy, living with his parents on a sun-dappled olive orchard along the coast, frolicking among the goats, who would have guessed that he would someday find himself burrowing deep through frozen antipodean soil like a fugitive arctic mole, following a copper wire?
For that matter, who would have guessed that he would someday hold elected office? Who would have guessed that he would someday become a vampire? Who would have guessed that copper would someday be good for something other than making bronze?
Eventually, the wire terminated at a flat concrete surface. Dracula tapped it with one long, manicured nail, and listened to the dirt-muffled sound. Hollow! The wire had led him from the intercom in his shack to some concrete structure, buried deep beneath the South Pole!
Part of him wanted to pause, again, and reflect on the amazing life that had led him from being a small boy, picking olives in the Mediterranean sun, dreaming of nothing more than having a nice juicy olive for dinner.
But no. There was no time. The Evil Industries drilling machine could start boring down through New Hampshire toward the earth’s core at any moment, and there was no time to waste. He clenched his hand into an ancient, musty fist, and punched a hole straight through the thick concrete slab, into a fluorescent-lit room beneath.
With one punch! And it wasn’t even his good hand! That’s how strong he was. But would it be enough for what awaited him? (He wondered.)
A sheet of paper was taped to the wall, just above the desk.
- Press the red button on the microphone to talk. If you don’t press the button, he cannot hear you no matter how loud you talk. We can’t emphasize this enough.
- Every few hours, give him an update on the progress of the FEAR Act and related issues.
- Don’t be nice to him! Forget everything you’ve read in the history books about how he is one of the Founding Fathers, how he helped us win WWII, blah blah blah. He is trying to meddle with our evil scheme and we do not need to be nice to him!
- Don’t tell him too much! He knows Evil Industries is behind the theft of America’s greatest landmarks, but he doesn’t know why, nor does he know who Evil Industries is working with. This will all be revealed to him later, probably in a dramatic confessional monologue by an inappropriately confident arch-villain. So don’t spoil it!
- He is extremely literal. If you sarcastically tell him “enjoy your stay” he’s going to think you’re being sincere. So don’t tell him to enjoy his stay! Instead, try saying, “don’t enjoy your stay."
- You shift is eight hours with two five-minute bathroom breaks. There’s no bathroom, though. So we recommend that you not spend those five minutes having a cup of coffee.
- It’s very important that you follow these instructions. Your predecessor didn’t, and he...well, let’s just say he’s no longer with the organization. He’s been “terminated,” you might say.
- - Have fun and be creative! This job is really what you make of it. So if you think it’s boring, then maybe the real problem is that you’re boring. Just a thought!
Aside from the desk, the room was empty. Senator Dracula briefly jetted flame from his index finger to incinerate the obnoxious instructions, and approached the elevator doors.
When Senator Dracula was in a multi-story building and needed to visit a different floor, he usually just dissolved into a cloud of dense black smoke and traveled through the air ducts. He avoided elevators, because he disliked making small talk about the weather. In fact, he dissolved into a cloud of smoke whenever anyone tried to make small talk about the weather.
But he had been in enough elevators to know this one was unusual. For one thing, it was in some kind of concrete bunker buried under the South Pole. But also, it had only two buttons. The top button was marked “Prisoner Intercom Harassment Room.” The other was marked “NA.”
Senator Dracula peered at that button. Where had he seen the initials “NA” before? (Other than in nearly every box on the form he had to fill out to renew his passport every ten years.)
Ah yes, he thought to himself; it was when the treacherous Aaron Burr had tried to assassinate him by cannonfire, back in 1815. “NA” had been the cryptic insignia on the cannons.
He shook his head. Burr! The long-dead vice president had recently experienced a measure of fame, thanks to the popular musical Hamilton. But Senator Dracula felt it important to remember that his own experience with Burr preceded the musical. Just in case anyone got the idea that the musical had in some way resulted in Burr showing up in his life. Because that is just not what happened. He hadn’t even heard of the musical Hamilton when Burr had been “written into the Senator Dracula story,” as it were.
But anyhow! There were no air ducts in the room, and no other elevators or hallways or doors. The only ways out of the bunker were back up through the tunnel he’d dug down from the surface, or to whatever “NA” was.
He pressed the button. It illuminated, the doors closed, and the elevator began to descend.
* * * * *
Eventually, after the vampire had gone through several dozen fingertips, the elevator doors opened on a small train platform, with a sleek, low-slung, single-car train. There was nothing else in the station except the train, and nowhere else to go. Well, except for back up the elevator to the intercom office. And Dracula was not a coffee drinker, nor was he interested in using the intercom to taunt the now-empty metal shack where he had been imprisoned.
Well, OK, he was a little interested. It did sound fun to mock the shack for its failure to contain him. “Aha, shack! It is I, Senator Dracula! Your sole job was to imprison me forever, like an old Trader Joe’s burrito sitting long-forgotten at the back of the freezer! But I was too smart for you! Better luck next time!”
But he was also interested in seeing where this train led. And he didn’t think he had the energy to even hear someone describe the journey between the shack and the train, let alone experience it again himself. So he entered the train and sat in the small vehicle’s sole seat. As he did, a screen embedded in one of the chair arms flickered to life.
Travel to NA?
“Yes” said the vampire sternly, to no effect. After saying it several more times, in increasingly commanding and authoritative tones, he tried touching the word “YES” on the screen.
Enter password: ____________
Dracula frowned. He did not know the password. But it was possible the mysterious owners of the train used the same password he always did, which was “password.” He tried entering it.
Password not recognized!
Enter password: ____________
Dracula tried his backup password, “password!”
Password not recognized!
Enter password: ____________
Forgot password? Touch here for a hint.
Dracula touched the word “here,” hoping the hint would be about the password. To his approval, it was.
Password hint: Who won the most electoral votes in the U.S. Presidential election of 1800?
Enter password: ____________
The vampire frowned. No one had won the most electoral votes in the 1800 election—Jefferson and Burr had tied at 73, and the House of Representatives had broken the tie and handed the presidency to Jefferson. Senator Dracula himself had been a key player in the election, having voted himself, and having encouraged several friends to vote by pinning an “I Voted” button to his lapel at displaying it prominently when he got back to work, at the Senate. So he was unlikely to forget the fact that no one had won the electoral college that year.
A stern, pedantic expression on his face, he began to type, “No one—Jefferson and Burr tied with 73 votes apiece.” But as soon as he had typed “No one,” the screen changed.
Please strap in and remain seated. Acceleration will begin in ten seconds, reaching a maximum speed of 600 mph.
Train will reach NA in three hours and 15 minutes. Hope you brought a book.
Your seat will rotate backwards for deceleration after three hours. So don’t freak out when that happens.
After ten seconds, the train began to glide noiselessly forward. As it did, a video began playing on the screen in the seat’s armrest. And to Dracula’s shock, it was Elsebeth Evil.
She was seated at a broad desk in a richly appointed office. Behind her, a window let an eerie, glowstick-like green light to the room. Before Dracula could begin speculating wildly on what might be creating that light, other than thousands of glowsticks, she began.
“Hi. I’m Elsebeth Evil, President and CEO of Evil Industries. I recorded this message to express my thanks to you, and every other associate at Evil Industries, for everything you do, every day, to help make our company a success. I know that people like you are the ones doing the real work at this company.
“And whether you’re balancing the books, fueling trucks in the motor pool, or taunting an imprisoned vampire over a closed-circuit intercom, you’re making an important contribution to our collective goal.”
“You’re helping to create a New America.”
Senator Dracula’s jaw dropped, as the video started over from the beginning. New America! NA! NA stood for New America!
No outside plants or animals permitted.
Calling on his unearthly strength, he kicked the solid door off its hinges, sending it flying out into open space. Green light flooded the train station as he stepped through the doorway.
But there were tall objects, lit green by the glowing cave, poking up above the fog. The Washington Monument. The Golden Gate Bridge. The Statue of Liberty. And, Senator Dracula had no doubt, if he ventured further out into the cavern, he would find the rest of the stolen monuments.
He had done it. After more than 200 years, he had done it. He had found the long-vanished objects of The Blue Vanishings!
And while the vampire could see the tops of several monuments emerging above the ghostly green fog, one particular object drew his attention.
Several hundred yards out from his vantage point, poking only a few feet above the fog, was the White House. The original White House, which had been stolen in 1798. An old White House for a New America.
A long stone stairway descended from the cliff into the fog, but the ancient vampire ignored it. He smiled, his white fangs flashing like lucky coins in a shopping mall fountain, and flew into the damp air toward the White House.
He was in a sunless cave. He had all the powers of an ancient, immortal lord of the undead. And someone as vain as Elsebeth Evil could only have chosen the White House for her office, so he knew exactly where to find her.
Nothing could stop him now, he muttered, jinxing himself.
* * * * *
The original White House, as very few people knew, was a featureless black marble pyramid, designed by George Washington based on (presumably) secret Masonic guidelines. Dracula had once asked him why he’d wanted to make the young republic’s executive mansion so occult, so pharaonic. To which Washington had replied, “Shut up, that’s why.”
The sleek black pyramid, rising ten stories from the cavern’s floor, had been built with no apparent entrance or exit. But Senator Dracula had visited the it many times when it still stood at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and he knew how to access its hidden passageways—including the one at the pyramid’s apex that led directly to the Oval Office. He would bet even Elsebeth didn’t know the hatchway existed. And so she would get quite a surprise when part of her office wall swung open and a vampire swooped in.
Or at least he sure hoped so. If that didn’t surprise her, then he wasn’t likely to come up with anything more surprising. He spotted the marble brick that served as the secret door’s lever, pressed in on it, and jumped through the portal into the Oval Office.
He dropped to the rich rug emblazoned with the presidential seal. The symbol on the rug seemed subtly off somehow, but he was distracted by the fact that the desk was empty. He had hoped to catch Evil in her office. And, disappointed, he started wondering whether he ought to go back outside, then swoop in again in an hour or so. And then again an hour after that, and so on, until he could could swoop in when she’d be there to see it. But while he was contemplating this, a man’s rich voice spoke from behind him.
“Ah, my old friend. Welcome to New America, and to my home. I’ve been expecting you.”
Dracula knew the voice. But he couldn’t believe he was hearing it. He spun around.
It was Aaron Burr. But Burr had been utterly transformed.
February 28, 2016
The Oval Office, The White House, New America
("New America" is a gigantic cavern miles beneath the ocean floor, in case you’ve skipped straight to Chapter 10.)
Senator Dracula stared at Aaron Burr in shock. How was the man alive, in 2016? And what was that contraption he was wearing?
Dracula spoke. “Burr, how are you alive, in 2016? And what is that contraption you are wearing?”
The contraption was a massive, intricate metal exoskeleton, buzzing with electric motors and pneumatic pistons. Burr was encased within the complex machine, controlling it with a series of levers and toggles. And while he was not a tall man, his head brushed the ten-foot marble ceiling of the room.
The former vice president laughed. And in the power of that voice, Dracula knew the truth even before Burr spoke it.
“Do you like it, Senator? I built the first version many, many years ago, not too long after you last saw me. At that time, it was powered by a rudimentary coal-fired steam engine. But I have improved it over the decades, and today it is powered by three coal-fired engines. It greatly magnifies my speed and strength. And I was an impressively swift and strong vice president to begin with!
“And as to how I am alive in 2016, 199 years after you and I last spoke? The answer simple, Senator Dracula. I am no more alive than you are.”
Burr smiled, revealing long, sharp fangs. Aaron Burr had become a vampire.
Well, that, or he was wearing fake fangs. But Senator Dracula was 95% sure they were real. Without a moment's hesitation, he darted forward too fast to see, both arms outstretched and his hands twisted into claws, ready to rip Burr from the robotic machine. But he was far too slow. Burr’s piston-augmented arm whipped out and batted Dracula away, sending the vampire thumping against the room’s black marble walls so hard the entire pyramid shook.
Senator Dracula leapt to his feet. Burr was shifting from left to right, the exoskeleton’s motors whirring. Dracula lunged at him again, this time feinting left. But again, the combined speed of Burr’s vampiric reflexes and his powered armor was too much for Dracula. The vice president’s gigantic metal fist grasped the senator by the neck and threw him into the office's massive wooden desk, exploding it into splinters with the vampire's impact. One shard of wood pierced Dracula’s back, and he gasped in pain. The wound had missed his heart, but not by much, and it would take a long time to heal.
He rose, this time more slowly and warily. “Burr, that desk was hand-carved by George Washington from one of the cherry trees he was constantly chopping down at Mt. Vernon. You’ve just destroyed a priceless piece of American history.”
Burr, who hadn’t moved from his position on the far side of the room, laughed again and shrugged, his metal exoskeleton amplifying the motion. “Dracula, I cannot tell a lie. I’ve enjoyed having Washington’s desk. See, I carved my initials in the top here, and for a while I put a notch on it every time I came up with a great idea. But I come up with great ideas all the time, so the desk was pretty marked up. Plus, I always forget to use coasters on it, so it’s gotten to have a lot of stains.
“At the end of the day, it’d been around for too long, and its time had come.” He smiled. “Much like you, Dracula.”
While Burr was talking, Senator Dracula had furtively grasped a long shard of wood from the shattered desk, and he now flung it across the room at Burr’s chest, slicing through the air like one of those shards of wood that pierce all the way through a tree during a tornado. But again, he was too slow. The robotic, vampiric vice president easily snatched it in midair and tossed it aside. Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, Dracula darted up toward the ceiling, attempting to to fly over and behind his opponent. But Burr grabbed him by the ankle and whipped him to the floor, rattling his ancient fangs in their sockets.
Before he could rise, Burr was on him. One motorized arm pinned Dracula to the ground by his neck, while the other plucked a particularly jagged piece of wood from the floor and pressed it against his chest. Dracula called on all his ancient, supernatural strength to break free, but it was nowhere near enough--he felt like a child, struggling in the grasp of a some kind of evil, robot child.
Burr drove the wooden spar down harder against Dracula’s chest. It tore through his tie, then his shirt, and broke the surface of his bloodless skin. If Dracula’s blood could have gone any colder, it would have.
He looked into Burr’s eyes hoping to find mercy in them, but instead saw only fierce, supernatural power, and bloodlust. In fact, it was almost like looking in a mirror. And in any other circumstance he would have found it comforting in its familiarity. But if anything can dilute the solace of meeting a vampire, it’s having that vampire try to kill you.
“Now, Dracula, really. This flailing about is beneath someone of your standing. I’m not going to kill you, unless you give me no choice. In fact, I’m going to give you a second chance to make the decision you should have made in 1815. I’m going to give you the opportunity to join me in making a better world.”
Dracula’s eyebrows raised in skepticism, and Burr quickly corrected himself. “For us, I mean. A better world for undead vampire lords. Realistically, it’ll probably be a worse world for everyone one else.”
Burr lifted Dracula up into the air, still grasping the senator by the neck. “Now Dracula, please be reasonable, and stop struggling. I don’t care about destroying Washington’s desk, but there are a lot of other historical treasures in this building that I would have to throw you into if we keep fighting. There’s my vice presidential portrait. There’s my diploma from Princeton. There’s the ticket stub from when I snuck up to the surface and caught an original-cast performance of Hamilton, with my exoskeleton disguised as a forklift. I’d hate to see things of such value and importance destroyed because you persisted in these foolish attempts to defeat me.”
As he named these items, he shook Dracula left and right, swinging the vampire’s legs like a pendulum.
“And even a slow-witted vampire like you must realize by now that you cannot match my machine for speed or strength. So let’s behave like gentlevampires. If you don’t struggle, I won’t kill you. Well, at least not yet. Not until you’ve had time to hear my offer.” With that, he tossed Dracula across the room, but this time gently, like you’d toss a wad of paper into the wastebasket.
Senator Dracula got out of the wastebasket, trying unsuccessfully to maintain his dignity, and eyed the vice president. The wounds in his back and on his chest ached. He knew that they would slow him down, and he also knew that it didn’t matter. Burr was right--in the metal exoskeleton, the vampire vice president was far too fast and too strong.
“Very well, Burr. What is your offer?”
Burr smiled broadly, stretching both steel arms out in a gesture of magnanimity and welcome. “Ah, Senator. I am so happy to have the chance to explain the situation to you.” He then tried to rub his chin in a thoughtful manner, his massive metal fist clanging against the exoskeleton’s helmet. “But, on second thought--why tell you, when I can show you?”
Inside the great metal robot, Burr’s fingers moved over a small panel with buttons and switches. With a deep groan, a section of the Oval Office’s black marble walls swung outward, opening the room completely on one side and exposing a view out into the vast cavern. The room was only a few feet above the fog that clung to the cavern’s floor. And off in the distance, Dracula could see the stolen monuments poking above the fog like a child’s patriotic toy set left abandoned in a bubble bath. The Golden Gate Bridge. Mount Rushmore. The Washington Monument.
Then, another section of the room’s oval walls slid open. Behind it was a glowing control panel with multiple keyboards and screens. The largest of the screens showed a map of the world. On it, a blinking icon shaped like a stylized drill hovered over Concord, New Hampshire. “You are here” was superimposed above an empty spot in the Southern Ocean, a few hundred miles north of Antarctica.
Burr, in his exoskeleton, walked over the ledge that looked out over the cavern. With every step of the titanic machine, the building shook, and dust drifted from the stone ceiling. He looked out over the foggy vista, his back to Dracula. For a moment the senator thought to use this fact to attack him, but immediately thought better of it. Burr was a vampire, no less powerful than him. If Dracula sprung forward, the undead vice president would immediately sense it. And Dracula wasn't ready, emotionally, to get tossed in the wastebasket again.
There was a long pause, as Burr looked out over the fog, lit an eerie green by phosphorescent cave moss. Dracula fidgeted, starting to get bored. Finally, Burr spoke.
“Dracula, I should have been president. I was America’s best and brightest. But I was betrayed by small-minded men who lacked my soaring vision for what this country could be.” He stopped, as if waiting for a response. After a few moments Dracula spoke, but mainly because it felt so awkward just standing there in silence.
“Burr, don’t be absurd. I don’t want to get into a whole alternate history game with you, but your career didn’t end because you were betrayed. You chose to challenge Alexander Hamilton to a duel and kill him. You chose to launch a conspiracy to create your own separate country. No one betrayed you.”
Burr spun towards Dracula, his eyes flashing, the gears and pistons in his exoskeleton screaming with activity. “America betrayed me, Dracula. I gave this country everything! I spent four long, boring years in the powerless post of vice president. I killed one of America’s most obnoxious and off-putting Founding Fathers. And what did I get for all that? Nothing! If, by “Nothing” you mean “I didn’t get to be president,” which is in fact what I mean.”
Burr turned back to the cavern, and pointed angrily with one massive steel arm at Mr. Rushmore, far in the distance. When he spoke, his vampiric voice dripped with contempt.
“Washington. Hmph. Jefferson. Ugh. And Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln, those guys sucked too! I mean, they are all a poor-man’s version of Aaron Burr. In fact, that’s what I’ve renamed that particular monument, now that it is here in New America. ‘Mt. Poor-man’s Versions of Aaron Burr.’ Actually, a lot of the monuments down here now have names like that.”
Dracula cleared his throat. “But, Burr...what is New America?”
“It is exactly what it sounds like. The original America was ruined at birth, fatally flawed by its failure to elect me as president in 1800. This is a second chance.” He paused. “Well, a third chance, actually. When I realized that the first America had failed and it was my responsibility to create and lead a second version, I tried to do it in the arid southwest territories. But as you know, that attempt failed when I was charged with treason.”
“Well, Burr, to be fair, you did try to carve out a separate country for yourself. You were trying to undermine America.”
“I was trying to make America great again! But I learned my lesson: to create a new America, I needed isolation, and secrecy. I needed a pristine, empty land. And I needed power, Dracula. Power to compel men to do my bidding, power to bend the arc of history to my will, power to live long enough to shape the course of a nation. Power like yours.
“That’s why I asked to meet you in that New York tavern, so many years ago. I had just discovered, while secretly burying things deep in my backyard, of the existence of a vast empty world beneath the surface of the earth. The first time I visited it, I knew it would be perfect as the blank slate upon which to inscribe a new America. But this time an America led by me, not that hack Jefferson.
“But on that first visit, I thought to myself, ‘I’m a pretty handsome man. Do I really want to spend all my time down here in the dark, where people won’t be able to admire me?’
“And that’s when I had the epiphany, the one that has driven my every action for more than 200 years. I knew another statesman who wouldn’t mind ruling in the dark, far from the sun. A statesman who had the otherworldly powers I needed to build my new nation. And who possessed the immortality that could allow me to carry out the long, slow work of nation-building over the course of generations.”
Dracula figured Burr was probably referring to him but thought he should probably ask, just in case Burr knew another vampire politician. “Who? Was it me?”
Burr’s metal-encased head nodded. “Yes, Dracula. I realized I could use vampiric powers such as yours to found a new country, deep underground. And so I needed you to turn me into a vampire. After which I would rule my subterranean republic forever, with you serving by my side, as my butler.” Dracula frowned at that, but Burr still had his back to the senator, and continued.
“But you rejected my vision of a new, sunless America where vampires could rule.”
Dracula snapped his fingers with sudden realization, green sparks flashing. “And that is why you tried to assassinate me! Because I’d declined to join your conspiracy, and so you needed to kill me to keep your secret from leaking out!”
Burr turned and glared at him. “Dracula, I know you’re not a Princeton grad like me, and so you probably don’t know ancient Greek, but the “mono” in “monologue” comes from the Greek “monos” meaning “single,” meaning me. I'm the one explaining this sinister conspiracy.” The senator gazed coolly at him. Dracula did, in fact, speak ancient Greek. But this was not the time to point that out. Burr continued.
“Yes, senator, that’s why I tried to assassinate you. But despite basically doing everything but give you a notarized memo explaining the conspiracy, you failed to figure it out, so I decided it wasn’t important to kill you. Instead, I found another vampire who was willing to induct me into the dark undead brotherhood.” Dracula cocked his head to one side, confused.
“But wait, Burr - if you’d decided way back in 1816 that you didn’t need to kill me to keep the secret of New America safe, then who tried to assassinate me on the Washington, D.C. Metro, way back in the first ‘chapter’ of this long, strange, somewhat internally inconsistent journey I’ve been on?”
Aaron Burr laughed. “Oh, that was me who sent the assassin to kill you on the Metro, but it had nothing to do with New America. I just can’t stand you, so every few dozen years I send an assassin to try to murder you.” He shrugged. “Do you remember that time someone sewed a wooden stake inside one of your t-shirts, so it would stab you when you put it on? Remember when someone installed a tempting-looking tanning bed in your office? That was all my minions.” He smiled, reminiscing.
“Speaking of minions: even after I became a vampire, adding to my already-formidable powers as 'Aaron Burr,' I needed some minions to help me build New America. And so I set to work. Industrialist and merchant Horatio Evil was a friend, from his days as a defense contractor for both sides during the Revolutionary War. I made him a simple proposition -- help me acquire the necessary infrastructure for New America, and you, your descendants, and your employees can join me in New America. First as guest workers, and then we’ll see how things go. Maybe down the road I’d create a path to New American citizenship for particularly loyal and obsequious subjects.
"Because, you see, I needed their help. I knew that even having beloved American hero Aaron Burr as president would not be enough to make people believe that this was, in fact, a new America. I needed the artifacts and objects that make America America. So, with Evil Industries’ help, I set out to steal of all of America’s most essential national symbols.
"Because once I was in possession of the White House, the Washington Monument, the Eads Bridge, the bones of Vice President George Clinton...who could say that this was not the true America? Not that boring has-been country on the surface...but here, in this giant, green, glowing cave, ruled by me, cyborg vampire Aaron Burr?”
Burr pause as if expecting applause. But instead, Dracula still had one question for him.
“I still have one question, Burr. Where does the FEAR Act fit into all this? Why are you drilling for magma?”
“Safety, Dracula. To keep people safe.”
Dracula cocked his head to the side. “How does venting magma to Concord keep the people there safe?”
“Oh, well not those people, Dracula. No, they’ll burn to death when an ocean of magma rolls over New Hampshire like a flaming tidal wave. Every single person who lives on the surface will die, as the lava floods the earth and boils the sea. I meant that it’ll keep me and the Evil Industries staff down here safe.
“You see, the only real threat to us is that the United States will raise an army and send it on an expedition to the center of the earth, discovering and conquering us.
“It already almost happened once, when Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson tried to get the Senate to fund an expedition to center of the Earth in 1823. I was able to use some of my old Washington connections to get his measure defeated, but it was a close call. And I knew then that either the people living on the surface of the Earth would destroy New America, or it would destroy them. The world isn’t wide enough for America and me, you might say.
“Evil Industries had already developed an impressive machine for drilling tunnels, which we had been using to steal national - the ‘Plot Boring Device’ Archibald Evil told you about back in 1872, when I stole the Eads Bridge from the people of St. Louis, and I guess also from the people of East St. Louis. I realized we could use this machine to drill the ultimate tunnel--one connecting the Earth’s surface to its molten core.
“And now, finally, the time has come. The moment I have waited for lo these many years. The panel that remotely operates the drill is here in this very room, ready to send the signal that will activate it and send it burrowing downward.
“And so, Dracula, the time has come for you to make a decision. I am going to activate the drill. And once I do, the die is cast. The surface of the world will be destroyed, New America will be the planet’s only inhabited country, and I will be its leader. You can join me, swearing allegiance to New America as its second citizen. Or, you can die.”
As Burr said “you can die,” a strong vibration traveled through the floor. The vice president turned, confused, wondering if he had just discovered a new vampire power, since new ones seemed to pop up all the time. To his surprise, he saw that Senator Dracula had moved, and was now standing by the drill’s control panel.
“A very interesting plan, Burr. Very complex. Honestly, maybe a little too complex. A little TLDR.” The floor vibrated again, and this time it was accompanied by a deep-pitched crushing sound. Burr’s eyes darted around the room, looking for its source.
“But you overlooked one thing, Burr. When I rode your little train here, there was a built-in screen that said “travel to NA yes or no” when I sat down. And after several minutes of giving it stern commands, I tried touching it. And you see, Burr, it was sensitive to touch! It was a “touching-screen”! I had no idea such technology existed! But I am not a slow learner. And so when I saw your control panel here, I knew just what to do. I simply touched the drill and moved it. Then, when the screen asked ‘Are you ready to get this party started?’ I pressed ‘Oh yeah.’”
The senator stepped to the side, so Burr could see the control panel’s main screen. On it, the drill icon had changed from green to a blinking red. And it was no longer over Concord. It was over “You Are Here.”
Burr gasped. “Dracula, what have you done? How is it it possible that the drill has moved all the way from New England to just off the coast of Antarctica!?”
Senator Dracula smirked, one fang poking past his lip. “Burr, I don’t know if you realize it, but your monologue went on for a long time.”
The floor shook violently, and from the cavern there was the sound of a booming explosion. Several hundred yards away, a massive, still-spinning drilling machine plummeted from the ceiling of the cavern, vanishing into the green fog and, unseen, shattering against the stone floor. Then, tracing the same path down from above came a thick white column of ice-cold seawater, pressed through the borehole with the force of a million tons of ocean above it, the cataract blasting through empty space and impacting on the ground with a deafening roar.
Burr began to rush forward toward Dracula, but the senator raised one slender pale figure in a somewhat condescending wagging motion. “Burr, are you really going to attack me, instead of trying to seal that hole before it floods the cave? The Washington Monument looks like it’s the perfect size to plug that hole and save your republic.” Burr hesitated, glancing first behind him at the water plunging into the cavern, then back at Dracula. “I’ll deal with you later, Senator.” With that, two jets of blue flame erupted from the the back of Burr’s exoskeleton, and he launched out into the cavern, toward the Washington Monument.
* * * * *
When Burr arrived at the base of the monument, the icy seawater was already chest deep, lapping against the giant obelisk’s sides. The thick white fog had been scattered by the water jetting into the cavern, and he glanced at the monument with trepidation. Dracula had been right -- it did look like the perfect diameter to seal the borehole. But he also knew that it was incredibly heavy. Stealing the monument had required a massive fleet of Evil Industries earthmoving equipment, and that task had only required lowering it down into the earth, not lifting it up. He knew even a vampire would not have the strength to lift it. But augmented by his powered exoskeleton, he thought he could do it. And with the water rising quickly and flooding the many stolen national treasures, there was no time to waste.
He dropped down into the water to get his hands underneath the bottom of the monument -- and heard a hissing sound. The electric motors of the exoskeleton ground to a halt, locking the suit into position, and Burr smelled a whiff of sooty steam. And that’s when he remembered the thing ran on coal. And as an energy source, coal has one single, minor flaw: you cannot burn it underwater.
The water still rising, Burr scrambled to release the exoskeleton’s latches and escape from the now immobile machine. He had no worries about drowning, but he wanted to seal the borehole before the cavern filled up any further. As he wrestled to free himself from the massive steel contraption, Senator Dracula floated down to hover next to him.
“Hello, Burr. You seem to be having some difficulties with your machine there?”
Burr glared at him. “Dracula, you would be smart to flee now, while you still can. I have other tools and weapons at my disposal, and once I manage to claw my way out of this thing I’ll destroy you, with or without it.” As he continued to grapple with the exoskeleton’s various switches and levers, the former vice president grew visibly exasperated, and switched tactics. Giving Senator Dracula the famed Aaron Burr puppy-dog look, he asked, “Although if you’re just going to hover there, it would really help me out if you could push the green button on the back part of the exoskeleton that opens the rear hatch, since I’m having a hard time reaching it. As a friendly gesture between vampires?”
For a moment, Dracula seemed genuinely sad. “I’m sorry, Burr. I have known you a long time, and I regret doing this to a fellow Founding Father of the United States. But I cannot push that button. There is something else I need to push.” And with that, the ancient vampire senator moved to the far side of the Washington Monument, and began to push it over.
Burr instantly realized what he was doing. “Well, now, uh, Dracula, come on, old buddy! I mean, let’s not overreact here!”
As Dracula’s pressed against the side of the monument, his fingertips creating hairline fissures in the marble as all of his ageless strength was brought to bear, the monument shifted ever so slightly, its center of gravity moving a handswidth towards the imprisoned Burr. No mortal would have noticed, but both vampires did, and Burr tried to escape his exoskeleton even more frantically.
“Dracula, I know you! You’re a vampire who believes in the rule of law! You’re not some kind of one-vampire judge, jury and executioner! If you disagree with my noble efforts build a new nation, then take me before a trial of my peers, if you can find twelve people as smart as me. There’s no call for this sort of extra-judicial vigilante execution!”
Undeterred, Dracula heaved against the base of its monument. At its peak, the aluminum capstone shifted several feet, beginning to dip toward Burr like a dowsing rod. The vice president, white-eyed, watched as the obelisk’s motion quickened. Dracula spoke.
“No, Vice President Burr. I am not an executioner. I have taken the measure of your exoskeleton. It is, I will grudgingly admit, incredibly well-constructed, and it will bear the weight of the monument. You will not be killed. Only imprisoned, pinned under the Washington Monument, in this inky, flooded cavern, for all eternity.”
The water rising up to his chin, Burr started to respond. But then Dracula’s mighty strength forced the monument past its tipping point, and 81,000 tons of stone accelerated down toward Burr like George Washington himself dropping his mighty presidential fist down on the renegade vampire vice president.
Just before the great obelisk’s impact on Burr’s exoskeleton and the surface of the water, Dracula shouted out to him. “Burr! You’re going to have a lot of time to think things over! Take advantage of this opportunity to reflect on the true meaning of America! It’s not about monuments! It’s about ideas ideals! It’s about the freedom to live and speak and believe as we please!”
Burr rolled his eyes, looking almost relieved as the water finally rose past his ears. And then the monument crashed against his exoskeleton, crushing it, like a steel coffin, deep down beneath the icy water.
Will Senator Dracula float underwater next to the trapped Aaron Burr for all eternity, using silent hand gestures to lecture the vampire vice president about the greatness of the American experiment? Has Senator Dracula actually been in Purgatory this whole time? Will this story end with an exposition-heavy denouement, after JD and Kate go back and read all ten chapters of this thing and realize how many loose ends they'd forgotten all about? You'll have to subject yourself to the Epilogue to find out!