(published 14th May 2018)
1. The Book Club
The famous crime writer met with his literary agent for help with a problem. It was strange, you wouldn’t think that this crime novelist, who was rich and successful, had any problems in his life at all. He was the author of the Inspector Tak mysteries – a series of police procedurals in which dour, working-class cop Ian Tak investigated serial killers (aided by DC Sarah Lombardi, a hot-headed half-Italian sidekick who wore expensive suits and had a habit of swearing in Italian). The books had been popular for many years but sales had begun to ebb. Feminists objected to the visceral rape-slaughters of the author’s anonymous fictional victims. Comments he had made on panels, at festivals, on his blog, and on Twitter, had been misinterpreted. It was time for a new direction.
‘Vampires,’ said the agent. ‘Vampires is it.’
They were meeting in the Society Club in Soho. The agent had prominent cheekbones and expensive wire-frame glasses. She was small, but had a certain presence.
‘Vampires,’ the crime writer repeated.
‘Vampires is big money these days, Greg. Twilight, Buffy, Darren Shan. Vampire mashups. Vampires from other planets. Vampires in the twenty-first century, Greg.’
‘Vampire lawyers.’ Greg wanted to feel like he was making a contribution. ‘Vampire bakers.’
They were on the terrace bar. The agent sat under an awning shadow. ‘It’s perfect for you. You’re a genre writer, you can do series, it’s an easy transition. And also: stuck for a plot point? Four simple words: I am a vampire.’
‘I heard of Twilight,’ said Greg. ‘I can lash something together.’
‘It’s not just Twilight,’ said the agent. ‘You need a knowledge of the vampire archetype throughout literature, to give some weight to the story. Have you read Polidori’s The Vampyre?’
The agent ground out her cigarette. ‘Okay. You need a crash course in the classics. There’s a vampire book group on Gerrard Street, meeting tonight. I’ll let them know you’re coming, they’ll love you, they’ve probably all read your stuff. Be there at eight.’
The famous crime writer took a cab to this relevant address at the arranged time. The cab driver had to drive up and down the street because he couldn’t find the door. The sun pinwheeled off the glass and got in Greg’s eyes. Greg told the guy to forget it and paid the guy and got out of the car.
There it was. Between the Bar Italia and what used to be the Dive Club, an open staircase. The door hung open on to the street, in a way that struck him as incongruous and unnerving. He took out the card the agent had given him.
The Van Helsing Society
1260 Gerrard Street W1
Meeting every third Tuesday to discuss works of vampire literature in a friendly, convivial atmosphere
New members welcome.
‘There may be cake’
Greg disliked book groups. They were full of professional readers, who drank coffee in circles of plastic chairs in the back rooms of churches and went on long boring chats about narration and character and style, and asked questions like: ‘Why do you use so many adverbs in dialogue attribution?’ and ‘How did he climb over the prison wall if he’s been shot in the leg?’ The cream of the card scratched into his fingertips.
A middle-aged man greeted him at the inner door. He was well-built, of almost military fitness, with a thick moustache and expensive suit.
‘Mr Chope, I assume?’ In a book, Greg would have described this guy’s face as ‘ruddy’, but the handshake, although firm, was cold, as if the gentleman had just gone out for a cigarette on a winter’s evening. ‘I am Alan Savanović. Welcome to our little club, and leave some of the happiness you bring!’
Savanović led him through a tight featureless corridor with a low ceiling. His footsteps echoed on the stone. ‘Sini tells me you are looking for a grounding in the classics. You can be sure of finding that here. We are amateur scholars, true, autodidacts of a kind, but none knows the literature and Lore better than we.’
‘Are you from Transylvania yourself?’
A great booming laugh. ‘Not Transylvania, boy. Serbia. Although my father used to say, when he was in his cups, that we were descendants of the original House of Drăculești, on my grandmother’s side. Ah – here we are –’
They had reached a warm cavernous room filled with languid furnishings. The sofas looked like well restored antiques, Greg thought they could be worth a bomb. An ancient and groaning winerack dominated one wall and a grandfather clock had been stationed on a raised platform. The other participants were all young and mainly female, of that pale gothic look that Greg had never gone for but now, in this room, seemed gorgeous and inviting. Plump décolletage and fishnet stockings and bright made-up eyes.
‘This don’t like your typical book group.’
Savanović let go more wild rich laughter. ‘Quite! As I say, autodidacticism, Mr Chope! Should I teach in a university? Should I let my erudition choke in dreary faculty meetings and the halls of the dead?’
‘I guess not.’ Greg felt a little out of his depth, an unfamiliar sensation. Savanović reminded him of the men he’d met when he first hit the big time in publishing, full of an effusive blazing focus that you realised was not directed at anything in particular.
Now Savanović addressed the room. ‘This, ladies and gentlemen, is Greg Chope, who – not yet, Miriam, not yet!’ He made a shushing gesture at a tall beauty with strange body art, who had begun to play opening chords on a cathedral-like organ by the far wall. ‘Mr Chope is not of our genre, however he has made his wealth by exploiting the morbid fantasies of the suburban breeder bourgeoisie. A fine case study, no?’ Savanović picked up a bottle of wine, and filled two glasses. ‘So. Your education. Shall we begin?’
The agent walked down Gerrard Street. She wore sunglasses, a floppy hat and long summer dress. Every area of exposed skin was fortified with high-strength suncream.
The Van Helsing Society was a picture of repose. The participants of the night before slept on sofas and chaise-longues. There were faint rhythmic sleepnoises from lined wooden boxes underneath the tables, and from the rafters of the room.
Savanović was awake, but had the air of someone hungover after a fabulous party. He pottered around and brewed coffee like an old man.
‘Sorry to bother you at this hour,’ the agent said.
‘Think nothing of it, dear. You needed to know how it went.’
‘Yes, Alaeric, I can see.’ The agent inclined her head at what remained of the famous crime writer, suspended in a soft rotation in the air. ‘Empty, then?’
‘Yes. The young ones went to town on him. There won’t be any danger of a literary comeback, let us say.’
‘Good. Thank you again.’
‘Gods, Sinistra, I curse this summer, and it’s barely even begun.’ Savanović lit his pipe. ‘Will you be able to get away, do you think?’
‘Not for a while. Spring catalogue, you know. I’m hoping to get over to Helsinki in June, see the Calyptras.’
‘Dear Augustus. How is he doing?’
‘He’s his old self. Busy with this Scandinavia thing. Peasants a little restive, but when aren’t they?’
‘June the first. Counting the days. Let’s do it.’
They talked for a while. They were very old friends, and Sinistra was sorry to ascend the staircase into that evil sunlight. She had three breakfast meetings and the HarperCollins garden party in the afternoon. Goddamn.
She wondered if she had been right with the Greg thing. The emptying of civilians could lead to questions. Bad for business. But, she reflected, these days it was so hard to get rid of a difficult client.
She angled her hat against the horizon and scanned the street for cabs.
2. System of Agency
from: Smith, Kirk <firstname.lastname@example.org>
to: Oliver, David <email@example.com>
cc: ‘Fisher, John’; ‘Rudman, Steve’; ‘Herring, Janet’; ‘Peden, Bill’; ‘Walker, Barbara’; ‘Holland, Russell’; ‘De Luca, Laura’; ‘Mweibeha, Johnson’ (show more)
date: Monday, March 3, 2014 at 9:12 AM
subject: Norway expansion
This message was sent with High importance
I am delighted to announce the opening of the first Fisher Rudman Norway office.
The office will be situated in Storgata, Tromsø, the ninth largest urban area in Northern Norway and above the Arctic Circle.
With branches already open in Paris, Stuttgart, Budapest and Warsaw this office marks a new achievement in Fisher Rudman’s European expansion programme coming at a time when the relaxation of movement controls and new agricultural development in the Scandinavian countries offer new opportunities and challenges.
Opened in partnership with the Calyptra Group, the office will deliver B2B sales, farm management, machinery supplies and telephony services of the standard Fisher Rudman expects and demands.
David Oliver, Agronomy and Bioethics lead, will be on secondment to F-R Tromsø for six months beginning April. There will be a ‘leaving do’ for David at All Bar One, 27 South Parade, Friday March 28, 7:30pm (staff are reminded that company policy particularly relating to Acceptable Conduct and Workplace Relationships applies to this event as to all other work related ‘socials’ and there will be feedback given if these policies are not adhered to).
Fisher Rudman Agricultural Biosolutions
Thorp Arch Business Park
Boston Spa, Leeds
Chat Conversation Start
Monday, April 10, 2014
– Hey how was your first day?
– Wow Scandinavia baby what’s it like?
– Have not seen much of it
– We are on an island
– I have wikid it. the guys from royksopp are from there
– how is the new office
– is there a scandi janet fishyfish equivalent?
– No haha
– in fact its not really what i expected
– office is not even on the main street, on some huge hill and its full of slavic workmen
– haha scary bulgarians
– ive spent six days lugging boxes, big heavy antiques, from the dock to the basement of our office – not really on my pay scale. dealing with loads of farm bosses from the Scania and Sigtuna for some reason
– and the boss promises lots of trips to fields cleared for arable land… resettlement of immigrant workers… exciting
– oh what a nightmare well fuck what kirk says, if they don’t give you a proper role then come home
– i know
– you cant let them screw you
– i know
– you’re not going to eat kirk’s poisoned cahlic
– i know
– i’ll make him eat his chalice with a big fucking scoop of revenge flavoured icecream
– so thats it, boring norway, agric supplies, hours of box related fun! What have you been up to? XX
– oh loads has happened. docklands was really good, mark says he’s playing oslo in the summer so should definitely make that a holiday and we can meet. also proper kicked off today in the key stage workshop, iona went on this big rant about how the Steiner school – some crazy German theorist
from: Calyptra, Augustin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
to: Locke, Nicholas <email@example.com>
date: Friday, April 14, 2014 at 7:57 AM
subject: Last minute thoughts
This message was sent with High importance
Just been thinking and thought I would email you in the spirit of the late night funk of inspiration, and planning… feels like everything has come together but then I take a step back, and I see, I see detail, I see the macro, I see the world in a grain of sand. Tromso Tower is almost finished and is a thing of sensual stealth, particularly from the air. And yet I think, so much done, so much to do, as if the energy I gain from this act of creation perpetuates my bloodstream, creates new force, new problems, which –
But let me gather my thoughts.
- EU regulations – greater freedom of labour movement. A fine opportunity but will there be ‘issues’ – is this something we should be thinking about – could harm our ‘data protection’? Take their passports? It’s not like Qatar
- Travel. Our Customs people have been so helpful but there are numerous tiresome delays meaning some of our friends from across the seas have been spending four or five days ‘in transit’ – in particular, the Karsteins and von Eleazar families are nagging me about this in a most harrowing manner – is there some kind of ‘fast track’ process?
- Quality. Have to make sure the hemogoblins are flowing. The landowners will want workers to be productive but we must ensure production of blood cells, transport of hydrogen ions and excellent thermoregulation to deliver the first class product that our people need and this may mean compromise or relaxation of ‘work conditions’
- Yield. At the same time, we need to ensure enough of a yield to distribute among our people and this may mean compromise (eg 76,000 civilians can feed 22m ‘Suits’ on yield 80% plasma but emptying rate is higher than for the standard 55%, with empty point coming at 43 years rather than 61)
- Cultural sensitivity. Lots of Xians in the A8 countries particularly among low income, rural, uneducated labour pool. We don’t want them getting organised. I need not belabour the point to you, dear Nick!
- Unions. On that note, peasants have been a little restive in Seinäjoki of late with the growth of ‘trades unions’. We have had some success in turning the ringleaders who then have an obvious incentive to keep their fellows in line. (I gather that labour and management relations in your beloved England follow much the same principle)
You see Nicholas. Bullet points. You have made a businessman of me at last!
With admiration, and affection
And of course you will not go home again.
The role is admin and B2B and you are grateful for that. The odd particles of soil, on the lower floors, where you assisted in lifting the boxes to the offices, the boardrooms where the doors are always closed, and not just for the big meetings. The corridors are filled with men and women in immaculate hipster pinstripes and flawless skins – pale, sure, but with a certain painful radiance. You work all day and at night you hit the Jernbanestasjon or the Blå Rock. At night you can see the tower from wherever you’re drinking. Lights from the city slide over it, touch it in stretches and fragments of manmade colour that pass quickly. You hear the song of the boats and careless voices in languages you don’t know. In the morning the tower refracts the sun with the force of industrial magnifiers.
There’s something else, as well. One night at the end of the first month, getting back into the fifth-floor apartment share on the Stakkevollan, thinking of getting a shower and ordering in and maybe calling Fllip and going for a quick beer or maybe a game of squash, you realise what it is. The tower is made entirely of glass inside and out, but on your walks around the tower corridors and passing dozens of professionals in suits and blouses and discreet corporate accoutrements you have never seen a single reflection. Not one.
I’m not what you expected. I don’t wear evening dress absolutely the whole time and I’m not afraid of stakes or garlic or religious symbols. I can cross bridges and walk through churchyards. I don’t have power over the mind. I don’t target young women on balconies.
I have lived a long time, and I have kept my looks. For obvious reasons it’s hard for me to understand my own physical appearance, but the way some women look at me signals that I wear these centuries lightly. I’ve been around for a long, long year, as the song goes. In time before time, in those cool faithless stony places, I emerged as a spirit, no real flesh or form as yet, just another voice in that raging troposphere of maenads, jinns, cryptids, lost gods and demons, roaming the ruins and the deserts, feeding where I could. Things began to look up around 1700, when the Enlightenment kicked in, times changed, country turned into pavement, roads threaded between cities like vital connective tissue, streets and language evolved at a dizzy speed before my eyes. I had my humanoid body by then, I travelled widely, I knew the Habsburgs, Voltaire and the Compte de Saint-Germain: I went to marvellous parties, and met many interesting people, some of whom I was able to turn, and we battened on the continent, a self-selected elite that nevertheless performed a valuable public service in thinning out the breeder hordes.
There was of course a vulgar-Marxist aspect to all this and the rot began in the late Victorian age, when the peasants began to rise against us and the noble fool, Van Helsing, gathered his followers. There were government hunters after me with Treasury quotas. I had to take flight from the rookery when the bastards set my castle to the torch. I had of course made preparations for this worst case scenario, and I fled to this very shore, where I caused something of a stir by arriving in a Russian ship crewed entirely by dead men – indiscreet, I know, but it was quite spectacular, visually. Whitby was good times. Midnight feasts on the beach with dear Miss Wenestra, various friends and estries. Still, the world was changing, and old money doesn’t talk like it used to. Friends retreated into the legal trade and hedge funds and Arctic weather stations. Property, wealth, networks, all of it melted into the air.
Now of course a new century is here. And I returned to this doomed North Yorkshire seaside town to live out my last days. I’m in the crumbling old house off the north promenade bought in easier times, where my Yorkshire crowd used to entertain, full of memories of blood fondue and drunken parlour games and dear Nicholas telling his long, eccentric stories (the LYHA owns it now, but I can still live there). Technically I’m immortal but I don’t think I’ll last much longer. One of these old vampire legends is true: I find it very difficult to go out in sunlight. My skin I can protect with creams and charms, but the light gives me panic attacks and I find it hard to hold down a job. I like to sleep in the day and go out when the sun goes down.
Whitby is interesting these days. They’re still cashing in on my mythos. The Goth Weekend, the Whitby Walks, the Dracula Experience, Novel Getaways and the Bram Stoker Film Festival – Stoker, another old fool, who got most of his shit from Ármin Vámbéry, the far superior writer and adventurer, and an old friend of mine. I should charge the council fucking royalties. I walk along with the main street with its glossy billboards and frogurt shops and look out to the rolling foam beyond, and I reflect that we’re all supposed to be modern and ironic and affectless these days but there is still that timeless hunger for the ancient thing in the night. Give me that old time Lore.
There’s a big goth scene here, as you’d expect. I sit in the old fishermen pubs that we have colonised and I tell them old stories. Some of the more impressionable goths even donate blood. All very civilised. But here’s the thing: if you feed on someone, you don’t just get the taste of blood but the taste of their very lives. Feed too hard and you’ll believe yourself to be a Hungarian smallholder, a Grand Duchess of Tuscany, a night watchman at the Morrisons on Stakesby Road. It brings whole new facets to the term intoxication. And I’m old, I can’t knock the blood back like I once did. When I drink now, I get a recurring delusion. I become convinced that I was never a vampire or any kind of supernatural creature, but instead a sad, delusional man in and out of various Yorkshire psychiatric wards, living in my early thirties off disability benefit and a small inheritance. Of all the myths I’ve known, that one’s the most troubling.
Sometimes when I’ve got too much to think about I walk the beach at night after the bars have closed and the catch has been put to bed. Something creaks on the outer horizon where the boats go. The waves hurl themselves against the shore and there’s a light out there, something reflected off the ocean’s surface. This light is benign and tells you that the magic is still there and this night is old and full of strange comforts.
Max Dunbar lives in West Yorkshire. He blogs at www.maxdunbar.wordpress.com and tweets at @MaxDunbar1.