Do Not Hasten to Bid Me Adieu by Norman Partridge

Norman Partridge is a three-time Stoker Award-winner, and author of the novels Saguaro Riptide, The Ten Ounce Siesta, Slippin’ into Darkness, Wildest Dreams, and Dark Harvest, which was named one of the 100 Best Books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly. Partridge’s short fiction has been collected in three volumes: Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales, Bad Intentions, and The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists. A new collection is due out in October called Lesser Demons, which features an original vampire novella called “The Iron Dead.”

This story, which first appeared in the landmark vampire anthology Love in Vein, riffs off Bram Stoker’s Dracula, telling the story of Quincey Morris, the American cowboy who, along with Jonathan Harker, kills the count at the climax of the novel. “My version of the tale is different than Stoker’s, and it involves Morris’s Texas homecoming after the events of Dracula,” Partridge said. “It’s about demons old and new, on both sides of the pond.”

DO NOT HASTEN TO BID ME ADIEU
by Norman Partridge

ONE

He was done up all mysterious-like—black bandana covering half his face, black duster, black boots and hat. Traveling incognito, just like that coachman who picked up Harker at the Borgo Pass.

Yeah. As a red man might figure it, that was many moons ago… at the beginning of the story. Stoker’s story, anyway. But that tale of mannered woe and stiff-upper-lip bravado was as crazy as the lies Texans told about Crockett and his Alamo bunch. Harker didn’t exist. Leastways, the man in black had never met him.

Nobody argued sweet-told lies, though. Nobody in England, anyhow. Especially with Stoker tying things up so neat and proper, and the count gone to dust and dirt and all.

A grin wrinkled the masked man’s face as he remembered the vampire crumbling to nothing finger-snap quick, like the remnants of a cow-flop campfire worried by an unbridled prairie wind. Son of a bitch must have been mucho old. Count Dracula had departed this vale of tears, gone off to suckle the devil’s own tit…though the man in black doubted that Dracula’s scientific turn of mind would allow him to believe in Old Scratch.

You could slice it fine or thick—ultimately, the fate of Count Dracula didn’t make no never mind. The man in black was one hell of a long way from Whitby, and his dealings with the count seemed about as unreal as Stoker’s scribblings. Leastways, that business was behind him. This was to be his story. And he was just about to slap the ribbons to it.

Slap the ribbons he did, and the horses picked up the pace. The wagon bucked over ruts, creaking like an arthritic dinosaur. Big black box jostling in the back. Tired horses sweating steam up front. West Texas sky a quilt for the night, patched blood red and bruise purple and shot through with blue-pink streaks, same color as the meat that lines a woman’s heart.

And black. Thick black squares in that quilt, too. More coming every second. Awful soon, there’d be nothing but those black squares and a round white moon.

Not yet, though. The man could still see the faint outline of a town on the horizon. There was Morrisville, up ahead, waiting in the red and purple and blue-pink shadows.

He wondered what she’d make of Morrisville. It was about as far from the stone manors of Whitby as one could possibly get. No vine-covered mysteries here. No cool salt breezes whispering from the green sea, blanketing emerald lawns, traveling lush garden paths. Not much of anything green at all. No crumbling Carfax estate, either. And no swirling fog to mask the night—everything right out in the open, just as plain as the nose on your face. A West Texas shitsplat. Cattle business, mostly. A match-stick kind of town. Wooden buildings—wind-dried, sun-bleached—that weren’t much more than tinder dreading the match.

The people who lived there were the same way.

But it wasn’t the town that made this place. He’d told her that. It was that big blanket of a sky, an eternal wave threatening to break over the dead dry husk of the prairie, fading darker with each turn of the wagon wheels—cresting, cresting—ready to smother the earth like a hungry thing.

Not a bigger, blacker night anywhere on the planet. When that nightwave broke, as it did all too rarely—wide and mean and full up with mad lightning and thunder—it was something to see.

He’d promised her that. He’d promised to show her the heart of a wild Texas night, the way she’d shown him the shadows of Whitby.

Not that he always kept his promises. But this one was a promise to himself as much as it was a promise to her.

He’d hidden from it for a while. Sure. In the wake of all that horror, he’d run. But finally he’d returned to Whitby, and to her. He’d returned to keep his promise.

And now he was coming home.

“Not another place like it anywhere, Miss Lucy. Damn sure not on this side of the pond, anyhow.”

She didn’t fake a blush or get all offended by his language, like so many of the English missies did, and he liked that. She played right with him, like she knew the game. Not just knew it, but thrived on it. “No,” she said. “Nothing here could possibly resemble your Texas, Quincey P. Morris. Because no one here resembles you.”

She took him by the lapels and kissed him like she was so hungry for it, like she couldn’t wait another moment, and then he had her in his arms and they were moving together, off the terrace, away from the house and the party and the dry rattle of polite conversation. He was pulling her and she was pushing him and together they were going back, back into the shadows of Whitby, deep into the garden where fog settled like velvet and the air carried what for him would always be the green scent of England.

And then they were alone. The party sounds were a world away. But those sounds were nothing worth hearing—they were dead sounds compared to the music secret lovers could make. Matched with the rustle of her skirts, and the whisper of his fingers on her tender thighs, and the sweet duet of hungry lips, the sounds locked up in the big stone house were as sad and empty as the cries of the damned souls in Dr. Seward’s loony bin, and he drew her away from them, and she pushed him away from them, and together they entered another world where strange shadows met, cloaking them like fringed buckskin, like gathered satin.

Buckskin and satin. It wasn’t what you’d call a likely match. They’d been dancing around it for months. But now the dancing was over.

“God, I want you,” he said.

She didn’t say anything. There was really nothing more to say. She gave. She took. And he did the same.

He reined in the horses just short of town. Everything was black but that one circle of white hanging high in the sky.

He stepped down from the driver’s box and stretched. He drew the night air deep into his lungs. The air was dry and dusty, and there wasn’t anything in it that was pleasant.

He was tired. He lay down on top of the big black box in the back of the wagon and thought of her. His fingers traveled wood warped in the leaky cargo hold of a British ship. Splinters fought his callused hands, lost the battle. But he lost the war, because the dissonant rasp of rough fingers on warped wood was nothing like the music the same rough fingers could make when exploring a young woman’s thighs.

He didn’t give up easy, though. He searched for the memory of the green scent of England, and the music he’d made there, and shadows of satin and buckskin. He searched for the perfume of her hair, and her skin. The ready, eager perfume of her sex.

His hands traveled the wood. Scurrying like scorpions. Damn things just wouldn’t give up, and he couldn’t help laughing

Raindrops beaded on the box. The nightwave was breaking.

No. Not raindrops at all. Only his tears.

The sky was empty. No clouds. No rain.

No lightning.

But there was lightning in his eyes.

TWO

The morning sunlight couldn’t penetrate the filthy jailhouse window. That didn’t bother the man in black. He had grown to appreciate the darkness.

Sheriff Josh Muller scratched his head. “This is the damnedest thing, Quincey. You got to admit that that Stoker fella made it pretty plain in his book.”

Quincey smiled. “You believe the lies that Buntline wrote about Buffalo Bill, too?”

“Shit no, Quince. But, hell, that Stoker is a silver stickpin gentleman. I thought they was different and all—”

“I used to think that. Until I got to know a few of the bastards, that is.”

“Well,” the sheriff said, “that may be…but the way it was, was…we all thought that you had been killed by them Transylvanian gypsies, like you was in the book.”

“I’ve been some places, before and since. But we never got to Transylvania. Not one of us. And I ain’t even feelin’ poorly.”

“But in the book—”

“Just how stupid are you, Josh? You believe in vampires, too? Your bowels get loose thinkin’ about Count Dracula?”

“Hell, no, of course not, but—”

“Shit, Josh, I didn’t mean that like a question you were supposed to answer.”

“Huh?”

Quincey sighed. “Let’s toss this on the fire and watch it sizzle. It’s real simple—I ain’t dead. I’m back. Things are gonna be just like they used to be. We can start with this here window.”

Quincey Morris shot a thumb over his shoulder. The sheriff looked up and saw how dirty the window was. He grabbed a rag from his desk. “I’ll take care of it, Quince.”

“You don’t get it,” the man in black said.

“Huh?”

Again, Quincey sighed. “I ain’t dead. I’m back. Things are gonna be just like they used to be. And this is Morrisville, right?”

The sheriff squinted at the words painted on the window. He wasn’t a particularly fast reader—he’d been four months reading the Stoker book, and that was with his son doing most of the reading out loud. On top of that, he had to read this backwards. He started in, reading right to left: O-W-E-N-S-V-I-L-L—

That was as far as he got. Quincey Morris picked up a chair and sent it flying through the glass, and then the word wasn’t there anymore.

Morris stepped through the opening and started toward his wagon. He stopped in the street, which was like a river of sunlight, turned, and squinted at the sheriff. “Get that window fixed,” he said. “Before I come back.”

“Where are you headed?” The words were out of Josh Muller’s mouth before he could stop himself, and he flinched at the grin Morris gave him in return.

“I’m goin’ home,” was all he said.

There in the shadows, none of it mattered, because it was only the two of them. Two creatures from different worlds, but with hearts that were the same.

He’d come one hell of a long way to find this. Searched the world over. He’d known that he’d find it, once he went looking, same as he’d known that it was something he had to go out and find if he wanted to keep on living. His gut told him, Find it, or put a bullet in your brainpan. But he hadn’t known it would feel like this. It never had before. But this time, with this person…she filled him up like no one else. And he figured it was the same with her. “I want you.”

“I think you just had me, Mr. Morris.”

Her laughter tickled his neck, warm breath washing a cool patch traced by her tongue, drawn by her lips. Just a bruise, but as sure and real as a brand. He belonged to her. He knew that. But he didn’t know—

The words slipped out before he could think them through. “I want you, forever.”

That about said it, all right.

He felt her shiver, and then her lips found his.

“Forever is a long time,” she said.

They laughed about that, embracing in the shadows.

They actually laughed.

She came running out of the big house as soon as he turned in from the road. Seeing her, he didn’t feel a thing. That made him happy, because in England, in the midst of everything else, he’d thought about her a lot. He’d wondered just what kind of fuel made her belly burn, and why she wasn’t more honest about it, in the way of the count. He wondered why she’d never gone ahead and torn open his jugular, the way a vampire would, because she sure as hell had torn open his heart.

Leonora ran through the blowing dust, her hair a blond tangle, and she was up on the driver’s box sitting next to him before he could slow the horses—her arms around him, her lips on his cheek, her little flute of a voice all happy. “Quince! Oh, Quince! It is you! We thought you were dead!”

He shook his head. His eyes were on the big house. It hadn’t changed. Not in the looks department, anyway. The occupants…now that was a different story.

“Miss me?” he asked, and his tone of voice was not a pleasant thing.

“I’m sorry.” She said it like she’d done something silly, like maybe she’d spilled some salt at the supper table or something. “I’m glad you came back.” She hugged him. “It’ll be different now. We’ve both had a chance to grow up.”

He chuckled at that one, and she got it crossed up. “Oh, Quince, we’ll work it out…you’ll see. We both made mistakes. But it’s not too late to straighten them out.” She leaned over and kissed his neck, her tongue working between her lips.

Quincey flushed with anger and embarrassment. The bitch. And with the box right there, behind them, in plain view. With him dressed head to toe in black. God, Leonora had the perceptive abilities of a blind armadillo.

He shoved her, hard. She tumbled off the driver’s box. Her skirts caught on the seat, tearing as she fell. She landed in the dirt, petticoats bunched up around her waist.

She cussed him real good. But he didn’t hear her at all, because suddenly he could see everything so clearly. The golden wedding band on her finger didn’t mean much. Not to her it didn’t, so it didn’t mean anything to him. But the fist-sized bruises on her legs did.

He’d seen enough. He’d drawn a couple conclusions. Hal Owens hadn’t changed. Looking at those bruises, that was for damn sure. And it was misery that filled up Leonora’s belly—that had to be the answer which had eluded him for so long—and at present it seemed that she was having to make do with her own. Knowing Leonora as he did, he figured that she was probably about ready for a change of menu, and he wanted to make it real clear that he wasn’t going to be the next course.

“You bastard!” she yelled. “You’re finished around here! You can’t just come walkin’ back into town, big as you please! This ain’t Morrisville, anymore, Quincey! It’s Owensville! And Hal’s gonna kill you! I’m his wife, dammit! And when I tell him what you did to me, he’s gonna flat-out kill you!” She scooped up fistfuls of dirt, threw them at him. “You don’t belong here anymore, you bastard!”

She was right about that. He didn’t belong here anymore. This wasn’t his world. His world was contained in a big black box. That was the only place for him anymore. Anywhere else there was only trouble.

Didn’t matter where he went these days, folks were always threatening him.

Threats seemed to be his lot in life.

Take Arthur Holmwood, for instance. He was a big one for threats. The morning after the Westenra’s party, he’d visited Quincey’s lodgings, bringing with him Dr. Seward and a varnished box with brass hinges.

“I demand satisfaction,” he’d said, opening the box and setting it on the table.

Quincey stared down at the pistols. Flintlocks. Real pioneer stuff. “Hell, Art,” he said, snatching his Peacemaker from beneath his breakfast napkin (Texas habits died hard, after all), “let’s you and me get real satisfied, then.”

The doctor went ahead and pissed in the pot. “Look here, Morris. You’re in England now. A man does things in a certain way here. A gentleman, I should say.”

Quincey was sufficiently cowed to table his Peacemaker. “Maybe I am a fish out of water, like you say, Doc.” He examined one of the dueling pistols. “But ain’t these a little old-fashioned, even for England? I thought this kind of thing went out with powdered wigs and such.”

“A concession to you.” Holmwood sneered. “We understand that in your Texas, men duel in the streets quite regularly.”

Quincey grinned. “That’s kind of an exaggeration.”

“The fact remains that you compromised Miss Lucy’s honor.”

“Who says?”

Seward straightened. “I myself observed the way you thrust yourself upon her last night, on the terrace. And I saw Miss Lucy leave the party in your charge.”

“You get a real good look, Doc?” Quincey’s eyes narrowed. “You get a right proper fly-on-a-dung-pile close-up view, or are you just telling tales out of school?”

Holmwood’s hand darted out. Fisted, but he did his business with a pair of kid gloves knotted in his grip. The gloves slapped the Texan’s left cheek and came back for his right, at which time Quincey Morris exploded from his chair and kneed Arthur Holmwood in the balls.

Holmwood was a tall man. He seemed to go down in sections. Doctor Seward trembled as Quincey retrieved his Peacemaker, and he didn’t calm down at all when the Texan holstered the weapon.

Quincey didn’t see any point to stretching things out, not when there was serious fence-mending to do at the Westenra’s house. “I hope you boys will think on this real seriously,” he said as he stepped over Holmwood and made for the door.

There was a Mexican kid pretending to do some work behind the big house. Quincey gave him a nickel and took him around front.

The kid wasn’t happy to see the box. He crossed himself several times. Then he spit on his palms and took one end, delighted to find that the box wasn’t as heavy as it looked.

They set it in the parlor. Quincey had to take a chair and catch his breath. After all that time on the ship, and then more time sitting on his butt slapping reins to a pair of sway-backs, he wasn’t much good. Of course, this wasn’t as tough as when he’d had to haul the box from the Westenra family tomb, all by his lonesome, but it was bad enough. By the time he remembered to thank the kid, the kid had already gone.

Nothing for it, then.

Nothing, but to do it.

The words came back to him, echoing in his head. And it wasn’t the voice of some European doctor, like in Stoker’s book. It was Seward’s voice. “One moment’s courage, and it is done.”

He shook those words away. He was alone here. The parlor hadn’t changed much since the day he’d left to tour the world. The curtains were heavy and dark, and the deep shadows seemed to brush his cheek, one moment buckskin-rough, next moment satin-smooth.

Like the shadows in the Westenra’s garden. The shadows where he’d held Lucy to him. Held her so close.

No. He wouldn’t think of that. Not now. He had work to do. He couldn’t start thinking about how it had been, because then he’d certainly start thinking about how it might be, again…

One moment’s courage, and it is done.

God, how he wanted to laugh, but he kept it inside.

His big bowie knife was in his hand. He didn’t know quite how it had gotten there. He went to work on the lid of the box, first removing brass screws, then removing the hinges.

One moment’s courage…

The lid crashed heavily to the floor, but he never heard it. His horror was too great for that. After all this time, the stink of garlic burned his nostrils, scorched his lungs. But that wasn’t the hell of it.

The hell of it was that she had moved.

Oh, she hadn’t moved. He knew that. He could see the stake spearing her poor breast, the breast that he had teased between his own lips. She couldn’t move. Not with the stake there.

But the churning Atlantic had rocked a sailing ship, and that had moved her. And a bucking wagon had jostled over the rutted roads of Texas, and that had moved her. And now her poor head, her poor severed head with all that dark and beautiful hair, was trapped between her own sweet legs, nestled between her own tender thighs, just as his head had been.

Once. A long time ago.

Maybe, once again…

No. He wouldn’t start thinking like that. He stared at her head, knowing he’d have to touch it. There was no sign of decay, no stink of corruption. But he could see the buds of garlic jammed into the open hole of her throat, the ragged gashes and severed muscles, the dangling ropes of flesh.

In his mind’s eye, he saw Seward standing stiff and straight with a scalpel in his bloodstained grip.

And that bastard called himself a doctor.

There were shadows, of course, in their secret place in the Westenra garden. And he held her, as he had before. But now she never stopped shaking.

“You shouldn’t have done it,” she said. “Arthur is behaving like one of Seward’s lunatics. You must be careful.”

“You’re the one has to be careful, Lucy,” he said.

“No.” She laughed. “Mother has disregarded the entire episode. Well, nearly so. She’s convinced that I behaved quite recklessly—and this judging from one kiss on the terrace. I had to assure her that we did nothing more than tour the garden in search of a better view of the moon. I said that was the custom in Texas. I’m not certain that she accepted my story, but…” She kissed him, very quickly. “I’ve feigned illness for her benefit, and she believes that I am in the grip of a rare and exotic fever. Seward has convinced her of this, I think. Once I’m pronounced fit, I’m certain that she will forgive your imagined indiscretion.”

“Now, Miss Lucy, I don’t think that was my imagination,” he joked.

She laughed, trembling laughter there in his arms. “Seward has consulted a specialist. A European fellow. He’s said to be an expert in fevers of the blood. I’m to see him tomorrow. Hopefully that will put an end to the charade.”

He wanted to say it. More than anything, he wanted to say, Forget tomorrow. Let’s leave here, tonight. But he didn’t say it, because she was trembling so.

“You English,” he said. “You do love your charades.”

Moonlight washed the shadows. He caught the wild look in her eye. A twin to the fearful look a colt gets just before it’s broken.

He kept his silence. He was imagining things. He held her. It was the last time he would hold her, alive.

THREE

Quincey pushed through the double-doors of the saloon and was surprised to find it deserted except for a sleepy-eyed man who was polishing the piano.

“You the piano player?” Quincey asked.

“Sure,” the fellow said.

Quincey brought out the Peacemaker. “Can you play ‘Red River Valley’?”

“S-sure.” The man sat down, rolled up his sleeves.

“Not here,” Quincey said.

“H-huh?”

“I got a big house on the edge of town.”

The man swallowed hard. “You mean Mr. Owens’ place?”

“No. I mean my place.”

“H-huh?”

“Anyway, you go on up there, and you wait for me.” The man rose from the piano stool, both eyes on the Peacemaker, and started toward the double-doors.

“Wait a minute,” Quincey said. “You’re forgetting something.”

“W-what?”

“Well, I don’t have a piano up at the house.”

“Y-you don’t?”

“Nope.”

“Well… Hell, mister, what do you want me to do?”

Quincey cocked the Peacemaker. “I guess you’d better start pushing.”

“You mean…you want me to take the piano with me?”

Quincey nodded. “Now, I’ll be home in a couple hours or so. You put the piano in the parlor, then you help yourself to a glass of whiskey. But don’t linger in the parlor, hear?”

The man nodded. He seemed to catch on pretty quick. Had to be that he was a stranger in these parts.

Quincey moved on. He stopped off at Murphy’s laundry, asked a few questions about garlic, received a few expansive answers detailing the amazing restorative power of Mrs. Murphy’s soap, after which he set a gunnysack on the counter. He set it down real gentle-like, and the rough material settled over something kind of round, and, seeing this, Mr. Murphy excused himself and made a beeline for the saloon.

Next Quincey stopped off at the church with a bottle of whiskey for the preacher. They chatted a bit, and Quincey had a snort before moving on, just to be sociable.

He had just stepped into the home of Mrs. Danvers, the best seamstress in town, when he glanced through the window and spotted Hal Owens coming his way, two men in tow, one of them being the sheriff.

Things were never quite so plain in England. Oh, they were just as dangerous, that was for sure. But, with the exception of lunatics like Arthur Holmwood, the upper-crust of Whitby cloaked their confrontational behavior in a veil of politeness.

Three nights running, Quincey stood alone in the garden, just waiting. Finally, he went to Lucy’s mother in the light of day, hat literally in hand. He inquired as to Lucy’s health. Mrs. Westenra said that Lucy was convalescing. Three similar visits, and his testiness began to show through.

So did Mrs. Westenra’s. She blamed Quincey for her daughter’s poor health. He wanted to tell her that the whole thing was melodrama, and for her benefit, too, but he held off.

And that was when the old woman slipped up. Or maybe she didn’t, because her voice was as sharp as his bowie, and it was plain that she intended to do damage with it. “Lucy’s condition is quite serious,” she said. “Her behavior of late, which Dr. Seward has described in no small detail… Well, I mean to tell you that Lucy has shown little consideration for her family or her station, and there is no doubt that she is quite ill. We have placed her in hospital, under the care of Dr. Seward and his associates.”

Mrs. Westenra had torn away the veil. He would not keep silent now. He made it as plain as plain could be. “You want to break her. You want to pocket her, heart and soul.”

She seemed to consider her answer very carefully. Finally, she said, “We only do what we must.”

“Nobody wants you here,” Owens said.

Quincey grinned. Funny that Owens should say that. Those were the same words that had spilled from Seward’s lips when Quincey confronted him at the asylum.

Of course, that had happened an ocean away, and Dr. Seward hadn’t had a gun. But he’d had a needle, and that had done the job for him right proper.

Quincey stared down at Mrs. Danvers’ sewing table. There were needles here, too. Sharp ones, little slivers of metal. But these needles weren’t attached to syringes. They weren’t like Dr. Seward’s needles at all.

Something pressed against Quincey’s stomach. He blinked several times, but he couldn’t decide who was standing in front of him. Owens, or Seward, or…

Someone said, “Get out of town, or I’ll make you wish you was dead.” There was a sharp click. The pressure on Quincey’s belly increased, and a heavy hand dropped onto his shoulder.

The hand of Count Dracula. A European nobleman and scientist. Stoker had split him into two characters—a kindly doctor and a hellborn monster. But Quincey knew that the truth was somewhere in between.

“Start movin’, Quince. Otherwise, I’ll spill your innards all over the floor.”

The count had only held him. He didn’t make idle threats. He didn’t use his teeth. He didn’t spill a single drop of Quincey’s blood. He let Seward do all the work, jabbing Quincey’s arm with the needle, day after day, week after week.

That wasn’t how the count handled Lucy, though. He had a special way with Dr. Seward’s most combative patient, a method that brought real results. He emptied her bit by bit, draining her blood, and with it the strength that so disturbed Lucy’s mother and the independent spirit that so troubled unsuccessful suitors such as Seward and Holmwood. The blind fools had been so happy at first, until they realized that they’d been suckered by another outsider, a Transylvanian bastard with good manners who was much worse than anything that had ever come out of Texas.

They’d come to him, of course. The stranger with the wild gleam in his eyes. Told him the whole awful tale. Cut him out of the straitjacket with his own bowie, placed the Peacemaker in one hand. A silver crucifix and an iron stake jammed in a cricketing bag filled the other.

“You make your play, Quince,” Owens said. “I’m not goin’ to give you forever.”

“Forever is a long time.”

“You ain’t listenin’ to me, Quince.”

“A moment’s courage, and it is done.”

Count Dracula, waiting for him in the ruins of the chapel at Carfax. His fangs gleaming in the dark…fangs that could take everything…

The pistol bucked against Quincey’s belly. The slug ripped straight through him, shattered the window behind. Blood spilled out of him, running down his leg. Lucy’s blood on the count’s lips, spilling from her neck as he took and took and took some more. Quincey could see it from the depths of Seward’s hell, he could see the garden and the shadows and their love flowing in Lucy’s blood. Her strength, her dreams, her spirit…

“This is my town,” Owens said, his hand still heavy on Quincey’s shoulder. “I took it, and I mean to keep it.”

Quincey opened his mouth. A gout of blood bubbled over his lips. He couldn’t find words. Only blood, rushing away, running down his leg, spilling over his lips. It seemed his blood was everywhere, rushing wild, like once-still waters escaping the rubble of a collapsed dam.

He sagged against Owens. The big man laughed.

And then the big man screamed.

Quincey’s teeth were at Owens’ neck. He ripped through flesh, tore muscle and artery. Blood filled his mouth, and the Peacemaker thundered again and again in his hand, and then Owens was nothing but a leaking mess there in his arms, a husk of a man puddling red, washing away to nothing so fast, spurting red rich blood one second, then stagnant-pool dead the next.

Quincey’s gun was empty. He fumbled for his bowie, arming himself against Owens’ compadres.

There was no need.

Mrs. Danvers stood over them, a smoking shotgun in her hands.

Quincey released Owens’ corpse. Watched it drop to the floor.

“Let me get a look at you,” Mrs. Danvers said.

“There ain’t no time for that,” he said.

Dracula chuckled. “I can’t believe it is you they sent. The American cowboy. The romantic.”

Quincey studied the count’s amused grin. Unnatural canines gleamed in the moonlight. In the ruined wasteland of Carfax, Dracula seemed strangely alive.

“Make your play,” Quincey offered.

Icy laughter rode the shadows. “There is no need for such melodrama, Mr. Morris. I only wanted the blood. Nothing else. And I have taken that.”

“That ain’t what Seward says.” Quincey squinted, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. “He claims you’re after Miss Lucy’s soul.”

Again, the laughter. “I am a man of science, Mr. Morris. I accept my condition, and my biological need. Disease, and the transmission of disease, make for interesting study. I am more skeptical concerning the mythology of my kind. Fairy stories bore me. Certainly, powers exist which I cannot explain. But I cannot explain the moon and the stars, yet I know that these things exist because I see them in the night sky. It is the same with my special abilities—they exist, I use them, hence I believe in them. As for the human soul, I cannot see any evidence of such a thing. What I cannot see, I refuse to believe.”

But Quincey could see. He could see Dracula, clearer every second. The narrow outline of his jaw. The eyes burning beneath his heavy brow. The long, thin line of his lips hiding jaws that could gape so wide.

“You don’t want her,” Quincey said. “That’s what you’re saying.”

“I only want a full belly, Mr. Morris. That is the way of it.” He stepped forward, his eyes like coals. “I only take the blood. Your kind is different. You want everything. The flesh, the heart, the…soul, which of course has a certain tangibility fueled by your belief. You take it all. In comparison, I demand very little—”

“We take. But we give, too.”

“That is what your kind would have me believe. I have seen little evidence that this is the truth.” Red eyes swam in the darkness. “Think about it, Mr. Morris. They have sent you here to kill me. They have told you how evil I am. But who are they—these men who brought me to your Miss Lucy? What do they want?” He did not blink; he only advanced. “Think on it, Mr. Morris. Examine the needs of these men, Seward and Holmwood. Look into your own heart. Examine your needs.”

And now Quincey smiled. “Maybe I ain’t as smart as you, Count.” He stepped forward. “Maybe you could take a look for me…let me know just what you see.”

Their eyes met.

The vampire stumbled backward. He had looked into Quincey Morris’ eyes. Seen a pair of empty green wells. Bottomless green pits. Something was alive there, undying, something that had known pain and hurt, and, very briefly, ecstasy.

Very suddenly, the vampire realized that he had never known real hunger at all.

The vampire tried to steady himself, but his voice trembled. “What I can see…I believe.”

Quincey Morris did not blink.

He took the stake from Seward’s bag.

“I want you to know that this ain’t something I take lightly,” he said.

FOUR

He’d drawn a sash around his belly, but it hadn’t done much good. His jeans were stiff with blood, and his left boot seemed to be swimming with the stuff. That was his guess, anyway—there wasn’t much more than a tingle of feeling in his left foot, and he wasn’t going to stoop low and investigate.

Seeing himself in the mirror was bad enough. His face was so white. Almost like the count’s.

Almost like her face, in death.

Mrs. Danvers stepped away from the coffin, tucking a pair of scissors into a carpet bag. “I did the best I could,” she said.

“I’m much obliged, ma’am.” Quincey leaned against the lip of the box, numb fingers brushing the yellow ribbon that circled Lucy’s neck.

“You can’t see them stitches at all,” the whiskey-breathed preacher said, and the seamstress cut him off with a glance.

“You did a fine job, Mrs. Danvers.” Quincey tried to smile. “You can go on home now.”

“If you don’t mind, I think I’d like to stay.”

“That’ll be fine,” Quincey said.

He turned to the preacher, but he didn’t look at him. Instead, he stared through the parlor window. Outside, the sky was going to blood red and bruise purple.

He reached into the box. His fingers were cold, clumsy. Lucy’s delicate hand almost seemed warm by comparison.

Quincey nodded at the preacher. “Let’s get on with it.”

The preacher started in. Quincey had heard the words many times. He’d seen people stand up to them, and he’d seen people totter under their weight, and he’d seen plenty who didn’t care a damn for them at all.

But this time it was him hearing those words. Him answering them. And when the preacher got to the part about taking…do you take this woman…Quincey said, “Right now I just want to give.”

That’s what the count couldn’t understand, him with all the emotion of a tick. Seward and Holmwood, even Lucy’s mother, they weren’t much better. But Quincey understood. Now more than ever. He held tight to Lucy’s hand.

“If you’ve a mind to, you can go ahead and kiss her now,” the preacher said.

Quincey bent low. His lips brushed hers, ever so gently. He caught a faint whiff of Mrs. Murphy’s soap, no trace of garlic at all.

With some effort, he straightened. It seemed some time had passed, because the preacher was gone, and the evening sky was veined with blue-pink streaks.

The piano player just sat there, his eyes closed tight, his hands fisted in his lap. “You can play it now,” Quincey said, and the man got right to it, fingers light and shaky on the keys, voice no more than a whisper:

“Come and sit by my side if you love me,

Do not hasten to bid me adieu,

But remember the Red River Valley,

And the cowboy who loved you so true.”

Quincey listened to the words, holding Lucy’s hand, watching the night. The sky was going black now, blacker every second. There was no blood left in it at all.

Just like you, you damn fool, he thought.

He pulled his bowie from its sheath. Seward’s words rang in his ears: “One moment’s courage, and it is done.”

But Seward hadn’t been talking to Quincey when he’d said those words. Those words were for Holmwood. And Quincey had heard them, but he’d been about ten steps short of doing something about them. If he hadn’t taken the time to discuss philosophy with Count Dracula, that might have been different. As it was, Holmwood had had plenty of time to use the stake, while Seward had done his business with a scalpel.

For too many moments, Quincey had watched them, too stunned to move. But when he did move, there was no stopping him.

He used the bowie, and he left Whitby that night.

He ran out. He wasn’t proud of that. And all the time he was running, he’d thought, So much blood, all spilled for no good reason. Dracula, with the needs of a tick. Holmwood and Seward, who wanted to be masters or nothing at all.

He ran out. Sure. But he came back. Because he knew that there was more to the blood, more than just the taking.

One moment’s courage…

Quincey stared down at the stake jammed through his beloved’s heart, the cold shaft spearing the blue-pink muscle that had thundered at the touch of his fingers. The bowie shook in his hand. The piano man sang:

“There never could be such a longing,

In the heart of a poor cowboy’s breast,

As dwells in this heart you are breaking,

While I wait in my home in the West.”

Outside, the sky was black. Every square in the quilt. No moon tonight.

Thunder rumbled, rattling the windows.

Quincey put the bowie to his neck. Lightning flashed, and white spiderwebs of brightness danced on Lucy’s flesh. The shadows receded for the briefest moment, then flooded the parlor once more, and Quincey was lost in them. Lost in shadows he’d brought home from Whitby.

One moment’s courage…

He sliced his neck, praying that there was some red left in him. A thin line of blood welled from the wound, overflowing the spot where Lucy had branded him with eager kisses.

He sagged against the box. Pressed his neck to her lips.

He dropped the bowie. His hand closed around the stake.

One moment’s courage…

He tore the wooden shaft from her heart, and waited.

Minutes passed. He closed his eyes. Buried his face in her dark hair. His hands were scorpions, scurrying everywhere, dancing to the music of her tender thighs.

Her breast did not rise, did not fall. She did not breathe.

She would never breathe again.

But her lips parted. Her fangs gleamed. And she drank.

Together, they welcomed the night.

[End]