If you haven’t read the entire series, you can find it here:
Scott had his very first client. And he couldn’t stop staring at the man.
He must not have had any teeth when he became a vampire, Scott concluded. That would explain why the only two teeth in the man’s head were his fangs.
It was really unfortunate he had the fangs now. Scott might not have noticed if he hadn’t had any teeth at all—or he would have ignored it—but instead the man had two prominent fangs with no teeth in between, and that was much more noticeable than nothing at all. It was distracting really.
“We thought you might could help us get Bobby Joe’s disability check back,” the man’s wife—sitting beside him—said. Scott noticed, immediately, that she didn’t have all of her teeth, either—although she did have more than two. Of the ones she had, though, they were so badly crooked, some seemed to be set at 45 degree angles.
Suddenly Scott found his attention torn between the two of them; it was like looking at someone who was wall-eyed: where were you supposed to focus your attention?
He glanced down at his nameplate, which was sitting on the front of his desk. That seemed safest.
“You were on disability, Mr. Brown?” he asked the nameplate.
“Yesss, sssir,” he lisped through his fangs.
“What was your disability?” Lack of teeth? Inability to eat? Failure to thrive?
“He messed up his back when he worked at the carpet factory,” Mrs. Brown answered for her husband.
“Yeah,” he interjected, “I wasss picking up one of thossse cones with the thread on it. Thossse thingsss weigh a couple hundred poundsss. That’sss what they make the carpet from, you know. They got all thessse conesss of thread, and the machinesss kind of sssitch down in loopsss, then they have a machine that cutsss off the loopsss, and that makesss the pile, you sssee.”
“Really?” Scott asked, trying to sound interested. He really didn’t care how carpet was made; he just liked it underfoot.
“Well, yeah, but I threw my back out when I picked one up, you sssee.”
“They wouldn’t give him no back brace,” Mrs. Brown interrupted. “I kept telling him, Bobby, they’s got to give you a back brace. It’s the law. But he said they wouldn’t.”
Mr. Brown shook his head. “No, they wouldn’t.”
“When the government came in, after he got hurt, they wrote them up for it, didn’t they?”
“Yesss, they did.”
Absolutely nothing they were saying was relevant to their case, but Scott was rather appreciative of the way they bounced the story around, like a tennis match. It allowed his attention to switch between both of them so he didn’t end up staring at either one too long.
“See, Bobby Joe got Worker’s Comp for that, but sometime they switched him over to Social Security Disability.” She looked at her husband. “Do you know when that was that they switched your Worker’s Comp to Social Security Disability?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a year after.”
Mrs. Brown looked back at Scott. “A year, or something like that.”
“Mm-hmm,” Scott said, nodding.
“But see, now they won’t let him have it no more.”
“Sssee, they sssay I’m not disssabled anymore caussse I’m a vampire.”
Scott clasped his hands together. “Well, Mr. Brown, you’re not. You shouldn’t have any problems with your back now.”
“But they gave it to him,” Mrs. Brown said, her voice rising. “They said he was disabled. How can they say he was and now he’s not? People who are disabled don’t get abled again.”
“Well, sometimes they do—it depends on the injury.”
“His back’s been out five or six years.”
“Nearly six,” Mr. Brown corrected.
“Yeah, nearly six. It just don’t get better on its own.”
“Well, the thing is,” Scott said slowly, “when Mr. Brown became a vampire, it did heal.” Dear God, why didn’t You let his teeth grow back too? “I mean, I used to have a bad knee—blew it out playing football in high school—and now it’s perfectly fine. That’s just the way vampires are.”
“Yeah, but they can’t give it to you, and then just take it away!” Mrs. Brown said, growing more indignant. “That ain’t fair. It ain’t right.”
“The government looks at it this way: if you’re hurt and can’t work, they’ll give you money to live on. But if you get better and can work, then they expect you to go back to work.”
“But he was hurt!”
“Yes, ma’am, I understand that. But now he’s not. They expect him to go back to work.”
“How?” she demanded, completely indignant. “How’s he supposed to work?”
“Well, I suppose the first thing he’ll have to do is put in some applications.”
She huffed. “Well, that’s all fine and well for those politicians in Warshington—they don’t need the money, cause they’re all rich—but we was living on that check and now we don’t have anything. They didn’t even give us any warning. Just said, last month, that was going to be the last check. How we supposed to pay the rent?”
“One or both of you is going to have to get a job,” Scott said, trying to sound kind while being practical at the same time.
“Hmpf!” she huffed again. Then she angrily snatched her purse up from the floor. “Let’s go,” she commanded Mr. Brown.
“What, isss that it?” he asked, sounding surprised.
“Yeah, didn’t you hear the man? He said the government’s going to make you go back to work at the carpet factory. With your bad back and everything. Else we’ll just starve and be out on the street, I guess. I can’t work with my migraines—not that they’ll give me disability for that. Don’t look like nobody’s disabled anymore.”
She turned her gaze sharply back on Scott. “There’s another lawyer here, ain’t there? You reckon he could help us?”
“No, ma’am. Attorney Rutherford doesn’t handle disability. And besides, the government won’t give disability to any vampire.”
“You sssay ain’t none of usss can get it?” Mr. Brown asked.
“But what if you, like, got hurt?”
“You can’t get hurt as a vampire.”
“I meant, if sssomeone ran you over, or sssomething. You know, with a car.”
“It won’t hurt us. Well, it would hurt at first, but we’ll heal.”
“Huh,” he said, looking quite dumbfounded by that information. Scott wondered how he had managed to live the past two years as a vampire without figuring that out on his own.
“Come on, let’s go,” Mrs. Brown said, gesturing irritably at her husband.
He finally got up and obediently followed her out the door.
Scott tried to go back to sorting the pens and clips in his desk drawer, but the smell in the room distracted him. The scent of stale cigarette smoke which had come in with his clients had failed to leave when they did. He hoped it wasn’t imbedded in his brand-new arm chairs; they weren’t even paid for yet.
He got up and went to the front lobby. It was spacious and decorated in a faintly art deco style, which fit perfectly with the building’s 1920’s origins. His secretary, Josie, had a desk and reception area on one side of the lobby, and Attorney Rutherford’s secretary had a similar arrangement on the other side. The other side was dark, however; Rutherford’s secretary went home at five. Scott’s hours were going to have to vary, based on when the sun set and rose, but at the moment he didn’t open until 6:00 PM.
“Josie?” he asked. She had her back to him, organizing office supplies in the credenza.
“Yes, sir?” she said, turning around in her chair.
“The next time you go buy supplies for the office, could you buy some Febreeze?”
She smiled, wrinkling her nose a little. “I’m glad it’s not just me,” she confessed.
He sat down, casually, on the edge of her desk. “No, it’s not just you.”
“Do you want me to get some candles or Glade Plug-Ins too?”
“I think that would be a good idea.”
She pulled a post-it note pad out of her desk drawer and started a shopping list. “Are there any scents you like in particular?”
“Not really; just get whatever you think is nice.”
She continued to scratch herself a note.
“Honestly, I wonder how they can afford cigarettes,” Scott mused. “They’re something like four dollars a pack, now. And they only lived on his disability check.”
“Well, seeing how much money they saved by not going to the dentist….”
Scott put his hand over his mouth and turned away, trying to suppress his laughter. He felt guilty for laughing, yet she had said exactly what he had been thinking. “I concede the point,” he admitted.
He caught her grinning at him and he couldn’t help it; he laughed out loud. “Good God,” he said, shaking his head.
She perked a brow, looking surprised. “Wow, can a vampire say God’s name?”
Scott was surprised too. “I hadn’t ever thought about it, but obviously I can.”
“But can you touch something that’s holy?”
“I don’t know.”
She got up and went to the reception area, and picked up a book from the coffee table. “Let’s see,” she said.
He slowly wandered over. “What’s that?”
“Where’d that come from?” The magazines on the table were the old ones from Attorney Rutherford’s sitting area, but he didn’t recall the secretary giving him a book too.
“The Gideons. They brought it by earlier.”
“I thought they only put bibles in hotels?”
“I guess they’re putting them anywhere there’s a vampire,” she replied. She held the bible out to him. “See if you can touch it.”
With some trepidation, Scott reached his hand forward. Carefully, as if he was testing a potentially hot stove-eye, he tapped it with his hand. But when it didn’t burn, he put his hand on it fully.
“Guess it’s not a problem,” he said.
“Try the inside,” she said, opening the cover. But even with his hand on the sixth chapter of Genesis, nothing happened.
“Hmm,” Josie said curiously, shutting the bible and tossing it back on the table rather carelessly. “I guess it really isn’t a problem. Unless….”
“Unless what?” he interjected.
“I’ve read some vampire stories that say you have to have faith when using a holy object against a vampire. If you don’t believe in it, it won’t work.”
“Do you not believe in the bible, Josie?”
“Not in a King James Version. I’m a Jew.”
Before he could ask her anything more, they were interrupted by a hoarse voice. “She’s right, you know.”
Scott wheeled around, startled; he thought they were the only people in the building. But, no, there in the hallway, stood Astrid, the New Age guru.
“I didn’t know you were still here,” he said. “Working late?”
Astrid slowly walked closer. Scott had the uneasy feeling that he was being stalked. “I work until seven on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I can see clients after they get off work.”
“Ah, I see,” he said. She walked up quite close to him, looking up at Scott intently. He resisted the urge to take a step back.
“Holy objects will repeal a vampire, but only if you have faith in them, you know,” Astrid said.
“No… uh… no, I didn’t know that.”
She held up a heavy silver pentagram—larger than a half-dollar—which dangled at the end of a long, silver rope chain. “I could use this to repeal you, if I wanted to.” Then, before Scott could object, she grabbed his hand and placed it on the pentagram. “But see, if I don’t have the intention to harm you, you can touch it. I have to have both faith in the object and intention.”
Scott pulled his hand away before she decided to demonstrate it any further. He wasn’t entirely sure if he believed her, but he didn’t want to find out he was wrong, either. “Well, that’s… that’s good to know,” he said nervously.
She looked up at him with her muddy, brown-green eyes. “I overheard you say something about needing candles. I have some you can borrow, if you want.”
“Um, yeah, thanks,” he said, not wanting to appear un-neighborly. “I just need something to make my office smell better until Josie can go out and get some for us later this evening,” he said, looking at her meaningfully. She nodded her understanding.
“You know,” Astrid said, turning to head back to her own office, “what I really ought to do is put together one of my smudge sticks for you. I’ll make you up a special blend to clear out the smell and the energies of those people. I use incense to purify Jim Rutherford’s space sometimes, after they’ve all gone home for the day. He doesn’t know I do it, but I think of it as a courtesy—one professional to another. It helps keep the negative energies to a minimum.
“We’re really a lot alike,” she continued, leading Scott down the hallway. “You, me, and Jim—we all deal with people who are down on their luck, hurting, or in some sort of personal trouble. You have to keep the energies in your office cleaned out and balanced regularly, or you’ll get burned out. Your clients’ miserable lives will suck you right down with them.”
For the first time, Scott actually found himself agreeing with what Astrid was saying. Eighteen months before, everything that could have gone wrong with his life, did. He had become like a black hole, trying to pull light and happiness closer, but having it sucked into non-existence instead. He could definitely understand how a person like that could take others down with him.