Beth had poured Ralf another glass of her gin and lemon concoction and handed it over.
“I used to make these all the time in my former life of barmaid,” she laughed. “Not for the patrons; they only wanted beer. Cheers!” She tapped her glass against his and sat back in her chair, still talking – but he was good at blocking that out.
It was early and technically he was on the clock, but it was the weekend and he had to admit it; he liked this carefree, chatty side of Beth. Prior to today, Ralf had barely given her the time of day let alone found himself embarrassingly pre-occupied with the shape of her hazel eyes and her supermodel high cheekbones.
“Was it porn?” Beth asked.
“Um, what?” Ralf stuttered, crashing back into the room from the cloud he had been floating on.
“On your computer earlier? I walk in, you shut it down and run out for a ‘sausage butty’. Is that your term for, you know?” she made a rude gesture with her hand, “You can tell me. I’ve got five brothers; I’m no Sheltered Susie. Will would plaster every wall in our house with pictures of boobs, if I’d let him.”
“It wasn’t… that,” Ralf huffed, his cheeks burning. “It was CCTV footage.”
Beth raised an eyebrow. “Why would you hide that?”
Ralf didn’t want to answer but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. “Because it contains something I can’t explain and I’m wondering if Jessica’s theory was right.”
“Interesting,” Beth said, in a bored fashion, like she was humouring him. “And what was Jessica’s theory?”
“That there are vampires,” Ralf replied quietly, unable to stop the words spewing from his reluctant lips. He concluded that there must be a lot more gin in this drink than he could taste to make him this unburdened. “Isn’t that mad?” he added, laughing uneasily.
Beth tapped her glass and returned it to the table, without taking a sip. Ralf noticed that the rim of her glass was free of lipstick stains and he connected the dots; she hadn’t taken a drink the whole time she’d been sitting here. And he’d had… a few.
“Vampires? That’s rather a far-fetched theory, up there with aliens and mermaids,” Beth mused. “I’m struggling to comprehend it. Perhaps you should elaborate?”
Ralf was willing himself not to answer, fighting himself, but the words tumbled out regardless.
“Chase was completely drained of blood, a woman in a hotel was partly drained of blood, we found a sack of transfusion bags at the hotel along with sketches of a mysterious man. A man who, Jessica was adamant, was present the night Chase disappeared, who is then positively identified by the receptionist as her attacker.”
“This man sounds like a lunatic, but a vampire? Really?”
“The CCTV footage shows the alleged victim being carried through the reception by an invisible force.” Ralf knew he’d gone too far. He tried to close his mouth but that didn’t stop the spiel. “Then, I slipped to Wilbur that Jessica thought vampires were a viable theory and he locked her up.”
“Is that why he did it?” Beth asked. “Have you told anyone else these theories, Ralf?”
Ralf bit his tongue but it broke free from his teeth; he twisted to leave his chair but his body held firm. He wanted to answer that he hadn’t, he wouldn’t. He wanted to lie, but he couldn’t.
“Not yet, but I will,” he confessed feeling the ground drop out from beneath him.
Beth smiled, drumming her fingernails on the table.
“No. You won’t.”
“Wyatt and… Sandy?” Sage repeated, for the dozenth time. “Together as in… together? How old is April, eighteen? So this was, what, late nineties?”
“July 1998,” Broof replied. “Back when Sandy was hardly known, making those seedy b-movies.”
“1998. So Wyatt would have been… gracious moon! And it was consensual?”
Broof groaned. He’d often thought about what it would be like when Sage eventually learned about her granddaughter, but he hadn’t envisioned that she’d get so hung up on the how part of her coming to be.
“Sandy was pretty drunk and Wyatt was hi— um, hiding, yeah, because he was star struck, so he was hiding, ahem,” Broof cleared his throat, but appeared to get away with it. “They got chatting and he was trying to impress her; I think he told her that he was a movie director or some such.”
“I’m not sure that Sandy believed him because she did have eyes,” Broof commented. “But she flattered the pants off him anyway. Knowing what I know now about Sandy, I don’t think it actually mattered who he was or what he did, just that he showed an interest.”
Sage leapt on this nugget of hope. “With respect, Broof; if Sandy was that loose, then who knows how many men she slept with! And she was adamant that April was Travis’s, so—“
“She didn’t meet Travis until the October,” Broof took a deep breath ahead of his scathing assessment. “I think Sandy chose the least rubbish option she had when she found out she was pregnant, Sage.”
Sage spluttered, pressing her hand to her chest. “Excuse me?! Wyatt is not perfect, but he’s not rubbish!”
“Objectively. He was young, jobless and,” constantly loaded to the eyeballs to deal with his dad’s passing, “had a few issues. Meanwhile, Travis had a good job, or at least his father did, his own place, famous clients to mingle with. No-brainer really, from Sandy’s point of view.”
“He’s far too good for that overprized harlot,” Sage muttered under her breath. She scowled at Broof. “What makes you so sure? I know you wouldn’t make a claim like that without more evidence, Broof.”
“A few things,” Broof replied. “They have similar mannerisms and April started to fall behind her human peers, as would be expected of a witch, in her teens. Not quite as much as Wy, but definitely substantial.”
“Maybe the girl is simply a bit dim?” Sage suggested. “If you had a genuine suspicion, you would have raised it with the coven, not let a potential witch roam the world, unsupervised.”
Broof felt his blood boil at this suggestion, hearing the echoes of Sandy, the music of the mansion: stupid girl! “A witch can tell a witch,” Broof pointed out. “April wasn’t allowed to roam the world. She wasn’t allowed to do anything. And if I’m completely honest with you, Sage; my faith in the integrity of the coven took a real knock after I lost Cabbage and downright died when they voted Claudia to be a senior witch,” Broof snarled. “What would they have done if I told them that the daughter of a world-famous actress was magically inclined? Do you think Claudia has the tact to keep that under wraps?”
Sage winced; Broof knew that she had her own doubts, but she was far too indoctrinated to state them. She fixed him with her penetrating stare. “Even if April was ‘magically inclined’, she could have been a new bloodline, it doesn’t mean that she is Wyatt’s.” Sage folded her arms and shook her head. “What’s to say that Sandy didn’t sleep with another witch around that time?”
Broof sighed. “She’s Wyatt’s. She has the same rare blood type—“
“Rare, but not unique,” Sage pointed out, unmoved.
Broof ground his teeth, trying to think of how best to convince her. If this wasn’t quite literally a matter of life and death, he would have laughed. Wyatt was just like his mother; both rolling their eyes, similarly stubborn to accept this possibility, no matter how much Wyatt claimed that he took more after his laid-back dad, Warren.
“Warren!” Broof reached abruptly into his pocket, startling Sage who was looking at him with a mixture of shock and concern at the abrupt shouting of her late husband’s name in this conversation. “Look at her eyes, Sage. She has Warren’s eyes.”
Sage sighed like this task was a huge burden, but played along as Broof loaded up a photo of April on his phone, zoomed in and passed it to her.
“Sweet mercy,” Sage whispered, heart-stricken. “It’s been a long time… I…” she paused, unable to find traction with her sentence. “Does he know? Does Wyatt know?”
Broof was momentarily startled to realise that the photo had worked. He looked down at the image of April, then back at the sorrowful, silent woman before him, feeling that pull to comfort her as he always had with April. If the two weren’t related, he’d eat his metaphorical hat.
“He does,” Broof confirmed, reaching out to pat her arm. “I’ve told him enough times.”
Sage shrugged off his touch and hardened, screaming Wyatt’s full name and scaring Broof half out of his skin. “Get out here! Now!”
It was barely a minute before Wyatt sheepishly entered the room. He took one look at his mother’s face and baulked. “Can I grab a glass of water, maybe a coffee before you start? No?”
He sighed heavily at Sage’s weighted silence. “I know, OK? I screwed up big time, you can’t trust me, I’m an awful son and a shame to the Harper name. I’ll work a whole week on the shop floor with no pay and go to your room, Wyatt. Gladly, as long as he’s OK.”
Sage brushed past Broof and hissed at her son, “You get your skinny bottom back here, you responsibility-shirking rascal.”
Wyatt groaned and turned to face her. “I swear, I don’t know why Thor fainted. OK, he had a lot of rum, but he was fine one minute, bragging about his infidelity, and then bam! floor.”
“And what about you; did you have a good night while you were intoxicating my employee?” Sage asked making no attempt to sprinkle her usual sugary coating on her words. “Or were you too busy having irresponsible romantic encounters in closets?”
“Actually, it was Thor who—” he trailed off as his mother gave her knowing look and the penny dropped. Wyatt looked at Sage, horrified, and then turned on Broof. “Why would you tell her that?!”
“It sort of slipped out. Look, he’s the vampire, Caleb Vatore,” Broof said, gesturing towards Sage’s bedroom. “And I think you were right; I think he did take April as his bride and if he did, I guess then you’re, what, his father-in-law?”
Wyatt shook his head feverishly. “No, he’s just Thor, he’s not a vampire. There aren’t any vampires, right Mum?”
“Oh, drop the act, Wyatt – you are a terrible liar!” Sage spat. “You don’t think all the sudden interest in the zombified leeches went unnoticed, did you?”
Wyatt made an incredulous noise, looked at Sage’s bedroom door and then back at Sage. “Wha—? Shouldn’t we like, be staking him or something?”
“We can’t do that while he’s bound to April,” Broof said. “We have to find her first.”
“Wait… is that what the repellent was for?” Wyatt asked. “To stop him biting me? You let me party with a vampire?! Why didn’t you tell me? He could have had my throat out he… OMG, Roxie! No wonder she looked like death this morning! She could have died!”
“She wouldn’t have died; I doubt he even managed to drink from her if he’s this listless; at least that part worked,” Sage took a step closer, waving her finger in Wyatt’s face. “As for you; I left you in an impeccably controlled, monitored environment, with set instructions, a heavily subdued threat and, as back-up, enough repellent in your veins to make even me want to disown you! Whatever illicit magic you cast to override that is not on me!”
Wyatt chewed his lip. “I didn’t cast anything, not that you’ll believe me,” he muttered, reaching for his bedroom door handle.
Sage slapped his hand from the door knob. “Don’t you walk away from me! Why didn’t you tell me that you might have a daughter, Wyatt?”
“Because I don’t!” Wyatt whined. “Look, even if it was Sandy in that closet – which it wasn’t – we only did it one time—“
Sage’s pointed look alone could’ve slain a vampire. “I’ll get my diagrams. We clearly need another in-depth talk about the birds and the bees.”
“Oh, Mother Earth, no. We really don’t.”
Sage took a deep, mellowing breath and rubbed her temples. “If April really is a witch, if we can prove it, that might be her only chance,” she said thoughtfully.
“A chance?” Broof asked, jumping on his sliver of hope. “So, what? It’s possible to cure her, but it’s just not allowed for humans?”
“I never said that.”
“We can save her?” Wyatt asked. “It’s possible?”
“You’ve changed your tune.”
“Mum, come on. I don’t think she’s mine, but I don’t think she deserves to be staked. To be honest; I don’t think either of them do,” he said. “Not when there’s a cure.”
Sage sighed. “The coven stopped working on a cure a long, long time ago. It could take decades to create one. It may not even be possible to cure them, especially not with a bound pair.”
“We should still try!” Broof cried. “We can find her, catch her, bring her here.”
“You will do precisely nothing!” Sage ordered. “If the other witches find out there are more vampires, that you two knew about them, that they’ve been allowed to multiply,” she shuddered. “If they found out we were harbouring vampires after what they’ve done to our kind throughout the centuries… I may as well build us a pyre now.”
“They won’t find out,” Broof assured her. “We’ll make sure of it.”
“The answer is ‘no’.”
Sage looked between the two younger witches and shook her head, firmly.
“Even if you found her and somehow managed to get her here, whatever will we feed them? You do know what they survive on, yes? And we’ll need to feed both of them, a lot, daily.”
“They can feed off me,” Broof said.
“And me,” Wyatt agreed. “There’s a potion, isn’t there? That speeds up how fast red blood cells regenerate? I’ll learn it. I’ll make as much as we need.”
“Oh please. You faint when having your vaccinations; how will you handle a vampire bite?” Sage laughed. “Plus, the erythrocyte elixir takes a full lunar cycle, Wyatt. It is a notoriously challenging potion.”
“If I can make LSD, I can make eurythmic elixir,” Wyatt said confidently.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Sage murmured. “Are you two even thinking? What if Thor and April are just the tip of the iceberg, hey? What if there are thousands of vampires? Are you going to bring them all here?” Sage argued. “There cannot be one rule for one, and one rule for another.”
“Of course there can be,” Wyatt said. “I’ve got different rules to everyone else.”
“Yes, because you’re special,” Sage said.
“So is April,” Broof replied, with determination. “You don’t have to help us, Sage. But if there’s a way to help these creatures, we should and I will.”
“Yeah, I’m with you, Hoggy,” Wyatt nodded. “Have you even read the Rede, Mum? An it harm none, do as thou wilt. ”
“Please,” Broof murmured. “Help us save April. Guide us.”
You’ve missed one.
I’ve bought you some time.