Bloody Dangerous Liaisons

In retrospect, I let this dance of deception go on for far too long before confronting Count Dracula with my suspicions. I cannot say for certain whether my motivation for letting it carry on was a matter of professional courtesy, fear for the future of my career or a desire to avoid personal embarrassment. Perhaps it was a mixture of all of these factors. In any event, I write this journal with trepidation that it may be discovered by someone of ill character and unsympathetic mindset, or worse, that I might endeavor to actually submit it to my employers at Hawkins & Harker Co. out of genuine guilt.

Perhaps it is best that I consign these notes to the fire after laying down my thoughts in ink. The mere act of writing it all down may be enough to unburden my weary soul. I am in all things a professional, a man who has often put his business above his family — yet these strange happenings have  made me look inward, beyond the world of work, to wonder at the emotional foundations of my personality. I only hope that my work does not suffer.

I, Robert M. Renfield, realtor with Hawkins & Harker Co., operating out of London, do hereby declare that all these words to follow, including conversations transcribed here from memory alone, are true to my recollection, as certain as it may be under the circumstances.

The professionals at Hawkins & Harker Co. will be aware of the relatively mundane background of most that took place prior to me visit to that gloomy and crumbling castle in exotic Transylvania, east of rural Bohemia in the dark, forested country of Rumania. We had been contacted by an agent of a certain Count Dracula, who dwelt in that country among an ancient estate that had been associated for centuries with his family’s name. Late in life, this nobleman had decided to sell off his considerable assets in his homeland and resettle in London in a suitably palatial estate. Naturally, our company was excited at the prospect of winning a handsome commission on the sale and purchase of these properties and we were quite proud to be selected by the Count for this endeavor.

Mr. Hawkins sent me to represent the company in person to the Count – an undertaking of considerable challenges, not least of which would be traveling to the relatively untamed lands of Eastern Europe. Yet upper management had shown faith in my skills and I could hardly turn them down, even if such had been my desire. I must confess I was very excited at the prospect of winning this commission for our firm.

The trip to the Count’s castle was most deserving of its own manuscript, but that is not the purpose of this recounting. Suffice to say that on this journey, I saw many strange and wonderful sights, though with a strange sense of foreboding as my train approached its final destination, as though I were passing into a land of spirits and demons. I felt this strongly, even though I have never been much given to superstition or even to much thought of such apparitions of fairy tales.

A driver was sent to pick me up at the inn of a small town near the castle. I suppose my clothes and manners of an Englishman stuck out to these bohemian peasants and while I waited for the coach to arrive, they questioned me of my purpose in being there. Upon telling them where I was going, these strangers regaled me with tales of strange dark things going on in the town which they all associated with the master of the domain I was visiting. They had no proof – only scurrilous rumor. I should have paid them more heed, yet fancied them to be illiterate gypsies, filthy beggars and the like, jealous of the Count’s holdings and of his reputation.

When the driver arrived, I thought I must have been transported into another age. He wore armor and strange clothing that marked him out more as a kind of Oriental knight – a flamboyant fashion unsuited to this modern age. Nonetheless I boarded the coach and it took me to Castle Dracula – the dynastic home of my wealthy Eastern client. I so looked forward to meeting this nobleman, who I had built up in my mind as a sort of Rumanian King on par with our own blessed sovereign.

The ride to the castle was harrowing, along narrow forest paths and sheer cliffs, with wolves howling ceaselessly in the night. When we arrived, I immediately ascertained that the Count’s castle was in a terrible state of disrepair. It was clear that the Count was either unable or unwilling to finance renovations of this extensive property, with its multiple wings that would rival the royals’ estates in our very own England. I was somewhat concerned that this nobleman might have fallen on hard times and that the commission at stake might not be so impressive as first imagined – but I reasoned that the dilapidation of the old castle did not necessarily entail a poverty of economy. Perhaps he was husbanding his vast resources for the planned purchase of property in our thriving capital.

I needn’t have been so concerned. Inside the castle, the furnishings alone, of priceless frescoes, solid gold candle holders, diamond-encrusted antiques and the like, would fetch enough of a return to pay for several castles in England. On meeting the Count and going over a list of his extensive assets, it was clear that the commission we might earn was even larger, by several factors, than I had at first imagined. I wondered whether those stories of strange goings on around the castle had been seeded by the Count among the poor countryfolk to keep them away from his valuable property.

Count Dracula was an dandyish-looking fellow, even by the standard of comparing our thoroughly modern street fashions with those of his liking. He generally wearing long robes or a loose clothing covered by a cape. The Count was an old man, though it was impossible to tell just how long he had lived – indeed, he must suffer from some slight dementia, for in several conversations, he spoke of events that must have been experienced by his forefathers long ago, as though he had been there personally. As an example, he talked of fighting back the Ottomans who were ravaging Byzantium and putting the interlopers heads upon pikes. Another time, he showed me a line of Renaissance-era paintings by great masters he claimed to have met in person.

I ignored these curious habits, but I could not ignore a different sort of habit that the Count showed me with increasing frequency, which made me very anxious and unsure of myself. I shall note the most prominent examples, which perhaps may not seem so strange in themselves, yet taken together did lead me to the off-putting conclusion that is the basis of this writing – which the reader will soon understand well.

The first incident happened on the night of the first meeting (I should note that the Count had an odd habit of sleeping during the day and conducting business in the evenings – but truly, his late sleeping was of no real concern compared with what I soon discovered). We were eating a fine supper of roast beef that had not been cooked overly well, barely singed on the outside; essentially a bloody piece of beef. I did not complain, though, for I did not want to appear rude. The Count claimed to have eaten earlier, immediately upon rising, so I ate while he talked.

I must have been enraptured in one of his stories of his powerful dynasty. I clumsily nicked a finger with a steak knife while cutting into the nearly-raw flesh.

Despite his long years and seemingly fragile frame, the Count was at my side in an instant. He inspected my slight injury and insisted on holding my hand forth so he could see it clearly. Again, not wanting to be rude, I acquiesced.

To my horror, the Count licked my finger.

I felt in that moment like running, especially as his tongue lolled lazily about the cut. His greedy eyes betrayed his awful intent as he went on to suck upon the damaged member. I do not recall how long this went on, for I nearly fainted from the embarrassment and awkwardness, yet it was more than a moment. I was paralyzed with fear.

The Count seemed to get control of himself, withdrawing my finger from his maw and apologizing for his forwardness. “It is a form of traditional medicine that is common in these lands,” he hastened to add. “But perhaps this is not a remedy subscribed to by your modern English physicians.”

“Thank you,” was all I could think to reply. He smiled and retreated back to his end of the table to watch me finish my supper.

It was the most unsettling meal I’ve ever experienced.

An odd Eastern eccentricity, you might think. But the next incident came soon after.

The next day, while going over the paperwork for the sale of his property, I endured a paper cut while shuffling some of the papers. Considering the first night’s strangeness, I’d been paranoid of precisely such an occurrence. Perhaps that is what caused it to happen, as undue caution can sometimes result in the opposite of our objective. As before, the Count noticed my very minor wound and was on it almost quicker than I noticed it had happened. I reeled and nearly fainted as my finger was taken to his lips and his tongue seemed to lap up the tiny drops of crimson that oozed forth. He smiled with evident relish.

This time, I felt compelled to protest. I let loose an incomprehensible squawk – it was the best I could do under the circumstances. Fortunately, it was enough. Like the previous incident, the Count apologized for letting his emotions get the better of him. He maintained that his only thought was to my health and welfare.

Once more, I let this incident go, attempting to work through the finer details of this real estate transaction, but often finding myself distracted by the strange circumstances. I hoped against hope that this might be the end of it and that we might finish our business without further awkwardness.

It was not to be.

That very night, I had decided to shave, so as to rid myself of the cursedly handsome shadow that maintained itself on my cheeks and throat. I had let myself go a little on the train to this strange land and now felt the urge to be clean.

It was difficult shaving without a mirror; another of the Count’s odd superstitions seemed to be a fear of them and he’d long ago had all such reflective surfaces removed.

In those circumstances, I endured a not-insignificant cut on my throat. I had not been aware that the Count was even in my room. As before, he swooped in upon me, pressing his tongue against my neck and licking it with such enthusiasm that I must confess to an awkward stirring in myself, along with an instinctive revulsion to what was happening.

“Count!” I shouted, recoiling in horror from the nobleman, whose lips were smeared in my own blood. He did not move away, but at least he did not try once more to close the distance between us. He seemed to look upon me as a predator upon prey, choosing his moment to pounce once more.

“I want to suck your…” the Count began.

I put up my hand. “No!” I shouted. “Don’t say another word, Count! For if I hear it, our business relationship cannot endure. I am a man who is dedicated only to his business – that, and my wife and children. I intend to see them again upon my return to England without any recourse to subterfuge about what transpired on this trip!”

Count Dracula seemed baffled. He paused and let me continue.

“Count, I know what you are doing,” I said. “I know what you are.”

That seemed to take him off guard. For the moment, he retreated, but only by inches. I could see his intent was to keep me in that room for his own nefarious purposes.

“How can you know what I truly am, Mr. Renfield?” the Count asked. “No, you cannot even guess. You do not know what dark hunger I endure.”

“I do know,” I insisted. “There are many in England who share your… persuasion.”

“Impossible!” the Count snarled. “You try to mock me. I am the only one of my kind. God himself has damned me. Now, Renfield, I shall share my curse with you.”

I was shaken a little by the deep sorrow of those words, understanding how this old man must have suffered over the years, isolated in this old castle – and perhaps isolated in his younger years? Those men with alternative tastes – how would they fare in rural Transylvania as compared with the freewheeling streets of London?

This land must have been his joyless prison as much as his perennial home. I now understood the repressed torture of this poor creature – even if I could not condone it.

“Get hold of yourself,” I said to the Count, holding my ground. “I did not mean my words to sting you. Indeed, if it is any consolation, may I say that I am flattered by the intrepidness of your advances. Nonetheless, I am a freeborn Englishman and will not be harassed into an unnatural pact with you. We must keep this professional! Besides, as I have said, if your intent to come to England remains true, then you will see with your own eyes that what I have spoken is also true.”

“Do not toy with me, Renfield,” the Count said. “The things I can do to you…”

“I swear it to be true,” I said. “My own uncle was so afflicted. He never married, which is perhaps not so unusual, but he had odd ways and flamboyant fashions, like yourself, often frequenting the theatre at night in the company of artistic and beautiful lads. In my younger years, I understood my uncle to be merely a charming, funny sort of chap, but it was only in adulthood that the truth of his habits was finally explained to me. My mother would whisper gossip to her women friends that he would take these young men back to his flat from the pub after midnight and – well, I’m sure you can use your imagination.”

The Count had a confused look, which was at least better than the feral expression he’d maintained a moment ago. He let me continue.

“The rest of my family accepted his ways, but naturally kept it secret, lest all society be shocked by his brazenness,” I said. “We never told anyone… but truth be told, I believe there are far more of his persuasion all over England. From the jokes one hears in ribald company, one might get the impression every sailor in the Royal Navy is down with this ‘curse’, as you call it. Indeed, it is said that many an English king had a predilection for, well, I suppose I don’t need to explain the details…”

“What you are saying cannot be true,” the Count insisted. “This curse… This disease of the blood… Your island nation would be shuttered in darkness if there were so many like myself, condemned to an endless night of sucking upon the…”

“But it is true, Count,” I said, unwilling to hear any more. “You are not alone! You need not suffer the lonely pangs of your… hunger, on your own. But I am not one such as you. Have mercy and let me leave this place without further molestation. If you can abide by that, I will feel as though we have not sundered our professional relationship. But you must understand that knowing your intent towards me, I cannot stay here…”

The Count seemed struck dumb. He spoke slowly, with much expression. “I must see if what you say is true. More than ever, I must go to England.”

“We want your business, Count,” I said. “As early as can be arranged, I shall send along Mr. Jonathan Harker, a Partner in my firm. I’m told he is to be married to a young girl, Mina, but I have it on my colleague’s authority that this young and vigorous man with rosy cheeks has had many liaisons with older gentlemen who appreciate – well, who share your tastes; in turn, our Mr. Harker is said to be charmed by men like you, who hold a certain venerable sophistication. It is not my intent to abandon you, Count Dracula. No, our firm wants your business – and I believe that Mr. Harker is just the sort of man who can finalize these arrangements so that you can get to your new home in England as swiftly as possible. I believe he will be able to meet all of your… needs. I only wish that I could.”

“So, you give me this Jonathan Harker in your stead,” the Count said. “You feel no guilt over this?”

“What guilt?” I asked. “I believe that you and Mr. Harker will be an excellent match, for this business and… whatever else you wish to do. I believe he will be eager to accept your… embrace.”

“I see,” the Count said. “I am intrigued and eager to meet this Mr. Harker, who would so willingly give himself over to those of us who share this curse. It is a miracle that this man survives… but I shall see whether he can handle me.”

Without much further discussion, I left Castle Dracula and this messy business behind. I feel as though I have come out of a terrible trap that might have disrupted my business but also my personal life.

It is enough for me to relate the details of what has transpired. The business relationship between Hawkins & Harker Co. and the Count is still viable, as far as I can tell. I can only hope that Mr. Harker will be able to smooth over the final transaction.

May my colleagues forgive me for not giving in to the unnaturally seductive powers of Count Dracula. I suppose it may be said that I did not do absolutely everything in my power to give our client satisfaction… but I am still hopeful that this failing will not prevent us from bringing in this much needed lifeblood of a healthy commission for our growing firm.

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