Bic flung his pen across the room, bending the expensive, fragile tip.
"Damn. Double damn."
He rose so abruptly from his desk, he knocked over the chair. Bickford Thaddeus Rayden III was in full stress mode. His boot-clad feet slapped against the concrete floor echoing off the brick walls of his loft office and home. The thought of having to drop everything he was doing and run down to the doctor's office to have his blood drawn every Friday was beginning to really irritate him. He couldn't help having hemochromatosis and needing to be bled weekly. But right this moment, he was facing deadline, his comic strip characters were not behaving and his social life consisted of flirting with the nurses drawing his blood.
Bic pushed a sigh from his lips. He could argue with himself all day, but the fact remained he needed to get to the doctor's office. Not to do so could be deadly.
He walked to the wall and bent over to pick up his pen. Gently, he fingered the bent tip. This had been his best drawing pen, creating sure bold lines when necessary and extra fine pinpoints of ink at his command. Now his temper had ruined his tool. With slumping shoulders, he put the ruined pen on his desk and grabbed his jacket from the coat tree on his way out the door. He locked the deadbolt and trudged down the steps to the underground garage where he slid his SUV into the light afternoon traffic winding his way up Hospital Hill to his destination.
He checked into the reception area with two minutes to spare. Molly, the blonde physician's assistant, smiled as she led him back to the examination room.
"How's the comic business, Bic?" She bustled around first taking his blood pressure and temperature then she rolled up his sleeve, wiped his arm with alcohol and inserted the needle into his raised vein.
Bic grit his teeth and smiled.
"You'd think after all these years this would get easier."
Molly gave him a sympathetic smile. "It doesn't."
He sat thinking while she pulled the necessary pint of blood from his body.
"Why don't you put in a spigot?" His eyes lit up and he grinned from ear-to-ear.
Her scowl conveyed her lack of humor at his request.
"My characters will have one installed." He knew he was pushing his luck.
"Bic, we're done. I know this isn't your favorite activity but it doesn't take that long, does it?"
"No offense, Molly, but the less I see of you, the better."
She released the needle from his arm, pushing a cotton ball on the entry spot to stop the blood flow and deftly maneuvered a band aid over the cotton.
"You can roll your sleeve down and be on your way. The doctor will email your results to you." She grabbed the vials filled with his life source and closed the door behind her.
Bic redressed his arm and drank the obligatory pint of orange juice he'd brought with him. The routine of his disease was wearing on him. He had to schedule his whole life around these blasted blood-sucking sessions. Bic found his way out of the doctor's office maze as quickly as he could move. Things had gotten so hectic with the new management at the newspaper syndicate instituting tighter deadlines and mandatory attendance at award ceremonies; he really needed to think about getting a secretary.
Several people in the hallway near him jumped and turned to stare his direction.
"Sorry." He trotted past the startled patients and out to his SUV. With newfound energy, he set out to put his plan into action. He had to strangle the urge to speed home, the idea burning in his brain. He bolted up the three flights of stairs to his loft. This could be the start of getting his life back. Wrestling with the sticky front door lock, he muttered assorted swear words until the lock slid open. Once inside, he tossed his jacket over the back of the couch.
He flicked on the computer then stood and stared at the monitor willing the words to appear. When that failed, he began to pace in front of his desk and wring his hands. How could he word the ad to weed out the kooks and weirdos?
Stopping to stare at the blinking curser, his brain whirred, words flashing across the screen of his mind. He tried and discarded many combinations finally settling on an ad he thought would work.
"Wanted: Administrative Assistant with excellent office skills to act as secretary, bodyguard, promoter and nursemaid. Must prefer working evenings and nights. Salary based on experience.
Please call 503-922-1333 for appointment."
Bic smiled. This should get some response.
He looked through the peephole; complete blackness. Bick pulled his head back.
Normally, he was able to see the exit sign across the hall. The knocking sounded again. He had little choice but to open the door. He swung open the heavy fire divider and sucked in a deep breath.
Standing before him was a creature clothed in black; in fact, everything about this being was blac--hair, eyes, lips, nail--everything his vision took in looked dark.
"I'm here about the position. We spoke on the phone. My name is Terry Malone."
Great. The voice was either alto or tenor and the name Terry didn't tell him anything about the gender of this being. Bic backed up and widened the opening, inviting the --creature--inside.
The being dragged booted feet across the threshold and stood clutching paperwork in one hand.
Bic closed the door and walked to his drawing table. As he sat in his chair, he noted the being still stood just inside the loft entry door. Bic pointed to the chair facing opposite him.
"Please have a seat here."
Terry slugged across the floor. As he/she neared Bic, a pale hand stretched out offering him the paperwork. "This is my resume."
Bic took the proffered paper and quickly scanned the sheet. If the information was correct, this person had a Bachelor's degree in--business? Bic looked at the creature and found Terry studying the ceiling. Every job listed for work history was a bar, bistro or coffee shop.
"Do you have any experience working in an office?"
Raccoon eyes turned Bic's direction. He realized the being he was gazing at was dotted with piercings all over the visible portions of its face.
"Office? You mean like filing and answering phones?"
"Uhm, not really."
Irritation began to build in Bic's mind. "When we talked on the phone, I explained the position. You told me you had experience. Now, you say you don't?"
The dull look he received added to his frustration. The creature opened its mouth.
"I have to answer so many ads to get my unemployment. This sounded like it might be a possibility, I mean, working at night and all." The only time Terry appeared to come alive was at the mention of working at night.
Bic stood and stuck out his hand. "Thank you for coming, Terry. I think I've had all my questions answered. I'll let you know."
The creature rose from the chair and placed a cold, clammy extension in Bic's hand, sending chills down his spine. Bic walked over and opened the door indicating the opened exit with his free hand.
As the creature walked past him, it turned. "I put my finger over the peephole. It's a soul sucking brain fryer, you know."
Bic shut the door and sighed. This interviewing process was going to be long and tedious.
The first few interviews found him quickly working his way through Goth princesses, film students looking for an easy buck and a few graphic art students who recognized his name.
For three days, the same nightmare process was repeated. The doorbell would ring; he'd open the door to find something black standing there that would slither into his abode and waste his time for fifteen minutes then slither out the door. He was ready to call it quits and just continue as he had for year--hating life and portraying his bitter existence with caustic humor in his comic series.
At four o'clock on the final day, he was facing one last interview before sinking into his self-imposed wretched state. As he waited for the prospect, he put the finishing touches on a strip due in two weeks to the publisher on the East Coast.
"You need to make the eyes look wilder."
He jumped at the quiet voice just over his right ear. The air smelled of... midnight.
Bic leaned back and looked into eyes the color of a moonless evening.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you but you were so involved, I had to see what could hold a man's attention so intently. I'm Larissa Dubnikov. You're looking for a secretary?"
Bic gulped past a lump in his throat. This apparition was the material of men's fantasies. Long-limbed with dark blue black, waistlength hair, her translucent skin begged to be touched.
"I-uh-I-I'm Bic." He stood from his chair and indicated the seat opposite. "Please have a seat."
Larissa flowed, really flowed, into the seat. Pulling up a finely chiseled leg to cross over the one firmly planted on the ground in a four-inch heel, she settled comfortably in the chair.
Bic cleared his throat. "This job is primarily a night job. Some nights we'll be up until the sun begins to rise; other nights you'll be able to leave early. Either way, you'll need to be comfortable working quietly and alone. On those days when I have to leave for... business... you'll be required to predict what I need so upon my return I can slip back into my work. Answer phones, type, do mail, make coffee and chase away groupies, new artists wanting to get a foot in the door over my body and bill collectors."
"Do you think you can handle that?"
Larissa smiled, the effort bringing color to her cheeks. "Without any problems."
Bic rose from his chair stumbling over his feet as he reached out his hand in a quick affirmation of agreement. He flew across the distance between them landing in Larissa's lap.
"May I assume this means I've gotten the job?" Her eyes twinkled wickedly.
Bic's face flushed as he scrambled from her lap. "Uhm, yes. Can you start tonight?"
"I need to tie up some lose ends but can be back in forty-five minutes. Will that work?"
"Sure." Bic watched her float up from the chair and glide across the floor to the front door. She grabbed the handle of the door and pulled open the barrier turning before she slipped across the threshold and gave him a slight wave of her hand.
He dropped into his chair, grabbing a tissue to wipe the sweat from his forehead. How was he going to be able to work with her in the room?
"No choice." He jumped at the sound of his own voice. "Deadlines wait for no one."
He pulled out his work and grabbed his pen.
~ * ~
Larissa floated up the steps to her apartment on the sixteenth floor. A quick snack would help keep her strength up while she started to get Bic's life under control. His move to hire a secretary had been the opening she needed to get close to him. She opened the door to her apartment and wandered to the kitchen, opening the refrigerator. Grabbing a glass container from the back of the fridge, she closed the door and set it on the counter while she rummaged in a bottom cabinet locating a small pan. She emptied the fluid from the jug into the pan and turned up the gas on the stove. Stirring slowly, the liquid soon warmed enough to bubble.
Larissa poured the fluid into a bowl, grabbed a spoon and sat at the small table in the kitchen sipping the life giving liquid down her throat. When she'd gotten as much as she could with the spoon, she licked the bowl clean, closing her eyes to allow the tangy taste to intrigue her tongue. A deep contented sigh escaped her lips.
"Well, that should last me until morning."
She rinsed her dishes and placed them in the dishwasher then went to her bedroom to slip into a comfortable pair of jeans and her soft leather loafers. Feeling the need to dress up her first day of work, she donned a fitted, crisp white long sleeve shirt and fitted dark jacket over her jeans and loafers. A quick look in the mirror and she was out the door, this time taking the elevator to the third floor. She stopped in front of the door, straightened her jacket and knocked.
"Just a minute."
She could sense his eye on her through the small peephole. She lifted a hand and gave a quick wave. The door rumbled open.
"Come in, come in."
Bic watched the vision flow into his space. She waited while he closed the door, following him to his desk.
"Where do you want me to start?"
He watched her voluptuous lips as they posed the question. Bic sucked air into his lungs and swallowed past the lump stuck in his throat.
"Uh-uh, I need someone to go through and set up my calendar."
"Okay." She looked around the area noting the only desk with a computer was the one he used. "Am I to use your computer or will you provide me a desk and computer?"
He looked around. "Oh, right. Since all I really want to do is work on my comic strips, let's move the desk where you want."
Larissa glanced about the well planned room. "If you don't mind, let's just leave things where they are, maybe put a little more distance between your drawing table and the desk so we can move about freely."
Bic moved to the desk and grabbed one end. He looked up to find Larissa wrangling the other side. They scooted the desk back a couple feet. Bic fisted his hands on his hips.
"Will that work?"
She moved around the desk and sat in the chair. "Looks like there's enough room for you to draw while I work at the computer. I think this is just fine."
He gulped. She was awfully close and her dark night essence permeated the air. Could he work with her so near? No choice, deadline loomed. He gathered his tattered day planner, what seemed to be several hundred sticky notes and a calendar of due dates sent to him by his editors and plunked the mess in the middle of the desk.
Larissa looked at the pile then at Bic. "If I fix this by tonight, I can leave early."
He smirked. "Sure."
For the next three hours the only sounds within the room were the tapping of fingers on computer keys and the light scratching sounds of ink pens on paper. At midnight, Larissa stood and stretched her arms high above her head, her slender form undulating with the effort.
Bic sensed her moving and realized he'd been bent over the desk for a very long period of time. He sat up and pushed back in his chair letting his pen roll to the bottom of his drawing board. Pushing out his legs and arms, he mimicked a cat's careful stretching routine.
"Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow." Larissa pushed in the chair.
"What?!" Bic whipped around to look at her.
"I finished organizing your calendar. Our deal was if I got that accomplished I could leave, right?" She cast wary eyes his direction.
His mouth hung open. "You made organization from that mess?"
She curled the corners of her mouth up. "Yes. Oh, and by the way?"
"You missed your doctor's appointment today." She watched his body slump in the chair.
"Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah, I'll just have to see if I can get an emergency appointment tomorrow."
"Is seeing the doctor that important?"
He watched a very faint line form between her eyes. She was truly concerned.
"Unfortunately, it is. I guess I'd better let you know what's going on so you aren't faced with any surprises. I have hemochromatosis and if I don't have blood drawn weekly, I become very ill. Sick enough to die. That is probably the most important appointment in my calendar."
"Oh. In the future, I won't let you forget your appointment. Fair enough?"
He smiled wanly. "It is part of the job. Thanks, Larissa. Have a great night and I'll see you tomorrow."
She strolled to the door looking back at Bic. He sat in the chair, arms hanging, head on the backrest with his eyes closed. She was going to have to watch him closely. The grey tone of his face concerned her. He'd gone from energetic to lethargic in one afternoon. Maybe she could provide a temporary solution.
~ * ~
Paula Franks turned to her husband, Gilbert, and smirked. "I told you so. He has a woman in there. I think we need to remind him of the lease he signed and threaten him with eviction. I know we can double the rent for a new tenant if we want. What do you think, Gil?"
The pudgy man grunted his answer. "Shut the door, Paula. Maybe he just has a housekeeper."
"Leaving at midnight? I doubt it. I'm putting a notice on his door first thing in the morning. I know he doesn't get up until noon or later so he won't be able to spot me."
"Whatever woman; just shut the door."
Paula closed the entry and waddled to the couch dropping her girth next to Gil.
"I knew he was going to be trouble from the first week. Up at all hours, people in and out, and that huge SUV he drives... we've got to put a stop to it, I tell ya."
Gilbert wriggled around to look at her. "Woman, you're a nosy witch. If you don't mind your own business, you'll get both of us in trouble. Write your damned note and shut up about it. I'm watching the game."
Paula huffed and trudged to the kitchen. Gilbert was in idiot but he'd find out. Just wait and see.
The mist surged down the stairs and pushed through the lock, flowing down the door to the concrete floor. Inching ever closer to the recumbent figure, the mist spread across the floor slowing as it neared the bed frame.
Bic moaned and turned to lie on his back. His eyes batted open for a moment and he stared at the ducting near the ceiling. Exhaustion soon reclaimed him in sleep.
The mist crept up the bed legs and covered the prone figure, settling around the neck. With the touch of a feather and speed of a lightning bolt, the deed was accomplished. As quickly as the mist appeared in the room, the cloud dissipated. The restless form on the bed sighed and settled into a deep sleep. When he woke mid-morning, Bic bounded out of bed.
He checked his face in the bathroom mirror surprised at the glow of his cheeks. The previous day, he'd resembled several of the statutes around town--a bit grey and peaked looking.
"Wow! Guess a good night's sleep was all I needed." Opening the mirrored medicine cabinet door, his gaze was captured by a spot on his neck. Bic closed the door and leaned in to examine the spot. He lightly fingered the two tiny pricks on his neck.
"Mmm. Must be a spider bite. I'll have to get some insect repellent." He continued with his morning routine. A pot of coffee and a plate of eggs and bacon later, Bic stood and stretched. "I'd better slap on the runners and get in my mile before I finish my project."
He dressed in running gear and headed to the front door to start his jog. As he opened the door, an envelope fluttered to the ground. Bic picked it up and glanced at the writing. He wrinkled his nose.
"A note from the Franks. I’ll read it later." Tossing the envelope inside his apartment, Bic closed and locked the door then took the steps two at a time out to the front. A light rain fell as he picked up speed for his daily jog.
An hour later, Bic ran up the stairs and unlocked his front door. Taped to the middle was another note from the Franks.
"We need an answer to our notice before noon today. If we don't receive a written explanation, we'll be forced to give you a 72-hour notice. Paula and Gilbert Franks, Managers"
Bic ripped the paper from the door. "Jerks." He checked the clock above his work station and noted it was 11:30. He had time to shower, write a note to the as-yet-unopened demand letter and get back before Larissa came to work. When he'd showered and dressed, he picked up the letter from the floor and opened it. Scanning the contents, Bic felt his blood pressure rise. The managers of the building had the audacity to imply he had a woman living with him--not that he wouldn't have liked to have Larissa as his roommate--without checking the facts first. They were threatening to evict him as his lease only listed him as the tenant. Pulling air slowly into his lungs, Bic sat at the computer and replied, noting he was sending a copy to his lawyer.
He printed the response which he placed in an envelope and clumped to the managers' apartment. His first knock went unanswered. The second time he pounded on the door until it opened.
"Yes?" Paula opened the door just a crack.
Bic shoved the envelope at her. "Before noon. Next time, call first. You'd be surprised what you learn if you ask." He turned on his heel and stomped up the stairs fuming with each step. He threw open his door and stumbled over his feet as he looked into the dark eyes of his new secretary.
"How...?" His brow furrowed.
She cocked an eyebrow and her lip to one side. "You gave me the key?"
"Where've you been so early this morning?"
Bic humphed. "Flippin' building managers left me a little present threatening to evict me if I didn't move out the woman living with me."
Larissa frowned. "I didn't know you had someone living with you."
He pushed a sigh from his lips. "I don't. But they apparently saw you come in yesterday and assumed you were staying here. That's the only thing I can figure." He shook his head. "They've been trying to get me out of here since they took over."
"My publisher arranged for me to move here. He and the building owner went to college together and I guess the building owner owed my publisher a favor. The managers have this convoluted idea the building is theirs and they hold all the power. This struggle between us has been going on for nine months. It's very tiring."
Larissa moved to the desk. "Did you straighten them out?"
Bic nodded. "Yeah, I wrote a letter of explanation about your presence in the apartment and sent a copy to my lawyer, but I don't think it will stop them from trying to get me to move. I sure wish there was a way to make them disappear."
She sat at the computer and brought up the day's calendar. "Maybe there is."
Bic shook his hands to loosen them then sat at his work station. He turned to Larissa. "The problem is if the Franks leave, their replacement could be just as bad or worse. The only way for me to eliminate this problem is to move or buy the building. Since I haven't hit the lottery yet, I think I'm going to have to move; but not today. Today, I'm finishing this strip."
"And going to the doctor as soon as I can set you an appointment."
Bic put down his pen. "Funny about that... I feel 100% better than I did yesterday. My energy level is high and I got a great night's sleep. I don't think I need to go to the doctor today."
Larissa leaned back in the chair. "Really? What about the life and death part? Should I just set an appointment for next week?"
Bic unconsciously rubbed the mark on his neck. "Can't explain the change. Next week should be soon enough."
The hint of a smile touched Larissa's lips as she licked them. If he only knew how tasty his life force is... A line formed across her fair forehead. However, there is the matter of the managers. I'll have to provide a workable solution.
The hint of a smile turned to a full blown grin. I believe a feast is in the offing.
One month later
Bic sat gaping at the television, not believing what his eyes were observing. On the screen was a shot of the bottom of the cliffs at the Oregon Coast, two figures crumpled on the jutting rocks. People falling off the cliffs wasn't unusual; what was unusual were the names—Paula and Gilbert Franks. The reporter on the TV was remarking on the bodies' unique condition. A casual comment made by the coroner's assistant as he peered over the steep edge of the precipice leaked the fact the bodies at the bottom had been drained of all blood.
Bic pushed the off button and sat in his lounger. Who would want to take the time to drain the blood from a body before tossing it over a cliff? His mind immediately jumped to recollections of Dracula movies from his childhood.
"Not possible." He settled at his workstation and buried the bizarre thoughts in work. Leaning back and considering the panel he'd just drawn, Bic sensed a presence near him.
"Hi, Larissa." The essence of midnight swirled around his chair.
"Did you hear about the managers?" She oozed around the chair and leaned against Bic's work desk. He watched her eyes twinkle.
"Why do I get the feeling you had something to do with this?" He narrowed his eyes her direction.
Larissa stood and twirled Bic's chair around to face her. Her hands on the arms prevented his escape. "What if I did? Haven't I heard you mutter you would like to see them in the depths of hell? I just arranged an early visit."
Bic's face drained of color. "What about all the blood?"
Larissa pursed her lips into a bow. "There was a great deal of it, to be sure, but I can guarantee you it wasn't anywhere close to the quality of your own."
She leaned close to his face, her warm breath brushing against his cheek; the smell of midnight engulfing his brain. "Don't you find me attractive?"
His eyes widened. "Of course, but I didn't want to ruin our working relationship. You've completely organized my life."
Larissa slipped out her tongue feathering lightly down the side of his neck.
Bic shuddered. His eyes rolled back and his head lolled against the chair. He felt her nibble at his neck and he allowed a moan to escape his lips. A quick stab of pain and his ears began to roar, white spots popped in front of his closed eyes and his breath came in short, fast spurts. The glow of warmth spread from his neck through his body, and he allowed himself to completely relax.
Larissa pulled back and turned around, licking her lips and wiping her mouth. When she faced Bic again, his eyes were still glassed over, his mouth hanging open.
"I think this could work for both of us," she smiled shyly. "What do you think?"
He moved his head up and down. The arrangement might be a little--unorthodox--but he could see a positive for both of them. He needed bleeding, she needed blood. It didn't hurt that she was gorgeous and a great secretary.
Bic smiled. Life was turning out to be very good.