“Children of the Nightcap,” by Tim McDaniel

Dec 20th, 2020 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Yuri loosened his tie even more and gratefully accepted the drink from the waitress. Stupid company policy, to wear suits and ties on all business trips. He’d ditched the jacket up in his room, but hadn’t thought to leave the tie there, too. Too anxious to get a drink down in the hotel bar.

The place was much busier than he would have expected for this time of night. Others with loosened ties or even still wearing jackets—those would be the manufacturer’s reps, trying to look good while glad-handing prospects—sat at other tables or leaned against the bar. Mostly middle-aged, mostly tired. Fellow conventioneers.

There was a second type, too, harder to place. They didn’t wear similar clothes. Some had leather jackets, some dark t-shirts with ripped-off sleeves. But they all had the same hard look about them. Yuri couldn’t figure what those people were doing in the hotel.

Then a third type appeared, represented by only a single individual. This man surveyed the bar, then walked over to Yuri’s booth.

“I wonder if I might… join you,” he said. “The bar seems… quite crowded.”

“Sure, I guess,” Yuri said. The man sat down.

He was a character, apparently. He wore a cape—not one of those little capes that rich people (usually villains) in old movies wore to the opera. This was full-size, and black as night with a red lining. He had a khaki shirt and trousers underneath, and he wore a pith helmet like he was Livingston I presume, going on a safari.

The man leaned a large-bore rifle of some kind against the side of the booth, and inclined his head towards Yuri. “Count Mertino,” he said, removing his helmet and carefully placing it on the table.

Yuri nodded back. “Hey. Yuri Reese. Scissors ‘n’ Stuff Complete Office Supplies. Nice to meet you.”

Mertino nodded. “Of course.” He looked around the bar. “I overheard someone ask the bartender for the blood of Mary.”

“Yeah?” Yuri couldn’t quite place this Mertino’s accent. Definitely not American, anyway.

One of the toughs at a nearby table, a bald man with a scar and leather jacket, nudged a companion, a one-eyed hulk in a black tee-shirt. They both turned to look at Mertino.

Mertino hadn’t noticed. He leaned forward. “They sell this—beverage—openly?”

“Sure they do. Since Prohibition ended, anyway. So like, what? Eighty years or so?”

The two at the other table got up and approached Yuri and Mertino.

“I see,” Mertino was saying. “Time is flying, as the living say. I have not always kept up-to-date. In fact, I had no idea even that this group existed. But it has become an interest of mine—people can be so predictable, can’t they? So I decided to come to this convention.” He noticed the two men standing near them and tilted his head back as if to look down his nose at them.

“So what’s your story?” the bald man said.

“Check out the popgun,” the other said, gesturing at the rifle. “Hundred-year –old elephant gun. Replica.”

“I am here for the convention,” Mertino said. “Are you fellow enthusiasts?”

The two just stared at Mertino.

“Hey, there,” Yuri said. “Yuri Reese. Scissors ‘n’ Stuff Complete Office Supplies.” He extended his hand, but his offer to shake was not taken up by either of the visitors.

“No way he’s for real,” the hulk murmured to his companion. “Wear a cape like that here? Might as well be speaking with a Transylvanian accent and have dirt caked on his back.”

“Yeah,” the bald man said, but took away his gaze only reluctantly. “Guess you’re right. Some kind of groupie.” He sneered, and the two returned to their table.

“What was that all about?” Yuri asked.

Mertino’s gaze had followed the two men. He shrugged.

“Well, there’s the waitress, if you want to order your drink.”

“Ah, yes.” Mertino signaled to the waitress, and asked for the blood of Mary.

“You something of a night owl, Mr. Mertino?”

“A night—’owl’! Ha, very amusing!” Mertino smiled thinly. “Also children of the night, indeed.”

“I mean, it’s pretty late. I’ve been flying all over the country, part of my route. It’s always hard to get to bed at night. Jetlag.”

“Yes. I, of course, also fly a great deal, and do not use a bed at night.”


Mertino gave a small jerk. “Did that man over there mention the name ‘van Helsing’ just now?”

“Maybe. I didn’t hear him if he did.”

“I’m almost sure he did so.”

“Is this guy a friend of yours?”

“Before my time, of course! But if I had had the chance to meet him—well, perhaps things would be very altered. I suppose we all like to imagine how the outcome might have been different—but we have the advantage of hindsight. Still, the name cannot help but produce something that would otherwise be called ‘shivers’ along my spine.”

The drink came, and Mertino took a drink. He made a face.

Yuri chuckled. “I should have warned you. The drinks here are pretty watered down.”

Mertino pushed the glass away. “It’s like drinking nothing at all!”

“Just as well, I guess. Tomorrow there are seminars, meets-and-greets, all the hand-pumping and smiling. The competition can be kinda cut-throat. Hunting up new clients is no time to have a hangover.”

“Hunting, exactly. My area of interest also. Another—blood sport—with a long tradition. Although I may confess, actually I am new to this activity, in this form. I trust my clothing and my equipment”—he gestured at his enormous gun—”are appropriate. I am unused to using these kinds of artificial weapons, and I have never hunted… animals.”

“I’d say you look the part,” Yuri said. Real hunters would tear this guy to pieces, laughing all the way, he thought, but he wasn’t going to be the one to enlighten this innocent.

“I wish I knew why that one was talking about van Helsing,” Mertino mused. “I mean, an organization like this should be a place to get away from the stresses of work, not dwell on them. And also, I am confused as to why the seminars are scheduled for daylit hours. I hope the rooms are at least well-equipped with drapes.”

This was getting just a little weird. “Uh huh.” Yuri stretched. “Listen, I’m going to have to call it a night. Full day tomorrow, and I’m going to hit the hay. I feel like I haven’t slept in years.”

“Naturally not,” Mertino said, but he furrowed his brow.

“Maybe I’ll see you around the hotel. The convention is here for three days.”

“Perhaps,” Mertino said slowly. “But you are planning to hit the hay? Is that what you said?” His eyes widened. “You must be a—”

“I really got to go.” Yuri left the bar and walked, just a little unsteadily, past the registration counter to the bank of elevators. He pushed the button.

To the left there was a reader board, white plastic letters on dark blue. WELCOME OFFICE SUPPLIERS it said at the top. A paper was tacked below it, detailing the rooms various events were to be held in. Yuri had the same paper in his briefcase in the room.

Below that was another message. WELCOME VAMPIRE HUNTERS. And another paper. The sessions there had titles like “Keep Sharp with the Latest Stakes and Staves,” “The Legacy of van Helsing: Lessons Learned,” and “Sunlamps Shed New Light on Old Problem.”

Vampire Hunters. Some kind of horror convention, Yuri supposed. Maybe it was a Walking Dead thing. And then his elevator arrived.

A moment later Count Mertino arrived at the bank of elevators. He sniffed the air, then pressed the button.

The doors had hardly closed on him when the bald man and the hulk arrived at the same bank of elevators. The bald man jabbed the button as well, but too late the reopen the doors. They both watched the floor numbers on the display climb.


Tim McDaniel teaches ESL at Green River College, not far from Seattle. His short stories, mostly comedic, have appeared in a number of SF/F magazines, including F&SF, Analog, and Asimov’s. He lives with his wife, dog, and cat, and his collection of plastic dinosaurs is the envy of all who encounter it. His author page on Amazon is https://www.amazon.com/author/tim-mcdaniel. Many of his stories are available at CuriousFictions.com.

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