Consultation with a Vampire - 01

How to Succeed in Evil:

A Consultation With A Vampire

By Patrick E. McLean

Since the dawn of time, men have stood on high places and looked down on what they have intended to conquer. Darius looked down upon the stubborn city-states of the Greek plain; Caesar considered Gaul from
e superior loco
; and Machiavelli, as he composed in his high tower, considered what manner of man it would take to unite the fractious city-states of the once-mighty Roman peninsula.

Cliffs have been replaced by buildings, buildings by cathedrals, and cathedrals by skyscrapers. Now, powerful men stand atop mountains of arrogance and steel and glass so high that they seem to tower over heaven itself.

Such a man was Edwin Windsor, and the building he stood upon bore his name. This tall man did not wear armor or a scarlet cape or the cap of a Renaissance scholar. Instead, he draped his frame in the trappings of all modern conquerors: an impeccably cut suit.

From his great height, Edwin could smell spring. He was not the kind of man who would talk about such things, but he could feel that electric something in the air. The green fuse that drives the flower was lit, and there was no going back. The winter was over, and a new season had begun.

Edwin leaned on the railing of his executive balcony and rubbed his eyes. Although winter had been difficult, he was sad to see it go. He was more at home in a season that rewarded careful planning and judgment. The orgy of spring? How wasteful.

Edwin was a unique kind of consultant, an Evil Efficiency Consultant. His clientele consisted exclusively of Supervillians Super-villains and Masterminds. But, for all their superlatives and self-love, they never seemed to be as super or as smart as Edwin had hoped. The way his clients practiced Evil was often senseless, dangerous, and expensive. Which made Edwin like a sports agent who hated the game of football.

Edwin was the kind of man who could see no point in taking chances when it was so much more profitable to create opportunity.

Which is why he was so excited about the two documents sitting on his desk. Very soon, he hoped to have accumulated enough capital to leave the madness of consulting behind him. Of course, it had been a profitable and easily exploitable niche. But when you got right down to it, what he really did was charge people for advice they didn’t listen to. It was, Edwin realized from this great height, beneath his dignity.

The documents were investment prospectuses. Although the opportunities they presented couldn’t be more different, they both represented the chance for him to become something more than a consultant. And because that was something he so ardently wished for, he was being especially cautious with his enthusiasm.

The first was from a telecommunications company that was developing a novel method of high-resolution conferencing. Edwin dismissed it as matter of principle. The problems of communication had nothing to do with technology and everything to do with people. Increasing the speed or quality of the exchange, therefore, would not create more value, just more confusion — as had been amply demonstrated by the Internet.

The other offering was from a construction company with an interesting niche and method: It used a clear, acrylic carbon-fiber mix to blow a bubble of material within the Earth. This created a round bunker many times stronger than steel at a fraction of the cost of conventional underground construction.

Edwin was certain there would always be a market among the paranoid and militaristic for such a product, but he did not believe that bunkering was a good strategy. When someone comes to strike at you, the best defense is not to be there at all. A bunker, or base or secret lair, was simply an expensive place to be cornered.

The pitch was not without merit. It was a market that could be served fast and cheaply, and that was no small thing. But still, he had been swayed away from the opportunity by the fact that bunkers, like all real estate, simply weren’t productive resources.

Agnes, his faithful and constant secretary, called to him from the doorway. “Edwin, do you intend to stand out there all night?” Her voice, proper, clipped, and heightened in its efficiency by her upper-class British accent, seemed the very tone and commandment of order and sensibility. She was a woman of formidable years, presence, and intellect — less of a battle-axe of a woman and more of a battleship.

Edwin turned. Her face was worn by the years and eaten with care. He wondered, tenderly, how many springs she had seen and how many more she might have.

The approaching night whipped up the corners of Edwin’s suit with a cold wind. Agnes was right. The dark was coming and with it that ever-present reminder of the final terminus to which we all must arrive.

The wind scraped a few dead leaves across the marble of Edwin’s high gallery. The sound of it disturbed him, and he hastened inside, chased by that chill wind coming off the river. Spring had not won yet, the leaves seemed to say. Only death, only death, only death.

It had been nearly two years since Edwin had appropriated this magnificent building from its rightful, yet terribly inefficient, owners. He had promptly occupied the top floor, turning it into the temple of an office through which he now strode. The windows, three stories tall, offered an unbroken view of the sky and the city below. In addition to Edwin's gigantic office, the space featured several conference rooms, a suitably imposing lobby, and the balcony that Edwin and Agnes had just left.

Edwin had finally managed to construct for himself a place in the world that was on his scale. No more ducking under doorframes. No more squeezing his seven-foot-tall frame into furniture or architecture designed for smaller, more common men.

“Come, Agnes. I will walk you out,” Edwin said, gallantly offering his arm to her. As the elevator doors closed, Edwin enjoyed one last glimpse of the office he loved so well. As Archimedes had said, “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the world.” In his heart, Edwin knew that this was his place to stand. Now, all he needed was the lever.

Agnes’s arm felt small and frail upon his. She was getting older and had been old for as long as Edwin had known her. Now, as the elevator sucked them down through the tall building, Edwin considered the possibility she might die. As odd as it might seem, he had never thought of it before. Of course she was aging, weathering like a fine ruin that retained the proportions of its original dignity, but there would come a day. There would come a day.

At least her mind was intact, Edwin thought, masking his own fear that illness or accident might take clear and coherent thought away from him.

The express elevator settled heavily, and its acceleration pressed them into the floor. Agnes gave a tiny grunt of pain or discomfort. It was the kind of thing another person might miss. But Edwin had known her a long, long time. Long enough to know that the kindest thing to do was to call no attention to it.

Instead, Edwin escorted her through the main lobby and past the one feature of his building that he truly could not stand: a useless reflecting pool. “We should have drained and removed that,” he said as they advanced toward the street.

“You speak of it as if it were a swamp,” Agnes said. “I like it. The serenity of nature, the calm of the water, a balance, if you like.”

“It’s a waste of space,” Edwin said. “And even if you like the aesthetic effect of water, it is proportionally too small. It is nearly as bad as a carp pond.”

“A koi pond.”

“Giving something ugly a beautiful name doesn’t change the fact that it is still ugly.”

The good-natured argument ended as he put her into a cab and closed the door. As he watched the cab disappear into the flow of traffic, he realized that whenever and however she left him, it would be too soon. What would he give to have Agnes with him for another year? For another five years? Until his end?

He stood on the sidewalk beneath his building, listening to the squeal of brakes and the endless arguments of the taxi horns.

Despite his insistence otherwise, Topper Haggleblat, Edwin’s lawyer and friend, was technically a dwarf. He had attempted to overcome his lack of height by going at life with the gusto of at least three much larger men. In fact, if medical science had time to waste on such an unusual study, it might have concluded that, because of the ratio of hormones to body mass, Topper should be classified as a gland with feet.

He had serious debauchery in his sights that evening, a world-class surrealist bender that would remove him so utterly from the concerns of the world that, for a brief, weightless moment at the top of the rollercoaster of absurdity, he would know peace. It was not understanding or enlightenment that the little savage was after; rather, it was to forget, if only for a short time, that for lack of a more nuanced psychological description, Momma had never loved him.

To this end, he was now cranked up on enough cocaine and whiskey to kill a man three times his size.

He moved through the darkened club, kicking the backs of the knees of people who blocked his way. A normal-sized person wouldn’t have gotten away with this, but, for many reasons, Topper was disorienting. Plus (and this is no small plus), he had pure crazy in his eyes.

He was in a foul mood tonight. He hadn’t gotten laid in a while. This was a serious enough problem for a normal person, but Topper had been blessed (or cursed) with prodigious appetites for vice. Vice was something easily procured with money. As a fearsome and highly paid defense attorney, he had no shortage of money. He kept several brothels on speed dial. If this were to be the evening that finally killed him, one of those brothels would go out of business.

His current problem wasn’t one of means or desire; it was one of decision. As Topper would say in his crude, high-pitched, jangly slang, “Nothin’s been trippin’ my trigger lately.” It wasn’t that he didn’t see anything he liked. It was that he didn’t see anything he hadn’t done before.

Until her.

Her long black hair melted into a dress that rode the line between formal and obscene in a way that suggested this woman’s presence in a room would be attended by Consequences with a capital “C.” In the mottled, moody light of the nightclub, her curves suggested that marriages would be shattered, friendships would turn rotten, ships would be launched, and all hell was generally about to break loose.

Full, red lips contrasted with impossibly pale, cold skin. And her eyes, Topper thought, Jesus Christ, those pale blue eyes. They held such indifference, such ancient contempt for the world and everything in it that Topper’s black little soul cried out for her to treat him badly.

In short, she was the girl that Topper’s mother would have warned him about had she had not abandoned him, naked, on the steps of that crooked orphanage. But that didn’t really matter. Because, just like a pistol, when Topper’s trigger was pulled, there was no taking it back.

Topper knew he would never stand a chance with a woman like her. Sure, he had bought (well, technically, rented) many beautiful women, but that was different. That was commerce. This was an untamed creature, free in the wild. To have the thrill of the hunt, the chase, the kill. To be a bold hunter on a safari of debauchery!

He sucked his scotch and racked his brain as he watched her sway in time to a song that wasn’t playing. Who was she looking for? A friend? More drugs? More beautiful people like her? Just more? Topper had always liked more, whatever it was: booze, drugs, girls, speed, violence. Topper didn't have any tattoos, but if he were to get one, it would read “GIMME MORE!” across his entire back.

What could he do to get her attention? Not just to attract her notice, but to get her
and to keep them for a night or longer.

It was in moments like this that Topper's jealousy of taller, more conventionally attractive men grew into a perverse hatred for almost anyone and anything. He wanted to break something. To start a fight and to lose. To scream at the top of his lungs and to have the music stop and all attention turn to him.

But the fact was, the top of his lungs just wasn’t high enough for a woman like that. And neither was anything else about him. Some tall idiot with good teeth and half a brain would catch her eye, and then they would spend the rest of the evening violating each other in every way possible.

If Topper has been on speaking terms with God, he would have cursed Him for giving him the lust of a linebacker and the body of a lima bean. Ah, screw it, Topper thought; life doesn't work unless you force it to.

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