Neville’s host was a smallish man, a tad portly in a way that made him seem middle-aged rather than indolent. His dark hair was combed neatly and shaved at the back in the manner of the times without failing to look conservative. His features were softer than one might expect in a vampire (and yes, let’s just accept that’s been established, that he was, in fact, a vampire). When he spoke he managed to convey a sense of great intellect combined with a wry self-deprecating tone that suggested he would never dream of using that intellect for any practical purpose, which is to say that he had an English accent. Oxfordian, almost.
“Dr. Ernest Thurlow,” he said, and shook Neville’s hand.
Neville introduced himself. “A medical man, then?” he asked.
Thurlow chuckled. It was a perfectly disarming chuckle and his eyes distinctly twinkled. Truly, if you could ignore the fact his mouth never quite closed properly, what with those prominent fangs, the man came across as thoroughly delightful. “Not that sort of doctor. I profess to be a man of science, if you can believe it.”
“Really? Fascinating! What’s your field, if I may ask?”
“Physics,” the vampire said.
Both of them glanced at the pentagram painted on the floor.
“I had wondered,” Thurlow went on, “when you might deign to come visit me, Mr. Imsety. I did not expect you so late in the night.”
“I wanted to catch you before you went to bed. So you’ve heard of me, then?”
“I read the papers.” Thurlow bade his guest to sit in the red leather armchair. The vampire paced, his hands clutched behind his back as he spoke, in the manner of an academic giving a lecture. “Let me attempt to remember the headline. ‘Four Hundred Years Buried in a Dusty Tomb: Now I Want to Live a Little, Says Mummy.’ Rather pithy, I daresay. Of course they played it off—claimed you were some rich crank pretending to be a mummy for attention.”
“You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers,” Neville said. “It was closer to four thousand years, for instance.”
“Oh, that’s a pip. It’s so rare I meet someone older than myself. Especially by a factor of twenty. Anyway, yes, the papers. I followed your career rather closely. You were the sensation of New York City. And now… and now you’ve come to Grimbly Hall. The new lord of the manor.”
Neville laughed. “Me? A lord? I’m not the one who has half this town in my hypnotic thrall.”
Thurlow stopped in mid-pace. As if he’d run up against an invisible wall. Clearly he hadn’t expected such plain talk. “Fewer of them than you think, I wager,” he said, in a soft voice. “Most people don’t need to be mesmerized. They’ll believe what you tell them, as long as they can pretend it’s something they had already thought for themselves. There’s no such thing as vampires, haven’t you heard that? They don’t exist.”
“They said the same thing about dragons,” Neville pointed out. “Unfortunately, as of tonight they’d be correct. I’m afraid it’s not coming back.”
Thurlow did not wince. Nor did he spin around with flashing eyes to stare at Neville like a germ under a microscope. Or if he did, he recovered himself so fast that Neville couldn’t see it happen.
Neville raised a hand for forgiveness. “Not my intention, I promise. I only wanted a picture of it, but, well, things got out of hand.”
“It’s dead, then? A pity,” Thurlow said, as if it meant nothing to him.
“I have to say it was rather clever. Say one has a need to dispose of bodies, on a semi-regular basis.” Neville played with his hat as he spoke, spinning it around one finger. “So as not to arouse local suspicion. Thus one summons a dragon from another dimension. Bids it to pick up said bodies and drop them in random locations, far from one’s own home. The deaths look like they were caused by falls, not by exsanguination. The locals naturally will grow concerned about the dragon in their midst, but then one can simply convince them there’s no such thing. After all, it’s much easier to disbelieve in dragons than vampires. Dragons can’t fly.”
“Not if they’re bound by the gravitational laws of our planet, no,” Thurlow conceded.
“I suppose it helps to have the local police on your side. Really, it’s like a magician’s card trick. Misdirection. Much like a vampire living inside a deconsecrated chapel. Who would think it? It’s so out of the ordinary it can’t possibly be true.”
“I’ve never been partial to hidebound tradition,” Thurlow said. He started pacing again, then stopped to pick a bit of lint from the leather patch on the elbow of his tweed jacket. “Castles are drafty. Driving about in a hearse is just so showy. I even drink wine on occasion.”
“Thanks to a local policeman who conveniently fails to enforce the prohibition laws.”
“I like to think I give a little back to the community that has given me so much,” Thurlow said, neither confirming nor denying his connection to Muldoon. “For instance, a community that has graciously failed for over a decade now to storm my home with pitchforks and torches.”
“It must be difficult, operating in secrecy like this,” Neville said, rising to his feet. It really was quite late and he’d solved his mystery. He was ready for bed. “I am not entirely unsympathetic. In fact, my plan for Grimbly hall is to create a safe haven for creatures like ourselves. I hope you’ll come and be my guest some night, so we can talk further.”
“It would be my unalloyed pleasure,” Thurlow replied. “I have so much to say to you. In fact, there’s one thing I rather think you ought to know now.”
“As clever as you were, figuring out my scheme with the dragon, you missed one point. I only trained the beast to do my bidding. I wasn’t the one who summoned it.”
“No?” Neville asked, intrigued.
“No. That was Septimus Grimbly. The builder of your house. The dragon was already here when I moved in.”
“Indeed?” Neville said.
“Indeed. This whole business was too clever by half. Summoning a dragon is no mean task, and a stretch beyond my… limited abilities. Doing so simply as a method of rubbish disposal? I say! It smacks of overkill, don’t you think? No, I simply worked with what I already had in place. And now, thanks to you, I’ll need to think of something else.”
“Sorry about that.”
“Think no more of it,” Thurlow said. “I’m sure some new opportunity will present itself.” He walked Neville to the door of the chapel and shook his hand warmly. Well, as warmly as possible, given neither of them had a body temperature.
Then something rather funny happened. The two of them exchanged a look, just a moment of eye contact, during which both of them shared exactly the same thought. Perhaps it was an episode of transitory telepathy. Or perhaps they both simply had fate standing behind them, whispering in their respective ears. Perhaps it was simply the instinct of two tigers finding themselves living in the same patch of jungle.
I’m going to have to kill you, eventually, they thought, simultaneously.
Neville put his hat back on, then immediately removed it again. He’d thought of one last question. “Muldoon,” he said.
“A remarkably helpful fellow,” Thurlow replied. “Almost obsequious in his service to the public.”
“You’ve convinced him he needs to eat spiders and the like.” Neville cocked his head to one side. “Just like Renfield, in the story. The madman who ate flies and spiders to gain their life force, in hope of becoming more like his master. Of course, we both know that doesn’t work, and that Muldoon won’t get anything out of it.”
Thurlow was a restrained sort of fellow, a stiff-upper-lip type of Britisher, through and through. In this one instance, however, he could not resist allowing a bit of emotion to show on his pale face.
The emotion in question was a rather unworthy sort of sadistic glee. The same expression a cat wears when it first observes a mouse. What a delightful plaything, the cat’s face seems to say. And all for little old me?
“Some traditions, Mr. Imsety, are more fun to keep than others.”
And on that note of wisdom Neville returned to the Hall, and went to bed.
This concludes our story of the Pinemont Dragon and the Friendly Neighborhood Vampire. The fun’s not quite over yet, though! On Thursday, come back for bonus materials for Episode 2, and then on Friday we’ll begin Episode 3: MUCH FEATHERS ABOUT APPLESAUCE. If you’re enjoying GRIMBLY HALL, please don’t forget to tell your friends and spread the word on social media!