Monday, April 13, 2009

Blood is Thicker than Water: Gentlemen Rivals

One of Hyland’s chief concerns, and one of Forte’s too, through the next week of the vampire crisis, was the safety and well-being of Abigail Raintree. When Hyland had told everyone of my transformation, Forte became doubly concerned, because, as he put it, “undead seek their own.”

Father Stewart suggested that Forte should watch the school, just to make sure Abby was safe. Hyland, who didn’t trust Forte “any farther than Broadstead could throw him,” also decided to watch the school.

The fact that two virile young men such as Hyland and Forte had Miss Pettijohn’s permission to loiter about the school seemed to delight the young ladies no end. Rivalries occurred as to which gentleman was the most well-endowed, but even more exasperating than disagreements to the young ladies was that Hyland and Forte only had eyes for Abigail Raintree. Soon the young women began taking bets on which one would win Abigail’s affections.

Forte’s attempts at romance were well-planned. He opened doors for Abby, vied Juliet to put in good words for him, and used starry eyes and romantic phrases that would turn most girls’ insides to gel. Hyland, on the other hand, didn’t make much of an effort, and just did what he felt was right by a woman.

At first, Abby enjoyed their attentions and played them masterfully off one another. Hyland was ultimately convinced that Forte was a blackguard of the first order, and Forte was convinced that Hyland was an ignorant hayseed of the first degree.

Dalia was less than enthusiastic about the attention the two men gave Abby, and she noted her disapproval on several occasions. “We won’t be able to sneak out tomorrow night with them watching.”

Abby waved at Hyland out the window. “Maybe we don’t want to. After what Chip said happened to Aunt Polly.”

“Surely you don’t believe that?”

Abby faced Dalia, who sat on the bed petulantly, knees drawn up to her chest. “Dolly, I can sneak out on anyone anywhere. I’ve done it before.”

“Then you want to sneak out?”

“I didn’t say that. I’ve changed my mind about it. Aunt Polly’s dead.” She didn’t want to elaborate to Dalia more than that. “I feel I’m much safer here.” Abby tried to lighten the tension in the room. “You must understand, some things take importance over silly children’s adventures. Men for example. Now if we can find a way to combine adventures and men…”

“This is hardly a silly adventure,” Dalia said moodily. “You said you wanted to see some voodoo. I made all the arrangements. The people I made them with won’t be too friendly if we back out now.”

“No one could hurt us,” Abby soothed. “Not with Chip and Samuel watching.”

“You don’t understand, do you? These people are my friends. I don’t want to let them down. I wish I’d known I was dealing with a coward before I asked.”

“I am not a coward,” Abby protested. She looked at Dalia as she sulked, and suddenly thought that Dalia was the most spoiled creature she had ever seen. “Fine. I’ll go. If it means so much to you.”

Dalia leaped off the bed and grabbed Abby’s hands. “Tomorrow. Midnight. You’ll find it fascinating. And you’ll like my friends. Really.”

Abby’s voice was full of doubt. “I’m sure I will.”

Out on the street, Forte looked up at Abby’s window. She waved good night to him and blew him a kiss. Then her drapes closed.

Forte put on a lopsided grin and headed down the street. The kiss was definitely a point in his favor. So caught up was Forte in his reverie that he ran literally into Chip Hyland.

“You could watch where you’re going,” said Hyland.

“You could watch where you’re standing,” said Forte.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you something, Forte.”

“What would that be cowboy?”

“You’re some sort of spook chaser?”

“To be exact, I’m a scientific spiritualist.”

“Now you know I don’t fancy your labels or your high-handed ways. So don’t give me none of your million dollar vocabulary. You know how to kill monsters?”

“Most of them. I’ve got this gun—”

“Well, I don’t. What’s the best way to kill these vampires. I need something simple.”

“That figures.” Forte realized that if he wanted to, he could steer Hyland wrong and have Abby for himself. He also realized that anything worth having was worth fighting for. Forte was sure Abby would end up his, and if he couldn’t win her without strong competition, he didn’t deserve her. Besides, if anything could be said truthfully about Samuel E. Forte, Ph.D., was that he was honest about his profession. It wasn’t his fault people chose not to believe him. It also wasn’t his fault that he had to turn to dishonest dollars to get him by in life.

“Okay, Chip,” Forte began, “killing vampires works like this. The best way to do a vampire is to stake ‘em. Through the heart with a long pointy stick. Splashing holy water on ‘em, waving a cross at ‘em, that makes ‘em edgy, but the damage is pretty superficial. They are susceptible to silver, and it can kill them if a fellow wanted to come up with something clever.”

“Like silver bullets?”

“Wrong monster, silly! Those wouldn’t kill ‘em, but they might slow ‘em up. Burn them into ashes while they’re coffinated—that’s a technical term for being in the coffin—is fine. Out of the coffin is okay too, but it’s harder to get them to keep still.”

“What about this light thing? Can daylight get ‘em?”

“Most of ‘em. These really tough ones, the ones you told us about, no, probably not. But those are your basics.”

“Supposed I’d better whittle me some sticks, then. Much obliged, Forte.”

“My pleasure, Hyland.” Forte started to walk away.

“Oh. Forte?”

Forte stopped in his tracks. “Yes?” he asked sweetly.

“Hate to tell you, but it looks like Abby’s about done with you.”

Forte sputtered. “Sure, cowboy. For your information, the lady blew me a kiss tonight. I’d hardly call that neglect.”

Hyland shook his head. “She blew me a kiss.”


“Just before I ran into you.”

“I hate to burst your bubble, but that was my kiss you intercepted.”

“I didn’t see you nowhere by.”

“Trust me. Miss Raintree is—um—too refined for a man like yourself.”

“Are you saying that I’m not refined?”

“When the ten-gallon hat fits…”

Hyland touched his hat. “Guess you got me pegged there. Hyland picked Forte up by his collar. “And since I’m not refined, Forte, guess I’m not above a little manhandling.” Hyland pitched Forte into an undignified heap about ten feet away.

“Thanks for the vampire advice,” Hyland repeated as he strolled off.

“Of course,” Forte said to no one in particular, “this means war.

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