Night of Dracula
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Titel: Night of Dracula
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From the night-cloaked mountains of Transylvania he comes, a sinister figure whose very name is synonymous with the Living Dead. But in the gleaming urban landscapes of the twenty-first century, who truly believes in the bloodthirsty superstitions of the past? Surely there are no such things as vampires, not in this day and age.
Or are there?
As a mysterious stranger moves among us, pursuing his own unfathomable agenda while feasting upon the throbbing veins of the captivated women who fall irresistibly under his spell, ancient legends prove all too accurate -- and the most celebrated vampire of them all haunts the night once more!
Featuring an original introduction by Bela Lugosi Jr., son of the silver screen's greatest Dracula!Auszug. © Nachdruck mit Genehmigung. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.:
December 8, 2000
"I've never seen such a beautiful opera house," Heather said, seated next to Mina's husband, Dr. Jonathan Steward. "At least, I don't think I have. And a private balcony! I only wish my Ron was here."
Mina, sitting to the other side of Jonathan, released a wry laugh. "You're forgetting, dear, that your husband hates opera almost as much as I do. Lucky for him he's stationed in Frankfurt. Jonathan, on the other hand, loves to be seen wearing his tuxedo. That's why he insists on dragging me here."
"It's true, Mina hates the opera," Jonathan whispered to Heather, smiling. "But she's the one who enjoys wearing her expensive evening gowns and flaunting her jewelry in front of others. She thinks blue silk highlights her natural dyed black hair. Otherwise, you couldn't drag her anywhere. If only she looked as lovely as you!"
It was true. Heather was a very attractive young woman, with shoulder-length brown hair and beautiful round, blue eyes. Her dress was simple, not overstated, just the way she liked it.
Mina glared at Jonathan a moment, then nudged him with her elbow. "Why don't you tell Heather about the boat -- dearest," she said, in retaliation for his last remark.
"Boat?" Heather looked at Mina with confusion. "What boat?"
Pretending he didn't hear Mina, Jonathan turned to stare at the beautifully designed stage, stroking his gray beard.
"Fine," Mina said. "I'll tell her."
Jonathan quickly pointed to a couple seated below their balcony. "Mina, isn't that Dr. Peterson? Why, yes, I think it is. But that's not his wife," he added with a suggestive smile.
"Nice try, but it's not going to work," Mina replied devilishly. She leaned over Jonathan's lap to get closer to Heather. "A boat washed up on the coastline. One of those big yachts. I guess you'd still call it a boat. Anyway, you'll never guess what the police found in the cabins?"
"Drugs?" Heather asked.
"Mina, please..." Jonathan interrupted, more frustrated than angry.
"Oh, hush!" Mina gave his arm a gentle smack. "Worse...much worse," she continued. "The police found three bodies down below. My Jonathan was called in to assist with the autopsies. They thought a virus might be involved, and wanted the head of the infectious disease unit on hand. But here's where it gets interesting: it appears all three died from a single needle-sized puncture wound to an artery in the neck."
"That will be enough!" Jonathan grumbled. He turned to Heather. "The incident is under investigation. Mina should know better than to eavesdrop on my telephone calls at home."
Mina crossed her arms in front of her blue silk gown and dropped back in her seat, pouting. "Oh, posh. I was only trying to make the best of a dull evening."
"I swear, I don't know what keeps me married to her," Jonathan said to Heather, turning to face the stage again.
"I think we both know the answer to that question, my love," Mina replied with an arch smile. Then she reached into her purse for the antique, sterling silver opera glasses Jonathan had given her last month for her thirtieth birthday. The occasion, he'd said, called for a very extravagant gift. It's not often a person turns thirty, five years in a row. Mina treasured the glasses, despite Jonathan's sarcasm. The rare and exquisite opera glasses gave her the opportunity to flaunt yet another privilege in front of others.
Mina held the glasses close to her brown eyes and slowly scanned the jewelry and gowns worn by the women seated below her. Occasionally she released a dry laugh at the sight of a department-store dress or a cheap piece of paste.
Then she found something that truly interested her. A handsome young gentleman sat alone in a private box across from theirs. "Now that's strange," she whispered to herself. Mina had never seen him before, and she knew everyone who held a private balcony at this prestigious opera house.
"What is?" Jonathan asked.
"That gorgeous hunk of man over there." She pointed a blue satin-gloved finger. "And his tuxedo! That's a three-thousand-dollar Armani, I'm sure of it. I'd recognize an Armani anywhere."
"I'm sure you would." Jonathan looked at her closely. "Why do you find it strange?"
"Well, just look at him! That beautiful mane of black hair, those piercing blue eyes." Mina offered him her glasses, but Jonathan refused.
"What's so strange, Mina?" Heather interrupted. She seemed more amused than bewildered.
Mina leaned over and smiled at Heather. "You're missing the point, dear. Such a handsome man, obviously wealthy, sitting alone?" She covered her lips and giggled. "Do you suppose he even likes women?"
"Mina! I swear, you're the worst." Heather appeared shocked, but also entertained. "Just because he chooses to see an opera alone, that doesn't mean...well, you know. Besides, it's none of our business."
Mina's smile broadened. "There's only one way to find out for sure." She pressed a button in front of her to call for an attendant.
Jonathan's head snapped about. He glared at her, and spoke sternly. "Mina, what do you think you're doing?"
"I'm going to invite that gentleman to join us for a glass of champagne at intermission."
"No! I won't allow it!" Jonathan grew impatient with her childish behavior.
"Oh, pooh," Mina replied, grinning. "Besides, I'm doing this for Heather. She's just dying to find out more about our mystery man."
"Mina, how dare you!" Heather said. At that moment an attendant in a white jacket stepped through the red curtain behind them.
Mina glanced at the young man over her shoulder, then pointed to the box across the auditorium. "That gentleman, seated by himself...I want you to extend an invitation for him to join us during intermission."
The attendant looked across the room. "Of course. What a lovely idea, Mrs. Steward. I'll attend to the matter personally."
"That's a good fellow. Now, off with you."
It seemed to take forever for the attendant to reach the stranger's booth. Finally, Mina spotted the distinctive white jacket entering through the curtain behind the stranger. He whispered in the man's ear. The stranger nodded, stood, and graciously bowed from the waist to signal that he would indeed accept Mina's not-so-kind invitation. The stranger seated himself again, just as the lights dimmed to indicate the performance was about to begin.
Mina couldn't have cared less about the activities on stage.
When the lights of the auditorium rose again, Mina and Heather walked briskly to the VIP lounge. Dr. Steward followed close behind the two women. They stepped through the ornate doors leading to the private room, where they were each handed a glass of champagne.
Mina was coolly polite to the other guests. She graciously smiled or nodded her head when the occasion called for her to do so as she sipped the glass of dry champagne. But she avoided lengthy conversations. Mina was only interested in the mysterious stranger, and she scanned the room for him, as a lioness might sniff out her prey in the jungle.
Finally, a tall, extremely handsome man stepped through the doors to the VIP lounge. His hair was wild and black, his eyes a piercing blue, and he moved through the crowd with the grandeur of an aristocrat. His presence commanded the attention of everyone in the room. Conversation in the lounge hushed to a near-whisper.
The stranger headed directly to Mina. "I should like to thank you for your kindness," he said. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Vladamir Tepevich." He bowed slightly from the waist.
Jonathan walked to Mina's side and extended his right hand. "Dr. Steward, sir. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
The stranger's eyes slowly drifted from Mina, but the smile never left his lips. "Doctor, you say?" He shook Jonathan's hand gently. "Then it truly is a pleasure to meet you, sir. I, too, am a physician."
"How interesting. Where do you practice?"
"I don't -- not anymore. I am what you would call retired."
"At such a young age?" Mina questioned. "You don't look a day over thirty-five."
Vladamir's gaze slowly drifted back to meet Mina's eyes. "I'm a little older than that." He smiled from the corner of his red lips.
"I'm sorry Mrs. Tepevich couldn't join you tonight," Mina said, obviously pleased with her clever way of prying.
Vladamir's smile vanished. His expression grew melancholy. "My beloved wife passed away many years ago, but she truly loved the opera. I attend it as much as possible. It is my way of keeping her memory alive."
"The accent..." Jonathan said, to discourage Mina from probing further into Vladamir's personal affairs. "Polish?"
Jonathan showed a sudden spark of recognition. "Romanian...Tepevich? Tepevich. The name 'Tepevich' rings a bell. I'm sure I've heard the name before."
"It's quite possible," Vladamir answered casually. "The name is rather common in Romania. Much like Smith or Jones."
"Yes...but where are my manners?" Jonathan quickly turned to Heather. "You haven't met our third musketeer."
Heather stepped forward and offered her hand, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Tepevich."
For several minutes, Vladamir could only stare into her eyes, her beautiful, round, blue eyes. His face grew ashen, like that of a man who had just seen a ghost. Finally, he shook his head, and rubbed his forehead with the tips of his fingers. "Forgive me, please."
Jonathan rested a hand on his shoulder. "Vladamir, are you all right?"
"Yes. It's just that your friend reminds me of my dear wife, Alyssa." Vladamir pulled a large gold locket, suspended by a red ribbon, from his side pocket. It was a strange and beautiful object, engraved with a bat and a sweeping floral design. It looked a hundred years old, or more. Vladamir carefully opened the locket to show Heather a hand-painted portrait of his Alyssa.
"My God, it really does look like you, Heather." Jonathan stared at the portrait in amazement. "Such a beautiful woman, Vladamir."
Mina took the locket from Vladamir's fingers abruptly. "God, she could be your twin, Heather. How did she die, Vladamir?"
"Mina!" Heather snatched the locket from Mina and handed it back to Vladamir, ever so gently. "I apologize, Dr. Tepevich."
"Vlad...I would consider it an honor if you called me Vlad." He bowed his head. "And I am the one who should apologize. I fear I have made you uncomfortable."
"No apologies are necessary." Heather smiled. "If anything, I'm flattered."
Vladamir was about to speak again when he was interrupted by the lights flashing overhead, signalling the end of intermission.
Jonathan looked up, then at Vladamir. "What a shame," he said. "I was really enjoying our conversation. Why don't you join us in our booth?"
"Thank you," he replied graciously. "But I don't wish to impose on your hospitality any further. Perhaps another time."
"Here's an idea. Why don't you come to our home tomorrow night for dinner," Mina suggested.
Vladamir smiled. "It would be my pleasure, but I am not available until after 7:30, I'm afraid."
"That would be fine." Jonathan reached into the inside pocket of his tuxedo jacket. "Here's my card, with our address."
Vladamir took the card, but turned to look at Heather. "Will you be joining us for dinner as well?"
Mina stepped around Jonathan to stand behind Heather. She placed her hands on the other woman's shoulders and smiled devilishly. "Of course," Mina answered. "She wouldn't miss it for the world."
Copyright © 2001 by Christopher Schildt
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