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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #1457179
The Inventor of the piano wages war against Rock
The Vampire Virtuoso
Chapter 6  

Why should any of the Joplin foundation administrators have to die? Isn’t there any other way? What did they ever do to me? Since I am not—at least in my mind—a murderer, those were the very questions I mulled over as I unrolled my portable casket and tossed it onto the king-sized hotel bed. I must congratulate myself on this marvelous invention. Similar to a zippered sleeping bag such as campers use, it contains within the lined pockets a small amount of dirt from the grounds of the cemetery in Florence, Italy where I was first entombed.
      This segment of the frequently distorted vampire lore is absolutely correct. For some reason, failure to rest each day surrounded by soil that came from our initial site of interment prevents the important part of the sleep cycle that doctors refer to as REM. Deprived of the REM sleep, normal mortals as well as vampires are eventually weakened to a point that can lead to catastrophic mental and physical breakdowns.
      That evening I arose with the setting sun, rolled up and stuffed my portable coffin back into my suitcase and then immediately phoned the Joplin Foundation to implement what I considered to be an excellent plan. To the young lady who answered, I explained that I possessed information of life and death importance regarding Harold Obermeyer and the work he was doing for the foundation. She wasted no time in transferring me to a gruff sounding gentleman who introduced himself as John Sharkey.
      I introduced myself as Senor Bevitore Di Anima and said,  “I appreciate your courtesy in taking my call at this late hour, Mr. Sharkey, and I apologize if I am delaying the end of what I am sure has been a long day for you.”
      Obviously not one to mince words, Sharkey got right to the point. “What is the nature of your business with the foundation, Mr. Di Anima?”
      “I have information regarding certain fraudulent claims being made by a man to whom you are paying a rather sizable amount of money. These claims have been brought to the attention of my firm by our client, Christopher Bartholomew.”
      “You are no doubt referring to Harold Obermeyer?” Sharkey asked. He sounded annoyed.
      “Indeed, sir. Mr. Obermeyer’s unprovoked slanderous accusations and harassment of our client, made in the state of New York, have left us with little alternative other than to file a defamation of character suit against Mr. Obermeyer and his benefactors. Unless you can convince Mr. Obermeyer to abandon his present course of action, we intend to ask for damages in excess of 350 million dollars, which if I am not mistaken, would constitute a rather large, perhaps even devastating setback for the foundation.”
      “What did you say was the name of your firm?” Now he was quite annoyed and judging by the change in the tone of his voice, he was becoming defensive.
      “I have not said, but since you have inquired, it is Omicidio, Mutili, and Di Anima.” I smiled. The translation was Murder, Mutilation, and Blood. Over the span of 350 years, if you put your mind to it, you can learn a great deal about anything. I, for one, have been fascinated by the law ever since the day that Cosimo III pointed out that my precious pianofortes were his property. Thirty years ago I obtained a license to practice law under the identity of Bevitore Di Anima, along with the other two members of my firm, Paulo Omicidio and Maffeo Mutili, who are well respected barristers dealing with corporate and international law. Incidentally, Bevitore Di Anima translates into English as “drinker of blood.” I have on several occasions given that name to individuals fluent in Italian and their stunned reactions were, to borrow an overused commercial phrase, “priceless.”
      “Never heard of ‘em.” Sharkey commented, “But you’re a partner, huh? Where’d you say you’re from?”
      “New York is where I office and generally litigate. Our office is on the 82nd floor of The Empire State building, but we have satellite offices in many countries, including our homeland, Italy. Mr. Sharkey, may I inquire, what would be the chances that you could gather up those foundation members with knowledge of this situation and call an impromptu meeting for tomorrow evening? Nothing too formal, just a little get together to make sure all sides understand the issues involved here. My firm would really prefer to attend to far more important matters than petty squabbles such as this. My partners are currently in the middle of mediating a dispute concerning border violations between North and South Korea, and I am sure you are far too busy to set aside any of your pressing issues at this time, especially with the upcoming TV series, ‘Search For The New Pearl’ just a couple of months away.”  The new TV series was a reality program designed to discover and promote a powerful, new rock and rhythm and blues female singer, similar in style to Janis, whose nickname had been Pearl. The show had been blessed with the official approval of the Janis Joplin Foundation.
      “You’ve heard about the show?” Sharkey sounded impressed that I would be aware of such things. I perceived a brightening of his tone, as if I had said something that made him begin to think more kindly towards my intentions and me. My answer quickly squelched those thoughts.
      “Of course, Mr. Sharkey. When contemplating a lawsuit one must be aware not only of the current fiscal condition of a potential defendant, but also of any pending changes looming on the horizon that might enhance a financial portfolio, thus increasing chances for a larger settlement or judgment. We have closely scrutinized whether or not, and how much, the Joplin foundation might stand to gain as a result of this new program.”
      “Thorough Mothers, aren’t you?” Sharkey muttered. He sounded annoyed again.
      “May I expect a call tomorrow,” I asked, “confirming your intentions of meeting with me, say about seven o’clock tomorrow evening? You can leave a message on my voice mail if I happen to be busy when you call.”
      “Why tomorrow night? Why not noon tomorrow? That would be good for me and I imagine most of the foundation members would prefer to keep their evenings free. Gettin’ them to show up at night is gonna be harder than gettin’ a little kid to take a big pill.”
      “I understand Mr. Sharkey and I’m confident you will convey to them that big pills and inconveniences are all part of life. After all, I would have preferred not to have needed to fly down here, but your Mr. Obermeyer changed my plans for the next couple of days.”
      “What if Obermeyer won’t back off, even if we tell him to?”
      “Then we’ll see you in court.”
      “What if I can’t get the foundation members together this week?”     
      “Then we’ll see you in court.”
      “Oh for Christ’s sake, you can’t be--”
      “Oh, I assure you, I am quite serious, Mr. Sharkey. My time is valuable, as is yours. I suggest you impress upon the foundation’s members what is at stake if they can’t spare the time. 350 million dollars is a big pill to swallow.” I hung up, knowing that Sharkey would be fuming.
      I was getting hungry and was in the mood for Mexican food tonight, something that most people look forward to when they visit the Lone Star State. Of course my idea of good Mexican food had nothing to do with enchiladas, tacos, rice and beans. Instead, my menu consisted of items such as Gonzales, Gutierrez, Ramos and Ramirez. I opened the sliding glass door, stepped outside into the warm, humid, Gulf Coast night air and gazed down at the lighted pool area from the railing of the small balcony, which was furnished with two chairs and a white patio table.
        Seated around a table near the water’s edge I was delighted to see several young senoritas in revealing bathing suits. Judging by the empty glasses on the table and the way they were laughing and carrying on, I felt that they might be unaccompanied and could very well have already had a few too many drinks. This was just like one of those restaurants where they ask you to pick the live lobster you want from an aquarium. One particularly lovely Latino in a string bikini with long black hair and long legs stood up unsteadily and giggled while she fumbled in her purse for money to pay a waiter who was just arriving. He carried a silver tray adorned with what appeared to be three more large margaritas. I laughed quietly as I prepared to go downstairs, “Ah, mi amore, come to me my spicy little peppers.” Yes indeed, Mexican food would really taste good tonight.

The Vampire Virtuoso
Chapter 7
      At 7:00 the following night, the blonde receptionist for the Joplin Foundation, who most modern day men would describe as “hot,” received me with a discernibly lukewarm attitude. She dutifully informed me that the administrators were waiting and opened the door to the conference room, which might as well have been a
refrigerator judging by the icy expressions on the faces of the four men and three
rather unpalatable looking women. Seemingly already angry about something before I had so much as spoken a single word, their arms were crossed in a display of defiant unanimity.
    I had anticipated an audience of only three or four during this meeting and had planned to use my hypnotic powers to facilitate acceptance of my proposition, but upon seeing the additional people around the table I became slightly anxious. For those of you who rarely perform hypnosis, you may not realize that as the number of people intended to be hypnotized increases, so does the degree of difficulty encountered in attempting to mesmerize each individual person. Occasionally, when just one subject in a group steadfastly resists your influence, depending on how highly regarded that person is by others in the unit, an immunizing, domino effect can render all those within close proximity virtually impervious to even the most ardent efforts of a master hypnotist.
      I set my briefcase down flat on the table, opened it, took out my notes and then bowed. Electing to begin with a bit of humor, I offered a benign smile. In my best vampirical, Bella Lugosi imitation, I said, “Good evening, I am Count Dracula. I have come to suck your bank account dry.” I quickly smiled again to make sure everyone understood I really was joking. There were no laughs from the audience, not so much as a chuckle and nary a smile to lighten the mood at the start of what promised to be an extremely difficult meeting.     
      Standing behind my intended chair at the head of the table, I felt briefly like a fledgling standup comic, but I knew better than to let that kind of silence sink in for very long. I spread my arms in a pleading gesture as I began, “Seriously, ladies and gentlemen, you can’t possibly believe that my client, Christopher Bartholomew, is some centuries-old being, feeding upon the blood of modern music icons.”
      A man at the opposite end of the long mahogany table grumbled, “That is exactly what we have been led to believe.” Crew cut, gray haired and stocky, with an attitude and posture stiff enough to imply a severe case of premature rigor mortis, he could easily have been a retired military officer or spent more than a few years in law enforcement.
        I nodded and forced a thin smile. “I would appreciate knowing your name, sir. After all, we may seem to be adversaries at the moment, but…”
      “Chuck Evans,” he barked, interrupting my attempt to defuse the rising hostility I felt from this group that threatened to tear me apart like a pack of hungry sharks in a feeding frenzy. It was clear that these people were scared, due in part to what my client was accused of being and doing, but I sensed the majority of their fear was based on my 350 million dollar threat.
      “Mr. Evans,” I assured him, “we don’t want your foundation’s money. Frankly, we don’t even want to be here. We just want you to convince Mr. Obermeyer to cease and desist with his harassment of our client, Christopher Bartholomew.”
      I looked around the table at the anxious faces and asked, “Which one of you is Mr. Sharkey?” I let my gaze fall upon a matronly woman to my left, which elicited a slight chuckle from another mature woman sitting across the table from her. At last, a little warming trend, I thought, and pushed to melt the ice a bit further. “Are you sure you are not John Sharkey?” I shook my head slowly from side to side while continuing to smile at the old crow. Next to her, a thin man with a crew cut (I supposed that to be the haircut of choice for Texan males) and impossibly long arms that protruded too far from the sleeves of his ill-fitting sport coat, partially raised a hand and grudgingly admitted, “That would be me.”
      I turned and refocused my gaze. “How nice to meet you face to face, Mr. Sharkey. Tell me now, if you would, just what has Mr. Obermeyer said to you about my client?”
      Sharkey looked around the table, making sure there were no last second objections before he began, “He said he was fascinated by law enforcement and rock and roll ever since he was a teenager. He said when he became employed by Scotland Yard, the first thing he did was to try to reopen the Jimi Hendrix investigation.”
      “And what did he say they found?” I asked.
      “He said they didn’t come to any definite conclusions. Nothing new.”
      “No. Nothing new. Not at that time. He said there was a fresh needle mark in Hendrix’s arm that had been mentioned by the coroner to several law enforcement officers, but wasn’t included in the official written report, and that no intravenous drugs had been found in his system. He said that was what was odd; a needle mark but no drugs that would have been injected via that needle.”
      “Did he also mention that there was some debate over the actual time of death?” I inquired.
      “Uh, yeah, I think he did mention something like that.”
      I began to pace, back and forth, behind the large chair as I said, “According to a statement given to the press by of one of the paramedics, he may have been dead for a couple of hours before they picked him up. That would make you think the girl he was with might have had something to do with his death, wouldn’t it?”
      “Maybe,” Sharkey admitted, “but Mr. Obermeyer said Keith Richards is the one that gave him the information that implicates your client.”
      I stopped pacing, stared at Sharkey and asked, “When did this meeting with Keith Richards supposedly occur?”
      “Obermeyer didn’t say, exactly,” I got the impression it was about a year ago, maybe less.”
      “What gave you that impression?” I asked. This was going pretty well. I felt far less hostility and fear from the foundation administrators who were listening intently to what Sharkey had to say.
      “Well, he used words like ‘recently’ when he described the meeting and I figured it had to have been quite a while after the death of Hendrix because Obermeyer said he was only 17 when it happened. He sure couldn’t have been working for Scotland Yard at that age. He’s in his late forties or early fifties now.”
      “Time goes by so quickly, doesn’t it?” I remarked, and added, “A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Sharkey?”
      “Yeah, I suppose so.”
      “A lot of water, indeed. Something like 36 years’ worth.” I nodded and looked around, before saying, “That’s just about an ocean full of water.”
      Finally, I sat down in the brown, high backed leather chair at the head of the table, leaned back and crossed my legs, exhibiting a more relaxed attitude in an effort to further relax the others in the room. I glanced over my notes, flipping a couple of pages back and forth before looking up at the little lady sitting next to Sharkey. Immediately intimidated, she looked away from me and shrank down in the big executive’s chair that was far too big for a person of her small stature. Her thoughts came into my mind as clearly as if she were speaking out loud. She was very uncomfortable, not just because my gaze unsettled her, but because she was stiff from arthritis and she hated the big chair she was forced to sit in when they had meetings in this room. Silently I thanked A-Set for the gift of mind reading and the advantage it gave me in times like this.
      “Are you comfortable in that big chair?” I asked.
      “Pardon me?” she squeaked.
      “Isn’t that chair considerably too large for you?” I donned my kindest countenance and said, “I would wager that your feet don’t even touch the floor, do they?”
      “Well, now that you mention it, no, they don’t.” She was surprised by the attention, even more surprised that I noticed her discomfort, and was surprised further still that I cared. I could see that quite clearly on her face, but more importantly I could see it on the faces of everyone at the table. They had all expected me to be an ogre of some type, a thief, whose main purpose was to steal their money and destroy the foundation. I was winning them over.
      “Let’s see if we can’t get you a different chair,” I suggested.
      Sharkey didn’t want chairs being shuffled around and objected, “Mr. Di Anima, please, let’s get on with business, shall we? No one has ever objected to these chairs before…”
      “Well, maybe that’s because we never thought we had a choice,” the little lady complained. “I’ve never liked these chairs.”
      “Neither have I,” the woman across from her spoke up, defiantly.
      I opened the door behind me and looked out into the reception area where the receptionist sat filing her nails and looking terribly bored. “Excuse me, Senora,” I said, “are there any other chairs that might be smaller than the ones in this conference room?” She looked at me, shocked by both the interruption and the nature of the inquiry. Raising my eyebrows, I asked again, “Smaller chairs?”
      “Oh, yeah, in the snack bar, but they aren’t rolling chairs,” she replied.
      “How about some rolling chairs that would be smaller. Some of the ladies in this meeting are so petite their feet don’t even touch the floor and in a long meeting that can get to be both annoying and uncomfortable.”
      “Well,” her face lit up as she understood and got into the spirit of my save-the-little-old-ladies campaign, “in the accounting room they have rolling chairs. Those would be smaller than the ones in the conference room. I think they have height adjustments, too.”
      “There you go,” I actually applauded, clapping my hands together vigorously. “Let’s go get three of those, shall we?” I turned to the third woman who was slightly taller and a bit younger than the other two, “Would you like a different chair as well, my dear?” Perhaps not really needing a smaller chair, but not wanting to be left out, she nodded that she would.
      In less than five minutes all three ladies sat happily in their smaller, better fitted chairs, pleased to no end that someone was fawning over them. This fight wasn’t over, but now they were all prepared to listen to reason with an open mind and I knew that if the ladies became uniformly convinced that they should pull the funding from Harold Obermeyer, the men would as they say, ‘throw in the towel.’ 
      “Now,” I rubbed my hands together in anticipation, “let’s get some work done.” I sat back down at the head of the table, leaned forward and focused on the leader of the group. “Mr. Sharkey, do you believe everything everybody tells you?”
      “Of course not,” Sharkey replied huffing indignantly and shaking his head.
      “Would you believe me if I told you I had drinks with Janis Joplin the night she died and had chastised her for the style of music she favored?”
      “I would be skeptical. After all, that’s a pretty wild claim if you ask me.”
      “Skeptical?” I raised my eyebrows and repeated his words, “A pretty wild claim?” to force him to say more.
      “I would probably want some kind of proof, other than just your word.”
      “I see. And what proof did Mr. Obermeyer provide, other than just his word, for his claims? I might add that those claims seem pretty wild to me.”
      “Well,” Sharkey paused and stroked his chin nervously, “like I told you, he spoke to Keith Richards of the Rolling…”
      Shaking my head, I interrupted and raised my hand in the air for added emphasis as I pointed out, “He said he spoke to Keith Richards. Did you speak to Mr. Richards to corroborate Mr. Obermeyer’s claims?”
      “Look,” Sharkey pointed a finger at me, his voice escalating, “we know your client was in Los Angeles at the time of Janis’s death.”
      “I do not deny that, Mr. Sharkey. There is no question that Christopher Bartholomew was in Los Angeles at the time of Janis’s death, but so were over ten million other people. Now, Mr. Sharkey, I have a confession to make. I want to go on record as admitting I was in Los Angeles at the time of Marilyn Monroe’s death but believe it or not, nobody has attempted to link me with her death.”
      “Well, that’s different. That was a suicide or at least an accidental overdose.”
      “According to whom, Mr. Sharkey?”
      “The L.A. police department and the coroner’s office.” Sharkey had replied with confidence, but his expression changed suddenly as he realized my point was that both the L.A. police department and the coroner’s office had also listed Janis’s death as an accidental overdose. Sharkey looked around the table at the others who were all looking at him. He didn’t like the change he perceived in their attitudes, but I did.
      The tallest and youngest of the three women at the table shifted in her newly acquired chair and spoke up with an incriminating tone. “John, you never told us that you didn’t actually speak to Keith Richards.”
      Sharkey opened his mouth to defend his actions, but I came to his rescue, standing up and waving my arms to delay the impending attack before it got out of hand. “Ladies and gentlemen, wait just a minute now. Mr. Sharkey may not have actually spoken to Mr. Richards to corroborate Mr. Obermeyer’s rather unbelievable and quite possibly fabricated story, but he wouldn’t have had to.” I paused and looked around the table. “A signed affidavit would certainly serve as proof, which I’m sure he obtained and failing that, I am quite certain Mr. Sharkey must possess some other kind of incontrovertible evidence to justify the sizable amount of money Obermeyer is being paid by the foundation.” I turned and stared at Sharkey for a long, dramatic moment, along with six other pairs of eyes at the table, before I mercilessly threw him to the dogs by saying, “Don’t you, John?”
      Smiling at what I had accomplished, I sat back down and relaxed while Sharkey tried to defend his actions as to why he had felt justified in recommending that the foundation should support Obermeyer. About the most effective thing he could come up with was, “The Hendrix Foundation believed him, too!”
      As the seven argued back and forth, I had to chuckle. Here I was, looking them all right in the eye and not one of them had recognized me; nor would they. A-Set has gifted me with a multitude of tools to be used in the war I wage. Not only can I read minds, but I can also alter what people believe they see. This was what I had done to Obermeyer in New York as he hailed that taxi. I was still there in front of that theatre, in plain view of everyone except for the man from whom I wished to hide. This evening, I had decided that it would be far too difficult to fully hypnotize all seven of the foundation members, but it was much easier to make them all see me as a much heavier or shorter man with whiskers on my chin, which is actually clean shaven. Had there been as many as twenty people at the meeting, I might have had a problem because as the intended number of subjects increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to effectively modify everyone’s vision; someone might have recognized me. Thankfully there were not 20 in attendance and everything was going precisely as I had hoped.
      By 7:55, the meeting had come to a satisfying conclusion. Obermeyer would no longer be funded by the Joplin foundation and future decisions to spend the foundation’s money would be scrutinized more carefully, especially by the ladies who had vowed to take a more active role in their administrative duties because, as all women instinctively knew, they evidently couldn’t trust the men. Mildred, Elizabeth, and Sarah filed out of the conference room first, each of them thanking me for liberating them from those awful chairs.
    Mildred, the smallest of the three women, forced me to bend down so she could plant a kiss on my cheek. “You’re not the monster we thought you might be,” she said, “and we hope you are correct when you say neither is Mr. Bartholomew.” I squeezed her hand and reminded her that in order to be canonized, a man must have been dead for a number of years, but assured her that Mr. Bartholomew was as close to a saint as any existing man could be.
    The men followed, Chuck Evans, Nick Merchant, Mike Irwin, and John Sharkey, each of them shaking hands and thanking me for keeping the meeting short and for saving the foundation countless thousands of dollars in the well meaning but fruitless search for a reversal of the findings on Janis Joplin’s death. On the way down to Texas, I had feared that I might be forced to slay the entire group, but instead it had turned out that nobody needed to die. I liked that. After all, as Mildred stated, I am not a monster.
      The taxi dropped me off at the Holiday Inn at 8:05, but before I went up to my room, a little twinge of hunger compelled me to walk around to the pool area to see if anything looked inviting. To my dismay there was not a single soul at the pool this evening, not even so much as a middle aged mother reading a racy romance novel while occasionally glancing up to see her porky little, goggle-wearing, ear-plugged offspring performing an array of awkward, improvised dives off the seven foot high board. I went back into the hotel through the rear entrance and took the elevator up to my suite on the third floor. I slowed my pace as I turned the corner in the hallway and saw someone waiting by my door. It was Lupita, the little jalapeno who wore the orange string bikini last night. Tonight she wore a pair of ridiculously tight denim shorts, a leopard print tank top with a plunging neckline, and a matching leather choker that hid the small marks on her throat. She smiled when she saw it was me coming down the hall and reached up to rub her neck while sensuously leaning back against the door.
      “Where are Theresa and Maria?” I asked.
      “They’re coming,” she replied, pouting because I indicated an interest in the arrival of the others and evidently was not completely satisfied in just seeing her alone. Wrapping her arms around my neck, she whispered into my ear, “but I wanted to be here first.” It looked as if I was going to have another busy night filled with multiple entrees. I love it when the buffet comes to me.
      Tomorrow I would visit my old and dear friends in New Orleans and then I would return to New York to finish my business with Harold Obermeyer. I regretted the fact that Anne Rice no longer resided in the “Crescent City.” The last time I saw her, which has been more than a few years, she gave me an autographed copy of what was at the time her bestselling novel, “Lasher.” A marvelous conversationalist, she possesses a magnificent imagination and was always a genuinely gracious hostess.
      For years, each time Ferdinando or I would visit the area we would drop by her home, which was just a few doors away from where famous NFL quarterbacks, Peyton and Eli Manning’s father, Archie, resides. Of course, old Archie was quite an athlete in his own right, winning All-American honors during his college years at Ole Miss and then playing quarterback in the NFL for the home town Saints. If you’re curious as to why I ramble on about the Manning’s, it is because Peyton, according to Ferdinando, is supposedly a vampire. Ferdinando insists Peyton slathers on a heavy layer of sun block, and ingests stimulants to keep him alert during day games.
      Now, regarding Ms. Rice, for those of you who were never fortunate enough to visit her home in the garden district, Anne’s home was filled with fascinating wall murals depicting life in the south and she had a remarkable assortment of artifacts on display that she has collected through the years. I will never forget how hard I laughed the time she showed me that three foot tall vampire doll that she called Tom Cruise, and then capriciously added, “But Tom is shorter.”
 The Vampire Virtuoso Chapters 8 & 9  (13+)
The inventor of the piano defends his instrument.
#1457180 by George R. Lasher

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