Zaira Farago pushes open the French doors of her spacious bedroom and walks onto the expansive balcony perched high above the cold dark waters that pound the rocks of the New England coastline below. The November wind is blowing from the sea tonight and has a real bite to it, but Zaira is flush and pink from a long hot soak in the marble bath.
She inhales deeply as she continues to rub a towel through her still-damp hair. Despite the low lighting from the room’s interior, the white towel against her dark red tresses is striking in contrast to the black robe of thick terry cloth that Zaira has wrapped about her. She flicks her tongue lightly across her teeth, enjoying the freedom from the annoying little caps, touching the familiar canine points, top and bottom. A smile of amusement crosses her face, recalling past times with the Hungarian cousins. All the cousins agreed that Zaira had the prettiest teeth — dainty, not too long, with beautiful, lethally-pointed white tips. She takes another deep breath, absorbing the scent and touch of the ocean air, her mindset deepening into the pleasure of the familiar comforts of home, where she can discard all pretense.
Leaving the French doors slightly ajar to enjoy the sound of the surf, Zaira returns to her bedroom and settles down on a divan. She picks up the champagne flute next to it and takes a long sip of the concoction that is her own specialty for these weekend homecomings; light dry prosecco, fresh blood orange and human blood.
The blood is not fresh, it’s from her last case of the shipment Cousin Ambrus sent her from Santa Rosa. His real wine collection he always joked.
Ambrus owns and runs a winery as his day job, but has focused his nocturnal energies on entrepreneurial endeavors such as developing cryopreservation techniques that don’t require the use of glycerol solutions to keep red blood cells intact. His passion has been to preserve the original, natural flavor of the human ‘terroir’.
Zaira thinks that Ambrus’ passion has paid off quite well, despite their Great-uncle Istvan’s derisive summation that he would never touch blood not freshly drawn by his own mouth.
Zaira tried to get this same great-uncle to join her as an investor on promising human research aimed at developing artificial blood. She’d researched several promising biotech firms that were developing oxygen therapeutics for the military and pitched them to her obdurate uncle. But, Istvan would have none of it. He told her he would not invest a forint, farthing, euro or dollar in any hemoglobin product that had the shelf life of Parmalat.
Zaira tops up the champagne flute with more prosecco and more bottled blood. Great-uncle Istvan is just old school, but Zaira feels more open to the possibilities. Although she agrees that nothing surpasses the physical and emotional well-being experienced through a fresh draw, her current life-style doesn’t always make that a realistic choice.
She considers her home base. It’s nirvana to come here after a week or two or three in a Guise, after dwelling in close proximity to humans and their mortality-driven lives. And, she does have to make do with the various packaged forms of preserved sangre while in the field. It simply is not practical to prey on the people she currently works with in her Sam Guise.
Zaira takes a long sip of her red mimosa and laughs quietly at the thought of getting a draw off her coworkers. Mary is smart and tough as nails, it would be a lot of effort to corner the girl in a dark alley, which is what it would take. Too much drama and a certain amount of risk. Gil, the talented, but pudgy Python programmer, would be an easy target. He’s a great little geek and Zaira is rooting for him. The company’s recent rosy prospects have a lot to do with Gil’s great technical work. But, she has seen what he eats in his office: greasy burritos and chips, candy bars and big sugary drinks with caffeine. The kid’s lipid profile must be loaded with triglycerides and LDL cholesterol — the bad stuff. She’d need a couple of days of fasting and system cleansing after dosing on Gil’s blood. And what would be the point with Dean, the founder of BubbleTrendz? She’s close to investing a couple of million dollars in the two-year-old startup; it’s not wise to sap the strength of a horse she’s betting on.
Betting on that horse is still the issue, though. She needs more data. It’s why she’s hanging out as Sam Rush, cheerful little office administrator. Zaira has learned it’s an effective way to learn the inside scoop on a team, the real strengths and the real weaknesses, the potential hazards facing an investor. So for now, she’ll continue to survive on convenience mart blood, and avoid the messy complications that seeking prey would entail. She’ll trade flavor for freedom. It’s why she’s able to do what she’s doing, whereas Great-uncle Istvan has decided to endure the boring isolation of his reclusive, drafty old Transylvanian manor, tending to his mushroom plots, satisfied to drink the fresh, but repetitive-tasting blood of the long-suffering local inhabitants and their descendants.
Zaira is startled from her reveries by the low chime of the front doorbell downstairs. A quick glance at the clock shows it’s well past four in the morning. Unexpected nocturnal calls are rarely good news. Instinctively she curls her fingers, catlike, instantly strengthening and sharpening her tapered fingernails. She tightens the sash of her black robe and leaves the cozy den of her bedroom, quickly descending the wide hardwood steps of the curved staircase on her graceful bare feet.
She opens the large, carved front door of her house and her keen, ancient-young eyes are filled with surprise. Standing before her, a long traveler’s cape whipping about him in the wind, is her cousin Joska. From his pallor and the deep circles under his eyes, it’s clear at once that he came here by long stride. He’s obviously in need of blood.
— to be continued —