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First Drop of Blood

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Vandal Cleaver was the manager of the blood bank at the Santa Monica clinic. He had worked there for about a year now.

His days were always the same. They were boring and uneventful. He had made it a habit to watch the people who came in to donate. He had made a game of it. Every day he would pick one of the donors and analyze their way of speaking, their facial expressions, their mannerisms and then try to imitate them, using some of the same words they had used, some of their gestures, and he had noticed whenever he did so, his what he had started to call, guinea pig, would feel more at home, more at ease in his presence. It had always worked so far even with the most nervous of donors. He had learned how to manipulate them to make his work easier.

He often caught himself daydreaming during his shifts about what it would be like to use his newfound skill to manipulate someone in a different way. To make someone trust him just to then turn that trust against them and stab them in the back. Literally.

He had always wondered what it would be like to take a person's life. To kill someone. He had thought about it so often that he had lost count. He was curious. He was sure that someone else out there must have had the same thought before. That he wasn't alone with his sick curiosity.

He did not just think about killing someone. No. He also thought about the reverse. What it would feel like to be killed. For that thinking about it did the job. For the first thing however his imagination wasn't enough and his thirst for the real thing would never be sated. He would never be doing it. Not because he didn't want to. Not because he thought he couldn't go through with it in the end. The reason was as simple as that he had no opportunities to act on it. His work hours didn't leave him time to study someone and plan the whole thing. He knew that if he did it on a whim he would be caught and he did not want that. It wasn't worth the trouble. If he ever got to do it he wanted it to be clean and calculated. Planned out and risk free. This would be a one time event anyway. Something that he could then cross off his list of things he wanted to know about and try himself. To take one of the insignificant extra’s, a side character in his life who meant nothing to him and make them into the lead in his own story. Nobody would notice. For everyone else, life would go on. The person who was dead wouldn’t be able to care. Their relatives would mourn the loss of course, but hey, it was just as likely that the person he’d killed would have been hit by a car the next day. So he wasn’t concerned about that.

Vandal’s curiosity list had had quite a few strange things on it already. Things that had included both, really stupid stuff, like what would happen if you put batteries in the microwave, to extremer stuff, like how much it would hurt if he cut the length of his own arm with a kitchen knife. He had tried both. Turned out the batteries caught fire and then blew up, making his microwave unusable. The cut into his arm with the knife had hurt quite a bit and bled a lot. It had healed and left a scar in the end. A reminder not to do it again. After he had done it he had thought about people who did this as a coping mechanism for mental pain or other issues. He had concluded that it was effective, the pain did take your mind off of everything else, if only temporary. But it was a rather horrible way to deal with things. He respected the people who worked with patients suffering from mental disorders. The staff from the third floor of the clinic had their work cut out for them. Their mental ward was one of the largest in Santa Monica. Which had brought him to think again, that he knew that he himself was affected by a few minor things as well. At least a few behavioral issues. Maybe everyone was in some way the tiniest bit cracked.

He wasn’t quite sure about that though.

Vandal had two other people work with him downstairs. One of them was Phil. A lean, tall guy with blond hair and amber eyes, and Bill a black haired dude with Japanese ancestry on his father’s side. When Bill had first introduced himself, Vandal had remarked that he had expected something quite different. At least Bill’s last name was actually Japanese. It was far less ridiculous than Phil’s as well. Vandal was sure that Phil had not had a lot of fun in high school or even college. Flabottomus was a name that was easily twisted and made fun of. And it did show in Phil’s behavior too. He was shy, nervous and didn’t really talk much. Bill on the other hand, was very talkative to the point of getting on Vandal’s nerves. Bill was one of the popular guys. Sometimes he enjoyed their company, sometimes he wished he worked all alone, it really depended on his mood. Today was one of those days where all he wanted was for them to shut the hell up and disappear off the face of the earth, so he could be undisturbed in his own head. Vandal was quick to lose his temper. Extremely quick. Pissing him off was easy and it was a mistake most people didn’t make twice. If someone didn’t heed his verbal warning when he got angry, his hand usually slipped, sometimes both of them. It wasn’t uncontrolled though. He had full control over it. It was quicker than holding a long argument. Someone with a hand around their throat would be forced to shut up or stop whatever they were doing if they hadn’t taken his warning serious.

He had thought about talking to at least Phil about his strange curiosity of killing someone. He was quite certain, that Phil himself had at least thought about hurting people before. Something in the way he carried himself had suggested it. There was something off about him from time to time. Vandal had recognized it even though it was a different kind of off than he had in himself to a degree. But he knew better than to speak up about it. No one ever talked about stuff like this. Even though to him, it seemed quite normal. It was in a human’s nature to harm or kill others to survive, if needed. It was an instinct embedded in everyone. A now rendered almost useless instinct, but still. It was there and he found it only natural to be curious about.

The staff from upstairs had sent Phil down to work with Vandal about two months ago. Phil had not wanted to. He’d been forced, pushed around basically.

Vandal felt a hand slap down on his shoulder and stay there, followed by Bill’s voice, asking him, “Yo, Vandal! How was your escort?”

He had been sitting in the break room and had about 5 minutes left until he needed to get back to the front.

He turned to Bill, rising from his seat as he did so and gave him a rather cold look with his icy blue eyes. It made Bill remove his hand from his shoulder.

“Ah, sorry,” Bill said, still quite relaxed. “I remember you hate that.”

Vandal did hate being touched for no reason. He hated people invading his personal space unintentionally. He wasn’t deaf, he didn’t need to be touched for Bill to get his attention. He knew Bill was just trying to be friendly, but things like this set him off.

“She was fine,” Vandal answered, his voice as cold as the look he’d given him. “She only does it for the money. Said it’s to help pay rent. So, I just might start doing this on a regular basis. Helps me, helps her, in that order. Her rates are quite affordable, if you get my hint.”

“Nice,” Bill grinned. “Good on you!”

Hannah Glazer was the girl he’d had over at his place last night. He had talked to her for longer than he had expected. Hannah was a nice girl. She had talked about some of her other customers without naming them and he had found out that she disliked most of them. He had been friendly, had told her a bit about himself, he had asked her a few personal questions and wanted to know about her work and her schedules, what she liked and was willing or unwilling to do and Hannah had appreciated it. She had been so appreciative that she had turned down the tip he had wanted to give her. She had outright handed it back to him with a smile on her face and told him she hoped he’d call again soon. That was a testament to how fucked up the rest of her customers were. If she ‘wanted’ him to call again. And she hadn’t been lying either. He would have been able to tell if she had been. He would have seen it in her eyes.

He had learned this by making a game of it as well. Every day at the blood bank. He had gotten so good at it that he now didn’t even have to think about it anymore. It was easy. All you had to check for, was if the person was left or right handed, then check the direction of their eyes when they were trying to recall something. If the answer to his question was more complex he also relied on pupil dilation. When people lied, their pupils widened almost the same way they did when they were in fear.

He liked calling out liars. The shock on their faces when they realized he could tell, that he ‘knew’ for a fact, was satisfying. The best one so far had been when he had called out Malcolm about sleeping with Paige, the medical student at the clinic and cheating on his wife. His silence had been worth quite the sum to Malcolm.

If he thought about it some more, the entire clinic’s staff was kind of shady. Medicine disappeared without a trace, doctors abused their privileges, and patients in critical conditions were just left alone in a room unattended. He had seen them cart off a redhead for treatment riddled with bullets and ruptured organs, just to then have her ‘wait’ for a doctor to get to the hospital first. She had disappeared from her room after about 20 minutes and nobody had looked into it. She was probably dead by now. In her state, she couldn’t have made it far.

Vandal ignored Bill’s reply and started heading for the reception. As suspected, Bill didn’t follow him. He had sensed that Vandal wasn’t in the mood to talk more than he had today.

He opened the door to the booth and found it empty. Phil was supposed to be in here. Where the hell was he?

Vandal let out a frustrated growl. Phil was very forgetful. He had probably not remembered for the hundredth time that he had to call for either Bill or him if he abandoned his post, no matter for how long.

If the owner of the place found out she’d flip. Not that she ever came down here during the day. She only ever came in after sundown, if she came at all. He’d only ever seen her once and that was only because he had been upstairs when she’d been by to visit. He had not paid her much attention. She’d been talking to one of the doctors at that time. He would recognize her if he saw her again, though. He was quite sure of that. He rarely forgot a face.

He entered and shut the door behind him, not bothering to use the handle to let it close quietly. When Phil came back he’d once again have to give a sternly worded lecture. Sometimes he felt like he was dealing with a bunch of kids down here. Vandal disliked most people, and met them with a rather cool and distant attitude. He could be genuinely nice if he wanted, like he had been with Hannah, but it was rather rare. If he didn’t need anything in return or wanted something specific from them, he didn’t really bother.

Bill was now on his 30 minutes break and he and Phil had to take donations alone for that duration. If anyone came in.

He checked the clock. It was 6 PM, which meant that he had two hours until his shift ended. He usually closed up the blood bank for the night on his own when he had the late shift. The last two hours of work were always the worst. With only inventory left to check he had nothing else to do but sit there, either taking calls or answering mail. Time came to a crawl during it.

Footsteps from behind him told Vandal that Phil had come back.

“I would like you to explain why I found the reception ‘empty’ when I got here,” Vandal spoke, his voice very quiet. He didn’t turn to Phil just yet. He would wait out his answer before he did so. It would make Phil a lot more nervous that way.

Phil’s voice was equally quiet, but unlike Vandal’s it was filled with unease as he replied, “I was just in the break room and wanted to get you, but you’d already left, so I came straight back here.”

His answer was unsatisfactory. Vandal slowly turned and made sure his gaze was piercing as he looked up at Phil, who stood as far away from him as possible in the small space. “How often do I have to remind you that you’re supposed to ‘call’ for me instead of just leaving? We all have ‘working ears’, Phil. I would have heard you!” He stepped towards him. “I am starting to get tired of having to repeat myself,” he said, lowering his voice into a sharp warning.

Phil’s eyes flicked to the floor. “Sorry Vandal, it won’t happen again,” he spoke meekly.

Vandal closed the distance between them until he stood right in front of Phil, if he moved just a bit closer he would be invading his personal space and he was going to because he wanted him to feel extremely uncomfortable. Phil was already against the wall unable to withdraw.

“What I want you to do, right now,” Vandal told him. “Is write a note and tape it to the door, so that every time you are reminded.” He smiled as he took another step and saw Phil tense. “Is that understood?” he asked snidely.

Phil nodded. Now Vandal was pissed off for real. How he abhorred it when people didn’t answer him ‘properly’. The fact Phil was still staring at his own shoes didn’t help either.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” Vandal hissed and Phil’s head shot up. He repeated, “Is that understood?”

“Yes,” Phil answered, the look in his eyes defensive with a hint of disquiet.

Vandal turned away from him and went over to the computer. “Good, then get to it.”

He ignored Phil as he started going through the emails. A minute later Phil spoke again, “I’m done. I’ll check inventory, if that’s ok.”

He glanced at him. “All right. I’ll let you know if someone’s in to donate.”

“Ok.”

The door closed behind Phil and Vandal took a look at the note he had written. The entire thing was in caps and read:

DO NOT LEAVE RECEPTION UNATTENDED! CALL FOR SOMEONE TO TAKE OVER BEFORE LEAVING!

“If that doesn’t help, then I don’t know what will,” Vandal growled to himself. “No wonder they didn’t want him upstairs.”

He knew that Phil would swing by the break room to talk to Bill. He didn’t care, the longer he had quiet the better. Answering mail would take a while anyway. People emailing them wanted to know the stupidest things. Most of the time, they asked about the donation process, which was explained on the clinic’s website. All they had to do was look it up. So ninety percent of the mail he sent out was just answering unnecessary questions because the majority of people seemed to be either too lazy or too stupid to find the answers to them themselves.

He went through them with an increasingly worse mood. They never seemed to stop. As soon as he had replied to one, another came in some time later. It was an endless cycle. If the phone rang now, he knew he’d blow up.

There was a knock on the donation window and Vandal turned and walked over.

“Paige,” Vandal addressed her in a flat tone. “What do you need?”

The short haired, blond woman smiled at him and answered in her quite unpleasant voice, “Hey, I need a bag of O Rhesus negative. We got someone needing a transfusion.” Paige didn’t look like she was in a hurry. So whoever needed that, was probably not dying at the moment. “Slow day?” she wanted to know from him.

Yeah, they were definitely not on their deathbed, if Paige had time to talk.

“Jup,” Vandal replied, disinterested. “I’ll get Phil to bring it, hang on.” He walked to the door and called, “Phil! I need you to bring me a bag of O Rhesus negative! Be quick, Paige doesn’t have all evening!”

“I’m coming!” Phil called back and Vandal heard his footsteps hurry through the hallways.

He turned back to Paige, “Won’t take a minute.” He sat down in front of the computer again. “I’ll keep working on this travesty here, if you don’t mind.”

Paige nodded and said, “Thank you, Vandal.” And she kept talking. Paige always talked. She never shut up. Vandal had learned to ignore her. Paige didn’t need replies anyway. She was just talking to fill silence. “You rarely get news from upstairs here. We got twice as many patients in for treatment than usual. It’s almost too much to handle. I’m so glad I got to go down here for a minute. It’s nice and quiet. Malcolm’s patient got discharged after a successful treatment today. The staff is celebrating that after work at the bar downtown. You guys are all invited too.”

Vandal gave her a half smile, “Well, it’s quiet NOW. It wasn’t so earlier. I’ll let Phil and Bill know about the celebration, but I doubt any of us are coming.”

“A pity. You should get out more,” Paige said.

Yeah, right. As if any of the staff from upstairs would want them to come. Bill yeah, he probably wouldn’t have any problems fitting in, but Phil and him, there was no way either of them would get along with any of the morons from upstairs.

“I’m quite comfortable with how things are,” Vandal answered in a chilly tone.

He glanced at Paige who shrugged. Her smile had wavered for a second. “Well, you do you. I’ll have a good time later.”

“I am sure you will,” Vandal smirked. With Malcolm, he added in his head.

Phil brought her the blood bag and she thanked him. He declined the invitation to join the staff after work, just as expected. When Paige was out of earshot and the door upstairs had fallen shut again, he turned to Vandal and said, “I can’t stand that bitch.”

Vandal laughed. “Just her? I hate all of them.”

“The rest of them is all right,” Phil grumbled. “But Paige is seriously messed up.”

Those were the moments when Phil changed. Vandal didn’t know why Phil hated Paige so much, but he did and his anger showed. It was not nearly as bad as when he himself got furious, but Vandal saw it even if Phil was trying to hide it and mask it as just a feeling of ‘dislike’.

“Well,” Vandal grinned. “I’m more than happy that she’s gone again. She wasn’t shutting up. You gonna ask Bill on your way back in?”

“Yeah,” Phil answered and headed for the door again.

The next emails Vandal saw weren’t any better than the ones he’d already replied to. More stupid questions and some spam that hadn’t been filtered. For fun, he opened one of the spam mails that was titled, ‘Need a Kick or Money? Become a Blood Doll!’.

He started reading through it, and the entire thing was ridiculous.

‘There are hundreds of people out there addicted to drugs. Why not have a different form of addiction? Have you ever felt the euphoria of letting someone else drink your own blood, directly from your veins? We’re telling you, it’s BETTER than any drug. Become a Blood Doll for the nights in your area. We pay up front. For more information please call 1-800-MYBLOOD.’

This was so stupid that he was tempted to call the number in the email. Just to fuck with them and have a laugh. He pulled out his cellphone. He wasn’t going to call from the landline, that’d be way too risky. He didn’t expect anyone to actually pick up, if it even connected in the first place. He dialed and waited for a moment. It was connecting. It didn’t even take 10 seconds for someone at the other end to pick up.

It was a woman with a quite impressive voice. “You’ve reached the Blood Doll service line. My name is Isabella. How can I help you?”

Vandal was taken aback. He suddenly had the feeling that this was actually a thing. And certainly not quite legal either. “Good evening, Isabella. I just had a few questions. I had your email in my inbox.”

“Of course, what would you like to know?”

“First, how much does this pay, and second how does it work?” Vandal asked.

Isabella explained, “It’s pretty simple. All you have to do is tell us the nearest club in your area and when you’ll be there. Then we’ll set you up with one of our workers. He or she, depending on your preference, will pay you 50 bucks up front and all you have to do is let them bite your neck hard enough to draw some blood and drink it. Then they’ll be on their way again.”

“So they’re basically playing vampires? That doesn’t sound like an euphoric experience to me,” Vandal replied coolly. “It sounds quite like I will have a serious infection after, and be using the money to visit the doctor and get antibiotics.”

“I can assure you, there will be no need to visit a doctor after. All our employees are regularly checked and they will disinfect everything after they’re done,” Isabella reassured him. “If you want to try it, and are doubting our legitimacy, I can double the amount we pay you for the first time.”

“Well, if that’s the case. I’m in. The nearest club would be The Asylum in Santa Monica. I’ll be there at about 8:45 PM tonight and I’d like one of your female workers to come. What else do you need to know?” Vandal asked. He had made up his mind. A hundred bucks for a thing like this was just too good. He wondered who the hell came up with stuff like that. This must be some weird Goth subculture type of thing.

“Wonderful. All we need is a description of you,” Isabella spoke happily. “We have a code phrase. When someone asks you, ‘Which numbers have been removed from the solar system?’ you’ll need to answer, ‘134340’. And that’s all we need.”

Vandal told her what he looked like and then said, “I guess you’re just the girl on the phone and haven’t tried this yourself?”

Isabella actually laughed, “No, I have tried it. Had to in order to work here. You won’t be disappointed. It’s quite a good way to make money.”

“Well, I’ll see later, won’t I? Have a nice evening, Isabella,” Vandal spoke.

“You too. Bye.” Isabella hung up.

Vandal shook his head and typed the code phrase into a note on his phone. He didn’t quite know why, but he knew for a fact that someone would show up at the club for real at the time he had given Isabella. He was cautious however. He’d not take any money or even his wallet or ID, so that nothing could be stolen. He’d take his keys, that was it.

He had no problems with enduring a bit of pain, so he wasn’t too worried about the whole thing. It was worth the 100 dollars. If this was indeed a scam though and they didn’t have the money, the scammer who’d shown up would regret it.

He deleted the rest of the spam mails.

Bill knocked on the door and entered. “Phil said the guys upstairs are celebrating. I might just go and have a drink with them. I got nothing to do tonight and I’m quite bored,” he said.

Vandal checked the clock. Bill’s break was indeed over and he would probably stick around in the booth with him for the rest of the shift.

“Well, you do that. I can’t be bothered to go,” Vandal spoke, irritated.

“I know. Fred and Danny are actually pretty fun to hang out with,” Bill let him know. He kept talking, but Vandal tuned out. Bill’s voice reduced to background noise in his head.

He had finished the emails and Bill was still talking. Phil had returned as well and informed him that he had completed inventory and given him the list to type into the computer. He had barely started and was already getting fed up with it. Their talking didn’t help him concentrate. Usually he could drown them out enough, but this evening somehow he couldn’t, not both of them.

His head snapped to them and he spoke, quite forcefully, “Okay. If you’re just talking anyway, why don’t you go back to the break room? I’d like to have some quiet.”

“All right, Vandal.” Bill wasn’t fazed. He had adapted to Vandal’s outbursts quite well. “Want me to bring you some coffee?”

“No.” The single words was just a growl.

Bill shrugged. “If you change your mind, give me a shout.”

Vandal ignored him and when the door finally shut behind them, he closed his eyes for a moment and massaged his temples. He was getting a headache. He grabbed the bottle of water on the desk and drank. If that didn't help he'd have to resort to taking a painkiller. He usually only took one when he absolutely couldn't take it anymore.

Time crawled on as he worked on the list. Phil and Bill didn't bother him again until a few minutes before the shift ended. And Vandal told them to go home. He himself closed the blood bank, went to change back into his street clothes and half an hour later he was out the door as well.

He went straight to the Asylum. He sat down at the bar and waited. He was curious to see what kind of woman would show up.

The bartender went up to him and asked, “What can I get you?”

He was a rather heavy individual. Bald and with a ton of tattoos.

Vandal replied, “Nothing. I’m just waiting for someone.”

“You sure? I make a mean Bloody Mary.”

Vandal smiled coldly at him, “I work at the blood bank. Had a Mary in today and she was bloody when I was done with her. Stupid thing ripped the tube out from the bag in her hysteria. So I think I’ve had enough of Bloody Mary for tonight.”

The bartender stared at him. “God, why do I always get the weird ones? Well, let me know if you need anything.” He turned away and quickly left him alone.

Vandal’s smile turned into a smirk. He didn’t drink. The thought of drinking disgusted him. He had seen what it did to people and he couldn’t stand it. He looked around the club to see what kind of clubbers were there this early at night. Turned out quite a few. Most of them were dancing. One of the women stood out though. She wore a white blouse, a school girl looking mini skirt and also white knee socks. Her hair was put into pigtails. It looked ridiculous. She seemed to be having a good time though. She was talking to a small group of women, occasionally giggling.

“Excuse me, do you know which numbers have been removed from the solar system?”

Vandal turned at the sound of the soft voice. He found himself looking at a very young woman and she looked NOTHING like he had expected. She was a bit smaller than him. Her short, light brown hair was styled and brought out her green eyes. Her lips were full and her face very soft. She looked fragile. She was cute. This girl wasn’t seriously gonna bite him? This didn’t fit. Something was off here.

“134340,” he replied and the woman gave him a smile.

“I can see I’m not really what you expected, I guess?” she  asked, friendly. “What’s your name?”

“You are correct,” Vandal told her in a neutral tone. “I’m Vandal. You?”

“Mariella,” she let him know. “Looks can be quite deceiving. Let’s step away from the bar a bit, ok? Just over near the elevator should be fine.”

Vandal followed her silently. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about this woman was strange. It almost pissed him off that he didn’t know what it was. Mariella told him to sit down on the stairs for a moment. She pulled out 5 twenty dollar bills and handed them to him with another smile. “There you go. Isabella said you were suspicious. Your description was lacking. You’re not too hard on the eyes. I think guys with longer hair are really attractive. And I gotta say, you look ‘very healthy’.”

Vandal took the money, checking each bill. He put them into the back pocket of his jeans. Something was wrong with this girl. She was looking at him as if he was literal ‘food’. “You're definitely not what I expected to show up here when I made the decision to do this,” he told her. “So far so good. You paid, have fun.”

Mariella smiled wider, it was not quite wide enough to show teeth. “You'll not be disappointed. I'm very good at it.” She moved closer to him and for a moment he was asking himself why he was doing stuff like this for money. He knew why though. His sick curious bent had obligated him to do it. He would probably refrain from ever reading spam mail again.

“One last question before I bite,” Mariella grinned. “You want to talk after? Or do you just want me to leave?”

Vandal hated himself for a split second. “I want to talk after.”

Mariella looked pleased. “All right, pretty boy.”

She leaned in and Vandal felt her hand on the back of his neck. It was cold. Her circulation must be really bad. Her lips were just as cool as they touched his neck. He braced himself for the pain. He felt two sharp fangs drive into his neck, breaking his skin and the blood running out of him. The pain had been so minor and it was overshadowed by a rush of feelings. As soon as her lips had touched his skin he had felt ecstatic. He felt ‘good’. This kind of good was satisfying, in a different way than for instance after having sex. This was the same euphoria you felt when you accomplished something you really wanted and had worked for. It wasn't just the satisfaction of base instincts being fulfilled. There was more to this.

He was still in a daze but he felt her draw back slightly and something cold and wet run over where she had bitten him.

It took him a few moments to snap out of it. Mariella was still there, looking at him curiously. Vandal knew immediately that this was definitely not normal. His reaction to the entire thing should NOT have been like this. Had they used some kind of drug or stimulant to coat their lips and teeth? If so he didn't know what kind that would have been. Also two of her teeth had been sharpened to points. He felt strange. He had joked when he had said they were playing vampires. Now he was baffled. They really were. And this was quite the extent they had gone through to put on a show.

“Interesting,” Mariella spoke with a raised eyebrow. “I never had the pleasure to get to talk after. You're the first person who agreed. You snapped out of it quick.”

“And here I thought I was the only person to ever agree to this,” Vandal smirked. “Whoever came up with the entire thing to put on such a show is quite eccentric. This was not too bad. I assume the drugs you're using for this are a trade secret? I hope I don't need to have my blood tested now. I can give myself a blood transfusion if I need it.”

Mariella stared at him. “You're not the first. There is an entire network of people who do this for free even. And don't worry about getting a blood transfusion. This is safe. A blood test would come back negative. There's nothing in your system that could harm you,” she reassured him. “Where do you work? If you don't mind me asking.”

He wasn't gonna tell her. It seemed like a shit idea to him for some reason, he couldn't quite explain. So he only said, “Isn't important. I learned it at medical school, if you were wondering about that.”

Mariella nodded. Vandal had noticed that she hadn’t commented on either the fact that he had said it was eccentric or the fact that they were using drugs for this. “Spend that money on something nice, Vandal. Think you’ll do it again?”

Vandal grinned at her and said, “I will certainly spend it wisely. And I don’t think I’ll be doing this again, it did feel nice, but I can see how this could become addicting, and I’m not someone who ‘likes’ that.”

Mariella chuckled. “Well then, it was nice meeting you. Don’t go blabbing about this to anyone, though.” Her tone changed to a warning and Vandal knew she was serious about it. “Or there will be consequences. Wouldn’t want you to vanish one of those nights. My boss is connected and people who talk too much, do disappear quite ‘frequently’. Understood?”

Vandal looked into her eyes and gave her a hard stare. She didn’t even look unsettled and the fact that she wasn’t made him all the more sure that her threat was valid. That she was giving him really good advice by telling him to keep his mouth shut about it. “I won’t tell a soul,” he said.

Mariella smiled. She looked satisfied. “Very well. Goodbye, Vandal.”

“Bye, Mariella,” Vandal answered curtly, not even bothering to stand up from the stairs.

Mariella grinned, turned and left without another word.

Vandal put a finger to his neck and to his amazement. There were no marks on him. He couldn’t feel any. It didn’t hurt and there was nothing that indicated that he had been bitten in the first place. It seemed to have completely healed.

“Shit,” he breathed. “What the hell?” He stood up and went to the club’s bathroom to have a look. Maybe he just didn’t feel it because the bite marks were too small?

He was thankful that the restroom was empty. He stood in front of the mirror and to his utter astonishment, there were really no marks on him. It was as if the entire thing had never happened. For a split second he thought that, maybe, just maybe, this hadn’t been an act. But that would be insane. He didn’t believe in mythical creatures. But the fact that there were no marks on him made him seriously question what the hell had happened and how this was possible. He had no explanation for it. He let out a frustrated sigh and told himself to forget about it. He had the money, he would stop thinking now.

He went back out and made his way to the blood bank again to pick up his things. The only staff now present at the clinic would be Dr. Thornton, the guy who constantly did malpractice, Dr. Roberts who the redhead had to wait for to arrive when she had needed treatment and someone who worked the reception part time when no one else was available. He went through the front door, just to see who the part time receptionist was. Turned out she was another woman, quite plain looking, wearing a blue shirt with flowers on it. There were quite a few people waiting in the front. An older woman and two guys who looked like they had just been in a fight, were the ones who caught his eyes and were worth mentioning. One of them had a broken nose, the other was bleeding from a wound on his forehead and also seemed to have a dislocated shoulder.

“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked.

“I need to get my things from downstairs. I just wanted to see who worked the reception now that Paige and the rest of them are out,” Vandal simply said.

“Ah, then I assume you’re Vandal?” she wanted to know.

“Correct.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Helen,” she introduced herself. “I gotta get back to work, though.” She gave him a smile and turned back to the computer.

Good, Vandal thought. She didn’t talk much.

He walked past the reception and went downstairs. He got his things from his locker in the changing room and put the money into his wallet. He already knew what he would be spending it on. Hannah and food. Probably in combination. If she wanted he’d take her out to the steakhouse downtown. He had wanted to go for a time now and it felt only right to offer to take Hannah. She’d probably think he was being sweet. He wasn’t really though. He just wanted what came after to happen at her place. He wanted to see the place she lived because he wanted to know how it compared to Santa Monica’s shithole apartments. Though if he really thought about it he wasn’t averse to being in her company. She was far less annoying than the general women he had met and the things she had said had actually been interesting. He checked the time. It was only a few minutes after 9. Hannah had said she usually ate quite late, so he would give it a try. He pulled out his phone for the second time this evening and called Hannah.

She picked up after a few moments. “Hi, Vandal.” She sounded quite surprised that he was calling again only a day later. “Did I forget anything at your place or something?”

He laughed. “Hello, Hannah. You didn’t. I was wondering how you’d like it if I took you to a steakhouse downtown. I just got off work and I haven’t had dinner yet. Only if you have time of course.”

There was a moment of silence before Hannah answered, “You want to take me out to dinner? Where’s the catch? Because that was quick.”

Vandal smirked. Hannah was smart and suspicious. Those were both traits he valued. “I’d like to come to your apartment after dinner. Don’t worry I’ll pay your dinner AND the service. There’s no catch.”

Now it was Hannah’s turn to laugh. “So, you’re basically paying me to date you?”

This was brilliant. “If that’s how you want to look at it, I guess I am, yes.”

“Well, all right. I’m not gonna say no to free dinner. That’d be just plain stupid,” Hannah said. “I have no more appointments tonight, so this works out. Haven’t eaten anything either. Let’s meet up at the steakhouse. Text me the address and the time and I’ll be there. I’m happy you asked me. And I’m not just saying this because I’m getting free dinner now.”

“See you later then, Hannah,” Vandal spoke merrily.

After Hannah had hung up he checked the bus schedule and texted her the address and the time he’d arrive. Then he locked the door to the blood bank again and went on his way. He waited at the bus stop. It wasn’t as warm when the sun had been down for a few hours. He preferred colder weather to the insane temperatures that they had during the days at the moment. He hated being overheated. He was rarely cold anyway even during winter. He welcomed the temperature drops during the nights. The clinic’s air conditioning was shit. He was always glad when he got out of there, for a bunch of reasons.

The bus arrived 5 minutes later and he got on, then back off about 20 minutes later and made his way down the main street.

Hannah was already waiting for him outside. Vandal looked her up and down with a grin on his face. She wasn’t dressed up. She wore simple gray jeans and a light green neckholder top with flowers on it. She wasn't even wearing makeup like she had yesterday. Maybe it had been for another client of hers. He admitted to himself that he did like her better without it. She had overdone it yesterday. Her light honey brown hair wasn't pinned up either. It fell loosely onto her shoulders. She looked good.

“You look different,” Vandal smirked and stood a few paces from Hannah. “Gotta say I think this suits you better than yesterday's style. Not that my opinion matters at all or anything.”

Hannah actually smiled. “Hey, Vandal. Thank you. This is how I usually dress when I don't have any appointments. I've had the last one a few hours ago. I'm relieved you're not disappointed that I didn't get to dress up in the short time.” She stepped up to him and opened her arms, still with a smile on her face.

Vandal questioningly raised his eyebrow. She wanted a hug from him? Really? She was already lowering her arms again when he hadn't moved immediately. He closed the distance and wrapped his arms around her and to his surprise, Hannah hugged back longer than you would for just a greeting. Not long enough to make it awkward though. But he did notice.

“You ok?” he asked her. That was a question that he hadn't uttered in god knew how long.

Hannah stepped back a bit again and told him, “I am now. That made me feel better.”

He knew she didn't want to talk about why it had.

He opened the door for her. “Ladies first,” he grinned.

Hannah chuckled and entered.

The restaurant was simple but the quality of the steaks was amazing. He had been once before and was quite happy to be going again. He told Hannah to pick a table and she chose one in the right hand corner of the room in the back that had a cushioned bench. He sat down opposite of her and a waiter brought the menu. Hannah ordered white wine and he just ordered a large bottle of water enough for both of them.

“You're not drinking anything else?” Hannah questioned.

“I don't drink at all,” he said drily.

“That's unusual. I took you for a beer kind of guy,” she admitted.

He smirked. “Sorry to disappoint. Bet you're glad this is not a real date. There will be a lot more disappointments coming along the way I guess.”

It made Hannah laugh. ”Now, now. I don't think it's disappointing. It's interesting. You're interesting. And real date, paid for date, or no date, doesn't really matter. You asked me out for dinner and I'm actually happy to get to do something normal like this for a change.”

She wasn't lying. Vandal hadn't met anyone who he didn't dislike talking in quite a while. It was such a rare thing. He usually hated small talk. If he had to explain why it didn't bother him with Hannah it was probably because she was actually listening to him as well. And that she wasn't stupid. There were so few people out there he was compatible with. Most disliked him as much as he disliked them. It was a good thing he didn't care that they did.

Hannah's voice ripped him out of his thoughts. “I assume you've already been here before? Can you recommend anything?”

“I can. Their T-bone steak is amazing. Their rump steaks as well,” he informed her.

“Ah, haven't had a good rump steak in ages. I think I'll have that.” Hannah looked up at him and asked, “How about you?”

She was genuinely interested in small details like that. Most people didn't bother to ask and if they did it was usually just to fill more silence.

“I came for the T-bone steak. Haven't had any better than the one they make here. They have perfected the art,” he said. He meant it too.

“You're quite passionate about your steaks. I like that. Nothing better than a good steak, isn't there?” Hannah smiled.

“Definitely.” Vandal agreed.

The waiter came back and brought the water and wine and took their orders. After he had left again Hannah actually raised her glass to him and said, “To a nice, relaxed evening, good food and a bit of fun after.”

Yeah, Hannah really wasn’t too bad. If this went well he would actually consider befriending her. He could count his friends on one hand. And the thing was, they didn’t live near him. His only female friend had moved to Europe, the other was up in Canada and the third was an 8 hour drive away. Two of them were friends from his high school days. The only ones he had kept in touch with, because they were the only ones that he had truly valued. He had a few acquaintances in the area that were hardly worth mentioning, since he didn’t really go out with them, but no real friends. They were hard to come by these days and the older you got the harder it got to make them it seemed to him.

Vandal raised his glass as well and smiled back at her. It was a warmer smile than the usual one he gave people. This one actually reached his eyes. “To my first evening out in forever. And to you having a good time.”

He saw the expression on Hannah’s face soften. “Thank you, Vandal. That’s so nice.” She was quiet for a moment and then asked, “Is it really?”

He nodded. “It is. I don’t really go out much. As I’m sure you can imagine, most people dislike me. And to be honest, I dislike most of them as well. You were quite tense when you first saw me yesterday.”

“You’re correct,” Hannah spoke. “You were quite cold and distant at first and I’m sure that’s what throws people off. It threw me off too. But under that I think there’s more to you than meets the eye. You’re not so bad. Like I said you’re actually interesting. When we were talking I became a lot more comfortable and you seemed to warm up a bit.”

Vandal appreciated her honesty. “Thank you, Hannah. You’re not so bad either. And I’m not just saying that to be nice. If I disliked you, you would know.”

Hannah chuckled, then said quite seriously, “I know I would. A ton of my customers let me feel it when they don’t like me. And they’re fully aware they can just be total fucking assholes because they’re paying me. You’re a nice change to that.”

“People are assholes, I know that all too well,” Vandal grumbled.

“Yeah,” Hannah agreed. “Sometimes I wish I could just round up the worst of them and make them see the error in their ways. Gag them, strap them to a chair and fuck them up a bit. Pain’s a good reminder that you’ve done something wrong.”

Vandal kept a close look on her face. He hadn’t expected ‘that’ from her. “Out of curiosity. Would you really do that if you had the chance?”

Hannah looked at him and thought before she answered, “I think I actually would. Only the absolute worst of them, the ones that hurt me too. But sure let them walk back out with a few minor scratches, cuts and bruises and they’ll ‘never’ use my service as an excuse to just be shits and abuse me again. I bet I don’t even have to lay a hand on most of them, they’re probably pussies once they realize what’s happening.”

“You’re full of surprises,” Vandal laughed. “There’s more to you than meets the eye as well. I quite understand your reasoning behind it. I don’t disagree.”

“Glad to be in the company of someone who understands,” she grinned.

The waiter brought their food. It smelled and looked amazing. Hannah had a look of satisfaction on her face looking at it.

“This was such a wonderful idea,” she said. “Thank you again. I’ll enjoy every single bite.”

“You’re welcome. As will I.”

They ate in relative silence. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence though. Whenever they did speak Hannah told him some interesting facts about herself that he was sure she wasn’t sharing with just anyone. He listened, answered, even told her a bit more about himself and he could see she was genuinely interested in the things he told her about him.

“Everything ok?” the waiter asked them as he came back.

Vandal nodded. “Yes, thank you.” He turned to Hannah again and wanted to know, “You want dessert, or another glass of wine?”

Hannah leaned back in her seat and smiled. “I’m good, thank you. I couldn’t fit anything into my stomach even if I wanted.”

“Then I’ll have the bill,” he told he waiter.

Vandal paid and Hannah and him went out the door.

“I live at the Skyline apartments,” she told him. “I don’t think I’ve said that before.”

“You haven’t,” Vandal said. “We did establish you took the job to pay rent though.”

“Yes, that I remember. It’s not far from here, we can walk if you want. It takes about 15 minutes,” Hannah let him know.

“Sure, we can walk. I prefer walking anyway,” he looked around as they made their way down the main street. He could see the club from here. A reconfigured church. “Ever went to the Confession?” he asked her.

“I have. The owner of the club is a fun lady. I quite like her. It’s unfortunate that the guy she works with is apparently a real prick. His idea of a late fee when she’s unable to pay the monthly plus interest is the same I do to pay rent,” she grumbled. “I hope she gets out of it somehow. She should get someone to help her.”

“She needs someone who’s really good at either setting up new deals, or at killing. Because I don’t think the Mafia is gonna be very forthcoming,” Vandal smirked. “I talked to her as well.”

“I can see how that’s a problem,” Hannah spoke. “Oh, speaking of killing. The guy on the second floor was found dead in front of his apartment a few nights ago. I never met the guy. I only know his name was Sean Milton. Security guard apparently hadn’t noticed a thing. Shady as hell if you ask me.”

“Well, at least there’s exciting stuff happening near you. The most exciting thing that happened in my neighborhood was the fire department rolling up to save a cat off a roof for an old lady,” Vandal grinned.

“I’m allergic to cats,” Hannah informed him.

“I’m lucky to have no allergies. Being allergic to food must be the absolute worst,” he said. “Even the thought of not being able to eat something is quite painful.”

Hannah laughed. “Yeah! Truer words have never been spoken.”

Vandal smirked. He was actually enjoying Hannah’s company more than he wanted to admit to himself. “Absolutely.”

“So, anything specific you want to do when we get to my place?” she inquired.

“Not really. I would enjoy talking some more, actually. What would ‘you’ like ‘me’ to do. I’m sure whenever you’re at the receiving end it’s less than fun for you from all you told me so far. I’m good at following instructions and I’m open for pretty much anything as long as you like it,” he smiled.

He saw Hannah’s eyes widen just a little. “Really? You’re sure?”

“I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t mean it, Hannah,” he spoke evenly.

“I would love a massage,” she spoke. “I know that’s such a simple thing, but I’d really like that.”

“Then you’ll get a massage, if you want anything else after, just ask.”

“Thanks. Let me know if you have thought of anything you’d like me to do later,” she smiled.

“I will.”

They kept talking about this and that until they were in front of the apartment complex.

“I live on the top floor,” Hannah said. “We’ll take the elevator.”

They entered. There was a security guard in the room, next to the door of the maintenance area. Vandal glanced at him. He was eyeing him and Hannah with a weird look on his face. Vandal didn’t like it. The guard turned away and went through the door he had been standing next to. Something felt wrong here.

“Is that the security guard who hadn’t noticed the dead resident?” Vandal questioned.

“Yes. He’s been here even before I moved in,” Hannah answered unconcerned.

“Do you know for what reason this complex has one? Are there a lot of break ins in the area?”

“I’m not sure. But he seems to be shit at his job anyway,” Hannah answered.

Vandal let out a curt laugh. The guard as Hannah had said earlier seemed shady. He couldn’t get rid of the feeling that there was more to it than just not noticing a dead resident.

Hanna unlocked her apartment by typing in a 4 digit code. She didn’t notice Vandal was checking which numbers she typed. It was 1203.

“Don’t you think it would be safer to use that AND a physical key to get in?” Vandal questioned.

Hannah grinned. “No. I change the code EVERY single day. I have a tendency to misplace stuff. I don’t forget my codes though.”

So that was why she had asked him if she had forgotten something at his place when he had called.

“Well, then. If that works for you. Good.”

She let him in and he curiously looked around the living room. Her apartment was very spacious. It even had a second level. She owned a relatively old TV. The rest of it was completely Asian influenced. Her furniture, flowers, vases, wall murals, everything. If you didn’t know who lived here you’d think you’d just walked into an immigrant’s apartment. It wasn’t overdone though. She had kept the furniture very simple. There weren’t any excessive decorations, or extremely colorfully painted designs. Everything was toned down. It looked rather tasteful even though it wasn’t quite his style.

“It’s not my style, but it is very well arranged. I can appreciate that,” Vandal told her. “You have an eye for it.”

“Thanks. It took quite a while to decide what I wanted to do. I didn’t want anything too boring. The bits of color in the furniture helps quite a lot to make it not look too bleak while still being discreet.”

“I agree,” he smirked. “This is quite the contrast to my place. It’s a lot nicer.”

“Your place was cozy,” she giggled.

“Not the word I would have used,” Vandal replied. “Something like gloomy, comes to mind. You saw how small and horribly lit it was.”

“I think the fact that you only had the overhead lamp in the living room and that it was casting a slightly yellow light made the whole ambiance warm and cozy,” Hannah smiled. “And the brown leather sofa coupled with the dark wooden furniture wasn’t a bad choice. It didn’t feel cramped. You used the space you had very well.”

Vandal didn’t think he had ever gotten so many compliments in one night in all his life. He didn’t know how his face looked right now, but it made Hannah smile wider.

“Why don’t you get a new job, become a real estate broker,” Vandal said. “I bet you could make even the shittiest apartments sound like luxury suites. And thanks.”

“I wanted to become an interior designer. Didn’t have the money to go to college,” she sighed. “Oh, well. I’m not complaining, I have a roof over my head and a job. Can’t have everything you want.”

“Take your victories where you can,” Vandal spoke. “Fair warning… I’m not good at comforting people.”

“Then it’s a good thing I know how to comfort myself,” she said. “But you’re right. It’s sound advice. I should take my victories where I can.”

“Good. So who else lives in the complex?” he wanted to know.

“Come upstairs with me, and I’ll tell you more. My sofa is really unfit for two people lying on it. And we’ll stop talking quite soon, I assume,” Hannah said.

Vandal noticed the slight change in tone. Was she teasing him? She definitely wasn’t acting. He followed her upstairs and she kept talking. “Do you know the show Haunted L.A.? The guy who’s in charge of it lives on the first floor. He’s Simon Milligan.” She opened the door to her bedroom and let him enter, then closed it behind them.

Vandal, again looked around. There was a walk in closet, a safe, a few wall murals, a cupboard and a clock hanging to the left of the bed high up on the wall. The clock struck him as weird. It didn’t fit the rest of her style.

He asked her, “Say did you choose that?” He pointed at the clock.

“Oh, no. It was already in the apartment when I moved in,” she informed him. She sat down on the bed, leaning against the wall behind her and patted the space beside her.

He sat down and told her, “I did see a few episodes of the show when there was nothing else good on TV.”

“Yeah, so that’s the only real celebrity in the apartment complex. The others are a rich woman, judging from the way she dressed, another apartment is vacant, and then a guy called Paul who I haven’t met yet,” she finished. “I also watched the TV show, just to see what the guy produced. I wasn’t impressed.”

“Me neither,” he chuckled. He glanced at the clock again. It wasn’t displaying the right time.

For a few moments neither of them spoke. Hannah was the one to break the silence. She smiled, “I think I would like that massage you offered, now.”

Vandal smiled back at her and spoke, “All right.” When she moved to take her shirt off, he stopped her. “Leave it on for the moment, Hannah.”

Hannah looked confused, but didn’t argue. “Okay.” She sat in front of him and he placed his hands on her shoulders and started working. He didn’t apply a lot of pressure. He felt her relax. “Tell me if you want me to apply less or more pressure. You’re not all that tense anyway.”

“No, this is really nice. Can you go closer to my neck?” she asked.

He moved his hands further in towards her spine. “Is that the spot you meant?”

Hannah nodded. “Yes. You’re really good at it.”

“Thanks.” He glanced at the clock again a third time. Hannah couldn’t see his face, but his expression darkened. There was a tiny red light coming from the middle of the clock where the hands met. Her apartment was bugged. Someone was watching them and he was pretty sure it was surveillance guy downstairs in the maintenance room. He leaned in closer to Hannah and quietly spoke, “Hannah, your clock isn’t displaying the right time. It’s an hour back.”

“Oh, you’re right. I barely use it to check the time. I always use my phone,” she answered. She didn’t know. She didn’t see the small red LED in the middle.

“I’m sorry to interrupt the massage, but can I use the bathroom, real quick?” he asked. He was going to make sure that creep downstairs would get what he deserved.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “I’ll show you where it is.” She got up and he followed her out of the bedroom downstairs again.

When she turned back to him in front of the bathroom door, he spoke quite seriously, “Hannah, your bedroom is bugged. I didn’t want to say anything in case they’re recording audio too. But that clock up there, had a fucking pinhole camera in it. You could see the red light, if you looked close enough. Someone is filming you. That camera wasn’t on when we entered. Someone remote controls it. I’m going to check in the bathroom too. And then I’m going downstairs and I’m putting an end to what I’m pretty sure is surveillance guy spying on you.”

Hannah’s face slipped. “I never noticed. That’s horrible.” It was all she had to say to that before he entered, and sure enough he did find another camera. This one disguised as a cleverly placed hook to hang towels on.

“Bathroom is bugged too,” he growled. “I'm sure you wanna come with to watch me verbally attack this guy.”

“Absolutely. If you run out of words I can help.” Hannah's initial shock had turned to anger. “You know what? If it comes up tell him you're my boyfriend. That's probably equal to punching him in the face.”

He smirked, “Will do, princess.”

It got a short laugh out of her despite the whole situation being surreal. “Aw!”

“Come on then, before that creep downstairs notices we’re not going back upstairs for now,” Vandal said and Hannah followed him to the elevator. He pressed the button to call it up. “Another word of warning, if that guy starts pissing me off too much, he’s in for a black eye. If that’s ok with you.”

“If he’s really spying on me, then that’s fine. He deserves it,” Hannah answered. “You often get into fights?”

He chuckled, “Not anymore. I used to when I was a lot younger. I had problems keeping my anger in check actually. I learned how to manage it. I mean, I still get angry a lot faster than most people, but I don’t uncontrollably lash out anymore.” The words had left his mouth before he even realized it. Why was he telling her this? He should not be telling her this. This was his personal baggage and it should not be unloaded onto someone he had known for two days.

“Oh, I’m glad to hear that it got better,” Hannah said. “Did you work through it yourself or did you have help?”

Vandal had expected her to to give him a curt answer, only an acknowledgement of that she had heard what he had said and then redirect the conversation. He was quiet for a moment.

Hannah was quick to add, “You don’t have to tell me. I’m sorry. I sometimes forget it’s not as easy for everyone to talk about things like that than it is for me. I hope I didn’t upset you, I didn’t mean to.”

Hannah wasn’t just nice. She was considerate and sweet as well. She was quite different from him in that regard, but it didn’t put him off that she was so open about the topic. Maybe that was why he had kept talking in the first place. It was out now anyway, so he might as well answer her very honest question.

He sighed, “It’s all right. It’s just that I don’t usually talk about this personal things if I haven’t known the person for a long time. But your interest in it is genuine, so I might as well answer. I had a friend help me and after talking with him I went into counselling for a short while. I’m glad he approached me, suggested it and reassured me. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gone.” It was one of the reasons he respected the staff on the third floor of the clinic. It had helped a lot.

“It’s good to have people who care and don’t turn their backs on you, just because it’s hard to deal with. I had to make the decision to see a therapist after my depression hit its peak a year ago on my own, cause no one wanted to talk about it,” Hannah grumbled. Her expression brightened again quickly and she kept saying, “I’m off meds and don’t need any more sessions now, cause things are looking a lot better. I’m sure that tells you how bad it had been without me even saying more.”

“I’m glad to hear you’re better too.” He really was and it was so unusual for him. The elevator doors opened and they got in.

Hannah hit the button for the ground floor. “Thank you. Look at us bonding here. Guess the creep downstairs did an unintentional good deed,” she grinned.

Vandal laughed. “He’s still gonna get verbally destroyed in a moment though.”

“Absolutely!”

He saw something in Hannah’s eyes flicker. He wished it had been longer. He thought it had been something close to admiration, but he wasn’t sure. This was the quickest he had ever gotten to actually like someone in such a short time. He almost couldn’t believe it.

The elevator had arrived at the ground floor and they stepped out. Surveillance guy was still in the maintenance area.

“Well, let’s go say hi,” Vandal grinned. “If it’s locked I’ll knock first.”

Hannah followed on his heels. The door wasn’t locked, so he went in and down the stairs, just to find 4 more doors. If he was lucky, these weren’t locked either. He took the first to his right and opened it. He had hit the jackpot.

Surveillance guy spun around in his chair, his expression going from shock to anger in mere seconds. “You’re not supposed to be in here! The maintenance area is for staff only!” He stood up.

Vandal stepped towards him in a quite threatening manner and spoke, his voice not raising in the slightest, but filling with menace, “And you’re not supposed to spy on people in their own homes.” He took a look at the screen that was showing Hannah’s bedroom.

“You got it wrong. We have cameras set up in each apartment for surveillance. There have been so many break ins in the area that it was required!” the security guy spoke. He was trying to talk himself out of it. Vandal knew better.

“So you’re spying on EVERYONE in the building?” he asked, lowering his voice even more.

“We’re not spying! It’s just for their safety!”

The guy stood his ground as Vandal stepped closer. He snapped, “Liar! I hate liars! You can control these remotely! I SAW the red light turn on earlier! What’s done with the footage you capture?!”

“I will not ask you again. Leave. You’re not supposed to be here!” the guard spoke angrily.

“I am not going ANYWHERE,” Vandal growled. “I’m going to REPORT you to the cops! But before I do that, you will TELL ME what you’re doing with the footage!” He closely watched the guy’s movements.

“You will do NO such thing! I WARNED YOU! This is your last chance. Leave.”

“Or what?” Vandal sneered.

“Or I will have to use force!”

Vandal’s stare turned to ice. “No. You will get what you deserve and I will get my answers.”

“Then you leave me no cho-” the last word died in his mouth. Vandal had seen the guard’s hand twitch to reach for his gun and he had immediately reacted and slammed his fist into his throat. He grabbed the gun from the guard’s holster as his hands reflexively went up because of the pain. He popped out the magazine in one swift motion and put it into the back pocket of his jeans.

When the guard stood straight again he was staring at Vandal with a mix of shock and fear.

“You didn’t just ‘seriously’ try to pull a GUN on me?!” Vandal’s voice dripped with venom. “Guns make people cocky. Idiot. You just made things a million times worse for yourself!” His eyes didn’t leave the guard, but he addressed Hannah and his voice was calm when he did so. “Are you alright, Hannah?”

“Yes,” she answered quite tensely.

He held out the gun to her. “Take it. It makes a good club. If he tries anything use the handle to hit him with.”

Hannah took it from him and to his surprise her hand wasn’t shaking. “I’m calling the cops, right now.”

“Good.” He waited until Hannah had made the call, then he spoke to the security guard again, “You’re not moving until they get here. Now START TALKING! Are you SELLING that footage on the black market? Or is it just for your personal use?”

“Fuck you!” the guard spat. “She’s a prostitute, she shouldn’t care she’s being watched! She does it for a living!”

“Excuse ME?” Hannah snapped.  Vandal glanced at her. She was angry. And she was still holding her phone in her left hand. The gun in the other.

“If I blur the faces it’s not even a problem anymore. So what, I sell them on the black market and set up the cameras? There are worse things,” the security guy said.

“I think what you’re doing is pretty far up there,” Vandal hissed. “It’ll get you a long time behind bars!”

“You can’t prove it was me!” he mocked. “Even with the correspondence on the computers.”

Vandal laughed in his face. “Good thing we don’t need to prove it. Not anymore. You already confessed it.”

“You got nothing on me!”

“Wow, you’re even more stupid than I thought,” Vandal said, disgusted. “Sit down on the floor against the wall! It’ll probably take a few more minutes until the cops arrive. I don’t want you trying anything. And keep your mouth shut from now on!” he ordered.

The guy did as he was told. Hannah stepped up next to Vandal.

“You did good to record that,” he told her. “All we have to do now is wait.”

The cops arrived around 10 minutes later. They took the guard with them and Hannah and Vandal let them in to check for the hidden cameras in the apartment. They immediately went on to check every room and removed everything from the other resident’s homes as well. They took the key to go into the vacant apartment. It took quite a while until they had secured all the evidence and left again. They filed a witness report for Vandal and Hannah which they both signed and had the recording Hannah had taken sent to them. They let them know that they might be summoned to court in a week or two from now. They didn’t have to go to the station with them.

When the door to Hannah’s apartment finally shut again all the tension seemed to run out of her. Her shoulders slouched and she looked a bit drained.

Vandal had dealt with the police so often that it didn’t faze him anymore. When he had still lived with his parents, it hadn’t exactly been such a great time.

“That was insane,” Hannah breathed. She flopped down on the sofa. “Can’t believe he tried to pull a gun…”

Vandal sat down next to her. “I despise guns, for more than one reason.”

“Me too.” Hannah said. “I’m sorry to have to ask so bluntly, but could you just hold me for a short while?”

“Sure,” he turned to her and she leaned against him. He wrapped his arms around her and kept quiet. He started counting the seconds away in his head. He had arrived at 63 when she pulled back again.

“Thank you, Vandal.”

She looked better than a minute and three seconds earlier. She was completely calm again. “You’re welcome,” he smiled. Then he asked, “Want me to finish that massage that got so horribly interrupted?”

“Now it pays off even more,” Hannah grinned. “I would like that, yes. And now we’re completely undisturbed too, unless you find more cameras that even the police missed.”

“Let’s hope not,” he replied. “One unpleasant surprise is enough for one night.”

They went upstairs again, and when Hannah moved to remove her shirt this time, he didn’t stop her. She undid her bra as well and lay down on the bed on her stomach. “There. You have my whole back to work with. Feel free to sit down on my butt or lower back,” she laughed.

He sat down somewhere in between and just traced his fingers along her back lightly before he started his massage again. He had worked for a good five minutes before he asked, “Are you enjoying it?”

“Immensely,” Hannah let him know. “I don’t even have to say anything. It’s great like it is.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” he hummed.

After about 15 minutes Hannah spoke again. “Thank you so much. Want to swap places? Or do you want something different?”

“Let’s swap places, why not. Never got a massage before,” he grinned. He got off Hannah, took off his shirt and lay down.

“Really?” Hannah asked as she sat down on him and started working.

“Nope.” He focused on her hands on his back. She was very gentle. He wasn’t complaining. It felt great.

“What happened?” Hannah asked and traced one of the larger scars on his back with a finger. “I didn’t notice these yesterday. I only saw the one on your arm.”

“The ones on my back were an accident. I got pushed, tripped and fell into broken glass,” Vandal said darkly. “The one on my arm is my own fault.”

“Also an accident?” she wanted to know.

“No. It probably sounds very strange and absolutely stupid… But I wanted to know how much it’d hurt,” he simply stated. “It was a one time thing.”

“Did you use a razor?”

Vandal almost laughed. This conversation was not at all going how he had expected. He actually liked how it was going. “Kitchen knife. Don’t try it. It hurt quite a bit and was bleeding a lot. Cleaning it up was as little fun as as the rest of it.”

“Noted,” Hannah said, still massaging his back. “I only know how much razor blades hurt. Cut myself way too often shaving my legs. I seem to be really bad at it. I always slip. I gave up on it and started waxing.”

Now he really did laugh. “Self torture is what I’d call that. I imagine that’s worse than just a single cut? I mean you’re ripping that hair out at the roots in a large area.”

“It is. But I have weeks of peace after that. It’s worth it,” she let him know.

“Well, I don’t have to do it,” he grinned. “What you do is your business. I’m surprised you neither commented on the fact that the whole idea of cutting your own arm just to see how much it hurts is probably not a normal thing, nor does it seem to bother you.”

“There is no normal in my honest opinion. You can only be very close to what is ‘considered’ normal. And you’re correct, it doesn’t bother me. I think about weird stuff sometimes and then look it up on google. You just went one step further and actually put that thought into action.” Hannah was not in the slightest uncomfortable. Vandal could hear it in her voice.

“Like what?” he questioned. He couldn’t imagine what she’d consider weird stuff.

“The last weird thing I looked up was actually related to your work. I watched how to perform a vein puncture. And after that, and that happens quite a lot… I also wanted to know how long it’d take to bleed out and what would happen if you tapped into an artery. Didn’t find anything on the last one.” And then, Hannah said something that made him extremely excited. “Do you know? Or can you imagine what would happen? You take blood every day.”

He liked hypothetical questions like this. This was dangerously close to getting onto his list of things he wanted to try. And he knew he shouldn’t put it on the list. He could not put it on the list. He forbid himself from doing it. This could be solved in his head without putting it into action. “It depends which artery you tap into. If it’s the carotid artery in your neck or the femoral artery in your thigh you’d pass out within 30 seconds because of the blood pressure drop, I guess. You’d be dead in a few minutes. I assume it would be possible to drain someone of almost all their blood like that. But it’d be messy. You’d have to dig around to find the artery first and all that.”

“Yeah, I can imagine. You’d need to change out the blood bags a lot too, right?” Hannah wanted to know.

It was a pity he couldn’t look at her face right now. “Yes. That’s one of the reasons it’d be so messy. That would just spill everywhere.”

Hannah chuckled. “That’s one of the most interesting and at the same time bizarre conversations I ever had. I’m quite liking it though.”

“I can just repeat myself. You’re full of quite ‘pleasant’ surprises,” Vandal spoke.

“So are you,” she told him. “I really didn’t think we’d be talking about-”

“Hypothetical murder while you’re giving a massage?” he laughed. “Me neither!”

“Yes!” she laughed with him, and the sound wasn’t unpleasant to his ears. “So, if I ever want to talk more about any hypothetical murder or torture scenarios, I can come to you? We’ll make it our secret.”

Vandal was immensely pleased. “Of course. Any time, Hannah.”

“Nice!”

“I think, I’m good massage wise now,” he smiled.

Hannah got off him and he sat up and turned to her. Before he could say more, she asked him, “Do you ever think to yourself, for instance when you’re in the kitchen with someone, that you could just kill them? Like, this is messed up and I’d never do it. But I catch myself thinking, I could just grab a knife from the drawer and slice their throat, or stab them and they’d never see it coming. Or when someone stands close to the edge on a high building or a cliff. I could just push them off.”

Vandal stared at her. Hannah was not lying, she wasn’t faking this. You could not fake or even try to pretend to have a line of thought like that.

This was so eerily close to his own thoughts. It was like she was speaking things he had in his head. “Yes, more often than I would want to admit. And it feels good, knowing you could do it.”

“It does, doesn’t it? I think it’s because it’s the strongest possible choice you can make in the situation,” Hannah mused. “Not that it’s a rational, right choice, but it is the strongest. That’s true for the reverse too. Thinking you could just jump off that cliff, or building. Again, I’d never do it, of course, but the thought is still there. Maybe it’s sick, maybe I’m sick and don’t know it. I don’t know, and don’t really care either.”

“If you think it’s sick, then I am too,” he grinned. “You’re taking the words from my mind and are speaking them aloud right now.”

Hannah leaned in and he felt her body heat. “Maybe I should just place them back into your mouth?”

His body was screaming ‘yes’ and his nerves were singing. His hand seemingly moved without his control. He was reaching for her face before he even knew what he was doing. He gently stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. He’d never before done anything like it, he didn’t even know where the sudden affectionate gesture came from, but it felt right. It felt entirely different from yesterday too. It felt like Hannah now ‘wanted’ to kiss him and wasn’t just doing it because it was her job. The evening before she’d been far more ‘clinical’, for lack of a better word. She hadn’t been averse to it, but it had been a bit more neutral. He felt attracted to her and her way of thinking, because it was so similar to his own. Shit, he wanted her to want him. Somewhere in the back of his head he knew this was going to backfire somehow. He had never been this quick to feel this comfortable in someone’s company. This could be such a big mistake.

“Yes,” he chuckled. “Put them back where they belong.”

Hannah smiled and took his face in her hands. “This is probably such a bad idea on my part, and it goes against everything I ever told myself not to do, but fuck it. I want this to be a date. You’re not paying me tonight. I want this too much. I feel more normal talking to you than I feel with other people, despite the fact that the things we were talking about aren’t quite what people would consider normal.”

Vandal was about to reply, but Hannah had already pressed her lips on his and the words died in his mouth as he opened it and kissed her back. Every thought he had had got pushed far back into his head and all that was left was the scent and taste of her. He felt her hands run into his hair and he pulled her closer until their bodies touched. He lightly traced his fingers along her back and her response was to kiss him deeper. He returned it with the same intensity. Hannah’s hands moved from his hair, along the sides of his neck and then she placed them on his chest. He immediately broke off the kiss and pulled back enough to look at her.

There was surprise on Hannah’s face. “Everything ok?” she asked him, almost worried.

“Yes,” he told her with a raised eyebrow. “I thought you wanted me to stop.”

Hannah smiled. Her eyes were filled with something he couldn’t quite place. She almost looked touched that he had immediately stopped, even just thinking she wanted him to. That he had pulled back to make sure she was ok and showed concern. “Oh, no. I didn’t. I’m sorry that that was unclear. I wanted to prompt you to lie down and pull me with you.”

“Well, I guess I’m only good at following verbal instructions then,” he grinned.

She laughed and traced her fingers downwards towards his stomach. “That’s all right.” She went on to tell him what she wanted him to do, then asked him and he gave her permission to do whatever she wanted as long as she didn’t leave any visible marks on him.

They took off the rest of their clothes and Hannah started kissing him again.

When Vandal was finally breathing again normally, he was tracing lines along Hannah’s back without her even asking for it. She lay on top of him with her head rested on his chest and she was smiling. They hadn’t bothered to get dressed again yet.

“If I didn’t know better, you’re not even consciously doing it,” Hannah said.

“I am fully aware I’m doing it. I like the feeling of skin brushing against my fingertips, believe it or not,” he informed her. He didn’t even need to raise his voice above a whisper to be heard in the quiet of the room.

“I’m not complaining. It’s nice. I have to be careful that I don’t fall asleep on you,” she giggled. “It’s extremely relaxing.”

“I have no problems waking you up,” Vandal said calmly. “And I agree. When do you get up tomorrow?”

“Well, most of my appointments, as you already know, are usually in the afternoon and evening,” Hannah told him. “So I can sleep in, unlike you. I’ll probably sleep till 9 or something.”

A look of distaste flitted across his face. “Don’t remind me. I get up at ungodly hours when I have the early shift. I’m a night owl. I barely manage to drag myself out of bed each morning. I drink unhealthy amounts of coffee to keep myself awake.” His eyes scanned Hannah’s naked body and he had a quiet smile on his lips. She was actually pretty muscular, even though she was relatively thin. “Do you do sports? You got a lot of muscle to you.”

“I go to the gym at least 3 times a week. I always make room for that,” Hannah spoke and he could hear she was happy that he had noticed. “You look like you go too.”

“Not as often. Only once a week, but I lift weights at home,” he grinned. “I would have no problems picking you up from the bed.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Hannah hummed.

He ran his hand back up her back and brushed her hair to the side so that her neck was exposed. His index finger drew all the way along her spine and he felt Hannah’s entire body loosen up, every muscle relaxed and it seemed to be without her control. Her weight on him increased slightly, and she was almost limp for a moment.

“Well, that’s interesting,” he commented. “That was involuntary, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I don’t know why it happens, but I can’t stop it. It doesn’t bother me though.”

“It’s definitely an unusual response. I’ve never seen anything like it. Do you mind if I do it again?” he asked.

“No, go ahead. It’s releasing every last bit of tension left in me,” she smiled.

He moved his finger back up again and her reaction was indeed the exact same as before. He started playing with her hair. “So, before you cut me off with that kiss, I was going to ask if you’re sure about me not paying you. I could pay you at least half your rate, if you don’t want to have the full one.”

She propped herself up, raised her head and looked at him. She thought a moment before she spoke, “Now I’m even more sure than before that you’re not paying me, Vandal. The only way I would accept you paying me now, is if you really didn’t want it to be a real date… It’s crazy, but I do like you.”

He slowly and gently pulled her head towards him. “Then let me pay you with a thank you and a kiss, princess.” He gave her a long, deep kiss.

Hannah returned it and when she pulled back again, her cheeks were flushed.

Vandal found the sight of it endearing. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this quick to like someone,” he admitted. What he meant was like and genuinely be attracted to someone like he was to her. Hannah was right, it was crazy.

“Then you know how I feel. We’ve only known each other for like 2 days and I seriously feel like I’ve known you much longer. It’s strange,” Hannah chuckled. She smiled and then continued, “I think I like that you’re calling me princess, actually.”

“I can continue to call you that, if you want,” he smiled.

“I would like it, yes.” She leaned back down and kissed him again, quickly. “When does the prince have to be at work tomorrow?”

He laughed. “I’m no prince. I have to be at work at 6:30 AM. The blood bank opens at 7 AM.”

“Oh, man! That really is an ungodly hour,” Hannah groaned.

“Yeah, by the way, what time is it?” His phone was downstairs in his jacket.

Hannah got to her knees and reached over for her phone on the nightstand. “Oh, shit. 12:18 AM.”

He grumbled, “I guess we have the security creep and the police to thank for that. At this point I get like no sleep before I can go off to work again. Oh, well.”

“You can sleep here. I already broke one of my rules, might as well just throw all of them out the window,” Hannah said.

“Ok. Then I will. Thanks,” Vandal replied. He didn’t really care where he slept as long as it was long enough not to be a total wreck at work later. Hannah’s couch would do.

“You’re welcome,” Hannah smiled. “I’m only slightly sleepy, so just tell me if you want to go to sleep right now or not and I’ll go downstairs. I’ll sleep on the sofa.”

“You’re letting me sleep ‘in your bed’?” he asked, baffled.

Hannah laughed happily. “Yes. It’s no big deal.”

Vandal started grinning and said, “Or you could just stay here, and fall asleep with me, if you prefer. I am actually tired.”

Hannah didn’t need to be told twice. She smiled wider and tapped a few buttons on her phone. She placed it on the stand again, before she lay back down on him and he wrapped his arms around her.

“Good night, Vandal,” she breathed as she rested her head over his heart. “I had a very good time.”

His fingers ghosted over her skin again for a moment and he answered, “Good night, princess. I did too.”

After a few minutes he was already drifting off to sleep. His last thought before he was completely out was that he wouldn’t mind at all if they became a thing.