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Closing Time

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"So--you time-traveled."

"More or less."

"To get your revenge on a vampire—-did you say your name's Van Helsing?"

"Holtz. And it was the most evil vampire ever spawned. The scourge of Europe."

"Naturally," Dave says. He picks up the bar rag, wipes another glass. "Were dinosaurs involved in any way?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Never mind. So--was it rough, the time travel? Nausea, jet lag?" The nutjob is the last customer, with fifteen minutes to closing; might as well hear the whole spiel.

"It was...disorienting."

"Well, of course."

"Automobiles. And aeroplanes. And...women wearing trousers. But do you know what the worst thing was?"

"What?" Dave says. He's locking up the cash register. If this poor whacko wants another drink, he's gonna get a freebie.

"The worst thing was...when it occurred to me that now, even if the monster hadn't...invaded my home, ripped out their throats, turned my poor darling..." he seems to lose track.

"The worst thing?"

"All my pretty ones..." Holtz sighs. "The worst thing was, it came to me that now, they would all be long dead anyway. Dust to dust, gone and forgotten. And for just a moment, I thought, well, then it doesn't matter anymore, does it? I"

Dave can't think of a snappy reply.

Holtz keeps looking into his drink. "And for that...for that moment of failure, for that moment when I let go of what had sustained me, when I was willing to let that evil walk the earth because it no longer concerned me...for that loss of my soul he will pay most of all. He will beg for another death."

"Wow," Dave says. Something about that last muttered speech is making him feel that maybe "harmless" no longer really belongs in front of "nutjob" in this case. He's liable to get himself hurt, at least, talking that way in bars.

"Well, I gotta lock up in back," he says. He ducks back to the office, reaches for the phone; the police can pick the guy up, make sure he's not—-a mass murderer, or something. Take care of him, anyway.

And then there's a hand on his wrist, bizarrely strong for such a little guy, Jesus, and a voice rasping in his ear, "I would not advise that you hinder me in my quest."

"Right," Dave says. "Sure. I'll just—-step away from the phone."

Holtz marches him back out to the bar. Dave's pretty sure he'll have bruises on that wrist tomorrow.

"You just—-do whatever you need to do, okay? No hindering from me, here."

"Thank you," Holtz says. He puts something in Dave's hand, lets go of his wrist, strides out, seeming somehow bigger than when he arrived.

Dave sits on a barstool. He opens his hand, looks at the weird old coin in his palm. And locks up the bar a few minutes early, because for the first time since he was a child he's thinking about the boogeyman.