I pass through an unmarked doorway from an alleyway on Smith Street, the entrance to a speakeasy nearly a century old. There are many saloons in Chicago that create a false air of menace, hoping to attract young, attractive professionals looking for a pseudo-sinister place to imbibe. This is not one of those places. During the Prohibition era, it was rumored that this establishment was renowned for drawing the most notorious of clientele. From the looks of the current patrons, it seems not much has changed. No one acknowledges my presence, nor that of Heinrick my bodyguard. Given my interview subject, I took it upon myself to hire professional security as a precautionary measure. A former member of the Dutch Special Forces and a K1 heavyweight kickboxing contender, Heinrick steps slightly in front of me and presses his beefy palm against my chest as he scans the room for immediate threats. Satisfied, we proceed to the back of the bar as instructed.
Seated at a table against the rear wall is Jason Richter, vampire. From outward appearances, Mr. Richter looks completely mundane. Nothing in his manner, dress, or appearance provides even a slight hint of his background. Pudgy and balding, he could easily be mistaken for a run-of-the-mill businessman, which I learn was exactly his profession prior to his conversion. Richter offers me the seat opposite him. He too does not acknowledge Heinrick, who stands close by.
Vampire Combat Manual: Do you remember anything about your conversion?
Jason Richter: July seventh, 1981.
VCM: You remember the exact date?
JR: We all do. As natural as remembering your own birthday, which, ironically enough, I have forgotten.
I was the senior comptroller for a midsize insurance company in Seattle. The financial quarter just ended, and I was trying to catch up after the July Fourth holiday break. Since Karen, my daughter, was going to her first sleepover that evening, my wife only had to deal with Mark, our toddler, which gave me the excuse to work late that night. Not that I needed an excuse. Julie was a very trusting woman. Even with our two young children, she accepted the fact that I had to put in the hours, often coming home long after the house was fast asleep. I didn’t see much of her for a while, or the kids, or anyone else for that matter except my coworkers. And Marguerite.
Richter shifts forward in his chair, causing Heinrick to jump to attention. Richter glances at him briefly before shifting back in his seat.
JR: Marguerite—Margy—was one of the cleaning women in our office. I saw her often those late nights. We struck up a friendship. She seemed shy at first, just a “hello” and “thank you” when I would hand her my trash pail, but I believed she appreciated the acknowledgment. Most of the staff was gone by the time she started her shift, and those that were around ignored her. By the time I left in the evenings, it was often just the two of us on the floor.
After a while, we started speaking more as friends. She shared stories about her family, and I told her about my life as a late-blooming father. She was curious about what I did for a living and expressed interest in going back to school, although she mentioned that she was embarrassed of her thick Spanish accent. I was more than happy to help her understand what exactly I did as comptroller. After months of those talks, she probably had a better idea of what I did at work than most people at the company.
Richter shifts again, seemingly uncomfortable in his chair. He rubs the back of his neck with a pained sense of urgency. He seems to settle down and continues to speak.
JR: I was working late again one night, and didn’t see Margy making her rounds. I figured she called in sick or had the night off. At about 3am, I was in the restroom rinsing my face, trying to keep myself awake. I turned from the sink to dry my eyes, and there she stood, staring at me. I smiled and asked if she couldn’t at least knock first. Margy didn’t laugh. After a few awkward seconds, I tried to move past her when she gripped my forearm. I remember the pain being excruciating. She grabbed me by the throat with her other hand, and forced me backward effortlessly. We both crashed through the handicapped stall door as she began to press her fingers against my throat. I started to push and flail against her, trying to free myself when Margy smiled, and said, in perfect English, “This will be much easier if you don’t resist, Jason.” My world went black, forever. That was July seventh, 1981.
Richter seems troubled again. He grips the edge of the table with both hands and slowly exhales. He reaches into his jacket lapel pocket, which causes a defensive stir in Heinrick. Richter removes a small plastic bag filled with a viscous, maroon-colored fluid. It takes me only a moment to identify the contents. He rips open the top of the package, and empties the contents down his throat. He tosses the empty container on the table. Richter’s agitation seems to subside, and he is able to continue.
JR: I woke several hours later, still in the bathroom stall. My head was resting against the base of the toilet, but I couldn’t feel the cold of the porcelain. I did feel the thirst. “Thirst” is a bit inaccurate. You don’t feel it only in your mouth or throat. You feel it in the very depths of your bones. I would say you feel it in your soul, if that term wasn’t completely ludicrous to me at this point. I made my way out of the office, and instinctively headed for home. When I arrived at my doorstep and heard Julie’s footsteps coming down the staircase as I rang the bell, I could smell the blood coursing through her veins. She opened the door. Julie was a very trusting woman. She didn’t resist. Neither did Mark.
VCM: Did you ever learn why you were turned?
JR: The reasons no longer matter. They once did, I guess, but I’ve since stopped caring. In the days following my turning, I discovered that Margy was very thorough. These were the days before computerized record keeping and redundant backup systems. The informal education I provided to her made it easy to make it appear as if I absconded with a sizable portion of my company’s payroll. The official story is that I murdered my wife and son after misappropriating millions from my employer, and disappeared into the ether. Why the elaborate setup, I’m still not exactly certain; it’s not as if I was going to show up at the precinct to declare my innocence.
VCM: A vampire existence is often portrayed as an enjoyable one. What has been your experience?
Richter remains silent for several minutes. The stillness becomes awkward, and I clear my throat to ask a different question, but he begins to speak.
JR: Imagine having to disconnect yourself from every person you have ever loved: your parents, spouse, friends, your children, knowing that should you ever encounter them again, your only thought would be how fast you could drain their bodies. Imagine the worst physical pain you have ever experienced in your life: a shattered bone, a mind-numbing migraine, a debilitating illness. Imagine experiencing that pain replicated in every cell of your body, as if you could feel every one of the millions of nuclei splintering and bursting in agony. Now imagine experiencing that feeling every few days without adequate nourishment. That is what I must endure for an eternity. I’ve heard “experts” likening our feeding to the needs of a drug addict. It is much worse. There is no feeling of euphoria, no jubilation, no joy in satiating the thirst. There is only momentary relief, as if pouring water into a sack with a rip at the bottom; the minute you’ve topped off, the need to replenish it is almost immediate. How enjoyable does that sound?
I’ve answered enough your questions, I would appreciate you fulfilling our agreement.
I hand Richter a sealed envelope. Within it are photographs taken several weeks earlier, when I met with Karen Richter, the daughter who spent that evening decades earlier at a friend’s home. Now in her mid-thirties, Karen was taken in by her mother’s grandparents after the events described by my subject. I met with her under the guise of being a journalist researching unsolved criminal cases. Most of the photos are of Karen herself. Some are with her children. Richter removes the photos and stares at each for what seems an eternity, as if trying to will emotions long forgotten. His face remains expressionless, and he quietly replaces the photos in the envelope.
VCM: Are you familiar with a group known as the Blood Assassins?
In an instant, Richter seems to transform before my eyes. He opens his mouth obscenely wide and hisses, all the humanity seemingly drained from him. He leaps over to my side of the table. Heinrick pushes me aside and draws his firearm. Richter grabs Heinrick’s gun hand by the wrist and twists his arm hideously backward, the opposite direction it is meant to move. The muscles and tendons in his rotator cuff snap like packing tape. Before Heinrick has an opportunity to cry out in pain, Richter snatches the pistol from his hand and strikes him across the temple, knocking him unconscious. None of the bar patrons react. Richter stands and adjusts his attire.
JR: A word of advice if you want to live to see the completion of your work. Do not mention that group again should you meet with others of my kind. Most will not receive it as thoughtfully as I have. And in the future, save your money on the thug and get yourself something more useful.
Before I can ask for an explanation, Richter departs. On the table lies the envelope containing the photos of his daughter, next to the empty blood packet. I retrieve both items, along with Heinrick, and depart the speakeasy. No one acknowledges our exit.