Having a hungry vampire prowling the house did not make for the best Saturday morning, Anna decided. There was only one solution to the problem. She had to feed the beast.
“The eggs will be ready in a few minutes,” she said, glancing to the island countertop Isabella was pacing back and forth around. The vampire had complained of hunger pangs since waking up but had insisted that regular food would serve her appetite just fine.
“I could kill for some waffles,” Izzy said, forcing herself to stop behind her chair and relax with a long, slow breath.
“I thought vampires could only subsist on the blood of the living?” Tam asked, twirling her fork so that it danced between her hands in a complicated but repeating pattern.
“Blood’s good too,” Izzy said. “Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine drinking the stuff, but I guess your appetite changes based on what you need?”
“The body is not usually that smart,” Anna said. “We crave sugar whether we need it or not for example. Your condition may have affected your senses as well though.”
“Maybe. I don’t think there’s a lot of research that’s been done on it,” Izzy said. “From what I gathered there’s not a whole lot of us.”
“”Must be more than a handful though,” Val said, wandering into the kitchen in workout sweats with a bagel in one hand and her phone in the other. “Phil Boyer was too small time to lend for PrimaLux to lend a truly unique resource to.”
“You said they offered you an experimental blood treatment and that’s what modified your physiology right?” Jenny asked, as she fed baby Meg from a bottle.
“Yeah,” Izzy said. “I fought leukemia as a kid, remember? Did really well too, but then when I got to college it came back. I was in pretty rotten shape when this new doctor took my case and made me an offer. He said was the option to take part in an experimental program that was working on a cure, and…I knew it was ridiculous, but I jumped at it. My options were kind of limited at that point that.”
Jenny gave Izzy a supportive glance, and adjusted Meg’s bottle to see if the baby would take anymore.
“That limits the pool of potential affected people rather substantially,” Anna said. “I gather the success rate was not high however.”
“They didn’t say, but I think I might have been the only one to pull through in my group. From some things they said though, I’m pretty sure there were other groups that had been through the program already,” Izzy said, sliding into her chair as Anna started transferring the pile of scrambled eggs from the pan in front of her on the stove to the warm serving plate Jimmy B had wrangled for them.
The women were enjoying the luxuries of the Marigold estates. They could have taken breakfast in the Grand Dining Hall and allowed the staff to provide their meal, but they needed a certain degree of privacy to discuss the details of Izzy’s case, so they’d gathered in Anna’s suite and made breakfast for themselves.
“That’s a pretty convenient population to do shaky medical experiments on isn’t it?” Val asked. “I mean, any failures you can explain away as the disease following its natural course.”
“There are usually more thorough reviews of the patient outcomes and closer monitoring of studies like the one Isabella described,” Anna said. “I suspect this one did not follow the accepted guidelines though?”
She placed the plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, and cheeses on the table before glancing over to Tam. Tam was busy working on a laptop she’d brought to the breakfast table, and looked up at Anna’s words, taking a moment to process them.
“I’m checking Izzy’s records and there’s no listing for that study at all,” Tam said. “Of course, these records also say that she’s still receiving treatments. Not just in general, but right now, this morning.”
“I haven’t been sick in two years,” Izzy said, portioning out a generous helping of eggs and meats for herself and then preparing a plate for Jenny whose arms were occupied with Meg still.
“At least not with a conventional illness,” Anna said.
“Yeah, no offense, but you’re looking a bit weathered for a twenty two year old,” Val said.
Izzy didn’t look any worse than the night before when they’d rescued Jenny from Phil Boyers and his crew, but her features were clearly no longer those of a 22 year old. For all that though, she still looked vastly better than Phillip Boyers had as the police carted him and his men away.
Boyers had made the mistake of shooting “Jenny” on camera. That it hadn’t actually been Jenny but rather a clever illusion arranged by Tam meant the recording wasn’t evidence for a charge of “Murder in the First Degree”. The police still brought Boyers in though, and he was going to stand trial for murder due to fifteen other cases which they were able to link him to via DNA evidence and other incriminating details they acquired after someone (Tam) gave them probable cause to search his home and workplace.
“The doctors said this was normal.” Izzy managed between bites of the bacon and eggs.
“You said you heal rapidly?” Anna asked.
“Faster than you can imagine,” Jenny said. “Which is kind of a good thing I guess. Otherwise she wouldn’t be here.”
“She shot me,” Izzy explained when the other women looked at them curiously.
“To be fair, she was breaking into my apartment, and I knew Boyers was going to send someone after me,” Jenny said.
“Where did you get hit?” Val asked.
“Center torso. Two shots,” Izzy said. “I think I would have gotten one in the head too if I hadn’t recognized her in time.”
“That must have been a fun scene,” Tam said. “Why were you breaking into Jenny’s apartment though?”
“It’s messed up and complicated,” Izzy said.
“I will get the waffles going,” Anna said.
“You were working for PrimaLux, who was backing Boyers for some reason right?” Val asked.
“Yeah. I mean, not originally. Originally I was just taking part in the study. Then, right when I started to change, the study finished up.”
“That’s a good trick,” Val said. “String you along and if it looks like things are working out, threaten to take the treatment away.”
“That’s basically what they did,” Izzy said. “I mean, they said they would pay for another three months of normal hospital care so that they could monitor me for any long term impact from their study, but the protocol that I was on was going to be cut off.”
“And you weren’t cured yet, or even in remission, so they had you over a barrel,” Val said.
“At first all they wanted was for me to check into a new hospital, a private one, where they could monitor me 24/7,” Izzy said. “Then they wanted me to take part in evaluation exercises. I think that’s what working for Boyers was in a sense. I’d passed all the physical tests, but they said they had ‘behavioral effects’ to check for too.”
“They weren’t evaluating the effects of their treatment,” Anna said, making explicit what Izzy was suggesting. “They needed to see if you would do the sort of work they needed you for.”
“I thought it was supposed to be like bounty hunter work,” Izzy said. “You know, find someone who’s trying to skip out on a debt they owe, bust down their door, and make it clear that they can’t just bail on a deal like that.”
“I think Boyer had a different idea in mind,” Jenny said. “He’d already sent some of his men over to threaten me. They said if I couldn’t pay off the money we borrowed for Lewis’ operations, they’d have to find some collateral to use against me. They were looking at Meg when they said that.”
“I don’t blame you for shooting first,” Val said.
“I don’t either,” Izzy said. “I’m pretty quick now, and I came through her door like a freight train. I mean I can heal from bullet wounds but it’s not exactly fun. Didn’t matter though. I got about two steps into the room and I was on my butt with two new holes in my torso.”
“I didn’t recognize her at first,” Jenny said. “And I was scared someone else might be with her, but then it turned out that this poor woman bleeding on my floor was Izzy, and she was alone, and she wasn’t dying and nothing made sense anymore.”
“Whereas for me, everything finally made sense at that point,” Izzy said. “I let the doctors turn me into a freak and I just kept going with the flow. No matter how wrong things started to feel. I didn’t want to be Boyer’s muscle but I thought I needed the doctors to make sure the changes that were happening to me were going to be ok. I was stable, but I’d thought I was out of the woods before too and that turned out to be a bust, so it felt like just doing what I was told was the most important thing in the world. Turns out that sucking chest wounds have a knack for changing your perspective on things though.”
“We took off after that,” Jenny said. “I tried to drop Meg off with Sera to keep her safe, but it wasn’t the right time.”
“I’m so sorry about that!” Sera said. “I had no idea your situation was as bad as it was but I still should have helped you that night!”
“No, I would have gone mad if I hadn’t had Meg to look after,” Jenny said. “I’m just sorry we didn’t contact you. I was afraid if I did, Boyers would find out and try to come looking for me through you. I don’t know why I thought he wouldn’t come after you anyway.”
“You’ve been on the run for a month,” Val said. “I think you can be forgiven for not thinking too clearly under the circumstances.”
“I take it you two used Izzy’s money for rooms and food?” Tam asked, and the two women nodded. “That was smart. I don’t know if Boyers could have tracked Jenny’s accounts, and it sounds like Izzy had plenty of cash to work with?”
“Let’s say Boyers paid my salary in hard currency without technically being aware of it,” Izzy said.
“That was even smarter,” Tam said. “I’m sure the PrimaLux people were monitoring your accounts, but Boyer’s books were so crooked I don’t think even he would be able to tell if some of the cash went missing.”
“What was his plan in all this?” Val asked. “I mean he was loaning out a lot more money than a Payday loan shop should be trafficking in, and Lewis wasn’t exactly a good candidate for long term lending given the condition he was in.”
“That I do have an answer for, thanks to you and Anna picking up their actual ledgers,” Tam said. She spun her laptop around and put it in presentation mode. Financial charts filled the page, overlaying a series of spreadsheets that were open in the background.
“Am I reading these numbers right? Because I’m not just seeing a lot of big loans, I’m seeing a lot of really bad ones too,” Val said. “Boyers would have to have been an idiot to be lending like this.”
“He was, but not because of the failure of the loans,” Anna said. “Do you see these accounts here? They are all marked closed by the estate of the debtor. The amounts shown in the official report do not match the amount of the original loan balance though. I’ve seen schemes like this before. Mr. Boyers was laundering money for PrimaLux but that wasn’t enough. He was embezzling from them as well, increasing the reported loan amount and pocketing the difference between the amount his backers thought they were lending and how much the debtors received. He focused on lending to people who were likely to die before the loan was completed so that the discrepancy could be hidden in the loss when the estate wasn’t able to pay out the original loan amount.”
“I take it PrimaLux is going to find out about the embezzlement now that Boyers books are being entered as part of the charges against him?” Val asked.
“Definitely,” Tam said.
“We will want to watch what happens to Mr. Boyers. It will tell us something about how our adversaries operate,” Anna said.
“Sounds like a job for JB,” Tam said. “I think we’ve got a more urgent matter to take care of.” She nodded towards Izzy who was finishing her second plate of food.
“Yeah, somehow we’ve got to figure out how to defang a vampire,” Val said.