The New Look

1 Conversation


The first meeting with new clients was
always tricky. Harliman smiled across the conference room table at the
odd duo, mildly distracted by the flicker of the strip lights in the
room. It would have been less of a problem had they been able to have
the blinds open, but the lawyer had been absolutely insistent about

Rennock was smiling steadily back at
him, but there was a slightly glazed look to the man's expression, as
though the whole thing was either vaguely embarrassing or against his
better judgment. The man's employer sat – for want of a better word
– in the seat next to him, apparently completely ignoring Harliman.
His head jerked and quested about as he looked around the room, fixated
on – well, it was hard to tell with the curtains of hair obscuring most
of his face. Occasionally he hissed and gurgled to himself or drummed
his fingers on the table. His fingernails were leaving marks in the
varnish, Harliman noted wearily.

'Okay, run this past me again,' Harliman
said. 'From what I understand, your employer is from one of the richest
and most famous lineages in Europe, so frankly I don't really see why
he needs a publicist.'

'Yes, that's true,' Rennock said. 'However,
we have become very, very concerned about the family's image. In a recent
poll of the general public, 78% were of the opinion my employer should
be staked through the heart and-stroke-or decapitated, 19% believed
he should be shot with silver ammunition and incinerated, and the other
3% favoured his being impaled on a crucifix and left to spontaneously
combust in the rays of the dawning sun. Mr Feratu found these sentiments
very hurtful.'

'Mortal scum just don't understand, is
very difficult for me,' hissed Mr Feratu. A feral eye flashed somewhere
behind the greasy veil.

Harliman leant back in his seat, partly
because he wanted to look wise and relaxed, partly because Mr Feratu's
breath was so fetid it could stun a gargoyle. 'I see,' he said.

'Castle needs renovating. Children of
the night all off appearing in wildlife documentaries,' Mr Feratu said,
unable to hide the bitterness in his voice. 'And virgins in local village?
Not make me laugh! All gone off to west, pole dancers now.' He spat
and a brownish liquid streak appeared across the tabletop. Harliman
made a mental note to warn the cleaner to wear her biohazard suit again.

'In short,' said Rennock, 'my employer
believes that his public profile is in need of some attention.'

'I becoming joke. Everyone hate me,'
Mr Feratu said, not entirely coherently.

'I can see how that would be a problem
for someone of your standing,' Harliman said. 'I've got a few ideas
already. Perhaps it would be best if Mr Feratu told us his dream scenario?
What would be ideal, for him?'

'I'm sorry?' Rennock said.

'Well, what does he want out of life?'

'Life?' Mr Feratu's croak sounded bemused.
'That finish in 1476.'

'Okay, okay,' Harliman said carefully,'
what do you want out of whatever mode of existence it is that you're
currently pursuing?'

'Ahhhhh - ' Harliman fought the urge
not to press himself back into his seat too obviously, wondered if he
really could see the cheese plant in the corner wilting in the blast
– 'Why you not say so in first place? Stupid mortal wretch.'

'Sir,' Rennock murmured mildly.

'Hkkk,' Mr Feratu said. 'All I want is
freedom to ravage bodies of virgins, gorge myself on their blood and
sate my other unnatural appetites. Is too much to ask?'

'No, not at all,' Harliman said. Idly
he thought Mr Feratu should probably have gone to one of the agencies
specialising in handling politicians, as this would've been more up
their street, but there was no way he was going to turn away a client
with the vast treasures of ancient Wallachia tucked away in his basement.
'Well, I think your main problem is one of presentation. I don't see
any insuperable problems with your core beliefs, but... it's a big ask
to expect the public to listen to them as things currently stand.'

'Go on,' Rennock sounded cautiously interested.

'Okay,' Harliman said, leaning forward
and warming to his theme. 'Here's what I have in mind. A haircut, some
serious work with a manicurist, maybe some elocution lessons and a very
long session with a dental hygienist.'

'Hygiene? I go out in rain at least once,
twice a century. Whether need it or not.'

'Whatever. And, okay, I appreciate your
attachment to the old rotting graveclothes and velvet cape look, that
kind of thing never goes out of fashion, but it's the 21st century,
guys. Let's try something new. Let's just give it a whirl, see what
takes off.'

Rennock looked at Mr Feratu. 'It can't
hurt to at least try, master.'

Mr Feratu made a doubtful growl. 'Maybe,
but no flies for you if it make me look stupid.'

'Okay, great. I'll start setting things
up for you guys,' Harliman said, jumping to his feet. He shook hands
warmly with the lawyer and danced back quickly as Mr Feratu glared savagely
at him. 'See you soon! Take care!'

He watched the two of them make their
way across the office, the lawyer holding up a large black umbrella
to shield Mr Feratu from the windows. They seemed completely oblivious
to the secretarial staff recoiling, fainting, and in a couple of cases
shrieking and running for the dubious safety of the stationery cupboard.
He supposed you got used to people acting weird when you were royalty.


It was with an inevitable sense of professional
pride that Harliman met with Mr Feratu and his lawyer again, a few weeks

'Gee, you know, most people just don't
appreciate what it's like to exist the way I do, to be cut off from
humanity, to watch everyone wither and die so quickly,' Mr Feratu said
mournfully. He flicked his ponytail back artfully and the light glinted
on his ear-ring. 'I get so lonely. I just want to find someone who understands
me. Maybe... maybe you could be the one?'

Despite himself Harliman felt a surge
of unaccustomed emotion. He cleared his throat quickly. 'Wow, I'm impressed.
Even if I do say so myself.'

Mr Feratu stopped looking so sorrowful
and grinned at him. He smoothed down his leather jacket and retook his
seat. 'Thanks a bunch, Harliman.'

'You've really entered into the spirit
of this, Mr Feratu.'

Mr Feratu acknowledged the compliment,
shrugged. 'Well, you know, you gotta move on, right? And the kind of
action I'm getting now, man, you wouldn't believe.'

'I probably wouldn't,' Harliman said

'You don't think this sunblock makes
me a bit too... glittery?'

'No, the chicks'll love it,' Harliman
said. 'No problems at all, then?'

'Well, I find I gotta spend all my time
hanging around high schools now, which is a pain in the neck – if you'll
pardon the expression.' Mr Feratu grinned brightly. 'But I can get my
head round that.'

'Mr Feratu is extremely pleased,' Rennock
concluded, somewhat redundantly.

'You know, I'm thinking of changing my
name to something a bit more, you know, now-ish,' Mr Feratu said. 'Something
non-threatening like Eric or Edwa – '

'Sir, think of the copyright infringement
situation,' Rennock said warningly.

'Guess you're right. Good thinking, Rennock,
extra rats for you tonight.'

'Very kind, sir.'

'Well, it looks like we're done here,
then,' Harliman said happily.

'I still can't believe it,' Mr Feratu
said, shaking his head in amazement. 'A haircut, a change of clothes,
some mints, and now everyone loves me! I got young virgins begging me
to ravage their bodies and drink their blood.'

'Which you do.'

'Hell yeah!' Mr Feratu frowned. 'Why
wouldn't I?'

'Well, quite,' Harliman said. 'And, of
course, now they get to enjoy it as much as you.'

'I wouldn't go that far. Anyway, you're
a miracle worker, my man,' Mr Feratu said, bumping fists with Harliman
and heading for the door, followed by the lawyer. 'How'd you do it?'

'You have your secrets, we have ours,'
Harliman said. 'Take care now.'

He sat down at the table and glanced
through his notes, dimly aware of Mr Feratu's progress across the outer
office by the oohs and sighs and cooing noises being made by the secretaries
as he went. Another satisfied customer. After a while there was a slightly
diffident knock at the door and someone came in. Harliman looked up
and smiled welcomingly.

'Ah, Baron! Now, I've been thinking about
how best to market this organ donor scheme of yours...'


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