Prologue

Prologue.

The year was 1928. The city was New York. Slicing through a heavy mist of cigarette smoke and sweat was the tinny, rat - twitter sound of a badly tuned piano being pummelled to death in the corner of a vast, opulent theatre, bursting at the proverbial seams with hordes of the richest people in town. For a moment, their eyes were directed towards the stage – small, yet nourished by light that illuminated a girl, dancing and singing in its centre. She shimmied, her bright red hair shining like a bell under the soft glow of the footlights, her string of pearls that slouched around her neck swinging from side to side every time she moved, neatly slapping her in the face as she jumped up and down in breathless, youthful spasms of energy.

She stopped for a moment to watch the crowd of affluent New Yorkers (mostly men, but with a few women lingering beside their beaus, or cynically bitching in the peripheries sipping martinis) mingle with the rest of the beautiful people that packed the hall, each contemplating whether they are more beautiful than the next beautiful person who will, beautifully, cheat on another who will undoubtedly and with a degree of style steal all their money that will be used to pay for a house in Long Island which will host more and more parties than anyone will be able to shake a stick at.

They're all so vacuous, the girl thought to herself as she danced to the tinny strains of a jazz standard. I just hope their veins aren't as empty as their personalities.

After receiving peals of rather rowdy applause, accompanied by a smattering of cat - calls, jeers and rather unflattering remarks, the dancer slunk back to her dressing room. When she arrived there, she slumped out on her chaise longue and managed to regain a sense of vigour after a brief rest.

"Miss Rauschenberg," said a thin voice from behind the door. "Ah, I have something for you."

"Come in," the dancer purred. "I've been expecting you. Of course, you weren't expecting me, but I think I felt your presence when I was dancing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you the man in the green blazer?"

"Err, no, Miss Rauschenberg," the voice faltered as the man slowly opened the dressing room door.

"Nevertheless," she sighed, "you brought me flowers! What a wonderful, clichéd gesture for a man to pose for me. And yet, they're so beautiful. Very artistic, very modern, very August."

"Thank – thank you, Miss Rauschenberg. Put them in ice water, it'll help them last longer in this heat." There was a slight undercurrent of a clipped British accent in the man's prevalently New York raised tone.

"Ah yes, heat…" She sighed and brushed her hair nonchalantly, looking at the reflection of this haplessly romantic, chocolate brown - eyed klutz that she just happened to encounter backstage at the Follies. He was wonderful. Even though she'd known him for the space of three minutes, she already knew that his heart was in the right place. It was a shame she also had an incurable urge to drain him of all his life essence.

"Please, call me Ingrid – Greta," she shrugged.

"Can I call you Ingrid?" the man smiled wryly.

"Do not even approach me if you will insist on calling me that!"

He whimpered, wondering what mess he'd got himself into this time.

"It just - it sounds too messy, too incomplete for a refined taste such as mine. You see," she cleared her throat. "There is, as there is with everything, my darling, a story behind this. It is not just my own vanity, although that is part of the problem. My mother was called Ingrid. She didn't want to bestow me with such a name, though she loved it so. I would have been Ingrid Rauschenberg the Second if it weren't for my aunt on my father's side. 'Call her Greta', she'd say. 'It suits the little pie – faced Hell's spawn better than Ingrid.' So my mother and father made a compromise. They said that we would hyphenate the names, for piece of mind regarding my draconian, yet, I must add, rather endearing in spite of this, aunt, who will never forget the day when mama said – 'well, we'll have to do something to calm Astrid down. She won't be able to keep her bun in a knot if we just settle on Ingrid.' So there is my story, as it was told back in Sweden."

He raised a quizzical eyebrow at this far - fetched story that seemed oddly believable in Ingrid - Greta's case. "Although, not in Swedish, I gather."

"Exactly," she shouted. "I wouldn't want to confuse you."

The tall, nervous, dark haired man slowly backed away from Ingrid's mirror. "I'll leave the flowers right there," he said, pointing towards a small sink.

"No, don't leave just yet!" Ingrid – Greta raised her already loud voice in booming protest. "You haven't told me your name! What is your name?" She stood up and held the man in a tight and rather suggestive embrace.

"Flannery," he said, his voice muffled by the stifling and mountainous layers of Ingrid – Greta's chiffon dress that were, slowly but surely, obstructing his mouth. "Jim Flannery," he squawked, managing to break away from Ingrid – Greta's tight lock. "You know, if you see a girl, a lovely girl called Emma – brunette, wears a velvet dress - over by Grand Central Station waiting for me tonight, don't tell her I was here in the dressing room with you…" Desperation seemed to crush Jim's vocal cords further down the line of his confession. "Please don't let her find out who I bought these flowers for… Hey!" A look into Ingrid – Greta's quickly dilating pupils, then a glance at a pair of her rapidly elongating canine teeth, caused beads of sweat to run down Jim's face in a rather unflattering manner.

"Oh, you won't hear much of her any more," she cooed. "Maybe in a few weeks, you might. But not tonight."

Promptly, Ingrid – Greta wrestled today's victim to the ground, stripped him in a manner that was neither threatening nor alluring, but somewhere confusingly in between the two for Jim, and worked her way to the jugular. She didn't want the bite to last that long, and she certainly didn't want to turn the hapless bastard – she didn't want to do a careless job of screwing his brains out without killing him afterwards, and she could smell something in him that needed to be devoured in the most convenient and unassuming way possible.

Abruptly, she leaned over, opening her mouth and reaching for the jugular. Ignoring a few little whimpers of protest on Jim's behalf, Ingrid – Greta hunched over Jim's weak body and dug her long, sharp fingernails into his soft flesh. She began to slaver, as the strength from Jim's life essence became more potent as it was absorbed through her hands. While Ingrid – Greta developed rather a healthy glow during this process, Jim grew pale, his eyes turned from chocolate brown to a lighter, unhealthy yellow like the colour of uncooked egg yolk. As soon as Ingrid – Greta saw that Jim had become weak and powerless she grinned menacingly, leaning sharply over his stripped body to bite into his chest. It didn't take too long to drain the rest of his life essence, and she definitely didn't want this to last any longer – it wasn't her style to play with her food when she had that insatiable urge to kill. Not at this late stage in the night, anyway.

As if this were an everyday occurrence, which it most probably was for her, Ingrid – Greta went about her business arranging the bouquet in a suitable vase almost as soon as she had devoured the innocent blood of a casual fan. In the space of half an hour, she had left her dressing room and was walking back to her apartment in the sultry August heat.