The Last Vampire

By J. B. Tilton and Teri Thibeault

CHAPTER ONE

Brin Aaronson checked her makeup in the mirror in her office one last time. She patted her hair into place and adjusted her breasts slightly. It suddenly occurred to her that she had no reason why she did this. Her hair was not ostensibly different and her breasts looked exactly the same. She looked at herself and decided she was presentable. She forced a smile and decided it was time to get this over with.

"You always did know how to fill out a dress. I always liked that red one."

She turned to see a man standing in the door to her office wearing a tuxedo. He was about 40, nearly ten years her senior. His appearance was impeccable as usual. She knew him of course. Harrold Beckham, her colleague and boss. Her smile faded as a look of near disgust replaced it.

"How long have you been standing there?" she asked, annoyance in her voice.

"Long enough. Gerald asked me to come get you. Most of the guests have all ready arrived. You're late again. As usual."

"I was just on my way. I'll be glad when this is over. I really detests these fundraisers."

"They aren't so bad. You just have to get used to them. And you know as well as I do that without them we'd never get the funding we need for our research."

"I know, I know," said Brianna. "Let's just go get this over with."

She walked to the door and passed Beckham. As she did he reached out and took her arm. A slight smile crossed his face. A smile she had seen countless times.

"What say we go get something to eat afterwards?" he asked. "That little restaurant you like so much?"

"You all ready know the answer to that question, Harrold." She spoke his name as if it were a thing of distaste. "Things between us are strictly professional. Nothing more."

"That's not how you felt a few weeks ago," he said, smiling slightly at her.

"That was before your little fling with that stripper," she replied. "I broke the engagement, remember? You may be my colleague and my boss but that's as far as it goes. As far as it will ever go. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get to the party."

Beckham let her go and just smiled at her. She'd come around eventually. She couldn't stay angry with him forever. Soon he'd wear her down and things would go back to the way they were.

He followed her down the steps to the large multi-purpose room. It was elaborately decorated and there were numerous tables set up around the room. On each table were charts and graphs and several books. In one corner was a serving table that held h'or devours, glasses of champagne, and an extremely beautiful flower arrangements.

The room was filled with men in tuxedos and women in elegant evening dresses. Many of the women were wearing very expensive jewelry. Several waiters and waitresses moved deftly through the crowd with serving trays. A low din permeated the entire room as dozens of conversations occurred simultaneously.

"Oh, Brin, there you are," said an older, very distinguished man standing next to a couple. They all appeared to be in their sixties and the man was waving her over to him. "Come here, Brin. I'd like you to meet the Carlson. I've told them all about you and they've been dying to meet you. Mr. and Mrs. Carlson, this is Dr. Brianna Aaronson, although she prefers to be called Brin."

"Mr. and Mrs. Carlson, it's a pleasure to meet you," said Brin. "I'm glad you could attend our little gathering tonight."

"Our pleasure," said Mr. Carlson. "From what I've heard you do some very good work here. I understand that you have been personally responsible for many breakthroughs for muscular dystrophy."

"Well, Mr. Calson, that is my field of specialty. Muscular and degenerative disorders and related blood disorders. My mother suffered from Becker Muscular Dystrophy and she eventually died from it. She was only 32. I decided I was going to do everything I could to prevent that from happening to anyone else."

"Very commendable," said Mr. Carlson. "Our most recent granddaughter was just diagnosed with muscular dystrophy so I'm sure you can understand that we've become very interested in it. And in your specific research. From what we've learned isn't it unusual for a female to exhibit symptoms for Beckers?

"Yes," said Brin. "Normally it's only the males that exhibit the symptoms. Females rarely exhibit any symptoms but they are usually carriers. My mother was one of the rare exceptions."

"It must have been dreadfully hard," said Mrs. Carter. "I can certainly imagine what you must have gone through. Our granddaughter hasn't begun to exhibit any serious symptoms yet but the doctors say it's only a matter of time. It's terrible to watch someone you love suffer with something like that and know there's nothing you can do about it."

"Then we have something in common," said Brin. "My current research is trying to identify the exact gene or gene sequence that prevents the body from properly dealing with MD. I'm very excited about the possibilities for this research although there is still a great deal of research to do."

"Brin, please," said Harrold, insinuating himself into the conversation, "I'm sure the Carlson's aren't interested in any long, boring technical explanations which they may not understand anyway. Dr. Harrold Richard Beckham III, evolutionary biologist."

"Beckham?" questioned Mr. Carter. "You're the son of Harrold Beckham, the steel magnet?"

"Guilty as charged," said Harrold, smiling at them. "I'm afraid I don't have my father's knack for business. I never did. But I've always been intrigued by science. I decided at a very young age I would be a scientist. I like to think I do a great deal of good here at the foundation. Many of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine are made right here. And, I'm happy to say, I've been responsible for many of them myself."

"Now, now, Harrold," said Gerald, "no sense in monopolizing the Carlson's time. The purpose of this fundraiser is to acquaint our guests with all of our research programs so they can best decide which one—or ones—they would like to donate to."

"Of course, Gerald," said Harrold. "Perhaps the Carlson's would be interested in seeing Dr. Heller's research into genetic degradation and regeneration? It's quite fascinating. And I'd be glad to show you to his display."

"That would be nice," said Mr. Carlson. "Dr. Aaronson perhaps we could talk with you later. As my wife said, we're very interested in your specific research."

"I'd be glad to, sir," said Brin. "And please, call me Brin."

"Very well, Brin," said Mr. Carlson. "I'll look forward to our conversation."

"Well, I'd say that before the evening's over Harrold is going to have that donation," said Brin as Harrold and the Carters moved to another table. "With his glib tongue and smooth mannerism he'll have them eating out of his hand in no time."

"Well, they did say they wanted to talk with you further," said Gerald. "And they do have a personal interest in your research. Don't count yourself out yet."

"Harrold is from old money," said Brin. "He knows how to smooze the guests. And I don't even want to be here."

"A necessary evil, I'm afraid," said Gerald. "You know that without these donations we're out of business. We don't get government funding. It's people like the Carters that help us continue what we're doing."

"Maybe," said Brin. "But each year we barely get enough to keep going. My DNA sequencer is nearly ten years old. Each year I hope to get enough to get a new one but each year I barely get enough to keep working. Sometimes I wonder if it's all worth it."

"You know good and well that it is. Look, I know how you hate these social functions. I know you'd rather be in your lab working. But we need this fundraiser. It's the largest one of the year. Just be sociable and congenial for the night and I promise I won't let Harrold hog the Carlsons."

"Don't worry. Have I ever let you down?"

"No, you haven't," said Gerald smiling at her.

Just then the door opened and two men entered the building. They brushed the newly fallen snow from their coats as an attendant offered to take the coats. The newly risen full moon shone in the sky outside the door in the distance. Brin looked at the two men. They were dressed in tuxedos, which was to be expected considering the event.

The first man was somewhat shorter than the second. He stood about average height and his brown hair was immaculately trimmed, as were his nails. He appeared to be in his late 40s or early 50s. He definitely looked like he belonged at one of these functions. He handed his coat to the attendant and then looked around the room.

The second man was taller than the first by several inches. His jet black hair and nails were also immaculately trimmed. She judged his age to be about 35, only a couple of years older than she herself was. She also noticed that he was noticeably paler than anyone else in the room. He was carrying a notebook under one arm. He whispered something in the first man's ear and pointed toward Gerald. The first man nodded and the two began to make their way to Gerald and Brin.

"Dr. Gerald Matthews?" questioned the first man. Brin noticed just the trace of a British accent in his voice.

"Yes, I'm Dr. Matthews," said Gerald. "I'm sorry. I don't recognize you."

"Draagard Scott," said the man, extending his hand to shake Gerald's. "This is my executive assistant, Carter Preston."

"Mr. Scott," said Gerald. "This is Dr. Brianna Aaronson, one of our molecular biologists."

"Please, call me Brin," said Brin. "I've always disliked the name Brianna."

"But it's such a lovely name," said Scott, kissing her hand. "A lovely name for a lovely lady. I had no idea that a molecular biologist could be so attractive. I've always envisioned them as looking something like Ernest Borgnine, not such a lovely vision that lights up the entire room."

"That would be my father," said Brin, smiling and feeling self-conscious at the same time. "And I thank you for the compliment."

"Ah, yes, Dr. William Aaronson, the noted physician and Nobel laureate for his work in chemistry," said Draagard. "I've read his research. Very impressive."

"Yes, we were quite fortunate when Brin applied to work here," said Gerald. "She's just as gifted as her father."

"I'm not sure I'd go that far," said Brin. "My father's contributions have been far greater than mine."

"I sincerely doubt that, Brin," said Draagard. He turned to Gerald and removed an envelope from his coat pocket. "Dr. Matthews, I realize I wasn't on your guest list. I'm hoping that my crashing your little party isn't too much of an inconvenience."

Gerald opened the envelope and pulled out a check. A check with enough zeroes on it that his eyes widened in astonishment.

"Certain not, Mr. Scott," said Gerald. "This is, after all, a fundraiser. Anyone willing to donate this kind of money to our research is certainly welcome."

"Draagard, please," said Draggard. "And please use that money wherever you feel it would do the most good. Don't feel that you have to apply it to any specific area. I'm sure there are any number of places it can be useful."

"That's very generous," said Gerald. "Most of our benefactors prefer to sponsor a specific field of study. I can put this money to good use, I assure you."

"I have no doubt," said Draggard. "And as a matter of fact I am interested in a specific field. If we might chat later I have a proposal I'm sure you'll find very interesting."

"A proposal?" questioned Gerald. "That sounds very intriguing. I do need to mingle with my guests for a while. I'm sure you understand. But I'll be sure to make the time for a chat."

"I appreciate it," said Draagard. "I shall look forward to it. Brin, it was a genuine pleasure to make your acquaintance. I'm sure we'll have a chance to chat later. Right now I think I'll look at your exhibits. I've always been fascinated by medical research even if I rarely understand the technical terminology."

"At your convenience, Mr., that is, Draagard," said Brin. "And I promise to try and not be too technical."

Draagard just smiled and then turned to mingle with the other guests. As he did, Carter Preston started to follow him. Brin put her hand on Preston's arm and he stopped and looked at her.

"He's very charming," said Brin.

"Yes, ma'am, he is," said Preston.

"Oh, please, don't call me ma'am," said Brin. "That makes me feel old."

"Well then, that certainly won't do," said Preston. "Draagard was right about one thing. You're a very beautiful woman. And I'd hate to think I was the cause of any discomfort you might feel."

"Thank you," said Brin, self-consciously. "Can you tell me exactly what type of research he's interested in?"

"Some genetic research the type of which this foundation is engaged in," said Preston. "I think it best if he explained it himself. So that there's no misunderstanding about exactly what he's looking for."

"I'm sorry," said Brin. "I hope I didn't cause you to betray a confidence or anything."

"Not at all," said Preston. "It's not exactly a secret. But Draagard can explain it much better than I can."

"I see," said Brin.

She glanced down at the hand that was holding the notebook. She noticed on his wrist, partially covered by the sleeve of his tuxedo, was what appeared to be a spot of sunburn. She found this decidedly odd for a man who had no tan and who was even paler than she was.

"Well, I suppose you should be getting back to him," she said. "I imagine being his executive assistant keeps you quite busy."

"That's true," said Preston. "But it's rewarding. And Draagard does pay exceedingly well. Not to mention his benefits package is unequalled by any corporation. And I get to travel all over the world. I can't say I could imagine myself doing anything else."

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Carter," said Brin.

"The pleasure was mine, Brin," said Preston. "And as you did point out, I should be joining Draagard. He can get nervous if I'm away for too long."

Brin watched as Preston walked over to where Draggard was standing. Draggard was a very handsome man. But for her money, Preston was more attractive. And his manners were just as impeccable as Draagard's. Probably from years of working for Draagard.