"We have to make pretzels for what time now?" Karl barked as he looked at his latest order printout.
"How's that?" Chris asked a little distractedly as he perused one of Karl's cookbooks.
"Goddamnit, darlin', we have to make a batch of soft pretzels for midday tomorrow. For a business lunch of all things. How the devil are we supposed to do that with no actual time to do it in?" Karl growled.
He indicated the couple of orders they'd already received for their home baking business. Each order involved complicated party spreads, both of which were urgently required for the following evening. Both orders promised several hours of work and several hundred dollars apiece for the vampires, so they knew that they couldn't ignore them.
"We'll have to buy a pretzel-making machine then if you're that worried about meeting the order," Chris said as he gnawed his lip with a worried fang. "Either that or you can just refuse to do it. You don't have to take it on."
"What? And lose a customer? We'll get bad reviews and potentially lose even more," Karl said and his eyes became narrow hazel slits. "I ain't risking our reputation for no damned soft pretzels."
"Well, buy a machine then. I did give you that option first if you'll kindly remember," Chris reminded him with a gentle laugh.
"We ain't got time to order one of those either, kid," Karl said as he dashed the order down onto the kitchen table.
"Who said anything about ordering one in?" Chris asked as he raised an eyebrow at his husband. "'Cos it certainly wasn't me."
Karl stared at his husband for a few moments before he suddenly huffed out a gruff laugh.
"All right, so you didn't mention that. So where did you mention getting one from?" he asked next.
"I didn't say anything about a location. I just said we should buy one, " Chris said with an overdramatic sigh.
He rolled his eyes at his husband and pouted before he sighed again at Karl's unimpressed expression.
"I don't know why you think we have all this time to go out goddamned shopping all of a sudden?" Karl said, his tone as gruff as his expression. "Seeing as we have to get these orders done and everything."
He gestured towards the party orders with a rough grunt, his shoulders drooped in soft defeat.
"Okay. So I shall go out and buy a damned pretzel maker. You make a start on the orders," Chris said and laughed at Karl's suddenly indignant splutter. "Unless you want to go out and get the maker, then be my guest. Saves me a job."
Karl gritted his teeth and shook his head. He then gestured in the general direction of Atlanta.
"I ain't going out there," he said with a distinct growl in his tone. "You should go."
"Should I? Well, I did make an offer first," Chris pointed out and laughed at Karl's ever-deepening scowl. "All right. So I'm going."
"Good. I don't care where you get the goddamned thing but make sure you don't buy the most expensive maker they've got," Karl said as he turned his gaze down to the orders again. "We probably won't have cause to use that pretzel maker again after tonight; it'd seem a waste to have a five hundred dollar machine sitting around doing nothing for years."
"I'm sure we'll have cause to use it again, babe, " Chris said breezily. "And it'll cut the work out of making them by hand as we've done in the past. You know much you grumble about making pretzels."
"I do not grumble," Karl grumbled. "I never do that."
A brief grin touched the corners of the broader vampire's mouth as Chris loudly spluttered in disbelief in his direction. Chris merely sighed when he caught that grin and the warmth of amusement that had settled in his husband's hazel eyes.
"All right. So I'm going. Can I get you anything else?" Chris said a little sarcastically.
"Not if you're gonna ask like that," Karl said and raised both eyebrows at a suddenly grinning Chris.
"And how would you like me to ask?" Chris said as his grin turned into a sudden laugh.
"More like the way you just asked that question," Karl said before he lifted one broad hand to forestall further comment. "And before you do anything of the sort, you could get me some steak for my pie. And some red wine. And a bag of onions."
"Anything else? Or just those hundred items?" Chris asked before he laughed at Karl's sudden glare.
"I only asked for three, damn you," Karl said as his glare turned into a scowl. "And no. I don't want anything else. Infant child. "
Chris giggled loudly at that before he went out into the foyer to fetch his keys and his jacket.
"I'm taking the Harley," Chris called back into the kitchen. "Give the old girl a ride-out for a change."
"No, you ain't. Take the Buick, " Karl called back. "There's no storage space on the Harley, numb-nuts."
Chris laughed merrily at that before he swapped one bunch of keys for another. He then waltzed out of the foyer before he made sure that the door was firmly shut and locked behind him.
Karl heard the distinctive purring rumble of the Buick's engine a few minutes later and, as he shook his head over his husband's perpetual good humour, he grinned.
Chris made his way through the crowds that thronged Underground Atlanta, the shopping centre that spanned its way beneath the Atlanta streets. He hummed tunefully to himself as he stopped outside a used electrical appliances store. He checked the signs on the window, all of which stated that the 'items were at supernaturally low prices.' Chris smiled to himself over the proclamations; he knew that Karl would not complain about low prices, supernatural or otherwise. He made his way inside and, once he'd attracted the attention of one of the store assistants, asked for a pretzel-making machine.
"We've just had one come in, sir. You're in luck," the server said cheerfully.
He then gestured for Chris to follow him before the vampire was shown to the section in question. The pretzel-making machine looked almost new to Chris' attentive eye and he nodded at the attached price tag that stated the maker was $10.
"I'll take it," he said firmly. "There's nothing wrong with it, is there? In that, I mean it won't short out and burn my house down?"
"I can assure you that all necessary checks have been performed on it," the assistant assured him cheerfully enough. "It's just house clearance stuff, you know. The guy who owned it previously died a while back and no one in his family needed it. Hence why we've got it."
"Okay," Chris said as he plucked the pretzel machine up from the shelf. "Sounds fair enough to me."
"Most people would be put off from buying items from a dead man," the assistant said with a laugh as he led Chris back to the till.
"I'm not most people," Chris said with a close-lipped smile. "As I said, all I'm concerned about is its safety."
He didn't mention the fact that he, too, could be classed as a dead man.
"Yes, you said," the assistant said with an amicable nod. "That'll be $10 - unless there's anything else you need?"
"Not right now, thanks. Maybe another time," Chris said with a shrug.
He handed the assistant the required money before he walked out of the store whistling happily, with the pretzel maker tucked firmly under his arm. He stopped only once more to pick up the few baking goods that Karl had requested before he headed back home.
"So how much was it?" Karl asked as he eyed Chris' new culinary purchase dubiously. "You didn't empty the bank to buy it, did you?"
"As if. I spent $10 on it," Chris said with a rough snort before he told his husband all that the store assistant had told him. "They weren't joking about supernaturally low prices, you know."
"Is that what they said?" Karl asked with a gruff laugh. "Funny way of putting it, isn't it?"
"Yes, but it makes you remember it, doesn't it? Clever marketing," Chris said with an over-stated slow nod.
He tapped the side of his nose and winked at his husband who merely rolled his eyes.
"If you say so," Karl grumbled. "Now how do we get this thing to work exactly?"
Over the next half an hour, the vampires worked diligently to make the pretzel machine work. They only stepped back once they were satisfied that the batch of pretzel dough they'd made was safely inside and seemingly cooking.
"Now all we have to do is wait," Karl said bur he didn't look happy at the prospect of doing even that.
"Won't be too long, babe," Chris said confidently. "At least from now on, it'll make life easier. We should have done this before."
He nodded towards the pretzel maker to further illustrate his point.
"I guess, but if this turns everything we make to shit and the customer ain't happy, I'm blaming you personally," Karl said as he gave his husband a jaundiced glare.
Chris just laughed in his face. A grin twitched at the corners of Karl's mouth despite his best efforts to hide it.
The pretzels turned out as beautifully as either vampire could have hoped for, and, satisfied, they packaged the batch up ready for collection by the courier in the morning.
"We'll just have to leave it in our usual safe place, ready for collection," Karl said with a dissatisfied grumble.
Chris just nodded and continued with putting together one of their party orders.
The following evening, Chris and Karl returned to Hensen House after a trip into Atlanta proper; they'd had to send their latest batches of food off via courier to their respective customers as well as catch a meal for themselves. As soon as they entered the foyer, they smelt the distinctive scent of bread cooking.
"What the devil is that?" Karl asked in alarm as he began to cross the foyer in great strides.
Chris, also alarmed, closed and locked the front door before he followed swiftly in Karl's wake. He reached the kitchen a few moments after his husband had; the smell of cooking was stronger there and both vampires recognised the scent as belonging to baking pretzels.
"What's going on, Karly-bear? Who's there? We didn't leave anything in the oven, did we?" Chris asked as he tried to peer around his husband's body.
Karl still blocked the doorway and as such, Chris only had a limited view of the room beyond.
"Like hell we did, darlin'. We haven't done any baking since last night; the house would have burned down in the interim," Karl pointed out even as he stepped away from the doorway. "I think you should see this, anyway."
"See what?" Chris asked as he finally was able to peer inside the kitchen.
An amorphously spectral figure of a man was inside, and he stood at the pretzel-making machine; he appeared to be going through the motions of making pretzels. The vampires watched as the man lifted an equally transparent lid and took a freshly baked batch of ghostly pretzels out. The figure swapped the baked ones for fresh dough before he closed the lid to the machine. The smell of cooking continued for a few moments more, before the vision of the man, and the scent of attendant cooking disappeared as though they had never been there at all.
"Again, what the devil is that?" Karl asked into the stunned silence left behind.
"I think we've got ourselves a baking ghost, babe," Chris said and giggled uproariously.
"Well, you couldn't sound more happy about it if you tried, " Karl remarked dryly.
"Well, isn't it great?" Chris asked as he made his way into the kitchen.
Karl didn't answer; instead, he watched Chris navigating his way around the kitchen table. Chris stopped only when he had reached the pretzel-making machine and stared inside it. As expected the machine was cold and free of pretzels. He looked up at Karl when the other vampire finally joined him and they exchanged grins and shrugs.
"Where did you say you'd bought it from again?" Karl asked as he rested one hand against one half of the cold pretzel maker.
Chris then told him the tale again, complete with where the maker had originally come from; he once again reminded his husband of the sign on the window that had stated they carried supernaturally low prices.
"Supernaturally low prices indeed. And I guess you're going to suggest that the ghost we just saw was the ghost of the man who died," Karl said with a slight harrumph.
"No doubt as to who else it could have been," Chris said breezily. "Face it, Karl. We have a haunted pretzel maker."
"Well, as long as he doesn't harm us, or try and take over any of our goddamned businesses then I don't give a shit," Karl harrumphed as he turned away.
"As soon as that happens, that thing is going back to the shop. It's not as though this is the worst thing that's happened to us," Chris assured him confidently. "There's probably loads of haunted shit like that in that shop, hence the sign."
He then gestured towards the pretzel maker with an amused expression on his face. Karl merely grunted before he abruptly made his way out of the kitchen.
"Karly-bear? Where are you going?" Chris asked as he followed in his husband's footsteps.
"Upstairs. I'm getting changed, then we're relaxing in front of the TV for a change," Karl said over his shoulder. "That satisfy you?"
"Very much, thank you kindly," Chris said brightly.
Karl's only response was to suddenly grin over one shoulder even as he began climbing the stairs. Chris returned the grin even though Karl was destined never to see it and soon followed in his husband's footsteps. They reached their bedroom and soon changed into more comfortable clothing before they spent a few hours in front of the TV, to watch a handful of DVDs.
Over the next few months, Chris and Karl were habitually visited by the ghost of the pretzel-maker owner. They stumbled upon him unexpectedly in the kitchen at odd times, usually after they'd been out; each visit was preceded by the distinctive smell of baking pretzels. Neither Chris nor Karl were overly bothered by the visitations; the ghostly man had yet to make a move to either harm them or interfere with their daily lives. Instead, they treated each ghostly visit as though it was a normal occurrence.
In time, the visitations faded away, until they were left with only the pretzel-making machine itself and their memories of what had happened.
"Guess that must be the end of it," Karl said with a shrug.
"Guess so. Seems a pity that he's not going to be here anymore," Chris said with a heavy sigh. "I was kinda getting used to him peacefully baking away."
"So was I, in a way," Karl admitted with a gruff laugh. "But it's better now with just the two of us."
"Indeed," Chris agreed vehemently. "Wonder why he went, though?"
"Perhaps his job here was finished, whatever that mysterious task was," Karl said with a shrug. "Perhaps he liked us. Hell, perhaps he just wanted to make sure we were using his equipment properly."
"Goddamned cheek of the bastard," Chris said in feigned indignation. "I'll have him know we've been baking for over two hundred years."
"I doubt he knew that and it won't do him much good where he is at any rate," Karl pointed out and laughed. "It's too late to be worrying about shit like that anyway. He's gone, we're alone and we have a shit load of orders to fill."
"Pretzels, by any chance?" Chris asked dryly.
"As it happens, I think we do," Karl replied with a sudden grin. "Some German family in Savannah want a reminder of their home. So they asked us to do it for them."
"Did they now?" Chris asked and looked visibly unimpressed by the news. "Well, we can't promise them anything that good; they'll just have to deal with our very best."
"That's all anyone can expect from us. We ain't had any complaints so far, have we?" Karl asked gruffly.
"Well, not many; those who have complained were obviously aiming to stir up trouble," Chris said with a shrug. "Bastards."
Karl's only response was to throw a cheerfully wicked grin at his husband before he strode over to the sink to wash his hands. Chris laughed and waited his turn to make sure his hands were as clean as possible, before the two vampires set to work on filling their orders for the night.