“Malcolm, your 9 o’clock is ready,” Natasha said.
“Refi?” I said.
“Yes, single borrower, well-dressed, unmarried.” Natasha sighed, paused, and returned to the front reception area of Inglethorpe & Cavendish.
My office was tucked away on the third floor of a three story building that was nestled between two 12 story high rises on Elm Street. Mr. Inglethorpe arrived precisely at 10 am everyday. Mr. Cavendish, on the other hand, usually stumbled onto the golf course by 10 am but always arrived by 1 pm, stinking of gin. The partners’ respective arrivals were the best way to track time at Inglethorpe & Cavendish; that is, next to using a reliable watch. The building has no windows.
I put on my suit jacket, wound my pocket watch, and walked to the elevator.
“Thank you, Natasha.”
She nodded upwardly in my direction and continued typing an email.
I took the elevator to the second floor. I walked toward the large conference room, the first one on the right. I knocked twice with a light rap on the door and went in.
As I entered, a man dressed in a custom-made three-piece suit had just stood up. He had styled blonde hair, pale skin, and a magnificent, well-manicured mustache that covered his entire mouth.
“Good morning, Mr. Sharpe,” he said.
“Good morning, Mr. . . . “ I looked down at the photocopy of the driver’s license Natasha had made for me. It rested on top of the file folder. “ . . . Bridges.”
“Yes, John Mark Bridges the Seventh.”
“Shall we begin?” I said, gesturing for him to sit. He sat in the leather conference room chair at the far end of the table. I sat at the opposite end. I was taken aback by Mr. Bridges’s lineage—I had never met a “VII.” I hoped the pretentiousness that often accompanies such a name wouldn’t complicate the transaction too much.
Refinances like this one take about a half-hour. A client comes into the office, we review a closing disclosure together, the client signs a stack of loan documents, and we part ways.
“Ah, this is the Heptinstall house," I said.
“Yes, it’s the Heptinstall Estate,” he said. He dabbed his mouth with a silk handkerchief.
The Heptinstall house was a mansion nestled back in the most expensive neighborhood in town. The house was built in the 1920s and was rumored to be haunted.
“Are you the one who renovated it?” I asked.
“Yes. Well, my father, John Mark Bridges the Sixth, and I coordinated the renovation.”
The way Mr. Bridges was dressed led me to believe that neither he nor his father got their hands dirty in the renovation. They likely paid someone else, and paid through the nose, to renovate that rundown chateau.
“Mr. Bridges, you’ll be getting $1,498,520.00 three business days from today,” I explained. The Heptinstall Estate had appraised at an even $2,000,000.00 and Mr. Bridges was cashing out.
Bridges sat up in his chair and quickly straightened his tie. “Yes, I, I mean, my father paid cash for the house. It was in bad shape. We fixed it up quite nicely,” he said.
“There’s no need to explain, Mr. Bridges,” I said, raising my hand in a gesture that signified the legality of the transaction.
Scanning the deed in file, I saw that John Mark the Sixth had transferred the property to John Mark the Seventh two years ago.
“Where is your father, now, Mr. Bridges?”
“My father? Oh, of course. He passed away about a year ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Bridges dabbed his mouth again with his handkerchief.
“Are you alright, Mr. Bridges?”
“Yes. I had some dental work done this morning.”
As we proceeded through the paperwork, Mr. Bridges didn’t say much. He nodded here, said “yes” there, and signed his name everywhere I asked him to sign. But every few minutes, he dabbed his mouth like before.
“What dentist was open at this early hour?” I asked.
“Dentist? Oh, of course. There’s one just down the street who saw me early this morning.”
There are no dentists on Elm Street and no respecting professional sees a client before 8 am.
Bridges pointed to a painting of a Parisian café with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. “Mr. Sharpe, may I ask, did you select this painting for this room?”
“No, Mr. Cavendish commissioned a local artist to paint it.”
“It’s magnificent. I’ve never seen it before. It’s a one of a kind, then?”
“Yes, Mr. Cavendish asked the artist to travel to Paris. She painted it on location.”
“Vibrant, to be sure. My namesake, John Mark Bridges the First, lived in Paris for a time.”
“That must have been quite some time ago.”
“246 years, to be exact. That’s when he was born.” Bridges dabbed his mouth again. He unfolded the handkerchief and refolded it in upon itself. As he did, I saw that he had been dabbing blood from his mouth.
“So, was he in Paris during the French Revolution?”
“Yes. He was in the Plaza for Marie Antoinette’s decapitation. When she said, ‘Qu'ils mangent de la brioche,’ she was talking about him. And others of course. He was part of the movement, I mean. He went by Jean Marc Du Pont before he fled to London.”
“What’s wrong with your mouth?”
“The dentist must have nicked my lip when he did my root canal.”
Root canals take at least an hour. He didn’t go to the dentist this morning.
“And, John Mark the Third lived through the New York Fire of 1835,” he continued.
“I’m not familiar with the New York Fire.”
“It happened in December of 1835. The city was growing too fast and public works couldn’t keep up with the expansion. A coal furnace burst a gas line and BAM!” Bridges slammed his left hand down on the table. His left hand had long, sharp fingernails which contrasted with the well-manicured nails of his writing hand.
“When people die in fires,” he continued, “it’s usually from the initial smoke inhalation. The fumes burn their lungs out and they stop breathing. And as they lie, their blood boils, but they are already dead,” Bridges furrowed his brow.
“Was John Mark the Third a fireman?”
“Oh, no, he was an investor, like me.”
“What do you invest in?”
“Nowadays, I’m an angel investor. But my father cut his teeth on Wall Street, like nearly all of the John Marks before him.”
“How did you end up in the South, then?”
“Wall Street went dry. We needed a change. We lost a lot in the crash.”
“2008 was a bad one.”
“Yeah, you should have seen ’29. That was the worst.”
“Yeah, back then, there were no regulations and no safety measures—no SEC, no Dodd-Frank, nothing. It was bad. People lost millions in seconds. Some investors jumped off of buildings—they couldn’t take it. Cops didn’t clean up the mess for days—piles of flesh and bone, blood everywhere, just drying up. A real shame.” He dabbed blood from his mouth again.
I notarized the last form and concluded the transaction.
“How would you like to receive your proceeds ”
“OK. Look for it on Friday.”
We stood up at the same time and I showed him to the door.
“May I use your facilities?”
“Of course. Down the hall on the left.”
As he left the conference room, his skin looked paler than it had at the top of the hour. Perhaps it was a trick of the building’s unnatural, windowless light. Maybe it was the aroma from the bakery wafting up from the first floor, making him a bit peckish.
Once he was out of earshot, I grabbed the papers and returned them to the file. Down the hall, I heard a crash. I jumped up and knocked the file to the floor, papers flying everywhere.
“Mr. Bridges? Are you alright?” I asked, running out into the hall.
The hall, normally well lit, was completely dark. But down the way, I could see Mr. Bridges’s silhouette. As he turned his head my way, his eyes looked like a stray cat’s at midnight, glowing.
His shadow faded. His cat’s eyes followed.
I stood frozen. A few moments later, I heard a blood-curdling scream from the third floor. I sprinted up the steps to the third floor and burst into the reception area.
“A bat!” Natasha screamed, “There’s a bat in the building!”
“Where is it?” I asked.
“I don’t know! It flew that way,” she said, pointing down the hall to the far end of the building. Natasha soothed her hyperventilation by breathing into a brown paper bag.
The elevator pealed and Mr. Inglethorpe entered. He had the Bridges file in his hands.
“Mr. Sharpe, please do not leave client matters strewn about the conference room.” He handed the file to me with an indignant push. His monocle obscured the stare of his right eye, but not the angry gaze of his left.
“But Mr. Inglethorpe, there’s a bat in the building.”
Inglethorpe straightened his suit. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a fuse to replace,” he said. He stomped off and continued his monologue in a semi-audible mumble.
I returned to my office to complete the file. Mr. Inglethorpe had organized the papers for me. The deed by which Mr. Bridges took title was on top of the rest of the documents. I inspected the signature line of the deed and compared it to the signature on the loan documents. Mark VI and Mark VII had identical signatures.
I’m sure if I had searched the news over the next week, I’d probably find a strange story or two—perhaps a homeless man or a missing person found exsanguinated in an alley. Or, maybe if I kept my eyes peeled, I’d see more lost dog flyers on power poles than usual. I was equally sure that if I had traced one John Mark Bridges back to the early 1800s, I’d find the same signature on anything any of the John Marks had signed. Jean Marc Du Pont, John Mark Bridges the Seventh, and every John Mark in between were in fact the same man. And that man was a vampire.
Then, the bat flew into my office. He perched a top my high shelf on the far side. I’d never seen a bat that close up before and never one with a well-manicured mustache. I wheeled my chair a few feet over, loosened a ceiling title open, and waved my hand in a welcoming gesture. Mr. Bridges flew into the ceiling, ostensibly to await nightfall, and I hoped this was the last time he would require my services. But it wasn’t.