"Ah, Friend Trowbidge, I swear I will die of thirst in the next five minutes if I do not get a drink!"
The petite Frenchman had laid his slippers by the fire, and I indulged him, breaking out a bottle of Canadian rye and filling two snifters on the small table between us. He reached out for the glass absently while staring into the fire, and picked up mine by mistake. The little fellow realized his error immediately, and set it down closer to my side, then took up his own drink.
"A thousand apologies, my friend! I would leave you parched while I down all of your fleeting store of ambrosia!" So saying he drank deeply from his glass, and smacked his lips in satisfaction. My own hand trembled a little as I followed suit—and drank perhaps more quickly than is my usual wont, for it seemed to go to my head almost immediately.
"Ah, mon ami." His permanent guest said. "It was a difficult case. Long will the horror of this night stay with me—though I am glad that the monster was vanquished at last, like the others, the human price of such things does weigh upon me."
"The others?" I said, feeling delightfully warm and drowsy as the fire and alcohol did their work.
"But of course, the others. This is not the first vampire we have vanquished together, my friend. Non! We are veritable fiends to the undead who plague us here... I oft wonder if it is not I that attract them; some sympathetic vibration from my soul. Certainly, wherever I have traveled there has been evil to fight. So I settled here, and now I need not seek it out, for it soon finds me! Yes there may be something in that..." he let the sentence trail off, then placed his empty glass next to mine. "Another whisky please. This so-fine Canadian red, it is not brandy or champagne, but it warms the blood which has been chilled."
I shuddered, involuntarily. The memories of the night were still too fresh, the young boy's broken body, what mercy he had given the girl before he had done what was necessary with knife and wooden stake...yet already a the images of only a few hours before had a kind of dreamlike quality. I shook my head as to clear it, and poured a few more fingers of ruddy liquid into the glasses. My friend held his glass up for a toast, and the crystal clinked before we took our next sips together.
"The one thing that troubles me," I said after a while. "You say this is not the first vampire we have faced together...and I know you have traveled around the world and had all sorts of adventures, delved deep into the dark underbelly of life, the supernatural and all that, and I know we've had a few queer cases here in Harrisonville, yet...yet..." I found I could not finish the thought.
"Yet you do not recall the specifics." The Frenchman finished. "Though you wrack your brains. Yes. It is the hypnotic I secreted in your drink. Combined with the alcohol, it will induce a state of retrograde amnesia. You will sleep deep tonight, and remember nothing in the morning. As always."
He must have seen the look I shot him, and his pale blue eyes met mine steadily, despite the alcohol he had consumed. "It is better this way, mon ami. You are a creature of science, logic, reason; for you are the horrors of the birthing-chamber and the death-certificate. Such mundanity, such skepticism, I need it, yes. Indeed. Nom d'un porc! I could not function otherwise, if you became a mere acolyte in occultism. Many times have I thought to leave, if only to spare you further horrors—but failing that, I say to myself 'What can I do?' and I say: 'I can spare him at least the memory of such things. To seal over the scars of the mind, while they are yet fresh, and let them heal. Yes.' and so that is what I have done...and will do again."
A flash of anger sparked inside me, and I half-rose from my chair. "Now see here..."
"No, my friend." The Frenchman said, and laid his small hand on my wrist. "Do not be angry. What I have done, it is not just for you, but for myself also. It is selfish of me, yes, but when I think of all those innocent ones that I could not save...I would save you, at least."
The sincerity in his voice defeated me, and I collapsed back down. Languor already seemed to settle into my limbs, a bone-weariness that spoke of physical exertions that were already growing hazy in my mind. "How often?" I asked, after a long while. "How many times?"
"Fifteen or sixteen times, I think. It is not always necessary. I preserve it for cases of...lasting horror." The Frenchman flicked an eyebrow. "You remember only four or five such cases, yes? Frauds, fakes, murderers, certainment, but no vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or anything like that. No," he sighed, and his eyes looked far away. "You do not remember the great serpent I cleaved in the Château de Broussac, or the noxious count whose century of horror I ended with my sword-stick, or the victims of the blood-flower and that terrible business with the white lady of the orphanage...no, it were better this way."
"Another whiskey please, Friend Trowbridge. Then we must to bed. You to your dreamless sleep, and I to my nightmares—the only respite from which I have is that I have spared you the same."