"Ms. Hartlace?" Jenny called over the intercom. "There's a gentleman here to see you."
Senior Editor Agatha Hartlace put her mah-jongg game on pause and finished crunching a mouthful of Skittles before she replied with, "Does he have an appointment, Jennifer?"
"No, ma'am, but--"
This is what she got for controlling her department overhead with dregs from the intern pool. "Is he John Grisham?"
"No ma'am but his business card says that he's T.V. Smythe senior vice president of the legal division of a company called VLAD." Jenny finally ran out of breath.
Agatha had never heard of VLAD, but boutique book packagers had been flooding the market lately. "All right, send him in." Her elbow bumped the half-empty bag of Skittles, spilling candy on the floor around her chair. As she bent over to grab a handful before the ten-second rule expired, she did not see the cloud of white smoke seep in under the door, or how it solidifed into a person.
"Ms. Hartlace?" a pleasant voice asked.
Agatha peeked over the edge of her desk at a tall, dark handsome man in an immaculate suit. Probably gay. "Yeah?"
"T.V. Smythe, here on behalf of VLAD." He set down his briefcase and offered her a black business card.
Agatha squinted at the blood-red printing. "'Vampire Lobby for Accurate Depictions?'"
"Exactly." Smythe displayed beautifully capped if somewhat pointed teeth as he sat down and opened his briefcase. "There are a large number of titles your imprint has published that have my organization deeply concerned."
Agatha frowned. "Are you that fundamentalist coalition that convinced Wal-Mart to put the modesty wrappers on romance novels?"
"That would be VAPID -- Virginal Angry Prudes In Denial," Smythe said. "VLAD is an organization devoted to realistic fictional portrayals of the hemoglobinally-challenged."
"I see." No, she didn't, but it was almost lunch time, and she sucked at mah-jongg anyway. "So what can I do for VLAD, Mr. Smythe?"
He put on some reading glasses and took out a list. "To begin with, we ask that you cease and desist depicting vampires in fiction as cursed, evil, undead, demonic, subhuman, lustful, anti-mortal, greedy, monstrous and unkind."
"I assure you, we are quite determined to set the record straight." He smiled politely. "Knowing someone is unable to digest solid food does not justify the use of such terms or labels. Also, your assumptions about how vampires feed are simply ridiculous. If I may cite from a recent publication?" When she nodded, Smythe removed a book from his briefcase, opened it to a bookmarked passage, and began to read. "Abernathy drove his razor-sharp fangs into Monique's throat, avariciously swallowing her life blood while she went limp. He lifted his head to kiss her with his blood-stained lips, and the twin scarlet pinholes in the alabaster flesh of her neck disappeared."
"That's The Vampire Who Bled Me," Agatha said, her eyelids drooping as she tried not to yawn. "One of our most popular titles."
"It's utter tripe," Smythe told her. "First, vampire fangs are not razor-sharp. Razors are razor-sharp. And then there are these pin hole-size wounds -- either this chap Abernathy has needles for teeth, or he missed when he tried to bite her. In either case, he wouldn't be swallowing anything from wounds of that size. No room for anything to come out, you see. As for the blood-stained lips, well, would you kiss a boyfriend with cheeseburger smeared all over your mouth?"
Agatha's eyes had glazed over at razor-sharp. "I'll send a note to the author."
"Would you tuck this list of additional complaints in the envelope?" Smythe offered her a copy of his list. "Also, please let your writers know that sunlight doesn't turn vampires to ash, we never sleep in coffins except at the occasional Halloween party when someone over-indulges, and we're actually very fond of garlic."
The guy thought he was a vampire. Great. "Anything else?"
He thought for a minute. "None of us speak a word of French, we never date humans, and we never turn you into vampires. Not that you aren't an attractive species, of course, but unless you're a hemophiliac, well . . . ." he made a helpless gesture. "To be brutally honest, it's your odor. You remind us of four-day-old tuna casserole. And it gets worse when you become immortal. Have you ever smelled food left in a refrigerator with the power turned off for three weeks?"
"No, but I'm sure one of my authors has." Agatha stood. "I hate to cut this short, Mr. Smythe, but I have a production meeting to attend." She held out her hand. "Nice meeting you."
Smythe took her hand in his, and fixed his dark, mesmerizing gaze on her face. "You will depict vampires in your books accurately in the future, Ms. Hartlace. You cannot resist. My blood calls to yours, and yours wishes to obey."
Agatha nodded slowly, and then watched as Smythe turned into a plume of white smoke that slowly drifted under the door crack until it was gone.
Jenny rushed into the office a moment later. "Ms. Hartlace, are you all right? Did he hurt you?"
"I'm fine, and no, he didn't." She glowered at her assistant. "What did I tell you that you have to have when you become an editor?"
"A better intern pool?"
"Ice water for blood." Agatha thumbed through her rolodex. "Where's that number for Van Helsing Publicity and Marketing?"
(dedicated to Tom, who recovered this from the lost archives.)