This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Chapter 1: Operation Bananas
“Money is the root of all evil,” chuckled Count Moribund Vanpyre to Archie Firball his lawyer across the polished oak dining table of Succour Grange, surrounded by its handsome park on the outskirts of Little Titmongering. His Anglo-Asian butler slid the silver coffee service on to it before discreetly reversing himself out of the room. Having long ago mastered the discipline of feeling all his emotions to the full while betraying none of them, the Vanpyres` servant of many years matched this deft bodily retreat with its mental counterpart – withdrawing into a private world of irony. He had not served in the Vanpyres` household for thirty and more years without becoming a meticulous observer of their characters and affairs.
“Typical,” he chuckled to himself from within his facial fortress. “He has the chutzpah to talk about money and evil, but gets the quotation wrong by leaving out the most important part of it!” As he carefully timed the top-up coffee brew in the kitchen and transferred it to an identical, pre-warmed pot that he already had waiting for the purpose, he mused on the subtle art of hijacking platitudes. “Love of money is the root of all evil, my dear Master, not money itself.”
“If that will be all, sir?” he enquired moments later, after a barely perceptible entrance with the top-up pot.
“Thank you,” answered Count Moribund Vanpyre, reaching for the pot, before suddenly thinking better of it.
“Er, Phuk Yu?”
“Any chance of a couple more slices of toast?”
“Right away sir,” answered the servant, and evaporated into the kitchen to fulfill the command.
Archie Firball, of the local law firm Firball and Blandish, smiled as he raised a gilt-edged porcelain coffee cup to his lips. Phuk Yu re-appeared with the toast in a couple of minutes, then glided out of the room.
“Worth his weight in gold, that man of yours, M.,” he remarked. He still got a kick out of the contrast between the quiet gravitas of the man and the delightful incongruity of his name.
“And you really couldn`t persuade him to adopt a name like, well, Butler?” he chuckled.
“Not for love nor money,” mused Count Moribund, recalling his father’s interview with Phuk Yu, now over three decades ago, and the unswerving dignity of his future manservant`s statement: “I am the soul of obedience sir, but my name is my name.”
“But don’t you realize what your name means in English?” Count Moribund senior had protested. But: “My name, sir, is my name,” was the only response he could get out of the man, who in all other respects had a reputation that was beyond impeccable. Even as a young man he had had almost magical skills ascribed to him. And so this was one the few occasions in his life when Count Moribund Vanpyre experienced the ennobling sensation of gracious acquiescence. Clearly, as he himself well remembered appreciating at the time, there was no arguing with Phuk Yu.
A second-generation immigrant, Phuk Yu still felt Asian, and was proud of having been educated in two cultures. It afforded him depth and perspective, and lent drive to his sense of irony. His maternal grandmother had explained to him that that the name ‘Fuk’ meant good fortune (no arguing with that), while ‘Yu’ was often translated as ‘bright’, or ‘universe’. A change of spelling was the only concession the Vanpyres` butler had been willing to make towards Anglophone convention. At least, the Vanpyres had sighed, his name didn`t have to look obscene.
The Count and his lawyer resumed their conversation. Draining his coffee cup and helping himself to another piece of toast, Firball sat back in his chair and looked the Count in the eye, while Fiscal, the Vanpyres` black Labrador, sniffed suspiciously round his ankles a couple of times before taking up residence on the Persian rug in front of the marble fireplace: “I think you`ll be pleased with how matters are proceeding,” he said.
“We`ve set up a new shell company based in the Cayman Islands, but sending funds to a numbered bank account in Zurich. European monies are managed through Luxembourg. That keeps us under the radar as far as UK tax is concerned.”
“Splendid,” commented Count Moribund, deftly mopping up a Seville orange marmalade spillage with his index finger. “And the new UK company itself?”
“Has been named Paydoe, and joins the swelling ranks of payday loan companies now systematically bleeding Joe Public dry, week by week. The first wave of TV commercials is scheduled for next month. The advertising psychology is tried and tested by now – treat the customers as you want them to behave - so like other companies out there we`ve gone for puppets and a catchy jingle. We treat them like children, they behave like children. We don`t really want to stand out, just be one of many. All very feel-good, lighthearted and entertaining, with the shortest possible small print screening of the 1,760% APR they will actually be paying.”
“Excellent,” replied the Count, brushing some toast crumbs off his Hermes jacket.
“Profits from Paydoe will be transferred via a suitably labyrinthine route to the Czech Republic to fund the Operation. It`s basically the same model we used for safeguarding the one in Colombia through your wife`s banana plantation in Costa Ladrinos. Essentially, in fact, it`s another Operation Banana. It was a successful model there, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t work this time as well.”
“If it ain`t broke, don`t fix it,” mumbled Count Moribund cheerily through a mouthful of toast.
“So now,” he chuckled in a moment of humorous insight, “we`ve got two Operation Bananas?”
“Precisely,” affirmed Firball, reaching for the butter curls.
Two decades ago, Countess Verruca Vanpyre, the petulant, narcissistic ex-model wife of Count Moribund, had been Miss Costa Ladrinos. The Count and Countess had three teenage children – Curfew their fifteen year-old son and his older twin sisters, Taffeta and Amphetamine. Taffeta and Amphetamine were now assumed to be busy over-achieving at Our Lady of Ransom’s boarding school. Curfew was in his bedroom upstairs, off his tits.
In fairness it wasn`t his fault. Actually he had no idea he was off his tits. If his mate Luke had known how it would turn out, slipping an E into his drink two nights ago, he might have thought better of it. But lying on a bed that was wet with sweat, every muscle in his body in an agonizing spasm of fear, Curfew was sure, like you are sure when you have been stabbed or shot, that he was in Hell. His terror was as visceral as if he were surrounded by a pack of ravening, slavering hyenas about to tear the living flesh off his bones. What he could see, all round his bed, everywhere he looked, were demonic beasts inside what seemed to be an adjacent but different space to the plane he occupied, rabid with rage that they could not reach him, and promising to devour him alive, piece by piece, very slowly. He thought this place might be what was known as the Abyss. It had a biblical, prophetic quality to it. Much worse than that, though, inside his head he could hear a silky, seductive, yet somehow even more terrifying voice, telling him over and over with sugary malice, “Just let go, Curfew, just let go, give in to it, and you will have peace.” He knew his very life was at stake. If he gave in, he would die, he was certain. This had been going on since he had – he could not remember how – got home just before midnight the night before last. But he felt as if he had been in this demonic place for centuries. The Abyss, and dark death, drew nearer and nearer, calling him to let himself fall into it…. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists, as tears of terror and rage poured down his face.
In the end, some tiny spark in his soul kindled the resolve: “No, no, NO! I`m not going to die, I`m not… I`m going to get through this and live…..”
“Odd, that,” he found himself thinking, an immeasurable time later, as if from a great distance away, as he tried to raise a body that felt a thousand years old off the sodden mattress. “I had no strength left – none. It was a tiny choice that saved me.” And then he passed out again. For how long he did not know.
When he woke up, he found he was thinking in Hebrew. Oddly, that didn`t seem odd. He opened his eyes, blinked twice as he looked around at his bedroom, this luxury designer hell-hole called Curfew`s Room at the Vanpyres` mansion, took a sharp inward breath as if to make sure he was still alive, and uttered the word neshekh, before bursting out laughing. And once he started laughing, he found he couldn`t stop. He knew in his bones, like you know that your mother loves you, or doesn`t, as the case may be, that his demons were as real as his mattress. Or even more so. He knew that his sanity was the interest payment on the deposit that had bought his family`s success.
Neshekh, neshekh, was the word drilling into his brain as he pulled on his two-day old sweaty T-shirt from the night before last, quickly adjusted the crotch of his boxer shorts and propelled himself off the bed with his gangly legs. He swayed for a couple of seconds as his blood pressure adapted. He didn`t even bother to look in his mirror. His eyesight was still blurry as he felt for the door-knob, flung open the door and made for the oak-floored gallery landing on the first floor of the mansion. The gallery was lined from floor to ceiling with books that had long been purely decorative in that household. “The story of our times,” Curfew thought, as he made for the other side of the gallery library, where he felt sure he had once seen what he was now looking for.
His shambling, nauseous, light-headed progress was punctuated by the discreet appearance of Phuk Yu, bearing an empty tray and a gently raised eyebrow. At the sight of Curfew in his present condition, most people would have screamed. He looked like a crazed ghost. His skin was grey and his eyes sunken into blackened sockets, his hair a greasy, sweat-matted exclamation mark projecting out of the top of his skull. He stank even from several paces away. Wisely, Phuk Yu paused in silence, both to take sober stock of the shambling catastrophe before him, and to give Curfew a chance to register his presence, as he could see from the look in Curfew`s eyes that he seemed to have been propelled into some alternative reality.
“Good morning,” said Phuk Yu, hoping that he sounded reassuring and familiar.
“Ahhh…” responded Curfew, whose sense of balance was not responding terribly well to having his determined shamble across the landing interrupted.
“Would young sir care for something…..refreshing?’ Phuk Yu suggested, gearing himself for a quick ditching of the tray in case Curfew needed catching.
Curfew considered the request for a good few seconds.
“Jss,” he replied in what he hoped was English.
“Would that be orange juice, sir?” inquired Phuk Yu.
“Mm,” responded Curfew, quite pleased with his own eloquence.
“In your room, sir?’
“Mm,” came the response. Having grasped the gist, Phuk Yu saw little point in dragging out the exchange, and oiled noiselessly down the staircase towards the kitchen.
Swaying backwards and forwards for a few seconds to achieve some fresh momentum, at the same time balancing himself by flapping his arms, Curfew fixed his sights on what he hoped was one of the middle shelves of the bookcase a few yards from him. By the time he got there, his vision was clearing a little, although his sense of unreality was just as strong as when he had first woken up.
He found the bilingual Hebrew copy of the Old Testament, a gift to his parents from the Bishop of Westbourne, at roughly eye level on the bookshelf, allowing for the stoop caused by his dizzy lurching, and searched the Index for the Book of Ezekiel, finding the chapter describing corruption in Jerusalem. Then, he found the word he was looking for – neshekh. In Chapter 22, verse 12, which describes the financial practices of corrupt Jerusalem, he read: “In you men have accepted bribes to shed blood, and they have exacted discount and interest on their loans. You have oppressed your fellows for gain, and you have forgotten me. This is the very word of the Lord.”
Curfew then looked down at a footnote explaining the Hebrew word for interest – neshekh, fiscal interest being an extension of its original verb root meaning – ‘to bite’. Like the slow rumbling tremor of an impending earthquake Curfew felt the seismic shudder of insight roll through his whole body. He was still in far too much of a mental stupor to ask himself how it was possible that he had woken up that morning suddenly able to understand Hebrew. After the demonic torture of the last forty-eight hours it would probably hardly have seemed relevant anyhow. Still holding the book in his two hands, he slid down on to the floor, shaking with laughter.
“So here we are,” he thought, “a powerful dynasty of bankers, merchants and brokers with a power base spanning five continents, rubbing shoulders with presidents and prime ministers, donating to charitable foundations, steering media corporations and making and breaking governments, and what do we really do? We bite people! And what are we called? Vanpyres!” For a few seconds he thought he might wet himself laughing, but found he didn’t care.
By the time Phuk Yu returned with a tall glass of iced orange juice a couple of minutes later, he would have been hard pushed to tell whether the tears pouring down Curfew`s pallid cheeks were tears of laughter or of pain.
“We`re doomed!” were all he heard Curfew whisper, leaning back against the book shelves, his eyes closed with exhaustion.
“He`s gone bananas,” though Phuk Yu to himself, as he crooked his elbow and bent down to help Curfew up.
“So it`s the bananas all over again, Firball old chap, is it?. We can`t lose,” said Count Moribund downstairs in the dining room, finishing off the dregs of his Costa Ladrinos coffee.
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mjtelesca: The plot keeps the reader interested, and you want to help the main characters in their conflicts. A very interesting ending that makes the reader think and talk about it. Minor punctuation and grammatical mistakes but does not impede the overall story. Any fan of action/adventure will enjoy t...
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FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."