Chapter 21: A vampire?
Steven couldn’t help but smile to the point of hysteria. From being an arrested teenager to becoming a United Nations professional employee within three years, that’s only in a good book, he thought. The speed it all happened within half an hour in a small hotel downtown in Milan was all it had taken. It was surreal. Now, he was in the back seat of a rental car weaving its way through the narrow streets of Milan. It reminded him of the swirling traffic of Hanoi, but without all the useless honking. Brown was driving, literally forcing their way through roundabouts and street lights. Italian people were definitely aggressive drivers and Brown’s training was definitely showing.
Amid all the cars and Vespas, a cell phone was ringing. Peterson answered it. “Gilbert Peterson,” a long pause and then he continued. “Good news. I’ll tell the pilots to make the change in their flight plan; the project really needed an engineer. We were successful with all five targets. One is waiting in the plane, two are flying directly to Oslo and we have the third here with us,” then he thanked his interlocutor and hanged up.
“Like I said, you are really good at making people feel at ease,” informed Steven, smiling and looking at Peterson who was riding shotgun.
“Old habits,” Peterson observed. “We should be there soon, pending traffic. You will then fly to Edinburgh in Scotland to pick up an engineer and then you will fly to your final destination, the Oslo airport.”
“Okay, thanks for telling me the plan. This makes me feel loads better,” replied Steven, not curious to know why they wouldn’t accompany him. “Can you tell me more about the project or what it is you found?”
“Not really, sorry,” answered Peterson, trained to suppress his desire to say how much he knew. “You will be debriefed along with the others.”
“Do you know about it or are you just there to pick up, as you nicely put it, the targets?” asked Steven, half hoping to entice them to tell him, if only to prove that they knew.
“We know, we have been involved for a few weeks now but I never visited the place myself,” answered Brown, looking at him through the mirror. “For security reasons and because it would be best for you to experience it rather than be told, we were ordered not to tell anyone anything.”
Peterson was now calling the pilots to inform them of the next destination and that he would be bringing one more passenger to him. Steven was happy he had not been referred to as a target this time. As the airport came into view, Steven could see the tails of the airplane over the fence surrounding the runway, but he couldn’t recognize any of them as the majority had no airline logos. Brown slowly stopped in a small parking lot next to a small glass building and pulled the trunk lever. The trunk clicked open and everyone stepped out of the car.
“Here we are. Just enter the building and tell the lady at the reception who you are. She will let you board the plane. Follow the instruction of the pilots,” explained Brown and wished him luck.
Steven shook the hands of both of them. “I know I should be more concerned and less eager to go with strangers to God knows where and to do God knows what, but I’m not; I’m actually excited.”
“All the better, it makes our job a hell of a lot easier,” Brown replied.
“Wasn’t like that with Lady Dracula, was it?” observed Peterson with a little chuckle.
“Nope, vampires are known to be hard-headed,” Brown added now laughing of a good heart and looking at Steven. Tag, you’re it, he thought.
Dracula? Vampires? But Steven didn’t say anything. His spirit was too high to be dampened by anything, including immortal blood-sucking creatures, and besides he had always wanted to be immortal, he thought.
The one-story building was small and surrounded by golden glass windows that reflected the road behind him like mirrors. As he stepped toward the automatic doors with his backpack in hand, he read the sign by the door: Milano Private Jet Lounge. It made him smile all the more. Inside, the air was cool and fresh, a welcoming change from the smell of jet fuel and the heat outside. A blue carpet stretched from the door all the way to a wood-and-glass desk where a long-haired blonde was waving him to approach.
“Hello, how may I help you, sir?” asked Maria, elongating every word in typical Italian fashion when speaking in English.
“My name is Steven Mitchell. They told me that you were expecting me.”
“Indeed,” replied Maria. “Signore, if you could please take a seat in the lounge, I will inform the pilots of your arrival. Feel free to take a refreshment and food if you are hungry,” pointing to the counter to her left.
After thanking the lounge attendant, Steven grabbed a plate of cold cut meat, some cheese, a few cakes, and one banana, and then sat down in one of the comfy leather chairs overlooking the circle of private jets. The food was a welcome treat as he had been hungry entering his hotel more than two hours earlier and was now totally famished. A few minutes had passed when two pilots entered the lounge, one headed toward the bathroom and the other, who seemed to be the co-pilot, judging by the three stripes on his uniform, advanced toward Steven after being pointed to him by Maria.
Steven saw them enter and already deposited his plate on the tainted glass table, then stood up to shake his hand. “I’m Lieutenant Carter. It’s a pleasure to have the chance to escort you, sir.”
“The pleasure is mine Lieutenant Carter, but please call me Steven.”
“We will be ready to board in about ten minutes. I can take your luggage to the plane in the meantime,” Carter offered. “And, you can call me William or Bill.”
“Thanks William, but I can carry them. No problem,” replied Steven, feeling that all the formalities and attention was a little too much for his modest background. He grabbed two more bananas and placed them in his backpack. “We are going to Scotland, right?”
“Yes, we received the change of flight plan twenty minutes ago.”
As they exited the building on the airport side they were greeted by an Italian customs officer. “Passport please,” said the young officer smiling.
Steven, seeing a customs official smiling for the first time in three years of travel, gladly handed his passport to the officer who glanced at the maple leaf on the cover and then barely looking at it stamped one of the few remaining empty pages. Steven thanked him and continued walking alongside Carter.
“You will like the plane: A Bombardier Learjet 60, brand new, less than 150 hours on it,” said Carter as much for Steven’s pride as his own. “Canadians can certainly make good stuff, I can tell you that.”
“Your co-pilot is coming,” observed Steven, thinking that Bombardier had been, at one time, a small shop making snowmobiles and was now a multibillion dollar industry.
“Technically, he is the captain but we take turns at the controls. He’s a good guy. I just started flying with him a month ago. I don’t have enough hours to be left side.” offered Carter.
Steven stopped to wait for the captain. Carter slowed down as he saw Steven turned to greet him. “Hello Captain, I’m Steven.” The captain stopped, looked at him for a second and then at Carter. He whistled, “Wow, that’s a welcome change,” the captain shot back at his co-pilot.
“I’m Captain Logan, USAF,” he said, shaking Steven’s hand. “I would welcome you aboard but you seem like a nice guy, so I will apologize instead,” he nodded his head and continued ahead toward the egg-white unmarked jet.
“Would it have anything to do with vampires?” asked Steven, resuming his walk with Carter.
“Oh you know already, eh, the Captain said he had fifteen years of open door policy in the cockpit but on the flight from the US he locked the door mid-flight and didn’t open it until we landed in Milan. Then we taxied the plane all the way here,” answered Carter while looking at Steven, feeling pity for him thinking he would have to stay in the cabin; no jump seat in the cockpit of these jets and no parachute either.
Steven was at a loss for words and decided to tour the outside of the plane, mainly out of curiosity and partly to delay entering the cabin. After a slow tour walk around and a few explanations of the new features of the Learjet, Carter removed the pitot tube covers and invited Steven to board the plane.
Steven climbed up the stairs and poked his head inside, and stepped in. The interior was richly decorated with light grey padded walls and large luxurious beige seats, one on each side of the aisle. The floor was covered by a thick charcoal carpet. Some seats were facing each other, separated by dark mahogany-wood adorned tables. At the back lay a three-seater sofa with seat belts attached to the wall. As he looked at it, the image of beauty that unravelled as he enjoyed the detail of the interior design disappeared. He could feel his jaw dropping and his eyes staring, but couldn’t help any of it and gasped. A vampire! His brain was fighting the thought, thinking there was no other explanation for what his eyes were seeing, other than perhaps Halloween had arrived early this year. Fortunately, he was awakened from his stupor by a loud throaty voice.
“What the fuck are you looking at, shithead?” growled the vampire from the sofa. It was a female voice alright, but he felt she would make a good Italian tenor somehow. Luckily she had spoken, that is, if one considers two swear words in the same phrase as speaking. Otherwise, he might not have been able to figure out her gender by looking at her, especially behind the heavy black makeup and darker lipstick. Her hair was black and short. The makeup under her eyes was so thick that it reminded him of the grease baseball players used under their eyes to remove the glare on sunny days. Her black, thick dress was squeezing the fat of her belly which made her look like a stack of car tires.
Slowly coming back to his senses, but not approaching, Steven introduced himself.
“Well, you better sit your ass down comfy Stevie because we are doing a milk run. We have another straggler to go pick up,” she said in reply.
“What’s your name?” asked Steven, unimpressed by the lack of manners and, if it had not been for the sound of the plane’s engine being started and the beautifully decorated interior, he could have been made to believe that he was back in the back alleys of his childhood ghetto.
“Call me Dark Fangs, all my friends do.”
And what is your mother calling you, besides What a Shame? But Steven didn’t say it. He just sat to allow the pilots to get in the cockpit and, sure enough, he heard the lock on the door of the cockpit snap into place.
“There is food—if you can call it that—in the fridge and water bottles too. No goddamn beers and can’t smoke either,” Fangs sneered.
“Do you know anything about the project we are hired for?” asked Steven.
“Nah, didn’t tell me shit; I was with my boyfriend in bed when Dumb and Dumber showed up, offered me a huge pay increase and said I had no choice,” answered Fangs.
“No choice? What do you mean?” asked Steven, thinking that he had agreed within seconds and the prospect of saying no had not entered his mind until now and it made him more curious about it.
“Stevie, I’m told you are Canadian, so maybe you don’t have that shit up there, but down in the States, if you sign a contract to get your education paid by the military, they own your ass until that contract is terminated or they boot you out for misconduct. That is, if you are lucky to have rich folks, if not, you don’t pass go and collect two hundred. You just go directly to jail,” said Fang. “And with the cost of my education, I’m their little bitch until hell freezes over.”
“So they say jump and you say, how high? Would that sound about right?” replied Steven laughing, but what he was really thinking was how a morbidly obese woman managed to be recruited in the army in the first place. Unfortunately, political correctness prohibited him from asking the question.
“Yeah Stevie,” answered Fangs. “All I know about that project of theirs is that neutrinos can’t pass through the shell around the place and that’s fuckin impossible because we know for a fact that neutrinos go through anything.”
“What have you studied? Astrophysics or something?” asked Steven sarcastically.
“Yep, among others,” shot back Fangs to his total surprise.
“Really? So you have a PhD?” asked Steven, impressed and thinking that you can’t judge a book by its cover indeed.
“Yep again Stevie, that’s why I’m here, and you are here because you are a whiz with computers and an anarchist just like I am,” Fangs announced with a grin.
The thought of having anything in common with that obese, over-made-up, one-swear-a-second Goth felt wrong somehow and he had problems not to let it show. “The way I understand the concept of anarchy, I’m not sure I qualify for it,” defended Steven. “It is true that I think government employees are mainly there for themselves and I wouldn’t count on them in times of need, but that is a far cry from rejecting them or rebelling against the establishment all together.”
“Whatever,” was Fang’s reply. “I’ll try to catch some Z’s before we land in Kilt country, that is if they can fuckin’ take off at all.”
It took a few more minutes for the plane to taxi and take off. The Learjet had been just like any short-range airplane he had taken, but the comfort and the ecstasy of being in a private jet was indescribable. He was just sad that he was alone to enjoy it and after a few minutes of admiring the inside of the cabin, he grabbed a few magazines. Surprisingly, all of them are pretty recent and he spent an hour reading. He lingered quite a bit on a travel magazine which displayed a list of the best resorts in the world, thinking resignedly that only a jetsetter could afford to go there. After having his fill, he got up and put the magazines that he had read on the table and proceeded to knock on the cockpit door.
Carter opened the door and greeted Steven. He threw a quick glance over the young man’s shoulder to check on the Goth girl. “She is quite a piece of work isn’t she?” he whispered.
“Oh yeah,” answered Steven whispering in his turn. “The worst part is that you will get rid of her in a few hours, but I’ll have to endure her for the duration of the project, whatever that may be.”
Carter invited Steven over into the cockpit. The view from the cockpit was stunning and quite different from the little side windows. The sky below seemed partially covered and Steven took a second to look at the glass cockpit. He noticed that they were at 33,000 feet or flight level 330 as indicated on the LCD display. Using that as an ice breaker, they chatted for the better part of the trip and exchanged a lot about aviation and airport operations. Steven even asked if he could sit in the captain’s seat for a few minutes, but Logan had categorically refused. He told Steven that six years earlier, an Aeroflot plane flight 593 from Russia crashed after the captain let his sixteen-year-old son fly the plane for a few minutes. The boy unknowingly disabled the autopilot by moving the steering column. The plane rolled on a steep bank and then went on an almost vertical dive and the pilot never managed to regain control until it was too late. After a few minutes of fighting the controls, the Airbus had crashed killing everyone on board.
Feeling a little sick to his stomach, Steven regained his seat for the landing and was told that the next passenger would already be at the airport and it would almost be a touch-and-go.
The landing was rather hard, but Steven had been told already that the left runway was a little shorter and the pilots wanted to make sure they would stop close to the private terminal in order to save time. Therefore, they had to bring the plane down faster than normal, which meant a harder landing. The vampire had obviously not been told about it and was wailing in the cabin, swearing even more if it was even possible.
As the jet stopped in front of the terminal, Steven noticed a man walking alongside a tall and very beautiful woman in her mid-twenties. She had long, blonde hair. Her face was perfectly proportioned; straight nose and beautiful blue eyes underneath thick eyebrows. As she approached, he could see that her full lips and skin were flawless—the perfect image of a top model, if he ever saw one. She was wearing a light blue dress with a flower pattern. Steven didn’t care much for the man. All he noticed was that he wore a black suit and was still taller than her despite the kitten high-heeled shoes she was wearing. As they arrived in front of the door, they waited for Carter to open and extend the steps. Steven’s eyes turned reluctantly to the man, thinking how lucky he was to have scored such a beauty. She then took the luggage from his hands and climbed on board. At that, Steven’s heart almost leaped out of his chest and he grinned. He was not the “target,” she was—and he was not her spouse either as she had not even bothered to wave him goodbye.
Carter introduced himself and the captain, who was still sitting in the cockpit, and then pointed her to the cabin. Steven, who was standing close to the door, extended a hand and she grabbed it and kissed him on each cheek. He helped her to store her luggage and introduced himself and then Fangs.
“This is Dark Fang. She didn’t tell me her real name yet,” explained Steven, emphasizing on real name hoping she would enter the conversation and say it, but she didn’t.
“I’m Chrissy,” she said, her voice enriched by a thick Scottish accent which sent Steven’s heart through another series of looping.
“Hmm, I always loved the Scottish accent; it sounds very noble,” observed Steven sincerely, but feeling a little foolish for his honesty.
“Thanks, you are…” said Chrissy before Fangs interrupted her.
“Oh, that’s so fuckin’ cute. Ken is already in love with Barbie,” interjected Fangs.
“What’s her problem?” asked Chrissy, whispering to Steven.
“She was forced by the US military to participate in the project and she is not happy about the fact that she had to leave her boyfriend behind,” sneered Steven, thinking that he would give anything to have these few hours of flight alone in the back with Chrissy.
“It is a family-excluded project, much like UN posts in Gaza or Syria,” Chrissy explained.
“So, Barbie, do you know what that shit is all about or you are just as clueless as the rest of us?” asked Fangs.
“I know a great deal actually. My father has been part of the project for the past few months and has told me a lot before I was requested to join,” replied Chrissy, sounding proud to have been told about the project and have the chance at last to share it with others.
“So, you are here because of daddy or because you actually have something to contribute?” asked Fangs, not even trying to hide her loathing.
At that, Steven said nothing. He was eager to see what Chrissy was made of and didn’t want to sound overprotective in front of Fangs. He had exposed himself enough already, he thought.
“If you must know, I got my PhD from Oxford at twenty-one years old. I’m now twenty-four and I’m almost done with the second, part-time, because I’m an engineer by day but that’s in the air now, I guess,” replied Chrissy defiantly.
“I have a PhD, too…” Fangs said before Steven interrupted her.
“Girls, timeout please,” interjected Steven.
“Thank you Mr. Mitchell,” said Captain Logan. “We are about to push off. Please take your seats and fasten your seat belts.”
Steven sat face-to-face with Chrissy with his back to the cockpit, looking at Fangs who remained at the back of the plane. He bent toward Chrissy and asked, “Can you tell me what you know? Please, I have been drafted in Milan in the middle of a backpacking trip through Europe and I have no idea why I’m here really.”
“I can tell you what I know, but not with the pilot listening,” replied Chrissy looking at the door which surprisingly had remained opened this time.
Steven turned to face it. “Sorry guys, I don’t want to sound rude, but we need to discuss something in private, would it be possible to close your door?” said Steven politely.
Chrissy looked at him and smiled, clearly impressed. She apparently wouldn’t have dared to tell pilots with Type A personalities what to do. The pilots sped the plane down the runway and toward the dark clouds hanging low on the horizon. Carter called for V1 and then Rotate and the plane lifted off the ground. A few seconds later, it veered away and headed for a patch of clouds and then Logan closed the door.
Gripping the seat armrest, clearly not enjoying takeoffs, Chrissy looked almost paler than Fangs’ makeup. Steven touched her hand and said softly, “It’s going to be okay, these guys are very professional.”
“In fact, it will not be okay for another forty-five seconds,” threw in Fangs matter-of-factly from behind Chrissy. “A plane is more likely to crash in the first ninety seconds because if something goes wrong, the pilots won’t have enough altitude to do anything and then we fucking die.”
“Thanks, you’re really helpful,” said Steven sarcastically while looking at Chrissy who seemed to have regained some of her colour despite the grim statistics offered by the vampire.
She finally lifted her eyes to look at Steven. Her colours were almost back now, she thanked him again and he removed his hand. “It’s an underwater building which was discovered three years ago in Norway by an oil platform. I know the place is huge and not man-made. The technology inside is apparently very advanced, too advanced to have been made by humans in the twentieth century. You will need to take scuba diving courses too since we need to dive like thirty metres deep to reach the entrance.”
“I have a PADI Advanced and Deep Diver certification,” Steven offered. “Good enough for forty metres.”
“What is a Petty?” asked Fangs.
“PADI,” corrected Chrissy. “It means Professional Association of Diving Instructors.”
“Or Put Another Dollar In, according to my instructor,” Steven volunteered laughing, quickly followed by Chrissy.
“We will receive asll the training we need on site, don’t worry. My father said that they are also planning to build a submersible tunnel to allow easier transport of equipment and personnel to the building without the need for diving,” continued Chrissy. “He also said that the project is extremely new. We are among the first to participate.”
“Barbie, you said that the place was discovered almost three years ago? What the fuck did they do for all that time, shake their collective dicks? Grab their asses?” Fangs asked. “Another government slowmo operation I bet,” she said, remembering all the bureaucracy she hated so much in the military.
“First, I would respectfully ask you not to call me Barbie and Steven is not Ken,” Chrissy snapped, feeling that she had let it go long enough. But she still smiled at him when she said it. “If you must know, the two people that discovered the place didn’t tell anyone until recently, or they were seen going in and questioned, I’m not really sure.”
“What? Your father doesn’t have a high enough clearance to know?” asked Fangs, her fat belly bouncing like Jell-O with her laughs. “I hope they made a shit load of money before they got cut.”
“You can ask them yourself. I have been told that they are the ones giving the diving course, or at least one of them; the other one is working inside and let people in because they can’t alone.” Chrissy explained.
“What do you mean by ‘they can’t alone?’” wondered Steven, puzzled.
“I’m not sure about that; no one understood that one yet. It is one of the primary objectives of the project,” answered Chrissy, knowing that this is why she had been selected. “You see, Jack Tomas is the dive instructor and Eirik Olsen is a biologist and can enter almost anywhere and use almost anything they have discovered or at least activate it, but Jack can’t use more than half of the things they have found, and that includes doors. So, Eirik needed to open the doors for him in order for Jack to get in.”
“What about other people?” asked Steven understanding now why he had likely been hired.
“Same, some can and some cannot.” replied Chrissy. “I know that Eirik is leading a little project of his own to try to determine the reason behind it. He said that he believed it had to do with what the building authorized or not for its own safety, but it’s just speculation at this point.”
“That’s interesting. Maybe they want me to hack the system and allow people greater access,” Steven speculated.
“What is your expertise?” asked Chrissy at last.
“He is a crook, through and through,” said Fangs.
“Thank you black mouth,” replied Steven, looking at her with contempt. “I hope you will not think less of me, but it is true that I was a criminal, HPCAV mainly but a criminal nonetheless.”
“Sorry, I don’t know that acronym,” replied Chrissy, her blue eyes searching for the answer as she said it.
“Oh, sorry, that is hackers and phone phreakers lingo,” replied Steven feeling a little ashamed in the presence of two PhDs and realizing that being a known hacker was only good with the fifty others in the world who cared about such things.
“We all have our pasts,” offered Chrissy softly with a comforting smile.
At that moment, Steven had understood that she was not only beautiful and smart, but kind and wise as well. For the first time in his life, he felt that he had met someone way out of his league. He smiled at her and she smiled back, exposing her Hollywood teeth and at once his self-confidence had returned.
“Oh, you have a pass too? What did you do Blondie, broke a nail?” asked Fangs.
“A'm guttin,” said Chrissy as she stretched and got up, ignoring the demeaning question. “Anything to eat?”
“In the fridge right there,” answered Steven, pointing to the counter in front of Fangs.
“A'm sairy Fangs, can you move your fat arss? I would like to chat with Steven on the sofa privately,” ordered Chrissy, not caring anymore to keep her Scottish origins at bay as she motioned in front of the counter.
“What? I didn’t get that,” was Fangs’ reply, a sign of misunderstanding clearly visible on round face.
“She said that she would like to lie on the couch a little, if you don’t mind, please,” Steven interpreted.
“Oh, yeah,” said Fangs, finally getting it and taking the opportunity for one more rudeness. “I’ll let you two love birds together at the back. I’ll go and talk to the pilots.”
But Fangs never reached the cockpit; she stopped at the first row, reclined the seat till flat and slept the rest of the way to Oslo.