Aphelion Issue 225, Volume 22
February 2018
 
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Trade Fair

by Josie Gowler




I shoot everyone who attempts to flee. It’s the only way to be sure.

But that’s at the end of a very long day.

My shift followed a predictable enough pattern at the start. Down Foster Lane, in the opposite direction to the homeward-bound City traders, I snaked right and followed the throng of darkly-clad gentry. Perimeter checked again. Running up the floodlit stone steps on my way into the building, I glanced at the crest above the door. It showed a red shield on which a werewolf and a unicorn faced each other: a lot of people have convinced themselves that they don’t exist, either. Crede, the inscription read.

Inside, the hum of commerce echoed down the double staircase of the entrance hall, despite the thick carpeting and all the tapestries on the walls. I dodged past the bag search and the invitation check, sweeping to the back of the hall. I nodded to Dave and Steph as I reached them. “Nothing, zip, nada,” I said. “Nice and quiet.” I didn’t add that the perimeter loop looked like an exercise in pointlessness to an ex-cop like me. I was just being paid to humour the amateurs. “Anything interesting here?”

Steph shrugged. “Posh people shopping.”

I took off my cap and pulled my straggling hair back into its ponytail, noticing as I did Dave’s quick glance at my breasts; he’d never been one to let an opportunity like that pass him by. Where do they get these idiots from, I wondered, not for the first time.

I hung about, trying to look inept. Dave fiddled with his Rolex: selling out does have its advantages.

“Interior sweep. Your turn, Danielle,” said Steph.

I groaned theatrically and turned to go. I wasn’t going to miss them.

The blue plaque halfway up the stairs said that the building had survived the Great Fire of London. I wondered whether that was the first attempt we’d made to get rid of the bastards, not that they’re anything other than myths and stupid movies to most people. Upstairs, the buzz of trade and the throng of warmth reached a climax as I walked into the main hall and began my sweep.

It was just as Steph had said: aristocrats buying more stuff than they really needed or wanted. Expensively clad in black, but pale themselves, they wafted through the halls paying me about as much attention as the carpets they were treading on. I bit back a curse as a walrus of a woman in a tent-sized black kaftan elbowed me out of the way to get to the shoes aisle, a flunky scurrying behind her carrying all her bags and boxes. He tried to share a sympathetic non-toothy smile with me but I blanked him.

The Silver Solutions trade stand was absolutely heaving -- no surprise really, as a cure for silver sensitivity would get rid of the whole smoke-and-ash thing. I’d been impressed when I’d heard that Cambridge University scientists had found a treatment for peanut allergy, but knew that this would end up being a logical extension of the research. I wondered what the scientists would think if I told them the truth -- both that vampires exist and that the boffins had inadvertently aided a species that thinks we’re dinner.

The designer chest and neck guards looked good this year, if you’re into that kind of thing. The pricetags were eyewateringly expensive: never underestimate the power of compound interest over half a millennium. I remembered when the guards owed more to riot-gear than to Kevlar-backed haute couture. Yep, that’s how long I’ve been in this role.

Being a former policewoman, it’s all about patterns, or rather looking for a break in them. That’s why I spotted him. Guy with a briefcase, not browsing the stands, not recognising or acknowledging anyone in this big gathering of vampires. Clearly that was weird. Trade fairs like this, you’re bound to bump into someone you know: it’s that networking thing.

Moving through the crowd after him, I thought that it must be fun to be the sort of person who needs to go to a trade fair -- a normal one, that is. There were no trade fairs for my vocation, so this was the closest I’d ever get to finding out.

“Dodgy guy with briefcase, heading for west service staircase,” I said into my radio, with a deliberate lack of inventiveness that had taken me years to perfect. I’m only allowed to know certain links in the chain, my own small segment of the big plan, so I knew I sounded convincing when I called it in.

“We’re on our way,” Steph answered. “Follow him.”

No, really? I thought. I straightened my tie and moved off.

I followed the briefcase guy into the adjoining hall, catching snippets of other people’s lives as told through the medium of commerce, trite rubbish like: of course you can have it darling; not sure about those shoes; why don’t you try this one too? Obviously they weren’t going to hold forth on this year’s fashionable colour: it’s black. Again. The hall’s wood panelling was inset with beautiful scrollwork; it was only when I looked really closely whilst pretending I wasn’t actually tracking briefcase guy that I felt my flesh begin to creep. The cherubs weren’t sweet bringers of love, they were a fond depiction of food. The unicorns? A tasty delicacy, ten thousand times more precious than beluga caviar. No wonder they’re gone.

I’d done this before but I still felt like throwing up whenever anyone so much as glanced in my direction, imagining teeth closing around my neck or conscience-free human familiars sticking a dagger between my shoulder blades. I always got over it in the same way: picturing Alan’s body in our bedroom. Why should I worry about my own shoulder blades then?

“He’s heading for the aircon room,” I reported, now sure.

“What’s he going to do?” asked Dave.

“I don’t know, I didn’t stop him to ask!” I hissed, mouthing the word ‘arsehole’ as I clicked off the walkie-talkie.

The rest of the security team got there first, for which I was as surprised as I was grateful that my deliberate tardiness had worked. The decoy’s briefcase was smashed open, the contents of the cigarette packet-sized box inside it already identified as silver dust. Looking at the trade stands out there, this would be taken as a last desperate chance to use it.

While my colleagues were occupied with extracting the miscreant, I made a show of locking up. It gave me just enough time to step into the control room. Whilst up a ladder sweeping for bugs on Tuesday, I’d quietly installed daylight bulbs in the ceilings of all the halls, swapping just enough to cause discomfort to the vamps, get them on edge, cross and distracted. The application of science to humanity’s advantage for once. I allowed myself a smirk as I thumbed the switches down.

Go, go, go, I thought to myself, radio up against my ear, marching purposefully through an afternoon blood-tea sipping crowd still in a mild state of interest after the so-called baddie had been frogmarched out. I hoped he -- whoever he was -- would escape. As for me, I only had a couple of minutes to get into position while the sunlamps hit full power.

I unlocked the door to the unused dining room and swept over to the box I’d left there. What can I say? Fabric and petrol really don’t go together, even in small quantities. While I was locking the door, the acrid tang of burning fabric wafted towards me. The flames caressing the curtains were already my height.

Leaving the dining room and running down the servants’ gallery, I thumbed on the walkie-talkie for the last time. “Dave!” I shouted. “Crikey, there’s another one! Big lady, black kaftan. I think it’s explosives!”

I could hear the screams of fury behind me as the large sharp-elbowed shopper with expensive tastes started being mugged by Dave. The hassle would serve him right for staring at my breasts.

But other matters first. I had to get to the roof of the Victorian terrace opposite to pick up my crossbow. Another mission. Holding back the tide. The vamps own the police, the government, everything. There’s no-one we can trust, no way we can go public. There’s just us, undercover, waiting, acting.

I shoot everyone who attempts to flee. It’s the only way to be sure.


THE END


2017 Josie Gowler

Bio: Josie Gowler has had short stories published in 365 Tomorrows, Every Day Fiction, Ethereal Tales, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction and Perihelion. In her non-writing spare time, Josie is a Napoleonic and War of 1812 re-enactor, another source of short story inspiration.

E-mail: Josie Gowler

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