By Pia Fenton
If you haven’t read the first two episodes of this story, use the blog history on the right to get up to date or scroll back through using the arrow above.
I had to clear my departure with Megan first, but Stefan must have made funny faces at her too behind our backs because she let me go with only a small sigh.
“Ok, off with you then. I suppose as it’s Christmas I can let you leave a bit early. And it is for a good cause.”
“Thank you and Happy Christmas!” I beamed at her.
The three of us – me, Candy and Stefan – headed back down to the loading bay and climbed into the cab of the van.
“You go in the middle,” Candy insisted, and I couldn’t believe my luck. Was she blind? Any normal female under sixty would have fought me for the chance to sit next to Stefan, but Candy still appeared sunk in misery, not her usual self.
“Hey, cheer up, it’s all sorted now, isn’t it?” I said to her.
“Yes, if we can carry out this rescue mission ok. But it’s going to take hours! And I’ll get car sick, I know I will. Plus the boss’ll be keeping an eye on me from now on. How will I know he’s not the one on the line again? It’ll take all the fun out of the job.”
I swallowed a sigh. She was obviously determined to look on the dark side so I decided to ignore her.
“You going to be sick? Not in my van,” Stefan growled. “Where you live? I take you home first.”
“What? But she’s the one who…” I started to say, then almost thumped myself on the head. Duh! If Candy wasn’t here, I’d get him all to myself. “I mean, what a great idea! Stefan and I can sort this for you.”
No such luck. Candy threw me a suspicious glance and finally seemed to take in the full gorgeousness of our driver. “I don’t think so.” Her normal, irritating smirk returned. “I’ve got to accompany the van myself, remember? And I promise to use a sick bag if I have to. Actually, maybe I’ll feel less sick sitting in the middle? Move over, Grungy.”
“No,” Stefan said. “I need Grania” – he emphasised my name and I was amazed he managed to pronounce it given how weird his accent was for pretty much everything else – “to tell me where we go.”
Candy pouted. “Don’t all these vans have satnav?”
“Grania can work it for me.”
She opened her mouth to protest some more, but the look he threw her shut her up. I hid a smile.
“Here,” he added, pulling something out of the door compartment. “We have to wear these, boss said.” A Santa hat each.
“Cute!” I put mine on, while admiring the way the red colour suited Stefan’s dark hair.
He smiled at me, and only me. “Yes, cute.”
Candy eyed the Santa hat Stefan was holding out to her but didn’t take it from him. I suppose the difference between this cheap and cheerful version and the velvet and fur number she’d been wearing upstairs this morning was just rubbing in the fact that her life seemed to have taken a turn for the worse.
Stefan gave her another fierce glare and she took the hat and eased it onto her perfect curls.
Half an hour later we reached the stranded van, which was parked by the side of the road. There was no sign of the driver.
“Where’s he gone? He was supposed to wait here for us.” Candy frowned.
“Did you tell him to?” I asked.
“Well, not exactly, but any moron could figure that out, right?” She rubbed her arms, obviously cold in her smart, but rather thin, designer label coat.
“Call him,” Stefan suggested.
I sighed, tired of the way Candy kept pretending she couldn’t understand Stefan’s accent. It wasn’t that thick. “He said―”
“Yes, I heard what he said, but how am I supposed to do that? We’re not at the call centre now,” Candy sneered.
Stefan and I looked at each other and he rolled his eyes and muttered something about morons. “You mean, you didn’t make a note of his mobile number?” I asked.
“Why should I? The idiot was supposed to be here!” Candy stomped away and walked all the way round the stranded van. “All locked. Now what are we to do?”
“We open van,” Stefan said, matter-of-factly.
“How exactly? I don’t see any keys, do you?” Candy’s snarky tone was really starting to rile me.
“I have … how you say? Bird bar?”
I tried not to giggle. “Er, you mean a crow bar?”
He smiled, making my legs feel decidedly shaky. That smile should be licensed. “Yes, exactly. Crow is black bird, no?”
He found the crow bar and it didn’t take him long to open up the stranded van. “OK, we load,” he ordered, and told me to climb into the back and hand the boxes of parcels down.
“I’m not really dressed for menial work,” Candy grumbled. “These nails cost a fortune, you know.”
Stefan sent her yet another dark look which did the trick again as she kept quiet after that. Or mostly quiet – the occasional grumble under her breath didn’t count. In fact, I began to almost look forward to them as each time Stefan glanced at me, his expressive eyes crinkling at the corners as he fought visibly not to laugh out loud. It felt as though we were accomplices, the two of us, and it gave me a fuzzy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
We’d just about finished reloading the boxes into our van when blue flashing lights and a deafening siren heralded the arrival of the police.
“Stop what you’re doing immediately and put your hands where I can see them!” yelled one of the police officers as he stepped out of the car. The three of us did as we were told and stood staring as the two police officers, a man and a woman, approached us.
“This is all I need!” muttered Candy.
“What’s going on here? We had a report of breaking and entering, not to mention theft of the load of this van.”
Cop number one fixed his gaze on Stefan, who obviously to his mind looked to be the instigator of this supposed crime. Honestly, how prejudiced can you get?
“Excuse me,” I cut in, “but we’re all just doing our job here. She’s in charge.” I pointed at Candy. “She can explain.”
Cop number one raised an eyebrow in disbelief. To be fair, I could see why he’d doubt me. In her thin coat, high heels and being of such small stature, Candy didn’t look much like the leader of a gang of thieves. I thought this might work in her favour, but as always, she had to open her big mouth.
“What?” she snarled. “Haven’t you ever seen a woman in charge before? There’s been a big misunderstanding and I’m going to report you for being a sexist pig.”
“Are you calling me a pig?”
Cop number two seemed eager to defuse the situation, so he stepped forward. “Er, why don’t we discuss this in our car? If you wouldn’t mind coming over to explain, please, Miss?”
“I’m not explaining anything to him, the sexist p―”
But she didn’t get any further, because as she spoke she whipped off the Santa hat with such fury that the bell at the tip whipped round and caught the cop in the face.
“Right, that’s enough of you, young lady. You’re nicked.”
“Don’t you dare lay hands on me!” Candy swept before him with her head held high like a queen. “Well, what are you waiting for?” She stopped to glare at him over her shoulder. “Take me to the bloody station, why don’t you?”
“Candy, hang on a minute―” I started to say, but she shook her head.
“No, I’ve had enough of this. If I get fired, I get fired. At least it’ll be warm there.”
She was bailing on us? Now? Of all the …
I trailed behind Candy and the cop towards the car, going, “You’ve got this all wrong,” but neither of them took the slightest notice of me.
I turned back to appeal to Stefan and the female cop, and found to my astonishment that she had turned away from him and was walking back to the car, not sparing me so much as a glance.
“Let’s go,” she said to her partner, and the two of them got in the car and drove away with Candy.
I turned to stare at Stefan.
“What the… Did you just put him in a trance? Are you some kind of hypnotiser?”
He shook his head and his dark eyes held mine for one, long moment. “No, just half strigoi.”
Strigoi? I’d heard the word before. I struggled to remember a paranormal novel I’d read in between essays last term. Strigoi was … I drew in a sharp breath. “Er, isn’t that, like, a kind of vampire?” It was ridiculous, of course it was, but it didn’t stop my insides clenching with fear at the thought, though at the same time I wasn’t really scared of Stefan himself. Weird.
“Yes, but don’t worry, you safe with me.”
He put an arm round my shoulders and led me back towards the van. “We go now. Police will not come back. Not even remember us, I promise.”
“On one condition.” I stopped. Although I was enjoying the sensation of his arm around me very much, I hadn’t totally lost all sense. Yet. “You don’t ever do that magic trick on me. Swear?”
He put both arms around me and pulled me close so that I had to look up at him. “OK, I swear. Perhaps I no need to, eh?”
Looking into his dark eyes I had a feeling he was right about that. I’d go anywhere with him, vampire or not. But was I safe?
Check back with us tomorrow for Episode 4.
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The winner will be announced before Christmas.