Okay, Gule, you can do this.
The vampire drew a breath and willed himself to keep walking. When his feet slowed, he uncharacteristically stumbled. He cursed.
It’s for a great cause.
Determined to complete the mission he’d set for himself, Niles Gule marched on towards an unassuming residential building in a mundane, carefully manicured suburb of Baltimore. Cars whisked by along Wilkens Avenue, their headlights stabbing the vampire’s delicate vision and forcing him to keep his gaze on the sidewalk. All was quiet and serene. The neighborhood was a safe one lined with single and twin homes on one side of the street and a medical complex on the other. No reason for a vampire to be afraid. And yet Niles was terrified. Completely and utterly terrified. Still, he kept walking.
A few more steps took him up the walkway that led to a shop inside an unassuming gray and white house. He shuddered as he passed the neat sign proclaiming Rheb’s Candy Company, in business since 1917. It was, he thought wryly, almost as old as he was.
Pulling the door open, Niles stepped inside then froze, petrified. The rich, luscious, evil smell of warm chocolate bathed his quivering nose. He immediately began to salivate as he inhaled that incredible aroma. To a vampire it was more intoxicating than the smell of blood. Impossible. And yet, once Niles had tasted that confection of perfection, he was hooked. A chocolate junkie. He craved it like he craved blood. Like an addict craved drugs.
He walked straight into it’s den.
Rheb’s Candy Company made specialty chocolates in a vast assortment. Truffles. Creams. With nuts and without. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate or mixed. Made on the premises in the same house where the founders Louis and Esther Rheb first started creating their own recipes in the basement. A long, red counter displayed a bewildering number of candies, nearly all in chocolate. Pretty boxes, ribbons and stuffed toys decorated the walls, offering buyers the chance to add some bling to their gift purchases.
Niles drew his breath and demanded his quaking bones obey his will. He marched to the counter.
The lady gave him a smile that faded when she saw his stark white face and brilliant blue eyes glittering too brightly.
“May I help you?” she asked. She sounded worried.
Wordlessly, Niles nodded. His hands were clenched in his pockets, his talons digging deep into his palms. He planted his fangs into his tongue to keep from salivating all over the store.
The woman gestured towards the chocolates. “Is there something in particular you’d like?”
Again, Niles nodded.
The lady waited, looking more concerned.
Niles knew he couldn’t stand there frozen all night. He gulped, sucked in a great gasp of air and blurted. “I’d like to build a tower of chocolates. Four boxes. And I want to pick each piece that goes in them.” He pointed a shaking finger at a set of bright red, satin boxes. “Those please.”
The woman continued to eye her tall blond customer strangely, but she selected a set of matching boxes and set them on the counter to fill them. “What would you like to go in them?”
Niles proceeded to torment himself by selecting one individual piece at a time which he requested through clenched teeth. A number of truffles, some caramels, and orange creams in the lowest box. Cherry cordials, chocolate covered marshmellows and pretzels in the second. An assortment of nut clusters for the third tier. And chocolate hearts for the top.
While Niles stood like a frozen statue, the saleswoman weighed his order, stacked the boxes and tied them in a pyramid using red chiffon ribbon.
“Would you like a heart card to go with it?” she asked.
Once again, Niles nodded, unable to speak.
After the lady added the card and tallied his purchase, Niles threw more money at her than the chocolates cost, snatched the bag and fled the store.
He tumbled out onto the sidewalk, gasping for air as if he’d run a marathon. Gathering himself together, he straightened, smoothed his hair and suit coat and glanced around, hoping no one was out walking that chilly February evening to see him acting like an idiot. Then, holding the bag of chocolates as far as his long arm could extend, he headed for the bus stop.
On the bus, he shoved the luscious smelling bag under the seat in front of him and planted his feet against it to keep himself from lunging for those boxes himself. Then he spent the ride back to center city counting anything he could think to count. Most humans weren’t aware that vampires suffered from arithromania, or the obsessive need to count objects. But the legend is true. Count von Count of Sesame Street was the first vampire to actually come forward and admit his disability. Niles was fortunate that he was a dyslexic arithromaniac so he had developed numerous coping skills to avoid obsessive counting. That night, however, to keep his mind off his purchase, he gave in to the compulsion to count. The task kept him sane until he arrived at the precinct.
Striding to his desk, Niles noted the assortment of Valentine’s Day observances scattered around the room. Jackson’s wife had given her husband a huge coffee mug painted with red hearts which the officer dutifully used to sip coffee for one night only. The switchboard operator was cooing over a bouquet of flowers from her boyfriend. And Officer Cooksey, cullinary sprite for the department, flitted around the room dropping off homemade heart-shaped confections of lemon and sugar to every single person on shift that night. Including Niles.
As he settled into his seat, Niles made note of his partner, Mariella Cruz, fussing with her own Valentine’s gift, an enormous heart-shaped box of candy and a huge crystal vase of three dozen perfect red roses. She inhaled deeply a scent that Niles considered cloying.
He gestured with a talon. “Malcolm Deschamps came through, I see.”
Cruz shot him a smug smile. Her hands fluttered around the roses. “Indeed he did! Not like any of you Neanderthals thought to do something nice for the ladies of the department.” She gave Officer Williams a scathing glance.
Williams grunted, unperturbed. “I’ve done my stint with women. I’m on the wagon.”
Cooksey piped up, affronted. “Hey! I gave you a lemon tart!”
“Yes, you did.” Cruz corrected her error by pecking the strange, chubby man on the cheek.
She gave Niles an arch look.
Without a word, Niles lifted his bag and placed it on her desk. He then turned his attention to his computer and started typing.
With a cry of delight, Cruz dove into the bag and removed the tower of chocolates.
“Rheb’s!” she exclaimed. She undid the ribbon and peered into each box. She gasped as she tried to catch Niles’ gaze. “These are all custom assortments. Did you pick these out yourself?”
Keeping his eyes on his screen, Niles nodded. “Every. One. Myself. In person.”
Williams snorted. “Nice try, Ghoul. You’ve been outclassed by Dechamps. Again.”
Niles kept typing.
Cruz held the smallest box to her heart as she gazed at Niles in wonder. “You know how difficult it is for Niles to face chocolate. He’s addicted it to.”
“Tell me about it!” Williams moaned. “I’m the guy who bailed him out of a New Jersey jail for running around naked the last time he indulged himself.”
Niles growled low in his throat but willed himself to say nothing.
Cruz punched Williams then scampered around the desk so she could plant a kiss on Niles’ cold cheek.
“I know what it meant for you to do that,” she whispered in his ear.
Still Niles typed.
She turned her scathing look at Williams.
“Sometimes,” she said, “There’s more to a gift than the object given.”
Williams made a rude gesture with his hands.
Sniffing, Cruz strutted around the big man and happily popped a cherry cordial in her mouth.
Niles kept typing. But he couldn’t hold back his smile.
© 2018 Newmin
Niles Comments: I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Valentine’s Day. In these difficult times so full of anger and violence, we could all use a little more love. When in Baltimore, a visit to Rheb’s Candy Company is a must. There’s a reason they’ve been in business for one hundred years. For my more distant fans, they take internet orders! Check it out. https://rhebs.com/