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I first met Armand in the spring of 1997, while I was a young doctor fresh from my internship, working under Dr. St. Just at Greater Metro Maximum Security Penitentiary. Among my menial duties, I was assigned to monitoring our latest "Manson," that's what St. Just called the prisoners who accounted for a lot of tabloid ink: serial killers, cannibals, religious nuts, etc. This guy - Nikolaus Armand - was a real gem. He'd been convicted on multiple counts of first degree murder. The tabloids loved that he drank the blood of his victims. They called him the "Hollywood Vampire," a name as inaccurate as it was ridiculous, since most of the killings occurred in Beverly Hills.
In any case, Armand slipped under during the court proceedings, just up and went comatose, with barely a warning. As soon as the sentence came down, they sent him right to us. Greater Metro had the best hospital facilities in the country, out of pure necessity.
Anyway, while I took Armand's blood samples, St. Just was trying to determine what was wrong with him. One day, he left me a memo telling me to go to his office when I was done making my rounds.
"I want you to look at this, Mark," he told me when I got there. He showed me a chart.
"Looks like blood tests, sir , four different patients, I guess."
"Looks like it, huh? Why's that?"
I gave him a look. "Well, for starters, there's four different blood types. And the white cell count seems to vary."
"I know. So I assumed the same thing you did, until I double-checked the results. They're all from the same man , Nikolaus Armand."
"That's impossible," I said flatly.
"Well, of course it's impossible, but it's true nonetheless. We can't even tell for certain if there's a dominant blood type, they're so mixed up. I want you to run more tests. Run everything , I want to hear those battered old Army surplus machines churning from Solitary."
"Why the enthusiasm, Doctor?"
"We've got a patient here who may be dying and hasn't responded to any treatments. Here we are with our first clue as to what might be wrong with him. Why aren't you enthusiastic?"
Well, that certainly sounded right, but this was clearly more than a doctor's normal enthusiasm for a patient. Things like this happened all the time, a sex offender contracted a new strain of AIDS, a murderer showed up with a case of polio because he'd never been vaccinated in the ghettoes ... it was nothing new. One thing I was beginning to learn about Dr. St. Just was his intense love of a good challenge and impossible odds.
I ran the tests over the course of three weeks, hundreds of them, assigning my other duties to a bewildered intern. After I'd run every test I could think of, St. Just took a few days to pore over them and then once again called me to his office.
"Well, Mark, we have something very interesting here," he said, stroking his cultivated, almost Dali-esque mustache with long, bony fingers. "Take a look at these." He pushed several sheets full of results across the desk to me. "Look at the first one - the tissue sample you took."
"Hmm. His skin's very photosensitive. If I hadn't seen him, I'd say he had an extreme case of albinism."
"Exactly. But he doesn't. Both his hair and eyes show pigment, and his skin is only slightly paler than average for a man in his condition. But his skin burns so easily even the overhead lights damage it. Now what about the next one?" St. Just seemed excited , I knew he was just leading me to some conclusion he'd already reached.
"Hmm. His EEG has dropped rapidly at 12: 10 every day, rising back up at 12: 17 or so ... wonder why no one noticed?"
"I'll tell you why , because at that exact time, the nurse gives him his daily shower with those stupid oversized water-picks they've given us. Next test," he said, with no explanation.
"X-rays appear to have left burn marks on the patient's skin ..."
"X-rays are just another form of sunlight, wouldn't you say?"
"Well, yes, I suppose so ..."
"Excellent. Now here's what I want you to do. Get a clove of garlic. The prison kitchen should have one."
"Now, wait one minute, Doctor. Before I do a thing more, I demand to know what you think you've found."
"A vampire, Dr. Robinson."
I very nearly leapt out of my seat. "A what? Are you bloody insane?"
"Not at all. Consider the facts ..."
"Consider the facts? Consider the facts? You're talking about some movie monster, and you want me to consider the facts?"
"Consider the facts," St. Just continued patiently. "Aversion to all forms of light, especially sunlight. Aversion to running water. And he drinks blood.
"Look, Robinson, I'm not saying he's some supernatural bogeyman. I'm saying that perhaps, perhaps there exists some scientific condition, or race, of Avampires.' Remember, meteorites were considered a superstition of French peasants until they fell on the palace."
I shook my head. There was no talking sense to him. "I'm not waving garlic under his nose to see if his skin boils. What good does it do us if he is a vampire?"
"Because I can cure him. I've isolated a common element in his blood that I believe may be the root of his condition. There's a prescription form there for a temporary diluted solution, if that has any effect we'll go to a higher concentration. I don't care what you think, when it comes right down to it, I'm the senior doctor, and he's my damn patient. Now fill that prescription and get out of my office."
If there's one thing St. Just hated, it was when people thought his ideas were flaky. So I injected the solution into Armand. And the next day his heartbeat rose to a normal rate. His blood pressure evened out. And his eyes opened.
St. Just himself was there at the time, with a vial of the concentrate. "Good morning, Mr. Armand."
"Mmm. Hh-hospital? Where?"
"You're in Greater Metro Pen, Mr. Armand. The court sentenced you here for life ... the exact length of that sentence, it would seem, depends on my ingenuity and your cooperation. I am aware of your ... condition, is that the word? Tell me one thing," he said, leaning forward eagerly, "Is it a disease? Or a virus? Or a whole race?"
"What? Is what a disease?" Armand mumbled.
"Uhhh." He reached a hand to his forehead. "Why do I feel so weak?"
"Answer my question."
"Mmm ...Vampirism. I have not been addressed with such a word since the time of your grandfather's grandfather. We never called ourselves that ... we never called ourselves anything. We simply went about ... what we did."
"So it's a race, then? An entire race of vampires?"
"Are you a priest?"
"No, just a doctor."
"Huh. It was a race. I am the only one, the last of my people. And it is a better people than your media would have you believe ... we are part of the cycle of things, Nature's cleanser ... not a one of us has ever attacked one who was not prepared to die."
"I don't care about any of that, Armand. I'm a scientist, not a moralist. But I can cure your condition, if you wish?"
"Cure? How do you mean? My condition, as you call it, is a natural reaction, such as hunger is for you. I need fresh blood from a body I have killed ... it has been so long ..." He looked at the two of us, and I regrettably recalled those old Woody Woodpecker cartoons where the shipwrecked sailors saw each other as various foodstuffs.
"I can destroy the vampirism in you, make you just like anyone else."
"Just like ... Hah ," Armand began to laugh, but coughed up a mouthful of blood into his fist. "Ugh. My blood ... it has been so long since I have tasted my own blood. I do not wish to be like Aanyone else,' human doc-tor. I am not like Aanyone else.' I shall never be like Aanyone else.' You see before you a man who served as a general under Octavian, as a bishop under Pope Urban. I have fought in more wars, drunk more wine, and made love to more women than your entire generation put together, human doc-tor. That is not a life lightly given up." He laid back down again, sounding now like an old man, a grandfather.
"You will surely die," St. Just reminded him.
Armand waved his hand. "Bah. So be it. Better that I die as myself than to live as you."
We left him lying there, thinking about what he'd said, the way he'd said it. He died two days later. n