At 8:15 PM, Dracula walked in the door.

Clark was standing at the counter, and only spared him a quick glance; spread out on the counter was a crumpled receipt, seven digits and a dash written in it in a messy hand below a three-letter name. He'd read them a dozen times, since the cat-eared girl she get strange friends had come by a few days before.

Dracula was kitted out in the Bela Lugosi mode; widow's peak, velvet cloak, dark and mysterious mien, all of it. He vanished into the back shelves, but not before Clark spotted a smudge of bright red at one corner of his mouth, contrasting against the pale skin.

The store was almost empty; it had been a slow day, only Riesling Guy browsing aimlessly among the white wines as usual. Riesling came at least once a week, never stayed less than an hour, and always bought the same bottle, a not particularly expensive Riesling from a no-name vineyard.

Paper crinkled on the counter, and Clark looked back down. The receipt was crumpled in his fingers. He carefully smoothed it again. It would be so easy to call.

The door jingled open again, a grizzled old specimen of a hard drinker blowing in on the cold wind. mumbled a greeting, but the customer just grunted at him and made a beeline for the grain alcohol. Riesling Guy shook his head disapprovingly and moved to another wine display, his inevitable purchase still dangling from one hand.

Riesling Guy looked... normal was the only way John could put it. Not particularly tall or short, young or old, though his small, graying beard was an indicator that he might be older than he looked.

He rarely spoke, and never beyond a few terse words. His eyes, though, needed no such aid - hard and piercing, they spoke volumes.

Without really noticing, John served a few more customers. Mostly, they were normal enough, though the blue-painted identical twins were a little strange even by his standards. He couldn't get Max out of his mind, and he couldn't understand why. It wasn't as though she'd been particularly attractive - at least, by the standards he usually used. Buxom, tall, graceful - she was tiny and moved like a gerbil on fast-forward. But he couldn't bring himself to get rid of the receipt.

There was a soft scuttling sound from the back of the store. John narrowed his eyes and grabbed the broom that rested against one wall. Wouldn't be the first time they'd had an inquisitive cockroach or rat sneaking around.

He rounded the nearest stack of wine and liquors, all arranged neatly on their shelves; at the back wall, the "Employees Only" door was slightly ajar. No rat had done that.

With a long creak, the door opened at the broom's push; Clark peeked in behind it. The storeroom light was almost dead, flickering incessantly. The shadows they cast seemed to be moving, swaying. But one patch of shadow didn't quite match.

Clark, still on autopilot, raised the broom to hit. And then the shapes resolved themselves.

The wino, eyes rolled back. The Dracula, hands wrapped around him. Fangs, buried in his throat.

Even for a liquor store, this qualified as weird.

A weathered hand reached past Clark and took the broom from nerveless fingers. "Wooden shaft, not aluminum?" The voice was vaguely accented, perhaps German. "Good. Stand back, boy."

Riesling Guy pushed past Clark, striding into the room. The bottle he'd held earlier was nowhere to be seen; instead, he held the broomstick in both hands and snapped the wood in a single jerking motion. The Dracula's head snapped up, bloody fangs bared, and suddenly his clothing wasn't funny at all - but one snapped-off piece of broom plunged up into his side, up under the ribs, an expertly brutal blow that drove the vampire off balance and sprawling onto its side, twitching.

The wino moaned weakly, and Clark had just enough time to see the other half of The broom rise and fall decisively before he stumbled out of the store and was thoroughly sick.

---

Afterward. Riesling Guy sat on the curb next to Clark. The police had come, and then the ambulances, but neither the "terrorist nutjob" nor his victim had showed anything to indicate Clark or the customer who saved him of foul play. A drug trade gone bad seemed to suggest itself as the likeliest culprit.

"How... How did you know?" Clark asked dully. "Is that just what you do?" The man just smiled and shrugged, expression impregnable. Instead, he held out a bottle of nice but inexpensive Riesling, the cork already popped. Clark took a long drink.

The two of them drank companionably, for awhile, as the bodies were loaded into the useless ambulances. Only when they were alone did the old man clear his throat and speak.

"She always loved this stuff." He took a swallow from the bottle and grimaced. "Never liked it myself. But she loved it."

He gave Clark a long, level look. "Word of advice, boy. Don't dither. I've nothing to hurry for. Only person I cared for died years back. But you've got opportunities. Use them."

The receipt crinkled in his pocket, and Clark found his throat dry. "I'll try."

-end-




I ran a fanart/fanfic contest at the end of 2014, and this submission was from forum user Merle, who took strip #235 in an interesting direction.