It hadn't been difficult to get an address and directions for the Count's place of residence. This might have been Los Angeles, but when somebody is eccentric enough to buy a plot of land beside a cemetery and then build a 'spooky miniature castle that has a flock of bats', it tends to stick out a bit. People had compared it to the setting of a horror film.
It would have been far more amusing if Angel hadn't known the ugly truth about the world, some horror films, and that the castle really was home to a vampire. Though a flock of bats did sound like a bit much. And the reports of pipe organ music in the middle of the night... Hopefully, the Count was still on his medication. If not, then this could truly end up a terrifying visit.
Angel left his car in a level area at the bottom of the castle’s winding approach, well before the drawbridge over the moat. He wasn’t quite certain how the Count had arranged permission for a moat, or if perhaps the Count had just built it and eaten anyone who’d objected, but it was definitely a moat. Glancing down at the water, Angel was certain that there was something large moving in the water, though he didn’t know what it was, and he had no intention of taking a closer look. Gravel crunched under his feet, and Angel found himself on a small stone courtyard that would have been perfectly familiar to anyone living in castles a few centuries back. It made him feel young, and nervous.
Bats fluttered around him, chittering as Angel raised his hand to knock on the door. Glancing at the moving shapes, Angel muttered, “By chance could one of you tell the Count that he has company?”
He found it rather disturbing that several of the bats peeled away from the flock and slipped back into the castle. “Right, he’s a sorcerer. They probably are reporting to him.”
Angel knocked on the door, hearing the sound echo inside. As he knocked a second time, it occurred to Angel that the Count could have gone out somewhere. What would he do if the deranged purple vampire wasn’t home?
“Two knocks and sewen echoes. It has been many years, Angelus,” the door opened, revealing the Count. The same purple skin and four large fangs, the same gleaming monocle, the same medallion on a scarlet ribbon, though the suit was slightly different, a dark green that could almost be mistaken for black.
“Count,” he began, with a polite nod. “I go by Angel now.”
“I’d heard a few things about that,” the Count spoke softly, his hand tracing over his medallion. “Darla had quite a few things to say about your changes in behavior. Perhaps a friend put you on medication?”
“Not exactly,” Angel shifted his weight, feeling nervous. “Is there somewhere that we could sit down?”
“Of course, of course, vhere are my manners? Come this vay,” the Count gestured and walked down though the open hall to a smaller room to the side. There was a low sofa and a pair of high backed chairs, and a glass topped table with several physics magazines and a leather bound book with a strange sigil on the cover. “Be comfortable.”
Angel settled into one of the chairs, deciding that it looked slightly higher than the sofa. “How have you been lately, Count?”
“Quite vell, really. There is a fascinating article in this month’s journal about string theory, and one on fractal images…” The Count rubbed his hands together with a smile. “But if I recall correctly, the numbers do not fascinate you as much as they do me.”
“Not as much, no,” Angel admitted. He didn’t want to admit that he had absolutely no idea what ‘string theory’ even meant. “You’ve been reading about the latest physics research?”
“Of course,” the Count smiled, and the monocle glinted in the moonlight. “Vhat have you been doing in the last century?”
“I ended up helping a Slayer in Sunnydale,” Angel admitted, hoping that he wasn’t about to get into a great deal of pain and trouble. “Now I have a detective agency in LA.”
“Slayers, phah.” The Count snorted, “So few of them have any appreciation for the numbers or for sorcery. I have had to deal with more than a few of them over my years, but the Vatchers have been wery annoying. The last one called me a wretched abomination.”
Angel must have made a noise.
“He vas the sixty third Vatcher who came after me, and he took sixty three hours to die. I am Count vonCount, and I am not an abomination!” For a moment, his eyes glowed, and thunder echoed outside.
“I’ve spoken to a few of your former associates lately; they mentioned that you had been on some medication?” Angel sent up a little prayer, hoping that the Count would be reasonable. He also wondered just what sort of things were in Wesley’s Watcher books on the Count.
“Ahh, yes. Kermit suggested it, he said that vhen I fly into a temper, it takes avay from the time I can spend vith my numbers. Bless him, but he arranged several people to vork wery hard to find me something that vorks vell. It soothes my temper vithout dulling my mind,” the Count smiled, leaning back into his chair. “I haven’t lost my temper for months. Not since that annoying wacuum salesman invaded my castle.”
“A vacuum salesman?” Angel didn’t know if he wanted to know.
The Count grinned, an expression entirely without comfort. “Most of him has since left. Vhat brings you here, a matter of your detecting agency, perhaps?”
Angel tried to ignore the comments about the vacuum salesman. “It does have to do with a case, actually. The murder of Kent Lanomer, an acting agent. He was the agent for Kermit and Miss Piggy.”
The Count was frowning, and his fingers moved in strange patterns that could have been arcane symbols, or perhaps mathematical equations. “Kent Lanomer… I do not believe I know him. Knew him. You are certain that it vas murder?”
“He was chopped into one hundred and seven pieces, each of which was put into a box, and the box stamped with a wax seal,” Angel replied. “That does tend to indicate deliberate intent.”
“I suppose it vould,” the Count agreed. “Did they leave any sort of message? Were the boxes kept in order, or vere they placed by anatomical location?”
“They were all given the same number,” Angel offered. “Number thirteen.”
The Count gaped at him, his jaw moving a few times before he whispered, “Each piece vas given the same number? The number thirteen on all one hundred and sewen boxes?”
Angel nodded, and asked, “You have been taking your medication, haven’t you?”
“You think that I had something to do vith that? You dare suggest that I vould insult the numbers like that? That I vould be so limited as to not give each little piece their own number and the proper respect due to the counting?” Thunder boomed, and the Count’s eyes were gleaming yellow.
Angel winced, and debated cringing in the chair against the merits of running for his car. “Apparently not. Sorry.”
“You should be sorry, Angelus childe of Darla. I vould not simply pile all of the pieces into boxes and give them the same number,” the Count hissed. “Such behavior lacks precision, it lacks organization, and one can wery easily carve a man into far more pieces than one hundred and sewen. There are two hundred and six bones, though one can generally only get a hundred from a wampire before they crumble. There are ower six hundred muscles, though it is wery difficult to remove the ones around the heart without a wampire crumbling. And of course there are the lovely organs, vith their assorted colors. Yards of intestines…”
Angel swallowed hard, certain that he’d made a grave error in coming here tonight. “A lot more than one hundred and seven then.”
“Oh yes, many, many more than one hundred and sewen,” the Count grinned, his eyes taking on a reflective gleam. “The mathematician vent into a number of boxes determined by the amount of his notes. That vas the limiting factor vith him. As for this Lanomer, I do not know who killed him, or vhy they had such an appalling lack of manners as to only use one number, but it vas not I.”
“That’s good to know,” Angel whispered, not feeling at all relieved. For that matter, he didn’t want to know how the Count had determined that you could remove one hundred bones from a vampire. “Except that I still need to figure out who did kill him.”
The Count sniffed, “Look for someone more concerned vith appearances than the details. Or for someone who could benefit from the man’s death.”
“Thanks, I’ll remember that,” Angel stood up, his knees feeling rather wobbly. At the moment, he still had all the pieces that he’d entered the castle with, and he was hoping to keep them.
“Giving each box the same number, vhat is wrong vith people today?” the Count muttered.
“I can find my own way out,” Angel offered, reminding himself not to run.
Angel retreated, forcing himself to remain at a walk until he reached his car. On the way back to his office, he shattered speed limits. Two questions remained, if the Count hadn’t killed Lanomer, who had? And why try to frame the Count?
End Counting Fingers.