The Count's Daughter
by Martin Green
I’d left San Francisco in the late afternoon so it was already dark when I
reached the mountains around Lake Tahoe. I turned off the freeway onto an
unfamiliar narrow road, then to an even narrower road and thought I was lost
but luckily my car had geographical positioning and suddenly there it was, the
castle that Count Armano had brought over from Europe; according to my
boss, stone by stone. The Count was one of our firm’s oldest clients and I’d
been sent there to review his portfolio, which hadn’t been updated in years,
and bring it into the 21st century.
I parked in the driveway and, carrying my small suitcase, walked to the
house and knocked on a massive wooden door. In a few minutes, a burly
fellow dressed in butler’s livery appeared. “I’m Mr. Bonwood,” I said.
“Here to see Count Armano.” I handed him my card. He let me in and left
me to wait in a hallway while he disappeared up a gloomy flight of stone stairs.
I looked around and made out suits of armor, some banners hanging from the
ceiling, a few strange-looking devices in the corner that might have been
instruments of torture. I felt a touch on my shoulder and a voice said, “Ah, Mr.
Bonwood.” I jumped; he must have come up very quietly, though I could
swear he hadn’t been there the moment before.
“Yes. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I had some, ah, rearranging to
do in the cellar.” The Count was tall and thin with a narrow face, its paleness
accentuated by his dark clothes. His eyes were also dark, almost black, and
seemed to have great depth. “You must be tired after your long drive. Hugo
will show you to your room. Please come down to dinner in half an hour.”
I said that would be fine. In my room, which was small and dark with a
minimum of furnishings, I unpacked my suitcase and put on a fresh shirt. I
went to the one window and drew aside the curtain. To my surprise, the
window was barred. I looked out. The light from a full moon shone eerily
on the trees surrounding the castle. There seemed to be a lot of birds flying
about; no, wait, they were bats. Strange.
* * *
At dinner, the Count introduced me to his wife, Lucretia, who was also
thin and pale and dressed in black. Their daughter, Esmerelda, who sat on
my right, was another story, blonde, with startling blue eyes, full red lips and
perfect features; altogether, the most beautiful young girl I’d ever seen.
Dinner was served by Hugo, who seemed to be a man for all purposes;
it was steak, a little on the rare side for my taste. The Count, helping himself
to a large slice, remarked, “Ah, nothing like meat, good for the blood.”
I turned to Esmerelda and asked how she liked her new country so far.
“I haven’t seen too much of it,” she replied.
“We lead a quiet life,” said the Count. “We don’t get out too much,
especially in the daytime.”
“You should really go over to Lake Tahoe,” I said. “The lake is
beautiful. You can hike and have picnics. And there’s skiing.”
“Oh, I’d like to do that,” said Esmerelda.
“You know that would be difficult,” said the Count, frowning.
“Well, at night you can go to the casinos. There’s gambling and
“Entertainment?” said the Count’s wife, speaking for the first time.
“That might be nice.”
“I shall consider it,” said the Count, and that seemed to bring the
conversation to a halt.
It was fairly late when we finished dinner and I was glad to get
back to my room, especially as the Count said he wanted to get an
early start on reviewing his portfolio in the morning. I got into the
narrow bed, thought a while of the beautiful Esmerelda, then fell
asleep. I was awakened by a light tapping at my door. I cautiously
opened it and there she was. “Esmerelda?”
“Yes. May I come in?”
“Sure,” I said. This was like a fantasy come true. But I’d have to
be careful; the Count didn’t seem to me a man you’d want to cross.
We sat down in the two wooden chairs placed in one corner of
the room. “I wanted to ask you some questions about your country,”
said Esmerelda. “What is this thing called television?”
“What, you don’t have a television set in the castle?”
“No. I have read about it, but Father says it is no good to watch,
too much crime and violence.”
“It does have a lot of that, but there are also reality shows that have
silly people in fake situations, news shows where people shout at each
other . . . Well, wait, maybe those aren’t the best examples. There’s also
a lot of good entertainment and informative stuff on television; you just
have to search to find it.”
“Tell me about this place you live, this San Francisco.”
“Well, it’s a beautiful city, built on hills, wonderful views of the Bay
and of the Pacific Ocean. It’s just a great place to live.”
“What do you do there?”
“Outside of working, all sorts of things. We have theatres, a
symphony orchestra, the opera, great restaurants. Then there are parties.”
Now Esmerelda’s blue eyes were really sparkling. She was
interested all right. “Parties? Tell me about these.”
“Well, people get together, they drink, talk, dance, …”
Before I knew it Esmerelda was sitting on my lap, her arms around
my neck. “And do they make love?”
“Sometimes. It depends . . . .”
Esmerelda’s mouth was open and I could swear she was going to
bite me on the neck. Wow! Beautiful and also passionate. Then I
noticed that her teeth seemed to be rather sharp, almost like, well, like
fangs. I hadn’t seen that before. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Let me look
at your teeth. Gosh, they’re, uh, unusual.”
“Everyone in my family has teeth like this.”
“Ah, I thought so, a genetic defect. My uncle Lonnie is an
orthodontist. I bet he can take care of it.”
All of a sudden Esmerelda jumped off my lap. “I must go now,”
A shaft of sunlight was coming through the window where I’d
opened the curtains before. “Wait a minute,” I said.
“No, I must go” And she ran out.
* * *
After breakfast the next morning, the Count, as good as his word,
took me into his study and we spent the rest of the day going over his
portfolio. They were right about it being out-of-date; some of the
holdings in it went back to the last century. I explained about
diversification and asset allocation; the Count was keenly interested
and told me I should go ahead. Encouraged, I told the Count he must
have a computer and in the end he even agreed to this.
Dinner was a jolly affair. The Count plied me with glass after glass
of wine and proposed toasts like, “Here’s to our friend, Mr. Bonwood.
He’s such a fine fellow I wouldn’t mind having his blood in our family,
Only Esmerelda seemed a little subdued. After dinner, as I was going
up to my room, she whispered to me, “Be careful tonight. Lock your door
and do not open your window.” I was going to ask her what this was all
about, but she quickly went off before I had the chance. Well, it was
probably nothing. I was pretty tipsy when I finally got to bed and the
room was warm so I did open the window. Then I fell asleep; or,
perhaps more accurately, passed out.
I heard a noise and opened my eyes. I could swear that a bat had
flown in the window, but suddenly there was Count Armano, standing in
the middle of the room. “Count! What are you doing here?”
“Don’t be disturbed. Just a little farewell visit.”
I’d jumped out of bed and had backed up to the wall, but before I
knew it the Count had grabbed me. Boy, he was strong. He opened his
mouth and I saw the same sharp teeth as Esmerelda’s. I was about to tell
him about my uncle Lonnie, the orthodontist, but he started to come at my
neck. Then, the door burst open and Esmerelda was there, screaming,
“Father, don’t. You can’t do it.”
The Count looked at his daughter. “But this is what we’ve always
“Yes, I know. But that time is in the past. We have to start living in
the new world now.”
“Right,” I quickly put in. “I told Esmerelda we can do something
about those teeth. I want her to come to San Francisco with me.”
“But I’m afraid I can’t,” said Esmerelda. “I can’t go out in the
“Ah, a skin condition. We can fix that, too. Besides, San
Francisco is foggy a lot of the time.”
“Then, can I go, Father? Please.”
“Yes, please let her go, Emelio.” It was the Countess,
standing in the doorway.
Count Armano released his grip on me. “All right,” he said. “I can
see I have no choice. We must change, get with it, as you say. You’ll
order those computers for me?”
“And the plasma television. And the Tevo. And the entertainment
center. And . . ”
“Yes, yes, all that. But, Mr. Bonwood, if you ever cause my
daughter unhappiness; remember, I have very sharp teeth.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not likely to forget.”
So shortly after that, we set out in my car for San Francisco,
Esmerelda with a scarf over her face and wearing sunglasses while I
tried to explain to her just what rock and roll was.
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