"Hold on," Floria said. "I know what you're going to say: I agreed not to take any new clients for a while. But wait till I tell you--you're not going to believe this--first phone call, setting up an initial appointment, he comes out with what his problem is: 'I seem to have fallen victim to a delusion of being a vampire.'"
"Christ H. God!" cried Lucille delightedly. "Just like that, over the telephone?"
"When I recovered my aplomb, so to speak, I told him that I prefer to wait with the details until our first meeting, which is tomorrow."
They were sitting on the tiny terrace outside the staff room of the clinic, a converted town house on the upper West Side. Floria spent three days a week here and the remaining two in her office on Central Park South where she saw private clients like this new one. Lucille, always gratifyingly responsive, was Floria's most valued professional friend. Clearly enchanted with Floria's news, she sat eagerly forward in her chair, eyes wide behind Coke-bottle lenses.
She said, "Do you suppose he thinks he's a revivified corpse?"
Below, down at the end of the street, Floria could see two kids skidding their skateboards near a man who wore a woolen cap and a heavy coat despite the May warmth. He was leaning against a wall. He had been there when Floria had arrived at the clinic this morning. If corpses walked, some, not nearly revivified enough, stood in plain view in New York.
"I'll have to think of a delicate way to ask," she said.
"How did he come to you, this 'vampire'?"
"He was working in an upstate college, teaching and doing research, and all of a sudden he just disappeared--vanished, literally, without a trace. A month later he turned up here in the city. The faculty dean at the school knows me and sent him to see me."
Lucille gave her a sly look. "So you thought, aha, do a little favor for a friend, this looks classic and easy to transfer if need be: repressed intellectual blows stack and runs off with spacey chick, something like that."
"You know me too well," Floria said with a rueful smile.
"Huh," grunted Lucille. She sipped ginger ale from a chipped white mug. "I don't take panicky middle-aged men anymore; they're too depressing. And you shouldn't be taking this one, intriguing as he sounds."
Here comes the lecture, Floria told herself.
Lucille got up. She was short, heavy, prone to wearing loose garments that swung about her like ceremonial robes. As she paced, her hem brushed at the flowers starting up in the planting boxes that rimmed the little terrace. "You know damn well this is just more overwork you're loading on. Don't take this guy; refer him."
Floria sighed. "I know, I know. I promised everybody I'd slow down. But you said it yourself just a minute ago--it looked like a simple favor. So what do I get? Count Dracula, for God's sake! Would you give that up?"
Fishing around in one capacious pocket, Lucille brought out a dented package of cigarettes and lit up, scowling. "You know, when you give me advice I try to take it seriously. Joking aside, Floria, what am I supposed to say? I've listened to you moaning for months now, and I thought we'd figured out that what you need is to shed some pressure, to start saying no--and here you are insisting on a new case. You know what I think: you're hiding in other people's problems from a lot of your own stuff that you should be working on.
"Okay, okay, don't glare at me. Be pigheaded. Have you gotten rid of Chubs, at least?" This was Floria's code name for a troublesome client named Kenny whom she'd been trying to unload for some time.
Floria shook her head.
"What gives with you? It's weeks since you swore you'd dump him! Trying to do everything for everybody is wearing you out. I bet you're still dropping weight. Judging by the very unbecoming circles under your eyes, sleeping isn't going too well, either. Still no dreams you can remember?"
"Lucille, don't nag. I don't want to talk about my health."
"Well, what about his health--Dracula's? Did you suggest that he have a physical before seeing you? There might be something physiological--"
"You're not going to be able to whisk him off to an M.D. and out of my hands," Floria said wryly. "He told me on the phone that he wouldn't consider either medication or hospitalization."
Involuntarily, she glanced down at the end of the street. The woolen-capped man had curled up on the sidewalk at the foot of the building, sleeping or passed out or dead. The city was tottering with sickness. Compared with that wreck down there and others like him, how sick could this "vampire" be, with his cultured baritone voice, his self-possessed approach?
"And you won't consider handing him off to somebody else," Lucille said.
"Well, not until I know a little more. Come on, Luce--wouldn't you want at least to know what he looks like?"
Lucille stubbed out her cigarette against the low parapet. Down below a policeman strolled along the street ticketing the parked cars. He didn't even look at the man lying at the corner of the building. They watched his progress without comment. Finally Lucille said, "Well, if you won't drop Dracula, keep me posted on him, will you?"