Let the Punishment fit the crime?
Those narrow manacles, resembling a pair of small vices, were hindering his arms and were ready –if ever he had changed his present body, in the hope of flying away– to promptly immobilize any possible wing as well, by automatically becoming even tighter. They were, in fact, electronic handcuffs especially designed to prevent the escape of the “nosferatus” (as all felons like him were being scornfully called, by then) and had been just clamped around his wrists by two policemen (a sergeant and a lieutenant) to both of whom he, Carl Auldear1, had paid not a single bit of attention. Indeed there, in his cottage’s garden dimly illuminated by Chinese lanterns, his scowling eyes were solely for Inspector Ray Sun. And precisely to whom he eventually addressed himself, with a glare of snarling astonishment: “How did you cops find out I’m a vampire? I can’t understand… And to think that, even though my field is dentistry, I disguised my existence by working as a museum night attendant: a kind of job fully justifying my non-diurnal habits. Ain’t I right?”
“You are, I suppose…” answered the officer, in an irritated whisper.
“Speak up!” Auldear protested. “You see: I’m getting well on in years and a little deaf.”
“That job is an excellent front for your life, I reckon…” said the Inspector in a louder tone of voice and choking down his anger.
“Then how did you manage to guess my real identity?” Auldear inquired; after which, without waiting for a reply, he immediately added biting words whose spite was greatly flabbergasted sarcasm. “Did I betray myself one way or another? Who knows… Or perhaps… perhaps… Yes, I’ve got it, now! The tooth fairy informed you against me! Certainly she was made suspicious by the abnormal canine I left under my pillow, yesterday morning…”
“Your witticisms are very incisive,” Sun mocked back. “Yet, to tell the tooth… Oh bloody hell, a pronunciation mistake! No problem, I’ll correct it: yet, to tell the truth, they haven’t hit the nail on the head. In fact we relied not upon stool pigeons or fancy accusers, but upon a strictly scientific method.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we did water pipe-tapping,” the Inspector explained. “To be clearer, we secretly put impermeable bugs into all the toilet bowls of the village and, at the same time, stuck miniaturized sonars on every flush tube. I must admit it was a privacy violation, but thanks to the data that, within a week, we thus collected, it was very easy for us to identify the culprit of the several horrible deaths by homicidal bleeding, which are terrorizing the whole community.”
“And in your technological opinion, am I such a killer? Am I the serial villain who’s striking dread into poor and helpless hearts, by cranking out all those unpleasant, unaesthetic corpses?” Auldear asked with irony interwoven with solicitousness (or maybe imbued with vitriol.)
“Yes, precisely you.”
“You know: whatever people think of the subject, nosferatus never eat solid nourishment; as a matter of fact they just suck: in other words, they just drink. Obviously it cannot be denied that, when in public, they order sandwiches, for example, or even macaroni with meat sauce; however it is nothing but an act they put on as a precaution, in an attempt to appear like humans and not attract attention. Quite so: it is all pretence! Actually they aren’t interested in food: they find it indigestible and, after feigning to have picked at it, they check to be sure nobody is looking and chuck it away; in consequence they are absolutely unable to defecate.”
“Is there evidence of it?” chimed in Auldear, unexpectedly alarmed.
“Of course: for instance the bugs, we had concealed inside your toilet bowl, recorded only a quantity of gurgling sounds –and I’m not alluding solely to those produced by the flusher– while our microsonars detected no transit of solid matter through the soil pipe linking your bathroom to the sewer network.”
“Oh, you are great spies! As cool as James Bond,” Auldear sneered. “Or rather as foolish as Johnny English.”
“I’ll obey after you have realized that your marvellous scientific method, so worthy of Einstein, nails me as a vampire, but proves not even slightly that I’m a criminal or a murderer. And I’m not, inspector. I swear to Tosca. As she herself would say, I never harmed a living soul.”
“Are you sure?”
“Definitely! I’m a vegetarian vampire, my dear fellow, and my diet consists of two things only: plant sap plus certain fruits’ and vegetables’ juice. That’s why I settled here, in the countryside, and that’s why my garden is so large. Search it, if you like, and you’ll see that on each single stalk, branchlet, apple-tree, orange, tomato and stork’s-bill there are the marks of my canines.”
“I don’t rule out that you are telling the truth,” Sun retorted. “Nevertheless you must be apprehended all the same and taken into custody pending further enquiries: indeed you might have cultivated this garden, and then have inflicted several bucolic bites here and there, just to create an alibi allowing you to go scot-tree… sorry, scot-free.”
“You’re talking nonsense and my arrest is a total abuse!” exclaimed Auldear, no longer in an ironically joking mood. “I’ll appeal to the World Wildlife Fund!”
“Gosh, the lovers of nature…” sighed the Inspector, and kept briefly silent while mentally recalling the recent past: since vampires were bats as well, they used to be informally considered animals by the World Wildlife Fund, which –when their number had fallen owing to the fact that they, for the most part, would be jailed and executed for feeding themselves by committing homicidal bleeding– had declared them animals also officially; which had permitted the ecological organization in point to make them a protected species and to put pressure on the Government of Earth’s nations to such an extent that, from 2032 on, the law had categorically forbidden the sentencing of vampires to capital punishment.
“Thanks to these stupid environmentalists,” the Inspector went on “for you nosferatus there’s no longer the death penalty, the only fit penalty for your crimes…” his voice was low and desolated, as if he were wandering adrift among the bitter words of an exasperated soliloquy. “It’s a ridiculous situation! It’s an absurd farce which will stop, sooner or later!” he concluded in a sonorous, convulsive whisper.
“You’re wishing to see me dead!” uttered an upset Auldear, his lined face appearing even more wrinkled by the grimaces accompanying his efforts to grasp what Sun was saying.
“Dead? Don’t know, yet,” thoughtfully murmured the Inspector, as if engaged in investigating himself. “Dead? Don’t know, yet,” he repeated, absorbed in a sort of interior listening: probably he was trying to monitor (by means of some sophisticated soul-tapping) any kind of underground connection, or perhaps unauthorized conversation, between his mind and subconscious…
Then he suddenly shook off his pensive mood (which had become almost an auto-trance state) and peremptorily added, giving Auldear a challenging stare: “Don’t know, yet, if I want you dead. But incarcerated, yes. Cross, Garlic, take him away!”
“Are you threatening me, inspector? Are you threatening me?” bawled Auldear, frantic with anguish, while his short and skinny body was being forcefully dragged, by the sergeant and the lieutenant, towards their patrol car. “Be careful, inspector! I’m not a murderer, but I can become one. Never forget that vampires are wont to say: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Never forget, inspector. Never for…”
He didn’t finish delivering his invective because, when the time came to utter the last syllable, he had already changed into a skeletal Dwarf Fruit Bat. And thus, once his tiny, folded wings had instantly slipped out of the manacles, he was able to spread the former in a trice and rush skyward; unfortunately for him, his energetic impetus, being handicapped by the unbearable burden of his age, turned immediately into a clumsy way of floating very slowly through the dark air.
“Damn, he’s escaping!” the sergeant shouted. “Curse the shackles! They haven’t worked! They have tightened to the max, but have failed: he is too thin and puny!”
“Don’t worry, Cross,” said the Inspector composedly and, with a rapid movement, drew out his computerised six-shooter. He then, however, showed no signs of raising it. In truth, he was hesitating.
Perceiving this, the lieutenant exclaimed: “All right! I’ve got the message, inspector Sun.” And on shifting his hand towards his jacket, behind whose breast was his armpit holster, he cried aloud: “I’ll think about it! Yes, I’ll teach that fright a coffin’s proper usage!”
“Calm down, Garlic!” thundered the Inspector. “We aren’t felons.”
“Rubbish!” the lieutenant muttered. “The real crime is to miss such an opportunity.”
“I agree: it’s unrepeatable. The chance of a lifetime!” Cross intervened, brandishing his ray pistol. “Normally, we’d need to trouble ourselves to search for a stake of ash wood and, then, to hammer it into Auldear’s chest. What an effort! But luckily, as long as he remains a bat, a streak of laser light –a restful, relaxing streak of laser– is enough to do him in.”
“In addition,” Garlic tacked on “it would indeed be simple, for me or Cross, to maintain that our intention was to injure only one wing, in order to prevent him from escaping, and that instead we ended by burning a vital organ of his in an ill-fated error, due to darkness, his minute size and little time for taking aim.”
“You won, as my chess video game occasionally confesses,” the Inspector commented with a sigh. “You two have been thoroughly persuasive… But I will fire.” And, levelling his six-beam revolver at Auldear (a “slow-motion” chiropteran’s elderly stunted body, now faintly outlined against dawn’s early gleaming), Sun plucked up his courage by thinking: “No matter if the Prosecuting Attorney refuses to swallow the tall story of the tragic error; after all the penalty would be nothing harsh: since nosferatus are regarded, by law, as animals and a protected species, what am I? A killer, perhaps? Of course not! At the most, Your Honour, a common and even banal steamer…”