It had been Sid who had seen the doctor first. Physically, he was just the type that Lacrima preferred, with his tall, lank build and untamed dark hair. In recent weeks Sid had sensed in her a kind of creeping malaise that had begun to spread, infecting his mind as well through a mysterious connection that had been evolving between them. Perhaps this man, offered as a gift, would be enough to brighten her mood.
He was standing beside a table of cheeses, nibbling at a bit of manchego and fidgeting nervously with a cocktail fork when Sid approached. He appeared to be deep in thought, lost to the sounds of the string quartet and the subdued laughter of the partygoers around him.
“Hey there,” said Sid, withdrawing a case of Cuban cigarillos from his breast pocket. “I don’t suppose you’d like to join me for a smoke? You look like you could use one.”
“Certainly,” the doctor said brightly, his dark eyes filling with light as he tumbled out of his daydreams. “Thank you.” He accepted a cigarillo, perching it between long, elegant fingers. He had the hands of a musician, thought Sid. Or an artist.
The two of them talked for a while, strolling the perimeter of the party where the boughs of blooming orange trees dipped low along the path. By this time, Sid had learned to use his gifts to extract information without reciprocation, and he found that the doctor was a particularly easy mark. With a little prompting and a friendly smile, he learned that Alvaro had recently come to Miami by way of a prestigious fellowship following a residency in one of his country’s best hospitals. Now, he was working in the city, living alone while the hospital’s lawyers worked to secure the necessary paperwork for his wife and young son to join him.
“It’s lonely, he said as they rounded the corner of an empty gazebo, coming upon a large fountain set within a wide stone pool. “But I have my music,”
“Oh, you’re a musician?” asked Sid, spying a familiar shape in flowing ivory sitting on the ledge of the fountain.
“An amateur, really,” said Alvaro. “I play the piano. It’s the only thing that kept me sane during my training. My true passion, really, is my work. The art of healing is… it’s my gift.” He looked to the dark purple sky and tossed the butt of his cigarillo to the ground. “My family used to say that I was chosen for it… by god.”
“By god?” said Sid, shifting so he was facing Lacrima. Alvaro mirrored his movement, leaving his back to her as she peered in to the reflecting, silver water.
“Yes,” said Alvaro, the tendons and veins of his neck outlined beneath smooth olive skin as he continued to stare upwards. “You see, I almost died when I was a boy. A fever they say. It should have taken me. It did take my brother. And my father. But I pulled through.”
Lacrima, who had been staring down morosely into the water, humming to herself with a voice too soft to be heard by mortal ears, looked up then, and began listening to the doctor’s story.
“It was my grandmother who watched over me during that time,” he continued. “I don’t remember it, but she told me that I often spoke of a woman who visited me during the night. She wore white, hooded robes and she had eyes like two red rubies. San Teresa de Avila, my grandmother said, her patron, was visiting my bedside to offer me her prayers. My grandmother began to leave her offerings outside of my bedroom after that, and soon, I awoke, healed and whole again.”
“That’s a beautiful story,” said Sid. “Did you ever see her again? San Teresa?”
Alvaro shook his head. “No. Never again. My world was different after that. I had to grow up without my father, knowing that I was the only hope for our family. My grandmother told me that Teresa had given me a gift, and I must share it with the world.” He sighed, his shoulders deflating as he lowered his eyes from the sky. “So I’m here,” he said. “To answer my calling.”
Behind him, Lacrima rose to stand, her white dress flowing around her like delicate petals, glowing in the moonlight.
“You’ve given up a lot to be here,” said Sid. “Do you think it was worth it?”
The doctor smiled warmly and chuckled. “It’s worth everything,” he said. “This city… It’s amazing. The people, the food, the colors, the smells,” he inhaled deeply then, and catching a whiff of something sweet, began to search the darkness for its source. “What is that?” he asked. “That smell, it’s like-”
“Jasmine?” offered Sid.
“Mariposa,” said Alvaro. “Like my mother used to wear in her hair.”
Sid nodded, understanding then that his job was almost finished. “It is a beautiful city, isn’t it? And you have yet to meet some of its most charming occupants. Dr. Garcia, there’s someone I’d like to introduce you to.” He gestured to the woman beside the fountain who stood watching them like a ghost in the pale moonlight. “This is my employer. Lacrima Zepesh. The two of you would get along, I think.”
Lacrima extended her hand. “Dr. Garcia,” she said softly. “A pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure is mine,” said the doctor, nearly tripping over his own feet as he moved to kiss her white hand. “Lacrima. Such a beautiful name. Befitting of a princess.”
“Or a queen,” said Lacrima. “You have lovely hands, doctor. Tell me, are you an artist, by chance?”
Sid returned to the party, content that he had done what he could to pull his Mistress from her melancholy turn. Lately, it had become more difficult for him to shut out their connection, and he found himself feeling all of her moods as though they were his own, separated only by the gossamer film of their physical bodies. He wondered if this was a part of his “sensitivity” as Lacrima had identified it, or if it was something he could share with only her. It wasn’t all bad, though, he reflected as he listened to a slow, mournfully sweet melody led by the Miami orchestra’s first chair violin. When she fed, a warm, contented feeling would pervade his thoughts, blunting the pangs of his own hunger. When she was hunting, as she was now, a playful excitement and a lust for life would mount within him. And when she fell into one of her many depressions, a hopeless and sorrowful desperation so deep and stormy that it threatened to pull him inside and rip him apart would cloud his mind. In these moments, he would have no choice but to attempt to lift her spirits, lest he be sucked down into a darkness of her design with no means to navigate his way home.
On this particular evening, Sid did not feel his hunger so acutely, perhaps because the music and the moonlight painted the night in such lovely tones of blue and gray. He was preparing to leave alone, making his way to the carport where he would instruct the valet to call him a taxi, when Lacrima found him, clutching the arm of Dr. Garcia.
“Sid,” she said, the traces of laughter still lighting her lovely face. “I’m so glad I found you. The doctor’s stories are so enchanting, I could stay out all night. But I’m afraid I must retire.” She covered her mouth to stifle a yawn, and Sid could see the tips of her white fangs just starting to emerge.
“I hope we will meet again, Lacrima,” said Dr. Garcia. “This is a beautiful country, but you have made it seem dull and colorless by comparison.”
“I hope so as well, doctor,” she said, allowing him to hold her small hand between his.
“Call me Alvaro,” he said.
“Alvaro,” she repeated. “Call on me soon. Sid, leave Dr. Garcia with our address. I must say my goodbyes to the hostess.”
“Yes,” he said, doing his utmost not to betray his surprise at her forwardness. “Certainly Mistress.” He scrawled the street address of their lair, where none had trespassed before who were not marked for death, onto a cocktail napkin, and he slipped away to get the car.