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Names and numbers populated the pages of the pocket-sized book Elsa carried. She stood over the crumpled body of a man whose name she didn’t know and, if she had her way, never would. Elsa gave the body another kick in the kidney. The man grunted, causing Elsa to feel a bit more satisfied. A girl, midway through her teen years, crouched in the corner, trembling. Elsa knelt by her, careful to get close without touching her.
“Do you have a name?” Elsa asked. The girl’s name, unlike the man’s, had infinite value.
The girl nodded as she responded, “Maria Esperenza.”
They were all named Maria in Havana and they all joined their middle name to their first. Elsa ran the name through her mind again and again. She’d need to remember it to write it down. Maria Esperenza would be number four-ninety-three on the second list of six-hundred and sixty-six names in the tiny red leather-clad book.
“Are you hurt, Maria Esperenza?” Elsa asked.
Maria Esperenza shook her head. The bruises on the girl’s naked shoulders belied the truth, or a part of it. The girl, unlike the man, still had her bloomers on. At least Elsa had arrived before the man had taken what the girl would never get back. Elsa couldn’t do anything for the bruises on her shoulders, but she could do something for the damage that didn’t show.
She picked up the girl’s torn dress from the floor of the tiny launderer’s shop and handed it to the girl. It took a moment for the girl to look up. When the girl reached for the dress, Elsa caught her eyes and spoke. She put her will into her words, coercing her as she said, “This man tried to take your money, nothing more. He got rough, but only wanted the money from the till. Another man came and stopped the robbery, taking this man away. Get dressed, lock up your shop then go home. Sleep well. You’ll not remember me or anything I did or will do here tonight.”
Elsa stood and walked to the door. She envisioned a hand in her mind, and used that hand to grab the man from the floor and drag him along behind her as she went out to the dark streets. The only lanterns or torches on the street were the ones hung from shops and those were not alight after business hours. It didn’t matter to Elsa. She preferred it dark. As a vampire, the light of the quarter moon was more than she needed to see clearly. She walked past several streets, careful to avoid the few people awake and about that late. The man she drug along occasionally grunted if he bumped over an uneven cobblestone. Finally, she got bored of dragging the man. She walked back and looked at his face. It wasn’t one she’d remember. She considered drinking her fill from the man, but he was dirty—too many days removed from his weekly bath, if he bathed that often. Lacking any further use of the man, and having separated him from the scene of his crime, Elsa pulled a razor from her boot and slit the man’s throat. His eyes popped open just before the life faded from them. The smell of his blood running down to the gutter made Elsa hungry, but there was nothing for her to drink there. The man was dead; his blood was dead. Elsa cleaned the razor on the man’s sleeve and slid it back into her boot.
From her breast pocket, she pulled out the little red book and a pencil. “Maria Esperenza, 493,” she wrote under Maria Bella’s name. Maria Bella had been the four hundred and ninety-second girl she’d saved. Though that girl hadn’t fared as well as Maria Esperenza, she’d live. Life and death were what mattered for Elsa’s book. A full list of the names of girls whose lives she’d stolen two centuries earlier preceded the pages of names of girls whose lives she’d saved. She’d imposed the penance on herself. It wouldn’t be enough to fill the second list, but it would be something. The one name that would never be on the list, the one name of a woman who could never be saved, was her own: Elizabeth Bathory.
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