She was the last woman in London to go for the chop.
Unbound, Geneviève’s hair was long enough to sit on. Before her monthly coma, she combed and arranged it like an eiderdown. She always woke up three days later to find it wound into a rope. Usually, around her neck – as if her unconscious needed to remind her she should have been dead for five hundred years. From now on, her unconscious could keep its opinion to itself.
This evening, she would become ‘modern’.
Her appointment at M. Eugene was for just after sunset. The salon was Cox and Box. Open round the clock: different staff, different clientele by day and by night. She didn’t particularly need to shun the sun, especially in this dreary English autumn, but kept vampire hours anyway. Nearly fifty years after Dracula stepped into the moonlight, warm and undead shared the city in reasonably civilised manner. The former Prince Consort had quit the country, leaving claw-marks on everything from the pre-broken ‘Transylvanian’ crenellations of TowerBridgeto the ugly bat frescoes of the Sir Francis Varney Memorial. Thanks to a de facto revolution, at least two coups, one world war and late-coming electoral reform, everything had changed again. Everything kept changing, to the accelerated, syncopated rhythm of the American music she heard in cafés and dance halls inBerlin,Paris andLondon. InEngland for the first time since before the War, even Geneviève was changing.
TheWest Endstirred into night-life. She loitered over a thimble of mouse-blood in the Maison Lyons onShaftesbury Avenueduring the Friday evening shift change. Warm people went home and vampires came out.
Leaving the restaurant, she had a moment.
In the 1890s, this district was a battlefield of fire and blood. Unconcerned people hurried along streets which had been fought for. Then, it was barricades inLeicester Squareand impaled enemies of the state inPiccadilly Circus. Now, it was cocktails at the Criterion and a rag at the Troc.
She felt something. Her fangs sharpened, an instinctive response to danger or opportunity. She scanned the crowd as if the Carpathian Guard still had spies and informants out for her. Seeing only silly, happy people, she told herself not to be a fool. The Terror was over. New grief would come, but not immediately.
Dracula was no longer the most famous person in the world. The new holder of that dubious title was Charlie Chaplin. In films made in sunstruck California, the warm English comedian was ‘the Little Vamp’, a raggedy-fanged vagrant beloved by audiences who’d still cheerfully stake a real vampire. In the two-reeler One P.M., Chaplin lampooned Dracula himself, playing a Lord of Vampires tipsy on booze-bolstered blood, tripping over his cloak while clambering into his coffin.
Graffiti was stencilled on a nearby hoarding, straggling across posters advertising Oxo concentrated blood cubes, ‘Nutrax for Nerves’ and NetherBeast gramophones. Kink-limbed and –backed stick-figure men followed a leader who carried a thin question mark. She’d been noticing similar scrawls around town. Sometimes, just the question-mark man. A newspaper cipher competition? These nights, circulation-boosting stunts were a craze. The crooked men seemed slightly too sinister for that.
In M. Eugene’s Salon, the shift change was not yet complete. Attendants hung black velvet – lesser coiffeuristes used crepe – over the wall mirrors. Some new-borns were sensitive about what they’d lost. She caught sight of the smoky smudge, which was all she could muster of a reflection, but was long past embarrassment.
For centuries, even scientific thinkers like Edmond Cordery – who tried to ‘explain’ the vampire condition as a ‘benevolent mutation’ caused by ‘symbiotes in the blood’ – couldn’t account for the thing with mirrors. The world was forced to accept magic as part of nature. Max Planck’s Black Blood Refractive Postulate of 1902 supposedly ended that. Geneviève had read summations of the physicist’s paper and still couldn’t follow his abstruse reasoning. She hoped she’d outgrown a mediaeval mindset, but was sometimes happy to fall back on magic rather than get a headache trying to understand science.
In the reception area, framed pictures – photographs or portraits indistinguishable from photographs – displayed varieties of bobbed hairstyle. The dancer Irene Castle, the elder Elisabeth Bathory, the modiste Coco Chanel, film stars Marion Marsh and Colleen Moore. Avant-garde adopters of the new look.
A warm girl in a trim white uniform like a nurse – actually, more like a chorus girl playing a nurse in a revue catering to (mostly male) sophisticates – replaced the day’s roses with the night’s lilies. She smartly modelled the style, a breathing advertisement. Her blonde hair was cropped to show off her pretty neck. She had make-up over familiar nip-marks. The trend for dispensing with long, lovely locks was a convenience for (mostly male) vampires tired of trying to lift feminine falls out of their way yet still getting a mouthful of hair when they bit.
M. Eugene’s other speciality was straightening curls with terrifying Heath Robinson contraptions of gleaming hooks and heated rollers. The devices were like something you’d find in a penal colony, but women willingly subjected themselves to being pulled, ironed, squirted and steamed to achieve a ‘permanent wave’.
The Salon was busy, every chair in use. The warm blonde girl – Miss Bunting, according to her nametag – consulted an appointment book. She said Geneviève would be seen to momentarily and took her coat and hat.
A new-born debutante with pearly fangs and bee-stung scarlet lips occupied the chair before her. From back numbers of The Tatler somewhat surprisingly piled in Charles Beauregard’sChelsea house, Geneviève recognised the daughter of the millionaire Percy Browne. Like many girls of good family, she had turned at twenty-one, commencing a season of midnight balls. According to gossip columns, she took to night-life like a proper flittermouse. The Polly Browne Set was notoriously flighty. She’d personally battened on half the young bloods in the Drones and begun to nibble through the officer corps of the Brigade of Guards.
Geneviève, while conceding she had no right to be waspish, wondered what use the future would find for a flock of immortal butterfly girls.
Waves of hair shrivelled on the drop cloth as one of the salon’s nimble, slim young men snipped away with silver shears. Polly Browne’s formerly pre-Raphaelite mane was trimmed into a shape like an aviatrix’s helmet. All the while, the dresser gossiped: Ivor Novello was carrying on with the drag artiste Handel Fane, the organist Anton Phibes was squabbling with the management over billing at theTivoli, Noel Coward was turning vampire. The cutter displayed skill. One slip with the blades and Pretty Polly would be marred for decades.
Geneviève didn’t like silver near her face. Few vampires did, thoughHeidelbergfools still duelled with silvered rapiers to earn their distinctive scars.
Her turn came.
She sat in the chair, purple silk bib settled around her shoulders. Miss Bunting expertly took pins out of her hair and let it cascade. The chair was raised, so her fall did not quite reach to the floor.
Her hair brought out the proprietor himself. Eugene Suter was Swiss, with a curled moustache and long fingers. After Antoine de Paris, the greatest hairdresser of the age.
‘An elder,’ he noted. ‘How long has it been, Madame?’
‘Mademoiselle,’ she corrected. ‘More than twenty years.’
Her last cut had been self-administered, a Joan of Arc crop needed after half of her hair – and most of her face – was burned off in a skirmish with Countess Verdel, one of Dracula’s Carpathian she-wolves. She was assured her face had got better. She was also assured Verdel’s head hadn’t grown back on her shoulders.
Geneviève assumed the young man who had seen to Polly Browne would do the deed, but the maitre waved him away.
‘An elder, I cut myself,’ M. Eugene declared.
No other customer commanded the personal attention of the proprietor this evening. Geneviève was not above enjoying the who-is-that-woman? puzzlement of haughty new-borns who expected special treatment.
M. Eugene’s eyes flashed red and he opened his hands with a flourish, six-inch talons extruding from his fingertips, honed to an edge. Were he a mere barber, he could shave a man with those. She suspected that if he took to anatomy, he could slice through bone and tissue and extract a human heart, whole and without puncture, with one circular grasp.
He considered her head, finger-razors spider-walking through her hair. As he concentrated, bristles sprouted along his cheeks. His teeth enlarged, forcing his lips apart.
‘Daisy,’ he commanded.
Miss Bunting presented her neck. M. Eugene traced her jugular with his forefingernail, scratching through makeup. Blood welled and trickled along his talon. The tang made Geneviève’s eyes water. M. Eugene poured the drop onto his long tongue and pondered. He announced, ‘I am inspired.’ The warm girl pressed a pad to her neck and stood back.
M. Eugene stepped behind Geneviève. She felt claws in her hair, lifting its weight. She had a qualm.
Apart from anything, it was going to be expensive.
It was over quickly. M. Eugene took off her hair with a precise frenzy, slicing rather than cutting. He hummed a can-can through fangs, accompanying himself with the clicks of his nails. She felt a chill in her now-exposed hackles.
‘Hmmmn,’ said M. Eugene, a sheaf of her blonde hair pinched between talons. ‘Curious. It rots not.’
‘A peculiarity of my bloodline,’ said Geneviève.
Should she be of a mind, she could furnish individual locks for an army of sweethearts. Then again, her soldier had other things to remember her by.
Charles. Another tang.
She was living in his house, though he was inIndia. She could taste him still. This was his city. The worst of the Terror reminded her of the best of Charles Beauregard. What she couldn’t remember, now, was why she’d leftEngland– and him – when the cause was won and Dracula flown. A Californian orange grove had been her whim …
Her bib was brushed and removed. She could not resist reaching for her new fringe. Her hair didn’t cover her eyes any more. M. Eugene firmly pulled her hands away from his work. He gently slapped her wrists.
The hairdresser’s nails were normal now, trimmed and manicured. He took a brush and made a few passes. He considered her head as a hedger might consider a topiary rabbit.
M. Eugene snapped his fingers.
A lad who’d been sitting on a stool, reading the latest number of British Pluck, scurried over and flipped open an artists’ pad. M. Eugene stood over the mirror-boy as he made lightning sketches. Full on, profile, rear view. Here was a new profession for the anni draculae. The Old Count scorned mirrors as ‘baubles of man’s vanity’; now, fast-fingered draughtsmen served as looking glasses for the chic vampire. A good mirror-boy knew not to flatter the subject. The lad left her face indistinct and concentrated on her hair. She had bangs and cheek-guards. The back of her neck was shaved. She no longer looked Late Victorian.
‘Satisfactory,’ said M. Eugene. It was not a question.
She was gently hurried out of the chair. Others awaited the chop. Next up was a floppy-haired male dandy, an aesthetic remnant from before the War. Not a vampire, but a living man in aspic, with too-perfect, waxy skin. Monkey glands, perhaps. Or something worse. She had a shudder of insight: this was a character not to get entangled with. She got impressions from some people: usually, people she was in sympathy with; in this case, not. The customer carefully held himself apart from contact, especially avoiding the mirror-boy. Perhaps he didn’t like having his picture drawn. He looked enough like a living portrait as it was, the eyes not quite right.
The fellow who’d seen to Polly Browne popped up to look after the new customer. Instead of showbusiness gossip, the cutter chattered with horrified delight of recent criminal cases. Bywaters had gone to the gallows like a gent, swearing to his mistress’s innocence (to little effect, Thompson was hanged too). The dreadful Dr Sheppard, guilty of the Ackroyd murder, would be executed in the manner reserved for condemned vampires: silver-bladed guillotine. The Crooked Men were marching through theEast End, smashing newsagents and chapels. The sitter’s cheek muscles tightened at the whisper of each act of violence.
Miss Bunting helped her into her coat and hat. The bonnet flopped over her eyes. She took it off again and stuffed it in her pocket.
‘An excuse to buy a new one,’ the girl said.
Geneviève had known she’d have to get a cloche or beret to go with the bob, but hadn’t thought how immediate the need would be. There was a milliner’s a few doors down. Caroline Reboux must do a roaring trade with newly-shorn sheep from the Salon. Ditto, The Bee’s Knees – a fashion house, which sold Robe de Style, dresses, figure-flattening Eulalie Soeurs slips, ostrich feather boas and roll-top stockings. Several competing jewellers offered the ropes of pearls, which completed the flapper look. Garrard & Co. carried strings of all-black pearls, suitable for the thoroughly modern vampire.
‘If I can afford a new hat after this,’ she said.
‘There’s no charge,’ said Miss Bunting. ‘Your bill has been settled by the gentleman.’
He stood near the door, waiting for her. A warm man: clipped moustache, maybe thirty-five or older, evening dress, sharp eyes. She shuddered. He didn’t radiate wickedness like the dandy in the chair, but she perceived a flash of danger, a potential for practical cruelty, a scratch of attraction. He’d been bitten, at least once. Under his starched collar, he’d have marks like Miss Bunting’s. Deeper scars too. The War. Even in this bright new age, it was always the War.
The gentleman raised his silk hat. And his eyebrows.
The face was new, but she knew where he was from.
The Diogenes Club.