I wrote a thing. It started with one scribbled sentence in the middle of the night, continued by the session in the defunct village in the forest and ended at my place. I chose English language for once simply because I wanted to try to write something in English. After few sleepless nights I can’t English anymore from all that staring into the papers, monitor, googling and researching all kinds of stuff. Once I recover some willpower and ideas I might continue.
The story takes place in old London, following fates of my two heroes from the episodes I wrote in Czech language. It all started with Letter written back in October 2019 with a story from 19th century. Is amateurish, contains typos, bad grammar and unclear parts, but my desire is to continue writing because I enjoy it. I’m always tinkering and correcting. Accept my apologies for any unclear thoughts and bad grammar, though, and enjoy the rest.
On the previous episodes: my inspiration came from a specific ambient video with a fireplace in the dark Victorian residence, which sparked something. It grew from that little spark, being changed slightly, lots of words added. From the main story, to prequel with flashbacks, other hero’s point of view to the new century with a deadly noir atmosphere. Both characters have some history and supernatural edge. Stories are rather simple. Channeling my inner graphomaniac as usual. And now to the story:
Written 15.06.2020, revised 15.03.2022.
Age restriction: by continuing reading you agree, that you are mature enough.
Tags for your consideration: Violence, Harsh Language.
Words cca 9,100.
My heart was pounding heavily, waking me up from yet another nightmare, the one where I found my PI partner unconscious and chained to the bolt in the wall down in a dark and musty basement.
The guys were using him as a leverage against me, to be able to push me around at their will, making sure I’ll cooperate and don’t misbehave. From what I knew they never planned to let him go free. Half sitting, leaning against the brick wall he looked quite beat up, bruised and as I found out in utter horror, stabbed in the lower abdomen and left for dead. Not a sign of even trying to help him. He was still bleeding from the wound, pressing his free hand wearily against it. Dried blood sticking to his long fingers. And under the blood smell I noticed something unusual. Very fainted. I wasn’t sure what.
I felt like failure and all that. Blinding hate arose within me and I had to fight the urge to tear everything in my reach apart. Including them. I was very capable yet somewhat managed to suppress the initial adrenaline surge to be able to think clearly, get my shakes under control and act accordingly.
First I broke the chain off and lowered his right hand softly. It will be hell of a pain as the blood resumes its flow through arterial vessels. I checked his eyes, and the pupils reacted slightly. His breath was shallow and wheezy. Heart racing fast but weakly. His ribs were cracked so I assumed they had some fun with him during a brass knuckle dance. Bruising him in places where the knuckle connected with flesh in full blast.
„Charles, can you hear me?“ I whispered quietly, easing him safely to the floor. A frail sob came out of his mouth and he jerked a bit as I tried to make him comfortable or at least something close to it.
It was a good sign though. He was still kicking and alive after all.
„Charles.“ I addressed him once more so he won’t slip out of consciousness again. He blinked once, his lips shaping a word.
„William..“ He sighed, relieved.
„Yes, Charles, it’s me… It’s all right. I came for you.“ I kept my voice controlled. Gently touching his left temple. Short locks of his blond hair clumped together and stuck to the abrasion wound.
„Cannot.. cannot move. Lost.. blood. Lots of it..“ As he was speaking and fighting against dizziness and pain I shed out of my overcoat and covered his body with it, trying to keep my friend warm.
„I can make this right, Charles.“ My corner teeth were ready for whatever was coming to us.
„Don’t.. risk. Make you.. weak.“
„No need to worry, Charles.“ I didn’t let him object. We had no time for song and dance and I still had to take care of the rest.
We definitely possessed some weaknesses. Once losing too much precious blood we were as vulnerable as anyone else. Whatever the thugs had in store for us it could do the harm. That’s why I fed before all the fun began. And that’s why I can spend some on the rescue mission.
So I frantically penetrated the vein on the inner side of my right wrist and offered the stream to his dry lips. He didn’t hesitate. The only way to get out was to accept my help. Fully.
We have been through this in the past. I was on the receiving side once or twice, hurt badly and bleeding to death. I was human then. Felt very lonely, because I thought he was dead. I made peace with my inevitable dernière but it didn’t come. God knows I don’t want to go through those feelings again any time soon.
We also have to be very careful, checking for tails all the time. There’s always someone way too interested and watching, observing so they can use the knowledge against us. Not many are honourable, trustworthy or in a few rare cases tolerant. We were some bloodsucking specimens. And when someone starts noticing it is better to lay low until further notice.
Charles pressed his lips against my wrist for a few more, his heartbeat strong and stable. Colour back in his cheeks and the wound was knitting itself shut, skin smoothing as it healed quickly. I checked on that. Now there are two of us against the very few soon-to-be-dead thugs. No custody. Way too personal, way too close.
We were yet to find out the brain of the operation. He might be on the uppermost floor of this joint, clueless and calm, expecting me to be elsewhere, running his errands.
I offered my handkerchief to Charles so he could clean his face a bit. I got him back on his heels. He looked rather weary yet his eyes were shining with new life and fire was burning behind them, rendering his irises bright blue.
And now to settle the debts.
We emerged silently from the basement staircase shaft. I had my Webley Mark VI revolver out and handed over the gun I took from one of the donors earlier. Charles nodded in agreement, accepted the heat and said his thanks. He could use the telepathy if he wished but it wasn’t necessary at the moment and he probably wanted to preserve all his strength.
I was ready to arrange the boss’s demise, especially after what they did and still planned to do to my friend. I took such insults very personally and much less English. As I thought Charles read my facial expression clearly.
„Don’t let that hate cloud your judgement. I appreciate your concern, Will, I will be all right. Hard feelings put aside for the time being.“ He decided to speak out. We didn’t hear anything dangerous nearby. Ground floor was clear. I swept through it thoroughly on my way to the rescue.
„No biggie. Upper floor?“ I asked, facing the stairway up. He nodded and we proceeded up and above. Old wooden stairs creaked under our steps even with our supernatural edge. My .455 calibre Webley cocked and ready to disintegrate anything that moves. But the dark hall was empty and I didn’t hear any working lungs in near proximity.
As I moved a few steps ahead, listening to anything unusual, Charles halted, signalling he heard something, touching his ear and turning back. His tall lean figure disappeared in an open room on our left.
This joint was desolated, once buzzing with live music and all the patrons. But after the war, influenza bonus and Great Crash most of the places in this neighbourhood closed their doors. A lot of companies went downhill and structures became deserted. That’s what attracted other kinds of businesses. And that’s where you could easily disappear. Your remains probably dragged away by strong tidal currents in a fast pacing river. I bet it was their plan with Charles‘ once dead body. Dispose him in the deep cold water after they were done with him. That would be an unpleasant experience. I felt a shiver down my spine, blocking further thinking into that direction.
I slipped around him, muzzle pointing towards the floor and went to the front line. The entry hall was empty of any living thing. Few pieces of crooked wooden furniture scattered throughout the place, covered in years old dust and cobwebs. A single butterfly wing, entrapped in spider web swinging in cold draft coming from the broken window.
My eyes darted from the next rooms‘ closed doors to unswept floorboards. I noticed fresh tracks. The prints were large as of men and went both directions. Dim light shone from under the door ahead of us. I heard muttered voices, at least four men were inside.
‚One by one?‘ I asked telepathically.
„They seem oblivious to our presence. We can go blitzkrieg style with this particular gathering.“ Charles replied. I had the feeling he enjoys being on the edge way too much for my liking and I swore to myself to keep an eye on him and for him. No need for any unnecessary bloodshed.
„Just let me go first.“ And I went as I spoke.
The door fell out of its hinges suddenly, hitting the floor. I was already inside, delivering damage on both sides of the square table, paper cards and shards of glass flying in the air. Poor fellas had no time to react and never knew what hit them. It was my nasty ammunition ripping their hearts apart. Muzzle hot from all the shooting. Blood puddles spread under the bodies. I felt the crimson aerosol landing gently on my face and swept it away. Heard no working lungs except mine and Charles‘. I could suppress even that if needed.
I stared at the crime scene far too long, Charles had to remind me about the boss and his bodyguard awaiting our arrival in the lounge. They must have known already. „Perhaps we shall proceed and check on losses later?“
I gave him something close to a smile and shifted gears in my head. I pushed the lever of the gun, top broke open, spent casings ejected automatically and fell to the floor. I reloaded the drum and was ready for more action.
„Lead on, brother.“ As we left the bloody mess behind I heard an unmistakable double click sound from the dark corridor ahead of us, followed by a deafening roar and blinding flashes, firing from the muzzle and through the slits in the compensator. It looked like a fiery flower. They had the damnedest Chicago Typewriter on their side of things.
My six-chamber Webley was a toy in comparison. We yet again let the enemy surprise us just a bit unprepared.
Charles staggered backward. His body twitched uncontrollably under the bullet’s impact. Gasping for air he fell and rolled aside. Laying still.
I bought a few hits too. Going right through my midsection, scratching the sternum and ripping out of my back. I leaned toward the wall unintentionally. Unsteady aim at the guy’s chest and bang the gun went, delivering a terminal message. Following silence was almost as deafening as the shooting itself.
Oh, it hurts! I can heal up quickly but I do not enjoy being shot, especially from that monstrous submachine, holding fifty rounds in its drum. No surprise they needed money from that vault, buying exotic toys to play with. You could buy either a good car or two Thompsons.
I was supposed to collect one hundred grand if I wanted to see my partner again and they knew I acquired some special abilities in advance to make it happen. Well, too bad. I don’t work for the mob.
I kneeled next to Charles and turned him over. He was hurt too much to be of any help. I read it on his wall white face and he was trembling, losing his grip on the gun I gave him, dropping it on the dirty floor.
„Oh, bloody hell.“ It just slipped from his lips. My language would be more colourful under given circumstances but I kept my yap shut, pressing both my palms against his wounds. His blood flowed freely between my fingers until it stopped eventually and bullet holes started knitting themselves up. No more rude interruptions.
„I don’t feel quite right, William.“ THAT was an understatement. His skin back in pale shades, cheekbones more pronounced. Shakes took over his body. That was bad even for a vampire.
„I know. Let me get you out of here.“ I said softly.
„But what abou..“ He started saying something of importance when the moan took his breath away.
„Charles, hold on to me.“ I gave him that simple order. I was supporting most of his weight with my left shoulder as he was limping unsteadily between me and the wall he hugged earlier. I was a few inches shorter in figure so it was easy for me. We probably looked like two drunks minus the bloody mess of clothes. I might take a very long vacation after this operation, even reconsidering my work for PI.
„You would?“ He read my mind right away. He knew better. Didn’t have to ask.
„No, of course not. I’m not leaving you in this.“ I reassured him, even though he didn’t need it. Not at all.
„I’m terribly sorry you had to go through all this.“ He apologised, remembering his manners.
„It’s not your fault.“ I told him while taking the fire escape route rather than the regular staircase. „How did they get to you in the first place?“ I asked, curious. I was thinking it out-and-out while my skin had been crawling in worry about his whereabouts for a few days.
„It was quite simple, as one might say. A poison. Very potent one. Knocked me flat. I recognised it was probably cyanide. Generous dose. Would have killed several men in mere seconds. Rather unlucky outcome of a first business meeting with a new client. I knew right away the guys were mobs of dubious morale. I should have known the risk. Yet their poker faces were unreadable.“
„Oh, God, Charles.“ I muttered in shock. So that’s what my oversensitive nose picked up earlier. A slight almond odour coming from his skin. It should be harmless now, I wasn’t the only one touching his bare skin.
„No need for sentiment. A trivial mistake on my part. They used a pressurised dart while I was focused on their boss trying to read him out.“
„I should have been there.“ I said apologetically.
„Should have, could have.. We cannot go back there and change things, can we?“ He was right. Let’s talk further more later. I hauled him on the back seats of my Nash, handing him a reloaded revolver.
„Here. You stay low. I have to finish something.“ He nodded, his eyes tired, blood stained shirt unbuttoned and shredded in several spots. I felt sorry for him. It’s up to me to deal with the mastermind.
I gathered my strength and darted back to the two-store brick building. I covered the distance horizontal and vertical in a few seconds, took the Thompson submachine gun from dead man’s hands and beelined for the top floor lounge.
Windows dim, facing the river bank somewhere in the darkness. Strong and steady heartbeat behind the wall right of the door. He was there all by himself. I didn’t take it for granted though. As I went through the closed door he vaguely shot in my direction. Standard .36 calibre. No darts.
One bullet slipped through my dark brown hair, leaving no scratch. The other flew through the thick wired glass window behind me. He was a good shot. I was just faster so I slugged him using their own gun, taken from the lieutenant down there. The big bald guy grunted and fell backwards like a rag-doll, hitting the chair, crushing it to shards, landing square flat, his face forever in surprise. Dead and no money. That’s what she wrote.
I went thoroughly through all the papers and stuff left behind. Including all his pockets. Find no connection to us or anyone else. Cleaned any possible fingerprints we might have left here and there. I also recovered my coat and a few more weapons, including the one I handed to Charles earlier. I couldn’t do much about our own blood stains nor bullets from my Webley. I hoped we might arrange a deep clean with some of our friends or do it ourselves before the police notice. But now it looked like way too much effort. I had to take care of Charles. Oh, well.
So far no sirens. No one heard the mayhem or no one cared enough to look into it. Gang wars were always dangerous even for innocent witnesses. And this event should be part of such a war. Nothing to do with me or my PI friend. Yeah, I was lying to myself a bit to make it easier.
Charles always kept his gears shifting, working hard, looking into new fields of interest, determined. Since his army surgeon service not much has changed. Always in the middle of danger, pushing forward and getting the best of himself. I understood that he got entangled in one of his adventures way too much.
We met in the Anglo-Afghan war back in 1879, a year into the conflict. I was an infantryman and he happened to be a very good doctor. And we have had many chances to prove ourselves since then. He left London for his Scotland refuge and I became an unpopular professor of history, always seeking the truth. Unpopular in certain society circles. Students loved me. It was difficult but I stood my ground until our destiny met us, ripping apart our mere existence. I decided to stay in Scotland until the dust settled. We left the country and came back, just stayed out of London if possible. We then returned to the City relatively safe off any odds. That I found really tiring and heartbreaking, losing few friends and most of the colleagues while I was thriving and still looked and felt young in my forever twenties. Thirty plus years passed and several catastrophes later we found ourselves in the middle of a new era. City grew rapidly around us with a lot of opportunities served on a silver platter. We could go happily unnoticed, selling antiques, art or whatever, yet we chose to serve justice. Charles got his Private Investigator licence here in London and I started working for him some time later. We have always been in touch if not rooming together like now. And yet again we found ourselves on the very edge of the dark abyss, depths swirling with danger right under our feet. With Europe going unstable again I lost all hopes in greener pastures, brighter futures and other way too poetic outcomes. Sinking deep into the mess.
Heading to my four-door Nash I was thinking right about that. And the secluded hunting lodge still in Charles’s possession. Very handy refuge, off-grid and forgotten. I need holidays and crawl under a rock for a change.
Opening the back doors I tucked my coat around his half-aware self, went to a trunk for a doctor’s bag made of brown stained leather, pulled it open, taking the bottle of dark ruby fluid and handing it to poor Charles. Anything entering our system could be potentially dangerous, same as for any human being, yet we were capable of fighting it better and eventually rendering any substance harmless. Guys here knew they’ll have to use heavy calibre to get him and keep him vulnerable. We should definitely look into it to avoid further damage. Act human et cetera.
I started the engine and let it warm up. Turned heater on. Could imagine how he felt. The late night traffic near Greenwich Hospital was almost non-existent. I took it slowly anyway. There were no regulations present at the moment and a lot of ugly accidents filled every rag’s front page all the time. People were calling for some decent changes. There are almost half a million private cars registered and with all those public transport companies the streets were flooded in chaos. I thought that the remodel and extension of the subway could solve a few issues. But who am I to unscramble big city problems? I’m just trying to survive the jungle without being noticed too much. Which failed miserably.
Charles finished his late night drink, hiding the empty bottle in a medical bag. I noticed slight relief in his face as I checked on him in the back mirror. He met my hazel gaze.
„Better?“ I asked.
„Peachy.“ In forced American accent. He kept holding his right hand protectively close to his chest. The healing should have kicked in right now, but maybe it was just too much for one Charles. He wore himself thin on this one.
„I might invest in military grade bulletproof vests, what do you think?“ He had an excellent idea.
„Yeah, this job ain’t getting any prettier I presume.“ I noted.
„And, perhaps, we should start looking into our latest problem. From where they got all the information about our special gifts.“
„Well, there’s this movie of sorts, you know. Béla Lugosi stuff.“ I started, teasing him.
„Oh, please, Will. Don’t.“ He sounded pained. Closing his eyes.
„All right. We have to backtrack our latest performances. I didn’t question the boss as the bullets were flying inches from my mug but we may presume that the joint was used only as a storage or for business negotiations. With no information present, no notes, not even a calendar. Very bare. A place to execute various tasks like holding you prisoner and using you as a punching bag.“ My voice fainted on that last remark.
I was constantly checking the mirrors for any tails yet saw nothing suspicious. I let myself relax for a change.
„I would use a hot shower and some modest clothes first. Maybe medicine too.“ He sighted, trying to sit up straight.
„We are heading there. Don’t you worry. Bought more from a doc. It’s in the icebox. I thought you might use some refreshment after those days in the dungeon.“ I smiled, relieved.
„Very thoughtful. Thanks ever so much. Glad we have at least one steady supply, no questions asked.“ He stated.
„Well, you saved his child, remember? He is much obliged to help you in your special health condition. Not everyone is superstitious, seeing monsters everywhere.“ I thought aloud.
„Yes, but something might have leaked in the process. Harm can be done even without acknowledgement and bad intention.“ It was pure speculation without conclusion as we didn’t obtain enough data yet. It helped to find the answers or raise more enlightening questions though.
„Then we shall see into it.“ He rested against the seat, eyes piercing through outside darkness as we approached his „Queen Anna“ style residence on the Melbury Road. Real Victorian beauty.
„You think he remembers anything of significance? He was slightly drunk when his car got hit by that tram.“ I recalled what Charles told me about his heroic detour this spring.
Still freezing cold, late evening, roads became skating-rink and he didn’t want to risk being stuck in a traffic jam so he took a different route home. Witnessing an isolated incident in the city outskirts. A night tram rammed the Austin Seven Swallow, which slid due to icy surface right in front of it and as the driver slammed on the brakes, the momentum catapulted him through the windshield. It saved his life in the end. However his little daughter was trapped inside. Car chassis was completely crumpled like a sheet of paper.
Charles halted slowly so as not to end up in embrace with some lamppost. Jumped out of the Nash, quickly checking on the driver. Driver’s face bled some but he could breathe and talk. That’s when Charles overheard sobbing from the wreck. A four-year old girl was trapped by her legs and the sharp metal cut deeply. No one actually saw what he had to do back then, bending the metal pieces with bare hands, cutting himself unintentionally. Getting her out. His blood mixed with hers. Nobody knew, just him. Or so I hoped.
Those few witnesses saw only his field surgeon professionalism taking charge afterwards. He managed to stop life-threatening bleeding, wrapping her up in his own tailored winter coat and hauling her along with her father to the nearest hospital. She healed up remarkably well. He was the hero of the day and had to answer a lot of questions not only to the authorities but to the press also, which wasn’t desired due to his PI job. His phone was unhooked for a long time.
He never mentioned the booze odour coming from the driver. Circumstances somewhat saved the doctor from a jail so he could keep working and take care of his daughter, being grateful as she was his only family left. We had no intention to keep him on the leash. Just made friends with a respected doctor. He knew he got a second chance and remained sober since that night. That’s why I approached him before entering the shooting range. I wouldn’t even try otherwise. It was Charles most of the time. He didn’t mind. And first and foremost he wasn’t acting suspicious, maybe a little bit nervous from the late visit.
I parked the car behind the house and got out to open the door for Charles. Entangled in my coat he emerged from the car reaching for the bag.
„Leave it, I’ll take care of it later. Go get yourself together.“ I switched the back porch light on. Not because I need it, but because it looked more human and less shady. After all these years I should have known better. But the coin had two sides, because I can see very well in the darkness, unlike humans. I unlocked the door and let him in.
I got apprehensive that something might go wrong not long after he disappeared indoors. I got the bag, weapons, locked the car and hurried after him.
„Charles?“ I called him, while closing the door. There was inset ornament glass in the upper half, so we could see outside. The lock clicked shut.
„Yes?“ His head peeked from the kitchen door on the other side of the main hall. He already made himself comfortable with another medicinal bottle with crimson contents. „What is going on, Will?“ His bright blue eyes were aware.
„I.. I don’t know. Don’t you feel any disturbance?“ I asked, unsure. Just the weird gut feeling lingering in my core. I found myself holding onto the most expensive booty in my possession: the Thompson.
„Please, not in my house.“ He begged. „Can you imagine the aftermath?“ I noticed he already felt better.
„Oh.“ I removed the drum magazine and switched back to my Webley. „Put these in safe, would you?“ I asked him. „I’ll check the perimeter. Just to be sure.“ He nodded slightly. I went through the whole house, checked everywhere, every nook, every closet, made sure all windows were secured. Found nothing. Still couldn’t shed the weird gut feeling.
„Anything unusual?“ He asked, taking the empty bottles to the big enamelled sink in the kitchen. „No, nothing I’m aware of.“ I put the revolver back in my shoulder holster.
„I’ll be glad if you keep your eyes and ears open while I..“ He didn’t finish.
„Sure. Take your time.“ He was ready for a year long bath in hot water, shave and clean clothes. Luxuries. I guarded the fortress until a clean and good-looking version of my partner emerged from the bathroom. Tailored white shirt from Egyptian cotton, unbuttoned under his chin, fitted black trousers on braces and combed hair made a big difference. A smile on his bonny face.
„Satisfied?“ He commented on my mesmerised gaze.
„Oh. My apologies. I didn’t mean to..“
„I missed you too.“ Amused tone. He came closer, putting a small canvas bag on the floor. „I owe you big time.“
„Nothing. You owe me nothing.“ I faltered.
He touched my forearm in assurance. „Yes, I do owe you. They were very close to my demise.“
I noticed the slight golden aura where he touched me, disappearing in the air. When certain emotions arose, this was the sign. That’s when I felt safe. I treasured such moments deep in my heart, hidden from the pervasive darkness of the outside world, so they won’t be taken away by any unfortunate events.
I woke up from deep thoughts. „What’s that?“ Switching topic, pointing at the canvas bag.
„That, my dear friend, are my old clothes. Better to burn it. Beyond repair, possibly contagious and all that.“
„I would be sick then. I think it is not hazardous. But I can see your point.“ It was also a torturing chamber memento. Evidence. You name it. Better not to keep it around.
„Anyway. It is my turn now. Stay alert.“
„Still that feeling?“
„All right.“ He agreed.
We had two johns available but only one bathtub. Might do something about it in the future. I let all the thoughts dissolve in a lot of hot water. It felt great. I closed my eyes, water level up to my chest, steam filling the air, condensing on all surfaces. Heavens..
„William?“ Gentle knock on the door. I opened my eyes, confused.
„Yes?“ Did I just wake up?
„You fell asleep.“ Statement.
„I did?“ The water was on a cold side already. Damnation. „I’ll be right there.“ Muttering. I heard his soft steps receding into the house.
Yeah, sometimes I just turn my gears off in odd places. Digging for Charles and tailing enemies was hell of a work, being shot made me even further tired. I felt very much like any human being. I’ll have to boost my powers and feed properly. My corner teeth were sharp and ready in agreement. I let them slide back slowly imagining all kinds of possibilities. Which wasn’t helping, really. The blood cans were fine though.
Bit derailed, I gripped the imaginary steering wheel and redirected all my dark thoughts back to the bathroom. Making myself presentable. As Charles, I chose a less formal shirt, dark grey trousers and fitting single breasted vest without lapels. I felt good about myself already. I put on my gun rig to be prepared for a change. I shaped my wet hair with fingers, a few short hair locks tickling my forehead until I tucked them back with others. Once dry, I put my charcoal-colored fedora on, 2.5” down-angled brim at the front, and it looked good. Oh, do I sound vain? I always aim for a sharp look. It’s good with clients and actually helps in a way or two, opening doors. Depends.
„What do you say?“ Asking my partner for an educated opinion.
„Fit.“ Corner of his mouth curled in a smile. I noticed his black leather thigh holster with heavy Webley-Fosbery, recoil operated automatic cannon.
„Going to war stylish?“
„You know me. Still I somewhat miss last century’s tailcoats, top hats and Wild West feel while handling my good old Remington.“ He sighed.
„Then we shall go to the shooting range and after that to the Royal Opera House.“ I suggested, holding a straight face.
„Like true Count Dracula? I’m not wearing a cape.. ever.“ I sensed a dangerous undertone in his generally calm voice. He pinched the bridge of his nose, pained again. I could say he wasn’t a fan of that peculiar movie. It showed us in a bad light as the book, as most of the books.
„What are you afraid of? They won’t mistake you for the Hungarian guy with an evil eye.“ I said, all serious while stepping back.
„You think?“ Soft alluring voice. He covered the distance between us in a split second, his eyes locked with mine, coming altogether from hazel to forest grass green under the mental pressure. The gaze of his bright blue irises cutting sharp right through all my thoughts, deeper into my brain, stirring things until all my defences fell apart and empty void took their place. I felt my legs going jelly and then lost it all. When I came to my senses again I had to admit he made a point. Also.. how? Never seen him like this. My heart was racing.
„I didn’t want to scare you, Will, forgive me. I overdid it. Are you good?“ I accepted his hand and let him get me back to my feet.
„Forgiven. Now, tell me what exactly was that? I have known you for over half a century. Never seen anything like it before.“ Trying to hold myself together.
„It’s new. Something new.“ He really looked surprised.
„Like a hypnosis?“ I was interested.
„More than that. You went point blank off.“ Now he sounded scared.
„Impressive.“ My utter admiration.
„Indeed. We might not repeat it.“ He stated. But I can be persuasive too.
„Maybe we should.“ I didn’t want to let it go easily, so we can both learn what’s in the box.
„No. I’m not going to fry your brain again. It can go wrong.“ Oh, it doesn’t sound like him at all. Such a scholar in him. Always seeking answers.
„Yet you did it to me anyway, right now. Did you lose your temper?“ I would like to know about any possible triggers.
„Not really. I was in control and aware.“ He was convinced about that as I could see. Then he’ll be able to use his ability on a command.
„So now you know. You are in control. And perhaps I want my defences back.“ Which is true. He possessed a weapon and I want my shields up and running.
„All right.“ Too easy.
„All right?“ I was getting really annoying and on purpose, but guess what. He didn’t have to worry about his past day’s experience for a while.
„I suppose you’re right. We’ll look into it once this storm is over. I’m curious too, just want to be careful.“ He gave up.
„Until provoked.“ That’s what I did all the time. Getting myself in all kinds of distress, summoning inner demons, misjudging situations..
„Yes, you do that. I remember..“ His eyes went dreamy for a split second, lost in memories. I bet I knew which ones.
„Let’s go visit the doc.“ I recalled we are on a mission. I had no desire to let certain things surface at the moment..
I put on my back-belted double-vents jacket and the wrap-over overcoat of shorter length with the tie wrapped loosely to one side. Hollywood stars‘ style became very popular among the young gents. Charles went for a more formal look as he was the representative of the Romanet Agency. No loose ties. Even buttoned his shirt up and secured a slim silk cravat. My jaw would have dropped to the floor if I didn’t see him sharp dressed before. His fedora hat was pitch black, with a slim band on the crown of flattering height. A pair of black Oxfords and delicate leather driver’s gloves finished the look. Only our silhouettes were somewhat spoiled by our bulky holsters. Carrying heat wasn’t fashion friendly. But seeing people with unbuttoned overcoats signalled they might possess some, therefore be dangerous. Of course a person can be dangerous even with a toothpick, but a hole from forty-five is much worse, spoils things too.
We had to park near Infirmary and hike to the main street. Huge quadrangle red-bricked building with magnificent tall windows blazed with chapel lights. The four storey wings on the East and West side of the main building housed many veteran soldiers. Built in the 17th century, surrounded by beautiful gardens with a view on the River Thames the hospital survived to the present days. Some parts were heavily damaged during the Blitz in the Great War, but reconstructed nine years ago to its former glory.
We were about to meet Dr. Thomas Carr in the Chapel, right under that magnificent Sebastiano Ricci’s mural ‚The Resurrection‘. So many underlying implications. As I guessed right it was all part of a set. Charles wanted neutral grounds far from the familiar and warm office so he arranged the meeting while I was asleep in a tub. Doctor was working all the hours that God sent with some minor exceptions, even taking his daughter and her nanny along to the office. But not tonight. Haven’t seen them there.
„Gentlemen.“ We turned at once from the wall mural, facing approaching Dr. Carr. Both our overcoats and jackets unbuttoned. His six feet tall figure looked somewhat shrinked even with the light grey homburg hat on his head. It was probably because of his bulky double-breasted winter coat.
„Doctor Carr.“ Charles offered his right hand for a brief handshake. I followed his example.
„Mr. Romanet, Mr. Anderson.“ He removed his leather gloves and shook our hands firmly.
„Thank you for coming in this unpleasant hour, I appreciate that. As you might presume the matter is rather important.“ Charles was filling him in on current situation status and some of his hypotheses. I stepped aside, watching the play and reading our guest.
His brown eyes looked tired. He hasn’t slept since my evening visit. He wore the same shirt and trousers. A trace of worry lingered under his skin, radiating suppressed stress. I realised that I didn’t pay attention to other people’s level of distress because I was blinded by fear for Charles. That’s the point where personal matters interfered with my job, screwing things up big time.
„Mr. Carr.“ I said as I looked at Charles. He nodded and let me step in.
I focused on his eyes in concentration. „Mister Carr, where is your daughter, where is Mary?“
„Oh, God.“ He staggered and had to sit down on a wooden bench. Turning his eyes to the mural and the huge cross in front of it.
„Mister Carr!“ Charles checked on Carr’s wrist vein pulse.
He looked twenty years older than a man in his early forties. Hands shaking.
„Mister Carr, we are here to help. Men approached you a few days ago at your day job. You gave them Mr. Romanet’s private address. But they wanted to know more as the address was the least of the problem. What did you tell them? Will you be able to describe them?“ I spoke slowly, letting him know he is safe with us and that we will listen to what he has to say. I sat to his left and Charles stood in front of him in case something came up. Doctor noticed the heat.
„The hell I’ll be able to do.“ He put himself together, answering in a firm tone.
„Two of them invaded my office. The one tall as you are, brown eyes, black slick hair, lean frame. A visible vertical scar over his left eye, for a long time healed.“ He pointed at his face, drawing a shape of the scar in the air. „Navy-blue pin-stripe suit, Italian style. The other guy didn’t even put his fedora down, so I didn’t see his face as he parked at my office door. Probably a hired muscle. He moved just once, handing him a standard manilla envelope. I was supposed to look at the contents..“ His voice faltered.
I had an idea. Kept waiting for him to continue.
„I.. there was a hair lock and a red satin bow. I knew. They said no police and no contact with your agency, otherwise it won’t be a hair lock next time. I believed them. My sincere apologies, gentlemen. I was cornered and didn’t know what to do. They squeezed everything out of me and I got the idea that they must know about you from somewhere.“
„Yes, that’s what we are trying to pinpoint.“ I recalled.
„Oh, so you thought…“ He looked surprised for once.
„Not exactly. We have to look into stuff and eliminate possibilities as a part of problem-solving strategy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to talk with Charles.“ Indistinct nod.
We stepped aside.
„Does it sound familiar? Do you know such a mug?“ I asked Charles.
„I probably do know who he might be and therefore why I was restrained and you ran the errands.“ Oh, that virtual encyclopaedia of the local mob in the brains of his.
„Because he wasn’t the one I talked with. Nor one of the chaps I encountered in that joint of yours. He wasn’t present so we didn’t know there was somebody else behind it. No names were named. They were careful with that.“
„Nor did I. He sent the bald guy.“
„So now we go after the..“
„And the Sicilian knows you from..“
„A cold case. From before I established my own agency.“ Not saying much.
„Which cold case?“ I was interested.
„Please, don’t go there yet. We have to focus on that little girl in distress.“ Charles cut off the conversation. I was very intrigued because I didn’t know everything and I wanted to. But I bit my tongue so we can work something out.
„So how do we find her?“ I asked the knotty question.
„We knock at his door or you bring him one hundred grand as he commissioned you. Is there a terminal hour you have to appear somewhere?“ Oh, he had me there. No places, no rendez-vous. Only the bald guy knew and he was dead. „Then we pay him a visit.“
„That..“ An echoing voice from behind. „Won’t be necessary.“
We all turned to a source of that tenor voice. It was Rosso himself. Got impatient or got a message from the club. I didn’t notice any tails but.. doc. He wouldn’t know. I checked on him as he ducked behind the bench. There were several more between him and Rosso with his men. He could use it as a barricade.
‚Cripes! Has more darts?‘ Telepathy. Panicking.
‚Dunno.‘ The American accent resonated within my brain.
„Put your hands up, gents.“ He asked nicely so we obeyed. Even the doc. He kept his head low.
„I was hoping we could cooperate. Your skills and my influence.“ A Thompson in his hands. Dear sweet Jesus, I had enough. No darts though.
„My daughter.“ A voice from below the benches.
„Yes. Sweet little girl. And you weren’t clever, chaps, having a nice private party here.“ That was obvious, wasn’t it?
„Emilio, hand me their guns. You gents, don’t move.“ The Thompson’s muzzle pointing at my heart, others equally distributed between me and my partner. Four more guys with pistols, one of them Emilio. He approached Charles first, stopping by his left shoulder, avoiding possible crossfire. Took Charles’s weapon out of the holster. Surprised look.
„What is this beast? U compensate for something or what?“ It didn’t deserve the answer. „Your turn.“ Facing me. Now he stood in front of me instead of coming from behind. That’s what I would do. Dumb.
Time changed. I grabbed Emilio, locked him in choke-hold and squeezed his windpipe, taking his own gun out of his hand and pressing the muzzle hard against his left temple. He eased his struggles. Charles recovered his gun and aimed it at the boss’s forehead. He wouldn’t miss it. Not in a thousand years but there was this variable stopping him from pulling the trigger. Her name was Mary.
„Oh, wrong move, gents. John, bring the lady in.“ Guy named John left and got back in no time. Carrying Mary in his arms so he was protected from stray bullets flying in his direction. Little girl was astonished and remained silent in horror. She was hugging the big guy John, not realising who he is. Still entangled in her bathrobe, wearing slippers and pyjamas. They took her from her home where she was supposed to feel safe.
Thompson’s muzzle moved slightly upwards, so I took a good look into the barrel. Knowing what was coming I reinforced myself and pulled the trigger at the same time as the Thompson roared. I brought Emilio down with me, landing on the tiled floor hard. As it came to my shooting it could be just a spasm in my arm when timed right. Emilio was dead. The bullet from Thompson scraped my right temple and blood went running. I dropped the gun and played open-eyed possum to scare the shit out of everyone who believed my act. Even Charles screamed in unison with the doctor as I fell. Good. I felt sorry for Mary, though. I hope she understands later or forgets altogether. I was counting on ‘later’. Bright future.
‚Ow.‘ I hurt. I think I overdid it and cracked my own skull. I turned my senses inward and probed the damage inside out. I fought against my healing ability, if it could be helped, to assure the jumpy chaps about my demise, hoping not everyone knows. Only the boss and a few more and he won’t spill the tea. We were his wild cards. Maybe too wild.
‚You little bastard.‘ Relief. That was addressed to me of course.
‚Aye. Bae, do the eye whammy.‘ I recommended a solution before I faint for real due to pain as my skull was fractured badly. Damnation.
‚Yer better get yourself together. I cannot handle foursome with just two eyes, they might notice.‘
‚Then promise treasures and daisies. They cannot see me going back like that.‘
„Doctor. Check on him!“ Order from Rosso. Doctor’s pale face covered my view and his fingers pressed against my neck. I made sure there won’t be any heartbeat giving away my possum act. But gazing at the ceiling was a difficult one. I managed and he declared me dead.
„Gone.“ He closed my eyes with his fingers, touching my upper eyelids, I almost blinked.
„Are you sure, doc?“ That was weird and gave away unnecessary information to some of the people present.
„Yes, sir. No heartbeat.“ His voice was trembling as everything in his life started falling apart.
„You two, five steps back. Now.“ He waved the gun, wanting to be sure. He is going to shoot me from point blank. Oh, no. I wasn’t clever after all.
‚Time to reconsider, pal. It’s either you or them. We take our chances, I go protect Mary and you dance with Rosso. Do it, do it now!‘ And I did it.
The very moment Antonio emerged above me, pointing Thompson at my face I kicked high, hitting the submachine, which then flew out of his hands. I then rolled backwards over my shoulder getting up to my feet with momentum. Hitting him in the ribs with my knee and landing an edge of my palm in the soft tissue right under the jaw. Saw it in a judo tournament some time ago, cool moves. He dropped at once with an ugly crack, motionless.
Taking Thompson from the ground I aimed at the guy with the little girl. All this in a few seconds. And as I noticed, Charles did a good job of eliminating remaining threats. He also used their own weapon as not to compromise his Webley-Fosbery. Also .455 was a hell of a bang. Now, we counted four dead bodies and one living guy, who saw me coming from the dead.
„Let her go.“ I demanded. He let her slide slowly from his arms, spreading his palms in a peace-making gesture. She darted to her father, screaming ‚daddy‘ in a high pitched voice. The windows almost shattered.
„Angel!“ He kneeled, bursting in tears, embracing his daughter in a bear hug. „Are you hurt, Mary, are you hurt?“
„No, daddy. No.“ She screeched more in excitement than horror. Tough gal. She wiggled out of his arms and turned to me, avoiding a direct look at the mess on the floor.
„Are you hurt, mister?“ Big blue eyes filled with puzzlement. She held out her hands to me so I picked her up and adjusted her on my left forearm.
„No, it’s just a scratch. Don’t you worry.“ Eyes even bigger. I was tough too.
„Uncle Charles!“ Amusement in his face. „Don’t hurt uncle John. He is not like them. He is nice.“ Oh, she’s got some guts. I saw him obey the little devil as he lowered the gun.
„I’ll just talk to him, sweetheart, is that fine?“ He holds a straight face. I was laughing inside. And she nodded as grown-ups do. „OK. And what is your name, I don’t remember.. I remember him.“ She turned to me for once and pointed at Charles who was giving John very suggestive advice about what happened here so he can tell the tale later. John’s eyes looked suddenly dull.
„Oh, I’m William. Nice to meet you, Mary.“
„Nice to meet you, mister.“ A handshake. The hell why not.
„Doctor Carr. Maybe you should take the young lady home?“ I turned away with her in my arms so she couldn’t see the bodies.
„May I suggest you leave altogether? Mr. Anderson recover your hat so as not to leave anything behind, call for nanny, I’ll give you the number and the address and take my daughter over to her place. You better go now. Protect Mary, please.“
„What is it you want to achieve here?“ I asked, awakened.
„To protect us all. I think I can do that for you.“ He looked determined. I was OK with that and as for my partner Charles, he didn’t wish to be anywhere near Carr’s child when police arrived. Saving her twice would be considered fishy. Gang war on the other hand..
„All right. Mary we take you to the nanny, she’ll be happy to see you. I got this number from your daddy, OK?“ I put her on the bench, shed off my coat and wrapped it around her. She disappeared in its folds.
„Yes..“ She whimpered sleepily. Thomas kissed her forehead and waved her bye-bye.
I was holding her in my arms all the way to the car. She fell asleep, breathing regularly, with a steady undisturbed heartbeat so I handed Charles my car keys. I sat in the front passenger seat with her on my lap and she was sleeping all the way to the nanny’s.
‚We made it.‘ I stated.
‚Yes. You are good with kids, you know?‘ What was that supposed to mean?
‚You think so?‘ I asked, all innocent.
‚She likes you.‘ Ah.
‚Well, she likes you too.‘ I noticed that she recognised certain types of people. Handy skill.
‚Oh.‘ He wasn’t used to such an idea. But he had a soft spot for her, I knew.
Once we delivered sleeping beauty to the lady, telling her that Mary’s father had to leave for an urgent case, calling his friends.. You know, I think she didn’t believe anything I said. She saw the blood on my head, my coat and how the little kid was dirty. I really gave up and told her to call Doctor Carr in a few hours as he will probably be very busy with the police, so he can explain and come over later. She also recognized Charles, remembering him from the spring adventure. And she didn’t give a damn about the whole situation.
„Gentlemen. Thomas will owe you forever. But for the sake of little Mary, let me take care of her. I’ll call Tom’s office later. And you look like you could use some vacation. Thank you and good night.“ Her sharp and clever eyes saw right through me. Oh, well. Ladies are dangerous nowadays. I bowed slightly, with my penetrated fedora off and left for the car. Charles got away with a more generous bow without looking silly and landed in the driver’s seat. I let him enjoy the ride. He was also captured within four walls in past days as Mary. Suffering for God knows how long.
„You want to hear about the cold case?“ He asked me, eyes on the road.
„Only if you are OK with that. I’m not completely blind. I can see it hurts you.“ He glanced from a side window for a second. Thinking.
„Maybe it’ll help if I talk to you about that. You’ll see why you and no one else.“ He gave me a bit of a hazy gaze and then pinned his eyes back to the road ahead. The night was still very dark. Most people are asleep. Long empty streets silent.
„I had to look into something from the past. Since I tried to find Red Cross nurse Amelia among the living it never occurred to me that I should look into death records. She went through her life remarkably well. Her dreams came true. What a woman she was. Until one night, coming home from her shift in children’s hospital she was shot in cold blood by an idiotic drunk. Just like that her magnificent life ended.“ He waved his hand in the air.
„They had bullet, casing, witness, yet the murderer was never brought to justice. Witness eventually disappeared and the murderer could live happily ever after. She was just a woman, hospital staff. No one cared. Years passed. Until I came around. You understand I had to.“ I nodded. „Stirred a few wasp nests, making new enemies and all that. I dug out that one name. Antonio Rosso. He was young and drunk and had a lot of fun back in the days, support from the mob family and a lot of money. Sometimes life goes sideways and a person becomes a monster. And he was a monster. Amelia wasn’t the only one, but victims cannot speak, can they?“ Bitter tone.
„Only in terms of evidence. There was no direct link to him. Not without him holding that gun. And I had to put my hands off to be able to obtain the licence and be good with authorities. Once I established my own agency I could resume the hunt. He was very careful. A snake. That’s why he knew where to go, whom to follow and you know the rest. Probably the biggest mistake I didn’t warn you about him. No chance to make it right. He got to me first. I don’t recall clearly, but I think he was down there with me at least once, playing with his knife. I could make him talk in the chapel though. I could. But I didn’t for the kid’s sake as the lady told us. But he deserved what you delivered.“ His voice was overflowing with grief.
I felt something wet on my face. Our Amelia. By the hand of that bastard. If only I knew I would make the departure very very slow for him, let him enjoy all kinds of pain.
„Charles. At the very moment you finally kissed her I was so happy for you. Difficult times in war made us dead inside and that gesture was the damnedest sweetest thing I saw back then. Treasure that moment in your heart but let her go. She can go now, in peace. Thank you. I hope you understand that. I’ll be right here if you ever need me. No more lonely crusades, please. You know I don’t want to lose my best friend. Scraping you off the sidewalk was a hell of an experience.“ It is always hard to reforge certain thoughts into words. People often don’t want to hear these things, simply because it hurts so much and words are just words. It’s the best moments with the person we should treasure. And it’s OK to let go. Oh, God. I have to stop thinking about that myself.
„So you saw us? Oh, well.“ His smile, distant.
„Not only did I see you, I arranged that.“ I whispered. Staring outside.
The night turned into dawn. Dark cityscape against the sky. Two halves, rotten whole. We disappeared in the labyrinth of streets.