Historical fiction novel, by Dimitris Apergis. Exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS in 36 weekly episodes, in English and Greek languages.
Synopsis: London, 1824. The boss of London's Crime Syndicate, Wilbur Barnaby, assigns two men to travel to the -rebelling against the Ottomans- country of Greece and locate the poet Lord Byron in order to obtain a gambling debt of his to the underworld. One of the two men is Welsh Bugs Hamhaduke, the so-called "neckwringer." The other is the enigmatic Lord Greywood. The two men will embark on an adventurous journey to the Greek city of Missolonghi via Paris. None of those involved, however, is aware of Lord Greywood's terrible secret: That he actually belongs to the Order of Strigoi Morti, the oldest and most dangerous generation of vampires.
ISBN : 978-618-00-1549-2
PRELUDE : Guilá Naquitz (1 chapter)
PART ONE : London (4 chapters)
PART TWO : Paris (10 chapters)
PART THREE : Vampires (10 chapters)
PART FOUR : Missolonghi (10 chapters)
EPILOGUE : Los Angeles (1 chapter)
[ep. 02 of 36]
In the year 1824, London was the largest - and economically strongest - city in the world with a rapidly growing population that already exceeded one million inhabitants. It was the time of the beginning of the end of the Georgian Period, just before the advent of the Victorian Period. It was the time when emblematic works were built in the city such as the London Harbor, the Regency Park, the Royal Opera House, the Church of St. George on Hanover Square and the Subway Tunnel. As noted by the distinguished English lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
That being said, London in 1824 was also marked by a sharp contrast between two social classes: the aristocracy and the destitute. Even the most ignorant of minds could discern this outrageous peculiarity in the daily life of London. There were those who lived in the West End palaces and frequented the Mayfair cafes, dressed in the expensive tailcoats and the top hats. And there were the others who lived in the overcrowded slums of the East End area, raggedy and committed to the rules of cruel moil.
This, of course, did not mean that these two social classes were completely neutral to each other. On the contrary, the nights wanted the rich and the poor to gather in the infamous Soho district, which lavishly offered the entertainment of prostitution, cabarets, gambling houses and chinese opium dens. For the London of 1824, the Soho district was nothing but the lair of frenzied debauchery, making no discrimination between classes whatsoever.
In the Soho area also stood the infamous Manor House, at No. 21 on Soho Square, designated as the "notorious place of ill-fame" according to the distinguished English social researcher Henry Mayhew, also known by its ironic nickname White House. And this nickname was, of course, ironic because this particular three-storey building served as a luxury brothel with upper class clientele.
Much has been said about the legendary Manor House No 21, stories such as that its rooms were equipped with flamboyant fancy decorations and with mechanisms that produced spectacular effects, and that one of them - the famous "Skeleton Room" - had motifs with skeletons and ebony coffins for those customers who were expressing weird tastes. The Manor House No 21, however, was of paramount importance for another reason: It was the place where Wilbur Barnaby, the great boss of the London underworld, based his headquarters. This is of course an informal piece of information that even the chief justice would deny. But it was a common secret that "Dirty Wilbur" held his office in there, which was essentially the control centre, not just of Soho, but of the entire British capital.
It is worth noting here that policing in London in 1824 was carried out by local police officers who volunteered to work under the supervision of the Bow Street Department and were appointed by parish magistrates. Five years later, in 1829, the Metropolitan Police was set up by then-Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel. Until then, these volunteer policemen - few in number - were unable to meet the demands of a large city with such a huge population surge as that of London. Consequently, maintaining order and combating criminality were infeasible feats under the given circumstances.
So a man like Wilbur Barnaby, as outrageous as it might appear, was a necessary evil for London at that time. And this is because that mighty crime boss had the power to control the London Babylon and maintain the well-being and orderliness of its social fabric. In other words, in London in 1824, there was no guild or organization or even an elected board of directors that would think of opposing to the will of Dirty Wilbur.
The history of Wilbur Barnaby is indicative of the nickname "Dirty". The son of alcoholic parents, Barnaby began his criminal career from the age of fourteen working for local East End gangsters. At the age of fifteen, he was arrested for petty theft and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. His brutal stature and developed muscular strength made him capable of earning a decent income from the age of nineteen as a boxer in illegal bare - knuckle boxing (that being glove - free boxing) mostly held in the back yards of pubs near the London Docks.
At twenty-two he killed his first man: In a bare - knuckle boxing fight, his opponent died after a merciless punching. This incident became the reason behind his being given the nickname "Dirty Wilbur" and forced him to retire from the boxing profession and to work secretly for the Central London criminal syndicate as enforcer and executioner. Both his ruthless nature as a murderer and his rigid character on key principles such as loyalty and trust made him highly respected within his circle, leading him to ascend in the hierarchy of the London underworld and ultimately to lead it. In his fifty-six years of age, Wilbur Barnaby was now the central brain of the British capital and the main guiding force of developments within it. Of course he was intelligent enough to remain invisible, distant from public life, with his legend wandering like a ghost in the big city.
Occupying this dominant position in London, one of Barnaby's main responsibilities was to act as a liaison between the two aforementioned social classes - the aristocracy and the destitute - intervening whenever a serious dispute or a major conflict of interests arose. These of course did not involve offences such as thefts of wallets or pub brawls, the usual misdemeanours of the Elephant & Castle gang laddies. A matter had to be important enough so that he would devote his busy time to it and to intervene drastically if deemed necessary.
It was precisely such a matter that arose when a company of five professional Soho gamblers (cardsharks-crooks would undoubtedly be a more precise designation) complained to Barnaby that a nobleman – of the highest elite - owed to them the considerable sum of six thousand stirlings from games of whist. His name, George Gordon Byron.
The matter became even more serious when these five gamblers informed Barnaby that Mr Byron had left England in order to evade the exorbitant debts and the numerous erotic scandals that pursued him, that he had now settled in the rebeled against the Turks country of Greece and that he had just sold his Rochdale Manor estate in England for the sum of 11,250 strirlings to support the Greeks' struggle for independence. Since these five gamblers were old acquaintances and loyal associates of his, Barnaby felt that he had to deal with the matter personally and with extreme stringency. Barnaby knew three things about George Gordon Byron up until then: that he was a lord, wealthy and a well-known poet.
The complexity of the case laid in the fact that Lord Byron was away abroad. For this reason, the process of finding the man and settling the debts would require careful and key interventions. After Barnaby bid farewell to his five acquaintances by assuring them that he would undertake the matter himself by sending his own people to Greece, he fell into a long contemplation over the set of actions of the whole business. He decided to assign this mission to two people.
The one would definitely be the Welsh Bugs Hamhaduke, the so-called "neckwringer". And allow the author of this narrative for the time being not to extend to the reasons why Hamhaduke acquired this nickname. Let's just say that Hamhaduke was one of Barnaby's most trusted stooges and that he killed clearly for pleasure with complete disregard for human life. For the second man assigned for the mission, Barnaby decided to adopt the risky tactics of whist and take a brave gamble. This is because Barnaby intended to hire a man whom he had never met himself. And anyone who knew Barnaby would also know that this was an unthinkable move for his character.
It had been almost a year now that a mysterious gentleman had made his appearance in London's circles of high society. He was always dressed in Savile Row's high fashion, in attire that never deviated from the color of black beyond some faint dark purple touches such as the silky scarf that protruded from the outer pocket of his tailcoat or the delicate grey stripes on the waistcoat and the collar. But his attire was nothing more than a mere supplement to his haunting figure that did not allow his entourage to resist the impulsive wondering about the man's origins.
He was tall, dark, with a face well-shaped and hairless, but unnaturally pale as if it strove to bear testament to the man's passing at the other end of the spectrum of death. His eyes seemed to have been overshadowed by an elegiac veil of fate, and from within their eerie darkness glowed the fiery red streaks of the irises that told tales of forgotten mythologies of times from the past. At first glance it would be reasonable for someone to assume that this man was a foreigner. They would however be immediately surprised to hear his deep velvety voice speak fluent English and with a vocabulary unusually sophisticated, even if his pronunciation was loaded with an attractive imperfection of overstressing the consonants.
The stories regarding the man's past were so confusing and so contradictory that it wasn't worth taking them seriously. But although he was known as Lord Jules Greywood , there was no document or certificate attesting to this title of nobility.
The irony of the case is that the legend of this enigmatic figure began as a fault of the five aforementioned gamblers. About a year ago the company of the five frequented the Stratford Club in the Portland Place district, near Soho. These five gentlemen had been ravaging this club for quite some time with various tricks and sleights that only the experts on whist can perform based on organized schemes. The Stratford Club was a reputable place with prestige and its overwhelming majority of patrons consisted of aristocrats of the high society. The company of five managed to treasure up from the ignorance of the unsuspecting rich until Lord Greywood made his appearance at the club.
The five scheming gamblers attempted to apply their cons onto the Lord with disastrous results. Lord Greywood obtained at least three thousand sterlings from the company, and for the five crooks this gentleman symbolized none other but the end of their tenure at Stratford Club. But as the gambling quirk can be even more addictive than the imported opium the Chinese immigrants fed London with, the company of five decided to proceed to sneakier tactics.
So their next game with the Lord was played with a bastardized deck. When the Lord defeated them once again, the five gamblers were outraged as they realized they had before them a criminal mastermind that was well beyond their league. And they could not of course blame the Lord for fraud as it is admittedly inappropriate for a thief to accuse another thief of lacking collegiate ethos, especially in a place like the Stratford Club where scandals of this sort had no place.
Consequently, the company of five commissioned Jim Morgan, the swiftest knife of East End, to eliminate the hated Lord and thus avenge the thousands of sterlings lost because of him. Jim Morgan lurked for Lord Greywood one night in March of 1823 outside Stratford Club with his famous reclining pocket knife that had sent many unfortunate souls to the next world. That was the last night anyone saw or heard of Jim Morgan. East End's "swiftest knife" disappeared without a trace. What happened to him remained an unsolved mystery.
However, Lord Greywood continued to stolidly interact with London's high society, enjoying the life of a genuine bon viveur, and even consolidating in his adjoining circles the public image of an intellectual with sophisticated tastes and admirable cultivation. There were not anyway many other members of the esteemed aristocracy capable of reciting extensive extracts from John Milton's "Paradise Lost" or criticizing with arguments the English translations of Virgil's latin epics by John Dryden. Needless to say, the irresistible charm practiced by the Lord on all the ladies was such that it made many irritable husbands boil in envy.
The incident of Jim Morgan's disappearance spread like wildfire to the East End's underworld. As a result, the East End clique approached the Lord not for retaliation but for the recruitment of his services, bearing in mind the Lord's ability to master the London social scene. The task that the East End clique entrusted the Lord with was not so easy at that time, and the reasons for this will be clarified below. The Lord had to, according to the clique's dictates, apply his famous prestige on the East End breweries in order to regularly obtain the beer produced by Newcastle-born Jeremiah Jenkins.
Jenkins was one of the oldest members of the East End underworld. The new methods introduced by the Industrial Revolution in the brewing trade prompted him to invest a great capital of his own savings to set up his own brewery and to pose himself as a brewer, since he himself was always a lover of beer. The problem, however, was that the East End breweries had set up their own autonomous and – all through - exclusive consortium with Britain's association of most prominent brewers – a fact Jenkins was unaware of until then. The East End underworld proved unable to force local brewers to buy Jenkins' beer. And this was because the East End underworld had been significantly weakened mainly by the massive inflow of immigrants in the area.
Although the East End underwold was in collaboration with the Central London's criminal Syndicate, Wilbur Barnaby refused to get involved in the affair for the simple reason that the East End breweries already constituted a financial carcinoma for the Soho pubs which he had under his control. The East End breweries were dirt-cheap, and which alcoholic - out of the thousands in London - would not prefer to spend just a few shillings to consume tens of pints of beer? In short, Jeremiah Jenkins was now threatened with bankruptcy. And the East End underworld – consisting of none but a few minor feudal lords and petty thieves of the bottom division - was facing complete extinction.
Lord Greywood set a condition in order to take on the task assigned to him, a fact that caused amazement to the East End clique as to the man's nerve. The Lord demanded to taste Jenkins' beer himself to see if it was worth devoting his time to promoting it to the East End breweries. Jenkins was too proud of his beer to refuse the Lord's challenge, so he sent him a box containing twelve bottles. The Lord examined the beer in its smallest detail, pouring it into a glass in minimum quantities to observe the timing of its foam formation. Jenkins' beer was suitably dark, the bittersweet taste of its roasted malt wiggled magically unto the palate, and its texture was dense enough to accustom the intellect with its slightly increased amount of alcohol. Yes, Jenkins knew about beer and produced it with undeniable care.
Subsequently, Lord Greywood launched a campaign in the East End breweries that lasted for about two months. Two months were enough for the Lord to achieve what the clique could not manage. After two months, all East End breweries were supplying themselves with Jenkins' beer. In fact, all but one.
Only the brewery of King Arthur Tavern, which stood next to St Mildred's Cathedral, near the London Docks, rejected Jenkins' beer. The King Arthur Tavern belonged to Timothy Smith, a deeply religious Protestant with a fathomless devotion to Christianity. Smith did not deign to meet Lord Greywood, and the Lord did not deign to meet Smith, each for his own reasons. But that was of little importance. Smith didn't even see his clientele shrink as King Arthur Tavern was soon attacked by an infestation of rats that settled under the brewery's grounds and were breeding at a high rate. Smith was thus forced to close the business and the place was quarantined.
Lord Greywood was not content to promoting Jenkins' beer just to the East End breweries. He even managed to persuade the Stratford Club owners to buy it, and so the Stratford Club became the first ever gentlemen's club to serve beer as well since clubs of its sort served mostly liquors and beverages.
So in the end everyone was happy: Jenkins was selling his beer, Lord Greywood was receiving his commissions, the case of Jim Morgan's disappearance was lapsed and the East End clique now realized that in the Lord they had an ace up their sleeve. But it wasn't long before the clique wanted to explore Lord Greywood's talents in other, more fiendish services. These had to do with "disposals" of people.
The Napoleonic Wars - and in particular the invasion of the Napoleonic armies in Amsterdam - were the main reason for the large number of immigrants in London. Many of them were Jewish capitalists whose considerable funds flowed in and accumulated in the city making it even more powerful. A large proportion of these immigrants however were scums, military mercenaries with no homeland or code of ethics. They belonged to the criminal sort of humans and flooded the East End area with ferocious moods, setting up gangs that did not hesitate to resort to bloodied cruel tactics in order to consolidate their local sovereignty. As a result, the Lord was commissioned to rid East End of the foreign bosses of these parasitic gangs.
Lord Greywood successfully carried out this mission too. Over time, the foreign leaders of those small gangs disappeared one after the other in the same way that Jim Morgan was wiped off the face of the earth without a trace. The clique never learned the methods by which the Lord acted in order to achieve his feats. But knowing the Lord's secretiveness over these issues, they never put any pressure on him to learn details. What mattered was that the East End underworld regained the glory it seemed to have lost. And Lord Greywood had now become known as the East End's Nightwalker, which of course could not escape the attention of "Dirty Wilbur".
Lord Greywood did not foster any fondness whatsoever for the sobriquet East End's Nightwalker because such a designation contradicted the social reputation he had acquired in the aristocratic circles of West End. For the Lord, the exterminating of the foreign mobsters of the East End constituted merely to an implementation of surgical procedure in the area. That is to say he used this tactic in order to remove the diseased tissue of London's society. Moreover, the Lord never considered that he was doing anything morally reprehensible, and for this reason he separated himself from the bunch of East End's underworld that was gradually supplemented with a whole batch of illiterate dockworkers.
This distancing on the Lord's part, however, was not confined to the underworld of East End but expanded on all of his social interactions. This characteristic of the Lord's personality became especially evident to "Dirty Wilbur" when the kingpin asked to meet with the Lord and surprisingly found that no one knew his place of residence and that the only way to communicate with him was through written messages in Stratford Club. Wilbur Barnaby was no ignorant of human idiosyncrasies because of his lifelong experience with all kinds of people. But in the Lord he saw an endless loneliness, a past that was probably burdened, a man who tasted the pleasures of social gatherings only to minutely escape an isolation he actually craved with unusual lust. This trait of the man fascinated "Dirty Wilbur" who invited the Lord through Stratford Club to his personal headquarters at Manor House No 21. The Lord accepted Barnaby's invitation, and the meeting of the two men was arranged for a night of February of 1824.
The meeting had to compulsorily take place at night. It was by now widely known that Lord Greywood never appeared during daytime.
[to be continued next Friday, 24 January 2020, exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS]
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A few words about the author
Dimitris Apergis was born in Larisa, Greece, in 1978. He graduated in BA (Hons) Film Studies in the UK. He lives in Greece.
His books are published in both English and Greek languages, by the OKYPUS PUBLISHING. https://en.okypus.com/okypus-publisher
Dimitris has received multiple awards for his literary work.
In 2018 he received the First Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his novel Gerard & the father. Additionally, in 2018 his novel Gerard & the father also received the First Literature Award at the 8th International Literature Contest held by E.P.O.C. (Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus) under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2017 his novel ‘At the Whiskey County’ received the First Literature Award at the 7th International Literature Contest held by the Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2015 his novella ‘Jazz Room’ received the Second Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers.
In 2013 he received a Praise from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his short story Labyrinth
In 2012 he received the First Literature Award from the MONITOR Press for his short story Acid Rain