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. 03 of 36]
PART ONE : London
How would London of that period be described by a figure as romantic and melancholic as the poet Lord Byron?
A mighty mass of brick, and smoke, and shipping,
Dirty and dusky, but as wide as eye
Could reach, with here and there a sail just skipping
In sight, then lost amidst the forestry
Of masts; a wilderness of steeples peeping
On tiptoe through their sea-coal canopy;
A huge, dun cupola, like a foolscap crown
On a fool’s head,—and there is London Town!
The coach's cubicle was small and its roof low. And that is why Lord Greywood was forced to remove his standard black top hat from his head and place it on the velvet seat. The coach's horses pressed their shod feet hard on Fleet Street, and in their repeated neighs the Lord sensed the animals' complaint for the night's frosty fog. The coach-rides always gave Lord Greywood the opportunity to gaze upon the city through the window glass at the pace set by the horses' gallop. The Fleet Street buildings passed before his eyes, the Temple Bar monument, the Peele 's Coffee House, the publishing houses of the Morning Post and Bell 's Weekly Messenger. Though it'd been dark for some time, the old lamplighter was still lighting the gas lamps of the street. Under the scanty light of the gas slipped fleeting figures of tailcoated youths heading straight to the Soho district for their nightly entertainment.
The Lord's longsighted gaze also caught the cats that, with sudden feline jumps, hid behind the stone walls or climbed the tiled roofs of the houses upon sensing a human being approaching. Lord Greywood had a fondness for cats - especially the black ones. As they too showed an unusual intimacy with him.
The driver pulled the horse's bridles abruptly and the coach stood outside the St. Dunstan's Church on Fleet Road, just as the ride was agreed. The driver refused to enter Soho's heartland during the nightly hours because, as he explained to the Lord, the area's underaged pilferers had stolen his pouch of fare money three times. Lord Greywood got out of the coach, pulling out of the door's inner encasement his black redingote and his cane.
"Take care of your wallet in Soho, sir. Listen to my advice." said the coach driver as the Lord gave him the five shillings for the ride.
The church of St Dunstan - prior to its rebuilding in 1831 - had been erected in the Middle Ages, and its modest facade lacked the cruciform motifs that commonly adorned the cathedrals and which disturbed the Lord's eyesight. At each pass of his from the spot, the Lord liked to scrutinize the gothic clock of the church: A triangular arch supported by four buttresses, and beneath it the mechanical figures of Gog and Magog each striking his own bell at the passing of every quarter of the hour. Magog had just striken his own bell with his rod and the circular clock face indicated the time at a quarter past nine. The Lord's meeting with Wilbur Barnaby had been arranged for ten. The walk to Soho was about twenty minutes, so there was no danger of delay.
He put his black redingote over him, not because he was cold but to protect the seam line of his cashmere tailcoat from the icy crystals of the treacherous fog that were passing along all the ash of the city's chimneys and could destroy the fabric. For the truth of the matter, this scrupulosity on the Lord's part in regards to his tailcoat did not concern the garment itself. The Lord simply felt an unlimited respect for the tailor of Saville Row who employed all his craftsmanship to make this particular tailcoat, as he felt an unlimited respect for every man practicing his craft - any craft - with exaggerated zeal. This was also the reason why he collaborated with Jeremiah Jenkins who was extremely meticulous in the production of his beer. Lord Greywood regarded the highest virtue in man his passion for the craft he chose as a life's career. The Lord knew that this human trait is generally hard to come by and, therefore, enviable.
From within the thick fog the young paperboy emerged, with the the Evening Gazette stack under his armpit and announcing loudly the front page's headline: "The latest developments about the Corn Law! New reactions from the Merchants' Union!”
Lord Greywood gave the young man half a penny and took the eight-page brochure in his hands. As usual, he went over the initial pages with the reports on parliamentary procedures, the readers' correspondence on local issues, the social column about the receptions in the Regents Park royal palace, Mrs Finlay's suggestions for womens' fashion, the classified ads, the monthly agricultural report, the cultural events (though the Lord noted mentally that famed actor Edmund Kean would perform six Shakespeare plays in six consecutive nights at the Royal Cogburn Theater) and stopped at the brochure's last pages featuring the international news report. The Lord's interest lied in international issues and in particular the news that concerned European affairs. He began to read the article entitled ABOUT THE EASTERN QUESTION, smirking beforehand as he was aware of the columnist's vitriolic style of writing.
And who are ultimately those people who identify themselves as "Hellenes" impudently linking their history with the history of the glorious ancient Hellenic (=Greek) civilization, rebelling supposedly in the name of the Christian Orthodox faith (how logical is it really to defend one's Christian faith with arms? I cannot help but wonder) and seeking support from the rest of Europe's Christian nations to establish their own independent Greek nation at the same time when they are unable to agree between themselves? A rabble of inarticulate cries and belligerent tendencies, is the most correct answer.
The ideal of the Holy Alliance between the Great Nations (as expressed by the declarations of the Alliance both in the Congress of Laibach in 1821 and in that of Verona the following year) is the consolidation of a permanent peace in a Europe that for a century now has been plagued by wars and conflicts. It is therefore reasonable that any revolutionary movements (such as that of Spain, of Italy and - of course – of Greece) would be regarded as legally null and void since they are conflicting with the principles of the Public International Law.
The intellectuals of our time – the so-called "romantics" - rushed to condemn the ideal of the Holy Alliance as "despotism" against the freedom of nations. Prominent representatives of the letters - names such as Thomas Moore, Lee Hunt, Cam Hobhouse, Walter Savage Landor, Jeremy Bentham and, of course, George Gordon Byron - now claim each his own share of the tide of philhellenism which occupies Europe lately. Along with them followed our own Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the sad George Canning. And I'm referring to the man as "sad" because his policies and actions will someday render our country sad.
In his attempt to faithfully follow the spirit of the aforementioned "romantics" and adhering to his own (intransigent) ideology of the nations' independence, this sad politician (Canning) has transformed London – more or less – into a funding centre for the Greek struggle for liberation. The Greeks have already been given an enormous amount of money by a British lender (£ 800,000 from House Lofnan) and it is being rumored that they will soon be given a second loan. Upon a second reading of course, one can understand the purpose of Canning's strategy. Apparently, it is intended to set up a political barrier against the Russian expansionism. Even so however, the man's actions can only be described as unreasonable when he supports a nation whose ethnological identity is in definite question.
At this point every astute reader is required to wonder: But shouldn't the Ottoman leave Europe eventually? Of course, the Ottoman must leave this continent. This 'Sick Man of Europe' is growing increasingly sicker, and his heritage is nothing short of precious. And therefore the sharing of it between the Great Nations should be born of prudence, always keeping in mind the ideal of the Holy Alliance for European peace. Therefore, the Ottoman's withdrawal will only be realized after circumspection and substantial interventions. The Eastern Question needs diplomacy and political fermentation, not senseless revolts and constitutions of pseudo-nations. The Eastern Question can only be resolved with a strong and indivisible Europe.
Alas, is the (unpopular, authoritarian, hegemonic but also tragically rational) Austrian Chancellor Clemens von Metternich so wrong when he proclaims far and wide that a Greek nation is not valid in essence? Is he so rejective when he describes the Greek political actions as "insolent and clumsy"? Not even the Pope - whose supreme vision would undoubtedly be the union of Christianity within a united Europe - accepted the Greek mission to be heard at the Verona Congress. None of this is of any importance to Mr George Canning, who continues undeterred a foreign policy that will - sooner or later - prove damaging to our Great Britain. But don't be fooled, dear readers. Through the Eastern Question lies at stake - not only our own fate but also - the fate of all Europe.
Arriving at Soho, Lord Greywood left the newspaper on a bench and wore his white satin gloves on his hands. His hands were not cold. This was a common practice of the Lord's as he walked through the Soho district at night. It could very well be seen as an indirect demonstration of snobbery on his part as he wanted to separate himself from the youths who moved about in similar but cheap coats and whose social status did not pertain to his own. The white satin gloves were a silent warning to any concerned party who happened to be walking around Soho at that time: If it were necessary for anyone to address the Lord for any reason, they would have to do so in the appropriate manner of civility. Otherwise it would be preferable not to bother talking to him at all. This was also manifested by the Lord's way of walking, holding his back straight and imperceptibly striking the cane on the ground.
Even with this dense fog, Soho's nervous pulse didn't stop being perceived by the senses. On his way the Lord happened upon the usual drunkards who lurched out of packed pubs like the Blacksmiths ' Inn or the Hope & Valor or the Duke Of York Wine House. They all bore upon them the foul smell of sour alcohol, and they glared at Lord Greywood as if for a second they were interrupting their fierce line of thought from drunkenness in order to inspect his dark face.
Slowly also emerged the prostitutes of the streets with the pink bonnets and the lace bodices pulled down to reveal their exuberant cleavages. At the Lord's passing, they lifted the crinolines flamboyantly up to the garters, rocking their shapely legs under the silk tights. Their whispering pleas were bursting through the noise and the music like the quivery flames of the gas lamps in the misty atmosphere.
“Now, that's a real gentleman! How would you like a companion for tonight, sir?"
"It is a shame for such a man to walk alone. Come with me and I'll take you to Eden's garden, sir."
"Buy me a beer and then we'll go to my room, gorgeous. Tonight you will have fun, I guarantee you that."
Soho's prostitutes were deeply acquainted with the mentality of London's male population. They were by now accustomed to subtle gestures or shy blinks of men and were able to diagnose any secret desires that stubbornly refused to manifest themselves. But upon Lord Greywood's gaze they fell in gloomy contemplations as soon as that characteristic flame-red tint sparked its eerie flare through the irises of the eyes.
The Lord's gaze betrayed a bewildering nature, a desire deeper than the carnal one, a lust beyond that of sexual intercourse. This element caused both fear and irresistible attraction to the prostitutes, so their appeals were abruptly ceased as if their faculties were swayed by his haunting figure. It only took a few seconds for them to get lost in a daze, unable to take their eyes off him and indecisive as to whether they had before them a human being or a beast with murderous intentions.
Passing by the violinist who was singing The Marriage of Sir Gawain on the street and who was dancing all the way to the violin's rhythm, the Lord pulled out the coins in the left pocket of his waistcoat and tossed them into the cap that the violinist had left on the ground. "Thank you! Thank you very much sir!” yelled the violinist and began to strike the bow on the violin's strings with greater force.
King Arthur liues in merry Carleile,
And seemely is to see,
And there he hath with him Queene Genever,
That bride soe bright of blee.
Then the Lord searched his waistcoat's right pocket and pulled out a handful of pennies. He kept them in his fist until he reached the group of kids who begged the passersbys for some change so that they'd buy roasted potatoes from the old potato-baker who stood on Rose Road and roasted the potatoes in the cinder of the brazier. As soon as they caught sight of the Lord, the kids rushed at him, and he opened his fist offering the pennies. The kids took all the coins and shouting hurried and docked "thank you" they ran straight towards the old baker.
Wherever the lambency of the gaslights failed to reach, the fading moonlight sneaked into and anointed those Soho corners that had surrendered to the bleakness of the night. The blue shade of the moonlight shaped upon the convolutions of the fog faces of cursed people, and then emerged the faces of the beggars who groaned seeking charity from the dark corners and miraculously their pale faces matched in harmonious correspondence the faces of the blue shade. And the Lord marveled at the way nature could compose such magical phantasmagorias with only a little light and some fog.
The Lord could feel nothing but compassion for the hapless statue of King Charles II that stood in the center of Soho Square shrouded in the embrace of the white cold marble and which had to endure the disturbance of its deathly tranquillity by the three young men - fresh from quarrels and blind drunk - who urinated it together. After cruising past them in discontent, the Lord stood outside the three-storeyed dwelling of Manor House No. 21.
He gazed at the facade's structure with the large windows, framed by yellow bricks. Behind the lace curtains of the windows glowed the deep purple color of the oil lamps and the human silhouettes were just about discernable in the blur. The Lord walked up the marble steps of the façade and hastily examined the triangular lintel of the entrance with the two relief lions holding the royal coat of arms. The number 21 that stood imposing on the front door as well as the knocker were made of bronze. The Lord struck the knocker three times, and the thumps of bronze upon the oak door sounded like the thunders of the London sky just before a winter rainstorm.
The door opened, revealing the old butler's lunky figure. The butler was dressed in a tight corset made of dark green brocade. Underneath the brocade's intricate rhombuses, the Lord could discern the six curved metal binders the corset contained in order to keep the waist girth small. A distinctive batwing bow tie was tacked with a golden pin on his collar. He too wore white satin gloves like the Lord's.
"Welcome to the White House, sir. Do come in, please." said the butler with a weak voice, and the Lord entered the foyer.
The foyer was decorated in Rococo Louis Kenz style. Opposite stood a closed beige double door. An ecru chair with curved legs and a walnut cabinet were on the right. Four soft-colored oval paintings with representations of Eden's Adam and Eve adorned the walls and between them hung rose veils with wavy stripes on their silky texture. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling and shone from the light of the spermacetis on its lampstands. An ivory-colored garderobe of beech wood was on the left and on it lied canes, hats and redingotes. The floor consisted of thousands of precious tesserae that made up a faithful imitation of Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus depicting the goddess of love emerging from the foams of the sea in a shell.
The butler was provident enough to improve the aesthetics of the space with a deodorant rose oil. This was testified by the glass vial with the spray pump on the cabinet and its scent was so strong that it neutralized the odors of the spermacetis' burnt wicks and made the foyer smell like a rosebush meadow.
"Would the dear sir like to hand his redingote over to me, and anything else he considers himself fit for the garderobe?" asked the butler.
The Lord took the redingote off him and handed it to the butler along with his hat, cane and gloves. The butler took the things into his hands with devout care, but before moving to the garderobe, his old gaze clouded over with shame and, lowering the gray temples, he turned to the Lord without looking at him.
"Would the dear sir allow me to be so bold as to ask if he carries any weapons on him, such as a pistol or a knife?" he asked.
"No, I don't carry weapons with me. I never carry weapons. If I did, they would spoil the line of my tailcoat.” replied the Lord.
"An excellent response, sir. An excellent response indeed." said the butler and his wrinkled face was marked by a wide smile of rejoicing.
After hanging the Lord's belongings in the garderobe, the butler headed for the cabinet with light steps that felt like steps of a Buddhist monk. Opening the cabinet's glass door leaves, he pulled out a crystal bottle containing a liquid of dark green color like his dark green corset. He poured the dark green substance into a small glass and then dropped in it a small spoonful of sugar from the gold-plated sugar bowl that stood beside. And after mixing the contents of the glass with the spoon until the sugar was completely dissolved in the substance, the butler offered the glass to the Lord.
"Absinthe, sir. French. The best. I would advise the dear sir to drink it straight up and not with multiple sips."
The Lord brought the glass to his nostrils to smell the aromas of fennel and anise and then - at the butler's suggestion - brought it to his lips and swallowed it all in one go. The bitterness of the absinthe leaves girdled the taste buds with its tentacles but, before the face even managed to form a wince of aversion, the sugar with the alcohol began a princely waltz with each other, one that elevated the intellect into domains of emerald counterworlds. Soon the great Green Fairy descended and shut the Lord's eyelids with her delicate hands and then matter and supernature were instantly eradicated from human senses plunging the universe into a cool darkness.
"Exquisite. Truly exquisite. My congratulations." said the Lord under the influence of the green elixir.
“I am very glad that the dear sir enjoyed it. And now, allow me to announce your arrival." said the butler and moved towards a foyer veil and revealed from behind it a rope hanging from the ceiling. He pulled it three times and with each pull sounded hollow rings.
The double door opened wide revealing the White House maitre. He was a petite middle-aged man with untrimmed hair around the shiny baldness and a thin face full of powder. His kinesiology sailed into effeminacy as if imitating some ethereal sight, but the camp contraction of his scraggy fingers also testified to a man who stubbornly pushed himself into this peculiar behavior by work duty. He was dressed in a short fuchsia jacket and from his chest sprouted the lace frilled furbelow of the shirt. A large pink bow posed under his pointy chin while his pants were distinguished by the vertical stripes of red and black.
"Welcome to the White House, sir! My name is Camillo and I'll be your servant for tonight. I presume Alfred has taken care of your needs so far, correct?"
"Yes. Alfred was perfect."
"Marvellous! Would the good sir allow me to ask his name? "
"I'm Lord Jules Greywood."
"A lord no less! That's wonderful! And is this your first time in the White House?"
"Yes. My first time."
"Splendid! Let me be your humble guide for tonight and take you to the heavenly delights of the White House. I guarantee you that your first night at the White House will forever be an unforgettable experience, as is the case with all our fine customers." said Camillo and grabbing the Lord by the elbow led him into the salon.
Was it a mere irony of luck that the salon was lined with a neo-gothic style of décor - plunged into the deep reddish purple - thus completely negating the rococo impression of the foyer?
The boa constrictor groveled its five-meter length on the salon's carpet sounding a protracted hiss. It would be perfectly natural for any visitor to initially feel awe at the sight of the domesticated reptilian, but the Lord's attention was focused on the arabesques of the upholstery and the carpet: The repetitive motif of three-pointed lilies framed by elaborate wreaths of ivy, all within the hypnotic aura of deep red.
Unlike the prostitutes of the streets, the six prostitutes in the White House salon were not dressed in overcoats and crinolines, but rather displayed their beauty in a blatant way by wearing only their rosy camisoles. Among them was the overweight woman who - lying on the sofa - inhaled deep puffs from the opium pipe heated above the lit oil lamp. The dense fragrance of the burning poppy brought on by the fumes of the opium relieved the innards of the six women, and the arousal made their watery eyes shine like lakes in moments of calm.
As the boa passed by the sofa, the fingertips of the overweight prostitute unconsciously touched the hard scales of its leather. The boa seemed to enjoy the touch of the woman, and being under the opium's stupor in the atmosphere opened its mouth wide with pleasure.
The two prostitutes - a brunette and a blonde - sitting together in the big armchair didn't even blink their livid purple eyelids when the boa slithered on their hips. They were both looking at the Lord, and he was reading in their eyes the craving for a spark in their numb bodies, the longing for an orgasm in the burning hormones. The tightening of the lips and the somnolent look expressed a desire for an intercourse that had nothing to do with the precepts of their employer but it was rather based on an intrinsic instinct of survival, as if they owed to feed their senses with male impulses before the opium finished them off. The boa played for a while its snout with the fringes of the purple rug that was laid out on the armrest and then moved behind the huge black clavichord.
The fringes of the purple rug formed rings on their braided yarns, like the rings formed on the ginger hair of the woman lying on the chaise longue. She had let some of her curls fall in front of her face to hide the dizziness from the inhaling of the polluted air, and her legs opened as if on their own accord as soon as the Lord turned his gaze towards her. The other two women sitting comfortably on the chaise longue's velvet cushions seemed accustomed to the opium's hallucinatory effect as their smiles towards the Lord had a speck of restraint on them even though they too shone with erotic hysteria. The flames through the reddish murky glasses of the sconces gave the women's skin a false rosiness that – even if by very little – overturned the pale impression of their faces.
"As you can see, my dear Lord, at the White House we are able to satisfy all tastes," said Camillo, referring to the differences the women had in their physical proportions and hair colors.
The figures of the five portraits that adorned the walls of the salon stood lofty in their gloomy oil paint. Colonel James Graham, Viscount Richard Graham, Count Charles Howard, Marquess Grace Pierrepont, and Baron Sir Rowland Winn were the persons who resided in the Manor House in the past, in those good old days when it was still a respectable building of the aristocracy, before it was transformed into a brothel, into the so-called White House.
The boa slithered under the heavy burgundy curtains that covered the long windows of the salon, faintly touching their silky edges with its back and then headed for the Lord. Wrapping the muscular body of brown and gray rhombuses around Lord's leg, it raised its broad head towards him as if seeking a caress. The Lord reached out his hand and caressed the spot beneath the reptile's head, and it surrendered itself delightfully to his touch.
"Good God! Felix likes you. This is the first time ever Felix behaves like that to a stranger." said Camillo surprised.
At the spectacle of the boa surrendering itself like a puppy to the Lord's caresses, the six prostitutes began a shameless procession of fondles with one another in order to adjust themselves to the animal's pleasure. The overweight woman – being alone on the sofa - had no choice but to satisfy herself by groping her clitoris through the lace panties.
"It is all too obvious, my dear Lord, that Felix is not the only one fond of you in here," said Camillo, pointing knowingly to the women who were now exacerbated for good.
"I'm not here for pleasure. I've come for business.” replied Lord Greywood.
"My dear Lord, at the White House, pleasure is our business" smiled Camillo slyly.
"I guess I'll have to give you the password. Childe Harold.” said Lord Greywood.
Upon hearing the Childe Harold password, Camillo yellowed with a yellowness that couldn't be subsided by the white powder on his face. His rabbit eyes goggled with fear and the fake mink eyelashes began to flicker in dismay. For a few seconds he remained more motionless than the portrait figures on the walls.
Childe Harold was the password that Wilbur Barnaby himself had set for Lord Greywood to allow him access to the White House's inner quarters. Lord Greywood had in mind Byron's long poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage which narrated the story of a young man who — trapped in a life of material pleasures — embarks on a journey of trying to find his redemption in foreign lands. The Lord consciously made a connection of the password to Byron's poem, but did not bother to analyze the reasons why Barnaby made this particular choice. But he was not naive enough to believe that a man like Barnaby had literary sensibilities.
"Come with me please." said Camillo sharply and moved with the Lord to the door leading to the White House's rooms.
The feeling a visitor would have when entering the corridor for the first time would not differ much from the admiration he would feel upon seeing a peacock opening its winged tail like a fan. The corridor was lined on all four dimensions - ceiling, walls, floor - with goat wool painted in such a way that it resembled the colorful tail of a peacock defined by ocular specks. The purple sconces on the walls simply festered the intensities of green, blue and orange making the place look like a secret catacomb in a fairytale forest that's inhabited by elves and goblins. As the goat wool was dense and rough, it absorbed the slightest sound of the steps and covered up any possible noise coming from inside the rooms.
"My dear Lord, do you have a sense of what you are doing?" Camillo asked the Lord closing the salon door in order to keep the conversation confidential.
"Of course. I'm here to meet Mr Barnaby. Our meeting is set for tonight." replied Lord Greywood.
"My dear Lord, you come across as a very kind person and therefore you shall allow me to warn you of some things you may not be aware of. Usually people who receive an invitation from Mr. Barnaby for a one-on-one meeting at the White House simply disappear from London. They know in advance that such an invitation is a bad omen and that if they come to the meeting they are most likely not to leave it alive. And for that reason, they leave London and never come back. You see, Mr. Barnaby is a slightly mean-spirited character and is well-known for his sudden mood swings. No one ever knows whether or not a simple conversation with him will end up in murder. I hope you don't get me wrong for letting you know about all this.” said Camillo.
"I understand." said Lord Greywood. "Well, I guess I'll just risk it anyway. After all, I always had the curiosity to meet him personally. He's a man that interests me."
"I admire your courage and wish you good luck. Let me just dare some suggestions. Never mention the word no when talking to him. And never use imperatives. And don't deny him anything at all. And avoid staring at him in the eyes. Mr. Barnaby becomes very irritable about his hegemonic position when interacting with people, if you know what I mean." said Camillo.
"Thank you for the briefing. I shall keep all this in mind.” said Lord Greywood.
"Follow me. And God be with you.” said Camillo and proceeded to the corridor with the Lord after him.
A black door appeared to their left through the fancy lining of the corridor walls. On it stood fixed a silver shining skull, and under the skull lied the inscription SKELETON ROOM. So this was the notorious Skeleton Room ! Curiosity began to nibble like a woodworm the Lord's rationale for what could be behind this closed black door, and his imagination engulfed myriad speculations, so graphic that they made him smile. Of course he couldn't ask Camillo to show him the room because it was occupied and they couldn't of course bother the customer inside it. But good luck stood by the Lord's side and satisfied his curiosity in the end. And this was because the room's door opened just as the two men passed by.
A short elderly man emerged out of the room with a tall brown-haired prostitute. The man wore the upper part of a tailcoat, complemented by a majestic bow tie, but in the lower part of his outfit posed only his underpants, black patent leather shoes and long grey socks. The woman with the ivory skin was wearing only her bra and her panties. In his pouched face resembling that of an old chimpanzee, the man bore a monocle held in place of the eye by the muscle of his eyebrow and his mingy cheekbone. The man was visibly upset and his deep wrinkles shook with confusion, causing the monocle to seesaw spasmodic.
"Is there a problem, Sir Godfrey?" Camillo asked the old man.
"The lady over here refuses to join me in the coffin. As I happen to be one of White House's best customers, I demand the analogous kind of service." complained Sir Godfrey in a hoarse voice.
“The sir want sleep wit me in coffin. I no get in a coffin. In my country it is bad luck get in a coffin.” complained the woman with a broken accent.
Lord Greywood raised his head slightly in order to see the interior of Skeleton Room. It wasn't much different from a funeral parlor but it was clearly more macabre, more mournful, more grand-guignol. Black ceiling, black walls, black floor. In the bed's position lied an ebony coffin large enough to accommodate two people, and by its sides stood two oblong flower vases with white tulips. The bluish black color of plum defined the long window curtains and the velvety sky above the coffin. A mechanical skeleton with a winder opened its mouth every so often and shook its bones with menace. Next to it was a wooden gallows from the noose of which hung the wax figure of a woman with her tongue completely out and with disorientated eyes made of amber.
"Tatiana, my dear, you know very well that the White House aims to serve its customers in the best way possible. You were also informed during your hiring here that the Skeleton Room deviates slightly from our usual services. Sir Godfrey is one of our finest customers and therefore we ought to respect his desire to get into a coffin" Camillo told the woman.
"I no get into coffin. I'm scared. I never been put into coffin before. Ptu-ptu-ptu! Evil curse!” responded Tatiana and spat at the floor three times.
"Dear Sir Godfrey," said Camillo begrudged. "Tatiana has recently arrived from Moldavia and as a newbie to the White House she does not know the strict code of conduct we adhere to with our clients. Would you allow me to kindly suggest one of our other women for tonight? What would you say about Beatrice? Beatrice loves the Skeleton Room and the customers who have been served by her in the Skeleton Room were absolutely thrilled. "
"I'm not used to changing my initial choices, Camillo. Since I selected this lady, I shall insist on my original selection. This is what my male honor dictates. Do not attempt such cajoleries on me." said Sir Godfrey.
"My dear Tatiana," said Camillo. "What would you say if we reviewed your tonight's salary with Sir Godfrey? Would that be enough to set aside any of your prejudices?"
"I not know. I need to discuss. I'm scared of coffin." said Tatiana.
"Dear Sir Godfrey, would you agree if we reconsidered Tatiana's salary for your service tonight? Please note that this shall be Tatiana's first time in a coffin. So let me put forward the reasoning that your experience is worth a bit more than usual since this is Tatiana's first time." said Camillo.
"This is outrageous! You are despicable, unprincipled, and bilkers!" said Sir Godfrey, and then he fell into a brief contemplation. After pondering Camillo's proposal for a while, he continued: "Hmm, all right then. Maybe you're actually right after all. I suppose I could discuss some possible raise in the lady's salary. I mean ... since it's her first time ... a raise would be fair in this case."
"Splendid! Let me just serve Lord Greywood and I shall come back here immediately to settle the matter." said Camillo and proceeded with the Lord to the corridor.
Walking down the corridor, Lord Greywood felt for a moment that he had stepped on a switch that stood beneath the woollen coating of the floor. This was evinced by the characteristic "click" heard under his shoe. Right away, two square portals opened to the left and right of the corridor, and from the opening of each portal popped the porcelain head of a harlequin being attached to a spring. Antithetical emotions were formulated upon the painted expressions of the two harlequins: The left harlequin seemed happy and laughing, the right one was sad and weeping. A hidden bellows was squeezed at the same time through a mechanism producing a contrived chuckle.
"Oh don't pay attention to these adolescent antics, my Lord. The White House is full of such cheap tricks.” Camillo reassured the Lord, and the two men walked to the end of the corridor.
Turning right, they found themselves in front of two staircases. One led upstairs to the White House rooms. The other one led down to the basement. Camillo headed towards the staircase leading to the basement and the Lord followed him.
The basement looked like a warehouse full of scrap metal, surrendered in its entirety to the mercy of rust. Funnels, exhaust stacks, axles of carriages, cams, pots, molds, cauldrons, cans, water pipes, lithographic plates, anvils.
"Scrap metal for the foundry, my Lord. Junk today, useful tomorrow. "
The humidity in the basement was so stifling that made breathing difficult and devoured the bricks on the walls. Amidst all this mass of desuetude and wear and tear, the Lord's eye caught the massive machine with greased iron levers and large springs. Heavy chains passed through the machine, reaching the ceiling and turning the mounted cogwheels. Seeing the Lord curious about the machine, Camillo rushed to satisfy his curiosity over its purpose.
"This is the bed quaking machine. You see, dear Lord, many of our fine customers prefer their beds to be shaken during the act of love. They are more satisfied with an auxiliary shaking, if you know what I mean. So this is what this machine does. It shakes the beds."
The Lord had the opportunity to watch the machine function and get to know the man who operated it. On the wall lied a rectangular board with ten small numbered bells applied to its surface. Each of these ten small bells was connected to the corresponding room via a thin copper wire. As the bell rang at number eight, the man sitting in the warehouse - a blond man with cruel cheekbones and wide shoulders - moved to one of the machine's ten iron levers and pulled it down forcefully stretching its respective coil spring downward, and then the machine started to sound a metal rattle. As the spring shrank back to its original shape, the chain rotated the corresponding cogwheel onto the ceiling.
"Impressive." said the Lord admiring the levels of human imagination, even for a purpose as contemptible as that.
The name of the blond man in the basement was Miles. Camillo informed Miles that Lord Greywood had a pre-arranged appointment with Wilbur Barnaby. Miles - who, in addition to operating the aforementioned machine, was also acting as Barnaby's bodyguard - did a physical search on the Lord in order to check for any hidden weapons, but Camillo informed him that the Lord was unarmed. Miles frisked the Lord anyway to make sure and, finding nothing, he headed for the green door of Barnaby's office. Camillo returned to his duties, namely, Sir Godfrey and his wobbling monocle. After Miles informed Barnaby of the Lord's arrival, Barnaby enunciated a thunderous "Let him in" and then the Lord entered the office.
[to be continued next Friday, 31 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