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. 04 of 36]
PART ONE : London
Green was the color that dominated Barnaby's office since green was the color of the walls as green was the color of the glass hats in the tall lamps that stood in line one after the other, glowing in the room. Upon a glance at the countless paintings that adorned the walls up to the ceiling, one could conclude that Barnaby was nurturing a particular love for seafaring. If not all of them, the overwhelming percentage of the oil paintings concerned ships and frigates and flagships in seas heavy and calm. Despite its pulsating energy, the green color emitted an enigmatic complacency, as if no world existed outside the room.
Barnaby was sitting in his desk, at the deep end of the oblong room, next to the oil lamp with the clouded glass-hat of the greenish roses and the reflecting mirror. The Lord approached the desk, passing the large fireplace to the left with the flames that mercilessly devoured the logs. On Barnaby's desk lied stacks of papers, reports and board resolutions which needed the final approval of "Dirty Wilbur".
Barnaby was not alone in the office. Next to the wall-mounted bookcase of hardbound volumes stood a mounting pole from which hung a gilded cage, and a canary was singing in it. The canary seemed dazed by the presence of Lord Greywood as it began to jump nervously from bar to bar. Barnaby caught sight of the bird's strange reaction and made a mental note.
"So you are the famous Lord Greywood! I'm glad to meet you at last, Lord." said Barnaby without of course getting up from his chair.
"Mr Barnaby, the pleasure is all mine," replied Lord Greywood.
“I've been wanting to meet you for quite some time. You had become quite an interesting fellow to me.” said Barnaby.
"The interest is mutual, Mr Barnaby," said Lord Greywood.
"Don't talk too much, Lord," said Barnaby dourly. "You won't talk too much when you're with me. You will only speak when I permit you to do so. Don't forget that you are a person whose exploits affect my own domains. And I tend to lose my temper with people who act in my own domains without my permission. And when I lose my temper, usually something bad happens. So not too much talk. Either way, I hate people who talk just to keep the atmosphere lively. This is because, inevitably, most of what they'll say will be nonsense."
Lord Greywood remained silent at Barnaby's command. He avoided looking at him in the eyes, though he was certain that Barnaby was thoroughly scrutinizing his gaze, and especially that characteristic flame-red hue of the irises that usually hypnotized people's minds.
Barnaby's head resembled a rock carved in such a way that it presented a rudimentary face upon its stone mass. It was a face of expressive simplicity manifesting violence, violence in all forms, metaphorical and literal violence. Sparse oily hair, two protuberant temples framed the slit eyes, and the plump nose just about managed to form two nostrils amongst the rough angles of the face. His puckered mouth opened faintly as he spoke, and the voice came from within like the sharp rattling of a fraught steam engine. Although seated, his beastly figure was evident and his savage nature was not refined by that crimson sleeveless sweater or the white shirt with jutting lapels. The extended knuckles of his fingers testified to his boxer's tenure, making his hands appear ready to strangle or punch anything with life in it.
"Have a seat Lord," he said, and the Lord obediently sat across him, on the chair with the turquoise coating.
Barnaby put his hand in his sweater pocket and pulled out the small golden watch with the thin chain. Looking at the watch, he shook his head in approval, praising the Lord's punctuality with time: The hour was exactly ten, as their meeting had been agreed. Putting the watch back in his pocket, he again glowered at the Lord with his penetrating eyes.
"How old are you, Lord?" he asked.
"Forty." replied Lord Greywood.
"No. You're not forty. You may look forty, but your eyes tell me you're much older. And I'm never wrong with the eyes, Lord," said Barnaby.
The Lord did not reply but remained silent again, enduring Barnaby's examining stare. Barnaby became increasingly angry as he was unable to guess the Lord's real age and this caused something of an embarrassment to him. His persistent gaze then turned to the Lord's feline body which appeared flexible, swift and full of wiry power. Like a mechanical system that stored huge amounts of energy beneath its anthropomorphic exterior.
"Where are you from, Lord?" asked Barnaby.
"My ancestry is from Transylvania," replied the Lord.
"Ah! Transylvania! The land of Balaur and Uriasi …" said Barnaby, referring to the mythological monsters of Romanian folklore. "And ... are you a real Lord or is this title of nobility as authentic as your age?"
"Mr Barnaby, with all due respect, I had the impression that our meeting would be of social interest. I was not prepared for an interrogation and I tend to be secretive about some issues that concern me. I prefer not to disclose specific information about myself, for reasons of my own." said the Lord.
"You have the audacity of a naive man, Lord Greywood," said Barnaby, hardening his slit gaze. "The naive are the only people I get rid of without any remorse in my consciousness. Wiping out a naive person is essentially an offering to humanity and is therefore not regarded as crime. For all others, I owe to pray to atone from the burden of sin."
"It was not my intention to appear insolent or naive to you, Mr Barnaby," said Lord Greywood.
The modesty in Lord Greywood's conduct began to win Barnaby's appreciation despite the Lord's refusal to answer personal questions. Barnaby did not forget for a moment that he had before him a dangerous man, whose legend was capable of causing fear to anyone. And this was of course an occasion in which Barnaby needed the valuable services of the Lord.
"What do you know about me, Lord?" asked Barnaby.
"I know you are the man who controls the whole of London and you have the last word in everything," replied Lord Greywood.
"Hmm, yeah, kind of. The royalty are for the spectacle, the politicians for the institutional formalities, the military is practicing the foreign diplomacy, and I do the job of law enforcement in the capital's internal affairs. You could very well say I'm the system's dogsbody." sighed Barnaby.
"You shall allow me to observe that dogsbody is a designation somewhat unfair for your hegemonic position in London," said Lord Greywood.
"Don't be fooled, Lord. I'm expendable. Someday the end of my era will come. And then all these courtiers that surround me will become the reptiles that will compete with each other who shall devour me first. This is dictated by the rules of nature. That's why I always keep my eyes wide open," said Barnaby.
"I understand what you mean," said Lord Greywood.
"I'm fifty-six years old, almost fifty-seven. My most important achievement in these fifty-seven years of life is that I have learned to read and write. Not bad for a toddler that sprang up through the darkest slums of East End ... I learned to read and write. This, Lord, I attribute as an achievement higher than the fear I impose on the people around me." said Barnaby.
He then got up from his chair and turned to the bookcase. He removed a hardbound volume from its shelves and, burying his hand deep into the empty space that had been created, pulled a bottle of Jules Robin cognac dated 1780, smuggled from France. Then he opened the desk's drawer and took out two thick glasses.
"I look at a person's eyes to find out who he is. And then I drink cognac with him to find out what he's capable of doing.” he said, serving the cognac in the glasses.
"I'm honestly sorry but I'm not used to drinking cognac at this hour," said Lord Greywood.
"You'll drink cognac with me, Lord. You'll drink cognac with me because I'm going to assign you a mission. And I never work with a man unless I have first shared a bottle of cognac with him." said Barnaby.
"But if I agree to drink cognac with you right now, then I am essentially prejudging our cooperation. And it is difficult for me to prejudge our cooperation if I have not first heard the subject of the mission you wish to assign to me." said Lord Greywood.
"You shall accept the mission I am going to assign you, Lord. You have no other choice. The other option is to not leave this room alive. Your corpse will be floating on the waters of Thames tonight." growled Barnaby through his teeth.
The Lord's gaze lowered, focusing on the deep green carpet of the floor and a slight smirk formed on his lips. He then lifted his head and looked at Barnaby with the fiery red hue of the irises that was now bursting like conflagration. Barnaby was awe-struck by the Lord's fiery look, witnessing the myths of Balaur and Uriasi unfolding before him as mystical visions.
"I'll have the cognac," said Lord Greywood and took the glass in his hands.
Barnaby returned to his place but was unable to detract his gaze from the Lord's figure who, as he drank his first sips of cognac, seemed to accumulate all around him the most exotic shades of green in the room. A halo of dark-green shadows loomed around the Lord's head, and then through this babel of spectra the flame-red glare of the eyes shone on its most demonic flares.
"Jeremiah Jenkins and the other East End bosses told me the best things about you. They informed me that you've been a great help to them." Barnaby stuttered within the daze that had overwhelmed him.
“It is their duty to speak well about me. I have been of service to them quite enough.” replied Lord Greywood.
"I was told that you are a loyal partner and that you are carrying out any mission," said Barnaby.
"I am loyal only to myself. I take on jobs that satisfy me spiritually. I do it for me. Not for the others.” said Lord Greywood while drinking the cognac.
"Those people ... How did you kill all those people? What did you do to them? How did you get rid of them?” asked Barnaby.
"I'm afraid this is a piece of information I'd like to keep secret as well. For now, at least." said Lord Greywood.
"Who are you Lord? Who are you really? What are you really?” Barnaby could utter as he watched the Lord's figure diffuse into the atmosphere like an apparition.
"I am just someone who is trying to make his time as pleasant as possible." replied the Lord, and then the flaming red eyes abated in small explosions and transformed into an aura of frosty blue that expressed none other but inconsolable grief. A mysterious grief, but definitely inconsolable.
Barnaby was so absorbed in the intoxicating spectacles created by the figure of the Lord that he could not hear the canary beside him. The hapless creature let out squawks from horror and raged in the cage struggling to escape. Upon realizing this, Barnaby got up from his chair and approached it, sweetly silencing it, and then it regained its calm and quieted down.
"Who are you Lord? Who are you really? What are you really?"
"I'm just someone who's trying to make his time as pleasant as possible."
Barnaby brought the glass to his lips and gulped the cognac in one go. He wanted to calm his nerves, to allay the delirium he had come into because of the Lord. Wilbur Barnaby, the famous "Dirty Wilbur", had been overcome by tremor like some unfledged youngster. Was it a metaphysical experience he had just felt? Or some hallucination stemming from overwork? Was Lord Greywood a human being or not? And if he wasn't a human being, then what was he? The cognac was able to bring him around. He took the mahogany pipe in his hands, filled it with tobacco and then lit it with a burning fodder. He inhaled deep puffs and, allowing the white aromatic smoke to slowly leave his lungs, looked again at the Lord. He decided to get into the point without further chatter.
"Let's talk about business, Lord. That's what you came here for anyway. Since you are not willing to talk about yourself, it is preferable to disclose the reason why I called you here. Either way, too much talk is of no use." said Barnaby and sat down in his chair.
'I'm all ears, Mr Barnaby. You have my full attention.” said Lord Greywood.
"Do you know a man going by the name of George Gordon Byron?" asked Barnaby.
"I don't know him personally. But I know some things about him.” replied Lord Greywood.
"What do you know about him?" asked Barnaby.
"I know he is a lord, wealthy and a distinguished poet," said Lord Greywood.
"Precisely. That's all I knew about him too. And I would be glad if that would be all I should know about him. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Byron made sure that I could learn some of his additional qualities. In addition to poetry, Mr. Byron also loves gambling. But his love for gambling was not as lucrative as his love for poetry. Mr. Byron lost six thousand pounds from games of whist. Mr. Byron owes this money to my acquaintances. Mr Byron left England without settling his debts. This is Mr Byron's mistake, which we are called upon to correct. With your help, Lord."
"It's a matter of honor among gentlemen, then?" said Lord Greywood.
"Exactly. Mr. Byron is currently in Greece, and more specifically in a place called Missolonghi. Missolonghi is considered a to be point of strategic importance and is constantly besieged by the Turks. Mr. Byron is overly sensitized about the Greeks' struggle for independence and he therefore finances their revolution against the Turks from his own fortune. It is said that the Greeks take advantage of Mr Byron's polite personality and squeeze him financially more and more. What is your opinion of the Greeks, Lord?" said Barnaby.
"They are characters with intense inner conflicts in their psyche. And quite impulsive in their nature. Passionate beyond normal standards, I would say. Extremely intelligent people though." said Lord Greywood.
“The Greeks are the only people I have learned to watch out for. When whole batches of Jews immigrated to London, we the local guvnors protested against their coming, despite the fact that their capital flowed into the city. Many were fooled by the money the Jews brought with them. They do not know that the Jew's money always returns to the Jew, ten times larger the amount. But the Greeks are worse than the Jews. They are a diabolical breed. If Greeks ever immigrate to London, they are capable of conquering it and seize everything in it away. The blood flowing into their veins is greedy," said Barnaby.
“I have a feeling that you are somewhat exaggerating. I've been among Greeks. They certainly do have incorrigible vices. But they are generally courteous and forthright people,” said Lord Greywood.
"I'm not exaggerating at all. I don't like them. I never liked them. I tolerated the Negroes, I tolerated the Chinks, - hell! - I even tolerated the Jews. But with the Greeks I want no relations whatsoever. But my problem hereto is not the Greeks. My problem is Mr. George Gordon Byron. Your mission is to travel to Missolonghi and locate Mr. Byron. And once you locate him, you'll need to apply persuasion on him in order to pay his debts to my acquaintances. The manner in which you'll persuade him is entirely up to you. Given your accomplishments at East End, I'm sure you'll find the right way to do it." said Barnaby, pulling two deep puffs from the pipe.
"So it takes a Lord to catch a Lord ...! I'll do it.” said Lord Greywood, happy at the prospect of visiting Greece.
"Don't just rush to rejoice, Lord. You won't go solo on this trip. You shall have a companion. One of my most trusted employees," said Barnaby.
"No way. I always work alone.” said Lord Greywood abruptly.
"Not on this job. On this job you will have a partner. And the reason you'll have a partner on this job is because that's how I want it. I shall feel more comfortable that way. Well? Are we agreed, Lord? Or would your Lordship prefer the frozen waters of the Thames for his evening entertainment? You see these hands? These hands are all-ready to wipe you out with the first refusal you will utter. Now, have I made myself quite clear, your Lordship?" said Barnaby, with his rough fists held out over the desk.
"What kind of character is the said partner?" asked Lord Greywood.
"His name is Baglen Hamhaduke but we all call him Bugs. He is ugly, filthy and his mind is so sick it will cause you nausea. But he is also extremely loyal to me. And that's enough as far as I am concerned. So you and Bugs will travel to Missolonghi together. And you will work equally with full devotion to my commands. And this is my final word. Agreed, Lord?" said Barnaby with the pipe between his clenched teeth.
"Agreed." said Lord Greywood with a sigh and swallowed the cognac left in his glass.
Then Barnaby set the departure date for Lord Greywood and Bugs Hamhaduke's journey. And then Barnaby planned a meeting between the Lord and Hamhaduke in London before leaving for the trip. This was, of course, perfectly reasonable since the two men would work together and therefore they should get in touch with each other at least once, even in a typical meeting of a few minutes. And after all this had been arranged and agreed upon, Lord Greywood bid farewell to Barnaby, paying his respects.
On leaving the White House, Lord Greywood happened upon Sir Godfrey once again as he was coming out of the Skeleton Room. The two men got acquainted and during their brief discussion they discovered that - though they did not know each other - they were both unofficial members of the Society of Dilettanti, England's celebrated association that operates to this day and is engaged in the study of Greek and Roman antiquity.
The two men were heading for the exit when Tatiana popped half-naked out of the Skeleton Room. "See you next week, dear! Same day, Same time, same coffin!” she yelled at Sir Godfrey as he disappeared into the misty Soho.
[to be continued next Friday, 7 February 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