Historical fantasy 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. 06 of 36]
In the year 1824, Paris was the cultural capital of the world, the flowering ground of the newborn current of Romanticism in all arts but mainly in those of painting and literature, even if France's rapid political developments - both internal and external - threatened to undermine the artistic flow of the city. It was the time of the beginning of the end of the Bourbon Restoration, shortly before the Second French Revolution of 1830 that would bring the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy and the establishment of the 18-year hegemony of Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans. It was the time when such emblematic works were built in the city such as the Canal Saint-Martin, the Paris Stock Exchange (also known as Palais Brongniart), the Expiatoire Chapel, the Notre - Dame de Bonne - Nouvelle Cathedral and a more extensive drainage system. As pointed out by the great French writer Victor Hugo (1802-1885), he who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime.
It was, therefore, a pity that Lord Greywood had to spend those coveted days in this phantasmagoric city with a despicable subject such as Bugs Hamhaduke. Bugs Hamhaduke belonged to that kind of people who lived only to fulfill their unwholesome impulses, totally devoid of feelings of remorse for their malicious nature. Nothing on Hamhaduke betrayed a human foible desperately needing compassion from the fellow man, Hamhaduke was prompted to be a murderer by the very womb that established him, and not even the diapers that swaddled him could restrain the infant hands from doing an insidious act. Such a wretched fruit could not have received love from a mother or a father, but he instead was comprised and nourished by the most treacherous forces of the world. Even the way in which Hamhaduke was looking askance at people's throats when he talked to them testified to his burning desire to strangle purely for entertainment. Even his jokes concerned death, horrible and excruciating death.
In such a form, such is the soul: Hamhaduke was ugly both from the outside and the inside. But as far as the Lord was concerned, Hamhaduke symbolized the very banality of evil. In other words, Hamhaduke was so bad that he finally ended up being overly shallow and therefore unbearably tedious.
The two men eventually met in the lobby of the pension Les Paons Fiers - in the prestigious Francois I district , near the Champs Elysées - as had been arranged. Hamhaduke's appalling attire and characteristic stink made Lord Greywood begrudge. He had only one hour at his disposal to transform Hamhaduke from a common Plebeian ratbag into an acceptable dandy of the art-loving elite. And that was because it was not possible to take him on as a companion to the Paris Opera dressed in those greased daily clothes.
So without too much talk and too many greetings, the Lord took Hamhaduke to the Rue Saint-Honoré where all the haute couture shops were lined up, including that of the famous dressmaker Leroy. Hamhaduke didn't stop moaning for a moment throughout the entire process as he did not take kindly to the prospect of spending that night watching opera. But when he saw himself in the mirror in his tall hat, long coat, wide collar and black and white striped trousers (the ones with the strips seeping under his shoes) he embraced his new unusual look and his mood changed all of a sudden. This was evident in the vivacity which he later adopted on his walk to the Opera House imitating the gestures of a gentleman and addressing the mystified passers-by in incoherent French, parroting words whose meaning he had absolutely no knowledge of.
The Lord did not forgo to buy a jasmine cologne vial from the arcade market of the Passage des Panoramas, no doubt necessary in the occasion since Hamhaduke absolutely reeked but he was unable himself to perceive the stench that distinguished him. The Lord sprayed Hamhaduke with the cologne while the two were walking on Rue Saint - Marc, a move that enraged Hamhaduke making him to curse. Soon, however, the rage within him calmed down and, smelling the sweet aroma of jasmine with his wide open nostrils, he applied to his corpulent build a pose so haughty that he looked as if about to burst from the undue bloating.
Only the tragic irony of fate would have led two men to walk together in Paris of that period, having the one being ecstatic with the neoclassical style of the city's monuments and the other being fully unmoved by the Parisian scenery. Upon their hurried route to the Salle Le Peletier (where the Paris Opera House was housed at that time), Lord Greywood constantly let his senses stripped before the Greco-Roman architecture that rendered the French capital, the iconic symbols that defined the pompous legacy of the imperial times of Napoleon and Louis XV, such as the richly detailed pediment of the Pantheon or the imposing columns of La Madeleine's temple or Bouchardon's relief figures upon the fountain of the Four Seasons that resembled statues of deities from the ancient Greek mythology. Unfortunately, this transcendent mystique of the edifices failed to strike the (deeply buried) chords of Hamhaduke.
As soon as they set foot in the Salle Le Peletier, Hamhaduke began his murmuring groans like a spoiled toddler. The colossal circular chamber with the giant chandelier of spermacetis and the four levels of loges was not capable of eliciting any awe in Hamhaduke who could not get out of his mind the fact that he would spend three hours of his time in an opera house. His protests did not stop even when the usher guided the two men to their seats, on the third level of the loges, on the right side of the stage.
Throughout the entire performance of Les Bayaderes, Hamhaduke either made ironic comments loudly thus prompting the spectators to silence him with strict 'shush', or he resorted to short naps ringing with foul rattles from his nostrils or he chuckled impertinently every time the famous soprano Caroline Branchu (in the role of Indian priestess Lamea) touched a high pitch with her clear voice. This disputatious behavior of Hamhaduke caused Lord Greygood to bitterly regret taking along an inbred coarse and uneducated boor at the opera, however he had to reprimand him hereto in order to avoid both being expelled from the theatre.
"Try to dismiss your typical self, Bugs. Temporarily at least." said the Lord angrily and Hamhaduke crouched in his seat for a few minutes.
The plot and characters of Les bayaderes struck a sensitive nerve in Lord Greywood, a nerve that released an emotional strain so intense that it made him cry at the completion of the third (and final) act. The opera tells the story of the Indian prince Demaly who is in love with the priestess Lamea, but she has vowed faith to the god Brahma and is unable to marry Demaly. The third act delivers the desired resolution of the narrative dilemma: The news arrive that Prince Demaly has been hit by a poisoned arrow and is dying. The law dictates that Demaly must marry immediately and that his wife must die with him in the funeral. Lamea accepts the burdensome sacrifice, and her heartbreaking words (through Caroline Branchu's passionate acting) brought tears to Lord Greywood's eyes.
And each tear rested sweetly on the eyelashes, gaining its own autonomy before it was burdenedby its own watery element and fell like a diamond onto the hands that were crossed by emotion. Alas, Hamhaduke knew no French and could only make a grunt of revulsion as he saw those tears in the pale hands of the Lord.
Cher Demaly, pour toi pursqu’il faut que je meure,
Je benis mon heurex trepas;
C‘ est a moi de guider tes pas
Dans l’ eternelle demeure;
Sans fremir je vois approcher
Le moment ou, quittant la vie,
Ma main par l’ amour affermie
Va du flambeau d’ hymen embraser mon bucher.
Until it is finally revealed that Demaly is safe and sound. Lamea still refuses to betray her oath to the god Brahma, but is informed by the Brahman priest Hyderam that the god Vishnu had once married a bayadere (= Hindu priestess). Lamea is then released from the bonds of her vow and agrees to marry Demaly. And then the opera ended with the wedding celebrations under the ebullition of the wind instruments and the percussions and the strings.
And Lord Greywood joyed with the blissful melodies that raised the Salle Le Peletier 's crowded auditorium, and his gaze was lost in the crowd of the formally dressed audience as if seeking some solid proof that art could actually reach the most inapproachable depths of life and determine the course of the entire world. Those tears that Hamhaduke was unable to comprehend came back to the Lord's eyes and sailed the fiery red hue to magical utopias, places where life and death were now joined into one meaning, unique and indivisible.
Observing this emotional excitation of the Lord, Hamhaduke had nothing to do but to grimace from disgust producing a sarcastic smack with his swollen lips. Lord Greywood turned his head and stared at him, but in his eyes emerged nothing but compassion for a spiritually handicapped creature like Hamhaduke who was unable - due to illiteracy - to participate in the psychical uplift of the audience.
"It's a real shame you don't understand French, Bugs. It would be so nice if you had the right education to understand the play and feel what we all feel." said Lord Greywood.
"I'll pass." replied Hamhaduke abruptly.
"I don't know if I should feel pity for you or just show complete disregard for the lethargy you live happily in," said Lord Greywood.
"Don't worry about me, Lord. You don't need to feel anything for me. It's time to leave. I'm hungry.” said Hamhanduk peremptorily.
"Yes. Let's go. I'm hungry, too.” said Lord Greywood, and the two merged with the crowd of spectators coming out of the hall, their presence submerged in the sea of women's hats that bore the huge decorative bows and imitations of exotic flowers.
The French women - at least those who belonged to the elite of the Parisian society - displayed an unusual obsession with over-decorated hats, an obsession that occasionally touched on the boundaries of tasteless perversion. This obsessive behavior of theirs extended to the intense aromas they wore and which delivered the Salle Le Peletier's hall into an atmosphere so stuffy that one could hardly locate a corner of pure clear oxygen. However, their obsession with perfumes had a sensible explanation as Paris - despite its visual glamor - was a city with a strong foul odor in its expanse, an odor due to the fact that public toilets had not yet been established which meant that the Parisians urinated and defecated wherever they found available spots on the streets. The houses were not yet connected to the sewer, and therefore the Parisian nights were characterized by the so-called vidangeurs who undertook the task of carrying the waste bins from the crude outdoor toilets of the neighborhoods to the landfill of Buttes des Chaumont.
On their way to the Palais - Royal , the two men walked the cobbled Rue de Richelieu with the bushy acacias and the oil lamps - the so-called reverbères - illuminating the street with their dim lighting. The French did not trust the gas lamps and were constantly blocking their installation, citing the risk of a gas explosion. The establishment of gas lamps in Paris was to eventually take place in 1829 starting from major roads such as the Rue de la Paix, the Rue de l ' Odeon and the Rue de Castiglione. It 'd therefore be fair to state that Paris acquired the nickname City of Light in the year 1829, that is, around the end of the Bourbon monarchy.
Arriving at the Palais - Royal, Hamhaduke finally felt awe at an element of the Parisian scenery even though that element did not reflect the cultural level of the French capital. This element was the prostitutes that flooded the colonnades of the gates of the Palais - Royal every night and hovered around the passers-by like flies, especially those who seemed wealthy from their attire. Hamhaduke was no benighted of London's Soho which was crowded with prostitutes in the evenings, but the number of women in the outskirts (but also at the interior) of the Palais - Royal was far greater than that of Soho. Hamhaduke seemed to have found the place he fitted in as he passed through the women's spectrum with the veils of the lowered bodices and the tasseled feathers of the hats. He didn't understand a word of their pleas but that didn't bother him.
«C'est un vrai gentleman! Voulez-vous une compagnie pour ce soir, monsieur?»
«C'est tellement dommage pour un tel homme de marcher tout seul. Viens avec moi et je te conduirai au jardin d'Eden, monsieur.»
«Achetez-moi un verre et ensuite nous irons dans ma chambre, ma chérie. Ce soir, tu t'amuseras, je te le promets.»
The strange French language sounded like magical melodies in his ears. And those delicate necks that supported the beautiful heads looked like divine visions in his eyes. Oh yes, the wringing of such a neck would undoubtedly be the most beautiful souvenir of that brief vacation in Paris. That was the thought that constantly aroused his mind.
Entering the Palais - Royal, the two men headed to Le Grand Véfour, the most elegant restaurant in Paris. As they came in the restaurant's lobby, they were greeted by the plunging of the maitre who led them - through dozens of lighted candlesticks and vases of red roses - to the table next to the glass window. The pink candle and the white lace cloth on the table seemed to desperately seek out a couple in its warmest idyllic moments, a picture very different from the company of the two men. Even the overall aesthetics of the restaurant with the neoclassical décor of gold-plated mirrors and elaborate lintels conveyed a vibrant eroticism. Of course, they were both too hungry to pay attention to such details.
Since Hamhaduke was not fluent in French, Lord Greywood assumed the task of ordering their dishes. For Hamhaduke, the Lord ordered a veal steak très bien cuit, that is, well-made, while for himself he ordered a veal steak bleu , that is extra rare. The garnish of both dishes: sweet potato puree and Hollandaise sauce. As the dishes were served at their table, Hamhaduke uttered a rude scream of disgust at the Lord's rare steak.
"Are you an idiot?" he asked boldly.
"Coming from your mouth, this question acquires a whole new meaning, Bugs. Why are you asking me whether I'm an idiot? ” said Lord Greywood.
“Your steak is uncooked. It is obvious that the cook forgot to bake it and threw it raw on your plate," said Hamhaduke.
"My steak is extra rare exactly as I requested it, Bugs. Baked in the frying pan for a minute on each side. And I tell you it's delicious.” replied Lord Greywood.
"But it's swimming in its own blood!" burst out Hamhaduke.
"I happen to like blood," smiled Lord Greywood.
While the two men were devoted to their dinner, they did not exchange many words with each other. This was quite natural since Lord Greywood still contemplated on the opera of Les bayaderes, while Hamhaduke constantly looked askance through the restaurant's glass window at the prostitutes who sauntered the breezeway of the Palais - Royal throwing at him lustful glances full of hint, with their faces hidden behind the ornate fans. The prostitutes offered a specific service but the poor women were unaware that Hamhaduke's mind was making other thoughts, morbid thoughts, beyond sexual intercourse.
Even the ways in which the two men dined were different from each other. Lord Greywood adopted the rules of savoir vivre both in his posture on the chair as well as in his handling of the cutlery. Hamhaduke had no such sensitivities. Not only did he wear the white cotton napkin around his neck over the collar but he also held the cutlery coarsely in his fists like a peasant of the Middle Ages. In addition, the noise produced by his mouth as he ruminated his food was so dreadful that it caused the condemnatory exclamations of the restaurant's patrons.
"Bugs, would I appear too demanding if I asked you to eat your food quietly? I have the feeling that the diners of the restaurant will revolt against us at any time now."
"And how the hell do you expect me to eat my steak quietly? If I don't chew it, it'll get stuck in my throat."
"One practical method would be to keep your mouth shut during chewing. That would undoubtedly be a good start."
Hamhaduke made an effort to comply with the Lord's recommendation, but it is common knowledge that it's somewhat difficult to teach new tricks to an old dog. After their dinner was over, the two men spent a few minutes in the restaurant enjoying a glass of Chateau Georges claret each. Hamhaduke was in a mood for chatting all of a sudden.
"Don't you think we need to talk business?" he said
"Let's talk business indeed. What is it exactly you have in mind?” said Lord Greywood.
"This Lord Byron fellow sounds like a real scum to me. I am sure that where we're going to, in that place called Missolonghi, the guy will be constantly surrounded by Greek bodyguards who will be guarding him like a crown jewel. This is, of course, quite natural since the gentleman is supporting them financially. But it does makes our mission difficult, doesn't it? So? How do you think we should approach him?" said Hamhaduke.
"I suppose the best thing to do is get to Missolonghi and from then onwards we should apply some sort of intuitive improvisation. I suppose you understand the term intuitive improvisation , don't you?" said Lord Greywood.
"No I don't understand it. What the hell is intuitive improvisation?” asked Hamhaduke.
"I mean we will need to act according to the facts we'll have at our avail," said Lord Greywood.
"One thing I'm sure of though. Guarded as he'll be, it will be extremely difficult to wipe Mr Lord Byron out," said Hamhaduke.
"Bugs, the purpose of our mission is to persuade Mr Byron to pay off his debts to the London Syndicate. That's what I agreed to, at least.” said Lord Greywood.
"But yes, of course. But once we have secured the pay off, we'll then wipe him out. Right?” said Hamhaduke.
"No, Bugs. We shall not wipe him out then." said Lord Greywood.
"And when are we going to wipe him out? Surely we can't wipe him out before we secure the payoff. That would be utterly stupid.” wondered Hamhaduke aloud.
"Bugs, we're not going to wipe out anybody. We will just persuade the man to settle his debts. And that's all.” said Lord Greywood.
"What the hell are you blabbering about, Lord? I'm going to wipe him out anyway. It won't matter much anyway. A poet less will not make much difference. The world's full of them. I will wipe him out just to set an example to any aspiring gouger that no one can attempt such scams with the Syndicate. I'm afraid I have to do it.” sighed Hamhaduke.
"I have strong objections to that," said Lord Greywood nervous.
"You will do well to keep your strong objections to yourself, Lord. I'm Bugs Hamhaduke. As such, I have every right to wipe out anyone as I see fit. And my will is always the law. Do you get my meaning, Lord?" said Hamhaduke.
Lord Greywood made no reply but instead continued to drink the Chateau Georges claret visibly annoyed. Of course he did not intend to harm Lord Byron. Having experienced Byron's poetry, Lord Greywood could only conclude that Byron - despite his flaws - was a starry-eyed personality, melancholic, thoughtful, firmly attached to his human impulses but also tragically disheartened by the angsts of the human soul. Lord Greywood faithfully adhered to a sui generis code of ethics in regards to 'wiping out' persons, a code that would never allow him to harm such a man.
As they paid their bills, the two men travelled by coach to the pension Les Paons Fiers. Arriving at the pension, they exchanged a very typical good night and locked themselves in their rooms without arranging a schedule for the following day's activities. It had become fairly clear to both of them that their characters were not in the least compatible and that they did not really enjoy each other's company. Their only interface was the mission assigned to them. So they had nothing but be patient until their job was done.
[to be continued next Friday, 21 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