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. 08 of 36]
PART TWO : Paris
The sunset found Hamhaduke lying distrait on his bed in the pension Les Paons Fiers picking his nose. As he was about to doze off, he heard the sounds from the next room. He jumped up from the bed in a fury and, getting out to the hallway, forcibly opened the door of the Lord. Lord Greywood was standing in front of the mirror posing his tailcoat.
"I would deeply appreciate it if the next time you knock on my door before you open it," said the Lord, giving him a stern look.
"Where have you been?" asked Hamhaduke in a rage.
"What kind of question is that?" said Lord Greywood.
"You've been missing all day!" said Hamhaduke.
"I had to meet some old acquaintances of mine. It would be best to get used to my absences during the daytime, Bugs. I tend to devote those hours of sunshine to my strictly personal engagements," said Lord Greywood.
"I don't like that, Lord. I didn't agree on that. And Dirty Wilbur gave me explicit orders to always keep my eyes on you at all times during the mission." growled Hamhaduke.
"I am much afraid that we'll need to revise the terms of our partnership, Bugs. During daytime I am absent for most people. If I don't have your consent to this condition, I don't know what else I could do for you.” said Lord Greywood wearing his bow tie.
"What are you gearing up for?" said Hamhaduke.
“I'm getting dressed up for the Comédie-Française theater. And guess what. You will come with me. This time you will have fun, I promise. We shall see a performance of Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid. It's a comedy so you won't have a problem," said Lord Greywood.
'No Lord! This time I will set the schedule for our night out. And guess what. You will come with me to my purlieus. You will come whether you want it or not.” yammered Hamhaduke.
"But, Bugs, you know nothing about Paris. How is it possible for you to choose where we should go?” said Lord Greywood.
"Don't worry about it, Lord. I asked and I learned about Paris. And tonight we will go where I want. And you will do well to put a smile on your face while we are in my purlieus because tonight I'm planning to enjoy myself. Have I made myself clear, Lord?" said Hamhaduke.
"Could I at least ask where is it exactly you intend to take me along?" asked the Lord.
"It's a surprise. You'll find out as soon as we get there.” replied Hamhaduke.
"I suppose the place we're going to is frequented by people of your caliber?" said the Lord wearied.
"Oh yes. Worse perhaps. They shall all be deep in stench and poverty, and no one will have the slightest idea about theaters and operas. It would be perfectly reasonable to observe that someone like you would look like a fly in a bowl of milk in such a place. But you'll love every minute in there. And you will do it for me. Agreed, Lord?" smirked Hamhaduke malevolently.
The Lord looked at the mirror sounding a deep sigh. The tailcoat now fell heavy upon his body, and the proud bow-tie on his lapel now emitted a cold feeling as the forthcoming night was presaged to be as soporific as Hamhaduke's spiritual level.
"All right, Bugs. You lead on and I shall follow. I entrust myself to your own tastes for tonight.” said Lord Greywood, and the two of them left the pension for their nightly excursion.
The Café des Aveugles suffered from the stifling air of the basement. Beyond that, there was nothing that one would be able to accuse the place for at first glance since it was exactly what it offered: Entertainment for the lower classes. Heavy burgundy velvet curtains - blackened by smoke - covered the walls, and the oil lamps hung on a wooden ceiling pole lit the room. The faces of the Café des Aveugles patrons were telling stories by themselves: One was wearing a pirate's eye-patch, another had a deep slash across his forehead, another was drawing in the chopped tobacco through his oversized nostrils, another just about managed to hold the pipe in his mouth with the four teeth that were left in it, others were sitting stealthy with the wide collars of their frock coats raised and gave conniving glances at the expensive attires of the Lord and Hamhaduke. A common feature in them all, the sour smell of cheap wine that was emited from their bodies, from head to toe.
Inside the Café des Aveugles there were also the prostitutes with the provocative bosoms that circled the crowd so that they could earn a few francs out of their skimpy pouches. Oh yes, there was of course the orchestra of the blind musicians playing trombones and violins and flutes with their gazes disoriented or shut. The Lord initially floundered when he realized that he would spend the night within this assembly of caricatures, but he soon adjusted his mood with the aesthetic style of the tavern in order to enjoy his time as best as he could under the given circumstances. What else was there for him to do really?
Before twenty minutes of the hour had passed, Hamhaduke was already drunk for good after gulping down half a demijohn of red wine left on their table by the fat waiter with the paunches protruding out of his greased apron. As for the Lord, his sharp senses now established the inconvenient truth of the Café des Aveugles: His olfaction detected the smell of dead mice, and his hearing faintly captured the streams flowing near the tavern. Yes, there was no doubt about it. The Café des Aveugles stood next to the Paris sewer, hence the owner's generous efforts to conceal the event with the nasty decoration and the constant buzz of cheerfulness and drunkenness. Having now accepted the ridiculousness of the situation, the Lord served himself with his mug the demijohn's wine and went about to drink. However, as he realized the oxidization of the wine by the mistreatment, he pushed the mug away and let himself gaze indifferently at the erratic revelry that was unfolding before him. One night it was, it would pass.
Two prostitutes came and sat at the table of the two men. One slim and one fat. The fat one moved towards Hamhaduke's side, but he rudely pushed her away and, grabbing the slim woman by the arm, he sat her beside him. The reason for this was not, of course, that Hamhaduke had a sexual preference for slim women. Simply, Hamhaduke had been dazzled so much by the slender throats of the French women that he aimed precisely at this feature of appearance. Sullen, the fat one sat next to the Lord who treated her with propriety by treating her a mug of the (miserable) wine.
"What a real gentleman! It's a pity he hangs out with peasants!” said the fat woman, but her French didn't affect Hamhaduke in the least since he didn't understand a word of it.
Alcohol had now lit up Hamhaduke's fuse causing his most pompous and flamboyant self to explode. With a graceless whistle towards the orchestra, he began to sing Ar Lan y Môr (= Beside the Sea ), a traditional Welsh song, urging the musicians to follow him with their instruments. The musicians did their best to apply some notes to Hamhaduke's dissonant voice, and the result was a heinous patchwork of scratches of chords and blown cacophonies. The fact that no one in the room - except the Lord - understood the Welsh language did not help the whole enterprise. Hamhaduke immediately - stonkered as he was - continued to sing as if there was no one else in the Café des Aveugles besides him.
Ar lan y môr mae rhosys cochion Ar lan y môr mae lilis gwynion Ar lan y môr mae 'nghariad inne Yn cysgu'r nos a chodi'r bore.
Lord Greywood assumed the duties of an interpreter explaining to the two women the meaning of the Celtic words that Hamhaduke uttered. The Welsh language sounded like a grotesque mixture of coarse notes and chewed consonants.
Beside the sea red roses growing Beside the sea white lilies showing Beside the sea their beauty telling My true love sleeps within her dwelling
Hamhaduke sang the song halfway and then got bored and stopped. He grabbed his mug from the table and poured it all down his throat. Flushed as he was, he focused his lustful gaze on the petite throat of the prostitute beside him, studying its faint contractions while breathing and talking. The prostitute realised his milling eyes moving ravenously up and down and remained motionless like a statue. Hamhaduke tried to tell her a few words in French, he failed, and was seized by an unstoppable laughter. He then leaned his body towards the Lord wanting to speak confidentially to his ear.
"Have you ever seen such a neck? I mean, a neck such as this on a woman of her age." he said pointing at the woman's neck.
"It is indeed a beautiful neck," replied Lord Greywood.
"Have you ever killed a French woman?" asked Hamhaduke and let the hiccup tyrannising him slip loudly from his mouth.
"No. I never have.” said the Lord.
"Can you imagine the wringing of such a beautiful and petite neck? Could you imagine the last words that would come out of the throat of such a woman just before the finishing snap of the nape? Non, non, monsieur, s'il vous plaît, ne me tuez pas!" said Hamhaduke, and he broke down into loud giggles that made his face turn completely red.
"Why would anyone want to imagine something like that?" asked Lord Greywood, staring bitterly at Hamhaduke's infantile eyes.
"What sort of question is that?" asked Hamhaduke.
"Have you known the girl for a long time?" said the Lord.
"Of course not. I've just met her tonight.” replied Hamhaduke.
"Has she done something that annoyed you or offended you?" continued the Lord.
"No, I wouldn't say that," said Hamhaduke.
"Then why would anyone want to kill a human being just to see a neck getting snapped and a voice begging for mercy? Don't you think this is an unnatural fantasy? Would you really gain any benefit in such an experience?” asked Lord Greywood.
"What's wrong with you, Lord? I think that Paris - with its operas and theaters - has stolen all the daring from your inside. You have become very soft here. I'm talking to you about the woman's neck. Look at it! Don't you understand what I'm telling you? Surely you understand what I'm talking about. You know about people's wipe outs just like I do. Aren't you the famous East End's Nightwalker? So I'm showing you this woman's neck and asking you what are the thoughts that come through your mind. Or you mean to tell me that the idea of wringing never crossed your head?” said Hamhaduke furious.
"Bugs, has it ever crossed your mind that a treatment in a lunatic asylum might make you a better man? That a mighty strong psychotherapy might turn you into a less sad person?" asked Lord Greywood, staring with pity at the sparks of sick excitement in Hamhaduke's protuberant eyes.
Lord Greywood's words were enough to provoke Hamhaduke's rage. With a sudden move, Hamhaduke grabbed the Lord by the collar and stared at him right in the eyes. The alcohol in his blood made him to snub completely the fiery red hues in the Lord's irises that now festered manic. Hamhaduke just about managed to articulate the hateful words through his clenched teeth.
"Now look here, bastard! I've already tolerated a lot of quirks in your behavior so far. But I must tell you that my patience is running out and that I have Dirty Wilbur's permission to wipe you out if that makes me happy. In the past, two other people have hinted to me about asylums. I got rid of them both. Do not dare to make fun of me again, Lord, in this way because I will not hesitate even for one second to send you to the other world. Got it, Lord?" growled Hamhaduke.
The Lord gently grabbed Hamhaduke's hand and removed it from his collar. The fiery-red hues of his eyes were then denatured into that frosty blue aura that betrayed the most eerie and melancholic emotions.
"Calm down, Bugs. I didn't know you were so irritable with such issues. There was definitely a more seemly way to express your frustration to me." he said.
"Leave the seemly ways aside, you cretin. Just make sure you're seemly towards me. As far as you are concerned, nothing else matters." said Hamhaduke.
The name of the prostitute was Josephine. She was twenty-four years old. She had long curly hair that was tied at the back of her head in a kind of casual high bun showing off her entire neck, while some of the long braids fell sloppily in front of her face. Her eyes were watery and shimmering in the dim light of the lamps like serene surfaces of lakes under the moonlight. She had a fine nose, lips sufficiently fleshy but not large, and a chin that formed a perfect ellipse with her long neck. Her skin resembled an autonomous mechanism reflecting her emotional variations: rosy in excitement and cheerfulness, pale in times of embarrassment or awe.
Hamhaduke expressed his desire to go with Josephine to her apartment on Rue de Montpensier and enjoy her services there. Josephine was initially reluctant. But before she could utter any refusal, Hamhaduke pulled a fistful of francs out of his tailcoat's pocket and brought them in front of her eyes. Seeing the banknotes upon Hamhaduke's pink palm, Josephine could only accept his proposal with a wearied sigh. The very nature of her work required such compromises anyway.
The two men got up from the table, along with Josephine. Lord Greywood took out a golden louis from his pocket and placed it in the bosom of the fat prostitute - Giselle, her name - and more specifically in the spot between her two plethoric breasts. Giselle, stunned by the move, told the Lord that for such a fee she had to offer her services in her own apartment on Rue de Beaujolais, but the Lord assured her that there was absolutely no further obligation on her part since his time at the Café des Aveugles was pleasantly spent because of her. When Giselle argued that it was anything but an obligation to offer her services to such a man, the Lord replied that he maintained a serious affair with a woman and that he did not wish to betray or tarnish the said affair with such aberrations. They said goodbye with a warm kiss on the lips.
Coming to the Rue de Montpensier, Hamhaduke told Lord Greywood to wait for him until he finished his business with Josephine. Josephine was staying on the second floor of an oblong building that had deep cracks in its facade. The Lord - at Hamhaduke's behest - strolled down the alley of the Rue de Montpensier, striking his cane on the cobblestone road. The street accordionist sang Vive la rose and his goatee swayed playfully over the collapsible bellows of the accordion. His voice was a bit heavy and clumsy but the passion with which he sang won the Lord's appreciation and prompted him to throw a few change into his cap.
« Merci monsieur ! »
Despite the drunken froth about wringing necks, Lord Greywood never considered that Hamhaduke would do anything that would jeopardize their mission. This is because Hamhaduke nourished before and above all an unquestioning devotion to Dirty Wilbur, perhaps greater than the one he nourished to the ruthless instincts of his wicked character. The last thing Hamhaduke would want would surely be to draw the attention of the Parisians unto him and unto the Lord and thereby risk any prospect of achieving their goal. Despite his low intelligence, Hamhaduke didn't have the guts to behave so recklessly. The Lord thus walked the Rue de Montpensier Street without the slightest worry, gazing at the crowds coming out of the underground taverns of the Palais - Royal and having fun with the bargains that the young bohemians made with the prostitutes of the area so that they'd satisfy their youthful hormones even for a few minutes of time.
But alas, this attitude of the Lord's proved naive in this particular case and this will be clarified later. After thirty minutes had passed, Hamhaduke appeared at the entrance of the house visibly nervous as he was still buttoning up his trousers and fixing in a hurry his shirt which he had worn clumsily. He was sweaty and unusually pale. He looked as if he had done something he shouldn't.
"Let's go," he said to Lord Greywood with sharp breaths.
Hamhaduke was walking fast on the road, and the Lord was following him haunted by suspicion. They had already distanced themselves quite a bit from the Rue de Montpensier when suddenly in the thick darkness of the night sounded a cry of terror. It was a scream from a middle-aged woman. Lord Greywood stood still and tried to locate where the cry came from. There was no doubt about it. The scream came from the house where Josephine lived. A crowd of people started running towards the Rue de Montpensier, with a gendarmerie passing right next to the two men loudly sounding the whistle clenched in his mouth. Hamhaduke looked at the Lord who was watching all this sudden upset and angrily said:
"Don't just stand there like an idiot! Let's get out of here!"
The two men continued to march on the street with swift step. However, before walking too many metres, the Lord - fast as a lightning - lifted his cane and brought it before Hamhaduke, thus halting his hasty course. Hamhaduke stared at him in amazement.
"Bugs ... Have you done anything blamable?" asked Lord Greywood.
Hamhaduke's eyes hardened. With a sharp movement of his hand he pushed the Lord's cane away from his body.
"Don't bother yourself with what I do, cretin. What I do is solely my own business and you should not get mixed up. I'm warning you, Lord: Do not get involved in my own affairs because I am not too far from wiping you out and taking over the mission alone. Got it, cretin?" he said.
"I just hope you're not as stupid as you look, Bugs. I suppose you know very well that the last thing we would want is to attract the Parisian police's attention upon us while our stay here. You understand what I mean, don't you?' said the Lord.
"Shut your mouth, Lord. From now on you will only speak when I permit you to do so. You will do as I command. Exactly, Lord. From tomorrow I will be assuming the leadership in our cooperation. Which means many of your habits will change whether you like it or not. From tomorrow you will spend your time exclusively with me and you will not leave my eyes for a moment. You will function as my servant and follow my orders faithfully. This is the new state of things. So I recommend you get used to this new way of life," said Hamhaduke.
The two men boarded a coach and made their way to the pension Les Paons Fiers. Arriving at the pension, they went up to their floor and opened each the door of his room. But before the Lord could get into his room, Hamhaduke curtly snatched the key from his hand.
"I'll keep your key, Lord. I want to make sure you won't slip away from me again. I'll open your door in the morning as soon as I get up. We will have breakfast together. Good night." he said with a grin on his lips, then locked the Lord in his room, put the key in his waistcoat's pocket and went straight to sleep.
[to be continued next Friday, 6 March 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