The Coldfall Sanction

Events and Revelations
Session Eleven, Part Eight

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Jackson Elias Journal – Continued
13 March, 1916, Athene Palace, Bucharest—
Reaching forth unto those things left behind. For safety’s sake . . . I hope of this I have been misinformed—I could not help but turn back to the page where I had had the foresight to copy Sister Agatha’s missive. I cannot help in hindsight now to wonder whether its veiled warning was in regards to the black-market enterprise I sought to uncover or the darken, sinister world of revenants. And one such in particular, whom, until today, I would have thought the magnificent creation of a fanciful fiction. Dracula. Even writing of it seems totally incredulous to the extreme. Even to I, who in my youthful awakening of desires had written in my well concealed and salacious notebook a fanciful romance with a nocturnal Mercy Brown – whom I had imagined as lovely as the day they had placed her in her grave – and as licentious as the brides in Stoker’s novel – which had so enchanted me with their voluptuous lips, the warm breath upon a neck, their musical voices. Their passage I read over and over again for even upon the page they so mesmerized me. Theodora Corey. Aunt Ellen’s own enthralling bride – who has ever worn black since her passing. A poet, a member of Ipswich’s fashionable society –– it was she who had awakened my literary passions. Fed me books my pious and hypocritical Aunt would not have allowed. Gave a 12-year-old Sister Carrie. Loaned me Dracula. From her I learned vampires were not something merely whispered of in the far-away Carpathians but in haunted New England as well – told me the tragic story of Mercy, a young girl, who to my impressionable imagination I fantasized as being as unnaturally perverse and wicked as I began to understand myself to be. Only now – I am confronted with the true meaning of perversity and wickedness. And evil. Of that there was no mistake. For there was nothing licentious in the look of that young woman in the earthen box. Nothing sensual in the sudden sound of the snapping of Sister Agatha’s neck. There was only the reality of a crumpled nun on a chapel floor.

But—I do not have the time for this . . . Lord Cyril will be waiting. I need to dress so as to descend to dinner lest Edmond Richmond arrives early – and yet I will be uneasy until I can make some accounting of all that transpired within Lord Cyril’s suite.

Theodora beyond all else – you have made me a reporter.

So—

In that I had earlier sought him out and was informed he had departed the hotel for the afternoon and as yet had not returned, I had, as earlier related, gone to the hotel dining room, not only for tea, but the reassurance of not being alone in my rooms – not after having witnessed the sudden and brutal murder of Sister Agatha. But, in some way around, we had managed to miss one another, for he had as well been seated in the dining room, awaiting my return (as he later explained) and had only momentarily stepped away from his table, when I had entered to take up mine. And so, looking up from my writing I was gratified to see him entering through the open double doors of the dining room just as he was striding past M. Gora, the Maître d’s station – heading to a table which seemingly had already been selected. I arose from my seat, “Lord Cyril – I am so glad to see you. Please, have a seat. I have so much to tell you.”

Cane in hand he stopped and looked at me in some surprise to find me standing there before him, “I say, Jackson, I have been most eager to speak with you as well.” Only, I took notice his eagerness was tempered by a quick glance to the table before the tall windows, where the lovely aristocrat and her odd table companion – whom I was ever more than certain was in private service – were seated.

With a slight nod he was all agreement, “Right—although, I would recommend, we should retire to a more secluded location."

“Yes, most definitely.” I was not at all sure how much of what I had to tell him even he would believe, but to do so where we should be overheard could only add to the awkwardness of the improbability of the discussion. And so, I quickly gathered up my pen and journal – as sanguine M. Gora, nodding as we passed, remarked: “I see – you have made connection.”

“Quite.” Lord Cyril replied and we exited through the double doors open to the dark expanse of the lobby. In a lower voice, which was all but a whisper, owing no doubt to the awareness of the acoustics of the hall, he turned to me, “As improper as it might sound, perhaps it would be best that we should compare notes in the office of my suite. Is that amenable to you?"

“My day, Lord Cyril, has been, well, to put it mildly, unbelievable.” I replied in a soft-voice to match his own, “And so—yes. I am in complete agreement. What I have to discuss needs to be done with some confidence.”

With a nod and an accompanying, “Very well,” we crossed the lobby and slowly began ascending the lobby’s majestic stairs. For my part, I must admit to my selfish desire to overwhelm him with the revelation of the incredible events of my day – perhaps to the exclusion of any which may have occurred to him since we last saw one another. To this, I am certain the silence with which we ascended owed in part to his perception and contemplation of this impending onslaught as well as how to best juggle the itinerary of what he in turn may wish to relate. I wanted to exclaim the moment we entered his rooms that I had witnessed the impossible – I had seen Dracula. And yet my thoughts were tumultuous. There were so many things I needed to impart. So, as I slowly took a stair, I forced myself to relax the tension in my shoulders. To exhale a long breath. To expand my focus. To observe. To become orderly. Measured. And I began to arrange how best to relate all of the day’s events and revelations.

As we reached the landing, I hesitated a moment to take a quick backward glance down into the lobby to be assured we were not being observed.

Upon approaching his rooms, his lordship reached onto his pocket and withdrew his key. To open the door to his suite and ever the gentleman he motioned for me to enter, even as I caught him taking as well a last quick look down the corridor.

He entered and closed the door as I placed my purse and journal down on a side table, “First, I need to ask you, Lord Cyril. Last night, when you mentioned Imre Turcanu,” I turned to him, “It was owing to your desire to have me find out what I could about him?”

“Yes.” He quite readily admitted as he ambled over to one of the cushioned chairs positioned near the windows, whose drapes had been pulled back to reveal the falling snow beyond. He unbuttoned his jacket and seated himself with the aid of his cane

“Of what did you suspect of him?”

The corner of his mouth pulled slightly, “I feel that I have a bit of a confession to make. You see, I sent you thus because I trust you—and I reasoned that you would rather judiciously discover the truth behind M. Turcanu, if there were any to be uncovered." That said, he proceeded to produce from the pocket of his jacket his pipe, “I am more the fool for not properly preparing you for what you must have undoubtedly discovered.” He continued as he removed his tobacco pouch and slowly began to fill the pipe, “For you see, it is true. The Stigoi, the Vampires, the Un-dead. Call them what you will – they exist. And so, of what did I suspect of M. Turcanu?” He looked up earnestly from his working with the pipe, “That he is one of these abominations, made all the more insidious by his connection to a web that threatens all of humanity."

I stepped lightly across the burgundy rug with what seemed a loud rustle of my skirt and took a seat in the cushioned chair opposite him. I could not help but feel extremely gratified by this strong recommendation of me – which, no doubt, derived not only from having proven myself during our hazardous trek to the Danube, but to the crossing as well, where there had been not only the vague hint of vampires in the overheard conversation of the sentries we had to dispatch in order to make good our escape to the river, but, in the odd circumstance of the soldiers which had fired upon us as we began our crossing. And the sudden appearance of the dark figure who had made such short work of the Bulgarians – an event neither of us had since discussed – although, I was certain we both had the same suspicions. And if he had held similar suspicions of M. Turcanu – more than just mere trust in me – I felt his lordship was well aware I was from Connecticut – from witch haunted New England, where there was not only a long, dark heritage of witchcraft and sorcery, but also, like Rhode Island and Vermont, an incredulous belief in the un-dead – which, as knowledgeable as his lordship was, he most certainly had to have taken into consideration in his setting me out upon a course leading to M. Turcanu.

“Well, I can confirm your suspicions.” I told him crossing my legs and rubbing a caressing hand over the material of the dress draped upon my knee, “M. Turcanu is, well, was a revenant. A significant one from what I gather . . . until Nigel Montague saw to his demise."

“One of Commissioner Câmpineanu’s shrewd speculations.” Lord Cyril muttered as he took a match from the match-box he had removed from the same pocket of his jacket which had held his pipe.

“But more importantly—so is the new owner of the bookstore.” I continued.

He struck the match on his shoe and began lighting his pipe. “This new owner. Who is he?”

“His name is Viorel Rákóczi – and to say the least, he is sinister in the extreme." I watched as he began to draw on the stem of his pipe, the tobacco in the bowl catching fire. “But – as to this insidious web—”

“You say with some certainty that Nigel Montague dispatched Turcanu,” he continued to draw the flame of his match into the bowl the pipe, “And you discovered this how?”

“Surely you are aware,” I said, “Edmond Richmond and Nigel Montague, they are members of British Secret Service.” I didn’t in any way feel I was betraying a confidence owing to the fact that from the moment I saw him huddled with Lieutenant Kadijević in the austere dining room of the White Venice Hotel, as they conferred over their maps, I suspected Lord Cyril of being British Intelligence. “Or rather some special branch as Richmond says.”

He looked at me thoughtfully, "Yes, I am aware. And Richmond, he told you this?”

“Yes.” I watched the rather deceptive detachment of his concentration upon lighting his pipe. "What with the shooting of Richmond last night and the fact I am still uncertain as to whether he was truly the intended target and not yourself, I felt it incumbent to follow your lead. And so, I awoke this morning intent upon the task of seeing what I could discover about this Turcanu. I made my way to Gral Street and easily found the bookshop. There I spoke to Viorel Rákóczi and under the pretext of wanting to order a rather esoteric book, I told him I was one of M. Turcanu’s special customers and that I would like to speak to him – whereupon, he explained M. Turcanu was deceased and that he was now the new owner. Whether he believed I was a bibliophile,” I brushed back the fall of my hair which had swept across my face so as to closely observe his reactions, “I am not at all certain – although owing to a rather gruesome murder in New York, I was aware of several very infamous books, so the book I was asking for I knew to be authentic and rare. To say the least, M. Rákóczi does not instill a desire upon a customer’s part to stay any longer in the shop than is absolutely necessary and so I left and took up a vantage point across the street in the small café. Which I feel certain was the same café Montague had been observed watching the bookstore as the Commissioner indicated last night. I was not there long before Richmond arrived and while we were watching the bookshop, we took an opportunity that presented itself . . . when Rákóczi departed the shop . . . to undertake a closer inspection of the premises.”

“I see. He left the shop unattended?” His lordship asked discarding the spent match into the ashtray upon the small table near to hand.

“Yes – and so, as the shop faced the café and any of those patrons who were sitting before its large windows, we sought a more secluded entrance. There’s a small alley behind it – which, designated for deliveries, was extremely narrow I must say. We made our way down it to a service entrance and as the lock was rather insubstantial, we were quickly inside where we began to hastily search – there wasn’t anything very much out of the ordinary for a bookshop, although, I did find some interesting documents. It would appear M. Rákóczi has correspondences in Paris, Madrid, Moscow, Berlin, and London – oh, and a bank in Budapest.” I took note of Lord Cyril’s a brow rising slightly with interest.

And I wasn’t at all sure if this was not far too long a way about getting to how it came about that Richmond had revealed himself to be a member of the Secret Service.

“I am sorry—” I began, but he removed the smoking stem of his pipe from his mouth: “No, no, do continue.”

I was uncertain whether I should bring up the letter from the Pimander Club – as I arose from my chair in need of a cigarette – although significant, at the moment it seemed to me it would be disruptive to the importance of our discoveries in the bookshop: “As I said there wasn’t too much out of the way in the bookshop, until I happened upon a hidden passage that led down to a cellar and there,” I opened my purse and removed my cigarette case from under the Styer. “We found a secret room. A horrid Red Room.” I told him as I turned back, lighting the cigarette I had extracted, “The walls were all red. Either paint or blood – I don’t know which; but it had all the appearances of having been used for what I suspect to have been human sacrifices. Now Richmond was all for leaving the place and so, we were about to ascend the stairs when I happened to take notice of a large wooden crate. Or an earthen box.”

“An earthen box?” His interest was decidedly piqued.

I exhaled a smoky inhalation and nodded, “Yes. One very much like those described in Stoker’s novel – when we opened it, we found a young woman lying within . . . upon some moldy earth. Now—upon this sudden revelation, Edmond hurriedly closed the lid and hastily pulled me out of the cellar and out of the shop and back into the alley. Of course, my first inclination was for going back down into that horrid cellar in order to try and save the young woman but from Edmond’s reaction – “ I brought the cigarette back to my lips and inhaled, not uncertain I wasn’t being a bit dramatic, “I pointedly asked him if she were a vampire. To which he said he wasn’t at all certain – but if not, she would be one soon as they were ‘cooking her to be one.’ Which of course I immediately demanded he explain whatever the hell he could possibly mean by that – cooking her up – which, he later revealed to be some method of transforming one into the un-dead.”

“No one saw you enter or exit the bookshop?” He asked watching as I returned to my seat.

Sweeping back once more my hair and holding the cigarette such that the smoke trailed away so as not to curl back into my eyes, I shook my head, “I am fairly certain we were undetected. The snowfall had gotten decidedly worse by then and Gral Street is not a busy thoroughfare, neither is the neighborhood. And, so . . . you see – I had made a bad selection of shoes – they were much too insubstantial for the accumulation that had gathered and Richmond wished to hurry me back to the café, where he proceeded to call the consul for a car – their being little traffic along the street, as I said, and so no taxi. When he returned from placing the call, I pressed him not only about the young woman – but how he knew about vampires and in particular this ‘cooking up’ method he had spoken of and that was when he revealed he was with the British Secret Service. Or rather some special branch which he said not only hunted vampires Lord Cyril – but recruited them.”

At this his pipe quickly came free from his lips, “Recruited. He said recruited?”

I nodded and took a long drag from my cigarette. “He said he had done so in London. Montague, he said, was more senior than he – had been stationed here in Bucharest for quite some time – whereas he had only been with this special branch a short while before being sent to Romania. He told me he originally been with the Naval Intelligence and then was recruited to this special division which apparently had formed in order to deal exclusively with the un-dead. Lord Cyril,” I sat forward, “This Imre Turcanu, he was well known throughout the neighborhood for what he was — in fact, he used it to his advantage. I spoke to a waiter at the café who told me the whole of Gral Street knew precisely what he was but they chose to remain silent. They protected him. It was as if he ran the neighborhood like some Crime Boss in New York. Where in return for acquiesce he apparently settled petty grievances or extracted revenge, or even provided some with financial assistance. And to further this appearance of civility, I was told he made certain to placate his thirsts elsewhere within the city."

“And no doubt his replacement has taken up similar control and has informants about the neighborhood.” He pointed out with the smoking stem of his pipe. “For all your care – I am more than certain you were observed.”

For a brief moment we both sat silently smoking as I pondered the possibility and I ordered my thoughts as to how to proceed further with the report of my day – but, there were also questions for which I needed answers. “Lord Cyril, that hidden room, as I said, from all appearances, it looked as if it were used in some sort of ceremony, or ritual, if not for human sacrifices. I mean, we haven’t discussed it, but you have to know, being from New England, I am aware of vampires – there was a panic in Rhode Island, which is not only still whispered about, even in Connecticut, but made sensational headlines. And, then of course, I have read Stoker’s novel. But—I thought they were solitary predators driven by their insatiable thirst – not bookshop owners, or sinister Boyars of a complicit neighborhood, or members of some esoteric associations. Least of all practitioners of some dark rituals – which smacks more of witchcraft or sorcery or satanic worship. Is this – is this normal?”

“Your comparison to organized crime is more on the nose than you suspect.” He removed the smoking stem of his pipe from his mouth, “In general, yes, the vampir is a solitary creature. Preying upon a lonely village, usually their loved ones first. However, what we are dealing with here is a web of horror. A mad beast with a mad agenda and this book store is but a very small part of it. If it had been me down there, I would have wanted to end that young women before she rose to be another pawn in this network, and wait for this Rákóczi to return and end him.”

I sat back with a rather heavy sigh, “Precisely . . . I am sorry Lord Cyril.”

“However, having said that, it may have given up too much too quickly.” He said as to soften the admonishment.

“Although, Edmond may be heading back there to do so.” I said cupping a hand to catch a falling ash, “Or so he gave the impression.”

“You seemed eager to have Richmond with you.” He remarked as I rose to step over and drop the curl of ash into his ashtray, “Did you suspect him of being with British Intelligence when you sent for him?”

“That is just it Lord Cyril. I never sent for him.” I corrected.

He looked very surprised. “Good lord, what’s this?”

“I have no idea who sent that message to him.” I stood beside the window so we could share the ashtray, “When he arrived at the café and he told me he had come in response to my message I was very much surprised. Not I had not sent one.”

Lord Cyril sat now in some thought as he rasped upon his pipe.

“And as odd as that is, there is even more. While I was sitting there in the tea shop, this rather lovely, dark-haired woman took a seat at my table and began talking about Turcanu and Rákóczi and their connection to some club in London, The Pimander Club – which incidentally, I found a letter from them among Rákóczi’s correspondence. She was to say the least extremely fascinating even though she spoke about communing with the dead. Whom she said travel fast.”

He nodded as he drew on his pipe, “The dead travel fast.”

“Yes. It’s a poem, Richmond says.”

“I know it.” He replied.

“The end of our conversation was rather worrisome, for she not only offered up what was unmistakably a warning. But Lord Cyril, she knew my name. Not Jackson Elias, but my real name: Elisa Bishop.”

He sat thoughtfully and stroked his beard. “The police know your name too I’m afraid. This woman. Could you describe her in more detail?”

“She was tall, slender, as I said very, very attractive. Haunting dark eyes. She wore her hair and dressed in the most current fashion in Paris. Her voice. It was lovely. British. Cultured – there was more than a hint of the aristocracy about her; although I had a distinct feeling, she tried in some ways to hide it, as if she were not comfortable with what in England you would consider her class.” I related as I remembered her voice and my fascination in watching as she spoke, "Her lips—sensual . . . you could sit . . . and . . . well, I could have sat and watched her talk for hours. And yet, there was something – I am at not sure, a feeling . . . it was as if I felt she held some dark and painful secret.”

“Very dangerous, a woman like that.” Cyril gruffy remarked and then he paused for a second as if to collect his thoughts When suddenly he said, “I suspect this Englishwoman is one of two Vampiri Englishwomen who must have been sowing the webs of darkness across Europe for 22 years now. From what you say, it was probably one Katherine Reed, a most tragic, but ultimately terrible creature. She is bound to be close to the heart of this affair.”

Englishwomen? Victims unaccounted for in the novel? Just how many had he visited like poor Lucy? The whole of the Count’s wanderings of the streets of London was ever a mystery in Stoker’s accounting, save his obvious intentions for a beautiful girl in the big cart-wheel hat in Piccadilly upon whom he cast a hard and no doubt hungry gaze, and a visit to the Zoo and of course the relentless arrangements for the transport of earthen boxes. The more I had read the more I had wondered, what was he doing? What nefarious plan was he putting into motion? There was so much Stoker had conveniently omitted. If I had thought to use Stoker’s gothic as my textbook, what good is a textbook if it is all wrong?And if this Katherine was as Lord Cyril described—why had she intentionally taken a seat at my table in order to exposed The Pimander Club — and why expressly give me a fair warning?

And then there was of course the letter from the Pimander Club, which I had purloined from Rákóczi’s correspondence, but as I gaze out the window to the snowy park and the pedestrians huddled against the wind harsh along the Calea Victoriei below, I took a long, thoughtful inhalation from my cigarette—and felt that at the moment there were far more urgent matters yet to be discussed.

“Stoker’s novel. Edmond said that some if not all of it is based on fact – although some of had been obscured, some intentionally altered, some never making publication so that it is an odd mixture of truth, obfuscation, misinformation, and lies.” I turned from the window to look at him in all seriousness, “I need to know – and not out of some idle curiosity but because I am not at all completely certain of Edmond. Not that he is lying straight-faced. But I cannot help feeling he is concealing something – that he his own agenda – I need to know Lord Cyril – the truth. For there is more I need to tell you – so, what Stoker wrote about – it happened? It actually happened?””

Lord Cyril closed his eyes for a moment as he puffed upon his pipe. A bit more hush to the hush-hush as Edmond had said. And I was concerned that perhaps it was much too hush for his lordship as well. It seemed an eternity before he took the pipe from his mouth. “It is quite possible that even Richmond may be compromised.” He was all seriousness, “At the moment, no one except you.” And he looked up to me reassuringly, “And Vordenburg are outside of my suspicions, and I now I suspect he has a leak, someone rather close to him that I need to warn him about.” He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, shifting in his chair to crossing his legs. Less in weariness then in some let his feeling gather themselves. “That damned Irishman should never have been allowed to publish what he did.” Not just irritation but a trace of anger. Betrayal? “But yes. The broad strokes are true, but major details are omitted or recorded incorrectly. The whole affair was a horrible mistake and I am ashamed to be even loosely connected to it.”

I could sense the terrible burden of knowing what his government had tried to do. Was doing? Recruiting vampires? If what Edmond said was true. And—Vordenberg? [Memorandum: At the time, I put that aside as that was a whole new line of inquiry, which I would suspect to be quite time consuming. But Vorderberg? Just how much of fiction was fact and how much fact fiction? Through a Glass Darkly. Theodora you have prepared me well.]

“You suspect Edmond?” I voiced some concern.

“We should suspect everyone.” He said with some annoyance, “Their power is beyond comprehension. Their reach is inestimable. But you said there was more you needed to tell me.”

And now it was my turn to feel the weight of it all as I looked at him and then stepped away from the windows to return to the side table and my purse. I felt his inquisitive eyes upon me. “When I returned from Gral Street,” I opened my purse and withdrew the letter from Sister Agatha. “My first thought of course was to find you—but the front desk said you had gone out and would not return until sometime later in the afternoon,” I explained as I stepped back towards him carrying the letter. “But, while I was out, this arrived.”

I handed it to him

He sat up as he reached into his jacket and removed his reading glasses. He donned them, and opening the letter with some uncertainty, “What is this?”

He looked it over and then began to read:

Dear Mademoiselle,
With my dutiful respects, I write to you though of me you are not aware, but it has been conveyed to me such that I understand you have had certain conversations with Mikel Ostrakova in Paris. If you are certain you wish to know more of these things – but for safety’s sake I hope of this I have been misinformed – then I will speak to you of such matters. Come to The Italian Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. 28 Nicolae Bălcescu. Be certain to say you wish to speak to Sister Agatha regarding the health of a previous patient in Hospital of St. Joseph and Ste. Mary in Buda-Pesth.
Yours will all blessings,
Sister Agatha

“If you don’t remember the name, surely you will remember the Hospital. It is the one in which Jonathan Harker recuperated after having escaped from the Count’s castle.” I explained, as I sat back down in the chair across from him, having brought an ashtray from the side table beside my purse. “Sister Agatha is the same nurse who wrote to Mina Harker revealing his whereabouts.”

“Why did she write to you?” He asked looking over the edge of his reading glasses, “Who is this Ostrakova person you spoke to in Paris?”

“He is a Russian Émigré’. An anarchist.” Lord Cyril gave me the same look he had given me last night when I had mentioned my meeting with Parisian anarchists, “As I began to explain last night, and perhaps did not do so as well as I might; I had come over expressly to be a war correspondent for the Inquirer—but the War Offices in Paris and London were not about to allow a woman journalist anywhere near the front. And so, I was relegated to the security of conducting hospital interviews of patients, doctors, and nurses – which to be sure was not at all enticing to my inquisitiveness. Not after having reported on the infamous criminality and gangs in New York. So, in trying to establish connections with the Volunteer Ambulance drivers as an avenue to the front, I chanced upon a driver who was reputed to have been a member of the Bonnot Gang. Which was fascinating as I had already been doing some research into their violence – and the beginnings of an article about the Parisian anarchists and the fate of their movement with the coming of the war. And so, listening to his reminiscences I found he had connections to the remnants of various Parisian anarchist movements. Being marvelously coincidental as I wanted to know how had those who had protested for so long the coming war readily succumbed to shout on “To Berlin?” Had acquiesced to the Sacred Union. So—that’s how I met Mikel Ostrakova. But rather than discussing the illegalists in France he spoke about a growing internationale of criminals, a vast network spawned throughout Europe, which, as I said last night had created a black market of medical supplies. Compromised officials in the armies of not only the Entent but the Central Powers purloined everything from surgical equipment to bandages, especially medicines, and then in turn sold them back on the black market. Armed with this information I began to asked about the hospitals, the ones where I was allowed to conduct my interviews only to find them reticent to discuss the matter. One night, out for a walk and a cigarette I took notice of ambulance off-loading supplies – but the driver and the men with him were not in uniform and the nurse watching them seemed to be oddly anxious. The next morning, I spoke to her – and she admitted that the supplies had been purchased through a black markeeter. It was a horrendous racket she said and those aware of it did not wish to speak of their complicity in dealing with them. To shorten this up a bit – further drinks with Ostrakova led him to reveal he had heard one of hubs of its activities took place here in neutral Romania, where it had contributed to the deaths of hundreds in savaged Serbia – which you see was my reasoning for being in Corfu and wanting to come with you to Bucharest. And so, I was bit surprised to receive the letter as I had done very little in the way of working upon my intended story – having become rather entangled in the mystery of the shooting of Richmond and looking into your M. Turcanu.”

He sat stroking his beard as he listened. I knew the concept of communicating with anarchists was abhorrent to him. “So, you went to see her?” He asked.

“Yes. I mean – when I saw the letter and whom it was from, the suggested ruse of asking about a patient in Hospital of Saint Joseph and Saint Mary in Budapest – I was amazed at the not only at the coincidence but that she existed. The novel coming to life – but even more so. Was it possible that the story I had come all this way to report somehow intersected with – with this deepening intrigue of yours? It was too, too delicious. And so, I went to see her – and at first, she seemed intent on discrediting Ostrakova – she at first accused him of being with the Okhrana.”

“The Okhrana?” He frowned suddenly as he looked down at the bowl of his pipe held in the curl of his fingers.

“Which of course I knew to be a feint to conceal her knowledge of the black market.” I continued – aware I was getting closer to that which I longed to reveal. “Being as I knew of her from the novel – I used some inconsistencies Stoker left in the story to confront her with the fact she had stolen from Harker and then defrauded his fiancé when she arrived. At that Sister Agatha was on the verge of revealing her true character—when suddenly.” And the rise of my anxiety must have been quite visible to Lord Cyril for he folded up the letter and leaned slightly forward—

“When suddenly – what? What happened Jackson?” He asked gently.

“He arrived!” And the remembrance of him – the menace in his stride, the sinister dominance of his voice – and the realization as to who he was – affected me more than I expected in relating it to him for my hand holding the cigarette trembled at the remembrance of his sudden appearance.

Lord Cyril took notice of the slight tremble of my hand as he put the letter aside and rose from his chair, "Steady on Jackson.” He said as he went over to a pitcher of water on a side table and poured a glass which he brought over.

“Here. Drink this.” He offered the glass. “He arrived, you said – who arrived?” There was a gentleness in his voice and real concern in his eyes – seeing my reaction, this woman he had watched battling behind enemy lines – now trembling like some foolish schoolgirl.

I looked at his lordship as I took the glass, “Him, I think. Lord Cyril – I think it was Count Dracula."

“Tell me. Tell what happened.” He said putting a reassuring hand on my shoulder, seemingly unsurprised at the revelation.

“We were in the church, The Italian Church of the Holy Redeemer, sitting at the front pew. I had just confronted her with the fact I knew her to be a fraud and a criminal disguised as a Bride of Christ – when suddenly the doors of the chapel burst open. I saw the look in her eyes – bewilderment and fear – even as she pushed me away, whispering to go, go now – while directing me with a motion of her hand toward the confessional, where I quickly concealed myself. There through this gossamer curtain that covered the small aperture I could see him as he strode down the aisle toward her. A commanding presence of sinisterism. He accused her of betraying him – accused her of serving two masters.” I looked at my cigarette, the glowing ember, momentarily lost in my recollection of him, of his voice. “Lord Cyril – I do not even know how to describe it. His presence. His voice – commanding – but so much more than that.”

“Steady on Jackson, steady on.” He said with great gentleness. “Tell me what happened.”

“As I said,” Aware of the ashtray in my lap as I tapped ashes from my cigarette, “He accused her of serving two masters—which, I assumed he was talking about the black market – of which she was involved. He said she had betrayed him, and that was when I sudden understood she had, all along – even when Harker had been under her care – been in concert with him. For which, oddly, he told her she had been adequately compensated. Her response was to mention someone called Herr Leutner— who I think was responsible for this compensation.” I continued to tap the cigarette against the edge of the ashtray, “Which I suspect had not been as forthcoming to her mind. His voice grew cold as he told her he had taken care of him – which she, as well as I, immediately knew what that meant. She once more reiterated she had not betrayed him – but, he said her work with the black market was a betrayal in that it had become – vexsome, that was his word, vexsome, to his interests. And that whomever was running it was working at cross purposes to agenda.”

Lord Cyril frowned slightly, “His agenda?”

“Yes, they were no longer merely a nuisance but they were now working at cross purposes to his agenda, that is what he said; and he wanted to know to whom they answered. Sister Agatha told him she didn’t know – and said she was only a part of the distribution of the supplies, but he pressed her further . . . and she confessed that there was a charity – which I gather must be the front for the organization – something called the Society for the Favor of War Orphans – but she indicated its reach was to London. Whereupon he suddenly said, as if he now understood who was behind it all: She.”

Lord Cyril stood beside me for a moment and then thoughtfully returned to his chair, “She. This is what he said?”

“Yes, he said: She. That only one of his could be so brazen. And then – he reached out and brutally snapped her neck. I saw it all from inside the confessional and I wasn’t able do anything to prevent it. I was in such haste to meet with her, I didn’t bring my gun with me, a wretched foolish mistake. Particularly after what I had seen and heard earlier today. But – I never . . . I never expected . . .. “ I looked at him in earnest, “It was him—wasn’t it? Dracula.”

“I’m sure it was.” He nodded looking at his pipe which had gone cold, “I saw him today as well. Not as violent, but he’s here all the same. There was nothing you could have done. Lead would not have done much and it would have gotten you killed as well. You did well to stay hidden.”

“But—he was in a church.” I explain the apparent improbability of it, “He entered into the sanctuary and stood beneath the huge crucifix which hung behind the altar – how? How is that possible?”

His hands came together, fingers interlaced upon his lap, “Jackson, I am given to understand you are not a very religious woman, correct?"

“Yes, that is correct.” I readily confirmed.

“So, if a reverend were to try to guilt you into coming to church, saying you will burn in hell for all eternity for your sinful ways, what would your reaction be?”

I smiled slightly as I well-remembered my response to the Reverend Stamps as he sat in Aunt Ellen’s parlor long ago, sermonizing. “Some rather sarcastic remark, I am sure."

“To be sure.” He nodded, “Now how would a true believer react to such a chastisement do you suppose?”

“They would be far more inclined to listen and no doubt be guilted into returning to the church.”

“Certainly, and probably give generously too. The effect religion has on a person depends on them putting faith in its truth. Now let’s suppose that a vampir was Mohammedan, as the Bosniaks are. Do you suspect he would care in the least about a symbol of Christianity, and Papist Christianity at that? Do you think it would remind him that his soul is damned for all eternity due to his curse that the devil put upon him?” He asked, “Or do you think he would kill the priest who was so sure of his own religious superiority?"

“I see what you mean. But Stoker indicated throughout his book that the sight of a crucifix was a ward against The Count.”

And suddenly there came a not so gentle rapping upon the door to Lord Cyril’s suite.

I gave him an inquiring look, which he returned.

“Yes? Who is it?” He loudly responded in French to the knock.

“Commissioner Câmpineanu,” came the familiar voice from behind the door.

His lordship rose to his feet, gripping his cane. “One moment M. Commissioner.”

He made his way over to the door and opening it a touch slow revealed Commissioner Câmpineanu and Sergeant Theodor Savel standing in the corridor. With them I recognized the priest I had spoken to at the Italian Church.

“Lord Cyril, please to excuse the interruption. But we were informed that Mademoiselle Bishop was here, with you—” the Commissioner began but was interrupted as the priest stepped through the threshold.

He took several steps into the room and pointed at me, “There she is. She is the one who was with Sister Agatha when she was murdered.”

View
The Romanian Corruption
Session Eleven, Part Seven

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Dorian Calder’s Notebook #24
Bucharest, 13 March, 1916

I had for sometime wanted someone to take an interest in my concept of the future of photography. More than mere art, photography was able to capture a moment perfectly in time. Moments that would be lost to history. A face before it deteriorates to age. A building, a bridge, a street corner which would over the years never be the same. I longed to capture the true panorama of Fashion. Of Lives. Of People. People who would succumb to death. Europe before the ruin of war. Only – I of course in all my imaginings would have never believed the devil would have the same passion for the photographic image.

Commissioner Câmpineanu was not at all eager to see me as he was my photographs, the ones I had enlarged for him. He had specified what he wanted but in my dark room I could not separate their narrative. And so I had brought him all I had taken on the quay. Various angles of the body. In appearance some monsignor missing his head. Which had been placed so rudely atop some old weathered barrel. Was it empty? What did it contain? I had wanted to capture that as well within my frame, but it eluded me. But I was able to captured the precision of the placement of the head—perfect symmetry precisely in the centre of the rounded top of the barrel. Did it have some meaning? The Commissioner took out a magnifying glass from his desk and sat forward seemingly engrossed upon it as he examined the photograph more minutely – as if I had not enlarged them enough.

As neither he nor his disagreeable Sergeant apparently had any further use of me, I made my way out of the Poliției Headquarters — down the grey corridor and the stairs, I could not help the feeling I was being watched. Paranoia? There was someone killing priests, or would be priests, as I had overheard the Sergeant refer to the beheaded monsignor as Montague. Nigel Montague. I could have been Giffin, Well’s Invisible Man as they all but forgot I was standing there engrossed as they were in my photographs. Giffin. He had devoted himself to optics as well. His experiments leading to disastrous consequences. It seems this Montague was English – with some connection to the consulate. Or so I gathered from something the Sergeant said. An Englishman disguised as a priest – I didn’t make much of it seeing as there was the war. I should have heeded the feeling.

Outside the metal doors of the Poliției Headquarters the wind and snow went on the assault and I quickly tugged at my heavy coat and pulled down my hat – to have to come out in his foul weather, when I could have been in my room, working – well, perhaps not, for if I had not needed to make the trip to Poliției Headquarters Livia would no doubt stayed in as well. I am certainly spending Mr. Asquith’s money well. Huddled in my coat, I removed from my pocket the address she had written down in her very distinctive hand, “meet me when you have finished your collaboration with the Poliției – with a little more force upon the word collaboration. The Romanian Corruption. She said it was a cabaret. I looked up into the grey, heavy sky and the downward drift of the hoary flakes of the snow which was not abating. Was it not too early? Cabarets were night spots – did they not come alive at night. I hailed a taxi – a black Ford struggling with the slipperiness of the road. With a slide towards me the driver pulled the automobile to a halt, its motor sounding rather laboured. I stepped inside and upon closing the door handed the driver the address. Owing to my haste to get the enlargements to the Commissioner in order to be relieved of that tiresome duty and what with the blustery, snowy day, I had left behind my cameras without which I can not adequately control my hesitation of speech as I handed over the address to the driver: “D-Do you k. . k . . know this address?” I found myself of course stammering.
The driver, wearing a shabby, ill-fitting coat which rode upwards exposing too much wrist, rotated the piece of paper so as to see what Livia had written, “The Romanian Corruption? Oui Monsieur. It is but one of the finest cabarets in the whole of the city. The wealthy, the politically connected, the intellectuals, the avant-garde. Much entertainment.” He smiled, “It is well named— Monsieur, wishes to go?" He asks of course in French.

“u…uhm…” To which I struggled for a moment my French temporarily lost, “Si.”

The cold in the automobile only a little less than that without, his breath steamed as he nodded and handed the piece of paper back.

“I-It is not to. . . to earl. . .y?” I asked aloud.

With a wave of his hand and the grind of shifting gears, “She said . . . to . . . ah, rendezvous. Oui?” He said to my surprise in broken English. And the tires slowly spun as we pulled back into the boulevard. I sat back in the cold feeling the fatigue of the day and rested my head back against the seat and looked out the window. The falling snow, the narrowing streets. The few pedestrians braving the harsh wind and the sting of the snow. “S…So wh…what happens in th..this cabaret?” I asked.

“Ah, Monsieur, what does not? Heh? It is the Corruption.” He lifts his hands from the wheel and gestures, “There is the how you say the boisterous of evenings. The music. The singing. The dancing. The finest of foods if one dines. Liquor and wine with the elbows of the new-rich of the city. With the old boyars. All of the society. Even the literary and the revolutionaries they too used to occupy their tables in the back. Much discussions of art and books and war. The War?” He shrugs. "Many have gone fled. Some to Zurich some such say

“Th..th..that is s..sad to hear,” I said.

“Now there are the . . . “ he looked back at me, as if I were to supply what he could not find in his English, “The . . . hangers upon?” He gave me quick turn of a quizzical head.

“Ha..hang..ers on?”

He nodded enthusiastically, “Oui! The entertainers, the actresses, the singers that would be. But – Monsieur, you have the luck. Violeta Petrescu, it is now the week of her engagement. Have you heard her sing?”

My head lolling on the back of the seat shook, “No. S-She any go…ood?”

“Magnifique!” He replied.

The cab made a slow going owing to the slipperiness of the streets while he explained that The Corruption not only had the finest dance floor and band, but there were, in his scattering of English and French as he grew more animated, other more recherché entertainments, kept discreetly apart for those revellers seeking not only wine but narcotics as well as more lustful or exhibitionistic celebrations—his word celebrations – with some of Bucharest’s most beautiful prostitutes.

We were moving now into an area of factories and warehouses. I have know idea of the street names, or how we arrived as I was slightly dozing. I became more alert as the cab turned into a narrow street and slowed as it approached what looks like an old warehouse. In fact along one side there was the debris of some old heavy machinery left to linger alongside the building. Some heavy iron objects all but covered with sheen of snow. But the large main doors of the warehouse had been replaced with some fine wooden ones and there was actually a small elaborate marquee and a glass enclosed poster announcing the appearances of Violeta Petrescu. Other parts of the wall were pie-bald with old flyers.

The driver pulled to a halt. “Voilà Monsieur. The Corruption.”

“F…for a h..hi..high society c..club….it s..ss..eems like a…aa rough n..neighboyrhood.” I said looking about the narrow street.

“Not to fear – them that would cause trouble know better than to cross M. Luchian.” The driver said as leaned slightly forward to peer at the club through the automobile window.

I stepped out of the car, trying to pay the man but stumbling a bit on the currency, “Ah I..I s..see.” The driver had already indicated that within, were one to have a mind or actually a taste for it, drugs could be obtained, and so this M. Luchian, the owner, undoubtedly had connections to some criminal organization, for whom it would be in everyone’s best interests to assure undesirables were well warned to give the club a wide berth.

The driver watched my confusion with the lei and reached out to take several large banknotes from me. He smiled courteously as he folded them and quickly slipped them into his coat pocket, “You wish I come back to pick you up?”

“Umm n..noo…I..I think not,” I replied.

With a tip of his woollen cap, he shifted the motor car into gear and with a grind the automobile slipped away. The street seemed deserted. A small woman with a large cloth bag was trudging along the street across from me, she seemed to be badly listing to one side.

I turned to face The Corruption. As I approached the front doors, prepared to knock, one of them opened and a sleek gentleman, an most apropos word for him, stepped forward in order to toss the remains of a small cigarette into the snow. He was dressed in a well cut suit, black as oil, with a pearl tie-pin. His eyes were narrow between a long, thin nose, “Yes, well, Mademoiselle Petrescu is more than gratified in you enthusiasm but she is not granting interviews, requests for autographs, nor accepting gifts or flowers, personally, but they can be sent around to the delivery entrance.”

My French having temporarily been lost was found. “I-I am to m-m-meet Livia.” I informed him, starting to reach into my pocket for the piece of paper – as way of invitation. “Livia Vina.”

Only the man at the door cocked any eyebrow. His breath escaping in frosty plumes; the elegant suit was no match for the cold, “Well, get in here. It’s freezing.”

He motioned with his hand and I too hurried to get out of the cold. The other side of the weathered door was a rich lobby with a thick carpet and rose panelled walls. There were a few divans draped with oriental silks, as well as Venetian mirrors and silk-shaded lamps. There was a plush curtain of green which hung about the threshold leading into the club proper with a mahogany station for either a doorman or an maître d’ at it’s side. To the left was a coat room. At the moment it was deserted. As was the lobby for the sleek gentleman in the dark elegant suit had moved on into the club leaving me alone in his wake.

Removing my hat I followed and stepped into the main room. Being that it was a renovated warehouse it was a long and narrow, with two bars, one to the left and off to the right of a large stage with a slight runway leading into the room. There was a maze of empty tables. The pillars supporting the gallery were of polished mahogany, the bars of rosewood, behind which was a dazzling array of bottles of various hues, shapes, and sizes. The lamps were of a modernistic design which splashed amber light on the walls. The dance floor was something better felt than described. Near the stage there was a small area set aside for the band, the members of which were milling about, laughing, snapping back shots of liquor, smoking one cigarette after another.

“Hey, hey. The club it is not open for hours.” Said a tall, slender gentleman in very white shirt, with a black vest and trousers – his evening jacket left draped somewhere – as he approached with a waving hand. A cigarette wagged from his lips as he spoke.

“I..I do ap..apologize, but L..Livia asked m..me to me..met her here.” I explained.

“Livia? She is not one of Madam Zina’s – she works theatres and the pavement.” The cigarette moving as he spoke, “If you wish to avail yourself of her – then you might try your luck at Salon Rouge. We open in two hours.” His hands wagging now like the cigarette as if he were shooing away some stray that had wandered into the club.

“B-But—“ I tired to explain, holding forth the piece of paper upon which Livia had written down the club’s address but the man with the cigarette dangling precariously from his lips continuing to step closer, ignoring it as he continued to wave me away with more urgency.

“It’s alright Ionel.” The voice was lovely – in French of course. And the woman, a tall, red-head was even more so. She wore a fashionably, well-tailor suit of cerulean blue, over an off-white silken blouse; the ensemble, expertly crafted to her figure. I turned to see her strolling along the bar to my left, her hand holding a cigarette quite dramatically – as if she were just making her entrance upon a stage. “There is no reason not to be hospitable. It is not every day that Livia invites a gentleman caller. Usually, she accepts invitations.” She said now changing from French to perfect English as she came to a stop and looked at me, standing slightly hip-shot. A very alluring pose. “You are a gentleman are you not?"

“U…umm y..yes…a..a photographer a..actually,” I told her – having recognized her from the poster outside the door.

“Ah!” Her smile brightened, “An artist. Yes. Do come in. It will be alright Ionel.” She told the man removing the cigarette from his lips as he leaned forward to flick a long ash into the ashtray on the table beside him. He gave me an appraising look before deciding to turn back and return to the other members of the band.

“Thh..thank you,” And removing my hat I stepped forward, “D..Dorian C..Ca.lder,” as I offered her my hand.

She took it – her grip surprisingly firm. “Care for a drink, Monsieur Calder?” She asked without awaiting an answer as she stepped over to the end of the bar close which was close to hand and went behind it to take up a bottle as she placed two glasses on the rosewood counter. “I am Violeta. Violeta Petrescu."

She poured two small drinks and pushed one of the glasses towards me.

“A..A p..pleasure,” I placed my hat on the bar and took a sip of the drink. I started to appraise the photograph of her in the poster outside, for it was very well done, but, it had not captured the impetuousness of her eyes.

“Once we had many artists here – some of Bucharest’s most engaging. Writers, sculptors, painters, playwrights, actors.” She said wistfully.

“It does se..seem de..deserted.” I looked about the Romanian Corruption.

“The old intellectuals would sit there.” She indicated with her glass. “And the avant-garde, over there. The Symbolists. The Modernists. Pronouncements and predictions Ah, the arguments over articles in Samuel’s Chemarea.” She said reflectively, “So nihilistic. Anti-war. Anti-Nationalism. Extreme to be extreme. He said to me, sitting there, he sought the destruction of all literary genres. Those were some nights – but alas – sadly, not so much these days." She took a quick drink to finish it what remained in her glass. “Many have gone away. Some to Paris. Some to Zurich. It is The War. They anticipate our entry into the long nightmare. The coming battle for Transylvania.” She sat the glass down, “I have heard they have taken up their revolution in some new cabaret in Zurich. The Cabaret Voltaire. Samuel and the Janco brothers, having of course, taken their defiance with them.” She stood looking at the empty glass pensively

“Sam..uel?”

“Rosenstock. Tristan Tzara.” She said as if I should know the name. “It is said he is formulating some new subversive art movement—or so he has written to some here in Bucharest. He has taken up with some anarchist. His brilliance to be Switzerland’s and not Romaina’s.” She explained as she took a theatrical draw of her cigarette and, with a momentary squint against the smoke, gave me a kindly glance. "But—if you should wait, Monsieur Calder – in a few hours, even with this horrid weather and the howling wind from Russia—the Corruption will become quite lively. Less of course, the aesthetic and artistic stylists – and more the socialites. Power and money. The aristocrats having moved from their country estates seeking gaiety and decadence. The notabilities of the new money. The petrol men. And their financiers. The Industrialists. Credit Bankers. Although I would like to think they come to hear me sing, they all come to see and to be seen. Each with their mistresses on their arm—“ she smiled brightly, “Rather than their wives.”

“He..he..nce the na..name?” I asked.

“The Corruption?” She smiled, “It is more cynical then sardonic.”

“B..but you –“ I began.

“I?” A slow bemused smile appeared as if to say she did not speak of her own corruption. “I am performing for two weeks. A favour to Gheorghe, the cynical man who owns the Corruption.” She held the cigarette off to the side to keep the smoke from her face. Her every move seemed a performance – surely she was an actress as well as a singer. “But what of you Monsieur and our Livia? I gather you are more than an infrequent . . .“ And I was well aware she was trying now to decide whether to apply either client or customer to the description of our liaison, but I replied: friend.

She gave me a most appraising look, “This is good—Livia needs friends.”

“Yes we…we had plans f..for today but the we..were int..interupted.” I explained. “Sh..she asked me to me..met her here inst..instead.”

Knowing her only a short time, I was not at all certain now whether the invitation had been but merely a whim of the moment, for I had expected to find her awaiting my arrival – at a club not yet open. Was I too early? The time had not been specified – only when I was finished collaborating. There was that word again . . . it resonates in remembrance – in a land with too many failed peasant revolts – a tone laced with a hint of disdain. Why had I only noticed it in memory. Like finding the uniqueness of a photograph that not been the focus of the lens. Captured and discovered in retrospection. “Th..this Sa…Salon Rouge?” I asked.

“It is a small dive on the top floor of the Alhambra restaurant.” She poured herself another drink – all of which had been no more than two-fingers of brandy, which she drank back rather than sipped. “A gaming room. If she’s placed all the proceeds of her skirt upon red, and done well, then she would have most certainly lost track of time. If there is one thing for certain, it is that Liva’s day can be rather hectic to say the least.” I could not help but notice yet another nuanced reference to Livia’s occupation.

“You are fr..fri…ends?” I sipped the warmth of the brandy.

“I would like to say yes, but the truth is we are more acquaintances. You see, Livia has so many acquaintances. But, I am not at all so sure she has time for friends. We see each other often at the theatre. She sometimes works the lobby. But, she should be up there," and she lifted her glass to motion toward the stage. "I have tried but to no avail. Such a lovely voice, but, like far too many she finds financial security in other endeavours.”

“You are in th..theatre?”

“Yes. A member of the National Theatre’s repertoire.” She replied rather casually as she pulled a crystal ashtray towards her. “I sometimes perform here to support Gheorghe and Ionel.” She glanced back toward the members of the band and the tall, slender gentleman now brandishing a clarinet in particular. I wondered about their relationship – not yet aware of with whom she was involved.

“But soon, I will be a part of your world.”

I was not at all sure what she meant, “H..how so?’

“I am going to be in pictures.” She said her eyes brightening with enthusiasm, “One of the theatre’s directors knows a Moldavian cameraman, who once worked with the Lumière brothers. They have gotten financing and are going to make an arrangement of one of our plays for the cinema– so, soon I will be making my first performance in the moving pictures.”

I lifted my glass, “Con..gra..gra..tu..lations “

She lifted hers as well, “I am not so sure how my mother will feel about it.”

“Oh? And sh..she’s alright w..with this?” I made a slight motion toward the cabaret’s stage.

And there was a sudden slight tightness at the corner of her mouth, “This Monsieur Calder is all the work of the Devil’s hand.” She purposefully tapped the ashes of her cigarette into the crystal ashtray. “The stage, the theatre, my acting . . . it is the domain of Satan. Sex and sin. Promiscuity, licentiousness, and shameless immorality. To my mother my career is little better than that of Livia’s—” And for a moment she paused – suddenly uncertain as to whether I would take offense to her none too subtle reference once again to Livia’s occupation – whether I would take it as the disparagement it certainly was . . . intentional or not – before quickly recovering and using her name as a cue to abruptly change the subject, “So, tell me, where did you and Livia meet?”

“The Ath..athene.” I took yet another sip of my drink diverted by the fall of her hair across her face, the low light the bar in her eyes – and I longed for my camera.

“The Palace? You are staying there? But of course – you would.” She takes a contemplative draw from the cigarette. “So, tell me, Monsieur Calder, I am intrigued. Your photography. What do you take photos of? Besides, of course the lovely Livia, I would imagine."

“She..she is q..quite lovely,” I smiled, “But I was assi..assii…tasked w..with c..capturing the beauty of eu..europe before it..it vanishes.”

With a sigh she looked at the embers of her cigarette, "Vanishes? Yes. Too much of Europe is disappearing in the mud and blood of this war. And now, the Verdun. It is so tragic.”

“A ss..sad time in..deed,” and I took a much longer drink.

“Mark my words, Monsieur Calder, it is coming here, soon to Romania.” She gave me a look, “If your government gets mine to lose it’s reason."

“I..I try to stay out of pol..politics.”

“Ah, the words of a wise man.” Came a voice from behind me, to which the lovely Violeta Petrescu looked up and over my shoulder, even as I turned to see a tall, thin man approaching. He wore a long coat, hat, leather gloves, all black, and a monocle. He had an almost comically huge moustache.

“Professor? Perhaps I should speak to Gheorghe about a matinee.” Mademoiselle Petrescu with a slightly bemused smile said as she placed her right elbow into the palm of her left hand to hold the cigarette back and limp-wristed – in a very a very well practiced pose.

“Please do excuse my impertinence. I found the door open, and although I am more than well aware I am infinitely early – in this horrid weather, which if I am not very much mistake will only grow worse with the setting sun, I had hoped, perhaps, to impose upon the house’s hospitality for a warming brandy and a table upon which to finish some work before the night’s reverie begins.” The Professor said with a smile as he touched a glossy-black-leather-encased finger to brush along the huge moustache.

From the area wherein the band bantered amongst themselves, I took notice that the clarinet player slipped away.

Viloeta placed another glass upon the rosewood bar and poured him a drink. He slowly removed the black gloves and placed them inside his hat which he placed upon the bar. ‘Most gracious my dear, most gracious.” And he took up the drink and was most careful in taking a sip so as to not dampen the curled edges of his moustache. “And this – this must be Monsieur Calder?”

“I’m…i’m afraid y..you have me at a disa..dis..disadvantage sir.”

“Monsieur Calder this is Professor Dimitrie Andreesco. He will tell you he lectures at the University and that he is but merely a Romanian historian and folklorist. Whereas in truth is one of the most influential members of the intelligentsia.”

“Now, Mademoiselle Petrescu.” He smiled, “I am not by half so influential.”

She gave me a knowing look, “If you pay close attention – later you will see various politicians and ministers finding their way to the Professor’s table, where they will whisper and mummer about many things.”

He rubbed a finger idly at his moustache, “Not so many.”

“Although he still feuds with the King.” She continued, “As to how they are no longer reconciled remains very much a mystery – neither speaks of it.” Their look indicated that whatever the mystery it was something to which Mademoiselle Petrescu had had a long curiosity to which, apparently without much success, upon occasion she endeavoured to get the Professor to disclose. Which said something of the Professor as Mademoiselle Petrescu to me appeared as charm personified with those alluring green eyes.

His reply was but a modest smile and he took up his brandy with a magician’s misdirection and turned to me, “But—from what I understand, Monsieur Calder is not with out his own connections.”

This of course piqued Mademoiselle Petrescu’s interest as she gave me an inquiring glance, “Is that so?”

“Surely you must know my dear Viloeta, Monsieur Calder, he has been of invaluable assistance to Avram as regards to his most current murder investigation. A rather gruesome act to be sure – decapitation.” He took a sip of his brandy, “That most unfortunate monsignor. Tending to his flock by night I gather. Most unfortunate. Yes, most unfortunate. But – as I am told – “ he carefully ran a finger along the edge of his moustache, “Monsieur Calder, was of inestimable service, there in the middle of the night, taking significant photographs of the horrendous homicide upon the quay?”

“You know Avram?” Her keen eyes were suddenly intrigued.

“Ac..acc…accidentally…. an im..improm…promtu arrangement.” I replied

She cocked an eyebrow and smiled wryly, “There is nothing accidental about Avram.”

“You kn..know the com..mission..er?” I felt now oddly uncomfortable – Livia’s note had directed me here, to the Romanian Corruption, but it was late afternoon, hours before the club was to open. Why? And more importantly, why was she not here? From all appearances it would seem she had not told anyone of our rendezvous – and yet how was she to know they would grant me entrance? Mademoiselle Petrescu had interceded on my behalf with the dour band leader who had vigorously tried to shoo me away – and although she not given any indication she may have done so owing to having been taking into Livia’s confidence and had had any expectations of my arrival – had she been awaiting – positioning the man at the door to toss his cigarette at just the opportune moment to allow me entrance, as well as herself, to give the quite the appearance of casually influencing the clarinet player? For it would seem she not only knew Livia – an acquaintance she said – but, apparently Commissioner Câmpineanu as well. Was it all by design? Whereas I thought I had left the headquarters of the Poliției and my obligation to Commissioner Câmpineanu behind me, perhaps Mademoiselle Petrescu’s was instead in confidence with the Commissioner. Was this some bizarre form of surveillance? I could not help but wonder if was Livia involved – collaboration, the word resonated in my mind. And then, the all too sudden coincidence of this Professor – who had arrived as well before the club opened and should have been most familiar of the hours of the Corruption . . . and yet he too was granted admission even as I. The all too enchantingly enticing Mademoiselle Petrescu had introduced him first as a lecturer at the university. A historian and folklorist. Only she had said there was far more to him than that – an influential member of the intelligentsia with connections. What were those connections? The Siguranța? The Romanian Secret Police? He was very well versed with the activities of the night before . . . and the disturbance of my experiment at the Athene, which could certainly have been interpreted as some anarchist plot. Cooking up a bomb.

With a slight flutter of her eye lashes which in my current state of mind I could not help but think of as a very cinematographic, she confirmed she that knew the Commissioner – quite well. “But—M. Calder, I thought you an artist.’ The keen green eyes revealing a look not quite of annoyance but very close to, “Instead, you are a photographer of the Poliției?”

“I..It was late. H..he asked me t..to take ph..photos, yes.” I hastily admitted trying to make it all sound so inconsequential, “I w..was ready t..to hand.”

“M. Calder here is not only a photographer my dear, but an inventor as well, I hear. Yes?”

“You…you hear qui…quite a bit it seems.” I was not at all as practiced in the arts of deception as I could not conceal the trace of my annoyance, “I’m..im no inventor..i..i am merely tr..trying to further my..my art. Like th..the first art..tist to use a pa..let..te knife in..instead of a br..ush.”

“But, M. Calder you are too modest." The Professor said seemingly quite at ease, “I hear the experiment, as it is called, nearly set ablaze the whole of the Palace last night.”

“Oh my God, not the Athene—,” Mademoiselle Petrescu exclaimed in some astonishment as she slowly extinguished her cigarette into the ashtray, “You are not— one of H. G. Wells’ misguided scientists, by chance?”

I tired to remain nonchalant, calm and unperturbed as I gave her an amused smile, although I could not help the sudden thought that in this conspiracy I had apparently fallen into, Mademoiselle Petrescu was perhaps more than just merely adept at performing upon the stage of the National Theatre but may as well be skilled in the practice of some mysterious East European mysticism of which I had head so long rumoured – divination and the reading of minds – owing to my having given thought to Griffin earlier. But, my concern at the moment was far more in regards to the Professor – for he had indeed heard much for an university professor.

“Come, come – it is the Futurist age. You must tell us—Monsieur are you are developing some new lens, or perhaps, an experimental camera, or mayhap both?” If it were not for the comical moustache the look behind the monocle could have been rather sinister.

“Or per..perhaps…just an acc..accident.” I replied. “I-it is no great mys..mystery. It is rather simple, really. Color Pho..to..graphy. So..something simpler than th..three color fil..filters. I—I wasn’t sup..supplied with a rail-ca..car by Mr. Asquith.”

From Mademoiselle Petrescu’s expression I saw she was quite interested in hearing more, especially about the mention of a railcar, but at that moment the leader of the band, Ionel, with clarinet in hand, sauntered up to the bar, a fresh cigarette dangling from his lips, in order to interrupt the conversation, “Professor, “ He nodded in recognition. To me: he ignored. And to Mademoiselle Petrescu he said, “Gheorghe would like to see you.”

“What about?” she asked.

“I don’t know,’ His cigarette perfectly perched between his lips wagging as he spoke, “He wasn’t any more specific than— ask Viloeta to some and see me. Perhaps, it’s about your generosity with his liquor.”

She gave her hair a haughty flip as she raised a sardonic brow. "If you would excuse me, gentlemen,” she said and stepped out from behind the bar.

“Mademoiselle,” I nodded as I watched her sauntered away.

“So—you say Livia asked to you to meet her here. This afternoon.” The slick looking clarinet player asked.

“Ye..yes that is correct.”

He took his cigarette from his lips and tapped ashes into Mademoiselle Petrescu’s ashtray, “Odd, that, don’t you think.” He said as he put the cigarette back between his lips, “I mean, if she asked, then you would think she would be here.” And then he turned and strolled back toward the members of his band.

The Professor reached over to the bottle of brandy and poured another drink, "Ah—so easily called away.”

“What?” I returned my attention to him.

“Liva." He said and lifted his glass. ‘One minute she may have been on her way to an rendezvous, and the next—“ he snapped his fingers.

‘Wh..what are yo..you sug..suggesting?”

He looked at me now rather sternly, "Let us say, Monsieur Calder, I represent someone who has quite an interested in this invention of yours – this camera.”

“It is not an in..in..invention.” I replied forcefully, “And wh..what are you sa-saying about Livia?”

“As you say.” He sipped his brandy, “Still, he would like to see you, later, this evening – in regards to this . . . whatever it may be.”

“Aa…and who wo..would that be?”

“He will be introduced as Count de Ville.” The Professor replied; and in no more forbearance of civility, the Professor now professed the darker inclinations of his character which I had perceived slight hints of earlier, as he ominously continued, “And a word to the wise, Monsieur Calder, I would give him whatever he seeks. Or, as I said, poor Livia can be so easily called away.”

View
Vast As It Is Vile
Session Eleven, Part Six

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Jackson Elias Journal – Continued
13 March, 1916, Bucharest—

Dear Mademoiselle,
With my dutiful respects, I write to you though of me you are not aware, but it has been conveyed to me such that I understand you have had certain conversations with Mikel Ostrakova in Paris. If you are certain you wish to know more of these things – but for safety’s sake I hope of this I have been misinformed – then I will speak to you of such matters. Come to The Italian Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. 28 Nicolae Bălcescu. Be certain to say you wish to speak to Sister Agatha regarding the health of a previous patient in Hospital of St. Joseph and Ste. Mary in Buda-Pesth.
Yours will all blessings,
Sister Agatha.

The letter lies open before me. Where is Lord Cyril? I have rung up the consulate but Edmond was not there and they said they did not know where he could be reached. I have the Steyr and the Colt loaded. But to what effect? Should I stay or should I go to Gral Street. What if I am wrong and Edmond did not return there? Go to Commissioner Câmpineanu?

I know what I am dealing with but — I am not at all sure how to deal with it — not, not after what happened to Sister Agatha. And so, I have decided my best course of action is to take my journal down to the dining room rather than wait alone in my room. As the maître d’ was not at his station and there were but two ladies sitting at a table near the window – a very attractive raven-haired woman of an obvious aristocratic background and a younger woman, who from ready deference seemed servile – I proceeded to a table wherein I could put my back to the wall. There I could observe the entrance. I did not see a waiter. Perhaps the staff were in preparation for dinner. In any event, as I await Lord Cyril, or Edmond, I must make an account of all that transpired at The Italian Church of The Most Holy Redeemer.

It began with the letter—we arrived back at the Athénée from Gral Street sometime about 2:30. Our motor car pulled to a halt before the hotel and Richmond, ever the gentleman, stepped out into the snow in order to offer me his hand in assistance. I could not help but give him a wry smile well aware the hand most likely would not be so offered if and when he finally discovered my true inclinations. Haunted still by the most frightening mix of anguish and horror in the eyes of that young woman, I turned to demand we get back into the automobile and make straightway for Commissioner Câmpineanu but Richmond was just getting back into the car. “Edmond we—“ But he cut me off, “Not we, my dear Jackson. I.” I gave him a look. He smiled as ever with that well practiced charming smile of his. “Dinner tonight? Seven.” But before I could agree, he closed the automobile door and tapped the shoulder of the driver. From his expression and the response to my interrupted entreaty I was more than certain his destination was not the consulate but rather back to Gral Street. His vague statement earlier not to overly concern myself with the unfortunate woman in the earthen box was, I am now certain, his misplaced chivalrous gentleman’s reticence to include me in whatever action he was prepared to under take. As I watched the motor cab make its way through the falling snow I was rather put out with Edmond Richmond.

But the cold and the seeping dampness of the wet soles of my shoes hasten my entrance into the hotel. I wanted to find Lord Cyril – to tell him about what we had discovered at the bookshop. The hidden cellar. The odd, primitive wall paintings. The ritualistic Red Room. The certain sacrificial altar. But most importantly the young woman in the earthen box – being ‘cooked.’ I wanted to see what his reaction would be to Richmond’s explanation of ‘being cooked.’ Making straightaway to the front desk, I was told that Lord Cyril had gone out for the afternoon and had left word were i to ask of him to be so informed that he would be returning around 4. And then the front desk clerk – I am not certain of his name – turned and retrieved a letter, which he handed to me. My first thought being that it was a reply from Rochelle—but even before seeing the writing upon the envelop was not in her hand, I was certain not enough time had passed for it to have arrived from Connecticut. And so in examining the very precise cursive used in addressing the envelope, I took the letter and on my way to the lift opened it to find it was from a Sister Agatha of The Italian Church of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Upon entering my suite I tossed the letter on my writing desk and quickly got out of the insubstantial shoes, as well as the damp skirt with its well soaked hem. I quickly removed my hat and changed into a soft, grey woolen suit. And then took up my writing desk. I quickly gave an accounting of my morning — breakfast; the initial visit to the bookshop and the conversation with Viorel Rákóczi, as well as my enigmatic discussion with the mysterious raven haired beauty who had sat down at my table without an introduction; Edmond Richmond’s unexpected arrival, our search of the bookshop upon M. Rákóczi’s departure, and all that we found there. But, I could not refrain from glancing at the letter before me. It was Ostrakova’s furtive information regarding the medical black market which had originally brought me here — and it would appear he had contacted this Sister Agatha. For what purpose? Good or for ill? What was her involvement? And why was there something so familiar about the Hospital St. Joseph and Ste. Mary?

I had let the whole of the attack on Edmond Richmond, the mysterious lead Lord Cyril had given me regarding the esoteric bookshop— and all that had transpired there to eclipse my reason for being in Bucharest. My black market exposée. I checked the time — how the day was rapidly getting away. So I hurriedly completed my entry and with less fashionable but far more substantial shoes, warm hat, long coat, and scarf I departed for The Italian Church.

The day’s snowfall had yet to let up creating a cold, hazy grey day. The doorman procured a motor cab and I gave the driver the address.

“Ah, the Italian church.” His French held a decidedly Romania accent as he carefully pulled away from the hotel.

I nodded, “Yes, the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer.”

“Oui, the Italian church.”

He repeated – yes. My attention having been drawn to window where the aristocrat with what I have to admit are the most strikingly blue eyes I think I have ever seen was extremely piqued by something the younger woman had just said. “A Catholic church yes.” I don’t think I was paying much attention to the driver sitting back in the cold automobile gazing out the window to watch the falling snow and it’s growing accumulation.

He looked back at me, “Oui – it is the Italian church.” He paused for a long moment as if to let that sink in, “Not Romanian – it is Italian.”

I leaned forward, “Oh – you mean . . . “

He nodded, “Oui, they come and they build it The Italians for the Italians. Money from Rome. From the King and the Pope. It’s Italian – wait, you see.”

“So—you say Italy owns it.”

“Oui – the government, through their Embassy. Romania not Roman enough.” He shrugged. “Crazy Catholics.”

I sat back – odd. But upon arriving it was more than obvious the church was not built as any other Romanian church. The red brick building was built in an old Lombard style – with a tall campanile. It was decidedly constructed in an attempt to recreate a Romanic atmosphere. And as we approached, I suddenly recalled why the St. Joseph and Ste. Mary Hospital had been so familiar. It was from Stoker’s novel. Chapter 7 or 8. The letter revealing that Jonathan Harker, having escaped from the castle, was found suffering from some-kind-of-a brain fever in a Budapest hospital. A letter written by a Sister Agatha. The same as the letter I had received—looking at the red brick edifice I could not help wondering was it coincidence? Was it at all possible? Be certain to say you wish to speak to Sister Agatha regarding the health of a previous patient . It is now absolutely imperative that I obtain a copy of that novel.

I paid the driver and asked if he would return to pick me up in an hour. He agreed for a generous tip and so pulling my long coat tighter against the brisk wind and the wet smack of falling snow against my face and lashes, I made my way toward the front doors of the newly constructed, Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, for the driver had informed me it had only been recently consecrated. For a brief moment I turned to watch as the motor car slid away down the boulevard – hopeful the driver would be true to his word about returning.

Entering it felt as if I had stepped back in time. The atmosphere within the church, the pews, the altar, the windows, the high vaulted ceiling the high, the ornate crucifix upon the wall– it all recalled another century. The sanctuary was lit in the uncertain light of flickering candles against the lack of illumination falling through the windows owing to the darken, grey, overcast of the day. Their tallow scent mixing with a odd surprising scent of the newness of the wood and mortar. The church sanctuary was deserted. I wondered since it was an Italian church if its parishioners were only Italian. And if so precisely how many there where in Bucharest? Romania was after all ‘the land of the Romans.’

I moved along the back pews approaching the main aisle. “Hello?” I called out in French. I knew a little Italian – one of my many gifts from the hell of that polyglot mining town of Jackson, California.

I looked about – I was on time, and so I would have thought Sister Agatha would be awaiting me. I continued forward down the central aisle toward the altar—feeling now more then a bit leery. A sudden start, my left hand gong to the top of a pew, in which I felt a flutter of my heart at sound of a door being slammed shut somewhere—rather loudly. I heard the sound of footsteps approaching and from an entrance to the left of the chancel a man wearing the long cassock of a priest entered.

In Italian he greeted me with a warm smile and asked if he could be of service. As I understood some Italian but was not as well versed in speaking it, as instructed, I explained in French I was looking to speak with Sister Agatha about a patient of hers when she had been in service at St. Joseph and Ste. Mary Hospital in Budapest. “Ah, oui, signoria, just a moment, please.” He nodded with the genial smile and departed by way of his original entrance into the sanctuary.

I proceeded to stand before the altar and some moments later a tall Sister of the Church appeared from the same entrance as the priest. “Sister Agatha?” I asked – aware my voice was perhaps a bit too loud for quietude of the chapel.

“You are Mademoiselle Elias?” The woman asked as approached. Owing I assume to my having spoken in French to the priest, she addressed me likewise.

As she strode forward with the hem of her black skirt all but sweeping across the floor she stood before me, the altar and the large ornately carved crucifix looming behind as sacred backdrop behind her I replied, “Yes. I am Jackson Elias. Are you Sister Agatha?”

She nodded and motioned with her hand for us to move over to take a seat at the far end of the front pew – oddly the confessional was only a few feet from us. “You have spoken much with Mikel Ostrakova.”

We took a seat together on the pew, “Yes—in Paris. Did he contact you?”

She sighed, “Mikel is an anarchist. A fantasist. An agent of the Okhrana.”

“Okhrana?”

“The Department for Protecting the Public Security and Order.” She explained, her plan face, unadorned befitting her calling, was beginning to show her age with the slight wrinkles about the corners of her moth and eyes. And yet, there was something about her. As a young woman, she would have been very attractive to have cloistered herself away. “Which protects only the Russian autocracy. The Tsar. Their mission is simple and complex. To protect the autocracy at all costs. They are what you call secret police. Infiltrators in all groups. To weaken from within. In Russia and everywhere in exile. Émigrés. Paris is base of foreign operations.”

“And yet, you know him.” For all of her apparent political denunciation, I gathered he had contacted her.

“In Buda-Pest. I was his nurse when he was in motor car accident, which was less of a mishap than being purposeful.” She replied, “There are matters which one finds great danger in close proximity. In which you my dear may find yourself. There are many secrets some of which are best left upon God.”

“Yes, well, I don’t think there is anything godly in the black marketeering of medical supplies.” I told her taking a glance at the looming crucifix. I looked at her a Bride of Christ in her black wedding dress with her small mouth and bright eyes sitting in the front pew of his sanctuary apparently as guilty as sin – for surely the pipeline, lain labyrinthine throughout war torn Europe had no doubt ran through the Hospital of St. Joseph and Ste. Mary, and as a nurse there she must have been deep to her rosary in the vile trafficking. Osterkova had told me “whatever you had known of crime in the steers of New York to seek further into this racket will lead to shocks that will rock your soul. “Left to God? One of his eternal mysteries, Sister Agatha? Greed and the death of innocents? The mystery, is how, if there were a God, he would let you wear him as a disguise. As I understand it there is no estimating the number of lives that have been lost.” I told her as I watched her bright eyes narrowing.

“What do you know of suffering?” She asked in a voice struggling to retain her well measured piety, “You who come from America, from across the seas, where there is no war. There is none of the ravages it leaves. I have seen the suffering. Smallpox, scarlet fever, scarlatina, diphtheria. Typhus and cholera. Serbia a wasteland where the doctors die by hundreds.”

“You went to Serbia?” I asked, my tone less heated by the revelation. I recalled the fences before the houses in the little village where we had stopped for supplies on our way from Corfu to the Danube. Every house’s fence marked with a painted white cross. Each cross a death from typhus. Some having two or three.

“One goes to where there is suffering and need.” She told me, “And so, if one must deal with those who make profit upon suffering to save lives then yes, I am of the pipeline. For this pestilence unleashed knows no borders – as do not doctors and nurses, and so, yes, if I must, I make associations with this vile market.”

“Then it does indeed run through out Eastern Europe?”

“As vast as it is vile.” She nodded.

“Vast and yet it is run by but a single mastermind, so I was given to understand.” I said clasping my gloved hands and placing them in my lap, having regained my composure, now that I was coming to a better understanding of Sister Agatha’s role in this nefarious racket. “Mikel says that it reaches into every military. It is military orderlies, corrupted or compromised, who purloin the supplies and then furtively route them to intermediaries who in turn pass them on to smugglers who delivers them to yet another intermediary for redistribution, where through some clandestine broker they are sold on the black market for very extraordinary sums.”

“Yes, this is the way of it.” She nodded.

“Thus, like you, they sell to whomever is willing to pay.” I said, “Civilian doctors, military hospitals – governments on either side of the war.”

“Yes.”

“To whom do you pay?”

She sat in silence—a silence well practiced in her cloistered meditations.

“Sister Agatha – like all criminal enterprises they are served best by those who maintain silence. And silence is complicity – of course in good conscious one no doubt tells oneself they are doing the greater good. But – for how many? How many others die for that greater good which only furthers the profit of those who organize and operate this nefarious racket. Unlike other black markets, say for food, or for certain pleasures, this conspiracy by it’s very nature aligned with death. It chooses who lives. Who dies. And Death knows no distinction of innocents – what of the children?”

She continued to regard me in that well learned contemplative silence. And I began once more to suspect she was not the purely as altruistic nurse she wanted to be believed fit in the motor cab on the way to the church I recalled having read of her. A recollection that called to mind questions I had had in Stoker’s omissions and his possible sly implications. And so, I tried another tact, “Yes, well. You are Sister Agatha from St. Joseph and Ste. Mary Hospital in Budapest.”

“This I have told you have I not” She replied.

Why does the maître d’, M. Goral, I think; why does he seem indecisive as he looks to me. Is it that the dining room is closed until dinner? There has been no waiter. Yet, the ladies at the table by the window are still seated. But the table two over from mine still has dishes and a tea service sitting from whomever last sat there last.

Stop being distracted Louise.

So I gave her an inquisitive look, “A long time ago you took care of an Englishman who came to you by way of Klausenburg.” And I saw in her eyes a sudden faltering anxiety, “As I understand, he was suffering from a rather violent brain fever.”

“Yes – he was recovering from a great shock. I thought him a good man. I thought his wife a good woman as well with whom I spoke many times in confidence on personal matters, but, she had no confidence.” She said with a suddenly surprising irritation. I noted the fingers of her right hand touching the beads of the rosary she had removed from a pocket somewhere within the folds of her black habit. “She gives my letter to this author, this writer of tales of terror.”

“Stoker.”

“Him, yes.”

“So, I must ask, Sister Agatha, what happened to the gold?”

“Gold?” She asked with a look I had seen far too many times and answered a question with a question, which I found to be a hallmark of criminals in New York.

“Yes—Dracula’s gold. Harker took fists full of it before he escaped the Count’s castle. Where did it go?” I asked having remembered the inconsistency in the novel—which as I have already stated has become an imperative that I find a copy.

Only the name did not invoke the sign of the cross I had expected, but rather, a narrowing of her eyes. “It is novel. Fiction.”

“Fiction?” I asked, “But you just admitted Harker’s wife had broken your confidence and given Stoker your letter, which he published. In it you make no mention of the gold, in fact, you make a point to tell Mina Harker that he does not have any funds at all, before telling her that it is his wish to pay for his stay at the hospital so that others in need will not suffer the lack of the hospital’s ability to serve. You were telling her to bring funds to pay for his stay – and yet, Stoker pointedly reveals that Harker took of Dracula’s gold. Where did it disappear?’

The corners of her mouth grew tighter, increasing the slight wrinkles. “What is it to you this patient whom you said was under care so long ago? And in his fleeing from Dracula’s castle, with the state of his mind, the talk of ghosts, and of other such things to fearful to mention, who knows what may have happened to such gold?”

“You write that in Klausenburg he arrived quite violently demanding a train ticket. His demeanor a bit wild. And yet, as you relate it the Station-master gave him a ticket. One for the furthest point of the line – no doubt to be done with him. But why? Why would they have not detained him? Why would they have given him a ticket? I don’t think the authorities nor a station-master in Klausenburg would be of a charitable nature to such a purported madman. I think he paid for that ticket and seeing what funds he had, I think the authorities do what they will for the wealthy – they acquiesced in assistance.” I told her in the calm, even voice I have found effective in letting the person I am interviewing know I am aware of the truth to their lie, “I think Sister like the black market with which you have associations, you have always had a hand in the till. I think not only did you take the gold from Harker, but you got his wife to pay for the care you provided at the hospital as well.” Then—I wanted to see if I was right. I cocked my head slightly, “I thought the Lord loved a cheerful giver – just what does he feel for the cheerful taker?”

She suddenly arose from the pew, haughty, her piety slipping away rather dramatically, “Self-righteous tribade. How dare you mock the Lord.”

And it was my turn to stand – for how did she know I was a tribade? With whom was she in communication? Mikel? Certainly she had confessed as much – but he would not have been aware. Unless as a member of this Okhrana he had gone to the trouble to uncovered it – but no, I had been in Paris but a short time and there had not been anyone of interest to whom I had revealed my inclinations. Or did the Russian secret police have reach all the way to New York? Connecticut? California? Possibly. But why would he or they have had any such interest in a Sapphic crime reporter? One who had only recently arrived in Paris? And even more importantly why had he divulged the black marketeers and their vile operation to me in the first place? My initial contact with him had been in regards to Parisian anarchists. He was the one who revealed the existence of the illegal operation with its horrifically extravagant profits as well as its resulting loss of life. Did it have reach all the way into Russia? Where the war efforts were not at all going well. The lack of medical supplies and the excessive sums being paid for them surely was of strategic value to expose this heinous racket – and to have an American do so? And yet there was another whom came all too readily to mind. Bobinette. She was certainly well aware of my personal predilection – one which she shared . . . and she was already suspect for whatever dealings she had with the very mysterious and I very well suspected the dangerous Fraulein ten Bricken. “I mock nothing in which I have no belief.” I began, “Whereas, you Sister –“

But she abruptly interrupted, “Whereas, you in your mockery have not the understanding as to whose world we are born. For since that most egregious of rebellions in the garden, he holds whole of world in his hand and within in his will, and so corrupts such that we are of much luck Miss Elias to but make through it unscathed. You who believe in nothing. What do you know of forces and powers unseen? I write to you in warning. You think you know much and know little of what it is you seek to disturb with your questions. For whom you call mastermind is far above rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked. It is power of the darkness. There are mighty things that rule the night and who are you who believe in nothing to seek such unseen things. For safety’s sake one should tread lightly for there is great evil, madam. It is filth and corruption of the flesh and it too makes folly of our Lord – for the blood is the life.”

And suddenly the doors of the chapel hurled open and snow bellowed in on a stiff wind. Sister Agatha moved surprisingly quickly as she grabbed my arm and pulled be about to shove me toward the confessional, “Quick!” She whispered urgently and pointed to the confessional door. With a fleeting glance back at the doors and the invasion of wind and snow, the grey overcast darkness of the day gave the impression dusk had somehow fallen, I opened the door and slipped inside even as I heard a voice filled with an anger all but dripping of vitriol, “You have betrayed me!”

“How is it possible?” Sister Agatha in her startlement reverted to Italian, allowing me the little that I knew of the language to comprehend most of what I heard as I leaned forward to peer through the gossamer cloth that covered the small aperture in the confessional door. From what I could see from the light of the small candle within was in the priest’s compartment of the oratory.

“Indeed, how is it possible?” His voice cold and sardonic. “You have been adequately compensated all these years.”

I watched silently as Sister Agatha took a step back in the chancel, toward the dais upon which stood the altar, her fingers gripping the rosary tightly, “Herr Leutner—“

“Has been dealt with.” He said with one of the smoothest voices I have ever heard to be so laden with a terrible menace. “And now the time has come to deal with you.”

“I have never betrayed you,” her voice having grown ever more fearful. And I was now able to see the object of her mounting apprehension as a man dressed in a black suit accentuated with a high, ivory shirt collar and visible cuffs. For as his slow stride down the central aisle brought him closer to Sister Agatha, he entered into the narrow restricted view afforded by the gossamer covered lattice-work of the aperture in the confessional door. He had a strong face, aquiline, with a high bridge of a thin nose, his forehead was lofty, reaching to the widow’s peak of his hair, which bore distinguished streaks of grey which had not fully invested within his mustache.

“You cannot serve two masters.” He replied with a malevolent irritation. “These black marketeers with whom you associate though once merely a nuisance have become quite vexsome.”

“But they are no consequence. They are smugglers, opportunists who make profit from the war.” She attempted to plead her case.

“Who are you to determine consequences.” He demanded contemptuously, “There is more to your opportunists than criminality. They are a conspiracy at cross-purposes to my agenda. And you will tell me to whom they answer.”

She shook her head, “I-I do not know.” A lie and a very brave one at that in face of one who seemed barely able to restrain his rage. “Since whence you did sent to me, in hospital, him who had thought to escape, I have served you when word it comes from Herr Leutner as to your—

“Silence!” He demanded even as his long fingers reached out towards her and she retreated a few steps further back. Her heels at the first step of the dais. “You as well as he were faithless servants.”

“Stay back.” She quickly tried to command as she lifted the crucifix of her rosary. But even from my distance I could see the shock upon her face.

“I have long since learned from that mad English doctor.” He waved his lifted hand to indicate the chapel, “It is how I enter your foolish sanctuary and stand before that.” And he pointed above her to the ornate crucifix looming on the wall behind the altar, “These relics are of my past and have only the sway I would give to them of may future. But, they hold sway over me no more. And now—you will tell me to whom this conspiracy answers.”

“I-I can not. I am but merely one who helps in distribution of supplies – “ She said with a struggle. Why did she not tell him what she knew, for she had indicated to me she was more than aware of the mastermind behind this nefarious black market enterprise. But more importantly . . . why did she not run – why did she not push away from him. Why did she just stand there. Why did I? Why did I not come to her aid—suddenly step out from my concealment, left the door of the confessional swinging open as his intense malevolent eyes turned upon me, with their unnatural reddish glint, as my own would be unable to look away, entranced by his gaze, so that I too could only stand there just as helpless as she – no. I looked frantically about the narrow confines of the dimly lit box cabinet but there was nothing I could use as a weapon. Why had I had left the Steyr and the Colt in my suite. Because I was coming to a church? My Injudicious haste? And even if I had them, would they have been of any use against him? I felt so trapped within the enclosure of that damnable confessional!

“You . . . move too freely about to be but merely a sycophant.” He told her as his hand like a cobra striking suddenly grasped her by the throat. “This disguise you wear. You can not hide from me the true nature of your greed. I know it all too well.”

He drew Sister Agatha toward him with the single hand about her throat.

“It not possible – “ She said gasped in some considerable astonishment as he drew yet her closer. “It is not yet dusk.”

It was as if she were articulating my own thought.

“I do not need the setting of the sun to deal with the likes of you.” He said as his hand continued to grasp her throat, “You will tell me—”

“There is – a charity. Here. In Bucharest.” She told him, “The Society for The Favour of War Orphans. But its reach is to London.”

“London?” He repeated—and then suddenly his voice took on a quality which could only be described as amazement, “Her! Yes. I should have known. Only one of mine could be so brazen.”

“Please—“ she whimpered.

He regarded her for a moment and then his long fingered hands grasped her head and there before me he snapped her neck. He held her for a long moment before he let her crumble at his feet.

He stood for a brief moment looking down at her and then turned and walked back down the center aisle to the open doors and the snow bellowing through them. I stood silent in the confessional looking at the body of Sister Agatha – who had written to me she said to in order to give me a warning. I was suddenly given a violent start by the sound of the doors of the sanctuary loudly closing. There in the dim candle lit confinement I stood in anxious expectation. But the door of the confessional did not suddenly open. I could not shake the feeling that he was there just outside the door – waiting for me. Whether or not it was not yet dusk, the sun had not set so that his full powers were not yet his, or, whatever he had learned had so distracted him, he must not have sensed me there for when I stepped out into the chancel, the whole of the sanctuary was empty save for her body.

I hurried over to Sister Agatha and knelt to touch her body and in doing so she rolled limply back so that I could look into her eyes . . . open, wide, unseeing. I looked about but the sanctuary was empty. The only movement was the flickering shadows cast by the lit candles. Was there no one in the Church of the Holy Redeemer? And how as she had said was it possible? How had he been able to stride into the church? The looming crucifix on the wall, the one she had held up to him? Why had they been ineffective? Was everything I knew about them wrong? I suddenly thought of the bushy haired priest? Where was he? I turned to look at the entrance through which he had earlier entered and thought to call out – but, what would I say? The local authorities? Whose hands would I have to identify as having been the ones that had broken her neck. Even if it were the Commissioner – if it is who you say, being a vampire, how is it he was in the church?

I needed to see Lord Cyril. Edmond Richmond.

Silently I arose from her body and looked about – it was too early for my ride to have returned. If he were to return. I renewed my grip upon my purse and turned away to quickly make my way to the entrance. Twice today I have been utterly ineffective – that young woman in the earthen box. And now—Sister Agatha. That which I suspected had already begun to corrupt me.

I opened one of the double doors and stepped out of the church into the heavy snowfall. The cold braced me. With my gloved hands I grasp the lapels of my coat and pulled them tightly across my chest and began to walk. My feel slipping in the growing accumulation. The grey day, overcast and with the falling snow gave the look of dusk which was yet hours away. I could not help feeling as if at any moment he would suddenly appear out of the hoary haze. With luck the Italian Church of the Holy Redeemer happened to be on a well traveled avenue: Nicolae Bălcescu. As I made my uncertain way along side of the street a motor cab, it’s wheels sliding from a sudden brake, came to a halt beside me. The driver, a rather stout man, with several days stubble and eyes had reflected the alcohol on his breath shifted the automobile into gear, spinning its tires before they grabbed traction and set off as soon as I closed the door. I had not even given him an address. As he drove much too fast for the hazardous streets. It was as if he knew there was a dead nun n the church behind us. I leaned forward and told him to take me to the Athénée. He replied with a grunt and slid into a left hand turn.

Once back at the hotel I searched for Lord Cyril but he was not in his suite. I returned to my room – where I changed shoes once more and hurriedly loaded the Colt and checked the Steyr. I will not go without one or both of them from now on. And so, here I sit in the grand dining room sipping cold coffee and looking once more at Sister Agatha’s letter. I absolutely have to find a copy of Dracula.

View
Subtle Nuances and Polite Pleasantries
Session Eleven – Part Five

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Lord Cyril’s Journal
13 March, 1916 Bucharest – Continued – The tea has grown cold. I had journeyed down the main stairs of the hotel lobby and to this table strategically situated as it is within the Athénée’s dinning room so that I could have my tea as well to be able to keep an ever vigilant eye for the return of Miss Elias. Odd —even as I know her to be Elisa Bishop, I cannot think of her as anything but Jackson. A glance at my pocket watch indicated it was now on to 4:30 and as yet still no Jackson. I must admit to a growing apprehension not only as to her whereabouts, but more importantly as to her welfare.

I had after all sent her out to the bookshop of Imre Turcanu – Inima Muntelui: The Heart of the Mountain, upon whose appellation I have begun to ponder upon its meaning – especially now, having met Professor Andreesco at the National Academy’s Library, as well as the Professor’s companion – of whom I am not yet quite sure I am prepared to write down my suspicions.

I long to be certain Jackson is safe.

Safe? Can any of us be safe?

I picked up my pen once more, having put it down to motion to the waiter in order to request my tea to be refreshed. I had let it sit too long while continuing my journal entry – as well as awaiting the eventual return of Miss Elias. I am now of the opinion I must accurately record the slightest of occurrences for they may have far greater significance which in the moment may escape my notice. For instance, as I am sitting here writing, I take note of the very striking woman who has just entered the restaurant. A new arrival? Perhaps, for I am certain I have not as yet seen her within the hotel. From all appearances, and most particularly in the way she carries herself, she is most decidedly of a aristocratic upbringing. The Maître d’ is of course all deference as he led the way amongst the empty tables, careful to assure she moves unobstructed, as he selected for her a table suitably distant from the centre of the room in order to provide more privacy and, with his usual flourish, he offers: “This is a very nice table Countess.” But the Countess gives him the slightest of smiles, and is unsatisfied with his selection: “I would care to be seated near the windows." Her voice not only confirming her aristocracy but revealing an unmistakably Viennese accent. With a slight bow, the Maître d’ acceded to her request, seating her near a window, where with the draperies pulled back she could look out upon the wintery day.

Earlier I too had countermanded the effusive Maître d’s table selection. My seat is most excellent. It affords me line of sight to various strategic objectives: the concourse of the lobby, the front desk, a portion of the main stairs, the side door of the dining room, as well as the service entrance. But it is distracting — for once more I had to put down my pen. It was good my waiter had just finished refreshing my tea.

For my attention was drawn from the quite lovely profile of the alluring brunette as she turned her head to look out the window to observe the falling snow, to the gentleman approaching the entrance to the dining room. He bore an arrogance not at all aristocratic but one that bespoke more of bureaucracy as he descended the three steps into the dining room. He strode past the Maître d’ rather dismissively as he walked towards me, his left hand in his trouser pocket. His eyes were keenly observant and his mouth held, at the corners, below the carefully trimmed moustache, a certain cruelness I have seen before. He was of less than middle height—something of which I suspected added to his air of self-importance.

“Lord Cyril Blathing, 7th Earl of Gavilshire?" The voice seemed oddly deeper than I had expected from the man’s countenance.

I put down my pen and took up the newly refreshed cup of tea. “Yes indeed. And you sir?”

“I? I am Deputy Inspector Constantin Vlădescu of the Siguranța.” He announced as he reached into his overcoat to remove a small wallet which he opened to reveal a badge. “May I have a seat?” He asked more as a formality since his hand was already pulling back the chair across from me.

I made a slight gesture with my hand – “Be my guest.” To the nearly departed waiter I turned, “Another cup, please.”

He nodded, his eyes directed towards me and not toward the Deputy Inspector.

“So, first the Poliției and now the Siguranța.” I set down my cup of tea, “What can I do for you Deputy Inspector?”

The Deputy Inspector sat straight-backed, a bit on the edge of his chair as he slowly put away his badge. His eyes we upon me – they were the eyes of an interrogator. I felt they would be quite intimidating in some cloistered room. “I understand you are a recent arrival to our wonderful city, Lord Cyril. Made your way from Corfu through Montenegro and the Serbian wastes across the Danube to Turnu Severin. Rather an dangerous route to Bucharest would you not say? Greece is far more the style I would think for a man like yourself.”

“To get here from Greece is to go though lands hostile to me anyway. I doubt Bulgarian sentries facing Salonika would accept my British Passport, I don’t think I could force ‘The Straits’ any better than former First Lord Churchill. The most porous frontier to cross is the one in the process of being dissolved. Hence . . .” I shrugged as I lifted my cup and took another sip of tea.

“A trek through enemy lines rather than awaiting a possible ship sailing a neutral Romania flag—you must have had most pressing business.” The Deputy Inspector replied evenly. “I can not help but inquire. What could that be?”

“Research my man. I have long held that in some of the more remote parts of your fine country a syncretic mixture of orthodox Christianity and something far older is still being practiced. If I am right, and my research so far is looking rather promising, this could be an opportunity to collect the stories and myths before the old ways are forever lost to the march of modernity. Or war, whichever comes first.”

“I see.” He said putting an elbow upon the table and placing his fingertips lightly to the side of his face as he kept those inquisitor’s eyes ever upon me. I can’t remember if the man blinked. “Theology and folklore. There’s a brisk trade in that?”

I frowned, “Trade?”

“Why else milord would it seem since your arrival you have spent some considerable time with a representative of trade for the British Consulate. An Edmond Richmond.” Deputy Inspector Vlădescu remarked, “Universal Import and Export. Of which the unfortunate M. Nigel Montague was also a representative. I say unfortunate in that he was found earlier this morning on a lonely quay – his head missing.” His finger’s departing from the side of his face to stroke the tip of his forefinger along the side of his moustache, “Only, M. Montague was bearing papers indicating he had less to do with trade. So perhaps, there is after all some commonality, seeing as how he was apparently traveling as Monsignor Jon Manoilescu. Mayhap he as well had an interest in theology and folklore?”

“Quite the ghastly end.” I was unsure what Deputy Inspector Vlădescu was seeking in this interview. Something specific – or was he merely making the presence of the Siguranța known. As well as the fact he and the secret police were well acquainted with my presence here in Bucharest. At the moment Ossington’s request lay heavily upon my mind. “I read about it in the papers this morning. Never met the chap, though Richmond was introduced to me by the Deputy Consul. Have you ever travelled abroad Mr Vlădescu ?”

“Once or twice, on business.”

“When one travels, one likes to seek out his fellow countrymen for company. Regardless of their roles or occupations.”

“Their roles and occupations, yes.” He repeated and leaned forward, placing his forearms upon the table and interlaced his fingers, "You see Lord Cyril, it isn’t that I am unaware that with the war Bucharest has become a den of spies – quite the contrary. One might begin to question whether there are more ladies plying the trade than agents of various governments – for instance the Americans or your British Secret Service.”

“The Americans?” I asked.

“Did you not make the journey through hazardous country with an American journalist?” He implied, “A woman war correspondent?”

I gave him a look. “Yes.”

“Quite the unusual occupation, is it not? For a woman.” He said with some considerable scepticism.

“Can’t say. Who knows with the Americans, but, we have our suffragettes as well.” My thought being this would not be an agreeable moment for Jackson to arrive – for she would certainly be far less diplomatic with the Deputy Inspector.

“It is not that I don’t expect there to be those who seek to make use of the hospitality of our neutrality. Especially surrounded as we are by war. But do you not think it rather unprofessional to presuppose us to be incompetent or worse still to be mere peasants.”

“I say, Deputy Inspector—“

But he did not allow me continue.

“Trade representatives. War correspondents. Folklorists.” His eyes – his shrewd pale blue eyes — yes, I can’t say I remember ever seeing him blink— narrowed. “Since your arrival, Lord Cyril, M. Richmond, he has been shot, here, in this very dining room. A shot from the dark through yond window. And M. Montague, reported missing with some scurrilous cock and bull—in regards to something you British call ‘a bunk’—which, from what I understand, it is to be some disappearing escapade with a woman, and in this case, with a lonely prostitute? When in fact, he travels not as a representative of the British trade but as a representative of the church. Under papers as an envoy of the Vatican. And what of him? This supposedly missing Montague, this falsified Monsignor? He too makes a trek through enemy lines. For what? Theology? The Folklore? Whatever—it cost him his head. Just as oddly as it did the proprietor of an occult bookshop — who it is known to have incurred the displeasure of the lonely prostitute of whom M. Montague was said to have the ‘bunk.’ Both decapitated. And of the prostitute, Ioana Tânase? Where is she? Taking the ‘bunk?’ With whom? Who remains? For it would seem with the sad death of M. Montague, so recently returned to Bucharest, the British Secret Service is rapidly being depleted. That is unless, Lord Cyril, they have sent you. Is that the case?”

I took another sip of tea before the putting the cup down and steadily looked into those pale blue eyes, “I am not employed by His Majesty as a spy, if that is what you are asking."

“That sir is precisely what I am asking—let us put aside the subtle nuances and the polite pleasantries., eh? It is a question of some importance. For your M. Richmond, he is perfection in an evening jacket and fascinates intrigue with his dalliance of the ladies. And M. Ossington? He is bureaucracy personified. And so, with the death of M. Montague, it is of some import to know who precisely is to run the Bucharest Station?” Deputy Inspector Vlădescu’s forefinger stroke the edge of his well trimmed moustache.

I sat back and placed my palms calmly upon the table as I tried to take measure of the man, still not certain what he was about, “I must say, Deputy Inspector, you seem very well versed on the situation here in Bucharest, whereas I? I am but as you said newly arrived. As for Montague and this chap Richmond . . . I only know what I have been told. They are part of the Consulate, trade representatives. And as for Montague? Well, until his body was found, everyone was telling me, as you said, it all had something to do with this girl he’d run off with. Now, love can make fools out of anyone. Even a British gentleman. But if you suspect something more political, well that may be right – but, I can assure you sir, I am not with His Majesty’s Secret Service.”

“So you say, Lord Cyril.” He replied, “But—we are both aware of your government’s desire for my country to join in your War. But you should be forewarned sir, there is evidence of conspiracy and treachery and plots against all governments and religions. We may be sixteen years into a new century, but an old evil casts a long shadow."

Now he said something of interest – particularly after my recent encounter at the Library. “The other policeman, Commissioner Câmpineanu, said beheadings are not to common an occurrence but they do happen from time to time. If I understand you, I think we both are well aware of why someone might suspect they have reason to behead someone. The legends are known enough as it is. So I have a question for you. Would a member of the Siguranța know more precisely just how many of these occurrences take place? Is this a larger problem than the Poliției would let me to believe?”

That brought a flicker to those pale blue eyes, “Let us say—perhaps, there should be far more than there currently are. As a man who has seen that which only many whisper about – I would put it to you, Bucharest is home to more than merely spies.”

Bucharest is home to more than merely spies , with that admission I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. I nodded slightly at the confirmation of my suspicion before I opened my eyes and reached distractedly for a biscuit and took a bite just as across the dining room the waiter returned to the Countess’ table with the tea service and set it before her. This drew our attention – as I was aware the Deputy Inspector watched with some interest as well. The Countess nodded to the waiter and gave him a slight smile. But she did not touch the service placed before her, rather she continued to idly watch the falling snow outside her window. Oddly, we were both captivated by her — she was a rather remarkably beautiful woman with a regal carriage that all but commanded the eye’s attention — and so we overheard as the waiter ask whether she wished to order anything to accompany her tea, to which she said no, the tea would be fine as she was awaiting someone’s arrival.

“And old evil you say?” I asked breaking our apparent enchantment.

“It is for that reason, Lord Cyril, I ask. Do you know what it was M. Montague brought back with him from his odd sojourn to Transylvania?”

I am well aware I could not mask my frowned of concern, “Transylvania?”

“We know the smuggler who helped him cross the border, Horvat Zoltán. A Hungarian. One of many such smugglers. He says he brought M. Montague back across the border, but he quickly departed. Zoltán knew only he was to meet someone upon his arrival in Bucharest. Being as you are a folklorist – would that have been you.”

“Me?”

“Should we soon become allies, a mutual cooperation prior to such an occurrence would be highly beneficial — do you not agree?” His inquisitor eyes cutting to the Countess, “In this regard, Lord Cyril, I would forewarn you, the long shadow of which I spoke, though ancient in its ways, seeks a modern agenda. It finances dissents and foments rebellion. It has adherents one would not suspect. For example, Professor Dimitrie Andreesco. He does far more than on occasion merely lectures at the University of Bucharest. He is a known member of the Frăția lui mortii vii.”

“The Brotherhood of the Living Dead,” I nodded as I brushed way specks of crumbs from my biscuit. “A modern revival of the pagan worship of Zalmoxis.”

“There is nothing modern about it.” The Deputy’s Inspector said, “And we strongly suspect Dimitrie Andreesco of being amongst its leadership. It’s disguise bespeaks of theological revival, but its agenda is well cloaked in secrecy. We have yet to fully understand its intent— as we have had difficulty in gathering intelligence from any of its members. It seems those of the Brotherhood have forsworn an allegiance to the one they call the Master.”

I am sure I did not betray the thought that crossed my mind in that perhaps I had only early spoken to this ‘Master’ as he was departing the library with the Professor.

“It is why I have come to you Lord Cyril. For as I said, it would seem the presence of your Secret Service is being dwindled — and thus you should be forewarned within whom you trust. For we suspect the root of the Brotherhood is firmly planted in the soil of your London.”

Upon this I sat forward, “London?”

“Our methods are not your methods, but we have secured a name. D. D. Denham.” He said in a voice deliberately kept low.

This was a revelation of some significance, if true; but before I could respond, I took notice of the arrival of a young woman who entered the restaurant and explained to the inquiry of the Maître d’ that she was expected. She strode past him and made her way amongst the tables to that of the Countess. I recognized her immediately: it was Professor Vordenburg’s housekeeper, Teodora Bacova And even more importantly, my concern grew as I overheard her to say: “Countess Veronky. The weather—I am sorry I was detained.”

View
More Hush than Hush-Hush
Session Eleven - Part Four

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Jackson Elias Journal – Continued
13 March, 1916, Bucharest— I could not help feeling as Lot’s wife – wanting to see what was following me. But rather than a pillar of salt, the wind whipped the hoary flakes of snow cold and wet against my cheek as I stopped in the alleyway and looked back at our tracks in the snow. I then looked at Edmond Richmond, whose handsome face was now etched with lines of concern. “Cooking her up to be one? What the hell does that mean?” I had let it pass until now – but it was time for some explanations.

His eyes were anxious, surveying the alley behind and before us as if he were anticipating more than just the sudden arrival of Viorel Rákóczi’s wagon. “Jackson—please, this is not the time nor the place to discuss any of this.”

I pointed back toward the delivery entrance to the bookshop, “What I saw – back there – was a vampire am I not correct?”

He sighed a long plume of steam in the cold air, “I don’t know – I don’t think so – at least not yet. But she will become one. Soon—if I were to hazard a guess.” His eyes furtively glancing back down the narrow alleyway. “Look, Montague knew far more about all of this than I.”

“Montague?” I asked as stood there in the falling snow looking at him with some incredulousness. Suddenly remembering his incomplete, half uttered thought, when he had checked himself earlier, while we were sitting at the table in the tea shop. He had just begun to say, “that was the only—“ but had broken off in mid-sentence. And of course the waiter arrived as they always do just at the inopportune moment so as to allow one to divert an awkward conversation. “Montague killed Turcanu.” It was now so obvious. “He decapitated him—because he was a vampire.”

“We really do not have time to discuss this.” He said and attempted to take my elbow to pull me along.

I resisted and stepped back, “That young woman—being cooked — that is what you said. Being cooked. In one of his boxes. One of his earth boxes.” Amazed as I was at the inference I had drawn of just whom Richmond was speaking when he had called the oblong crate an earthen box. Even more astonished to find that in the snowy, narrow confines of the alley I found myself not only thinking of Stokers one great novel, in comparison to all the others I had read, but in uttering now the unlikeliest of names, “You meant one of Dracula’s boxes! Stoker’s novel was not just a novel, was it?” I could not help feeling the sudden weight of just what the implications of that question meant, “Just how much of it is true?”

“Far less that it should have been.” He admitted.

And for a brief moment I thought about going back into the bookshop, but the edition of Stoker’s Gothic I had seen there was in Hungarian. Which I began to ask myself—in finding it there, rather easily I had to admit—was that a mere coincidence? And if not? Who would have put it there? But no, as irrational as the sheer possibly of there being the undead the thought that someone had intentionally left that Hungarian edition for me to find was oddly even more so. Some things just happen and there is not an underlying reason. I had learned that lesson well while investigating criminal associations in New York. One had to be careful about just how far one allowed themselves to meander down a conspiratorial road— for it was an all too natural an inclination to suspect everything and everyone — to find seem connection out of coincidence. Richmond for example. He had arrived he said in response to a message I had not sent him. Was that really true? And if so, who had sent it? And who was Richmond? He was certainly more that he appeared to be. Even if, as he said, Montague knew more than he. He knew enough to recognize what was transpiring in that dimly lit hidden cellar.

“It is far past time for being cryptic Edmond.” I told him sharply.

“As it is for standing in this alleyway.” He remarked.

Relenting I began to walk with him slowly my feet crunching in the snow as we moved through the alleyway toward the street. I pulled the collar of my coat tightly up around my throat as the wind hastening down the snowfall, “Montague and you.” I said as we neared the street, “Universal imports and exports. Trade representatives. I don’t think so. You’re British intelligence.”

Once we stepped from the narrow mouth of the alley he began to look about for a motor cab even as he glanced back at me.

“So you’re not going to admit it?’

His grin returned – slightly. “If I were do you think I would?”

“And in not denying it you are.” I pressed the point.

“Please understand – we must be discreet about this.” He turned to look back down the alleyway to assure we were still quite alone. “Truly, I am not trying to be disingenuous. There is procedure and protocol and—you know far too much already. Where is a damned cab when one needs one.”

“I fear we may not be on one of the more well traveled thoroughfares.” I felt the dampness of the snow now seeping through the soles of my unfortunate selection of shoes.

The snow was beginning to fall now with larger flakes and more intensity. “Then we go back to the tea shop and see if they have a telephone and I shall ring up the consulate to have a car sent round.” He quickly decided.

“And you can forget all about your protocol and procedure and explain to me what precisely is going on – and why we are not calling the authorities.” I told him trying not to shiver, “ And I can assure you, I am well known for my discretion. But, at the moment, I need to desperately get out of these shoes.” I concluded with some irritation.

He looked down with some concern seeing the shoes I had selected for the day and were it not for his wounded arm I felt he would have swept me up and carried be back down the small walkway to Gael street and then down it to the tea shop across from the bookshop. Instead I forced myself to overcome the cold seeping into my shoes and made my way back to the tea room. Upon entering, those few customers within turned to look at us, shivering and lightly stamping the snow from our shoes upon a mat placed at the door just such a purpose. Among a few of them I detected an anxious stare rather than annoyance at our rather calamitous entrance. Richmond found a chair near the establishment’s fireplace and directed me to remove my shoes – saying with a smile to forget protocol and procedure, and least of all modesty, as my feet must be near to freezing. I did not tell him that I had tossed modesty aside quite some time ago as I was already doing so – even as I caught his wandering eye catching a glimpse of my white stocking foot slipping free of its shoe.

He waved to the young waiter and ordered tea and asked if they had a telephone. They did and Richmond was off to ring up to have a car sent round.

I took notice that the young waiter was seemingly in no hurry in leaving the table were he was doing very little in the way of providing any service in order to get our tea — until his attention was drawn to the toes of my white stocking feet. I gave him a reassuring smile and he seemed a bit awkward in having been caught looking at my indiscretion. He started to move away from the table.

He gave me a smile as he approached. He asked if we wished anything other than the tea Richmond had ordered carefully taking his time no doubt in hopes of catching sight once more of my stocking feet. I told him we only wished the tea to which he nodded and prepared to depart.

“M. Turcanu,” I hurriedly grabbed his wrist to slow his departure, “Perhaps you can tell me more – about him.”

He looked at me uncertainly, especially with my hand around his wrist, even as he furtively glanced about the tea room to determine whether or not we were being watched. “What I know I have spoken too much.” He said in a soft voice.

As I had already slipped quite a few Romanian banknotes from my purse, folding them discreetly, I pressed them into the hand of the wrist I held, “Or not enough. You say those here on Gral Street were aware of what M. Turcanu was—”

“Strigol.” He whispered with a hiss as he gripped the lei within his hand.

I looked at him inquiringly “Yes—and yet, knowing that it seems no one here found the presence of this evil offensive?”

He glanced about now anxiously, “There are those who reminisce of the time of the Boyar.” He began to arranged the place setting on the table, “And so many here along Gral Street they quite willingly bestowed upon him a rank that his birth could not have achieved. And so, as I said, he gave to those seeking a Boyar such semblance of one and so in return for their acquiescence he kept his peace with those of Gral Street.”

“And how did he do that?” I asked

“He gave assistance to many whose shops would have not long survived—as Gral Street is not so prosperous as it seems. Is an illusion he helped maintain. To some he passed along lei—to others, if financial hardships arose with the lenders of capital then he had connections to see them disappear. To others he brought forth their darkness. For if entreated he would so dispense vengeance for the pettiest of grievances. He would administer long held desires for revenge.”

“So—if you wanted someone killed?” I lifted an brow in comprehension. It was now all too readily obvious – he was, although a vampire, the same as a New York Crime Lord. Manipulation through perceived munificence, money, and murder.

“Yes.” He nodded, carefully using the edge of a butter knife to pretend to clear the table cloth of fallen flakes or crumbs from the croissants or tea cakes.

“But . . . “ I looked up at him, “A whole community . . . I mean, there was no one among you who did not think to seek out the authorities? I can tell in the very way you speak of him – “ I let the thought trail away to see what effect it may have. Particularly owing to the way he all but hissed the word – Strigol – it would seemed to give some indication of his repugnance at the very existence of such a creature. But then again – just what had M. Turcanu given him in return for his acquiescence? For his silence?

“The authorities?” He all but smirked, “And who among them are not with the Strigori? M. Turcanu, he was of the Brotherhood and it has many among its ranks.”

“Here in Bucharest?” I questioned seriously, watching his fingers at play once again with the centerpiece of the table, “A cult of Vampires – with political connections?”

“Not all are yet of the un-dead—“ He cut me a look, “There are many who yearn for such acceptance.”

“You mean—this brotherhood receives favor upon the promise of bestowing—what? Vampirism?” I was well aware my voice lacked the incredulousness it should have carried in reaction to such an accusation – but, I was well aware of the young woman trapped in the hidden cellar of the bookshop, ‘cooking’ in a wooden, earth box. Could it be my her own design?

“Would you not wish to learn the secret of how to never die?” He stared down at me as if asking the question rhetorically.

“But at what cost?” I leaned forward slightly, “So, tell me – those among you here along Gral Street – what did you do? Gather around and chose lots? Or was it something far more complicit in the evil of supplying his needs.”

He looked over his shoulder at the two elderly ladies who glanced over at us with some suspicion, “Of that he was ever certain to avail himself from other parts of the city in quenching his appetites.”

“To prey upon his victims—you mean.” It was almost simply too amazing to be believe a whole community could condone such depravity, “To murder the innocent.”

He stepped back slightly from the table defensively, “The innocent? There are some parts of Bucharest one would be hard put to find these innocent.”

My eyes narrowed in indignation, “You have no way of knowing upon whom you allowed him to prey.” I said unable to conceal the anger in my voice, “Young woman. Children!”

“The Devil he takes his due, Mademoiselle — it is the way of the world.” He said with some emphasis, as I wondered just what this Strigol had offered him? For all his vehemence in using the word, he was as complicit as were all those of Gral Street who had harbored this monster. And now I was more than certain the patrons of the tea shop were becoming more and more aware of our conversation.

As I felt the suspicious eyes of a pair of ladies two tables down I could not restrain the sudden rush of involuntary memories of Connecticut, of New England, of witches, and witch trials, and vampires. Of my youthful preoccupation, no—my fascination with Mercy Brown, for in some way from the moment I heard her tragic story I sympathized with her . . . death having ripped me from my home, as they had ripped her from her grave. The fact is I have never admitted to anyone that upon more than one occasion Mercy visited me in my dreams – tall and lovely and pale with bloody red lips with which she whispered hushed desires before she began to tell of darker things, of allusions of what California would mean. Watching as the cup rose to one of the curious ladies lips I recalled the day The Reverend Mister Stamps had come to tea, sitting in the parlor, straitlaced in the high-backed chair across from Aunt Ellen, both smug in their expectations of me to eventually becoming a part of their dutiful Presbyterian congregation. Only, during the conversation, I asked the good Reverend if a young girl were to have been buried and then dug up again to have her heart and liver cut out – would she be made whole again when Christ returned to raise her from the dead, or, having had her heart cut out and eaten was she damned – being as she could never give her heart to Jesus as her brother had eaten it and shat it out. Aunt Ellen simply aghast at such a suggestion arose quickly, spilling her tea – which I was sure hastened my California exile. Whereas the Reverend, he solemnly took a reflective sip from his cup – “You mean Mercy Brown? Child, I don’t think it is a question of her heart – for long before they cut it out, her soul was already blackened by the blood of Satan. The question I have for you child – is what color is your blood?”

One of the elderly ladies looked at me as she put down her tea cup. “Does God stop the Strigol? Or, does he create them?”

One of the elderly ladies looked at me as she put down her tea cup. “Does God stop the Strigol? Or, does he create them?”

“Theology?” Edmond Richmond said as he now returned to the table. “I can’t leave you for a moment before you get yourself into some rather deep philosophical discussion. But, Theology? I certainly didn’t expect that.” He smiled at the waiter, but his eyes told him to hurry along. And he did so.

“I didn’t think you believed in God.” Richmond continued as he pulled a chair back and sat down glancing over at the two elderly women, before he turned his grey eyes back to look at me, the charm still there but tempered with a trace of uneasiness, “Well they are sending around a car.”

“And—the young woman in the box.” I asked.

I was not sure if his look was one of irritation at me for continuing to bring the matter up, especially in the very public confines of the tea room, even thought I spoke in a low confidential voice, or was it something else. Who had he called really and what had they instructed him concerning the woman in the box? And of me?

Perhaps there had been a discussion in which it was entertained I knew too much. And if so had a decision been made? Just what was Richmond capable of? For now, I was more than certain there was far more to and behind Edmond Richmond than just his upper class good-looks and English accent. My eyes did not waver from his as I slowly removed my gloves and placed first one and then the other upon the table— “Look—I can understand your reticence. Really. A reporter. And a woman reporter at that. But, if you are at all concerned about my trustworthiness, then, I commend myself to you by way of Lord Cyril. He can certainly vouchsafe my fidelity; and I am more than certain he servers, if not the same, then very similar interests in London.”

He looked at me in earnest, “Its not that – not that at all. I am well aware of your passage from Corfu to the Danube. It’s just that as I said,” He reached with some delicacy into his inner jacket pocket and removed the silver cigarette case, using, perhaps absent-mindedly, his right arm and its wounded shoulder. He opened the case and offered me a Dunhill, which I accepted, and then withdrew one for himself. He snapped the case shut. “Montague was senior man here in Bucharest. I’m a rather recent addition. And so,” He snapped a flame from his small ornate cigarette lighter and as I leaned into the flame he lit my cigarette and then his own. “He was far more experience with . . . all this—than I. I’m not being modest.” He exhaled the smoke upwards, “I dare say I would be in a trench somewhere in France were if not for my father. A most successful banker you see with lots of connections, which he used most advantageously to try and keep his only son out of harms way. Most ironically in the Navy. You see I can’t swim. And I abhor being aboard a ship.”

Aware still of Aunt Ellen’s admonition, ‘Elisa do not put an elbow upon the table,’ I rested it upon the hand of my arm, which I held across my chest, as I lifted the Dunhill to my lips, “The Navy?”

He tapped ashes into the heavy glass ashtray upon the table and gave me a slight smile, “Yes. Only, as you suspected—Navel Intelligence. Which I can assure you was far less glamorous than it would seem. More of a lark, actually, manning a desk as a dignified clerk. Doing my bit for the war effort. File this, stamp that.” There was a bit of resentment in his voice fueling his mordant sarcasm. “And then I was recruited from NID.”

“Recruited?” I exhaled the intake of smoke from my cigarette just as the waiter returned with our tea. He gave me a look of which I was uncertain as he set the cup and saucer down before me, as well as fresh cream. Had he something more to say? Silently, he placed a small plate of sugared almonds between us. With the hand that held his cigarette, Richmond turned the cup towards him and I gave the waiter an appreciative nod; and he departed. “I gathered your father had volunteered you.”

From the look in his eyes that apparently had not set well with him, “Right. Father has always been quite adapt at making my decisions. Initially it was with the NID. But, a bit later you see I was recruited from the rank and flies of the clerks to join shall we say a rather officially unofficial department. One with a bit more hush to the hush-hush. It’s all rather Byzantine I know. But you see the organization was originally a part of Navel Intelligence before becoming absorbed by the Secret Service Division and then being made even more clandestine.”

“And that is to whom you and Montague report.”

He nodded, his fingers absently rotating the tea cup sitting upon its saucer. “I was sent to assist Montague. He had filed some recent reports with London indicating he thought he had uncovered some activity which was rather suggestive of some suspected contact with a primary association for whom we have had quite a longstanding interest.”

“You mean—“

“De Ville? Yes.” He interrupted before the name could be properly formed upon my lips.

“De Ville?” I repeated quizzically.

“You of course may know him as Stoker’s Transylvanian personage.” He replied as if to ward me off from saying the name Dracula. “But in various European capitals he is known as Count de Ville – among other aliases. They rather successfully secured his refuge, the castle, but he has ever remained elusive.”

The we it would appear was the clandestine bureau Richmond indicated had recruited him. Seemingly a very small and selective group within the British Naval Intelligence Department, an organization which had evolved out of the Foreign Intelligence Committee, having then been recreated later as a component of the Admiralty War Staff in 1912 as the Naval Intelligence Division (Note to self: Russian dolls within dolls; British boxes within boxes,? This reiterating of names and initials) . But back then, in 1894, it had been a not quite officially sanction section of the British Naval intelligence Department who had been the ones to initially pursue the mad operation. The one wherein most of the events in Bram Stoker’s novel were in some ways true — or some semblance of the truth as Richmond said the book was more than amply filled with disinformation.

Apparently back during the Russo-Turkish War agents for the British Military, two rather trustworthy informants, had supplied incontrovertible evidence supporting the existence of vampires and rather than finding this discovery to be as one would expect nightmarishly reprehensible—some British spymaster directed further investigation into the whole phenomenon. Ordering the collection of even more evidence in order to mount a serious scientific study in order to factor out myth from fact. The fact there truly was a monstrous predator race that lived upon the blood of the living and what hellish consequences just one of these fiends could do in a city of millions like London was not even apparently considered—but rather, upmost instead was the tactical and strategic advantages such a creature could possibly provide to the intelligence establishment . . . and so the unimaginable idea was entertained in using a vampire as either some asset or a tactical weapon to be added to the British arsenal. Who where these people? Richmond wasn’t sure who the initial spymaster was, his identify protected over the years, but he indicated that this ‘Director’ had commissioned some scientific group or other to analyze the classified information regarding vampirism and to research the feasibility of the whole diabolical scheme — and so, that is how ‘they’ had agreed to authorize the operation and to proceed in inviting the Count to London — how they had found him Richmond wasn’t certain – but the grand design was to find some mutual beneficial accommodation so as to induce his service to the Crown and his journey to London. Where the operation’s design was to provide a suitable selection of individuals – victims . . . let there be no mistake in that . . . victims to be put into the Count’s path – until they were able to obtain a controllable vampire, which could be studied in safe conditions and then they would authorize the termination of the foreign ‘Undead,” the appellation used by the Count. Naturally the whole thing went off the rails. It seems Dracula had his own agenda. Or so Richmond said in that soft, hushed voice of his as he leaned forward appearing no doubt to the few patrons of the tea room as either wholly conspiratorial or extremely romantic. Just what the agenda was Edom – the code name for the operation which became the name of the operational organization – never conclusively discovered. They became aware he was making connections within various spiritualist organizations as well as some well established social coteries consisting of the entitled, of leaders of industry, the military, and of course the government. The authorization to terminate came rather quickly – thus the sanctioning of the ‘Crew Of Light,’ a select group of operatives brought together to hunt him down – as fancifully related in the novel. When I asked him how Stoker became involved, he indicated that one of the two agents, which had brought back evidence proving the existence of vampires, was Stoker’s brother George, a surgeon with the Red Crescent during the Russo-Turkish War. It seems Stoker had written up some reports previously for his brother and so a ream of letters, telegrams, press cuttings, journals, time tables, shipping routes were handed over to him to prepare an after action report, which he instead turned into an unruly narrative — which after some redaction and reediting was allowed to be published so that in the event the disastrous operation were ever to become public it could be discredited as the over active imagination of some theater manager. During the whole revelation of this seemingly inconceivable history, I kept glancing out the window through the falling snow to the bookshop across the way – still unreconciled with our decision in abandoning that poor, young woman, even as I watched expectantly for the return of M. Rákóczi and his wagon. Bearing what? Yet another earthen box?

I asked Richmond once again about the box – as he had not fully explained what he meant about ‘cooking her up.’ He began by explaining that based upon some rather unorthodox research, as he understood it, a vampire was created either by the transference of blood from a vampire to it’s victim or by some uncanny reaction to elements or minerals or some other chemicals in a particular soil that contained them and so thus buried, or enclosed, say within the confines of an earthen box filled with the reagent soil, sort of like a compose heap, in which organic matter was reactively worked upon, but rather than being a catalyst for decomposition, instead this activating agent was the cause of an outré metamorphosis. It was all still very vague, he said, as the researcher was a madman who had become as elusive as the Count. Thus, the earthen boxes in the novel had became a plot device rather than as some integral part of the Count’s strategic invasion of England. Perhaps aware of an incredulous look I may have given him – compose heap?—he went on to reiterate he was not as well versed on the undead as Montague, as he had only the one experience with a vampire – in London. “You see, I had only just been approached to become a part of the mysterious organization,” he enlightened. The Hush more than the hush-hush I repeated his description and he nodded. His indoctrination, training as it were, had been an assignment to assist a young woman of rather dubious reputation – “not a madam per se, as she did not have a house, well, she had a house, a rather fine one in fact, quite expensive I would imagine, being as it was a prime piece of property – which was rather odd being as from what I understand the budget for the operational section having been cut back, owing to the war and all – but she did not run girls out of it” – rather, she took appointments and assigned girls to certain assignations. Nevertheless: the assignment had been an artist’s model, who had once been a proper librarian, before having been seduced into becoming a pornographic artiste. By way of an informant of the rather ‘dubious woman’ it was known that she had been – “well, I wasn’t told who had created her . . . it apparently was no longer of any consequence, but we were to confirm and then either recruit her or terminate her – and, as we were successful, or so it seemed, I wasn’t privy to the experience of an actual termination.” This was a bit of a shock – although based on all I had just heard it really should not have been – that there were in fact vampires in league with British Secret Service. It would seem the initial insane scheme of use vampiric agents had ultimately been successful.

I was about to ask how one could ever really be certain with such a preternatural creature but the consulate car arrived. Settling accounts, Richmond leaving far too much lei for our tea, to the apparent relief of the few customers, we departed the tea room and huddled against the snowfall which was now rather intense as we carefully made our way over to the motor car.

“So—you say you were sent to assist Montague.” I said sitting back into the cold seat and pulling my coat tighter about myself as I caught him glancing back out the window to see if we were being followed.

“Right.” He nodded with a sigh, “You see, after De Ville’s departure from London, there was a concerted effort to try and determine whatever had he been up to. There were reports of meetings with spiritualists. Of his having thrown lavish fêtes with members of London’s upper social set and ministers and diplomats. Trying to determine to what extent he had compromised them. As well as trying to roll up any left behind network of agents of his, if any, and more importantly, ascertaining how many of his bloodthirsty kind he may have contaminated the realm. As well as recruiting informants and local agents so as to secure the castle in Transylvania. Searching it for any clue as to were he had faded away into the night—establishing the Budapest and Bucharest Stations. Of course, we lost most of the Budapest operations with the war. As well as severe cuts in funding as I said. The whole of the section as I understand it is but a mere shell of itself from years ago. And then, Montague hoisted the flag – he had received actionable intelligence about the Transylvanian personage. Most importantly establishing a connection to this Brotherhood. And so, London sent me.”

“Although you know far less than he.”

He frowned, “Bad show on their part. Look at what’s happened to Montague.”

“This whole escapade of his disappearance and the subterfuge of having done a bunk with . . . “ I hesitated for a moment trying to remember the young woman’s name.

“Ioana Tânase.” He quickly reminded me.

“Yes, Ioana. Why?”

He gave me a look, “That was all Clive’s insistence.”

“But apparently Montague had arranged it so to leave that impression – surely it must have been for some purpose?” I replied huddled in my coat – of it all the story of the so call ‘bunk’ was to say the least tangled with inconsistencies and a dubious timeline.

He looked at me sincerely, “I haven’t the foggiest. Montague was very need to know – and from the moment I arrived, it was I didn’t need to know. I don’t think he trusted me at all.”

“And should I?”

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A Negligent Gift
Session Eleven – Part Three

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Bobinette Doulenques’ Diary
13 Mars, 1916 – Bucharest, Athene Palace (written in French) –

AM 7:00: Arose early. The room is cold and outside the window is the fierce breath of the wind. Huff and puff and howl to blow the house down? It rattles the windowpanes. I adjusted the heat. How brazen I am to pull back the gossamer curtain to expose by nudity to the winter’s day. Snow falling to swirl into drifts. Much to do. There is still the lingering consequences of M. Calder’s misguided experiments in photography, and so, before breakfast there are instructions with the carpenters and painters. The wallpaper to be completely replaced is one which needs ordering from Paris. A delay to which M. Rasty is most severely displeased. Ah, well. I must gather maps for him – another last minute commitment conveyed by him last night he has made to a guest. Replace unsuitable coat for Mme. de Vibray. Check with secretary for M. Hugh Ferren as to replenishment of stationary. He writes and he writes. Far too much correspondence for a commercial traveler. An Antique dealer. Need to look in on Fräulein ten Bricken. Must assure she understands importance of discretion although I fear it is a word she pays little heed. She frightens me – odd to write that for whom I am working for. Must find a moment to slip away to visit Vasile’s shop to see what word may have arrived upon a wing. Wish to see Mademoiselle Elias.

AM 9:30: Snowfall progressing such that I anticipate most guests will remain within the Athene. So much so am concerned whether I shall be able to slip away to Vasile’s. I am most concerned Fräulein ten Bricken and her traveling companion Herr Fechtner have departed before we could converse. I checked with Goral and they had not breakfasted. No one seems aware of their departure. So it would appear they left very early. As had Mademoiselle Elias, who had also not breakfasted in the main dining room.

AM 11:30 Monsieur Rasty held impromptu staff meeting. Concerns regarding staff awareness of guests in significant violation of Athene policy. In particular, maids who were well aware of strange apparatuses in M Calder’s room. To see is too report—he demands. The whole of the incident upon the fourth floor could have been prevented. Maps to Rasty afterwards. Received and delivered gloves to Madam Leonides from Helene Ipsilanti’s exclusive shop. Spoke to Afina, whom I had seen slipping out of M Calder’s room—she had found various notebooks and diagrams all of which seemed to be concerned with photography. She tried to say she had only gotten 200 Francs from Madam de Metz, but upon further severe inquiry she revealed the true amount, considerably increasing my proceeds from the matter. Informed Rasty I had to take shoes to be repair—finally able to slip away to retrieve messages.

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PM 1:15 Upon my return I was informed that Nicolai Doicesco was seeking me. Not stopping to remove my hat and gloves and my overcoat, with its high collar still tightly buttoned pulled up, I made my way through the foyer, waving off Fanica at the front desk, who attempted to attract my attention. I was uncertain whether it was a delivery of Lady Katherine’s, who I knew was suddenly relocating from the Princiar. I made my way through the kitchen to the hotel delivery doors where I found the tall, dark-haired Nicolai, wearing a heavy coat and soft cap. He was finishing a warming sip from his flask. “Mademoiselle Doulenques.” He nodded, the stub of his cigar much too close to his thick mustache smoldering in the corner of his mouth. “We have a shipment for a Dr. Niemen. Now, in regards to M Rasta’s earlier directive, should these crates,” he pointed to two medium-sized wooden shipping crates, “Be brought up to the doctor’s rooms or should they be stored away?” Dr. Niemen was part of Fräulein ten Bricken’s entourage. I looked at them. They bore markings of having been shipped via France, Italy and Greece. I looked at them and sighed. I was becoming more imperative that I have a conversation with Lady Katherine – especially in that I had a message recently arrived by Vasile’s pigeons – regarding Fräulein ten Bricken. “Oui—do be careful in taking them up that M Rasty does not detect them.”

PM 3:00 Finally having finished the many requests of the guests, who, owing to the winter weather, had made their decision to remain with the comfort of the Athene, I was finally able to gain time to myself. I desired to see Mademoiselle Jackson, but she has apparently returned to the hotel in some haste seeking Lord Cyril. I stopped by her rooms but there was no answer. Alas, I must not allow myself to become too fascinated with her for is it not by my intemperate impetuousness I found myself beholden to Lady Hélène Beltham and thus so suspected of the death of François Nanteuil. It was in assurances of the concealment of my indiscretions in lieu of repayment by way of the use of my guile and well practiced manipulative inclinations that I had lured the unsuspecting M Nanteuil into her web of treachery. To entice him to his most unfortunate death. It was of course her well placed connections which were called upon to eliminate me as a suspect – and drew me ever further into her stratagems of criminality. I am more than certain it was she who saw to it I lost my position and gained the one here at the Athene so as to now be associated with Lady Katherine. For as notorious as I knew Lady Beltham to be, Lady Katherine was far more mysterious – and sinister — for I had come to understand in their hierarchy Lady Beltham was less an accomplice than a foot solider in Lady Katherine’s nefarious organization. It was upon her direction I was to ensure Fräulein ten Bricken’s arrangements and assure she restrained “her penchant for mischievousness,” which I suspect the newly arrived crates for Dr. Nieman was a part. Upon their appearance I was far more relieved than I had been in regards to Lady Katherine’s relocation – I would let her deal with fair Alraune . . . only before her arrival, I decided to venture up to the odd Dr. Nieman’s rooms to be certain of Nicolai’s delivery of the crates. Upon my knock it was the voice of Max Fechtner, Alruane’s shadow, who inquired as to who was there. Announcing myself, he quickly opened the door and bid me enter. He hurried me through the threshold. Within I discovered what mischief my few hours of inattention had wrought. Upon the bed there lay a young woman – by way of dress I knew her not to be of the profession but rather of good standing. She was ghastly pale. So much so I feared her to be dead as I rushed over to confirm she was yet alive. The sleeve of her right arm was rolled up and some horrid needle like device was inserted so that a tube running up to an evil looking mechanism revealed the flow of crimson filling a bottle. They were stealing her blood! I whirled upon Alruane. “What are you doing?”

There was a look of such devilment in her eyes, “I am doing what I need in order to survive until your mistress relieves me of this necessity.”

“Necessity?”

“A negligent gift of my dear departed father,” her voice laced in a haughty sarcasm as she eyed the blood in the bottle. There was another, filled, sitting on the bedside table. She then looked at me, “What?’ Her wicked eyebrow rising, “Are you so naïve as to not even understand for whom you serve.”

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A Dead Religion
Session Eleven - Part Two

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Lord Cyril’s Journal
13 March, 1916 Bucharest – Continued – Upon my return from the Romanian Academy Library, I was informed that Miss Elias had enquired of my whereabouts, and so, I went to her suite but found she was not there. I await her even now. In the interim I want to quickly make an entry concerning my visit to the library.

Upon Clive Ossington’s departure I had a number of things I wished to do, but was unsure just where to start. First of all, I wanted to meet back up with young Richmond and continue his conversation from last night, but then, Richmond had been called away. A message from Jackson. And as to that I was not only curious but more than a bit anxious to learn whatever the resourceful and inquisitive Miss Elias may have discovered of the esoteric bookshop. Especially in that she had sent a message to Richmond and not to me. For effectively, I had sent her off to investigate something for which she might not be prepared — knowing what I now know. And then there was the remembrance as well that Ossington had made particular reference to Jonathan Harker being at the Princiar Hotel — although, at the time I was unsure precisely why he mentioned it or of what significance a former member If the ‘Crew if Light’ might portend. Other than perhaps to question why he was in Bucharest. On business? Some sojourn of reminiscence? Whatever Harker’s reason—I strongly suspected it was something for which Ossington was apparently unaware, which no doubt was his motivation for pointing out his presence to me. Frăția lui mortii vii. The Brotherhood of the Living Dead. Imre Turcanu. and his bookshop, Inima Muntelui. Perhaps the ‘Crew of Light’ had not been decommissioned as reported? Certainly my encounter at the library only seemed to add ever more significance to the presence of Jonathan Harker.

As well as the fact I needed to meet with Commissioner Câmpineanu in order to inform him I would be becoming more involved in the whole of the Montague affair.

And so, after a light lunch, rather than waiting around, I felt I should be productive and as several individuals had made various references to an ancient religious sect, which seemed to be active even now and in some way connected to the dead bookshop proprietor, and perhaps the unfortunate Montague I decided upon a quick visit to the National Academy’s Library to buttress my knowledge of Zalmoxis and his worship.

Bundled up in my great woollen coat, hat, and scarf I was preparing to step out of the comfort of the hotel into the fierce winter weather. A light snow was beginning to grow heavier. Before me was the motor cab the hotel’s doorman had procured at my request. His gloved hand reached out and took mine as he adroitly warned, “Monsieur, watch your step it is very slippery,”

Thankful for his support, the front steps of the hotel were beginning to ice over. I detected the shovel he used to fight back against the elements propped against the wall. As I took his hand, I thanked him and he helped me descend to the waiting cab. I placed myself between him and my walking stick.

Suddenly I heard a voice from behind: “Monsieur. Monsieur. Lord Cyril,"

It was the Hotel Manger M. Rasty. I turned to see him huddled and shivering against the brisk wind as he hurriedly stepped out and came down to me.

“Your maps, Monsieur. Thousands of pardons for being delayed in getting them to you.” He said as he held out a large envelope that bore the emblem of the Hotel Athene

I thanked him as I took the packet and opening my coat slipped it into the large side pocket within my overcoat. Looking at them both I nodded, ”Now, I shall be off to the Academy Library. Would you please inform Miss Elias when she returns that I am there, and that I shall return by 4?"

They both nodded and I felt for M Rasty, who was shivering mightily, his arms wrapped about his chest to provide warmth and some protection against the cruel wind. “Should be a bit late, task her to await my return.”

They nodded and with a quick wave I continued to the waiting taxicab.

Although motor cabs are not heated — the doorman was foresighted enough to have gotten a coach, so that at least all of the occupants are all within the compartment of the vehicle. It would have been a miserable drive if it were not so, what with the wind and snowfall.

The driver was a stout gentleman who smelled of tobacco and alcohol He asked me for the destination before I had even gotten within the confines of the vehicle. "The Academy Library if you please,” I informed him as I took a seat and shut the door.

With a grunt the driver shifted the motor car into gear and the thin tyres spun a bit before gathering traction and he pulled away from the hotel and down Calea Victoriei. There are a few brave pedestrians hurrying across the road, careful to dodge between several snow covered Fords proceeding slowly along the slick street amid an odd mix of wagons pulled by either horse or ox.

The driver in far more of a hurry than myself blared his horn at the them. The peasants, cold and huddled in their long coats, glared at us in passing.

I grasped the handle of the door for support. “There is no rush.” I informed him.

The driver said oui and continued to drive a bit too fast for the weather as he took a hard, wide turn to the right upon our passing The Army House and then took another sliding turn on to the Bulevardul Nicolae Bălcescu.

I took the time to removed the packet of maps from my coat pocket and began to look through them. I opened one and began to examine it rather than watch the passing buildings and the falling snow in the wildness of the driver’s navigation. I was thankful that at least he was not attempting to engage me in any idle conversation as he drove — in fact, all he had said, other than some muttered Romanian curses at the slow moving wagons or motor cars, was oui when I had given him our destination.

I found examination of the map a bit of a difficultly tossed about as I was by the the driver weaving around and about the far more sane traffic. But from what I had been able to ascertain the trip should be a short one. In fact I could make out the buildings of the University just ahead through the windscreen. As we pasted, I saw construction on the east and west wings – it appeared the west wing was much further along than the east. I began to fold up the map and slipped it back into the large envelope, returning it to my coat pocket as we approached Ion Ghica Street.

Another turn, another grasp of the door handle, and we were speeding along Ion Ghica. I braced myself as the driver suddenly swerved over to the kerb and came to a sliding halt before the Academy Library and it’s large front doors.

Almost a fluid motion as he pulled the motor car over and stopped, the driver turned and leaned back to hold out his hand. He said nothing. He only wiggled his fingers.

Paying the man, he gave me a smile as he closed his fist about the lei.

I stepped out of the cab and was immediately assaulted once more by the cold wind which whipped along the street causing the soft snow to smartly sting as it struck against my cheeks. I pulled my coat tightly about and with my walking stick carefully advanced toward the large front doors of the library.

Although in a hurry to enter with the hope of finding some warmth so as to return feeling once more to my toes, I hesitated only briefly in order to stomped the loose, wet snow from my boots. Once inside I found the vast open lobby conductive of the sound of my footsteps as they echoed loudly. I thought at first perhaps a bit too loudly for a library—but no one seemed to be of concern as there were only a few literary patrons present in the lobby at the moment. Several young men walking along, speaking together in low whispers.

I proceeded further into the lobby, unbuttoning my great coat and removing my hat as I stepped past several tall, marble columns, whereupon to my left I spotted the main desk. Careful that my walking stick did not clatter to accompany the echo of my footsteps, I purposefully approached the desk.

There a stout, florid-face, elderly woman , wearing a very conservative dress of a most unbecoming oatmeal hue was busy sorting books atop the counter. She momentarily paused in her sorting and looked up, asking in Romanian how could she be of service.

I gave her an very amiable smile and nodded, asking in Romanian, where one would find the History and Cultural Anthropology Section, in particular that relating to the ancient Dacians and their religion.

She slid the stack of books aside and opening a drawer built into the long front counter pulled forth a document, which was a mimeographed layout of the library. She pushed it towards me, suddenly turning it about so as to make certain that it was positioned for correctly for me to review. This was all seemingly done by rote as she spoke not a word during this presentation of the diagram of the library layout. She took a pencil from where it had been strategically shoved into her hair so as to ride behind her ear and circled an area which was on the second floor. As she circled the page she then said: “Wallachian and Romanian History, and Cultural Anthropology. Second floor.” And she made a dismissive motion with her hand toward the right and the central stairway.

I pulled out my spectacles and inspected the document. The florid-faced woman lifted the stack of books and heavily dropped them upon a cart, distracting me as I stood examining the library floor plan. I gave her a smile and she lifted an eyebrow as if in annoyance I was still there.

I picked up the layout and bid her thanks as I turned to make my way toward the large central staircase to which she had directed. But as I was stepping away, I heard her low voice mutter: “Odd to me why so many Englishmen are interested in that dead religion." I stopped and turned around, apologizing once again for intruding upon her manhandling of the books, and informed her I wished to ask if there had been others demonstrating a recent interest in the Dacian Religion?

“There was first that young Englishman who wanted to know where he could research an old pagan religion, one worshipping something called a Zalmoxis.” She said moving another stack of books before her to be sorted, “Then later, there was still yet other Englishman—he comes to ask about books on old Dacian religions. He makes no mention of this Zalmoxis. And now—you Monsieur, with your Cultural Anthropology and History. With no mention of religion, but all the same, you are here to know more about dead religions. Whereas all religions should be dead.”

I gave her a slight nod, “I gather you are a Socialist?”

In reply she directed my attention to a political flyer for the Romanian Social Democratic Party amid several others hung upon the community board just behind the counter—apparently Rakovsoy was to speak against Romanian entry into the war.

“I see.” I replied doing my best to suppress a frown; I had heard of Rakovsoy—he was a Trotskyite. “These other Englishmen, they didn’t happen to be interested in any single book in particular, were they?"

“I can not say." She muttered while continuing to sort the books before her, “They get the same Library diagram and I circle the same for them and they go and they look. They do not tell me were they look. Or why. Research? Perhaps? Who knows? It is a dead religion! Thankfully, there are not so many these days who come to seek out more old religions. Save for the English.”

“So it would seem. Was there a time when there was a great interest? I can’t imagine that it’s ever been in the vogue for anyone other than us stuffy academics, yes?"

The sorted books, stacked, now smacked upon the wooden cart. She turned and looked at me: “Ancient religions and forgotten gods. It is all Christianity now is it not? There is only Jesus. And does he stop the war? No. Does he care for the plight of the worker? No! The peasant who must hurry to get his cart and ox out of way of the blaring horn of some Oil Man’s Ford. No! Religion! Give to Cesar— oh yes! He says! Obey the church and the Boyar! They all say! Religion! Bah. The plight of the common man held down by Jesus. All the political and economic phenomena of the bourgeois are but only of its consequence.”

“Yes, I see.” I said, “Well—thank you.” And I took the mimeographed diagram and began to make my way once again toward the central stairs.

“As for academics —“ She called out to me, “It is they who should enlighten the proletariat rather than write stuffy thesis fir nothing but to gain the recognition and adoration among other stuffy academics for things long dead . . . and should be left long dead.”

With diagram in hand I made my way to the central stairs. A young man in some haste, while trying to put away several books in his leather satchel, made his way down the stairs past me. I attempted to nod in polite acknowledgement of our passing, but civility was not in his inclination.

I made my way up slowly but steadily. The upper floor of the library was a large area with various tables and chairs placed for use by those Cone to do research. There were a couple of young men working diligently on transcribing whatever they were reading in the thick, worn bound books before them in their rather small notebooks. The room seemed dimly lit as the few high electric lights dangling from the ceiling were the main source of the light as the wintery day had all but devoured most of the sunlight which would have naturally fallen though the library’s tall windows.

I removed my coat and gloves and placing them with my hat and scarf, I claimed a chair at a rather isolated table. I took my diagram and turned to survey the second floor.

History and Cultural Anthropology seemed to be a very small section, off in a tight niche, with only two face-to-face bookcases set near the back stairs.

I inspected the titles upon the exposed spines, finding any book even remotely relevant, and picking them off the shelf. I was forced to make heavy use of my cane to support myself in bending over to get one off the bottom shelf. With my collection of old volumes I was preparing to return to the table I had claimed when a voice in Romanian spoke up behind me, “Supreme God of the Getae or Dacians—Zalmoxis. You have an interest?"

Turning I saw a tall, slender, slight eccentrically dressed gentleman standing in the door of the back stairs, positioned at the end of the row of books. He held slightly aloft, and further out past the door, a cigarette as he exhaled smoke back into the stairwell.

“Perhaps. Although one mustn’t ignore the others just because Herodotus makes a fuss about him." I replied resting mu selection of volumes on edge of the shelf closest too me. “I take it you have done some studying on this subject as well?"

The man smiled and brought the cigarette to his lips, “Oh, yes. Some study. Some study, indeed. I am Professor Dimitrie Andreesco”:

“https://thecoldfallsanction.obsidianportal.com/characters/professor-dimitrie-andreesco.”

He holds the cigarette outside the open door and reaches a hand to me.

Being very slight, with a large moustache and small wire framed glasses he looked every bit the academic.

“I teach ancient Romanian history at the University, “
Professor Andreesco continued by way of introduction.

“Ah, Doctor Andreseesco." I accepted his hand, the grip was surprisingly firm. “What a pleasure to meet you. I see you are the person to talk to about this. I had hoped on making a call on you some time soon." I smiled playfully “Is it a habit of yours to lounge about this section waiting for poor Englishmen to discuss Dacian Mythology, or is our meeting just a total coincidence?”

“Neither I am afraid. It is merely convenience you see, the University library is, I must admit, sadly insufficient when it comes to certain ancient texts. And as I am amidst some research, I find myself drawn to this dim, narrow niche.” He brought the cigarette to his lips, careful of the great moustache, “Which is in someway apropos, in that I am currently working on the recurrent theme of ‘the underground’ in religion. And you?”

“Forgive me, I am Lord Cyril of Gavilshire." I quickly introduced myself.

“Ah, Lord Cyril, a pleasure to meet you, one folklorist to another." He said, “I enjoyed your book on the folklore of the British Isles Black Dog. But I must admit I find of particular interest—“. He said eyeing the titles of the books I had selected, “Ah—Now whatever brings you to an interest in Zalmoxis? I mean, there is so little recorded evidence other than, of course, his being given mention by Herodotus in his Histories. Sadly even scholars are unsure of his name, Zalmoxis, Salmoxis, or even Gebeleizis, and even Herodotus himself stated he was unsure if he was a man or a name which the Getae gave to a god.”

“Or a sly ex-slave from Samos,” I added as the Professor dropped the remains of his cigarette upon the stairwell landing and crushed the dying embers with the toe of his shoe and closed the stairwell door. And thus I gathered up the books I had precariously been balancing on the edge of the shelve and proceeded to move back over to the table upon which I had left my coat and hat, indicating a chair for the professor who followed in my wave. “It is precisely this lack of evidence that brings me to this line of research. While searching the likes of Herodotus and Lactantius might be done for ages with no more truth gained now than later, I feel strongly that as some aspects of the ancient pagan cults of the Goths and the Celts have coloured our modern Christian faith, so to might the ancient Zalmoxis cult have coloured some of the more remote in this country as well." I placed my books down upon the table, “As for how recently, that would be hard to say. But as our world gets smaller and more youth move from the country to the cities or the oil fields as I take it, the old hidden traditions fade from memory. I feel it would be most important to note down such, if any, such syncretism before it fades altogether."

“It was Orosius who said ‘those who are today the Goths were formerly the Getae’.” The Professor added as he followed me to my table, “But, alas, Lord Cyril, as I hear, there are those who have less forgotten than have sought out these hidden traditions or beliefs, so as to once again establish some modern veneration of Zalmoxis. For they seek as it is recorded in the Charmides’ a dialogue written some years after Herodotus, wherein Socrates speaks of having meet a physician of the Thracian King Zalmoxis, who among the kings other physicians, was reputed to be able to confer immortality. Which in this modern incarnation is but a subversion of the concept of who and what Zalmoxis may have been — a forerunner in the belief of immortality and the resurrection of the soul. Which I fear this has been entangled with the more sinister and infamous Romanian myth of the Stregoi.”

“Is that so?" I said with some interest.

“The Frăția lui mortii vii. The Brotherhood of the Living Dead. A dark modern reflection of the more fearful aspects of Strigoi – the restless dead who wish to abstract the life-force of the living. This, I must say in no offense, but I think came about full circle from the English – with your author Stoker and his fanciful book. It was most popular in Hungary you know."

“Ah, that Irishman has done plenty to colour public perception in my country, I did not realise it had reached here too. I can collect tale after tale from many a Dalmatian village grandmother about any manner of corpse rising from the grave, but if it’s not Dracula, they don’t want to hear about it back in England."

The Professor removes a cigarette case, retrieves one and then remembers he is in the library and puts it back, closing the case, “Yes, the two legends have become entwined, in my opinion. I mean here in Romania, they know little of the truth of Zalmoxis. What was he truly? A man? a God? A sorcerer? A charlatan? Who knows?”

“But why Zalmoxis? Why is this forgotten deity associated with Strigoi? Does he have an association with blood? With death? Herodotus describes some kind of complex sacrifice, though my memory fades with the details. Are there truly people today that would want to replicate such a sacrifice?” I asked.

“Ah—yes. How grows the root of myth? So many tangles are buried deep into the earth?” The Professor mused as his fingers idly beginning to stroke his one of his great moustaches, “Now what do we know? Well we can speculate he knew a fuller way of life than the Thracian; for he had consorted with Greeks. A magician? A sleight-of-hand man? A mystic? So many possibilities as I said. But it seems, from what we have passed down to us, that he would gather about him his guests in his hall and he would teach to them that nether they nor any of their descendants should ever die – of this he knew a way. And all the while as he taught this doctrine, he was secretly making for himself an underground chamber. And when it was finished, he suddenly vanished from the sight of them and it was by thus who knew of the chamber he had this descended into the underground – and we know the mythology of underground descent. Thus he was gone from their sight – suspected of having gone without food or water. Nothing to sustain himself, to prove his way to the state of un-dying. And so to communicate with him, those who believed devised a method of send to their un-dead god a messenger, one choose by lot. This messenger was charged by his followers to tell Zalmoxis of all that transpired in his absence as well as of their needs; and the manner of their sending? Ahhh — three lancers were instructed to stand fast and to hold forth their lances while the appointed messenger to Zalmoxis was seized and lifted upwards by his hands and feet, and then swung and hurled aloft to land upon the spear-points of the lances. His blood allowed to run down the laces into the ground – to Zalmoxis. And so, I would take it these is the root that brings forth the branch of Zalmoxis’ underground nourishment of blood. As to why now? Why this renewal of his worship? I feel it has to do with the times. The war. The horrors that have been inflicted here in the Balkan States. For you see Zalmoxis lays claim to be immortal. And to those of his mystery religion he tells them they too shall never die.”

“But Herodotus never gives evidence of his divine nature.” I replied pointedly.

The Professor nodded, “True, very true. In fact, Herodotus, in the end of his reportage of the Getae and their god said rather pointedly — ‘I have done with him.’ He as well saw fit to point out that from what he knew, Zalmoxis was a man. A man who had once been a slave in Samos. His master supposedly Pythagoras. But, there is the man and as I said there is the myth – for supposedly he remained underground for three years.”

The Professor’s fingers once again reach for his cigarette case.

I carefully examined the spines of some of the books I had found. “And after three years?” I asked over my shoulder to Professor far too anxious for another ciargette.

“Ah, well, he re-appears.” He replied with a slight cock of his head, “It is all a bit Christ like to say the least is it not? Those of his followers believe he was descended to the underground, alone, for these three years — and quite then suddenly he appears having arisen from his underground travails — but of course, unlike the Christ there is no indication of his death.”

“I see.” I idly picks up one of the books to open it scanning its pages, “Well Herodotus also said that giant ants dug up gold dust in Persia, so I wouldn’t say it’s gospel. These are distinctions of academics, but what do these actual modern practitioners actually believe?” I turned and gave him a steady gaze. “I don’t suppose they leave about pamphlets advertising their mystery cult.” I concluded with the slightest of a chuckle.

He nodded, Oh, quite true indeed. Just what do they believe? As I say un-like the Christ there is no record he actually died and then returned from the dead. In fact, he taught that he knew of a way in which one never died – something wholly different. But who knows, Lord Cyril, what corruption of the beliefs they have made. There are so many myths and superstitions here among the peoples of the Balkans. And so — as I said, I think this resurgence of him is based more on the fact, he said he knew of a way in which one would never die . . . and death alas is all about us these days." He sighed, “Sadly, as you have so well pointed out, they do not dispense – pamphlets."

I sat down and crossed my legs to pull absently upon my whiskers for a moment in contemplation. “I must say, it is quite fortuitous to bump into you like this. I must thank you. You’ve been an immeasurable help to my latest pet project..’ I looked up at him, “You haven’t been able to meet with any of these cultists have you? Nothing written you say, but clearly you must have heard about it from someone.”

“Yes, in fact there is a small bookshop on Gral Street. The owner – well alas, he is no more — but the owner was quite known to be a part of the leadership of the Brotherhood. In fact I spoke to him once—quite an intense gentleman. Only, well, it seems that unlike Zalmoxis, he had not found the way, for he did die. In fact, someone cut off his head.”

“I think I read something about a decapitation in the morning papers actually.” I mentioned to see what reaction I may elicit.

“Oh, yes.” The Professor replied, “I think it was a priest was it not?”

“Something of the sort.” I nodded, “Not a common crime here is it? Decapitation?”

The Professor shook his head, "Quite ghastly to think of—more in line with some work of a madman. Although, it is more of a punishment in certain cultures of the Nearer East.” His fingers tapping on the cigarette case.

“Well, Professor, I must say, it is a damn shame this known cultist fellow kicked the bucket. And in such a gruesome way too. Is this Gral street shop still open, do you know? Perhaps I might send some inquires among employees and ask around the area. If I discover anything I’d be more than happy to share my research.”

“Why yes, in fact—it is under new management. I forget the name of the new owner.” The Professor said and stroked his moustache thoughtfully as he looked down at me with some renewed interest in his eye. "Now, of course, what I find of such interest in the whole of this Zalmoxis worship is the fact that unlike, as I said the myth of the dying and reviving God, Zalmoxis was a man, who it is said professed to have known of a way to never die.”

I looked at him as he longed to continue – almost as if in his lecture hall – but suddenly he turned.

“In that pronouncement, he is said to know the way to Immortality.” Said a voice that was deep, commanding – charismatic. “Which is rather something entirely different than the sure and certain resurrection to an afterlife after death. There is no description of a resurrection as a merely spiritual concept but rather a physical one – unlike that of the Christ. Zalmoxis was undeath.”

The man was tall, well dressed, a distinctively aristocratic gentleman, with greying hair and moustache, who approached from the History and Cultural Anthropology section. He must have arrived from the back stairwell.

It seemed rather odd that as the library generally echoed footsteps, the man’s arrival was not so announced.

He turned to give the Professor a rather stern look, “Come Professor.” And he gave me a glancing one in passing and for a second there seemed to be slight red glint in his eye. I looked up at the newcomer in order to study his features well. His face was a strong – a very strong – aquiline, with a high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with a lofty forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking.

The Professor nodded, “Yes, well, wonderful to speak with you. Perhaps we shall met again.”

The tall man strides forward and the Professor falls in behind to follow him. “Yes, Yes, perhaps.” He waved a dismissive hand.

I watched them depart and pushed back my forelock with the head of my cane. "I do hope so Professor. Be safe in this weather. Godspeed to you – and your companion.”

The tall man stopped and seemingly to glide as he turned on a pivot to look at me, his eyes cold and intense, "Yes – but alas, it can be dangerous in any kind of weather, here in Bucharest, Lord Cyril.”

At this, I could have little doubt as to who this man must be.

View
Our Man in Bucharest
Session Eleven - Part One

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Lord Cyril’s Journal
13 March, Athene Palace, Bucharest, 1916 – Noon — Before going down to see whether I wanted to luncheon at the hotel or step out into the foul winter wind once more for some of the local cuisine, I needed to take a moment to write a letter to Penelope. I have been terribly remiss and when I awoke this morning she was heavy upon my mind. And so, letter written, I decided as well to make a quick journal entry—but, before I had time to put pen to paper, there came a light knock upon my door. Not timid—but rather respectful. As the knock continued I sighed and put my pen down and rose to answer the door.

Whereas I expected M. Rasty, whom I had asked to procure a few maps of the city, upon opening the door to my suite I was a bit surprised to find my visitor was the Deputy Consul, Clive Ossington. Dressed in an expensive and well pressed dark blue suit, he stood with hat in hand. “Lord Cyril, terribly sorry to bother. I tried ringing you up, but there was no answer. And rather than sitting about, I thought on the off chance, since I was out I would stop by and see if you happened to be in. And as luck had it the front desk said you had only recently returned. Do hope this is not a bad imposition.” He explained his presence at the door

“No, no not at all, I have only just returned from a consultation with an old acquaintance. Is there something the matter?" I inquired as I stepped aside in order to allow Clive Ossington to enter.

The Deputy Consul entered and unobtrusively quickly took in the rooms, the standard suite, he had seen more than once. Nothing seemed to attract his eye, although there was something a bit anxious in the way he quickly removed his overcoat and gloves, which he absently pushed into a pocket of the dark wool coat.

“And how may I be if service?” I asked, as I took his coat and stepped over to the coat closet near the door.

“Well you see, Commissioner Câmpineanu stopped by this morning to inform me Nigel Montague has been discovered — minus his head.” He said, his left hand patting a pocket, which I took as a search for matches. “Beastly. Simply beastly.”

“Oh yes,” I nodded, “Most distressing news indeed." And I motioned him over to a pair of cushioned chairs by the window. “Commissioner Câmpineanu interviewed me this morning. He seems to think the attempt on Richmond last night is somehow related to Montague’s long disappearance and subsequent murder." And I eased myself into one of the chairs.

“Right," Ossington nodded as he sat comfortably in the chair opposite and removed a gold cigarette case from an inner pocket of his suit jacket, "Don’t mind do you? Filthy habit and all—I know but by Jove, I don’t think now is the time to try and give them up.” He selected one and offered the case to me, “Care for one? Egyptian you know.”

“Be my guest." I said indicating the ashtray siting on the nearby desk and refusing one for myself.

Ossington arose and strode over to the desk to retrieve the ashtray even as he put the cigarette between his lips. Upon his return to his seat, the left hand discovered the matches, which he had previously been searching for and removed the box from his trouser pocket to quickly snap one to life, lighting the cigarette. As the ceremony of the cigarette was coming to a conclusion, he whipped the flame out and dropped the spent match in the ashtray: “I must say, I feel dreadful. Simply dreadful, I mean, I accused the man of having gone and done a bunk and someone — or some ones — well jolly well cut his head off. And for all reports thus given, they say it has yet to be found. These bloody blighters have no sense of civilized decorum. Is that what you have heard as well?"

I leisurely folded my hands in my lap and crosses my legs. “Yes. It seems even with his head missing, they are fairly well convinced it is him. Terrible business. By way of perspective, there haven’t been other diplomats recently murdered that you are aware, have there? Either ours or say from some other nations missions?”

“No, not at all.” He exhaled a plume of smoke which curled in the sunlight falling through the window. “I mean, what with the beastly war, to be sure, there is ever the fair bit of espionage about. But I must say for the most part Bucharest has been oddly quite. Perhaps too quite. There is of course the usual violence among the locals, tavern and cabaret fisticuffs and an occasional knife fight over some bit of fluff. There were a couple of young tarts fished up out of the river a while back. Throat’s cut. But, among the diplomatic missions, there’s only been the occasional choice word or so at some function or other, but nothing at all like this ghastly carnival show.”

“From what I gather Montague and Richmond fairly well ran their own, shall we say trade missions?”

“Quite right,” Ossington nodded, holding the cigarette between his fingers as if uncertain whether he wanted to bring it to his lips, “Although housed within the consulate, they work for an outfit known as Universal Imports and Exports.” He leaned forward, “A bit of British Intelligence – I have always suspected. The chaps, Montague and Richmond — in and out. No regular hours. Always slipping something into the diplomatic pouch for Athens. Oh, I say, Richmond was shot only last night." he suddenly looked up, "Do you think it at all related. The two incidents I mean.”

I was contemplating the thought myself as I stroked my beard, “I don’t rightly know. It is entirely possible — but there is quite the difference between shooting at someone through a window in plain view of a room full of people, and capturing someone, cutting their head off, and disposing of their body along some darken quayside. One of which quite definitely sends more of a message than the other.”

“A message to whom?” He asked forthrightly sitting forward to lean on the arm of his chair, “The consulate or to our friend back in London? As I said, I am more than certain there is very little trade involved with in anything Montague and Richmond do and what they do I suspect is far more in the line of clandestine services. But by Jove that is the difficulty you see. Your —er—colleague’s in London, all their need of secrecy only leaves us in the diplomatic services in a bit if a lurch when confronted with circumstances such as these. When a bloody agent of theirs gets his head removed, well, the locals look to us for answers and, well, in most cases we have precious few. Thus the reason for my call this morning.”

I looked at him a bit perplexed, “Oh?”

“Right, beheaded trade representatives found along the quayside is not, to say the least, our usual cup of tea,” The Deputy Consul said softly, “And as such, I am not at all sure there is anyone on staff qualified to, shall we say, communicate properly with the local constabulary, or, to if necessary to make any discreet enquiries into, well perhaps any sordid circumstances that may arise. And so,” He took a long drag from his cigarette before continuing, “Owing to the fact our friend in London asked you to make some discreet enquires in regards to this Montague matter to begin with, what I would like to ask of you is if you would be ever so good as to take this on — being, as it were, our man at Bucharest Station. I do think I have the terminology correctly.”

I looked at him in silence —

“I mean this Commissioner Câmpineanu is a wonderful chap and all, and no doubt good at his job, but somehow I feel there may be—well shall we say, certain aspects of this affair which we may quite possibly need someone to look out for our interests, as it were . . . if you know what I mean.”

Had Hall suspected any of this when he had requested my assistance? I gathered from his communication he was concerned owing to a lack of information – or what he had received from Montague. From what little I already knew it was all quite tantalizing. And if Ossington was really in the dark as he maintained, from what I knew there were no doubt several significant aspects of whatever Montague may have happened to stumbled upon, which would need further enquiry. But was I that enquiry agent?

As I sat at the window of the small sitting room of the hotel suite, looking out over the snow covered Calea Victoriei below, I watched as sudden gusts of wind whipped up hoary swirls to dance along the avenue. I am not certain if I frowned – as my thoughts when to Miss Elias. “I do gather your meaning and I am quite willing to lend assistance . . . as much as I can, but, to be sure Mr Ossington, I am no detective. And not being one, I certainly don’t want to get underfoot of the local police in their own enquires. So, what would you have me do precisely?"

“Right, right," Ossington replied and sat pondering his cigarette, "Nor am I asking you to run about in a deerstalker cap and a pipe and all that—but, what I do need is to have someone act as say a liaison with the Commissioner investigating Montague’s murder. Someone who is rather knowledgeable so as to have some understanding as to where precisely certain enquires may eventually lead, in order to give us some perspective in regards to say where there may possibly be things . . . which may have to be, shall we say, tidied up, so to speak, before the Commissioner by chance stumbles into any sensitive areas.” He rather casually tapped Egyptian ashes into the ashtray, “You see the devil of it is, I haven’t a clue as to what those chaps were really up to. Montague, you see, was the senior man. Richmond was his second. Oh, he’s a right good chap and all, plays a damn good hand of Bridge, but, I just don’t think young Richmond has what I would call the scope of vision to understand where we may not want prying eyes to pry.” He then watched the swirl of smoke arise from the end of his cigarette, as if it were more a prop than anything else. “What I would like — is to set things up with the Commissioner so that you would act as liaison for the Consulate. Have him give you his reports — that kind of thing.” He cut his eyes from the red embers if his cigarette to look at me.

“I see.” I replied rather circumspectly as I took a moment to consider the request, “Well it can’t hurt to be more informed, and if the commissioner should discover something — I think we would all be rather curious to know.”

Even with the intrigue of what Ossington may or may not know, I admit I could not help my idle observation through the window of those strolling along the Calea Victoriei. I was still looking for any sign of the return of Miss Elias. “Though, I would like to continue my conversation with Mr Richmond first. He seems to be quite the plucky young man. Not a whole day goes by after getting shot and he’s already gallivanting off."

“Splendid fellow. Richmond.“ He nodded, “You see what I had in mind was to have young Richmond work as your leg man, so to speak. As I said, he is a rather bright chap and will do us all proud. But he may need a bit of direction, you see. Now of course, I have to send a flash message off to London and all – but seeing as how our friend Hall —oh blast— I mean Hawkins — wanted you to have a look into this damnable disappearance of our rather rash Montague — not to speak Ill of the departed, poor fellow — but I am more than certain the reply shall be in the affirmative.”

He paused once again to inspect the embers of his cigarette, "Also, I do think someone needs to look into this young woman of Montague’s. This, what is her name—Tânase. Yes, Ioana Tânase.” He looked from the embers to me, “Now, as I understand it, Montague was to have put her in a safe house but apparently she must have gotten a lark and up and decided to pull a disappearance as well. Can’t say I wouldn’t have suspected something of the sort seeing as how she’s a freelance prostitute.” He tapped ashes into the ashtray with a bit of irritation, “A bit of a bloody nuisance, what? This Tânase — leading us all in a bit of a misdirection slipping off like that into the night. Dash well creating all manner of compilations and speculations, don’t you know — giving it all the appearance as if they had gone and taken a bunk. These chaps in the clandestine services, they think it is just hush-hush over drinks and a lot of womanizing, don’t you know.”

To all of this I must admit I was I was still more than preoccupied with the hoary Calea Victoriei below—for not only was I well aware that Miss Elias had sent a message earlier to Richmond, but, it was extremely likely she was out investigating on her own. And I was more than curious as to what she may have found. And more especially, why had she reached out to young Richmond. I was more than culpable if she had stumbled upon something untoward for I had been the one to give her the name of the bookshop proprietor, the one who had been beheaded, knowing full well she would take up the clue. And so, I found myself having to force myself to pay attention to Ossington. “Yes. Yes. Certainly we should ascertain just how the girl is involved in all this. What’s her play?”

“Just as I suspected, we two think very much alike.” Ossington said as he brought his cigarette back to his lips, “My question is just where the deuces is she? Quite the wily little devil. Richmond has been seeking high and low, and in her line of profession, that is no small undertaking. But to no avail, which is why we thought she was with Montague. Do hope she doesn’t end up quayside as well.” He sighed, “Wonder just what does she know? I mean, just where does she fit into all this — this is certainly not up to our usual standards. A member of the litigation publicly involved with a known prostitute.” He tapped ashes into the heavy ashtray before they could tumble upon his suit, “I am quite certain London will have questions. London always has questions and I for one do not have a lot of answers. Which brings me around this morning, Lord Cyril. Sorry, not quite the Romanian holiday you may have expected — but whatever oversight on this beastly Montague business you can provide would be ever so helpful.”

Well," I said, looking back to the beleaguered bureaucrat. “I have been known to track down obscure bits of folklore and arcane esoterica in my day. But as I said, I am no Sherlock Holmes. I can’t promise anything other than I’ll try.

I gathered that for the most part Ossington had initially considered the whole of the Monatague matter no more than some personnel problem — a young man gone off on a lark, having done a bunk with some of Bucharest’s local talent. But now, with the discovery of his body at quayside, not only were the circumstances of his death, but the events in his life, which may or may not have have been precursor to his violent demise, would certainly take on new significance—and I was more than certain for Ossington the worry was the very real prospect of there being an accusation of negligence on someone’s part. And for that reason Ossington wanted to make certain that any old rivalries or unresolved animosities did not creep into the report to London. For him—I was a clean broom.

“Splendid,” he said well satisfied he had successfully handed over the entirety of whatever this Montague muck may well come to. “I do so regret the imposition but at present I fear, as I said, I just don’t have anyone in staff whom I believe to have the wisdom and foresight to handle the matter with judicious discretion. We jolly well don’t need anything flaring up into some kind of a ridiculous bonfire of a scandal.”

And should it do . . . so he did not want to be shingled, it was all rather obvious. I rose from my chair. “Yes, Yes, discretion in all things. And a necessity for The War. Now, do you think I could bother you for something?"

“I would think it no bother at all, Lord Cyril." He said warily as he stubbed out his cigarette.

I picked up the letter to Penelope I had just completed moments before his arrival. “I must admit I have been a bit of a negligent father, and owing to that same necessity for discretion, I have been regretfully out of touch with my own kin. Do you think you could get this letter to my daughter safely? I’m sure she’s making a good face of it, but Penelope can worry so. I just want her to know I am still alive and well." I explained as I returned from the desk carrying the sealed letter, which I held out to Ossington.

“Certainly, certainly, I shall place it in the Diplomatic Attaché to Athens myself." Ossington said and took the letter, "Quite understand. I have a son. Somewhere in France. Of course, it takes far too long to get anything to or from him—know the anxiety of being so far distant. Of course for him there is ever the worry of The War.”

I gave him a sympathetic look having my own concerns should Robert be called up and put my hands into the pockets of my smoking jacket. “So, is there anything else I can be of service Mr Ossington?”

“Well – I was just wondering.” Ossignton having obtained the primary objective of his visit appeared to have yet another.

I stood looking down quizzically at the Deputy Consul, “Wondering?”

He thoughtfully removed yet another cigarette from his case and lit it, “As I am sure you are quite aware of our efforts in trying to encourage the Romanian’s to enter The War on the side of the Entente.” The smoke of his cigarette escaping his lips as he closed his cigarette case. “On several fronts actually — including Queen Maria. A cousin to his majesty and all. But, owing to damned Romanian fractional politics and all, it’s been a devil of a sell, when it should be ever so straightforward. I mean, there is no secret that Romania still harbours quite a bit of animosity towards Austria-Hungary over their support of Bulgaria in the Balkan Wars. I say, it is all so internecine and entangled with bloody Balkan politics and old animosities. Although, Colonel Thompson and Sir Samuel Hoare, feel the time is close to hand. The point of fact is we need Romania to declare . . . in short order, particularly with the current situation in Verdun. But, the deuce of it all is that the key to that decision lies enmeshed in Romanian aspersions for Transylvania and Bukovina.”

I stepped back to my writing desk and picked up my pipe and tobacco pouch and began to slowly fill it. “I am not sure I follow.”

Ossington tapped ashes in the ashtray thoughtfully, “When Commissioner Câmpineanu came around to give official notice regarding the grim discovery of Montague this morning, he asked several rather bothersome questions. It would appear Montague may have been putting himself off as some Monsignor Jon Manoilescu. A Vatican representative to Romania and Hungary. Seems young Montague was using this identity to cross borders, and for some reason it seems he may have recently travelled to Transylvania.”

I stuck a match and began attempting to lit my pipe, “Transylvania?” I lifted an brow, “I see. Well — I’m . . . well, truthfully I am not sure in that regard. At least as far as his most recent adventures. It does seem he has on occasion slipped behind enemy lines. He’s gone as far as Vienna, where he sought the help of Professor Vordenburg before he made good his escape, but as regards this trip to Transylvania?” I finally got my pipe going. I puffed a few times to allow the conversation to come to a natural pause — I felt at the moment rather circumspect as to my earlier conversation with Professor Vordenburg. I was not sure of how much I should divulge to Ossington as I had yet to fully analyse all that the Professor had related to me.

“Precisely. As you see, I am not at all sure what he was up to. Which, if you could find out from Commissioner Câmpineanu would be just smashing – as I said, all this entanglement with Transylvania. Whatever he was jolly well up to, it best not muck up our discussions on joining the alliance.” Ossington said and pull forth a packet watch which he checked, “Dash, I say, I am terribly sorry, but I have a meeting with the Ambassador — had intended to invite you out to luncheon.” He stood up stubbing most of his cigarette into the ashtray, “Next time, Lord Cyril? I promise I shall take you to a great little restaurant — excellent local cuisine. And a great wine cellar.”

I stepped over and retrieved his hat and coat. His mentioning of lunch revived my earlier intention to check the hotel restaurant — as well as with M Rasty regarding the maps he was to have procured for me.

“I must say, I do feel a bit relieved to have a man of your experience here Lord Cyril, at this trying time.” Ossington said as he was stepping out of the door into the hotel corridor.

I nodded: “Let Sir George know he can be rest assured we will get to the bottom of this Montague affair. He must have enough on his agenda. We don’t need him worrying about this as well." I informed him as I removed the stem of my pipe from my lips.

The last he said as he moved along from the door before I closed it was a sobering warning: “Do take care, Lord Cyril. Although they call it Little Pairs, it is still Bucharest. Someone murdered poor Montague. So, please, do keep your head."

View
Unannounced and Uninvited
Session Ten - Part Three

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Zo Renfield’s Journal -, 13 March 1916 — I looked back as if expecting to see the madness of my grandfather slowly catching up. Only the Madness is far to clever to allow me to see it, distinctly. No, it reveals itself to me by the momentarily look in Lady Penelope’s eyes as she stands there in her neat and polished vestibule all too suddenly aware that there are forty-eight boxes of two dozen roses. Six times eight, six times two, two plus six. Long stemmed for an abundance of thorns. It was of considerable expense—the man at the hothouse uncertain if he had enough at this time of the year until there were more pound notes and he said ah. I felt bad. It was really odd for the delivery man to have stomped into the main house from the servants entrance. Or was he? The delivery man? Had he been waylaid and replaced by the Rose Men. The roses were in a box and so he did not have to touch. No—that way Madness lies. His teeth were bad but not sharpened to bite.

Kiss’ dress is bothersome. It is lovely and would look so on her, but the buttons are all wrong. Thirteen not twelve. Six Times Two. The high crochet lace about the neck I wonder if it is too revealing. I don’t have to ask Mr Mellilow for although he is silent his eyes do happen to wander there – and for his wandering eyes I am still grateful to have him at my side. His bright light blue eyes. When not wandering they idly look out the window. For Rose Men? Flies?

He reached over and grasped my hand – startling me. Then I took note I had been rising and lowering the window. Six times. He released my hand and I smiled at him and his wandering eyes. Around a corner and the apprehension grew as I knew we where drawing neared to the office building wherein my office was possibly filled with the dead and dying. Torn throats and sputtering blood. Everywhere. Or not. “Mr Mellilow?”

I looked at him and he turned from the window.

“Miss?” He replied.

“You will watch out for flies—please.”

He did not smile. He nodded knowingly. Does he understand?

Happy shining Tom Murray steps up as the cab pulls to a halt. Club foot saved him from the war. He opens the door. “Miss Renfield. How are you this morning?”

“I am not at all sure, Tom. How are you?” I told him as I slowly got out of the cab taking his out held hand.

“Having a great day, Miss Renfield.” Happy shining – though he slightly frowns as Mr Mellilow exits and walks around the cab to the footway.

“Do you know this gentleman, Miss Renfield?” Tom Murray asks.

“Oh, yes Tom. He is my Mr Mellilow.” I said as I searched in my purse to pay the driver.

Happy shining. I turn to look to the building and then up to my window. “Everything as usual for Monday, Tom?”

“Oh, yes ma’am." And he leads me to the revolving door where I enter with my Mr Mellilow following in my wake.

The lobby was its usual Monday morning. It always looks all so much like a puzzle: the exposed flights of stairs, the balconies, the wooden columns. The was lobby full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the glass ceiling, the point of which was a hundred feet above The walls were frescoed and terra cotta in mellow tints, to soften without absorbing the light that flooded the interior. Several ladies were crossing from the right connecting corridor. They smile and nod. “Did you see that dress?” “Oh—yes—that crochet lace?” “High neck collar look through of course.” “Whore.” They said to one another. Mr Mortimer, at the front desk, was reading the Times. France’s wounded soldiers need your generous help. Verdun. Tapping my middle finger to my thumb – one, two, three, four, five, six, I crossed the way. There were no flies. Nor a Rose Man with his sharp teeth clinging to the open age of the lift.

“Well, shall we go up.” I said to Mr Mellilow.

The lift operator Mrs Fitzgerald opened the metal gate with a click of metallic gears. They did not echo as they had done the day of our mad dash, then it was Saturday and the lobby echoed more so than it did today. Mrs Fitzgerald ask me if I was having a good day. As I had told Tom, I was not certain. She smiled knowingly.

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What did she know?

With a lurch the lift engaged and began the ascent. I clenched my fist to keep from tapping fingers in anticipation of the sudden crash of one of the sharp toothed lawyers against the rising cage of the lift, fingers clamped to the grating lips pulled back snarling. Gnashing of teeth. But ride is uneventful. Hydraulics whining to a halt, metal clanking once again as the gate opens. I stepped out and walked down the narrow corridor. My footsteps echoing, loudly. Mr Mellilow followed discreetly. Was he watching for flies?

Yes, Renfield International Investments, LD the gold lettering upon the opaque glass still intact. I sighed as I wanted to turn the knob six times before opening, but I forced myself to only turn it once. I expected blood and destruction. Mrs Ormond sitting at her chair, head hanging backwards grotesquely as her throat had been savagely ripped open. The dead eyes of Robert accusing me from the floor where he lay in a pool of blood. Flies buzzing everywhere.

I entered.

The office was busy. As usual.

All my clerks at work.

The ever efficient Mrs Ormond immediately arose from her desk with a bewildered expression, “Miss Renfield, I thought you were unwell today. I had received a call you would not be in the office."

Kiss. I had forgotten. The hothouse man in his serge coat without a collar, scruffy hands dirty, his nails even dirtier wanting to know whose funeral it was to which I was sending all these roses – every bloody rose in London as like. I had been so distracted and then the delivery man at Lady Penelope’s, lacking every bit of decorum, and Robert on his way to my office – not knowing what to expect. I had forgotten.

I smiled. Was I smiling took much? Why was I smiling? Is smiling some involuntarily reflex – reaction. Does one do it in order to relieve someone from thinking they are unhappy, when they are not? Well, I was not happy. I had not slept in my own bed in days. I had sharp toothed lawyers clinging to lifts, gnashing their teeth. I had seem an evil man shot in the head and he did not die. I had the Rose Men’s busy buzzing flies following me, watching, listening. I had Box Brother ruffians interrupting tea. I was in a dress with thirteen buttons. Mrs Ormond smiled back.

Does everyone smile?

Well not Mr Mellilow.

I waved a slightly dismissive hand. "Oh, I am much much better now, much better.” I looked about the office, everyone had stopped to look at me, and when I looked at them, they returned to their work. “Has anyone arrived?” I asked Mrs Ormond?

“I am sorry – you had to appointments, but I cancelled them,” Mrs Ormond replied. “Owing to telegram I had received from a . . . Miss Carstairs?”

“Oh, yes, Kiss.” I nodded, and sighed, “But so, no one has been looking for me – this morning?”

Mrs Ormond cocks her head to one side examining the rough looking Mr Mellilow. “Looking for you?”

“Not this morning – I have been handing all the calls, for you. But nothing unusual.” She informed me, “Is there something the matter Zo?”

I shook my head, “Oh, no, no, no” And as I removed my coat, Mr Mellilow stepped over to take it from me, as well as my hat, which he hung neatly on the coat tree near at hand. “Nothing at all – really, Mrs Ormond?” I said reassuringly. “Was there anything from Geneva in the Post?”

I had expected further information regarding Count de Ville from my source in Prague through his intermediary in Geneva. I had already told Kiss about it.

Mrs Ormond shakes her head, “Not in this morning’s post. Perhaps in the evening delivery?”

’Right." I said as I began removing my gloves.

“Is this a new investor?” Mrs Ormond asks looking at Mr Mellilow with some interest.

I turned suddenly and then saw she was regarding Mr Mellilow, "Oh – no, this is Mr Mellilow. He is—assisting me on – some matters.”

“I see,” Mrs Ormond says, not seeing at all.

Mrs Ormond stepped back around her desk and handed me today’s correspondence she received in the morning post, having opened the letters and attached the envelopes to the documents as she is ever so thought knowing how I like to review the envelopes as well as their contents. “Although there is nothing from Geneva, here is your morning post."

“Oh yes, thank you.” I replied still rather furtively checking for blood on the floor or walls.

There is a light knock at the door, I turned, even as Mr Mellilow seemed posed to move towards me. As the door opened, Mrs Ormond turned to the visitor and began to address him, but I suddenly moved forward: “Robert – so good to see you!” Apparently he had not arrived early but late even as I arrived.

I smiled – again, and again and again. This smiling must have everyone wondering what ever is the matter with me . . . have I always smiled this much? But I was concerned not about Miss Carstairs, but Robert. I had forgotten to check when I had arrived owing to happy shiny Tom stepping up the motor cab and opening the door and taking my hand, distracting me. Was he too in league with them? If so for how long. Watching me arrive everyday. Thank god Mrs Ormond was hired by my father. And so, I was not at all sure if they were watching? If so, then they would have certainly seen Robert’s taxicab pulling up to the kerb before the office building.
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“Who is that?” “Looks like a lawyer.” The second one would have said to the first one as they watched Robert as he no doubt checked his pocket watch upon exiting the motor car after paying the driver. To which the red-nosed cabby would have undoubtedly mumbled something like, “Cheers guv’nor.” Then they would have watched as the motor cab drove off. Whereas happy shiny Tom with his big grin and a tip of the cap and a “Right nice morning, isn’t it Sir?“, would have directed him toward the entrance. Where Robert would have approached the revolving door, even as the first one looking at the second one there would have held out his hand and released a fly. While Robert, adjusting the grip on his briefcase and removing his hat as he entered into the revolving door, would have unaware of the buzz in the revolving compartment behind him. What would he have done upon entering into the muted light of the lobby, aided as it was by what sunlight fell not only through the intermittent clouds obscuring the sky but though the high glass ceiling? Would he have known where my office was? No. I do not recall his ever having visited. So to the directory? Not Robert, Robert is too personable, so he would have most certainly approached Mr Mortimer, who looking up from his Times, to adjust his glasses, would have said the same as he ever does, “May I be of service.” And Robert being Robert, ever being the gentleman and all business, would have most certainly announced himself formally as: “I’m Robert Wise, Solicitor with Russell-Cooke. I’d like to make an appointment to meet with Miss Renfield if she is in.” And he would have handed over his card. “Ah, yes.” The Mr Mortimer would have replied adjusting his glasses, “Miss Renfield. To be sure. Yes. She arrived just a few moments ago. If you would take the lift to the third floor, and take then, a left, it is the third door on the right, sir. Renfield International Investments. Mrs Ormond, the office manager, will see to setting you up with an appointment. Miss Renfield, is very particular sir. Very particular. She only allows appointments through Mrs Ormond." And Robert would have smiled— as everyone was smiling today. Would either of them have noticed a buzz or the fly? There would have been the usual protocol of Mrs Fitzgearld’s at the lift. “Floor Sir?" “Third please." “Yes, Sir. Watch you hands please." Clank of the metallic accordion grate. Robert adjusted his grip on the handle of his briefcase as he feels the jerk of the hydraulics and watches the lobby receded. A whine and then another jerk to a halt, the grate noisily opening, “Third floor, Sir.” And Robert would have stepped out. Would he have noticed Mrs Fitzgerald swat at the fly? Or did she? His footsteps echoing as he casually observed each door in passing, 301, the offices along the corridor, 302, till his purposeful stride brought him to the frosted glass and the golden lettering: Renfield International Investments, LD. 303. Whereupon he would have lightly rapped upon the door before turning the knob but once and entering.

Robert stood looking at Mrs Ormond, Mr Mellilow, and myself a bit taken aback. “Ah, Miss Renfield. I was given to understand I needed to make an appointment with Mrs Ormond.”

“Not for you Robert.” I did my very best to maintain my most amiable composure as I turned to smile once again as I enquired of Mrs Ormond, if I had any appointments for the morning.

To which she shook her head. “As I said, I had cancelled them all as I had been informed you would not be in today, as I said. Miss Carstairs.” I could tell from the sound of her voice when she said Miss Carstairs there was some concern—. Was it in regard as to was Miss Carstairs? Or that had she might have told me this already? Which as quite possible – but with my anxiety regarding the prospect of finding the office a dripping bloodbath I may have forgotten at the moment – which I now realize I had.

’Yes, yes, certainly. Kiss.” I turned back to Robert and smiled again – just how many was that? I should be keeping a count. “Well, you see Robert, I am free this morning, and so, please, please, would you join me in my office."

“Ah, yes, certainly.” Robert gives Mrs Ormond a confused and apologetic look, as if to say he is just as confused.

As we began to move toward my office door I am almost certain I heard Mrs Ormond say to herself, in a quite voice, of course: “Kiss?” Even as she put some of the correspondence I had handed back to her back into a folder. She looked somewhat perplexed.

I stepped into my office and placed the morning mail I had kept and hesitated in placing down the correspondence, owing to the disarray of my desk. Even Robert, behind me, noticed various things upon my desk seem to have been pushed about, knocked over – disturbing the entire symmetry of their placement. There was of course the shattered vase upon the floor lying there before the small side table which was situated behind my desk. The chair across from desk was still lying on it’s back, where the sharp toothed lawyer with the gold handled cane had knocked it over in his frenzied leap across the desk. Though Robert had never been in my office there was certainly a look of concern that this was not its usual state of appearance. The look of concern became one of alarm as he took noticed of the bullet hole in my window.

“Is that a bullet hole?" he asked set his coat and briefcase on a chair and walked over to the window.

“Please, I am sorry, if you would, perhaps arrange the chair." I ran my fingers across my forehead uncertain what to reply. What I could say? What I should say? I knew I should tell him the truth as I had no doubt I had put him in their line of sight. The Rose Men with their flies. The Rose Men with their too sharp teeth. But, no, he already thinks me mad. Perhaps I am overly analysing the situation.

“Bullet hole?" I repeated looking over at the window, "Oh my — "

But before I had to explain its presence there was suddenly a loud clap and Mr Mellilow at near the door had clapped his hands.

I jumped as it fairly gave me a start, thinking it a shot from the other side of the window what with us in the midst of discussing bullet holes. I turned to Mr Mellilow who stepped over and disposed of the fly in the waste basket near my desk. The filthy creatures with their little legs rubbing and rubbing together like a pair of hands rubbing together, sinister and villainous hands theatrically rubbing together, plotting, conspiring, watching, waiting. Spies upon the wall. To be a fly upon the wall—living in their blue bottles. The blue-bottle flies. Their nasty messengers flitting black to file their reports.

Robert startled as well all but half jumped as he turned to look now almost as if noticing Mr Mellilow for the first time.

“Mr Mellilow, thank you.” I said to him, “Now we are alone.”

Robert with his briefcase, looked uncertain whether, or where, to put it down. Looking first to me and then to Mr Mellilow, who staked over toward the window. The window with the bullet hole. But at least the room was not dripping with blood. It had not been turned into a Red Room.

“Please have a seat Robert.” I can tell he is wary and has every right to be – being as he is in an office, the door closed, with a mad woman, a certain criminal, and one dead fly. He seems at first rather jumpy, but, bravely he shakes it off and rights the second guest chair, into which he then sits and picks up his briefcase from the first chair beside him.

“I am remiss. This is Mr Mellilow.” I introduced my silent Mr Mellilow, “He is an associate of a private inquiry agent I have on retainer from Hudson & Brand.”

“A—ah—pleasure Mr Mellilow." Ever the gentleman Robert stands again to offer a hand but upon remembrance of it possibly retaining the ooze of what was once a spy—a fly — he thinks the better of it.

Mr Mellilow wipes his hand with an rather dirty handkerchief and then offers it again to which Robert took and shook hesitantly.

“He doesn’t say much.” I explained, feeling the need for some explanation. “But I do feel evermore safer having him about.” And I found myself beginning to align the objects on my desk – some having to be moved more than once, or twice, or thrice to find themselves back to their properly assigned place.

Robert sits back down and opens his briefcase. “If those Box Brothers have done this to your office, I can see why.”

For an moment I pause in the rearrangement – no – not a rearrangement but a proper arrangement back into order from their chaos, “Yes—well, to say the least things have been rather troublesome the last few days. Which is why I have Mr Mellilow.” Who nods and returns to look out the window – to see the first one speaking to the second one – wondering about their fly? Was it on the wall?

“It’s all about those documents Robert." I told him.

“Yes—the documents.” Robert pulls out the aforementioned documents and sitting on the edge of the chair, leaning forward to lay them out upon the desk—almost like laying out the Tarot . . . I once had that done but the woman with too much rouge looked up from the cards and handed me back my money. She refused to tell me what she saw. “They really are rather damning in a way" He told me. I looked at them presented: Justice, Judgement, The Tower? They seemed to have been re-ordered with several more documents added, each marked with his commentary in red ink.

Dipped in blood?

The Wheel of Fortune?

I watched as Robert adjusted his glasses in his solicitor’s anticipation of rendering the legal interpretation of the documents dark portent.

“Then I am correct – Coldfall House Charitable Trust is a fraudulent front for various nefarious businessmen?”

“The evidence collected here would certainly seem to indicate such." Robert replied as his litigious index finger tapped the papers with emphasis.

While I restrained myself from the urge to reach out to straighten the documents, I sat down behind my desk. Odd my ledger within which I had been working , when the man with top hat and gold handled cane leapt over the desk and grasp Kiss, for a kiss with his sharpen fangs, was not on my desk. “I suspected as much, but was not quite sure, what with one thing seeming to lead to another and then yet another tangled thread leading to yet another, lost in a labyrinth of documents and deception. But—they do show Coldfall has in fact been funnelling funds through various amalgamations into the shadowy enterprises of this Count De Ville?”

Robert nodded, but then he raised a finger as if to censor the excitement of my vindication — of what some might have considered an obsession or mad mania, “However."

I did not like the sound of however.

Nor perhaps did Mr Mellilow as he turned upon the word and slowly walked over to the window, where, stern and stoically, he stood to watch the street below.

“However,” I repeated.

Robert took from his briefcase a bound booklet labelled “Larceny Act, 1861” and placed it on the table. He opened it to a section which he had marked with a book mark.

The booklet looked far too ominous.

As if preparing to read a passage before settling into his sermon, he began: “Section 80 of the Larceny act, the section dealing with fraudulently disposing of property by a trustee of a charitable trust, details that:” And cleared his throat and continued to intone, without use of a judicial wig." Whosoever, being a trustee of any property for the use or benefit, either wholly or partially, of some other person, or for any public or charitable purpose, shall, with intent to defraud, convert or appropriate the same or any part thereof to or for his own use or benefit, or the use or benefit of any person other than such person as aforesaid, or for any purpose other than such public or charitable purpose as aforesaid, or otherwise dispose of or destroy such property or any part thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to any of the punishments which the court may award as herein-before last mentioned."

Robert suddenly looked up from the book and across the desk to me, “The snag you see is,” and he began to read again, “Provided that no proceeding or prosecution for any offence included in this section shall be commenced without the sanction of Her Majesty’s Attorney General, or, in case that office be vacant, of Her Majesty’s Solicitor General: etc. etc…"

I looked up from the nasty sounding book and stared at him.

“The problem is twofold." He pauses for a moment. “Well—threefold really”

“You mean to say—“. I suddenly asked, “They can steal the money away, which should properly be going to children, orphans and widows, to the impoverished, the least of these, and in that book it is nothing more than a —a misdemeanour?" My voice rising in vexation.

He nodded, “That is the first problem. And assuming this Count de Ville is as well connected as this evidence suggests,” his hands touching the documents laid out before him, “Even if the crown wins the case, the punishment might not be suitable to the seeming severity of the crime. We would have to build a vast case against him—but, it could be won—and, of course, there is the possibility the scandal of even being brought to court might be enough for the board of trustees to renounce him."

“But Robert—“ I could not fathom the ridiculousness of this book.

Not yet finished with his summation he continued, “The second problem is that we would not only have to convince the court of the merit of our investigation, but also the Attorney General, Sir F. E. Smith."

“This is abhorrent Robert, simply abhorrent. They have taken my grandfather’s money and built this prestigious foundation, which is supposed to be a grand and glorious philanthropic charity, while in fact they are secretly financing the actions of a man with malevolent motivations, who funds anarchists and internationalists, who invests in shipping, in petrol, in chemicals, pharmaceuticals, heavy industrial equipment and even more importantly munitions — a man who is not even British!"

“And by use of a charitable trust he has most advantageously made use of the law.” Robert nodded with some dismay.

I pointed to the documents on my desk, “But once they see where the money is going, how it is being invested, embezzled, stolen!”

He held up a hand as if to calm me, “Sir Fredrick is a reasonable man, but there is a lot on his plate, what with war and all. He may be persuaded to a hearing only after the war owing to our third problem."

And he pulled out a sheet from beneath a few pages from one of the documents lying upon the desk, which appeared to be a list of some of to the industries being invested in. I felt my left hand tensing into a fist as I sighed heavily for already the first two problems seem insurmountable. And he was bringing forth a third?

“Our third problem.” he handed over the page to let me look, “Is that some of the industries being invested in happen to be on our side. As you can see many of them are foreign and yes, some enemy industries, but this French chemical interest, you see there, yes, there, it produces phosgene gas for the French Army." He turned the document for me to see.

“A War profiteer! Robert this is insidious. How is it that they can use this charity with impunity . . . so as to invest in both sides of this horrid killing machine of a war. Robert—this . . . this is evil."

“It is. It is an abomination of justice that must be righted." And now I saw Robert momentarily stir with a righteous fury, only to watch him slowly slump back into his chair. “I have done a bit more digging of my own. And I suspect, but cannot prove — well at this time — that the Denham group may be channelling some of its funds to British government interests as well. More investigation is needed of course before I can get anything as concrete as what you have already brought before me but . . . “ He paused for a moment, and mumbled what I thought was, “. . . two conspiracies in as many days…” before he looked up, “I would have to build one hell of a case — pardon the language —to take down Count de Ville. Assuming he could even be brought to trial.”

“As well as the fact there are even more bizarre oddities to this labyrinth of lies,” I said as I reached over and began to sort through the documents frowning, as my small ledger was not there among them, “Did you bring the ledger as well?"

He looked slightly perplexed, “I brought everything Penelope gave me. Is something missing?"

He reopened his briefcase again in order to check.

“There was a small ledger in the large envelope as well, is it not there?" My fist tighten to grasp my pencil I so badly needed to tap. Had they gotten to his papers? The ledger? Their spies were everywhere! Oh yes. I now strongly suspected a spy in his house. The maid! What was her name? I must remember it. Amelia, yes. I knew from the look of her — those too innocent eyes. No one looked that innocent unless it was a contrivance. I knew she was not to be trusted. And that butler. Where they not together working for Coldfall?

Had not Coldfall provided assistance to those who in service had been displaced by the war and its economic circumstance.

Robert was emptying the other, unrelated papers from his briefcase and had started sifting through them as well. “As a matter of fact I do recall reading it last night. It was rather incriminating. Listing of various outliers. Investments in rather odd enterprises. Gadzooks, if that clerk misplaced it I swear…”

Robert began hurriedly shuffling through the other papers in his briefcase.

“Yes. A list of unusual financial transactions. Oddities. You see I have a contact in Prague.” I told him as I allowed myself to begin to tap my pencil upon the desk, four times, which I hoped appeared as nothing more than a momentary anxiety, even as I caught sight of Mr Mellilow giving me a look as if to discourage the tapping, which I knew I should stop but I had yet to reach six. “Who communicates with me through Geneva. It seems all rather Byzantine to say the least — but, there happens to be a Amsterdam Diamond House which receives monies from an Transvaal Mineral Investment group, which are then re-directed further to London in order to finically off set loses by Ashcroft & Sons Publishing. Ashcroft & Sons, which is a part of old Sir George Ashcroft’s estate, prints among other things the British illustrated monthly magazine The Journal of the Occult, which is a publication authored by an esoteric group known as The Pimander Club.” Robert looked at me with some perplexity as I continued, “Of course this was all just some odd bits of information via a contact my father had in Prague, which I didn’t think all that much about, until I chanced upon an old friend at tea at this very nice tea stop, which has these most marvellous tea cakes, and during the course of my conversation with Florence, Millicent who was there taking tea with Florence, she’s a freelance typist — Millicent not Florence — said what an odd happenstance it was when I mentioned the Journal of the Occult. For it seemed the Reverend Marley with whom she was currently employed, doing typing and filing and research, and all, had written a rather scathing pamphlet concerning not only Coldfall but their secret connections to The Journal of the Occult and The Pimander Club."

Robert only seemed to be half listening to what I was saying as he was preoccupied with searching for the missing ledger. “Pimander club, mhm yes.” He muttered; and then half under his breath, to himself, “. . . did I leave it at my desk…?”

“Now it would seem that this club —according to Millicent, who was privy to all of Reverend Marley’s research — has an very exclusive membership that includes members of the aristocracy, of parliament, of the clergy, as well as high ranking military men, and some ranking officers of Scotland Yard, and the City Police. Plus, members of the Law Society — “ I frowned as he was searching and not at all listening, “Did this clerk you mentioned . . . does he by chance happen do work of them as well?"

I looked over to Mr Mellilow, who stood looking at the perplexed Robert Wise.

“Work for them?” He asked vaguely.

“The Law Society?” Did he need to stop and count to six?

“Well, I mean—I’ve been approved by the Law Society. All solicitors have. And Thompson he was given one if the highest recommendations from the Law Society. Only started working with Russell-Cooke a few months ago, but he keeps misplacing things. They usually turn up again sooner or later though. I sent him to make a photostatic copy of all this." He sweeps his hands over the papers. “He probably just misplaced it. I’ll question him on it when I return.”

Misplaced. Oh yes. Out-of-place. Not in their place. A place for everything and everything in a place. As they do so want to create misdirection. Misbegotten. He only started a few months ago? He said. And so well placed? “Robert, “ I felt the time had come to talk of many things, as the Walrus once had said, “You see, I must admit I have been negligent in telling you the truth about the state of my office, the disruption, the broken vase, the bullet hole, the overturned chair. Saturday last some rather abominable members of the Law Society came to visit — men in top hats and black crow coats and gold handled canes. They — they tried to kill me and Kiss — the private inquiry agent from Hudson & Brand, who I hired. And so, Robert, I must forewarn you — if you are dealing with the Law Society you must be very careful — they want," I motioned with my hand to the documents upon the desk, “All of this.”

Mr Mellilow turns to look again at the bullet hole in the window.

“Good heavens!" Robert exclaimed, “Have you reported this to the police?"

“How can I trust the police? They may very well be a part of this insidious conspiracy." I said wishing I had on one of my dresses rather than this one with its incorrect number of buttons — it was all wrong and in so being I was ever more vulnerable — they would be aware of the flaw and would be certain to make use of it. “Even as there are those who are members of the Law Society! You just said yourself, there are two conspiracies." I tapped the pencil, “Perhaps there is yet another?”

“Well, perhaps,” Robert stopped his search for the missing ledger, “But I don’t believe that any conspiracy, no matter how seemingly insurmountable, could involve every officer of the law and every member of the Law Society. Certain high ranking officials, perhaps, but the entire group? If what you say is true, then I might be risking my career, or even my very life, no my very soul looking into this." Robert is getting animated now, fired up like a reverend at the pulpit. “And yet, I must see justice come to pass. Where evil lurks, it is men of honour and law that must bring it into the light. And just as I feel that conviction, there must be some officer of the law, some lonely investigator among the police who can assist you.”

I took note if the scepticism on Mr Mellilow’s face.

“Here,” and Robert looked and pulled forth a loose piece of paper and wrote something down and thrust it towards me. “Ask for this man at Scotland Yard. I’ve worked with him before on a few cases, and you will not find a copper with a more dogged determination for the truth then he."

On the paper was written the name Edward Stone.

“Tell him I sent you, and that I’m looking into this for you, but that since your life has been threatened, this is now also a matter for the police."

Edward Stone. Stone 5 letters, subtracted from 11 equal Edward Stone, was six, and Edward was six Letters — and I liked the look of the name on the page. There was something strong in it. Yes, i decided i liked this name.

Robert looked winded and somewhat embarrassed by his outburst. He brushed his hair back in place and took a few breaths. “My apologies Miss Renfield. I usually leave the dramatic outbursts for the Barristers. I don’t know what came over me."

“There is strength in his name Robert, I like the name. But Coldfall House is a prestigious name—“

We were suddenly interrupted as the door to my office opened and a woman entered saying, “I do not care if she is in conference or not. I will speak with her,"

She was a presence.

Entering the room she devoured all attention — a woman of authority who was used to subservience. She was dressed in a fashionable black dress with a large hat and great overcoat with a mink collar. “So, you are R.M. granddaughter, the instigator of all this slander and libel. Zo Renfield."

Robert turned around to look at this sudden intruder.

I stood up, well aware it was Lady Aurora Carradine, whose first husband had been bequeathed my grandfather’s estate in order to found Coldfall House, and she had been forced to take principle control of Ashcroft’s business interests as well as the foundation of the charitable trust upon his accidental death.

Ever the gentleman Robert stood upon her entrance as well. Mr Mellilow moved over to stand near me with his right hand resting most conspicuously in his jacket pocket.

Lady Carradine gave Mrs Ormond, who had followed her into the office, a cold dismissive glance, “You may shut the door, madam. I wish to speak confidentiality with Miss Renfield.”

I nodded to Mrs Ormond, who gave me a questioning look but nevertheless closed the door.

Robert’s confident air of only moments ago took on a look now of confusion. Lady Aurora had already began to exert her influence, which among London high society and prominent business circles was considerable. “So, it is as I would have suspected, someone wilful enough to seek to sully the name of Coldfall House would be secluded way in some austere room with a lawyer and a criminal. My what company you keep, Miss Renfield.”

“I know who you are." I told her defiantly.

“Good." She steps forward looking at the office as if it were infectious. “And I know who you are as well, Miss Renfield. And even thought I hate to disparage your grandfather’s name. I must say, you my child are obstinate, misguided, and extremely foolish.”

“I will have you know my grandfather’s name was long ago disparaged — when he was mysteriously committed to an asylum.” I rebutted.

“A destination I fear may soon be on your horizon,” she said with infinite superiority. “But in lieu of that eventually my dear, I have come to today to see if we can put an end to this ill-advised campaign of slander you have seen fit orchestra. You will desist in these outrageous accusations of Coldfall —do you understand."

Lady Aurora’s tone was one which never expected anything but acquiescence to her commands.

“They are not unfounded. Coldfall is a den of confidence and embezzlement. And for that reason it is you, Lady Aurora, who would sully my grandfather’s name were it available to be sullied.” I found renewed courage against those cold penetrating eyes of hers. “Stealing from children. Separating infants from their mother’s.”

“That my dear is an absolutely injudicious fabrication perpetuated by the purveyors of jealous whispers and disingenuous rumours. The lies of worthless gossip mongers. Coldfall has and will ever be a refuge for the those most unfortunate of mother burdened by child out of wedlock — from whatever walk of life. Do you have any idea of how much in expenditures alone we have given to the impoverished children’s fund.”

“Well, actually—“ Robert began shuffling through the documents upon my desk.

“I will give you that once you may have been a great organization, but you have been defiled. You have giving your soul to the devil — to de Ville."

“You have a particular obsession with the gentleman,” Lady Aurora gave me a haughty lift of her brow, " I can assure you Miss Renfield, if you and your salacious minions were to do far more research then listen to and resurrecting old libels, long since proven to have been wholly inaccurate, you would know Count De Ville left England years ago, as did he the Board — but, pray is there more? Or, are these the entire sum of your wildly imprudent and tiresome libels, my dear.”

Robert, who seemed to finally guessed who the imperious woman was suddenly interjected. “Lady Aurora, unless Miss Renfield has had her statements published, there is no case for slander nor libel here. Now I suggest we all calm down and discuss these findings upon some later date, when passions are no longer so enflamed."

Lady Aurora’s brow rose even higher in her haughty indignation as she turned to look at him, “Yes, a solicitors answer, I would expect nothing less. But sir there is in fact a far more injurious slander. When the good people who have for so long supported Coldfall House, hear these salacious rumours and lies, which may in their way have an effect upon the good opinion of the populace, whose continued support we ever seek in order to help us maintain the worthy services we provide. These lies only serve to help disheartened those whose support we need the most. Coldfall Charitable Trust has been an institution in this country for nigh on twenty years and now, because of a young woman who, no doubt bares an unfortunate predisposition for her grandfather’s sad misfortune to madness, decides to bring forth once again old lies and accusations – so long disproven? And so it is my obligation, my duty, to ensure the great name of Coldfall.” With that said she turned to me, “Now what is it precisely that you want, Miss Renfield? Altruism, my dear, only goes so far. I would suggest this little enterprise of yours could use an infusion of what, several influential clients? Would that be enough to have to desist?”

I stood behind my desk uncertain as to whether or not Lady Aurora could leap across it. I was now even more certain she was in league with the sharp-toothed lawyers, the Rose Men. That she was a part of the halo of flies — of which she had told me about.

I held my pencil in my left hand so as not to succumb to the need to tap it, which was growing ever within me each tense second. “Madam, my little enterprise does quite well without the likes of you and your sharp toothed lawyers."

Lady Aurora held her gloves in her right hand and if she were close I felt she would have used them to slap me, “Obstinate, stubborn young woman. You would tarnish the bright and shining legacy of an otherwise disgraceful end to your grandfather’s career?"

“My grandfather never intended for his legacy to be used by charlatans, thieves, corrupt politicians, and least of all mystical occultists. Nor to fund foreign armament dealers.” I said angrily.

“That is an unfounded accusation my dear.” She slapped the gloves in the palm of her left hand. “You will find no such transaction upon the ledgers of the Charitable Trust."

Robert moved to stand between us. “I understand you are upset your ladyship, but please try to understand. There are certain discrepancies that it would be foolish to ignore.” He said even as he turned to address me, “And Miss Renfield, until these discrepancies are fully investigated, perhaps it would be best to remain civil in our discourse?"

Lady Aurora addresses Robert, “Do I take it sir that you represent Miss Renfield?"

At this Robert chanced a look to me as if seeking confirmation.

“Are you certain you understand the danger,” I asked him even as I cast a accusatory look at the arrogant Lady Aurora.

She gave sound to incredulousness: “Danger? Truly your obsession goes far deeper than I suspected.”

“Then, if you would be so kind, Robert." I did not smile, and in retrospect I had not smiled since Lady Aurora entered my office quite unannounced.

Robert nodded, “In this instance I do, yes."

“Then sir, I would suggest you consult with you client. If she does not desist in these unfounded public pronouncements, we will have no recourse but to take action against her, and for the sake of her grandfather’s memory I do so wish things would not come to that." Lady Aurora’s tone taking on a more business like quality as she spoke to Robert.

“And what recourse is that? To send once more your Rose Men? Send more of your flies to spy upon me?” I could no longer contain my contempt for the pompous hypocrisy of Lady Aurora Carradine.

Thereupon she smiled and looked at Robert with a slight cock of her head, "As you can see sir — your client, she may be but one step away from the strait waistcoat her grandfather wore.”

“Perhaps now that you have said your peace, you should make your leave. You have, after all, barged into Miss Renfield’s offices unannounced, uninvited, and it seems obvious, unwanted."

I felt Mr Mellilow take a step closer. His hand nestled into the jacket pocket he was definitely concealing something within.

Lady Aurora’s disdain from the moment she entered into my office never wavered, “I will leave you with this Miss Renfield.” She slowly began to put on her gloves as she looked at me contemptuously, “Whom would you wish to take care of these unfortunates in our society? The Salvation Army? I dare say Mr. Stead to his credit, though misguided as he was in the law, revealed to what disgraceful circumstances young girls can find themselves left to that particular organization. I for one am very proud of the work we have done and continue to do. So In that be well advised, when it comes to the Charitable Trust I am not to be trifled with. Thus, I take my leave, but be assured, you will hear from my solicitors if you do not heed my warning."

And with that she haughty turned to stride toward the door.

Robert stood and watched as she left my office—no doubt far sooner than she may have originally planned, having made her way into my office this morning without an appointment, with what I am certain was her a sure and certain intention of intimidation. What with the sharp-toothed lawyers having failed to bring to heel Kiss and myself, in that we had escaped without harm, Lady Aurora’s arrival was it a new feint in Coldfall’s campaign to attempt to silence me. The threat of legal consequences — as well as to assert action whether or not we had made reports regarding the Rose Men’s assault. Just who had we spoken too? The press, the police, our lawyers? Although I was quite thankful Robert had been there upon her arrival, I can not but help feel that Lady Aurora had left quite content in the fact that, at best, she had nothing more to deal with than a single solicitor. A solicitor of whom I may have placed himself and his family in jeopardy. I looked at the name upon the paper Robert had handed me: Edward Stone. Best be forewarned she had said. Perhaps it would be best for me to speak with this policeman — in order to perhaps stay the hand of her Rose Men and their flies.

Robert breathes an audible sigh of relief when the door finally closes behind her and he slumps down into the opposing chair and sighs, removing his spectacles and rubbing his eyes. “I understand she was being unreasonably antagonistic, but, must you spur her on so Miss Renfield?”

“You do not understand truly what evil they are capable of Robert. It is more than mere financial fraud and thievery. There are horrible things they do under the cover of their philanthropy. Even now I fear what they may have done to the Reverend Marley and poor Millicent Ainsworth — in that they had sought to pull away the mask they wear and reveal them for what they truly are, and now they have disappeared. I know I walk a razor’s edge with madness. But please —understand. In this I am not mad.”

View
The Congregation at Archbishop’s Park
Session Ten – Part Two

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Extemporaneous evidence taken, 12 March, 1916, Basement Archive, Scotland Yard, of Inspector Cuthbert Ffolliott:

Q: Who is she?
A: I don’t know.
Q: You don’t know? You were in the basement archives with her and you don’t know who she is?
A: I have never seen her before tonight.
Q: Do you go to the basement routinely with strange women?
A: Of course not.
Q: But you were there with her tonight?
A: Yes
Q: And how precisely did that come about?
A: She came in—well, I say that but actually I did not see her enter, it was more she appeared at my desk and said she wanted to report a crime.
Q: A crime? Did she elaborate?
A: I asked her to be more specific and she said it was a hypothetical crime—
Q: A hypothetical crime?
A: Yes. Only it was an in fact an actual crime. One of which I was well aware, being as it was one of my old arrests. In fact—it was the one we discussed at your desk, the one in connection to that doctor, Seward, who you reported was mentioned by your informant. His being the cold case.
Q: Who’s being a cold case?
A: Seward’s
Q: Right – Please Inspector, try to be a bit more precise.
A: The case she referred to as being a hypothetical – but, as I said, in fact the crime she referred to was the brutal double homicide of two young seductresses— Rather horrid that room. I have flashes of it still. I was not yet on the force, but that room – it was as horrible as anything done by Saucy Jack.
Q: And you were the arresting constable?
A: It was one of my first upon having put on my blues. I was out walking my beat when the manager of the Halcyon Hotel fluttered into me, his hands all a waggling, his face pale. Gone all white. A mask of fright – on a man who worked nightly in the premises where all manner of depravity was on the evening’s fare.
Q: And?
A: He said it had been reported there had been some screams that even through the double carpeting of the rooms chilled the blood. I proceed to follow him up to the second floor, room 23 – and upon opening the door—I found him there. Calm. Like a surgeon about his work. The blade in hand. Blood everywhere.
Q: This was? The date—
A: 7th July, 1895.
Q: They were as you described them sexual in nature. Mutilation murders?
A: Right. This doctor. Dr Hennessy, Patrick Hennessy, as I said, an administrator at an asylum. St Ignatius, which was owned by the other doctor, Dr Seward, the one your informant spoke to you about—who eventually was written up himself for medical malfeasance, false imprisonment, torture, and murder. But, Hennessy—he was a real piece of work. As I said, he rather calmly and systematically butchered himself up two little street tarts. They at one time claimed that Our Jack was a womb collector. Well—this Hennessy was. And so. So, as I said, in she comes tonight, but rather than sitting down to tell me about some hypothetical crime as she had rather oddly said at the beginning, she began discussing this old mayhem, in which she knew far too much. About the specifics I mean. She knew the names of the poor dollymops, Lizzie Bailey and Moy Toon. Their ages. The hotel in Clerkenwell. She even knew he used a postmortem knife, which was never made public.
Q: And so—what you are saying is this woman, whom you say you have never seemed before, arrived tonight, seeking you out, in order to do what? Reminiscence about horribly gortesque crime perpetrated al little more then twenty yeara ago?
A: It was what she said—but that wasn’t what she wanted. What she wanted was Silver Knife — which is the nickname given to Hennessey, by the scribblers.
Q: But—correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t you just say the actual murder weapon was never made public.
A: Well, The Illustrated Police News, it may have alluded to a scalpel—but as the surgeon identified it, the tool rightly used in his grim, surgical butchery was in fact a postmortem knife. Which was kept out of the press.
Q: But, if memory services rightly, you complained earlier that this Dr Hennessy was released by, if I have this correctly, government men in expensive suits, as you described them, men who arrived in the middle of the night? So how did it get into The Illustrated Police News?
A: Right—well, the fact is he was held for a day or two, before he got word out through his solicitor that he had something to offer— but, owing to the grisliness of what he had done to those girls in room 23 of that filthy Clerkenwell hotel . . . well, it was just the kind of copy IPN loves to make a front page splash.
Q: Just the kind of story that a young constable newly in his blues would like to have his name associated with?
A: Why are you asking all this? Like I told her, this all happened over twenty years ago — and, when I tried to tell you about it the day before yesterday, it was all Miss High and Haughty in her dismissal.
Q: Because Inspector, it would appear that whatever transpired twenty or so years ago, those events have some significance to this woman, who just happened to find herself wandering about the Yard. Rather purposefully it seems in seeking you out, the arresting officer, as she wanted to know more about a case you say she already knew far too much about already. Whereas, rather oddly there are points of which you beg to offer a slight uncertainty of recollections—which is I would say in the very least perplexing, for when pressed, you suddenly appear to be a fount of facts and remembrances. Odd, is it not?
A: You are not listening to me. She didn’t want to know about the case. She already knew about the case. What she wanted, as I have told you, if you were listening, was where she could find Silver Knife—I mean Hennessy.
Q: Information you say you do not have?
A: Right. Like I said before—I have no idea where he is. I have told you this already—and so, perhaps, you will get this down correctly this time. Some toffs arrived in the middle of the night with various sets of ID’s and they proceeded to have him brought out of lock-up and sequestered him for questioning. His solicitor it seems had wet their appetites for whatever the main course he was prepared to serve. For the bloody butcher knew something they were all rather heated to know, and they gave him whatever he wanted for whatever he had—and what he wanted was for his cell door to swing wide— to which they obliged . . . on a double homicide. Once released, they drove him away.
Q: And you say you have no idea where?
A: I was but a constable then. Who was going to tell me anything?
Q: And you had no curiosity?
A: Curiosity does not move one through the ranks.
Q: I might suggest giving an ash blonde access to case files is not a way to further ones career either.
A: If you were a real constable and not but a pretty petticoat, you would have taken sufficient notice of the knife she was wielding? She threatened to cut my bloody throat. And so, I had little choice in the matter.
Q: You sure it was not a scalpel?
A: It was a postmortem knife. To be precise. Exactly like the one Hennessy used.
Q: Which is all rather elaborate don’t you think? Researching all the particulars on a twenty-year-old case? Procuring a postmortem knife—as was used in the double homicide. Does it not seem, Inspector, as if she went to a lot of trouble to bring home to you what she knew?
A: Of course—
Q: I mean, if she knew as much as you say—then, if it is as you say—why then does she come here to threaten you? Since she should know you don’t have the information she seeks. The whereabouts of this Dr Hennessy. And yet, she does come here. To see you. Which would, viewed from a different perspective, cast some suspicion on the veracity of your claim to be ignorant of certain aspects of this case.
A: Jesus on a pony! Alderton what are you implying? That I am in someway a part of that Grand Guignol that took place in a Clerkenwell?
Q: No—not in the murders. But certainly perhaps in the concealment of their perpetrator. I submit she came here because whomever whisked away your homicidal doctor, she fairly well knows you are privy to that information. And if not—then, she strongly suspects you have contacts such as to uncover his location.
A: And I submit to you, PC Alderton, you are wilfully overlooking the far more significant aspect of tonight’s events with this obsession upon whatever may or may not have happened in the past. As you asked at the outset, the pertinent question is who is she? This mysterious woman— whom, it seems, no one can recall having seen enter the building or approach my desk, even as there were two Inspectors sitting just across the way. Who was — at best deranged or worse, something far more dangerous and uncanny— As one minute they seemed perfectly calm and serene and the next violently enraged, nearly manically so. You saw what she did with that file cabinet, tossing it as if it were next to nothing. Lifted me from the very floor with but a single hand. You did not look into her eyes, Alderton. I did. Where they were once all so captivating, almost mesmerizing, they suddenly became feral like some animal preparing to pounce. Jesus wept! Do not let whatever you may think of me cloud your perceptions. You heard that inhuman hiss as if she were — God only knows. You saw her mouth drawn back. Those sharp teeth. Fangs—like out of something from Stoker.
Q: You honestly want me to write this down?
A: I want you to do your job constable. I want you to not only find out who she was, but what she is.
Q: And what precisely does that mean?
A: There’s more going on within this parade than merely some diced up girl cast upon the Thames. And you very well know it –
Q: And you? You know far more than you are telling – Stoker? Jonathan Harker? Seward?
A: Perhaps you are more than a pretty petticoat—

And with that bit of the most wilful impertinence, Inspector Ffolliot arose from the chair beside my desk and departed.

Vera Alderton’s Diary
13 March, Morning – Morning arrived and I had gotten but a pittance of sleep. I struggled to awaken, slowly and slightly bewildered in that I could not remember having dozed off—surprisingly I found I was still dressed. Either I had been exhausted or Irene had been out all night as her customary entrance to our flat was always accompanied by enough noise to have aroused me from my slumbers. My bed was littered with various notes; my open casebook; the scraps of papers and miscellanea which I had tossed into Mrs Willingham’s hat box; several files I had gotten from Inspector Ffolliott; a copy of the police surgeon ‘s report on Pamela Dean and Neil Byrne. As I slid my legs over the edge of the bed several pages spilled upon the floor, tumbling down upon the copy of Stoker’s Dracula, which had apparently fallen from my sleeping hand.

“I want you to not only find out who she was, but what she is,” I recalled the words of the odious Ffollitt. “Something out of Stoker—“

I pushed the spilling wave of my hair back from my face as I forced myself up from the bed to greet the new day. I reached over and picked up the typewritten notes I had made extemporaneously after having questioned the Inspector, who for all his bravado had been badly shaken by the mysterious woman. The Diced Up Girl and the Mysterious Woman— Lord. What was this some Wilkie Collins novel? No—it was one by Bram Stoker. And I picked up the book which had fallen from my hand—

. . . as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth_. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer.’

The passage I found myself reading as I picked up Stoker’s open gothic seemed prescient of my remembrance of the ash blonde woman from the night before, where among the wooden file cabinets of the archive, turning suddenly to observe my entrance, her mouth indeed was open, lips pulled back to expose sharp canine teeth. Canine – like a dog’s to tear into and rip a soft throat apart.

A vampire?

I snapped the book closed to try and snap myself back to reality – but it was there still. Inspector Ffolliot had fairly wanted me to draw that conclusion. But by what reasoning? He had only the day before interjected himself into the conversation—after having no doubt stood just outside the door of the basement archive. Eavesdropping? But why? I could understand Inspector Gudgett. He believed himself to be a far superior investigator and so jealousy and ambition for advancement motived his occasional interests – but Ffolliot? Prior to my meeting with the surreptitious informant in the underground, he had not displayed any remarkable attentiveness to the case other than mere the idle curiosity attached to any investigation gaining headlines in even the more respectable broadsheets. Or, so I had suspected.

His earlier visit had been to step forward at the opportune moment – in order to relate to Inspector Stone and myself information about a sexual predator and homicidal madman – who oddly was a physician at an asylum. And asylum run by yet another mad doctor whose name Ffolliot was all too eager to share. Hennessey and Seward. Yes, that gentleman knew far more than he was willing to admit during my questioning – for I had detected in his eyes the slightest trace of fear as he abruptly arose from the chair beside my desk and departed my basement office.

I checked and it looks as if there were to be snow today, it would be internment. There was breaks in the grey clouds through which the sun shone through. It is time to clean up and change my dress. I want to see Stone.

Casebook of PC Alderton
Evidence of Archbishop’s Park, 13 March – Morning

I upon departing 2 Macklin Street the flathouse at which I reside at 8.30 the morning of 13 March, 1916. I intended to take the 4 minute walk to Covent Garden Tube Station as usual to Westminster. But as I was anxious to discuss events of last evening with Inspector Stone and the day was cold and the wind brisk, I decided upon instead taking a motor cab. Traffic for a Monday was unusually light and uneventful as we proceeded to Scotland Yard. I arrived at approximate at 8:45. Upon entering, I engaged in usual pleasantries as I entered and proceeded to the Inspector’s floor, the third. Upon arriving I took notice that many of the inspectors seemed to have gathered together in small congregations of discussion. Inspector Stone was not among them nor was he at his desk. I thereupon took notice as well that Inspector Ffolliot was not at his desk nor amidst any of the congregations, which one would have expected to attend.

From one of the congregations, one hosted by Inspector Gudgett, I observed the Inspector seemingly make his excuses to break away from the discussion and he thus made his way toward me. My first reaction was to turn and leave – but the Inspector hailed me, and thus I paused as he approached. I asked the Inspector as he drew near if he had seen Inspector Stone this morning?

Inspector Gudgett, putting a cigarette to his lips and striking a match, gave me what I would consider a look of bemused bewilderment: “Odd—I did not expect to see you here.”

He lit his cigarette.

“It is Monday is it not, Inspector?” I replied stating the obvious.

Inspector Gudgett, whipped out the flame of his match and idly dropped it into one of the ashtrays upon the nearest desk to hand, Detective Inspector Sherrington’s to be precise: “I figured you would be at Archbishop’s Park, like all the others.”

“All the others?” I inquired, looking about the room to see the numerous Inspectors who apparently were not at Archbishop’s Park.

“Those of consequence to the Diced Up Girl.” He said and exhaled a plume of smoke, respectfully to the side and not in my direction.

“Why? What has happened?”

In response, the Inspector seemed to take his time, perhaps relishing the fact he seemed to know something about the case that apparently I did not: "Well, that was a short-lived honeymoon to say the least.”

“Upon some other day I do so promise to return to allow myself to be dazzled by the brilliance of your sarcasm, but, I chose not to make that time today,” and therewith I turned on my heel with a sigh and I am sure a visible roll of the eye as I began to proceed to the duty desk in order to determine what had transpired at Archbishop’s Park – to draw Inspector Stone’s attention.
“It seems, PC Alderton—they have found a bit more of your Diced Up Girl," Inspector Gudgett informed me as I had taken several steps away from him.

I turned to look at him in a state of reserve although piqued. “When was this?”

“Oh, about, ten minutes ago,” He said, snapping open his pocket watch to check the time. “Pity you much have just missed them.”

I returned this information with a smile and a thank you for his kind assistance.

I then proceeded to secure a motor car and left Scotland Yard at 9:17. I traveled down Parliament Street to Abingdon Street, and then to Lambeth Bridge, which cross the Thames, bringing me to Lamberth Palace Road. To the left was St Thomas Hospital and on the right, Archbishops Park.

Upon my arrival I took immediate notice of several motor cars, which had pulled off the road to park as the roadway was narrow. There were various constables walking about. I exited the car and began to make my way towards to parked motor cars and the constables when one of them held up a hand to impede my progress. “Sorry Miss, but I am afraid I will have to ask to you avoid the park this morning.” He informed me.

I produced by identification and informed him I too was a police officer. He took the identification and examined it for a few moments before returning it to me and motioning me to proceed.

Upon this entrance to the park there was a footpath, which I followed, even as I surveyed the grounds before me in an attempt to ascertain precisely where the crime scene was located, as the stretch of Archbishop’s Park before me seemed deserted. The grounds still bore a hoary sheen from the remainder of the various depths of snow and in the shady areas there appeared to be harden ice, which had as yet to dissipate with the radiance of the sun, owing to a general lack in the last several days on an increase in the temperature.

To be sure, there was a brisk wind, which I braced against even as I hurried along the path. I was about to step off at a winding curve, to the east, when another constable called out. He stepped forth from some landscaping shrubbery,

“Watch your step there—“ He instructed with some urgency. I immediately halted upon the footpath. “You should be walking about Miss as the park for the moment is closed upon official Police matters.”

Although in uniform, I produced for a second time by identification, which the constable examined at some length before handing it back. “Ex’cuse me Miss.”

“As you warned me about my step, I do not see anything untoward here.” I said upon taking back my identification card, with some irritation. “Is this a part of the crime scene.”

“Likely is the whole park being the scene, owing to the Inspectors about.” He said, and motioned ahead to the left, further East, as I had been heading, “That way.”

“Right.” I nodded and once again looked to where my foot would have stepped off the path, “As I enquired – to what should I take care in my step?”

The constable No. 237 shrugged, “Don’t right know, Miss. The Inspector he says for us to be looking over the grounds for anything suspicious—as to what that is—I don’t rightly know."

“Which Inspector?” I asked.

“The big one. With the bowler hat.” He replied.

“Ah, Inspector Stone.” I nodded, “Can you inform me as to what’s happened? And what’s been found?

No. 237 L seemed hesitant to remain with me and not to be searching for whatever it was he was unsure as to what it was he was looking for, "Not rightly sure, they are being a bit closed mouth about it. We arrived and were sent looking for lord knows what. But there is several Inspectors up near the quad and the benches there. I hear the Police Surgeon just arrived.”

“Is Stone there?” I enquired, “The tall one with the bowler?”

“Aye, as I said, he’s the one sent us out here sniffing around like hounds," Said another constable, No. 201 L, arriving from behind us.

“Thank you.” I then took my leave, stepping off the footpath where I had previous been admonished and proceeded to stride with a quicken pace toward the quad. The wind was gusting and cold.

As I arrived upon the scene I took note there were several constable standing about the perimeter as if set there to ward off possible by-standers seeking a closer look. I duly noted at the scene Inspector Stone, Assistant Commissioner Barrington, Inspector Ffolliott, Detective Inspector Sherrington. Knelling before a park bench is observed Dr Wrayburn.

I would approximate that I was about twenty-feet away from congregation when suddenly there was the sound of a match striking and the hiss of a flame coming to life. In reaction I suddenly whirled about.

“Ah, so I am not the last to arrive,” commented City Police Inspector James Fitzjames Spencer with a rather laconic smile as he cupped one hand, enclosed in woolen gloves, the fingers of which had been cut away, in order to shelter the match’s flame, which he held to the stub of a small cigar.

“Inspector.” I said mere in the acknowledgement of his presence.

He stepped over close to smile, “Big break in the case I hear.” The smoke of his cigar wafting away upon the wind.

“Maybe.” I replied not at all being privy to the circumstances.

“Shall we,” He proceed to motion with his hand for me to go before him as he puffed upon his cigar. I once again moved toward the gather at the bench, glancing back to take note of the tails of Inspector Spencer’s long black overcoat bellowing in the sudden chill wind. It gave some thought to the flutter of raven wings.

I was reticent in proceeding toward the official gathering about the park bench, as I was cognizant that it would give the appearance we had arrived together.

The voice was AC Barrington’s and it was filled with some vexation. “Are you bloody sure Wrayburn?”

I proceed to step toward Inspector Stone, so as to depart from Detective Inspector Spencer and as I drew close I cleared my throat so as to give Inspector Stone some indication of my presence.

Inspector Stone turned to me and spoke in a low voice: “PC Alderton – I tired to ring you up. Your flatmate, Irene, I think, informed me you had already left.”

“I do apologize,” I said slightly inclining my head politely towards him, “There was an incident last night that took me some time to resolve.”

“Incident?” He asks, his attention seemingly fixated upon the knelling Police Surgeon Wrayburn at the bench.

“Involving Ffolliott and a mysterious vanishing woman, and the destruction of my office,” I murmured in a voice for only Inspector Stone to hear.

At which time my attention was once again drawn to Detective Inspector Spencer. I chanced to detect Inspector Ffolliott who gave him a meaningful look as he passed. Detective Inspector Spencer on his part remained purposeful, with hands behind his back, as he slowly wandered from the congregation at the bench, the smoke from his cigar drifting in the wind.

Thereupon Inspector Stone quickly turned his attention to me, "Ffolliott you say? A vanishing woman? And the destruction of you office? These are weighty incidents indeed.”

I nodded in assent, “Yes. I’ll discuss it further when there are fewer free ears.”

“Damnit Wrayburn—it is not like all of Christendom is awaiting word of what is to be found behind the rolled back stone. An opinion would suffice and I would hope it to be forth coming before nightfall.” AC Barrington said with some heat as he stepped closer to the doctor.

“What’s turned up? I heard something about more parts of our diced girl?” I enquired as I tried to get a more advantageous view of the bench as it was blocked by the massive black coat of AC Barrington and the figure of the kneeling doctor Wrayburn.

“It is consistent with the other parts found, yes.” Came the reply of Dr Wrayburn, “Parts of what, as they have come to call, the Diced-Up Girl."

I then gave a glance to Stone, “Who discovered it?’

“A temperance missioner, making his way through the park this morning.” Inspector Stone thus informed me, “Wrayburn is even now examining it.”

“What part?”

“It is the head.” He said grimly.

I am more than certain owing to the visible plume of steam from my breath, my heavy sigh was observed, “Well that may prove useful—“ Thus I stood, holding my coat further closed with my fist as the wind battered the park in gusts. I was at the moment certain this evidence should provide us, finally, an accurate identification as to whom in reality the unfortunate woman truly was, other than being referred to as far too simply the Diced-Up Girl. I to was becoming impatient with the police surgeon. I longed to know was it Pamela Dean?

I then proceeded to step closer to Inspector Stone and thus whispered to him, “Were there any message, notes? Indications of a random redheaded women planting evidence?” This I said with an eye on Detective Inspector Spenser who having stepped around the bench approached it from behind.

“I have constables searching about the park for any such.” He nodded.

Upon hearing this I proceeded to move closer to AC Barrington so as to get a better view of the bench as Detective Inspector Spencer had already broached protocol and taken up a position behind the bench.

“Detective Inspector are you not a bit off your patch this morning?” AC Barrington snapped gruffly.

“It is still a joint investigation, Barrington.” He replied removing his cigar to flick away ashes into the wind.

“It is almost as if poor Inspector Cotford was murdered in the line of duty to make it so.” AC Barrington said in a voice that all but made an accusation. “Damned if I am to become a snowman. Dr Wraybrun – should I send out a constable to retrieve you a spirit board?”

To which Dr Wrayburn replied calmly, “To know more, I should have to examine it at the laboratory.”

“Odd is it not, he has arrived and the finding of the unfortunate woman’s head was but twenty minutes ago.” Inspector Stone commented in upon Detective Inspector Spencer’s appearance.

“The question of course is he here for the City Police or for Robertson-Kirk?” I said now getting a glimpse of the ghastly remains of the severed head which had been left sitting on the park bench. “And even more importantly, who invited Ffolliott to this parade?”

Inspector Stone glared at the Inspector, who looked either a bit nervous or far too cold. "Having had some incident with a vanishing woman of which I long to hear.”

At this time I observed Detective Inspector Spenser as he reached into his unbuttoned black woolen coat—unbuttoned in the chill of the morning—and removed something from within his inner coat pocket, “Perhaps this may be of some service.” He then proceeded to hand over what appeared to be a brass photographic frame to the Dr. Wrayburn,

Upon seeing this I almost said far too loudly, “Well—that’s convenient.” But I was later to learn from Inspector Stone I had merely muttered it to myself.

I observed that Dr Wrayburn took the photographic frame – a small brass one that might be found upon any mantelpiece. Dr Wrayburn examined the contents within the frame and then proceeded to look up at Detective Inspector Spencer, who took returned the stub of the cigar to his mouth.

“What do we have here?” AC Barrington enquired and proceeded to snatch the frame from the police surgeon’s hand, as he momentarily inspected it. Thereupon he sighed most heavily and handed back the frame to Dr Wrayburn, “Well, what need of a spirit board when we have Detective Inspector Spencer.” He then returned his ire upon the police surgeon. “Well, man – what do you say?”

“Well, as I said, I would still like to make a more comprehensive examination—but, this does seem to answer at least one of our lingering questions.” Dr Wrayburn informed as he held forth the photograph Detective Inspector Spencer had given over to him for examination.

“Damnation!” Came the proclamation of the Assistant Commissioner as he shoved his hands deeper in the pockets of his great coat.

Inspector Stone quickly proceeded to step over to stand beside AC Barrington.

He pointed to the photographic frame, “And where pray did this come from, Spenser?” Inspector Stone not trying at all to conceal is own ire.

“The Home Office,” Detective Inspector Spenser replied evenly.

At this time, while thee was discussion amongst Inspector Stone, Detective Inspector Spenser and Assistant Commissioner Barrington I proceeded to step closer to the park bench whereupon I observed the pale, ghastly sight of a woman’s head. A young woman. It appeared even for the condition of the head the woman was younger than Pamela Dean. My quick observation was that the cut, the severing cut, had been clean, done what I would determine to have been a single strong stroke of a sturdy blade. The head sat on the bench face forward. The chestnut hair tangled and matted.

“So, who the bloody hell is she, “ AC Barrington enquired gruffly turning to look at Inspector Stone. “As is it quite obvious this not Pamela Dean. Just who the bloody hell is this Diced-Up Girl?”

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