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 incomplete, half uttered thought, when he had checked himself earlier, while we had sat at the table in the tea shop. He had begun to say, “that was the only—“ but had broken off in mid-sentence. The waiter arriving 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 it 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 ever 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 repose 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 mouth 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 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 by cab.” I felt the dampness of the snow now seeping through the soles of my unfortunate selection of shoe.
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 me back down the small walkway to Gael street and then down it back to the tea shop across of 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 the tea shop had grown fewer and they turned to look at us, shivering and lightly stamping the snow from our shoes upon a mat so placed at the door for that purpose. Among a few of them I detected an anxious stare rather than any 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 forego modesty and decorum 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 began to do so – even as I caught his wandering eye observing a glimpse of my white stocking foot slipping free of my 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 in no hurry in departing the table were he was doing very little in the way of any actual service — but conversing with a stocky gentleman, 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 soon approached with the tea. He set it down upon the table carefully taking his time no doubt in the hopes of catching sight once more of my stocking feet.
“M. Turcanu,” I grabbed his wrist to slow his departure, “Perhaps you can tell me more – about him.”
He looked at me uncertain, 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. We were. The stocky gentleman he had been conversing with a few moments ago. “What I know I have spoken too much.” He said in a soft whisper of a 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.” Even in a hush he hissed 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 were quite willing to bestow upon him a rank that his birth could not have achieved. And so, as I said, he gave to those eager for a Boyar such semblance of one and to them in return 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 yearnings for revenge.”
“So—if you wanted someone killed?” I lifted a brow of comprehension. It was now all too readily obvious – he was, although yet 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 crumbs of 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 in the way he all but hissed the word – Strigol – which gave some indication of his own repugnance at the existence of such a creature. But then again – for all his vehemence, now that he had been decapitated – 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 an 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.
“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 insidious in this complicity of the evil in 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 in other parts of the city for the quenching of his thirst.”
“To prey upon his victims—you mean.” It was almost simply too amazing to be believe a whole community could collectively 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 anew just what this Strigol had offered him? For whether he hissed the word or not, 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.
And as I took a sip of my tea I could not help the sudden onslaught of 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 I sympathized with her . . . death having ripped me from my home, as they had ripped her from her grave – from the peace of her home. In fact, I have never admitted to anyone that upon more than one occasion she visited my dreams – tall and lovely and pale with bloody red lips with which she whispered hushed allusions of what California would mean. I recalled now the day The Reverend Stamps had come to tea, sitting in the parlor with Aunt Ellen, they both smug in their expectations, longing for me to eventually become a part of the 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 question quickly arose, spilling her tea – which very possibly hastened by California exile. Whereas the Reverend, he 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 blackened by the blood of Satan.”
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 with our tea. 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 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 endless admonition, ‘Elisa do not put an elbow upon the table,’ I rested it rather upon the hand of my arm, which I held across chest as I lifted the Dunhill to my lips, “The Navy?”
He tapped ashes into the heavy glass ashtray upon the table 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. Navigating Most Immediates to their proper pigeonholes. 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 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 an longstanding interest.”
“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 you see, had supplied incontrovertible evidence in support of the actual existence of vampires and rather than finding this discovery to be as one would expect abhorrently nightmarishly—some British spymaster instead directed further investigation into the whole phenomenon. Ordering the collection of even more supporting evidence in order to mount a serious scientific study factoring 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 a considered—but rather, upmost instead was the tactical and strategic advantages such a creature could provide to the intelligence establishment and so the unimaginable idea was seriously entertained in using a vampire as either some sort of intelligence asset or a tactical weapon to be added to the British arsenal. Who where these people? What could they have been thinking? Richmond wasn’t sure who the initial spymaster was, his identify apparently having been well protected over the years, but he indicated that this ‘Director’ had commissioned some scientific group or other to analyzed the classified information regarding vampirism and to research the feasibility of going forward with the diabolical scheme — and so, that is how ‘they’ had agreed to authorize the plan and proceeded 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 suitably a selection of individuals – victims to be put into the Count’s path – until they were able to obtain a controllable vampire, which could be studied in safe and secured conditions and then they would authorize the termination of the foreign ‘Undead,” the particular 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 which no doubt appeared to the few patrons of the tea room as either wholly conspiratorial or extremely romantic. Just what that agenda was to this day had never been conclusively uncovered. They discovered far too late he was making connections within various spiritualist organizations as well as with some very well established upper social coteries consisting of the entitled, of leaders of industry, the military, and of course the government. The authorization to terminate came quickly – thus the sanctioning of the ‘Crew Of Light,’ a select group of operatives brought together to hunt him down – as so 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. 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 a after action report, which he instead turned into an unruly narrative — which after some redaction and reediting was allowed to be published so in the event the whole 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 just 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 some 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 as a catalyst for decomposition it was instead some activating agent of the most outré of 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 al all 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 this mysterious organization,” he enlightened. “The Hush more than the hush-hush,” I repeated his description and he nodded. His indoctrination, training as it were, he said 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 in fact, quite expensive I would imagine, it was a prime piece of property – which was immediately odd being as from what I was to understand in that the budget for the section had 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. 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 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 her transition and then determine whether to attempt to recruit her or to terminate her – and, as we were apparently successful in persuading her to work on the side of the angels – if there are any, I mean, seeing as whom we were dealing with – or at least that was how it was when I left, I mean can one truly take the word of such a creature, and so, I wasn’t privy to the experience of a 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 this secretive ‘Director,’ to use vampiric agents, had ultimately been successful.
I was about to ask how one went about attempting to recruit a vampire 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 falling snow which had grown rather intense as he had awaited in the tea room. Carefully we made our way over to the motor car – the chivalrous Richmond taking my hand to ensure I did not slip owing to the inappropriate shoes.
“So—you were saying you were sent to assist Montague.” I said sitting back into the cold seat and pulling my coat tighter as I caught him glancing back out the window to see if we were being followed.
“Right.” He nodded apparently satisfied we were leaving Gral Street and any further furtive attentions behind, “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. Throwing lavish fêtes with members of London’s upper society and ministers and diplomats. There were apparently some rather beastly rumors but nothing collaborated. And so things fell into short order into trying to ascertain and roll up any left behind network of agents, he may have left behind, and more importantly, determining how many of his bloodthirsty kind he may have so contaminated the realm. As well as recruiting informants and agents to secure his castle in Transylvania. Searching it for any clue as to his whereabouts – where 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 others owing to the 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 gone by. 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.” I chided.
He frowned, “Bad show on their part all around. 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 so arranged it to leave that impression – surely there must have been some prupose?” I asked 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?”