The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire (Chapter XV.)

Mr. Carnacki’s story — continued. "Our mission to London was a success and we returned to Osmotherley frightened but happy to be alive," Carnacki said. "Wait a minute," Jessop protested to Carnacki. "You cannot leave off not telling us what happened in London." "Jessop is right, old boy," Taylor added. For a time, I feared Carnacki was going to order us to leave. "Why are you gentlemen interrupting my story? You have always before let me tell them in my own way," he said. "Yes and I apologize, but it is obvious you are holding something back," Jessop said. "For good reason," Carnacki said. "Very well, I shall tell you all that happened. But I remind all of you to never speak of this case until all the participants are dead and buried. Understood?" We agreed. "I am probably making you accessories to old crimes," he said with a slight smile. Carnacki leaned back in his chair. "After we arrived in London, we took a cab to an out of the way small hotel on Vicarage Gate in Kensington. Just before we left, I placed nearly invisible seals on our windows and on our doors so we would know if anyone had entered our rooms. "We hailed a cab and drove past the clinic in the East End without stopping. I told the driver to circle the neighborhood and drop us off a block away. Going through a narrow alley, we came to the back of the building across the street from the clinic. Inside, we spoke to the building manager and under an assumed name, Garrett Hursh, we took a vacant, two-room office on the second floor. "The property manager, a surly man, asked few questions after we paid him the month’s rent in advance. "From the narrow, dark hallway, our office had a small antechamber, and a larger room with two tall windows providing us with a view of the street. "A previous occupant had left a beat-up wood desk and two equally shabby chairs. We lowered the yellowed blinds, leaving only a crack open, and began our spying. "Outside of the clinic, a queue of unshaven men in dirty clothes waited entrance. As the dozen men slowly worked their way inside, others came out the door. The line thinned until none were left. "‘Should we give blood?’ Armitage said. "‘We may have to, but for now it is better to find out as much as possible from here,’ I said. "We alternated turns at the window, sitting back from the shade as the other two sat on the floor. Time passed slower than the traffic on the street below. In the afternoon, Albion left out the back and returned with fish and chips for our lunch. "Those not at the window read through the newspapers the Captain also had picked up, more out of boredom than any hope for clues. "Halfway through Armitage’s watch in the late afternoon, he pulled his pipe out of his mouth and motioned with it for us to peer outside. "A large black carriage with smoked-glass windows had arrived. A man in a white laboratory coat stepped out of the clinic carrying two boxes, each with six milk bottles filled with a dark red fluid, and put them in the carriage. He stepped back inside and carried out two more boxes of similar size. "After he closed the carriage door, the man handed the Coachman a note and then the driver flicked his reins and departed. "‘Should we follow?’ Albion asked. "I nodded. We raced out the front of our building, taking a chance to save time. Fortune smiled upon us and we caught a cab and told our cabman to follow the carriage. "The carriage driver looked at his sheet and then stopped at a house, leaving a bottle on the doorstep. He repeated the process at six homes. I made note of the addresses. However, one of the horses pulling our cab lost a shoe and our cabbie stopped. We lost sight of the carriage. "We paid our driver and walked a block before we could catch another cab. I gave the Cabbie an address near the law firm of Mitchell, Sons & Candy. We strolled around the block, past the ornate building that housed the law firm. The building had an impressive facade that spoke of solidity and financial success even in a neighborhood of other successful firms. "Whilst Albion watched the front, Armitage and I covered the back. Through an open shade I spotted a man in a dark suit writing at his desk. He stuck a file in a cabinet, shut off his light and headed away. Minutes later, Albion joined us in our dark corner away from the street lamps. "‘I think that was the last of them,’ Albion said. "‘Right, let’s go,’ I said. Lucy Westenra’s Diary. 17 October. Osmotherley. — My hand shakes, but I must put my nightmare on paper whilst it is still fresh. It was so vivid. From a distance, I could see Thomas running, his eyes white with fear as formless shadows closed on him. Albion shouted at him to run faster and not look back. I watched helplessly as the shadows closed on him. A clawed hand reached out to grab him from behind. I tried to scream a warning, but could make no sound. The shadows were collapsing around him like the breakers of a tide and then I woke with a start. Later. — In Captain Albion’s absence, Prem has taken over our training. I am no longer treated as a lady, but as a soldier. Heavens, I never realized Sergeant Walekar had such a forceful personality. At least the training took my mind off my worry for a time though the memory of my nightmare haunts me. Mr. Carnacki’s story — continued. "We looked around one last time and then headed to the fire escape. Albion and Armitage boosted me up and I unlatched the ladder and slid it down to them. After Armitage climbed up, we pulled it up after us. "We climbed up to the roof and over the tiled edging to the flat surface. We crept quietly to the door and I tried it. It was locked. The Captain pulled out a small, flat case and with a practiced hand had the locks open in mere moments. "We walked down the inky darkness of the stairwell feeling our way for we did not dare to have any light. "My pulse pounded, as much from the excitement at the act of burglary as from nervousness of being caught. "Three months earlier in one of my more mundane detective cases, I questioned a burglar about his motivation. The object stolen had been a relatively inexpensive statuette, of value only for sentimental reasons to the rightful owner. At first the burglar told me he needed the money. But after we got talking and after he had downed a good portion of the rum I gave him, he told me the real reason he turned to crime was for the thrill it gave him. "After we entered the building, I discovered what he meant. Committing crime is even more exciting than solving crime. The blood races. Every sense is alert. The most ordinary action — walking down stairs or moving along a hallway — takes on an extraordinary difference when done as a burglar. There is the exhilarating fear of being caught along with the intoxicating thrill of knowing you are getting away with the illicit. "We whispered in conference then split up to cover as much ground as possible. Each of us went into a different office and began going through filing cabinets. "We looked under the obvious files first: ‘X’ since so many people list secret files under it; ‘Vampire,’; ‘Lilith,’; ‘Dracula.’ We found no listings, which gave us a pause. We knew Lord Godalming had obtained information about Dracula’s properties from the firm. "The three of us came together to search the last, most prosperous-looking office. I sat behind the desk as Captain Albion and Dr. Armitage rifled the cabinet drawers. "‘What are you doing, old boy?’ Albion whispered to me. "‘Thinking,’ I said. And I was. I thought about Inspector Johnstone. He had stressed the importance of imagination. I asked myself: ‘If I were a solicitor working with vampires to buy properties, where would I keep the records and deeds?’ "I smiled and opened the bottom drawer of the desk and pulled it out. There, in the back of the cavity, was a stash of papers wrapped together with a black ribbon. "‘By Jove! here they are,’ I whispered triumphantly to my companions. "‘How ever did you find them?’ Armitage said. "‘I didn’t. Inspector Johnstone did,’ I said. The others looked at me queerly. ‘He always told me to put myself in the other person’s shoes. If I were a solicitor, unscrupulous enough to work for vampires, I would also be unethical enough to see holding onto the deeds as an opportunity to acquire the properties for myself at no cost in the future. You don’t think vampires leave wills for others to inherit the properties, do you?’ "‘Let’s take them and get out,’ Armitage said. ‘Who knows what manner of watchman they might have?’ "‘We can’t take the papers,’ Albion said. ‘If the loss is discovered, the vampires will move.’ "Armitage agreed and so we rapidly copied down the addresses and names. "The vampires had bought five to seven properties each scattered throughout London and the surrounding suburbs to serve as lairs. The deeds listed 24 different vampires, including Count Dracula. "‘We can’t forget that Lilith may have other creatures working with her,’ Armitage said. ‘According to legend, she rules over werewolves, ghosts and ghouls.’ "‘That is true,’ I replied. ‘There is the ghost that visited Hillingham and killed Inspector Johnstone.’ "We finished our copying and put the papers back, looking over the offices to make certain nothing was out of place. "The dull tread of a foot step in the hall sounded loud in the quiet. The three of us perked up like hunting dogs. Quickly, Armitage and I ducked behind the desk. Captain Albion moved to the wall behind the door. "The door swung open and a light flashed into the room. I reached into my jacket and took hold of the butt of my revolver. An icy calm came over me. "I dared a quick glance around the corner of the desk and saw the outline of a uniformed watchman. He was already closing the door. "We waited impatiently for him to continue on with his rounds elsewhere in the building. "After we heard his slow tread retreat down the hall, we raced out the door. "We went up the stairs and Albion locked the rooftop door behind us. We headed down the fire escape, then walked with a casual air through the alley. "‘There was a time when that would have been the most frightening event to ever happen to me,’ said Armitage with a crooked smile. "We stopped at a public house, had a late supper and then walked to our hotel. "The seals on our doors were unbroken. The other two joined me in my room. "‘We’ve learned the blood is delivered to the vampires from the clinic,’ I said. ‘But because the vampires change lairs frequently, the Coachman is given a list with the different addresses of their locations for that particular day. Otherwise, he would have memorized his route by now and would not have needed to consult a list.’ "‘That is a flaw in their security we can exploit,’ the Captain said. ‘All we need to do is to raid the blood clinic during the day, obtain the address list and we will know where to find and destroy the foul creatures.’ "‘Why don’t we put a stop to the Doctor’s complicity with the creatures now?’ Armitage said. "‘Because instead of being fed by blood from volunteers, the vampires will turn to the streets and feed on the public,’ I said. ‘That would lead to many deaths.’ "‘We could poison their blood supply,’ Albion said. "‘What do you mean?’ I asked. "‘We could slip holy water or garlic or any other substance that is harmful to vampires into their bottles,’ Albion said. ‘Their destruction would be delivered to their door.’ "‘What an excellent idea,’ I said. "‘Doesn’t sound very sporting,’ Armitage said. ‘Wait, what am I saying? We’re talking about vampires.’ "‘Right,’ Albion said. ‘I’ve heard of raiders poisoning wells and I’m against any action that is just as likely to kill civilians as the enemy. But this is different. It’s not as if one of the living is going to find a bottle of blood and drink it or even be harmed by it because it has garlic in it.’ "‘The only problem would be if the vampires can smell or are repulsed by the garlic and holy water before they drink the poisoned blood,’ I said. ‘Then they will know we are after them and be alert for us.’ "Albion nodded. ‘That would not be good,’ he said. ‘Surprise gives us our greatest advantage.’ "‘We could test the poisoned blood on Lucy,’ I said. "‘Carnacki, how can you suggest such a thing?’ Armitage asked quickly. ‘She trusts you. She is practically one of us.’ "I shook my head and said, ‘Just to see if she can detect something is in the blood. She wouldn’t drink it.’ "Albion’s eyes were filled with mirth. ‘Dr. Armitage, the way you rushed to Lucy’s defense, one would think that you were smitten by her,’ he said. "‘I am not,’ began Armitage. ‘That is to say I am happily betrothed to my dear Eleanor back home. Besides, as you well know our dear Miss Lucy’s non-beating heart belongs to another.’ "I remained silent because I did not think it proper to tell them the relationship between Lord Godalming and Lucy had ended. "‘What should we do?’ I asked to direct the conversation elsewhere. ‘Should we stay another day in London to watch the blood clinic? Or should we take our information back to the others?’ "The other two looked at me with a peculiar amusement. ‘I say we have done well in a short time collecting information and should immediately leave,’ Captain Albion said. ‘We could catch a late train. We may learn more about Lilith’s plans if we stay another day, but our chance of exposure increases. Going back allows us to plan our attack — and with our raid we have a better chance to learn more about Lilith’s scheme. Maybe we’ll even catch her.’ "Armitage and I agreed with his reasoning. ‘We should imitate our enemies and establish several lairs of our own in London,’ I said. ‘Let us keep these rooms. They are enough off the beaten path that they should be relatively safe.’ "Before we departed the hotel, I filled out an envelope, placed all the paper money in my possession in it and addressed the envelope to Mrs. Johnstone along with a note offering my deepest sympathy. I thought briefly and then signed it, ‘From a friend.’ "We visited five hotels throughout the city. Albion paid for the rooms in advance to hold them. I drew ‘Defensive Circles’ in them, so that we would have safe havens in different neighborhoods for our return. "Then we were off to Euston to buy tickets to Manchester. We kept looking about us, fearful that Lilith’s vampires or spies would see us and descend. In our minds, London had become the enemy camp that we had sneaked into and it was with relief we boarded a train and departed. "As the miles rolled away, my anxiety lessened and I dozed off sitting up. I woke to the sound of Henry Armitage’s snoring and looked over at Captain Albion keeping an alert watch. "The two of us spoke quietly, careful not to wake Armitage or to discuss anything that other passengers should not hear. "By our round-about route, we arrived near Osmotherley near dawn, though it was difficult to tell because the day was so overcast. We took our horses from the stable and rode home. Fog blanketed the meadow and hid the stone farmhouse until we were on the grassy path by the barn. The morning had a fey stillness except for a bird that sang a mournful song in a nearby tree. "Through the windows, we could see Adena and Anne in the kitchen, cooking breakfast together. Albion pulled back the reins to halt his horse and I stopped behind him. Armitage gave me a questioning look, but I held up a hand. "‘This is where I first saw my wife,’ Captain Albion said in a low voice. ‘It was on a morning such as this. I was visiting a brother officer who lived near here to go on a foxhunt. I had out-ridden the others and became separated from them. I rode into the yard to ask to water my horse. Then I saw her through the window just like this. She was at the table with a rolling pin. She had wiped the back of her hand across her cheeks and left a smudge of flour. She had tied her hair back with a red ribbon. I remember the color because her lips were the same deep shade. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I loved her from that very moment.’ "Albion pulled his eyes away from the window, but he gazed straight ahead instead of at us. ‘I want to thank you gentlemen,’ the Captain said. ‘You have given me a reason to live and that is something I have not had in a long time.’ "‘I should thank you for sharing our danger,’ I said. "He shook his head. ‘After my wife died, I lost my way. I turned to opium to try to escape the past. I volunteered for desperate missions hoping to die in battle. Neither buried my pain. My foolhardiness led my commander to order me home on leave where Arthur’s letter asking for help found me. My life again, at last, has a purpose.’ "Albion turned to me. ‘I am going for a gallop.’ "I held out my right hand to him. He grasped it and then reached out and shook Armitage’s. Albion did not say another word, but rode off and soon disappeared in the fog. Armitage and I watched him. The horse’s passage had caused the bird to stop singing, but the bird began again as we led our horses into the stable. We unsaddled them, rubbed them down and went inside to join the others for breakfast. "Adena and Anne welcomed us back. We sat down at the kitchen table and they filled our coffee cups. Jacob and Sergeant Walekar joined us. Walekar asked after the Captain. We assured him the Captain was fine, but had decided to go for a ride. Prem nodded, and a compassionate look crossed his face. "The expression did not last long. ‘Training in five minutes,’ he said. ‘Do not be late.’ "He finished his food, washed his plate and stepped outside, walking at a quick pace to the rifle range. "Adena and Anne tore into their food like hungry wolves. Armitage and I looked with astonishment at them. ‘What is going on?’ Armitage asked. ‘Why is Prem acting like a martinet?’ "‘H’sh!’ Adena said. ‘Hurry and eat. We cannot be late.’ "‘Sergeant Walekar has decided since the Captain has allowed us to carry firearms, it is his responsibility to make certain we use them properly,’ Anne explained. ‘More than death, he fears we will embarrass him and the Captain.’ "‘He made us march for hours yesterday,’ Adena said. ‘And run up the hill. And carry out assaults on the house.’ "‘Assaults on the house?’ Armitage asked. "‘The Sergeant is very specific about how and when to move and where to look whilst conducting an assault and doing a room-by-room search,’ Anne explained as she stood. ‘Very specific.’ "‘When have you ever allowed any man to tell you what to do?’ I asked Adena. ‘What happened to your "New Woman" philosophy?’ "‘One does not tell Sergeant Walekar no,’ Adena answered, wiping the marks of a hastily eaten egg from the corner of her mouth as she stood and fairly ran out the door to catch up to Anne. "Jacob followed. "‘You too?’ I asked. "‘Yep,’ he said at the doorway. ‘He even made Miss Westenra shoot by torchlight most of the night.’ "‘And she agreed?’ Armitage said. "‘The Sergeant didn’t give her a choice,’ Jacob said over his shoulder. "Armitage and I looked at each other. Without discussion, we stood and bolted after them, suddenly fearful of the wrath of Sergeant Walekar. "The Sergeant stood waiting, his watch in his left hand. Adena, Anne and Jacob stood as straight as any soldiers on a parade ground as Armitage and I ran up. "He handed the two of us rifles and as if speaking to the rawest of recruits explained the basics of the weapon. When I interrupted to say I knew how to fire a rifle, he burst into rather colorful language, several languages actually. "I was told to run to the top of the hill and back. ‘Now really,’ I protested only to have a boot put to my backside. I looked to the others for support. Their eyes faced straight ahead, no smirks, no smiles, and no sympathy. Walekar pointed up the hill and I ran. "By the time I returned, about 20 minutes later, ready to collapse, the others were already firing. I stood in front of Sergeant Walekar as he explained with patience the basic working of a rifle. This time I did not say a word and he acted as if nothing had happened previous. After he finished his instructions, he set me to loading the rifle, went over the sighting of it and then had me join the others on the line, shooting at targets placed on bales of straw down the range in front of the hillside slope. "Sergeant Walekar walked down the line. ‘Good shot, Miss MacKenzie,’ he said. ‘Excellent control.’ And he patiently helped others: ‘Gently squeeze, Miss Metzner. Gently.’ "We fired, reloaded, and fired more until my trigger finger ached. "Captain Albion rode up on his horse behind us. ‘Sergeant Walekar,’ he called as he looked us over. "‘At last,’ I thought to myself, ‘Albion will explain to Walekar that his batman has assumed too much authority.’ "‘Sir,’ Walekar said, snapping smartly to attention. "A hint of a smile appeared on the corner of Albion’s lips. ‘Keep up the good work, Sergeant,’ he said. "‘Yes, sir,’ Walekar replied, clicking his heels together. "I groaned and Walekar ordered me to do push ups. "Albion spurred his horse away and the others resumed firing. "At noon, Sergeant Walekar blew a whistle, told us to clean the rifles, then took them from us and sent us on our weary way. "Tired from my lack of sleep on the train, I collapsed into my bed and took a long nap." Dr. Armitage’s Journal. October 18. Osmotherley. — As a precaution, I had left my journal here, fearing if something had gone wrong in London, our enemy would find it on my corpse and learn too much of our effort to counter her plans. Adventure is so much more romantic in the storybooks. In reality, adventure is a mix of the ordinary with moments of sheer terror and stark boredom. Now that I am back to my journal, I dare not write what happened. Suffice to say I shall never again complain of the boredom of stamping returned books at the library. I miss Eleanor. I miss home. I miss Arkham. Mr. Carnacki’s story — continued. "I awoke to a loud knocking on my door. Adena entered. With bleary eyes, I peeked under the pillow over my head. "‘See?’ she asked. ‘You do not like it any better when I do knock.’ "We spoke for a long time about a private matter. When we had finished, the afternoon had faded away. "‘Other than Sergeant Walekar’s tyranny, have you noticed how friendly everyone is?’ I asked her. "‘Yes,’ she said. ‘We get along well because most of us have not known each other long. And do not think unkindly of Sergeant Walekar. His motives are pure. He wants to keep us alive.’ "‘You are right as always,’ I told her. ‘But if Lucy hungers tonight, I know whose blood I am drawing.’ "Of course, I had to draw someone’s blood for our experiment. Both the Sergeant and Jacob volunteered. In one cup we added holy water to the blood and in another cup we stirred in garlic. A third cup was left untouched for her to drink afterward. "I lit the candles in Lucy’s room and waited for her. "When Lucy rose from her coffin, she smiled bewitchingly at me. "‘Welcome back, Thomas,’ she said. ‘I am so glad to see you safe.’ My breathing skipped a beat. There was otherworldliness to her beauty, not just because of her fangs, but the fullness of her bright red lips, the moon glow of her complexion, the line of her jaw and chin and the curves of her cheeks. Her stillness — the lack of any of the small signs of life — also added an unnerving aspect to the effect. She gazed at me expectantly. "I inhaled deeply. ‘Good evening,’ I said to her. I suddenly felt awkward and incapable of putting words together coherently. There was a long silence as my heart wildly pumped in my chest. "‘Did you wish something?’ she said at last. "‘You,’ I stammered, ‘are wanted for a test.’ "‘An experiment?’ "‘Yes,’ I replied. I tried to gather my wits. ‘I will bring in two cups of blood and you are not to drink them, but I want to see if you want to drink them,’ I told her. "‘Thomas, you are not making sense,’ she said with a perplexed look. "I thought to myself that if she only breathed, it would make life easier for me. ‘I’m sorry,’ I told her. ‘May I start over?’ "‘Please do,’ she said. "I explained to her it was important to not drink the blood, but to see if she sensed anything unusual about either cup. I stepped into the hall and the Sergeant handed me a tray with the two cups. I took the tray inside and shut her door. "She picked up the first cup and held it to her nose, like a connoisseur sniffing the cheapest wine. ‘This has garlic in it,’ she said. "Lucy reached for the second cup, but her hand stopped before her fingers touched it. ‘What is in it?’ "‘Holy water,’ I answered. "I took the tray out and handed it to Walekar, who passed me a fresh goblet of his own blood that Armitage had drawn earlier. I had asked him to draw the Sergeant’s blood because the librarian had even less skill at it than I did. "I explained to Lucy what we had discovered in London, about the vampires’ blood supply and their deliveries. I told her how we thought the knowledge gave us an opportunity to strike at them and disrupt Lilith’s scheme. "‘You hoped to poison them,’ she said. ‘That is why you wanted to see if a vampire could sense something wrong with the blood.’ "‘The thought had crossed my mind,’ I replied. "‘I see,’ she said. ‘I have weapons training with Sergeant Walekar. If you have no further experiments, I should go.’ "‘Do you not want to drink your blood?’ I asked. "‘You drink it,’ she said with an imperious tone. ‘You are more bloodthirsty than I am tonight.’ "She walked out without a backward glance, not bothering to open the door, but simply passing through it like a ghost, the way she entered her coffin. I muttered a curse and smacked my fist into my palm in frustration. "Perhaps a quarter of an hour passed when I heard gunshots from outside. I had the house to myself. The others had followed Lucy out to watch her. "I went downstairs, drank a glass of water and opened the door to look out. Distant cheers echoed after each shot. I crossed the heather to where the others surrounded Lucy. Torches burned next to the target and at the firing line. Albion held field glasses to his eyes and called out ‘Another bulls eye!’ and another vigorous cheer went up. "I could not believe how far away the target was — 1,200 yards or more. I could barely see it. "Walekar turned to me. ‘She has such excellent eyesight and such a steady hand. And she does not breathe, you see, which keeps her aim on target,’ he said. "‘It is because I have such a fine instructor,’ Lucy said. "‘That is enough with the rifle,’ said the Sergeant beaming. ‘Show them your skill with the saber.’ "He handed her his sword and she unsheathed it, then sped through a series of thrusts and counters, her abnormal speed making her a blur to the eye. ‘We cannot fence with her because her arm is so strong and she is too quick,’ the Sergeant said. ‘But she is a fine pupil. Such grace. Such strong wrists.’ "Lucy smiled at him. Captain Albion said it was time for us to call it a night. "I walked at the back of the group when Lucy appeared beside me. "‘May I speak to you alone?’ she asked. "‘Of course,’ I said. "The others continued on to the house. "She waited until they were gone. ‘I am sorry,’ she said to me with her eyes downcast. "I apologized to her as well and told her I had not meant to offend. "We shared a quiet moment alone together just looking up at the stars and the rising crescent of a moon. The two of us had been through much together and words were not needed to express our camaraderie for each other. "When we rejoined the others inside, they were in a spirited debate planning the attack. "‘We cannot split up as you suggest,’ Albion said to Adena. ‘It is too dangerous and even then we will have too many houses to search them all.’ "Adena shook her head. ‘But if we do not get all on the first stroke, the survivors will be harder to find. And instead of blood delivered to their doorsteps, they will feed on the citizens of London.’ "Many voices were speaking out at once, making it impossible for any one to be heard. Albion turned to Walekar. ‘Sergeant,’ the Captain said. "‘Quiet in the ranks!’ Walekar roared. "‘In the silence, I piped in: ‘I have an idea to get all of them at once.’ "That got their attention.


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