An Honest One

You may also download this story:
PDF format
ePub format
.mobi (Kindle) format

AN HONEST ONE

Lola unlocked the door to her room. She opened the door only enough to squeeze herself and her tattered cloth bag through. Even though not even the slenderest remnant of daylight ever reached her tiny room at the very end of the corridor, she was still careful. She closed and bolted the door behind her. Although her room was pitch black she deftly  stepped over to her counter and placed her shopping bag on the wooden surface.

“It’s still day, isn’t it? I can feel it…” Lola’s groggy companion said as he yawned and slowly lifted his torso off the bed with his elbows and turned to look at Lola. “You look lovely, by the way.”

Lola smiled and spun around. Heinrich’s eyes emitted a very dim red glow in the darkness. In two short strides she was standing by his side. She leaned down and planted a kiss on his cold lips. “Only a few hours until it’s dark. And thank you—one of us should wear a color other than black, don’t you think?” She winked.

Lola returned to the counter and lit two candles. The yellow light radiating from the short, thick candles illuminated the room unevenly, throwing shadows into every crack and corner.

“I spent the afternoon buying myself some vegetables, cheese, and a loaf of bread,” Lola related as she emptied her bag and arranged the contents on the counter. “I also looked into some shops down Whitechapel High Street looking for a long black coat for you.”

“Please,” Heinrich shook his head. “I’ll be fine without a coat. I don’t get cold. And when will you listen to me and spend some of our money on some meat for yourself?”

“When it comes down in price,” Lola smirked. “Meat’s just too expensive. I’ll be fine,” Lola insisted.

“When I go out to feed myself, I shall return with some beef or poultry for you.”

Lola sighed playfully and shook her head. “Heinrich, I know you want me to eat better, but please don’t feel obligated to—”

Heinrich smiled. He rose from the bed and put his arms gently on her shoulders, gently caressing her from her forearms to her tender throat. “Everything I do for you,” he whispered in her ear, “I do because I want to, not because I feel obligated to.”

Lola finished emptying her bag. She sighed blissfully and turned to face Heinrich. She put her arm around his shoulders and leaned up to kiss him again.

“Well maybe there’s one thing you’ll do out of obligation later tonight,” Lola smirked. “It would help smooth things out with the Millars next door.”

“Is there a problem?” Heinrich asked.

“Not a problem, really,” Lola shrugged. “I love their two young boys. But Maggie Millar…she’s a right old…Sorry, that was mean,” Lola shook her head. “I know she means well, and just wants to protect her boys from undesirable types…”

“She judges you because you used to be a…woman of the night?” Heinrich finished her thought.

Lola sighed and nodded. “She never forgave me for not working in the textile factory like she does, and she can make my comings and goings…”

“Unpleasant?”

“Exactly. So I told her about you, and that I’ve stopped taking patrons entirely. She’d like to meet you tonight, late. After her boys are asleep. She doesn’t want to promote ‘living in sin’ any more than whoring,” Lola tried to smirk, but Heinrich could tell that Maggie’s words had cut.

“Of course,” Heinrich agreed. “I’ll meet her. What did you tell her about me?”

“That you were the brilliant illegitimate child of George III and should be the Prince Regent instead of his legitimate son, what else?” Lola said.

Heinrich laughed. “Fair enough. I could exaggerate my natural German accent if you think that would help.”

“It just might,” Lola chuckled. “So perhaps around ten or eleven tonight we could stop by?” Lola asked.

“Certainly,” Heinrich grinned. “Why don’t you fix yourself some dinner, and in a while we can get some air and walk together for a while.”

“Lovely,” Lola said as she gave Heinrich a quick peck on the cheek and again turned to the counter to slice some bread.

 

“No need to worry,” Lola reassured Heinrich as the pair strolled down Whitechapel High Road.

“Thanks. But it sounds like Mrs. Millar is pre-disposed to find fault with me. And to be honest, it’s hard for me to be charming when I’m…I’m…”

“Hungry?”

Heinrich nodded, averting his gaze.

“Do we need to stop at the Royal London?”

The corners of Heinrich’s mouth curled in a familiar, pensive half-grin. “I’ve said before, I’d only break in alone. I won’t endanger you. And besides, it’s not something I’m proud of…it’s not…pretty…” Heinrich sighed heavily.

“No, but I’ve seen you feed before,” Lola reminded him softly, caressing his arm. “You never need to be ashamed around me. And I can go straight back to our room, and you can meet me afterward.”

Heinrich gazed at Lola gratefully. “I’ll be fine. I’d rather get this over with and feed afterwards. I just hope Mrs. Millar isn’t predisposed to find fault with me.”

“She’s predisposed to find fault with everyone but the Holy Ghost. And maybe even then,” Lola quipped. “But I think she’ll be impressed that you’re a man of letters.”

“I better not tell her I’m not a man, then,” Heinrich winked. Lola smirked, shook her head, and elbowed him gently as they turned down Green Dragon Yard, only a couple of blocks from home.

When they reached Old Montague Street, Heinrich stopped abruptly. Lola stopped an instant later and turned to face him. Heinrich had become deathly serious, his head high, inhaling slowly.

“What is it?” Lola whispered. She tightened her grip on Heinrich’s arm.

“I smell fear. Panic. Rage.”

Heinrich removed Lola’s arm from his own and took her right hand in his as he squatted low to the street. He started to quietly howl. Lola immediately looked around, slightly embarrassed. Nobody noticed them on the unlit side street. She imperceptibly sighed with relief.

A medium-sized, dirty short-haired tan dog trotted up to Heinrich. He pet the dog’s head and scratched its ears.

“What have you heard or seen?” Heinrich asked the dog.

Lola glared at the dog with anticipation, half-expecting it to answer in English.

Heinrich’s eyes went wide. “Oh no!” He exclaimed. “We’ve got to hurry!”

Lola nodded. She swallowed hard. She was getting frightened.

Heinrich rose and released her hand, instead putting his right arm around her back, left arm around her legs and lifting her off of her feet, her modest blue dress dangling another foot off of Heinrich’s arm.

“Follow!” Heinrich barked as he dashed toward the Hope Street tenement. Even with Lola in his arms, Heinrich ran as fast as the dog running at his side. They sped down the block and turned onto Hope Street. Heinrich put Lola down gently as they reached the front door and held her hand tightly as he sprang inside. Lola and the dog followed behind him.

No light shone in the corridor save a single sliver of light crawling from the slightly ajar door to the Millar’s room. They ran to the door.

“How could you…” moaned a sobbing woman from inside. “You’ve got to get him back Paul…you’ve got to…”

Heinrich pushed the door open and saw a wiry woman sitting on the floor leaning against the wall to the left of the door, bawling her eyes out. Her blue-and-black bruised arms hung limply by her side. Her cheeks were crimson from being slapped around hard.

Across from her was her stout, muscular husband attempting to lift himself from the floor. His hair appeared sticky and dark from drying blood. His trousers were torn, his legs seemed to be splayed unnaturally. His eyes were nearly hidden behind huge purple swellings and lacerations.

Their room, about twice the size of Lola’s, had been ransacked. The mattresses were turned upside down and sliced through. The light-colored wooden table that had once stood in the center of the room lay overturned with a busted leg, along with four wooden chairs. A cabinet lay open on the ground, its contents strewn across the floor. And behind the mattresses was a very young boy, shaking and crying on the floor, his arms around his knees.

What happened?” Lola asked.

“They took him…” Maggie sniveled, “they took my Will!”

Who, Maggie?” Lola implored. Heinrich stood in the doorway while Lola entered the room, squatted down next to Maggie Millar and gently held the distraught mother’s shoulders. “Who took Will?”

“Ned Granger,” Paul Millar groaned as he pushed himself to a sitting position. “Ned and his blasted hooligans.”

Why? What would this man want with little Will?” Lola asked.

“Ask him,” Maggie spat at her husband.

Heinrich and Lola both turned to Paul Millar.

“It’s…it’s all my fault…” He lowered his pummeled face and closed his eyes.

“How is it your fault?” Lola pressed.

“I…I’ve got this problem, see…” Paul swallowed. “Sometimes, when I’d hit the pub with the other lads to shake off the day at the docks,” Paul explained sheepishly, “Ned would be there to run a game…”

“You witless bastard…” Maggie sobbed, her tears pouring down anew. Maggie tried to move her arms to dab her tears but they wouldn’t move. Lola dabbed Maggie’s tears for her.

“Look, I know I should have stopped the gaming…especially when I needed Ned to front me the money to play. I thought I was smart, using my winnings to pay off what I owed, I never made much money, but I also didn’t have debts to worry about, neither,” he continued.

“Until a losing streak that you couldn’t pay off,” Maggie seethed, “and those huge monsters you borrowed the money from came ’round looking for payment.”

“Is that why they beat you?” Lola.

“They busted into my home…” Paul tried to explain. “I did what I could, but Ned’s men…they’re huge…some of ’em even had pistols. They came for their money—”

“Which of course we don’t have,” Maggie cried.

“So they took…they said…they said…collateral…” Paul closed his eyes, ashamed. “To make sure I was good for it…”

Heinrich stared into the room, silently taking in the scene before him.

“I can help you,” he said.

For the first time, Maggie and Paul Millar looked up at the tall, thin, and pale stranger.

“But you won’t be…invited in,” Lola said, choosing her words carefully. “Are you sure you can rescue Will under those conditions?”

Heinrich offered Lola a reassuring glance. She was right, of course; his aversion to entering a dwelling without an invitation was more than simple courtesy.

“I’ll find a way,” Heinrich replied.

“Of course you’re invited in. Come in, come in,” Paul interjected, assuming that Lola was disparaging his manners.

“Thank you,” Heinrich said, leaving Mr. Millar to his misunderstanding. He took a step inside.

“Now what’s this about rescuing Will?” Maggie implored.

“I can get Will back for you,” Heinrich repeated. “Tonight.”

Maggie stared silently at Heinrich, her eyes wide. The desperation in her countenance spoke louder than words.

But,” Heinrich emphasized, peering deep into Mr. Millar’s eyes. “There is a price.”

“I’ll pay it,” he swore without hesitation.

“We’ll do anything, sir. Anything for my William,” Maggie sobbed.

“Anything,” Paul asserted. “I don’t care what you want. Take it.”

“Are you sure, Mr. Millar?” Heinrich said.

Mr. Millar nodded, but this time a little more nervously.

Heinrich turned to Sam. “Can you bring me something of your brother’s, please?” Heinrich asked softly.

Sam nodded, wiped his tears on his sleeve, and looked around at the clothes strewn around the mattress. In a moment, he came back with a small pair of trousers.

“Thank you,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich turned and bent down in front of the dog who had followed them inside. Heinrich held the trousers in front of the animal, then laid them on the ground. The dog snuffled the trousers thoroughly, pushing them around and breathing in every inch.

Find this boy, Heinrich instructed wordlessly. The dog wagged its tail once, spun around and scampered down the corridor and out of the building.

Heinrich stood up and closed the door.

“Now is when you start paying, Mr. Millar,” Heinrich said, slowly walking toward the battered man.

Lola looked up with alarm. “Heinrich?”

“I can’t do this unless I have a small bite first,” Heinrich said, never taking his eyes off Paul Millar.

“I’m the healthiest…” Lola offered.

“No,” Heinrich said, kneeling down and taking Paul’s arm. “You’re too small. Paul is larger. Even injured, he’ll recover faster. Trust me.”

“Close your eyes, Sam,” Lola called, putting her hand over Maggie’s eyes. “Don’t look.”

Maggie turned her head, trying to shake off Lola’s hand. “What is—”

“It’s fine…” Lola reassured Maggie, her voice a little shaky. “He’ll be fine…won’t he, Heinrich?”

“Yes,” Heinrich answered as he rolled back Paul Millar’s right sleeve. “I wish there was another way. But time is of the essence. I can’t go looking for someone else. You’ll have to do.”

Paul Millar turned to Heinrich. When he saw Heinrich’s eyes start to glow red, he gasped and turned away.

“Lola will be here to watch over you.”

“W-What are you going to do?” Paul stammered, beginning to tremble.

“Please turn away,” Heinrich instructed gently. “It’s easier for both of us that way…”

 

Once Heinrich finished with Paul Millar and left, he caught up to the dog quickly. It had tracked the scent down Whitechapel High Street to Plumber Row toward the docks. After a good hour of winding through the streets of Whitechapel and south toward the river, the dog slowed as they approached a series of houses off Church Lane near Henry Street.

Heinrich ducked into the shadows. He peered out from the darkness, looking from end of the end of the street to ensure nobody could see him. He inhaled and concentrated; his form shrunk and tightened until it became that of a large bat. He flew above the rooftops as the dog turned the corner and trotted down the small, unlit Henry Street. Nearly every house on this tiny street seemed derelict, with windows broken in and no lights. Only the three-story house at 226 seemed different. The windows were boarded, but Heinrich could clearly hear people inside and see light escaping from under the door jam. Outside the house, two heavy bearded men were laughing and taking large gulps from the pewter tankards they were holding. One wore a thick brown coat, the other a threadbare tan coat.

Heinrich tried to devise a scenario by which he could convince these men to invite him into the house. Very quickly he realized there wasn’t one.

Stealth and speed, Heinrich thought.

Make the men see you, he urged the dog.

The dog walked up to the man with the brown coat, lifted his leg, and urinated on his left boot. The other man laughed uproariously, as if his friend being pissed on was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. “He loves you, Gil!”

“Argh! Damn you dog! Stop right now! Stop! Get outta here you mangy mutt! Git!” Gil shouted. He kicked out wildly, shaking his scruffy brown boot rapidly, which resulted in his flinging the particularly foul smelling urine all over the street and dog. The animal avoided the kicking but not the spray, and sprang back to shake off the droplets from his fur.

“Come near me again and I’ll gut you!” Gil shouted.

“And shut it, Tom! It wouldn’t be so funny if…” Gil turned from the dog, but realized that he was standing alone.

“Tom?”

Gil spun this way and that. “Where’d you go so quick?”

“Let me show you,” Heinrich whispered from behind him.

“What the—”

Before Gil could finish his sentence a pale, clawed hand shot out of the darkness from behind and gripped his mouth, the claws digging deep into his cheeks. The startled man felt two long, sharp canine teeth bite deep into his shoulder. His eyes went wide. He tried to scream but the tight hand across his mouth muffled it.

Gil flailed and struggled as Heinrich dragged him into the thicket between 226 and 228 Henry Street, sucking his lifeblood away all the while. Gil sputtered and spasmed while being forced to his knees. Heinrich bit through Gil’s throat, reaching the vertebrae. He twisted and yanked the bone completely out of the man’s neck, spitting it into the thicket. He dumped Gil’s convulsing carcass on top of the broken corpse of Tom. Blood poured out of the gaping hole in Gil’s throat onto Tom’s already bloody torso.

Heinrich sat for a moment, catching his breath, the rush of fresh blood filling him. He closed his eyes and savored it, but remembered he didn’t have time to luxuriate and stopped himself. He grabbed the bottom of Tom’s coat and wiped as much blood off his cheeks, mouth, and the collar of his black shirt as he could.

Stay here, Heinrich instructed the dog. It wagged its tail and settled down next to the bodies.

Heinrich closed his eyes and concentrated again. His body shimmered and vanished, a thick mist in its place. The mist drifted toward the door, then seeped under it and into the house.

Immediately, Heinrich felt an oppressive weight upon him, a heavy pounding upon his mind. Heinrich’s sight was fuzzy and he felt nausea overtake him. Rising up to the ceiling took all of his effort. Once there, he concentrated hard to steady himself. He knew what to expect when entering without permission, experienced the aching and disorientation before, but that didn’t make it any easier. He paused until able to focus his vision enough to look around.

The first thing he noticed was that right next to the door, stairs led to the second story. Directly to his left, he could hear the laughter and swearing of four men playing cards. He paused, the stench from the direction of the card players filling his lungs.

The mist floated high above the drunken revelry. Heinrich could see the loud, boisterous men were dirty but dressed relatively well, in high spirits, and wobbly with drink. He continued across the room to the attached kitchen, which the assault on his olfactory senses informed him was the source of the horrible stink. Empty and broken bottles previously containing whisky, gin, and rum, spent kegs of ale, and various dirty shelves with baskets of rotting fruit littered the kitchen. Some unidentifiable meat was putrefying in the corner and had gathered a collection of flies. How the men could stand being so close to the kitchen Heinrich could only imagine.

The far end of the kitchen had a closed pantry door. Heinrich drifted under the door. The tiny pantry, barely large enough for two people to stand inside, was stocked with intact bottles, and boxes, some kegs, and unspoiled meat on hooks.  Most importantly, the pantry had what Heinrich was looking for: crumpled and terrified in the corner was a small boy, his hands and feet roped together.

The mist glided out of the pantry back into the kitchen, where it congealed and transformed into Heinrich. He put his hand on the counter, trying to steady his swimming head. He tried to imagine the throbbing ache as a ball inside of his head, and to push it to one side. It worked; the pain became more manageable. It will have to do, Heinrich sighed.

Stealth and speed, he reiterated to himself. The longer he lingered, the worse he would be affected; he knew had to finish this quickly. Just clear this floor, grab Will, and get out. But they were all looking at each other; how could he surprise them? He quickly glanced around the kitchen and found a dozen rotting apples. He took two of the soft, browning fruits and stepped silently into the room.

“Apple?” He shouted.

The men started and turned.

“Get ‘im Briggs!” the tall skinny man across the table from Heinrich shouted.

A large round bearded man grunted and attempted a drunken, unbalanced run toward Heinrich.

Heinrich threw the apples at Briggs and the other card player nearest him. The two men reeled from the mushy blow of the putrid fruit to their faces, trying to focus through their alcoholic haze. Before they could, Heinrich lunged directly between them and overturned the table, sending playing cards, beer glasses, money, cigars, and the tall, skinny card player careening onto the floor.

Heinrich pivoted toward the one man not startled or on the floor and grabbed his neck. Heinrich’s sharp claws dug into his flesh deep enough that blood from his jugular spurted out all over Heinrich’s hand. Before he could scream, Heinrich twisted the man’s head almost fully backwards and threw the body at Briggs.

The other man Heinrich had pelted now rose to his feet. His round face was now flush with fear as well as beer. He brandished a short knife from its sheath under his jacket. Heinrich swatted the blade away with ease and pounced on him, sending both of them tumbling to the floor. The heavy-set man grabbed Heinrich’s skinny torso and shoved with all his might. He succeeded in pushing Heinrich slightly but to no avail; Heinrich’s long sharp canines sliced through his neck and grabbed hold of his windpipe. Twisting his head like a wolf tearing meat, Heinrich wrenched the man’s windpipe out of his throat. Blood poured out all over his chest and Heinrich’s chin as the man grabbed at the air and tried to call out, as if something unseen might save him from the vampire on top of him.

As Heinrich slid himself from atop his knife-wielding victim, the tall and skinny man squirmed himself free from underneath the downed table and skittered back to the far wall of the drawing room. He stood up and turned to the cupboard behind him and reached for one of the two flintlock pistols and a small lead ball. He dropped the bullet in the pistol and prayed it had powder in it.

Heinrich spun around toward him.

The man fired.

There was a flash from the barrel of the flintlock and an ear shattering boom.

“Damnit!” Heinrich howled as he lost his balance and wobbled, but did not fall. He tightened his mouth in pain and frustration. He looked down at his black shirt, now drenched and darkened with blood, and saw the small bullet-sized hole at the very spot in his abdomen he felt a sharp, searing ache.

Heinrich exhaled and redoubled his efforts. Grunting and attempting to shake off the pain, Heinrich dove at Briggs who had finally extricated himself from under  Heinrich’s first target. Briggs drew his short knife and slashed out wildly. Heinrich dodged the blow and then grabbed Briggs’ beard in one hand and his knife arm in the other. Heinrich shoved the heavy man against the wall and forced him to drive his own knife into his eye. At first Heinrich tried to hold his hand to Briggs’ mouth to muffle his screaming but quickly realized that after the flintlock shot, noise didn’t matter anymore. Instead he lowered his hand to Briggs’ jugular vein and with the claw of his index finger ripped open the flesh from behind his ear to his shoulder. Heinrich let go of Briggs, who desperately grabbed at his spewing neck, trying to keep himself from bleeding out. He slid down the wall, leaving a trail of blood as he sputtered on the floor.

Heinrich then spun around and launched himself at the his final adversary, the tall and skinny pistol-wielding card player. He had spent these last moments while Heinrich dispatched Briggs looking for more gunpowder and shot. To his horror, he found none. He turned around to face Heinrich, shaking so violently he nearly lost his footing.

“Mercy, please!” the man begged as Heinrich advanced, with blazing red eyes, open mouth revealing his two inch long razor-sharp upper canines, breathing heavily.

“I know where Ned keeps—” before he could finish, Heinrich was upon him. He shoved his right hand through the card player’s abdomen, piercing all the way through his innards and grabbing a loop of small intestine.

“That’s for shooting me in the gut, you bastard,” Heinrich seethed.

The man’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head as he opened his mouth and uttered a hoarse, tortured scream. Heinrich saw the man’s eyes start to roll back in his head as he began to pass out. Heinrich yanked his fist out of the man’s gut and smashed it into his throat. His neck snapped and the vertebrae splintered as it impacted against the wall. Heinrich let go and let the man’s body collapse to the floor, unconscious, twitching, and dying.

Heinrich leaned against the wall. He gritted his teeth, held his breath, and dug two of his clawed fingers into the hole in his abdomen. He closed his eyes and ground his teeth as he grasped the lead ball and pulled it out of his body. He spat out his breath like a drowning man finally emptying his lungs, shaky from the anguish of removing the bullet, worsened still by the oppressive throbbing in his head from being uninvited. It was getting worse. He couldn’t simply shunt it to one side anymore. His nose started to bleed. I’ve got to finish this quickly, he knew. He panted against the wall for a moment, giving the searing waves of pain a chance to recede.

The ground floor is clear, Heinrich reasoned. I could still grab Will and run. Unfortunately, he realized, if others were in the upper floors, they could ambush them on the way out; he’d completely lost the element of surprise. He sighed and nodded to himself. Heinrich would not risk the boy’s safety. He knew what he had to do.

He rose to his feet and took a deep breath to steady himself, then listened carefully for footsteps, breathing, any sign of others in the house. He walked out of the large room and warily climbed the stairs.

The stairs lead to a single closed door, and diagonally opposite them another set of stairs continued up from there. Heinrich heard some rustling inside the room, so he gripped the doorknob, braced himself, and then forced the door, springing inside.

“Bloody hell…” he whispered, his brow narrowing in sympathy and disgust.

The room he had entered was empty except for a small single bed and a chamber pot. The room reeked with the overpowering stench of stale sweat, urine and liquid feces. A semi-delirious nude woman lay twitching on the bed. She lay on a bare mattress covered in dark stains of every size and shape, with no sheets or blankets. Thick rope secured her hands to the sides of the headboard and her feet to the foot of the bed. A green cloth tied around her head gagged her. She was covered in dried sweat, caked blood, and bruises—some old, some recent.

Heinrich immediately felt embarrassed for looking upon her naked body and raised his eyes to her face as quickly as he could. She looked up at Heinrich and started to focus. She tried to utter a garbled warning as a slender young man pivoted from behind the door and shoved a long knife through the center of Heinrich’s chest.

Heinrich winced as the air poured out of his lungs. He reeled sideways into the room, dazed from both the blow and the oppressive weight of being an uninvited vampire.  Heinrich grabbed the wrist still holding onto the knife in his chest and swung the man around until he slammed into the opposite wall. Heinrich squeezed the man’s wrist until bones started cracking and he screamed and released the knife.

The man kept screaming as Heinrich grabbed his shoulders with both hands and sunk his teeth into the man’s throat. Heinrich sucked down mouthfuls of blood as the screaming man flailed out with his arms, using his good wrist to pummel Heinrich, and then his legs, trying to knee and shove Heinrich away. None of it worked—even through his blazing pain he could feel his life ebbing away. Finally the slender man stopped screaming and flailing. Heinrich pulled away, his mouth, chin and throat covered in blood. He  dropped the carcass onto the floor and closed the door to give himself a moment to catch his breath and regain his senses after feeding so deeply. He ripped a small square out of the back of the man’s shirt and wiped as much of the blood off of his face and neck as he could.

Heinrich held his breath and grimaced as he pulled the long knife out of his chest and dropped it next to the body at his feet. He fell to his knees, blood pouring out of his nose. He wiped his face, stood up, and walked toward the restrained woman. She trembled and struggled against her ropes to get away from him.

Heinrich reached a hand toward her face. She closed her eyes and turned her head. She shrieked into her gag, the result sounding more like a long squeak.

“Believe me, I’m not going to hurt you,” Heinrich said, his voice hoarse and gurgling from the hole in his chest and blood seeping out of his nose. “I’m going to untie you.”

He reached behind her head to undo her gag. He removed the green cloth from her face and dropped it to the ground. Then he held up the palms of his open hands to her. “I promise you, I will untie you and then leave you in peace.”

She gave him a slight nod, still shaking.

“I only need you to do one thing for me: please invite me into this house.”

The woman glared at Heinrich quizzically.

Please,” Heinrich gasped, closing his eyes as the pain in his head threatened to overwhelm him.

“But I…I…Please…come into this house,” she stammered.

Heinrich exhaled with a deep sigh of relief as the throbbing in his head quickly faded. “Thank you,” he breathed. His nose stopped bleeding.

Heinrich reached down toward the woman and one by one, sliced through each rope with his claws. When he’d cut all her bonds, she drew in her limbs with a long moan, her eyes hot and red but too dry to cry.

Heinrich turned around and reached for the body on the floor. He undid the buttons of his shirt and pulled it off of the corpse.

“You can put on this man’s clothing and run,” Heinrich said, throwing the shirt onto the bed without turning toward her. “Take whatever money you can find on the body and get yourself cleaned up. And there are more bodies down below.”

“Th…thanks…” she croaked.

“You’re welcome,” Heinrich said, standing facing the closed door. “If it’s any consolation…know that they’ll never see another dawn—but you will.”

Heinrich walked to the closed door, then turned his head slightly to the woman. “One thing; do you know how many men are in this house?”

“I…I’m not sure,” she croaked out. “There were six that regularly…” She looked away, ashamed. “But others came and went,” she added softly.

Heinrich nodded then put his hand on the doorknob and twisted. Before he opened the door, he stopped. He turned back to the woman.

“Wait until I clear the stairs,” he whispered.

The woman, now wearing the dead man’s shirt, nodded apprehensively.

Heinrich listened intently at the stairs. He heard footsteps almost down the stairs. He cracked open the door and closed his eyes. He concentrated, contracted, and turned into a bat.

The woman screamed.

A tall man near the bottom of the stairs wearing a large knapsack turned around.

The bat flew into the man’s face, flapping its wings all about its head and biting at his face. He tried to put a hand in front of his face to guard against the tiny teeth and claws of the animal and ended up tripping backwards down the final two steps and his knapsack slammed into the closed front door. The bat kept at him, distracting and blinding him and trying to herd him into the large room next to the door.

“Go away! Leave me alone!” the man shouted, swatting at the bat with his left arm while reaching into his jacket with his right. He pulled a knife and slashed at the large black wings beating his head, slicing a long gash in the right wing.

The bat shrieked and sunk its tiny teeth into the man’s neck. Then the bat enlarged, elongated, and transformed back into Heinrich—with his teeth still embedded in the man’s throat. Heinrich’s right sleeve was bloody and torn from a long gash.

Heinrich pulled his teeth out of the man’s throat and threw him into the cupboard hard enough that numerous long blades and a pistol fell off its shelves and onto the ground. The man himself bounced off the cupboard and tumbled face first to the ground.

“Ned Granger I presume?” Heinrich said, slowly advancing toward the man.

“What’s it to you?” he said, grabbing a long sword and picking himself off the floor.

Heinrich glanced at the sword and then erupted into a loud, cruel laugh. “Look around you, Ned. Do you think that blade will hurt me?”

“What kind of monster are you?” Ned yelled, his voice shaking.

“The kind of monster that believes you never steal a boy from his home or torture a woman,” Heinrich retorted, his eyes burning red.

“Look…maybe we can come to a deal…”

Heinrich stopped advancing. “Maybe we can,” Heinrich smirked.

“Okay, good,” Ned swallowed, finally feeling he might have something to bargain with. “So what can ol’ Ned do for the likes of you?”

“I’m in a hurry, and this little operation has taken much longer than I thought it would, you know?” Heinrich glanced at the gore around him as he spoke. “So if you lower your sword, you have my word I’ll dispatch you quickly, as painlessly as I can. Otherwise, I’ll shred you, and you’ll feel every second of it.”

“What kind of a deal is that?” Ned retorted.

“An honest one,” Heinrich answered.

“How about I give you the boy, the woman, and whatever else you want?”

“I’ll take the boy. The woman will go home. And what I want from you—” Heinrich snarled, continuing his advance. “is retribution.”

Ned lowered his sword. Heinrich curled his mouth into a savage grin and reached his left hand up to the side of Ned’s throat to claw his jugular and execute him as he’d promised.

Ned ran his sword through Heinrich’s abdomen to the hilt.

Heinrich’s eyes bulged out and he howled, instead grabbing Ned’s head with his left hand and clawing through his scalp and cheek. He shoved Ned’s head up against the wall and shouted “I warned you!”

Heinrich tore through Ned’s jacket and shirt with his right claws. Heinrich’s fingers punctured Ned’s chest and grabbed one of his ribs tightly. Heinrich then pulled, snapping the rib off the sternum and yanking it completely out of Ned’s chest. Ned wailed and shrieked as Heinrich held the broken and bloody rib up to Ned’s eyes.

“Now do you understand what you’re dealing with?” Heinrich growled.

Ned tried to grab onto Heinrich’s arms and push him away. Heinrich didn’t budge, snapping another rib, and then another, out of Ned’s chest. After three ribs, when Ned began to convulse and lose consciousness, Heinrich finally sliced through Ned’s jugular vein and let him drop to the floor, leaving him to bleed out.

Heinrich sighed and looked up. Across the room at the bottom of the stairs he saw the battered woman, too terrified to move, staring at Heinrich.

Heinrich turned to Ned’s knapsack, opened it, and reached his hand in. He pulled out a gold necklace.

Heinrich caught her gaze in his and held it. “Take this,” he said, throwing the necklace at her feet.

Obediently, she bent down and took the necklace.

“Your tormentors are dead. You are free. Now go—but never, ever, tell a soul what you have seen here,” Heinrich instructed.

Still quaking from head to toe, she nodded, opened the door and ran and into the night.

 

He grabbed one of the candles adorning the walls and walked to the pantry door. Before opening the door, he imagined what he must look like, and how his visage would terrify Will. He looked around the kitchen for anything he might use to clean himself, but only found a half-empty bottle of clear gin. He looked down at his tattered and bloody shirt. Lola just bought me this one, he sniffed out a rueful chuckle. He ripped off a piece of fabric from the bottom, liberally doused it in gin, and wiped his face, neck, and hands.

Heinrich stood in front of the pantry door. “Hi Will…I’m Heinrich. We met once, in the hallway. I’m the…I’m staying next door with Lola. I’m going to open the door.”

Heinrich waited for a moment for a response. None came. He inhaled, turned the knob and opened the door.

Will trembled and sobbed, blinking rapidly and squirming even farther into the corner of the dark pantry. The candle wasn’t very bright, only dimly painting the shelves and Will with a soft yellow light. Nevertheless, after hours in total darkness the boy still was semi-blinded.

Heinrich stood still for a moment, letting Will’s blinking and tearing eyes adjust. “Do you recognize me?” He finally asked.

Will nodded, as he tried to stop crying.

“I’m here to take you home.”

Will nodded again.

Heinrich placed the candle on a shelf and reached around so that his hands were out of the boy’s sight. His fingernails elongated into claws and he cut and sliced the ropes with them.

“When we leave the pantry, I need you to shut your eyes until we’re outside, okay?”

Will closed his eyes. Heinrich picked him up with one arm and covered Will’s eyes with the other hand.

“Are you hurt?” Heinrich asked as he stepped over the bodies in the drawing room.

“I’m okay. I just…I…pissed myself,” Will admitted shamefully.

“Don’t be upset, Will. I would too,” Heinrich said. “Soon you’ll be able to change.”

Outside the house, Heinrich removed his hand from the boy’s eyes and set him down. The dog sat up.

Heinrich put the boy down in front of the dog. “Now Will, I’m going to run inside. Don’t leave. The dog will keep you safe.”

Will bent over and stroked the dog’s back and neck. For the first time since his abduction, he smiled.

Heinrich patted the boy’s head. “I’ll be right back,”  he said. He ran back into the house, closing the door behind himself.

After a few moments, Heinrich returned to Will and the dog. He was wearing Ned’s knapsack on his back, and carrying a thick brown coat under his arm.

Heinrich handed Will the coat. “Put this on. It’s big, but it was the smallest I could find.”

Will gratefully slid into the coat—which was more like a robe on him. He buttoned it up to protect himself from the  chill.

“The man who wore this…he’s dead?” Will asked.

“Yes,” Heinrich answered.

“Everyone in the house…dead?”

Heinrich nodded. “Let me know if you get tired—we probably have an hour or so to walk,” Heinrich said.

“I will,” replied the boy.

Heinrich, Will, and the dog started walking back toward Hope Street.

 

As the front door of 34 Hope Street groaned open, Lola ran out into the corridor. Her eyes lit up and she turned toward the open door. She smiled and nodded, her eyes watering.

“WILL!” Maggie exclaimed from inside the Millar’s room, almost manic. “Oh WILL!”

Will ran down the corridor, through the door, and threw his arms around his mother, who Lola had seated at their table, which she’d also helped Paul fix. Maggie could still hardly lift her arms, but she hugged her son as tightly as she could.

“My Will, my baby William! You’re alive!” she repeated over and over again.

Will just hugged her and cried. Paul and Sam also put their arms around Will’s back, crying as well.

Heinrich stood by the door, watching the joyous reunion. After a few moments Heinrich spoke. “May I come in?”

“Sure, sure!” Mr. Millar waved him in. “We can’t thank you enough.”

Heinrich smiled graciously and stepped into their room. He was happy to see that Paul’s color had returned, and his bruises were healing.

“Actually…you can,” Heinrich began.

Everyone turned to Heinrich anxiously. Will, recalling the fate of the men in the house, started trembling.

“I…the price you talked of?” Paul swallowed, stepping up to Heinrich as bravely as he could. “Whatever it is…”

“There are three parts. First, you will send your son to St. Mary’s down the street to learn his letters.”

“I’d love to,” Paul said. “But St. Mary’s asks for a tithe. We don’t have it—and we need Will to help out, to work in the factory with Maggie. There’s just no way.”

Heinrich reached into his pocket and pulled out a scrunched up ball of pound notes.

“There is,” Heinrich said. “This will make up for the wages, as well as cover the tithe.”

“Done,” Paul said, turning to Maggie, Sam, and Will. “Will goes to the Church school, starting tomorrow.”

“Second…” Heinrich took a stepped closer to Mr. Millar and put both hands on his shoulders. Heinrich pivoted so that his back was to the rest of the family. He stared deep into Paul Millar’s eyes. “You will never gamble again.” Heinrich’s eyes blazed like fiery red orbs as he uttered his command.

“Never ever again,” Paul agreed, as if in a trance.

“Good,” Heinrich said, his voice becoming less emphatic, his eyes returning to their normal grey color.

“One more thing,” Heinrich said.

Paul gulped. “Is this the…” he turned to Lola, “blood disease?”

Heinrich turned to Lola.

She nodded to both of them.

“On those nights that I am…in need. Lola will come get you, and you will meet me outside.”

“Now Heinrich,” Maggie began, her tone worried.

“I won’t hurt him,” Heinrich promised. “And it won’t be often. You have my word.”

“It’s only when he can’t get his treatments, you see,” Lola added.

Paul nodded gravely. “Will’s worth it,” Paul said. “It’s a deal, Heinrich.”

“And with that, we should be going,” Lola said.

 

Heinrich and Lola saw themselves out of the Millar’s room.

“You told them I had a blood disease?” Heinrich whispered.

Lola nodded as she took out the keep to their door. “How else could I explain that you needed to bite him?” she explained softly. “Since nobody saw your teeth, they seemed satisfied with it.”

“Good thinking, and thank you,” Heinrich said and proceeded inside.

Lola threw her arms around Heinrich’s neck and gave him a passionate kiss.

“I was worried about you my darling,” she cooed. “She removed her arms and put her fingers through the hole in his black shirt at his abdomen. “I take it they didn’t give Will up easily,” she added. “Although you smell like a night at the pub,” she smirked.

“I washed up with gin,” Heinrich shrugged. “And no, they didn’t give him up easily. They had…there was a woman—”

“Oh God,” Lola gasped, immediately surmising the rest. She dropped her head. A single cold shiver overtook her. She knew that had she been unlucky in her past, that could have been her. “The bastards deserved whatever you…I hope you’re well fed,” she hissed.

“I am,” Heinrich said, and then he smirked and kicked the knapsack he had brought in. “And so will you be.”

Lola raised her eyebrows quizzically.

He untied the cloth flap on the top of the knapsack and removed a salted leg of lamb. “I found it in their kitchen. It looked fresh and they won’t need it anymore…”

“Thank you,” she smiled. “Always looking out for me.”

“Always,” Heinrich gave her a quick peck on the lips. “Although you might want to share a tiny bit of it…” he smirked.

“What do—” Lola felt a wet nose at her knee and looked down. “The dog from this evening! I didn’t even hear you sneak in,” she smiled, bending down to pet the dog’s head.

“You want to keep it,” Lola said.

“You know my bond with dogs,” he grinned. “And this one helped me rescue Will. Besides, I’d feel better if while you were out, you had a sharp set of teeth with you, just in case. Like you said, always looking out for you.”

Lola laughed. “Well, keeping a dog in a room like ours is pretty unusual…but then what about us isn’t unusual?” Lola quipped as she stood up. “But the expense of another mouth to feed..”

“I’ve got that covered—” Heinrich again reached into the knapsack, “In here are rolls of pound notes, and a few sets of silver earrings, a couple gold bracelets, and a gold ring their leader tried to escape with. The money should pay our expenses for a while. You can sell the jewelry too, but please keep anything you’d like.”

Lola slid her hand inside of Heinrich’s tattered and bloody shirt and tenderly kissed her way up his throat to his lips. “I can think of something else I’d like…” she whispered.