It’s the spookiest day of the year, so settle down for a slice of supernatural noir, night stalkers and silver bullets from the maestro of menace, Paul D Brazill…
Weather the storm, they say. Let the dust settle. Bide your time. Wait. But what if that storm never stops raging? What then?
Even if you cut off one of the Hydra’s heads, another grows back. It is, as Simon Bolivar once said, like trying to reap the ocean. But still I slice. Still I reap.
Just like that, it all goes black. Just like that. From the moment they throw me into the cell and slam the metal door, I fall into the abyss. Into the pit of my own darkness.
When I awake, the sounds outside seem louder. The howls and the cruel laughter. The animal grunts and the whip cracks reverberate through me. I taste salty blood and a cold sweat acupunctures my pores.
After a moment, I start to steady my breathing. To take control.
Somewhere in that void, I see a speck of light. High up, where the ceiling must be. Looking like a lonely star in a godless galaxy. Or the Star of Bethlehem. Or maybe a star to guide a lost voyager to safety. Home.
I reach up to the light – stretching, stretching – but it’s too far away. Sweat snakes its way down my neck. My chest burns. I edge my way around the room until I bang my shins on the bench that I saw when they threw me into the cell.
It screams against the concrete floor as I drag it toward that final pin-prick of hope. I climb on the bench. Reach up. Jab a finger in the hole. Plaster crumbles. Just a little. But it’s a start.
I dig with my fingernail and it gives way a little more. But not enough.
And I know don’t have much time.
There’s nothing in my pockets that I can use. Everything was taken from me. And not just material things.
There are no tools in the room. Apart from the bench, it was empty when they threw me in. There is nothing to help me.
I gasp. Acid rises from my stomach.
I grasp my crucifix. Take it off and use it to dig away at the plaster.
Something slams against the door and I stop for a beat. Then I attack the hole more furiously.
I will get out, I will escape. This I know.
And hours later, I am free. I drag my aching body through the tight gap I’ve made and out into the cold night air. I crawl along the flat, damp roof top and jump to the grass below.
The inky black night smothers me as, gasping, I crawl toward the forest, leaving behind a trail of blood. A dog barks somewhere in front of me. There are shouts behind me. Then gunshots. I supress a scream as I’m hit in the leg.
A shadow appears from between the trees. A shard of moonlight picks out an oak of a man. He walks toward me, a growling, one-eared Rottweiler trailing behind him. The behemoth crouches and grasps my arms.
‘You took your time, Father,’ says Renato, a grin slicing his craggy face. ‘I told you it was better to leave the recon missions to me.’
He helps me to my feet.
‘Let’s get moving. Molotov is getting peckish.’ He nods toward the big, black dog who howls like a wolf.
I start to speak but everything fades to black.
Molotov’s snoring is like the roar of a Kalashnikov and drags me from a dank and fitful sleep. The small hotel room is dim in the wan light of dawn. Molotov blocks the door to the room, sleeping with one eye open. I am fully clothed on an unmade bed. Renato is in the next bed, in a deep sleep.
I shuffle off the bed and drag my weary body into the bathroom. Undress, first taking off my blood-stained clerical collar, then the torn rabbat. Gaze at the ravaged face in the bathroom mirror. The blue eyes are cold. My blond hair is long and lank. My face unshaven.
I undress fully and take a cold shower. Pull on a dressing gown and head back into the bedroom. Renato and Molotov are still sleeping. I ease back onto my bed. Try to ignore the pain in my leg. Take a tablet. Wash it down with a bottle of water.
There is a battered, red leather-bound Bible on my bedside table. I pick it up, switch on the bedside lamp and glance through it. The pages of the Bible have been torn out. Discarded. Replaced with sheets of parchment that are covered with red ink. My diary, of sorts.
I’d started writing it shortly after my sister Sophie was snared by The Duke’s men. Renato had suggested it as a way of helping my collect my thoughts. A type of catharsis, he said.
Now I use it as a sort of war journal. A record of something much more cathartic than mere writing. I switch off the lamp, close the Bible and place it on my chest. Close my eyes and let the sea of sleep enfold me. And then the nightmares begin.
A heavy autumn rain rips through the evening sky as we walk down Waterloo Road, towards a small gaudily-painted flower stall, our black umbrellas flapping in the wind like crows.
The stall’s owner is a giant of a man with a face so red that it looks as if it’s about to explode any minute. Renato’s father, Gregor Bratkovič is a fearsome sight, to be sure. He hitchhiked to England from Slovenia as a teenager and made his way around the country surviving as best he could until he eventually became one of London’s most feared enforcers; a ferocious mercenary who was employed by the most powerful villains in the city- the Kray Twins, the Richardson Gang, and other gangsters that were less well known but just as violent.
And then, at some point in the ‘80s, Gregor had been recruited by The Duke, the head of an international criminal organisation with connections to the rich and powerful. The work was standard fare for him at first – breaking bones had become second nature.
Until one stormy autumn night when he was picked up from his home in a black limousine and taken to The Duke’s mansion to meet a representative of the Prime Minister. Gregor was ostensibly to be employed to execute a troublesome newspaper magnate. Not a difficult activity for Gregor but the sights Gregor saw while there he saw chilled him. The woman that many in the country worshiped was feasting on the living, filled with bloodlust. Crazed with hate.
Gregor ran from the mansion and spent that night and the next few days in an alcoholic oblivion, trying to wash away the terrifying sights he had seen. Eventually, in the early hours of the morning, he found his way to my church, St Martin’s. He begged to give confession and I acquiesced. The worlds stumbled out of him like a pack of drunks at closing time. I, like many, had heard rumours of The Duke. That he was some sort of supernatural creature. Centuries old. Of course, I did not believe them to be true. Put them down as urban legends. But when Sophie went missing I quickly had my eyes opened to the darkness that lay beneath the surface of our world. On the edges of out nightmares.
Gregor locks his day’s takings into a money belt. Friday evenings are usually busy for him, men from the nearby offices, filled with guilt and alcohol, buy flowers for their neglected wives and girlfriends. It looks as if it has been another good day.
I wait outside a kebab shop with a slavering Molotov as Renato moves toward his father. The old man grins as he sees his only son for the first time in months. They hug and speak quietly in Slovene and then Gregor nods toward me. Gregor locks up his stall and we follow him down The Cut, past the trendy bars and restaurants that are full of people celebrating the end of the working week. A group of drunken middle-aged men in Manchester United football shirts stagger out of a Thai restaurant shouting racial abuse at an angry looking chef who follows them out holding a machete. One of them staggers into Gregor who pushes him away disinterestedly. Molotov growls and the men laugh as one of them falls into a puddle.
There are shouts behind us as we step into an alleyway and follow a trail of multi-coloured candles to a dark and dingy pub that looks as if it has seen better days and nights – The Golden Fleece. I push open the graffiti stained door. As usual, it takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the strange lighting in The Golden Fleece. Multi-coloured lanterns adorn the bar area and the pub’s few tables are lit up by large coloured candles that have melted into strange sculptures. The rest of the pub is in pitch black darkness.
‘What’ll I get you, lads,’ says Niall, a wiry Irishman who never seems to look you in the eye.
‘Two pints of stout for my friends and a green tea for me,’ I say
‘And the usual for him?’ says Niall, nodding toward Molotov.
‘I suppose so.’
Niall pours a half of cider into an ashtray and puts it on the floor. Molotov slurps it down, farts and goes to sleep.
Niall gives us our drinks and we prop up the bar, in a darkened corner of the room.
Niall shuffles over to the other side of the bar to chat with Magda – a tall, overly made-up blonde in a fake leopard-skin coat. I knew her when she was Marek, a deserter from the Polish army.
Gregor takes a grubby brown envelope from the inside pocket of his black leather jacket and hands it to me.
‘This is as much as I could get at such short notice,’ he says.
He takes a sip from his pint of stout, wipes the froth from his top lip. All the while he keeps his eyes on me. I open the envelope. There are two gold invitations and photograph.
‘Quentin Lawrence?’ says Renato. ‘The industrialist? Owns the airline that went … boom?’
‘The self-same,’ I say. ‘If anyone can get me to Sophie, he can. He’s deep in with The Duke.’
I put the envelope into my jacket pocket.
‘Are you ready?’ says Gregor.
I finish my tea as the doors to the pub burst open. The same bunch of drunken thugs that we’d encountered earlier stagger in, bringing a raging storm in with them.
‘What a fucking shithole,’ shouts a short, round skinhead.
‘I hope it’s cheap,’ says the stumpy one who had fallen in the puddle.
Magda, the woman in the leopard skin comes back from the toilets.
‘It’s got pussy, anyway,’ says the skinhead; he grabs Magda around the waist.
‘Fancy a dance, pet,’ he says, and drags her around the room to the amusement of his mates.
Magda grins and head-butts him. His nose bursts open and he screams like a slaughtered pig. She twirls away from him and bows.
A couple of the other thugs rush towards her. I step out of the darkness and slam one of them in the Adams apple with my fist and then kick him in the groin. Renato head-butts another. Gregor punches another and sends him sprawling into the bar. Molotov opens both eyes, growls and goes back to sleep.
By the time Niall comes from behind the bar, holding a baseball bat, the men are either unconscious or groaning with pain.
Quentin Lawrence’s screams meld with the sound of a siren and drag me out of my trance. The crimson mist that fills my eyes fades away. The dark memories pop and fizzle like champagne.
Lawrence’s left arm swings loose like a limp dick. He pulls it close to his fat stomach like child hugging a teddy bear. He repulses me. I spit on the ground and it sizzles and disappears on the hot concrete.
I am on the roof of the Trellick Tower, a thirty-one-story, high rise block of flats built in the seventies, slap bang in the centre of London, by a Hungarian called Erno Goldfinger. The architectural style is apparently known as brutalist, which is quite apt since the building is a monstrosity.
A monstrosity, however, that is now a listed building, with apartments selling for a fortune. But a monster is always a monster to me.
Still, it has a fantastic view across the great city. As the scorching August dawn breaks, shards of sunlight ricochet from the tower blocks’ windows. Black birds dot the sky. A helicopter skirts the horizon.
I haul Lawrence out of sight and into the plant room. Close the door and slam him against the pipes, ignoring his whining. Handcuff his good arm.
‘Well?’ I say. ‘Have you made your decision?’
The electricity generators hum and Lawrence’s screams have faded into sobs. They’d be pitiful, if I could have pity for a venomous snake like him
‘Well?’ I bark.
He vomits over his expensive, silk shirt. Looks down . Closes his eyes. Defeated so quickly.
Lawrence is a billionaire. A businessman. An importer and exporter of rare and exotic goods. Supply and demand. He has recently exported something that I want. Something valuable. Priceless. My sister. I had given him a choice of how to die.
I told him that I could break every bone in his body slowly or he could tell me the whereabouts of The Duke’s new mansion and I will simply shoot him. End it. He laughed in my face. And then the crimson mist enfolded me.
I lean down and grip one of his hands. Two finger snap. The sound echoes around the room. He screams again before passing out.
My backpack feels heavy. I place it on the ground and take out my thermos flask. I sit down and drink. The sweet tea soothes me. Calm washes over me. I grasp a crucifix against my palm and wait.
The morning slithers towards afternoon. The day grows hotter still. I take off my clerical collar, loosen my rabbat and use the sleeve to wipe the sweat on my scarred neck.
Lawrence awakes. Looks at me and slowly nods.
He croaks, chokes as he gives me the address that I need. I take a bottle of whisky from my backpack and hand it so him. He drinks and drinks until he vomits all over his expensive shirt. He looks up, a mixture of anger and resignation in his eyes. I smile as I take out my Glock and blow his brains to pieces. Feel the calm after the storm.
The milky moon washes the colour out of The Duke’s landscaped garden. I crawl across the lawn, past the trees and the topiary, toward the French windows. Slowly. Methodically. Until I’m close enough to see them.
Beautiful, haunting music plays. Ennio Morricone’s Chai Mai. The cameraman’s high pitched laugh slices the melancholy strings. A feminine laugh to come from such a large man, I think. And he is a beast. A giant wearing only a chauffeur’s cap and an eye patch. His naked body latticed with scars and tattoos.
He laughs again as The Duchess, dressed head to toe in black leather, dances toward the naked young man that is bent over the grand piano, and slices her red fingernails down his back, drawing blood. The man makes no sound but his body trembles as she licks his cuts with a long, scarlet tongue.
The Duchess walks toward The Duke, who sits in a red leather armchair smoking a large cigar. He blows a trio of smoke rings that float above him like halos.
In his other hand is a large brandy glass. A maid kneels beside him, her head resting in his lap. The Duchess crouches beside the maid, moves up close to her. Nuzzling her.
A dog barks, somewhere behind me. It’s time to move.
The hail of bullets shatter the glass and I’m inside within seconds. A gun in one hand, a knife in the other. The cameraman throws himself at me, the camera smashing to the ground, but I twist my hip, easily avoiding him, and trip him so that he smashes, headfirst into the grand piano.
One shot from my Glock, into the back of his head. One down. More to go.
Then I recoil as The Duchess flails me with a cat of nine tails. I ignore the pain, rush her and stab. A dagger under her ribcage and into her heart. I twist the blade. Two down.
I tense for more attacks. Turn toward the armchair. The Duke and the maid haven’t moved.
I turn toward the French windows. Renato stands amongst the broken glass. Molotov sits patiently beside him. Renato raises his hand in a salute. The all clear sign.
I turn back toward The Duke, who smirks at me, his black eyes shining.
‘I have been waiting for you, Father Trent,’ he says. ‘Waiting for centuries, it seems.’
‘Your wait is over,’ I say.
‘Indeed,’ says the Duke. ‘What is existence, after all, but procrastination? Especially my kind of existence.’
‘Like I said. It’s over.’
I raise my gun and fire. One silver bullet in the forehead. Three down.
I take the maid by the hair and lift her head so that I can look into her eyes. Dead, dark, soulless eyes. Just like The Duke’s. Just like the rest of his vile kind. The bite marks on her neck tell me all that I need to know. She has been taken. She has gone. My eyes well up with tears.
I take the silver bladed dagger and slam it into my vampire sister’s heart. And I liberate her.
Paul D Brazill‘s books include Supernatural Noir, Last Year’s Man, Gumshoe Blues, and Kill Me Quick. He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, Polish, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime.