Page Created 12-21-99
By LEO BRETT
"The victim was So obviously trapped - why did he smile? . . . . "
Miss Agatha Millicent Hautbois was walking swiftly and nervously home, for the street was dark and the hour very late. She was chiding herself for being out against her better judgement. It had been, she reflected one of those evenings upon which nothing had gone according to plan. What should have been a quiet game of bridge with three friends at the other end of town, had been disturbed and interrupted by some unforeseen domestic incidents in the hostess' household, and as a result the game had run far too late.
Protestingly, she had made excuses at her usual hour of departure - 10 o'clock - but the others had begged her to stay and not spoil the game, and she had unwillingly allowed herself to be persuaded. Now she bitterly regretted the extra hour of cards.
The sky was completely devoid of stars and the street down which she walked was still gaslit. The faint yellow light only served to make the darkness more tangible and frightening. Miss Angela Millicent Hautbois was no longer young. She was now very close to 70. Her thin aristocratic face was deeply etched with the lines of three score and ten years' experience. Her eyes, sharp and beady, sunk deep into their sockets, like two jewels that had fallen to the bottom of a jewel tray. She was thin, angular and acidulous - both in tongue and temperament. Her anachronistic mind longed for the days when - as she phrased it - one could get reliable servants at their proper price.
She was prim and proper to an unbearable degree. A withered old prig of a woman for whom few people had any time. Her experience was limited to the malicious vindictive gossip of the circle with whom she spent her bridge evenings and afternoon 'soirees.' They lived in a narrow, mean, shallow world of back-biting hypocrisy, and it had left them as callous and soul-less as the sands of the desert.
She and her set were isolated mentally from contemporary society in that their spiritual home was the forgotten world of chintz curtains and antimacassars; aspidistras in heavy black pots; thick over-powering furniture, and rooms that echoed with the ponderous nonsense of Victorian anecdotes.
In the remote ages when Agatha Millicent Hautbois had been a child, there had been an atmosphere in which little girls were encouraged to be afraid of the dark, and it was something that had never left her.
Darkness to her subconscious mind was associated with all manner of unspeakable and dreadful things - made more terrible by the fact that they were unmentionable in nice society. Besides it was not respectable for a lady to be out so late in the evening. Perhaps it was her nerves, she thought - but was that sound a padding footstep behind her?
She quickened her pace nervously, and felt her breath coming in short, sharp gasps - pad, pad, pad. There it was again. As her steps quickened, so those other steps quickened ! As if seeking to drown its own sound in the sharp rap of her quickly-moving feet. She wondered whether to risk a swift glance behind her and decided against it . . . It must be my nerves she tried to convince herself desperately. But the attempt was unsuccessful. On a sudden impulse she stopped - the padding footsteps stopped as well.
Not far ahead of her a small shop doorway offered temporary refuge, and she stepped quickly into it. This time the footsteps did not stop. She heard them coming closer and closer . . . Should she peep round the doorway to see who or what was following her? Her heart was racing like a trip hammer now, and she could feel the pulse throbbing violently at the back of her neck. Her stomach felt strange - pad, pad, pad - louder and louder. What strange footsteps they were, she thought. Who could it be?
At any minute now, she told herself, you will see some perfectly innocent member of the community walking past exercising a dog, or some other simple, rational explanation. She realised that the footsteps had stopped. The unknown who-ever-it-was must be within arms length of the door.
She took a deep breath and stepped forward. The sight that greeted her almost stopped her heart. Facing her was an enormous man. She had never seen anyone quite so tall or so broad. But it was not the size of this strange new-comer that sent icy fingers of fear clutching at her vitals. It was his face! His tall body was shrouded by a large black cloak that cut out what faint light had been reaching the doorway from the street lamp, but the face that surmounted the cloak was the most evil mask that she had ever seen or ever imagined. Pointed yellow teeth, far more like the fangs of an animal, protruded from the slobbering lower lip. The eyes were two malevolent pools of liquid red fire.
Then as she watched they seemed to change colour as though they were flames dancing up, from some deep distant pit. She tried to scream, but no sound came - and then her breath was cut off in a choking gasp as the monstrous vampire thrust its hideous face towards her. Its vicious mouth opened in a grimace of terrifying anticipation . . .
"Aaaaaaaahhhhhh," sighed the vampire with horrible satisfaction - then its dreadful fangs sank into the doomed woman's throat. . .
With a scream that was dreadful to hear, Miss Agatha Millicent Hautbois collapsed in the shop doorway as the vampire drained her withered old body of blood. A moment more and it was gone - lost in the darkness of the night, chuckling to itself, an evil smile upon its caricature of a mouth. The sinister Count Estolak had claimed yet another victim.
* * *
Inspector Hargreaves of the C.I.D. Homicide Squad, wasn't in the best of moods. He suffered spasmodically from indigestion, and on this particular morning his stomach had decided to contain rather more acid than usual. His temper was as keen as his nimble, criminological mind, and he spoke to his hapless assistant, Sergeant Borgman in clipped, irritable monosyllables.
"Another of these dam' motiveless cases," he rasped.
"Yes, sir," replied Borgman dolefully. Borgman was always doleful when the Inspector was in one of his indigestion tempers.
"Reckon this'll finish on the 'unsolved' shelf" barked the Inspector again.
"Yes, sir," answered Borgman even more sadly.
"Well, don't just stand there saying 'Yes sir.' Go out and solve it! Find some clues! Do something intelligent! Earn your blasted pay!" roared the Inspector as he paced angrily up and down his office. "What have we got? Tell me, what have we got to work on? A builder can't build a house without bricks. Neither can a detective solve a case without clues."
"Quite, sir." said Borgman.
"O shut up, you idiot," rapped the Inspector, "Why ever I put up with you I don't know!" Borgman wondered rather mournfully why he put up with Inspector Hargreaves.
"I have typed out a preliminary report, sir" he ventured "Shall I read it to you?"
"Can you read?" said Hargreaves acidly, "O for pity's sake go and get some indigestion tablets will you man. Perhaps I will be in a better humour then. Don't take any of this to heart, will you Borgman?"
"No sir," said Borgman, he had heard it all before, so often. He knew that come the dawn, and a period of temporary peace in his superior's digestive tract, the evil temper would vanish. He took the frequently used tin from its customary home in the filing cabinet, and resignedly mixed Hargreaves a strong dose. As the powerful alkaline descended, a look of relief began to cross the inspector's face.
"Aaaaaaahhhhhh," he sighed, "that's better ! Now then, the report sergeant." Slowly and laboriously Borgman began to read:-
"The body has been identified as Miss Agatha Millicent Hautbois, spinster, aged 69-70, lived in town for past 40 years, Father retired Colonel in the Indian Army, 1912 or thereabouts. Very much upper set type. (That isn't in the typewritten report, that's only my own comment). Bridge parties, afternoon tea sessions. Main interest in life no different from those' of a woman of her kind. Far too old for it to be a crime of passion. There isn't even a forgotten sweetheart of half a century ago, that we could pin anything on. It is a complete mystery, a mystery that did with her."
"Hmmmm," commented the inspector. "Any reports in the Gazette about homicidal maniacs in the vicinity?" Borgman shook his head.
"No, sir. If it's a psycho that you're looking for it must be a new one - all the old favourites are still behind bars." Hargreaves started to read again with rather more emphasis, 'Cause of death very unusual,' " he said slowly.
"Yes, I know," interrupted the inspector. "That was one of the things that irritated my digestion - body was completely bloodless, wasn't it?"
"Completely," stated the sergeant. "When the pathologist examined her he had the heck of a job to find enough for a microscope slide. She'd been very systematically drained! Through lacerations in the jugular vein."
"Which brings us to the second very unpleasant thought," said the inspector, his eyes closed in concentration, "which is - that there was no blood to be seen at the location of the crime."
"Yes, that's been worrying me, too," agreed Hargreaves. "She hadn't just been stabbed in the throat and left to die if she had been, of course, there'd have been very much more blood in the body; whatever it was" - and the tough policeman shuddered, "must have sucked it out of her. There's something singularly revolting about this."
"Singularly revolting," he repeated. "The conclusion I have entered in pencil on the primary report, sir, is that so far weapon and motive have not yet been identified. We shall certainly have to get cracking on this one. If there is anything I hate to see, it's those files still gathering dust on the unsolved shelf." The telephone bell rang shrilly. Borgman reached out for the receiver.
"Dorchester police," he said in an official voice, "Inspector Hargreaves office Sergeant Borgman speaking."
"My name is Rudd," said the caller, "Donald Rudd, and I have just been reading a report of a murder, in the early editions. I think perhaps, I might be able to help you." Borgman closed his hand over the mouthpiece: "Man named Rudd ringing up," he said quickly, "in connection with the Hautbois case. Says he thinks he can help us."
"Put him on," said Hargreaves, and Borgman handed the phone over. "Inspector Hargreaves here," rapped the C.I.D. man, "Now what do you think you can tell us about the Hautbois case?"
"Not very much," said the other quickly, "but enough to be of value, I think. I gather that you have not yet been able to establish," he hesitated, "er, the devices by which the unfortunate woman was bled so efficiently?"
"Yes, that's true," replied Hargreaves, "We haven't been able to pin it down yet. We shall, of course," he went on professionally; "we shall!"
"Inspector," said Rudd, "Before I go any further, I must ask your view on the supernatural. If you are one of the admirable and efficient modem people who believe that everything which cannot be seen, tested, weighed and analysed, does not exist, then I am going to hang up now before we come to blows. On the other hand, if you are prepared to listen, I assure you I am neither a crank nor eccentric." There was a quiet calm confidence in his voice that made Hargreaves willing to listen.
"Go on," he answered quietly, "I'm not much of a believer in the occult, but you certainly don't sound like one of the many cranks . . . so come round to my office, can you, Mr. Rudd, and we'll hear what you have to say."
"Thank you," said the caller. "By the way, I am a professional psychic investigator. I will warn you in advance it may be a long session."
"Between ourselves," replied Hargreaves, "I'm up against a stone wall at present, and I am prepared to follow the slightest lead, but if something more tangible presents itself in the middle of your interview I'm afraid I shall have to leave hurriedly."
"Quite, quite," said Rudd, "I fully appreciate that, inspector. I will come straight over." Five minutes later a constable admitted him, and sergeant Borgman ushered him to a chair and took out his notebook. The Inspector looked towards him expectantly.
"As I said," began Rudd, "I am a psychic investigator." Borgman was quietly noting the man's description. Age? - indeterminate - he had thin dark hair greying at the temples, but the face beneath it was unusually smooth and free of lines, it was almost the ingenuous face of the teenager. The eyebrows looked odd, some how, they seemed rather too heavy and arched for the rest of the face, and their colour was not a perfect match for the hair. The nose was thin, rather aristocratic, and the mouth quite warm and friendly. It was not only the ready smile that the sergeant noticed, but the regular teeth. They were as white as snow, looked singularly charming and artificial.
He was certainly an interesting and very unusual character.
"As I had already explained," the investigator went on, "I read the report of this case in the early editions and I must say that it bears all the marks of a similar case which I investigated in Europe not very long ago. Actually, behind the Iron Curtain, so I don't suppose any news of it got this way. I was able to go over there and render some assistance. The victim died in almost identical circumstances. I was fortunately able to prevent any recurrence of the tragedy, although the perpetrator escaped me. I have reason to believe he has set up operations again somewhere in England - but I must begin at the beginning."
He turned and smiled at Sergeant Borgman, "Would you be so kind sergeant, as to ring your records office and ask a member of your staff to read you the dictionary definition of a vampire."
"A what?" interpolated Hargreaves. Rudd raised his hand for silence.
"Please, Inspector. I know that what I am about to say must sound very weird and fantastic to you, but please, please hear me, before coming to a decision. I promise I shan't be wasting your time." Again the compelling quality of his voice won the Inspector's confidence.
"O, go ahead," he replied. "Go on, Borgman, ring 'Records,' but for goodness sake don't say it's me wants the information. I shall never live it down. Say it's somebody asking for it - matter of research - tell them anything, only don't give the game away."
"Yes," answered Borgman flatly. The constable in Records never batted an eyelid when the request came through, for such is the efficiency of the C.I.D. records department, that information is available there on a vast variety of topics. Three minutes later he was reading the information back over the 'phone.
"Vampires," he began, then paused, "Ready sergeant?"
"Right," said Borgman, notebook out.
"The vampire is a particular form of demon which calls for some notice. In Europe - Slavonic area is principal seat of vampire beliefs, and as a natural development, means of preventing the dead from injuring the living have been evolved. The corpse of the vampire, which may often be recognised by its unnatural, ruddy, appearance, should be staked down in the grave or its head should be cut off. It is interesting to note that the cutting-off of heads was a neolithic burial rite. The vampire is frequently blended in popular belief with the poltergeist, or knocking spirit, and also with the werwolf. In Assam it was believed that the vampire's astral body devoured a person's liver and therefore caused death."
"Another dictionary describes it as a living corpse that rises from its grave by night to feed upon the living, usually by sucking blood. With sunrise, or cockcrow, its power ends and it must return to its grave. It is not a ghost, but the physical body of one who has died. The vampire cannot be exorcised, but must be disinterred and burnt, beheaded, or fastened into its grave by a stake, That's all I can find, Sergeant!" concluded the constable.
"That will do splendidly," said Borgman as he closed his book, "Thank you very much." Borgman handed his notebook to Inspector Hargreaves, who scanned the neatly written pages methodically.
"Hmm," he said. "I can see what you're getting at before you say another word, Mr. Rudd, but I must say, that whatever you have to tell me must be very, very convincing," he broke off, shaking his head sadly . . .
"I know it must,"' said Rudd. "That's why I was very pleasantly surprised when you agreed to see me for a little while. But I want to ask you what else could possibly fit the facts, and I want to tell you about one of the case histories for which I can personally vouch." His eyes burnt with sincerity, and despite himself, Hargreaves listened intently until Rudd had finished, not knowing what to believe.
Half a lifetime of solid materialism had chiselled his mind into a set and rather mundane pattern. Never before had that down-to-earth matter-of-factness been shaken; now his quick, vital, reasoning powers darted this way and that, assimilating the facts and re-shaping the conclusions to which he had held so tightly for so many years.
"You are very plausible, Mr. Rudd," he said at last, "very plausible indeed. You have obviously got nothing to gain by telling me this cock-and-bull story - if it is a cock-and-bull story - also I am a pretty shrewd judge of men - you have to be in this line - and you are not in my opinion, a charlatan, a crook or a liar. Neither," he eyed the other squarely, "are you a crank or an eccentric. I would say wholeheartedly that your story is true - except for its improbability. You are a paradox, Mr. Rudd, a paradox." Out of the side of his mouth he said, "Borgman, I feel another attack of indigestion coming on. Mix me something."
"Sir," said Borgman, and hurried to the filing cabinet. Rudd sat perfectly still in his chair, looking at the Inspector thoughtfully.
"I feel highly complimented," he said. "Now I come to the second part of what I came here to say. These creatures, if they exist - as I from my experience know them to exist - always, or almost always, come back to the same area." He rose from his chair: and put a finger on the large wall map beside the Inspector's desk, "This, I believe, is the rather narrow, unpleasant, gaslit street, where the late Miss Hautbois was murdered?" The Inspector nodded. "Therefore Inspector," went on Rudd, "I would like your permission to bait a trap for our killer in this area. If he is what I believe him to be he will return. If I am wrong there is still nothing lost is there? " The inspector nodded.
"There is nothing lost," he replied. "And when I am in the dark I am prepared to move in any direction, no matter how improbable, that may lead to light. But tell me, Mr. Rudd, from what I have already heard. these creatures are dangerous - we would need a squad of armed men? " The stranger shook his head.
"A squad of armed men, sir, would frighten him away. They prefer to attack the solitary, in the isolated. places. I will go alone."
"Alone?" echoed the inspector. "Mind you, I am not saying that I believe in the creatures, but you have made me sufficiently uncertain of its existence or otherwise, that I shall not be able to let you go without a great deal of anxiety." Donald Rudd smiled, and the smile displayed those prominent, even white teeth again.
"Pray don't distress yourself on my account, Inspector. I have been a psychic investigator long enough not to take any unnecessary risks, I assure you."
"I still don't like it," said Hargreaves. "Still. it's a free country, Mr. Rudd, I am not going to give you my permission; but I am going to put it this way - I shall not forbid you."
"Thank you," said Rudd. "Thank you very much, Inspector, and if I am successful . . ." he broke off suddenly and left the sentence unfinished. "Never mind, I will let you know the outcome as soon as I know anything myself."
* * *
It was dark. It was as dark as it had been on the previous night, when the hapless Agatha Millicent Hautbois had gone on her last walk. No stars, no moon, nothing but the dull yellow of the street lamps, fighting ineffectually against the monster of darkness. It was the same street, the same spot, almost the same hour - only this time it was Donald Rudd, psychic investigator who stood outside the shop doorway. He heard no sounds as he listened in the dark silence all around him. Every now and then his keen eyes darted up into the sky, as if he was watching for an aerial attack. He stepped out of the doorway and glanced this way and that, and then in the distance he heard the very faintest of sounds. Footsteps? he asked himself. Yes, footsteps. He moved out of the shop doorway and began walking slowly, rather aimlessly, down the street. The footsteps behind him quickened, pad, pad, pad, and Rudd felt his heart beat faster. At that moment the burly figure of a police constable rounded the corner at the opposite end of the street. The footsteps halted and then came on again more slowly. The constable stationed himself beneath a lamp post, and gave no evident sign of impending departure. Rudd turned swiftly round and looked at the tall stranger following him, when he spoke his voice was quite calm.
"Good evening, Count Estolak," he said. "I don't believe we have met. My father used to live in Slavonia many years ago, he told me a great deal about you." The other gave a sudden startled gasp and then composed himself. The red eyes did not burn so brightly now, and the teeth did not overhang the lower lip quite so obviously as they had done. The hideous vampire could, in the lamplight, have passed as a singularly ugly man.
"I am delighted to make your acquaintance," said the Count, "Your father told you of me? How very, very interesting. I hope what he said was pleasant?"
"Oh, yes, he spoke of your services to art and literature," replied the other. "He told me you had a tremendous library. Are you staying in this country long, sir?"
"Just to buy some new books," said the sinister count, and a look of greed and guile passed swiftly across his face. "Perhaps," he flicked a covert glance at the constable. "Perhaps you would like to accompany me back to my chambers? You are a man of letters?" Rudd nodded, "Good, I always love a discussion with a fellow scholar. You would like to come back? I am sorry the hour is so late. I have been studying a lot lately, and like to take a little exercise before I turn in, so do come back with me and we will have a look at one or two of my volumes." The investigator hesitated a moment.
"You are sure I am not putting you out, sir?"
"Not in the slightest," said Estolak. "I assure you it will be a very real pleasure to have your company.. Perhaps you will join me in a meal?" There was a sinister undertone in his voice.
"Perhaps I will," said Rudd. "Perhaps I will!"
They walked past the watching constable who gave no sign of recognition. Then through a maze of back streets Count Estolak led the investigator to a dark sinister old Georgian mansion set back from the road. No light shone from the shuttered windows and the whole appearance was sinister and forbidding in the extreme.
Rudd paused before allowing himself to be ushered into the overgrown garden.
"I have not been here very long," said Estolak by way of explanation. "You must excuse the rather bedraggled appearance of my establishment. It takes rather a long time to make a place presentable. And my time is rather limited with all," he paused, "my other work that has to be dealt with."
He led the way inside, and as the heavy front door closed behind them the cultured voice changed to a snarl. "So good of you to come," he rasped, "So very convenient. It's a long time since I was able to bring one of my victims right into my own domain. Back home in Slavonia those foolish peasants are so terrified of me that none will come within twenty miles of my castle."
As he spoke he was busily locking and barring the door. The passage was narrow and Rudd's eyes darted from side to side as though seeking some way of escape. "What a chance," cackled the Vampire. "What a fortuitous chance meeting the one man, perhaps in England, who had heard of my literary works from his dear father." His voice held a bitter, mocking quality, "and so, instead of being afraid of my appearance, you had heard, such good of me, that you trusted me, Mr. What's-your-name?"
"Rudd," said the psychic investigator, "Donald Rudd." There was a long electric silence. Then the vampire laughed again.
"Just for a second I . . . I . . . but no . . . you couldn't be! I looked at your eyebrows very, very carefully. You couldn't be." Was it fear in the monster's voice?
"Appearances," said Rudd, "Can so often be deceptive." He slipped his hand into his mouth and the prominent white teeth came away, revealing twin rows of sharp fangs.
"Eyebrows," gasped the monster, "Eyebrows, you can't be . . ."
"But I am," said Rudd, "I am!" His hands went to his face again - that simple, rather ingenuous face, on which those heavy eyebrows had seemed rather incongruous, and he pulled them off on their adhesive tape bases. The vampire was shrinking into itself, cowering against the locked door, reaching behind it for the bolts.
"You will never get it undone in time," said Rudd in a voice of terrible quietness. "You escaped me in Slavonia, but you won't escape me here ! "
"You're a Drud," screamed the vampire, "A drud! "
"Yes," said the psychic investigator. "There aren't many of us - but then, there aren't many vampires. Let me tell you this, I am the first and the last you will ever see, Count Estolak. We are rather a strange and unusual race, we are creatures of the supernatural realm, but we belong to the power of light and not to the power of darkness. We are the scavengers, we seek out and destroy vampires and werwolves."
"I know, I know!" gasped Count Estolak in dreadful terror. "Get away from me, damn you, keep away!"
"It is rather a long time since I fed," said Mr. Rudd, and after all, my dear Count, you did invite me in for a meal." In a flash Count Estolak understood, but it was too late now to know why the victim had come with him so willingly, and it was the last thought that ever crossed his evil mind. For two hands like steel vices clasped him in a deadly embrace, and twin rows of needle pointed fangs sank home.
* * *
The following morning Inspector Hargreaves had a phone call from Donald Rudd, psychic investigator. It was very terse and to the point. "You can write 'closed to the Hautbois case," he said, "and if you are interested in a pile of rags and dust that was once Count Estolak, you will find those things in the empty house in Fairway Road. In the cellar you will also find a lead coffin bearing his coat of arms, This had better be destroyed, together with the soil which is packed round it."
Hargreaves mind was spinning with questions.
"Where shall I find you? Where shall I contact you? I want more than this!"
"I'm afraid you won't be able to find me," said Donald Rudd, "I have urgent business in another part of the world. Good-bye Inspector!"
The Drud © R. Lionel Fanthorpe.
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