IN THIS EPISODE: …Our werewolf arrives in London, causes some trouble, and contemplates his future…
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CHAPTER 7 – Werewolf in London
“Mick” McDowell – London
The Second Night of the Full Moon
The night was young, barely past dark, really, but already Mick and his friends were out of drinking money.
This was a problem, because the pubs where they were drinking, down near the wharfs, knew the foursome well enough not to extend them credit. But it wasn’t a problem, because none of the group had any scruples as to where they got the money for their next drinks. Though, naturally, none of them wanted to put out too much effort or do any actual work to line their pockets.
After all, why should a bloke spend a full day toting barges or lifting bales when there were plenty of gents in London with more largess than they needed?
Unfortunately, those types of swells rarely wandered through the parts of town that Mick and his gang frequented—and it was too late for a quick smash and grab followed by a run to the local pawn shop, either.
So, that left the docks, which were happily not too far away from the Black Swan, where the quartet had been drinking.
“Le’s go see wot’s up, then,” Mick suggested; his threesome of bullyboys quickly nodded agreement.
All four ambled out of the pub and quickly made their way through the London fog to the waterfront. In the past, they’d frequently found good pigeons here, especially careless (and solo) sailors either heading for or returning from shore leave. If the sailors were drunk, so much the easier.
“Hope we fin’ someone to roll soon,” Georgie said. “I’m gettin’ parched.” And he belched, as if to make his point.
“Parched like yer head,” Pete put in—as though that made any sense.
Mick laughed and shook his head. “Don’ be impatient, lads,” he told his boys. “We jus’ got to find the right bird to pluck.” And he laughed again, because the four of them had “plucked” a few birds in their time as well as rolled more than their share of drunks.
The others laughed at this crude joke, too.
“Mebbe we’ll find a nice rich bird,” Georgie said, practically drooling at the fantasy. “Then we can pluck her an’ roll her, too.” He laughed at his own “joke.”
“Shhhh!” Alex suddenly said, and he froze warily.
Mick froze as well. “Quiet, now, lads… Quiet!” he whispered. He and the rest pressed themselves up next to the wall of a nearby warehouse.
Right next to the waterward side of the wharf, a figure emerged from the fog.
He was walking fast with his head down, a long woolen coat pulled tight around his frame.
He looked to be a fairly large man, but Mick and his crew were no pipsqueaks (except for Alex who stood five-foot-seven and tipped the scales at barely eight-and-a-half stone). Also, the man seemed to be muttering to himself, which was either a sign of being addle-brained or drunk. Either diagnosis was good news for Mick’s gang. And besides, even if the mark had all his wits about him, there were four of them.
“Alex, you an’ Pete get ahead of ’im.” Mick whispered his commands quickly; his boys were used to the routine. “Me an’ Georgie will chat ’im up from behind.”
Alex and Pete nodded their assent and quickly darted off through the fog; Mick and Georgie emerged from the shelter of the warehouse and fell into step behind their quarry.
The man kept moving, not seeming to notice that he was being followed, which was fine with Mick.
Too bad he’s no bird to pluck, Mick thought. He licked his lips, remembering Lily, back at the saloon. But she was an expensive bird; this target would have to be a real moneybags to have any chance with her. But, who knew? They did say that people who talked to themselves had money in the bank.
“It’s not too late… I still have time!” That’s what the mark was telling himself, near as Mick could make out.
Rushing to his own funeral—maybe, Mick thought, and he fingered the switchblade secreted in his pocket. Beside him, Georgie slipped a set of brass knuckles onto one oversized fist, just in case things got rough—which, with Georgie, they often did.
Still, the pair of them might as well see if this sheep would agree to be fleeced without any trouble.
“Hey, Gov!” Mick called to their mark. “Spare a few bob for some blokes down on their luck?”
The man in the coat shook his head. “I’m late,” he said. “I have to get back to my room…”
“Not even time for a bit of a friendly chat?” Georgie asked, slapping his brass-knuckled hand into his other palm.
“What? No,” the man replied, not even turning around. “I can’t stop. I have to get back.” He seemed annoyed, like he didn’t have any time for the boys.
“Toss us a quid, then,” Mick said, “and we’ll call it even.”
The man glanced back at Mick and Georgie, and Mick saw a wild glint in his eye.
A nutter, all right.
“I’m sorry,” the man said, not breaking pace. “I can’t help you right now. The moon’s almost up. I don’t have any money.”
“Don’ have any money?” Alex said, stepping out of the shadows in front of the man. “Wif a fine coat like that?”
“An’ ’em fine shoes?” Pete added, appearing out of the fog beside Alex.
“No,” the man repeated. “No, I’m sorry.” He glanced at Pete and Alex and, maybe because he was larger than both of them, put his head down once more and tried to bull his way through the duo.
But Alex and Pete weren’t having any of it. They grabbed the man by both arms and shoved him backwards.
The mark staggered, seemingly surprised at being accosted.
The dimwit really didn’t have any idea what was going on!
Mick chuckled and shook his head. He almost felt sorry for the bloke. Almost.
“Look,” the mark said. “If I had any money, I’d give it to you, but I left it in my room. I really didn’t mean to come out at all tonight, but…”
“But he likes a nice stroll in the fog,” Georgie said, and barked a deep laugh. Mick and the others laughed as well.
“You don’t understand,” the man insisted. “The fog doesn’t matter. The moon will be rising soon…”
“A moon watcher, thissun,” Alex said. “Some kinda ’stronamer!”
“He’ll be seeing stars, soon enough, awright,” Georgie said, slapping his knuckles into his hand again.
Another round of laughs.
The man looked confused, almost frantic.
“You don’t understand!” the mark insisted. “The moon, you fools! The moon! If you don’t let me go, it’ll be too late!”
“Guv,” Mick replied with a grin, “it’s already too late.” And he flicked open his switchblade. “Take ’im, boys. Let’s see what ’e’s got under that fine coat.”
“No!” the man cried, and tried to run, but—as Mick had said—it was too late. Pete and Alex grabbed the mark by both arms before he’d taken even a single step.
The man struggled, realizing his predicament too late. He twisted like a cat caught in a net, and managed to throw Alex—the poof!—to the ground, but by then Georgie had got to him.
Georgie outweighed his mates by at least three stone and had paws the size of hams. Now he slammed his brass-clad fist into the man’s stomach, and the bloke went down, falling to his knees on the wharf, and gasping for air.
Mick smiled. They’d picked a nice, isolated spot for their ambush. Nobody was likely to trundle by and interrupt them.
“Too late!” the man kept gasping. “Too late!”
Georgie smiled a wicked smile. “Damn right, Guv,” he said. “Shoulda forked over when you could. Now we gotta teach you a lesson.”
And with that, he, Pete, and Alex began kicking the bloke.
Mick just stood back and admired the work of his gang. He pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and took a draw. The swirling fog parted just a bit, and he caught a glimpse of the full moon, barely poking its head over the roofs of the nearby deserted warehouses. It was a beautiful night for a mugging.
“What in Christ?!” Pete said.
And suddenly, he was flying through the air, as if he’d been hit by a lorry. He slammed into a warehouse wall and slumped to the ground.
“Jeezus!” Alex gasped, backing away from the man they’d been kicking.
Amazingly, despite the savage beating he’d endured, their victim was rising to his feet.
Mick flicked away his cigarette and walked toward the man, whom Georgie was still trying to kick.
“Stay down, you blighter!” Georgie commanded. As the mark rose, Georgie rammed his fist into the bloke’s gut—but the guy kept getting up!
Georgie screamed. Not the loud, angry scream he gave when his blood was running hot, but a high, girlish scream. He backed away the same way Alex had. And then Mick saw why…
Blood was pouring out of Georgie’s belly, like he was a split-open pig. And now his guts were spilling out, too, and splattering onto the wooden planking of the wharf. Steam rose from the entrails, and the air smelled of raw meat and loosed bowels.
Georgie’s scream gasped to a sudden stop as he collapsed to his knees, his eyes wide, his mouth gaping. Then he fell onto his flabby face, dead.
The man in the coat turned, but he wasn’t a man anymore. He was some kind of beast with a hairy face and hands, and fangs in his mouth, and claws dripping with blood. He was a wolf!
Mick froze, just as Alex had done, though a few paces further back.
The wolf-man growled and leapt.
Before Alex could even move, the werewolf fell upon him.
With a single snap of his gleaming white fangs, the beast ripped Alex’s throat out. Alex toppled to the ground, clutching futilely at his neck, spraying a red rainbow into the night air. He tried to cry out, but only a bloody gurgle escaped his throat. His body twitched wildly as he went down, but he quickly became still.
Pete screamed, which saved Mick, at least for a moment. The werewolf wheeled, looking away from its next obvious victim (Mick standing paralyzed, so nearby), and focused on the source of the sound.
Pete turned and tried to run, but he must have still been woozy from his fall. His legs seemed to get caught among themselves, and he stumbled.
With two great leaps, the werewolf closed the distance between them and pounced on the dazed mugger.
Pete kept screaming.
Mick turned and ran back the way he’d come. As he went, a horrible ripping sound assaulted his ears. He glanced back just enough to see the monster tearing Pete’s head off.
That stopped the screaming.
The werewolf howled in triumph.
Mick’s feet pounded across the rotting boards of the wharf, his blood thundering in his ears.
What in the hell was going on? This was impossible!
Mick didn’t believe in God or Jesus or any of the saints, but he began praying to every one of them as he ran.
He promised to give up mugging people, to give up whoring, even to give up drinking. He swore that he’d find an honest job, that he’d join the Church of England and sing in the choir—become a deacon, if he had to—whatever it took to save his soul… and save his hide!
The pad of swift feet, coming up behind him, echoed to his cauliflower ears.
Mick whirled, switchblade at the ready.
“You want this?” he cried. “Come and get it, ya bast—”
Then the werewolf fell upon him. The heat of its body slamming into the mugger burned Mick like the fires of hell.
He cursed and stabbed the beast in the gut, frantically thrusting his slender switchblade into the furry torso again and again and again.
The werewolf took no notice and tore him to pieces.
Paul Longmire awoke covered in blood, not for the first time. Not nearly.
Where was he? For a moment, he had no idea.
It was still dark, but the moon had obviously set—the damnable moon!
He was lying on his back on a wharf, the gentle sounds of waves lapping around the pylons whispering in his ears, and the acrid stench of blood and gore assaulting his nostrils.
Paul sat up and looked around, but he saw no sign of anyone, either living or dead. Except, of course, for his blood-drenched clothing. That told him that someone else had been here. Had been.
“Not again,” he whispered, clutching his hands to his head. “Please, God… Not again!”
But it had happened. He’d lost track of time once more. The moon had woven its siren spell around him and tempted him out into the night, when he should have been safely chained and locked away from all of humanity.
The wolf had killed someone—he had killed someone—again!
More than one person, if the amount of blood drenching Paul’s clothing was any indication.
There were no bodies lying nearby, but that didn’t in any way delude Paul about what he’d done while a werewolf.
But who had he killed? And where? And how?
He staggered to his feet and took a deep breath, leaning against a warehouse wall to steady himself.
He had to get back to his room above the dockside bar. He had to—!
Then the memories of the wolf, what he could decipher of them, hit him. And with them came the relentless tide of grief and remorse.
He’d been in the city, looking for clues to locate the pelt of the Beast of Gevaudan—searching for ways to end his curse—when he’d realized that he’d lost track of time. He hadn’t meant to be out after dark!
But that was how the curse worked; that was how the cognizance of hours and minutes slipped through his grasp just when he needed it most. The beast would have its way! It didn’t want to be locked up—as it had been the previous night.
Each time he succeeded in chaining the werewolf, the next moonrise proved even more difficult.
But Paul had to try. He always had to try!
So he’d hurried back to the docks, hoping beyond hope that he could make it to his rented room in time, back to the imagined safety of steel manacles and a locked closet.
He hadn’t made it. Something had stopped him.
He remembered the four of them now, all predatory smiles and bullying bravado. They’d tried to take his money, though he didn’t have any.
He’d killed every last one of them.
They deserved it!
Without meaning to, Paul licked his lips.
No! Nobody deserves it! Ever!
Nobody deserved to be killed by the wolf! The beast had no sense of right or wrong; it only knew hunger… and rage.
The things he’d done…!
Paul collapsed to his knees and threw up, trying to ignore the taste of blood and raw meat as he puked his guts out into the River Thames.
For a while, the world swam in dizzy circles.
They’ll find the bodies, a voice inside him finally cautioned.
Yes, even though his victims weren’t here, lying dead beside him, there remained no doubt that the police would discover the bodies. The werewolf didn’t believe in cleaning up after itself.
A momentary urge to turn himself in gripped Paul. He would go to the police station and confess to everything. They’d think he was mad, but at least they’d lock him in a cell. Then, when the moon rose, they’d see!
It would be easy…
No. I can’t! Not when I’m so close. Somewhere in this city is the pelt of the Beast of Gevaudan. If I can find it, and destroy it, I’ll be free of the wolf forever!
Then Paul remembered the paper—the flyer he’d found just before realizing he’d been away from his room too long. He’d stuck that scrap of broadsheet in his pocket!
Patting his gore-slick clothes, Paul quickly found the piece of crumpled poster.
But like all the rest of him, it was drenched in blood. He could only make out a few words, not the address.
“Chamber of Horrors,” he read aloud in the dim pre-dawn light. He knew there’d been more last night, but his head was pounding, and he couldn’t remember the rest.
He needed sleep. If he got some sleep, maybe he’d remember.
He had to get back to his room. But he couldn’t go like this.
Being careful he wasn’t observed, Paul found a nearby boating ladder and lowered himself into the chilly waters of the Thames.
It took him the better part of fifteen minutes to scrub all the blood and gore out of his clothes, skin, and hair.
Then he climbed out and trudged back to his dingy rented room above a tavern overlooking the docks.
“Blimey, what happened to you, Mr. Long?” the barmaid, who also acted as the innkeeper, asked when he entered. She was a consumptive-looking girl in her late twenties. Billie, Paul thought her name was.
“I got mugged,” he replied. “They threw me into the river.”
“Cor! I hope you wasn’t hurt none!” Billie said with genuine concern.
Paul shook his head as he trudged up the stairs leading to his tiny room. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
And that was true. It was far worse than it looked.
It wouldn’t get better until he could break the curse for good.
But there was only one night of the full moon left this month.
And before the wolf could hurt anyone again, Paul swore he would find that Chamber of Horrors.
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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