IN THIS EPISODE: …Victoria falls further under the spell of Erzsebet, the mysterious woman in the mirror…
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CHAPTER 17 – Erzsebet’s Apprentice
Victoria Duprix – Soho, London
The Night of a Waning Crescent Moon
Victoria peered through the London fog at the woman in high heels clicking down the Soho back streets—the woman she’d been following all evening.
The model appeared as Victoria remembered her: tallish and slender but well-rounded in the hips and bosom, a fact not quite disguised by the woman’s fashionable straight-contour evening dress. The dress was turquois, made of some silk-like fabric, rayon probably, as only a high-end model could afford actual silk. Vincent’s model was not high end, not yet, anyway. If she’d been doing well, she wouldn’t be entering her third club of the night, unaccompanied.
Surprising how long it takes a girl to sleep her way to the top, nowadays, Victoria mused. Unless the girl didn’t like men, of course…
Though she seemed to like my husband well enough!
A girl could change teams, Victoria supposed, but somebody (aside from herself) was sleeping with her husband, and this shapely twenty-something seemed a likely suspect. She had strawberry blonde hair, for one thing; Vincent had always liked redheads.
And this woman certainly looked more like the sculpture in Vincent’s studio than the whore Victoria had killed last week. Clearly it hadn’t been that girl, as she was now dead, but Vincent’s modeling continued at an even more frenzied pace.
Victoria rubbed the back of her black-gloved hand, the place Piper’s hot blood had spilled on her. The skin there had looked younger once Victoria rubbed the blood off, no doubt about it. And hadn’t her hair gotten a bit less grey? She thought so. Vincent seemed to have noticed it, too. He’d remarked about her dying her hair… Ha!
If only he knew!
How much blood would it take for Victoria to be truly young once more?
She didn’t know, and her advisor in the mirror—Erzsebet—had remained maddeningly elusive, never appearing when Victoria wanted. (Victoria had even tried the old “mirror, mirror…” incantation from the fairy tales, to no avail.) And when Erzsebet did appear, she tended to reveal what she felt like sharing, rather than answering Victoria’s questions.
“Blood…” the spectral figure insisted. “Blood isss the key…!”
But how much blood?
That’s what Victoria wanted to know. And exactly what was she to do with it? Drink it? Paint the walls with it? Sacrifice it to the gods? Drench herself in it? What?
“The taking of life—young life—will ressstore you!”
Victoria kept rubbing the back of her hand, unconsciously. Certainly slaying Piper seemed to have had some beneficial effect—and Victoria had enjoyed doing the deed, as well. She’d never guessed how satisfying it would feel to kill a romantic rival.
If I’d known, I would have tried it long ago! she thought with a wicked smile.
Her shadowy mentor had seemed pleased when Victoria had returned home, fresh blood on her hands.
“What must I do next?” Victoria had asked.
Erzsebet had merely grinned back at her and said, “More!”
So, Victoria had chosen her next victim, still aiming to track down and slaughter her husband’s current paramour.
This fashionable little slut, Angela by name, had intended to be an actress but settled for being paid for taking her clothes off. Victoria understood that. Modeling, whether on stage or for artists, could be a very pleasant and profitable way to earn a living.
But not if it included sleeping with her husband. She might have put up with that kind of nonsense once, but no longer. If Vincent wouldn’t take Victoria to bed anymore, she’d decided that he’d take no one else, either.
Or if he did, she would make sure that those paramours would pay!
Angela laughed tipsily as she tripped over her own heels at the entrance to the Enfield Arms, a run-down public house hidden in a dismal alleyway. The sound of jazz, clumsily played, drifted out from inside the tavern. Angela propped herself up against the doorway, and then stumbled gaily inside.
Victoria took a deep breath and dropped the veil, which was attached to her fashionable black hat, over her face. The veil matched her ensemble—conservative ebony dress and knee-length overcoat—and in a bohemian neighborhood like this, the veil wouldn’t be much remarked, she hoped. It would, however, effectively conceal her identity.
She tucked her prop—a sketchbook she’d borrowed from Vincent’s studio—securely under her arm and walked casually into the pub.
Looking around the smoke-filled room, she soon spotted Angela standing at the bar, peering through the gloom, sizing up prospects. It was late, though, and most of the people in the pub were already in their cups. Few looked even marginally attractive to Victoria, and none seemed to have noticed, yet, that the young model had entered.
Victoria walked up and took the stool next to Angela, laying the sketchbook on the bar. When the barkeep approached, Victoria pointed to the glass of pale brown liquid, over ice, in front of Angela and said:
“I’ll have what she’s having.”
The barman grunted and went to fetch the drink.
“I wouldn’t,” Angela cautioned. Then she whispered, “The whiskey’s not very good here.”
“Then why are you drinking it?” Victoria asked.
The girl shrugged, using an exaggerated motion which set her considerable bosom to jiggling. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Are you begging tonight?”
Another shrug. “Work’s been slim, but not that slim. Why? You looking?”
The barman brought Victoria’s drink.
“She’ll have another,” she said, indicating Angela’s glass. The bartender refilled the girl’s whiskey.
“Thanks,” Angela said. “Here’s mud in your eye!”
They clinked glasses and drank.
The girl was right; the whiskey tasted terrible. Victoria fought hard not to wince as she kept smiling and ordered them both another. The barkeep complied, and Victoria paid him.
“Let’s take a table,” she suggested, picking up the sketch book and moving toward a shadowed corner of the room, far away from the dismal jazz band.
“Do I know you?” Angela asked as they sat down.
Victoria sipped her drink and peered out at the girl from beneath her veil. “That would be telling.”
“Because you seem familiar-like to me. Maybe if you lifted your veil…?”
“Here? In a place like this? No, my dear; that would be indiscreet.”
“Oh, a real Lady, are you? Out slumming a bit?”
“Something like that.”
“Are you suggesting we go somewhere else?” Angela asked.
“That would be up to you,” Victoria purred.
“Because if we did,” Angela continued, “you should know up front that I’m not into girls.”
“I assure you, I’m no girl.”
Angela crinkled her smooth, pale brow, slightly confused. “Nor into ladies, neither, ma’am—if you catch my meaning. Well, there was this one time with this fashion magazine publisher and his wife, but…” She reddened. “But the blighter never put me in his magazine, anyway!”
“Tsk tsk!” Victoria shook her head in sympathy. “Of all the nerve.”
“I know, eh? A right wanker, that one!”
“Or should have been, anyway,” Victoria added in a conspiratorial whisper.
Angela giggled drunkenly. “Yeah. His witchy wife coulda helped.” She tossed back the rest of her drink. “Anyway, I don’t do that kind of stuff. Not no more. I learned my lesson. So if it’s that kind of girl what you’re looking for…”
Victoria reached across the table and patted the girl’s hand.
The touch felt warm, even through the black silk of Victoria’s glove. “I assure you, my dear, that I have only one use for girls.” She moved her hand from Angela to the sketchbook lying on the table and patted the well-worn cover.
“Oh…” Angela said. “You’re an artist. So you’re looking for a model? At this time of night?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
Angela adjusted her evening dress, which had begun to slip off her shoulders, showing quite an expanse of pale flesh and décolletage below her collar bones. “Well, I ain’t got nothing better to do. Where’s your studio?”
Vitoria noticed that the drunker Angela got, the more her cockney dialect showed.
“Just across the river.”
Angela shook her head; Victoria was slightly surprised it didn’t rattle.
“That’s too far,” the model said. “My place is closer, if you don’t mind—assuming you have the money…”
“I paid for the drinks, didn’t I?”
The drunk model grinned. “I s’pose you did at that!” She stood, nearly toppling over as she did so. “Well… Let’s get going, then.”
Victoria knew where Angela lived—she’d acquired that knowledge before following her—but she let the girl lead her through the foggy Soho alleys to an even less fashionable district than they’d met in.
Together they mounted the rickety outside steps leading to the second-floor apartment that Angela called home. Several times along the way, she’d had to caution the girl to remain relatively quiet. “To avoid any chance of scandal,” Victoria had told her.
For the most part, Angela complied, though she couldn’t seem to suppress the occasional giggle.
Inside, the flat proved better fitted out and maintained than Piper’s had been; the furniture was all relatively new and clean, and the space kept orderly, aside from the clothes, which were strewn carelessly about, hanging over furniture and the backs of doors and such.
Funny that a model who sometimes worked in fashion should be so cavalier about her outfits. Or perhaps that was why she was: too many bits of clothing to care about, and by the time you got around to wearing one again, it had gone out of style.
Victoria closed the door behind them and hung her overcoat on a peg by the entrance.
“Sorry about the mess,” Angela said. “I’d have tidied up if I’d known anyone would be stopping up.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Victoria replied.
The girl smiled—a stupid, drunken smile. “So, you want me to put something nice on, or you want me in the altogether?”
“Right, then. Get your pencils ready darling.” With that, she began stripping off her dress.
Victoria made a pretense of getting ready to draw.
“Standing… sitting… or reclining?” the nude model asked.
“Sitting would be fine.”
“You want a chair f’ yourself, too?”
Angela drew several wooden chairs up near to each other, in the center of the living room. (She had to move aside several rumpled outfits to do so.)
She sat down in one, facing backwards, her legs straddling the seat, and rested her arms and chin atop the chair back.
“That’s fine,” Victoria said, pulling her chair up close and sitting down. She opened the book and pretended to draw. She’d had some lessons in school, but never much practiced.
The model stared at her as Victoria worked.
“You sure I don’t know you?” Angela asked.
“Perhaps,” Victoria said, and lifted her veil. She did it casually, as she continued sketching, as if she were merely trying to get a better view.
For a few moments, the girl stared at her—puzzled… thinking.
Then her eyes widened. “Wait… Aren’t you…?”
“Yes,” Victoria said, her voice low and dangerous. “I’m Victoria… Victoria Duprix, Vincent’s wife.”
At first, the model appeared concerned, but then she apparently decided Victoria couldn’t possibly know about the affair with Vincent, and therefore Angela should be pleased at this little “reunion.” Drunkenness was dulling what few wits the model possessed, but she forced a smile for Victoria, anyway.
“I remember you now!” the nude girl declared pleasantly.
“Yes, you… modeled for my husband, for a time.”
“I always liked working for Mr. Vincent… Mr. Durpix, I mean. A right regular gent he was.” Once more, the drunken grin.
Of course the little slut liked modeling for Victoria’s husband! She liked it far too much.
“You’ve been modeling for him again recently, haven’t you?” Victoria asked, glancing up while pretending to work.
Angela almost stood, then decided against it and settled down again. “Oh, no, miss… I mean, ma’am. I ain’t… I mean, I haven’t seen Vincent… Mr. Durpix in years.”
The girl seemed on the verge of panicking, but Victoria couldn’t be sure whether it was because of the current affair, or the old one.
Well… No sense taking chances…
“Oh, dear, you’ve moved,” Victoria admonished.
“Did I?” Angela replied, biting her lower lip.
“Yes,” Victoria said, rising from her chair. “I’ll just help you fix it—recapture the pose.”
The girl looked distressed, caught between worry about past—and present—misdeeds and the possible loss of tonight’s modeling fee. Her naked body trembled slightly as Victoria approached, sketch pad in hand.
“Your left elbow was like this, you see?” Victoria told her. She stood behind Angela and gently eased girl’s arm back into place with her left hand.
With the other black-gloved hand, Victoria silently drew the long, slender blade she’d secreted in the loose binding of the sketchbook.
“Y-yes, I see…” Angela said.
As she pulled the blade loose, Victoria let the book fall; it hit the wooden floor of the apartment with a loud SLAP!
Angela turned, startled by the noise.
When she did, Victoria quickly drew her blade across the girl’s throat.
A spray of bright crimson filled the air.
Angela gasped, but Victoria quickly clamped her gloved hand over the model’s mouth, smothering any attempt she might make to scream.
“No one can have my husband but me!” Victoria hissed.
The model’s blue eyes went wide with terror as she realized what was happening, but Victoria leaned into her, pinning the girl’s naked body against the wooden chair.
Angela struggled, but it was no use. Victoria dropped the knife and held tight, feeling the life quickly drain out of her victim. The cut had been deft and deep; it did its job well.
The spray of blood splashing onto Victoria’s face and clothes soon petered off to merely a trickle. And when it stopped running entirely, she let the model’s nude corpse slump gently over the chair once more.
It was almost a pity; the girl had been quite beautiful.
But she’d never again dally with another woman’s husband.
Victoria rose, smearing the gore off of her face with the back of her glove-clad arm.
She licked her lips; the blood tasted good.
But she couldn’t linger. She’d been careful, and the apartment was isolated, but someone still might have heard.
Victoria used Angela’s bathroom mirror to make sure she’d wiped any visible blood from her face. Then she quickly gathered her things and threw her knee-length coat over her bloodstained dress and hurried down the stairs into the fogbound street.
So far as Victoria could tell, nobody saw her, but it took her a long time to walk back home. She didn’t dare hail a cab, on the chance that she might be discovered or some trace of her crime noticed. (Funny to think of her righteous vengeance that way, as a crime.)
It was well after two A.M. by the time the mistress of 1951 Fisher crept through the servant’s door and up the back stairs toward her third-floor bedroom.
Sounds on from the second floor made her pause on the way up, though.
Who would be messing about in the servant’s quarters at this time of night? Her husband and yet another lover? Could it be she’d killed an innocent girl again?
Not innocent. Never innocent. Neither of them. They’d deserved what they got—for past transgressions if nothing else.
Then Victoria remembered… Paul. He lived on the second floor now…
She’d gotten so wrapped up in her scheme that she’d almost forgotten. And she certainly hadn’t expected to find him still awake at this time of night.
Victoria listened, but she couldn’t make out the words. There were definitely two people in Paul’s room though—and one of them was a woman. Who…?
A flash of fiery jealousy shot through Victoria as she realized: The Twins!
Or one of them anyway. Which one?
The brunette. Listening intently, Victoria felt almost certain of it.
She’d never paid much attention to the girls over the years they’d lived in 1951 Fisher, barely learned to tell them apart, really—and she certainly couldn’t distinguish them by just their voices.
But she’d observed the way Opal made doe eyes at Victoria’s handsome employee. She couldn’t help but notice; the girl was so obvious!
Part of Victoria wanted to rush into Paul’s room, to catch the two of them flagrante, and stab them both to death.
The more sensible part of her knew that was a foolish idea, though, a sure way to get caught. She needed to finish her current mission. Dealing with the twins, and any other complications, would have to wait until later.
Silently, Victoria mounted the rest of the stairs, unlocked the servant’s entrance to the third floor, and passed inside. She re-locked the door behind her and then slipped, unseen, into her bedroom.
Only when she’d locked that door as well did she breathe a sigh of relief.
She’d done it! Again!
Unable to resist grinning, she hung her cloak in the wardrobe. She hid the sketchbook there as well; she’d have to sneak it back into Vincent’s studio later. Happily, it hadn’t gotten any blood on it.
In the past, Victoria had often regretted the decision to take a different bedroom from her husband’s. She’d done it as “punishment” for one of his dalliances, but, at the time, she hadn’t realized it would be as much a punishment for her as for him—perhaps more for her, as Vincent just continued his philandering ways undeterred, and Victoria’s sex life had fallen to almost nothing. (Until she started taking paramours of her own.)
Tonight though, she relished having the room to herself. She wouldn’t have been able to exact her revenge—or her rejuvenation—with her husband looking over her shoulder.
Her every nerve tingling, Victoria strode to her mirror. What was it those bobble-headed girls had called it “Bathory’s Mirror?” Is that who her shadowy advisor Erzsebet was? This Bathory person? Funny that Victoria hadn’t considered that before.
Perhaps, some night, she would ask. Tonight, though, Victoria had more important things on her mind.
She stood before the glass and gazed at her reflection. The bloodstain on her black dress seemed more like a mark of honor than evidence of a crime.
She moved closer… Could it be?
It was hard to tell in this dim light, especially with the soiled dress distracting her…
Victoria stripped off her clothing and then switched on every lamp in the room.
She stood before the mirror clad only in a few splashes of blood that had leaked through her clothing.
She looked glorious!
Her skin was smoother, the wrinkles around her eyes vanishing; the grey streaks in her hair had gone.
Yes, she wasn’t perfect yet—still sagging in places she didn’t like—but she definitely looked younger. She couldn’t be imagining it.
“Thisss isss my gift to you,” a sibilant voice whispered in her head.
Erzsebet Bathory emerged from the shadows in the mirror. Somehow, though the bedroom was brightly lit, the area just beyond the surface of the glass remained nearly pitch black. Perhaps Victoria’s perpetually young mentor didn’t like the light.
“Thank you,” Victoria said. “But it’s not enough. I want more!”
A cunning smile spread across Erzsebet’s lovely face. “I knew you would.”
“What must I do?”
“We need more girlsss… More blood!”
Victoria grinned. Whether she’d finally slain Vincent’s current paramour or not, there were plenty of her husband’s whores who still needed to be paid back. How delicious!
“Bring the nexxxt one to me, and I will ssshow you!”
TO BE CONTINUED…
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