Day dawned bright on the morning of the 6th. Some, having lived as long as I have, would forget calendars, but I find them beautiful – like paintings of landscapes. Time is as powerful a force of nature as the tide, and unchangeable as the mountains; no matter what you do, time will correct itself. This day was a moment in time, a landmark. It was the seventy-seventh anniversary of the day that I met my Rosa, and her birthday.
Time likes to play games like that – ‘coincidences’ and number games. Take Rosa for example. We met when she turned twenty-three, which is a very prominent number in many cultures, especially as a hidden number. She was immortalized on her thirtieth birthday, seven years later. We moved back to the United States, near Chicago on her ninety-seventh birthday, and when she turned one hundred, a symbol of completion and an end of one thing and beginning of so much more, I met ‘them.’
No detail was spared in this magnificent dwelling over my head. It provides a surprise around every corner, from the gorgeous sitting rooms to the decadent entry-way. We enjoy Lake Michigan breezes all summer long, nestled in the heart of the garden adjacent to the family room. Not to mention the more – secluded – parts of the house. It truly is my home. I have moved very few times over the years, and this one is as much a part of me as the others have been.
Preparations started years in advance for Rosa’s Party. As the years turned to months, then weeks, things started to fall into place. With days to go, I felt the uncomfortable sensation of time correcting itself. I had felt it in the past, and a few times it happened with people that I knew that ceased to exist. It feels like… well, like a joint being popped out then back into its socket. It was stronger than normal, which means I was close to the ‘epicenter.’ Apprehensively, I started to take all of the precautions I could to assure the party went through as planned.
The day of the party, the three bootleggers supplying us with refreshment decided they ‘wanted a little extra coin.’ I could tell they were more than they seemed to be; the nearly-bald Pollock held himself like a man-of-arms, so I would guess an officer, and no rookie. The ‘pretty-boy’ had an ageless aspect to his bright eyes, much more than any man would ever have at his apparent age. The Scotsman had a strange coil in his step, like a snake’s muscled movements across the sands; sure and calculated. They were not who they showed themselves to be, so I could assume they weren’t asking for positions at the party for employ alone.
I decided to let them in, though I would have to have my housekeeper, Ms Gilencutty, keep an eye on them. I trust her more than my Butler, Harcourt, though he is still trustworthy. For those of you who know my past, yes I do trust these Englishmen; I no longer have qualms with Brittany.
Ms Gilencutty was overseeing work in the master suite when I heard the voices from the kitchen of ‘the three’ asking the Chef if there was anything else that could be done. I called for her, and she appeared noiselessly at my side. ‘Those men downstairs, if you could help them find a place tonight I would appreciate it.’
‘Yessir,’ and she turned to leave.
Before she got too far, I called, ‘oh, and Ms Cutty, make sure their stay is – uneventful – as well.’
I heard her raspy huffing, the closest she could get to a laugh after spending so much time dusting ashy apartments in London and caking her lungs. I gave her lozenges – hardened orange juice, mint and honey – to help with it, but it never seemed to get better.
I picked up the rotary and asked to be connected to the agency I go to for party servants.
‘Yes?’ the gruff voice came through the earpiece.
‘Hi, this is Renato. I need to cancel my reservation for tonight; I no longer have need.’ I said, as apologetically as possible. ‘Thank you.’
‘Mhm. Please, remember us for all your future servant needs.’ The phone clicked silent. My he sounded unhappy. Luckily it hadn’t taken more than a few seconds. I heard Ms Gilencutty’s shrill lashings coming up from the ground floor. I called down to the kitchen.
A worried and apprehensive scullery answered. ‘H… h… Hello, Alfieri Manor, Kitchens. How may I serve?’
‘It seems the servants for tonight are under the weather, and we are in need of replacements. Could you please inform Housekeeper Gilencutty?’
‘Oh… um… Yes. Yes, of course Master Alfieri;’ I could hear the sheer terror in her voice. She’d worked her long enough to get on the wrong side of Cutty’s broom handle, ‘do you require anything else?’ she asked after a gulp. ‘A finger sandwich perhaps? Juice?’
‘After you relay my message, if you could send up a cup of mint tea and a wafer, I would be appreciative.’ And I hung up the phone. I could still hear the lashing coming up from the entryway. Those poor men didn’t know what they were getting into. Ms Gilencutty was an impeccable Housekeeper, and as such she had honed her briny tongue. If you got her really riled up, which sometimes I would do for fun, she would slip even further into her accent, and would fall back on the gutter language she’d grown up with. I walked to the top of the stairs to listen to the events unfold. The scullery was so quiet and apologetic I could barely hear her. I couldn’t help but chuckle, as Ms Cutty was on the take, so she would do nothing to the kitchen aid, or to the three ‘carrapatos.’
They went into the Piano room, as I liked to call it. Though there was no piano in there tonight, if we were going to fit one hundred guests in there. The Butler was overseeing the last touches on the room. They would go through training with the Butler. Oh, I was well aware of the treatment that they were going to get from that teacher.
When I first hired Harcourt, he insisted that my other servants take a course in Butlery and serving. I oversaw the process, to ensure everyone was up to par. He had me do something none of my other man- or maid-servants had ever done – take part in the training. I wore a ‘ramrod’ for a day. I chuckled ruefully, and maybe a bit too loudly, at how uncomfortable that experience was. At least I had eyes on them. Servants were only invisible to the complacent master and the ignorant party guest, neither of which described me, and definitely not Rosa. She is like a master of the Loom, guiding each thread and color into its place in the tapestry. I have never learned her knack for ‘politics.’
The remaining hours passed without incident, thankfully. We had everything set, and the guests started to arrive. The list consisted of people I could trust as anti-abolitionists, as there would be drink available. I also allowed for acquaintances to be invited, as long as they sent me their contact information before-hand. I watched at the foot of the stairs in the foyer, greeting my guests. I am very careful not to welcome any but my friends; welcoming is an invitation for some of the nastiest creatures I have run into over the years. There is a strange magic with the perimeter of a home, and it weakens somehow the supernatural. This truth has been reinforced in my mind time and again, watching the tango that unfolds when supernatural entities try to score an invitation.
One such instance occurred as Mr Knighten and Dr. Johnson arrived. A young man who, according to modern calculations, could barely have been old enough to be called a man tried to gain entry through invitation. The saying, ‘I wasn’t born yesterday,’ is very applicable. He didn’t seem dangerous, though it’s never smart to judge a rock by what you see of it above ground. Eventually, he grudgingly pushed his way through the mysterious barrier. About a half-hour later, a group of foreign – Italian by the look of them – dignitaries pushed their way in as well. As was procedure, I had certain members of staff watch those I noticed have trouble with the threshold.
Finally the one hundredth guest arrived. I gathered the guests into the room to the left of the foyer, outside my study, and started the party. ‘Friends, acquaintances, guests. Thank you all for coming! And to my lovely Rosa, your gracious and perfect hostess!’ I waited for the applause to subside, and continued, ‘tonight’s festivities will be started with a special surprise, if you all would look through the windows?’ And behind the scenes, the staff at the manor signaled to those on the Lake. Ten count after I finished, a volley of fireworks launched into the sky. It was in a pattern of a rocket first, followed by two fireballs, painting 1-0-0 into the skies.
After a few volleys, two of the ‘impostor’ waiters wheeled the cake out. I made sure there weren’t any guests too close to the flame of the candles, as that would be a bit too… dangerous. Rosa and I blew the flames out without a hitch, thankfully, and we divided the cake up into pieces for our guests with one extinguished candle apiece. ‘If we could all move onto the patio when you have received your piece, you can go through the door at the back of the foyer,’ I directed.
We had all made it to the patio, and a buzz of talking and laughing had settled over the crowd, when a scream came from inside. My hands started to tingle, the sign of adrenaline starting to course through my body in anticipation of a fight. I called to the guests to stay calm, and gave Rosa a pointed look to keep order in the party while I sorted the issue out. I motioned for the Doctor, John Johnson, to follow me, and I noticed he brought the Knighten boy with him; interesting.
We entered through the foyer, and the acrid stench of blood filled my nostrils, I glanced into the room on the left of the entrance, saw nothing, and glanced into the Dining room on the right. I saw a body under the table. I started to motion for the Doctor to come forward when the officer entered the room. He had a scowl on his face that could have stopped most people dead. Out of his pocket came an FBI badge, and he jerked a gesture I could only assume said ‘Get Out.’
I could understand his brusqueness. He was in my home where I ‘let’ a murder happen, he needed to prevent anyone from covering the murder up, and everyone was on the list of suspects. Everything that happened next was inexcusable. He is an officer of order, a scion of justice and law; he should try to maintain order and not create chaos. I am the master of the manor, and as such I can and should direct anything that happens. I learned he ordered Harcourt around after I left the room. He then had his cronie, Mr ‘Pretty-boy’ play host. ‘The Murder Mystery has begun,’ he said to my guests. Hilarious… I am glad my wife doesn’t get offended easily, as the hostess; she doesn’t have my flaw of ‘the vendetta.’
I didn’t get time to look at the body under the table properly, so I didn’t see that it was the staff member that was assigned to trail the foreigners. The Irishman came out of the dining room, and pulled me aside, to talk to me about how ‘I could help them.’ He told me he is a vampire hunter, which gave so much away in that moment. First of which, I knew that the FBI agent was in cahoots with non-mortals. Second, I knew that the victim was most likely killed by a vampire. Third, that the victim was someone close enough for convenience. Finally, that the beasts would have been one of those I had watched. The wheels in my head started to spin.
The hunter asked for the guest list. A very reasonable request, given the circumstances, but when I had it brought out, he demanded, on orders by the FBI agent, that I relinquish it into their custody without caveat. I couldn’t have that. That list would be a banquet for an officer bent on enforcing the Prohibition. It also is up to the Host to maintain the privacy of his guests, murderers or not. I was fine with him looking over the list, especially as a way to make sure he questioned every one of my guests, but he wasn’t going to bring their contact information to anyone but those dedicated to the investigation of THIS murder. The hunter puffed himself up, cracked his knuckles, and I relinquished the list on the condition it wasn’t out of my sight more than five minutes; there were more important things to do than to break this man’s spirit.
The Agent then sent the list to the Pretty-boy, who started to copy the list. Copy it! And in plain view of the guests! These aren’t some mere college-boys who’ll give their names away for a drink or to a pretty face; they are the powerful and successful of Chicago. As host, it’s my duty to verify their privacy, and I can’t do that with more than one list, one of which will be in an officer’s hands, and a power-hungry one at that. There is a group of people whose philosopher stated it rather succinctly; exercising unrighteous dominion over his fellow man. I understand his pride was pricked, but that’s no reason to piss on the ashes of my wife’s ruined birthday party.
With the information gained from the Vampire Hunter, I had my wife weave her tapestry, and look for the culprit. I didn’t want to taint her search with my preconceptions gained from my talk with the Scott; no matter how smart I think I am, I am not infallible. Rose got to one of the Italians, the Morretti family, at the same time that the young Knighten did.
Then everything turned from bad to worse – the kid started to glow. Vampires aren’t keen on being outed to society, but just like any animal, it will lash out when cornered. All we needed to do was to maintain the facade for a little while longer and invite the Italian into the house, or have the party go inside while we stayed outside with the beast. But hot-shot decided he wanted to corner a lion, and stick his spear in its face.
These reckless barbarians – they nearly got everyone killed, and ruined Rosa’s party. They have absolutely no regard for anyone or anything, other than the destruction of ‘evil.’ Their blood-lust in the presence of non-mortals blinds them to the existence of innocent bystanders. Unfortunately, I was once exactly like them. I learned my lesson, but it took much too long to learn it.
Benny, whose arrogance and pride block his reasoning and judgement, discharged his weapons in the middle of the party. He stopped copying momentarily to do so, at which point I immediately palmed the original list. He killed the vampire, at which point the Scott and my wife covered up by trying to make it all out to be elaborate stage effects. I am surprised they actually all fell for it. It’s amazing how lucky they were tonight – in so many different ways. I was a breath away from lashing out at them; maybe I haven’t learned my lesson so well.
I dismissed the guests, much to the consternation of the Agent, and I invited the five to stay afterward in my study, to get to know each other, and to talk of what the road ahead has in store. The single-minded horses with blinders refused immediately, demanding to have the list back to track down the rest of the family. Looking at the list, I saw that the vampires were invited by one of my other guests, one that didn’t show up. Benny checked the incomplete list in his hand, and realized that he didn’t have the original. ‘Where is it?’
‘It is safe, where it should be. Now come, enjoy a glass with me in my study and talk.’
They badgered me and my wife for a while longer, until finally they gave in. The kitsune came to me, and asked if he could take a drink to the officer. I asked what drink would do best, and the fox told me either a nice scotch, or potato vodka. Vodka is very uncommon, but I had a good 40-year-old scotch. I gave him the bottle, wrapped, but he brought it back. Pricked ego indeed. Benny, the pretty-boy, agreed to talk with me in the study only if he had his weapons with him. He left, and came back with several pieces of artillery.
I have decided to go along with them, in their quests. I felt today an energy I haven’t felt in decades. It will be good, to finally be back on the front-lines, and do more with my sword than slice fruit.