Today’s post is about the first chapter in SHERLOCK HOLMES and the WHITECHAPEL VAMPIRE, my first novel.

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This novel was initially titled “The WHITECHAPEL VAMPIRE” and was begun not as a Sherlock Holmes mystery (which some might have guessed who have read it) but as an apologist for Jack the Ripper, the reasoning being that in the Victorian era, it would be less a crime, perhaps, for a vampire, who was unable to cease being a vampire, to act on his instincts and murder the least of humanity. In that way, he might, and indeed in the story did, rationalize his actions as being somewhat humanitarian, even if the acts were performed by someone who wasn’t exactly human.

It reminds me a bit of a tee-shirt I saw recently, where a would-be victim was protesting to a bear who wanted to eat him, “But I’m a vegetarian!”, to which the bear replied, “I guess that makes me a humanitarian.”

At any rate, my method was to try and show this vampire as a somewhat sympathetic creature trapped by a cruel fate, which he did not choose. I also wanted to show, over the course of the three novels, how the events and how they unfolded changed the vampire, that even after six hundred years of existence he could grow and change from a singular predator, as you will see in the first chapter, to something more by the end of the series. I hope the reader would agree. So here, with my comments bracketed [author comments] thusly, is Chapter 1, Fresh Hope (yes, this is a play on Star Wars, Chapter IV, A New Hope…please don’t tell Disney, or George Lucas):

June 30, 1888
[dates are very important in the first novel as I tried to remain very true to the actual dates of the Ripper murders and all dates support that effort]

Her arm dangled as he lifted her from the bed. A single drop of blood remained on her still warm pillow, a silent witness to her last moments. Cradling her body, he carried Marguerite from her room above Le Chat Noir down the back stairway to his awaiting coach. Mademoiselle Dubois, he knew, would not be missed for several hours. To avoid discovery he would deposit the young prostitute’s remains in the one place he knew she would not immediately be found, the Seine River.

Running through the center of Paris, the Seine was ideal. Not only was it a convenient receptacle that would not immediately give up its secrets, but it would also corrupt her body to beneficial effect disguising the true nature of her attacker.

The blood he’d so recently ingested would sustain Baron Antonio Barlucci during the long trip back to his villa outside Milan. It was from there he administered his affairs as one of the wealthiest financiers in Europe, known internationally as the Pope’s banker. But before leaving Paris, he directed his driver to the Academy of Science where a young American doctor was about to give a lecture that piqued the baron’s curiosity.

[a driver, one might ask? What would entice a man to aid and abet a vampire? This will become clear, at a later time.]

His carriage ambled along Le Quai du Tuleries, the clacking of the horse’s hooves against the cobblestones clinging to the humid night air. Movement near the water’s edge caught the baron’s eye; he watched as two policemen, their trousers rolled up their legs, worked to pull a body from the river. “Mon dieu!” The cry echoed up from the river giving it a disembodied quality, “She’s like the others.”

The coach passed a police wagon parked near the water. Two detectives stood beneath a gas lamp. A second voice, addressing the detectives, called out, “Her throat’s been cut nearly through.”

Settling back in his coach the baron smiled, confident his latest victim would not be found till he was well on his way back to his villa.

This centuries’ long game of fox and geese he played with legal authorities across Europe was one he could not afford to lose. At the dawn of his affliction, eluding even crude law enforcement agencies proved a challenge. As time wore on, the agencies became more adept, but fortunately they lacked the sophistication to effectively incorporate lessons learned the way the baron could. His intellect and patient observation allowed him to stay two steps ahead of detection. The immense fortune he amassed down through the centuries, further insulated him from suspicion. One advantage of being a vampire in this modern age was the reluctance of law enforcement to believe in him. Tonight as he watched the detectives and police officers discover the refuse of his appetites, he knew not only would he not be held accountable, but also his involvement would never be suspected.

When he arrived at his destination, he strode unnoticed into the lecture hall. The baron’s fashionable but modest dress allowed him to blend seamlessly into the elite assemblage of Europe’s scientific community. With dispassion he took his place in the rear of the hall.

Curious but cynical, the baron watched and listened to the charismatic speaker at the lectern deliver his discourse titled “Dispelling Folk Lore with Science”. As the young doctor spoke, describing his methods and the success he’d achieved on the Dark Continent with a variety of blood disorders, the baron’s interest became more acute—an interest soon to have a crucial influence over both their destinies.

[this, then, becomes the baron’s inciting moment, where he begins to hatch a plan that will at last free him from the agony of being a vampire. Far from being a creature lusting for the blood of his human victims, the baron yearns to be free of what he has come to see as a dualism, both human and monster, with the monster being the blood lust within.]

With every word, the baron became increasingly convinced that this was the young man for whom he’d been waiting. As he watched, he thought about how patient he’d been for this moment to arrive. He thought back to his awakening in the early thirteenth century when the Inquisition would have burned one such as he at the stake. Unaware at the time just how long this curse would last, he watched as the world around him marched forward with inexorable sluggishness. He watched and waited as the world crept from the dull nescience of the dark ages, through the renaissance of enlightenment, and ultimately into the modern industrial age. Finally after six centuries, it appeared science had freed itself from superstition, attaining the dimension necessary to liberate him from the burden he’d so long carried.

[Science is the cure for ignorance; a theme throughout the novel]

The baron exited the hall with guarded exuberance before the lecture was over. The journey back to his villa in Milan was a long one and he was anxious to return. He would need time, time and research, in order to put into action the plan now formulating in his mind. As he climbed into the back of his coach, he had his driver stop in the middle of the deserted Pont Neuf on his way out of Paris, one final bit of business to tend to.

[Though no mention is made of this, Pont Neuf is the bridge over the Seine that crosses the western tip of the Ile de le Cite, where Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Templar Knights was burned to death.]

The overcast Parisian sky conspired to conceal his actions as the baron removed the lifeless body of Marguerite from her temporary crypt. Effortlessly he carried her to the edge of the bridge. Without ceremony he lifted her over the stone railing. Pausing only long enough to ensure no one would see or hear he relaxed his grip, allowing her body to slip into the black water of the Seine. His dark business concluded the baron retired to the back of his coach for the journey home.

[Contrast his callous disposal of Marguerite with the gentle manner in which he removed her from her bed—man or monster?]

 

This first chapter is short, but does two things quite well. It shows a vampire who can be cold and callous with his victim, and holds out the hope of a flicker of humanity still burning within his breast.

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