“Your Honor, the evidence is more than sufficient to hold the suspect for murder of Constance Florescu.” The prosecutor glowered at the shackled man dressed in a dingy white jumpsuit, standing behind a small podium in the courtroom.
“It was an accident," the man mumbled, his face slightly downward.
“Oh?" Prosecutor smiled. “Then why did you bring the handgun? Show and tell???"
“Actually... That is very much what it was."
All eyes turned to the door of the courtroom, just now closing behind a young woman, whose ashen face stood out starkly against her long, raven black hair.
“Young lady, sit down." The judge scowled as he pointed to a bench.
"Forgive, Your Honor, but this hearing does concern me." She nodded to the gawking prosecutor, now frozen in place.
"Your Honor..." She smiled as she grabbed a bench to steady herself. "I am Constance Florescu."
A not-so-low murmur rumbled around the courtroom and the judge pounded the bench to keep order.
"As you see, Your Honor..." she continued to approach the bench, "I am not quite dead yet."
"Your Honor..." the defense attorney leapt to his feet, "I move that the charges be dropped!"
“Objection!” the prosecutor took a step forward. "We have no idea who this... woman... is!"
"Really, Brad?" The young woman snickered as she shook her head. "Shall I describe your anatomy? The photos hanging in your den, perhaps? We use to date, Your Honor..." she turned to the judge. "He knows exactly who I am."
"Mr. Van Helsing?" The judge’s eyebrow shot up, accompanied by a chorus of snickers.
"Yeah... it's her." The prosecutor sighed. "But we still have a shooting."
"Your Honor..." Constance smiled, "the pistol in question is one from my... my family’s... collection. Very old and valuable. I had sent it to be restored and Michael picked it up for me. It should not have been loaded. We had a small disagreement, he pointed it at me and pulled the trigger. It is not the first time we had played in such a fashion."
“Is this the Adams family???” The judged scowled as he pretended to examine some court papers.
"But it was loaded!” the prosecutor stomped his foot. "By whom??"
"Not by Michael, Brad..." Her eyes narrowed. ”I was with him when he picked it up."
Michael tensed and his eyebrow twitched, but he remained silent.
"I've heard enough..." the judges mouth curled in. "I have work to do here, case dismissed. Mr. Van Helsing?"
"Your Honor." The prosecutor glared at Constance.
"Next time make sure you have a corpse."
"I did." His lip curled up as he stormed from the courtroom.
"Hurry up..." Constance grinned and sniffed Michael's way. "You need a bath!"
Two hours later, back in his own clothes, Michael walked out into the jail's lobby. Constance kissed him, then hung heavily on his arm as they walked outside. It was late, and the sun had just dipped behind the trees.
"They took their time." Constance gave him gave the jail an annoyed look as she passed him the keys and lowered herself into the seat of the car.
"Yeah, Brad took his time with the paperwork." He kissed her forehead "Dang, you're cold! Look like crap too!”
"Get in and drive." Her mouth curled in. "I feel like it…and you still need a bath."
40 minutes and two traffic jams later they drove the old Rolls-Royce through the tall rough iron gates and down the winding road. Michael pulled around the circular driveway and stopped at the front door of Constance's Gothic style, fortress-like mansion. A butler rushed to open her door and she staggered slightly as she got out and started up the steps. Michael grabbed her arm and steadied her and she twitched a smile and nodded as he helped her inside.
"I must feed! I must feed!" Constance’s eyes popped wide as she spotted a small group of maids. Several backed away. But one nodded and came forward.
"Constance?" Michael gave her a puzzled look.
"Later!" She slammed him against the wall. "I must feed! I must feed!" She displayed two incisors for a moment, then grabbed the young maid and sank them deep into her neck.
“Constance!” Michael lunged forward but the butler restrained him.
"Wait... wait..." The butler's grip held firm against Michael's struggles.
"My lady..." The maid whimpered. "I am cold... frightened... please... please... you promised!"
Constance flung herself backward and the maid crumbled to the floor.
"Yes... yes... I did." Constance nodded and motioned to the other maids. "Take Rebecka back into her room. Make her drink water and juice. Manfred..." she glanced at the butler, "a thick steak is in order for her I think."
"My lady." The butler bowed.
"And one for Michael as well."
"Of course, my lady." He glanced at Michael and headed for the kitchen.
"Now what?" Michael watched as Constance wiped her mouth and rubbed her hands on her jeans.
"You're acting awfully calm." There was a menacing calmness in her voice. "You could hardly have expected to..."
"See what I just saw?" Michael’s mouth curled up. "I read a lot... you have a lot of books."
"Not everything written should be believed." Constance strolled to a window facing the driveway.
"Maybe not..." Michael chuckled. "But apparently some is true. It's ‘in the blood’... so to speak."
"Cute." Constance flashed him a dirty look. "It is awakened... when we suffer... a traumatic death... of some sort. Someone knew that." Her eyes flitted towards him again.
"Who has access...?"
"Besides you?" She jerked around to face him. "My staff, of course...and Brad." Her face softened as she turned back to the window.
"I am not as free with my favors as it appears."
"That's not what I..."
"Of course it is!" Constance laughed. "No... only Brad... and you. My father ran a very strict household."
"I revolt you now... disgust you."
"I didn't say that!"
"You did not have to. You are there... and I am standing here."
"Oh." Michael came up behind her and pulled her close. He squeezed and his hands rubbed her sides. "Better?"
"Better." She pressed against him. "Michael... I’m scared. "
"We need to find who loaded that pistol."
"Yes... in the morning." She turned in his arms and began to unbuttoned his shirt. "As for now... like I said... you need a bath."
"Hurry up." Constance rolled her eyes. "I want to check this out."
"Uh... really?" Michael nodded outside "I... uh... I mean..."
"You watch too many movies." Constance chuckled and shook her head. "I'll be fine. Besides, it's a cloudy day. Direct sunlight can be a problem, but that's all. Come on!"
They drove to the "Antique District" and pulled in front of a quaint shop called "R.J.M. Restorations Inc." After a quick scan of the area they went inside.
" Hello, Samantha..." Constance smiled as the shapely girl levitated from her chair behind the desk looking fully as if she'd seen the walking dead. "Is Robert in?"
"... Ms. Florescu! I... ah... I... no... he's... away."
"I see. Is something wrong?"
"Uh... no!" Her eyelids disappeared as her head whipped back and forth.
"Good." A smirk filled her face. "May I look around?"
"Oh... of course."
"Thanks!" Constance smiled broadly and began to work her way around the various tables, bookshelves and sideboards from the 18th and 19th centuries (and a few even from the 17th and 16th), themselves mostly hidden by layers of antiques, artifacts and curios, some for sale, others awaiting Robert's expert hand to return them to their former glory. She drifted through the shop running her hand lightly over the furniture until she arrived at the work room. She glanced at the clerk a moment. Michael was engaging her in conversation... and went inside.
A rather high workbench ran the length of one wall. On the opposite wall a shelf filled with slide-out boxes filled with various parts nearly touched the ceiling. It was an antique itself, and in places more than a little showing its age. Various projects lined the workbench, the current one being designated by the stool in front of it. It was a sword with odd runes and had been given a new grip. Constance shrugged and headed for the back door.
A bright yellow cabinet with bold red letters, secured to the wall next to the back door, marked out the storage space for flammables. Paints, solvents and fuel for torches filled most of the space, but Constance discovered flint, black powder, and a bullet mold (and balls) for her .75 caliber pistol hiding in the back. A white business card was with them.
Bradford Van Helsing, Esq.
Salem County, Georgia.
"Figures." Constance's mouth curled in as she stuck the card in her pocket and felt the still open wound just above her navel. She re-latched the cabinet and began to make her way back to the shop as she passed the sword. She caught a glimpse of something next to it and stopped to discover an ancient signet ring lying somewhat under the blade. It was plain save for a rampant griffin, and the Latin motto "Vindica quod defendi non potest." – “Avenge what cannot be defended.” She stared at the door of the shop for several moments before heading out.
"Come on." Constance passed Samantha and Michael with purpose and left the shop. She was glaring out the windshield when Michael reached the car.
"Well?" Michael smiled and squeezed her hand.
"Perhaps I should kill both of you and be done with it." Constance continued to stare straight ahead.
"Brad's card... and your ring," she glanced at his right hand. "I'm getting sloppy. I didn't notice it was missing"
"Hmm..." Michael nodded as he watched her.
"It's been in my family a very long time. Needed a new grip."
"It has one now. Too bad you can't reclaim it." A corner of her mouth curled up. "The ring collateral?"
Michael glanced back at the shop. "Something like that, I guess."
"Hmmm...need a loan?" her eyebrows shot up. "Take me home."
"You're being watched." Michael nodded to the nondescript white sedan parked about 100 yards from her gate.
"Why did one of you try to kill me?" Constance gave him a hard look.
"To prove a theory." Michael shrugged. "We both know your family has... quirks."
"Quirks is it." Her mouth curled in. "So now that you know... what?"
"Not sure." Michael watched the sedan as he turned and passed through the gate. "But I'd set a watch."
"Would you now?" her eyes narrowed. "Then what?"
"I don't know..." Michael shrugged, "a vacation?"
Constance stared straight ahead till they reached the house.
Things seem to return to normal until evening came. They read some, played chess (Michael lost three games in a row) then she made him endure a "chick flick" while they cuddled on the couch in the second-floor living room. When sunset came, she seemed to become more agitated, and by ten she was pacing back and forth in the library.
"Be still!" Michael slammed shut a quite old book of Roman history and she jumped.
"I hate it when you do that!" Constance's brow grew deep creases.
"I know," Michael smiled. "It did get your attention."
"I need you to run to the store."
"Now???" Michael sat up straight.
"Yes now." Constance sighed and began to scribble out a list. She passed it to him and he frowned.
"You know, the all-nighter is across town."
"Yes... I know."
"Fine." Michael sighed. "Be back in a while. Love you." He gave her a kiss.
"Love you too." Her mouth twitched a smile as she returned the kiss.
Michael scanned the front of the mansion for a minute or so, then got in the car and drove down the drive. The white sedan was still there, and he pulled up next to it and rolled down his window.
"Sir?" The driver nodded.
"Go..." Michael glanced in the mansion's direction, "assemble and prepare."
The bearded man nodded and drove away.
"Manfred, bar the gate and set the alarm." Constance stormed through the house barking orders. "Genessa..."
"My lady." The housekeeper rushed to keep up.
"Tell the staff to gather a small pack, bag, whatever. We leave in an hour!"
"My lady." The housekeeper's stopped and motioned the puzzled staff to her.
A clear sky and a bright moon three days from full hung overhead as Constance gathered her staff at the servant’s entrance of her manor house.
"The road will be watched." Constance sighed. "We must make our way through the garden to the maintenance shed on the other side of the pasture. We'll have to use the trucks and the old dirt road to go out the back." She scanned her staff to make sure she had every eye. "Understood?"
They nodded more or less in unison. "Good. Come." She opened the back door and led them out.
They exited the house in single file. When the last one was about 50 yards from the house, Manfred stepped back inside and locked the door. He watched them out the window a few seconds, then smiled and turned away. He walked briskly to his room and began stuffing his pockets with the $100 bills he pulled from a dresser drawer.
Moments later a series of flash bang grenades went off around Constance and her staff, flinging them to the ground and knocking them senseless. Constance was set upon by six large men in full SWAT gear before she was fully on her feet and was dragged to a thick post sunk deeply into the ground and secured there with heavy chains. She snarled, hissed, and bared her fangs as she struggled to free herself, but the iron chains held firm. Her staff was handcuffed or zip tied and left on the ground… all but Rebecka… who was chained to a post next to Constance.
"Good... very good." A snicker came from inside a gas mask as a man strolled up to Constance. "Now we begin."
"Begin... what?" Constance snarled as her eyes bulge out.
"Your destruction... of course." The man removed his mask and smiled. "Hello, Constance..." Brad chuckled and tore open Constance's blouse, exposing her breasts.
"A very quick death awaits you." Constance hissed through her teeth.
"Of course," Brad sneered as he ripped Rebecca's shirt away and cut away her bra, nicking her in the process. "I promise yours will be very slow... after you've watched... the show. Shall we begin?"
Brad scanned the staff until his eyes settled on the young, somewhat chunky blond, not long out of high school. He nodded and two of the team members snatched her by the shoulders and dragged her to a spot about 20 feet directly in front of the posts. Another came up and doused her liberally with gas from a large red can. The girl began whimpering and begging for mercy.
"You... bastard..." Constance shook and yanked against the chains, "no... not them. No!"
"Need a light?" Brad grinned as he struck a match and tossed it on the gas drenched girl. She shrieked and writhed as the flames seared her flesh. After a couple minutes she had rolled around enough that the flames were extinguished.
"Again." Brad motioned and more fuel was poured on. "The little piggy's not done yet."
"No! No!" She maneuvered to face him. "Kill me! Shoot me!"
"What's your name?" Brad gave her a kindly smile.
"A... Amanda." She forced the word through swollen lips.
"Amanda... no." Brad struck another match and flipped it on her. Again she ignited with a "pffft" and Amanda let out a hoarse scream. It took longer this time, but she managed to put out the fire.
"Again." Brad called for more gas.
"Stop it!" Rebecca shrieked. "Stop this!!"
"The sooner I do..." Brad picked up two long well sharpened stakes, "the sooner you get this." He jammed it hard against her skin, just below her left breast, sinking in the point a half inch. "Not yet." He yanked it out, then lit another match and flung it on the hapless servant.
It took two more "re-fuelings" before Amanda lay still. Then, one by one from the next youngest up, the other staff began to experience the same excruciating death. Constance and Rebecka soon became mad with anger and horror as they watched and listened to the writhes, screams, and pleas of the victims... and the laughs and cheers of Brad and his team.
The attacks became more vicious as assaults, torture and rape were added to the mix and their victims were then incinerated without the benefit of at least a moment's protection from their clothes. This of course slowed down the process considerably, but no one seemed to notice or care.
Nor did they notice the fog, thick and opaque as it slowly advanced on all sides. Now and again one of Brad's team would give it a glance, then shrugged and returned to their "revelry."
The deep, resonant voice made them jerk around and snatch up weapons, searching for targets in the fog. Elizabeth, the housekeeper's daughter and their latest toy, snapped into a tight ball, crying and begging for aid.
"Who's there?" Brad, pistol raised, turned slowly in a circle, trying to peer through the mist.
In answer, Manfred's head made a high arch into the clearing, rolling to a stop a yard or so in front of the prosecutor's feet. "Who are you??" Brad fired a couple rounds in the direction he thought the head had come from. "Show yourselves!"
Dense ghostly shapes oozed forward out of the thick mist and soon they were surrounded by a ring of men in bright, finely embossed armor, advancing with drawn swords, wearing helmets that completely obscured their faces. Brad's men shuffled uncomfortably, but Brad laughed.
"Seriously?" Brad grinned as he aimed his Glock at the closest armored figured and fired. The bullet glanced off leaving only a slight mark. Two more rounds had the same effect. “Fire!” The prosecutor backed behind his team. “Fire, dammit, fire!”
Most of the team emptied their weapons' magazines... with no evident damage to the figures. Brad’s eyes bulged out as he swung the pistol to Constance.
"Who are they?"
"I'm already dead... remember?" Constance's eyes narrowed.
"Fine." Brad's arm shifted to the right and he fired. Rebecka gasped and grimaced and her head slammed back against the post as the round tore into her lower right chest.
"That should take a while." Brad twitched a smile. "Who..."
The armored figures responded to the command and pressed them back into a tight circle. Brad’s men put up a fierce but futile resistance, and several casualties were taken from the rounds ricocheting back off the armor. More were taken from the figures’ swords. Others in lesser armor rushed forward and released Rebecka from the post and began administering aid. Some released the remains of Constance’s staff. They collected Elizabeth as well and pulled them all back into the fog.
"You really are a fool."
Constance scrunched her forehead as she stared at the unyielding mist, searching for the voice.
"And you shall die as one." A dark form moved, and shortly Michael... in dark blue armor deeply etched and inlaid with gold... exited the fog. "I dislike traitors." Michael kicked Manfred's head out of the way and leveled a malevolent stare Brad. "In all their forms"
"You know my mission!" Brad glanced between Constance and Michael.
"Yes..." Michael nodded, "One you claimed... but were never given."
"Cowards! Cavorters with Satan!"
"The council put the Florescus under their protection in reward for 'much and faithful service.'"
"I will destroy them!"
"I charge you by name, Baron Bradford Van Helsing, with high treason. You are sentenced to death." Michael nodded toward Brad, then the recently vacated post.
"No!!" The DA squirmed and struggled as two of the armored figures dragged him to the post and others chained him to it. "I have a warrant... I can prove it!"
"I did not sign it." Michael strolled to the post. A wave of his hand and chains holding Constance fell away. She hesitated, then flung herself on him.
"Forgive... I... I thought..." she studied the ring and sword. "Guess you could retrieve them."
"Yes...” Michael gazed at the ring, “I admit the ring was a nice touch. I thought a deputy had stolen it. Apparently it was planted by the sword to make you doubt.”
“So many... so many...” Constance stared past him at the dead.
“Robert was deceived... he understands now. I was however... detained." He glanced at Brad. "I regret the loss of so many."
"You have... no authority..." Brad snarled as he jerked against the chains. In the background his men were being disarmed and stripped of their equipment.
"My authority is my men," his arms swept wide behind him, "the will of the Council... and my throne."
"Humph!" Brad spit in Michael's face.
"Feel better?" Michael chuckled as he wiped his cheek. "You think I'm going to burn you... don't you?"
"No... no... we... can talk... I... have money... I..."
"You deserve to be burned," Michael motioned to a man in a black hood.
"No... listen... I..."
"But that's not my way." Michael nodded to the hooded man as he stepped forward, drawing as he did a slender and very sharp knife.
Michael's men cared for the charred and battered corpses as best they could, ignoring Brad screams while they work. The staff that survived... roughly half... was taken inside and tended to by those of Michael's men skilled in healing.
Meanwhile, Brad was carefully flayed and his skin stretched out on a frame in front of him to dry. He shrieked and howled throughout the morning as crows ate his eyes and insects dined on his fluids. Around noon a vulture tired of waiting tore out his heart and ended his cries. Hay and wood were stacked around him and he was consumed by fire.
"So... was it all a ruse?" Constance, having finished her bath, was lounging on her king size bed.
"Which?" Michael sat at the nearby desk, making careful pen strokes on a page of finely finished vellum.
"Where do I start?" Her eyebrow shot up. "Brad... you... the shooting... the rest... all of it."
"For Brad's part... yes it was." Michael made a final flowing flourish with his pen, then replaced it in its holder. "Bedding you was an enjoyable side benefit. Your destruction was his final goal. Once he was sure."
"No Constance... there was no deception at all."
"Then what of that?" Constance nodded to one of the stakes Brad had brought along, now mostly concealed under Michael's padded arming coat.
"I'll put it somewhere in a moment." He added the page he had finished to a large stack of vellum.
"Let's not." The pitch of her voice lowered, and her eyes became slits. Michael caught a glimpse and burst out laughing.
"I have other uses for you." Michael came to the bed and slipped his hand inside her black silk robe. Constance moaned a little and smiled as their lips met.
"You trust me?"
"I do." He spread her robe and let his hands roam a few minutes before returning to the desk. He gathered up the stack of vellum and placed it in a postage box along with a note. "To the bookbinders!" Michael proclaimed triumphantly.
"After you finish over here." Constance's mouth curled up as her hands explored her body.
"Gladly!" Michael smiled as he came and joined her in the exploration.
Two months later a package arrived at the manor. Rebecka smiled and bowed as she laid it in Michael's hands. Constance joined them and together they opened it and examined the volume, newly bound in freshly tanned leather of a curious grain, dyed a deep red, with the title embossed in gold. The couple smiled as Constance's lady in waiting read out loud.
The End of the
House Van Helsing
Michael, Count Draculesti
Captain General, Order of the Dragon.
"Finely done," Constance kissed him and smiled. "Finely done."