A Cradle of Wolves

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XIII

Chapter Thirteen: Blast from the Past.

The following morning Theo von Draken walked downstairs into his kitchen only to find Benjamin sitting at the table with quite the appetite. Benjamin had served himself a plate with four stacked pancakes dripping with syrup, another plate of scrambled eggs, a bowl of fruits, and two cups of milk and orange juice. Theo was astonished at the sight of seeing Benjamin partaking in a big breakfast since he was always the kind of guy who would only drink a smoothie or have a yogurt.

“Well it seems as if you just finished with some sort of fasting,” remarked Theo with a small laugh after he said his good-morning.

“I don’t fast. I woke up feeling quite hungry today.” Benjamin knew exactly why he was hungry—he and Booker started in the spare prop room last night before they ended up in a hotel room afterwards to go for round two and three and four. After having sex, they opted to cuddle and nap together until five in the morning when they had to part ways.

Theo served himself a cup of orange juice. He threw Benjamin a dubious side glance. “I was surprised to see that neither you nor my benefactors were there to greet me after the play.”

Benjamin had already eaten two pancakes and half the fruit slices in his bowl. He averted his gaze in slight shame, knowing that not greeting Theo after the play was somewhat of a rude thing to do but he couldn’t resist being with Booker. “Yea I’m sorry. It’s just that I ran into someone before the curtain fell.”

Someone, thought Theo. He gave his friend a knowing smile. “Might that someone be Booker Edmunds?”

“Correct,” Benjamin stabbed his scrambled eggs with his fork.

“I’m glad you met with your dearly beloved because I sure did,” beamed Theo. He downed his orange juice in one gulp. “And she’s coming to live with me here today in exactly ten minutes.”

“You met with Helen? I thought she was gone or something?”

Theo shook his head with vivacious contentment. “She found her way to me and I couldn’t be any happier.”

“Did you tell her about your grand mission?” wondered Benjamin. He couldn’t possibly imagine Theo living double lives and keeping such a huge detail away from Helen.

“Of course, it’s the first thing that I did. She understands and she supports me,” replied Theo. He was about to say more but he was interrupted by the ringing doorbell. That must be her, he thought. He hastily made his way to the front door, opening it without making sure if it really was Helen on the other side.

When he opened the front door, he was greeted by the most angelic of sights; It was Helen in all her glory. The morning light framed her grace like a thin halo; her smile was beautifully contagious. Theo smiled back, took her luggage in his hands, and invited her in. She exhaled and looked about with wandering eyes.

“Quaint,” she commented, concerning Theo’s house. “Your benefactress surely has good taste.”

Theo nervously put his arm around her shoulder, bringing her into the kitchen so she could meet Benjamin. He wasn’t sure if putting his arm around her shoulder in a much more than mere loving way was a good move or not, considering the fact that he wasn’t officially her boyfriend. “Benjamin meet Helen.”

Benjamin stood up from where he sat in the dining table and shook the girl’s hand. “You’re cute,” said Helen playfully. She knew by the way that Benjamin looked at her that he had no interest in women, so her compliment was safe to say.

Afterwards Theo gave her a tour of the house. She had seen the kitchen and the dining room. Then he took her out to the bare greenhouse which connected the house with the indoor pool.

Helen was taken aback at the barrenness of the greenhouse. “No plants in a greenhouse? We have to fix that,” Helen said in a jubilant manner as she traced her finger on the shelves where there should have been pots of different exotic flowers. “But I guess the garden at the front of the house makes up for the lack of plant life here.”

After showing her the indoor poolroom, she was guided upstairs.

“The only downside about this house is that there are four bedrooms. You would think that a house with an indoor pool, a greenhouse, a spacious kitchen and living room, and a large garden out in front would have more than just four bedrooms,” Theo complained just to keep the conversation going. He was fine with having four bedrooms. It’s not like he needed a house with thirty of them. He proceeding in showing her the master bedroom—his bedroom. “I think this is the best bedroom in the whole house if you ask me.” It was a hint directed towards Helen that she should definitely sleep in the master bedroom…with him. When he turned, Helen was not in his room but in the spare room next to his.

She had set her luggage on ground before sitting at the edge of the simple bed. “Are you sure? Because I think this is the best bedroom,” she said teasingly.

Theo approached her, looking down at where she lay in the bed. He stretched his arm out to her with an open hand, beckoning her to come with him. Helen took his hand, but she had different intentions in mind. Helen pulled Theo towards her and he landed next to her to on the bed.

He laughed and gazed at her with wondrous eyes. She not only returned his gaze, but she returned it with a kiss attached. Their lips met; at first Theo was taken aback and had forgotten how to properly kiss but after the first kiss he became a professional. She climbed on top of him with her pastel blue skirt over his hips as she leaned forward. His arms wrapped around her back as they kissed. Then his hands wandered down her back until his fingers touched her soft porcelain thighs. Her torso touched his as he held her close to him with one hand on her thighs and his other arm around her waist. The two of them were connected in this passionate embrace for ten minutes. Their breathing had intensified, and this kissing was soon going to convert into something beyond the realm of merely making out.

Helen remembered that Theo had not declared his love for her so why should she give him something that she wasn’t willing to give so freely? She ceased her kissing and immediately got out of the bed.

“I forgot I have to go do an errand,” Theo broke the awkward silence that followed their brief moment of passion. He was still recollecting his breath as his heart steadied.

“I’m still staying in this room,” she said with a wink as she tied her dark hair up in a pony-tail. “Not to be nosy or anything but may I ask what you’re going to be doing? Maybe I can come with you.”

“It’s better if you do not.”

Helen tried hard not to wince at his brusque rejoinder.

“I didn’t mean it like that.” Theo lovingly offered his arm to Helen. She took it and they walked downstairs. “The diary that I read—the one that I told you about yesterday—mentioned that Ms. Rita is connected with the Edmunds siblings. I’m going to find out what that connection is and how far back it goes.”

“Ms. Rita is going to keep everything a secret or she’s going to tell you a flat lie.” Helen knew the miserable old woman very well. After all, it felt like yesterday when she was living under the hag’s roof.

The two of them finally made it to the foot of the stairs. “Hence the reason why I have some cash,” said Theo, picking up a band of hundred-dollar bills from a nearby table. “I have ten bills here. If she talks, it’s all hers.”

“Just be careful out there. The slums and that tenement are extremely dangerous, especially now with our elevated status in this world.” Helen ran her hand down Theo’s blazer while averting her worried gaze.

Theo took his hand and softly lifted her chin up so she can look at him. “I promise I will.” He kissed her once more before leaving his house and Helen behind.

The ten-story tenement’s shadow loomed ominously on the lone street when Theo arrived. The sun was hidden, tucked behind the horrendous and petrifying brick building with its numerous boarded up windows glaring down at the young man. Empty, broken cars littered here and there on both sides of the narrow street. The street appeared dark as if it was under the hour of twilight while the world around it was lit with the brightness of noon. Not a single sound filled the still ominous air.

Theo looked up at the menacing building with his arms in his pockets. He remembered that as a kid this tenement was a home to him just as much as the underneath of the bridge was. Many a wretched kind made this tenement a home however—gangs, prostitutes, and murderers—the whole lot of them. But there were a few innocents such as a family or two who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. He didn’t see it that way when Theo was a child. He saw everyone in the tenement as an equal in his innocent eyes. Collecting money for Ms. Rita and later quietly telling stories to the other children in the middle of the night when they were supposed to be asleep had been all fun and games for him. Theo did all of that out of innocence because he believed that the world was a happy place. Innocence can make one delusional. But can one really blame themselves? Of course not.

However, Theo did. As he grew older, he began to see the tenement and the world for what is really was. He saw that the world was always ready to devour one such innocent soul. But he hated not the world, but himself for living in it—orat least he once did before he became Theo von Draken.

His eyes held nothing but indifference when he gazed up at the tenement. Here he experienced innocence, disillusion, and hatred. He felt none of that now and so he proceeded in entering into the dark, narrow foyer of the tenement. The foyer’s silence was surprisingly haunting. Music, babies and women wailing, men shouting, bullets echoing—all of those familiar sounds were replaced with a monotonous deafening silence. The walls, which were once a dark green, were now grey and chipped with age and negligence. The golden light from outside filtered through the windows and dirty drapes as a pale, dead light.

He walked up to the fifth floor on the creaky steps and knocked at Ms. Rita’s door when he got to his indicated location, hoping that she was still living there. The door unbolted from the other side before it was narrowly opened by vulgar hands. One familiar beady eye looked at Theo through a thin veil of unkempt gray hair. “Hunter, you’ve returned.”

Theo pressed his hand on the door, emphasizing to Ms. Rita that he wished to be let in. The old woman couldn’t resist. She saw that Theo clearly had money, so she couldn’t let an opportunity escape her.

“It’s been a while since you’ve last seen me. I thought you had forgotten about the woman who raised you,” she said in a factitiously sorrowful tone.

Theo creased his nose despicably at Ms. Rita. Her word was nothing but lies—she was pretending to be a victim of mishap. Did she not bother to even consider that because of her the world was a punishing place for Theo von Draken in his childhood?

“Nice work you’ve done on Patsy,” Theo shot back sarcastically, inclining the hag to cease her meaningless chatter.

Ms. Rita sat herself on her tattered small floral-print sofa with a scowl. “What are you doing here?”

“I want you to tell me what your connection is with Julian and Constance Edmunds.”

“Ha! You wish!” she scoffed.

Theo pulled out the band of hundred-dollar bills that he had with him. The sight of such an amount of money made Ms. Rita’s eyes light up with excitement—anymore joy and she would have begun to drool like a starved animal. “You talk and this is yours…and much more,” he promised.

“Very well then,” she began to say, “I used to work as a maid at the Edmunds estate. Marie Edmunds and Mr. Edmunds had their two children and suddenly I became a nanny. I was not only a nanny but a mother as well. Two months after Julian was born, I gave birth to my son. My son was under the care of another nanny as I worked taking care of these other children, practically being a mother for two children I didn’t give birth to. I was like a mother to Julian and Constance since Marie was never around to even hold either of them in her arms. I breast fed them and everything. The years passed along with my son being raised in the estate just like the Edmunds children. Everyone loved my dear child except for Marie Edmunds. She scolded him nonstop and I knew why, but neither of us exchanged words on the matter. It wasn’t until my son had turned fifteen when he became infatuated with Constance. I couldn’t let such an unnatural relationship unfold before my own eyes! I had to tell him the truth and so I did.

“I revealed to my son that he was in fact the bastard son of Mr. Edmunds. He was devastated and didn’t talk to me for a week. It was around mid-summer when something terrible had occurred. Marie Edmunds and her husband had gotten into a huge argument over the fact that Mr. Edmunds wanted to legally recognize his bastard as his child. Marie wouldn’t let that happen, so she kicked me and my son out of the estate. She even liquidated all of my assets through a loophole in my employment contract, leaving me penniless.

“My son swore revenge on Marie Edmunds when we settled in this tenement. He didn’t get far at all before he was swallowed by many of the vices that plague the young men of the slums. He became a wretched loser afterwards. The years went by and one day someone came knocking at my door. I opened it and to my surprise it was Lisa Mondragon and Constance. Lisa had a baby girl in her arms, which she handed to me. The two of them explained that the child they had given me was the product of an affair between Julian and Lisa. With that said, the two women left and never came back for the little girl. Three years later I noticed that the little girl couldn’t walk properly—she was half-crippled by some natural deformity. It was around that time when Julian and Constance brought you here three years after they brought me the girl.”

Theo’s brain was reeling with the thought of Marie Edmunds ever being unpleasant. He had never imagined her to be so cold-hearted but alas she did what she did, even though it was wrong of her to do so. “Who was the little girl? If she was here when I was dumped, then I must have known her!”

Ms. Rita walked towards the kitchen with a sigh. “She was the little girl that my son violated and killed.”

Anger flashed in his Theo’s eyes. “How could you let that happen? How could you be so heartless to let that happen?”

“Because!” exclaimed the bitter old hag, “Extreme poverty can bring out the worst in people just as extreme wealth can do the same.”

“Extreme poverty didn’t turn me into an asshole,” he glared at Ms. Rita, “Julian and Constance must have known my parents, which means you must know my parents as well.”

“You want me to tell you who your parents are?” Ms. Rita’s beady eyes lit up with excitement as her dried lips curved into a wicked smile.

Theo waved the band of hundred-dollar bills in front of him, prompting the greedy woman to talk.

“You’re going to have to wait for a minute.” She picked up an empty tin bucket. “I have to go get ice from the ice machine down the hall.”

Theo waited with his arms folded across his chest for the old woman to return. After five minutes, he began to worry when she failed to come back. She definitely hadn’t left the tenement because he still heard her down the hall scooping ice from the ice machine. Theo creased his forehead and turned towards the door when the scraping of ice suddenly ceased down the hall. He waited to hear another scrape but to no avail.

He jumped back in surprise when a loud crash erupted in the hall, which was followed by an echoing, horrifying scream. It was an awful scream that almost didn’t sound human. The fear in that person had transformed their shout into one only heard in nightmares. Theo ran out of Ms. Rita’s home, heading towards the ice machine down the hall.

Theo saw the tin bucket on the ground with ice all over the ground, melting when he arrived at the ice machine. A chilly breeze came through the broken window next to the machine. Theo stepped on ice and glass until he came close to the window. He gazed down at the street below and spotted Ms. Rita lying in a pool of blood. Her limbs were twisted and broken while the side of her head had cracked open like an egg. She returned his shocked gaze with an empty, lifeless one.

“What have you done?” asked a familiar voice behind Theo.

Theo quickly turned to see who had spoken to him. It was Cristina who had appeared next to him. He had to clarify immediately that he was not responsible for the death of Ms. Rita. His widened eyes narrowed, and his agape mouth pressed tightly with a clenched jaw. “You know I didn’t do that,” he said firmly. “My question to you is: what are you even doing here in the first place?”

Truly her timely appearance in the tenement was tremendously suspicious, especially given the fact that Ms. Rita was pushed out of the window by the time he arrived at the scene.

Cristina tilted her head to the side, looking at him like an apprehensive mother questioning her child. “I can ask you the same.”

“I came here to find out what the connection is between the woman who raised me and my enemies. I even came here to ask her who my real parents are,” replied Theo.

Cristina pulled Theo away from the broken window. “I got a lead on both your parents and my children. These leads led me here.”

Theo pushed her hand away from his shoulder in a passive aggressive manner. “What a coincidence.”

Cristina caught onto Theo’s instigating tone. “You are not my son,” she said with a wavering, doleful voice. She didn’t know why Theo was torturing her with this idea that he was her son. She knew it was a possibility, but she still had hope that the Dante she remembered was still out there. “I don’t want our relationship to be strained, Theo. It’s already bad enough that you do not trust me!”

“Why can’t you accept the possibility that I might be your son? Is it because I was raised here? Is this not up to par with your standards? If your kids were kidnapped, you’re not going to find them in a mansion or a castle. They’re either rotting away here in the slums or in a coffin. It seems like I’m just a means to an end for you.” Theo began to walk away but stopped midway, turning back to look at Cristina. He wanted to add more to his argument, but he bit his lips shut and continued to walk away. He didn’t want to say something he would later regret which would have only driven the blade deeper in their wounded relationship.

Cristina stood alone in the gloomy hallway with tears running down her face. What Theo had said to her before leaving was true. She could never bring herself to accept the reality that her sons were either dead or raised as slum-dogs in a tenement—It was egregious to even think about it! Sooner or later, she had to accept that grim reality.

Cristina approached the broken window and casted her eyes downward at the dead body below that lay on the blackened street full of grime. The cold air dried Cristina’s tears as her eyes were odiously fixed on Ms. Rita. She had heard that Ms. Rita exploited children and even covered for her rapist serial killer of a son—two things that anyone would find utterly detestable. Cristina didn’t feel any pity for the woman. I hope you burn in Hell; she cursed the deceased before leaving the tenement behind.

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