The Long Game

The Sorry Tale of Gabriel Hood

He ambled through the narrow alleyways, staggering with a decidedly forward motion. Perhaps a bit too much absinthe tonight. Ah, well, it would wear off eventually. It always did. More's the pity. Reality was such a biter. He only partook of it in limited amounts when he had to.

This absinthian tottered man, this Gabriel Hood, had a sorry tale behind him.

His mother, careworn by time and circumstance, had resided in a tiny one room flat in the lower depths of seedy London. With no one on which to depend, she had supported herself by sometimes selling flowers, sometimes selling herself. Too many children, too many mouths to feed. That was the way of it.

His father, the shiftless sot, had never really been around much. Showing up randomly to gift the children he must claim with the back of his hand and put more children in her belly. Right in the same room in which they ate, whilst the children lay shivering in the eves, cold under the roof. Eyes squeezed tightly shut, fingers shoved futilely into their ears.

As he grew bigger, he had tried to care for younger children while dodging the rough, hitting hands of the older ones. His mother had eventually caught pleurisy and he had tried to care for her too. But he could not heal her. Finally, desperate, he had rung for a doctor who had requested the money in advance. Of course, he being only nine, had none to offer. And so the doctor had left. He had spent many a long, dark, dreadful night of misery perched next to her, ineffectually blotting her brow and praying to a God who never answered. His mother had died.

After that, the older children had scattered on the winds and the younger ones were shipped off to the orphanages. On his third night as a ward of the state, a caretaker had crept to his cot and begun touching him in his secret places. Terrified, he had broken one of the man's fingers and run off in fear and shame. It had been the streets for him ever since. Better to be cold and hungry than degraded and debased.

Now a grown, intelligent, sly man on his own, he got his work as he could, his food as he could, and his women as he could. And of course, his absinthe as he could. He tried, in general, not to hurt people. Unless the situation really called for it. He did not shag women with children and he most definitely did not breed more children to be made to suffer in this miserable world.

So was life for Gabriel Hood.

Mina Murray ran until she run no more. And then she walked. She became lost without realizing quite how. And when she did realize it, she was not quite sure she cared. The streets she walked became narrower, dirtier, and she was dimly aware she had aimlessly wandered into unsafe lands.

As she turned a blind corner, she stumbled directly into arms of a vaguely familiar man.

"Oi, there! Watch yourself, yeah?"

He caught her even as she jerked back from him. Then he caught a glimpse of her face in the dim light. And she saw his. Average height and build, rumpled attire, mussed dark hair. Dark, probing eyes. The slight musk of an unclean body.

"You. I remember you. What you doing here, love? Need more absinthe?"

She moved back away from him and his dark, lecherous eyes.

"No. I . . . no. Excuse me."

She started to turn away, but he caught her by the arm.

"Come to see the animals at the zoo again? Or get close enough to . . . perhaps . . . pet one?"

As she turned upon him, hand out to strike, he caught it easily and held it close. He saw her face was blotched as if she had been weeping. Poor little rich girl. What could she possible have to cry about?

"Leave me alone, you . . ."

He interrupted her with a shushing sound while inspecting her face closely.

"Now, now. How could you possibly think I would cause you harm? I offered to paint your portrait. Write you a poem. Besides, judging from those tears, there's another brute out there who's most assuredly not me."

She turned her face away from him and spoke sternly, as if to a child.

"Let . . . me . . . go."

He released his hold and she stepped away. Attempting to gain her bearings, she backed out of the alleyway and looked left then right, hesitating to move.

He crept up quietly behind her. So close he could smell her hair. Mmm, nice.

"Lost?" he whispered huskily.

She spun around, and as he saw her face, he saw she was on the trembling edge. For some reason, it cut through his coarse, absinthian haze and he saw his mother. She had looked nothing like this woman of course, but he saw his mother all the same. Eye blackened, lip split. Struggling to maintain her crumbling composure. And he had turned, with all of his eight year old strength, and swung at his beast of a father. The stout man had struck him down, broken his nose badly. He still carried the scar.

Gabriel Hood softened and spoke again to this woman. This uninjured yet injured, trembling woman.

"Look, let me help you get out of here," he offered.

She glared at him.

"I don't want help from you!"

He held his hands down peaceably at his sides.

"No. But you need it. Come on."

She eyed him with clear distrust. He didn't blame her. Still, there wasn't much time. A lady alone like this attracted too much attention. And he could only talk his way out of so much.

He gestured for her to follow and led her along to more traveled streets.

"So," he began after a few minutes. "Who you running away from?"

She hesitated, then said, "This is not an appropriate conversation."

He raised an eyebrow at her. No need for her to coy now, was it?

"Yeah, not an appropriate situation either. Who you running away from?"

She kept walking, looking straight ahead, and replied, "No one."

He huffed at her in irritation.

"Women, especially women like you, don't run away crying, unless they've got something they're running away from. What'd he do? Hit you?"

She didn't speak for a moment.

"No. He's never treated me with anything but respect and kindness," she finally said. "He's . . . he's not the man I thought he was."

Gabriel chuckled at her.

"None of us are, love. And none of us ever will be. But sometimes our women can help make us better." He snickered. "Or worse, depending on the woman."

She did not appear amused or willing to speak on the matter further. And so he guided her on in silence. After a time, he brought her to a worn hackney carriage. The driver sat on his seat and looked down his long, pocked nose at them.

"Hood. What you doing here?" his Cockney accent thick and heavy.

Gabriel gestured to the woman.

"She needs safe passage, Grady."

The driver eyed Mina openly from top to bottom and she felt exposed, uncomfortable. Then he spoke to Gabriel.

"Got coin?"

Gabriel shook his head. The man grunted at him.

"But if you take her where she asks," Gabriel offered. "I'll make it worth your time. I know . . . people."

The driver continued to frown for a moment, then grinned with his rotting, brown teeth.

"Really? What sort of people, Hood?"

Gabriel glanced at Mina and hesitated briefly.

"Well, I'd rather not say in front of a lady. Be downright ungentlemanly."

The driver sneered first at him, then at Mina.

"You're carriage awaits. Mi' lady."

Gabriel helped her into the carriage. She managed not to flinch from his touch. He managed not to breathe her in again. Though he wanted to. Badly.

"Thank you," she said, swallowing her pride somewhat. "Is there any way I can repay your kindness?"

He bit down on his usual suggestive retort, looking at her. Then without meaning to, he nodded and spoke.

"Please don't come back here again. You're too good for our sort down here."

She was at a loss for words. He nodded again and turned to Grady, murmuring low.

"Not a touch, man. Then come see me. You know where. All the absinthe you can hold. Free of charge."

The driver nodded again and drove Mina Murray away from an ill fate. Watching the departing carriage, Gabriel Hood thought to himself that he had done a good deed and should be rewarded with a generous dose of absinthe.

He was headed back the way he had come when he happened upon another seemingly well-to-do lady.

Two in one night? It seemed unlikely and he was running low on gentlemanly manners. It turned out it didn't matter.

The creature before him was an exact opposite of the one he had just left the company of. This one had blondish hair and captivating green eyes. Colorful, alluring clothing. Familiar, she was. She looked boldly upon him with an open, suggestive smile.

"Oh my, I saw you rescue her. Aren't you just a proper champion tonight?"

The hair on the back of his neck prickled and suddenly he felt it was not in his best interests to pursue this particular woman. In fact, he was quite sure death would be visited upon him in spades if he did.

"Yeah, suppose so. Now if you'll excuse me."

He started to turn away as she flashed her eyes at him, arresting his attention. A silky, seductive edge crept into her lilting voice.

"Really? Just when I thought you were something . . . special. Deserving of a . . . reward, perhaps?"

Against any good logic and his damped senses calling out to him in warning, he advanced slowly toward her. As if hypnotized by those luscious lips, that creamy skin, that inviting gaze.

As he walked forward, she slowly matched him step by step, retreating into the darkened alleyway behind her. When she stopped, he met her and stood close. Too close for a proper lady's preference. She did not seem to mind. In fact, she reached out to pull him closer.

"Well, aren't you just . . . mmm . . . delicious?"

She whispered and he met her lips with his, quite unsure of what exactly was happening. She enticed him with her hands and lips just long enough to take his neck with barely a struggle. And then she drank him dry.

And so ended the life of Gabriel Hood.

Somewhere, in a lost, dark room, Abraham van Helsing sat alone and listened to the screams. The screams of his children. The screams of his wife. The screams of the man he had used to be before they had destroyed him. He listened to the screams and he drank.

He tried to drink away the screams. But they would not fade. On the contrary, they seem to multiply and grow louder and more excruciating. He drank until he could drink no more and slumped unconscious in a shambled state. His inebriated dreams were dark, bloody, and filled with screams.

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