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The Street Singer

By Dawn Lechner

Action / Drama

Chapter 1

Old City – Present Day

Helen found him in the library at eight in the morning. He was surrounded by bottles of wine, most of them half empty. He had, for reasons only he knew, seen fit to dirty just as many wine glasses in the process, all of which were scattered over the surface of one of the tables. There were books there too, most of them pertaining to history.

That was the first surprise. Having lived it, it wasn’t often that Nikola showed interest in books that were written by the current generation about a past that they couldn’t possibly know enough about to surpass his own experience. He’d taken some interest, once long ago, in a recent publication about himself but as Helen picked through the pile she saw nothing to do with the great Tesla. In fact most of the subject matter involved events shortly following his ‘death’.  

The inventor, scientist and vampire himself sat apart from the pile of books twenty feet away. He had pulled a chair to the center of the library and sat in it, leaned back, his head tilted severely so that he could stare at the ceiling. There was an empty glass of wine in his hand, its base resting against his thigh, tilting dangerously. Helen couldn’t tell if he was awake or not at first.

She started to right the books, quietly absorbing their subject matter, her mind putting together a picture of whatever it was that the Serbian had been doing all night. She managed to unsettle a wine bottle while doing so and reached to grab it before it fell. Nikola finally responded at the sound of glass scraping against polished wood.

He sighed heavily and straightened in his chair, silvery blue eyes narrowing at her.

Immediately she saw the most alarming mix of anger and sorrow in his eyes, something she had never before seen from him. She froze, her fingers going numb. Had she still been holding the wine bottle it would have dropped to the floor and shattered.

“Nikola…” She breathed, asking a question without saying a word. Afraid to know the answer.

Slowly the 154-year-old stood and approached the table. With studied care he put the wine glass down, managing to find an empty spot for it despite the clutter of reading material. He steepled the fingers of one hand on the same surface glancing over the array of literature gathered on the table before his fingers slid towards Helen’s. He grasped her hand, squeezing.

“I’ll be going for a week. I’ll be back.” He said. His voice was nearly lifeless, his face so pale, were it not for his re-vamping, Helen would have feared he was gravely ill.

Before she could protest Nikola’s hand had left hers and his measured steps had faded into the hallway. She stood for a long moment watching the empty doorway to the library, baffled, before hurrying after him.

“Nikola!”

The darkly dressed figure ahead of her didn’t stop or even slow. She picked up speed jogging down the hall, catching him.

“Where are you going?” She asked, struggling to lighten the tone of her voice. She already felt panic in her chest but had no idea where it was coming from or why.

Though she was mere inches from him, keeping pace with his long strides, Nikola ignored her, as though she didn’t exist. They headed past her bedroom and toward the main hall of the Sanctuary, passing Will in the process and drawing his attention.

“Magnus…what?” Will called after her, but she ignored him.

“Stop, Nikola please, and talk to me.” Helen put more authority into her voice, tempted to reach out and physically pull Tesla to a stop, but knowing that the consequences would outweigh the benefits easily.

Tesla had his hand on the main door to the Sanctuary, the handle depressed but the door still closed before he stopped. He closed his eyes and tucked his head to his chest for a moment, and she could hear his ragged breathing.

When he drew in a breath to speak Magnus expected a shouting match. She was shocked when his tone came out calm, almost reasonable, if deeply disturbed.

“I’ll be back in a week.” He said, as reasonable as she had ever seen the usually flamboyant abnormal. “One week.” He repeated, meeting her eyes before he opened the door and was gone.

She heard Will come up behind her but didn’t turn, her eyes focused on Nikola’s retreating form casting shadows on the cobblestone drive.

“Um…?  You two get in a fight or something?”

Helen chewed at the air for a moment, bothered, clueless, intrigued and ever so slightly afraid. She turned to Will, her face tightened with confusion.

“I have no idea. When you’ve eaten your breakfast join me in the library.” She turned on a heel and started back the way she had come, ignoring Will’s reaction. Knowing he would eventually be too intrigued to remain offended by her brusque manner.

As she walked away she tossed another request toward him for good measure.

“Ask Biggie to brew us some tea as well.”

She smiled slightly when she heard the sardonic laugh echo behind her.

New York City, New York - January, 1943

The hoop-huh-rah surrounding his death hadn’t lasted as long as he had hoped it would. Of course he hadn’t really gone out with a bang. A slow death, a poison that temporarily stopped his heart, a farewell note to the pigeons and the Nikola Tesla that the world knew, and should have loved, were it not for the bad publicity, was gone.

At first there had been a front page notice in a dozen of the major newspapers. Helen had been kind enough to bring him copies. Then the next day there was talk of funerals and viewing hours and it became necessary for Helen to send out notices, telling the world that the funeral would be private.  No viewing hours.

Nikola wasn’t interested in long hours in a coffin under any sort of sedation, given his distaste for coffins in general, and even one day out of the public eye had given him a sense of freedom that he hadn’t felt since the Oxford days.

“It’s necessary that you remain hidden, Nikola. For God’s sake it’s only been a few days.”

“A few days of hundreds, of thousands, Helen! I’m free!” The joy of it danced in his eyes as Nikola followed Helen into the main hallway of the safe house they had devised for Nikola’s temporary stay. “No more disguises, no more pesky aging makeup.”

“No more mustache?” Helen asked, smirking and pointing to the ever present caterpillar creeping across Tesla’s upper lip.

Nikola grinned and spun in a circle looking for a mirror. In the reflection of the first one he found, the vampire fingered the stiff hairs, and then rubbed at a smudge of makeup that he had missed. “Yes, that can go. Change the color of my hair. Change my name. Oh the freedom to be…whatever, wherever. And you could come with me Helen.”

She laughed but it wasn’t the sort of laugh that meant she was agreeing with him. She took off her scarf, deep burgundy colored locks flipping into the air with it, and some of the strands staying aloft. Even the static electricity that existed between those strands of hair was reason enough to delight the, until recently, brooding Serbian. He promptly ignored her disapproval, rubbing his hands together as he ventured into the modest safe house.

“I have responsibilities. Not the least of which are keeping you out of sight until our plane…”

“Plane?”

“Yes, a sea voyage would take too long and provide too many chances for you to be discovered.”

Tesla grumbled, his face contorting into a pout of sorts.

“They are perfectly safe.”

“They said that about the Titanic.” Nikola said and the look that followed the statement cut very closely to the skin.

Helen snapped her jaw shut, a tiny bit of anger flashing in her eyes. “If you were planning on haunting any of your old chums, Nikola, the answer is no.”

“But…”

“You are leaving the country with me in three days.”

“Helen, I..”

“No other options.” She snapped. “Part of our agreement was that we played by my rules for six months, no questions asked.”

Jerking his charcoal gray coat from his shoulders Nikola tossed it against the back of a whicker dining room chair. Even as Helen noted the curiosity of his sudden act of abandon Tesla turned his back to her and she could see his fingers busily straightening the small wrinkles in the fabric.

“You’re taking all the fun out of death.” He groused.

Like a weary mother with an incorrigible child Helen rolled her eyes at the back of his head before marching past him to the kitchen of the small abode. She had expected this attitude from him eventually, and had prepared for a little cheering up.

When she returned to the dining room table it was with large picnic basket in hand. Nikola had chosen to pout, leaning over the back of the chair in her absence, but immediately perked up as she pulled crystal goblets from under the hinged lid. Next came the bottle opener, a single white candle and candle stick.

He had started to grin as she lit the candle and she felt a glow of satisfaction begin in her stomach, the same place it always did. She pulled the bottle from the bottom of the basket and after a moment of anticipation, let the room temperature glass rest in his outstretched palm.

He grinned at her first, before he looked down to the label. The change on his face was charming and amusing. His eyebrows went up and his smirk disappeared into a brief moment of open mouthed awe before he smiled at her.

“1856 Crémant de Loire.” He said, nodding his head.

Helen did her best to dial down the smile and handed him the cork screw. “The year of your birth,” she acknowledged.

Tesla had just barely pierced the wax when he sighed, looking down almost longingly to the label. “87 years old.”

They shared a moment of silence, both thinking over the period of time. How many wonders and horrors had Helen Magnus and Nikola Tesla, along with James Watson, Nigel Griffith and…and John, how many indescribable things had they been witness to? How many more would they be?

“It’s been…” Nikola brought the bottle of wine closer to his chest, absently working the cork screw as he thought. “About six decades since I’ve seen the homeland.”

“Serbia?” Helen asked, leaning across the table with the crystal in hand, setting it close to the vampire.

With only a small measure of his strength, Tesla was able to pull the cork free. He tested it, allowing Magnus to do the same before setting it to the side.

While the wine was allowed to breathe, Nikola began to calculate. “Would it break our agreement if the country I returned to was my homeland instead of yours?”

Tesla poured, a small sample splashing into each of the shallow goblets before he set the bottle down. Helen raised her glass and rounded the table, her eyes narrowed, a suspiciously surprised look coloring her cheeks.

“I hardly trust you to go there on your own.”

“You are more than welcome to accompany me..”

The same look of mother to child and Helen thought on it more, her goblet held aloft.

“Maybe..” She said finally, and Nikola grinned, tapping their glasses together.

As the clear tone rang out he toasted, “Here’s to maybe.”

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