A Rogue and Peasant Slave
Holy kringle crap, Christmas was coming, that celebration of greed revered around the world by little children and pickpockets. This year Willie wanted to buy presents for all his loved ones, a situation with which he had no prior experience. Maggie would need something truly wonderful to make her forget whatever spectacle Joe would pull out of his ass. And Sam, although not exactly a loved one, might be more amenable toward his son-in-law with a bow-tied bottle of single-malt scotch under the tree.
Most of all, Willie wanted to send something real nice to his family in upstate New York. With the workload Dr. Hoffman was piling on her assistant, it looked like another visit was not going to happen as soon as promised.
All that was going to take a boatload of money.
Everything in the window was sparkly. He could shoplift one of those. If Jason were there to cause a diversion, he could slip it in his pocket and take off…or if he had someone's credit card…
"What has you so enraptured?" There was a tap on his shoulder. "Willie?" He turned to see Julia handing him a cardboard cup of coffee. It took the young man a few seconds to register who she was. "You've been standing there for 15 minutes."
The couple was gazing in the display window of an extravagant jewelry store. "I was just thinkin' about Christmas presents. Do ya think Barnabas would give me a bonus or somethin'?"
"I doubt it would be sufficient to shop in there," she chuckled in her condescending Julia Hoffman way. "Come along, it's time for our appointment." The doctor locked arms with Willie and guided him toward the truck. "Do you remember how to get to North Cumberland Memorial?"
"'Course I do. I been to ev'ry damn hospital in the state."
Willie watched in apprehension as two burly men wheeled out a sheet-covered gurney from the service entrance to the white pickup and loaded an enormous ice chest and a large zippered bag.
"J-Julia, how am I gonna carry that into the house by myself? And what the hell is in there? That can't be just blood."
Dr. Hoffman put her finger to his lips. "Go wait in the truck. We'll talk later."
Willie's leg twitched uncontrollably as he sat behind the wheel and watched in the rearview mirror as Julia handed a shopping bag of cash to the questionable gentlemen. They secured the tarp and the back flap before the doctor ascended, somewhat awkwardly, into the cab.
"I wish there was a pull-down step there. That's quite a climb."
The driver stared straight ahead, gasping hoarsely. "I can't breathe. It hurts. I think I'm havin' a heart attack."
"Oh, Willie, calm down, you're fine."
"I'm not fine, I can't breathe!" Clutching his chest, the young man began to shake all over and hyperventilate.
"If you can tell me that you can't breathe, then you can. You're having an anxiety attack." She rummaged through her purse. "Hold on, I'll get you a tranquilizer."
"That's a dead body, isn't it? There's a dead body in there."
"No, of course not. Why would you think that?"
Willie's head shot in her direction. "Are you tellin' me that's not a dead body back there?"
The doctor looked away and cleared her throat. "…Not a whole one," she replied under her breath.
"Fuck, Julia!" he just about screamed. "What're ya doin' with dead bodies?"
"Lower your voice. This is not the place to discuss it; we need to get out of here." She popped a capsule in his mouth. "Pull out of the driveway. Now."
They drove in silence for a short while. Barnabas had forced the boy to bury a few cadavers early in their acquaintance. One was a young woman named Jane whose picture appeared on the front page of the newspaper. Another was Jason, but nobody gave a rat's ass when he went missing. There may have been others; he couldn't remember. It seemed such a long time ago, but Willie still had nightmares about it. The corpses grabbed at him from their graves, called to him…
"I don't wanna do this." The assistant shook his head emphatically. "It ain't right."
"No one is being hurt, and Barnabas will be helped. Now, you want to help Barnabas, don't you?"
Willie frowned as he concentrated on the road. "Ya shouldn't give me pills when I'm drivin'."
"Then stop being irrational. It's not as if I'm asking you to go digging in a cemetery."
"You gotta get somebody else."
"I'm sorry, but I don't know any other experienced grave robbers. That is how you and Barnabas met, is it not?"
"I-I don't remember. I think I mighta been drunk."
"This is a very important experiment, Willie, and you are vital to its success. You are helping to save many lives."
Her driver didn't answer. Julia was always handing him some bullshit line and talking to him like he was an imbecile, a word he learned from Roger Collins. But there was no point in arguing with her about it now. She would only tattle to Barnabas, who would get pissed and reprimand Willie. The young man couldn't recall what a reprimand was, but there was a better than average chance he wouldn't like it.
Shoulders hunched, head down, Willie walked hurriedly toward the hardware store. He wasn't particularly pressed for time, but his thoughts were racing, and his body felt a need to keep apace. Besides, his leather jacket was designed for style, not warmth, and there was a bitter wind coming from the north.
He thought of demanding more money for his oh-so-valuable contributions to Julia's voodoo project. She and Barnabas had bags of it to throw around; why shouldn't he get some? Only that would be like saying what they were doing was okay, and that he approved.
But where else was he going to get his hands on some cash? Last year Barnabas had tossed him a $10 bill at Christmas, which was fine at the time, because he had no real expenses and used it to buy a bottle of cheer. Now $10 wouldn't buy squat, not with six people on Santa's list, if you didn't count Joe. Why the hell should he get a present for Joe, anyway? He didn't even like the guy. Pretty Boy needed to get a friend his own age, find someone else to date and move on. It was like he was just waiting for Loomis to fuck up so he could…
Willie ran slam bang into a shopper exiting the gift and souvenir shop. Both ended up on the ground, and the man's packages scattered everywhere. Holy Christmas balls, it was Burke Devlin. Willie jumped to his feet and prepared to take flight. No, play it cool. Devlin wouldn't slug him out on the street in broad daylight.
"Sorry!" He reached over and helped the large man to his feet. "It was an accident. I wasn't watchin' where I was goin'." Willie started to gather the shopping bags and boxes that scattered.
"And I couldn't see over that pile I was carrying." He let Willie restack the bundles in his arms. "Thank you, sir. Merry Christmas."
Sir? Willie stared incredulously. "Uh, yeah, s-same to you." He made a hasty exit into the hardware store before Devlin changed his mind and recovered from his holiday spirit.
When the handyman reached to pay for his purchases, he pulled out two wallets. Shocked, he stole a look around and shoved the nice looking billfold back in his pocket, quickly finalized the transaction, and strolled casually out the door.
Holy plumfuckers on parade. He had lifted Burke Devlin's wallet. The Collins' caretaker was officially dead meat. Why the hell would he do that, and without even realizing it? Maybe it was second nature or something, or something a crazy person would do.
The only thing to do was to get it back, only no one would believe him if he claimed to have found it on the street—not the nefarious Willie Loomis. He could drop it in a mailbox and proceeded to do just that—but first, the young man reasoned, he might as well take the cash, since it would undoubtedly disappear by the time the property was returned. He fingered through the bills: 10, 20, 25, 30, 40 dollars, and a condom.
Bad Burke. Are you taking advantage of our dear Miss Winters—or cheating on her? Willie pocketed the contents and proceeded to browse the credit cards. He could buy anything with those—diamonds rings and mink fur coats, but then he was sure to get nabbed. Jason always said to keep your nose clean in small towns, and this was as small as you get. His last attempt to borrow a stranger's credit card resulted in a nine-month prison sentence, and he couldn't go to jail now. Barnabas would be mad, and Maggie would be even madder.
Tucked behind the driver's license was a photograph of a couple, with an inscription on the back: Zach and Rachel 1980. Willie did a double take and scrutinized the license: Zachery Wilson, 734 Stern Lane, Logansport, ME. Organ Donor.
"Huh." He looked again at the photograph. The man had a wavy carrot-top mop and a mustache; He wasn't Burke Devlin, looked nothing like the man. Willie shrugged as he dumped the billfold down the mail chute. That explained why he was so polite.
With his windfall, Willie headed to the 5&10 to go holiday shopping. He bought his stepfather a deluxe, leather-bound crossword puzzle book, two bottles of fancy nail polish (red and green) for Josey, and 20 packets of Star Wars trading cards for Ricky. Each packet came with five cards and a stick of stale bubble gum. For Lydia he picked out a treetop angel with a real porcelain head. A guardian angel. There was enough left over for a decent bottle of scotch for Mr. Evans. He still wasn't sure what to get for Maggie, but he knew it had to be special.
It was lying in what looked like a perverse jigsaw puzzle on the examination table. Guts and organs, some connected to each other in places, in a hideous pulsating blob. Willie stared in horror as he backed out of Julia's laboratory and tore down the steps, his only thought to get away as fast as that clunker truck could carry him. Dr. Hoffman grabbed him at the foot of the stairs.
"Willie, it's alright; calm down."
"I'm having a d-dream. A really horrible dream and I need to wake up now. You have to shoot me or somethin' so I'll wake up."
"Come into the parlor and sit."
"No! I'm outta here!" He broke away and flew down the hallway toward the servants' entrance.
"I have your keys." Willie stopped, turned and held out his hand. "You may not leave in this condition. Now have a seat and I will explain what you saw."
The handyman complied, sitting in one of the wingback chairs instead of his usual spot on the floor in front of the fire.
"Okay, doctor, explain to me why you're pluggin' together dead body parts."
Julia smiled modestly. "I know it doesn't look like much now, but I am creating a new living organism."
"Most people just have babies."
"No, no, this won't be a thinking, feeling person. It will be more like a machine—one that will generate blood." The young man stared at her in disbelief. "A never ending supply of fresh, human blood for Barnabas. Don't you see? He'll never have to attack or kill again. And no one was harmed—I merely recycled leftover autopsies from John Does that were headed for cremation anyway, and…a few donated organs. When we are finished, Barnabas will have his own personal blood bank."
Willie considered the argument. "It don't sound right. You're gonna bring this guy to life and just use him, and he don't get to say nothin' about it. I mean, won't he have a brain? What if he gets sad or bored or it hurts him?"
"It won't be a person in that sense. Yes, of course it'll have a brain, but it won't process except to stimulate bodily functions. It will have no conscious thought, no more than your truck. All it will do is consume energy, create output and circulate blood."
"You're makin' a monster. Bad things always happen when people make monsters."
The doctor sighed. "This is a medical breakthrough, not mad science. Think of the doors this will open, Willie. Think of the lives it will save, and not just vampire victims. We will create the ability to harvest human blood for vital transfusions, to produce stem cells, regenerate organs; oh, think of the possibilities."
Willie didn't want to look stupid, but just couldn't wrap his brain around the idea. "If it's such a good thing, then why don'tcha call the newspaper and do it in a big hospital instead of snatchin' bodies in back alleys?"
"Well, because it's not exactly legal."
"Yeah, and there's a reason why it's not exactly legal: Because it's bat-shit crazy, like all your other experiments. Sorry, but I can't help ya anymore." He jumped up from his chair. "I gotta keep my nose clean. My wife would kill me if she found out."
"And what would your wife do if she found out some other things?" Julia settled further back into her chair and Willie slowly sat again.
"W-what other things, doctor?" he asked warily.
"Oh, I can't remember them all, let me check my notes." She pulled out a small, red leather book and referred to it. "Let's see, you went to reform school at age 10 for robbing a neighbor, then had an illicit relationship with a priest. You ran away at 15 to work as a prostitute, petty criminal and drug dealer, lied your way onto numerous ships with forged documentation, killed endangered species to sell on the black market in Asia, attempted to scam a businessman in Panama out of 2.5 million dollars, went to prison for credit card fraud, and abetted Mr. McGuire's blackmail of Elizabeth Stoddard. Let's top it off with your career as a raging alcoholic that culminated with grave robbing the Collins family tomb." She looked up. "Shall I go on? Shall I talk about the men and women you procured for your boss, the bodies you buried or the dairy farms…"
"How do you know all this?" Willie asked quietly. His left leg started to bounce uncontrollably. "Did Barnabas tell you?"
"You told me, dear boy, when I hypnotized you for your drinking problem. Oh, maybe not the first time, but during the two or three after that." She referred to her notebook. "Oh, here's another. How could I forget? You shot and most probably murdered a police officer. The details were not forthcoming so I imagine it was rather gruesome."
"It wasn't like you're makin' it sound. I thought you were sorta my friend, Julia, y-you helped me get married." His voice started to crack. "Why do ya wanna ruin everythin'? I work hard for you."
"And you must continue to work hard for me." Julia walked over to the boy's chair and brushed the hair back from his eyes. "I don't mean to be cruel, Willie, but nothing must interfere with this project. It's entering a critical phase and we'll need you close by. I can't wait for you to show up when you're finished washing dishes or taking day trips."
Willie looked up at her. "W-what do ya mean?"
"I want you to telephone your wife now, and tell her you'll be taking a leave of absence from your other job. You will also be moving out of your apartment and back into the Old House for a while. I don't care how you explain it. Say Barnabas has a major renovation that requires your undivided attention, or perhaps you need a trial separation. You decide what's best."
Willie watched as Dr. Hoffman ignited a foot-long matchstick and proceeded to light the candles about the parlor with systematic precision. Julia was forcing him to give up everything: his life, his wife, his party palace. But if Maggie learned about his wicked past, she would hate him forever. He was going to lose it all, either way.
"I hadda do it, Sheriff," the young man spoke softly. "I hadda kill her. She was gonna pour gasoline on me, so I swung that fire poker over there. No, the big one. I just meant to whack her so I could escape, but then, whoosh, her head came right off. That's when I got the idea to hang it on the front door, you know, as a warnin' to other mad scientists and crazy bitches."
"Willie, are you talking to yourself?"
"I said, what a rogue and peasant slave am I."
"You've been reading Hamlet," Julia smiled, continuing her task. "Barnabas will be so pleased. I know how much he misses your discussions." Her tone was mildly sarcastic.
Willie stood by the hearth and picked up a fire poker. The big one. The young man turned and swung the weapon full force into the back of his chair.
"How now! A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!" He beat the chair until upholstery stuffing began to seep through the slices he created.
"Willie, control yourself. Stop that at once." The doctor spoke with steel-faced authority but did not approach him. In fact, she backed towards the archway.
The handyman abruptly ended his tirade. "Sure, okay. I'm sorry." He turned and proceeded to vent his anger instead on the fireplace header.
"Willie!" Barnabas stood in the doorway and, in a flash, was across the room, wrenching the rod from the vandal's hands. "You are defacing Florentine marble!"
But the servant showed no remorse. "Thou wretched, rash, intrudin' fool! I took thee for thy better."
Barnabas had no patience for such nonsense early in the evening and sent the servant toppling over the mistreated chair with a stinging slap.
"He doesn't improve, he retrogresses," the master remarked to Julia. "Destructive, disrespectful, disobedient—"
"And disturbed—very disturbed," the servant interrupted.
"At times like this, I actually miss Harry Johnson."
Willie swiftly scrambled to his feet, mindful that you have to stand up to these vampires, or they will bully you.
"You can't make me stay here," he announced with jutting chin. "And you can't make me mess around with them dead bodies."
Barnabas impatiently returned his servant to the floor with a backhand; Willie scurried to the nearest corner. Safe place. This is my safe place.
"I've warned you. Do not presume to tell me what I can and cannot do."
"You can't do that neither!" the boy hollered defiantly, wiping the blood from his cheek. "You can't hurt me like before, 'cause I got someone now who cares about me, and she'll know!"
"That reminds me: I told Willie to call his wife," Julia interjected, "and inform her that he will be living here from now on."
"I don't think that necessary," Barnabas replied. "When Mrs. Loomis fails to hear from her husband, she will conclude he is off on another spree of drinking and carousing and, no doubt, be done with him once and for all."
"No, she won't!" Willie yelled from the floor. "She'll know it was you. Maggie knows all about you, 'cause I told her everythin'. She'll come lookin' for me, and have you arrested!"
Barnabas yanked the servant to his feet. "You did what?"
Willie swallowed as he eyes widened. "Uh, nothin'."
The older man backed him to the wall. "You betrayed me to Maggie Evans, the vampire slayer."
"D-don't listen to me, I'm crazy."
The vampire pressed his body against Willie's, cupped the back of his head, and ran his fingers through the boy's hair. Barnabas whispered in his ear, "You shouldn't have done that." With carnivorous greed, he sank his fangs into Willie's neck.
Julia watched uncomfortably for a few minutes as her husband locked the servant into his embrace. Without comment, she left the room.