“There’s a young man downstairs asking for you.”
Sera looked away from her own reflection in the mirror and met the eyes of the woman standing behind her. “A young man? Did he give you a name?”
Tatjana shook her head, making the soft, dark curls of her hair move in the way that enticed every client. “No. But he said it was urgent and that he is here on behalf of Hector Rothenberg.”
“Hector?” Sera repeated. As far as she knew, he was not in the habit of recommending her services to others. Nor was he in the habit of sending her flowers. If someone was here on his behalf, it must be important, and she could not for the life of her imagine the reason. “Thank you, Tatjana,” she said with a smile, returned her attention to her eyebrows and leaned forward with the tweezers in her hand. She would go downstairs as soon as possible, but whatever Hector had sent someone to tell her, it could wait until she had finished tidying up.
A cold, tingling feeling spiralled up from her feet an into her stomach. If someone was here on his behalf … Could it mean that something bad had happened to Hector? He was a hunter. It was a dangerous job. She took a deep breath and willed her hand to be steady as she plucked out another stray hair from her left eyebrow. Even if tragedy had struck, her hunter would not come back from the dead just because she rushed downstairs completely asymmetrically. “Did he tell you anything else? Is he a hunter?” she asked.
Tatjana made a half shrug. “He didn’t say anything else except please and thank you. He was very polite. And if he’s a hunter, he’s been lucky. Very handsome. He wasn’t armed, either.”
“Hm,” said Sera and turned her head from side to side. Now both eyebrows looked the same. She ought not to take too long, but she had to apply a few tricks of the trade. A couple of dabs of colour to her cheeks and a dark line to make her eyes compete for attention with her bosom. Finally she stood up, expertly tightened the laces in the back of her bodice and took one last approving look at her appearance.
The two women went out of the room, down the corridor and lifted up their full skirts to descend the stairs. The place was quiet at this time of the day. A gentleman was putting on his hat to leave, and the barman looked slightly bored with life in general although Sera couldn’t say why. He was a good looking fellow surrounded by expensive liquor and more beauty than most people could dream of. Tatjana hovered behind her while Sera surveyed the entrance hall, but she did not have to look for long before she spotted the visitor. Yes, Tatjana was right. He was quite handsome although he was also completely soaked. The water made his brown hair darker, and it was clinging to his face. It looked like the sort of hair that would otherwise be quite wild. A pair of unnaturally blue eyes stared at her.
“Hello,” Sera began, feeling that cold fear in the pit of her stomach again now that she was done appraising the young man in front of her. “You were looking for me?”
The young man nodded vigorously. “Yes. Hector Rothenberg sent me.”
Sent. Well, her hunter couldn’t send anyone anywhere if he was dead. Sera found herself relaxing, changing her posture a little. She had actually been holding her breath. “Yes? And who might you be?”
“I’m his … friend.”
Sera arched one perfect eyebrow at his hesitation. “So am I,” she replied. “What can I do for you and Hector?”
The young man’s eyes darted to Tatjana and then back to Sera.
“Tatjana is also my friend,” Sera told him.
“Hector is hurt,” said the young man. “He asked me to find you and tell him that he needs a doctor.”
“Why didn’t he come on his own? Where is he?” Sera asked, ignoring the overly dramatic gasp from Tatjana behind her.
“He is close. He doesn’t want to attract attention. He said that you would know what to do …”
Sera nodded and smiled at the young man. He must be in his mid twenties, but those puppy eyes of his made him seem younger. Maybe he was a country boy who wasn’t used to cities. “Very well. Tatjana, will you find doctor Weiss and ask her to meet us in my room?” she asked her colleague.
“Yes,” replied Tatjana and spun on her heel to go about the task.
“And then we will find Hector. If we use the back door when we return, no one will take notice. What did you say your name is?”
A French country boy? It didn’t make the situation less strange. “Well, then, Royer. Lead the way.”
Hector’s friend opened the front door for her and then led her down the street. Everything smelled of rain, and although it was only a light drizzle by now, there were pools on the ground which Sera tried to avoid. But luckily the young man was right that Hector was not far away. He was sitting on a low brick wall on an otherwise deserted street corner like a hobo with the brim of his horrible hat obscuring his face. One of his sleeves was torn up, and Sera was certain that the dark blotches on his clothes were blood.
“Hector,” said Royer.
The hunter looked up. He was a little pale, but he didn’t seem disoriented or confused. “Royer. Sera,” he greeted them. “I apologise for the inconvenience.”
“You can do that once we’ve seen how much of an inconvenience you are going to be,” Sera said and bent down to kiss his cheek. He tasted like rain and sweat and dust. “Can you walk? Your handsome friend here told me you were injured.”
Hector nodded and stood up, heavily. “Yes. My concern is not to cause a sensation.”
“Did you get hurt while hunting?” Sera asked as Royer took the rifle from Hector and they began to make their way towards her workplace at a slow and careful pace.
“No. I was shot. By a farmer,” the hunter replied. His voice was full of agony, but Sera couldn’t tell if it were mostly due to embarrassment.
“Oh dear. You two carry on. You need to go around the back to the left. There’s a discreet door.” Sera stepped in front of the two others when they reached a larger street to make sure they would pass unnoticed. It wasn’t hard for her to attract the attention, appreciative, scornful or jealous, of people in Darmstadt. Behind her, Hector and Royer went towards the right building, and once it seemed safe, she turned around and caught up to them in no time.
The back door was unlocked. It looked completely insignificant and was situated where no one came except to pick up garbage or deliver liquor for the bar. There were no smells of flowers and passion in the hallway inside, and the walls were pockmarked where supply crates had bumped into them. But the place was deserted, and Sera was able to lead her guests upstairs, through another anonymous-looking door and to the corridor where her room was situated.
“Here,” she said and motioned for the odd pair to enter. “The doctor should be here soon. Royer, please have a seat. Hector, the bed.”
“Are you sure?” the hunter asked. He certainly looked like he could use a bed right now, though not for the purposes he normally frequented this one for.
“I will put it on the bill if you ruin my bedsheets with blood and dirt,” she said.
Royer put down the weapon in a corner and dutifully went to help Hector take off his coat. Sera had to wonder exactly what their relationship was. Her first guess would have been partners. But Hector hunted alone, and Royer looked too … She tried to find the right word. It wasn’t naive exactly, but strangely innocent for a hunter.
Hector grunted in pain and then leaned back in her bed. Yes, he was definitely going to ruin the sheets. And he looked more awkward in those delicate surroundings than ever, even more than the first time he had been here. “Sera,” he said. “I need to tell you something important.”
“Yes?” she replied and sat down on the bed next to him. He wasn’t going to be melodramatic, was he? No, he wasn’t that sort, especially not with an injury that wasn’t more serious than this. He had been shot in the arm, not in the chest.
“You can trust Royer.”
Her glance darted to the young man who was now standing in the middle of the room, still damp and wide eyed. “Is there anything that would make me doubt that I can trust him?” she replied.
“Yes,” said Hector. He looked up at Royer and smiled before returning his gaze to her again. “He has a very special ability to turn into a … big d…” He stopped himself and sighed. “A wolf. Royer can turn into a wolf. But he thinks and acts the same. I have just spent full moon in his company, and I trust him completely.”
Sera nodded slowly and put her hand on his forehead. No, he didn’t have a fever. And he did seem like he was all there. “Hector. Is Royer a werewolf?”
“No, not like those you have heard of. He is a man and a wolf,” the hunter said as if that made more sense. “Can I trust you not to tell anyone?”
“Can you trust me not to tell anyone that you secretly came here with a bullet wound and brought a man who turns into a wolf into my bedroom? Oh yes. I care about my reputation,” she said, laughing. Hopefully he didn’t catch the nervous undertone.
Hector smiled. “Good. I am telling you this because he may need to be a wolf for a bit while we are here.”
Sera nodded once more. Of course he did. “I see.” Then she stood up and strode across the floor to face Royer. “I only believe Hector because I don’t think he’s capable of playing a joke on anyone or making up something like that. You are safe here.”
Royer’s shoulders relaxed, and he looked a little less lost. And Sera suddenly felt that she could trust this man. Not only because Hector vouched for him, but her intuition was rarely wrong, and it told her that he was a kind, trustworthy character.
“Doctor Weiss is used to treating us privately here,” Sera added to both of them. “She will not betray your trust. Though … You may not want to turn into a wolf while she is here. If you need to do it … Then use my bathroom. You can be a wolf in my bathtub. In the meantime, do sit down and make yourself comfortable.”
“Thank you,” replied Royer.
Sera wanted to say something else, but then there was a knock on the door. “Doctor Weiss,” she greeted the newcomer as she opened the door. “Please come in. I have a bullet wound for you to treat.”
The doctor said hello to Sera, stepped inside and nodded at Royer and Hector. She was carrying the huge bag that she always brought along when she visited patients. Sera had only needed her services a few times, and none of them, thankfully, for any of the nastier reasons. “Do you need anything, doctor?” Sera asked.
“A bowl of water and some clean towels, please,” said doctor Weiss. She was already bending over Hector and started to remove the bandages from his arm.
“Of course. I’ll be right back,” Sera said. “Will you give me a hand, Royer?”
Royer jumped up from the chair he had just lowered himself into. He looked at Hector. To ask permission? No, Sera decided, to make certain the hunter was alright on his own.
She smiled at him. “He’ll be fine. We’ll only be gone for a minute.”
Royer nodded and followed her.
“Removing the bullet isn’t difficult, but I’m going to give you something for the pain,” the doctor said when they were on their way out.
“So … How exactly did you and Hector meet?” Sera asked.
Royer smiled at her, a little less timidly than he had done before. “He saved my life,” he said. “And I was going to ask you the same …”
Sera laughed. “Oh, he didn’t tell you? Well, it’s nothing as heroic and exciting as your tale seems to be,” she said. “And some parts are quite private. You would have to ask him. But we have been friends for a few years now. Ever since he the first time he came here to seek my company.”