I hadn’t imagined I’d ever go back to the asylum after the terrors of the night I spent there, but Grimes had been most insistent. He’d spent the day of our visit from McBride recovering in his room, though ‘brooding’ would be a better description. I am glad I did not have to accompany him on the dark paths his mind wandered that day and, in fact, I’d spent most of the day in my own room, doing what I could to organise my affairs.
I’d gone in to see him during the early afternoon. He was sitting on the side of his bed examining an object he was holding. “What do you think of this?” he said, handing it to me. I was taken by surprise, since these were the first words he’d uttered in several hours, but was even more amazed by what I now held.
It was a brooch of quite exquisite craftsmanship. The gold mounting was somewhat teardrop shaped and covered by intricate traces of swirling patterns with two abstract eyes on either side of the central jewel. “It is a garnet?” I asked, losing myself as I explored its deep scarlet depths.
“It is. I fancy you’ve seen your share of gemstones, but you’ll have seen nothing like this.”
I nodded without taking my gaze away from the gorgeous thing I was holding. “Indeed. My family possessed many fine pieces but though this is a mere garnet, it is quite the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s also older than anything your family was likely to own. Do you not recognise the design as Saxon?”
I turned it over. The reverse was plain but sturdy and unadorned save for some scratches I recognised as in the ancient runic alphabet, the futhorc, though I could not read the inscription.
“I confess I have never seen Saxon work before. It is exquisite.”
Grimes smiled. “And it is yours, my friend.”
“What?” I stood aghast and wearing what must have been a quite comical expression since Grimes burst into laughter. It was good to see the happiness in his face, though it lasted mere seconds before he resumed his stone-faced countenance.
“Listen. You are in too deep to back out – I believe we are in agreement on that score.”
“You have family?”
“I have no dependents except, possibly, my nephew. He is the son of my sister. She died of consumption and he ended up in an orphanage.”
“He had no father?”
I felt my face warm. “None to speak of. He abandoned my sister when she first became ill.”
“Do you wish to make provision for him?”
I thought about it for a moment. Of course the correct answer was to say that I did, but as I considered it, I realised I truly wished to do my best by him. How odd. After a lifetime of caring about no-one but myself, I realised that this lad’s well-being mattered to me. Damn it, I thought, I do not need responsibility for another to weigh me down. Too late, I responded.
“Then do as I advise,” Grimes said. He reached over and grabbed a scrap of paper from his desk and scribbled on it. “This is the name of the only banker cum solicitor I trust. The jewel is to be placed in his safest vault. You will ask him to draw up a will leaving everything to your nephew. Here,” He handed me a sovereign, “this will cover his fees.”
“But how did you come to own this gem?” I asked. “You do own it?”
This time his laugh came out as a grim chuckle. “Oh yes indeed. I earned it though long labours and it is incontestably mine to give to you. Now, go and do what I say and your mind and heart will be eased.” He leaned back on his bed and, from the set of his expression, I knew that he wished to be left alone to his thoughts.
“Thank you,” I said, though it seemed a thoroughly inadequate response. He lifted a hand in acknowledgement. I left him there and went to seek Lazarus.
And so, my heart relieved of a burden I’d been unconscious of, I was helping Grimes make the journey on foot to the asylum. He’d been puffing before we’d even reached the end of Bow Road and I had entreated him to get another day’s rest before attempting the journey, but he had insisted there was no time.
We walked through the gates, he with a steadying hand on my shoulder, and looked at the hospital.
“Good grief,” I said.
The entrance was blackened and the portico had been reduced to four stumps of soaked charcoal. There was no sign of the guard who’d waved Valentina and I past on mention of Peregrine’s name. In fact, the only person we could see was a policeman who interrupted his march up and down when he saw us.
“This area is off limits to the public, gentlemen,” he said,casting a suspicious eye at Grimes who swayed a little before looking up.
“We are here on official business,” Grimes managed.
The policeman’s large bearded face broke into a grin. “Oh are you indeed, my man? Seems to me your official business should be to get yourself back home and sleep off the drink.”
Then his eyes narrowed as he looked at me. “He’s not an inmate is he?”
“No,” I said, struggling to cloak my anger. “And we are on official business. We are investigating what happened her.”
“Well that’s simple enough. A fire broke out, it was eventually extinguished and some of the inmates had to be temporarily rehoused. But I’m sorry, gentlemen, that’s the limit of my information and my patience. Now be off with you or I’ll have you removed.”
Grimes nudged me and placed two cards in my hand. “Give the good officer these,” he whispered.
It was Grimes’ card and that of McBride.
“What’s this?” he said, and I watched his lips move as he read. “‘Special Investigator?’ What’s that then? And this one says Foreign Affairs. I don’t see what these ‘ave to do with anything. This is a police matter.”
Sighing, Grimes drew himself up to his full height. “Look, officer number c101,” he said, reading the characters embroidered on the man’s collar, “you can either let us have a gander over yonder or place a call to your superiors. Of course, if you do that, you’ll have to explain why you held up agents of the government going about their lawful investigations.”
“Agents of the government? You two?” PC C101 said, raising a doubtful eyebrow. He stared at Grimes for a moment and then his expression changed, almost as if a moment of mental constipation had been relieved. “Ah, plain clothes are you?” He tapped the side of his nose.
“Exactly,” Grimes said.
“Wounded in the line of duty? Is that about the size of it?”
The officer stepped back allowing us to pass. “Proceed, gentlemen, if you please,” he said. “I shall be at your disposal and I hope you understand my caution.”
As we passed him, Grimes said, “Of course, constable. Entirely understandable. Carry on.”
And so we did.
Grimes took a brief rest on the foot of the stone steps leading up to the burnt out hospital entrance.
“What an oaf that constable is,” I said, looking down at him as he struggled to catch his breath.
“Not at all. He’s just a bloke doing his duty. And he told us what we needed to know.”
I sat down beside him, regretting it instantly as water soaked into my trouser seat. “And what was that?”
“That some of the inmates were re-house. Some, mark you.”
I was still lost. “I don’t understand, Grimes.”
He gestured at the cobbled driveway and gardens beyond that led back to the main road. “This wasn’t built to house vampires, my dear Makepeace. Most of the inmates are perfectly human and I suspect we will find that they are still here. We will, of course, check since it pays to confirm your facts, but I don’t doubt we’ll find the place empty of their kind.”
“But what were they doing here in the first place?”
Grimes gave a low exhausted moan. “I don’t have the energy to give you a complete history lesson; that will have to wait. Valentina told you of the eternal battle and the truce that ended it thirty years ago?”
I acknowledged that she had.
“And how many wars has this country been involved in over the past three decades?”
I gave that some thought before responding. “None that I can think of. Wait a moment – are you suggesting that all our wars are actually conflicts with vampires?”
“Not all of them, not by a long stretch,” he responded quietly. “But I ask you to think of this – what more attractive prospect could there be to a vampire than a bloody war zone? And war weakens all the parties to it, so their policy over the latter centuries was to keep us fighting both to provide blood and to keep us weak.”
“What has this got to do with the asylum?”
He put a hand on my shoulder and hauled himself upright. “Not everyone agrees with the truce. There are rogue elements on both sides. Some are just those that revel in chaos for its own sake, others profit from war. The vampires – you know they don’t call themselves that, don’t you?”
“No, Valentina didn’t mention it.”
Grimes grunted. “I suspect she thought it a minor point given the events of last night. No, they call themselves the Nostri and they are not the creatures of myth, but they are dangerous and the worst of them come here. Supposedly under the care of Peregrine, though it appears that, for some reason, he has switched sides. I have no doubt that the inmates of Grove Hall participated in the bloodbath. But come, let us look.”
I followed him up the remaining steps and into the reception foyer where there was a huge circular burn mark, deeper and more concentrated than the damage around it. This triggered a memory.
“Grimes, I would swear that you walked through a fireball when you rescued us. And I heard your voice by my ear, though you were not nearby.”
He staggered on. “No more questions.”
We found nothing we didn’t expect. I trudged with him along the same corridors I’d run down in terror two nights ago, reflecting that if Peregrine had left a hidden assassin he would have made short work of us since we were, by now, both on the verge of exhaustion; Grimes because of his exertions and myself because I had supported him like a walking stick.
Most of the cells that Grimes said were designed to contain Nostri – with thicker doors and stronger locks – were fire damaged. It was if the flames had sought them out and cleansed them. At one point, we passed a large locked door of oak. This, he told me, was the only link between the two halves of the hospital. We did not go that way. I’d seen enough lately to not wish to mix with the mad.
We stopped for a few moments in the morgue where Valentina and I had brought the body of Grimes’ attacker. To my surprise and horror it was still lying on the slab.
“Sloppy,” grunted Grimes. “Our friend here should have been removed by Valentina’s associates. Let us take advantage of the opportunity.”
He pulled back the white sheet to expose the face of the vampire known as Klaus. The head lay in a pool of congealed blood, but I was most struck by how lean and emaciated he appeared to be under the harsh lights of the hospital. Other than that, he looked perfectly human until Grimes drew back the thin white lips to expose a long canine.
Mumbling to himself as if he was checking off a list, Grimes now lifted Klaus’ arm and drew back the sleeve of his black jacket. There, on the underside of his forearm, was a marking.
I squinted at it. “Is that a brand?”
“Yes, though it has also been tattooed.”
“What does it signify?”
Grimes ran his finger along the sinewy pattern. “It is Yggdrasil, the tree of fate that connects the hidden worlds. I knew I would find it here, but hoped I would not. Come, we have learned all we can and I must have rest.”
He dropped the arm of Klaus and began shuffling towards the door. I caught him as he stumbled, almost falling myself under his weight.
I don’t know how I made it back to the hospital entrance as, by the time we arrived there, I was practically carrying Grimes. I had no idea how we were going to make it home, my only plan being to rest a while on the steps again.
“Ah, Mr Grimes isn’t it?”
I groaned as PC C101 walked out of the shadows of the ruined portico.
Getting no response, the policeman looked at me. “Is he alright, Mr …”
“Makepeace, John Makepeace. And no, he’s exhausted.”
“‘Ave you come a long way?”
I shook my head. “No, we share lodgings in Bow Road. But it might as well be the ends of the Earth.”
The PC nodded solemnly. “Leave it to me, sir,” he said before marching off.
I shrugged and settled Grimes down on the top step, leaning against the charred base of a pillar. I found a dry spot beneath the hospital’s front wall and breathed heavily. Sitting there, I thought of nothing but regaining enough strength to make it back to the lodging house, though I realised we’d hardly be able to do so without attracting attention to ourselves unless Grimes made a sudden and miraculous recovery.
A rumbling sound mixed with the clip-clop of a horse’s hooves roused me and I looked up to see a Hansom pulling up in front of the asylum.
The policeman stepped to the door and opened it before helping me to get Grimes to his feet.
The driver looked down from his position behind the cab. “‘Ere, these ain’t inmates are they? Cos I ain’t ‘aving no nutters in my wheels.”
The PC wrapped on the side of the Hansom with his truncheon. “Look here, Jimmy Snoke, you will treat these two gentlemen with respect or I’ll ‘ear of it and we might have to have a little discussion about what else you carry in your cab from time to time.”
Snoke went to protest but something in the constable’s expression caused him to do nothing more than grimace and take up the reins.
With the policeman’s help, I bundled Grimes into the Hansom and pulled the door shut.
“Thank you very much, constable …”
Grimes whispered, “Dixon.”
The man’s face flushed. “How do you know my name?”
I shrugged as the Hansom pulled away leaving the puzzled policeman in its wake.