A detective in late Victorian America who encounters the paranormal on a frequent basis.
The night air chilled ones bones and the gusts of wind blew discarded newspapers and old posters around in a whirlwind. This particular narrow street was in a quieter part of New York that prided itself on its' cafes and bakeries. The street showed no sign of life other than a lone man bundled in a long coat and fedora standing in front of the "Red Cafe". He observed the dark cafe through a giant window meant to show off the relaxed and tranquil interior. A quick jiggle of the door handle by the man revealed that it was locked but their was a glaring problem with the design of the door's hinges. The hinges were screwed onto the door and latched onto the door frame much like a latching door lock. The man took out a lock pick and maneuvered it to unscrew the door hinges' screws. Soon the hinges came off and he was able to just take the door off the frame.
With the cold breeze now coming in from the doorway a faint howling sound could be heard. With the darkness one could only make out the faint outline of the tables and chairs placed in a strategic layout for customer comfort and staff maneuverability. Across the room the a counter ran almost the entire length of the room. As the man moved closer towards the counter a sudden shriek of glass shattering echoed through the room. Broken glass littered the floor right behind him. The man breathed a sigh of relief that it was only him knocking something over but a moment of anxiety came to him; worried that someone might of heard something he listened intently for any noises of a response. Nothing more than the occasional dog bark and wind shrill was heard.
In a more concentrated effort to avoid brushing against any more tables he continued towards the counter. When he reached it he peered over and observed a latch on the floor, partially hidden by a weathered oriental rug. Making sure that there were no glass obstacles, he hopped over the counter. As the man bent down to grab the latch, the air around him seemed to get even colder and the smell of coffee became strong and distinct. In order to calm himself he just kept repeating in his mind that it was nothing more than a storeroom. When he pulled on the latch a section of the floor came loose and opened upwards like a trapdoor. A cold gust attacked him and the odor of coffee grew to an intense level. But some other odor, a foul one, seemed to take root in his nostrils.
Stairs led down into the earth. The walls were made of rough stone and a faint light from candles could be seen further down. Barely audible sounds came from below but it could be anything he thought as he was hoping for just rats. Stealthily, he made his way down, trying to not make the wooden steps moan or creak. The foul odor seemed to get stronger and by the time he reached the bottom of the stairs and had to turn around the corner to the left he discovered the source of the foul smell. He reached for the gun in his coat pocket while peering around the corner and gazed in horror. A figure in an cloak was standing over a corpse laying on a stone table. While whistling a cheerful tune the figure would rip open the flesh of the corpse and carefully remove the bones. It would bring it over to a large mortar & pestle and grind up the bone. All the while it was allowed the blood of the corpse to drain into a large container.
With hands trembling the man pulled back the hammer on his revolver. As he started to point and aim the gun at the figure it stopped what it was doing and spoke.
"I've been waiting for you Francis. I've been wanting to talk."
The voice sounded like it came from an average man and was in a very calm and oddly relaxing tone. Francis managed to squeak out a few words. "Just stop, now."
The figure sounded puzzled. "Stop what? I'm just preparing the ingredients for the drinks at my cafe."
"You're murdering people." Francis couldn't seem to raise his voice.
"No no no, you are misunderstanding my business model. I refuse to kill or use people in my products. That would be immoral and barbaric. I only use politicians." The figure let out a light chuckle. “Well actually I shouldn't lie. I don't discriminate as everyone is equal.”
Francis' finger squeezed the trigger of the revolver and the sound of the explosion of the gunpowder deafened him. The bullet flew through the air and appeared to hit the back of the head of the cloaked figure. A giant gush of wind blew through the room and the energy from the blast seemed to focus as if trying to to leave the room through the trapdoor. The force was so powerful that it knocked Francis onto his back. As the wind blew through it extinguished every source of light and soon pure darkness enveloped the room.
A voice echoed in Francis' mind as though it was his own thought, "I'm not too happy with you Francis, maybe we shall meet again on better terms."
Soon Francis began to feel the tickle of bugs crawling over him. He tried scratching thinking it was just in his mind but he felt large moving shapes scurrying all over and around him. As he put his down hand to raise himself he could feel and hear the crunch of the bugs under his palms. He start panicking and breathing heavily and quickly. He felt his limbs get weaker and couldn't stop his whole body from shaking. With only his sense of touch to aid him he found the stairs and worked himself back up into the main room of the cafe. The moonlight gave his vision back and as he ran outside he could see he was covered in bugs similar to cockroaches and that they seemed to start dieing and disintegrate into dust.
Francis stood once again in the middle of the street looking into the cafe. The sky started to turn orange as the sun began its accent. With no idea of what to do next and just trying to get the events of the night out of his head he started to stumble back home; trying to stay on the streets lit by lampposts.
Francis entered his apartment looking like a walking corpse. The rooms were filled with darkness so Francis quickly made his way around lighting lamps. Soon the apartment contained a blinding amount of light.
The walls were scruffy and the old wallpaper was starting to peel off. The creaky wooden floors lay below a thin coating of dust. Furnishing in the main room consisted of nothing but a simple stove, a crudely carved table and chair. Through a doorway one could see into an incredibly small room with a rustic bed that looked as if there was no possible way for it to be contained in the room. Another doorway led to the 'bathroom' which was an even smaller room than the one with the bed. There was a hole in the floor for where the toilet should have been with a half-filled bucket of water beside it. Although the apartment did have windows, they were covered by old bed sheets.
Francis made his way to the bed and slowly put himself down in the fetal position. The worries about rent due tomorrow or how he hasn't had money for food for the past two days were far from his mind. The Red Cafe, the cafe of blood, plagued his mind. Eventually though he slipped into unconscious.
Sounds of banging kicked Francis into lucidity. The oil in the lamps were nearly out or already extinguished. Light managed to fight its way through the sheet covered windows.
A deep voice rumbled throughout the apartment. "Francis, open the damned door!"
The problems of every working class man flooded into Francis' thoughts; the rent. Francis never liked the Jacob, the landlord, but every month he had to face the terrifyingly large angry man. The door was opened to reveal the redheaded Jacob.
"Your rent. Don't give me any excuses this time." Jacob stared into Francis' soul and made him fear for his life.
"I have no money. I haven't even ate anything these past few days. It has been slow these past few months with cases but I think I have one now." As Francis' lips and tongue moved Jacob's face started to boil with anger.
"Every month you are late with the rent."
Francis quickly tried to cut him off. "But every month I do get it, don't I?"
"You say you might have a case, what do you mean by might?"
"Well you see, no one is actually hiring me to do it. I am investigating at my own expense. But if it works out then the newspapers will be all over it. I could even write an article detailing my adventures and sell it to the highest bidder. I would then be able to start pay my rent in advance!"
Jacob chuckled a little bit and then quickly returned to anger. "You're acting like a child. You are pursuing ghosts and pretending to be a detective. Stop reading your Sherlock Holmes and get a real job like a real man. Because I'm just a generous man and I find your excuse entertaining I will give you one more week for your rent."
"Who's Sherlock Holmes?" Francis gazed at Jacob dumbfounded.
Jacob put his face close to Francis', "One week." and then stormed off down the hall to the next apartment.
Francis patted the floor under his bed until he found a small journal. It was probably the cleanest and highest quality thing in the apartment. With another quick search under the bed he found a pencil and began to write. That journal was his only hope, at least financially.
"Maybe we shall meet again on better terms." kept running through Francis' head. It was now around noon the day after the events at the Red Cafe. He played with the idea of going back and investigating further but this time by more legal means that are hopefully less dangerous and terrifying. There wasn't a single idea of what he could investigate there legally that he hasn't already but at the moment it was his only lead and his only way of getting money for the rent. With his coat only half-way on he was already out the door heading to the cafe.
While he was walking he thought about how he got this 'case'. With the lull in actual cases, which Francis didn't get much of anyway, he had to find other means of supporting himself. Not wanting to give up his dream of being a world-renowned detective, he went and searched for something that he could sell to the papers and would make him famous. Surely something major had to be happening in a city as large as New York. It didn't take him long to find something. His tactic was to hang out in bars and cafes and listen to conversations for leads on the more nefarious things happening in the city. Most of the time people never talked about anything of interest to Francis. The rumors and conversational subjects were always innocent and superficial. The Red Cafe was the exception. It wasn't the customer's talk that interested him there, it was the conversations of the staff.
Talk of weird ingredients in the storeroom and some suspicious man coming to work after the cafe closed for the day. No one knew who the owner of the cafe was or who delivered the ingredients or when they were delivered. They just seemed to appear overnight. Francis felt that this might be it so he decided to stake the place out. He watched as every day, just as the last of the staff were leaving, a cloaked figure would enter the building. When the moon overtook the sky completely and the streets were deserted the cloaked figure would leave again. It wouldn't be long before the cloaked figure would come back but with a large sack full of something. When the cloaked figure didn't seem to show one night, Francis decided to strike and break into the cafe. That was last night. He still couldn't figure out how the cloaked figure entered the cafe without him noticing nor how the figure seemed to vanish in thin air. The only solution he could think of was a secret passage and some crafty engineering.
Francis once again stood in front of the cafe. There were no customers, instead they were replaced by police men.
Francis flagged one of the police men down. "Excuse me, but what happened here?"
"There was a break in and robbery." The police man said. "Someone took the door off the hinges and stole everything out of the storerooms. I have no idea why someone would do that or how considering how much the stuff weighs."
"Huh, okay. Shame that something like that would happen to one of my favorite cafes." Francis lied.
"Yeah, well it is the least of our worries." The police man turned around. Before he could walk away Francis grabbed him.
"What do you mean, what other worries do you guys have?” The area seemed to be a pretty low crime part of town. Something didn't seem right to Francis.
"There has been a string of disappearances in the area. That is all that I can say. Good day as I have work to do." The police man quickly made his way off to avoid any more questioning.
With the cafe no longer available for further investigation Francis started idly walking off and looking around; trying to think of what he could possibly do next. He seemed to lose control of his thoughts and started hearing a disturbing laugh in his head. At an opening to a distant alleyway Francis saw a dark cloaked figure. When Francis started to sprint towards it, the figure darted into the alleyway. When he reached the opening to the alley he pulled out his revolver and ran down into claustrophobic pathway between buildings. It branched off to the left and to the right. Both ways just led to dead ends. The air started to get colder and light seemed to disappear around him.
A voice entered his brain. "That was a close one with the police, eh? I'll see you tonight, its a date, okay?"
A slight breeze rolled through the alley and Francis could no longer hear the birds chirping.
Francis lied in bed. His stomach rumbled and he started feeling the effects of malnutrition. Head ached, room seemed to spin, thoughts were clouded. None of this bothered Francis; all he could worry about is the voice telling him that they would meet tonight. There were still several more hours left before nightfall and they were becoming the longest hours of his life. Even though fear ran through his veins he still managed to slip in and out of consciousness. In his bouts of sleep he had nightmares of the cloaked figure chasing him, of his body being made into drinks.
After hours of nightmares Francis awoke a final time in a sweat. He lighted the candle the next to his bed and bugs, much like the ones he was covered in at the cafe, scurried off in every direction. Francis jumped out of bed and retreated out of the bedroom into a corner of the main room. He started searching himself for bugs while carefully watching that they did not follow him out of the bedroom.
A voice entered Francis' head again, the same voice as all the other times.
"Come Francis, leave your apartment and come to the street. I have a carriage waiting for you."
"And what if I don't?" Francis yelled out.
"Then I might just have to force you." The bugs started exiting out of the bedroom and marched their way towards Francis. Every crack in the wall and floor overflowed with them as they fought their way into the room. He couldn't stand the bugs anymore. He had to get out of the apartment and soon it was quickly abandoned to the bugs.
As the voice said, there was a carriage outside the apartment building. However, there were no horses pulling it and no driver present. Francis felt a blood-freezing chill run throughout his body as a hand touched his shoulder.
"Are you ready?" A voice said behind him.
"Dammit, I forgot my revolver." Francis mumbled under his breath, terrified.
The voice chuckled. "There is no need for weapons, there will be no danger."
The voice revealed itself. It was the cloaked figure from the cafe. The figure revealed its' face. It looked like a regular man that you wouldn't give a second thought when passing on the street. He was starting the process balding with dark hair and had a neatly groomed beard. His skin was paler than most but nothing unnatural.
The man smiled. "Let me introduce myself, I'm Hans Haeger. Don't look at me with such a scared face, we met at the Red Cafe." Hans lifted his arm towards the carriage. "Please join me for a ride around town. I'm sure you have plenty of questions." Once again the voice was calming.
The fear started melting away from Francis, even though he knew he was defenseless again this man, a murderer. Entering the carriage gave Francis no anxiety or fear.
When both Hans and Francis were seated the carriage started moving. Francis couldn't see any horses pulling the wagon.
"Magic." Hans grinned.
The fear started rising in Francis again. Hans sensed this. "No, I'm joking. It is actually a small engine that is making the wheels turn. I had someone make a contraption to change the heading of the carriage at set intervals so that it would travel the path I want."
The conversation and scenario started seeming surreal to Francis.
"The cafe. The body." Francis gasped at Hans.
Hans face turned from a grin to serious and grim. "That is actual magic. I want to make you an offer since you discovered my operation. A reward for being observant I guess. The drinks sold at the cafe make people younger; they revitalize them. If you keep your mouth shut I will give you a share of the profit from the cafe and I will give you as much of the drinks as you want. You will forever feel, look, and be young. You will live forever just as I have been."
Francis started realizing how crazy this man truly was. "You've gone off the edge. You need to help."
"No, you need help my friend. Your career as a detective is going nowhere and you have no money. You're starving and soon will be homeless. I can provide you money and youth so you can go on pretending to be a detective for as long as you want."
"What does killing have to do with the cafe, why are you killing them?" Francis whispered. He tried to raise his voice but couldn't. His vocal chords were paralyzed from fear.
"When I kill the people, I mix them into the ingredients for the cafe. Now that may be revolting to most but I transfer their life energy from them to coffee. When a customer drinks the coffee the life energy is absorbed into them. It is best if the customer and staff just don't know the details."
"I don't think it is life energy you've been drinking." Francis nervously laughed out.
Hans sighed. "I was born in the thirteenth century to a scholarly aristocrat. I traveled the world searching for the mystical. In Egypt I learned from a religious man still worshiping the old gods how to transfer life energy. What I learned has allowed me to live forever. Just recently I came to America and opened the cafe. I wanted to share the gift of what I have learned but the world if not ready for it."
"Because it is wrong!" Francis voice grew in strength; he was starting to gain courage.
"The gift of life to many at the cost of a few is wrong? If you accept my offer then all of your problems will go away. You will live forever!" Hans' voice boomed with his last statement. The carriage started rocking as the wind outside mustered power. Soon the sky turned dark and stormy.
"I want out of the carriage!" Fear was overcoming Francis again.
"As you wish. Maybe you just need time to think it over. When you are ready come to the cafe when the sky is dark. Watching you has been draining and much too time consuming." Hans started the process of calming down. “I'll trust that you won't keep me waiting too long.”
The carriage suddenly stopped. It was in front of Francis' apartment. As soon as Francis stepped off the carriage he could hear the engine roaring and the carriage rolling away. Even though the adrenaline still pumped through his veins he was already coming up with a plan to take down Hans. This was the case he was waiting for.
Francis quickly worked up his plan. He would report that he knew who has been behind the recent disappearances and that he sees him lurk around the cafe every night. The police would follow Francis to the cafe and he would lure Hans out of the cafe. There could finally be justice and maybe a nice sum of money.
The next morning Francis made haste to the nearest police station. The station must of been well funded as it had marble floors and the paneling of the walls were made of expensive wood. Across the room from the front doors was a large desk, much like a judge's, where an elderly police man was half-asleep reading a book. Next to him sat an incense candle.
Francis made his way to the police man.
"Officer Bradbury at your service." The man said without even looking up from his book or awakening a little from his trance.
"I have a crime to report. About the Red Cafe." Francis resisted grinning.
Officer Bradbury looked up. "What is it son?"
"I like taking walks at night sometimes, but with the recent disappearances in the area I have become afraid to go out. But then I heard that the Red Cafe was burglarized. I always walked by that cafe and there always seemed to be a suspicious looking man around the cafe. Just last night I mustered my bravery and took another walk and saw the man again but he went into the cafe. He seemed to just take the door off the hinges." The days of lying to his mother as a child really payed off.
Bradbury was shaken awake from the news. "Is this man at the cafe every night?"
"Yes, I believe so. He is probably going to be there tonight!" Francis lost his ability to keep his excitement inside.
"Okay, I'll inform some of the younger officers. An old man such as myself would never be able to chase criminals." Bradbury slowly got up from his chair and walked into another room. Soon several younger policemen walked out from the same room.
One of the men started speaking. "Okay, what time is the man usually at the cafe?"
"Around midnight." Francis answered.
"Okay, some men and I will stake out the cafe and watch for him. Thank you for the information." The policemen walked away. Francis was expecting more difficulty in reporting Hans but everything went surprisingly smooth and swiftly. Now it was just time to wait until midnight.
Midnight was approaching and Francis was watching the cafe from afar. The night air chilled his bones and muscles. There was no police in sight yet which worried Francis. If it came down to it he had his revolver and could take care of things himself. Francis made his way to the cafe but just as he was going to try opening the door he felt someone grab and slam him to the ground. He lied there and stared up to three policemen with their guns drawn.
"Aren't you the one that reported the man?" One of the policemen asked with a puzzled look on his face.
"Yes, I saw the man enter the cafe." Francis said.
"None of us saw anyone around the cafe except for you. You better not of been wasting our time."
The air started to get colder and the sky started to turn from clear to cloudy. Rumbling and sounds of destruction could be heard from inside the cafe. Without saying a word or even looking at each other the policemen broke down the door to the cafe and ran inside.
Just as Francis finished standing up the sound of gunshots could be heard and suddenly the large window of the cafe shattered outwards and a giant gust of wind came from inside the cafe. Two figures were laying in the shattered glass outside the cafe. One of them was wearing a dark cloak and seemed to be in the process of being formed from dark clouds, the other was one of the policemen. The two other policemen were back outside aiming their guns at the cloaked figure before Francis could react to what just happened.
The cloaked figure, which as Francis expected was Hans, was groaning on the ground. He had a gunshot wound to his lower abdomen. One policeman checked the limp body of the one laying on the ground.
"He's dead." He exclaimed.
Within the hour police were swarming the area. Hans was arrested and Francis was congratulated but then shooed away. Everything seemed a bit anti-climatic to Francis. The next day he went to the papers and when he tried to tell them his story they just laughed. Feeling defeated he started the walk home slumped over. There was always fiction he thought to himself, but his confidence was still hurt. Before he could get a more than a few yards away from the door a man in a nice suit sprinted out the door after Francis.
"Hey, you! Yes you!"
Francis turned around to face the man. "What, just going to make fun of me like the rest of them?"
"No, no. You see, I overheard your story and all I could think of was 'Man, I would love to publish a story like that in my magazine'. I don't care if it is true or not, but I definitely believe it could attract some readers. I will compensate you if you write it out." The man was overjoyed and couldn't sit still.
The depression left Francis and happiness started replacing it.
"Well, I actually already wrote it all out. I was considering trying to get it published in a magazine if the papers wouldn't accept it."
"Great, wonderful." The man took out a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote down something. "Here is where we are located. Come by with your writings and we can work out a deal."
"Thank you so much, I will come by tomorrow, first thing in the morning."
"Okay, sounds great. I'll see you then." The man in the suit walked off with great confidence and joy. He was quite the odd fellow.
As Francis walked home he couldn't wipe the giant smile off his face.
While Francis was heading to the magazine publisher's building the next day he took notice of something in the newspapers when he stopped at a newspaper stand. It was about Hans Haeger. He disappeared one night from the jail. The guards described how a sudden gust of wind came from his cell that was so strong that it bent the bars of the cell. The only thing in the cell was a message scrawled in blood stating: "You will get to be a damn detective. I just hope you're ready for it." and bloody bandages, presumably from Han's wound, on the floor.
Francis knew this was directed at him, but he wasn't quite sure what it meant. He just tried to keep it out of his mind.
The magazine paid a hefty sum of money to him. The next few weeks Francis went on with his life like normal, but without the looming financial problems. He still wasn't getting any cases except for an unusual little girl wanting him to find her missing doll.