Chapter Five

Jack hurried through endless, cavernous hallways, cursing Archie’s determination to build the most palatial home the world had ever seen. He passed priceless medieval suits of armour, the stuffed head of a tiger reputed to have eaten a Raj of India, and a selection of framed drawings by a young Spaniard Archie insisted was the hottest artist in Europe even if Jack thought his doodles looked like a random selection of shapes. He found a welcome pack of cigarettes and solid gold lighter stuffed in a resplendent fern, and a few drags made him feel almost human again.

A quick glace in the gilded mirror lining an entire wall of a room he passed confirmed his worst suspicions. Jack thought he looked like a stray dog at the best of times. Slight with tough, rangy muscles formed from a previous life shovelling coal on a cross country steam train, his arms and chest were ravaged with tiny white scars from a partially unexploded grenade that had rolled unnoticed into his trench in the winter of 1917.  A mop of unruly hair and eyes almost jet black — ‘from the Spanish Aramada,’ his mother would say as she attempted to tame his wild curls after a tin bath in front of the fire in their Hells Kitchen apartment — stood out against his pale skin that was almost translucent in the morning sun. 

If he could just find a telephone he could call his valet Williams to pick him up and perhaps even make it to the studio before noon. Or if he could make his way to Archie’s dressing room, he could borrow some clothes and likely cadge a lift from someone or other. There was always something faintly depressing about the morning after one of Archie’s parties. Every once in a while he would pass a staggering creature of the night, makeup smeared, clothes torn or missing, eyes sunken like something out of a Poe story and he would wish he had stayed at home last night. 

‘McCann! Jack McCann — it sure is swell to run into you this fine morning, it just so happens I’ve got a film scenario that must star you and only you —’ Jack swerved as the large man wearing tails and a crumpled top hat, old fashioned walrus moustache, loomed from the shadows. ‘McCann — say, don’t you even want to hear it? It’s a helluva lot better than those shallow melodramas Macmillan keeps putting you in — unlike him, I actually believe you can act. McCann, aren’t you listening?’

Jack spotted the gold plated double doors of the ballroom just ahead and slipped in, shutting them behind him. He heard the large man go charging past, still shouting after him, as he took a moment to catch his breath in the welcome shadows. The ballroom was dimly lit — for some reason, the curtains had been pulled over the French doors leading to the gigantic terrace, and a sharp, bitter scent that must be stale alcohol permeated the stale air. 

Though the eighteenth amendement didn’t come into force for another five months, Jack knew that Archie had purchased the entire contents of three liquor stores the moment it was ratified. If he kept throwing parties at this rate, his stock wouldn’t last until Christmas.

Suddenly unnerved by the gloom, Jack ran to the nearest door and flung the curtains wide, feeling himself physically recoil at the glaring sunshine that assaulted him. He took note of his reaction, remembering that Macmillan had mentioned an interesting vampire scenario he was considering Jack for, then turned and froze. 

Icy chills dashed down his spine as screams of agony and unrelenting artillery fire struck his ears and terror dripped through his veins like liquid nitrate. Blood. That was what he could smell. It was everywhere.

He felt the chilly weight of his Lee-Enfield rifle in his arms, the wretchedness of his ravaged feet burning in five inches of fetid water, the relentless ache of his empty stomach. 

They were creeping over the sides of the trench. They were going to get him. It was just a matter of time.

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