The large, steel-reinforced doors whispered shut on well-maintained hinges as the guest was led into the house. With a suppressed shudder he realized that he had actually become cold waiting for permission to enter the estate. A more pronounce shaking dislodged the sable, clinging snow from his long leather jacket of the same color and his hat, neither of which did he divest himself of.
The other figure carefully removed the beautiful cloak it wore, the white fox fur around the edges only slightly tarnished by its brief encounter with the falling snow. From beneath the cloak emerged a vision of beauty to put the cloak to shame. An ivory complexioned, aristocratic face was perfectly proportioned and framed by a carefully crafted halo of curly auburn hair. Long lashes fluttered coyly, inadequately concealing striking green eyes. Full lips could be seen to tremble slightly as she pulled the bejeweled breathing unit off and turned to face her guest.
“My name is Helen Wessex and my father sent me to fetch you. He is waiting for you in his parlor, but please try to be discreet. As you might have guessed from the music, we are having a party. I cannot fathom why my father wanted you to come now.” With that she turned in a flowing display of her emerald dress, its skirts flaring out and away to reveal a shapely calf, and beckoned a servant to lead the guest to the parlor. Without waiting she walked quickly through the entrance hall and towards a large set of double doors, carved from expensive mahogany wood, at the far side of the hall where the sounds of a band could be heard to be playing a modern, upbeat dance song and the casual laughing voices of the rich, carefree youth.
The servant lightly tugged on the wet sleeve of the guest to politely catch his attention and began to lead him towards another, smaller door off to the side of the hall. The hard heels of the guest’s boots rung off the imported marble floor of alternating white and black squares that adorned the entrance hall, as he followed the servant. With a light knock the servant announced their presence to the gentleman sitting in the room before he opened the door and ushered the guest inside. With a nod from the large man in the parlor, the servant closed the door behind the guest, leaving the two alone together.
“So you are the man that I was told to call on, are you?” The large man began, his voice firm and business like, but showing a hint of a tremble, either from fear or worry.
“I am the one they call Grimm, you may call me that as well.” The stranger replied his voice low and holding the imminent threat of danger in it.
“Good, good.” replied the large man. He was dressed in an old fashioned suit that was not ostentatious, though made from very fine materials. The cut of the suit made the large paunch the man had seem smaller than it probably was, though the breadth of the man’s arms and shoulders told a tale of a more rugged youth than high class gentlemen commonly embrace. The tremble in his voice had increased as he spoke his next words. “It would seem that one of the scientist that I patron has made a mess of his research. I was informed by a very close colleague that you are the man I should call on to deal with the situation quickly and finally, without any fuss. Is this true?”
“I can handle your Aberrant problem and it will only be known through rumors and ghost stories. Nor will I slander your name with your scientist’s folly, though I do recommend you find a better, more discreet scientist to patron. Dr. Fitzgerald has lost several patrons due to his shoddy containment methods. I assume that will be sufficient for you?” Grimm replied.
Starting in surprise and fear, the large man blurted “How do you know of my business dealings!?”
“Telling you that, Mr. Wessex, would be a break from the discreteness you had just asked for, now wouldn’t it?” he chuckled.
“I guess it would at that, and goes to answer my question as well.” Mr. Wessex replied, visibly exerting control over himself once again. “In that case the job is yours. The Aberrant broke loose a few nights ago and stole into the oldest parts of the city.”
“I have heard the rumors coming from that sector these past days. Is there anything about the Aberrant you can tell me, abilities or modifications that Dr. Fitzgerald made to it?”
“I wish I could, but Dr. Fitzgerald was very secretive with his work, something I allowed him as long as he continued to produce the trinkets that filled my store shelves.” Mr. Wessex answered.
“Was?” Grimm queried.
“Yes, was. The Aberrant took Dr. Fitzgerald as its first victim before it escaped his laboratory and fled into the night.”
“That is most unfortunate in one regard as he would have been very helpful in supplying me with information regarding the Aberrant, information that would have made the hunt easier and faster. On the other hand, his death means a little more security for the community at large, though a decrease in my own income.” Grimm laughed, the sounds of his quiet voice raised in mirth reminiscent of a gravedigger’s laugh as he shoveled dirt on a pauper’s coffin-less corpse.
Shuddering from the wicked laugh, Mr. Wessex continued. “I am willing to offer you $1,000 pounds if you deal with this and my name isn’t known. 25% up front, the rest afterward.”
“You seem to have me confused with a common street thug Mr. Wessex. I would advise that you do not waste my time here.” Grimm countered the mirth in his piercing blue eyes turning to cold malice in an instant and his hand dropping to the ornate hilt of a short sword he wore concealed under his coat.
“What do you mean? That is the price that my colleagues quoted me when they told me to bring you in on this mishap!” The large man stammered as he unconsciously backed away from Grimm, having stood to speak with the hunter, keeping the large mahogany desk between the two.
“Your colleges have quoted you a price that would allow them to save face and prestige. You will pay me three times what you quoted and the thousand will be paid up front. If that is an issue for you, then your problem is obviously not drastic enough to warrant my time. I imagine your problems will only increase for you if I walk out of here empty handed.” Grimm replied malice and threat dripping from his lips as he spoke.
“That is absurd!” cried Mr. Wessex, his indignation giving his voice strength. “That price would keep one of my workers in house and food for a year! I hear you hunt even the minor Aberrants that come out of the slums for the paltry hundred pounds that the crown has placed on their head. How can this be so much worse than that? My offer is well more than the job is worth!”
Silence fell between the two men then, Grimm’s fingers twitching slightly on the hilt of his sword and Mr. Wessex swallowing convulsively as he realized how he had spoken to such a dangerous man. Finally, Grimm’s soft voice broke the silence.
“You don’t seem to understand the words you are spouting. Those Aberrants that I hunt for the crown are a mangy lot, twisted and driven to madness by the ash in the air that they must inhale since they cannot afford breathers, and the chemicals in the water that they cannot cleanse. They are sickly and weak in body and in mind for the most part, a threat only to the sensibilities of the elite, a constant reminder of the deprivation that they force on those of lower station. On occasion the mutations they suffer are of a positive nature, but they are still mad from the process that has twisted them and easy to fool and cut down. The Aberrants that are produced by the insane concoctions that your scientists create are anything but weak of body and mind, in addition to having mechanical enhancements that the Aberrants from the slums lack. These inhuman Abominations, for the word Aberrant does not encompass what they truly are, are smart and cunning and their anger about what has been done to them flows through their veins like the devil’s fire. They use that cunning and the physical enhancements ‘gifted’ to them by the scientists to bring pain and agony, to match their own, on anyone they deem worthy of it, be it a poor ash shoveler or a great merchant baron. The beast you wish me to hunt is as akin to the Aberrants from the slums as you are to the men that keep your house’s coal fires burning.” Grimm’s quite tirade came to a stinging end and once again dropped the room into silence. During the speech, the color had drained from Mr. Wessex face and his hands, clenched so hard on the back of his chair that his knuckles were white, and had begun to shake. Several times he attempted to force words past a throat closed with fear and anxiously licked droplets of cold sweat from his upper lip. Finally his voice responded to his will.
“Very well Grimm, your terms are acceptable. Give me a minute to collect the thousand pounds.” Mr. Wessex muttered, as he moved to a desk along the side wall and pulled up its roll top. Underneath the top rested a safe which he quickly opened and began counting out the required sum. When he was done, he put the money in a small sack and tossed the bundle to the waiting hunter. “Please take it and rid me of this problem, I will have the rest for you when you are done.” he croaked, his throat dry and sore and his heart pounding as if he had seen the monster face to face in a dark, ash and grime choked alley.
With only a nod, Grimm shoved the small bag of cash into the pocket of his jacket and turned towards the door to leave. Just as he began to open the door he stopped and turned his head slightly to where Mr. Wessex had collapsed into his chair.
“Remember Mr. Wessex, I hunt these creatures. I expect my pay upon completion of my task. The results of your failure to pay will be worse than you can imagine.” He whispered, his quiet voice slightly muffled by the breather he still wore, yet it still had the strength to carry to the slumped form of Mr. Wessex. Fear blossomed like a chunk of coal catching fire in his heart as he watched Grimm leave the room and gently close the door. Tears began to trace their paths down the merchant’s slightly chubby cheeks as he listened to the hunter’s hard boots ringing off the marble floors and the heavy front doors closing behind him.