Disclaimer: sadly they're not mine, I am just playing in the BBC's sandpit and it's all Toby Whithouse's fault.
Herrick was not, generally, a nervous man. Mitchell could not remember having ever seen him really flustered. Yet, as they paid the taxi driver outside the grand house in Belgravia, he was fiddling with his tie and patting down his hair in quite an uncharacteristic manner.
"Relax!" said Mitchell, amused.
"Very funny," Herrick returned, coolly. "And don't be funny, Mitchell. Be polite. Better still, say nothing."
"What's the deal with this guy, anyway?" Mitchell asked, as the door to the house was opened for them. "Why's he here?"
Herrick waited until they had been shown into a bland sitting room. Mitchell sat down, but his companion paced.
"Too many problems with the dog fights," he said. "With that escape last month … well, let's just say that the high-ups aren't happy."
"That was nothing to do with you," Mitchell pointed out, for it had not been; he and Herrick had not even been at the fight in question, when the cage had broken and a werewolf had escaped. There had been carnage, and a deal of work to keep the story quiet.
"Yes, well." Herrick pulled at his collar again. "They've decided we need leadership. I understand he's been in Paris for a few years. He's decided he wants to see everyone – remind us who's in charge, I suppose."
Mitchell felt like he was none the wiser. "But who is he?" he persisted.
"He's an Old One," Herrick said. "They say he's been around 400 years or more. He's killed thousands, probably, and plenty of us as well. So you need to be respectful, Mitchell, for once in your life."
The door opened, and a burly vampire in a suit put his head around it. "Mr Herrick? Mr Yorke will see you now."
They were led down a corridor, up some stairs and into a much grander sitting room, the walls papered in a deep burgundy and the furniture comfortable and burnished with age. Mitchell noted the hangers-on first; more of the bodyguard types who had let them into the house. But then his attention turned to the man in the largest and most comfortable chair, reclining back with a cut-crystal goblet of blood in his hand.
"William Herrick," he said, in a voice as cut-crystal as the glass. "It's been too long."
"My lord," said Herrick, kneeling, which Mitchell almost laughed at. It was so very unlike Herrick to show subservience to anyone. For once, though, Mitchell's better judgment took over and he forced the laughter back.
"And who's your companion?" the Old One asked.
Herrick got to his feet and beckoned Mitchell over. "John Mitchell. Mitchell, Henry Yorke."
Mitchell thought for a second about kneeling, but dismissed the idea and decided to treat the mysterious Mr Yorke as any commanding officer. "Sir," he said, briefly.
Yorke's mouth twitched in a smile. "A soldier, I see. Great War, was it, Herrick? I wouldn't have thought the army would have provided good pickings."
"It had its moments," Herrick said.
"And are you enjoying your new life, John Mitchell?" Yorke asked, turning his gaze on Mitchell. Mitchell, to his surprise, almost found himself taking a step back; for the first time he felt as though he really knew what it meant when people like Herrick talked about the Old Ones. It was not just a question of age, but of supreme, utter confidence – confidence that there was nothing that could scare this man, nothing that would be able to stand up to him.
"Better than dying in the trenches," he said.
Yorke nodded. "Indeed. A man after my own heart, evidently." He waved Herrick into a seat. "Mr Herrick, what has happened here? I had thought that London could look after itself."
Herrick shifted in his chair. "I wasn't there that night."
"Funnily enough, nor was anyone else I've spoken to," Yorke said. "Strange, isn't it? I happen to know you're telling the truth, though, Herrick – but that hardly absolves you of all blame. It behoves us all to keep control of the situation. Discretion and control, Herrick."
"It hasn't happened before ..." Herrick began.
Shaking his head, Yorke cut in. "It should never have happened in the first place. I suppose this is what happens when one leaves children to do an adult's job." He stood up, smoothly, and adjusted his immaculate suit. "There's a fight tonight, I believe?"
Herrick stood too. "Yes. Over in Highbury. I understand they've taken precautions ..."
"Show me," said Yorke, and it was not a request.
He had a car, it turned out, and a driver. Mitchell sat in the front and listened to Herrick make nervous small-talk. Yorke said little; Mitchell said nothing.
They parked several streets away from the fight location. The sun was beginning to set, and Herrick checked his watch. "Forty minutes."
Herrick led the way, and Yorke fell into step beside Mitchell. "So, Mr Mitchell," he said, "what brought you to this?"
"Just Mitchell, really," Mitchell replied. "Chance, I guess. It was me or my men. Herrick surprised us, out on patrol."
"So you accepted immortality to save your men?" Yorke seemed amused. "Hardly a sacrifice."
Shrugging, Mitchell said, "I know that now, but at the time, it seemed like a big step, you know? We were all ready to die under the German guns, not be drunk dry by a vampire. I kind of felt like I didn't really have much of a choice."
"I felt much the same," Yorke said, thoughtfully. "That was in a war too. I'd gone adventuring, and ended up with a spear in my belly and a slow death in a tent in Russia. But, there was a surgeon, and he offered salvation. It was a choice between the expected and the unexpected. I took the gamble."
"Did you win?" asked Mitchell, finding himself, despite himself, somewhat captivated.
Yorke smiled sideways at him. "What do you think?"
The fight hall was packed; full moon was imminent, and the atmosphere was full of anticipation for the battle ahead. The victim, trembling in a corner of the cage, was a middle-aged man in a shabby suit – a clerk of some kind. Mitchell sized him up and gave him two minutes of survival.
It took a moment for the vampires already present to realise the newcomers had entered. Someone spotted Herrick, and greeted him cheerfully, before someone else spotted Yorke. Silence fell quickly, with the only sound the terrified prayers of the man in the cage. One or two people knelt; Yorke waved them up with a casual gloved hand.
Garratt, the vampire who had been running the fights for the last year or so, came forwards, twisting his cap in his hands. "My lord Hal. We weren't expecting you."
"No, because if you had expected me, you would not have been here," Yorke said. "How long 'til full moon, Herrick?"
"Twenty-three minutes," Herrick replied, after a moment to check his watch.
Yorke turned back to Garratt. "Garratt. It is Garratt, isn't it?"
"I thought as much. Nice place you have here. Very … secure."
Glancing round, Mitchell saw the lie in Yorke's words; flimsy wooden doors, windows open for ventilation, and a simple chain and padlock on the cage. Yorke crossed to it and examined the padlock, briefly, his gaze drifting over the shuddering victim.
"Thank you, m'lord." Garratt looked relieved, and Mitchell wondered that he did not see the danger.
"So secure your last dog got out," Yorke said, all the pleasantness gone from his tone. "So secure I had to endure the Channel to come and sort out your mess."
Garratt sank to his knees, the colour gone from his florid face. "We got 'im, the next day," he said. "He never told nobody."
"But what if he had, mmm?" asked Yorke. "There are rules, Garratt, rules which ensure our very survival. Break those rules, and chaos reigns. I dislike chaos."
"Of course, m'lord. It won't happen again," Garratt stammered.
Yorke took off his gloves and handed them to Mitchell, who happened to be nearest. Mitchell took them – soft, expensive leather – and waited to see what was next. Raising his voice, Yorke looked around at the assembly. "These fights are closing down, for a time, until a new manager can be brought in. We need people we can trust to manage our affairs." He looked down at Garratt. "Open the cage."
"Just open the bloody cage," Yorke said.
Garratt got to his feet and did as he was asked. The victim, still shaking, stood cowering in the corner. Yorke beckoned to him, and slowly, shuffling in battered leather shoes, the man came out. He edged away from Garratt and stood blinking in the gaze of the vampires.
"Good," said Yorke, his voice still soft. "Now go in."
Turning a petrified gaze on Yorke, Garratt said, "in?"
Mitchell, holding the gloves, looked down at the floor to conceal his own amusement. He could not decide if Garratt was wilfully disbelieving or did not understand what was about to happen to him.
Yorke glanced sideways at Herrick, who nodded, stepped forwards and gave Garratt a shove. "Now someone go and get the bloody dog," Yorke ordered, and four vampires hurried to obey.
The werewolf, it turned out, was female; a woman in perhaps her thirties who would have been handsome had it not been for the claw-marks marring her face. She held herself tall as she was manhandled into the cage, and stood quietly, watching Garratt carefully, as the door was closed and padlocked.
Yorke strolled up to the cage. "So, Mr Garratt," he said evenly, "you have a choice. Either you wait for full moon, and get torn apart, or you have one last meal, and burn from the inside. Suicide or cowardice, I suppose. Either way, you will die tonight, for good."
The woman unbuttoned the top of her dress and pushed her hair back. "Save us both, sir," she said, but Garratt sank to the floor and buried his head in his hands.
Shaking his head, Yorke moved away. "Full moon it is, then," he said.
They waited. Somebody brought Yorke a chair, and he sat down, crossed his legs and watched as the moon grew nearer. The woman, without any shame, took off her dress and folded it neatly in the corner of the cage with her shoes placed on top of it. The only sign of the approaching change was the way she clenched her fists, squeezing her nails into her palms.
Mitchell spent the time looking around the room. Normally, in dog fights, this was the time for goading the werewolf or the victim, for betting on who would win and how long it would take, for swigging down a bottle of beer or cider or wine. But Yorke's presence in their midst had made everyone silent and nervous; the tension in the air was palpable. Nobody had dared to slip away, but nobody dared to behave normally. Mitchell was willing to bet few of them knew who Yorke was – hell, he hadn't himself – but the Old One's absolutely certainty that not a soul in the room would dare gainsay him was clear. And so, nobody moved, and nobody said a word. The human victim stood and watched like the rest of them, horror plain in his face.
The woman let out a shriek, and doubled over. "Full moon," said Herrick, quietly, looking at his watch.
It was not the first time Mitchell had seen a transformation, but it never failed to fascinate him. How the human body was contorted and twisted in minutes of endless agony into an entirely new shape. How the human mind was subdued into the mind of a beast, all at the call of the lunar cycle. He watched as the woman vanished into the wolf, and the wolf stood on its hind legs and howled.
Garratt was pressed into the corner of the cage, as though it would help. In the moments before the wolf caught his scent and lunged, he looked over once at Yorke.
"My lord …"
It was all he managed to say. The wolf tore his head off, sending a spray of dark blood into the air, and continued tearing at the rest of him until there was nothing but a pile of flesh on the floor of the cage.
Yorke stood. "You'll be informed when – if – the fights begin again. In the meantime, exercise discretion over who you eat and when, how you dispose of the bodies and who sees you. Tomorrow morning I want this cleared up."
"What about the bitch?" someone asked.
"Kill the bitch," Yorke said, simply. "Not now. Tomorrow. You can get rid of her body at the same time as his." He crossed to the the erstwhile victim, who, his complexion green, was staring transfixed at the wolf prowling around the cage. Yorke took his shoulder and turned him away. "You don't want to see that." He bared his fangs. "Not a nice thing to look upon as you take your last breath."
It took only moments. The corpse hit the floor, Yorke took out a spotless handkerchief and wiped his mouth. "Now. Clear this up, and clear out."
Outside, Yorke turned to Herrick. "That will be all for tonight, William. I'd like you to leave London. Bristol could do with some order. You're good at order. Go and impose some." He accepted his gloves from Mitchell. "I think you'll do rather well, John Mitchell. You'll like Bristol. Especially the women."
"Sure I will," Mitchell said.
Yorke nodded at them, and left, followed by his chauffeur.
Herrick let out a long breath, and leaned against the wall.
"Never been to Bristol," remarked Mitchell, to break the silence. He stuck his hands in his pockets. "Fancy a pint, Herrick? Beer, I mean?"
Straightening, Herrick grinned at him. "A beer would be a very good thing, Mitchell. And you know, he's right – you'll like Bristol. Come on."