A/N: Part 6 (of 7) in the Willie Loomis World Series:The continuing story of a cute blond guy and his articulate vampire boss. The titles are Little Willie, Globetrotters, The Maine Event, Changes, This Old House, Interlude and Haplessly Ever After, in that order. Frequent reference is made to previous stories.
The time period is shifted from the original series. The first story began in 1956. At this point it is 1981 and Willie is 25 years old.
Disclaimer: I do not own Dark Shadows or any otherwise copyrighted material contained herein.
Warning: Explicit language.
Solicitation: Your reviews and comments are welcome and appreciated.
December 28, 1981
"Do you believe," said Candide, "that men have always slaughtered each other as they do today, that they've always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates and thieves, weak, fickle, cowardly, envious, greedy, drunken, miserly, ambitious, bloodthirsty, slanderous, lecherous, fanatical, hypocritical and foolish?"
Willie reread the paragraph, carefully turning the decrepit, brittle page. He was pleased that there were only four, maybe five, words he had to look up. The book would go a lot faster if he wasn't constantly pausing to interpret what was being said. Worse yet was when he didn't understand the definition, making him translate yet more words, or when the juxtaposition of text was confusing. In this passage, though, the intent was clear.
The sound of the door knocker rapping echoed in the hallway, causing Willie's head to pop up out of the colossal dictionary. This was Thursday; there were no workmen expected, no scheduled package delivery. Therefore, Willie didn't feel obliged to answer the door and returned to his research. He didn't want to lose his place and have to start over. After a moment, the knocking resumed, louder than before, and again distracted the young man from his task.
Whoever it was would want to talk to Barnabas, not his lowly manservant, and the lord of the manor was not receiving visitors at this hour of the day. So go away.
The sound escalated into a pounding. That wasn't Victoria Winters (she would never bang so forcefully), nor David (those heavy, brass rings were out of his reach). No one else would come there except maybe—the cops. Oh shit, I knew it. Willie dropped the Voltaire volume on the floor and sprinted swiftly down the hall and into the parlor.
Squeezed into the corner of the window seat, one could sometimes see who was standing at the threshold, but no one came into view. He then stood on the cushion and peered in the other direction, but could discern no vehicle in the driveway. No black and whites with flashing lights.
The pounding grew louder, matched by the thumping of Willie's heart. He slumped onto the window seat and squeezed his eyes shut, still convinced that SWAT teams were surrounding the house. Go away go away go away.
What is the matter with you? Control yourself.
It will look suspicious if you don't answer the door.
Just then there was a tapping on the glass next to his head. The startled young man opened his eyes and jumped back with a yell. Some crazy woman had her face right up to the window. She smiled and waved, then pointed to the front door.
It's her, the lady with the squinty eyes.
Calm down. Be polite.
Willie unbolted the front door and swung it open. The red-haired woman flashed a broad smile. "Well, hello! You certainly are a sound sleeper, aren't you?" She said brightly, extending her hand. "My name is Ms. Hoffman, I'm a houseguest at Collinwood. You must be Willie Loomis."
"Okay." He shook her hand with the enthusiasm of a dead fish.
"Do you mind if I step inside for a few moments? That was such a cold walk from Collinwood, and I've been standing on this portico for almost ten minutes." The woman brushed by Willie and proceeded to the foyer, removing her headscarf before she had even finished asking permission to enter.
"It doesn't seem to be much warmer in here. I'll keep my coat on, if you don't mind." Willie didn't argue.
"Interesting. Very nice." She looked around. "I'm told you've done most of the restoration work on this building, is that true?" She continued before he had a chance to respond. "I'm quite impressed." She strolled into the parlor, parked herself in the master's favorite chair, and systematically removed first her gloves, then the clear, plastic booties that protected her high heels. "Especially when you're working with that handicap."
"The cast on your hand. It looks like you have a broken finger?"
"Just the little one." Willie tried to think of something polite. "Sorry about the cold, there's no heat in here…Um, I c-could start a fire."
"That would be lovely." She smiled again. Willie threw a Duraflame log into the grate and set it ablaze. "I imagine your wood chopping chores are on a temporary hiatus." The young man nodded, mumbling a vague affirmation.
Ms. Hoffman leaned closer and studied Willie's face illuminated by the fire. "That's odd. I'm sure I saw you at the Christmas Eve service. You had a good deal of scar tissue, right there." She reached for Willie's cheek, but he stood abruptly and made a beeline for the floor candelabrum across the room.
"That's impossible. It was only four days ago."
Willie busied himself with lighting candles. "Ba—Mr. Collins ain't here now; he hasta work durin' the day." The woman settled comfortably back into the chair. "He'll be sorry he missed you."
"I'm sorry I missed him. I wanted to continue our conversation about his home…but maybe you can tell me more about the architectural design and history."
"Oh—uh, no. I dunno anything like that; I just work here." He shrugged. "It was built in the 1700s sometime. Everythin's old as dirt and fallin' apart."
"What can you tell me about Mr. Collins?"
Willie was startled by the question. "Nothin'," he replied warily, not sure what gossip she may have heard from Collinwood. "He d-don't talk to me much."
"You seem nervous, Willie, why is that?" She smiled again in a matronly manner. "I'm sorry if I ask too many questions. It's the nature of my work."
The nature of her work must be to make conversations feel more like interrogations.
"I'm just not used to visitors."
Ms. Hoffman smiled at him. Willie smiled awkwardly back. The mantle clock chimed the half hour.
"Might I bother you for a cup of tea?"
Willie was about to make his excuses but then remembered there was tea in the cupboard. It was Darjeeling flavor, kept in stock when "Miss Josette" was in residence.
"Sure. It'll take a while. We gotta s-stove, but I don't hardly ever use it."
"That's no problem. I'm not in a hurry."
Willie headed for the basement stairs. He paused on his way to the kitchen and slammed his hand on the vampire's coffin lid. "Hurry up, I'm dyin' up there."
Don't do that, I am getting no rest as it is. What does that woman want?
To drive me up a fuckin' wall!
Willie filled the tea ball with aromatic leaves, fetched a cup and saucer, and pumped water into the kettle. She's outta luck if she wants milk or sugar or lemon. He brought everything upstairs because there was no fire going in the kitchen.
When he returned to the parlor, Ms. Hoffman was standing with her back to him, powdering her nose. She turned at the sight of his reflection in the compact mirror. "Oh, thank you," she said, taking the empty cup and saucer. "I hope it wasn't too much trouble."
Willie shook his head and noticed that she had removed her coat and hung it in the foyer. Make yourself at home, lady. He hung the kettle on the hook over the fire and self-consciously seated himself in the high back opposite. Willie rarely sat in upholstered chairs in the Old House. He still didn't believe the place was free of bugs, even in the dead of winter.
By the end of their conversation, Willie was ready to plead the fifth and ask for a lawyer. The woman even pulled out a pad and pen to take notes. Jason's Panama connection, Raquel, used to do that, but she was a con artist and had to keep her facts straight.
Eventually, the front door opened, Barnabas entered and hung up his trusty cane. Good trick, he must have sneaked out the service entrance and walked around to the front door. It only then occurred to Willie that the boss's overcoat had been hanging in the foyer the entire time. Ms. Hoffman was a pretty sharp cookie; he doubted if that had escaped her notice.
"Miss Hoffman, what a pleasant surprise!" Barnabas glided across the room and clasped her hand. He kisses Vicki's hand. "To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
Historian and vampire exchanged niceties in which Willie had no interest. After a few minutes his eyes started to glaze over. Something was said about Barnabas being the undisputed authority on blah blah blah…the conversation stopped. Willie looked up to realize that he was the focus of their attention.
"I think we're boring him. Willie, perhaps your time would be better spent elsewhere."
"Yessir." The servant sighed with relief, maybe a little too audibly, as he left the parlor.
"I'm afraid I monopolized the man's entire afternoon…" Their voices trailed off as Willie ascended the steps. He paused momentarily on the landing to overhear their conversation, only to remember that he didn't give a flying shit. She obviously wasn't a cop, or they would have been in the lock-up by now. She just came to talk. But, damn, nobody talks that much, not even Mrs. Johnson.
Willie took a quick, cold wash and trudged up to his third floor bedroom. Today had been a waste; it was too dark to do any chores now, so he would have to get an early start in the morning. And tomorrow was Friday, which meant, if there was time, the handyman could get a hot shower at Collinwood.
Even if it was too early to go to sleep, Willie was going to hide in his room until that lady left. The book he was reading was still downstairs so he pulled out a comic book from under his pillow and spent some time with his old pal, Spiderman.
Later, the young man built a small fire and changed into his nightclothes: long johns underneath sweat pants and his hoodie. On very cold nights, he also wore his jacket to bed. He squeezed on two pairs of athletic socks and climbed beneath the double blankets.
What the hell…He roused himself from a deep sleep as the vampire's bellow resounded up two flights of stairs. That guy could wake the dead, Willie thought as he fumbled to pull off his covers. With no intentions of getting dressed again, the servant grabbed his sneakers before making his way downstairs, yawning and scratching his head. Barnabas and his guest were in the foyer. They scowled and smirked respectively at the sight of the young man's blond hair misshapen into lopsided spikes.
"Willie, I want you to drive Miss Hoffman back to Collinwood. It's too dark for her to walk in the woods alone." He helped the woman into her coat.
"Please, I don't want to be any trouble," she interjected, tying her headscarf.
"It's no trouble at all, is it, Willie?" Barnabas smiled cordially as he handed Ms. Hoffman her gloves and Willie sat on the steps to tie his shoes.
"No, sir. I'll get my keys and bring the truck 'round front."
Winter nights in Maine were bitter cold. It would have been preferable to let the vehicle warm up just a little, but Willie didn't wish to keep anyone waiting and, more important, he wanted to get back indoors as fast as possible. He turned on the radio before pulling up, hoping that would put a damper on any attempt to chat. The tactic was effective, which was good, because the driver at this point was bankrupt of conversation.
Willie pulled up to the main entrance at Collinwood and let the engine idle as Ms. Hoffman gathered her purse. She placed her hand over his on the steering wheel.
"Thank you so much for your time today; it was an enlightening visit." She lifted his fingers. "You should wear gloves; your skin will crack in this weather and you could get an infection."
Willie took back his hand. Okay, that was creepy. Cold vapor escaped his mouth as the driver waited to ensure that she was safely inside the building. Then, he threw the truck in gear and headed home. He thought it was funny that she had had an enlightening visit in such a dark house.
Willie pulled the vehicle around to the rear of the house and came in through the service door, because that's what servants do. Barnabas was nowhere to be seen, so he hung the car keys on the hook in the butlers' pantry and high tailed it back to his room, where he dove once more beneath the covers.
Shit. The irritating woman had kept him from eating dinner, and now he was hungry. The handyman seldom stopped to eat at midday, because he often had a difficult time resuming tasks once interrupted. His stomach growled angrily as he climbed back out of bed and, this time forgoing shoes, grabbed a candle and descended the back stairs to the basement kitchen.
Willie rummaged through the cupboards and chose for himself a can of steak and potato soup. That sounded hearty. Unfortunately it would be a cold meal as there was no fire going in the kitchen, and Barnabas would undoubtedly disapprove of him wasting an entire Duraflame log just for his dinner. He sat at the old wooden work table and ate from the can.
Thwack! There was a sudden dull pain on his upper arm. He grabbed it with his good hand, but the next blow landed on his knuckles, and that stung like hell, so he quickly pulled away. The servant toppled from his chair when he ducked to avoid the third strike. Scrambling up, Willie slipped in his stocking feet, and backed away until he hit the wall. There the young man slid to the floor as he saw Barnabas standing over him with a slender rod in his hand. Whenever possible, Willie would crouch into a ball in a corner, thus minimizing the target and cause the weapon to hit the wall as often as it did him. He tucked his hands and face out of the line of fire as a succession of blows fell. Finally he raised his arm, blocking the last strike with his plaster cast.
That caused the stick to break in two. The vampire roared with anger, threw the pieces down and stomped away, offended at the sight of him. Willie sat dazed on the flagstone floor, uncertain of what he had done wrong and afraid to ask. Maybe the boss was mad at Ms. Hoffman and, well, he couldn't hit her.
"Are you m-mad at Ms. Hoffman?"
Barnabas crossed back to his servant, yanked him up by the arms and got uncomfortably close to his face. "No, Willie, because Miss Hoffman did not throw my first-edition Voltaire novel to the floor and break its spine."
The master tossed him roughly aside and stormed out of the room. Willie frowned and chewed his lower lip. He felt bad, because he knew how sensitive Barnabas was about his stuff, especially after all the pricey relics that "Miss Josette" had dispatched to the waste bin. The Candide book was probably worth a fortune, like that bottle of wine he drank. Not that the cost mattered; it seemed money was no object to the old man where his possessions were concerned. Only when it came to everyday expense, like Duraflame logs, was he stingy—no, wait, he was miserly. This was a good opportunity to use one of his new words.
Willie sat down to resume his meal; fortunately neither can nor candle had toppled in the scuffle. Other than some broken skin on his hand, he was relatively unscathed. Thermal underwear and sweat clothes provided a lot of padding against that skinny little stick, wherever that came from. He sucked the blood off his knuckles when Barnabas re-entered the room.
"I forgot to mention, Miss Hoffman knows," the vampire spat.
Willie put down his spoon. "What, about you? How—?"
"She has not yet said as much, but it's obvious from her demeanor."
The servant nodded in agreement, recalling that the lady had a smirky attitude. "W-What are we gonna do?"
"I shall have to kill her," the vampire replied, as if stating the obvious, and left once again.
The servant finished his dinner in silence. If Barnabas was going to kill Ms. Hoffman anyway, Willie didn't see why he had had to get up to drive her home.