Following a public humiliation, Hyacinth Black is on the verge of being beaten to death by his father. Of all people, the man who is commonly referred to as ‘Your Hideousness’ comes to his defence; but his intervention has a price. Hyacinth must marry his rescuer.
Since the murder of his brother, Gavrila Ardenovic has been on the trail of a secret society, but in the city where he is only mocked, he has few allies. Therefore he keeps his distance from others and is used to suppressing any hint of emotion.
Will lies and intrigues gain the upper hand or can Hyacinth succeed in battling the shadows of the past and break through his husband’s cold-hearted façade?
(from Chapter 1 and 2)
The flickering candlelight reflected in the enormous windows, illuminating the snowflakes swirling outside. People behind him were amusing themselves, but Hyacinth had no interest in dancing or having a conversation. He could see no sense in it. These balls, to which his family was invited solely because an old friend owed his father a powerfully huge favour, existed as an aid to finding someone to marry. Which one of these rich, cultivated men would want to have him as a husband? Hardly anyone paid him the least bit of attention, and he would not have wanted it to be any different.
Thus he remained there on the edge of the grand ballroom with his back turned to the people and observed the guests by examining their sallow reflections in the windows. As always, one of them stood aside somewhat.
It was Gavrila Ardenovic, whom they usually addressed with the moniker ‘Your Hideousness.’ His striking ugliness was the reason. It caused him to allow his gaze to linger somewhat longer on the middle-aged man. His shoulder-length, jet-black hair, as always, was too copiously oiled and covered half of his face. Yet, it still could not hide his overly long nose which…
From the corner of an eye he noticed Inspector Hathaway stepping onto the stage. His heart skipped a beat when the music stopped ominously. The man had encountered him in the gutters last night, had… had seen him.
“Please be quiet and pay attention!” the brown-haired man with the bushy moustache roared, and the hall became silent. “I have an announcement to make which I am sure will be of keen interest to everyone here!”
The chef de police had seen him arguing with the inspector’s weird son. With a suitor whom Hyacinth had spurned as he did each one for months, because he could no longer do otherwise.
Breathing heavily, he grabbed hold of the back of his father’s chair, who would drag him outside in a few moments and let loose on him. His mother, who was scowling at Inspector Hathaway, would not preserve him from his fate. Rather, she would be happy to finally be rid of him.
There were only two ways this matter could end. Either his father would kill him on the spot. Or he would throw him out onto the street. In that case, things would be even more noxious for Hyacinth than before.
His eyes filled with tears. Tears that he had not wept for years. But at this moment they fiercely and ardently tortured him.
The inspector continued and his gaze struck him in the most unpleasant way. “Regrettably I had to see with my own eyes, that one of those present here allowed himself to be compromised in the most disgusting manner.”
Filthy liar! You saw nothing at all! There was nothing at all to see! Inside he was screaming at the vengeful man who perhaps was costing him his life, merely because he felt his pride affronted.
A murmuring sound passed through the crowd. Hyacinth held his breath as the people looked around with curiosity. All of a sudden he sensed that their gazes were directed at him. Piercing, painful, humiliating.
“Last night I was called to an absinthe bar, because a crime had been committed there. As I hurried through the narrow streets, I discovered a young man who was offering sexual services for financial rewards.”
Now the crowd drew sharp breaths and began to whisper. Hyacinth felt like he would have to throw up on the marble. He felt weak as if he had imbibed alcohol again to withstand all these things more easily.
“I am sorry to have to speak his name, however I would like to preserve the ladies and gentlemen present from courting the man who has heaped such tremendous guilt upon himself. Josephinian Hyacinth Black is the mark of shame on his father’s white vest.”
Suddenly it grew horribly silent around him. His father squared his shoulders and wiped his forehead before he slowly stood up.
“I’m sorry,” Hyacinth whispered choking back tears and avoided looking into his mother’s eyes seething with hatred. What must she think of him? At the same time it was precisely this, his broken family for which he had degraded himself.
“That is a denunciation, Hathaway! Do you have proof of these accusations?” Gavrila Ardenovic intervened to everyone’s astonishment.
Hyacinth cast a quick glance at the ever-ailing, deathly pale man, but saw him indistinctly at best. His rangy fingers clasped around the stem of his champagne glass so firmly that his knuckles stood out by their whiteness.
“The tears of guilt are proof enough!” the inspector responded vehemently. “Shame on your head, Black! Herewith you are banned from polite society. Live your life stigmatised, as a fallen man in the gutters of the city, but never let yourself be seen here again.”
Abruptly his father grabbed him by an upper arm and dragged him out into the cold night. The large man threw him against a wall of dark bricks and placed a hand over his throat to squeeze it.
“By hell, what kind of damned piece of filth have I raised?”
Hyacinth lost all ability to breathe and gazed with shock into his father’s dark, nearly black eyes.
“Joseph!” his mother hissed and attempted to hold back her husband’s arm which he didn’t allow. “You’ll kill him before everyone’s eyes! They’ll take you to prison, and what shall become of me?!”
She didn’t care about him, only about the good reputation she didn’t have.
“Please stop,” Hyacinth wheezed and gave his father a hard shove against the chest. Everything was going black before his eyes. The snowflakes dancing wildly through the air caused him even more intense dizziness.
“What were you thinking, you accursed piece of dung?” His father shook him violently and ignored his panicked resistance. Would he actually kill him in front of all these people and the inspector who was likely standing there in the ballroom enjoying his revenge? He wouldn’t put it past him. He wouldn’t put anything past this man.
“I only wanted to help both of you.” It was the truth. He had meant well, wanted to procure a little money for them that he couldn’t have obtained any other way. Because he was stupid. Without education, without talent.
“You have ruined us! Just look at how they stare at us. You have confirmed their prejudices and behaved like the vermin they expected of you!”
Everything was spinning ever faster, ever more violently. He would certainly lose consciousness soon and lose his life at the hand of his own father. The man loathed him so much that he would rather kill him in public and without regard to the consequences than to throw him out. And it was all one and the same to his mother. As indifferent as the guests were, some of whom followed them outside and others of whom had gathered at the windows, it made no difference to them; they only wanted to witness how this matter ended. And it would end visiously.
“Enough,” a hard, cold voice brought an end to the scene.
Hyacinth could perceive the hammer of a revolver being cocked, and in the sudden silence following that, he heard only the beating of his heart.
After a brief hesitation he was unhanded and would have sunk faint to the ground had not a bony hand grabbed for his upper arm and pulled him up again. Struggling against an approaching unconsciousness, he sank against Ardenovic who intervened here as if this matter actually concerned him.
His father appeared to be on the verge of attacking the man. The vein on his temple was throbbing wildly. “What do you fancy yourself to be? I can dispose of my wayward son as I see fit.”
“Then try it, Black. Of course, if you believe I would have scruples about shooting you dead, you are mistaken,” Ardenovic replied, and with absolute calmness held the pistol pointed at Hyacinth’s father. “I intend to marry the lad.”
Hyacinth’s breath caught short. Ardenovic wanted to take the shame from him? Place him under his protection? What could he gain from that?
The crowd murmured angrily, not seeming to believe what it had heard and what was going on here. Just as little as he did.
This evening had turned into a nightmare which seemed worse than the many evenings before. And he knew he would not wake up.
His fingers were still grasping the black fabric of Ardenovic’s suit, hiding his face with it on the man’s chest, in which his heart beat much more calmly than it should considering the situation. Ardenovic had slung his slender arm around Hyacinth’s waist and held him firmly.
“You want to what?” his father demanded incredulously and his forehead wrinkled with deep folds which made him look frightening.
“You heard me. I’ll pay the usual dowry.”
Again the crowd heaved a sigh because this man was prepared to pay for a compromised boy. Hyacinth wished they would all simply vanish instead of listening and further humiliating him.
His parents exchanged irritated glances, and his mother spoke: “We accept your offer.” After everything, now it was her greed which had saved his life.
His father snarled softly. “Have the money sent to us and do it quickly so that I no longer have to be brought into contact with this filthy thing. The bastard shall not bear my name a day longer.”
With these words which bore into Hyacinth’s heart, he turned around and took his wife by the arm. Neither one turned to him again, and although he despised them just as much as they him, it hurt deep inside that he meant less than nothing to them.
“Gavrila!” Perkovic roared and hammered with a fist against the glassed front of the grimy row house. “Gavrii!”
With a snarl he swung himself out of bed and threw the smoke-drenched clothes from yesterday evening over himself.
The boy was lying under the cover. He wasn’t moving, but his irregular breaths revealed that he was awake. He had been for a while but had obviously made an effort not to move.
Instead of speaking to him, Gavrila washed his face in the washbasin, then let in the crazy bastard who would otherwise be sure to shatter one of the dust-covered windows.
Perkovic stumbled in and staggered over to the kitchen counter to pound his wine bottle on the bar. “I have come to an important realisation!”
“If it isn’t the realisation that you’ll no longer knock on my shitty windows early in the morning, I don’t want to hear a word of it.”
“Shut your mouth and listen! We have someone down at the morgue who drowned in the Meln.”
“Why does that interest me?” he hissed between clenched teeth and wiped his damp forehead then stroked through his hair with his fingers. He felt nauseous whenever he thought about that damned corpse-viewing place. He didn’t want to hear anything about the dead within it.
Perkovic raised the bottle to his mouth to drink, but noticed with a groan that he had already emptied it. “This will interest you when I tell you what I found on him.”
“Perhaps you’ll spit it out, before I lose my patience, hm?” He joined Perkovic at the bar and leaned against it so as not to allow his dizziness to knock him off his feet.
“I felt the bloated fellow a bit more closely and by doing so…” The lunatic interrupted himself and stared as if startled by thunder in the direction of the bedroom door where the lad had just appeared in its frame.
His blond curls were uncombed, his face displayed suffering and his clothes were dishevelled as if he had made little effort with them or didn’t have the strength to do so.
Gavrila became aware of what he had done to him last night and was overcome with the sensation that he needed to throw up on the toes of his shoes.
The thought of what his brother would think about this inflicted him in the most unpleasant way and made his throat choke.
“Rein in your stares, Perkovic,” he growled at the man whose eyes wandered feverishly over the body of his young husband. “Will you finally continue?”
“Well, I searched the corpse and discovered this.” Perkovic pulled something from a pocket of his torn pants and held it out.
Gavrila hesitated. He was terrified by the thought that those filth-smeared fingers had touched a corpse. Finally he glanced at the object and was shocked by what he saw. “That is…”
“I know what that is. That’s why I came here. Thought you might want to go to the morgue with me.”
The morgue. No, he didn’t want to go there. He felt his head shaking and simultaneously heard himself murmur ‘Let’s go.’
If Perkovic had seen the chain with this quite peculiar pendant on the drowning victim, Gavrila had no other choice than to see if he had perhaps known the man.
“I knew you would be interested.” Perkovic grinned with satisfaction and grabbed for a full bottle of wine to take along as a provision for the road.
Gavrila allowed him to keep it because he himself would not drink it. He threw his frock coat over his shoulders before he turned to the boy: “Close the door behind me and let no one in.”
He issued a terse and barely noticeable nod. Gavrila was satisfied with this response and left the house at Perkovic’s side.
When they reached the end of the narrow, filthy lane, he cast a glance over his shoulder. His spouse was just then turning the key in the lock.
“Who’s the pretty one?” Perkovic asked and also looked back highly interested.
“Stop it now,” Gavrila warned grimly and bumped him against the upper arm. “He is my lawfully-wedded spouse, so I expect you to get a hold of yourself.”
“Don’t ever tell him that you love him. The misery always begins that way,” Perkovic laughed joylessly and took a swig.
“I don’t love him.” Gavrila buried his hands deeper into the pockets of his coat. His cold heart was totally incapable of such an intense emotion.
Perkovic looked at him with suspicion. “Then, why did you marry him?”
“To protect him.” His voice sounded hoarse, and he had to cough.
“Why is his safety so important to you if you don’t like him?”
“I didn’t say that I can’t stand him, and now enough of this senseless discussion,” he demanded in a tone that actually caused the drunkard to become silent.
Instead of continuing to annoy him, he examined the chain. “Do you think the guy had anything to do with Dimitri?”
When his brother’s name was spoken, he swallowed hard. “We’ll find out.” At least he was hoping for new insights. Perhaps these would preserve him from an approaching breakdown. His life was a pile of crap. If only he could find out what had happened back then, maybe he would have the strength to turn around before he fell into the abyss which had opened up before him and had been lusting after him for an eternity.