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It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called a madman—madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium. Later some of my readers will weigh each statement, correlate it with the known facts, and ask themselves how I could have believed otherwise than as I did after facing the evidence of that horror—that thing on the doorstep.
Until then I also saw nothing but madness in the wild tales I have acted on. Even now I ask myself whether I was misled—or whether I am not mad after all. I do not know—but others have strange things to tell of Edward and Asenath Derby, and even the stolid police are at their wits’ ends to account for that last terrible visit. They have tried weakly to concoct a theory of a ghastly jest or warning by discharged servants, yet they know in their hearts that the truth is something infinitely more terrible and incredible.
So I say that I have not murdered Edward Derby. Rather have I avenged him, and in so doing purged the earth of a horror whose survival might have loosed untold terrors on all mankind. There are black zones of shadow close to our daily paths, and now and then some evil soul breaks a passage through. When that happens, the man who knows must strike before reckoning the consequences.
I have known Edward Pickman Derby all his life. Eight years my junior, he was so precocious that we had much in common from the time he was eight and I sixteen. He was the most phenomenal child scholar I have ever known, and at seven was writing verse of a sombre, fantastic, almost morbid cast which astonished the tutors surrounding him. Perhaps his private education and coddled seclusion had something to do with his premature flowering. An only child, he had organic weaknesses which startled his doting parents and caused them to keep him closely chained to their side. He was never allowed out without his nurse, and seldom had a chance to play unconstrainedly with other children. All this doubtless fostered a strange, secretive inner life in the boy, with imagination as his one avenue of freedom.
‘”Listen. I hear bad things about you,” he said.
“I’m afraid so. I’m told you attacked one of my boys.”
Gavin took six paces before he answered.
“Not me. You’ve got the wrong man.”
“He recognised you, trash. You did him some serious mischief.”
“I told you: not me.”
“You’re a lunatic, you know that? You should be put behind fucking bars.”
Preetorius was raising his voice. People were crossing the street to avoid the escalating argument.
Without thinking, Gavin turned off St Martin’s Lane into Long Acre, and rapidly realised he’d made a tactical error. The crowds thinned substantially here, and it was a long trek through the streets of Govent Garden before he reached another centre of activity. He should have turned right instead of left, and he’d have stepped onto Charing Cross Road. There would have been some safety there. Damn it, he couldn’t turn round, not and walk straight into them. All he could do was walk (not run; never run with a mad dog on your heels) and hope he could keep the conversation on an even keel.
Preetorius: “You’ve cost me a lot of money.”
“I don’t see.”
“You put some of my prime boy-meat out of commission. It’s going to be a long time ’til I get that kid back on the market. He’s shit scared, see?”
“Look… I didn’t do anything to anybody.”
“Why do you fucking lie to me, trash? What have I ever done to you, you treat me like this?”
Preetorius picked up his pace a little and came up level with Gavin, leaving his associates a few steps behind.
“Look…” he whispered to Gavin, “kids like that can be tempting, right? That’s cool. I can get into that. You put a little boy-pussy on my plate I’m not going to turn my nose up at it. But you hurt him: and when you hurt one of my kids, I bleed too.”
“If I’d done this like you say, you think I’d be walking the street?”
“Maybe you’re not a well man, you know? We’re not talking about a couple of bruises here, man. I’m talking about you taking a shower in a kid’s blood, that’s what I’m saying. Hanging him up and cutting him everywhere, then leaving him on my fuckin’ stairs wearing a pair of fucking’ socks. You getting my message now, white boy? You read my message?”