The Vuklen

6 Oct

One spring afternoon in 1931, a young woman came walking into the Skardarlija section of old Beograd. She was looking for the flat occupied by Dr. Duko Orlin.

This was an area with cobbled streets and overhanging dormers and gables, producing shadows even on clear, sunny days. Once the home of Gypsies, Skardarlija had then become a district of artisans and government clerks. By the 1930s, it was the center of Beograd’s bohemian life, what there was of it.

A rap on his door aroused the doctor who was busy reading a medical journal. He soon faced a comely, tall brunette with hazel eyes standing in the hallway. She immediately identified herself.

“I am Mara Simic, and was sent here by the Shining Circle. May I come in and speak with you, Doctor?”

Without a word, the surprised physician stepped aside and allowed the young woman to enter.

After closing the door, he led her into his tiny parlor, pointing to a sofa for her to take. He sat down on a chair across from Mara Simic.

The visitor was the first to speak.

“It is over a year since your last direct contact with the Circle. You moved to the capital and started working at the hospital. No suspicions have arisen by any actions on your part and that is good. But now the moment has arrived for your direct participation in a most important initiative. You, of course, have long known who shall be the target of this secret plan.”

“King Alexander,” said Duko Orlin nearly voicelessly.

Mara gave him a slight nod.

“His assassination will rock all Europe. New opportunities will quickly surface. Here in Beograd, power will fall into chaotic suspension, available for seizure by those ready to act. That will be the moment when the Shining Circle leaps forward.”

She stared directly at him with steadfast, glowing eyes. “But we cannot be seen or described as a gang of criminals or anarchists. The deed must never be traceable to us. That would present grave tactical difficulties in the execution of our program.”

“Who, then, must be the person to carry out the act?” he eagerly asked her.

Mara smiled like a cat. “That remains to be decided. The organization sent me to Beograd from Nish to be your assistant in finding and recruiting an unknown agent who cannot be linked to us. It may take some time to locate the appropriate candidate. For now, the project must remain in the planning and recruitment stage.”

Duko looked at her in silence, considering the perplexity of the situation he was now in.

“I shall stop by again in a week or so,” said Mara, rising from the sofa. “By then, the possibilities should be clearer and more certain.”

When she was gone, he pondered how to find an untraceable assassin and how to convince him to kill for the Shining Circle.

The old city hospital of Beograd had a decrepit, overcrowded emergency section. Its patients were the poor and destitute. Victims of street accidents and violence were brought here for treatment by Dr. Orlin and an overworked staff of nurses.

A case that at once caught the attention of Duko was that of Vuk Antic.

The gangling body lay in deep coma on a bed in a large, overcrowded ward. Unusually curly reddish-brown hair topped his cube-shaped head. Some sort of undetermined physical collapse had stricken him. Somehow, he had staggered into the facility and given his name before losing consciousness. No diagnosis was possible yet. Puzzling mystery surrounded this man. Where was he from? What did he do for a living? Was he one of the great army of unemployed in the capital?

Duko was determined to find out all he could about the strange individual.

With every examination of the comatose body, he was amazed at how hirsute and pilose the young man was. Hair sprouted from surprising places. It was thick and heavy, like that of some mountain animal of Serbian legend. No one had ever seen so much hairiness before.

The doctor puzzled over what the significance of this could be. It was not something that explained itself, but raised questions in his mind.

Duko had finished bandaging an old man’s wounds when a nurse informed him that the patient named Vuk had just awakened from his coma.

Orlin hurried to see the fellow for himself. He leaned over the bed and looked into a pair of clear green eyes. The first to speak was the man on his back.

“What has happened to me?” he asked in a bass voice. “Why am I here?”

Straightening himself up, Duko first gave him an explanation of how his collapsed body was carried by volunteers into the emergency ward. “You have been out of consciousness for at least three days. That has made it necessary to feed you with an intravenous tube. But now that you are awake, you can feed yourself solid food. Would you mind if I asked you some questions?”

“Not at all.”

“Have you ever before unexpectedly fainted?”

“I cannot remember, sir. No, I do not think so at all.”

“Are you at present being treated for any disease or illness?”

“No,” said the one called Vuk. “I have nothing like that.”

Duko decided to turn personal. “Do you have a job or employment waiting for you?”

The other shook his head no.

“I am thinking of running off to Russia,” he whispered. “There is no capitalism permitted there, but work for everyone.”

The doctor stared at the young man. “Let me examine you thoroughly,” he said softly, vowing to himself to uncover the truth about the hairy patient.

Mara stopped in to see Duko that evening. Over cups of chamomille tea, he related to her the hopeful discovery he had made.

“This large young man is the perfect candidate for the mission, and I believe he can be won over and recruited by the Shining Circle. He is quite radicalized by unemployment. I would characterize him now as pro-Communist. He is an emotional malcontent with grievances. The fellow came to Beograd from southeast Serbia to study, but had to quit the University due to lack of funds. I find him very intelligent and well-informed in the talks we have had together.”

“How can we convince him to join and participate, though?” she wondered aloud.

The physician grinned. “We will have to work together on that, Mara. What I plan to do first is offer him a job at the hospital as my personal assistant. I believe I can convince our director that I need a sort of extra orderly to help out on heavy physical tasks. He will shortly be released, and I intend to ask Vuk to move here and share this flat with me. The two of you will soon meet. Both of us can work on him, though it may take time before we see signs of success. Patience will be called for, Mara.”

“Yes, indeed,” she nodded. “But I agree that we must attempt it with him.”

Vuk left the hospital as an employee there. That same day he moved into Duko’s flat. Little by little, he was introduced to the ideology of the Shining Circle. Soon he was drawn into its revolutionary current. Combining nihilism and hope, its anti-monarchical philosophy engulfed him intellectually and emotionally. The royal family of the Karageorgevics was responsible for the economic depression in Yugoslavia. Vuk soon found himself a fervent, fanatical believer.

Mara Simic was a crucial force in his rapid conversion to the right-wing, corporatist system. She had long conversations with him about the secret movement. “You must awaken to new understanding and purpose for your life,” she assured him. Entranced by her musical voice, Vuk listened to her with total attention.

The doctor kept a watchful eye on his hairy companion, trying to decide when to bring him into the assassination conspiracy. It was a spring night in 1932 when he noticed Vuk slip out of their apartment without saying where he was going. Duko waited a little, then himself departed from the building. He soon caught up and was close enough to hold his new comrade within sight. Darkness fell quickly, throwing the narrow, crooked street into deep, solid shadow.  Vuk appeared to be looking about, searching for something. His pace grew slower and slower. A desperate anxiety seemed to be in control of the hairy giant.

Only occasionally did a pedestrian pass in the opposite direction. The street lamps were few, weak, and far apart. Duko became afraid of being discovered by his quarry, yet proceeded forward.

All of a sudden, Vuk halted and began looking about up and down the street. What was he searching for? wondered the doctor, who also stopped walking.

A visible change was happening on the face of Vuk Antic, something that revealed what he had till then concealed. He took on a new, lupine character as he bristled with long hair. The facial bone structure rearranged itself. A shaggy mane now circled his neck. Not a patch of skin was without tufts and strands. This thick hispidity gave him an aura of wild beastliness.

Indeed, thought Duko, I am now a witness of the true person. This is who he really happens to be.

I have uncovered a vuklen, and his name happens to be Vuk!

The unseen observer gazed in fright at what he had perhaps unconsciously anticipated and feared. Here was a creature he had up to now only read about in old books. This was something he had never expected to see or meet.

What was the unnatural person going to do that evening? he asked himself.

It soon became evident when an old woman with a cane came hobbling along the pavement. Her vision must be poor, judged Duko, for she could not make out what approached her in the dark. Only at the last, fatal moment did a rattling noise issue forth out of her throat.

But it was too late for the aged grandmother. Duko could see a jet of blood spurt out of her mouth. The cut at her windpipe provided entry to what the vuklen instinctively knew it needed.

The horrible scenario ended as rapidly as it had started.

As the victim slunk to the street, the blood-drinker fled into the Beograd night, away from the spot where the stunned physician stood petrified. It took him a short while to realize that Vuk had disappeared into distant shadows. What might he do in such a state? Duko asked himself.

Then the idea arose that the bestial form he had seen could be harnessed and utilized by the movement he had dedicated himself to.

After considerable walking and thought, he returned to his flat to find Vuk sound asleep in his spare room. The young man was in his normal state now.

When the plan of assassination was presented to him that summer by Duko and Mara, the newest member of the Shining Circle said yes to it without a moment of hesitation.

“It will bring about a new Serbia and the end of Yugoslavia!” he opined with joy and confidence. “We shall give birth to a new Europe!”

Mara then proceeded to outline the plans of the royal family for a public reception at the palace on the holiday of St. Sava, the Serbian national patron and the spiritual protector of the Karageorgevic dynasty.

“Yes,” agreed Vuk, “that is the appropriate occasion for this historic event to happen.”

The trio discussed at length how the assassin was to gain admittance and infiltrate the grand reception hall with the crowd of common wellwishers and move close to the monarch, Alexander. Every possible eventuality had to be foreseen.

“Mara and I will be present with other Shining Circle members,” said Duko, ” to help create confusion and distraction after the shooting. The royal guards will have no chance to make a capture or arrest. The pandemonium will permit all of us to escape. It must proceed like clockwork.”

Vuk Antic uncharacteristically smiled.

“I can feel success ahead,” he asserted with emotion. “There is nothing that can stop me from completing my task. The result will be glorious. Our Serbian nation will experience a rebirth. They shall once again become a race of heroes. And I am going to be the one who lights the fire!”

St. Sava Day dawned clear and bright. A cloudless sky hung over Beograd.

Dr. Duko Orlin had managed to get the day off for himself and Vuk. Every detail appeared to be lined up the way it was supposed to according to the plan. The two men were dressed and ready to proceed. Mara arrived at the flat with a revolver in a cloth satchel. She took the weapon out and placed it on the parlor table. The young man who was to be the assassin picked up the gun and began to examine it.

All at once, a heavy knocking came from the door to the hallway.

I’ll see who it is,” said Vuk, placing the revolver back in the satchel.

As he unlocked and began to open the door, three tall men in blue serge business suits rushed past the astounded Vuk. They encircled Duko and Mara from all sides. The one who seemed to be the leader opened the satchel and picked up the weapon. He shoved it into his coat pocket.

“My name is Captain Jovan Jovic of the Royal Guards. I herewith place both of you under immediate arrest for treason to His Majesty Alexander Karageorgevic.”

The other two agents were joined by two others entering from the hall. Then Duko and Mara were handcuffed by Jovic. The two were escorted out of the apartment as quickly as possible. Both glanced at Vuk with questions in their eyes as they departed.

Only the Captain and the would-be assassin remained in the parlor.

“In my bedroom, sir, you shall find a list of member names who were to create a diversionary disturbance at today’s reception. I am certain the Guards can promptly deal with them. That appears to be the extent of the Shining Circle organization.”

“Good work, Vuk!” beamed the officer. “It took time, but you successfully infiltrated the conspiracy. We shall show no leniency to any of these traitors. Tell me this: did the doctor in any way see anything suspicious in you? I am thinking of what you are. We of our kind must never give any grounds for being identified. We have to be taken to be ordinary human beings like others, Serbs with nothing unusual about us. That is what shields and protects us.”

“Orlin saw and knows nothing,” muttered Vuk. “I can continue as an operator in the dark.”

“Good,” smirked Captain Jovic. “The Royal Guards are the first line of defense of the king and his government. We stand at the center of his invisible authority. Today will stand as an example to all our agents, of both natures.”

The two vuklens made their way out of the flat, having defeated the assassination plot threatening their monarch.


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