The Hepar Circle

30 Oct

Sir Richard Hillman, a sociable chap, became one of the prime joiners of nineteenth century London society. What high status club did he not affiliate with? Where did he not assert himself? His favorite was the Garrick Club, which he joined as early as 1834. This was a den of literary types and actors. Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope could be seen playing whist in the smoking room. Sir Richard was well acquainted with the card room and its atmosphere of innocent leisure. This was a second home for him.

In 1861, he was accepted into the Cosmopolitan Club near Berkeley Square. Sophisticated dinner parties offered him opportunity to meet political and social celebrities. Cabinet ministers, peers, journalists, and important artists came to eat, smoke cigars, and gossip. Hillman did not enjoy this as much as he did the Garrick, though he came frequently.

A lifelong writer of unpublished memoirs, Richard felt himself at home in the Arts Club in Hanover Square. The ageing bachelor rarely had to eat at his Mayfair residence. He found congenial company at his clubs and the restaurants. The Great Western Hotel at Paddington was large and impressive, but his favorite was Cox’s on Jermyn Street. It was here that he met James Bland, a young barrister with knowledge of regions of London life unfamiliar to Sir Richard.

The short, chubby lawyer seemed perpetually smiling, his azure eyes always brightly twinkling. He spoke across the tiny table of the private eating room to the older man who was his dinner companion one autumn evening.

“my interests are so broad they cannot be confined within old structures or organizations for very long. Perhaps it is a sense of impending boredom that will stifle the thoughts and feelings that propels me on into new social ventures. But now I have become a member of an association that I think about with some trepidation because of how exciting it is. There are such dangerous prospects that I almost tremble at what I am involved with. In many ways, I think, you are a much more fitting candidate than I am for membership in this secret circle.”

“What kind of club do you refer to, Richard?” muttered Sir Richard with curiosity excited.

The barrister sent him a feline smile. “The center of our interest is the consuming of liver.”

A look of surprise struck the coffee brown eyes of the other.

“Liver! How can such a thing be? Every eatery in London can get it for its patrons. What is so special about this club?”

“These men limit themselves to a particular variety of liver.”

“And what can that be?” demanded Hillman, thrusting out his rocky jaw.

The answer came in a muffled tone. “The livers of human beings. Let me explain it for you. When a member of the circle passes on, that specific organ is donated to his fellows. It is a voluntary behest, pledged to in secret long before the demise. No one outside the ranks of the members knows of the operation by which the liver is obtained. There is no suspicion among the family or the morticians. The removal occurs in absolute secrecy. Each participant is under an oath to seal his lips forever. Privacy is guaranteed to everyone who partakes of the liver.”

His face a pale sheet of white, Hillman sputtered about for adequate reply.

“What an absurdity! Are you certain someone is not pulling your leg, my boy?”

“The members are serious men, I assure you. Their motive is to taste the forbidden, that which would bring shame if brought to light. But we are not jokers. Sober and serious persons are in our circle. Most of us are gentlemen of social standing. We are people with high moral principles.”

“You believe they would accept me as a member?” asked Hillman.

“I am certain of that. Why else would I bring this up and reveal so much?”

“You have succeeded in whetting my curiosity and sense of adventure, my friend,” grinned Richard.

‘We are the Hepar Circle, using the Ancient Greek word for the liver.”

“I find all of this most fascinating,” confessed the newly informed joiner of clubs.

Within a week, Bland took his new friend to an unusual site. The Raleigh Club near the Haymarket Theatre was a place where sporting gentlemen played billiards and ate broiled beef. Upstairs rooms were used for assignations with street women. It was in one of these that Hillman was introduced to the president of the Hepar Circle, Dr. Edward Fane.

The short man with curly auburn hair was dressed in funereal black. He shook the hand of the new recruit with unusual strength. Hillman and Bland sat down on plain chairs while the leader continued standing as he spoke to them.

“I am heartened by your interest in our group, sir. Let me reveal that this activity of ours is not a recent enterprise. We can trace our roots back to practices in Ancient Egypt and Babylonia. It is known that when Britain was conquered by Roman armies, there were temples dedicated to Isis built here. That particular cult was the vehicle by which hepatic customs came to our land. In secrecy, pre-Christian druids carried on the tradition. Traces of what we are doing today can be found in medieval sources.

“Our modern circle has centuries of history behind it.”

Richard Hillman posed an important question. “How are hepars obtained from dead members without the authorities discovering it?”

The doctor grinned warmly. “For a long time, there has been a physician like myself involved. It is easy to have a medical examination in private either before or after the death. The operation is swift and leaves no great scars. No suspicions have ever arisen. Everything occurs in complete secrecy. There is nothing to fear.”

The room was silent until James Bland asked Hillman the crucial question.

“Do you agree to take the oath of secrecy and participate in all our actions, sir?”

“Yes, of course I will,” promised the clubman with sincerity.

At monthly dinners at Blue Posts restaurants, the new recruit became acquainted with the dozen others in the secret circle. But since no deaths occurred among the members, there was no opportunity to receive the health or spiritual benefits of human liver.

Hillman and Bland met often for club dinners together. They shared impatience and frustration with the situation. When would they eat the promised liver? they asked each other.

“No one has passed on,” grumbled Sir Richard one evening at the Garrick. “And it would appear that we have no member in that final stage of illness. This promises to go on and on. It may be years before we have the hepar. No one can tell.”

His companion finished his dish of mutton before making a comment.

“There is a method of hurrying the desired result,” he murmured, his eyes fixed on Hillman.

The latter furrowed his brow. “What are you getting at?” he said uneasily.

“The streets of London team with candidates for operations, if we were courageous enough to seize the opportunities provided every night.”

It took a small time for the older man to digest what he had just heard.

“You wish to break the criminal law through kidnapping and murder?”

Bland nodded yes. His friend turned away for a few moments. The decision that he made was immediate and firm.

“I would propose that the best chances of success lie with the wrens who come out in droves once the sun sets,” asserted Hillman with firm confidence. “Those girls are constantly found dead outdoors in inner London. No one will miss any of the creatures.”

The two stared at each other in agreement.

“We must first find out what Dr. Fane thinks of it,” whispered Bland.

The threesome had dinner at Simpson’s on the Strand, talking at leisure in a private recessed booth where no one could overhear them.

The physician readily accepted the proposition presented him by the other two. He leaped at once to practical details important in any such plan of action.

“Where am I to complete the necessary operation?” he asked the pair. “How is a wren to be convinced that nothing suspicious is occurring? Street chippies may not be so easy to induce into cooperation if three males are present with her. They might frighten her.”

Bland had an answer to this. “The object of our attention could be rendered unconscious by a sudden blow to the back of the head once enticed to the location that we choose.”

“Nothing violent shall be necessary,” said the doctor with an attitude of superior knowledge. “I can obtain a substance the French call chloroforme and use a towel soaked with it to knock the woman unconscious. Nothing can be as quick or simple.”

Hillman had an unpleasant thought and expressed it to his co-conspirators.

“What will we do with a dead trollop on our heads?” he anxiously asked.

“I can have a death certificate written and signed ahead of time,” said Dr. Fane. “Streetwalkers are continually found dead in alleyways and dark corners. That is nothing new or unexpected, not at all. She should be easy to dispose of, in any case.”

“There is no time to lose,” concluded James Bland. “We must accomplish this before the cold weather of winter arrives in London.”

Clara, who spoke with a Yorkshire intonation, had worked the area of Covent Garden for years. Unusually tall for a quean of the streets, she had begun her trade at fourteen. She now felt herself a veteran at the end of her line of entertainment. An empty monotony filled her as she roamed about finding and satisfying strangers.

Her colorless old dress was turning into rags. Only the bonnet over her yellow hair kept some of its original brightness. There was nothing beyond her height to differentiate Clara from the hundreds of sisters out on the night market of flesh the evening that Bland appeared to present a proposition to her.

“Come with me to a room I rented for tonight, my dear,” said the gentleman invitingly. “If you give me good service, I can go as high as thirty bob for you.”

Smiling pleasantly, the large woman accepted his offer, giving her right hand to him.

At a leisurely pace, he led her through sidewalk crowds to the site chosen by the three men, a Turkish bathhouse on Jermyn Street. The pair entered, Bland guiding the prostitute up the stairs to the corridor of private rooms. She watched as he opened a door and ushered her into a dark interior.

“Allow me to light the gas burner,” he said, taking a vesta box from his coat pocket. Catching sight of the corner bed, Clara sat down on the edge and began to undress. She had not noticed a connecting door to the adjacent room. All of a sudden, it flew open without a sound.

The short man with auburn hair who rapidly emerged rushed toward the bed, a large white towel in his hands. The startled meretrix named Clara seemed paralyzed with shock as Dr. Fane threw the strange-smelling cloth over her face. She gasped for breath with all the force in her body.

Behind the attacker, the customer who had brought her here watched passively as this second stranger took command. What was happening? Had two crazy men lured her to commit some sort of physical harm?

Clara did not wait for answers. In an instant, she reached down into her petticoats and removed a small object hidden there in the folds. Long experience at this craft had taught her the need for protection in dangerous situations like the present one.. A tiny dague with a slender blade, the defensive weapon the Italians called a stiletto, was what the alarmed wren thrust into the chest of Fane as she sprang up to her feet before he could do her any harm.

The chloroforme had an immediate effect on the intended victim. Literally, she became an untamed giant feline creature. Her teeth lengthened and grew into fangs. Sharp claws sprouted from the nails of her fingers. Wild savagery gleamed in her enlarged, bulging eyes.

The anesthetic compound transformed Clara into an animal with the power and ferocity of a panther, a wild cat within the mind and body of a street woman.

Clara instinctively knew the right target to aim for. Drawing the small knife out of the chest of the doctor, she aimed it at the artery in his neck. The cat-woman stabbed there with extraordinary accuracy.

James Bland stood mesmerized as he watched the little physician fall to the floor with his final breath. He was too stunned to flee or take action as the animal holding a dague came near him, her insane eyes fixed upon his neck. One terrible stab and he too fell down like his partner.

As Clara fled into the hallway and down the stairs, the feline features turned into what they had been before her being brought to this hellish location.

At the same moment in time, Sir Richard Hillman entered the scene of mayhem and slaughter from the adjacent room. He had been sitting and waiting for the completion of the liver removal surgery at a place at the far end of he corridor. There was to be no need for him until the time came to remove the corpse of the woman.

Instead of that finale, he found the bodies of his comrades bleeding profusely on the floor. Something had gone terribly wrong. Whatever it was, he did not intend to stay there for the police authorities to question him. Let others report and try to explain this scene of double murder.

Shivering with emotion, the lucky survivor hurried out onto the street and the protective anonymity of the cruel, indecent streets of nighttime London.


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