Tuesday, October 20, 2020

VtM: A Club, A Card, An Interview

 It was ten o'clock at night before before Edhem returned to the Crux Invertis. A different teenager opened the door this time, this one dressed all in shades of gray: a hooded sweatshirt, an oversized coat, loose pants, off-brand tennis shoes. Even the mask that covered their mouth and nose was the color of charcoal. "The guy who wanted to meet with Malachi, right?" Their hair was tied back in simple ponytail, dark enough to look black in the limited lighting inside the club; they studied Edhem with a severe face that held no particular expression, punctuated by high cheekbones and dark eyes.

"Edhem Blackburn," he said. "Should I ask who you are?" 

The teen shrugged. "Twilight, for the moment. Some of us use names; some of us don't. That was Dark you met earlier, unless he's changed it." 

"Is Malachi available? Will he see me?" 

"Yes." Twilight swung the door all the way open and stepped back. "That's why I'm being so polite." 

"I'm grateful," said Edhem, with no irony whatsoever; it sounded like he should be. His own mask was still white, and didn't muffle his voice quite enough to leave any doubt about his tone.

Twilight looked momentarily nonplussed, and Edhem took that moment to step inside and look around. This was obviously the entryway; there was a counter to his left, unoccupied, but with a cash register and a handful of posters on the wall behind it. There was another door ahead, exactly where he'd expect to find a bouncer to prevent anyone from entering the club without paying. 

Twilight closed the door behind him and shot the deadbolt, then moved past him with a vague motion that Edhem took to mean he should follow. 

He did, and found himself in a large room. To his right was the main bar, and an entrance into some other area; to his left a sort of balcony wandered around to a second, smaller bar. The balcony overlooked the dance floor, and the raised stage beyond. A second, higher balcony circled overhead, also overlooking the dance floor; two more teens stood on the far side, looking idly down at them. One was Dark; the other was an unfamiliar girl, waifish, in a tank top and sweat pants, with disheveled blond hair and no sign of makeup. She stepped back as Edhem looked up at her. 

"Come and sit down," said a voice at his elbow, and Edhem turned his head to look down at a short, slim man in a black coat and tie, the handkerchief in his breast pocket folded to show an inlaid rose. "I don't believe I know you, Edhem Blackburn." He must have been in the room; he must have moved to Edhem's flank; but Edhem hadn't seen him at all. That does not bode well.

"There's no reason you should," said Edhem, cautiously polite. "We haven't met, and until yesterday I had no idea your club even existed."

Malachi tilted his head, and there was something just slightly off about the gesture: not quite the inhuman stillness that the thing in Jack and Valeria's apartment had displayed, but a hint of someone trying to avoid giving that impression. "Then what is it brings you here?" He extended a hand, motioning Edhem towards a booth near the front wall. 

Edhem nodded. "The Magical Mister Grey and his beautiful assistant Valeria," he said, as he crossed to the booth and took a seat. 

 Malachi slid silently onto the bench opposite him. "I see, Mister Blackburn. Would you care for anything to drink?"

"Not now," answered Edhem, "but I appreciate the hospitality."

Malachi nodded to Twilight, who turned and walked away. "So then," he said, when they were apparently alone, "you've come to ask about Mister Grey and his sudden demise."

Edhem gave a single, slow nod. "Your name was given to me as someone who had met with him shortly before he died."

"Ah," said Malachi. "And you suspect I might have killed him?" 

Unchosen Gods, he better not have. Edhem shook his head, wondering if he should have brought one of the canes from the van, and decided to bluff. "I'm putting together a story," he said. "I know that Jack Grey died by violence, and that his wife-slash-assistant disappeared shortly afterwards. I started looking into it because I knew him, and there aren't that many stage magicians in the business -- especially not with the kind of talents he sometimes displayed. So, I'm looking for people who knew him and who saw him in the last few weeks of his life." He kept his expression still, showing nothing but mild curiosity.

"Then you aren't a police officer, or a private detective." 

Edhem shook his head, and Malachi nodded slowly. "Young master Dark, the one who greeted you at the door earlier, was worried that you might be with Social Services, but clearly you are not that either." 

"No." Edhem made sure he met Malachi's eyes. "I'm curious as to why you seem to have at least three teenagers in your club during the lockdown for the pandemic, but it's none of my business." At least not for now. If there's anything amiss, well... later for that. "I just need to know about Jack Grey." 

"They're runaways," said Malachi. "All six of them. And what passes for shelter in this city is inadequate and frequently dangerous. I spent enough time living on the streets to want to offer them something better, now that I can." His expression turned briefly wistful, and Edhem found that disconcerting. 

"So how did you know the Magical Mister Grey?" 

"As an entertainer, more than anything else." Malachi turned his attention back to Edhem's face. "He and Valeria performed here, just before the pandemic forced us to close. It was a good show, even though his stalker showed up for it; the bouncers removed him before he could cause any trouble."

Edhem considered that. "So you hired him, and presumably paid him, and that was the extent of your interactions?" 

"Essentially, yes." Malachi Omicron looked faintly puzzled. "Is that all you wanted to know?" 

It wasn't even close, but Edhem nodded and said, "Yes. I'll seek more information elsewhere." 

"Please let me know what you find," said Malachi. "I'd be delighted to help in any way I can. And with the club closed, well... I don't hear the gossip they way I used to."

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