Friday, September 23, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 12

     Club Hades was the “it” place in New York, and had been since shortly after the invasion. The place was a palace, tiers of tables for fine dining, a huge dance floor served by a thirty-piece band, and a stage big enough to put on shows that rivaled Radio City. The bar had a selection that I doubted even the bartenders knew the extent of. If your choice of refreshment ran to things more exotic, then the private rooms were always available. Available, provided that you could pony up the marks.

Despite all of the delights available, I tried to avoid the place whenever possible. It avoided it, because I knew that each time I visited I was pushing my luck.

The push was that everybody, excepting yours truly, wanted to be seen there. Tempeste was a freewheeling hostess, so long as you stayed classy and respected the neutrality of the place. That meant everyone was welcome, so you never knew whom you might run into. The rule of neutrality in the club was absolute, but I was sure that it ended at the parking lot.

I was crossing the parking lot, still contemplating how I was going to talk my way past the mountain at the front door. All right, so Invar might not have been a mountain, but I was sure he must have had one in his ancestry somewhere. Particularly one of those purple ones we used to sing about. The guy was seven feet tall if he was an inch and broad enough that he seemed squat from a distance. I had spoken with him in the past. He’s the type that would stay quiet and let you hang yourself on the assumption that big equals stupid. That was the main reason why I was rehashing the story I was going to use so that it would come out better than “I need to talk to one of the girls, and I promise not to have any fun in the meantime.” Somehow I still doubted that the troll would fall for it.

Instead, when I was a half dozen paces from the door, he beckoned me over. As I approached, he lowered his craggy, blue toned face down toward me.

“Go on in, Watson. She’s expecting you.”

Somehow I knew it wasn’t Rachel he was referring to.

Inside the door I was briefly stopped by a Maitre D who inquired as to my reservation.

“Mr. Watson does not need a reservation.”

The speaker was a young woman, apparently not more than twenty. Aside from the very modern evening dress, she looked as if she had just stepped out of an illustration from the Arabian Nights. Dusky skin, eyes like the desert night sky, and a grace of motion that evoked sand dunes under a steady wind.

“Samira,” I said. I couldn’t help but smile at her. It’s not the people of the place that made me nervous it was more the nature.

She smiled back.

“Good to see you again, Mr. Watson. If you will please follow me?”

As she led me into the main room, I risked a quick look at the magic of Club Hades. The sight that greeted me was a dozen magical auras awash in a current of swirling energies. Samira was the muse of those desert tales; Invar was the dream of warriors who feared the passes in winter. Behind the bar was an embodiment of capricious nature called Bryant, and the dread of shadows at night who went by the name of Nicolai. I saw an ideal of courtly composure and acuity by the name of Lord Corryn ap Taryn, Ambassador from the Sidhe Courts to the Court of the Count of New York City.

Samira led me toward a table upon the second tier opposite the stage, which put it off the physical center of the room. Magically, however, there was no doubt that it was the center. That center was Tempeste Storm. She wore a guise of dreams realized through cleverness and desire. While Fr. O’Brian worked in alliance with the magic of his church, there was no doubt that Tempeste’s will drove the magic in her domain. Not many people realized just how far that domain extended.

I had to close my eyes and let go of the magical awareness I was using. The magic of the club, drawn whole from the fae realms, was intoxicating, and very easy for a mortal to ride into madness.

When I opened my eyes again, I was looking out at the stage. Aimee Simone was singing a tune to set the place swinging. At the time there was no one bigger than Aimee, there wasn’t a producer on Broadway that wouldn’t have traded their left hands to have her in their shows, and yet she played Club Hades on a regular basis. The chorus line was earning their keep, making a pretty frame for the beautiful picture. I spotted Rachel among the formation.

Turning back to the table, my heart almost stopped. Not only because Tempeste, as always, was a vision of elven beauty, but also because I hadn’t noticed her companion. Just another reminder of Tempeste’s power that her aura can make someone fail to notice that of the Sorceress to the Court of Count Addney, Babette de Loring. So far, she didn’t seem to notice that Joe Schmoe private dick approaching her table was lost in contemplation of matters beyond the mortal ken.

Like I said, I was pushing my luck.

Samira had stopped and was looking at me with a hint of a smile on her lips.

“Ms. Storm is expecting you, Mr. Watson.”

I knew that already, and I saw that we were going to play one of Tempeste’s favorite games. Namely, Tempting Fate.

“Miss Storm, Mr. Watson has arrived.”

Tempeste looked up at me with her deep green eyes and smiled. She wore her constant black in the form of a satin sheath dress that covered everything yet concealed nothing. She had her long black hair over one shoulder. She had her midnight black hair draped over one shoulder, revealing one delicate elven ear.

She rose and extended a hand.

“Sam, always a pleasure to see you.”

She turned to her companion.

“Babette, allow me to introduce Sam Watson, one of this city’s finest private investigators. Sam, this is Babette de Loring, Sorceress to the court of Count Addney.”

I took the hand she offered and made a small bow over it. She wore her Order ring, and I could feel the power she ran through it.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady de Loring.”

She gave me a long, appraising look. She was an attractive woman who wore her brown hair in a bob that emphasized her youthful appearance.

Normally, I’d find a way to flirt back when an attractive woman gave me an appraisal like that. That once, I was praying that my concealment didn’t have any holes in it.

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Watson.” She spoke with a Parisian accent. “I hope that your recent troubles are behind you for now.”

Her comment knocked me askance for a moment, and then I recalled the shiner that Paulie had given me the night before. I laughed. She was relying on the old fortuneteller trick to seem wise beyond the world. I knew it well, used it often, and it hinted to me that she hadn’t seen through my shielding.

“I hope so,” I replied, lightly touching the bruise. “Keeping them in front of me didn’t seem to work too well this time.”

The band chose that moment to strike into a dance number. Almost as if on cue, a gentleman appeared at Babette’s arm.

“Would you care for a dance, My Lady?” he asked.

I recognized him right off: Sir Reginald Blakemore, right-hand man to Count Addney. He had his knighthood, but no explicitly defined role in the court. It was known, however, that if the Count needed something done that could not be connected to him, then Blakemore was the one who saw to it getting done. Not that showing Lady de Loring a night out on the town was something the Count would have been loathe to do.

Lady de Loring looked over to Tempeste, almost as if for permission. Yep, I thought, this place truly does belong to her.

“Oh, go ahead. And don’t worry about me, I can keep myself entertained,” Tempeste said, taking hold of my elbow.

The two courtiers headed out for the dance floor while Tempeste went to retake her seat. I held it out for her and then took my own.

“You certainly have kept yourself entertained,” I said.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean dangling me in front of Babette like that.”

She laughed her little ‘Twas Nothing laugh.

“Sam, I provide entertainment for everyone. You can’t really blame me if your idea of a good time is being uptight and paranoid. Don’t tell me you didn’t get a thrill from dodging the bullet there.”

“I don’t need that type of entertainment, thank you very much.”

“Really? Either that’s an odd choice of eye shadow or you need more practice at dodging.”

We might have been sitting at the most visible table in the club, but I didn’t have any worries about what we were saying. Nothing said at her High Table could be overheard without permission.

I picked up the glass of whiskey that had appeared at my elbow sometime during our conversation. I took a whiff and found it was of a much better caliber than my usual. I looked over at Tempeste. The drink seemed suspiciously like a gift, and she divined my concern.

“You can pay for that with an answer, Sam.”

“No promises,” I said, setting it back down on the table.

“Why is it that you are sticking your nose into Ambrosi’s business?”

I had to think on what I could tell her about that.
“My client is being harassed by someone who won’t let things rest in peace, and I’m just looking to get her out from under.”

She nodded, accepting the answer. The scotch was very good.

“The chorus is about to come out to mingle,” Tempeste said, “Go talk to Rachel.”

I toasted her with the last of my drink, and headed backstage.

“One more thing, Sam.”

I turned.

“Rachel is at work, you know.”

I started to say something. She didn’t let me get started.

“Don’t worry, you can owe me one.”

I was afraid of that.

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