Born-again criminal mastermind Daat Praen has just turned his stolen jewelry into a tall stack of goldquartz, and he's now headed to the rich side of town to throw a little bit of his influence around. After a stop for some new clothes, he decides to make a call at the address he found scribbled on a business card inside his new hat, a mysterious blue door in a dark alleyway off Ertajj Street...
I knocked a couple times, then stepped back. I had to avoid the filthy puddles in the alley, I didn't want them to muck up my new shoes or my new trousers. Marv was busying himself with a dead cat when the little slit of a window in the door opened up.
"Who's it?" asked the red-eyed bouncer from the darkness.
"Uh...," I fumbled, "I'm looking for Elloise?"
The red eyes scanned me top to bottom and then winced a bit. "Who sent ya?" the bouncer asked.
"Bull Mayday," I answered. At this point, I just wanted to run. Marv was standing like he did before he lost his leg, on point, his little ghost limb pointing out the danger to me.
From the blue door came the sound of many locks and latches being opened and pulled, and then the door cracked open. "No dogs," the sickly-looking bouncer scolded.
"You gonna wait here for me, Marv?" I asked my pooch. He whined a bit, but then found an old pillow in the alley to use for a bed. It looked like he would be safe. And so I followed the thin trail of purple smoke coming from the darkened doorway inside.
The place was dark, dark as night. Pools of light illuminated spheres of activity around the room, which looked to be a bar. There was light music playing, probably a live piano though I couldn't tell where it was. Suspicious eyes searched me like the border patrol. I wondered, what was I thinking? I wanted to cut tail and run.
Instead, I knocked my knee hard against a nearly invisible table as I made my way to the green-lit bar. A bear of a man with a grungy eye-patch wiped some spittle from the corner of his mouth and asked me what I wanted to drink.
"Cider?" I asked. I wasn't really a drinker. I had no idea.
"Something hard, mack," the bartender replied. "They ain't no cider 'round here."
"Uh...," I stammered. I looked down the bar, and saw a woman far past the expiration date on the skimpy clothing she was wearing throwing back a little glass of purple something-or-other. "I'll have what she's having," I said.
"You asked for it," the bartender said with a shrug. He had to go into the back for whatever ingredients it took to make whatever I had ordered. When he pushed the dirty glass my way across the counter, I could smell the stuff immediately. Like lemon cleaner mixed with exhaust. I didn't want to taste it, so I didn't waste my time with an introductory sip. I threw it back and then slammed the glass down. Surprisingly, it didn't taste too bad. Unsurprisingly, it burnt like hell.
"Never seen a man order a gold-digger," the old woman at the bar called to me. She started to laugh, which caught in her smoke-ravaged throat and turned into a coughing fit. After she had recovered, she lit up another spliff. I could smell the thick balantyne smoke. For some reason, I felt like this woman was who I was looking for.
"Elloise?" I asked, almost in her direction but not-enough so that I wouldn't look too stupid if the old broad wasn't her.
"Yes, honey?" she said. In her eyes I saw a spark, one I hand't seen from any woman in a number of years. It became apparent even to a clueless like me: Old Elloise was a purveyor of the oldest trade on Alm.
I was a little repulsed, at the idea of making love to the sickly old grandmother, but thought I'd ask her a bit about the card anyways. And you know how women can be, you gotta stroke their backs. Their bony, sagging, gussied up backs. "Uh... So I found your number here," I said, procuring the business card from my pocket, "and I thought I'd follow my curiosity."
"So you're not looking for fun?" she asked with a disappointed pout. "Here," she then said, offering me a pull from her spliff.
Why not, I thought. I had no idea how long my crazy fling might last. Might as well live the dream to the fullest. "Thanks," I said. I was feeling the cocktail now. The pools of rainbow lights began to swim and sway through the darkness. And then I pulled some of the thick smoke into my lungs. I had heard you are supposed to hold it in, for as long as you can, so I did. I lasted about five seconds, and then exploded into fits. "Thanks," I managed to say through bouts of coughing.
"Sure, you're welcome," Elloise said with a mix of pity and sarcasm. "So what's a shiny coin like you doing in a dirty well like this?" she asked.
"Looking to spend a little money, have a little fun," I said.
"You got a little money, do you?" she asked, perking up again.
"Not much, but...," I lied.
"Want to turn it into a bit more?" she asked seductively.
Why not, I figured. I could part with a little bit of the stuff. "What do you have in mind?" I asked.
"Well," Elloise began, but before she could finish I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I turned around to see a shadowy face glaring at me from under a wide-brimmed hat. "You Bull Mayday?" the crooked mouth asked.
"I'm not...," I started, but then figured, why not? "Yes. That's me."
"You're not what?" the man asked.
"He's mine," Elloise said to the man. "Don't you worry about this small fry."
"He ain't no small fry," the man said to Elloise. "Old Bull here and I have some business to attend to, don't we?" he asked me.
Business? I didn't like the sound of that. In all my favorite detective stories, 'business' always meant something nasty. I didn't want to die. Who would take care of Marv? "Of course," I said to the man, playing along.
"Then come with me," he said, disappearing into the darkness. I saw him reappear beneath an orange light, then go behind a curtain.
"Maybe next time then, eh honey?" Elloise asked, pursing her lips. "Now run along. You don't want to keep Kill waiting."
Kill? His name was Kill? I wondered, should I bust for the door right then? The old Daat would have, surely. But not me. Not Bull Mayday. Bull Mayday was tough, real tough. He didn't take nothing from no one. And he tripped again, as he made his way to whatever waited for him behind the glow of the orange light and the mysterious curtain.
I shouldn't have been worried, but hindsight is twenty-twenty. I should have been excited, really. I was expected. I was greeted with warm smiles. Behind that curtain I became, for all intents and purposes, a leading member of Jaidour's crime family.
NEXT TIME: REALLY, SOME HAVE GREATNESS THRUST UPON THEM