1: Débutante at the Ball.
Murder sat at the bar.
Her drink was a Virgin’s Sunrise, all pendulous red base and bitter sweet kick. He found he was quite proud of the cocktail. Rather resented the woman now ruining his careful layering with a straw and half a slice of pineapple.
“Do you really have to do that?”
“What?” She glanced down at her glass. “Well sorry! Didn’t realise it wasn’t for drinking...”
Seb sighed. Reached out to squeeze her wrist. She stuck her tongue out, but there was a definite chink in the ice. Witness the playful glint she threw his way across the rim of the glass, artfully kohl-smeared eyes laughing. “So, come on, you were saying…?”
He sighed, glanced up and down the (abandoned) bar to stall for time.
“Come on slim! There’s no one else here. It’s midweek. All the squares are at home, preparing for the next exciting instalment in their oh so interesting lives...”
“Which reminds me, when did I say I’d have the kids?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. You’re picking Maisey up from school.”
“And no getting her to help with your essay!”
“Ok, ok…!” he scowled.
“You’re going to earn those credits on your own young man, if it kills me.”
“Don’t you ‘Yes Mom’ me, Sebastian Laikee, or so help me God I’ll come across that bar and whip your skinny white arse myself.”
Seb grinned, but relented, not entirely convinced she wouldn’t follow up on her threat. You could never tell with the inimitable Miss Murder. Athletic, but without loosing the curves God and three children had given her, Raina Johnson was not the sort of woman you messed with. Seb had seen the results of such folly first hand, both online and off. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
‘Feisty’, one of their alliance had called her. Personally Seb thought rabid a better description, but he wasn’t about to say that to her face. Not after she’d taken him under her wing, sheltering him from the shit storm that was the collapse of his parent’s marriage. Back then of course he’d still only known her as Miss Murder, and their friendship had been strictly virtual. Two years and one train journey had changed all that.
Okay, so there were a few pilgrimages to the mecca that was Shensang beforehand to scope out the lay of the land, but a good story’s best told without extraneous details.
“Hey, you. Focus.”
He grinned, pushing hair back behind his ears. It was a typical warm spring evening, but he’d lost his hair tie on the train over. No doubt it was out beyond the suburbs by now, watching the ageing farm houses sail by the window.
“Sorry, it’s been a long day.”
“And it’ll be an even longer night if you don’t lighten the mood with some narrative.” She pulled out a cigarette, leaning forward. “Do the thing.”
“Aw, Ray, you know the rules...” scratching absently at one nipple where his vest gaped at the front.
She raised an eloquent eyebrow. “Do you see anyone else in here to grass you up?”
Sighing, he leant forwards. Flicked the finger and thumb of his right hand together to produce the requested flame.
It was blue, for the butterfly that stirred his soul with restless wings.
Grinning, she leant forwards, careful to keep her own unruly tresses out of the way. Raina was a red head, lucky according to the lore of her distant-distant ancestors, who’d prized the trait. Like so many other superstitions the belief had found some small popularity out here in the shallows, though there was as yet no actual evidence to support the claim or describe what sort of ‘luck’ might be involved. A variety of potential case studies presented themselves, but Sebastian suspected volunteers would dry up once word got round that at least some of the participants were being locked in a room with various flavours of daemon.
“Thanks.” She leant back, drawing deeply and then exhaling with the satisfied sound of a single mother indulging a forbidden vice. “So. Let’s recap. You’ve known Devan for how long?”
“Um, two months...”
She took a sip from the eviscerated cocktail. “And you’ve been on what, half a dozen dates?”
“I’d hardly call them dates.”
“True. There were barely words spoken on the first if memory serves?”
“Just calling a spade a spade honey.”
Raina rolled her eyes. “He’d had your cock in his mouth before you even found out what his name was.”
“What can I say?”
“‘I’m a whore?’”
“Like you’re any better, cam queen.”
She actually had the decency to blush at that, covering with a hefty swig from the murder victim between them. “Yes well...”
“You seriously need to sort that one out you know. He doesn’t live that far away.”
“Stop changing the subject.” She took another drag. “So, sex before first names. A string of dates involving barely enough small talk to fill a gossip mag, and now he finally introduces you to his friends.”
“Had to happen sometime.”
“Hmm. Some might have done things in a different order, but...” She lofted a plume ceiling-ward, to the detriment of one of the various insects doing the rounds about the light fittings. They both watched it nose dive into the sink.
“Don’t mention it.” She sat forwards, elbows on the bar. “So, tell me everything...”
Seb laughed, leaning back against the counter. “Well, where to start...”
Clothing littered the bed. He’d done this once already before the shower, but nerves insisted the process now be repeated, covering his mattress and duvet once again with a sea of vests, tees and trousers. The underwear was sorted, there being only one real choice for an occasion as important as this. Luminous pink girded his loins, covering the (modest) swell up front and encircling buttocks toned from running for the train.
The trouble was he had no idea what to expect. This, combined with what was riding on tonight, was making the decision all but impossible.
Sighing, he gave it up for now as a bad job and retreated to the bathroom to shave. Where upon the light flickered, the room dimming drastically as a figure stepped from the shadows.
“Jesus! It’s a good job I hadn’t started yet!” he admonished, waving the razor in the daemon’s direction.
“Hardly worth the effort if you ask me.” The voice was eloquent, cultured. Rather at odds with the tricorn hat and make-up: three white lines adorned each cheek above lips rouged to within an inch of their life.
Highway man meets Lady of the Night. The smouldering eyes (literally) only added to the oddity that was.
“You’re ready for this evening?” the apparition enquired, fingering a toothbrush speculatively.
“As I’ll ever be,” Seb replied, deciding to work with the flickering lighting and placing blades to lathered skin.
“You’re clear on the remit?”
“Gods man, what do you take me for? An amateur? I know what I’m doing.”
“So you say...”
“Look, just trust me, ok? I’ve got this.”
The daemon nodded, though he could tell it was not entirely satisfied. “We’ll see...”
“Look, if you’re that worried why don’t you come with me? It’s not like you’d look out of place...” he made a point of giving it the once up and down “...seriously. Though perhaps the eyes...”
“We’ve been over this: the Queen would see through any guise in an instant.”
“Yes, yes, blah de blah. I get it. Now please go away, and take your bloody mood lighting with you! Man can’t be expected to do his job when his face is in ribbons.”
“Very well. I’ll see you in the bathroom of the Minotaur, at precisely nine minutes past ten.”
“Yes, yes. Now get out of my hair...”
With a stately inclination of the head the infernal actually complied, vanishing with a typical show of daemonic stage craft back into the flickering shadows.
(Was there a school they attended to learn to do such things? he wondered.)
The bathroom light spasmed once and then returned to normal service. Seb stood for a second, razor in hand, just in case it was a ruse, but there was no further visitation. Shrugging, he went back to work, making it all the way to his neckline before nicking himself on the last few strokes. Cursing softly, he rinsed, patting the results down with a towel before going to see whether inspiration had paid a visit to the bedroom and mysteriously rearranged his clothes in his absence.
It had not. However, there was a simple method, tried and tested, in such circumstances that was called ‘stick with your gut’.
“Vermouth vest and grey trousers it is then.”
He fished out the offending piece of couture, hanging it on the door whilst he dealt with the rest of the night’s offerings. Then it was time for music and some Dutch courage whilst he waited for the iron to heat up. Varied winged things made a bid for his open doorway, but the screen kept the majority where they belonged out in the tepid night air, the remainder eventually succumbing to the table lamp’s siren song.
“Aperitifs for later,” he muttered as he passed the spider web that still dangled above the balcony door, pulling the portal shut on any further party crashers. Checking his pockets for the essentials he flicked off the stereo and lights, quitting the apartment with a confidence he really didn’t feel and making his way out into the city’s night.
He spent the short train journey in online, deflecting pings on a variety of social fronts. Someone wanted to know what he was up to, and she appeared to have rallied the troops to help her find out.
You’ll just have to wait until our cocktail date, he sent, appending a rather fetching gif of a bunch of guys in kilts flashing their arses, before swiping the various media platforms into the oblivion that existed beyond the edge of his screen. Time to give the extended presence a break, tonight was all about the here and now.
The Glades was the informal name for the loose group of streets and back alleys whose bars and clubs catered to those of a same sex persuasion, brushing up along its northern extremity against Maha Town and the Voodoo Quarter to the east. Both districts had originally had a stake in the area, which lent a distinct flavour to the place, both architecturally and culturally. There was a joke about the area having been handed from one group of queens to another that had been doing the rounds for as long as Seb could remember.
Festival Street station stood at the conjunction of the three, rising like a graffiti-clad insect from the urban jungle below.
Urban swamp, more like, Seb thought, fingering the lush vines making free with the railings up the stair well. Shensang sprawled across what used to be swampland at the mouth of the Taipuz. Why anybody had thought it might be a good idea to build a city in a place like this escaped him, though he had to admit it did make for a greener environment than most metropolis. Trouble was, the city council were forced to wage an almost constant war against the vegetation as it attempted to reclaim the land that was stolen. Hence creepers using the stairway up to the station as a trellis, or figs binding their way slowly about lampposts.
Tonight the air was its usual balmy self, Seb feeling more than comfortable in vest and slacks as he made his way across the street and in towards the lights and noise. Shensang’s weather was a constant variation on ‘warm and wet’. Sweat patches were unavoidable during the heat of the summer, with the occasional tourist dying of dehydration because they were a fucking idiot as Raina put it. Night times could get chilly art this time of year, but nothing to write home about.
His usual haunts stood down by the waterfront on the Glade’s southern side, including Soul Idols where he worked. But tonight his feet carried him down Travis to the corner of Mayuong where he turned left, following the little back street as it wound beneath wrought iron street lamps, the eaves of the surrounding buildings weeping wisteria into their soft light.
Mayuong was fetish territory and it showed in the clientèle, with leather and rubber in abundance. Seb brazened it out, nodding to one of the doormen who did occasional shifts on the doors of Feathers, where he and his mates typically went to dance. The hulk nodded back, the hint of a smile cracking bulldog lips while one hand rose to doff an imaginary cap. Seb swept a low bow, drawing titters from the crowd and a wink from the muscle before disappearing through Minotaur’s imposing entrance.
Like so many of the Glade’s bars Minotaur was built about a central courtyard, with a bar at the back set into the building itself. The place was deceptively large given it’s tiny entrance, a short passage letting out into the generous space where high and low tables stood crowded with Shensang’s S&M aristocracy. A balcony circled the space above, with a bar of its own set back into the first floor. It was here he was headed, making for the cordoned stairway that led up. Fresh muscle stood impassive before it, but his name did indeed prove to be on the list and he was waved up. Unable to resist glancing over his shoulder he ascended beneath a veritable deluge of veiled glances, doing his best to keep the smirk off his face. It wasn’t that he disliked the leather crowd per se, but he found the smug arrogance many of them adopted a bit much to swallow sometimes.
Approaching the top, he stopped to light up. Cigarettes were a crutch, and one he did his level best not to indulge too often, but some situations demanded it and this was most definitely one of them. He was about to walk in on the birthday celebrations for one of the Glade’s most celebrated figures, knowing full well that he intended to murder them.
The how, the why, were not important at the moment. What was, was making the correct first impression. It was imperative this next bit go just right, otherwise their plan would need to be radically re-thought.
Taking a deep breath, and stamping out the cigarette at the last minute, he mounted the last few steps into the gathering above.
On the face of it there was nothing to suggest anything special was going on up here. Not if you hadn’t crossed the sardine can of leather and rubber downstairs as he had. Up here all was civilised space, with individual groups occupying discreet groups of settees or standing at the balcony to speak in hushed tones beneath the music. It wasn’t a big gathering, though he supposed that was a relative assessment: there were easily thirty or forty people present, some of whom he recognised by reputation if not actual introduction. Lucrea the cam baron stood to one side, surrounded by her usual entourage of androgynous beauties, while across the room the elegant club organiser Swan chatted with a group of older men. He spotted one of the DJs from Feathers out on the balcony, talking to a couple of leather clad lads, and two more who’d escaped quarantine stood with masks pushed back at the bar.
“Oi, pretty boy!”
Seb turned, grinning himself as a familiar figure advanced on him. Devan gave him the once up and down before leaning in for a quick kiss, eyes taking in the jangle of necklaces and bracelets that were like armour to Seb. He offered the older man a lopsided smile, nodding to his grey trousers and black vest. “Couldn’t have done a better job if we’d tried.”
“Well I think it’s adorable.”
Devan rolled his eyes, turning to drape an arm over the approaching man’s shoulder as he accepted a drink. “Carlton this is Seb. Seb, Carlton.”
“Charmed I’m sure.” Carlton winked, turning to call over his shoulder. “Drew, grab us another? The talent’s arrived.” He turned back, grinning at Seb’s momentary discomfort. “Don’t worry love, you’ll get used to it. Here...” he handed over his own drink, insisting when Seb tried to demure “...seriously, he’s slow but he’ll be here before I miss having one. And you look like you could use it more than me.”
So he relented, taking the condensation beaded glass and downing a hefty swig.
“There, see? Better?”
Seb nodded, smiling as Carlton winked again.
“Carlton and Drew run the garden centre down on Quay Street,” Devon explained, accepting a handful of change from the later as he arrived.
Seb nodded, eyeing the two men who were busy exchanging a few quiet words as Drew gestured surreptitiously at the men by the bar.
“Time?” Devan enquired.
Carlton nodded. “Back in a minute.”
Seb watched him head for the gents, one of the leather clad queens peeling off to follow a few moments later.
“So.” Drew this time, offering a smile that transformed his well worn face into something altogether more attractive. “You’re the kid Devan’s been on about.”
Seb nodded. “He thought tonight would be the best time to meet you all.”
Drew nodded, glancing at Devan. “Sounds sensible to me. Get it all over in one go, so to speak.”
Seb grinned. “I’m sure it won’t be that bad.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that yet...” The grizzled gardener gestured past him. Seb turned to find a small bearded man in a dress had begun an impromptu floor show with a wine bottle in the open space before the balcony. Cat calls and wolf whistles were being flung up from below, not all of them derogatory.
“Yes, well...” Devan laughed. “That’s Kacee. I’ll introduce you to him later if you like...” Seb grinned at the tacit warning “...when it’ll cause less embarrassment. Here, shall we mingle?”
Seb nodded, glancing Drew.
“I’ll see you boys later,” the gardener offered. “Think we’re heading to the club at midnight.”
Devan placed a finger to his brow in salute before guiding Seb off through the crowd, away from the fornicating transvestite.
A sea of faces, few of which Sebastian would be able to attach a name to the next morning. As with any such introductions there was the initial sizing up. Is he better looking than me? Should we have sex? Do I want to? The answer to these and a deluge of other questions shaped each encounter in small ways that were difficult to catch if you weren’t quick, like butterflies on the wind.
Fortunately that was something of a speciality for him.
So he played the odds, judging when to flirt and when to act the dumb innocent. He wasn’t infallible of course, there were a couple of occasions he remembered tripping over a vodka soaked tongue, but then people expected such faux pas at a first engagement.
It would lend veracity to the whole thing.
Time crept on and he made his excuses, heading for the bathroom.
He stepped through the wood panel doors, nose wrinkling at the acrid scent of piss and testosterone as the room stuttered. The lights above the wash basins recovered from their fit, settling for the odd spasm every few seconds as a figure stepped from the far stall, knife slash of its smile curling slightly as it took in the environs. Its edges smoked softly, like ink spilt in water, staining the surrounding space with liquid darkness.
“This was your choice,” Sebastian reminded it, trying to ignore the sense of vertigo the daemon always brought with it, as though the room were spinning slowly beneath his feet.
“Rutting animals, revelling in your own filth.”
“Says the creature from the pit.”
“Ah, touché…!” A small smile was awarded, and the room’s spinning eased somewhat, allowing Seb to release his stranglehold on the edge of the nearest sink. For its part the daemon uncrossed it’s arms, twitching at its coat tails as the ink spill surrounding it ebbed away. “So, what do you have for me?”
“At this precise moment? Nothing! I haven’t been introduced...”
“Good grief man, what have you been doing?!”
“Not giving myself away.” Sebastian crossed arms corded with wiry muscle. Cocked a hip. “These things take time you know.”
“Yes, yes, social niceties must be observed I’m sure.” The daemon made a show of looking around, assessing the décor. “Though one does wonder how complex they can possibly be...” He stopped as Sebastian grabbed his throat, eyes snapping dangerously as he placed his body firmly in the daemon’s personal space. Felt the beast’s chest rise and fall against his in that simulacrum of life they were forced to adopt here.
“Let us not pretend,” he offered quietly, “that I am any less invested in this than you. Let us in fact imagine that we hold a similar stake in affairs. Yes…?”
His fingers had begun to smoke where they touched the infernal’s pale flesh. Deep in his chest, restless wings stirred.
“I meant no disrespect,” the daemon croaked stiffly.
Sebastian released him, eyes narrowing at the dirty look the beast shot his way. But it required effort to quiet the storm in his belly, making any sort of retaliation impractical. He settled for a scowl as he stepped back, flicking ash from his vest. There was no point calling it out here, that sort of a fuss would undo all their hard work.
“Well then...” The daemon was busy rearranging its lace cuffs.
The door opened, causing them both to start as figures spilled in. With a nod, the beast departed, slipping through the portal before it had closed fully. Seb didn’t doubt it’d have vanished were he to poke his head out into the corridor beyond.
“Sorry, did we interrupt?”
He glanced up from where he’d been checking himself in the mirror, shaking his head at the man with the startling blue eyes, who stood waiting for his friend to line up on the back of a phone. “No.” He shook his head. “I’ll leave you guys to it.”
Blue eyes smiled. “You want some?” Gesturing to the phone. “You’re with Dev aren’t you?”
Sebastian nodded. “You must be his housemate.”
“Guilty as charged.” Blue eyes leant over the phone, making one of the lines disappear. Shivered appreciatively.
“Dev’s new kid?” the other guy asked. “Nice to see I’m not the only one whose boyfriend has ridiculous hair.”
Sebastian grinned shyly, fending off an unexpected stab of hurt. Superficial queen... But his heart just wasn’t in it, all his rancour spent on the daemon.
“Ignore him.” Blue eyes smiling disarmingly. “He’s just bitter about being the wrong side of thirty.”
Seb nodded, expression warming as their eyes met. An ally here. “I’ll see you back out there.” Turning, he headed for the door.
“We finishing this or what?” Mr Superficial demanded as Seb stepped out into the corridor beyond.
“There you are.” Devan draped an arm round his shoulders as he sidled up to the group with a fresh drink in hand. “Time to meet the birthday girl.”
Sebastian nodded, smiling to Drew and Carlton as he was drawn away towards the back of the bar. On this level the Minotaur spilled back over the sandwich shop that looked out onto the street behind. As well as allowing the main bar up here to be set further back, it also left space for a well appointed function room along one side of the floor, separated from the rest of the bar by folding screens.
It was towards the entrance of this he was led, people nodding and smiling as they passed. Many followed their progress with a look that said they knew what was coming and would love to be a fly on the wall. Sebastian let it all wash over him, time’s tide sweeping him inexorably towards where he wished to be.
They paused at the entrance, taking in the elegantly appointed space beyond before Dev received some signal from one of the gathered retinue and gestured them forwards.
The insistent beat of the music was somewhat muted here, but still penetrated through the Mahaian screens, sweeping across the assembled without prohibiting conversation. There were a dozen or so here in the inner sanctum, though Seb had seen people coming and going all night. A scattering of drag artists mingled with a handful of people he recognised as club promoters and one or two others he thought might be door and bar staff from Hierophant, the Feathers’ main competition.
But it was the obvious belle of the ball that grabbed your attention as soon as you walked in the room. She was tall, but then a glance at her feet confirmed heels that stood to at least six inches, suggesting his true height out of costume would be average. The gown was a sheer fall of white sequins, with a feather head dress and jewelled cane to match. The other gloved hand held a cigarette lighter with elegant poise, its end placed delicately to full lips. The resultant smoke was blown artfully to one side. A Pharaohs eyes widened appreciatively at some witticism even as those vampiric lips pursed in mute censure.
This, he immediately realised, is going to be trickier than I thought.
Devan ushered them forwards as the current anecdote came to a close, drawing polite laughter from the small immediate crowd. Then those eyes were upon him and Sebastian was suddenly very glad of the years of practice sharing his head with an abomination had given him in keeping people out.
“Ah, Devan. And this, I presume, is Sebastian?” His name pronounced like a benediction. An irony that almost had him giggling manically. He stamped on the urge with cast iron boots, grinning as he bent low over the proffered hand to bestow a gentleman’s kiss.
“Oh! What manners. This one can stay.”
Devan smirked. “Not quite my initial assessment.”
“Yes, well...” the vision before them turned her gaze on the older man “...the less said about that the better perhaps?”
They laughed, Seb finding his smile was in fact genuine. It was hard to hold onto memories of the atrocity to come when confronted with such conviviality.
...I am the harbinger of doom. I am the harbinger of doom…
“So, will you be joining us for the club?”
“We’re going clubbing?!”
“Why yes.” The Queen turned to regard Devan, her look one of mock remonstration. “Seriously Devan, have you told the boy nothing of our plans for tonight?”
“Um… not had the chance?”
Head shaking (with a rustle of feathers) the Queen turned back to him. “We’re on the guest list, of course...”
“Of course.” They shared a grin.
“...for tonight’s Shake up revival. You will join us?”
“I’d be delighted.”
“Excellent. That’s settled then... Oh dear.” The Queen’s expression suddenly shifted to a thin veneer of pleasant enquiry, poorly masking her resignation. “I do apologise for what’s about to follow.”
“Darling! So good to see you!”
Sebastian found himself pulled back abruptly, as the space he’d been occupying was suddenly occupied by more sass than he’d have previously thought possible.
“Merran, you made it.” Air kisses were exchanged before the young man before them took a step back to take in the Queen’s outfit. “Incredible, just… perfection...”
“You’re too kind.” Their host glanced pointedly Seb’s way. To deflect, Seb couldn’t help feeling, unwanted attention onto a fresh subject. “But I’m being rude. Merran, may I introduce Sebastian? The young man Devan’s been telling us so much about...”
“Ooh, hello!” A haze of air kisses engulfed him, Seb returning them with a fluency born from years behind the bar. “So nice to finally meet you. You must let me buy you a drink later, so we can swap stories. I gather you work at Idol?”
“I do indeed.”
“I’ll have to pop in sometime, prop up the bar so to speak.”
Sebastian cast a pleading look Devan’s way (he couldn’t help it), but there was nothing but suppressed mirth to be had there.
“Here, you’re dry, let me buy you one now. Come on. Dev, my Lady...” more air kisses “...we will return shortly.
Sebastian cast one last pleading look over his shoulder but Devan simply waved, before placing an arm on the Queen’s shoulder as they both turned away.
It turned out Merran was not as bad as his bluster implied. Quite the opposite in fact, if you looked past some of his more risqué observations.
“I mean, seriously, what was she thinking when she left this evening? That arse does not belong in that dress...”
Seb stifled laughter despite himself, turning quickly from the look fenced his way by one of the women who’d just passed their table. The girl (a proper one this time, far as he could tell…) tossed her weave, turning back to whatever her friends had been saying, her elegant lips pursed in mild amusement. Sebastian breathed a quiet sigh of relief. He made it a policy never to upset the fairer sex unless he absolutely had to. Call it Mummy issues if you will, but he’d always suffered an innate need to please women, particular strong women. Hell, look at his relationship with Murder! It certainly wasn’t an instinct born of chivalry: he had no qualms about letting Raina carry her bags after one of their runs through the VQ’s thrift stores. You brought it, you port it.
“So… is it true what they say about Dev…?”
Seb looked up, realising he may have let the conversational thread slip through his fingers. “Um, what?”
Merran laughed at him. “You’re so cute when you’re confused. Like a lost kitten.”
The blush was pure nature, the fact it was exactly what was required a happy coincidence. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine. All a bit much to take in I imagine.” Merran gestured about, as though the bar, the gathered people, were something he’d arranged off hand.
“A little.” Sebastian made a show of looking around, nodding to Carlton as he raised a hand from the far end of the balcony.
“You’ll get used to us.” Merran grinned, swigging from his bottle. “Anyway, no sidestepping the question…”
Seb raised a polite eyebrow at the lechery in Merran’s tone. “Oh?”
“Well, we all know where you and Devan met...” Seb looked down, drawing more laughter from the man opposite “...I was just wondering whether the rumours were true.”
“You mean you’ve never?” But the look in the other guys eyes was answer enough. Sexual frustration was written plane as day in the winning smile he offered up as mask to his vexation. “Sorry...” Seb floundered for the right response. He would need this man to remain an ally, he sensed. Merran’s alienation would stand against him in the coming struggle. “I...” go for light hearted “...I’d just heard so many stories about your chill outs...”
It was the right response. The smile amped back up, confidence flowing into those big brown eyes. “Well...” Merran lent forwards slightly, as if conferring a confidence. Sebastian followed suit, playing along. “To be honest we don’t tend to stick around for that sort of thing.”
“Of course! I’d forgotten you’re a kept man.” They both grinned, Merran glancing across to where the hulking figure of his other half stood conversing with one of the bouncers and a couple of twinks. A hand like a dinner plate was raised. Merran blew a kiss. “No need to play around when you’ve got someone like that to take you home.” Certainly not if those hands are anything to go by.
“Oh I wouldn’t say that...”
Oh oh…? But Seb was careful to keep his expression schooled. Save that one for later. Aloud, he prompted: “So you’ve never participated?”
Merran shook his head. “But I’ve heard the rumours of course. Is it as big as they say…?”
I’ve seen riot police with smaller truncheons.
“Let’s just say...” Seb paused, grinning at the squirm of anticipation this prompted “...well, I can swallow bananas whole...”
Merran burst out laughing, drawing looks from his other half and the nearby tables. Sebastian grinned along, weathering the attention with the ease of a barman used to playing to the crowd.
“I’ll show you if you want…?” he offered, making to stand. The other man waved him back in his seat.
“I’d love to know how he hides it in those jeans,” Merran quipped. They both took a moment to appreciate pert buttocks wrapped in tight denim before the man in question turned to cast a questioning glance their way. Seb stuck his tongue out, shaking his head. Carlton leant across to whisper something to Devan. From the look he now cast Sebastian’s way it was clear Carlton had heard most of it. Seb shrugged, why deny the truth? Devan pointed a finger in mock reprisal, before turning back to the two gardeners.
“There’s certainly something dodgy going on with space/time down there,” Seb agreed, grinning as he emptied his glass. “Fancy another?”
“Why not. And then a fag I think. Come on.”
They were still outside when the first of the party tumbled into the street, heading for the club.
“God, is it that time already?” Merran checked a watch that was probably worth more than Seb’s kitchen fixtures (including the blender Murder had brought him.)
“I honestly didn’t know what the plan was until I arrived.”
Merran looked askance. “You’ve seriously never been to Phant…?!”
“Guilty as charged.”
“Well you’re in for a treat then.” Merran shook his head, crushing a half smoked cigarette beneath the ball of his foot. “Gotta go check on my man. See you in there?”
Seb nodded, taking the time to finish his own cigarette before following the younger queen inside to find his own chaperone for the evening. Devan was still upstairs, chatting to an older guy in a blingy tee shirt.
“Ah, here he is.” Devan slipped an arm round Seb’s waist, leaning in to give him a peck on the cheek. “Mason, this is Seb. Seb, Mason.”
“Nice to meet you.” Seb exchanged the obligatory kiss. Mason smelt of wood with a hint of warm spice. Somebody who actually knows how to wear their aftershave. He added some warmth to his smile, saw an answering twinkle in Mason’s eyes.
“So, you’re joining us at the club?”
Seb nodded, glancing at Devan. “Apparently…?”
“Be wanting one of these then.” And Mason dug in his pocket, handing across a tiny white pill with a rabbit embossed on one side.
Shit. But there was nothing for it. So he slipped it onto his tongue, taking a swig from the proffered bottle to wash it down. “Thanks.”
“You ok…?” Devan asked cautiously.
“Yeah, just...” Seb twirled his finger to indicate the people, the occasion, let a hint of his very real nerves bleed through. “Come on, been looking forward to this all week.”
Devan grinned, mollified at what he saw as the expected social jitters. “See you there?”
Mason nodded, glancing back to a group of twinks loitering by the bar. “Be there shortly.”
They departed, wading through the tide of leather to escape out into night air that was cool without being unpleasant.
“So, you survived your first encounter.”
Barely. But he grinned beneath the neon lights, because it was what was expected. “She was more approachable than I expected.”
Devan laughed. Shook his head as he pulled the younger man close, leaving one arm hook casually about his hips as they carried on through the night time crowd.
Sebastian Laikee was no stranger for narcotics. Indeed, he and Murder had a long standing tradition of doing fungal psychotropics on the various solstice and equinox. And he’d tried a variety of other substances during his misspent youth, from halo to judder. Hell, he’d even succumbed (against better judgement) to peer pressure and tried engorge at college (the pure stuff from orbit was spectacular, but once they started cutting it with the reverse engineered shit it simply didn’t deliver on the desired effects...).
“I feel like a world class heavy weight, but ain’t no longer packing the goods,” one of his fuck buddies had quipped, teeth chattering on the endorphin high.
The issue here was context. That and the fact he hadn’t really done anything since he’d started practising. Not aside from the aforementioned sessions with the good Lady, those conducted in a safe environment.
Magic and drugs did not mix, except during very specific rituals. It’d be like popping a tab before operating heavy machinery.
He wasn’t expecting to use tonight, but…
Now he’d just have to hope he didn’t need to.
They arrived at the back of the queue in time to see the Queen make her entrance. In her absence this evening they’d dragged the dancers out of their cages, dressing the door in muscle. A contingency she seemed to be enjoying enormously. Seb shook his head, grinning at Devan as they watched her cupping buttocks and dragging one gloved hand languidly down the curve of a chest, fingering abs like an egg carton.
“Well...” she caught sight of Devan and Sebastian, raising a hand. “See you in there darlings!”
Eyes turned their way. Seb bobbed, Devan lofting a hand of his own as she allowed herself to be ushered through the Phant’s tall, narrow portal. Those doors always reminded Seb of the entrance to a temple, which he supposed was the point.
Up close the door dolls were indeed spectacular. Seb caught one of them starring and blushed despite himself, glancing round. But Dev was busy chatting to the other and then they were being ushered through into the narrow corridor beyond, the guy behind the counter waving them past. They put their money away, holding out wrists to accept the night’s stamp from one of the bouncers before stepping through another set of double doors into strobe lights and noise.
“This is the point where you double dropped, right?”
“Stop sniggering!” Seb pushed back from the bar, scowling. But there was laughter in his eyes as he went about mixing her another drink. “Besides, I didn’t double drop, that conniving little witch Merran kissed me. It was only at the last minute I realised what he had on his tongue.”
Murder laughed. “Oh sweetie, that’s one of the oldest ones in the book. Are you sure he knows you’re taken?”
“Oh I don’t think that’s in any doubt.” He paused with knife in hand, lime poised on the chopping board. “Maybe that’s his angle. He does seem awfully interested in Devan.”
“But I thought he was already part of the coven?”
“Oh he is. But he’s new. Drew knew his better half via their mutual dealer… it all gets terribly complicated.”
Murder nodded. “Not been there long enough to have history with the rest of them then.”
Seb shook his head. “Certainly not the kind that includes any sort of significant intimacy.”
She fingered her phone thoughtfully where it sat between them on the counter. “So he double dosed you and then left you to it.”
“Well not quite. I think it was more likely he was trying to make an impression. Probably didn’t realise I’d already been chemically enhanced at the Minotaur.”
“And the Queen?”
Seb shook his head, popping ingredients into a cocktail shaker. “We met her on the dance floor first thing. It was all terribly new age...” he wove his hands suggestively about him to imagined music “…‘everyone’s free to express themselves here’, that kind of crap.”
The woman opposite rolled her eyes.
“Exactly. Anyway, that’s when I started coming up. And we’re talking old fashioned fusion rockets here, none of this modern field effect stuff.”
He offered her a tight smile as he shredded a passion fruit. “I may have said something similar. Devan had to take me up to the chill out to calm down. For two hours.”
“Yes.” He shook his head rueful. “It was some good shit.” Offered her a quick smile. “Don’t worry, I’m going to see if I can get hold of some for our next session.”
Bobbing his head, he turned to wash his hands. “So the rest of the night was a bit of a blur. I remember Drew and Carlton coming to check on us, and the taxi ride back to the Queen’s pad, which is epic by the way.”
“As you’d expect.”
“Quite so. There were a lot of people there, though that might just have been me. Entire cast of a spank film on the couch... I just sort of sat and took in the atmosphere, wasn’t really capable of much else by that point.”
“Yeah, well.” He dried his hands on a bar rag. “It seems to have done the trick anyway. Got the royal good bye and everything. Even an introduction to the partner.”
Sebastian shook his head, shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s an odd one, couldn’t really read him. Though there’s definitely something between him and Devan.”
“Well, you did say their chill outs tend to descend into debauchery.”
“Hmm, all that nubile young flesh.”
They were silent for a moment.
“Anyway. The deed is done, we’re all set for stage two. And I’ve spoken to himself.”
“Oh?” She raised an eyebrow, head cocked.
“Manifested the following evening directly after sundown. Daemonic visitations and hangovers do not mix, I can tell you now.”
They paused as he lofted the shaker, alternating short practised strokes to either side of his head. Setting it down next to the glass he’d prepared earlier he popped top, slotting a strainer in place as he lifted the shaker again to pour, finishing with a deft twist. A single strawberry joined the sugar encrusting the glass’s rim, a short straw and an umbrella (because it was Murder) adding the final flourish.
“Magnifique!” She leant forwards for a sip, lips puckered. “Mmm! What do you call it?”
He smiled. “Killer in red.”
She grinned. “Well, that’s your dress code sorted for tomorrow night then.”
Copyright Paul Smith 2017.