“Are you sure he will go through with this?”
The two people were still at the bar. The short one was drinking something purple straight from the bottle. The other, his hat on the bar, was eyeing the still sleeping bartender, now on a small pile of rags near the back door. The guard that was there earlier was absent.
“I think I applied too high a voltage on our bartender.”
“I think it is the fact he is turning slightly blue is a hint.”
The other turned to find that was true. “Hm. You are right.” He placed his hat back on his head and walked towards the barman, the masked one following.
A gloved hand reached down and touched a wrist. “Ah, good. He is still alive.” The bottle was gently waved across the bartender’s nose, much like the smelling salts of old. The man snorted awake, and the bottle was removed.
“Now, I have to ask you,” said the tall one said quietly as the man revived, “not to make a fuss. We do not want to harm you, but if you wish to, we will. Understand?”
The bartender nodded slightly, turned over, and groaned softly. “The hell happened? All I remember was that that face…”
“If you keep remembering that face,” the masked one said, “then we will have to make you forget.”
“Indeed,” the other said.
“Okay, okay,” the barkeep said, slowly sitting up and taking pains not to look at the figures. His eyes glanced at his watch. “You do know that we are closed, right?” Then he pressed his fingers at his temples. “Oh hell, my head.”
“At this time, I think it no one will mind.”
“Yeah, yeah.” The bartender tried standing up, but failed, falling to his knees “So, what is this all about? Why can’t I see you?”
“If you keep asking, then we will have to make you stop.”
“And it will not be a temporary condition, like the last was.”
The barkeep sighed at the runaround. “Can I at least ask where Murphy is?”
The two exchanged a look. “Murphy being?”
“The guy who was with you,” the bartender said, bracing himself and slowly getting up. “Christ, my head.”
“Oh him,” the tall one said, taking a glug from the bottle. “He is in the back room, if you wish to talk to him.”
“Fine, fine. I’ll do just that.” He staggered to the door, trying hard not to fall over, and opened it.
“What. The. Hell,” he said, looking around into the gloom, bracing himself against the brick wall, half walking/half stumbling into the hallway and staring into the first doorway. He turned to find the tall person standing over him, the shadows gone from the hat. “Christ off the cross,” he swore. “The hell are you?”
“I told you not to look at us,” the person said mildly. “I think we need to cement that lesson into your head.” With that, he placed a heavy hand on the bartender’s chest and pushed him inside the room.
He stumbled back and fell, but before he could get his bearings back, a black panel silently slid across the doorway.
A faint giggling was heard from the inside, and the bartender started to scream.
“Can he be one of us, I wonder,” the tall one said, drinking from the bottle and handing it to the other.
“If he is,” the masked one said, taking it and drinking a healthy swig, “then none of the rules are broken, and we don’t need to be punished.”
“Are you sure about that. We are not killing him really.”
“Might be. Might not.” Another swig was taken.
The screaming intensified.
The two exchanged a worried smile. “I do not think the founder would allow this.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the outcome.”
The screaming turned into muffled cries. A quiet scuffle was heard, then more giggling.
“Ah, I think he is done.” The masked one knocked on the panel, which slid back to show the bartender lying in a puddle of blood, the head somehow wrenched from the body.
“Ah,” one said, eyeing the figure. “It looks like only part of him was able to be one with us. Terrible.”
“You are done, then?” the other said to a figure in the shadows. “Excellent.” The person stepped into the room and carried the corpse out.
“Do not worry,” the masked one said. “The founder will not punish you for this.” And with that, followed the other one back to the bar. “Do your directives, and soon, we will have a new template to have.”
The band was in full swing.
Frederick led Reglatta through the movements, letting her leap and jump to their hearts’ content. The horns and the eclectic beats got them sliding and swinging in every direction possible. He noticed that Clarissa partnered with someone, her figure impossibly tempting and causing people, once again, to stare and gawk at her movements. He sighed and focused at the fun task of the dance.
That was then he noticed Con and Billy swinging a few yards away. Con, he noticed, was wearing something horrifically neon. He must have had come in costume, he thought. Billy, on the other hand, was trying valiantly to keep up with his husband, but with little success. He assumed that Duchess must have summoned them over. And speaking of which, he spied the lady in question with a tall, unkempt guy in a rumpled rain coat sedately dancing, but yet somehow keeping up with the tempo.
Horns did colorful riffs; the DJ accompanied them with piano. A triple helping of drums did complex rhythms. The lights shone around every one while the smoke-filled bubbles meandered around them. When popped, the currents writhed around the company.
Reglatta gave Frederick a quick embrace, stopping their dancing. “Darling, I am terribly parched. Can we head on over to get something to drink?”
They moved through the crowds and went on over the main bar, sitting themselves down upon the leather stools.
“Two stingers, please,” she said to the servitor. The robot poured brandy and crème de menthe over the cracked ice, shook the mix hard, then divided it in two cocktail glasses.
“I didn’t know you liked these,” Frederick said, taking a sip. “Mmm, delicious.”
“They are a weakness of mine,” she said smiling. “They remind me of the first party I went to. Mama was so pleased to have me there. What was your party?”
“Well . . .” He took another sip. “There’s nothing to talk about with that time. I was gangly, pimply, and not worth looking at.” He took another sip, deep in reminiscing. “The beauty at the time, a Miss Irene, I think her name was, did a dance with me, as was the custom, and I tried to steal a kiss. Didn’t work, though.”
Reglatta laughed in soft crystal chimes. “Another lady for me to be jealous over. I really should get on that flight next time.”
He placed a hand on her slim knee. “Are you running just for me to chase after you? Be honest.”
She shrugged in confession. “Duchess did say that the best way to keep a man at your side would be to run away from him.” She took a sip of the drink. “I think that it worked, yes?”
That woman, he thought as he facepalmed in stupefied amazement. “That lady will be the death of me.”
“Only if you die first, Alfie.”
The two turned to see Duchess and her guest coming up to them along with her crew. “Oh hello, there.”
“Hello there, yourself, Alfie.” She waggled a finger in mock anger. “You owe me a dance.”
“Do I?” Frederick exchanged glances with Reglatta, who frowned slightly before turning back to the bar, drinking.
“She is somewhat of a cold fish, I seem to notice,” Duchess said as she led Frederick back to the dance floor. “I hope she will not run away again.”
“That habit is your fault, you know,” Frederick said. “It has become tedious of her to walk out every time I look at another girl.”
“I guess that is so,” she said, shrugging. “I did not know she would take it this far.” She shook her head. “I hope she will snap out of it later on. Maybe a few months of marriage will soothe her down.”
The music changed to an early 90’s hip-hop song mixed with Hancock clarinets and piano. Not many people were dancing to it, but that did not stop Duchess. She led Frederick around the dance floor for a few turns.
“This reminds me of my youth,” she said as they danced, smiling faintly. “I never realized just how much fun these parties would be until I was invited to my first. What a joy that was. Arthur Y’vone was hosting, and it was all gay and fantastic with the music and the lights.” She sighed reminiscently. “Of course, those times moved over to these times.”
“The more these times change, the more they stay the same,” Frederick said glibly.
“O tempora, o mores,” Duchess said, not to be outdone.
They stopped in front of the bar again, where they found Reglatta deep in conversation with Guilotti.
“Maybe I should leave to see if she would chase me,” Frederick said, his eyebrows quirking upward.
“Nonsense,” Duchess snapped. “Women would not give you the time of day for such silliness. They rather cry on pillows and wait for you to forgive them.” She nudged him playfully. “I speak from experience, of course.”
Frederick shook his head in bemusement as he went up to the two.
“…and so,” Guilotti was saying, drinking from a long glass of something clear and minty, “if you combine the two genomes, Gahail’s law comes into play, thus causing them to shift information with each other. The end result is a rather chaotic growth of flowers that we see with Florida rooms.”
Reglatta’s eyes were somewhat glazed over from the talk. “If I remember my education, Gahail’s law deals strictly with mathematics…?”
“In some ways yes,” the scientist said, not noticing the glaze, “but geneticists found that it works in some cases of bespoke gardening. Oddly enough, the way that the genes hybrid themselves follow the same rules.” He took a gulp of the glass of water. “That explains why we sometimes find ourselves with green roses instead of blue, or a fast growing oak tree giving out maple leaves.”
“Fascinating stuff,” Frederick said, interrupting the conversation, “although, I did not understand a word of it.” Reglatta nodded in agreement for a moment before checking herself.
Guilotti looked at Frederick, eying the whisky and soda that he grabbed from the bar. “I would say your field of interest was mixology, then?”
“Nah,” he said, taking a sip. “Accounting, to be honest.”
“He took a month or two off his education, though,” Con said, joining them, putting his arm around Frederick’s shoulders and smiling toothily. “Claimed the numbers were giving him nightmares.
“A paperweight of a gargoyle holding a cup of tea is not a nightmare,” Frederick said stiffly. “Having it come to life and attacking you with ledgers is,”
“I still think you were still suffering from the LSD when you had that,” Billy said, earning him a punch to the shoulders.
A chiming of bells played, gentle at first, but it gained in volume as the hour was struck. “Oh, is it that time, already?” Guilotti said, looking at every one, nodding to the concert hall.
Duchess was there, dressed down to a simple white gown, her hair removed from its accouterments and unfurled down to her waist. She tapped the microphone, the feedback causing everyone to look up.
“Thank you all,” she said, the voice amplified by the speakers, “for coming to my party. I am very glad all of you are here.” A slow applause started. “I would like to also thank my bankers for making this possible by underlining this endeavor.” Laughter rippled through the crowds. “And now, because I am not a long-winded woman, the cakes!” She motioned to the cake assortment, where various servitors were already slicing and putting them on plates. Others took them to the guests.
Frederick got his plate. The cake was striped with cake and ice cream; the frosting was whipped cream. He took the fork that was next to the cake and took a bite. “Mmmph,” he said. “Rocky road and white cake. Not bad.”
“Mine is cookies and cream with German chocolate!” Reglatta squealed in delight as she got her plate, helping herself in unladylike behavior.
“It looks like mine is apple cake with cinnamon,” Billy said, looking at Con’s chocolate on chocolate slice. “Trade you?”
“Sure,” Con said, switching plates.
“Hm,” Guilotti said, prodding his. “Shame I am allergic to almonds.”
“Trade you?” Clarissa said, popping out of the crowds and making Con choke on his forkful.
“You should watch how you appear,” Frederick said, passing a glass of water to Con, who took it and drank it in small gulps.
“With that figure, people will indeed watch you,” Guilotti said, eyeing the glistening fabric. “My goodness, they might even pay you to, if I may be excused to conjure the notion.”
Clarissa laughed, causing her accouterments to jiggle slightly in their halter. “Indeed?”
Frederick peered closely at that clothing. “Uhm…is it just me or is that getting thinner?”
“Frederick!” Reglatta said, slightly outraged.
“Nothing to be shy about,” Clarissa said, smirking and twisting slightly to enhance the figure. “As a matter of fact, it is not getting thinner. It is disappearing.”
“I should have guessed,” Guilotti said, adjusting his glasses to get a better look of the flexing fabric. “A single vapor layer enmeshed in a biometric lipid network! Give it another half-hour or so, and it will be completely transparent.”
A shocked silence placed itself in the group as Clarissa shrugged. “Seems I have been discovered.” She turned to Guilotti. “You seem to be quite a brain. Who are you, anyhow?”
“No one to notice, miss,” he said, taking out a small flashing and beeping card. “It seems I am being paged,” he continued. “I need to find a view-room.” He hopped off the stool then turned around to salute to everyone. “I’ll see you all later.” He started to walk off in the direction of the stage, where Duchess was talking to some of the orchestra players and the DJ.
“I take it the party is over, then?” Frederick said between forkfuls of cake.
“I think so, Freddie,” Con said, looking at his watch. “I think we should head on home.”
“Well, I am not,” Clarissa said. “I still need another dose of fun.” She focused on Con. “Is there any place we can go?”
“Well,” Billy said, thoughtfully. “We can go to The Caterpillar’s Question.”
“Oh no. Not one of those places,” Reglatta said.
“What kind of places?” Fredrick said, intrigued.
“’Smoke and fog,’ so Papa tells me,” she said, drinking the last of her Stinger. “Because that is all they produce.” She shrugged. “Apparently, it is one of those low-circle places where you can get punch drunk with a handful of credits.”
“Hm,” Clarissa said. “I am kind of interested, but right now, I see someone who wants me to dance with him.” She waved to a man in a white tux, who waved back. “I will see you all in the morning.”
“Wait a moment,” Con said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “What exactly are you two going to do?”
She smiled. “Maybe some more dancing, maybe a bit of drinking, even maybe some bedroom acrobatics. And do not worry, Conrad,” she said as he opened his mouth. “I am perfectly safe right now. All of my protection is on.” She leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek. “I’ll let you know if anything happens.” With that line, she was gone.
“She’ll be the death of me one day,” Con said, eyeing her retreating figure.
“I think we all have someone who will be the death of each one of us,” said Frederick. He picked at the last of his cake. “Still, I would not mind seeing about this place.”
“If you go,” Reglatta said, standing up and ready to walk out, “I will never forgive you. I will lea–”
“That does it,” he snarled, flinging down his plate and whirling around to face her. He wrapped an arm around her slim waist and kissed her passionately. Reglatta struggled for a moment before returning it, her arms encircling his shoulders.
“Ah, that’s the spirit,” Duchess said, coming up to the four. “I was wondering when that was going to happen.”
“You owe me a dollar,” Billy said to Con, who rolled his eyes.
The two separated. Reglatta sighed. “Alright,” she murmured, looking down and smoothing his suit lapels. “I will forgive you.” She looked up and smiled slightly. “This once.” He smiled and kissed her again.