“Fair,” the Jack said. “And commendable. I mean, you’re still an idiot, but if you’re going to be an idiot, go all the way, I say. Enjoy your idiocy! God knows most people do.”
The (week before the) Month of May continues, with Interviewing Trey #22! Amazingly enough? Trey’s actually in this one! Maybe… she’ll be interviewed!
Or maybe not.
The first villain I ever interviewed was named Leather.
Not called Leather. That’s what we usually say, right? “He’s called Paragon. She’s called the Beacon. They’re called Crosspointe.” But not her. That’s something most people forget. She is Leather. That’s her name. That’s the only name she wants. And I know just as well as you do just how stupid it is. She named herself after ‘a durable and flexible material created by tanning animal rawhide and skins’ according to Omnipedia. Not a weapon, like Broadhead. Not a class of animals, like Rodent. Not a legend, like the Ancient Mariner. She named herself after the same material we use for briefcases, belts, shoes, sheaths, whips, saddles, fetishwear, armor, jackets, straps, camera cases, upholstery, and who knows what else. It’s a stupid, ridiculous name, and the only time I ever heard it used as a name before her was literally Pinky Tuscadero’s little sister on Happy Days.
And as stupid as the name is, she loves it. She’s happy with it. And she made it hers. That’s not true of most heroes or villains. It’s certainly not true of most Henches.
But lying in a hospital bed in a repurposed lounge turned infirmary in Dispater’s Pit, staring at the ceiling, I realized it was true of the Jack O’Knaves’s Hearts. Not the other Henches — not Clubs, Spades, Diamonds, or the non-suited ones. But the Hearts? Sharp Top was Sharp Top. Kick and Stick were Kick and Stick.
And Trey was Trey. I’d been talking around it. Playing mental games with it. But I could see it so clearly now. Trey wasn’t called Trey. She was Trey. And it wasn’t as stupid a name as ‘Leather.’
But Leather gave herself that name. Trey was given her name by the Jack. And the Jack O’Knaves?
I don’t think that was his name. Not that, not Mister Oaknavés, not Jack Cave, not any of those things. But no one said he was called the Jack O’Knaves, any more than we say that about Leather. He just was the Jack O’Knaves.
How was that possible? How could he be the Jack but not be named ‘Jack O’Knaves?’
I had no idea.
“Mister Chapmen. I’m glad to see you’ve decided to rejoin us.”
I looked over at the door. Mister River. That’s what he was called. What was his name? I assumed I’d never know.
“You had us a bit worried for a while,” the butler said, stepping up to the bed. “You’ve been down for over a week.”
“I thought you weren’t supposed to tell me how long I’ve been here,” I said, my voice a bit ragged.
“I haven’t told you that. That’s Mister Oaknavés’s business. Your altered and comatose state? That was Lady Violet’s business, and no one here is interested in that.”
“I am,” I said. I looked off to the side. “What did the Jack do to her?”
“Do? I’m not certain I understand the question.”
“I don’t pretend the Jack cares about me,” I said. “But I’m part of his plan and she messed with that. What did he do to her in response?”
Mister River looked at me. Which… honestly? I’m not sure how I know. Remember, I was looking to the side. But thinking back, I remember his eyes. They were… concerned. Sad. A bit annoyed. “That is Mister Oaknavés’s business, Mister Chapman, and I have no intention of disrupting or interfering with that.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know. Because of Rachel.”
There was a long pause.
“My daughter is called Nickel,” he said.
“I know,” I replied. “But her name’s Rachel. I don’t know her last name, or your name, or your wife’s name, but I know her name.”
“May I ask how?” His voice was tight.
“You can ask anything you like, but I have no idea what the answer is. But then… after what I just went through…” I shook my head. “Worlds inside of worlds.”
“Indeed. Alchemical ketamine seems to do essentially the same job as regular ketamine.”
“That wasn’t ketamine. Ketamine’s a dissociative. Even if you go down the K-Hole, it’s still a distancing from yourself, from who you are. Whatever else my little jaunt was? It wasn’t dissociative. Even when I was someone else, I was still me.” Honestly, it almost felt like I was more me.” I paused, and stretched my back and shoulders. “…okay, I’ve been in a coma for a week. Why do I hurt less than I did before?” Honestly, I didn’t hurt much at all — what pains I did have came from lying in a bed. I felt… washed out. Dulled. Blunted. But not in significant pain.
“I was unaware you had any experience or understanding of ketamine’s effects,” Mister River said.
“Yeah,” I answered, my voice sounding a bit distant even to myself. “Me too.” I turned back to look at him. “So. Did I just… finally recuperate while I was in the cavern following the yellow brick road?”
Mister River arched his eyebrow, but didn’t ask about my little polychromatic trip through Oz. “In order to make certain you were going to recover without too much difficulty — and it is worth noting Lady Violet intended for you to recover — Mister Oaknavés asked an old friend and former associate to assist.”
I felt warm in the face, like I was suddenly flushed, and my eyes hurt a bit, so I closed them. “Lady Velvet,” I said. “The Jack asked Lady Velvet to treat me, but she wouldn’t do that unless she could use broader spectrum healing potions and stuff like that, and the Jack agreed since he couldn’t be sure Lady Violet wouldn’t slip something weird into the mix. She really does hate me.”
Mister River arched both eyebrows now. And yes indeed, my eyes were closed, but I still knew he’d raised his eyebrows. “Very astute.”
“Thanks.” I opened my eyes. “What now?”
“Now? I’m going to let the appropriate people know you’re both alive and awake. I expect they’ll want to collect you soon enough.” Mister River paused again. “Mister Chapman… you’ve been… oddly… hm. I’m not certain what word to use.”
“Perceptive?” I asked.
“Mm. Yes. Did… you undergo secondary parahuman expression while you were insensate?” Secondary parahuman expression, meaning an unexpected and unreproducible parahuman expression in the response to ’external stimuli,’ as opposed to ‘primary’ expression, which didn’t need any kind of trigger, or induced parahuman expression, which was reproducible.
“How would I even know?” I asked, then paused, putting my hand over my eyes — they were stinging again. “…but no. I’m still prosahuman.”
“That sounds quite certain.”
“I know.” I took a deep breath. “Could I get something to drink?”
“I’ll go let them know you’re awake, and see to some diet ginger ale, if that’s all right?”
“Perfect.” Diet ginger ale. The official beverage of hospitalization. Good enough.
“Excellent. Until later, Mister Chapman.”
“Until later,” I answered. I took my hand off my eyes, and watched him leave.
Why was I so certain? Something was going on. Admittedly, it might simply have been residual effects of the alchemy. Temporary expressions like that were increasingly common as more and more scientists and magi learned more about parahumanity in general. The most notorious examples of that were augmentic street drugs, like Underdoggie or Stormy Foster. Some people said that was a form of induced parahuman expression, but a true augmentic left the user powerless after the aggrandizing effect wore off. The rare cases where an augmentic high left a parahuman user were considered secondary expression, which would probably be enough for most prosahumans to at least try augmentics, if a significantly higher percentage of user didn’t end up hopelessly addicted or dead — and God help a parahuman who takes any of that crap.
Yeah. That was probably the answer. Mister River said I didn’t react to Lady Violet’s hallucinogenic kiss the way she expected. It made sense her lipstick may have given me an augmentic rush — that or Lady Velvet’s later additions did. Something like that. All I knew was I hadn’t expressed, even if all the evidence suggested I had.
Everyone thinks they understand things, but they don’t understand shit, and the superfluous riff raff keep blindly pushing things around. There has to be someone to cut through all that. There has to be a witness, Todd. And God help us, that’s got to be you.
The flashback was vivid. More hangover from Lady Violet’s kiss? Probably. Lady Violet used her potions and reagents to enhance her henches — in other words, she used alchemically produced augmentics, since it wasn’t permanent. This was probably something like that. Right?
But I considered the flashback for a moment. Kyle Elias, bless his flabby black heart, telling me I had to be a witness. Just like the professor, or Hunter S. Thompson, even if at the time I wasHunter Thompson. God, that vision quest was—
“…holy crap, I was Hunter S. Thompson,” I said, sitting up in the bed. I remembered it so vividly.The way he — I — thought. The memories I had. Everything. It was obviously just my subconsciousness playing with my hero worship or my yearning to be like him, but still. That had been—
“Why, bless my buttons and Bosco! So you did decide to wake up! I knew you could do it, Mister Chapman! I never doubted you for a second! Those funeral plans were just a tax dodge, honest!”
For once, I wasn’t startled. I just turned and looked at the Jack as he walked past the empty beds until he reached mine. He was wearing a blood red vest with a white diamond and club on the left and a white heart and spade on the right, with a white silk shirt underneath with the cuffs rolled up and his top button unbuttoned, and black dress slacks.He was holding a styrofoam cup with a bendy straw in it, and he was grinning like the maniac he was — which, given everything he did was affectation or performance… “Hello, Jack,” I said, a bit dully.
“And hello to you, Mister Chapman.” He presented the cup with a flourish. “Compliments of Mister River. I think he’s fond of you. I told him it was never a good idea to get too close to the livestock, but you know how kids are.”
I took the cup. “Thanks,” I said. “And thanks for calling in Lady Velvet.”
The Jack paused. “Oh, so Mister River told you?” he asked.
“I told him. He was surprised I knew.”
The Jack lifted his chin slightly, his smile slipping into a slight frown. He peered at me, squinting slightly, before grinning again and laughing. “Hah! Probably scared a year’s growth off him, and he doesn’t have too many of those to spare any more. Well done.” He leaned over me. “So tell me. Honestly. How do you feel?”
I looked at him. “I told Mister River I felt blunted. That’s about right. Like a pencil that’s been worn down to the wood when you don’t have a pencil sharpener.”
The Jack grinned more broadly. “I love your pithy turns of phrase, Mister Chapman. I really look forward to reading them in my book. But! Blunted or not, you have to have some questions, right?”
“Dozens,” I muttered. “What happened to Lady Violet?”
“Happened?” He blinked, innocently.
“You can’t tell me she didn’t face any repercussions for hurling me down the shamanic pit.”
The Jack chuckled. “Well, that’s true enough. At the same time… you understand, I tend to be a bit… charitable when it comes to the more demi of the Dark Gods of Greystone. I mean, sure. Sometimes they have to die, but still. You have to look out for the people in your neighborhood. They’re the people that you meet each day, after all.”
“And besides, she was Lady Velvet’s protégé, and you actually like Lady Velvet, so you cut her some slack even though the two Ladies aren’t seeing eye to eye right now.”
The Jack’s smile grew. “Nicely pieced together, Mister Chapman. There’s hope for you yet. Any other questions?”
I paused for a moment, frowning.
“Come come! Don’t be shy! You know you want to ask, so ask.”
I took a deep breath. “Okay, what happened to Trey?”
His smile turned wicked. “You’re concerned about her?”
“Of course I am.”
“She literally assaulted you and threw you out of your hotel room, leading you to Lady Violet’s door and a ticket on the Insight Express?” The Jack didn’t lose his smile. “Honestly, aren’t you being just a touch generous? I mean, it’s kind of cute, but it’s also bone stupid, and that’s not like you.”
“Yeah, well. I’ve never been to Stockholm, either, but I hear it’s got a nice syndrome.”
That made the Jack laugh even harder. An honest laugh, not his affected stage laugh or his signature four-beat-laugh. “Oh, my. I adore you, Mister Chapman. That earns a good answer. Trey… is in the next room. As for what happened to her? Check your leg.”
I blinked. “My leg?”
“Your leg. Specifically the right leg.”
I frowned, flipping the sheets off and sliding my foot out. There was what looked like a fabric band just above my ankle, with a small raised bump concealing some kind of device.
I looked at the Jack. “Am I under house arrest?”
“I’m not entirely sure what difference that would make at this late date, but technically? No. All this is is a transmitter, Mister Chapman. Very low power. It can go a couple of years on its battery, thanks to Mister Temple generously creating reclaimative battery technology before he went on his own permanent vision quest.” He stood upright, turning towards the door. ”Trey!” he roared. “Get your bankable butt in here!”
The door opened, and Trey walked in, and I found myself staring.
Her shoulders were slumped. The grace she put into every act of movement? That was gone. She was wearing a pair of red hot pants with white piping, a white halter top with her three red hearts down the front, and an expression I can only call haunted.
Oh, and of course she had her wristwatch on her left wrist. But she was also now wearing a band on her right wrist. One that looked exactly like the one on my ankle.
“Yes, Boss?” she asked in a hush. I didn’t think I’d ever heard her speak in a whisper before.
“I thought you should know that one of the first two questions Mister Chapman asked me was about your welfare. It appears he’s concerned about you.” His chin went back up, and I could practically see Trey shrink. “Think about that. At least three times you physically attacked this man. The last time you potentially got him killed, and did get him into a stupor for a week. And he’s worried about you. Now, I think that’s idiotic, but then Cocker Spaniels are idiotic and they’re still loyal and lovable. But you? All this time spent with him, and you still haven’t figured out he cares about you for some Godforsaken reason!” The last was full on angry, and she shrank back even as I felt a chill run down my back. “Quite honestly, I was ready to pull you off this job, cancel your big audition, and send you on your way to meet Deuce in the great Chorus Line in Hell, but Chapman’s worried about you, so I’m not going to do that.” He narrowed his eyes. “Thank the man, Trey.”
Trey looked at me. She was trembling, slightly. “Thank you, Chapman.”
“Mister Chapman to you!” the Jack screamed.
Trey shrieked, jumping back. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Mister Chapman! Mister Chapman! I’m sorry, Mister Chapman! Thank you, Mister Chapman!”
The Jack held his glare on her for a long moment, then turned back to me, his face as genial as ever. “See? A prompted thank you and an unprompted apology. Apparently she can learn. So tell me, Mister Chapman… do you accept her apology?”
Another test. Clearly the wrong answer would get me killed, Trey killed, or both of us killed — if we were lucky. And yet… I wasn’t scared. Not right then, anyway. I looked at the Jack, then looked at Trey. “You’re welcome, Trey. Apology accepted.”
“…so you forgive her?” the Jack asked, narrowing his eyes.
I looked back at him. “Yes,” I said. “I forgive her. It’s fine.”
“That… is touching.” He grinned again. “Very well!” He spun to look at Trey. “All is forgiven, Trey! And I’m sure you’d never make those mistakes again, but Mister Chapman wanted to know what happened to you, didn’t he.” He turned back to me. “You no doubt noticed her new tchotchke matches yours. I told you yours was a transmitter. Her’s is a receiver. So long as she stays close enough to your leg iron, everything is just fine. But if she should wander away, or — you know, hypothetically — throw you out of your room or down an elevator shaft or something? The wristband — mm. Must be a better name for that thing… ah! Right! The manacle will activate, stimulating the pain receptors in Trey’s body. It will start, naturally, with her wrist. If you get farther away, it’ll spread up her arm, then across her torso, then down those stunning legs of hers… and finally every neuron in her body will be screaming without relief. And if you should die? Then it will never, ever end, and I will never even look at her again.”
It was the last potential consequence that made Trey shudder and look away. Still a Heart, even now.
“You understand, I trust. I gave her a job I believed she could do, and she failed at it. I tried positive reinforcement, but it didn’t work. I tried warnings, but they didn’t work. So now we’ve moved on to negative reinforcement. And now — now I think our dear Miss Trey finally understands that she is responsible for you, that you are to be kept safe, comfortable, and healthy, and that she is to answer any question you ask and do anything you tell her to do.” He grinned. “I’d hoped we’d get here faster, but I think we’ve finally arrived. That is, unless you would rather I assign someone else to you. Sharp Top, say. Or a Spade or Club. Or even Mister River or Madam Bank!”
I looked at Trey. She looked…
…broken. She looked broken. Literally broken, like something in her brain had snapped in too. She was looking back at me. And she was scared.
“I don’t want anyone else,” I said, softly. “I want her.” I looked at the Jack. “Besides, I assume you’d leave the wristban— the manacle on her if I sent her away, so she’d be in agony the whole time. If possible, I’d like to avoid that.”
“Fair,” the Jack said. “And commendable. I mean, you’re still an idiot, but if you’re going to be an idiot, go all the way, I say. Enjoy your idiocy! God knows most people do.” He paused. “Still. I think we’d best avoid having you two kids shack up together. I’ve got her booked into the room next to yours, now. It’s… not quite as nicely appointed, but I’m sure she’ll make do, and that way she’ll stay within range… you know, depending on what you do.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind. Which room is she in?”
The Jack smiled a bit more. “I don’t believe I’ll tell you that,” he said. “And I know that she won’t.”
I nodded. “Gotcha.” So. Either she’d be in pain when I took a shower or when I went to bed. I hoped it was the shower.
“You’re sure you want her? You haven’t met all the Hearts yet. Racetrack’s a much better conversationalist, for example. And Virgin — well, she’s a lot of fun and given that you’re ‘not that kind of boy,’ she’d probably suit you better.” He chuckled. “No pun intended. No, really.”
“I’m sure,” I said, quietly.
The Jack nodded. “Very well.” He turned, reaching over and touching the side of Trey’s face. “I forgive you, Trey,” he said, softly.
Trey burst into tears, clutching the Jack in an embrace. He slid his arms around her, patting her on the back. “It’s okay,” he crooned. “You’re okay now. It’s all right. I know it’s been hard, but I knew you could do it.”
I lay back, and closed my eyes. Honestly? I couldn’t bear to watch.
“Well!” The Jack said, finally. “I should let you two get reacquainted. We’re behind schedule now, and there’s lots to do, and too little time to do it in! Trey? Keep good care of our Mister Chapman. You owe him, after all. Mister Chapman?” He paused, then shrugged. “Try a little harder not to get yourself killed, all right?”
I opened my eyes and sat up. “I’ll do my best,” I said, carefully. “But no promises.”
The Jack looked delighted. “Hah hah hah HAH!” he shouted. “My kind of answer! Well, no. I hate that answer, but I love that you said it. Maybe you are paying attention. Right! Trey, he probably needs to be bathed before we can discharge him. See to that, would you? Trey — well, you know.” He spun and headed towards the door, whistling a jaunty tune.
Trey watched him go, then turned back towards me. “Uh… he said I should bathe you but I have to do what you say so if you tell me not to bathe you I won’t but—“
“Whoa whoa whoa,” I said. “Calm down. I get it. If I refuse the bath, he’ll punish you for disobeying him and if you force a bath on me he’ll punish you for disobeying me. It’s all right. You can… bathe me, I guess.”
Trey relaxed a bit. “Thank you,” she said, still a bit quietly. She walked across the lounge to a cabinet — the ‘advertising’ walk, I noticed, though still a little chastened. A good sign, maybe, at least in the short term. She got out some supplies, then turned and walked back over. “Lie down,” she snapped, then paused. “Please. Sir.”
I looked at her, then lay back.
She undid my hospital gown and took a number of… I guess they were wet wipes, but nurse grade? Anyway, she tore open a foil packet and took one out, and began to clean my chest. I could see a little more of the Trey I knew in her, but she had an added…
Meekness? Maybe. Something like that.
She was still frowning, though. “I’m sorry,” I murmured. “I know this can’t be fun.”
“This isn’t so bad,” she said, quietly. “I’m fine with it. I… should have understood. I don’t… meet a lot of gentlemen, these days. And I should have believed you when you said you didn’t…”
“Yeah. So why are you still disturbed? I mean, I know you’ll need to recover from whatever—“
“I’m fine,” she cut in. “Sir,” she said, after the fact. “I’m fine, sir.”
“…Trey. Please just… call me Chapman, okay?”
She paused. “All right… Chapman. Thank you.” She paused. “You asked me a question, though. And I have to answer it.” She kept cleaning me, opening new foil wipes and then using cloth towels. “He was whistling… you heard him. Do… you know the song?”
“I can’t say that I do.”
“Yeah.” She bit her lip, even as she shifted. She was being thorough. I’ll give her that. And doing her best to not make bathing me seductive. “It’s from musical theater. From Pippin. It’s the finale. ‘Think About the Sun,’ a lot of people call it.”
“Pippin,” I said. “I admit I don’t know a lot about musical the— wait. That was… you were in Pippin, right?”
“Yes,” she said. “That was my last job before I came here. Accelerant burnt the theater down. The fire started during this song.” She paused. “Do… you know what it’s about?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Yeah. Pippin… it’s… meta, you know? Self-conscious about being a musical. The two leads are Pippin, because… obviously… and a character literally called the Lead Player. And… Pippin spends the play trying to find something unique and special and a place where he fits in, and… they offer that to him in the finale. All he has to do is light himself on fire in the middle of the stage. So… Accelerant was being ironic, you know?”
“…I guess he was.” I looked at her. “Why would Pippin set himself on fire?”
She kept at her cleaning. “…I asked the guy who played Pippin that. He was into me, and I needed contacts, so we got… y’know. Close. And he said…” She chuckled, though not with a lot of mirth. “He said that when you’re convinced you’re special, and the world doesn’t agree with you… eventually you’d do anything to feel vindicated, right? Even if that means dying horribly for the audience’s brief amusement.”
“…oh,” I said.
“…I just…” she said. “I hope I’m reading too much into it.” She bit her lip again. “If he were thinking…”
“Yeah?” I said, tense, suddenly. Was she… had she figured out the Jack was going to kill her, no matter what he told her?
“…if he were thinking of sacrificing himself… I mean, it would be amazing. I’m sure of that. But it’s… the world needs him, Chapman. I know you don’t see it yet but it does. If only I were by his side again, I could… I could talk to him. Keep him from…”
“…yeah,” I said, a cold chill running down my back. “Yeah, I’m sure.” I cleared my throat. “How’s that going? Have you found the new Deuce yet?”
“The open audition’s tomorrow. We’ve got a number of promising candidates. I’m sure one of them will work out.”
“Yeah. I’m sure you’re right,” I said, almost hollowly. I closed my eyes. “I’m sure you’re right.”
Trey’s phone rang. I opened my eyes in time to see her flip open her bejeweled clamshell phone. I realized I hadn’t seen a single smartphone since I was kidnapped. “Yeah?”
“Fuck you, bitch!” Sailboat said, cheerfully. The phone was clearly still on speaker.
“Hey, Sailboat,” Trey said, quietly. “What’s up?”
“Ooo… frosty! Better turn that frown upside down, girl — what’re you wearing?”
“I’m… just in a halter and short-shorts.”
“Oo. Quick change into a working outfit. A V.I.P. wants to see Chapman and the Boss is all for it! And this V.I.P.’s particularly V. I., if you get my drift.”
She paused. “Understood. He’ll need a moment. He needs to get dressed, too.”
“Clock’s ticking, Slattern! It’s kind of a huge deal especially for you — you know the Boss is testing you to see if he can still trust you with the big fish, right?”
“I know. Thanks, Sailboat. You’re a pal.”
“Right up until it could get me killed, and then I’ll stab you in a second, bitch!” Sailboat laughed. “Hurry! Someone will meet you outside to bring you there.”
“Gotcha. Later.” She closed the phone and dropped it on my bed. She began to peel off her halter top, then paused. “Um…”
“Go for it,” I said. “Do I have some clothes here?”
“Yeah. I’ll grab them in a sec.” She went back to peeling.
I looked the other way, closing my eyes. Like back in the locker room, this was theater nudity, and—
I froze, opening my eyes and looking back at Trey. Her halter top was just below the breasts right now, and her eyes were burning as they locked with mine. “Don’t… don’t turn away. Please. It’s… it’s been so long, Chapman. So long since…”
I felt another flush, tingling over my face and making my eyes sting, and I rubbed my brow. “You haven’t performed for an audience in a long time — either an actual audience or the bystanders at a crime. And if no one sees you perform or move or dance… you’re not sure you still matter. You don’t know if you’re real.”
There was no response. I moved my hand and looked at Trey. I think the flush was gone, too.
She was staring at me.
“…that’s right,” she whispered. “That’s… exactly right. How… how did you….”
“Don’t worry about how I knew,” I said. I couldn’t say much else, because unless that were a lucky guess — and I knew it wasn’t — I had no idea myself. “It’s okay. I’ll watch.” I paused. I knew what she needed to hear. What would have the best shot of breaking through to the miserable, terrible, angry, arrogant, real Trey.
And honestly, finding that real Trey? Wasn’t my job. I interacted with my subjects, yes. I influenced them. But this was a step beyond and I knew it.
But what else could I do? “And Trey?”
I took a deep breath. “Make it a good show.” I did my best to make it clear I wasn’t asking.
She stared at me, then rolled her eyes. “Like I wouldn’t,” she snapped. “…wasted on you anyway,” she muttered and began to undress again, this time… making it a good show. And I watched. Watched so that Trey would exist. Would get her footing underneath her again.
You’re the witness. The viewpoint. The camera and the filter through which the audience sees the most incredible sight ever to grace a stage – namely, me. But you’re not ready. I’m getting you there.
I flushed again, though my eyes didn’t sting. Even in a flashback to the vision, the Jack’s voice was chilling. But I kept that to myself, and watched Trey’s performance.
The Jack was right. I was clearly an idiot. But, what can you do?
Fifteen minutes later, Trey and I were walking down the hall. I was in khakis and a purple polo shirt with the ‘How to Play Poker’ card embroidered on it. Trey was in a halter top blood red leotard and pale, translucent white tights over blood red leather stiletto-heeled boots and a pair of blood red legwarmers. She had red wristwarmers on too, one of which covered up the manacle.
“Who’s this V.I.P.?” I asked.
“No idea,” she said. “But I wasn’t given specific instructions for clothes, so it’s not an investor or someone like that — and at the same time the Boss’s interest means they’re really important. So… drop dead priority but casual clothing acceptable. And… that’s not usually how these things work.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” I said. “Where are we going, anyway?” She’d gotten her instructions from the guy outside — one of the dicemen, in a purple polo shirt, his dice showing one pip and two pips, respectively. A hard point to make. I hadn’t heard them.
“The practice rooms,” she said.
“The… practice rooms?” I asked.
“Yeah. We have a lot of musicians in this place, remember? So we need a bunch of places where they can practice.” She was back to talking to me like I was a three year old, so that was a good sign at least.
“…all right then,” I said, right as we reached a door. She opened it. Beyond was another corridor, with doors on either side of the hall at regular spacing. The practice rooms, I presumed. We went to 7. Lucky number 7.
Trey opened the door. “After you,” she said. I walked in—
The woman inside was radiant. Seriously. Her only peers that I’d seen recently were Delilah Dare, Hecate, Amulet, and Beguile herself. She was lusher than most of them, in a purple velvet leotard with cap sleeves, and purple wrap skirt that kept one leg bare. She wore purple heels, purple catseye glasses with a cord attached to the temples, like she was the hottest librarian the world had ever seen, tasteful jewelry, and a bit of a smirk. Her skin was almost creamy white with an almost coral undertone. And I knew her the second I saw her. So did everyone on the planet — especially the people who were attracted to women and had gone through puberty. She was a legend.
“Mister Chapman, dahling,” she said to me in a slightly throaty voice, her lips quirking into a smile. “I am the Lady Velvet, and it is absolutely your pleasure to meet me.”