Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Room U89, the Royale Hotel
This happened quite a while ago. Nobody could have foreseen what would happen, least of all Slinky Bakewell or Dorimant.
There were faeries around then but you couldn't spot them easily. They were highly adept at changing shape and you wouldn't know that the fabulous collar of that lady's coat were faerie wings or that the man with the large overcoat was hiding his wings beneath it. Greenwood City was still edged with dense woodland that was said to be and for that matter was, full of faeries and other elementals. One guy swore he saw a dragon in the treetops, only a little one, it's tail coiled around the trunk. The faeries in particular were fascinated by city life and the opportunities it presented to them. They didn't like the cold iron in the cars and other such things, but they found a taste for alcohol and occasionally blood. They loved the fact that the city had been built by rational scientific types who did not believe in magick, especially in faeries.
Most people learned to get along with the faeries though, even mobs like the Roaring Boys, the Viscereality Mob. This was after Carlton Zugzwanger's mob the Blades, who seemed scared of nothing. Until they decided to mess with the faeries and suddenly disappeared from the city. After that, nobody and I mean nobody messed with the faeries.
Kit Dorimant was a long lean man with a wolfish look about him. He wore a pale dove grey suit and no tie. His shoes were basketball trainers, good for creeping around and good for running in. He drove a just about running car from the Fenris-Tywer Corporation. The car was old when his father was alive. Dorimant had inherited a love of women when his mother brought him up and a cynicism that he got from living in Greenwood City. His office was over Oliphaunts Emporium an upmarket grocers. He paid rent to Oliphaunt, a weary looking man running to fat and the expression of a basset hound. The office was a reasonable size and not too far from his home in Rampion Row. There was, in the office, a desk and two chairs, a filing cabinet with not much in it besides a bottle of fine Brandy, two glasses and an old book that was meant to be a ledger. Dorimant used his lawyer, Slingsby to do the accounts and Slingsby didn't bother him much.
The young woman in the pale blue silk dress was small and finely featured. Her eyes were tawny with green specks and her pale brown hair was well-styled. She wore an overcoat and a small hat that seemed to perch nervously on her head. The hat was black, the overcoat was a dark yew green. She did not seem afraid, but angry and determined to get what she would call justice. Dorimant leaned back in his chair and let it creak.
"So you're in Room U90 at the Royale and you hear noises next door. So what Miss Bakewell. Even you don't look like you couldn't guess what those noises meant. Or are you just an innocent little Sally Army gal who got lost?" he said dryly.
She frowned darkly and Dorimant braced himself for her ire.
"Mr Dorimant I am not an innocent by any means, but I am not a fool either. I would hardly be here to ask you to find out what's happening if I thought there was a couple making love next door to me." she answered with an ironical tone.
Dorimant paused then sat up and leaned his arms upon the desk. He asked her to describe the noises and frowned as she did so. She was not happy that the hotel detective had thought the same he had at first and dismissed her. But with the arrival of Prime Minister Straeger in a few days, she said urgently, if it was terrorists or anarchists. She left the thought unspoken and Dorimant sneered wolfishly at the implications.
"It might be faeries you know. But then I guess you could put them in the same basket as terrorists, most of the government do these days. Ok, if you have the money, I'll look into it. That will be 200 ducats a day and another 200 for expenses," he said sweetly.
As if he had made his disbelief in her ability to pay clear, she drew out of her handbag a large envelope and placed it in front of him triumphantly. He opened the envelope and whistled. There was 2000 ducats at least in the envelope. Enough for six days and some, he reckoned.
"Perhaps you are not familiar with the name of Selinka Bakewell or as my friends call me - Slinky?" she said softly.
He remembered then where he'd seen her, the heiress to the Bakewell Scientifics Imperium. At a fundraising dinner at Woodlawn Social Club out at the Southern edge of the City. He'd been on a job, or he would not have got in. Only the City's rich and 'good' were invited. He said he'd investigate and if it was nothing she'd get her money back. If there was something going on, she'd get weekly reports when he could. She left her card and left his office leaving only the faint trace of scent. Something beautiful had been in that worn out looking office and had vanished.
Dorimant locked up the money in a safe behind the filing cabinet and went out. He strolled down the street glancing here and there. A few people glanced back into his gunmetal grey eyes but he did not meet their gaze. At the Royale he asked if his friends the Cadmians had booked into U89 yet. The woman, a tall brunette in her forties with flat brown eyes and her hair in a bun that made her look too old, looked him over. She clearly did not believe that such a man could have friends who stayed at the Royale. But she could not prove it and scanned the register with her pen. Dorimant's eyes followed her pen until it stopped and noted the name away in his mind. Miss Sternwood. He felt his heart jump a little when he read the name and asked,
"Is there a Mr Fopling with her?"
The woman looked at him as if he'd asked her to dance naked in the lobby with him and said firmly,
"There is not."
He thanked her with a smile and turning away he left feeling her eyes on him all the way to the door. He turned left onto the street and slipped into the side alley alongside the Royale. For a moment, he leaned against the wall and shook his head. Sternwood. The last time he'd met Sternwood had brought a whole world of trouble. Mostly because he'd liked her and in her own way she'd liked him. This was unusual for a faerie. That he was liked and even grudgingly admired by Fopling the pixie who travelled with her was even more unusual. It was more in the nature of pixies to trap the unwary and to cause trouble. They were not the cute creatures once written of by church ladies of a certain age for the moral improvement of children. If anything the pixies were more dangerous than these ladies knew. Dorimant looked up at the side wall of the Royale and grinned at the lack of windows. With the Royale you brought into a dream of luxury. It was said that Sinclair Kamstock had stayed here when his mob was the biggest in Greenwood. The Argent-Sables, government agents had brought him down when they killed six of his werewolf enforcers. Kamstock died in prison savaged by a werewolf and screaming when he died. But before the Argies got to him, he had stayed at the Royale with four glamorous women and five glamorous and very dirty lawyers.
Dorimant, feeling that he'd left it long enough went back to the front of the Royale and entered again. The woman at the desk was talking with a small crowd of people and Dorimant took advantage to stroll to the lift and take it to the first floor. He went along the corridor counting off the numbers under his breath until he got to U89. Gently he knocked.
"Unwise, mortal," came a whisper like a breeze through saplings.
"Sternwood? It's me Dorimant," he murmured softly.
There was silence and after a few moments, the door opened. She stood by the window, her iridescent wings about her like some exotic gown. Her pale green hair was pinned up in a chignon and her eyes, black depthless pools gazed at him. Dorimant could barely stop himself from weeping. Instead he grinned and said,
"You're a lot better at being immortal than the Argies thought, huh?"
"Why are you here Mr Dorimant," she asked quietly.
"Somebody heard strange noises in this room and didn't think you were having merry fun with a lover. I was asked to find out what seeing as Straeger's coming to town," he said softly.
"I'm not here to kill anyone," she said.
"I know that, but the listener didn't and got worried. Then I came to the hotel and heard that Miss Sternwood was here. I - I wasn't sure, but I - ", he paused and lowered his gaze.
Sternwood smiled sweetly then and crossed the room to him.
"Were you afraid for me?" she asked softly.
He put his hands on the thin waist and tiny tendrils of ivy from her dress snaked about his hands. Very tenderly, he kissed her.
"You know, people used to think one or both my parents were werewolves, 'cause of my looks," he said.
She laughed quietly at that and invited him to sit by the window, the ivy tendrils releasing him and returning to her dress.
"How's Fopling?" he asked sitting in a burgundy velvet upholstered chair.
"He's fine I believe. Living downtown with a widow who runs a grocery shop. He gives advice and helps her out and says he loves her. But then he's a pixie and they don't really know much about love. Not the way you mortals do anyway," she answered.
"I was asked to come specifically by someone unknown. They said they had news of - well something I'm interested in. It's not something you need worry about, I promise," she told him.
"You don't want me butting in, just say so, it's fine. My office is over on Fenris Street though, over the top of Oliphaunt's Emporium. Come by sometime would you? I'd... look I miss you Sternwood. I'm not in love with you, but you and Fopling, I thought we were friends. I liked you both a lot and when you both went, well I understood I really did, but I thought you might come by in a while and say hallo," he faltered and she gazed at him with her head slightly on one side.
There was a look of curiosity on her face and Dorimant remembered she was a faerie and didn't work in mortal ways. There was the sound of footsteps outside the door and she glanced quickly at the door before dashing to him.
"Hide, it's him," she whispered.
Dorimant did as he was told, trusting her even as his cautious side was still reminding him that she was an elemental - a faerie. He hid on top of the wardrobe behind some boxes, where Sternwood put him. There was a silence, then the door was opened and somebody or something padded in.
"Do you have the news I want?" he heard Sternwood say.
"You got the money doll, I got the news and it isn't in the papers neither," her visitor answered.
"Fifty thousand ducats as agreed," she answered.
"The news is that somebody wants you very, very dead lady," her visitor growled.
Dorimant frowned. He was not afraid for Sternwood, it is near impossible to kill something immortal, but she could be made very sick. Silently he moved a box and peered down into the room. Sternwood sat on the bed, her wings out behind her, very still. In front of her was a minotaur with a long overcoat. Between his horns was a slouch hat and each horn was silver tipped - wise in a city with werewolves.
"Who wants me dead?" she asked curiously.
"You mean apart from Violet Snodgrass?" the minotaur asked with a chuckle.
"Who?" she said firmly.
"A Miss Selinka Bakewell," the minotaur answered clearly.
Dorimant's frown deepened. Something did not add up and he did not like the sound of things. Sternwood also frowned for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders.
"Thank you," she said and stood up.
The minotaur sneered,
"Pretty ain't you," he said lewdly.
"Elementals are," she said firmly.
The minotaur tipped his head back a little, then turned and left without a word. Dorimant grinned. As the saying in the streets went - Don't mess with the faeries. Dorimant eased himself off the top of the wardrobe and dusted himself off. He kissed Sternwood and told her,
"I'm on your side sweetheart, give me a little while would you?"
She tipped her head again and examined him curiously before nodding and giving him a little smile. Dorimant left U89 and went along to U90. Again, he knocked and the door was answered by Slinky Bakewell.
"Mr Dorimant," she said.
"I think we need to talk somewhat ma'am," he answered slipping inside the door.
The room was much the same as Sternwood's but with more clothing. Shoes were scattered along the front of the wardrobe and dresses upon the bed along with underwear. Slinky did nothing to remove them. She picked up a bra in chocolate coloured silk with pale gold ribbon inserts and put it carefully on top of a pair of matching knickers before sitting down on the bed.
"Who doesn't like you Miss Bakewell?" Dorimant asked.
"I'm an heiress Mr Dorimant, lots of people don't like me," she answered with a slight air of defiance.
"I mean who doesn't like you enough to want you very dead?" he asked dismissive of her answer.
She thought for a moment with a little smile that suddenly disappeared from her face.
"Did you find anything out about what I asked?" she said suddenly cold.
Dorimant sighed and told her to come by the office and pick up her money. He felt weary and wanted a coffee. He turned and left and at the door he paused and said to her,
"I'm trying to help you ma'am, strange as it may sound. I think somebody's setting you up for death by faerie. Just remember this, faeries are immortal, " he told her.
She did not look up and with another sigh, Dorimant closed the door behind him and was about to go back to U89 when he suddenly felt the longing for coffee and noise. He went down the service stairs and crossed the service delivery area as if he belonged there. He went out into Vervain Street and along Campion Road to a small coffee house. It was bustling there, but he managed to find a table by the window and sat down. He ordered a pot of coffee and asked for a newspaper. The Greenwood Review was placed on the table and the waitress fetched him a pot of coffee. He fished in his pockets for two ducats and picked up the newspaper.
For a while he just held the paper in his hands, gazing out of the window. The waitress put the coffee pot down on his table and he handed her the two ducats. She gave him fifty denari change and left him. Dorimant poured himself coffee and took a little cream and sugar with it. As he stirred the coffee he read of the Prime Minister's visit. There was a paragraph about Straeger's family and his business connections that he read and sneered cynically over until a thought suddenly struck him. The sneer dropped from his face and the paper from his hand.
He got up and asked a waitress if there was a phone. She pointed to the side of the bar and taking his coffee he drank it down in quick gulps that would play havoc with his stomach later. He crossed to the phone and dialled the Royale.
"The Royale, may I help you?" a woman asked.
"Room U90 please," Dorimant said with a calm he did not feel.
There was a click and a pause, then Miss Bakewell answered the phone.
"It's Dorimant ma'am, I've figured it out. Go next door to room U89 and tell Sternwood that you don't want to kill her and it's a set up. Tell her Dorimant told you to do it. If you don't, I reckon you have twenty minutes more to live," he said quickly.
"Mr Dorimant, are you drunk?" she asked.
"Dammit, lady if you like living, do as I ask please. I've just had coffee and I'm missing the rest of the pot because of you. Do it and I'll be there quickly," he said with some exasperation.
She sighed and said something inaudible before hanging up. Dorimant swore and took off leaving the rest of the coffee with some regret. He collected his car from Baribault's and drove downtown looking for a store that sold liquor. When he found one he asked for Fopling. No luck, but at the third he found the pixie disguised as an ugly old man sitting on an old chair outside with a bottle of whisky and a newspaper.
"By the Blood! Mr Kit Dorimant! How are you sir?" the pixie asked in a voice like cracking twigs.
"Sternwood may be in danger and somebody wants - o dammit, I need your help Fopling. I need you because you know what I'm like and I can trust you to cause some serious trouble when it's needed," Dorimant told him quickly.
"Trouble? You want me to cause trouble? My dear mortal why didn't you say so. Give me a minute and I'll be with you."
The pixie's eyes gleamed and he went inside the store briefly before a small dog ran out and leapt into the car onto Dorimant's lap. Dorimant noted the rather too pointed ears and pulling the door shut, drove back towards the Royale. The minute he entered the Royale with the small dog behind him however, the desk clerk pointed at him and said loudly and clearly,
"You sir, kindly leave!"
"You want trouble now, mortal?" the small dog asked him.
"Why not? Then come on up to the first floor - Room U89," Dorimant replied standing still.
Six liveried men bore down upon him and suddenly paused as the flowers woven into the carpet began to stretch and grow upwards, around the legs of the men. The suitcases suddenly leapt from the floor and began to growl as they shuffled to herd the humans aside. Dorimant dashed through the middle of this chaos and headed for the lift, the small dog after him. The desk clerk reached for the telephone when it's receiver raised itself up and coiled it's cord about her wrist, hissing static at her. She screamed and tried to pull away knocking another phone to the floor but that phone receiver arose and coiled up around her thigh. She whimpered then fainted.
The first floor was quiet and still. Yet, along the corridor Dorimant was suddenly aware of two large minotaurs standing conspicuously against a door. He just knew it would be U90 and he was right. However, he was also aware that the minotaurs saw only a man with a small dog. One of the minotaurs stood up and squared himself off for a fight. He grinned bullishly and Dorimant, tall lean man that he was paused. The small dog did not. It ran between the legs of the first minotaur and bit the second in the leg. There was a roar of pain and the first minotaur took a step forwards and threw a large solid fist at Dorimant's face. He ducked under it and kicked upwards hard. The minotaur grunted and fell to his knees. Now Dorimant took the minotaur by the horns and slammed the large solid head into the door of U89 before standing back quickly. The wooden door seemed to melt and the bull head passed easily through it, but could not get out again. The body quivered then lay still.
Fopling having begun with a bite had now bitten the beast badly enough to madden him. The minotaur lowered his head at the small dog and Dorimant took a running jump and kicked both feet into the seat of the minotaur's trousers. The weight of the beast's head carried him forwards and Fopling dashed between the minotaur's legs and leapt backwards and up suddenly becoming a large boulder that fell on the beast hard. The minotaur fell and did not rise.
Now Dorimant charged at the door of U90 and it burst open. There in the middle of the room was a tall man with an all too familiar face. He was trying to hold Miss Bakewell down on the bed, but she had hit him hard in the face as his bleeding nose showed. Dorimant picked up a suitcase and hit the man hard on the side of the head sending the man into a table. Miss Bakewell sprang up from the bed and as the man steadied himself, his face met her fist in a thunderbolt of a punch that sent him backwards into the open wardrobe. He collided into the back wall and seemed to fall through it. Dorimant glanced at Fopling who chuckled and dashed through the wall. Miss Bakewell turned and glowered at Dorimant.
"This was a private matter, Mr Dorimant," she began, but he cut her off.
"Like hell it was. My friend Sternwood was told that you wanted her dead. I knew that you didn't, 'cause if you had wanted her dead you'd know she was next door in U89. Which left the question who wanted you dead.
Sternwood happens to be a faerie - if she really thought you'd wanted her dead, you'd be the dead one and nobody would have done a thing about it because you don't mess with the faeries. It took me a while to think about it, but Straeger once knew Marston Gaskin the brother of the man who created the Snodgrass-Gaskin device. Marston Gaskin was disappointed because your father hadn't agreed that he be the leader of the Party, but voted for Straeger.
The only way he could get back at your father was to get you killed. He couldn't do it himself so he tried to implicate Sternwood who has a record with the Argent-Sables. He set the pair of you up and he was going to get you drunk and then tell Sternwood that you wanted her dead. She would have finished you off if she truly believed him. Then you heard noises in U89 which was Sternwood flying in and out of the windows at night and singing to herself. She does that a lot and the sound of her wings if you're not used to them is strange. So you brought me in on it and the minute I heard Sternwood's name..." he paused,
"Well I knew she wouldn't kill anyone unless she had a very good reason to do so. But you also didn't know she was next door to you. That seemed unlikely if you really wanted her dead."
He held out his hand to her.
"Will you trust me ma'am? Come and meet my friends," he asked her.
She glowered at him for a moment and looked at the legs of Marston Gaskin wriggling in the wardrobe. Then she took his hand and he led her next door. The minotaur had shrunk and fallen from the door. They stepped over him and entered the room. Sternwood sat astride Marston Gaskin's face with a large feather. She was tickling his nose with it and he was shaking his head furiously. In the burgundy velvet chair by the window, Fopling sat with a bottle of whisky from the minibar watching. They looked up at the two mortals who entered the room and Sternwood asked him,
"Shall I kill him, Mr Dorimant?"
Gaskin looked frantically at Dorimant who chuckled and shook his head.
"No, let him live, but you could shrink bits of him," he suggested.
Fopling chuckled and winked at Gaskin. Sternwood arose and dragged him through the wall into the room. She whispered two words, softly and quietly. Marston Gaskin struggled and writhed and began to shrink until the cry of a baby came from the suit he'd been wearing. A furious little red faced baby who thumped helplessly at the air and kicked his little legs. Sternwood turned then to Dorimant.
"Sternwood, Fopling, this is Miss Slinky Bakewell and she doesn't want anyone dead. Well maybe me, but for that she'll have to join a queue," Dorimant said with a grin.
Sternwood tipped her head sideways and examined Miss Bakewell curiously. Fopling raised the whiskey bottle and grinned. Sternwood crossed the room and leaning forwards she took Miss Bakewell's face in her hands and kissed the young woman on the mouth.
"Be safe, be well mortal," she said softly.
Then turning to Fopling she asked, "Downtown again?"
Fopling remembered his own favourite mortal and chuckled like dry twigs cracking. He turned to a small white cat and leapt into Sternwood's arms. She took him and raising her iridescent colourful wings, flew out of the window.
"Thank you Mr Dorimant, but who's going to look after that baby?" Miss Bakewell asked.
"There's the Happy Foundlings Haven downtown. I'll drive him down there and tell 'em I found him somewhere. All part of the service," he told her.
"Keep the money Mr Dorimant, you earned it," she said softly.
Then she turned and left Room U89 and he stood there with a squalling baby, an empty suit and the faint trace of her perfume, a reminder that something beautiful had once been there with him.