“It all looks like it comes out of a dirty bath somewhere.” she muttered. Her perspicacity wrung a smile from him that he turned to her in gratitude.
“How do you know this stuff, Christabel?”
“I used to think I was paranoid, but it turns out I'm not.”
Her eyes fell a foot toward the mirror panel on the rear wall, seeking the source of her misgivings, and William briefly closed his eyes, leaning his forehead on his knuckles.
“I know..." he sighed. "Just don’t turn around.” She complied, forced to content herself with the reflected image in the thick, pin-dropping quiet. The face of every stranger in the room had turned toward them, from the parched and bead-like stares of vampyres to the large party crowded about a cluster of tables against the far wall, candle-lit miens made red and shadowed black by the swaying flames. They were silent beneath a pall of exhaled smoke, nursing their powerful green liquor, burgeoning hostility and the latent, half-inhumed equivalence in the darkness of their eyes that marked them all as kindred; Susan thought she recognized some from the hahdri, then guessed that she probably did not, perceiving that it was not their individuality that made them familiar. She glanced back to William. He muttered to himself and glared across the counter at Siobhan, dragging his keys and wallet from his pocket and depositing them in the crook of Susan's elbow in a gesture laden with weary fatalism. The vampyre chuckled, pouring the sludgy brown contents from a hip flask of tarnished silver into a milkshake glass and topping it with stale champagne, creating a pink concoction lidded with pale yellow spume and sucking off the froth. “I’m going to skin you before I chain you to my fucking hood.” William promised.
“Teh! Kint do that! We all family now, ye fuckin made sure a that! This hoe maght as well beh the sister that kint fuckin outrun ye!” The bargirls stared while Siobhan hunched further over the counter and referred a loud indictment to the gallery. "You dummer-n-shit dogs need t’ git into ye heads he aint a fuckin rockstar just cause he kin gut a critter blindfold’d! Nothin come easier t’ a perdishuss fuckin snakeface that got no moon or daylight nor drop a real blood t’ beh fuckin mahndful of... ye thought him cute up til t'day, but now ye fuckin knowest... he gave us all up fer a taste a fuckin weaner pussy, an if ye think what fell t' fuckin Caleb aint got shit t' do with them, yew all go right ahead an let 'em fuck ye dry, an don’t come crahin’ t’ meh afta’werd!”
In the darkness behind them, the murmuring from the seated conclave died like a draft killed by a closed door. William took his time over the dregs of hueless liquor at the bottom of his glass.
"What about Caleb?" he muttered, receiving no reply from the smirking vampyre.
"What about Caleb?" sneered someone from the party behind them. "Like he don't fuckin know." William shook his head to himself, turning to address the restive alujha contingent as he shed his heavy coat.
"Mallet, are you even on my dick, because I had to ask your mother the same fucking question." he replied. "And if you whiny alujha pricks stop sitting on your arseholes knocking back muppet-coloured horse piss, you wouldn't need my brother to do your fucking dirty work.” He stood up off the stool, handing the Afghan lamb to Susan and cracking his neck to one side. "Fuck it... who wants to go?"
His foremost antagonist threw back his chair and his cohort surged across the dance floor in his wake, climbing over the tables and shoving aside the vampyres that had braved the degenerating atmosphere in the hope of witnessing just such a spectacle. Mallet came at William without preamble, catching his shoulder and attempting to twist him onto the ground while Susan scrambled up onto the counter in an escape from the encroaching crowd, dismayed to find that Siobhan had also claimed the vantage. The vampyre shucked up its skirts and gave a shrilling whistle of encouragement to the fracas unfolding below. William knocked down, then hoisted the struggling form of his accuser from the floor in both hands and threw him into the crowd, seizing another contender and putting him head-first through the barstools into the counter as swift, reactive punches flew between the lycanthropes, their infective combat quickly extending to one another and any vampyre remaining in the throng. Susan shouted herself hoarse, both hands to her mouth while he caught and punched a spray of teeth from the nearest stranger; blue strobes cut downward from the ceiling, turning the alujha stares into rounds of floating silver, casting them as whooping predators massed beneath her on some nocturnal plain. The sight transfixed her amid Siobhan’s hacking cachinnations until the vampyre plucked liquor bottles from the rack over its head and flung them down into the fray; snarling, she punched both hands into its back and shoved it shrieking from the counter into the scrum below while William swung one of the fallen stools in a gruesome arc. Its victims yielded a jagged stripe of blood that struck her as she jumped down herself, landing heavily against a knot of preoccupied belligerents, her boots crunching and sliding over broken glass as she squeezed through the crush.
She was buffeted onto all fours as she caught William's belt and used it to haul herself upright, only to be flattened against him by two struggling neighbours, catching a flailing elbow to her brow and ear as she kicked a fallen stranger's grasp from William's legs and dragged him bodily toward the door. A sudden emission of bitter white gas parted the impounding crowd, the substance hissing from the decrepit halon extinguisher clutched in Siobhan’s hands. The little vampyre cussed as it cleared a path for itself toward the bar and left its victims to beat away the unwelcome pall, choking and grimacing.
Susan held the neck of her dress to her face, stumbling through the haze with her companion. She could feel the fractious, pyrogenic spirit struggling beneath his skin against containment when she grasped his arm; in the alley outside, he boosted her over the crumbling wall and scaled it after her, Susan climbing over the hood of the Jaguar to avoid the dumpster by her door.
A tiny and impossibly elderly Algerian woman led them from a door with a closed sign in its glass through an upturned forest of bentwood legs, to a bistro table simply laid for one. The lone diner rose from his confit de canard, riz rouge and fougasse to greet them, and their maîtresse shuffled back into the quiet kitchen in her slippers. Gideon Auberjonois was not entirely as he had been inside his photograph and the disparities surprised Susan, though she strove to conceal it, smoothing down her disordered hair and dress after she had shed her bloodied coat. He was neither tall nor otherwise as he pressed a kiss to each of her cheeks, his face as warm as hers but almost atavistic in the pronouncement of its features, their bossed and dramatically pagan structure recalling the carven masks of imps and green men amid ecclesiastical oak. He was so strongly made beneath his clothing that the impression almost defeated its notional modesty, his hair dark and short and half-curling, his skin a henna brown by virtue of both the summer sun and his southern blood.
"Mademoiselle." he smiled. "Ça va?" He indicated with a discreet turn of his hand the state of their clothing, and they replied with the same weary expression, dragging out chairs on either side of him. Pouring them each a glass of robust white, Gideon sat down to resume his late repast and turned to Susan eyes of deep, impure green, like the ore of some obscure metal, inviting if not rewarding interest. Three rings of battered gold clasped his tanned fingers; a chain of the same metal hung from the breast pocket of his suit, a rustic shade of heather and doe that struck a careful balance with the atelier finesse of its construction. Between mouthfuls of tender confit he conducted a leisurely, serialized survey of his erstwhile acquaintance, his private smile growing in inverse proportion to William's frown as he chewed thoughtfully. The latter pushed a cigarette between his lips and sought his lighter amid the black bulk of his coat but Gideon leant forward and plucked it from his mouth, sliding it into his own pocket. Presently he turned and began to appraise Susan in the same unhurried fashion, her features, raiment, and the fading red marks on her face offering the conversation she did not, William slouching back in his chair until the frame complained beneath his weight. Susan perceived his umbrage and looked down at the table to contain her impolitic amusement; their host leant slightly toward her, directing the fork poised at the edge of his plate toward their scowling companion.
"It is good, no, that we have so much in common?" Gideon observed, lifting the napkin to his chin. A faint scar that began in his hair quartered his forehead and followed his nose downward before turning out over his upper lip. He edged a bowl of fat black olives toward her with his elbow.
"I'll let you know." she chuckled, glancing with him across the marble at the subject of their exchange.
"I just got the shit kicked out of me by fifty barking arseholes at the Moth."
Their host shrugged, scooping up a forkful of rice.
"I don't think they ah, try too hard." William's face darkened further and Gideon set down his utensils, smiling at him fondly. "Allez, mignon... fais pas ta pute... I come all this way for your smile. How long has it been?" he sighed.
"You remember?" Gideon shrugged again. "I forget." He nodded at Susan. "I don't think she was born. Have a drink, eh?" Raising his glass, he successfully cajoled William into doing the same.
"Nique la police." the latter murmured as a toast, and they drank together, Susan swallowing the wine gratefully though she found dried blood on the hand she wiped across her mouth.
"I have something for you." said Gideon, reaching under the table for a shopping bag from which he drew a trio of plump, plicated lotus buds on thick green stalks, blush-pink and wrapped in a stripe of brown paper. Though he enjoyed William's suspicion, he was more delighted by the involuntary darkness of the latter's eyes as he accepted them, watching him lift a heavy bud and bite cleanly through the fleshy bloom. “It's true that he has told you of himself?” Gideon inquired of Susan. His manner was a strange blend of confidence and insinuation, his eyes neglecting no element of her response.
“You mean about...”
"Oui. About. I see. An he tells you of us?”
“Ouais.” said William, setting down his flowers. “I gave you all up like a perdishus fucking snakeface.”
The frenchman looked back to Susan, somewhat wistful.
“One hundred years before he would confide such things to me.”
“Well what the fuck, Auberjonois... next time try some fucking smalltalk before you rip the pants off someone.”
"Always so charming. Enfin... how did you meet? I ah, can't imagine."
"I'm... was... the housekeeper." Susan admitted. The intelligence returned the smile to Gideon's face and it urged her to further disclosure. "It's hard to believe at the moment, but he was... I couldn't quite say charming, but he was persistent. Are you here on holiday?"
"Sadly, no... commerce."
"Don't let him snow you with his fucking Pepé le Pew bullshit, Christabel... he's not out here kissing babies, he's a dirty fence and he's dumping a bunch of looted shit too hot to drop in the E.U." William informed her, picking his teeth. "Blackmarket antiquities. If you can rip it off, he can turn it around for sixty percent."
"Sachiin's collection of course is sans reproche, particullérement the things he would like me to buy from him... they don't go to sales because, like him, they are shy. So, Guillaume... what do you have for me?"
"Christ, I've sent you the list twice... pull the fucking dicks out of your ears. Ed'll probably take a cheque but I want cash."
"In that case, I will come to the house an look for myself." Gideon's smile remained complaisant as he turned to her again. "Do you know, Sussan, that in the homeland of these creatures, a rainbow, it is viewed as a calamity... a certain sign of doom?” She looked to William, who had sat back from the table with his flowers. “I remember once... Sachiin come to the house from the parterre to tell me I must gather my horses an leave this place at once. He had such a look of great dismay I could not think what had happen... I ask, the magistrate, he comes to collect taxes? No, he says... it was worse... a great arc-en-ciel had appeared over the park. When I laughed an told him many, many rainbows have come here with the rain out of the west, he look at me with his great green eye an said... an yet, you abide here still?" He laughed to himself, warmed by the recollection, and Susan chuckled behind her hand, accepting another glass. “I ask myself... Auberjonois, why do you go on with these creatures? They are rude, they have no hospitality at all... they are trés égoïste, intéressé, déroutant... lucky for them they are quaint. You don’t like that story, Sachiin?” Gideon inquired artlessly. "I have others." He tisked at William's attendance to his phone.
"I'm looking for Caleb. It's fucking important."
"Caleb, du hahdri Adrahna?" William glanced up at the tone of the inquiry. "You ah... you don't know?"
Leaning down into his briefcase, Gideon found his own phone and devoted a moment to its library of images before pushing it across the table toward his guest, who glanced at him in a moment of uncertainty before consulting the screen himself. The initial image was a flashed nocturnal snapshot of the towering gate fronting the familiar hahdri. In the next, its sagging cottages loomed like ghost ride props out of the rural darkness, mutely presaging floodlit scenes of infernal, eye-gouging carnage complete with hand-held catalogue numbers and piebald reference scales laid out in each corner, the leavings of a frenzy framed by the homely plank walls of a large barn. Sweat-darkened animals lay both in suffocating drifts and randomised disorder, their heads and flanks spotted with bullet holes, throats gaping, some of them decapitated by the force used to dispatch them upon beds of golden hay and sawdust. The horrific files continued, documenting the yard around the barn, where resident males had paid for the savagery of their last stand about a battered utility with their heads and limbs. In the cab of the vehicle lay the darkly-spattered bodies of a brunette woman and two young children, the latter pressed into the foot well beside her legs, the hand-held glare documenting the calibre of weapon that had been trained upon them.
"Someone come to that hahdri and murder them... finis... everyone who live there. These pictures are en ligne... someone post them." Gideon pushed back slightly in his chair while they digested the news. Susan dropped her hands from her face and beckoned for the phone, and William looked up, hesitating before passing it to her wordlessly, though she could not bear what she found and pushed it away.
"We were just out there." he said.
"Yes, I know..."
Susan stood up suddenly, looked around and dashed toward the rest room door. Gideon caught his arm and kept him at the table.
"I tell this to you now because I care how people speak of you... it is known that you went to this hahdri..." His expression concluded the statement for him, though William was already cognizant of its implications. "It is thought that Prague sent cochon noir to this place to teach some lessons, and that your brother, he have a part in this. Sachiin, I ask you once... oui ou non... does Kala'amātya serve?" Susan's face held a sick shade of pale as she returned between the tables, her progress halted by the shadow framed in the glass of the entrance; Gideon gave no sign of surprise at the arrival though he sighed an expression of regret at its timing. "Your cousin... he want very much to speak with you. I thought it would do no harm." he confessed, raising a hand in a gesture of resignation as William shoved back his chair.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
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