My favorite bar for doing nothing much in particular is a place called Candi's on the roof of the Three Jackals building in Wharfsend. It's close enough to the river that you can see the lights reflecting on the water, which is pleasant, especially on a warm summer evening, but being fourteen floors up you can't smell the river, which is even better.
Especially on a warm summer evening.
The elevator is self-service and you have to know the place is there—the button just says “R”. It's quiet, with a crowd of regulars just looking to relax. There's no live music, so I don't get asked to sit in on a set when I just want a drink. I mean, I do love to play, but even I need some time off stage now and again.
Mick, the barman, knows me and he waved me over when I came out of the elevator.
“Heya, Sam,” he called cheerfully.
He set a bottle of cider down on the bar and twisted out the cork. Candi's has good cider, they brew it in the basement. Real apples, not those sickly swamp ones. I reached into my jacket for my wallet.
Mick said softly, “Your service called here for you. About a half hour ago.”
I nodded and instead of a single I pulled out a five. “Thanks. Can I get one of these back in silver?”
Mick went to his register. “You can use the one behind the bar,” he offered.
“No thanks,” I told him. “It might be a long call and I don't want to tie up your phone.”
He brought me back three singles and a pile of change. I slid one of the singles back to him and he made it disappear. He's a good man, he sees everything, hears everything, and keeps it all under his hat. There are a half dozen places my answering service will look for me if I'm not at home and haven't told them I've got a gig. If they think the call's important, Candi's is number two or three on the list.
I took my pile of change to the hallway behind the bar that leads to the restrooms and the stockroom. No one was at the payphone so I dialed my service and gave them my code number.
“Mr. Jackknife,” the girl said, once she'd verified it was me, “You had a call from Jakob Karnes at just after seven this evening. He said it was important and asked if we could track you down. He'd like you to call him at his office—he said he'd be there all evening. Do you need the number?”
Jake Karnes. Interesting. I hadn't talked to him in... what, two years? About that. At one time I'd spent a lot of time with Jake and his wife Marji—well, Marji mostly, to be honest. But I liked Jake.
“Yeah,” I said, fumbling my pen and notebook out of my pocket, “Give me the number.”
I didn't recognize it, which could have meant that Jake had moved to a new office, or could have been just my bad memory. It had been two years, after all.
After I fed some more coins into the phone and dialed a bored male voice answered on the first ring, “Watch desk.”
“Engineer Karnes, please,” I said.
“One moment, I'll see if he's still in the building.”
Then there were a couple of clunks and a half minute of silence. I waited.
“Jake,” I said. “It's Sam. You called?”
“Sam,” he said warmly. “Good to hear from you. Yeah, I'd like see you tonight, if I could.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “Want me to come out to the plant?”
“No,” he replied quickly. “Where are calling from? Can I meet you there?”
“Candi's,” I told him. “Roof of The Three Jackals in Warfsend. Remember where that is?”
“Perfect,” he said. “I can be there in half an hour. Will that work for you?”
“Yeah, I'll be here,” I said.
“See you then,” and he hung up.
Good old Jake. Funny to hear from him out of the blue like that. After I stopped spending time with Marji I figured I'd never see either of them again. He must want something, and idly I wondered what it was. Well, he'd tell me. I had fond memories of the both of them, I'd be happy to do him a favor, if I could.
I went back to the bar and had Mick fix me a plate of sausage and chips. While I waiting I talked to Alice, one of the regulars. Alice was a stage door success story, a chorus girl who had married a grain importer thirty years her senior and was now a rich widow while she was still young enough to enjoy it.
“You want some company, Sam?” she asked.
I shook my head, “I've got company coming,” I said.
She mock-pouted. “Girl company, I suppose.”
“Boy company,” I said. “Business.”
She laughed at that. “Business,” she said sneered. “You've never had a job in your life.”
“Not true,” I told her. “My father made me a clerk in his factory when I was sixteen. He said it would teach me responsibility.” I gave a theatrical sigh. “Worst three days of my life.”
She laughed again. “You're a dangerous boy, Sam. I ought to take you home and keep you locked up, as a public service.”
I gave her a grin. “You wouldn't like me, Alice. I can't cook and I burn the ironing.”
An eyeroll. “I don't want you for ironing. I have Gentles for that.”
I took a drink of my cider, giving her smokey eyes over the bottle.
She sighed. “So what's this business you've got going?”
“He's a wrestling promoter,” I said. “He says he can get me in the ring. Can't you see me in a mask and tights?”
She gave me a slow look over. “Oh, yes, I can. Put me down for a ringside seat.”
Mick handed me a plate and I stood. “Alice,” I told her, “I'll have to take a rain check on the company. Some other time.”
She motioned Mick for a refill of her gin. “You know where to find me,” she smiled.
I could feel her eyes on me as I headed out to the rooftop proper, so I put a little strut in my step. I wouldn't go home with her, not now that her husband was dead, but she was fun to flirt with.
“Oh, yes” I heard her say softly to herself, “a very dangerous boy.”
The tables out on the roof are massive wooden affairs with benches built into them, presumably to keep any drunks from deciding to pitch a chair over the side. I took a seat at one in the corner, next to the wall that separated the roof from two hundred plus feet of empty air. I like high places, I always have. I get that from my father's side of the family. If I followed the curve of the river to the horizon I could make out the dark line of the sea.
One of Mick's serving girls came by with a tray and I bought a cigar, let her light it for me. She was a pretty little thing in a brilliant yellow minidress and high boots to match. Yellow wasn't a very good color for her, and I wondered if her handler had let her pick out the dress herself. She wasn't dolled up to make her look human, her hair was it's original violet and pulled back to show her ears and her skin wasn't painted darker to match a human shade.
Mick employs a lot of what the papers call “resident non-citizens”—the Gentle Folk—and he doesn't try to hide it. Technically, of course, she worked for the City Bureau Of Indigenous Affairs, and the BIA assigned her as a guest worker to Candi's, and Mick's weekly payroll was a “processing fee”. It was a legal fiction, but it satisfied the idiots who liked to holler about non-humans taking human jobs.
We're big on legal fictions here in the City.
Personally, I think if the Gentle Folk, or the Sea People, or any of the other indigenous non-humans wanted to work, they should be allowed to work. They did a lot of jobs that humans wouldn't do. Besides, they were here first.
It was still early on a weeknight so the roof wasn't crowded. I finished my dinner and the Gentle serving girl took the plate away shyly.
Jake showed up a few minutes shy of the half hour he'd promised. He was a big man, not tall but broad, with a bodybuilder's massive chest and arms, and he came out onto the roof with the careful grace of a bull in a china shop, a bottle of cider in each hand. He was in a sharp gray suit and a black tie. I was dressed more casually,a scarf instead of a tie, and my jacket didn't have lapels, but then, I don't work in an office.
I had almost half of my cider left, but I took the one he offered with a smile.
“Jake,” I nodded to him.
“Sam,” he nodded back. Then he sat down and we both just looked at each other for a while.
“Been a while,” I said at last.
“Yeah.” He took a long drink from his cider then ran his hand over his close-cropped gray hair.
“How's business?” I tried.
“Good,” he said. “Really good. We're getting three more generators running. Once they go live we'll have at least a twenty percent margin over projected peak load for years to come.”
“That's good,” I gestured around to the city lights. “Folks using a lot of electricity these days.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. Then he fell silent again. It started to feel awkward.
I was trying to come up with something to break the silence when he spoke.
“Marji says 'hi',” he said quickly. “She wanted to make sure I said that.”
I smiled. “Tell her 'hi' back. She's doing okay?”
He looked away, over the wall and into the night. “Yeah, she's doing fine.” Still studying the river he added, “It just got too... complicated, you know? No hard feelings?”
I shrugged. “Not on my end. Look, I said it from the beginning, and I meant it. You two have got to come first.”
He took another drink and nodded. He still wouldn't look at me.
“Hey,” I said. I reached out to touch his hand. He flinched, and then covered it with an uncomfortable looking smile. But at least he was looking at me.
“I miss you guys,” I went on. “As friends, you know? Maybe... all that brought up feelings that are tough to deal with, and I get that. But I want you to know that I'm not mad, and I still think of both of you as my friends, okay? I'm really glad you called.”
“Yeah.” He finished off his cider. I was still working on my first, I pushed the one he'd bought me across the table. He waved his empty bottle and the serving girl and she hustled to the bar.
After she left I said, “You didn't call me just to catch up, did you?”
He shook his head. I noticed something then—he was scared. Not just nervous because of our shared history, but really scared.
I glanced around. Nobody was nearby. “What's going on?” I asked softly.
“I, uh,” he started. Stopped. Sighed. Tried again. “You, uh...”
The girl came back with his cider and he fumbled in his pocket for a bill to give her, waved away his change. She accepted the tip with a wide-eyed smile that showed sharp white teeth.
Jake took a drink. I waited.
“Samhain Jackknife,” he said, softly, but with a fevered intensity, “I know who you are.”
I frowned. “Obviously,” I agreed.
“No,” he lowered his voice, “I know who you really are.”
I drank off the rest of my first cider, set down the empty bottle, picked up the one he'd brought. “Okay,” I said, “suppose you tell me who you think I really am.”
“You're a demon, Sam. Your father is one of the Lords of Nightmare, and your mother is a Plaguebringer.”
I kept my face carefully blank and let the moment stretch out. He didn't look away.
“Huh,” I said at last. “Interesting. What would make you say something like that?”
“You know we work with aefrit at the plant,” he began.
I nodded, not liking where this was going. The power plant used aefrit to generate the heat to run the huge generators that supplied electricity to the city. Aefrit were unpleasant characters, full of malice. They were also my cousins, technically.
“A couple of months back, I was working the overnight and one of them started talking to me. You know, mostly we just ignore them, but this one knew things. About me and Marji. And about you, Sam.” He looked at me significantly.
Jake continued, “This one laughed at me and told me I had been cuckolded by a Master of Hell. It said you were a child of Nightmare.”
“Did it now?” I said casually. “You do know that they lie, right?”
“Yeah, they lie,” Jake agreed.“They tell you things to try to get you riled up. Like I say, mostly we ignore them. Shucks, part of the new hire orientation we do is a lecture on not paying attention to anything the aefrits say.”
“Good advice,” I told him.
“Yeah, it is,” Jake nodded at me.“But this one knew you by name. That got me wondering. I mean, it's not like anyone at the plant knows you except for me, and I'm sure I didn't talk about you near the generators.”
I shrugged.“So... what?You decided to run a background check on me?”
“Informally,” Jake agreed.“I talked it over with Marji, and she got to wondering, too. So she talked to some of her contacts.”
Marji had been wealthy before she married Jake, and he was one of the City's top power engineers. Marji had time and money to spare, and managed to collect an impressive list of memberships to various boards around town. The Library Steering Committee. The Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To The Gentle Folk. The Opera Society. The Council For Modern Art. The Parks Department Advisory Council. The Board Of Directors For The Indigent Women's Conservatory. Her office in their house was paneled with commemorative plaques.
She rubbed elbows with some of the City's rich and powerful and knew how to work the sub rosa network of under the table favors and off the record information.
“And...?” I prompted Jake.
He sighed. “It turns out that the CPS has a file on you. Did you know that?”
I wasn't surprised. The Mayor's Committee for Public Safety had a file on everyone, or so it was said. The Mayor's office knew who I was, and it made sense that CPS would compile a dossier on me as a resident alien . Still it made me uncomfortable to think about. Nobody likes knowing that the secret police are watching.
“What does it say?” I asked, genuinely interested.
“I didn't get to see the file itself, you understand,” Jake said comfortingly. “But it was pulled and summarized for Marji. A friend of a friend—nothing official. It confirmed what the aefrit said about your... family history. You are a Master of Hell, aren't you?”
It was my turn to watch the lights on the river. Jake and Marji and I... well, at one time we had been pretty damned close. I realized that I really didn't want to lie to him.
Screw it. I looked back to Jake, met his eyes.
“Knight,” I corrected him. “Knight of Hell is a much better translation. It's a purely ceremonial office, it doesn't come with any... authority or anything.”
He let out his breath in a long sigh. “So it is true. Your parents...?”
“It's true,” I agreed. “My father is the Fellmonger of Messidor and my mother is the Lady Bloodpox, daughter of Death. I am a descendant of the Leviathan.”
He sagged in his seat. He'd been expecting me to deny it, I realized. Even after it had been confirmed by Marji's contact in the CPS, he had been hoping I would explain it away as a clerical error.
“Well,” he said at last. Then, “So, you're a demon.”
“No, I am an oneiroi,” I said sharply. I hate the word 'demon'.
He nodded. “Sorry,” he said softly. “Oneiroi.”
I hadn't told a lot of humans in my life—not enough that I could predict what he would do next. There were a fair number of oneiroi living in the Midworld, perfectly legally. I was a subject of the Lord Mayor of Dracoheim, just like the aefrits who worked in the power plant or the undines who produced the 'lix for the cars.
Unlike them, however, I could pass for human. Most of the Family can't, at least not up close and personal like I can. I had grown up on the Midworld, keeping a low profile and trying to stay out of trouble. For a number of reasons my parents thought it would be safer for me here than in their own domain.
“So what happens now?” I asked him. “You gonna exorcise me? Try to bind me? I wouldn't recommend that, by the way. I have safeguards.”
“No,” Jake said quickly. “Nothing like that. I... I have no right to ask...”
I took a guess. “But you want my help. With something—” I waved my hand vaguely, “—diabolic.”
“Maybe...” Jake began, then stopped. “You know, I work with external energies all day in the lab. You could have told us. It wouldn't have made any difference to Marji and I.”
I raised an eyebrow at him.
He looked away. “Okay, maybe it would have.”
“So what's the problem?” I prompted.
“There's this girl...” he began.