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I would have run, but there was nowhere to run to. Nowhere Kayleigh’s Eye couldn’t reach me.
“Who are you?” I said to the woman in black, trying to buy some time while hopefully sounding cool and calm and not at all threatening.
“I am your death, John Taylor! Your name has been written in the Book of Wrath, your soul condemned and your fate confirmed by the Sacred Council! The time has come to pay for your many sins!”
I’d never heard of the Book of Wrath or the Sacred Council, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. I’ve upset pretty much everyone worth upsetting, at one time or another. That’s how I know I’m doing my job.
“The bar’s remaining protections should have kicked in by now,” Alex murmured behind me. “But since they haven’t, I think we can safely assume that you’re on your own, John. If you need me, I’ll be cowering behind the bar and wetting myself.”
“Harry?” I said, but he was already gone.
“He’s back here with me,” said Alex. “Crying.”
The woman in black advanced slowly on me, still holding Kayleigh’s Eye aloft. It blazed brightly in the bar’s comfortable gloom, like a great red eye staring right at me. Leaking energies spat and crackled on the air around it. Everyone was either gone by now or hiding behind overturned tables, like that would protect them from what the Eye could do. The woman in black ignored them. She only had Eye for me. She gestured at the tables and chairs that stood between us, and they exploded into kindling. People cried out as wooden splinters flew through the air like shrapnel. The woman in black kept coming, still fixed on me. She had cold, wide, fanatic’s eyes.
Betty and Lucy Coltrane came charging forward out of nowhere, propelled incredibly quickly by powerful leg muscles. The woman just looked at them, and an invisible hand slapped the Coltranes away, sending them both flying the length of the bar. They hit the floor hard and didn’t move again. I could have run while the woman was distracted, used one of the many secret ways out of the bar I knew about, but I couldn’t risk what the woman and the Eye might do to the bar and the people in it in my absence. Besides, I don’t run. It’s bad for my reputation. And my reputation has scared off more people than any weapon I ever had.
So I stood where I was and let her approach. She’d want to do it up close so she could look me in the face while she did it. It wasn’t enough for fanatics to win; they needed to see their enemies suffer. And fanatics will drink that cup right down to the dregs, relishing every drop. She advanced slowly on me, taking her time, savouring the moment. My mouth was dry, my hands were sweaty, and my stomach churned sickly, but I stood my ground. Kayleigh’s Eye could kill me in a thousand ways, all impossibly horrible, but I had an idea.
And as the woman in black finally came to a halt before me, smiling a smile with no humour in it at all, her wide fanatic’s eyes full of a fire more terrible than the Eye’s…I used my gift to find the hole between dimensions through which the Eye originally entered our world. It was still there, unhealed, after all these centuries. And it was the easiest thing in the world for me to show Kayleigh’s Eye its way home.
Free! Free at last! An unearthly voice roared through my mind, then the Eye was gone, vanished, back to whatever other-dimensional place it came from. The hole sealed itself behind the Eye, and that was it. The woman in black looked at her empty hand, then at me, and smiled weakly. I punched her right between the eyes, and she slid unconscious across the barroom floor for a good dozen feet before she finally came to a halt. I gritted my teeth and nursed my aching hand. I always did have a weakness for the big gesture.
“All right,” said Alex, reappearing behind the bar.
“Who have you upset this time, Taylor? And who’s going to pay for the damages?”
“Beats me,” I said cheerfully.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have punched her out,” said Harry Fabulous, rising nervously up beside Alex, his drink still in his hand. “She could have told you who sent her.”
“Not likely,” I said. “Fanatics never talk.”
Someone clearly didn’t want me investigating Melissa’s disappearance. But who, and why? Only one way to find out. I nodded good-bye to Alex and Harry and went out of the bar in search of answers.
The People We Turn to for Comfort
Of course I’d heard of the Caligula Club. Everyone in the Nightside has, in the same way you hear about rabies, leprosy, and everything else that’s bad for you. If you’re tired of parachuting off Mount Everest blindfolded, or hang-gliding naked over exploding volcanoes, if you’ve slept with everything that’s got a pulse and a few that haven’t, if you really think you’ve done it all, seen it all, and there’s nothing left to tempt or deprave you—then the Caligula Club is ready to welcome you with open arms and shock you rigid with new possibilities. And if you should happen to die on the premises with a smile on your face or a scream on your lips, you can’t say you weren’t warned.
The Caligula Club can be found in Uptown, where all the very best clubs and bars, restaurants and shows form their wagons in a circle to repel the riffraff. Only the very wealthy, the very powerful, and the very well connected are allowed in to sample the rarefied delights on offer in Uptown. Rent-a-cops patrol the streets in gaudy uniforms to keep the likes of you and me out. But somehow the private cops always find a pressing reason to be somewhere else when I come around.
The Caligula Club is situated right on the very edge of Uptown, as though the area is embarrassed or ashamed of it. It’s the kind of place where the floor show consists of a sweet young couple setting themselves on fire, then having sex, where the house band consists of formerly dead musicians, some of whom were dug up as recently as that night, and the management have their own private exorcist on speed-dial. Do I really need to tell you that the Club is strictly members only? And that membership is by invitation only? They wouldn’t have me on a bet, so I was looking forward to taking my first look around inside.
Uptown—where the neon come-ons are bigger and brighter than anywhere else but no less sleazy. Hot music hammers on the cool night air, insistent and vaguely threatening. Club doors hang alluringly open, while their barkers work the crowded pavements with practiced dead-eyed skill. Getting in is easy; getting out again with your money, wits, and soul intact is something else. Buyer very much beware, in Uptown. Here be entertainment, red in tooth and claw.
Men and women paraded up and down the streets, in the very latest and most outrageous fashions, out and about to see and be seen. Making the scene, no matter how dangerous it might be, because if you didn’t, then you just weren’t anyone. High Society has its own obligations and penalties, and the very worst of them is to be ignored. Gods and monsters, yesterday’s dreams and tomorrow’s nightmares, bright young things and smiling Gucci sharks, were all out on the town and on the pull, come to Uptown to play their vicious games. And Devil take the hindmost.
None of them looked pleased to see me, but I’m used to that. Without quite seeming to, they all made sure to give me plenty of room. I play too rough for their refined tastes.
I stopped outside the Caligula Club and studied it thoughtfully from a safe distance. Big bold neon crawled all over the front of the high-tech edifice, glowing multicoloured graffiti on a steel-and-glass background. A lot of it depicted stylised sexual positions and possibilities, some of which would have made the Marquis de Sade lose his lunch. Cruelty and passion mixed together, to make a whole far nastier than the sum of its parts. You don’t come to the Caligula Club for fun, or even excitement. You come to satisfy the needs and tastes no-one else will tolerate.
And somewhere inside this den of sweaty iniquity and furious pleasures…was William Griffin, father of the missing Melissa.
The front door was being guarded by a satyr of the old school. About five feet tall, handsome in a swarthy and entirely untrustworthy way, with a bare hairy chest, furry goat’s legs, and curling horns on his forehead. Half human, half goat, and hung like a
horse. He wasn’t shy about showing it off, either. I hate these demon half-breeds. You can never tell how dangerous they are until they show you, usually in sudden and unpleasant ways. I strolled over to him like I had every right to be there, and he smiled widely at me, showing off big blocky teeth.
“Hello, sailor. Welcome to the Caligula Club. Looking for a bit of adventure, are we? Afraid it’s members only, though, and I do mean members. Are you a fine upstanding member, sir?”
“Knock it off,” I said. “You know who I am.”
“Well of course, heart face. Doesn’t everyone? But I have my orders, and it’s more than my job’s worth to let you in, not even if you was the queen himself. Management is very strict, and that’s how most of the members like it. I am Mr. Tumble, and nothing gets past me.”
“I’m John Taylor, and I’m coming in,” I said. “You know it, and I know it, so do we really have to do this the unpleasant and probably extremely violent way?”
“Sorry, sweetie pie, but I have my orders. You couldn’t be any less welcome here if you was a health inspector. Now be a good boy and run along and irritate someone else. It’s more than my job’s worth to let you get past me. You wouldn’t want to see an old satyr down on his knees and begging, would you?”
“I represent the Griffin in this matter,” I said. “So stand aside, or I’ll have him buy this place and fire your fuzzy arse.”
“Threats don’t bother me, sailor. Heard them all, I have.”
“I could walk right over you,” I said.
Mr. Tumble grew suddenly in size, shooting up so fast I had to step back to keep from being crowded. He topped out at ten feet tall, with broad shoulders and a massive chest, and powerful arms ending in viciously clawed hands. He smelled of blood and musk, and it was obvious from what was now bobbing right in front of my face that he was getting quite excited at the prospect of imminent violence. He grinned down at me, and when he spoke his voice rumbled like thunder.
“Still think you can get past me, little human?”
Something large and trunklike twitched in front of my nose. So I reached into my coat-pocket, took out the mousetrap I keep there for perfectly legitimate reasons, and let it snap shut. He howled like a foghorn, grabbed at his pride and joy with both hands, and collapsed onto the pavement before me. He shrank quickly back to his normal size, unable to concentrate through the pain, and I did the decent thing and kicked him in the head. He sank gratefully into unconsciousness, and I stepped past his weakly kicking hooves and on into the Caligula Club.
You just can’t talk to some people.
The reception lobby was big and echoing, with white-tiled floor and ceiling. Presumably so they could wipe off stains and spills more easily. There were no fittings or furnishings, only a simple reception desk with a bored-looking teenager stuck behind it, completely engrossed in that week’s edition of the Unnatural Inquirer. The lobby clearly wasn’t a place you sat around waiting. It was somewhere you hurried through, on your way to whatever awaited you. I stood before the desk, and the receptionist ignored me. The headline on her paper said Tribute Princess Diana to Tour Nightside. And at the bottom of the page, in somewhat smaller type: Keep Your Queen Mother Sightings Coming In. We Pay for Photos!
“Talk to me,” I said to the receptionist. “Or I’ll set fire to your tabloid.”
She slammed her paper down on the desk and scowled at me through her various piercings. The one through the left eyeball had to have really hurt. “Welcome to the Caligula, sir. Walk all over me, that’s what I’m here for. I don’t have to do this, you know. I could have been a doctor. If I only had a medical degree. Did sir have a particular service in mind, or would sir like me to recommend something particularly horrible?”
I got a bit distracted as a door opened on the other side of the lobby, and a crowd of mostly naked people paraded past the reception desk, not even glancing at me. From their animated chatter it seemed they were leaving one party and on their way to another. Some had patches of different-coloured skin grafted onto their bodies, and I had to wonder what happened to the donors. Others had patches of fur, or metal. Animal eyes looked out of some sockets, swivelling cameras out of others. There were those whose legs had three joints, or arms in sets of four, or faces on the back of their heads as well as on the front. Some had both sets of genitals, or none, or things I didn’t even recognise as genitals. Bunch of show-offs, basically. They hurried on and disappeared through another door on the far side of the lobby. I looked at the receptionist.
“I’m looking for someone,” I said.
“Aren’t we all? Soon as I get my claws into a decent sugar daddy, this place won’t see my pink little botty for dust. Did sir have a particular person in mind?”
“Oh, him,” The teenage receptionist pulled a face. “He’s long gone. Never comes around anymore. Seems we weren’t extreme enough for him.”
I had to admit, I boggled slightly at the thought of tastes so extreme that even the Caligula Club couldn’t satisfy them. What the hell could William Griffin be into that he couldn’t find it in a place like this? I was still considering that when a final party-goer emerged from the far door and came over to join me at the desk. William’s wife Gloria was dressed in a blood-red basque studded with razor blades, thigh-length boots of tanned human hide, and a black choker round her slender neck bristling with steel spikes. An unusually large snake coiled around her shoulders and draped down one long dark arm. As she came to a halt before me, the snake raised its head and looked at me knowingly. I gave the head a brief pat. I like snakes.
“Forgive the outfit,” said Gloria, in a calm husky voice. “It’s my turn to play Queen of Sin again, and when you’re Mistress of the Revels they expect you to dress the part. I blame Diana Rigg; I swear there are whole generations who never got over seeing her in that episode of The Avengers. I’ve been looking for a chance to speak with you, Mr. Taylor.”
“Really?” I said. “How nice.”
“I knew you’d find your way here, looking for William. I think we could have…useful things to say to each other.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” I said. “You first.”
“Not here,” said Gloria. She glared at the teenage receptionist. “You can’t trust the staff. They sell stories to the media.”
“Then you should pay us better,” said the receptionist, and disappeared behind her tabloid again. Gloria ignored her and led me across the lobby to a side door, which was almost invisible until you were right on top of it. She opened the door, and ushered me into what looked very much like a dentist’s surgery from hell. There were nasty-looking steel instruments all over the place, and half a dozen drills hung over a reclining chair fitted with heavy leather restraining straps. There was a strong smell of antiseptic and recent fear. Takes all sorts, I suppose. Gloria shut the door firmly, then put her back against it.
“Security will know you’re here by now. I’ve paid off the right people so we can have some time together, but I can’t guarantee how long we’ve got.”
“Tell me about William,” I said. “And why he came here.”
“He brought me here right after we were married. My membership was his wedding gift to me. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. I knew all about his tastes before we were married. I didn’t care. I’ve always been more interested in power. And William didn’t care who knew. He’d been everywhere and done everyone, in his search for…well, pleasure, I suppose. Though perhaps satisfaction would be a better word. He came here to be on the receiving end of very heavy S&M sessions. Bondage and discipline, whippings and brandings, that sort of thing. It’s amazing how much punishment an immortal body can soak up. He never got that much out of it that I could see, but he felt a need to be punished. I never did understand why. He could be very private about some things. Eventually they couldn’t do enough for him here, and he left. I stayed.” She smiled slowly. “I like it.”
“You didn’t share William
’s tastes?” I said.
“I told you, it’s all about power for me. And there’s never any shortage of men here for me to order around, to abuse and mistreat as I wish. Men of substance and standing, begging to satisfy my every whim, eager to suffer and bleed for my slightest nod of approval. To worship me as the goddess I am. Such a pleasant change from the way they treat me at Griffin Hall. As far as Jeremiah and Mariah are concerned, I’m just William’s latest. Even the servants can’t be bothered to remember my name. No-one expected me to last this long.”
“But you’re immortal now,” I said. “You’re part of the family.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But you’d be wrong. I’ve never been allowed to be part of the family business, even though I’d be far better at it than William, because family business is only for those of Griffin blood. And even more than that, I’m not allowed to do anything, or have anything of my own, that might possibly interfere or compete with Griffin business or interests. And that covers pretty much everything in the Nightside. So I shop till I drop, and when I get tired of that, I come here to play at being…what I thought I’d be when I married William.”
“Did you ever love him?” I said bluntly.
“He chose me. Wanted me. Made me immortal and very rich. I was very grateful. Still am, I suppose. But love…I don’t know. It’s hard to get to know William. He doesn’t let anyone in. He never once opened up to me about anything that mattered, not even in our most private moments. I married him because…he was good company, and generous, and because I was getting a little old for the catwalk. Supermodels have a very limited shelf life. I might have loved him, if I’d ever thought for one moment that he loved me.”