In Warm Blood is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series. Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it. For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
IN WARM BLOOD
Circe ran a stylish nightclub called Aeaea, just a few blocks off midtown. There were lots of Greek columns and the furniture was made of marble and wood with throw pillows and tapestries. Red, green and gold colors dominated the sprawling room and the customers were definitely from the dressier set. A night’s entertainment in Aeaea was unquestionably out of my usual price range, but I was having a good week.
With the kiddie cops, flanking me, I had to grease the doorman with two full sovereigns. Once we were inside, the ambiance of the place hit me like a slap in the face from an angry dame. The air was a heady mix of scents--wines, perfumes, sweat--with a soft jazz band backing up a sultry songbird on the stage. Most of the customers were taking in the show with the only ones making competitive noise huddled in shrouded booths. The tables in a couple of booths were hosting card games. Tarot readings were going on in another. The booth beyond that sounded like someone was running a spirited dice game.
“Hey, big man,” an inebriated young woman greeted me as she grabbed onto my arm, “you look like you need to loosen up a little.” She giggled as she pulled me toward a curtained doorway, “Come on! We’ve got what you’re looking for right in here. A little Draught of the Divinity? Quaff of the Kraken? Journeyman’s Potion? Yeah, that‘s the one. It‘ll send you tripping hard.”
“Stone?” Overknight asked after me, pulling on my other arm. “What’re you doing?”
“What I came here for,” I said.
“She just offered you three illegal substances,” Homer said. “Are they serving mind-altering drinks in that room?”
“Keep on counting, boy scout,” I told him. “I imagine they have at least a few more rules they’re breaking.” As we stepped through the translucent silk curtain, I saw a trio gathered around a silver-trimmed, glass hookah. I tapped the nearest man on the shoulder and asked, “What’s burning tonight?”
“Unspeakable Serenity,” he laughed as he waited for his turn to smoke again.
“Is that legal?” Homer asked. “I’ve never heard of that.”
“Easy, Homer,” Overknight said. “Breathe.”
“Not in here,” Homer said sternly.
“Look over there, man,“ I pointed out a few others giggling a few feet away. “Is that Monstrous Nothing?”
“I think it’s Frost and Burning Desire,” Overknight said.
It was hard to tell in the dim light, but I think I saw Homer’s forehead veins start to throb intensely. I walked towards a semi-circular couch with a group of men and girls seated around a low stone table. Some of the revelers were seated or slumped on the couch, a couple on the floor, none of them fully dressed and all of them looking exceedingly dazed.
“Stone, what’re you--?”
“What have we here?” I asked the dizzy couch potatoes.
“Oh, this?” one of the men said, looking to the table and gesturing toward the iridescent purple crystal balls resting on a serving tray. “Just…doin’ a little orb, officer.” The group giggled uncontrollably.
“Yeah,” one of the women said dreamily, holding another of the glowing spheres in her lap, “just…just…orb. Yay.”
“No, that’s doing a little orb,” Overknight said, pointing at the purple sphere. “That,” she said, pointing to an iridescent gold sphere in the lap of one of the girls on the floor, “is a Golden Orb of Temptations.”
That caught Homer’s attention.
“What?“ Homer asked fiercely, suddenly at my other shoulder. “Golden orb is banned across the entire plane and these two blissed out little honeys look like they’d still be underage even if I added their ages together.”
“Let’s see some ID, girls,” Overknight commanded.
“I’d be surprised if they can move,” I said.
“I bet my bra’s older than either one of them,” Overknight said. “Excuse me, Brick. You and you, move over to that side of the couch. You--”
“OK, you two amuse yourselves here,” I said, turning to head back to the club’s main room. “I still need to talk with the boss, so try to give me about twenty minutes before you shut the place down.”
I went scouting on my own, getting a little distance from my escorts. Aeaea had a reputation as a place that had to be on any list of places to check if you were looking for a missing person. You couldn’t honestly say you’d made a thorough search until you’d checked at Aeaea. The person I was looking for hadn’t been reported missing, though. In fact, she liked to make sure people knew where she could be found.
“Circe,” I said, approaching the spicy Mediterranean dish. She was doing her usual bit: floating just a few inches off the floor in a few yards of sheer white silk that looked like it was trying to float off her body as much as it was avoiding gravity. Her clothes swirled around her like she was a nymph dancing underwater with hypnotic grace. Like the sea, Circe’s ancient talents for toying with and destroying any man fool enough to disrespect her mysteries and powers were not to be forgotten. “How can so much fabric cover so little flesh? I mean, that must be some powerful spell.”
If nothing else, no one could say Circe didn‘t keep an interesting staff. The first one that came at me was Arlo. He was a cross between a man and I didn‘t know what, but it did still have hair. He had lots of hair. She wouldn‘t tell, but I’d always thought that maybe Circe had found a way to make a guard from hair. “Bad career move, Arlo.“ I caught him by the wrist and hand he had grabbed me with. He was heavy and slower than he needed to be. It didn’t take much effort to send his mass flying across a couple of tables with crashing and clattering furniture and dishes. The upscale crowd didn’t seem to miss a moment of enjoying their evening. They were accustomed to ignoring the help. The second guard looked kind of scaly.
“Virgil! Heel!” Circe commanded sharply.
Virgil hissed at me but obeyed his mistress. “That’ll buff right out,” I said, nodding at Arlo and his mess.
“Brick Stone,” she said in a sultry, voice that I’d seen melt men before. “What’re you doing in here, besides disturbing the peace of my oasis of entertainment?”
I had her attention, anyway, I knew, watching her turn in the air like a ballet dancer, abandoning her routine circuit of flirting her way through the customers without even an “Excuse me.” Well, if nothing else, she wrote the book on being a doxy with moxie, so she knew they‘d put up with her and come back for more. That was part of the allure of her power. “You met with Jack Morgan a few days ago.”
“It never ends. Why do people like you always come to me in search of the lost?” she asked, the icy stare from her pale eyes trying to pierce the armor of my private eye trench coat (standard issue).
“You mean, besides your vast wisdom?” I asked. “You draw men like ice cream trucks draw eight-year-olds, sweetness.”
“Why, Mr. Stone,” Circe said, taking my hand and leading me to her private booth, “I do believe you’ve added flattery to the amalgamation of your charms.”
Someone had obviously invested in a word-a-day calendar. A single candle flickered at the center of the round table, pushing back some of the shadow that shrouded us. “It would’ve been ungentlemanly of me to lead off the conversation by talking about your reputation.”
“Indeed,“ she said, her tone momentarily colder. “People do come here just to have a good time, you know.”
“It’s the ones who don’t leave that become a concern. There‘s a rumor going around that you have sirens up on the stage to lure men in here.”
“My darling, men are far from complicated. Merely having women here would be enough to bring men here,” she explained as she waved a hand at somebody and set in motion a flurry of servers. Our tabletop was suddenly covered with an assortment of dishes, sporting bread, cheeses, oil, honey, wine and meat. “If not that, then alcohol and moderate quality food. Aeaea offers all three.”
“Well, there’s a marketing campaign if I ever heard one,” I said. “I wasn‘t staying for dinner.”
“This is just an appetizer, darling,” Circe explained, dipping some bread in both oil and honey. “Be my guest.”
“I had a late lunch with friends, actually, but thanks.”
She paused slightly and forced a smile. “You still won’t break bread with me after all these years? I’m crushed.”
She was lying. No matter how many years all her magics let her pass without showing or whatever else was within her powers, lying was one thing I figured I could always count on her to use. “I’m just a private gumshoe, Circe. You know your prices are way out of my league.” It’d be a cold day in Hell when I’d go to Circe for food or drink. “So who’s up on the stage singing the blues?”
“Those two? Didn’t you read the marquee?”
“Of course not, doll,” I told her. “You know I came here to see you and nobody else.”
She gave a coy giggle and stroked my cheek. “Those are The Nightingales, Philomela and Procne, sisters mired in tragedy. The betrayal of a lying king found them in a gruesome love triangle. Their plot of bloody revenge was thwarted when the powers of Olympus saw fit to change them to songbirds.”
“Sounds like a real tearjerker,” I told her. “They’re working for you now?”
“I know what it’s like to need a chance for a fresh start. We managed a deal: work visas and restoration of their human forms in exchange for three nights a week and a few sovereigns to feather their nest.”
“And here I thought they’d work for chicken feed.”
“Nothing comes for so low a price here, darling man,” Circe said, reaching out to stroke my hand.
“What could you possibly want from so simple a man as I?” I asked my seductive hostess.
“Let’s see what you’ve got to offer,” she said coyly.
“Just this,” I said, holding up a little blue matchbook that I’d pulled from my pocket. “One like a thousand others in here.”
“Except that Aeaea’s matchbooks are black,” she said, dumping a platter of bread onto the table. “That one I gave to Jack. It‘s blue because I enchanted it.”
“Of course,” I said. “I should’ve known.” If I was going to come all the way to Circe’s club, I should’ve expected that I’d have to deal with magic.
“There’s something else that seems different about you, dear man,” Circe said, still eyeing me oddly as she tried to probe my unseen depths. “I can’t quite put my finger on it…”
“You know I’m not that easy,” I teased her. “Now, about this matchbook…”
“You got this from Jack yet you don’t know where he is?” she asked. “I haven’t seen him since--”
“I never said he was lost,” I told her. “I’m not looking for Jack. He’s dead. His wife killed him.”
“Well, that makes much more sense,” Circe said.
“Glad I could help,” I said dryly, as if I‘d come to answer mysteries for her. “So…magic matchbook does what?”
“I’ve been outside. It’s wet,” I pointed out.
“So?” she asked me. “Light the matches and drop the book onto the platter.”
“Alright,” I said, tearing a match from the book and setting the cardboard aflame. We both watched as the damp matchbook burned. The fire spread across it quickly and changed color from blue to green, blossoming like a flaming bouquet. In a few seconds, the platter surface was nearly covered with a dancing fire. “So…It’s a nice centerpiece. It’s almost hypnotic, in fact.”
“Reach in,” she said.
“Excuse you? Have you been drinking your own absinthe?”
“Do you want your clues or not, detective?” she asked with a sly smile.
“Clues?” I echoed, looking into the fire. “What sort of clues?”
“You lit it,” Circe explained, taking me by the wrist and guiding my hand toward the fire, “so you have to reach in and find out.”
“One day,” I said, pushing up my sleeve, “we’re going to have a long talk about how much I hate magic.” Circe chuckled at me. The fact that I amused her would be of great comfort to me in the burn ward. I took a deep breath and thrust my hand into the flame. I was prepared to pull back from the heat, but it was only warm and didn’t burn. Then, I felt it…velvet. My fingers grabbed the fabric and pulled a dark blue pouch from the flames. “Feels like it’s about a pound,” I said, dropping the small bag on the table in front of me.
“Oooh, this is delicious,” the smiling sorceress said, her eyes lighting up ecstatically even as the fire I’d started died out. “Open it! Open it!”
“Keep your toga on,” I told her. “I’m getting it. Sweet mama…”
“It’s a bag of diamonds,” I said, looking at the gems sparkling like ice on fire even in the club‘s dim light. “A pound of diamonds.”
“That’s it? That can’t be it,” Circe protested.
“Well, admittedly, it’s not much of a clue, but it‘s a nice retirement package,” I said, reaching into the bag. “Ah…how about this?” I pulled a folded…postcard from the bag. “Eat at Joe’s.” There was a picture of Joe’s Diner on the front of the card. On the back, someone had scribbled, “Good place to eat.” Looked like it must’ve been a clue. Hmmm…There was a black business card, heavy stock, pricey. “SOC” embossed in gold. Clues that brought more questions. Those were always my favorite. I liked those as much as I did magic.
“Give me that,” Circe said, making a simple hand gesture that caused the bag to slide across the table to her. “You’re going too slowly. I’m doing a set in a few minutes and I’d hate to keep the crowd waiting.”
She dug into the bag with her slender fingers, pushing around through the diamonds, and suddenly smiled. She smiled like a kid with a cereal box toy as she pulled her hand out. A silver chain followed her hand. At the other end of the chain, dangling below her hand, her eyes hungrily studied a shimmering white opal.
“Mine,” she said with a big toothy grin.
“Well, OK, I guess,” I said, eyeing her suspiciously.
“Good guess,” she said, shoving the bag of diamonds back at me. “Be a gentleman, won’t you?”
She turned her back to me, holding the chain out to me with one hand and her long, silky hair with the other.
“Sure,” I said, taking the chain and hanging the pendant from her long, perfect neck. “Something special for the lady who conjures everything?”
“There’s only one way that you could make me any happier tonight, Brick,” Circe said, turning back to face me as she adjusted her new bauble. She sighed, then said, “I know that’s not happening tonight, though. Run off with your playmates. I know you have a lot to do.”
“How do you…?”
“I know a great many things,” she said, leaning back in the booth with a suspicious smile, “now even what lurks in the minds of men, though I can’t believe you’re not staying to hear me sing toni…You have the Monarch‘s Hope! That‘s what‘s different. You have it.”
“Yeah,” I said, pulling the glowing amethyst heart from my jacket pocket. “What do you know about it?”
“Oh, it’s still as beautiful as ever,” she admired. “It’s so old and marvelous, full of potential and destiny. Treat it with care and respect.”
“What’s it do?” I asked her. “What’s it for?”
“I’m sure it will reveal all that it needs you to know in due time, dear detective.”
I sighed again. “You know I’m always straight with you, Circe. Don’t take this personally, but I hate magic.”
She smiled and laughed at me as she said, “I know, dear boy, and I never fail to appreciate the deep irony of your unique situation because of that.”
I also hated the cryptic answers that came my way because of magic. “What does ‘SOC’ mean?” I asked her.
“When is a murder not a homicide?” she asked in return.
“When it doesn’t get to court,” I answered. “This is a business card. Who else was Jack Morgan working for, Circe?”
“Perhaps you should ask the deadly widow.”
“Too late,” I told her. “I put a hole in her chest.”
“Maybe not so late as you think…or maybe later still. You be careful out there, heartbreaker,” she chuckled.
“Good night, Brick,” she said, dismissing me. “Always a pleasure.”
“Thanks for your hospitality,” I said, pocketing my new acquisitions and getting up from the table. “Your company is always a test of my resolve.”
“I’ll see you again soon, I’m sure. Just don‘t keep me waiting too long.”