When I was my fandom's whore
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Jan. 7th, 2006 | 03:48 am
The sound of the telephone roused Maedhros from the colourless daydream he’d fallen into watching the fuzzy shapes on the little CCTV that showed the grey blotch of street outside the club door. It had been half an hour since a living creature had entered that square of the world and he even his mind had shut down from so long staring at paving slabs.
Patch was sitting on a wooden seat opposite resting one foot on his knee. He wore Chelsea boots and a small strip of rubber was hanging from the sole. Maedhros remembered he had wanted to twist it off an hour ago. Patch looked up from his book. From room three the muffled sounds of work drifted across in between the phones’ screeches.
Maedhros picked up the receiver.
“Namarie Maedhros,” drawled Deeded down the line. “I need your help.”
“I’m working Deedee,”
Patch went back to his book ignoring the unintelligible conversation.
“I know honey, that’s why I called here. I got a kid been beat up on the West Street walkway,”
“I don’t think he’s legal.”
“Why are you calling me?”
“You’ve got a cellar, haven’t you?”
“Deedee, this club is a cellar. We don’t have a hospital wing.”
“You’ve got a store room.”
“It’s freezing in there. And it’s damp. All our whips got mildew last winter.”
“Got any other ideas where I can put him?”
“The boat home?”
Deedee’s voice suddenly became very thin.
“As one illegal to another, I suggest you start looking after your own.”
“Is he one of us?”
“No,” said Deedee. “But he’s one of something.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know yet. But I’ll find out if you help me.”
“Alright, bring him down.”
There was a pause. When Deedee spoke again her voice was unusually small.
“I was rather hoping you’d help me move him.”
“Can’t you get a taxi?”
“He’s a real mess Maedhros. They’d never take him.”
“No, just blood.”
Maedhros put the receiver back into its cradle a little to forcefully. He wondered what it was that he’d lost to let himself be ordered around by a common Sinda. Almost everything he thought grimly, pulling his coat over his rubber t-shirt.
When he got to the walkway there was no sign of Deedee. The Hudson blew its usual February bleached out chill back in to the city. The concrete pillars of the walkway looked like the city’s exposed bones.
Maedhros looked round. Deedee was kneeling in the doorway of what had once been a garage. There was a thick trail of blood at her feet leading from the gangway to the body lying beside her.
“All that’s coming from him?” Maedhros asked.
“It’s stopped now, the worst of it,” said Deedee. “Did you bring a blanket?”
“Did you ask me to bring a blanket?”
“I thought it would have been obvious he’d need a blanket.”
“I’m a fighter Deedee not a nurse.”
Maedhros peered over Deedee’s shoulder to take in her patient. He thought he saw the swollen eyelids flicker a little at being watched.
“Are you sure he’s overage?”
“He said he was nineteen.”
“He looks like a Teleri,” said Maedhros. “One of Olwe’s lot.”
“Blood and blonde hair?”
“And the way the skin bruises is very dramatic, like ink on snow.”
“I guess you’ve seen quite a lot of that.”
“Some spilt ink, yes.”
“I’m quarter Telerin,” said Deedee.
“I didn’t know that.”
“You didn’t think my hair came out of a bottle did you?”
“With you Deedee, I never know.”
“We should get him out of here,” she said.
Maedhros knelt down to lift up the boy and noticed the blood streak on his left ear where an earring must have been. Then he brusquely flung him over his right shoulder and headed back to the club.
“They weren’t children,” said the dark haired elf standing in the clearing. The bare trees were like cracks in the sky.
“A few more years and they would have been fighting with their father,” said the lighter haired one.
Maedhros didn’t kill them, not even for answering back. It would have been a pointless indulgence; two abuses of power do not cancel each other out. He turned on his heel into the snowy wood.
So when they came to the door of Club Clinton, - the ragged greying one, the crazy-eyed one, the earnest one with the green eyes who wasn’t much more than a kid himself, - saying they were looking for a murderer, Maedhros kicked the silver haired kid into the cupboard under the sink.
They put him in the storeroom. It stunk of damp and the distant smell of Jeyes fluid from the cleaners who came in before the workers every morning at 9am. Maedhros found a reasonably clean mattress to put him on. Deedee fussed over him, feeling under his ribcage, his legs and arms.
“He’s still bleeding,” she said.
Maedhros looked at him. The immediate wounds seemed to have closed up. There was still blood in his hair and over his face, head wounds he knew from experience bled like demons for almost no reason.
“Yes. Here, he’s bled before too.” She was holding his arm at the elbow.
“The bruises are old. It’s badly swollen, almost seized up, I’d guess. He’s bleeding into his stomach too. Listen, I think I might have to go away and get something.”
“There’s a charity mission that helps me out sometimes. They run a hospital in the projects in Suvesant Town. They’re mostly nuns but Ellie, the head Doctor is cool.”
“He’s cool, he helps me out.”
“What do you need?”
“Factor VIII. If I’m guessing right, blondie here has Haemophilia.”
“Blood – lover?”
“It’s an inherited condition. It’s prevalent amongst the inbred. Queen Victoria of England was a carrier. It means his blood is missing the muck that makes ordinary human blood clot.”
He looked at her. She replied quickly:
“I need to take a sample and I need to do a test. If I’m right I’ll be back with what he needs to sort him out. Keep him comfortable and keep him warm.”
And without a further word she was out the door.
Maedhros found some old green velvet curtains, only slightly mouldy, to wrap him up in. The boy murmured as he worked.
“Shush,” said Maedhros. “Shush. Your safe now, Deedee’s gone to get something to fix you.”
“Cigarette?” He whispered.
“Not in your bloody condition.”
He rolled over on the mattress his swollen bottom lip slightly protruding. Maedhros felt a little snarly at his sulk.
“Hey,” He said. “I can kick you out on the street if you’d like that better.”
Suddenly, he struggled to sit up. He was obviously fighting pain, his skin was chalky white under the bruises as he pushed himself upward.”
“Fuck you,” He said in an archaic accent, too English for royalty to use these days.
“Oh Kid, come on,” said Maedhros, “You’re bleeding like a bastard and your safe here. Don’t annoy me.”
He rolled his eyes in their purple sockets. It must have hurt. He was that young Maedhros thought; he was at that age where the skin was still bright and luminous and one could fool oneself that there was an immortal underneath until he opened his mouth.
“Come on, “Maedhros continued, “Don’t fuck yourself up. We’re all in the same boat here. You got rolled. These things happen. Now lie quietly like a good kid until Deedee sorts you out.”
“I got – what?”
“A trick beat you up. Trust me, I know the score.”
He was as upright as he could be, resting on his good elbow. He tried to pull the parts of his face still under his command into an expression of ultimate superciliousness.
“I don’t think so,”
He favoured Maedhros with his most offensive stare.
“But if you would kindly tell me where I am and how I got here I will pay you a more exorbitant rate than you usually command.”
The boy lifted his damaged arm painfully and patted his pockets.
“Ah,” he said, “I seem to be momentarily financially embarrassed.”
“Norman French,” he hissed, “Viking if you look back far enough. Hence the hair.”
“Silver blonde is still pretty rare for a Viking,”
“Yes, well I’m rather extraordinary.”
“So Dr. Deedee says. Your blood doesn’t seem to be clotting an you are currently engaged in bleeding to death.”
He quietened at that.
He made a spluttering noise that could have been a laugh.
“Deedee is getting something to fix you. Now you are a guest of mine, would you mind telling me your name and your business with as few insults as possible?”
“That’s my affair. Don’t you smoke?”
“No, and you shouldn’t either.”
“Then can I ask you a question?”
“You can ask.”
“What are you doing here in a – self confessed - whorehouse when I clearly remember being taught in school you were extinct?”
“Am I that obvious?”
“Well, I’m guessing the Muggles here would have their own theories about you. But you do seem to be glowing in the dark.”
“I’m sure you had the smarts not to believe everything your teachers told you.”
He looked momentarily at a loss.
“I don’t believe anything anyone tells me. That’s rather my problem.”
“Anyone? Then why believe in me?”
“Because I can see you.”
For a minute he was lost in pain. He seemed swallowed up by some spasm deep within him. Maedhros held him, and the creature struggled a bit at the arms over his body. He drew back so he was gently stroking his arm. The boy looked shocked to find the tension easing.
For all your protests, you are one of us Maedhros thought.
“You don’t need to give your real name,” he said, still stroking. The boy seemed to relax at each touch knowing the Calaquendi was milking the pain out of his body with each stroke. “No one here uses their real name. You can call me Red.”
“I don’t know Red,” he said dizzily.
“You do now,” said Maedhros with a smile.
“No, I don’t know Red. I’ve never seen it,” He sounded snappish from the weakness seeping the words from his brain. He swallowed, checked himself and added, “I’m colour-blind. All the men in our family are.” He laughed. “That’s why we prefer the dark. In the dark I can see as well as anyone else.”
“Goodness, you are inbred.”
“Yes, and it’s killing you.”
“Of course, the Arachnae potion would be wearing off by now.”
“It’s what, it’s what we use to treat it. A lot of us, over the years have had what I’ve got. I know. Given the chance I’ll bleed and it won’t stop, right?”
“Yes, I think that was what Deedee was getting at.”
“I’ve taken it since I was a kid. No side effects, sorts you right out. We have our own way of dealing with the inconveniences of privilege.”
“Never thought of widening the gene pool?”
“And loosing our power. No.”
“Look I’m dying, please don’t let me suffer nicotine withdrawal while I’m doing so.”
Fair enough, thought Maedhros. He’s dying anyway; it’s the human condition. He wandered off. Jain’s Lucky Strikes were still hidden behind the bar where he’d left them to go into room four. He stole three and the emergency matches for when the dubious electrics failed.
Maedhros lit a cigarette in his mouth and handed it to the boy who lay back on the mattress and inhaled ravenously. The words started to pour out with the carbon monoxide, like he had been unplugged.
“Our Power, our charisma if you like, it’s in our blood. We’re like the fated prince, the direct descendant of the direct descendant; we’re the Damn heirs to everything, the best in the business. We inherit history in a direct line through the blood. That’s worth a few side effects.”
“You’re delirious,” said the heir of Feanor.
“I know, but it fucking well means something to us mortals.”
Maedhros sighed. The boy was as hectic as a consumptive. It’s funny what humanity cherishes, he thought. It’s that pathetic stab at immortality that drove Numenor crazy; keeping it in the family is as good as living forever. The kid had the blood of heroes in his veins no doubt, but it had clearly fossilized and turned sour. It no longer nurtured. It was a miracle it still contained life force at all.
Maedhros smiled and finally understood the law that forbid the Noldor to marry closer than second cousins. Humanity, the only species that never grasped the strength of the mongrel.
“It doesn’t seem to have done you much good.”
“Ah, well you see, there was a war.”
Oh. Thought Maedhros. My line. How I explain anything unusual. Of course, I have the accent and the exotic looks to pull it off.
“In England. And in Scotland, rather a lot of it in Scotland in fact. Some minor skirmishes in the other territories.”
Maedhros blinked. Even his reasonable grasp of conspiracy theories gleaned from the abandoned copies of the Fortran Times Zack sometimes left in the club gave no indication of a war in the United Kingdom. Unless the blonde was some illegitimate scion of the late Diana Windsor, which he supposed would explain the boy’s air of someone skating on the edge of breakdown.
“There was a war in England?”
“Yes, there was. Don’t ask.”
“I didn’t, you told.”
Deedee had rolled the boy’s sleeve up over the swollen elbow. He twitched it for a minute, then Maedhros noticed there was a small mark slightly below the swollen joint. It looked like a brand with a tattoo over it. Body modifications, they called them these days all the kids that showed up with piercings and scarifications and Valar knows what. I’m modified quite enough thank you, he thought. He caught a good look at it; definitely on the gothic side of atheistically pleasing then the other hand obliterated it.
The boy ground the snub end of the lucky strike over the mark. He didn’t flinch. Drama queen, thought Maedhros.
“I had rather thought you’d been injured enough for one day.”
“It doesn’t go away,” he said softly.
“You could probably get laser treatment.”
The boy made a strange hacking sound that Maedhros guessed was laughter.
“Wouldn’t work. That’s for keeps – forever.”
He looked at Maedhros. Maedhros who’s own war wounds amounted to slightly more than a bad tattoo was not inclined to be charitable.
“There are worse things to have to live with.”
“No,” He said simply. “There aren’t.”
When Deedee returned Patch was sitting beside the semi-conscious boy, murmuring a fairy story of hope in his soft, deep, eminently trustable voice. He could work for him and Kiki when their club got set up. They’d sponsor him for a visa; send him on a college course. A good-looking smart kid like him could get ahead, green card or no. He was sure of it; hell he knew lots of people who’d made it starting from the wrong side of immigration law. This city was practically built by illegals.
The kid was quiet. It was castles-in-the-sky talk and maybe he could still take in enough to know it. But the hope at least had a nurturing value. The confident voice drawing out pictures of a future that wasn’t huddling in the shadows of life until one became to old for the game was a reason to cling on at least. Deedee always thought it a shame Patch was chasing the nightclub dream and didn’t consider going into medicine. He had a rare gift for calming people in the worst situations.
Deedee knelt beside them.
“Hey kid,” she said softly.
He raised his eyes enough to sweep a glance at her face. Then they fixed on the metal badge on her bag and stuck there.
Patch held out a cup half full of biscuit coloured fluid and gave the boy a mouthful. Tea, thought Deedee. Red must have told him the kid was English. Patch was thoughtful like that.
“How you doing?”
The boy kept staring at the badge. Something bright and shiny Deedee thought.
“You like that?”
He watched it flicker in the light as she moved. Sugar on his lips and a fuzzy warm voice in his ears and the little lights glittering off twin serpents around a sword. There wasn’t anything else.
The snakes disappeared and he was left staring at the grey cloth of her side. His eyes flickered shut and they danced on the blood inside them.
A girl’s voice, a nice voice, clear like water dripping from leaves. He thought he might be out in the sunshine when she spoke, in a forest a long way from people. The water dripped harder. A message wasn’t getting through. Then the chocolate buzz of the man, and then silence which was lovely because his head hurt.
The girl stabbed him in the arm.
“What?” He sat bolt upright in panic. His eyes opened very wide and he screamed. His arm felt numb and he looked down and saw what looked like a glass mosquito stuck in it. He struggled and blood run down his arm. The man got him in a bear hug and stopped him moving. He was very strong.
“Shush, it’s just an injection. Shush.” Said the woman.
“You’re stealing my blood,” he said.
“Making you better,” The man said. Fingers run over the bruises under his hair. He tried to snap at the hand with his teeth.
“I’m giving you blood,” said the woman. “Or blood product anyway.”
He snarled, bared his teeth, couldn’t think of anything else to do.
The woman pulled the mosquito off his arm. His blood was in its belly. He could see that.
“Give me that!”
“I need to throw it away. It’s not hygienic.”
“Give me that!” His voice was commanding, his spell casting voice. He demanded of the world and it bent beneath his fingers. He had no wand and was too weak for magic, but it worked anyway. She took the metal nose off the creature and gave it to him.
He felt calmer. He clutched the barrel in his hand. It was made of something hard and smooth like moulded fingernails. The world was cold and cruel and increasingly painful but at least he could hold on to his blood. He replayed the attack again softly in his head, feeling for any nuances he missed.
“Whose blood did you give me?”
The woman laughed and it was a pleasant noise despite everything. Sharp and soothing, like real lemonade. He was terribly thirsty.
“I gave you factor eight. It’s a blood product that helps your blood clot. It’ll stop you bleeding.”
“From a blood bank.”
“I never put any of my blood in a bank.”
“Of course it’s not yours. Yours doesn’t clot. It wouldn’t be much use to you.”
“Then - whose?”
“A couple of hundred blood donors? It’s only blood product, probably came from a lot of different people.”
“What’s a blood donor?”
“Just an ordinary person who gives a bit of their blood now and again in case someone else needs it.”
“Because it saves lives. It just saved yours.”
“But, that doesn’t make sense.” His pulse was weak and fast and fluttering in his ears. “They don’t know me.”
He tried to focus on her. Her skin was a clean silver in a grubby world.
“I don’t know. I suppose it makes people feel better to think they’re helping strangers.”
“You put blood inside me of several hundred muggles who all want to save my life?”
“If muggles mean people, then yes that’s just what I did.”
He lay back. There were probable implications of this. Was he a muggle now? Or a mudblood? He wondered if he'd just been attacked and if he should care. Feel dirty. He felt a sweat film greasily over his forehead like he was becoming ill. Then he gave in to the darkness.
Deedee stopped by the open door to the club’s toilets. Maedhros was bent over the sink rinsing his mouth under the cold-water tap. She watched him for a moment, eyes shut, snatching at the water with his lips deliberately as a cat. He stood up and splashed a little of the water on his slightly flushed cheekbones, smoothed down his braids, and gave the mirror a strange appraising glance that she felt embarrassed at witnessing.
She knew all the boys did that in private, looked into the mirror to see if their faces had changed.
“Maedhros? Can we talk?”
Maedhros inclined his head with little surprise. Dr. Darthadúliel has bitten off more than she can chew with this one, he thought. His eyes shut snakily and he nodded.
“In the back room, come on.”
The clock showed two thirty am. Maedhros made his way back through the clubs foyer, switching on the main lights as he went, breaking the spell. Without the shadows, the club looked tawdry. The carpet was stained with wax and chewing gum, the marble top of the bar became painted plywood, the pictures of naked men that lined the walls looked foolish, cheesy poses, cocks like sausage meat. Seduction withered on the air. The boy’s faces at the bar looked pale and tired.
Maedhros run up the stairs and pulled down the shutters. Kiki wafted in behind him looking a bit tired herself, although goodness knows what she did during the day. Slept, said Patch, when asked. She seemed to have attained the teenage fantasy of turning star-crossed lover into a full time occupation. She was wearing one of Patch’s battered jackets over a pink sundress. In February. She picked her way delicately down the stairs in kitten heels and nearly nude nylons that Deedee had stolen from her and settled herself behind Patch’s chair, putting her arms over his shoulders. Maedhros opened the till and counted out everyone’s earnings to the sound of their soft voices cooing to each other. He didn’t know the language, Deedee had told him it was Greek.
When everyone had been paid up and retreated up the stairs, Maedhros put on the kettle and brewed a pot of coffee in the little kitchen behind the bar. He swallowed a few mouthfuls of cold Singapore noodles, closed the box and put it in the refrigerator.
“So what should I do with him? Pin a note on him for the cleaners – “Don’t throw this out?””
Maedhros was very good with these notes, Zack’s magazines, Patch’s battered paperbacks, Jain’s scribbles all left behind and all marked up safely as someone’s property from the unseen hands that vacuumed the carpets and cleaned the bed sheets each morning. They were found so safely the next time the boys turned up on shift they’d all got lazy about remembering to take their belongings home.
“Do you think the cleaners go in that storeroom? There was dust an inch thick in there.”
“They might do. I’ve never seen them.”
Maedhros briefly wondered if brothel cleaning commanded a higher premium than offices. He twisted the club’s share of the takings into a manila petty cash envelope, licked it sealed and then used a discarded chair leg to ram it into the chute at the top of the safe.
“Well, we could stop them.”
“Maedhros, you might have been brought up to believe all elven power resides in objects you can make to trap it in, but I was brought up in the hidden kingdom.”
“Didn’t it get bulldozed?”
“In the end,” said Deedee slowly, “it did get bulldozed. We lost the ability to protect a whole kingdom. But a single room shouldn’t be too much of a problem. How do you think the NYPD haven’t found me and Treacle’s hideout yet?”
“Because it’s on top of the Richloux Theatre?”
“With an attached herb garden?”
“Besides, I’m guessing the cleaners won’t be going out of their way to look for extra rooms to tidy.”
“Alright, you do your Galadrahim voodoo to keep him safe for a few nights, then what?”
“I was rather hoping you’d have some answers for that.”
Maedhros poured the coffee.
“So, not only do you expect me to house him and feed him, you also expect me to find him a future.”
“You’re good at that sort of thing.”
“Deedee, if I was in any was good at that sort of thing don’t you think I’d sort out the boys here in my care with better futures?”
“You hold them together.”
“Yes well, I was the eldest in a large family and old habits die hard. Especially when there’s surviving to be done.”
Bloody fitting end for the heir of Feanor, Maedhros smiled into his coffee. Commanding the underlings to the last, even if your captains are now greatly reduced in stature and circumstance. I wonder if the Valar are still taking an interest in my fate after all.
“Did he give you any clues as to where he came from?”
“At a guess, England.”
“That’s not quite what I meant. You know more about the world than me, you must have picked up some clues.” Deedee blew on her coffee. She took it black. She’s really studied the hard bitten image thought Maedhros, smiling at her warrior braids. For someone born after the event.
“He’s English, he’s upper class, and he’s never been acquainted with modern medicine. That’s all I got. Oh and he’s not a sex worker. You were wrong.”
“And can you think of a logical conclusion for that?”
“He was brought up in some hippy commune or cult that didn’t agree with germ theory. There are still plenty of pockets of well to do people that don’t. Look.”
He rummaged under the telephone directory and came up with a copy of Zack’s “Aquarian Era” magazine and turned to picture of a smart suited grim faced couple walking purposefully. The headline read “Berkley, California: Couple face murder charge for refusing medical intervention on baby.”
Deedee nodded, taking it in.
“Except,” she said. “Whatever this boy’s parents were giving him was working.”
“Yes. Haemophilia’s very serious if not controlled. I doubt he’d still be alive if he were being treated with mumbo jumbo. At the very least, he’d be half crippled. But he’s not. There are no signs of any previous bleeding.”
“Well, they must have been good alternative medical practitioners.”
“Possibly, but that in itself is odd. I mean, normally mortals are very bad at that sort of thing. Look at all the things that kill them.”
“He said something,” said Maedhros slowly, “About an Arachnae Potion. Arachnae means –.”
“Spider,” Finished Deedee. “I am a Doctor. That requires quite a in depth knowledge of Latin.”
“Really,” said Maedhros. “I thought it was nineteenth century stuff.”
“It makes us sound so much more impressive,” said Deedee. “All healing has an element of showmanship. Ask Saint Tecia of Ynys Ariconium.”
Maedhros snorted. “I wonder if Treacle would know what an Arachnae potion was.”
“I could make a good guess. Come on Maedhros, you must have some memories of field healing? Putting spiders webs on wounds to stop the bleeding?”
“I think the Noldor were a little more advanced than that, even back then.”
“It works, anyway. I’m guessing the boy grew up being given some concoction made with spiders webs as some form of sympathetic magic.”
“Usual mortal grasping at straws. Treacle knows more about it than me. He saw a lot of it during his time as a Saint, well, didn’t see.”
She mused into her coffee. Maedhros was suddenly struck by how very fond of her he was, for all her poses of experience. He’d thought her a rather ordinary looking elf when he first met her. Pretty enough by human standards but nothing to loose a kingdom for to a Noldor. Over time, he’d revised his opinion. She had what one might call an “interesting face” although he’d never tell her that. It sounded too impolite. He liked women on the odder side of beautiful, they reminded him of his mother. Who was remarkable. He liked Deedee’s face, he decided.
“If it didn’t work, why did mortals persist with for so long?”
“Never underestimate the power of mortal hope,” said Deedee in that grandiose voice she used when quoting Treacle. “They’ll believe anything rather than give up the fight to live. It’s a truly heroic part of their nature.”
Yes, thought Maedhros. Look at my boys.
“Besides,” she added, “The important thing now is this sympathetic magic worked.”
“Ever heard of Merlin Ambrosias?”
“As in court wizard to King Arthur? Of course, mortal fairy tales have penetrated even down here. ”
In fact, though Maedhros, they carry considerably more weight down here where reality sucks than they do in the daylight world where it’s cosy.
“Maedhros, we are mortal fairy tales.”
“But you said yourself, mortal magic doesn’t work.”
“I’ve never known it to work, and Treacle hasn’t either. But there were stories of mortals the magic did work for. Not everyone in sixth century Britain thought Treacle was a Saint. Some people called him a wizard. And they accepted that as normal. The idea that there were some humans who could do what others couldn’t do wasn’t strange to them.”
“Perhaps that’s just the human capacity for blind faith again.”
“It doesn’t explain why no one made much of a fuss over the blind guy on the island who could mysteriously cure untreatable illnesses.”
“Canonisation is rather a big fuss.”
“Oh everyone got canonised back then. Discover a new village well, have a Sainthood. Adopt a lame dog, get a church named for you.” Deedee waved her hand. “It helped the Christian cause to give the Holy Spirit credit for everything. Besides he’s not an official saint. The Celtic Church was still separate from the Vatican in those days. He doesn’t have a day or anything.”
“These people believed Treacle was a Saint and your trusting their judgement on the existence of wizards?”
“I think Treacle makes a very good Saint,” said Deedee, mildly affronted. “Better than the ones who got the honour for killing Saracens.”
“Alright,” said Maedhros, “Going back to the kid, any answers as to how such a supernatural phenomenon end up beat up on the West Street Walkway?”
“Same way two elves are chatting in a brothel at –,” Deedee looked at the clock, which was tilting towards four am, “this time in the morning.”
“Actually speaking of Treacle, I really should be heading home. He’ll be thinking you are getting me drunk again.”
“He knew,” said Maedhros suddenly remembering, “He called me a Quendi. Said he thought I was extinct.”
Deedee raised her eyebrows.
“I’ll ask Treacle more about wizards when I get home.” She stood up. “I’ll just check the kid is still breathing first.”
He was still breathing. In fact he was sitting up in bed breathing in nicotine fumes, still clutching the syringe barrel in his left hand.
“Oh kid,” said Deedee.
“Red gave me them,” he replied.
Any thing else you neglected to mention about your conversation with this kid, thought Deedee irritably.
“When did you start smoking?” said Deedee.
“Quite late on,” he replied. “There was a war you see and I needed something to steady my nerves.”
“Goes with the territory really. Family inbreeding for generations, parents had a tempestuous marriage,” he paused. “People trying to kill me on a regular basis.”
“Why would they want to do that?”
“It’s rather what one does in a war.”
“You’re remarkably open about it if people are looking out to kill you.”
“I haven’t got much more to loose have I, Quende?”
“Who told you about elves?”
“I learnt about them in school, doesn’t everybody?”
Yes, thought Deedee, everybody learns about elves in school. They get the tooth fairy, and Tatiana and Oberon and perhaps a whisper of Morgan Le Fay if they read widely enough. But nobody ever believes in us for all that.
His battered lips forced themselves into a grin.
“Shocked?” He said. “Not all humans are stupid you know.”
“Is it so smart to believe blindly in forces that have no explanation?”
“It is if you can control them.” He paused. “My father always said that muggle folly could be defined the equation Y = MC squared.”
“You know physics but not modern medicine?”
“I know that there are a lot of fools who feel very contented with the notion that power is defined by the effort put in to achieving one’s ambitions. It makes even the greatest of criminals feel honest. I’m not that deluded.”
I’m pretty sure delusions are going to put in appearance somewhere in your story, thought Deedee. We’ve been working at the bottom of the world a long time now, Treacle and I, and we know the masks people wear here. She was rather used to outrageous confessions within minutes of meeting from boys and girls with limbs like matchsticks and eyes shining with the cold and the drugs and the chaos of surviving. Their horror stories, their talisman of identity against a creature who had what little power a tattered doctorate from the last century and a flea market silver badge gave her, their little comfort stories of protection.
Other Doctors would call it other things, Borderline Personality Disorder, Attention seeking behaviours, but Deedee didn’t think much of that. When the world has left you to die on the West Street Walkway attention isn’t a commodity, it’s essential goods in perilously short supply.
“I think,” she said softly, “You need to sleep.”
“Really?” he said, “You healers don’t miss a trick. I’m all right you know. I’m not one of your lost sheep and I’m not going to die on you.”
“If I asked you to leave, where would you go?”
“You won’t ask me to leave. People never do.”
“Why do mortals constantly equate kindness with weakness?”
“Because they have the same effect?” The kid laughed breathily then held his nose.
“That feels weird.”
“You’ve probably got a hairline fracture. Yes, you are still pretty, before you ask. Or you will be once the bruising has gone down.”
“You think I’m that shallow?”
“I think you are living a life where you need every weapon you can get your hands on and being young and beautiful is still a reasonable one when resources are low.”
“Like I’d ever do that.”
“I didn’t mean a literal exchange. I meant that most people have a vested interest in keeping the attractive alive.”
“Is that why you do it? I’ve heard about elven damsels and their taste for tragic mortality.”
“That’s not why I do it.”
“Why do you do it?”
Deedee looked thoughtful for a moment.
“Because I am a healer by profession and I want to practice my trade. There aren’t that many openings for Doctors who qualified in 1893.”
“But you are young too look at least, and you are pretty. As you said, weapons that could be used to improve your employability.”
“Because I am an elf and demons are my business. Because we are creatures that live where reality fails.”
“I’d say down here is the only place your” she was going to say “father’s mad ramblings”, but checked herself “magical powers of control over the universe could be semi-believable.”
Magic, so the upstairs world has it, is what you believe in when you don’t have anything else. Dr Rittengard-Levoski, her Psychiatry lecturer peered over his lectern and addressed the black backs of the gowned students of her medical faculty.
“Magical thinking is what occurs when the normal order of society, it’s rules and values, are presented to the child in early life in an arbitrary and chaotic manner.” He paused impressively. “The child, finding no logical correlation between its crimes and the punishments it receives constructs its own fantastical set of rules of how the universe is governed. He languishes in the ego-dominant stage of development, when all events emanate from his thoughts or actions…”
So that’s what I’ve been living for all these years, she’d thought bitterly. Then she thought something else.
The magic is that they survive at all.
The kid smiled and appeared to be pulling a face of deep contemplation.
Then he disappeared.
It’s scarcely credible how resilient young mortals are, thought Maedhros. You wouldn’t think that less than a month ago I carried that kid in here over my shoulder, blue lipped and bloodless. Not now the bruises have gone down and he’s leaning on the bar as though he owns the title deeds, bright and shiny and so very young. Maedhros was never that young himself, elves never are. They’re late blossoms, fifty by the time they reach anything like full adult strength. By then, they’re old. They’ve already seen enough to make them use their muscle and their beauty wisely. But mortals never do. They’re given their greatest physical gifts when they barely have the smarts to sit still and finish a book. It’s like putting an AK-47 in the hands of a toddler.
Maedhros is surprised that no worse has come of it, over the years.
“He won’t be young for very long,” says Deedee in an undertone, watching the line of Maedhros gaze.
He won’t and Maedhros knows it. He’s lazing for a comfortable moment in the glass bubble between potential and experience, but it’s catching up all the time, and whatever winged fate waits for this kid moves quickly. Perhaps it is the indolence that makes him so attractive. He’s not handsome, like Patch or beautiful like Kiki. He’s short and somewhat brittle looking. Fey, Maedhros thought, appreciating the irony. It’s a charm that is more a trick of charisma than the result of good bone structure. The face and body will not be grown into; they will not improve with the passing of time. His moment will be brief and it is now or never.
“No,” said Maedhros softly watching him address Patch in an accent so arcane Queen Victoria’s grandmother would have found it dated. It was so old it sounded foreign. But then all the Englishmen of noble birth were exotic imports, weren’t they? They were all married into the Mafiosi of Europe’s ruling clan, swapping syphilis and defective DNA in it’s own air-locked circle since the crumbling of Rome. Mad, blind, crippled or just downright incompetent, they shored up the family through wars and famine and revolution. All gone now, though. Maedhros couldn’t quite put his finger on when the great disappearance had occurred, he guessed they fell somewhere into the eclipse between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One moment Europe had been a swarm of ermine clad Grand Princesses and wax moustachioed Arch Dukes, the next it was ruled by men as dowdily be-suited as his adopted home’s leaders. He wasn’t paying too much attention back then, he had other things on his mind than reading the newspapers.
He’d said himself he was Norman French, a direct line of the Angevin Count who had taken the snake legged Lady Melusine for a bride, daughter of Satan himself. That story always rather amused Maedhros. Those had been the days when no expansionist clan worth it’s broadswords was without at least one fairy grandmother. They needed the glamour and they didn’t have film stars back then. Well of course, thought Maedhros flippancy over this comes very easily from where I’m standing, after all I’ve got four perfectly good fairy grandparents and that never won me any wars. That and he supposed they desperately wanted some kind of legitimacy for their personal manifest destinies, and what better way to do it than to claim they were the descendants of the firstborn, the original inheritors of Arda.
But claiming descent from the Devil, Maedhros certainly had to give them points for originality, and more than a little fuck you attitude as well. Of course, it stunk of the highly-strung neurotic imaginings that would win them historical fame as a tribe of paranoid, blood letting drama queens. Maedhros looked at the boy again. He had now hoisted his thin frame onto the counter of the bar itself and lay back, smoking, waiting for fate to come for him. His eye caught Maedhros’ glance and he had to admit they were remarkable eyes, not beautiful, but strikingly cold.
He sat perfectly still with his ancient grey eyes giving nothing away.
They were eyes with a connection missing, eyes that expected to observe the world but never be a part of it. Well kid, Maedhros thought, are you infinitesimally part demon?
Factually, it was complete rubbish. Later historians had traced the line back and proved it to be nothing but self-aggrandizing bravado, besides, the Devil as Maedhros knew him had no daughters.
He continued to stare out at the world breathing in it’s potential. He looked like he was waiting for the signal for all hell to break loose so he could run in the moonlight and rejoice in all the trouble there was to be made in the world.
Maedhros realised it didn’t make much difference what the truth was, the kid believed unshakably that he had he blood of Lucifer in his veins and that was power enough.
“Okay, what’s he up to?”
The blonde demon, the pretty lady devil thought Kit, wondering why the white ladies of the Underworld had been lost to folklore, looked pointedly at him from across the booth. Relentless grey eyes like Mephistopheles met his. Soulless eyes, one-way mirrors, eyes meant to look on the world and never be changed by it. They were oddly bright too, as if the lights of hell were magnesium flares not the more traditional red glow of the smithy.
Kit had wondered if he were going mad when he first found himself attended by demons but had abandoned that thought as histrionic. It wasn’t as if Dr. Darthadúliel and Mephistopheles were visible to him alone. Other people saw them, talked to them, behaved as if they were perfectly ordinary persons engaged in nothing stranger than surviving in the underbelly of New York’s black economy.
He found that most odd. One glance had told him they were not human. People here were strange. They put their faith in belief systems far more than in the evidence of their own eyes.
Someone had once told Kit that madness was believing you were the only sane person left. It had annoyed him at the time, the way all those over confident buffoons who made sweeping statements about complex subjects always did. And they get called clever for it, the thought, biting his tongue. It still annoyed him, but now it frightened him a little too, because if it were true, Kit was as crazy as a bedbug.
Kit cleared his throat.
“He’s picking up men and disappearing with their money. Clipping, I believe it’s called.”
“I’d guessed that. Have you noticed anything more unusual?”
“I meant disappearing in the literal sense.”
“No, I knew he could do that.” Deedee took a swig of her orange juice.
Kit looked into the depths of his coffee. His wide slightly indolent looking eyes stared back at him. Lascivious eyes, he’d been told, but not by a credible source. Still it had stuck like all the petty insults had like splinters in the soul.
Kit didn’t believe in soul, or at least didn’t believe it existed in any form other than electrical impulses in the synapses of grey matter. Deedee said he had poor self-esteem. Mephistopheles had laughed at that.
“That’s her quack’s patent medicine,” he’d said. “Poor self-esteem.”
He felt like a hermit crab sometimes, hiding what he was beneath a glittering armour of collected abuses and insults.
“I think I’m out of my depth here,” he said finally.
“How so? I’m paying you to watch someone, isn’t that what you do?”
Kit breathed out heavily and the reflection of his face disintegrated. He wanted to say, actually I’m a playwright, but he never did. Let the kids who wait tables and hawk Rolexes brag about their hobbies and publicise their failure. The world will know my name one day without me pimping it.
He swallowed. Sex – and sexual exploitation just wouldn’t stay out of it. It was studded through the lexicon of those in the gutter aspiring to greatness. And yes, minion does mean cocksucker.
He never asked how Deedee knew he was a spy; although he’d got the horrible feeling he’d told her. Which surely must have broken the first rule of espionage: Never tell anyone you are an undercover agent. Not that anyone had explained any rules to him when he’d begun his rather unorthodox career. He’d simply been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Same old cliched shit.