Chapter One (cont.)
No city ever truly sleeps, but this city is as close as it comes, as I arrive at the Mummer's Mansion. An old, sprawling farmhouse, at the end of a
dead end road, miles from any farms. But, I suppose, if you go back far enough, most city blocks were some farmer's fields at some point. Makes me
wonder how far back this ill-named mansion goes. The porch light is on, of course; it's a rare night when the Mummer isn't open for business. The
interior is dark, but the shades are up, so I know he hasn't got any company right now. Even so, I circle around to the back, skirting the light.
Many a fool goes right up to that door, bold as you please. But not me. No, I was a watcher, in my day, too. I know there are eyes here, above all
places. A talented man can be near to invisible on any city street, even in the light of day, but once you step off that street, you become someone
with a purpose, and a purpose draws interest like **** draws flies.
The backdoor is plain, solid steel, primed a bland grey, but unpainted. The button for the doorbell is missing, but I stick my finger in its place and
press down on the guts of switch. I don't hear a sound, but after a few moments, I hear the lock slip free, and the door swings open slowly. There is
no light, so I can only make out a shadow before me as I enter. The shadow closes the door with a dry, rasping chuckle.
"Come for my secrets again, have you Mr. Corinthian?" The voice isn't a voice I recognize, but that doesn't surprise me. The mummer has many
voices to go with his many faces. Tonight's is the breathy growl of a spent brawler, or maybe that of a rugged farmer corrupted by age, given the
setting. His shadow slips past me, followed by the creak of old wood as he sits. I wait for him to continue, as I we both know the answer to his
"Ah, as quiet as always, I see. Do you really think they are after you, Corinthian? No one comes to ask of you. That's a secret, but I'll give you
that one for free. Have you considered that you might be insane? But ah, never mind," he continues before I can answer, though I am not sure I would
have. "You're not here for questions; you're here for answers. About a man, I presume?"
"A ghost," I answer. "Mercandes, his is called."
"Mmmm, Mercandes, you say. Well, I have some knowledge of this man, by that name, and another. Have you heard of a man by the name of Julian? A man
who deals in whores and, some say, children?" His tone is mocking, though I know he does not dare push it further. Whomever the shadows might hide, I
could kill him before they could help. Not that I would, but not that he would know that, either. And as for this Julian...
"Julian? Julian the Jeweler?"
"Indeed, some call him such, though I dare say I don't find his products to be gems. But at least I get ah, free samples, shall we say?"
I snort at that. Free samples. Of children, no doubt. The Mummer is not likely to be fool enough to touch one of Julian's women. I doubt there is one
clean whore amongst them. "So, you say that this Julian is the Mercandes I have been searching for? In front of me the whole time? I can't believe
that. I tell you, he is no real man. He is a deadly ghost, no more."
Another dry, rasping laugh. "Call him man, ghost, or goat. He is who he is, and Julian is Mercandes. It seems he tired of being a shadow, and
became a man of property. So, do you still wish to hear my information, now that you know your man's identity?"
"Name your price, Mummer."
"Candice Constance. Of the K-7's. I believe you know her?"
Of course, I do know her. She lived with me for two years. She burned my dreams of another life. "An easy price. I hope your secrets are more
"Easy? Perhaps. She is just a woman, I suppose. But she does have quite a group of followers. And I do wonder if she still has a hold on you...but
easy or not, the price is set. Here is your secret: Julian, or Mercandes, if you prefer, cannot be found at his establishment. But of course, you must
know that, from LeRoy. Some have actually claimed that he and LeRoy are one in the same. I doubt this, though, for one reason: I have seen Julian, in
much higher places than I ever suspected. I have outside information to confirm it, as well. Julian, your Mercandes, is none other than the mayor of
our fine city. So, you see, he is no ghost...are you certain he is the man you seek?"
"Damn you, you lying farce." My voice is as cold as death, as cold as the sweet love I share. "You mock me with your questions, then you mock me
with your answers. The man I seek is no man, I tell you. He is certainly not this city's mayor. But you must know who he really is, or you would not
feed me this charade. Name any price you want, as long as you give me the truth!" Not a wise offer, perhaps, but I am not going to let the answers I
have searched ten years for slip through my grasp.
"Any price? I will tell you every secret I know about Mercandes, for one price. But I fear you would not pay it, and even if you would, I do not know
that I would trust your honor that far."
"I keep my word. More than can be said for you. What is this price? Who?"
"The Corinthian himself, of course. Pledge your death after you have your revenge, and I will tell you everything."
I have no words for this changeling. My death for his secrets? He doubts if he could trust my honor, but I would place my life in his hands, on his
own honor! I am desperate, but I will see what I can squeeze from the lies he has shared, before I consider his final offer. Even his lies always hold
a shade of truth.
"I will consider it, Mummer. For now, I am done with your games. The fee will be paid by the weekend." I turn and exit without looking back, nearly
running from the room. Coming out into the fear-scented night feels like an escape from prison. The sky has shifted towards a slightly lighter shade
of purple. An hour and a half until dawn. Just enough time to head back to LeRoy's, change, and slip back in the window of my apartment. I circle
back around the light of the porch, and into the shadows of the alleyways. Looking back at the Mummer's Mansion, I see the shades are still drawn.
Perhaps I gave him something to think on, as well.
Snaking back towards LeRoy's through the stinking alleys, I still hear the scavengers in the walls, and in the shadows and on the street corners, I
see them scurrying away. I walk past a sleeping bum, and his eyes flicker open, watching me pass. I think about killing him, before he can report, but
doing so would paint shining arrows to my passage for everyone. At most, the bum is only reporting to a couple of people. More, and he would have been
dead already. Better one or two know, than everyone.
At LeRoy's, it's back down the narrow track, and into the basement. To my surprise, LeRoy himself is standing at the lockers, leaning against them
with the casual air of, what else, a king. His suit is perfectly pressed, deep purple with cream colored pinstripes, with a matching bowler hat
perched jauntily on his nappy black hair. A diamond stud the size of my thumbnail is in each ear, and around his neck is an ungainly gold cross on a
heavy chain, it's heart a dark amethyst the size of a quarter. Each finger has it's own golden halo, as does his left thumb. He leaves his right
thumb bare, because he says a ring makes it hard to write, he says. But I am not sure he even knows how to write. There is much affectation
about LeRoy. I sometimes wonder if he even knows who he really is, anymore.
"Hazzi goin', 'rinthian?" he says in greeting. "I's an itchin' you'd here, 'is mawnin'." His mode of speech is as singular as his style,
and his pronunciation of here always makes me smile. It's a perfect blend of here and hair that only LeRoy could pull off. I wonder,
though, why he expected me here? Was he the Mummer's informant about Julian?
"It's a fine night, LeRoy. A fine night, that is almost over. Do you have pressing business, or can it wait until tomorrow night? I need to be back
out your dungeon window as quickly as possible."
LeRoy checks his grossly encrusted gold watch. What it is encrusted with, I'm not even sure. Diamonds, of course, but there are other stones as well,
all massed together so tightly that you might not even guess the watch was gold, if you didn't know LeRoy. "Whys, you is righ', 'rinthian!
I'sn wait fo t'mar. When you b'here?"
"Two hours before dawn, my friend."
"I's b'here. Gnigh." With a tip of his pinstriped hat, he's out the basement door. I wait for his footsteps to fade, then it's spin, spin, spin,
into the locker, out of my street clothes, into my home clothes and back out the little window. The sky looks like a fresh bruise, now. 1st to 15th,
and the scavengers are everywhere, stuttering from nook to cranny, gathering everything they can gather, stealing everything they can steal, and
spying all they can spy, before the sun rises to catch them.
15th street is empty of scavengers, as always. Up the fire escape, and in the window, and I look back to see if anyone saw me. At the far end of the
alley, there is a new pile. I can't tell from here if it's new garbage, or a body, either living or dead. I figure if it's garbage, it will be
there tomorrow, and if it's a dead body, it might be too, but if it was living, it will be gone. My mind presses me to ponder the night's gleanings,
but that isn't my way. I pull the shade over the window to block out the brightening day. I will worry about it all when I wake. For now, it's been
a long night. Sleep comes swiftly.