“I don’t get how the hell somebody is supposed to figure out one of these Rubix cube things! Out of all of the new inventions that came out in the 80’s, this is the one I understand the least! Boo! This is such a waste, man! I’m two seconds away from peeling the stickers off and fixing it myself.”
“That would be cheating, Cam.” Bruno told me. “You’ve either got to solve the puzzle, or you’ve got to buy a new one. Those are the rules.”
“Yeah, well they’re bogus rules.”
Bruno shook his head. “Stop talking like that.”
“Sorry. I’ve got a teenager at home. It’s addictive.” I heard a knock at the door and told them to open up.
“Hey, Cameron?” One of my agents said to me. “Your late night meeting is here.”
I groaned at having to put the cube down again, but groaned even louder at the idea of having to have a business meeting so late in the day. I mean, it was ridiculous. We could have done ‘lunch’ or something. What’s with the late hours? I’ve got a family, you know?
“Buzz ’em in…” I told him.
“You want me to stick around?” Bruno asked me.
“Nah. Go on. I’m going to make this quick, and then I’m shutting the place down for the night. This shouldn’t take long at all.” I said.
“Suit yourself.” He told me, grabbing his coat.
“Say, if you’re still taking your kid to the movies…you’ve GOT to check out that new ‘Gremlins’ flick! Scared the living shit out of my niece! My sister got her a Gizmo doll from Hardees the other day, and the poor girl nearly had a heart attack. Good movie though. You’ll love it!”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” He smiled. “You just make sure that you’re careful with this whole 8 PM meeting thing. Something about it sounds kinda fishy to me.”
“I’m not worried about it. To be honest, I’m just going to turn them down. The meeting is more of a formality than anything else. They want property, but they don’t sound like they’ve got the kind of scratch to afford it. No money, no deal. Period. The sooner I can tell them that, the better.”
“Alright, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Bruno said, and he left the door to my office open for my guests to arrive.
Imagine my surprise when I see four people walk in, all wearing suits, hats, and sunglasses. And one of them was a kid. He looked to be about my son’s age, with short blond hair, wearing a well-ironed button down t-shirt and a pair of slacks. Funny thing, the kid seemed to be the most serious person in the whole room, and he confidently took a seat in front of my desk. Watching me, but not saying a word.
“Heh…what are youguys supposed to be? The Blues Brothers?” I joked, but only one of the men gave me a smirk. The other two behind him, the pair of ‘goons’ that they were, closed my office door, and stood watch on either side of it.
The front man was there to do all of the talking, I suppose. He took off his fedora hat, and gave me a smile that seemed….I don’t know…somewhat sinister in its presentation. He said, “Cameron Finch, I presume?”
“Yeah. That’s me. And you are?”
I reached out a hand to shake, and he accepted. “Vincent. Just Vincent.”
“Do the rest of you want to take a seat?”
“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Finch. This won’t take up much of your time at all.” He spoke with such a calm demeanor. It was spooky having him stare at me from behind those dark spectacles. When I’m dealing with people, I kin of like to see their eyes when they talk to me.
“Alright then.” I said. “Well, let me get straight to the point…I heard your proposal over the phone, and I have to be honest, a place like this is going to cost you some major moolah. I know you said you didn’t want to talk money on the line, but this really is going to come down to simple numbers. This place is practically in the heart of Chicago. It won’t be cheap.”
“I’m afraid that you are quite mistaken, Mr. Finch. We’re not here to purchasethe property. We’re here to ‘reclaim’ it.” Vincent said.
Confused, I wrinkled up my forehead and asked, “I don’t get it. What are you talking about, reclaiming it?”
“You see…in 1978, this building, this alleyway, practically half the city block was sold to a Gil Frenetti, who has been claiming rightful ownership of all the buildings in that area ever since. That means that, over the past 6 years, he’s been making money on properties that he does not own.” He said. “We’ve recently gotten word that the city is planning on tearing this particular building down in the next year. My associates and I don’t want to see that happen. We’ve come to show you poof of ownership, and take the property back from the people who sold it to you.
“Hey, what is this? Some kind of shakedown?” I smiled. I walked over to my file cabinet, and I fingered through it to pull the Frenetti file. I opened it up on the desk and turned it around to show him. “You see here? These are all signed papers and transactions, notarized and made official by the city, transferring all legal rights to Gil Frenetti from the previous owner, for everything in that area.”
“The buildings, yes.” The man said. “But the deed to the land those buildings are standingon…belong to someone else.” Vincent reached his hand up, and one of his goons opened up a briefcase, stepping forward to hand him an faded folder over his shoulder. Vincent carefully opened it, and took out some dusty old document that looked almost as old as the city of Chicago itself. Worn and frazzled at the edges, I had to squint to see the decolorized thinness of faded ink and age old stamps.
“You’ve got to be pulling my chain, right? How old is this thing?”
“It doesn’t really matter, does it? You can feel free to check with the Mayor’s office and city records to confirm its authenticity, if you like.” Vincent leaned closer, and said, “No matter how old it is, it does still count as a binding legal document. Does it not?”
I looked it over for a minute or two, trying to find some kind of counterfeit flaw in it somewhere. But to be honest, it looked pretty real to me. I said, “Alright. I’ll bite. Let’s just say that this piece of paper is what you say it is. What are you gonna do with it? I mean, there’s a reason that the city is tearing it down. It’s been practically abandoned for a long time now. The people who can afford it don’t want to live in the city. And the people who want to live in the city can’t afford it. It can’t really do much for you, considering where it’s positioned and all. Most people don’t even know it’s there.”
“To be honest, Mr. Finch….that’s kinda what we like about it.”
“So that’s what this is about? Sentimental value?”
“Not really.” Vincent said. “We’re thinking of opening a nightclub.”
I almost choked up with laughter at the idea. “A nightclub? Ha! You’re thinking of opening a nightclub in that dump?”
“More of a RE-opening, actually.”
“A re-opening of what?”
Vincent paused for a moment, then with a smile he said, “The Crimson Euphrates.”
Wow. It had been a long time since anybody’s said THAT name. I told him, “The Crimson Euphrates club mysteriously burned down nearly 60 years ago.”
“‘Mysteriously’. Yes…of course.” He smirked. “I suggest that you do whatever needs to be done to certify our rightful ownership of the property and the building that surround it. As soon as the paperwork has been taken care of, my associates will be in contact with you. We’ll begin renovations immediately after.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say. Something about this guy really gave me the heebie jeebies. And if I didn’t know any better..I could have swornthat his eyes were ‘glowing’ behind those dark sunglasses.
“Do we have a deal, Mr. Finch?” He said, trying to distract me from looking at him too closely.
I felt a cold chill run up my spine. And I nodded. “I think…I’ve got to make some copies of this stuff, and…I’ll try to get back to you tomorrow morning.”
“Eveningwould be best. Preferably after sunset.” He said, now putting his hat back on.
With a nod, I headed towards the door, which the goons opened up for me on command. That’s when I turned around said, “Can I ask you a question, Vincent?”
“What’s with the kid?”
The two of them looked at each other and smiled. Then Vincent said, “Let’s just say that he keeps me around to speak on his behalf. It’s become a necessity.”
A confusing answer, but the only one I was going to get, I suppose.
The boy finally spoke up, “So this is settled then?”
“It certainly should be.” Vincent answered. “We rebuild the club, we put the word out on the underground, and we’ll be back in business in no time.”
The boy, Alex, nodded in approval. “And you believe this…’Bernard Marinaci’ is a more than capable daylight human to run the club for us?”
“Who? Bernie?” Vincent asked. “Yeah. He’d be perfect. He’s a bit young, mid 30’s, but he’s got a business degree. And he knows about our kind. He’s flexible, he can update the club with the times, he runs a tight ship and keeps honest books. He’s a heavyset guy, smokes cigars. He takes after his grandfather. Hot temper included. But overall, I think he’d be a great candidate to run the club for the next 40 years or so. And after that, we’ll get another daylight to do business for us. Piece of cake.”
Young Alex asked, “There won’t be any conflicts of interest? Considering what happened to his grandfather?”
“Not a chance. He doesn’t know what his grandfather did for a living. These days, all the REAL gangsters wear suits and ties and run for office. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
The boy thought about it for a moment. And he said. “Alright. I’ll inform Vampire Elder Beraad that the Crimson Euphrates will be open again in six months’ time. Does that sound doable?”
“Not a problem.” Vincent told him. “Just one thing though, boss. Maybe we shouldn’t call it the ‘Crimson Euphrates’ club anymore. I mean…just saying…there might be some of the old families still around. That joint caused us a lot of problems back then. Maybe we should change the name. Keep it quiet, you know?”
“Fine.” The boy said. “Call it something else. Whatever you want. You’ve got this ‘Bernie’ character running the place…just call it Bernie’s Club. Simple. But you make sure that we’ve got some impressive numbers to show Vampire Beraad in the first couple of months. I’ll stay upstairs and out of sight, Bernie runs the nightclub, we’ll put Stephanie on bar, it’ll work. We also make sure that we maintain a slight mix of both vampires and humans to keep the secrecy down to a minimum. Ok?” Vincent nodded as the boy stood up and gave him a professional little kiss on the cheek. “And this time…I want the halflife clientele kept down to a minimum. You tell him that. That’s how we got in trouble last time. It’s a different age now. Everybody’s a victim. People consider everyone a helpless child until they’re THIRTY. We don’t need that kind of pressure. A FEW halflife vamps, fine. But tone it down. We can’t have a big population of youngsters in here.”
“Consider it done, boss.” Vincent said.
Alex was about to leave, taking his two escorts with him. But he stopped and gave Vincent smirk. “Say, do me a favor. When they rebuild the new joint…save the iron speakeasy door for me.”
“You sure, boss? It’s gotta be a bit old and rusty by now…”
“I know. But I have a certain ‘affection’ for it, you know? Brings back memories of the good old days.”
“Anything you say, boss.” Vincent answered.
The boy grinned up at his body guards and patted them on the shoulders. “Well, let’s go, boys. I’ve got some product coming in later on tonight. Liquor, eternity bands, optrix…might as well make some side money, right? After that, maybe you two can pretend to be my ‘adults’ tonight and take me to see this ‘Gremlins’ movie that everybody’s been talking about…..”