Tag Archives: ducante

Last Stop on the Blog Tour

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A month ago today Echoes of Balance was released via REUTS Publishing. It’s crazy – it still seems so surreal that something I wrote is now being read by other people. I want to take a second to thank everyone at REUTS and everyone who posted a blog for the tour and just everyone generally, for being so supportive and amazing and for reading my work. This post is a day late because it’s really hard to be a writer who also works, especially in a high stress, busy job. But I still come home at the end of the day and power up Twitter and see some nice words and supportive folk and I so dig it. So that being said, y’all have earned yourselves some bonus content – lots of bonus content.

So with that being said, here is what Gregory Ducante was up to in the months preceding the events in Echoes:

Echoes of Ducante

From afar, Ducante knew the sleepy town of Molton didn’t look like much of an investment opportunity. It was, of course, why it suited his needs so perfectly. The real estate was relatively inexpensive, and the sleepy residents were all too eager to try something new. And then there was the more underground clientele that he banked on attracting.

                         A month after his new opening, he was pleased to see that his revenue stream was already solidly in the black: both monetarily and educationally. None of it was particularly newsworthy; roughly what he had expected from a small city and the range of powerful beings it could hold. That was what he had thought a month in.

                         One day later, however, and his opinions had changed.

                         He had all but forgotten the smell that invaded the town. It was rare in his big-city outposts, unheard of in other small town staples, all but banned from his Selvmar location. But here it was.

                         In Molton.

                         He expected it to pass quickly, and in that initial week, it did. It lingered, never close enough to his bar to feel threatening, and then vanished for another month.

                         And then it returned. This time, for longer. It left again – and then it returned, even longer, this time, and this faithful day, it stayed.

                         It still never came near his bar. It must have been young and undertrained, or perhaps it never expected to find someone like Ducante in such a mild mannered place. He imagined that it might be some of the draw of Molton for one of those. Overall, though, he tried not to focus on it. It stayed away, and focus only brought the sharp realization that the smell was not just recognizable:

                         It was familiar.

                         When the presence and stench that came with it began to linger in Molton on a more permanent basis, Ducante turned to his clientele. He was frustrated to find that they were particularly useless: they either had no idea, or they brought back vague stories of some sort of hunter. A witch, maybe, and a pretty one at that.

                         “Helpful,” Ducante growled sardonically, twitching a stack of papers behind the bar.

                         His staff, being especially standard and dramatically mediocre, were also of no help. It became something of a pet peeve, this distant presence that never came close enough for him to gather anything more but the tangy stench of raw power.

                         It became clear, eventually, that if he wanted to know more, he would have to do so himself. It was particularly unbecoming: he hadn’t needed this level of sneakery in years, and he much preferred his space behind the bar than one in the thick of things.

                         Ducante decided that he would investigate on a Thursday. The presence was always on the far side of town, the side near the old, overgrown forest, and he saw no reason why she wouldn’t be there – picking off rogues, no doubt – on that day, the same as any other.

                         But then, as he twitched more papers into neat stacks, he felt it. He smelled it. Closer, this time, in the city proper. He glanced around the bar, at his nervous bartender and his morose looking bouncer. It would make no difference, business wise, if he were to slip out.

                         And so he did, quickly out the back door.

                         The smell got stronger as he twisted around blocks and blocks. It seemed to be coming from the other side of a building through a narrow alley, which he ducked down quickly, clinging to the shadows like bed sheets on a cold night.  He swathed himself in them careful as he crept closer, closer, the slight figure coming into view  at the other mouth between the two buildings.

                         She had just finished her work, the work all his clientele had warned him about, and was carefully looking over the body of a felled vampire before her.

                         For a moment, Ducante felt a certain iciness settle over him. From afar, she looked the same. The same as the last time, all those years ago, but then… but then she turned, and no. She was different, she was new. She wiped her knife at her jeans mildly and he took it in: she was pretty, yes, but the eyes were different, and the hair. The nose, just slightly so.

                         “Interesting,” he murumured, sinking back into the shadows. “Very interesting.” The corner of his lips twisted up into a smile. “I look forward to meeting you, Naimei.”

And what else do we have…? Oh, a giveaway, you say? That sounds about right. And you’re sick of just getting a BOOK for your troubles? Alright, alright. I got you. This giveaway, ending February 1st, will net you a paperback copy of Echoes of Balance (can we give Ashley from REUTS some big ups for that cover?) and a hand drawn Mucha-esque portrait of Chloe. Drawn by moi. ‘Cause art school.

Enter the giveaway here.

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EoB First Chapter available on REUTS!

If you’ve stayed tuned to past posts, you know that my first novel (Echoes of Balance) was picked up by REUTS Publishing, a brand new indie publishing house. Oh, and I’m their first title. SWEET.

It’s been exciting and busy and crazy and amazing. Edits finished, life stayed exciting and busy and crazy, and because my day job requires a lot of time and energy – and because I care about it a lot – this blog got a little pushed aside. But if you’re out there, you should totally go check out the first chapter of EoB on the REUTS website:

http://www.reuts.com/books/echoes-of-balance/echoes-of-balance-first-chapter/

And stay tuned for another Ducante Originals short story between now and the presale of EoB, happening on Black Friday. I’ve returned to my roots – the low country of the South – and intend to do nothing but eat, sleep, and write for the next several days. Life is awesome.

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Echoes of Balance Trivia (ROUND 2)

First of all, is anyone else a fan of XMind? It’s a free software (I think you can pay for some weird upgrade – I never have) that helps you to map your thoughts by making cool charts and stuff. You can connect topics, create subtopics, color code to your hearts content, and best of all, you can add notes upon notes upon notes about all of the topics that hide away under a sneaky little button until you double click AND THE WHOLE WORLD REVEALS ITSELF TO YOU.

This is my XMind for The Ways Trilogy and a few other books that take place in Chloe’s world. And by that, I mean this is my XMind light. It has the major players from EoB and a few casual mentions that are going to go into their own stories later. The full XMind for Chloe’s world makes my brain hurt and always ends with me cursing technology when all the little lines get kerfuffled and basically ruin my life, so this is what you all get to see for now:

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Don’t worry, there are no spoilers that you’ll be able to see.

Anyway, I always think its kind of cool to see writing process (it might be and probably is an art school thing) so I thought I’d share. Also, today’s trivia is coming from the notes on notes on notes that I tucked into XMind when I started giving Chloe’s story serious attention a few years ago!

1. In Echoes of Balance (The Ways Trilogy Book One), you’re introduced to three of Chloe’s family members: two cousins and a brother.

2. Josef, that debonair vampire? He would be a Virgo like Chloe, if vampires kept track of birthdays. I have no idea what that means astrologically – fill me in.

3. Gregory Ducante was a character created last but has generated the most short stories (ala earlier posts in this blog). He’s just so interesting! I recommend getting to know him before Echoes of Balance is released on December 17th.

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IT’S HAPPENING

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IT’S HAPPENING.

October 8th – which for the record, is like not even that many days from now – is the big release for the cover of ECHOES OF BALANCE. The book itself will be released on December 17th in Ebook and Print. If you’re interested in being a BETA reader, feel free to get in touch with REUTS at hello@reuts.com

For Chloe Moraine, fighting wild bears– and the occasional vampire– is a better pastime than the tediousness of keeping the universe in balance. But balancing is the family business. It comes with being one of the last in the ancient line of Naimei.

So when the impending return of the Original Demons threatens global harmony, Chloe is obligated to help. Even when that means the dull-as-dirt task of following a human girl who “might be involved, maybe,” instead of the thrilling hunt she craves.

With their powerful magic and ancient Ways, Chloe’s family is unconcerned, certain they’ll quickly fix the imbalance while she’s preoccupied with human high school. But when the Ways start to fail, the threat becomes more serious, and the only person that seems to know anything is a debonair vampire with an offer to help.

If Chloe chooses to trust him, and the darker side of the supernatural he represents, she’ll betray her family and risk losing them, and herself, in the process. But if he’s right, he may just be their only chance to stop the return of the Originals and save the world.

Maybe high school won’t be so boring after all.

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Tax Day

The phone had to ring three times before the crisp voice on the other side answered with a simple word:

“Maya,” it stated bluntly.

“Hi,” Maya Solis confirmed, sliding down the back of the bar to sit on the dark tiled floor. It was not something she would normally do – Lord only knows what that floor had been through – but what with the lack of traffic the day before, she had finally taken the time to clean it. Three buckets of decreasingly grey water later and she felt comfortable deeming it sanitary-ish.

“To what do I owe this unscheduled phone call? You are usually so self sufficient, not to mention the fact that I currently have a supplier bill in front of me, so I know you to be well stocked.”

“It’s not about the bar,” she said quickly. “It… it’s about a person who stopped in.”

She was sure she could hear a pause as Gregory Ducante stopped whatever he was doing on the other side of the phone. Prior to this call, she had needed to phone three of his other establishments before finding him at his newest location in Molten. It was odd to find him there so often, but of course, he had become rather attached to the building. She could picture him sitting in his office, suit already on at eleven o’clock in the morning, a pile of papers stacked in front of him. Pen poised in the air.

“You don’t say,” he said evenly. “And this person, who are they to me?”

Maya had an ear for Ducante speak: she knew what he was asking. Was this person a friend or an enemy? Unfortunately, she did not think she had an answer. “Well… they’re not anything to you. They’re someone to me.”

“Ah, the mysterious past life of Maya Solis,” he said. There was a rustling that she took to mean he was balancing the phone his shoulder and ear as he continued to work.

“But she wanted to speak to you,” Maya continued, ignoring his comment, “she said she talked to someone named Josef. Something you might want to know about.”

Again, the scratching paused. The bartender took it as a sign that whatever she had said had hit a nerve, but when Ducante spoke again, his voice was as level as ever. “It’s not necessary for me to speak to her about that.”

“But who the hell is he? Why does she thinks he needs to talk to you?”

“It’s irrelevant, Maya,” the bar owner replied. His tone was a colder one than she was used to hearing when it was direct towards her.

“But -”

The heavy sigh from the other end of the line cut her off. “If she needs to speak to me, she can find me in Molten for at least the next week. I’m finalizing my tax papers.”

Maya had to take a deep breath herself to avoid sounding like a scorned child. “But I don’t know what her motives are.”

There was another pause. Then: “I appreciate your concern, my dear, I truly do. But you must stop suspecting all of your former acquaintances just because you – and they – were all accomplices to murder.”

In the background, there was the sound of several glasses shattering. Maya was sure she could hear Ducante giving a muffled yell of, “Jeremy, those are not tax deductible,” before the phone clicked off and the line went silent.

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Break

Forty-seven. That was exactly how many glasses Jeremy had broken since his job as head bartender began all those months ago. He approximated that seven or so of those glasses had broken for normal reasons; the outside of the glass had been damp, a serving tray had slipped. He had swung around and, in a moment of uncharacteristic spacial unawareness, had knocked a delicate chalice to the floor. But those were not the reasons for the other forty. The other forty he knocked up to something that he referred to as ‘clientele hazards.’

Clientele hazards, a phrase Jeremy was careful to use only inside his own mind, encompassed all of the many unusual patrons that frequented Ducante’s. If he had known when he had applied all of those months ago how many secrets the bar had, he would have never showed up for the first interview. Jeremy didn’t like knowing all of the things that he knew about the bar, mostly because they were also things that he then knew about the world. And for his part, he liked his world exactly the way it had been several months ago, thank-you-very much.

Those had been simpler times. His biggest fear after sundown was coming out of work with a parking ticket. And work! It had been a dull job, but bar-backing at the local restaurant chain was easily more lucrative than pouring drinks at Ducante’s. Between his shaky attitude blowing his chance at any big tips and his constant penchant for breaking glasses, Jeremy was lucky if he brought home any money at all. He supposed he could call it luck that he hadn’t been fired yet, but he wasn’t sure that ‘luck’ was quite the right term. The only time the issue had been raised had been when he himself had brought it up to Maya: she had just shrugged and told him calmly,

“You’ll get used to it.”

The thought made a line of sweat break out across his brow line. At least for now, the bar remained blessedly empty save for himself and Jason, the bouncer. Jason always insisted on coming in early and leaving late, something that Jeremy never complained about. The bouncer had a strong, calming presence that the frazzled nerves of the bartender appreciated.

Jeremy took a deep breath and carefully began unloading glasses from the still steaming dishwasher, wiping each one dry as he set it on the counter. At one of the gleaming tables, Jason was flipping through the Molten Review, the lackluster town paper. Every now and again he would pause, yawn, and glance around the bar.

At one of these such moments, the bouncer found his gaze moving to the door that he spent the night standing outside of. “Hey, Jeremy? Would you know where there’s a bottle of WD-40 around here? That door’s been squeaking.”

“Oh, yeah!” Jeremy said. There was a strange feeling that he assumed might have been happiness, or even pride, at knowing the answer to something. At being useful. He went to simultaneously grab two of the wet glasses while also stepping out from behind the bar to gesture at the supply closet when it happened: the beginning of his forty-eighth break.

One of the shining glasses slipped through his fingers, tumbling towards the floor. Across the room, Jason stood up sharply from his seat. It clattered to the floor behind him as he raised one arm, bringing it down in a strange, inverted bell curve.

The glass, a mere inch from the ground, stopped abruptly in mid air, where it hovered effortlessly in space.

Smash. Several inches to the right, the other glass that Jeremy had been holding did what the first had been threatening and shattered across the hardwood.

Forty-eight.

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CHILL

There was no such thing as ‘unseasonably warm’ in the town of Selvmar. The popular tourist destination was nice enough in the summer – beautiful weather, even – but in the early spring months it was nothing but grey. The flowering trees would not start blooming for another few weeks, once the chilly air stopped rolling in from the choppy ocean waves.

Maya Solis was always surprised at how quickly she forgot about the fickle weather of her adopted home town. Now, with five minutes to bar close on what could have been the dullest night of the pre-tourism-season, she found her bare shoulders shivering as the draft coaxed its way through the aged windows of Ducante’s bar.

She rubbed at her shoulders hopelessly, turning to reevaluate the nightly inventory numbers. Three lousy bottles of some watery off brand beer was the only thing that had left the premises. It had hardly been worth being open, but she knew that Ducante would insist: “You never know who will come in after midnight. Or what they’ll say,” he would always add with a wink. And so she had stayed, though the rest of her staff had gone home before 11:55.

To fill the time, Maya had given the grimy old bar the wipe down that it had been denied for the past several decades. The only task left was to dust the bottles that sat untouched on the top shelf – this location did not see the sophisticated palettes that so many of Ducante’s other bars did – and Maya was loathe to go through with cleaning them. She had finally caved to fetching the creaky wooden ladder from the back of the store when she heard the creak of the front door.

Though it was still particularly cold, there was the vibrant thrill of spring time laced on the air that seeped into the lemony fresh tavern. It was enough to offer a jab of adrenaline, but that was not the only thing that set Maya’s hair on edge.

“Wow, working late, I see,” said a light female voice.

The bartender froze in the door to the store room. “Amanda,” she replied cooly.

“Who else?” The girl crooned, sidling past pool table and battered booth to take a seat at the bar itself. “I just got into town and thought I’d stop in to see if you were working. For old time’s sake.”

“For old time’s sake,” Maya repeated. “Right.”

Amanda dragged one long, pale finger across the surface of the freshly Pledged bar, causing a horrible squeaking sound as she did so. “Is your owner around?”

Maya clenched her jaw. “I suppose you mean the bar owner?”

“Yes, of course. That’s what I meant. Where is Gregory spending his time these days?”

“Oh, you know,” she said, shrugging her bare shoulders, “here and there. He’s never spent much time here, though.”

The self-satisfied expression that had been set on the new comer’s face fell slightly. “You’re telling me you don’t see him?”

“Only when there’s a new business opening.”

“Right, the one in Molten,” she cooed, some of her old vibrance flashing back to her hazel eyes. She shook a hand through her sandy curls. “I hope Jason found you.”

Maya’s jaw clenched again. She snatched up a rag hanging on the edge of the bar and began scrubbing furiously at a non existent spot. “You got him disowned, you know.”

“Oh, come on, Maya. Nothing worse than what you’ve done,” she said lightly, leaning an elbow on the counter. “And at least he got a job out of the deal.”

Abruptly, Maya stopped. Her green eyes flashed. “Ivy got what she deserved.” The bartender sighed, pressing her fingers to her temples. “That’s in the past anyway,” she mumbled.

“And I’m here to talk about the future,” Amanda said, sliding to lean forward over the bar. “I had an interesting encounter recently. With a certain ‘Josef.’ I think your employer would like to know about it.”

Maya tossed the rag into a small hamper at the side of the bar before she bothered to respond. “When did you become one to start playing these games, Amanda?”

“When Ivy left the position open,” she said lightly.

“That’s not funny.”

“Please, Maya,” the girl said, more seriously, now. “Please. I need to talk to Ducante.”

The bartender sighed. “Come back tomorrow, Amanda.” She shook her head, turning to fetch the ladder from the back room.

At the bar, Amanda smirked. “It’s good to see you again, Maya.”

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Christmas

The snow was falling softly through out the town of Molten. It was midmorning on Christmas, and aside from the lone Chinese restaurant, everything was shut tight for the day. Behind the closed doors of their homes, people were cleaning up their gobs of wrapping paper and split cardboard boxes. The childless among them may have just begun to open gifts, having woken late from their nights of cocktails and company. In a small town such as Molten, it was safe to assume an almost perfect Christmas: everyone was enjoying themselves.

Perhaps none more so than the man still behind the closed door of his business. The ambient sconces created a soft glow as he counted – twenty, forty, sixty – a pile of thin green bills, occasionally pausing to make small notes on a piece of paper. This was what he lived for: all of the power given to the tiny slips of paper.

It was what his kind thrived on, the very core – and often misinterpreted – heart of chaos. The breath before madness. The small barrier that could prevent – or create – a whirlwind of catastrophe. In the mind of Gregory Ducante, all of those things were perfectly encapsulated in money. In his capitalist endeavors, his pecuniary fetish. There was no better way for him to spend his Christmas than getting closer to this his most favorite force of chaos.

After all, it wasn’t as if he was foolish enough for something as simple as church.

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Grand Opening

The grand opening of Ducante’s started as all previous nights at the bar had: with the prompt start of Happy Hour at exactly 5pm. That was when the bar opened. Or at least, that was the new sign which had been hung on the outer wall of the building proclaimed. ‘5pm to close,’ it said in it’s purposefully vague way. The sign and it’s ambiguity were two of three new things that came to the bar the night of the Grand Opening; the third, of course, were crowds upon crowds of people.

The interior of the dim bar was positively packed, wall to wall, with people who demanded drinks and finger food. Despite the low lights and dark wood, the whole of the space seemed to glow from the energy put off by the crowd. Everyone was excited, even though the Big Band music was still low and the night was still young. The excitement was making the night, but the owner and host, one Gregory Ducante, was making the bar. He was positively jovial. It was usual, of course, for business owners to be excited on the day of their opening. But most of that enthusiasm came with a well measured dose of nerves, whereas Mr. Ducante circulated the crowd as if he was born for it. He shook hands at the door, mixed the occasional drink at the bar. Mingled from wall to wall before starting the whole process over again.

The entirety of his hospitality seemed very sincere and very fitting for the Golden-Age vibe he was channeling in his latest establishment. At least, that was what Heather Bergman was planning to write in her review for the Molten Standard. She had always imagined that she had quite the poetic flair, no matter what the agents she queried said, and she intended to put it to good use. Even if she was working in small town America.

Heather Bergman had arrived precisely at 5.15pm (being casually late was another thing which she considered a forte) with her notebook in hand. She was thrilled at the prospect of a bar opening. It made it that much easier to imagine that she was in a big city, as opposed to just in Molten. And she had been positively charmed by one Gregory Ducante.

Where Ms. Bergman’s opinion was concerned, almost everything at the bar had been positively charming. The bouncer at the door, who kept sneaking glances into the bar, had asked for ID as she approached. This happened so infrequently these days that sent a thrill up her spine. Once she reached the bar, she found the bartenders to be adequately trained and then some: upon asking for a signature cocktail, they had nodded and efficiently made her one of the best Manhattans she had ever had outside of Manhattan. It wasn’t long into that drink that Mr. Ducante had come over to say hello himself; he had even offered to answer a few questions about his endeavors, both past and present, which Ms. Bergman gleefully copied down.

Yes, everything in the bar was simply marvelous. Or at least, almost marvelous. As Ms. Bergman sipped on her second Manhattan and someone turned the volume up on the sound system a few notches, she began to notice the things that were not so perfect. One of the bartenders, a young man with sandy brown hair, looked exceedingly nervous. But then, wasn’t he wearing a name tag that proclaimed him head bartender?

“I’d be nervous on a busy night like this, too.” Heather whispered, taking a deep sip of cherry-peppered whiskey.

And that woman behind the bar. Gregory Ducante had mentioned her during their brief interview – Melissa, or Miranda. Something. She helped him with his openings. But, then, why did she look so forlorn? The girl kept smoothing her dirty blonde hair and gazing out at the door. Maybe there was some restriction on how many people could be in this old bar that they simply hadn’t told anyone about.

“Yes, yes,” came Mr. Ducante’s voice from somewhere to Ms. Bergman’s right. “It has been a simply marvelous turn out. I blame it on my positively bewitching staff.”

Heather turned her head just in time to see Mr. Ducante clap the stern-looking bouncer from the door on the shoulder. He had evidently come in for his break, to grab a drink, for after a bob of his head to whoever had been offering commendations, he wandered up to the bar. Heather Bergman did not see what the man ordered, to know what the staff might think of as the best drink in the house, because at the same moment, the nervous looking bartender dropped one of the silver rimmed glasses to the floor.

The tinkling shatter of the glass shards was inevitably heard by no one but those sitting at the bar proper. As the dusty haired bartender murmured, “Sorry. Sorry. Yeah, I heard you. I’ll grab your drink,” Heather Bergman clicked her tongue and her pen simultaneously as she moved to make a note in her nearly full notebook.

“Jason,” hissed the blonde behind the bar as she cracked a top on a beer and slid it to the bouncer. “You don’t have to do this. You can leave – I know your family isn’t happy that you’re working here, you don’t want to – ”

“I want a job and I want to make money, Maya,” the bouncer snapped, snatching his beer off the mahogany bar top.

“Look, I know what they think about people like Ducante, and – ”

“Why, Ms. Bergman!” came a smooth voice from her other side.

Heather’s ears had perked in the direction of the two bar workers – perhaps she had even been staring as she stressed and strained to hear what they were saying. She had begun the night thinking that the piece would be a lovely review: but was there a darker side to Ducante’s? If there was… that was front page. But at the voice from her side, Ms. Bergman jumped, and whatever was left of their conversation was lost to her.

“Oh, Mr. Ducante. I’m sorry, I must have been lost in the ambiance.” She smiled in what she hoped was a coy way as she sipped out of the too-skinny cocktail straw.

He shook his head, a brilliantly toothy grin plastered on his mouth. “It’s such a pleasure that you’re still here. Why don’t I give you that tour that I promised…?” Mr. Ducante offered, grabbing her elbow to lead her off the bar stool. “We’ll grab you another cocktail while we’re at it,” he added, snapping his fingers in the direction of the nervous looking bartender, who was just handing over a particularly well-garnished bloody mary.

“Oh… oh, yes,” said Ms. Bergman, allowing herself to be led as she smiled into the chocolate brown eyes of Mr. Ducante. “That would be lovely.”

It wasn’t until the tour ended outside the door of the bar and Heather Bergman was on her way home two cocktails later that she realized she had left her nearly-full notebook behind.

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Bounce

The day before the grand opening, the only opening the bar would have, and the small sign advertising cocktail hour had been removed. The social circles of the town were buzzing with gossip of what they had heard about the restaurant. Each clique seemed to have heard something that made the bar most applicable to them, with one twenty-something woman even going as far as to say that the VIP room was covered in pink.

While none of this buzz was necessarily true, it was all welcomed by the employees of Ducante’s pub, who today were few and far between inside the silent, dim interior. If the world was buzzing outside, it was barely twittering inside. In fact, it was barely scratching – and the scratching, incidentally, was coming from a nervous looking man, an almost wasted pen, and a stack of papers at the end of the bar.

Behind the bar, the short haired second in command was polishing the glasses for the umpteenth time. Openings usually went quite smoothly; but she had one position yet to fill, and with the day looming… it made her nervous. The ambiguous ads and vague requests she had put out had received little, if any, attention from the people who’s attention it was so imperative she grab. It was now, in the final hour, that she found herself hoping for a miracle.

The last thing she wanted was to have to stay in this podunk town to do the job until Ducante could find someone.

“Make sure you sign all of those,” Maya said to the nervous boy on the counter. “With the position of head bartender comes big responsibility, Jeremy.”

“You mean big confidentiality,” he muttered. Maya just laughed, and as Jeremy turned the page, the scratching continued. The addition of the occasionally squeaky clean glass made a sort of odd rhythm that was not interrupted for several minutes. That is, it was not interrupted until the front door pushed open.

Jeremy looked up curiously; Maya put the glass down, sliding one hand for some anonymous protection beneath the bar. But as the person responsible for pushing open the door stepped into the light of one of the wall sconces, she sighed. “Jason. You didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“Hey, Maya,” the man said, tilting his head to the side and offering a winning smile.

“You should’ve told me you were coming!” Maya said, tossing down her bar rag and dashing to throw her arms around the fall form of this ‘Jason.’ “I haven’t seen you since…”

“Since you started working,” he said, his lips twitching. “Its been a long time since you moved to Selvmar.”

Maya shrugged, tugging at a wayward strand of hair in an avoidant fashion. “Selvmar was the logical place for me. You know, after… everything.”

Jason shrugged, crossing his arms. “And now you’re here.”

“Only until the day after tomorrow, then I’m back to Selvmar. I’m just helping out my employer,” she answered with a shrug.

“Your employer,” Jason said slowly, rolling the word on his tongue experimentally. His eyes moved around the empty bar, falling at last on Jeremy, who jerked his eyes back to his papers. “Well. I’ve heard a lot of interesting things about this bar and this… employer.”

“Oh yeah?” Maya asked, crossing her arms to mirror his position. “And who’s telling you all of this?”

“Amanda,” he said smartly. “She told me a lot of things about the kind of bar this is. And she told me that you’re still looking for help.”

At the bar, Jeremy paused in his scratching.

“Oh. Jason…” Maya began, her voice softer than it usually was within these walls. “Jason, I don’t think this is quite the right environment for you.”

“Are you trying to say I’m not – ” his eyes jerked to Jeremy again, “-qualified for the position?”

Maya ground her teeth together. “Jeremy, you better finish signing those papers if you’re going to stay in this room.” The scratching started up again. “I know you’re qualified. You don’t think you’ve showed me everything you can do? You’re more qualified than I am, it’s just – ”

“Damn right I’m more qualified than you are. I’m the one that taught you how to Make them all. Look, I’m tired of tracking and hunting, and I don’t want to go to Selvmar, and this is the only place where I’m not working in some dead-end human cubicle job and – ”

“This just isn’t your speed, Jason, it’s nothing personal – ”

” – of course it’s personal – ”

“It’s – ”

“Maya,” said a calm, even voice from just beyond the bar. Gregory Ducante had made his way down the stairs that connected his second floor office with the bar, “Maya, Maya. I see no reason why you should deny this man a job, should he want one. He does appear quite qualified.”

Next to the bar door, Jason froze. His jaw seemed to slacken, and then tense. “You – ! You’re… you’re a…” His lip twitched, frozen somewhere between surprise and snarl.

At the bar, Jeremy was hurriedly signing the final five pages. He wanted nothing more than to leave this uncomfortable situation, to flee this strange twilight zone of a bar to the home where everything was normal.

“Yes, my boy,” Gregory Ducante said, “I am exactly what you think I am. But that shouldn’t stop you from a fantastic business opportunity, now, should it?” He stretched out his hand and offered a friendly wink; and as he did, his chocolate brown eyes did something very funny indeed. They flashed from a deep chocolate brown to a vivid red, and then back again.

It took no more than that instant for Jeremy to finish signing the last page of his confidentiality agreement; and he spent no more than that throwing down the pen  and marching out the door without another word.

He would not know what happened after that wink; not for twenty four blessedly normal hours, at least.

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