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Dave ST

Chosen 02: The Gala

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The three guests, all strangers, were quite aware that had stepped into a world of high society that was leaps and bounds above what they were used to.  As far as social stratas went, they were no where near having their feet on solid ground.  Manhattan's richest and most affluent individuals were present, from CEOs to Philanthropists to celebrities.  The Gala was taking place at the David Zwirner gallery on 19th street, and for an event like this, unless you had seven digits in your bank account, they wouldn't let you smell the food from the street.

[Casey] Casey and her people had arrived early, and she still wasn't a hundred percent on board with the idea.  Mr. Mourne could talk a good talk, but the dream hadn't left her mind the last several days.  Something was eating away at her, like something out there was stalking her and hunting her joy so it could consume it before it found its way to her.  Still, she pressed on, and was none to surprised to find that Mr. Mourne had elevated her to his 'Plus One' so while her people and one manager she brought with her were catering, she was free to mingle with sycophants and people she had nothing in common with in a dress she really couldn't afford but was to proud to not show up looking her best (well, on a budget best).

Despite it all, she'd yet to see Horatio anywhere but she did catch sight of a few partners from her old law firm.  Including the bastard that cost her a future in Law.

[Maya] Life had been weird for the last several days.  The strange words hadn't stopped, but the doctor she went to see told her there was nothing wrong with her eyes and she was not dyslexic... but that didn't' seem to stop the world from making her see 'things'.  The two beings never came back to her 'dreams' so she was thankful for that, yet a part of her was a bit worried... after all, the way they talked, they seemed to be in danger.  What if the entity they were running from caught up with them?  Then again, they were figments of her addled mind... why should she care?  They knew things though, things no one else could have known.

"Maya," Mrs. Richards, the woman who had invited her to the event, greeted her as she arrived.  Not far from the entrance she and her husband were entertaining a few friends/clients/whatever, shaking hands and smiling.  Everyone here looked so wow.  Mrs. Richards was in a dress that was worth more than Maya made in a year, pushing up a chest and hugging a butt that cost slightly more than the dress.  "Oh, I'm so glad you could make it.  You look amazing."

She wasn't sure if Mrs. Richards was being serious or just in that placating, complementing mode rich people get into when around other rich people, but it was nice to hear, nonetheless.  "Feel free to roam and mingle, Keith and I have to our obligatory 'hellos' and I'll find you and we can catch up."  Her smile seemed genuine, but just as fast as she broke away from her husband she was right back at his side, shaking hands and getting her diamonds kissed.

[Mel]   His finger nails were growing back, that was a plus.  Showered, shaved, and in a suit, Mel had to admit, he didn't look half bad.  Still not quite sure this security life was for him, he couldn't quite argue the money.  Well, he could, but he'd already spent some of it to replace the throw rug he clawed through trying to dig his way to China the other week.  He wasn't packing, unless you counted the taser under his jacket (he didn't).

Brent had given him the details and for the most part the gig was a cake walk.  A few grand to sit here and make sure some idiot doesn't get too drunk?  Too easy.  The Gala was talking place on the first and second floors of the four story building, and they had men positioned all over the place.  Mel was one of a few roamers, security who kept in motion and made sure the guests knew that they were not far off.  Mel didn't expect too much trouble, like Brent had said before, the most they'd dealt with was on disgruntled guy several months back.  Since then it was all rich guys needing to escorted out to a cab.

With a tug at his coat he rolled his shoulders and went back out for a walk around the floor.

Spoiler

So, what do we do?

At this point, just get the flow going.  These are your characters so you tell me their story of what they're doing at this place we'll go from there.  Feel free to create NPCs to talk to (I have no names for the 'Partners' that cost Casey her job, for example), describe some events going on, over hear rumors... just get the ball rolling and the everything else will go from there.  Describe your attire, describe others' attire, what kind of a day did your PC have before they arrived here... all of that is relevant to the story, feel free to put it in.

Casey is pretty sure Horatio is 'last minute-ing' some issues with the Gala (nice of him to text you to let you know, huh?), so he'll be along shortly.  Manage the staff and mingle.

Maya... just be Maya.  Be completely lost and wide eyed and awkward about everything that's going on. :)

Mel, wander about, remind a few people to not touch stuff.  Don't tase unless you have to.  Casey might slip you a fifty to 'accidentally' tase one of her ex-partners... look into that (kidding).

Have fun.

 

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It was simple. Too simple arguably for Mel's tastes, but at least he could walk around. Still, the money was money. Though he wasn't sure if this really applied as 'getting out' in the therapeutic sense Brent intended. Still, he'd agreed to this, and in a sense Brent was still Major Connors in this way, the commanding officer, and Mel had his orders. Patrol, one, two, three. Examine the area.

Security here, nothing to see, moving on. Two, three. Routing past the line of Impressionist or Romantic something paintings, look at the static guards. Meet their eyes, all's well, moving on.

It wasn't until he rounded a sculpture probably worth in the hundred grand zone that something different cropped up. Raised voices, though he couldn't discern the words quite. It brought him to a corner where one tuxedoed man in his fifties and an impressive black mustache was finding his chest jabbed by a woman of similar age, well dressed. Probably his wife. Whatever the precise argument was (though Mel would put money on the man's focus having been on the more slinky ladies in slinky numbers) it was definitely severe, and of sufficient noise to suggest his attention.

He came over and cleared his throat. "Is there a problem?"

The couple quickly shifted to awkwardness at their dirty laundry overheard. "No, no. Just a disagreement. All settled, thank you." The woman primly put. It clearly wasn't, but obviously the bickering had been put on hold for a more private occasion. Mel gave them the pro forma 'just checking' smile and nod and moved on.

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Casey took one more pass around the kitchen making sure everything was ship shape then she went to the door the led from the prep area out into the main floor. She pushed it open just a crack to look thru and still couldn't spot Horatio anywhere then let the door swing shut and turned back toward the kitchen only to find herself face to face with Becky Monroe the co-manager she had brought in after Horatio made her his 'date'.

“You can see a lot more from out there Casey, than back here.” she said with a tilt of her head.

“I know Becky, and I'm not trying to micromanage I swear I just feel so...” Casey said the pleading in her voice but the look on her friend and co-workers face stopped her in mid sentence. Puffing out her cheeks and blowing air she straightened up smoothed her dress and nodded. “You are right. I am being a chicken. You got this I will go face my demons.”

As soon as she said that she regretted it and a small shiver went down her back but she gave Becky a smile and spun and pushed the door open and stepped out into the gala.

It had been a long time since she had been to an affair this posh. It was one thing to come a the caterer but when Horatio had called and said that he was making her his plus one, it had put things in a different dimension. She couldn't just go dressed in work clothes or even in the sort of dress the manager of the caterer would wear no she had to dress the part. Which wasn't easy on her budget. Still as she passed a mirrored column and caught a glimpse of herself, Not too shabby she thought.

Becky was right,Casey thought as she moved through he gather party goers, I can see better out here and still on Mr. Mourn but after passing and old couple who were arguing and some intense looking guy watching them she did spy a group of her former associates. Shit, I really do not want any of them to see me, flashed through her mind as she turned on her heel and found herself face to face with Roger Lampman the asshole who cost her her job.

“Man, Casey Mason, last person I expected to see at an art gala, but still easy on the eyes.” He said not even attempting to hide his leering gaze at her bust.

Resisting the sudden urge to puke and then kick him in the balls Casey Smiled instead “I'm surprised to see you here too, I thought the only art you would be into would be porn.”

Spoiler

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Maya had been to parties before. She had even worn a nice dress to one, when her sister got married. This little shindig, though? It was on a whole other level. Sure, she knew the Richardses were well-off, but this level of glitz and glam was like, Vanity Fair, where she'd been expecting maaaaybe The New Yorker-  or, since it was supposed to be for the work of "mythologically inspired artists," maybe some niche-market mag dealing with the zoomorphic gods of pre-colonial Egypt. She'd imagined chunky dichroic glass jewelry and caftans, not designer ensembles straight from some high-end boutique.

Under normal circumstances, she'd have felt pretty confident. Rather than straightening her hair, she'd just pinned it up, and the long-sleeved maxi dress was both comfortable and what she thought of as "casual sophistication." She was tall enough to get away with wearing ballet flats instead of heels, and she was also one of the very few women not showing skin. It was a look that suited her, but after a quick scan of the room following Colleen's departure, it definitely did not suit the party. Slipping over to grab a glass of rosé from one of the tables, she smiled politely and avoided eye contact as she moved through the partygoers. Everyone just looked so rich, and so beautiful- or at least the kind of beautiful that being rich could buy- that just catching glimpses of faces and suits and dresses in the crowd was almost an art show on its own.

As she sipped her "basic white girl" wine, the knot of anxiety that came from being keenly aware she didn't fit in gradually loosened, and she resigned herself to making the best of things. She knew Mrs. Richards had intended the invitation as a gift, a sort of 'thank you' that she'd thought Maya would enjoy, not as a means to make her feel uncomfortable or out of place. Besides, it wasn't as if she was likely to run into anyone she knew here, so what was the harm in trying to have a good time? Things had been a little weird, lately, and getting out of her comfort zone and into another glass or two of wine might actually help.

It wasn't too difficult to make her way to the outer edges of the thronging glitterati, and into the actual exhibition halls. It was an art gala, and if she was gonna be here all night, she was gonna see some art.

Spoiler

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Roger leered making no attempt to even pretend he wasn't looking at her cleavage. "I do like porn Casey, especially when it come wrapped up in a nice white dress, like the one your wearing."  Casey resisted the urge to scratch his eyes out and instead took a step closer to him and said in a very low voice. "Roger you already won, you got me fired, you got me blacklisted. But you didn't get me disbarred. And if i ever hear of you talking about a woman in the manner in which you talked about me if I see you here tonight talking to your friends about your conquests real or more likely made up, hell if I ever see you again period. I will sue you and I will sue the firm and while I may not win I swear it will cause so much bad publicity that you will be cleaning the toilets in the basement of the firm until you are ninety before they let you off the hook. Do you understand #me too. Good night Roger I think it's time for you to go."

Without a further word or waiting for a reaction Casey turns and marches off pausing to grab another glass off a tray. As she took a long swallow she noticed that the intense looking man who had been watching the old couple argue was  standing on the other side of the server now watching her. She was about to tell him to eff off  thinking that he was creeping on her, when she stopped and took a second look "I know you," she said letting the girl with the drink tray pass by, "Your Black no sugar no cream. I didn't recognize you at first all dressed up. Hi I'm Casey, the manager at The Full Pot." Casey extended her hand to Mel.

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Mel had continued his circuit when a flicker of brown hair caught his eye. He paused to confirm what he saw. Yep, Miss Barista, cleaning up nice in a white dress. Now how did she get into a fancy place like this? Then she picked up on his observation and came over. He shook her hand politely in turn. "Mel Grimson. I'm working security here for the event. How did you get your golden ticket?"

"We're catering." Casey explained.

"I thought the upper crust went more for tiramisu or fancy hors d'oeuvres?" Mel pondered.

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Casey laughs politely, "Me too, but the guy in charge of this shindig, Horatio Mourn, wanted to benefit a local business instead of some big name place, so here I am. I'll be honest as surprised as I was and as out of place as we are, this job is a god send. I just wish he would show up. I'm supposed to be his date which is why I'm out here and not back in the kitchen.." She takes a sip of her drink "Listen to me chatter, I'm sorry. It's nice to meet you Mr. Grimson after all we see each other almost every morning we should at least know each others names.

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"Speak of the Devil, wings, flapping, all that," Horatio stepped up into the conversation, still buttoning his blazer with an exasperated expression that told them both he was done planning Galas for quite some time.  "Casey, I am so sorry.  I've been held up in the back, it's been... quite a night so far."

"The other caterers, champagne, booze, etcetera... haven't been able to get a single thing right and following simple direction is apparently not in their contract," he shrugged, looking confused.  "Who would have thought, right?"  He paused and realized he was interrupting a conversation.  "Oh, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean-"

"It's fine," Casey waved her hand dismissively.  "Relax, the bad people can't get you here."  She tried to muse and when he chuckled her own smile swiftly followed suit.  "Mr. Mourne, this is Mr. Mel Grimson, he comes into the Full Pot pretty regularly.  Turns out he's working security tonight.  Small world."

"Ah!  Well, any friend of Casey's," he turned with the playboy smile of his and extended his hand.

Mel tried to correct him, "We're not really fr-"

"Horatio Mourne, pleasure to meet you," he powered on, Mel's attempt to set the record straight just sorta went on unheard.  Casey just smiled and gave Mel a look and a roll of the eyes that said 'just go with it'.  He seemed born for politics.  "Please, call me Horatio.  I keep asking Miss Mason to do the same, but she is adamant to call me Mr. Mourne.  So until she starts I'm retaliating with 'Miss Mason'."

He motioned to the two of them, "Hey, let's have a look around, shall we?  I promised I'd show Miss Mason around, please, I'd love for you to join us."

"I really should get back," Mel pointed to the gala as a whole, signaling it was time he got back to work.

"Nonsense.  I'm running the show tonight, Mel.  C'mon, five minutes or so, take a break, amuse the guy signing the check that will eventually become a check signed by someone else, that will end up in your pocket."  He smiled and ushered them onward.  "Seriously, I could use a break.  Doing events like this should be one of the main arguments for legalizing pot, I swear.  Hard liquor just isn't helping anymore..."

He escorted them away, through a few of the hallways where the art was being displayed.  He mentioned a few of the artists, but in all honestly none of them were really interesting enough for either of his guests to care all that much about.  He was passionate about his field though, and they did their best to look interested and entertained as he pointed out nuances and depths, and meanings from each of the pieces he showed them.  Mel and Casey, still relative strangers managed to sneak at one another from time to time and offer up an awkward 'I have no idea what he's talking about' shrug.  It wasn't until one of the less trafficked halls then his enthusiasm seemed curbed when his eyes locked on a lone guest.  She was dressed 'casual' by comparison to the others and seemed more out of place than anyone they'd seen all night.  Truth be told, she looked more like someone who had slipped in the back door for free champagne and finger sandwiches.

"Excuse me, miss," he approached her, unsure if really belonged at the event.  "You seem lost," he managed as the most politest way of saying in front of his company 'you don't seem to belong here'.  At least he had Mel handy to throw her out.

"Nonsense," came a seductive voice soon followed by a woman dressed in a black evening gown that looked like it cost more than anyone made in two life times and judging by the plunging neck line her and Casey could have had the same tailor.  Her cheek bones were perfect, her red lipstick was perfect, she was just... you get the idea.  She was easy to hate.  Her pitch black hair was tied up in a tight bun.  "I was just about to ask the little darling what she thought of this piece."

"Ms. D'Sombra, I didn't know you'd be here this evening," Horatio's tone implied that he 'hoped' she wouldn't be here this evening.  "You know her?"

Ms. D'Somba gives the out of place Maya a dismissive once over then chuckled.  "Oh, heavens no.  I know art, however, and I know the look of someone with an eye for it.  I'm simply curious what she sees in it."  Her voice carried with all the charm and warmth of a tiger's growl when suddenly her face seemed to be overlapped by something else, a vague, phantasmal visage of something monstrous or demonic concealed just under the surface of her own flesh... then as swiftly as it appeared, it was gone.

"So," she asked with a twisted grin on her face.  "See anything interesting?"

Spoiler

Horatio didn't seem to notice anything weird with her face.  You three, however, do.  Lately you've been seeing things, hearing things, and your reality just seems to be crumbling... add this to the pot.

 

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Maya had been considering this particular piece for the better part of twenty minutes. and she still hadn't decided whether or not she liked it; the colours worked well together, with the general impression being a bit like a sunrise coming out of a dark night, but something just didn't sit well with her. She had almost nailed down exactly what it was when a man who looked like a department store manager, complete with mid-life crisis ponytail, interrupted her train of thought. Who did this Steven Seagal wannabe think he was?

"Lost?" No more than you are, jerk. Who's your Journey tribute band opening for tonight, hm?

Fifty scathing retorts rushed to the tip of her tongue in response, but before they had a chance to spill out, Maleficent's sister slithered up out of nowhere and intervened. It wasn't exactly on her behalf, but an intervention nonetheless, and she silently thanked whoever was listening that she hadn't had the opportunity to open her mouth. She didn't know who either of these people were, but the fact that Prince Charmless was visibly unhappy with the other woman's presence made her feel just a teensy bit better about essentially being politely accused of sneaking in without an invite. It didn't, however, make her feel any more at ease with the situation: the tension seething between the two made her feel like a very small pawn in a heated, long-running game of chess. 

For a brief moment, the world shifted in front of her eyes, and because she was still looking at the raven-haired woman who'd just spoken, for that fleeting instant she saw not a gorgeous socialite, but the rapacious Beldam of the book she'd so recently read to the children at work, all hunger and malice.

No, no no, not here, this is not happening here, she told herself as she tore her gaze away, directing her attention back to the painting and taking a slow sip of wine to steady her nerves. Not tonight.

"Oh, all sorts of things," Maya replied breezily, only the faint hint of a tremor in her voice betraying the fact that something- either the timing of the woman's question, or the appearance of the trio- had clearly unsettled her. She clasped the stem of her glass in both hands to stop them shaking until she could calm down, and skimmed the abstract shapes of the artwork again; focusing on the here and now always seemed to put things back to the way they should be. Her teeth caught at her lower lip; what exactly was it that bugged her so much about this painting? It was driving her crazy that she couldn't make heads or tails of-

Heads or tails?

That was it! It wasn't positioned correctly. Tilting her head to re-assess the art, much to the mixed amusement, bewilderment, and exasperation of her audience, she felt her pulse quicken as the pieces started to fall into place.

"Here, this looks hopeful, yeah?" she asked them rhetorically, glancing back at them before waving at muted whorls of rose and orange shot through with bright gold, cerulean, and white. "It's lovely and soft, like a spring morning, especially when you contrast it with this part." Here, she pointed at the sharp, angular interjections of muddy grey, violet, and deep black that jutted out in irregular patterns. "So, it looks like an aspirational thing, like looking toward beauty and light as you reach out from the darkness, clinging to the hope that will get you through the worst of times." The more she looked at it, the more sense it started to make, as if she were piecing together the plot of a complicated novel. The warmth of the wine hummed pleasantly through her body as she paused, allowing her audience a moment to draw their own conclusions.

"But it's not!" she exclaimed, shaking her head, the words coming faster, more easily now. "There's no real hope in this at all. Yes, there's the acknowledgement of joy and all that, it exists, but these are things the artist believes they cannot have. They have seen and, and felt transcendence, something celestial, unfathomable, something ah... ah... supernal!" she stated emphatically, taking another drink of wine.  "And now it's utterly gone, shattered, destroyed.  They can still see beauty in the world, but they can't touch it, and every time they try something is irrevocably broken. This painting is all about the incredible longing the artist feels for what's lost, tempered by overwhelming remorse and utter despair, because..." Realizing suddenly that there were now more than four people gathered around, and that she was gesturing animatedly while everyone stared, Maya suddenly felt intensely self-conscious and dropped her free hand, which had come just short of touching the painting.

"Because they know it's their fault," she finished somewhat more quietly. Making a very small, vaguely circular motion with her finger, the tall, grey-eyed 'interloper' added, "and, ah, it's upside-down."

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Casey hadn't really realized how much she had been looking forward to Horatio arriving. It was fun going along and being with a handsome gentleman even if the Art bit was really over her head. She was analytical and not all that creative so she never got the whole art thing. When they came into the part of the gallery where the girl who looked out of place was standing and Horratio started questioning her Something about the woman seemed familiar and then the harpy showed up, Casey only partially paid attention namely because she had just figured out that she had seen the woman at the coffee shop and not just once she was a regular just like Mel. She turned to tell Horatio and mel that she knew the woman and thats when she saw it.

On 12/19/2018 at 5:56 PM, Dave ST said:

Ms. D'Somba gives the out of place Maya a dismissive once over then chuckled.  "Oh, heavens no.  I know art, however, and I know the look of someone with an eye for it.  I'm simply curious what she sees in it."  Her voice carried with all the charm and warmth of a tiger's growl when suddenly her face seemed to be overlapped by something else, a vague, phantasmal visage of something monstrous or demonic concealed just under the surface of her own flesh... then as swiftly as it appeared, it was gone.

"So," she asked with a twisted grin on her face.  "See anything interesting?"

The words froze in Casy's throat and her empty hand went to her back where the scab of her wound was and and then Maya the woman who had been staring at the picture went off the rails.

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The lady in the red dress seemed faintly familiar, though Mel had no idea who she was. Mind you, while she did seem out of place, the same could be said for him or Casey. That said, if Horatio Mourne insisted he send her out - well, Mourne had pointed out he was the client here. Then the black-dressed woman who screamed socialite shark swooped in for the younger woman's defense.

On 12/19/2018 at 6:56 PM, Dave ST said:

Ms. D'Somba gives the out of place Maya a dismissive once over then chuckled.  "Oh, heavens no.  I know art, however, and I know the look of someone with an eye for it.  I'm simply curious what she sees in it."  Her voice carried with all the charm and warmth of a tiger's growl when suddenly her face seemed to be overlapped by something else, a vague, phantasmal visage of something monstrous or demonic concealed just under the surface of her own flesh... then as swiftly as it appeared, it was gone.

"So," she asked with a twisted grin on her face.  "See anything interesting?"

Mel's eyes widened and then snapped shut for a moment. This was Brent's joint offer of a quick job and a therapeutic step into post-Cecilia and civilian life. This was not the Section 8 night all over again. Then he opened them as Maya went into her excited spiel. "I think she's in the right place." Mel offered to Horatio. "Art critic for an art gallery."

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Ms. D'Sombra's laughter was quiet, but nonetheless heard in the rather quiet halls that surrounded them.  "I like this one, Mr. Mourne.  Do get her a column in the newsletter."  With a cock of her head as she and all the others tilted their heads to see the painting in the different perspective, she finally smiled.  "I'm sold.  Do see that it gets to my studio, and... leave it upside down, I always like to be reminded of Mr. Mourne's infallibility.  Or is it, ineptitude?  Hmm?"  The evil quirk of her lips as she glared at Horatio certainly told everyone that there was some unspoken history there.

"I'll see to the transaction and the delivery personally." Horatio replied with a tone of barely contained humility.

"Excellent," she smiled a smile that only the richest bitch in the room could smile.  She pointed to Casey and her eyes took on an almost predatory allure.  "You, a word if you please," she tilted her head off to the side motioning for Casey to joint her.  Mel moved forward to Maya, not sure if he was to toss her out or what at this point, when Ms. D'Sombra intervened on her behalf.  ""Mr. Grimson, she's to be left alone.  If she was not here on anyone's invitation, then she's now here on mine.  She is to be given anything she requests as long as she is within these walls, am I clear?"

"Ma'am," Mel nodded stepped back, offering Maya an apologetic, yet polite nod and a smile.

Horatio looked at his phone, rubbed the bridge of his nose and cursed softly under his breath.  "E-excuse me a moment, I need to handle something.  I'll be back in a moment," he offered an apologetic smile to Casey and left in a hurry.  So far, she had to admit, this wasn't the worse date she'd ever had...

Spoiler

Horatio left the scene for a moment.  He's off to talk on his phone and prying in the conversation is possible.  Maya and Mel are the two prime candidates for the attempt, since Ms. D'Sombra wants a word with Casey.

There's nothing saying you have to do anything.  I'm just giving you options.  Social gatherings in PBPs tend to have to happen in small little chucks of events, especially since the PCs don't really have much to do with each other yet aside from smile awkwardly at one another since they're all pretty much strangers still.

As for Maya and her little awkward self... have fun with being here for twenty minutes and already being elevated to VIP status by one of the wealthiest women in New York and getting a column in the gallery's newsletter.  I'll leave it to you to try to explain that to Coleen.

Casey, make a friend!

Mel, get your ass back to work.  Break time's over.

 

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Mrs. D'Sombra's instructions caused the parade-ground reflex buried in Mel to respond, causing him to defer and step back before he realized: "Ma'am? How do you know my name?" Odd, but not like it was a problem was it? Mel just needed his curiosity settled (or was it paranoia satisfied) and then it was back to patrolling.

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The raven haired socialite paused in attracting Casey's attention for a chat and gazed at Mel, visibly irritated.  He expected no less from a woman as obviously stuck up as her.  "Did Conner's not tell you?  You work for me, Mr. Grimson.  Who do you think set up the capital for Mr. Conner's little security business, hmm?"

An arrogant smirk formed on her lips.  "Oh, he didn't tell you did he?"  She chuckled.  "Hmph, figures."

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"I see. Ma'am." Mel gave her a professional nod and turned around to continue patrolling again. Food for thought, he determined, but then again, it made sense Brent left that out. After all, this was a one time gig, not an extended contract - then again, Brent Connors probably didn't tell her that - Mel only worked for her until the end of the night.

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Casey's head swam. The pressure of the job, the 'date' with Horatio, and now this. The dream came back and the color draine dfrom her face, the wound in her back sent out radiating burning pain, at least she thought it did. She looked at Mrs. D'Sombra's face it was normal but she imagined as she had just seen it, a glimpse of something from hell, or the depths of her own twisted psyche. What the fuck was going on with her?

She drained her glass as Horatio excused himself and stared numbly as Mr Grimson questioned the wealthy benefactor and was promptly put in his place. Then as Mrs. D'Sombra dismissed Mel from her thought and walked away she gestured, rather impatiently, for Casey to follow. Casey looked around fro a place to set her glass down and didn't see anything so she carried it in her left hand and sort of held it behind her out of sight then followed  Mrs. D'Sombra to where she had stopped a little ways off.

"How can I help you Mrs. D'Sombra, I hope nothings wrong with the catering service." She said shoving all her fear and sudden insecurity way down and putting her best litigator foot forward.

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She replied with a dismissive look in her eyes and a curl at the corner of her lips.  "Pff, I care nothing for the catering, but if you must know I have to admit your people are well trained, polite and excel at what they do.  A direct reflection of exemplary leadership, no doubt."  Just as she expected Ms. D'Somba spoke fast, real fast, like a working woman with fifty million things to do and no time to do them all.

"No," she took Casey's flue from her and set it on the tray of a man passing by.  He stopped like a robot the moment he noticed her.  She selected another, full flue and handed it to the buxom barista.  "I did a background check on you, Ms. Mason.  Standard procedure for anyone working one of my functions."

"I thought Mr. Mourne set all this up.  Help me understand, I'm a little confused."  Casey graciously excepted the champagne.  Even if she didn't intend on drinking it, she learned long ago to just pretend like she was infinitely thirsty and functions such as this one.

"That is correct, but only in part."  Ms. D'Sombra went on.  "Mr. Mourne set all this up, yes.  That's his job, but the studio, the artists, the art... all mine.  We often work together to organize these little events, but where he has limits within his job for the state... I," she pressed the tips of her perfectly manicured black polished nails to her exposed neckline.  "Do not.  If Manhattan has a Boss, a C.E.O., a Queen if you feel like being dramatic... it's me."

"But enough of that, you, Ms. Mason... youYou are the city's most over qualified barista.  Promising law career, in your rather short stint in law you were undefeated, brilliant, some said, I should know, I spoke to a lot of people that worked with you.  Then one day, poof.  You walk away from it all," that predatory grin rose in her cheeks once more.  "There is a story in there somewhere.  You're a powerhouse, Ms. Mason, a woman who gets things done.  A woman willing to suffer now for the pay off later and I... I admire that.  We could do a lot, you and I, but first we need to spray away the stray that's following closely on your heels."  She looked down, "Which are marvelous, by the way.  Macy's?  I saw a pair just like that there not to long ago..."

She waved away the distraction she sudden;y just caused for herself and met Casey's gaze once again.  "Neither here nor there, look, ask yourself something: why would a wealthy man, who has never been in your shop before suddenly come in and offer me a ton of money I just happen to need?  Let me guess, he and his son, no... father used to come in there a lot before you came to run the place?"  She nodded.  "Yes, I would have gone with 'father'.  I'll bet also that you didn't see, or hear, or dream things until the day he walked into your life, did you?"

"Well, there's my pitch.  Should give you a lot to think about and before you have a chance to barrage me with questions, I'm going to leave in a hurry like some vague prophet in a poorly written movie, but this is my event and I do have to keep moving.  Were I you, however, I'd start wondering if my friends are precisely who they say they are."  She shot her a fanciful wink and a smile.  "It was a pleasure, dear."  True to her word, Ms. D'Sombra slapped Casey with a bombshell and strolled off in a hurry to meet an greet even more people.

It was starting to look like one more drink wasn't going to be enough.

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As everyone scurried off about their separate ways, the small crowd magically dissolving into so much superficial laughter and champagne as if it had never existed in the first place, Maya became acutely aware of the blood warming her cheeks. This was not her scene at all, and despite trying to find a relatively quiet part of the gallery to just... have a glass or two of wine and chill, somehow she'd ended up being the center of attention. So, of course, she had made a fantastic first impression as some kind of weirdo party-crasher, and...

...helped sell a painting? Gotten VIP status from LexAve Lilith? Landed a gig writing a column in the gallery newsletter? 

She hadn't thought she was lost when Ponytail Guy walked up with his entourage, but now, now she wasn't so sure.

"At what point did I lose control of my life?" she wondered aloud, before taking another drink from a wineglass that was rapidly becoming more glass than wine. Mildly embarrassed, utterly confused, and in need of answers to such burning questions as, "Who the hell are these people?" "What the fuck just happened?" "Where is Colleen when I need her?" and "How do I get the recipe for those little cream cheese cracker things?" she reluctantly headed off in the same direction as Mourne. The other two women clearly had business to discuss, and she was not about to follow the security guard and get tased or something, which unfortunately left Baron von Buzzkill as her "best" option.

Maybe, Maya tried to reassure herself as she followed him, maybe he wasn't really trying to be a jerk. It's not like I was walking around with my invitation pinned to my dress, right? There was no telltale clacking of perilous stilettos as she padded quickly down the gleaming hallway; it wasn't that she'd worn flats out of consideration for the men she'd look down on in heels, but that they were uncomfortable as hell and she hated wearing them. As for this "Mourne" guy... She wasn't sure who he was, but probably he worked for the gallery, so introducing herself might make the rest of the night a little easier, yeah?

Yeah, she decided, nodding in affirmation as she peered into the smaller exhibition rooms she passed.

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Casey had been left with a bit to ponder and Mel was returning to his duties.  Maya thought it best to introduce herself to Mr. Mourne and quietly followed him, as best she could, through the people and smaller galleries.  She lost him a time or two, but the place was small and it wasn't easy to completely lose a guy that had shoulders like him.  Did he bench small trucks at the gym?

"...I don't know." She heard his voice as she was about to round a corner.  "No, D'Sombra is up to something, I think she's found one.  No, not the one I'm watching, she has no idea Casey could be one, but I think she's suspicious."  There was a pause in the conversation and all Maya could hear was that vague mumble from his smartphone.  "Well, what do you expect?  She's centuries old, has more money than god, and an army of goons out scouring the streets.  We have me, you, and some guy named 'Dwayne' who can barely tie his shoes... I don't care if you owed your cousin a favor, he's an idiot.  Any just run the name 'Grimson'... you know what, shot in the dark...," she could hear a piece of paper rustling around in his hands.  "Hold on, I'm checking the guest list... Flynn.  Maya Flynn.  I don't know, it's a hunch.  What?  I don't know, mixed heritage... look for a hippie version Zazie Beetz, I'll text you a surveillance photo.  The way she sees the world... it could be a lead, could be nothing, just run the name."

His phone beeped, she assumed the call was done as he took a moment to breathe in and exhale.  "I'm getting to old for this." He mumbled to himself.

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Casey watched as everyone around her disappeared leaving her alone with her champagne. Ms. D'sombra's words had left her head spinning and full of sudden doubts, she played the scene , the whole scene, over in her head from the moment she had run into Mel Grimson and recognized him up to now. Investigators and detectives looking at crime scenes look for things that don't belong, lawyers do the same thing, and looking at this scene the only things that didn't belong where her and the two other people who frequented the coffee shop.

On 12/25/2018 at 8:52 PM, Dave ST said:

"That is correct, but only in part."  Ms. D'Sombra went on.  "Mr. Mourne set all this up, yes.  That's his job, but the studio, the artists, the art... all mine.  We often work together to organize these little events, but where he has limits within his job for the state... I," she pressed the tips of her perfectly manicured black polished nails to her exposed neckline.  "Do not.  If Manhattan has a Boss, a C.E.O., a Queen if you feel like being dramatic... it's me."

And Ms D'sombra made four. If she was such a big wig in Manhattan, then why had Casey never heard of her and what woman her age, outside of a fading burlesque queen, would wear black nail polish, especially to an event like this.

On 12/19/2018 at 5:56 PM, Dave ST said:

Ms. D'Somba's voice carried with all the charm and warmth of a tiger's growl when suddenly her face seemed to be overlapped by something else, a vague, phantasmal visage of something monstrous or demonic concealed just under the surface of her own flesh... then as swiftly as it appeared, it was gone.

The vision or whatever it had been came back and haunted Casey. There were too many weird things not the least the coincidence of the three of them here being fish out of water, Horatio's strange behavior all along, and now D'sombra, her monster face (assuming I am not crazy and hallucinating) and her obvious attempt to misdirect. A perfectly played trial tactic, too perfect.

Casey walked back into the main gallery and found a waiter to deposit her still full glass with then glancing around to see if she could find Horatio she pulled her cell out of her clutch and texted Jasmin, time to find out just who Ms. D'sombra was.

Spoiler

Jasmin is a social/entertainment reporter/columnist/blogger at a newspaper or magazine.... one of Casey's contacts from the law days. Casey has Contacts 2

 

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Mel continued on his duties, nothing eventful passing for a while - and then he ran into Brent. Mel gave him a nod, then finally decided to ask about the thing that bothered him more than he wanted to admit. "D'Sombra, your boss. I ran into her. Why did you tell her about me?"

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Maybe he doesn't work for the gallery, or a Senator, Maya reflected, as she listened to the brief, one-sided conversation about investigations and "surveillance footage" with growing anxiety. Just who was this guy, what was he after, and why, in the name of all the holy saints and pilgrims, was he invoking her name as someone who might be associated with whatever-it-was that she absolutely, positively, most definitely had. not. done?  She was just beginning to regret having followed the Park Avenue Powerlifter (seriously, where do you find suit jackets for a back that wide?!) and sort-of-intentionally-accidentally-eavesdropping when he began to turn his head in her direction. What followed was the fastest change in demeanor Maya had ever undergone, from slightly awkward spy to immensely awkward party-goer: like a child caught sneaking down the hallway for cookies long after bedtime, the tall, willowy library assistant took a too-obvious step forward in a clumsy attempt to look as if she'd just arrived by mistake. Despite the guilt written indelibly across her face, she bravely made an effort to sound surprised at his sudden recognition.

"Oh, so, hey, hi. I was, uh..." She paused for a moment, pursing her lips and briefly closing her eyes before smiling and giving it another shot, hopefully with more composure. "Sorry. I was thinking we might have gotten off on the wrong foot, and I wanted to apologize. You were right, sort of. I mean, about me." She laughed, nervously, and only after taking a sip of wine did she realize she'd just emptied the glass and now had no good excuse to pause the conversation if it took a turn. "I am. Lost, that is. A little bit. A friend invited me as a thank-you, and as you can probably tell, I don't get to do this sort of thing often." ...where "often" is defined as "never." "I'm Maya. Maya Flynn."

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[Casey]  Casey filtered through the people crowded around the art.  Most were interested while she knew some were only there to see or get seen by those far more powerful than themselves.  She knew the power struggle game and how it was played among the echelons of high society and big business and this affair was one part art show and all the rest was a brown nosing session or a bragging get-together.

Fining Horatio wasn't too difficult, locating him in a little out of the way cubby away from all the traffic where he was, for some reason, speaking with Maya, one of the women she recognized from the coffee shop.  Were they working together?  Was she in on all this (whatever this was)?  Just as she built up the nerve to approach her phone went off, stopping her in her tracks where she tucked into her own cubby to look at the screen.

--[[Ravenna D'Sombra?  She doesn't operate in a public capacity, she's a recluse.  No pics, no video, nothing.  The paparazzi have never gotten a picture of her, only descriptions of what she looks like.  Is she really like, 80?  She's CEO of NYX Imaging and Nox Production studios (photography and movies, basically).  Where are you and why was I not invited?  I've been trying to get a picture of her for years!  Snap me one and the finders fee is yours!]]--

[Mel]  Brent tipped his drink and looked at Mel like he was a bit concerned that Mel was not too pleased with him.  "Well, I had to tell her something Mel, I can't just say 'hey, I know a guy' and expect them to trust me at my word.  You know how the biz is.  I didn't tell her everything, but her people are..."

"Thorough?"  Mel asked.

Brent nodded, sipping his drink again.  He was the only man on detail at the moment who was knocking back Crown on the rocks like it was water.  "Look, Mel, I know you're a private guy, but D'Sombra?  Working for her is very lucrative.  Security gigs, man, that's it and she pays us out the wazoo.  Look, I know you like it simple, like it Spartan, but Mel, that money isn't gonna last forever.  Costs'll go up, your health will decline, all I'm saying is that we, I could use a guy like you out here watching my back.  I wish you'd reconsider your 'one job only' idea."

"Honestly, Mel,"  Brent placed his hand on Mel's shoulder.  "You can't hermit the rest of your life away, man.  D'Sombra's an easy gig and she takes care of her people."

[Maya] "Mourne.  Horatio Mourne."  The line backer shouldered man extended his hand and punctuated it with a humble smile.  "Ms. Flynn, I'm sorry, I do owe you an apology.  My introduction a moment ago was less than civil and I've been under a lot of stress what with setting this event and all that.  I have to admit, I've not seen Mrs. D'Sombra that quickly impressed in a long time, and don't worry about feeling like you don't belong here.  She makes a big deal about all of these events she throws and I'll be honest with you, Ms. Flynn only about ten to twenty of all these guests are actually art fans."

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Had she imagined it, or was there a sort of... raspy edge to his voice? She hadn't noticed it earlier. Paired with the suit, the smile, and the educated conversation, the soft, near-inaudible growl just at the lower edge of his vocal range was... Well, it wasn't just the wine heating up her cheeks, now, was it?

"Well, Mr. Mourne," Maya replied, switching the empty glass to her other hand to return the handshake and re-focus on the situation before she said something she'd have to blame on the alcohol later. She was surprised to find that, far from the polite, weak-wristed grip generally offered by men, Horatio's was stronger than she'd expected- not crushing, but firm. His hand was warmer than she'd imagined, too. "Apology accepted. And, if we're being honest, I'm, ah, not really that much of an art fan, either." The newly-minted VIP's grin was all conspiracy and mischief, her confidence bolstered by the wine, the late hour, and something about Mourne she couldn't quite pin down, like a scent in a crowd that seemed familiar, but also out of place.  "I did have to take a couple of art history classes in college, though, so I can pull a quick analysis out of a hat if I need to."

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"Something about her still rubs me the wrong way." Mel insisted, though he personally didn't know quite what. Was it the rich person arrogance? Discomfort that for once, one's higher ups had good intelligence (in the military sense)? Or just that lingering vision he really still didn't want to acknowledge seeing?

"She's no worse than any of the brass we've had." Brent replied, pressing his point. "Better, generally."

Mel looked away from Brent, seeing his point, but clinging onto his stubbornness. "I'll think about it, Brent."

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[Maya]  Horatio laughed.  "Those art history classes probably over qualify you, or at least grant you more credibility that a majority of the people here tonight.  I'd offer you a job, but it Ms. D'Sombra already head hunted you."  His eyes panned her frame with an almost predatory appraisal.  "Shame, that."

"So,"  He quickly changed the topic.  "I've a few minutes of free time before I have to get back to all of," he waved one hand about.  "This madness.  Tell me a bit about yourself, how do you know Ms. Mason?  You two seemed to share a look of familiarity back there.  Friends?  Enemies?  Frenemies?  Any restraining orders between you two I should know about?"  He was joking and it was obvious in his tone.  He'd already gotten off on the wrong foot with her and was now trying as he might to repair some of that damage.

[Mel]  "Mel, everything rubs you the wrong way,"  Brent mused.  "She pays amazingly well, and c'mon, let's both address the elephant in the room... none of our brass ever looked as good as her.  She might be cut throat, man, but at least she's easy on the eyes."

"But, yes, please do think about it, bro.  I need someone out here I can trust," he motioned to a few of the detail.  "Look at these jack holes.  They're either out of shape, roid ragers, or they have a record a mile long.  I need people with some moral fiber, some bac bone, some..."

"Professionalism?"  Mel helped him out.

"Exactly," he punctuated with a swing of his champagne.

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"Miss... Mason?" Genuine confusion crinkled Maya's features into a somewhat less attractive configuration as she tried to place the name. Someone she was familiar with, in the gallery? "I don't really recognize the n-"

"The young woman in the rather... eye-catching white dress."

"White dress, white dre- Ohhhhhhhhhh!" Right. The boobs. Got it.

On one hand, Maya did actually get it: Casey was stacked, and guys were into that. On the other hand, hadn't she been on his arm when they walked up?

"I do remember her, I just don't think I knew her name. She works at the coffee shop...?" It was clearly a question, if a rhetorical one- more for the sake of trying to confirm her own memory than asking for information. She was already regretting not grabbing a fresh glass of wine before engaging stealth mode to track down Mourne, since now she had nothing to do with her hands. "The Full Pot. They make a good dirty chai." Her raised eyebrows and the faint, dismissive shrug of her narrow shoulders were more suggestive than anything she actually said. "I don't really know her beyond that, but... Why ask me to tell you about myself and then ask about her?"

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Mel saw Brent's point, looking around and examining the men in question. One of them was practically taking advantage of the women in tight dresses to sneak looks whenever he felt he could get away with it. A bunch of them with definite chubs, whom would probably collapse before they got halfway through a basic army training obstacle course. One at the far end - with the dreadlocks whom perhaps it might be racial profiling to say he had been in a gang, except for the hints of tattoos and the look that confirm this was a man that had done serious violence before.

Mel could pick up on these things.

It was a pretty sorry lot, he reflected, and Brent Connors deserved to have better. Maybe whipping this lot into shape might not be so bad.

"I see your point. So how'd you meet her anyway? I thought you'd have looked at the banks for a business loan."

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Casey pondered the text as she looked through the leaves of the large potted plant which stood between her and Horatio and that woman. Eighty years old? No way. This chick didn't look any older than me, maybe it was a grand daughter or grand niece. I'll have to check on that.  And weird, why would she do a personal background check on the caterer that her hired guy had already cleared and then your going to make a person you have just seen and met for the very first time and don't even know a VIP on a whim and give them a column in your news magazine. And that same person just happens to be a woman who buys coffee form my shop everyday and there is another guy here who buys coffee every day as well and I can remember them but I had never seen Horatio until the day he offered me this job even though he said that he and his dad, she sighed cutting the thought short … no way something just doesn't click and that's not even throwing in the weird dream or getting stabbed in the back by a nail that couldn't have been where it was. This was just so surreal everything from the day Mourn had walked into the Full Pot to this moment.

Her thumbs flew across the face of her phone [[I'll see what I can do. E-mail me anything you have on her to my gmail address, articles, bios, everything you can find. And be discreet.]] Casey texted her friend then slipped the phone back into her clutch and reached up and moved one of the big fronds out of the way so she could see better. So much was going through her mind that she decided a little eaves dropping was in order.

Horatio stood slightly askew to her while the woman, Maya, was facing him. They were talking but the noise of the party made it difficult to hear them clearly, luckily Horatio's face was clearly in sight and while she was no expert lip reader she was a talented lawyer, or had been, and she was well skilled in observing. She had spoken to Horatio enough to know how he talked, coupled with being able to see his mouth move and hear some of what he was saying, her brain was more than capable of filling in the rest. At least for his side of the conversation.

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“It’s a simple business proposition.”  The handsome red-head told him from the edge of the bed as she re-fastened her hair into a braid.  The bed was large, as was the room, as was the apartment.  Of course, none of them were his.  Ravi let his gaze wander down the pale skin of his (current) bedmate’s back.  A rich recent divorcee in her 40’s, Sienna had kept much of her youthful beauty in that well-maintained way rich women do when they don’t have to worry about working for a living.  She was also, Ravi reflected, voracious in the sack.  Her ex-husband must have dumped her for self-preservation rather than because he’d found a more beautiful model.

“Tom will be there, with that dingy little drudge he’s seen with these days, and I refuse to play the ‘solitary woman scorned’ role.”  She half-turned, catching his iridescent eyes lazily studying her and smiling.  “It will be fun, my sweet.”

“Well, I am supposed to be working tomorrow night...”  Ravi drawled, his velvety voice even now causing Sienna’s insides to liquefy as the scoundrel pretended to ponder her idea.  She scowled and flapped a hand dismissively.

“Shaking that tush on a stage, however delicious a sight I find it, is not real ‘work’, Ravi.”  She leaned over and kissed his stubbly cheek, smiling slightly.   “And like I said, this would be paid time, not playtime.  One thousand dollars to escort me to the gala at the gallery and be your too-charming self, dazzle my friends and make their own husbands pick up their game, and if Tom happens to gnaw on his liver from envy so much the better.”

“Dancing  is real work.”  Ravi mildly protested as he swung his legs out of bed and stood, performing a full-body stretch in a very distracting way as he twisted his shoulders this way and that.  Golden skin flowed over taut muscles that shifted and moved...  Sienna stared for a moment, hypnotised and fighting the overwhelming urge to run her hands down his back – again.  He turned his head and grinned at her, half-lidded eyes glinting green-gold.  “But you’ve intrigued me.  Alright.  One thousand dollars.  And I’ll need a tux.”

 

The gala was, much as expected, a mixture of interesting and tedious for the easily-bored young aristocrat.  Lots of glitter, canapés and champagne, of course.  And art.  Lots of art.

Ravi had mixed feelings on art which could generally be summed up as ‘meh’.  Some art was good, some was bad, and that seemed to be simple enough.  However he was familiar enough with the upper crust art scene to know that it was filled with pretension.  In this crowd there might be a handful of people who actually knew anything about art, fewer of whom would be experts, and the rest of them were all pretending that the Emperor was wearing clothes just because it was easier that way.

He didn’t NOT like art, mind.  He just didn’t see the need to stand around and gasbag about it.  Appreciation of art for Ravi was like appreciating a sunrise – best done privately or with one or two others, and with a minimum of speaking about how wonderfully the colours blended.

Right now he was standing by himself in front of a framed melange of swirling dark colours interspersed with lighter blotches of colour, feeling somewhat ill at ease.  Not because of the surroundings, but from the piece itself.  It seemed chaotic and pregnant with something monstrous, and it touched a chord in him that disturbed him.  It seemed to harken to the dreams he'd been having of late, and Ravi fancied he could feel breath on his neck as he stared at the painting.

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On 4/21/2019 at 7:50 PM, Maya Flynn said:

"I do remember her, I just don't think I knew her name. She works at the coffee shop...?" It was clearly a question, if a rhetorical one- more for the sake of trying to confirm her own memory than asking for information. She was already regretting not grabbing a fresh glass of wine before engaging stealth mode to track down Mourne, since now she had nothing to do with her hands. "The Full Pot. They make a good dirty chai." Her raised eyebrows and the faint, dismissive shrug of her narrow shoulders were more suggestive than anything she actually said. "I don't really know her beyond that, but... Why ask me to tell you about myself and then ask about her?"

"Sorry," Horatio smirked charmingly.  "I honestly thought you two knew each other.  I've seen you in her shop, as well as the Grimson man, whom we mt a moment ago, the guy doing security.  I've seen you all there, I'm sorry, I assumed you three actually knew the others."

He motioned to her apologetically, "Please, though, I'm curious about you.  Or, perhaps I could enlighten you to a few of the faces out and about around here?  It may help you feel not so out of place?"

On 4/21/2019 at 8:00 PM, Mel Grimson said:

It was a pretty sorry lot, he reflected, and Brent Connors deserved to have better. Maybe whipping this lot into shape might not be so bad.

"I see your point. So how'd you meet her anyway? I thought you'd have looked at the banks for a business loan."

"She found me," Brent replied rather suddenly, like he was prepared for the question.  "The woman is connected, bro.  She had a list of everyone from our old unit when she showed up on my door step.  That's right, she came to me.  She wanted the best, but only a few of us were could be found, or were still alive."

He looked at Mel with a slight measure of disbelief and worry in his expression.  "She's loaded.  Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark levels of money combined and she barely looks out of her twenties.  For a bit I thought she was  the evil daughter of even richer parents, but I'm tellin' ya man, she's a shewed business woman.  She's no nonsense and takes no prisoners."

He raised a finger to Mel, still gripping his whiskey glass as he did.  "Nothing illegal, before you ask, at least not yet.  I mean, c'mon, we both know how people with that much power and money do business, especially when she employs a private security force like us."  Mel looked around and quirked a brow at Brent.  "Okay, not these guys.  She's looking for the best, and that's us.  Together we can find a few of the others and we can make some serious money.  These guys?  They're here just for this gig.  I'm talent scouting, and right now only a few of them are making the cut."

"It could be like old times, Top.  Just with better pay."

Spoiler

'Top' is a term for a Master Sergeant.  Like calling a Senior Chief 'Senior'.

[Casey] Casey is still listening in and there's nothing wrong with that, so far neither Maya or Horatio have noticed her.  Your contact is working and it may take her some time to compile and send that email.  At the moment none of Casey's actions require addressing.  Keep snooping or return to the crowds, it's your call (there's no right or wrong answer).

23 hours ago, Ravi FitzCoventry said:

Right now he was standing by himself in front of a framed melange of swirling dark colours interspersed with lighter blotches of colour, feeling somewhat ill at ease.  Not because of the surroundings, but from the piece itself.  It seemed chaotic and pregnant with something monstrous, and it touched a chord in him that disturbed him.  It seemed to harken to the dreams he'd been having of late, and Ravi fancied he could feel breath on his neck as he stared at the painting.

Sienna wrapped her arm in Ravi's and tilted her head, trying to see in the colours what he was seeing.  "Don't believe I've ever seen you look so serious."  Ravi's eyes just remained locked on the painting, he didn't even register her as being there.  "Ravi?  Hellooo?"

The modern Adonis inhaled and blinked a few times to break himself of his reverie.  "Sorry," he smiled in a near perfect recovery.  "It's lovely, I was just lost in a thought."

"It is, though a bit dark for my taste," his date replied.

"Oh, I don't know," came an unfamiliar voice.  The calm, accented tones introduced themselves into the conversation as if they needed no need for an introduction.  "I'm quite a fan of," as they both turned the perfect features of their hostess's raven black hair and red lips greeted them.  She was everything Sienna knew she was loosing with time and age.  "The dark."

Sienna was caught off guard but it was obviousshe immediately knew who she was standing in front of.  "R-Ravi," it wasn't often Ravi had seen Sienna flustered, which only piqued his curiosity.  "This is Ravenna D'Sombra, she's hosting all of this.  Raven, this is my date, Ravi FitzCoventry."

"Sienna," the shadow clad woman extended her hand and smiled.  "Thank you again for all you've done for this event.  As always, your resources have been invaluable, as has your time."

"Anything to help a friend," Sienna smiled, and the way she said it, the way her voice faltered, Ravi felt that 'friend' was a loose term from Sienna's point of view.

Ravenna smiled and her face contorted and distorted into something that went from gorgeous and angelic to something demonic and predatory.  Like an illusion plastered upon the fact, Ravi, for a moment couldn't tell which was the false face.  What was more disturbing, no one else seemed to notice.  He'd seen that face before.  He knew this woman.  He'd dreamt of her before.  "Mr. FitzCoventry, a pleasure," the evil smirk on her perfectly red lips declared that he would not allow Sienna to keep him for very much longer.  "Philanthropy?  Investments?  Do tell, where did Sienna find you?  I may have to start haunting there myself."

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Ravi was young, and whilst no longer being wealthy he came from wealth and privilege.  This might lead some to consider him a vapid weakling or 'chinless wonder', but such people do not realise that swimming with big fish means having to develop teeth and armor of one's own.  If anything, prison hadn't so much toughened Ravi up as put the polish on his plating - besides, anyone who can survive boarding at a elite private school for their entire childhood can handle prison.  So when faced with that flash of something disturbing and wicked underneath the gorgeous surface of Ravenna D'Sombra, the tall, dark and handsome young man did not outwardly react more than blinking once or twice as his face kept it's pleasant smile.

"We bumped into one another at a Latin dance class." he replied smoothly in a silken tone and with no apparent discomfort at the lie as Sienna smiled nervously.  He took Miss D'Sombra's hand with a practiced gentle clasp, giving her a dazzling smile and a charming eye-meet.  Dark hair in a cloud, and blood-red lips forming his name / Flawless hands running up and under the nape of his hair, gripping and making him look into a dark mirror to see a bestial mask of hunger and rage...  He let Ravenna's hand slip from his.

"Where you are an instructor, I presume?"  The woman (if that's what she was) ran her gaze down and up Ravi's lean athletic form like a livestock rearer appraising a new purchase, her lips smirking as she took in the discomfort of Ravi's date as though she knew exactly where Sienna had met the exotic manflesh she had on her arm.  The young FitzCoventry chuckled, shaking his head.

"Alas, merely a gifted lover of salsa."  he said with a significant slight pause and an impish gleam in his eye.  Ravenna laughed, her knowing dark gaze seeming to approve of his answers as she inclined her head in a faint nod.

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On 5/18/2019 at 11:55 PM, Dave ST said:

"Sorry," Horatio smirked charmingly.  "I honestly thought you two knew each other.  I've seen you in her shop, as well as the Grimson man, whom we mt a moment ago, the guy doing security.  I've seen you all there, I'm sorry, I assumed you three actually knew the others." 

Casey blinked. That made no sense whatsoever, and lent credence to what D'Sombra had been hinting at. She blinked again and couldn't understand why she felt irked that this Maya woman was with her date and how now all of the sudden her date admitted to knowing, ok maybe not knowing but recognizing her, when not ten minutes ago.... A flush of red suffused Casey's cheeks and she stormed from her hiding place with the intention of bracing the pony tailed charlatan and giving him a solid piece of her mind.

But thats not what happened. Before stepping out Casey had taken her phone from her clutch and activated the recorder then blanked the screen. She transferred the phone to her left hand and her small purse to her right which put it against the large potted plant and when she stepped forcefully from hiding the clutch caught in the voluminous leaves  of the plant which of course began to tip. Spinning back Casey tried to catch the tall plant but with both hands it became a trial which left her entangled and in plain view of the two she had been eavesdropping on.

They in Turn had heard her first curse and the string of expletives which followed as she wrestled with the tree like plant.

Neither said anything as Casey finally arrested the plants fall and disentangled herself, then smoothing her dress and brushing back stray strands of hair she marched right up to Horation and stood squarly in front of him ignoring Maya. She stared up at him but her words had been lost and he was so damn attractive and...

"Are you alright Casey," he asked innocently?

"Alright? Am I alright?" Casey shook her head, "No I am not alright but I am not the one answering questions here. How is it that not ten minutes ago you didn't know here from anyone else here," with out looking Casy stuck her left hand out to point at Maya with the phone in her hand, which added a few inches to Casey's reach and firmly poked Maya in the boob. "Yet here you  are telling her that you have seen her at the Pot along with the security guy and you just assumed we knew each other. When starngly enough I, who am always there in the morning when these two get their coffees and lattees had never seen you before the day you came into my office. Not once and I have a dammnd good memory for the little details I will tell you." Her voice was rising as she spoke, " And for that matter how is it that Miss D'Sombra knows the  'story' you told me about your fathger and him bringing you to the Full Pot when you were a kid. That is so much Bull shit!"

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"You left out the distinct lack of getting shot at." Mel added, almost despite himself. While part of him begged the implications of Ravenna D'Sombra getting a full listing of Rangers and then having the resources and pull to track them all down - it fit with everything Brent was saying about her - the rest thought it seemed like the too good to be true opportunity. So why wasn't he reaching out and taking it?

Oh, right, that gut intuition and odd images he saw, which emphasized with everything else, that when a too good to be true offer was being given - ultimately from a dangerous person like D'Sombra even if Brent was the proxy here - it probably was too good to be true. Mel had little good fortune in his thirty-something years of life. One piece of it was Cecilia, and she was taken from him. The other was that deal...

"This is about as good as you're going to get, Mel." Despite the pantsuit, it was the old-fashioned glasses and lines on her face that made Marsha Williams look more like some moralistic school teacher than the public defender that she was.

"Oh, sure." The teen sitting across from her scoffed. "Get-out-of-jail-free card, just snitch on my dad, his associates and then automatic sign-up to get shot for my country." Did she seriously think he didn't know the unwritten rules of the community? Be a nice little boy, say I'm sorry and walk away?

The vitriol passed off Marsha like water off a duck's back. "Mel. Is this what you really want? To throw away your life for a man who beats you and your mother at the drop of a hat?" Mel's mask cracked at the surprise and shock - she knew?! "Yes," the African-American matron continued, "I know about that, I take my work seriously. Mel. There are times when you feel you're trapped in a black pit, with nowhere else for your life to go. But you can climb out of it - and when someone offers you a hand, boy, you take it."

Mel remembered that. And Brent was offering a hand - whatever his intuition said, his heart knew he couldn't go on like this. "All right. I'll give this a shot. D'Sombra's got herself one former Master Sergeant."

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Once the initial shock had worn off, both from the interruption and the man-handling, Maya took one look at Horatio's bewildered expression and interposed herself between him and the obviously paranoid (or drunk... or both) Casey. She didn't know what this woman's problem was, but she had already dealt with more than enough crazy for one night, thankyouverymuch, and she was not having it. Disbelief and anger engaged in an all-out battle royale for supremacy in the shelf-lined arena of her mind, with the result being the latter triumphantly claiming possession of the voluminous best-seller, Harry Potter and the Audacity of This Bitch.

"Excuse me," she interjected in the overly polite, faintly condescending tone she was often obliged to use when patrons at work became unpleasant or unreasonable. She was nearly as tall as Horatio himself, although lacking his physique, effectively blocking the other woman's view of her target with a tight, aggressively friendly smile that somehow did nothing whatsoever to warm the gaze she directed at the curvy cafe-owner. "It's Casey, right?" She didn't wait for confirmation; Prince Ponytail had just addressed her as such. "Hi. I'm Maya." Again, a near-imperceptible pause before continuing quietly, barely enough time to be considered courtesy and certainly not enough to let her counterpart get a word in edgewise. "I thought, since you decided it's acceptable to intrude on a private conversation and touch my breast without permission, something I sincerely doubt you would appreciate being done to you, you should at least know who I am. Now, I don't know what your problem is, and to be perfectly honest... I, do, not, care." Her voice dropped again, now scarcely more than a conspiratorial whisper, as her forced smile abruptly vanished. "You have stepped waaaay over the line, and you are about to make an enormous ass of yourself, in public, in front of the wealthiest and most powerful people in New York." She broke eye contact long enough to spare a moment's glance at the other partygoers in the vicinity. "...If you haven't already. You two obviously know each other, so maybe you should consider handling your personal business elsewhere?"

...because it isn't welcome here, her level stare added wordlessly.

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"Really no one here gives a shit about anyone but themselves, we could be dancing naked and getting ready to do the nasty as a threesom and most of them wouldn't even notice. And technically I didn't really touch your breast, I accidentally poked it with my phone. But if you insist you can call the cops and we can have loads of fun in court, but do that later. As for the other I do know you even if I didn't know your name before, because I do see you just about everyday when you come to my coffe shop and get your dark roast black with two sweeteners, and sometimes when you come in on a weekend you get a Mocha Latte with extra milk." Casey smiled wickedly at Maya, but didn't give either of them a chance to say anything before she continued, "Unlike Horatio here who either just lied to you about seeing you often at the same coffee shop as the security guy and me or he was lying when he didn't recognize you  back where batface bitch bought you off."

She looked at Horatio sadness showing in her eyes, " I do know he is lying about the coffee shop, but what I want to know is what else are you lying about Horatio?"

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"I'd like to remind the both of you," Horatio spoke up, keeping his voice at a polite tone and just low enough to not invite anymore stares than were already being shot their way at the moment.  "That this is my place of business, so if this street level manner of addressing myself and my guests is going to continue, then I'd like to save some time and simply escort you to the door now."  His voice had a certain majesty to it, like the normal , casual charmer that he was had simply bled away in a red gush if irritation at being cursed at in the middle of his own gala.

After a slight pause, he continued.  "Ms. DeSombra's running her mouth again, I take it?  She does that, it's in her nature.  It's an attempt to drive a wedge and given your penchant for childish, emotional outbursts in lew of direct conversation and problem solving, it's obvious she didn't have to try hard."  He looked about as irritated as a person could get.  "She and I, since she's already decided to play dirty, are, in essence scouting you, Ms. Mason.  To be honest, you as well, Ms. Flynn.  The 'security guy' too.  Now I have guests that I have to attend to, after all I am working tonight, sort of.  If you would like to know more, Ms. Mason, than I highly recommend you hide your crazy, compose yourself, and for God's sake exercise some decorum."

He adjusted the button on his blazer, making sure it was set the way that was comfortable for him.  "It was nice meeting you, Ms. Flynn, officially.  As always Ms. Mason, it's been a pleasure speaking you, to the both of you in fact.  I'll address your concerns when I have more time, that I promise you.  Now, do try and play nice, ladies."  He offered them both a polite nod.  "If you'll excuse me."

With that he separated himself from their company, answering the summons from a raised hand of an unknown guest with a polite smile on his face followed by a hand shake.  He'd left the ladies to solve their personal squabbles, and prevent further outbursts that place a detriment to his event.

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Maya exhaled slowly, nostrils flaring slightly as she bit back a retort to Casey's nonsensical tirade. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we do not sleep with crazy. She couldn't really blame Horatio for bailing, even if he was kind of a smarmy jerk about it, but abandoning her to the lunatic who'd chased him down while she was trying to figure out what was going on didn't exactly earn him any brownie points in her eyes.

It wasn't worth the time it would take to point out to "Miss Mason" how many of her assertions were wildly inaccurate, and, in the case of touching a woman's breast without her consent and blaming it on the cell phone, weirdly misogynistic. It was irrelevant that Maya didn't go to the coffee shop every day (only once in a while in the afternoon, if she happened to be in the neighborhood), and didn't order any of the things Casey had mentioned- who would drink dark roast coffee with two sweeteners, or mochas with extra milk, when chai was a thing that existed? Maybe the crazy white woman thought she was someone else. Maybe she was having some kind of breakdown.

Maybe Maya didn't care, because she had no intention of even going back to The Full Pot after this delightful little encounter to find out for sure.

She watched Horatio's back for a moment as he disappeared into the crowd, then glanced at the other guests (who were very conspicuously looking elsewhere) and shook her head, turning back to the woman in the painted-on white dress. "Nice job. Real nice," she stated flatly, her voice no louder than it had been a few moments before. "I can't say it's been a pleasure. Have a lovely evening, and let's not do this again sometime." With that, she turned and strode angrily away, feeling marginally better as the full, lightweight hem of her dress flared emphatically with the abruptness of her departure. She wasn't royalty, and this wasn't some historical fiction novel, but in that moment, she could definitely see the appeal of swishing skirts for dramatic purposes.

Bodices and corsets, she reflected as she headed toward the main gallery in search of food and more wine, doing her best to put her experience with Horatio and Casey out of her mind, not so much. It wasn't until several minutes later, as she was in the process of flagging down a waiter bearing a tray of glasses, that something he'd said suddenly registered.

What the hell did he mean, "scouting?" Unbidden, memories of the recent strangeness- the books, the dreams, the painting, and most of this night, if she was honest- flashed through her mind. Despite the warmth generated by the wine, and the press of bodies near the tables, Maya felt a sudden, inexplicable chill.

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Casey was pissed now as Horatio slapped her down and was about to make an even bigger scene when Maya spoke up and also turned her back on Casey. This caused a momentary flash of anxiaty and doubt. She went over it all in her mind standing there mouth open looking like an idiot.

Her phone vibrated. There was a problem in the kitchen, she stared at the screen for several seconds and then that anger flashed up again. I'm losing it she thought as she typed rapidly. <Take care of it, I'll be there as soon as I can>

Casey turned her phone off not really caring now about the coffee shop, the last year of her life had been a spiral down to this and now it seemed that she was at the bottom. Her actions had ruined so much future for herself. She looked around then started making her way back into the gala. She came across Horatio almost immediately, he was talking to a small group of wealthy patrons but he noticed her and gave her an expectant look that was part invitation part warning. Casey ignored him and walk right on by. Horatio Mourn was not the person she was looking for.

Casey found her soon awing a few sycophants who gazed with vacant looks of worship and hung on every syllable that fell from Ravenna D'Sombra's perfect lips. Casey waited on the periphery but made sure she could be seen by the diva. D'Sombra gave no notice of her but Casey was sure she had been seen. She kept her patience with Ms. D'Sombra and waited and part of her wondered why she hadn't given Horatio the same courtesy.

A few minutes went by and still she waited until finally decided to approach, just as Ms. D'Sombra was at a pause in her conversation with a handsome gentleman and his somewhat older, yet still beautiful date.

Ms. D'Sombra turned her head to acknowledge Casey at her approach, giving her the opening she needed to say what she needed to say.  "Only one question Ms. D'Sombra. I don't need to figure out what it is you and Mourn have going on, if it's a rivalry or whatever. He lied to me, for whatever reason, he wanted something and instead of asking and telling me what it was he lied.  So I only have one question for you Ms. D'Sombra: what do you want me to do?"

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On 5/20/2019 at 10:03 PM, Mel Grimson said:

Mel remembered that. And Brent was offering a hand - whatever his intuition said, his heart knew he couldn't go on like this. "All right. I'll give this a shot. D'Sombra's got herself one former Master Sergeant."

Quote

"Alas, merely a gifted lover of salsa."  he said with a significant slight pause and an impish gleam in his eye.  Ravenna laughed, her knowing dark gaze seeming to approve of his answers as she inclined her head in a faint nod.

[Mel]  Brent smiled wide, pleased that his old friend had, in his opinion, made the right choice.  "That's what I wanted to hear, Sarge."  He said with a bit more excitement than he intended.  He patted his old friend on the arm and tilted his head off toward the right.  "C'mon, let's go meet the lady herself."

The two men moved through the smaller galleries all filled with people with more money than taste.  Mel never took his mind off security for the duration of the short trip.  As they mingled past five thousand dollar suits and low cut evening gowns his eyes were always locked on the situations unfolding around him.  For couple that conversed he had devised an escape plan for them and others if something were to suddenly go wrong.  He was locked on the mission and that mission was keeping these people safe and keeping them from doing anything stupid, be it to themselves, or others.

They rounded a corner, Brent could help but notice Mel still cornered like a military man, a strong turn and a full ninety degree pivot.  He stopped suddenly, holding out his arm to stop Mel.  "Hold up, she's with some people."

[Ravi] "Of course you are," D'Sombra replied and Ravi could hear the suppression of an accent under her appraising eyes and deep red lips.  "As am I.  As a matter of fact, it's been forever since I've danced any steps at all.  We should all go and try it sometime, I'm sure I could pencil it in."

Sienna chuckled nervously, fidgeting with the stem of her champagne.  "R-Ravenna, three for dancing could be a tad awkward."

"So right dear," Ravenna replied without missing a step.  Her tone was shrewd and malicious but masked so well behind years of practiced passive aggressive etiquette.  "But I would wouldn't fret, dear.  I'm sure you;ll find someone to come along with by then.  I shan't schedule it short notice."

On 6/21/2019 at 9:49 AM, Casey Mason said:

"Only one question Ms. D'Sombra. I don't need to figure out what it is you and Mourn have going on, if it's a rivalry or whatever. He lied to me, for whatever reason, he wanted something and instead of asking and telling me what it was he lied.  So I only have one question for you Ms. D'Sombra.

What do you want me to do?"

[Ravi]  Like a whipped puppy, Sienna lowered her head and didn't retort.  It was strange to Ravi, after having known Sienna for the last several days, she'd seemed to strong and independent, an outspoken powerful woman with goals and ambitions, yet here in front of D'Sombra, she was weak and bullied into submission with only a few looks and a couple harsh words.  What sort of power did this dark woman have over people?

[Casey]  Casey approached and the current conversation shifted to the lovely proprietor of coffee and Sienna visibly breathed a sigh of relief.  For now, D'Sombra's attention was on the new comer.  The break in the conversation forced a raised brow from Ravi, who decided, for the moment, to take a step back towards his date (who grasped his arm rather possessively, he noticed) and look on in sly amusement.  It never ceased to amaze him how catty rich people could be.

"Why, nothing at all," Ms. D'Sombra said, once more she didn't taken aback by anything that the transpired around her.  This woman's composure was impeccable.  "You see, it's not a rivalry, Ms. Mason, it's a game.  You, the frizzy haired little mulatto girl, the ginger military man, hell," she gestured to Ravi, who seemed quite taken aback at the sudden inclusion.  "Even this man isn't here by coincidence.  We know things you don't.  But you," she pointed a finger in Casey's direction, letting it bounce a few times before she continued on.  "You're the spitfire.  So much anger."

In an expectant gesture she set her champagne glass off to the side where, as she predicted, Sienna quickly placed her own flue in the hand she was wrapped up in Ravi with and swiftly reached for Ravenna's before she let go.  Sienna breathed deep, frustration and irritation in her expression in equal measures.  "Mourn, sweetie, is a good man.  He'd like to slowly ween you in on the details so that when you finally know the truth it doesn't hit you so hard your psyche doesn't spasm with the sudden realization that everything you know about the world, is wrong.  I told him it wouldn't work with you, that you're just a ball of anger directed at a world you are powerless to change.  Always trying to do the right thing while everyone around seems to exceed you by always doing wring.  It's unfair, isn't it?"

"I am the iron fist to his velvet glove, dear.  I want to see you squirm and writhe in muck as your mind shatters to try and make sense of it all," her eyes narrowed and Casey, who considered herself a pretty brave person, felt fear.  Ravenna was, if anything, evil incarnate with an excellent tailor and a hell of a boob job.  "I manipulated you Ms. Mason.  With a few choice words and a leaked secret, I had you running off in a fuming huff doing exactly what I knew you would: confront him here in public so when he ignored, like I knew he would, you'd come right back to me willing to do whatever I needed of you just so you could spite him.  Yet, you still honestly know nothing as to what's going on.  So, full disclosure, Ms. Mason, I lie, I cheat, I do mean things to decent people and yet look around."  She gestured to the Gala.  "Celebrities and the elite still show up to show out, in the words of the street poet, Bruno Mars.  It's collateral damage for being rich, powerful, and ambitious.  The less you care, the easier it is to do what needs doing.  So, if your morals aren't afraid to get too tarnished, meet me next week, 8PM, in my office at Nyx, thirteenth floor, Google it.  I'll make sure expected, and please, don't bother with the elevator, I'm sure your high horse will reach the balcony."

Sienna looked to Ravi and offered him a disgusted look in reference to Ravenna, as if to say 'I hate that bitch' while she had the opportunity.

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