Manuel Nunez, Walking towards Wormwood Street, New York City
Manuel Nunez glanced down at the scrap of paper in his hand, a frown spreading across his oily face. "Be at 113 Wormwood Street by 8 pm. Business is called Boogie's Beans and the owner is Rebecca Sinclair. Go alone." Domingo Nunez, Manuel's older brother, was a man of few words, which was the main reason why nobody suspected he was the brains behind "Nunez's Nasty." Nunez's Nasty being the finest heroin available in New York City. The thought made Manuel chuckle and he shoved his brother's note back into his coat pocket as he tried to get his bearings. The Nunez brothers were well-known throughout the city, and they'd built their reputation through a combination of ruthlessness and caution. So why was Domingo sending Manuel, the "face" of Nunez's Nasty, to speak with some puta
in a borough they'd never visited? Hell, what had convinced Domingo to talk to this Sinclair woman in the first place?
It was times like these that made Manuel glad he'd finally spent some money on a halfway decent gun. The weight of the glock, which he'd affectionately named Cujo, in his left coat pocket was comforting beyond words. Part of him hoped he'd get a chance to use it tonight.
Shrugging and scanning the area, the gangly Colombian spotted a street sign up ahead and jogged towards it, his black overcoat flapping around his knees. Since he wasn't familiar with this area, Manuel had been forced to rely on street signs like a fucking tourist, though that wasn't the worst part. Ever since he'd taken that first left onto Drury Lane there'd been this obnoxious, high-pitched ringing in his ears. It made it difficult to concentrate, and Manuel could feel a headache welling up behind his temples. He'd tried everything he could think of to make it stop but nothing worked. Wincing as he stopped in front of the street sign, the Latino let out a relieved sigh when he saw 'Wormwood Street' printed in white font on the green sign. The sooner he found this Boogie's Beans place and talked to Rebecca Sinclair the sooner he could get back to the apartment he shared with his brother. And the sooner he could get back to the heroin stash under his bed.
Manuel walked around the corner, narrowly avoiding a puddle of stale vomit beside the sign, and continued on his way. What kind of a name was Boogie's Beans anyway? It sounded like the title of some stupid kid's book about...well, beans. Personally, Manuel felt like this meeting had to be a setup, which was why he'd brought Cujo, but he knew better than to argue with Domingo. When Manuel's older brother got upset things and people tended to wind up in pieces. Apparently, Domingo had spoken to Rebecca Sinclair a few weeks ago, and now he wanted to do business with her. Numerous drug dealers, crime lords, and kingpins had approached the Nunez brothers over the years in hopes of forming an alliance, but Domingo turned them all away. What had changed? To make a weird situation even weirder, Domingo actually wanted Manuel's opinion about whether or not they could trust Rebecca. Normally, Manuel's brother couldn't care less about his thoughts or opinions.
Shuddering and adjusting the collar of his overcoat, Manuel hurried through the darkening streets as a few tendrils of milky white fog began to slither into the area. He would've preferred to come here during the day with some backup, but Rebecca Sinclair was a very particular woman according to Domingo. If the Nunez brothers didn't like her terms they could "kindly go fuck themselves bloody with a pair of rusty spoons." Rebecca's words, not Domingo's. Manuel abruptly stopped walking, his breath slipping out in pained gasps from between his clenched teeth, and doubled over in agony. The ringing in his head seemed to be reaching a crescendo and icy sweat began to drip down his face. Blinking rapidly, the Colombian stumbled forward a few steps and almost collided with a bulky figure wearing a beige trench coat.
"Watch where you're going, culo
!" Manuel snarled as he shoved the stranger aside, though the figure didn't seem to hear the insult and kept walking.Horns
, Manuel thought as he struggled to regain his composure. Goat horns. There were goat horns coming out of that asshole's forehead. No, no, that's loco bullshit. I just had one too many beers before I came over here. Or I need to lay off the heroin. Or both.
Taking a deep breath and smoothing back his black hair, Manuel straightened up, and, despite the persistent ringing in his ears, forced himself to keep walking. After five pain-filled minutes, he finally saw it. A large red brick building with dark green tiles on the roof located next to a fancy apartment complex. Just like Domingo described. The Colombian cautiously approached the red brick building, his bloodshot eyes darting up to read the large white sign hanging over the glass double doors. The words 'Boogie's Beans' were printed on the sign in gaudy, old-fashioned font.
"It's about fucking time," Manuel muttered as he lifted his hand to knock on the doors. He paused, however, when he noticed how dark it was inside. Had Rebecca forgotten they were meeting tonight? With the way the evening was going, Manuel wouldn't have been surprised.“Pleased to meet you! Hope you guess my name!”
Was that music? It sounded like there was a woman singing and a band playing inside Boogie's Beans. What was going on? Manuel frowned and started to knock on the glass doors, but they swung open before he could touch them. For a second, he thought he saw two glowing yellow eyes staring at him from the darkness, but he blinked and they vanished. Reaching into his coat pocket and firmly gripping Cujo, Manuel stepped into the cool, dark interior of the building. It looked like there was some kind of dim light coming from the main room so the Colombian pushed through another set of glass double doors and entered the dining area proper. The large room was blanketed in shadow, though a few slivers of moonlight were visible despite the heavy maroon curtains covering the windows. The faint light Manuel had seen earlier was coming from a small, sturdy-looking wooden stage. A slender, blonde-haired woman wearing a white dress shirt, black slacks, and black high heels stood onstage, her attention focused on something directly in front of her. Her horn-rimmed glasses reflected the light coming from a lamp that had been placed atop the piano she was playing. She was reading sheet music and seemed caught in a position halfway between sitting and standing. Leaning towards a microphone set next to the lamp, the woman sang, her low-soprano voice carrying the hint of a British accent, "Ah, what's puzzling you is the nature of my game, oh yeah!"
Was that 'Sympathy for the Devil?'
The musicians providing the instrumental portions of the song sounded like they were playing from behind a black curtain draped across the back of the stage. How were they keeping time with the singer, who Manuel assumed was Rebecca Sinclair, if they couldn't see her? In truth, the Colombian felt like they were missing out. Although she was a little scrawny for his tastes, Rebecca was much prettier than Manuel had expected. Why hadn't Domingo mentioned that after his first meeting with her? He loved blondes. And then Rebecca turned her pale green eyes on him, and Manuel realized why his brother hadn't said anything. There was something about those eyes, something old and incredibly unsettling, that made Manuel's face turn the color of spoiled milk. The blonde nodded towards a nearby table, clearly inviting her guest to sit down until she'd finished.“Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners’ saints. As heads is tails just call me Lucifer, but I’m in need of some restraint!”
Manuel sat down at the circular table, which was made of some kind of highly-polished white wood, and did his best to focus on something that wasn't Rebecca Sinclair. To his left there were a few wooden doors, which he made a mental note of despite the ringing in his ears, and it looked like there was a bar to his right. Maybe whoever had opened the doors for him was crouched behind the bar? It seemed ridiculous that someone would go through all that effort just to make him nervous. Shaking his head and leaning back in his chair, Manuel tried to get a good look at the ceiling, but it was completely shrouded in darkness. Everything in this place was reduced to a shadowy, hazy mass by the lack of any major light source. Reluctantly, the Colombian returned his attention to the stage where Rebecca was finishing her song.“What’s my name? Tell me, baby, what’s my name? Tell me, sweetie, what’s my name?”
Her voice wasn't great, though Manuel had a sneaking suspicion Rebecca Sinclair wouldn't appreciate audience feedback. There was something odd about the sound emanating from behind the black curtain as well. It wasn't quite right. It almost sounded like a recording, but that was impossible. A recording couldn't keep pace with Rebecca so precisely. Shoving these thoughts out of his mind, Manuel clapped politely as the song ended. Rebecca's smiled down at him from the stage, a small, dangerous little smile that made the Colombian's stomach turn. What was wrong with him tonight? Turning away from Manuel for a moment, Rebecca said, "Take five, boys. We have a guest."
Terror, Boogie’s Beans, New York City
"Take five, boys. We have a guest," Rebecca said to the shades that had been mimicking the various instruments and backup vocals she'd needed. The immortal Tale also took a moment to mentally communicate a simple order to all of her servants lurking in the darkened jazz cafe' and coffee shop. Keep an eye on this fool
, she commanded. You have my permission to take him down if he does anything threatening, but don't kill him. I want to feed a little first, and I'd hate to waste a perfectly good business opportunity.
Although the shades didn't offer any verbal responses, Rebecca felt the equivalent of a dozen mental confirmations flicker through her mind as she stepped off the stage and approached Manuel's table. She'd been impressed by Domingo Nunez's quiet confidence and his ability to endure the punishing magic of the wards protecting this part of the city from mortal interference. The lanky, sweating idiot sitting before her now was as different from his brother as night was from day. That didn't bode well.
Brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes, a gesture she found annoyingly human, Becca sat down across from Manuel and turned on the small lamp in the center of the table. She couldn't help but flinch as the soft electric light came on, but she covered it by extending her hand towards the wide-eyed Latino. "Hello, Manuel," Rebecca said, her pale green eyes roving the Colombian's swarthy face, "I'm Rebecca Sinclair. Obviously. How are you feeling tonight?"
In truth, the blonde was wondering if Manuel would be able to carry on a conversation. The sweat trickling down his face, the way he kept swishing his finger around in his ears, and his constant shivering indicated the defensive wards were taking a toll on Rebecca's guest. And as one of the few Tales that employed mortals she could easily spot the signs of someone on the verge of a magically-induced breakdown. It was actually part of her hiring process. Before she started talking to them about job requirements and pay rate, Rebecca would spend half an hour talking to potential mortal new hires about anything that tickled her fancy. If the candidate in question couldn't handle the ringing in their ears or the other side-effects of the wards then she wouldn't hire them. It was as simple as that. From the looks of things, Manuel wouldn't last much longer so she'd need to keep this brief.
Clearing his throat, Manuel shook her hand and said, "I'm fine, just fine. Are we going to get down to business tonight or what? I have shit to do, y'know."
Rebecca nodded slowly and leaned back in her chair. Watching this moron collapse beneath the weight of the wards' magic might be fun. Sneering, she said, "As you wish. I'm assuming Domingo already told you what I was willing to offer, but I'll repeat myself for your benefit. Everyone knows the Nunez brothers make the best heroin in New York City. I, however, also know you make your product in the basement of your apartment complex. That's just sloppy. The moment you stop paying your landlord his bribe money the police will be all over both of you. I'm willing to let you move your equipment into the basement beneath Boogie's Beans. There's only one way in and three exits that lead out into the sewers. Also, and Domingo was particularly excited about this, you could use this place as a distribution center if need be." Ignoring the stunned expression on Manuel's face, Becca said, "Since I'm going to be putting myself and my place of business on the line, I believe a 60/40 split is only fair. Your brother agreed to these terms already, but he wanted you to meet with me before we finalized anything."
Holding up his hands, which were visibly trembling, Manuel said, "Jesus, bruja
, you must be loco
. 60/40? How does Domingo expect us to make any money from a deal like that? It's insane."
"Is it?" Becca asked, her eyes narrowing behind her glasses. That wasn't the answer she'd been expecting. "I think it's quite generous. You two could easily throw me under the bus if the authorities somehow found the drugs and paraphernalia. I'm taking on most of the risk, Manuel, so it only makes sense for me to claim most of the profits. And what, pray tell, is a bruja
"It means 'witch,' Miss Sinclair," Manuel said, a smirk twisting his angular features as he leaned forward. "That little trick with the door? I'm not sure how or why you did it, but it was cute. Very spooky. Anyway, did you or Domingo even think about how hard it will be to get our equipment over here in the first place? The moment we try to move all that crap we'll have every cop in the city up our asses. No, no, this isn't going to happen. I'll talk to Domingo about it tonight. I'm sorry for wasting your time, bruja
Wordlessly, Becca closed her eyes and reached out again with her mind. Manuel snorted and started to get up...but he froze when a ring of glowing yellow eyes suddenly materialized around him. The pervasive stink of rotting meat filled the Colombian's nostrils, and he looked back at Rebecca with an expression of confusion and horror. "No, I'm sorry, Manuel," Rebecca said, "but you won't be leaving until you tell me what I want to hear."
Before the terrified mortal could say anything, one of the shades tackled him, pinning him to the ground while the others began rifling through his pockets. Manuel let out a strangled whimper as his gun was taken from his coat pocket by one of his attackers. The rest of the shades roughly grabbed the human's head and forced him to look up as Rebecca Sinclair sauntered over and crouched down so her face was level with his.
"What the fuck is this?! I knew this was a goddamn setup. My brother is going to gut you like a trout, bruja
!" Manuel hissed, but Becca could hear the panic in his voice. The blonde's pale green eyes locked onto Manuel's brown ones and she waited. It wasn't long before she heard it. In the back of the Tale's head, her fear sense whispered, "I can't go back to jail. Fuck, I can't go back to jail! I have to get out of here before this bitch calls the cops!
" Simple enough.
"Manuel," Becca said, her voice pleasant and warm as if she were chatting with a cherished relative, "here's how this is going to work. Either you give me your word that you'll return to your brother and give him a glowing report of what happened here tonight or I'll call the police right now. A Hispanic man with a gun and a frightened woman in a restaurant after hours? They'd throw you in a cell so fast your little head would spin. And, chances are, they'd see your record and bring your brother in for questioning at the very least. Imagine what that could lead to. Both of the Nunez brothers behind bars, perhaps? Not a pretty picture, is it?"
Manuel shook his head frantically, sweat streaming down his face, and Becca took a moment to glance down. A thin, flickering beam of red light was slowly forming between her and the mortal. Just a little more. "What would your brother do, I wonder, if he found out your stupidity got him arrested?" Rebecca asked, her knowledge of Domingo's reputation and decades of feeding on the fears of others guiding her towards a fresh source of terror. "I've heard stories about what happens to people that cross Domingo Nunez. Apparently, your brother starts by cutting off fingers then moves onto toes. But you'd know more about that than me. What's his weapon of choice, hm? Bolt cutters? A cleaver? Or just a good, old-fashioned knife?" As the last word left her lips, the beam began to darken as the incomparable taste of Manuel's fear filled Rebecca like the most delicious feast ever created. It was overwhelming and foul. It was indescribable and addictive. And yet...
Grimacing as she realized the Ward of Fear would activate if she kept this up, Becca focused again and the link between her and Manuel faded, leaving the Colombian white-faced and breathless. Standing and dispersing her shades with a thought, the blonde folded her arms and watched Manuel clamber back to his feet. "Now, run along, Manuel" she said once the Latino was vertical again. "I look forward to doing business with you and your brother."
, Miss Sinclair," Manuel said as he began shambling towards the exit with all the grace of a man twice his age. The double doors silently swung open as he approached and closed behind him.
Grinning, Terror turned to her shades and said, "Well, I think that went swimmingly. Now, we need to-hold on, why are all twelve of you here? One of you should be watching Crier. Queezel? Come to me, Queezel."
One of the shades, an especially gruesome specimen with one ear and a gaping chest wound, shuffled forward and said, his voice like dead leaves rustling in the wind, "What is your will, mistress?"
"I told you Crier needs to be kept under constant surveillance. I don't want him catching us unawares. Besides, he should be here soon for our weekly information exchange. Go find him. Now," the Boogieman snapped, and Queezel bowed low before scuttling towards the doors with surprising speed for a creature made of shadows and decaying flesh. With that done, Terror ordered one of her remaining shades to dispose of Manuel's gun while the others returned to their posts around Boogie's Beans. There were other matters to attend to before the Boy Who Cried Wolf arrived.