Late September, 1929
Magnus spotted the little vamp vampire right away. She was winding her way through the crowd, pausing for a moment for a quick shimmy by the band. She had perfectly bobbed hair, shiny black with a straight bang, just like Louise Brooks. She wore an electric-blue dress with delicate, dripping beadwork that skimmed her knees.
In most ways, she looked exactly like a normal customer at Magnus's speakeasy, and she easily blended in with the three or four dozen people who packed onto his small dance floor. But there was something separate about her, something dreamy and strange. The music was fast, but she danced at a sultry middle pace. Her skin was stark white, but not the dusty white from cosmetic powder. And as she did her lonely little snake dance right in front of the saxophone player, she turned herself and made direct eye contact with Magnus. When she did so, two little half fangs appeared against a bright red lip. Realizing they were out, she giggled and clapped a hand to her mouth. A moment later, they had retracted.
Meanwhile, Alfie, who was by now clinging to the bar for support, forged on with a story.
"I tole him . . . Magnus, you listenin'?"
"Of course, Alfie," Magnus said. Alfie was a very handsome and entertaining regular with excellent taste in suits and a love of strong cocktails. He told very good stories and smiled very good smiles. He was a banker or something. Stockbroker maybe. Everyone had something to do with money these days.
". . . I tole him, you can't take a boat up to your hotel room. And he said, ''Course I can. I'm a captain!' I said, I said to him, I said - "
"One moment, Alfie. Something I need to attend to."
"I'm just gettin' to the bes' part. . . ."
"Just one moment," Magnus said again, patting his friend's arm. "I'll be right back."
Alfie followed the track of Magnus's gaze and arrived at the girl.
"Now that's a tasty tomato," he said, nodding. "But I didn't think that was your taste."
"My tastes are universal," Magnus replied with a smile.
"Well, getta wiggle on. She won't be here all night. I'll watcha bar for you." Alfie slapped the bar. "You can trust me."
Magnus nodded to Max, his excellent bartender, and Max immediately made another South Side for Alfie. "To keep your whistle wet while I'm gone."
"Ver' kind," Alfie said, nodding. "You're an egg, Dry."
Magnus called his bar Mr. Dry's. America was technically now all "dry," alcohol being illegal everywhere. But the truth was, most places were "wet" - awash with the stuff. New York especially. Everyone in New York drank, and the fact that they now did so illegally only made it better. The speakeasy, as far as Magnus was concerned, was one of mankind's greatest achievements. Intimate, celebratory, illegal without being immoral - a frisson of danger without any real peril.
Mr. Dry's was not a large place - speakeasies rarely were. By nature, they were secret. His was concealed behind the facade of a wig store on West 25th Street. To get in, you needed to say the password to his very efficient doorman, who viewed the prospective guest through a small slit panel in a reinforced door in the back wall of the shop. Once inside, you squeezed through a narrow hallway and entered Magnus's proud domain - ten tables and a marble bar (imported from Paris) backed by a mahogany display of every elusive bottle of things exotic Magnus had been able to get his hands on.
Most of the space went to his stage and dance floor. It pulsated under the pounding of dancing feet. In the morning, it would be cleaned and waxed, and the scuff marks of a thousand blows of dance shoes would be wiped away. He gently slipped through the dancers, most so intense and inebriated that they were unaware he was there. He enjoyed the soft (and occasionally not so soft) pummeling of flying limbs and kicking heels. He enjoyed feeling the body heat and being carried by the movement and the surge of the dancers as they more or less became one solid, pulsating mass.
The little vampire was young - no more than sixteen - and she only came up to Magnus's chest height. He leaned down and spoke into her ear.
"Perhaps I can buy you a drink?" he said. "A private one? In the back?"
The tips of the fangs popped out again when she smiled.
Magnus already felt somewhat reassured - the half-fanged smile probably wasn't from hunger. Drunkenness could cause fangs to poke out a bit. But vampires, like mundanes, often sought after salty foods and amorous encounters when inebriated.
"This way," he said, pushing back a curtain and revealing a short hallway leading to a single door. Right behind the main club, Magnus had constructed a small and intensely private room with a zinc bar. This room was lined in large stained-glass panels, illuminated from behind with electric lights, portraying Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. This was where he kept the very best and the very worst of his stock, and this was where he conducted his most private business.
"I don't believe we've met before," he said as she plopped happily onto a bar stool and spun around.
"Oh, I know who you are. You're Magnus Bane."