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."

She had one of those New York accents that Magnus was still getting used to, even though he had been here for several months. It was brassy and big, like a blinking neon sign. Her kid-leather dancing shoes had scuffed toes, and there was a mud stain halfway up the base of the heel, plus flecks of other substances that Magnus didn't want to know anything about. These were shoes for dancing and shoes for hunting.

"And what may I call you?"

"Call me Dolly," she said.

Magnus pulled a bottle of cold champagne out of the large tub of ice that contained at least sixty identical bottles.

"I like this place," Dolly said. "It's got class."

"I'm glad you think so."

"Lotsa places are classy," Dolly said, reaching into a jar on the bar and helping herself to some maraschino cherries, plucking them up with her long (and probably dirty) fingernails. "But they're fake classy, you know? This seems real classy. You got good wine. Like that stuff."

She indicated the cut-rate champagne Magnus was holding and pouring into a glass for her. The bottle, like the others in the tub, was certainly nice, but they'd all been filled with fizzed-up cheap wine and cunningly recorked. Vampires could drink quite a lot and could be expensive to have around, and he felt certain she would not be able to tell the difference. He was right. She drained half the glass in the first sip and held it out for a top-up.

"Well, Dolly," Magnus said, refilling her glass, "I certainly don't care what you get up to on the street or anywhere else, but I do like my clientele. I consider it a matter of good service to make sure vampires don't eat them under my roof."

"I didn't come here to eat," she said. "We go down to the Bowery for that. I was told to come down here and ask about you."

The shoes did bear out the Bowery story. Those downtown streets could be filthy.

"Oh? And who is so kind as to inquire about little me?"

"Nobody," the girl said.

"Nobody," Magnus said, "is one of my favorite names."

This caused the vampire girl to giggle and spin on her stool. She drained off the glass and held it out for more. Magnus refilled it once again.

"My friend . . ."


"Nobody, yeah. I just met h - this person, but this person is one of mine, ya know?"

"A vampire."

"Right. Anyways, they want to tell you something," she said. "They said you gotta get out of New York."

"Oh really? And why is that?"

In reply, she giggled and half slid, half fell from the stool and broke into a shuffling and drunken private Charleston to the music that came pounding through the wall.

"See," she said, as she did her little dance, "things are about to get dangerous. Something about the mundie money and how it's an omen. See, it's all going to break, or something. All the money. And when it does, it means that the world is going to end. . . ."

Magnus sighed internally.

The New York Downworld was one of the most ridiculous places he had ever been, which was partly the reason he now spent his time serving illegal alcohol to mundanes. And still, he couldn't avoid this nonsense. People came to bars to talk, and so did Downworlders. The werewolves were paranoid. The vampires were gossips. Everyone had a story. Something was always about to happen, something big. It was just part of the mood of the time. The mundanes were making absurd amounts of money on Wall Street and spending it on fripperies and moving pictures and booze. These were things Magnus could respect. But the Downworld dealt in half-baked omens and pointless rivalries. Clans were fighting one another for control of small, inconsequential patches of ground. The fey kept to themselves as ever, occasionally snatching the stray human from outside the Central Park Casino and luring them down to their world with the promise of a party they would never forget.

At least a pretty flapper vampire talking nonsense was better than a slobbering drunk werewolf. Magnus nodded as if listening and mentally counted the bottles of brandy and rum in the storage shelves below the bar.

"These mundies, see, they're trying to raise a demon. . . ."

"Mundanes do that all too frequently," Magnus said, moving a misplaced bottle of gold rum that had been put in with the spiced. "Right now, they also enjoy sitting on the top of flagpoles and walking on the wings of airborne biplanes. This is the age of stupid hobbies." Copyright 2016 - 2023