"I don't get how the hell somebody is supposed to figure out one of these goddamn Ruben's Cube contraptions! Out of all of the new inventions that came out of this new era of toys, this is the one I understand the least! This is a waste, man! I'm two seconds away from peeling the stickers off of this thing and fixing it myself."
"It's called a Rubix cube. And that would be cheating, Cam." Bruno told me. "You've either got to solve the puzzle yourself, or you've got to go out and buy a new one. I'm pretty sure those are the rules."
"Yeah, well they're bogus rules. I'm not starting all over again. "
Bruno shook his head. Stop talking like that. 'Bogus'? Knock that shit off."
"Sorry. I've got a teenager at home. It's addictive, talking like that." I heard a knock at the door and told them to open up.
"Hey, Cameron?" One of my agents said to me. "Your late night meeting is here."
I groaned at having to put the cube down again without solving it first, but groaned even louder at the idea of having to have a business meeting so damn late in the day. I mean, it was ridiculous. We could have done 'lunch' or something. What's with the late night hours? I've got a family, you know?
"Buzz 'em in..." I told him.
"You want me to stick around?" Bruno asked me.
"Nah. Go on home. I'm going to make this deal quick, and then I'm shutting the whole place down for the night. This shouldn't take long at all." I said.
"Suit yourself." He told me, grabbing his coat.
"Say, if you're still taking your kid to the movies...you've GOT to check out that new 'Gremlins' flick! Scared the living shit out of my niece! I cherished every minute of it. My sister got her a Gizmo doll from Hardees the other day, and the poor girl nearly had a heart attack. Good movie though. You'll love it!"
"I'll keep that in mind." He smiled. You just make sure that you're careful with this whole 8 PM meeting thing. Something about it sounds kinda fishy to me."
"I'm not worried about it. To be honest, I'm just going to turn them down, anyway. The meeting is more of a formality than anything else. They want property, but they don't sound like they've got the kind of scratch to afford it. No money, no deal. Period. The sooner I can tell them that, the better." I said. "I'll be home in time for Carson. You'll see."
"Alright, then. I'll see you tomorrow." Bruno said, and he left the door to my office open for my guests to arrive.
Imagine my surprise when I see four people walk in, all wearing suits, hats, and sunglasses. And one of them was a kid. He looked to be about my son's age, with short blond hair, wearing a well-ironed button down t-shirt and a pair of slacks. Funny thing, the way he carried himself, the kid seemed to be the most serious person in the whole room, and he confidently took a seat in front of my desk. Watching me, but not saying a word.
"Heh...what are you guys supposed to be? The Blues Brothers?" I joked, but only one of the men gave me a smirk. The other two behind him, the pair of 'goons' that they were, closed my office door, and stood watch on either side of it.
The front man was there to do all of the talking, I suppose. He took off his fedora hat, and gave me a smile that seemed...I don't know...somewhat sinister in its presentation. He said, "Cameron Finch, I presume?"
"Yeah. That's me. And you are?"
I reached out a hand to shake, and he slowly accepted. "Vincent."
"Vincent? Vincent what…?"
"Just Vincent." He replied.
I didn't push the issue. But the salesman in me felt a need to charm them out of their icy approach. "I'm digging the whole look that you've got going there, 'Just Vincent'." I said. "The hat, the neatly pressed suit and tie...I like that. You even got the cufflinks working tonight. Kind of reminds me of how men used to dress, you know? A forgotten era, I suppose." Still trying toget a decent reaction from them, I said, "You know, my grandmother grew up on the Southwest side. She was a big fan of the men in her family dressing up like you do. She used to tell me that she never trusted a man who didn't wear a hat in public. I guess you could call it a superstition of hers. But she stood by it...all the way until Kennedy became president. Then she budged a little bit on the idea."
"Kennedy. Yes." He said. "A very interesting time in history..." Ok, so...that sounded a bit strange.
After an uncomfortable silence, I asked, "Do the rest of you guys want to take a seat?"
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Finch. I promise you, this won't take up much of your time at all." He spoke with such a calm demeanor. It was spooky having him stare at me from behind those dark spectacles. When I'm dealing with people, I kind of like to see their eyes when they talk to me.
"Alrighty then." I said. "Well, let me get straight to the point...I heard your proposal over the phone, and I have to be honest, a place like this is going to cost you some major moolah. I know you said you didn't want to talk money on the line, but this really is going to come down to simple numbers at the end of the day. This joint is practically in the heart of downtown Chicago. It won't be cheap."
"I'm afraid that you are quite mistaken, Mr. Finch. We're not here to purchase the property. We are here to 'reclaim' it." Vincent said.
Confused, I wrinkled up my forehead and said, "I don't get it. What are you talking about? Reclaiming it?"
"You see...in 1978, this building, this alleyway, practically half the city block, was sold off at auction to a Gil Frenetti, who has been claiming rightful ownership of all the buildings in that area ever since. That means that, over the past 6 years or so, he's been making money on properties that he does not properly own." He said. "We've recently gotten word that the city, due to Mr. Frenetti's outstanding gambling debts, is planning on tearing this particular building down within the next year. My associates and I don't want to see that happen. We've come to make a fair offer, show you poof of ownership, and take the property rights back from the people who sold it to you."
"Is this one of those hidden camera prank shows, or what?" I asked, expecting them to lose character. They didn't.
"I'm afraid not." Vincent said. "You've been made out to be a sucker, Mr. Finch. But that wasn't your fault. So...we're prepared to soften the blow with what we believe is a rather generous offer. Instead of merely taking it back and leaving a bad taste in your mouth afterward."
"Hey, what is this? Some kind of shakedown?" I smiled, still expecting it to be some sort of strange joke. I walked over to my file cabinet, and I fingered through it to pull the Frenetti file. I opened it up on the desk and turned it around to show him. "You see here? These are all signed documents and legal transactions, notarized and made official by the city, transferring all rights to Gil Frenetti from the previous owner. Covering everything in that area. Every square inch."
"The buildings, yes." The man said. But the deed to the land those buildings are standing on...belong to someone else entirely." Vincent snapped his fingers, and one of his goons opened up a briefcase, stepping forward to hand him an extremely faded folder over his shoulder. Vincent carefully opened it, and took out some dusty old document that looked almost as old as the city of Chicago itself. Worn and frazzled at the edges, I had to squint to see the decolorized thinness of faded ink and age old stamps.
"You've got to be pulling my chain, right? How old is this thing?"
"It doesn't really matter, does it? You can feel free to check with the Mayor's office and city records to confirm its authenticity, if you like." Vincent leaned closer, and said, "No matter how old it is, it does still count as a binding legal document. Does it not?"
I looked it over for a minute or two, trying to find some kind of counterfeit flaw in it somewhere that would cause his whole argument to fall apart. But to be honest, the whole thing looked pretty real to me. If it's a forgery, they certainly went through the ringer making it look real. I said, "Alright. I'll bite. Let's just say that this ratty old piece of paper is what you say it is, and you own the property. What are you gonna do with it? I mean, there's a reason that the city is tearing it down. It's been abandoned for a long time now. Decades. The people who can afford it don't want to live in the city. And the people who want to live in the city can't afford it. It can't really do much for you in terms of profit, considering where it's positioned and all. Most people don't even know it's there. The city built itself up around it to the point where it's practically hidden from sight and civilian traffic. It's dead weight. Nothing more."
"To be honest, Mr. Finch...that's kinda what we like about it."
"So that's what this is about? Sentimental value?"
"Not really." Vincent said. "We're thinking of opening a nightclub."
I almost choked up with laughter at the idea. A nightclub? Ha! You're actually thinking of opening a nightclub in that dump?"
"More of a RE-opening, actually."
"A re-opening of what?"
Vincent paused for a moment, then with a smile he said, "The Crimson Euphrates Club."
"Wow. It has been a long time since anybody's said THAT name out loud." I told him, "You shoulda done your homework, pal. The Crimson Euphrates Club mysteriously burned down nearly 60 years ago."
"'Mysteriously'. Yes...of course." He smirked. "I suggest that you do whatever needs to be done to certify our rightful ownership of the property and the buildings that surround it. As soon as the paperwork has been taken care of, my associates will be in contact with you. We will begin renovations immediately after."
I wasn't quite sure what to say. Something about this guy really gave me the heebie jeebies. And if I didn't know any better...I could have sworn that his eyes were 'glowing' behind those dark sunglasses. Was it one of those horror flick effects or something? Probably ordered it out of the back of a magazine or somethin'...
"Do we have a deal, Mr. Finch?" He said, trying to distract me from looking at him too closely. Then I looked over at the kid he brought with him...and somehow...I felt myself drifting off, mentally. I can't explain it, but...it was almost like being hypnotized. The whole thing was bizarre as hell.
I felt a cold chill run up my spine. And I nodded, reluctantly, before I even knew what I was agreeing to.. "I think...I've got to make some copies of this stuff, and...I'll try to get back to you tomorrow morning."
"Evening would be best, Mr. Finch. Preferably after sunset." Vincent said, now putting his hat back on.
With another mindless, involuntary, nod...I headed towards the door of my office, which the goons opened up for me on command. That's when I turned around said, "Can I ask you a question, Vincent?"
"What's with the kid?"
The two of them looked at each other and smiled wickedly. Then Vincent replied, "Let's just say that he keeps me around to speak on his behalf. He's young. It's become a necessity when it comes to legal matters."
A confusing answer, but the only one I was going to get out of him, I suppose.
The boy finally spoke up after I left the room. "So, this is settled then?"
"It certainly should be, boss." Vincent answered. "We rebuild the club, we put the word out in all of the underground channels, and we'll be back in business in no time."
The boy, Alex, nodded in approval. "And you believe this...'Bernard Marinaci' is a more than capable daylight human to run the club for us?"
"Who? Bernie?" Vincent asked. "Yeah. He'd be perfect for this gig, trust me. He's a bit young, mid 20's, but he's got a business degree. And he already knows about our kind. He's flexible, he can update the club with the times, he runs a tight ship and keeps honest books. He's a heavyset guy, smokes cigars. He takes after his grandfather. Hot temper included. But overall, I think he'd be a great candidate to run the club for the next 40 years or so. And after that, we'll get another daylight to do business for us. Piece of cake."
Young Alex asked, "There won't be any conflicts of interest? Considering what happened to his grandfather in that place?"
"Not a chance. He doesn't even know what his grandfather did for a living. These days, all the REAL gangsters wear suits and ties and run for political office. I'm sure it'll be fine."
The boy nodded his approval. "I knew there was something useful about you from day one." The boy lightly slapped the side of Vincent's face as a sign of affection. "You do me proud, Vincent. You always have." Adding, "Alright then. I'll inform Vampire Elder Beraad that the Crimson Euphrates Club will be open and fully operational again in six months' time. Does that sound doable?"
"Not a problem." Vincent told him. "Just one thing though, boss. Maybe we shouldn't call it the 'Crimson Euphrates' anymore. I mean...just saying...there might be some of the old families still lingering around town. Bad blood and all. That joint caused you a lot of problems back then, if you'll remember. Maybe we should change the name. Keep it on the hush, you know?"
"Fine." The boy said. "Call it something else. Whatever you want. You've got this 'Bernie' character running the place...just call it 'Bernie's Club'. Simple. To the point. But you make sure that we've got some impressive numbers to show Vampire Beraad in the first couple of months. After all these years, he wants to see a quick return on his investment. I'll be on the premises, but I'll be sure to stay upstairs and out of sight most of the time. Bernie runs the nightclub, we'll put Stephanie on bar, it'll work. We also make sure that we maintain a slight mix of both vampires and humans this time to keep the secrecy down to a minimum. Ok?" Vincent nodded as the boy stood up and gave him a professional little kiss on the cheek. And this time...I want the halflife clientele kept down to a minimum. You tell him that. That's how we got in trouble last time. It's a different age now. Everybody's a victim. People consider everyone a helpless child until they're thirty or older. I accept that. We don't need that kind of pressure. A FEW halflife vamps, fine. But tone it down. We can't have a big population of youngsters in there."
"Consider it done, sir." Vincent said.
Alex was about to leave, taking his two escorts with him. But he stopped and gave Vincent smirk. "Say, do me a favor. When they rebuild the new joint...save the iron, speakeasy, door for me."
"You sure, boss? It's gotta be a bit old and rusty by now..."
"I know. But I have a certain 'affection' for it, you understand? Brings back memories...of the good old days."
"Whatever floats your boat, Mr. Xander." Vincent answered.
That's when the blond boy looked over at the Rubix's cube on the desk and picked it up. He held it to the light, and softly said to himself, "What an intriguing little puzzle box. Will wonders never cease?"
The boy grinned up at his body guards and lightly tossed them cube to take with him. "Well, let's get ready, boys. I've got some product coming in later on tonight. Liquor, optrix, eternity bands,...might as well make some side money to pay for all of this, right? I wouldn't want Mr. Finch to be disappointed. A celebration is in order. We will soon be back to task in all this. After the details are put in order, maybe you two goons can pretend to be my 'adults' and take me to see this 'Gremlins' movie that everybody's been talking about..."
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