Chapter 40

Zap knocked on the door to the suite. He allowed half a minute to pass in the hopes that someone inside would hear him over the din inside. They did not. Zap raised his fist and pounded on the door hard, eliciting a few startled noises just inside the suite.

The door swung open. Abruptly, Zap was confronted by the clouded but still intense eyes of a drink-addled half-elf. She had one hand where her swords would be, if she were wearing them.

“Yayzoo, tryin’ knock th’ door off?!” she demanded in a voice loud enough that it echoed down the hallway and back up.

“Evening, Miss And the Soft Winds Blow,” Zap said politely.

“Whooo…?” Raimi asked, squinting her eyes and tilting her head. She studied his face for a few minutes and Zap watched recognition slowly dawn in her eyes.

“Ohh,” she said. “Yer that whizzer boy. Sap.”

“Zap,” Zap agreed. “May I come in?”

“Yah, sure,” Raimi agreed, grinning widely and stumbling inside. “But only if y’ stop using my last name ’n conv’rsation.”

Zap stepped inside the suite. It was a very spacious suite, obviously the store manager’s, but even then it was occupied from wall-to-wall. Securemarket™ employees from every shift and most of the stores packed the suite, talking, laughing and drinking.

Raimi groped at a nearby side table and picked up her drink, a dark-colored fizzy concoction in the kind of cheap red tumbler commonly associated with University parties. She gestured to Zap and indicated that he should follow her, then slipped out of sight in the press of bodies.

Zap cursed and attempted to follow, shouldering his way through the crowd as fast as he could while trying to keep his eyes on Raimi’s mousy brown braid. He passed between the clumps of partiers and avoided drink-bearing hands as best as he could. He had almost caught up to his guide when a hand clapped him on the shoulder roughly, halting his progress.

Zap whirled, a wandless defense spell forming in his mind before he saw who had grabbed him: it was To’mas’s roommate. The young man looked wild-eyed and nervous.

“You’re To’mas’s coworker, right?” the roommate said.

“Uh-huh,” Zap confirmed. “Michael, right?”

“Right,” Michael said, then looked around as though searching for armed pursuers. “Are … Violet and To’mas here?”

“I dunno,” Zap said. “I just got here.”

Michael grabbed Zap’s shoulders. “I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I—I can’t control myself around them.”

“Yeah, that happens to people,” Zap said, glancing in the direction Raimi had gone. Naturally, she was completely obscured by the crowd, so he turned back to Michael.

“I did things with them last night,” Michael said, stricken. “Both of them.”

“Okay,” Zap said.

Michael stared at Zap, who responded with an unimpressed look.

Both of them!”

“Uh-huh,” Zap said.

“They … that isn’t right; they can’t do that!”

“Okay,” Zap replied. “They didn’t force you or anything, right?”

“Well no,” Michael said, seeming a bit surprised. “But—”

“Did you say ‘no’?”

“No,” Michael said, slowly realizing that he was losing ground. “But—”

“Did they even pressure you?” Zap asked.

“…kind of?” Michael said uncertainly.

Zap put his hand on Michael’s shoulder.

“Michael, my man,” Zap said. “I’d love to feel sorry for you, but even I see you as prey.”

“What?” Michael whimpered.

Zap clapped his shoulder once more and walked back into the crowd, leaving Michael confused and helpless behind him.

Zap wandered through the press of bodies, trying to pick out the lithe form of Raimi And The Soft Winds Blow. Even the concert had not seemed this crowded, and Zap found himself having to fight the urge to throw elbows at the nearby partiers.

After a few minutes of fruitless searching, Zap sighed and tapped the nearest partygoer, who turned to him. He was a morph of equine stock, a bipedal, muscular horse-man of average height and with grey fur.

Sumimasen ga,” Zap said. He found it difficult to raise his voice over the crowd’s talking, having nearly blown it out at the concert last night. “Have you seen Raimi And The Soft Winds Blow?”

“Whose winds?” the horse morph said.

“Raimi And The Soft Winds Blow,” Zap said loudly. “The Rosebud supervisor!”

“Oh,” the morph replied. “I don’t know anybody from Rosebud. I’m from Malachi Park.”

“Oh,” Zap said, then looked curious. “Did you work with Creepy Don Stiles?”

“Yeah,” the horse-man said. “I heard he got arrested for attempted rape.”

Zap nodded. “He did,” he said.

“Good fuckin’ riddance,” the horse said.

“Hi-Def,” Zap agreed. “Hey, where can I get a drink?”

The horse morph pointed in a direction Zap had not been headed in. “Just go until you see somebody towering over everybody else. That’s the store manager, Basil, and he’s manning the booze table.”

“Thanks!” Zap replied, and then resumed his journey through the party.

Once Zap was about halfway there, he saw a man with curly brown hair rising above the rest of the crowd. Zap continued on his path, beelining for the man. He was eventually able to push his way past the press of bodies, which had gotten denser as Zap approached the table. Once he was nearly to the table, he realized that he had found his quarry; Raimi was involved in animated conversation with the large man.

Raimi soon caught sight of Zap. “There you are!” she said. “Why din’t you follow me?”

Zap laughed. “You moved too fast.”

“Bullshit,” Raimi said. “Anyway. Sap, this is Basil McCabe, the store manager of Rose Street.”

Basil grinned down at Zap. Zap noted that Basil appeared to be both the largest and the most outwardly jovial human that he had ever seen.

“Sap!” Basil said, extending a huge paw. “Pleased ta meet ya!”

Zap shook Basil’s hand and found it to be far less crushing than he had expected.

“Hear you an’ yer team put up one helluva fight against me Buds.”

“We did our best,” Zap conceded with a smile.

“Fantastic,” Basil said. “Time was, 15th street wasn’t nothin’ but dull sugarknives: fragile an’ useless. Since Paru took over, things is changed.”

“Paru’s very motivational,” Zap said.

“Paru’s scary, man,” Basil warned. “I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen her in a fight, but I hate getting pitted against her. Woman’s scary accurate with an assault rifle and cool as an ice mutant on Shiva Street.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“So, you want something, my man?” Basil spread his hands to indicate the bounty in front of him, which was quite impressive. While not a full bar, Basil had all of the basics and quite a few more eclectic choices. Zap’s magical awareness noted a familiar tingle behind the table and realized that Basil was keeping a bottle of Aura and probably several other rare liquors back there.

“Uh,” Zap said. “I’ll have a Grabet and Go.”

“Pong,” Basil said, his hands moving to the Grabet whiskey and a nearby bottle of Go-Go Cola.

“Hey Sap,” Raimi said to Zap.

“Zap,” Zap corrected glibly.

“Whatever,” Raimi said. “So what’s up wi’ me seeing you with two diff’rent girls alla time? I talked to Alan one time an’ he said you were only seein’ one girl.”

“I’m only seeing one girl,” Zap said. “Pazi Elwynn, from After Elevens.”

“Oh,” Raimi said. “So yer jus’ friends with, uh … Scott.”

“Steve,” Zap corrected. “And yeah.”

“Right, Steve,” Raimi said, nodding. “I was kind of confused.”

“No problem,” Zap said. “It’s easy to confuse.”

“Grabet and Go,” Basil said, holding out the ice-cold drink. “Or stay, whatever.”

Zap took the drink, ignoring the overused pun. “Thanks!”

“No problem!” Basil said. “Hey, listen, I heard that a few employees from your shift ran into Creepy Don Stiles raping a girl.”

“Not quite,” Zap said. “They got there before it started, thankfully.”

“That’s good,” Basil said, then turned to Raimi. “Who’d you say the girl was?”

“Mya Ai’o,” Raimi replied. “A Pol’s Cat from Rising Elevens.”

“That’s Violet’s shift, ain’t it?” Basil asked. “D’you know Violet Crenshaw, Sap?”

“Zap,” Zap said. “And yeah. Violet’s Steve’s roommate.”

“Oh, Violet’s a trip,” Basil guffawed. “I like to hang out with those kids. Violet an’ Tea an’ Dead Kate Smiles an’ the Aphid Kid.”

“Hey, isn’t that your friend Steve over there?” Raimi said, pointing.

Zap turned. Next to a press of chatting partygoers, Steve stood against the wall, pinned there by her new friend Mike, who was kissing her passionately. Steve seemed to be enjoying the attention a great deal; her eyes were closed and her fingers twined with Mike’s.

Something thrashed in Zap’s gut and he looked down at his drink, then up at Basil.

“Hey, uh,” he asked. “Where’s the bathroom?”

“That way,” Basil said. “But good luck getting to it. Find your way back; I’d love to chat with you more, my man.”

“Maybe,” Zap said, and pushed into the crowd.