Minton’s Playhouse, 118th Street, Harlem, NY
The limo slid gently across the slushy street, fully stopping at a sandy beige five-story brick building at the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue. A towering bouncer in a black fitted tuxedo held open the door. Another of lesser build managed the lively elegantly dressed crowd occupying the sidewalk, warming the dreary night with laughter and good-natured bantering. Many mocked the drivers on St Nicholas Street circling the block, peering over their steering wheels looking for a mythical parking spot. Couples took to the sidewalk dancing to the sharp stomping rhythm of the band inside. A short waitress as dark as her skirt and tights served coffee, espresso, and water to the high-spirited crowd while balancing on stilts she called heels.
“Enjoy your evening,” The driver opened the door.
“Mr. Saunders and Mr. Ramirez welcome to Minton’s, let us know how we can make this an excellent evening.” The bouncer held the door for them.
Carlos exchanged glances with J-Dawg before stepping out. Were they being greased up for a kill?
“I assure you this is how we do business, there is no hidden agenda” Red grinned, noting their suspicion.
“Of course not,” Carlos replied. J-Dawg nodded, their guard now up.
The Maître de greeted with the same considerate manner as did her assistant, leading them through the gold reception area into the shimmering atmosphere of the jazz supper club at capacity with elegantly attired and lively patrons. Portraits of jazz legends Billie Holiday, Charlie Bird and other greats adorn the rich mahogany paneled walls, flanked by coffee-colored drapes. Plush banquettes the color of amber sat behind tables draped in crisp white linen gold tones, and mirrors throughout. To the left on stage, a saxophonist leaned back as far as her slender form would allow, holding a crowd-pleasing note that brought her song to a crescendo, and the crowd to its feet. Carlos clapped as everyone else was doing the same. The assistant continued past more large well-dressed bodyguards into a spacious private dining room. At the head of the dining table, that featured an impressive food spread, sat a caramel toned woman in a red brocade tea dress and matching pillbox hat. Her vintage look was completed by pearl earrings and necklace. The authority about her reminded Carlos of the Congresswoman Maxine Waters. The woman was surrounded by several men in crisp tuxedos and a woman in royal blue who appeared jaded. Two more well-dressed bodybuilders flanking the wall approached the table pulling out two seats reserved for them, then resuming their jobs as statues.
“On the menu,” the assistant spoke. “Are platters of short rib roast with pickled okra and yogurt, chicken liver mousse with skillet cornbread and jam, and whole fish with shallots, watercress, and pickled jalapeno. Also, oxtail dumplings, gumbo, and the wagyu burger. If your palate requires something more, we will be happy to assist. Enjoy your evening.” She walked away after the approving nod of the lady in red.
“Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Anderson, I like to introduce you to Madame Queen Stephanie St. Jacques.” Reds words were referential. Carlos and J-Dawg greeted her with equal respect as she extended her hand for them to shake.
“Welcome,” Madame Queen spoke, her tone raspy and authoritative. “Those jumps can be exhausting, I’m sure you’re famished, help yourself to the feast. The aroma of the food was intoxicating, and Carlos had eaten but could always eat. The spread was for them, vampires didn’t eat.
“What’s with all the nice, nice?” J-Dawg blurted, while Carlos struggled for a polite way to ask.
“You arrive here, for the sole purpose of saving vampire, werewolf, humanity and nature from certain destruction, yet, you are startled that we would show our gratitude?” Madame Queen paused. “What sort of manners do they teach you in Oakland?”
“Bad, I mean my bad,” J-Dawg stumbled.
“What my friend is trying to say, is that we are not used to gestures like this.” Carlos recovered J-Dawgs fumble. So, excuse our paranoia.” He reached for a serving fork and plate, spearing a succulent steak, J-Dawg joining. “And can somebody get me a jacket,” I’m freezing over here.” The host allowed them to eat in silence and feigned indifference at their speed and greed.
“To my left is Federico García Lorca,” Carlos nodded at the slight but intense male, his bronze skin and dark hair allowed him to blend in, but he was Spanish not Mexican, and clearly a werewolf.
“I know much of Oakland, most recently there had been an exodus from here to where there is no “there,” if I might misquote Gertrude Stein,” Lorca spoke. “What do you know of Harlem?”
“Drug kingpin, Frank Lucas was my Old Man’s hero. He rose under mob boss Bumpy Johnson; they were both from Harlem. My old man said that when Bumpy Johnson was sentenced to Alcatraz island in San Francisco, he helped Frank Morris, John Anglin, and his brother Clarence Anglin, with the boat they used to escape Alcatraz.”
“Is that all?” Lorca asked. Apparently expecting a deeper response.
“Tupac is from here and who else?” Carlos added. “Sean Combs, Immortal Technique, ASAP Rocky and so on, but we all know that’s not why we’re here, so get on with it, we’re on the clock,” Carlos spoke. The pleasantries were becoming nauseating.
“Your weakness fouls the air.” The silver-haired woman in royal blue directed her attention at Lorca. Her hair immaculately in place. She was older, pink tone, her steely blue eyes aware of everything in the restaurant and beyond. Definitely a werewolf.
“You all are pathetic.” her words ruffled Lorca whose body tensed.
“To my right is Jessica Emanuel, a representative paying us a visit from the Union, a group that even now, has had no dog in this fight.” Madame Queen explained.
“You will get one chance to correct this, and even if you should, the scribes will tell your story, but none will sing your glory.” Jessica’s raspy threat entertained the silent table as she admired her diamond encrusted platinum bracelet. Lorca relaxed. “Like this bracelet, Harlem is prized but not at any cost. The battle over the three-square miles that is Harlem has more to do with ego than practicality. Ito, the epitome of the Circle’s short-sightedness made it his personal mission to control this borough despite the consequences. Madame Queen, in her determination to prevent the Circles from wresting control of those three miles, under the council of Mr. Lorca here made an agreement with a demon that was better off where it was. It served Madam Queen’s purpose, holding off Ito’s attempts until Demon Lord, Damian Nomed made it a stronger offer. Full control of all New York. This is why the Union has wanted no parts of this exercise in immaturity.” She released a sigh, soft, yet strained. Her steely gaze meeting Carlos. “Yet, here we are with our arms tied.”
“Who is this demon?” J-Dawg asked.
“El Cuco,” Madame Queen answered flatly
“The Latin Boogieman?” Carlos asked. “He’s no threat.”
“It is so human to make the stuff of nightmares for over a hundred million children furry and cuddly.” Madame Queen replied. Her long face weary, her tone droll and sand dry. Carlos never thought of it that way.
“Where is he?” J-Dawg asked.
Madame Queen and Lorca exchanged glances. “We do not know.” She answered.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” He pressed.
“El Cuco was summoned in a dark ritual. He later took control of a willing subject that we have not met. He served us remotely for years not wanting his presence exposed, he seemed aware of our needs without our asking, we often learned that he acted on our behalf without our knowledge, so we respected his wishes.”
“And you can’t trace him?” Carlos asked the older woman.
“Trace what? We haven’t seen him, presuming he’s a he. Werewolves are primal, nowhere has there been anything physically consistent to create a trail, we are dealing with a ghost.” She snorted.
“How is any of this our problem?” Carlos asked.
“We’re here to do two things, stop a bomb and prevent DJ Kò from performing.” J-Dawg completed Carlos’s statement.
“When we learned of the bomb and the concert, two groups were dispatched to remove the threat. We saw no reason to wait for outsiders to solve our issues,” Madame Queen explained. “Before being moved, the nuclear device was in Harlem. Twice, El Cuco anticipated our arrival, zombies in waiting eliminated the vampire and werewolf sent to retrieve and deactivate the device.” The French fingertips of her finely manicured hand massaged her chin. Her frustration wasn’t outward but still on display.
“El Cuco also thwarted our plans to eliminate members of DJ Kò’s group, unfortunately only the drummer was slain before a pack of werewolves fell on the two vampires sent and later the drummer was re-animated as a zombie. Her gaze met Carlos then J-Dawg’s. “El Cuco is determine that the band performs and at midnight and the bomb detonate. So, our problem by proxy is your problem.”
Carlos sighed; this was always the case. “Do you still know where the bomb is?”
“Red, could you bring us another bottle?” Madame attention on the empty bottle of blood. She waited until Red left the room then pulled a wrinkled envelope from beneath the table handing it to J-Dawg. He examined the writing in dry blood. “Red’s brother’s throat was slit; his blood used to write this invitation. Both the nuke and DJ Kò can be found at the annual vampire party at Penthouse Seventy-Eight, at the Time Warner building.”
“Let’s go” J-Dawg replied.
“It’s no doubt a trap.” Lorca clarified.
“We’re not stopping anything sitting here eating,” J-Dawg answered, “that’s the real trap.”
The silver-haired lady crossed her arms impressed, so was Madame Queen. Red entered the room dusting off an aged bottle. “Get Dapper Dan, to fit these men in tuxedos, spats, and hats, stat!” Madame Queen Commanded. Her gazed darted to J-Dawg, then Carlos. “If you’re going, then you’re going in style.”
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