“The dead kind?” I briefly considered (true) zombies or revenants, but those would be classified as undead, not dead. Which meant… oh. Shit. “You mean a poltergeist, don’t you?”
“Indeed I do.” I jumped a bit as something behind Marq’s desk started knocking papers and clutter around. Whatever it was, it was hissing at us.
“Uhhh, Marq? What the hell do you got in here with us?”
“Oh, sorry,” Marq said sheepishly in a way that was a little uncharacteristic of him. “That’s just Sigurd. Come on out of there Siggy, daddy wants you to meet some friends of his.”
Marq briefly disappeared beneath the desk as he fumbled and wrestled with something in his footspace, bumping and hissing noises issuing from within the wood every few seconds.When he reemerged, he was holding a furry lizard the size of a Komodo dragon, like you see in the zoos. It looked like it had given up fighting him, but not before it took a few scratches and half-hearted bites at him, I noticed.
“Gentlemen, meet Sigurd. Sigurd, say hi to the boys.” It seemed to understand, and twisted its long neck to growl at us.
“I don’t think that was a hello.”
“You’ll get used to him. He’s European dragon. Germanic, actually. I paid quite a lot of money to have him shipped over here from the old country after I won the rights to his mammy’s litter in a poker game. Rest of ‘em I sold as part of a… legitimate business venture, but Siggy here I kept. Me and him, we got a little somethin’-somethin’.”
“No offense boss, but I don’t think he feels the same way about you,” Sostene said, holding his ground against the lizard while silently voicing his distaste for the thing. Not many people liked dragons, especially not vampires and lycans. Too many years of overlapping feeding grounds. Not to mention the historically terrible combination that is vampires and fire.
“What are you talking about? He’s always been friendly with me,” Marq said like he honestly had no idea what we were talking about. “These are just love-bites. I’m still trainin’ him. He’s gonna be a real monster one day, yes he is.”
He was cooing and scratching it like he would with a cat. Didn’t he know that thing was a wild animal?
“H-How old is he?” I asked, attempting to change the subject.
“Oh.” That thing was… big.
“Why’d you name him ‘Sigurd’?” Sostene asked.
“There’s an old myth back in Siggy’s country about a hero who shares his name. He gained eternal fame and glory when he killed the dragon Fafnir with the holy sword Gram, and bathed in its blood, which granted him invulnerability and neverending life.”
“So you named a dragon after a myth about a dragon slayer,” I said just to confirm. “That’s classic, Marq. Real classic. You know I’ve said this before, but why is it you always do the exact opposite of whatever makes any sense for you to do?”
“Because the opposition never considers the options that don’t make any sense. They assume you’ll act in a logical fashion that does make sense. That’s where I come in. Guys like you and me, we’re good at making sense out of things that don’t. Besides, it’s worked out fine so far, hasn’t it?”
I sighed. He was right. Crazy as the shifty-eyed bastard was, I trusted his judgment.
“So what do you want us to do down at the speakeasy? We talkin’ exorcism?”
“If it comes to that.”
“Don’t you think we should be calling the Vitalis about this? I’m kinda surprised them and their fucking goons aren’t all over it already.”
“It’s not their territory, Al. They’re nosy, but they’re not about to risk overstepping their boundaries on the off-chance a poltergeist is threatening serious harm to a speako of all things. Anyways, forget about them. Asking for their help is really just asking for trouble. I don’t wanna be owing those bluenosing rat-bastards any favors.”
I sighed. “So then what do you want us to do about it? I don’t know any fancy magic tricks besides the one obvious one, and I get the feeling Sostene isn’t the kind of guy we should fall back on to perform any sacraments or exorcism rites for us.”
“That’s not where you come in. It’s part of the job, but the real reason I’m asking you two to do this has nothing to do with the why and the how. Just the who.” Marq picked up a pencil and began scribbling something. The finished result was a geometric diagram interladen with various simple runes. He held up the paper so both of us could see it. “We sent this in to Hliðskjálf for analysis two days ago. This sigil is the basis for an inscribed formulaic ritual magic that binds souls to objects, places or people. Similar to what keeps ghosts bound to the site of a haunting. It’s high-intermediate to mid-advanced necromancy. You don’t see this kind of thing very often, not now that any class C or higher magic requires a special license and permit from the feds.”
“So someone set this up then. Alright, I’m starting to see the picture. We go in, scout the place out, and I work on piecing together who sicced an angry ghost on our club and cabaret while Sostene works recon. Once we’ve done that, we track the bastard down and Sostene works him over while you send in someone else to clean up the poltergeist, right?”
“Wrong. You’ll be taking care of that part too. Manually.”
“Seriously? We could die, you know. Well okay, maybe not Sostene…” Sostene’s nostrils flared. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I just think it’d be better to call an exorcist. I mean doing it the manual way means… well, I just feel sorry for the fire department is all.”
Marq sighed. “Al, you know I love you like a brother, right? Well, this is my way of showing you some tough brotherly love. I don’t care. Just get it done. You’re gonna be asked to do stuff a lot more difficult than this in this family, so it’s better if you just learn to swim in the deep end.”
Sigurd huffed in agreement. That damn lizard…
So that’s how it was. Sostene and I hightailed it over to the Castaway Club. Situated right at the heart of the downtown area, it was, or rather had been, one of the family’s most successful money makers. Prime real estate with easy access for civilian traffic and a nice little basement brewery that had consistently put out thousands of dollars in product every month since opening day. It even had an outdoor patio for the paying clientele. Nothing really looked wrong with it, but nothing ever did when you were at the site of a haunting.
We knocked five times and a gentle-looking madam opened the door. She had a beautiful figure, especially for someone pushing into their early-mid forties, but her face was starting to get a few too many lines and wrinkles. She must have been worrying herself sick about this place.
“You’re the Marquis’ men, right?”
“Yes ma’am, in fact we’re two of his right hand men,” Sostene improvised before I could protest. He wasn’t really wrong, I guess. I just never thought of myself as “right hand man” material.
She nodded, ushering us in. “I got word you were coming a few hours ago. I can’t tell you how grateful we are for your help.”
“No offense ma’am, but the place doesn’t really look that trashed. You sure this is really that serious?
“I’ve been trying to clean up around here after the last… what do you call it… manifestation, right? I’ve managed to fix the place up for you fine gentlemen, but a lot of our stock’s been destroyed, we keep finding the cash register and the manifest in hard to reach places, and they’re still trying to mop up… whatever happened backstage. I’ve never seen so many pork butts before…” Her eyes glazed over like she was remembering something absolutely horrifying, and I decided not to push the point any further. “Anyway, we haven’t been able to conduct proper business for a week now thanks to this new house guest. The girls are scared silly, and I’ve been worried sick about what’s going to happen to this place if we can’t get rid of this thing.”
“In all honesty ma’am? It’s probably gonna get burnt down for the insurance money if this doesn’t work. I don’t know what kind of sentimental value this places hold for you, but rest assured you and your employees will all get a share. I’ve known the Marquis for years, I can put a word in for you.”
“Is that so…”
“No, it’s nothing. Everyone here will surely appreciate everything you’ve already done for us.”
“Right… That being said, could you show us the site of the first event?”
“Yes of course. It’s in the back. Follow me.”
The back of the place was nothing that special. We went down a corridor just to the side of the backstage entrance, trying to ignore the noises we could hear coming from the backstage cleanup crew. We reached our final destination at a cellar door that led to the downstairs brewery.
I whistled. The place had been totally trashed. Bottles broken, holes punched in barrels of perfectly serviceable liquor, and jagged edges cut into the sides of brewery tanks. Even some of the support beams were broken, and those things were as thick around as logs. I was beginning to feel less sure about this by the second.
“You guys got yourselves one hell of a ghost here…” Sostene remarked dryly.
“No shit big guy. It looks like someone dropped a bomb on this place.”
“As I said, it’s been wreaking havoc with our production. We haven’t been able to refresh our stocks since it started attacking us, and its slowly chipping away at the liquor we still have on shelf. There’s really only one place it hasn’t touched so far.”
My eyes perked up when I heard that. “Really now? You guys got some sort of ghost-proof panic room down here?”
“Not quite. It seems to be leaving this room alone so far, but I wouldn’t call it our panic room. It’s our vault. It’s where we keep all of our revenue and our most valuable product, so it’s the most heavily protected room in the building. I don’t know why, but it hasn’t been able to get in so far.”
“That right? Mind showing it to us?”
“Certainly, so long as you don’t expect me to let you inside. You’ll understand if I’d like to keep something so vital to this club’s livelihood under lock and key.”
“Certainly, miss…” That’s right. She never told us her name, did she?
“Madam is fine. It’s what all the girls call me, and when your job defines you as much as mine does me, you get used to being talked to like that.”
The vault door covered an entire wall. “Ironclad”, “elaborate”, and “ornate” were all good words to describe it, but the first that came to my mind would probably be “expensive”, preceded by “fucking”. Just the work that went into these designs must have cost a fortune. How much money had Marq already sunk on this place?
I decided I’d ask him about it after I confirmed with him that whatever had went into making this thing had actually made it poltergeist proof. In the meantime, I searched for activity near the vault, finding scratches and gouges all around the border. Looks like the spirits’ failure to enter hadn’t been for a lack of trying. Although something about the marks was a little… off.
“Hey Madam… why isn’t there any ectoplasm around here?”
“Why? Should there be?”
“Not necessarily, but these marks on the wall make it look like the poltergeist got physical with this place. Since they’re scratch marks, I’m assuming it was using its fingernails. The physical manifestation of a dead man’s spirit typically has elongated fingernails, as death dries out the skin and exposes more of the nail than would be natural while alive. At least that’s what I’ve read about it.”
“Odd, I didn’t peg you for a scholar, Mr…”
“Just call me Alfonso. And I’m not. Kinda. Maybe I am a bit. My little sister wanted me to be a doctor, so I’ve been studying medical books and scientific journals for years now. I thought it’d help me get a job, but… that didn’t really work out.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Anyway, these kinds of marks would be possible with long enough nails and enough determination. The thing is though, there should be ectoplasm somewhere around here. The dead bleed just like the living, and scraping your nails against a wall seems like it should leave some blood behind.”
“What is it?”
“Anything you or the girls have to contribute is appreciated, Madam. I have perfect memory. I don’t forget things, so even tiny details can be helpful. It might help me think of something later down the road.”
“Well, it’s just… I think you might be wrong about the nails. I’ve never seen it, but some of the girls claim to have been confronted by it. The poltergeist, I mean. One of them said it had a knife.”
“Oh, a knife-wielding ghost. Great. That’s great.” I sighed. “Can you please show me the sigil you reported to the Marquis?”
She led me over to a small, rough carving that approximated what Marq had shown us back in the office. It checked out. “Well there’s yer problem. I’m gonna need to contact the Marquis to touch base and clarify a few things with him. You don’t mind if I use your phone, right?”
She shook her head. “It’s upstairs by the bar-”
The lights cut out. Everyone in the brewery went silent. A rather well-timed and abrupt interruption, if nothing else.
Something didn’t want us to leave.