Jordan Vesper toyed with the olive in her martini glass, gazing solemnly into the clear liquid feeling its coolness against her fingertip. Soft piano music played in the background of the café/bar, known as The Violet Hour. Picking up the toothpick laid next to her drink she sensed something and glanced behind her, searching through the smoky hue of the café and its dim light. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual sneering looks of disapproval from the patrons at her very presence. Jilted lovers and one-night stands all wanting more and frustrated in not getting any. Jordan pierced the olive with the toothpick slowly, then placed it on her tongue and closed her red lips around it, then sensually pulled out the toothpick between her teeth and chewed the olive. Letting out a heavy sigh, she threw back the drink, the cool sting slipped down her throat.
A rush of freezing wind blew in through the bar. Joe Berlin shook off his overcoat and stamped his boots, paused and approached, taking the stool next to Jordan. She eyed him curiously. He didn’t seem like a local, he had too much energy and enthusiasm about him, too much life in his blue eyes and he was smartly dressed in suit, waistcoat, tie and shirt. He was a little rough around the edges, his short brown hair had the design of looking like he’d just got out of bed.
“Coffee, please,” he asked the barman.
“Comin’ right up.”
Jordan became conscious of her gaze and flinched away turning on her stool to look out of the sheet glass window and the cars trundling through the driving snow outside, all bathed in the dim yellow hue of gas lamps.
“Well, they do call it Whyte City,” she said, adjusting the black fur around her neck, feeling the chill Berlin’s entrance had just let in.
“Oh, sorry, just thinking out loud,” she replied coolly. “New in town?” Berlin nodded. “If I were you, I’d plan a swift exit. Nothing here but snow and icy looks.”
Berlin blinked with a raised brow. The barman placed the white coffee cup on the countertop in front of him, the black liquid letting off thin wisps of steam into the cold air. Berlin paid him.
“What business you got here?” Jordan asked.
“Looking for someone.”
“Who? If you don’t mind my asking,” Berlin studied her for a short moment gauging how trustworthy she might or might not be. Her hair was short and slick wet stylised curled locks clung to the temples and cheeks of her soft milky white skin in very organised sets. Her powder blue lipstick gave her face a soft tone, easy on the eyes, infinitely more subtle, but still striking, it set her apart from than those women who would slather themselves in red. “I might be able to help,” Jordan added.
“Goes by the name Dr. Lucian Lupé.”
She thought on the name for a time as if sifting through a catalogue in her mind. “Sorry, never heard of him.”
“Just as well, he’s very dangerous.”
“Ooo, interesting,” she said and switched her attention to the barman. “Leif, another martini, please.” She looked back to Berlin with keen interest.
“You don’t want to get involved,”
“How about sex then?”
Berlin spat his coffee at the abrupt shift and nearly spilled it down his shirt. “I… well… I… I mean. I have a fiancée.”
“What happens in Whyte City, stays in Whyte City,” she replied with a sultry wink. Leif gave her a half knowing, half disapproving look and moved away.
“What’s your fiancée’s name?”
“Very nice. My name is Jordan Vesper,” she said and held out her hand, her nails painted in an off white.
“Joe Berlin,” he replied and delicately shook it.
“Where you come from, Joe?”
“Berlin, people call me Berlin.”
“Sorry, where do you hail from, Berlin? Wait don’t tell me, let me guess,” she said and studied him.
“The stiff lilt in your accent, the overcoat, the rumpled but finely tailored hat. Hmmm, I’d say you’ve come all the way from… Burgándy, perhaps even further south, Noirville, but you look a little too precise and well cut for that. And you’re a detective.”
“How did you know I was a detective?”
“I saw your badge when you pulled out your wallet to pay for your coffee.”
“Very good, we should hire you.”
“I hear a lot of strange stories about Burgándy. Isn’t it always night on account of a witch’s spell?”
“Not anymore,” Berlin replied and sipped his coffee.
“I guess news of the Paleblood Fall hasn’t reached this far north yet.”
“Our news outlets tend to be insular, we don’t get much news of… well anything outside the Whyte City borders. What happened?”
“They all died. It’s very a long story,” Berlin replied reluctant to get into it, he was tired and cold.
“I like stories, they’re the only thing keeping me sane in this damned city. I got no place to be. Why not tell me, over dinner?”
“You don’t like it here?”
Jordan shook her head.
“Why not leave, plenty of opportunities in Burgándy now.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“I literally can’t. No one born within earshot of the Whyte Cathedral bells can leave. I’ve tried on three separate occasions. We have strange spells here too.”
“Really?” Berlin replied his interest piqued.
“Dinner,” she demanded wryly, catching Berlin in her little harmless trap.
“What hotel are you staying at?”
Jordan’s eyes widened. “Very nice, being a Burgándy detective must pay well, very well.”
“What’s good here?” Berlin asked after they were both seated in the plush and luxurious surroundings of the Lorian hotel restaurant.
“The fish, it’s about the only thing good in this city on account of the ice fishing further north.”
Berlin studied the menu and reminded himself of Lena, this was strictly a business encounter. He made a mental note to keep his usual irreverent charm in check and not to mention the fact that he was an invisible man, it piqued too much interest. He was tired from the long journey and wasn’t in the mood, despite Jordan’s amiable allure. “Looks like that’s all there is,” he replied looking up from the menu.
“That’s Whyte City for you, fish, driving snow and corruption.”
A tall, handsome waiter approached, spick and span in white shirt, black waistcoat and trousers.
“Miss Vesper,” he said, greeting her.
“Hallo, Jonas. The beetroot and gin cured salmon gravadlax, a bottle of white and a wolf vodka martini.”
“Very good, and for the gentleman?”
“The same, and a glass of Erdinger.”
“Excellent.” The waiter put his order book in his breast pocket and walked away.
“You know the waiter?”
“We had an encounter once.”
Berlin knitted his brow and decided not to ask any further questions.
“Hey, don’t judge me, I was hard up for a place to stay.”
“Live as you see fit and as you need,” Berlin said raising his hands defensively. “So, your story, or the city’s story?”
“You mean the three times I tried to leave?”
Berlin nodded. Jordan adjusted herself in her seat, then remained quiet for a beat, gathering and ordering the memory.
“I was 25 the first time it happened. I was working as a barmaid, couldn’t keep a job for more than a month. Not because I was a bad employee or anything. Bars and cafés don’t last long in this town.”
“No, they either get shut down or raided because they can’t afford the racket payments.”
“Why doesn’t the police department do anything about it?”
“Because they’re the ones doing it. The police are all corrupt; if they’re not, they either haven’t been corrupted yet or they’re dead.”
Berlin blinked, both surprised and disgusted.
“I got sick of it. I wanted a stable job, so I decided to up-sticks and move south, so I got in my little car and drove across the countryside. Found a job in a sea side town called, Blisland.”
“It was. Life is simpler out there; friendly communities that help each other.”
“Wait, I thought you said you couldn’t leave the city.”
“I’m getting there.”
The waiter interrupted placing the Erdinger and the wolf vodka martini on the table.
“About three weeks in I got a telegram telling me my mother died, so I had to go back and sort out all that and grieve and arrange a funeral and all the legalese around my inheritance. She left me the house on the condition that I live in it. The funeral and legal fees wiped me out, so it was back to bar-maiding. Hopping from bar to café, job to job. It wasn’t all bad, eventually I got a job at the Violet Hour with Leif and worked there for a good long while.” Jordan took a good long sip of her wolf vodka martini as if trying to wash away the bad memories. “I lived in that house for a long time, it was ok, doing the day to day. The irony is sort of funny now. Living in a city where is snows for 10 months of the year and my damn house burns down. I stayed in a hotel, sorted out the insurance, then with a bit of money in my pocket and not a lot else left for me in the city I just walked out with the intention of going back to Blisland or if I found something else along the way, so be it. This is where is starts getting strange. I found myself in the middle of nowhere, the nearest town was something like 15 kilometres away, I was tired, so I slept under a tree. When I woke up, I was back in Whyte City, in my hotel room[SC1] .”
“Could it have just been a dream?” Berlin asked and drank his Erdinger.
“I thought so to, but it was far too real, and the memory of it didn’t fade like it does after you wake up from a dream. I went back across the path I took out of the city and asked anyone I spoke to ‘Was I here yesterday?’. They looked at me strangely, but all said ‘yes’. So, it was definitely real.”
“I’m not sure if they’re real or not. Rumour has it that Mayor Pederson employs them if he suspects anyone of trying to leave the city.”
“Wait, so you’re telling me a bunch of sprites carried you all the way back to the city and put you in bed at the behest of the Mayor?”
“Maybe. Folks say he’s a wizard.”
“It gets even stranger,” she paused and finished off her wolf vodka martini. “The third time I tried was when Leif’s bar closed for the first time. This was about a year ago. At the time Mayor Pederson had been taken ill, so I took the opportunity to try and walk out of the city again thinking those sprites wouldn’t be active. I couldn’t even find the city gates or even the city boundary. I just kept getting lost. I know this city like the back of my hand. The streets kept changing, moving and shifting somehow sending me around in circles. I tried on several separate days and then just gave up.”
Jordan quieted and Berlin just stared at her blankly, trying to process all this.
“I don’t quite understand why a city Mayor would even employ such a spell.”
“Keeps the labour markets over populated, if you have more people than actual jobs, you can drive down the cost of paying them. If people were allowed to leave the city, and by my reckoning a lot of them would, they would start demanding more money for their work due to a scarcity of labour. I haven’t had a job since. I’m on my own personal strike. I refuse to contribute to a society that leaves so many people behind and won’t let them leave. It’s abhorrent.”
“Why don’t people vote against him, elect another Mayor?”
“What makes you think we have elections?”
“You don’t?” Berlin said, surprised.
“Not since the Mayor drove out and usurped the Elder White Wolves. The Whyte council. With a vote no less. A referendum I think they call it. Mayor Pederson is a good campaigner. Personally, I think he used his Pederson sprites to influence people. But you go around saying that, you’re just a tin foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist.”
“Who are these white wolves?”
“The city founders, peaceful Lycans, they live further north in the icy wastelands. There’s a whole underground religion praying for and prophesising their return. I don’t hold out much hope, to be honest. I just live from day to day muddling my way through.”
“How do you survive? I mean you dress very well, sloshing down martini after martini.”
“My wits and cunning, most men are easily manipulated. My little tricks seem to be wearing a little thin these days though,” she lamented. “And Leif helps, when he’s not being extorted by bent cops.”
“I thought you said his bar closed.”
“He reopened it, Leif is quite well off, he just refuses to pay them sometimes, just to spite them.”
“Oh.” Berlin paused with dawning realisation. “Am I one of these easily manipulated men?” he asked.
“You’re safe. Did get you to buy me dinner though,” she said with a sly smile. Berlin smiled back, guardedly. He yawned, finished his dinner and washed it down with a glass of water, then glanced around the dining hall trying to catch the attention of a waiter.
Jordan adjusted herself in her seat, with growing anxiety, she had no place to stay tonight, and she feared Berlin was putting an end to their encounter.
The waiter approached, and Berlin paid the bill.
“How about a night cap in your room?” Jordan asked hopefully.
“It’s getting late,” Berlin replied, checking his watch. “And I’m kind of tired.”
“But you haven’t told me your story yet, why you’re looking for… what was his name?”
“Dr. Lucien Lupé.”
“Well, I have to make a quick phone call. After that how about I meet you in your room and you can tell me all about it?”
Berlin paused, studying her. She seemed a little desperate.
“You don’t have a place to stay tonight, do you?”
Jordan shook her head. Berlin thought on it for a long beat. “Very well, I’ll sleep on the couch.”
Jordan relaxed with a relieved smile and got up. “I’ll be back in 10 minutes. What’s your room number?”
“237 on the 2nd floor.”
Berlin returned to his room, feeling quite sluggish and tired, the Erdinger had affected him more than he thought it would. He took a quick shower and dressed himself in a fresh white shirt and trousers, poured himself a glass of water and sat on the couch in the huge hotel room. He couldn’t really afford something like this on his own account, but it was surprisingly cheap compared to a similar room in Burgándy. He’d paid one half on his own and claimed expenses for the other. Just as he began to nod off a loud knock at the door awoke him.
“Hallo,” Jordan said with a sultry smile and presented a bottle of wolf vodka. “A gift,” she said. “Compliments of Whyte City.”
“Thanks, but I don’t drink that much, and we have wolf vodka in Burgándy.”
“Not Whyte Wolf Vodka, it’s made with grain instead of potatoes and a special mysterious ingredient only the Elder White Wolves know. You can drink this stuff like water and never get a hangover or a come down.”
“Really? Is that why you drink like a fish?”
“It helps me endure this damnable city.” She passed him and entered the room. Grabbed two glasses and poured. “So, tell me your story, Berlin,” she said sipping at the vodka.
Berlin told her of Dr. Lupé’s special cure for Palebloods and how he manipulated and used his partner, Detective David Paola to infect the V District blood supply with the cure thus ridding Burgándy of the Paleblood regime.”
“Your partner was a Paleblood?”
Berlin nodded, “A secret identity of sorts. He was changed during the war.”
“So, you’re here for revenge, a personal vendetta?” Jordan removed the black fur from around her neck and shoulders, revealing her figure-hugging white dress. Berlin tried to avert his eyes as much as possible. Jordan flopped down on the couch and crossed her legs, resting her calf on top of her knee. She leant back and caressed the top of the couch with her right arm, vodka glass held in her hand.
“I’m here to catch a murderer.”
“He killed humans too.”
“Oh, I didn’t realise that.”
“Why would you?” Berlin asked with a faint sense of suspicion.
Jordan shrugged. “I understand, I’d like to take revenge on Pederson for keeping me locked in this city, if I could. Are you going to kill him, this Doctor Lupé?”
“God no, I’m going to arrest him, bring him to justice.”
“But he brought about the Paleblood Fall, didn’t he? You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”
“Not if the eggs are human lives.”
“Question is, would you rather the city be free or have your partner back? That is, if you could go back in time.”
Berlin frowned at the question. He didn’t like the moral ambiguity.
“I guess it doesn’t matter now, just a hypothetical. Mind if I use the shower, I feel a bit grubby?”
Berlin nodded and gulped back his vodka, hoping it might rid him of the complexities Jordan just pointed out. He was simply here to do his job, catch and arrest a criminal. He poured himself another, then settled himself on the couch Jordan had just vacated. He thought he was going to drop off again and after finishing in the shower, Jordan would retire to bed after finding him asleep. But the vodka wouldn’t let him. It aroused him, invigorated him, his inhibitions dropped and when Jordan walked out of the bathroom, her hair and skin dappled with water and just a towel wrapped around her…
“Oh, another thing about Whyte Wolf Vodka, it’s an aphrodisiac,” Jordan said.
…Berlin couldn’t resist.
When Berlin awoke Jordan was gone. She’d left no message of any kind and he fully expected never to see her again, so he went about the business of making enquiries about Dr. Lucian Lupé. First, he went the Whyte City police department but all he got were monosyllabic ‘no’s’ and ‘don’t know’ and ‘can’t help you’. The police officers were neither friendly nor helpful and the more he tried to force the issue the more resistance he got, it threatened to break out in violence. He retreated and spent the rest of the day enquiring at numerous hotels asking of Dr. Lucian Lupé, a hirsute man in his early forties, 6 and a half foot tall, walks with a pronounced limp and a cane, speaks eloquently and wears a black great coat. All the hoteliers claimed they’d ever come across him, but they would keep a look out and contact him if they saw such a man. After the second day he was about ready to give up and go home when an ominous and unmarked manila envelope was slipped under his hotel room door. It was addressed to Lena Schmidt, below that was his own address back in Burgándy.
Berlin’s breath froze in his lungs when he opened the envelope and slid out the five large black and white photographs. He gasped in a panic, full of impending dread. His legs weak and quivering he stumbled over to the couch, sat down and drew deep breaths trying to calm himself. The photos were of him and Jordan in the self-same hotel bedroom, naked and in full view, there was no denying his identity, the photos were clear and distinct. A small note slipped out of the envelope and seesawed gently down to the carpet. Berlin reached for it with a trembling hand.
Meet me at the north gate, 10 pm.
Dr. Lucian Lupé.
That was all the note said. He made himself a stiff drink and paced the room. Obviously, Lupé hadn’t posted the original copies yet, so he was still in the clear, except for his own conscience. ‘What happens in Whyte City stays in Whyte City.’ Jordan had said. He growled, letting himself get seduced like that, dropping his guard, it was stupid. But then there was the Whyte Vodka and its unusual properties, and Jordan clearly had a purposeful goal given to her by Lupé, he assumed. A man would have to be altogether saintly to resist her assault. He stopped fussing, nothing to be done now. He checked the barrel of his revolver and loaded it with six silver bullets, then threw on his overcoat, fixed his hat upon his head, and tossed the photographs, the note and the envelope into the fire place. It was 9:17 p.m. He gazed into the fire watching the photographs burn and crumple into black cinders until there was nothing left.
Outside, the snow threw down in heavy flurries as the taxi moved through the city. The architecture was a mix of gothic churches, speak easy bars and cafes, hotels and tenement blocks, it wasn’t that much different from Burgándy except for snow ploughs on nearly every corner and specially designed streets to accommodate the heavy and regular snow fall. Residences and houses were lifted some 5 feet from the pavement, all had steps leading to their front doors. The main streets were heated, from beneath and the steam rose out of sewer grates and man holes at regular points. Berlin looked out of the window at the passing blur of the street lamp, the taxi cab struggling its way through the snow.
“You an offcomer?” the taxi driver asked.
Berlin nodded meeting the man’s eyes in the rear-view mirror.
“Hell, of a place to come to for a holiday.”
“I’m here on business.” Berlin said shortly, not in the mood for a ‘chat’.
“What kind of business?”
“None of yours,” he said.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to be rude,” Berlin said after a stiff silence. “Tough day you know.”
The driver didn’t say anything more until they reached the north gate and Berlin paid him with a generous tip, by way of an apology.
He stepped out of the cab and remarked at the noticeable drop in city noise. The street running along the boundary wall was afforded very little light and an eerie wind whistled through the area. Berlin glanced around, noting two checkpoint guards at the booth by the city gate at some distance. There was no one else around. He checked his watch, 9:46, still a little early he supposed. The cold bit at him, stinging his cheeks and it made him shiver. He tied up the open buttons at the top of his overcoat and rubbed his hands together, then he faded himself into his invisible state. Perhaps he could surprise Lupé, steal the photos and kill him. He dismissed the thought, Lupé was far too clever for such crude tactics, but at the very least he could gauge the situation.
“Ahh, Herr Berlin, a little early I see.”
Berlin jumped, startled and spun around. In the shadows and leant against the wall was the shadowy figure of Dr. Lupé. He stepped forward under a gas lamp with a pronounced limp, clutching his cane for support.
“I don’t believe we’ve actually met face to face. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Berlin dropped the pretence and became visible again. “What do you want?” he asked bluntly.
“Forgiveness, admonishment for my sins. That’s why I came here.”
“You won’t get it from me,”
“I don’t want it from you.”
“The Elder White Wolves,” he replied gesturing toward the checkpoint gates and the wild snowy wilderness beyond. “You could come with me and ask for forgiveness for your little sin. You are human but the white wolves are considerate, I’m sure they’d make an exception for you.”
“Where is Jordan?”
Dr. Lupé was about to speak but his voice was drowned out by the heavy roar of an engine. They both looked west to see a large all-terrain vehicle rumbling toward them, cutting through the snow with ease.
“Speak of the devil and she’s bound to appear.”
“Devil indeed,” Berlin said bitterly. Jordan stepped down out of the truck in a thick grey overcoat. She addressed Dr. Lupé and kept her eyes away from Berlin. Berlin watched her with a pinched brow, holding in his rage.
“Everything’s ready, food, supplies, water and petrol, they’re all in the back,” she said holding out the keys. Dr. Lupé went to take them, but Jordan flinched them away.
“I need guarantees.”
“It’s all been taken care of, Miss. Vesper.”
“So, I won’t get three weeks out of the city only to be hauled back by some strange occurrence or circumstance?”
Dr. Lupé shook his head “As I said, it’s all been taken care of.”
“But how can I be sure?”
“Trust, dear, trust.”
“I don’t put a lot of faith in trust,” Jordan replied sceptically.
“First time for everything.” Lupé turned his attentions to Berlin. “Jordan has the photo negatives, once I get safely clear of the gates, she’ll give them to you.”
Berlin pulled his gun and aimed it at Lupé. “I should kill you right here,” he said cocking back the hammer, the silver revolver glinted in the dim white/yellow light reflected off the snow. Jordan flinched back, cowering.
“Don’t you move another step,” Berlin said, and Jordan froze instantly.
“You kill me, the photos will find their way to Lena. That I can guarantee.”
“Not if I kill her too.”
“There is another set of photographs, if Benedict doesn’t hear from me within the next 24 hours, he will post them.”
Berlin gripped the gun, about ready to scream.
“Do you really want revenge for your dead friend or…”
“He has a name!”
“Or do you want to turn around go back to Burgándy and live the rest of your life with Lena.”
“Say his name!” Berlin shouted.
“Settle down, Berlin. A rash act could set you on a very dark path, one you may not get back from. You have a choice. Right here, right now.”
A pregnant silence dropped over the three. Howling wind blew flurries of snow between them. Both Jordan and Dr. Lupé looked to him. Berlin winced. The gun quivered in his hand.
“Say his name!”
Berlin dropped the gun to his side. His legs felt weak underneath him and he almost fell. All his strength evaporated in that instant; he was emotionally and physically spent.
Jordan stepped cautiously forward and reached out to take his hand. If Berlin had any will, he would’ve snatched it back.
“I’ll take you back to your hotel. Would that be okay?” she asked and slipped the revolver out of his hand burying it at the small of her back. Berlin breathed softly in a shell-shocked daze, hardly noticing anything.
Dr. Lupé slipped away, approached the truck and climbed inside. He started the engine and rolled it forward through the gates. Berlin watched blankly as it rumbled away into the snowy darkness and the icy wastelands beyond the Whyte City boundary.
“Berlin?” Jordan asked softly.
“Yes, what?” Berlin replied snapping out of his daze.
“My car is over there,” she said, pointing at a black compact parked some distance away. Jordan guided him to the passenger side and sat him down.
When she sat herself behind the wheel, she handed him a roll of negatives inside a small plastic container.
“Would it mean anything if I said I’m sorry?”
Belin didn’t reply, staring ahead at the driving snow, full of memories of his ex-partner. A small tear trickled down his left cheek.
Jordan put the car in gear. “If it’s any consolation you were the best sex I ever had,” she said and turned the key in the ignition.