Spades Fiction

Episodic stories of fantasy and science fiction.

Category: Neon Noir

Neon Noir: The Eighth Beat

Robert Howell

Selene is going to kill me.

Robert is still walking back to his apartment come noon. He found his personal effects along with his gun in a little box outside the room he was kidnapped to. He was rather grateful for that, though can’t help but wonder what they want from him.

Hen clutched the folder he was given very closely. He went through hell to get it, he couldn’t give up now.

The Gaudios were a family of criminals, in constant war for control of illegal imports. Despite their power and influence, prohibition has reduced drinking in the city. Now it’s just reserved for those with enough cush to payoff the mayor.

I’d love nothing more than to go after them. But I don’t have the support.

This ‘Arcadia’ though is different. It’s supposed to be the place anyone in the neighborhood can get a drink. It’s not just bringing the booze back to the little people, but it might be the place Robert can bring down to get more resources from the city.

He stomped up the stairs of his complex, wondering what he’s going to tell Selene.

She’ll be happy I’m still alive, but I don’t know if I can tell her everything.

So what would he tell her?

He got to his door and held his hand up in a fist, ready to knock. Then it softens and he pulls out his key to unlock the door.

He enters and calls out,

“Selene! I’m home.”

No one answered.

“Selene?”

Robert looked through the apartment, checking their bedroom and bathroom, looking behind the doors, in the tub, anywhere he could.

She wasn’t home.

The blood in him began to burn, as his face flushed with emotion.

I swear to god, if they’ve touched her I’ll-

“Robert?”

Selene entered the door, eyes locked on her husband. Robert turned and immediately rushed over to her. She dropped the grocery bags she was carrying as they caught each other in a deep embrace.

“Where were you all night?!” Selene sobs.

Robert is silent and holds his wife closer.

Ryan Shane

They were back at the Arcadia, in Vash’s side office. Ryan was standing watch next to the door, listening to the two women. Vash practically pulled them into the office and made two drinks, one for herself and one for Bella. Ryan noticed she added a little more shine to Bella’s dink.

“Here, it’ll settle your nerves,” Vash says.

Bella sheepishly takes the drink. She was a far cry from the confident aristocrat that entered the restaurant.

“Thank you.”

Vash sits at her desk, sipping her cocktail. Though she was friendly and polite, her eyes were sharp on our guest.

“Now Bella, I need you to tell me everything. Start from the beginning.”

The girl took her own unsure sip from her drink and sighed.

“Raphael and I had been seeing each other. We met at one of the Belrose family’s parties.”

“How? How could you just show up there?”

“I didn’t! I was snuck in.”

Vash takes another swig and eyes Bella up and down. If she was still trying to pretend to be polite, she wasn’t showing it.

Bella downs the rest of her drink. The poor girl looks like she just drank gasoline, which considering the shine she got in there, might not be too far off.

“I owed money to Lenny. I couldn’t pay him back at the time, and he offered a way to work it off.”

Vash scoffs.

“You could have easily paid him back. What could you owe that creep?”

“Ten grand.”

Vash nearly spit out her drink.

“What in the hell were you doing owin’ that dough?”

Bella looks sheepish again, eyes unwilling to meet Vash.

“Cards. Dice. …Dames.”

“You’re supposed to do that for a weekend, hon. Not a year.” Vash follows suit and downs her drink, though she handles it much better than Bella.

She continues.

“So Lenny says you can work it off by being a twirl? For the Belroses?”

“It was more like a deposit until I could get some cash from my father. I had no idea it would be for them.”

“This is why you shouldn’t have lied to Lenny. Hell, he probably knew exactly who you were and that’s why he did it.”

“I met Raph there. We got to talking and then one thing led to another…”

Vash waves away her words.

“Yeah yeah. Fine. So what happened?”

Bella looks around the room, her eyes catching Ryan. They looked like they were pleading. Ryan was about to speak when Vash spoke.

“Bella, I need to know what happened if I’m going to help you.”

“We were going to run away.”

As surprised as Vash has been in all this, nothing has worried her more than this statement.

“The two heirs? Disappearing in the night? That’s not very smart, Bella.”

“I know. But we knew our families wouldn’t understand. The morning we were going to leave, Raph caught a bullet through the window.”

The window? Who’s a good enough shot to hit him there?

Vash looked down, as if she was searching her desk for answers. Thousands of scenarios ran through her head as she thought about what she’d need in each one.

“Who else knows about this?”

Bella gives a very weak smile.

“Rupert.”

“Why in gods name did you tell him?!” Vash nearly screamed.

“I needed someone to clean out my apartment! I don’t know how to dispose of bodies!”

“The body is disposed of?”

“…No. The Belroses found it before Rupert could get to it.”

Vash is silent for whole minutes.

“Mr. Shane, do you know how to pour a drink?”

Ryan takes his queue and walks over to the bar. He pulls out a glass and some rocks from the ice box. He pours a good three fingers into the glass and walks it to Vash.

“Leave the bottle.” She says.

Neon Noir: The Seventh Beat

The Belrose Crime Family rose to prominence with the implementation of prohibition. While their political connections mean they could work to have it lifted, there’s more money to be made with it in place.

Vashti Kianian

The sounds of cracking tables, thuds against walls and gunshot punctuations fade into the distance as Vash leads Bella through the kitchen. She hadn’t even protested when Vash left this way.

Out back, behind the building in the alley, Vash’s mind started working on what she’d do out here. Even assuming Mr. Shane survived, she doubted he’d be able to get her car pulled around quickly. And if the attack ended up being more than the one man, she couldn’t wait around.

Looking around the alleyway, Vash took stock of her options. There was a fire escape, but she’d have trouble getting Bella up it. The exit down the alley itself was the most available option, but if more men were coming, it’s also how they’d be caught.

Stupid dress. It was so stupid of me to wear it.

Vash turned her attention to Bella again, wondering what she thought of the dress, but realized she was shaking. This wasn’t the confident woman Vash remembered.

“Bella. Do you know why they were attacking us?”

The woman’s head droops down, the brim of her hat covering her eyes, but Vash knew exactly what they looked like.

They were afraid.

“It’s why I called you. The Belroses are after me.”

Vash froze for a moment.

“What did you do?”

All traces of Vash’s politeness were gone. She did not sign up for a war. In that moment, she mentally cursed putting so much effort in dressing up for Bella.

“I didn’t do anything!” Bella insists. “They think I killed Raphael, but I could never!”

This was getting a lot more complicated.

“Why, in the name of the maker, would they think you killed Raphael?!”

“You have to listen, I would never have hurt him! They just…”

Before she could finish her answer, the sound of screeching tires came from the end of the alleyway.

“Bella, give me your gun.”

She stares at Vash, horror in her eyes, but not moving.

“I said, give me your gun! Do you want to live?”

This time, Bella quickly moves, opening her purse and pulling the revolver from it. It was a little thing with a wood grip. Vash grabs the gun and points it at the car, now driving towards them.

There’s a wall behind us, but maybe if I hit the driver, we can go back through the restaurant. Ryan might be done by now…

The car pulls to a quick stop, and the door opens.

“Whoa there, don’t shoot!” Ryan says as he steps out of the car.

Vash lets out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

“Oh good… Wait, where’s my car?”

“No time. I’ll come back for it, but this guy’s was closer. Get in.”

In any other situation, Vash have protested Mr. Shane giving orders, but now was not the time. The two ladies moved to the back of the car as quickly as they could.

Ryan backed up, faster than Vash was comfortable with, since they were between two buildings, but he pulled it off. The car peeled back out in the street, making some cars screech to a stop, as he shifted and pulled into traffic proper.

“So, Mr. Shane, if I may ask, whose car is this?”

“After the first attacker went down his friend pulled up in this. I wasn’t sure if more could be on the way, so I figured I’d borrow his car.”

Looking around the vehicle, it was a far cry from Vash’s luxury machine. But it had a back seat, and enabled their getaway. It was clean though, which was surprising. Vash had expected brutes like that to leave their cigarettes or whatever laying about.

“Mr. Shane, did you kill the men?”

This was important. If he didn’t, he’d have to drive well to ensure he isn’t followed. If he did, they’d have lost those attackers, but the Belrose family would never stop hunting them.

“I didn’t. I knocked out the one in the restaurant. After I took away his gun, the guy in the car was easy.”

“Good. You know how to lose a tail?”

“We don’t have one, but I’m on it.” Ryan turned the car down a random road, away from Vash’s apartment. It might have been unnecessary, but Vash hadn’t lived this long without taking some precautions.

“Now that we have a moment, Bella, I need you to start talking.”

Bella clutched her purse.

“They think I killed Raphael.”

“Yes, you mentioned that. Why do they think you killed him?”

“Because they found his body in my apartment.”

Vash’s eyebrows shot up.

“Sweetie, you’re going to have to explain.”

Bella sighs, a tear trickling from her eye.

“We- we were seeing each other.”

Vash continues staring, Bella trembling a little.

“Mr. Shane, after you’re sure we aren’t being followed, please take us to the Arcadia. I’m going to need a drink.”

Neon Noir: The Sixth Beat

Ryan Shane had fought in The Great War. Looking back, he felt he was too young to be there, but there he was. While he learned a lot from the experience, it’s not one he wants to go through again, and one he wouldn’t wish on anyone else.

Ryan Shane

I was positive I was fired. I slept on my boss’s couch without asking her permission. I interrupted a private conversation. Dammit, Ryan!

Mr. Shane yelled in his own mind, when he should be scoping out the area. He realized the same thing.

Dumb, dumb, dumb! Get it together, Ryan!

His boss had called the number from the card. The one she got from Kegs the night before.

Ryan wasn’t sure what his boss heard on the other end of the line, but she seemed to freeze when the call connected. Her tone became far quieter, too quiet for Ryan’s curiosity to get the better of him. After a quick exchange, her bravado was back as she spoke.

“It really has been far too long, darling! We should grab a bite! Say, Minetti’s in an hour?”

Things moved quick from there. Ryan didn’t have time to change, but luckily his jacket was still fresh enough for the outing. He might have looked out of place, fancy suit and all, if it weren’t for Vash.

She had disappeared into her room and reappeared in something Ryan didn’t expect. A dress.

And what a dress. She seemed to be poured right into it. A deep, midnight blue. The strapless ensemble was covered by a small jacket and topped with a wide brimmed hat. She’d also put on some jewelry.

Mr. Shane had only seen her in suits, perfectly tailored suits mind you, but still suits. This took some getting used to.

When Vash stepped out of her room, she made a beeline for the door, giving Ryan a pointed look. He quickly snapped back into action and headed for the door himself. He opened it and after a quick look outside, gave her the signal it was clear.

Sitting here at the restaurant, Ryan felt uneasy. The joint was fancy. So fancy, it made Vash’s choice in attire make sense. At least the nice suit he wore helped him fit in somewhat, but definitely not enough.

“Stop fidgeting.” Vash’s voice was quiet, yet firm.

Ryan immediately stopped shaking his leg. He wasn’t even aware he was doing it.

“Sorry,” He whispered back.

“Don’t be sorry, just don’t do it,” Vash scolded.

“Right, right. Sorry,” he regretted the words as soon as he said them.

“I’m going to stab you in the leg with my fork the first chance-”

Vash is cut off before she can finish. At the entrance to the restaurant, a woman clothed in black walked in. She was by herself, but she was dressed every bit as fancy as Vash. Her own dress clung to every curve of her body. The shoulders were modest, but the deep cut they fed into certainly wasn’t. She wore gloves and a small veil from her hat.

Upon her entrance, all the animosity Vash had vanished. Instead, she waved the woman down and whispered to Ryan.

“You know how to be polite to a lady, don’t you?”

Ryan stood up from his seat, waiting for their guest. As the woman approached, Vash also stood, extending her arms in a hug. “Bella! Oh how I’ve missed you!”

Bella returned the greeting with just as much gusto.

“My dear, Vash! You look amazing!”

Their greeting complete, Ryan pulled a seat out for Bella. She sat in it without even acknowledging Ryan. He politely pushed her in and then headed to the bar, as Vash had instructed.

This was not a speakeasy, so the bar’s drink selection was lacking any alcohol. Which perfectly suited Ryan. While he didn’t drink anything last night, going to sleep so late was not something he was used to lately. The coffee he had earlier helped, but he could use some more.

The bartender brought a cup of the house blend, the smell wafting up to the bodyguard’s nostril. As good as it smelled, Ryan fought to not let it drag him down. He had to be focused. Alert.

He spun the barstool around and looked over the restaurant. It wasn’t too busy, and very quiet, a welcome change from the club last night. But it was also not his scene. It honestly didn’t seem like Vash’s scene either, but she was able to blend in so easily.

Ryan considered his new boss. She was like a chameleon, changing with her situation. Whether she was acting as the boss of a night club, working deals with criminals, or socializing in polite society, she never felt out of place.

The only thing that would set her apart is her choice of clothing. That’s not to say it feels out of place, but it’s bold and instantly recognizable. A club boss in a nice, and well-tailored suit feels right, but she’s a woman. Women don’t wear suits.

Though, she is a very different kind of woman, apparently. Ryan thinks back to that morning, seeing Anastasia come out of Vash’s room. The words of tenderness she shared before she left. It was at that moment Ryan connected the morning’s events to what Vash had said about Abby when they first met.

Never would have guessed Abby was into women.

Outside the restaurant a man in a pressed suit approached the door. His facial expression is what drew Ryan’s eye. He didn’t look to be another patron, looking for a fun brunch.

Ryan slid away from the bar, going around the outside of the seating area in the restaurant, right up to the door.

The man enters and quickly scans the room. His eyes land on Vash’s table. Without any kind of reaction, he reaches into his jacket.

“Hello there, sir! Will you be dining by yourself today?” Ryan loudly mocks.

The stranger freezes for a second, looking at Ryan at his side. The rest of the restaurant, Vash included look at the entrance of the establishment. A look of acknowledgement crosses Vash’s face, and she starts gathering her things.

The stranger tries to pull the gun from his jacket, but Ryan snatches the man’s arm in a hold. A gun shot pierces the roof as someone else in the restaurant screams.

As everyone panics, Vash and her guest sneak out through the back.

Neon Noir: The Fifth Beat

There are two warring mob families in Capital City. The Belrose’s have strong ties to the politicians and city hall, though not strong enough to remove their rivals. The Guadio’s have bribed enough of the police force to keep out of jail.

Robert Howell

“Wake up, ya dirty bastard!”

A splash of water slaps Robert across the face, drenching his whole body. He awoke to a mostly dark room, a single beam of light shining down into the center. It lit enough for him to see the two men holding him captive, but not enough to tell exactly where he was.

“I’m awake,” the detective calmly responds. It took all his strength to remain in control.

He tensed his arm, feeling out the restraints. Rope held him to some kind of metal frame. However, he was only tied at his arms and wrists. His legs were free.

Small miracles…

“So you are.” The voice was self-assured, and deeper than the pit Robert found himself in. The man who woke him up was another wiry fellow, could have been Jack’s stronger brother. But the other one? He looked like a train car. He had a cap and a cigar, but nothing fancy, and was bigger than a gorilla.

These two were enforcers, but not ones Robert could place.

“How was your nap, copper?” The thin one set his bucket upside down and sat on it. A little bit of the water dripped out under him.

“Well, I woke up. Couldn’t have been all bad, I guess.” Robert’s eyes started adjusting to the darker parts of the room. The mishmash of metal surrounding them didn’t provide too much more on his whereabouts.

The beat of the city’s heart did though. Now that he was fully alert, he could hear it clearly, ringing through the metal room. The loud but regular hits told him he was near a construction site, or metal shop. Somewhere that would use an electric hammer.

“Woke up you did, by the boss’s good graces.” The big man spoke again. The voice was cockney, undignified, not what you’d imagine a high-ranking enforcer to sound like. Of course, the outfits said the same. Something was off though. Something about his phrasing.

“That does bring a question to mind. Why didn’t Francis just kill me?” The events of last night finished coming back to Robert. Jack Cuthbert sold him out.

The thin man started giggling to himself, not the one doing the talking today, it seems.

“Our boss has plans for you. Of note, your snoopin’ about for his business partners.” The big guy gives Robert a tap on the chest that would have sent him to the ground were he not tied up. The man was muscle on muscle. “He’d prefer if you stopped.”

Robert lets out a laugh.

“Then he should have just killed me. What makes him think I’ll stop?” Robert’s mind races as he speaks. This doesn’t make sense. If what he knows about Francis is right, he would have just had him killed.

I’ve been so careful, taking every measure to avoid being caught. How did he find me?

“We could threaten your life, but I feel that’s wasted effort.” The large one takes a few steps over to his friend and puts his hand on his shoulder.

“Randall here had the bright idea to threaten your old lady, but that’s so unseemly.” The cockney accented words snapped Robert’s attention on the two, and off his attempts to place his location.

“If you lay one hand on Selene, I swear I’ll-“

“It would have been two hands on her throat, but you’ve nothing to worry. That would be far more trouble than its worth.” The talker has been so calm in all this. Even for the crime in this town, kidnapping a cop can’t be a common occurrence. How is he keeping his cool?

He continues.

“No, we’d rather you keep doin’ your job.” He snaps his fingers and the one he called Randall jumps off his bucket and disappears into the darkness.

Robert tries to follow him, but just sees him standing by some more metal? Is that a shelf?

He comes back, having retrieved what he went for, a physical file folder in his hand. He hands it to his associate, who proceeds to thumb through the contents.

“You’ve been looking into the Arcadia.” He says, matter of fact.

Robert’s brain churns, trying to figure out what that is. His keeper notices the pause and fills in the detective.

“The club. The one you can’t prove is real.”

The cop’s face keeps the look of confusion, but now it’s for a different reason. Robert sought Francis to find his supplier, and through him, track down this other bar. If he happened to build a case against the mobster while he was at it, then maybe after bringing down the hidden club, he could have the resources to go after one of the two major families.

But here, he was being given a shortcut. He had a name.

“I have here a picture, and a name. More than enough for you to piece things together. In trade, you stop putting your nose where it don’t belong.”

Robert considers the offer. If he says no, there’s a chance they’ll kill him anyway. On the other hand, they’ve already proven they know how to track him down if he breaks this promise and keeps going after the mob.

It’s not like he has a choice.

“Fine. You can cut me down. Not like I could take you both down.”

The large man gestures toward Robert and Randall jumps up. He pulls out a big knife and starts slicing away at the rope. Once his arms are free, Robert stretches them out, his muscles sore. He notices a small hole on his arm, likely where they drugged him after knocking him unconscious.

Got to be more careful.

“If I were you, detective, I’d go home and plough my wife. You’re not getting sleep for a long time.” He drops the file on the ground and starts walking away. Randall is close behind.

Robert quickly drops down and looks through the file. In it is a candid photo of a dark-skinned woman, with long hair. It looks to have been taken through some bushes. He turns it over and reads the name on the back.

“Well, Ms. Vashti Kianian. Looks like you’re out of shadows to hide in.”

Neon Noir: The Fourth Beat

Vash hasn’t always operated out of Capital City. She appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, three years ago. But just because no one knows her history, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Vashti Kianian

The world fades into focus as Vash opens her eyes. She hears the calming beat of the morning gently nudge her awake. The soft tapping of the city’s heart is punctuated by the click-clack of the rail car passing by.

Vash turns to check her clock, when she feels pressure on her arm. Her mind snaps to attention as she looks over at the person lying next to her. Anastasia was still sleeping.

How much did I have to drink last night?

She tries to slowly edge her arm out from under her guest, being careful not to wake her. There is slight moment where Vash nearly catches her bracelet on Anastasia’s bright red hair and she freezes.

Anastasia takes a deep breath but continues sleeping in the morning sunlight.

Vash breathes her own sigh of relief and unhooks her arm from her lover’s hair. She slides out of bed, taking slow steps to her door, ensuring it closes quietly behind her.

Oh Vash. How did you end up sleeping with her? Again.

She moves through her apartment, heading for the kitchen. She pulls down the coffee grounds onto the counter, vaguely aware of what she was doing as she stared unawake at the back of her couch in the other room. As she moves throughout her morning ritual preparing the coffee, she notices a card out of the corner of her eye.

It was plain. White. A series of numbers scribbled on the front. As her coffee brewed, Vash couldn’t keep her mind off it. When was the last time she dialed a phone number manually?

“Hey there, stranger…”

She freezes upon hearing the voice. She turns to her hall where Anastasia stood. The woman had already gotten dressed, wearing the gown she had on the night before.

Vash stared, unmoving for what felt like an eternity until the redhead spoke.

“Vash, I-“

“Would you like some coffee?” Vash quickly interrupts.

She moves to her cabinet, pulling down cups. As she pulls cream and sugar out of her kitchen, Anastasia crosses over to her.

“I think we should talk about this. This is the fourth time we’ve woken up in each other’s arms.”

“In my defense, last time I was gone by the time you woke up.” Vash mixes a splash of the cream into her coffee. She sniffs the aroma wafting out of the mug before taking a slow sip.

Across from her, the woman takes a few steps forward, taking a seat at the table just outside her kitchen.

“Am I a joke to you?”

Vash takes another sip, considering the question.

“I don’t do relationships. You know that.”

Anastasia shakes her head.

“No. You just sleep with one woman for weeks on end. You buy her things. You make her feel like the only woman in the world. That is, until she gets fed up with you and moves on.”

“It’s not like that Ana. You know I can’t-“

“Can’t what? Take me with you? You’ve been here for years. Why would you think you’d have to run this time?”

Vash remains silent. She’s had this conversation before. She’s explained how dangerous her job is many times over. But she couldn’t bring herself to fire her. And Ana couldn’t bring herself away.

Vash looks up, staring into the gorgeous green eyes of Anastasia. She remembers the feel of her skin. The contrast as their bodies mingled. The taste of her lips as they got out of the car…

Wait a minute. How did we get home last night?

“This is probably a good time for me to leave,” a deep voice sheepishly says.

Vash and Ana turn their heads in the direction of the man. Ryan sat up from the couch in the other room, visible over the kitchen counter, his presence made aware.

“No, no. I’ll leave,” Ana says. She stands and crosses to the door, grabbing her coat hanging next to it. “You two have a good day.”

She leaves with the door latching back into place.

“So… do you drink coffee, Mr. Shane?”

Ryan looks perplexed at the woman. He was probably sure she’d be upset at him for interrupting their very personal conversation. At the same time, his boss just offered him a drink, and he wasn’t sure if he should turn that down.

Vash takes the initiative and pours him a cup.

“Cream and sugar is on the counter.”

He stands and crosses to the kitchen. He was wearing a white, sleeveless undershirt and his suit pants from last night. For just waking up, he surprisingly didn’t look too disheveled.

“I figured you’d be mad at me,” he says, taking the offered mug. He takes a sip without adding anything to the drink.

“I would be, but you probably just bought me another week of not having to have that conversation.”

Ryan’s eyes go wide studying Vash. As she drinks her coffee, she notices him staring out of the corner of her eye.

“If you keep that up, I will be mad. And you’ll be out of a job.”

“Sorry!” he says and goes back to drinking his coffee. “I just, well, I didn’t know you were, uh, like that.”

Vash could feel her face get red, though not in embarrassment. If it weren’t for the fact she had used such good beans this morning, she might have thrown the mug on the ground.

“Like what, Mr. Shane?” the words were asked with venom.

Ryan could feel the tone shift and considered what he should say. Surely, he can’t say what he really meant.

“Nothing. I was dumb. I’m so sorry.”

Vash takes a deep breath.

“Thank you for getting us home last night. I assume it was late?”

“We left at four in the morning. Didn’t think I could make it home after dropping you off.”

“Then I’m glad you stayed the night. I’ve already invested money in you, and I can’t stand to see an investment die out of stupidity.”

She takes her last sip from her mug, looking out the window. As she sets her cup on the counter, she once again sees the card.

“Besides. I’m going to need you today. Those extra duties I mentioned start now.”

Neon Noir: The Third Beat

Detective Robert Howell was not the biggest supporter of prohibition when it was initially talked about. A few years in, and he sees its value. Now he’s made it his personal mission to uphold the new law, and bring in every bootlegger. He’s gained the nickname of “The Wolf” among the gangs in Capital City.

Robert and Selene Howell

The city’s heart burns Robert’s ears. Each note, each beat lands like a freight train on his head. It’s a different feeling. He normally needs the city to help him fall asleep, but tonight it’s just noise. Tonight, it’s a distraction.

“If you’re going to stay up, at least let me sleep,” Selene says next to him.

“What? I’m sleeping. You woke me up,” Robert lies.

His wife rolls over, out of the blankets, and pulls the chain on the table light, giving an orange glow to the rest of the room. She rolls back, her eyes still speckled with sleep.

“You’re fidgeting in the bed, dear.” She sits up in her place.
“Tell me what’s wrong.”

Robert slides up, sitting next to Selene. He looks over her face studying her features. It was slender, graceful, and bronze. Her brown hair fell perfectly on her shoulders. Her dark eyebrows framed her expression of concern, and it makes Robert wonder if he should tell her.

“My mind is just stuck on a case.”

“This that speakeasy no one can find?”

“Yeah. The big ones are a problem. But I’ll need more men and cash to take them on. This one though?”

It was in the middle of Old Town. You couldn’t find it unless you were told where to look. Rumor says it isn’t real, or that it’s Hell, run by the devil herself.

“There has to be something to it. I get word about more booze being brought in than you’d expect those fat cats to drink. Someone is sneaking it to the neighborhood.”

“Putting a lot of work in this one.” She slides back into spot on the bed.

Robert turns, hanging his feet off the side.

Maybe a walk will settle my nerves.

The phone rings. Neither of the two question it ringing in the middle of the night like this. Each wonders when the last time was.

Robert gets up from bed, and heads to the kitchen where the phone is still ringing. He sighs and answers it.

“What do you have for me?” his voice is deeper. Darker. It’s a tone that scared Selene.

She turned over in bed, trying to shut her ears to the conversation Robert was having. He’d come back, say it’s an emergency and take off. If she tried asking what it was about, he’d brush her off and just say it was work.

But none of the other spouses of detectives know anything about it.

He finished his conversation, calmly setting down the receiver. Selene heard his steps in the hall as he came back in the room.

“I have to go. It’s an emergency.”

Selene said nothing, watching her husband put on a quick shirt and trench coat. As he left, he grabbed his hat from the hook.

Selene heard the door shut and the key lock. She wasn’t one for crying, but felt the fear nearly overtake her.

I could follow him. I could find out once and for all.

The thought left her mind and she laid down, wrapping herself in blankets once again.

Robert Howell

The air was cool this night. Robert’s coat billowed in the wind.

A walk is just what I needed. I’m beat.

Five minutes outside, and he was wishing he was back in bed with Selene. But he couldn’t go home. Not yet.

The city’s lights cast their neon glow on the walls and sidewalk. Robert couldn’t imagine the kind of people still out right now, but he knew what they were doing.

Some would be night owls, working late jobs, and sleeping during the day. Then you’ve got the hotels, the plays and shows, and other businesses that might go this late.

But he knew most of them, potentially all of them, would end up at a club. And they’d be drinking.

Can’t remember the last time I arrested someone for being drunk in public.

To Robert, it was working. The people were better. He had his doubts at first, but he quickly changed his mind.

Prohibition had lit a flame in Robert, one that other officers quickly noticed. When he made detective, he thought he finally had everything he needed to win his war.

He quickly found out he was wrong.

“Psst, down here,” a quiet voice whispered out the alley.

Unless you were listening for it, you wouldn’t have noticed it. The city’s heart would be too loud. But Robert knew what he was there for.

He stepped down, following the whisper to the back end, a darkness blacker than night.

“Why’d you get me out of bed, Cuthburt? This better be good,” Robert’s voice was deeper, much like when he spoke on the phone earlier that night.

“Shh! Keep your voice down!” the young man whispered. He threw his hands over Robert’s mouth.

The detective grabbed the man’s hands and pulled them off.

“I’m being quiet enough. Unless you were followed. You wouldn’t do that, now would you, Jackie-boy?” Robert still wasn’t whispering, but he was noticeably quieter.

“That’s just it! I’m not sure!” his voice was frantic but quiet. He was still just barely speaking above the city’s heart.

Robert releases Jack’s hands.

“What did you do?”

The detective’s eyes were adjusting to the darkness back here. His thin friend was pacing back and forth, his hair a disheveled mess. This wasn’t exactly new; Jack Cuthburt was a mess. So why was he being so quiet.

“I don’t know! I don’t know.” He stops and takes a deep breath. “I was careful. You know me, I’m always careful. I don’t have a particular want to die.”

“You never should have had to worry about it. It was simple. Tail Francis and get out. Hell, I told ya you could leave early if you thought he would notice you at all.”

“And notice we did.”

The voice was a deep rumble coming from somewhere in the darkness. Robert’s eyes hadn’t fully adjusted as he kept looking around for its source.

A heavy hand is placed on his shoulder.

Not like this.

Robert quickly grabs the hand and tries to move it off him, but it grips his shoulder tight, sending excruciating pain through his arm.

Jack has already turned and started walking away.

You traitor!

The last thing Robert sees that night is darkness.

Neon Noir: The Second Beat

Vash has fought long and hard to own her night club. She stays ahead of the law, remains in the two families’ good graces, and keeps her suppliers happy with cash. But all that is a balancing act she needs to keep up.

Vashti Kianian

The piano walks down the lane as the drum sits on that high hat. After getting used to the groove, the piano changes up its rhythm, culminating in a blast from the horns.

Everyone but the piano drops out. Anastasia sings a soft refrain behind the curtain, giving this part of the song an ethereal feel. As she builds up her voice, the city’s heart starts to rev up, warping the sound in the club. Low horns add to the sound as everyone builds up to their moment.

Finally, the city’s heart starts up its beat as the horns play an upbeat tune and Anastasia reveals herself from behind the curtain. The crowd on the dance floor cheer as she starts to sing her siren song.

Vash watches with amusement as she sings. She picked a good song for tonight.

I’d swear, she can always tell just what the city’s heart is going to sing. Should make for a lively evening.

Not that it needs any help. Vash can’t remember when she last had a night like this.

This keeps up, I’m going to have the unenviable problem of running out of giggle juice.

While Vash would love nothing more than to sit there and admire Stasi’s voice the rest of the night, she has work to do. She gets up from her seat and takes a walk back to the bartender.

“We need more bottles, Vash!”

“Then open them.” The woman was annoyed.

“But, we’re already overbudget for the night.”

Vash crossed her arms, her dark eyes glaring straight through the young man.

“I will handle it. Open the bottles.

The bartender sputters, almost protesting when he’s cut off.

“We don’t get nights like this often. Make it count.”

Her voice left no room for protests.

“And don’t question me again.”

When did Billy get so mouthy? And why didn’t Levard have the guts to tell him to do it. I swear, there’s no such thing as good help anymore.

A young man entered the back of the bar. He was dressed in a new suit, hair cut short and tight. His broad shoulders made him stand out from the crowd.

Speaking of no good help.

Vash crossed the club to Ryan her sly smile speaking volumes.

“Mr. Shane, how does the skin feel?”

Ryan looked around his person.

“How’s the suit, babe?”

“Oh! It’s good. I think.”

Vash gives a laugh.

“Good? That is one of the finest suits you can get in this town. Come, we gotta talk a few things.”

Vash escorts Ryan through the crowd. They cross back to the bar. Just diagonal to it is a door. Vash pulls out her key and unlocks it, revealing her office.

As they enter, the sound of the city’s heart fades, just a bit. It’s still there, beating to the rhythm of some unknown music.

“Vash! Baby! Your night is looking real smooth! How do you do it?”

In her previously locked office and older man was sitting behind her desk. Vash looked surprised for but a moment, but quickly relaxed when she realized who it was.

“By the way, that’s an instance where it’d be best if you protect me,” she whispers behind her to Ryan

“Kegley! Why don’t you tell me how you seem to always get where ya don’t belong?” Vash enters the room proper as she speaks, Ryan close behind.

She heads on over to her own bar and begins pouring herself a drink.

“I might tell ya if you tell me where you get your fancy suits.” Mr. Kegley was eyeing Ryan and his new outfit.

Vash is very glad she chose to make herself a drink, as it’s the only thing keeping her from decking the old man.

“I tell ya and you’ll scare him off. Can’t have that. You know how many tailors are willing to make a quality suit for a lady like me?”

She crosses from her personal bar to the desk. She makes a gesture and Kegley moves from her seat. He instead crosses around and sits in the chair on the other side of the desk, though he does place his feet up on the desk top.

Vash sighs at her guest. Then she looks to Ryan and snaps at him, pointing to her side. Ryan gets the picture and stands next to his new boss.

“Now then, I know you, Kegs. You’re here for business. What do you need?”

Kegley smiles, his mouth missing a few ivories.

“Oh I just needed to let you in on a secret on my last shipment. Seems it was a little special. I won’t even ask ya to pay extra.”

“Special? What, you get sentimental on a booze run?”

Kegley leans back further in his chair and fishes a cigar from his jacket pocket.

“Naw, business is business. But before you run out, might wanna tell your bar boy that stuff is extra strength.”

Vash immediately taps her desk top, bringing a screen to life. She presses the vid button, and a new window opens, calling her manager.

Kegley laughs.

“I should been chargin’ ya extra for that but you know me. I’m a big ol’ softy for my Vash.”

“Like hell I care. I could have been charging extra for that stuff.”

The call connects, the face of a young, but slightly timid man on screen.

“Levard, tell Billy to charge double on all drinks.”

The manager looks surprised at the request.

“But Vash, if we go to 50 cents a drink, the customers may not like it.”

“We don’t and I won’t like it. That stuff is double strong.”

“Oh dear! I will tell him right away.”

“Thanks Levard.” Vash takes a second before adding,

“Tell him to make ’em weak too. Those animals are drunk enough as it is.”

“Of course.” Levard gives a bow as Vash ends the call.

She looks up at Kegley, smiling his self-satisfied smile.

“How did this happen?”

Kegley is chewing on the end of his cigar, surprisingly following Vash’s ‘no smoke’ rule.

He definitely wants something from me.

“My supplier got a few wires crossed. Made that stuff strong and didn’t even realize it. You still got plenty left?”

“Yeah. Not as much as I’d have liked, but I got some.”

“Don’t you ever say ol’ Kegs never did nothin’ for ya.”

Oh, I for certain would never say that.

“C’mon. Why the act? Just tell me what you want.”

Kegs grins a shit-eatin’ grin that makes Vash’s skin crawl. She can’t help but wonder what new hell he has in mind.

“Well, now that you mention it, one good deed deserves another, right?” He reaches back in his vest and pulls out a card.

“I’m here to arrange a meeting. Promised a nice payout if they could meet with you.”

Vash is hesitant. For a good payout for Kegs, and he might not look to close at the deal. He knows not to turn her in to the coppers, but she never credited him with being too bright beyond that.

“Why me?” She reaches out for the card, but Kegs pulls it back.

“Wouldn’t say. I can tell ya, it’s a skirt. Real pretty too. Maybe they just heard how much fun you can be.”

He hands it over to her. She flips it back and forth. It’s not like her cards that are embedded with a code. Just has a phone number written on it

“How much is the pay out?”

Kegs pauses, probably trying to calculate what number is low enough Vash won’t care but high enough she’ll believe.

“$200” he says. Vash rolls her eyes.

“They’re givin’ ya $500 just for a meetin’ with me?”

“I didn’t say-“

“But that’s what it is, right?”

He looks down, that smile finally gone from his face.

He didn’t ask any questions and has no idea if this might be dangerous, does he?

“Get me 10% and I’ll do it.”

Kegley almost looks angry at the implication.

“Now hold on, I got you a double proof batch no charge, and you want to-”

“Relax, Kegs. You’re still makin’ double your profit on that booze ya brought me with what remains. But if you want me to stick my neck on the line, you better be sure what we’re doin’.”

He sits there thinking for a minute. Kegs had the connections to do some rum running but there aren’t many who would credit him with the fastest brain in this city.

“Deal.”

Neon Noir: The First Beat


The year is 1927. Prohibition is in full effect. And Capital City has the most advanced tech available. The entire city seems to move to a beat, as the electronic hum bounces everyone about. But people are still people, and most people can’t be trusted.

Ryan Shane

This is it?

When Ryan was told to go to the Arcadia for a job, he was expecting something a little more impressive. But as he looked over the dilapidated building, he started having second thoughts.

I never should have come here.

As much as he wanted to turn away though, he couldn’t. The last few dollars he had in his pocket surely wouldn’t be enough for food for the rest of the week, let alone rent. What choice did he have but to ask this Lady Vash for a job?

Ryan walked around the building trying his best at finding the entrance. The door was as rundown as the rest of the wall, he walked past it three times. He held his breath and opened it, a dark hallway the only thing greeting him.

He wondered for a moment if the city’s heart would follow him down there. He always felt better when he could hear it. Even here in the hard part of town, the hum of electronics followed and moved him.

I guess I got nothin’ to lose.

The dark hallway turned a few times. Ryan worried it would be nothing more than a prank, that Abby was setting him up like this for a laugh. Why would a speakeasy be here? Weren’t they for the rich or the mob?

The hallway approached its end, a door illuminated in a silhouette of light greeting him. It seemed there really was something down here.

Ryan opened the door and was astounded to find the speakeasy was really here. Hell, it wasn’t just a bar, but a night club. Over on the stage, musicians tuned their instruments. But it seemed they were lacking an electro-player. Matter of fact, the walls didn’t have sound dampeners. The city’s heart throbbed down here. If Ryan weren’t sure it were crazy, it almost sounded louder down here.

The kid behind the bar noticed Ryan enter and stepped out.

“Hey, we ain’t open. Come back later.”

Ryan reached into his pocket and pulled out a small white card.

“I was invited. I’m looking for Lady Vash.”

The bartender took the card and looked it over.

“You’re gonna want to drop the ‘lady’ from her name. Wait here.”

He ran off to the back. Ryan stepped into the club, looking about. It was a good size, and looked fancy. Well, hard to say if it actually was fancy, or just felt that way after seeing the outside. I guess this made sense though. No one who didn’t know what they were looking for could find this place.

He took a seat to await his host. As he did he noticed the band had stopped tuning. A woman came out to the microphone, ready to sing. Were they going to play?

How can they play over the city’s heart?

The bass player and drummer seemed to be really still, as the rest of he band looked their way. Soon their heads were bouncing up and down to the beat of the city’s heart. Each hum of the tech surrounding them acted as an electro-drum beat.

The saxophone surprises by starting off. It wails out, singing its soulful mourn. As it comes to a crescendo, the rest of the small band joins. City’s heart acts as the electo player, the sound of a generator winds up, leading to the drum smashing into the bass. The horns blare out, announcing their arrival well.

Then whole mess staggers like a drunkard out into the night. They find their footing and fall back. The bass and drum walk together, really getting the groove going. The horns pop back in, joining the walk.

And then, she starts singing. Her voice carries over the sound of so many instruments and the singing of the city itself. For a verse or two, the saxophone player stops singing and joins her.

“We can’t afford an electro player.”

Ryan is brought to his senses at the sound of a woman’s voice right next to him.

“You pay for the electro player and you also have to pay to sound proof the whole place. But they do well with the heart.”

The woman wore a deep blue suit, expertly tailored and well pressed. She had a drink in one hand and her other in her pocket.

“Are you… Lady Vash?”

She pulled her hand from her pocket and extended it in a handshake.

“Call me Vash. Who sent you?”

He took her hand and gave it a slightly weak shake. He wasn’t entirely sure what was going on.

“My name is Ryan and-“

“I didn’t ask for your name. Who gave you the card?”

Ryan let go of her hand and studied her face and clothes. She was definitely a woman, but he couldn’t understand why she wore a suit instead of a dress. Her skin was darker than he was expecting, though nowhere near as dark as her hair. That was black as night, stretching halfway down her back.

Despite the suit, she still wore heels that gave her an extra few inches in height. Between those, her hair, and the fact the suit was tailored to her body, it was clear she wasn’t trying to hide that she was a woman.

“The card. I don’t have all day.”

“Yes! Right. My friend Abby gave it to me. She’s a waitress at a diner downtown. I mentioned I was looking for a job and she recommended me to you.”

Vash looked over the young man, a look of confusion spreading across her face.

“Abby, huh? How did a mook like you bag a girl like Abby?”

Ryan furrowed his brow, not sure right away what she was implying. He figured it out though.

“Oh! She and I aren’t together or anything. Just old friends.”

“Thank goodness. I love having her on call for some fun nights.”

Ryan furrowed his brow a second time in as many moments. This time he didn’t pick up on what she was implying.

“So, Ryan. Why can’t you find a job? If someone else won’t take ya, why should I?” Vash takes a seat in the chair across from the young man.

“I, um, I’m not sure. Abby implied it’d be something physical. She was asking about my time in the army.”

Vash gets a twinkle in her eye. If Ryan weren’t looking as carefully as he was, he might not have noticed it.

“Army boy? I guess Abby knows what to look out for. I need someone new for security.”

Ryan’s eyes widen. He had assumed this would be peeling potatoes or washing dishes or something.

“Security? Me? I don’t think- I should maybe go.”

He gets up from his chair.

“Pay is one-hundred bucks a week.”

He stops.

“You can’t be serious.”

“Oh honey, I’m very serious. But it’s an intensive job. During club hours, you bounce anyone acting up. Anyone too sauced. Out of club hours, every so often, I’ll need you to be my personal bodyguard.”

The job was a mixed bag. On one hand, the pay was amazing, and the club job should be easy enough. It was the personal part he worried about.

A gig is a gig.

“I’ll do it.”

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