So here we are, my fifth and final (for now) short story set in the fictional world of the Modern Realms. We're back to a more noir feel again this time round. I hope you've enjoyed my efforts and if these stories generate further interest, I'm sure we'll be seeing more from these characters and this world very soon.
I feel the artwork is a little ropey on this one due to switching computers and the newer version of my software being laggy since the switch. Tried my best to keep it consistent.
As always, feedback and questions can be directed in the comment's below, or my tumblr or deviantart. All characters and world concepts are copyright Jack Harvey (I.E me). Most of all I hope you continue to enjoyed it all.
Hope Never Sleeps
A Quentin Wilde Story
By Jack Harvey
Dawn had broken over Gulf City. Such was it's beauty that this very country had been christened after it, New Dawn. Quentin fastened his shirt and was beginning to wax his magnificent handlebar moustache.
“Why so early?” the young man in his bed had asked.
“Why not?” Quentin had responded cheerfully. “The day is so full of potential. Why waste it by lying around in bed?”
“Well, it's not wasted if your lying around in bed with someone.”
Quentin gave a brief laugh. Most of the men he'd known were only in it for the money. An opportunity for some 'old queer, show biz has been to pay for their food and drinks for the night, and all they had to do in return was make the old man feel like he was twenty-two again. Quentin had seen it so many times he had developed a sixth sense for them. He avoided it like the plague.
Not like this young man though, this Dean Hanson. He was genuinely star struck when his eyes first fell upon the Avalonian singer. The two had hit it off from the get go, Dean's intense knowledge of the music industry made for fascinating conversation, and he didn't bore Quentin with the usual questions fans had asked one million times before.
“Get up,” Quentin slapped Deans shoulder playfully. “Life isn't a fairy tale.”
“Awww.” Dean groaned. “Fine. I can use your shower right?”
“Well I'm hardly going to say no am I?” Quentin responded, picking up the newspaper that had been slipped under the door.
Room service had brought up breakfast. Quentin slipped the server a wad of notes as a 'tip'. He was a large Orc by the name of Grobnar, whom many would presume would be too dumb to conclude why Dean was even there, but Quentin had learned long ago never to underestimate Orcs, and if you showed them loyalty then they would reciprocate in kind.
It was over scrambled eggs that Dean surprised Quenin with a question.
“You ever been in love Quentin?
He paused for a moment. Cleared his throat.
“What makes you ask?”
“Just curious. It's hard finding someone when it comes to... people of our persuasion.”
“Once,” Quentin nodded. “A long time ago.”
“That was back in Avalon right? During your time in the national service?”
Quentin smiled evasively. “Close enough. What about you?”
“A guy back home in Mithrilham. We were at school together.”
“Then where is he now?”
Dean laughed. “What was I supposed to do? Shack up with him? He was dependant on taking over his dads repair shop, if he had found out... and me, I flunked every class in school, what was I supposed to offer him.”
“And so you came to Gulf City. To make your fortune I imagine. I've heard that before.”
“That wasn't it. I just... I knew Gulf City was somewhere where someone like me could just bleed into the background. There's a lot of big faces, someone like me won't draw attention to themselves.”
Quentin took a sip of tea. He nodded again. “I understand.”
They finished breakfast in silence and the two parted. Quentin knew better than to offer Dean money. It would dirty their relationship, make it feel wrong. Dean probably would have refused anyway. Quentin said he would call him and to leave any messages with Carol the hotel receptionist if he had to contact him urgently.
Alone now, Quentin went to his clothes drawer to pick out his tie for today. Maybe the red silk? No, the navy blue would be better, he was meeting the legendary Thomas Bygraves later, and Thomas always complained when Quentin dressed too colourful. Then again, he was in the mood for winding Thomas up.
Quenin heard something slip under his door. Strange, he thought, the papers had already been delivered. He walked over and noticed it was a large brown envelope.
Quenin opened it. When he saw what it contained he seethed with rage. He wanted to tear it up, to burn it all, but knew that wouldn't solve anything. The envelope contained a note, a time, a place of meeting. Thomas Bygraves would have to wait.
The diner was a scruffy little place on the outskirts of the city. It wasn't bad by any means but there was a reason Quentin never set foot in a place like this. He dressed down in a boring brown coat. His mysterious adversary had wanted to keep things low key, so the last thing he wanted was people hassling him for autographs.
Gaudy pop music played on the jukebox. Some bubblegum sweet nonsense by a singer barely old enough to string together a tune. That being said, Quentin knew that artists like he and Thomas' days were numbered. One could only be in the limelight for so long.
The young man was sitting in the booth at the end of the room. He dressed smart, but was an ill fit for his suit and tie. He had sickly yellowing skin, possibly earth born, or maybe he just had a bad complexion.
Quentin sat. He slapped down the heavy envelope.
“You found the place alright then? Don't expect a big shot like you would frequent a place like this.” He said with faux concern.
Quentin was about to get down to business, but they were suddenly interrupted by a hostess.
“Can I get you guys anything?”
“Coffee, black.” The man said.
“Tea please. Hot if you would.” Responded Quentin without looking at her. “Milk. One sugar.”
“Can I get you anything to eat? Pie maybe?”
“No thank you.” The two men said in unison.
“Oh-kay” Said the server, a little weirded out. “I'll be right back.”
There was silence for a moment. The man had a subtle but clearly vindictive grin on his face.
Quentin didn't wait for introductions. “Look, let's not beat around the bush here. You have pictures of me in a compromising position with a young man. To be frank I honestly don't care if you plaster my naked body all over the city, but this young man doesn't deserve to be dragged into it. For his sake, and his alone is my only reason to be here.”
“What makes you think he wasn't in on it?” The man asked. “What makes you think we hadn't set this whole thing up together?”
Quentin retrieved a cigarette and it's holder. He lit it, and balanced it between his lips casually. “I had considered that, but no. I've had enough men pretend in an attempt to get something out of me. I'd have seen it a mile away. Besides, if he was, you would have either told me, or not brought it up. Instead you posited that ridiculous question, which only goes to prove that he's not part of the equation.”
The man was clearly discomforted by Quentin's confidence. He had probably hoped that Quentin would come grovelling. A shamed beast. Instead he could tell he was just a beat away from losing his chance.
“Listen old man, you can pretend you don't care, but if this gets to the press then your career is over. You think your audience of screaming girls is gonna' stick around when they find out you're a fag?”
Quentin didn't say anything at first, instead breathing out a steady stream of smoke. “They call cigarettes fags back home you know?”
The man shook his head in confusion, failing to understand what Quentin was getting at.
The hostess brought over their drinks. Only Quentin gave her a thank you. He could tell she knew who he was, but she didn't say anything, likely in fear of the intense frustration that was radiating from the other man now.
“What is it you want?” Quentin simply asked.
“I don't have five million.”
“Then find it.”
Quentin laughed. “What am I supposed to do? Rob a bank?”
“I don't know. Ask some of your showbiz friends, they can front it for you. I know you're pally with that Thomas Bygraves.”
Quentin laughed again. “He's practically bankrupt. I think you've chosen the wrong mark here my dear chap.”
“Look, I don't care what you do, or how you get it. You don't want these pictures leaked, you wouldn't have come here if you did. Maybe it doesn't matter to you if your fans find out what you really are but It'll be embarrassing all the same.”
“What I really am?” Quentin mirrored, his smile leaving his face “You have no idea what I am.”
“Just get the money,” the man stood. “Be here tomorrow, with at least half, preferably all.” He began to walk away, then paused saying “You can pick up the tab,” as if it was the cleverest thing in the world.
Quentin took out his wallet and dropped a few notes on the table as payment. He waited patiently for the man to disappear out of sight.
When he was sure the man had gone he stood and gazed out the window. An inconspicuous black car pulled into view, and the driver side window wound down. A sinister looking blue skinned lizard man in a fedora looked over at Quentin. He nodded, then wound up the window and drove off.
Quentin walked over to a payphone that was near the table and pushed in a few coins. He dialled the number of the hotel he was resident at.
“Carol. It's me. Just letting you know that Sidnar's going to be dropping by with some information for me. Have it ready when I get back from a few drinks with Thomas.”
“Sure thing Mr Wilde,” She said pleasantly. “Is it blackmail again?”
“It is. I don't know what it is about this time of year. Maybe they're all getting their tax returns in and finding out they had a bigger bill than usual.” He sighed.
“I'll have it all ready for you when you get here. Anything else?”
“Make sure my laundry is picked up from the dry cleaners.”
“I'll let Grobnar know. It'll be folded and in your room when you get back.”
“Thanks Carol. See you in a bit.”
“See you later Mr Wilde.”
Quentin put the phone down and made to leave. On his way out, the hostess that had been serving them smiled. He smiled back.
“You're him aren’t you?”
“I am,” he said. “Autograph?”
Quentin had returned to the hotel by late afternoon. He was a little light headed due to one too many cocktails with his old friend. In an optimistic mood, he approached Carol at reception. Good, he thought, her colleagues had all clocked off. They could speak in privacy.
“Afternoon Mr Wilde,” she said cordially.
“Carol,” Quentin nodded, “You have something for me?”
She ducked under the oversized desk. Half way down, Quentin stopped her.
“It's alright Carol, you might as well just tell me. I know you read through all of my messages.”
“Oh, Mr Wilde,” she said, panicked. “It's not like that I just...”
“It's alright,” he repeated and leaned forward to slip some notes into her blazer pocket. “I trust you. What is it that Sidnar found out?”
Carol looked around to make sure there were no eavesdroppers. She then leaned forward and lowered her voice. “His name is Michael Herbert. Lives out on the east side. Apparently he's no stranger to schemes like this. He regularly hits the strip to try and catch big names in compromising positions. He's made a little money off of it but never really had a big payday. Don't know what drew him to you Mr Wilde.”
“Could have just been instinct or luck I suppose. You have an address?”
She handed the message from Sidnar over. “Mr Tlaloc will be picking you up at Eleven Mr Wilde. Will that be sufficient?”
“Perfectly. I take it Sidnar is confident Mr Herbert will be home at the time?”
“That seems likely.”
“Good. My laundry is ready?”
“Waiting for you in your room.”
“Good,” Quentin leaned forwards and put a friendly hand on her shoulder. “Thanks Carol, I don't know what I'd do without you.”
“Thank you Mr Wilde.”
Quentin smiled and proceeded to walk to the elevators.
The robe waited for him in his room. It was folded amongst shirts and jumpers, and other formal wear. Inconspicuous. Nobody at the laundrette would give it a second thought. That was intentional. It was not in the robe's nature to draw attention to itself if it's owner didn't want it to.
Calmly, Quentin loosened his tie. Undone his shirt and dropped his trousers. He switched his underwear for a pair of longjohns. The robes were loose, could get doughty, and Gulf City was hardly warm this time of year.
There was magic in the fabric, that was the robe's secret. Once, long ago, the realms had wondered why Quentin's people were as powerful as they were. The secret was that a person could only hold so much sway over magic. The brain and the heart could only handle so much power. Fabric, however, could be weaved with power ten times that a man could handle. It was like a battery, in a way, charging up the user with the power of three thousand suns.
He slipped the robes on and felt that power. It was subtle, but noticeable. It was as if you had just been hit with ten espressos, or jumped into a pool of ice cold water. It was a wake up call.
Quentin looked at himself in the mirror, reminding himself that there was a reason he couldn't wear the robes in public any more. It was a shame.
Quietly, he chanted. “Invisibilium.”
He slipped out of the door, nary casting a shadow. Sidnar would know where to find him.
Sidnar's eyes lingered on Quentin a little while. He looked different when he wore the robes. There was a wrongness about him, but also a clarity. It was as if he had been painted by oils when all the realm was watercolour.
“Is he in?” Quentin asked from the passenger seat.
“He is,” the lizardman said in a gravelly voice, opening the car door and returning to the driver's seat. “Apartment 104.”
“Well then. I suppose I'd better get this over with.”
“Are you sure you don't want me to be there?” Sidnar asked, pulling out a snub-nosed revolver. “For backup.”
“Not necessary, as you well know.” Quentin opened the car door and made to exit. “I appreciate the sentiment, but the less you know, the less you have to worry about old friend.”
“As you wish.”
“I'm sure you need no reminding,” Quentin said, handing over a wad of notes wrapped in a brown paper bag. “This did not happen. I was not here.”
Sidnar nodded without comment and pocketed the payment.
Quentin turned towards the run down apartment block. It's faded lights glowed a bilious orange through it's dirty curtains. Apparently Michael Herbert had accrued numerous gambling debts and was looking for an easy way for some fast cash. He got greedy.
Quentin played back the day's events in his mind. He wondered, in actual fact, if it wasn't just pride that prevented him from paying up. After all, money had already changed hands between Grobnar, Carol and Sidnar. Was paying for their own silence really that much different? Would they show the same loyalty if he didn't have a penny to his name?
These were questions for another time, Quentin concluded. It wasn't just his own good name that was at stake here. In the cool twilight hours he glided across the street, his long robe dragging itself through cigarette butts and oil stains.
He slid through the door, ascended the stairs without making a sound, and quickly located Herbert's room. The door had dog claw scratches on it, and one of the numbers was snapped in half.
He was still tough for a man of his age. Quentin could have kicked down the door if he had wanted to, but he preferred the subtle approach. His hand hovered over the door handle and he whispered.
The lock clicked and he slid it open silently.
The room was still dimly illuminated. Old film posters peeled off the walls and a layer of dust gave the whole place the feeling of a crypt. The furniture was brown and stained with nicotine. Empty bottles of beer mingled with showbiz gossip magazines. Herbert liked to do his research in his off hours it would appear.
Herbert himself was passed out on a recliner. It was the cleanest piece of furniture in the room. Quentin had an unfortunate view of Herbert's yellowing teeth.
Time to end this. Quentin grabbed Herbert by the collar, shacking him awake. The young man was confused at first, but then his eyes widened when he recognised Quentin.
“Hello Michael,” Quentin smiled in mock sincerity.
Herbert wasn't given time to formulate a response. With superhuman strength Quentin picked him up and threw him across the room.
Herbert crashed face first into a mostly empty bookcase. His nose broke and his skin split. Blood gushed out of his battered face. That wasn't yet enough for Quenin though. He grabbed Herbert again and began punching him, using good old fashioned brawn this time.
Herbert pushed him away with surprising strength, and made to run across the room. Quentin threw forward an outstretched hand and three blades materialised and pinned Herbert to the wall. The young man was quick, and didn't panic. He ripped his shirt and trousers to free himself and ran for a nearby desk.
Quentin was readying another torrent of torments when he noticed Herbert pull out a gun. To his relief, the man didn't fire.
“Yeah,” the bloody Michael Herbert said, rising to his feet. “You don't like fucking guns do you? Fucking spell casters. Think you can beat the truth out of me? I ain't telling you where those pictures are. They're fucking going to the press after this bullshit.”
“My dear boy, I'm not worried about the pictures,” Quentin raised his hand defensively in an effort to placate Herbert's trigger finger. “This isn't an interrogation.”
He thrust one of his hands forwards and pain shot though Herbert's body. The man winced in agony. Quenin thrust his second hand forwards and Herbert's gun rusted and dissolved into dust.
He lunged at Herbert, punched him twice and then threw him into the nearby bathroom. Herbert fell to his feet, and Quenin grabbed the man's head and smacked it against the toilet. To add insult to injury, he shoved Herbert's head into the toilet bowl and flushed.
When Herbert had stopped struggling he let the man go. Calmly, Quentin rose to his feet and took out his cigarette holder, lighting a fresh one up. He took smooth slow breaths of it as Herbert gasped desperately for air.
“If you kill me you'll never find those pictures!” He shot, still full of rage and haterd.
Quentin smirked. “I don't need to find the pictures. Like I said, this wasn't an interrogation. It's not a silencing either. Giving you a good hiding was just for my own personal satisfaction.”
“Turn you on does it faggot?”
Quentin shook his head. As if everything he did somehow had to come back to sex. “My dear boy, what I get up to in the privacy of my own home is far from the greatest secret I hide. Funny that you should get so close to it and be denied so.” He contemplated giving Herbert another beating for his troubles, but that would have been a little excessive. Quentin pulled his now used cigarette out of it's holder and stubbed it out in the bathroom's sink. “Like I said. I don't need to find those pictures. I just need to make sure that everyone forgets they ever existed.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
Quentin put his palm over the man's eyes, and chanted softly.“Oblivisci.”
Herbert was quiet for a while.
When he opened his eyes again he looked around at the chaos in the room. Confused, he looked up at Quentin. He didn't recognise the man.
“Hello my dear chap. Are you alight?”
Herbert still didn't say anything at first. He looked around again. “Where am I? Who are you?”
“You're home.” Quentin said in a comforting tone. He put a friendly hand on Herbert's arm “I'm just a concerned citizen who found you a little worse for wear after one too many drinks.”
“Fuck I feel terrible. Is this blood?”
“You got into a fight with a few vagrants. That's when I found you. I managed to warn them off and helped you get home. You made a bit of a mess as you can see.” Quentin waved an arm at the main room. “Brought you in here to clean yourself up and you passed out on the floor.”
“Fuck that must have been one hell of a night. Could you believe I can't remember a thing?”
“Believe me,” Quentin said, “from what I saw, you wouldn't want to remember it.”
Quentin had called for Dean two days later. It was the earliest he could permit a meeting as he and Thomas Bygraves had had business out of town to attend to. He asked that they meet in the hotel car park instead of the usual place. Dean sounded worried, but Quentin assured him it was nothing to be concerned about. Quentin waited for about half an hour for him to show.
“Dean,” Quentin nodded, forgoing the usual formalities. “I take it you have an inkling as to what this is about?”
“I do,” he said, a little upset. “This is is isn't it? The goodbye.”
“Dean,” He put his hand on the young man's shoulder as he had done to so many over the last few days. “I will always value the time we spent together, truly, but things like this were never meant to last forever. You told me you were in love once. I can't get in the way of that.”
“I told you that was never going to happen.”
“Maybe not but...” Quentin pulled out a brown paper bag, it was obvious what it contained.
“Oh no,” Dean shook his head sharply, offended. “You're not going to buy me off. No way.” He pushed away Quentin's arm.
“I'm not buying you off Dean. Call it a parting gift. Events in this world are moving faster than I anticipated. I'll be leaving Gulf City soon. You should too.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“I don't know. Buy your friend's father’s garage. Be a silent partner. There's enough in here that you'd never have to worry about supporting yourselves.”
“People would figure something was up.”
“Maybe. But you won't have to hide forever Dean. The realms are changing, and they're changing quicker than some people realize. Soon a day will come where people like us won't have to hide at all.”
“How can you think that?” Dean asked, sceptical at Quentin's optimism.
“Because I'm old Dean. I've seen history unfold, and the one thing I’ve learned from watching is that hate is a finite resource. It can only burn for so long until it runs out of fuel, but more often than not the rain will just wash it all away.”
Dean couldn't quite understand the intricacies of what Quentin was getting at, but he could understand the importance of what he was saying. Dean begrudgingly accepted the money.
The hugged affectionately for the final time and didn't say a further word. As he left, Dean looked over his shoulder a few times, perhaps wondering if Quentin would change his mind.
Quentin didn't. Instead he unlocked the door to his roadster, and put the keys in the ignition, ready to drive off into what he hoped was the beginning of a new world.
Copyright Jack Harvey 2014