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For a Song

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“I’m giving the Raven to you.” — Janette, “The Human Factor”
“Sold me the club for a song.” — Lacroix, “Black Buddha”

Lacroix felt the affectedness of Janette's indifference. She thrummed with concern even as she glanced idly over the empty dance floor. She did not watch him page through the ledger and legal documents that she had brought, but of course she had no need; he knew that every line and figure of the deed was etched on her heart as on her mind. Janette had caused chairs to be set for them at the bar, an infrequent supplement to her club’s furnishings. His club’s, soon enough — and that was a complication he had not sought.

Lacroix pulled a card from his wallet and handed it to her. “Have your solicitor and accountant arrange the details with mine. Or is that now part of Aristotle’s service?”

“I wanted to settle the Raven’s fate myself.” Janette pressed her lips together. “You know how Aristotle fusses when you have too much ... baggage.”

“Indeed. It would be inconvenient to arrive one evening and find the club bulldozed, the better to hide your trail.”

“I doubt that he would go that far.” Janette smiled. “He’s a customer, too.”

Every vampire in Ontario except Nicholas was a customer, Lacroix suspected, turning again to the sheaf of paperwork. Janette wielded more power, and shouldered more responsibility, than he had bothered to observe. Busy pursuing his wavering Nicholas, Lacroix had taken for granted his constant Janette. It was not the first time that he had failed to value her company until she proposed to deprive him of it.

Lacroix knotted off the metaphysical threads connecting them and kept his emotions to himself.

“I suppose Aristotle has learned the hard way to insist on his rules of relocation,” Janette said. “When your time comes to move on, your memories press in so thick, so dense, that you could suffocate in them if you don’t get away ... and yet they sing to you.”

“Like sirens, as I recall.” Lacroix set the ledger on top of the other documents and met Janette’s eyes. She had not even picked up her own goblet since she had filled his with her very best. He could see that she was already half gone, even now on her way to the new life that would lift her out of the doubts an unwitting Nicholas had woven around her. Oh, Nicholas. “I take it that a particular memory is pressing you?”

Janette pursed her lips, turned and called to her bartender. The lean, craggy man pulled a leather case from a cabinet and set it before them on the bar. At a nod from Janette, he walked away, announcing the last call to lingering patrons.

“Your most recent was lost after the ... fire at Nicholas’s, no?” Janette opened the case to reveal a three-stringed instrument carved from a solid block of wood. Its curved bow nestled next to it, echoing the long, narrow sweep. “I engaged a master luthier for a replacement.”

Lacroix arched an eyebrow. Then he picked up the rebec so obviously intended for him. If it were a bribe to camouflage the burden of taking over the Raven, he entirely approved. Lacroix tapped the bowl, tested the strings and fell head-first into memory. Janette had been his sole companion the first time that he had encountered a bowed instrument. Its voice had enthralled him. After draining a few musicians, Lacroix had settled down to the slow, demanding — but, unlike blood-knowledge, enduring — traditional method of obtaining mastery himself. The rebec had been a noble’s indulgence then, associated with King David and depicted in the hands of angels, until the violin came into its own, sinking its predecessor to the depths of tavern players and dancing masters.

“When I think how much the club pays in royalties for recordings every month,” Janette rolled her eyes, “it’s curious how people still say ‘sold for a song’ to mean a bargain, just as we did when singing was the one entertainment freely available to even the meanest serf.”

Lacroix raised the bow. “I remember more than one song purchasing something dear.”

“Do you remember the first time, after Nicolas joined us, that I moved on by myself?” Janette stepped down from her chair and removed her leather blazer, revealing a black dress that swayed and swirled from neck to toe as she moved. “Leaving the two of you in Córdoba?”

Lacroix met her hungry eyes and realized that he was being soothed. Steered. Swayed. This memory, this gift, the very way that Janette had revealed her motivation for moving on — what he, Lacroix, feared the most, she had said — all strove to point his thoughts where she wanted them, to start a chain reaction that would continue influencing events long after she was gone. He was not what she desired; he was merely in her way. Another time, another age, he would have broken every bone in her body for daring to manipulate him. For the moment, he found himself amused at his pride in her success.

Oh, yes, it would indeed be best to separate her from Nicholas for a while.

“I remember,” he answered at last. "I remember how we said goodbye." He began to play. The strings sang sweetly under his bow.

On the vacant floor, Janette danced. She unfurled the informal steps of a distant ancestor of el baile flamenco, curving her arms close around her head and body as she improvised a physical counterpoint to Lacroix’s melody. In her movements, Lacroix saw the past and the future that he knew she wanted him to see.

He closed his eyes and played on.

— end —