“He’s in again.” Green sparks cascaded from the cocktail shaker as Strange expertly spun it into the air and caught it in his left hand.
“What?” De Lancey was watching the group of young people who had just come in and his head was full of ideas for the night’s set.
“Old misery-guts in the corner.” Strange gestured with the shaker before unscrewing the lid and pouring the contents into a frosted glass. He pushed the drink across the bar. “Just bloody sits there on his own all night. Every time. I’m surprised you haven’t managed to get through to him yet. Losing your touch?”
De Lancey looked over to the table Strange had indicated and sure enough the blond haired man was sitting in his usual place, leaning back with his eyes closed and his hand curled round a half-full whisky glass.
At first, he had been worried that the man was some kind of undercover cop who had managed to get past the advanced biometric identification system. Most, if not all, of the new people who came to the club were guests of existing members and anybody who wanted to achieve that sought-after status themselves had to undergo a very thorough vetting before they were added to the list.
He remembered the first time he’d been brought here, his friend Bella leading him through the city’s hidden alleys, insisting that the place she was taking him was like nowhere he’d ever been before and that he’d never want to go anywhere else once he had experienced it.
Of course he had mocked her, assuming she’d just discovered yet another dodgy underground club where his ears would be assaulted by a barrage of sound that the bright young things would tell him was the next wave in music and he would be expected to sample the latest designer drugs.
He recalled the surprise he had felt when a panel beside the unremarkable door had opened to reveal a fingerprint reader and an iris scanner and the amusement on Bella’s face as she had held the door open and ushered him in.
So to see someone he didn’t recognise turning up alone several nights in a row and looking for all the world like he was trying his best to avoid having a good time rang some serious alarm bells. But the man didn’t look like police - if anything, he had a military bearing - and besides, an undercover operative would surely do a much better job of blending in.
Not that it would have mattered. The drug squad could deploy all the tests at their disposal and they would never find any illicit substances in the drinks that Strange prepared for the Windmill’s elite clientele.
It was not that kind of place.
Nevertheless, De Lancey had pointed the man out to Wellesley, just to be on the safe side, and the club’s owner had simply glanced at the monitor in his office and said “That’s Major Grant. He’s a friend of mine,” in a tone with a distinct undercurrent of that’s all you need to know. Leave it alone.
Of course, De Lancey being De Lancey, this had only served to pique his curiosity and the man had become a puzzle that had to be solved.
“It would help if you could persuade him to drink something other than neat whisky,” he complained, “at least give me a way in. I don’t know why he even comes here if that’s all he wants. He looks the type who’d be more at home in a local pub anyway.”
Strange sighed. “I’ve tried. Told him what we could offer him. Thought he might appreciate a shot of Bliss or Chill The Fuck Out, but he’s just not interested.” He shrugged, “each to their own I suppose,” and turned his attention to the young couple draped over each other at the end of the bar.
De Lancey picked up the glass and made his way over to his booth in the corner of the room.
That first night, it had soon become clear that Bella had an ulterior motive in bringing him here. With Strange and Wellesley watching from behind the bar, she had shown him the mysterious box with its arcane symbols and opened it to reveal a curtain of sparkling lights that hung in the air and chimed discordantly when she ran her hand through them. She had told him they thought it was some kind of instrument but nobody had been able to work it out and asked if he would like to have a go, knowing full well that he couldn’t resist a challenge.
As soon as he touched it, he knew he could never go back to nights of spinning the decks at the old club, days spent hunched over the keyboards in his flat, making music that nobody would ever hear. All he had to do here was imagine the notes in his head and move his hands through the river of light and it was as if the glowing threads themselves knew his mind and translated his thoughts and feelings into haunting melodies or joyful airs.
Bella had beamed, “I told you he could do it,” and Wellesley had nodded his approval and asked if he wanted a residency. Which was just as well. If he hadn’t been offered the job on the spot, he would have probably refused to leave until they let him take the damn thing home with him.
It was the drink as well of course - the one that Strange, with his mysterious ability to imbue a beverage with uncanny properties, had designed specifically for him. Empathy, he called it. The magical elixir that enhanced his natural abilities and allowed him to connect with others who had sampled the mixologist’s potions on a level he had not thought possible. To sense what they were feeling and what they needed and channel those desires through his fingertips, turning them into a symphony of almost unbearable beauty.
De Lancey downed the shimmering green liquid in one go and cracked his knuckles as the ambient music faded out. The young crowd he had been watching earlier were looking in his direction with an air of excitement and anticipation so he decided to focus on them first. What was it Strange had given them? His mind reached out and he grinned as he felt the connections between them expanding like the ripples from a stone thrown into a lake. Ah, Harmony, of course.
His fingers caressed the air and he savoured the reaction as the first few notes filled the room. Every time was different, every time like the first time, no matter how often he opened the box. The music was composed by the people in the room, by their fears, their passions, their hopes and dreams. The permutations were endless and there was always a new creation waiting to emerge.
If anyone asked what he did, he still said he was a DJ at a club, but those who came to the Windmill knew him as an artist, a musician, a storyteller, a weaver of dreams and soother of broken hearts. They gravitated to the club because something was missing from their lives and De Lancey’s music filled their souls with something they knew they needed but could not name.
All the chatter in the room stopped as his audience turned, entranced. He sensed the mood shift as they let themselves sink into the music and responded with a vibrant arpeggio that sent purple flashes bouncing from the mirrors on the walls and created stunning interference patterns in the focal point at the centre of the room.
He stood with his eyes closed, hands guided by instinct alone as they moved through the shimmering cascade of light, completing the circle with the group and feeling their love for each other flow through his veins.
Suddenly, he sensed a discordant note in the room. Scanning the crowd for the source of the disturbance, he caught sight of two men facing off against each other over a table in the far corner. He recognised one of them as Fitz Somerset, a long standing member who had never caused any trouble, but the other was unknown to him.
Dragging his focus away from the others, he slowed the tempo, be calm, and threw in a couple of minor chords, this is not the way you want to feel, to counteract the rush of adrenaline he could smell in the air.
Somerset paused and looked around but the other man just seemed to become more agitated.
De Lancey frowned. He could usually diffuse a situation like this with ease and Wellesley relied on him to deal with such matters discretely, hating to disturb the atmosphere in the club by sending in the heavies unless it was absolutely necessary.
He looked over at Strange who just shrugged and shook his head, I didn’t give them anything.
Fuck. No wonder he was finding it hard to connect. A sheen of sweat broke out on his brow as he struggled to find the key that would resonate with their higher emotions and dissipate the tension. He could feel his own frustration building and the last thing he wanted to do was let it seep into the soundscape and affect the other patrons, who had so far remained oblivious to the scene developing in that corner of the room.
Or at least he thought they had, until Grant appeared at Somerset’s shoulder, seemingly out of nowhere, and reached out to take a firm hold of the other man’s arm. He leant forward and whispered something that De Lancey could not make out and the man just stopped and stared.
De Lancey felt all the fight go out of the stranger as he turned back to Somerset and held out his hand in a gesture of apology and supplication. He wiped his forehead and took a deep breath, a puzzled frown crossing his brow. Whatever Grant had said had done the job and he was grateful that the situation was under control but now he was even more intrigued about the mysterious major and his place in Wellesley’s plans.
Grant walked slowly across the room, giving a small nod as he passed the booth. He eased himself back into his chair and took a long sip of his whisky. His expression was as inscrutable as ever.