Prologue: Rent Money.   Posted by Bartender.Group: 0
Bartender
 GM, 14 posts
Mon 8 Mar 2021
at 00:02
Prologue: Rent Money
The case seems simple enough.  Lonely housewife, cheating husband.  Simple is good though.  Simple pays the bills, and there's no shortage of those.

Sawyer had followed the mark in, and seen him enter a room in the back of the clip joint with a who had stood up as soon as he entered.  It had been a brief glance, but enough to show it was a small room, six by six if he was generous, with a semi-circular couch.  The type of room for smoke-filled meeting...Or affairs.  No other points of egress.  There was a problem with that...What was the problem?  It felt like a fog on his thoughts, slowing them.  Had he drank too much already?  He'd had...no more than-

The bartender's eyes flick to Sawyer, interrupting his thoughts.  Smoothly, the bartender's eyes continue scanning the clientele at the bar, then drop back to the glass he's cleaning.  Sawyer in turn eyes the other patrons.  The Cotton Club is upscale, that's for sure, and even in his best, he can't help but feel that he stands out amongst the upper crust.  But that's not the problem...Someone should clean up all the empty glasses here.  That seems
...related to the problem?

The detective continues nursing a drink.  It was his first since he'd entered, and the way the bartender kept glancing in his direction, it would need a friend soon, or he'd find himself out on the street. That was part of the problem, but not the core.

Onstage, a too-smiling crooner is singing a too-smiling tune.
  "If you're running low, you know where to go,
  Let's feel alive; I'm jumpin' jive
  If you need a lift, I'm the cat with the gift
  I'm heart and soul, I'm cool Creole...
"

If that prissy singer had ever been south of the Mason-Dixon, Sawyer would eat his hat.  That's a nuisance...But not the problem.  Idly, he moves another empty glass away.  The bar is not crowded; he's uncertain how they keep winding up next to him.  He takes another sip of his own.

The mark would have to exit soon.  Even if this tryst is the stuff of legends, he can't last that long.

Ah.

Yes.

The problem.

The problem is that no matter what his watch says, Sawyer can feel it.  He's been here for at least 10 hours.  Maybe more.

Right.

That's the problem.

And it's the third time he's figured it out.
John Sawyer
 player, 4 posts
Tue 9 Mar 2021
at 04:33
Prologue: Rent Money
In reply to Bartender (msg # 1):

John’s body tensed as the realization washed over him like a tidal wave hitting a sea shack. Remember.
He glanced around at the empty glasses. The same glass he currently held that had his drink. How many first drinks has he had?
Something was wrong. He needed to get his mark and get out of there. Sawyer glanced around the somewhat empty bar before letting his eyes drift to the door where he last seen his mark. Sawyer thought how he could get himself in. The singing of that doll faded into the background as he willed himself to not lose his new realization for a fourth time. Sawyer got up slowly, his head reeling from all of his first drinks and threw money on the counter for the barkeep. He made his way to the front door in an attempt to slip around the back and see if there was another entrance to the small room. As John got up, his head pounding, he made his way to the front door. That’s when the fear started to hit him. What if he was stuck? He swore that if he had to listen to that siren continuing singing, he would have to end himself. Sawyer made his way to the door and stopped as he put his hand on the door knob. He stopped. Took a deep breath and thought of the two people he always did when things got too real. When the sorrow cut too deep. When the whisky flowed. He thought of his family. He took a deep breath and tried the door.
Bartender
 GM, 16 posts
Wed 10 Mar 2021
at 00:08
Prologue: Rent Money
The door opens smoothly and easily.  Why wouldn't it?  Sawyer feels the laughter of nervous relief threatening to spill out.

Shaking his head at his own nerves, the detective steps through the door and into the welcoming susurrus the crowd in the bar provides.  A singer

continues to

belts out a nonsense tune.

"If you go with the flow down to "basement Joe"
with your greenbacks and your cadillacs,
"

Sawyer spots the mark ahead, moving towards the back.  A dame off to the side stands as she sees him enter, and follows after.  The mark leads the way into a small room, six by six if he was being generous, with a semi-circular couch.  The type of room for smoke-filled meeting...Or affairs.  No other points of egress.  The door shuts

Smoothly.  Easily.

behind him.

There was a problem with that...What was the problem?

This message was last edited by the GM at 00:25, Wed 10 Mar.

John Sawyer
 player, 5 posts
Wed 10 Mar 2021
at 03:26
Prologue: Rent Money
In reply to Bartender (msg # 3):

What WAS the problem?

Sawyer eyed the bar. He’s done it so many times before with so many bars. But the feeling THIS bar gave him, was different somehow. Was more than just bad memories, it was more like...literal Deja Vu? Sawyer walked over to the bar.

“A lot of empty glasses here”sawyer thought. Was that...the problem? No. Somehow related though. Sawyer looked at the bartender and ordered his drink. Well, it was both of their drinks. But that was long ago. A few moments later another full glass appeared in front of him. Sawyer started to drink his first Manhattan, when he eyed the empty glasses. He remembered. He’s been here before, he’s DONE this before. This exact moment. He looked at his beaten up watch, gold chipped around the edges and no matter what the watch said, he’s been here for too long.

Where was the mark? That room? “What if I left and tried to go around back?” Sawyer finished his drink and threw some money on the bar top and made his way to the door.

He made it halfway, when the fear started in again. He would never forget that feeling. It was the same feeling he had all those years ago coming home from his beat that day. And it was the same fear he just felt, right before he opened the front door. The siren continued her song.

The realization sank into sawyer like a Boulder sinking to the bottom of a black lake. “I can’t leave. I NEED to get back into that room. Grab the mark and drag him out”

Sawyer looked around the bar seeing if anyone was paying attention attention to him other than the siren. Sawyer carefully and as stealthily he could, made his way to the door where he saw his mark go into. He was going to get into that room. Even if it killed him.
Bartender
 GM, 17 posts
Thu 11 Mar 2021
at 02:31
Prologue: Rent Money
As Sawyer scans the club, the singer catches his gaze.  The too-smiling crooner possesses an impatient intensity, as though the song were not going fast enough.

"You'll find me with the honeys and the VIPs.  I'm Mister Nice, come and roll the dice."

Mister nice?  Wasn't the singer-No, of course the crooner had been male, wearing that monkey-suit lounge tux.

Sawyer eyes the door.  There are plenty of people around; the Cotton Club is a popular night spot.  Still, few people seem to notice him.

Bracing himself, the detective smoothly slides the door open, ready for trouble.  But trouble doesn't present itself; there is no one there.

In the middle of the room is a table; the dark couch coils around it protectively.  On the tabletop sits a jade-green bottle, mostly empty.  There's only a yellowed scrap of paper glued to it, no logo, no emblem to identify the booze.  More akin to an archaic vintage of wine than liquor.

Next to the bottle are two shot glasses, one half-full, the other lying on its side, slowly rocking back and forth, as the last of the liquor drains out.  Sawyer notes it's not only the bottle that's green; the liquid inside the half-empty glass shines with verdant reflection.

This message was last edited by the GM at 20:05, Thu 11 Mar.

John Sawyer
 player, 6 posts
Thu 11 Mar 2021
at 02:40
Prologue: Rent Money
In reply to Bartender (msg # 5):

“What...?” Sawyer looked at the empty room. He saw his mark enter here. Sawyer looked at the soon to be empty bottle. A image sawyer was all too familiar with. Sawyer walked over to the empty bottle and examined it closer.
Bartender
 GM, 18 posts
Thu 11 Mar 2021
at 20:05
Prologue: Rent Money
Half-sheltered in the small room, the music takes on a distant tone for Sawyer.
"The latest craze of the dance floor days
is right here in my pocket...
"

The detective leans in, examining the weathered scrap of paper on the bottle.  In thin, spidery scrawl, is the phrase, "Gateway Absinthe."  The writing has the elegant curvature of a time gone by.  Below it are a series of letters and numbers in compact, utilitarian hand.

AA1260MF1352

The series goes on for several lines.  There are probably a hundred or more sets of these letters and numbers.  Finally, they end with:

AC1904GR1906TK1931

There's a tiny blank space at the end of the paper. Sawyer's eye is drawn to the shot glass leaning on its side, as it finally comes to rest, no longer rocking back and forth.

There's a pause, and then suddenly, the singer's tone is not distant at all.
"There are things that can give you wings," states the crooner, standing in the doorway.  He says the line without singing, and in a somber manner, extending his left hand, palm up towards the bottle.

"But I'll give you a rocket," He finishes with a grim smile, deftly retrieving an envelope out of his jacket with his right hand.  He slides it on the table, then with a look of resolution, turns and exits to the main club again.
John Sawyer
 player, 7 posts
Fri 12 Mar 2021
at 17:08
Prologue: Rent Money
In reply to Bartender (msg # 7):

Sawyer looked at the envelope on the table. “Where did he even come from? I didn’t hear him come up behind me”..
Something felt...off. Off about this whole thing. Sawyer didn’t trust the crooner or the suspicious looking bartender. Sawyer couldn’t even trust his eyes.
But.
Sawyer is curious by nature. Sawyer took the envelope in his hand and looked inside.
Bartender
 GM, 19 posts
Sat 13 Mar 2021
at 02:52
Prologue: Rent Money
What lies within the envelope is a puzzle.  It appears to be a drawing of a distorted shape akin to a five-sided star, but with some addition in the center, hard to interpret.  The complicating factor is that it is not drawn with standard blue or blue ink with sketchlines.  Instead, the "lines" are composed of tight writing with no spacing, the letters and subsequent words creating an illusion of lines.

A new voice bursts into the music, a deep Negro voice.  He adds the following nonsense:
  "Come and try my Dixie biscuit!  You can't win, so why'd you risk it?"
Something was wrong with that.  But it was a...minor (?) wrong.

The ink itself appears to be a rust-colored sort, and whatever pen was used to write was not a precise one, or perhaps owned by a careless writer.  The letters are often smudged, in some places completely illegible.  Looking closer, Sawyer can spot that some of the words line up with the lyrics the crooner had been singing.  In a strange mirroring of the liquor label's writing, there is an obvious break where one of the smooth "lines" has a gap partway through.

This message was last edited by the GM at 02:58, Sat 13 Mar.

John Sawyer
 player, 8 posts
Sun 14 Mar 2021
at 16:54
Prologue: Rent Money
In reply to Bartender (msg # 9):

Sawyer took the envelope with the rust star words and put it in the front pocket of his trench coat. He left the back room and went out to where the new singer was. Sawyer took a seat and pulled out the weird letter..

Sawyer was getting tired. But that wasn’t going to stop him from figuring this out. Things weren’t adding up. Nothing is quite like it seems. It’s been a while since sawyer had a case that wasn’t simple. He got comfortable and prepared to compare the lyrics with the letter.
Bartender
 GM, 20 posts
Mon 15 Mar 2021
at 23:18
Prologue: Rent Money
Seated in the center of the club, the noise of nearby patrons seemed much louder than when Sawyer was at the bar.  A glance at the stage tells him the original crooner is still present, simply waiting for the chorus to finish.  The burly black man belts out a repeat of the phrase, backs by several other singers.

"Come and try my Dixie biscuit!  You can't win, so why'd you risk it?"

Sawyer unfolds the paper.  The night is getting to him.  Nothing is overtly threatening, exactly.  But under the layers of music, alcohol, and revelry is a...dissonance.

Looking at the words, the detective tries to identify the start of the current song.  He circumnavigates the distorted star shape several times in search of the words he had identified.  He catches himself on the verge of

passing out

falling asleep several times.  Finally, he locates the start of the song.  The lyrics of the crooner seem to match up well enough, but the chorus is the inverse of what's being sung.  The small, tightly packed script reads, "You can't lose so why not risk it?"  Sawyer scans

patpatpat

Oh.

Three large drops of blood loudly hit the paper in short order.  It takes Sawyer's brain a minute to process that it's his.  He's not prone to nosebleeds, but this looks like a bad one.

Will save: 20 (Success)
Psychic damage: 8 (17, halved due to successful Will save)

John Sawyer
 player, 10 posts
Tue 16 Mar 2021
at 14:12
Prologue: Rent Money
In reply to John Sawyer (msg # 10):

“What...? What’s happening to time...?”

Sawyer got up. His head reeling. He needed a drink. First time in a long time when he felt there was nothing that could fix his pain but the numbing effects of a whiskey. Sawyer remembered the green bottle. Sawyer stumbled into the back door and collapsed on the circular couch. He eyed the green bottle and the empty shot glasses. He poured himself a drink.

“Heh...maybe i’ll disappear if I’m lucky. Bottoms up”

Sawyer shot back the drink.
Bartender
 GM, 22 posts
Wed 17 Mar 2021
at 04:27
Prologue: Rent Money
It's a mark of how disoriented Sawyer is that he does nothing to stop the nosebleed.  By the time he has the shot poured, blood is spattered all over the breast of his duster.  The alcohol has a sour taste, almost bitter.

In time, he tunes back to reality.  It's not so much "waking up" as the gears of sentience slowly interlocking to process the world around him.  It's cold and wet.  The surface he's lying on is hard.  The stars are out, and seem to whirl overhead.

He's on his back in the street.  It's still night.  Or it's night again.  And one of the stars is a virulent green.  Rather than twinkling, it seems to have a noxious pulse that syncs with a pounding headache settling into Sawyer's brain.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That had been six months ago.  Since then, the detective has managed to make some allies who have themselves had...incidents with reality distortions.  Some don't care about such things; they simply are willing to work with Sawyer for a cut of the take.  Which is just as well.  Whether he seeks it out or not, Sawyer often finds himself working cases that expose how thin the membrane of reality is, and strong arms are never unwelcome in uncertain worlds.

End of Prologue.  We'll enter chapter 1 shortly.