For the men, women and assorted others in a certain trade, there are many places to source your supplies and resources from. Marshall, Carter & Darke is one of the best-known dealers in a largely hidden field. Their auction houses the world over sell the uncanny, the unlikely, the implausible for a…well, relatively reasonable price.

But Marshall, Carter & Darke is too big to deal in the impossible, which after all needs a personal touch. For that, if you’re very well-informed, there’s a little room on the second floor of a scrubby pub in Chicago.

The man who has just walked in to that scrubby pub, whose name is Clifforld Udenau, Esq., believes he’s blending in. He’s wearing his shoddiest pocket chain and his oldest tailored suit. Everyone in the bar politely allows him to keep believing he’s blending in. They’ve seen his kind before. They will again.

The place is fine, he supposes. He isn’t sure. He doesn’t spend much time in places like this. It’s clean, at least, and the wood of the tables and floor looks scrubbed smooth. The three feet of air below the ceiling is filled with the roiling, oily blue-gray smoke of an uncountable number of cigarettes. You could perform archaeology on that smoke, he thinks. How many days, months, years, has it taken to amass? The bartender is wiping down the bar—only two people are sitting at it, it’s not busy—and Clifford is forced to wonder whether he’s not very good or if it’s just callow youth that leads him to not even bother to fully look at his customer when he slurs, in a lower class accent and a gravelly lower class voice, “Whaddya want?”

“The key to the chapel,” says Clifford dutifully. It’s the keyword he was passed by someone else in the know. That’s the system.

The bartender looks average. He’s in shirt sleeves and a flashy tie that cries ‘I want to be fancy!’ beneath a stained apron that’s anything but; average in height and size; young and whippy and rough-faced, thuggish in a lithely athletic way. Well-kept hair. Altogether the impression of a man who’s probably quick on his feet when he breaks people’s noses for looking at him funny. His best feature, so far—well, he would say the hair, but no, it’s the dynamic energy of him. Even when he stands still, he looks ready to move. To chase his dreams. To hunt them down in the dark and club them till they can’t fight while he drags them back to his lair. But almost nobody knows that about him yet.

The bartender grunts an acknowledgement, and pauses his polishing long enough to pour Clifford a beer. The beer isn’t bad. It’s local.

Clifford takes a sip, unsure if this is part of some rite of passage, and then is dismayed when the bartender goes right back to his polishing. Till he’s done. Clifford, appalled by this blue-collar lack of manners, can’t see over the bartender’s shoulder to the way his mouth twists up, laughing silently to himself.

Oh, but the look on his face when the bartender hangs up his towel and finally looks at him. It’s one of my favorite parts.

The force that is Chappell lives in two places in him. One is that coiled energy that always fills him. But it’s not until you see his eyes that you understand what you’re dealing with. What all that energy is for. It’s for removing anything that stands in his way.

“Come on,” says Chappell, letting himself out from behind the bar. He snaps his fingers at a big…a huge man sitting at a table by the wall, chatting with a couple of friends. “Julius, keep an eye on things, will ya? You can bring the beer,” he adds to Clifford as he leads him to the back, and up an enclosed stair that smells faintly of cat piss—never could quite get that out of the wood—to the upstairs room that’s already becoming legendary in certain circles.

The upstairs room. Chappell never did do anything dramatic with it. There’s a desk, of course, and a comfortable enough chair. Various cabinets and drawers with exciting things tucked into them with pleasant runner rugs along the aisles between them. Frankly it looks like a library, somewhere to have a nice brandy with a friend.

“Whatcha looking for?” asks Chappell, and I swear he deliberately sounds as uncouth as possible when he’s talking to someone like Clifford.

Clifford tells him. It’s…well. It’s nothing we keep in the drawers.

Chappell listens. He’s good at listening. When Clifford finishes, he nods, thinks for just a moment, and says, “I can do that.”

And that’s it. He rises to his feet. Clifford rises after him, hesitating visibly because…shouldn’t there be more? More…to-do? More hoopla? “Are you sure?” he asks, as if he isn’t the one who put this problem in Chappell’s lap to begin with.

“Oh yeah,” Chappell answers over his shoulder as he strolls back toward the door. “Gimme about two months. This’ll take some prep. And keep the glass. Stash the payment in there and put it somewhere you can keep an eye on it. When I get hold of it, they’ll swap places.” He holds the door open with the courtesy I know perfectly well he has, regardless of whether he chooses to use it. “And Cliff?”

The client looks at him, not startled so much as inexorably drawn by dread of the sudden tone in Chappell’s voice, and the use of a name he never gave.

“Make sure it’s the full payment. Have a great trip back.”

When the door has swung closed behind Clifford, Chappell turns to look at me. He meets my eyes, always. Almost no other human even goes looking for them.

“Two months,” I tell him in theatrical disapproval. “Do you do that just to cause trouble for me?” I know where we can get the item that will fill Clifford’s need, but Chappell’s timeframes don’t make either of our lives easier.

“We can’t just be dealers, if we want to make this into something real,” he answers me. “We need to build ourselves a legend.” I taught him that, the power of legend, but he’s the one who understood to harness it for the Spirit. I raised him so well. He flashes a boyish grin that makes his human youth glow through his skin. Barely more than a child yet, even by his own people’s standards let alone mine. And yet so, so lovely, my Richard. Eyes already as black and deep as space between the stars. “Besides, I’d hate for you to get bored.”


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