Authors: Unknown Author
Tags: #Don Bassingthwaite
“What’s happening out there?” Alan’s voice was sharp. “Tango? I’ve got bouncers heading toward you if you need help.”
Tango turned Riley loose. “Tell them to forget about it, Alan. I just found my friend, that’s all.” She hesitated, then added, “I’m off-duty. Buzz me if you need me.” She pulled off her headset, but left it hanging around her neck. “What are you doing here?”
Riley looked at her cautiously. “Do you greet all your friends like that, or just the ones you like?” He worked his shoulder gingerly as he bent down to pick up a ballcap from the floor. His hair was longer on top than on the sides and he wore an untucked shirt over a T-shirt and jeans. He looked about twenty, maybe ten years younger than her. In spite of his youth, though, his fox-red hair was already starting to thin. “Jesus, Tango, have you ever thought about switching to decaf?”
“You should have known better than to come up behind me.”
“Winnipeg six years ago should have taught me that.” Riley straightened his round wire-frame glasses. Looking around Pan’s, he added, “Nice. I could stand to work in a place like this. I’ve got a great apartment in a building that’s full of artists and musicians, but you know how artsy types are. Up at strange hours. Loud parties. Not that that’s all bad, but it must be nice to
be able to go home sometimes.”
“Riley.” Tango glared at the people who had turned to watch her initial conflict with him; they quickly looked away. “What the hell are you doing here?”
He grinned. “I heard you were working in Pan’s, so I thought I’d check the place out while I was in San Francisco. You know we’ve heard about it all the way up in Toronto? There’s this bar called Hopeful — they have a wall covered with club ads and the ads from Pan’s....”
“I don’t do the marketing.”
“No,” Riley added thoughtfully, “I don’t suppose you do. You’ve never exactly been Miss Congeniality, have you?” Riley’s eyes followed a knot of laughing people across the club. He inhaled deeply. “Damn.” He turned to the bar and waved a bartender over. “Whiskey sour. Make it a double. You,” he said to Tango, “are still just as nasty as you ever were. You know, I’ve never needed a picture to remind myself of you. All I have to do is go out and find a rock.”
Tango’s lips twitched.
Tango’s dour face fell apart completely. “You doorknob!” She swatted playfully at Riley’s bottom. This had become a game between the two. Each time they met — usually after a prolonged separation — Riley would try to make Tango laugh. Tango would resist as long as she could. That was usually about two minutes. The last time they had met, six years ago in Winnipeg, Riley had just looked at her and raised his eyebrows. She had broken down in seconds. Riley was one of her oldest friends. He might have looked twenty, but he was actually half again as old. And Tango was twice as old as that. “You’re looking good. Except for
“That started about five years ago.” Riley flushed and adjusted his ballcap self-consciously. A bracelet around his wrist caught Tango’s eye. She grabbed his arm and took a closer look at it. It was heavy and silvery, with an intricate clasp worked in the shape of a dog’s head.
“Nice. When did you start wearing jewelry?”
“Call it a midlife crisis.”
“Twenty,” Tango said firmly, “is not midlife.”
Riley stuck his tongue out at her. “Spoken like a grump. You’re acting older every time I see you. If you’d stop hanging around with hu—”
Tango made a face as the bartender returned with Riley’s drink. Riley’s voice cut off instantly and he took the drink, pulling several crumpled bills out of his pocket to pay for it. Tango caught his hand.
“On the house,” she told the bartender. “Anything he wants, all night. Don’t take his money.”
“Spoilsport,” muttered Riley as the bartender nodded and moved away. He dropped the money.
A handful of leaves fluttered down on top of the bar. Tango gave him a tired look. Riley groaned. “I’m a pooka. I can’t help it. You’ve been around humans too long, Tango. It’s not good for you. You’re getting...” he shuddered, “old.”
“It’s going to happen to you one day, Riley. It happens to all Kithain.”
“But if you’d spend more time with your own kind....”
Tango sighed. Our
This was another game that Riley played with her, and it was one she enjoyed a lot less.
Once there had been faeries in the world. Noble faeries and common faeries, highborn and low. The spirits of dreams and stories. There had been fabulous parades in the moonlight, and dancing under the stars. Humans had tried to creep into faerie courts and spy on the magnificence of the Kithain. Some had been lucky and gotten away to spread tales of wonder. Others had been caught, pixie-led and pinched black and blue as punishment. A few had caught the eye of Kithain kings and queens and been spirited away to the faerieland of Arcadia as cherished guests and pretty prizes. Once there had been faeries — and then the splendor of that age had fallen. Now Arcadia was far away. There were no parades now and very little dancing, at least not the kind that the ancient faeries would have recognized. The Kithain who had been left behind in this gray, dull world had mingled with humans in order to survive. Tango and Riley were their descendants. Changelings, like the faerie children substituted for human as pranks so long ago. The last remnants of the Kithain were few.
“Give it up, Riley,” Tango said wearily. “I’m not going back. I like humans.”
“So do I.”
“Only because you can play tricks on them so easily. There’s no way I’m going back to Kithain society, so don’t bother trying to talk me into it. Conversation over.” She gestured to the bartender. He brought her a club soda. Riley just rolled his eyes. Tango knew that if something didn’t have alcohol, caffeine, or at least sugar in it, he wouldn’t drink it. “So if you came to Pan’s to see me, what brought you to San Francisco?”
“An airplane.” Tango gave him a nasty glance, and he amended hastily, “I’m here on business. A trip for the duke of Toronto.”
‘‘Worming our way into the duke’s black heart, are we?” .
Riley looked pained. “I’ve lived in Toronto for ten years. I’m not exactly worming my way anywhere.”
“Is he as cold as they say?”
“Colder. If he were any more cold and stiff, he’d be a corpse. You wouldn’t think an Unseelie Kithain would be so rigid and tradition-bound.” Tango nodded. So much of the Kithain’s heritage had changed over years of just trying to survive, but some things stayed the same. The Kithain loved pageantry. They loved the show of court — and, of course, there would always be those who were willing to rule the Kithain courts as dukes, duchesses, kings and queens. And even among the nobles of the dark, unruly Unseelie courts, there were those who held on to the chains of tradition. Especially when tradition supported their positions. “I’ve been appointed his Jester for the year.”
“What happened to the last one?”
“He retired. It’s harder to make Duke Michael laugh than it is to make you laugh. But there is a good side to the job.” Riley smiled. “The Jester organizes the Highsummer Night party.”
Tango spluttered into her club soda. “Nobody
Highsummer parties!” Even at the darkest times, the Kithain had clung to their festivals as the tattered banners of their faded glory. Highsummer Night, July 17th, was the biggest Kithain festival of the year, a night of enchantment, feasting and pranks. A wild free-for-all revel. Tango had been to Carnival in Rio once. It was a slumber party compared to Highsummer Night.
“They do in Toronto. Everything is organized. It’s a
strange city. You’ll see.”
He grinned at her expectantly. It took Tango a moment to figure out the meaning behind that grin. “No.”
“Please? Only for a visit? You’ll have a blast. I’m here to get party favors from the Kithain court at Berkeley. They trade with a bunch of Cult of Ecstasy mages there. Do you know what the Cult of Ecstasy is?”
“I know more about mages than you do.” Tango slammed her club soda down on the bar hard enough to make bubbles come fizzing out of the liquid. “But even if I wanted to visit a Kithain court again, I wouldn’t do it during Highsummer. I
“I can’t believe that. It would do you good, Tango. I’ve seen grumps older than you frolicking like childlings....”
“No. Enough, Riley. I’m not going.”
The finality in her voice made Riley turn to look at her. He was silent for a moment, then asked, “You’re serious?”
“Why would you think I’d change my mind for a party? You know me.” Tango spread her hands. “I haven’t even set foot in a Kithain freehold in fifteen years!”
“And where has it gotten you? Older.” Riley sipped slowly from his drink, then looked deep into the pale green liquid for a moment. “I was hoping you’d come for me.” He sighed. “It’s not every day that a pooka gets put in charge of something this big. Even so, do you think that anyone is really going to thank me for this? They’ll all be too busy recovering from hangovers. I want someone there who’s clearheaded enough to be able to say ‘Good job, Riley.’” He looked at her again. “Please, Tango?”
“Don’t make puppy eyes at me,” she replied gruffly. “It’s not going to work. I don’t like Highsummer Night. You get drunk, you play a few pranks, then you find a human or another Kithain and screw like rabbits. And the next day everybody lies and says what a great time they had.”
“There’s more to Highsummer than that and you know it. Except for the pranks, you could be describing Pan’s. You seem to like it well enough.”
“I work here. I don’t get drunk myself, and the last thing I did like a rabbit was have salad for dinner.” Tango reached over the top of the bar and poured the rest of her club soda into a sink. “I’m sorry, Riley. Even if I wanted to, I can’t. I have responsibilities here to think about. I have to work.”
Riley’s face went hard. “You are turning into a grump,” he commented sourly. This time, Tango knew, he wasn’t joking. She felt a little flush creep into her face. “You wouldn’t have used work as an excuse six years ago.”
“Don’t bother.” He drained his drink and set the empty glass down on the bar. He pulled a pen and a piece of paper out of his packet. Writing something on the paper, he thrust it at her. “I’m flying Air Canada. This is my flight number and the hotel where I’m staying. I’m flying out of San Francisco International tomorrow night at 9:30.” He looked into her eyes. “At least think about it, okay?” He took her hand and wrapped her fingers around the paper. “Give me a call. I’d really like to have you there.”
Tango pulled her hand back. Riley looked disappointed, then sighed and walked away from her, disappearing into the crowd. For a moment, Tango considered calling him back. For a moment, she considered tearing up the paper and forgetting all about Toronto and his invitation. Instead, she slid Riley’s paper into her pocket. She put her headset back in place and turned it on. “I’m on duty again, Alan. Anything to report?”
* * *
She looked at Riley’s paper again a few hours later as she sat in her office. On the other side of the wall behind her, Pan’s was closing up for the night. The staff was chasing the last few clubgoers out through the doors, cleaning up the dance floor and wiping down the bars. Another successful night at San Francisco’s hottest club. Tango considered Riley’s paper and wondered if Pan’s couldn’t manage without her for a week.
Highsummer Night was just a little more than a week away. And surely a weekend night flight to Toronto would still have seats available, even the day before. Taking time off work, in spite of what she had told Riley, wouldn’t be a problem. Alan was good. She could leave the club in his hands. She drummed her fingers on the desk. Getting to Toronto wouldn’t be a problem.
Tango leaned back in her chair and stared up at the ceiling. She hadn’t lied when she’d told Riley that she didn’t like Highsummer Night. It was pointless, stupid, and childish. Like most Kithain celebrations, and like most Kithain themselves.
With the rare exception of Riley and a few other friends scattered around the world, Tango really did not enjoy the company of Kithain. They were too absorbed in the games that they played, too caught up in the pursuit of dreams and elusive wonder. Kithain were trapped between two worlds: the real world, where they lived, died, and ate greasy hamburgers, and a dream world, where they could still live as their immortal faerie ancestors had, amid pomp, adventures and raucous feasts. Kithain who lived with their minds floating in that dream world might stay young longer, but in Tango’s opinion they also tended to be the next best thing to useless in the real world.
Maybe she was turning into a grump, one of the bitter, stubborn and dull older Kithain. If she was, then the change had been building for the last fifteen years. There was a small mirror in her drawer. Tango felt almost guilty as she took it out and looked into it. No wrinkles yet. No sagging. No gray hairs. She looked like any thirty-year-old woman. She didn’t look like a grump. She didn’t feel like a grump — at least not most of the time. A Kithain really was only as young or old as she looked and felt. And Tango felt about thirty most of the time, still energetic, but with experiences that were starting to become a heavy load. Some days that load felt heavier than others.
Like today. Tango had played the Kithain games of wild youth once, hopping from freehold to freehold, from the real world to dreams and back again. She had been fifteen, in both appearance and reality, when she had gone through the Chrysalis, the period of awakening to her faerie legacy and the existence of Kithain. She’d looked only twenty when games had become sour for her, thirty years later. Tired and disillusioned, she had walked away from a freehold in...
she wasn’t even sure where it had been now. Somewhere in Colorado, a freehold so lost in the Dreaming that it barely had a location in the real world. She had walked away, knowing that there must be more to the world than Kithain games. Two days later, she had been in Bangkok.
Traveling had done her good. She probably knew more about the other creatures and beings that shared the shadows of the world than most Kithain did. And she knew that she found most of them, and most humans, more interesting than most Kithain. She had met the owner of Pan’s, a human playboy and mage named Aaron Barry, in Australia five years ago. They had become good friends, strong friends, almost instantly. But humans, mages or otherwise, weren’t Kithain.