“Well, well, well,” came a lofty voice from behind, “if it isn’t Jack the Stripper. I thought you would have been long gone by now. Didn’t the audience boo you off the stage last night?”
Anny turned to see a tall, thin man with a clean-shaven head towering over them.
“Well, if it isn’t old Telepathetic.” Kit stepped back, as if repulsed by his presence. “Didn’t the audience fall asleep the last time you were onstage?”
“Hardly,” he said, crossing his arms. “I’m fairly certain my performance ended with cries for a Telekinetic encore! I’m on my way to headlining, for sure.”
“Ha!” He gave a derisive snort. “Don’t make me laugh. A headliner? You? I doubt it.”
“Oh yeah?” he challenged. “Who else is up for it? Certainly not you, you little runt! The only one interested in seeing that show would be your mom! Besides…” He smoothed out the wrinkles on his purple suit and looked to the left, where Lavinia was fast approaching. “The lady boss told me herself I was in the running for it.”
“No way!” said Kit, unable to hide his dismay. “She didn’t actually… Did she?”
“Well, not directly…” he admitted, going silent as Lavinia joined the circle.
Kit stepped back towards Anny, taking cover.
“Evening, gents!” exclaimed Lavinia, bright and peppy as usual. Her vivid red lipstick framed her perfect smile.
“Evening, Ms. Lavinia,” said the performers in unison, nodding their heads in respect.
“Ready to wow the audience?” She had changed costume too, wearing a ridiculously fluffy skirt paired with a tight red corset, her ample breasts practically spilling out the top. She was quite the sight to take in.
“Ready as always,” said Telekinetic, a wicked gleam in his eye. “You look positively ravishing, Ms. Lavinia. Are those new shoes?”
“Oh, so you noticed, did you?” She showed off her high-heeled boots. “I just had to switch things up for this particular show. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.” She winked at Anny, who hurriedly directed her gaze to the floor.
“This particular show?” said Telekinetic. “Why, is there something special going on?”
“Oh, quite special.” She beckoned Kit with a finger. “Come here, Jack. I have something I want to tell you.”
“Me?” He took a reluctant step forward. “What is it?”
Lavinia towered over him, being a tall woman in addition to wearing heels. She had to bend down to meet him face to face as she said, in a strangely seductive kind of way, “I have a very big favour to ask of you, little Jack.”
“Uh…” He tried to keep in mind that she had lied to him just hours before, that she had made him come to the club on his time off for no good reason, but his resolve fizzled out under the woman’s intense gaze. “Okay, what do you want?”
She giggled. “I’d like you to open the show this evening.”
“Really?” he exclaimed.
“Really?” Telekinetic was equally shocked.
“Davenport saw you rehearsing that new song of yours the other day,” she said. “He told me all about it. And then I watched for myself when you thought I wasn’t around. Simply brilliant, darling!” She patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll call out your name when I want you onstage. Be ready to run just as soon as I call!” She straightened up, blowing a kiss in his direction. “Break a leg, as they say.”
And with that, she was gone, leaving the two entertainers gaping in silence.
“I… can’t believe it!” exclaimed Kit.
“Neither can I,” grumbled Telekinetic.
“Is the opening a big thing?” asked Anny, confused by the whole scene.
“It’s the biggest thing next to headlining!” said Kit, trying to contain his excitement. “And I’m doing my own song, too! This is awesome!”
“Hmph!” Telekinetic strode away. “Lavinia must be sick or something. No one in their right mind would choose you for the opening act!”
Kit stuck his tongue out at his rival as he lumbered out of sight. “Oh ho ho! Revenge is sweet!” Turning back to Anny, he smiled. “So that’s why Lavinia wanted me here… That’s why she lied about the twins…”
She put her hands on her hips. “But shouldn’t you have already known that? You’ve got that mind-reading stone. Couldn’t you tell what she was actually thinking?”
“It doesn’t work like that!” he said. “And it would drive me bonkers, if I used it all the time. It’s like having a million voices in my head all at once.” He shrugged. “In any case, I better get going. The show’s starting soon!”
They headed for the edge of the stage. Jacky was on the other side, waving at Anny to come over and join her.
“Ah,” she said. “That would be me, I guess.”
“You met Jacky?” he said. “She’s human, you know.”
“Yeah, I do know,” she said, leaving him to wait for his cue. She went around the back and pulled up beside Jacky at the other end.
“Here,” she said, motioning to a stool. “Got you a seat.”
“Thanks.” She sat down. “I got a little sidetracked while I was looking for one.”
“No problem,” she said, turning her attention towards the stage. “Better brace yourself, the show’s about to start!”
Anny’s heart was racing with anticipation. Lavinia, from the other end of the stage, marched forward and took hold of the microphone in the center. She signaled to Jacky, who in turn signaled to the men in charge of the curtains. Ever so slowly, the great veil began to rise.
The room was filled with the sound of thunderous applause, the audience expectant and ready for a show. With a wide smile, Lavinia basked in their energy.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! And welcome to the Ace of Clubs!”
There was more applause, clapping and cheering, and a few wolf whistles from the crowd. She took it all in stride.
“Now, before we begin, let me ask you fine folks a few frank questions.” Her body swayed back and forth, moving with the rhythm of her words. “How many of you are excited to be here tonight?”
There was another roar from the crowd. Anny watched them from her place in the dark. There they were, sitting around crowded tables, enjoying the beverages they had purchased from the bar in the back. She could see Davey behind the counter, mixing drinks without so much as a glance towards the stage. He was obviously accustomed to club life.
“Now then, how many of you have permission to be here tonight?”
There were a few boos and a riot of laughter in response.
“Well, that’s just about all of you.” She smiled at her adoring audience. “And a fine crowd you are, every last one!” She took a few steps back, taking the microphone with her. “We’ve got a very special treat for you tonight. Oh yes, we do! All your favourite acts, right here!”
There followed another round of applause.
“We’ve got the twins, Yin and Yang.”
There was cheering and more whistling.
“We’ve got Telekinetic, and his mind-altering mentalist act.”
The cheering was a bit louder, a bit rowdier.
“And we’ve got the one you came to see, the great sorcerer himself, the mysterious and bewitching… Imagic!”
The crowd erupted in excitement, cheering for the headlining act of the night.
“But first, good folks, we have the tantalisingly irresistible gentleman of the shadows…” She leaned in closer to the microphone, her voice like velvet. “The sweet, the tastefully fatal, Jack the Ripper!”
The audience’s cheering nearly spiraled out of control as the show finally began. But as the lights dimmed, the applause died down, and the music dragged to a start.
Thin, choppy, it was quiet enough to put an end to any murmuring in the crowd. And the stage remained dark. It seemed odd, for an opening number. But it was all part of the plan. Lavinia, now in the shadows, took a few great strides on her way off the stage, passing the mic to Kit as he emerged for his opening performance.
And as soon as he had the stage to himself, he threw back his head and laughed. At last, the music swung into action. The sound flooded the club, resounding off the walls and pulsing through the audience. Each and every member of the live band, tucked away at the back of the stage, was giving it their all. The sound was electrifying.
And Kit was amazing! He sang with such feeling and confidence, assuming his role onstage as if he had been Jack the Ripper all his life. Although, Anny was disappointed to find that he was singing in a language she didn’t understand. She watched his movements, trying to interpret the song’s meaning through his dance, but she was lost. It was still engaging, but she felt left out, in a way. It only made her watch and listen all the harder.
The song ended with the same thin music as the beginning, leaving the audience screaming for more. But even before Kit ran off the stage, it was time for the next act to appear. Lavinia resurfaced and cracked a few more jokes to give the twins some time before they had to take her place.
“Wow!” said Anny, still stunned. “That was insane!”
“Wasn’t it?” said Jacky, a touch of pride to her voice. “This is why I work here. You can’t find any clubs like this aboveground.”
“Do you live in the Market?” she asked.
“No,” she replied. “I only come here during nights, when the Market’s in full swing. I live aboveground, mostly.” She laughed. “It’s a ton cheaper. They use real gold down here, you know.”
“Seriously?” she said, eyes wide. “Isn’t that a little impractical?”
“I don’t think ‘impractical’ exists in the goblin dictionary.” She shook her head. “They love the stuff.”
They. As in goblins. As in Anny. “Weird,” she said, half to Jacky and half to herself.
Yin and Yang came onto the stage, taking Lavinia’s place. There was applause, but the clapping died away as the pair stood silent and motionless for the next number. The lights dimmed, a red spotlight shone on the performers in their stillness. There was Yin, with her long pigtails. She had taken off her glasses for the act. And Yang, her brother, with short hair and a matching gothic suit. They both held a pose, waiting for the music to begin.
And it did. Slow and sweet, the music jumped tempos at all the right times. Each step they took was perfection; the connection between the two was so intense and passionate that the audience was swept away by their flawless performance.
“How old are they?” whispered Anny.
“Don’t let their height fool you,” said Jacky. “When it comes to age, you can’t judge a goblin by its cover. They might look like they’re twelve, but they’ve been working here a lot longer than I have.”
She continued watching, wondering. “And what about Kit? How old is he?”
“Hmm, that’s a tough one…” She gave the matter some thought. “I wouldn’t know. Still lives with his mom, I hear. But he’s been around for a couple years, so he has to be old enough, right? Although you can never tell with goblins. They mature much faster than humans do, apparently.”
Anny snickered. “I don’t think I’d ever use ‘mature’ to describe Kit. And he still looks too young to work in a club.”
“Wouldn’t blame him for it,” said Jacky, “even if he’s just a kid. You know goblins only live to fifty, right?”
“Really?” Her interest quickly changed to alarm. “Wait, are you sure?”
She laughed and patted her shoulder. “Right. Forgot we were talking about you.” As she pulled her hand away, she offered a smile. “But I wouldn’t worry. The rule only applies to heavy-blooded goblins. And you look pretty human to me.”
“Right…” She calmed down within seconds, determined not to embarrass herself in front of a new acquaintance. It was then that she remembered their earlier conversation. “Hey, that was something else you mentioned… You said something about goblins not ‘freaking out’ about stuff. What did you mean? You said you would tell me later.”
Jacky waited for the applause to fade away before she began again. “That’s one thing you’ve got to keep in mind when it comes to goblins. They don’t really feel the same way humans do. I mean, they’re not numb or anything, but they tend to get over things faster, or react a bit differently. Like, not sympathetically. You could almost say they’re insensitive.” She paused. “No offense.”
“None taken,” said Anny, watching the twins leave the stage. “But what do they feel? Don’t they get upset about anything?”
“I’m not saying that they don’t freak out at all. Or that they don’t have feelings, either. But I hear the more goblin blood you’ve got, the less of a heart you have. Honestly, I wouldn’t know.” She turned to Anny and raised an eyebrow. “But shouldn’t you? I mean, you are a goblin, right?”
“Yeah.” It made sense, now that she thought about it. When was the last time she cried? Anny couldn’t remember. And it was hard to remember if she had ever lost her cool completely. Aside from the golf cart incident, obviously. But the last few hours had been emotionally charged compared to the rest of her childhood.
At the same time, she felt it was a bit callous to say she didn’t have a heart. It wasn’t that she didn’t have feelings, it was just that she didn’t bother expressing them.
Her parents came back into her thoughts. Regardless of who they really were, they had raised her. Staring at their dead bodies, Anny realised now that she should have experienced some sort of emotion, some form of grief. But although she would agree that the situation was regretful, though she would admit that the tragedy was unfortunate, the only real sensation she had experienced was annoyance at their inability to protect her. The whole affair had been extremely inconvenient for her, being forced down into a world she knew nothing about, with no friends or family and no means of providing for herself. It was only now that she realised she hadn’t taken any time to mourn for her adopted parents at all… Maybe she really was heartless.
Or maybe it was just the resentment of an abandoned changeling. “It’s kind of complicated, I guess.”
“That’s what they tell me,” said Jacky.
The acts continued into the long hours of the night. Telekinetic came out with his mentalist act, wowing the audience with his charismatic distortion of space and time. Anny caught sight of Kit during the performance, watching from the other end of the stage and making faces behind his back. Apparently the two did not get along.
Jacky grabbed her arm. Lavinia was introducing the next performer. “It’s the headliner!” she said. “Imagic is amazing!”
“What does he do?” she whispered.
She turned to her, grinning from ear to ear. “Magic.”