Inside of the Sphere, it was as noisy and offensive as she remembered. She’d spent years drowning in its glamour, drugs and alcohol. Not so much the illicit activities in back rooms, though, which she was now walking past on her way to the owner’s office—tucked deep inside the building. Devica tried not to look, only gaining a few glimpses on accident as she rounded corners, just in case there were political scandals afoot. It didn’t do to get involved with more problems—she had plenty of those already. A solid look tended to cost you your life, or a heavy fee.
She’d seen the bouncer at the door before, on similar information runs. He wasn’t an ordinary bouncer—not like the ones in the club, who were there to swat Los Angeles rich boys when they misbehaved with a dancer. He was impressive, a whole suite of things that didn’t go together; lanky, but strong; broad, but not bulky. Frankly, looking at him hurt.
“I’m here to see Nero. It’s okay,” she added, “he knows I’m coming. You can throw me out if I’m lying. I know you like to do that.”
He sized her up with a sneering gaze, but he also seemed to recognize her. He opened the door and nodded at her to go inside. A small part of Devica, that had been seizing up with nerves about this part of the evening, relaxed—the rest continued to tense. Her game of chess still awaited.
The office was round, the walls painted blood red and illuminated with fancy glass-blown lights that looked Italian in origin. The floor was tiled black and shined like the ocean under moonlight. And in the center of the ocean was Nero’s massive oak desk, carved with strange symbols and shapes—twisting, gleaming, somehow sinister.
It paled in comparison to Nero himself, sitting behind the desk with the biggest grin she’d ever seen on the man. Or whatever he was. Sometimes Devica doubted. Nero had white-blond hair and always wore decadent black suits and ties, his fancy shoes as polished as mirrors. He looked like a snake oil salesman who had moved onto more dangerous cocktails, his nose short and his eyes deceptively flat.
Two more bouncers, as strangely impressive as the one outside the door, flanked his desk. And in front of the desk, a singular chair. Devica swallowed a sigh; someone had tipped him off to her arrival.
“What’s that look for? I’m always so very happy to see you, Miss Baines,” Nero crowed, gesturing loosely to the chair. “Please, sit. Our visits are always so—productive.”
Devica did, arranging her dress to buy her a little more time. She wasn’t a naturally social person, and yet the world always demanded it out of her. “Nero. Do you know why I’m here?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. Honest.”
“…Take a guess.”
“There’s a nasty little man you don’t know the name of,” Nero chuckled. “Am I right?”
“He’s not exactly a man anymore. He’s—sort of a—thing. But yes, you’re right.”
Nero placed a hand on his chest, feigning indignation. “Is that the only reason you came to visit? I’m wounded. I thought we’d perhaps gotten on the same page, during your last visit.”
Devica raised a delicate eyebrow. “My last visit cost me nearly a million dollars. So, yes, I admit it, I’ve been seeking other avenues of information. But tonight I’ve come to you.”
“Do you expect me to be grateful?”
“I know you, somewhat,” she sighed, “I’m not that dim.”
He chuckled, baring his teeth in a mirthful grin. His teeth looked too sharp, somehow, but she couldn’t figure out why. “Yes, my gratefulness is rare. But it does exist. And I’m pleased you’ve come to me. Do you have a photo of this… creature?”
Devica pulled the photo out of her purse, dusting it briefly of crumbs before handing it over to a still-amused Nero.
“Hmm. Hmmmmm. Very interesting.”
“Do you know who it is?” Devica inquired dryly. “Or are you trying to drive me insane?”
“I have much more effective methods of inspiring madness, my dear Miss Baines,” Nero scoffed. “Yes, I know this particular individual. I’d be willing to part with the information, too… for a price.”
“I want you to go out into my club and have fun.”
Devica blinked. “I’m sorry?”
Standing up, Nero paced around the desk in a circle, his smile back to being something both madcap and macabre. “You heard me, my dear. I’ve been keeping a concerned eye on you, and you haven’t been out to have fun in months. That’s not like you at all. So come on. Promise me you’ll drink and have a good time.”
Eyeing him suspiciously, Devica tried hard to think about her last night of clubbing. It had been a while ago. But he’d been keeping track? Why was he keeping such close tabs on her? She knew he had eyes and ears everywhere, it was just something you almost took for granted in this day and age. But… why her?
“All right,” she agreed slowly, regretting it the moment she said it.
Nero beamed. “Fantastic. Here’s the file.” He pulled a manila envelope out of a desk drawer and handed it to her. Small warning sounds went off in her head.
“Thank you.” Devica stood up, trying to think of the exact moment she’d lost control of the situation. “I’ll just give someone a call and go… have fun, as you put it.”
“Goodbye, my dear.”