9/17/05

Volume 05: In Preparation For the Marble Index Incident

Sage didn't recall what Maury had told him about The Salon until nearly two weeks after the fiasco at the Fine Arts College. Since then, Investigation had canceled, and the telecommunications department had moved on to another, less controversially project; and little had been heard of Max since he aired the final episode—without Violet, of course, who had reportedly went "missing".

Was the swat team he and Bruno had encountered at the college this "Salon" Maury had spoken of, the last time he saw her? He wasn't sure; however, who else could it have been? How did they know there would be a demon at the Fine Arts College's telecommunications building at precisely that time? Whoever they were, and whatever their sources, Sage wouldn't rack his brain over it; he was too busy killing things to worry about whom else was out killing the same things: he looked at it as much-needed assistance.

From across the study hall, Suzette could see Sage and Adrian bickering quietly. It was the only class that the two of them had together, so Adrian felt it necessary to get at least half of her griping out; the other half could wait until their walk home at the end of the day.

"What the hell are you looking at?" Suzette snapped at Bruno, as she caught a glance at him looking in the same direction she was.

"Nothing." He replied, unemotionally. Bruno had been feeling detached from reality ever since he was attacked by the demon behind the Lisette Hotel. But that unpleasant incident he tried to convince himself was a stress-induced hallucination or something to that effect. But ever since the horrible occurrence at the college, he was certain that he had not imagined anything and that all the gruesome and terrifying urban legends about Megalopolis were true.

Rumors of Sage Harlequin being a "Boogieman Theorist" had been circulating for years. No one paid much mind to them because, for one, no one really cared what Sage was: he was just another insignificant face in a large crowd. As far as his peers were concerned, the strangest thing about him that that the only person he—a rather dreary and quiet individual—spoke to on a regular basis was Adrian Alvis: an ardent Catholic with a sunny disposition, for the most part. For another thing, a lot of people used the term "Boogieman Theorist" to describe themselves and others. It had become a local term to describe anyone who believed that unexplained happenings were going on in Megalopolis; it no only strictly applied to those who stalked down dark and empty lanes, late at night, searching for "boogiemen", so to speak. Not many people actually thought that Sage was out at all hours putting bullets through the heads of the children of the damned; in fact, most didn't even believe of such things.

But now Bruno was a believer: in "boogiemen", in the "Boogieman Theory", and, most importantly, in Sage Harlequin being a proficient "Boogieman Theorist". Why else would Sage have come back to the telecommunications building so late at night? He had made it very clear earlier that day that he had no intention of shooting the show with Max and Violet. What exactly did investigation want with Sage? Violet had eluded to Bruno, just minutes before her unfortunate demise, that the reason for Sage being there was to put down the demon that was supposed to rise up from the cameraman's body. It was on the drive home with Sage himself that Bruno had made up his mind that Sage was indeed a Boogieman Theorist; he did, after all, come running into the studio, toting a pistol, looking as if he was going to shoot the beast that had just ripped Violet to shreds. It was on that same evening that Bruno was reminded of the demon that attacked him behind the Lisette Hotel, and the trench coat-wearing, pistol-handling stranger with the vaguely familiar voice that had dispatched it. He was now convinced that he demon-wrangler behind the hotel and Sage Harlequin were one-in-the-same.

"So are you going with me this afternoon or not?" Suzette asked him.

"Going with you where?"

"To see my psychic, Madame Cecelia. Remember? I told you yesterday and you gave me hell about believing in that 'bullshit', but you never told whether or not you were coming with me." She explained, a bit scornfully.

"Oh, yeah, sure, whatever." He replied.

"… So you are coming with me?"

"I guess."

On the very outskirts of Megalopolis's West-Central sector—the "good neighborhood", as it was referred to locally—there was a hill speckled with middle-class, suburban homes. It was the only "normal" looking place in all of Megalopolis. It took several metro-changes and a bus ride to get there if one did not have a car, as in the case of Suzette and Bruno. At the top of this hill, surrounded by a wall and an immaculate garden, was a little cottage, which overlooked the entire city. This was the home of the psychic, Madame Cecelia.

She was a benevolent woman, somewhere in her mid-forties, with bottle-blonde hair and whimsical black dresses. Her fees were low; most of the time she charged less than five dollars to tell a fortune. It was for this reason that Suzette came all the way outside of the city limits; to get her fortune told in the city would cost, at the very least, twice as much, and city psychics tended to lack to aesthetic quality that Madame Cecelia had.

Outside of Madame Cecelia's garden gate, Suzette and Bruno stood, waiting to be let in. Suzette had pulled on a cord near the entrance, which had sounded a little china bell (which, they took to be her doorbell). They waited for a moment, before Madame Cecelia appeared outside her door.

"Oh Suzette! Good to see that you were able to make it!" She greeted, sauntering up to the gate to let them in. "And you brought a friend."

"What? Oh yeah, this doofus here is Bruno." Suzette replied. "He's a skeptic; thought I'd bring him along, ya know, just for shits and giggles."

"Nice to meet you, Bruno." Cecelia said.

"… You too." He mumbled, thinking to himself what a crackpot this woman must be.

"Well, shall we go inside? It's getting awfully cold out here."

Cecelia led them into her home, to a sitting room where she invited Suzette and Bruno to sit down.

"Well, shall we begin?" She asked.

"… Do you mind if I send him in the other room?" Suzette asked reluctantly.

"What?! You bring me here to try and prove that this isn't complete and total bullshit, and now you're sending me in the other room?!" Bruno exclaimed.

"These things are very personal!" Suzette retorted. "Now get your ass in the kitchen."

He glared at her for a moment before rising from the sofa and grudgingly pacing off to the back off the house.

"… Alright, now that he's gone, I have a confession…" Suzette admitted. "I didn't bring him here to prove anything to him."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah… I brought him here 'cause I want you to tell me if I have any future with him…" Suzette all but mumbled.

Madame Cecelia smiled sweetly with a glint in her eye. "Honey, how long have you been coming to see me now?"

"I donno… a year or two?"

"Then I hope you listen to me as your friend and not get upset with me when I say what I'm about to." Cecelia said.

"… Alright."

"You have no future with that boy; and you don't need to be a psychic of any sort to be able to see that." She explained. "Of course, you already knew all of this. You came here asking me this today because you were hoping against hope that I would contradict that nagging feeling on the back of your neck that you're going nowhere with that boy."

"… Did you use your psychic abilities to see that?" Suzette asked, genuinely surprised.

"No. That comes from my own experiences being a sixteen-year-old girl."

"Oh…"

"You're going to East-Central and you won't be back for how long?!" Adrian exclaimed, standing in Sage's bedroom, watching him pack a bag.

"A week; and there's no need to scream about it." He replied calmly, folding a black t-shirt and setting it inside the bag.

"And just where do you intend to stay on this little excursion to the bad part of town?!"

"It's not the 'bad' part of town—you know that's North-Central. It's just the old part of town."

"Whatever! Where are you staying? Some seedy Lebanese hotel?!" Sage made note that this was at least the second time he had heard Adrian use the phrase "seedy Lebanese hotel" and wondered where she had gotten the idea that all squalid, cheap hotels were run by the Lebanese.

"I'm staying with Eleven Dice."

Adrian was quiet for a short moment. "… What?"

"She's a member of the Marble Index." Sage replied.

"The Marble Index?!" She once again released a shot of sonic explosion into the air.

"Please, Adrian, I'm havin' a headache here."

"Do you mean the 'Marble Index' as in the vigilante group that was referred to as 'Stanley Sleeter & the Eastside Kids' up until the late nineties?!"

"Yes, that's who I mean Adrian."

"Well are you meeting with anyone else from this so-called 'Marble Index'?!"

"Maybe, I donno."

Adrian let out a lamenting sigh and collapsed down onto Sage's bed. "Tell me something Sage…"

"Hmm?"

"Do you know who was the leader of Stanley Sleeter & the Eastside Kids?"

"It was Stan Sleeter, like the name implies."

"Right; now, can you tell me what happened to Stanley Sleeter?"

"He was killed by the local government in the 1998 raid on the major Boogieman Theorists in the city."

"Bingo! Now tell me why it's a good idea for you to go all the way across town—a two-and-a-half hour drive in the best of traffic conditions—overtop that awful lake, just to go consorting with a motley group of common criminals in a shitty part of town (okay, so it's not as bad as North-Central but it's still not great)!"

Sage sighed and took a moment away from his packing to deal with her. "The Marble Index is the first of it's kind. They were the first organized group of Boogieman Theorists to take an active role in cleaning up the city."

"You mean they were the first people to go out and shoot shit in the middle of the night?"

"Right."

Sage was very familiar with the work of the Marble Index and their earlier days as Stanley Sleeter & the Eastside Kids. Their current leader was the Irish-born Serge McGovern, who had lived his entire childhood in Hong Kong and was proficient in Chinese martial arts. Their second-in-command was the before-mentioned Eleven Dice, who was the longest-running member of the group; dating back to 1992 when she joined with the group's founder and original leader: the legendary Stan Sleeter.

In Megalopolis there was no one more infamous—past or present—than Stanley Sleeter. While in West-Central Megalopolis the middle-aged aristocratic elite where creating philosophies about the city and coining the actual term "Boogieman Theory", across the lake Stan Sleeter was forming a sort of squad of young people who were much like Sage and many of the Boogieman Theorists of the present, and stalked through the streets late at night, planting bullets in the heads of the undead beasts who crawled through the dark and dingy parts of town, feeding on unfortunates who came across them.

There weren't many people who Sage would admit to looking up to, but Stanley Sleeter was undoubtedly his hero, and he looked to model himself after him in any way possible. Not surprisingly, he was thrilled when he met Eleven Dice and she invited him to the Marble Index's lair in East-Central to share in their trade secrets.

It wasn't uncommon for Sage to meet up with other Boogieman Theorists; after all, they were the only people who dared wander the streets of Megalopolis at night. Most of the meetings Sage had had with other Theorists were brief encounters that lasted no more than that evening, but it had been different with Eleven. He knew her from all the research he had done on Stanley Sleeter and all of his work in East-Central; she knew him as well, for—as he had been told before—he was one of the most infamous people in the Megalopolis underground. They spent the evening discussing all the pressing matters concerning the city and kept in touch via e-mail. A little less than a month later, she asked him to come stay with her in East-Central and observe the Marble Index.

Sage finished packing his bag, threw on his coat, and headed out.

He turned to Adrian. "I'm leaving now."

"What about school?!" She wailed.

"… I'm not going?"

"You'll be counted truant!"

"So?"

"So…" She'd suddenly lost track of the argument she was trying to make. "Oh, forget it!"

"… Go home."

Meanwhile, in Madame Cecelia's kitchen, Bruno was pacing back and forth, bored, and silently grumbling to himself about Suzette and how she dragged him all the way out there just so he could stand in some crazy woman's kitchen while she got her palms read. In his tedium he began going through the various books and folders and all manner of documents that were piled up in mass accumulations, all around the room.

Leafing through a random folder he thought he saw the picture of someone familiar. He flipped back through the papers until he found it again. Lo and behold, there in front of his face was a picture of Sage Harlequin. It was his sophomore year picture, where his eyes were only half opened; Suzette had mentioned it before. On further inspection, Bruno found the entire portfolio was dedicated to information on Sage: his date of birth, his address, phone number, license plate number, even blood type.

'Does Sage know this dingbat?' Bruno wondered, but soon put that idea out of his mind. If he knew her, why would she keep a file on him?

It struck him as strange, disturbing even, so he shoved the folder under his shirt and went over and banged on the door.

"You about done in there?"

He heard Suzette grunt in disgust with him. "Fine, damnit, I'm done! I'll never take you anyplace with me again!"

He sauntered casually into the room, trying not to seem too suspicious.

"I guess you're ready to go?" Suzette asked grudgingly, scowling at him.

"Hey, hold up a sec here! You got to talk to the crazy woman now it's my turn." He said.

Her glare on him became more apparent. "You've gotta pay for that, you know."

"I know."

"… Well then…" Madame Cecelia said. "… Why don't you sit down then…"

"My pleasure!" He bellowed, dropping down onto the old wooden chair that creaked under his 215 lbs.

"Hmm… Well I suppose you'll be going in the other room now?" Cecelia asked Suzette.

"… Me?"

"Yeah, I had to stand in the fuckin' kitchen the whole time you were doing this, now get the hell outta here!" Bruno ordered, grinning wildly.

"Ugh Jesus Christ… I'll be outside having a smoke." She said, then gathered her coat and stepped out into Madame Cecelia's garden.

"So, tell me what you want to know." Cecelia said.

Bruno smiled smugly for a moment before producing the folder from inside his shirt and presenting it to her. "I wanna know what the hell's up with this."

At the very first sight of the portfolio, Cecelia grew pale. "Oh shit…" she murmured.

"Betcha didn't foresee that, eh?"

She bit her lip, silently cursing herself for being so careless and leaving all her files out on the kitchen table for anyone passing through to look at as they pleased.

"… Do you… know him?" She asked, motioning towards the picture of Sage with the stupefied expression on his face.

"Sure do. He's this Boogieman Theorist that Suzette is about in love with; and I want you to tell me everything you know about him."

"… And if I don't?"

"I go in there and make a mess of your kitchen and any other tabs you're keeping on kids from West-Central or whatever." He threatened. "And I'd like to see you stop me if I tried." He added, anticipating he next response.

"… This is about Suzette then?" She asked, scraping at something to try and disarm him. "You're jealous because she's so enamored with him."

"Pff! Wrong! Some psychic you are!" He retorted. "I'd pay him good money to take that harpy out there away from me; sorry to say I don't think he's that interested."

"Then what do you want with information about this young man?"

Bruno sat up and leaned in closer to her. "The other night, I was at the Fine Arts College with my sister for the taping of the last episode of Investigation with Max & Violet where I witnessed Violet Dolph get ripped to shreds by a zombie—yes a 'zombie', I shit you not. Not ten seconds later, Sage Harlequin comes runnin' in from the back (I guess he snuck in under my radar) and just as that happens, seven or eight guys in black uniforms come busting in from all sides of the building, put together this big-ass gun, shoot the zombie, clean it up and then leave like nothing happened."

Cecelia continued to listen.

"Now, going on that, and the fact that I know Harlequin is involved with some crazy shit like that, I've gotta figure he called those guys in, and I want more information."

Cecelia remained silent for a moment, smiling with relief; she had found a way to turn this to her advantage.

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