They say that the secret to any good party -- other than having the right mix of people -- is the venue. And they would be right, which is why people are willing to pay a lot of good !@#$ money to have someone find the perfect spot, book it, and get everything ready for them so they don't have to do it themselves.
Does that seem like an extravagance? Then consider three things:
1) Finding the right venue is sort of like Goldilocks legendary home invasion -- a question of too much, not enough, or just right. Too much space and the party seems sparsely-attended, and people think they're bored and go home, but too little space and the party seems overcrowded, and then people get claustrophobic and angry and -- you guessed it -- go home. And while no one wants to party in a dump (unless they're hipsters, or something), if the place is too nice, everyone will be afraid to let loose for fear of breaking something irreplaceable.
2) This is Neo York City. Everything's expensive as !@#$ -- even the cramped dumps some people call party halls. If you want to get something decent for a lot of people, you either need an "in" or a lot of money. Sometimes both.
3) As this is Neo York City, everything is booked quite some time in advance, sometimes even years in advance, in fact. So if you decide to throw something impromptu for a few hundred people on a whim, you really need someone who can grease the palms and get a space in something other than an Elks Lodge.
So when Straffer told SPYGOD that he'd thrown together a New Years Eve party for a couple hundred people, out of seemingly nowhere, that is no small thing to have done. Especially since the amount of site-shopping, palm-greasing, and threats of bodily violence that must have occurred to make it happen had to have happened over the phone, while SPYGOD was either asleep or drunk in another room.
Having said that, one must also say that Lombardi's, out on 5th, isn't exactly what you'd call a great venue. Once upon a time it was a gymnasium, but then it fell on worse days and they had to sell. Whoever they sold it to had the idea to try and turn it into a restaurant, but that didn't work out too well, either, so it became -- in short succession -- a small concert hall, a large bar, and a large gay bar.
Finally, it was purchased by a trendy guy who bought it got it at a really good price to try and turn it into a dance hall. This sort of worked, though it's more of a multipurpose sort of place, these days. Banquets and Bar Mitzvahs, mostly.
So tonight, when the staff throws the doors open, there's muted orange and yellow lights shining down from the sagging, cracked ceiling, along with silver paper stars and disco balls. The walls are covered up with white curtains so no one can see what they look like, underneath, or hear the traffic from 5th Avenue. The bar to the side of the raised, "wooden" dance floor has been draped in white linens, and the upholstery on the seats and couches on the other side of the floor is also white.
(It's meant to dazzle and hide the reality of things from the guests, obviously. Given the professions of most of them, this is highly appropriate.)
But all cover-ups and cosmetic treatments aside, the venue is perfect. It's neither too small nor too large, too fancy or too foul. And while it might have been a bit pricier than one would have liked, given the state of the actual hall itself, the fact that it was open on New Years Eve is nothing less than a miracle.
(That the miracle was obtained by mentioning the organizer's ongoing relationship with the Space Service -- a group of people who can and will atomize things from orbit -- needs no mention, here.)
Randolph Scott stands over by the bar by the dance floor, looking like an advertisement for sobriety. There's circles under the circles under his eyes, and the cybernetic jacks and ports in the back of his skull are looking a little ragged. Almost conversely, he's dressed as impeccable as he's been in weeks: black suit, white shirt, shimmering silk tie.
And clearly, horribly alone.
As he finishes his third mimosa and goes to call for another from the clearly-bored bartender, he realizes someone's walking towards him from across the otherwise-empty hall. He turns to look, not immediately recognizing the tall, scowling woman who's approaching.
(Long black hair, Native American features, turquoise and silver jewelry in her hair, muscles like a horse, a small purse that clearly has at least one handgun in it.)
"You know, there's always one !@#$hole who shows up early," she snorts, clearly uncomfortable in her off-color party dress: "Usually it's me."
"It's gotta be someone," he says, gesturing to the seat next to his: "I've got an excuse, though."
"What's yours?" she asks, pointedly taking the seat next to that, but not without scowling just a little less.
"You get there on time, sometimes you miss the real story," he says, turning back to take his new drink.
"For my sins."
"You look like you've got one !@#$ of a backlog, then."
"You noticed, huh?" he says, trying not to let her rile him: "Yeah, this hasn't exactly been the best time of my life."
"Mine either," she admits, pointing to the bottle of Jack behind the bar, and indicating that the bartender should just bring it and a glass: "I think I liked it better when I was !@#$ing fighting an enemy, you know?"
"Don't you have enough now?" he asks, finally recognizing her out of uniform: "Well, until Christmas, anyway."
"Oh yeah," Yanabah snorts, having a serious, broken-neck pull from the bottle instead of the glass: "And you were there covering that, weren't you?"
"I was, yeah," he says, watching her wipe her mouth with the back of her hand: "I was there when the compound fell."
"And I was there when they started handing .50 caliber retirement packages to those !@#$ing worms that were tied up with them," she says, shaking her head as her sinuses riot: "I handed a few out, myself. Not a nice day."
"You mean the heroes that had gone over to the secessionists' side?"
"You know what I mean," scowling again.
"Well, there's a quite a few people who died that day-"
"I'm not being interviewed, !@#$face," she interrupts him, putting a hand up in his face without looking at him: "You want a statement, you go !@#$ing talk to someone gives a !@#$. I'm here to get drunk and..."
"And?" he asks, looking around the hand.
"And... get drunk," she sighs, putting the hand down: "Maybe get drunk, while I'm at it. And then get drunk when I'm done with that."
"Sounds like a plan," he says: "That's what I was here to do, too. But you know me. I'm still a reporter. Can't turn off the brain."
"Maybe if you pulled one of your !@#$ plugs?"
Okay. That did it. He scowls, gets up from his seat, and hands the bartender a bill for his own drinks.
"I'm sorry," she mutters, but he's already gone. She knows she should go after him, maybe give a better !@#$ apology, but she knows it wouldn't do any good at this point, if ever.
"Oh, Grandfather," Yanabah sighs, putting her hand on the top of the bottle, as if to convince herself to stop drinking from it: "Why was it you and not me?"
The bottle doesn't have any answers. It never does.
It's exactly one hour after the party started, and -- as if by magic -- everyone starts to appear.
The Shadow People are here, in singles and pairs and the odd half-dozen. The remnants of the Freedom Force, some in party clothes and some in costume. The new kids, all dressed in their smart dress uniforms, and wondering if they should try and mingle with their elders or keep to themselves. The heroes from overseas, trying to find people they actually know in this mess, or else sticking to themselves in small knots and whirls at various points on the floor.
(The brightest lights from the new Space Service -- just arrived in their gold-brocaded dress whites and looking as smart as possible.)
Ambassadors from Atlantis, resplendent and moist in their weird pressure suits made from lesser creatures, wondering who they should talk to. Visitors from the Toon Nation, glowing under the lights and oh-so-happy to be here, tonight. Strange beings that no one seems to know the provenance of, but somehow got an invite, and don't seem to be acting out of turn, yet. The occasional Gay Republican, most of whom don't know what to make of the strange fellow who claims to be Benjamin Franklin, himself.
(Superspies from a dozen or more countries, mostly keeping their own counsel.)
But no sign of the host, just yet.
Yes, he's under house arrest. He's under orders not to set foot from the apartment the Terre Unifee set up for him, until his trial. But since when does SPYGOD follow orders?
He'll be here, somehow. And they can hardly wait.
(Most of them, anyway.)
But in the meantime, there's the bar, the dance floor, and the DJ, who seems to know exactly what they need to hear right now. There's the lights and the bodies, the conversation and connections, and the thrumming and beat of the music that's become the soundtrack of their lives right now.
Now and forever, there is only the party.
"So how are you liking the new deal, so far?" the original New Man asks Skyspear as they lounge over in the chair pile, watching people dance like mad.
"I am not certain," she says, looking resplendent in her new uniform: "I like the sense of belonging, but it's very... I don't know the word in English."
"I never do, either, honey," Gosheven says, wincing as a very drunken Yanabah stumbles through the dancers, almost stepping on the tail of an upright, cartoon dog in a tuxedo.
"Well, what's a time when you feel strange about it?" New Man asks, trying to not watch the resulting scuffle.
"Like when we need to go and do one thing, but then someone calls and tells us not to because someone else is going to deal with it," she says: "Or we should be dealing with something, but then we are called and told to go somewhere else. It is very confusing."
"I was going to say 'annoying,'" Mark Clutch says, returning with another drink for her: "But I guess that's life in the new reality for you."
"Well, it's not like we didn't have that before," New Man says, finishing his drink: "SPYGOD was infamous for telling us to do one thing and then changing course and telling us to do the exact opposite. It was like he was flipping coins, sometimes."
"It usually worked out, though," Gosheven offers: "From what I heard, anyway."
"Sometimes," Mark says, sitting down next to Skyspear and reflexively taking her hand in his: "Sometimes it was a big mess, too. I remember this one time-"
"Is it perhaps that the control is no longer coming from one of your own?" Skyspear asks, interrupting her lover: "That this is being done by a world government?"
"A French world government at that," Night Phantom says, suddenly appearing close to them. It's perhaps to their credit that his tendency to do this no longer startles them as much as it used to.
"Well, more people speak French than English," Skyspear says, winking at him.
"I think it's the nationality and not the language," Mark says, still a little stung at being run over in conversation (again).
"Yeah," New Man agrees: "SPYGOD may have been an insane bastard when he was in charge of our strategic talents, but he was our insane bastard. We knew what he was about-"
"Sometimes," Gosheven interrupts, snickering.
"And we knew where his loyalties lay," New Man continues: "Right smack under our feet. Flag, country, apple pie. No question. Now the Terre Unifee..."
He stops talking and looks askance. No one else needs to say anything more.
A young man in a green and white dress uniform (with a horrendous, still-healing scar on his left cheek) comes up to them, zeroing in on Mark: "Sir? Are you Mark Clutch?"
"I am, son," he says, getting up to shake his hand: "What can I do for you?"
"Green Fury, sir," he says, smiling a little: "Sorry to interrupt-"
"Oh, it's no interruption," New Man says: "Us old-timers were just grousing."
"At a party, no less," Gosheven chuckles.
"Well, that's what happens at your parties," Skyspear says, getting up and putting down her drink: "Pardon me? I think I will go and dance."
"Anyway, sir," Green Fury says, noticing how wistfully Mark looks after the woman walking away: "I was wondering... do you know if your sister will be here tonight?"
"My sister?" he asks, puzzled: "Oh, you mean Martha?"
"The Owl, yes," the young man smiles: "I had a few things I needed to thank her for."
"I'm not sure if she's coming or not," he says, his heart still hoping he's wrong: "Her and SPYGOD... well... there's been some friction. But you didn't hear that from me."
"I heard nothing," the young man says, putting a hand on his heart: "No, it's just that she really helped me out when some bad things went down, recently."
"Yes," he says, nodding sadly: "I guess we're all healing up from that."
"We are," Mark sighs, shaking the young man's hand again: "If I see her, I will send her straight to you, son."
"Thanks," he says, and leaves the old timers to their grousing.
"What happened to him?" Gosheven asks.
"Oh, he was from LA," New Man says, whistling: "Only honest guy in the bunch, apparently. It's a great day when your friends and teammates show up at your house to try and kill you."
"Is that what we've become?" Mark asks, sitting down and watching his lover dance to whatever weird disco-techno mashup the DJ's playing now (and looking oh-so-happy to be out there, alone).
"I think so," Gosheven answers, realizing the question wasn't necessarily about that young hero's predicament.
"I really prefer the original," the Night Phantom admits, not getting the subtext at all.
(SPYGOD is listening to Open (The Cure) and having a Sawtooth Ale )