“Missed me, missed me, now you gotta kiss me, if you kissed me, mister, I might tell my sister…”
A glint of a long, silver razor reflected against glass.
Then, after one smooth motion, those despicable stray hairs were cut from the smooth skin of Valero’s face.
Tall and lanky, this particular man stood alone in front of his massive vanity mirror. He was surrounded by his precious oddities: mannequins, stuffed birds, a huge marlin up on the wall, portraits of people in various states of distress, a lizard’s skeleton, and uncountable porcelain dolls.
Only the best for the likes of Valero.
He continued to sing, the lyrics bouncing wonderfully from his lips, as he finished shaving.
It was but another thirty seconds until his v-shaped goatee was immaculate and clean.
Folding his razor and settling it back in its drawer, Valero looked down upon his vestments. His vest, the undershirt beneath, his long pants and the pirate boots below showed not a speck of dust or dent.
For every mocking gesture Lucas threw at him about his appearance, Valero often wondered how he could ever accuse him of being scruffy.
Valero then smiled at his own reflection, showcasing perfect teeth and black hair shaped to his liking.
Alone in his vast room, today he had only a single confidant for company. Still smiling, he lifted up the small purple sugar skull sitting on his nightstand.
Like Hamlet himself, Valero couldn’t help but orate to his tiny friend up.
“What say you, Salivar? Do I frighten or abhor?”
No response from the skull, of course.
If there was, it wasn’t one anyone could hear.
Nevertheless, Valero leaned down, listening in like one might listen in to the wafting drone of a sea shell.
A few seconds of nothing, and yet somehow, Valero was satisfied. Carefully, he put Salivar down back on his nightstand.
Giving himself one last once over, Valero nodded before pulling out his old yet trusty pocket watch.
It read half past six. He had all the time in the world.
It wasn’t like Michael had been given any particular meeting time, after all.
Chance encounters were best served spontaneously.
With a spring in his step, Valero knew for a fact that his masterful play would no doubt fall right into place.
The players would gather, his show would commence, and it would be a wonderful, roaring success.
More than anything, the mere thought of this new face, this so-called disco dancing child, sent the most delightful shiver down Valero’s spine.
It was almost as if the spirit of Highlord Funk himself was returning to its rightful place, and his sound of disco could finally make its home once again within the ranks of DanceDown.
And so, as Valero made his way down the hall, up and out as he left the DownLow. The night air beckoned, and he laughed to himself.
His destination was, and had always had been, a mere five minute walk into the Village from here.
Valero would almost certainly be waiting quite awhile, but what better place to wait than a home away from home?
He’d laugh until he was sick, and that would be fine.
Because soon enough, Michael Kay would make his way right on up to the Straight Razor Cabaret.
In the center of Rob’s now cracked coffee table, DanceDown’s letter sat alone like a centerpiece.
On the left, in the only seat that had escaped Kim and Aeris’s wrath, sat Denny. She was chewing loudly, a slice of half-finished pizza in her hand.
“So,” she commented between chews. “Thisf is from DanceDowhn?
In response, Michael picked up the piece of paper again, unfurling it to show the logo for all to say.
“Does it look like anything else to you guys?”
Kim shook her head, unconvinced. “It could easily be a fake. And that address? Like walking right into a trap.”
Michael rolled his tongue, staring down at the paper. Try as he might, there was no real way for him to verify the authenticity of this particular invitation.
All he had now was that gut feeling in his stomach.
It was the very same one that had told him to trust Kim, and Calvin and Aeris, and even Denny.
It hadn’t failed him yet in recent memory. Aeris had come back to them, only to leave at his request, and even the suspicious Talulah turned out to be otherwise.
Those thoughts in mind, Michael looked up with confidence.
“I’m going. Real or not, I gotta know.”
Kim narrowed her eyes. “Michael: think, for once in your life. Is this really a smart move?”
He grinned back, and of course, Kim didn’t so much as smile.
“Yeah…not really. But I’m already one for one today, so really, how much worse can it get?”
Kim should have known better than trying to convince him otherwise. His face said it all.
“Okay. Do what you want.” she replied, shrugging as she got up out of her chair and headed towards the fridge of Rob’s open kitchen.
Kim cracked open a cold soda but a second later. “But you’re on your own for this one.”
Michael nodded. “I understand. I’m not putting responsibility on anyone.”
By now, Denny had gulped down the last of her pizza. She piped up with sudden excitement at the prospect ahead.
“I…I’ll go! I mean…I don’t mind.”
Michael smiled. “Seriously?”
“Mhm!” Denny nodded with electric happiness. “Cause if it really turns out to be a big trap, you’ll need me to bail you out, right?”
“Nah, we got this.” Michael exclaimed, raising his hand.
Denny clapped him in response, and then the two of them giggled like they’d been hit with a balloon full of laughing gas.
But behind the counter of Rob’s kitchen, Kim grimaced at the sound of their camaraderie.
She could feel herself crushing the soda can in her hand as a familiar anger came over her.
Because the more she listened to them, the more and more they began to sound like Calvin and Aeris in her mind.
The two former Audio Knights had been gone for a little less than two hours, and it was like they’d never left in the first place.
As the cold winter wind blew through Michael’s orb of black hair, his finger hovered over the enter key on his phone.
He pressed it, ignoring the biting cold as the message went on its way to his uncle Rob.
With an audible gulp, Michael tried not think of the waiting consequences of ruining Rob’s apartment yet again, once this business with DanceDown was said and done.
“You ready?” Denny asked, snapping Michael out of his wandering thoughts.
He nodded, the folded paper in hand. “Yeah. Let’s do it.”
As if entering some den of thieves, Michael and Denny walked across the street and approached the building on that fated address.
With its gothic stylings, Michael actually recalled passing by this place, the Straight Razor Cabaret, maybe once in the past. But it had to have been when he was very young, because the details eluded him as he and Denny got close.
Guarding the door in the front, a tall, thin girl, sucking on a purple lollipop and dressed like a goth, served as unlikely bouncer.
She stopped them with one hand before either of them could say so much as anything.
“Names?” she asked. Michael didn’t respond. Instead, he handed her the invitation showing the DanceDown logo, and hoped for the best.
With heavy mascara over her eyes, the girl surveyed the piece of paper in her hands for no more than five seconds.
Then, as if throwing away a candy wrapper, she crumpled it up and tossed into the trash can behind her.
“I see. You’re good. V’s waiting inside.”
Michael looked at Denny with a mixture of confusion and elation, but decided it was better not to question it.
With Denny at his heel, he passed the door woman and entered the so-called Straight Razor Cabaret.
At seventeen years of age, Michael Kay had never been inside a real club. Being careful not to bump into anyone, he led Denny along as the sights and sounds of the place enveloped him.
Peculiar music, at least it was to Michael, played overhead, and he felt like a bright piece of candy among a sea of black licorice.
The whole place and had a black and violet scheme to its decor, but despite the dour atmosphere, everyone seemed to be having an incredibly good time.
The amount of laughter and drinks passed around contrasted heavily against the chain neck-collars, tattoos and copious black makeup.
“So what do you think this V guy looks like?” Michael asked, turning around and trying to differentiate anyone among the crowd.
Denny stayed close by; to the point where Michael could practically feel her breath on his neck.
His face grew just a little hot once he realized just how close she was.
“No idea. Let’s go order a drink. That’ll draw him out.”
She grabbed Michael by the hand, pulling him along as they headed towards the well-lit and well-decorated bar up ahead.
Without skipping a beat, Michael and Denny took their seats on the stools, as Michael put his finger up to call the bartender over.
“I hope this actually works…” he said with uncertainty, as Denny reassured.
“Don’t worry. I saw it in a music video once.”
A few seconds later, and the bartender had come over. He was a tall fellow, with a distinct v-shaped goatee and an almost crazy gleam in his eyes.
“Yes, can I be of assistance?” he asked Michael, who found his throat suddenly empty as he failed to find words.
He was too young to drink, of course. Plus, he barely knew what drinks he could even order.
It was a good five seconds of Michael mentally falling apart before Denny took the reins.
“My boyfriend here would like a drink. Something hard and smooth.”
Michael looked back at Denny incredulously, their bartender laughing while he cleaned an empty glass at the same time.
“A little young for either of you to be drinking, don’t you think?”
Then, without even blinking, his eyes turned towards Michael’s hair. “You know, you look familiar. Have we met before?”
The bartender grinned to himself, even as Michael posed his true request.
“Forget the drink. We’re looking for V. It’s about DanceDown.”
“DanceDown, huh?” he replied, trying his best to hold in his urge to laugh out loud.
“I think I can help you in that regard.”
He stared out at the crowds of people and noisy music. “Why don’t we go somewhere a little more private?”
Michael looked at Denny, but there was nothing to be discussed.
Right now, if he wanted any sort of answer, he had to trust the letter sent to him.
“Um, sure. Let’s do that.”
“Drinks for later. I promise.” the bartender added. “You two aren’t in a rush, I hope?”
Denny shook her head as he stepped out from behind the counter and revealed himself in his entirety. “Nope. Lead the way.”
Valero grinned. With that, he nodded towards a man nearby, who silently took over bar duties as Valero led Denny and Michael out through a door in the back.
The music and chatter became more and more distant, as Michael and Denny followed Valero down a flight of stairs leading to the more private lower floor.
After a few minutes of following him, he led them through arterial red curtains and into a larger room.
But as he clicked the light on, both Michael and Denny simultaneously realized something was off.
Maybe it was the fact that this guy had been holding back his laughter the whole way down.
Maybe it was the way he dressed: like a pirate lost in an urban sea.
But the fact that he had led them into a room with a smooth, marley floor, the same kind used for professional dancing, was the true icing on the cake.
“So where is he?” Michael asked, readying the muscles in his legs as Denny was similarly preparing herself.
No song effect came out to attack them however, as their bartender friend instead moved with sudden, calculated speed.
Even as Denny tried to dash forward to help Michael, Valero was five steps ahead.
With a twirl like a ballerina, and the swagger of a rock star, he tripped her and sent her falling flat on her face.
And as Michael turned to face him, a backhand blow slammed right into his cheek.
The world blared with painful intensity, as Michael struggled to stand, and their bartender friend bowed in greeting.
“Valero, at your service. So happy to finally meet you, Mr. Kay. And you as well, Ms. Girelli.”
He grinned, watching as Michael’s fists closed.
With only victory in mind, Michael charged in defiance.
Valero couldn’t be happier.
Changing his stance, he twirled his finger like a makeshift rapier and called out to his opponents with infectious enthusiasm.
“Yes, yes, that’s it! Come and have at thee! Talk is cheap! Prepare to dance or die!”