“There are three commandments the French Quarter’s police hold sacred above any written law.”
Saturday afternoon, 5 September 2015
GM: New Orleans is no New York or District of Columbia, but between hosting the Louisiana Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, it’s the legal capital of the South. Located in the Vieux Carré and Central Business District respectively, one can easily walk from one court to the other, not that most judges and attorneys would deign to traverse the distance on foot. Law offices cluster around the two great courts like tics burrowed against a fat carcass. Louisiana might be the poorest state in the country, but well-reputed lawyers can make very profitable careers for themselves in this square mile of it.
Bert Villars is not a particularly well-reputed lawyer.
His office is located a short walk away from Mid-City’s Shops at Crescent Club shopping mall. The house-like building is plain and nondescript from the outside, the sort of place that looks like it could be either a “professional” office for a small business or somebody’s home. Its only advertisement is a slightly scuffed sign that reads “Bert Villars—Attorney at Law”.
The reception room, though, tells it all.
The first thing that hits Emmett as he walks in is the rank odor of cigarette smoke. Several black men wearing fashion assortments that include hoodies, leather jackets, baseball caps, and flashy gold jewelry are engaged in conversation with a Latina woman who might be able to pass for a professional-looking receptionist if she were several decades younger, there were fewer bags under her eyes, and her jowls weren’t tugged into a seemingly permanent scowl. Two women dressed in miniskirts, heavy makeup, and stripper-high heels dangle from the mens’ arms, looking bored as the receptionist splits her attention between conversation and typing at her computer.
The other dregs seated in the reception area’s chairs say few better things about Bert Villars’ clientèle. A slim-faced, long-nosed, greasy-haired man dressed entirely in black stares intently at the magazine gripped in his hands, his mouth contorted in a sneering half-grimace as his beady eyes dart suspiciously between Em and the other clients. His neighbor is an indistinct figure swaddled in a drawn-up hoodie, baggy pants, and what looks like at least several further layers of clothes. His (her?) face is concealed behind a ski mask and wide pair of sunglasses. He stares blankly up at the ceiling, his arms and posture slack, his body motionless. Em cannot say if he is alive or dead.
The last personage is a middle-aged, pencil-mustached man in a cheap white leisure suit and partly unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt that shows off his chest hair. His graying, receding hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and he smells of incredibly strong cologne even when he’s seated over five feet away from Em, boredly flipping through his phone.
The aging receptionist spares Em a half-glance as the black men and scantily-attired girls on their arms file out. The stench of cigarette smoke doesn’t dissipate. “Take a seat, Bert’ll be with you soon,” she snaps.
Emmett: He inclines his head, and gives her a smile even as he makes his way to the seat by the black-dressed man. “Who says I’m not here to see you, Paloma?”
GM: The frumpy-looking woman snorts and types something onto her computer.
Emmett: Taking his seat, Em says to his neighbor out of the corner of his mouth, “She’s got a soft spot for me. Deep, deep down.”
GM: The greasy-haired man actually startles as Em speaks to him and clutches the magazine even tighter. His eyes slowly drift between the receptionist and grifter. His right is a bit of a lazy one. “She’s a fat cunt.”
Emmett: “That’s why it’s so deep.”
GM: The man’s thin lips pull back as he makes a series of half-hissing, half-coughing sounds that might be able to pass for laughter. Paloma shoots him a withering glare.
Em waits for some ten minutes before his attorney finally shows, preceded by the sound of a clip-harnessed, stub-tailed dobberman’s steady padding against the carpeted floor. The grimebag lawyer wears black sunglasses that conceal his sightless eyes, a mid-range suit, checkered black and red necktie, and an American flag lapel pin that technically satisfy all the requirements for how a lawyer is supposed to look. The leathery, scabbed-over quality to his worn black skin from his days as a bug exterminator, however, betrays their spirit, as does his too-wide, yellow-toothed smile. It’s bared in an almost paralytic grimace not unlike a cobra flaring its hood, and all the less reassuring when the near-blind lawyer is staring just a little ways off from where Em’s face actually is.
“Ah, Mr. Delacroix. Right this way, please.”
Emmett: Em slides to his feet, hands in his pockets. “Long time no see, Bert.” He moves to get the door for the old bastard, even though he’s always had a faint hunch that the snake’s eyes still work.
GM: The old snake bares another hood-flaring grin. “You’re too kind.”
Villars and his canine guide Caveat follow Em down a short hallway into his office room, which contains all the usual accouterments one expects: desk, chairs, bookshelves filled with legal titles, mounted degrees and awards. The latter, though, seem just a little scarce, and the empty space on the walls is instead conveniently filled out by four framed pages of the U.S. Constitution. Villars takes a seat behind his desk and the faux-gold model scales of justice on its surface, then motions for Em to pull up a chair on the other side. He lights up a cigarette and bares his yellowed teeth in another grimace-like smile.
“So what kind of trouble can I get you out of today, mmm?”
Emmett: “The type that gets you either in a cell or buried under it.” Em clears his throat. “And which earns repeat business.”
GM: Villars exhales a plume of dirty smoke. Politely away from Em’s face. Caveat, lying at the foot of the desk, shakes his head. “Doesn’t it all, when it adds up,” the grimebag lawyer smiles.
Emmett: Em doesn’t hold anything back in his explanation of his recent activities. He also does his best to approximate exactly what he imagines Christina knows about him and could have passed on to Talal.
“How much trouble am I in, legally speaking?”
GM: Villars patiently listens to Emmett’s explanation of events. By the time he is finished, the lawyer’s cigarette has diminished to a stub. Villars snubs out the smoking embers in an ashtray next to justice’s scales. “Well, Emmett, there is legally and there is legally, yes?”
“Legally, you haven’t actually done anything.”
“Well,” he adds as Caveat’s ears seem to perk, “anything to al-Saud. I suppose they could try to get you on false impersonation, but, really, it’s a completely frivolous case.” Villars drums his fingers over his desk. “Legally… well, there are three commandments the French Quarter’s police hold sacred above any written law.”
“One, visitors must feel safe.”
“Two, visitors must spend money.”
“Three, nothing must disturb the businesses through which that money flows.”
“You, my friend, by wanting to defraud al-Saud, are guilty of intent to violate #2. Whether you’ve violated #1, well, I suppose that depends how he took whatever Ms. Roberts had to say.”
Emmett: “So I don’t have to fear a lawsuit,” Em says. “I have to fear the cops? As far as the Quarter goes,” he amends.
GM: “The Eighth District cops have jurisdiction over the CBD, Warehouse District, and Marigny too,” Villars amends.
Emmett: “Oh. Everywhere fun.”
GM: “Yes, it’s a cushy district. The cops want to make sure visitors like al-Saud stay safe. In fact, not just perception, for ones as high-profile as him.”
Emmett: Em considers in silence.
GM: “So if he wants them to break your ribs and throw you in jail for ‘assaulting an officer’, that’d be fairly easy for him to arrange. He’s probably lavishing them with regular bribes anyway, to overlook what goes on in his hotel room.”
GM: “Al-Saud brings the Vieux Carré a great deal of money. You don’t.”
Emmett: “You know Cash Money—Ricky Mouton?”
GM: Villars flashes another yellowy grin. “All too well.”
Emmett: “He’s connected. Think he could make this go away, if he wanted to?”
GM: Villars bursts out in raggedy, cough-like laugher he’s only able to sustain for a few moments. Caveat’s ears go flat at the sound.
“Emmett. Al-Saud brings in the French Quarter a great deal of money. You don’t. And Cash Money, true to his name, worships no higher god than Mammon.”
Emmett: “If he wanted to, though,” Em repeats.
GM: “Well, he wouldn’t. But that’s the real question, isn’t it? Whether the want is Cash Money Mouton’s or Talal al-Saud’s.” Villars drums his fingers. “That’s your best defense at this point. Whether Talal actually cares enough to make any fuss over this. You say you never spoke to him, and it sounds as if Ms. Roberts didn’t either.”
Emmett: Em blinks.
GM: “He could have the police beat your brains in out of pique, but you have to meet a man to feel pique towards him.”
Emmett: Em slept through English, but he gets the gist. “You think Roberts was bluffing?”
GM: Villars frowns. “What? My lord no, I’m positive she wasn’t. She, Emmett, certainly feels pique towards you.” The black-bespectacled lawyer makes a tsking noise. “Discretion is to her business what tourists are to the French Quarter, you ought to know. Rich men who see her escorts don’t want it blabbed about to strangers.” He flashes another leering, grimace-like smile. Caveat scratches his ear. “And Christina Roberts does so live to serve mens’ wants.”
Emmett: Em ignores the urge to see if the blind man recognizes a middle finger.
“So it seems like my next step is to figure out what’s happened so far, then find who it is I have to talk down. Unless you recommend another, ah, course of action?”
GM: “Well, that’s also hard to say,” Villars muses. “Al-Saud at least, who doesn’t know you, who never spoke to you, doesn’t have much reason to hate you. I’m sure he has a hundred other things—and people—he’d rather be doing than fretting over a warning about a petty grifter from the woman who supplies his whores.”
Emmett: Em sighs. “I’ll figure it out. There’s something else I’ve been meaning to ask you, anyways.”
GM: “Well, just a moment, Emmett. I haven’t offered my full… two cents,” Villars offers with another smile that has all the warmth of melted butter. The longer he talks, after all, the more he gets to bill.
“Al-Saud’s security detail is another matter. Their job, after all, is to do nothing but obsess over things that could rain on their boss’ vacation. What they want to do, though, I suppose depends on how they feel towards Christina Roberts, what she had to tell them, and how seriously they decide to take it. All you did, after all, was call and hang up.”
Emmett: Em rubs at his eyes. “As long as I don’t get FBI shaking up old cases. Like Afflerbach.”
He grimaces at the memory. He had met with Villars after that disaster, too.
GM: Villars just bares another yellow-tinged grin. There might not have been any court appearances, but there were billable hours.
“Afflerbach was NOPD business. But I digress. And no, unless al-Saud has given over the purse strings to his security detail, they can just cave your skull in themselves if they think you’re going to be trouble.” His leer widens. “And we wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we?”
Emmett: “I am fond of my skull, yeah.”
GM: Villars lights up another cigarette. “But, now, that’s on the extreme end of things. Could be they’ll just keep a closer eye on people trying to make friends with their boss. I don’t know them, so I really couldn’t say.”
Emmett: Em manages a smile, despite what seems like Villars’ best efforts. Bad, but survivable.
“Anything else I should keep in mind?”
GM: Villars exhales a smoky plume. “Mmm, how’s this. If you’re appealing against someone’s self-interest, it doesn’t matter what you have to say.”
Emmett: “I do that every day. It’s how I’m paying for this meeting.”
GM: “Cash Money loves money. Christina Roberts loves satisfied—and satisfying,” he leers, “—customers. Al-Saud’s people love their boss. Or at least his paychecks.” Another rancid, smoke-stained smile. “It’s so much harder to talk people away from their loves than their wives.”
“So if I were you, I wouldn’t talk to al-Saud’s people, or Cash Money, about anything related to this. Sometimes it’s better to just shut up.”
Emmett: Em simply shrugs. “Gotta play the cards you’re given. I don’t have many, and I don’t play to fold.”
GM: “Mmm. So what other cards are you laying on the table for me today?”
Emmett: Em spends the rest of the hour asking about the practicalities of alternate identities, and what if anything Villars knows about creating them.
GM: Villars grins like he’s been told an amusing joke. “Things starting to heat up, mmm?”
Emmett: “Always good to have a way out.”
GM: “Well, I know a few things. Knowing and doing are two different matters, though.” The grimebag lawyer scratches his dog’s ears. “You could say I know a guy who knows a guy. You’d not be the first of my clients who’s needed to disappear.”
Emmett: Em eyes the lawyer’s shades. “Does your guy have a name?”
GM: “He goes by Bud. He’s in the Dixie Mafia. If you’re interested, I can make a call to set things up.”
Emmett: “Depends. How much is the referral gonna cost me?”
GM: “‘Nother hour’s worth.”
Emmett: Em considers, then nods. “Make the call, then.”
He gets up to go.
GM: Villars rises after him and picks up Caveat’s tether.
“He’s a bit eccentric. Likes to have a little girl sit on his lap and watch when he does business.”
Emmett: Em blinks. “That… is eccentric.”
As he heads to the door, he calls: “Tell Paloma to smile more. Can’t find good service these days.”
Saturday afternoon, 5 September 2015
Emmett: Em waits a whole hour after leaving Villars’ to call Ricky “Cash Money” Mouton from his hotel room. Never let it be said he does not heed legal counsel.
GM: The phone rings and rings and rings. Finally, a smug-sounding “Hello, Em,” slides across Emmett’s ear with a tone as pleasant as oil over water. He can all but see the beanpole-framed cop’s puffy lips pressed into a smile at the greeting, like life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows.
Emmett: “Hey, hey, Ricky,” Em says. He should call more often. Every time he’s met Mouton in person he’s wondered if the asshole’s hair is as flammable as it looks. “Million-dollar question is, do you know why I’m calling?”
GM: Emmett can’t smell Cash Money’s signature scents of old spice deodorant, hair tonic, or tabasco sauce over the phone, but he can feel the leering man’s sleaze tickling his ear like an older relative’s fingers being somewhere they shouldn’t.
“For a million dollars I’m sure I could give you a reason.”
Emmett: “I’ll take that as a ‘no.’”
GM: Emmett can all but see the amused smirk. “Take it any which way you like.”
Emmett: “I may or may not have some unofficial heat at the moment. Can you poke around and see if any of your friends in blue have been asking about me? Preferably without making waves?” And more to the point, can you do it without bankrupting me?
GM: “Well, Em, that depends,” drawls the redbone cop. “Blue’s a color that pairs with green like dick and lips.”
Emmett: “Get your metaphors straight. You want cash or a BJ?”
GM: “One buys the other anyway.”
Emmett: “I’ll pay the green, then. How much?”
GM: “Mmm, let’s put it at a Ben Franklin.”
Emmett: “Done. He looks forward to meeting you. Call me back in a few?”
GM: “Meet me at the Barely Legal at 9.” His god’s presence invoked, Cash Money hangs up.
Emmett: Em texts him. Sorry to ruin the dramatic exit, but can’t do it. Call or nothing.
GM: No response texts back from the redbone detective.
Emmett: Em frowns. Then he calls his landlord.
GM: A few rings pass, though not so many as for Cash Money. “Yes, what is it?” asks Mrs. Darnell, the woman who serves as the building’s property manager. The actual landlord doesn’t care to handle that himself.
Emmett: “Hello, Mrs. Darnell. Having a good day?”
GM: “About as good as any other. They come and go.”
Emmett: “I’m out of town for the weekend, but I just remembered an old friend may have dropped in. I was double checking with you; has anybody come by looking for me?” She doesn’t sound like she’s been visited by the authorities. But better safe than sorry.
GM: “No, no one that I remember. Although I don’t know how many visitors would know I’m the building manager anyway.”
Emmett: “That’s fine, thanks anyways. Have a good one.” Click.
He trusts Cash Money about as much as he likes talking to him. Odds are that meeting with the cop will land him in trouble. He can’t—won’t—spend God knows how long squatting here until he feels safe walking the streets of his home. Fuck Mouton, fuck Roberts, and fuck the NOPD if they think they can keep him shut up in some two-star shithole in the CBD.
What he needs is a plan.
Saturday evening, 5 September 2015
GM: Emmett hits the Vieux Carré and bribes a stripper into getting close to some of the dirty cops who work alongside Cash Money. She shoots him a text around 8 PM, at the end of her day shift. As far as she could pick up, NOPD has no plans of busting Em, either for real crimes or manufactured ones. What that bodes for Talal al-Saud, of course, she cannot say.
Emmett: Em swallows his nightly pill of self-loathing and gives in to the redbone sleazebag fuck, showing up at Barely Legal come 8:59.
The one when most things go to shit, Em can’t help but note.
GM: There are few places in the world that can walk the line between “grimy disgusting shithole” and “mecca of rambunctiousness.” New Orleans, Louisiana straddles that line with unparalleled grace.
The Barely Legal drunkenly stumbles after it.
It’s a hole in the wall strip club on Bourbon Street, stuck in between the plethora of restaurants and shops that line the partygoer-filled street. Unlike many of the topless establishments of the French Quarter, Barely Legal asks for no cover charge, ushering patrons straight into a neon-red world of scintillating lights, thumping music, and pole-dancing, ample-breasted women in various states of undress. Frat boys, dirty old men, sleazebag cops, and washed-up losers variously cheer, gawk, and leer at the strippers as they stick dollar bills between g-strings. An omnipresent musk of cheap perfume, sweat, pre-cum, dollar bills, and cigarette smoke suffuses the dimly-lit place. A fully-stocked bar lurks in the corner, offering a “wacky” party menu that lets patrons do everything from having the staff refer to them as “master” for $100 to managing the club for a day for $25,000.
Em looks around. At 8:59, Cash Money isn’t there.
Emmett: Shit. Shitshitshit. Roberts’ voice rings in his ears, a whisper louder than the club’s garbage-lid-pounding of a soundtrack. “Maybe you should get smarter yourself.”
Em takes advantage of the lighting, or rather, the lack thereof. He becomes another pair of gyrating hips, another hand lingering too long. He throws himself into the mass of people, wrapping them around him. Tree in a forest and a perv in Gomorrah. He watches the points of entry at the same time. Waiting. Watching.
GM: Em loses himself among the dancing and leering throngs, but they don’t lose him. It’s not long before he’s caught a girl’s attention.
She’s a bit on the short side for a stripper, which her breast-length blonde hair makes all the more pronounced, but her strappy six-inch plastic heels probably still make her taller than Em. She smiles down at the young man as she leans in close to his ear. “You having a good night there?”
Emmett: His eyes fixed on the door, he blinks and does his best to give a her a neon-painted smile and a soft squeeze. “So far. Night’s still young, though.” He tries to maneuver around her so that she’s in between him and anybody coming through the door.
GM: The stripper flashes her own neon-red smile and saunters closer to Em, though neither does she fight where he’s trying to position her. “You’re right. It is.” She plops down on his lap. “I’m Anastasia.”
Emmett: He squirms away as gracefully as he can. “And I’m not Dimitri Cusack.”
GM: Anastasia giggles at his action. “Don’t worry, I don’t bite. Not-Dimitri.”
Emmett: “See, that’s exactly the problem. I like a lady with a little bite. Don’t take it personally.” He glances at his watch in consternation, then back at the entrance. Where IS Mouton?
GM: Anastasia doesn’t try to sit on Em’s lap again, but she does squeeze onto his seat, cattily waving at him to “make some room!” He gets a good whiff of her perfume up close. Cotton candy? “You seem tense.”
Emmett: “You seem eager.”
GM: Anastasia laughs again and runs a hand along Em’s arm. “So what do you do, Not-Dimitri?”
Emmett: He gives in, visibly. Cotton candy, he does like sweet things. “I’m a spy. I’ll tell you all about it, if you’ve got a place we can be alone…”
GM: The stripper grins widely, the club’s lights flashing off her teeth. “Now you’re talkin’ my language.” Before Em can say T-Pain, he’s headed up the VIP stairs to a comfortably seated mirror-lined room sporting flat screens in every corner. Then a private one with magenta lighting and tiger-print furniture.
A pale male club employee pokes his head in the door as Em is meticulously examining every supple curve on Anastasia’s glittery body.
“You two want some Jameson or something?”
“Oh yeah, let’s party!!!” Anastasia cheers, clapping her hands.
Emmett: Maybe it’s because the last 48 hours have been trying. Maybe because he’s not entirely sure how long he can keep the game up. Maybe it’s because he’s 24. But fuck maybes. Partying sounds pretty good at the moment.
It’s a private room. He’ll be just fine.
Saturday night, 5 September 2015, PM
GM: More than a few bottles, several dances, one blowjob, much lighter pockets, and one hour later, Em staggers back downstairs. It’s hard to make out many faces over the thumping music and past the smoke-filled, neon red haze, but the joint’s newest patron stands out.
Cash Money Mouton resembles a beanpole that decided to grow limbs. His narrow head is only slightly widened by his black sideburns and ‘70s style coiffure. His puffy lips are pressed into a permanent smile, as if life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows. He smells of deodorant, hair tonic, tabasco sauce, and contagious sleaze that gives his tan skin an almost iridescent sheen. Cash Money is known for claiming to take the ’plain’ out of plainclothes detective, and tonight’s outfit consists of a ballooning lime silk leisure shirt, a long brown leather coat, bell-bottom dress slacks, and crocodile wingtips. All things told, the self-appointed Casanova looks like he’d have a pretty hard time with the ladies (and men if the rumors are true). Fortunately for Cash Money Mouton though, he has, as he is wont to say, the “cash to get the gash.”
Em isn’t so sure of the time, but he’s pretty sure the dirty cop is at least an hour late.
Emmett: “Heeey, C-c-cash… Ricky.” Who chose this song, and why is it so good? “I’d say you’re late, but I, ah. Managed.”
GM: The redbone detective pulls up a seat not too far away from the stage and cocks a smirk in Emmett’s vague direction. “I bet.”
Emmett: “Yeah.” Em ends up in a seat opposite him, though he doesn’t quite remember getting there. “I shoulda joined the mob.”
GM: Cash Money waves over a waitress, orders some drinks, and smacks her ass as she turns away. The young woman starts slightly but otherwise does not react.
Emmett: Em keeps talking. Big mouth on him, and it only gets bigger with booze poured down it. “But nope. Not a wise guy. More of a wiseass. ’M not very scary, either.”
GM: Cash Money just flashes that same, self-satisfied, puffy-lipped smirk. “Not too bright either.”
GM: He sips his beer as it arrives and pinches the waitress, again, as she leaves. The woman does not visibly react this time.
“What trouble have you gotten yourself into?”
Emmett: Em takes his own bottle. “You tell me.” He tilts it back, trying to see if he can fit all the contents of the bottle and the rest of the world into his mouth at once. It doesn’t work, and he ends up sputtering.
GM: It’s not that Cash Money looks cool and collected in comparison. It’s more that he takes a pull of his bottle, and smirks (wider) at Em’s overindulgence, and sets it down in a sequence of motions that flow together like oil over a snake’s back.
“Not so much to tell, Emmett.”
The music’s beating rhythm is all so loud. The jeering, raucous patrons so noisy. The smoke in the air so thick.
“Nothing, really. Hundred things we could bust you for if we wanted.”
Another pull. Cash Money doesn’t just smirk this time. He smiles. It’s an ugly expression that shows off ugly, crooked teeth interspersed with gold crowns that glint dark red under the club’s lights. It’s the sort of look Scrooge might wear if he were counting his money and having a simultaneous hard-on.
“But nothing that’d explain you running to meet me here like a little bitch.”
Emmett: “That’s good. That’s nice.”
GM: Cash Money waves, and the waitress sets down two new beers in front of both men. He takes a thoughtful drag of his.
Emmett: Em makes a choking noise. Then he starts to gasp, and clutch at his chest, and then he’s laughing as his booze spills over the table and himself.
GM: The waitress represses a frown and comes back with a cloth to wipe the table. Cash Money’s puffy-lipped smug look doesn’t waver.
Emmett: Em laughs harder. “You—you wanna know the funny thing, Ricky? Dick?”
GM: The redbone detective’s brown eyes glint with amusement, like gold in a river of mud. Or shit. “I’m looking at it already, funny man.”
Emmett: “Yeah, whatever,” Em wheezes. “I was worried you were gonna arrest me. But nah. The funny thing is—” and Em does think it’s very, very funny, “—I just spent your money. Ha. Ha, hahaha…”
He leans forward, and opens his mouth to tell Cash Money what he really thinks of him. Then he feels strange, and then he wonders why his mouth tastes odd, and then he’s tasting everything he drank over the last hour as it heaves out of him and all over the cop’s thrift-shop-pimp wardrobe.
GM: Like a fire-breathing dragon, Emmett points his mouth and heaves everything that’s in his stomach all over Cash Money’s silk shirt with a loud, wet, rancid splatter. Patrons and strippers alike scream in shock, disgust, and incredulity.
Emmett: For his part, Em’s still laughing.
GM: The awful smell is perceptible even over the strip club’s—and Cash Money’s—sleazy musk. Gooey bits of orange vomit dribble off the table—and Rickey Mouton’s soaked, ruined clothes—like wet drool. More screams sound in the background. There’s even a few guffaws.
For a moment, the cash-loaded, badge-bearing, smugly self-assured persona of Cash Money Mouton slides away too. With a flash of clarity that cuts straight through the club’s smoke and scintillating lights, Emmett sees another man. An ugly, backwoods, insurance-hawking, vomit-drenched (somehow, it doesn’t actually seem that out of place on him) peckerwood piece of white trash whose beanpole-like face is flushed bright red with lip-chewing, saliva-spitting, single-minded rage.
Emmett: And that really is funny. “You, uh. You’ve got a little something.”
GM: With a single swift, viper-like motion, Ricky Mouton seizes his beer bottle and and smashes it over Em’s head. His skull explodes with pain as he’s knocked off his chair and crashes face-first onto the floor. The rancid stench of his own waste fills his nostrils. Bits of glass tinkle over the ground like scattered confetti.
With his swimming vision tilted 90 degrees, Emmett only barely makes out the pair of vomit-specked crocodile wingtips advancing towards his face, glass crunching under their step. A rough hand seizes his shirt’s collar and yanks him up.
“Maybe you think I’m just going to arrest you.”
The club’s grating music blares and pounds like drums against his skull. Neon lights painfully flash, blinding Em’s already spinning vision. His head throbs like it’s about to explode. His hair is wet and there’s something trickling down his temple. He wants to throw up, again, but there’s nothing left in his stomach. Sight, sound, smell, and sensation all collapse together into a nightmarish merry-go round that he can’t stop, can’t get off. That’s careening forward at breakneck speed to a place he knows he doesn’t want to go.
A dark, indistinct figure clamps a vice-like hand around his throat. There’s a noise. Stabbing? An explosion? His lower gut is on fire. His stomach feels warm and wet. More screams in the background.
“Trust me, funny man,” breathes a voice with all the warmth of a boa constrictor swallowing its prey.
“I’m going to do a whole lot worse.”
And it all goes black.
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Izzy Feedback Repost
Hi, all. As you can infer from having never interacted with me before ever, I’m the new kid on the block. It’s kind of surreal actually being a part of the game, because I became a fan by reading the logs (which I destroyed for precious precious Beats) and combing the site in general (and as a result, I know an uncomfortable amount about y’all). Despite my pleas to Calder, I’ve yet to see your recent logs, so this will be some Emmett-specific feedback. Of course, when I do read yours, I’ll post feedback and hoard those Beats as well.
As for Emmett’s story thus far:
I’m deeply satisfied with the arc of the last two weeks. When I created Em, I had some reservations about the ‘boot camp’ method— I understood the concept and benefits in the abstract, but in much the same way a meat-eater understands the theoretical benefits of veganism. I still largely created Emmett with his unlife in mind, what Krewe he would try to ally with, how he would interact with the All-Nighters, etc. Having played him as a human (and as of this post, he’s still breathing, if only barely) I can testify it’s definitely impacted my portrayal of him.
Calder also deserves props for never making me go, “Can I get Embraced already?” once for two weeks. Em (to my knowledge) has played entirely in the world of the living and ‘mundane,’ and I’d be happy to keep it that way indefinitely, though of course I do still want to see him become Kindred eventually.
Another shoutout for our GM is the way NPCs impacted my portrayal of Em. Namely, in regards to his age. I originally envisaged Em as a much more outwardly composed and silver-tongued charmer of a character, which I freely admit may be unrealistic for a college-age man.
From the beginning, though, being treated like the cocky twentysomething instead of a cocky adult got me to play Em as more insecure and much less established than I originally planned. I ended up seeing, and playing, him more like Jesse from Breaking Bad: not an idiot, even occasionally clever in the right situations, but Jesus Christ, it would be harder for anybody to screw up his life more than he has with his own immature, selfish choices.
Which brings me to the balance of success and failure in Em’s story thus far, and why the more I reflect on it the happier I am.
Em’s certainly on a downward spiral; as I already told Calder, I feel like I could read his story to the looping tune of the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme (here, for uncultured swine).
He’s had two major fuckups, though one pales in comparison to the other, but I enjoyed both of them because they ultimately happened as a result of his personality and character flaws. Failure’s a fact of playing, but I definitely prefer a disaster that feels like it emerges from choice and roleplay rather than a poor dice roll. Especially when I still think my character’s cool even after having the shitty day to end all shitty days, you know you’re doing failure right. In something like two days IC, Em’s bungled a major con on a Saudi prince, fled his home, and tonight’s session ended here:
(GM note: this portion of feedback got lost, whatever it was.)
Which is a cool scene to have the credits rolling on, and pretty well illustrates a failure that is as enjoyable as any success.
That said, Em has also had a few, precious victories, and those have also been great for me as a player. The example that leaps to mind is feeling pretty badass writing a scene of Emmett hustling passersby cinematic montage style.
It was a small moment, but I got to establish Em as a genuinely talented grifter, which felt pretty good both in and out of character— both Em and I needed to know we could do something right.
TL;DR is the first two weeks have felt pretty well spent as a whole. I look forward to weaseling out of the mess Em’s gotten himself into at the moment, and much as he has the story so far, getting even deeper into the shit. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire and out of the fire and into the volcano” seems to be the pattern of Em’s life at the moment, and I can’t wait for him to hit six feet under.
Calder Feedback Repost
I’m glad you’re enjoying Em’s story arc as a mortal. I think it makes the transition to undeath/ghouldom more impactful and results in characters we can better empathize with.
Jesse isn’t a bad example for comparison either. For all their criminal connections, both young men come from well-to-do, white-collar families that would probably take them back if they changed their ways.
You’re an amazing writer who does a great job injecting extra pizazz into what would be otherwise ‘filler’ lines. “His good mood is melted with the ice in his water.” “He gives her a neon-painted smile.” You’re a million times better than I was at 17, no question.
Throwing up on Cash Money was hilarious. Maybe ill-advised for Em, but hilarious. If a picture is worth a thousand words, projectile vomiting probably clocks in at 10k.
That said, you seem like you enjoy scenes where Em tricks people into trusting him and rips them off. If you want to see those outside of summaries/montages, you should try to make friends with NPCs as well as piss them off. The key to that is appealing to their self-interest. If you’re selling ice to Eskimos, it doesn’t matter how silver-tongued you are. Sell them something they want (or which you can make them think they want), like snowshoes, and you’re in business. Context is just as important to social scenarios as the size of your dice pools, if not more so.
I’m glad you’re enjoying the failures, though. I am too. Ticking off Roberts provided the impetus for the Villars scene, and vomiting over Cash Money moves the story in a dramatic direction it wouldn’t otherwise have gone.
Pete Feedback Repost
As I mentioned, I like Em, and a lot of the writing with him is fantastic, but I am concerned that he does not feel like someone that has been at his craft for half a decade. His panicked reaction to the prince was pretty jarring, and ignoring the advice of his lawyer then screwing up with the detective amid irresponsible poor choices. It is less that I can’t see the logical shift from one to the next to the next, and more that as a grifter I wouldn’t have expected him to make it this far without such behavior catching up.
I’ll be interested to see where his plot goes from here. He’s definitely been an interesting and dynamic character thus far though, which makes him a fun read.
I do think Cal is onto something though with his commentary on understanding motivations as being key to a hustle. That’s both an understanding of needs and desires, and an understanding of deeper character drivers. If you’re a particularly intuitive person this can come somewhat naturally in game, though it does not always do so, as you do miss various cues you wouldn’t in person. That said, there’s a means in game to get around difficulties in any case, and more accurately model characters: Empathy. For a hustler type character it’s an almost required skill, just as important as Persuasion, and if you don’t have ranks I’d suggest buying some, then using it relatively aggressively to get early reads on situations, especially early on when it provides you with time to tailor your approach before you step in something.