Before Midnight: Part 1

Grand Lake, Michigan, December 31, 1958: Ten Minutes before Midnight

Snow fell outside. Joe watched from the seventh floor of the tallest private home in Grand Lake, wondering if it would be a blizzard. The big, white flakes meant that skiing wouldn’t be great and neither would the shoveling. He wouldn’t have to worry about either until tomorrow. Romy and he were staying over at Giles tonight anyway.

He stood waiting in the music room because Giles’ mansion had enough rooms that he could afford to devote one purely to music. A grand piano stood on one end and a pipe organ on the other. Along the walls were bookshelves filled with music, music stands, and enough instruments for a small orchestra.

Joe pulled a string on the double bass, letting the deep thump fill the room.

He probably shouldn’t have touched it. He probably shouldn’t ever touch anything in the entire place. He’d always felt that way. As a child, the rooms in Giles’ house had always felt like they were for better, wealthier people than he and his family.

It still felt that way even though they were in the new section of the mansion—Giles’ own add-on. Giles’ taste leaned toward the simple, elegant, modern style that Joe had mostly seen on television and in the interior design magazines Romy subscribed to.

From the white, wall-to-wall carpet to the outside wall that was all windows, it wasn’t a place he’d ever own even if his engineering consultancy business did take off.

For now, it was quietly supported by work from Giles’ companies. They’d been too busy fighting costumed madmen in the last few years for him to develop much of a client base—which was fine for now, but he needed to broaden the business.

In the distance, the sounds of a saxophone solo rang out. Giles had hired a big band with no idea who they were playing for. The guests were all superheroes and none in masks—which meant no business could be discussed unless it was down the hall from the ballroom.

Footsteps came from the hall behind him and Joe turned to watch Gunther step through the door. Dressed in a black tuxedo, the tall, muscular man with a blond buzzcut looked every inch the former German soldier the press said he was and not at all the multi-dimensional dragon-like creature Joe had first seen trapped in a magic circle.

In the 15 years since Joe had seen things that made him wonder if Gunther might have chosen not to break out of the circle because he knew Joe was coming.

Gunther’s smile widened and he said, “I can teach you how to play it. No charge. No special deal. I owe you for getting me out.”

Joe shook his head, “That’s what you’ve told me. What do you get out of it?”

Gunther shrugged, “I like music. Improvised music isn’t much different than fighting except that everyone gets to walk away happy. Well, unless you fucked up. Then you walk away in shame, but you’ve got motivation to practice.”

“Yeah,” Joe sighed. “I’ll think about it. What did you want to talk to me about?”

Gunther turned away from him and stared out the window. That was interesting by itself. Gunther, whatever kind of strange alien he was, wasn’t the kind of guy who stared out the window without saying anything. He was the kind of guy who kept up a never-ending stream of patter until you wanted to punch him.

Was he embarrassed?

Gunther turned away from the window and met Joe’s eyes, “I lost something.”

“Yeah,” Joe said, “this isn’t going to be something small like the keys to your car, is it? Because if it is, Giles will get you a locksmith or just buy you a new car. He’s generous during the holidays, maybe a little too generous if you ask me.”

Gunther laughed, “I know what you mean, but no. It’s not a small thing. It’s not even recent by your standards, but I know you can find it.”

Joe had never thought of himself as someone with “good instincts.” He’d always believed that everything that went right for him went that way because he worked at it. Right now, though, every part of him knew that whatever Gunther had lost, it was bad news.

He asked, “What is it? What did you lose?”

Gunther’s smile disappeared, “A weapon and some friends, but I’m not expecting you to find the friends. I lost the weapon around here.”

The guy was playing with him. It was in the creature’s nature. He knew that by now, but he still asked, “In the house?”

Gunther shook his head, “In this universe and on Earth—mostly. And I mean, strictly speaking, I lost it deliberately so that I wouldn’t be tempted to use it. The problem is though, I’ll need it eventually. I need you to find it. I know you can because a friend of mine came through here once. I set it so that he could get it back, but you’re close enough. He’s your distant ancestor. I’m going to need you to find it and then pass it on to the right person. You’ll know him. Trust me on this one.”

5 thoughts on “Before Midnight: Part 1”

  1. This upcoming week includes my birthday. I don’t know how that will affect my update schedule–hopefully not at all. In any case, we’re now at the first update of the last Legion of Nothing novel. The original League will appear sporadically in flashbacks and that’s where we’re starting.

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  2. Oh, interesting. Sounds like Joe (and thus Nick) are descended from an old friend of Lee’s, I presume a member of the Live faction (I don’t recall the topic of their ancestor having come up before, other than that Joe was descended from an Artificer and Romy from a Cosmic Ghost). I rather suspect Joe is correct that Lee specifically waited for him rather than waste energy escaping. The question is, had he already foreseen Nick’s existence (hence the “three generation” limit on his agreement), or was Joe his primary point of interest?

    1. Their ancestor hasn’t come up before in so many words, but has been mentioned. So, he hasn’t come up before in an obvious way, but I have been setting the stage for a bit.

  3. Well, this explains a lot!. I always found it odd Lee was so loyal to the Kleins. This explains why.

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