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Interlude Nineteen point Three, Marie Vladistock's Party

Beggar King had given Sting directions to a small homeless shelter on the edge of the 'Parts. He had been instructed to come around to the back door and knock. A burly man answered the door. Wordlessly, he directed Sting to a small storage room. Waiting for him was Beggar King, practicing running his hand through different containers. When Sting entered, Beggar King stopped playing and motioned him to one of the two nylon camp chairs present.

"I believe it would be proper for a formal introduction." He bowed. "I am Duke Maximillian Immengrun, called the King of Beggars by the uninitiated. And I am at your service."

"So noted, Mr. Immengrun." Sting said with a nod. "My operating name is Sting. Given time and companionship I may be willing to introduce the man behind the mask, but for now you can understand my need for privacy."

"Please, call me Max. My apologies on the condition of our meeting place. I would have invited you to my keep, but there is my people's safety to consider," Beggar King stated flatly. "Understand, I do not have a distrust of you. However, I have many to protect and the secretive nature of my Duchy is one of the best courses available to me. We should discuss this party."

Sting took a look at the Beggar King. "OK, I'm not sure what we can do overtly to get into this party, but in terms of infiltration...did I overhear you say you can turn invisible? I know you can go intangible."

"Actually, I have a knack for not being seen. There is a difference. Under normal circumstances, I can go about my business on the street and be unseen by most people. They see me, but refuse to admit even to themselves that I exist. As a side advantage of my role as protector and provider, I have learned to be rather sneaky. My mode of dress might imply otherwise, but I can avoid the light quite well."

"OK, that gives me a better idea of how to go about this. My thought is this...are your clothes somehow tied to your gift? If not, what I would like to recommend is for you to be attired in eveningwear of some sort...that way, even if you would *be* discovered, you wouldn't look...please forgive me, my family says tact isn't my strong suit...out of place?"

Sting paused for a second. "Or am I overthinking this too much?"

"I doubt you are putting too much thought into it. Camouflage is the best defense in this operation, I think." Beggar King said. "Oh, and Sting is a perfectly suitable name. Many in my Duchy are happy existing under a pseudonym. I see no reason not to extend a similar courtesy to an ally."

"As for my attire, I suspect I can wear whatever is required. I have been experimenting with these new abilities. I seem to be able... Well, allow me to demonstrate."

Beggar King stood, leaving one hand on his chair. With little visible effort, he pushed it partway into the floor. He pulled it back out and took his seat again.

"I've not determined how large an object I can do, but I've pushed human sized and weighted objects. I've been afraid to see what will happen if I release an object in another solid. I suspect I should see about some sort of scientific research, but I so don't trust doctors."

Sting smiled underneath his mask. "OK, what I need are your measurements and about an hour. Can we get those and meet up back here?"

Beggar King nodded. "I think that can be arranged."

After securing a tape measure from one of the King's subjects, Sting took down the measurements and set a time to re-convene with the King two hours later. As he left, Sting turned on his wristphone.

"This is Lorelei." The voice on the other end chirped.

"Hey, I need some support. Give Harvey a call down at Lord and Prestons. Tell him I need a rush job on some formal evening wear, male, with these measurements." Sting went through the measurements of the Beggar King and then said "Tell him it's a rush and he'll be compensated for it. Then I need you to go pick it up and take it to my downstairs office. I'll be by for it."

"Shouldn't be a problem," Lorelei said, "The measurements are pretty common, and you just need something basic, right?"

"Right." Sting replied. "But I need it fast."

"Got it. What's going on?"

Sting smiled. "Oh, just an invite to a party. I'll tell you about it more when I'm off duty."

		*		*		*		*
After a time, Sting came zipping through the duchy of the Beggar King with a garment bag folded once and strapped on his back and carrying several bags. He ran around the compound, dropping bags at the various houses before stopping right in front of the King. He took off the garment bag and handed it to the King, then set the final bag on the table. The bags smelled of chicken.

"Here," Sting told the Beggar King, "You should find that to be just about your size. Party should be starting soon, so lets grab a bite to eat...I brought enough for everyone, so don't feel put out."

Beggar King took the garment bag from Sting and hung it on a shelf. "I'll give the clothes a quick try. And I'm sure the folks inside will be happy with the food. Gawain, would you please see that this wonderful offer of food is distributed to those who need it outside?"

The knight took the food with a 'thank you' and headed into the kitchen.

"Gawain is one of my best. He has taken to our new way of life so well. He chose the name himself." Beggar King commented, then shifted subjects. "The shelters have great kitchen staffs. They are all volunteers. In fact, I'm sure that with a little better equipment, they would be quite adept. If you will excuse me. This will take just a minute."

He took the clothing out of the garment bag and stepped through the wall into the bathroom on the other side.

Gawain reentered the office with three plates. Behind him was a small boy carrying three glasses of milk. When the boy saw Sting, he went into hero worship mode immediately.

Sting helped the boy with the glasses and set them down. "Gawain, would there be something around akin to a ski mask so that I might be able to enjoy the meal...while still keeping hold of my privacy for the time being? I'm sure you understand."

Sting sat quietly as Gawain attempted to accomodate his request. He looked towards the door to see how the Beggar King would look in his new clothes. He turned to see that the young man was still looking at him.

"Hello, young man. What's your name?"

Sting sat quietly as Gawain attempted to accomodate his request. He looked towards the door to see how the Beggar King would look in his new clothes. He turned to see that the young man was still looking at him.

"Hello, young man. What's your name?"

"Are... are you really a superhero?" The boy managed to ask.

"I'm a paranormal." Sting replied. "I do have powers and abilities that most people don't, and I try my hardest to use them to help people. Whether that makes me a hero, let alone a superhero, isn't for me to say. All I am is a man who tries to do the best he can with what he's been given by the grace of God...just like you and your friends and family in the camp. But to answer the question that you intended to ask...yes, I have super powers, and I'm on the side of the good guys."

The boy looked confused.

"That means 'yes', Ricky," Beggar King said as he stepped back through the wall. Now decked out in formal evening attire, the man showed no signs of living on the streets. In fact, it leant a certain air of authority to the man that Sting had not seen before.

"Now run along so we can discuss business." The kid reached out slowly, touching Sting. He smiled and let out a little giggle. With that, Gawain shooed him from the room and went back to watching the door.

Please excuse little Ricky, his family are recently on the streets. Like a lot of the kids out there, he's coming to grips with his changed life. The whole idea of superheroes gives them hope. He'll be telling stories about that for many weeks, I'm sure."

Max handed Sting a small masquerade quality mask then held up his arms to play clothes horse. "What do you think?"

"Looking good, Max." Sting said cheerily as he ducked to the side, where a partition allowed him to put the mask on and step out from the side. Sting sat down and motioned for Max to do the same. "OK, now that we've got the's what I've got in mind."

	*		*		*		*
Sting and the Beggar King lurked in the shadows of a wall near the Old Town estate of Marie Vladistock. They watched as the guests began to arrive.

First to put in an appearance was a handsome Mediterranean looking man and a striking Latina beauty. Sting thought the man might be Simmon Marious, and if it was, that meant the woman was probably Patricia Reynaldo, since the gossip columns had them paired up.

A few moments later, another car arrived carrying a rotund, but immaculately dressed man.

Beggar King leaned in next to Sting. "I think we should allow the party to get well underway before we move in. However, a little scouting now might make the difference between success and failure."

"Agreed" Sting said. "Let me go in for awhile and listen in. I'll click the radio twice, like this," Sting paused and clicked the radio receiver on his wrist twice, "and that will be the signal. Work for you, BK?"

"Wonderfully, except the lack of radio on my part will limit how far away you can get." Max said. "I think another signal will be required."

"Hmm" Sting nodded. "Good Point. Any ideas?"

"Let's play it by ear," Max responded. "I'll watch and wait for about another half hour. If the number of guests doesn't increase, I'll hold off. If you see something that might compromise us, come back and tell me. Otherwise, I'll move to the far back corner of the house and await you there."

Max pulled out his pocket watch and began fiddling with the stem. "What time is it now?"

Sting looked at the watch on his commlink. "It's roughly 6:30 now. Let's plan for 7 unless I see otherwise."

Sting shrunk down and headed towards the house. He was careful to case the perimeter for alarms and such, but also waited for the next people to arrive before sliding in the house from there at his smallest height.

Two cars arrived nearly simeultaneously, one containing a couple and one a single man. Sting slipped inside just in time to hear them introduced to Simmon Marious and Patricia Reynaldo by a woman he assumed was Marie Vladistock, "I think you know Nelly and Alex, Simmon, but have you met Mark Nell?"

Simmon Marious stood awkwardly and approached, "Um, no I haven't." He extended his hand and forced a somewhat shy smile, "Simmon Marious, it is a pleasure to meet you." Then, after a not too subtle nudge he continued, "...and this is Patricia Reynaldo."

"Nice to meet you," said Nell. "And you are even lovlier than I had heard."

"Some of the others are already here, Mark," said Marie as she ran down the list of arrivals. "Just a few more and we'll be ready for dinner."

Marious stumbled through the expected pleasantries, "It seems odd that our paths haven't crossed before, are you new to Port Alexander?"

"Not so much new as new to the circuit," said Nell. "My father had been ill for many years, and I had little time for social affairs. And," said Nell with a smile, "I've seen you at a few parties and gatherings, we've just never been introduced." He leaned forward conspiratorily., "I think Marie's trying to set me up with someone at this party. Have you seen any unescorted young ladies?"

Marious turned beet red and looked away, "That, I would not be able to help you with. I'm not too experienced when it comes to affairs of the heart. Were it not for Patricia.." he trailed off as he looked her way. "I am pleased you were able to join us, Marie does throw quite an entertaining soiree if you enjoy such things."

"I do, indeed I do." Nell went to join the party, while Marious and Reynaldo remained near the door. Sting could see into the drawing room from his position and spotted the other few arrivals. He found a good spot to wait and watch.

In rapid succession, the rest of the guests arrived: Lord Overwood and Caroline Larson; the Davis sisters, Lisa and Loni; and Mark Wilson.

At that point, the butler said that dinner was served and the six couples went into the dining room.

Dinner was served and soon conversation bubbled around the table. Sting betook himself to the back of the house to await the arrival of the Beggar King, who put in his appearance right on time and was startled when Sting grew to normal size in front of him.

"Ieee!" Max gasped. "What does it look like inside?"

"Very stuffy." Sting replied, himself never a fan of these kinds of affairs. "But there are some definite high rollers in there." Sting punched a button on his commlink and awaited the return beep of his associate. "Thank God, I was getting worried!" the young female voice replied. "Are you O..."

"I'm fine, and I'm also not alone." Sting shot back, allowing her to remember to keep things professional. "Sorry to be short, but we're on a scene. I need for you to run through your search programs the following names: Simmon Marious, Lord Overwood, Patricia Reynaldo, and Stephan Clark. Focus on news articles, media and such, specifically anything that might be out of the ordinary. And no, I don't know what I'm looking for. And I need this yesterday.

"Oooooo-k." the other voice said. "No guarantees on the speed. Connections have been weird tonight."

"Do your best. I'll call back if I need radio silence. Sting out." Sting said as he pressed the com button. "So, Max, any of those names ring a bell with you on anything?"

"Lord Overwood is British, I believe. He recently bought a small manor here in Port Alexander. He's known as a bit of a gadabout. Simmon Marious is a fairly well established socialite in town, known for being a bit soft-spoken. He's very wealthy, as he is always giving out grants and endowments. Now that I think about it, he seems to have some facination with geology. He's also currently linked romantically with Ms. Reynaldo. I can't tell you much about Ms. Reynaldo, except she is quite the catch. Mr. Clark is a well known gourmand. He shows up occassionally in the social pages."

Max smiled a little at Sting's surprise. "I read the paper a lot. Anyone else?"

"Honestly, nothing that stuck out to me." Sting replied. Thinking for a moment, he activated his commlink again. The female voice on the other end replied "I'm not THAT fast."

"I know," Sting said, "but there's a change in plans. I'm giving my commlink temporarily to a colleague of mine. His name is Max. When you come up with something, please report to him."

"Five by five, boss." The voice said, and the link shut down.

Sting removed the wrist device and gave it to Max. "It's really nothing more than a tricked up cell phone, but it's preset for autodials until you hit the pound sign...then you can dial normal phone numbers. Push 1 for my associate should you need to. 2 is the line to IPAC if it comes to that. 3 links up with Defender. I'm heading back in...dinner may be dry but I might be missing some pertinent info. As of the moment, there are too few people in there so I don't think our original plan will work."

"Good point. In that case, perhaps I can sneak around the cars and perhaps find something there." Max replied, sliding the commlink onto his wrist. "If you will excuse me..." Max sank into the ground and headed in the direction of the cars.

Sting then shrank and headed back into the house, finding where everyone was, and waited to listen.

As the dinner conversation went through its usual paces, a quiet Simmon Marious felt a polite elbow nudge him into speech. "So Lord Overwood, how do you like Port Alexander?"

"I like it a great deal," he replied. "There's something invigorating about this whole country."

"I do hope our national tragedy hasn't tarnished your stay," commented Marious. He paused as all eyes looked to him to expound, "The MUSE launching, all that time and preparation will be a tremendous set back to the scientific community." Marious went back to his eating with periodic glances around the table.

Sting slipped in just in time to hear this conversational gambit.

"Can't say as I paid too much attention to it, really," said Overwood. "Science has never been my strong suit. It crashed or something, didn't it? Unmanned, though, right? Thank God."

"I believe so," offered Marious. Crawling out of his shell he put both elbows on the table to Patricia Renaldo's chagrin, prompting a glare. "I was talking to some of my friends at the university and they believe it may have been tampered with. Fortunately, there are thousands of sensors on board that can reveal just what happened. In fact, the homing signal on board is so sensitive it can be tracked from billions of miles away." Marious finally caught Patricia's stare and shrunk back to his plate. "Sorry," he murmured.

"Billions?" questioned Stephan. "Surely you exagerrate. Tracked from the other side of the sun?"

"Farther," said Nell, "this sun is only, what, about a hundred million miles away?"

"Oh, I probably misheard," Simmon replied somewhat embarassed. "I do so little traveling that distance isn't my strong suit. But I'm sure the technology is there, after all Nelly can always track down Alex when she needs him," he said with a chuckle and then lowered his eyes back to his plate.

"Maybe they should get her on the job of finding the MUSE, then," said Stephan.

"I wasn't aware it was missing," replied Marious. "I just thought it crashed somewhere...Marie, this filet mignon is exquisite."

Stephan looked confused, "I thought you said they need to track it billions of miles?"

"Oh, I was just commenting on some of the gadgetry my friends were saying was on board. Certainly no one would let billions of dollars just disappear without a trace. I'd imagine we'll read about it being found within a day or so once they get the computer guys on the case."

"So it IS missing, then," said Stephan. "Do make up your mind, Simmon."

"You know how the papers are Stephan, we are only told what they want us to know. I have no inside information, all I know is that it was a dreadful sight watching it veer off course. There will be a nasty coverup, I'm sure."

"On that I think we can all agree," said Marie, "Has anyone met the new owner of the Dutchmen? He looks yummy, but I haven't spoken to him.

Marious answered, "I have not. I'm not much for athletic contests."

Alex had met him, it seemed, and soon the conversation had turned to sports.

Politely, Simmon Marious remained quiet as the conversation continued.

Sting chucked amusedly to himself. "I guess even the idle rich have armchair quarterbacks." He said to himself. He did note, however two things...that Simmon Marius was actively baiting the rest of the room in regards to the MUSE, and that this Stephan character was flustered by it.

Sting got an idea, and he zipped back outside to find the Beggar King. Fortunately, he was still where they had met the last time.

"Max," Sting began, "I just got an idea, especially now that it seems everyone's here that's going to be here. I think it's time for you to crash the party overtly. Walk right up to the door, announce you're here for the party...then produce that invitation. If I'm right...this will probably be cause for the host to ask everyone to show their, granted, some of them may have simply forgot...but I want to see if the people I *THINK* are somehow involved in this have their invitations or not."

"So," Sting said, smirking under the mask, "You read the papers, are you prepared to make your debut with high society?"

Max handed the communicator back to Sting then straightened his lapels. "I'll give you a minute or two to get back in before I make my grand entrance. Did you happen to see who or what was watching the front door?"

"She didn't have muscle at the door, I don't believe...just your garden variety butler, I think. Regardless, we should be OK getting inside the house." Sting said, and then he shrank and repositioned himself back inside the house.

Max steeled himself and headed for the front door. He paused for a moment, centering himself. Hand extended, he rang the bell.

A moment later, the butler arrived. "Yes, sir?"

"Duke Maximillian Immungrun," Max said with a slight accent. He clicked his heels together sharply for effect as he produced his invitation. "I am here for the gathering. When you announce me, please apologize for my lateness and hailing a cab in your country is more difficult than I expected."

The butler took the invitation with a slightly puzzled air. "Sir, I ... if you will come this way, sir." He led Max into a front room. "If you would be kind enough to wait here, sir," he said before vanishing into the depths of the house, closing the doors behind him.

Sting saw the butler appear and approach Marie and whisper something in her ear. She stood, "Excuse me for a moment, please." She left the room.

In the dining room, Simmon Marious leaned over to Patricia Renaldo and said quietly, "I hope nothing is wrong. Marie looked a bit upset."

A moment later, the butler opened the door again and let Marie into the front room before withdrawing discretely to a corner. Max stood the moment she entered, bowing slightly.

"Good evening," said Marie, "I'm Marie Vladistock, the host of this private party. I'm wondering who you are, and where you got this," she held up the invitation.

When she spoke, Max looked first puzzled, then a little hurt. "Duke Maximillian Immungrun. My dear woman, the invitation was delivered to my hotel. Are you now telling me that this has all been a joke? I had heard stories of the twisted American sense of humor, but to waste my time like this."

"Delivered to your hotel?" Marie looked concerned then examined the invitation more closely. "I'm certain that the invitation is genuine, but I'm afraid that I didn't invite you -- no slight intended, but I didn't know you existed. So, the question remains, how did you get the invitation? If someone is playing a joke, it is in poor taste, and on whom is it being played? All of my guests are here, but since they are well known to me, we didn't demand invitations. It doesn't sound like the kind of thing any of them would do ..."

"Then perhaps, dear lady, one of them decided to invite me as a surprise." Max said, with a slight smile. "I'd much rather assume my mysterious benefactor had my best interests in mind, ja? Shall we see if any of your guests had such an idea? If you are concerned, I'll remain in seclusion whilst you ask."

"All right, what was your name again?" Max told her. "Wait here," she told the butler.

Upon returning to the dining room, Marie asked, "Does anyone here know a Duke Maximillian Von Immergrun?"

Under his breath Simmon Marious sighed, "Oh no" and dropped his head.

Aside from that comment, there was little response other than head-shaking.

Marie waved the invitation, "Somehow he got a hold of this invitation and it looks legitimate. If this is a joke ..."

Stephan piped up, "It would be a very bad joke, indeed."

"Yes, it would," said Marie. "Perhaps someone simply lost the invitation and this man found it?"

"Well," said Lisa Davis, "I didn't lose mine!" She dug around in her purse. "Or maybe I did, whoops. No, I remember, I left it on the mantelpiece at home."

Loni Davis produced hers quickly enough, as did Simmon Marious, whose invitation included Patricia Reynaldo, and Mark Wilson. Lord Overwood and Caroline Larson had their joint inviation as well.

Nelly Arcadia and Alex Ladilot couldn't find their joint invitation and each was convinced the other had it last. Mark Nell thought he had left his in his other car. Stephan Clark was upfront about not knowing where his was, "I'm an absolute loss about such things. Once it's in my hand-held, I lose the original object almost immediately."

In an effort to try to save the situation Simmon Marious began to awkwardly clap, "Marie, you almost had me fooled." He looked around the table and gestured for Patricia to clap. "I have heard of murder mystery dinner parties but never a staged crash for the purposes of a mystery. You do know how to entertain! I hope I haven't ruined the rest of your performance."

Marie looked confused, then smiled, "Simmon, did you set this up?"

"Um," he paused. Knowing that Marie's reputation was at stake, he gambled. "Oh OK, Patricia and I wanted to surprise you all with Mr Von Immergrun" he said sheepishly with a glance to Ms. Renaldo. Under his breath he reassured her, "I'll explain later, please follow me dear."

"Not your usual style of joke, Simmon," said Stephan. "Rather in poor taste."

"I'm very dissappointed in you, Simmon. I wanted a small private party and now this man is here. What am I to do with him?" said Marie.

Simmon rose blushing, "I am so sorry Marie." He held out his hand to Patricia, "come let us talk this over with Marie and the Duke in private."

"Very well," Marie led the way into the room where Max waited with the butler. Sting zipped along behind them keeping them in earshot as he went.

Simmon Marious excused himself and upon seeing the butler gave a stern look that said "you are dismissed and close the doors" and waited for him to leave. Once alone with Marie, Patricia, and the Duke he cleared his throat.

"Neither I nor Patricia has ever seen this man before," he stated emphatically. "Marie, I didn't want you to be the brunt of idle gossip, you know how Stephan is, so I decided to take responsibility for this man's rude behaviour. I know how important these social events are to you."

He turned to the Duke, "Sir, it would behoove you to excuse yourself and never attempt something like this again, else I will be moved to call the authorities myself. Your little game is over, you should apologize to this lady for almost ruining her reputation as a gracious hostess."

"So, it is with threats that you Americans greet visitors!" Max shouted as he stood. "Do not fear that I shall want nothing more to do with this house or anyone here. Call your authorities if you wish. If they are anything like you, I suspect I shall be locked in chains! No one in my nation would think to be so callous to a visitor on the eve of a momentous occasion such as tomorrow. I shall have to think long and hard this evening about the true nature of you Americans before putting my name on any papers. It is true that you are all cowboys and ruffians."

Max stormed toward the door. Upon opening it, he stated with much volume, "And if I find out who has decided to make a fool of me and my country, I shall have a dueling saber delivered round with instructions for seconds!"

Max glided toward the front door. He paused briefly at the threshold. "Perhaps, herr Marious, your boorish manners and threats might get you into trouble one day as well."

Marious bristled at the harsh words flinching at several points but remained brave in the presence of Patricia. He chose silence over inciting an obviously deluded man who was prone to violence as evidenced by his threats.

Once outside and clear of view of the front door, Max let out a deep breath. He hoped that he had not overplayed the part. Surely his 'outburst' would create enough talk for Sting to learn something. One thing was certain, Max did not like the position he was put into. He thought about what ad transpired and decided that he had too much to deal with on his own to place himself in a position to be insulted and abused.

Max allowed his body to go insubstantial long enough for the tux to fall off. He left it there and glided into the air. Perhaps tomorrow he would be more in a mood to talk to Sting about what he had learned. Perhaps he would decide to let the surface dwellers deal with it. He was tired and just wanted to go to bed.

Simmon wobbled a bit, nearly fainting as the danger seemed to pass. Again he apologized for this outburst in the presence of the ladies and tried to appear in control by consoling Marie. "Do you have any idea how that, that man, received notice of tonight's party? Will you be ok tonight, or should I call the police? I suppose I should inquire about bodyguard protection," he rattled on in a nervous tone. "Threatening me," he said incredously while visibly shaking.

Following the altercation, Sting followed Marie, Simmon and Patricia back into the dining room. "This is going nowhere fast," Sting thought to himself, "and the last shot I think I may have of getting anything out of tonight is to stick around and see if *anyone* looks suspicious."

Sting waited, attentively, for the evening to play itself out.

Simmon spoke in soft tones to Marie on the walk back to the dining room, "I will continue to act as if it is my fault, you do not need this to appear in the society pages." As they reached the drawn doors and entered Simmon stated apologetically. "I must beg everyone's forgiveness. It appears that my poor attempt at a joke has had dreadful consequences. I had intended to have a mysterious member of royalty appear this evening as a precursor to the upcoming Halloween party at Barry Windson's. However, it appears that I contacted the wrong agency for a reputable actor and instead got an intoxicated lunatic. Please forgive me, all."

The event had cast a pall over the evening and conversation was subdued for most of the rest of the meal. As desert and coffee was being served, Stephan sighed, "There is one thing that is bothering me, Simmon. The invitation. It was real, and yet you had already produced yours. Where did you get the other one?"

"That, Stephan, is a mystery. When Marie announced that the guest had an invitation I knew something had gone horribly wrong." Simmon poured some cream in his coffee, "He must have taken his role a bit too seriously and acquired one of your lost invitations. The thought of that man anywhere near my house sends shivers down my spine," he shivered for effect.

"Now I feel all creepy," said Lisa, "Does someone want to come home with me and help me check out my apartment?"

"Of course, my dear," said Stephan.

"How gallant," dimpled Lisa.

"It appears that my foray into Halloween suspense has paid off," he paused, "in an unintended way." Marious smiled uneasily, "perhaps we should call out the Guardians on a case like this. They deal with scary fellows all the time."

The tension broke a little at that, and the guests relaxed a bit. Conversation became more general.

Simmon Marious remained very quiet for the remainder of the evening, considering his grevious faux pas, and just waited out the completion of the soiree. Soon, the time came for farewells and he and Patricia hung around until the last of the guests had left.

"Thank you so much, Marie, for hosting. Despite the tragedy, I believe all went well and your reputation can only grow," he said with a smile.

"Thank you, Simmon," said Marie. "That was very gracious of you."

The last pair left and silence descended on the Vladistock household.

Once in the limousine Simmon Marious exhaled and began to shake, petrified. "Oh Patricia, I don't know what has come over me. I have never been so frightened in my life, the way that, that man spoke to me." He fumbled for a glass from the mini-bar, "I'm afraid I must cut our evening short, I hope you don't mind. I need to go home and take a sedative."

He reached for the intercom and notified the driver to proceed to Patricia Renaldo's abode.

Patricia was suitably concerned and after trying a couple of times to get Marious to come up to her luxury apartment, she gracefully retired.

The September night air was crisp as the doorman bounced slightly to keep warm and awake. He didn't mind the morning shift all that much, but he certainly got a whole new perspective on the rich and famous of Port Alexander. The wealthy could afford better booze, and they paid the price for it -- he was a witness to that first hand. The stories he could tell, maybe he'd write a book someday about what he'd seen going on in the backs of limos and just who'd he opened doors for. "What was that?" he asked. He thought he heard a pop outside the door, but decided that to investigate would throw off his plans for the next best Oprah best seller. So he returned to daydreaming.

Black boots landed gently on the slate floor of the luxury penthouse patio as the Wanderer strode up to the doors of Stephan Clark's apartment.

He looked through the apartment careful to not disturb anything and was long gone by the time Stephan returned from the Vladistock party.

Stephan parked in the underground garage, then headed to his penthouse, a well-appointed bachelor pad, fired up a computer and poured himself a glass of 16 year old Lagavulin, before sitting down and writing in what seemed a to be a diary.

Sting had been following the man at his smallest size, and tried to get an angle where he could see what was being written, and what he saw seemed innocous enough. Stephan didn't seem to buy Marious story and wondered why Marious was lying.

Then he shut the computer down, picked up a copy of "Gaudy Night" and retired for the evening.

Sting gazed speculatively at the computer for a moment, then decided that such an invasion of privacy would be unwarranted. He slipped out of the apartment and headed home.

Last Updated 10 April 2002