Probably Bad

September 23, 2017:

Emma Frost finds out that one of the members of the Hellfire Club, Shane Templeton (IV) seems to be missing in action. This would typically be beneath her notice — he's of middling importance at best — but for the fact that several other more prominent members of her establishment have invested in something he was planning to do, and they've gotten…anxious…over his sudden radio silence.

What she finds in his apartment is Probably Bad.

(Constantine GMing.)

One57 Luxury Condominiums

You can't afford one.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Shane Templeton IV lives at One57 — an exclusive, hyper-expensive luxury, contemporary condominium building in Midtown West, where billionaires jockey to pay record-setting prices for its trophy penthouses. Massive floor-to-ceiling windows, black floors and white walls, and high-end, sleek fixtures are the rule of the day. Shane Templeton's unit is no different.

Getting in is child's play for a woman with Emma Frost's particular set of skills. Merely asking nicely would not have been enough, of course, nor would any amount of connectedness to people of importance, nor any blouse cut low. The building is a storehouse of the rich, famous, and anonymously-powerful. The people at the doors are well-trained. There's private security on the grounds, and a high probability that they prefer to handle breaches in-house.

A little bit of mental manipulation, however, goes a long way. Most modern institutions are poorly protected against that kind of meddling.

Long story short: it's not long before she has a key in her hand and access to the elevator. Templeton's unit is near the top of the building — a privilege of the old-wealth elite, and centuries of exploited coal miner labor. His agenda may have been somewhat idealistic in recent years, but he seems to have no qualms using the resources made available to him by his family's more ethically-dubious, historical agendas.

Many interiors that align along a contemporary axis are sterile and impersonal, favoring sleek minimalism to a degree that alienates the human element of any living space. Shane Templeton either has an aesthete's eye or a remarkable interior designer, however, because there's a sheen of personality laid over the top of the sprawling unit's aggressively spare lines and open floor plan. Small touches that might tell an investigator a great deal about the man.

When the door opens all is quiet, and nothing appears to be immediately out of place. As the daylight wanes down into a blue dusk, shadows hang like thick rivers of darkness on spotless, gleaming furnishings, moonlight silvering the floor.

—-

The key is dangled from a exquisitely manicured finger by its lovely steel keyring, Emma's stiletto-aided sway the smug sort born of victory. Silk stockings and fitted snow white pencil skirt still in place from the office, her sleeveless blouse isn't even of the low-cut variety! …It's of the nearly sheer variety with a puff of lace at her throat, but that's neither here nor there.

No, the thing of importance is that she's in, and she appreciates the quiet. She appreciates the moonlight as she peers about the room, too, but it is far from helpful.

She looks for the light switch to send the natural peace of the room to its swift and bright death.

—-

The light switch is, as expected, right beside the door. A whole row of them, of the variety you touch and slide a fingertip on to raise and lower the sliding illumination. One of them, as it turns out, controls the amount of gas being fed to a gas fireplace along one wall. As the lights come up, music begins to play over concealed in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, as well, though it's blessedly quiet. A reminder that Shane Templeton (IV), however wealthy he may be, is a man in his early thirties: the music is contemporary, warbling strains of indie straight out of not-so-far-away Brooklyn.

The walls are covered in photographs and paintings, more of the former than the latter. Here is a man with a broad social life that involves, to look at the images themselves, a wide cross-section of classes and subcultures. It's probably little wonder that he's been able to summon support for his intended future endeavors, even in spite of the weight his family still has to throw around.

Several of the framed pictures on tables or the walls have been flipped around and face the other way. Those are all pictures of himself and his former fiancee. The fact that he's failed to take them down more than merely suggests that he has yet to move past that particular hurdle in the recent downturn of his fortunes.

At first glance the condo is obsessively neat and ordered, but viewing it for any more than that amount of time makes inconsistencies plain. There's an open briefcase on the coffee table containing all sorts of personal effects and documents, and a half-finished cup of coffee on the table beside it. The keys to his car (a BMW, mid-range model) are on the kitchen island.

—-

The lights on, Emma chooses now to scan the area for minds where there should only be open apartment. It could be argued that it would have been prudent to do that first, but here we are, all the same. At the music, Emma's painted lip turns up around a quiet "ugh." Not her favorite, apparently.

From her purse, she extracts a favorite pair of white kid leather gloves and pulls them on.

Her eyes then peruse the room as she indeed confirms the woman made invisible in all of the ways that don't matter, the corners especially to see if there are security cameras visible. But then her eyes fall on the car keys, and she pauses.

Frost's demeanor subtly changes, as the hairs prick up a little on the back of her neck. And then she looks for the bedroom door.

—-

Funny thing:

Someone's here, and also not here.

So not actually that funny, probably, particularly when that sensation arrives as she notices the keys on the counter and infers from it properly that whatever happened to Shane Templeton IV, and wherever he is, he did not go there in his own vehicle, and left his keys at home. Her quick glance around for security cameras turns up nothing, but then there are no visible speakers, either, so that means very little. Finding a control unit for a security camera system is probably going to be the only way to tell.

There are only two doors that lead off of the otherwise chic, wall-less loft floorplan of the condo. One of them probably leads to the bedroom.

One of them does.

The bed is half-made, coverlet and sheets tossed up toward the pillows but nothing tucked in, the impression of an interrupted morning routine borne out in the way there are clothes laid out on the bed that were never put on: two different blazers he'd been deciding between, a pair of polished leather men's shoes at the foot of the dressing bench, cufflinks glinting on the quilt.

There's also a note on a legal pad in what is either terrible handwriting — and Emma, having seen his handwriting previously in notes left at the HFC for some reason or other, knows that his script is actually excellent — or a hasty rush of a scribble. It reads:

Julio Venganza
call MacCrae n. precinct
MARILYN??

The name 'Marilyn' is underlined multiple times, the lines that form it driven deep into the pad.

Marilyn is his sister's name.

Gradually, the soft rush of white noise resolves into something specific: the bathroom sink is running.

—-

A flippant judgment here about the decor, a mild praise there about the clothes. These are the thoughts that float through the brain of a well-off intruder as Emma continues to snoop around.

When she sees the pad, she picks it up and squints at it. Names are repeated a few times, and then committed to memory. But then, as her pierced ears finally hone in on sound of water, she closes her eyes as she silently curses. With the place clear of psychic signatures, there are increasingly few explanations for running water.

The ones that come to mind all fill her with varying degrees of dread.

Still, the stiff soles of her shoes and their deadly point heels click their way towards the bathroom. She hangs there at the door for a long moment, hoping against hope that the water will turn itself off on the other side. Or that it's coming from somewhere else.

But should moments pass and that half-formed hope never materialize into something tangible, she'll set a kid leather glove to metal hardware and open the door.

—-

Hoping is not enough to twist the tap and turn it off. Not even for someone as psychically formidable as Emma Frost.

It continues to run.

Opening the door reveals another tableau of silent information, without anything quite so dramatic as a corpse. The trail of information continues onward, and Emma has yet to discover the place it will end, but there's enough here to make plain that she's approaching that point swiftly: like the box of 9mm ammunition on the counter of the bathroom. There are three shining, unfired rounds atop the pristine marble counter and two more on the floor, suggesting a rushed retrieval. A men's razor — a straight razor, in fact, his shaving kit classic (or hipsterized; tough these days to tell) sits abandoned beside the still-running sink, hints of pink in the whiskered foam enough to paint a picture: he'd been surprised by something while shaving and nicked himself. Had time, at least, to get a firearm and load it, before venturing out to confront — what, or whom? And where? The list of possible locations has dwindled almost to nothing.

—-

No body.

The woman closes her eyes and breathes a small sigh of relief when there's nothing desperately awful behind the lovely paneled portal. Emma then slowly walks inside, observes the room with her eye that can drink in a large part of the details but still likely misses some, stretches out her hand, and then turns the tap off to restore some infinitesimally small measure of the silence to the room. She also briefly looks to the shower, should it be anything more than glass doors to separate it from the rest of the bathroom.

Now if only she could find the control for that horrific cacophony Templeton the Younger calls music. …And good grief, she suddenly feels downright matronly.

With her self-directed frustration come to the fore, the buxom blonde leaves the bathroom and looks to see if there's a balcony or patio to consider.

—-

The shower is glass. It's tiled in slate. Very masculine. Very expensive. Because obviously.

Silence — implausibly upbeat indie soundtrack notwithstanding — having been restored, there's little else to glean from the bathroom, unless one is especially interested in his grooming habits (spoilers: they're very good).

There's no balcony to speak of. The exterior of this skyscraper is slick glass, and presumably the architect decided to favor aesthetics over all else, to say nothing of the risk of jumpers. There is, however, a second door, and the second door leads to an office, and the office leads to Shane Templeton IV and all of the blood that Emma avoided having to deal with in the bathroom.

The overwhelming impression upon pushing the door open is one of violence. Blood is everywhere: splattered across the walls, the floor, the ceiling, the furniture. And yet, on study, none of that makes any sense.

For one thing, Shane Templeton's body, pushed roughly back into a sprawl across his desk, tie still dangling undone around his neck underneath a perfectly starched collar and buttons of that fine linen shirt undone most of the way down, appears to be completely uninjured. There's blood soaked through the fabric, but no holes in that fabric, and it only seems to have soaked upward from underneath him, more as though he'd laid down in the puddles and the mess rather than been the origin point of any of it. The nine millimeter handgun is still in his left hand. It's impossible to tell without examining it further whether or not it was fired, but there's no tell-tale scent in the room to imply that he did.

The blood is uncongealed, liquid. Fresh, perhaps? But his body is cold to the touch. And yet, there's no rigor mortis, no suggestion of blood pooling in it, no change to his appearance, really, save that he's white as a sheet. He does not look like a corpse. He doesn't even feel like one, save that he has no pulse and no body temperature to speak of.

The monitor for the computer displays multiple camera angles within the apartment, suggesting the presence of that well-concealed security system, after all, and the possibility of tapes to be retrieved.

—-

Relief stolen from her, dreadfully abused, and sent racing away for another day, Emma wasn't expecting the body here.

But when she finds it? She closes her eyes with a calm that races in and suffuses her. "Damn it." Okay. Mostly suffuses her.

But when she reopens her eyes to look closer, she indeed notices much of the incongruence. Carefully, avoiding as much as she can of the blood where it pools and drips, she makes her way to the body and uses her teeth to pull off one glove without needing to unhook her handbag from where it hangs suspended from her wrist by its arching metal strap.

No pulse, no heat… no place for the blood to have seemingly exited. She'll poke him about a little, check his mouth perhaps, but then abandon him if nothing interesting happens in order to indeed pull her glove back on and go collect the recordings if they're available to view somewhere not surrounded by blood.

—-

Something is very, very wrong in this room, with this body. Not just that it exists — a tragedy in its own right in the death of a man with most of his life ahead of him, who appears to have perished for no other reason than a naive view of the ethics of making money. No, there's something wrong with the body itself.

It's not until she opens his mouth that she'll hear it, faint enough that anyone less prodigious than herself would almost certainly miss it entirely. Shane Templeton's mind isn't completely at rest. It is, and it isn't. He's present, but not present. He's dead, but he's not dead.

It's a barely-there whisper of a thread she could follow, if she felt like delving into whatever it is that has him in its grips.

Of course, there's also the security footage as an option, and that doesn't involve 'making contact with the mind of a man who is and isn't dead at the same time.'

Choices.

—-

Or, perhaps, it's not really a choice at all.

Because, really, that can sometimes be a problem when someone is very accustomed to seeing the world a certain way. The allure of the new, even in this grotesque wrapping that looks more like a horror novel cover concept than a wealthy man's well appointed condominium, becomes an irresistible siren's call.

No, it's not really a choice.

The blonde stoops just a little lower and tucks her purse into the fold of her legs. Then, after a momentary hesitation, she sets her fingertips upon his cool, still forehead to focus. Once she's feeling sufficiently braced, she closes her eyes and starts to follow the trail of a decidedly unique voice. Dead, but… not dead. What's he thinking about in the middle state?

—-

The sensation is not unlike the one that accompanies a feeling of falling as a person is drifting off to sleep, although it's a slow drift downward rather than a sudden plunge.

If most minds are a cauldron of wild color and spangles of light, sudden movement and unceasing noise revolving around base urges and the nattering of busy thoughts, then the experience of trailing Templeton's mind is like a long walk down a cold, dark hallway toward some uncertain destination, following whispers that echo misleadingly off of naked walls. The further she follows his consciousness toward the seat of itself — which is not located in the room she is physically standing in, however impossible that may seem — the more steady the signal is, and what the signal is broadcasting is fear. Grief, and confusion, and desperation as well, but over all of those things, a kind of animal fear. Instinctual. Reptile-brain.

Momentum increases with proximity to the source. She's winging her way across distance now, physical distance in the real world, ferried along within some bizarre conduit that intersects planes and negates such paltry concerns as geography.

It's when she begins to get close enough to sense him in more than whispers that things begin to get weird. There are other whispers in precisely the same place. Other voices. If she continues to push forward she'll almost certainly uncover whatever it is that could create a well of disembodied minds, but there's a kind of turbulence to it all, a churning sensation, the way rapids will begin to bubble and froth as they approach the gravity point of a waterfall.

—-

Hilariously (or not, depending on your perspective), it's not the first time Emma Frost has encountered a mind settled somewhere other than where it ought to be. And for someone who traverses the astral plane in its myriad wondrous presentations, neither is the conduit something desperately off-putting.

But the muted psychic world, that does give her pause. And moreover, the amygdala's primal call… or is it? She finds herself a little concerned when she takes long enough a break from her curiosity to realize that she's not entirely certain.

Still, she follows her dull-witted quarry, trying to make more sense of an environment that she does not actually know.

In the physical world, her brow furrows and her face contorts with her efforts. Her fingertips press down a little harder.

But in that tumultuous river of strange consciousness, the mind witch moves to slow down her approach of that well in the hopes of making more sense of the voices that are joining in the dark chorus.

—-

If it were anyone else…

If it were anyone else, some lesser 'sensitive,' some novitiate psychic making a living off of private investigation, perhaps, they'd have been consumed entirely by what follows.

Voices are raised in sudden cacophony. Everywhere the equivalent of psychic wailing and gnashing of teeth as the slipstream becomes a raging torrent, and the sensation of flowing forward toward some destination erupts. Emma Frost can hold herself at the precipice of that waterfall of minds or souls, but only just, and not for long.

'Not for long' is still long enough for a glimpse of what lies beyond. Something that exists only in the arena of thought expands like a universe blown through a pinhole, becoming visual, tactile. Her travels on the astral plane will leave her less disoriented by that transition than most, because that's precisely where this is taking place — or part of it is taking place, a shadow of the thing happening in the real world. A mirror image of it, bent around the strangeness of immaterial planes.

What she has found, slinking like a jewel thief through the strip-mined corridors of Shane Templeton's telescoping thoughts, is a vortex of darkness so absolute that it defies the very concept. A cauldron, a contained maelstrom of wickedness, suffering, fear, madness, a distillation of nightmares. A bonfire of human maladies, fed on the kindling of displaced minds, every last drop of private horror being perpetually wrung from them in whatever infernal machine this is.

A glimpse is enough. 'Not long' is for the best. She has time enough to take it all in, titanic in its totality, before her delicate senses would inform her that someone has noticed her snooping, a sensation not unlike what it would feel like to have a pitiless god turn its baleful eye her way.

That malignant presence is not the only one to notice her. Its awareness of her seems to trigger some like awareness in some of the more coherent voices in the raging storm, and many of these assault her with desperate images: intruders at night, kidnappings, assignations gone wrong, human trafficking, and not just a few glimpses of a terrible face. It's an old man's face, the teeth black and crooked, the eyes cloudy, the hair greasy, salt-and-pepper, skin sunned darkly tan and leathery. There's hunger in the way they batter her with the stories of their peril, and rage driving it. It is not gentle.

—-

Emma Frost is one who has—in every way she has ever devised for herself—found new ways to stretch herself, to challenge herself, to clothe herself in all of the majesty and power that her genetic giftings afford her.

And then there are things like this.

The effort to stay free of the stream's pull, to avoid being pulled down into the chasm below, requires more of her attention and will. Her body in the physical world goes limp to the floor half atop Shane as she abandons it in pursuit of more raw psychic power. For more maneuverability on this plane.

The blood on the floor will stain her pristine ensemble.

It's always a gamble, the untethering of self and body, but it gives her what she needs in the moment and she stands her ground. Great risk and great gain are familiar bedfellows.

When the moment comes, however, that she is noticed, it doesn't chill her. Not at first, anyway. Ignorance at play, perhaps. Pride. She simply tries to diminish her presence, starting to summon up a place of strange camouflage from the psychic landscape.

Then the others start in.

And she tries to push them back, unappreciative of their tales of woe. The grotesque face, hard to ignore, is filed away in her memory as she begins attempting to extricate herself from the tangle of peculiar consciousnesses. «That is more than enough,» she tells them with a stern tone that brooks no dissent.

And then she tries to take her leave. To make her way back to the body she'd left behind.

—-

Like a sleek silver fish, Emma streamlines herself, slips back into the currents that bore her to this place, whatever and wherever it is. Fleet and smaller, she slowly pulls back from the brink, but it's an upstream swim, as it were — the gravity of what exists behind her is immense, and it increases perceptibly as the Thing within it turns its malignant focus to the task of searching for her amidst the noise. These inward streams, funneling downward from the minds of people drained like Shane Templeton has been drained, are a part of it, tendrils that wind outward in parasitic array from that nexus point of darkness, and it has less difficulty following her than she has in her determined flight to escape.

For some moments it may seem as though she's going to make it. The pull on her lightens, the drag on her thoughts easing, but almost in tandem to both of those happenings the force in chase of her is also freed. It speaks one word that is not a word but instead thunders through her like the tolling of a bell, and then she's there, half-sprawled atop a dead man who isn't dead, blood wicking into the fabric of her clothes.

It may take some moments for the pain to register. Dull, but stinging, burning, like the after-impression of having bumped a scalding pot on the stove.

It's not the pain that's worrisome, necessarily. She has undoubtedly suffered far worse.

It's the location: one of her buttocks.

When she looks? She'll find a mark, shaped like a ring. It looks like a birth mark, but it was assuredly never there before, and its perfect circumference is anything but natural.

—-

The blonde doesn't move at first, taking her time to properly settle psyche back into its place. To get her bearings. For no matter how many times one slips in and out of a body, it can still be a little disorienting. One just learns to expect it. To accommodate for it. To embrace it for what it is.

…the burning is new.

After she's pushed away the disgust of being half-covered in blood, and pushed herself up and away from the not-corpse corpse, Emma becomes more aware of it. And then she half-rolls to more easily rub at it. Did she fall on something?

Her expression transforms from one of hazy, vague confusion to one of irritation as she slowly pushes herself back up into a sit. Then, unsteadily back to her feet, and towards the bathroom. To wash her hands. To …discover with unmitigated horror that the smooth skin of her waxed posterior is marred by a mark. Fortunately, there is no one to hear her as she growls unhappily and asks of the empty air, "What the hell?"

This may not be the worst night ever (because she's had some pretty awful nights), but it's definitely not one of the best.

She looks about the room, with her little stiletto heels making an intermittent track across the floor. And she clucks her tongue before setting herself to work, making herself right at home.

From his closet, she pulls out a canvas bag and some of his clothes. A collared button-down shirt. A pair of track pants. She strips, rinses herself off, and then puts those clothes on.

She rinses the soles of her stilettos off, and then sets them on the counter to dry.

She searches down the man's liquor - for surely there must be some - and pours herself a glass to begin drinking as she heads back into the room with poor, poor Shane. And then she begins collecting and shoving all of the security tapes into the bag from the closet. Her dress is thrown inside, balled up with the clean parts outside. Her bra? Hangs half out of the bag.

And then, quite simply, she takes the bag and slings it over her shoulder. She makes a wreck of her hair, and then messily twists it into a high bun with no pins or rubber bands to keep it into place. She claims her heels, letting them dangle from her fingertips and leaves the apartment barefoot. She locks the door behind her with the stolen keys.

Because the Walk of Shame—or giddy amusement, if her outward appearance is to be believed—is a Thing as she makes her way out, conveniently forgetting to leave that apartment key behind.

Because she's got to get home and make a phone call.

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