Chapter 21: The Bowery
It didn't take long for the Phantom to grow accustomed to the small weight against his back. Every little movement the boy made filled him with bitter hope which he was in desperate need of. He had to smoke out a single rat in the most vermin filled city in the country. Possibly the globe.
But he knew where she would be.
Well at least where to begin.
The bar was packed. Drunken sailors were spending their earnings on food, drink and pleasure all in one night knowing they would be back on a ship the next morning. Despite the drunken state of the patrons, there eyes followed the slender, black clad man whose face was half hidden behind gauze and a broad brimmed fedora, morbidly curious as to why a well dressed man had come into the rather gruff bar, with a child on his back of all things. No one dared question him. They knew better than anyone to not bother a man whose air reeked of bloodlust.
While dressed in a suit that cost more than the total yearly salary in the room combined, the Phantom was not discomforted by the wrecked sight of the worst filthiest scum. He had seen worse. He had lived through worse. Only last year he would have considered himself as one of the low life's. But there was someone who did not deserve to view such horrors-now or ever.
"Gustave," The Phantom instructed, "keep your eyes closed."
He felt the boy weakly nod his head against his back.
He continued to the bar, throwing a few woman of the night off his arm in the process.
"What would you like, sir?" The bartender hesitated at the word 'sir', showing that he was not used to speaking formally to the patrons.
"Information." The Phantom said quietly. "I'm looking for a young, blonde woman. An 'entertainer' named Meg Giry."
"Ah the Oh La La girl." The bartender said, used to this conversation. "A lot of folks ask for that one. And I have to tell them all that she doesn't work here anymore."
"Where does she work then."
"Every heard of the Bowery?"
"I should have guessed."
"She hasn't been there for a while, but she's doing one tonight. Desperate for money I suppose."
"Thanks for your help."
He threw some dollar coins on the table before turning his heals and leaving.
It was quite the lively place. The streets filled with so many that the carriage could no longer move across the streets. The stench of stale beer and various body fluids filled his senses. Women in various senses of undress littered the sidewalks, calling over potential drunken customers. The Phantom couldn't help but notice a giggly, young woman with her face plastered with makeup and ribbons in her hair…
"Wha's the problem officer?" The girl slurred, pressing her hands to her swaying hips, her eyes so narrow she almost looked asleep."
"Intoxicated while in public." The officer said, leading her away, her hands behind her back.
The Phantom gave a grim laugh. I wasn't because of her scandalous profession that she was being arrest for but rather the fact that she was drunk in public. While he was repulsed by a woman doing either, he had to argue that selling virtue was a worse crime than being intoxicated in public.
Despite only having been with a woman willingly one night, he had never considered paying a woman to entertain him. He would never taint the experience he had with Christine...especially not now.
He wove his way through the crowded streets to where the most chaotic part of the street was: the Bowery building.
"Are your eyes still closed?" The Phantom asked.
Gustave's little head feebly nodded.
The Phantom entered the crowded, wild, energetic building.
He was a bit surprised that the building turned out to be a theater. Now in the traditional sense as there were no seats other than a few tables in private compartments along the edges of the open floor where a drunk mob dance was taking place. But there was a stage with an orchestra pit and a conductor, playing a lively tune while a passable singer sang the show tune. There was a second floor, the Phantom knew, but he also knew what awaited there.
It was-It was like the American version of the Moulin Rouge back in Paris.
But definitely American.
The song ended to thunderous applause and the conductor began to speak.
"What a lady, ladies and gentlemen!" The conductor said to the crowd, clearly the host of this never ending party.
The crowd responded enthusiastically.
"Monsuir Y." Gustave had to shout in order for him to hear. "C'est trop fort. Ça me fait mal aux oreilles."
"Ne t'inquiète pas." The Phantom assured him, "Nous ne restons pas longtemps. We'll be gone soon."
"Now some of you may recall a performer that left out midst about a year ago." The conductor continued, keeping up his over acting routine.
The crowd booed.
"It was such a sad day indeed." The conductor said to the audience's approval. "But I have a surprise for you. For one night only, I give you, the Oh La La Girl!"
The crowd cheered as a scandalously dressed blonde girl appeared on stage in a puff of smoke and glitter. The Phantom repressed an eye roll.
Tacky. At least his shows had some sense of class to them. He had never approved of the cheap shows Giry continued to push. He wanted a wonderland- Giry wanted an amusement park. And that's all it brought people-amusement. Not joy. Not fun. Not memories. Not wonder. Just amusement.
"Dearest friends, dear gentlemen," Meg began singing. "Listen to my song."
The Phantom, now certain that it was the Giry (recognizing her shrill voice anywhere), tuned out her entire number as he made his way over to the conductor and the owner of the building.
"Excuse me, Sir." The Phantom pulled the man aside, not really caring who he was pulling him away from in the process. "Are you the owner of this facility."
"That depends on who's asking." The man responded.
"Very clever," The Phantom said, not amused with the lackluster response. "I'd like to introduce myself. I am Duke Charles Mulheim from France and I was wondering if you would like to discuss with me about me investing into your facility."
The man's eyes bulged wide.
"Oh course sir," The man led the Phantom away from the dancing, "To my office. This way sir."
'American's, always on the move' the Phantom thought, realizing that this man was probably a terrible businessman-he hadn't asked for any proof of identity or wealth or anything to ensure this would be a success.
Within a few minutes, the Phantom was sitting on a chair, Gustave half asleep with his head propped up against the Phantom's arm, both facing the other man behind the desk.
It continued as an ordinary business deal. Though the Phantom had no intention of financing the gruff theater, he behaved as if he was interested right up until the moment when his real desires came out.
"Of course, my generous offer will be backed up with a deposit." The Phantom said, pulling out a large diamond ring. "It's worth about 23,000, well enough to ensure I will keep my end of the bargain."
"I'll know if it's a fake." The conductor said, reaching across the desk to grab the ring which the Phantom let him snatch.
The conductor studied the ring from every angle, pulling out a magnifying glass and doing everything a professional jewel expert would and to the Phantom's surprise, doing the techniques correctly.
"Whoa…" the conductor exclaimed.
It was a fake. But a very, very good fake. Or a very stupid man examining it.
"It seems everything is in order." The conductor said, standing up and offering his hand for the Phantom to shake.
"Not just yet." The Phantom continued. "You've got your insurance. I need mine before I sign."
"What did you have in mind?" The conductor said, clearly ready to give anything.
"The girl." The Phantom said. "A night with the Oh La La girl."
"Done." The conductor said instantly. "You'll have her as soon as the paper's are signed."
"After." The Phantom said. "You have my diamond, I'll take yours."
"Alright." The conductor said, leading him to the door. "I'll show you to her dressing room."
The Phantom rather liked how American's didn't ask questions. Had he tried to bring a child into a brothel in France, he would have been stopped before he even reached the door. But here he was in a performers dressing room with his son leaning against his lap.
Once more, he was playing with the boy's curls. He couldn't get enough of those dark, thick locks. He couldn't have been more perfect even if the Phantom had designed every feature. Intelligent and witty like his father, but kind and beautiful like his mother.
What a beautiful deity Hades and Persephone had created.
He heard the door knob handle.
"I'm sorry for keeping you waiting, monsieur." The blonde girl said, entering the room. "But here I am-the Oh La La girl."
She didn't fool him for a second.
"You are quite a terrible actress," The Phantom said, standing up. "You are not the girl I just heard singing. You are not Meg Giry."
"But of course I am." The girl continued, hugging her curves.
"I am not a patient man to begin with." The Phantom growled, glancing at Gustave who was still half asleep on the chair. "Do not test me by lying."
"I can assure you sir, I am just as good as the Oh La La girl."
"What you believe to be good at does not concern me." The Phantom said, rushing towards her, his hand grasping her throat as he shoved her into the wall. "Where is Meg Giry?!"
"I-I don-don't kn-know!" The girl stammered, gasping for breathe.
The Phantom clenched his hand harder, cutting off the woman's airway even more.
"Where is she?!" The Phantom screamed, sending tremors down the girl's body.
The Phantom threw the girl into the wall and turned around, ready to leave.
He saw two large silver eyes staring at him.
Little Gustave stood there, his eyes wide in fear and his hands covering his mouth. Erik paused for a moment, realizing his mistake, before taking a step towards Gustave. It broke his heart to see Gustave take a step back.
"Gustave, it's alright." Erik said, trying to comfort the child. "It's just me. You know I'm not going to hurt you."
Gustave stopped backing away but didn't go to him. The Phantom just scooped up the little boy, once more comforted by the boy being in his arms.
"I warned you." The Phantom said, "I warned you not to open your eyes."
Gustave remained silent but let out a cough.
The Phantom walked out of the Bowery and into the raining night.