A/N: The basic theme for this story grew out of a conversation with some of the ladies over on the Northman's All-You-Can-Eat Buffet thread while we were discussing new scenarios in which we wanted to see our favorite Viking vampire. Several of us expressed enthusiasm for the idea of "Northman Noir," a film noir storytelling style adapted for the SVM fic world. What follows is my own all-human, alt-universe take on the concept of '40s-style mystery, intrigue, romance, and betrayal. There might be a group noir project coming up, as well—we were kicking around the idea of having multiple writers contribute individual chapters to a group fic. Feel free to stop by the thread if you're interested in participating (or if you just want to say hello)!
I don't own the characters from the Southern Vampire Mysteries, so suing me would just be mean.
Many thanks to FDM, who's been giving me feedback on my ideas for this story since I started outlining it, and who has helped a great deal with this chapter as my beta!
Chicago, January 1948
I spend a lot of time watching people. I don't do it because I like it. I do it because people pay me to. Sometimes, I watch for them because they need to know what I'll find out. Sometimes, they already know what I'll find out, and they just need me to show them. They pay good dough for this, because I'm good at what I do.
The name's Northman, Eric Northman, and I'm a freelance private investigator.
People think it's a glamorous job. People are usually wrong. When I work with corporations, it's usually to look for missing money or missing property. I can spot a cooked book faster than Betty Crocker can whip up a cake. When security is a concern, I check out potential employees, weeding out bad apples before they can be added to the payroll. When I work with law enforcement, I might look for missing witnesses, help gather evidence, assist with case preparation—find the story in a sea of documents, the missing puzzle piece in a locker full of boxes.
I prefer working those jobs to taking on private clients, but I do both, because I go where the money is. Emotions run higher in the private sector, and there's nothing like a weeping client to put a damper on a perfectly good air of professional detachment. I'll find your missing, drugged-out son; I'll take pictures of your adulterous husband with his mistress—but I won't stick around to offer a shoulder to cry on when you don't like what I show you. You're the one who has to decide whether to cut the threads loose or sew the tattered remnants of your life back together. I'll be in my office filling out the paperwork.
And there is a lot of paperwork. Pam, my secretary, spends half her work day organizing, labeling, and storing the stuff. I prefer to be out in the field, but even then, it's a waiting game much of the time. I lurk. I see without being seen, which isn't easy when you're six-foot-four. I take pictures, make notes. And I do this in Chicago, where the weather basically has two settings: too damned hot and too damned cold.
No, it's not glamorous. Not that there aren't certain advantages to letting people think it is. Tell a woman—who's already interested, or she wouldn't have struck up a conversation in the first place—that you're an ex Marine Corps officer who's now working as a private dick, and you're halfway home. What can I say? I'm not a monk, and I do like to have a good time. After a while, though, women always want more than a good time. They get sick of the odd hours I keep. They want a ring on their finger, a set of slippers near the bed, and plans for the future that involve grandkids and stuffed turkeys at Thanksgiving. When one of my relationships gets to that point—the point when the girl is too attached to the idea of a life I'm just not interested in leading with her—one or the other of us has to break things off. One of the smarter ones whispered, after she packed her bag full of odds and ends she'd been leaving at my apartment, "I wanted to be with you, but you weren't ever really with me. We were alone together." She kissed my cheek and shut the door softly behind her.
I told you she was smart.
But really, it was for the best. When I came back from the war, I took this job because it suits me. I like spending most of my working hours alone, not having to pretend to make pleasant chit-chat or give cheerful reports about my weekend activities at the office on Mondays. I could have joined the police force or found myself a gig as a desk jockey, but I like being my own boss.
Spending most of your time unraveling the schemes of thieves, cheats, frauds, and embezzlers doesn't give you the highest opinion of people in general. You learn to spot character flaws; you figure out people's games. It's enough to turn a confirmed optimistic into a cynic, and I was never a Pollyanna to begin with.
Still, part of what keeps this game worthwhile is the fact that while it isn't pretty, it does get interesting—sometimes real interesting. Every once in a while, someone makes you work hard to stay ahead of them, and the stakes can get high. Every once in a while, someone you thought you'd already sized up can surprise you, shake up your assumptions.
That's what happened last summer when a woman walked into my office with what seemed like an open-and-shut case. Sophie-Anne Leclerq was a wealthy art dealer in town; she had her own gallery and regularly bought and sold high-end pieces for a handsome profit. I guessed she needed help with a missing piece, maybe even with some research on a competitor.
Even wise men can be wrong.
Chicago, June 1947
My intercom buzzed as I was finishing up some research on a missing-persons case: a mother had come in convinced her daughter had been kidnapped, but the daughter had merely eloped with a guy she'd met at a jazz club she had "most assuredly never visited," according to the mom. The girl was happy. Her parents weren't. That's how it goes.
Pam sounded a little crackly and nasal through the machine. Her voice was nothing like that in person, but modern machinery is about convenience, not verisimilitude. "Mr. Northman, a woman is here to see you. Are you available to take a walk-in?"
"Send her in, Miss Ravenscroft."
I knew my new potential client by name, but we'd never actually met. Given her business interests, it wasn't surprising I knew a little bit about her—she moved numerous valuables in and out of the city of Chicago—but I was struck by the air of confidence she projected despite her less-than-imposing package. She was tiny, maybe five-two, and had one of those faces that made her look younger than she actually was.
Pam had already offered her a drink, which she had declined. We exchanged the standard introductory pleasantries, and I lit her cigarette for her and pulled out another for myself before offering her a seat.
Rule number one: don't talk too much. Even a seemingly simple question can influence the way a potential client tells you about a case. Pay attention to the way they frame the story; the details they leave out are often as telling as the ones they choose to reveal.
"I assume you know who I am by reputation?" I nodded that I did. "Then you probably think I'm here to discuss my business; you have done some work for some of my associates. They mentioned that you were efficient, thorough, and discreet." I gestured to her with my hand, silently asking her to continue.
"I'm actually not here on a business matter, Mr. Northman. You know of my husband, Andre?"
Rule number two: never look surprised. But yes, I knew of Andre Leclerq: an import from France, he was one of those enterprising types who seemed to have a hand in every jar. Rumor had it that his family owned vineyards back in Europe, and he milked that for all it was worth in Chicago social circles, though some guessed he just wasn't cut out for a provincial sort of lifestyle. Most people thought that he and Sophie-Anne had made a surprisingly good match in marrying each other—or they at least looked good together. People put stock in those kinds of things.
"I am increasingly concerned, Mr. Northman, that my husband has found himself a mistress. You can see why your reputation for discretion was a factor when I chose to come to you?" She took one final, long drag off her cigarette before extinguishing it in the ashtray on my desk.
"Of course, Mrs. Leclerq. What kind of assistance from me do you seek, precisely?"
"I want proof. I'd like you to observe Andre, report to me on what he does and where he does it, and provide me with any photographic evidence you manage to procure of his activities with this mistress. If he's jeopardizing my business interests or our social reputation, I'm sure you understand how that could cause enormous problems for me."
She paused. "And, naturally, I'm very upset at the idea that he has a… woman on the side," she added.
Remember rule number one? Pay attention to the way they frame the story. Mrs. Leclerq had come in for what I had thought was help with asset management, because on a basic level, that encompasses most of what I do: I help people protect what is theirs, and when someone takes what is theirs, I help them find it. Funny how even a standard infidelity job could be about asset management, too. Not that her interest couldn't be both business-related and personal—but she had let me know her main concern with her opener.
I agreed to spy on Sophie-Anne Leclerq's possibly-adulterous husband for her. She didn't seem to know exactly who was commanding so much of Andre's attention these days, but she did note that he was spending more time than usual at the Edgington, a high-end hotel with a nightclub just off the lobby. Andre worked at the Edgington as a promoter part of the time, so his presence there made sense, but any change in a pattern of behavior can be noteworthy, so I was sure I'd be making a visit there some time soon.
After doing prep work for the case, I found myself trailing Andre from his house to the nightclub three nights later. In recent years, the Edgington had grown in popularity as a night-time destination for the well-off and the adventurous. Management had made a particular effort to bring in a variety of cutting-edge musical talent. Many of the more famous jazz musicians had long ago left Chicago for New York, which gave the Windy City a bit of a reputation as a place where good jazz used to happen. The staff at the Edgington was working hard to bring in the strong acts, entice out-of-towners for occasional appearances, and, of course, to build its own set of in-house performers to bring in the regulars.
As I slipped into the club that night, ordering a single-malt Scotch on the rocks and carrying it with me to an unobtrusive location at a nook to the right-hand side of the room, one of these performers took the stage. She was a blue-eyed blond wearing a gunmetal grey dress that hugged her body in all the right spots. The dress wrapped around her chest to create a plunging neckline, made a bit more modest with a simple ruffle between her breasts that drew the eye higher. The fabric gathered in a ruche around her waist and then exposed a long, full skirt under which I could faintly trace the curve of her hips. She was stunning.
The announcer cheerfully informed the crowd that she was a new acquisition for the Edgington, a performer who had moved to the Midwest all the way from Louisiana, and then turned Miss Sookie Stackhouse over to the crowd. She already had my attention, but when the pianist had completed his opening riff and she began to sing into the microphone, I was utterly transfixed.
You won't be satisfied until you break my heart
You're never satisfied until the teardrops start
I tried to shower you with lovin' kisses
But all I ever get from you is naggin' & braggin',
my poor heart is saggin'
Her voice wrapped around me like a silken cord, binding me in place, compelling me to look at her: and there was the intent to compel in my own gaze. It occurred to me that if I stared at her hard enough to count her eyelashes, I could somehow get her to look back at me, make eye contact, show her that I knew exactly what to do with a beautiful woman whose song had caressed its way from my ears to my chest, and lower.
She had her act down. Alternately demure and seductive, she stroked the side of the piano like a lover, smiling at the patrons whose faces weren't hidden in shadows with a playful glint in her eyes. I hardly noticed when a barely-legal customer placed her hand on my knee and asked if she could join me; I don't think I even answered her.
I forced myself to focus on the task at hand about halfway through her set. I had already noticed Andre at a table near the front of the room, and he seemed every bit as bound by the Louisiana belle's spell as I had been. Most of the men in the room did. It wasn't until she completed her performance that I saw Andre approach her, place his hand on her lower back, and whisper something into her ear—she smiled in response and gave him a small nod—that I realized she was the mistress I had been hired to find. She slipped off to her dressing room with Andre following in the same direction a couple of well-timed minutes later.
Rule number three: Never get personally involved with clients, and never, ever get involved with the subjects of your investigation. You're there to observe and report, and to ask questions when necessary. You don't go home angry about the fact that Sookie Stackhouse, singer at the Edgington, had probably been to bed with Andre Leclerq that same night. You don't resent the fact that the next day, you'd have to get up and follow them so that you'd have photographic evidence of their relationship. You certainly don't find yourself in bed trying to remember exactly how the subject of an investigation sounded as she chided an imaginary lover for his cruelty.
But that's exactly what I did.
Ha ha, yes, my Sookie in this story can sing, even though Charlaine Harris's Sookie apparently can't carry a tune in a bucket. Noir Sookie doesn't tan, so I figure it's a trade-off. I figured Private Investigator Eric for a man who enjoys his Scotch. What should be Sookie's drink of choice?