DRESS TO IMPRESS THE DEVIL
It was an elegant, two-story tailor shop that was painted into this beautiful shade of black and gold. The windows that wrapped around the building were darkly tinted and didn't allow any view inside. Not to mention, just looking at it explained that only certain people were allowed through those double, brass handled doors. People with either deep pockets or those with a deep business proposal. John looked uneasy but Mandy seemed rather delighted to be down at this shop. She hadn't been here in years and it was kind of refreshing to see that her favorite tailor shop was still as high-class as ever and kept its beautiful design. Nothing had changed and she can still hear the sound of lovely violin music playing inside.
"Mandy," John spoke in a weary voice and cast a look down at her.
She immediately put her hand up to stop him from saying anything more. "I don't wanna hear it. I know you ain't really a fan of them but-"
"That's not it. They're just...to eccentric for me to handle." John cut in, his face cringing up with the thought of having to deal with the owners.
"Please," Mandy playfully slapped him on his arm. "If you can handle me then you can handle them."
"I can only handle you because I've known you for years."
"Yeah, well. I've known these guys just as long as I have known you. If you want something done right. You start here." She swung her arm to the side and knocked it against John's stomach, making him double over slightly. "Come on. Let's go," she said with honest cheerfulness.
They walked towards the building and both grabbed a brass knob, yanking it open and letting the sound of music fill the air, a high pitched melody that was humbling and heartfelt but played with much confidence. It sounded lonely at first but then swelled with joy a the peak of its climax. A sorrowful song about finding hope through the seemingly never-ending darkness. A beautiful tune that was played by one of the owners of the shop. Marie-Laura Ancelet. They saw her standing there with her back towards them, drawing her bow across the strings, and producing a wonderful song. She swung her head to the side with each stride while putting her whole body into her harmony.
Mandy smiled brightly when she saw her old friend, covered in a lovely black dress that had an open back design. "Why do you always play the violin whenever someone shows up?" she asked with a smile so wide that it showed off all her teeth.
Marie-Laura didn't cease her performance and continued to stroke her bow back and forth. She finally spoke but her voice had a thick French accent attached to it that made her seem very elegant, yet she sounded aged. "It's because I like to impress people and give them a show." She stopped playing and turned around, her ink-black hair sweeping across her dusted pink cheeks that folded up when she smiled. She was in her mid 50's now and it was beginning to show on her skin, but the lively glimmer of jade in her dazzling eyes hadn't dimmed at all in the years. This woman was still stunningly beautiful. "I knew it was you since your footsteps are very distinct. Heavy...uneven...and with long, drawn-out strides."
This was how Mandy always knew Marie-Laura to be. She liked to impress people just to see their reaction and complement her. She got off on it, actually. "Color me impress then." Mandy shrugged just as her smile turned into a smirk. "Hello, Marie-Laura."
"It's been too long, ma chérie. I thought you had passed on by now." She placed her violin and bow down on the check-in desk and walked over to them with the loose fabric of her dress swaying side to side. "You would have to be the luckiest person in the world to survive this long with your attitude." She opened her arms up wide and wrapped them around Mandy who was already awaiting the comforting, mother-like embrace. Marie-Laura spoke low but just enough for her to hear. "It must've been hard...being out there by yourself."
Mandy flinched at the tone of her voice before burying her face in her shoulder. "I guess you can say that." She took in the scent of the woman's perfume that smelled of roses and honey, but there was also a faint trace of cigarette smoke that must've come from her husband.
Marie-Laura looked up and smiled warmly at John who hadn't moved at all from the entrance. He stood there like a fish out of water, and of course, it didn't go unnoticed by her. Marie-Laura pulled away from Mandy and walked over to him, moving right up into his personal space and shaking his rough hands. "John, It pains me to know that you didn't come and visit me and Robin at all."
"I'm sorry, Marie," he apologized sheepishly. He meant it too since Marie-Laura was quite close to Mandy, just how Marcus had been. They all shared fond memories of her. "I was...I was trying to get out of this life."
"Mm, well...you're not really doing a great job right now." She said dryly before noticing the cuts across his face, matching up perfectly with the ones on Mandy's. "Your faces have seen better days too. So something tells me your on a job right now. Are you both in search of some new clothes?" she said and glided her hand across the cuts on his face, appearing puzzled at what they must've gotten into.
"That's right, and we're gonna need the package deal too," Mandy answered hesitantly, "If you know what I mean."
There was a subtle change in Marie-Laura's eyes. "Ah. Now I get it." She turned her head towards the tinted, one-way window. No one could see inside but she could easily see them. Ares was out there, staring at them with a confused look in her face. "Ares..." she muttered just as a new voice flooded the room.
"Marie? Dear, care to explain why Santino D'Antonio's men are stalking outside our store?" It was the boisterous voice of Robin, Marie-Laura's husband of many years. He was a dashing man in his 50's who was well put together and wrapped up in a dark blue suit. His hair was a crisp copper brown with spots of white mixed in that came naturally for a man his age.
"Yeah, I noticed," Marie-Laura said.
Robin's face twisted with annoyance when he sensed trouble just on the horizon. "I already finished and delivered his coronation suit. Why are they still here?"
"They're not here for us. Well...at least not yet." Marie-Laura said as her eyes fell on Mandy and John. "I guess they're here because of those two."
Robin turned to where she was pointing and his eyes grew wide. "Mandy Rose..." he said in awe, his gray eyes storming with emotions that hadn't surfaced since the time she disappeared. "I thought I felt the room gradually become colder," he jokingly said with a playful frown.
Mandy laughed a bit at this guy's dry demeanor that was too relaxed despite his shop being staked out. "Hey, Robin. How's it going?" She offered her hand out and shook his.
"World's been quiet since you've been gone and I've enjoyed every last moment of it until today," he winked after giving her a firm pat on the shoulder, strong enough to make her lose her balance a bit. Mandy was comforted with the fact that he was as strong as ever. Age can't take that away from him.
"I'm sure you did."
Robin looked past Mandy and up to John. "Good to see you too, Mr. Wick." he greeted politely.
John looked apprehensive at first before shaking the man's hand. "Robin. Sorry but...did you say-"
"Yeah, I know." His voice dropped a few notches while he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his inner coat pocket. He took one out and lit it with a zippo lighter that looked just as old as him. "I had a feeling something was wrong when Santino came here a couple of days ago, looking to get a suit tailored for his coronation...despite Gianna D'Antonio taking the High Table seat instead of him. Now you two show up on our doorstep?" His eyes burned with deadly suspicion as he took a drag on his cigarette.
Marie-Laura gestured everyone into the waiting room for more privacy and sat down on one of the two couches that were placed between a large coffee table. She and Robin were quiet but their calm expressions told Mandy and John that these two already knew what was going on and why they were here.
"So...you two know?" John asked while taking a seat next to Mandy.
"Of course, we do," Marie-laura said while smoothing out her black dress and crossing her legs. "Walls talk and people have loudmouths. Especially Santino. Goodness gracious, that man practically cut open his heart and spilled everything to Robin when he was getting his measurements done," she sighed with defeat. "It appears that he's already doing his preparations despite Gianna still being alive. Sources say that she's in Rome right now too."
Robin put his cigarette out in the ashtray in front of him. "You being here tells us all we need to know. You need clothes for the occasion...and information, right?"
The tailor shop was always a front and more so a hoppy that Robin and Marie-Laura had picked up, but their main source of business was information gathering and selling. They were underground informants, dangerous people who have knowledge that the general public was never supposed to know. They do get types like Mandy and John coming in from time to time but they have absolutely no connection with the High Table and their world.
"Getting information from the underground comes at a high price," Marie-Laura said and saw Mandy's face scrunch up.
"Of course, Marie, we'll pay," Mandy said but was shushed immediately by the beautiful owner.
"What are you talking about, ma chérie? I don't need your money," Marie suddenly smiled, warm and gentle. "After all, I...will forever be your ally." She proclaimed proudly before frowning. "Besides, I hate getting money from the High Table. It makes them believe that they're entitled to my assets. But in truth, no one is. This is my kingdom alone. I would burn it down myself before finding it in their hands." Her words were scorching hot and held a deep resentment that made Mandy cock a brow.
"Ah, Marie. Enough with that morbid talk." Robin raised his hand and set it down gently on Marie's shoulder. He could feel how tense she was. "We got a tall order coming up."
Marie-Laura's face fell a bit but she nodded her head. "Yeah, I understand." And like that, she smiled once more and appeared to have reverted back to her kind and bold self. "We've got quite an arrangement for you two to choose from. Robin, will you be a dear and take care of John so I can do Mandy. I haven't seen her for such a long time and I would like a little time to talk."
"Sure. I take fitting room one while you take two?" Robin nodded.
"Sounds like a plan." Marie glanced up at the clock to make a quick calculation of how long things were going to take. For one person each, she predicted that it would take two hours to draw up a rough design of what both Mandy and John wanted. Luckily, they were pretty easy people to work with, Mandy most of all since she always let Marie-Laura do what she wanted.
Robin was diligent, quiet, and hardly made a sound when he took John's measurements and wrote them down on a notepad behind him that was laying on a desk. He would momentarily get distracted though when he heard Marie-Laura raise her voice in the other fitting room, smile, and look back down. The man was definitely in his element and wrote down every little detail that John wanted in his suit and made sure not to leave any question unanswered. Small talk was never Robin's strong suit and he never was the one to instigate a conversation either.
John picked his head up when he heard Mandy laughing slightly in the other room. "Robin," he asked.
Robin's eyes peered up at him. "What is it?" He stepped back and dropped the measuring tape around his neck and pulled the pencil out from behind his ear.
"I never asked before but...how can those two get along so well?"
Robin grabbed the notepad behind him and wrote down the rest of the measurements he had memorized in his head. He can understand that Marie-Laura's boldness can be a bit much sometimes but she always seemed to meld well with Mandy in the past. It then dawned on him that those two had more in common than John and Mandy did. "I'm thinking it's because they had a pretty similar upbringing."
John furrowed his brows. "Marie-Laura? We are talking about the same woman, right?" He asked seriously and got a chuckle out of him.
"Yeah, we're talking about the same Marie." Robin smiled fondly. "From what she was...to who she is today. She's extremely proud and passionate about her job. She'd built this kingdom herself and worked hard to be the woman she is today." He looked up from his papers and spoke with deep pride and passion embedded in his voice. "I'm proud to call that woman my wife."
Once again, the very diligent silence fell between them as Robin went back to work. He set the notepad back down on the table and rummaged through some new fabric he obtained recently in the drawers. He stopped though, quite suddenly and peeked over his shoulder. John noticed that his demeanor kind of shifted a little.
"You know, Gianna came here a month ago, requesting a glamourous dress," Robin spoke with a darkened voice. "Of course, we didn't know what would become of her at the time but...we still did our very best."
John felt his throat clench up and his stomach dance. "What did it look like? The dress."
Robin shrugged. "It was silver. Dazzling. The woman could blind everyone in a room just by walking around in it." His voice was flat now like he had purposely detached himself from his emotions so they wouldn't flare-up in front of him. John knew that trick all too well. He knew how to do it and so did Mandy. It was something the people in that world would do when they needed to step away from an emotional situation that got too much for them.
"I see." John lowered his head and swallowed hard.
"Yeah. Kinda makes me sick to think about it now. I couldn't even imagine what Marie-Laura felt." He stood beside himself and didn't want to ask any more questions, in fear that Marie might hear them. "But like I said. Enough of this morbid talk." Robin quickly, almost at an inhuman speed, pulled himself together and turned back into a tailored professional once again. He looked back at his notes and relayed everything back to John, clearing his throat before speaking. "Alright. So you want one suit for day, another for night. An Italian style, two-buttons, and tapered trousers. Correct?
"Great. And for the fabric, may I offer something...with a little more flare?" Robin went back over to the dresser and pulled a bundle of fabric out.
"Like?" John furrowed his brows.
"Well...tactical, of course," he smirked and unraveled the strange material. "I already told Marie-Laura about this and she was ecstatic about the idea." He handed him a piece of the fabric for him to feel since it had such a strange sensation. It had a weird combination of being silky but also rough in some places.
"What is it?" John asked and moved it around in his hand, pulling it to see how much it can stretch.
"A lot..." Robin answered bluntly. "Silicon carbide discs, ceramic matrices, accompanying laminates. It's the new cutting-edge body armor. Just sew it between the fabric and brace yourself."
That last comment caught him off guard a bit. "Brace myself?" John looked up and frowned.
"It hurts to get shot...no matter which way you look at it." Robin scoffed at his confused expression and spoke as if he had experience in the matter.
Marie-Laura did have Mandy's old measurements but they were 10 years out of date, so she had to get new ones. She found something disturbing though while updating them. She thought that Mandy would have gained some weight since it's natural for the body to do that when it ages, but it seems that she's below her original measurements now. It wasn't a lot, just a few pounds lower. Still, Marie-Laura didn't know what to think about it. It made her wonder what Mandy had been doing these past few years. And honestly, it was a bit concerning since she knew how emotionally unstable Mandy can be at times.
Marie-Laura paused for a moment when she realized that Mandy had been quiet for a bit too long, only now looking up to see how troubled her face really was. Something was on her mind but she appeared hesitant. Too scared almost to ask a question.
"Mandy, something the matter?" Marie-Laura asked. "You look like you wanna say something."
Mandy smiled a bit. "That obvious?"
"Yes." Marie cocked a brow.
Mandy's smile melted down into a frown. "Both you and John, I swear... I was just..." she paused suddenly and bit down on her lips before accidentally studdering on her words. "Were...were you the one who put those words on my tomb back at the Marbel Cemetary? The thing about giving the Devil a headache."
Marie-Laura furrowed her brow. "How'd you guess? I always thought...if you died, you wouldn't have stayed dead for long. I figured you would have annoyed the Devil enough for him to send you back to the world of the living. And look at you now. You had come back to us. Back to John."
Mandy lowered her head and huffed, breathing deeply and dropping her voice to nothing but a whisper. "Meeting him again...was honestly just dumb luck."
"I always thought that dumb luck was just a different term for the word fate." Marie's pink lips curled up into a smirk.
Mandy scoffed at the statement but wasn't surprised to hear it. Marie-laura always talked like that, speaking with pretty words that she must've heard from a fairytale. "You believe in fate?"
"Of course, ma chérie. The gods created a patient man like Robin not for any woman on this planet. It was fate that he was meant to be mine." She wasn't wrong about that. Robin had to have the patience of a saint to be able to adore Marie-Laura for this long.
"The confidence you have in that theory is something I always strived to have," Mandy muttered and fell quiet once again, the lost and troubled expression returning to her face the moment she closed her mouth.
Marie Laura signed and pulled her measuring tape away. "Mandy." She spoke gently since she knew something was amiss. "Do not be afraid to ask me something. You know I will always give you the truth." Her warmness seemed to have worked and Mandy was able to relax a bit, still studdering on her words though and a little reluctant.
"Is...is she still alive?"
It was a simple question but it made a cold chill spike up Marie-Laura's spine. "I get it now. Jesus...guilt has their fingers tight around your throat, doesn't it?" her voice turned rough and her lips parted with shock.
Mandy tightened her jaw and grit down on her teeth. "Just tell me if she's alive or not."
"She is. But she hadn't visited me since the day you left." Marie-Laura felt her heart clench up. She reached up and grabbed Mandy by her shoulder, walking into view and focusing her eyes only on her. She spoke firmly, almost like how a concerned mother would talk. "But for everyone's sake, don't go looking for her. You're only gonna get yourself killed. Or worse. You're gonna end up killing each other. Don't do anything like that to John. He's been through a lot after you disappeared."
A wave of anxiety surfaced and coursed through every nerve in Mandy's body and made her stiffened up. "I know he had. One of my many regrets was leaving him behind. It was the most selfish thing I had ever done."
Marie-Laura patted Mandy on the back to make her feel more at ease. "What I don't understand is why you stayed quiet this whole time. I knew you loved John but...you just never said anything."
Mandy sucked in a deep breath and closed her eyes tightly, still pretending that these past 10 years were nothing but a nightmare. "We had a good friendship, Marie. I was just...just too afraid to ruin anything," she spoke like a child who had gotten into trouble and was scolded for it.
"And that was when Adrian came long, huh?"
Mandy cocked a brow. "I'm really starting to wonder how you know all this crap," she said bluntly since it was starting to freak her out.
"It's my job to know things," Marie-Laura winked. "Marcus usually kept me in the loop though if you weren't willing to tell me yourself."
Mandy breathed in deeply but choked for a second since she didn't know that it was Marcus telling her all this. "Ah, now it's all starting to come to light. I guess you already knew what happened to him, yeah?" She gave Marie-Laura a knowing look but her expression didn't change at all when this news was brought to her attention. So she already knew, of course.
"I do." Marie-Laura's voice became heavy and she kept her eyes firmly on Mandy's. "But you gotta understand. He went his own way. He lived his life and he lived it long enough so you could have one too. You can say that you've had an awful life...but you can't convince me that you hadn't have met the best kinds of people because of him."
Slowly, Mandy began to feel her throat close up and it took everything in her power to keep herself together. "I know..."
As Marie-Laura predicted, it took exactly two hours for both her and Robin to draw up a design of what Mandy and John wanted. Mandy gave her free range on what to do with her clothes, so Marie was thinking of putting her in a leather jacket with a bright red lining, a gray turtle neck sweater with black pants and boots. Something simple but with just enough edge to show off Mandy's personality. Needless to say, she was excited to get started.
Marie-Laura walked out of the fitting room just as Robin was wrapping things up and putting things away. John was already sitting on the couch waiting for them to finish. "Robin? Are you done with John's measurements?" she asked.
Robin looked up with a pencil still hanging from his mouth and a notepad in his hand. "Yeah. Do you want me to start making the preparations while you tend to the rest?"
She nodded and handed Mandy's measurements to him. "That'll do. Thank you, dear." She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek just before he walked off to get things started so the order could get done faster. "You two come with me," she gestured towards Mandy and John to follow while she walked over to a large bookshelf.
They both stopped in front of the large shelf that was covered head to toe in old books. Some of them were in English but most were in French that all looked like they were still used daily. Marie-Laura pushed against the side of the shelf before signaling Mandy to help her. Together, they succeeded at moving it to the side and revealed a hidden door. It was heavily reinforced and demanded a passcode to get inside, in which Marie-Laura quickly punched in and opened up. After flipping on the light, they saw how big the hidden room actually was. It had six rows of shelving that was perfectly organized with labeled boxes. Some in which were labeled with specific surnames and others were labeled with countries and states.
Just the amount of information in this room left Mandy astonished and almost terrified. "Jesus...Looks like it doubled in the years I've been dead," she muttered and walked down one of the aisles. "Marie, this had to have taken your whole life to collect."
Marie-Laura snickered and joined her in the aisle to look around. "I've been busy." She ran her hand across the dusty boxes until stopping at one that said 'Rome'. She pulled it from the shelf and walked out of the hidden vault and back over to the coffee table. "I got some pretty good information a couple of months back that might help you get in and out undetected. The place Gianna is having her coronation at, there are catacombs running underneath it." She pulled the lid off and rummaged through the loose sheets of paper until she pulled out a folded up blueprint. The paper was thin and fragile so she opened it up with much care and set it down to show them. "It's dark with thick stone walls and easy hiding spots. It's a good place to be if you're...I don't know, expecting a shoot out," she shrugged innocently, pretending not to know what would happen after all is said and done
Mandy leaned down and counted all the exits she could see. "Don't you need keys for these kinds of places?"
"You do," Marie-Laura said and stepped back into the vault and came out a second later with silver keys in hand. "Which is why I have a copy." She passed them on to John who looked absolutely stunned to know that she had them.
"Why do you have a copy?" he asked but Marie-Laura just smiled at him.
"Why wouldn't I have a copy?" she said in the sweetest voice imaginable.
Mandy reached down and picked up the map, careful not to rip it since she can only imagine how many of these there were in the world. "Can we keep the map too?" she asked
Marie-Laura nodded her head and didn't even hesitate. "Sure. Be my guest." She began to put everything up and put the box away, signaling for John to close the door and cover the vault back up with the shelf. "Will that be it?" she asked, a tinge of sadness slowly crawling to her voice. It's been far too long since she's seen Mandy and she just wished she had more time to talk. Talk about life and what she must've been doing for 10 years. Scared to ask because of the strange weight loss but dying to know because of it.
"No, that's it. Thank's again, Marie." She folded the map up and quickly walked over to hug her since she was starting to feel the dread of leaving too. She squeezed Marie-Laura so tightly that her arms were starting to shake. "Thank you...so much. Thank you."
"Don't worry about it. Really. I'm just delighted to know that you're safe." She held Mandy's hands and took a solid minute to look her over, engraving the sight into her mind. "Hold on a minute." Marie-laura turned and swiftly jogged out of the room before coming back a second later with something small in her hand. "Mandy." She raised her hand up and tossed it over to her
Mandy looked down and cocked a brow when she saw that it was a tube of lipstick. "Really?" She turned it over to read the color and scoffed when it said 'Devil's Red'."Marie!" She couldn't help but laugh when she popped it open and saw the most vibrant shade of red she had ever seen
"If you're going to hell...might as well dress to impress the Devil." Marie-laura winked before playfully and lightly slapping the side of Mandy's face, a lot how Mandy does with John sometimes. "I know you're far from happy right now and I've been where you are, but if you find that you have nowhere to go...my door's always open."