CH 2: The Witching Hour

The last melancholic notes of "Blue in Green" hung in the air of The Le Chat Noir Jazz Club like cigarette smoke. Dorian Batiste lowered his trumpet, sweat glistening on his brow under the dim stage lights. The small crowd erupted in applause, their enthusiasm amplified by the late hour and freely flowing bourbon.

Miles Davis's "Blue in Green" had always been a favorite of Dorian's. The haunting melody, with its circular structure and ambiguous tonality, resonated deeply with him. Davis's ability to convey complex emotions through seemingly simple phrases was something Dorian strived for in his own playing. The piece's melancholic undertones and introspective nature mirrored Dorian's own complexities, making it a perfect fit for his repertoire.

On stage, the pianist, an older gentleman with salt-and-pepper hair, nodded appreciatively at Dorian. The bassist, a tall, willowy woman with dreadlocks, was already setting up for the next number. Behind them, the drummer, a young man barely out of his teens, twirled his sticks, eager to continue.

Dorian nodded his thanks, his 6'2" frame cutting an impressive silhouette as he stepped off the stage. He made his way to the bar, where a tumbler of Jack Daniels awaited him.

Charlie, the bartender, was a New Orleans fixture, as much a part of Le Chat Noir as its vintage posters and worn floorboards. His weathered face, framed by a neatly trimmed white beard, had seen decades of jazz nights and bourbon-soaked confessions. "Killer set, Mr. Batiste," he said, sliding the drink towards Dorian.

Dorian took a sip, savoring the familiar burn. "Thanks, Charlie. Told you, it's Dorian."

His phone vibrated in his pocket. A text from Vivian: "Midnight at The Crescent? Your suite."

A smile played on Dorian's lips. Vivian was a welcome distraction from the mounting pressures of the past few weeks. Running a boutique hotel empire was never easy, but lately, things felt... off.

As if on cue, another text came through, this time from his head of security at The Crescent: "Inventory discrepancy again. Third time this month. We need to talk."

Dorian's jaw clenched. He knocked back the rest of his drink and headed for the exit, nodding goodbyes to the remaining patrons.

The Crescent stood like a jewel in the heart of the French Quarter, its restored 19th-century facade belying the modern luxury within. As Dorian entered the lobby, he was greeted by the familiar sight of crystal chandeliers reflecting off marble floors. The air was perfumed with the subtle scent of magnolias, a nod to the hotel's Southern roots. The Jazz Club was adjacent to the hotel. Although part of the Crescent of which he owned, Dorian took the liberty of being a special guest trumpeter with the house band.

The night manager straightened as Dorian strode through the lobby. "Good evening, Mr. Batiste."

"Evening, Marcus. All quiet?"

"Yes, sir. Although..." Marcus hesitated.

Dorian raised an eyebrow. "Although?"

"There was a gentleman asking about you earlier. Said he was an old friend of your father's. Didn't leave a name."

A chill ran down Dorian's spine, memories of sand and gunfire threatening to surface. He pushed them down. "Thanks, Marcus. I'll be in my suite if you need me."

The elevator ride to the penthouse suite was swift and silent. As the doors opened, Dorian stepped into his private sanctuary. The marble floor gleamed in the soft lighting, leading to a spacious living area dominated by a modern fireplace. A four-poster bed stood in the bedroom, its dark wood a striking contrast to the otherwise contemporary decor. The bathroom was a marvel of marble and chrome, featuring both a clawfoot tub and an oversized shower.

He entered the suite cautiously, senses alert. The lights were dimmed, soft jazz playing from hidden speakers.

"Vivian?" he called out.

A figure emerged from the shadows of the bedroom, but it wasn't Vivian. The man was tall, broad-shouldered, with a military bearing Dorian recognized all too well.

"Hello, Dorian," the man said, his voice gravelly. "It's been a while."

Dorian's mind raced, calculating angles, distances, potential weapons.

The man raised his hands, showing he was unarmed. "At ease, Marine. I'm not here to fight. I'm here to warn you."

"Warn me about what?" Dorian's voice was steady, betraying none of the adrenaline coursing through him.

The man's next words sent a chill through Dorian's veins:

"Your father's past is catching up with you. And it's going to burn everything you've built to the ground."

Dorian's muscles tensed, ready for action. "Who are you?"

The man took a step forward, moonlight from the window illuminating half his face. A long scar ran from his left temple to his jaw. "Name's Ramirez. I served with your old man back in the day."

"My father?" Dorian's voice was tight. "You're mistaken. I don't know anything about my father."

Ramirez chuckled, a dry, humorless sound. "Oh, you know more than you think, Batiste. Your daddy was neck-deep in some serious shit back in Cuba. And now, it's all coming back around."

Dorian's mind raced. His father had always been a void, a topic his mother refused to discuss. Now, this stranger was here, speaking as if he knew secrets Dorian had spent a lifetime wondering about.

"What are you talking about? What 'serious shit'?"

"Ever wonder how a Cuban refugee managed to knock up a Senator's daughter?" Ramirez asked, his eyes glinting. "Your papa wasn't just some poor immigrant looking for the American dream. He was CIA, deep cover in Castro's Cuba."

The room seemed to tilt. Dorian steadied himself against the bar. "You're lying."

"Wish I was, kid. But the past has a way of bubbling up, no matter how deep you bury it. And your old man? He buried some nasty secrets."

Dorian's hand inched towards a heavy crystal decanter on the bar. "Say I believe you. What's this got to do with me?"

Ramirez's scarred face twisted into a grimace. "Because, Dorian, someone's digging those secrets up. And they think you're the key to finding what your daddy left behind."

A soft knock at the door made both men freeze.

"Dorian?" Vivian's sultry voice called from the hallway. "Are you in there?"

Ramirez moved swiftly towards the balcony. "Watch your back, Batiste. And be careful who you trust. Even that pretty little thing out there."

Before Dorian could respond, Ramirez had slipped out onto the balcony and disappeared into the night.

Dorian stood there, mind reeling, as Vivian knocked again. He took a deep breath, trying to compose himself. Whatever game was afoot, he couldn't let it show. Not yet.

He opened the door, forcing a smile. "Vivian. Sorry to keep you waiting."

She slinked in, all curves and perfume. "Is everything okay? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Dorian pulled her close, burying his face in her hair, hiding the turmoil in his eyes. "Everything's fine," he lied, his father's secrets and Ramirez's warnings echoing in his mind. "Everything's just fine."

Vivian's arms wrapped around Dorian's waist, her fingers tracing small circles on his back. "You sure? You're tense."

Dorian pulled back slightly, meeting her gaze. In the dim light, her eyes were dark and unreadable. For the first time, he found himself wondering about the woman in his arms. Who was she, really?

"Just a long night," he said, forcing a smile. "The jazz club was packed. How about a drink?"

He moved to the bar, purposely placing himself between Vivian and the balcony where Ramirez had disappeared. As he poured two glasses of bourbon, his mind raced. If what Ramirez said was true, who could he trust?

Vivian settled onto the plush sofa, crossing her long legs. "So, how's business? Still having those inventory issues?"

Dorian's hand paused mid-pour. He hadn't mentioned the inventory discrepancies to her. Keeping his voice casual, he asked, "Oh? What have you heard about that?"

She shrugged, a small smile playing on her lips. "Oh, you know how people talk. Especially after a few drinks at the hotel bar."

He handed her a glass, studying her face. Was there something calculating behind that smile, or was he becoming paranoid?

"It's nothing major," he said, testing the waters. "Just some minor discrepancies. Probably a computer glitch."

Vivian took a sip of her drink. "Hmm. Well, I hope it gets sorted out soon. It would be a shame if anything... complicated... your business."

The way she emphasized 'complicated' sent a chill down Dorian's spine. He was about to press further when his phone buzzed. A text from an unknown number:

"Check the wine cellar. Tonight. Come alone."

Dorian's pulse quickened. The wine cellar was one of the most secure areas in the hotel, accessible only to him and a select few staff members.

"Everything okay?" Vivian asked, her tone innocent but her eyes sharp.

Dorian slipped the phone back into his pocket. "Just some business that needs my attention. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to cut our evening short."

Disappointment flashed across Vivian's face, quickly replaced by understanding. "Of course. Your work comes first. Rain check?"

As he showed her out, Dorian couldn't shake the feeling that he was missing something crucial. Vivian's kiss goodbye felt different somehow, loaded with unspoken tension.

Once alone, Dorian moved swiftly. He retrieved his Beretta 9M from the safe, checked the clip, and slipped it into his leather shoulder holster. He then put on a tailored suit jacket, ensuring he was impeccably dressed as always when leaving his room. Whatever was waiting for him in the wine cellar, he'd be ready.

The hotel corridors were quiet as he made his way down to the cellar. Each step seemed to echo Ramirez's warning: "Be careful who you trust."

As Dorian punched in the access code to the cellar door, he took a deep breath. On the other side of this door, he knew, lay answers. But were they answers he was ready to face?

The heavy door swung open, revealing the dim interior of the wine cellar. His eyes swept over labels of Château Lafite Rothschild, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and rare vintages of Krug Champagne. And there, amidst the racks of vintage bottles, stood a figure Dorian hadn't seen in over three decades.

"Hola, hijo," said the man, his accent a mix of Cuban and American. "We need to talk."

Dorian's hand instinctively moved to his shoulder holster. "Dad?"

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