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Sep 19, 2021 5:02 AM
satine discovers an artifact
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It's Saturday night-- two nights before Ana's audition for the renowned bandleader Nancy Turner on Monday afternoon. They're taking the subway to a party at Mr. Parker's. Mr. Parker is a bohemian and an art collector, specializing in pieces from the Far East.

Lucas is planning to have Ana get in some last networking before the audition.

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Ana sits in the subway car, her arms wrapped around her torso, breathing fast.

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Like most of Lucas's plans, Simone is privately doubtful that this one will survive first contact with reality.

Not that she says that out loud. It would be rude to Lucas and mean to Ana and Simone might not be able to believe in Lucas's plans but she tries not to be mean about it. But she thinks it.

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"You'll do great. Everyone at Mr. Parker's is going to love you."

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"How do you know?"

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"Of course they are. How could anyone not love you?"

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Ana does not find this terribly reassuring.

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"Lucas, you aren't helping." 

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"I'm just telling the truth."

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"I know it's important," Ana says, "I know I need to impress people, I just--"

She doesn't finish it with 'I just want to sing.'

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"Well, regardless of whether it's true, it's not helping.

And Ana, it's not that important, you don't need to do a perfect job of being a party guest. Even if you mess it up you'll be fine."

This is not, strictly speaking, true, but it's infinitely more helpful than Lucas's opinion that everyone is paying lots of attention to Ana and how great she is at all times.

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"What if I say something awful? Or just spend the entire time with my back to the wall."

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"Then it'll be a funny story you can tell later, or nobody will notice because they'll be spending their time and attention actually being at the party, respectively."

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"I guess," she says. "They're all going to be watching me."

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"Frankly they're probably not. They'll be more focused on Mr. Parker and his art."

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With that, they arrive at their stop.

Mr. Parker's apartment is not far at all from the subway station.
 
Mr. Parker greets them at the door. He wears a kimono of gold brocade, like a high-class housecoat. A long pipe of Chinese design is in his hand, with an odd smell around it-- the scent of opium.

"Miss Laurent, Mr. Reston, Miss Konrad. Lovely to see you all."

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When she gets to the door Simone goes from straight-faced to smiling like she'd turn on an electric light. "Mr. Parker. Lovely to be here."

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"Well, come in."

Mr. Parker's apartment is full of paintings, sculptures, and works of art from around the world, although it’s dominated by pieces from the Far East: Chinese porcelain vases, Japanese swords and paintings, fabulously colorful furnishings made with Indian fabrics. The most impressive is his collection of masks.

There are two dozen people at the party: artists, musicians, trade agents, arts and antiquities dealers. Most drink illicit champagne from crystal glasses, while some fill long-stemmed Japanese pipes with what appears at first to be tobacco from a large red-lacquered bowl on one of the side tables. Among the guests Simone recognizes are Professor Aarons, a Sinologist from Miskatonic University who's on leave here to study some artifacts held at Columbia; Mr. Sano, a wealthy Japanese businessman; and Emily Webster, Ana's agent.

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Simone will partake of the champagne but not the opium; she spends a few minutes looking at art and keeping an eye on the party as a whole before she joins a conversation.

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In the sweet mist of opium smoke and the dim light from the covered lampshades, the masks’ contours seem slightly blurred. Wood, stone, paper, porcelain, clay-- all have distinctive faces with empty, staring eyeholes, be they old men with long beards and deep wrinkles, pale-faced Asian beauties, chubby-cheeked children, horned demons, or severe-looking vengeful gods. There are Venetian masks with perfectly symmetrical, gilt embellished features; mournful death masks from Greece; long-faced African idols; Chinese opera masks splashed with streaks of bright colors (symbolizing the traits and values of the characters who wear them); Japanese Kabuki and Noh masks, with their enigmatic smiles and blackened teeth; Siamese Khon masks with their elaborate golden crowns; and bird-like theatrical masks from Ceylon.

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They're beautiful, all of them. But she catches herself shivering, a little, at the staring eyes, and then turns away from the masks and towards-- she's not sure what. What she's turning away from is more important.

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Mr. Parker is watching her.

"Which of them do you like best?"

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"...that one," she says, and nods to a Venetian mask in brilliant blue-green.

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"Hm," he says. "Perhaps you'll get to wear it someday."

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"......perhaps."

(There are at least several underlayers to this conversation, and Simone does not enjoy not knowing what they are.)

She turns to the nearest group of people she sees, barely registering who's in it.

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The nearest group of people is Mr. Sano having a political argument with an antiquities dealer. He does not seem to be having a good time.

"The situation in Manchuria is complicated," Mr. Sano says. "We were attacked--"

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