Royale knocked a few more times, then turned to Albert and shrugged. “He must not be opening his door today. So sorry, Monsieur.”

Albert took off his hat. “That’s very strange. I wonder what makes a fellow refuse to open his door.”

“Well, none of us are quite sure, actually. You see, Sebastian is quite-”

“Quite what?”

Standing there in the doorway was a gaunt-looking man with proud, high cheekbones, slick black hair, and bloodshot eyes. Royale and Albert had not heard noticed the door open. It was very difficult to tell how old the composer was just by looking at him, because he was the most exhausted-looking man Albert had ever seen in his life.

Royale smiled cordially. “Good afternoon, Sebastian. This is our new patron, Monsieur Albert Charnoire. He expressed a desire to meet you.”

“How do you do,” Albert said with a nod, extending his hand. Sebastian returned the nod and the handshake halfheartedly.

“Sebastian, er…” Royale said hesitantly. “Are you alright? Pardon me saying, but you look dreadful. You aren’t ill, are you?”

Sebastian smiled gently. “I thank you for your concern, but I am just fine. I have been having some trouble sleeping, but I assure you I am quite well.”

Albert fidgeted with his bowler hat in his hands. “That’s too bad. I hope you get that all sorted out.”

“Thank you,” Sebastian said softly. “Don’t worry, I will.”

There was an awkward pause. Albert coughed. Sebastian gripped the door frame for support.

“Well,” Royale began, “Are you well enough for tonight’s show?”

Sebastian scratched his head. “Of course. I don’t see why not. Tonight should be a good show.” He turned to Albert. “You should come, you know. The evening performances at the Ruby Roulette are really quite good.”

For some strange reason, Albert felt like he was being challenged. “Yes, I’m planning on attending tonight. What should I expect?” He had meant this as a joke, but Sebastian’s grin wasn’t friendly. He could vaguely sense something foreign flickering in the composer’s eyes.

“Expect the unexpected,” said Sebastian curtly.

“Yes, no two performances are the same but each one is equally good in its own way,” Royale agreed, but Albert had the distant feeling that wasn’t what Sebastian meant.

Sebastian sighed and glanced back into his bedroom. “I’m so sorry, but you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got so much yet to do before this evening.” He extended his left hand to Albert. “It was nice meeting you. Welcome to the Roulette.” When Albert shook his hand, Sebastian took Royale’s in his own and brushed it lightly with his lips. “I’ll see you tonight. Best of luck to you.”

“Same to you,” she said softly.

Sebastian nodded to the both of them, backed into his bedroom, and shut the door gently behind him.