Her bee-line was abruptly severed by Siobhan’s fanged and intersecting smirk as the latter lurched in front of her, dragging Leighton Sotherby-Aldrich toward the ladies’ room by her wrist and cackling like a pantomime witch. Opal turned to scan the crowd again as she stood alongside Edward, their association flagged explicitly by the black, descending strokes of the graphic overhead.
“I think we can do this here.” she began without looking up at him. “I’ve negotiated an offer with the Prague contingent. The first, and last." Anticipating an objection, she tossed her head at the gatecrashers that had flouted what security remained and suffused through the invited guests like an infective agent. "Look at these idiots. Half of them would stab each other before they came at me. None of them would thank you for siding with them if you turned the local reservoir to bourbon for your second miracle.” Opal cracked a smile at a pair of passing benefactors. “In return for your active assistance in implementing domestic policy, you'll receive tithing rights over your local precinct... needless to say, any declarable income will exhibit a robust respectability. I don’t have to tell you about their impeccable track record with snuffling bureaucrats. When you want to stretch your legs I think you’ll find the local hahdris will meet your recreational needs... that kind of acreage is wasted under tin-licking alujha and they won’t be needing howling room where they’re going.” On the other side of the room, a resounding crash set off a ripple of discord, though they could not perceive the nature of the incident from their position against the wall. “Your immediate household will be black-stamped against shrinkage, so you won’t need to fret when your sweetheart wanders away in her underwear. In fact, her days of wandering anywhere without your approval will come to a blessed conclusion... they provide intensive supervision of all junior family members.” Her head turned toward him, though her unblinking gaze remained upon her guests. “Before you convince yourself you’re far too principled to accept, you may as well know you won’t be answering to me, darling. You’ll be directly responsible.” Her anger at the refusal told in his every element proved difficult to conceal, though she held onto it grimly, the effort pinching her face laterally. “Don’t try selling me your not caring either way about your nasty princess. You didn’t keep her home because you like the sound of angry whore. I could go on like a Bond villain about what happens when you sit in your room like a spoilt brat, but if you can’t work it out for yourself, at least you’ll recognize the body parts in your mail box, once they start coming.”
Edward saw the bottle in the hands of the dark-haired witch who had pushed through the crowd toward them and made no move to avoid it as she loosed it at them, his eyes remaining on hers as it crashed into the wall by Opal’s head. Oily red sloe gin ran down the plaster while the dissident spat on the vampyre’s dress, including Edward in her denouncement with the vehemence of her stare.
“E vin yet naat affri ya vech.” she snarled, the words white hot against their skin. Caleb appeared at her shoulder and drew her back into the knot of piping socialites while Edward looked to Opal in his grasp of the ancient anathema.
“She said may you die with your gold still upon you.” he told her. “Pass that on for me.”
Josephine wiped back hair from her face and glanced down at her watch again. Beside her, in the double darkness beneath the elms, Shaw nodded an acknowledgement of her grievance and folded his arms. The long grass stroked their crouching legs, growing damp as the night cooled.
“She’s not going anywhere, she’s high as a kite. Put me out over the wall... my ride’s half a click down the road.”
He shook his head emphatically.
“She’s going to see you and talk about it. She’s winding down. Give it another five.”
“I say you walk me out right past her... I’m your girlfriend, whatever. She's too far gone to care anyway.”
“She’s too damn vocal. She’ll raise hell, and whatever just went in there will come back out again...”
They both hung their heads as Rachelle recommenced her wailing, pressed to the bars of the gate, the keening pitch of her voice carrying it past them into the rear garden.
“Okay... your way.” Shaw conceded. She caught his arm.
“Jesus, did you see that?”
Josephine's gaze returned to the gates and the silhouette of the figure still demonstrating against them, the scene drawn in black and orange.
“There it is... top of the gate, go across the street, come up half a foot... right over her head. Retinal flash.” Shaw saw nothing remarkable until a tiny catch of brighter colour sparked amid the darkness of the trees hunched on the far side of the road. She seized his arm. "It's green. We need to fall back.”
Half-doubtful, Susan watched William sort through the ring of heavy, varied keys in the shadow of the tall red gateway, glancing upward at the features of the terracotta dragon hunched upon its tiled eave. After a moment with the lock he eased the gate forward and admitted her to the walled enclosure beyond.
“I’m not even going to ask how you can do this.” she sighed.
“You buy the keys... a good collection's fucking pricy, but I like to think it’s worth every cent Ed paid for it." He flipped through the various clavicles, reminded of their corresponding venues. "He’s got everything... Lichfield Arboretum, the Merchant Theatre, Modern Art basement access, the Weaver Building, the old library... et voilá, bot gardens...” he added, smiling around himself. “They’ve got a great kaiyu-shiki.”
She stood in the middle of the pebble lane with a bottle hanging from her right hand. The pearly, polished gravel glowed cooly white and clicked softly beneath her feet as she slipped off her shoes. In a pale path they swept away into an elderly stand of Amur cherries and tiered azaleas, but before them a black pond reposed around a strange, gnarled omphalum of planted stones, occupying the low ground at the foot of a bank of sloping velvet green. A maple stretched its spotted limbs over the grass like blown smoke; its leaves adorned the bank, minikin stellae in flat lacquer red arranged like the night sky that lay in cold, inverse perfection on the water of the pond. Susan stepped over the edge of the path onto the slope, tucking her dress beneath her and sitting down, loosely cross-legged. She handed the bottle to him when he joined her, shedding his jacket and reaching down to pluck the laces from his shoes so that he could shuck his feet free of their detested confines.
“It’s like going to the dentist every fucking day." he admitted.
"God... look at them..." she laughed, leaning over to examine them; grimacing, she picked up a little stick, then set it down in a concession to his dignity. “Why don’t you wear... I don’t know... really thick comfortable socks, or something?” She laughed again at the stroke of visible dread the suggestion inspired. William shuddered and took a long draught from the bottle and for a brief empathic moment she experienced the sense of fibrous stricture that so appalled him. “Everything must be so strange to you. Why do you live? You must get so sick of people... we’re everywhere.”
“I do get sick of myself. But... life is only given to you once, at least I always thought that, and I suppose it’s true for most of us... to live is to thank the fairies for all those things they left under the tree for you. When some miserable prick complains about their life we say so thii siith savih is’e... remember how you came by it. Not that it ever shuts anyone up.”
“So many questions.”
“You could at least be flattered that I’ve taken an interest in you.”
“Christabel... your interest is not something I take lightly, and in fact I’m well aware that it’s curiosity more than anything that gets you into my car alone at night, but there’s just something about your questions that makes me feel like I'm the stupidest débile ever to walk around Eurasia with their head up their arse in the last two thousand years.”
“Are you?” she chuckled, raising the bottle to her lips again.
“Why ask me?" he laughed. "One free shot. Come on.”
“What’s the most pr...”
“Merchant of Venice.”
Susan spluttered and wiped at the vodka that disappeared into the neck of her dress.
“Don’t be a dick. Just listen. What I want to know is... what is the most... profound, amazing thing you’ve learnt? About yourself.”
Lying back on the grass, William crossed his arms behind his head, clasping each pointed elbow and regarding the distant stars with a sigh.
“I’ve learnt that I’m a slow learner.” he confessed, turning his head to watch her chuckle at the admission, her hair falling in tendrils over her forehead to curl back toward her nose. Her dress puckered across her belly as she planted an elbow on her knee and rested her chin on her hand, arranging leaves into a circle on the grass before her.
“Do you have a birthday?” He shook his head against the ground. “Do you want one?” Stretching out his arms, he left them on the grass with palms upturned and she smiled at the subtle, persuasive disarmament implicit in their repose. “You can share mine if you like... if you don’t mind being an Aries.”
“I thought you were a Gemini.”
“I lied on the form.” Susan leant forward and tucked up her dress, rising unsteadily to her feet and walking in a slow ellipse around him with the bottle under her arm, glancing down at his face as she negotiated the deceptive slope. Exhausting her circumscribed route she stepped over him and sat down on his stomach, leaning back against his knees as he drew them up for her. He watched her fumble with the buttons over his navel.
“What's an Aries?” he frowned.
“The ram. Don't ask to be a unicorn."
"I want to be an elephant."
"They never forget."
"I’m glad you have a belly button because I forgot to check." she laughed, tongue tucked into the corner of her mouth as she applied herself to the remainder of his shirt front, opening his collar and laying each half of the garment aside, sitting back to satisfy her gaze, then her desire for all that it enjoyed, her hands passing slowly from his neck to the bright skin of his stomach. “You could be an evil spirit... how do I even know this is your body? You should be much fatter." she sighed. "It's not fair..."
“I keep it tight with lots of booze and cigarettes and three hours of no pilates every day, no excuses.” he assured her. She attempted to work the garment from his arms until she gave it up and leant sideways to kick off her underwear, tossing it away over the grass, supporting herself on both elbows as she toured the peculiar symmetry of his features with her lips and fingers.
“What will I do if I can’t go back to my own kind?”
“You won't need to.”
She shook her head down at his smile.
“You'll regret that when I’m throwing chairs at you and pushing your new slapper down the stairs.” The length of his arms almost frustrated her second attempt to divest them of his shirt, but she tugged it from his wrists and passed her hands over his shoulders, delighted by their acquisition. “I don't have the faintest idea what you like...”
“I like everything.” he sighed, drawing the zip down the back of her dress, the panels falling away from the warmth of her body; she reached up to pull the pins from her hair, the small ruby leaves pressed to her arms where they had lain against the grass. He stroked the pliant length of her spine and the soft width of her hips while she opened his trousers, throwing his belt in the direction taken by her underwear, then bent to kiss him, but he turned his face toward the grass.
"Susan, you can't fuck me until you trust me."
“William... that’s not even your name. I trust you." she promised, leaning her hands on his chest as she availed herself of him slowly, descending into a breathless, senseless pleasure that redoubled as the same submersive luxury enclosed him, pressing his naked back into the grass and closing his eyes. From it he rose and folded his legs beneath her as she closed her own around him, her dress heaped like the smooth pelt of some shape she had discarded in her lap. She looked down into that plain within his gaze on which the secrets roamed, luminous and defiant in their liberty, and closed her arms about his neck. "If you tell me what you’re really called, will I have power over you?”
“I think that horse has bolted.”
Shaw killed the narrow jet of water in his left hand and stowed the pistol in his right, walking the garden hose back to the corner of the house. Taking the torch from between his teeth he played it over the wet drive and into the trees on the far side of the road, scanning them carefully. The sensor in his pocket sounded a discreet warning as a car drove by its station; crossing back over the grass, he unlocked the gate and walked back the panels, watching Edward's sedan slide by him without slowing.
By the time the Jaguar rolled in, the garden birds had already begun to chime from dripping branches in the heron-blue gloom. Shaw remained beneath the elms while William got back into his car and allowed it to ghost further down the drive. Sitting in his lap, Susan kissed him intemperately between smothered laughter, her dress hanging inside out from both elbows; he pushed open the door and pitched forward with her onto the lawn where she exclaimed at the dampness of the grass, cackling as he bore her to the porch. Struggling with the keys while she murmured against his ear, he abandoned the task, returning his mouth to hers and his hands to her body, their embrace once more overtaken by heat and urgency. They left the door ajar behind them in their immodest haste.
Having secured the gates Shaw leant over his torch in a last inspection of the driveway cobbles. The water had soaked away into the lawn, leaving them clean and gleaming and revealing a tangled hank of blonde hair snagged in one of the dark clefts. He took a pen from the pocket of his suit and teased it out from between the stones. A little piece of scalp and glistening fragment of bone caused it to swing from the end of the ball point.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce