Midnight had lured a more fashionable element out of restaurants and openings elsewhere to dilute the bridge and tunnel stock allowed to exhaust their paycheques in their absence; a headcount had sealed Edward's decision to eschew the venture before he was joined by a short and zaftig woman bound tightly in burnt pink Chanel. She used his arm to assist her onto the stool beside him, acrylic nails almost as long as the fingers behind them. Sinister volumes of tuberose absolute fumed from her person, lifted in a vapour from the cold surface of her skin by the heat of the downlights. She stared at him with thickly-lashed eyes the colour of carbonised hardwood.
“I've talked to the owners and they're gratifyingly desperate. They’ll comp us for the first month during handover... anything you put through the books after that runs at the standard rate.” the woman informed him, her expression sharpening her unsolicited advice into direction. On the night of her death Opal La Rue had been closer to sixty than she would ever acknowledge; the knit suit followed the smooth, gourd-like undulations of her torso closely, covered buttons providing little points of visual relief and underscoring the contrast between the fulsome curvature of her central mass and its dainty extremities. In spite of her zealous deportment she possessed an uncomfortable fusion of zoological attributes, from the de-beaked angle of her tormented nose to the argute, porcine cunning that glittered in her gaze. Her ammoniated hair had been hardened to a glassy turn by lacquer and colours outside life’s gentler palette adorned her face. "I can run agency cattle through this place like it's a feedlot without a single DoL issue, and use it monday tuesday wednesday for wholesale... it's two blocks from Avalon so I can practically walk them in here off the boat." she gloated. "So I've given them a provisional yes..."
“I’m not interested.” Edward replied, his voice possessing all the informative qualities of rock crystal. The woman searched for something in the remark that might defray its obdurate nature, but a television starlet in a brief white dress stood behind them, awaiting her attention with the kind of servile patience and nervous sweat that turned Opal around atop the stool.
“Oh dear god Amelia.” she scolded, taking a tiny plastic package from her handbag and pushing it into her hesitant grasp. “Drop two sizes before you come off hiatus.” The girl’s doe-eyed face fell at the instruction, and she tucked her hair behind her ears. Opal rolled her eyes to the ceiling and turned back to the bar. “Edward, if you want to see what I can do for you, you're going to have to take one hand off the wheel. And tell me please that you did not pay cash for that rat pit in the hills.” He did not reply. “Of course you did.” she muttered, disgusted. "Rubber band banking again... well then, I’m going need some paintings. I've got New England buyers coming down and they're chasing scale. No red, no yellow. Austerity." The corners of her small mouth angled sharply downward. "If you’re giving up the apartment, at least that creature you call a brother will have to find a dumpster somewhere else. Looks like we were able to keep him out of here...”
Emerging from the stockroom, the bargirl entered her number on William's phone and reapplied her lipgloss while he wiped the same shade from his mouth, coming over to lean heavily upon the bar and offering Opal a smile laden with antipathy. Their antagonism sprang from more than her role as impresario to his brother's public affairs, though her enterprise was as renowned for the depravity of its expediencies. He polished two shot glasses on his T-shirt, poured two liberal measures of pale spirit then knocked both back; the woman grimaced, watching his long tongue catch a drip from his chin.
“Opal... I can understand how this happened..." he admitted, eyeing her apparel. "It was a yard sale, you were exhausted... maybe there’s a sense of humour under that rugged exterior after all. But why the fuck are you trying to sell him this shiny pleather überdump?" He addressed his brother in a language Opal could not understand, its interfluent syllables broken by a single familiar profanity. "If you really want to fight bent liquidators for money you can’t legally explain, just open a fucking gallery.”
“I know the security here.” she snarled. He shrugged.
“I only know their girlfriends.”
Edward had disappeared from her side by the time she saw fit to resume their lopsided colloquy, and William allowed her to stalk away without further provocation. Taking the bottle, he ducked back under the bar and exclaimed to himself as his brain supplied the feeling that its mass had slithered forward in his skull; he waved a hand before his eyes, counting off its many avatars before they were resolved. He stood still and pondered the voluptuous sensations, the darkness assuming secret, velvety modalities, pressing and retreating, flashing and then spiriting away the faces massed around him. The lustre of a stranger’s bare-skinned shoulder as she passed him closed his eyes and turned them inward, upon a scene suddenly elected out of distant memory, lit with an enclosing myriad of candles and the shallow, fulminating brilliance of paste jewels, perfumed by white lead powder, beeswax and distilled jasmine. The ghost of a smile moved the woman in his arms as they turned, swept by the great beaded skirts of other dancers, their whispering silk sliding by under the flight of the music that expanded to fill the high-domed hall with its dim panels of plate mirror. She smiled again, making a mockery of the gesture with dark laughter from which the sound had been erased, too painful to recall. Her white fingers tightened on his shoulder, discovering his bones.
With the opening of his eyes the vision and its faint score faded, merging with the pulsing bass surrounding him. It occurred to William that he had emerged from darkness largely innocent of lamplight into a burnt-out modernity where night was flushed like a pathology from its domain, and he briefly rued the transition. A pair of acquaintances slid by and he nodded to their greeting while the DJ drew the faders down in favour of a floor show.
The crowd formed around the pool of blue light glowing on the ground and ornamented by a single male figure, lean and unclothed and crouching spiderlike, skin draped over an addict’s framework. The sound of the paint can agitated in his grasp lapsed as he sprayed a perimeter around himself, an acid-yellow tie of the same hue hanging from his neck. When he stood it became obvious that few parts of his person had escaped the cannula, his penis so heavily embellished with silver bijoux that it sagged considerably; William frowned faintly, regretting the vantage conferred by his stature. The artiste began rolling and moaning in earnest, wide eyes possessed of a bulging gelatinous rapture and reminding him of aspic, then cow's hooves, then refectory tables dressed with ponderous brocades and groaning under spitted porpoise meat and coffin-like pyes studded with plums and cloves. A hypnotic litany tumbled from the performer's mouth in piteous falsetto; he grasped his genitals and made a prancing circuit of the stage, stretching the end of the tie into a noose and whipping his thin voice into a howling, plangent crescendo until the wave of babble peaked and he lay salivating in a feigned dementia, arms out in rigored cruciform. The crowd exchanged whispers and retreated, while William pressed his face into his hands, excruciated by the effort of containing his amusement. Taking one more look between his fingers, he gave it up and succumbed to a fit of laughter.
It produced a dilemma for the most distant onlookers, some convinced he was an adjunct to the performance. To those closest to him his paroxysm was a strange and radiant contagion, turning them toward him, their sympatric chuckles spreading exponentially until a full two-thirds of the audience succumbed to the transmitted laughter. Though he held two hands over his mouth, their attention had shifted to such palpable extent that the performer redoubled the volume of his cries and the bouncers consulted one another, converging on the offender like elementals from the four corners of the world. Hampered by their progress through the other patrons, they allowed evasive action; William dropped to his hands and knees, crippled by his own mirth as he negotiated the shifting copse of legs and shoes, sucking in a breath as a heel was stamped down on his hand. The bouncers lost him in the crush as miscued music swallowed the performance. He had gained the bar and was able to congratulate himself before two behemoths seized him from behind and conveyed him toward an external door.
The night outside was rank and clammy and its taste assaulted William sharply as he was dragged into a loading bay, punched three times for good measure and abandoned by his escorts. A cigarette dropped from his lips in the mouth of the alley, and he cursed and patted down his person in search of another. Beneath the bright red canopy over the entrance a woman in a slim black trench glanced toward him from her conversation with the doorman, glaring for a moment before ignoring him. William smiled, arms hanging by his sides in an attitude of wide-eyed solicitation; by the time she looked again he had moved the performance five steps closer and infused it with a dewy pathos that hardened her expression further. Her eyes were pale and darkly-painted, her face washed with a slowly-flashing blue from a light across the street. The length of her silver-blonde hair was concealed beneath the collar of her coat.
"It's shit in there anyway." he assured her, a statement the doorman was unable to contest, and she joined William on the footpath, taking a cigarette from her handbag. He suffered another of her disaffected gazes.
"Fucking Lauren left three grand's worth of shoe in the cab.” she informed him.
"So take me back to your place and teach me a lesson I'll never forget." he smiled.
"It's like three blocks to yours."
"Frost, there's an accommodation situation... I just talked my brother out of buying this shitbox here and to show his fucking gratitude he's putting me out of A-town like I scooted on the Wall Street Journal." he complained. They turned and began walking together slowly, stepping round the drift of steam from a kitchen vent beside the alley.
"You don't even have a brother."
"If only that were so."
"I've never seen him... I don't know anyone who knows him... that makes him imaginary, or an autistic fucking sasquatch."
"Let's change the subject."
"You brought him up." She shook the bangles on her right arm, knowing their metallic chatter nettled him; he caught her wrist and stilled them with a frown. "Is he hot?"
"No. I got all the pretty."
"He's rich though, right?"
"No. He's a... fiscally challenged... bukkake fiend with... two lazy eyes and eight chins. I don't like to talk about it." he sighed as they came to an intersection. "I should just introduce you. You could blowtorch his discretionary income and he could scar you emotionally and you'd never accuse me of holding out on you again."
"So what's his fucking problem?"
A car slowed by her while its driver leant on the horn and out the window, expressing lascivious appreciation; she turned and lifted the front of William's kilt, terminating the exchange. Growing impatient with the lights, they walked together into the coasting traffic, paying no heed to the abuse attracted by their transection.
"It's complicated... with little to no nutritional value."
"I'll comp him just for busting you out of that janky-ass building. Avalon is full of chuds and kitten-fuckers."
"Su casa... mi casa?" he proposed.
"Did I say no? I meant hell no." she laughed.
"One week? Frosty... five working days? Allez, puta..."
When she remained recalcitrant he turned in a pall of neon and threatened her with the hem of his kilt.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce