“Fuck. I thought we had another twenty four hours.” he muttered as he sank back into the seat. Luc and Bede commiserated, sipping from the bottles of mescal crowding the little glass table between them; the vessels chimed and clattered, jostled by the girls in dyed fur and flip skirts that had occupied the seats between them. The glitter pasted to their midriff tattoos scintillated as they performed the brief grinding routines suggested by the stimulants hoisting the pitch of their voices. The dance hall filled a narrow slice of defunct warehouse, dimly lit to dampen tensions between the factions of its presiding gang; the floor sagged and creaked where fruit boxes and oil cans propped its underlying structures. Luc leant out around the rump that rolled beneath his chin.
“You think he see us?”
“He see us.” William sighed. “Was the house that bad?" They looked to one another ruefully and downed another round of shots.
Edward lifted his own glass, only to find so little desire for its contents that he set it down and trimmed a cigar with the small guillotine from his pocket. The barman pushed a chrome tray over the counter toward him without attempting conversation. A stab wound troubled him beneath the shoulder of his jacket; though the skin had closed over it on the flight home it darkened a mood poisoned by Opal and then again by the conspicuous party crowding his brother’s booth. He brought a hand to his eyes, using pressure in an attempt to dispel a sound that fluttered in his head like a bird trapped against a pane until the taste in his mouth was transformed from bitterly medicinal to the sunlit sweetness of ripe figs, causing him to stare down at the rejected drink. Inside his skull the plaguing clatter ceased and left an airless silence, swept as though by pinion feathers.
The bouncers held the doors and greeted the incoming party by name in a rare concession to her gender. Lilian walked without undulation or artifice in a dress of black scarf silk to William's table, murmuring to herself impatiently while the pair of spangled exhibitionists atop the tilting glass disentangled and climbed down. He slid over and she accepted the invitation, pushing off the arm he closed around her.
“Frost, there are international anti-blueballing conventions.” William sighed. Luc knocked over his glass in his haste to greet her, taking her hand and imposing a lingering kiss on it.
“Enchanté, mademoiselle... je m’appelle Luc... pardonnez-moi l’expression, but ah... voulez-vous coucher av..”
“Sure. It's three K for forty five minutes. You got a place?” she replied, slapping William’s leg as he made dissuasive gestures at his friend behind her; he smiled and slumped back, eyeing her dress appreciatively. “I boosted it out of the window when I left the store. Meredith’s been riding my ass all week, so fuck that bitch." she chuckled.
“Have you met my cousin?”
She scowled between them briefly, perplexed by their resemblance.
“Is there some kind of secret fucking manga farm out there?”
“It’s more of an island facility.”
“Pleasure.” she told Bede, shaking his hand as she stood.
“You just got here.” William complained.
“I have to rock a piss. Jesus.”
She lifted a thin cigar to her lips and clipped the stub with a small guillotine which she dropped back into her handbag as she looked around. A man in the next booth held out a light for her and she stooped to make use of it, moving off alone toward the back of the club. The short silk fluttered as she walked, depending from a ribbon tied across her shoulders, her hair loosely knotted in a twist. Instead of her stated destination Lilian turned toward a booth occupied by a procurer and his female stable and engaged the former in unsmiling conversation.
Edward’s unblinking gaze made so thorough a notation of her face and body that they persisted when he closed his eyes. The man holding court in her adopted circle was remarkable both for the singularity of his personal pretensions and the violence of the reputation that sheltered them; modestly sized, thickly built and undeniably Anglo-Saxon, he nevertheless affected a bountiful head of chalk-white dreadlocks, a silvered cane and the Iyaric of the local Jamaican gangs, who regarded him with an incredulity he had interpreted as cool approval. He wore a stiff new suit of argent fabric and flashed a grin worldly enough to eclipse his theatrical aspect, unfurling the fingers of one hand in a gesture of demand toward his visitor. Her face held an expression both subtle and impassive, and she replied only after drawing on her cigar and tapping the ash onto the pimp's shoes. He grimaced, shaking his head while the girls beside him shuffled toward the far end of the banquette.
William looked through the crowd for any sign of her and seeing nothing stood to gain a better view. Bede followed his distracted frown toward the bar.
“She's with that fucking douchebag Orb." his host confided as he located them.
"I don’t know... yes... but I don’t like to get in her business.”
“Perhaps someone should...” suggested Bede as Lilian was dragged into a proximity that was obviously repugnant. All suggestion of irony had departed the procurer's attitude; he jerked her onto the couch beside him and locked his arm around her shoulders, the little gems set in his teeth flashing as he detailed her thriftless and disrespectful conduct. Luc examined the scene at Bede’s invitation and allowed the girl in his lap to slide off, pulling himself around the banquette.
“Hey, that’s no good, eh? Je suis partant... we can take him out back and tune him for you...” he offered, dark eyes gleaming with enthusiasm for the prospect. William had already climbed to his feet, but at the far end of the room his brother rose from the bar and approached the devolving encounter himself; Luc pursed his lips and sat back down as though instructed.
Orb smirked at Edward from an expansive slouch.
“Blackheart scientist bring his good taste tonight.” he chuckled. The woman in question sat with one leg over the other and did not look up. He picked up her dress and drew it back over her thigh. “This bitch be everything you see and more.”
Her eyes were refractive of light, converting the scattered brilliance of the glitter ball into a distant turquoise beneath her darkly-beaded lashes. On looking up into his face she suffered a sense of impact that struck like a spike of adrenalin to her chest, flooding it with something that spread and metamorphosed as she breathed, becoming softly, cooly luminous inside her veins. It drowned the music; she leant forward and let her handbag slide onto the floor, regaining command of herself in the time it took to retrieve it. Edward had not looked away from her. The pimp frowned at the aphasic exchange and coughed sharply, tapping his knuckles on the table.
“Inflation babylon.” he declared. “Make it four for I.”
William watched his brother closely in his return toward them.
“Two K.” the latter instructed.
“Two K what?”
“Something’s come up.”
"Never costs me that much to make it go back down again." Edward gazed at him while he craned to check on Lilian. "What the fuck are you doing? Not her." His refusal had little visible impact, though their companions began to glance at one another and examine their billfolds. "I said not her. There's a thousand other girls in here and Frost's the only one who'll charge five fucking K... you're a tightarse, remember?"
“Sachiin... you don’t think she should be paid for this?” Luc urged discreetly as William attempted to confiscate the money from their hands, turning on his brother when his effort failed. Edward met his stare without a word, receiving the sum furnished by his guests while William swore vehemently, forcing them to drag him back down into his seat. "Fuck..." he exclaimed bitterly. "That's it, shaitan’atini... you’re sleeping on the fucking lawn.”
The pimp flipped through the sum Edward provided and stuffed it into his jacket.
“There you go now Mr Lamb... she insured for the medical, so you have one for I.” he urged. She remained in her seat for as long as convention allowed before standing slowly and following him out of the club, walking behind him along the pitted footpath toward the car he had parked in the mouth of an alleyway. Two men, lounging on the bonnet and dragging from a shared glass bulb, propositioned the girls who passed them by and catcalled abuse at their refusals, and Lilian slowed to a halt, looking pointedly across the street. Her client disregarded the tacit warning, aiming an alarm sensor at the sedan she had sought to avoid; while the headlights flashed between their legs, the two miscreants slid from the bonnet and apologized to Edward, polishing the paint work with their sleeves in a gesture of appeasement.
She kept her gaze on the windscreen as they drove, observing the silence he seemed to prefer, moving only to slide her compact from her handbag and inspect her face in the small square of glass. Once clear of the city and out amid the open road they caught a drift of nocturnal rain, its driving patter against the vehicle's exterior drawing a sense of enclosure around her, the sight of his orphean face against the darkness of the window inspiring another bout of the sensation that had struck her at the club. It arced into something recondite and brightly perverse, like the thrill of ice pressed to unguarded skin, and she lay back against the seat with her eyes still on him. When he looked at her in turn she saw the shadowed colour of his gaze and blinked as though mistaken, but he had returned it to the road before she could assure herself of more. It ran on, winding around the hills that revealed with every interminable curve another stretch of high-walled garden, then the neglected, emparked arcadia bounding Commoriom Drive. The rain had thickened into a downpour, the cloudburst chaperoned by an occasional bass remark from the lowering sky. He decelerated along the last stretch of lonely road and pulled to a halt before gates that loomed out of the overgrown wall like a lineated face.
Lilian leant forward and absorbed the imperfect grandeur of the address, glancing down to check her waning phone reception as he drew the iron panels together behind the car. The sound of the bolt turning opened her mouth in an objection she deferred on his return, his dark shape merging with the night behind the driver window. From the porch she preceded him into the gloom of the entrance hall.
"Leave your phones in there." he told her, indicating the kitchen.
"I can turn them off." she offered. When he would not accept the modification she moved to oblige him, remaining alone in the small room and gazing out toward the distant gates. "You're William's brother." Lilian noted, almost cautiously. "You look alike." she added, when he seemed to require an explanation. "There's stuff we need to take care of now. Are you now, or have you ever been an officer of the state or federal police? Are you suffering from any mental illness or defect, and are you currently taking medication for any medical condition?”
“No.” he replied, eventually. The elderly refrigerator whirred into life behind her, and she stepped forward from it in a start she smoothed with an approach to the door. He directed her with an almost imperceptible retreat toward the stairs, their structure buried in shadow at the far end of the passage.
Walking before him through the uncatalogued exotica, she felt her shoulders draw back under the gaze he indulged from a distance determined solely by his discretion; he turned her from the head of the stairs toward the west with another shift in his position. Waiting by the door to his suite, she watched the keys slide through his fingers until they discovered the appertaining shape. Mysore sandalwood formed the pliant rachis of her perfume though she also wore the stainless scent of vodka and the warmer elements of unease.
His private rooms held an atmosphere at once restrained and curiously replete. Twin chests stood tall on long legs, so scarred and ancient that they had lost most of their storm-cloud lacquer to historical vicissitude; at their feet began a stretch of sombre muqori kilims, scarlet amulet motifs burning hotly amid the ink and mulberry like something spat in the face of an enemy, spells chanted in the darkness of the weave. From the ceiling hung a shallow bowl of alabaster that cast a nodding pearl glow over a bed draped simply in old trade silk, as though lifted from a sea of madder-drenched lustre. He slid his jacket from an arm and lay it on the carver chair that formed the only other furnishing. Its slender proportions emphasized the scale that he managed so carefully, Lilian having perceived it only as he had been framed by a doorway that barely contained him. The prospect of his body excited an anticipation immediately darkened by the knowledge that the tasteful and undemonstrative was so often worn as camouflage; with nothing of his brother in his expression, she found herself left with little else and saw that he had fallen to watching her in turn, as though from the edge of a forest.
"Lilian..." she confided from beside the bed, eschewing her customary nom de guerre. He did not reciprocate. “He says you paint. No self portraits?”
Edward refused the question with a glance. It prompted her to look for elements that might have supported the disinclination but nothing volunteered, absence like a cypher in the strange prose of his features. He did not assume they pleased her, though they did, against all prejudice. Looking down at the counterpane she saw a shape in handworked gold, commencing at one corner in little tendrils and growing as though through summer into a vine that put forth beasts instead of blossom, supporting canine and equine and avian shapes in its random excursions. She followed it toward the centre of the selvage where the embroidery ceased with curious abruptness, in the very midst of a deer bereft of its elegant hindquarters. Closing her eyes, she was visited by the cold slide of the silk against her naked back, then recalled by his tacit observance and drew the corners of her mouth into a slight, though mirthless smirk.
“So... what’s your flavour?" she inquired.
"Just tell me what you won't do."
“No minors, no cannulas, no hobbles. If you've got someone else in mind, I got a place in town for that... out here, it's one on one, and I'm hard on all that. No GFE, bareback for double, edgeplay okay... usually I Dom, but I will sub for double. Roleplay... old school, maid, bitch, rubber, mother... five K means I like whatever you like, however many times you want to get there.” The glassy, counterfeit assurance troubled neither of them, but she went on to shake her head. “If you picked me up because you weren’t down with the pimp hand, I appreciate that, but he’s just pissed he owes m..."
"I didn't." Edward assured her.
She looked to him again, conveying her discomfort, and he glanced toward the door, allowing her to once more precede him.
Rain streaked the windows of the studio while he switched on the one light that had been wired in, revealing a high ceiling that loomed like a void awaiting divine attention. She walked to the far end of the enormous chamber and stood before his unfinished works, their shapes hooded in long cowls of priestly white. Edward surveyed the night outside as though with some obscure purpose; when she looked back to him cold rose despite all known laws under her feet and twined about her, pooling in the pit of her stomach as though she had swallowed water from a winter well, shifting when she moved from one heel to the other. She knew it for a portent, another of the signs that had always served her, limning the snares and deadfalls laid out by the patient, vicious doyens concealed amongst her clientele. A small Georgian sofa clothed in black wreath-patterned brocade stood between them; he made his way to it alone. The hall awaited her through half-open doors, but she could not walk herself toward them.
“Take off your dress.” he instructed.
Her hand was cold on her own neck as she reached back to loose the knot from which the gown suspended, letting it fall to the floor and standing in nothing but her own skin, fair and fine as ṣūf al-baḥr. He spared neither any modesty she might have cherished nor any portion of her in his survey, taking his time to consider her details.
"Shoes." he added.
Her body changed as she stepped down, shedding something of its hauteur. Long and lightly-fleshed, it possessed a cache of explicit endowments, from the mirrored shapes of collarbones and the pale half-moon shadows beneath her breasts to the shallow curve climbing the backs of her thighs. She lifted her hands again to loose her hair but he shook his head, and she desisted, letting her arms fall. An old habit had left its pointillistic signature on their inner faces, faded almost to invisibility.
"Come here." he told her. Misgivings slowed her compliance, but he was patient. "Turn around."
Once more without the sight of him, the thought of his hands on her body grew into uncertainty that he had not already touched her, the small of her back insisting on it. His silence closed her eyes and rendered her skin an infinitely conducive medium over which anticipation wandered in its own sadistic time. She heard him stand, but with the light before them, he cast no shadow on the ground. Rain harried the window glass and pounded on the slope of the roof.
“I want a word." she murmured. “A safe word. I don’t go without one.”
“Yes, and no." he replied. "I know both."
He slid the knuckles of one hand down the slope of her nape, tasting her skin first with his fingers, the pale honeyed notes that rose with the warmth from her shoulder imposing on every cord of his restraint. One hand descended the shallow vale of her spine while the other rounded her hip, brushing the inside of her wrist as it rose, finding her throat then descending once more under its own weight. It opened at her navel and drew her back against him, deposing her balance until she conceded it, the loss a breathless, narcotic charge as he took her down onto the sofa with him.
From her midst his hand slid into the slender recess between her legs. Her bare foot twisted on the floor beside his own, founding an arc describing the sensation coursing from his hand along her spine into her chest. At such tangental pleasure her body tightened and rescinded, unable to assign itself outside bounds so scored by affected repetition; she suffered the constraint alone until he murmured a consoling word, and lay a hand over her eyes.
"Yes, or no." he asked softly.
She turned her face against his neck and lay still. Reconciled to darkness, she drew breath in concert with his own until its tranquil meter moved her to invite him further. He eased a hand beneath her knee, laying it over the padded arm beside them and returning to trace the tender, cursive shapes between her thighs. In them he found such secret depths that she tasted the sweetness of the dark act in her mouth and felt it pounding with her blood along its buried orbit as he brought her to a conclusion that cut cleanly through constraint, leaving her inert, blurring the ceiling and dropping it toward her. In that darkness the sound of rain became that of snow passing through leafless boughs, settling in her hair and on her cheeks, melting on her thighs where he had thrown her heavy skirts against the white ground. She sought his skin beneath the weary blue that clothed him, hands passing over the figures on his back, the dark lines cut in low, coded relief.
Lilian let the walls return in her own time, and he did not move until they did, setting her down onto the boards. She made room for him between her legs to stand and shed his clothing as though he would not need it again; on his knees he set his hands on either side of her, and as his mouth passed from her breasts over her throat, she drew her palms across his shoulders, each one carrying the flourishes of a much larger work, the dark lines cut in low, coded relief.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce