“You all belong to me so I should not have to start at zero. But let me make a few things absolutely crystal clear." she began, as though addressing a vanquished army. “No smoking, no drinking, no stealing food you haven't paid for, and no drug use. Remove all lipstick and jewellery... if you have a tattoo you cannot conceal, turn in your uniform and leave the property. Some of you seem to be strangers to personal hygiene... if I tap you on the shoulder I don't want to see you again.” Opal declared. "Do not speak unless you are asked a direct question and if I see an autograph request, the offender will be dismissed without remuneration, along with the person nearest to them. The same goes for fraternizing with the entertainment.” She glared at those band members who had neglected to slide out of the kitchen on her arrival. "So remember. You, and the person next to you.”
Opal made a slow circuit of the kitchen, each member of staff suffering a personal inspection that resulted in a number of the summary dismissals she had prognosticated. With her review concluded, she left the hirelings to their grievances while Susan hoisted the tray in both hands and took the same route through the swing doors. She was startled by a flash of gold in the darkness of the hall where the woman had waited for her, standing behind the tall white plume emitted by her cigarette.
“Ms Christabel... I always wondered if that was your name or just something you just made up on the boat.” Opal’s heavily-shadowed eyes formed twin foci for the darkness that leaked into the air around her like radiation; a chugging little chuckle developed in her chest and rolled out past her tiny nostrils. “Oh... that’s good... that look, and the accent... working the uniform, sleazing your way out of your obligations to me... and they say it’s not a skilled profession. What exactly are you doing? What's..." Her face contracted tightly as she sucked both cheeks into a speculative scowl. "What's going on here?" She had doused herself in costly perfume to such an uncomfortable degree that its fatuous base notes reached out with choking fingers, as though the bottle lay emptied on the floor between them. The longer Susan stood frowning at her peculiar gloating, the stronger her suspicion became that there was something physically wrong with her, some profound metabolic disturbance that had turned the skin of her face waxily inflexible and stilled the little chorus of unconscious gestures that she expected in someone so arrantly vocal.
"I do actually have a job to do, so..."
"I don't think I appreciate your tone."
"Well, I work for the Lambs now, so I don't really care." Susan assured her. "Talk to them about it."
Opal sneered and flicked her cigarette against the panelling, forcing her back to the wall in an attempt to safeguard the unwieldy platter as she stalked off.
Edward’s studio had been stripped and transformed by a large, fractious team of dressers into a vault of stark, draped, cosmic blackness, partitioned into chambers that ensconced the works of three exalted novices, one freshly paroled and making the most of the thrilling spectacle posed by the tracking device affixed to his ankle. The crowd, intercepted at the gate and ushered directly into the studio, was split between those enjoying vintage Dior, costly toupees and the ability to purchase, and the artists' acquaintances with their gallinacious hair and devotion to the open bar. William stood alone next to an installation contrived from tangarine plastic melted onto a coil of chickenwire over a bed of quartzite pebbles. He clutched a deep green milk bottle of bollchu and regarded the undesired masses with a displeasure to which he could scarcely commit in the face of their engrossing conceits. From the door their hostess worked her way through a circuitous trajectory, closing steadily on her target. He heaved a sigh at her approach but took no evasive measure.
“There is a dresscode.” Opal snarled. William’s T-shirt and slouching, indifferent trousers forced her lips back from her teeth. “You look like landfill.” He cast a retaliatory eye over her own attire; in the lamé she resembled a tightly-foiled chocolate but he reserved the observation, leaning down instead and pointing into the opposite corner.
“This is all awesome, but if you screw up your eyes, that one there looks like a mermaid humping a paperclip. Or... a cow, stuck in a bong.”
“Keep this up and Rachelle will be eighty-four before I pull her off you.” she informed him with a smile.
“Haven’t you already sold her arse to some blinging dynastic concern? Better wrap that shit up before she elopes with Knuckles McConvict over there.” he laughed, nodding toward the conspicuous felon. “Opal, she’s your descendant, not something in a paper bag you set fire to on peoples' doorsteps. How can you be so fucking shameless about kicking her around?”
She joined in his facetious mirth.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Do I look disinterested?”
“It’s because that simpleminded bag of hair has disappointed me.” Opal admitted, lifting her chin. “I was hoping for so much, and am forced to work with so very little.”
William swigged from the bottle.
“You and your high standards.”
She scrutinized the crowd again, quantifying no-shows.
“Tell me, whatever your name is... what’s your take on our friends over the sea? Don’t you think it’s time someone brought a little order to this side of the Atlantic?”
“You mean do I want to be fucked prison-styles by bossy vampyres?”
“I don’t think your brother sees it that way.”
“I don't know, Opal... he’s not that great as an evil henchman... better men than you have tried to put him in a uniform, so don't get too excited. He’s more of an evil independent contractor.”
"He knows as well as anyone that the House always wins... your brother and I will be skimming the take from our corner suites while the Prague contingent are taking you out back.”
“You can grind on him all you like as long as it's keeping me in the style to which I'm accustomed... I don't have any shame about that... but if you're trying to put your dick in my mouth, dip it in jam or set up an account in my name.”
“Is that what it would take to make you go away?”
“I'm just kidding... you can't actually get rid of me." he shrugged. "You could leave.”
He watched Opal abandon him and swallowed the last of his drink, leaning down to set the empty bottle in the pebbles beneath the installation. The heavy black cloth hung from the ceiling caught and bent the voices in the middle of the room in a curious aural anomaly, and William enjoyed it as he walked around the partitions. Outside, the hallway was curtailed in both directions by velvet ropes; stepping over them he made for Edward’s rooms and in the doorway of the adjacent chamber discovered Susan on a requisitioned chair, a plate of sushi and bottle of beer in either hand.
"Is he in there?" he whispered. She shrugged, spilling sesame seeds down the front of her shirt. “Wow, how crazy is this party? I won’t know myself in the morning.”
“It's fantastic. That bloody cow Opal threatened to RDT us.” she muttered.
“Did she give you any shit?”
“She did, actually. God, she’s well creepy when you see her up close.”
“I know, she just tried to land on me in the studio. What did she say?”
“Something about..." Susan frowned to herself. "I don't actually know... it's like watching telemundo. I sort of told her to bite her bum... hope you don’t mind. Wish I'd been more rude now.”
“I wouldn’t mind if you fed her rat poison.”
“We practically are.” she grinned. “The fridges aren’t working properly.”
He leant back against the framing in the doorway, bowing his head to light the joint that he slid from his pocket.
“The art’s pretty rubbish.” she observed. William laughed in hearty assent.
“That’s cruel, but fair. It’s worse than Ed’s steaming pile of hoe shit and I don’t say that lightly about anything.” They cackled together at the thought of it. “Those little connards out there just don’t know any better, but in real life Ed’s so fucking talented I used to be scared of his pictures.”
"I know, I saw one." Susan shuddered, brushing the crumbs from her skirt. "I wish I hadn't... it gave me bad dreams for a week." She raised her rice ball in a little flourish, smiling from her chair. “Did I tell you the good news? I’m hired.”
Without replying, he crabbed suddenly into the darkness beside her, pressing himself against the paneling so that he could not be seen from the hallway. She pulled back her chair and leant out cautiously; the sound of a familiar, imperious gait on the stairs appraised her of the unseen menace before it swept up onto the landing.
“Congratulations on the job.” William whispered. The toes of her patent heels touched those of his disheveled sneakers as she shook his hand; she bent down to reclaim her bottle from the floor and his eyes fell to the black seams of her stockings.
“Thanks, but you'll have to hide from Rachelle somewhere else because this is my special slacking bunker, and if she comes in here I'll have to bottle her.” she smiled. Her face was full of mild, glowing colours and amused distrust as she watched his eyes change, his pupils spreading out into the silky green; he slid down against the wood to resolve the differential between their statures. “Cake or death.” she added.
“On your shirt.” She nodded to the small French phrase printed across his chest. “I worked it out. And you know that language, the one you argue in... say something to me.”
“No no no... it’s dialect. You’ll think I’m backward and country.”
“Alright...” he sighed. “Er... il ava'ilsii li n’ thi’ii sa’e shama y'lissa sahsa'ih sae ai’ina.” The sleek, luxurious syllables relieved his voice of its mundane aspects and it became almost a stranger's, each vowel bleeding coolly into the next. He watched her attempt it, whispering to herself in wayward repetition.
“What did you say?”
He laughed uneasily, tongue sliding into the corner of his mouth.
"Er... the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, but also on the hotties... it has no real preference.” A small clutch of new arrivals began to mount the stairs, ushered toward the studio by chaperones. Again Susan became contemplative, and she leant closer.
“You smell like... something with... flowers... like a florist’s shop. Like when you walk past in the morning and they’re doing all the bunches for the day.”
“No..." she tisked, rolling her eyes. "It’s horrible.” Studying the label of the bottle in her hand, Susan spoke again without looking at him. “Do you want to go out somewhere? For dinner?” His head sank toward his shoulder as though he needed time to consider the proposition and she stepped on his foot in reply to the provoking affectation.
“Are you making a pass at me, Christabel?”
“It’s not exac....”
“Where're we going? I’ve got a place in Paris... well, it’s Ed’s, but I have keys. Do you like France?”
“I don’t know! I’ve only ever been to Bruges on a school trip.” she scoffed, vaguely disturbed by his apparent lack of guile. “Stop taking the piss!”
“You’re right, we should keep it local. You could pay, and then maybe... you know... pressure me for sex.” His long legs parted on either side of hers. “Don’t worry.” he smiled. “I’m cheap. And easy.”
Edward appeared at the door to his suite and Susan excused herself hastily, ducking out and hiding her bottle behind her short skirt on her way toward the stairs. William gazed after her in an abstracted fashion while his brother stood knotting his tie in the doorway, his woolgathering attitude prompting Edward to await an explanation. Bringing his hands together beneath his chin, his brother performed a grateful namaste.
“You picked up her contract.”
“That is clemency, not license.”
“Who was the hot guy in the garden yesterday?”
“Now that privacy is just something other people enjoy, I've drafted in security. She can’t be alone here at night. Though solitude hardly seems her most pressing concern.”
William shrugged lazily.
“What can I say? She's got standards." he declared, leaning back against the wall. "BTW... your bad news bear is here already. I tried to make conversation but she takes every fucking thing the wrong way.”
“Go to bed.”
“I will, but you owe me, and I just dropped enough mescaline to put a fucking Clydesdale into orbit so make the spooky kids take their crazy tupperware with them when they go.”
He scooted past the studio door and vaulted the ropes that cordoned his rooms. William had hardly retired before Lilian ascended the stairs alone in a backless sheath of lustreless satin, sullen copper buried in its blackness. Though compelled to turn toward Edward as she passed him in the doorway she neither spoke nor smiled, making her way into the crowd alone in an arc that wandered past the central pieces, their structures obscuring then framing his view of her. When she had attained the site of their private debut she accepted a glass from a passing tray and sipped from it before looking toward him. The nature of his gaze conceded nothing to her apprehension of it; admirers spoke to him in passing, walking on with puzzled scowls while he ignored them, staring over their heads at her as though she were the only other sentient presence. Lilian drank champagne while she remained in her remove, but her slow return took her once more past his position. He could hear her standing behind him in the shadow that he cast into the hallway; she spoke over his shoulder.
“Looks lucrative. Who’s your agent?”
“Opal La Rue.”
“Thought she only handled entertainment assholes.”
“She’s branching out. I left a message on your machine.”
She stepped closer, bringing herself against his back. The shoulder of his suit smelled faintly of his skin, of dry white wood and the ghostly amber that had once sustained it.
“Oh yeah... that. Lucky I don’t have a room mate to call the fucking cops on your degenerate ass.”
“As long as you enjoyed it.”
“I liked it fine. I liked it about five times today already... I liked it right before I came out here.” The words fell from her lips while her hand moved between the silk lining of his jacket and the cool fabric of his shirt. She found his belt and eased her fingers down behind it. “I put it on my ipod and liked it in the store after I closed up. The counter’s stone, and jesus... it's so fucking cold when you lie down... sometimes, I have to force myself to do it...”
"I intend to relieve you of all such responsibilities."
Edward took her wrist and led her from the studio, dragging aside the velvet rope.
“There are some pieces you should see.” he insisted.
“Lamb, I hope that’s like, a euphemism... I’ve seen your art and I’d rather you fucked me.”
“Have it your way.”
She pulled him up, sliding her arm through his hand and nodding toward the stairs.
“No beds. I’m going through a phase. Cars. I like cars.”
The lights in the stairwell, tenuous at the best of times, had either been extinguished or fallen victim to their wiring; the darkness had become more populous since her arrival, its deep green walls loosely thronged with a disturbing clade of gatecrashers, akin to one another beyond the unifying values of their dark garb and contempt for the occasion. The sinister avidity of their stares stayed with her as she moved in Edward’s wake, their low-pitched exchanges pausing and resuming with their passing.
“You got a wide circle.” she observed, watching him produce the keys to the garage. Sharp, cackling laughter made her glance back over shoulder; when she looked once more to Edward, the figure in the front door consigned her planned remark.
“Now here she be.” the pimp observed, his face halved by a malicious grin. He stepped into their path, tugging on his cufflinks. “You like this one? All the bald head like this snowy bitch but I say, nuh close your eye... she chalk your roll an gweh while you still in agonies.” His host received the advice stoically, but Lilian proved less taciturn.
“I’m not on the meter so back the fuck up, and I swear, if you bomb my phone one more time, I will fucking kill you with it.”
Orb stamped a foot down in an attempt to discompose her, pulling up when she stepped behind Edward. The former tipped back his locked head and coughed out a croaking chuckle.
“Wha? She nah belong to you.”
“Brian, go eat a fucking bowl of dicks.” Lilian directed. His move to reach her overstepped the latitude her companion had allowed, and Edward seized and pitched him hard against the wainscoting, the panelling clattering on its framing with the impact. Walking up behind her advocate, she stood with her arms folded, smoothing the edge of the rug down with the toe of her shoe. “If you could wipe him over that would be great... I need to wrap this shit up somewhere. May as well be here.” she advised. He obliged her request, Orb’s white suit yielding a small black handgun and a folding knife; Edward continued his manual survey until it had satisfied them both, then allowed his subject to stand unaided. She pushed open the smaller kitchen door. “In here okay?”
“I’m not comfortable with this.” he said, putting out an arm to stay her disaffected handler. Lilian looked back to Orb.
“If you pull any shit, I'll let him put your head right up your ass.” she told him.
In an allegory of their confrontation a disturbance had arisen behind the stairwell, the heckling flaring into a brief, scrabbling struggle that was ended by the sound of Opal’s voice as she clattered down toward it in her determination to quash any escalation. She shoved through her leering biological contemporaries in no mood to tolerate them. Lilian shook her head.
“Lamb, your tricks are my tricks, but greed's only good when it does you right.”
“Have you told your pimp?”
“Have you told yours?” she smirked. She withdrew and pressed the door closed before Opal could intervene.
“It’s that little dirtbag from the Moth and it’s filthy horde... I want them out!” she snapped, tossing a hand back at the crowd milling behind her, but Edward walked from her before she could conclude her admonishment, parting the onlookers with his expression.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce