Nomads had built the little wall around the water and strung the branches with charms of shaggy red homespun in the knowledge of its dominion over their fate. But Kala'amātya's memories of the place had been overtaken by the novel features of catastrophe, so that the votive offerings hung forlorn, like gallows fruit. All around beyond a full day’s ride, a thousand dying animals had gouged the dusty sand where they had thrashed amid their fatal throes, the elegant limbs and necks of horses and great bearded camels frozen in grim arcs against the ground. The bone-white sun had scorched the eldest into sunken, blackened things, nosed and shied from by their living kin on their way toward the spring, but further out into the dunes and seen by no one but the vulture, tethered goats lay transfigured into bloated, fly-blown parodies while their owners decayed in silence in their black tents, insects consigning eggs to their eyes and gaping mouths.
Behind him he could hear the croak of the birds still standing amongst the brittle, wind swept tumuli of feathered corpses, tall white cranes and tawny eagles, their great wings hanging as though broken as they stood panting or began to stagger in flapping circles. The stench of putrefaction boiled around him, its choking weight enough to have prostrated any creature less inured to it. While his red horse brayed and pounded the ground in an affrighted dance he folded the cloth back from his face and put a hand into the icy water, drawing a palmful toward his mouth. There was no bitter scent to warn him; only after he had spat it into the sand did the sly smack of poison flower in his mouth, the barbed, copper-green twist that sparked and faded. The flash of sun-struck metal in the spring recalled him and he reached down to lift the object from the water. It was pierced and hand-chased silver, its pendant elements chiming on a long pin that had once ornamented black hair thickly dressed with white clay. Kala'amātya shook the water from the pin and tucked it deep into his tunic, unwinding the cloth from his head and using it to bind the weightless remains of a dead crane that he gathered from the dust, committing them to his saddle bag and turning his horse toward the mountains that stood witness to the calamity.
Though not yet wholly conscious, Lilian saw the line of sacred peaks flicker and fragment as physical sensation demanded precedence. She looked up into a white ceiling; bringing her hands to her eyes she tried to dismiss the face transposed into flesh as Edward stood at the foot of the bed with a black case in one hand, stayed by her expression. She rolled onto her side and pushed back her hair.
“You were dreaming.” he told her.
“I was fucking sleeping. Had to chug a case of Halcion and then I get dead animals." Her voice was dry and weary. "Your fucking phone’s been off for four days.” Lilian looked over her shoulder as he pushed his case into the tall black chest.
“Work.” he told her finally.
“Yeah... about that.”
Edward sat down in the sabre-legged carver and began to unlace his boots before leaning back to close his eyes for a moment, returning from the hazards of his journey to the rooms around him, in which she was a new and superlative luxury. He braved her frown to watch her slide from the bed and walk into the bathroom and heard the slow roll of the drawer beneath the basin. Lilian pinned up her hair and ran herself a glass of water to speed the passage of the amphetamines she hoped would dispel the heavy, tranquilised mantle rolling like a clutch of bearings in her skull. He pulled his shirt and its smell of other people over his head.
“With all the spooky long haul and radio silence, I figure you’re either an ice mule, professional assassin or international über-whore.” she suggested, folding her arms as she leant on the doorframe. “There’s two ways this can go. You can deal me in... full disclosure... or I can bill you. But you need to make up your fucking mind.”
He leant down and picked up a pile of document bags from the floor beside him.
“When did these come?”
“I don’t know Lamb, they don’t fucking stop coming from your manager.” Unzipping the garment bag that hung from the side of the chest, she shook her head and reached across to lift his wrist and consult his watch. “Bitch Fed-Ex’s crap to the door every three hours.” Lilian plucked a stray thread from the waist of her pencil skirt before stepping into it, the straps of her camisole spilling from her shoulders. “She’s a fucking creepy predator.”
“Aren’t we all?” he murmured.
“We don’t all send dead-eyed throwbacks to tail people when they’re out trying to make a fucking living.”
“You’re being followed?”
“Either yes, or me and my drivers are having exactly the same paranoid delusion. If it was all in my head the douchebags would be better looking. So tell your manager to stop dogging me or I’ll do a three-way with Rachelle on her front lawn.”
“It’s not Orb’s people?”
She barely blinked at the sound of his name.
“He didn’t have any guys. This is Opal trying to run me off.”
The scent of her skin and the fleet glimpse of her back as it disappeared beneath her blouse drew him from the chair while she passed a thin patent belt around the waist of her jacket. He followed her hands with his own and smoothed them down her skirt, pulling it up over her thighs and reaching between them. Lilian lost the silver buckle and closed her eyes, until the temptation to abandon her obligations began to accrue too much momentum.
“Use your phone... send me pictures of them.” he told her. His hand found the black stretch of lace under her breast and pushed beneath it as he walked her to the bed, where she halted and glanced back at him, the hot colours shifting in his gaze speaking so plainly of his intent that she almost failed to pull her blouse closed.
“I have to work, motherfucker." she smiled, buttoning the silk. "United Arab Emirates asshole. He likes shoes, nail polish, karada. Sits, eats dates, watches me tie up his bitches. I know more about him than I do you.” Lilian sighed. “Oh yeah... Susan had a thing on her arm. Said she took a dive off her bike or something but I think she sprained it on your brother’s hard-on. Did you tell him about Orb?"
"Has he said anything to you?"
"Nothing straight up, but he's not stupid."
Edward nodded slowly to himself.
"How long will you be?”
“Guess I'll be back around... three.”
“That’s five hours.” he observed as he sat down in the chair, making her step over his legs in her tight skirt on her way to the door and waiting for the smirk that she turned to him.
“Try four days alone with your own hand, asshole.”
“I just did. So don’t make me come looking for you.”
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce