“We won, but I think Sachiin’s throwing in the towel for the rest of the season.” Bede reported. William dumped his helmet on the ground and sat against the railing, leaning over his legs to light a cigarette. "I do think he was treated somewhat unfairly."
"Endured with quiet dignity, I'm sure." Edward muttered from behind his paper.
“Flagged three times for fucking nothing... some bullshit riding off and accidental hooking.” William hissed through the smoke. “What a fucking shower of bastards. I offered to blow them all in front of three hundred people, so it’s not like I could have backed out... ce sont des foutaises.”
Bede glanced at Edward then looked away into the studio, uncomfortably aware of his unblinking golden scrutiny.
"Kala'amātya, we are truly sorry about your car. We did put a new battery in and have it valeted..." he began, conscious that it was by no means the subject of the latter's considerations. "There is something I should have mentioned to you earlier...” Edward demanded an end to the prevarication with his stare. “I believe we’re being observed. By... I think by governmentals."
His host returned to scanning the property commentary. A trio of swallows chased one another into the studio, their shrill little cries echoing as they looped about the empty chamber.
“I told you he knew.” William snorted. He unstrapped his boots and kicked them off, freeing his long, clawed toes from the pinching leather and flexing them slowly. Edward poured himself another bowl of tea.
“How was Europe, Avi'ashān?” he asked, to which their guest shrugged.
“Enormously crowded... hideously so. I don’t think we’ll go to Italy again during the season. We ran into Mr Auberjonois in Herculaneum... he sends his amities... seems in preposterous health. Naples... horrible... stick your fingers in your ears and Venice is still worth looking at, though it smells more like a colostomy bag than il mare these days. And there is only so much you can take of being followed and prodded and breathed on." Bede related. "In all honesty Kala'amātya, if you can sit here knowing you’re being papped by a military industrial complex, I can only take my hat off to you."
Edward closed his broadsheet in order to remove the notional barrier it provided.
“The political situation?”
“Not the rosiest of pictures. The deceased do seem to have become attached to the idea that they should enjoy exclusive dominion, but I’m not sure coming between the Baillis and his sense of manifest destiny is something many are very enthusiastic about."
"Wow, you're shitting me." William droned.
"I have to concur, Sachiin. Are most demagogues not subdued in, if not by, the fullness of time? I think that while it may be uncomfortable, the majority are content to await the workings of karma.”
"While they still cherish the thought of personal impunity." Edward replied.
The sound of a car door slammed into its framing, then the hyphenated syllables of William's name came rolling over the roof toward them, Rachelle's customary exigence tempered by some new vein of constraint that kept her from physically consummating the intrusion; her object turned toward his brother.
"I discouraged her myself, since you are manifestly incapable." the latter assured him. On the grass by the edge of the swimming pool a blackbird seized the end of a worm and began to tear the luckless annelid from the earth. Bede leant over the railing, staring down at the breeze-troubled grass. “Where is Nyāti?” Edward demanded of him as the blackbird tipped back its head to gulp down the prize.
“Shopping somewhere, I believe.”
“She'll come here?”
“I'm not entirely sure." He seemed to have at last satisfied Edward’s obscure line of enquiry.
“Nyāti discovers retail therapy, accommodates your extramarital ventures and has no firm plans for either of you...” Without another word the latter rose from his seat and kicked his guest’s legs out from under him with such brutal swiftness that Bede found himself pinned to the floor of the balcony before he could utter a moment of protest. Producing a small, stout blade, Edward stabbed it into the back of his calf while William sprang to his feet, abandoning English in the heat of the moment; his brother replied in kind. “Speak, Avi'ashān, while you have the tongue for it.” He twisted the knife sideways.
Susan scowled as she negotiated the stairs, pausing to lean over the balustrade and assure herself that their visitor had remained in the porch as per her own insistence. At first she thought the unmistakable contention in the voices that echoed toward her responsible for their confusion, but as she approached the studio it became apparent that the barrier was linguistic. As her fingers closed on the door the argument ceased, replaced by a silence that she entered into warily. William and Bede stood with their backs to the railing, wearing some sort of sporting uniform and an expression of dour neutrality.
“Mr Lamb, there’s someone downstairs for you... it's um, Rachelle. Should I show her up?”
Her cheeks and a small stripe at the base of her throat were coloured by the pervading atmosphere. William's gaze fell to her mouth.
"Er... negative. Tell her... tell her I’m on a retreat and there’s a no-contact policy. I’m somewhere far, far away, polishing my shortcomings and I won’t be back for... two weeks. A month.”
“She knows you're here. Is that really what you want me to say?”
“It’s a story..." His face brightened again. "Think it needs some horny trolls?”
She regarded him unsparingly, having already been subjected to Rachelle’s unreasoned demands.
“Mr Lamb, I think it’s probably best if that comes from you.”
“Cristabel... I’ve just been kicked off my polo team... have a heart."
Susan folded her arms.
“William, it’s not that I mind telling her to go away, because I don't, and you're right, she really is a nutter... but I’d like to be able to say go away, rather than just try again.”
Her advice struck down his wistful appeal and he stood abashed, blinking as though in mazing sunlight while Edward rose from the obscurity of the sofa, his presence surprising Susan greatly; she started backward.
"I'll tell her you're here but you don't want to see her. Is that alright?" she proposed, scowling in her eagerness to conclude the matter. He smiled again, and brought his hands together in a gesture of gratitude, from which she turned in her impatience.
“Christabel...” he called after her. "Merci beaucoup."
He waited until she had descended the stairs before turning his cousin around and examining the blade still buried in his calf.
"What the fuck?" he demanded of them both.
“Never mind.” Bede murmured. Shaking his head, William set a foot against his flesh and whipped the handle backward, tossing it at his brother.
"B, if you're sitting on something, you'd better fucking whip it out now..."
“On that note, I think I’ll go. Guests and fish and three days, etc.” Bede sighed. William murmured in his dejection and kicked a fragment of roof tile from the balcony.
“Well, fuck off back to Venice, then. Don’t worry about us... looks like we’re just going to be sitting here getting swabbed by Black Op windowlickers." He pressed his hands to his face melodramatically. "And Ny's going to fuck you up when she finds out you’re playing away with Fred... so good luck.”
“I don’t want to push our luck with our old papers...” Bede ventured.
“He jacks off over anything in triplicate so passports shouldn't be a problem.” William declared of his brother with a bitter flourish. A distant thud was followed by a brittle, cacophonous crash from somewhere in the building and he murmured to himself, craning from the balcony then climbing up onto the sagging copper gutter from the balustrade. He used it to gain the roof, tiles sloughing away under his feet and skittering from the eaves as he strode toward the yawning hole that had opened over his rooms. It had strewn the boards beside his bed with plaster, shattered tiles and rotten timbers; in his absence Edward turned a brutal glance to Bede, as though he had not yet satisfied the knife.
"Sis'thle bai'in." he said, the farewell transformed into directive.
Bede left the balcony on a slight limp before William returned.
"Ever since I've been here I've been telling everyone... come round, don't be scared, I made him dump the chest freezers... but hey, keep stabbing random fucking people.” Receiving no response, he addressed a curse to the air around them. “At least you’re making Susan feel like family. She’s already wondering how you end up with three pints of blood in your laundry basket.”
“If she’s asking questions now, how do you propose to fuck her without incurring more?” Edward inquired.
"She's someone to talk to at three in the morning who’s not evil or crazy.”
His brother smiled ominously, revealing his pointed teeth while William struggled with his anger before it betrayed him further. The effort was in vain, and Edward expressed a low, sere sound as he walked into the studio.
“Now I’ll have to take her to dinner.”
“Just leave her alone... you’re the one dropping us in the forensic shit."
"If she found something it's because she was prying, so now she's on the table."
"For fuck's sake... she said to me once that she thinks someone's creeping round at night... the AIU are up there so it's probably them.”
“I don’t doubt she suffers a tangible sense of foreboding.” Edward replied. He stood before his largest canvas and inspected the cracks in the paint.
“Escape from bastard island, Kala'amātya... come toward the light. We have monogrammed robes over here too." Another tile fell inward from the perforated roof, clattering distantly onto his bedroom floor. "What we need around here is more eyes... if you’re away and I’m somewhere else, this place is just waiting to get tossed. Hire a guard or something.”
Murmuring to himself, William deplored each of the assembled works in turn, grimacing at the remorseless smears of magenta and cobalt, applied with a knife over both black and white grounds and cured like the crusting of a sun-dried wound by the passage of a blow torch.
“I know this is bearding for your dayjob, but someone's going to get that you kill people for money if they look at this shit long enough. I’d be digging deeper.” He stepped back from the largest canvas. “Add puce and call it ‘Opal’.”
“Call it whatever you like.”
“You could hit it with some agricultural de... decons... what is it? Deconstructivism? Recontextualize them. Staple chicken feet around the edges as emblems of your private pain, charge double.”
“Stop reading my subscriptions.”
“Eyeballs everywhere are screaming for you to rediscover naked women.”
“Get out of my studio.”
“Art’s just like, you know... alchemy these days, isn’t it?" William continued. "You get all this random crap together and tell people it’s really significant, et baise-moi... stupid fucking white men come five figures, right there in your hand. You don’t even have to stab them. That's fucking tight.” He sat down on the stack of punching bags arranged against the wall, took out his lighter and began flicking the wheel. “I will sub you a dozen top-shelf whores for a lunar month if you leave Lilian alone.” The sound of her name coincided with the terse rasp of the flint; he reverted once more to their native tongue. “She told you she doesn't do GFE, didn’t she? You don't know the first thing about her." If Edward had heard him, he gave no indication, and William shook his head, leaning back as he continued, taking small pleasure in the observations. "She’s got a habit... it's eased up at the moment, but when it’s on, she’s off the fucking reservation. Her regulars are hypersensitive... they will not like you getting her for free. Drug debt... she’s in holes all over town, and that’s before she’s squared up with the po-po. That fucking pimp Orb blew her cop money on jerk chicken and Haitian jailbait, so now she's a POI to every shady badge for fifty clicks, and if I'd brought that kind of heat through the door, you'd kick me to sleep.” He guided the tall flame in his hand to the end of the cigarette. “She’s a total, pathological liar... and if she has feelings, you’ll need a grinder and solvents to get to them. So while you might sound perfect for each other, what I’m trying to say is for the love of god, mahatma... leave her alone. As a favour to me. She doesn’t need you to fuck things up. That’s all taken care of.”
His own hectoring address bounced back to him from the bare walls as haunted echolalia, the words falling like wind-blown ash before a forest fire. William berated himself privately while his brother's disinterested gaze passed over him, seeking a piece of delinquent equipment.
"At least buy out Susan's contract. Rachelle's got a hard on for her and it's only a matter of time before she takes it to Opal."
He left Edward's indifference in the studio and returned to his rooms, kicking the ceiling rubble from the garments it had smothered. Bede had collected his few belongings and conducted himself to the driveway, awaiting the car he had already called, and William walked down alone to keep him company.
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