The sneery little speaker waved a cigarette before its black eyes, squinting at Edward past both the smoke and the suffocating pan-stick that had staled on its skin like rendered fat. Electric blue lashes sagged from its livid grey lids; a towering headpiece featuring a plastic cornucopia of waxy fruit and flowers pitched dangerously sideways on its narrow skull, two enormous raspberries wobbling furiously and threatening to tear free from its despondent earlobes. A gold-plated pendant misspelled Siobhan around its neck. The creature sat coiled in its chair, as wizened and parasitic as a pea crab while the Black Moth, that seedy, dismal nightclub suffering its interminable tenure, enclosed them like some moribund cavity.
“Ahm tellin ye...” it continued, waving a crooked finger in Edward’s face. “Ye aint fuckin lived shit til ye sucked everythin outta somewern while theya screamin lahk a fuckin baby on a burnin fuckin train...” The vampyre's voice dropped again as though gurgling down a drain. “Kint believe yew all never tried it, what with ye hackin up everythin that don’t fuckin move fast enough fer th’ price of a fuckin rahde home... surpris'd ye didn’t shank ye dink skank of a mammy when she were durn squittin ye out.” It snorted to itself. “Heh heh heh... ye prob’ly did. An ye still think killin’s all bout the fuckin ‘muneration. Me, ah don’t git paid til ah bust th’ skin, an th’ juice come sprayin out swith-lahk, amain an fuckin endlong... an they squirmin an fuckin twitchin lahk ye got em plugged in where it don't shine... ah tell yeh, that shit raght there'll keep ye young.” It trailed off, staring away into some private vista and sucking saliva down its throat before rousing itself once more, putting up a hand to steady its headgear. “Ye kin tell that cocksuckin brother a yers ahm gonna shoot his ass an whatever skank he’s conjugatin at the tahme... he kin bitch about meh terminatin ye lease til kingdom come raght in a hoe's lap. Ah jest bout hed the fuckin sight a him, an kint say ahm messin mahself at th’ prospect a yew neither.”
The club’s interior was rendered entirely in varying degrees and densities of black, from its puckered walls to the smeary laminate bar and the filth-obscured floor that sucked at the soles of patrons' shoes. It held a malodorous, almost articulate murk in which whey-hued faces bobbed like body parts in an oilslick, thin or bloated, loathsome and mantis-like, ringed by the failing, thewless slaves that attended them like souls already subject to infernal dominion. The candle on the table between Edward and his dreadful companion struggled as though for want of oxygen.
“Now there’s talk down at mah project bout spook-sniffin assholes greasin round, wonderin where yew all lit out to.” It crammed a wrinkled cigarette into the overflowing tray and placed another between its scant vermillion lips. “Never fuckin stop talkin, do ye Ed?” Edward consulted his phone while the creature sat back against the vinyl. “Heard ye gittin Opal t’ hose th’ hot shit off ye merc cheques. That old cottonmouth bitch aint blood t’ no wern ah know... fuckin looks on us lahk we aint fit t’ pinch wern out, an ye go t’her? That aint fuckin raght...”
Behind them on a tiny, black-wreathed stage, the blasphemous simalcrum of some vintage starlet, complete with turret cleavage and improbable cerise bouffant, began to lisp a Cole Porter number into the microphone, aping such broken elements of burlesque and fluttering allure as they were able to recall. Bar girls lolled behind the counter, wasted charms spilling from their strapped-up leather as they led a slow clap and the performer slid the microphone inside its skirt. Edward's host pulled a bitter face and waved toward the bewigged savant.
“Fuckin open mike nights... ah aint nev'r gonna learn." Siobhan complained. “If ye aint got nothin fer meh, quit scarin’ off mah payin customers.” Its companion pulled an envelope from the pocket of his jacket.
"Nationalidy?” it muttered, inserting a fingernail into an ear and extracting a pinkish clot as it scowled at the photographs provided.
"EU, no preference.”
“What’s so fuckin wrong w' bein Nahgerian, jest like everybody else?” A stifled groan issued from under the table and a young man's head appeared alongside the vampyre's elbow, red-eyed and barely conscious. The latter glanced down and exclaimed to itself, delivering a round of savage blows to the youth's face to suppress the unscheduled interruption. Edward reached across the table for the envelope, which his host snatched up, glaring alternately at the pictures and their owner. “Shippin out ye own kahnd on the fuckin down-low... labourin for that wall-eye'd cunt Opal... ye g..."
“If you can't do the work I’ll take it to Pink Fred.”
The judicious mention of a rival’s name provoked the desired effect.
“Ah kin fuckin git em...”
“I want them tomorrow.”
The tower of lucite fruit lurched forward again.
“Ye sure is in some kahnda swivet fer em, aint ye?” it hissed shrewdly; Edward pushed a roll of currency across the table and stood up while it weighed the bundle in its spidery hand. “All a this raght when we got a fuckin avalanche a refya-gees washin up this side a th’ fuckin main, crahin’ their fuckin eyes out an wantin’ papers too... an here ah am, shiftin fer a fuckin snakeface lahk ah weren’t raised no fuckin better.”
He stepped over the vampyre’s unconscious victim on his way toward the door.
Susan walked too quickly in a black dress that had proved too long, though she stood much taller in the stacked heels that crushed her toes together. She glanced at the maître d' as he pulled her chair, unsure where to settle her handbag amid the intimidating formality of the private dining room and the clockwork manners of its attendants. The table before her was drowned in vanilla linens; she leant around its centrepiece of pale lemon lilies and whispered quickly, keeping her eyes on the blooms.
“I’m sorry, Mr Lamb... the taxi was late, then there was a nutter in town holding up traffic with a rubber gun or something...”
Edward had not dressed for the occasion. He looked up from his newspaper just long enough to constitute an acceptance of her apology; she patted at her hair while the waiter filled her glass, murmuring the name of the dark vintage softly. On the wall a gilded mirror reflected her hunch and she sat up as though kicked, William’s risqué warning making her ears red and keeping her legs together under the table. The thought of taking refuge behind the menu dissolved as she saw that it was couched entirely in French. Her gaze climbed the text toward her host, only to discover that Edward had put away his newspaper and already begun to subject her to a visual exam. His presence gained volume in the quietude, rolling toward her as though from some distant, submersing ocean; the more she looked at him the greater its disturbing influence became and the more he seemed revised by it in turn.
“I um... I don’t speak French. Do you know what’s nice?” She picked up her glass and drank its contents in a long draught. "Anything with chicken..."
“I don’t eat flesh.” he replied.
“Oh... sorry." With her random selection entrusted to the waiter, Susan accepted another charge of wine, her empty stomach conveying its effect immediately and supporting the idea that decisiveness would stand her in better stead than timidity. “Do you think you’ll stay at that house? You'll probably have to do something about the roof before winter.” When he failed even to glance up in reply she set her elbows on the table, took her head in both hands and stared down at her knees. “Mr Lamb, if you’re letting me go, can you please just get on with it?” she urged. “Sitting here waiting for it's doing my head in.”
Edward listened to the clicking of her jaw, then stood up from his chair.
“I’ve decided not to pick up your contract. You can finish the week, or not, as you prefer.” he informed her, watching her
blanch, then flush. “Excuse me.” he added, departing without further explanation. A youthful waiter stepped aside for him, watching him go then grinning at Susan in his stiffly buttoned shirt, leaning over the flared white plate he set before Edward’s chair.
“That guy’s a right bastard.” he whispered in a Glaswegian accent, craning his neck to look around them. “Not a fucking tip in five years.” She watched in fascinated disgust as he hoiked quietly over the bowl, adding a gobbet of phlegm to the broth and swirling it into the liquid with a slow rotation. He winked at her and she scowled at her own plate, at which he shook his head. “No love, you’re okay, have a go... it’s great soup.”
Reaching out, Susan dealt the remaining wine into her glass and quaffed it swiftly, considering herself no more beholden to civility than her erstwhile host. Edward returned before she had decided how to address the actions of the devious, expectorating attendant; watching him resume his seat, she sat motionless while he dipped his spoon into the soup, her breath banking behind her frown.
“Mr Lamb...” she murmured, leaning forward with a hand to her mouth. “Don’t.” His strange eyes rose to hers. “It’s... cold, and horrible. Just... have them take it back.” He inclined his head once more. Susan's stare followed his spoon toward his chin until her hand burst through the intervening flowers, pulling his bowl into the blooms and almost scuttling them both. “The waiter gobbed in it.” she sighed, dropping back into her chair and hauling up the neck of her dress. He glanced down at the bowl.
“He said it's because you’re a bastard.”
Edward reclined a moment.
“Do you enjoy working at Commoriom Drive?”
“Not really, no. I just needed the job.”
"I'm interested in employing you in a private capacity." Her surprise, and then suspicion prompted his admiration for the unfailing nature of her instincts.
"I can't leave La Rue Personnel... I owe fees."
"Does she hold any of your documentation?"
"No... but I knew three girls who couldn't pay, and they disappeared... everyone says if you don't cough up, she has you deported."
He stood out of his chair again and walked around the table, pausing to drop a cheque for her first month's wages at her elbow.
"So I still have a job, then?" Susan scowled when he refused to concede any explicit confirmation. "I'll need a contract..."
"I'll have one drawn up. I have to leave." Edward told her, frowning slightly as she stared at him relentlessly, as though fearing he would retract the offer to punish her credulity. “Stay. It’s on me.”
The Scottish waiter smiled as Edward approached the kitchen door and slid a folded banknote into his hand in acknowledgement of his efforts. From the exit he glanced back into the private alcove; Susan sat as he had left her, staring blankly as the soup was replaced with a plump chicken breast and fragrant puy lentils.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce