T h e
B l a c k t h o r n O r p h a n s
Si jeunesse savait; si vieillesse pouvait.
I do not have a mill with willow trees.
I have a horse, I have a whip.
I will kill you,
for James and Charlotte,
who already know.
DA and BG,
p r o l o g u e
He was roused by the persisting vibration of a telephone, buzzing against his cheek like a pinioned wasp until he rolled slowly onto his back with his eyes still closed, fetching up against another of his slumberous companions. She moved her feet but their spike heels were immured in the roll of dark blue linen at the end of the bed.
William cleared his throat; he could taste vodka, eau de parfum and all three women.
“Just at the moment... I'd have to say no.” he murmured into the telephone.
"Get some scissors and cut that fucking laminate in half. No more backstage for you.” declared the respondent.
“Frost... how can you be so cold, so early in the morning?” he smiled lazily. The two girls lying in each others' arms beside him stirred at the sound of his complaint; all three were powdered with fine chromed glitter, a fresh puff flushed into the air by their movement. Their hair, so artfully arranged into towering futuristic bouffants by a legion of aestheticians, had unravelled into silky, silver-streaked chaos that was not without it’s own allure.
“It’s after six, you lazy fuck. Peel the bitches off and put them in a cab."
He lifted his head.
“I’ve got Lila and Mina and... I think Lauren. I was minding my own business with Lila and Mina, and... she hit us pretty hard... have you seen her from behind? And jesus christ... I swear she can take her teeth out.”
“Let me tell you about my day, asshole."
"Frost..." he sighed, laying a hand over his face. "Don't be like that... détendez-vous..."
"I lost my three biggest girls right after the show, their bookers are reaming me on three lines, they’re totally uninsured and the fucking kraut designer's going into fucking labour because we’re three major pieces short for a flight to fucking Frankfurt in an hour.” The caller took a long, audible drag on a cigarette and leant out of earshot to reassure a companion. The concept of exigence percolated downward through the elements of his confusion. His left arm refused to be recalled and he glanced up at the headboard's painted scene of gilt blossom and cranes to find a handcuff encircling his wrist.
“So... er... what?"
“Call them a fucking car!”
“Drivers won’t come to this hood.”
“Where are you?”
He looked up at the deeply-stepped cornice briefly.
"Fucking A-Town?” He shrugged while the caller deplored his living arrangements. “The bitches can walk home, but you, put anything silver and all the shoes in a fucking car and send them to the store, right now. And you’re blacklisted.”
He let his free hand fall back onto his forehead.
“You don’t mean that, Frosty... je voudrais que tu sois ici...” he purred, smiling again at the thought of her expression.
“Lamb, get your whore voice out of my head and get the shit here or I’m gonna fucking cut it off.”
Still clad in some of the garments to which the caller referred, two thirds of the three stretched out together, shrugged each other off and sat up slowly, breasts lapsing against the metallic vinyl of their sinuous caprisons, their brevity serving the exactions of their infamous trapeze performances. The girl to his left, the most ample of the three, had shaken herself free of the bed entirely and stood naked, diamonds pinned to the most arresting features of her bloomy silhouette and forming a blinking constellation as she moved. Reaching up, she slid her fingers into her hair and shook it loose, standing with her hands on her hips to gaze at the narrow cage beside the wall and its trio of avian inmates. She bent to fetch the silver corsetry that had been stripped from her.
“Ladyboy chickens...” she suggested.
William turned his hand in the cuff and tried in vain to free it.
“What’s the time?”
“Six twenty eight. Like, p.m. I am so late for a fitting.” the girl sighed. The difference between the cool, pelagic greens in each of his eyes became far more pronounced with the sudden change of their expression. He inhaled swiftly and consulted his handset.
“Nai ani’iya...” he breathed. "Keys... I need the keys.”
With the remainder of its occupants he rolled from the bed and together they tossed the sheets for the key to his cuffs, coming up instead with a fistful of tulip-stamped pills, a violet wand, lipgloss tubes and a jelly-pink, glitter-studded vibrator. The ephemera flew into the air and clattered onto the parquet. The trapeze girls dropped to their knees in search of their own accoutrements, forgetting William’s difficulty, and he exploited their distraction to bust the cuff chain with a swift jerk of his arm, wincing as the board cracked. Sweeping his trousers from the curtain rail, he hustled the trio from the room, shaking the contents of his wallet onto the floor of the lounge while they slid into their coats, the margins of their fabulous ensembles still gleaming on their wrists and ankles in the sunset admitted by the glass of the balcony door. Lauren, bag of burlesque props stuffed under her arm, caught his head in both hands and sucked his chin as he stuffed hundred dollar bills into her coat.
“Go out through the fence, then two blocks north to the first rank you see... tell the driver you’re with Edward Lamb.”
“You’re William.” Lila insisted.
“I know, but listen... don’t talk to anyone on the street... walk walk walk and don’t stop. Frost’s waiting at the store for your gear... go straight to the boutique.” he told her, holding the door for the smiling women. They blew kisses and flashed a number of their bountiful gifts at him as they hurried down the corridor and crowded into the elevator.
Out on the balcony his tall shape was darkly mirrored by black stone fascia while he waited for the women to emerge from the foot of the building, leaning over the chromed railing and the eight floor drop. With the sun's retirement the street was deeply shaded by a beetling suite of elderly apartment blocks, and empty of pedestrians; the girls formed radiant foci against the pavement and it was not long before footfalls began to trouble it behind them. A small, dark, stooping figure took up their trail with an intent that compensated for the lameness of its gait. William parked his cigarette in the corner of his mouth and leant back through the sliding door, lifting an air rifle free of the drapery. The neighbourhood enjoyed the quiescence afforded by its evil reputation and a quick aural scan revealed nothing to give him pause. Down on the street the hunching figure had begun to close on the heedless women, bent almost double over its own feet by the intemperance of its designs. Blowing away smoke, William took aim and shot a hunting pellet at the back of it’s head.
Spinning about, his target lurched back at once toward the building it had spilled from, lifting a sickly, chalk-white scowl toward the sky and chittering a string of interlaced obscenities. Its persecutor crouched behind the railing, smiling as he listened to the slighted fury fulminating on the pavement, its cracked, archaic aspect lending grotesque emphasis.
“Ah harken ye, ye slimeh dink bastard!” it shrieked up at him. "Ye durn hunker theya all ye fuckin please, cause ahm a' commin up t'ye!"
William returned to the lounge while his accuser re-invaded the foyer and commandeered the creaking, uncertain elevator. Both hands plumbed his trouser pockets for the key to the front door until he spied it on the atrium floor and worked it into the lock, just as the sounds of turgid discontent spilled out into the corridor outside. For good measure, he coaxed a heavy bombé commode across the door. Thus indemnified, he stood with hands on hips and made a brief survey of the apartment. Its cool, paneled seclusion was stocked with an elegant, if somewhat dissociative sufficiency of Georgian and French furnishings, none of which belonged to him. Their disarray prompted him to drag a garbage bag from the kitchen and begin stuffing something of the detritus into its depths. Grainy white powder coating a tea tray on the floor between the sofa and a daybed prompted him to lift it to his face and press a thumb against one nostril, eyes rolling back toward the door as he was addressed by its thwarted assailant.
“Fuckin cap meh, will ye?" the creature hissed into the lock. "Well hear yee... ahm e-victin ye skank-pokin ass... yew an ye fuckin no-count absentee repr'bate broth'r! Here ah go, nailin it up aroun six four so he kint miss a cock-suckin word. Heh heh heh.”
William resumed his languid struggle with the room, shuffling unresolvable items into a mass that he shepherded with his bare feet, wedging handbags and bottles and takeaway boxes into the sack in his passage toward the bedroom. The pheasants strutted in their temporary quarters, great barred tails fraying against the wire. Throwing open the curtains, he turned back to strip the bed and commit the sheets to the cache that he coaxed toward the bathroom, stuffing it into the tub and dragging the shower curtain closed.
The tapware was silkily calmative, both to his eye and in his hands, expressing with the geometries inscribed upon the walls in veined vert marble the aloof, pre-war grandeur that so pleased him. He lowered his head into the basin, letting the water run from hair dyed noxious parrot red and roughly cut to shoulder-length, closing his eyes against the brightness of his own reflection. Mirror glass reminded him why people stared and he did not consult it with any regularity, his own face so familiar and immutable that he did not require aides-mémoires, though he remembered only belatedly that his brother was uncharacteristically overdue. At his circumspect approach the commode shuddered once, then flew across the atrium with the propulsive duress applied to the door.
Edward Lamb wore a bespoke suit of blue-black summer wool into the space that he had cleared so summarily. His demeanour held only subtle reference to the violence of his intrusion and he carried its indifference into the lounge without a glance toward his erstwhile companion, a long grey gym bag suspended from each hand. Congenital similitude rendered both the differences they had contrived and their remaining correlations striking. While the human eye slid no more easily over his features than they did William's, he had taken more care to subsume their singularity, modeling his disguise on the most anonymous of their surrounding clades, inclusive of those finely-drawn brutalities and vacancies that were an easy match for his native array. The notice to quit had been plastered to the door with packing tape and couched in a crabbed and gloating scribble by an author who had reconsidered spectating its receipt. William took out his cigarette papers and drifted back into the lounge where he sat down, tucked his hair behind his ear and began to roll a joint.
Shedding his jacket, Edward laid it on the sofa and ejected a long blade from the black knife in his hand, stabbing it deeply into the daybed and slitting the sombre damask along its length. From the mask of riven flock he extracted blocks of shrink-wrapped bank notes, dumping them into the bags laid out behind him then repairing to the bedroom where he subjected the mattress to the same callous procedure. Out in the hall, a portion of its rectilinear paneling revealed a shallow niche from which he removed a stack of ammunition boxes and a half-stripped Thompson Annihilator dressed in dust and matted silken webs. With them stowed in the bags he set a chair beneath the manhole, using it to attain the vacant attic and drawing himself swiftly out of sight into its darkness.
From his seat in the lounge William followed the ponderous crackle and rasping drag of weighted plastic through the ceiling plaster; it passed overhead toward the east above an adjoining apartment and died away. He bowed his head and re-lit his cigarette. On returning to the hallway Edward subjected each room to a last inspection. William leant back in his chair and expressed a plume of smoke.
“I’m not dragging my shit down a hundred floors because a bloodsucker has a prolapse.” he advised. In reply, his brother set down the bags in the atrium, took the door of the apartment in both hands and wrenched it off its hinges, leaving it beside the frame. He was gone by the time William leant out to look both ways along the passage, flicking his cigarette at the cackle leaking through the door of the opposite suite.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce.