Hectic drum and bass issued in a boundless loop from five-foot speakers at the entrance to the Avalon apartment, its instrumental seizures pounding through the building's upper floors. In the opposite direction William lay on the sofa he had dragged to the balcony, enjoying sunlight dimmed intermittently by bouffant cumulo nimbus and the outrage seething coldly in those neighbours denied the arms of Morpheus by his choice of music.
Just as he was tiring of his own phonic demonstration, it died in mid-break with the power shorted at some distant juncture, throwing the apartment into shadow and prompting him to roll from the sofa and retrieve a bottle of vodka from the freezer box. He had drifted into a doze by the time the short clip of stiletto heels began to trouble the hall outside, the intruder inspecting the plethora of notices taped to the dislocated door, then squeezing in sideways past the speakers.
Two garbage bags lay slackly, like excised organs on the atrium floor, stuffed with clothing and personal effects; clutching her phone, the intruder loosed another message at the number she had solicited all day, using the recipient's irritant ringtone to locate the appliance where it lay face-down on the parquet. Having snatched it up, she divided her attention between scrolling through its messages and deeply suspicious incursions into neighbouring rooms. The bedroom still wore a dusting of finely-milled silver on its undisturbed surfaces; she marched her scowl out to the balcony, standing before its occupant in flame-red knit and ankle-boots, statuesque and amber blonde and stripped of body hair. William's silence pursed her plenteous lips beneath their gleaming slick of raspberry gloss.
"You're moving out of here? Don't try and lie to me!" she shouted suddenly.
As Opal La Rue’s sole extant relation, Rachel Whateley had been taken in hand by that maternal ancestor, the latter desirous of refining her appeal as an heiress into that of a fully furnished debutante with a view to securing a particular strain of suitor. This had proved fruitless upon Opal's discovery that her own acuity had been granted without heritors, but Rachel's beauty, so comprehensive and expertly nuanced, still struck William as something almost mythic, in its perfection and in its almost poignant irony. He lay in apathetic silence and watched her rummage through her bag, muttering to herself as though he had interjected.
"I said she's a hooker." she hissed.
"Where?" he murmured.
"That bitch... you know who I'm talking about..."
"Frost?" She bristled at the name.
"Forget all about moving in with her... I don't care how hard she tries. If I find out you've stayed over one more time, I'll have Opal go to the police about her. And I know all about Megan." He frowned and propped his head on the Biedermeier sweep behind him. “You know... May-gan? Five-six, ghetto implants, heavy, bad weave... the girl you had sex with last night at that disgusting bar..." One of his eyebrows ascended as he scratched the side of his neck, expression expanding into an artless, remontant delight. “Harvey warned me you'd use other women to control me, and guess what? Exactly what you're fucking doing right now.” she proclaimed, sinking down on the end of the couch and forcing him to withdraw his bare feet. Rachel's eyes were a brightly-rayed cerulean, though their tinted lenses tipped them toward violet. Her hair slid from the silken polish of her shoulder, the day beaming through its Isabella gold as she gazed up into the sun.
“Who’s Harvey?” he inquired unwillingly.
“Who’s Harvey? He’s my therapist, you fucking asshole!” Without taking his unblinking eyes from her, William reached down for the little silver pipe that had rolled into a crease beneath him and put it to his lips, bringing his lighter to its furthest end and flicking the flint wheel. Rachel gasped. "You're using, you pig? You know I'm in recovery!" The burnt scent of the amphetamines she had ingested with her breakfast melon rode her breath into his face as she snatched the pipe and tossed it over the railing. He drew his knees up to his chest.
“Rachel... I don't know what you want... honestly, I don't... you only fucked me to fuck with Opal... you thought my name was Aaron til a month ago. You don’t like me, you don't like my birds...” He nodded at the avian contingent regarding her from the railing like clockwork follies. The sun disappeared behind a cloud. “Just... give me the flick. Go hard after that hedge fund guy... the one with the duck face, you know, smells like... what is it? Compulsion... obsession? Calvin Klein Repulsion? And he probably doesn't have herpes, don't listen to me. I want you to be happy..." She hated the polymathic complexity of his voice, his English subverted by French vowels, Arabic hiatus and other, stranger anomalies. The neck of her knit dress had fallen open over the tanned and sun-warmed volume of her cleavage as he struggled to conclude his failing admonition. "I know what I'm doing wrong... I'm standing in your way. I'm suffocating you, and you should just... wipe me out of the way like an angry blesbok."
“You expect me to sit here and listen to your shit when you're high?” she snarled. "You're in a fucking spiral... a circle only goes in one direction. You don't even know what normalcy is any more."
“Rachel... think back and pick out all the good times, please... just for my benefit. All those sober occasions when I was happy and shitting normality, sorry, normalcy out of every orifice...” She looked up again at the sky.
“That picnic in the rain... you threw the turkeydogs in the river and tried to tell me you were vegan... that time we made love on the roof of the Peninsula... and Vegas...”
William nodded as she related each circumstance.
“Fan-baked... out of my fucking head on peyote... and Vegas? Bordel... no files exist. Pour l'amour de Dieu, you have a doctor and he's costing Opal lots of money... talk to him instead of showing him your knickers."
She stared, then swung a fist, striking him with all the impulsive wrath that rose in answer to the suggestion. William closed his eyes, let it land and kick his head sideways in an expression of defeat he knew would satisfy her, his ascent from the couch and escape into the lounge timed to those aspects of her response that he knew better than she did. He secured the bedroom door behind himself but she was not long deterred; on finding herself debarred Rachel began a stream of personalized invective, twisting the handle and kicking at the intervening panel. A phone on the tansu behind him began to vibrate as though in sympathy and he reached for it with a foot, squinting at the unfamiliar number while he kept hold of the door, then pressing it to his ear.
"Ouais?" William received no reply though the line hung open, the hum of faintly oscillating static a product of the topography. He smiled to himself, recognizing the silence and addressing its palpable sentiment as Rachel's demonstration waxed almost satanic. "I do know this is completely fucked." he admitted. "But she's got me clocked, mahatma. I try to tell her it’s over but she starts screaming and fucking my earholes and taking her clothes off and I try to get away... I'm sweating and crying but I can't move, then I wake up and I've lost an hour and I feel so empty inside." An automated voice advised that the line had been temporarily assigned, and he waited with his back to the door, flicking his teeth with a fingernail until it returned.
"Get in the car." his brother's voice pronounced coldly. William reached forward and dragged the tansu against the partition, edging around it to lean out the window and gaze down at the German sedan idling on the street below. His gaze narrowed.
“You just flipped a fucking coin, didn’t you?" Another grainy silence ensued and he smiled to himself. "What were you going to do if it came up heads?" He received no reply. "Well... that beats the shit out of what you're doing now." The vehicle was placed in gear as its driver's patience ended but William whistled down at it, stowing the curtain and climbing out over the sill. He hung for a moment in the arms of the breeze before letting himself drop onto the balcony below, repeating the process five times until he gained a section of fire escape and whistled back up toward the apartment. One by one the pheasants coasted down to the street from the balcony on their short, fanned wings, clucking as they alighted.
The sedan's interior was as exclusively redolent of leather and high grade plastics as it had been on the day of its issue. William sat down in the passenger seat after settling the birds in the rear and glanced up through the window at the building from which he had absconded.
"Fifteen floors of vampyres and not one is that fucking hungry." he sighed.
"Darknet, no landlines, no mail to the address. Nai i'rani, nai i'ssi'tan." Edward decreed, his yellow gaze returning to the road like that of some effigy that had discharged its oracular obligations. William took a while to respond, sitting with an expression that darkened with the fitful percussive blows transmitted to his seat through the chassis beneath them.
"I'd have a look at that if I were you." he muttered.
Edward slid a hand into the depths of his jacket as he stood out of the driver's seat, surveilling the empty street with automatic deliberation before attending to the restive contents of the trunk.
With both hands William wrestled a tribe of purple plastic bags, crowding them into his lap on a damp bench outside a wholesale flower market. They were stuffed with stems of lily buds, their waxen white and spotted spinel pink enclosing russet pollen and he lifted his chin to avoid damaging their petals. After a quick glance around he opened his mouth and took the tallest bud between his teeth, biting it gently from the stem. At four in the morning even the flower traders were saturnine, smoking in grim little knots outside the vehicle bays, their aprons stained with sap and bucket water. The night was rank and moonless and began exuding misty rain, its greasy shine settling all around him. William sat while condensation collected on the market sign and dripped into the collar of his striped pullover. Someone walked quickly past him and then backtracked, dropping hands to their sides as he looked up.
“If it isn’t everyone’s favourite cabana boy.”
“Bede!” William cried, leaping up to throw his arms around the stranger’s neck and kiss his forehead. "Salaud! Que fais-tu ici, toi?”
“I'm following my star.” he smiled; William glanced over his shoulder as though expecting a blow, at which his companion laughed. “Only figuratively. She’s on the West Coast.”
The creature smiling at him shared so many of his somatic traits that there could be no doubt of consanguinity. He brushed a fall of black hair from over his eyes, long hands heavily figured with indigo tattoos that disappeared into the sleeves of his worsted coat, his gaze two glowing shades darker than the sullen gold of Edward's. The formality of his english argued directly with the exoticism of his appearance.
“Doing anything particular?” William inquired.
“I came downtown for the lilies but you’ve beaten me to most of them.”
“Best longiflorums outside Aalsmeer. You snooze, you lose.” He grinned, and kissed his cousin again in the face of the traders' unappreciative scowls. Together they rescued the bags and set off beneath the buzzing neon, past yawning hookers, fresh urine steaming in the peeling doorways beside wads of tabloid newspapers, the sharp smell of the presses still rising from their pages and mingling with the exhaust from courier vans. “Thought you were still in Umbria.” William remarked, reverting easily to the ancient tongue they shared with no one else, its character leavened with modern appropriations.
"We were forced to decamp. It’s a funny story, actually... a strange man tried to core-sample my arm outside the Doge’s palace.”
Bede leant forward and delved into the pockets of his darkening coat, producing a wad of identification documents, both laminate and plain; sifting through his own plethora of names and guises, he selected one that differed and handed it over, watching William examine the item with an expert’s eye for forgery. Rain blurred its plastic coating and the unsmiling features of its middle-aged subject, the latter too wide and ruddy to be anything but American, overstamped with Federal seals and watermarks. He tilted it away from the street light, then shook his head, dismayed.
“Oh no no no... la la la la la...” he exclaimed, covering his ears with his hands, bag handles sliding to the crooks of his elbows. Bede waited out the racket.
“If we’d dug our heads into the sand, I shudder to think where the next biopsy might have come from.”
“They were disbanded under Reagan.”
“Tis the season for dubious revivals... wedge heels, stubborn venereal conditions... Anomaly Investigation Units. They must have been watching the airports because the more we moved, the closer they seemed to come... they found us in Naples, which is strange enough... we left for Venice, our thought being that we should at least make their accountants reach for their heart pills, but that’s where things became really unpleasant. They broke into our villa, followed us afoot, terrorized the domestiche...”
“Tell me about the time when Nyāti doesn’t think she's being followed.”
“Sachiin, trust me when I say that paranoia does not tear apart your rental accommodation or corner you in alleyways. Ny caught one with the poker when we walked in on them, and I picked two off in Spoletto. They’re AIU.”
"Putain... would they talk?”
“They tried to peddle that old chestnut about only being after psychics, but I like to think they were more candid after the firetongs came out.” Bede tapped the card that William still examined. “This one admitted they were uplifting specimens... he said they were the only unit in operation, but he was fibbing. We lost them on the way over and haven’t seen them since.”
William cursed again to himself in three more languages.
"I fucking knew I saw someone up there."
"Out at Ed's house, on the hill over the road." he conceded reluctantly, as much to himself as his companion. “It’s not that I don’t believe you,mahatma, it's just... I've never actually felt their eyes on my body. Caleb's crew are always pissing in my ear about mystery disappearances... I just thought they were ghosting each other and needed the story. That, and I just can’t see their end these days. What the fuck is their problem with us?"
"Moral panic?" Bede suggested, eyeing him dubiously. “It may be that we present some form of biohazard, but there’s not much to choose between your own military industrial applications and being collected prophylactically for the good of mankind.”
"You make it sound so sexy. Look...” William exclaimed, waving a bag at the darkness. “It’s a legion of civil rights lawyers and they’re cutting off their dicks to handle our case.” He smiled again at his companion and nudged him into a stop sign. “Europa’s a shitty ghetto anyway. Someone died and put fucking bloodsuckers in charge... that's bullshit, man." At a taxi stand they paused while he emptied his pockets and rifled every crevice of his wallet, glancing up once more at his companion. "Nothing else to declare?" he scowled over the rustle of his bags. Bede shook his head.
"Ny thought here as safe as anywhere, given the circumstances... she has business, and you know how she pines for you."
William's crooked smile slid back into a frown.
“Ed’ll shit pineapples if he gets wind of this. Don’t tell him." Grimacing slightly, the newcomer made an uneasy gesture with his shoulders. "I'll tell him, ça va? Fuck... he’s just bought a new place...”
“Oh... you're cohabiting?”
“Yeah. It’s a bit... transitional, but I've managed to blag my way off the discard pile.” Bede sucked in air between his teeth. "It's not that bad, actually... I've got him forming sentences and everything."
“Sachiin, I’m not sure everyone's a candidate for rehabilitation, and I do say that lovingly.”
“It’s not like I’m just whacking away at his cage with a stick to see what happens.” The visitor smiled indulgently, and he grinned back at him. “Need a bunk?”
“Offer me one and I’ll pay for the ride.”
“I should er..." William swung the bags in circles on either side of himself. "Warn you about Ed, though... he's..."
"Still as he was?" Bede suggested. "To what degree, exactly?"
"I can’t downgrade him from skullfucking soulreaper yet. He does talk, I wasn't exaggerating, but he can still hone edge weapons with his arse cheeks, and if he reaches, you better run in a big fucking zig-zag. But... I am sensing change. The house is okay, it’s not Alcatraz or anything, just don't... you know... expect marimbas.”
“I am prepared to forego them at this juncture.” said Bede as he climbed down into the taxi alongside his companion. The rain stopped as they were driven
© céili o'keefe. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T F R I D A Y
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