Famouse Fashion House, Fashion Forward Hour
"Ms. Wasserman? We have the wheel." It's one of the identical twins -- Theroux or Marquez, Roxy will have to get them tattoos one of these days -- and he stands tentatively at the doorway. The other one pushes the giant, velvet covered wheel across the studio floor.
"Bring it!" she demands, pointing at the floor in front of her desk. The two young men struggle as they push the heavy device to the centre of the room. Since the adorable Lacey Thornfield left her service, Roxy has continued to hire human assistants. It amuses her to see them sweat, and she does so love a matched pair.
She catches one by the roots of his exquisitely styled coiffure and he squeaks. "Send Mr. Gunn in as soon as he arrives."
"I'm already here, Roxy, darling."
Theroux jumps a mile as Mr Gunn steps out of the shadows, where there had been nobody a moment ago.
"Tim!" Roxy pushes back in her chair with a smile. The best part of fashion forecasting was spending time with old friends.
Tim holds his hands wide, and Roxy does the same. Never touching, they kiss the air, a genuine and loving embrace among the reformed.
She lets him go and throws aside the velvet drape with a dramatic flourish. "Enough! Let's spin some trends, old man." She pulls a handle, and the big wheel spins, as does the smaller wheel within.
They both watch as trends pass and the wheels slow.
"Oh, not herringbone again, Roxy." Tim crosses his arms fussily. "It's so 1988."
Roxy holds up a finger. The wheels haven't stopped spinning yet.
The flipper at the top of the wheel creaks past herringbone, and lands with a definite thud on 'psychedelia'. The secondary wheel teeters for a moment on 'lace' then slips to 'burlap' and stays still.
"Wonderful!" says Roxy. "That should keep them busy for a season."
Tim is delighted. "Let's see them make that work."
They regard each other fondly for a moment, and then Tim begins to sketch out the sequence of sigils that will transport him back to his own office, where he can guide the young towards the trends he and Roxy have set.
"Do you ever regret it?" asks Roxy, suddenly.
Tim pauses, mid-gesture, and looks over his shoulder. "Of course I do, Roxy. That's just part of the commitment. If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth giving up." He lets his arms fall to his sides. "Are you all right?"
Roxy smiles, her expression more certain than she feels. "Of course I am, darling. Now, hurry back. Guide the youth. Psychedelia and burlap."
"We may be reformed, but never say we don't make our own fun," says Tim, and makes the jump.
Later, when most of the building is in darkness, Roxy is still sketching for the 2013 Pre-Fall season. Eventually, she puts down her pen and gazes out into the shadowed studio, seeing far beyond the walls. Succubi do not sleep. They most certainly do not dream. Nonetheless, Roxy is in the past, soaring smoke-like over narrow houses and cobbled streets. She can see each soul as a point of light, moving about their lives, glowing with heat and warmth. When she wakes, it is snowing gently in her office, a light dusting of powder on the minimalist furniture.
"Well, damn everything to hell," she says, to nobody in particular. One of the twins, dutifully waiting on a low leather pouf by the door, notes her words down on his PDA.
The Middleman's sidekick, the one with all of the passion and little of the brains, slams her fist on the thick glass of Roxy's desk. Clutched in her sweaty palm is an autopsy report complete with gruesome photographs. Roxy makes a mental note of the palette for her next collection: corpse grey blue, accessorised by stainless steel and fluorescent light. She'll call it Mortuary Chic, a utilitarian vision demystifying humanity's fear of death.
Roxy gives a sharp bark of laughter. Galliano will have to eat an baby on the catwalk to touch her now! Still, Roxy wouldn't put it past him; it's nothing he hasn't done behind closed doors.
"I'm telling you, this is one of your people!" The sidekick stabs a finger at the report. "I dated a film major; I've seen the movie. This guy lost twenty one grams between his recent medical and the morgue. Someone ate his soul. Know anyone around these parts who'd do a thing like that?" Finally, finally, she looks around the office. "Say, I never knew you could get a hand-held snow plough."
Roxy reaches across the desk and grips the girl's chin with two fingers. "First of all, sidekick --" she leans back to admire the cut of the vest -- "Congratulations on the new outfit; very Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon meets the Godfather."
"What does that even mean?"
"Secondly," Roxy leans forward, the better to impart knowledge not usually privy to mortals, even Middle mortals. "Souls have no mass."
The sidekick is dubious. "How else can you quantify the incorporeal essence of a living thing?"
Roxy makes a moue with her lips, pleased by the reflection on the ice glass wall. "Flavor."
"Flavor." The sidekick's expression is flat. "Souls have a flavor."
"Of course they have flavor," says Roxy, distracted. Something is unfurling inside her, something with claws, something that hungers. "What do you think draws a succubus to her prey? The snuggly pillows? The down comforter? Souls are delicious." So delicious. So lovely on the tongue, so easy to reach out with one long finger and snag.
Whatever is showing in her face frightens the sidekick. The girl swallows once, eyes wide. "My soul… does it have a flavor?"
Roxy smirks. This one is easy, and provides no particular temptation. "Pomegranate. And gunpowder."
"I'm not sure what to do with that information. And why is it snowing in here?"
"It's seasonal," says Roxy.
"We're working on next winter's collection," Roxy says, hastily. "You dress like a miniature Blues Brother, don't blow a fuse trying to understand. But for MM's sake, I'll help with your stiff." She snaps her fingers and the twins leap into action before they know what they're scrambling for. "Purse! And coat! I'm going to the morgue."
It is Köln, and the plague eats the city like a dark flame. She is still Roshanak, named in the nest for the dawn that comes. She flies for souls, and finds few.
He is a man on a roof, and his coat is an excellent worsted wool. He uses a hoist and pulley to heave a bundle of lumber up from the alley below.
"Good morning, ma'am," he says politely as she swoops past.
Later, as the dawn she is named for creeps over the rooftops, she returns to the crypts, glutted on the fever dreams of dying men. The man is busy working with a hammer, building something out of wood. He tips his hat in her direction, and curious, she hovers nearby.
"Nice day ahead, I think," he says, and loads a bolt into the ballista he has built on the roof opposite the cathedral.
Roshanak hisses at him -- this is before she has mastered the shape of human words -- but he nods companionably.
"Might ask you to move a little to the left," he says, and gestures with his hands for her to drift sideways. "Wouldn't want you to get caught in the blowback."
Perplexed, Roshanak flits to his side, away from the pointy end of the weapon. This man's soul glows in the morning light, and brings the bright tang of oranges to memory.
Assured of her safety, the man puts his eye to the guide, and releases the bolt. It flies true and straight, through the stained glass picture window of the cathedral. Inside, something huge shrieks with rage, then explodes outwards.
"They never just die, do they?" says the man, dripping green ichor. "Still, worth a little slime if we can stop this plague." He reaches up to swipe green ichor from his face with his sleeve, but Roshanak reaches out to slap his hand. It would spoil his coat and it is so well cut.
Instead, the man reaches and takes her hand, pumps it vigorously. "Nice to meet you, Ma'am." Then he sets about disassembling his weapon. Bemused, Roshanak hurries to her crypt before the sun is too bright overhead.
MM is waiting on the steps in the summer rain, bless his minty-fresh soul. Roxy stalks out of the McTiny car that the sidekick improbably drives, and walks the gum-studded sidewalk like it's a red carpet.
"Sleepless in Seattle, Roxy, you look like hell." MM ponders the statement for a moment. "Of course, on a scale relative to human standards of beauty, you look sublime."
"Oh, get a room already," says the sidekick, and stomps up the marble steps and into the morgue.
Roxy is glad to see the back of her, and not just to admire the cut of the vest. She takes the Middleman's elbow and draws him in close. "MM, darling, it's good to see you." And it is good: there's a reassuring solidity to the man. For the first time today, Roxy feels certain of herself.
He nods solemnly, and angles his umbrella to cover her as well. "Dubby told me about the snow. Unwanted precipitation is always troubling, and doubly so indoors. Is there something you want to tell me?"
Roxy flicks her fingertips, as if shooing away something inconsequential. "The real problem is your dead man. I can't drag a succubus into my house kicking and screaming. Well, I can, and I have, but I've learned it's no long term solution. You know what they say: the light bulb's got to want to change."
"The light bulb wouldn't dare set foot in this town unless it was looking for a change. I'm no demonic entity, but even I know your reputation." His expression is concerned. "You sure you're okay, Rox?"
Roxy curls her lip. "Please. Pity gives me hives, and this plane is not ready for a succubus with hives." She steps out into the humid rain, and clicks up the marble stairs.
Inside, it's undeniable. The victim lies on the slab, glassy-eyed and replete. "Oh, all right. Give the sidekick a merit badge or whatever you people do. This is the work of a succubus."
"What did his soul taste like?" Dubby, the sidekick, is really one to hang onto an idea.
Roxy trails a finger down the pale, clammy skin of the man’s throat and pauses over his heart. "Cheeseburgers and high fructose corn syrup. You know the kind, thinks about sex more than he thinks about oxygen. Junk food, to a succubus." She sniffs, disdainfully. "I always preferred a more refined prey."
The sidekick shivers, and not just with eldritch horror. A light dusting of snow is settling on the stainless steel surfaces all around them.
The best thing about Victoria's reign is the discovery of synthetic dyes; suddenly the streets are filled with gaudy colours. Madame Roxana's business is largely conducted between widows and their deceased husbands, but she decks her rooms with gaudy scarves and threads a rainbow of ribbons through her hair. It's what they expect, after all, and she really cannot abide the smell of crepe.
Now, she sits at a black lacquered table, looking into the distance with an expression she hopes appears ethereal and not bored. Opposite, a young woman delicately lifts her handkerchief under a black veil, and declares eternal fealty to her deceased husband.
Roxana can barely contain a snort. Three nights ago, she had hovered above the husband's bed, and watched him dream of sexual ecstasy with some deeply fetching goats. Aside from his private perversions, the man was venal, adulterous, and thought little of the child he wed for her name and money. It was a delight to feed on his soul, all dark and currant-flavoured, and now goats and little children will sleep more safely for his loss. This is the widow's fourth appointment, and Roxana suspects that this is the most fun the poor girl has had since the pageantry of her wedding. Roxana has almost convinced herself of her own philanthropy, but then she sees the shadow move in front of the bead curtain. A woman is lurking in the parlour. Roxana knows that slim silhouette well. She sighs; this will not be philanthropy enough for the Middleman.
She presses fingers to her temples, and the young widow leans forward expectantly. In a voice thrown deliberately low, Roxana whispers hoarsely, "Dear wife, I am grateful for our short but joyous union, but now you must move on. The key to my strongbox is hidden in the large urn in my study."
"The one with the fresco of young goats at play?" asks the widow, with a sniffle.
"The very same," Roxana growls. She peeps through her lashes to see how this news is received: the widow's tears are flowing afresh. With a dramatic gasp, Roxana slumps in her chair with her hand to her forehead.
"The veil has closed; there will be no more messages," she announces in her own voice.
The young widow dabs her nose delicately. "Until next time, Madame Roxana." She places a cheerfully plump looking purse on the tablecloth and makes ready to leave.
Roxana presses her hand over the kid glove. "No, my child," she says, her voice laden with portent. "We shall not meet again; your dear husband has gone to his final reward." She suppresses a smirk; she hopes the bastard is walking barefoot down the treacherous road to the Underworld.
The widow hurries out to her carriage, and the Middleman parts the bead curtain with one gloved hand. "By God's teeth, you walk a dangerous line, succubus," she says.
Roxana admires the practical and elegant fall of fabric as the woman strides across the room. The Middleman's dress is closer to a riding habit, and though the sleeves fit neat and close, Roxana's sharp eyes catch the silver edge of a knife strapped to the woman's forearm.
Roxana tips the purse into her hand and briskly counts the coins. "Dear lady, you cannot possibly believe that poor girl is not better off now. The world is certainly better off." She weighs the coins in her hand. "Is it so wrong that I'm a little better off also?"
The Middleman grabs for her wrist. "What need have you for money, succubus?"
Roxana could shake herself loose, but she is so fond of this woman's face: dark skin, high cheek bones. "My sweet, I may be a succubus, but I can't spin silk out of thin air. That would be nasty." No Middleman yet has had such a face for hats; Roxana aches to nestle a top hat against those curls.
"That man was human, and an Englishman, and therefore entitled to live out his span without being sucked dry. For a bolt of silk, by all that is unholy."
Roxana reaches up with an arm that moves a little faster than a human one would. She snags the cravat at the Middleman's throat, and draws her downward. When they are face to face, she lets her eyes show a glint of red as she speaks in a hiss.
"The man was a pederast and a goat fucker, my dear. Perhaps a pederast of goats, but I didn't delve too deeply in that quagmire. I have to eat, and he was more of a monster than I."
The Middleman cups her cheek a moment, then stands upright. "By bright heavens, Roxana, sometimes I don't know whether to shoot you or hire you. What the Clandestine Bureau would make of that, I cannot say."
For the first time in centuries, Roxana is shocked. "You'd work with me? I'm not human!"
"Roxana, there is a certain quality in you that I wish were more often seen in the humans that inhabit this world. You have an unerring sense for the darkness in mankind, and with it comes a sense for the light, too. I'm not ashamed to admit that there have been times when I would value that clarity." The Middleman's brow creases and she leans down again. "But the killing must stop. The Clandestine Bureau would demand no less."
"Well, darling," Roxana says, with a drawl. "I'm afraid you're just going to have to do without me for now. I'm not ready to stop, and there are plenty of goat-loving monsters out there waiting for me to tap on their windowsill."
The idea is fascinating, though. Roxana finds herself pondering the possibilities from time to time, even when hovering insubstantial above the beds of portly Englishmen. This sense that the Middleman spoke of, the ability to see good as well as evil? Perhaps that offered something more fulfilling than souls.
"How will we know when we find her? Or him?" From the back seat, to which she had been relegated by MM, Dubby leans forward to insert herself into the conversation in the front.
Roxy puts a hand on Dubby's forehead and pushes her backwards. "Down, girl. I'll know her -- or him, I suppose -- when I see her. With a palate that lowbrow, she'll be somewhere trashy. She's desperate for sustenance; she doesn't have time to be picky."
Dubby checks her file. "Trashy, lowbrow and desperate, hey? Did I mention this guy lives two blocks from the Booty Chest?"
The Middleman crinkles his brow in disapproval. "The pirate themed sports bar with the scantily clad waitresses?"
"It sounds perfect." Roxy reaches across and pulls the wheel, forcing the Middlemobile into a sharp left turn across traffic. It's getting chilly in this behemoth of a vehicle, and she wants to get this over with before she accidentally starts the next Ice Age.
MM catches Roxy's arm at the smudged glass doors to the Booty Chest. Dubby rolls her eyes and pushes past them.
"Roxy, listen. I can't help but notice a certain tension in the air." MM drives with incredible focus, but still manages to pinpoint the elephant in the automobile.
Roxy shrugs off his arm. "I told you, I don't want to talk about the snow." On the other side of the glass, Dubby is in fierce argument with a waiter who dances around awkwardly on a false peg-leg.
"White Christmas, Roxy, I don't care about the snow!" The Middleman takes her by the shoulders and looks into her eyes. "We're about to go into a potentially demonic showdown. You do what you have to. I've got your back."
Dubby waves the plastic peg-leg at them to catch their attention. "Over there!" she mouths, using the prosthetic limb to point towards a table.
Roxy takes her last soul in 1982: a synth player in Madonna's touring band who insists that wearing sunglasses at night is an essential lifestyle choice for the modern man. Not the greatest or most epic of victims, but as he expires on the shagpile, Roxy looks down on the Manhattan traffic and feels a profound depression.
"Sorry I ate the synth guy," she says, as she steps carefully down the plush-carpeted staircase.
Madonna is unfazed. "Won't miss him, his riffs sucked. I'm surprised you bothered." The entertainment world is riddled with the demonic and the supernatural. Roxy doesn't know Madonna's story, specifically. Asking for details is so gauche.
Roxy perches on a stool next to her, and purses her lips, watching the cherry red moue in the mirror of the bar. "I think I'm done."
"Done with what? Synth players? That's going to be tricky, given the way the charts are going." Madonna sips from a glass filled with venomous green liquid.
"Death," says Roxy, with a satisfying finality. Now that she's accepted it, it seems so simple: you cannot pick and choose where you do good. This is why the Middlemen are so very black and white in their approach. Roxy's not sure that she's ready for that level of the absolute; she's so very fond of grey, and she thinks they'll all be wearing it in a year or two. Still, there's no shame in admitting she would like to make a difference where she can. Of course, there's no need to make a whole song and dance about the decision, either. Roxy can foster benevolent feelings and keep her dignity intact.
"So," says Madonna, stirring her finger in the bottom of the glass and licking it clean. "What will you do instead? I mean, that's a lot of spare time. And I need a synth player."
Roxy flexes her hands and briefly considers a musical career. Then she looks at Madonna's outfit. She's in a boho-ragamuffin stage, all tattered skirts with a trilby pushed back on her head. Charming enough, but you can only take that look so far, muses Roxy.
"Madonna darling, do you have any problems with hallowed ground? Rosaries, bibles, that sort of thing."
Madonna smirks and shakes her head. "The Singing Nun wasn't my first singing nun, if you know what I mean."
Roxy snaps a finger, and Madonna's tights rend spectacularly. "We're going to need crucifixes. Lots of crucifixes."
Madonna's smile is a little too wide and toothy for the human norm. "That's going to get a lot of nice Catholic girls kicked out of home."
Roxy smiles too, and considers the future. A wealth of possibilities spin out in front of her. There's no harm in a little cruelty here and there, for the sake of fabulousness.
It's an incubus, as it turns out, and he sits hunched into a noxious black hooded sweater that screams mall-rat in tones that Roxy wishes could be expunged from the world. He picks listlessly at a basket of fries while two scantily clad waitresses hover attentively. One holds a bottle of ketchup, the other has extra napkins, but the young man ignores them both.
Dubby pounds a hand in her fist before pulling her arm back, but the Middleman, bless his cotton socks, catches her elbow mid-swing and gestures for Roxy to take the lead instead.
Roxy is surprised; this kind of action fest isn't really her scene. She prowls forward and stands in front of the chair.
"I've been told that your actions are a cry for help -- and I must say, those jeans certainly are -- so here are the rules: no killing. That's it. One rule. I'll give you shelter and the occasional pep talk, but the rest is up to you."
The figure cringes away from her, and she catches a glimpse of greasy black hair. She pushes the hood down and gasps. She has never seen this boy before, but the benefit of four decades in the fashion industry is that she can easily put a face together from component parts. The complexion is a mess, and the cheekbones do not have the cut-glass angle, but this boy is familiar.
"Theroux and Marquez have an ugly twin? Unbelievable!" Roxy is a little appalled.
The boy pulls his hood back up, and crams a handful of fries into his mouth. "The word you're looking for is triplet, actually." He talks with his mouth open. This is not the kind of person Roxy is accustomed to dealing with. Incubi and succubi have a certain glamour. It's all part of the seduction process. Or so she thought.
"Wait, those twins? Those twins you had to hire to do Lacey's job?" Dubby is very protective. Her dedication is as adorable as her friend.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest! How do human twins end up with an incubus brother?" MM sheaths his weapon, and pulls up a chair next to the boy.
"Triplet!" the boy says, insistently. "It's a difficult concept to grasp, I know, but when there's three babies, it's triplets. And I don't know why. I wasn't always this way. I think, maybe, it's something I picked up on the internet."
"The internet," says MM, with vitriol. He shakes his head disparagingly.
Dubby laughs. "I guess the internet really is for porn."
"I hope for your brothers' sake that this isn't a joke. It's no coincidence that those two wanted to work for a succubus." Roxy has that prickling feeling that means her demonic side is showing.
The boy's eyes flare red in response. "No, they were trying to get me some help. I don't want to be this way, you know, I don't want to hurt anyone." He seems to curl into himself a little more. "But that's not the kind of place I go. I don't understand fashion. And I don't know how to be fabulous."
MM puts a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. "It's all right, son. Glamour isn't everyone's cup of tea."
Roxy feels a sudden wave of envy; this is one of her people, she should be the one to comfort and connect with him. On the other hand, the boy is right: Famouse is definitely not the kind of place he's going to feel welcome. She remembers the young widow of the adulterous goat-shagger. Perhaps she no longer needs the Middleman to motivate her into acts of kindness. Take the training wheels off, so to speak. She remembers a fine face for hats and a dedication to helping the helpless, and she smiles.
"You, boy." She points a finger at him.
"Felipe," he says, with a scowl. He's really just two red eyes peering out of a hood now.
"Yes, yes," Roxy snaps her fingers at this trifle. "What is it you do?"
Felipe shrugs and holds up a laptop plastered with decals. "This, mostly."
Roxy opens her mouth to snap at him -- Open your mouth! Sit up straight! Own the place! -- then she takes a deep breath. "Can you do 'this' for me, at Famouse? We have computers at Famouse." She's fairly sure.
The boy conceals a snort. "Straight from 1984, you do."
That settles it. "I demand fabulousness in all things Famouse. We'll get you a budget and an office." And possibly a suit, if it won't frighten you back to the sewers, she adds mentally. "And nobody else needs to die." She spreads her hands, as if it were a done deal. This is what she does. This is why she reformed. The temptation will always be there, but so will the people who need her help.
"Happily ever after! That sounds like a plan, Rox." The Middleman is pleased, the side-kick is mollified, and another incubus is saved.
Roxy dusts her hands. "Let's get out of this place. These belly shirts are giving me flashbacks. It will be wrist bands and fluorescent socks instead of burlap next season at this rate."
"Who the hell would voluntarily wear burlap?" asks Dubby, innocently.
Roxy laughs, loud and cruel, as she exits the Booty Chest. It’s going to be a fabulous season.
It's still snowing in her office; little drifts are banked up against the door and windows. Roxy perches on the edge of her desk, and watches the street below. She'd prefer to be huddled in a full-length mink coat, but the storeroom with the furs is mysteriously empty. That particular retribution can wait for another day. Right now, she's busy with contemplation, and cold has never really bothered her.
Behind her, snow crunches underfoot as the Middleman approaches. He clears his throat at the threshold.
"In or out. Don't hover, MM."
He pushes a styrofoam cup into her hands: warm and fragrant steam wafts upwards. "Hot chocolate. The good kind. I remember."
Roxy nods and sips from the cup. Snowflakes are settling on the Middleman's shoulders and eyelashes. It's all ridiculously Rockwell.
"You want to talk about it?" he offers, tentatively.
She sighs and looks up at the ceiling. The snowflakes, perhaps sensing her infernal nature, slide right on past her without stopping. "When I reformed, I said 'It will be a cold day in hell if I ever eat another soul.' A demon's vow is as good as a contract. I feel the urge, and the temperature plummets." She sits up straight and looks him in the eye. "But the devil hasn't put on his ice-skates yet, I promise."
He nods. "I don't know if I've ever said this, but I have the greatest respect for your life choices."
Roxy swirls her drink, and watches the foam slowly drift outwards. "You're a man in an ugly jacket, MM, but you have opinions I value."
"It was good working with you, Roxy." He claps her shoulder with brusque camaraderie, and turns to leave.
Roxy smiles to herself and throws back the rest of her hot chocolate. No matter the weather, it's still good to be Roxy Wasserman.