There’s a spot on the roof of the mansion; a corner, facing almost due east, which is in exactly the right place to watch the sun come up.
Nadia makes a point of being there, when she can. One of these days is going to be her last day, and she’ll never get to do this again. She’ll have eternity to play in the dark, to make herself useful, to stay out of Mira’s way, to learn and grow and figure out what the hell is really going on in the world: but she won’t always have the sunrise.
She leans back against the poolhouse roof, wriggling her shoulders against the cool metal strut and resting her arms on the glass, and props her feet against the edge of the roof proper. There hasn’t been a night like this in nearly nine years. A night so… peaceful. A night not spent looking over her shoulder wondering if this is the night Mira loses her shit for good and all time.
Tonight, though? Tonight she’s winning. Tonight she’s spent long hours referencing and cross-referencing, weaving a sleepless web from tome to tome, theory to theory, and in the back pages of Cosetta Giovanni’s diary she’s found something that’s worth taking a risk for.
She should probably tell him.
Nadia takes her eyes off the horizon long enough to find her phone.
“Hey - ”
[“What the hell do you want?”]
“Lovely to speak to you too, Cleaver.”
[“It’s been a long dark night of the soul, dear - get to the point or get fucked. Either’s fine by me.”]
“Ugh. Fine. I’ve tested your little sample. It works. It’s the good shit. It’s all true.”
[“Re-e-ally?”] The studied, airy indifference is gone from his voice. It’s dripping, cloying, creeping like a slow wound, and it leaves a silence Nadia can’t help but fill.
“Yeah, I thought that would get your attention. I spiked Madam - gave her everything you gave me - and she’s been acting weird ever since. Like she’s on a contact high. She smiled at me earlier.” Nadia pauses, her eyes flicking back and forth from the horizon, and she smiles sadly. “Shame you can’t get me any more…”
[“Who says I can’t?”]
“I thought Therese was going crazy over this girl?”
There’s a pause, and then: [“Queen Bitch was born crazy. Aren’t we all? But yes - she’s been out auditioning tonight, and I’m… thinking about the future.”]
Nadia runs her tongue over her teeth and lips. There’s an opportunity here. She can feel it. There’s motive, and a weapon, and a way out for Vandal and for her. All she has to do is say it. Take the next step. Demand the death. What’s watched and studied, what’s cradled and caressed, becomes what’s ordered. Business and pleasure.
“Don’t do anything yet. I want to check something out. I think we can use this.”
[“We, Miss Milliner? I know not we. We is unusual.”]
Nadia drops her voice down low, chasing his drawl through the mess of threats and references that pass for his mind. She can do this, probably. “You mean ‘we are unusual’. And we are… strange and unusual.” She gives herself a beat, lets that sink in, and then: “Come on, Vandal. Please? If it gets us both out of the mess we’re in, won’t it be worth it?”
Maybe a little soft high breath escapes her - or maybe she let it go on purpose. In any case, she hears the catch in his voice, almost lost in the line noise, before he chokes out his horrible little laugh and says: [“Talk dirty to me later, darling. When you have something substantial on the table. I’ll sit on my hands, for now.”]
And then: click. Silence. God damn him.
Still, the sun’s coming up. Nadia leans her head back further, welcoming the light, breathing out a deep sigh. One day, there’ll be no more days. One day soon.
Chloe wakes up slowly. There’s… sunlight. A faint smell of… coffee? Frying? And a strong smell of last night, that special last night smell when you know you did something booze-fuelled and unwise. If she moves, she’s dead. Not in the peril sensitive ‘someone’s gonna kill you’ way, but in the more common or garden ‘my fucking head’ kind of way.
“Oh hey girrrl,” someone says, and thank fuck, it’s Rachel, crossing the floor of their shitty apartment, in T-shirt and boyshorts, grinning fit to raise the dead. Everything is as it should be. Everything is normal.
Chloe tries to sit up and kiss her. It’s a mistake. “What the… oh, fuck. Ow.” Back she goes, rubbing her temples and wiping the drool from her cheek.
“Good morning to you too, sunshine, and what were you up to last night?” Rachel smirks, and if Chloe had the energy to do anything but growl and flail at the hangover fog she’d throw a pillow at that stupid sexy smug face of hers. “You were dead to the world when I came in.”
“Oh, God… ’m sorry, Rache. The guys dragged me out after work. I said ‘one fucking drink, OK’…”
“Chloe. You’re a shitty liar and you know it. You do not pass out like that after ‘one fucking drink’.” Rachel’s mouth turns down at the corners, her eyes roll theatrically, and she offers a credible stab at Chloe’s Oregon drawl.
“I was weak.” Chloe props herself up on an elbow and owww, the rolling wave of pain and sickness in her heavy head practically scatters her brains out on the duvet. “I am paying. Life is pain.”
“Oh, poor baby. You’re lucky I find that weed-and-bourbon cologne of yours so sexy.”
Chloe’s memory throws up something treacherous, something that takes the words out of her mouth and throws them back down her throat, turning her stomach over. Red hair. Grey eyes. Had she… met someone? Had someone made a move on her?
“Are you going to ask how my evening went?” Rachel’s smile grows a little wider, and she brushes her hair back over her shoulder. Who’s this together in the morning? Why is she like this? “Full disclosure: your bacon privileges are at risk here.”
“Unh. Yeah. Sorry. How was your… total non-interview situation… thing?”
“Ms. Voerman loves my ass.”
“Sounds like you got lucky last night…” Rolling onto her side, Chloe squints at her phone - Saturday, ten-thirty-three in the a.m. - and rubs her neck. Smooth and slightly sleep-sticky, like the rest of her. Why doesn’t it hurt? Why doesn’t her hand come away bloody? Why does she think it should? She’s heavy-headed with the hangover but there’s something else, like she’s still drunk - but still happy-drunk, even though she feels like shit.
“How many times do I have to say it? Winners make their own luck.”
This time Chloe does throw the pillow. Her aim’s awful and it hurts to move that fast, but still: worth it. Even if Rachel bats it out of the air. By the time she’s stopped laughing, Chloe’s in the shower - one mad dash and hoping her insides stay inside - and wondering what the hell she did get up to last night.
Halfway through her shower, she remembers, and it’s all she can do to keep herself from retching.
When Chloe’s out of the shower, she has every intention of just laying it out there. This girl came onto me last night, and I was drunk, and… we just made out. I woke up here. I swear I didn’t do anything… serious. But Rachel looks so goddamn happy and the sun through the window makes Chloe’s eyes ache and she still feels sick and all she can smell is sweet, nourishing grease.
“You know what you need?” Rachel says to her, twenty minutes later, after a stack of bacon and French toast have been effectively demolished.
“Time maffine,” says Chloe with her mouth full, “fo I can” - she swallows - “go back to last night and tell myself to stay in like a good girl?” There’s your lead in. Just let her take it, please, God…
“Nuh uh. Medication, baby. When’s the last time you were greened up?”
“Last time we could afford it, which was… fuck. Before we left Arcadia Bay…” Three weeks? It’s the longest Chloe’s gone without a good honest toke in forever.
“Right. So let’s put some of my Voerman dollars to good use.”
“Voerman dollars? You just said she loved your ass. Does she have plans for it? ‘Cause I called shotgun on that years ago.”
“A: you’re gross. B: yes she does. It sounds like she’s looking for some kind of apprentice, which is… too good to be true, almost. She said… acting career while I can, but maybe building up to take the reins of her business when she steps down.”
“So what, star of stage and screen and major property player? Sounds like… everything you ever wanted.” Chloe puts down her fork, staring into the pan rather than meet Rachel’s eyes. Thursday night is still running through her head, and in the back of her mind, she can hear working at the diner forever in her voice and her mother’s. Was it her or was it Joyce? Which of them was first to say it like it was a bad thing? Is it worth her dragging all that up again, or could she just… keep her mouth shut?
“Hey, don’t look so down. I solemnly swear not to let fame and fortune change me. Tell me you wouldn’t want to be a kept woman.”
Chloe smirks, forces herself to snort in a way that sounds a bit like a chuckle. “I’d get bored eventually. There’s only so much fine wine and ogling poolgirls a gal can handle…”
“Pool girls? No way. My millions, my minions.”
“I’m the one who has to look at ‘em all day. No boys please.”
“Fine.” Rachel rolls her eyes, liberates the last of the bacon, and continues: “But anyway. I’m supposed to be meeting Ms. Voerman Monday night to discuss scheduling, and she asked if I have a suit, and I must have hesitated or something, because she gave me one hell of an advance.”
“You know what you said about ‘too good to be true’?”
“I know. But… I trust her.”
“I was nervous at first, but after ten minutes around her I… didn’t really feel much of anything. She’s so… steady. And… nobody can get to where she is without fucking people over, but I can’t see what she’d get from fucking with us. And in the meantime…” Rachel taps her purse, which is lying on the corner of the table, and does seem a little… fatter… than Chloe remembers. Or a lot fatter.
She’s never lied to Rachel. She never will. But it’s not lying if Rachel never asks. All she has to do is stay the fuck away from the Last Round, find out how she got home - probably Tommy and Thunder - and hope they don’t remember. Or don’t care. Or can be stunned into silence with a well-applied pizza roll each.
Whatever keeps that smile on Rachel’s face is fine by her.
xxx_jEAnEttE: are you happy, sister blister?
She rolls her eyes, as one handset slips from her fingers and another settles into her palm, and her mind slides like mercury between gearwheels and she’s Therese again, and isn’t rolling her eyes just what Therese would do? Of course it is. She knows herself. Who else is there to know? Really, why do people waste time with these absurd speculations?
Therese: As it happens, yes, I am… satisfied with the state of affairs. And I can tell you’re happy, because you’re being especially insufferable.
Insufferable. Insalubrious. Lewd to the very bone - and sweetmeat, wouldn’t you be? If God had reached down with the shiniest fickle finger of fate and blessed you with a body like Jeanette’s, wouldn’t you make the most of it? Of course you would, cutiepie, so turn that frown upside down and get your hands down your pants instead of playing with that boring Blackberry. Jeanette’s is better. It’s got accessories. And a really good vibration.
Also, you said ‘bone’. Hashtag-giggles.
xxx_jEAnEttE: wouldn’t you be if you had this much to look forward to?
Therese: No details. Please. I had a very successful evening, and I love you just enough to say “don’t ruin it for me.”
xxx_jEAnEttE: oh fine, sour-pussy. i'll be over here getting ruined, mm-mm. don’t forget about our deal, though…
Therese: I haven’t forgotten.
xxx_jEAnEttE: you get a night with your new girlfriend and i get a WHOLE WEEKEND with my boyfriend
Therese: I said I haven’t forgotten!
xxx_jEAnEttE: then go to sleep and let me get laid already, why doncha?
Therese: Ugh. Fine. I’ll talk to you on Monday. But please, have a shower before you wake me. A long one.
Jeanette blinks her mismatched eyes. Is that - is she - are they - am I - very good, very very good! Better than bubblegum and sex on the beach, baby!
She catapults herself upright, throwing the bedclothes across their apartment, and slaps her thigh to Daddy on the wall, glaring out of the painting. Every night she comes out on top is another birdie flippedie-doo-dahed to the old bastard, and tonight’s her night. Shame about Therese’s girlfriend’s girlfriend, but maybe she can lean on B and swing something out of security’s creepy little fingers. He’s such a grateful boy.
Now. Golden rule. Don’t forget.
Boots, then corset.
Thomas and Rodney Sears are not small men. They are quite the opposite. Large, imposing, heavily tattooed, rough hands; they look like they can throw down if they have to, and like they’ve had to.
The other man in the trailer-turned-office with them is a small man. He’s drowning in an overlarge hoodie, stretched too tight over his head; there are blotches the size of burst oranges showing through the heavy fabric. There’s a cheap, threadbare Goodwill suit over the top of it: ugly Seventies style, bad cut, shiny with wear. And he reeks: the air around him seems tainted, like it should be discoloured by gasoline and still water and mould.
The brothers Sears are careful to keep the table between him and themselves. They are on one side of it, and he is on the other, and the four feet of space between them simmers with tension.
“What’s up, B?” Tommy says, finally. “You usually call, so…”
“Relax, Tommy.” The visitor’s voice is throaty, corrugated with catarrh: his tone’s light enough, but nothing could bubble up through that and sound anything close to pleasant. “I was in the neighbourhood, and I passed by your gates and I thought, why not stop in and say hi?”
“Good to see you, dude.” Thunder nods, but his eyes don’t move - they stay fixed on a point that keeps B firmly out of his sight line.
“I’m sure.” Two hands - lumpy, arthritic things, distended clubs in heavy gloves - hover over the desk, flicking through the in-tray almost absent-mindedly. “How did yesterday go? Any trouble?”
“No trouble.” Tommy tugs at his collar, sliding a finger inside and wheezing without trying to. “She’s not as tough as she acts. Got white girl wasted and got lucky; we had to prise her off some chick and she passed out in the car. You, uh. You cleared up her… problem?”
“We’ll find out tonight. I can have someone keep an eye on her, though. For safety’s sake.” The gloved hands stop, plucking a flimsy third-copy sheet from the pile. “And, ah,” B sniggers, holding up the flimsy like it was there in his hand all along, “I’m sure you can do something for me. It won’t find its way back to you, but neither will the car. I need a wreck - something you won’t mind losing. This’ll do. Runyon Canyon; get it up there by, let’s say Tuesday.”
“That’s just a hull. How come you’re moving into scrap metal?”
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” B sets the paper down on the table, and neither of the Sears is prepared to comment on the blotches, or the way it’s almost translucent where his fingertips have been. “Just… lose it in transit. These things happen. I’ll write you a buyer’s note. No blame attaches: no C.O.D.”
“B, this sort of thing gets around. I don’t mind hiring out to you, but we can’t afford to…”
The hooded head bobs up. There’s a glimpse of something underneath it; a dull metal gleam, a hint of a flat nose and sallow, lined face. Something drips down a heavy cheekbone.
“Disappoint your customers?”
“We’re a three man show. It’s hard for something to fall off the back of a truck.” Tommy’s holding his breath, trying not to show it; he coughs like he’s just lit up his last cigarette.
“Your reputation is your problem. Now, I’m running late, and I don’t want to keep a lady waiting, so you two are just gonna have to make up your own cover, if you don’t like mine. I’ll see myself out.”
It’s a full ten seconds between the click of the door closing and Tommy daring to breathe out again.
“Fuck me, he stinks.”
Thunder opens the desk, tugs out a canned air-freshener, blasts the path between the desk and the door. As he opens the latter, leaning out to take a hit of fresh air, he chuckles.
“Did he say he was meeting a girl? Man. It’s her I feel sorry for.”