Chapter 17

Submitted by Zombieman on Wed, 12/12/2018 - 01:16

At eleven in the morning room service brought up a huge breakfast. I looked at Ruby, who was sitting up in bed as they brought it in. Neither of us is a prude, and our lack of clothing was normal when we were sleeping.

“Excuse me.” I managed as my hand groped for a light and Ruby shrank under the covers.

“I am sorry, sir. Were you not aware we were coming? I assumed there would be a call. We were told to bring the food into the bedroom for service. Breakfast in bed, as it were.”

“I didn’t order this.”

“No, sir, you did not. Mister Andro sends this with his compliments. There is a car and driver at your disposal downstairs, and he asked me which of these venues you would like to attend this evening.” The young man was sweating slightly.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Brian, sir.”

“Okay, Brian if you and the girl could, uh, back out of our bedroom for 30 seconds so my guest and I could at least pull on robes, I would very much appreciate it.”

He blushed slightly and nodded, “As you say, sir, Mister Andro said you were naturalists and not to mind your state of undress.”

“I’ll bet he did. Scoot out of here, compadre.”

Brian and the other server moved out of the room, leaving the door cracked slightly. The food carts held enough to feed a small army, and the smell was divine. “You hungry, sugar?”

“Billy! In our own room? Who is Mister Andro?” She raised a hand to her mouth, “He doesn’t mean Andro-Andro? What have you done, Billy?!”

“Relax, go pull on a nighty or a robe and let’s eat.” I hopped out of bed and fished around on the floor for my boxers. On top of those, I pulled a robe and sat myself down at the small table near the balcony.

Ruby retreated to the bathroom, and I called Brian in.

He and his assistant immediately popped inside, and he poured me a large mug of coffee and set it down in front of me. He didn’t add anything to it, he also poured Ruby a cup and added a huge dollop of cream and two sugars, just the way she takes it. The young woman put a small plate of fruit in front of me a moment later. Ruby came out of the bathroom and joined me for the best breakfast I’ve had in my life. Not the best pancakes, I skipped those as I already have a favorite in that department, but everything else was superb.

Brian and his aid disappeared like magic when the meal was over, leaving only a full pot of coffee between Ruby and I before he left.

“Okay, spill it, what did you do?” Ruby asked glaring at me over the rim of her coffee cup.

“I gambled a bit, went and got us new phones to use and then stopped by the Giza to see Andro.”

“I didn’t know you knew him.”

“Everybody knows him.”

“Everybody knows OF him. I’m sure not everyone can stop in on him at what? Six in the morning unannounced.” Said Ruby.

“I wasn’t sure he would see me.” I confessed, “It turns out he was awake and phoned me on up to his penthouse. You know I met him in Auroria back in the day. Before he moved stateside.”

“Why?” Ruby’s question was pointed, she seemed irritated.

“I don’t know. I wondered if he knew what was going on. All these shiners dying and the Ramos Cartel breeding their own super army. I think he knew about most of it.”

“So why did he order us breakfast? And let us use his car and driver?”

“I have no idea. I’m sure we won’t be using his personal car and driver, just one of his cars and drivers. Brian left us this.” I held up a letter that listed three different shows playing tonight, all were class ‘A’ celebrities, and I knew two of the shows were sold out months in advance.

Ruby looked the list over and pointed at the top female pop star who was playing, “Can we? I mean, do you mind that much?”

“I told you, anything you want. I don’t see what you do in her. I mean she isn’t a talentless hack or anything, but she’s just not that entertaining to me.” I raised a hand up, “But this is for you, so yes, we’ll go see her.” I called Brian and gave him Ruby’s selection, his only reply was that the tickets would be in the car and did we want him to arrange suitable dinner reservations before the show. I told him to knock himself out and hung up.

“So where to, sugar?”

“Shopping. I’ll need something nice.”

“Shopping it is, and something nice you shall have. I’ll even let you choose my outfit, so long as it’s comfortable.”

“Really? Oh, Billy, we’re going to be dressed to the nines tonight!”

I winced a little, knowing what she’d saved us on the suite was going to be doubled or tripled down, that’s the way Ruby worked, give a little, take what she can when the opportunity presents itself. But I’d just won seven grand that morning, and Andro saved me a bundle on a much better show than I could even have procured tickets for on my own. If I left Sin City with a thousand more than when I arrived, I’d count that as a success.

As it turned our Andro hadn’t just given us a car and driver, but also a personal assistant and an assistant to his assistant. The three of them all sat up front with the glass partition closed, and I didn’t even know we had an entourage until we arrived at the Diamond in the Sands Mall and they all trundled out like clowns from a circus car.

“What’s all this then?” I asked Carson, the driver.

“Sir, Mister Andro thought you might enjoy the company of his personal assistant today, may I present Miss Ava Cathis. Here to assist with any baggage is George Slater.”

“Pleased to meet you all.” I said, Ruby and I both shook hands with our new companions. “This really wasn’t necessary; I think we can spend money pretty well ourselves.”

Ava looked Ruby and I up and down, “Miss Ruby looks like she knows her way around the latest fashions, but, forgive me for saying so, but Mister Greer, you could use a little forward dating in your wardrobe.”

Ruby laughed, and I shrugged and nodded, “Yeah, I told Ruby she could help me pick out an outfit today.”

“Liar! You said I could pick out an outfit and I’m holding you to that, Billy!”

True, I had, so I just shrugged again and looked to George for some sympathy. There was none to be found there. In fact, upon closer examination, George was not the assistant to the assistant, not as a regular job. First, he was muscular; but not muscle bound, which meant the extra bulk on his torso was body armor. As I shook his hand, I had noticed something strapped to his wrist, at first I thought it had been a tattoo, but now, from how his long shirt was hanging, it was obviously something else. Perhaps a firearm, perhaps a long knife.

“All right. You can go to town on me, but if I look like a clown for the concert, I’m going to have a hard time pretending to be happy.”

“Don’t worry, Mister Greer, associates of Andro are not permitted to ever look like clowns in a public venue.” Ava said.

I wasn’t sure I liked her saying I was Andro’s associate and a warm feeling in my head let me know Charlene, if she were actually there, agreed with me. The feeling quickly cut off after I thought about it. So, she was reading my thoughts. Kind of unfair, huh? You picking my brain, but me not having the same intimate insight into what the hell you are doing with me?

“Don’t you worry Billy, between Ava and I, you’ll be looking aces for tonight.” Ava said.

Aces. Just what I needed.

The first purchase we made came with another surprise, Ava paid for it. “Your money is no good today, Mister Greer, Andro insists.”

I couldn’t contain myself, “Why?”

“For services rendered. He said you would understand.”

I did understand. The man works fast. I looked at Ruby’s pleading eyes and nodded, “Well, I will not turn down his generosity. Please let him know I am very pleased to have been of service to him and look forward to perhaps, one day, working with him again.”

She nodded and the shopping began in earnest. I had been afraid when Ava led us to a member’s only section of the mall, for good reason, it turns out. The shops there had full staff and prices that would make your eyes water. I think the midday snack for Ruby and I cost over a grand. All I had was fresh lemonade, a small sampler of stuffed peppers and some sort of bacon wrapped seafood bites. Ruby ate less than that. The menu didn’t come with prices, only descriptions of the food. Most of the stores operated on the same principal, none of them, so far as I saw, took any form of payment from Ava.

After that slight repast, we hit a salon and got the edges taken off by highly paid experts, including a mani-pedi for her. Although I tried to decline such frivolous procedures, a male manicurist took me by the hand, and I was forced to let him proceed after receiving stern looks from Ruby and Ava. My hands smelled like a manly pine forest by the time Gary was done with me and as I left to wait out the rest of Ruby’s treatment he pressed his card into my hand with the words, “I’d love to hook up with you later, just call me and I’ll be where ever you are in a flash.” It was a decidedly sexual exchange accompanied by a slight squeeze on my arm. I found myself nodding and stepping away from him towards George, who stood in a waiting area and gestured for me to take a seat.

What the hell just happened? I’m not perfect, have my issues, and I’ll be the first to admit homophobia is one of them. Normally I would have shoved the guy away, maybe yelled at him. Had I been drunk, violence may have ensued. Now…my dick was hard at the thought of calling him. It was my ride along.

Charlene this can’t happen. You gotta deal with your pent up sexual frustration some other way than through me. I was seated on the bench, and it was a good thing too. The pain I’d felt after Slice had cut off my limbs was back, I grunted and fumbled at my right arm with my left, making sure the limb wasn’t falling off inside the jacket I wore.

“Mister Greer, are you okay?”

I nodded, and sweat broke out on my forehead as Charlene kept up the pain.

“Do you need something to drink? Is your tie on too tightly?” George loosened my tie and steadied me as I tried to double over on the bench.

“Pain.” I spit out between clenched teeth. “From my injuries. It’ll pass.” I hope.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Keep me from causing a scene.”

George stood and unobtrusively steadied me with one hand while looking up and down the concourse as if scanning them for threats.

Charlene, you have to stop, you’re hurting me. Don’t you feel this?

The pain let off for a moment, a pulse of time only and then started back in, worse if anything, than it had been before. Some saint you are torturing people to get what you want. Torturing me so you can…fornicate!

The pain stopped, and I felt a flush of guilt flood through me. I wasn’t sure it was from saying what I did or from her doing what she did. My mouth voiced words that didn’t come from my brain, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

“You were just injured.” George said, mistaking my words for him. He maintained a steady hand on my shoulder, “I thought you were healed from saint, what’s-her-name?”

“Charlene. At the Abbey of Saint Walburga.”

So now my mouth wasn’t wholly mine anymore? I already figured anything I thought she could listen in on. I was determined that there not be any misunderstandings in our relationship. What I don’t understand is why this is only one way? Why do you get to hear my thoughts and provoke unexpected reactions in my body but I can’t even communicate with you? Of course, there was no answer. That would have made my life easier.

“All better?” George asked, finally releasing his hold on my shoulder.

“I think its passed. Things didn’t go as expected with Sister Charlene when I visited. I have some pain from time to time. The docs don’t know why.”

George pointed to a copy of USA Today that he had been reading, the story was in the paper’s shiners section, “Charlene has moved on to be with the father” the byline was ‘Archdioceses source confirms God called Charlene home.’

“Jesus wept.” I said.

“So they say. What’s it like to know you scared off the earth’s only miracle worker?”

I flashed him a smile, “Oh, I think it’s premature to say she’s gone forever.”

His brow wrinkled, “What are you saying?”

“Maybe she’s just resting and will get back to healing people in a few days or weeks. Maybe she was tired of being used by the church to heal those who could pay. Maybe she is out there right now healing those who need it most?”

George grunted and nodded, “I always thought that was a scam run by the church. Healing the wealthiest while the rest of us were left to rot.”

“Well, old time religion says God shows his favor for the worthy by showering them with wealth.”

“So Andro is the most loved of God.” George grunted he looked around quickly to see if anyone else had heard him.

“You’re a shiner.”

He nodded.

“So he’s been at you then, Andro?”

“It’s a job requirement.”

“What did he do to you?”

“I can’t say. I wish people would stop asking.”

Interesting ‘can’t’ not ‘I don’t want to.’ “If you say something do you lose the edge he gave you?”

“Look, Billy, this isn’t something I’m going to talk about. Not with you, not now, not ever. I can say this; I’m not as afraid as some to see through the veil Andro casts about himself. He’s no god, if there is one. He is, however, very powerful.”

“Okay. I understand. I won’t ask you any more questions about what you went through. What’s it like working for him otherwise?”

“Lucrative.”

“I take it you’re not normally the assistant to his personal assistant.”

“No. I work in asset protection and recovery.”

“Is that what they call goons these days?”

He scoffed and shook his head, “Goon? I’m hardly a goon! I outclass a goon by a country mile. Ando doesn’t keep goons close to him. Not that he doesn’t employ them, just that I rose above the rabble years ago.”

“You don’t look older than twenty-five.”

“Thirty-five.”

My face must have shown my surprise. “Jesus Christ, I’m thirty-five.”

George looked me up and down, “You need to work out more.”

“Thanks, way to ruin my day, George.”

“Here after your boyfriend, Gary there, made it for you too.”

“Fuck you.”

“Him, maybe, me, no. I don’t swing that way, bro.”

Our exchange could have gone downhill from there, but Ava wandered over to make sure I wasn’t getting too bored, and George clammed up when she was around. After she wandered back to check Ruby, George didn’t seem too inclined to continue our conversation, so I let it go.

By the time we left the mall, we had burdened George down with packages so much that he had to be assisted by two mall staff members with carrying our goods out. Ava didn’t pack the goods in the trunk of our limo, she called another car to pick them up and deliver them to our hotel.

Ava did ride in back with us this time and pulled out a smart slate to get directions to our dinner reservation. She nodded in approval at whatever Brian had set up for us and told Carson where to go.

Dinner was an elegant affair, but I felt rushed to get through it. There was no ordering, we arrived and were presented with dishes to select from and eat. Overall it was excellent, but over in less than an hour, hardly time to dawdle. The tickets we had were for catered private balcony seats at the venue and came with backstage passes and tickets to the after-party. After dinner we made a brief stop at the hotel, a different hotel, I might add and a much nicer suite. All of our luggage had not only been moved but also hung in the closets and places in the drawers. My gun had been taken from the car, cleaned, oiled and placed in the bedside nightstand, no doubt Andro had a complete inventory of my stuff by now. On the one hand, I could complain, on the other…I shook my head and said, “Isn’t this just wonderful?” I plastered a fake smile on my face, and I think Ruby bought it.

Ava acted like she did as well before leading my lady off to dress for the show. That left me with Carson, who acted as my butler, overseeing my quick shower at the other end of the suite and buttoning the buttons as needed.

“Do you do this a lot?” I asked him as he helped me.

“It’s part of the job.”

“So we sort of got interrupted earlier, do you really like working for Andro?”

“He is an extremely generous employer who values loyalty, initiative, and expertise. He is my dream employer. I don’t like working for him; I love working for him.”

Huh, it seemed like his tune had changed a little from earlier. “You’re a lucky guy, to find such a good position.”

Carson shook his head, “He found me. Or rather, George did. I’m a good driver, and I’m training to be a good people person. Andro pays for everything says investing in his people is what will keep him in business. May I ask you something?”

“Sure.” I had the feeling this wasn’t a normal discussion for his job.

“Why don’t you want to work for him?”

“I’ve known him a long time. I mean I met him a long time ago and had several run-ins with him before he really became a public figure. I don’t think I really know him at all.” I shrugged, “I haven’t had much reason to work for anyone else in a long time. What I do is more like independent contracting. This lets me be my own boss; I can say no if something comes up that I don’t want to do. Can you?”

“Absolutely.”

“Would you?”

“No.”

“See? That’s what I need. The ability to say no and the ability to do so.”

Carson shook his head, “I think you misunderstood me. I can’t conceive of being in a situation where I wasn’t on board with what I was asked to do.”

“Let’s hope that never happens then.”

“It won’t.”

Ah to be so sure of myself again! “So am I going to look like an idiot tonight?”

“Ava wouldn’t let that happen. Here, take a look.” I checked myself out in a full-length mirror that probably cost more than I had won at the tables this morning. The sight caused me to whistle, long and low.

“I can’t believe it. I don’t even know who that is.” The change was so great that this was literally true. I looked nothing like the slob that had woken up and looked in the mirror this morning. If my change was out of this world, what happened to Ruby was something from another galaxy. What had Andro said about her, ‘She would have been a success years ago if she had wanted to be...’? I saw his point when I looked at her.

If Ruby mistook my slack-jawed stare for dislike she was crazy, “Well?” she demanded.

“He’s stunned darling. Like a deer in your headlights.” Ava stage whispered.

“I…I don’t know what to say. You look marvelous. You look magnificent. You’re a pinup girl, a photo of you would keep a teenaged boy warm every night during a long winter. You’re…beautiful, only ‘beautiful’ doesn’t begin to describe how wonderful you look.”

“I think you impressed him.” Ava said.

She had, her white dress shimmered slightly in the light, creating an almost translucent quality, which was accented to show the skin in strategic positions and hide it in others. It was modest without modesty. It was the perfect dress for a woman who wanted to walk naked through a crowd, yet have the confidence of being fully clothed. A simple low heel accented the garment, and the jewelry she was wearing wasn’t anything we’d bought during our shopping spree this afternoon.

“You really like it?” Ruby asked.

“It only makes me wonder why a girl like you is hanging off of my arm.”

“Oh, now, you clean up real well yourself, Billy. I wouldn’t have believed a haircut, and new clothing could make you look so…sharp. Why don’t you always dress like that?”

“Doll, this outfit is probably worth more than all my other clothing combined.”

She looked me up and down, tugged at a sleeve and fiddled with my collar. When she was done, she stepped back, “It ain’t too tight, is it? It’s comfortable like you wanted?”

“It’s perfect. I’d put up with some discomfort just to be the man on your arm tonight.”

“Good. I’m glad you don’t have to, but it’s nice to hear you say it. Ava and Carson are coming with us.”

I had noticed that Ava was dressed up as well, she didn’t outshine Ruby, but I’m sure she wasn’t supposed to. I cast a glance at Carson, and he was pulling on an expensive shirt as we stood talking.

“George is coming along too, a fifth wheel, but Andro insisted he tag along.”

Great. “I enjoy his company. I’m sure he is a fan of Miss Bircus and wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

“He’ll be unobtrusive. Are we ready Carson?”

“In a minute, mum.”

I thought he said ‘ma’am,' but realized he hadn’t when I saw the look on Ruby’s face. Ava, watching us both burst out laughing, “No, he is not my son, it’s a nickname I earned when we were in Britain on business. Carson overheard their juniors using it as a sign of deference to the senior women. Not senior as in old, just in rank. He started it, and it’s caught on. Ready yet, Carly?”

“Yes, I’ll finish tightening on the way over.”

We filed out of the room to the elevator, there was a security guard standing there. Either I had missed him on the way up, or he was new.

“Good afternoon.” He said, giving us a friendly smile. “Be careful out there tonight, the nosferatu are thick.” Nosferatu – reporters, muckrackers, flasheyes, annoying people hounding celebrities. I didn’t think they would hound us, but given that Ruby looked like an ‘A’ list celebrity they might. I’m sure Chief Kester would be proud to see me on the front of the morning edition of the ‘National Crier.’

We continued down and met George at the car. Carson got into the front passenger seat and let George drive. George didn’t have far to take us and when we arrived he dropped us at a side entrance. We made our way inside the venue without so much as a cat-call or the flash of a camera. I think Ruby was a little disappointed about that, but she didn’t say anything. We bellied up to a private lounge for the higher class ticket holders and waited for George to join us before we went up to our booth. The booth had seating for eight, but Ava informed me we would be the only people using it.

Larken Biscus was a recently come of age pop star who was riding high on the rave reviews of her third album, ‘Unslaved.' She had come fresh from the television where she had been the main singing star on a popular kid’s cable station for years. This tour was to celebrate her new-found financial independence from her parents, which had been paraded in the courts and papers for years. Her sexual coming of age had happened very publicly two years earlier upon reaching the age of 16 with a host of videos and pornography, deemed ‘pedophilic’ in nature. She was rumored to be a liberal user of both male and female flesh in front of the flasheyes, much to her parent’s disapproval. Having attained the ripe old age of 18 she was finally ‘free’ from her parent's grip on her finances. ‘Unslaved’ had been in the number one spot for the last four weeks, with two of her songs in the top transfer category online. This was all conveyed to me by Carson, I found her public mess of a life to be more infatuating than any of her music was. The lawsuits between her and her parents had just begun anew, with them filing to freeze her assets from Unslaved before she ever earned a dime. Their justification was that the creative content of her album had happened, and most of her songs had been recorded before she turned 18.

“It sounds to me like she might need a good private eye at some point.” I said to George when the girls, with Carson, had gone down to the powder room.

“She might.” He nodded.

“Who’s fronting her lifestyle at the moment, if all of her money is frozen?” The question hung there for a moment before I nodded and said, “You’re kidding? Andro? The guy is in everything.”

“He likes to keep a finger in a lot of different things.”

I laughed at this; Andro has no fingers, just a highly prehensile tail.

“You’ll meet her, you know.” George said.

“What?”

“The after party. We have tickets to that, so you’re going to meet Miss Bircus there.”

“Huh. So you’ll meet her too. Or have you met her before?”

George shook his head, “Me? Oh no, not yet. I mean she plays here fairly regularly, but I’ve never pulled duty for her, if you understand.”

“Are you excited at the opportunity?”

“More like a bit scared.”

“Why?”

“She…likes new things. New men, new women. I’d hate to catch her eye in that manner.”

“Oh come on? Like you wouldn’t get conjugal with her?”

George actually blushed and then stammered, “She’s had a lot of partners. I’d be afraid of how I stacked up.”

“You know, I hadn’t really thought on it like that.” I shrugged, “Nah. I’d be okay.”

With a laugh, George asked, “So you rate pretty highly among your past conquests?”

“What? No, probably not, but I don’t think I’d be in it, uh, her, with the idea of measuring up. I’d just be the best I could be and hope she was happy with a ‘C’ or ‘B’ performance if I didn’t make the ‘A’ list.”

George raised his pint of beer and toasted “Here’s hoping we get the chance.”

“To opportunity.” We clinked glasses and drained the beers just as Ruby and Ava arrived, followed closely by a waiter who dropped two fresh brews in front of us.

The opening band was good, bordering on great, The Burning Lips were more of a show band, with giant inflatables for the audience to play with and loads of confetti shooting cannons. Their music was catchy, and the lead singer looked more like an unshaven hippy than an astute artist. He was older than I was, probably in his early 50’s. Nonetheless what he orchestrated was pure art that not only warmed the crowd, it made us call the band back for an encore.

Finally, TBL left the stage, and the lights went out. A nervous rustling started in the audience, a noise that was amplified through the speakers, which slowly started to get louder, a pinpoint of light hit the front of the stage, which now protruded out a few meters into the audience, just to the edge of the area cordoned off by security. An angelic voice whispered to the crowd, crooning a soothing lullaby that grew in tempo so slowly I couldn’t tell you when it birthed into an actual song.

It ended with Larken screaming to a deep bass and morphing into her number one song of the moment. Ruby was right there screaming along with the fan girls, and I couldn’t help but notice Carson was mouthing the same words. Only George kept his working face on, and he stayed well back from the balcony in the shadows.

The concert covered all the hits of Larken’s first two albums, most of which had been absorbed into my subconscious from repeated playing on the short wave. She also completely sang her new album and as a closer tossed in a couple of cover songs by older generations. Overall I was happy to have made the show. My old grandfather always says you pay for talent and talent is always worth watching, even if you’re uninterested in the genre, talent can pull you in. Larken pulled me in. Despite her youth and her parent troubles she had talent and deserved to be on that stage with us throwing money at her.

The show wound up, and four out of five of the people in the box were content. George never cracked so much as a smile, but I had six beers in me by then, so maybe I was reading disapproval in him where there was none.

Ruby leaned into me as we made our way downstairs, “Well? What did you think?”

“It was only outshined by you tonight, darling.”

“Stop, Billy!”

“I don’t think I can. Are you good for the after party or do we need a refreshment before George chauffeurs us over?”

George turned and said, “Park it in the bar, while I get the car. I’ll buzz Carson when I’m to the curb, that will probably take twenty minutes or so, even with this small of a venue.”

I soon understood what he meant; the crowd was lingering. Ava steered us out of the bar and past the thugs guarding the stage, showing them our passes, which I had completely forgotten about taking advantage of. There was a small crowd back there as well, but it was refreshing empty in the large space.

We found a cozy nook to watch the crew work breaking down the stage and from where we could keep an eye out for anyone from the bands. The hippie lead singer from The Burning Lips stepped into our nook with an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth. He pulled up short when he saw us and said, “Excuse me, I was just about to fag it up. Do ya mind?” Foreign accent, English? Australian? I could place it.

“No, go right ahead, I wouldn’t mind one myself.” Ruby said with a sign, her small purse was adequate only for holding her identification cards and a couple high denomination bills; she had left her cigarettes back at the hotel. I could relate, I’d not had a cigar in more than a day, and the craving was already on me.

“Here, then.” The singer spoke, “Fag all around, I hate smoking alone.”

He passed out cigarettes to, “I’m usually more of a cigar man, myself.”

“Of course you are mate, of course you are. So what have we here then?” He pulled my lanyard up and scanned the pass dangling from it, “I’ll be seeing more of you lot in an hour or so won’t I?”

“Yes, I’m so excited, I’ve never been to one of these before.” Ruby said.

“Well, love, I’ll be your psychedelic guide to the performer’s ball. I can point out which little pills to take for happiness and which ones to keep you hard or keep you soft. For this one,” he nodded my way and let my lanyard go, “I’ll even find a cigar, though I can’t guarantee the providence of it.”

“I have to say…well, first who are you?” I asked. “I mean I know you’re the lead singer of the Burning Lips, but I have to say I’d never heard of you before tonight.”

He nodded, “Good. That’s what I like to here, you know the band’s name and you didn’t know who we were before tonight, but you do now. This tour is good publicity for the Lips. It’s all I could hope for. Cain Moila.” He put his hand forward, and I shook it. I took the opportunity to introduce him to my companions as well.

“That’s quite an act you have too. A real show, not just good singing, it’s creative and…and brilliant!” Aw shit, I sound like a goddamned teenager.

“Wait a minute, bloke.” Cain looked at me. “You’re that guy…you’re the shiner, the stumpy one who got his legs back and raped Saint Charlene!”

“What? What did you say?”

“You hadn’t seen? Wait here a minute, mate!” He took off back toward his dressing room, “Charlie! Hey, Charlie, where’s the Nat Crier at? Yeah, todays!”

“Do you know what he’s talking about?” I asked Ava and Carson.

Both of them took long pulls on their cigarettes and looked anywhere but at me. Shit, they knew.

Cain came back and thrust the National Crier into my hands, there was a photograph of me giving the speech at the Governor’s office yesterday morning under the headlines, “Compass Rapes Saint Charlene” with a byline of “Matron Mother describes the attack inside.”

My blood started to boil, but a firm hand on my shoulder brought me away from the front page, “Gotta roll with it, mate. The nosferatu say anything to sell papers. Get a few copies to keep for when you’re an old man, with 20 years this will become the most hilarious thing about you ever written.”

I tried a smile on, and he nodded. “That’s the way.” He fumbled another cigarette into his mouth, lit it and passed it over to me. “You knocked me and Larken off the front page too.” He pointed down the page to another story, ‘Larken working out daddy issues with washed up rocker Cain.'

This did cause me to laugh, “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it. Why didn’t they tell me I had a hero in the house tonight? I’d have announced you and gone off on some tirade about the Nat Crier. Defended your honor for you. We have to stick together in the hard times. You know what I mean?” His face was only centimeters from mine, “Yeah! You know what I mean.”

We were interrupted by a man with a tablet, who yelled, “No smoking inside. Damn it Cain! I told you that, you’re going to get us barred…and you lot! Put the fucking cigarettes out now!”

Cain, one arm around my shoulders said, “Don’t listen to Charlie, he’s sensitive. A place that smells so much like urine and stale beer can only be improved with a little cigarette smoke. Charlie, this here is Compass.” Cain’s arm came off my shoulder and grabbed the Crier out of my hands, “This Compass.”

“What…” I saw realization down on Charlie’s face as he looked from me to the paper, “Oh fuck…we gotta use this. Compass, I mean, pleased to meet you Mister Compass, can I call you Mister Compass?”

“Billy is fine.”

“Billy, can you ride over to the after party with Cain? Or do you have a lift already?”

“I have a ride and I somehow think not taking it isn’t an option tonight. Besides, I’m not sure I feel in the mood to go to an after party now. Me being a rapist and all.”

The brought about a collective groan from the small gathering, with everyone talking at once.

“Billy! You promised!” complained Ruby.

“Mister Greer you can’t let that rag get to you!” Ava said.

“The party will make it all better, mate!” Cain assured me.

“Alright, alright.” I raised my hands, “Lay off I’ll go and be my happy self, okay?”

“Good, can I catch a ride with you lot then?” Cain asked.

I looked at Ava, and she nodded vigorously.

“Sure.”

Cain had caught my look to Ava, but didn’t say anything about it, only, “Alright who needs a beer or water or smokes?”

“No smoking!” Charlie yelled.

Cain’s smokes turned out to be entirely different from his fags, and while I steered clear of them, I couldn’t help but catch the fumes second hand. Ava and Carson must have had the night off because they passed around the drugs like old pros. Charlie disappeared, then came back with two cans of air freshener, which he sprayed around like a maniac. Through the smoke and cherry vanilla scent of the air freshener, I learned that Charlie was ‘The Flaming Lips’ marketing manager.

Within half an hour George sent Carson some words via his phone and we trundled out of the backstage to where the limo was waiting. He didn’t bat an eye at the addition of Cain and we were on our way to the after party in short order. The event was held at our new hotel, only a floor up from our own. I wondered why Andro hadn’t moved us to the Giza, which I knew he owned outright. Maybe it’s to show me what else he owns.

The hotel had laid out a traditional red carpet, and we debarked onto it in front of a slew of reporters and cameras.

“Are we supposed to get out into this mess?” I asked.

“Yes.” Cain said, he helped everyone from the car, and the volume of flashes went up as Ruby made an appearance. Finally, I was alone in the limo, wondering if George could just drive me around to the side entrance.

Cain popped his head back into the back and grabbed my arm, “C’mon you, don’t be the odd stick.” He dragged me out of the car into the spotlight and for a moment everything just stopped. There was a collective sigh of what I took for disappointment, then someone gasped and a camera flash went off, followed by a chorus of others. Ruby took one arm, Cain held onto the other, and the two of them marched me toward the front of the hotel. The doors opened and Larken Bircus herself, wearing scraps of material so narrow I couldn’t dignify them with the definition of ‘clothing,' came rushing forth to embrace all three of us. She literally danced around us on the balls of her bare feet, asking how we enjoyed the show and were we looking forward to the after party? Her eyes kept focusing on Ruby no matter who the questions were aimed at, attention Ruby melted under.

The last thing Miss Bircus let the muckrakers hear as she pulled us into the lobby was “Ruby, you’re overdressed! Don’t worry, we’ll get you comfortable upstairs!”