Chapter XIX

“It’s a crazy old, muddy ol’ world, Piercey P,” Mewsy slurs to her Gin Gin. It’s risky, of course, getting pickled in here once the front doors are open, but one does feel decently sure this particular corner is murky enough to be safe. She melts herself into the fossilized valances as a gentleman pair wanders in, heading back to the booths.

“You said it, Ms Stone,” says Big Piercey, tidying his workspace.

“Say, PP, I couldn’t interest you, say, in a little side job, say a slippery throatie or a poop-chute ‘tuation?”

“Oh, that’s kind of you, Miss, but I’m the only one on for this whole evening shift, so…”

“Sure, sure. Say no more, say no more. And one does respect, one does honour the claim of my pal and our colleague, dear Gams.”

Sound of clinking as Piercey hangs up the clean coupes. Then: “Can I get you anything else, Ms Stone? Tall glass of soda, or…?”

“Nothing, dear fella, I ask of you nothing. You’ve been most obliging. And the company, the company is first-rate. So fit and so neutral, so gen’rously neutral, it’s a balm, Piercey boy.”

He says nothing to that, but – truly – it’s companionable nothing. Mewsy takes a shaggy breath, straightens herself, and heads out into the cooling air.

She sings. From the first little rise in the dune she hollers “L’aurora, più bella di ogni speranza” and “Roll Down the Shutters on the Landau, Maeve”. She warbles “Sternenklare Nacht”, appropriately… and that makes her think of Futkas, who loved to play Max Baeumler on the second-floor wind-up. He was quite the gentleman then, before he started visiting at night. Those gently boozy teas by the gram’ are still sunlit in her mind.

A voice behind her says:

“        stars clear, cold
sand warm
between them, woman sings      ”

Is Mewsy surprised? Yes, surely — but the Gin Gins have softened her, and besides: one does expect to be watched.

“Who’s lurking there?” she says teasingly, directing a sidelong gaze at the whole bank of shadows under the portico so as not to be caught out playing vamp to a lamp.

“That’s Dawson Collins. Well, it’s his translation.” Lazy Baker steps down into the starlight.

“How perfect to catch you away from the crowd, Lazephine,” Mewsy coos, narrowing her eyes to appraise. “You know you’re the absolute Sphinx of this mansion of mysteries.”

Baker goes on, “There’s a Collins for every occasion. Most of it plundered from the East, of course. So you like Max Baeumler?”

There’s a falling star, but neither one sees it.

“Impossible to say,” says Mewsy, with an effort at steadiness, “When associated memories smother my taste.”


“There’s a Mewsy for every occasion,” says Mewsy, “But as for the plundering, well — we’ve just met.”

Baker considers her, and those long, sphinxy fingers hover inquisitively.

“So, Mewsy — you’re new but not new, have I got that right?”

“Every day at the Cher’ one is born again,” says Mewsy absurdly.

“I’ll take your word,” returns Lazy, “Being, as I am, a stranger here. But in all those rebirths, if my facts are straight, you’ve never taken a proper rôle on the stage?”

“Well, no, that isn’t quite right,” protests Mewsy. “In Dialogues with the Succubi I was Heathen 4, nuns’ chorus AND Succubus Queen cover. In the Soirée Française Gams and I did ‘Quelle queue’ with Ginger and Titzi LeBustier dancing the Tails — to great acclaim, I might add. And I have also performed at a number of the second floor private functions…?” She ends with an upward note to imply that she could go on — though, of course…

“Of course, yes — forgive me,” says Lazy. “I meant, perhaps, that since you’ve become a mature performer, you have yet to be featured.”

“The appearances I’ve mentioned all took place before my hiatus, yes, if that’s what you mean…” Mewsy is feeling just a little too lucid of a sudden.

“During which hiatus you married a patron and lived at his estate for an unspecified number of years, before briefly taking the veil.”

“On our estate, yes.”

Mewsy looks away and hears the rattle of the patisserie wagon on its way here from Barebones.

“I don’t mean to pry,” says Lazy easily.

“No, of course,” laughs Mewsy, intently worrying a pale stain on her stole. There is silence between them. Lazy has, it would seem, a loud pocketwatch hidden somewhere beneath that streamlining suit.

“Well I won’t keep you,” says Lazy, “It’s just that I am so interested in getting to know the team.”

Mewsy smiles and shrugs in what she hopes is an alluring yet enigmatic fashion. At this hour you can’t be expected to be at 100.

“Good night, Ms Stone,” says Lazy, turning away and fading back into the complex. Mewsy holds her mystique til the interloper’s sure to have gone.

“Heaven help us,” she mutters to the wind.