It’s flirting with lunch-time when she blinks out into the hall and is startled by a mew at her elbow.
Ginger, perched in the nook with her magazine lying unopened: “Good morning, my dear. Hope you’ve rested. Just to say that you might ought to go look at the posting, it’s been up for hours.”
“Don’t say it’s that looseboy from K-Haus.”
“Well, what? It’s not me singing Vig’ with whoever ‘tis, Gingey, so how should I care?”
Mewsy stares. “Tybalt. Not my—?” She squints, the reverb from SlumberFast still rolling through her head. “But — rather, that is, I ought to say — isn’t, I’m sure he’s not…”
“Dues in good standing, from the day before yester,” says Ginger.
“Rather.” She reels. “Excuse me, Gin.”
Lurching down the stacks she pauses for a huff of the musty air, not for pleasure today, but just from being so out of steam. “Gosh.”
Sally not in. Lab dingy without him. Draws herself up and makes for the worksite. Lamps all ablaze like it’s daylight down here, and there he is, kneeling to ease off a rotted crate slat.
“Hullo, Toast,” he says affably, but doesn’t turn. “News from the outside world?”
“Rather hoping to catch up, when you’ve time,” she says.
“Indeed, Toast, I’d love to — we could aim for a 5-à-7?”
“O’clock? It’s nothing we can’t take care of now,” she says impatiently. The functionary holding the spotlight eyes her. Mewsy recognizes the K-haus boy.
“Reg, could you come over this shoulder,” says Salvation a little pointedly, leaning in with the claw end of a crowbar.
“Cinq it is,” says Mewsy, quite throwing it away, as if to say, who knows what I shall be doing at five, I may come or I mayn’t.
She stumps back the way she came, out of sorts. At the top of the stairs and appearing in a sudden cluster are Finch-Marie Fung and Lazephine Baker — and with them, in the flesh, the nearly unrecognizable form of Maria Toilette, aka Little Mary Misfit, aka first Top Queen of the Old Cheroot.
“Mewsy,” says Finch-Marie, “Wonderful, shall we just let you take over?”
“Surely you two know one another?” says Lazephine, flashing that cool little smile.
“Maria,” says La Toilette unnecessarily.
“Mewsy Fran Stone, I—“
“Are you the one they’ve got babysitting me?”
“Ms Stone understudied Miss La La in rehearsals and she’s here to help you prepare.”
“I’m SUCH an admirer,” Mewsy gushes, snapping into shape. “Why, I must’ve seen every revue you ever gave at the Cherry, back before it was even called that.”
“You’re sweet,” says Maria Toilette in her baritone drawl.
“So glad we could connect you,” says Finch-Marie, “We’ll leave you to the work.”
She and Lazephine duck out and away, and Mewsy is left with Her.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” She says, “I might be a handful. On the Ancient Star of Helen there’ve always got staff on you, and it’ll take getting used to, having only just you.”
“Oh, I…” says Mewsy.
“So what kind of girl is this Vigorella?”
“What kind of…?”
“You know…” says Maria, taking off down the hall. Mewsy trails. “Is she a broad or a bimbo?”
“Vigorella? Well, you’ve read the…”
“Oh no, not quite yet, but I definitely will,” says Toilette, pushing at a panel in the wall, “Fascinating stuff, I’m sure.” The panel swings open and she disappears into the Executive Premium Presidential Suite.
Mewsy agog. Not even Futkas is given the Pres. And this queen hasn’t bothered to learn her bit? She plunges in after her.
“Oh, hell,” says Maria, staring into the fire. The windowless luxury cave is so chill that they need one. “Sure, I know that it’s bonkers, of course I do. I’m a circuit queen, not a damn chanteuse.” (But she says it ‘shann-tooss’.)
The Grand Dame quaffs her steaming Hot Shot.
“Not at all,” says Mewsy earnestly. “You’re an artist is what you are. The rest is just scales and breath technique.”
“You’re helping me with all that too, yeah?”
“Sweetheart,” says Mewsy. “I’m your gal Friday. You can count on ol’ Toast.”
“What’s that stand for?”
“Toast? Oh – well — nothing, ha-ha — it’s rather a joke.”
“What kind of joke?”
“They call me ‘The Toast of the Upper Set’ — as a joke, you see, only as a sort of prank. Because I came here from a large Country House.”
“Oh, yeah? Which one?”
Mewsy fusses at the fur in her lap. “Yes, I was mistress, actually. Mrs Tybalt Onan-Stahl. But I kept my own name though.”
“Glam,” says Maria drily. “So how’d you end up in this dump?”
“None taken. I wanted a better life,” she hears herself say. “I was nobody at the Big House.”
“That’s funny,” says Maria, but nods.
“Well I didn’t come straight here anyway. An acquaintance, a travelling saleswoman of sorts in fact, drew me out to apprentice at the local Ladies of the Lord. I was there for nine months.”
“Nine months as a nun? Christ fucking Jesus.”
“Well this woman recruiter, Muriel – that’s Sister Lord Muriel – she says to me after she’s settled me in, ‘He has given our bodies in order that we might know His suffering AND His joys, my Sister.’ And, well, you see, she was very charismatic, and I’m an equal opportunist and was very lonely besides, and the next thing I know my li’l pink coinpurse is raw from the lickin’ and I’m headed to the highest jumping-off point to prove His Angels Shall Not Let You Dash Your Foot Against a Stone.”
“A bit of a leap from the matins and wimples.”
“A Leap of Faith, indeed. I wasn’t quite with it, you know — as I’ve since come to realize, I must have a pokin’ ‘least eight times a week ‘r I’ll not be accountable for what I might do. Those thin votive candles, well — beg your pardon, Miss T, that I speak with such freedom.”
“No begging required. So what happened then — a crisis of faith staring down the abyss?”
“Something like that.”
“And you fled to the Cherry to give yourself over instead to the Gals of the Board.”
“Well, here I am.”
“So what do you want now?”
“What do I—?”
“Now you’re free of your man and you’re free of the Lord and you’re living for Mewsy Fran Stone?”
“I, well, I— truth be told, Ms Toilette, I’m not free of my man. He’s followed me here and I don’t rightly know what I’ll do.”
“Dear me. He a dangerous type?”
“Not as such. But it’s rather a wear on the treads, don’t you know, not to mention a bother — I do have my work to conduct.”
She feels where he’s been as she says it… there truly is none other like it.
“Like that, is it? Boy, pal, you’re pickled.”
“That’s not quite the worst, though, I shudder to say.”
“Well, you’ll know soon enough. They’ve cast him as Heriodonc’. He’s opposite you in the Show, Ms Toilette, and you’ll need all the help I can give to stay cool and on top.”