These concerns seem to recede, as I settle into a chair on the flat roof of Alaia’s apartment on the south-east corner of Houston Street and Norfolk Street, holding up a Southern Comfort Manhattan with a cherry. She emerges from the stairway door and comes up the shallow gradient towards me on her high heels, tapping a fingernail against one of the free-standing drainpipes that rise in a line down the length of the asphalt roof, each pipe terminating above head-height. I clink my glass against her Black Russian (her cocktails are well-known) and decide to try out the little test I planned in Marc’s office—just an instant’s tune-in, to see if she becomes aware of it. So while we small-talk, as she settles down, I shoot a sudden clean glance into her. The thoughts I happen to catch—concerning whether the chair is steady, whether we’re too close to the parapet, whether her hair is right, at what angle the present lighting will fall upon her face for my benefit, and whether she should have chosen a twist of lemon rather than the cherry for my Southern Comfort Manhattan—are an authentic mess of Alaia-flavoured practicality in motion. And perceiving she has no knowledge that I’m in there with her, I cut short the tune-in. So that question’s settled.
Alaia Danielle is a singer, or a vocal performer, with a growing underground following. I first met her a couple of years ago at a party in Chinatown: not in an apartment or a club, but in a raw warehouse-type space, convened over the course of a day or two by semi-spontaneous phone-calls and texts. It was evident that this had once been a whorehouse, from the eight or ten mattress-sized cubicles with numbered doors, in which beer and various drugs were being consumed. She had just arrived alone, climbed six flights up a narrow stairwell from the rainy sweaty street, passed through the approving band of Italian guys working as security at the door and bought a beer, and was now standing in the crowded corridor between doors 1 and 2, smoking and sizing up the crowd. Her long straightened hair was pulled back, as it still is, from a smooth black face that I’ve always thought of as “aerodynamic”, and was held in a small band at the back, from which it fell to her shoulders; and as it still is, her expression was sleek and sharp, with something in the poise of the eyes that promised not to suffer jerks gladly. The two of us started talking, got on well, laughed quite a bit, talked about her boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) who wasn’t with her that night because they were going through some hassles, and got very pleasantly drunk. Since then we’ve stayed in touch, and by degrees over the last few months she’s become one of my best friends.
“OK, here’s the story,” I say. “Do you remember that list in the magazine, of the ten top media moguls?”
“Yes.” She lights a Virginia Superslim. “I called them perpetrators.”
“Yes. D’you remember the great Marc Albright, CEO of the General Network?”
“I just met him.”
“I’ll tell you. But not only did I meet him. We spoke at length too.”
“No I’m not. And not only did he and I speak at length.” I lean towards her. “I persuaded him to give you and me a two-and-a-half-hour prime-time slot on a mainstream GN channel, in a month or two, for an international broadcast of us in concert.”
She serves a full beat of silence, exhales a puff of smoke, and says with probing humour in her eyes, “You lie.”
I reach into my shoulder-bag, extract a page and hold it out. She grabs and inspects it, and I watch her take in the discreet letterhead, our names, the words “Letter of intent”, and doubtless other subtler indicators of legitimacy that I haven’t yet thought to locate. Then she starts to read.
“‘Concert’?” she asks at last. “But you don’t sing or play an instrument. Or have you taken up your childhood violin again?” She glares at me, then back at the paper.
I take her drink out of her hand, place it down on the roof and put my own beside it, rim touching rim. “Alaia—look at me.”
She looks, and I slide my outer gaze aside, baring the sensors and projectors of the inner one. Her dark eyes flash with defiance for an instant, of course; then they grow serene and widen, as I take control.
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