A nearly full moon pours light through the warm air.
We turn left at random, down Heck Street. Towards the end of this short block a voice calls “Hey!” and a tall, slim, African American guy lopes over to us from the stoop of a run-down residential hotel on the left. He’s in his late twenties, with alert, restless eyes. He stops dead, staring at me. Following the cliché, his mouth falls open. “Shit!” he cries, steps back, then leans forward again to peer at me. “Damn! Was that you on TV tonight? That Sound & Vision thing? Was that you? I was just watching you!”
Well, this is a great start to our secret stroll. I nod warily.
“Goddamn! You just bust my head. Who are you?…”
I recall Marc insisted that the broadcast explain nothing about either Alaia or me, but merely showcase her voice and my face, without explanation. His best idea, I thought. “Jaymi,” I say, holding a hand out.
He looks down at it and shakes it gingerly, as if it might come off. “Flames…” He turns and directs a low whistle behind him. A car engine purrs into life, just beyond the hotel, and a black Cadillac with its roof down rolls unhurriedly around the corner. “This is Lucan,” mutters Flames.
As the car creeps towards us, the presence of the man in the passenger’s seat is so strong that the driver is eclipsed: lit with shocking clarity beneath the yellow street-lamp, his overpowering eyes, set in a strong, handsome black face, flick from Alaia to me, from Alaia to me, from Alaia to me. He’s in his mid-twenties, wearing a black vest, very powerfully and smoothly muscular, with his hair shaved almost down to nothing. This is the face that Flames and the driver and anybody else who may appear will obviously obey: there is so little question about this, that I very nearly laugh. The Cadillac glides to a standstill beside Flames. Still looking from me to Alaia, the man in the passenger’s seat smiles, slowly, and his smile spells trouble, violence, sex and danger. He opens the car-door and steps up onto the narrow grass verge between the pavement and the road. A full two metres tall, wearing black jeans and black combat boots, he raises one hand easily, rests it on the nape of Flames’s neck and squeezes hard without effort; Flames’s shoulders rise, he grins, laughs and half-crumples down. Not looking back at him, Lucan saunters over to Alaia and me, plants himself right in front of us, legs apart and arms crossed, and looks us up and down without speaking. A big, flat, golden crucifix hangs from his chest, whose bulk quite dominates my field of vision, so close to me has he parked himself. “What the fuck are you doing in Asbury?” he growls in a deep voice, grinning down insolently at me.
So he saw the broadcast too. I was wondering.
“Hi Lucan,” I murmur, and without moving I unfurl at him a look that’s hypnotically controlling to the absolute maximum. His grin disappears, he stares daggers for an instant … and then you grow stiller, Lucan, don’t you, as I pull out all the stops and aim the fiercest blast of power I can muster through my eyes, as much as I have ever emitted. I do this not for amusement, but because it’s clear you’re someone for whom it will be advisable that I do so: both because of your own willpower, which will try to dominate me if I don’t dominate you first, and because the others here will take their lead from you. Through the excessive voltage I’m directing at you, I’m hoping this process will be very short, because I don’t want it to disrupt our exchange and make you lose face in front of the others. I therefore have no time, right now, to drag you and me around any of your head, as I did with Marc and Alaia. I simply convey two simple messages to you, with enormous force and clarity: you will ensure that our stay here remains safe and low-key, and there will be no bombardment of us with questions.
I cut this intrusive gaze off dead, and see him snap back into the present, swaying slightly. “What the fuck are we doing here?” I echo him, filling up the pause in which he now regains his bearings. “Good question!” I put my hand on Alaia’s shoulder. “Well, I guess we’re just passing through.” Lucan nods, summons up his grin again and turns back to face his companions. I am pleased that despite the pause, our flow wasn’t too broken; and despite his continued aura of defiance, I can see our pecking order has been established and my requirements have been impressed upon him clearly.
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