So Alaia and I precede Flames into the wide rear seat of the Cadillac, and Lucan and Kev get into the front seats as before. “Next we pick up Damian,” Flames informs us.
Soon we pull up outside a spooky, verandah’d structure on Second Avenue and Bond Street, surrounded by larger, dilapidated houses. “Damian was gonna be watching TV too,” says Lucan, leaning around in his seat to address me, “so you knock on the door. We’ll give him a surprise.”
“Yeah!” holler the other two, Flames slapping his thighs with glee at the prospect.
“Alright,” I sigh. This is just silly, but Damian will be recognising me soon enough anyway, so we may as well get it over with on his doorstep. In any case, I have to admit that the prospect does tickle me a little. “Alaia, come with me, we’ll surprise him together,” I say, and she follows me out of the back seat.
“Bell number one,” Kev calls after us, guffawing through his chewing-gum.
She and I set off up the front path. “Jaymi, you’re encouraging them,” she says. “You’re all the same, you boys. So much for keeping a low profile in town.”
“We are not all the same,” I say with a hint of sharpness. “Lucan’s going to behave—you saw me make sure of that, didn’t you? And all the others follow his lead.”
We reach the porch, where a small card printed with a U.S. flag is taped up beside an Edwardian bell-push moulded like a petal, bearing the name “Damian West” in narrow, handwritten capitals. “Wail at him, sugar!” Kev wails out to Alaia from the Cadillac, and I can hear Flames cracking up in the back seat.
“This is ridiculous,” fumes Alaia. “What am I, a performing seal?”
“Alaia, this is just the price of stardom and fierceness,” I say, raising my finger to the bell-push and having to hold back a sudden wave of laughter.
She turns and gives me the look, which has been known to shrivel cacti at thirty paces.
The look is not destined to last its usual duration, however, for as soon as I have pressed the bell-push and the bell rings inside, we jump back in shock, as a savage barking erupts from beside us in an alleyway where three large guard dogs leap up behind a chain-link fence, snapping viciously.
The front door opens and the gaunt, unshaven white face of a man in his fifties peers down at us, with a paranoid, shifty, evaluative expression. His gives a low whistle; the dogs fall silent, but continue to pace and pant behind the fence. The man’s temporal bones stand out prominently from his face, leading back to his ears, and his cheeks are sunken with leanness. The impression is not one of frailty, however, but of brutality and wiriness. I see that in the shadows, by his right leg, he is holding a small hand-gun, and I step back off the porch, pulling Alaia with me. I’m hoping this quick retreat will reassure him that we are not about to lunge forward and throttle him, which is what his expression might suggest he expects.
Now comes his recognition of me from the television earlier: I can see his half-concealed surprise and befuddlement, as I’m sure Alaia can. His eyes flick to her, in search of some similar recognition, perhaps … but no, he draws a blank there. He puts the gun away in the pocket of the well-worn black leather jacket he’s wearing. There is a moment of odd silence among the three of us: it is, after all, something of an odd meeting.
At last the other three’s laughter can be repressed no more and billows out behind us. Damian’s eyes dart to the road and clock the Cadillac. He speaks at low volume, fast, as if there’s no time to waste: “Is this some kind of joke?” he asks me. “What the hell d’you think you’re doing here?”
Flames jumps out of the car and springs up the path like a long-legged spider, giggling, then flails in surprise as the dogs explode at him from behind the fence. Damian whistles them quiet again. Flames recovers himself and reaches the porch: “Jesus, Damian, will you get rid of those stupid dogs? Anyway, just shut the fuck up and come to Downstairs, we don’t have all evening for you to shift your ass. Come on, jump in the car, we’re out of here,” and he runs back down the front path again.
So we all pile into the Cadillac. With Kev and Lucan in the front, there are now four of us squeezed into the back seat, as we head west across Main Street: me on the right with Alaia on my lap, then Flames bouncing around in the middle, then Damian scrunched up at the far left.
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