That deepest, darkest wonderland of bass and hook fades down in volume as it thunders, till it’s sucked in tiny through the meshes of the bass-bins. Whoops greet the DJ, the house lights fade on and Evelyn bubbles up beside the pair of us.
Without warning, Lucan then targets us with a silent but shocking gesture, in imitation of his own decapitation—a vicious slice through the air just in front of his neck, his hand flashing in the yellow lamplight, his large eyes blazing and burrowing into each of our faces. Alaia, Evelyn, Kim and I exchange glances. I realise that Lucan must be hoping this gesture will trigger some response from us that reveals something about who may have left the severed wax head of himself on the bar. Then I notice that fear is flashing through Shigem’s face. My mind flicks back to Downstairs a couple of hours ago when the discovery was made: Shigem wasn’t there, I’m sure of it. No, of course he wasn’t, he was in Paradise and I hadn’t yet met him. In fact, he and Kim are the only ones in our group here who weren’t present there in Downstairs—the only ones, therefore, who won’t have known what Lucan’s gesture referred to just now. And Shigem is alone here in knowing Lucan but not knowing what the gesture meant, so of course he’ll be frightened. He probably thinks the gesture referred to a genuine decapitation in the near future, rather than a fake waxen one in the near past; and I’m guessing he fears this promised treat may be his own specifically, since Lucan happened to have been talking to him in particular just before the gesture. That was just unfortunate timing, I believe—and very much so, because despite the distance across the street I’m pretty sure Lucan is now staring fixedly at Shigem alone. Though Shigem has now concealed his fear, Lucan can hardly have failed to notice it when it was flashing out like a beacon. And judging by Lucan’s stance, I have a nasty feeling he is increasingly inclined to construe that flash of fear as guilt.
Two or three different conversations hang unfinished in the air but contrive somehow to cancel one another out, as patterns of attention start to fracture. Although the two groups are facing each other, neither is very coherent physically. It happens that in Lucan’s group it is Angel who is standing nearest to ours, with points of yellow street-light shining off his black vinyl brassiere, and in my group it is I who am standing nearest to Lucan’s: Angel and I are thus no more than a couple of metres from each other and both somewhat apart from the rest. Evelyn is gearing up to move my group on, but first I fix Angel’s eyes with my own. Back at Downstairs I looked around among his memories, but now I aim a hypnotic suggestion at him, forcing him to feel that he’s known about “Jaymi and Alaia” for half his life … so you picture that cabaret bar, don’t you, Angel, where you sat years ago when you first heard Alaia singing through these eyes and started feeling sucked in: that saxophone of creamy chocolate velvet wine, spilling out its jagged notes of dark muscled flesh that coiled around you as you leaned your body forward, your elbows on the sticky bar, loath to believe you were there among the first to hear a sound you knew immediately would ripple out through history! Remember how your feet tapped the footrest on your bar-seat; remember how you reached for a white book of matches without looking down for it, to light another Capri up and draw it down deeply, your eyes growing wide until they blinked in the smoke? You shook the match out when you felt the flame approaching your golden-painted nails, tossed it somewhere down, surrendered to the pulsing of the beat beneath the saxophone and felt the tears start behind your eyes, alone within the crowd. Every girl you’d ever yearned to be, and every boy you’d ever wanted, were summed and projected in the pairing of Alaia’s voice and these eyes—remember? Then afterwards you wandered in a daze through the streets, saw the moon looking down at you, inscrutable and ancient, and you knew that my Vision and her Sound were in your blood for life… And though beneath this street-light my gaze looks as frail as an eggshell gaze glimpsed passing in a limousine, it’s raped you nonetheless, through the airwaves and light waves, consensually, for life!
For more about "The Imagination Thief" by Rohan Quine, see
For some great reviews of it, see
And the retailers’ links for all three formats are at