My phone vibrates—Evelyn.
“Looks like you’re not sleeping,” she says.
“Hi! No, I’m not tired. Where are you?”
“In the van outside the Metropolitan, parked in the square. I can see your lights on. Wanna come to Downstairs, for the hell of it?”
Her hand abandons its hover near the ignition key and she turns round in the driver’s seat to face me. “What exactly happened there?”
“Well, when Alaia and I first bumped into Flames on the street, and then Lucan appeared, I could tell immediately that this was a guy I needed to persuade to be discreet about our presence here in Asbury Park. Because if he were discreet, I could see that all the others would be too, and if any of them wanted to reveal our presence then Lucan would step on that idea. This was back in those innocent days of not wanting to leave the Metropolitan, you understand. So the only choice I had was to give him a quick hypnotic gaze, to impress that on him and show him who was boss.”
Evelyn tortures herself with glee over this. “Jaymi, nobody shows him who’s boss! People have ended up with parts of their anatomy missing, for trying to do that. Or else lying face down, heading out to sea.”
I grimace. “So, loss of face was the problem, was it? Hmm, I guess he might see it that way.”
“Er, yes, I’d say so.”
“You know, you should really be careful about using that hypnotic gaze in everyday situations, just at the drop of a hat,” pronounces Alaia, turning all the way round in the passenger’s seat and shaking her head sanctimoniously at me.
“Yeah, you should be really careful, it’s just too dangerous, Alaia’s right,” says Evelyn, turning all the way round in the driver’s seat and shaking her head too; and they both sit there shaking their lovely heads at me, as if synchronised.
For some reason, this really gets my goat: they are like some accusatory double-act. “Look, give me a break. I’ve used the hypnotic gaze, as opposed to the secret gaze, only three times…” I glare at them both, and they at least stop shaking their heads. “No, hold on, four times.” I look away, thinking back. “No, five times, OK. Plus of course I used it in Sound & Vision, and then today in Big Bang—not much of a show otherwise. Plus of course I’ll need to use it several more times when we record imagination samples with Rik. However, to a person, as opposed to a camera, I have used it only five times, and every one of those five was unavoidable. Indeed, may I remind those present that without some of those occasions, we wouldn’t be standing here.”
“We’re sitting,” murmurs Alaia.
“The five times I’ve looked into somebody in that active hypnotic way,” I persist, restricting myself to a quiet, level, tight tone, “rather than just the passive secret way I normally use, are as follows.” Now Alaia does a Hitler-style salute, back down the van at me, which I ignore pointedly as I start to enumerate the five on my fingers. “There was Marc in his office, to make him see how he’d benefit from setting up all this. There was you on your roof, Alaia, to bring you into the project. There was Lucan on the street, to show him who would be boss in this three-horse town. There was Shigem at Paradise”—I refrain from saying this was to lift him smartly up out of what looked as if it might otherwise become an unhelpful infatuation with me—“for my own reasons. OK? And finally I did it to Angel across the street, to make him believe he’d always been a devoted fan of Alaia and me, which I seem to recall your enjoying very much, Alaia, when I told you about it.” This tickles Evelyn greatly, reminding me that I have not, until now, got round to telling her of this little present I made to Angel. “That last one with Angel was unnecessary, I do admit, but it was the only one that was. It was just a piece of mischief I couldn’t resist, which I’m not going to get into the habit of.”
“All right, I think we all need to take a deep breath and calm down,” pronounces Alaia, while Evelyn rolls around with satirical goofiness in the driver’s seat. “Especially Jaymi. It’s been a very long day for him already and I think he’s tired and fractious.”
“I am so calm,” I say. “I am so chilled, I’m almost on the floor. That’s how chilled I am. Look at me—don’t I look chilled? To quote Angel, don’t make me slap you…”
At last Evelyn’s fingers turn the ignition key and we set off along the quiet streets.
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