I feel a tug on my arm. Evelyn is catching the attentions of Alaia and me and pulling us into a careful, low-key exit, like yesterday. “This is getting to be a habit,” she says, back in the van. “We don’t want to be in there right now. But I’m just going to wait here a few minutes, because if there’s violence in there, I wanna hear it.”
“So much for hanging out with Lucan,” I say.
“Don’t worry, this new head of Kev will have grabbed his attention away from you,” says Alaia.
“Unless he decides it’s me who left the heads,” I say.
“Well, was it?” asks Alaia. “You were pretty close to this one when the cloth fell off it. I don’t know—what do you think, Evelyn?”
“Alaia, I’m trying to cover up for him here, can you work with me?”
“Lucan looked furious,” says Alaia, “just like when his own head was discovered. Can’t he see the funny side? They’re probably just some practical joke.”
Evelyn laughs. “You’re not from round here, are you. Lucan’s actually got a good sense of humour—but not when his pride is attacked, or his business. Nobody here with a brain would play a practical joke on him. Think about it: he controls the hard drugs market here in Asbury and surrounds. It’s a very dangerous job. That’s why he only smokes skunk and never takes the stuff he sells. He can’t afford to take any chances or let his vigilance slip. It’s also why he’s a vicious thug, in case you didn’t know. That’s not just for fun, it comes with the job. Permanent telephones are carved, from time to time. Sometimes people disappear.”
“Look, I can flirt and horse around with Lucan in Downstairs, partly because I know he won’t come on to me, but also because I know exactly the line not to cross. That’s his public home, it’s a place where he’s used to constant respect. So picture it: a model of his own head is placed in the middle of that home, with two daggers in his forehead, and it’s uncovered in front of everyone. Is he going to think that’s funny? The first thing he said was, ‘That’s a declaration of war.’ He labelled it quietly and he was right. Sure it was a declaration of war. Just the fact that someone dared to do it—that was the declaration, more than the head itself.”
“And the attractiveness of the model suggested a certain seriousness in the declaration,” I add.
“Uh-huh. And then a model of Lucan’s driver appears with a dagger in each cheek. That was also a challenge to Lucan, not to Kev. Kev’s a real dim-bulb, you may have noticed. Angel and Damian can’t stand him—Lucan likes it like that.”
“Divide and rule,” says Alaia.
“Yep. So the Kev head just confirmed the declaration of war and took it to a whole new level. The temperature is hot in this town right now. If another turf war starts, you two should start obeying Marc for real and just stay in the Metropolitan. You could become a lightning rod, otherwise. And I fear for the life of the person who left those heads, when they’re uncovered.”
“Who could it be?” asks Alaia.
“I have no idea. Oh, Jaymi, you know what we need to do tonight, don’t you?”
This sounds ominous. “No, what?”
“We need to do a second secret spokes-sheep recording with Rik.”
“Do we have to?”
“But you loved doing it this afternoon.”
“Yeah, but two secret spokes-sheep recordings in one day! And on the same day we did the first official session for Big Bang. What am I, a performing monkey?”
“Yep,” they say in unison.
“I bet you took in stacks of material tonight,” presses Evelyn, “at my place and Downstairs. You don’t want to forget all that, do you?”
“Yeah, all right,” I sigh.
“I’m so curious to watch this,” says Alaia.
“It’s not a real hypnotic gaze,” I warn her. “Not like in the broadcasts. It’s still active projecting rather than passive tuning-in, but … it’s more like a screening of third-party material. For the first session Evelyn found it more interesting to watch the brightness gauge instead, but—well, Evelyn, you tell me, when you glanced up from the gauge now and then during the recording, what did you see?”
“You staring into the camera like a rabbit in the headlights.”
“No, I mean whenever you glanced at the monitor itself, to see what I was projecting.” —But actually her description of me just then was interesting, and not what I’d have expected. “By the way, what made you think of a rabbit in the headlights, specifically?”
She considers a moment. “I think it was the long, furry ears, Jaymi.”
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