Deedee’s grey eyes had locked onto the street once more.
“Your hair’s loose.”
My hair was loose. I tried to tie it back myself before meeting her, but the strands rebelled, shrugging off the stretchy band around them and floating round my face, bristling with static. I used to amuse my younger brothers by taking off my tunic in the dark, hearing them squeal at the little firecrackers.
“Does it hurt?” They’d ask. I’d bravely sigh and say I’d got used to it.
“You know I have certain grooming difficulties.”
“I’ve never seen you out with unbraided hair before.” She clicked her mouth like I’d let down the elven nation.
After I had been in his house three days, I let him unplait my hair. I’d collected my last envelope of hundred dollar bills and handed in my platinum zero. They let me keep the hook. I lay still on the bed and let him gently tug away around my temples. My scalp tingled softly, feeling his hands smooth out the freed hair. It felt like an armistice. My servants used to let my hair loose after a campaign to wash the blood and dirt out. Maybe there’s some left over emotion still entangled in the act. As he worked at my hair I thought, the war is over.
Deedee always wears her hair in braids like a warrior. It’s an incongruous look for a healer by profession. It lends her an air of one trying a little too hard to be taken seriously, like those earnest young pacifists in combat trousers. She says she does it to keep it clean.
“Well, consider yourself honoured that I permit you to see me in such an informal state.”
She laughs but her eyes remain preoccupied.
“There’s something bothering you, Maedhros.”
When Deedee first walked in to the Hell Hole, Hell’s Kitchen and started unpacking her contraband stash of boy-whore accessories, we recognised each other as elves at once. I didn’t even need to check her ears, which were neatly tucked away under a headscarf. It was the way she moved her hands to display the various scraps of leather, the grace was more than mortal. I caught her eye and knew she’d recognised me too. We didn’t say anything else. It was the first time I’d ever been embarrassed by my position, being caught whoring by another elf. It felt somehow as if she could convey the news back to the First Age.
The next time she asked my name. I’d decided to brazen it out and tell the truth.
“Maedhros.” I said.
“Oh, like Maedhros.” She replied.
“Yes, like him.”
It was hard to know what to make of her. It was the first time I’d seen an elf in over eight hundred years, and I’ve always seen chance meetings as good omens. Another anachronism had survived through the sausage factory of time. I was mildly affronted at having the exclusivity of my vantage on the world snatched away from me; still, it was difficult not to be drawn to her.
After a while, she brought a deep burgundy shirt from Bloomingdale’s down to the club. It was too big for the others, but they all agreed it would be perfect for me so I tried it on.
“That’s a coincidence,” she said as I handed her thirty dollars.
There was no irony in her voice at all. She thought it just a bizarre chance that I was a one-handed Maedhros. I thought she must have been dropped on her head when younger. I’m still not sure she believes I am the Maedhros, the avenging demon with hair of flame from the stories of her childhood. Maybe I’m not. He probably wasn’t the sort of elf to be caught selling himself in the wrong part of Manhattan. But she’s guessed I was someone once, and that I still like to keep up appearances.
“You’re a foul weather friend, Deedee.”
It’s true. She always likes something to be wrong so she can make herself useful.
“I’m concerned on a professional and personal level.”
She’d been reading Practitioner’s Manuals again, I could tell. She likes to keep up with the times.
“Have you heard from any of the others?”
“Yes, they’re all fine. None of them went to work in the pits of hell.”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
It wasn’t that bad. The management of Xyro gave me a black cap to wear with a steel rimmed visor. It looked faintly Nazi. I was ordered to wear it to protect customers from my disconcerting eyes. It didn’t work too well, and I didn’t always wear it. This helped keep me safe.
In Xyro, we got paid medical insurance as “floor staff”. We could have a pension scheme if we wanted, although no one I knew took it up. I thought about it in the hope of slowly sending them bankrupt. We received a small weekly retainer, a little more than a few hours at minimum wage, but it was taxed and processed legitimately. We were employees, atmospheric assistants, service providers not whores. When it came to defending ourselves, we were on our own.
The potential for additional income, the untaxed stuff we got in brown paper envelopes every Monday morning was limitless. But so were our visitor’s – guests we had to call them – requests. It paid to look a little intimidating, so no one dared to ask for something truly obscene.
“Let me look at your eyes,” said Deedee.
She studies my face for a while, running her eyes over it like a blind man would run his fingers. Actually, I’m not sure if all that blind face feeling is a cliché. I’ve never seen Treacle do it.
“Deedee,” I asked as she continued her audit of my well being, “Does Treacle run his fingers over people’s faces?”
“He runs his fingers over my face.” She replied. “I’m not sure I’d like it if he did it to anyone else’s”
I smiled. Yes Deedee, I thought, that is five times now.
“You look better rested at least.” She said after completing her survey. I know this from the mirror I consulted this morning. There had been a red rawness around my lashes in daylight, fortunately hidden in the gloom of the club. That was my fraternity tattoo from the brotherhood of insomniacs, but my membership had lapsed. I’d slept well these past mornings, slept on pure white linen changed daily with my nose in a genuine eider feather pillow and a messy brown scruff of boy’s hair on my chest.
A little bubble of happiness floated up through me at this image, popping as soon as it’s delicate sides met the hard surface of intellectual thought. Nevertheless it was a heady, warming feeling, and I missed it once it had burst.
I wanted to ask her something but I did not know the right question. I knew she is Treacle’s lover, but would not call herself his wife out of deference to another Quendi who died long before the rising of the sun. She had told me this as plainly as I am telling you now. What she had not told me is how she feels about it. Maybe she didn’t know herself. It’s not the sort of thing you want to dwell on when times are as tough for Elves as they are now. When you are clinging on for survival, philosophy can wait.
I also knew that her not-husband finds this situation peculiar. He would be quite happy to call her his wife because he is an Avari. He believes the soul of the one he once raised a family with has gone forever, back to the trees and the starlight that it was made from. He refused the great journey back to the Gods, and he refuses to believe in the Gods, at least the Valar as us Calaquendi teach them.
Somewhere threaded between these facts was the answer I needed to make sense of what happened, what was still pleasantly happening every night in a strange bed on sheets that cost more than I do.
“Deedee,” I said softly unsure how I would continue. “Deedee.” I looked away from her out to the street. A man in a blue scarf and a battered leather jacket had appeared.
“Deedee, I think your man’s here.”
She rushed out and disappeared round a corner, away from the street, but not so far she couldn’t dart back into view or scream. Her old fence was busted two weeks ago, and one of the other lifters had put her on to this guy. Still, she won’t take chances. My presence here is not purely social, but I don’t mind doing a favour for a friend. She’s the nearest thing to a subject I have now the boys of the Hell Hole have gone, and I never feel complete unless I have someone to stand guard over.
I wouldn’t impose my rule on Treacle; it would feel like tyranny. The only other one I have is the boy whose bed I sleep in. It’s hard not to feel tenderly for those you have guardianship over and I am not sure I like the idea of feeling any tenderer toward him than I already do.
He was so innocent. That is what softened me to him. I’d spent the last four months in a club where the rich and jaded choreographed mechanised orgies with pistons and electrodes, where those with more power than sense were powdered and diapered like babies, where the joke among the workers was they’d let the odd one or other of us be killed off if the price was right. It was supposed to be the acceptable side of sex-work, we were all college grads or could fake it well enough, libertines by nature, whores by choice. What this really meant was we lost all power of negotiation, that smacked too much of contract work. We were supposed to be up for anything, and to regard it as a happy accident that we were being paid for having our kinks catered to.
I never got stuck on the end of anything mechanised. I was never asked to bottle-feed a guest. I tilted my cap upwards and dared them to ask me for such services. They never did. Mostly, I got the poorer millionaires who just wanted a simple beating up. It doesn’t do much for one’s respect for another species when all one sees of it is an endless parade of crawling at one’s feet begging to be told it it’s been naughty.
Well, it has been naughty. The hole in the Ozone layer, the Third World Debt, Nuclear Arsenals, Humanity, you have been a bad, bad boy. Bend over and let me spank you.
I was never asked to do anything truly dreadful. But it was enough to know I worked in a club where that went on. Why didn’t I leave? Deedee was right, you don’t leave, or at least people like me don’t. You go on playing chicken with your nerves, with your sense of self, maybe it’s just I’m the sort to find catharsis in masochism. Working there makes you feel like you don’t belong to the world, like you’ll itch in daylight, you never feel right in yourself so you throw yourself into more work, more madness. I don’t know why I didn’t just walk to tell the truth.
It had it’s own craziness which was appealing too, in the way extremis always is. The girls dressed me up as a kinky schoolgirl once and sent me out to parade on the dancefloor until the Management called me back for scaring the heterosexual. We were always hungry and always breaking into the kitchens for tea and bread rolls and those silly wafer biscuits they put in ice cream. I was to blame as much as everyone else there for above all else I love chaos and the club had that by the bucketload.
Xyro had a restaurant attached, on the top floor. It opened for breakfast at six am. Desdemona, the owner of this enlightened brothel, had a vision of twenty-four hour decadence, some amalgam of Victorian gentleman’s club, Parisian Salon, Geisha House and Studio 64. All the strains of the latest neo-trance/garage/funkadelic soundtrack. She wanted the sort of place that Phileas Fogg would set out from to traverse the world, after having his cock sucked by a purple haired hermaphrodite.
Never trust a whorehouse that plays fashionable music, it will have no soul. Everything about sex-work is so cheesy, the stilted moves, the garish costumes, the faked moans and the porno movie script of our conversations it only comes together to the sounds of blatant, obvious butt-shaking tunes. One goes to a lover for originality and to a prostitute for the clichés that dare not speak their name. Xyro was selling above the market price to those whose tastes had wearied of soul and almost all else and would now be satisfied only with orgies worthy of the imagination of the Marquis de Sade, and was doing well enough from it.
All the workers wore silver chains with a small zero pendant around their necks that were actually made of an alloy of white gold and platinum. These identified us as “floor staff”; also the pendant contained a little sensor that opened the invisible doors from the main arena. You could only get to the serious business areas wearing one or in the company of someone who did. Some of the workers, the ones that were getting through more than two grams of cocaine in a night got paranoid about these zeros. They thought the management tracked them. Soon that became a half believed joke too.