All was quiet and still. She watched her abdomen, her softer parts, twitch with the beating of her heart, and in the candlelight the droplets on her lightly oiled skin looked like quicksilver. The water was hot enough to make her feel feverish, and she dreamed of video game conquests, the flawed Hexen endgame, doomed for being clever....
She woke with a start unwitnessed minutes later.
The bathtub was big enough for two or three and deep enough to submerse her entirely. It reminded Lavender of her crèche, the solution-filled tank in which she had come to be; it brought forth no memories of that time but it was comforting, maternal. She sank back into the water until only her nose broke the surface. Her hair spread around her like ocean-bottom plants.
Relaxation found her body and she was inclined to go along but thoughts, memories begged reflection... the components seemed too unbelievable to have been anything other than a particularly vivid dream. They might have been. There had been cocaine, there had been ketamine; she understood that these things would not destroy her and so she had taken much too much, more than anybody could say what the effects would be. She hoped-- dimly, for now --that she had hallucinated the critical events. Perhaps she had been asleep in this tub all along.
"His movie is premiering tonight," she said. They screeched up to the right-hand marquee of Grauman's.
The car, a big fat stoneage Cadillac, was lowered until it nearly scraped the ground, the roof chopped to an impossible depth so that the vehicle was little more than a rolling slab. The rear door popped open and Lavender exited ass-first, wiggling, her vinyl pants squeaking against the tiltback seats. A wave of deafening music, her music, spilled out before her, far louder than any mortal stereo could have produced. Somebody popped a photo of her butt. Onlookers caught the song, thought of her, but had little time to associate before what she was carrying took the forefront. In the land of gratuitous faux violence it was not recognizable.
Spiked red hair scraped the city-glow sky. Its owner looked mad. Lavender shifted her weight to one foot, sneering and narrowing her eyes; flouncing slightly, she pawed the black mesh top which draped her shoulders like a bad mood. She phantomed crosshairs on the theatre doors, and emitted something resembling a laugh.
Some in the crowd pointed to her, made faces of recognition. A squeal or two by those not cool enough to feign detachment. Cameras blinded themselves on her skin. A pretty TV droid gabbled her intro and stepped forward with a microphone, somebody from one of the tabloid shows. Oh, so right, so perfect.
Lavender extended one slender mesh-draped arm and closed pads of thumb and forefinger around a tiny milled brass wheel placed below the nozzle. She turned it. It let out an infinitesimal squeak which gave way to a round, hollow hiss.
From the shotgun seat, Worm Turn leapt out. His body was fitted with a black lab coat and what looked like black ragged Dr. Dentons. Eyes were lost under green and red wires of neon reflection in his goggles. Gripped in one hand was a manual spark igniter. He paused, tense, ready to leap at Lavender's device. Further inside, Vulnavia held the wheel, chewing a cigarette and looking impatient.
"Let there be light," purred Lavender.
Worm thrust his hand out and squeezed the igniter. Scrrrip. The pilot licked out.
Some sort of primal instinct cut through decades of immersion in vivid special effects and Hollywood bullshit and the crowd pulled back. Those directly in front of her actually ran. But this was good, she felt; not necessary by any means, but good, helpful.
Lavender let out a great screaming, roaring laugh as she pulled back the throttle of the flamethrower and sprayed a vast cloud of flaming gasoline into the abandoned lobby; the countless marquee bulbs made orange flame look like so much grey dust before they popped; the red carpeting looked black in contrast to the yellow-blue roots of fire trees rising from where the fuel clung. The carpet loved the gasoline, sucked it up. Heat made the marquee letters curl and buckle and soon they were collecting like a clattery snowfall on the street, big names falling apart.
The roar smothered any comment of admiration Worm made; half-crouched, he lifted his eyes to behold the flames as though looking upon the face of God. Other people were screaming now, stampeding, but a curious number of them hung around to watch.
She painted the façade of Mann's, killing neon, blistering fake beetle-wing enamel, until she decided she'd been silly enough. Lavender shucked off the backpack tank, tearing open her mesh blouse on either side, and hurled the unit into the flame hill. Her mouth gaped voicelessly, showing her teeth, her perfunctory fangs.
Inside the car Vulnavia spat something contained by a cloud of smoke, unheard. He gunned the engine, a beastly rumbling fanning out from the automobile.
"For you, my sweet," said Lavender, regarding Worm with a serpent's guile as she lifted his chin on the tip of her index finger; he had only eyes for the curling, hungering flames.
They watched for dangerous seconds before Lavender retreated and crept into the rear seat of the Cadillac, giggling. Worm lingered. Vool made a grab for his collar, fruitlessly across the wide front seat. "Hey! Trashcan Man. We got to hit the fucking road." He nearly drove out from under Worm as he too lunged inside.
Lavender contorted to face the front. As they pulled away the subsequent explosion was reflected brilliantly in the taut ass of her pants. She stabbed at the lighter, cramming an unmentionable cigarette between her lips.
Now in the present. She toed the hot water faucet on, fanned the water with her hands until it was almost too much to stand, shut it off again.
She had skimmed the news networks and headline sites for word of their prank, but there had been nothing, and even now she wasn't sure if it had really happened. Her manager had kept it quiet, she supposed.
Lavender submerged to just below her eyes. She blew bubbles and contemplated.
The establishment's only identifier was a small black placard with '322' printed in silver letters. Beyond an unpresumptuous door and one ratty killing-floor hallway was a chamber like a railway roundhouse, two tiers of balconies above a circular dance floor absolutely jammed. Although the structure's shape was ruinous to acoustics a hellish grind and slam of programmed dance music was forced through it anyway. All was dim and colored lights.
"Nobody will look for us in here," she heard someone say, probably Vulnavia. Not true, she thought, not true. Nobody but their kind could possibly be here. But she shouldn't think about that. Lavender blinked rapidly at music she couldn't rightly hear, overwrought Teutonic vocals with all the wrong samples sequenced behind. Time for a drink now. Yes, a drink. She detached from the others and orbited to the bar.
Lavender opened her mouth to speak and found her gesturing hand filled with a cordial glass. She smiled and drank whatever it was, and took the next thing offered to her and drank it too. Better. She took a third because she would need it.
Her associates floated behind her now.
Vulnavia spoke between gulps of whiskey. He had a bottle in his hand. "Lookit that," he said, pointing. "Fuckin' Keith Shotz. Fuckin' loser." He paused to fill his glass. "I hate his fuckin' dumb ass." Lavender noticed the finger-point long after it had been rescinded and craned her head in the indicated direction.
A character in a hoodie and toggle pants, two days' growth of beard, somebody who, had it not been for his largesse, would have been tossed out of there in a breath's passing. Three obvious associates, dressed similarly, whose ejection would've normally taken half a breath.
"I'm sorry, Vool," she said vacantly, to herself. "I'm sorry you must tolerate his presence. I shall have to do something about that."
"Fuckin' untalented crooked fuckin'-- huh?"
"I really should take care of it."
Lavender focused on her goal, charted a course and advanced. Taking pains to hold the glass as daintily as possible, she stepped up. From the scent he was drinking a gin and tonic. She sucked molecules into her head. Tanqueray. No. Beefeater's. Keith recognized her and made an attempt to look friendly, an attempt he abandoned soon after Lavender opened her mouth.
"What's up, Shotz?" she said, and looked him up and down. "Doing laundry this weekend?"
It sunk in and he frowned. "Yo, at least I don't dress like a fuckin' faggot."
"Complaining about it will not solve anything. Action," she purred, flickering her tongue, snakelike, "action will get results."
"Oh, you want some action, motherfucker?"
Lavender took a step backwards, sauntering. "Not here," she said, curling her fingers. "Into the center ring." She reversed towards the middle of the dance floor, spilling her drink down her throat and tossing the glass aside. It skidded in pieces across the tiles.
Shotz padded after her, slinking, like a tiger. Very good. People were watching now and they gave the two of them room to work.
She started to move a little with the music, her eyes not leaving his. "Gonna fuck me hard?" she called.
"Real hard," he growled back. A touch of anxiety painted his gaze along with the surrounding strobes.
"Good," she breathed too low to be heard, "fuck me hard." She slunk forward suddenly, wrapped an arm around Keith's shoulders and planted a kiss hard on his mouth, grabbing his balls with the other hand. The crowd reacted before they even knew what had happened, yelling and whooping. Keith made a mortified 'mmph' sound, startled into inaction for the second or two before he brought his fist around to crash into the side of her head. Groans from the crowd, who also felt the blow. Lavender minced sideways a few steps, not quite falling over. "Ow," she commented, rubbing her temple. Shotz closed the distance between them quickly.
Impulsively, impossibly, Lavender leapt about a foot into the air and brought her foot up to smack the sole of her boot into his face. It had little force but surprised Keith stumbled and toppled over a pair of inconveniently-placed barstools. Catcalls, laughter. Keith's mob immediately uncoiled and rushed her, shoving people aside. Lavender let out a sudden weird laugh and pelted for the exit.
Vulnavia found her behind the wheel of the Cadillac. "Shove over," he commanded, as if her driving it was demonstrably absurd. She retreated to the passenger seat and curled up, giggling. Worm dove into the back and they squealed off.
In the distance there was a flash and quite audible bang.
"They're shooting at us," said Worm as though it were of mild interest.
"What the fuck was that?"
"They're shooting at us."
Lavender continued to laugh.
"If they shoot up my car I'll throw you out that door, Lavender, so help me. Get your boot off the gearshift." Lavender snuggled into the pocket between seat and door, curling her hand around her crotch. Her head sank back, rocking a little with the car's motion.
High-beams picked out every detail of the Cadillac's interior, seemed to project a solid ray through the slit window.
Lavender watched the ceiling quiver like electroshocked muscle. She felt a little sick.
"Now they're following us," Worm mentioned, peering over the back seat.
Vool made a wide left turn, the tires stuttering as they took it at speed. There was a soft clank like a pie pan, a rattle, audible in the dead-empty morning streets.
"I lost a hubcap. Are you happy now, you freak? Quit grabbing your dick, you fucking public masturbator." The lights of the pursuing vehicle, a huge white Escalade, tracked them again. Lavender groaned quietly.
They went wide into the oncoming lane to take the right turn, more smoothly this time. Vool listened, made a satisfied sound. Parked cars a foot away flapped by his window. Vool had half a fifth in him but he and the machine were one. He spared Lavender a glance. "Don't you get sick in my car." The SUV's headlamps found them again. Vulnavia rejected the next turn, then changed his mind and hooked the steering wheel to the left; they slid to the side with a tired rubber squeal and shot down the side street.
"I don't know how the fuck you can cause so much trouble," he muttered.
The car was abruptly filled with Worm Turn cackling.
"They rolled it!" said Worm, his voice a squeal. "Physics kicks ass."
"Yeaaah! Take it!" Vool screamed at the windscreen. They barreled onto an on-ramp and out onto the interstate, anonymous, curving out to the coast.
There was the smell of candle wax, the feeling of disorientation as she rose from the tub.
She reached for a pack of cloves, slipping one slender black rod between her ashen lips and painting its end with butane flame. She sucked the harsh smoke into her lungs; black spirals carved themselves in her vision, darkened and flittered and faded away with a semblance of interlacing. Her arms slipped around herself, hugging. She closed her eyes and breathed smoke and thought.
As the outing wound down she drooped a little; as they careened through residential streets she let her right arm hang out the side of the car, lazily swatting side-view mirrors with the Gothic mace. Lavender ceased this game once they turned onto her street. The Cadillac hulked in the conservative driveway of the beach house; succulents brushed its open doors.
The house was stinkingly modern inside, scarily bare. Lavender tolerated one light, the lamp beside the couch, and cringed from even that as she lay there.
Vulnavia lit a cigarette, gestured towards the door. "I'm going."
"Oh, don't," she said, summoning energy, sitting up. "Stay. Where's Worm?"
"He's in the car. Sleeping. Don't tell me to stay," he muttered. Lavender rose to her feet and tottered towards him. "I don't even want to look at you right now."
Lavender curled her arms around Vool's shoulders, using him for support. "I'll buy you a new... hubcap." She snickered and pressed her face into his shoulder.
"No, get off me."
"Admit you enjoyed it."
"If you remember it tomorrow I'll admit it," said Vool, trying to remove Lavender from himself.
"Stay," she repeated more gently, lowering her lashes.
Vool focused, regarding her. "I tried it once."
"Everybody tries it once," Lavender replied. She watched him back, then relinquished her hold. Vulnavia paused, wondered if he'd said something wrong.
"I gotta go," he said, slipping out of her arms. As he turned, Lavender grabbed his ass, pinching hard. "Ow! Fucker." Lavender grinned at him crazily. He started to say something, decided not to waste his time trying to chasten her, and left.
Long after she heard the car pull away she was standing there.
She spent the hour before sunrise on the back porch, flinging videotapes of TV shows into the air and shooting them down with her Beretta. The tapes ran out before the rounds did. Then she went back inside, eyed the television warningly, and went to sleep. In late afternoon she rose to have a bath.