The lure, p.39

The Lure, page 39


The Lure

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  Which turned out to be a person, standing. No, not just a person, but Veena Scarborough, a hand on one silver-lamé jutting hip, another hand attached to a long, darting, silver fingernail, shaking in the air now as flakes of silver were shot off her face, her silver-embedded eyes, the stroboscope making everything vibrate to one single vibration where the senses all melted together. Now separated. An eerie, high-pitched atonal sound pierced the music blaring and thumping around her, then, as her silver-painted lips opened and she shouted, sang, shrieked, crooned, demanded, “Pull yourself together: I say, ‘Pull yourself together, baby!’”

  The crowd roared recognition of one of their favorite songs as the silver-strobe sound shot out of her, hit Noel directly between the eyes, and he felt his ego punched to smithereens with another crest of white…

  And back again. And gone again into the white. Until even that became rhythmic, too, and Noel couldn’t say why he’d never felt such contentment, such pure physical, mental, emotional pleasure before.

  Alana had somehow gotten them over to the edge of the crowd. Still holding him, still into the beat of the music, she managed to get the two of them into a space against one wall. He let her lead him, holding onto her outstretched hand as it changed and became a snake/a tree bough/a flower/a petal/a strip of leather/a steel-curved bar/and arm again/then a hand. Alana smiled, reached up, touched Noel’s forehead. He felt her skin hot then cool then melting into him from the touch, from his side where they were up against each other. He saw Veena in her silver Queen of Outer Space costume gyrate, shimmy, wag a finger, shout to her finale, stop as though frozen, as the petals began slowly to fold around her, and the crowd rioted into shouting, stamping, giving back what she had given them.

  Noel closed his eyes for a rest. The lighting was muted inside now. Easier to take.

  He felt someone touching him, shaking him by the shoulder, it seemed. He opened his eyes, turned, and saw a familiar face close by. Cal. Cal Goldberg. The manager. He was motioning to Noel, pulling him and Alana behind, threading through the sidewall of people packed together all still in motion, to another wall, then up a dozen steps, and into a sudden absence of glaring lights, cell-gripping sounds. Noel turned to make certain that Alana was with him. The door was closed.

  They were inside a large plush office, with sofas, chairs, coffee tables. One wall, where they had entered, was completely one-way glass looking out into the club, where the party still raged. Inside, it was almost hermetically still, calm as a pond. Noel made out other people sitting in the swivel chairs—Rick, Cal again. Someone he didn’t know but guessed to be a friend of theirs.

  Alana shook off his hand gently, dropped onto a sofa, motioned for Noel to follow. He settled into the pillows gingerly, having to rename, redefine, figure out everything he saw as though seeing a chair or sofa or person for the first time in his life.

  “I saw you guys out there,” Cal explained. “I thought maybe you wanted to rest a minute. Drink?”

  “Water,” Alana said. Noel nodded, unable to find his voice yet.

  “You’ve never tripped before,” Alana said to Noel. It was not a question. Evidently it was all too apparent.

  Noel searched for, found his voice. “Not like this.” He wanted to tell her what he had learned, discovered, intuited, seen, felt since they’d come down the escalator. He decided it would take weeks, months perhaps.

  The glass of water was suddenly handed to him. Its three-dimensionality disconcerted him for a second; it seemed alive. But he watched how she took it, and did so, too. It felt odd. The water, as he looked into it, seemed filled with living, microscopically small creatures. But she was drinking it. He did, too. It tasted like nothing. Felt strange, alive again, going down his throat.

  “I hereby declare this party an A-one success,” Rick Chaffee said with a much exaggerated drawl. Noel wondered why, looked at Rick. His eyes were bright: stoned. Noel’s must look the same.

  “If that’s the case, I’m not needed anymore,” Cal said quietly. “I’m going home.”

  “And miss the rest of it?”

  “I’ve been to plenty of parties, honey. And I intend to go to plenty more.”

  They laughed, exultant, telling each other their work had not been for nothing.

  There was a tap at the mirror. On the other side of the window Cal’s lover, Burt, was peering in, even though he couldn’t see inside, waving his hand in a circle against the glass.

  Cal let him in, along with sixty seconds of music and lights and intense heat. Noel said hello. Greetings were general. Then Noel decided he had something very important to say to Alana, turned to her, saw she seemed to be resting, tripping off, her eyes closed. It could wait. He, too, slumped back into the sofa and slowly looked outside as the others talked, and he began to feel the acid in him begin to crest again. He went off into the warm Antarctica of white again.


  He was stretched out on the sofa. The room was filled with people: Veena and Alana on the opposite sofa; Cal and his lover; Rick and Jimmy DiNadio, quietly, but intensely as ever, arguing. They noticed him first.

  “You okay?” Chaffee asked.

  “Fine.” And he was. Everything still seemed to have its own unique, individualized presence for him—the ashtray on the table was aggressively three-dimensional. The water in the glass was almost a cartoon of water. Any movement he or anyone else made left a half dozen afterimages, as though he were seeing through a camera lens that was speeded up to catch not only motion, but the areas in between motion.

  “You catch my act, honey?” Veena asked. Before he could say yes, she went on: “It was fabulous ! If I say so myself.”

  Noel sat up. Then stood up. Outside, through the office’s one-way mirror, the party was roaring, unabated. He glanced past a wall clock and was astonished to see it was three o’clock. He’d been tripping for three hours already. That meant that the heaviest part of it was over.

  “Really knocked me on my ass,” he said to no one in particular.

  “Honey, imagine what I felt like?” Veena said. “Trying to keep my balance on that thing. Let me tell you! Surfing is a cinch compared to that!”

  Noel was perfectly relaxed. He was used to the drug’s more obvious effects now. Still, he was bothered by something: a mind itch he couldn’t find to scratch.

  “Well, where in this dump is the massa anyway,” Veena said in response to something Alana had murmured too low for Noel to catch.

  That was it: Eric! Eric was in trouble! He had to find Eric. He felt a rush of the acid coming on, and sat down. It worked on the cerebral cortex of the brain, Noel remembered from his reading about the drug: his excitement, fear, whatever strong emotion he had would trigger more of a reaction in turn.

  No one answered Veena’s question immediately. Then almost everyone present seemed to have a different answer. Rick had seen Eric in the DJ’s booth, taking over the light panels system, he said. But that must have been hours ago. Cal had talked to Eric via the club’s intercom, when Eric was downstairs on the lower floor. Eric had reported a spectacular, very mixed sex scene in the showers. But Cal’s lover said that he had been downstairs at two thirty: the orgy had been over by then, and Eric nowhere in sight.

  “I’m sure he’s having a good time,” Alana said, appearing very mellowed out. “He always does.”

  “He’s up in the office on the fourth floor,” someone said almost from behind Noel. It was “Marge,” flat out on the carpet, back against the wall, feet straight out. He looked beat. His red hair was plastered down over his forehead with sweat, his T-shirt soaked. “I saw him going up, just before I managed to squeeze in here. He was with Geoff Malchuck. I saw them going inside.”

  “They’re probably checking out that new shipment of coke Geoff scored,” Cal said.

  Noel’s mind began racing. New connection. Coke. Geoff Malchuck. Hadn’t they talked at the elevator in Redfern’s town house yesterday? Could Geoff be the setup? The trap Loomis had all ready?
The catch was supposed to be tonight, the onionskin had said.

  “Who else was with him?” Noel asked.

  “Some friend of Geoff’s.”

  “Marge” answered. “No one I know. Anyone have a Tuinal? I’m ready to slide into my down trip.”

  Geoff Malchuck a Whisper operative? He couldn’t be. Or could he? Remember how closely he looked at me the day at Redfern’s, just after Priscilla Vega told me about the programming?

  “How do I reach the upstairs office?” Noel asked, a hand on the intercom phone.

  “Push C and dial eleven,” Cal instructed. No one else was paying attention. Noel had to keep it casual.

  “What’s wrong?” Alana asked.

  He didn’t respond. The phone rang and rang. No answer. He hung up and dialed again. Still no answer. Noel stood up. “See you later,” he said.

  Before anyone could register a reaction, he was at the door, had it open, was in the middle of the party again. After the quiet, cool calm of the office, it was like being inside a hurricane composed of lights, sounds, people, motion, insanity. He was trying to see a way around the dance floor over to the escalators when he felt a tug at his right shoulder, turned, saw Alana, her lips moving. He couldn’t hear what she said, couldn’t make out anything but the intense thumping bass of the music. He pointed toward the middle of the room, felt her hand slide down his back and latch onto his belt. She was going with him.

  Pushing through the dizzying, dancing smash of bodies proved almost impossible. He couldn’t get anywhere near the escalators. Those he did try to shove aside gave angry looks. Some even pushed him back. This was not the way to do it. He turned around to her and motioned up, jabbing with one finger, up.

  “The elevators!” she shouted, her mouth right near his ear. “Follow me.”

  They had to go back the way they’d come. Precious moments lost was all he could think. And the acid was sweeping through him again periodically, although never quite coming to a crest like before. He still had to stop and try to keep it under control.

  They had arrived at one of the circular lobbies outside the main dance floor. Alana reached up to tap on the curved window of the ticket taker’s booth. The frizzy-haired blonde inside looked up, and smiled, recognizing Alana, waved her comprehension when Alana pointed to what seemed to be a flat bare wall, and pressed a button.

  The wall slid open, revealing an elevator. Noel almost dragged Alana inside, waiting on pins and needles for the door to close.

  “What’s wrong, Noel?” she asked again in the sudden quiet of the elevator. She held a hand over the button panel.

  “Eric’s in trouble. That coke connection he’s doing. It’s a trap. A setup to bust him. I can’t explain it all to you. You can’t come with me. Go back to the party.”

  As an answer, she pressed the button for the fourth floor. The doors closed, the car began to rise smoothly. Noel had to lean against the wall in the sudden double rush of ascent and acid. When it stopped, he was leaning forward, poised to rush out. The doors stayed closed. Once more she was holding her hand over the button panel.

  “Let me out, Alana!”

  “You are certain of this?”

  “Of course, I’m certain. Let me out. Go back downstairs.”

  “You are very high, Noel. Higher than you’ve ever been before. Sometimes strange thoughts occur when you are this high. Fantasies. Paranoia.”

  “I know I’m high. But it’s not paranoia or fantasy. Believe me, I wish to hell it were.” How could he explain without explaining everything, which would take time, precious time?

  “But Eric is with Geoff,” she protested. “Geoff Malchuck.”

  “I know. I know. Let me out.”

  She didn’t move. Was he going to have to force her to?

  “Look, Alana, I just know that something like this is supposed to happen tonight. I can’t go into all the details right now. But I know. Geoff Malchuck or not.”

  Her look of concerned baillement dropped. The mask that remained was pale with conviction, understanding, anger.

  “Then Eric was right. You are a spy. An enemy.”

  “A spy, yes. Enemy, no. He’s in trouble. Look, Alana, I’ll explain later on…”

  Her hand shot out, slapping his face hard, stopping what he was going to say next. She was shouting something at him that he couldn’t make out. She slapped him again, this time knocking him to the wall of the elevator. He felt as though he were going to crest over again and slide into the white light. He couldn’t afford to now.

  As her hand darted out again, he managed to catch it, push it aside, and reach for the button panel. The doors slid open as he tried to keep her from hitting him again.

  “Stay here. Go downstairs. This may be dangerous,” he said. He pushed the panel button and leaped out just as the doors closed. He could hear her hammering on them as the elevator dropped.

  He located Eric’s office, tried the handle. Locked. He jiggled it, tried to force it. Then he began shouting through the door, kicking at it, trying to get in. Still nothing. Banging on it now with both fists. Then he backed up to the wall behind and charged the door, shoulders first, knocking every cell within his body to smithereens it seemed to him. Managed to collect them, backed up again, and rushed the door once more.

  This time he almost knocked himself out. He heard a sick crack he thought at first was a rib, then realized was a door panel, and gave another hard shove.

  The door gave. He staggered into the room, tumbling to the floor in just enough time to see the two full-length windows thrown open, and three men standing there as though in a tableau vivant : two he’d never seen before, Eric between them, handcuffed, being prodded from behind onto the fire escape. Eric yelled something Noel couldn’t make out, as the crest he had tried so hard to control swept over him and he couldn’t resist the long deep slide into it.

  “He’s all right,” someone said. “Leave him.”

  He must have been out for only a second. Everything seemed as before, except that Eric was gone now. One window was closed. The second of the two men was just stepping out onto the fire escape. The catch! And he wasn’t stopping it.

  He got to his feet, rushing to the window in time to grab one of them by the belt and pull him back hard, so that he stumbled, couldn’t catch himself, hit the side of the desk, fell.

  “We’ve got some trouble,” the one outside shouted down to someone else. Noel crawled out onto the fire escape, felt the grating underfoot, found a handhold, swung into the man, catching him as he turned, smashing him in the stomach. He turned to get Eric and couldn’t find him in the darkness. He shouted his name. There were lights now, from across the airshaft, from below—searchlights. He shouted again for Eric. Suddenly, so suddenly he couldn’t keep his balance, he was being pulled backward.

  “What in hell is wrong with you?” someone muttered behind him. Noel was dragged off the fire escape back into the room.

  “I thought you said this one was all right?”

  “He’s supposed to be.”

  “Son of a bitch, he just bit me.”

  Noel felt a blow to his kidney from behind.

  “Loomis said to make it clean,” the other one said as Noel twisted back. He was pinned now. “Nice and clean,” the man said in front of him, then hauled off and punched Noel’s chin just as a new crest was coming. He felt it and the acid wave connect together. He didn’t go out, although he pretended to, slumping suddenly so that he was dropped to the floor.

  “Hey, wait a minute, sister! Where are you going?”

  “She’s the one!”

  Noel tried to get up, to get from around the desk so he could see. Pain caused him to hold on to the corner to try to catch his breath, to fight off the dizziness.

  “He’s up again,” one of them said.

  Noel could make out the sound of a struggle. When the pain and dizziness subsided enough for him to stagger over to the window, he was grabbed from behind again, both arms pinned to his sid
es. He tried struggling, felt helpless, weak. He thought to relax completely, allowing the other to ease his grip, then Noel could jump out.

  In front of him, through the thrown-open windows, the other man was trying to grab hold of someone who was fighting back hard. It took Noel a minute to realize that it was Alana. He tried to shout to her to stop. Tried to struggle free. Heard blows exchanged between them, heard her voice uttering soft, indignant, angry sounds. Saw the two bodies writhing, saw someone else appear on the fire escape, grating, saying, “Now now now now” like a rapid-fire gun. He was let go from behind and leaped up to the window frame.

  Alana had gotten free. Both her assailants seemed to have let go of her. She turned to him as he reached out for her, calling her name, trying to get her inside, then saw one of the men dive forward into her, hands out in front of him.

  Click. Click. Click. Everything stopped, froze, but the white of her arms flying up into the air, clutching for the railing, the grating, something, anything to hold on to in the air, before her head disappeared from sight, and her midsection and legs fled after them backward, slowly as though in a ballet, backward, like a bizarre throw in the air from some modern ballet’s pas de deux.

  Everything stopped, and replayed again: the hand in the air, in the water, reaching up and up, over and over. Over and over, the hand reaching for air out of the water. His groggy awakening in the rocking boat, seeing the hand clutching for air, getting up, waking with the icy plunge into the water, reaching for her, reaching for her, feeling the utter fucking helplessness of not being able to reach her in time, and the only thought he could put together was, No, this can’t be happening, not again, this can’t be real, it must be the drug.

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