The Beast, Pt. 52 (Chapter 16d)

With the last of us in agreement, we leave the villa and head downstairs. Papa Chub and the blonde stay behind to sit in the dark and tell secrets, or have safe sex, or have unsafe sex, or possibly to plot how they will murder us all on our return. Probably some kind of sex type thing, though. It doesn’t matter. I’m sure we’ll be gone at least an hour, probably two, maybe even three. Plenty of time for them to do whatever it is they’re going to do, nap, wish they were somewhere else, and then be relieved by our return.

Out in front of the Libretto, there’s a limousine waiting for us. A human chauffeur opens the door for us and we pile in. The girls marvel to varying degrees at the plush seats, the bar, the precious metal and jewelery accents on everything. Googe and Monk marvel as well. Erb and I do to, but we’re better at hiding it, at maintaining the illusion that we’re cool and in control and used to getting everything we want.

The redhead eyes the bar with light in her face. Maybe this space walk thing won’t be so bad, she’s thinking. If nothing else, she can sit in the limo and watch and sip from a bottle of booze that costs what your average individual makes in a week. “Is that Voov?” she asks no one in particular. “Is that for us?”

“Baby, of course it is. Hell, that’s not just for us. That’s for you,” Googe says. There’s a smirk on his face that looks a little out of place, like he’s just wearing it. The detached amusement isn’t there in his eyes, the coldness and the calculation that would be more at home on my own face or on Papa Chub’s. He’s not thinking about how to impress this girl, about what impressing her will get him. He’s just trying to be cool, reciting rehearsed lines cribbed from a vid or a novel. If he’s cool, everything else will fall into place. That’s the way of the universe.

It isn’t, of course. At least, it’s not the way of my universe. But maybe physics are different in whatever alternate plane of existence Googe calls home.

The redhead pops open the champagne, pours it into the flutes conveniently included with the bar (stemware, highball glasses, rocks glasses, shot glasses, cocktail glasses. The variety and the selection honestly seem like overkill, but I can’t help but admire how thorough it all is. Her and Googe pass out the filled glasses, and we raise them to the roof of the limo in a toast to our youth, our wealth, our spontaneity. May we all live forever.

It takes us a few minutes to pull away from the crowds and the traffic along the Libretto, a few more to get away from the hotels, longer still as the limousine makes its way into the vast nothingness between the Strip and the spaceport. In the back of my head I’m wondering why so much driving is necessary. Surely there’s multiple access points to the Meadows’s exterior. If there were an emergency necessitating access back by the strip, it’s hard to imagine that the Meadows’s maintenance crew would head all the way out into the middle of nowhere to reach the outside.

I almost give voice to my thoughts, but a quick glance around the limo shows me there’s no point. Monk and Erb are telling stories about their misspent youth to the brunette as she listens and giggles. Googe and the redhead are talking softly, a grin on his face and a vaguely amused smile on her own. I shrug and sip at my champagne before turning to the caramel-skinned girl and smiling warmly. “So. You never told me your name.”

She smiles back, her eyes cold and humorless. “I know.”

I’m quiet for a moment. It would be so easy to snort and never talk to her again, but something compels me to try and reach out to her instead. I don’t know why. She’s pretty, yes, but so was the woman in the bikini, so were the women at the craps table, so is most everyone with any kind of a service job in this place. But there’s something about her that’s attracting me to her beyond that. I can’t even tell if it’s physical, mental, emotional, or what.

I suppose there’s nothing to do but try and figure it out, then. I sit up a bit straighter, clear my throat, smile wider. “Here, let me try that again.” I hold out my hand. “Hi, I’m Chad. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She looks at my hand with a blank stare, like she can’t figure out what I’m trying to offer her and why, but she smiles. “Hello, Chad. Pleasure to meet you, too.” She pauses, smirks, smiles again, like we’re playing a game only the two of us know the rules to. “You can call me Lilith.”

I frown. Evidently that’s it. Evidently that’s my breaking point. “Lilith. Like, Lilith, Adam’s estranged wife? Lilith, mother of demons?”

She nods, still pleased with herself. “The very same.”

“That’s not your real name.”

“And I suppose that Chad is yours?”

“Chad is all I’m giving you.”

“And Lilith is all I’m giving you.”

My mouth twists in annoyance, untwists into a smirk. I’m enjoying myself, I realize. This is actually kind of fun to me. “Fine. But I’m going to call you Notlil.”

She frowns, her eyebrows (thin and delicate, filled in with pencil or crayon or tattoo, whatever it is women use for the purpose) coming to a point. “Then I’m going to call you Notchad.”

“Fine by me,” I say with a smile.

She rolls her eyes. “Are you like this with everyone you pick up?”

I take a sip of the champagne, roll it around my mouth with my tongue, take the time to find some approximation of the truth. “No. Most people aren’t worth the effort.”

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