19 Flames, Lucan, Kev

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19   Flames, Lucan, Kev

"I think I'd like to get outside for a while," I say, caressing the white marble balusters of the staircase as she and I climb upstairs. "Touch the ground, see the sky, for a dose of reality." There's a problem with this idea, however: anticipating media speculation about us and our hide-out, Jason instructed us both, in GN head office, to stay hidden here inside the Metropolitan throughout our stay in Asbury Park. "I mean, I see the sense in Jason's curfew, but I know I'll be able to hypnotise anyone we meet outside into not spreading the news of our presence here. After all, I made Marc set the whole broadcast up, so I don't think this would be too much of a challenge in comparison."

Alaia frowns. "Let's not jeopardise anything." We stand in the unlit corridor outside our rooms. "It feels late, but it must only be about ten o'clock. Seems everyone here has finished for the night. Evelyn didn't look as if she wanted to sleep yet, though ... didn't you think?"

"She was just going back with Rik. I must say, I'm still wide awake."

"You know what we should do. Get on with preparing for Thursday's broadcast—right now, preferably. You know how little time we have."

I raise my hands, shrugging. "What can we do right now? You know that's not going to happen tonight. It's just not the kind of thing that happens, is it? So let's not sweat it."

We stare fixedly at each other, through the shadows, for several seconds.

"Ah, fuck it, let's go out," she says.

"All right, you've persuaded me."

Five minutes later we leave our rooms, go back down the staircase, tiptoe through the deserted hallway and slip out into the open air of Asbury Avenue. A naughty children's sense of escape from school overcomes us, and we skip to the right across the empty road, stifling giggles in the dead quiet. A nearly full moon pours light through the warm air. This strange little town is our oyster—where shall we go?

We turn left at random, down Heck Street. Towards the end of this short block a voice calls "Hey!" and a tall, slim, African American guy lopes over to us from the stoop of a run-down residential hotel on the left. He's in his late twenties, with alert, restless eyes. He stops dead, staring at me. Following the cliché, his mouth falls open. "Shit!" he cries, steps back, then leans forward again to peer at me. "Damn! Was that you on TV tonight? That Sound & Vision thing? Was that you? I was just watching you!"

Well, this is a great start to our secret stroll. I nod warily.

"Goddamn! You just bust my head. Who are you?..."

I recall Marc insisted that the broadcast explain nothing about either Alaia or me, but merely showcase her voice and my face, without explanation. His best idea, I thought. "Jaymi," I say, holding a hand out.

He looks down at it and shakes it gingerly, as if it might come off. "Flames..." He turns and directs a low whistle behind him. A car engine purrs into life, just beyond the hotel, and a black Cadillac with its roof down rolls unhurriedly around the corner. "This is Lucan," mutters Flames.

As the car creeps towards us, the presence of the man in the passenger's seat is so strong that the driver is eclipsed: lit with shocking clarity beneath the yellow street-lamp, his overpowering eyes, set in a strong, handsome black face, flick from Alaia to me, from Alaia to me, from Alaia to me. He's in his mid-twenties, wearing a black vest, very powerfully and smoothly muscular, with his hair shaved almost down to nothing. This is the face that Flames and the driver and anybody else who may appear will obviously obey: there is so little question about this, that I very nearly laugh. The Cadillac glides to a standstill beside Flames. Still looking from me to Alaia, the man in the passenger's seat smiles, slowly, and his smile spells trouble, violence, sex and danger. He opens the car-door and steps up onto the narrow grass verge between the pavement and the road. A full two metres tall, wearing black jeans and black combat boots, he raises one hand easily, rests it on the nape of Flames's neck and squeezes hard without effort; Flames's shoulders rise, he grins, laughs and half-crumples down. Not looking back at him, Lucan saunters over to Alaia and me, plants himself right in front of us, legs apart and arms crossed, and looks us up and down without speaking. A big, flat, golden crucifix hangs from his chest, whose bulk quite dominates my field of vision, so close to me has he parked himself. "What the fuck are you doing in Asbury?" he growls in a deep voice, grinning down insolently at me.

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