39 Your painted face alive and smiling

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39   Your painted face alive and smiling

I join in a small round of appreciative applause for Shigem, who has just finished his extended anecdote. A part of me did continue to attend to him throughout my tune-in to Kim, and did enjoy what he was saying: it's just that this part of me seems not to have included much of my memorising faculties, as I can now recall little of what he said, whereas I do recall most of what I just saw in Kim.

"You know, I still can't get over how strange it is," says Alaia, "to see this apartment, plus that whole high-end studio, tucked away in this old building. From outside it looks like such a ruin."

"Isn't it fun?" says Evelyn. "It was Jason's idea. He wanted somewhere we could do low-profile recordings, where people wouldn't think to hang round outside waiting to catch a sight of some big-name talent going in or out. And it worked—a lot of people still don't know we're here."

"That was all, while he was planning it," says Rik. "But when we started renovating, it became a wacky mission for him to build the least likely-looking high-end facility on the market. When we got to kitting it out, he told me every delivery truck had to have 'demolition' painted on the side of it, in a plausible way, so everyone would think we were just clearing out old shit, not bringing new shit in. The trucks had to back right up against the building, so all the kit could be slid inside without anyone outside seeing it."

"Did this really fool everyone?" asks Alaia. "There must have been a lot of activity that couldn't be hidden. Like connecting this place to the cable networks, or whatever it's connected to. Plus renovation noise."

"All those things were carefully planned to be super-quick," says Rik. "Some people registered that something was moving in here, but they probably thought it was just some obscure little office looking for a dirt-cheap rent. To this day, nobody in town here knows it's as high-end as anything in New York."

"Quite a few people in town know by now that it's some kind of recording studio," says Evelyn, "but they're pretty hazy about it, 'cos there's no sign saying 'G.N.'—just those few old letters standing on the roof, from when this was a grand hotel."

"Yeah," I chip in. "With just those left up there, if I hadn't already known we were coming to somewhere called the Metropolitan, I'd have assumed this clapped-out old hulk was just the Metropol."

"There used to be a modern little car-port tacked onto the front of the big old entrance porch with the columns," says Rik. "And it had plastic lettering around the top of it, which did still say 'Metropolitan Hotel' for years after the place became a ruin. But it was so tacked-on and tacky, that although Jason wanted the whole place to remain a general ruin on the outside, he did have the car-port taken off."

Seeing Evelyn get up and head across the room, I rise and wander after her. Once we're alone in the kitchen, I murmur "I'm sorry I gave the game away to Alaia earlier, I am such a dipstick—"

"Yeah, nice work," she replies, giving me a hug. "You'd make a great undercover agent." She takes a pack of beer cans from the fridge. "Will Alaia be discreet? My job's on the line here."

"Oh yes," I reply, tuning in while I speak ... and they've known you here for years, Evelyn, circulating through the streets, adding to the summer with your laugh. What fun it was, to lose control on a Friday night or a Saturday night, or both! What a rush to trip on acid, lying on the grass among the ducks on the island by the bridge on Sunset Lake with friends, after you saw that band play at the Saint over on Main Street. What better use of dollars than to drink them in a bar or on the beach beneath the summer stars, as someone played drums in the distance? All those words and laughs and fights and flashes of metal and cash and alcohol have flown away, and that whole scene is mostly gone; but how enriched you were by it, and how you returned the favour. They all saw you climbing into cruising cars at midnight, and sniffing coke in alleyways and nightclub toilets, your painted face alive and smiling, high from the scent of the gasoline and fuel oil spilled on the pavement where your high heels strutted. Outside the deli by the hole in the wall you would stand with your arms folded, leaning on the pay-phone, thinking of the coins and the bills in the pocket of your tight blue jeans, as you cocked an ear to some wild tale that the glamorous proto-anorexic Angel was telling you, before he found Lucan: in your eyes, as you heard him, were fun, compassion, sparkle and humanity. At Kingsley and Second was the corner where you sold yourselves, surrounded by the bars and clubs and empty lots and run-down homes and crumbling hotels. What a shit job, but you both made the best of it.

You'd never known another place to live than Asbury Park; you were used to it and loved it with a rough love, as home. Back then, it was only the marginal who moved here; most people bypassed this bombsite-by-the-sea full of people who would stay and die. Slowly since then, however, different kinds of people have been moving in, unexpected people. Jason came, for instance; and though he went away again, he left behind the sound-stage and hired you to drive for it.

And so you left the street and stayed off it, but you're independent always. You move in your space with the beauty of a swagger, like an everyday assassin. To the drum-beat inside you, you shake your hips, flick your long black hair through the air, and run with no gang. It seems you hang with everyone, and yet you are a lone wolf, a sunny band of one. Good god, you're beautiful.

"Beer?" she offers me.

"No thanks. You know, I never could be doing with beer."

"Really? What else is there to drink? Aside from bourbon."

"What else? There's a whole range of effete and picturesque cocktails for every occasion."

She creases up at this. "You're cuckoo!"

"Evelyn, I distinctly saw you drinking champagne earlier tonight."

"I was just slumming it, for you. I'm having a Bud, thanks." And she grabs a can, rips the top off and takes a long swig.

"But there's just so much of it," I reason, "compared with the other options. Where d'you put it all?"

She swallows, looking sunnily up at me, and I can see the beer fizz popping behind her eyes. "You piss it out, what d'you think?" she blinks.

"I mean where d'you put it before you piss it out?"

She lifts up her bright yellow T-shirt, slaps her curvaceous tan stomach and cackles raucously at me, "Right here, honey!"

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For some nice reviews and interviews about The Imagination Thief, in The Guardian and elsewhere, see http://www.rohanquine.com/press-media/the-imagination-thief-reviews-media/

For a quick synopsis of it, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/synopsis-and-characters-list-the-imagination-thief/

For the 12 Films in The Imagination Thief, see http://www.rohanquine.com/video-books-films/12-films/

For the Audio-book version and the Video-book version of each of its 120 mini-chapters, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/audiobook-tumblr-wattpad/

For links to the retailers, see http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-ebook/ and http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-paperback/

And for its Amazon pages, see http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909 and http://www.amazon.com/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909

The Imagination Thief is about a web of secrets, triggered by the stealing and copying of people's imaginations and memories. It's about the magic that can be conjured up by images of people, in imagination or on film; the split between beauty and happiness in the world; and the allure of various kinds of power. It celebrates some of the most extreme possibilities of human imagination, personality and language, exploring the darkest and brightest flavours of beauty living in our minds. 

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