The Silver Year: Chapter 21

Chapter 21

Death Should Always Be Played Loudly​​ ​​ 

 

Late-afternoon light poured in from the tall windows of Amsterdam Centraal Station’s main hall, buzzing like a beehive in the busy rush hour traffic. Penetrating the din, however, was Chopin’s​​ Prelude Op. 28, No. 4. Walter only knew that prelude by name because he had borrowed from it to create his prelude for “Bowie’s Nocturne”, the last song he​​ ever​​ performed onstage.

 He followed the playing to a black grand piano tucked into a back corner of the hall with the words​​ BESPEEL MIJ - PLAY ME​​ stickered on it. Behind it was a short-haired brunette in a black formal dress, whacking into the keys. As she neared the end of the short piece, as if to spite the clatter of rolling suitcase wheels and indeterminate chatter droning past her, unlike any other interpretation he had heard, she insolently increased the intensity beyond even the volume of the climax, punching the final chord in so hard it brought her to her feet.

Her head stayed bowed after, while fine plumes of dust her performance disturbed spangled in the golden-hour sunlight as they fell back to Earth. She then brought her face up to Walter’s eyes as only he was applauding. It was a face he’d seen before, the foxlike face of the hostess​​ from​​ La Lune Rouge. As he drew closer to leave a tip on the hood of the piano, however, although similar and again of about the same age, the face changed into a stranger.

Dank u,” she said.

Mooi... uh,​​ bespeel mij,” Walter said reading the Dutch on the piano. He had learned the word for beautiful from Shiva after she had complimented his “mooi dansen”.

The girl laughed. “Mijn excuses meneer Chopin. Ik hou er niet van om de dood mooi te spelen.

“I’m sorry, what? That’s the only Dutch I know.”

She laughed again. “Yes...” she said in a strong accent,​​ but​​ not a Dutch accent,​​ something​​ more​​ Eastern European. “...that is very obvious. You say ‘play me beautifully’, so I say, ‘I don’t like to play you beautifully Mister Chopin.’”

“Oh, I see,” Walter said​​ smiling. “But actually,​​ I thought​​ your un-beautiful playing​​ was​​ the most​​ beautiful​​ I’ve​​ ever​​ heard. It’s like you opened up a new dimension of the song I didn’t know was there.”

“Dimension?” she said. “What do you mean?”

“Um… it’s like you found a new meaning to the song, a new world no one knew was there. And it’s beautiful. I almost can’t imagine the​​ song or the​​ world any other way now.​​ I guess you could say your performance was life changing.”

She smiled bashfully.​​ Dank u,” she said again. “You are very kind. Not many people like the way I play your death. But Im​​ glad you​​ like your death​​ played loudly.”

“My death?”

She laughed again. “This​​ was the​​ song​​ you chose to have​​ played at your funeral,​​ Mister Chopin.”

“Oh, that’s right.” He had forgotten that fact.​​ “And yes, death should always be played loudly.”​​ 

 

Outside the train station​​ in the brick-faced canyons of Amsterdam’s downtown area,​​ bike paths crisscrossed the city like tracks​​ on a circuit board, encircling Walter’s ears with​​ trickling bicycle​​ gears​​ and​​ bells.​​ Everyone from businessmen with briefcases to mothers with children rode about in a more tranquil demeanor when compared to car commuters​​ back home.​​ 

After​​ consuming a quick dinner from FEBO, a Dutch fast food chain made entirely of self-serve vending machines with the exception of the beverages ironically, he found a cheap hostel for the​​ night​​ that had two guest computers in the lobby. Using one of them, he looked up directions to the​​ nearest police station and Maloe Melo, but had no luck finding anything for “La Lune Rouge​​ Amsterdam”, “Dug DeMargo Amsterdam”, or “Kali and The Easy Wind Grateful Dead Tribute Amsterdam”.​​ He then tried​​ Lady Duc de Glace dominatrix Amsterdam”,​​ and at last found something,​​ a personal website advertising her services.

After checking over his shoulder to make sure no one was looking and clicking the agreement he was over eighteen, he was taken to a homepage with an image of the Golden Ass he’d heard so much about, and no doubt, it was the best ass he’d ever seen, forming a perfect heart in the center of​​ his​​ screen as its owner was fully bent over, bound in rich olive skin and black sheer lingerie, supported by two long, muscular legs on a base of double platform fuck-me pumps.​​ ENTER​​ was written across the heart.​​ 

Walter​​ clicked and was taken to another page with a black and white side profile of a naked man on his knees in a latex gimp mask and a spiked leather dog collar attached to a leash held by a woman who towered over him​​ with short, black, swooped-back hair in fishnet pantyhose wearing a white business shirt and a​​ black​​ fitted​​ vest. In her other hand​​ was​​ a metallic device that​​ made Walter’s rectum pulse​​ with​​ phantom pangs.​​ It​​ looked like a C-clamp with a surgical rib spreader attached to the opening end, the prongs dripping​​ in​​ a translucent viscous fluid.​​ Over the device was written​​ EET FUK.

Walter​​ clicked and was taken to a calendar which was booked solidly until the fall. Other than an inquiry form to make a reservation, which required a fifty-euro deposit, there was no other contact information, and nothing else to click except for a photo gallery. After looking over his shoulder again, he clicked.​​ 

Scrolling through, although her face was partially obscured in every photo either by angle or mask, his mind was able to cobble together a face of extraordinary splendor, and not a sweet splendor, but​​ a splendor that left him in throbbing knots because the fantasy of fucking her with the ferocity of mating baboons refused to leave his head. No wonder​​ there was a long waiting list​​ to be brutalized by her. Even​​ Walter​​ felt himself​​ tempted​​ as blood began boiling and swelling​​ into his​​ bellbottoms.

Reaching the end of the gallery, he was again treated to her rear-end, a gif this time that made the Golden Ass shake to and fro. It lulled him into a tonic state by its perfect applebottomness. All he wanted was to grasp at it and could think of nothing else.

Two teenage girls then entered the lobby and sat down at the computer beside him before he had time to hide the Golden Ass. They giggled as he quickly closed the page, then giggled even harder when he stood up. ​​ 

 

Going first to the police station, he found no one under the name Shiva (Walter never did get her last name or verify if Shiva was indeed her real first name) had been booked in the last week. He tried describing her, but the receptionist could offer no further help as she had a line of people behind him to deal with.

At Maloe Melo, Shiva’s amps and cabs she had stored there were gone, but the staff, who only spoke broken English, seemed to have no clue who he was talking about, and they said Patrick​​ retired a year earlier. However, since he was the former owner, he did come in on special occasions to work, so maybe Walter wasn’t completely crazy. But when​​ he​​ asked if they could tell him where Patrick lived, they then thought he was and politely asked him to leave.

Still too restless to call it a​​ day, he continued searching into evening, walking down streets at random, hoping to find something that could help him, and​​ eventually that something​​ came:​​ his urinal. From there, he found Dug’s apartment complex rather easily, and at the entrance was a callbox with a directory, and listed in apartment 622 sure enough was Dug DeMargo.

Walter jabbed the digits, but it only rang endlessly, then cut off after a minute. He tried again, and again, but nothing. After loitering around the​​ entrance for twenty minutes, finding no one who would let him in, he then began calling again, and on the third attempt, finally the call was picked up.​​ 

“Fuck off ya cunt!” the callbox shouted then clicked off. Walter dialed again. “Listen, if you don’t leave—”

“Dug it’s Walter. Don’t hang up.”

“What? Walty? What the fuck do you want?”

“It’s a long story, but I need your help.​​ Please.”

“Sorry mate, but can’t help ya. Got me own hands full right now.”

“Can I help​​ you​​ then?”

“Fuck off. I know​​ who​​ you are.”

“Quinn Quark?”

“Who’s that? Your other fake cop name?​​ By the way, Walter Huxley, terrible​​ fake name​​ mate.”

“You think I’m​​ a​​ cop?”

“That’s the only explanation.​​ Where​​ else would​​ you​​ have gotten​​ that shirt? No way you could’ve found it​​ in​​ that box because I burned them all. I destroyed everything luna hunny.​​ And if there was anything left, it would’ve only been from what was confiscated by the cops in Paris. What, was that your way of trying to intimidate me, to let me know you were onto me? Then...​​ then that whole act in front of Maloe Melo, what was that​​ about? That’s when I​​ realized​​ you must be some batshit crazy undercover motherfucker.”​​ 

“Dug, I’m not a cop.”

“You can stop bullshitting me​​ Walter. You got a fake-sounding name. You wouldn’t do coke with me. You can’t handle your weed.​​ You​​ also just​​ look like a cop. You’re a fucking cop!”

“Look up​​ Walter Huxley or​​ Quinn Quark on your phone and tell me​​ after​​ if you still think I’m a cop. If you’re going to pretend to own a music label, maybe you should pay attention more to what’s happening in music.​​ Also, maybe take it easy on the coke.​​ It’s making you paranoid​​ and​​ sloppy.

The callbox groaned, followed by a long pause. “No shit​​ mate,”​​ Dug then said after presumably taking out his phone.​​ “Why didn’t you tell me? But if you’re not a cop, then... then... No. You have to be​​ a​​ cop. The shirt, the bar.​​ There’s no way.”​​ 

“Dug, for the last time,​​ I​​ am​​ not a cop! How I ended up in that bar with that shirt​​ on​​ on​​ that​​ particular​​ night​​ is just as much a mysterious coincidence to me, and it was just the beginning​​ of a long strange trip since that I will explain once I’m up there. But right now I need your help and my trip is telling me you’re the only person who can help me, just like before when you found​​ me​​ in​​ the urinal. How could I be a cop conning you when you were the person who found me? Don’t you remember?”

You’re still tripping? And no, not until you​​ just​​ told me.​​ I was​​ facking​​ hammered when I found you, remember? I forgot that’s how we met . . .​​ Maybe I have been doing too much coke​​ lately.​​ Ugh,​​ just​​ did two big rippers before you rang, but​​ it​​ doesn’t seem to be stopping this heroin any. This is some nasty shit mate.”

“Heroin?”

“Yeah... Ugh.​​ Fack​​ mate.​​ I’m really tweaked. I’m really freaked too. I don’t want her to die. I hate her, but I​​ also​​ love her. I’ll never find another like her. She’s my kind of woman for a man who has no kind.​​ Don’t​​ let​​ her die...”

“Who?”

Dug made a series of garbles before answering.​​ Um… never mind.​​ But​​ fack. I do need your help—we need your help. But you gotta promise to keep it to yourself if you value your life, and I sincerely mean that. I’m not somebody to fuck with. And you better not be a coppa.”​​ 

“Dug, I swear if I have to tell you one more time—”

The callbox clicked off and the front door buzzed open.

 

“Come in. It’s​​ unlocked,” Dug said from the other side of his apartment door after Walter knocked. He pushed it open and found her, lying on the floor with her head propped on pillows propped on Dug’s lap.​​ Her eyes were closed and she was a pale shadow of her former self, looking at least fifteen pounds lighter. Her skin had lost all color except for isolated pools of sickly yellow and brown up and down her arms and legs. Walter had seen the same rotted banana peel stains on Squids’s corpse.

“Mags?”​​ Walter​​ gasped.

“You two know each other?” Dug said without looking in his direction. He was​​ running a wet rag up and down​​ Mags’s​​ naked body. He was​​ also​​ naked and had​​ stains on the undersides of his arms​​ too.​​ “Nobody calls her Mags unless they know her personally.”

“Not exactly,” Walter said.​​ “But I’ve gotten to know Shiva personally, and something tells me you know where I can find her.”

Dug sluggishly pushed aside one of the pillows and in his hand was​​ a​​ nine millimeter​​ handgun.​​ With much effort,​​ he​​ then​​ lifted it and pointed to where Walter had been standing, but at that point​​ Walter​​ had ducked behind Dug’s​​ kitchen​​ island counter.

“What the fuck Dug?!” Walter shouted.

“Fuggin coppa!” Dug shouted back. “I​​ fuggin​​ knew it.”

“I’m not​​ a fucking​​ cop! What else do I have to do to prove it?”

“Then... then... who are​​ you​​ working for​​ if you’re not a cop? How do you know Shiva? From back in the States?”

“I met her at Maloe Melo right after I left you.”

Dug gave a weak chuckle. “Sure you did. Well, got news for ya mate. She’s gone. Left Amsterdam long before you got here.”

“Where’d she go?”

“Fuck you.”

“Dug, I know about the cocaine operation. I know the label is just a front for it. I know you ripped off Shiva.​​ And​​ I know you and Mags were together before Shiva. But I don’t care. I only came back to Amsterdam from Switzerland today to find Shiva, because truthfully, I’m in love with her. But also, I think she might be in trouble. I’ve gone to Maloe Melo, the police, but I can’t find her.”

“You really are a nutcase, aren’t you? I told you, she’s gone.”

“What do you mean?”

“No, no. You want my help, you gotta help me first. Go get Mags’s Suboxone, then we’ll talk.”

“Her what?”

“Suboxone. She was clean​​ from heroin​​ for over two years before this and has a prescription at her place. It will reverse the effects. Maybe save her. I think she’s​​ OD-ing. She showed​​ up​​ high about a​​ week ago and sucked me right back in. Smack and sex were all we used to do back in Paris. But​​ faaaack. This smack is something else.”

Walter then heard a thud. He peaked from behind the island and noticed Dug had fallen over beside Mags. Stuck in his ass was “the device”. Walter gagged.

“Dug,” he said, “I’m going to stand up. Please don’t shoot me.”

“Ugh...” was Dug’s reply.

Walter stood cautiously, then went over to him. His eyes were glazed, pupils constricted and circling in his sunken sockets.

“Should I call the actual police?” Walter asked. “You both should probably go to a hospital.”

“Fuck the police if you ain’t them. Just go get the Suboxone at her place.”

“Where’s her place?”

Dug hesitated. “If you know Shiva…​​ you​​ should​​ know.”

La Lune Rouge?” Walter said.​​ 

Dug closed his eyes and shook his head​​ yes. “But us locals just call it Hell. It’s not far from here, but you’ll have to take the bike.​​ He​​ reached into his pocket,​​ pulled out a key fob, and tossed it to Walter.​​ “Here’s my fob to get the bike out of the garage. It will also get you in and out of the building.”​​ Dug​​ then crawled to a purse near Mags and began rummaging through it. “Here,” he said extracting another key fob and tossing it to Walter. “Tell them​​ EET FUK​​ at the door and when they ask for your name, tell them Vernon. They’ll take you to a special elevator that will take you to the top floor, and that fob​​ will​​ get​​ you the rest of the way. Not sure where she keeps​​ it, but the loo would​​ be​​ my guess. Do that for me​​ and…​​ and then we’ll talk about Shiva. But first I got​​ to​​ get me head straight​​ . . .​​ And​​ I swear to God, if you ain’t a cop,​​ then​​ you must be His reckoning.”

 

Dug only managed to slur out half the​​ directions​​ to “Hell”​​ before the coke wore off and the heroin took over, making him completely intelligible before eventually very sleepy.​​ Remembering how Amber first died, Walter rolled Dug and Mags on​​ their sides before leaving.

Although​​ nearby by bike, left to rely​​ on memory and clues from the locals,​​ all of​​ whom​​ were timid about giving​​ out​​ its exact location, finding Hell wasn’t easy.​​ “If you don’t know where ‘Hell’ is,” one local warned him, “you​​ probably don’t belong there.​​ But finally after passing down an alley he​​ thought he’d been down three times before, he​​ located​​ the​​ nondescript​​ red​​ door, and​​ rang​​ the bell fleshed into the doorframe.​​ Two minutes later the foxlike face of the piano player from earlier greeted him.

“Hello again,​​ Mister Chopin,” she said. “I was not​​ expecting you tonight.”

“Neither was I—well, not exactly . . . Do you have a sister that also works here?”

The hostess sighed. “I did.​​ Did you know her?”

“No. But I saw her here last week.”

The hostess laughed. “Well, I’m sorry to tell you,​​ but that’s impossible. I was the only person here last week. My sister died​​ almost​​ a year ago.”

“Oh,​​ I’m sorry.​​ I didn’t realize . . .​​ Do you remember me then? I came here with Shiva.”

“With who? And no. Hundreds of people come through these doors every week.”

“But you—or whoever was here last week—seemed to know her. Tall, redhead. Plays in a Grateful Dead tribute.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are talking about.”

“Am I at the right place?” Walter said checking his surroundings.

“I don’t know,” the hostess said, “but if you came here on that bicycle, you came at the right time. The Lady always gets her delivery at eleven.”

“Her delivery?”

“You must be new. Yes. The one inside your basket I hope. The Lady will be very hungry. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this bicycle.” Walter opened a compartment hidden in the basket stereo and found a paper bag filled with filled coke vials rubber-banded into bunches like packs of pre-rolled joints.

“Let’s not keep the Lady waiting,” the hostess said. “Password?”

EET FUK.”

“Name?”

“Vernon.”

“And here I was expecting you to say Frédéric,” the hostess said smiling. “Yes,​​ Mister Smith. Right on time. Follow me. The Lady will​​ EET​​ you now.”

 

She opened a door to her right​​ and​​ Walter​​ followed her into a small corridor with another door with a keypad and phone next to it. She picked up the phone​​ and​​ pressed in a passcode, then hung up. Soon after from above,​​ he​​ heard a loud clunk then the whirling of moving chains. About forty-five​​ seconds later he heard another clunk behind the door followed by a loud buzz. The hostess then opened the door and pulled apart manual, antique, elevator doors. Blood-red light came pouring out along with “Station to Station” by David Bowie from a coffin-box-sized lift.​​ 

“Your elevator to Hell,​​ Mister Smith,” the hostess said.

“Shouldn’t I be going the other direction?” Walter quipped as he loaded himself into the tiny cage which felt and looked more like an old carnival ride than an elevator.

“Like I haven’t heard that one before,” she said and shut him in.

She closed the door and soon the machinery whirled up again,​​ and after a jerky ride to the top, the elevator opened onto a red-flushed foyer where the music was playing louder. In the foyer were two plush leather armchairs and a couch with a table, and directly across from the elevator, two double doors with a fob sensor next to them.​​ Walter waved​​ the fob Dug had given him​​ over the sensor, and​​ hearing the lock unlatch, he pushed the doors open.

On the other side was​​ a​​ spacious and octagonal bedroom​​ cascaded​​ in gentle blue light with black​​ crush velvet walls.​​ Ringing​​ the room were a myriad of mirrors, each getting a different angle on the elevated stage dead center​​ of the room,​​ throning​​ an oversized bed, low to the ground and​​ wrapped in black satin.​​ In one corner​​ behind​​ the bed​​ stood​​ a half-open wardrobe closet, exhibiting presumably Mags’s tools of the trade: whips, paddles, leather masks, and an assortment of​​ other​​ stainless steel devices similar to the one​​ in​​ Dug’s ass, and in​​ the other​​ corner,​​ a liquor cabinet​​ with two backed barstool chairs.

Closing the doors behind him,​​ Walter​​ found they sealed tightly and the room became dead silent. “Hello?” he said just to affirm he was alone. The velvet walls sopped up his voice. “Hello!” he said louder, but​​ it made no difference.

He then went to the bedroom bathroom, combing every corner and drawer for Mags’s prescription, but he only found condoms and lubes along with what looked to be toiletry supplies for one female person. The only other door in the bedroom went into a large, walk-in closet. Turning on the light and walking inside, he picked up the faint scent of Shiva, and found the source to be a white nightgown. He took it off its hanger and clutched it to his face. A thousand excited memories lit up behind his eyes.

“Where are you?!” he screamed into it.

He then hung the gown back up, and as he did, something fell out of its pocket. He knelt down and found an Ace of Cups tarot card, and after checking his wallet, he realized it was the same tarot card Shiva had given​​ him, or it must’ve been because the Ace of Cups that was in his wallet was now missing.

Adding​​ it to the growing list of strange and unexplainable things,​​ he​​ put​​ the card​​ in​​ his wallet, then returned his attention​​ to a​​ minor separation he noticed at​​ the​​ back of the closet​​ when he was kneeling.​​ Upon further investigation, he discovered​​ the separation was actually part of​​ a crude door cut into the drywall. He pressed it open, but only​​ found an empty crawlspace, the walls of which were riddled with pinholes from décor that must’ve once been tacked to them.​​ Crawling into the crawlspace, the scent became stronger. Shiva must’ve been here at one time.

 

Continuing to search the bedroom, he at last found the prescription in​​ a drawer of the liquor cabinet​​ along with several empty coke vials. Seeing as he was there to deliver them anyway, he restocked the drawer, emptying the entire paper bag.

“Good,” a voice then said from across the room.​​ Walter looked up frightened, but it was just the hostess.

“Oh, it’s just you,” he said. “How’d you get in here?​​ I didn’t hear the elevator.”

You can’t hear anything outside this room, and nothing inside this room can be heard outside.​​ But also,​​ there is​​ a​​ secret stair behind​​ the​​ fetish cabinet​​ to​​ the​​ cabaret’s​​ backstage.​​ Not many people know​​ but​​ me.​​ It was​​ sealed​​ in the walls​​ when they put​​ a​​ garbage shoot in​​ . . .​​ I want you to follow me downstairs, then I want you to leave out​​ the​​ backstage exit.​​ Leave​​ the​​ bike here.”

“Dug would kill me. And I didn’t come here just to make a delivery. I also had a pickup.”

“They are already dead. The​​ Suboxone won’t help them now.”

“W-what? How did you know—how do you know?”

“Believe me, I know dead.”

The hostess stepped forward from her shadowy corner near the “fetish cabinet”. As she came closer, however, Walter began to see it wasn’t her. It was the hostess he saw last week, her supposedly dead sister.

“Okay, what​​ is​​ going on?” he said. “Is someone fucking with me? Seriously, what is this? This isn’t funny anymore.”

“Calm down. I’m not the first dead person you​​ have​​ seen, not by far. But don’t bother telling anyone. They won’t believe you. Now let’s go. You need to leave for Paris as soon as possible.”

“Paris?”

“Yes. That is where you told Shiva to meet you, isn’t it?”

“Yes of course. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Because I needed you here first. But you must go​​ now. You don’t want​​ to​​ be tangled up in what will follow.”

“What will follow?”

“Right now, you. You will follow me downstairs and get the hell out of Hell. After that, it’s Fate’s decision.”

“You mean Beatrice?”

The ghost hostess smirked. “Who’s Beatrice?” she said still smiling.

“I don’t know. Who are you?​​ Really, who are you?​​ And don’t give me the ‘I am no one because I am not one’ spiel.”

“Fine. My name is Maria. But if you really want to know who I am, look behind you.”

Walter turned around and only​​ saw​​ his reflection in a​​ large mirror behind him.

 

He followed Maria behind the fetish cabinet into the secret door which then led to a​​ spiraled​​ stairwell​​ drilled through eight floors of darkness. Fortunately her voice and a handrail were​​ there to guide him, and the deeper they went,​​ the louder the stage music grew, a strange, organ-grinder-like tune​​ she began singing along to.

Welcome my friend to a place with no life

Where time flays itself out in such vibrant rhyme

The music you hear is your helping guide

Sundered seconds so hard to define

Not of birth or death but of some grand unfolding of time

Hold onto that tether, you don’t want to lose your mind

Scripture becomes​​ universal truth

Perverted and diluted as it flows through the mazes of you

Carving out canyons now crystallized in time

Hold on baby, hold onto that mind

 

The music then passed overhead​​ right before they hit bottom. It was then​​ Walter​​ realized​​ he wasn’t​​ backstage, but​​ below​​ stage, and Maria was no longer with him.

Feeling his way along the wall​​ for a light switch, he came across​​ a door​​ instead​​ leading to a​​ ramped​​ tunnel​​ at the end of which was the dim outline of a door. He opened it and found two dumpsters in a​​ back alley. Coming out from the alley, he​​ came upon the urinal again, and from​​ there​​ he headed to Dug’s, Suboxone still in his pocket just in case Maria was lying. But when​​ he​​ arrived at​​ the​​ apartment complex,​​ it was surrounded​​ by police​​ tape​​ and onlookers.

“What happened?” Walter asked one of them.

“They say a boyfriend and girlfriend who were running a drug operation were found dead. They think the boyfriend choked after a heroin overdose, and when the girlfriend woke up​​ and found him, she​​ shot herself. The gunshot was what made the neighbors call the police.​​ Crazy world.”

“Yes, crazy world.”

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 16

Chapter​​ 16

The​​ Guinea Pig

 

Es-tu prêt?” Shiva said coming out of​​ Maloe Melo’s​​ restroom after changing into​​ her street clothes,​​ a​​ burnt orange​​ maxi​​ skirt​​ and​​ a​​ black​​ shirt​​ covered by a blue jean vest.​​ She’d put her hair in a messy bun and had a​​ wrap choker​​ cord​​ necklace​​ tied​​ around her​​ swan-like neck.​​ No longer the banshee,​​ what Walter​​ thought was​​ a​​ dream was becoming more real.

 “Prêt​​ comme je serai jamais,” he​​ replied.​​ 

In​​ the taxi,​​ he​​ learned​​ La Lune Rouge​​ was​​ a Parisian cabaret, but with an Amsterdam​​ twist. While not technically a brothel, there was a hotel above it, and if performers,​​ who were often times​​ either off-duty sex show workers or​​ prostitutes,​​ wanted to take someone​​ up there to exchange money for sex off-premises, they​​ could and did. Most, however,​​ came to the cabaret to practice​​ routines​​ they put together themselves​​ or with others.

The cabaret​​ is where I met Mags,” Shiva told​​ Walter. “She did​​ this​​ routine to Bowie’s​​ We Are The Dead​​ as Halloween Jack​​ and I was floored. I don’t like everything Bowie, but that​​ song​​ and​​ Diamond​​ Dogs​​ are​​ all-time favorites.​​ We spoke after​​ about doing a​​ show​​ around​​ the album, and​​ it didn’t take long before we​​ became​​ best friends.”

“Where’s Mags tonight?”​​ Walter asked.

“Working​​ as always.​​ She enjoys​​ work​​ more than anything else​​ because it’s not​​ prostitution​​ to her, it’s​​ theater,​​ a​​ world​​ she’s in control of​​ away from the​​ one she’s not​​ . . .​​ She’s a dominatrix. Although when I first met her, the only money she​​ made for sex​​ was​​ just for fun​​ at​​ La Lune Rouge,​​ but then she found a​​ character,​​ Lady​​ Duc de Glace, and​​ a niche​​ crowd there​​ where she could​​ express herself in ways she couldn’t on a cabaret stage. Now​​ La Duc’​​ not only​​ dominates​​ most of​​ her life, but​​ the​​ Amsterdam​​ BDSM​​ audience. She​​ has a waiting list over a month long.”​​ 

“Quite an interesting best friend​​ you​​ have.”​​ 

“Yes, but best friend doesn’t always​​ mean good friend, just whoever happens to​​ best​​ reflect​​ you​​ at​​ a moment​​ in​​ your life, and​​ I have to say​​ my moment​​ in reflection​​ with Mags has come and gone.​​ But​​ I have no​​ one​​ else in Europe,​​ so​​ she​​ still holds my best friend​​ card.​​ It’s rare we see each other more than once or twice a week​​ though. She’s​​ effectively​​ moved into​​ the ‘lair’ she rents for ‘theater’​​ now.”

“How long ago​​ did​​ you meet?”

“Right after luna hunny went to shit. I was barely twenty​​ and​​ a lot​​ more nihilistic since​​ everything​​ I had to live for had​​ just​​ been​​ taken​​ away, and​​ Mags,​​ being ten years older​​ than me,​​ had​​ long before​​ climbed into bed with​​ nihilism​​ and​​ brought me​​ right​​ in​​ with her​​ for a time.​​ I​​ dropped out of the art school I was attending,​​ became a borderline alcoholic, cocaine was my morning coffee, although morning was usually about sunset. But I rationalized it all because we were ‘saving’ lives, so​​ why​​ care about mine?

But after Maria​​ and meeting death in-person,​​ I​​ began questioning whether​​ living in nihilism was​​ a life worth living, while for Mags it​​ was​​ only more justification. Since then she’s only​​ fallen deeper into drugs and​​ ‘La Duc’, and although we still say we’re best friends,​​ we’ve​​ been​​ drifting in​​ opposite​​ directions​​ for​​ a while.​​ However, since​​ I’m​​ an illegal alien​​ now​​ because​​ I​​ overstayed my​​ student​​ visa​​ and​​ she’s​​ an EU citizen,​​ I’m anchored to her​​ for​​ almost anything I can’t acquire legally, including​​ a place to live and​​ most of my​​ money. The money I lived on​​ before came​​ from​​ a college trust fund set up in my mom’s name after she died, but once you overstay a visa, immigration authorities​​ are alerted and​​ monitor​​ your bank accounts.”

“Why not​​ just go back home?” Walter asked.

“It’s more complicated​​ than that​​ . . .​​ Anyway,​​ ” she continued on,​​ “the cabaret was​​ originally​​ built as​​ an underground​​ nuclear fallout center.”

Eventually​​ Shiva directed​​ the taxi​​ driver​​ to​​ an​​ alley​​ that​​ seemed to go nowhere. The surrounding streets were​​ soulless and​​ veiled in​​ darkness.

“Are you​​ planning to murder me?” Walter​​ asked​​ looking out the window​​ as they stopped.

“Yes,” Shiva said opening the taxi van’s sliding door. “But​​ only​​ because I want to show you the fun side of hell​​ after, which is down that alley.​​ Besides,​​ if you still think this is a dream,​​ nothing can actually kill you. So what do you have to lose​​ other than​​ waking up?”

“You, that is if this is a dream.”

“True. But​​ wouldn’t​​ I be also killing myself by killing you?”

“Well, how else are we supposed to​​ get to​​ hell together?”​​ 

She laughed.​​ “You are clever,”​​ she said​​ then​​ stepped​​ out of the taxi. “But truthfully, all we need to do is walk down that alley.”​​ 

 

They walked to the end​​ of the alley​​ where​​ a red, nondescript door​​ was.​​ Above it​​ were​​ seven​​ stories of small, barred windows, three to each​​ floor, all softly glowing like candles behind sooted​​ glass. From the other side of the door, Walter could hear a​​ muffled​​ ruckus of​​ shouting, stomping, pianoing, and fiddling.​​ Shiva​​ pressed​​ a​​ hidden​​ bell​​ fleshed​​ into the door frame. Two minutes later it opened and a​​ female​​ hostess with​​ short brunette hair and​​ a​​ foxlike​​ face greeted them.

Bonsoir monsieur,​​ la dame,”​​ she​​ said, giving Shiva a knowing​​ glance. “Le mot de passe?

Audaces fortuna iuvat,” Shiva replied.

“Welcome to​​ La​​ Lune Rouge,​​ the hostess​​ said​​ smiling.

She​​ opened a door behind her​​ to​​ a sleepy​​ piano bar with a few patrons scattered about​​ as​​ some lazy​​ piano​​ jazz chords​​ settled over some still​​ enigmatic​​ ruckus wallowing the walls.​​ Shiva then took him to​​ a​​ corner of the bar​​ where he found the source​​ emitting more loudly from a​​ tightly​​ descending​​ corkscrew staircase​​ drilled into the floor.​​ “The real fun is down there,” she said.​​ 

They​​ entered and spiraled​​ thrice, then​​ went​​ through​​ a​​ dimly-lit​​ tunnel into a​​ small​​ foyer with a​​ drink stand​​ from which they​​ got two beers before entering​​ the​​ small,​​ but​​ filled and​​ riotous​​ cabaret​​ room.

The room​​ looked like a cave made from the​​ belly​​ of a whale​​ with​​ candlelight​​ dancing​​ along​​ its​​ bleached and​​ uneven​​ rocky​​ walls.​​ The​​ whale’s​​ brick​​ backbone and​​ ribs supporting the ceiling were​​ greased​​ by​​ many hands over many years​​ being​​ easily within​​ reach​​ when​​ standing on the long​​ and​​ wide​​ wooden​​ table that divided the room in two, which​​ many people were.​​ That’s why upon first impression it was hard to distinguish​​ audience​​ from performer, for the table in the center also doubled as the stage, but many of the patrons were also partaking in the​​ bedlam of the​​ performance.​​ One plain-looking woman with glasses had even taken her shirt off—but left​​ a​​ bra​​ on—and was wheeling it over her head like a flag of insurgency, while another couple was laid out at the end of the table-stage, dry humping each other as if no one​​ was around.

At the other end of the table-stage was a small platform carved into the wall just big enough to support a saloon-style piano with player, a furious fiddler, and a small and stripped-down drum set with drummer.​​ Two singers, a dandelion-haired drag queen about six-two and a tuxedoed woman with a fake mustache​​ almost​​ the same height​​ were charging​​ and chirping​​ up and down the table-stage​​ knocking over drinks singing​​ an​​ anthemic​​ number in Dutch​​ while bumping and grinding on the audience members who were also dancing on it.​​ Shiva​​ said the song​​ was​​ a local​​ soccer​​ favorite,​​ “Blood, Sweat and Tears”.​​ 

While not perfectly fluent​​ in either,​​ Shiva​​ spoke​​ as much Dutch as she did French and switched between them and English as she greeted staff, performers, and other apparent regulars​​ she knew​​ while​​ moving​​ throughout​​ the room​​ with​​ Walter​​ at her side like an accessory not many people seemed to notice.

Once the song ended​​ and the mood calmed,​​ the dry humping couple​​ at the end of the table-stage​​ rolled off​​ and​​ staggered out​​ to assumedly​​ continue in the hotel above, leaving open the two​​ best​​ seats​​ in the house.

“Shall we?” Walter asked Shiva, pointing to the seats.

“Sure, why not?” she said​​ grinning enthusiastically.​​ 

“This next song…” the drag queen said​​ in​​ a​​ French​​ accent​​ from the​​ other end of the table-stage​​ as they​​ sat,​​ “…is a song I wrote​​ in English​​ about the man who tore out my heart only to steal it away.​​ I love you​​ chéri,” she​​ blew a kiss to the mustached​​ woman who had taken a seat amongst some​​ of the​​ other apparent performers in the audience.

The drag queen​​ then settled sideways into a chair​​ she’d​​ placed on​​ the​​ table-stage​​ and her red silt dress opened revealing a long and elegant leg.​​ She gave a passing glance to the piano player, then​​ brought the microphone to her lips​​ as a​​ bleary, burlesque jazz number​​ began playing. At first her lispy voice lumbered low, then soared into a tiny, tinny timbre, like that of a child on the verge of crying, enchanting the air with every sorrowful color of life:

 

Blood-drawn rain on​​ a​​ desert’s skin​​ 

That’s when I kissed your lips and found no end

But what is love without your design?​​ 

Does it feel? Does it laugh? Does it even know how to cry inside?

 

What did​​ it​​ mean to you?

For you to throw away my love like you always do?

So now instead​​ my love​​ hovers just above your heart

Like birds of prey waiting over a dying art

 

Oh Mother Myth and Father Fear

Throwing arrows through my ears

When do you​​ think you've had enough

Of trying​​ to press diamonds from the ashes of love?​​ 

 

At this point, the​​ drag queen​​ had walked from one end of the table-stage to the other and was now cloaked over Walter like a backwards coat as fleshly mechanisms began working at him through her thin underwear.

Love is like a tiger cub,” she sang,​​ a good idea until it grows up. Crush to being crushed,​​ crush to being crushed.​​ So let me​​ put​​ on a show fer you​​ tiger​​ cub, let me show you​​ my​​ love...”​​ she sang until the song’s end.​​ 

“Forgot to tell you,”​​ Shiva​​ said laughing​​ after the drag queen relinquished him. “These two seats​​ see​​ the most action all night.”

As the show wore on, they were honored with​​ a program​​ in several languages from the whole of the​​ world and​​ sexual spectrum,​​ a gathering of​​ fetishists,​​ misfit toys,​​ artists, and exhibitionists​​ featuring​​ cabaret and sex show routines,​​ poetry readings,​​ and​​ mime and comedic pieces.​​ There were​​ more lap dances and more​​ stage-table​​ dances​​ in which​​ Walter and Shiva’s​​ singing voices​​ and bodies​​ got to familiarize themselves​​ for the first time​​ while grabbing​​ ahold​​ of​​ the ceiling​​ with one hand​​ so they weren’t knocked over by​​ all the​​ other singing and​​ familiarizing bodies​​ they​​ shared the​​ cloister​​ with.

After a​​ rousing​​ hour or so in the never-ending cabaret show that went into the daylight hours, they​​ went upstairs to​​ decompress in the piano bar.​​ Upon​​ ascending,​​ the piano was playing a tune Walter knew well.

Oh you pretty things...” he couldn’t stop himself from singing along to the melody only the piano was singing.

The piano player, looking a little like a latter-years Serge​​ Gainsbourg, smiled back at him with a​​ tobacco-stained grin and waved​​ Walter​​ over as he began singing along in a low,​​ gravelly​​ growl as Shiva​​ teased​​ the upper register, untangling something in Walter every​​ time​​ their eyes met​​ while singing.​​ The​​ sleepy​​ bar​​ then​​ woke up and​​ nearly everyone was​​ singing the choruses​​ toward the end, which the piano player repeated over and over​​ to stretch out the song.

“Do you know any more Bowie?” Walter asked​​ when​​ the piano player​​ finished.

“Some,” he said in some Eastern European accent Walter couldn’t distinguish, “but I haven’t had cigarette for hour. I’m dying for air. You play?”

“Yes he does,” Shiva answered for​​ him.

“Then you play.​​ My voice is shit​​ anyway. You two sound like angels.” He​​ then​​ grabbed his​​ suit​​ coat​​ and vacated the piano​​ to smoke outside.

“More Bowie?” Walter asked Shiva as they sat​​ together​​ on the​​ piano bench.

“No. I want​​ to be serenaded with​​ the cheesiest love song you know, Bowie’s cheesy love songs​​ excluded.”

Luckily​​ he​​ knew such a song, the first song he ever learned on piano actually,​​ “November Rain”.​​ So​​ he​​ began​​ bellowing and playing​​ the​​ nearly nine minute​​ ballad—guitar solos and all—but only in the style of Axl Rose at impromptu moments just​​ to​​ make Shiva laugh and snap her out​​ of​​ the trance​​ he kept catching her fall into when he sang​​ in​​ his natural voice.​​ Because the piano faced away from the crowd and their eyes​​ were​​ so distracted​​ with​​ each other, they were surprised by the loud applause when the song ended. They turned around and the bar​​ was twice as​​ full​​ as before.​​ 

“Not bad job,”​​ the piano player said returning, soaked in​​ the stench of​​ cigarette smoke. “You’re really good. You want to play more?”

Walter looked to Shiva​​ who was trying to subdue a stubborn smile.​​ “I think I’ve had my fill of cheesy love songs for the night,”​​ she​​ said​​ to him. “Unless of course you want to.”

“No,” Walter said standing, “I think I’ve taken up enough spotlight for​​ the​​ evening.​​ All​​ yours again my friend.”

They left the piano and sat​​ at​​ a table,​​ however,​​ once the energy and patrons drained​​ back downstairs Walter and Shiva found themselves restless.

“Do you want to dance some​​ more?” she asked him.

“Down below?”

“No, alone. On a houseboat.”

“Your houseboat?”

“Don’t​​ ask questions. Yes or no?”

Walter smirked.​​ As long as it’s​​ only​​ dancing​​ we’ll be doing,​​ he​​ said.

“Of course,” she​​ replied. “However, when​​ is life not dancing? If you’re not dancing you’re dead.”

 

“See that boat up there?” Shiva​​ pointed to a​​ small​​ houseboat about a hundred yards up​​ on a lonely canal.​​ “The​​ owner​​ is my friend and he’s out of town right now.”

“And he’s okay with you using his houseboat?”​​ Walter asked.

“Yeah, fellow Deadhead. We’re very generous people.”

Taking her word, Walter followed her aboard, even though to open the cabin door she had to pick the lock with​​ his​​ credit card. “He​​ always​​ locks​​ the easy​​ one,” she​​ said​​ sliding the card into the doorjamb, “but​​ leaves the deadbolt unlocked​​ for friends.” Seconds later the door was open.​​ “Welcome aboard Mister Huxley.”

Inside was a​​ miniaturized​​ kitchen and living room​​ with​​ a​​ miniaturized couch and chair and​​ even a​​ miniaturized​​ acoustic​​ guitar hanging on the wall. Shiva went for the guitar and took it​​ with Walter in tow​​ and​​ a bottle of wine from the kitchen​​ to the​​ only​​ bedroom​​ in the back of the boat​​ with a skylight above​​ the bed​​ and​​ a sliding glass door leading to a deck.

Keeping the lights off,​​ Shiva​​ cranked​​ the​​ skylight​​ cover​​ open​​ and a ghostly moonbeam​​ streamed in​​ making the white​​ bedding​​ sparkle​​ like​​ marble. She​​ lit a few candles around the bed before​​ drawing​​ the​​ curtains​​ and sliding open the deck door,​​ letting​​ the​​ almost​​ full moon​​ peek​​ in.

Come hither Mister Huxley,” she said,​​ our dancefloor awaits​​ outside. And​​ I lied​​ a little,​​ I​​ didn’t bring you here​​ just​​ to dance with you.​​ I want​​ to serenade you​​ with​​ a​​ cheesy love song​​ also, but​​ I wanted to do it​​ in the moonlight. You’ll see why.”

The​​ wooden​​ deck​​ outside was​​ the length of the boat​​ with wooden​​ trellises banking​​ its​​ edges​​ for partial privacy. There were​​ two​​ canvas​​ deck​​ chairs​​ and​​ a hammock​​ spread across one of its ends, which they opted​​ to​​ share bottoms in.​​ 

“I never actually want to be married,”​​ Shiva​​ said strumming the nylon strings of​​ the​​ small​​ guitar as she tuned them,​​ “but​​ I always said this would be my​​ first dance song if I ever have a wedding. It’s a Neil Young song.​​ I hope​​ you don’t mind.”

“Wow, you really are cheesy,” Walter said​​ grinning.​​ “‘Harvest Moon’ in the moonlight? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were trying to seduce me.”

“Not cheesy and not seducing,” she said smiling back,​​ “I’m just a romantic opportunist and you just happen to be​​ the right​​ guinea pig​​ on​​ the right night—actually, last night during the full​​ moon would’ve been​​ a little more fitting, but​​ I’ll take​​ a slightly waning gibbous.”​​ 

“Well, your guinea pig is waiting.”

Suddenly she​​ turned​​ bashful and had to restart twice before slipping into the song. But once she did Walter​​ became completely​​ unraveled​​ in​​ her​​ voice’s​​ soft crystalline timbre​​ and the silky​​ patter of the guitar’s nylon strings​​ up against​​ the​​ rippling​​ water.​​ In the​​ luminous dew​​ of the moon​​ Shiva appeared powdered in starlight and her​​ silvery​​ eyes flickered like​​ brightly polished coins​​ every time she flashed​​ them his way.

Too perfect for a dream,​​ but​​ too real to believe,​​ Walter​​ thought.

“Well​​ guinea pig,”​​ she​​ said after,​​ setting​​ the guitar​​ by her side, “what did you think?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Shouldn’t a first dance song be danced to?”

“I can only do​​ so​​ much holding​​ a guitar.”

“I don’t see you holding one now.”​​ Walter stood,​​ then offered his hand to her.

“And what? I’m​​ supposed to re-sing the song​​ while we dance?” she​​ asked.

“No,​​ that​​ would spoil​​ the song for​​ your first dance​​ because it’d only remind you of your guinea pig.​​ And​​ what would your future husband think​​ if​​ he​​ discovered your first time was not actually your first?​​ No, I only need you and your feet. The sound of life​​ will provide the music.”

Charmed, she accepted his hand and he brought​​ her​​ to​​ the water’s edge.​​ They laughed as they began to​​ dramatically​​ pirouette​​ over​​ the deck, mocking their absurdity, but every time their eyes met, they seemed to speak​​ more seriously.​​ At last​​ their eyes​​ clasped and wouldn’t let go, bringing​​ their​​ dancing​​ silhouettes​​ into​​ communion​​ in front of the falling moon.

Warm​​ cheek​​ to​​ warm cheek, their​​ quickening​​ breaths​​ stroked each other’s​​ ears​​ and neck,​​ sending an​​ exciting tension​​ they could feel in each other’s​​ firming​​ bodies.​​ Walter’s​​ hand​​ then​​ slid​​ to the small of​​ Shiva’s​​ back​​ while the other swept aside a stray ringlet of​​ red​​ hair from her face. She then​​ reached behind her head and​​ undid her hair, sending it​​ cascading​​ down like a coppery lava flow​​ over​​ his fingers​​ which​​ proceeded to weave and run themselves through it.​​ His hand on her back then pulled her closer as her hands​​ around​​ his back did the same.​​ Now with​​ foreheads​​ pressed,​​ their breaths​​ tickled their lips and​​ trickled​​ down across​​ their jaws,​​ eyes​​ locked and​​ wide​​ on each other.​​ Then with one last​​ caress​​ their​​ eyes​​ shut​​ and​​ the space between their lips​​ closed, immediately​​ releasing the​​ restless​​ tension​​ like a bungee​​ cord​​ recoiling, leaving them to​​ reel​​ and float in​​ a careless​​ air of​​ mad​​ peace​​ as​​ their​​ mouths​​ began​​ dancing​​ wildly​​ to​​ the​​ music of the freefall.​​ Losing feeling of the​​ ground​​ beneath them,​​ they​​ fell to their knees​​ with lips still smacking.

“We’re fucked aren’t we?” Shiva asked​​ through their​​ kissing.

“Yes,”​​ Walter​​ replied, “but​​ we can worry about that in the morning.​​ Tonight, we’re only dancing.”