The pug among the struts, in the pale blue strait-jacket
The Platinum Raven steps off the window sill, crosses the attic room and looks again at the air-conditioning control, which is a dial running from 1 to 10. After a moment’s thought she turns it from 1 to 2. She heads out through the open door, checks her keys and pulls the door locked behind her. Side doors lead off periodically from the steep spiral staircase, set into the left-hand wall as she descends several storeys. She jangles the keys, before stowing them about herself, and stands a moment, smiling as the booming of the music makes the staircase resonate. She stops before the next door, unlocks it, passes through and clicks it carefully shut behind her.
Here above the lobby, she can see the punters coming in below her: people paying, checking items in, then heading to the door of the main bar or straight towards the music, down a passage where a wisp of silver vapour licks the shadows. Good evening, mesdames et messieurs, my little monkeys, she feels like announcing, through the rush inside her now: if you’d like your ears to bleed, please form a queue for the bass-bins on the speakers—they’ll be loud. More generally, however, can you all hear the thunder on the left? I hope you can. Are you ready for tonight? Amber’s ready, so is Scorpio, and even her up there upon the tower in the city. The mist tastes nicer if you’re ready for the hurricane, the quicksand, the flames in the night sky, the poison and the dry ice. The flood-water’s right beneath us, hissing up tight through the pressure-fault just below the lobby here. There’s also a grey-lit cellar downstairs, where I bid you lend Amber the keys to your skeleton: the rating will be X, but you’ll learn new things as your guts are mixed with light and sound and shot around the globe. As for me, I thought perhaps I’d stay behind the billows with my breasts pointing upward and my groin pushed out, with my right hand skyward and my left hand on my hip, eyes wide in the silver staring softly through the mirror mist unblinking (if that’s fine with you?). —There again: the thunder on the left. Did you hear it?…
She becomes aware of Scorpio standing on the landing across from her, at the same level as her but separated by the atrium of the lobby. He spots her at the same moment and blows a kiss at her. Smiling over at him, she indicates the direction of the main dance-floor, where Amber is now making the music jump from his DJ booth. “Shall we?” she calls.
“Oh, we shall!” he calls back. And they both head in that direction, along their separate landings. […]
It’s strange, she reflects, that she herself is the only one of this trio whose back-story is quite unknown to the other two. Neither Amber nor Scorpio knows anything of where she came from. And that’s how it will stay. After all, she is an Icon of Platinum Perfection, of a kind whose back-story is never known; and in running this tower she does quite enough to recompense them both for the lack of one.
By contrast Scorpio’s back-story, on Santa Monica Boulevard and before then, is known in detail by her and Amber, because he’s told them.
As for Amber’s back-story, it lies somewhere between those two extremes, in the sense that it’s just as specifically detailed as Scorpio’s, yet can be told in words as brief as those describing the Platinum Raven’s historical lacuna. For although this back-story is an extraordinary one, it is also simple, with an infernal simplicity and logic that are at the heart of this tower of shadow: Amber’s past was precisely captured on film as The Hitcher. The Platinum Raven doesn’t know whether or how much Scorpio is aware of this; nor, if he is aware of it, whether Amber knows he is. But it’s not her place to pry into their relationship in order to find out, and still less her place to spring upon Scorpio the fact that his lover is the continuation of Rutger Hauer’s character after those cameras stopped rolling in the desert, if he doesn’t yet know this or hasn’t yet admitted it to himself. In any case Scorpio has come to no harm, it would seem.
She knows exactly where Amber was headed to just now, through that side door, because he once took her downstairs to show her. It’s a hidden place he’s made his own—a place where no one else ever goes uninvited. She pictures him, down in the bowels of the building now: the metal stairs clank as he descends nine steps, turns down another nine, his hand on the cold rail, then another flight of steps and on down several further levels. He grins in the dark as he runs his fingers lightly through the dust on the rail.
At the bottom, through a door, is an outside space among the struts that support the tower. Hidden here in the shadows, he can peer out and down, to that long straight road climbing steeply up this canyon from the desert, with the fluffy grey teardrop trees on either side of it.
(The Chocolate Raven blinks and swallows, on her terrace in Dubai.)
Where the straight road ends just below him, cars must twist around the cliff to the club’s front entrance: their lights swerve around through the night as they do so, swinging round cautiously in order not to break through the barrier and fall into wreckage on the far rocks below. Across the city-swelter shines the ocean, where a dog-faced moon leers down like a floodlight. It’s too far away for him to see the waves shivering, but Amber could swear he sees the Gulf’s surface swell and sigh, as if a liquid muscle flexes there beneath the shimmer of the water’s curve… Wasps buzz suddenly behind him. He turns, clambers in between the beams, further inside the hill, through a pale weeping light where the long grass rustles. “I’m on my way!” he murmurs through his flesh, then he halts: there ahead hangs a figure in a pale blue strait-jacket, fixed to a harness on a rope within a wooden frame. Your craze was emptiness, mine was alcohol, comes a voice of sighing shingle through the outsize pug’s face, measurelessly ugly and exhausted and sad. The rope, playing out from the frame, lets the figure down a metre, then stops, so it bounces in mid-air before ascending again, as it has clearly done for years. Now a hum sings thick upon the air, as the figure chokes a sob back and spits dry sand. See the space of Siberian heart in your eyes—I think you know it shows through, sighs the voice at him, falling out tired from the rank grey muzzle to the ground. Amber takes a gun from his pocket, shoots the face, shoots it seven times more, then another seven times, till it weeps black hamburger tears on its jacket. “Don’t worry, you’re too ill to die!” he spits, as if to cut through glass. He wheels round, slips between the struts, finds the door, climbs the stairs, runs a fingernail across the Platinum Raven’s chest in passing her, returns to his booth and makes the music leap anew.
Underneath the space of struts, a spill of sand falls through a tunnel where the water drips. Further down inside the hill, a small square chamber of blue mosaic, sealed long ago for a purpose now forgotten, shakes in time with Amber’s music far above. Even further down, where the fossils sleep cold, tiny bubbles rise unseen.
From The Platinum Raven
By Rohan Quine
Buy the book here!