I haven’t explored much of Madripoor yet, I’ve been mostly close to the shore in the border area between the tourist zone and the sprawling expanse of . . . it doesn’t seem right to call them slums, but slums I guess. The less developed part of the city, let’s say. My new friends in the Eldorado took me north and east, skirting the mega high-rise district and taking me to a part of the city I hadn’t seen before – the playground of the rich.
It was the only part of Madripoor (that I’ve seen) that wasn’t stacked with three or four buildings where there should have been one. Driving into that open area with large lawns and swaying trees (eucalyptus maybe, what am I, a botanist?) I felt like I let out a breath that I had been unconsciously holding. Even the big cities I’ve spent time in back home don’t feel half as cramped as Madripoor. Sometimes it feels like people are standing right on top of you several deep, it’s so congested. Just being able to see more than a few yards in any direction made me feel relief to an anxiety that I didn’t know was there.
The compound they took me to was a sprawling affair that looked like it was made out of some kind of crumbly white stone, I feel like I saw an old church in the Caribbean States that looked like it was made out of that same material. The complex didn’t look much like a church though, it looked a lot like a building that I saw on 60 Minutes where an old news dude was interviewing a drug kingpin (allegedly) that was somehow involved with the CS military in Eastern Africa (allegedly). It was fancy but fortish, leaning more towards the fort than the fancy. Say 60/40 fort. You know, the kind of place you’d build if you were a drug kingpin with shady military shit going on.
You know how in the spy movies, the barely-there female lead/eye candy will be kidnapped to serve as bait for the kind of rapey super spy guy and after the vaguely ethnic goons grab her, they put her in some big extravagant room and they’re like “make yourself pretty for Mister Evil Bad Guy”? And you’re sitting there in the theater eating your popcorn and drinking your soda and going “come on, that would never happen”. That’s exactly what happened. The room was done up all white as well, this guy really likes white. It was like being in a mental institution. Not that I would know what that was like.
I took a nice long bath. I never knew how good it could feel to be clean. There’s a kind of grit in the air here that turns into grease on your skin and even worse on your hair. It feels like you haven’t showered for a week even when you have. And between you, me, and the lamppost, I haven’t been showering much since I got here. You know, on account of how I was kidnapped and dumped here against my will. I can’t remember the last time I had a nice relaxing soak. It’s curious how sitting in a vat of your own watery scum can be a journey to unique and scented self-discovery. Some things just can’t be explained.
Must have been too long of a bath, because eventually some of the Uzi crew came in to tell me that it wasn’t wise to keep my host waiting. I put a washcloth over my face and told them to bring me a pack of 100s and a Piña colada. About twenty minutes later, a woman came into the bathroom dressed for a night of disco and cocaine, wearing heart-shaped red shades with her bleach blonde hair in pigtails. Her voice dripped with the honey-molasses of the south.
“Time for your day of beauty to come to an end sweetie.”
I peeked at her from under the washcloth “Nice to hear a voice from the states, even if it is the wrong states. I don’t mean to be a bear, but I’m still waiting on that Piña colada, they’re great in the heat. Be a dear and run and fetch that for me would you sweetie?”
She had a quarter of a smile “You think you’re clever don’t you?”
“Well I did get a fourteen hundred on my SATs, but there’s always questions about the efficacy of standardized tests, aren’t there? There’s well known racial biases on those things.”
“I hate to break this to you sweetie, but you’re white.”
“Sure, I’m just not white like you sweetie.”
“It’s time for you to get out and get dressed.”
“You said that already.”
She put her hands on her hips “Do you want me to drag you out of there? Are you that childish?”
“What can I say, being abducted makes me crabby, I’m funny like that. People always tell me that ‘Ela you’re so funny, you get really upset when people hold you captive’. I don’t want you to drag me out of here, but if you do you should probably call your boss to come watch right? The two of us all soapy and wresting around? That would really be something to see. We’re grabbing at each other and our hands are everywhere and then maybe we start kissing, right? That’s just a good wholesome watching experience for everyone.”
She was quiet for a moment “I don’t know how to respond to that.”
“Makes yourself useful and fetch me a towel sweetie.”
One difference from the movies is that the clothes they had there for me to put on didn’t fit very well. You never see that in the movies. I’m quite a bit taller than my peers back home, and here in southeast Asia that effect is exacerbated. The white dress (of course) didn’t fall quite right on my frame. I still looked fabulous of course, but I could have looked better is the point.
The Uzi squad herded me into a dining room of sorts, actually no, it was a trophy room that had a table in it, not a dining room. The walls had photos of dead people and news articles and weapons and shit like that. One of the guns used in the Valentine’s Day Massacre, a knife that supposedly was used by Jack the Ripper, a musket from the Crimean war, other garbage like that. One item I did pause to look at was some manner of machine pistol that was said to have been hand crafted by Duke Eaglevane. My host’s voice wasn’t harsh but somehow it was ugly. His accent was eastern European, I think. If nothing else, I’m getting a lot of exposure to different dialects in Madripoor.
“You must have a good eye for firearms, that’s a rare piece.”
“I’ve never been much or one for guns myself, but the Duke is someone whose acquaintance I’d like to make. Can you introduce me?”
“Sadly I haven’t had the pleasure.”
I took my seat and took the full measure of the man himself. He was wearing a white suit (of course) which included gloves and very thick sunglasses – like they were meant to block out all light. He might have looked okay if not for those ridiculous accessories. He was certainly a well-proportioned individual, but he had his hair slicked back like a character from West Side Story which was not flattering at all. The Disco southern Belle was at his side and on the other was a dark-haired local woman dressed similarly. Looming behind him was a man large enough that he has to be some kind of super-person. He was wearing a nice suit (where do you get something like that made for a man the size of an industrial refrigerator?) and what skin he had showing was covered with tattoos, Maori maybe? I think I saw something like it in National Geographic.
The entire scene was screaming “Look at me I’m evil” so hard it would have been funny if not for the very real chance that I was going to die.
I helped myself to some eggs benedict “That’s quite the menagerie you have, did you bring me here because you need a brunette? I know a redhead back home that would fit in well if you need a referral to complete the set.”
“You consider yourself to be quite the wit, don’t you?”
I nodded at blondie “Your maid said something similar, you should coordinate your menacing dialog better so you don’t trip over each other.” I gestured at the walls and cases around the table. “Are you really into all this crap or is it just for show?”
He smiled “I’m a connoisseur of deadly things.”
I couldn’t help but laugh “Jesus Christ, did I wander onto the set of Cult of the Cobra here? Did you actually just say that? Is the red light on? Are we shooting? If you need me to get naked to boost international sales I’m willing to do that, but it has to be artistic you know? It has to be saying something about reality, the nude scene can’t just be about body parts. It has to be in character and the scenes need to be about something for me to feel comfortable doing a hot scene. I’m not talking about me being in the shower just as an excuse, what I’m saying is . . .”
He made a curt gesture “Shut up.”
He stared at me for a while (I think, hard to say with those stupid glasses) as I devoured the food before me. Strawberry crepes, fry bread, grillades and grits topped with scallions, rondón, roti, pan de sal, nasi goreng, mandoca, kokosbrood, all kinds of food. I wonder if he normally has this much food for lunch and then throws most of it away, or if it was just for my benefit. When he took his glasses off, I expected his eyes to be white as well but they were just normal.
“Tell me, do you suffer from headaches?”
I barked a bitter laugh “Does a bear shit in the pope’s hat? Ever since I got here I feel like someone drove a railroad spike in through both temples, both eyes, both ears, and pretty much every other part of my head. Also the railroad spikes are electrified and on fire.”
He nodded “That must be why I can’t read you.” He smiled as he rolled up his sleeves. “No matter, I can always find out the old fashioned way.”
“Find out what?” I said around a mouthful of mofongo.
He took a knife off the wall and threw it at me.