A Little Insomnia - Chapter 1

Midnight 1-I: First Show

Midnight 1-I: First Show

I am ready.

      “Ladies and Gentlemen, our final show for tonight!” A voice announces. “The act you’ve waited all night for! The wonderful, enchantingly powerful, Paz de la Marina!”

      The small crowd went wild as the vibrant spotlight shines on a young-looking woman with her eyes closed, three steps above on center stage. Her sparkly white halter-top did not hold much, but that did not stop her from showing off that mark across her chest. The single slit down her glistening long skirt was just as carefree, making it a surprise her arms were not as bare and instead covered by long gloves.

      If it was not obvious to the customers, it was jazz night at the Triangle Saloon. She wore a feather atop her hair bundled and reaching high to the quill’s tip except for the wavy, chestnut brown locks touching low to her shivering shoulders. She looks all dressed up, waiting to go, but her forsaken smile has left her long ago and yet to return. A faithful constant in her life is that birthmark under her left eye, always there. In spite of it all, there is still a heartbeat pumping blood throughout her body, giving that glow radiating a color of summer light through autumn leaves.

      The audience settles down as Paz’s rosy lips move away from each other. Hands grip the microphone tightly. The lighting loses its warmth at the start of her cold tune. The band plays their hallowed instruments as she sings wraithlike words that calm the small crowd.

      Her voice, although composed, is gently powerful.

Rain, rain rain, time to go away.

Hiding from that dreary ol’ gray?

Looking for something to keep you busy?

Spin yourself around ‘til you get dizzy.

Truth be told; to make time pass, all you need is a friend.

      After the first verse, her eyes open, revealing irises of a bright green sea. They are captivating enough that they— and they alone— can charm the devil himself. Perhaps, even soothe him?

      The words keep on flowing. Paz steps down three steps off the stage with the spotlight never leaving her. She strides toward a red-haired bartender who hands her a tray. On the tray, she balances a rosy colored drink with a cherry and triangle ice cubes inside a teardrop glass atop. Swaying away from the seated audience, she arrives to the other side of the room.

      She bows to a man in a dull orange fedora and a trench coat of the same color.

      He accepts the drink, without any sign of gratitude. She does not care, it was her pleasure anyway. She smiles, carrying the empty tray with her.

That is what you said to me.

You did not say that like the rain, they too would go away.

Telling me that it’s about what I can feel but can’t see.

When I stop feeling it all, what then will you say?

Say everything happens for a reason?

Life has no remorse in any place or season?

I say just live life; there’s nothing to care for in the end.

      The lighting steadily becomes warmer as Paz’s song rises in tempo. She twirls around and sends the tray flying as a discus thrown with Olympian strength. If she tried, it could have been impossible to stop it. The cowering bartender is fortunate enough to catch it before his collection of fine wine and imports shattered.

      She sings apologetically and seats herself near him, with an arm wrapped around his neck.

      He continues to polish a glass.

      Still bored, Paz slides across the counter between two sleeping gentlemen. They pay her no attention for the only right reason to her. They are asleep.

      She returns on stage with only a few lines left to finish. The instruments play her off.

If I knew what you were getting me into

And if there was any way you knew,

Then maybe you can reconsider it all,

Never answer that call?

But you couldn’t help it; let’s hope this song makes an amend.

The music begins to fade and the curtain closes slowly. She vanishes behind them.

      “Give it up for Paz de la Marina and our house band, The Blue Waves!” the announcer exclaimed! “And remember, you saw her here first!”

      The sound of a single person clapping filled the air. The rest of the room was lulled to sleep or barely hanging with their drowsiness. The bartender and the expressionless man in the trench coat with his untouched drink are the only two left standing with a clear conscious.

      The man in the trench coat approaches the bartender whose claps slowly come to a stop. After a brief exchange in whispers, the bartender points to the door.

      Backstage, a band member plays the trumpet in a corner, appropriately setting the ambience. The grumpy pianist scolded the saxophonist over their singer’s missing éclair, despite her not wanting it in the first place. In contrast, two members of the band approached Paz, with extended arms. Whether with treats or compliments, they always express their overwhelming affections.

      “Great show, me? Great show you guys. Not because of me.” Half a smile risen from Paz. “I only did one song tonight. All of you were the star performers tonight.”

      “You mean every night!?” the trumpeter, Sammy, tooted.

      “Our show would be nothing without her,” Carlie quickly threw that into the conversation.

      Amanda agreed, “We would need someone to groove to my bass.” She blushed, “It is as if it is doing a duet with you! What do you think?”

      “No!” Carlie’s bangs above her eyes shook with her head, “Our act is nothing to her! Yet, she still sings with us! We need her!”

      “Calm down, kiddo,” Paz played with the young girl’s hair.

      Deep down, Carlie knows that Paz knows her dependency on the beat of her drums. She watches every step she makes. When in rhythm, they are both in sync.

      The music has stopped. The others are too busy arguing to notice. Paz is paying more attention to the smaller details nowadays. Especially during weeks like these.

      “Paz!” Sammy has noticed the stranger creeping through the door. “You got a special guest!”

       She was not surprised. The man in the dull orange fedora was expected anytime now. He is a sturdy, bronzed man framed six inches higher than her and wide as his broad shoulders. The stubble of his beard barely hid the week-old cut under his chin.

      She immediately sensed the strength of a bruiser. Another old familiar sense she picked up on wreaked clearly: the stench of the law.

      “A Siren’s Kiss?” Paz looks up into his tired, brown eyes. “A fine beverage, would you be so bold to disagree, Love?”

      Paz on her tip-toes pushes herself against the gentlemen. Her arms are wrapped around him. As his head carries her resting shoulder, the aroma of the passion fruit flower is undeniably powerful. He smelled it at the bar, he smells it now.

      “How about we further this conversation in,” she whispers in his ear, “my private suite?”

      Before she could give the man a chance to react with a smile — not that he would have smiled — Paz has him by the hand. She takes off smoothly, gently leading him away backstage with her ring-bearing right hand.

      The others mockingly wish her to have fun tonight and to not roughhouse. Except Carlie and Sammy. She stares even after they have gone out the door. Still staring as the solo session continues jamming, the trumpeter confidently smiling.

      The couple of the night move past a large, abandoned dining room. They roam through the dusty halls of the lonesome hotel. Her movements continue their grace, more than what is expected at a rundown, dingy place once considered a palace. Every call to the elevator, where they stopped, brings her fingers to cross that only the elevator will answer.

      The cool, dark bar with neon lights are a sight for sore eyes compared to what they had to endure during the wait. There were no precious paintings to keep them entertained. The flowers drooping out the glass vases wilted a month ago. And the ripped thin red carpet covering the flood-stained wood floors are duller than the man’s hat.

      The elegant and royal hotel has seen better days.

      The elevator rings. The doors open for them. In no hurry at all, they enter one-by-one. Ladies first.

      There goes her hand. Toward the control panel it moves. Her finger starts at the first-floor button. Once the door closes, her finger ascends, one push after the other, until Paz’s ring-finger caresses the twelfth floor.

      Unbelievable. Just when the man could have gone the entire night without another face, he looks to her in disbelief.

      She does not notice him. Her chin is held high.

      Who in their right mind would do that while riding the elevator? A better question, who in their right minds continue riding the elevator while ignoring the awkward silence. He could have jumped out every time the elevator ringed, opening its door. Instead, he chose to keep her near, keeping his eyes on the control panel flickering off whenever reaching the new floor. To him, it was a better view than the smug mug keeping her chin high as if looking to a righteous light.

      A twelfth ring and a twelfth light flickers off. The door opens a twelfth time. The man steps out, Paz still holding his hand. She strays behind and presses all the floor buttons descending the control panel. Before the door can snap her hand in on the twelfth closing, she steps out to stroll him through the halls.

      Not that many doors but enough to fetch a decent price per room for the wealthy upper-class. Or so it seems. An average man, in a blue suit, fixing his unflattering orange tie was standing in front of one doorway. Another door up ahead framed a woman in an elegant robe drinking wine.

      The singer with the white feather and the man in the orange fedora hat approach the farthest door down the hall. It is the only door on that wall in the spacious hall. She now has a key in her ring-barren right hand.

      As she is unlocking the door, a condescending catcall is heard, “Paz! Finally earning your keep around here?”

      Paz sharply turned. Her neighbor, a woman in lingerie with a cigarette in her mouth smirked. Despite already being accustomed to the woman’s begrudging banter, Paz feels disturbed by that remark. She keeps any witty rebuttals to herself. Although, she turns back to open the door with one lasting comment.

      “Shut up, harlot.” Is all Paz could say.

      Vixen. Her name is Vixen. But they know that.

      The man could not keep his puzzling eyes off this woman named Vixen. There was something vaguely familiar about her which, of course, would not vote well with the missus. Fortunately for him, he is single and could stare all night until being dragged past into the room. He caught a glimpse of her smug lips before the door shut tight.

      Paz and the man climb up a metal staircase. Her chin is once again high and her eyes are fixated above, except this time, she looked upset. Staring at that woman outside made him unbearable to look at, perhaps? More or less than likely, it was his face is boring. With that blank face no one can really tell what it is fixated on. Any ordinary person would assume he is an empty slate, regardless if his objective was in sight. For a man of his profession, it is good to have that kind of poker face.

      “Welcome to my humble abode!” She let his hand go, spinning herself around. “Where all my sensually exciting fantasies come together for an incredible night!”

      An entire suite, brightly lit, for herself. The man broke his stoic demeanor once more, as expected by the lavished songstress. As she looked into his eyes, she felt guilty, suspecting he may not have a good home to live in. Judging his appearance since his reaction alone would not be enough to support this theory. In fact, as she considers the compact homes and the minimal space for housing regulated by the Grigori Empire, she realizes she forgotten her privilege. Her home housing many art pieces collected from her well-documented travels does not ease those feelings of guilt for having more than what others could dream of having.

      Contrary to what she is thinking, he is astonished. In this room, there are some marble busts sculpted in Renaissance Florence and French paintings surviving the Raid on Paris that should have been destroyed with the Palace of Versailles. A crystal mirror situated on a hand-crafted, wooden drawer cabinet fit for a Mademoiselle is planted against the wall between two arched doorways, no doubt leading to other rooms making their treasures feel at home. He imagines this room would be the foyer of a neat museum if racks of costumes and clothing and boxes and bins of props were not cluttering the floor.

      The man sniffs long and hard.

      “That smell is lavender. It goes perfect with the wall design,” Paz explains, sitting herself at the mirror. “Please, take a seat too. I need to freshen myself. I know you are dying to take a seat on that velvet couch. It is like floating on a cloud!”

      The only seat the man saw of that material was a bean bag couch. No matter what the material, he was above sitting that low on what might as well be a child’s pillow. Although he could have taken a seat on the green sofa that looks out of place, he decides to stand directly in her sights.

      She puts down the key and applies a brighter color to her lips. “So, the Siren’s Kiss? You see, there are only a few people in the world who know of that drink. When to order it. And who will serve it.”

      He is intrigued but not distracted. He silently watches her hands touch her hair.

      “As of late, two more have come to find knowledge of the Siren’s Kiss. And have tried to kill me.” Her hair clips and feathered head piece drop to the ground. Her hair unravels a long way down past her shoulders.

      “There is now a third.” Her hair is now tied in a ponytail together by ribbon with a black bow attached to it. She picks up a white rose where there was once a key, holding it to her breast. “Will you kill me?”

      The man is now cautious.

      “Or?” Her hands swiftly move away, turning to the shocked man. “Die like the other two?”

      Slowly and cautiously, he puts his hands in the air.

      There is not much else he could do when a madman with a shotgun aimed to his gut except wait for the silent stare. He knows that stare, since having been threatened like that many times over his long lifetime. Once the stare is exchanged, he could hope that the madman does not fire on the next syllable coming from his lips. Fortunately, to his benefit, he was sure she is no madman.