Verse 13: GET DOWN TONIGHT
Gloria regarded Buzz's prostrate form and spat. "Who is he?" Lex wanted to know.
"Ancient history." She bent over Buzz, checking his carotid pulse. "He's alive, just out cold," she announced. "Help me get him out of sight." Lex lifted the inert body and, at Gloria's direction, dumped him into the vehicle's bed. Gloria picked up a bottle reading Jaegermeister and threw it on top of him. "Sweet dreams, shithead."
"You handled that well," Lex observed, “but why not leave him where he fell."
"Too exposed," she said. "Normally, I'd call the cops to haul him away but apparently that trick never works. Besides, we'd have a hard time keeping your involvement secret, and there are some pretty routine questions they'd ask that you'd be hard pressed to answer. Such as 'can we see some sort of identification, sir?'"
"But I have identification!" Lex insisted. "My Guild badge is recognized everywhere. I never leave home without..." He trailed off, realizing what he was saying. "Oh."
"Exactly," Gloria agreed. "They'd want to see a driver's license, or even worse, some sort of proof of citizenship. These days, even a trace of a foreign accent will send up red flags. Next thing you know, you're the unwilling guest of the federal government in some secure location where the Bill of Rights is just so much Kleenex. Working at the bar, even singing there won't raise suspicions, but calling the police is a surefire ticket to the Alien Autopsy theme park." She gave Buzz a parting look. "We have an expression here: Let sleeping dogs lie. What made you come back here anyway?"
"Zoot sent me on a break," he reported.
"Just luck, huh?"
Lex nodded, but it was not the complete truth. Something had prompted him to take his respite here, more than a desire for a minute's privacy, yet he could no more put his finger on it than pluck the moon from the sky. "I had better return to Zoot," he said. "She is most expert at her craft, but I think she would appreciate assistance."
And indeed, Zoot gratefully welcomed Lex's return with a huge order. As he busied himself with its preparation, Gloria asked her how things were working out. Zoot reported that things were five by five, whatever that meant.
She lowered her voice but not low enough to slip under Lex's range of hearing. "Man's a machine, G," his keen ears picked out over the hubbub and music. "It's a pleasure watching him work. And we've been busy, too. Seems like every woman in the place is drinking like a fratboy just so's they can get a little face time with him. The Friends of Dorothy have been scoping him out, too, but any fool can see he don't swing that way. And the boy can sing! He started humming to the jukebox, but before you knew it, he was singing the choruses. Everybody – repeat – everybody knows he's playing here this weekend, and most of 'em plan on showing up. It will be packed. It's a shame we can't make him a regular attraction. He'd be great for business."
"How's he handling all the attention?" Gloria whispered.
"Better than I would," Zoot assured her. "Women have been passing him their phone numbers all night, but he doesn't play favorites. That is rare. He's polite, cheerful, fast, and tireless. Laughs at my jokes even when he doesn't understand them, and I can tell when he doesn't."
"Any reason I should stick around?" Gloria asked.
"We got it covered," Zoot said. That seemed to ease any concern Gloria might have, for she left immediately pausing only to wish him a good night.
Last call came and went, and Zoot divided the gratuities among the barmaids. She handed Lex a sheaf of bills.
"I cannot take remuneration," he protested. "I did this as a favor for Gloria."
Zoot stuffed the money in his hand, folded his fingers over it and held them shut. "This is your fair share of the tips, bubba," she told him. "If Gloria wants to pay you or compensate you some other way that's between the two of you. But no one works night shift without getting their cut." She held his hand until he accepted. "Good boy. You did real sharp work tonight. Looked like you were having fun."
"Me too," she said cheerfully. "There's nowhere in the universe I'd rather be than here."
Lex waited while she finished tallying the receipts, putting the cash and credit slips in a small bag. A couple of the barmaids showed indications of wanting to stick around, but Zoot shooed them off. Finally, everything was cleaned up and put away.
"Gloria said I should ask you to call me a taxi," Lex reminded her.
"I know," she said, but just stood there looking at him contemplatively. "I don't know about you, Lex, but I feel full of energy. How you doing? Tired? "
The days here, he had noted, were considerably shorter than on Kal, and he was far from sleepy. Moreover, thanks to his training he could go without sleep for three of the longer days when necessary, so the answer was no, and he told her so.
"Great!" Zoot exclaimed, her eyes bright. "How would you like to watch a movie?"
Zoot and Lex stepped out into the deserted streets. She looked skyward. Clouds obscured most of the stars, but a sliver of silvery-white moon hung in the sky. "Bless us, O Luna, Empress of the Night," she intoned. "May thy light guide and keep us safe." She turned to Lex. "Personal prayer," she explained.
Lex nodded. More nights than he cared to remember, he too had walked empty streets with only moonlight for companionship. He found himself missing the eight moons of Kal, and the millions of stars visible at any given time of night. Looking up at the silver bow, he repeated Zoot's words, earning him a smile from the woman, who took his hand in hers. They stopped briefly to drop the night's proceeds in a small vault, then headed east. Along the quiet thoroughfare they strolled, sharing silence. They crossed a short drawbridge over what Zoot said was the Mystic River, took two lefts, a right and another left, coming at last to a three-story building. Zoot led the way up an exterior wooden staircase to the top floor, then fumbled in her purse for the keys.
"I used to have a sign on the door saying Castle Anthrax," she told him as she let them inside, "but the landlord made me take it down."
"Some people have no sense of humor," Lex said gravely. By now, he could sense when Zoot was saying something she intended to be humorous.
"Ain't that the truth?" she agreed. "Anyway, welcome to my humble abode." She flipped a switch as they entered and an overhead fixture illuminated a good-sized room. She put her purse and keys on a tall drum by the door. "Why don't you clear off the love seat, take off your boots, and make yourself t'home? I'll slip into something more appropriate and be with you in two shakes." She went down a hall to the right and Lex heard a door open then close.
Since he saw only one piece of furniture – a small over-stuffed purple couch – where two could comfortably sit side by side, he assumed that was the aforementioned seat of love. He removed several magazines, a box marked Mystic Pizza, and a stuffed bunny with prominent teeth and red-rimmed mouth and looked for a place to put them. He immediately ran into trouble. The room, although not particularly small, was extremely cluttered with items both familiar and inexplicable. The décor was, to put it mildly, eclectic. There was a baby carriage painted red, white, and blue with a plant growing out of it near a life-sized cardboard cut-out of a man wearing a crown and primitive chain mail, with a rising sun on his cloth tabard. Necklaces of beads hung from the tusks of a ceramic elephant. A blue stuffed parrot hung upside down from a wooden perch in a large metal cage. In the end, he simply deposited the items on a table littered with little multi-colored plastic blocks forming an incomplete castle of some sort.
There was still no sign of Zoot, so he took a seat and removed his boots as she had suggested. Opposite the love seat was what Nate had called a teevee and Hannah a television set. On the table next to him was a picture of Zoot, a much younger Gloria, and a rugged looking man with deeply furrowed brows and graying hair. Despite those signs of age and worry, he had young, kind eyes, and although his arms were around both women, his attention and affection were clearly directed at Gloria.
"That's Bert Robinette in the middle," Zoot said. She had changed into a long white nightshift and wore a jaunty cap with a small pentagonal jewel in front. "We took that picture about nine years back on my birthday. Finest man I ever knew. So what do you think of the place?"
"It zoots you," he said with a grin.
Zoot picked up a ball made of hundreds of strands of rubber and threw it at him. "This is a No Punning Zone!" she said with mock anger. "Make fun of my name at your peril. I could say I wish there were two of you, 'cause nothing beats a great pair of Lex."
He threw the ball back at her. Both laughed at their silliness. "Can you wait a couple more minutes?" she asked. "I'm going to make popcorn."
"Lady," he said, bowing, "I await your pleasure."
"How very trés gallant, mon-sieur." She curtseyed. "Stay right there." She left, and after some humming and beeping, returned with a ceramic bowl and two bottles of Corona, a brand quite popular at Gilda's. She handed everything to him, dashed back into the kitchen and returned again with two lime wedges. She gave him one, then popped the top of her beer and squeezed the lime in. He did the same. She clinked her bottle against his. They both drank and it was tasty enough, but to his palate soft as milk.
"You up for this?" she asked. "You ready for a truly mind-boggling experience?"
Lex had some notion of what the night promised, and yet had no clear idea of what precisely she meant. Taking the safe path, he nodded.
Zoot crouched at the cabinet, slid a panel to the side, and reached in. Her hand emerged holding a colored box. She opened it, removed a disc, and pushed a button on the device. A small tray slid out. She placed the disc upon it and the tray retreated whence it had come. That accomplished, she jumped onto the seat beside him, took a small grey box in hand and pointed it at the teevee, which sprang to life. Zoot got up again, turned off the overhead light, leaving only the screen to illuminate the room. Then she was back at his side.
"Gimme popcorn," she demanded. He held out the bowl and she grabbed a handful, stuffing it into her mouth. "Hrr guzz," she said, and aimed the box again. Then she leaned against him, took his arm and draped it over her shoulders.
Lex had originally believed that Zoot's invitation to "catch a movie" meant essentially the same thing as when Kassasha the Tiger Tamer invited him over to her tent to read her notices. Or when Yerista Innaroganz suggested he might be interested in viewing her family's hunt tapestries. Or when Betti Krisalda voiced a desire for a private encore so she could write down the lyrics of one particularly memorable ballad. Such invites almost invariably masked a desire to enjoy his company between the sheets. Or behind a bush. Or in a hammock. He knew this, they knew this, and he knew they knew he knew this. It was common practice among High Men of the Imperius. (Alfaen women, on the other hand, favored the "Well, how about it?" approach.) Occasionally, of course, there really were notices or tapestries or a genuine desire to learn the lyrics to "A Voyage to Far Dissaji"; usually, this would be followed by sexplay anyway, but not without exception. Lex always accepted those occasions philosophically. He never pushed, although he was not above a gentle prod, but there were so many women that he never worried about the ones he did not get a chance to bed.
Once he learned that Zoot actually wanted to see the movie, and maybe cuddle a little, Lex resigned himself to being passively entertained. But in this he was also disappointed. He watched the first several minutes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail with complete dumbfounded incomprehension. People said things and did thing with no rhyme or reason, all of which Zoot found extremely amusing but struck him as pointless and silly, when not bordering on the obscene as in a vignette set during a time of plague and misery. Kings, knights, and peasants all acted with varying degrees of stupidity, and there was no relief in sight. He wished for it to end, if for no other reason than so he could learn if his suspicions about Zoot's desire were based on more than wishful thinking. He was aware of occasional glances in his direction, glances that seemed to be weighing him in some balance. He got the distinct impression that he was failing some sort of examination, yet did not even know what the questions were.
Then King Arthur met a knight clad in black. A very poorly staged swordfight ensued, and Arthur soon lopped off one of the knight's arms. Extremely fake looking blood spurted out and Lex stifled a yawn. The king ordered the black knight to step aside.
''Tis but a scratch," the knight on the screen replied.
"A scratch?" King Arthur's voice was full of disbelief. "Your arm's off!"
"No it isn't," the Knight persisted, despite all evidence to the contrary. Lex, struck by the sheer absurdity of the Black Knight's denial, began to chuckle. The Knight continued to lose limbs and the chuckle turned to a laugh and then to a howl. He realized, at last, that nothing in this movie was meant to be taken the least bit seriously. He finally got the joke, and he laughed so hard that he missed most of the rest of the scene's dialogue. Zoot looked at him, smiled knowingly, and snuggled even closer. Lex's arm slipped downward and his hand cupped her right elbow. "Now that is funny!" He told her.
She smiled again and offered him the popcorn.
The rest of the movie seemed to fly by. While he did not understand all of the remaining japes and jests, and found a few puerile and poorly delivered, overall it was just as risible as the work of some of the finest mountebanks with whom he had ever shared a stage. He hooted at the knights on the parapet taunting Arthur and his fellows regarding their parentage. He almost fell off his seat laughing over the Minstrels singing "Brave Sir Robin Ran Away" after he fled from the three-headed knight. Lex, who had on occasion been commissioned to write songs lauding the paltry exploits of some minor noble or another, knew precisely how they felt.
And then came The Tale of Sir Galahad.
The Knight in question, while traveling through a storm, spied a vision of this Holy Grail shining above a darkened castle. Demanding entrance, he was greeted by a young woman dressed in the same sort of clothes as Zoot was now wearing. When she welcomed him to Castle Anthrax, Lex's ears pricked up. Zoot had placed that name upon her door; had she not said as much? And when the young woman on the screen said her name was "Zoot – Just Zoot," it reminded him of those toys where one slides tiles around until they reveal a picture. Next to him, Zoot squirmed deliciously.
The rest of the scene, detailing Zoot's (and the other comely maidens') attempts at seducing Sir Galahad the Chaste was extremely funny, and more than a little revelatory regarding the woman next to him. She identified in some way with the woman in the movie, Lex knew, whether with her loneliness or her power of persuasion or her desire to be chastised for an imagined infraction, he was not sure. He did, however, feel Galahad's frustration when Lancelot arrived before the promised spankings and oral sex. Lex had been looking forward to seeing those and felt cheated.
The story continued, and soon he forgot about Zoot's namesake. When the film ended abruptly, he cried out in alarm. "What happened to the battle?" he moaned. "They promised us a fearsome epic battle!"
"That's showbiz," Zoot commented. "They probably ran out of money."
She reached across Lex to turn on the lamp, brushing her breasts against him in the process. The room's sudden brightness made him aware once again of his surroundings. Zoot picked up the box from the floor, pressed two buttons, and the screen went dark. Then she stood and brushed some stray popcorn shards from her chaste white bodice.
"Potty break!" she announced. "Don't go away!"
Once more she disappeared down the hallway. She was gone a few minutes, and Lex could hear the sound of the commode flushing, followed by running water. Another minute passed, then another, and just when Lex began to wonder what Zoot was doing she came back. She immediately sat on his lap, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the lips. Lex soon got over his initial surprise, and returned the kiss with commensurate passion. Her lips were soft, warm, inviting, and insistent. She tasted of mint, lime, and popcorn, and her tongue teased his. Eventually she pulled back, and looked him square in the eyes.
"Whew," she exclaimed. "Now that's what I call a kiss! You don't hold anything back, do you?"
"That was just the merest foretaste." Lex bent towards her to prove his point. When he broke their second kiss, her breathing had quickened, as had the sleeping serpent in his trousers. She could not help but notice it announcing its presence.
"Hold on, hold on," she panted. She gulped, then regarded him, her eyes wide and glistening, brighter than mere reflection from the lamp could account for. "Before we go any further, I have one question."
Lex stiffened in some places, but not in the one that mattered most. He steeled himself for her inquiry. Once in a while, a woman would demand to know the seriousness of his intentions, or the depth of his affections, or whether she was as attractive as all those others he had met on his long travels. These were, in his experience, the conversational equivalents of booby-trapped treasury rooms. Sometimes, he knew, there was no safe passage available. Still, he was at the door, and might as well try the lock.
"Ask away," he invited, bearding the lioness in her den.
"What did you think of the movie?" she asked.
This was not at all the question he had expected. "It was the probably the silliest thing I have seen in many a year," he said truthfully. "I did not like it at first, but once I understood the actors' intent, I enjoyed their antics greatly. The end, however, left much to be desired."
"But what was the point of the movie? What was its deep, inner meaning?" Her eyes bored into his with an intensity he found unsettling.
"Excuse me?" he blurted. "What deep inner meaning? Were we not watching the same movie? There was no meaning. It was just entertainment. Sheer, lunatic entertainment."
Zoot's face relaxed. "Good sir knight," she smiled. "Thou hast passed the ultimate test." She brushed her lips lightly across his. "Thou didst laugh, but only when thou wast truly amused. Thou didst not grab my boobs, demonstrating that thou art no mere base, lecherous varlet. Thy kisses are sweet and hot and portend greater things to come. Lastly, thou didst not try to bullshit me by finding meaning where there clearly was none. You have earned the Grail, gentle Sir Lex. Do with it as you will."
So he did.
They kissed for a long time, her enthusiasm matching his every step of the way. After a while, Lex slid one hand beneath her shift, confirming that she wore nothing underneath and that her level of arousal was every bit as palpable as his own. His fingers stroked and pressed and were welcomed. She writhed in his embrace, her lips moving from his mouth to his neck and back again. She removed one hand from around his neck and slipped the badge from his hair, which fanned around them. Burying both hands in his long, dark mane she devoured him, drinking in his breath with savage fervor. Her body pressed against his, demanding, rhythmic, ravening. She tore her lips from his and gasped raggedly. Her hips jerked and leapt, and she threw her head back, then kissed him again with almost punishing force. Her climax flooded his questing fingers as her cries flooded his soul in breaking waves.
As the tremors coursing through her body slowly subsided, Zoot lay her head against his chest. She moaned something that sounded to Lex like "Oh, sweet cheeses!" Her thighs squeezed together around his hand, then relaxed, and she gently pushed his fingers away. Then she took the same hand in both of her own, and kissed each bedewed fingertip in turn. Without releasing him, she got unsteadily to her feet, urging him to follow. Lex did so, pausing momentarily to retrieve his badge from the cushion where Zoot had dropped it. She led him down the hall to a closed door, and pushing it open, pulled him inside.
Soft violet light bathed the room, shining from above the headboard of the bed where hung a sculpture of luminous thin tubes, forming the shape of the Grail. Zoot pulled her shift over her head, careful not to dislodge the cap. In the purplish glow, her dark skin shone like polished mahogany, her small, taut breasts tipped with onyx. She stared up at him as her hands untied the lacings of his pants. At the same time, Lex removed his shirt, dropping it to the floor. Her hands grasped his waistband, and the pants fell around his ankles. He stepped out and kicked them to the side. Zoot moved closer, encircling him with warm, lightly callused fingers. She stood on tiptoe, and Lex strained to meet her mouth, but there was still a gap between them. Cupping her buttocks in both hands, he lifted her easily off the ground. They kissed, slower now, gentler, more patient yet no less passionate. She crossed her legs around his torso, and bit him – hard – on the lower lip.
"Ow!" he cried, more out of surprise than any real pain. "Why did you bite me?"
"Methinks, Sir Lex, that you have forgotten the script, and I thought you might need a gentle reminder." There was mischief in her taunt and she dug her fingernails into the skin over his shoulder blades.
"Gentle?" he riposted, catching her drift. He recalled the movie's Castle Anthrax sequence. "I will show you gentle, you temptress!" He had played this game before. It was not one of which he was particularly fond. Frankly, he had never quite understood the blurred line between pleasure and pain, despite several offers to instruct him on its mysteries. Some did find it gratifying, though, and Lex – as an entertainer by both vocation and nature – was always eager to please whatever audience he found. He whacked her playfully on the derriere.
Zoot jiggled against him, then mockingly asked "You call that a spanking? My grandma hit harder than that!"
He repeated the process, putting a bit more effort into it. The report was like a whip crack in the quiet room. Zoot moaned and held him even tighter.
"Bad Zoot," he chastised her, echoing the dialogue of the movie, punctuating his words with another manual reminder. "Naughty Zoot." Again, a fraction harder. She cried out, convulsing against him, her heels digging into his back.
After two more, she gasped "Enough!" and uncrossed her ankles. Lex lowered her gently to the floor, and she sank to her knees before him. Her mouth paid homage, coaxing, tantalizing, alternately velvet and voracious, feasting on him, worshiping defiantly. His efforts to maintain faltered, shuddered, and gratefully collapsed. The world went away.
Lex's legs gave out, and he fell back onto the bed. Zoot stood and found room beside him. He slid across the silk sheets and she followed. Lying on their sides, they faced each other. Teeth nibbled, fingertips mapped, tongues teased as they languidly played. He pulled her head close to kiss her once more, her hair was springy beneath his palms. Their mouths touched again. She grabbed two handfuls of his long sleek tresses, and pulled his face closer. The mint and lime were joined by brine and musk and juniper. Lex decided to see what other flavors the banquet before him had to offer. He left her mouth and began to slide inexorably downward, visiting the hollow of her throat, the rise of her breasts, the valley between them, and the cup of her belly button on the way to his ultimate destination. Zoot called out his name, invoked her deity, and then lapsed into a tuneless, wordless yet altogether riveting vocal performance. She begged him to stop, then threatened violence if he did. After several encores, the curtain fell at last.
Lex's head joined Zoot's on the pillows. She smoothed his eyebrows with one fingertip, feather light. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. Lex tasted those as well.
Zoot drew him close, pressing her body full length against his, playing an arpeggio on his spine. Soon, very soon, her touch grew more compelling. Lex responded in kind. Sensing their readiness, Zoot pushed him over onto his back. She sat cross-legged on the bed, and leaned over towards a table to her right. Lex heard a drawer slide open, and items being moved about within. Sitting upright once more, she held something Lex could not see. She lifted it to her mouth and he heard a small, tearing sound. Zoot bent over his loins and once again Lex felt himself captured by her lips and teeth. This time, however, a third, unfamiliar player accompanied them, and when she lifted her head, a tight sheath of rubber girded him.
Lex had never seen his weapon thus scabbarded. He made a mental note to add this ritual to his Ask Gloria list. He then hurriedly scratched it off that list, and added it to his other, shorter Ask Tully list. Any further thought on the matter was shortly shunted to the side as Zoot straddled him and accepted his offering. Soon all other thoughts followed suit.
"Yee-haa!" Zoot cried, joyously, waving her little cap in the air.
As the sun rose, painting their intertwined forms with a more natural palette, Lex and Zoot sank into each others’ arms and the respective embraces of Niosanktai and Morpheus. One can but hope that the Lady and Lord of the two disparate Dream Realms found half so much pleasure in each other's companies as did their subjects.