NO WORDS JUST FLAIL.
In the meantime, have a theater!au film-noir flail. IT'SREALLYSELFINDULGENT WHAT OF IT. Blame Emma. I think I shall, a bit.
sparkle and burn and take your time
Borja Theatrical Studios AU, PG-13, ~2300
Cesare’s up in the top office with a stack of tax returns and a slowly increasing death wish when the door slams open and Crezia fairly hurtles in, sliding herself tightly in between the desk and him. “Too busy?” she snipes, and he shakes his head with a certain degree of wishful dishonesty—their father is in California with Juan and the obligations of the studio are now, for the moment, entirely his to bear, relish them or no. But it’s Lucrezia and she looks as if she’s on a mission. Really, he doesn’t know what to say she looks like: she’s wearing a red bow of lipstick, winged dark eyeliner; her hair has been freshly curled but she’s not wearing anything but a bathrobe, as far as he can tell. He blinks.
“Why aren’t you downstairs?” She snags a finger beneath the collar of his elegant white shirt, thumb hooking under the lapel of his suit. “Come on.”
The order has the dual blessing of coming from his sister and having nothing to do with IRS forms, and he gets up and follows. They’re out of the door and in the elevator when he bothers to ask: “Why?”
Her hand finally frees itself from his clothes and claps back over her mouth. “Chez! Playbill.”
She shakes her head, curls bobbing, weighty with dramatic disbelief. “What am I going to do with you?”
“I’m sorry, I suspect that my rational faculties are slowly decaying every day spent in the upper office. That room should be going to a tubercular poet somewhere—it’s missing its calling as a garret.”
“Ugh, you’re unbelievable. It gets better light than anywhere.”
“All the better for the poet.”
“Feel like trying your hand at verse?”
“Feel like lighting the accounts on fire. Think father would mind?”
“Of course not.” She smiles up at him and shrugs, curling her hand into the crook of his elbow. “Just look pretty for the camera and he’ll forgive you in abundance.”
“What should we be wearing?” He looks down at her, draws a finger along the terrycloth lapel that’s hanging crooked against her collarbone, and she grins at him, crooked and bright-mouthed.
“I’m just ransacking the costume closet; there’s no reason to pull out something too dramatically Vogue. You don’t have to do that much.” Her eyes linger briefly on him. “Get you a fedora and we’ll be fine.”
He crooks an eyebrow. “The Big Sleep?”
“It’s easy. And you know how much Dad loves Chandler.”
Not as much as he loves Puzo, but it’s all one. Cesare expects to find fake guns—his sister’s always loved them “And you’ve got the Bacall covered. What a hardship.”
She grins, slyly. The elevator dings, opens to the basement, and she knocks her hip lightly against his as they walk out into the costume closet. “Just put your lips together and blow. Anyhow, I figured this was better than raiding the Shakespeare section—I mean, not that the magazine wouldn’t love it in a Barrymore kind of way and not that I don’t love the brocade dresses, but I figured best not to put you in doublet and hose right now. I was thinking of you.”
“Much appreciated,” he says dryly.
She stops and slips off her robe, tossing it negligently over the door to the shoe closet, and his eyes flick over her: she’s wearing a slip and garters and stockings with seams, very period and very, very nice. “You’re ready.”
“I do have to put a dress on over it.”
“Idiot.” She walks over behind a rack of dresses and grins over the top of it at him, teeth bright against her red lips. It’s good to see her grin like this, to be wearing costumes and spotlights lightly. She’s back where she belongs, and she rifles comfortably through the skirts, already looking like she knows what she wants to find. Of course she does: they memorized the layout of this maze of clothing as children, and she had led, him not caring, him following and letting her dress and parade with enthusiasm for them both. He’s put up with a lot over the years, he thinks with a wry, fond grin, and he sits down on a box of codpieces, waiting for her to pick and choose.
“Excuse me,” her voice filters through the clothes as she’s bent out of sight, “a little help from your end.” “Direct me.”
“Trench coat. Check the rack for Real Inspector Hound; I think he was about your size.”
“Right.” He stands, raps on the lid of the box. “Oh, and—”
Her head pops up, chin resting on the rack, and he snags a particularly ornate codpiece, lifts it toward her like a toast. “I think I ought to thank you more properly for not putting me in period gear. This, I haven’t missed.”
She smothers a laugh, clapping her hands over her face. He says nothing further, not until she peeks back at him between her fingers. Somewhere in childhood, she’d taken to wearing them as hats for a week; it had taken sitting through half of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet to put her right. He picks up another—it looks like nothing so much as a satin sausage, and he suspects she might have used it as a makeshift club, once. “The memories abound,” he says wryly, and she dissolves into laughter properly.
“I was five and by the way I hate you,” she says, biting back a giggle in her throat, cheeks pink beneath the powder on her cheeks. “Go get dressed.”
He hasn’t been down here in years, not like this, trawling casually through for fresh guises. His sister’s had reason. His sister’s had parts. His sister’s costumes have been made for her; she’s a whole rack, now, of things made to her measurement. They had spoken of it as children, had expected and dreamed of it. But he won’t be made nostalgic by clothes, least of all costume trappings. As he walks through, his hands run through the racks and his fingertips trip over snaps beneath buttons, Velcro instead of hooks. Costumes are meant to be discarded. To be taken off—and he can’t help flicking his eyes back at Crezia, grinning to himself.
She looks the part in the clothes, though, and the best thing he can do is do the same.
He finds a trench right where she said, on the Hound rack, and he peels off his suit jacket, rolls up his sleeves, and tosses it over his shoulders, feeling it settle and slouch into a Bogart veneer immediately. The hat racks are nearby. He snags the first fedora he sees. There. New man.
The worst part of it is—it works. It works immediately and magically, and he feels a thousand miles away from the top office immediately. This is an indulgence, he thinks, shoulders shuddering and shifting the way the coat settles over him. This is making him—it’s making him want.
Silently, he makes his way back to Crezia, who meets him midway through the aisles. She’s found a fur coat to throw over a skirt and a blouse, has put a little hat with a veil on her head; she looks marvelous and unreal and the world practically flickers sepia around her, except that she grins up at him with unabashed excitement, nothing feigned on her face. “Oh,” she says, eyes flicking over him, and she flies forward, hands reaching out to smooth over his shoulders. “Oh, you look perfect, this is—”
Her palms catch against the slope of his suspenders, and she wraps her arms around him, reaching up to touch his shoulder blades and the empty gun holster beneath his coat.
“This is costume?” she asks, very lightly, and he says, “Of course.”
“Of course,” she says, and exhales softly. She leans back, tipping her face up, and he leans in.
“Lipstick,” she whispers close to his mouth, and he kisses her just once, precisely, on the bare crook of her neck above her collar, fur tickling his cheek.
“Let’s go, then,” he says, and she crooks her arm through his once more.
The photographer chooses, of all places, to photograph them in the office. “Backstage, in a manner of speaking,” she says, and Lucrezia leans in to whisper, “I told you it got the best light.” He makes a face and she wrinkles her nose at him behind the photographer’s back as she is setting up her tripod. So he sits at his desk with his elbows on his papers and his sister leans in against it, fanning herself with a script.
“ ‘Be generous, Mr. Spade,’ ” she says, voice fluttering and diction-coached. “Honestly, you look a bit Macbeth there more than anything.”
“ ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow—’ ”
“Macbeth en noir.” She gasps quietly with delight, eyes widening. “Why has no one had this idea before?”
“I’m sure someone has.”
“Not anyone out of de Borja yet, though.”
“Fair enough. With you as the Lady?”
“If we can’t have you as the man himself, then we might as well.” She sighs, letting the script rest against her lips and leaving faint red traces behind. “I’ve always wanted to play the Lady. Too many girls on my resumé, not enough women.”
“Thus, unsex me.”
She blows him a lipstick kiss over the script, and the photographer calls out, “Marvelous! Turn your heads.”
He leans in and lets his face fall into shadow as his sister kicks a heel back against the desk. They learned their best faces at a very young age: everyone in the family has a head shot, even him. It doesn’t take long at all.
“Thank you,” the photographer says, shaking their hands briskly at the end and handing them her card. “You’re a delight to work with, the both of you. Cesare, have you ever been in any of the theater’s—”
“No,” he says shortly, and she nods, quick, and exits to the door. Stage right, Cesare thinks reflexively and leans back into his chair, sighing sharply.
“Was that so arduous?” Lucrezia asks, amused, and he shakes his head.
“It’s not that.”
She comes in and stands in front of him, taking off her hat and shaking out her hair. The netting falls over a stack of forms, shadowing them more prettily than they deserve. “What, then?”
Stage right, costumes, meant to be removed—his head hurts and he’s thinking in stage directions and she’s maneuvering her hips in once more against the desk, leaning gingerly against his stack of papers, and before he has time to think better of it, he shoves the papers to the floor. They fall with a thick thud, fluttering into disarray, and Lucrezia gasps back a laugh.
“What is this?” she asks. He jerks his chin toward the desk, now empty, and shrugs. There aren’t words for this. Stage directions, perhaps: Lucrezia de Borja hops up onto the desk, shrugging the fur off her shoulders. She leans in, and he hasn’t been paying attention to the stage directions well enough, clearly, because he’s surprised into laughter when she snatches his fedora, stroking him lightly before using both hands to prop it daintily on her head Her curls stick in the air in flyaway pieces, then; her legs cross above the knee, crumpling the tidy lines of her skirt, mouth twisting as she blows one of the stray pieces of away from her face, and the role—barely worded, crafted by camera and costumes alone—falls away around her. She leans in and when she kicks off her heels to put her stockinged feet up in his lap, she is his sister.
“Whatsit,” she murmurs, mouth twisting up into her cheek again: a misremembered line, he knows that face, and his fingers track the path of her stockinged seams as she thinks, up behind the ticklish crook of her knee to the flesh of her thigh. She gives a little gasp and flicks her lashes toward him, eyes going bright despite the sly look on her face. “ ‘I haven’t lived a good life,’ Mr. Spade—?”
“ ‘You know,’ ” he returns, recognizing it (Bogart, but he’s taller, he knows spitefully, and better trained), “ ‘that's good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we'd never get anywhere.’ ”
Lucrezia looks like she could clap, and the thin Brigid O’Shaughnessy veil is already parting when he slips his hand beneath her skirt. “Oh,” she says, closing her eyes as he moves his fingers over the lines of her garter, which is too complicated to be a mere costume piece. This is real. His sister knows better than to choose such things for the stage. Her lashes flicker and her lips part to show a slice of teeth and she leans in, fingers curling into his hair. She touches the back of his neck gently, so gently.
“Chezza,” she says in a voice as gentle as her fingertips, “are you all right?”
He stands and paper crumples under his feet. She rests a leg on the arm of his chair, and his arms wrap around her waist, pressing her back.
He kisses the answer into her mouth.
The rest is silence.
The garters prove too complicated to come off, and she keeps them on, laughing and kissing his eyelids until he smiles, pressing the shapes of their face into alignment, and there is lipstick on his collar like a tell for the spotlight and his suspenders catch in her hands, which fall lightly to the empty holster at his back and linger there for a few fleeting seconds; when she removes them her hands are impossibly delicate on his face and he is smiling for her, alone in the world, and the desk is not for business and the office is not for tasks, not now.
All is not well, but it never is, not in the script, and not out of it.
He closes his eyes, and they fade, warmly, to black.