New York City, an alley somewhere in the Meat Packing District
You’d never be able to tell, thought Quinby, never in a million years just looking at it from the outside. The scarlet door with the golden handle was the only incongruous thing on a street that was narrow and gray, empty storefronts and warehouse docks watching her with a vacant hunger that made her want to get inside.
A huge line lead from the scarlet door and snaked around the block. In it were some of the most stunning people she had ever seen. She recognized more than a few of them; people who would never have had to line up outside an ordinary Club. But this was no ordinary Club, this was The Seventh Level, the hottest Club in the City. What made it so hot? Quinby wasn’t really sure. Perhaps it was the musky peppering of celebrities, perhaps the décor, which had to be seen to be believed. It could have been the five hundred dollar cover, which everyone paid (or nearly everyone). The music definitely had something to do with it. Why, rumor even had it that the Club was owned by a Lord of Hell. When all was said and done, Quinby decided, it was all of these things. The Seventh Level was a place where anything could happen. That’s what made it hot, because like cool, hot cannot really be defined. Like Enlightenment, it can only be experienced.
Solipsum lightly rested his arm around her shoulders as their party proceeded directly to the front of the line.
“Hey!” A businessman thrust his fat face at them. “You can’t cut in like that!”
The doorman quickly moved forward but was stopped by a glance from Solipsum. He looked at the irritant and seemed about to say something, to bequeath something
before he changed his mind. “Go home,” he said. “Tonight is not your night.”
Quinby watched as the crowd closed over the man, the skin of his face now white as mollusk flesh.
They approached the scarlet door with the golden handle and Quinby noticed again the strange disclaimer on the small sign at its center:
YOU RISK SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH BY ATTENDING THIS VENUE.
The door was opened and in they went.
Their party proceeded down a carpeted hallway paneled in dark mahogany. Music with the primary beat of the human heart welcomed them into a place Quinby had almost come to think of as alive. She ignored the other girls who where lining up to get their wrists stamped with ultraviolet free drink ink and made her way forward. The Seventh Level had only two areas, the Anteroom (what she considered the staging area) and the Seventh Level itself. The entrance to the former was guarded by two enormous mastodon tusks that joined to form an archway. Quinby looked up as she walked beneath them, yellowed-cream and thicker at the base than she could get her arms around. The walls then changed from wood to mountainous rock, underlit as though by lava, soaring up so high the ceiling disappeared. Small chandeliers of scarlet glass descended on impossibly long chains to add their light to what looked less like manmade room and more some rocky alcove at the heart of the Himalayas. A circular bar was visible through the crowd, it’s roof an onion dome of beaten metal, the spire at its tip like a spindle upon which slowly seemed to turn that which she could see beyond—something like the ruby core of a galaxy. The others had now joined her and they all walked around the bar, through the gap between the fissured walls, to see the Seventh Level spread before them like something from a dream.
She had an impression of a cathedral’s shadowed intimacy, of couches, crowds and cloth-of-gold, of a vast space where bars and plush lounge areas rose for seven stories to cradle like cupped hands the thing that still took her breath away. They were on the third level and Quinby backed up from the transparent railing slightly, neck craned to better let her eyes drink in the spectacle before her. Floating in a slowly turning anti-gravitational maelstrom that extended from floor to unseen ceiling were thick slabs of scarlet glass. They floated at the horizontal, forming islands of leisure and pleasure that clubgoers alighted to from every level, sometimes to linger, sometimes to alight anew, all depending on what passed and who was on it.
The largest was the size of an aircraft’s wing, the smallest a chariot’s wheel. Some had railings, tables and bar stools, some only cushions while others were bare but for a matchbook with a special phone number, or some other strange gift. The technology that kept them afloat was, she knew, hideously expensive and the path of each slab (if left alone) purely random, collision detection always operative. They all had simple steering mechanisms, allowing them to dock at every bar, lounge and with each other. Each was lit by some inner point source that spread its glow softly, radiantly.
Crowning the floating glass were models and predators, agents and rock stars, drifters, gamblers and women of means, dealers, faded glories and the Next Big Thing, killers, whores and celebrity dust-heads, straining-breasted wannabees in retail last-year, the Naked Cowboy, realized talents and wasted opportunities, queens, rent-boys, dream-boats and dregs, daddy’s girls, photographers, ponces and touts, all dressed in their best, dressed to impress, in expensive jeans and tattered t’s, in couture this and vintage that (just never tell them it’s off the rack), in costume, plumage and ready-to-wear, in outfits red as rage, tinted the green of forgotten youth, candy flossed and party purple, yellow as accident tape on the cornflower blue of your sweetheart’s eyes—carnivore colors and salty sparkles, pearls as black as homemade sin, neon racy rainbowed bling. She saw people dancing and cavorting, some kissing and drinking, some slab-skipping and others just sitting, feet dangling, body weight shifting in centrifugal accommodation to the ride they were so clearly enjoying. People and glass floated round and round, with the stately majesty of tiny scarlet schooners sailing into Eternity.
Their party broke up. Some to dance, some to get drinks and some to get drugs. The rocket needed fuel.
Quinby walked to the bar, the blond helmet of her hair gleaming as she passed beneath the spotlights. The crowd parted before her like cloth before the shears. All eyes tracked her as she walked across that room, wondering what she felt like, smelled like, fucked like, looked like naked, and she hardly felt a thing.
She reached her destination and perched on a stool, elbows resting on the velvety hardness of the sandblasted glass. The bar was an opulence of drapery and scarlet brocade, of muted illumination, the shimmering blood light pinpricked by luminosities of green. She could just make out in the smoked glass mirrors behind the bar the ghostly kanji impressions of the glassy maelstrom’s movement.
She closed her eyes, then sighed and opened them. Tom the bartender stood before her, looking quite perfect in his crisp white shirt and crimson bowtie. He gazed into Quinby’s eyes and she smiled at him as they both remembered the time it went a little further than it should have.
“What will it be, Miss Delicious?”
“Triple Vodka Q, please, Tom.”
He made her drink in no time at all and placed an enormous martini glass on the bar top. In it, a lathed toothpick skewered two very large pills.
Quinby handed over two folded hundreds. She always made it a point to pay for her own drinks. Tom still raised an eyebrow.
“Get one for yourself. And keep the change.”
He grinned at her, his hands already busy.
She took a sip of the thick and icy vodka he set before her, then pulled out the toothpick and placed it into her mouth, slowly withdrawing it to crunch on the pill left behind. A look of ecstatic communion, gentle and inexorable, suffused her features and soon she felt like a giddy young blood cell jet-streaming back to the Center of it All.
She turned in her seat to face the crowd, the VQ now opening for her the room’s secret heart. She could feel it, hear it, see all those thoughts and emotions swirling in the air like the breath of a dream; eternal youth that would last the night, promises broken before they were spoken and kisses of hope like liquor-filled chocolates, tongue-pushed and bursting, their sweet ichor flooding her mouth with only the slightest aftertaste of ash.
“What’s that you’re drinking?” asked Bentley, making himself comfortable on a bar stool.
Quinby continued to watch the room. “Try one and find out,” she replied, her voice both warm and icy.
“I do believe I will.”
He ordered and watched, fascinated, as Tom prepared the sweating martini. “How do I…….?”
She leaned back slowly. “Just slide one into your mouth, like this, chew it up, then sip some vodka, sit back and enjoy.”
Bentley followed her directions somewhat hesitantly. “What are these?” he asked around a mouthful of sweet and chalky tartness.
“A new designer drug called Anything. It only comes in pills and it’s metabolically specific, whatever that means. All I know is that it gives you the best high you’ve ever had. Each experience is better than the last and there’s no tolerance build-up.”
“That’s incredible! But the crash must be horrendous.”
“There is no crash.”
“Then what’s the price?” He brought his lips to the rim of the glass.
Quinby finally faced him, her teeth almost blinding as she flashed a smile in perfect counterpoint to the touch of madness in her eyes. “Two weeks of your life.”