When Mr. D and I emerged from the tunnel we were back in Automatic Slim’s. The club was beginning to fill up with patrons of the shadow arts, most of whom were taking a pause to drink on their way home. The club had a fairly well timed schedule of events. There were the after work drinkers, then the couples and families for dinner, followed by the officials, wolves and the dregs for the late night kill. Although no printed schedule existed, the rules were understood by everyone. If you stayed too late with your family, or showed up at the wrong time with your wife and kids, you would not get back in the club... ever. There were many such arrangements now, understood, but not written down. The Governor had made cleaning up the filthy chaos of the streets his priority, his reason for existence, so high ranking officials couldn’t be seen coming in and out of a strip club where alcohol was served. So a veneer of respectability was maintained in all things., and nobody who would interfere was permitted to see through it. The club was for members only, with an extreme security staff, so it was easy to keep out undesirables. This had not always been the case. For years Slim’s was just another hole in the wall. That’s why Slim was so eager to have The Invisible Man on staff. His main contribution to the culture of the club was the introduction of Light Catching technology and the cloak and dagger set that came with it. Slim’s was instantaneously transformed.
     The lights on the stage were dimmed as we walked into the main dining area; tonight no entertainment was being offered until after the dinner crowd had gone home. Often the club introduced their underage talent during dinner shows, this was in fact a tease for the late shows. Everyone knew the routine. Young dancers from the schools would put on tasteful performances while the government officials ate with their frustrated wives and graceless children. The couples would leave after dinner to put their broods to bed. Later the husbands would show back up to meet their girlfriends or to see the “professional” dancers. The “gentlemen” would enter and leave the club unseen, because of Light Catching Apparel provided to all the important clients. The technology had been perfected at the research university to enhance all aspects of covert operations. When the Light Catcher material was ultimately mass produced, it was easy to copy or commandeer. It wasn’t long after The Invisible Man was put on the payroll that a set of Light Catcher suits showed up for use by the wealthier patrons, and Slim’s added a private changing room. Dwnwrdspyrl also had a set of the fine light eating suits and a changing room courtesy of The Invisible Man. When travel became impractical through the official gates of the city, the persons or products were shipped in and out through the tunnels. Light capture technology made this possible.
     It had taken most of the day to get in and out of the city. Mr. D and I immediately left the Automatic building with a family, the large doors being conveniently held open by Slim’s doormen, and made a bee line to home plate at Dwnwrdspyrl. The longer you stayed out in a Light Catching Suit, the more likely you would get run over, or discovered in some similarly severely unpleasant fashion. Agents who used the suits were trained to spot and identify other users. They were always trying to terminate unauthorized users, called retiring a suit. Although practically invisible to the untrained eye, a suit was betrayed by the slight shadow it cast, and the matting of the material under the shoes, which negated its unique effect. Another tell was the slight rippling effect the suit had when it passed a flat surface, like a mirror. The smooth glass appeared to bend slightly with the contours of the suits, as if reality itself was being distorted. There was so much suit traffic in and around Automatic Slim’s, that discovery there was unlikely, but as you moved into the side streets spotters were always a threat.
     When we got back to our club, the gatekeepers were trained to see us and allow us to return safely with the next customers coming into the club. Once inside, we headed immediately for the Light Catcher Wardrobe behind the mirror of the backstage dressing room. When we passed through the auditorium, I was delighted to see Christine sitting at one of the tables. The dining area was not very big, so it was hard to miss her. She was sitting quietly at one of the dining room tables, but she had the ability to draw your eye from anywhere in a room. Naturally, she didn’t see us come into the club. She was holding court. The geezers, who often came to the club in the afternoon to play chess, were loath to leave a dancer unattended. It appeared that they were fairly ignoring the board games. They were instead interested in much fairer game. I thought to myself, ‘There is no greater fool than an old man in love.’ It was a double edged observation. I couldn’t help realizing that I must look the same way at the beautiful young dancer. I didn’t want to face the fact I would look just like those geezers if given half a chance. After changing into street clothes, I stayed in the dressing room, and meditated on my weakness. Was I being drawn into Christine’s influence for selfish reasons? Wouldn’t her presence ultimately disrupt the balance within the band? What balance... everything had been in flux since Josie disappeared. I had entered the twilight. Wonderland, the theatre of the mind. Mr. D went out front to help in the kitchen. He said, “You’re lost.” and left me. I could see his point. I stayed backstage to sink silently into my thoughts. I thought about a puzzles missing pieces. Hour glasses filled with diamonds. Sphinx’s sharing a joke.
     I wasn’t alone for long though, after a couple of minutes Christine wandered into the room looking for me. I hadn’t talked to her since the impromptu audition a couple of days ago.
     She said, “It sure is hard to track people down around here. I’ve been out front for hours waiting for someone I know to say hello, or something. But no one knows me, and Megan won’t talk to me. I saw Michelle and she won’t say where anyone is. Then a minute ago, while she’s bussing dishes, she tells me you just climbed out of your coffin, and can currently be cornered backstage. I guess you’ve been here the whole time, right? Why did she make me wait out front? I thought you were eager to get started. Then Megan treats me like an unpronounceable disease yesterday, and now you act like you’re avoiding me.”
     I was on the spot. I stammered, “Everybody helps me protect my solitude. I know it’s hard to understand.”
     “Hard to Understand! It’s down right creepy, Count.” She was very young and used to getting her way. “If ya’ll don’t want us to work together, you ought to tell me. Something has changed since I auditioned, I thought you were eager to work with me. But I think Michelle was hoping I would leave today, and Mr. D just avoided me like I had the clap. When he came through the Tea Party, I said hello, but he pretended not to hear me and ran off into the kitchen.”
     “I don’t think he knows you”, I replied.
     “Really?” She acted fascinated by my reply. “He was talking to Megan when I first noticed he was in the room. While they were talking, she was looking directly at me with daggers flying out of her eyes. They must have been talking about me. What is going on Count? Everything is getting curiouser and curiouser. Yesterday I came by to see you, and Megan did everything she could to try to run me off. Now you’re trying to avoid me like I have the Bubonic Plague. Why is everyone acting so Freaky?”
     I decided to lie to her, because I didn’t want her to know about the turmoil within the troupe; it’s not something I’m proud of. I said, “Darling girl, everyone is trying to protect you. It is well known that I am a creative genius. In order to draw my inspiration from my Muse I must devote all my time in her service. Everyone is afraid I will fall in love with you, and they, or I, will be forced to kill you to preserve the purity of my creativity. I can never dilute or damage my delicately divine art with diabolical and destructive earthly love. This is common knowledge. Have you not read my memoirs? Hmm? The Unpronounceable Confessions Of A Genius!”
     Now at least she was laughing. I said the last lines of my little speech with my eyes bulging out of their sockets. I had practiced this dramatic effect many times. The more crazy I looked, the more people laughed, but, as in all humor, it masked the truth.
     Christine was now at ease, disarmed by my Salvador Dali imitation . She was truly upset when she first came into the dressing room. I could tell that she really wanted to be a part of the troupe. It was flattering, and I really wanted to help her. It had been very hard to get the production together. When I first started talking to people about the music, and my story, they were utterly nonplussed. I handed out 100’s of disc and no one made the slightest comment. It was like talking to the wind. Eventually Mr. D got it, and came on board. He was the first person to say he loved what I was doing. As the political and economic situations deteriorated, people began turning away from commercial music and hollowed out old art forms, because they, naturally, couldn’t reflect the new paradigm. Not to say that A Horrible Noise became popular, God forbid! People never like hearing the truth. But eventually the Reunion began to accept my basic premise, that the pen is mightier than the vote, and encouraged some of their dancers to collaborate with me. They knew I was Madd, but my message of love of life and freedom from technology resonated more and more loudly, until IT became impossible to ignore. To see someone earnestly trying to become a part of my dream was astonishing. My heart melted for her. I was a sucker, an old man in love.
     Christine must have sensed this. She came over to me and pulled me towards her. She said, “Help me become a part of your life.” Her body felt warm and comfortable. I wanted to melt into her. I reached around her hips and clasped my fingers behind her back. She reached up around the back of my neck and pulled me down to kiss her. I kissed her forehead.
     She asked, “What are you afraid of? You’re the one who’s supposed to bite.” She pulled me back towards her and this time I ached to kiss her. I couldn’t resist. Her lips slightly parted as we kissed, and I pushed inside. I knew the fragrance of her hair, the taste of her mouth and felt the smooth curve of her breast. I was breaking the ninth law of the theorems of fun, which states; if your sewing dissent within your band, then you will not have fun. I held her in my arms, and kissed her, and I desperately wanted more. I wanted to be with her even if the others were against it.