Tuesday, March 24, 2015


(images by David Lachapelle.  used without permission.)


Pretend it’s February, 1929, about eight months before the Great Crash, when the twenties were still roaring and all our tomorrows looked like undulating many-legged showgirl mandalas.  
Imagine a world premiere at Grauman’s Chinese theater in Hollywood.  “The Broadway Melody”, starring Charles King, Bessie Love, and screen sensation Anita Page, the girl of the moment, a blonde beauty from Queens who was getting famous in the age of silver silence. Now she’s made the tricky transition to talkies, learning to shine through the lenses and microphones of a fresh technology, enchanting millions in a whole new dimension.  Her girlish giggle has been freed at last to echo from screen to screen and sweeten the dreams of a generation.  There’s no stopping her, now.  
Her father, the chauffeur, helps her to alight gracefully from lush sedan to red carpet, so she can play it like a scene, smiling like it’s Christmas, and every smitten fan is just what she always wanted.  Anita doesn’t really like crowds, but she’s already accustomed to the lifestyle their adulation pays for, so, sometimes, she plays the game.   Her he-man brother is her escort this evening.  She pays him to be her personal trainer.  Her mother is back at their big house in Beverly Hills, napping after frantically typing up Anita’s speech (just in case she needs to give one).  
Stars burst all around her in a catastrophe of filmy fumes and breaking glass.  Every little explosion is the front page of a magazine or a newspaper.  Wall Street wise men say there’s trouble ahead.  Big trouble for every man, woman, and child.  Their concerns are duly noted in the back pages with the Katzenjammer Kids and the classified ads.  The front pages belong to Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Deitrich and that evil bitch Joan Crawford and, of course, Anita Page, old school gods and goddesses for a godless age.  
She poses with Charles and she poses with Bessie and she poses with Harry the director and she reluctantly poses with Irving the producer.  In the flashing, he discreetly clutches her like she’s livestock he’s sizing up for purchase.  He whispers in her ear.  “This hard-to-get crapola is getting old, Ms. Page”, like it’s all business.  “Come back to my house after.  Get serious about your career.  Daddy knows best.”  AT his best, he looks like a gigolo and he talks like a gangster, and  she can’t believe he’s serious and she snorts and starts cackling in a most unladylike manner.  The cameras love it.  She’s natural.  She’s a free spirit.  She’s the beauty next door.
She will later regret laughing in his face, like this, in front of everyone.  
It won’t scare him off just yet.  He’s still too hungry for her.  He’ll write her mockery off as “feistiness”.  But the bruises accrue.  Not that she notices.  She’s blowing kisses and flirting with Clark Gable and signing autographs and then she’s walking with her brother past the Chinese dragons and temple guardians, into the pagoda where the first proper cinematic musical is about to unlock the nation’s dream-life...winning Oscars, engendering more musicals, more stories made of music wherein so many men and women and children will lose their troubles for an hour or two in the Great Depression to come.  And “Anita Page”, this made-up person, this brand she is, will become a household name.  Nothing like this has ever happened to anyone, least of all to the former Anita Evelyn Pomares of Flushing, Queens.  She’s never been a goddess before.  
So she has no reason to suspect that it won’t last forever.
Pretend it’s February, 1929.  Why not?
That’s what Anita does, as often and for as long as she can.  
But it’s not 1929.
         It’s February of 2002, and Anita Page (last of the silent film superstars) is basking in her twilight.
She’s closing in on a hundred years old.  Her ruined beauty radiates thin plastic tubes and tendrils in all directions, through a network of IV reservoirs and mobile respirators and colostomy bags.  She’s planted semi-permanently on a densely cushioned wheelchair, dressed in a replica of some chic flapper dress from her heyday (customized, of course, to accommodate the mutations of age), swaddled in moth-eaten furs, wheezing in her fog of dried urine, medicine, and Chanel Number Sixteen.  
She’s sitting in front of a television in the guest room of a vaguely palatial old house in Van Nuys, California.  The house itself is an unholy marriage of museum, mausoleum, and bordello (blooming at the heart of a street gang war-zone, much like a hothouse flower might erupt from the butts of an ashtray).  The room itself is a cocoon of musty lace. 
It’s five o’clock in the afternoon.  In this, the last of Anita’s bedrooms, her nursery in reverse, the restless electric light of the screen is brighter and more meaningful than the light of the sun.  And more nourishing.  On the screen, images of her young, vivacious, uncorrupted self dance in a jerky blur of platinum blonde and silver.  Every flickering movement of the girl she was makes a ripple in the eternal garden party of her heavily medicated memory, where frozen moments melt into champagne whirlpools, where phantom kisses stir a skin no longer hers like an irrational itch might tickle a missing limb.  She watches her old movies and dreams out loud, engaged in intimate conversations with women and men who no longer exist, some of whom barely existed to begin with.
There she is on the screen, a star at nineteen, a star by accident.  A star forever if she calls that drooling producer “Daddy”.  “Telling the World” was her first film for MGM.  She remembers the set and him waiting.  His abrasive cologne and his rabid pheremones.  It’s like he’s in the room with her.  Irving irving irving, the lost tycoon with a midas touch, and yet always hungry.  He’s youngish and semi-suave when he isn’t angry, but he takes her as a given and he’s had all her friends.  She knows how easy things could be if SHE were that easy, but a voice within says “better a has-been in hell than a whore in heaven”.  So she’s loose with men of her choosing, and chaste with men who choose her.  It’s a dangerous game to play in a desperate desert city of snakes and jackals, but she plays it to perfection, just look at her.  Until Irving’s greed cools into cruelty.  
But that’s later.  That’s a different film.  Right now it’s “Our Darling Daughters” and she’s fresh and she’s adored by all and she gets more mail than anyone but Garbo.  “Fucking Garbo”, she hisses.  
BOOM.  A crash downstairs upsets her reverie, violently re-asserting the here and now, where Anita’s blithe, bubbly spirit is suddenly sucked back into a body on the brink of uselessness.  This abrupt careening from the splendor of “then” to the squalor of “now” is her least favorite sensation.  The whimpering begins and she talks out loud to no one about nothing...loud enough for someone to come running.  The only someones who ever do.  
First through her door is the owner of this house, Anita’s caretaker, and the only living human (aside from Anita) who still sincerely believes in her greatness.  He’s her biggest fan and her dearest friend (when she can remember who he is), known to his colleagues and cronies as Filmstar Rupert Malloy.  
He’s a dashing fiftysomething Southern gentleman in a dyed black bouffant and pancake make-up, heavy but graceful in a dark green suit and a black turtleneck.  He’s rushing to her side, already in doting mode.  Right behind him there’s Marvin, Malloy’s companion for the past twenty years, president of the Filmstar Rupert Malloy fan-club, personal driver and valet, unofficial nurse to Anita, and full-time florist.  He’s baby-faced and as large as Rupert, but not as elegant.  Sneakers, a polo shirt and dockers.  Marvin immediately, apologetically starts checking the technology that keeps Anita alive.  The crash downstairs was Marvin’s fault, apparently.
“Anita!”, drawls Rupert, “Don’t you worry about a thing, my love.  Everything’s just fine.  We have some lovely guests looking for those letters we talked about, and Marvin was just a little overzealous, AS USUAL.”  Rupert’s tone is somehow bitchy and affectionate at the same time.  Anita is vaguely conscious of an opportunity to make a scene.  The hellraiser she was in her salad days lives on, despite her impairments.  “Well, you scared me half to death, you silly men”.  This she croaks once before slurping some water through a straw, then again as if she just thought of it.  “Well, you scared me half to death, you silly men.” Then she hisses “You ruined my party” like someone else would hiss “You murdered my husband.”   
As Rupert consoles her, he and Marvin both notice that the DVD of “Our Darling Daughters” is stuck on a slightly pixellated image of Anita in her shining prime.  They’ve both seen each of her 33 classic films several times over, and there are glamorous photographs of young Anita all over the house, but they’re always taken aback by the sight of Anita on celluloid (her most potent ghost), even stuck like this in a digital limbo, the silver sheen of her crackling into little cubes of color.  She was outrageously beautiful and she knew it.  That was the nature of her power.  What’s left of that fire is croaking oaths of vengeance again, squirming in her wheelchair, jangling her tubes. 
Rupert affectionately shoves Marvin towards the television to attend to the technical difficulties, murmuring “There-theres” to his cherished treasure, his very own genuine live-in movie star, left behind by a vanished age when the stars still meant something.  An age of solid gold that disintegrated into glitter.
With a rough burst of noise, the image on the screen abruptly cuts and jumps from 1928 to 2002, from Anita’s fragmenting frozen laugh to a dance party in progress in a hypervivid, hypermodern London nightclub.  Playful sepia-tinted tranquility explodes into a riot of colors, shapes, icons, fashions, on-screen website links...stroboscopic cuts between images of semi-rich and quasi-famous boys and girls, tarted up like pornocrats and disco demons.  A future the craziest of Anita’s contemporaries could not have conceived   except in the chaos of some drug-addled breakdown, back in 1929.  But it’s the 21st century, now, and yesterday’s apocalyptic nightmare is just late breaking news.  Yesterday’s hellbound Babylon is today’s early evening video wallpaper.  
Anita is momentarily silenced and mesmerized.  Almost traumatized, in fact.  Marvin’s muttering as he fiddles with the controls, “I am truly truly sorry, Ms. Page.  I’ll have this fixed in a jiffy”.  A shrill voice from downstairs shouts “I might have found something”.  Rupert trills “Hold on, hold on, I’ll be there in a minute” as he digs into the lacquered cabinet that contains videotapes and DVDs of all 33 Anita Page movies.  
She knows all about the slice of cinema history that she lived, and she can go on and on about the movies all her co-stars and rivals were making, but the only sight that can ever pacify her completely or lend harmony to the storm of voices in her head is the sight of her own filmed face, captured in that fleeting span of four years (maybe five) when the world was her orgy and everyone wanted her to marry them, from Raymond Navarro to Mussolini.  It turns out Navarro was a fruit the whole time he wooed her and Mussolini was a fascist dictator, but nobody’s perfect.  She just loved being loved.
What’s given her pause and stopped the fidgety rambling (that usually defines her when her movies aren’t playing) is a fresh shot of herself on screen, grinning and grinding in modern dress, dancing like a stripper, in the bloom of her roaring twenties youth but wrapped in the shimmery trappings of the 2000s.  The face is different, but she’d know her own glow anywhere. She points a white-knuckled talon at the screen with urgent curiosity.
“What am I wearing?” she asks.
Rupert and Marvin look up again from their on-the-spot maintenance of Anita’s dreamlife and see not Anita on-screen, but an infamous heiress and professional celebrity, giving it up for the cameras at her opulent 21st birthday party.  They both chuckle like you would over the accidental wisdom of a child.
“That’s not you, Anita,”says Marvin. “That’s London Rothschild.”
London Rothschild grabs a microphone and welcomes her viewing public in a tipsy, insouciant voice that Anita could still swear is her own, or was her own, when she was more like a canary and less like a vulture.  
“London Rothschild?”, she croaks incredulously.  “Who’s SHE?”
Rupert and Marvin both stammer at the task of explaining London Rothschild.
Anita asks, “Is she famous?”, knowing she must be, since she’s dancing on the same screen that usually frames the great Anita Page.
“VERY famous.”, answers Rupert in a tone that observes but withholds approval.
Anita isn’t satisfied.  “Is she an actress?”
“NO.”, says Rupert.
“Is she a singer?” asks Anita.
“No.”, says Marvin.
Anita is more confused than usual.  She needs to get to the bottom of this London person.
“Then why is she famous?”, she asks, wanting a straight answer so she can stop being curious and get back to contemplating her own vanished grandeur.  Rupert was hoping to find another copy of “Our Darling Daughters” in the cabinet of memories.  He settles for the sequel and loads it up, hoping that Marvin is figuring out how to explain something like London Rothschild to a lady who belongs to a bygone age.  But Marvin is chuckling again, maybe to avoid answering.
“She’s famous for being famous”, Rupert says.  The easy answer.  The TV Guide version.
Anita slurps her water again.  Her appliances wheeze and beep and trickle and hiss.  She contemplates this glitter-kissed television creature, this closed equation of fame, gyrating in her dress-shaped pink napkin.  Nothing she says makes any sense.  The screen fills up with a lavish logo, the title of the show: “London loves London”.   Anita can no longer see the resemblance.  She gives her final judgement on the subject.
“Well, she must be trash to wear a dress like that.”
And with that, 2002 is gone again, “Our Modern Maidens” begins, and Anita Page is “then” again, amidst the sights and sounds and perfumes and flavors of her very own early twenties, seeing herself properly in the soft focus fashion of a time so much more innocent than the age that rages outside the gates of this curious purgatory.  Innocent even in its wickedness.  
And who was more wicked than her co-star, Joan?  Wired like a man, she was, screwing anything that moved, more a peer to the Irvings and the Daryls and the Harry O’s than a puppet like every other girl in Hollywood.  She pursued Anita with the subtlety of a rabid jaguar.  The propositions turn to curses when you won’t surrender the rosebud.   More shouting for Rupert from the chaotic search downstairs.  Another crash (even louder) means nothing this time as Anita slips into the jasmine-scented garden within, a party untroubled by life and untouched by death, this sketch of her heaven: a timeless, painless party that need never ever end.  
Rupert always knows when Anita has slipped all the way into her happy place.  “I’ll be back up later to give you a bath, Anita.” He kisses her forehead with gentle reverence and returns to the first floor ruckus, the excavation of half-mythic memorabilia in a house whose clutter is devoted to such things.  The search for Mussolini’s loveletters to Anita rages on.  
Marvin wonders exactly where she goes when she’s at peace.  Far far away, that’s for sure, and he doesn’t blame her.  That’s all he knows.  He gently regulates her morphine drip, seeing to it that she’s nowhere for as long as she needs to be.
She’s remembering the wrap party at Joan’s house (three times the size of Chez Page), where Anita’s secretary and part-time mother Helen has turned a paler shade of olive after seeing the massive arsenal of expensive sex toys in the Crawford bathroom.  A hasty exit.  Joan wanted her slice that night.  Avoiding Joan (like one avoids cancer), avoiding Irving (like one avoids the clap), avoiding all the men the studio gangsters fixed her up with, avoiding the right parties and chasing the wrong parties until they chased her back and all was lost.  “You Were Meant for Me” plays over and over again, her themesong from the moment it was played for her.  She married the man who wrote it, and found his love a pale shadow of what his bewitching ditty promised. Fashions changed.  The wardrobes shrivelled into skimpiness.  
The old ladies called Anita trashy, too, and, sometimes, to hear that was her greatest joy, way back whenever...as her “now” blurs mercifully again into “then”.   
Anita was the prettiest girl in the world (for all intents and purposes), watching grown women wither before her and and feeling the babies ripen behind her.  They ripen and grow claws to cut you down with.  Wave after wave of starlets and would-be starlets who burned too brightly, who burned up their satellites, who burned for no reason.  
The story never changes for a bright young thing in Hollywood.  Just the costumes and the special effects.  So thinks Anita when the morphine kicks in.

"BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS"  (Candy Kane, 2003:Babylon Records)

celebutantes are running loose in every city
high on stuff that is yet unknown on the street
they all look like cartoons, they're just that pretty.
they only eat chewing gum and they never sleep.
their antics are making me misty.
they'll look funny when they're fifty,
but tonight they're the bright young things and i think it's sweet.
yeah, tonight they're the bright young things and i think it's sweet.

london's got more money than you've heard of.
gwendolyn has done more drugs than you've seen.
every item applies to you on their list of turn-offs.
oona's new, couldn't be a day over sixteen.
their games get so outrageous,
we go crazy when we get famous.
we go blind like bright young things and we fuck like machines.
we go blind like bright young things and we fuck like machines.

like maenads they tear through every party.
like the wild hunt, they lay waste to every scene.
like barbie dream-dolls seen through a mirror darkly.
they play with their meat, then purge when they've picked the bones clean.
every rampage makes the papers.
they'll be coming down sooner or later
but tonight the bright young life is peachy fucking keen.
yeah, tonight the bright young life is peachy fucking keen.

they rock the house as the truth turns into quicksand.
they party hard with an apocalypse on every screen.
cross them, they won't bother to hire a hitman.
when they kill you, the crime gets reviewed in the best magazines.
they're wide awake and dreaming.
dimmer dolls would wake up screaming.
the bright young things are teaching me how to be mean.
the bright young things are teaching me how to be mean.


    Meanwhile, London Rothschilde is STILL loving London.
    Loving it at the speed of light.
    Her private plane just touched the tarmac at Heathrow and the city’s media machineries are already in motion, paparazzi swarming at the gates, at the exits, just outside the private terminal that receives the V.I.P.’s, desperate for a snapshot of the face that launched a million tabloids.  She’s flying in from New York, where her 21st birthday party on the roof of the Rothschild Regency Hotel ignited a similar explosion of surveillance and hot pursuit and profiles and quotations.  This will be her third party since the birthday began.  She has two more to go before she’s back in LA, in her HQ, bubbling in luxury.  For London Rothschild, business is what happens in between bubblebaths.
    She’s been making herself telegenic in the pink Cessna’s deluxe dressing room, painting her doll-like features (already a little bit worn from revelry) into a masterpiece of blank, untouchable beauty.  Her facial expression has five basic gears in public.  It’s a trick she learned early.  Extensive mirror-gazing  and experimentation gave her five useful faces.  Bubbly.  Sexy.  Bored.  Concerned. Sincere.  She never makes a face by accident.  These are the masks she has tested and perfected.  There are fewer and fewer places where she can count on not being photographed, places where she can remove the masks and let nature dictate her moods and attitudes.  It’s getting to the point where she’d just as soon remain vacant and jaded when she’s alone.  Just in case someone’s watching.      She’s conducting a quick inventory of her reflected bits and pieces before leaving the plane.  Her sheer pink babydoll dress by VOOM... Versace platform heels... a diamond-studded tiara... racoon mascara that evokes the sexy robots in some old movie.  Her hair blonder than ever, extension-free at the moment, teased into a perfect post-coital tangle.  On extreme international party jags (like this one), she likes to always look like she was just making out.  Her eyes are a shimmering soupy green, dim at first glance (like she doesn’t quite know what’s happening), a little sharper and more sinister the longer you look... when you realize she doesn’t care what’s happening.  She doesn’t have to.
    Finally, a Big Ben pendant on a silver chain, hanging between the slight cleavage of her willowy physique.  She’s tall enough to be twenty-one, but she has the figure of a fourteen year old.  She’s perfectly adorable and she knows it...like preachers know the Bible.  The rhinestone cel-phone is seized...there’s an atomized mist of “Delicious”, her new perfume...and a kiss she blows like a signature at the perfection of her reflection...and then she’s in the main cabin again, to collect Jessica, her eighteen year old baby sister and the most precious accessory an heiress could ever ask for.    
    Jessica’s so much more than that, of course.  She’s a confidante, a partner in crime, and a daily planner.  She keeps track of London’s fractalizing social calendar, the parties and premieres and club openings and interviews and celebrity dinner-dates.  She’s the voice of reason when London gets delusional.  She crunches the numbers and reads the contracts.  She’s prettier than London (by conventional standards of measurement) but she’s more demure.  She doesn’t sweat electrons and eat up attention like her ambitious big sister.  Her hair is dyed the same blonde as London’s, but it’s longer.  Her eyes are swimming pool blue with a hint of some smothered trouble, like someone sad is swimming in them.
    She’s wearing the same babydoll dress as London.  They often wear matching outfits, but somehow, Jessica is always obviously the copy, the cohort...the accessory.  It all comes down to “POP” in the end.  Who pops on the screen and who doesn’t.  The sisters know their roles and they’re ready to take another stage by storm.  Decoy SUVs with lookalikes in the back seats will lead the frantic photographers hither and yon.  There’s a Rolls Royce waiting for the real Rothschilds.  It will travel by little-known roads to conduct them to another club, another birthday party.  Another celebration of London’s slow mutation from society page curiosity into  pop culture phenomenon.  Her growing fame seems to mean something.  No one’s quite sure what that is yet, but her parties and plans get bigger and bigger as a hungry public panders and ponders the conundrum.
    Between plane and car, in the brittle chill of February in the UK, wrapped in big black furs (imitation fakes), the Rothchild sisters stop sashaying and face each other, like they do sometimes.  In the midst or on the brink of some great happiness, they pause and it’s like they’re pinching each other, reminding each other that this is all real, they are who they are, they can do anything forever and they deserve it.  All of these thoughts and feelings and telepathies are crystallized in a familar exchange of blurbs, like mantras they chirp instead of chanting, like a secret code that kids use when they’re a world unto themselves.
    “How do we look?”, Jessica asks.  This is the call.
    “How do we LOOK?”, London asks.  This, the response.
    “DELICIOUS”, they say with relish (in spooky unison), then they’re running to the car as quickly as their ridiculous heels will carry them, laughing like hyenas and flirting with the chauffeur, on their way to yet another spectacle where London can flaunt her nightlife while, all around her, other nights and other lives are merely lived.

The club is called “The Operation”.  It’s on Brompton Road in Chelsea, in a warehouse that was once a garage for sleeping Porsches, then a Katherine Hamnett boutique.  Now its front doors look like a slightly sci-fi version of the entrance to an emergency room.  The neighborhood is trendy, edgy, arty, etcetera.  Infested with high-end “creatives”.  The red carpet is attended by skinhead security thugs.  A fresh strain of paparazzi afflicts the curb, but no velvet rope will be crossed here without an invitation or bloodshed.  Celebrities comandeer “The Operation” for their private parties on a regular basis.  All these extras know the drill.
    The Rolls pulls up. Its back door is opened. The Rothschild sisters emerge.  The blitzkrieg begins.  In Anita Page’s day, the flashbulbs left a kodachrome cloud and a carpet of broken glass in their wake.  Tonight it’s all digital.  The debris is purely electronic and emotional, as London’s image instantly skitters webwise in all directions, weaving mesmeric veils of flashy fascination.  Making the world outside her freeze-frames seem dismal by comparison.
    Her dress will be famous.  Fortunes will be made on the knock-offs.
    Her poses will be emulated in schoolyards and shopping malls for days...until her next flock of poses comes to roost on the nearest magazine rack.     
    Tabloid jackals and clamoring fans are wishing her a happy birthday.   One wag shouts “How does it feel to be legal?”  London has been doing things that would scare most grown-ups since before she turned thirteen.  “DELICIOUS!”, she answers, obviously.  “You’re ALL delicious!”, she proclaims, making it so, if only for a moment.  Jessica gracefully occupies the background  of every shot and does not answer any questions, which is usually for the best.  On camera, Jessica tends to say things she really means and ignore obvious branding opportunities.  London can’t have that.  So they both do what they do best, London the exploding star (made of burning camera come-ons and catch-phrases) and Jessica the satellite (born to reflect the sun’s infernal glory and regulate the tides).  The brief audience granted by London to the tragically uninvited draws to a sudden close.  The MTV people are receiving her and Jessica warmly but urgently, ushering them inside.
    Inside, they walk an ultraviolet corridor lined with colorized microscope photos of various diseases, blown up as big as paintings and clipped on wall-mounted light boxes.  Blown up so big you forget the afflicted tissue and its evocations of mortality.  Instead you see a complex kind of beauty.  Silkscreen portraits of the very microbes that might be killing you (that killed somebody, certainly), flaunting their fecundity like alien jungles.  Jessica finds it creepy whenever they come here, but she can’t let on.  Her confidence at events like this hinges on London’s esteem.  London likes it when pretty things are dark and dark things are pretty.  For the truly beautiful, meaning the truly free, meaning London Rothschild, there is no abyss that can’t be slivered by the refracted shimmers of a disco ball.  For London, this gallery of crayola cancer-grams has one meaning worth believing in: Party hard, for tomorrow, you may be boring.
    When they pass through the far end of the microbe gallery, it feels to London like she’s exiting the womb.
    London steps dramatically into an open zone of glaring white light: a corrosive, clinical light like you’d find in heaven or in a hospital after just coming out of a coma.
    The ceilings are almost nowhere.
    There are party people dining and reclining at different levels, transparent platforms on which the Uberchic eat at operating tables, sitting in sleek wheelchairs. Several levels connected by spiral staircases shaped like DNA helixes.
    Many mini-bars and conversation pits.
    V.I.P. platforms enclosed by surgery curtains (opening and closing, metal hooks scraping the rails as happening people are summoned and banished and then summoned again,  inner circle after inner circle of famous silhouettes).
    The staff wears pristine white hospital gear, customized by some infamous fashion school prodigy cum reality TV star.
    The dancefloors are lit up like screens, spinning rainbow kaleidoscapes and stop-motion flower-fields in various stages and speeds of blooming.  You learn to never look down when you’re dancing at the Operation.  Unless vertigo is what you’re after.  Someone famous and old told London once that you can dance yourself into a state of "soylent green" at the Op.  She figured he was talking about some drug thing.  She probably said “Whatever”.
    Tall windows: city lights filtered through microbacterial transparencies, each slide digitally tinted to resemble a bruised cathedral of intimate flesh.
    This is how the other half lives.  Richly and strangely.
    There’s a momentary, palpable hush in the club as the Rothschild Sisters stride the catwalk that extends from the ultraviolet hallway to the center of the club itself.  The air itself changes flavors as London takes the mic from her producer.  The bright white lights dim so she can shine properly.  The cameramen careen dynamically into her orbit and assume their positions, catching her from every angle, framing her on the catwalk and feeding her to every screen in the room.  The birthday girl has arrived.  Wherever she goes, she’s everywhere.
    Every hustler, every hipster, every superstar and fashionista, all the somebodies and semi-somebodies who were nice enough and famous enough to be here tonight, they’re already on their feet, like Pavlovian Catholics at a mass being said by their favorite Pope.  Her producer gives the signal.  She doesn’t miss a beat.    “HEY!”, she shouts like she’s already drunk, “It’s my 21st Birthday, Bitches!  BUY ME A DRINK!”  Widespread laughter.  Applause.  London turns to the designated camera as if all her guests have conveniently ceased to exist and will re-materialize when she feels like it.  She’s talking to the folks at home, now, from those who sort of worship her to those who always wonder why they’re still watching...why they just can't help it.
       "I’m London Rothschild”, she says (to the same invisible public she talks to through the mirror every morning).  “The party need never end, my pets.  And I am living proof.  I am rich.  I am white.  And I am now 21.  No man, no club and no cocktail is safe.  I am live in London, at birthday bomb number three.  I LOVE London, and London...loves...ME!”
        The crowd goes crazy, as if on cue.
        She acknowledges them again, seeming to swoon a little as she absorbs their adulation.
    Jessica takes the microphone, like they rehearsed it.
    “London”, she says, “before we have any more fun, I just want to thank God or whoever in front of everybody that you’re my big sister because I love you and you’re an inspiration...to all of us.”
         The applause at this last claim is polite but scattered, perhaps because a few hundred of London’s dearest friends are now trying to think of the last decent thing London inspired them to do.  Jessica is about to say something else but London takes the mic back to avoid any deviations from the script.
        “Jessica Rothschild, I want to thank YOU for riding shotgun on my party train.  You are my only sister and therefore my automatic BFF and I love you a bunch.  I love you so much I’m gonna let you be the honorary hostess while my Brits and my Bitches get down on that freaky dancefloor and show me what they’re made of.  Any questions, kiddo?”
    “Just one.  How do we look?”, Jessica asks.
    “How do we LOOK?”, asks London.
    The crowd cheers “DELICIOUS!” of its own free will.  The slamming beats and the pounding bass rise in the mix with a swell of sampled strings.  10 foot tall hypodermic needle sculptures pump a million rose petals into The Operation’s upper atmosphere.  The cameras careen away from the sisters, taking in the crowd, the spectacle.  The opulence of it all.  Then the cameras are off.  She’s fulfilled her obligation.  Another gig, almost done with.  More money money money in the bank, like she'll need it someday.  She hands off the microphone, takes Jessica by the hand, and descends with her from the catwalk, into the throng.
        She loved L.A. today (like always). Then she loved New York.  In a few hours, she’ll love Tokyo then she’ll finally love Vegas.  Where DOES she get the energy?  Only her entourage knows for sure.  Her homegirls are international jet babies, too.  They agreed to converge here, for the Mayfair blow, then travel altogether in the pink plane to Japan.  They’re all here.  She’d feel it if they weren’t.  She’d feel it and she’d see through their excuses.  This is the birthday junket.  Attendance is mandatory.  
      She’s charming every guest in her path as she searches the crowd for her handmaidens, so they can commune in the cat-scan room, celebrate properly, inhale a kind of lightning and finally think straight.
    There they are now, in different areas: Becca, Lacy, Gwendolyn and Chandra...each immersed in some special kind of trouble that is all too typical.  London puts on the Bored face with Concerned on speed dial.
        Nothing can save you from London when London Rothschild wants to save you from yourself.

       The crowd at large is a collage of famous faces, the movers and the shakers and the satellites.  There’s Z-Dogg, the hip-hop impresario, with his flagrant white fur coat and his diamond barnacles and his entourage of corporate pimps.  He’s doing some soundtrack material for London’s upcoming “reality” show.  They’re talking about an album, maybe.  He gives tribute due to a princess: a serious kiss and a piece of bling that shimmers like it fell from the sky.  A diamond-studded silver valentine heart with a Big Ben in the middle.  She has, like, ten of them.     
    “I love you, Dogg”, says London.
    Her “sincere” face is turned up to thirteen.
    “Love you too, baby.  Happy Birthday.  T.T.Y.S. “, he says, speaking her language.  Z-Dogg may have as many as seven faces.
    There’s Fabian Fabrice, the highly strung hyper-pop fashion photographer, whose bizarre, super-sexualized photos of the Rothschild sisters in Vanity Fair did so much to draw attention to their fabulousness and to crystallize their brand.  London’s in particular.  He’s dressed in a subtle Gautier ensemble, one of those suits that looks like business but feels like a fetish.  He’s a little less fun since he cleaned up and joined that cult or whatever, but his work just gets more and more “important”.  In her head, he’s like a royal court portrait artist.  If she could, she’d keep him indentured at her LA mansionette, just so he could capture her many moods.  All five moods, in lots of different dresses.  Fabian shrieks with enthusiasm at her approach and blows her a bouquet of kisses.
    There’s the fortysomething once-iconic popstar lizard queen (in a Gucci taffeta dress with a metal and leather belt and suede platform sandals) with her wannabe yobbo husband (head to toe in Adidas), both of them gracious and friendly and happy to be here because London is not yet a threat.
    There’s that scruffy Irish actor who’s had his way with at least three of London’s friends, wearing whatever.  He curtseys and offers her a bowl of condoms.  London’s obviously revolted, but amused enough to keep it all classy.  
    There’s the young allegedly illegitimate Prince himself, in a Dior Homme half-assed suit and Union Jack Pumas.  He’s smart and cute but loud and rough (still fighting his encroaching gayness, perhaps).      Overcompensating.
    Prince Billy lunges and almost bites her neck.
    Loud enough for those nearby to hear, she says, “You’re an international incident waiting to happen, Princess”  He’s neutralized immediately.
    “T.T.Y.N.”, she says, as he recoils and recedes into the clubbing crowd of movie and magazine people to sulk or something while she moves on and wonders how he got in.
    She hates “real” royalty.  They’re so fake.  London is a self-made princess.  An American aristocrat.  An A-List psychic told her it was her karma in this life to deal with huge success.  Maybe tonight Billy will get over himself and come out of the royal closet or something and history will change its course from a random beat of a butterfly’s bitchiness.  Stranger things are happening all the time.
    Famous faces, gracious greetings, love-love, kiss-kiss, etcetera, etcetera, but all this gratuitous networking is really beside the point.  Throughout her regal progress in this ocean of peers and supplicants. her mind and her eyes are on her bitches, her posse, her BFFs.
    There’s Becca Rondell, (bachelorette #1), London’s soul sister from way back (since their parents had beach houses on the same strip of Malibu) and the co-star of London’s upcoming show.  Her face: a flawless natural look foundation (accented with bronzer), with a shimmery luxurious patina.  Precise black wet powder eyeliner blending into dark and smokey eye shadow.  Black mascara.  Shimmering natural lipgloss.
    In just two weeks, they start shooting, and Becca’s getting ever so slightly catty about the London-centric slant of the publicity.  But there’s that POP thing again.  London is POP incarnate.  Becca pops more than Jessica, though, because Becca is MEAN.  That’s why London loves Becca.  She says in public the foul things that London is often thinking.  Right now she seems to be on the brink of a giving a bitch-slap to Oona St. James, a winsomely emaciated prime time soap starlet who talked some trash about Becca in PEOPLE last month.
    Becca is the shortest girl in the room, but her eyes are big and dark and they fix you like pins fix a butterfly.  She’s loud and wickedly funny and you never remember how little she is.  She’s wearing a baby blue Louis Vuitton silk-jersey belted dress and gold leather sandals with brass studs and walkable kitten heels.  Her hair is pure sophistication and she has the finest tan that science can contrive.  Her body language is going all ghetto as Oona gets evasive.  Becca’s fierce...but she has her priorities straight.  At the spotlight splash of London’s approach, she ceases and desists, leaves Oona in her dust, air-kisses London on both cheeks and struts with her through the frantic flux and muddle.  “Happy B-Day, Baby-Girl.”
    The colors and shapes and sounds and vibrations are clean and hard and delirious. London’s afraid she lost Jessica for a moment, like those dreams she used to have where Jess was lost in the wallpaper...but then she clicks into focus at London’s side, like always, just being quiet and looking good, as nature intended.  Jessica blows a kiss to Becca.  Becca blows it back.  The three of them compose a trinity of unholy deliciousness.  The club-thumping beats seem to conform to their swivels, rather than vice versa.  They are living in a video.
    There’s Lacy Linson, the compulsory child star gone half-crazy from too much clubbing.  She’ll get worse before she gets better, but tonight she’s electric, pulling shapes on the dancefloor, feeling her fame metabolically (like London does) and basking in it.  She sweats fetchingly in a Marc Jacobs bordeaux-and-black sequined guipure tank dress.  Her feet stomp up a monsoon in Versace printed leather and metal platform booties.  She’s famous in her own right, on her own terms, and loving it.
    She was a Disney kid with real depth and real skills, at times seeming to be forty in the body of a ten, then a fifteen, now a twenty year old.  Many serious players are investing in her potential.  London has an eye on acting, maybe.  Or singing.  Or world peace.  Something semi-serious, after the ceaseless continuum of club after club gets old or gets tacky.  Lacy could be her ticket, if she doesn’t explode first.  Red hair, red like a cinnamon inferno.  Freckles everywhere.  A volcanic persona.  Girlish hysteria.  Adult issues and appetites.
    The three-headed fashion beast made of London, Becca, and Jessica snaps six of its fingers without ceasing to strut.  Lacy hears the snap like it’s a gunshot and she peels herself free of the steamy dance routine.  She has this weird effect on the average dancefloor.  People get more graceful around her.  She fills the air with choreography, which collapses back into sleazy chaos as she joins her accomplices.  She’s air-kissing the Rothschilds, touching peace-sign fingertips with Becca, and falling into formation.  There are a thousand joyrides in her past and a thousand crashes in her future, but tonight’s just peachy.  This is her moment.  Does she know that London will still be on catwalks when she’s in a strait-jacket?  Maybe Lacy is jonesing for London’s improbable longevity the way London is jonesing for Lacy’s fleeting cache.
    In any case, there are four of them now.
    The cameras are following this ride of the Voom and Versace Valkyries.  There’s so much happening in this club, so many deals and disappointments in progress, but London’s making the rounds and marking the moments like a cat does, making sure that tonight is all about her, even in memory.
    There’s Chandra Scheherezade, the half-Armenian industry brat with the notoriously voluptuous fundament.  Her hair is dark like a tropical fantasy.  Her tan is genetic and the envy of all the more Nordic partygirls.  Her lips are glossy and bee-stung (promising a taste of honey if kissed).  Her curves are tightly wrapped in a sleek sheet of bronze sequin-and-nylon crepe.  She’s wearing a Roger Vivier heart-charm bracelet.  Not the Big Ben bracelet that London gave her.  She’s holding court with a gaggle of actors, athletes, and operators.  Her gimmick is a kind of earthy sweetness, a tactical “real-ness”, a reckless innocence amidst the cat-calls and wolf-whistles that her figure draws forth from every bevy of men without meaning to.
    She watches London closely (sometimes TOO closely, London thinks), and she’s already copped a few moves from the Queen’s repertoire of seduction strategies.  She’s making them her own.  Her real feelings on the subject of London remain elusive, but she’s a frenemy the Rothschilds grew from a seedling.  She must be kept close and pruned from time to time to keep her from growing into a self-sufficient media monster.  A scene-stealing supporting actress who must occasionally be cut from the negative to make room for more of London’s close-ups.
    Her nostrils flare and she stops laughing for a second, like she smells the approach of her homegirls before she sees them.  And there they are.  The soundtrack drops a beat and then resumes with the snap of eight fingers.  Chandra bids her admirers a T.T.Y.L. and takes her place in the posse.  Air-kisses.  Birthday wishes.  Now there are five furies, and all eyes are on them.  Some guests are hiding from the huntresses.  Some are figuring out how best to get their attention.
    Finally, Gwendolyn Riley.  In some ways the best actress in the bunch, in some ways the worst.  A bulimic brunette with dark eyes that always seem to be on the verge of tears.  She’s starred to great acclaim in several indy films, always playing that little girl lost, making bad choices, staggering in the footsteps of other lost girls like lemmings follow lemmings.  In these films, she may be playing cartoon versions of her own script, her destiny.     
    Gwen and Chandra are BFFs from way back (last summer).  Chandra sometimes treats her like a sick pet that needs mothering.   Jessica hung with them once and they talked for hours without once mentioning fame, fashion, or boys.  They’re weird like that.  Thankfully, despite the broken doll vibe, Gwendolyn can drink a magic potion or two and party with the best of them.     
    Her little dress is black.  Chiffon or something.  Semi-trendy/quasi-classy, but not festive.  London is not amused.  But she’ll let it slide.   Let the little individualist come to a Birthday bash dressed for a sexy funeral.  The outfit underscores her status as a disposable walk-on, a tourist in London’s Wonderland.  She’ll fall off the stage at just the right time without any help from her homegirls.  London would put money on it.  A goddess just knows these things.  Gwendolyn is talking deeply and tragically with some nobody.  She averts her gaze from the studious gloom and spies the approach of her newish friend-like accomplices.  Chandra snaps then snaps again until Gwendolyn comes running like a working girl missing her bus.  She gives London a candy necklace, something sweet and real for the girl who has everything.  How cute.  London hands it to Jessica.  “For later”, she says.  Gwen gives her a real kiss on the cheek without an invitation.  Very uncouth.  But the entourage is complete.
    The producers and the spotlights find them.  The cameras form a sacred circle of celebrity around these women, excluding every guest from the shot who isn’t perfectly, telegenically “delicious”.   Microphones swoop and hover from on high.  All London’s girlfriends scream “Happy Birthday, GIRL!”  Jessica turns to the camera with a jolt, like London just pressed a secret button that shocked her into action.  She does her best impression of her sister, staring straight at the most flattering camera.  “So glad you can see us, Planet Earth.  Don’t you wanna be us?  Stay tuned for more Rothschild glamour and glitz on ‘London loves London’.”  London cuts in with a personal, breathy message for the invisible millions. “Then it’s sayonara, Big Ben, and cheerio, Tokyo!  The party, as always, has just begun.”  The girls are dancing.  The camera careens again, into a riot of jubilant celebrities.  London tells Jessica to do whatever the producers tell her to do.  “Stick to the script, Jess.”
    “I’m not stupid, London.”
    “I KNOW that, Jess.  That’s the problem.  You’re too smart for TV.  Stick to the script.  Join us in a little bit.”
    Jessica would just as soon give London the spotlight all to herself, but there’s business to discuss.  Serious business.  London surveys the crowd again.  Decadence is so much classier in a clinical setting.  There’s one bitch that isn’t here to pay tribute.  The one bitch she really wants to see.  The five-headed dragon-girl resumes its slither, through the crowd, beyond all the V.I.P. platforms and go-go operating theaters and x-ray photobooths.      The REAL V.I.P. room is accesible through pink rubber curtains that are slick with some kind of perfume.  The curtains sigh as London parts them and the five of them enter the Cat-Scan Room.  For Rothschild personal personell only.  There’s a modest buffet of drugs for their popping, sniffing, and smoking pleasure.  The game-faces fall away and it’s like they’re just girls, exhausted after the school play or from swimming all day in pools of liquid crystal.  London’s game-face remains in place.  Something is wrong.  Something involving the male of the species.
    “Okay, ladies.  Before we get this party started for reals, I have one question.  Where the fuck is my fucking boyfriend?”
    London can be a little bit scary when she’s the princess who feels that pea.  People lose their heads all over the place.  Gwendolyn and Chandra and Lacy and Becca don’t say a thing.  They’re clicking into man-hating commiseration mode as the walls throb and the brutal bass gets jungle-ized, scratchy and spastic.
    Hell hath no fury like a diva dissed.

The “fucking boyfriend” in question is Jack Salmon, a professional poker player and bon vivant, the golden boy spawn of a Warner Brothers executive and a nervous housewife.  He was born in New Jersey and schooled in Atlantic City.  He’s been a fixture on the Las Vegas high-stakes gambling scene and the L.A. club scene since 1999.    London met him last year, at her twentieth birthday party, before she knew a thing about the world and what it wanted from her.  It started as nothing (a dance, a kiss, a hotel room) and it’s still nothing, but, for London, it’s a comfortable nothing.  He’s physically delicious, he’s a creature of the night like she is, he has a little money of his own (more often than not), and he’s good in bed.  They chase each other around the world like this sometimes, on parallel party circuits that curve and become contiguous.
    She knew he wouldn’t be at the LA party (at the Ivy).  He said he’d be in New York.  Then a text message said he was missing New York and he’d meet her at The Operation.  Here she is at the Operation and no one’s seen his male modelish mug anyplace.  She wouldn’t care, under normal circumstances, but it’s her birthday and sort of their anniversary and she’s been getting a little sentimental about him since their three-day Vegas love-in last September.  In that suite, she did things she never even thought of before and it felt like they both reached a highly unusual level of intimacy.  It was scary, almost.  A modern icon-in-the making needs to keep her wits about her, of course, but maybe there’s that one rake with a heart of gold who you can trust against all odds, like all the songs say...or maybe not.  Maybe she should be listening to all those other songs that know better.
    He’s missing half her birthday (maybe all of it) and he’s not returning her messages.  Rage simmers London’s bubbles into a froth for the rest of her stay in the Cat-Scan room, on the dancefloor, once again around the club, and then out the door with much fanfare, this time flanked by her entourage.  They don’t know where Jack is, either, of course.  Why would they?
    Jessica did okay on camera.  Chandra danced Z-Dogg into a coma.  Becca thought of the perfect thing to say and reduced Oona St. James to a sobbing mess with one harsh whisper.  Lacy did most of the drugs and it somehow doesn’t show.  Gwendolyn wasn’t as annoying as she could have been.  Party three, overall: a success.  Now they’re on the pink plane again, like Wonder Women who are over the heroics.  Supergirls who wouldn’t piss on the human race if it was on fire.  They’d have a personal assistant piss on it while they took pictures with their phones.
    The flight is long.  The handmaidens have had more sleep than London (except maybe for Lacy, who doesn’t need to sleep at this stage of her career).  They cavort and gossip and blast synthetic girlpop and dance in the cabin as London reclines privately, wearing a flashing black sleeping mask that stimulates instant R.E.M.  It’s a designer disco nap...but she has uneasy dreams...
    Her diva danger-sense is tingling amidst perfume commercial images of Jack all in black, standing on a desert cliff, clutching one of her favorite negligees, making strange hand movements, as if to summon something, as if to make an offering.  Atop a neighboring cliff stands a dead tree festooned with dangling panties of various cuts and qualities.  Beneath it, a massive black goat.  On the barren earth before the goat, her tiara is cracked, in glittery pieces.  The goat is always hungry.  Her brand is in trouble.  She wakes up screaming.
    Jessica and Becca come running into the thickly curtained private compartment with water and TLC as London peels off the sleep-mask and accelerates her face into “bubbly”.  They've touched down already.  Some Candy Kane song is pumping in the main cabin.  London knows every word to every Candy Kane song by heart, but she’d rather die than admit that in public.  The familiar beats, at this moment, are a great comfort.
    “Are you okay, Baby-Girl?,” Becca’s asking.
    “It was just a dream, London,” Jessica says, holding her hand, reassuring her like sisters do on T.V., and sometimes in life.
    “I know, I know”, London says with a pout , “But it was TERRIBLE.  I dreamed I was 21 and people threw me parties all over the world and I couldn’t just climb into my bubblebath like I want to.”
    “It all came true.  Poor baby,” Becca says, grinning widely.
    Jessica asks her what she was really dreaming about.
    London says, “I basically dreamed my boyfriend was a jerk.  Did he call?”
    Jessica is always custodian of the rhinestone phone when London needs a nap.  Jessica checks it, knowing the answer.
    Becca says, “Looks like that dream came true, too.  Fuck HIM.  He’s, like, a professional POKER player?  Hello?  And you are a Rothschild...and we’re gonna be TV superstars...Girl, do you know how much love is in this room for you right now?”
    London gets a little teary, partly for effect.  When the shooting begins, she and Becca will have cameras on them 24/7.  They’ve been getting into the habit of turning the drama and “relatability” of every scene up to thirteen.
    “I know how much I’m loved,” says London, and that much is true.  In fact, she can feel herself getting more loved and loved more intensely the closer she gets to Tokyo.      In Great Britain (the country where she was allegedly conceived, hence her name), London is a chic curiosity.  England always feels to her like a big museum with lots of delicious V.I.P. rooms.  Pockets of absolute fashion, but mostly the whole place feels like it belongs to the past, with its palaces and obelisks and Shakespeares and knighthoods.  So they don’t “get” her so much in England.  She’s too future.  To the English, she’s just another extensively photographed American blonde to dress like or jerk off to.
    But Tokyo belongs to the future.   All the samurais and Buddhist temples and hello kitties and mushroom clouds are just flashing, hyperkinetic icons in its hi-res crazy cartoon tapestry without calendars or borders or boundaries of any kind.  Tokyo understands London Rothschild.   Tokyo buys and sells and LOVES London Rothschild.  And London, in turn, loves Tokyo.
    The Birthday Club in Tokyo is the Lexington Princess, deep in the throbbing, light-bright Roppongi district, where all the truly luminous Westerners congregate and coagulate whenever they pass through the high voltage kaleidoscape that IS Tokyo.  Regulars call it “The Lex”.  Generally, its vibe is semi-intimate and subdued, despite the five floors...almost contemplative, like a lush temple honeycombed with V.I.P. rooms and DJ booths.  The producers at MTV Japan decided it wasn’t “Japanese” enough, so they had the club refurbished in honor of London’s birthday.  This should indicate the advertising dollars her name can summon forth already...and she’s just getting started.
    The Lex has been redecorated in a “Pop Apocalypse” style.  Murals and paintings and objects and projections of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Bruce Lee, Godzilla, Candy Kane, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and now, a mangafied sculpture of London Rothschild, international socialite superstar, designed by a famous “superflat” pop artist and unveiled tonight for the party.  Yet another dream coming true.  A sweet dream, this time.  London is twenty-one and she’s already an American Icon.  Of course, Japan is a nation of fetishists. In the Lex tonight, the Partridge Family and the Banana Splits are also American Icons...but that’s not the point.
    To be even artificially included in a pantheon that includes Marilyn is a portent of fabulous things to come.  London has always idolized Her, since she was a little girl and her mother called her “my little Marilyn Monroe”.  She’s seen all of Marilyn’s movies, even the black and white ones.  She wanted to be Marilyn when she grew up.  But not Marilyn the actress.  She didn’t aspire to Marilyn’s humor or complexity or fragility.  She admired Marilyn the postage stamp, the Warhol portrait, the trademark.  She aspired (and aspires still) to Marilyn’s goddess-like qualities.  Her image is everywhere.  She is easily invoked.  And her face seems to “mean” something.  Like the Virgin Mary or something.  In reverse.  These are the things London is thinking and feeling and remembering as she admires a twelve-foot tall 3D cartoon of herself, revolving on the third floor landing of the Lex, where the shaggy pink staircases converge and all kinds of important people are gathered in flashy bunches to bear witness.  A different batch, this time.
    She’s clutching the microphone, snapping out of her reverie when Becca discreetly pinches her arm.  She was only spacing for a second, and the pause sort of conveyed her swooning appreciation of it all.  London’s body is not currently the chemistry set that Lacy’s is, but she is a little sloppier than she’d like to be.  She usually doesn’t mix the business of being London publicly with euphoria, but it’s her birthday, dammit, and where is Jack Salmon?
    She’s still wearing the black bobbed wig she always wears in Tokyo (allegedly to "avoid being recognized").  They’re all wearing them, her entourage, arrayed around her: Jessica on her right, Becca on her left, Lacy sitting in a meditative posture at her feet, Chandra and Gwendolyn coiled like sequined cobras on the couches by the balcony railings that overlook the club’s central space.  They look like a Stephen Meisel fashion shoot, cast as the Geishas of Babylon.  There are more cameras here, cameras everywhere, multiplying her starry eyes and her blissful grin a millionfold. The DJ is spinning something cosmic.
    “Domo Arogato, Tokyo!  Watashi wa kyo tanjoubi desu.  BUY ME A DRINK!”      The Japanese guests clap politely.  The Westerners whoop.
    Now she’s talking to the cameras again: “Konbanwa, my bitches.  That means ‘good evening’.  I am on Party Number Four and I am going strong like a London should.  You’ll notice my homegirls in da house.”
    The cameras catch the homegirls from multiple angles.
    Scattered cheers, a gaggle of groupies for every girl.
    “If you subscribe to Delicious.com, you know I like to travel with my pack.  Always bring the party with you.  And always leave the boyfriend at home.  You don’t need him.”
    Another polite pinch from Becca.
    “I am flying solo in Tokyo, party people, and I LOVE it.  I love you Tokyo.   And Tokyo loves me.”
    She can’t help but sound a little sad, all of  sudden.
    “How do we look?,” asks Jessica, catching her cue.
    “Delicious”, says London, missing hers and not caring.  The crowd slowly accumulates claps and starts chanting “Lon-don...Lon-don...Lon-don...”. The main cameras pan across the crowd, but there are still TV eyes on London as she hands Becca the microphone and makes a beeline for the innermost private room, reserved for her personell.  It looks like the set of a freaky talkshow.  Plump pink velvet chairs and pink velvet curtains, pink lava lamps and curvy plastic retro-seventies stereo equipment.
    Outside the plushy pink womb, Becca is addressing the guests... “People, that girl has been AT IT for days, almost.  The enterprising party girl knows when it’s time to chill out for a minute.  Damn.  Can we have a round of birthday love for my BFF for showing us how it’s done?”
    The love is offered up as little claps and whistles and cocktail clinks on rippling waves of disco.  London’s a little mixed up and her masks are slipping.  She needs to pull herself together without anyone watching.  She never thought she’d ever think that.  She’s slightly scrambled from the party jag, yes, but it’s mainly this Jack thing.  It’s not like she’s missing him this much.  She just knows that something is amiss, like you know you left the gas on.  London’s just not sure which of her houses is on fire.
    The rhinestone phone is vibrating with twenty messages and counting, none of them from Jack.  She’d take some deep breaths and meditate on this.  She HAS taken a yoga class or two.  It’s just that when she closes her eyes she sees that black goat and that desert sky and that lingerie tree and that cracked tiara.  Everything’s going so well.  She does NOT need omens of doom on her birthday.  She’s not that kind of goddess.  Lacy slips in, flushed from dancing, freckles like cinammon static on her skin in the room’s wonky lava-light.  “Jesus Christ, London, are you okay?”
    “I’m fine, Lace.  I’ll be out in a sec.”
    Lacy the expert checks London’s eyes.  “Do you wanna go up or down?,” she asks, meaning in which direction does London want to be medicated.  “Neither,” she says, “I’m fine.  Really.  Did I look messed up on camera?”
    Lacy smiles with frank admiration.  “Not at all.  All the beats you missed made it better.  I know how hard that is.  You’re awesome, London.  Happy Birthday.”
    “Thanks, Lacy.  I’m glad you’re here.”
    They hug.  Sometimes Lacy doesn’t seem to want to un-hug so much.  London shrugs it off.  Lacy’s equal opportunity amorousness is the least of her worries right now.  She’s fishing within for the perfect combination of faces as she fixes her actual make-up in a big mirror shaped like an egg, or a zero.  Through it, she sees Chandra slipping in, then Gwendolyn.  Chandra’s loving the decor and the music and the whole experience, maybe wanting it for herself a little bit.  Instead of receiving the luxury through London’s good graces.  Gwendolyn has made a career out of being unstable on-screen.  Even a casual acquaintance with her reveals that it’s not an act, and she shouldn’t be doing anything stronger than red bull.  Lacy’s nervous system could catch bullets and flex them into dust.  Some people are born to wreak havoc.  But Gwendolyn Ripley is a glass house that shouldn’t ever be stoned.  London makes a mental note of this and averts her gaze, concentrating again on thinking happier thoughts, mainly remembering Lacy’s observation: that she’s awesome.

 Later, London’s out in the club again, holding court on a balcony overlooking an indoor garden of televisions and computer screens, all of which are playing Marilyn’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” routine on a continuous loop.  Or is it Madonna doing “Material Girl”?  In any case, London’s saving face, meeting people, speaking in fractured Japanese to some Sony Playstation executives who want to make a London Rothschild video game.  Celebrity acquaintances occasionally interrupt for a quick kiss, some congratulations, a promise to connect back in L.A., that sort of thing.  The startstruck businessmen are only too happy to pause their conversation to allow for flirtations between golden godlings.
    Lacy is off wherever the action is.  Gwendolyn and Chandra are still in the V.I.P. room, maybe, drinking more of London’s money.  Jessica is charming whoever London can’t pay attention to at any given moment.  Becca is all business, it seems, ignoring all the B-list boys who want to dance with her just so they can know what that much money smells like when it sweats.    
    Instead of busting a move, she’s chatting up a tall, serious-looking fellow in his early fifties whose suit is expensive but understated, the suit you wear when you’ve made it, and you like nice things, but you don’t have anything to prove to anyone.  His eyes twinkle when his gaze meets London’s from a distance.
    Well, look who just happened to be in Tokyo.
    He’s Mitchell Barrett, the televisionary “reality guru” who invented the “SURVIVAL!” franchise and changed the face of TV overnight.  He’s a big fan of London’s.  He’s producing her show.  He’s warmer and more casual with Becca than anyone that powerful needs to be.  But he’s downright courtly with London.  It’s not a crush.  It’s the chivalry of a private zookeeper who can triple the size of his empire overnight if he can coerce this bird of paradise into laying a golden egg.       Becca takes him by the arm and leads him over to London, delivering him and then slipping away with a half-ironic bow.  The executives all know who Barrett is.  They bow, too, and defer to him, exchanging contact info with Jessica and then scattering like crows.
    “London,” Barrett says, his voice a British mix of very old brandy and weathered mahogany, “You look radiant.  This is going to be a big year for you.”
    She takes both his hands and beams as if the garish decadence unfolding all around them is a big dance recital and she’s the prima ballerina.  She restrains the urge to curtsey.  He kisses her on both cheeks like it’s a benediction from the Pope of Sudden Fame.
    “You look radiant, too, Jessica.  Becca is will do nicely, of course, but I’m disappointed that you decided not to be on the show.  Maybe next season.”
    The truth is Jessica’s screen test didn’t go so well.  So thought London.  She talked her sister into stepping down and making room for Becca.  Better chemistry.  Jessica acquiesced, like always.  “It’s nice of you to say so, Mr. Barrett.  Yeah.  Maybe next season.”
    “Please, Jessica.  It’s Mitch.” says Mitch, turning to London, done with all the smalltalk now.  “London, can I talk to you alone?”
    “Of course, Mitch.  Jess, how much time do we have?”
    Jessica the stopwatch knows without checking: “Forty minutes.”
    There’s a small jungle on the roof.  All the garish brilliance of Roppongi nightlife is arrayed like an impossible green-screen backdrop for this impromptu heart-to-heart.  A few solitary souls and amorous couples are also enjoying the cartoon skyline.  They all look famous from a distance, so London politely waves when they notice her, but all her serious attention is on Mitch Barrett, this wise media mogul who sees a franchise in her antics.    
    “Is everything okay with the show?” she asks.
    “Oh, yes.  Everything’s good to go.  We have cameras all over Inglewood.  In two weeks, you’ll be starring in a whole new reality.”
    “It’s gonna be SO crazy.”
    “Good crazy.  America will see a whole different side of London Rothschild.  I have high hopes.  We’ll need some kind of publicity surge, when we premiere.  Maybe another world party tour.  Maybe a celebrity romance.  We’ll see.”
    “Mitch, we need to be flying to Vegas in, like, five minutes.  What do you want to talk about?”
    “Well...London.  It’s none of my business, really.  But as a business partner...and as a friend...”
    “How well do you know Jack Salmon?”
    London’s a little taken aback.  She was doing so well, being business-like and keeping the vertigo at bay and not thinking about her awol boyfriend and her shadowy premonitions.  Then worlds collide when she least expects it.
    “He’s my boyfriend”, she says, “Sort of.”
    Like she’s not so sure, right now.
    “You can do better.”
    Now London is thoroughly confused.  Is Mitch making a play for her, in some awkward old fashion?  She’s inwardly searching her repertoire of alibis for an appropriate response.  Another part of her brain is weighing the pros and cons.  And yet she suspects it’s nothing so simple, but something twice as tacky.  
    “It’s not that serious, Mitch.  He’s just a cute guy.  We have fun.  Are you worried about me or something?”
    “I’m worried about HIM, London.  About Jack.  And Jack’s friends.  Have you met a fellow named Frankie Johnson?”
    Yes.  She has.  He’s an old gambling associate of Jack’s.  A baby-faced soft core porn mogul.  His “Bitches Gone Crazy” videos have made him something like a hundred million dollars.  His house in Bel Air is ever so slightly nicer than London’s mansionette.  He’s a party monster.  He’s surrounded at all times by a bevy of barely legal girls fresh from nowhere and on their way back there.  He’s occasionally amusing but mostly overbearing and maybe a little bit evil.  Jack spends more time with him than London would like.  Moreso lately, now that she thinks of it.
    “Yeah, I know Frankie.  He’s a loser.  What about him?”
    “He’s worse than that.  He’s as bad as they come, London.  And I’ve done business with some real scum, believe me.”
    “What does he have to do with Jack, Mitch?  They’re just friends.  They go to Vegas together.  What does Frankie Johnson have to do with me?”
    “Nothing, I hope.  Keep it that way.  I have an interest in you now, London.  We’re in this together.  So take my advice.  Frankie Johnson is the underbelly of what I do.  Did you know he started out selling videos of real car-crash footage?  Things too grisly for television.  Snuff tapes, basically.  Now he gets children drunk and corrupts them on camera.  It came to my attention that you’re seeing one of his friends.  In a minute, I will set you free and you can fly away like the fairy princess you are and this will go back to being none of my business.
    “But hear me, London Rothschild.  Any friend of Frankie Johnson’s is NOT a friend of yours.  That’s all.  Protect your future.”
    It turns out Mitch is really good at this “fatherly” thing.  London’s real father Dick thinks Jack is the cat’s pyjamas.  Went clubbing with him once.  In Thailand.  Dick would probably like Frankie, too.  London successfully subdues the spoiled brat within that lashes out at truths she would rather not accept.  A career-threatening tantrum almost breaks the surface of her skin, but she catches it, breathes deeply, and it dissipates.  She does “sincere”.
    “Thank you, Mitch.”
    He tilts his head a bit as if to see her face in the best light.  “THAT one’s my favorite”, he says, knowing her better than he should.  With a wry smile, he’s walking away.
    “Happy Birthday, Superstar.  I’ll see you in Inglewood. Stay delicious.”
    Then he’s gone.  Jessica will no doubt be coming to fetch her momentarily.
    So London has a moment to herself.  She pulls off the black wig and her tousled platinum spills fourth and comes alive in the wind.
    Her turmoil is so real now that she’s alone with it, and she’s such a fierce image (exhausted, romantically complicated heiress in silhouette, set against Japanese ideograms on massive animated LCD billboards), she wishes someone would take her picture.  Not for any front page.  Not this picture.  This picture she’d keep in a very special place, to help her remember.  On the back she’d write “something changed”.
    And for once, she would not dot the “i” with a heart.

The flight to Vegas is a shadowy blur, London ensconced in the cabin of solitude, reflecting on the helter skelter melodies of this whole expedition, her hectic inner rhythms building to a fever pitch, to some ultimate disaster whose name and nature is yet unknown.  She’s almost looking forward to a catastrophe.  All this nebulous foreboding is fucking with her joi de vivre.  How much did Becca tell Mitch about the Salmon situation?  How much did Mitch tell Becca?  Are they keeping her out of harm’s way or just keeping her to themselves?  

See?  There she goes, doubting the loyalties of her oldest friend and her biggest investor, all because of what Jack can do in a sudden hotel room, and that wicked look he gets when he’s about to coax her into another spasm of shuddering gasps and little tears.  That look of his that seems to say, “I win.”   In the dark insides of her bubblegum-colored airplane, recollections of that look come unbidden, but now they don’t give her butterflies.  They give her the creeps.  That’s another thing the A-list psychic said: in this life, London will be lucky in everything but love.

Her handmaidens respectfully keep their partying to a dull roar in the main cabin for the duration of the flight.  They’ve already touched down in Nevada when the curtains part suddenly and Becca and Jessica enter the chamber in emergency mode.  Jessica is handing London the celphone like it’s a live grenade.  

Becca says, “Something happened, Sweetie.  It might be worse than we thought.”   London isn’t sure what she means.  She’s checking her text messages.  Many many messages, each cryptic and urgent, like calls for help received in a dream.  She collects herself and her accessories.  Lacy, Chandra, and Gwendolyn seem out of sorts and maybe wise to the nature of the emergency.  It’s not that they don’t know what’s happened.  It’s like none of them wants to be the one to break it to her.  

London pins and mounts her sister’s sad blue gaze with a look that will allow for no equivocation.  Jessica tells her.  “There’s a video of you and Jack having sex.”  London knows that.  Lots of couples like to watch themselves.  Surveillance is sexy.  How Jessica (and everyone else) knows about the video is the real question, and the real disaster.  

Of course.  
London knows, then Jessica says it: “It’s all over the internet.”  

She’s long since come down off the party favors, but there’s a definite druggy flash of horror.  Flashes of that black goat from her dream, and the cracked tiara.  Her brand is in trouble.  Her brand is in trouble.  

The next hour or so will live on as bits and pieces of memory: mewling noises of commisseration from her BFFs (each obviously wondering, underneath the empathy, how this eruption of sleaze will affect their own careers).  Paparazzi around and inside the airport, rowdier than usual, with a malevolent vibe.  She’s become a different kind of celebrity in the space and time between Tokyo and Vegas.  Different rules apply.  This new strain of shutterbug is hungry for scandal.  There’s nothing cute about this.  

The limo is mobbed at every turn.  Lacy and Gwendolyn are taking calls in transit, Becca and Chandra making calls, damage control consensus checks amongst the chic set they have on speed dial.  Jessica has opened up her hot pink customized laptop.  She’s applying the keystrokes that will download a glimpse of hell for London, who has never needed a glass of wine and a bubble bath this badly in her life.  She’s putting two and two together in her head.  All signs point to Jack’s complicity.  He’s been getting spacey lately, but she never sensed the apathy or the hatred or the greed he’d need to do this, to show that hotel room and those moments to everyone.  

On the internet.  
The situation is utterly ghetto.  And not in a good way.
Her hands are shaking slightly as Becca lights her cigarette.  It’s one of those things you do for a soul sister in bad trouble, like holding back her hair extensions when she vomits.  

The website is celebritybitchmeat.com.  Eerie animated ads for penis enlargers and aphrodisiacs frame a square screen labelled “Heiress Sex Party”.  It was posted a couple of hours ago.  It’s a night vision jumble of London’s limbs and Jack’s limbs and clear faces and playful penetration, tinted green, their eyes black and shiny, like her memory of a temporary heaven going toxic and irradiating the here and now.  

This isn’t how she remembers it.  They are the jet set, she and Jack.  He wanted to watch and remember this night whenever they couldn’t be close.  That’s what he said.  Conniving bullshit, apparently.  In the little square of black and green, she makes several spontaneous faces that she isn’t proud of.  But she’s in great shape.  If she and Jack were total strangers, she’d think they looked hot together.  But there’s that part where she actually cries a little, and looks in his eyes and says “I love you”.  There’s no sound.  But you can read her smudged, trembling lips.  She closes the laptop.  She removes her shades.  Her friends get off their phones and give her their full attention at roughly the same moment.

The fifth party on the birthday junket is at a massive club called CLEAN.  London decides that she won’t be attending.  She’s delegating.  “Becca, you did a great job when I wigged out at the Princess.”  Becca clutches London’s hand like she can’t even believe how much she’s feeling for her homegirl right now.  “You know I’ve gotcha back, baby-girl.”

“Do the party at CLEAN, all of you.  Represent, bitches.  Show them what we’re about.  I need to see my Mom and Dad.  Jessica, you’re with me.  Driver, drop me at the Flamingo.”

Jessica calls ahead to the Flamingo, so the desert division of the ancestral seat can receive them properly.  It’s a Rothschild Casino Hotel.  It’s the height of local luxury.  It’s where their parents are living.

London extends her hand and lets her warmest gaze fall on each of her friends, in turn.  Saying so much without a word.  Even divas have their desires thwarted from time to time.  When the clearest road to rapture becomes unclear, all the jealousies and suspicions and rumors fall away and London calls on the support of her Sisters in Ceaseless Celebration.  Even Gwen.  They all put their hands in like their nightlife is a sport and they need to engineer a goal in overtime.  They make sure that everyone’s bling is touching.   Their “vibes” are in congruence.  

Gwen is about to gush something stupid.  “Don’t speak”, says London.  She receives their warmest vibrations.  “I love you, bitches,” she says softly but firmly.  

“We love you, too, Bitch.”, says Gwen, with a tone they all find funny.   Like she thought they were all going to say it.  

She just had to, didn’t she?  Like she’s always looking for her chance to say the wrong thing.
They pull up at the Flamingo Rothschild Hotel, on the Strip.  London stares them all down as if all their lives and trust funds depend on how the next few hours play out, and perhaps they do.  “Everyone keep it more or less together.  I need you all in ninja hellcat mode when I’m done here.  I’ll tell you where to meet me.”  They’re ready.  Becca especially.  Things will break tonight.  People, maybe.  Lacy takes both of London’s hands and kisses her biggest ring.  “Nobody does this to you, London.  We’ll fix this...together.”  London withdraws her hands from Lacy’s intimate grip as politely as possible.  “Thanks, Lace.” she says.  “Go be a star for me.”

The Rothschild sisters, weirdly invigorated by all this sudden drama, strut into a radius of security folk (half of whom are keeping the drooling, yipping photographers at bay), a retinue of top staff members, arrayed like angelic attendants to a divine personage in some old painting (in suits and shirts of flamingo pink), and, finally Dick and Trudi Rothschild, the parents, with flashy clothes and furrowed brows and big hugs for their daughters, like there’s been a death in the family.  Mom and Dad and Jessica rush inside and reunite outside the hungry public eye.  London pauses to savor this moment of drama and uncertainty.  She’ll deal with this, and nothing like it will ever happen again.  A clear memory of this birthday, this moment will help her remember why.   

The Vegas Strip sprawls before her, a cartoon massacre of familiar shapes and symbols, circus big tops and carousels and Taj Mahals and compressed New York cityscapes and shiny black pyramids and pirate ships and palaces of solid gold.  

“How can such a place be real?,” you might ask.  
The answer is “It can’t”.  
Vegas is a schizophrenic mirage with real lizards in it, a trick they do with mirrors and with chemicals, a place of rough magic where pretty things get bruised into being merely ordinary if they don’t grow armor and learn how to lie...and which lies it suits them to believe.  Jack Salmon is out there, somewhere.  She can smell traces of his pricey pomade on the darkening desert wind.  She trusted him and he’s made a fool of her.  Lacy’s right.  Nobody does that to London Rothschild.  Nobody but the people she loves.
In the penthouse, London takes a moment to shower and change and paint herself again.  No time for a bubblebath, sadly.  Nonetheless, the moment becomes an hour.  She comes out fresh, like hot plastic.  On the plasma screen in the big TV room, Becca and Lacy are posing on a little stage at CLEAN, duelling exhibitionists, substitute superstars on MTV’s “London Loves Vegas”.  They’re introducing a montage of the fabulous looks London has flaunted since the birthday partying began.

Jessica is pacing down on the first level, still in her party dress, looking semi-fierce against a rusty desert sky.  She’s conducting two conversations on two different celphones, almost at the same time.  She’s checking webby things on her laptop, talking to the lawyers, talking to the MTV people.

She’s taking care of this.  She’s so good at taking care of things, London thinks.  So few people ever see the baby sister like this, kicking ass and taking names.  London will buy her pretty things and spend some quality time when they’ve fixed all this.

Her parents are sitting attentively in big beige vibrating chairs, half-watching her and half-watching the screen, watching for any news of the scandal and also admiring their daughter’s outfits.

“Honey-bunch,” says Dick Rothschild, “Are you ready to talk now, precious?”
Trudi the Mom also leans forward, subduing her panic, offering support with her very own slightly weathered variation on London’s “concerned” face.

London loves these people, but their “serious parenting/very special episode” faces make her want to laugh hysterically for a good long while, despite all the ambient trauma.  She’s ragged from all the traveling and the flashy madness and now this creeping weirdness.  She could do with a bump of something, frankly.  She expertly splices a few basic faces and plays their sitcom troubled daughter, so they’ll feel better about things and leave her alone.

Trudi says, “How are you feeling about this, Dear?”
Dick says, “You know we love you no matter what.”

Dick the Dad has always fawned over his angel, but never this tenderly.  He knows her pain.  He has long been considered the family failure.  He’s never been much good at anything but spending money and he’s been known to do a dumb thing or two or three in his time, just for kicks.  The Rothschild fortune has allowed him a lot of latitude for recklessness.  No one expected him to ever settle down...but Trudi didn’t leave him much choice in the matter.  

Trudi herself is a highly trained gold-digger from a long line of gold-diggers, and Dick was the jackpot courtesans dream of.  Independently wealthy, fun, and a little dumb.  Trudi’s innovation was to actually fall in love. She feels no shame but only pity for her daughter because Trudi was a party girl, too, in her time (just not on the same scale) and her own mother made her watch porno films when she turned thirteen...so she’d know how to “please a man”.  That’s what Trudi thought of when she watched “Heiress Sex Party” (London’s impromptu porno debut)...how London was so much prettier than the girls in those movies.

“I’m having a lot of feelings right now, Mom,” says London, “I just don’t want this to affect the show or anything.”  Is that a real tear?  Yes.  London’s a little scared.  If her brand is corrupted beyond repair by this thing, all her bold claims and fantasies will stop coming true, and will turn out to have been pure hype to begin with.  London aspires to be the incarnation of hype.  Hype is not the problem.  But she must be the mistress of her own image.  Her brand is in trouble. The gears in her are grinding.  Music box calculators in her faberge brain make their twinkling music and their harsh computations, figuring out a way she can turn this mess to her advantage.

The penthouse is ever so spacious with high ceilings and many mirrors, a tasteful ecology of lush potted plants, plasma screens on every other wall, and chairs so comfortable you want to collapse and land in one and just dream your way through another Nevada sunset.  But the sunsets are loud, here.  The windows are huge, and the view is outrageous.  The whole strip, in its every absurd and glittering particular.  

The minions in pink are still bringing in the luggage.  There were five fabulous costume changes over the course of the birthday junket, but London brought enough luggage for a thousand transformations.  Like she does.  London does “sincere” with traces of “tragic”.  She speaks.  “To tell you the truth, guys, I’d kind of like to sleep for a week and just let this sort itself out.”  The parents are a little shocked and paralyzed by this.  Partly because London is usually so proactive, partly because, if London’s in bed for a week, they’ll need to handle all the fallout without guidance from their precious public relations prodigy, and they’re not sure what they should say to their fair weather friends at the country club.  

Dick speaks with a nervous smirk, hoping she’s joking, “You should maybe call your Grandfather, London.  Before you go to sleep.”
A chill of bitter premonition creeps up her spangled spine.  Grandfather is the closest thing to “God” she knows about.  She’s been raised in awe and fear of him.  He’s the fount of all Rothschild life, the dispenser of trust funds and allowances and, eventually, a spectacular inheritance.  He’s where the money comes from.  He’s a sleek old silver fox type and he’s fond of her and Jessica, but his disgust for his son and daughter-in-law has always been all too obvious.  He’s always reserved judgement on London, though, like he’s waiting to see how she turns out.  As Gods go, he’s definitely of the Old Testament variety: smug and vengeful.  But sweet on the surface.  If a little patronizing.  He and London understand each other, a little bit. 

“Yes,” she says, “I should call him before he calls me.  Do you think he knows about this yet?”  She doesn’t figure him for much of a porn surfer.
RRRRRRRRRRRING!  That’s not a celphone.  That’s the house phone ringing. 
Only Grandfather would call on the housephone.  Looks like it’s too late to strategize.  

Her father’s emerging jowls are wobbling.  Trudi is squeezing his hand with big rings on her white knuckles.  They’re scared to talk to Him at the best of times.  

RRRRRRRRRRRRRING!  Jessica’s calls are over.  She can hear the ringing.  She can FEEL the ringing.  She looks up at London.  They could both use a briefing, but the phone is ringing, and he knows they’re at home.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRING!  Jessica picks up the phone.  She’ll cross that threshold every time to make way for London.  The real struggle, the real myth and legend of it all, will belong to London.  But Jessica goes in first.  “Rothschild residence,” she says sweetly, like Grandfather forced her to when they were children and staying with him for the summer.  She had taken the fall for London’s compulsive prank calling, so as punishment she spent the summer as the family’s unpaid receptionist.  What London knows without asking is that Grandfather knew who the culprit was.  He was impressed at her power over Jessica...and he knew that London would someday NEED a receptionist.  

“Of course, Grandfather,” says Jessica. “London, Grandfather would like to speak with you.”  The tasteful (for Vegas) decor spins in London’s head for a second.  Then it settles. London descends the staircase like Marie Antoinette on the way to the guillotine.  As Jessica hands her the phone, she mouths the word “sweet”.  London leans in for more info.  Jessica whispers “He’s keeping it sweet.”

London is suddenly bubbly.  “Grandfather!  Did you call to wish me a happy birthday?!”  
He did indeed.  He wants to talk to her in his office, a few floors below.  He wants to talk to both his little nymphs on this auspicious occasion.  

The red champagne that runs in London’s veins turns blue.  
He’s HERE?!  
Why does that seem to be a portent of doom as chilling as a black goat or a panty tree in the desert?  He’d like the sisters to be in his office in fifteen minutes.  He hangs up.

She’ll need to change her outfit.  
“Grandfather’s here.  He wants to see us.  What should I wear?”

Which London Rothschild would Grandfather most like to see?
The elevator ride is tense.  You’d think an audience with God would demand an ascent, a rising through the levels, but this is a gold-limned secret elevator going down, to where His office is hidden.  There are no numbers to tell them what floor they’re on.  All trips in this elevator lead to the office.  There’s the room where their Grandfather is and there’s everywhere else.

London is wearing a pink cashmere turtleneck and a wool-blend straight skirt from Ralph Lauren, leopard-print lace-up boots by Dolce and Gabbana, thin 22-karat gold chains and a circle pendant from Caroline Ellen.  Jessica is wearing a perforated burgundy shaved-lamb zip-front vest from Plein Sud, wool flannel cropped trousers by Daryl K, and a cat’s eye chrysoberyl choker, with Londonized jewelry (also by Caroline Ellen) and a patchwork animal-print hobo bag by Rafe.  They’re still doing their make-up, applying a multipurpose shimmery bronzing cream to their eyelids and lower lashes, their cheekbones, under their eyebrows, and across their foreheads for an overall gilded effect.  They freshen their lips with a new coat of gloss, then they add a bit of bronzing cream to each other’s pouts.  To attract attention.

Jessica’s all business in the midst of their cosmetics.  “The lawyers want to talk after you’ve decompressed a little bit.  Murray said there’s not much of a criminal case, but you can sue for any profits accrued from the video in a civil case.”  London feels the nausea of an elevator dropping, but this box of gold rides as smoothly as silk, and, really, her belly has been churning since they got to Vegas.  “That sounds messy”, she says, “Maybe Grandfather wants to help.  Maybe it’s not just to yell at me.  What did MTV say?”

“Donna was furious, but Chad and Skye said the girls are doing great.  I’m sure we can work something out without any breach of contract bullshit.”
“Where did all this trouble come from, Jess?  Yesterday, I was the “It” girl.  Now I’m a wanted woman.”
The doors slide open with a hiss, exposing a lush but severe waiting room.  Its old money decor is at odds with the hotel’s general aesthetic.  In fact, it looks and feels like a museum replica of the waiting room outside Grandfather’s office in New York.  And Chicago.  And Dallas.  And Miami.  Down to the last grain of varnished teak.  Spooky.  

A secretary (almost old, like forty or something, classy but not attractive enough to distract the serious businessman) greets them and escorts them through big doors that open by themselves, into the office.

There reside all the symbolic props of Grandfather’s lofty position in this fallen world.  The leatherbound books.  The Persian carpet.  The Victorian wallpaper that looks like it went up yesterday.    There’s a steaming buffet table on wheels, featuring various delicacies on silver platters.  Freshly squeezed mango juice and caviar in little bowls with little spoons you can use to paste a cracker with eggy black.  There’s classical music piped in through secret speakers.  Mozart, maybe.

London hates caviar AND classical music.  They’re so obvious, for an heiress.  And they remind her always of scenes like this, audiences with Grandfather, steeped in the signifiers of an undying elite, the deep pockets and the lush life she comes from, comforts fraught with a kind of terror.   Because this is Grandfather’s domain, in which all her flashy pop culture victories are rendered null and void.  In here (and rooms like it), she’s just another spoiled brat, another trust fund junkie.  Colin Rothschild embodies the kind of money and power that was here before London and will be here after she twinkles back into oblivion.  Or so it seems.  The symbols of his essence and influence are everywhere, but the man himself is nowhere to be seen.

The secretary seats the sisters before the massive presidential desk.
“Your granddaughters are here, Mr. Rothschild,” says the secretary.

“Wonderful,” says the speakerphone on Grandfather’s desk. 
He’s not here.  Just his ambience, his voice, and his gaze (through a surveillance camera planted in the coffined ceiling).  London notices the camera when they sit down.  The secretary exits.  The doors close behind her.

“You both look lovely.  But too thin.  Help yourselves to the buffet.”
Jessica’s mouth opens.  London cuts her off. “We’re not hungry, Grandfather.  Where are you, exactly?”

“New York.  I don’t like to leave the City since the disaster.  I’m determined to die here.”
“Grandfather!  Don’t be so gloomy!  It’s my birthday.”

“Yes, yes, of course.  Twenty-one years ago you were a helpless little baby.  Now you’re a gown woman.  Making your own decisions.”
London often gets the feeling that her Grandfather is speaking in code.

She keeps it sweet, fighting the foreboding.  She says, “I’ll always be your little Princess, Grandfather.  You know that.”
His laughter is metallic through the speaker-phone.  It’s not polite laughter.  He’s genuinely amused.  “Of course, of course”, he says, “Of course you will.  You’ve always had star quality, London.  You’ve always known how to get noticed.  And how to make the most of being noticed.”

London squirms a bit in her chair, without meaning to.  There’s a little red light on the camera, next to the lens.  It feels like a laser shooting through her memory, scanning the barcodes of the thousands and thousands of beautiful and useless things she’s purchased with her Grandfather’s money.  She says, “That’s kinda my job now, Grandfather.”

Jessica alternates between smiling beatifically at the camera (as if it were the Man’s face at his friendliest) and averting her gaze, directing her attentive silence instead at the speakerphone, for some reason.  She sneaks a glance or two through the shimmery curtains, another slant on the Vegas cartoon cityscape.  So odd to see it through the windows of an office she knows so well from Manhattan, where she and London spent most of their teens, raising hell at the Rothschild Regency.  She looks at London just once, marveling at her poise, feeling a curious tension build, wondering how London will pull this off without serious damage.

The speakerphone crackles to life again: “Yes, London.  You’ve found your calling.  Without getting into the nature of that calling, its weight or its relevance, I’m glad you’ve found a field in which you can really shine.  And, Jessica, I’m proud of you for being so humble, helpful, and lovable in your facilitation of London’s...activities.”  

The sisters are smiling as if there’s no hint of sarcasm in the disembodied voice of Authority.   It continues, “I’ve always wanted to take up teaching.  Did you know that?  Not at a business school or some Ivy League douchebag factory.  Elementary school.  First grade.  I’ve always felt the best thing I could do for the future would be to tell year after year of six-year-olds the simple truth: You must find one thing you love to do above all other things.  You must do it all the time and as you get better and better at it you must find a way for it to financially sustain you...and itself.  Nothing else matters.  If you don’t do this, you will grow up to be somebody’s slave.”

The mystified sisters are solemnly receiving wisdom they’ve heard before, in rooms just like this one, in different cities, in different years.  They’ve always been at a loss as to what this spiel has to do with THEM.

“Jessica,” says their disembodied Grandfather, “At six, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
Jessica briefly wonders what He wants to hear, like she could answer strategically, like London would.  She gives up and tells the truth: “London’s best friend.”

London blushes and seizes her sister’s hand, smiling sweetly, a little teary.  They’re about to go through something major together, if the suspense doesn’t kill them first.  Grandfather likes to toy with them when he’s about to “teach” them something.  “London,” he asks, “What would you have said at six?  What would you grow up to be?”

She’s feeling too baffled and powerless to think strategically.  
She answers honestly: “A celebrity.”

The metallic laughter again.  It’s very Darth Vader.  London is suppressing a tantrum right now by concentrating on how corny this whole scene is.  Whatever happens, there’s a party waiting on the other side of this family chat.  A party the likes of which this world of worms has never seen.  “Of course,” says the Grandfather, “I’d say you’ve both pulled it off.  You’re not spineless and stupid like your parents.  I feel confident that you will both make the most of what you’ve got, and achieve great things.  I understand your lifestyle.  We Rothschilds always sow our oats at a young age before we take the reins or...definitively go to seed, like your father did. But I can’t condone what you are.  Not in public.  And things have become very public, haven’t they?”

London would like to know what he means by “what you are”, but that way leads from frying pan into fire.  She cuts to the most pertinent question. 
“Grandfather, are you cutting off my allowance?”
Jessica squeezes London’s hand, afraid for her sister.

“No.  I’m not punishing you, London.  This is a business decision.  Your allowance will stand at its current rate (allowing for inflation), in perpetuity.  But your inheritance, when I pass, will be given to various charities.  That goes for both of you.”

“B-both of us?!” stammers Jessica.  Her reflex, strangely, is to jerk her hand away from London’s.  London is too mortified to notice.
“Yes.  You’re both one thing in the public eye.”

London is processing this, blowing a circuit or two.  Her game-face is wavering.
“So...Grandfather.  Because I made a mistake...in public...you’ll still pay our bills...but you’re CANCELLING OUR FUTURE???”  

“I’m inviting you to make your own future, girls.  Like your Great Grandfather did.  You have more going for you than he did, starting out.  You have this ‘celebrity’ business.  He just had an iron will.”

London, with maybe a little too much cheek, says, “And YOU just had his inheritance.”
Speakerphone robot chuckle.  “True, but I keep his dream alive.  I made his dream bigger.  And in all my years on this earth, I’ve never been watched by millions doing the whole Kama Sutra with a scumbag pornographer.”

“I see your point”, says London as this slowly sinks in.  She rests her sympathetic hand on Jessica’s shoulder.  Jessica flinches.  London stands up and glares at the camera.  “I was in love.  And we don’t know Jack is involved with this.  It could have been stolen.”

“Unlikely, my dear, and beside the point.  SIT DOWN.”
That’s the furious God of the Israelites talking, the voice that obliterates cities on a whim and then makes it rain for forty days, to drown whatever survived.  However bad this is, he can make it worse.  London sits down.  

“And both of you eat something, like I TOLD you to.  You both may someday come to know the price of food.  There’s some paperwork you’ll need to fill out.  Then you can go do whatever it is you do...with my blessing.”

The ride back up to the penthouse is a montage of gnashing teeth, trembling lips, and silent scheming.  They’re staring at their rattled reflected selves in the golden elevator doors, wondering if it shows.  The shock of it all.  Things are falling apart in slow motion, but one thing is certain. 

London will survive this.  
She will make the most of whatever she can get.  
And so will Jessica...because London said so.
They were heiresses when they arrived at the Flamingo.  

Now their true nature remains to be seen. 
What they’re wearing doesn’t seem to matter anymore. 

What matters is fixing this.  And getting revenge.

This is how London and the wild hunt prepares for war, in a bathroom the size of a nice apartment, various complex combinations of cosmetics arrayed before them, their harsh beauty multiplied in mirror after mirror, four glamourous women suiting up in the armor of absolute deliciousness.  London has declared a hectic red emergency.  Crimes have been committed against her crown, and the sanctity of her nightlife is in jeopardy.   The call went out, and all the haute couture harpies converged here like firebugs to a burning building...or hyenas to the death-bed of a wounded gazelle.  

Not Chandra, though.  
She’s feeling sick-ish, apparently, though she’s generally known for her stamina.  London makes a note of this, mentally, and rallies the troops in her parents’ penthouse.  Some subtle reconnaissance has confirmed a juicy fact: Jack Salmon is definitely in Las Vegas.  He didn’t show at the birthday party, but he’s holding court with Frankie Johnson at ZEN, that vast explosion of Oriental decadence and splendor that draws all the platinum party people to the Venetian.  A den of iniquity fit for a pretentious sleaze artist like Frankie Johnson.  London is done taking verbal beatings from grumpy old ghosts and waiting for phonecalls and watching things happen to her life as if from a distance.  Tonight, she’s making a housecall to the obvious architects of her waking nightmare.  Tonight she’ll find out finally what’s real and what isn’t, once and for all.

Candy Kane’s “No Safewords/No Mercy” is blasting in here, on an endless loop.  The song is a clubby electronic soup of sluicing synths and overdubbed Candies, an ominous anthem for getting dressed and dangerous, but that’s the beauty of it.  The lyrics are sickened and bruised by the party life, but the beats speak of the night before the breakdown.  Candy sounds hungry for another trip or another spin around the ballroom even as she crashes into the scratchy black static of ordinary evil.  The morning after is pregnant with all the parties yet unborn.  This is the soundtrack London has chosen for tonight’s confrontation.  She doesn’t care if everyone knows how much she wants to be someone talented and untouchable like Candy Kane.  She needs fuel for this lethal metamorphosis.

Trudi raps on the door every few minutes, offering cocktails and fruit-cups, dying to see what they’re wearing, nostalgic for her own ancient nights of vengeful revelry.  But the last thing they need right now is the living embodiment of the future they DON’T want: barely famous and irrelevant and living through her children.

The mood...the morale...the mojo must be maintained at all costs, with blistering intensity.  Trudi makes the hottest things seem tepid, the most delicious things seem bland.  It’s what all mothers do, maybe, when they insinuate themselves into the intimate rituals of their willful children. 

The song throbs and slithers and set the pace:
“I threw a party and all the boys came,

Like moths...to my black flame.
I play my lovers like video games.
I beat them then I give them away.”

Gwendolyn is made up like a half-crazy (but full-on sexy) electro girl, a look that makes the most of her crackling spasms of neediness and her air of impending disaster.  Leather vest by Temperly London.  Body Chain By Bliss Lau.  Leggings by Diesel.  Coat by Stella McCartney.  Metal cuff on her right arm by Alexis Bittar.  Bangles on her left arm by Kara Ross.  Factory mascara and cherry-red lipstick make her pale, pretty face look like more of a cartoon.  And that’s what they’re after.  Without thinking of it as such, they want to look like cartoons that are more real than YOU are.  Gwen’s outfit is mostly black again, but now it’s okay to dress like a horny widow.  The celebration has evolved, after all, into a matter of life and death.

“I had a swarm of suitors but I kept them at bay.
I knew the perfect serpent would taste my fruit someday...:

Lacy looks every bit the movie star, like some action blockbuster heroine, fully in character, tweaked with tricks of make-up and posture and hairdressing from dolly-cute into dolly-dangerous.  When her freckles are subdued by the right shade of foundation, the feline sharpness of her features is more evident.  In a certain light, at certain moments, they all look like cats of different breeds.  Lacy is a ginger cat with a playful way about her and claws that shock you when they slash.  

She’s wearing a black Dior python silk coat with the collar turned up, vampire-style.  A Michael Kors black wool crepe dress with patent leather trim.  A Van Cleef and Arpels necklace, an Ivanka Trump tassel necklace, a Bulgari bracelet, and a LaCrasia cheetah-print glove.  She’s too tall to fuck with in Balenciaga platform boots, made of wool, leather, and metal.  She lends credibility to the most outrageous expeditions.  She’s a minor movie star on the rise.  She’s always doing research for a scandalous new role.

“If you’re willing to be broken,
Wishes wither when they’re spoken.
No safewords/No mercy,

We don’t have any names.
If you’re willing to be broken, 
Wishes wither when they’re spoken.

No safewords/No mercy.
No passion/No shame.”
Becca’s bad attitude has found an ensemble to call its own.

She’s wearing a Versace black metallic lame zipper halter dress and  Louis Vuitton platform sandals made of suede, calfskin, wood, and shiny black metal.  A black short sleeve sheer ruffle smocked bolero jacket.  Glitter fishnet pantyhose. A white rhinestone and pearl bracelet.  A silver heart Big Ben charm toggle necklace, showing the love.  Tinted aviator shades, so she can whip them off suddenly and use her gaze as a weapon.  Lots of rings, half to dazzle and half to suggest how bloody the beating would be.  She hasn’t been fully briefed on London’s situation vis a vis the porno, but she doesn’t need to be.  They can figure out how this will effect the show when balls have been severed and heads have rolled.  She’s half-wired/half-wasted, but still hot and unstoppable.  She’s here to rumble on behalf of her homie.

“I waited ‘til fame came to play party games.
I get so naked...so unashamed.
Once you wouldn’t give me the time of day.
Now you beg me...to let you stay.”
Jessica’s dress this time is distinctly different from London’s, as if to signify that playtime is over, that this expedition isn’t about dressing up like dollies, it’s about bringing justice and order to a lawless kingdom, where her sister’s whimsy once reigned supreme.  She’s wearing a cropped satin jacket from Prada, a Jeffrey Monteiro “Macela” sleeveless top, cotton/linen pants from United Bamboo, a shell-detail Degrade Lace Necklace, Rhinestoned Bead “Mae” bracelets, a knot waist belt, and Versace printed leather, patent leather, and metal platform booties.  She’s all business, like a sleek chaperone for this gaggle of vicious little girls.  She’s the youngest, and yet she exudes this gravitas, maybe just from being the most sober girl in the room.  

She’s still in shock from the happening in Grandfather’s office.  She thought she had at least half a lifetime to figure out what and who she should be, exactly, but now, without the safety net of impending billions, her coming of age story has a fresh urgency.  She wouldn’t dare blame London for this predicament, but she’s unsettled.  London will find a way to heal this wound in their glittering gameplan.  Or she won’t, in which case it might be Jessica’s turn to shine with a starlight all her own.  Which she’d rather not do, just yet, so she assumes the sidekick/amanuensis role with renewed vigor.  

She checks herself in the biggest mirror with the others, MTV glamazons tarted up for a theatrical showdown.  At the same moment, they each feel a chill at the nape and they instinctively make way for London, who must occupy the mirror alone for a moment.  They’re like angels careening from the advent, eruption and ascension of a sudden stained glass Madonna.  The holy one.  She’s singing along with Candy, ever so softly, as if she were all alone.

“A diva gets dangerously jaded...
That’s when the props come...into play.
But yesterday’s leather seems so dated.
The pink of pleasure...fades to grey.”
London is wearing a rather avant gardish Alexander McQueen silk jacquard jacket and skirt (patterned in shades of purple and silver to evoke butterfly wings, fading up into the patterns of a python).  She towers on severely gorgeous Prada platform sandals made of metal, PVC, and plexiglass, with chandalier-style crystals dangling from the straps.  She’s made a symbol of her mouth with Shiseido Perfect Rouge lipstick in Dragon flavor.  Her eyes are painted like cracked LCD screens, sizzling in pools of Dior creamy chrome.  She’s shocking like some dire sci-fi warning from a future in which you do not exist.

Despite the spiralling crises, the party jag, the chemistry experiments, the betrayal and the broken dreams of love, London has never looked this good.  Righteous fury does something for her, gives her a kind of tinkerbell nimbus, like she isn’t so pointless.  Like her cuteness has value, in the scheme of things.  Like her cuteness in the eyes of the world is something worth fighting for.  She cocks a hip blows herself a kiss and strikes a pose of pure red carpet majesty.  A wind comes from nowhere and teases her hair.  All other lights and pretty things are now just facets of her halo.  It’s her birthday.  She’s beautiful, still moderately wealthy, and BORN to be famous.  Born to STAY famous.  The only thing she isn’t that she was in L.A. yesterday is an Heiress, in the technical sense of the word.  None of her BFFs can know this.  Not yet.  She’s confident that Jessica won’t let this one slip.

“...No safewords/no mercy
No passion/no shame...”
She reluctantly breaks eye contact with her ineffable reflection and spins to face her admiring, sympathetic cohorts.  No one asks how they look.  Together, they constitute the definition of “delicious”, in all of its lurid gradations.  London first and foremost, of course.  London first and last and forever.  She stops Candy in mid-song.  Time to go live it.  

It’s midnight, now, the hour when poor girls lose their shoes and turn into pumpkins.  London may have lost a billion dollars, but she’s rich enough still to grow wings and a stinger instead when this witching hour strikes all the wannabes dead.

She says, “Let’s do this, bitches.”  
They’re going to the heart of darkness.  London’s driving.  Her face is set between “bored” and “sexy”, which, when mixed, suggest “cruelty”.  Jack Salmon can wallow in sleaze for as long as it takes her to get there.  He’ll be diva-meat in a matter of minutes.  The hunt is loose, en route to the Venetian, to ZEN, to the Opium Room, where her idea of evil is laughing at her damage.   Becca’s riding shotgun.  As ferocious as she is, and as much as she wants to corner Jack Salmon and take some kind of revenge on behalf of her BFF, she’s a little nervous about getting all up in Frankie Johnson’s face.  She mentions it, this bad feeling.  

“Girl, I know Frankie’s just a little creep to you, but he’s like...a gangster.  I’ve heard things.  Shouldn’t we, at least, have, like, bodyguards or something?  He’s bad news, Baby-girl.”

“I know he’s bad,” London says.  “I’m worse.’
London shifts gears and floors it.  So many damages and dogs to fix, so little time.

Down on Las Vegas Boulevard, through the casinos and shopping arcades of the Venetian, through these mazes of fortune and excess, the body and the mind are inevitably led to ZEN, where a 20 foot golden Buddha floats in monolithic tranquility above an infinity pool that teems with shimmering fish, its blank, beatific face presiding over 20,000 square feet of velvet and silk and synthetic waterfalls and discreet thumping music and the finest dining.  Chilean sea-bass and wasabi crusted Kobe beef.  Love potions and tiger lilies and Fiji apple martinis.  Adjoining the dining area, there’s a chic little lounge where world-class DJs spin eclectic beats.  

The complex seems to be staffed by models, freshly plucked from the runway.  You have only to remove your glasses, and there’s an attractive servant at your elbow, cleaning them for you.  You have only to stretch your limbs or crane your neck and a masseuse looms behind you, attending to your aches.  Security teams flit through the throng, ninja-like in suits of solemn black, receiving commands and directives through their ear-pieces, trained to anticipate and cater to your every whim, especially if you exude the fruity stench of celebrity.

Up the stairs, there’s the nightclub, a sprawling open space composed of many levels:  a massive bar enclosed by a moat under blood-red chandaliers; an even larger bar adorned with 300 monk-shaped statues carved from wood and ivory and wax; claw-foot bathtubs on little platforms, wherein mostly naked showgirls frolic with giggling, lascivious abandon, splashing rose petals and perfume everywhere.  $5,000 full service tables rim the manic dancefloor.  

More Buddhas of many sizes and styles smile with cosmically attuned approval from many nooks and crannies and cul-de-sacs.  The room was designed with the voyeur in mind.  You can see the whole venue from almost any point in the room.  There’s a pumping strobe-slashed dancefloor at the center of these rising and falling and spiraling platforms.  When you dance, they seem to be careening.  Rough rhythmic hip-hop bleeds seamlessly into symphonic techno explosions.  B-list stars and starlets get sweaty and spastic with executives and models and millionaires, a few high rollers, a few normals who slipped through the screening process, just by being beautiful.  

The windows are like cathedral windows without the symbolic stain of religion.  They gape on the rooftop plastic beach party in progress and the awe-inspiring monster sprawl of the Vegas strip, glaring just beyond the farthest veranda.  In the center of the “beach” space outside, densely cushioned lounge chairs are lined up almost like desks in a classroom.  They face the pool and the DJ booth, where some superstar spinner of discs administers her trippy teachings in various rhythmic dialects.  The space is clustered with daybeds and lavish cabanas, each arrayed with the pleasures of a lavish home:  46-inch plasma TVs, X-boxes, fully stocked fridges and DVD collections, a personal white-gloved butler for every cabana.  The nightly affair is catered by Wolfgang Puck.  One of his subsidiaries, actually, but the brand is everything.  The roof is rimmed with big black engines that shoot columns of fire into the sky (for purely decorative purposes).  In the most lavish of the deluxe cabanas, Frankie Johnson is cackling like a fiend freshly sprung from the Inferno and anxious to do mischief.  It’s his natural state.  

Frankie’s no Satanist, but in his more grandiose, coke-fried moments, he does fancy himself a demonic Duke of Hell.  A libertine.  A pornocrat.  A sultan of sleaze.  A connoisseur of corruption.  All his life, doors have slammed in his face for no good reason, in mansion after mansion.  Treated like a gatecrasher at his own parties in Laguna Beach.  First it was his family: a few producers, a lawyer, a doctor or two.  Frankie the accidental baby of the family, marked as an expensive afterthought from infancy.  His parents were at the height of their wealth, but maybe too tired to provide much guidance.   Frankie was so spoiled it spilled over and started spoiling other souls in his slimy radius.  His aura is toxic.  There’s something fundamentally repulsive in the combination of his baby face and his canary-eating grin and his conniving squint and that laugh that always sounds like he just got away with something horrible.  But mixed up in his nauseating ambience is a kind of “negative charisma”.  That’s what his therapists always called it.  He seems so complete, so successful and energized by filth, by bad things, by the more shadowy facets of human nature.  He seems so untouched by the moral qualms and trepidations that keep most of us from doing every bad thing we can think of.  He makes no effort to hide his lust, his greed, his hunger for power, his compulsion to corrupt every pretty thing he sees.  Every other thing he says is a lie, but he doesn’t dissemble.  You knew he was a liar going in.  If you get fooled twice, the shame is on you.

He thinks everyone is secretly as vicious and twisted as he is.  In Frankie’s world, ethics and compassion are veils people pull over their strange hungers.  He likes to engineer situations where people suddenly see how sick they are.  Young girls, especially.  People just need a push into the sewer sometimes.  The sewer is always there waiting, under the soft, sweet skin of things.  

He’s made a hundred million dollars just driving bitches crazy and hustling the documentation.  Privately, he likes it rough.  Too rough for video.  But what he CAN do on video is practice his preferred position, using pretty-boy proxies, other girls, or pure lizard brain psychology: he can rape a girl without touching her.  It’s his favorite thing.  Frankie thinks it’s what they pay for, really, his clammy hordes of satisfied consumers.  There are so many men who are filled with self-loathing over all the beautiful things they’ve broken by accident.  Frankie provides the vicarious thrill of breaking something beautiful on purpose, like you just don’t care.  He calls it a public service.  When you hate the human race and you want to get desperate, “BITCHES GONE CRAZY” is there for you, volumes one through seventy-two.

So here he is on top of the world (for all intents and purposes), with his porn of various flavors and degrees circulating through global markets, making him money with every gust of wicked wind, every sleazy breeze.  He has various shady ventures in play in various hungry countries, with a finger in every filthy pie.  He parties with the beautiful people.  He buys their drinks and he gets them laid.  They think so little of Frankie that he gets to see them at their worst.  He’s always looking for some fresh constellation he can drag, still shining, into the gutter he lives in.  It never takes much of an effort.  You get drawn into his orbit when you’re on your way down, when you’re looking for some cackling Lucifer who’ll be all too happy to facilitate your ruin.  When you want it all too much.  When you know you don’t deserve it.  Etcetera.

He’s sprawled on velvet cushions, smoking Sobranies, drinking champagne, dressed in black Armani and cobraskin dancing shoes, the twentysomething soft porn impresario at ease in his oily element.  The cabana is veiled to allow for more private pleasures.   Weeds and powders and the occasional screw.  Everything consensual, of course, and no rough stuff since the last time, by special agreement with management and a medium-sized out of court settlement.  

Frankie’s cabana is attended by an elite team of bodyguards (who protect him from the sometimes violent debris of his gambling debts), transient clusters of drug people (high-end dealers and users, giving Frankie’s comings and goings an air of darkness and street credibility), very young girls in shoplifted club-gear (trussed and glossed like lambs for the slaughter, still coy around all this money and attitude, like they will be, drink after drink, until he drugs them), and a few semi-glamorous grifters who might pass for actual friends.  Like Jack Salmon, also in black Armani,  also sprawled on heaps of velvet, fiddling with a handheld digital video camera.

Jack has the semi-scruffy good looks and raffish charm of a minor movie star, and everyone almost swears that they know him from someplace.  If they do, and they remember, they generally wish they hadn’t.  Eternally untroubled blue eyes.  Dirty blonde hair.  Tall and lean, loose and languorous, always up for some kind of trouble.  He was born with lots of luck and no ambition. 

He was bound to end up a gambler, a party boy, or a gigolo.  He’s so lucky and so shifty that he ended up a strange mix of the three.  His girlfriends are always wealthy.  “Jack Salmon always swims upstream.”  That’s what Frankie says.  They bring out the worst in each other.  They’re together a lot because the worst is what they like best about themselves.  Jack always asks his closest friends to call him “Scumbag”.    What does that say about a person? 

They’re watching a video of Jack and London Rothschild having glamorous, uninhibited sex.  This is the original video they’re watching, on the cabana’s big TV, in full color rather then the night vision footage that’s all over the internet.  This version has a soundtrack, Jack grunting and London mewling and the action stopping suddenly so London can answer her celphone.  And then more porno-quality sex, starring Frankie’s pet lothario and the diamond-studded queen of the party scene.  If it were Frankie, he would have made her wear the tiara.  But hustlers can’t be choosers.  And they really shouldn’t be watching it in semi-public like this.  It’s all rather...incriminating.  But this video is all anyone’s talking about.  Frankie’s like London that way.  He can’t resist an opportunity to be the center of attention, even if it gets him in trouble.  He knows she’ll show up here.  He can’t imagine how that will play out.  He might as well be shameless.  All his best and most lucrative propositions are made in a state of reckless depravity.

One of the nineteen year olds giggles at the video when London reaches for her celphone again in the midst of athletic intercourse.  The camera wobbles.  A blur of wet reflected skin.  Jack grabs the phone and drops it in the bathtub. “You ARE a fucking scumbag,” says a younger London.  They seem to be on the bathroom floor or something.    There are mirrors everywhere.  A million Londons for the price of one.  And what is her price exactly?  It remains to be seen.  The girl giggles again.  Marcy or Darcy or something.  

“Shut the fuck up,” Frankie says to the teenagers.  He says it not just to the girl who giggled but to all of them, not just as an immediate suggestion but as a general rule.  “You could all learn a lot from London Rothschild.”  The here and now Jack chuckles softly but deeply to himself.  There’s a lot of bass in his voice.  It’s one of his weapons.  

During the whole seduction process with London, from her twentieth birthday party (having her up against an antique armoire in the Rothschild Regency, Jack still in Armani, London in ridiculous gold roller skates) to last September (which, for him, was the climax of the whole affair...in a different hotel, where he shot all this), his biggest fear was that she’d remember who she was, where she came from.  He was afraid she’d see through him and dump him for a better class of himbo...before he had a chance shoot her.  If she’d been at all shy or wise to his lies, he and Frankie would not be enjoying this historic piece of celebrity culture.  Enjoying it and scouring their addled brains for an answer to the big riddle: how to make it pay, now that it’s exposed and out of control. 

“Right, Scumbag?  London could teach these girls a thing or two.  Or three.  Right?  Could we hook that up, maybe?”
With a voice as cold as a straitrazor that’s been buried in the snow, London says, “I could teach them how to kill you, Frankie.”

And there she is, in the flesh, more hi-res than any video image, more dangerous than any gangster, more sexy than any pornography.  Sexy in and of herself, just standing here in that scary ensemble, flanked by Jess and Lacy on her left, Gwen and Becca on her right.  The bodyguards standing there looking embarrassed and uncertain of what to do.  Maybe they assumed London was coming by to visit her boyfriend Jack and celebrate her new strain of fame.  Maybe they just acquiesced on sight to a force more powerful than any muscle.  Now there’s all this talk of killing and the room temperature is as close as Vegas gets to the Arctic, and if this little fuck Frankie gets slashed by an heiress they will never score a gig this sweet again.  Bruno (the biggest bodyguard, real name Maurice) says “Is it okay, Mr. Johnson?”

The sacrificial “virgins” are star-struck.  Jack is paralyzed but preparing himself mentally for the shame routine he puts on when a woman calls him on his evil.  Some American Idol finalist on the nod and two sitcom stars who just got out of rehab are leaving the cabana in a hurry, sensing impending bloodshed.  Scandal, at the very least.  It’s a family show.  They don’t want to disappoint the little ones.  Frankie, on the other hand, is cool as a cucumber.  He loves trouble.  Being in it.  Waiting for the trouble to come is the hardest part.  “I don’t know, Bruno.  IS it okay, Ms. Rothschild?”

London can feel the latent ghetto neck-swivels and snaps of her soul sisters, all of them eager to bitch jack Salmon into oblivion.  She silences them with the slightest of gestures.  This is about her.  They are ALL accessories in this moment.  Gorgeous, supportive extensions of her scary dress.  “No, Frankie,” she says, “It’s not alright.  SHUT...THAT...OFF.”  London doesn’t raise her voice in anger that often.  It’s the kind of sound that makes you pity her unborn children.  Frankie shuts off the TV without breaking out of their staring contest, just before last year’s London (on-screen) is about to say “I love you” to her Scumbag, this time in full color with sound.  An accidental mercy, surely.    

London speaks again, “All the bitches should leave.  We have some business to discuss.”  

The teenagers have absorbed terminal levels of POP since London entered the cabana.  They’ll spend the rest of their lives on a dead-end party circuit, trying to be like London seemed to be for five minutes when they were nineteen.  But they know where they’re not wanted and where they will not be tolerated.  They’re scrambling to escape without being fried by the palpable celebrity tension.  London may have saved their lives tonight, or, at least, their dignity.  She wishes someone had done as much for her,

The strippers need some prompting.  “Bitches LEAVE,” Frankie screams in their faces.  One stripper takes a farewell snort to spice the partying she has left to do and they exit through the BFFs, their laughter thick with sanctimonious malice, like London is now someone like them.  Becca flexes every muscle and combat seems imminent but London gestures again and Becca holds it in.  Now it’s just London, her homies, Frankie and Jack.  

“ALL the bitches,” London says, letting her diamond-hard gaze fall on Jack for the first time since she got here.  
“I’m sorry, Snowflake”, he purrs, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Some asshole made a copy.  I know we shouldn’t be watching this here.  My bad.  And I’m sorry about the whole thing.  Just don’t be like this, baby.  I’m your man.”  

“Jack,  you’re not even close.  You’re a turd.  And you are so...fucking...dumped.  You were always just a puppet.  And now I know which ventriloquist always has his hand up your butt.”

“Listen...,” Jack says, already defensive.  He and Frankie are best friends.  They party together.  Frankie likes to buy him things.  Frankie likes to watch him having sex with rich girls.  He hates it when people try to make that sound “gay”.  Especially London, who was not exactly as pure as the driven snow, even before the armoire and the roller skates.  The girl lives for pleasure, like them.  Jack thinks someone like London who tries to come on like an important person, an idol of millions, someone like that deserves to get blackmailed or scandalized or whatever.  Frankie thinks so, too.  But Jack lets it go.  This isn’t his department.  He will leave the moguls to their negotiations.

“Fine.  If that’s the way you want it, snowflake...”
He grabs a half-empty bottle of champagne and sizes up the birds as he exits.  Becca he had in a phonebooth once, on ecstasy.  He still has bruises from that night.  That should stay a secret for now.  He knows SHE’d never tell.  Jessica is boring, but still waters run deep sometimes, so maybe he will peel her grape at some point, just to see what boils within her.  He senses an itch in her: to rebel against the big sister.  Worth exploring, though right now she’s obviously picturing him castrated, chasing wild dogs with his vitals in their teeth down dusty distant roads.  He gets it.  They all need to make a big show of support, like they’d rather stand by the tragic Heiress than have sex with Jack Salmon.  He’ll have them all, sooner or later.  He takes care of himself, has another twenty years of whoring in him.  At least twenty.

Lacy wouldn’t have him.  She’s all mixed up.  The boys she sleeps with look like girls and the girls she sleeps with look like boys.  No Chandra tonight.  Not surprising.  Jack has tasted her thoroughly, and fairly recently, and those tapes just need an hour or two of editing to put London’s debut to shame.  It will eventually add insult to her injuries, and Jack will laugh.  Tonight, he’s leaving the cabana, seeing Gwen for the first time and slipping her a folded piece of paper with cocaine in it.  She’s a good actress.  He loves her work.  He knows what she likes, just by looking at her.  He’ll have her tonight.  Frankie will be jerking off to their frolics by sunrise.

“ALL the bitches, Ms. Rothschild.”  London momentarily wavers, instinctively not wanting to be alone with Frankie Johnson.  It’s not that she fears further corruption.  The thing is, she wants very badly to kill him...and there’s no one who would stop her.  No one would lift a finger.  So what if he’s a gangster.  Half his fortune feeds a team of lawyers who field a daily plague of statutory rape cases.  He’s screwed every business partner he’s ever had into bankruptcy.  His gambling debts could feed small countries.  Rumors swarm around his frequent trips to the Czech Republic.  Human trafficking, anyone?  He’s a monster, and he’s just getting worse.  She could kill him with her bare hands in front of the whole pool party and no one would cry.  But that would be bad for business.  For tonight’s business, anyway. 

So the BFFs will wait outside.  She dismisses them, and the veils are drawn again, and now she’s like a severe, elegant princess in a fairy tale, come to the grotto of a malignant imp to bargain for the future of her kingdom.  “What he said...is it true?’

Frankie grins lasciviously.  It’s the only grin he knows.  “I’ll be honest, London.  When Scumbag first showed me the footage, I was thinking blackmail.  I’d NEVER do that to you, of course, but the thought crossed my mind.  That’s the kinda mind I’ve got.  But somebody did in fact steal a copy somehow.  Not the good stuff, but, still, I feel awful.  Now the whole world knows you’re good in bed.  You’ll never get that Nobel prize, now.”

“Don’t get cute, Frankie.  It really doesn’t suit you.  I’m not a criminal like you.  I have a career, and this could be the end of my career.  I didn’t sign any release forms.  Someone has to pay for this.”

“London, I think a lot of people would pay for this.  That’s the killer.  It’s a goldmine on so many levels.  But don’t look at me.  With the extortion angle aborted, the only way I could turn a profit on this thing of beauty is if I released it uncut as a straight-up porno.”  He offers her a seat where she can relax and still maintain a healthy distance.  He offers her a line of Columbia’s finest.  She accepts and with one sniff her jangling jagged edges crystallize and she’s clear enough to discuss this sensibly.  

“And just how big of a profit would that BE, do you think?  Let's talk numbers.”  
They spend another half hour, discussing the finer points.  

London will be a silent partner, authorizing sales and rentals for half of the profits.  To keep up appearances, she’ll also sue Jack Salmon.  They’ll settle out of court of course, but she can play the jilted, humiliated damsel to perfection (as long as no one digs TOO deeply) and she can take a bitter bite of whatever her ex stands to make from all this.  And the release should be timed to coincide with the premiere of her reality show later this year.  Jessica improvised a business plan on the way over.  Desperate times call for smooth maneuvers.  This apocalypse could turn out to be just the kind of media blitz that Mitch was craving. 

Frankie is frankly overwhelmed.  He long ago gave up the dream of dating London Rothschild (then the deeper, darker dream of abducting her).  A partnership never occurred to him.  Nor would it have occurred to her, before all this.  Now she’s winding down her birthday rampage by making a pact with the devil (for all intents and purposes) in his prefab seraglio, atop a luxury hotel in sin city, framed by columns of flame. When fortune turns its back on a modern aristocrat, she must protect her interests.  When every charming prince is a beast between the sheets, a Princess must accustom herself to the strangest bedfellows.  

Frankie is on the phone with his lawyers (who are always on call), making all this happen.  Maybe it’s the blow, but she’s feeling better about this already.  Through the veils, she sees the party reaching the tranquil ebb of its flow, couples all aglow, the air alive with flirtations and hollow promises.  Speaking of which, she sees Jack, chatting up Gwendolyn.  Gwen’s body language conveys the druggy submission of a drone gone astray.  No trace of loyalty or sustained concern for the wounds of her Queen Bee.  He can have her.  It’s about time she fell through the ice.  There’s still Jess and Becca and Lacy and Chandra when she feels better.  Chandra will cut Gwen loose in a heartbeat when she hears.  She always had a crush on Jack, London thinks.  Chandra was just always too smart to act on it.

Familiar electro pulses and divatronic sigh-scapes rise in the DJ’s mix.  It’s a trippy remix of London’s anthem for the evening: “No Safewords/No Mercy”.  But the voice is different.  It doesn’t sound like Candy Kane.  It sounds like London “doing” Candy Kane.  Like this story really is all about London Rothschild after all.  Frankie is cackling on the phone, giddy from the fortune he’s about to make, but he’s background now, even more so than the party people outside the cabana, because they’re dancing to this, they can hear this, they can feel this.  They’re dancing to her life.  She stands up and opens her arm wide to receive the hymn, lip-synching to the creepy spoken bit at the end:   “No nightmares/No daydreams.  Is this really symbiosis?

                     Are you my playboy parasite?  Am I your cruel hostess?
                    No safewords/No mercy.  No feelings/No fear.
                     If you don’t want to get hurt, what the hell are you doing here?”

London has listened to this song a hundred times at least.  Never has she felt its truths more profoundly than she does tonight.
All her BFFs will get teary hugs, before they leave.  She’ll brief Jess and Becca, dance with Lacy and random gorgeous men like she owns the place.  She’ll hear Jack back in Frankie’s cabana, throwing a tantrum, but he’ll play along.  She’ll see him subtly ostracized by all as he slithers out the back.  Gwendolyn will hang out and deny all flirtations, but they’ll all know that she’s hooking up with him later, and the subtle tides of sisterhood will start turning against her.  The girls will be happy to see London happy again.  They’ll see the beginnings of a new face she’s working on.  The kind of happy you are when everyone thought you were stupid and you beat them anyway.  Still, the BFFs won’t know for quite some time how much harder and more ruthless London is now than she was at twenty.  They may never know, if she keeps it bubbly.  But if they cross her...if ANYONE crosses her, from here to eternity, they will come to know her evil all too well.  

As the party winds down and slowly unravels, she can feel the stares and the weirdness in the air-kisses, the party-world adjusting to the shift in her energies.  No one dares mention the video in her vicinity.  She can tell when it’s come up in conversation and her look can stop that loose talk dead from across the room.  She asks herself why she wastes her time in loser zoos like this.  She must be growing up, a little bit.

Just before sunrise, her phone is ringing urgently.  It’s Mitch: the call she’s been dreading with perverse curiosity.  He must now all about the video by now.  Maybe he thinks it will damage the show.  Maybe he thinks he bet on the wrong filly.  Maybe he thinks she’s a spoiled slut who belongs in a loser zoo.

“London.  Sorry about the hour.  I had a feeling you’d still be up.  Where are we at with this ‘erotica’ situation?”
Mitch has a way of making everything turn into business.  She likes that.  

She tells a highly edited version of the time since Tokyo, leaving out her pact with the devil.  She just says that she saw Jack at a party and dumped him.  Like she’s just a jilted girlfriend.

It turns out he’d already seen it when they talked in Tokyo.  He wanted her in the proper frame of mind.  He wanted her to know that her future was at stake, not some boyfriend. This internet mess COULD be a disaster, but he doubts it.  He tells her not to lose faith.  There’s the off-chance that this scandal will make GHETTO DELICIOUS a global sensation.  He consoles her. “You can get away with being painted as the whore of Babylon in your roaring twenties, London.  Just make sure the prophets all pay for their glimpse of you.”  Then he says “I’m still proud of you, London” as the lizard-loving Nevada sun splashes the guilty and the not-so-guilty alike with sheets of caustic honey.  It’s the strangest thing for him to say, but it feels true, and it does all seem to be working out.  “We will find a way to spin this, London.  I’m not giving up on you.”  She sounds thankful.  Very emotional.  It’s what the father figures always want.

        Scumbag Jack Salmon and her evil Grandfather and her soft, sloppy father and the poisonous Frankie Johnson and even old Mitch can all go and die violently in spectacular plane crashes, when she’s done with them.  The men in her life have always promised her polite slices of their flaccid, tacky empires...if she behaves herself and acts a little less like London.  If she must play at clinging to a father figure and actually listen to someone as she blooms into a different degree of womanhood and celebrity, she’s choosing a “daddy” (in the short term) who will help her build an empire of her very own.  An empire made of nightclubs, boutiques, gorgeous admirers, and many mirrors.  None of these smug Vegas bitches will ever make the guest list.  And, despite the tearful hugs and the half-assed girl power,  ALL her BFFs are on permanent probation.  

It’s four hours later, in L.A. again, in London and Jessica’s Hollywood Hills mansionette, in the longed-for bubble bath of myth and legend, real at last and hot enough to melt in.  

Jessica is standing by, reading a magazine,mainly to make sure that London doesn’t drown.  
London’s half-asleep and half-dreaming of Jack, Jack hanging from that dead tree of panties. Hanging by his neck, swinging in the breeze, urine trickling down his well-turned ankle.  

The cracked pieces of tiara are glamming up her crown of thorns.   She’s saddling up that big black goat and riding it down the mesa into a canyon of light, flaunting her jagged glimmering crown like a rhinestone messiah.  

And she’s wearing Balenciaga boots with the cutest little spurs.  
She digs in without mercy to make the goat go faster.  

She passes tumble weeds and cactuses and a reflective pool of bubbling black.  
She’s lucid enough in this dream to sneak a look at herself.  

Strangely, in the black pool, she doesn’t see a Princess.  
She sees a cityscape of neon trademarks, strange words and phrases, all in her personal font.  But the signs change their shapes when she changes her face.  The goat seems relieved when she realizes that she isn’t a person at all.  A thought weighs next to nothing.  

She’s a living brand, an icon, a cluster of concepts that wears a woman as its skin.   She’s a protein coating that contains the finest virus.  All the healthy cells, they find her delicious.  That’s how she gets in.   

Half-submerged in designer bubbles, she licks her lips and smiles like a baby snake, like she’s tasting her own tail, like she’s eating something sweet.  The last thing she thinks as the snoring starts and her soul at last becomes a logo is that she must make a billion dollars by any means necessary.  

It’s not enough to show Grandfather she can make it way big without his stupid inheritance.  

She needs him to feel small and stupid for having washed his hands of her.  
Because happiness means nothing if no one is suffering.  

That’s London’s new philosophy.   And the bubblebath is like her religion.  
But being delicious is her business. 
        Now more than ever.

No comments:

Post a Comment