Tuesday, and it’s time to play catchup with Interviewing Trey. Which I hope was worth the wait, because in this episode….
Oh God, I don’t know if I dare say it… no, wait. I must say it.
In this episode… he actually interviews Trey!
I know. Shocking.
Here it is. Lovelace tomorrow, then more Trey on Friday. Thanks as always, and tip your waiters.
(One last thing. Trey’s opinions should not be taken as the author’s. But we knew that, right?)
I’m not much of a gambler.
Well, I suppose that’s not one hundred percent accurate. I gamble all the time — only it’s gambling with my life, my livelihood, my safety… all the things people have said I’m crazy for risking by spending time around third and fourth tier supervillains. But I don’t gamble that often. I never really got into slot machines, or blackjack, or poker. The times I stayed in Vegas, I spent most of my time either shadowing some music act or hanging out in buffets. Yeah, I stayed in casinos, because that’s where you stay when you’re in Vegas, but there’s a difference between staying in a casino and going to a casino.
So… being behind the scenes in an illegal casino where everything is dangerously amped up, where boundaries are pushed and violated, where the jaded can have their tastes overwhelmed beyond their darkest dreams probably was a little wasted on me. Of course, for most of the ‘day’ (I still had no idea what time it was or how much time had passed) I had been at the various crew levels instead of the casino floor, but after an exciting, action packed couple of hours of watching Trey make phone calls to guild representatives, talk to agents, set up open call auditions and the like, I had my first opportunity to drink in the full, dark experience in Dispater’s Vault.
Why? Simple. Trey was hungry.
She had thrown on a white hoody with the requisite three hearts over her heart — which given her figure meant they were more ‘on her breast,’ but I doubt anyone was complaining. That plus the unitard was enough for her, apparently. And she dragged me out a service entrance after kind of hissing at me to stay close. She was going to the Card Sharp’s Cabaret, where the steaks were $7.11 before we counted her employee discount, and that was just too good a deal to pass up, apparently.
This is a woman who admitted she was a multi-millionaire just a few hours before, mind. I got the feeling this was, if anything, an extravagance for her. She moved fluidly through the crowd, attracting stares and leers alike even as she sliced between the mass of humanity like a scalpel through flesh. And me? I trailed along behind, trying to keep up without jostling her.
So, how did the Conjurer of Capers, the Mad Magician, the Bloody Barker, the Walking Dead Man’s Hand casino stack up from ground zero?
Seriously… I wasn’t that impressed.
Yes there was a sense of danger and the forbidden. I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t admit that. The colors on the floor were lurid, not red but crimson, not black but midnight, not white but pallid. The clothes on the barmaids gleamed like latex — not exposing more flesh than you might expect, but somehow making the skin underneath more sexual. Cigarette smoke hung in the air, not circulating or moving — just pallid. You got a feeling that you could smoke a cigar in February and still smell it in September. And the games — slot machines of the old style, with whirling wheels, not video displays, but covered with neon and lights, flashing and cajoling. Or men in bowlers and shirt stays behind green felt tables, throwing down cards with a cackle. You could almost taste sin in the air — lust and greed and envy all converging and combining.
And yet somehow… if you were looking at all of it without temptation… it was scary without being alluring. I remember watching Pinocchio when I was a kid, and this whole thing reminded me of Pleasure Island — everyone involved was laughing and drinking and cavorting desperately, feeding money into the machines, chasing after the women and ultimately just becoming jackasses. For someone who didn’t buy in — who didn’t want the money or the sex or the thrills, there wasn’t any allure. It was like watching someone else’s drunken spree, or watching your 45 year old uncle hit on a 22 year old girl when they were both drunk. It was gross.
The Jack was right. I wasn’t on the guest list — only it wasn’t just a question of my credit rating. I got the feeling if you weren’t already up for the casino lifestyle, you’d never be invited in the first place. I had to wonder how their organization found these folks.
Well, however they did it, they were good at it. The floor was packed with the ‘exclusive’ guests, and they sure as Hell didn’t see anything seamy about the whole affair. Assuming, of course, that ‘seamy’ isn’t part of what they were looking for.
The Card Sharp Cabaret was a small restaurant off to one side of the casino. There was a line of people waiting to get in, but Trey ignored them, sliding straight up to the hostess’s station. The V’est of the VIPs, at least down here. And as I was attached to her, I got to walk past people too. Not that they noticed me. They noticed Trey — noticed her butt, her legs, her hair, her movements… I was almost fascinated by peoples’ reactions as she went by — but me? I was less than nobody, and they weren’t interested in anything not part of the show. The interior was dark — there was red velvet appointments, and circular booths and small tables. We were shown to one of the booths, over in the corner, out of the way. No one else was seated right here, and I got the feeling no one would be. The hostess wore a Little Black Dress with fishnets. As it turned out, she was the most conservatively dressed person there. The waitresses were in lingerie and stockings, which seemed to gleam in the low light — maybe a black light accent? Hard to say. Certainly the clothing popped like there were — emphasizing the lace and spandex, and completely obscuring their faces. I’d been to places like this in the real Vegas. Upscale ‘restaurants’ which advertised ‘intimate dining.’ It seemed cheesy then, but some of the musicians were into that. Here, like everything else, it was amplified. The meat was being served by the meat.
And Trey couldn’t have been less interested. In the waitstaff, in the surroundings, in the decor, in the haze of smoke and lies. It wasn’t anything she cared about. “The steak’s good here,” she said. “They have good wine, too.”
“Looks like they have more than that,” I said, looking over the refreshments. They included things like hashish brownies, and considerably more potent things. I’m not sure they were advertising heroin, but I still decided “Dragon Horse, 2 shots” for two hundred dollars was a thing to avoid.
“What can I get you?” a gleaming white lace bra and panties that apparently had a woman wearing them asked Her hair was combed forward. I think it was brown, but in the light I couldn’t tell. “Something to drink.”
“I’m ready to order,” Trey said. “Hot coffee, black. Plain seltzer on the side. Steak special, medium well. Baked potato, just butter on the side. No salad. And whatever he wants, compliments of the management.”
“Of course,” she said. “And you?”
“I’ll take a Diet Coke—”
“Diet Pepsi okay?”
“Sure. I’ll also have the steak special. Medium, please.”
“Baked potato, fries, or mashed?”
“Baked please. Just butter. Blue cheese dressing on the salad.”
“Coming up.” She took our menus, deliberately turned, and walked away.
“So… are we the only two to order sodas instead of something more… potent?” I asked Trey.
She laughed. It was a slightly mocking laugh. “I got coffee. You’re the one who went with saccharin and caffeine.” She lit a cigarette, then looked at my expression. “What?”
“Nothing. I’m just a little surprised you smoke.”
“I’m a dancer. Dancers smoke.”
“I’ve known a lot of dancers who didn’t.”
She rolled her eyes. “Hip hop dancers? Background dancers? Dancers in videos? Showgirls? First off, I bet a lot more of them smoked than you thought. Second off, dancers smoke. Not those wannabes.”
“Some of those ‘wannabes’ are pretty amazing.”
“Please. If you want to impress me? Show up with six years of ballet, plus jazz and tap. Get your fundamentals down. Things you can build off of. Stand en pointe until your toes bleed then do another show. Pop ibuprofen like M&Ms so you can stand to do twenty hours of rehearsals. Then talk to me about dance. And for the record? Do all that shit, then do it again? Fuck yeah you’ll smoke.”
“That’s your background, huh? Ballet?”
“Ballet, jazz, tap, some modern. Hit the Paramount City Ballet for two years after school, then three years of rep, summer stock, made a run at Broadway choruses, played Vegas, Atlantic City…” she took another drag off the cigarette. “You want to know what pisses me the Hell off? Having some Burlesque girl who did pole dancing aerobics and then took six weeks of classes on the ‘art of the burlesque‘ lecture me about dancing. I was doing three hours of training every day after school when I was nine. By high school I was told I had to start getting serious about it if I wanted it to go anywhere. Don’t you fucking tell me about dancing and smoking.”
“No offense meant.”
“Yeah, well, offense taken.” The waitress had shown up with our drinks, but she paid no attention. “I didn’t have relationships in school. I had dance. This is what I did. And then I went from there and I danced. I fought for every possible route out of the chorus, every possible moment of a solo, all for no fucking pay. I lived out of vans, or shacked up with four other girls in a studio apartment. I starved myself and popped diet pills and yeah, I fucking smoked. Anything to keep going, to find an edge.”
I sipped my cola. It was pretty watered down. “So how’d that turn into being Trey?”
“You mean how did I fall to this? I didn’t. This is the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
“Sure, but you had to hit bottom before you could soar, right? Or do I have the narrative wrong?”
She snorted. “Adderall.” She looked off to the side, cigarette perched between her index and middle fingers with long practice. “Got strung out on the stuff. I used it to focus, to keep going, cut down fatigue, help take the edge off the pain. Like I said — finding an edge. But it went too far. I started getting paranoid. Freaking out. Finally I crashed. Lost my job for it. Got a rep as ‘unreliable.'” She laughed, perhaps bitterly. “You don’t even know you’re going over the edge, you know? You just take a pill or two, and they do what the label says they’ll do, so you do it again. And it works, so you do it again, but this time you just need that extra half-tab.” She shook her head, taking another drag. “Whatever. I detoxed a bit, then hit the road. Looked for something — anything that would get me back on the stage. Only you need an ‘in’ before that’ll happen — someone has to vouch for you. Has to say ‘yeah, no. She’s clean now.’ And of course I was getting older, and that meant the competition was getting younger. Eventually, I ended up in Greystone City.”
“Why Greystone? It doesn’t have much in the way of the arts.”
“Damn right it doesn’t. Not compared to the P.C.B. But they are here, and this is a city that’s half in shock all the time. You don’t know Greystone — not yet, anyway. There’s desperation everywhere. Poverty everywhere. Hunger and drugs and gang violence everywhere. So where the arts do exist, there’s not so much judgment. You can find people who’ll give an ex-junkie a break. Find work. Get back into the chorus. Get back onto the line. Show you’ve got it — show you never lost it.”
“And from there…” I looked around. “Dispater’s Vault?”
“I managed to do three shows at this shithole theater in Northside. Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, and Pippin. All chorus work, ‘course. The pay sucked even worse than normal and every night I figure I was gonna get mugged, but it was dance and I was keeping off the amps. Only this is Greystone, so there’s corruption everywhere — and some of it was locked into that theater. The owner of the place got greedy, stopped paying his full share of protection. Which meant he was skimming off the Buzzard, and that pissed the Buzzard off. He hired Accelerant to burn the place, and Accelerant did what he was told — right in the middle of a performance. Fucking Pippin. During the finale, so we were already singing about self-immolation for the greater glory. Guy had a sense of humor.”
“A pretty dark one.”
“Yeah, well.” She ground her cigarette out in the ash tray. “I got out. Some others did too. Most of the audience. And the Nightwatch drenched the place in foam from his little fighter jet thing. Still, quite a few died and the place was shuttered for good, and I was out of work again. Only a friend of a friend heard about a good thing going. Illegal place, but there was dance work there. Real dance work. And there was an open call. I went with her.” She laughed, taking a sip of her coffee. “Scary ass stuff. Blindfolds and being herded in trucks. I wanted to run, but c’mon. Where would I run to? So I stayed, and then it was a real audition. I made the cut, and discovered this place actually paid halfway decent. Plus, we stayed on the premises, which meant saving even more money. Sure, it didn’t count for union and it wouldn’t make for a decent rep builder, but if I could build up enough cash I could make a real run at serious work, again. Or even stay here — I mean, I was dancing. Not showgirling. I was in a performance review of a show staging the Seven Deadly Sins. Chorus work, but significant. It was real. I was alive.”
I smiled a bit. “It sounds like a sweet gig.”
“The sweetest. Or so I thought.”
“So what changed?”
She shrugged. “He changed. Or more to the point. He changed me. He was in disguise, of course, but he’d choreographed and staged the whole show. And he was a son of a bitch — driving us, pushing us. He certainly didn’t act like this was some kind of lesser show. He believed in the work, and he believed in us. And then… he started pulling some of us aside. Ones and twos. Showing us a few moves… a few tricks. Talking to us… and then one by one the others kind of fell away, until it was just me and him.” She closed her eyes, leaning back. “He knew me. Knew my past, knew my troubles. He had answers to questions I didn’t even know I was asking. And then he put me up front in the show. He moved me into one of the understudy parts. And then there was an accident and suddenly I was front and center… first in the Wrath segment, then adding me in to Sloth, to Lust, to Gluttony… finally I was dancing lead in all seven segments. Dancing better than I ever had. Doing more, pushing harder. Driving faster, and not a bennie in sight.” She chuckled “By the time he came clean about who he was, I couldn’t have cared less. It just meant he could start teaching me more. Stagecraft, stage magic, up close magic, Dianic fighting… he remade me. He pulled me from the show, and spent weeks breaking me down. I can barely stand to think about what he did to me in those weeks, but by God when I came out…” she opened her eyes. “There’s nothing of the crank-addled pathetic wannabe I was left. He purified me, Chapman. He forged me into something amazing.”
“It sounds it. And now?”
“Now I’m Trey. One of a kind. An integral part of the greatest show Earth has ever seen.” She smiled, a bit wickedly. “And maybe the last one it ever will.”
“…what does that mean?”
“Mean? Why should it mean anything. Look alive. Your steak’s incoming.”