Instalment 39: pages 161 - 164 [Elliot finds himself in an awkward position]
Beneath a handful of very bright lights, a locomotive medley of human sound and motion occupied the floor: an interlocking six-person parody of engine assembly. Two more sun-lamp tanned slabs of flesh stood near the noisy industrial process, whether as pieces to be joined to the existing machinery or as workmen waiting to dismantle and recombine its pieces, I wasn’t sure. My eyes wanted to be elsewhere, but weren’t focussing on much else. Coming out of the winter glare, the room outside that flesh-filled circle of light was hazy and uncertain.
“Pizza’s here Jeremy,” I heard someone stage-whisper.
I blinked spots away, eyes adjusting to the comparative gloom. A check-shirted back leaned over a man sitting in a canvas chair. I could see enough of his profile to identify Ryder. I put my back to him, nudged my fellow pizza bearer with an elbow and indicated a corner table with my head.
“Right, good,” muttered Ryder. “Cut! Lunch!” he called to the human-industrial assemblage.
I glanced over my shoulder: the machine was disaggregating into components – male, female, tall, short, blonde, brunette, fair, dark, and all as naked as my year 10 science text anatomical diagrams, although with rather more skin left over the tendons. I continued to separate pizza boxes from their insulating red packets, as the mass of human nudity advanced. I felt a pressing, claustrophobic need to get away from their approach.
Let me explain something. Obviously, I’m a man who likes women. I’d even happily confess to thinking about naked women from time to time. I’d enjoyed being with one quite recently, and hoped to see rather more of her, clothed and otherwise, once this general mess I was wading into had resolved itself. However, while the parameters of my relationship with Danielle were not clearly marked out yet, I was fairly confident that standing in a room containing five naked women longer than necessary was probably beyond the realms of the okay. It would feel, well, bad somehow. I’d gotten into this room innocently enough, but I felt a distinct obligation to our but-for-a-muder-investigation-almost-cemented relationship to leave a room containing five naked women (none of them my almost-certainly girlfriend) as soon as I possibly could.
Quite apart from the fact I just had no social strategies to cope with being in a room with three naked men. The don’t-glance-down-eyes-front etiquette of the men’s room urinal was clearly not going to cut it. Other than that, I simply had no experience – locker room, Turkish bath house, or whatever – which gave me any grounding in how to interact with men when you are wearing pants and they just aren’t. The problem would become quite acute if I didn’t get all this pizza out of its padded bags quickly and myself out of the room; I could see a real risk that I would have to start handing it around.
On top of these slightly unusual social challenges, I couldn’t possibly let Ryder see me. I kept bent over the table, opening pizza bags and risked a glance sideways. Luck was with me for the moment, and his attention was elsewhere.
“Wait up Crystal,” he said to a blonde clambering to her feet under the still-bright lights. “I’d like some close up moaning and yawping.” The granite slab previously posted by the door-frame outside had drifted in to stand behind his boss.
“Yeah?” she said with a slightly pissed air, “Well I’d like some lunch before those bastards eat all my vegetarian with extra capsicum again. Can’t the close-ups wait ‘til I’ve had something to eat?”
“Cheers mate,” a large chequered shirt interposed itself across my view. Ryder’s assistant grabbed and began distributing boxes. Check shirt was speaking, perhaps deliberately, over the rumbled tones of Ryder’s industrial dispute with Crystal over reasonable meal-breaks. “Tinnies are in the esky in the other room. Anyone caught helping themselves to the mini-bar will lose their balls.”
There was a ripple of female laughter.
“… or will have their pay docked,” he cheerfully concluded.
Check-shirt’s cheerful banter with the technical crew and assembled naked bodies was punctuated by a sharp retort: the percussion of skin-covered knuckle hitting something softer. Heads turned; I was confronted by a mass of buttocks. Past the crowd, I could see the granite-slab’s back, and Ryder seemed to be wresting with him. From the little I could see, it appeared Ryder was, rather against the odds, struggling for control of his goon’s paws. The blonde Crystal, still all unclad, was nursing a shocked and bitter expression and a split and swiftly swelling lip.
“Get a grip,” snarled Ryder, adding a slightly contradictory: “Drop my hands. Look, it’s over. She’s ruined for the final scenes today, get her some ice. With makeup maybe she can do tomorrow. Give her five hundred to make up the difference and it’s quits. We forget about it, right?”
Ryder gestured to include the wounded, naked woman. The gesture was curt and choppy, not perhaps the conciliatory overture he’d intended. The giant shrugged, unfazed by Ryder’s edict, and reached for something he passed to Ryder. Ryder stormed past me with a coat over his right arm, looking nowhere but straight ahead. Crystal glared at his retreating back, then raked her gaze resentfully but appraisingly over the slab that owed her five hundred dollars.
As Ryder left, muttering and concerned noises broke out. There was a movement towards the injured party. The granite slab eased back from the scene of the affray: no-one seemed to dare to take him to task, but no-one was making eye contact. I made for the door. A hand caught at my sleeve.
“What do we owe you?” asked the owner’s voice.
“It’s the other guy who’s got the change,” I said, pushing on.
“Not his best day,” I heard a male voice mutter.
I could imagine it wasn’t the slab’s best day. Roughing up a girl and getting a reprimand from the boss would not be one to mark down in your diary. It didn’t quite explain where Ryder was heading though.
Outside his azure and silver car was already circling the turning area, churning a little gravel as it hit the paved driveway. Ryder’s right hand atop the steering wheel seemed to flash white in the sun.
I’ll bet he drives with racing gloves as well, I thought.
I moved at a trot, depositing the pizza-deliverer’s cap on his bonnet and proceeding to my own car. I had a few hours to kill before I met a man in a bar to talk the bad old days of Bob Mitchell’s life. It was time to follow up a few more threads of the Ryder empire and see where David Carmichael tied in.