Asimov's (with Michael Skeet)
This is the first collaboration I ever wrote, and man, am I glad I did.
I wrote the first part of this story as a sort-of response to Heinlein et al's "bootcamp" stories; that is, stories about personal transformation brought on by violent, abusive training experiences. Having had some bootcamp-experiences (Clarion, for one, not to metion working on behind-deadline software projects), I had some opinions on the subject.
Having written the first half, I was hung up on an ending -- or even a decent middle. At Judith Merril's memorial party at the Bamboo Club in Toronto, I found myself in the buffet queue with my workshopmate Michael Skeet, bemoaning this state of affairs. He remarked that he had quite the opposite problem -- he couldn' get started, but he did great endings.
So I sent him the story's start. He's a busy guy, and it was about a year before I saw the story again. I was enchanted. Michael had picked up the story's thread beautifully, and had run with it, taking it nearly to conclusion. I sent it back to him with a note or two and he went back to work.
In Spring 1999, my workshop -- the Cecil Street Group -- went away for a weekend-long writing retreat. Michael and I finished the story over the weekend, and a few months later: success!
It was immensely gratifying working with a collaborator. I really felt like the whole was more than the parts.
Gay Paree was in full swing when the Libertines conscripted the trustafarians. Me, I should have seen it coming. After all, that's what I do.
I was an OPH -- Old Paree Hand -- there before the Communards raised their barricades; there before the Boul' Disney became a trustafarian chill-zone; a creaking antique expat who liked his cafÃ© and croissant and the International Times crossword in the morning. I loved Paree, loved the way I could stay plugged into everything while soaking in the warm bath of centuries. I loved the feeling of being part of a special club; we OPHs always managed to look out for one another, always managed to find the time to play at baseball in the Bois de Boulogne when the weather was good. Not even civil war had been able to change that, and that I loved about Paree most of all.
Normalment, I would've been in bed when the Club Dialtone was raided. But that night, I was entertaining Sissy, a cousin come from Toronto for a wild weekend, and Sissy wanted to see the famÃ¨d Dialtone. So we duded up -- me in rumpled whites and hiking boots with calculated amounts of scuff; Sissy in po-mo Empire dress and PVC bolero jacket and a round bowler hat and plume -- and we sauntered over the epoxy-resin cobbles to the Dialtone.
I played it for all it was worth, taking Sissy past the memorial crater arrondisements, along the echoing locks on the Seine where the sounds of distant small-arms fire ricocheted off the tile and whizzed over your head, past the eternal flame burning in the smashed storefront of the Burger King flagship store, and finally to the Dialtone.
Fat Eddie was bouncing that night, and I waggled my eyebrows at him surreptitiously, then at Sissy, and he caught on. "Mr. Rosen," he said, parting the crowd with a beefy forearm, "an unexpected pleasure. How have you been?"
Sissy's eyes lit up christmas, and her grip on my elbow tightened. "You know, Edward: just the same, all the time. A little poorer with every passing day, a little older, a little uglier. Life goes on."
Fat Eddie smiled like the Buddha and waved aside my remarks with an expansive sweep of his arm. "You merely improve with age, my friend. This is Paree, m'ser, where we venerate our elder statesmen. Please, who is this lovely young woman with you?"
"Sissy Black, Edward Moreno. Sissy is my cousin, here for a visit."
Fat Eddie took Sissy's hand in his meaty paw and feinted a kiss at it. "A pleasure, m'dam'selle. If there is anything we can do for you here at the Club Dialtone, anything at all, don't hesitate to ask."
Sissy flushed in the gaudy neon light, and shot a glance over her shoulder at the poor plebes stuck behind the velvet rope until Fat Eddie deigned to notice them. "Nice to meet you, Edward," she managed, after a brief stammer, and kissed him on both cheeks. This is a trustafarian thing, something she'd seen on the tube, but she did it gamely, standing on tiptoe. Not Fat Eddie's style at all, but he's a pro, and he took it like one.
He opened the door and swept her inside. I hung back. "Thanks, Eddie; I owe you one."
"You don't think I laid it on too thick?" he asked, rubbing at the lipstick on his cheeks with a steri-wipe.
I rolled my eyes. "Always. But Sissy impresses easily."
"Not like us, huh, Lee?
"Not like us." I'd met Eddie playing dominoes on Montmartre with five frÃ¨res, and he'd been winning. It could've gotten ugly, but I knew the frÃ¨res' CO, and I sorted it, then took Eddie out and got him bombed on ouzo at a Greek place I knew, and he'd been a stand-up guy for me ever since.
"Everything cool tonight?"
"Lotsa uniforms, but nothing special. Have a good time."
I walked inside and paused in the doorway to light a stinking Gitane, something to run interference on the clouds of perfume. Sissy was waiting nervously by the entrance, staring around her while trying not to. The kids were all out, in trustafarian rags and finery, shaking their firm booties and knocking back stupid cocktails in between sets. "What you think?" I shouted into her ear.
"Lee, it's supe-dupe!" she shouted back.
"You want a drink?"
The bartender already had a Manhattan waiting for me. I held up two fingers, and he quickly built a second for Sissy, with a cherry. I unfolded some ringgits and passed them across the bar. He did a quick check on the scrolling currency exchange ticker beneath the bar, and passed me back a clattering handful of Communard francs. I pushed them back at him -- who needed more play-money?
I guided Sissy past a couple of stone-faced frÃ¨res to an empty booth near the back, and took her jacket from her and put it on the bench next to me. She took a sip of her Manhattan and made a face. Good. If I kept feeding her booze she didn't like, she wouldn't knock back so much of it that I had to carry her out.
"It's amazing," she shouted.
"You like it?"
"Yeah! I can't believe I'm really here! God, Lee, you're the best!"
I don't take compliments well. "Sure, whatever. Why don't you dance?"
It was all she needed. She tossed her bowler down on the table and tore off to the dance floor. I lost sight of her after a moment, but didn't worry. The Dialtone was a pretty safe place, especially with Fat Eddie making sure no smooth-talking trustafarian tried to take her back to his flat.
I sipped my drink and looked around. There were a lot of uniforms, as Eddie had mentioned -- and as many here at the back of the club as up near the door. Libertines didn't come up to the Boul' Disney often. Too busy being serious Communards, sharing and fighting and not washing enough for my taste. Still, it wasn't unheard-of for a few of the frÃ¨res to slum it up here where the richies played at bohemian.
These ones were hardcases, toughened streetfighters. One of them turned in profile and I caught his earrings -- these whackos wear 'em like medals -- and was impressed. Pierre was a major veteran, twenty confirmed kills and the battle of Versailles to boot. I began to think about leaving; my spideysense was tingling.
I shoulda left. I didn't. Sissy was having a wonderful time, kept skipping back, and after the second Manhattan, she switched to still water (no fizzy water for her, it makes cellulite, apparently). I was chewing on a tricky work-problem and working on my reserve pack of Gitanes when it all went down.
The sound system died.
The lights came full up.
Fat Eddie came tumbling through the door, tossed like a ragdoll, and he barely managed to roll with the fall.
A guy in power-armor followed Fat Eddie in, leaving dents in the floor as he went.
Throughout the club, the frÃ¨res stood and folded their arms across their chests. I gave myself a mental kick. I shoulda seen it coming; normalment, the frÃ¨res stick together in dour, puritanical clumps, but tonight they'd been spread throughout the place, and I'd been too wrapped up to notice the change in pattern. I tried to spot Fat Eddie out of the corner of my eye without taking my attention away from the frÃ¨res. At first I couldn't see him at all; then he turned up, looking dazed, in front of the door to the Dialtone's aged, semi-functional kitchen. For a moment I turned to look at him. He gave me a worried smile, touched his finger to his nose and faded through the door. A second later a frÃ¨re moved in to block the kitchen, standing in front of the door through which Fat Eddie had just vanished. I wished I knew how to roll with the punches the way Fat Eddie did.
The PA on the power-armor crackled to life, amplifying the voice of the Pierre inside to teeth-shaking booms: "M'sers and M'dames, your attention please." Power-armor had a pretty good accent, just enough coq au vin to charm the ladies.
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