259: On Top

on July 26, 2008 in Book 10

In Which Steff Gets Mackenzie Hot

We got ourselves checked in, and the desk girl summoned a bellhop to carry our two small bags, over our protests.

“And here are your keys… you’ll need them to work the lift,” she said, handing us a pair of keys.

“You need a key for the lift?” I asked, thinking I must have misunderstood. What did they do when their guests had guests?

“Only to get up to the eighth floor,” she said.

“The eighth floor?” I asked, feeling a bit like a parrot. I had thought I’d counted only seven stories on the outside.

“Yes, the Empress Suite is the eighth floor,” she said.

“And you’re sure this has already been paid for?” Steff asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

The uniformed bellhop arrived and took my backpack and Steff’s bag. She held onto her purse.

“I feel bad about making you come when we’ve only got a couple little bags,” I said when we were inside the lift. “We’re really only here for one night.

“No complaints from me, ma’am,” he said. “Now, if one of you will just put your key in here.”

He pointed to a panel with little jeweled studs next to the numbers one through seven, and a small lock next to eight. Steff had her key ready. She stuck it in and turned it, and the lift began to slide upwards.

“Ever visited us before, ladies?” the bellhop asked.

“I have, but this is her first time,” Steff said, then giggled.

“Well, I hope you enjoy the Empress Suite,” he said.

“I’d think most people do,” Steff said.

“Mostly. The party that checked in earlier couldn’t leave fast enough, it seemed.”

“What was wrong?” I asked.

“Couldn’t tell you,” he said. “They couldn’t even have had time to unpack, either.” He chuckled. “Did they have a lot of bags and trunks, though… you wouldn’t be apologizing for your dingy old school bag if you’d seen me trying to get their luggage carts up there. For other floors, we can use the freight lift… but it doesn’t go up to eight.”

The lift came to a stop and the doors slid open. I stepped out into the hallway, which seemed to widen quite a bit after a short distance. The eighth floor apparently was swank. There were some pretty nice looking potted plants… real ones, they looked like… and a fire place at the far end of the hall.

“Where should I put your bags?” the bellhop asked.

“Uh, how about in our room?” I said, rolling my eyes.

“The master bedroom, then?” he said.

“No, just inside the door is fine,” I said.

He set the bags down right there in the hallway.

“Is there anything I can get you ladies? Take an order to the kitchen for you? The concierge is in a conference reflection, but if there’s anything you need…”

“Yeah, you can finish taking us to our room,” I said.

“Excuse me?” he asked, his face puzzled.

Steff grabbed me by the hand as her whisper caught me in the ear. “Mack, we’re in our room,” she said, pulling me a few steps forward. I blinked, and re-processed what I was seeing. We weren’t in a hallway that widened… the lift had dropped us off in a niche in an alcove at the back of a spacious living room. Outside the alcove, the ceiling was a polygonal dome of steel and glass.

“Could you send up some, um, let’s say rice pilaf and steamed vegetables at about eleven thirty?” Steff asked the bellhop. “And… do you know that sparkling cider that comes in bottles, like wine?”

“Yes, sir,” the bellhop said. “Ma’am. Sorry.”

Excuse me?” I said.

“It’s okay,” Steff said, putting a finger up to shush me. “We’d like some of those at the same time, and champagne flutes. No, sparkling pear nectar.”

“We do have an extensive wine cellar.”

“Pear nectar’s fine, or cider if you can’t get that,” Steff said. “And could we get an assortment of cheese and crackers, and some fresh fruit, so we have something to snack on until then?”

“Certainly.”

Steff looked at me, then at the bellhop.

“Tell them not to skimp,” she said. “My friend can really put it away. Oh, and we kind of feel like dancing…”

“There are some excellent nightclubs just down the street.”

“Yeah, we’re going to be staying in tonight,” Steff said. “I just wondered what kind of set-up there was for music in here.”

“That cabinet there holds the entertainment center,” he said, pointing to something that looked like a wardrobe. “Television, music box, full-length mirror, faerie lighting… the works.”

“Thank you, you’ve been really helpful,” Steff said, and she gave him a couple silver coins.

“My pleasure,” he said. “I’ll make sure you get taken care of.”

He headed back into the lift and tipped his cap to us as the doors slid closed. Steff waved bye-bye, then slowly turned around, the look of “just business” melting away from her face as a smile spread over it.

“Alone, in a luxury penthouse,” she said. She held up her hands and gave her body a little shake like she was shivering. “How do you feel?”

“Tiny and poor,” I said, looking around. The outer wall was mostly window, but decorative weapons that looked like they cost more than everything I owned put together hung on the interior ones. The painting of a field of flowers that hung over the fireplace had three dimensions. “And cold… can’t they afford to heat this place?”

“It’s not that cold,” Steff said. She headed over to the cold hearth. “But let’s see what we can do…”

She waved her hand and a fire instantly sprung into silent existence.

“Okay, that’s light but not heat,” she said. Her face scrunched up in concentration. “And there’s the heat… how hot you want it?”

“How hot will it go?” I asked.

“It doesn’t really have set increments,” Steff said. “On a scale of one to ten, how hot do you want it?”

“How about eleven?”

She sighed dramatically.

“I wouldn’t say no to twelve, either,” I said with a grin.

“It’s a good thing I don’t plan on a lot of fancy clothes-wearing tonight,” she said. “How about volume? Quiet crackle, loud roar? Something in between? This thing seems pretty flexible.”

“Uh, a little crackle might be nice,” I said.

In a different context, I would have been right up there with her getting a first hand “look” at the magic fireplace, figuring out how it worked and how to work it… but I was feeling overwhelmed and out of place.

“Is that a griffin skin?” I asked, pointing at Steff’s feet. She took a step back and twisted around, looking to see.

“Ooh, looks like,” she said. She grinned lasciviously. “I’m going to have to wrap you up in that later, if you start to get cold.”

“That’s horrible!”

“If you’d rather be cold…”

“I mean, that somebody would kill a griffin to make a rug,” I said. “Aren’t they supposed to be really intelligent, like smarter than horses?”

“That’s still dumber than people,” Steff said. “And I don’t think I need to remind you what’s on the menu for dinner.”

“No, you don’t,” I said, hugging myself and sitting down on the stone shelf in front of the illusionary fire.

Steff wandered around the room, adjusting the lights so that most of them were off and the ones that remained were no brighter than candles. She went over to the entertainment center and opened up one side of it. I looked around the room, still trying to get some sense of it all… it was nice and all, but it was also surreal. It fit in nicely with a day that I couldn’t clearly remember.

I found myself wishing that I had something I could hold onto, like Two had Hand Wash the Bear. The closest thing in the room to a stuffed animal, though, was the griffin hide… and I just wasn’t ready to start cuddling up to dead things.

Soft music began to play, and little firefly lights began to spin slowly around the room.

“Hey… are you okay, hon?” Steff asked.

I nodded.

“Yeah, I’m just a little… well, weirded out, I guess,” I said. “It feels like I’ve been looking forward to this night forever, but nothing about this feels right. Somebody paid for the penthouse… which apparently just happened to be available at the last minute.”

“Well, if you don’t remember making the reservation in the first place, maybe you also did the upgrade and don’t remember it?” Steff suggested.

“Uh, yeah… that’s a reassuring thought,” I said. “Where exactly did I get the money then?”

“That’s actually a good point. Whoever did this… for whatever reason… they paid in advance,” Steff said. “Without talking to either one of us… so it’s not like they have any reason to expect anything in return, you know?”

This was an even less reassuring thought. I could think of two people off the top of my head who wouldn’t require anything resembling a reason to expect something in return for an unasked-for gesture of extravagance. As far as I could tell, Puddy was done with me… to my profound relief… but Sooni’s interest in my life was very much alive and kicking.

Possibly with the emphasis on kicking.

I didn’t think it was either of them. Leaving aside the question of how they would have found out about my arrangements for the evening when I hadn’t even known about them myself… and the fact that a place like the Havenwood Empress Suite might just have been outside either of their discretionary funding range… there was still the simple fact that helping my relationship with Steff wouldn’t really be either Sooni or Puddy’s style.

The only person who made any real sense was Viktor. I didn’t think Amaranth would have had time to go over the whole situation and everything that led up to it in detail, but she certainly might have shared the details of where we were going to be staying with him. Actually, Steff had probably told him herself when she went over to change. His love for Steff certainly trumped his dislike of me in many ways. He had some spending power. He wasn’t above playing a few mind games.

Could he have guessed that Steff would take a secret gift in stride while I’d sit there picking it apart? Was this his way of making sure his lover had a good time while her lover didn’t?

“Well, anyway… I think I’m going to take a look around,” Steff announced. “I mean, we’ve only seen one room of this place. You want to come?”

“Maybe in a bit,” I said, drawing my legs up and turning so my body was parallel to the fire.

“Oh, promise me you’re not going to mope around all evening… this is our night, and something unexpected and wonderful happened. Don’t let a bit of good luck ruin things.”

“How do we know it’s luck, good or otherwise?” I asked.

“Good things are allowed to happen to people like us, Mack,” she said. She smiled. “I’m looking at the proof.”

I blushed.

“I promise I won’t just sit here all night,” I said. “But I do want to get warmed up a bit.”

“Okay, I guess I can look for some kind of master climate control thingy while I’m at it,” she said. “Make sure you take off that stupid coat when you get warm enough, though… maybe it can make friends with the rug.”

“Ha ha,” I said. “I like my coat… it keeps me warm.”

“If you like the coat, you’re going to love me,” Steff said. She stuck out her tongue.

“Already do,” I told her.

It was her turn to blush.

“Um… anyway… I hate to desert you, but I don’t think I can just stand here another second,” she said. “We’ve only got this place for one night, and I want to know what all we’re looking at.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”

She headed out of the living room, leaving me alone with the flickering fire and the faerie lights. I closed my eyes and breathed in the warm air. I could smell the griffin skin, I realized… old leather, feathers, and fur. It wasn’t unpleasant, but I didn’t like the reminder that it was there.

What had I been thinking, agreeing to the dinner thing? I couldn’t handle a ratty old… okay, an exceedingly well-preserved old animal rug. What made me think that I could sit down in front of a plate full of someone and just chow down?

Because I’ll smell it… smell them. That’s all it’ll take. One whiff… one little taste…

“Hey, the dining room has a fireplace, too!” Steff called from the next room over. She stuck her head back into the living room. “I was trying to figure out if it would be more romantic to eat our dinner in front of the fire, but they have a really neat old oak table in here and since there’s a fireplace…”

“That’s fine,” I said. Creepy and weird as the whole thing was, I actually got a little wobbly thinking about how important this shared dinner was to Steff.

“You want to come check out the rest of this dump with me?” she asked.

“You go on ahead,” I said. I smiled. “Scout things out for us.”

“Okay,” she said, and she disappeared again.

“Oh, wow!” she called in a minute. “If we ever decide to just have a giant orgy with everybody, I’ve found the bed!” Then, a few seconds later, “Sweet imaginary gods, you need to see this bathroom. I’m serious, Mack… you need to come see this. We are going to have such an awesome time tonight.”

“I will in a minute,” I yelled back. I hadn’t paid too much attention when Amaranth had been packing up my stuff.. had she stuck any bubble bath in the bag? I decided to leave my warm little sanctuary and find out.

My backpack was where the bellhop had left it, over by the elevator. I went over and picked it up, and opened it up to find the bottles of peppermint bubble bath and oil wrapped up in a towel. My smile couldn’t have grown any bigger… it was encompassing my love for Amaranth as well as Steff. Of course Amaranth would have thought of the bubble stuff.

“Okay, Steff, I’m coming,” I called, bath stuff in hand. “And have I got a surprise for…”

The ear-splitting scream from the other side of the suite cut me off, and the bottles tumbled from my hands as I ran to the rescue.


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7 Responses to “259: On Top”

  1. Jackie says:

    Does any one else get the feeling it could be Macks father showing up. For some reason I really want to see Macks father turn out to one of those really goofy embarrassing parents.

    Like :
    “Raargh! I’m a scary eviiiilll DEMON! Oh sweetie have some icecream while i murder those mean priest who hit you with holy words”

    Current score: 5
    • Leila says:

      “Mackie, put a bib on, you’re getting virgin blood all over your shirt.”

      Current score: 11
    • Kat says:

      I get the same feeling…plus, not long before when the teleportation happened she was set down directly in front of a field with a cursed pitchfork in it…I mean, how probable is that? And the teleporting professor said there was infernal interference…I really think this is her father trying to…teach? mess with? show concern for Mack?
      If I was a demon it would kind of make sense. I mean, if your goody two shoes half demon daughter started showing that she is really submissive (to the point that a few beatings really don’t bother her) and talented in magic wouldn’t you want to control her, too? Plus it must seem like, with her reservations and whatnot she appears to embrace her demonic nature. So I think he’s trying to show her what it means to be a demon among other things.

      Current score: 2
  2. pedestrian says:

    “Ond Grendel’s modor pa gyt
    gifre ond galg-mod
    gegan woldesorh-fulne sio,
    sunu deod wrecan!

    Current score: 0
  3. Anthony says:

    Griffins are more intelligent than horses?

    Eep! I hope no one tells Amaranth about that…

    Current score: 4