The tour bus hadn’t made it five miles from Windenburg before it had conked out again. Caustic had flat-out refused to spend yet another night on a bus with no electricity and, after the dismal turnout of last night’s gig, he wasn’t about to perform another in this dead-end corner of the world. A guy had to make a living, after all.
Fortunately for the band, the fancy hotels in these parts hadn’t yet had the pleasure of a Kaz Traitors makeover and the Glimmerbrook Grand was more than happy to allow them to stay the night. For free. Which was just as well as Caustic would never let on, but the band was seriously in the hole, money-wise.
“That’s the fifth set of keys you’ve lost this month,” Blu tutted in her ‘Mum’ tone. “We’ll have to get you fitted with a microchip, like those cats who always lose their collars.”
Was that supposed to be funny? Caustic wasn’t sure but made an amused sound, just in case. Didn’t want to upset his prize cow now, did he?
“You have no idea where you lost them?” Nani asked in her irritating voice.
He shrugged. “No, otherwise I’d find them. I probably dropped them in the toilets when I was—” he stopped himself abruptly, taking into account his present company. “When I was shitting,” he finished with a deadpan expression.
Predictably, both women disapproved. “That’s disgusting,” Nani grimaced.
“Why? We all shit. Don’t pretend that you don’t shit, Nani.” Caustic fixed her with a steely stare, trying to hold his tongue. He failed. “Unless you really do have a huge stick up your arse, of course.”
He relished it, that beat of hurt, but not for long as the freckled imp had appeared and hopped into the tub beside her bandmates.
“Woah, did I walk in at a fun moment?” Floppy grinned. “Who has a stick up their bum? Can I have one?”
“No one has a stick anywhere; just your cousin being a jerk, as per usual,” Nani muttered. “I can’t believe I ever dated him.”
“I can’t believe you’re not over it. We broke up days ago.”
“Leave her alone, homewrecker,” Floppy cut in, staring him down with those eyes that always seemed to be looking in slightly different directions. “Some people have feelings. Not everyone is a brainless penis like you.”
Floppy had a great way of saying things without actually saying things. Caustic shot her a look of pure hatred but it was too late.
“What do you mean by that?” Nani asked.
Floppy didn’t even blink. “Penis; it’s an organ most men have. It dangles, pokes you in the eye occasionally—“
“I know what a penis is, Floppy.” Nani sucked in a breath; her patience always tested by her bandmate. “I meant the other thing you said,” she clarified, oblivious to Caustic’s mimicry behind her.
“Brainless?” Floppy asked innocently. “That’s this,” she said and closed her eyes, remaining completely still and silent.
“Homewrecker, you annoying bitch! Why are you a homewrecker, Caustic? Why is he a homewrecker, Floppy?” Nani asked, but Floppy remained ‘brainless’ much to Nani’s chagrin.
Ever the peacekeeper, Blu stepped in before Nani throttled Floppy. “What does she mean by that, Caustic?” she asked carefully. “What relationship did you… oh. Oh no. Tell me you didn’t, not with Violet.”
For most of his life, Caustic had been the ugly, skinny guy that most women wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Also, he was currently sitting next to a woman who had ripped his heart out and chewed it up, so even though he knew he’d get a roasting from Bluebell, he found it incredibly hard not brag about his sexual conquest.
“Why not? She was hot as hell and well up for it.”
Nani had turned away, but he could hear her eyes rolling. She shook her head and rose from the water, the water highlighting all of her pale curves. Caustic tried not to ogle her, even though her perfect tits were right in his face and something else was attempting to rise from the water. He prepared himself for an almighty slap.
But nothing happened; she just climbed out of the tub like he didn’t exist.
He stared at Floppy, a sure way to make any budding erection die, but could still see Nani’s shapely, wet butt from the corner of his eye.
He reminded himself that she had dumped him and that she deserved a little heartache, too. “Woah! Careful where you point that thing! Nearly knocked me out with your arse stick there, Nani.”
Nothing. Not even a huff.
Blu was still staring at him like he was an alien and she regretted getting on his spaceship.
“You can’t keep doing this,” she said.
“Hey, she dumped me—”
“No, not Nani. Well yes, Nani too, but I meant sleeping with our fans. They look up to us; it’s an abuse of your position.”
Now that was funny. Caustic snorted. “What’s the problem?”
“What’s the problem?!” Blu repeated, ‘Mum Mode’ fully switched on again. “Firstly, she was barely an adult.”
“She was barely an adult, Carlos,” Floppy parroted.
Blu’s eye twitched, but she didn’t bite. “And second,” she continued in a low hiss, “what about her fella?”
“Yeah, what about her fella, Carlos?” Floppy asked.
Blu sighed. “Do you have to do that now, Floppy?”
Caustic shrugged. “What about him? He left not long after you did. Looked like death – that guy cannot handle his drink… or his woman.”
Blu balked. “He looked like death and you just let him go?!”
“You just let him go, Carlos?” Floppy asked, with none of the same outrage Blu’s words held.
Blu’s famous patience was finally being tested. She gritted her teeth. “I’ll pinch you, Floppy.”
“Ooh! Where? On the nipple?”
For the second time in as many minutes, Caustic was treated to the sight of another curvaceous backside leaving his hot tub.
“I’ve had enough,” Blu muttered. “You two need to start thinking about other people. I’m gonna see if Nani’s OK then I’m gonna check the venue and hope Violet’s fella is not dead in a gutter somewhere around it.”
Caustic so wanted to say something, but he knew that without Blu, there was no band. Anyone could learn a few chords and mess up riffs on stage, but he’d never met anyone else with those lungs.
“Yeah, you do that,” he said weakly, glaring at Floppy, hoping that she’d apologise. He should have known better than to place any hope on his cousin, though.
“Get me a SacFondles meal while you’re out, Blu,” Floppy said, grinning until the door slammed.
Alone in the hot tub with his cousin, Caustic could finally relax. Floppy was the coolest person he’d ever met and he’d always loved hanging out with her. She wasn’t bothered by anything, as her next question demonstrated.
“The boyfriend looked like death, did he?” she asked, her eyes sparkling. “Warm death, or cold? Any entrails hanging out?”
Caustic chuckled at his manic relative. He knew her well enough to know exactly what she meant by this.
“Why do I get the feeling that his sudden illness was something to do with you, dear cousin?” he played along.
If rockstardom fell through, Floppy would make a great professional poker player, he thought. Or a great assassin.
“Is it because you’re projecting your guilty conscience on to me, Carlos?” she asked. “Sleeping with a willing fan. Oh my golly-gosh. There’s a warm seat in hell for you.”
Caustic roared, his laugh shaking the tub. “I’m devil incarnate, for sure,” he agreed. “For real though, what did you give him? Laxatives or something?”
“Yes. I wanted him to rush in midway to ruin your gents’ room rendezvous with his missus.” She smiled. “You’re into poo games played with angry beaus, right?”
His face fell as he read between her lines. “So what did you give him?” he asked warily. “Shit, Floppy,” he whispered. “Was it a roofie?”
She blinked slowly. “Isn’t that the top of a house? How could I give him that? Silly Carlos!” she said splashing her hands. “The chimney would get lodged in his throat.”
“Floppy, for fuck’s sake. You didn’t need to drug him – she really wanted me.”
Floppy threw her head back and loudly cried out, “Oh yes! Yes, Carlos! Give it to me you scrawny, pink-haired troll! My whole life has led up to this very moment! Yes! Yes! OH YES!”
Caustic watched his cousin as she took the piss out of him. She thrashed about for a while, jerked and then sank back into the tub as if spent.
“You done?” he asked.
“I’ve had better.” Floppy fanned herself, still wearing that impish little grin.
“So why drug him? Were you trying to bed him?”
“I like my men wriggling and screaming ‘what are you gonna do with that cucumber?!’ but glazed over on the tarmac was a fun change.”
It wasn’t often that Floppy made no sense to him, but Caustic didn’t know where she going with this. “So… what did you do it for then? And was it a tranquiliser? What if he wakes up and goes to the police, Floppy? What the fuck do we do then?”
Floppy laughed and splashed him.
“Then you will be in very deep trouble, won’t you?” she laughed. “You’re a bad, bad man, Carlos! Feeding strange men house parts so you can play weird bum games with their girlfriends! Wait ‘til I tell your Mum!”
“Are you shitting me?” Caustic growled. “You spiked a guy’s drink to get me in trouble? Floppy, he could go to the police – or the press!”
She smiled looking around. “Hey look! There’s a dead dog hanging from the chandelier! Ha! Made you look!” she laughed as he fleetingly glanced upwards, despite knowing it was nonsense.
“Floppy, listen to me—“
“No, Carlos. You listen to me,” she grinned, swishing the water about. “You really didn’t recognise her while you were knobbing her, did you? She had a face; did you know that?”
“Should I have recognised her?” Caustic asked, dread weighing him down. His voice was a low rasp as he tried to fathom exactly how huge his mistake might have been. “Shit… she’s not related to us is she?” Floppy shrugged, that mischievous glint in her eye. “Is she?” Caustic continued; an octave higher. “Fuck, Floppy! You should’ve said something!”
“I did, but it was like you were in a trance or something. Booooooobies…” she groaned like a zombie. “And you’ve porked her now, so it’s too late; prepare for mutant offspring.”
“I used a johnny,” he lied.
Floppy laughed. “So did my dad.”
He breathed a sigh of relief as he interpreted this to mean that whoever Violet, Fanny or whatever her name was, she wasn’t a relative. “Give me a clue.”
“Ooh! OK!” Floppy squealed. “The girl you were slobbering all over last night has been all over the news but she ain’t the logo.”
That helped him approximately 0%. What had been on the news lately? Was there an election going on? There was always an election going on.
“Is she a politician?” he asked.
Not a politician, then. What else had been on the news? “The only other thing on the news has been that Sandy Moss thing.” Floppy continued to stare so Caustic continued to talk. “Sandy was murdered and her daughter went missing, right? What’s that got to do with anything?”
Floppy shook her head. “Beats me.”
He wracked his brain trying to think of any way Violet/Fanny could be involved with that story.
April had been kidnapped, or was missing, along with two of her friends.
“She’s April’s friend!” he announced.
“Or kidnapper,” Floppy said. “Or murderer. But if I murdered April Moss, I’d wear her face.”
Suddenly, it all made sense. Caustic took a huge breath. “You were going to turn them in, weren’t you?”
“Turn them into what? A multi-million simoleon reward? We don’t need that,” she sneered. “Oh well. The streets are full of murderers, what’s another few? Plus, you got your little dickie inside a little chickie! Cluck cluck!”
Lilith settled her umpteenth cosmopolitan on the bar and allowed her gaze to once again settle on Chuck’s face. She could stare at him all night.
He’d been staying a hotel – the doghouse he’d called it, with a soft chuckle. Her heart ached for him. Did Babs not realise what she had? How sweet he was? How kind? How warm and soft and—
The words had tumbled out before Lilith had chance to think them through.
“You could come and stay at my place?”
He paused part way through the sentence he was saying; Lilith didn’t even know what that was. He looked… confused.
Lilith cleared her throat. “In Caleb’s room,” she clarified, trying to backtrack up the cliff she’d just dived off.
Chuck pouted and in that instant, Lilith really wanted to kiss him. She bit her lip, waiting for his answer, but of course, she could already hear what it was.
“Lilith, I really appreciate the gesture, but Babs already thinks there’s something going on between us. If I moved in… well I could likely kiss my marriage goodbye,” he explained softly.
Lilith wasn’t sure what was coming over her tonight; perhaps she was still suffering the effects of whatever it was Wyatt gave her, but she blinked shyly and asked in a small voice, “Is she wrong?”
He looked puzzled, naturally. “Wrong to throw me out?”
“Is she wrong to think there’s something between us?” Lilith whispered, watching him take a sharp breath, hearing his heartbeat getting faster. There was no going back up this cliff now. She was broken against the rocks.
He shuffled in his seat, finally finding structure to his thoughts.
Oh my word, here they come.
“Lilith, I’m flattered,” he said softly. “You’re an intelligent, beautiful woman and I’d be lying if I… but I’m happily married. Well, I’m married, I suppose we have been happier, but even if I wasn’t married, you’re young enough to be—”
“I’m 321, Chuck.”
“Yes, well. So you are. In that case, perhaps I’m too young for you? I don’t know where I’m going with this.” He hesitated, looked at the bar. “I’m married,” he finished firmly.
“What if she doesn’t take you back?” Lilith asked.
He moved to comfort her, but quickly changed his mind. “Even if Babs filed for divorce tomorrow – and I very much hope that isn’t the case because I truly love that woman – I would need time alone, I would need to heal before I could even consider another relationship.”
“I could help you,” she sobbed. She sounded so desperate but right now, she’d beg if she had to.
He sighed softly. “And what kind of relationship would that give us? A rebound one. You deserve a fulfilling, mutual love, Lilith.”
Lilith didn’t know what she deserved.
“I just… I… bollocks.” There really were no words to offer a man whose marriage you’d just attempted to destroy. Lilith started a few explanations but it was Chuck’s soft, completely unnecessary apology that finally sent her running out of the door in shame.
She gave it a few minutes, hoping that he’d follow to pull her into his embrace and tell her that he’d changed his mind; that he wanted her, to hell with the consequences.
But Chuck would never do that. He wouldn’t throw away what he had on the off-chance of something better. He didn’t build false expectations.
That was, Lilith realised, exactly why she liked him.
And now she’d completely bloody blown it. Not only did she have to go back to an empty house, alone, but she had, at worst, lost her kin a blood donor and, at best, made it awkward for any future time she was around Chuck. Or Melinda, for that matter.
She rubbed her head, trying to stimulate her fuzzy brain.
This situation couldn’t get any worse.