It’s the night of Kato’s 23rd birthday.
A huge bash is being thrown at his club St. Marseille, downtown. That part of the city where things are neonly bathed in all the colors of the spectrum. Those people considering themselves members of the city’s social stratosphere are parading themselves at the glitzy nightspot: It-Girls, Aristokids, aspiring glitterati, badly ageing jet-setters, assorted starlets, even a few people from true, old money with blue veins shimmering beneath their pale skin.
Kato stands above the crowd, literally. He is in his first floor private lounge located precisely above the dance floor. The lounge’s deck is a hefty sheet of one-way polarized glass through which he can see the electric mass beneath, contorting in rhythm and strobe. The young Kuhn enjoys this view, not because it lets him feel superior but because it puts all the irrationality into panoptic perspective.
Kato’s father has told him that running his own business, the St. Marseille, will be an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of the family. Kato despite how much he loathes his father never has found the nerve to scream into his face that there is, effectively, no such thing as a “Kuhn family” but just an assemblage of highly neurotic individuals in complex conflict who happen to share genes and breathing space. In five years, they have not once talked about what happened in the basement so that the copy has slid back and down into unconscious disquiet, simultaneously real and imaginary.
Kato is sitting in the southwestern corner of the private room in a straight line above the bar where booze is flowing torrentially into tumblers and shot glasses. On the opposite wall hangs a portrait of his late sister who drowned three years past, during a motor yacht turn on the Mediterranean. It had been 90% Kato’s own fault but despite his affection for his late sibling any form of guilt has remained abstract as though he had simply committed a technical error in the huge, exceedingly complex machinery of life: how can anybody be blamed or made to feel regret for that?
The copy, in cool gel, waiting patiently to replace him at age 28.
The youth studies the bobbing people below, accompanied by the thumping sound of a bass line, which is the only sound that goes through the transparent floor. Kato considers having one of the dancers sent up to try yet again having real fun or a significant climax from this strange activity called s-e-x. He does get excited in the beginning: hugging hard, taking the clothes off, bodies rubbing against each other, naked tracts of skin, the slobbering communion of deep kisses. But once vagina and penis start doing their thing it all suddenly changes complexion and Kato finds it impossible not to see the act in all its animal absurdity: two people grunting, lost, trying to loose themselves in each other, pretending this is the best thing there is. The loosing effort to consume something only the anticipation of which can cause true excitement, thus hopeless in more ways than he can care to name.
Kato takes forever to come and when he does, at last, loathing himself as much as the partner he is with, it is nothing more than a warm shudder down by the pelvis. He usually pulls back in a flood of disgust.
There’s an unexpected knock at the door, three times, pause, and a fourth: Orphelia. He gets up and begins walking towards the door. Her and his uncle Bruto have never maintained any strict code of ethics. Instead they seem to have fun finding out or letting sleep what the other one is up to. Which is why Kato is anxious about him and her carrying on, knowing well that she might be shadowed. Code or no code, they are certainly crossing a line. Then again, the routines they have set up for these get-togethers are extremely elaborate, circuitous, secret agentesque.
– You didn’t text me.
– I thought I’d give you a surprise. It’s your birthday. Happy Birthday Kato!
The baboon tells him to watch it: her voice means monkey business.
– Your problem is that you think coyly going against my will is something that on some level could get me excited.
– And so it doesn’t?
– That’s not the point. The point is that we don’t mess up.
– Oh, no, no, no. No. That’s my frosty brother-in-law talking. Stop pretending that you want to be him, that you need his reassurances. You’re different Kato. Better.
– I seriously doubt that. You’re not familiar enough with my track record, lady.
– True. But I just happen to be a firm believer that personality comes down to more than a CV and a Swiss banc account.
– Seriously? ‘Cause you damn sure didn’t marry like it.
– Touché. But these things on the side are…
It takes her all of three long strides, a predator closing in, to get up close to Kato. Their eyes come level, their faces separated by a breath’s reach. She’s exactly his height, in a slim body surgically reengineered to a state that was natural to it two full decades earlier.