The tree-lined boulevard was beauty incarnate in the honeyed light of sunset. The jumbled sounds of people and birds created a wonderfully restive background amidst the summer wind.
The pathos of decadence, thought Roland Blaine as he strode down that great dusk-lit promenade, swinging his long arms to and fro. The wind crept into the recesses of his crisp jacket, bathing him in inebriating cold. Nice feeling, cold. Curious. Perhaps, when winter finally descended in all her pure white splendour he knew he would think exactly the opposite thing. Blaine smiled, a secret, knowing smile. How the mind justifies the present. How it forgets the past.
A sudden, wild bout of daring and pugnacity caused him to tear his jacket wide open, exposing him to the elements. The sudden icy shock knifed into his innards. He sighed, trembling, heavy, masculine eyes half-lidded with brooding introspection as he casually ignored the incredulous stares around him. He tolerated the cold with steely resolve. Blaine was not a man used to the cold of this far above the equator. But he smiled at the thought of even revealing that particular truth to any who knew him in this baroque city. The very conception filled him with an invigorating terror of his own personal ruination.
Telling them. Now, that would be telling. He savoured it a few more moments, and let the terrible, numbing thought slip away, and closed his jacket, resisting the urge to sigh in relief as warmth once again enveloped him. How sweet air must be to a asphyxiating man. How unpleasant it seems to me now, dry and cold. "Such a wondrous paradox the world is," he muttered under his breath.
Lifting his gaze up to the rarefied heights, Blaine espied gulls leaping from rooftops, wings catching the air and lifting them amidst the autumn currents. His eyes slithered caressingly down the marble-and-brick facades, the carved finery and erstwhile fashions of the art deco and avant garde. They were stark in the lilac-orange glow of the setting sun. Blaine's thoughts wandered to a conversation he'd once had with one of the ubiquitous and distressingly mediocre scolaire of this decadent métropole.
"You do not do well disregarding the power of art," he had said, scowling over a cup of chocolate. His accent was thick and he drawled his syllables in that languid fashion so unique to bored aristocrats. "Art gives colour to life."
"And inequality," Blaine had replied. "Art is a tool of blackmailers and manipulators. Love for art is a weakness that cannot be tolerated. Art is a crutch for fools and cripples, a means of attributing ersatz beauty to things that have none."
The scolaire looked vaguely insulted. "You are a fool for saying that. A fool."
Blaine's eyes, dulled with a filmy boredom, strayed toward an exquisitely crafted dagger hanging by the wall. Its hilt was carefully carved with intricate motifs, and ornate gold scrolling adorned its ivory sides. Blaine toyed with the idea of grabbing the dagger and driving the sweet point through the scolaire's eye. His lips twitched into a faint and mocking smile. It would be an interesting challenge. How would he hide the body? He pictured dragging the limp body of the dead scolaire to the fireplace and letting him burn there. Too crude. He grew tired of the train of thought. I have not the time for such.
The scolaire's gaze was still fixed upon him. His countenance betrayed hidden suspicion and contempt. Abruptly, Blaine stood. He smiled briefly at the surprised scolaire, baring his teeth in a rictus. "I will take my leave," he said.
"But...what about the rendezvous?" the scolaire had sputtered. But Blaine waved him off with a flick of the wrist. "Invent your own excuses."
The scolaire was outraged. "This is highly irregular, monseiur Beauvais!"
Memory faded into the vistas before his eyes. "I follow no man's schedules," he whispered, echoing his last words to the scolaire before he had exited the opulence of the manse.
Unbeknownst to Blaine the sun had set, and the sky was beginning to darken. The antique street lights began to turn on, one by one. The boulevard, far from retreating into the morass of night, was transformed - from sedate walkway to scintillating, eclectic mix of high and low culture - men in tuxedos rubbing shoulders with buskers in rags, women in glittering accoutrements set against drab matrons on nightly strolls.
Blaine detested the thrum of nocturnal activity. It always seemed a waste of human life. Not that he treasured it; life translated into work, work into power. And power did not suffer being squandered.
A slight commotion aroused him from his reverie. He paused to look, his face a studied mask of studious detatchment. In one of the side streets an elderly crone was whispering animatedly to an enthusiastic lady of the botiques. The victim was forty-ish, clad in expensive but tasteless clothing, and decked with heaps of garish but cheap jewelry. The crone was clearly enjoying herself. Blaine saw that she was a fortune-teller, one of thos skilled but desperate con-artists, who, bereft of their insecure contracts in two-bit troupes et ménageries, resorted to furtive prowlings at such streets of plenty, in the futile hopes of ekeing out a miserable existence in the occasional snaring of a gullible but wealthy street patron such as this particular specimen that Blaine beheld presently.
The crone held a card in her hand. As she laid it down on the worm-eaten table a cackle escaped her shriveled lips and the gullible matron squealed in excitement, flapping her flabby arms about. Blaine wanted to kill them all, rend them and cast their shattered remains into the deep winding river that coursed through this cursed city. The repulsive sight was almost too much for him to bear. Without thinking, he had already taken half a dozen steps towards the two women when he stopped himself, checking himself in disgust.
I have... more pressing priorities.
Blaine rarely lost his composure. But a few years in this accursed city, monument to art and the decadence that came with it - a few years was enough to drive a man insane. Seething inside, face still a still visage of tranquil, he turned away.
But a seed of a thought captured his soul. He stopped in his tracks and looked up at the moon. A bubble of mirth, springing from some source unfathomable as the tides of night, erupted forth from his lips. They pulled back from his mouth, and Blaine's mouth opened, the sounds of laughter pouring, the tears coming even as he sank down to the ground, bubbling with painful and irrational, useless mirth that he could not control. It was like art, the laughter.
And as passerbys stopped and turned to stare at the strange scene before them Blaine wanted to scream at them. Don't you see? Don't you understand? This is you? This is your work! But the laughter could not stop. Before their incredulous stares Blaine seemed to waver in form, and faintly they could sense the incorporeal visage of generations past, joining in a gargantuan crescendo of mirth.
But laughing at what, no one knew.