laurene had asked toni - in the most casual, if you can do it, if you can't it's no big deal, way - to see if she could score a little bit of dope for her in the village.
laurene was being truthful in a way - she did not really care that much if toni got her any dope.
enlisting toni as an accomplice was part of a larger plan of laurene's - to escape.
under her affectedly languid and giddy exterior laurene was as determined as any of the girls to escape.
she heard voices in the corridor.
it must be toni, she thought.
laurene turned her head and listened more intently.
yes, that was toni's voice, talking in the corridor to the guard she was relieving.
who else would it have been? laurene waited for toni to knock.
laurene found it amusing that the guards were so polite. always knocking before they entered a room.
the guards did not carry guns, just sticks. and in the months the princesses had been in the school, she had never seen any indication that any of them had ever even used the sticks on anybody.
were there even any guns in the school? laurene felt that there probably were not. although you never knew.
surely some - maybe quite a few - of the guards were familiar with guns and had used them during the late hostilities.
as some of the princesses themselves had.
laurene's pedigree as a "princess" was one of the shortest of any of the girls.
but she had also been one of the richest. maybe the richest (depending, of course, on how "rich" was defined).
and she had just been ready to inherit a lot of the wealth in her own name when the war broke out.
might things have turned differently for her if the war had been postponed a bit longer?
you never knew but probably not.
laurene's father had made his fortune patenting and manufacturing a control mechanism used in the missile guidance systems of six of the eight major players.
but not including the "orange" party of mustafa ali, who would outlast all the other players and declare himself the emperor sargon.
and sometimes laurene wondered if her father had really made his money with the "control mechanisms" or whether the "control mechanisms" existed at all and if there were not some other reality behind it all…
"control mechanisms" - the phrase had a soothing, brain-dulling sound to it...
or if money really existed at all - the money her father had purchased the title of prince with…
another bright boring day in the castle. the "clouds of war" were forming - had been since laurene could remember - but there were no actual clouds in the sky.
laurene was lying on a couch on a balcony outside a fourth floor window, reading a james patterson novel.
her sister stephanie was inside at a big table, pasting things in one of her dumb albums - butterflies, beer coasters, junk she found in the street and flattened out..
and her evil stepmother joanie lee- well, she wasn't really evil, laurene just didn't like her much and thought she was boring - was sitting/lying in a big chair with two hundred pillows, sipping a drink and staring into space - into the cloudless sky outside the window.
at the edge of laurene's vision, a car appeared at the end of the long gravel driveway.
laurene watched it as it approached - a black limousine with no license plates, just a red seal on its windshield - very official looking.
when it was about half way up the driveway - near enough for its motor to be heard - joanie lee jumped up and ran to the railing of the balcony, beside laurene's couch.
still with her drink in her hand. some of it had slopped out and was dripping off her fingers.
"don't spill that on me, please," laurene told her. but laurene got up herself and watched the limousine roll up to the front of the castle.
"this is it," said joanie lee.
"this is what?" laurene asked.
"the beginning of the end." joanie lee often expressed herself in dramatic terms, even when she wasn't soused.
the limousine stopped. the driver's side door opened and a man in a uniform got out.
to laurene's eye the uniform looked strange - more like a military uniform than a chauffeur's. was he wearing any medals? laurene could not see from the height and angle she was at.
but when he went around to the passenger side she could see some sort of insignia on his sleeve.
another, taller man in an identical uniform got out of the front passenger seat. he had a pistol in a holster on his hip.
"i told you," said joanie lee. she hadn't told laurene anything, but she let it pass.
the driver opened the rear door of the limousine and a short, fat man in an expensive looking gray suit and a gray hat got out. without needing the driver's assistance.
the fat man was carrying a small case. he and the uniformed man with the pistol approached the castle and disappeared from laurene's and joanie lee's view.
laurene thought the fat man looked familiar, like she might have seen him in a news show or on a billboard somewhere.
the driver leaned against the front of the car and took a phone out of his pocket.
"the prince isn't here," said joanie lee. "we will have to deal with them."
"we?" thought laurene. she still thought it a little ridiculous that her father was "the prince" and that she and stephanie - and joanie lee - were "princesses".
"lorenzo will deal with them," laurene told joanie lee, referring to the butler.
"lorenzo can let them in," joanie lee retorted. "he can't deal with them." she looked at laurene. "that was the parthian ambassador!"
"yes, i met him at a reception." joanie lee put her drink on the ledge of the balcony and started to rub her hands together.
the drink toppled over the balcony. "oh christ!" joanie lee exclaimed as they waited to hear it crash. "i hope it doesn't land on the ambassador!"
laurene laughed. "i think we would have heard him if it did."
they waited and did not hear anything. "it must have landed in the bushes," said laurene.
"what are you two jabbering about out there ?" stephanie called from her table. she had been pasting her junk in her scrapbooks the whole time.
joanie lee ignored her and hurried off the balcony into the main room.
they could hear the hum of the lift and a minute later lorenzo appeared with the parthian ambassador and the uniformed man.
joanie lee rushed up to the ambassador. she took his two hands in hers. "my dear ambassador! we meet again!"
the ambassador smiled politely.
"i am afraid the prince is not here," joanie lee told him. "and i am not sure when he will return, " she added before he could get a word in.
"i see." the ambassador looked around. "then i hope i can intrude on your gracious hospitality to wait for him."
"oh, of course, " joanie lee told him.
as soon as he said this the uniformed man dropped into a chair. "can i get a drink?" he asked joanie lee. the ambassador glanced at him with an air of mild annoyance.
"certainly, certainly," joanie lee assured him. "lorenzo will get you anything - anything you want."
the uniformed man laughed and leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs out in front of him.
"and you, dear ambassador, please make yourself at home. sit anywhere - anywhere at all."
the ambassador looked around. "thank you, madam." laurene noticed he did not address joanie lee as "princess" - maybe he didn't know or was not sure who she was?
"can i ask you a question?"
"certainly, madam." the ambassador continued to look around the room. his glance fell on stephanie, still calmly working on her album.
"has war been declared?" joanie lee blurted out.
the ambassador smiled politely, seeming genuinely amused by the question. "why, madam, that depends on how you define 'war' and how you define 'declare'."
laurene was watching the uniformed man. she thought he looked like he might be an american - a real american, not a fake one like joanie lee.
"anything i want, huh?" the uniformed man, having made himself comfortable, finally spoke. he looked directly at laurene.
"don't be an asshole, gustav," the ambassador told him.