In Xanadu, Jethro Manchester had built a pleasure dome, in fact the Pleasure Dome Casino. But that was some time ago, and since then Manchester's fortunes had changed. Now both the casino and the mountain resort of Xanadu belonged to another, to Aristotle Milan, and the new resident-owner's needs required that he make certain alterations.The casino was a great dome of glass and chrome. It was a three-storey affair - or four-storey, if one included a smaller dome, which sat like a bubble or a raised blister on top of the main structure - that lorded its location at Xanadu's hub, on a false plateau in a high, dog-leg fold of the Australian Macpherson Range of mountains.
Now it was night, but still the work on Mr Milan's alterations continued. He wanted the work completed to his specifications before he reopened Xanadu to the public in just a few days' time. And in his private accommodation in the high bubble dome, Milan himself supervised the last of the work; or if not supervised, at least he was there to see it finished to his satisfaction. But Milan's presence - or more specifically the annoyance that accompanied it - wasn't to Derek Hinch's liking.
Hinch was a painter and decorator, but at times like this he tended to think of himself more as a steeplejack. Inside the bubble it wasn't so bad ... there wasn't very far to fall if he made the VTTT classic mistake of stepping back a few paces to admire his work! But outside, some fifty or sixty feet off the ground: that had been nerve-racking, and thank God he was done with it now.But black? Painting perfectly good windows black, both inside and out? It didn't make a lot of sense to Derek Hinch. And as for Mr Milan: he didn't make much sense either! The guy must be some kind of eccentric, a nut case, albeit a very rich, powerful one. The way he prowled through the glitzy false opulence of this place, apparently lost in some indefinable distance, in space and time; though mainly (Hinch suspected) lost in a world of his own, the extravagance of his thoughts.And his music ... his bloody terrible, interminable music! There was a gleaming antique jukebox at one end of a small, gently curving, mahogany-topped bar on the perimeter of the bubble, and when Milan was taking it easy he would sit there in an armchair with a drink, just listening to the music ... the same damn tunes or songs, or just, well, music, over and over again. And it was driving Hinch nuts, too!Not that Hinch didn't care for the stuff; he liked - or he used to like, and he would have continued to like - all of this stuff just fine ... if he hadn't been obliged to listen to each piece at least thirty or forty times in the space of just seven nights. So thank God he was almost finished here!But nights! Why in hell couldn't this work be done in daylight hours? And why in hell couldn't Milan sleep nights - like any other mad millionaire? And why in double-damned Ml did he have to play his bloody music like this!?What was it that was playing now? Damn, the tunes had kind of run together in Hindi's head; he had heard them so often, he knew what was coming next! Mr rich-foreign-handsome-bloody-bastard Milan kept playing them in sequence, in some kind of order of preference. But it was the order of disorder, totally out of order, to Hinch's way of thinking.
Oh, yes - now he remembered - Zorba's Dance, that was it! All bouzoukis, fast drumbeats, and Anthony bloody Quinn dancing on a beach! A Greek thing that was almost as much an antique as the machine that played it. One of those tunes that never dies, one which as far as Hinch was concerned could die any time it fucking well liked! And of course as the tune ended, Hinch knew the next item in the circular, never-ending repertoire. And here it came yet again:'Sunshine, you may find my window but you won't find me ...' Some kind of blues with a Country and Western flavour, and lyrics too deep for Hinch to understand ... pleasing to listen to, even soothing, in a way... if you hadn't heard it half a dozen times already this very night! Some old black guy, singing his heart out about misery. But to Hinch's mind the only misery lay in having to listen to it over and over again.'So, you don't care for my music, Mr Hinch?' The voice was deep yet oiled; it seemed to rumble, or purr, yet was in no way cat-like. On the other hand, Milan's movements were cat-like as he came from the bar with a drink in his long-fingered hand, to gaze out on the night through an open window.
But if it wasn't painted black, (Hinch thought), there'd \>e no need to open the fucking thing! Not that there's anything to see out there. While out loud he said, 'Er, did I say something about your music? I have a habit of talking to myself while I'm working. It doesn't mean anything.' Oh yes it fucking does! It means that I'm pissed to death with you, and your bloody music, and with bloody Kanadu, and all of this bloody black paint!
He looked down on Milan from a height of some twelve feet, from a wheeled scaffolding tower where he had just put the finishing touches to the last pane of a high window. And that was it: the entire interior surface, every square foot of hundreds of square feet of glass, varnished for adhesion, painted black, and finally layered with polyurethane lacquer for durability. A double-dyed bastard of a job!'Perhaps I don't pay you enough?' said Milan, as Hinch put down his roller, wiped his hands, came clambering down from on high.'The money's fine,' the bad-tempered Hinch said. He stoodsix feet tall, but still had to lift his head a fraction to look up at his employer. 'And I'd like it now, for I'm all done.''Then if the payment is fine,' said Milan, 'it can only be that I was right and it's the music. Or perhaps it's me? Do you find my presence unsettling?'While he was speaking, Hinch had checked him out - again. For Aristotle Milan was the kind of man you looked at twice. At a guess he'd be maybe forty, forty-five years old. Difficult to be more specific than that, because his looks were sort of timeless. He was probably sixty but topped-up with expensive monkey hormones or some such. Something was running through his veins, keeping him young, for sure. Spoiled, rich bastard!But foreign? Even without the name to give him away, there could be no mistaking that: Italian with a touch of Greek - but in any case a mongrel, in Hinch's eyes. Milan's hair was black as night; worn long, it swept back from a high, broad forehead, and its shining ringlets curled on his shoulders. And handsome: he had the kind of Mediterranean looks that seemed to appeal to a lot of women. Hinch would guess that his bedroom crawled with all kinds of young, good-looking, dirty women.His ears were fleshy - what could be seen of them - but he wore his sideboards thick and lacquered back to cover the upper extremities. Something odd about his nose, too: a flatfish look to it, as if Nature had pushed it back a little too far, and his nostrils were too large and flaring. And then those arcing eyebrows over deep-sunken, jet-black eyes ... those eyes that were Milan's most startling feature. Jet-black, and yet Hinch couldn't be certain. Catch them at the right angle, they'd sometimes gleam a golden, feral yellow. And despite the nose, still those eyes loaned Milan the looks of a bird of prey.