And after we finished our brandy, and said a few very unmemorable pleasantries, she asked me what I liked.
“For this vacation? Seeing Dorday … museums and parks and such. The zoo, definitely, I don’t know anything about the native animals except for some ugly pointy desert herbivores. I’m going to eat a lot — I’ve got an appetite that you wouldn’t believe, and I haven’t had much but raw meat for a while. Mostly, though, I don’t want any company … hovens don’t count … but obviously you won’t be helping with that.” No point in being secret from my rent-a-friend.
Tarcuna laughed, and said. “Oh, I’ll be glad to show you around Dorday all you want! You’re funny, Spotty. People don’t count as company? What does?”
OK, I guess that wasn’t quite as clear as it could have been. I tried the direct approach. “I’m really a dragon — that’s a gigantic scaly carnivorous monster from another dimension. I’m here on my engagement flight. But I’m pretty annoyed at all the rest of us, so I’m taking a vacation for a few weeks from them.”
“Wow, that’s original, that’s a cool story! What am I? Your captive specimen? Are you going to probe me?” she said, and winked.
“Um … no, you’re my hired friend, and you’re going to find me a hotel room and take me around Dorday … right?” I said.
She smiled a very syrupy smile. “Whatever you like! We can do both, there’s plenty of time…. I’m very accomodating. Just tell me what you’d like me to do, and I’ll do it.”
“Start with the hotel room. I don’t want to sleep in a tree tonight,” I said.
“In a tree? … Sure! Want a bridal suite? A special bathtub? A massage table? How much do you want to spend a night? Two hundred for a nice basic room, up to six hundred for the best Dorday has to offer,” she asked.
“I don’t see any reason to get less than the best. If it’s available — I tried a few hotels and they didn’t have rooms,” I said.
“Don’t worry! I will find you somewhere excellent!” She took a curly little appliance and a big book from a cabinet, and started calling hotels — the first four she tried didn’t have any rooms — and negotiating. As she called, she untied the straps of her bathing suit, and caressed herself here and there and sucked the tip of her finger and grinned at me. That’s when I got the point for real. Oops!
“The Grand Hotel Dorday Elysium has Suite 406, a very nice suite for four hundred sixty a night. No massage table, but a big bathtub. It’s a wonderful hotel! I’ve been to that room before. Is that good? Shall I have them reserve it, we can go look when we’re done here?”
“That’s fine, let’s just take it.”
“Sure! You won’t be unhappy. I can do all sorts of things in Suite 406.” She chatted on the phone to make the arrangements — we’d need to come by in four hours to pay for it. As she talked, she showed off various primary and secondary sexual characteristics, and indicated intimacies to me by quiet but eager gestures.
So I had to ask. “Um… Tarcuna? Are you a prostitute?”
Her face was carefully guarded. “Sure, if that’s what you’d like, Spotty.”
“I mean, professionally,” I said.
“I do prefer a word like ‘public friend’ when I’m being coy. I don’t necessarily pleasure all my clients. I’ll use whatever word you like … I can be your high-class courtesan, or your dirty whore, or your nice sweet girlfriend, or your captive native specimen, or whatever you like.”
“I’m really not here to fornicate with hovens,” I said. “If I’m going to fornicate with anyone, it ought to be my fiancés, but I’ve really not been doing such a good job on that.”
“I really don’t follow you,” said Tarcuna, her face-fur going irregular.
“I really did want to rent a friend, or a native guide who knows what’s what here and will keep me company when I want and tell me interesting stories and show me where to get the best chili in the restaurant only the natives know about,” I said.
“I’ll do all that! I’ll be glad to make your body feel so happy, too, if you ever like that,” she said. She smelled worried.
But by then I had figured out the problem. “Oh, you’re worried about your tip — that’s for fornicating, right? Here’s 8,640, um, nine thousand I mean, right now.” The money was all stolen anyways, and worthless as treasure, and just had to last for a few weeks. “I’ll give you a bigger tip at the end. But really, I don’t want you to try to pleasure me. It wouldn’t work, ‘cause I have no sense of touch, and even talking about it just gets me upset.”
She counted the money quickly and made it vanish, and smiled a nice honeyed professionalized weaponized smile to me. “Whatever you like, Spotty! All I have to say there, is, thank you! And just about anything you want to do with me, to me, is fine. I won’t push anything at you … I’m very sorry I did, just, most of my customers like that.”
“Think nothing of it. My fiancées keep wanting me to copulate with them, and I’m not interested, and I’m on vacation from that for a while, is all. Let’s go get that hotel room, and then some food.”
She started dressing, taking some rather more practical underwear and tunic and skirt out of an armoire. “I won’t push anymore! … Wait, fiancées? plural? How many people are you going to marry, anyways?”
“I’m supposed to pick one.”
“That’s so unusual! Having several fiancés at once, I mean. Picking one is normal.” She finished dressing, looked in one of the mirrored walls, and adjusted her hat and tunic a bit. “Bthera told you, you’re paying for my food if we eat out together, didn’t she? That way I can come with you to any restaurant you want to eat at. Don’t worry, I’ll pick cheap things.”
“Bthera’s the woman at the front counter? Yes, she did. Eat whatever you like. I’ve got three-quarters of a million thurneys to last me two or three weeks.”
Tarcuna whistled. “Three-quarters of a million? No wonder you’ll rent a call girl instead of a chor-chor, and get Suite 406.”
“Chor-chor?” I cast the Word-Fox: it meant ‘guide around Dorday’. “Oh, there were all sorts of ads for them in the paper.”
“Don’t worry! I know everything that any chor-chor knows, plus lots more. They don’t get to Suite 406, I’ll tell you that! Plus … you said you don’t want to be touched, but I can put on a show for you. Me alone, or with someone … would you like that?” We left the Red Spire, waving at Bthera on the way out.
“I really don’t find hovens sexually appealing at all. You look like food, if you must know, and I’m hungry. The dinner kind of hungry, not the sex kind. I’ve got enough trouble noticing my own kind as appealing,” I said. Which was a third of a lie: hovens look like small people, who are not, generally speaking, appropriate food. Not that they can’t be eaten, but eating them is only for special occasions of one sort or another.
“Oh, right, you’re an alien monster beast. I’ll have to remember that. You don’t look it.” Tarcuna didn’t believe me, but I didn’t care as long as she did what I hired her for. “Sorry to keep offering. Whores don’t have a lot of professional ethics, but I try to be an honest one.” She grinned at me. “OK, alien monster beast! Let’s get you set up in a hotel, then … do you like Ventelian food?”
“I’ve never tasted it.”
“Amazing. There’s the best Ventelian restaurant about four blocks away from the Elysium, in the building with three yellow spires. They make a zotanco al besti that you would not believe. It’s so rich!”
“Now that’s the sort of thing I hired you for! Lead on, my brave native guide, and show me this thing which you call ‘zotanco al besti’.”
And she did nicely. Com’ al Virtu was easily the best Ventelian restaurant I have ever eaten at. I might say that again after I’ve eaten at another one. zotanco al besti is a very fine liver puree mixed with butter and aromatic spices, and served on little circles of crispy rice cracker that make a wonderful contrast and crunch delightfully on silly flat hoven teeth. Tarcuna was a bit surprised when I ordered twelve more servings after I liked the first one.
Then of course I had the main courses — I’d ordered several. Tarcuna said, “I thought you were just going taste them all, but it looks as if you’re going to finish them all.”
“I am, and order some more of that grilled young vask with fruit sauce. And that poached fish, too, the pink one.”
“How can you eat that much?”
“I’m very large lizard! I need to keep fed.”
“Right. You’ll make yourself sick, eating like that.”
“Only if I don’t eat enough and start to starve.”
I didn’t eat enough, but we’d been in the restaurant for two hours. I’m going to have to go off now and then and find a full-sized meal — I can’t really spend half my days nibbling tiny hoven-sized snacks with a tiny hoven-sized mouth. Tarcuna can earn her salary and arrange for a whole barbequed cow in a private pavilion in the countryside sometime.
After that we saw the Dorday Museum of Art and Culture, which was very pretty. I bought a guidebook showing most of the art though, so I’m not going to write about it in here.