Lil re-applies her makeup, her face lit by the mirror. She puts delicate care towards the eyeliner, making sure her eyes stand out juusst right. The bruise on her forehead though, it hasn't gone away for the past three days. She still has enough cover-up, but it's getting worrisome. She'll probably stop by the clinic to have it checked out.
When she's ready, she puts on the fur coat around her body, and heads out in time for the photoshoot.
"Lil, your snake."
She finds the slithery thing so icky, as it slithers around her neck, a feeling like a slimy belt, but she retains her calm, as the lights are focused on her figure, and then the cameraman kneels down, snaps a couple reference photos and tells her to pose – like she's calm, and yet brimming on the inside is this wild, seductive animal.
Lil takes a breath, and glares at the camera.
The cover previews make her look like a toad; in one shot, she's wincing, and the other, the snake has dipped down her bra. The MUA (make-up artist) says that can be retouched.
Then, as she's dabbing off the makeup, the TV is blaring and it's promoting the poker semi-finals, featuring superstar Vincent Law going off against the new, upcoming hotshot Majin Buu.
"Vincent.." she mutters. She was on the phone with him, earlier this afternoon, and their conversation had triggered something in her, like a reminiscence of a time long past, an almost eerie feeling that she finds hard to shake off, after hanging up on him.
Lil gets her vanilla scent and lightly sprays over her face and hair, before putting on her overcoat to leave – she glances at the TV one more time. So where is this arena?
The streets are jam-packed – cars, chevaliers, people returning home from work and arriving for the arena, so Lil resorts to drive-through burgers for dinner. It's a long, looong lineup for parking, so she munches on a Krabby Patty as her car advances ever so slowly down the winding road. Yummy. By the time her hands are tired from drumming on the steering wheel, she ends up parking by the trees, and spending the rest of the journey walking past the suckers who are still on the roads.
She squeezes into the arena seats, past couples who are fervently making out or just sipping beer, and sits with one leg up on her knee, as the giant monitors (towering over the empty poker table) show how intense a poker game can get in promos. The sweating faces, eyes in landlock as they deduce each others' bluffs.
Behind the scenes.. Vincent is getting his hands oiled-up and massaged. He has seen his opponent, Majin Buu – that pink-ass bubblegumy dude, glaring at him with those squinty eyes and his pudgy figure.
"You're gonna pay for my liposuction!" Majin went. There's also other figures from different counties, but Majin is the guy who sticks out in his mind.
And then Vincent thinks of the briefcase full of credits. He has the money stowed in his apartment. Yes, in case he loses to that bubblegum, he's got something good to look forward for. But an urge within him wants to find out just how far he can carry himself on his card-dealing skills.
"Upcoming is Vincent Law! Give it up for your local hero – on a 36-match win streak!"
Vincent shudders, but he gets his act ready as he strides out in the open, a spotlight raining upon him, and he feels awkwardly self-conscious under the attention, the cheers, and he finds a seat by the green table.
"Majin Buu – the living calculator. His prediction skills are uncanny, he can call your bluff by the single bead of sweat down your brow!"
Majin emerges, striding down the red carpet, his gait cocky, and he waves his fingers around; his fans who are sitting upclose swooning under his charm.
But Lil has her attention upon Vincent, as she ignores every other player's introduction, and just watches him. He looks like he's still getting used to the table, as he gulps down a bottle of water and adjusts his seat. Not something you'll expect from a 36-winstreak player.
Now, the other players sit down, and the dealer – with his lovely accented Russian, he deals out their hands (two cards, face down), and declares that Le Chiffe, sitting at the 1 'o clock position, is the big blind.
Poker goes like this: there's betting in clockwise order, starting from the dealer, and the players (once they look at their cards) are willing to make bets, based off how their hand develops, what three cards are put out there to see, and what they think the other players are holding. Sometimes, it's good to bluff people out into folding (thus, forfeiting the bets placed in the pot), but other times, a good player will know when to call someone's bluff. However, if you end up with a losing hand, you lose what you bet.
The gist of it is either you psych out your opponents into thinking your hand is unbeatable during the betting phase, or actually beating people with the highest hand in play. And since they can't have nobody willing to put bets down (that would be boring), players are chosen at random to serve as blinds with forced bets, which the other players react to.
With the betting phase up, Vincent decides to call Le Chiffe, who's glancing blankly at the dealer. He has a jack and an ace – both hearts. Upon the table, there's a Queen of hearts, a ten of hearts and the last card folded down. He could get a royal flush..
Majin Buu smirks. He tosses almost all his chips into the pot. "Raise."
People begin to murmur anxiously.
"Raise," the dealer confirms. "$325,000 in the pot."
A few of the other players fold, tossing their cards face-down upon the table, while Vincent catches eye contact with Buu.
Le Chiffe reveals he has two tens. Then the spotlight goes on Vincent, who plays his jack and ace upon the pile.
Majin Buu rubs his fingers, as he lays down his queen of diamonds and ten of spades.
Vincent reveals his hand, with as much calmness as opening the door to his room, and then the dealer reveals the last mystery card.
A queen of clubs – it's Majin Buu's full house. Thus, the bubblegum has laid claim to 55% of the table's wealth, with some people in the crowd fainting at the audacious play. The commentators are chanting wildly: "In the first round already, Majin Buu has laid waste to the players who've folded. Such an ingenious mind! Some would say he's like that rowdy bully at school, stomping upon the poorer kids, pulling their arms back until they scream uncle."
"That's right," Majin Buu goes, "cry yourselves home! I'm sure your mama will give you allowance for more-"
"Monsieur Buu, please," the dealer interrupts, "we ask that participants retain some respect for their fellow players.."
The second round has only four players. The fourth guy, Fassbinder, wearing his trademark trilby and sunglasses, looks like a scruffy slob – as the dealer is giving out new hands, Lil uses the break in the intensity to ask the dude sitting beside her about Vincent.
"Uhh, are you into him or something?" the guy says. "My, my, I think you are! Babe, why go after him when you've got a good package, right here?" (nudging at his crotch)
She glances at him, like maybe that was a mistake talking to you, and then the guy says defensively, putting on charm, "OK, that was my bad. Vincent Law, you know, he's a cool guy. He's been doing poker for nine years, and-"
Nine years.. I can't even remember what went on last week!
"I think he's going to win this round – honestly do. That Majin Buu.. looks like a total douche; would be a real shame if Vincent lost this game to that bloke. Sorry if I got you rustled, I'm just in that kind of mood. Name's Devin, by the way."
"Devin.. I'm Lil," she goes, and she shakes his hand, smiling, before an idea pops in her head. "Listen, I'm hoping to get Vincent down for an interview. Is there some way to meet him? You know, when the match is done? I'm a reporter.."
"You do seem like a nice reporter. But em," and he eyeballs her up and down, "aren't you supposed to have a, uhh, press pass?"
"I'm an amateur," she goes. And the crowd erupts, and Lil sees on the sports monitor that Vincent has called Majin Buu, and another showdown occurs, where it turns out Fassbinder has the upper hand.. by a pair of fours. It seems Vincent is down on his luck, in the bottom with Le Chiffe – if he doesn't turn the tables by the next round, he'll be disqualified.
"Everyone's gotta start somewhere," Devin goes. "Hey, I think if they call a break, you can catch Vincent by the barstand."
Then Le Chiffe has his hand raised, and the dealer annouces a 20-minute intermission. Lil sees Vincent, who's standing up for a good stretch, before he seems to gaze out at the audience.. as if looking for someone. For.. me? Is he hoping on a blue moon that I'll show up? I doubt it. I'm just a model, after all, but he did give me that phone call – like he was lost, in some kind of trouble.
She's been staring down at him from the nosebleed seats – so she looks at the sports monitor for an up-close view. When she catches his eyes, she realises just how green and radiant they are, like a gleaming forest. But they're the eyes of a man who isn't sure of the very ground he stands on.
He says he knows me. How come? I've never even remembered meeting him! But I feel like.. if I could just get to talk with him..
Then she sees Vincent depart, and right away, she obeys her urge to stand up, brushing by Devin and so many others, spilling someone's soda by accident ("Sorry..!"). By the aisle, Lil almost slips upon a beer-stained section, and gets bumped hard by an overweight patron, sending her almost reeling onto an occupied seat. As Lil gets back up, she sees Vincent behind the glass, comatose in that room, and her hand rests upon the glass, a tear escaping her eye.
She blinks, and says sorry to the woman who was upon the seat. The woman though asks her, "Hey, is everything alright? You seemed like you were crying.."
"Yeah, I'm.." A suffocating emptiness is looming in her chest, and Lil struggles with what had passed beyond her awareness, just now. "I'm sorry.." Like those words have slipped from her unconscious nether.
The woman in red gets up; seeing the bruise upon Lil's forehead – "Did someone hit you?"
"No, I just tripped," Lil goes, suddenly self-conscious of her face. The lady isn't wholly convinced, but Lil gets by – the urge to check a mirror comes, and in the opulent lobby, where the marble stairs seem to wind and coil, she finds the women's room.
Her bruise seems to have died down, luckily, but it still looks like someone had whacked her hard.. that lady in red thought she was under some abusive boyfriend's thrall!
She gets out her cover-up kit from her pockets, and with a finger, she dabs upon her forehead..
The prospect of ever getting herself a boyfriend had seldom, if ever crossed her mind. Lil has dismissed those romantic notions, long ago, when her grandfather would read the stories of the princess, being swooned over by the prince, his heart as stoic as the castle walls which he'd hide within, and it was up to her to show him the wonders of life beyond daily routine – and human contact.
She still fondly remembers those days when she'd be read to, resting in bed, letting the words lull her to sleep. Her grandfather's voice, when he was still able to speak, was like silk to listen to.
But no, when it comes to dating, hell no. She's not into showing off her heart on a sleeve, let alone putting exorbitant levels of money to prove that she should be that one. It's a game for sheep.
She's able to disguise the bruise once more. Just to make sure, she inspects her face under the mirror's light – has she always looked that serious? The eyeliner and eyeshadow.. Lil thinks of herself as easy-going, able to relax. But even at work, people say how demanding and perfectionistic she gets, down to her very presence. She'd get upset if she felt like the photographer took too long to decide on a shot, or if her outfit felt itchy.
Then she spots something; like a faint afterimage, beyond the reflection of her and the stalls behind, moving. If she squints, she makes it out. It's her, in a white jacket, talking with another person she feels like she ought to know.
Lil reels with recognition. The sound of a stall door sends her back to reality, and to avoid making a scene, she leaves, on her way to the barstand.. finding Vincent there, who's in the midst of pondering a cantrip.
"Howdy, stranger," Lil goes, introducing herself.
He looks up, apparently not recognizing her. "Hi, you need something?"
"You seemed a little lost, that's all." She sits beside him, glancing as if he's supposed to react, but he doesn't, so she taps her fingers upon the table playfully, humming a ditty, and Vincent realises what's up.
"You're.. Lil Mayer?"
"I thought maybe you had gotten onto something, so I stopped by. I want to ask, what do you know – or remember about me?"
"I saw you in a hair commercial. You looked familiar."
"Do I? No one's ever told me I reminded them of someone – a few compliments, when I'm out on the street.."
"No, I remember you. Feels like my memories have been miffed, and like nothing is as it should be. Like this is someone else's life I'm living right now.. don't you feel the same?"
Lil takes a few moments to process what he's saying. "I have. I get this weird deja vu every once in a while, like I've done this thing before, driving my car, or asking my assistant to comb my hair. When I look at you Vincent.. it's like I've re-discovered the lavender field of my distant memories, to be honest. Am I in love with you? I don't know. But already, I find you comforting.. like a protector."
A shiver enters Vincent through his neck, and in the heat of the moment, he reaches out to touch her. He finds her fingers - her soft, delicate hand, and the idea comes to kiss her by the hand, like some romantic prince. She's even smiling, asking for it.
But then, Vincent winces (over a recollection) – shrugging her off. "No!"
A new look, of eyes in abject fear, develops in Vincent. "You.. poisoned me with drugs, torched my conscience and raped my soul.." It's as if he's speaking from his nightmares. "Don't hurt me again. Please, oh god.."
People are staring at them, and Lil thinks fast – she takes Vincent's glass of pinot, sips some, and then slaps him upon the cheek. A gesture meant to shock Vincent back to his senses. But the slap reverberates, though space and time..
Vincent awakens, in a cold sweat, his face hugging the mattress floor of his room. Sweat soaks through his gown, riding down uncomfortably to his crotch. His heart trembles from the residual anxiety, and yet he still retains the sense of that dream he's just.. half-forgotten.
The entire room is padded as one giant mattress, and in the dim area, the air is musty – filled with the sum of all past fears.
His mouth isn't gagged, so he says, "Hello? Can anyone hear me!? I want out of here!"
And what he's greeted with is the muffled cacophony of what seems like a thousand other patients, pleading, drowning out his own cries to the point where he has the urge to scream and bang his head from the madness. But there is something he remembers.. the tender touch of her hands, and her smiling face.
Dr. Mayer is boiling another pot of coffee. Daedalus awaits, poised by the table, the evening's sunlight streaking through the blinds - his silhouetted face in lines of rouge.
"You're not thinking of mass patient experimentation?" Lil asks, and Daedalus only grins, as he goes through the motions of pulling out a toro cigar, chopping the end off with a cutter, and lighting it up – puffing the rich tobacco into his lungs, before blowing it all out into wisps (without even a cough).
"Only on twelve," he says, grinning. "Your beloved Vincent Law too. Man, that sudden fit of his, I thought he was making serious progress under your care. But I think your methodology of kindness is ultimately ineffectual. It does not fix their root problem. But when I'm through, when their brain pathways are studied, and I follow through with what the simulations say – they won't be a problem, anymore."
Lil shakes her head. "It's.. wrong. Patients should get better from their volition, when we nudge them towards the right choice; you're leaving it up to a computer to decide what's right, what's not right for these folks!"
The coffee has been boiled, dripped through the filter, and Lil pours herself and Daedalus a cup. Already, the raw, invigorating scent has Lil longing to down the cup, so she could think – defend herself from Daedalus' brilliance.
"Don't you realise, Lil? We have allowed computers – let alone machines to help supplant our activities! A lot of things our primitive, medieval brains struggle with, computers do with precision, so we can devote our attention towards the bigger things in life. Why is it any different when it comes to mental illness prognosis? Some of these patients have been in here for years, and we've struggled with restoring them to normality. Now, you'll see real results!"
Lil sighs; when Daedalus gets this worked up, there is no convincing him otherwise. She just goes by his side, smelling the cigar, and taps him affectionately on the shoulder. "Oh, Daedalus – I hope you're not too wrong."
She pecks his cheek, as if to remind Daedalus of simple human affection, and then sips down the flavour of the Jamaican mountains.
Daedalus is blushing. It's a gesture he's always wanted. He gets up, and upon his tiptoes, he leans in and smooches Lil. Her lips are so fine. He leans into her, and lets his tongue slide into her mouth, and the kiss becomes something bordering on gross, as by the end, a tendril of drool still lingers between their mouths.
Disbelief lingers in the air, as Daedalus eyeballs Lil, watching her face for anything that resembles rejection, or regret. The way she glances at him, yearning for more, as she licks her lips-
(Vincent is staring at Lil, in shock after her slap.)
"Oh my, Vincent!" Lil fiddles with her hair, which had been tuffed in their kiss. "I forgot about him! I gotta check on how he's doing."
"Your prized patient?" Daedalus scoffs. "He's not going to choke on his own tongue or anything, if that's what you're worried about."
"He's my patient-" Lil gets her act together as a doctor, and straightens her coat, as she makes her way to the halls. "And I gotta check. He must be so hungry right now."
Daedalus's gaze lingers upon her, even the empty space she has just occupied, as his thoughts think of all the perversions he could pull off in this reality, where he is allowed to reign as God. Right now, as he dwells upon the kiss he's shared with Lil, his mind is clouded by the extreme, indescribable melting of his spirit into her being. Kissing her here is like ascending a stairway to heaven, which, up to now, has remained forbidden from his urges.
The hallway grows dim, approaching the observation area. Lil has told off the orderlies – wanting to meet with Vincent one-on-one. When she passes by the guard who buzzes her in, it is a warehouse of cubical cells, which stack up four high. The subjects are rowdy; they usually are. No one likes being locked up like some wild zoo animal.
But when Lil arrives, much of the usual suspects go wild – even catching eye contact with her is a boon, and they're howling, pounding their faces at the glass. Lil tries her best to ignore them, as her attention is over cell 15. Since he's on a first-floor cell, it doesn't involve towing him from the shelves. She sees him awake, huddled in a corner.
Vincent. I'm sorry you got put in there. I regret it. But I really thought you've recovered.. let's see if you're calmer.
She enters in the passcode for the door, and the door unlatches – Vincent stirs, which is a good sign.
In the padded cell, Lil's lab coat drapes down to her knees.
".. Lil?" he goes, as the door shuts behind her, drowning out the chaos. He sees a welcome change in her demeanour – her face has softened, like the lingering image in his memory. But he stays cautious, holding his tongue.
"Seems like you could use a friend," Lil says, kneeling down, bringing a towel over to Vincent's head. "You must have been so scared, laying in here.."
"I'm sorry about my earlier outburst.." Vincent lays up, so he's sitting. The towel is moist, warm – comforting. Lil is patting him all over with it, even underneath his gown. As she does so, her expression is gentle. It's enough for Vincent to forget, if momentarily, about being in hell.
"I was being too hard on you," Lil goes. "I was so worried when I saw you were acting up, like how you were when you first arrived. You were so dazed, so lost about proxies heralding the world's re-awakening; it wasn't until I arrived as your doctor that you came this far, under my care. But you're on your way home.. so close.."
"Let me get better."
"That's why you're going out for dinner," she says. "With me." She offers him a hand up, and he takes it.
At the same time, Daedalus watches them. The cells are equipped with brain-wave monitoring activity, and the system is alerting him of abnormal spikes in Vincent's amygdala, and his surfacing memory. Argounova has never ensnared another proxy in her web – is it possible that Vincent's alter-ego, Ergo Proxy, has gotten in the way of the ego reality overwrite? Lil, on the other hand, seems fine; but her close affinity for Vincent, even here, has jealousy simmering beneath Daedalus' cool, calculating facade.
It's his personal lab, dark, monitor-lit, where even the likes of Lil cannot touch. His fingers are on the verge of ripping off the keys of his keyboard, over the sight of Vincent and Lil, departing. And Argounova appears, behind where he's sitting.
"Was it how you've expected it?" Argounova asks. "To be allowed to be this close with her? I'd have thought you'd be more satisfied."
"I am." Daedalus then slams his hands on his desk, sending his keyboard rattling. "I bloody am – just studying Vincent's psychology is fine enough for me!" He relents on his anger. "To be so close with her, the one etched in my heart, where I could feel her everywhere I think, and to be denied to this proxy, this.. thing, this demi-devil. Oh, the pity of it, Argounova, the pity of it!"
He looks at Argounova – here, not a skeletal figure, but a mistress, her hair curling down her robes, as understanding as she can be. Who would choose to remain ugly in their artificial world?
"I made her," Daedalus goes. "It's the proverbial question. Donov sired me for his grand-daughter.. why did I make her far more beautiful, than she has to be? In all His power of creation, God made woman to love Him, above all. Why not Lil?"
"Because you are not God," Argounova says, with all the banality of saying the sky is white. "You are just a man, who cannot offer her the choice of her own heart. But you can relish that it was through your hands, that she has come to be. Do not be so jealous-"
And she rests a hand on his shoulder. "-Daedalus." She grins. "You will get your chance with your enamoured beauty. Time will bring you only closer."
Daedalus watches the video feed of Lil, filling out the forms by the security desk to bring a committed patient out, as Vincent stands by her, hapless. "I trust you," he says, and then he disconnects from the reality of Zaporizhzhia.
He awakens, sitting in his lab chair, as if he had merely been dozing off from his work, investigating the cogito virus. He takes off the strap from his neck, which looks like an ordinary band-aid, and places it neatly upon his desk, as he stretches his arms, yawning.
"Zero disruptions," Daedalus notes, as he observes his autoreivs conducting tests on the bodies of infected drones. "Perfect."
It is like awakening from a vivid dream, except you retain your memories of it normally. The patch lets you tap into the neural network that reigns over everyone, as Argounova sees fit, as an elevated user. Since it isn't any stretch to look for external sources for the cogito virus, Daedalus has stumbled upon one dome out of total accident – Zaporizhzhia. Where everyone lays dormant, generating a combined surge of theta radiation. The big sleep.
Upon speaking with Argounova, Daedalus had learned about why people dream in the first place -
"The reality of the inner world often overrides the objective, sensorial reality. Don't believe me? I know what lies in your heart, boy. You see her face.. like a raison d'etre you forged from listlessness. And whenever you see her, your heart rushes up, begging you to call her back. And yet, your fears lurch over the idea of her not returning your gaze – discovering your impure, unworthy soul, and casting you out of her thoughts forever."
(Daedalus huddled in a corner, his heart laid bare, no coat able to rescue him from his chills.)
"Alors, I sense your fabled Lil approaching.. with Ergo Proxy. Come and be a steward to my sheep, and you shall have a chance of realising your desire.."
It was slipping on the guise of Charon. Daedalus is in charge of managing the fears and nightmares of his patients, and before he knows it, he has Lil as his assistant doctor.
It was meant to be perfect. But even in the artificial reality, some truths cannot be smudged away – Lil's affections being one of them. Either Lil must come to see Daedalus as her special one.. or Vincent will be expunged.
Daedalus checks his schedule for the next week. A meeting with Raul Creed regarding his progress, but nothing major that would impede his dreaming.
Vincent finds the asylum to be menacing – a castle, repurposed to hold the insane at bay. The evening's daylight hurts his eyes. How long has he been kept indoors? He looks spiffy in his jeans and coat, and Lil shows him to her sleek automobile in the lot.
The drive is a stark journey. The wheat fields, stretching on for miles; the oil wells, with their cranes in a slow, graceful motion; and then dilapidated stores – the windows shattered, the aisles left in darkness and the shelves all but empty. Then, there are the homeless people, scavanging the dumpsters and using cans as fireplaces. Even though Lil's radio (playing classical music) tries to be calming, Vincent hears the horrid commotion outside – the screams of women, punctured by firecracker pops.
"Try to ignore it all," Lil says, noting Vincent's unnerved expression in the mirror. "You can't really do anything, except not drag yourself down by all the negativity."
Egg yolks splashs on the rear window, as rowdy hooligans jeer on, and Lil swerves the car around the corner.
Vincent fumbles with the chopsticks on the table – Lil laughing along with his attempts.
"Isn't it far more relaxing," Lil goes, "now that we're outta that confining asylum? I was thinking, Vincent, you said that you knew me.. from another life, right?"
Vincent gazes upon her attentively.
"They say that our souls live across multiple lifetimes," Lil continues, "even after our bodies die. So I'd consider the possibility that you are right, in a sense – maybe we did know one another, from a time beyond what we know.."
The restaurant is immured in the lanterns' candlelight, in burning incense, and an aura of charged serenity. As if someone had tried to shelter a haven, away from the wretched chaos of the streets.
"You know," Lil goes, "if you weren't a patient here, I would totally date you. Really; you have the sweetest face, and what must be a gentle spirit underneath."
The food and tea arrives. Some shrimp dumplings, and the steamy duck soup.
"I wish you'd believe me," Vincent says. "Don't you sense there is something.. not right with how things are?"
Lil has been pouring red vinegar into the bowl. She ponders what Vincent is getting at – usually, most insane patients take it for granted that something isn't right with reality. On the rare occasions, the "insane" has a valid point. It's not a blockbuster movie she's dealing with though.
"I don't remember the last five years here," Lil goes. "I only remember the last few days. I remember being hit upon the head.. I swung the cabinet door open, and it banged me on the head. Hurt like hell."
"I just recall waking up today," Vincent says. "Lil, our memories.."
Then he looks at the shrimp dumplings, resting on a plate in front of him. It smells so delectable. He gets his fork and reaches for one-
Vincent places his entire stack of chips on the poker table. He's willing to go all-or-nothing against Majin Buu – looking at his pink face, his triple chin bloating away his acne-covered neck, Vincent thinks of fresh food.
The audience gasps. Is Vincent really going to suffer his first loss? It's a desperate move, when he's down to his last 800k credits.
The dealer: "Showdown, please."
Majin Buu reveals his hand, and it's a two-pair. Two aces, two sevens and a five.
And Vincent, he hesitates, as he glances up somewhere over the table. Looking for the one who has left his cheeks stinging. Then he looks down at his hand, turning over his cards.
"Three of a kind," the dealer says. "Vincent wins, three aces."
"WHAAATT!?" Majin Buu goes. "You're fucking joking me! Really?!" He smashes the table with his hands, before storming off, the videotron showing Buu's humiliation under the spotlight.
Vincent looks at the table – it seems so distant to him. Like it's a copy of a copy, as he gets up, under the pent-up cheering of the audience, and walks on over to his locker room, where he meets the mafia men.
"Vincenzo.." The voice of someone whose long patience is on the verge of expiring. "Eet's an honour to meet the great Vincenzo in person."
Stepping from the shadows, is Antonioni, the don, his face wizened. "You had agreed to an offer you don't refuse.. I supposed as much your pride would not settle for a mere bribe, over the thrill of winning the game one last time. So I make you a choice.. work under us, be the guy who everyone looks up to in our casinos."
"What's the other option?" Vincent asks.
Antonioni gestures at his men, who only give leers at Vincent. "You know what you decide."
They had been waiting for him the entire time, and Vincent's heart is pounding. Something in him finds it very wrong to just be used for monetary profit.. but is it worth his life over the principle?
Lil has charmed her way past security, saying she's got a personal delivery for Vincent. She had watched the entire tournament finale, her jaw dropping upon Vincent's show of bravado. It was amazing. At the same time, that convo with Vincent, where he briefly ended up in a blubbery mess, before sternly looking at her after that slap, like he had reverted into another person – it had left her reeling with an unsolvable mystery.
So she's here, prowling the halls in search of the man, when she overhears some Sicilian guys cajoling him.
She takes a peek into the locker room, where she hears the water drips, and finds Vincent – as if on the verge of being taken hostage by these burly men.
She steps into the scene's foray..
"Am I interrupting something?" she asks, almost innocently, garnering their attention.
"We are in the midst of an important business, lady," one of the men say. "Go piss off."
Lil shakes her head. "No.. that's not how this goes. You don't tell me to 'piss off.'" She looks at Vincent, who is relieved over a saviour who deflects away the unbearable tension.