33. Lady Stardust
Lila looked like Melania would have, if there had been a human-being inside the clothes instead of a robot. Lila/Lilith had scorned the Jackie Kennedy look, despite the conceit of the surname. She gave that wave that English Royalty do when confronted by the lunatic fringe of English Royalists. The tentative one that shows they know everyone there is more jewels short of a tiara than even in-bred blue-bloods can ever be. The Cucamonga Penguins had stopped playing with their instruments. I hoped there wouldn’t be any jokes, I was sure the drummer wouldn’t be up for the bass drum and cymbal thing after the punchline.
She stood behind the lectern. For a few moments she made like a candidate at a fundraiser and tried to catch the eye of a few people in the audience. Some of the writers were asleep and most of the publishing types were eyes down on tablets, phones or their navels. When she opened her mouth it was like Betty and Bogey in the whistle scene. In my head I was whistling like Humphrey and I bet most of the other guys and some of the women were too. Lila didn’t say much, I put some of it in my notebook, which got me a look or two from Sondra and Tabitha Vanderbilt until Sam Sara whispered that I’d had a knock on the head at the Calgary Stampede, which had affected my ability to remember anything at all. Lila Radziwill had a nice speaking voice, the kind where you stop caring so much about what she said, but you still didn’t want her to stop saying it.
“I must say I'm profoundly impressed by the reverence which you in Washington have for your art and for your culture and for the use that you make of it now. My own fellow Nebraskans too, have a pride in their tradition so I think that as I stand in this delightful building, which was built long before its equivalent in Omaha, that's one more thing that binds us together and which always will.''
The drummer reached for his sticks at “delightful building”, but couldn’t decide whether Lila was joking or not. As for me there was something familiar about the speech, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe Lila was more Melania than I’d thought.
Then it was on to the prizes. "TV" was in for the marquee prize in the Historical Fiction Category and, that being the top desk ornament, she would receive it last. Most of the writers were as tongue-tied and therefore mercifully brief as you might expect. Yana Yossarian received an award for some kind of children’s book so she milked the limelight for as long as possible by thanking every single member of the reality show’s extended family. I spotted her ghost writer easily, cringing at a table just by the exit with a copy of "Yana is a YoYo" and a row of empty shot glasses for company. Finally, Lila/Lilith announced the Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Historical Fiction by a Debutant Author Who Did Not Look Too Shabby For the Publicity Shots. Okay, I made that last part up, but it was true.
I watched Lila closely. She caught my eye as Tabitha Vanderbilt gestured over at where Sam and I were sitting. "TV" made a speech in the voice of an automaton on some very good weed. She thanked two people; God and Nicolas Flamel. Then she shook her statuette like a marachi band maracas player and returned to our table. Three people followed her; two Secret Service bodyguards and Lila Radziwill, First Lady of the United States. The bodyguards were female, but they followed Lilith’s every move with as goofy an expression as any of their male counterparts would have. Sam Sara and I stood up. FLOTUS held a hand out towards me,
‘You must be Gabriel, I’ve heard so much about you...”