Weeks passed quickly and Leila was voted on as a full member. Meanwhile, the weather grew warmer and the hotel became stuffy. Since the building had no windows that could be opened, a meeting was held to discuss which ones would be broken and how they would be covered when it rained. Galahad found some box fans at about the same time that Sid got his prototype generator to work, and now there were new assignments on the daily roster. Alternators had to be scavenged from abandoned cars, and tools and parts had to be found.
Galahad’s cousin Paul spent each afternoon helping make the little windmills. He was slight and pale, with faint rims of red around his eyes after his bout with scurvy, but Cassie appreciated his quiet company on the afternoons she could take a break from her other chores and indulge her fascination with mechanics. For his part, Paul enjoyed the way Leila hung around their group, pretending an interest in generators, although Sid showed no interest in her and Cassie had begun to suspect he was gay.
One afternoon as they were busy at their work, they heard a commotion at the hotel entrance. Curious, they abandoned their projects and went to see what was going on.
In the drop-off area half a dozen guards in white uniforms with red sashes and berets surrounded a group of boys carrying an enormous curtained box on poles. They set the box down and one of them pulled the curtains apart. There was a scuffling inside and then a girl stepped out, so heavily swathed in fur, velvet and jewels that for a moment Cassie wondered what century she was in.
“Thespians,” Paul said.
By now the girl was looking around like she expected something to happen. She was thin and compact, with a face powdered chalk white and eyes rimmed with purple all the way to her eyebrows, making her look as if she had been bruised in a fistfight. On top of her brown curls she wore a tiara that caught the afternoon sunlight in its prisms.
As two little girls scrambled out of the litter to pick up her velvet train, the Thespian guards all bowed. The regal visitor motioned them to rise, her hand glittering with rings. Then a boy in red velvet blew a sour note on a trumpet and this seemed to be a signal for silence. Cassie and the other Regents stopped shuffling and whispering. Now that he had their attention, the page scanned the crowd with an authoritative lift of his chin. “The Empress Elissa of the Thespian-Operatics is here to speak with your leader, Reymundo Guzman Morales.”
By now someone had found Alex and he pushed his way through the crowd. He gave Elissa the briefest of bows, and in polite tones that just skirted sarcasm, he welcomed Elissa to the hotel and offered to take her to Mundo personally. “But no more than two guards,” he said. “The others have to wait here.”
Elissa scowled. “I never go anywhere without my retinue.”
From the look on his face it was clear Alex didn’t know what a retinue was, but he covered for this lapse by restating his previous words. “No more than two armed guards. You can take anyone else you like as long as they leave their weapons here.”
This was deemed satisfactory. With her page preceding her, two guards at her sides armed with fake swords and real M16s, and two little girls carrying her train behind her, Empress Elissa swept into the hotel on a mission of importance.