Jack turned to follow Carmen, catching up and falling into step beside her. "Why is virtue questionable and vice a certainty?" He grinned as he asked it, and gave the dark-haired woman a sidelong glance. He tricked out his senses a bit, and inhaled slowly. He made a very quiet groan in his throat. Carmen smelled as good as she looked; roses, citrus, with paper, paint and wood almost covering those up. "I smell — roses, I think…" He turned to her with a smile, his bright blue eyes meeting hers. "So where are we headed?"


She waved a hand languidly as they headed further into the Quarter. "Wherever," she said airily. "There is much to see and do in the Quarter." As if to prove her point, they had to side step a mural painter busy covering up a previous work with one of his own. Carmen smirked as the passed.

"Mordie's going to throw fruit at you again," she said merrily to the black haired artist.

"He's in Kashfa all week," the man laughed without stopping his brush strokes.

Carmen chuckled and shouldered her satchel properly.

Jack followed along, smiling at the mural painter. "Won't you miss the old mural, man?" He laughed a little as he walked by with Carmen. "Well then, I place myself in your hands for the day." Jack grinned at her, "I already like so much of what I've seen already." He reached out and brushed his fingers across a set of wind chimes hanging under a shop awning. He tilted his head slightly, as if savoring the sound. Jack shook his head slightly; that wasn't the one he was looking for. "How long have you been a gypsy?"

Carmen considered the question when she paused outside a bakery that was handing out free samples of a new pastry. "Always. My mother was a dancer. When I was younger, I used to travel with the company. I've had a hard time staying rooted in one place for too long."

Jack accepted a sample, and smiled, "Aah, we're from a place called Texorami. My Mom, Esperanza, owns the Bellagio — only the classiest Casino on the strip." He grinned, "We traveled all over on gigs and such, we just haven't gotten our feet under us here yet to do the same." Jack shrugged slightly, "We're Casino-kids, we always went back. The life has a way of stickin' with you once you've gotten a taste of it." He met her eyes, "Must be the same with the gypsy-life. I'll go anywhere there's music and scenery."

"It's scenery and noise for me," she said between licking the icing from the pastry off her fingers. "I don't do well in the quiet for too long. I need the vibrancy and life of large groups around me."

Jack shook his head slightly as she finished her pastry, and grinned. "You'd like the Strip then. There's music, and all kinds of acts, and then there's the gambling, of course. Bright lights, spectacles, circuses, musical theater, art, museums, at least one kick-ass zoo and aquarium.. You can find almost anything you can imagine. It's a grand place." He chuckled, "I figure we only found about half the mischief we could have found given more time." Jack ate his pastry in bites, licking the sugar from his lips. "The music scene had the firmest hold though, and we weren't picky. Jazz, Blues, you name it."


"Sounds like Vegas," she observed lightly. She stopped to look in the window of a toymaker. Marionette and puppets of all types resided in the large store front display. Inside was an older teen demonstrating the workings of a hand and rod puppet of a colorfully dressed jester. She smiled at Jack's reflection beside her. "I like Vegas."

"Well then, Vegas sounds like fun." Jack agreed, he gestured at a 'drummer boy' marionette with a smile. "I've never been there. Texorami, I'm told, is a big mix of things. I don't know that I like the idea of it being 'made', but its the best of many influences I'm told." He smiled, "I don't think I'd want to grow up anywhere else, given the choice and a time machine." Jack grinned, "I could take you there, but its a long ride." He reached out and ran his fingers along her forearm briefly, "And I haven't seen your etchings."

"You haven't seen my tattoo either, but that doesn't mean you're going to." She turned to look at him and cocked her head to one side, studying him.

"You have magnificent eyes," she observed honestly. "But I'm sure you know that." A pause. "I want to paint you."

Jack smiled brightly, his eyebrows rising, "You haven't seen mine either." He stepped closer, meeting her eyes and having no problem at all with being studied. "I do, but I will never get tired of hearing a beautiful woman tell me so." He tilted his head to one side, "Paint me? Will I have to roll around on the canvas afterward?" He smirked, "I did say that I was in your hands. I don't think I've ever been painted before, unless you count the tattoo." Jack grinned, "If you happen to know the art, I'd be tempted to let you add to it." He offered her his hand, "Consider me a willing subject."

"I didn't mean put paint on you!" she laughed delightfully. Carmen smiled then. "But there's an idea." There was more music in the distance ahead of them involving chimes and bells. "And, yes, I can do tattoos." Her smile widened. "The gypsies taught me."

She took his hand then and led him down the winding streets deeper into the Quarter.

Jack smiled brightly when she laughed, it was an expression that only increased the 'wattage' of his already bright eyes. "It may be the best idea I've had that wasn't musical." He tilted his head slightly, listening, and grinned at her response. "Oh, excellent. We'll have to see what you can do for the ongoing piece I have." Jack, "Thank goodness for Gypsies." He chuckled as she took his hand, and he took hers in turn. Not in a tight grip, but enough to show he was a participant in the gesture.

He moved with Carmen easily, taking in the sights, which included Carmen, of course.


The Quarter was free. There was really no other word to describe the ebb and flow of the life in the area; the constant sounds and colors and myriad of scents. Carmen had a few favorite places and she pointed them out as they passed them; an outdoor cafe here, a gallery there, a supply shop, a clothing store, the instrument maker's where musicians congregated and discussed and debated and played while drinking ouzo.

Jack clearly was enjoying himself, and the company. He had never quite been to a place that was entirely devoted to the Arts, at least not in such a broad display. He stopped with Carmen at her favorite places, and rather than ask a bunch of questions, listened to her point them out, and made his own observations. If there were things to be touched, he touched them, or tested them with his hands or sticks, still looking for his sound. Jack promised to return for a gallery tour, and bought a poet's shirt that matched the color of his eyes; the only one in the shop. Jack had to stop at the instrument maker, where he finally found his sound, a conga drum, which to him was an elegant and lovely instrument, and had the sound he was after. He also drank a fair bit of ouzo while he was there.

In its own cover, Jack bore the drum on his back, the weight appearing to be negligible to him, as he walked at Carmen's side. Jack grinned brightly, "This place is great. We may have to move in somewhere. Get away from stone floors." He shivered, and turned his eyes to his companion. "Where to now?"

Carmen just smiled and turned them down a side street. The louder sounds faded away behind them, though they weren't walking into silence. Lone instruments played here and there, their notes floating down to the people on the streets through open windows. Here were more galleries then the main street, more exclusive in their clientèle and their offerings. Here too were the jewelers, the potters, the clothiers, the small grocer.

As they walked, pausing now and then to take in the sights, or the wares of a shop, Jack would occasionally play something on his new drum. He was quite good, beating out a rhythm with his hands as if he'd always had the instrument, and finding the right strokes after only a few moments. Jack was circling in on a mambo beat, and clearly having a good time of it each time he took a moment to play. He followed Carmen along with an easy smile upon his face as they went, sometimes he played as they walked, and at least once sang the words to a song that went well with the drum, that he and his sister had covered now and again. "Got your spell on me, baby..Got your spell on me, baby,"


It became apparent soon enough that this was also the area of the neighborhood that housed the artists who made the Quarter home. Studios and apartments reminiscent of Shadow Earth's legendary French Quarter; arches, wrought iron balconies and curving staircases, lots of windows, and quiet, lush gardens. Carmen led him to one such place. Two stories with a private walled courtyard to one side, fragrant wisteria spilled over the top of the wall where she opened the arched door and led him through and down the flagstone path to a spiral wrought iron staircase.

"The studio is downstairs," she said as she led him up. "I bought it off a sculptor who converted the upstairs to living quarters. When the moon is full, I can see Tir from my back balcony."

Jack whistled as he walked under an wrought iron balcony, reaching up to tap his stick against the vertical rails. "This place is beautiful. It reminds me of our villa back home, well — lofty villa penthouse type of thing, but we had flowers out near the pool." He moved up behind her, following along, admiring the play of her skirt as she moved. "A bargain at any price. Tir is just remarkable. We want to have a concert under it on a clear night."

"That sounds like it might be fun," Carmen said as she opened the door and led him inside. She tossed her bag onto a wooden table of warm golden wood, hand carved with trailing vinework, beside the door and sat on a green ottoman in the midst of the purple and gold room to take off her shoes.

Her studio might be downstairs, but that didn't mean she didn't work upstairs. There were sketches and pastels and watercolors clipped to a wire running across one wall depicting life in the Quarter and unfamiliar vistas. Sketchbooks were wherever she had dropped them after a fit of inspiration. On an easel in the corner stood a painted portrait of a man; bare chested, sinewy muscled, gleaming with a fine sheen of perspiration; dark hair with a streak of white dust on one side and dark hazel eyes that stared out intensely from the canvas. Behind him in the painting was a partially finished sculpture in white marble facing backwards; a graceful and seductive nude feminine torso, arms raised over her head, hair cascading down her back, rising from the block of stone that still encased her lower body.


Jack smiled at the state of the place, "Replace a lot of this with sheets of music, scraps of paper and instruments, and you have a fair idea of what our place looks like part of the time." He grinned and set his new drum down where there was space, placing his sticks atop it. He gestured at the portrait, "That's really very good. I don't know how you do that. Your work on Asia was very much the same, they look like they'll spring to life. I keep waiting for this guy to sneeze when my back is turned." Jack turned away from the portrait to test the theory, glancing over his shoulder after a moment and chuckling. He hooked a thumb over his shoulder, "Is that you being carved in stone there?"

Carmen set her shoes aside. She looked up at the painting and smiled. "So he said. He' s still working on it." She stood and gestured to the sofa. "Have a seat. Care for a drink?"

"I thought you would never ask." Jack grinned, knowing exactly how that sounded. He took the offered seat on the sofa, and settled into it as if he'd lived in that place all his life. No stiffness, no formality, he simply sat down — not as if he owned the place, but as if he belonged there. He even liked the smell of her place. Jack smiled at Carmen, "You really have etchings here, don't you?"

With a sly smile, she answered; "I do." Carmen crossed the room to the wet bar that was a carved piece of furniture that matched the dark wooden table by the door. "What's your pleasure?" she asked as she readied a pair of highball glasses. She was pretty sure he wasn't a wine sort of man.

Jack chuckled and returned the smile. His bright eyes followed her as she crossed the room. "Many things are, Carmen, but a good tequila will do nicely." He smiled, "Or, if you have something in mind, you can surprise me." He threw an arm on the back of the couch, getting more comfortable.

"I can do tequila," she nodded. The pale blue of the selected decanter showed a clear liquid; a silver tequila. Carmen poured four fingers in each glass. Moving over and handing Jack one, she sat against the arm of the couch and pulled her feet under her, facing him with her skirt pooled around her. She raised her glass "Salud."

"Salud." Jack replied with a grin, before taking a drink. He sighed, "This is just the thing after an afternoon of window shopping, and listening to music." He met her eyes as he swirled the glass gently. "Thank you for the tour, I don't think I've ever had a guide that so much easier to look at than the scenery." He smiled, "And I even managed to find the sound I was looking for." Jack leaned towards Carmen slightly, "I've always been lucky that way. First, there was you, then there was the conga drum." He grinned, "You might wind up in a song."

"Seems only fair," she smiled. The artist leaned forward until one elbow rested on her knees. The other arm draped over the back of the purple velvet couch. "You're going to wind up in a painting."

Jack leaned a little closer, after having another drink. "Hmm. Fair trade then, though I think we should still consider the paint on me notion." He tilted his head slightly, "Or you." He smiled, "What else might we trade?"

Her smile widened. "Oh, is that what we're doing?"

"Not really." Jack answered easily, "But when a euphemism lands in your lap it seems wrong to just ignore it." He smiled brightly in return.

Carmen laughed and arched an eyebrow. "Are you planning on kissing me soon? I think we should get that out of the way so I can fix lunch."

Jack laughed and set his drink aside, "I didn't want to be accused of being a masher, and there's been no etchings." He grinned, slid closer, slipped his arms around her with as much familiarity as he had occupied his space on the couch. There was no hesitation, and at least in his demeanor, no sign that he had met her only that afternoon. He kissed her, his lips still smiling just before they met hers. There was passion, heat, and the gentle, but confident, caress of his hands. When their lips parted, he had slipped his fingers into her long, dark hair.

Carmen tasted of citrus and tequila; tangy and sweet. There was no awkwardness usually found in a first kiss, and he could tell she wasn't looking for anything beyond the experiences the day may bring. "Mmm… not bad," she opined lowly. Her fingers tread lightly over his chest, tracing the tattoo beneath the thin t-shirt. She looked into his eyes, studying more then searching. It didn't feel invasive or in any way threatening. "Remarkable really."

A smile played at the corners of his mouth, and she could see the humor in his eyes. Jack very nearly purred, "Not bad at all." His eyes closed as her fingers traced the curves and lines of his tattoo, and he rose to her touch, like a cat might arch his back to a friendly hand. She smelled even better up close, he thought, as he licked his lips recalling the taste of hers. "I could say the same." Jack ran his finger through her hair, until they slipped free, and she began to move.

Then she smiled and was out of his arms and off the couch. "So. Lunch. Ever had Cajun food?"

"Never. Is it spicy?" Jack smiled as he got to his feet. "And can I lend a hand?"

"It is and you can," she said magnanimously as she started for the kitchen. "I assume I can trust you not to slice off a finger." Once there, she dug around in her produce stores and tossed two large onions, a bundle of celery, one green bell pepper, a bundle of green onions, and a head of garlic to him.


She ducked into the cold box and found the delivery of shrimp that came in while she was out and dumped them in a bowl by the sink. After banging around a bit finding the Dutch oven and other cooking implements, she pulled out a chopping knife and a small narrow blade. "Chopping or peeling and deveining?"

"My fingers are safe with me." Jack offered with a smile, catching the produce as it sailed his way. He set them out on the counter, and raised his eyebrows at all the shrimp, and laughed a bit as she rummaged to find her Dutch oven. "I'll peel. Can't really screw up peeling, and Kay's always said I was good at getting things out of their layers." Jack took up the paring knife. "So what are we making? And what needs peeling?"

She smiled innocently as she pointed to the bowl of shrimp. "All of that. The black vein that runs up the back also needs to be cleaned out. Once it's peeled it's pretty easy. It's just a messy task," she said, wrinkling her nose. Then she smiled brightly, patted his shoulder and went over to start on the pile of produce. "Oh, and this is Shrimp Creole. It's going to take about 45 minutes, all told."

Jack sighed dramatically, "Ah, taken in by a pretty face and a sinfully built body yet again." He smiled and eyed the shrimp, "I've done this kind of thing before. Mom made us work various jobs at the Casino so were wouldn't be too terrible." He chuckled, "I love shrimp, but after peeling a full week of cocktails and party platters worth, I don't think I had them for a year." Jack found the wrinkling of her nose terribly endearing, he reached out and tapped it lightly, laughing quietly as he did so. "I'll get to work." And he did, and quite quickly too. "Shrimp Creole. Got it. I don't often cook. That 'not spoiling us' Mom tried, didn't really take."

"I would never have guessed," she retorted with a laugh in the midst of expertly and quickly chopping bell pepper. "I learned to cook on my own; it was that or starve. Being a dancer, my mother ate rabbit food and very little of anything appetizing. Once I got any good at it, company members started coming over for dinner. I still have a difficult time cooking for just one or two."


Jack peeled shrimp fairly quickly, once he found the rhythm, his hands just kept moving. If he needed a sharp edge now and then, well, that was easy enough to manage. "Ah, we were born in that Casino. I probably learned ball room dancing before I learned how to cook anything. The Bellagio's a Five-Diamond place, and Mom wasn't about to lit a little thing like childbirth keep her from staying on top of things." He smirked, "People cooked for us, Mom took care of us herself, but just as often it was the Staff, who were like extended Family. When the guy you call Uncle is a world-class chef, you eat all kinds of great things, but you don't have to cook so much." Jack looked over at Carmen, "Hey, that works out well, I have difficulty eating for just one or two."

"I rather expected that," she said as she scooped everything she had chopped up and dumped it into one bowl. "Insatiable appetites seems to be a family trait." She flashed him a cocky grin and went over to start making the base and get the stock started.

"Did you?" He smiled crookedly. Jack rinsed the peeled shrimp a final time, and checked them by the handful to make sure he hadn't missed any. Then he set the pot on the counter, and started gathering up the shells to be disposed of. When that was done, he turned to her in time to see her grin, which caused his own expression to brighten. "Now that only makes me want to drag you home. The Strip is just the place for insatiable appetites. You can enjoy anything, and the fun only stops when you want it to." Jack washed his hands, and leaned against the counter close to Carmen. "At least we were spared the brooding temperaments I've heard so much about."

Carmen snorted over the sizzle of sautéing veggies. A cloud of steam issued from the pot, filling the kitchen with the fragment smells. "I've heard those rumors. Honestly. Why do people think all artists must brood? Or be temperamental assholes all the time? Look in that cabinet over there and get me a jar of tomatoes, paste, and sauce, would you? Then fill that red pot half full of water and put it on the stove." She waved the wooden spoon briefly. "Anyway, I don't see any point in suffering for my art. I can create just fine without being unhappy and miserable." Carmen wrinkled her nose. "Some people should just get laid more."

TOCArtists Shouldn't Have Too Much Free Time

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