Cinna's workshop, a few blocks from his studio, is almost too loud to have a conversation in, let alone for bugs to pick up what we're talking about while the prep teams are scrubbing, shaving, waxing, and otherwise tormenting the kids. Sewing machines are whirring, pressers are steaming, and lines of clothing for Katniss Everdeen are appearing on the racks. None of them seem to be the parade costume. Effie couldn't even get him to cough up drawings this year.
"Oh, no," Cinna says. "The camera will go to you. I want the honest reaction."
"No, you probably don't," I say.
"You don't trust me? You promised you'd trust me. That was the deal." He sighs. "Caesar told me you'd break that one. I suspected it when Effie came sniffing around, but I didn't tell her, either."
"Have you seen some of the things they've sent our tributes out in?"
"Oh, well, I thought I'd send them down dressed in coal dust."
"No, you didn't."
"Sexy miner costumes?"
"That would be every other year. You said you were doing something different."
"Remember the year that Therinus dressed them up as coal and you and Effie put on red beads to make it look like they were on fire?"
"It's like that, but I thought I'd actually set them on fire."
I roll my eyes. "Come on, Cinna, what are you really doing?"
"Well, why do you think I wanted the coal district?"
"Cinna -- "
"Ever hear of an auto-da-fé?"
"You haven't been reading enough of Plutarch's history books." He shrugs. "No one understands everything, but there was a time of religious tyranny. Inquisitors made people confess their sins and do penance -- an act of faith, or auto-da-fé -- to prove loyalty and devotion. The ultimate penance was being executed, and the ultimate form of execution was burning. They've already been forcing penance for ancient sins for seventy-three years. May as well go all the way to the pyre. Burn the soul of the world, as some poet or other said."
I frown. "You're serious."
"About the fire symbolism, yes." He smiles. "But I'm not going to burn your tributes to death, Haymitch. A little trust?"
One of his assistants rushes by with a cart full of fabrics, almost knocking us over. Most of it is in pale yellows and oranges. Another bolt is covered with what appear to be actual gems, the sort of thing that's usually reserved for District One.
"Isn't it a little late in the game for the fabric to still be on the bolts?" I ask.
"That's not for the parade," Cinna says. "That's been done for a while. But I saw your girl. I saw her climb those stairs. I'm going to give her something special for the interview stage. And after the Games, I have a lot of dresses lined up for her appearances. She's special."
He looks at me steadily. I wish I could give him an assurance, but I'm a little unnerved by his certainty. "You know, the boy is my friend's son."
"He seems like a good kid."
"He's a really good kid. Cleaned me up, got me…" I find I can't really talk much about that. "They're both good, Cinna. If they'd been in different years…"
"I'm sorry, Haymitch."
"I want to make sure they're starting on equal footing here. There'll be a choice eventually, but I want them both to be viable as long as possible."
He pulls me over to his office and sits me down. "They're not starting out equal. Don't you know?"
"The Capitol likes the girl who stepped forward for her sister. The way she yelled. The way her sister held onto her." I start to object, but he holds up his hand. "I'm not saying she's the only one they like, or that it's an obsession. We're going to have to do a little work to get it up to a full-scale obsession. But I guarantee, not one person paid attention to the boy's reaping… including you, I might remind you."
"I was passed out," I mutter.
"That wasn't my best moment."
I sit down at his drafting table. The chair is at a strange, vertiginous angle, and the work surface is tilted up. "I think I screwed things up yesterday. I have to fix it."
"You will. A lot of people here like you. They think you're the wild cousin who comes to visit every year."
"I'm not." I peek at a few sketches, none of which seem like parade costume material. One is a very plain black jumpsuit. I look back at Cinna. "Peeta will catch up to her. If she's going to have a problem, it's going to be when she opens her mouth. She's not the friendliest person you'll ever meet."
"And the boy?"
"I haven't seen him on camera yet, but he's a lot more personable than she is. He's nice, actually. I think people will like him when he starts talking to them. I don't want him to stay in her shadow."
Cinna puts a hand on my shoulder. "Portia's not going to let him fade into the background."
"Portia's not the problem. Peeta is. He's going for the sacrifice play. He wants the girl to win."
Cinna's eyes widen, then he shakes his head. "No one's sacrificing anything in these costumes, anyway. They'll talk about her -- they always talk about the girls' costumes -- but no one is going to forget him, either. Not on my watch, or Portia's."
"I just want to find a way out. She can win. But I want them both to come home."
"I know. It's not the way the Games are played."
Cinna grins. "Well, the Games aren't played by trying to figure out how to get through the forcefield, either," he says. "But I seem to recall someone winning that way."
"Very funny. But there's a difference between an unorthodox strategy and a rule change."
"Maybe. Except that the one who had the unorthodox strategy is on the outside this time, where he can maybe try some other unorthodox strategies."
"If I ask, they'll kill both of them."
"We'll have to make that politically difficult."
"Cinna, they'll never, ever do that. I don't want to start hoping."
"Yeah, because hoping is a terrible thing."
"You know what I mean." There's nothing more to say, so I go back to the subject at hand. "So, the parade costume. You're doing some kind of flame design?"
"Yes, Haymitch. I'm having the preps tattoo it onto their skin right now. It'll be unforgettable."
"You'd better be kidding."
"Yeah. It's just body paint. And a tee shirt." He grins again.
We talk a little more. I try not to imagine some kind of horrible papier-mâché flames. Cinna assures me again that of course he's not going to kill the kids in the chariot, but I will just have to wait and see what he does mean to do.
I can't stay to press for any more details, because Effie has managed to get me a lunch meeting at the headquarters of the Daughters of the Founding. I would normally walk -- I think it's only a few blocks from here, though I've never visited it directly -- but I can't risk being late, and people do tend to stop victors wandering around on parade day, especially if there's been an interesting reaping. I call for a Games car.
I've never called for one before. Taxis have been adequate, and don't require calling the Gamemakers. When it arrives, I see that it's meant to be conspicuously inconspicuous. It's smaller than the one they sent to gather me up for Claudius's show years ago, and less armored. It's just a low black car with smoked out windows and the Games logo discreetly displayed on the windshield. The driver is wearing dark glasses and gloves, and an understated black body sock as a uniform. There's nothing about her left to the imagination, but it's curiously uninteresting, anyway.
She drives me through the crowded streets. People lean toward the car at stops, trying to figure out who's inside. A girl catches up to the car at one point and opens her jacket to reveal a District Four seal on her tee shirt. I think she'd probably be extremely disappointed if I were to roll down the window.
The car pulls up to a set of ornate iron gates, which open silently into a bricked patio, leading to a house older than anything I've ever seen. It's in good condition, but it matches nothing else in the Capitol. When the gate closes behind us, the rest of the Capitol is shut away.
"This was here before," I guess.
"Yes, sir," the driver tells me. "A lot of the city was razed during the Catastrophes -- "
"But not all of it," I remember. "That's why they stopped here."
"They stayed in this house for a few weeks when they got in, then it was the government center for a while, at least until they found something better. I think the Daughters give a tour."
I get out and pay her. The place has a wide, two-story porch, and a little cupola up on top. The Daughters maintain a garden of desert plants, which I walk through on the way to the door.
I ring to enter. A camera turns and looks at me, then they buzz me in.
The rooms are richly appointed, though much of the furniture is surrounded by velvet ropes. Nothing has been hung on the walls, but portraits are suspended from the ceiling. I round a turn and come face to face with Laelia Grant, the "mother" of the Capitol, who at least historically seems to have been a decent human being. In the portrait, she is holding her bow off to one side as she looks to the sky. I'm sure the artist meant for her to be looking to the glorious future, but I can't help thinking she looks frustrated at the lack of birds to shoot.
I'm led up the stairs to a small sitting room, where a woman sits behind an ornate desk. She's younger than most of the Daughters, not that much older than me, though it's hard to tell for sure in the Capitol. She's wearing a sharply-detailed blue suit, and a natural hair wig that's been styled into a delicate tower. It looks like a waterspout on the lake.
She looks up sharply, then stands. "Mr. Abernathy. My name is Aquila Grant."
I nod to her and offer my hand. She does not shake it. I put it down.
"Grant?" I say. "As in Mother Laelia?"
"Yes," she says, but doesn't elaborate, which would be enough to tell me that I'm in trouble, even if I didn't already know. Most of the Daughters are happy to tell you exactly who they're related to, what the degree of kinship is, and everything the family has been doing since. I've often felt that my father, who passed down the family dictionary along with its stories, would have liked them.
Though, judging by the look on Aquila Grant's face, it might not have been mutual.
"You've come to ask for your sponsorship, I assume."
"Ma'am, I have two very strong tributes this year, and they'll need everything I can get them. But what I've come for is to apologize."
"To get the money back?"
"I wouldn't refuse it if you offered," I tell her. "But the Daughters have been my staunchest friends in the Capitol. I'm sorry that I've embarrassed them."
She shakes her head and points at a red-velvet chair with dark wood legs. "Please sit down," she says.
She goes back behind the desk and picks up a pen. I don't know what she means to do with it. Maybe she'll write "drunk" on my forehead and send me out into the streets. She stares at it for a while, then puts it down, perfectly parallel to the edge of the desk. She looks at me.
"We didn't come to this decision lightly. It's been under discussion in the past. Several times. I should inform you that I have initiated many of these conversations. In fact, I urged members to withhold their individual sponsorships as well, but the organization has no power over what members do with their money."
"Many of our members find you charming. Amusing, even drunk. You make them laugh, and you make them feel important. You make them feel like they're helping someone less fortunate."
"They are. The sponsorships are --"
She cuts me off with a look. "I don't find you charming," she says.
"I'm sorry. What can I do to change your mind?"
"I'm not interested in seeing you abase yourself, nor do I want to be charmed." She sits back and looks at me sharply. "Do you know what my job is, Mr. Abernathy?"
"You're not a Gamemaker, are you?"
"Not in the sense you're imagining, no. But I have worked with them. I administer various aptitude tests. I doubt you would remember me, but when I was young, in college, I administered tests to you, in the hospital, while you were recovering."
"I remember the tests. I never knew why they gave them to me."
"They wanted to know if your behavior in the arena was something they should have expected, or if you were something of an aberration."
"So what was I?"
"An aberration, in every way." She reconsiders. "Except mathematics. I'm afraid you're only mildly above average in numerical reasoning. Every other test, though, was astounding. To see scores like that from a district boy with a frankly terrible formal education… I looked forward to seeing what you would do. The Gamemakers tried to get President Snow to let you move here and work for them. You could have been anything. You decided to drink yourself into oblivion instead. It offends me."
"May I speak honestly?"
"Yes. Especially if you continue to refrain from the bumpkin accent you use on the others."
"It is my natural accent, ma'am, and I'm not going to try and sound like a Capitolite. But I'll keep it to the way I actually talk. No embellishments. Deal?"
She nods. "Very well."
"There isn't anything to be in District Twelve. Or anywhere else. If I'd never gone to the Games, I'd have been a miner. As a victor, there's not a lot I'm allowed to do."
"Are you telling me that you drink because you're bored?"
"Partly, I suppose. It's not all of it. I'd probably drink if I weren't bored, too. But if you think I could have been anything at all… Ma'am, no offense, but you don't know the districts."
"Do you know what was here when the Founders came?"
"A few buildings, a lot of open desert, and a lot of bombed out shells."
"And a lake we couldn't drink from." She sighs. "They had very little. They set up in the remains. They built the whole city."
"They didn't have someone's boot on their necks while they were doing it."
She smiles, taking me utterly by surprise. I look over my shoulder to see if she's called in the Peacekeepers to pull me away for sedition.
"You needn't worry," she says. "I am not, shall we say, a fan of our current fashion of footwear."
"I don't think the founders would be, either."
I don't answer. I know better. She's as much as admitted that she's worked for the Gamemakers. So far, I haven't said anything that I haven't at least slurred over a drink in public without incident.
She sighs. "I do feel for those children. The girl who volunteered for her sister… do you think she has a chance? Answer me as a victor, not a mentor."
"I don't know her very well, but… as a victor. Yes. I think so."
"And the boy?"
I nod. "And it's about them, not me."
She picks up the pen again and taps it absently on the desk. "I have always felt a certain historical kinship to Twelve. Like the Capitol, it was founded independently. Until Thirteen overran it, it was doing fairly well." She pulls herself out of her historical musing, which may or may not bear a resemblance to the way things actually happened. There's far too much fog for her to know anything for sure. "I will meet with the board to re-visit the question of the corporate sponsorship."
"Thank you --"
"But if you appear drunk, you will lose it, and it will not be reinstated in any other year."
"Yes, ma'am." I decide to make a point of refusing drinks when the cameras are around. She'll see through the act -- obviously, she sees through the rest of it -- but she might actually appreciate the symbolism.
That is apparently the end of the meeting. She calls in her secretary to re-call the board, and dismisses me impatiently.
The kids are still in prep when I get there, though their stylists have joined them now. A few of the other districts are already prepared. The District Two kids, painted up as granite statues, are sitting casually on their chariot chatting about something. As I watch, District One comes out and joins them. The District Two girl gets up and grabs onto the District One girl and mock screams, "No! You can't go!"
The girl from District One makes an exaggerated face and squares her shoulders dramatically. "I volunteer!" she says.
They all laugh.
"I hate them already," Chaff says, coming up beside me.
Seeder is right behind him, but she keeps looking over her shoulder toward the prep rooms. "What's taking so long?" she asks. "Rue doesn't really need that much prep."
"You know they're going to do something with all that hair of hers," Chaff says. "They're probably weaving it into a mock-up of the president's mansion or something."
"That's the little one?" I ask.
Seeder nods. "She's little. But she's smart. Don't you underestimate her, Haymitch."
"Wouldn't dream of it," I say, though I'm pretty sure all three of us know better than to have much hope for her.
"Have you seen Finnick yet?"
"Out with friends of Snow's," Chaff tells me. "Left pretty much as soon as he got in. You know how the boy parties." He wrinkles his nose.
"Yeah. I do."
"He'll be back for the parade, though. His spot in the box is reserved."
"Yup. They finally decided to just put us all in a box. They'll probably put a bow in your hair to make you look pretty."
Seeder gives him a friendly shove. "There's a viewing box this year. I think they're warming up some new ideas for the Quell."
I groan. "Don't remind me."
"What, that it's been a quarter century that you've been lounging around with us?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I meant."
Chaff leads the way out to the main audience section, around City Center. I can see the platform the president will give his speech from. Security is combing it carefully, though I don't think anyone's ever considered the possibility of just offing him at his podium. Maybe Beetee could electrify it somehow.
We're the first mentors to the box. There are more seats than mentors, so I guess every victor in the Capitol this year will be here. There are four rows of seating. Finnick will be in the third row -- most of the first and second are taken up by victors from One and Two. Chaff and Seeder and I are up in the back corner.
I can see the nationwide broadcast on the screens. We're in the middle, with commentators pointing us out while the audience waits. Inset in the corners are live scenes from different districts gathering to watch. As usual, the tributes families are dragged into it. I see Primrose Everdeen biting her lip anxiously before the scene switches to another district.
As the sun sets, the others start to come in. Johanna has changed into Capitol clothes (unless she wears the latest thing at home), and runs up the stairs to give Seeder a hug, flirt with Chaff and me, and tell all of us every detail about her life, Blight's life, and Jack's that she knows, up until Blight signals her to come down. Jack is apparently not coming in this year. Brutus is doing a lot of chest pounding, as usual. Finnick ducks in from his "party" and comes up to say hello before going to his seat. He looks grim. "Annie's mentoring," he says.
"What? Where's Mags?"
"She's here, and she'll help if she can, but she had a stroke."
"Is she all right?" Seeder asks.
"It takes more than that to kill Mags Donovan," Finnick says. "But she's been having trouble talking. And walking. Annie's been staying with her and taking care of her. I told her she should stay home -- both of them, really; let one of the others come up -- but the Capitol wanted Annie, and Mags insisted. Says there's better medicine here anyway. But… " He shudders. "Annie's been at the doctor with her all day. Maybe they'll be able to fix her up. Mags, I mean. Annie's fine."
"Fine" may be something of an overstatement. This is the first time Annie's been back in the Capitol since her Victory Tour ended, and when she leads Mags into the box (I try not to wince at the way she's dragging her foot), she's jumping at every sound. When the trumpets go off to announce the beginning of the parade, she puts her hands over her ears and starts rocking back and forth. Finnick puts his arms around her. The cameras don't catch this. In fact, they don't focus on Finnick at all, as long as he's with Annie.
The announcer does his usual spiel about introducing the tributes. Boxes open up on our chairs, and the Games program appears. I take it out and scan it.
District One. Glimmer and Marvel. Their chariot comes out -- both of them are blond and attractive, and the girl's outfit is cut to reveal almost everything. Undoubtedly, the only reason it's not everything is that they want to save something for later. She blows long, inappropriate kisses, and licks her lips. Marvel flexes his gold-flecked muscles.
District Two. Clove and Cato. Statues. I can't see anything through their makeup. Their pictures in the program are the usual.
District Three. Onnissey and Nonni. They've been turned into televisions, as far as I can tell, and they both look embarrassed about it.
District Four. Charlotte and Garvey, dressed as pirates. She's tough. He looks defeated already. The camera still doesn't go to Finnick, but now it might be because he doesn't look much happier with the situation.
District Five. Finch and Tesla. They're wrapped in wires, and their stylist has made a gold paper lightning bolt between them, apparently striking the chariot from the angry heavens, with arcs hitting both of them. I don't have a read on either of them.
District Six. Tamora and Chiron. They look like they might have spent the trip up here getting high with Berenice and Paulin, though I hope not.
District Seven --
Far down the parade route, I hear a rising roar. People in all of the fancy box seats are standing up, craning their necks. The broadcast stays doggedly on the current chariot, but it's clear that gasps and cheers are coming up in the distance. All I can see is a faint glow.
"Is that Twelve?" Seeder asks.
"I don't know," I say.
The broadcast seems to speed up suddenly, as if the producers want to get to whatever is interesting. They go through Eight, Nine, and Ten perfunctorily, then lavish a small amount of attention on tiny Rue, but it's clear that they're in a hurry to get to the end.
I can almost see them when the image comes up on the screen.
Katniss and Peeta are standing hand in hand in the chariot. Somehow, she's found the little girl who used to ride on Glen's shoulders and sing to strangers at the top of her voice -- she's waving and smiling and throwing kisses to the crowd, where a lot of people have obviously checked their Games programs, because they are chanting, "Katniss! Katniss!"
Peeta is not obviously falling back -- she'd never let him -- but I can see it, the way he's angled just right to put her forward to the cameras, the way his waving is just a bit less than hers.
Of course, I doubt any of that really matters.
I'm pretty sure the only thing anyone is noticing is that the tributes of District Twelve are on fire.