Time passed, inexorable minutes ticked off to my heartbeat. Annie curled against my back, ass cheeks to ass cheeks, like unspoken safe zones. Full frontal was out of the question. So too was the cuddle under the chin, or the leg carelessly thrown over a thigh, palms flattened on belly bumps.
There was no gentle rise and fall of anything to take the measure of intimacy. Revelations usually teased out a level of tenderness, except in some cases, like mine, where mutilation and eroticism crowded center stage for bragging rights.
Some people favored tats—for artistic expression or in-your-face, up-yours-fucker personal statements. I’d seen brotherhood, role playing, wish fulfillment—all manner of expressionism on the human body. Shouts or quiet statements, it didn’t matter just so long as the wearer had that outward badge to proclaim I am alone, I am part of, I am unique, I am one of you… I am lion, hear me roar.
I went that extra mile, giving up pieces I could spare, though like a closet protestor, I hid behind the safety of polyester, keeping my identity, the real me, carefully sequestered from public view.
Though not a card-carrying member of assassins ’r us, it didn’t take an epiphany to realize the less distinctive the image, the more I could hide in plain sight. Women like me, sporting cellulite and fine lines, lanky dirty blonde hair and sallow complexions … hipless, boobless, invisible, those were the women nobody remembered. Chameleons, we were their aunties, the pathetic spinster older sister, the mom coming from daycare sans makeup or sporting a vocab that started and ended with sippy cup.
Women like me carried resentful and sad and second-class-citizen like genetics on slow-drip morphine. You never saw us coming. You certainly never saw us leave.
As those thoughts tumbled through my brain, drowning out the incessant I told you so my inner bitch set on infinite feedback loop, I struggled to find a reason to stay. Not just here in this apartment, not just in the company of a woman who would be friend, certainly not with a living, breathing, firecracker of a lover who made it clear she was just getting started on weaning me from my addiction to cocks.
And then I wondered about Dominic.
Dominic doesn’t like me…
Yet here you are…
Getting Mr. Second-in-Command into bed wasn’t going to be all that difficult. It had taken all of ten minutes to slide under his firewalls undetected. I’d learned a shitload of nothing useful for Richter, but a couple gems had angled in sideways, a few proclivities that put Dominic and me on that elusive level playing field.
Dominic liked it dirty. He liked it hard. He liked to give and receive, to fill and be filled. Unlike most of his ilk, he was selective, choosing his victims carefully, making sure he got value from every encounter. Cold, heartless, intelligent.
He let me live.
It was time to get to work.
I slipped out of bed and padded down the hall to the bathroom, mulling over my options. It was Saturday night. My inner clock suggested the witching hour. Perfect. Dominic haunted one of two of Gotham’s trendiest goth clubs. He toggled between them, never gracing either with exclusivity.
Richter had provided me with bone fides to get in one or the other. I had a fifty-fifty chance, and instinct suggested Absolution. It was located in a nondescript section uptown, not too far from Annie’s digs, a long walk on a hot night, or a breezy ride on my Duc. Caution dictated having wheels, just in case. Prudence suggested wandering in off the street would call less attention.
I wasn’t looking to score first time up at bat. To follow the baseball metaphor, I’d been given a walk, and another chance. Dominic would be expecting me in any case.
I tarted up my eyes with enough mascara to sink a ship, did the black eyeliner thing, paled my face down even further with base and went bold on the lips. Nothing called attention to a thin, pinched mouth like a painted on promise in fire engine red.
The corset, as usual, was a bitch and change to get on. Too low, it revealed the scarring and made sitting, breathing or moving fast labors I didn’t need. Too high, it hid the assets, such as they were.
I was trying to Goldilocks the fucker into place, when Annie padded into the bathroom and said, “Let me do that.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.” Sorry to disappoint you, sorry I can’t be what you want, sorry it didn’t work out. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
She grunted something unintelligible and proceeded to lace me in, the zip of cord shushing through grommets—one, two, tug, grunt, repeat—an interesting counterpoint to my own racing pulse. She reached around and scooped each boob, repositioning and realigning until fleshy bulbs of titillation bobbed and jiggled with every movement.
“Is that too tight, hon?” She said the hon with the snark of retail, each yank on the polymer cord another railcar in the commission train. When she finished, and I could barely breathe, she took the snark another step with, “So, you’re going out.” Not a question. Just an invite for words.
Girl words. Passive-aggressive, how can you do this to me after all we’ve been to each other. Those words. The next ones would be: do you plan on staying out all night? If she had big brass ones, she’d fly with I guess I wasn’t good enough, you have to slut yourself out for cock to cleanse the palate.
The answer to that was yes and no.
Two could play that game but I wasn’t in the mood, nor did I have the luxury of time. Richter had set the clock by naming the target. I needed to wrap my thick skull around what in hell that really meant, soonest.
Instead, I bit my tongue and muttered, “I have to meet somebody,” and brushed past her, hands up, surrender-style.
My zone of occupation was in the living room. A folding table held the laptop. The duffle bag with a few changes of clothes, a hard-shell case for my guns, and a messenger bag constituted the sum total of me invading Anne Maria Sanchez’s life. The blankets and pillow were folded neatly and tucked away on the bottom shelf of the end table. The futon was upright, promising equal discomfort sitting or reclining.
A birdcage and accessories would have offered more ambiance than those relics of my sparse existence. It screamed temporary. If you listen to screams, sometimes you hear the truth.
The sad thing was, I wasn’t even good enough for a one-night fuck, let alone the kind of trial partnership my Dark Eyes seemed hell bent on pursuing. And she wasn’t giving up. She should have.
Christ, I would have, had I been on the blunt side of normal. A strange woman, looking like a goth nightmare, strapping on an ankle holster and shimming a cold steel blade under a skin tight black pleather skirt? Move along, chica, nothing to see here.
But I wasn’t her, I was me. Just the act of sliding the pop-shooter into place was enough to give me a hard on, metaphorically speaking. It was also a mental reminder that getting lucky was a hand I was good at playing.
It set up all manner of guilt-free anticipation.
I guess it showed on my face. She said, “Fuck you,” and backed away, not far enough to vacate the space, but sufficient to let me know we were at break point.
Fuck you was a long way from get out so I shouldered the messenger bag with the four-inch strappy sandals and Nike’d my way to the door.
Sorry might have won me some bonus points in the apology round, but I had other things on my mind so a curt, “Don’t wait up,” was all I could muster. The door soughed shut behind me, putting a punctuation point on the sorry excuse that was my existence.
I waded into the soup of a mid-August uptown night, turned left and right and power-walked into mourning.
Snorting at the irony, I took my place at the end of the line, just past the empty pedestal that would have borne alabaster versions of the Virgin or the patron saint. The diocese had shut down underperforming parishes, systematically abandoning those most in need of succor in favor of consolidation and the Vatican’s bottom line.
No, I wasn’t a fan.
Dominic’s nest had an active real estate procurement arm, with assets running a tidy eight figures. They were scooping up warehouses, churches and the odd tenement, and refurbishing or razing the buildings. The Northeast group has chosen to turn the house of god into a house of sin, entertainment wise.
Absolution appealed to the high end goth lifestylers, those with money to burn and very particular tastes in how to burn it. Rumor had it you could get your kicks privately or in a group setting, along with investment advice and ops to be the first in on the ground floor in one of Dominic’s clever pyramid schemes.
Come for the orgasm, leave with a prospectus. Worked for me. I was all about free enterprise. Richter? Not so much.
It was in the sub-basements, the catacombs of lost souls, where a select few, for a price, got to turn fantasy into reality. I needed to find a way into that underbelly if I wanted to connect with Dominic.
One of the guard dogs—a shirtless-wonder refuge from Planet Fitness—came sniffing around. Literally. He was human, but specially trained. How I hadn’t a clue, but he paused just downwind, did a double take and returned to stand facing me. Moving the messenger bag from my left to right hand, I squared off, putting a little more separation between my thighs. That lifted the skirt enough I could do a smooth draw on the blade and carve my initials in his impressive abs.
The press of anxious party-goers eased as they allotted space for the mountain to move in but not so much they’d lose focus on their phone cameras. Nobody looked directly at the mountain, not with a tasty vic doing belligerent and up yours. As far as the poseurs were concerned, I was roadkill, a done deal. They stayed close, curious how the beast would dispatch me, but not overly concerned it could or would spill out into their carefully conceived vision of why the fuck should we care?
Thumbing the waistband of the handkerchief masquerading as a skirt, I moved the ID—get into hell free badge—around to my left hip. The mountain reached over the chain and fingered it without taking his eyes off my face. Specifically my neck. He sniffed again and I tilted my head, stretching the tendon invitingly and releasing the scent.
I’d hoped to use it as my trump card. That my last line of defense was being called up from the get-go did not give me a warm fuzzy.
The beast blunt-nailed the artery, palpating it with such sensual ease, if I’d been wearing panties, they’d have been soaked through. He wrinkled his nose and grinned. Now he knew for a fact I was glad to see him.
And he probably knew what I was. Not who. What.
Lifting the chain, he motioned me to duck under and follow him inside. The tall mahogany doors opened into a small vestibule. To the right, there was a standard hat check, coat check, weapons check desk. To the left, a door led somewhere. The mountain’s body language indicated that’s where we were headed.
I quickly changed into the heels, tucked the gun and holster into the bag and lifted the skirt to reveal the blade and my availability. There was a good chance the cover charge included some unconventional payment plans.
Since I couldn’t afford that distraction, I said, “I don’t suppose you’ll take a twenty?”
He licked his lips and debated the choice. Gracing me with another grin, this time rueful, he murmured, “I’m not that cheap.”
“And I’m not that easy.”
“Good. Nice to know we understand each other.”
At the door, he held it open and waved me through. I stopped just inside and waited for him to follow. He didn’t. With eyebrow cocked, I pointedly stared at his crotch and pitched my voice low enough only he would be privy to the question.
“Are you feeling lucky?”
“Who should I ask for?”
“Sam. Ask for Sam.”
Smoothing the material over my thighs, I nodded and said, “Well, then. See you later … Sam.”
As he shut the door, he murmured, “Maybe.”