Lena pulls the SUV into a parking lot across the street from our destination.
“They’ve got a bulb out. It looks like she’s had a mastectomy.” Christy’s finger appears between us, pointing to the neon-pink ‘Paper Dolls’ sign.
The D in dolls is a stripper pole with a woman wrapped around it and sure enough, one breast is missing, “This has just become the most fucked up Saturday night in our history.”
“Oh yeah, no contest. Absolutely. Yep.” Lena’s got both hands in her hair, collapsed over the steering wheel in weary, abject, bad-ass defeat.
We’re in that dingy, slinky part of town full of used-to-bes. Behind us a half-demolished structure that used to be a shopping mall. Beside us, an abandoned building that used to be an office complex. We’re sitting in the parking lot of a rundown wholesale car repair that used to be a high end car dealership. And last, but certainly the most abhorrent, we’re across from a strip joint that used to be an over-priced French restaurant.
It had taken about five seconds for Miss wanna-be to spill her guts. Not that she knew much, but she gave us an address and said yes, she’d seen May Rose at the place the night before, scared, but relatively unharmed, so far.
California Redwood on the other hand, was quite the font of information.
The Feds had been watching this guy Jesse Slade for months. Arms, drugs, prostitutes, the guy matched up suppliers with buyers. They called him “The Broker” He also owned a strip club. Charming.
Rand and Homeland were after one of his buyers, who May Rose’s boyfriend, the abusive ass-hat worked for. There was a major deal going down this week, they just didn’t have the exact day.
California Redwood, also known by the very ordinary name of Travis Scott, then proceeded to tell us they couldn’t afford to pull May out. Told Rand he should have pulled her out sooner and it was his fault she was in danger. Rand punched him.
We left the club while they were still grappling. Making our way back down the aisle of horrors, Gerald with one arm wrapped protectively around Allie. Jack tugging Christy behind him while she pointed and ‘ewed’.
And now I’m staring at the deformed pink stripper lighting up the night, “What do you think the odds are of going from pagan naked to leather naked to pasty naked in a single night?”
“Pagan Naked?” This from Jack, who’s now sitting beside Christy. Allie’s in the back seat with Gerald.
Christy turns to him, her nose wrinkled, “You don’t want to know.”
“You sure about that?” One corner of his mouth lifts in a crooked smile. Charm, he’s trying to charm Christy. Poor thing.
“There was a giant totem pole penis.” She informs him, her wide eyes solemn behind round black frame glasses.
Jack’s face went pale, “You’re right, don’t want to know.”
“Well, May Rose isn’t coming out on her own.” Man, I’ll be burning these clothes with Lena’s, “Jack, Gerald, give us ten minutes then come in.”
Jack’s emphatic, “You girls aren’t going in there alone.” Came right on top of Gerald’s, “I don’t think that’s wise.”
Lena starts beating her head on the steering wheel, “You should,” Head bang, “Have let,” Double head bang, “Me shoot ‘em.” A final bang and she just stays there.
Christy’s already opening the door and hopping out.
Allie gives Gerald a kiss on the cheek, “It’s sweet of you to be concerned, but we’ll be out of there in no time.” She follows Christy out of the SUV.
“Dammit!” Jack starts to jump out after them.
I grab his arm, “Look at me.” He reluctantly turns his head and meets my eyes, “I’m Alex Kane. I’m telling you to wait ten minutes then come in.”
“I don’t care who the hell you are…”
“Do you really think I’d risk so much as a single hair on their heads?”
That got him, very reluctantly, he settles back, “Yeah, okay. Ten minutes.”
“So we got a plan?” Lena’s in the lead as we head across the street, exhaust, motor oil, and heat suffocating the air.
“Let’s just get in the door.” I decide to go with a classic, “Lena your fiancé is in there. You’re pissed and we’re trying to keep you from killing him. Allie, I think you should put on some Spell.
She pulls a small pink atomizer out of her Fendi handbag and spritzes her hair, “Done.”
“Christy, how much are you packing?”
“Oh,” She pats her pockets, “Enough to take out about a dozen men if you don’t want the effects to be permanent. Otherwise probably a good thirty.”
“Okay,” We hit the small parking lot, packed with the cars of horny men,“There’s a bouncer at the door.”
“I’m going in.” Lena takes off at a full run and full fury, screaming curses and threats to male body parts. Allie bounces after her, begging her to calm down and reminding her of her outstanding warrant.
Christy’s in the rear, yelling warnings about bacteria life-spans, venereal disease, and stripper poles. And okay that was creative.
I slump back and saunter, playing it up like I’m sick and tired of the whole thing, not at all a stretch.
By the time I make it under the bright pink awning that seems to be the standard for all strip clubs everywhere, the guy guarding the door is surrounded.
“Ma’am, you can’t…”
“Oh I damn well fucking think I can…” Lena’s bellowing and waving…shit, is that a kitchen knife? And just where did she pick that up?
“I’m so sorry. She’s a little overwrought… ” Allie’s all apologetic, tugging on Lena’s arm, “Sweetie, you don’t want to do this…”
“I sure as fuck do.” Lena throws her off, “I’m going to hack that fucker’s balls off and shove them in his lyin’ cheatin’ dirty who knows where the fuck it’s been mouth!”
“Uh…” The bouncer’s eyes are stuck on Allie’s breasts. She’s dangerous in a bustier.
“It doesn’t look sanitary….” Christy peeks in the door, then back up at the overwhelmed giant, “What do you clean the stripper poles with?”
“Huh? Ma’am…no..” But Lena’s used the distraction of Allie’s chest and jumped by him.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I rub a temple and squint into the nasty, “Is he really in there?”
“She said she saw his car in the parking lot.” Christy’s still peeking in the door, “I hope he doesn’t have any blood-born pathogens.”
Wow, she’s on a roll.
“Blood-born what?” The bouncer’s eyes stray from Allie’s chest to her rear. The slime-ball.
“Oh dear, we really should go get her,” Allie steps closer to him, whispering, “Maybe you could just walk us through the door. She has an outstanding warrant.”
“Sure, sweet thing.” Allie could have said take us to the moon, and he’d have been all over it.
“Oh thank you.” She offers him her most beatific smile and takes his arm like she’s entering a debutante ball as opposed to a filth factory. Christy jumps in front of us, checking for dangerous contagions as she goes. I follow behind Allie and her beau for the evening. It’s dark, dank, and disgusting. The pink color scheme continues with the addition of black and purple. Flashing lights, blaring music and the sour smell of stale sweat and sex. Safe to say we’ve now upgraded to projectile vomitous. A runway stage with poles every few feet, numerous women on those poles in various stages of tacky glitter naked, men hollering and drinking and acting like horny fools.
Now, I’m all for women having choices and taking pride in what they do. I’ve even heard of respectable strip clubs where the women are paid and are treated well. Still wouldn’t want to go near the place, but to each their own.
This is not one of those places. The women on the stage have the dead eyes of those who have long ago given up on dreams, respect, and hope. They’re empty shells. Part of me wants to grab every girl off that stage, wrap them in a sheet, and give them money for tuition. The other part wants to clobber the men over the head with a heavy object. Most of me wants to run the hell out of here before I catch something, but more than anything I want to end the man who’s taken the life out of those girls’ eyes.
“You need a job, beautiful? Cause you’d make a fortune.” The bouncer’s raised voice is so full of lust you can practically see it.
“What?” Allie’s gasp carries over the thumping music, “Oh, no I couldn’t take my clothes off in front of strange men.” The breathy words sweep through the fetid air like a silken caress.
“Yeah, no you’re too good for that. How about just me?”
“Oh…oh…” She blinks up at him. Just when the man’s hand lowers to Allie’s bottom, he starts to sway, “Are you alright?”
“Uh, yeah, yeah…” He stumbles, leaning back against the wall.
“Maybe you should sit down?” Allie’s face is the perfect image of compassionate concern.
The man falls into a chair, “I’m good…” His last words before his head slumps into his chest.
“Well, that took a minute.”
“He’s large.” Allie says as we move deeper into the bowels of the foul.
“You should put on a little more.”
“You think?” She pulls the atomizer out and spritzes her hair again. Spell is a little concoction my Aunt came up with. Have no idea how it works but it targets male DNA. If they’re close to Allie for any length of time, they just kind of fold in on themselves. The effects last a good twenty minutes. We’ll be out of here in half that.
I spy Lena at the end of the bar, Christy at her side, looking like she’s trying to talk sense into a crazy woman. Lena’s busy scanning the room. The bar’s along the back wall to the left of the stage and the tiny tables around it loaded with bloated horny idiots. It’s partially hidden from the main floor by a series of life sized cutouts of women wearing pasties and glitter suspended from the ceiling. Classy.
For this reason there are no patrons at the bar. Just the bartender and the barely dressed, artificially augmented waitresses. Not a soul is paying us a bit of attention. It’s so dark and we’re far enough in the back that even Allie goes unnoticed, Course she’s standing between a cutout and a column so she can’t be seen.
“That’s them across from us in the corner.” Lena tosses her head. I casually follow her head to the opposite wall. Four people are seated in a corner booth. Three men and one woman.
I recognize the wavy brown hair the fine delicate features, “May.”
“Yep.” Lena confirms it.
Even in the dim flashing lights she’s radiating tension as is the guy on her left. The jack-ass boyfriend. On her right is a small man with bleached out spiked up hair – the broker. On his other side is another man, big but not a giant, his eyes sharp and constantly moving. That’s the guy we have to worry about. I get the feeling whatever the Feds had been waiting on was going down now. Perfect. Dear Goddess what a night.
I count six large men around them. Rough guys who maim and kill for a paycheck, but they count on their superior size and strength as opposed to training.
“Something’s up” Lena hisses in my ear, “May’s ass-hat is too tense.”
“Yeah, something’s not right.” We need to move, now. And I don’t like the way the broker has his arm around her. He’s moving in on the ass-hat’s territory.
I rack my brain and search our surroundings for a plan. The bartender’s on the other end of the bar, his back to us. There’s a half empty bottle of vodka sitting right on the other side of the counter next to a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. In my periphery, the broker’s bleached out hair glows in the flashing lights. I grab all three and a dirty glass from a tray that’s been dropped off.
“Lena, you smoke.” I toss her the lighter and the cigarettes.
She snatches them out of the air, “Got it.” Pulling one from the pack she light’s it and slips it between her lips.
I empty the vodka into the glass, “Here.” I hand her the full glass.
I proceed to shout out my plan at light speed. Allie gasps. Christy says something about third degree burns and infection. Lena’s face lights up like Christmas morning.
“I love you, sis.” She hugs me before taking off, going around the long way to get in striking position.
“Ladies.” The bartender finally notices us, looking at the three of us askance, but then his eyes land on Allie. I can see his brain shut down, “Uh, you looking for a job, sweetheart?”
“No, she damn well is not.” I’m a little tired of men who aren’t fit to lick my sister’s stilettos inviting her to take her clothes off, “Our crazy sister dragged us in here. She’s going to kill her boyfriend.”
“Oh, yeah…how’d you all get in here?” He’s looking around, for Tony no doubt.
Christy tilts her head, her big eyes puzzled, “Through the front door. How do you get in here?”
“Uh…” His eyes narrow, looking for sarcasm, but Christy has earnest and brainy down. Mainly because that’s her true personality.
Then the women on stage wrap up. The music stops, “Now.” I whisper.
In the seconds of silence before the music starts once more, Allie runs by the cut-outs and into the bar waving her hands over her head, her husky shout a siren’s call, “Sweetie No, don’t do it. He’s not worth it!”
Every single male eye is on her. With her arms raised over her head, her natural curves are pulled up showing above the bustier. Sheesh, the strippers aren’t even in the same universe. Fully clothed, she out-shines them all. She’s running across the floor pleading with Lena to not do anything rash. “Daddy will have a fit if you get arrested again.”
Oohh brilliant, that husky voice saying Daddy is lethal. Christy’s right behind her yelling something about the lifespan of Hepatitis -C. Girl’s on a roll.
Not a single eye is looking around to see who it is they’re running towards. No one’s looking at me either. Circling around, taking Lena’s path, I stop a good ten feet away, settle in and wait.
Lena easily slips through the large men surrounding the broker. Coming up from behind, she sets the full glass down on the top of the booth and goes for the guy with the shrewd eyes. Smart. Her tiny left hand grips his head from the back and slams it into the table, distracting all eyes from her right hand’s activities, “You fucking lying cheating sack of shit…”
His head hits with an audible snap and crack. Broken nose. Allie and Christy push their way through the still stunned beefy men. Allie yelling, “Don’t hurt her. She’s a mental patient.” Christy saying something about viruses living in vinyl for up to forty-eight hours.
Both bald faced lies, but boy are they selling it.
Two of the men manage to squeeze in and pull Lena off her victim. He lifts his head. He’s got a swollen nose and death in his eyes.
Lena jumps back, eyes wide and shocked, “Who the fuck are you?” She shouts like it’s the man’s fault he’s not her lying, cheating, sack of shit.
Christy throws out a finger, and points out the obvious, “That’s not Brad.”
Brad, okay. Lena’s scumbag is named Brad.
“I told you that wasn’t his car!” Allie’s huffing chest is pushed up over her crossed arms, “You’ve ruined our night and smashed this poor man’s nose.” She flings her dainty hand in the smashed man’s direction. His eyes don’t look lethal now, just wide and confused like every other man in the place, “Serves you right if you get arrested.” She turns to him, “You should press charges.”
The shrewd eyes go from bewildered to amused. Sleezy, amused, but amused, “Should I?”
“Yes,” She nods, ignoring Lena’s ‘what the fuck, sis,’ “She won’t learn anything….”
“Fucking A,” Lena shouts, “I’m not a two year old.”
“You certainly act like one…” Then Allie’s her eyes go wide, “Oh My God! FIRE! You’re on fire.”
A single flame leaps up from the broker’s spiky hair. Finally. About damn time. Guess that cigarette had to burn through the hair lacquer. It’s a big night for lacquer.
Still screaming “Fire,” Allie grabs the glass Lena set down and tosses it….and Shit! Damn! So that worked. Yeah, okay….
The broker’s head is engulfed. He’s a living, shrieking, screaming in agony, human Tiki Torch.
The whole place erupts into hysteria. If you ever want to clear a room, yell fire. It’s also a good way to get trampled to death. There’s a stampede for the door. Glittery almost nude women a sprinkle of sparkle among the horny drunkards. The goons are trying to beat out the flames. Lena gets away from her beef-cake by dropping, twisting and head butting him in his crotch. He topples over and damn, he is not getting up anytime soon.
Christy’s arms are working like windmills, spraying who knows what the fuck into the men’s eyes around her. Three topple, just flop over and hit the floor with what I’m sure is a hell of a bang, but there’s no hearing it over the screams and the stampede. That’s four goons down the other two are busy beating out flames.
My eyes find May, she’s been shoved to the back. Her ass-hat of a boyfriend is tugging her along, trying to use the distraction to pull them out. Yeah, good thinking, jack-ass, “Lena!”
“Fast break – May.” Translation: get the girl and let’s get out of here.
“What the fuck?” I spin around to see Jack staring at the scene his mouth hanging open, “Get Christy out of here” He snaps out of his daze and in two strides he’s got Christy around the waist, lifts her up and turns her around, dragging her into the throng headed for the door. Lena’s already on top of May and her ass-hat. She takes him out with a powerful side kick to his knee. I don’t have to hear the crunch to know he collapses. Knees are a favorite of Lena’s. In her words, “Guy can’t walk, he can’t chase you.” She grabs May and melts into the panicked throng. That’s when I find Allie. The shrewd one used the confusion to grab her, and is tugging her back towards a nearly invisible door in the wall by the stage. Spell will work, but it takes time. Time we don’t have, besides that man needs to die.
The dagger falls into my hand, as I work toward him, already feeling the hot slide of his blood coating the blade, but Gerald beats me and shit! He crumples the guy with a hell of a roundhouse to his face.
Gerald’s old school.
Grabbing Allie, he pulls her to me and we break out of the foul and into the melee in the parking lot.
We keep moving, not stopping until we make it to the other side of the street and around the deserted warehouse. May’s with Rand, wrapped in a blanket sitting on the cement stoop leading to the entrance. Lena’s nearby watching over her, but I can tell she sees the same thing in Rand’s behavior I do. May is in good hands. Allie and Christy are with Gerald, examining his roundhouse hand. Jack’s right there with them one arm draped casually around Christy’s waist.
Pacing to walk of the adrenaline still racing though me, I concentrate on taking long slow deep breaths. From the time Allie first screamed ‘He’s not worth it,” to the time we were out the door – two minutes – tops. It felt like hours.
The panicked crowd of drunken men and hysterical screams of glittery naked women rolls across the street. Police sirens are wailing. Fire trucks are roaring. The sounds crash into us, scattering the silence of the night. Then over all of this I hear, loud, clear and strong, “Annwyn Mckenna Alexandra! Just what the hell is going on here?”
Allie and Christy look up from Gerald’s hand with an “oh dear”and an “uh-oh.”
From my other side I hear Lena’s, “Damn, this some bad luck, this is.”
‘Bad luck’ my fanny. I catch Rand’s eye, “You no good snitch.”
He shrugs, “Had to tell him. Value my life.”
And then, standing in front of me is the six foot five inches of Scottish Warrior glory that is Gavin McIntyre.