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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Eight, Emmett VIII

Some lines shouldn’t be crossed. But how the fuck is he supposed to know where they are?
—Emmett Delacroix


Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007

Emmett: New Orleans is a lot of things to a lot of people. The only thing it is to all of them is hot. Even in the fall seasons, the city’s still tonguing the Gulf of Mexico from between its legs, and the air hangs wet and heavy with Louisiana’s slap-you-in-the-face -with-your-own-sweat kind of heat. Anybody with half a brain spends the zenith of swamp-baking sun height indoors, or at least the shade.

Anybody, though, does not mean everybody.

Take the mailman (or her; Em is no sexist, and it’s 2007 for crayon’ out loud). Nobody asks him, do they?

Enter the stranger, with a too-big smile and a six pack of (what do mailmen drink? Coors?) something cold.

GM: Lena’s mailman is a late-thirties-looking man with a wide nose, thick lips, and partial goatee dressed in the blue-eagled UPS uniform. He gives his name as Carl when Em asks, and is glad to have a cold beer, or two, or several. Early fall promises only marginal relief from the swelteringly muggy Louisiana heat.

Mailman.jpg
When they get to the heart of the matter, Carl’s answer is direct.

“Motherucker, you know what that is? Federal crime, federal prison, big-ass fine, and my job.”

He then adds without slowing, “So gimme more if you want the letter.”

Emmett: “I can see you mean business. Three hundred and I give you the number of a girl who’ll give you a bargain for that price. If that’s not your thing, I know all kinds of people in this city. All kinds of pies.”

GM: Carl holds out his hand.

“Gimme.”

Emmett: He doesn’t wait long. Six fifties folded into one slips from Em’s hand into Carl’s. It’s not as hard as making a quarter dance across his knuckles, but he imagines it’s a hell of a lot more satisfying to watch.

GM: Carl stuffs them into his pocket with the casual nonchalance of a Louisiana public employee for whom ‘kickbacks’ are synonymous with ‘salary’. He asks Em for a phone number to call when he has the letter, takes another one of the beers, then climbs back in his UPS van.

Another day, another dollar.


Thursday afternoon, 27 September 2007

Emmett: Em thinks about Ron’s advice. It had felt low asking for it, but he already knows what kind of man his uncle was. Knows what kind of man Ron thinks his nephew is, expects him to be.

Another girl, he had explained. A wild card—too wild. She gave him a blowjob during auditions, but not she was making all kinds of noises about telling Cécilia and this and that and so on—women, right?

How would a man like Ron, he had asked, a man with his experience and charm and reputation handle things?

How would he put her back in place?

GM: “Well, Em, two things,” Ron answers casually. “One, how badly you want this girl to keep her mouth closed, and two, how pretty is she with it open?”

“There’s people I can call.”

Emmett: “I want her to respect me.”

He’s quiet for a moment, but he knows he needs to say it.

“To be scared of me.”

GM: “So fuck her without asking first, then. That usually does it.”

Emmett: “Sure, yeah, but this girl… this girl is something special.”

He doesn’t need to fake the admiration in his voice. Maybe there’s a fucked-up reason he can’t stop seeing Sami’s face in his dreams. But he prefers them to the nightmares of Abélia.

“She’s mean. Like, man mean. Like she’ll do anything to feel in charge. I need to do something special. I guess I’m thinking something with cameras. Something she can’t forget. Ever.”

Em drums his fingers on his leg.

Some lines shouldn’t be crossed.

But how the fuck is he supposed to know where they are?

“Ron… you know any guys in porn?”

GM: Ron guffaws at him.

“Am I an overweight black man?”

Emmett: “I forget sometimes, we look so much alike.”

GM: “Half my damn life ago. Yeah, I know guys in porn. I know girls in porn too.”

Emmett: “I’m thinking, a few scary guys in a room, hit her with some lights and maybe an offer to make it go down sweeter—high school girls have reputations. Self-image. Some things always stay the same, you know?”

This makes sense. This makes sense. This makes sense.

GM: “Yeah. They do. Your cuz ain’t bad if you’re looking for a scary guy.”

Emmett: He knows that already.

He isn’t sure why he asks. Nothing good can come of it.

But he does.

“Uncle Ron, does it ever fuck you up? Doing, you know, what we’re doing. What we do. Directing, I guess. The business. Do you ever get, you know… tired? Of things like this?”

He wonders if Ron’ll understand. He hopes so.

Because the worst part about the whole thing is Em loves Ron, and he knows Ron loves him.

GM: His uncle gives him a blank look.

“Shit, kid. This is onea the only ways to still have fun in the biz. The shit I put out these days, that’s what it is. Shit. It sells. It ain’t art. You only get to do art when you’re small time.”

Emmett: “You’re right. I’m just moping. Can you blame me? It’s time to actually start working. Lemme get you a drink.”

GM: Ron looks at him somberly. “Enjoy it while it lasts, if you’re serious about going into the biz. I mean it. This movie… treat her like, I don’t know, an actual fuckin’ girlfriend. Treat her right. Treat her gentle. Make her feel special.”

“Because after her,” he continues, and his voice isn’t without bitterness, “they’re all just gonna be fuckin’ whores.”

“This is your one shot, Em, if this movie hits,” he says intently, looking into Em’s eyes. “If it makes you big. Your one shot to make… to make some real fuckin’ art.”

Emmett: “You’re right, unc. You’re right.”

He pours and watches the bubbles well and pop.

“I’ll just have to enjoy her while she lasts.”


Thursday afternoon, 27 September 2007

GM: “Em. ’Sup?” asks Jermaine over the phone.

Emmett: “Nothing good, just movie business. It’s dirty, Jermaine. Maybe I should take up your line of work, clean up my act.”

GM: There’s a hard laugh.

“Try me.”

Emmett: “I…”

For a moment he hesitates. The shame is there, even if he hasn’t processed it.

But he trusts Jermaine. He guesses if he can’t tell him, he can’t tell anybody.

“There’s this girl, who did something bad to me. And I don’t think I’ll be able to look at myself until I do something worse to her.”

He tells the story, plainly. “It wasn’t… I don’t know what it was. But I need to fix this, you know? Need to get even, more like. You know?”

He waits for the laughter, the taunt. He expects it.

But he hopes it might not come.

GM: But the world is an awful place full of terrible people. His hopes are in vain.

“Get even over what? Getting lucky?” laughs his cousin.

“Hell, I thought I had game, but only girls I’ve had try to gimme BJs on the spot are dope fiends. Never mind some real goddamn sex. Girls can’t keep their hands off you, can they, huh?”

Emmett: “I guess I did, guess I did… but it’s about power, you know? I mean, you get that. It’s about letting people know what they can do to you. Yeah, I’m not complaining, but how the fuck at I supposed to tell her what to do if that’s how she’s gonna go about it? But that’s all besides the point. I want to teach this bitch a lesson. You wanna help? It’ll be more fun for you than it was for me.”

GM: There’s a pause.

“Power.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

“A’ight. When and where?”

Emmett: “I’ll text you the deets later. But maybe find one or two guys you trust who like white girls. And who maybe don’t mind fucking on camera. I’m talking it over with some friends of your dad.”

GM: “Oh, that’ll be fuckin’ hard. My face stays out.”

Emmett: “That ain’t hard. Who the fuck’s gonna want to see your face?” he laughs. “Hey man, I appreciate this. Thanks.”

GM: It doesn’t take too long for Em’s plan and the “film crew” to come together. He may be somewhat disappointed when Ron explains there is no such thing as “boilerplate” porn contracts.
As a general principle of contract law in the U.S. (which Ron knows pretty well as a director), you can’t force someone to specifically perform under a contract when they refuse to. There are legal routes to compensate the person who loses out on the bargained-for outcome (i.e., the contracted person may owe monetary damages), but that’s as far as it goes. This is why there is performance insurance for actors who are known to be unreliable.

None of that, of course, rules out forcing someone to participate in a porn film against their will. “God knows that happens,” Ron laughs. There are plenty of customers who get off to seeing crying girls in real terror and/or pain. You can’t fake that shit.

Well, you can. But it’s not like porn stars are known for their acting chops.

Hell, for “higher-class” companies, there’s completely legal ways to coerce girls into porn. Ron tells Em a story about a porn studio that’s famous for brand new actresses who only ever do porn once. The studio is also notorious for flying girls to Australia or California under the pretense of modeling for a day. When they arrive, they learn their return flight is contingent on signing a contract for a pornographic film they are told is for a private collector and will never get released online. If they walk, they’re free to go… but they’re also stranded. So they sign and do the scene, along with every ‘normal’ sex act someone can imagine, just to fly back home.

Plus, it’s not like a lot of girls know the ins and outs of contract law. They might think they’re on the hook after they sign, which is just as good as them being on a real hook. Producers in “more” exploitative studios sometimes make kidnapped girls sign completely fake contracts just so they have less incentive to try and escape.

Oh, another fun industry fact: FaceTorture is a “legal” big name notorious for scenes that are extremely abusive in every sense. They sign performers to contracts with a safeword to use if a shot gets to be too much… but the actors lose around 90% of their check if they use the safeword.

Then there’s the “extreme” studios, like Death Mask Productions. Ones that can’t ever find willing girls to do the things they have them do, and whose actresses wind up in missing persons reports—if they ever get reported at all. You can’t find their movies with a Google search. But they are online. There’s names for that kind of market, and those kinds of movies. Red room. Snuff. Black hole market.

“The people I’m hookin’ you up with ain’t… that,” Ron says slowly. “But listen good, Em.”

“Most girls in these guys’ films… they’re not like yours. Well-off, goin’ to a good school, with a family that gives a rat’s ass about ’em.”

“You get your girl to stay quiet about this. You get these guys angry, because your girl blabs and her family starts bringin’ in cops and lawyers… they won’t go to cops and lawyers to get payback on you. Understand?”

Emmett: “I understand. I’ll give her a good reason to keep quiet.” He smiles. “You know, Ron, you’re the only one in the family ever treated me like a real man. You need anything from me, say the word.”

“The guys you’re hooking me up with— they mobbed up, or just shady?”

GM: “They’ve killed people,” Ron answers bluntly, then smiles. “But don’t think nothin’ of it. You’re a grown man in my book.”

Emmett: They’ve killed people. He feels a little cold, but only little. Murder isn’t much worse than what he’s planning, by his figuring.

But Ron doesn’t challenge him. Doesn’t have a problem with it. Ron doesn’t judge.

Sometimes the best love is the kind that doesn’t ask any questions. Because it barely feels like love at all.


Thursday afternoon, 27 September 2007

Emmett: It starts with texting her. His dad tried to take him hunting a few times and he hated it, but Em remembers one thing. You don’t want to scare the deer.

He doesn’t betray any of the pain or anxiety she’s caused him. How it takes him longer to fall asleep now, how sex suddenly seems not only unsatisfying but painful—these are things Em can not share, will never share.

Instead, when Elliott texts Sami it’s unabashedly flirty. It’s not crude, but he can’t afford to care about appearances anymore.

That was a great audition : ). I want to get to know you more—want to hang out Saturday?

And so on. He’s open to how she wants to spend the time. He also brings up that they’ll be ready to shoot some test footage that Saturday, if she wants to make her getting the part official.

i think we have a lot to talk about. You didn’t really let me finish last time. well, not what I was saying

GM: Sami seems amused and amenable to hanging out. She leaves it to Em to pick the venue.

Emmett: Everybody loves free ice cream.

Not Creole Creamery, though. He meets her at Stanley’s, a French Quarter place.

It’s closer to the place they’re shooting in.

Stanley.jpg
Stanley.jpg
He brings a flask of Ron’s good shit with him, too. Not laced. Just good old booze.

Flashing the ID Jermaine got him for his birthday, he also orders an Irish Coffee Milkshake (“Oh, and if you have any Nutella, do me a solid and ask them to mix some in, I don’t mind paying extra.”) And whatever Sami wants, of course.

GM: Em’s date orders the Chipotle Caesar Salad (“Romain Lettuce, Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic Parmesan Croutons, and Chipotle Caesar Dressing with Chicken”), the Cajun Spiced Ribs side (“BBQ Smoked Pork Ribs with Spicy Baked Beans and Potato Salad”), and Flirty Shirley (“Tito’s Vodka, Sprite, Grenadine”). For desert, she gets the Abita Root Beer Bourbon Float (“Two scoops of ice cream with Buffalo Trace Bourbon”). A flashed ID saying she’s 21 gets her both alcoholic confections.

Or rather, has Em get her both confections. They, and the two food items, are each some of the the most expensive items on the menu. Sami only eats about half of her food and samples just one of the Spiced Ribs, citing how a good figure “doesn’t maintain itself.” Em’s flask is also swiftly emptied and finds good company with his aching wallet.

“They have pancakes on the drinks menu,” she idly remarks as she looks it over. “What do they do here, blend them?”

Emmett: “Only one way to find out,” he laughs, and orders them.

He will not be outdone. Not again. He is not a victim tonight.

He keeps things light. Can’t scare away the deer. He jokes and yarns and tells her stories about Cécilia, great stories, utterly untrue. But Sami craves what Cécilia has, and jealousy makes people believers. He keeps things light, but tantalizing—always slightly escalating the energy of the conversation, always seeming almost on the cusp of proposition, but teasing, grinning. The mood is infectious, especially encouraged with alcohol.

GM: “What a prissy little bitch,” Sami laughs.

“No way.”

“And everyone goes on about how she’s Little Miss Perfect.”

Emmett: He’s curious about her, too. He wants her talking about herself, her life. She likes to talk, he can tell, so he does everything to encourage it.

It’s very different lying to her than Cécilia. With Cécilia, he felt guilty, at least at first. At least a little.

But when he lies to Sami, he knows he can’t afford to slip. Can’t let himself see her as anything but the girl he needs to break, because if he doesn’t, he suddenly knows he will not be able to stand against Abélia. The choice isn’t between innocent and guilty anymore. It’s fuck or get fucked.

He knows which he prefers.

GM: It’s plain Sami feels the same.

She talks about fucking him.

Casual little off-hand jokes at first, about “watching your drinks around me” when he takes his eyes off her for a moment. Entendres about “how well” she already knows him. She laughs about it, as the two get deeper in their cups. How it’s the “best of both worlds.” She already knows him at his most intimate, his most exposed, his most vulnerable, yet she remains opaque. Unknown. She gets to “keep my mystery” while “already knowing what’s waiting at the end with you.”

Amusement glitters in her eyes as she looks him up and down.

“I should do that to more boys,” she mentions idly. “It’s doing us both a favor, really.”

Emmett: It should make his skin crawl.

It should make him hate her.

But it doesn’t. He doesn’t have any of himself left to lose to her. So he laughs, too. He’s a good sport about it. He even teases her a little.

“Absolutely,” he agrees. “Not so much mystery, though.” He returns the gaze, and smirks slightly.

He doesn’t justify the claim. Doesn’t do a single thing to validate it. He just leaves it there, and continues, “You’re cute when you’re mean, you know. A lot of girls can’t make it look stylish. You do.”

GM: And for once, he’s being honest.

He does think it’s stylish. Cute, too. He thought so since their first meeting.

He had to know more.


Thursday afternoon, 27 September 2007

Emmett: “Hey, you know Sami Watts?” Em says, after Cécilia picks up the phone.

GM: She doesn’t pick up. The line rings until voicemail.

“Hello, you’ve reached Cécilia Devillers. Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Beeeep.

Emmett: “Hey, Cécilia—I realized I forgot to mention, I think I found our lead. Sami Watts, she’s in your grade I think. Do you know her? I thought you might have an opinion about it.” He pauses, then continues warmly, “‘Kay, have a good day, I’ll see you when you see me.”

Click.

GM: Time passes. Cécilia does not call back.

Emmett: Odd, but workable. He dials Bentley Downs next.

GM: “Hi, uh, who’s this?” asks the underclassman.

Emmett: “Hi, Bentley, it’s El.” His voice turns wry. “Director of Untitled Love Story Project. You got the part.”

GM: “Really? That’s great!” Bentley happily exclaims. “My dad says I have a lot of talent, like my mom did, but I thought he was just… well, what’s the part?”

Emmett: Ugh. What is the part?

“Well, he’s absolutely right,” he assures her automatically. " As for the role, you’re one of the lead’s best friends," he says simply. “You can make a lot of it your own. It’d be a shame for me to waste potential like yours. Hey, do you know Sami Watts? I think she goes to your school.”

GM: “Yeah, she’s a senior. We’re not really friends, but I know her. And that sounds great! Really great! When’s filming gonna start?”

Emmett: “Sometime in the next week, if I can get my way,” he says easily. “And you might want to start hanging around her a bit more, she’s playing the main role.”

He has a feeling that piece of information will spread pretty quickly. Bentley’s the kind of girl who talks.

“They don’t call it method acting for nothing.”

GM: “Oh, definitely! I can’t wait!” Bentley exclaims. “Um, what’s method acting?”

Emmett: “Don’t worry about it.”

Next he calls Isabel Flores. Idly, he wonders if he should reward himself with a trip to O’Tolley’s after tonight.

GM: “Hello, you’ve reached the Flores residence,” greets an older-sounding woman who doesn’t sound like Mrs. Flores.

Emmett: “Hello, I’m calling for Isabel or Mrs. Flores if she’s not home. Elliott Faustin, if she asks.”

GM: “Of course, young man. Please hold a moment.”

There’s a wait. Then,

“I hear you’ve been asking after my family, Elliot,” sounds a man’s deep voice.

Emmett: “Oh, is this Mr. Flores?” he asks, politely puzzled. “I hope the call isn’t a bother, sir, I was just trying to tell your daughter she got a part in the project she auditioned for. She’s a talented young woman.”

He makes a jerking off gesture with his free hand.

GM: “It’s not a bother, Elliot. I like to know what my family are up to.”

“Tell me about this project.”

Emmett: Oh.

He recognizes the tone immediately. The friendly, assertive swagger. The casual presumption.

He feels something like pity for a moment.

“Oh, it’s a student film,” he says happily, hedging for time. It isn’t really his problem the dad’s who he is, but he sympathizes with anybody keeping a secret from their parents. “I’m sure Isabel would love to tell you about it herself, but it’s just a student film project of mine. My girlfriend goes to school with Isabel. Cécilia Devillers. I think they’re close.”

A small protection, maybe, if his intentions are sinister.

And this is an awful world with awful people, so they probably are.

GM: “You know, Elliot, a lot of people I talk to think I served in the armed forces,” says Isabel’s presumed father. “I didn’t, even if I have nothing but respect for men who do.”

“One of the reasons people think that is because I like to hear a ‘sir’ every few sentences. Especially from young people. Is that understood?”

Emmett: Congratulations. Now I want to lie to you more.

“Oh absolutely, sir. I hope I didn’t cause any offense. My father’s the same way, and a diplomat. I have an uncle in the Marines, though. Great man, doesn’t take any nonsense the same way you don’t. Sir.”

Yeah, and he wants to fuck his daughter, too.

GM: “Your father has some work left to do with you, Elliot. But that’s better. Tell me about the role you want for my daughter in your movie.”

Emmett: “Absolutely, sir. Well, it’s a fine role for a young lady with manners, which she has in spades. I would say she plays a kind of paragon of virtue, a role model of sorts for a much more troubled protagonist. Do you have a favorite film, sir?”

Die Hard or Terminator, probably.

GM:Patton,” Mr. Flores answers.

“In the old days, Elliot, Hollywood had something called the production code. There were strict limits on what subjects films were allowed to address and how they were allowed to address them. The Catholic League of Decency was partly behind the old code.”

“In my household, my children don’t watch anything that doesn’t meet its standards. It’s helped keep the media from influencing them in unwholesome ways.”

“One of the terms of the old code was that all villains had to get what was coming to them at the end. Did you know that? It wasn’t just about not showing unwholesome subjects.”

Emmett: “Yes, I’m familiar with the time you’re talking about, sir. And I think I know what you’re driving towards. Are you a fan of Schaffner’s other work? I always loved Boys from Brazil.

Especially the ending. Where the Nazi gets eaten by dogs. That’s how you end a movie.

“Virtue is important to me, Mr. Flores. I don’t believe in misleading an audience about that. Or my cast.”

GM: “Good. You can mail a copy of your script to my address. I’ll decide if Isabel will participate in your movie after reading it.”

Emmett: He feels a sudden overwhelming spite. “Of course, sir. It would be my pleasure.”

And just for him, he adds, “And please, give my regards to Diana as well. You’re a very lucky man, sir. Have a good evening, now.”

He waits two seconds before hanging up.

Let’s hear you squirm, asshole.

GM: Em’s phone rings after he sets it down. The caller ID is the same number.

Emmett: He lets it go to voicemail. He could use some funny recordings.

GM: There’s none. The line simply remains silent.

Emmett: He calls the other McGehee tolerable actresses with big last names and mouths bigger than brains. He asks a few of them if they know Sami. He plays a good listener with some of the chattier ones and gathers what rumors he can.

GM: Em hears that Sami and Cécilia are friends. They hang out as part of the same clique.

Emmett: As promising as it is terrifying. He can work with this.


Thursday night, 27 September 2007, PM

Emmett: He sips the boozy milkshake as he waits for Sami to answer.

GM: “You’re cute when you’re on your back,” she deadpans. “But still cute enough when you’re talking.”

Emmett: He snorts, genuinely amused. “Cécilia was right about you. You are fun.” He glances over her. “You know, I was thinking about what you said, her not having any real friends.”

God, he loves Nutella.

“Do you?”

GM: Sami gives a short laugh. It might be either with him or at him.

“That question’s sort of like ‘can I be honest.’ Who actually says ‘no, I want you to tell me comforting lies’?”

Emmett: “Some people find a way to answer it like you just did,” he replies easily. “It’s basically the same.”

They’ve been drinking a while now. Or at least, she has. It was easy enough to pour out the remainder of his flask after she got her taste, but he’s been sipping the water from it steadily enough, and playing up his sloppiness just enough to get her to relax.

Not that she needs much encouragement.

GM: Mostly, it seems like, because she doesn’t take him seriously.

Maybe her guard would be up more around someone else. But Em gets the distinct sense she feels as if she’s already ‘won’ against him. She doesn’t swoon at his compliments and never lets up on the barbs.

“Maybe I’ll e’en let you shcrew me conscious someday,” she laughs at one point, sounding more than a little tipsy.

Emmett: It could be demoralizing. Instead it’s more than a little pathetic.

He seizes on that. Once you see somebody else as less, you never have to feel scared of them again.

Humans learned that trick a long, long time ago.

“Lucky me,” he simply says, then lets out a little belch for effect. He grins wickedly and says, slurring slightly at opportune times that don’t make him incomprehensible, “I’ll be your friend, though. Tell me the truth about Cécilia. How you feel uh, about her.”

GM: Sami makes fun of Cécilia, too, when Em brings her up, as well as his interest in and pursuit of “Little Miss Perfect.” Little Miss Perfect, who eventually throws away all her boyfriends so she can get back to some “wholesome family incest” with her sisters—yes, even the one who’s still in preschool. “The age is probably even more of a turn-on to her, since being an innocent little angel’s already her thing.”

It’s evident enough that Sami wants what Cécilia has. Her place at the top of the school.

Emmett: It’s gratifying to be told what he thinks he already knows.

It also makes his momentum unstoppable. Like a snowball collecting filthy flakes, events keep going to plan.

“You’d be surprised. She’s not so innocent.” He pauses, slightly. “I saw some parts of her I can’t unsee. You think if I left her for you it’d make a splash at school?”

GM: Sami laughs again. It’s a sound tinged with hardness, and that same sense it’s still partly at him.
“Yeah. I bet it would make a splash.”

Emmett: “Try a little harder to impress me, then, it’s not like I’m gonna do it for me.”

GM: Sami laughs again, spills her drink over his shirt, then laughs harder at that.

“Don’t need to, pretty boy, you’ve already cheated on her.”

Emmett: “Yeah. But I have to say, I can see why you hate her so much. You don’t really have the same…grace she does. But I guess you’ll be able to take her on alone. It’s not like anybody’s tried before you.”

GM: “Yeah. But I have to say, I can see why she’s bored of you too. You don’t really have the same… grace her usual boyfriends do. Or money. Her boyfriends usually have that, too.”

Emmett: He shakes her head at her, laughing. “If you had been a little more patient, you might have gotten everything you wanted and more. But I’m curious where you’re going to take it. Girls like you, they want what she has but they don’t understand how her mind works. How people work. It isn’t enough to fuck somebody’s boyfriend for a part. You have to think ahead.”

He talks with his hands, an extra level of confidence in his words that’s easy to play off as intoxicated vigor rather than theatric glee. “That’s the game Cécilia plays. I’ve seen inside it. What do you want—to be a story, or to tell one?”

GM: Sami gives another one of those hard, more than a little tipsy-sounding laughs. But there’s no ambiguity where her laughter is directed this time.

“Wow. You’re none too bright. Why would I sit through a lay as boring as yours—yeah, sit through—if thash’ all I wanted? Shtar’ a rumor? Could do that… withou’ fucking you. You know you can do that?” Sami widens her eyes in sarcastic shock. “Tell people things that aren’t really true, didn’t really happen? Hold still, I’m sure that must be a shock. In fact, you can even do it if you pinky swear and cross your heart, hope to die. Gosh, isn’t every new day educational?”

Sami makes a kissy face as if she’s explaining the idea to one of Cécilia’s kid sisters.

“You think I care about your shtupi’ little movie? I took pictures. Lots of pictures. None with my face, but los’ with yours. They’ll be making the rounds soon. Who is that girl he was cheating on. Is it… heh. And Cécilia… heh. Heh. Heh.”

Sami smirks at him and starts to stand up.

“You don’t ha’ anything I need, little boy. I’ve sheen all there is to see about you, and I’m…” she hiccups, “not impressed.”

Emmett: The only way to win is to force her to blink first. He only raises an eyebrow at her ‘revelation.’ Like he didn’t already have a sense exactly of who she is, what she wants, how she feels. When she stands, he just smirks. “Yeah, that’s clever. It’s fine, even. Except Cécilia already knows. And get this, honeybun: she forgives me. It’s why she’s already trying to get you expelled.”

She thinks she can break him. That she can seize one last iota of satisfaction from her. But he won’t shake.

Because he knows that what he’s going to do to her will extinguish the shame of her violation of him. That the only thing to do in this world to stop being pushed is to push harder.

He’s not losing tonight. She is.

GM: Surprise, uncertainty, and even incredulity flash behind Sami’s eyes for a moment, but then she sneers.

“She can’ get me espelled, idiot. Thas’ not how it works. B’lieve me, I know wha’ that takes. The school isn’t gonna forgive her, even if she’s a big enough… twat to.”

Sami scowls. “This date blows. Pay b’fore I reach your car, an’ maybe I’ll let you kiss me g’night.”

She shoulders her purse and walks out.

Emmett: “Oh, you’ve hurt her,” Em agrees happily. “But because she’s got money, her mother’s who she is, and in Cécilia’s own words, ’that’s just how the world works,’ she’s still going to ruin your life. Say hi to mommy and daddy when you have to explain why you got your ass booted out of the best school they could bribe for their little princess bitch. Or.”

He slurps happily from his shake.

“I can help you fuck her up worse. Like when I tell you I’m not even who she thinks I am. I’ve been lying to her this whole time.”

GM: Sami doesn’t slow her stride. Perhaps he does have that long to pay before the opportunity to get even with his rapist struts past.

At least she didn’t come in her own car. Why would she pay for something like gas?

Emmett: He walks with her after paying (eying the bill only a moment too long), not too quickly, still cool as ice. He opens the door for her, a perfect gentleman.

“My name’s Emmett. I talked Lee into groping her sister and then seduced her into going out with me.” He drives away from the restaurant, eyes carefully on the road.

He turns on the radio. Sublime’s playing.



GM: Sami laughs.

“And I thought she was so much better at the game. What an airhead.”

Emmett: Well, in some ways," he admits. “She’s very conscious of what she can do to others. Like asking mommy to give me a shot at film school, which suddenly sounded a lot better than just trying to fuck her and run. Or ensuring that your life at McGehee is over.”

He drives safely despite being drunk. That’s the beauty of having somewhere to be.

The destination isn’t far.

“So I’ve stuck with that, but now I’m on the outs with her…and she’s still in bed with the movie. So I’m thinking I need to think bigger than Cécilia. I need to think, branding. I need to think, what’s the story people are going to remember?”

He isn’t slurring anymore.

“I think, I drop a bomb like this at the screening, in front of the most important people of the city… invite some reporters, start a scandal… yeah, I’m liking the look of my future, Sami. It’s yours I’m worried about.”

GM: “That’s swee’ of you,” Sami says with that same humorless laugh. Her eyes start to focus a bit more at his words though. “On the outs, huh? An’ here I thought she’d forgiven you.”

Emmett: “Oh, of course, but only for that. No, we’re still quite broken up, a detail she’ll be sure to get out right quick now. It’s you she’s angry at, Sami. And have you ever seen our girl angry?” He laughs harshly.

There’s not a question of it in his.

He is laughing at her.

There’s that sidewalk.

GM: Sami’s eyes narrow.

“So what, d’you get off to girls shooting you down? Guess tonight’s gonna see one crusty sock in your bedroom, a’ this rate.”

Emmett: He’s still laughing as he parks. It might be the most beautiful noise he’s ever heard, his own laughter. “I don’t want to fuck you,” he chuckles. “But then, you seemed to have trouble understanding that in the first place. We’re here to do some test shooting. You agreed to be an actress, remember?”

He texts Jermaine to come out and wave them. He chills out, grinning at her as he gets out of the car and takes a cigarette from his pack. He offers her one, too.

GM: Yet a cheap motel wasn’t what Em’s film buddies had in mind for the shoot location. The renovated Chartres Street townhouse Em parks in front of is a luxurious, three-story affair with the greenery-dripping galleries so endemic to the French Quarter. An old iron bell is located next to a modern-looking set of surveillance cameras and speaker-box mounted by the wrought-iron fence and gate for those seeking admittance to buzz themselves in.

Sami plucks away the offered cigarette with the same casualness she’s taken everything (and more) that Em offered to pay for. She raises an eyebrow at where he’s parked.

“Yours, huh?”

Emmett: “For tonight, it’s both of ours.” He buzzes the buzzer and waits.

The sweet smell of slow death fills his nostrils. He plays absentmindedly with the lighter, turning their faces orange and warm while they wait for the gate to open.

GM: “Yeah, who?” grunts a man’s crackling voice from the speaker.

It’s a far cry from the smoothly professional or at least impersonal tones one might expect to be greeted by.

Emmett: “Em. We’re here.”

GM: “Well why the fuck didn’t you say so?”

The gate opens.

Emmett: He rolls his eyes and in they go.

GM: Inside the townhouse, a bronze-gilt gate set in a domed archway leads into a courtyard surfaced with soft red brick. Inside, manifold flowerbeds bloom with yellow and white roses, irises, hibiscus, and Hong Kong orchids. Banana and umbrella trees and windmill palms grow along the walls, while the walk-around balconies drip with bougainvillea and passion vine. A French marble pool glints under the moon like a breathing, azure mirror. Nearby, a hammock and an antique gramophone rest in the trees’ shade. Floor-to-ceiling windows and glass-paned French doors leave little doubt to the opulent decor within the manse proper.

Even Sami looks appreciative in the moment before their hosts approach.

Emmett: He takes it all in stride.

Someday, a part of him idly notes, this will belong to him.

But tonight, it already does.

GM: The first is a young man who walks with a similar but perhaps more justified air of ownership. He’s got tan skin, thick black hair, bushy brows, and handsome features that are only somewhat offset by his large lips and nose. He’s dressed in an open-breasted maroon leisure suit over a wifebeater, giving him a look of casualness overlaid with sloppiness, that his handsome (enough) features are just enough to hold together. The look would be atrocious on an overweight and middle-aged man, who Em can easily see wearing similar clothes, but on him it’s passable. By just enough. Gold doesn’t glint so much as glare from a watch and several rings.

Emmett: Em tosses his own hands, fingers distinctly bare, into a friendly greeting. “This is Sami. She isn’t very impressed with me.” He frowns and shakes his head in mock sadness. “You can’t please everybody, can you?”

GM: “Nah, but they can please you,” leers the man.

The next man resembles a beanpole that decided to grow limbs. His narrow head is only slightly widened by his black sideburns and ‘70s style coiffure. His puffy lips are pressed into a seemingly permanent smile, as if life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows. He smells of deodorant, hair tonic, tabasco sauce, and contagious sleaze that gives his tan skin an almost iridescent sheen. His outfit consists of a ballooning silk leisure shirt, long brown leather jacket, bell-bottom dress slacks, and crocodile wingtips.

Cash_Money.jpg
Emmett: The smell makes him nauseous for a moment.

Just a moment, though. He’s all smiles.

If I ever start dressing like this guy I hope I end up in a morgue.

For his part, Em is dressed less ostentatiously. A white shirt with wooden buttons, untucked from a brass-buckled belt and a nice-looking bolo tie (thanks, dead grandma Lise), more for the discordant note of personality it adds to the ensemble than anything else. A blazer that makes his shoulders look sharper, his posture straighter, offsets the dark stone at the nape of his neck.

GM: The third man is shorter and thinner, with dreadlocks he wears in a half-ponytail, wide eyebrows, and a partial mustache and goatee. His face is set in a crooked ‘oh really?’ smirk. He mostly eschews the second man’s ostentatious dress in favor of simple t-shirt and cargo pants. He looks like he’s put most of his money in his flashy high-top shoes, the gold dollar sign on a chain around his neck, and several glinting rings. He smells of strong, musky cologne.

Pic.jpg
The one face Em recognizes is Jermaine’s. Ron’s son resembles a distilled, focused version of his father, with decades of excess trimmed away. What’s left is lean and hungry. His hair is closely shorn instead of balding, and he’s tall, fit, and thin-waisted. He doesn’t smile either, and there’s a focus to his stare that his old man lacks. He wears a plain white t-shirt and pair of jeans.

Jermaine.jpg
Emmett: He reaches out and clasps his cousin’s arm in that half-handshake, half-hug teenagers think makes them look masculine. “Long time no see, J.”

He’d been hoping seeing Jermaine’s face would make this seem more real. It doesn’t.

GM: The last figure isn’t like the others.

She’s a woman, first of all. She’s gorgeous. Em’s uncle might describe her as having a “body built for bedrooms.” She has tanned skin, an hourglass figure with full breasts, and wavy black hair that falls to the small of her back. She wears a half-sleeved black dress that’s tighter at the waist and falls down to mid-calf. She’s lounging on a fold-out chair by the pool, talking with the second man. Em can’t make out her face.

Woman.jpg
Groveling by her sandal-heeled feet is a prone figure in a leather hood. He’s dressed completely in black leather. His hands are bound in fingerless leather mittens shackled behind his back. The crotch and rear of his are apparel are cut away, leaving his buttocks and genitalia mockingly exposed. His hairless penis is trapped in a spike-lined steel chastity cage. The sharp bits of metal look as if they’ll drive into his shaft if he ever gets hard. A blindfold covers his eyes and a collar hooked to a leash is secured around his neck.

He has no lips. Or teeth. There’s just leather, then gums, and nothing in between.

Emmett: He just takes it in with a glance. Weird, but not nose-under-the-bed-weird.

He’s fine.

Just… fine.

“Look at that,” he says to Sami, pointing to the unfortunate fucker. “That’s what really fucking somebody looks like.”

He’s quite interested to see what she’s making of this.

GM: Jermaine greets Em with a simple fist bump. There’s lots of smiles at this gathering, but little warmth. Affection feels out of place.

“Dino. Cash Money. Showerz,” he says, introducing each of the other men in turn.

The woman doesn’t look at them. None of them besides Cash Money look at her.

“This is Em. My cuz.”

“Movie director, huh?” Dino grins.

Sami’s eyes have gone all-too sober, all-too fast. None of the men ask who she is. None of them look at her.

Not in the same way they do Em, anyway.

Emmett: A sight which makes him feel suddenly, drunkenly joyful. A black, ruinous joy in awe of its own existence.

“Pleasure’s all mine,” he says, smiling his own cold smile. “I hope you don’t mind if I watch. Maybe make a few suggestions. She’s my actress, after all.”

Think sharks. Think Godfather.

“This is Sami. Didn’t I say she was pretty?”

He smiles at her, and doesn’t hide the wild, cruel mirth in his eyes. He wants her to see it. To see him, and who he is, and what he’s capable of.

“Say hi, Sami.”

GM: There’s a second. Just a second, where Em can see what she is. What she really is, here.

Scared.

“Hi, guys,” Sami says, smiling widely as she looks the men over. “Wow… Em said he was connected, but I didn’t think he meant to bigshots like you.”

Dino smirks, then hefts one of Sami’s breasts in his hands like he’s examining a piece of merchandise.

“Not bad. Seen better racks, though.”

“Yeah, three stars,” smirks Showerz.

“Guys say I make up for it by being a horny slut with no shame at all,” Sami smirks, then runs his hand along her other breast. “And you gotta admit, they’re pretty perky.”

Dino and Showerz laugh.

Emmett: Em smiles wider. “No shame at all, I can vouch for. Horny slut, I don’t need to, because everybody else can. Don’t be scared to push her around. She’s very sassy.”

He punctuates the sentence by swatting her ass. There’s no intimacy, no affection or lust in that motion.

Just possession.

“So, walk me through your setup. What were you boys thinking? I’m curious. Academically.”

It’s true. He hasn’t gotten the chance to see a real shoot yet.

GM: Sami knows much better than to glare or protest right now.

“I like to improvise,” Dino declares. “Art and shit that way. It gets, like…” he snaps his fingers as if willing the words to come.

“Passionate,” Sami fills in. “It’s raw. Real. Authentic.”

“Yeah,” Dino remarks, as self-contently as if he’d articulated the thought himself.

He looks her over again, then grins widely.

“I can’t wait to stick my dick in you.”

Sami beams.

Jermaine just watches without comment.

“Studio’s this way, lovebirds,” Showerz grins, pointing the way.

“Oh, I better look my best, first,” Sami smiles. “You gentlemen got a restroom I can clean up in?”

Dino points towards the manse’s front doors. “Second door on the right. Be fast.”

“Always,” she replies with another smile, setting off.

Emmett: He isn’t having it.

“She stays,” he says, smiling, looking at Jermaine to make sure he’s understood. “I like her fine the way she is, don’t you?”

GM: “I kinda had a lot to drink too,” Sami adds, rubbing her stomach with a slightly queasy look that’s too real to be acting. “Guys all say I overdo things,” she then laughs. “Better if I throw up into the toilet than over someone’s dick.”

Dino’s aroused look seems to die a little.

Emmett: Em just laughs. “She’s a silly one. Hold on a second.” He turns to her like he’s a bout to say something, and then just slaps her.

Hard. Harder than he’s ever hit anybody.

“Take her phone, J. Girls and their toys, right?”

Ron would be proud.

GM: Sami’s head snaps to the side as she staggers a step backwards, seemingly as much from surprise as pain. Laughter sounds from the male guests.

Sami doesn’t hit back as she raises a hand to her reddening cheek. She just stares at Em with hate in her eyes.

Emmett: He wags a finger at her chidingly. “If you throw up, they’ll just take it out of your cut,” he says. “I’m looking out for you.”

GM: “Yeah, don’t tell me you’re gonna throw up on my dick,” Dino says flatly.

“Welcome to throw up on mine…” says Showerz with a kissy face.

Jermaine doesn’t say anything. He just stares, but a smirk cracks his still face.

The group has other onlookers, as well.

Emmett: He gestures with his head to Jermaine. “Give the nice man your phone, before he loses patience and takes it. He hits much harder than I do.”

GM: Cash Money wears a grin so wide, sleazy, and dirty that Em could build a strip club inside of it. If it didn’t just sink into the mud.

The gimp tugs against his leash, bobs his head, and gives a gurgled, literally toothless, “Hthee hthee!”

The woman doesn’t laugh. But Em can make out her face now. Her caramel-skinned features are beautiful but cruel. There’s no hard lines or crags to them, no look of severity or outward hate. They’re soft and delicate, with faint lines that seem come from smiling often.

It’s the aroused look in her slow-simmering, poison-green eyes that says everything. That says, ‘rose laced with anthrax.’

She still doesn’t say anything, herself. She just looks at Em and slowly licks her lips.

Sami slowly digs into her purse and holds out a cellphone for Jermaine.

Emmett: He stares back, head slightly tilted, eyes full of something wretched and spiteful and indifferent to anything but watching the girl who made him this way suffer for it.

To Sami, he says, without a trace of irony, “Good girl.”

GM: She flinches again as Jermaine impatiently swats the phone out of her hands. The device hits the grass with a tiny thump.

“I wouldn’t waste time with no phone, if I was her and wanted to bolt.”

Emmett: He picks it up, clicking his tongue.

“Yeah? What’d you do?”

GM: “I’d climb out a window. Who the hell’s she gonna call that can get here faster? Action Bill and the Danger Squad?”

Dino and Showerz both laugh.

Emmett: He snaps his fingers. “Good point. But you’re you, and she’s her. Even if she could run, and she can’t, because she’s shitfaced and we have a car and know the area, what’s she gonna do?” He looks Sami in the eyes as he talks. “Stumble around the Quarter drunker than a whore on Fat Tuesday? Get herself raped or killed by some bastards less patient, more discerning than us? With her luck, probably. At least with us, she knows she’s among friends. Doesn’t she.”

He takes out his pack, and offers to the other men. Sami isn’t asked.

“Let’s get this show on the road. Her job’s the easy part.”

He pockets her phone. It’ll make for some interesting reading during the shoot.

GM: “I’d take those odds, I was her,” Jermaine says as he plucks out a cig. “Quarter’s crowded. Easy to lose us with a head start. I bet a girl like her does know the area, too. I’d duck into the nearest bar or restaurant, someplace you can’t just grab someone without a giant scene, and call a friend to pick me up. Or flag a cab.”

The look on Dino’s face has turned very dark by the time he takes a cig.

He doesn’t say anything. Or hit her.

Yet.

“That little minx,” Showerz laughs as he plucks out a cig for himself.

Jermaine holds out his in front of Sami. “Light.”

Sami pulls out a lighter from her purse and lights the cig.

She doesn’t say anything.

Emmett: Minx, what are you gonna twirl your mustache and make her eat your monocle next?

He thinks about a moment, then he just says it out loud. “Call her a slut instead. It’s more honest.”

GM: Showerz chortles.

“That little slut!”

Emmett: It’s distinctly possible I’m just a bad person at this point. But you’re only young once.

GM: Dino just stares at her darkly, like she’s done something to personally cross him. His glare only seems to get angrier as she lights his cig, then the other mens’.

Emmett: Em idly flips open her phone. Email browser, text messages, a few cute little apps. His parents would never get him one this nice.

Whatever Dino does, he’ll live. He starts reading her texts.

GM: There’s ones from a lot of people Em doesn’t know, as well as Cécilia.

She talks about being alarmed by Em wanting to follow her to France. Sami not only agrees but exaggerates all of her “friend’s” worst fears and anxieties, calling Em a stalker, saying she’s heard about him getting “obsessed” with other girls before. She advises cutting off further contact.

There’s also pictures.

Em knows what they are before he even loads them up.

She’s shared them already with a couple girls. All of them have a good laugh.

Emmett: He clicks his tongue at her.

“I was going to be nice, too. But now you’ve made things harder.”

He glances at Dino. “Dino, how do you teach a woman respect?”

GM: “You hit the bitch,” Dino answers flatly.

“Oh, whas’ on there?” grins Showerz.

Emmett: He waves a hand. “Nothing as fun as what we’re about to do to her. What do you think, Showerz? How do you treat a bitch who disrespects you? Who lies and cheats behind your back?”

GM: “Hit her too, I guess,” the young man shrugs, then grins again. “Never had a woman who ever wanted to cheat on me though.”

“That fucking good, are you?” glowers Dino.

“S’what they tell me,” Showerz smirks.

Emmett: “Of course he is, look at this stud. What about you, Cash Money? What do you do? Cajuns, we know how to get even.”

GM: Cash Money doesn’t even turn to look at Em. He’s still engaged in conversation with the nameless, poison-eyed woman by the pool.

Emmett: He waves it off, it’s all performance anyway. “Jermaine?”

GM: The gimp tilts his hooded head, then sharply tugs downwards against his leash in a motion reminiscent of being hanged. Muffled giggles sound from the black leather.

Emmett: He takes a long drag, and makes sure the ember at the end of the cigarette burns brightly.

Orange is a beautiful color. He can’t ever get sick of it.

He doesn’t know what to make of the gimp. But it’s not any of his fucking business, is it?

GM: “Same thing I’d do to a man,” says Jermaine. “I don’t discriminate. Shoot her. Or him.”

Emmett: He nods. “What do you think of that, Sami?”

GM: “Men cheat on you, h…” Showerz starts to grin at Jermaine.

Em’s cousin just stares at him, and the grin dies.

Emmett: “You’re going to need to be better about answering questions if you don’t want me to get mad,” he chides her.

He stares into those hate-filled eyes, and shows her only indifferent, mirthful expectation.

GM: The hate is still there, without doubt. But it’s been swallowed. What’s there looks like a melange of swallowed hate, stifled panic, and simple reservation. Sitting in the passenger seat and watching scenery roll by. Who knows where to.

“I guess people do what they’ll do,” she answers noncommittally.

Emmett: “That’s a good answer,” he agrees. “Really safe, really neutral. But it’s not what I’d like to hear, exactly. I’m nicer than Jermaine. But not by much.”

He extends a palm. “Give me your hand, Sam. I like that better than Sami. Stupid, little girl name, Sami.”

GM: “Dunno, Sam sounds like a boy name to me,” says Showerz.

Emmett: “Sure. She’s a Sami tonight.”

GM: “Why bother with names?” Jermaine replies flatly. He doesn’t smile, but Showerz grins again and Dino gives a little half-snort.

Sami, Sam, or Sami, doesn’t say anything as she extends a hand.

Emmett: “Good.” He holds it gently, traces her fingers in his. “Look at those nails. You can tell you take care of them, love them, even. That’s something I actually like about women. Men don’t take care of their hands at all.”

His mouth tastes like nicotine and the faintest hint of Nutella. He doesn’t know why he’s being so cruel.

But then again, he guesses he does.

“Don’t worry. It’ll be over quickly enough.” He looks her dead in the eyes. “But if you scream, I’ll do it again.”

With his other hand, he removes what’s left of his cig.

The ember smolders like a jack-a-lantern’s eyes as he presses it neatly into her palm.

GM: Sami tries to pull away as soon as she sees those ominously glowing embers coming. Dino grabs her fingers hard enough to make her wince, and yanks them down, holding her palm splayed out for Em.

There’s a low sizzling hiss as burning orange-red meets sweating, quivering pink.

Sami manages to keeps her teeth clenched, for a second, as her eyes reflexively clamp.

Then she screams.

Emmett: The sound, the sight, the scream, these are all the things he expected. The scene unfolds much like he imagined it would in his director’s eye, the terrible inspiration a woman who isn’t a woman has forced him to hone.

But the movies don’t smell.

GM: “Fuck! We shoulda filmed that!” exclaims Showerz.

Emmett: He shakes his head sadly. “Come on, Sami. You’re tough. You can do this.”

He holds out his hand for another cigarette.

GM: “She screamed,” Jermaine deadpans. “Means take two.”

“Fuck, hold on, man,” says Showerz. “Lemme get the camera…”

Dino finally offers a hard smile.

The rest of their audience is watching, too.

Cash Money is just grinning even wider. That strip club got an extra floor added.

The gimp cackles toothlessly, lunges forward against his leash, and gives a hack as it pulls him up short. Em can see red dripping from the metal driving into his now-erect member. He whines softly and pulls against the leash some more.

The poison-eyed woman just watches. She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t move.

But finally, she smiles a dead and empty smile.

Emmett: “See, now you’ve got me needing to keep my word, and that means I’ve got to do it again, or boy, would my face be red,” he says in that same chiding tone. Some part of him feels sick, but the rest of him steps on it until it feels cold instead.

“I really hate being embarrassed, Sami. You know how much? This much.”

It’s funny, the places his mind goes. He holds her hand as he puts out the second cigarette in the same, tender spot.

He remembers fishing with his dad. Remembers the one thing that the yellow-toothed professor would not abide from him, even then. A fish was to be killed immediately, or thrown back if the child couldn’t stomach the redbone tradition his father loved so.

But when Em dangled a carp on a hook, wounded and cut from the way it had chewed at the bait, when he watched it flick and try with all of its living will to swim away, to escape, to be free—only to cut itself deeper, and deeper, denied the quiet dignity of death or joyous current of release; then he was hypnotized, until Philemon Delacroix started yelling and for the first and only time in his life Emmett thought his father might be about to hit him.

And despite the years of arguments and alienation, the distance of an already unbridgable moral gulf, it is his father’s cries he hears in Sami’s, the carp’s vain flopping as it suffered for no reason at all, because Emmett knows one thing deep in the bones of a body he’s done nothing but sin in.

It is a terrible thing to be cruel.

He knows this, appreciates it, wonders idly how he would feel about this in a Tarantino movie.

And then he keeps doing it.

Because she raped me, the pathetic part of him that wants to make it alright squeals. She did it first! She has it coming!

Maybe. But he probably had it coming before her, and he sure as hell has worse coming now.

No. He does it because he wants to. Because it feels gratifying and sexy and he feels powerful for the first time in more than a month when he does it.

The second cigarette sizzles to ash.

GM: There’s exclamations in the distance. Showerz, shouting something about “angles, man! Fuck!” as he jogs up to the scene, a hand-mounted video camera held up.

Sami isn’t able to keep her teeth clenched this time.

She just screams.

It’s an uneven, half-mangled sound that starts off high, chokes midway through, and then gets higher again. It squeezes tears out of the corners of her eyes.

She can’t stop from struggling this time, either. Perhaps by reflex. Perhaps by conscious intent. She jerks against Dino’s grip and starts hitting, slapping, flailing with her free hand against his arm.

Dino’s fist smashes into her face. Hard. Red sprays over his knuckles with a wet crack as Sami staggers backwards. Dino hits her again, driving his fist into her gut. Sami goes down in a heap with another half-strangled cry.

Emmett: “We need her to be able to explain the injuries,” Em notes, more observationally than critically. “Nice arm, though.”

“Now.” He walks over to her, takes a knee.

GM: Jermaine silently shakes his head.

Dino’s face is red with fury as he delivers a sweeping kick into her stomach. Hard.

Sami gives another cry and holds up her hands, as if to ward off the blows. Dino kicks her again. She gives a chocked little sound.

“Fucking whore! LIE to me! ME! LIE TO ME!? ME?! FUCKINGLIE—TO—ME?!

Emmett: He glances at Jermaine, raises an eyebrow.

As long as she can walk, he supposes.

GM: There’s more cracks and thumps as his wingtip-shoed feet drive into her stomach, her thighs, her crotch, her breasts, again and again. There’s nothing fair about it. Nothing pretty. Just one person stomping the shit out of another one who just curls up, cries, and suffers.

Dino grabs Sami’s hair and yanks up her head, pulling back a still-bloodied fist.

Emmett: “Hey, hey, Dino.”

GM: “N… not my face!” Sami’s voice is shrill with panic. “Don’t hurt my face!”

Emmett: Em holds up a hand. “I have an idea.”

GM: Dino punches Sami again in her already swelling black eye. There’s another crack. More blood. Another choked cry.

Emmett: “Oookay, nevermind.”

GM: Dino drops her hair for a second to undo his belt and unzip his fly, then shoves his cock into Sami’s mouth. The one-eyed woman makes a gagging sound and tries to shove him away. He hits her again, in the nose, and red sprays all over his balls and and crotch hair.

“Yeah, use that face!” Showerz whoots, leaning in with the camera for a close-up.

“Fuck that ho’s face, D!”

Emmett: He tuts. None of the ceremony he was going for.

But you make do with what you have.

He starts taking pictures with his phones. Sami’s, and his own.

He makes sure she can see.

“Can we get her out of those clothes? Don’t want to leave her with too much… I think the word she used was ‘mystery.’”

GM: Dino grabs the back of Sami’s head with both hands as he aggressively thrusts back and forth. Sami makes choked, half-gagging sounds. Maybe there’d be hate in her eyes, normally, at the snapping pictures, but right now they barely flick away from what’s in front of her. Jermaine grabs her hands and holds them behind her back.

“G’wan, Em! Unwrap her!” Showerz hoots, slow-panning the camera across the pair.

Emmett: “Ah, shucks, boys. You know I’m camera shy. Keep it on her. She’s the star. My face stays out.”

Em obliges them slowly, and deliberately. Almost gently, except the pretense of consent in his steady, snapping motions probably make the experience worse for her. Her dress first, then all the various accessories and silly little flourishes like her leggings, and then sliding her underwear off like he’s opening a present. Not ripping, not tearing. He goes slowly, and she still can’t stop him.

That would make it worse for him, he expects.

Dino and Showerz are animals. He doubts they even register the brutality, the violation, for what it is.

Him and his cousin are monsters.

He makes sure he gets her face in his own little photoshoot.

GM: Sami isn’t wearing anything besides the dress and the underwear beneath that. September in New Orleans is much too hot for leggings as well, after all. Showerz hoots when he sees how her matching bra and panties are black.

“Woo! Sexy!”

The gimp whines with pain as blood leaks from his erect member. The woman idly runs a finger along it and wipes the blood across his blindfold, but she doesn’t take her eyes off the scene.

Cash Money, meanwhile, walks up to Jermaine and removes a pair of handcuffs from his ballooning coat’s pockets.

“Allow me,” he leers.

Jermaine shrugs and lets go of Sami’s hands. Cash Money fastens the cuffs around them with a metallic clink.

“You into that kinky shit?” Showerz chortles.

“Just a cop,” Cash Money smiles. The expression spreads across his face like a cumstain across underwear.

“Hope you won’t cite us, officer!” Showerz laughs, still pacing around Em and Sami with the camera.

Cash Money just smiles that content-as-a-cumstain smile, then unbuckles his pants and mounts Sami from the rear.

Emmett: Click, click.

He has the feeling he might not agree with Showerz on much, but angles really are everything.

As the shoot progresses, in addition to suggesting various positions and expressions for her to say (“Welcome to McGehee,” “Fuck me like my uncle did,” “thank you” after Dino makes her swallow his prehistoric load,) encouraging her to say hi to her parents, her friends, even that vapid dancing teacher of hers, he goes deeper through her texts and emails. Her pictures, too. He forwards and copies the most interesting items to himself, but is particularly fascinated by her relationship with Cécilia, her closest friends at the school other than her, and of course, mommy and daddy Watts.

Sometimes he asks her questions about them. Every one she doesn’t answer is ten minutes added to the shoot. He’s got time, he tells her.

GM: The shoot takes its sweet time.

Dino shoves both his balls into Sami’s mouth as he thrusts into her throat, deeper and deeper. Sometimes he pulls out to give her a breather, snot and spittle all over his dick, but it’s only for a second before he grabs her hair and thrusts his cock and balls back in. Em could swear her neck is bulging. When she looks like she’s about to throw up, Jermaine presses a gun to her head and says she’s “dead if you toss your cookies.”

She doesn’t.

Emmett: “Man, we should have seen if that made a difference with the cigs. Still disappointed in you, Sam. Thought you were made of harder stuff.”

It’s so, so easy to be like this once he gets started. Especially surrounded by these pigs.

But then he sees Sami’s face as his vision goes dark.

He takes another picture of her face, ugly and miserable and covered in blood and cum. He makes it her phone’s background.

GM: Cash Money expresses his disappointment when she doesn’t struggle against the cuffs. He shares a story about some girls some “buddies of mine” put electric dog collars on. Ones that give a shock when you push a button. The ‘challenge’ was seeing how many shocks they could take before they tried to pull the collars off. Then they got cuffed.

“They wiggle their hands, like flippers,” Cash Money leers as he thrusts into Sami’s buttocks. He talks about how they could reach the collars, enough to touch, but couldn’t pull them off. They still tried though, after shock after shock after shock.

He’s disappointed Sami isn’t struggling here. He liked those “little flipper hands.”

Emmett: “You heard him, Sami. Struggle.”

Can’t look weak.

It’s her eyes, he’s interested in.

The bruises and burns are all shortcuts to her eyes.

He wants to see her break.

GM: Dino blows his load with a heaving pant and tells Sami to swallow or he’ll blow out her brains. Once he pulls out, Cash Money shoves her face- and chest-down against the grass. He lays his chest close over her back as he takes her doggy-style so that he can lick her ears and neck, and squeeze her breasts in his hands. He clamps a hand and mouth over her nose several times, laughing at her struggles to breathe.

“Shoulda done that when she was suckin’ you off, man!” Showerz complains.

“She’ll suck me off too,” Cash Money remarks casually. He pulls out and flips her over, than holds her down with Dino so that Jermaine can enter between her legs.

Next to Cash Money, Em’s cousin is down to business. His thrusts after he fills her are hard and fast. He doesn’t talk as Showerz cheers, Cash Money smiles, and Dino cracks a viciously satisfied grin. Jermaine climaxes and pulls out, looks at Sami for a moment, and then kicks her in the crotch.

Showerz is next as the others hold her down. He whoops and cheers, licks her tits, and “makes a little music!” smacking her tits back and forth like a pair of drums. He even stops penetrating her when he wants to really go at it. Dino handles the camera for a few moments, then seems to lose interest and passes it off to Em.

Emmett: It’s a bit much by now, but it still feels like appropriate compensation for his suffering.

GM: Showerz even starts to pull down his pants from his ass, but Jermaine grabs him and growls, “I am not smelling your shit.” Showerz looks disappointed and mutters, “Whatever.”

Em gets his turn, too, after Showerz pulls out. Jermaine and Dino both hold her down.

Emmett: He waves them aside. “Let her go. She knows that if she gets up, we’ll beat her ass worse than all that put together.”

He nudges her chin with the toe of his sneaker. “Doesn’t she.”

GM: “What—right here? You a fag?” Showerz laughs. “Too good for our seconds?”

“Fifths,” Cash Money smirks.

Jermaine crosses his arms.

Dino looks at Em. His handsome face is getting ugly again.

Sami hasn’t answered any of Em’s requested “or ten more minutes” questions. She hasn’t responded to the snapped pictures, or any of the requested things to say. Em wonders if she even heard him. There’s not even hate in her gaze anymore. Her eyes blankly stare into a distant and faraway place.

Emmett: “Maybe I am. Or maybe I got a bigger imagination than y’all. I didn’t say the show was over. Watch and learn, boys. There’s fucking a girl, and then there’s fucking her. Who bought her here, huh? Give a man his privileges.”

He leans close to her. “Sami. Look at me. Look at me, you stupid little slut. There’s one thing I’ll tell you right now, and I’ll tell you once, because I see you and the only thing left I want to fuck is your life. I hate being ignored, and if you ignore me now—”

He lights a cigarette.

“This goes in between your eyes. Like a new freckle, only less cute, more Saw. The black eyes, the blood, that’ll all fade or wash. Not this. You don’t get to ignore me. Ever. Now look at me and say you understand, or I’m going to stop being so fucking understanding.”

GM: Sami’s eyes look past Em. It’s like the look his parents lecture him for getting. Spacing out. “Looking but not listening,” as his dad called it. He usually got privileges revoked after that.

He could hear them, though. He wonders for a moment if Sami even can.

There’s finally a numb nod.

Emmett: “Say. It.” He grabs her by the chin. The embers grow close to the space between her eyes.

GM: Her mouth opens. There’s a low, dry, rasping little sound.

Emmett: “This never ends, Sami. Not really. I’ll drive you home and clean you up, but you never forget this. You never forget what we did to you tonight. And you never, ever forget that I can do it to you again. And again. And again.” He pulls out her ID, not the fake one, but her real card, liberated from her purse during the shoot. He takes a picture of it, then hands it to Jermaine. “You able to memorize that address, J?”

He watches her eyes carefully.

GM: They don’t respond. They don’t register. They just stare blankly past. To some distant place bereft of cognition where she can wait until it’s finally over.

Em has absolutely no doubt, though. She’s never going to forget.

Jermaine answer or doesn’t take the card. There’s a look in his eyes.

“You gonna fuck her now or what?” scoffs Showerz.

Em feels the weight of another gaze on him, too. The woman’s. It leaves a knotting feeling in the pit of his stomach, like he’s swallowed something foul. It’s not aroused like before, though. Or maybe just not. Em can’t say what it is. But it’s wholly on him.

Emmett: He sighs. “If y’all wanna watch me fuck her, I’ll fuck her. But you’re missing the point, all of you. No appreciation for artistry.”

He unzips, and feels the gulf between himself and himself widen, crack, curl. He’s not hard, but it doesn’t take long. He thinks about Cécilia.

“She already knows she belongs to me.”

GM: It’s then that Sami lifts the handgun and aims it straight ahead.

Exclamations of alarm go up from the men. Several of their hands go to their sides. Several look puzzled.

“B… ack…” Sami croaks.

Her voice sounds hell, but her eyes are starting to come back. All too back. She swivels the gun between them, and slowly, gingerly, backs up along the grass.

“B… ack. Away.”

“You fuckin’ BITCH!” Dino roars, his face blackening with rage. That gets the gun swiveled to his chest.

Emmett: He just frowns at her as he steps backwards.

What the fuck? Who the fuck?!

Somebody is ruining his revenge.

“Sami. Don’t be fucking stupid. You’re still outgunned here. He’s a cop, for chrissake. This doesn’t end well for you. Put down the gun.”

He glances at Jermaine. Who the fuck left a gun on the ground?

GM: Sami looks at Em.

He sees it, right there. Beyond all lie.

The will to kill.

The hunger to.

“Back,” Sami croaks.

She brushes against the house’s wall and starts to stand up.

“B… ack,” she croaks again.

“Back. Back. Away.”

“Hey! Hey! Bitch, be cool! There’s fuckin’ six, all of us!” Showerz yells.

Cash Money looks like someone’s pissed in his mouth.

Dino’s teeth and fists clench as he breathes and seethes.

Jermaine’s narrowed eyes rest on the open handcuffs.

Emmett: He smiles at her. “What happens when you shoot, Sami? What do they do? How are you getting out of here without losing everything?”

He steps closer. Closer.

He has no fear of death. Just a need to win. “Give me the gun. Or you’ll fucking die.”

She’s willing to pull the trigger. He knows that.

He also knows she’s got eyes for him, and only him.

Jermaine’ll know what to do.

He hopes.

His dick is still out.

It’s not his best moment.

“Put down the gun,” he says.

Sorry, Dad.

GM: Jermaine shoves Showerz into Sami’s path.

FUCK-!”

There’s an explosion from the gun.

A heavy thump hitting the ground.

The hot smell of gunpowder.

Then.

A body, smashing into Sami.

Emmett: He’s scrambling out of range, laughing manically, eyes wide.

“Hahahaha FUCK!”

Is he real? Is any of this real? Is he dreaming?

GM: A second body.

Another crash.

Black metal, flying through the air.

Hitting the grass with a soft thump.

At Em’s feet.

Then. Everywhere.

Emmett: He scrambles for it.

Come on, TRACK!

GM: Cash Money. Diving for cover. Leaving everyone else to die.

Dino. Dead? Dying? On the ground.

Showerz. Sami. Jermaine. In a heap.

Showerz. Whaling on his cuz.

YOU FUCKING ASS-”

Jermaine’s fist. Smashing into his face.

Sami. Naked and scrambling after the gun.

Emmett: TRACK!

GM: Her eyes meeting his as he dives for it. Feels the heated metal under his fingers.

Dino’s out. Cash Money’s bailed. Showerz and his cousin are fighting.

He can be her savior. Rapist turned savior. What a shit excuse for one.

Or make her suffer, this time, without the others getting in the way. Of his art.

Emmett: “Showerz! Off him or I shoot you for real, you shitfucking piece of filth!”

He keeps the gun on Sami. “YOU! Ass against the house, hands up. Do it, NOW!”

GM: Sami raises her hands, new deadness in her eyes.

Showerz and Jermaine keep fighting.

Loud giggles go up from the gimp.

The woman hasn’t moved. Just watched.

Showerz soon looks like he’s losing as Jermaine’s knuckled fist smashes into his face, again and again.

Emmett: He keeps the gun trained on her as he gets closer to the wrestling pair. “Jermaine, get up and take this fucking thing!”

GM: “Aaaaaiigh-! Man, wait, wait-!”

Jermaine gets up and stomp-kicks him in the chest, once, twice, three times, until the yelling man stops moving.

Emmett: “MotherFUCK!”

GM: Jermaine gives Showerz another solid kick in the head, then strides up to Em to take the gun.

Emmett: He looks his cousin in the eyes, still holding the gun on Sami. “J, I need her alive. You calm?”

Calm. Like a fucking sea.

He keeps an eye on Sami, always.

“She’ll suffer. You got my word.”

GM: Jermaine just holds out his hand.

Emmett: Em looks at him flatly, dropping his voice. “Alive. And follow my lead, like when we were kids, okay?”

He waits for assent before handing it over.

GM: Jermaine never followed anyone’s lead. That was one of the reasons Ron mostly washed his hands of his son. (After all, he probably has others.)

“Alive,” is all his cousin says.

Emmett: “Man, it’s my ass if this goes down wrong. Wronger. I already owe you big, but just let me do the talking, and she’ll regret it. I set this shit up, didn’t I? I know how to make a point.”

He hands him the gun. He isn’t going to fight his cousin. But he also clasps his shoulder. “Come on, for my damn sake. I take the lead.”

GM: Jermaine takes the gun, then shoots Sami.

Emmett: “Fucking christ.”

GM: She hits the grass in a bloody, rawly screaming heap.

Jermaine walks up to her and grabs her hair.

“You little bitch.”

Emmett: “He does have a point,” Em allows. “That was a definitively bitchy move.”

“Anything to say, Sami?”

GM: Jermaine digs his nails into the raw, red, bullet hole, then rips and tears. Her screams are horrific.

Emmett: “That’s a lot. Wow. Okay.”

GM: “You fucking bitch,” he says calmly.

He kicks her in the face. Bloody teeth fly. He kicks her again, smashing in her nose.

Emmett: “Jermaine. Remember Les.”

GM: Jermaine stomps his foot down on her face.

There’s a crunch.

Emmett: “Jesus.”

GM: His other foot comes down on the bullet hole.

There’s another crunch.

They’re not even cries anymore. Just mangled sounds of suffering.

Emmett: He gets between them. “Jermaine. You made your point. Now stop.”

He gets in his cousin’s face. “She’s too connected, J. The bruises would have been hard enough, but now she needs a fucking hospital. You wanna be angry, motherfucker, do it in a way that doesn’t make my life harder. Goddammit, this is how you do me? For real? Even after the shit with Les last year? You couldn’t take a deep breath and just let me talk before you whaled on her? I need her, Jermaine. You gonna find me another actress? Gonna get her fixed up? Because now I’ve got a problem, too, and it’s a lot worse than it needs to be.”

GM: “This bitch won’t be your actress,” Jermaine says flatly.

Emmett: “No shit!”

GM: “No way. No how. Not after this.”

Emmett: “Yeah, I kind of reached that fucking conclusion myself.”

GM: He shakes his head. “Family’d take her to a hospital. Too much to explain. She’s not going back.”

He kneels by Sami and pulls a knife. Tears run down her ruined face.

Emmett: “This,” he tells her, “is all your fault.”

GM: “Ng… ngh… nho…!” she froths.

The words are recognizable. Her face isn’t.

Emmett: “Cuz. I’ll owe you. Don’t do this. Come on. Not this.” He sighs. “Please, J.”

GM: “Too big a loose end, cuz. Girls go missing all the time…”

Jermaine slashes the blade across Sami’s throat.

Emmett: He starts to say something.

And then he just throws up.

GM: The woman rises from her seat. She strides towards the two men and kneels down by Sami. Em sees the glint in her poison-green eyes and feels even sicker. Blood froths in equal parts from Sami’s neck and gasping mouth.

“You poor thing…” the woman croons.

Jermaine eyes her.

That poisoned gaze meets Em’s. He can see laughter in it.

“How badly do you want her to live, boy? How much will you… hurt for it?”

Emmett: This isn’t real. This can’t be real.

He stares at the thing he’s made happen.

This is ridiculous. He has that vague, creeping suggestion every child realizes at some point:

Oh fuck, I might be in trouble.

The feeing that maybe, just maybe, he had killed somebody. That he had raped and killed a girl for raping him, except who the fuck would believe that story, because the mother of the girl he was dating was something out of a super bleak horror flick, because he was just trying to get laid and feel like a con artist.

And once you start thinking thoughts like that there’s just nothing fun to look forward to.

So in a moment of perfect, simpering idiocy, Emmett Delacroix tells the truth.

“Anything. I’ll do anything to undo this. Please.”

GM: “Cut yourself,” the woman requests. Em can’t say how much light is even left in Sami’s eyes.

“Deeply, please. Jermaine, give your cousin the knife.”

Jermaine hands it to him without a word.

Emmett: He snatches it.

He’s read about it.

If you want to kill yourself you cut vertical. Some interaction of flesh and artery he doesn’t understand or care to. All he knows is that it works. He doesn’t even remember exactly what made him want to know it. Odd whim.

He doesn’t. He cuts horizontal.

But dammit, he cuts, and he cuts deep.

The movies don’t bleed, either. His teeth clench.

It’s too warm a night to die.

GM: The blood flows. He cuts, deeper, and feels the knife bite through muscle and sinew. It hurts. It hurts a lot. Are those tears in his eyes?

The woman looks at Sami’s still body.

She idly begins tracing a hand around the head in circular pattern.

“That’s a start.”

She dips her fingers in Em’s blood and wetly traces it along that same pattern.

She anoints Sami’s nose and forehead.

Emmett: He watches her mutely, wondering why Jermaine is being so quiet. Not caring. Just wondering.

GM: “Take your clothes off,” the woman says.

Emmett: He blinks.

He starts doing it.

The stupid bolo tie takes a second.

GM: The woman patiently waits, then smiles at Em with her too-red lips.

“Cut off a testicle.”

Em can see it, in those caustic eyes.

She’s getting off to this.

Jermaine blinks strangely.

“His?” he asks thickly.

“Unless you have another,” the woman replies.

Jermaine looks at Dino.

Emmett: I know I deserve this.

He looks at Dino.

But he deserves it more.

GM: “You don’t have much longer,” the woman says idly.

Emmett: He’s already unzipping Dino’s member.

Dontthinkaboutit

Just like cutting walnuts.

GM: The either dead or unconscious man lies some distance away. There’s blood, though Em can’t say where it’s coming from.

Emmett: They won’t try to drag him over. Bodies are heavy. He cuts it over there.

A decision he regrets in short order. He’ll have to carry it back.

Out comes the unfortunately acquainted Dino’s cock. Out comes the weirdly hairy sack.

dontthinkaboutit

He cuts.

His hands shake badly. The cut on his wrist doesn’t help.

When it’s done he brings it to her, trying to pretend it’s a boiled egg yolk in his cupped palm. The texture betrays the illusion.

GM: Maybe Dino is dead. Maybe he’s just unconscious. Do unconscious people respond to pain? Em doesn’t know. But he knows that Dino’s unresponsiveness is the one mercy he gets.

Emmett: As with many great mercies, the proper response is to not think about it.

GM: The street knife is just the right size for the task. Em pulls out the man’s hairy ballsack and… saws. There’s blood. Lots of blood. All over his hands. He has to dig with his hands inside the wet, gory, cut-open sack, and pull out the fleshy orb.

It’s not that big. Maybe a little bigger than one of those round chocolate eggs, the ones small enough to come in Easter special plastic packages.

It smells.

Emmett: Thank god he threw up when he thought he had killed Sami.

Still might have killed Sami.

He holds out his hand to the poison-eyed woman, the woman he’s ignored all night simply because he dares not reckon with the simple implications of her presence. He dares not wonder about who she is, and what she means. If he wonders, he might think of an answer. And no answer could be better than not asking.

He presents it to her.

He has to save her.

He has to come back from this.

Somehow.

“Here,” he says.

GM: “Give it to him.”

The gimp is there. By her side.

The blindfolded, leather-clad man opens his lipless, toothless mouth.

Em can see it clearly, now.

How he has no tongue.

Emmett: He doesn’t know that’s not by choice.

Don’t think of it as feeding a testicle to a gimp fuck. Think of it as putting a really gross coin in a really gross vending machine.

None of it helps.

He just tries not to touch the fucker’s clammy, jagged not-lips.

GM: He touches gums instead as the toothless mouth clamps down over his hand. He supposes that might have hurt if the guy had teeth.

Emmett: Instead it just feels like he’s feeding a testicle to a baby.

So, not better.

GM: There’s not even the sensation of a tongue lapping over his fingers. There’s just wet gum, and then the testicle is gone. Blood runs down the gimp’s face like drool as he gulps and swallows.

“He! Hehehe! He! He!”

Em can see he’s growing hard again. Pinpoints of red well from his cock.

Emmett: He glances at Jermaine.

His cousin’s stony, but he somehow doesn’t think that stony.

GM: Jermaine just stares blankly ahead.

The woman drums her fingers against the leathered crown of the gimp’s head.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Emmett: He becomes suddenly, absurdly aware of his nudity, and shifts his feet slightly.

What a strange fucking night.

He can’t decide what to do with his hands, so he curls them into fists by his sides, pale, weak things nonetheless shining with blood, his own and another’s, spilled.

He doesn’t know why she’s making him wait. It doesn’t make things better.

What if he bleeds out? What pathetic, ignominious way to die.

He supposes he deserves it.

But it would be nice if she would hurry .

Not that he’s going to say that. He feels ill done by, but can’t say exactly why.

GM: The woman starts to chant in a shrill, piercing voice in a language Em doesn’t recognize. It sounds French, but deeper, more guttural. The sound reverberates strangely in his ears, like it’s coming from more many places than once, and makes his spine tingle in all the wrong ways. Blood drips from the woman’s palms as she writhes and flicks like a fire in dance-like motions, banging her palms against the gimp’s chest in a low and steady drumbeat-like sound. The air feels hot and sweet, and there’s a rattling sound too, like a dying man’s last gurgles, though Em can’t say where it’s coming from.

The woman’s hands move, faster, faster, and then they’re over Sami’s face, smearing crushed testicle over her abused features like a runny soup as the gimp toothlessly hoots and hollers like some leashed ape. Jermaine stares blankly ahead, but Em feels a terrible stirring in his blood, a burning feeling, a fire, as the scene seems to hang suspended in time. He doesn’t know when the knife got in his hands, its cruel edge smiling up at him with Sami’s still-fresh blood.

The woman smiles at him, a terrible, intimate, sickening, smile, and he knows.

Blood for blood.

Life for life.

No power without price.

Jermaine stares tranquilly ahead like a sacrificial lamb.

Emmett: He looks down at the knife. At the girl he had raped and killed for wounding his pride.

At his cousin.

“Jermaine,” he says softly. “Look at me.”

He lifts blood stained fingers, and and takes his cousin by the chin.

“I’m sorry I gave you the gun. But you really, really should have listened to me, cuz.”

The knife moves.

It’s like a dream.

This is the right thing.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

But he knows with a terrible knowing, it’s what he’s going to do.

So he does it.

Jermaine showed him once.

The fat part of the neck. The slightly bulging vein.

“Honestly,” he hears himself say, as of on the other side of a nightmare he cannot wake out of, “I never liked you all that much.”

GM: The knife parts open Jermaine’s throat like a curtain to the other side of that nightmare.

Or perhaps just deeper in.

Jermaine dumbly froths and gurgles. The sound reminds Em of that same pointlessly hurting fish that so engaged his father. Part of him almost wonders if his father is going to burst in on the scene, red-faced and shouting in swamp-thick Cajun, over what he’s done.

But at least Phil might grab his hand. Make it stop. Stubbornly, firmly, and just a little self-righteously guide him back to some semblance of decency no matter how much Em kicked and protested along the way that he was determined to be the bad boy.

Jermaine just slumps forward.

Blood messily leaks down the front of his shirt. There’s so much of it. It’s everywhere, like water coming out of a punctured balloon. There’s a too-wet thump as his cousin’s face hits the grass and the red stain spreads.

Dad isn’t here.

And Em has been very, very, very bad.

Emmett: He stares the poison-eyed women down with eyes as lifeless as a stubbed out cigar.

A tear rolls down one cheek. But his expression does not change.

“I can be a monster,” he says, his cousin’s blood covering his hands, his chest, everything. “But she lives. She lives.”

Every interaction will be a lie, now. Every conversation a feint from this atrocity. There’s no escaping. No more pretension. He knows who he is.

He’s the villain, now. And that means he lies, or he dies.

GM: Choked, wet, grassy gurgles sound from the ground by Em’s knees for a little while longer.

Then the sound stops. The lie gets that much easier to sell.

Sami gasps like a drowned woman taking her first breath of air. Crushed, wet testicle runs down her unmarred face.

Emmett: He bends to her. Cradles blood-stuck hair in a hand too filthy to clean it.

“You’re okay. You’re okay.”

She definitely isn’t. He looks over her face, her body. The slash in her neck, a broken and bleeding promise.

Do the wounds close?

Does he have his actress?

GM: Sami doesn’t slap away his hand so much as throw it away. Not even with anger. Something rawer, deeper. He can’t even begin to say what that look in her eyes is.

A raw, guttural scream concurrently splits the air.

It’s Dino.

Weeping red from his third-destroyed manhood.

Emmett: He picks up the gun from where it fell by Jermaine’s side.

Some mistakes you don’t make twice.

GM: Dino doesn’t say anything.

He just looks.

He just screams.

He just rises.

He half-barrels, half-lunges towards Sami with madness in his eyes.

Emmett: Well, that makes this part easier.

He steps between them. The gun comes up.

It isn’t like cutting Jermaine’s throat.

It’s more like a video game.

It’s still nothing like a video game.

GM: The gunshot’s roar is explosively, ear-rendingly loud at such close proximity. Em can’t even hear Dino scream anymore.

Just sees his mouth hang open.

Just sees his chest burst open. To the left of his heart.

There’s more red.

The gun seems to all but buck from Em’s hands. It’s so hot. The smell of gunpowder is pungent against his nose as the spent casing hits the grass with a soft thump.

Emmett: “Should have done things my way,” he feels himself say through the endless ringing. He doesn’t know who’s coming up with this, because it doesn’t feel like him. “Now you’ve gone and gone extinct.”

GM: Hearing returns like from a paused movie hit to play.

Dino just writhes.

And screams.

It’s impossible to tear his gaze away from the sight. From the way the man’s ruined chest weeps red with every trembling rise and fall of his breath.

That’s when Em sees Sami crawling over. Like a scripted character entering stage right in the movie. Slow but inevitable.

Emmett: Yeah, and he’s seen this movie before. His fingers burn, they shake, but he reaches for the gun.

GM: Dino keeps screaming.

Sami stabs her fingers into his eyes.

There’s more red. Some clear, murky fluid. Em doesn’t know what it’s called. Dino’s left eye is ruined completely. Squelched, wet bits run down the side of his face. The other stares from a red stem bound up in Sami’s fingers like a surreal yo-yo.

Emmett: The metal burns under his fingers. He approaches the writhing duo, watching. Waiting.

“Sami.”

He doesn’t expect her to look at him immediately.

But he knows he will be heard.

Everybody hears you better with a gun.

GM: Sami tugs.

Hard.

There’s a wet snap.

Dino screams.

Emmett: He winces. Even Tarantino has his limits.

GM: Sami finally starts screaming too. Em’s never heard a sound so furious, so mad, so utterly hateful. Em can’t fully make out what she’s doing from her bent position over Dino’s face. There’s just manic, furious motion from her arms, her hands, and more red. Em wonders how much more red there is.

Dino writhes and screams. There’s a fleshy slap, as the shot and blinded man throws a punch and half-connects, then more screaming and grisly tearing. Sami’s literally biting apart his fingers.

Em can’t say which of them looks more insane. More utterly blind and heedless to anything but their own private hell—and burning desire to visit it upon their tormentor.

Emmett: While she’s having her fun, his fingers explore the strange killing machine. Tries to prise the chamber open.

He’s curious how much death the thing still holds.

GM: There’s a steel magazine that feeds into the chamber. It’s opaque. There could be a massacre of soul-deadening proportions or a game of Russian Roulette that’s impossible for him to lose.

There’s a grisly crunch and wet squirt of blood as Sami’s teeth gnaw against flesh and bone.

Emmett: His lip’s bleeding. He’s chewing it like gum he can’t swallow. It hurts more than his arm does, for some reason.

He fantasizes about doing what he wants to do. The perfect end to a scene. A gun surrendered, a monster spared, a burden set down. Catharsis. He likes that word.

But he can’t ever trust anybody. It’s about time he learned that.

“Sami,” he says again, his hand on her shoulder.

GM: Sami digs her nailed fingers into Dino’s bullet wound.

Emmett: “Sami.”

GM: Drives. Rips. Tears.

He screams.

She screams.

He throws another feeble punch.

It clobbers nothing but air.

After all, he can’t see.

Sami claws and rips at the bullet wound.

Emmett: Something hard bounces off Sami’s hand.

It’s the knife covered in Dino’s blood. Em’s blood.

Jermaine’s blood.

He holds the gun, and waits.

GM: There’s a several-second delay, like a computer with a shitty net connection struggling to load a page.

Then, suddenly, it’s all there.

Em’s almost deaf to the screams by this point. But there’s a lot more red. A lot, lot, lot more.

Emmett: He glances over at the woman. The woman who isn’t a woman.

“Sorry… about the noise.”

Good manners. That was one thing he learned from his parents.

GM: Sami starts with the tip of his penis. It’s not a clean cut. Not in the shaking girl’s blood-spattered hands. It takes several stabs and sawing attempts, but what’s left looks like a cat’s fleshy scratching post at the end.

There’s more screams.

Sami stabs apart his other testicle.

The poison-eyed woman says nothing to Em.

She just watches.

Watches, and licks her lips.

Sami goes after his face next. She isn’t quick. She isn’t clean. Nothing about this is quick or clean.

Em can’t say for how long it goes on. It only seems to end when the screaming does, and Dino’s twitching limbs finally lie motionless.

Sami stares down at what she’s wrought.

Then she throws up.

Emmett: Could be me, he idly notes.

But it isn’t.

GM: The bile covers up some of the blood. What’s left of Dino is barely recognizable.

Sami looks down at it, then heaves again.

Less comes out the second time.

Emmett: He doesn’t say anything. Just looks between the two women.

Finally, he says, “We need to be clean. May we use your hose?”

There’s no sense to it. No way to convey the atrocity or engage with the horrifically earned silence.

So he just asks about the hose, and idly wonders how he’ll stop the bleeding on his arm.

GM: “It’s not my hose,” replies the woman. “The house belongs to the Mafia’s underboss. That was his son you just killed.”

Emmett: “Seemed polite to ask—wait, really? Fuck.”

He considers.

“Honestly, makes me feel less bad.”

It doesn’t.

GM: Sami slowly looks up.

“I suggest you dispose of those corpses before he gets here. Or the police.”

The woman rises to her feet. The gimp bobs his masked head and rubs her leg, giggling toothlessly.

Emmett: He isn’t sure exactly what to say to her. So he offers her a hand. The other still holds his gun.

She could cut him, if she chose. He deserves it.

But he doesn’t think she will. Not now. Not with what’s at stake.

If she does, though, he has a gun. Real American comfort.

It’s the hand already bleeding. The one he’s already thinking of an explanation for.

GM: Sami just stares at his hand. He can see it in her gaze, that’s only scarcely less sharp than the knife. She wants to.

She finally gets up. She doesn’t touch him.

The woman’s poisonous gaze don’t look between the two teenagers so much as seep across them. She smiles, again.

“You can wait to pay me back for this.”

Then she winks.

“And you can bet I’ll have my eye on you both.”

Emmett: “That’s nice,” he says.

Don’t say it. Don’t fucking say it.

“You like movies? I’m making one. You have a real energy for it. Potential. Lots of big eyes in it. Lots of powerful eyes. Might be right for you.”

He winks back.

He feels like a cartoon. It helps. Acting normal would make this real.

GM: The woman laughs. Deeply. Fully. She doesn’t stop.

Em’s eyes take in the nightmarish scene.

Dino’s savaged, bile-soaked, near-unrecognizable remains.

His cousin’s pitched-forward corpse, soaking in its own blood.

The depressed spot on the grass, the fluids, where it happened.

The red, everywhere.

The white glint of teeth.

Sami’s strewn-about clothes.

His clothes.

The woman looks at the teenagers’ naked, gore-caked bodies.

And laughs.

She finally turns to leave, departing the scene as casually as one might a tea party. The gimp crawls after her on all fours, still giggling.

Emmett: “I’ll take that as a maybe,” he mutters. He looks over Sami.

“Listen. I’m not going to pretend I’m a good guy. I’m not even going to pretend that this isn’t all my fault, even though you started it. And just because I feel guilty, I’m not gonna tell you about how bad it’s tearing me up inside, either, because I know you don’t care.”

He looks up Sami’s gore-caked body. The missing teeth. She can get those replaced. Her parents can afford it.

An idea takes root in his mind. Imperfect, slow, and in need of talking out—in need of Sami’s cooperation, terrifyingly— but there’s.

“But I’ll say this, and you’ll listen. I’m not going to prison, and neither are you. I opened a vein for you, and killed my cousin for you, so when I say you belong to me, I don’t have to lie. I go down, you do too, and if you do I’m not far behind. Do what I say, and I can help you. But fuck with me on this, and we’re both worse than dead. You hear me?”

GM: Sami’s eyes flare at the words ‘belong to me.’

“Fuck you,” she hisses.

Emmett: “Yeah, you did that already. How’d it work out?”

GM: Sami starts pulling on clothes. She doesn’t let go of the knife.

Emmett: He walks to the hose, picks it up. “The blood, Sam. We need to get rid of the blood. You’re covered in the blood of the guy you just murdered. I can’t help you if you play this like an idiot.”

He sighs. “And I need you, too. So please. Or we may as well turn ourselves in, now. Maybe with a good lawyer your parents can get you a reduced sentence, but you still killed a man. You’ll still lose everything. Or I can make all of this go away and give you everything you’ve ever wanted. I owe you that much. But I can’t do it alone, so here’s where we are. I belong to you, too. But you need to act like it.”

GM: “I want fuck from you,” Sami snarls.

She finishes pulling on her clothes and briskly walks into the house.

Emmett: He walks after her.

He isn’t carrying the gun when he does.

“Okay. Then kill me. It’ll be easier for you. Claim self-defense. You weren’t asking for any of this, and it’ll look cleaner if we’re all dead. Do it. Because I’m as good as dead anyway, and I’ve already paid too much to kill you. So you can kill me, or we can escape. But those are your options, Sam. They suck ass, because I’m an awful person. But if you fuck this up, everything goes away. And I’m not going to let that happen to you after this. So kill me, or listen to me, but if you walk away, all that happens is maybe the police get you before the mob does. You think I wanted this? I wanted to feel strong again. You want me to bleed and hurt for you, I can. You want me to tell the police I abducted you and raped you, I can. My life’s not worth much, anyway. But neither of those things will get you free. So, please, goddammit, don’t ruin your life. Not after I killed for you to have it.”

He’s aware of the selfishness, the depravity. He knows she can walk away.

If she does, he can kill himself.

He’s so, so tired of hating himself.

“I just don’t want it to be for nothing,” he says quietly, still walking after her. “I’ve done awful things, Sami. So have you. And they’re for nothing if you let them be. And…and…”

Why is it so hard to say?

“I’m sorry. God, I’m so sorry. But I can’t fix it without your help.”

He’s crying. It’s pathetic, and childish, and weak.

He hates himself for this more than anything.

But he cries. He cries, and he knows that he is terrible.

Not for everything else. For this.

It is one thing to hurt somebody.

It is another thing to lie.

He has done both too much to care about either.

But now he shows her who he is. He falls before her naked and bloodied, stained and wretched. He shows her his ugly, broken self. The tears he sheds for his own soul don’t wash him clean. They just slick the already-crusting blood.

He is the most wretched, pathetic being on the planet. He knows it. She knows it.

Even in telling the truth, he entraps her.

Poison. He’s poison.

He cries.

GM: Sami just stares at him for a while with slow-blinking eyes.

She’s not crying either. Not right now. But Em can see wounds just as deep, just as raw, just as festering, after tonight. After all that happened. Later, once this is over, Sami will fall to pieces like he is here. Maybe worse. Maybe she’ll need therapy for years. No, she should get therapy for years. She’d be pretty disturbed not to.

Sami just stares at Em. Haunted eyes dully move between his face, his empty hands, and the knife in hers.

“Stuff here we can use,” she says slowly. “Clothes. Stuff.”

“Need. Need to get rid of the bodies.”

She’s silent for a moment.

“People. People saw. Could’ve seen us go in.”

“The, the noise,” she says numbly. “Cops. There’ll be cops. The, the guys. The other ones.” Her voice is dead. “Got away. The, the one. He’s, he’s a co…”

Sami’s voice suddenly breaks.

“Oh… oh fuck…”

Her eyes well, and then the dam breaks.

“Oh fuck… oh fuck…”

Sami sinks to her knees. The tears start. Her knuckles turn white as she clasps the knife like a lifeline.

“Oh-h-h… o-h-h, f-fu-uck…”

Emmett: He isn’t sure how long it takes him to get to his feet. But he does, slowly, deliberately. He pads on bare feet towards her, clutching his leaking vein with one hand. He crouches near her, uncomfortably aware that she can filet his balls if she so chooses.

“I… I think I can get us out of this.” A plan is taking root in his mind, desperate, half-formed, but there.

“I—I need to wash myself off. And I’m going to have to move the bodies. Do you think you can find some spray paint? Maybe some cord?”

He’s thinking furiously as he talks.

The police aren’t going to look for two teenagers. And whatever, easy enough to say they were never here if they don’t match their prints, and how could they?

But the mob… the mob is the real problem.

His voice is warmer than the rest of him when he talks. “I promise you. I’m not letting you get in trouble for this. Even if they come in right now, I’ll take full responsibility. Even for Dino. But I need your help. Okay?”

GM: Sami instantly backs away as Em gets physically close, raising the knife defensively.

Emmett: He doesn’t move. Just waits. He looks tired. And concerned.

GM: Sami doesn’t say anything for a minute. Em wonders how much of what he’s saying is getting through.

Finally, there’s a nod.

“Okay.”

Emmett: He thinks a bit more. “Spray paint. Cord. And money, too. Any money you can find. Anything valuable, break it. Make the place look ransacked. Can you do that?”

GM: Sami doesn’t answer him.

She doesn’t need to.

One look into her eyes is enough for Em to know how she feels about destroying this entire place.

Emmett: Attagirl, he thinks, and stops himself from saying. He goes outside and rinses the blood off. Then he puts his clothes on.

He’ll cover up a murder, sure. But damn if he does it without pants.

“Gas. Gas will work, too.”

The hose’s soberingly cold water rinses over him. He doesn’t feel like he’s been cleaned of filth so much as letting it run off somewhere else. There’s a red-hued puddle when he’s done.

One way or another, he’s setting fire to the yard before he leaves.

GM: From inside the house, he hears the sounds of things breaking.

Emmett: Clothed, he searches the house, wrecking things as he goes—easy enough to find a heavy bat or something and go to town. Still, he searches.

Gas. Spray paint. Cord. Cash.

It’s like grocery shopping but oddly much more interesting.

All the while, his heart hammers to a beat that might end any moment. A banging on the door, a guttural “NOPD!”

He waits for the other shoe to drop as he hunts.

GM: Everything about the house’s interior screams “mob money:” pressed-tin ceiling with medallions and chandeliers, marble mantels, scroll-work moldings, and other similarly luxurious furnishings. Apart from the house proper, there’s also a smaller set of less luxurious rooms with beds, surveillance screens, and a billiards table with emerald-green felt. A private studio is full of cameras, production equipment, condoms, sex toys, bondage gear, sexualized clothing, and everything one would need to direct a quality porno.

The center of the house feels like the office. It’s an extravagant affair with leather furniture that could probably pay fir a good chunk of Em’s college tuition, a collection of old Tommy guns, and a stuffed lion. The expensive-looking hardwood desk has a bust of two prancing horses made from solid silver, a state of the art computer (there’s no obvious hint to the password like Emil’s), and a family photo showing a beautiful wife, an incredibly fat, ugly husband, and a plump boy he recognizes past the baby fat.

Cemetery.jpg
Emmett: He takes a special degree of pleasure in smashing the picture’s frame and grinding broken glass into Dino’s smiling face.

GM: Smashing noises continue to go up from further in the house, with some pauses.

Emmett: The computer he throws into the air and smacks back down with the Louisville slugger he found among the gauche weapons collection. It makes a very satisfying sound.

GM: The heavy desktop machine embarrassingly crashes to the ground about a foot away after the wrist-injured teenager always mocked for how spindly he was tries to heft it.

Emmett: He makes up for the humiliation by stealing the hard drive. Then he just smashes the thing on the ground while the music from Office Space plays in his head.

GM: His hand swiftly hurts.

Emmett: He looks longingly at one of the Tommy guns.

Then he shakes his head and moves on.

Smashing up the room, beyond being satisfying, also does a lot for his planning process. The weapons, some of which definitey look illegal, end up strewn on the kitchen floor for when the police come in.

Call it a little vigilante justice.

There’s so much here he’s sure he could profit from given proper time. But the hard drive he settles for.

He finds what he’s looking for, minus the cash. Sami beat him to that, which is just fine; she’s earned it. The important thing is that the house looks trashed, and it is by the time they’re done.

Then it’s time to set the scene.

The cord goes around Dino’s ruined neck, tied into a noose with a knot his father taught him a lifetime ago—or at least two murders ago. That noose gets tied to the doorknob, so that the slumped, ruined corpse smiles out at the yard. It looks like a lynching.

Jermaine’s body he doesn’t have to change much. Just the way it’s facing, add a few cuts, and voila—his cuz died fighting.

For the coup de grace, or whatever the saying is, he give the spray paint cans a shake—black and red, colors of the night—and starts tagging. The Bloodhound Gangstaz have only slightly better taste in iconography than they do in names.

But one thing they got right is it’s damn easy to spray their name and swag across a townhouse.
He adds a few more murals inside, including some hints to the horrific attack’s motive:

blood 4 blood

Jermaine RIP

Fuck you fatass

And so on.

On the nose? Maybe, but better loud than quiet.

When that’s all done, he waters the garden with the bright red jerry can he found inside. The he makes sure to soak most of the garden in it, too. Especially the…fluids.

He scoops up the dropped camera and waves Sami towards the car.

“Time to go.”

GM: Sami emerges from the house after Em. She’s wearing different clothes underneath a heavy coat and carrying a full shoulder bag.

She doesn’t look like she’s cleaned herself. At all. There’s… something in her eyes. They make Em think of glass that’s about to shatter. Firm and hard before there’s nothing but broken pieces.

She stares vacantly at the car’s open door.

After all, how did getting in a car with Emmett Delacroix work out for her last time?

Her eyes slowly pan towards the camera in Em’s hands.

He can almost hear the cartoon lightbulb’s ‘ding.’

Sami pulls out a gun from inside the coat and cocks it at Em’s head.

“Give me that. Now.”

Emmett: He just raises an eyebrow and holds it out. “It’s yours. Hold onto it. If you want to delete it, go for it. But it’s the only thing that’ll keep Cash Money Mouton from framing us for some awful shit to make us all go away, so don’t let anybody know it’s been poofed. Hey, and show of good faith.” He flips open his phone, slowly, and starts deleting the pictures he took. “Figured I’ve done enough to you. You want to kill me, I guess you’ve earned it, but it won’t make this go any easier.”

GM: “Throw the phone and camera on the ground,” Sami says tightly.

Emmett: He shrugs and tosses them. “Whatever you need to feel comfortable. You want me to drive with that thing pointed at my head? Because I can, but that’s the kind of shit that’ll get us pulled over.”

“I like the coat, by the way. You look badass. I’d be shitting my pants if, you know. Any other night.”

GM: Em’s cellphone hits the grass with a soft thump. That leaves with him with a grand total of zero, after chucking Emil’s phone into some bushes after he called 911.

Too bad he wasn’t using Emil’s here. Calling 911, recording a gang rape… that phone would have really gotten around.

Sami quickly snatches up the camera and the phone, then stuffs them into the bag.

Emmett: “You want to set the fire?”

He watches her. “I get what you’re thinking. Leave me, right? I deserve it. But I also think you deserve a little catharsis. More than a little.”

He stretches, extends the lighter just out of reach. “Tell me it wouldn’t be fun. Come on. I’ll wait.”

He looks her flat in the eyes and says, “There’s nothing I can do to you I haven’t already done, Sam. You can be scared of me, but I don’t really care anymore. I’m trying to make sure the mob doesn’t do something to both of us that makes this look cheap.”

GM: Sami looks at the lighter hungrily for several moments. Em can see his words licking at her thoughts like the tongues of unborn flames.

“Drop it,” she finally says.

Emmett: He does, eyes on hers.

GM: Sami flicks the lighter on, stares into the tiny fire for a moment, then back at Em.

“My name is not fucking Sam.”

She shoots Em in the foot.

It hurts.

A lot.

Em’s ears are still ringing from the gunshot’s roar as Sami tosses the lighter at the nearest gas-soaked part of the nightmare scene. There’s a soft whoosh and sudden heat against Em’s cheeks. Sami hits the button to open the gate, but keeps the gun trained on Em.

“You drive. We go where I say. Stop where I say.”

Emmett: He howls, but something flutters inside him with the pain.

When he comes to, he’s laughing. It’s the noise of a small animal dying, of a cigarette burning flesh, of things not funny in the least but ironic as a grave is deep.

His laughter is ugly, but it is real.

DAMN! Damn, you are… fuck!”

He has to hop one-footed, stumbling as he does, to the car.

When she joins him, he’s still laughing, a corpse-rattle chuckle.

“Wherever you want to go, ma’am. Heh. Hah. You don’t… fuck around. I love that.”

“You know why it has to be you?” he asks suddenly. “Why I need you for this movie?”

He gestures at her, the gun, the coat, the bag. “It’s because you don’t stop. You won’t let yourself. You’ll get what you want and you’ll step on anybody you need to get there. I see it, in your eyes. You’re a goddamn menace, Sami Watts.”

He turns over the engine like a burning burger and with one hand and one foot drives down the street, merges with traffic on the main roads. Just another couple driving home from a date.

“Cécilia doesn’t have anything on you.”


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Comments

This log, and playing the scenes inside it, feel/felt incredibly bittersweet.

On the one hand, I don’t think I ever felt more strongly invested in a series of scenes than these last few, and there were plenty of times that felt great. I loved how this log went from 0 to 10 to ‘ransacking a mobster’s house’ and how Em’s already awful plan spiraled completely out of control.

That investment paid off in some really satisfying moments, but it was also tested by some intensely frustrating ones. I don’t think those moments are on you, and a lot of them are definitely on me, but I still think it’s helpful to reexamine (some) of them.

We’ve talked about the Sami fight at the restaurant, and enough time has passed for me to come around to your points there. However. I think what still bugs me about that scene, and what bugged me in some of the Mouton stuff, was feeling like I had more of that situation in my favor than perhaps I really did. In the case of Sami, I got her drunk, overconfident, withstood her barbs and dick-swinging, and then dropped a lie that I believed (and now know) played to her largest insecurity and fear (getting expelled from McGehee). I get that it comes down to DC quibbling, and it would be one thing if I just rolled, failed, and couldn’t get it, but I didn’t do that. I took a Stain (more than one? might just be thinking of the later gun moment) to get myself to a DC I thought would be enough, wrote up a pretty angry, determined post, and then kind of just had to accept me burning Stains had no real effect, which was a considerable part of my annoyance even if I was too proud to actually phrase it as such (“I burned 1-2 Stains to off-put the meanest girl in school, and I may as well not have bothered.”) I get that you can’t always tell us the DC, but I felt like I had given up a lot for nothing.

This mostly amounts to venting, though, more than practical suggestion. My instinct, which I feel like you won’t like, is that in a system we have where success is rigidly bracketed (botch, setback, success, ex success) it makes sense that Stains should directly correspond to those degrees of success, instead of the secondary and fickle mechanic of dice. For example, Stains boosting a failed roll to a setback, a setback to a complete success, and Stains beyond that for an additional benefit. I think that the idea of a central resource like Stains that feeds into everything needs to have a lot of punch to it to justify its use, and even though I’m going to keep burning Stains like a fiend because I, like Em, hate losing, every time I hand over what amounts to XP but also literally a piece of my character’s soul for bubkis is one that’s going to leave a sour taste in my mouth, and I very simply think neither player or GM benefits from that state of affairs. Also, that would make Stain spamming on single rolls less common, and I have a feeling you dislike that as much as I as a player dislike burning a piece of my character’s soul for what too often ends up being nothing. Dice rolls are for bold, risky actions. Payment of a resource has a definite cost, so it also needs to have a definite effect to feel impactful. That’s my opinion, and I freely accept it might not align with your own.

The gang-rape was extremely upsetting but also a stark reveal of, as Pete said, how ugly Em is. Why he is that way is a subject long exhausted in the OOC.

We talked about Em also continuing to be an utter shit post-gangrape. I’m not going to pretend I was thinking tactically or literally— I was thinking in terms of who Em was and what he wanted and thought and acts. The reason Em’s such a prick isn’t because of a flawed tactical choice on my part or a desire to antagonize NPCs. It’s because he’s a prick, always has been, always will be, and there are times that he just isn’t going to think through terrible, angry things that he says. But that doesn’t mean he won’t say them. Yes, I want my PC to be more successful, and yes, I get that I need to change his behavior to accommodate that, and there are definitely ways I see Ghost Em being more careful/restrained in his manner, but at the same time, he’s still a prick and sometimes the only way it makes sense for him to respond is like the prick that he is. He had every reason to behave like one in that context, and I don’t regret that chain of events because it led to a far more organic-feeling rapport between them than might have happened had he simply been utterly sympathetic.

The same thing applies to giving the gun to Jermaine. Knowing something’s a bad idea as a player doesn’t change the fact that Em’s never used a gun, his cousin’s a gangbanger, and also that that situation was fucking crazy and the opportunity to trust a loved one (sort of) is something that I couldn’t rationalize Em passing up right then. I’m not pretending there weren’t also elements of player folly/obliviousness in those calls (Jermaine said he wouldn’t kill her!) but I’m also tired of making legitimate decisions for Em based on what he would do/act, and then considered failing. I shouldn’t harp so much, and I want him to be better, but I can’t make that shift all at once and still feel like I’m exploring a character instead of just moving pieces on a board.

That’s enough complaining for one log.

Highlights:

* Sami, like Em, being a gloater and an all-around spiteful person. Her behavior at the restaurant did a lot to actually make me feel better about what I had in mind for her (which, for posterity, was to essentially humiliate her/get really good blackmail material so he could enlist her into obeying his orders and then gaslight her from there. Look, it’s not better, but it’s not gangrape).

* I had a lot of fun describing him trashing the house and the frame-up. That was nice.

* The Poison-Eyed lady was terrifying.

Story Eight, Emmett VIII
 

Calder Feedback Repost

GM’s note: This feedback was written just before the Sami gang-rape happened. It also uses some now outdated game mechanics: dice pools used to turn up successes on rolls of 8-10 (33% of the time), rather than 6-10 (50% of the time), and typical DCs ranged from 1-5 rather than 2-7.

Calder: Now, as far as Sami
Which wasn’t actually part of that log, but addressing now
DCs can go higher than 3

Izzy:
3
Something so hard that it warrants bringing in a certified expert. Experts (8-10 dice) meet these challenges routinely, while professionals (5-7 dice) find them hard but doable. Novices (2-4 dice) are pushed their utmost limits. Unskilled people (1 die) find these challenges nigh-impossible.
4
A challenge unfathomable to ordinary people. Even experts (8-10) find them tough. Professionals (5-7 dice) are in over their heads and must muster heroic effort to carry through. Novices (2-4 dice) and unskilled people (1 die) find these feats nigh-impossible.
5
A feat that is unfathomable to skilled as well as ordinary people. Even experts (8-10 dice) who attempt these challenges are in over their heads and will be pushed to their utmost limits. Such tasks are nigh-impossible to anyone else.)

Calder: Em’s had a good stretch of DCs 2-3, but high school girls can easily reach DC 4-5 under the right circumstances
Like, “Amelie tries to befriend Sarah Whitney while being totally open about who she is”

Izzy: Yeah, but what I’d need to see is how his tactics here would make that bar at all higher

Calder: Or for something more “modest,” Amelie asking Sarah if she could arrange her entrance into the LaLaurie House
I don’t care what Amelie’s pool is, that’s a DC 5 or impossible altogether
Sarah stands everything to lose and close to squat to gain from that trade
Ie, it’s swapping a shiny new longsword for a rusty butter knife
(To use a D&D example from an article I read on improving Diplomacy)

Izzy: Dice moderate the circumstances outside GM or player control though

Calder: Now, for Sami, there actually were some tactics you could’ve done differently
First, you took a threats-based approach. You’d been raped by her earlier, so she simply wasn’t taking you as seriously. Flattery and playing into her existing beliefs would’ve been a lower DC
(vs. going a route that challenged those beliefs)

Izzy: He never threatened her
he was trying to make her an offer that she never bit into, and he invented an external threat to make that more attractive

Calder: He did. He tried to browbeat her and stand up to her as an equal
Which she didn’t view him as
And the threat changed the tenor of the exchange
[…]
Threats grate people’s pride
And get their ego personally invested in the issue
There are circumstances they’ll swallow that under

Pete: also depends on the person, and your actual leverage over them
either way though, threats usually bad options for anything other than immediate satisfaction

Izzy: Okay, but I don’t buy that it was an unreasonable tactic, given that kind of shit is textbook manipulation. Backing down to her certainly wasn’t going to help, as we’ve noted
(nobody respects a pushover)
That’s another thing, though
Telling somebody somebody else is a problem and needs to be dealt with isn’t a threat

Calder: It’s all about how you do that
His demeanor was smug, challenging, “I’m not taking your crap”
So Sami scoffed “Yeah, you have, and yeah, you will”
I’m not saying that’s the wrong approach to use all the time
But it wasn’t a good one here, when Sami basically viewed you as a joke
Now, the good news is you plan on flipping that impression completely around
And have a pretty damn good plan to do that with
So impressions are far from set in stone

Izzy: And I’m looking forward to that, but I still think that when we’re talking about selling the existence of an external threat (ie the Devillers, who are notorious for making problem go bye-bye, now see you as a problem) with a Presence+Sub roll, maintaining his composure throughout her berating him, and getting her drunk enough to slur her words, and none of that passing muster, still leaves a sour taste in my mouth
I think that’s a very distinct approach from, “listen up you bitch, do what I say or hell’s going to rain down”

Calder: You’re right, that approach wouldn’t have allowed a roll
Sami would have just laughed
Because she had no reason to take Em seriously
Again, actions and circumstances matter just as much as rolls
That doesn’t necessarily mean exhaustive setup
Say Em pulls a gun on her
Wow, that dynamic instantly flips

Izzy: Yeah, he might, actually
Pretty easy retrospective action

Calder: Then say he shoots somebody, just to show he’s not fooling around
I probably don’t even call for dice rolls at that point
Now, what seems the point of contention is that Em wasn’t directly threatening her (“bitch, do as I say or else!”) and was bringing up external threats, as you’ve called them

Izzy: I think earning a Pres+Sub roll at all instead of an Intimidation roll speaks to the difference pretty clearly

Calder: So few things to note
First, a flattering or less aggressive approach would’ve meant DC 3, the one he used meant DC 4, and Em saying “bitch, do as I say or else!” would have meant she just laughed/no roll allowed (because she raped you and isn’t scared of you)
Second, look at Em’s choice of words:
“you don’t really have the same… grace she does. But I guess you’ll be able to take her on alone. It’s not like anybody’s tried before you.”
“Girls like you, they want what she has but they don’t understand how her mind works. How people work. It isn’t enough to fuck somebody’s boyfriend for a part. You have to think ahead.”
“What do you want — to be a story, or to tell one?”

Izzy: I think that those choices all show a very deliberate attempt to outright threaten or bully her

Calder: “get this, honeybun:”

Izzy: That one, less so
Can’t really defend that

Calder: All of this is challenging Sami’s ego, and turning it into you vs. her from the way it’s presented

Izzy: That, I can swallow
even if it tastes like angry pornstar semen
that I’m going to make Sami chug

Calder: I’m not saying you can never act that way to NPCs/it’ll always sabotage your efforts
But it will if the NPC has just raped you and doesn’t take you seriously a threat
It wasn’t impossible to sway Sami this way, it was just a tougher battle (DC 4 instead of DC 3)

Story Eight, Emmett VIII
 

Calder Feedback Repost

GM’s note: This feedback also references some outdated game mechaics. We’ve since change the way Stains/Corruption work._

Calder: I’m glad to hear the log as a whole was a hit, first of all

Izzy: Oh it was

Calder: Agreed there was a lot of drama, lot of action, lot of things going to 10
The big thing you could’ve done with Sami to lower the DC, just TBC, was taken a “here’s how you can hurt Cecilia” instead of “I’ll screw you if you don’t help me” stance. Carrot usually gets more cooperation from people than stick (or stick + carrot)
(Threats being another +1 DC in Em’s case after she’d raped him/wasn’t as scared)
Mechanics-wise, we could change the three rerolled dice to a flat +1 success
It’s same average numeric effect
Though it would still be a gamble accruing Stains, as you don’t know whether you’ll hit an unknown DC or not

The gang rape anyways you’re right we’ve talked a lot about
And as a scene I thought it was actually pretty awesome
Probably the darkest stuff we’ve seen in the game yet
When it comes to just sheer petty evil
As far as Em being a prick post-rape, I don’t the answer is to play a character as contrary to their natural temperament
For instance, Caroline’s first interaction with Desirae Wells felt really, well, limpdicked
Or rather, the first part of that first interaction
I think the answer is to simply find ways of playing your character that feel natural while furthering the things you want OOC
“Success” is a relative metric. Success to Pete is accomplishing objectives, success to Izzy is dramatic scenes
Anyway, when we know scenes where you make friends with Sami are ones you want, it’s worth thinking about what you can do to get there in a way that feels natural with Em
Because when Em was nothing but a prick, he alienated her and that would’ve meant no “friendly with Sami” scenes if you hadn’t changed how you were playing him
But that’s feedback for the next log
My takeaway anyways is that you shouldn’t try to be Pete (whose playstyle very much is moving pieces on a board), but simply consider ahead of time what sorts of roleplay with Em is likely to lead to what scenes
And to adjust course if those scenes seem like less satisfying ones
(“Ok, if Em keeps being an open prick Sami will hate him, maybe I can play him as a manipulative bastard trying to win sympathy even when he doesn’t mean what he’s saying”)

Peter: The inner dialogue is a pretty powerful tool for conveying intent even when tacking actions that outwardly look another way.
i.e. Em begging Cash money, while inwardly thinking to himself, “That’s right you big fucking hick idiot, eat up my lies. I’ve still got you dead to rights.”
I guess that’s technically an E.g.

Calder: Good example there which would’ve cast the scene in a pretty different light

Pete: “Sami, I’m sorry…” The bait…

Story Eight, Emmett VIII
Calder_R Calder_R

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