“Nothing you are is hidden from God. He sees you. He knows your crime.”
Wednesday morning, 5 April 2016
GM: The couple’s rest is troubled. Sylvia dreams of falling down a dark pit, never reaching the bottom. Anna looks tired and says she didn’t sleep well. Breakfast is a simple affair of eggs and toast.
Anna says she wants to come to mass. She doesn’t trust Jordan to be alone with Sylvia.
She feels scared to be alone herself, too.
Victoria: Sylvia shakes her head.
“Not this time. Keep the gun nearby. Don’t answer the door. Okay? I’ll be back soon.”
Jordan isn’t going to keep his cool. Not this time. She doesn’t trust him.
GM: Anna doesn’t look thrilled by that answer.
“I feel like we’d both be safer together. Why not?”
Victoria: Sylvia doesn’t look thrilled by that answer, either. Anna also isn’t wrong.
Unless they come for her while separate?
“Okay, fine, but you’ll need to take a separate pew so you don’t scare him away. Fair?”
GM: “Because I’m such a scary-looking person,” says the four-inches-shorter ex-teacher. The amusement in her words is faint.
“But, okay. I’ll take that as a win.”
Victoria: Can you bring a gun into a church…?
It’s probably a good idea.
It’s also probably a bad idea.
“Don’t be scared.”
GM: Anna tries to smile.
She only partly succeeds.
Wednesday morning, 6 April 2016
GM: Jordan looks shabby when Victoria picks him up. He hasn’t shaved. He looks like he’s either barely slept, or slept terribly. He wears casual clothes and doesn’t fasten his belt right. He assents to come along, but doesn’t initiate conversation. Just stares out the window with a hopeless look on his face.
Victoria arrives at St. Louis Cathedral around the same time as Anna. It’s fuller, this time. Not packed to capacity, but pews have at least one person sitting there.
Anna sits within sight of her, but doesn’t approach.
Jordan looks miserable and mumbles about going to Hell.
Victoria: Victoria pats him on the back, reassuring him. She reassured him the entire way to church. Every last Hell was countered by a Heaven.
She sits beside him, taking his hand, and turns to listen to the speaker.
GM: None of them seem to so much as make a dent on Jordan.
People dip their fingers in holy water and anoint and cross themselves. People who pass the tabernacle genuflect to it. People who pass the altar bow. Everyone who’s not praying talks in a whisper. Some people kneel. The pews have padded kneelers to make that less uncomfortable.
The mass starts when a hush falls over the congregation as the priest and servers walk slowly to the altar. Everyone stands.
Victoria gets a good look at the priest.
He’s a tall man in his early 30s with slim, almost gaunt features, somber gray eyes, and ash-brown hair. He’s dressed in a priest’s liturgical vestments.
Jordan’s face drains of all color.
Victoria: Their target.
In the room.
Her and Jordan side by side.
She no longer knows Jordan, but he doesn’t know that yet. No, for now, she simply follows the expected procedure: kneel, pray, pray, kneel, sing, kneel, pray, sing.
GM: Adam and the servers bow to the altar, and then take their spots. Adam goes behind the altar and kisses it. He turns to the congregation and says,
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
“Amen,” answers the congregation.
Jordan doesn’t even get out that much. He stares ahead, frozen. Like a deer in headlights.
“The Lord be with you,” says Adam.
“And also with you,” answers the congregation.
Jordan doesn’t answer. Doesn’t move his mouth.
His face is turning red. Victoria can already smell the perspiration trickling down his body.
Victoria: Coolly, she squeezes Jordan’s hand.
“And also with you,” she murmurs, perhaps a little louder than her other neighbor.
Come on, Jordan…
He can’t hear her thoughts, but he can see her expression, if he looks.
GM: Jordan flinches at the contact as though struck. Several nearby people stare. Jordan stares down at Victoria’s hand. His eyes are hug and bloodshot. Victoria has to wonder if her fingers ends in claws or rotting digits from the way he’s staring at it. She can practically hear his heart hammering in his chest.
Victoria: She drops the contact as soon as he flinches. Her motion is fluid, as if her hand is a drop of rain sliding from his to whatever lays below.
Her eyes lock forward to Adam, intending to shirk what awkwardness was created by his sudden jerk.
GM: Adam continues:
“As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Christ’s love,
let us acknowledge our failures
and ask the Lord for pardon and strength.”
The congregation bows their heads.
Jordan does not. He stares straight ahead. Frozen. Unblinking. Red-faced and sweating effusively as his jaw dumbly works. Whispers sound from behind him.
“I confess to Almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my own fault-”
He’s cut off by a scream.
It comes out almost like a fart. Jordan stares ahead, petrified. Then he opens his mouth and just lets it rip. Almost involuntarily:
As one, the eyes of the entire church fall upon the man next to Victoria.
Victoria: Victoria refocuses on Adam Malveaux, listening to the sermon. He gets no further than six lines in, when it happens.
The scream beside her sends Victoria halfway to the ceiling. She falls to the side in fright, stumbling into another congregant, but manages to catch herself on the pew in front of her.
She regards Jordan with a mask of confused irritations and restrained rage.
Really?! Here and now?!
GM: Jordan looks as if he’s been struck by lightning.
He looks as if he wants the floor to part and swallow him whole.
He looks as if he could melt into a puddle.
He clamps his eyes shut and clutches his head.
He’s still screaming.
Then, he bolts upright. He all but knocks over Victoria and the man on his left in his haste to get away. To flee this house of God and the evidence of his sin. His foostamps pound against the floor as he barrels through the double doors, sobbing and screaming with his face in his hands,
The congregation’s silence is deafening.
Victoria: For once in her life, she doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t know what to say. She has no answers, and she’s only thankful that Anna isn’t right next to her for this horrible bout of shame.
GM: Anna might not be right next to her.
But her girlfriend is still staring right at her with a ‘what the everloving fuck’ expression.
Victoria: She doesn’t see Anna. She feigns as much surprise as everyone else.
GM: Silence reigns over the church.
Adam turns to one of the servers and murmurs something. Both of them make haste after Jordan.
“Sin may weigh upon this man’s mind,” he addresses the congregation.
“I apologize for the disturbance he caused. Does anyone here know his name? I would see him given help.”
No one knows it, or at least volunteers it.
Adam says a few words on the man obviously suffering and deserving compassion, with a few insinuations that he may be mentally ill, then continues the sermon.
“I confess to Almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my own fault
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God…”
Wednesday afternoon, 6 April 2016
GM: Mass concludes some time later. Anna relocates next to Sylvia throughout and whispers to her, “Promise me you’re done with him, okay?”
The congregation rises and starts to disperse.
Victoria: “Eternally and forever.”
But not before she’s sure that he won’t be bringing the police to her door. She gestures Anna to the door.
GM: Anna gladly follows after her.
“Excuse me,” calls a man’s voice from behind Victoria.
Victoria: Her expression softens as she realizes who it is addressing her.
“I’m so, so very sorry for what happened, Father… Truthfully, I thought a day with the Lord would do him some good.”
GM: “Perhaps he would find a less public confession preferable,” says Adam. “Or mental health services. May I ask his name?”
Victoria: She smiles a soft smile.
“I’d rather leave his name with him. I’ll get him the help he needs. Clearly, I am not it.”
GM: “May I ask what you were to him?” Adam inquires.
Victoria: “A paid service who came to care a little bit too much for her clientele.”
GM: “It is valuable to maintain professional boundaries, but there are worse sins than caring deeply,” says the priest.
“I am Father Adam. I do not believe I’ve seen you before.”
Victoria: She shakes her head.
“Religion and I have a tenuous relationship. It’s something I’d like to explore more deeply again.”
Her eyes shift toward the door.
“…perhaps ever more so after that.”
GM: “Would you like to take confession?” Adam asks.
Victoria: I would like a drink.
“I’d love one.”
GM: “This way.”
He takes her to the same confession booth she was in yesterday. Anna says she’ll wait.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen,” says Adam, making the sign of the cross.
“How long has it been since your last confession?”
Victoria: “Yesterday, actually.”
She doesn’t even have to lie. She does, however, have to quell her heart. She’s making a confession to the man she had drugged and ruined.
GM: “That is very soon,” says Adam. “Has something significant occured in your life since yesterday?”
Victoria: You asked if I’d like one!
“No, I suppose not, but it feels prudent to make a confession when offered.”
A pause passes.
“Father, do you yourself give confession at times?”
GM: “You mean do I take confession?” says the priest. “Yes. Even the pope has a confessor.”
“Priests are men. Men are fallible. Men sin.”
Victoria: That they are.
She breathes a sigh.
“I’m sorry about him. I didn’t think he’d lose his mind like that.”
GM: “His actions were his own.”
Victoria: She holds a pause there.
“They were. He’ll get the help he needs.”
GM: “Good. What else has happened in your life since your last confession?”
Victoria: “What else? It was yesterday.”
She rests her head against the wooden grate dividing them.
“Save his moment of insanity, and a few before that, nothing at all. I’d hoped being in a divine house would help him see how safe he is in God’s light.”
GM: “He has only to fear what he brings with him,” answers Adam.
Victoria: “The logician in me wonders if you’re referring to me with that,” she muses.
GM: “I am,” answers the priest.
“Tell me of your relationship with this man. You spoke of it being transactional. His actions have touched you powerfully for you to bring him here.”
Victoria: She lofts a brow, though he can’t see it. The hair on the beck of her neck creeps upward.
“I consider some of my clients worthy of more than services provided, and I have a bleeding heart. Would you not go out of your way for some of your flock?”
GM: “It depends,” says Adam. “All professions maintain professional boundaries.”
“A priest, for example, will do many things for members of his flock. He may be present for weddings, funerals, end of life care, and other emotionally intimate moments of their lives. But there are many things he will not do, such as seeing a congregant outside of formally structured settings, making inappropriate jokes or innuendos, or reporting crimes he believes deserving of punishment to the authorities.”
Victoria: “I suppose I break my boundaries more easily than most when a wounded heart is in need. He… Is most certainly in need of something more than I can provide.”
GM: “What do you typically provide him?”
Victoria: There’s a long pause.
“That’s personal to him. No, I’m not an escort.”
GM: “I do not ask to know the personal details of the services you provide him, only the general nature of the service your occupation engages in.”
“If you are a therapist, for example, my advice and penance may different than if you are a fitness trainer.”
Victoria: “I help my clients live fantasies, whatever that may mean, beyond the bounds of the law.”
GM: “You are not the first sex worker to have taken confession here,” Adam answers calmly.
“There is a saying by G.K. Chesterton. When a man knocks on the door of a brothel, he is really knocking for God.”
Victoria: “Why would the man be knocking for God?”
GM: "The saying is meant to explain that the fundamental orientation of the human heart is to seek God and the peace, meaning, and truth that only He can bring; the God-shaped hole we are all created with. When we chase after anything else—women, romance, riches, power, position, knowledge—we do so seeking God, even if we do not realize it. "
Victoria: “How do the two connect?”
“I don’t follow.”
GM: “When a man literally or figuratively knocks upon the door of a brothel, he is doing so because he is missing something from his life. He seeks to fill an emptiness.”
“Almost any human desire can be explained within these terms. They are part of the hunger that God put in our hearts. His plan was for those godly longings to be fully satisfied through an eternally transcendent relationship with Him. Adam and Eve doubted Him when they tasted the forbidden fruit, and chose the curse mankind lives with: a core longing that will never be fully satisfied on earth.”
Victoria: His words provoke enough thought that she falls silent for a time.
He’s not wrong, and Sylvia knows it. Everything they are, and everything they’ll ever be—every absence, and every savored feeling—is by the will of God. Her own desires. Anna. Jordan. Adam.
She wonders if some deep corner of his soul enjoyed her gift to him.
“Are demons real?”
GM: Perhaps he’s spoken of what happened in his own confessions.
Victoria: “I don’t mean metaphors for sin. Real demons. Claws in the night.”
GM: “Yes,” repeats the priest.
GM: “What do you wish me to explain?”
Victoria: “How are they real? Where are they? How are they not more widely known, if they are real? My friend—client—he clamors on and on about demons and going to hell. It’s why I brought him here. To show him that he’s in God’s good grace.”
Panic enters her words the more she spills. She’s like a leaking pipe, bursting the more flows through her.
GM: “How is anything extraordinary real?” counters Adam. “You know enough of them to ask about them, so I would contend they are well-known. They reside in Hell.”
“Why does your client believe he is going to Hell? What has he done to earn damnation? I know he has done something terrible, and there can be no absolution without confession.”
“For him,” whispers the priest.
“Or for you.”
The confessional is dark and claustrophobic. Jordan’s screams ring her memory. The terror in his eyes. The sickly smile, as he spoke of the demon that knows who Victoria is.
Hell feels all-too real.
Victoria: She shudders at the oppressive sensation. She recalls reading a play in her youth.
Hell is other people.
It isn’t, though, is it? Hell can have other people, but this? This all-encompassing claustrophobia, and the unspoken promise of an eternity? That is Hell.
She shakes it off.
“He believes demons are coming for him. Hence the visit to Church. I gave my confession yesterday.”
She knows he knows.
He knows she knows he knows.
It goes round her mind, over and over like some macabre merry go round.
Should she apologize? Beg for forgiveness?
No. He can’t know.
GM: The dark confessional carries no assurances.
Nor does its other occupant.
“Perhaps something has happened since your last confession,” the priest intones gravely. “Much can happen in a day.”
“Or perhaps you did not confess everything.”
Can he know?
Does he know?
“Normal people do not believe that demons are coming from them. Normal people do not scream in public that they are going to Hell. Normal escorts do not take their clients to church and ask the priest if demons are real.”
The priest’s voice is a whisper.
“You have not admitted your sins. You have not taken true confession. Until you do, I cannot grant you absolution, and all the Holy Mother Church’s power cannot help you.”
Victoria: He must know. He has to know.
Her heart plays its own staccato beneath her chest.
“No, normal people don’t. I’m not normal. Normal escorts—of which I am not one—do hide their clients name. I was raised in God’s house. We’re warned of demons, but only ever the metaphorical variety.”
It’s a weak defense.
“Is there something you want to say, Father?”
GM: The priest does not address her defense.
He does not address her question.
Instead, he replies, his voice as heavy as the cathedral’s organ:
“Is there something you want to say? This is your confession.”
Victoria: The weight of his voice is crushing. She almost can’t draw a breath to answer.
“We all are sinners, Father.”
GM: The priest only waits patiently, allowing the silence to stretch his words like a rubber band.
This is her confession.
Victoria: The weight crushes her against her seat. It feels smaller. Is the confessional shrinking?
No. She can’t admit it. There’s no way he knows!
But he does, doesn’t he? She knows it already. She already told Anna to be wary.
“You’re being r-rather intense, aren’t you?”
GM: The priest’s answering words ring out hard and sharp, like raps against a metal pipe.
“Am I unwarranted in being so?”
Victoria: Sylvia shudders.
“Are you always so?”
GM: Adam does not answer.
But he speaks.
Rap, rap, rap goes the metal pipe.
Harder. Louder. Closer.
“Enough. This is your confession, and your soul we are here to speak of.”
“Will you confess and make right your actions, or shall you persist in a state of sin?”
The priest’s eyes cut past the grill, straight into hers. They are pitiless and blaze with fervor.
“The choice is yours, but know this: nothing you are is hidden from God. He sees you. He knows your crime. As do the servants of _Satan!”_
The last word is all but spat.
Victoria: She relents.
She’s gelatin against the seat, and her voice reflects it.
“I’m too much a sinner to be forgiven.”
GM: “Perhaps,” is the priest’s sole answer.
Victoria: “I’m sorry,” she says after a moment. She means it.
GM: “Speak,” commands the priest. “Words not said are heard by God alone. What are you sorry for?”
Victoria: His answer is the door to the confessional closing and the click of her shoes on marble floors.
Wednesday afternoon, 6 April 2016
GM: The drive home is lonely. It’s just Victoria. She and Anna took separate cars, after all.
“Nothing to do with that guy again?” her girlfriend repeats when they’re home, as if to make sure.
Victoria: “Nothing to do with that guy,” she answers. Her heart still hasn’t fully relaxed.
She’s’ confident that she won’t see Jordan again.
She’s wondering if she’ll ever see Anna gain.
GM: “So,” she sighs.
She lets that hang for a moment.
“What’s going on, Sylvia?”
“Why were you involved with that guy?”
“Why did you keep saying something terrible was going to happen?”
Victoria: Because something terrible is going to happen.
“Because I’m not sure what’s going to happen. Even the priest was… Was weird. Intense.”
GM: Anna gives her a frustrated look.
Victoria: She sets her hands to Anna’s hips, trying to reassure her.
GM: “You talked to me about a GUN, earlier. You said something bad was going to happen, and you had no idea what.”
“You said you’d committed a crime, but you wouldn’t tell me what or talk to a lawyer.”
“You go see this guy in the middle of the night, who beats you bloody, and then take him to church and he goes insane in public.”
Anna throws up her hands.
“I can’t do this. I just can’t.”
“Something has to change.”
“This can’t go on the way it is. I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel you’re safe.”
Victoria: Sylvia feels her heart climb into her throat.
There’s so much she wants to say. There’s even more that she can’t say. To protect Anna. Her body. Her life. Her innocence.
“I’m… sorry. I’ll make it safe.”
She always makes it safe, doesn’t she?
Anna probably doesn’t believe her this time.
“I’m scared,” she says, her voice cracking.
GM: Anna reaches up to cup Sylvia’s cheek against her palm.
She looks scared, too. At her wits’ end.
But her voice is soft as she answers,
“You don’t have to do this alone.”
Victoria: She crushes Anna to her, silently tearing up against her hair.
“I know. I know.”
GM: Madmen screaming about demons.
Too-intense, too-knowing priests.
The Malveaux family.
She might be up against all of that and more.
Her and the woman silently returning her crushing embrace.
Victoria: “Do you believe in demons, Anna?”
Has she asked her that before? She doesn’t remember.
She’s asked a fair few people that lately.
Does she believe now, too?
GM: “I believe that your client believed in demons,” says Anna, stroking her back.
“I also believe he’s crazy.”
Victoria: “Believes. He’s not dead.”
She half expects to see that on the news. Then again, they won’t let his death be known. Will they?
GM: “Believes. Okay. Why do you ask?”
Victoria: “I am… Starting to believe the same. More than the metaphors. Something… Happened in the confessional.”
“I… I don’t know, Anna. I don’t know what to believe anymore.”
GM: “Does it matter?” asks Anna. “Does it really matter, whether demons are real, against everything else?”
Victoria: She shrugs.
“Doesn’t it? If they want him. If they want me.”
If they’ll take her as collateral.
GM: “If who wants him? Demons?”
Victoria: She simply nods.
As if it’s the most sensible thing in the world.
GM: Anna gives Sylvia a long look.
It’s not a confident one.
It’s not a believing one.
It looks like she thinks things got even worse.
It looks like one that precedes crying.
Victoria: “…but that’d be crazy!”
Faster than sound.
Is she crazy?
GM: “Sylvia, this… this _isn’t helping!”_ Anna exclaims. There’s half a sob to her voice.
“I said this can’t go on, the way it is, and you’re not… you’re not listening! You’re talking about demons! This makes me MORE scared for us, not LESS!”
Victoria: All the kinks whoreses and all the kinks men couldn’t put Sylvia together again.
“O-okay! I’m sorry.”
She takes a breath.
“How can I help you?”
GM: “It’s not me, it’s US!” Anna exclaims. “I’m scared for YOU!”
“And I’ve been telling you! To just… the crazy stuff, the talk about demons, seeing this nutjob client and saying we’re in danger, it HAS to stop! And why, why, do you keep saying we’re in danger?! And, and you NEED to see a lawyer about… whatever this crime is, that you won’t even tell me! I mean, do you n-not trust m-me, or w-what?!”
Anna’s trying to hold in the tears, but they’re coming out like water from a leaky faucet.
Victoria: Nothing makes Sylvia St. George fall apart faster than her partner trying—and failing—to hold in tears.
She holds her, rubbing her back, and allowing her to speak her mind.
There’s no escape. Is there?
“Okay. I will tell you.”
There’s no promise made. No swear. No condition.
GM: Anna sniffs, wipes her eyes, and nods. She sits down on the couch next to Sylvia.
Victoria: Where to begin…
“I had a Malveaux priest framed with prostitutes and drugs in revenge for what happened to you and Amelie. My ‘friend’ is my link to those who executed the plan. He came back changed.”
GM: Anna blinks.
“A priest didn’t do anything to me. Or Amelie!”
Victoria: She spits venom that could etch steel, “Because family is all that matters.”
But which family?
GM: “But. But a priest didn’t do anything to me!” Anna repeats. She looks genuinely confused.
“Or the Malveauxes?”
Victoria: She shakes her head.
“I don’t want you to know more than you have to know. Okay? Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. It doesn’t make sense—but it’s the only language they know. They have to know they can’t get away with what they did.”
GM: “But they didn’t do anything,” Anna repeats. “Sylvia, I just—I don’t get it! I was fired by McGehee, after the Devillers and Whitney girls got shot.”
Victoria: “Yes, after! You okayed their trip! Or so the Malveauxes and other families believe. You’re the scapegoat. I won’t stand for that!”
GM: “But the Malveaxes don’t, they don’t have anything to do with…” Anna’s face furrows as she trails off. “What happened to the priest? Did he get fired? Arrested? Is he okay?”
Victoria: “They do! Anna, they really do.”
She breathes a sigh.
“He is fine. Somehow. He wasn’t harmed; but, I think he knows.”
No, she knows that he knows.
GM: “Okay, well, I’m glad he’s fine. I’m glad you didn’t seriously hurt anyone for me. I don’t want revenge, I don’t want anyone getting hurt, I just want to be a teacher again next fall.”
“And if he knows you framed him with drugs and prostitutes, you need to talk to a lawyer. Like, right now. I don’t want you going to jail!”
Victoria: “There’s no way he can know. There’s no link! Not one. Not a single one.”
“It will be fine, Anna.”
GM: “It hasn’t been fine!” Anna exclaims. “Just yesterday you were asking if I knew how to shoot, and saying we were in danger! That’s… that’s not fine!”
“Why don’t you want to talk to a lawyer? Why do you keep blowing me off? I seriously don’t get it!”
Victoria: She takes Anna’s face in her hands.
“Anna. Anna May Perry. I have never and will never blow you off. I just… I want to handle this! Okay? It’s all under control. It will be under control.”
GM: Anna gives a sniff.
“Sylvia, I want that. I want you to just take control and make everything go back to normal. But I don’t feel like it’s under control. I’ve been scared, and confused, and I don’t feel like I know anything. How are you handling this? How is it under control?”
Victoria: She glances away.
For once, Sylvia has no answer.
GM: Silence stretches for a moment.
“Lawyer,” Anna firmly repeats, placing her hands on Sylvia’s shoulders.
Victoria: She relents, raising her hands in surrender.
“Lawyer. I’ll get one from a friend.”
And so she texts Christina.
Free for lunch?
GM: Sure. Tomorrow?
Victoria: Today, if possible. I miss you.
Shit: meet fan.
GM: How much? I have something going on.
Victoria: I’ll live until tomorrow.
GM: Christina texts her a time and restaurant.
“Taken care of?” Anna asks when Sylvia puts her phone away.
Victoria: She slips her phone away.
“It will be. Tomorrow.”
GM: “Okay,” says Anna. “Thank you.”
“I don’t want you to go to prison.”
Victoria: She hugs her girlfriend again.
“I won’t. Promise.”
GM: Anna hugs her tenderly back.
Then she murmurs in Sylvia’s ear,
“Can we have hot makeup sex, please?”
She adds after a moment, “Or. I guess worry-free sex. Since we weren’t really fighting.”
“But that sounds kind of PG.”
Victoria: “Aggressive teacher-punishing-student sex?”
GM: “That’ll be a treat for after you’ve seen the lawyer,” Anna declares officiously.
Victoria: Sylvia groans.
Then, she slaps Anna’s ass.
GM: Anna yelps.
“What, are you gonna punish me into punishing you?” she teases, rubbing her rear.
Victoria: She does punish her. She punishes Anna in the worst possible way: the promise of heaven, followed by unrequited climax.
At least someone got theirs that night.
Wednesday evening, 6 April 2016
GM: Anna might grouse and whine and beg over Sylvia not finishing her, but she continues to be a good secretary. She says that Victoria has a client early this evening, and a dinner scheduled with Émelise to talk about property things. Money things. “Still think it’s weird she referred you to a dead guy,” Anna remarks.
Victoria: Property things. Business things. Money things. Things that bore Anna. Boring Anna makes Anna not want to know.
“Little bit, yeah,” she answers, stepping out the door.
GM: The client is a 40something man who looks like a working professional. He wants some fairly typical spanking, physical bondage, and shoe worship. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, relative to other requests, besides some extra concealer to hide her bruises. Victoria may be thankful for that.
Victoria: Victoria hardly remembers the client. He doesn’t stand out. Most don’t.
GM: She may be less thankful to feel like she’s being followed.
She first sees the car in her rear view mirror during the drive to her dungeon. It’s a black car with tinted windows. She can’t see who’s in it. The car is gone by the time she reaches her dungeon. It’s there again during the drive to Leblanc’s, though, and gone after she parks.
Victoria: Victoria hardly remembers the client. He doesn’t stand out. Most don’t.
Irritable and fatigued, Victoria returns to her car, settling into the dreamlike backdrop the world takes while driving. Until she sees the car behind her. She fights that little demon of paranoia in her head, trying—and failing—to quell that fear bubbling up inside her.
A few turns cement the fact: she’s being followed.
GM: Émelise meets her at the bar, says hello with a rather intimate-feeling kiss on the cheek, and asks how she’s been doing.
Victoria: When Emelise arrives, Victoria is already settled into a stool, quivering like a leaf. Despite faux-warmth returned in a kiss to her cheek, Emelise can see through it.
“It’s been hard, but…”
She sounds like a child who got their hand caught in a cookie jar.
She sighs, shaking her head.
“We’re all living, aren’t we?”
GM: Émelise smiles at her.
“Until we stop.”
“Living’s a rigged game.”
“Same ending whether it’s easy or hard, mm?”
Victoria: Until we stop, indeed.
She relents against the last vestige of composure in her fragile poise.
“Mistress, I think… I’m being followed.”
GM: “Oh, by who?”
Victoria: “If I knew that, I probably wouldn’t be shaking.”
“They were behind me today. Twice. Once just before this.”
GM: “Oh, dear. If you don’t know, who do you think has motive? Recently upset client?”
Victoria: “Something like that,” she shrugs, sipping her whiskey. “They don’t seem to want to approach me—just keep tabs.”
GM: So does the other domme.
“You seem fairly rattled by it. As a precursor to something else?”
Victoria: “Following is ever a precursor to something else, old friend.”
GM: “All too true.”
Victoria: The fear permeates her. She doesn’t like Émelise seeing her fear.
There’s no reeling it in.
“But we’re not here to discuss my murder tonight.”
GM: Émelise laughs.
“You can hardly expect us not to after remarking a thing like that. Tell me more! This doesn’t sound like garden variety stalking if you’re going to end the night as a corpse?”
Victoria: “Can we ever tell whether or not we’re going to end the night as a corpse?”
More shrugs. More sips.
“I don’t know. I think I’ve pissed someone off.”
GM: Émelise smiles back.
“Yes. But forewarned isn’t always forearmed.”
She sips her own drink.
“Been a bad girl, mmm? No chance of smoothing things over?”
Victoria: “Do I seem like the sort of girl that does things that leave people smoothable?”
GM: “You’d be surprised what’s smoothable with a little creativity.”
Victoria: “I’m sure—one day—you’ll imbue me with but a sliver of your divine creativity, Mistress.”
GM: “Do you want my help with this, or to solve it yourself?” asks Émelise.
Victoria: She lofts a brow, regarding Émelise with mildly cautious appraisal.
“Are you offering pro bono?”
GM: Émelise taps the side of her glass in thought. “I’m offering. Pro bono depends on what help would look like.”
“But you can have a kiss for luck pro bono, either way.”
Victoria: She always knows how to make Victoria smirk with a blush.
“Let’s hear your thoughts.”
GM: “I need something to work with. Let’s hear the situation.”
Victoria: “I hired a grumpy man to make some other people even grumpier, as they made people close to me grumpier yet. The made-grumpy one seems to know what happened, and intends to make me the grumpiest yet.”
“At least, that’s the only reason I can come to believe I’m being followed.”
GM: Émelise laughs. “That’s a lot euphemisms, but I suppose I get the gist. I don’t believe in coincidence either, so it’s probably a safe bet that you’re being followed by the made-grumpy person. Or at his behest. What do you think would get him off your back?”
Victoria: “Aside from me dying or—somehow—paying back the damage I’ve done?”
GM: Émelise smiles and sips her drink. “If those aren’t outcomes you’d be happy with.”
Victoria: “Would you be happy with them?”
GM: “Dying, only if it was on my terms. Paying back, potentially, if the cost was less than resolving the problem another way.”
Victoria: She looks at Émelise as if she sprouted a penis from her ear.
“In what way is dying desirable?”
GM: “Who said it was? But everyone has to. I can’t decide if, but I can try to decide how.”
Victoria: She shudders. That doesn’t sound like the option she wants.
“And if I’d rather they stop following me…?”
GM: The smile starts to fade from Émelise’s eyes.
“You’re talking like a victim, lovely. Where’s that vicious domme who gave Greg the biggest regret of his life?”
Victoria: She offers a meek smile in return.
“These fish are bigger than the bigger fish. I know my limits. Even if I’ll fight like that if they catch me.”
GM: “Maybe then you’ll find out your real limits. The woman who most impressed me tried to turn a gangbang around on half a dozen or so rapists.”
Victoria: “Which woman is this?”
GM: Émelise waves a hand. “Not important. She failed, but through no fault of her own. The effort showed remarkable spunk and initiative.”
Victoria: She shudders.
“All right, then. You piss off the wealth of the city. What do you do? I’m not apologizing. The destroyed people close to me.”
GM: “Then if you’re not backing down, I suppose your only option is to square off.”
Victoria: “You think I should walk out and confront them?” she asks, lofting a brow.
GM: “You tell me. You’ve ruled out saying sorry.”
Victoria: “Got a gun?”
“Or a knife. Or security.”
GM: “A gun and knife, yes.”
Victoria: She offers a hand.
GM: “I’m not carrying them,” laughs Émelise, who snaps her fingers at a server and whispers into the woman’s ear. The pair get taken to a table. There’s a short wait before another server hands them menus, along with a purse-sized box that deposits on the table with a heavy clunk.
Victoria: She follows Émelise, unsurprised that she has the wait staff at beck and call.
The box, however, surprises her.
“Do you dine on lead?”
GM: “If I’m peckish enough,” the woman smiles, unfolding her menu.
Victoria: She reaches to open the box.
GM: There’s a handgun inside, along with a black-handled vicious-looking knife that’s either a high-quality BDSM toy or combat knife. Or both.
Victoria: Probably both.
She doesn’t even need to ask. She picks it up, testing the weight.
GM: It’s on the slightly smaller side, but weighs like it’s metal rather than plastic.
Victoria: “I’ll pay you back. If I can.”
It’s not a question of finances.
This is a terrible idea.
“What do you recommend? To eat.”
GM: “The jambalaya is heavenly,” says Émelise.
Victoria: “Jambalaya it is,” she assents.
Wednesday night, 6 April 2016, PM
GM: “For luck,” Émelise says after the server clears away their plates, and then Victoria feels the other woman’s lips against hers. The kiss is an odd melange of hot and sensual, passionate and subdued, but Victoria has only a moment to savor it before Émelise’s tongue hungrily invades her mouth. There’s a sudden stab of pain as the other domme bites down. Hard. Victoria tastes blood, and then the lips against hers are nothing but gentle tenderness as Émelise strokes her cheek.
Victoria: The kiss enthralls her. She doesn’t expect the tongue—and even less so, the bite—but each elicits a subtle burble of a moan, her hand snaking into Émelise’s hair. Victoria Wolf is no stranger to pain, given or received.
“Watch, will you? So I know someone knows, if something happens.”
GM: “I love to watch,” smiles Émelise, her palm lingering against Victoria’s face.
Victoria: She kisses the woman’s palm, gentle as a breeze, and then stands.
“I know. You also love to participate—but this isn’t your fight.”
GM: “It is yours,” Emelie agrees.
Victoria: She turns on heel, takes the safety off the gun, pockets the knife—the gun, as well, until she’s out of the restaurant—and moves to wait by the front door, outside.
GM: It’s a balmy, humid April evening in the Quarter. A saxophonist plays before some tourists who toss change into his case. Pedestrians mull around the other restaurants and galleries.
Victoria sees no sign of the black-tinted car.
Victoria: She waits another five minutes.
GM: The saxophonist collects a few more bills and quarters.
The car does not appear.
Victoria: She slides into her car, and begins driving.
GM: yeah, you? Anna texts back.
Victoria: yeah, just leaving dinner
She’ll have to explain her bleeding lip.
She checks the rear-view mirror.
GM: She sees a black car.
With tinted windows.
Victoria: And there it is. She continues driving, making her way generally toward her home, but using a different path, and coming no closer than a mile.
Then, she pulls over.
GM: She no longer sees the car in her rear view mirror.
Victoria: This time, she watches more closely as she pulls out.
GM: The car remains absent from her mirror.
Victoria: What the hell?
She continues driving.
GM: She arrives back home at 4018 Constance St. It’s built in the traditional New Orleans style: stairs leading up to a front porch on the second floor, the one intended for habitation, and a ground floor used as a basement. Many people have since converted those basements into apartments. They can be nice enough places to live, even if Sylvia and Anna have been talking about moving and buying a property once the business expands.
Anna’s visible through the window, watching TV on the couch in sweats and a tee as she waits for Sylvia.
Victoria: The whole way home, she watches for that car.
She doesn’t get out for a few minutes, and when she does, it’s with the gun in hand, safety off, ears almost swiveling.
GM: The neighborhood is silent and still.
Victoria: And then there were none.
She walks in side.
GM: Anna smiles when she sees Sylvia open the door, then sees the gun.
“Uh, what’s the story there?”
Victoria: “Practicing safe sex,” she says, giving her girlfriend a kiss and shutting the door before the police are called.
GM: Anna returns the kiss. It’s not an experience like Émelise’s was. But it’s familiar, pain-less, and there’s love behind it.
“Uh huhhh. Dad always said Responsible Gun Ownership 101 is treating even an empty gun as dangerous.”
Victoria: “Sure, sure. Guns are like people in that way. They’re always loaded until you’re sure that they’re not.”
She flicks the safety on.
GM: Firearms training taught that the responsible thing to then do is remove the ammunition and securely store gun and ammo in separate locations.
Anna’s eyes widen in alarm as the safety comes on.
Victoria: “Nothing. And I’m making sure it stays that way,” she shrugs, setting the weapon on the counter.
It sits, cold and ominous for barely a few seconds, then she picks it up again.
GM: “No, it was something, if you turned off the safety,” says Anna.
Victoria: She shrugs again.
“It’s nothing, because the gun wasn’t fire. Just a bout of overabundant caution.”
GM: “That isn’t a Glock,” says Anna. The models they have. “That’s a different model.”
The scared look on her face deepens.
“Sylvia, what’s going on?”
Victoria: “I had dinner with a friend, and she offered me this for protection on the way home.”
Anna can see through her veils.
“I thought I was being followed.”
“I think… I’m hallucinating.”
GM: Anna slowly gets up and holds out her hand.
“Hand me the gun, please.”
Victoria: She hands her the gun without pause.
GM: “Because you turned off the safety and said you were seeing threatening things. That is an accident waiting to happen.”
Anna’s voice has a calm ‘dealing with this before any freaking out’ quality as she double-checks the safety, even though she saw Sylvia just do so, then detaches the magazine.
Victoria: Sylvia doesn’t mention the combat knife.
She’s sane enough for that.
“Right. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
GM: Anna leaves the room with the gun and magazine.
When she comes back, she’s empty-handed.
She sits down on the couch and looks up at Sylvia.
Then she starts softly crying.
Victoria: Sylvia pulls her into a gentle, loving hug, stroking her back.
“I’m so sorry,” she says, kissing her hair.
GM: “I’m scared,” Anna sniffs. “I’m scared.”
Victoria: “I know, I know. I know. But it’ll be okay. I promise.”
GM: “That’s w-what I thought until tonight,” Anna sniffs. “And it w-wasn’t.”
Victoria: She shivers.
“But it is! Isn’t it? I’m here. Nothing happened.”
GM: “This time!” Anna exclaims.
“My dad would be losing his mind! You could’ve shot someone!”
“You ALWAYS keep the safety on, until you intend to s-hoot! And NEVER if you’re impaired!”
Victoria: “Anna, I was ready to shoot someone!” she finally relents. “I was followed, all evening. I lost them a few miles away. I know about gun safety.”
GM: “No, you don’t!” retorts Anna, who’s still crying. “You said you were hallucinating, you brought it into the house! I don’t kn-know what’s worse, if you were expecting to shoot here, or if you d-didn’t!”
“Who was following you? Why were you hallucinating? What’s going on!?”
Victoria: Victoria grunts. Why can’t Anna be reasonable?
“I don’t know! That’s why I had the safety off—in case I was ambushed on the way in.”
GM: “That’s NOT gun safety!” Anna retorts. “Th-”
The pair are interrupted by the doorbell’s ring.
Victoria: “Go get the gun. Safety off.”
Wednesday night, 6 April 2016, PM
Victoria: Victoria snakes her hand behind her back, ready to draw a knife that would make crocodile wrestlers blush.
Then, she checks the curtain.
GM: Anna pauses for a moment, then dashes towards the bedroom.
Support: Victoria sees a woman. A rather attractive woman, around 6" tall with with blonde hair and blue eyes. She’s waiting patiently for the door to open.
She’s dressed professionally, in a black blazer over a white blouse, with her long hair tied back.
Victoria: She grips the knife, ready to draw and attack in one, swift motion, then opens the door a crack.
Support:* The woman smiles at Victoria.
“Good evening, Ms. St. George?”
Victoria: “Speaking,” she nods, not opening the door further.
Support: “Ms. St. George, do you know a Mr. Jordan Ratcliff?” the woman asks.
“May I ask who you are?” she asks, mirroring perplexity.
Support: The woman gives an unfriendly smile. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’, and a ‘you realize exactly why that relationship is something you shouldn’t admit to’ answer.”
“Mr. Ratcliff is in custody and I think you should follow my directions. Open the door-”
Suddenly, the woman shrieks and recoils. It’s one of the ghastliest sounds Victoria has heard, as though someone threw acid on her.
Victoria: Victoria gets as far as parting her lips to retort before the woman continues, and again before she nearly hits the ceiling with a shriek.
An instant passes that feels like an eternity. Shock passes her face. Then confusion. Alertness. Panic. She reaches out, trying to yank the woman inside and slam the door.
Whatever happened—and something happened—it’s coming from outside.
Support:* The grabbed woman doesn’t resist as Victoria pulls her inside. Instead, with her left hand, she frees a pistol which she buries in Victoria’s chest as they tumble through the door.
“Try it. You’ll die first,” the woman snarls, in a voice scarcely less mangled than her earlier cry. Loathing and disgust well from her bulging eyes like overflow from some corpse-choked fetid river.
GM: “No, YOU will!” Anna snarls back. She rounds the counter with her Glock in her hands, aimed squarely at the woman threatening her girlfriend’s life.
Victoria: The action is instinct. As the woman’s arm whips around, Victoria continues the momentum, pushing her toward the door as she edges away. Her heart hammers in her ears.
Anna’s words barely register. Anna’s intent seats itself firmly.
Her fingers wrap the woman’s wrist, trying to keep the barrel of her weapon near the door.
“Who the fuck are you?!”
GM: “Someone who’s better,” the woman retorts with a cruel laugh.
Then she proves it.
Victoria crashes against her back, hard. She’s on the floor. She didn’t even see the kick that swept out her legs from under her. She fights the urge to retch, because she didn’t see the woman’s follow-up punch either, just feel it drive into her kidneys. Then another. And another.
She fights back. Even crying from the pain, tasting bile in her throat. She throws a punch. A pistol-whip. The woman bats aside Victoria’s blows as lazily as her instructors on that first day at GroundBorn. But even they never looked at Victoria like this. The woman’s blue eyes brim with that same poisonous cocktail of hatred, disgust, fury, and nausea. But Victoria can see something else in them, too.
She’s playing with her.
The dominatrix can tell when someone’s relishing control.
The woman’s white, perfectly manicured hands descend towards Victoria with a terrible finality. The last thing she can think is how they aren’t beautiful at all, but hideous. Like the legs of pale spiders.
Victoria futilely bucks and thrashes.
The woman suddenly shrieks and recoils. Her obscene hands withdraw. The pungent scent of smoke and cooking flesh fills Victoria’s nostrils. She feverishly scrambles free. The woman shoots her a look of hatred so black that she feels physically sick.
Victoria: She hardly constructs a thought in reply before the flurry of blows strikes her.
Her head whips around, seeking the second assailant before her mind connects: the woman was so quick, she hadn’t seen the sweep coming. Every block: dismantled. Every counter: thwarted before it’s given life. Seconds feel like hours, and by the end of it, she can hardly move, instead clustering her limbs around her face to—meekly—protect herself.
And then, nothing; nothing but the scent of smoke and her own blood.
“Shoot her again!”
GM: Anna’s Glock sails through the air and lands in the woman’s casually outstretched hand.
“I don’t think so,” she replies.
There’s another woman in the room. She looks Middle Eastern. In her 20s, maybe. She’s dressed in similar professional apparel. Victoria has no idea when she got in.
Anna’s standing across from the newcomer, dumbly staring at her empty hands. They’re still held in a shooter’s position.
Victoria: Her mind spins. Her heart rages. Her body fails.
She snarls up at the woman, pushing herself to her feet and staggering backward against the wall in lost footing.
She tenses, coiling to engage the woman again when she sees Anna’s weapon in a second woman’s hand. Back door?
Support: “That was your second mistake this evening,” the woman says to Victoria. She produces a second sidearm, aiming one at Victoria and one at Anna. Smoke still wafts from one of her clenched hands.
“Now, here’s how things are going to go. Both of you are going to remove all phones, jewelry, and metal objects that you’re wearing, and place them on the floor. If you don’t, I will shoot your girlfriend in the throat.”
The safety on the gun pointed at Anna clicks off.
Victoria: She seizes at the threat, offering raised hands at her chest in surrender. It’s enough. She won’t fight back.
She jerks her head toward a nearby table.
“In the bag.”
“…what was the first mistake?”
GM: “No,” the woman interrupts, leveling her second gun at Victoria. “You stay where you are. Everything goes on the floor. Now.”
“I’m not carrying anything!” exclaims Anna, whose face is white with fear. “These are my fucking pajamas!”
“Turn out your pockets,” says the woman.
Anna does so. They’re empty.
“Good enough,” says the woman. The gun trained on Anna doesn’t move.
Victoria: Okay then.
She removes her belt, her crucifix, and the knife from her waist, placing them at her feet, then takes a step away from them.
“Who the fuck are you?”
GM: “I answered you the first time, Ms. St. George,” the woman answers with a poisonous smile.
She motions with one of her guns.
“Face against the walls. Separate walls. Hands behind your backs. Both of you.”
Victoria: The glare Victoria shoots back could etch steel.
She complies, turning away, and setting her hands behind her back.
Support:* The Middle Eastern woman gingerly picks up Victoria’s crucifix and pockets it. The woman watches with that same poisonous smile.
“Your first mistake was answering the door,” says the woman.
There’s a tight, plastic-y sensation against Victoria’s wrists as they’re tied firmly in place. Zip cuffs.
“Your second mistake was pulling me inside.”
Someone pulls a sack over Victoria’s head.
“Your third mistake,” she says, amused for seemingly the first time,
“Was giving up the crucifix. Because now I own you, body and mind.”