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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Genevieve V, Sterling V

“Beautiful.”
The Man With The Silver Smile


Thursday night, 6 June 2013, PM

Genevieve: This time of night a line wraps around the side of the building, eager club-goers waiting for a chance to test their luck against the players at the Silver Dollar. Some of them just came for the atmosphere, one of the few places left in the Quarter that doesn’t cater to the tourist crowd. Hardly a literal hole in the wall, just lesser-known than the prime stomping ground of Bourbon or even Royal Street. The kind of place where anyone can get their rocks off, either through the openly flowing booze, the easy access to drugs, or the girls who shake everything they’ve got in the face of everyone they see. Slinky dresses, sky-high heels, the smell of their last cigarette on their breath. Extra pairs of panties in their purses for those times someone decides they want to pay the fee for a little extra and take them out into the alley, the bathroom, or just a dark corner to cop more than a feel.

It always rubbed Gen the wrong way.

She wouldn’t be here if her domitor hadn’t expressly summoned her this evening, told her to meet him at 11 PM sharp. Something about someone that needs to be fired. He’d gotten misty-voiced over the phone, told her he didn’t want to do it himself, that it needed a delicate touch. A woman’s touch. Something like that; she’d stopped listening the moment he told her that he needed her. That had been enough. She’s pretty sure the rest of it was a lie, anyway.

Haymaker is at the door to let her in, the “employee” entrance that actually is a literal hole in the wall, a small opening tucked tight between two buildings that leads to the steel door where Sterling’s people come and go, and where, she knows, other licks like him often show up to get their jollies off. No waiting at this door, you just knock and someone lets you in, though if they ain’t ever seen you before there’s bound to be some questions. It’s the worst kept secret in the city; Gen even thinks that Sterling was the one to start the spread of it so that those who walk the night like him don’t need to wait. She’s sure he’s got other secret entrances too—why wouldn’t he?—but this one is the one he has his people use, so that’s the one she goes to.

She spares a look for Haymaker as he shuts the door behind her. The black man just shrugs.

Interesting.

Without a word she strides down the hall that will take her to where she assumes her domitor waits for her, the office at the top of the stairs that overlooks the whole place.

Sterling: The office is nice without being exquisite. Everything in here, from the glossy pinups to the vintage jukebox to the gassy, greasy lighting screams wealth without taste, power without restraint.

The men in here are like that, too. There’s always a few guys in here; it’s less Sterling’s office than it is his clubhouse. There’s Caprese, fat and sweating and always ready to break somebody’s nose, fiddling poorly with the Jukebox and muttering under his breath. There’s Mouse, named for his big ears but not his size, which is considerable. Heckle, the manager, who looks like he still doesn’t know how he got this job. All wear cheap suits that look like it and do nothing for their gout. The rest of Sterling’s goons are probably working the floor.

And of course, there’s the monster himself, dressed like a supervillain and looking innocent as a priest behind his desk. He gives her a sad smile.

And then there’s the woman. Girl, really. She can’t be more than 20, in a cocktail dress and mascara that’s running down her cheeks with tears.

Gen’s usually the only woman in here. The other girl doesn’t seem to notice her coming in.

“I-I’ll do better next week, Mister Oz. I promise. I just—I need my paycheck now. I really can’t wait until Monday-“

“We’ve heard you already, you slow bitch,” mutters Caprese as he thuds the jukebox. “More whining won’t make the big man care more.”

“I’m afraid he’s right, Candice,” Sterling says apologetically. “Me, I like bending the rules. But I made Heckle the manager precisely because he’s a stickler for these kinds of things. I’m afraid you’ll have go put in extra hours if you want fast cash—in the high rollers lounge.”

Candice flushes, looks to the ground. “I’m not—I’m just a waitress.”

Heckle guffaws. “Didn’t stop you showing some tit to get the job. Whores always get prideful once they get paid.”

“I’m not—“ but the rest of her words are lost to her sobs.

Sterling regards her placidly, then looks to his Conscience. Green eyes glitter with something neither good nor evil, and certainly not human. She recognizes the look.

He wants to play a game.

Genevieve: It’s a look she recognizes, but not one that she likes. The door closes behind her, cutting off the girl’s cries before they can carry down the stairs. Her eyes sweep the room, taking it all in. Sterling might be the only one to notice the way her jaw works as her stare lands on Caprese, on his fist striking the jukebox. Graceful movements take her across the room, the sort of coiled energy found in the predators like him, the gift of speed he’s given her flitting through her veins to make every motion precise. She’s got the sort of easy languidness that comes from years of throwing her body across a gym.

Gen bends at the knee, reaching behind the jukebox to lift the plug. She doesn’t say anything to the fat man as she hands it over; her look does enough of that for her.

Moron.

“Accounting trouble?” she asks Sterling.

Sterling: “Something like that,” he agrees cheerfully. “Heckle, what’s our policy on advance pay?”

“We don’t,” the manager grunts. “But we always need volunteers for the lounge, if they’re willing to put some skin on the line—“

“-and in other places,” guffaws Caprese. He leers cheerfully at her. It’s the closest she’ll get to a thanks.

“And yet, Candice here seems to value her dignity more highly than her… what was it? Dental bills, right? Never had to deal with them, myself. Perks of being an absent parent.”

Candice is still crying. “I don’t—I don’t value—I’ll do anything, but isn’t there another way?”

Sterling shrugs. “I can’t think of one. Can you, Conscience?”

Genevieve: Gen doesn’t so much as grind her teeth together. Another way, indeed. The leers of the fat would-be mobster will be the least of her worries if she steps in.

“She could ask her dentist for a payment plan,” she says carefully. She knows it isn’t what he wants, but he’s fooling himself if he thinks she’s going to put her own skin on the line without exploring other options. “Credit cards. Payday loans. The interest will eat her alive.” So will the boys in the high roller room.

Sterling: “I already did,” sniffles the unfortunate waitress. “I’m already broke. I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t tapped out.”

“You could always play our tables after your shift,” Sterling says breezily. “You might get lucky.”

She cries harder.

Sterling conjures a handkerchief from nowhere and flicks it at her daintily. Always the gentleman.

Genevieve: Of course she wouldn’t be asking if she weren’t tapped out. No one asks Sterling unless they’re desperate. Or foolish. He always finds a way for the house to win.

He’s not that bad. That’s the blood talking, though, she’s sure of it.

“Give her the advance, Mister Oz. To cover the bills and whatever other creditors she sold her soul to. Send her home.”

She meets his eye. Gives him a long look, then finally a nod.

“If it’s a body the lounge needs, Nicoise is enough to go around.”

Sterling: She’s seen some of the high rollers lounge, but never been made to linger. Anything can happen there, if somebody wants to pay for it. And the clients always can.

Caprese scowls at her jibe, but the other men chortle.

“Nobody’ll pay to see his fat ass on all fours,” Heckle says dismissively. “Boss, let’s just kick her out. Going back and forth on this. Candy, do you want cash or do you want to pretend you aren’t for sale?”

Candice doesn’t look pretty, when she’s crying. Just broken. “I—okay, okay, I can—I’ll do it, if I can get the money tonight.”

Heckle whistles lewdly and starts counting out bills from his wallet. “And you can keep whatever you make inside, obviously.”

Candice shudders.

Sterling shrugs and leans back, but he looks coolly amused.

She’s going to have to say it, in front of the goons and everybody. To volunteer. She can spare an innocent, if she wants to. Can help Sterling do the right thing.

The righter thing, anyways.

Genevieve: Her lips flatten into a thin line.

Bastard.

“Go home, Candice. I’ll work the lounge.”

Sterling: The waitress blinks and stares at her as if seeing for the first time. “W-what? No. No, I need the money.”

Behind her, Caprese chortles. “The freak’s a little strapped for cash, huh?”

Sterling holds up a finger. “Conscience, do you need the money? Or would you like to work so Candice doesn’t have to?”

Genevieve: “Her makeup is smeared,” Gen says, voice cold. As if that is the only reason. “She won’t earn a dime like that, and the lounge will be known as a place where broken girls work, which will cut into future profits. Send her home. Give her my take.”

He knows she doesn’t need the money. Caprese should know that too, though she can’t imagine how he rubs two thoughts together let alone retains what he does manage to think.

Sterling: He’s smarter than he looks. Probably he just thinks she’s a whore.

Genevieve: He couldn’t pay her enough, even if she were.

Sterling: “Are you—really?” The girl says, still in shock. “You mean it?”

Genevieve: She’d need a pair of tweezers to find the limp excuse of flesh he calls a dick.

Gen just looks at the girl. Then jerks her head toward the door.

Sterling: Heckle gives her the money, shaking his head. She can’t get out fast enough, still murmuring her disbelieving thanks as she goes.

“You’re too soft, sweetheart,” he tells her. “Shift starts in fifteen. Hit the dressing room. There’s always a few extra ‘tards in there. I hope you’re not on your period, either, because you don’t get to wear anything else. No pads or tampons or whatever the fuck. Nobody wants to see that.”

Caprese laughs again. “Maybe I’ll visit you on my break, pasty.”

He’s white, too, of course. But not like her.

Not like a freak.

Sterling goes back to a game of solitaire. Maybe she’ll see him later. Or maybe not. Maybe he just wanted to see if she would actually submit herself for the sake of some random girl.

Maybe he was testing her. Did she pass?

Genevieve: “I hope you do, Caprese. Bring a map and I’ll show you where everything goes, even.”

Her eyes slide toward her domitor. She thought he’d say something, at least. Acknowledge what he’s making her do, what he knew she would do if pressed. She won’t have that conversation in front of the others, though. She won’t let them see how much it takes out of her to do this thing for the girl, for him.

She has half a mind to tell the boys to get out so she can have a word with him. But if he wanted a word he’d have made it happen, wouldn’t have turned immediately to the game of cards. Maybe he doesn’t see the look of wounded betrayal on her face when she turns to go. Muddying his Conscience again.

Sterling: She slinks off. The waiting room is full of other girls, waitresses and “entertainers” with less modesty. Somebody tosses a leotard at her when she asks. It’s silver, form-hugging, and leaves her back mostly bare. It doesn’t cover so much as it clings. There’s other girls in leotards, too. The other volunteers trying to make money, except they actually need it. None of them look happy, or comfortable in the outfit.

People stare at her as she changes. That’s the same as ever. She’s a freak, after all. Everybody wonders what an albino looks like naked.

Genevieve: White. She looks white. She looks the same as them, the same bits and pieces, only hers are white on white on white. Pale pink nipples, pale pink lips. Darker now that she’s flushing, that the other girls are looking—staring. She turns her back to the room as if that will help, as if that makes any of this better.

She hates him.

How can he make her do this?

No, that’s the problem, isn’t it. He didn’t make her. He didn’t say anything. He just expected her to do the right thing, to submit herself to humiliation rather than let some poor girl do it in her stead. He knew exactly what she would do but let her make the choice.

She looks in the mirror when she’s done. The silver hugs her like a second skin. Her body shivers at the chill— she’s sure that he keeps it cool so that his patrons can see the outline of her nipples beneath the thin fabric. As requested, she’d stripped completely to put it on. No bra, no panties, not even pasties. Someone passes her a tube of lipstick that she swipes across her mouth, the same pale pink shade as the rest of her. She has a face that’s made to be stared at, meant to be different; she won’t hide behind the powders the other girls use. A pair of heels complete the look, lengthen her legs, lift her already firm ass.

She hates him.

She really does.

That’s all she can think about as she walks through the door of the dressing room to make her way to the lounge.

Sterling: And yet, and yet, the bond whispers to her. The way he held her before a mirror and called her beautiful. The small kindnesses he’s shown her.

The ways he seems to delight in humiliating her, in particular.

“You look marvelous, Connie.”

His voice is a whisper in her ear as she walks past patrons on the floor in step with the other volunteers, naked without the dignity of being naked. Mobsters leer. So do the gamblers, drunks and carousers who ogle her, the whitest girl in New Orleans. Worst might be the woman she passes, who smirk at her, secure in their obvious superiority. They get to wear real clothes. She’s just a piece of the scenery.

She looks up and sees him across the room, regarding the floor from his elevated mezzanine. He can whisper to her without deigning to acknowledge her in public. It probably wouldn’t be proper for him to mingle with the entertainment.

And yet—he says she looks marvelous.

“You didn’t have to do what you did. You still don’t. You can quit at any time. You’ll just have to give the money back. Or, well. Candice will. The choice is yours.”

Choice. His cruelest gift to her.

Genevieve: It isn’t fair.

It isn’t fair that he can whisper in her ear like that from across the room. It isn’t fair that the sound of his voice sends shivers down her spine, that his comments make her flush, that he can watch her from above and pull every thought from her mind.

She looks towards the windows she knows he’s peering out of. The expression on her face doesn’t change, but she shakes her head. No. She won’t go running. If this is how he wants her to serve—if this is how he wants to see his conscience, spread open for the rest of the world’s viewing pleasure—then who is she to deny it?

She turns her face away, then her whole body. She will not give him the satisfaction of watching her sweat. Her eyes dart toward the other girls, watching to see how they do it so she can best play along.

Sterling: They aren’t any more experienced, for the most part. Most of the girls who volunteer for this don’t do it a second time. It pays well.

That’s the only reason anybody would do it at all.

There’s five of them in their leotards, all at least a little attractive but none so uniquely freakish as her. One of the bouncers leads them to the lounge entrance, but he doesn’t follow them in, only holds the door open.

They aren’t supposed to be protected inside.

The lounge is busy tonight, which means a dozen or so patrons. Mostly men, but a few bored-looking women too. The lighting is dark and purplish with patches of neon glare. The silver leotards practically seem to glow under the lights. There are games tables, a bar tended by another silver-leotarded bartender, a jacuzzi, what looks like a mud pit, lots of private booths with curtains for isolation.

A place to sin in peace.

There’s a DJ, too, who calls over spinning tracks and thudding bass:

“The dolls are here, ladies and gents. Here are the rules: they say no, they leave without pay. You offer them money, even a penny, they say yes. Every single one of them agreed to be here, and every single one is yours to play with for whatever you pay them. They listen to whoever pays them the most. And that. Is. It.”

The cheers and lewd laughter are audible even over the music. Some of the younger faces seem agog with the possibilities.

The other ‘dolls’ do their best to force smiles. But it’s okay that they don’t look happy. That’s not the priority of this particular game.

“Look at that one,” one of the women says. Twentysomething, fat. Pointing at Gen. “Is that a fucking albino?”

“Looks like it.”

“Poor thing probably couldn’t make any money at the circus.”

Her friends laugh.

One of them’s waving her over. People are pulling out their wallets.

Genevieve: Even a penny.

Sterling, you bastard. If he’d wanted to see her naked there are easier ways.

Gen doesn’t pretend to smile. She won’t put on a show for these people, not like that. It’s almost a relief to be called over immediately, to have the choice of her actions taken from her for the evening. The humiliation can begin immediately. At least it isn’t like a normal club where she’d need to approach them, debase herself before them, and hope they find her alluring enough to shove a dollar in her thong.

Gen cuts smoothly through the crowd, the first of the girls to be given work. She’d be proud if her stomach weren’t twisting. Her brows lift once she reaches the fat woman’s side.

Are there rules against talking? Bartering? No one had told her. That must mean there aren’t.

“Yes?”

Sterling: “Not even polite,” the fat lady snorts.

“She’s uncultured,” the man next to her says. He looks like her, but he must be anorexic, or have some other kind of eating disorder, because he’s bone-thin. “Probably never had an etiquette lesson in her life, poor little freak.”

“Let’s teach her some manners,” says the lady. She digs out a purse, rifles through it. There’s a lot of green in there. “What’s your name, honey, when you aren’t prancing around commando for petty cash?”

She draws out a penny, looking faintly surprised she found it. “Let’s start as cheap as you, hmm? Apologize for being rude, ugly, and indecent. Oh, and a mutant.”

“I don’t think she’s ugly,” the man opines.

“That’s because you’re a skeleton, Tristan,” the woman says exasperated.

Genevieve: She’s already thinking of ways to get him back for this.

“My sincerest apologies, madam, for offending you with my very nature. Uncouth beasts should not be allowed to parade in public. Shall I call the zoo?”

Sterling: Tristan giggles. It’s an ugly sound. “She’s funny.”

The lady sneers. “I didn’t hear you say anything about being ugly. Or indecent. Or a mutant. I want to hear you say you’re sorry for being such a hideous albino mutant whore. Or no penny for you.”

So this is how people act, when they don’t have to pretend to be nice.

Genevieve: Gen spares a look for Tristan. She favors him with a wink.

“I will allow you to give me a dollar per apology, if that appeases you. But it is my mother you must make apologize, truly, for it is from her I sprung to be the mutant you see before you. And perhaps my father is to blame as well, for teaching me moderation. How very alien that concept must be.”

Her eyes cut down the woman’s “figure.”

Sterling: “You can take the penny, you arrogant little whore, or you can refuse and leave.”

Her eyes are dangerous now. “And then you won’t make a red cent. And you’ll be just as much of a freak, but without any circus money.”

Those are the rules. They aren’t meant to support her needling the clientele.

Genevieve: Gen looses a breath. If she is kicked out for her attitude then all of this was for nothing, and the girl she sought to “save” from this fate will only be worse off. She bows her head. Lets the woman feel powerful.

“Yes ma’am, I thought only to provide entertainment to your friend, free of charge. I misspoke. I apologize.”

She pauses, but only briefly. Long enough to swallow her pride.

“I’m sorry that I am a mutant freak. I wish it were not so. I admit to being ugly, indecent, and arrogant.”

The words are stated flatly, to the woman’s shoes.

Sterling: “Good girl,” the lady purrs. “I saw you wink at my brother. Do you have a little crush, circus freak?”

“Marge, please,” Tristan mutters.

“We can make things interesting. I’ll give you… fifty dollars if you sit on his lap. He’s bony, but I think he’ll manage.”

Tristan sighs. He does not, however, argue.

Genevieve: “Yes, ma’am, the circus freak has a crush.”

Easier that way, to refer to herself as the freak. Shedding her dignity is less painful if she can pretend she’s talking about someone else.

Gen slides in front of Tristan, lowering herself onto his lap. It’s an odd pairing, the skeleton and the albino. She holds herself stiffly, keeping herself as distant from him as she can for all that she is perched on his lap.

Please don’t touch me.

Expectant eyes turn to Marge.

Sterling: But he does touch her. One hand on her thigh, the other on her ass. A faint squeeze. She could fry something in the grease from Tristan’s smile.

“Circus freak,” the fat lady says, “you dirty little girl. Do you like your outfit, or should I pay you to take it off? That way everybody would see what a freak you are even more clearly.”

She reaches out and traces a finger across the leotard’s chest. Her chest.

“Or are you going to ask us nicely to let you keep your whorish little leotard on?”

Marge pinches her nipple through the fabric, suddenly and sharply.

Genevieve: Her cheeks heat at the words and Tristan’s touch. Surely she can’t be made to strip; there must be rules, things they can’t make her do, guidelines, anything. She clings to that hope… then, with a lurch of her stomach, recalls the sorts of horrors she has seen here, the games with the guns and bullets and spray of blood across the walls.

No limits. Why would they come if there were limits?

Her mouth is half open to answer the question when the woman strikes. Instinct makes her pull back, as if to escape the pinching fingers, but Tristan’s bony form is behind her and she only ends up sprawled more thoroughly across his lap. Nowhere to go. She cries out in shock and pain, shaking her head back and forth as her fingers twist.

Ask nicely, she’d said. Gen grabs onto that, working the words out around the lump that has settled firmly in her throat.

“Please let me keep my whore outfit.”

Sterling: Marge stares at her. Looks her in the eye, one woman to another.

And then she lets out the laughter. Bright, cruel peals of it, every bit as sharp and evil as any high school girl’s.

“Oh, sweetie. You actually—” She laughs harder. “I’m sorry, your face, your voice—oh, I’m sorry.” Her tone says she isn’t. “I love this place. Let the poor girl up, Tristan. She’s in for a hard night.”

Another squeeze, and she’s thrust upwards, discarded. Tristan’s laughing, too.

“Oh, and here’s your money. Circus freak.”

She feels her leotard’s rear pulled away, stretched like a swimsuit, and before she can even process the violation she feels a bill slipped between her exposed buttocks and the outfit as it’s allowed to snap back against her flesh, the numeral fifty protruding from the garment’s rear. Like an obscene, sideways tail. The dismissal is as clear as it is brutish.

They’re done with her. For now.

Genevieve: Gen doesn’t know if—or even how—she should respond. The flush spreads from her cheeks to her neck and chest, turning her red beneath the lights of the lounge. She thanks the woman for her time less she think that Gen is ungrateful for the money, slapped even as it is so rudely against her ass.

Fifty dollars. And a penny, but maybe the woman forgot, and she isn’t going to go back for a penny. How much does the girl need? How much is dental work? How long until the night is over? How long before she can slink out without even her pride intact? Her eyes search the wall for a clock, though she knows she will find none. No clocks in casinos, even underground ones, nothing to remind people that there is life outside of these walls.

Gen slinks away, eyes on the floor. Perhaps if she does not see them wave at her she can safely ignore them.

Sterling: But they see her. She’s quickly called over, made to fetch drinks, to prep tables, ordered this way and that by men whose only purpose is to keep her running. She’s pulled into more laps. Called more names. “Slut” is popular, but so is “Casper.”

It’s not long before somebody gets bored and tells her to bare her breasts.

“And bounce around a little. Squeeze ’em together,” the drunk fiftysomething man says, brandishing several hundred dollar bills. His friends laugh indulgently, all eyes settled on the albino.

Some of the other girls have already been made to get naked. One is getting fucked on a table across the room. Another is merely being passed around a gaggle of men that grab at her with impunity.

But not the circus freak. They just want her to show some tit and shake.

GM: The grabbing is only the prelude.

At one table, a woman lies back-down over the surface while a man shits in her mouth. The stench is awful. The revulsion on her face is even worse. His friends hold her down as they chant, “Swallow! Swallow! Swallow!” She’ll get extra money if she swallows. The second man who’s burying his cock up her cunt seems almost an afterthought.

Another girl, also lying back-down over a table, is also tied down and getting fed water through a funnel in her mouth. That looks harmless enough, until Gen sees how much water. The nearby men have at least a dozen milk jugs. There is no possible way that much fluid can fit in her stomach, but it looks as if the men are doing their damndest to find out how much can. They say she’ll earn a thousand dollars for every jug she swallows. The ones who aren’t force-feeding her are also taking turns fucking her. They smack her grotesquely swollen belly like a drum as they thrust back and forth. Genny can hear the water sloshing around inside.

At another table, the men are preparing to waterboard another tied-down girl, except with booze instead of water. They laugh about how this is actually “boozeboarding.” They say how CIA agents break after only 14 seconds, so she’ll get a thousand dollars a second. Ready? Go.

The next table over, the patrons are playing Russian roulette. There’s some kind of betting pool going on. Gen isn’t sure exactly what, only that one of the girls is taking turns firing the revolver at every patron, in clockwise order around the table. Click. Empty. Click. Empty. Click. Empty. Click. Boom. A wide-eyed corpse slumps forward as the bullet takes him right in the forehead. The girl screams as blood gets everywhere. The men roar with laughter and pull off the newly-dead corpse’s pants. Its cock is still hard. They make the girl fuck it.

At still another table, every man has a switchblade and girl on their lap who they’re offering money in return for “pounds of flesh.” The more pieces of themselves the girls let the men cut off, the latter explain, the more the girls get paid. There’s also a pool going. Whichever girl gets cut up worst not only gets the money from that, she also gets all of the other girls’ money. So no matter how deeply the knife bites, they get nothing, if it doesn’t bite them deepest of all. It’s a race to the bottom. A race to hurt themselves worst. Gen watches the pale-faced and eventually red-spattered girls start with nicks along their wrists, then work their way up to teeth and nails and arm stabbings, then severed ears and fingertips and facial scarring, and then one deliriously crying and beeding girl begs her man to stab out her left eye when he promises her a jaw-dropping sum, because oh god she needs the money. The men laugh that unless someone else wants to lose both her eyes, they have a winner. Everything has its price.

The lounge is everything Sterling said.

Anything goes.

Genevieve: She doesn’t disappoint with the drinks, with the tables, with the side work that they make her do before the patrons snatch her up again. She’s quick. Smart. Everything gets to where it needs to go, nothing is spilled, someone even tips her for the trouble. She can almost pretend that she’s just a waitress.

Until they start to fondle her again. Until they pinch and pull and—

No. She’s not going to uncover herself, she isn’t.

But the threat is there. Do it or walk away with nothing.

She’s on his lap, made to straddle him only moments ago. If she does it here at least no one can see, right? No one but the drunk man. And his friends. And anyone looking at her. She almost shakes her head. Almost gets up, walks to the door.

Gen lifts a hand to slide the strap of her “outfit” down one shoulder, then the other. The movements are slow, hesitant. The material clings to her chest rather than fall of its own volition. Too much to ask for it to do her that courtesy; she can’t just pretend it fell. It takes conscious effort for her to slide it down her chest, face smarting in humiliation.

Pale. White. Alabaster. Exactly the ghostly color for which they call her.

The blood that Sterling gives to her keeps her young. No matter her real age, she has the tight, lean body of a woman in her twenties. So when she moves, they bounce, nipples stiff in the cool air of the lounge. She covers them when he tells her to press them together, as if that will preserve whatever is left of her modesty.

Her face turns away.

Sterling: Cheers and guffaws meet her display. Her hands are teased away from their position, and the drunkard leans forwards and actually runs his tongue across one breast, to the delight of his friends.

“Bet you taste like white chocolate,” one of them slurs at her as she’s assaulted. Then he tosses some money at her, for compensation.

The man who’s lap she straddles slides a hand up her leotard, tracing between her legs.

“Say you like it,” he says between tonguefuls of her breasts. “Scream it for us.”

Genevieve: The taunting comes from all around her. She has no safe place to rest her eyes, no friendly face that she can look upon in the crowd. Just this leering, drunk, desperate man. Her whole form is stiff; she presses her thighs together as if to stop his wandering hands, but his fingers find her anyway. She finally just closes her eyes. With her eyes closed they can’t hurt her, they can’t touch her, she can pretend that he is someone else.

Ever fiber of her being rebels against the idea of telling them she likes it. Even if she did, she isn’t that sort vocal creature.

She shakes her head back and forth.

Sterling: “You need to offer her money,” one of his friends says. Her assaulter traces her mons, bounces her like a child on his leg.

“A thousand bucks, you beautiful white cunt. Say you like it. C’mon. Say it. Nice and loud.”

His fingers poke at her entrance, but don’t penetrate. His tongue lashes against her nipples, stiffening them mercilessly.

“Say you like it, you silly little whore. Shout it. Or I’ll make you dance for us.”

They know she doesn’t want to. That’s what makes it so fun for them.

“And open your eyes, or I’ll make you say it again.”

“Say it.”

A flash. Somebody’s taken a picture of her.

Genevieve: Gen squirms on his lap. She starts to shake her head again, to deny him, but the offer of money holds her fast. She has to. A thousand dollars—that’s a lot of fucking dental work. Her nipples are so hard they ache under his continued assault. The threat of his fingers sliding into her, the threat of being forced to dance for them, the flash of the camera—it’s too much.

She wishes the floor would open up and swallow her whole.

“I like it,” she whispers. Her lips barely move, eyes still squeezed tightly shut. They open a second later.

Sterling: “Louder, sweetie,” he says. He bites, this time, gnawing at her nipples. “Shout what a slut you are.”

His fingers find her lips. They start to pull them apart.

Now or never.

Genevieve: Her head drops back when his teeth sink into her flesh, mouth opening in a wordless cry. Words fail her. She doesn’t know what to say, how to say it, what they want to hear.

“I’m a slut,” she manages, barely louder than before. Her eyes find the ceiling. “I’m—I like it, I do, I’m just a freak whore, a dirty slut.” She doesn’t even know what she’s saying. None of it sounds right; it’s the awkward confession of a girl who has never done this before. She presses her hands against her face to hide her shame.

Sterling: She feels his fingers on her lips. Holding her open.

Then they retreat.

“Good whore,” he says, and spits in her face.

They’re guffawing as she’s pushed off of his lap, the joke over, her leotard half-off.

Genevieve: She lands hard on the ground. No one steps in to help her up, no one offers a hand. Her eyes stay down as she rises, spit dripping down her face. She turns away with her ill-gotten cash and tugs the straps back into their rightful place to cover herself once more. She doesn’t thank him for the privilege.

Sterling: A hand on her shoulder. An arm around her waist. Somebody’s dabbing at the spit on her face with a handkerchief.

“Ah, Conscience. You can quit at any time.”

It’s him. Him, come to watch her degradation. Maybe even to participate.

Did he hear her say she liked it, a moment ago?

Genevieve: Gen jerks away from him, anger in her eyes.

“My name,” she hisses at him, “is Genevieve.”

She stalks off.

Sterling: He’s with her, keeping pace easily. “So indignant! Would you prefer I treat you cruelly, or lie? Your strength of spirit makes you beautiful, Gen. I want to share that beauty. To celebrate it.”

He presses a money clip into her hands.

“Now, are you mine or not? Will you endure these humiliations, or leave?”

Genevieve: Gen halts once the money touches her hand. She looks down at it, then up at him. She plasters on a smile, sickly sweet; she’s never smiled for him, not like this.

“Shall I simper for you, sir? Is there a dog in a corner somewhere you’d like me to fuck?”

Sterling: “No. I just want you to take off your leotard and follow me to the stage.”

He says it so easily. So smoothly.

“Or you can leave here, and abandon your foolish quest to do the right thing.”

Genevieve: Naked. On stage. All eyes on her. Even if they’re not inclined to look he’ll make them look, make them watch, make them see.

He can’t. He can’t do that to her.

Her stomach has fallen to her feet. She is not sure if it will ever right itself. The false smile disappears as quickly as it came, and the eyes that look to him now are full of apprehension.

“Don’t,” she whispers, shaking her head, “don’t make me. Not that.” She presses the money back toward him, as if that will make this all disappear.

Sterling: “I’ll be with you,” he says. “Holding you. Protecting you. But I won’t make you do anything.”

He doesn’t take the money back.

“You can stop anytime, Gen. If you only silence your conscience.”

“I’ll even take your memories, if you like.”

Genevieve: That’s what he wants, isn’t it? For her to be as heartless and misguided as him.

She won’t. She won’t be like him. She will never be like him.

She strips. The silver leotard comes off in one fluid motion, dropping down her body, down her legs, to pool around her heels. The look she gives him could melt steel.

Sterling: He beams.

He takes her hand.

He leads her through the lounge, as people whistle and catcall—but they do not presume to approach. Not with him by her side.

He leads her, naked and white, onto the stage, his arm around her bare waist.

“Brave, bare Gen,” he whispers without moving his lips. “Beautiful.”

Genevieve: I hate you, she thinks back, and she hopes that he can hear it.

Sterling: Her heels make her naked body taller. Tall enough that he has to stretch slightly to kiss her on the forehead. She can feel the tenderness in the motion. His twisted, bizarre love.

Eyes pivot as they take the stage, the man with the silver smile and his naked, stark-white Conscience.

And then he’s twirling her, and they’re dancing.

He’s dancing with her, in public, like she’s his queen. Like he does with his paramour, sometimes.

Except she’s naked.

But nobody laughs as they dance.

Nobody jeers.

Genevieve: Their gazes are heavy, all the same. She cannot forget they are there.

That they can see.

Her. All of her. Exposed.

Sterling: He twirls her for them. Bares her front, her back. Pivots and bends her backwards.

But he isn’t just exposing her. He’s… displaying her. Like he would a piece of art. A prized possession.

He strokes between her legs, and his hands move with impossible speed over her body. Tweaking. Teasing.

Arousing.

She can see Caprese in the crowd. Heckle, too. Faces she knows. That know her.

They look awestruck.

Genevieve: It can’t be her they’re looking at. It has to be him. His speed, his grace; the fact that he twirls so effortlessly across the stage with the help.

She doesn’t look. Can’t look. Can’t bear the sight of the crowd, knowing that they’re looking at her, that there will be not a single pair of eyes in this city who doesn’t see her next and wonder at what she looks like in the lounge, on her knees, spread open, poked and prodded and pulled until she finally snaps.

She does not dare close her eyes. She keeps them on him, as if there is no world except for him, as if they are not on a stage. Her body quivers at his touch, bending, arching, spinning; she is just an extension of his will.

Sterling: But she keeps pace with him. Complements him so effortlessly.

He’s kissing her, suddenly, full on the lips, kissing her and his Blood inside her is screaming, as his hands roam her body and start to play.

“Beautiful,” he whispers, as he pushes her buttons and makes her come undone, onstage.

Next to him.

Genevieve: He can’t be.

It’s against the rules.

There’s no kissing in the masked city.

She’s a slave, she’s beneath him, she’s—

But he is. He is kissing her. In front of everyone. They can all see his hands on her. Hear the breath leave her body as he touches, strokes, displays. Smell the molten liquid that makes her slick to his touch. Her tightly coiled control rips itself apart; her seams split, exposing the truth, her truth, and leaves her a quivering, heaving mess of a woman with nothing to lose, whose cries split the air when he sends her over the edge. She comes apart in his arms. The rest of the world doesn’t matter. Not now.

Not ever.


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