The Cunning (Book 1/2)

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He decided a drive to clear his head would do better than facing Sam and Benny right now. He knew they’d have a lot to say and rightly so but they didn’t know the real situation. Madison was smart. Too smart for her own good in that place. For the first time that Jase could recall, his insides were being chewed through with pity. He remembered seeing her on the bus, how she’d wished the man she’d sat next to a nice day and hoped his cough would get better. She had radiated innocence and kindness. They hadn’t been given much information about her other than her place of work, address and name but she probably had a lot going for her on the outside. It was all brought to a sickening halt when Adam had dragged her to the boot of the car. Her life, as she knew it, ceased to exist.

The fear she had in her eyes that night in the alleyway would never be far from his mind. Of all the people holding out this long and making a genuine break for it, she would have been last guess. It was apparent now that underestimating her and believing she really was just a scared young girl wouldn’t bode well for him. There was a reason she hadn’t told Benny the truth and Jase had a sneaking feeling that it was the same reason behind why she had said nothing about their first meeting in the alleyway.

With a frustrated sigh, realising he’d put himself back to square one, he pulled into the private car park to the gentlemen’s club he and the others worked for.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” the heavyset security man said as he opened the door.

“I haven’t had a reason to come here,” Jase mumbled in response, not in the mood for friendly chit chat after the night’s events. The sparkling stairs leading down into the club were lit with neon pink lights; music was muffled until he opened the double doors at the bottom, walking into the lavish, velvet-clad club. Private booths lined one wall, and a bar lined the other. Chairs and tables were dotted around the rest of the club floor, all facing the stage where a new girl was swaying around a pole.

“Hey, stranger,” the barmaid chirped, taking out a crystal tumbler and free pouring a large whiskey. Jase nodded, taking a five-pound note from his wallet and sliding it over.

“Hey Sash, how’s business?” she shrugged, turning to the stage,

“You tell me.” Sasha knew Jase and some of the others and that they had their hand in the clubs’ business.

“Boss in?”

“Usual spot.” He raised the glass to her in thanks before heading towards the backstage and down a corridor where the clubs’ owner, Ramon, sat behind his large desk.

“Evening,” Jase greeted, sitting across from him. Ramon smiled.

“Jase, to what do I owe this visit?” he asked, sitting back and lacing his fingers.

“I just came to let you know we’ve got a couple more girls, they’ll be ready in a week or two,” Jase replied, taking a sip of his drink.

“Brilliant, things have been a bit slow around here lately, even the Russians are doing business with that Mitch bloke.” Ramon curled his upper lip in annoyance.

“Mitch McKinney?” Ramon nodded. The name had been bouncing around the grapevine that a new guy was dipping his fingers into a little bit of everything. He was running his own line and trading amongst the girls which meant he had everyone’s attention because that’s where the real money was made and new names didn’t come around often. Jase was sure it was likely Mitch’s boys that had been out earlier.

“At first, I didn’t pay the kid much mind but he’s starting to step on my toes. As you know, we have a good balance for business here, you and I. You supply girls that won’t be missed, I pay you and your boys a nice sum and make sure your shit looks legal.” Jase knew what was coming, he was going to ask for a favour.

“You want him in on the cut or out of the picture?” he asked, swirling the rest of his whiskey around in the glass.

“Invite him in first, you never know, he could be an asset. If he refuses then... well,” he shrugged nonchalantly, “take care of him.” Jase downed the rest of his drink, nodding.

“I’ll ask about, see where he hangs around and give him the rundown about how things work.” He picked up some extra product that Ramon wanted to shift and headed back to the bar. Sasha was just wiping down as the night slowly rolled into two in the morning.

“Another one for the road?” she asked. Jase came to a stop, pursing his lips in thought.

“Or maybe something a little more distracting? You look like you’ve been working hard, Jase.” An acrylic nail traced the back of his neck. One of the club workers stepped in front of him, sitting down on the barstool, swinging one long leg over the other suggestively. The shimmering low-cut dress was worn to entice men but Jase didn’t have a penchant for the promiscuous whores. Regardless of how they dressed it up with what they believed was perceived as glamorous. It wasn’t his cup of tea. He smiled politely.

“I’m good thanks. I’ve got to get back to business.” She pouted then rolled her shoulders,

“Maybe some other time then.” He nodded to Sasha, saying goodbye and leaving the glaring lights.

Throughout all of this, Madison hadn’t been far from the forefront of his mind. She’d taken the wrap but what exactly was she playing at? The question nagged in his head as he drove to another car park, lighting a joint and reclining his chair. She wasn’t naive, that much he knew. He couldn’t approach and deal with her like any typical girl, but she was still just a girl and they always operated the same way. Whatever game she intended on playing, he would play it better.

The house was quiet when Jase back, Benny was asleep on the sofa. No one else was downstairs. The bedroom was illuminated with a hazy yellow glow of the bedside lamp. Madison was sleeping under the duvet, her long hair splayed out behind her.

Placing the package Ramon had given him on the desk, he pulled his hoodie and t-shirt off, changing his joggers. He looked down at Madison as he got into bed. When she was sleeping, she looked at peace. He preferred that because at least then she wasn’t causing him any trouble.

Though, he couldn’t put all the blame on her. After all, it was him making the mistake to keep his mouth shut. Madison murmured in her sleep and Jase tilted his head. He had to admit, her resilience and thought process were admirable, he couldn’t help but have a small amount of respect for that.

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