Showgirls and Cowgirls

Birds of a Feather

After the sun had completely set past the horizon, Roxanne slowly walked up to her vanity mirror to have a final look at herself. While she did usually try to make herself look ravishing for her performances, she never wished to overdo it. Even though the spotlight usually kept her from looking at the faces of the bar past the first few feet, she didn't want any men looking at her in a way that would trigger unsettling emotions. Even so, Roxanne reminded herself, as she had that morning, that she could be in a much worse position. And Georgia would never let any man make any untoward moves toward her.

But it seemed that no matter how hard she tried, Roxanne could never truly banish the thoughts that seemed to haunt her at least once a day. The thought that she'd be discovered before she intended. That she'd be returned to the insane asylum, or worse. No. Roxanne shook her head. If this kind of thinking had been with her while she was in the asylum, she never would have made it out. She never would have made it here. And she wouldn't have stayed hidden for this long. She couldn't give up now. Not when things were going this well. Besides, all she was doing tonight was singing. Just as she usually did. That, and helping in the kitchen, was her job.

Once she made sure she looked as good as usual, if not better, Roxanne left her room and hurried down to the second floor. But as she was walking past the break room, she heard the familiar sound of Bigshot on the room's TV. Elle and Denise had a particular fondness for that show, even though they weren't bounty hunters. Roxanne herself regularly watched it, for her own reasons. But it was what one of the hosts said next that sent her off the edge and made her stop in her tracks.

"Now we go to particular young lady who's been getting a hotspot on our list! Miz Roxanne Sadler!"

Hearing her true name when she'd seldom heard it in a long time, and on TV no less, made her freeze. As if against her will, her feet started moving her backward until she was in the doorway, watching the show along with the girls. Luckily, neither of them were looking back at her, because Roxanne's eyes widened as she saw her asylum picture show up on the screen, along with her current stats. And to make it even worse, the two hosts were talking about her.

"Woo-wee! Look at that pretty face, guys! It's not every day you see such a stunning young woman on this show!"

"Except me!" the female host said. "Besides, she's from a madhouse. She'd probably kill you as fast as she'd kiss you!"

Roxanne bit her lip until she was sure if she did it any harder she'd split it open. It was almost as if she might as well have been exposed right then and there. To prevent her lip from bleeding, Roxanne put her finger in her mouth and bit on that instead. She didn't notice until then that Elle and Denise had started discussing her – yet not her – right in front her.

"Poor girl," Denise sighed sadly. "You know, she doesn't look so bad at first glance, you have to admit."

"I don't know," Elle replied. "This might sound in bad taste but, I can't help but feel sorry for her ex-boyfriend. I mean, what was he thinking?"

For a moment, Roxanne got a heated look on her face. But while she managed to quickly change her expression, she wasn't fast enough to stop herself from adding her own two sense in. "Well, maybe she had a good reason for doing what she did. You don't know."

Both Elle and Denise turned around to face her, but Roxanne didn't flinch. "Oh, hey Rosemary," Denise smiled. "I thought you were performing for Brandy tonight."

"I am," Roxanne nodded. "The show hasn't started yet." She then dared a glance at the TV like any normal person would, and, hoping to sound nonchalant, she asked, "Speaking of which, are you ever not going to like that show? I don't know if getting hung up on all those bad guys is good for you."

"Oh, come on, you have to admit some of them are cute!" Elle laughed. "Besides, it's not like we're actually trying to meet up with them! Now, cute bounty hunters..."

Even Roxanne couldn't help but stifle a chuckle. Elle always seemed to be able to make light of any situation, including hers, even if she didn't know it. But now, hoping to change the subject, Roxanne twirled around in her dress before asking both girls, "How do I look?"

"Gorgeous as always!" Elle smiled. "Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if two gentlemen tried to pick you up tonight."

In which case, Roxanne thought to herself, they wouldn't be gentlemen. But instead of voicing her opinion in those words, she instead replied, "I'd rather they not."

Denise raised her eyebrows. "I'm actually glad you said so. No offense but, you're not the only pretty lady around here."

"Oh, here we go again," Elle's smile left as she sighed and put her head in her hand, "If you weren't so shy and asked Georgia to sing more you'd probably get more offers."

Suddenly not wishing to be a part of this argument, Roxanne turned and left the girls to each other. Ever since she came here, she knew at least a couple of them were jealous of her, but they didn't often show it, especially considering they also had to work for and pay bills to Georgia. For most of the others, her popularity as a singer meant they could spend more time with the men. For Roxanne's part, as long as they didn't seem suspicious in regards to her origins, she didn't mind what else the girls thought of her. If Georgia liked her, then that was the end of it. And now, all that mattered was the show that was ahead of her.

Meanwhile, a certain young gentleman had entered Heaven's Gate, and had quickly begun to take in his surroundings. It seemed more orderly than most bars, then again, it was a jazz club, after all. Maybe he'd been to more seedy bars than he cared to remember, but he still knew a classy jazz club when he saw it. He was a bit surprised but then found it refreshing when he saw no one was fighting. Instead, all of the men – and the few women – gathered at the tables seemed to be politely playing cards like civilized human beings. Still, considering their likely well-off backgrounds and the fact that no human being was completely civilized, Spike had to wonder how long this image could keep going. Though he thought that as long as one of them didn't win too much, they'd all be fine. Now where had he heard that before?

His eyes then coasted toward the stage, which was a bit smaller than he'd expected. But there were still four musicians tuning their instruments. A keyboard, a sax, a guitar, and a set of drums. Even from where he stood at the front entrance, Spike could hear the inharmonious cacophony of sounds they made, until he started to wonder whether any of them could really play at all. Still, considering what he remembered hearing about Heaven's Gate, these were some of the finest musicians in town. Even so, he shrugged his shoulders at the comments still in his memory.

Spike then directed his attention to the bar itself on the left. To his initial disappointment, it seemed to be full, until his eyes landed on the empty chair at the far end. Whether it was fate or just blind luck, Spike walked over and took his seat, placing his chin above his hands while he let himself have a look at the tenders. Two men and two women. Unlike the other bars he'd been to, the women didn't look like smokin' hot jail bait. In fact, one of the women looked at least twice as old as the other. Spike was still eyeing her with interest when his ears caught a woman's sultry, western-accented voice. "Why hello, darlin'."

Spike turned his head and his sight unintentionally landed on the woman's slightly bigger than average cleavage before he looked up into a pair of smoldering hazel eyes. Leaning toward him in an obviously flirtatious manner, she asked, "What might you care to have this evenin', hmm?"

Just as Spike was about to answer, he heard someone's throat clearing. Both he and the bar-maid looked to see the older woman Spike was looking at before staring down the younger one in front of him, her eyes and tight mouth silently communicating that she didn't want any nonsense going on around here. Finding himself wanting to appease her, Spike turned back to the bar-maid. "Just a bit of red wine, that's all."

Without another word, the flirt of a woman simply smiled a red-lipped smile, and left to get his order. Just as she did, Spike decided he wouldn't wait in boredom. After fishing through his pocket, he pulled out his all-too familiar pack of cigarettes, along with his lighter, and lit one. But just then, the man sitting next to him spoke up. "I wouldn't do that if I were you." While his voice was deep, it wasn't threatening.

After deciding his appearance wasn't exactly threatening either, Spike asked in a nonchalant manner, "Why not?"

The man jerked his thumb back at the wall behind him. "Didn't you see the sign?" Spike turned around and saw that there was indeed a no-smoking sign. But again, he paid no heed as he gave a dismissive shrug and put the cigarette back in his mouth.

"Well, this place seemed like as good a place to have a smoke as any." Spike knew it was in no way an excuse, but he stopped caring about that long ago.

"Maybe to you," the man said. "But I say you stomp that out unless you want Georgia and her bouncers throw you out." He pointed to the older woman who stared down the bar-maid earlier. "She owns the place so, she can do that." Spike turned his attention from the cigarette to the woman called Georgia, who had now started to stare him down too. His first impulse to go on and continue his smoke, but then he remembered that he was on a mission, his first real one in months. And he'd already grabbed the attention of this man, who seemed to be a regular here. Maybe he could tell him more. And Spike knew well he certainly wasn't going to get any information if he got thrown out.

Reluctantly, yet not without rolling his eyes, Spike dropped the cigarette to the floor and stomped it out. He then looked back at Georgia and raised his eyebrows at her as if to say, "Happy now?" Her only reply was to give him a slight smirk of affirmation before she turned around and went back to work. Once he knew he was now on her good side, and after having a sip of his newly-arrived drink, Spike turned back to the man who had been kind enough to warn him. He was smiling.

"Just a bit of red wine, that's all?" he asked, repeating Spike word for word. Spike returned the smile. He was beginning to like this guy.

"Well? What, a man can't have something a little simple every now and then?"

The man's smile faltered slightly. "Trying not to overdo it then, am I right?"

Spike's own face fell even more. "I'd rather not talk about it, but, yes, you are right."

The man nodded, leaving it at that. "You new around here, son? I don't think I've ever seen you before, and I know almost everyone here."

And that was how Spike had always wished to keep it. Until now. "Why yes. Just started a job at the docks, if you want to know. Couple of the guys there recommended the joint so I thought, why not?"

The man's grin returned fully. "Well, they suggested a good place. Some of the best wine this side of Mars if I do say so myself."

Spike raised an eyebrow, and knew exactly where he wanted to turn the conversation. "And some good music too, I hear."

"Oh, yes. Practically what it's known for. You want to hear jazz and see a pretty woman sing it, this is your place. Or at least mine, anyway."

With increasing interest, but not willing to show too much, Spike asked, "Is there a particular woman you have in mind?"

"As a matter of fact I do," the man replied, happy to tell. "Her name's Rosemary Singer. A lovely name for a lovely woman with a lovely voice."

"Really?" Spike asked, really starting to like where this was going. "Is she performing tonight?"

"I believe she is. Someone else was supposed to but, I heard she caught sick, so, Rosemary's filling in for her. Real nice of her don't you think?"

Spike's smile took on a smirk. "Well, if she's as good as you say, then I can't wait to hear her sing." Then, before the man could change the subject, Spike asked, "Anything else you'd like to tell me about the place?"

The man's smile faltered again. "Well, I can't exactly think of anything else...except one thing, maybe." Spike remained silent until the man leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Actually, I don't know if I should tell you this. Could ruin the reputation of Heaven's Gate, not to mention Georgia. But, you look like a guy who can keep a secret."

Spike nodded, again remaining silent, urging the man to speak on. He looked back at Georgia briefly to make sure she was busy before turning back to Spike. "Every other night there've been sightings of someone coming out one of the third-story windows, using the fire escape to go down to the ground, and then disappearing."

Spike listened to every word with piqued interest, which grew by the second. "Is it a man or a woman?"

"Actually, no one really knows," the man replied with a shrug of his own shoulders. "But most believe it's the same person every time. Me, I think it's a made up rumor by someone who wants to discredit the place. But, for what reason, I can't really imagine."

"Well, you never know," Spike said before taking another drink of his red wine. "Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction."

Just then, the lights above went dark, leaving room for only the glaring spotlight above and the lights on the stage to shine. Spike knew that could only mean one thing, and so turned in his seat toward the stage, where a man in a tuxedo had taken the mike in front.

"And now, for the voice you all know and love, the lovely Rosemary Singer and 'Show Me Some Love," he announced.

Everyone in the building clapped, including Spike. And once the tuxedoed man left, his eyes were locked solely on the young woman who walked on stage to his place. His eyes widened. The descriptions of both men were clearly no exaggerations. While he'd only ever known one truly beautiful woman, this one truly was lovely. Tall, slender, with pale skin, shoulder-length layered hair with different red-pink shades, and large light blue eyes. She wore a sparkling periwinkle dress which matched her eyes (and wasn't strapless, he liked), and also a jeweled headband that seemed to crown her head with pure light. Altogether, she looked like the constellation Virgo come to life. But what really got Spike's attention was the familiarity of her face, knowing that he'd seen it before, yet couldn't believe he was actually seeing in real-life now.

Still, he paid due attention to the woman once she started singing. And the said beauty of her voice that matched her appearance wasn't exaggerated either. It seemed like that of a classic opera singer combined with a new modern style. One she seemed to integrate surprisingly well with the jazz she was singing. Even so, Spike couldn't help but notice yet another peculiarity about her, one that remained even after she finished her last song and was rewarded with the dramatic applause of the patrons. He had been expecting a fully confident woman. And while she certainly looked that way at first glance, and could likely very well be fully confident, Spike had the feeling as he paid closer attention that she was hiding something. Something she might not want anyone to find out... Maybe it was the way she stood, which was a little stiff. Maybe it was the way she blinked, a little bit much. Or maybe...maybe it was his intense imagination going off on him.

Well, in any event, Spike knew he had learned some valuable information tonight. And he intended to investigate the matter of this disappearing and reappearing shadow of a person who seemed to stalk the night like a black cat. Perhaps it would lead him down the path he desired, but unfortunately, it would have to wait for tomorrow.

Once Roxanne knew she was allowed to leave the stage, she knew she had to ask Georgia for a little bit of time off. As much as she liked singing, and as good as the pay was, this was already her third performance this week. And she was even starting to have visions of being discovered, not by her enemies, but by a talent scout who would exploit rather than encourage her talents. She knew they were probably unfounded. But Roxanne didn't want to give up any control over her current circumstances. Especially considering she hadn't have much control for over a year in her life, and she never wanted to lose it again.

But just then, as she was on the familiar path back up to her room on the third-floor to get some much-needed rest, Roxanne's ears caused her feet to stop and her head to turn back toward the doorway of the break room. Again, just like earlier in the evening, she heard the sounds of Bigshot on the TV, probably going through their late-night slot. But, fortunately, none of it seemed to be about her anymore. Still, Roxanne could only roll her eyes, let out an annoyed sigh, and put her head in her hand. How long were Elle and Denise going to watch that tonight?

When she walked into the room, she got her answer. Both girls had fallen asleep in their chairs. Deeply asleep by the look of it. Their heads lay on the table, their hair was askew, and their arms were in awkward, haphazard positions. Like a disciplining older sister, Roxanne put her hands on her hips, yet tried to stifle the smirk on her face at the image in front of her she still found somewhat funny. Even so, she knew she had to let someone know and get them upstairs to their rooms. And she was just about to do that when an image on the TV caught her eye.

"Hope all you bounty hunters in New Haven are listening, because we've got you a catch right here in your own town!" Roxanne then found herself listening, as Heaven's Gate was located in New Haven. Just then, a mugshot of a pretty tough looking man with a tattoo of an alligator across the bridge of his nose popped up. His name read as "Gator Grudge." And according to the hosts, his last known location was in this very town.

"Be careful though," the female host said. "He's not only armed and dangerous, but has been known to snap his victim's neck with his teeth like an alligator!"

"But remember," the male host suddenly spoke up, "you don't want to kill him, 'cause if you do, you can kiss that five million woolong reward goodbye!"

Five million woolongs? Roxanne slowly raised an eyebrow in interest. And before long, she had a strategy going through her head. The guy was in New Haven – or at least was said to be – and was said to be pretty dangerous. But she'd come across psychotic killers like that before. And even though it was an unofficial job, she enjoyed doing it almost as much as singing, because she was helping to rid the galaxy of those like the ones who were chasing her. And she did it from the shadows. Before she even left the room, Roxanne knew she now had a new target, one that seemed to be set up specially for her and her other job: that of moonlighting as a bounty hunter herself.

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