The twisted wreckage of worn-out automobiles formed a crude hallway through an empty warehouse. The space was lit by the amber glow of lightbulbs descending from an unseen ceiling. Rusted body panels echoed with the sound of narrow feet mincing over the grime streaked concrete floor, ringing with the sharp click! of razor-pointed stiletto heels. What little ruddy light that made it through the fog of years to reflect from scratched and murky headlights disappeared behind moving shadows, only to struggle back to life as the walkers made their way through the automotive graveyard.
At the end of this corridor, Mandy stood alone in a small room, centered beneath another dangling bulb. She shuddered at each staccato burst of footfalls, the sleeveless gown clinging to her slim form flapping with her tight movement and raising a swirl of oily dust. Once a pristine white, the dress appeared aged in the yellow illumination of the naked bulb, the queasy anticipation oozing from Mandy’s body and settling on her skin in a glistening layer rendering the gown the color of nicotine-stained teeth.
The footfalls grew sharper and more focused as the walkers cleared the ends of the corridor and stood behind Mandy, violating her once private chamber. Sensing their presence, like whirling dynamos both repelling and attracting her, Mandy raised her head and pivoted to face her captors. All she could see beyond the purple-tinged veil of her hair was a jagged mixture of light and shadow, harsh contrast without form. There was a rearrangement of living shade as the walkers stepped into Mandy’s cone of light, and now she could make out two feminine forms in the gloom.
Two women, both slim and muscular, stood before her. One was pale, vast swathes of her milky skin visible beneath a patchwork of glistening leather buckled tightly to her body. This one shook her head, sending a cascade of velvety brunette hair over her shoulder, exposing apricot lips warped into a hateful smile.
The other woman was broader, powerfully built, her milk-chocolate skin mostly hidden beneath sturdy work clothes, though her shirt was parted, exposing a pair of full breasts contained within a straining black bra. This one’s smile matched her compatriot’s, both lascivious and cruel.
Mandy raised her shoulders in an effort to project meek helplessness, while at the same time stepping away from her two visitors, leaving the circle of light to mesh with the shadows.
The first woman took a step forward, bringing with her a renewed flurry of clicks! and eliciting a return of the shudders that wracked Mandy’s body. In hopes of somehow pleasing this woman, of reducing the maliciousness of her sick grin, Mandy returned to the light, cowering to show that she was no threat and would cause no problems for these intimidating women.
The woman held up a thick strip of leather bound on either side with buckles, something Mandy had earlier taken to be part of the woman’s costume. Mandy tensed, holding her body under strict control as the woman loomed close, pressing the smooth leather strap tight against Mandy’s throat. This close in, Mandy shared her air with the woman, feeling the moist warmth of her breath, smelling the same excited fear that Mandy’s own body gushed out by the bucketful. The buckles rattled, coming together to form a tight collar riding just below Mandy’s. Chill sweat prickled along the skin beneath the collar. She tried to swallow, her windpipe straining against the unyielding band. Mandy heard a clicking sound and found the choking sensation that gripped her tighten, cutting off any feeling save for a tantalizing heat.
Once more clicks! and echoed through the tight space, and the other woman stepped forward, rolling seductively as she walked. With one hand she held onto a thin leather leash, and with the other she twirled a flashing silver clasp. As she took the first woman’s place, the second woman parted her hands, sliding the leash through her grasp with a wet slithering sound and stopping the rotating end with a cacophonous clack! With slow precision, she attached the clasp to Mandy’s collar, not placing any strain upon Mandy or making any sound save for a piercing click! as the clasp clicked shut. The woman spared her victim a smile of almost motherly affection, then rounded to face her compatriot and marched away.
Mandy jerked forward at the collar’s summons, her dark hair fluttering around her as her head snapped back. She stumbled as her dress tangled about her legs, and then all her effort went into keeping up with her captors as they returned the way they had come.
The crumpled remains of cars served witness as Mandy was dragged away from her safe place in the light. They leered down at her from shattered windshields and cobwebbed grills, seeming to her oxygen-starved mind to be human skulls, taking pleasure in her torment. As the march through the automotive sepulcher continued, Mandy extended her stride and at last caught up with her captors, lessening the agony in her throat and adding the steady slap! of her own bare feet to the others’ steady rhythm.
After an eternity of half-strangled shambling through the junk-strewn darkness, light appeared in the distance, far brighter than any Mandy had seen in this place, crisp and blue-white. As she blinked away the streaked afterimage of the dangling lamp, she saw a form silhouetted before the cone of light, a man-shaped shadow, tall and bony. It seemed as though oil, leaked from the moldering cars surrounding them, had come together and risen into the air, taking on a shape that luxuriated in the light. A malign aura radiated from the shadow, liquefying Mandy’s gut as her captors dragged her closer.
The slap! of Mandy’s feet fell silent as she stuttered to a halt, repulsed by the narrow, oily man in the light. Yet he seemed to be her destination--with another head-snapping jolt of agony, the woman holding the leash yanked it. Mandy cascaded forward over the slick floor, almost falling as her feet tangled once more with her gown. There was the drum-roll sound of ripping fabric as the hem pulled free and fluttered away.
The first woman, the one clad in leather, took Mandy’s hands in her own and clamped a pair of glistening handcuffs over her wrists. Mandy bit back a sob as the tightening metal bands ground the bones of her forearms together, sending jags of pain shooting up her arms. The shadowed man straightened at Mandy’s outburst, elongating and looming larger, as though her sound of torment sustained him.
The second woman now slid into the place of the first. Once more she gave Mandy that perverse grin as she unclipped the leash and let it tumble to the ground. It landed with a muck-muffled click!. The woman slid her hands down Mandy’s arms, gripping her wrists just above the manacles, and stood there, projecting that malign smile at Mandy and refusing to let her go. The smile proved too much for Mandy and her gaze faltered.
A sound began then, a continuous chittering, like a swarm of insects clambering over one another, agitated and ready to feed. From behind the blinding light emerged a thin line, another strand of darkness dripping down and oozing its way to the floor. As the shape became longer it began to twitch and jangle, and Mandy could make out absences in it, chinks where light shone through. It was a chain, made of massive, crudely formed links. A wicked hook dangled from the end like a scorpion’s sting.
The woman still holding Mandy’s wrists backed away, guiding Mandy towards the waiting hook. This new guidance was gentle, almost kind, and in its kindness Mandy found more pain and terror than she had experienced in the long walk dragged along by the leash. She dug in her heels to delay her arrival at the hook, but the thin layer of slime coating the floor bubbled up around her feet, forcing her to slide forward with little resistance.
They passed into light. Now engulfed in glittering blue glare, Mandy had a better view of the man. He wore rumpled green trousers, the cuffs tucked into sturdy laced boots. Over his narrow, hairless chest was draped an overlarge green coat, striped with brown patches and festooned with military insignia. From one bony, tapered hand hung a stunted, multi-stranded whip. Of the man’s face, Mandy could make out little besides shadow: the edges of a brow, the slope of a predatory nose, the oily sheen of slicked-back hair. There was the flash of teeth as his face split into a manic grin, and then Mandy was at the hook, her captor looping the thin chain of her manacles over the heavy hook.
Her task completed, the woman stepped clear of Mandy, as the chain once more rattled into the air, raining down a shower of rust-flakes onto Mandy’s upraised face. As the chain rose, taking Mandy’s bound wrists with it, a wave of panic crashed into her. Mandy’s whole body rose with the chain, her shoulders releasing audible pops as they were wrenched above her head. She now stood on the tips of her toes like a ballerina, dancing as she fought to retain balance. The rattling of the chain grew louder as Mandy struggled, but at last she found balance. Now tentatively standing, she took stock of her surroundings, her heart beating with such ferocity that it distorted her vision, making the whole of the lit area jump and recede in panicked bursts. The women were gone, disappeared into the shadows all around. The man, too, could no longer be seen, but Mandy felt his presence behind her, an intrusion of the outer shadows into this sanctuary of light.
Sudden pressure constricted Mandy’s chest, forcing her breath out in a whistling shriek. The gown tightened around her breasts, jerking her backwards from the chain and further wrenching her arms. There was another drum-roll of ripped fabric and she slumped forward, bouncing at the end of the chain as the back of her gown tore loose. Her breathing quickened as the chill air of the place rushed over her bare back, flowing in freezing eddies over the raised map of scars that crisscrossed her spine from shoulders to buttocks.
This last indignity, the exposure of her old wounds, was too much. Mandy looked up along the line of the chain, the white sun of the overhead lamp blinding her. She tried to blot out everything around her--the agony in her joints, the icy burn of the handcuffs scraping away her flesh, the impending threat of the man in the military uniform.
A shadow passed before her vision, and Mandy focused to see a gnarled black rod suspended before her. It was made of braided leather, cracked and worn, matted with filth and rotted human matter, slick with sweat and stinking of fear.
“Kiss it,” the man whispered in her ear.
After an instant of hesitation, she did so, first merely brushing it with her lips, then grunting as the man pushed the whip handle harder against her mouth. Her lips felt each strand of the handle as a cliff-face, the gaps between as canyons, filled with torment and depravity. Despite her horror at the thought of what the man would soon do to her, she could not help but feel a stirring of passion deep within her core. Words seemed to be written in the handle, encoded in the braided thongs like a message from a yearning lover, read by her quavering lips: “This will hurt, but you will enjoy it.”
The handle rasped against her cheek as the man pulled it away, and Mandy closed her eyes in anticipation of what was to come, wishing it would not happen, and yet yearning for it to begin. She admitted to herself now that she had always yearned for it, ever since her captors had first come to take her from beneath the yellowed bulb of her private cell. Her denial of the pleasure she had felt as they clamped her into the collar and dragged her to this place to chain her up had been an act, a coping mechanism to distract her, to heighten the coming pain.
From behind her came a grunt of concentration as the man gathered his strength for the first blow, followed by the choral whistling of the whip’s tail as it cut through the air. Mandy tightened her eyelids, seeing a burst of abstract shapes and dark colors, and waited in eager anticipation for the coming pain as the whip cut through her flesh.
Kandi Samples looked up from her cell phone at the first dull crack of the whip across Mandy’s bare shoulders. Back at the set, the “unfortunate victim” writhed under the force of the blow. Writhed a little too much, perhaps: the overhead light shook, appearing on the verge of toppling and injuring their lead actress--or worse, blowing the shot. Kandi didn’t want to go through the rigmarole of leading Mandy back out of the cell and into the torture chamber again. Besides, the dress was already ripped; there was no room in the budget for another. This shot was all they had, come what may
A second blow lashed across Mandy’s back, the whip landing wide and spraying droplets of water from its ends as it impacted. The whip was wet, had to be wet, to give a little more visual pop to every blow; how else would the folks at home know the hit had been real unless there was some kind of visual cue? A swung whip and its resultant crack could easily be faked in post, and the modern audience was far too sophisticated to put up with that shit.
Kandi returned to the text she had been writing to her fiancée. As she did so, she readjusted her corset; damn thing always started shifting around when she wore it too long. Beside her, Shannon Sweet, leash still draped over one shoulder, was sucking down her second cigarette of the day, in flagrant disregard for studio rules.
The sounds of the whip-cracks, interspersed with Mandy’s sobs and tremulous, orgasmic moans, continued for some minutes. At long last the constant wet snapping fell silent. There was a dramatic pause, and the man on set spoke. “So... beautiful...”
That was the first cue. Kandi switched off her phone, stuffed it down her cleavage and stretched, readying for the second cue. Her leather shorts--okay, really they were little better than panties--creaked as she moved. The off-set gloom brightened with a bloom of orange as Shannon sucked harder, trying to finish this last cigarette--her own preparation for their return to the set.
The man was stroking Mandy’s back now, his fingers moving in precise gestures to avoid touching the torn and oozing red welts. This man was a professional, but there were certain bodily fluids even he was unwilling to contact. “Count down from five,” he said, “and we’ll be... finished.”
Mandy whimpered as the man pulled back his arm, and then the studio filled with the sound of the whip cracking over her back. Water sprayed from the ends of the whip, adding to a spray of sweat from Mandy’s drenched hair. As the sound echoed and faded, a lady wielding a hand-held camera sidled around to capture her face. “One.”
Another blow landed, impossibly louder than the first, and Kandi flinched, unable to imagine how much that must have hurt the unfortunate woman dangling from the chain. “T--two...”
Tears began to trace down Mandy’s cheek, mixing with her prodigious sweat and cutting through the flecks of blood spattered by the flailing whiptails. The camera lady edged in closer; this was why the folks at home would be watching. A third blow landed, rocking Mandy and bringing her momentarily into the air. “Three!”
The orange glow grew brighter still, then dropped to the floor and was occluded by Shannon’s foot. Kandi turned to look at her, body still clenched in preparation for the next blow, and found Shannon standing easily, her legs spread in a relaxed pose and her arms crossed over her chest as she calmly watched the beating continue.
The whip crashed again, bringing with it a howled, “Four--r!” Kandi bit her lip and looked away, ready for this day to be over; Shannon tilted her head from one side to the other and blew out a smoke-stained breath.
There was a final, jarring whip-crack, the loudest of them all, and for a moment Kandi felt disoriented by the lack of any flash of lightning. She looked back up to the set, where Mandy hung limp from the chain, her shoulders bulging as the joints threatened to dislocate, her feet curled uselessly beneath her. She wasn’t moving.
Fighting against long-held instincts, Kandi lunged forward, heedless of any cues or ruining the shot. This wasn’t right. Shannon’s unconcerned hand on her shoulder held her back though, and as she watched, Mandy shifted, pulling her head up just enough to whisper, “Five...”
The man stood back, breathing heavily, and the camera operator looked up from her viewfinder long enough to beckon for Kandi and Shannon to come ahead. Shannon stepped out at once, falling back into the easy, hip-swinging stride she had used as they dragged Mandy through the set. Kandi followed more slowly, taking short, mincing steps forward, trying to get her head back to where it had been before the beating commenced. She tried doing her sexy-walk, but it just wasn’t coming out right.
She finally got back into the swing of things just as she entered the cone of light. The chain rattled as it was lowered, and Shannon gripped Mandy around the waist, holding her as her arms ceased to keep her upright. Kandi sidled into view, leering down at Mandy’s upturned face, and unhooked the manacles. They spread apart, to let Mandy be the first to walk out of the shot, but she was a bit too out of it for locomotion just now. At a surreptitious nod from Shannon, Kandi again came close, taking some of Mandy’s dead weight. Together, they led the battered, broken woman out from under the light.
In stark contrast to the dim and frankly hellish warehouse outside, the makeshift editing suite was located in a small office, its wood-paneled walls lit by warm overhead lights. Lights contained in actual fixtures, not bare bulbs dangling in the darkness. Though the flat blue carpet was worn and the ceiling tiles were stained by endless ages of nicotine-laced smoke, the room was comfortable. Hell, any room would be comfortable compared to what happened on the other side of this wall.
Sitting at the fiberboard card table that served the space as a desk was Jonny, the production’s director, sound guy, editor--just about everything short of star. And there was no way he could be the star: he was a young man, little more than a kid really, wiry both of body and hair, done up in tie and dress shirt, his eyes lost behind thick glasses. Definitely not what the folks watching at home would want to see. Well, at least not the folks watching this production; there were bound to be folks looking for someone like him. There were folks looking for anything.
Jonny was hunched over an antique Apple notebook, busily dragging files from the attached camcorder onto the desktop, when Shannon Sweet walked into the room, her once lascivious hip-swinging gait replaced by a simple end-of-the-day trudge. She leaned against the doorframe of the small room, glad for her near-open shirt as heat radiated from her body. Her clothes were dark with spreading patches of perspiration, and sweat slicked her hair back against her head, the result of a long afternoon spent transferring and torturing prisoners. “How’s it look?” she asked.
A sardonic grin was plastered across Johnny’s face as he shifted his attention away from the computer. “Like torture,” he said. His answer was followed by a world-weary sigh that belied his youth.
A sardonic grin of her own crept across Shannon’s face, undercut by some true mirth; the kid had obviously signed on before he had a solid grasp on just what he was in for. “It’s a Mandy Misery production; what’d you expect?”
Jonny frowned, a look that conveyed how much disgust he felt for the torment their star had been subjected to. “The check cashed, so I don’t really care.”
Shannon gasped in mock-surprise. “They wrote you a check? I got paid in cash.”
Her mockery was repaid by a squint-eyed sneer. “It’s a figure of speech.”
“Gotcha.” She pushed away from the door, standing upright, and patted at her damp shirt. “Anyhoo, I’m going to change, and then we’re hitting the road. If you hear about any more high paying gigs, give me a ring.”
Jonny had returned to transferring files, but he nodded. “One in Denver in about three weeks. I’ll let you know when I hear more.”
That sounded as though it had promise. Shannon mustered up some of the seductive charm she usually reserved for when the cameras were rolling and cooed, “Thanks, Jonny,” before turning to leave the room.
“Oh, hey, before you guys head out,” Jonny half-stood from his rolling office chair and raised one hand for attention, “could you tell Kandi I need to chit-chat with her real fast?”
Shannon made a flippant gesture with one hand, flapping her hand at the end of her wrist to let Jonny know she had heard him, but that she wasn’t making any promises. “Can do.”
Exiting the office, Shannon made her way down a dimly lit corridor, the last bastion between the real world outside and the realm of illicit fantasy she had spent the day inhabiting. Coming to an open door at the end of the hall, she peeked in to see two women in an unused office. One was the camera operator, a stranger Shannon had never before worked with. The other was Mandy Misery.
She had slipped the rest of the way out of her tattered gown and now wore a pair of black-and-white striped pants, but no shirt. With her back to the door, her full complement of scars, overlaid by a fresh roadmap of welts, was on full display. After years spent making a name for herself in the adult film industry, very little genuinely shocked Shannon Sweet any more. This woman’s back, though... there was more written there than the history of a career spent on the more extreme edges of porn. There was real suffering there, hurt and anger and disease, and--
Shannon stepped past the edge of the door before Mandy could turn and see her. It wouldn’t be very professional to start digging into her coworker’s past, even as a mental exercise. Continuing down the hallway, she went in search of Kandi to deliver Jonny’s message, while inside the room, the camera lady approached Mandy.
The older woman, grey-streaked hair escaping from a bun hanging against the back of her neck, extended a beige plastic tube of anti-bacterial cream. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go ahead and apply this now?”
Mandy shook her head, her freshly reinstalled nose ring glinting purple as it reflected the highlights in her hair. “I’m sure.”
That wasn’t enough to dissuade the camera lady. Again, she held out the cream, this time shaking it before Mandy’s face, like it was some kind of religious tract, the only thing standing between Mandy’s immortal soul and the fiery depths of hell. “You seriously should get this stuff on; your back is going to get infected if you don’t.”
It was obvious advice, something Mandy had heard plenty in the past, and didn’t need reminding of now. She hunched in on herself, ignoring the other woman, hiding her bare breasts behind folded arms and not lifting her gaze from the floor. There was no way she was going to use the cream, and the sooner her erstwhile roommate got that, the better it would be.
The camera lady got that sooner than Mandy had expected, certainly sooner than many past busy-bodies on past shoots had gotten it. There was a snap!, not unlike a miniature whip-crack, as the other woman closed the lid on the tube and placed it down on the room’s desk, amidst a strewn pile of Mandy’s wardrobe.
“Whatever,” she snapped, snatching up a windbreaker that might have been hers, though Mandy didn’t remember the woman brining in any accessories that morning. “Just trying to help.” The door swung in her wake as she stormed from the room.
Now that she was alone, Mandy relaxed, unfolding her arms and standing straighter. Small explosions of pain rocketed down her spine like a string of firecrackers as the first set of scabs ruptured and began to ooze fresh blood. She gasped as this fresh pain ripped at her, the fingernails of a lover scraping hotly across her back at the moment of ecstasy. Waiting for this fresh agony to subside she shuddered and slouched, gritting her teeth to keep from making any sound.
When at last she was in full control of her body, she crossed to the desk and retrieved the tube of ointment. For a moment she considered using it, of quenching the fires started by the day’s torture, then tossed the tube aside, unopened. There was no need for it. Instead, she dug her hands into the pile of clothes, looking for a shirt so she could finish dressing and get the hell out of there.
Kandi strode back into the warehouse, craning her neck to look in every door she passed, hoping to catch some trace of Jonny. It was a good thing Shannon had waited a few minutes before delivering Jonny’s message; had she been unable to change, Kandi doubted she would be kindly disposed to their director. The panic and disgust she felt in the aftermath of that horrid torture scene had clung to her in her corset and leather short-shorts. Now, wearing a filmy lace shirt over a flower-print spaghetti-strap top and--okay, yes, still short-shorts--she felt a little more human, a little more ready to carry on rational discourse.
Making her way through the empty hall, Kandi’s open-toed sandals whooshed across particles of grit as she trod over the swept concrete floor of the business-side corridor of the warehouse. A second set of footsteps, heavier than hers, entered the hallway, and Kandi turned to find Jonny passing through an office door at the end of a row of lockers. Looking up and catching sight of Kandi, Johnny hid something behind has back and took a tentative step forward.
Raising one hand to wave in greeting, Kandi forced a smile across her face. “Hey, Jonny; what’s up?”
Jonny shuffled closer, penguin-like, his eye-line shifting between Kandi’s face and the floor, a thin smile of his own wavering in and out of existence. “I, uh... got you something in honor of the last time we’ll be working together.” Eyes still downcast and smile well on its way to sliding from his face, Jonny thrust out the hand that had been holding behind his back and presented Kandi with a small beige lump.
Kandi’s face exploded into wide-eyed excitement as she took in the gift. It was a miniature teddy bear, little bigger than her hands. Its beady black eyes looked up at her, reflecting back the fluorescent light of the hallway and seeming to fill the space with a warm glow of normalcy. Stepping forward, Kandi cupped the little stuffed animal in her hands and brought it closer to examine in detail. “Oh, my God!” she said, her voice coming out as a happy chirp.
The smile returned to play around one side of Jonny’s mouth. “Gonna miss working with you.”
The bear was momentarily forgotten as Kandi shifted her attention back to Jonny. The kid looked so innocent just standing there, mere yards from where the day’s events had gone down. He really was too sweet. She crossed the space between them and held him in a tight embrace, patting his back with the smooshed teddy bear.
“If you ever--” he mumbled through Kandi’s shoulder, “--ever need anything, you let me know.”
She ended the embrace and they parted.
He screwed up his face into what he thought of as a serious, mature expression, which only served to emphasize how out of place he looked in his clean business suit. “You got that?”
“Thank you, Jonny.” Kandi held the bear up to cover her heart; Jonny’s offer, as empty as it might be, was genuinely touching. “I’m going to miss you so much.”
Now the smile that had been playing around Jonny’s mouth for the length of the conversation broke in full-force across his face and he laughed. “No, you’re not.”
Kandi echoed the laugh, though it was tinged with half-hearted regret. She darted forward to peck him on the cheek before retreating backwards down the corridor to the warehouse’s exit. “Love you, Jonny!”
When she was a few feet away, she turned and continued back the way she had come, focusing her mixed-up emotions about Jonny and this place down into the teddy bear still clutched in her hands. She was in the process of pushing open the door onto the gloomy, grey-streaked world outside when Jonny called her name. The door thudded back into its jamb as she let go and turned.
“Look, if things don’t work out with this guy, or you run into money troubles, or whatever...” He paused, searching for just the right words to get across his intent, then gestured to the vestibule in which Kandi stood. “...The door’s always open.”
Silence stretched for a moment, the quiet giving way to the low shriek of twisting metal as cars rotted and settled on the other side of the corridor. It ended with Kandi bowing her head in acknowledgement of the sentiment and saying, “Thanks, Jonny.”
Then, with a scraping of metal on metal and the rattling of poorly set glass, Kandi pushed through the door and left the warehouse behind.
Outside, in a parking lot made dark by a recent rain shower, the cuteness of the teddy bear worked its magic on Kandi and brought a fresh smile to her lips, relaxed and free from bittersweet memories. Holding the stuffed animal out before her as a token of her new life, Kandi crossed to where Shannon was leaning against her car. “I got a bear!” she called
Shannon took a long drag on her cigarette and raised an eyebrow. “You know those things fucking kill people, right?”
Fighting back a chuckle, Kandi considered the killer’s effigy. “Yeah, but they’re still cute.” She gave the bear a final squeeze before tucking it beneath one arm and crossing to the passenger side of Shannon’s blue hatchback.
Steam hissed as Shannon dropped her half-finished cigarette and ground it into the wet tarmac. “You ready to roll?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Kandi said, straightening from placing the bear atop the dashboard. She sketched out a mocking salute and began to climb inside. “Totally need to swing by and get some grub somewhere, though; I’m starving.”
Shannon nodded assent; it had been a long day, and she wouldn’t mind getting something to tide them over until they got to Kandi’s place. The driver’s side door was open and Shannon was about to slide in when she heard the clomp! of booted feet crossing the parking lot.
“Hey,” a thin voice said.
Inside the car, Kandi started.
Looking back over their shoulders, both women saw Mandy drawing near. Now dressed in borderline normal clothes--depending on the crowd--she still put off an air of desperation, as though she were standing there disheveled, having suffered some act of unimaginable cruelty. Which in fact she had. Frankly, it was a miracle she was standing.
“Where the hell did you come from?” Shannon demanded. By all semblance of human decency, Mandy should still have been inside, having her wounds tended to. Had Jonny finally let the paycheck get ahead of his morals? God, Shannon hoped not. If Jonny had kicked his star out early so they could end production and save a bit on rent, well... she wouldn’t be very happy about it. Not that she could do anything about if he had. Not that she would do anything.
Through all this silent fuming, Mandy didn’t speak, just looked down at the tangerine smear of her colored reflection on the blacktop. “You’re going to New York?” she finally said. There was no eye contact.
Shannon and Kandi shared a brief glance of mutual trepidation. “Yeah,” Shannon said.
“Any chance I can hitch a ride?” A pained rictus stretched out the corners of Mandy’s mouth; it may have been an attempt at a humble smile.
Shannon and Kandi shared a longer glance, running through a silent argument about why Mandy’s presence was not to be desired. The unsaid words were gentle and diplomatic on Kandi’s part, and rather cruder and unfiltered coming from Shannon, but the overall gist was the same: Sorry, go ask Jonny, if you need a ride.
At last Shannon spoke, hoping to convey her and Kandi’s consensus in a way that wouldn’t start a fistfight; Mandy had already been beaten enough today. “We were kind of hoping to hang out, you know, since Kandi’s retiring and all.”
At the mention of her name, Kandi offered up a little wave, giving her seal of approval to Shannon’s message.
Mandy looked between the two women, trying to figure out which one would be a better target for persuasion, and settled on the driver. “I can pay for gas for the entire drive.”
Shannon shifted her weight to the opposite foot and considered Mandy anew, as though seeing her for the first time.
There, that was a victory; not complete by any means, but a start. Perhaps a two-pronged assault would reap maximum reward. Mandy leaned down a bit so she was within Kandi’s eye line. “And food.”
Shannon and Kandi shared a third glance, the longest one yet, running another silent argument amongst themselves. When it was finished, all three women got in the car and drove away from the warehouse.