As soon as Kira had calmed down from her beating, she was escorted to the dressing room to prepare for her night with Mr. Green. Her eyes were puffy and red and it was obvious to everyone that she had been crying.
“Are you okay?” Shelby asked, prancing over to Kira and plunking down in the chair next to her. “I heard you got taken to the punishment room.” Kira buried her face in her hands, trying not to cry again. “Oh, don’t feel bad,” Shelby consoled. “We’ve all been there at least once.”
Kira peeked through her fingers. “You have?”
Several women gathered around the make-up mirror and began telling of their experience in the punishment room. After hearing their stories, Kira felt a little better, like she had actually gotten off easier than the rest of them.
“It’s just Lucas’s way of maintaining control,” the Cher-look-alike explained. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“It’s how he protects us,” Shelby smiled, and Kira looked at her, wondering how someone could be that naïve. Abuse is not protection.
As the women dispersed, Shelby stayed next to Kira while they both applied their make-up. “So, where’s Audrey?” Shelby asked. “I haven’t seen her since Sunday night.”
“I don’t know. I’m worried about her.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry, people leave here all the time without saying goodbye,” Shelby quipped.
“Yeah, you said that once before,” Kira acknowledged. “My first day here you said that not many girls last very long downstairs.”
“They don’t,” Shelby shrugged.
“I wonder why,” Kira uttered, half with sarcasm and half as an attempt to keep Shelby talking, hoping a nugget of useful information would spill out.
“The only ones that have lasted are the ones that are requested by several clients, but the ones who have just one client are usually gone pretty fast.” Shelby applied a thick line of black eyeliner and then leaned in closer to Kira and lowered her voice. “This one client has gone through four girls already. It must take something really special to satisfy him,” she snorted and raised her eyebrows.
“What’s his name?” Kira asked, and as soon as the question left her lips she realized how stupid it was. The Candy Shop didn’t operate with real names so there was no way Shelby could know his name.
“I don’t know. Miranda never told me,” Shelby shrugged.
Miranda. Was it possible that Mr. Green was Miranda’s old client and that’s why she had attacked Kira in the hall that day? The thought made her shudder. Could it be that all of the girls that left were once requested by Mr. Green? “Do you remember any of the names of the girls who were requested downstairs before me and didn’t stay very long?” Kira asked nonchalantly.
Shelby took a tissue and blotted her lips. “Let me think. Before Miranda there was a girl named Christine, and then Misty. She was bright blonde, like me, only hers was real,” Shelby said with a pout. “But I think she was only here for one night.”
“That’s right,” the Cher-look-alike interjected, repeating their names as if she were trying to commit them to memory. “Wasn’t there a third one?” The Cher-look-alike prompted.
“Yes!” Shelby exclaimed excitedly, as if she’d just won at a bingo match. “Her name was Ilesia and she was super-hot. She had the most beautiful dark skin. Her complexion was perfect, like magazine perfect.” Shelby’s eyes sparkled as she described Ilesia’s beauty. “Everyone wanted her and then after she was requested downstairs she just disappeared.” Shelby shrugged. “I don’t know what goes on down there, but evidentially it takes someone really special to be able to handle it.”
“You ladies better hope Lucas isn’t listening in right now, or you’re all going to the punishment room,” a lanky red-head warned as she cinched a red satin robe around her waist and headed toward the costumes.
“What does she mean?” Kira asked.
Shelby lowered her voice to a whisper and leaned closer to Kira. “We’re not supposed to talk about what goes on downstairs. It’s one of the rules.”
“Lucas considers it a breach of security,” the Cher-look-alike added with what Kira thought was a twinge of disgust.
“He says women are prone to be gossips but his ladies are not to gossip,” Shelby clarified with a big smile. It was obvious that Shelby bought whatever Lucas was selling, hook, line and sinker.
Kira looked into the mirror and saw the Cher-look-alike staring at her. As soon as their eyes met, the Cher-look-alike quickly diverted her gaze and attention elsewhere, but the interaction made Kira take an eerie pause.
Dressed in a short sequined black, strapless gown and stilettos, Kira was allowed to skip Lucas’ drugging this evening. Instead, Ian escorted her directly to the bar in the Lair where she was told to wait for Mr. Green’s arrival. While the bartender mixed her a martini, she watched closely to make sure he didn’t slip anything into her drink. All the while, her mind churned over the names of the girls that had been downstairs before her; and she wondered if she should casually ask the bartender if he knew any of them. She glanced around the Lair, pondering exactly where the cameras and recording devices were hidden. If she were to speak to the bartender, she knew she had to be careful, as the last thing she wanted to do was end up back in the punishment room.
When the bartender placed the martini in front of her, Kira smiled and said, “Thank you.” Lifting the glass, she took a tiny sip. “This is wonderful,” she said, trying to strike up a conversation. “You’d be surprised how many bartenders aren’t able to make a good martini.” The corners of his lips curled slightly and he nodded as if to say thank you, but he didn’t speak. Kira took another sip. “You know what it is…” she swallowed nervously. “They put too much Vermouth in. That ruins the whole drink.” He looked up and for the first time they made eye contact. His brown eyes to her blue and for a moment she thought she saw softness behind his stare; but as quickly as she saw it, it was gone.
“I am pleased you like it,” he said as if it were a formal statement and not a genuine feeling.
“How long have you worked here?” Kira asked, aware by the shock on his face that she might be pushing the envelope.
“Since it opened,” he answered quietly.
“So, just a few months,” Kira stated matter-of-factly and then picked up her martini and slammed the rest of it in one gulp. “Can I have another one please?”
His eyes widened and Kira could tell that he could not have been more surprised. She took a little bit of pleasure in the fact that she was obviously not what he was used to encountering in the Lair.
“I’m new here,” she blurted while he mixed her second martini. “I know you probably knew that, but I just thought I’d put it out there.” He didn’t respond. “I never got to dance upstairs, which is ironically why I let Audrey drag me here to apply for the job in the first place. I love to dance. Well, I used to, when I was younger.” Kira couldn’t stop talking. She had suddenly become like a nervous Chatty Cathy doll. “My husband would kill me if he knew I even considered dancing again.”
The bartender set the martini in front of Kira and she felt his eyes studying her. “You’re still young enough to dance,” he said and then began cleaning the shaker.
Kira lifted the glass and took a sip. “You’re probably paid to say that,” she snorted, beginning to feel a little light headed from the effects of the alcohol.
“Probably not,” he rebutted and Kira saw a smile in his eyes.
“How old are you?” She leaned in closer. “Do you have a name? I mean, a name I can use? Because I have a name but no one can use it here. When I’m here I have to be a flower.” Her words slurred slightly and she rolled her eyes when she said the word flower. “I’m part of Lucas’ garden, ya know, but I’m probably more of a weed than a flower. Yeah, I’m a weed. Hey, do you have any weed? I remember smoking weed in college, that’s when I used to dance too. College was so much fun and life was so easy back then, wasn’t it? I think I thought coming here and dancing again would make me feel young and everything would be easier, like it used to be.” There was no question about it, she was drunk. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten and the liquor was going straight to her head. The bartender stared at her as if he were both horrified and intrigued by her babbling.
Ian entered the Lair without Kira noticing, at least until he came up behind her and placed his hand on her shoulder, startling her and causing her to shriek. “You’re not Mr. Green,” she said with a slurred pout.
“No, I am not,” he responded. “Mr. Green is unable to make it this evening. Landon will escort you home.”
Kira blew raspberries. “Don’t lie,” she spat. “Landon isn’t taking me home, he’s taking me to the Adam’s Mark, where he’s holding me hostage,” she announced while pointing her finger at Ian.
“If you are going to resist leaving, I will have you escorted out,” Ian threatened.
“A lady always needs an escort,” Kira sarcastically spewed, pushing Ian’s hands off of her. The next thing she felt was the tiny prick of a needle in the side of her neck and everything went black.
“Nice work,” Ian said to the bartender who was still holding the syringe.