Frank didn’t come home until after two o’clock in the morning and then he was up again and gone by six. He kissed Kira on the forehead before leaving and told her he would be working late again that evening. For the first time, this was good news, as she would be working her first shift at The Candy Shop. Later that day, Kira practiced dancing in front of a mirror, hoping she still had the right moves.
Arriving at the club, Audrey and Kira were re-routed to the employee entrance, which sat in a back alley between two big dumpsters. Ian escorted them to the dressing room, where he handed each of them a garment bag with their name on it. “Inside you’ll find your outfit for the evening, and your new identification. Please take a moment to review the information and convert it to memory,” he explained. “Kira, as soon as you are dressed, Mr. Coronado would like to speak with you in the living room.”
“I wonder why he wants to see me?” Kira pondered after Ian had left.
“He probably doesn’t think you’ve got what it takes to be here,” Miranda chided, striding passed Kira and Audrey and sitting down in front of one of the make-up mirrors.
“She’s got more than what it takes,” Audrey defended. “Wait until you see her dance.”
“Oh, she won’t get to see you,” Shelby said, bouncing over and fluffing her long blonde hair. “Miranda only does private meetings downstairs. She’s got this one super-duper hot client and all he wants her to do is…”
“Shut up!” Miranda jumped to her feet and barked at Shelby.
Shelby’s eyes grew wider. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was a secret.”
“Well, it is, so shut up.” Miranda huffed out of the room.
“What’s wrong with her?” Audrey asked.
Shelby lowered her voice. “She’s in love with her client, like totally ga-ga over him, but he hasn’t touched her yet.” She shrugged. “I told her maybe he’s gay, but she swears he’s not.”
“Are men allowed to touch us?” Kira asked, alarmed by the prospect. Dancing was one thing, but touching was quite another. Kira had no desire to betray Frank’s trust or be unfaithful to their marriage.
“They can’t touch you upstairs, but I don’t know what the rules are downstairs,” Shelby replied. “I know there’s a high turnover rate downstairs, though. Most ladies last a week or so and then they’re gone. They just never show back up for work. Miranda has stuck around the longest, but it’s only because she’s in love with this guy. She won’t tell me what goes on down there.”
Audrey pulled Kira to the side and whispered in her ear. “Yesterday, when I said I had to use the bathroom, I sneaked downstairs to get a peek.”
Kira’s eyes widened. “You could have gotten caught,” she gasped.
Audrey shrugged and rolled her eyes. “Anyway, it’s really dark and there’s a bar and individual rooms.”
“Bedrooms?” Kira whispered.
“I think so. I couldn’t see inside the rooms because all of the doors were shut.”
A dancer with long black hair strode passed in a bright blue sequined G-string. “You girls better stop your yappin’ and get dressed,” she scolded.
“Thanks Cher,” Audrey mumbled sarcastically, so only Kira could hear and they both giggled. The woman did have an uncanny resemblance to Cher.
Unzipping her garment bag, Kira looked at the outfit Mr. Coronado had chosen for her first night and breathed a sigh of relief. It was classier than she had expected. It was a black sequined mini-dress with black stiletto heels and thigh-high black hose. She was instantly intrigued by the fact that everything fit perfectly. Before she had time to open the white envelope which contained her new identification, Ian poked his head into the dressing room and motioned for her to follow him.
“Mr. Coronado has been waiting for you,” Ian sounded stressed. “He doesn’t like waiting.”
“I’m sorry,” Kira uttered breathlessly, following him out of the dressing room, down the long red hallway, up the staircase and through the double doors into the living room. Ian shook his head disapprovingly as he ushered her into the living room and then closed the doors. She saw Mr. Coronado standing near the windows, staring down at the stage.
Upon hearing the door close, he turned to face Kira. “How do you like the dress I’ve chosen?” He asked.
Kira glanced down at her outfit, noticing right away that she was still clutching the white envelope. “It’s beautiful. Thank you,” she blushed.
He turned his attention back to the stage. “Every night I watch my girls perform,” he spoke slowly, deliberately. “I see how they work the crowd and I study the demographic to which they most appeal. This helps me know when to schedule each performer.”
“That makes sense,” Kira said, still standing by the door and twisting her fingers around the envelope.
Turning to face her, Mr. Coronado scowled. “You look nervous. We need to give you something to take the edge off.” Kira didn’t know what to say, as a prickling sensation of fear crept slowly up the back of her neck. He slithered toward a bar which sat in the far right corner of the room, pulled out a stainless steel martini shaker and began cocktail preparations. Kira thought it odd that she hadn’t noticed the bar there yesterday and wondered how she could have missed such a prominent piece of furniture. It was large enough to seat three people, was solid black with a red marble top and had three black velvet stools sitting in front.
His eyes never left her as he shook the stainless steel shaker and poured a vodka martini into a chilled glass, finishing it with a bleu cheese olive. Setting the glass atop the bar, he told Kira to sit in one of the stools. “We’re going to Role play,” he said and she thought her heart was going to beat right out of her chest.
“Role play?” She repeated with hesitancy.
“Yes,” he grinned. “Most of the ladies I employ start on the stage and over time, they develop favorite clients who request them downstairs.” He lifted the martini and handed it to Kira. “I believe this is exactly how you like it.”
How did he know what drink she liked, not to mention her dress and shoe size? This was getting weirder by the moment. She wanted to ask, but he continued talking.
“You see, I start my girls off slowly.” He licked his lips and paused. “Have you ever received a big box of chocolate candy?”
Kira nodded and Lucas lifted her glass indicating she should drink. “You can’t eat the box all at once now can you?” He shook his head to indicate no. “You have to take bite size pieces.”
This story was making Kira crave chocolate.
“Every once in a while I have a client that will request a lady before she has started her stage training and this concerns me.”
“Like Miranda?” Kira asked, the martini helping her find the strength to speak.
“Precisely like Miranda,” he smiled and Kira was instantly reminded of the Joker again. “When this happens, I oblige the client by allowing the lady to bypass the stage and escort him downstairs, but I want to make sure that she is not trying to eat the box of chocolate all at once.”
Kira’s heart started to beat faster. Why was he telling her this? Why hadn’t he asked to see Audrey too?
“Now, I see questions in your eyes and trepidation on your face,” he said. “Sip your martini and I will explain.” Mr. Coronado moved around the bar and stood next to her, with his left hand on the bar and his right hand dangling by his side. Each time Kira set her glass down he picked it up and handed it to her. It was obvious that he wanted her to finish the entire drink. “One of my very best customers has requested a private meeting with you.”
“With me?” Kira gasped, choking on her martini and sending herself into a coughing spell. “No one even knows I’m here,” she said, once the coughing had subsided.
“The privacy of my clients is my utmost concern. I don’t ask questions. I provide services,” he replied poignantly. “You will meet with him this evening at 8:00pm sharp in the Lair.”
“The Lair?” Kira’s head was becoming lighter from the effects of the martini.
“That’s what we call the downstairs bar,” he clarified. “You will meet him at the bar in the Lair at 8:00pm.”
“Mr. Coronado?” Kira slurred, feeling suddenly woozier than she should have after only one martini.
“Lucas,” he interrupted. “You may call me Lucas.”
“Lucas,” she repeated, and then gripped the bar to steady herself on the stool. “I’m feeling dizzy.”
“Yes, that’s normal; the effect will level out in a few moments.”
“The effect of what?” Kira asked, aware that what she was feeling was not the alcohol.
“I gave you a special cocktail,” he winked, “to make the night easier and take the edge off.”
Under normal circumstances this would have made Kira angry, but suddenly she felt elated, like she was floating peacefully through the sky, hovering far above any negativity. She couldn’t stop from smiling as insecurity and inhibition melted away. She was high, wistfully higher than she’d ever been. Sliding her hand inside Lucas’s, she grinned, “So, where’s my box of chocolate?”
“Good girl,” Lucas stroked her fingers. “But before I tell you about your gentleman caller, I have to tell you about you.” He took the envelope that was still gripped in her left hand, tore it open and set the paper in front of her atop the bar. “While you are here, this is your name.”
Kira squint her eyes at the paper. It read: DAISY. She suddenly felt the urge to giggle. “Daisy? That’s a flower not a name,” she snorted.
“Yes,” Lucas said. “It is a beautiful, simple, demure flower having no thorns. It’s a flower that grows freely in the open.”
“I’m no Daisy,” Kira objected. “Why can’t I have a normal name, like Miranda and Shelby?”
Lucas appeared to be amused by her new found courage to speak her mind. “Miranda and Shelby have stage names as well. All of my ladies are named after a flower.”
“What’s Miranda’s name?” Kira blurted.
“Rose. Because she has thorns,” Lucas remarked and a flash of anger lit his eyes.
“What about Audrey?” Kira cleared her throat. “What’s her name?”
“Camellia, because her hair is the bright, red color of a camellia flower.” He said it with an air of pride, as if choosing a name for every woman meant he had somehow contributed to creating them, like each one was his personal masterpiece. Lucas stepped behind Kira and pulled the clip from her hair. “Your gentleman friend prefers dark hair to be worn down,” he said and placed the clip atop the bar. “Now, finish freshening up and meet Ian at the door to the Lair at 7:50pm and remember, don’t eat the whole box in one sitting.”
Upon returning to the dressing room, Kira was shocked to find Audrey in a bright red sequined G-string, bikini with white Go-Go boots. “Where have you been?” Audrey clucked when she saw Kira. “You missed all the excitement!”
“I had to meet with Mr. Corona…I mean, Lucas,” she slurred. “What excitement?” Kira couldn’t stop staring at Audrey’s outfit. She looked very seventies seductive.
“Miranda came rushing in here, screaming at the top of her lungs and threw her heels into the mirror,” Audrey explained, her eyes wide with drama.
“Yeah,” Shelby added. “She was dropping F-bombs like crazy and the bouncer had to carry her out.”
“What happened?” Kira asked, still feeling like she was floating above the ground.
“I don’t know,” Shelby shrugged.
“What did Mr. Coronado want with you?” Audrey asked, changing the subject.
“He wants me to meet a client in the Lair at 8:00pm, and I’m not supposed to eat all the chocolate,” Kira replied with no inhibition.
“Already?” Shelby gasped. “You must have been requested by someone.”
“How could someone request her?” Audrey barked. “This is our first night, and what chocolate.”
Kira shrugged, unable to stop smiling. “I don’t know. Weird, huh?”
Audrey studied her. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. I feel incredible.” In fact she felt so incredible that her smile seemed to stretch from one ear to the other.
“That’s what I mean.” Audrey crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “Who are you and what have you done with my best friend?” Kira giggled as Audrey grabbed her by the shoulders and stared intently into her eyes. “You’re stoned,” she blurted. “You’re higher than a frickin’ kite!”
Shelby leapt up from the make-up table. “We’re not allowed to use drugs,” she said, with her mouth agape and her eyes wide. “You’ll be in trouble if Lucas catches you with drugs.”
“We don’t have any drugs,” Audrey scowled at Shelby and then looked at Kira. “Do we?”
Still smiling, she shook her head to indicate no. “Lucas made me a martini to take the edge off,” she slurred.
“Son of a….” Audrey didn’t finish her sentence because Ian opened the door and announced it was time for Kira to head to the Lair. “She’ll be right there,” Audrey firmly told Ian and gave him such a glare that Ian quickly retreated and closed the door behind him. “Listen, Kira,” Audrey leaned closer. “You don’t want to do anything you’re going to regret.”
“Or anyone,” Shelby added with a snort and a giggle.
“That’s not funny,” Audrey scolded. “We were just supposed to come here to dance. That’s it.”
“Sounds like someone’s jealous that they didn’t get picked to go to the Lair,” Shelby sneered.
“I’m not jealous, I’m concerned,” Audrey replied.
“Don’t worry,” Kira said, “I’m gonna take bite size pieces and not eat the chocolate all at once.” Kira spun around and almost fell over from the dizziness and Audrey grabbed her before she crashed into a row of hanging costumes.
“Martini, my ass,” Audrey blurted. “He slipped you a Mickey.”
Kira giggled and broke into an off-key rendition of “Oh mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind…”
“You’re loaded,” Audrey moaned while Shelby joined Kira in shouting, “Hey mickey!” She then shrieked, “I love that song!”
Ian opened the door a second time and insisted that Kira follow him to the Lair. “I’ll be fine,” she assured Audrey and sauntered into the hallway behind Ian.
“I wonder if Lucas is going to give all of us chocolate?” Shelby said excitedly.
They were only a few steps from the entrance of the Lair when Miranda came rushing down the hall with the big, bald valet hot on her trail. Upon seeing Kira, she growled in a low, loud, raspy tone, screamed with fury and dove on top of Kira, grabbing her by the hair and pulling her to the ground. “You bitch!” Miranda screamed. “You think you can replace me?! I’ll kill you for this! I’ll kill you!”
Before Kira could utter a sound, the valet ripped Miranda off of her and dragged her down the hall, kicking and thrashing. “I’m going to tell everyone,” she screamed. “Everyone!”
Ian bent down and lifted Kira to her feet. “Are you okay?” He asked and then paused to look at her. “Aw, hell, you’re bleeding,” he blurted with a tone that indicated annoyance more than concern. “This is going to cause a delay.” He took what looked like a small walkie-talkie from his pocket and spoke into it. “We need medical attention, ASAP. Meet us in the living room.”
By the time Ian and Kira entered the living room, Lucas and two other women were waiting. One woman held a first aid kit and the other a make-up case. They rushed toward Kira and began working on cleansing and covering the deep scratches Miranda had left on her neck and shoulder, while Lucas and Ian stood in the corner speaking quietly.
Fifteen minutes and a new, un-torn pair of stockings later, Kira looked as good as new and was escorted back to the Lair entrance. “Your gentleman will meet you at the bar,” Ian said.
“How will I know him?” Kira nervously asked, the effects of her mickey-laced martini beginning to wear off.
“He’ll know you,” he replied matter-of-factly.
She was suddenly overcome with nerves. This wasn’t what she wanted. She had only intended to take the stage and dance again, not become some stranger’s sexual fantasy. She wrung her fingers together and fought the tears threatening her make-up. “I don’t want to do this,” she whispered to Ian. “I’ve changed my mind. I want to go home.”
Ian’s jaw tightened. “I’d hate to have to tell one of Mr. Coronado’s highest paying customers that he’s been denied the services he has so generously paid for in advance.”
“I came here to dance, not have sex,” Kira rebutted.
Ian opened the door to the Lair. “Then go inside and dance.” His eyes flashed with something Kira couldn’t identify. Was it anger? Fear? “Either you keep your appointment or we’ll inform your husband of where he can come to pick you up.”
Kira’s mouth went instantly dry and tears stung the back of her eyes. Frank could never know she was here or that she had ever entertained the notion of dancing again. He would see everything as a betrayal and it would crush him. “Okay,” Kira mouthed. “I’ll meet him but after that I’m leaving and never coming back.”
Ian gave a nod, motioned her through the door and closed it behind her. Chills darted up the back of her neck when she heard the click of the lock.