PART I – Darkness
The near future…
With her back pressed against the cold iron of the bar’s metal cage, Shay finally exhaled the breath she had been holding. Her lungs were begging for oxygen, but all she could draw in was one short ragged sip of stale air.
Jimmy raised a dark, bushy eyebrow in her direction.
“ ‘Sup with you?”
Without sparing him another glance, she walked over to the warped hard wood counter and started setting up her station.
“Drunken bastards tried to take me.”
“And that would have made me late,” she snapped at him.
“You’re late, you’re fired,” he grunted.
“Exactly.” Her jaw clenched.
His lack of concern didn’t surprise her. It wasn’t unusual for a man to strip a woman naked and force himself inside her – even if she had already refused. In fact, toward the close of every night in this putrid little establishment, right after the crowd had reached a fevered frenzy and just before the alarms blared a warning signal to announce the approaching dawn, several brutal violations might occur all at once. No one cared. No one stopped partying. Everyone pretended they didn’t see a crying, bleeding, naked woman crawling across a gritty tiled floor. And Shay was no exception. How many times had she turned a blind eye to the sight of weak arms flapping around, desperately seeking salvation from someone – anyone – only for that poor girl, whoever she may be, to realize, with what must have been sickening horror, she was all alone in a room crammed with people?
What did stun Shay was that, after all these years of working here, for one brief, unforgiving moment, she was stupid enough to think he might have cared even a little if something bad were to happen to her. Then it occurred to her. Nothing bad every happens. Anything goes. If there was no hope to balance despair, no rules to forbid depravity then everything was as it should be. Evil did not exist and violence was instinct…it was the air they breathed every moment…it was survival. So why was she so upset?
“Order up,” he said gruffly.
Dragging her thoughts back to the present, she slammed a shot glass upside down on the counter. A crackling sound signaled that she had probably splintered its rim. By the time she stomped her high spike-heeled boots toward the new arrival, her nerves had calmed somewhat. Remembering that she was standing behind the heavy rusted metal bars restored her sense of dominance over the chaotic atmosphere. No matter what, the bar was always secured. It’s valuable contents were to be protected at all times from the shitty riffraff that filled this dank and dismal place. The House had to ensure that no one robbed them of their precious supply of euphoria-inducing liquids.
Without looking up at the stranger standing on the other side of the counter, she reached for a glass. All drinks were served in only one size – small – so whatever he wanted was a perfect fit for the container she was grabbing for. Afterward she nudged her chin in his direction. When no response came, she was forced to look up. The last thing she wanted was to have to look into another pair of cruddy eyes, but since the cat ate his tongue and she didn’t have all night to learn sign language, Shay smothered her aggravation and gave him the attention he seemed to desire so much.
He held up a single finger. It was long and broad, and she was suddenly imaging what deadly arts he might be able to do with that stiff digit. But that wasn’t all that held her attention. Even under the twirling strobe lights she could see the faint tan clinging to the skin visible below the cut-off sleeve of his black fitted tee. Even though the shirt was grungy and ripped in all the right places, revealing teasing flashes of the corded muscles he was hiding beneath the thin material, it only served the purpose of making him look severely overdressed in a building crawling with nude bodies. She couldn’t see him below the waist, but she already assumed his manhood was probably also well-concealed. She, too, was dressed – in the barest threads – although she didn’t stand out as much as him, because it wasn’t out of the ordinary for bar staff to have on more clothing than guests.
She resisted the urge to study him further. Instead, she filled his glass with a tonic – a mixture of a mild aphrodisiac and tap water. It was the House special. If you didn’t specify what you wanted – and most people were too wasted to even slur a single word well before they arrived at this spot – that’s what you got. House special mandated by House rules. So chug up and get back to the usual groping and sexing.
After slapping the bottom of the drink onto the counter, Shay held up the scanner and waited for him to show her his wrist. Instead, he tossed two gold bits down. Another quick glance at him, directly into those scowling hazel eyes, and her sense of dread returned. His steady gaze revealed a self-discipline that kept his face stern and unrevealing. Her next move should have been to hit the silent alarm, but she didn’t. Without cat-like quickness, she reached out and discreetly scanned the three-striped bar code tatted on the wrist of the guy that was shoved uncomfortably close to the wastlelander’s right side. The dark stranger didn’t visibly exhale a sigh of relief, but she saw the hard edges of his eyes relax ever so slightly.
You’re welcome, asshole, is what she thought, but what she said out loud, clear enough so that he could hear her above the drone of the bass and drunken revelry of the club, was “Get out.” While you can, was how Shay silently ended that command.
He gave a barely perceptible nod then grabbed up his drink and turned to leave. A bang on the bar’s gate halted his movement and pulled Shay’s eyes toward the noise. Two patrolman were waiting at the entrance of the locked gate. Jimmy buzzed them in then nudged his head in her direction. Her eyes darted toward the man again. Who knows why she looked. For help? Out of frantic desperation, most likely. Since she had just done him a huge favor, she supposed she was hoping he might do the same for her. Cause a scene. Yell. Scream. Anything to give her an extra second to think of an escape. When patrol dragged you away, you were never seen again. At least, not alive.
To her surprise, in place of dark eyes, ice blue ones flashed at her. The stranger had vanished into the heavy mass of bodies that surrounded the bar. Her captor from earlier had taken his place. His cherry lips stretched into a sneer. Gotcha. That’s what his grim, slightly appeased, stare spoke to her.
Seconds later she felt the brush of massive, brick house bodies on either side of her. No escape. She never thought it would end like this. For some sad reason, she never thought it would end at all. Her granny had instilled such hope in her that she would be a survivor. That she would be one of the last ones to see the dawn again. Could is be so simple to steal her last dream?
A casual nod of his blond head in her direction sealed Shay’s fate. Take her, was his silent command.
Big hands wrapped around her thin upper arms, holding her in place before she could struggle against their brute strength, then a bolt of shocking electric stung the side of her neck.
Could it really be so simple? Her last thought before the end came. Darkness and silence followed her into the tunnel to nowhere.
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