“Aw, mom!” The little girl's voice rose and fell with her shoulders as she slumped back in her bed. Drea slid the covers up and over the girl's chest, tucking the sides in slightly.
“Are we going to go through this, again?” Drea asked.
The girl nodded. Her sister, sitting on the bed across the room, was shaking her head while tapping away on her phone.
“Yes,” the little girl declared.
Drea sighed. “Okay, hit me with it.”
“Do you have to go?” the little girl asked, pouting and stretching out the words “have” and “go” much longer than was necessary. She used to cry at this moment, when she was younger. Now, even though she tried to work up some fake tears, she'd simply played this games too many times before. The well was dry.
“Do you like living in this amazing apartment?”
Four hundred and fifty square feet of fourth floor, one-leaky-bathroom, rat hot-spot, New York apartment shouldn't have been amazing, but the girl nodded.
“Do you like having delicious, gourmet food to eat?”
“The latest designer clothes to wear?”
“Yes,” the girl giggled.
“Well then, super mom has to go to work.”
The little girl sighed. Drea kissed her forehead, then kissed it again, and again, until the girl giggled again.
“Don't worry. You'll be asleep before you know it, and I'll be back before you wake up.”
“I hope you make lots and lots of money,” the little girl said.
“Me, too, sweetie. Me too.”
Drea left the room and turned off the light. The older girl followed her out.
“I love you,” Drea called as she closed the door.
“I love you, too, mommy.”
The door shut quietly. Her other daughter's eyes were waiting, mocking.
“It's getting better,” Drea said.
The girl shrugged and headed for the kitchen. Drea followed.
“I didn't want to tell Kayley, but Amanda can't come stay with you two tonight. She got called into a late shift to cover for someone.”
“That's fine,” the girl said. “I know how to lock the door.”
“Yes but do you know about stranger danger?” Drea asked, one eyebrow raised.
“And calling 911?”
“And stop drop and roll?”
“And vampires and aliens and werewolves?”
“I read all the Twilight books,” the girl said.
“But those books didn't talk about aliens.”
“I think I'll be okay.”
Drea smiled. Kayley, her ten-year-old, the sweet, selfless, protector of the cute and innocent would be asleep in minutes, without nightmares or twitching legs or even a trip to the bathroom to interrupt her angelic sleep. Tanya, her nearly fourteen-year-old, would be up late into the night texting her friends. Drea could see the pride in Tanya's eyes. Though she tried to hide it behind sarcastic responses and general nonchalance, Tanya felt proud that her mom would trust her to stay home alone with Kayley. She enjoyed the independence. She enjoyed the trust. And she respected the relentless hard work her mom endured to keep the three of them sheltered and fed.
“What do you think, around 3:00?” Tanya asked.
Drea nodded. She grabbed a duffle bag and shoved her purse into it before swinging it over her shoulder.
“Seriously, though, are you good?”
“Yeah, mom, I'm good.”
“Good. Text me if you need anything.”
Drea hugged her daughter and Tanya hugged back. She didn't always hug back, but today, Drea got both arms, medium squeeze, and Tanya's head pressed against her chest.
“You're so... awesome,” Drea whispered.
“I know,” Tanya whispered back.
Drea shut the door and waited to hear the two dead bolts lock and the chain slide into place before making her way to the stairwell.
Club Nero cast it's red light onto the rain-slicked sidewalks of seventh street, near Midtown. A few blocks in any direction would bring the viewer to newly remodeled building facades fitting of the twenty-first century, but Nero's owners had ignored the memo. Old, stained bricks, dirty sidewalks, and dingy metal framed eight foot windows. The windows were new, each in turn having been smashed by rocks, a man with a crow bar, and a drunk driver and his Chevy pick-up. The new shiny windows would've looked out of place, were it not for the beige curtains concealing what was going on behind them. Beige curtains illuminated by orange-red rim lighting drained any essence of glamour or elegance and replaced it with desperation.
Drea's duffle bag had switched shoulders three times on the fifteen-block walk. Now, squeezing in between patrons smoking outside, she carried it by the handles.
“Evening, Scarlet,” the bouncer said, grinning.
“Hey, Manny,” Drea replied, smiling back. The usual greeting. It ended there.
As she always did, Drea held her breath as she passed through the front door. She held it as she weaved through staggering drunks and waitresses balancing drink trays on frail arms. She slipped past each of her co-workers, not yet acknowledging any of them. She held her breath from front door to backstage, and once she was through the last curtain and the pulsing of the music softened behind two walls of separation, she exhaled. She let the breath out slowly, feeling her chest sink and deflate. She followed the exhale down to the end, until she had no more air to let slip, and then dropped her bag on a table and waited, eyes closed.
You can do this.
She held the exhale.
You can do this.
Eyes closed, she couldn't shut out the noise from the club. David was announcing the next featured dancer, Desiree.
Go get em, Dezzy.
“You're actually early.”
Drea opened her eyes and unzipped her bag. David was leaning against the door frame, the way he usually did. Drea's deep breathing exercises were, in part, to deal with the inevitable insult or back-handed compliment David would toss her way. She didn't think he meant to be outright mean with the things he said. He was a boy, trying to connect with the girls on the playground by calling them names or pulling their hair. She told herself that if he ever became more than that, if he ever crossed a line, she'd put him in his place.
“Well praise me when I'm dressed and ready,” she said, pulling out her cut-off gray Yankees shirt.
David was still standing in the doorway. Drea pulled her red shorts out of her bag and laid them next to the shirt. She watched David stay in the doorway out of the corner of her eye. She stared at her clothes, giving him a few seconds to do the right thing on his own.
He didn't leave. When she finally looked up at him, he was smiling.
“Well get changed, then,” he said.
Drea didn't smile back. David's smile faded. Some of the other girls would have taken their clothes off with him watching. Some of them would have enjoyed it. His mouth tightened and he looked for a moment like he might say something.
“Hurry, I need you behind the bar,” he said, and closed the door.
You can do this.
Two hours into the shift, Drea's mind was quiet amid the firestorm of noise and light in the club. Between reading orders on the computer screens, reading the lips of people screaming their orders over her bar, and juggling bottles and sifters and various glasses, linear time had disappeared. Now, at peak bar activity, there was only this moment: this pour; this shot; this idiot ordering another mojito. The fifth mojito, for the man and his friend, had Drea crushing mint and covering her finger tips in lime juice and sugar.
Yes, let me crush up some more fresh mint for you. What's that, the last one didn't taste like it had fresh lime juice in it? Are you Kim Kardashian? Are you Carrie from 'Sex in the city?'
As she passed the glass across the bar to him, another round of hoots and whistles rose up in the crowd. Drea knew before she looked up that it must be Shelley, most likely upside down near a full split at the top of the center pole. Always was a crowd favorite, and when Drea looked up, she found she was right.
“If you want to see how far that split can go, you know what to do, Shelley fans!”
David's voice in person made Drea cringe, but over the loud speaker it made her flinch. Even after three years here, it was still startlingly obnoxious.
Shelley's fans did know what to do, though, and with another round of whistles and cheers, crumpled dollar bills began to tumble onto the stage. With each wave of bills, Shelley would let her legs fan out a little farther. The crowd would roar and more money would fly and the legs would part a little more. Shelley's work as a dancer prepared her for the stage, but it was her work as a contortionist that took her act to the next level.
Here, in the peak of the show, Drea saw him. She'd noticed him walk in, noticed him talking to different women at the bar and on the dance floor throughout the night, but now, churning in the roaring screams of the crowd chanting for Shelley, Drea saw the man for who he truly was.
He'd finally found a young woman who let him say more than two sentences before walking away. Drea didn't recognize her as a regular. She was cute, blonde, petite. Drea thought college student. For some reason, the girl, a solid New York eight, didn't mind chatting with a middle-aged five.
The man said something that made the girl smile, and he turned and made his way to the bar. He raised a hand at Drea.
“Hey! Two Cosmos!”
He had his ID ready.
Drea twitched slightly before smiling.
Vodka, lime juice, cranberry juice, triple sec. Drea batted the ingredients around the bar. She didn't need to watch what she was doing. She was more interested in what he was doing. After ordering, the man had turned back to make sure his little college girl wasn't going to run and hide. She stayed there, grinning back at him and swaying to the music. He smiled back, his smile fading when he turned back to Drea.
“Tonight, please!” he barked, curling his index finger in the air between them.
Drea stopped. She'd started squeezing the lime but now, now she crushed it. She murdered it. She ended it, and the green, tangy blood ran through her fingers and down into the rest of the glowing red mixture.
She slid the glasses onto the bar and dropped in two lemon twists. The man tossed two twenty dollar bills across the bar and walked away.
Drea had served enough self-important men to let her boiling emotions settle to a low simmer. Those feelings, the frustration of watching men throw money around, of watching men puff their chests and their wallets at each other, those feelings rose and fell with a single breath. She could look out across the bar, or across the dance floor, and spot dozens of men acting in similar ways. Nothing special about that.
But this man, sliding back to little miss college girl, set off different alarms. He changed Drea's heartbeat, changed the way the world looked, the way it sounded. He brought everything down to a slow, clear movie, the way trauma can dull the noise of the insignificant flaws of life. She felt her heart slow, the beats thumping harder, deeper, a sledgehammer pounding molten steel into a dark, heavy anvil. She felt the crawl of electricity from her tailbone to the base of her skull, felt it charge up her ears, sharpen her field of view. Her feet felt heavier on the mats behind the bar, driven downward into the floor by a growing strength in her limbs, in her core. This man tripped the same wires Chad Blescoe had tripped in high school before his lawyer father had the date rape case dropped. This man tripped the same wires Mr. Finn, the girls' volleyball coach, tripped whenever he'd look at her, or any of the other girls on the team.
The same wires in Drea's mind her stepfather tripped.
She knew what was going to happen before she saw it. He was good, she had to admit. Most guys she'd seen try to drug the drinks of the women they were with were clumsy and obvious about it. But in the noise and chaos of the club, clumsiness didn't usually matter.
When another roar went up and Shelley's legs began to pass the 180 degree split, he made his move. He'd probably practiced it in his kitchen, moving quickly and decisively while trying to look casual. He supported both drinks with his left hand and flitted quickly in and out of his blazer pocket with his right. His hand then passed quickly over the drinks and then back to his side where he brushed it off on the side of his pants before switching back to one drink in his left hand, the other in the right. The tainted drink was in his left hand. It was all very smooth, very choreographed. Drea thought he may have mixed up the drinks at some point in his early trials and sworn never to do so again.
“Two Manhattans, please!”
Drea made the Manhattans without acknowledging the woman who ordered them. When the woman asked what type of bitters the bar used, Drea silently held up the bottle of Angostura. When the woman, already slurring her S's and holding her N's far too long, asked if that was a good brand, Drea nodded. The drunk woman wanted vocal responses. She wanted eye contact.
No eye contact.
Drea was still watching the man when the woman gasped her shock at paying twenty-six dollars for two drinks. The man combined the drinks in his left hand again, returning to his pocket. The drunk woman was still complaining as she stared into her wallet and tried to distinguish the different bills she discovered there. The man pulled a phone from the same pocket where his pill had been and thumbed at its screen. He raised a hand a nodded at little miss college.
He needed to wait a little longer for the pill to dissolve.
“Do you have change for a fifty?” the woman yelled, spraying a fine mist onto the bar and onto Drea's forearm when she sputtered “fifty.”
Drea took the money, dropped the change, and sani-towelled her arm off. Her eyes never left the man, who'd now sent a text to someone and was dancing his way back to the young blonde. Drea needed to get to the girl before she tried her drink.
“You're so pretty,” the woman said, grabbing Drea's wrist. “I want to be a pretty pretty bartender.”
Drea looked down at the hand on her wrist and then finally into the eyes of the poor, lonely drunk woman now shining wet, red eyes back at her.
“You are beautiful. Do you have any idea how many guys are looking at you right now?”
The woman stopped smiling. She sat on the stool and turned her head from side to side, looking for staring men.
“Don't look, you'll take away the mystery and... intrigue. Let them stare.”
The young woman smiled again and then started to cry. It was loud, open-mouthed crying, the kind of crying and the reason for crying only a young drunk woman can achieve.
When Drea looked back up, the young blonde and the man were gone. Her eyes scanned the bar, the dance floor, the stage. Nothing.
“Stay right here,” Drea said, prying the woman's hand off of her wrist, “I'll be right back.”
The woman cried “Thank you,” over and over to Drea's back as Drea walked out onto the dance floor. It had only been a few seconds but Drea cursed herself for each one of them. The man had brown hair and was wearing a blue sport coat and khakis. Now, to her left and right, sitting down and standing and dancing all around her, were men in dark sport coats with brown hair. Many of them also in khakis. She let her stares hang a little longer on each man now and tried to narrow her criteria: a man with wavy two-inch dark drown hair, bold eyebrows, and a hot young blonde girl at his side.
When a hand slapped her ass, she didn't turn around.
The music rose, driven by the finale of Shelley's show. Another cheer went up from the crowd as the lights dimmed and the center stage spotlights shined on the glitter paint on her twisting and spinning legs. She was preparing for her final drop, her legs above her head entangled around the pole, her arms supporting her below. In the darkness, four beats before Shelley's face-first slide toward the floor, Drea saw him. He'd found a small open table against the far wall to the side of the stage, and he and the blonde girl were sitting, their faces a few inches from each other, smiling about some shared secret.
The girl was more than halfway done with the Cosmo.
The heaviness rose up in Drea's chest again. The drugs would be making their way into the girl's system now, slipping into her blood stream and deadening her senses. Depending on the type and amount he'd used, the girl had maybe thirty minutes before she'd start feeling the effects.
Drea had a way of locking onto certain people, certain men. She'd always had it, an ability to sense darkness and feel it, even if she couldn't see it. She would be drawn to them, sometimes at distances of nearly a mile away.
She watched the girl suck the last of the drink from the glass, squinting and hissing against the burn of the alcohol. She watched the man smile at the girl's greediness, and watched him ask her if she wanted another. The girl nodded, wiping her mouth and bouncing with the music, and when Shelley dove down the pole and slid to a stop with her face only inches from the floor, the girl threw up her hands and screamed with the rest of the crowd.
The man joined in, whistling through his fingers.
Drea set her radar and felt a pulse ring back to her from where he was sitting. She would watch them and wait, and if he had drugged the girl's drink, and if he did plan to take her from this place and do something to her, the girl wouldn't go alone.
Two more dancers played through their acts. Violet, a rhythmic gymnast from Ukraine, was first, twirling red sashes around to selections of classic rock. Her act was somewhat hit or miss, a crowd favorite on some nights and almost completely ignored on others. Shelley had amped the crowd up enough that almost any act that followed hers would be cheered. The blonde girl loved it, waving her arms back and forth and telling the man, over and over, how much she wanted to do that.
When Violet was done, the blonde girl had maybe fifteen more minutes of her functional buzz.
Drea watched from behind the bar, checking the couple every few seconds and checking the time every few minutes. When one of the other bartenders stepped behind her, Drea reached out and pulled her in close.
“I'm going to need coverage for a smoke break,” she said. The other girl stopped and glanced over Drea's shoulders.
The girl looked back over Drea's shoulder and across the dance floor.
“You sure? Smoking is dangerous.”
Drea gave her a look and the girl closed her eyes, nodding.
“Let me know,” she said, and continued out into the maelstrom with her tray of drinks.
With Violet gone, it was Charity's turn. Charity had been at Nero's the longest, almost six years now. She was married with two children and she had, even up to nine months pregnant, danced for private parties. She represented the old school: no twirling flags, no pole tricks, no pyrotechnics or karaoke. She danced. She took off her clothes. She did the simple things well, and Drea had never seen her have a bad show.
Her music started, and David announced her.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I'm feeling... very giving. I'm in a giving mood tonight. You seem like good people. You seem like the kind of hard-working, down-to-earth New York heroes that deserve a little extra on your Saturday night. Is anyone out there feeling stressed tonight?”
A few hoots rose up from the crowd. A few hands went up.
“Is anyone out there feeling... over-worked tonight?”
A few more cheers and a few more hands went up.
“Is anyone feeling under-appreciated tonight?”
He had them, the cheers would continue to grow now.
“Oppressed? Distressed? Just feeling like an all-around mess?”
The cheers filled the space, overtaking the music. The mass of bodies began to sway back and forth, fists punching the air, screams floating up into the darkness around the stage.
“Well then please... allow me... to offer you... some Charity.”
The spotlight carved a white hot circle in the darkness of center stage. The circle of light was empty, but its glare illuminated the outline of a figure walking slowly toward it from backstage. The music built from nothing, and the crowd rumbled. Every step the figure took brought the cheers higher, louder, more crazed. The DJ began the faint hint of a baseline and the cheers roared. Just as the figure reached the spotlight, and just before her foot slid forward and shined in the glory of the light, the music cut out and the spotlight died. Most of the lights in the club went out, as if someone had cut the power. The cheers slowed into hushed gasps and murmurs. The crowd let out a collective “Awww,” at their disappointment. After making them sit in their confused silence for a few seconds, David's voice returned:
“Ladies and gentlemen... Charity!”
The spotlight beamed suddenly back on, holding Charity in bright and shining stillness. She was white marble, Greek goddess perfection, and as the first hard beats boomed from the speakers and Charity shifted through her first three poses, the crowd lost its collective mind. The dance floor ignited, the churning arms and legs and whipping hair and drunken screams like a sudden blaze, a field on fire. In that moment, all eyes turned helplessly to Charity as she moved, and for a few seconds, even Drea succumbed to the power.
When she looked away, her fellow bartender was staring back at her, motioning out into the chaos. She was pointing, her mouth closed, her brow furrowed. She was pointing to the man at table forty-two. Drea knew before she looked up that he was gone.
The girl was gone, too.
Drea threw the small bar apron onto the counter and ran to the table. The man and girl were gone. She looked left and right but everything was a sea-swept twisting coral of flashing lights on writhing arms. She would have trouble seeing them even if she were standing next to them. She stopped, closed her eyes, and waited for the pulse.
Slowly, the music died down, the cheering and chanting faded, and the sensation tingled in her gut.
He was behind her.
Drea turned. She didn't see the man, but she felt him. She pushed her way through the crowd and scanned back and forth. Not at the standing tables, not at the lines to the bathrooms. She felt another pulse and turned, toward the front door.
They were outside.
Drea ran to the door and broke through to the sidewalk outside, nearly falling into the street. Manny stood from his chair at the door.
“Drea? You alright?”
She nodded, scanning both sides of the street in both directions. Manny asked her if she was looking for someone and she waved him off. She saw the man. She saw the back of his head, and the back of the blonde girl's head. They were in a taxi with its blinker on, and as she ran toward it, the taxi pulled away.
When the man had given her his ID, Drea had looked at his address. She developed this skill, memorizing the address of any guy that sent even a tiny blip to her darkness radar. Blue blazer man had, along with about a dozen other men that night. For a moment she doubted herself, but when her own taxi pulled up and she closed herself in, she said what she thought with confidence:
During the drive, Drea couldn't believe she'd let herself get distracted enough to let him slip out. Now she was chasing him in a taxi to an address on his driver's license. She didn't even know if that's where he'd be taking the girl, and she had been caught off guard enough that she rushed out of the club still wearing her tiny red shorts and her extra small, cut-off gray Yankees t-shirt.
Did she remember the apartment number?
In the elevator, the girl hung an arm around the man's shoulders, giggling at how tired she felt. Her head wobbled back and forth as her sentences got shorter and her eyes stayed closed a little longer at each blink. He held her up by her waist, counting the floors, and wondering if he should stop on an earlier floor and walk her around a little longer. They were usually silent and nearly unconscious at this point.
But when the elevator dinged at the tenth floor, he stepped out. The girl was silent except for a few low moans, and by the time the man turned the key in his apartment door, he was fully supporting her weight and she wouldn't say another word for the rest of the night.
The man closed the door behind him and locked it, also sliding the bar latch into place. He stopped, listening in the darkness. The apartment was silent, and he dragged the girl through another doorway and clicked on the light. It was a small bedroom, sparse decorations around a large, made bed. He laid the girl down and lifted her feet up. He clicked on a bedside lamp, which gave off a low, reddish-orange glow, and then he stepped to the doorway to turn off the main ceiling light and shut the door.
With only the low lamplight, the room was nearly dark again. The girl's body reflected a hint of the red lamp glare, and he watched her chest rise and fall as she breathed.
“Well, we're finally alone,” he whispered. “Can I get you anything?”
He stepped to the edge of the bed and let his hand hover over the girl's legs. He watched the faint shadow roll across the skin of her calves, over her knees, and up her thighs.
“What would you like to do now?”
He mumbled and sat on the bed near her feet. He took her left foot in his hands, running his fingers along the edge of the red heels, down to their pointed tips. He slipped the first shoe off, then the second, and set them on the floor at the foot of the bed, side by side and perfectly even.
“There, is that better?” he whispered, pressing his thumbs into the bottoms of her feet. “You're probably ready to get out of that dress. It looks so tight, that can't be comfortable.”
The man let his hand hover again, and watched the shadow slide up her thigh. The shadow sharpened when his hand descended, and reached its darkest when shadow and hand merged. The man shuddered when he felt her skin. He let out a long breath, like a final decision was being made.
Whatever the decision had been, he wouldn't be allowed to act on it. A hand reached out from the darkness behind him. He hadn't heard the bedroom door open, or heard the balcony window cave violently inward. He hadn't heard the footsteps across the bedroom floor before impossibly strong fingers seized him by the neck and hair and pulled through the air and onto his back.
Any scream or gasp he tried to let out died as he hit the ground. The thud took his wind and replaced any battle cries or calls for help with guttural moaning. His fingers reached out for something to hold, for stability, but the hands dragging him ripped him free of everything. His arms bounced off of the bedroom doorway, scraped along the hallway walls, and ricocheted off of a desk in the living room with a thunk. The pulling stopped once he was on the living room carpet, and as he was regaining his breath and about to speak, a foot slammed down onto his chest and kept him moaning for air.
When his hands went up in front of his face to shield him from his unseen attacker, a hand snatched his wrist and twisted. The base of his radius and ulna snapped in succession, and before he could groan out the beginnings of a scream, a hand slammed down over his mouth.
“Don't speak, it's time to listen,” the voice told him. It was a voice he'd heard earlier in the evening, though he didn't remember it now. Drea kept her hand over his mouth, the other clamped around his already swelling wrist, and brought her face down to a few inches from his. He was squinting from the fear and the pain, and when his eyelids cracked and he saw her face, he shut his eyes again.
“Is this your thing, Michael Polk? You drug girls and bring them back to your apartment and rape them?”
Michael squinted harder, moaning and trying to shake his head back and forth.
“Oh no? That's not your thing, that's not what's going on here?”
Michael's breath returned and he screamed into Drea's hand. She increased the pressure to let him know he should calm down, but she felt a hard click in his temporomandibular joint so she let off a little. She didn't want to dislocate his jaw.
“Michael, it feels like you're lying to me. Are you lying to me?”
He shook his head against her hand.
“Is there an unconscious girl in your bed?”
Michael gasped and writhed under the pressure of Drea's shin across his chest. He planted his feet and tried to lift his hips and bounce her off of him, but her pressure was more intense than he could understand. The woman on top of him couldn't have weighed more than one hundred and thirty pounds, but his bucking and twisting didn't move her a bit. There might as well have been a car parked on his chest, and he shook his head and screamed into her hand again in desperation.
“Wait, there is not an unconscious girl in your bed? Is that what you're saying? Because I'm pretty sure I was just in there looking at her. Are you saying I'm crazy, that I'm seeing things?”
Michael didn't respond. He tried to move his wrist from her grasp and immediately regretted the decision.
Drea shook his head and drew her face closer to his.
“Michael Polk, I need you to focus!”
Another pop from his wrist caused his body to shake beneath her. His cheeks puffed out under the pressure of another muffled scream, and the fiery hatred burning in his eyes slowly faded as tears welled up and the hatred gave way to helplessness.
“There you are, I knew you'd come around,” Drea said. “Now, let's try again. Do you like to drug girls and bring them back to your apartment so you can rape them?”
Michael closed his eyes. His eyelids forced a stream of tears down each cheek and his screams became sobs under Drea's crushing hand. Despite the sobs and his closed eyes, his nodded.
“See, doesn't that feel better, telling the truth? I think lies are just the worst. Now I have to admit, I was kind of hoping you would bring little miss blonde college girl back to some rape den with lots of other special men like you. It's kind of a hobby of mine, stopping people from doing things they're not supposed to do. But since it's just you here in your swanky little apartment, maybe you can help me. I'd love to talk to others like you. I'd love to share this conversation with others who might benefit from it.”
Michael didn't nod or shake his head. He closed his eyes again, spilling more tears.
“Oh, you do know others, don't you? Jesus, how do you freaks find each other? Bridge Trolls dot com? Worthless trash dot org? Ugh, it's gross to think about it. So here you go, tell me about the others like you and I won't drop you the ten stories down onto the pavement below.”
Michael kept trying to shake his head, trying to scream, trying to wriggle free. He wasn't getting the message, wasn't learning the lesson. Drea planted her feet and hoisted Michael up by his neck. He choked against her crushing grip and flailed at her arms with his own. She walked him to the window and turned around so he could look out on the surrounding buildings and all that open air between them.
“It's a beautiful night to be outside. You'll have fresh air and a wonderful view all the way down. So what do you say, buddy? You want to tell me about the others like you?”
Drea froze. For a moment, she thought the figure standing in the hallway might be the college girl. But this girl was much smaller, wearing a Monster's Inc nightgown. She was younger than Kayley, maybe six or seven years old.
Drea dropped Michael without thinking. He collapsed on the floor and choked for air, grasping his badly broken arm and wheezing. The little girl was tired and confused and looked like she might start to cry. Drea knelt down and lifted Michael to a sitting position, her face just behind his.
“You drug and rape women with your daughter in the next room?” Drea hissed into his ear. “Tell her you're fine, that everything's fine, do it now.”
“Hi, sweetie,” Michael said, the words rasping through a damaged voice box. He called her sweetie, something Drea called Kayley. Now, hearing him speak again, hearing him lie again, with her hand on the back of his neck, Drea found it very difficult not to pull his head off and throw it screaming into the night.
“Daddy are you okay?” the little girl asked.
“I'm fine, sweetie, daddy is fine.” He coughed again, cleared his throat.
“Anyone else home?” Drea whispered.
Michael shook his head and mumbled “no.”
“Who is she?” the little girl asked, rubbing her eyes.
“This... this is a... friend of daddy's. She is helping me with my arm because... I hurt my arm. I'm sorry, honey, did we wake you up? Were we too loud?”
“I'm thirsty,” the little girl said.
Michael looked sideways at Drea. This was his chance, his opening. Drea couldn't believe a man like him, a predator, a rapist, would bring drugged girls back to his home, back to where his daughter was sleeping. She thought about the things he'd done in the room across the hall from his little girl's room. She thought about the fact that he'd left his tiny daughter home alone to club stalk his next victim. Her grip tightened around the back of his neck.
“Do you want some water?” Michael asked. The little girl nodded. Michael went to get up and Drea pulled him back down. He winced at the pressure.
“No, no, you stay here and rest. I'll get it,” Drea said. She stepped to the kitchen and opened two overhead cabinets. The second had cups and she grabbed a small plastic cup with Cinderella on the side.
“Cinderella okay?” Drea asked, holding the cup out for the little girl to see. The girl nodded, and Drea took it to the refrigerator and filled it halfway.
“What's your name,” the little girl asked, taking the cup.
“My name?” Drea asked, shuffling quickly through a mental list of decent names. “My name is... Carly. What's your name?”
“Stephanie. Stephanie Polk,” she said, taking long gulps of the water.
“How old are you, Stephanie?”
Stephanie was still drinking, but she held up five fingers, and then two more.
“You're seven? Wow, that's amazing,” Drea said, looking back at Michael. She imagined him holding seven fingers up, and she imagined breaking every one of them.
“Seven and a half. My birthday is in October!”
“My birthday is in October, too,” Drea said, lying again. “Only the coolest people were born in October.”
Stephanie nodded with a smile. She finished the water with a satisfied sigh and handed the cup back to Drea.
“Thank you, Carly.”
“You're welcome, Stephanie. It was nice to meet you.”
“Goodnight, daddy. I'm glad Carly is fixing you.”
Michael had started going into shock from the broken bones. He tried to return the goodnight but it caught in his throat and he coughed again, waving to Stephanie instead of speaking. Stephanie walked back to her bedroom door and waved at Drea before closing it behind her.
Drea walked back to Michael and knelt down next to him. He flinched away from her when she reached toward him, but her hand rested on top of his head and didn't slam anything or or squeeze anything or break anything. She slowly, gently, grabbed a handful of his dark brown hair and made sure his face was turned toward hers.
“Well that is a surprise. Your daughter, Michael? You bring women back to the apartment you share with your daughter and you rape them?”
“Please,” he said, starting to cower again.
“I'd just... really like to hear the why. Give me the why, Michael. Why?”
“Please, I don't know why...”
Drea jerked the hair back and forth before bringing her face closer to his.
“Why, Michael? Right here, right now, right on this funky beige floor, you're going to tell me why.”
“Why? Why? There is no why...”
Another jerk of his hair got him crying again.
“I don't know, I don't know!”
“Yes you do, Michael. You know. You know. So tell me.”
“Tell me, Michael.”
“I don't know...”
“Michael, I'm getting angry.”
“I don't know.”
“I'm getting angry, Michael. I do weird things when I get angry.”
“You don't understand...”
“I want to understand, Michael. I really, really want to understand.”
Drea stared at him. She watched the tears form around his lower lids and streak down his cheeks, again. He started to blubber and sob.
“I'm weak, alright? I'm worthless and weak and I'm nothing. I'm nothing, is that what you need to hear? I've been nothing since my wife died. Cancer took her from us and left me with bills and a little girl and nothing. What am I supposed to do with that, huh? I have a dead wife and a daughter who needs me and I'm empty inside and what am I supposed to do? Women don't want to have anything to do with a guy with a kid. So I... I just wanted to...”
Michael lowered his face onto his hand. It worked fairly well to stifle the sound of his crying.
“I just wanted to pretend. I drug the girls and bring them here and... they're asleep, they don't even know... I'm gentle, I'm really gentle, and I just...”
“Okay, you're right. You're right, Michael, I don't want to know. Don't say another word. Here's what's going to happen next. I'm going to go get little miss college blonde. I'm going to take her home. We're going to leave and you are going to go to sleep and tomorrow when you wake up, you're going to get Stephanie to school and you're going to go to work. You're going to work and make sure she gets to school and you're going to give her a good life. You're not going to drug any more girls. You're not going to bring any more girls back here. Are you listening, Michael?”
Michael nodded quickly.
“Are you hearing me?”
He nodded again.
“You're lucky you have a daughter. It's unfortunate that she has you, but you're going to be better from now on. You're going to be better from now on for her, aren't you?”
Michael nodded again, slower now, letting his head sag and his eyes close at the end.
“I'm sorry,” he said.
“You would've been sorry if that little girl wasn't thirsty.” Drea grabbed his hair again and shook a whimper out of his mouth. “And you will be sorry if you ever even think about touching another unconscious woman again.”
Drea rose, wiping her hands on the edge of the nearby couch. She stepped to the hallway and turned back.
“Michael... you better hope I never see you again.”
She opened the door. A moment later she appeared again, the girl's body cradled in her arms.
“I'll be watching you,” she said. As the door closed behind her, the glow of Michael's cell phone illuminated his face. He coldly wiped the tears from his eyes and cheeks and sniffed hard once. He pressed 'send' and held the phone to his ear. When a voice answered, Michael's voice was level and calm again, demanding in its deep simplicity.
“I think I have something for you,” he said. The voice responded quickly. “Right now,” Michael replied. The voice responded and was about to hang up when Michael cut in:
“Also, could you send Dr. Hong up? Tell him right radial and ulnar fractures, possible carpal displacement.”
Michael ended the call and pocketed the phone. He looked over his shoulder at the sprawling night skyline beyond and smiled.
Tonight might be a success after all.
No one shared the elevator with Drea and the girl. No one was in the lobby on the ground floor. There was a front desk, but no one seemed to be manning it. Drea was considering this when the prongs from the tazer pierced her shirt and skin. The voltage caused her body to seize and jerk to the left, most likely drawn by the extra weight of the girl's legs. They slammed into the wall and the girl dropped, crumpling against the wall and then falling onto her back. Drea steadied herself and reached for the prongs to tear them out as the second set hit her from the side. The duel electrical forces dropped her to her knees, then to her stomach, then onto her side in the fetal position. She looked up at her attackers through the blinding pain in time to see light glint off the edge of the syringe before it plunged into her neck. She felt the needle go in, heard the plunger squeeze the fluid into her jugular vein, and watched the world fade away as the syringe slipped out.
“Yankees,” a voice scoffed.
Then she was gone.