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11:00 PM

Nick guided us down the alley, his arm flung around Lucy's shoulders. She was supposed to be his accompaniment to the masquerade - a part of his disguise - as I was supposed to be AJ, going in to get Marisol for a night of passion.

I felt sick to my stomach.

"How am I supposed to do this without talking?" I hissed to Nick.

"Just don't," Nick said.

Lucy turned to look at me, "Or talk really low."

"Like this?" I asked, deepening my voice as best I could.

Lucy made a face. "No, Preston's right, just don't talk at all."

Nick made a smartass face and turned to a grimy metal door situated between two trash bins overflowing with God know's what. Dead bodies maybe? -- I mean, thats how bad it smelled. He took a deep breath - how he breathed through the stench, I'm not sure, although if his bus was any indication he was probably used to such rank odors - and knocked four times in a melodic way.

He glanced at me. "Now remember," he said in a low voice, "You're gonna see stuff in here your Kentucky upbringing never prepared you for..."

I blinked. "Things worse than a Japanese harem?" I asked, certain he'd relent and say no of course not because, I mean, what could be worse than a human-trafficked Japanese harem?

"Yeah-huh," he nodded, "A lot worse." I felt the color drain from my face and I started to respond but instead, Nick rambled on, "Just remember that you're AJ and this stuff isn't shocking to you..."

Goose pimples travelled up my arms.

The door opened and a blast of hot air - even hotter than that which was in they alleyway - blasted us in the face. Music thumped so hard inside it felt tangible. Colored lights leaked out over the huge, bulky form of the man who stood in the door frame. He stared down at Nick, Lucy and I. Yes, he stared down even at Nick. That's how freaking huge he was.

Of the three of us, his eyes lingered on me. He scoped out my Sharpie-enduced tattoos and my facial scruff and the jewelry they'd be dangled my fingers with. "You," he said, pointing at me.

"We're here to see Marisol," Nick announced.

The guy's eyes stayed on me for a moment, then turned to Nick. "She's in the back," he said, stepping out of the way.

Nick waved me and Lucy - who now seemed apprehensive - into the club. She clung to Nick's hand. I inched my way into their backs and followed into the thickly populated club - everyone had on masks and brightly colored clothes, and were packed so tight into the dance floor, which was below us as we were standing on a fire-escape-esque flight of stairs to the right of a large stage. On stage were -- ohhhhh my.

"What kind of place is this?" I demanded Nick, feeling my blood pressure rise and my heart rate quadruple.

Nick turned to look at me. Even Nick looked sickened by it now. "The kind of place you only go to if you're -- well, me and AJ, at our worst."


"Why are they doing that to a...a horse?"

I couldn't tell if Brian had turned green. The lights were disorienting me and the sharpie art work wasn't helping.

"That's nothing," I said. I pointed. "Look what they're doing to the llama over there."

"Why?" Bri sputtered. "Why would you ever want to see this? My eyes are burning. Burning. That poor llama. Poor, poor, little llama."

"When you're pumped full of drugs, this is golden," I said. I turned away from the stage. I couldn't look at it now without getting sick.

A girl (guy?) walked by, covered head to toe in feathers. Two girls and a guy followed at Big Bird's heels.

"Just be careful who you talk to here," I whispered. "It's more than rumor that a lot of drug deals are done and shipments get pumped out through here. The back of this place faces the water. There isn't a loading dock there for nothing."

Lucy's grip on my hand tightened. I couldn't help but notice that she had small hands. Small, warm, squeezy-palm hands.

I stepped forward. Instantly, Lucy and Brian did too. I wove through the crowd, keeping my eyes peeled. I had only met Marisol twice, both times which I had been coked out of my mind. The various masks and feathers and chains that slid by me weren't helping.

"You got your gun?" I whispered to Bri.

"Yes." There was a pause. "You got yours?"


"Oh, Lordy."

I didn't answer. I figured if he was 'Lording' the fact I had a gun, he wouldn't be happy to know I had a couple sticks of dynamite in my other pocket.

One never knows when you'll need to blow something up.

"I'm thirsty," Lucy said about a half hour into the thing. Her gold mask dripped with tiny little crystals. Her hair was hanging in limp curls, doused by the humidity. I shook my head.

"Everything here is spiked if it's not already alcoholic. Not a good plan."

"---take it up there. Marisol's waiting for it."

Like a beacon of light thrown over the darkness, I heard her name. I honed in on two beefy guys, one pointing at a staircase, the other holding a box. Box guy went up the stairs. Beefy pointy guy went down the stairs, towards the stage. I grabbed Brian and shoved him forward.

"You gotta go up the stairs," I said.


"You go up the stairs. Lucy and I will sneak half-way up and try to listen."

"That's your great plan? I just go up the stairs?"

"Pretty much."


"Shhh," I said. "Remember, don't talk."

We eye'd each other. A million dirty curses flew between us unspoken. Bri's hand wrapped around the railing.

"Can't believe..." he muttered. I put my knee on his ass. He jumped. He ascended a stop. He paused.

I was tempted to put some dynamite in his pants.

"Go," I hissed.

He took another step. Then another. Soon, he disappeared all together.

I turned to Lucy. Behind her mask, her light green eyes spoke volumes. Unfortunately, those volumes could have been written in French for all I knew. I didn't understand it. I jostled my own mask and climbed a couple stairs. Lucy's dress slid over the wooden stairs like air.

"---what's this?"

A laugh floated down the stairs. It was an annoying laugh, kind of like Fran Drescher from The Nanny.

"What is this all about? You should already be in London."


"Wait, bring him closer."

My palms began to sweat. I let go of Lucy's hand.

Her voice became angry. "You shouldn't be here. Who are you?"


"Shit," Lucy whispered.

"He's cracking."