Gwen wished for her tattered gloves again as her tender palms came in contact with the scratchy
surface of the street. One of the other girls had been talking loudly, not paying attention to where she was walking, and
bumped hard into Gwen as she was slowing to turn the corner into the loading dock. The other girl was obviously drunk. When
she turned to bark a slurred insult at Gwen, she could smell the brew on her breath. Her big eyes, heavily painted in black
and a shimmery pink, held a trace of burning red on their whites.
When they reached their designated place, all the girls who had been through this process before
lined up, standing straight and an on display. Gwen recognized all six of the regulars, but couldn't necessarily call them
by name. The names they gave in the service of men were rarely their given names anyhow. Of the other girls, Gwen recognized
only one- Virginia Colden- a girl she had played with off and on as a young child.
"Have you been sent away?" Gwen whispered to her as she showed her how to stand in the display
Virginia didn't seem in the mood to speak. She only fluffed her frizzled, mousy hair, and straightened
her plain, short dress against her narrow hips. Next to her, Gwen thought she must look like a troll. At least Virginia had
a slim figure, even if it was at the expense of her health some of the time. Being a maid of the Lissels, it surely wasn't
a lack of opportunity that kept the girl from eating her fill.
"Ladies..." Cian crooned falsely, guiding some of the stragglers into the line. As he fussed with
the two nervous girls, one of the more confident regulars cast a very obvious sidelong glance at the last girl who had joined
their group. She seemed to disapprove somehow- possibly out of envy of the girl's even, nubile cheek bones. They did definitely
catch the eye! When Gwen had first seen her, she thought of a sleek, golden doe bounding in graceful arcs through a green
pasture to another realm of safety. Of course, she knew this was a pretty overdramatic first impression. Still, she had felt
the soft butterflies of admiration jump in her when the girl had stepped out of the dark alleyway and into the light of the
moon, like a child opening his hands to find he's caught his first glow-fly. Cian didn't seem to even notice the new arrival.
Even while he spoke to the whole group, his eyes were glued on the same woman he had been eyeing in the alley.
Gwen tried to stand up tall as the men began to pace forward, looking over the lot. Dante paused
in front of Cian's choice, but continued searching after a sharp look from the boss. All of the men were pacing back and forth,
making sweeps with their eyes, some licking their lips. It made Gwen cringe every time. She had her eyes on Dante, who she
knew would never pick her. When he reached the doe, he stopped cold and his eyes took on a contemplative look as he stared
into her face. She didn't flinch or fidget, but calmly wove a section of her stick-straight, shoulder length hair behind her
ear, as if she were standing alone in front of a looking glass rather than facing a lusting, muscle-bound brute. His eyes
didn't make their usual round down one side of the body and up the other. He seemed fixed on her face. The girl who had been
glaring at her earlier snorted in sarcastic disapproval, sticking her nose in the air. The gesture was enough for the man
standing ahead of her to lay his hand on her shoulder and take her by the arm. She had been picked.
As soon as that man had made his choice, the others all started to pull girls out of the line.
Dante didn't move, but held the doe's eyes locked in his, a pleased smile forming at one side of his normally emotionless
mouth. She was staring back, still appearing calm and comfortable. Everyone who happened to be watching couldn't hide their
surprise when she took a small step forward, narrowing the space between them. No girl Gwen had ever seen could match Dante
height-wise, but this one had an air about her that made her appear ten-feet-tall. Still, it was an unassuming air like that
of a hawk blending into the trees, its appetite having just been sated and its wings fine with resting a casual bit.
"Madame," Dante greeted her, as if he were addressing a queen. "Shall we?"
The girl didn't speak, but fell into stride beside Dante as he moved away to the back entrance
of the storage house, likely taking her to a deserted ware-house wing where he could toss her on the floor without disrupting
any of the legitimate supplies. Everyone knew it's what he always did with his pick.
Gwen froze when she realized that there was not one, but two men standing in front of her. One,
Dante's partner, was staring the other down with his beady rat's eyes.
"Clear off," he said to the other. "I outrank you."
This seemed to be enough. The other man, valuing his neck over a few minutes of earthly pleasure,
stepped away graciously and moved over to the last remaining girl, who strangely appeared to be no more than 16. Gwen let
her heart out to her as best she could as she was gripped by the arm and pulled away, her captor's long, stringy hair whipping
against her face in the sudden sting of cool breeze.
She had been through this process many times. She reminded herself that the waiting, the worst
part, was over. Now it would just be the doing, and then, the leaving. The leaving involved money. Cian saw to it that the
girls were all paid for their services... otherwise, why would anyone show up week after week? Once, a girl had come to Cian,
begging for her pay for the night before. When he confirmed that the girl had indeed been snubbed of her rightful wages, he
righted the matter by handing her the money himself and sending Dante to the chintzer for a friendly visit. The man's bruised
and battered knees reminded him the following night that he had best remember to pay, not to mention the twin gashes on his
back that weren't from any wench's untidy fingernails.
Jim thrust a key into the lock to open the door to the double office at the end of the North wing,
where Dante's girl was perched on his desk as he sat in his chair. Gwen had to blink, feeling unarmed by the peculiarity of
this location choice for Dante. They appeared to just be talking, but Dante's hand was very intentionally moving up the girl's
leg, passing her knee. She was wearing a pair of tightly-laced boots that stopped just below the knee, inches from where Dante's
hand was sitting now, and some kind of unusual wrapped coat that covered what most of the girls were paining to show off.
Still, her delicate, slender knees and thighs were exposed, and Dante seemed to be plenty pleased with that for now. Gwen
knew it wouldn't hold him off for long.
Once inside, the door swung closed behind them, and there was a loud pop as the automatic lock
fell into place. Dante became transfixed on the doe girl's hips as he slid his hands up the sides of her body. Her head turned
slowly, her consciousness obviously in another frame, and her almond-shaped eyes stabbed into Gwen's. Jim was fussing with
a desk drawer, probably looking for some ties or a belt to strap her hands with. She had heard things about his tastes with
the entertainers- his desire to objectify them to the point of ridicule.
Suddenly, her mind's voice filled in the words that the doe girl was mouthing to her slowly. It
was so clear and careful that she could truly hear it, and she wondered if the girl forming the shapes actually sounded like
the voice she heard.
"Don't move," the lips spoke silently into her head.
As the doe-girl sprang up and the room whipped into motion, Gwen stood stiff and unmoving, still
considering the voice and her elaborate mental image of the green pasture.
Dante felt the thigh under his right hand tense up as the breast he was about to squeeze disappeared
from the left. In a half-second, his world was jolted into a fuzzy gray as her knee came in contact with the side of his head,
and his hands fell to the floor to catch himself instinctively. Another blow followed- this one to the jaw from underneath.
It took his voice away, but he felt himself yelling anyway, warning Jim. Around the edge of the desk, Dante could see Jim
still fishing in the drawer, and knew his yelling was making no sound.
Jim had finally found what he was looking for: a pair of shoelaces he had thrown in the deepest
drawer after they had broken suddenly one day, making his old work shoes worthless. He had bought new ones the next day, and
had forgotten to throw out the old ones. Finding them one rainy afternoon, he had the idea that they might come in handy some
lonely night, and now they were about to.
Frustrated from hearing Dante's heavy breathing already, he turned to his stocky prostitute, who
was standing as still as a sculpture. She was watching Dante and his girl, obviously captivated by whatever was going on at
the other end of the office. He would teach her not to lose her focus, and right quick!
Gwen felt him approach her without seeing. Her eyes were glued on Dante's fallen head visible
beside the heavy desk. One careful, sturdy finger against the vein at his throat had quieted him...whether or not it was permanent
was unsure from Gwen's place across the room. She wondered if her shivering could be detected.
Jim started by gripped her chin in one rough hand and turning her face to look at him. A part
of her was screaming not to draw his attention to what the other girl was doing. Another part of her couldn't believe that
he hadn't noticed already. She wondered why the girl had told her not to move. Maybe she didn't want her to get hurt in whatever
was about to happen. Or...maybe she didn't want her to run away, because she intended Gwen to suffer the same fate as Dante.
The mere acknowledgment of the thought was enough to swell a panic in her. She took a shaky step back, pulling out of Jim's
hand. Angry, he stepped towards her, dropping his wad of shoelaces in surprised rage as he clawed to grab hold of her.
As soon as the other girl sprung up behind Jim and Gwen could see the thin black line of the shoelace
crossing Jim's stubbled throat, she lost all control of her body. One of the girl's big brown eyes was looking over his shoulder
at her, wide and animal, as she choked the life out of his narrow, scratchy neck. Forgetting the silent warning and the circumstances
of the evening, Gwen bolted, yanked open the heavy door with fear's strength and bent the simple drop-lock. The door was jammed
against the twisted lock, but Gwen pulled again and again, hearing the gargling gasps of breath from behind her. As the door
finally gave way, she nearly tumbled over onto her rear, but braced her fall with an outstretched hand against the side wall.
As she tore out into the dark storehouse, her senses were heightened with her adrenaline. She
could feel the soles of her tired feet on the concrete below her and the tingling sensation in the backs of her heels from
her suddenly active muscles. She thanked Ecli she had talked herself out of wearing high heels. Though they made her taller
and improved the apparent shape of her legs, they were hard to walk in and often made her ankles move groggily. Running in
them was out of the question, and running just out of them was likely to be equally difficult. Her flat, plain shoes weren't
bad for activity, and didn't slip off (even when she wanted them to, sometimes).
Who would she tell about the girl in the office? Who COULD she tell? Few people in Palmer Ellis
would listen to a prostitute, even without the dishonorable past Gwen had famously earned. A story like this would see a lot
of turned backs. Still, she had to tell someone. Men the whole town knew were being fatally attacked, and she had seen it
all taking place. There were no other witnesses that could explain it in its bizarre detail, even on a guess!
The night air seemed even colder when she first burst through the front doors of the storehouse,
but it warmed a bit as her body heat combatted the chill. She ran towards the first light she saw- the light above the sewing
shop, but the windows were dark and the door locked. There was no one in sight. She ran still to the next streetlamp, looking
all about for anyone to tell. Being alone was making her doubt that the whole strange event had even taken place. The evil
stare that the red-headed regular had given the doe girl came stabbing back into her mind. She had been so jealous of her
unusual features. If only she had known.
Her heart was beginning to burn in her chest, and gooseflesh was spread over every exposed surface
of her. Her feet slipped now and then when she mounted the boardwalk to run along the shops, and once she nearly knocked over
a precariously balanced stack of barrels. All of the shop owners here had gone home or to the Sun House. Maybe if she could
make it there....
Suddenly, a man and woman locked in arms stepped into the dim street ahead of her. They were laughing
in conversation, but froze in surprised horror when she ran up to them, out of breath and wheezing out a sentiment of her
emergency. The man took ahold of his lady and pulled her away, his face stern and full of warning.
"You get back," he said to Gwen, as if she were a stray dog with potential to be vicious. "I'm
warning you to get your filth away from us. We wont give you any money."
She began to argue, but knew that it was a lost cause. These people wouldn't believe anything
she said, as they were quite convinced she was a dirty, whoring bum. The Sun House was her only hope.
In her agony and fear, she didn't notice that the sky was full of clear stars- one of which was
glowing brighter than all the others with a faint tint of green. The man and his wife had been talking and joking about what
the green star meant for the world when the whore had run up to them, serving them a convoluted story much like many they'd
heard from the layabouts. After she was long gone, they picked up the conversation again, a bit shaken still.
"Eclisolus watches at night, too, Charles," the sweetly aging woman lectured with a humored smile.
"Of course, dear," he agreed, "but his star is always red. This one is another kind of sign. Perhaps
it is the blessing we've all been reading about."
The woman's eyes grew wide as she contemplated what he had said.
"You mean..." she began, but did not finish.
Both of them pondered the possibility as they walked on home in the starlight, arm in arm.