Sunday, December 4, 2011

"HELL KNIGHT" Chapter Two: In The Club


It took about half an hour of driving by Interstate 70 to reach the Hot Biscuit.
It was a strip club located in St. Bethany on Cedar Road, just a stone’s throw away from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Like the riverboat casinos about fifteen more minutes west on the Missouri River, the Hot Biscuit attracted a great many customers. Unlike the riverboats, the owners and upper management of the club were among the cogs and gears that kept the machine of organized crime working in the American Midwest.
Organized crime in the states of Missouri and Illinois in the heart of God’s Country, like virtually every civilized country, reaped a profit from a multitude of enterprises…many on their face seemingly legitimate. Other enterprises, of course, could only be conducted away from daylight, with ruthlessness and practiced deception. Whatever an accountant with the morals of a rabid wolf couldn’t think of, those who had experience in the less sublime arts of coercion, corruption and brutality could; if executed smartly and with enough stealth, they would at least for a time stay beyond the reach of the law. Loan sharking, prostitution, trafficking of controlled substances, extortion…all standard practices for organized crime long before Al Capone fired his first bullet.
Organized crime, no matter where it flourished on Earth, had always been a machine. It was operated by the worst instincts of some, and was fueled by the weakest inclinations of others. It could make its home in places both unsurprising and unexpected. Naturally, that was often open to subjective opinion. That’s why some would have been surprised and others would not have to find that organized crime controlled a strip club, used it as a way station for trafficking narcotics.
The only things in the Hot Biscuit that would have been considered legal were the liquor and the dancers…of course, many of the girls were barely so.


The red 300C pulled into the lot next to the club. A large blonde man with a white shirt and jeans who resembled a refrigerator was waiting for them, and pointed them to one of the parking spaces directly next to the long building marked PRIVATE in yellow stencil. The lot wasn’t quite filled to capacity like a usual Friday night. The big man figured nobody wanted to feel guilty for going to get their rocks off on the day the Son of God died. Since he was Jewish, he didn’t care whether he was right or not.
Mad Dawg and T-Bone stepped out…and so did a woman also dressed in their colors. Dawg nodded to him. “’Sup, Ace.”
The big man, Ace, simply said, “You’re ten minutes late, guys. Tony don’t like to wait.”
T-Bone shrugged. “Fuckin’ traffic, man.”
“Uh-huh.” Ace’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the woman. These homeboys were just supposed to make a delivery. “Who’s this?”
“New girl for the club,” Mad Dawg lied. “We’re gonna take her to see Tony.”
“Since when were you gangstas talent scouts?” Ace couldn’t help but look at the woman. She didn’t hurt the eyes, that was for damn sure…but something about her set him on edge. There was something about the hardened set of her face…and in her eyes.
This lady’s here for something, Ace mused, something pretty damn important. But if she’s here to dance, then I’m Janet Jackson.
Then he noticed that Dawg and T-Bone’s running buddy, Beenie or Bennie or whatever his name was, was still in their car. He did a double-take, and he realized he wasn’t wearing any clothes. Ace then knew for a fact something was off…way off.
“Sorry, guys,” Ace said, suddenly pure business. “One of you can take the delivery in like usual, but this lady stays outside.”
Yuki reflected once again on the conversation she had with the homeboys on the way here:
Yuki asked at one point, “What kind of security will be present at this location?”
Mad Dawg: “Mostly security cameras. They got monitors to watch them in a room next to the cashier’s window.”
“Mostly. Is anyone outside to enforce the perimeter?”
Bennie J didn’t get the ‘perimeter’ part, but he understood what she was asking: “Jus’ this big white guy named Ace. He packs a .357 Magnum under his shirt. Always wears the same fuckin’ thing.”
“He is the only security outside? That is foolish.”
T-Bone: “Yeah, but wit’ their cameras coverin’ the lot and the front and back doors, they’ll know if somethin’s up right away, whether Ace calls them or not. Inside’s where the
real security is, anyway. For Fridays, Tony Pucci’s always got a dozen guys, all packin’. But honestly, they’re nothin’ compared to Danny.”
“Who is Danny?”
Mad Dawg: “Danny Choi, Yuki. He’s death on a fuckin’ stick, and that’s the
truth. When you get inside, watch out for him, girl. You gotta be real careful wit’ him.”
“Really? Tell me more.”
And they did, but Yuki was not concerned with Danny Choi at that moment. What mattered was how to deal with this man Ace so he would not alert anyone inside. It seemed she would have to make him see, just as she did with the gangstas.
What had to be dealt with first were the outer security cameras; for certain, whoever watched the monitors that received the images they sent could see her and the others with Ace. The only thing that could be done was to blind the eyes watching from inside. Yuki looked upward and saw one of the cameras, positioned on a corner of the club’s rooftop shrouded by a circular casing, much of it opaque glass. She reached out with her unworldly senses once again, just as she did at the pawn shop, and felt the camera and the energy coursing through it.
“Aw c’mon, Ace,” T-Bone said. “Pucci’s gonna be impressed with what this girl’s gonna have to show him, guaranteed. That ain’t no lie, man.”
Ace wasn’t impressed. At all. “I said forget it. You or your buddy here can take in what Pucci’s waiting for, but she stays outside. You know the rules. If the boss doesn’t clear you in advance or if you’re not a V.I.P., then you don’t go in. Period.”
With her face still cast upward, Yuki closed her eyes. She found the digital signal being sent from the camera and her senses flowed with it. She followed the line of transmission to an array of hard drives in the club’s basement, which also received data from the rest of the cameras. The drives not only served as an operating system, but recorded the data of both the exterior and interior cameras. The drives then sent the data through a sequencer to the monitors that would no doubt be watched by living eyes.
Ace looked hard at Yuki…she appeared to be in a trance or something. Mad Dawg said, “Ace, my man, how’s the lady gonna meet Pucci and show him what she can do havin’ to wait for a fuckin’ appointment?”
“It’s not my job to give a shit about her having to wait or not,” Ace said, and started to lose his patience. “He only sees new talent during the day, and you should know that, too.”
T-Bone wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Hey, man, be good to the brothers and let this lady in, a’aight?”
“Fuck that,” Ace said. “She stays out. End of discussion. But maybe we can start a new one by you telling me what your buddy in the car is doing without any damn clothes on.”
Both Mad Dawg and T-Bone were at a loss how to respond to that.
But the next one who spoke was Yuki, who was looking at Ace…and into him. Her voice spoke with pure, total certainty. “You will allow me entrance. And you will serve me in other matters, as well.”


In the same moment T-Bone asked Ace to be good to the brothers, Yuki reached out with her otherworldly power and disrupted the hard drives that controlled the cameras in the same way she did the pawn shop’s alarm system not long before. It was as if someone flicked a switch, and the hard drives died instantly. One moment, the man assigned to watch the monitors was lounging in his seat, looking at Ace talking to two black guys and an Asian chick who looked like she was wearing a guy’s clothes…and in the next moment, every screen went blank. He went bolt-upright in his seat and said, “What the fuck?”
Another man in the room, an accountant who worked for Pucci, whirled around in response from his checks and balances. He was a jovial-looking, chunky man of middle age who wished he could be out in the showroom watching the girls dancing. He said, “What’s up, Donnie?”
Donnie shot him a look. “Look at the damn monitors, Lee! That’s what’s up!”
The accountant shrugged. “Maybe there’s some kind of glitch in the drives again. That happened last month, right?”
“When that B.S. happened most of the cameras were still working. This isn’t just a fuckin’ glitch, we lost every camera inside and outside the club! I think the cameras are still working, power’s still goin’ through the system, but...”
“Circuit breaker, maybe?”
“How the hell should I know? I just watch this shit!” Donnie thought of the irony of the situation: Yeah, the wonders of fucking progress. Most shit these days will go kaput if you frigging sneeze on it! Hopefully it was just some dumb glitch in the system, and even if it wasn’t…well, that ain’t my problem. Somebody’ll have to call a fuckin’ repairman. “I’ll find out, but first I gotta get ahold of Ace. I can’t see shit outside, and that means he’s the only eyes we’ve got.” Donnie got his cell phone from a belt clip and speed-dialed Ace’s phone. He hoped he’d hear a ringing tone…but instead he got a computer voice saying the line was busy. He tried again, and he got the same thing. He gave it a third try…no luck. Donnie started to get nervous.
So did Lee. “Isn’t he answering?”
“He should be,” Donnie said, and he hung up. “I’m going to get some of the guys and take a look outside, just in case. I dunno what – !” Then his cell began ringing, surprising them both. He hit the answer key and almost shouted, “Hello?”
On the other end was Ace’s familiar voice. “Donnie?”
“Ace, what the fuck!” Donnie was surprised and angry. “I was trying to get through to you just now! Why was your phone busy?!”
He heard Ace respond, “I was on the phone with Pucci. Letting him know he had visitors, all right?”
The two black guys and the chick, Donnie reasoned, but he wanted to be sure. “You’re talkin’ about those people I saw you with just now?”
“That’s right. They got something for him.”
Gotta be the heroin the boss was expecting, Donnie figured. “Ace, I wanna make sure things are okay right now. We just lost our cameras.”
“Everything’s fine, Donnie. They’ll be coming in right now.”
Donnie nodded. “Okay, I’ll let the cashier know they got the boss’ okay since you called. You sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine, Donnie. Everything’s okay.”
“Okay, talk to you later.” Donnie hung his cell up.
Lee breathed a sigh of relief. “Everything’s okay, right?”
“I dunno,” Donnie mused. “Ace sounded weird just now.”
“Weird? What do you mean?”
“When I first heard his voice…this may sound dumb, but he sounded like he was crying. But there ain’t no way that can be right.”
But it was right.
Outside, under the dead cameras, Ace had seen.
He waited outside next to the 300C with Bennie J.


Inside the club.
The air, smoky and burning with neon and pulsating spotlight, was equally thick with the psychic feedback of unrestrained anticipation and desire. Most of the patrons were men, with the few women in the crowded showroom either accompanying them as dates or to fulfill their own desires, whether they admitted it or not. Some of the customers were involved with each other, for one form of fulfillment or another.
Most, of course, were there to watch the show.
On the main stage, which ran through the showroom and comprised a total of 400 square feet of area, a dozen exotic dancers gyrated and writhed about poles that extended to the ceiling. Their naked bodies glistened under the hot lights, merchandise, advertising the club’s main attractions with pornographic thrusts, bends and strokes to inane, earblasting cookie-cutter trance and hip-hop. In these ladies’ craft, the only pretense was in the tease of their performance…and very little was left to the imagination. Most were Caucasian, naturally, and blonde. Not all of those blondes, though, were naturally so: one would only have had to look at the peroxide manes of some of these girls, and then simply look further south to see the truth.
Scattered through the main room and around the stage one would have seen a different kind of meat. The testosterone-fueled kind, as obvious in the purpose of their presence as their steroid-induced musculature. A relative handful were scattered around the stage in t-shirts emblazoned with “Hot Biscuit” in stylized script…bouncers, their presence an implied threat that no one gets out of hand with the dancers. Several more were scattered among the patrons in strategic areas. They wore dark suits, and if one looked closely at each of them through the thick air, one would have noticed a bulge at one’s waist…under the arm of another…even the ankle of a couple. These men were armed and pure business…soldati, urban soldiers armed to their capped teeth.
Except for one.
Danny Choi held the most critical position, standing next to the door that led to the V.I.P. rooms; from there a back corridor led to the dancers’ dressing rooms and to access to the basement floor under the club, where Antonio Pucci was entertaining guests. His eyes were hawk’s eyes, always searching his environs, missing nothing. He held the least-intimidating presence, wearing a cream-colored business suit. A casual observer could have been forgiven easily for thinking Danny a customer. Unlike his fellow enforcers, he wasn’t armed.
He didn’t have to be. Danny Choi was several times deadlier unarmed than his peers would have been even if they were each outfitted with the heaviest of armaments. He held a 7th Dan Black Belt in Shotokan Karate and was a 10th Degree Master of Southern Hung-Gar Kung-Fu. But his training and knowledge of the deadliest arts of martial combat known to Humanity wasn’t all that made him dangerous. It wasn’t what made him truly deadly.
What made Danny deadly was his anger…an incandescent, nova-white anger that did not stem from any form of psychological disorder, although it had verged on becoming pathological. It was an anger born from the events of his life, an anger at times that threatened to drown his senses in a crimson haze. Even now, as he looked out at the room full of patrons, Danny seemed to be moribund with the situation but the anger wrapped about him like the bandages of a mummy. He was angry with the customers who were so self-involved, and the dancers and their seeming shamelessness. He even felt angry with his fellow enforcers and the stupidity of their roles, and his employers and their unapologetic amorality.
And of course, Danny was angry with himself and the circumstances of his life and his role. He had given his anger free vent, of course, and many times. When some ignorant customer couldn’t control himself during a lap dance, Danny would ask him to leave…after ensuring he would leave stumbling away with his face looking like bloody ground beef. When Antonio Pucci or someone else in Nico Roccoli’s organization would task him to interrogate someone for a real or imagined offense, and more often than not many bones would be broken as a result. When, on several occasions, Danny was ordered to pay a visit to someone who wouldn’t pay a debt, attempted to cheat, or refused to be intimidated by the Roccoli family, and he would deal with them. Permanently.
Such acts never abated Danny’s anger. On the contrary, it only fueled his rage even further. Only his surprisingly strong sense of self-control kept that rage in check. If he was a man of lesser will, he would have lost control years before…but as the 37-year-old enforcer watched from his position in the club, his self-control was threatening to fail him.
You might be asking yourself why. Truthfully, it would do no good to explain such things, for some things cannot be explained in words. You would have had to live Danny Choi’s life. Lose your parents at the age of eleven in a senseless automobile accident. Afterward, gotten adopted by a self-described liberal couple who professed to the agency right in front of you that they would make sure that in spite of the fact they were white, little Danny ‘would always be rooted to his Chinese ethnicity’. Patronizing, of course, but what the hell…maybe these strangers would have given you a home, at least a semblance of the love your parents gave you. But in their home, behind closed doors and drawn curtains, you would discover their every word and promise patronizing or not, even the simple yet profound statement I love you was complete bullshit. You would go through unbearable, white-hot pain from ritualistic acts of sadism that would make a Nazi proud. Suffer repeated horror and humiliation when the monsters did even worse things to fulfill their darkest desires.
Outside of the house of horrors that was your home wasn’t much better. You were an American, but you couldn’t change the incidental fact of your Chinese ancestry, passed down through genes by your parents. Of course some assholes believed that this is one nation under them and their skin color alone, and it wouldn’t just be white kids who gave you at the very least funny looks that made you feel smaller and more alone inside as you walked down the halls. Insecurity and ignorance that is the lifeblood of racism couldnever be limited to Caucasians. Even some teachers looked at you with a measure of contempt, confused you in their bigoted minds with Japanese or even Vietnamese, depending on the origin of their hatred. You dreaded going to school, being tripped in the cafeteria when you carried your lunch tray, followed by a pack of boys made bold by their numbers into a restroom. And every time it had inevitably happened, every time a well-meaning teacher or hall monitor was not watching or if one of your few friends was not there to help you, you would have been reminded that YOU WERE DIFFERENT. You were hazed, insulted, jeered, humiliated, slapped, and beaten. But no matter how much you dreaded school, you had the slight comfort to know it was better than…home.
Would living such a life have made you angry? Would it have made you so angry that one day, when you were fifteen, you beat the monster who called herself “mother” to death? And when your “father” came home, would you have also killed him? Would you have run, and then been arrested? Would you have been sent to a state-run facility with other juvenile offenders, many of whom were just as bad as your parents? Would your life then have shifted to a constant fight-or-flight mode as you defended yourself against these wolves, often succeeding…but at other, more terrible times failing and then you thought to yourself that it was a mixed blessing that you were alive after what has been done to you? And after the state released you at the age of eighteen…what then? Yes, perhaps you would have been angry. Angry with your birth parents for leaving you alone in a minefield called life. Angry with the ghosts of the monsters who took your childhood from you. Angry at the world – and everyone in it as a consequence – for being so fucking cruel. Angry with any and all symbols and institutions of authority and rule of law. Angry with America, your home, God’s Country, for you had been so beaten down in soul and temperament and identity that you didn’t feel like this country was your home…that everything it stood for was one big joke. And you would have been angry with yourself for being a punk, for being so fucking WEAK.
That last thing you might have believed you could do something about. It would have taken years and your motivations would have remained unspoken to your teachers, but you learned the martial skills that would have made you strong. Given you the opportunity to exercise your anger, give it a target. What would your target have been? You would probably have decided it didn’t matter. During your years of training you would have been noticed and then approached by a man working for a local Triad, and just like that you were prowling the streets with other young gangsters. You would have extorted, robbed, jacked, beaten, murdered and every other terrible thing to put the gang on top. But to be part of a group of street gangsters, while profitable, would have been too limiting for you. You would have gotten ambitious, desired to rise up in the underworld.
That was why Danny Choi left the Triads six years ago…but he lived to tell about it because he left them to join the family of Nico Roccoli. Also known as Boss Roccoli, leader of the most powerful crime family in Missouri and Illinois. And there Danny was, the most dangerous enforcer in the American Midwest, as he watched the inside of the club and secretly seethed with an anger that begged for release.
That was when the woman came in.


She was preceded by two men Danny saw several times in the past, Mad Dawg and TBone. Like them, she was dressed in ghetto-punk men’s wear, but the clothes fit her only marginally. They stopped just outside of the hall that led to the entrance and the way they looked at her, their every move and gesture signaled the fact that she led them. This immediately piqued Danny’s interest: he knew for a fact those ethnocentric thugs didn’t care for anything or anyone outside of themselves. She proceeded forward into the showroom, leaving them behind. Through the smoky air, Danny noticed her eyes…something in her eyes made him snap to full alert, and just like that he focused on nothing but this woman. She cast a glance to the stage and to the women dancing on it. She settled on one dancer, a brunette with the stage name Delilah, who seemed to take her interest. For a moment Danny relaxed, but he told himself to stay alert and be ready for anything. Something about this woman made him apprehensive on a level he didn’t want to admit…especially to himself.


Moments before, as she danced, Delilah wanted to die.
Even Danny Choi would have been surprised at the level of self-loathing the twenty-three year old dancer named Delilah suffered. She was the only brunette dancer on the stage, and like her peers she knew how to play the crowd. Work them up and hook them in. That was only part in parcel why she hated herself…why she hated life so much she desired death.
Delilah’s childhood was one Danny would understand. Like him, she was abused…but not by family. At least, not right away. Her mother had become a widow when she was only four, a husband and father lost to cancer. Delilah’s mother, a devout Catholic, wanted her daughter to have structure in her life; however, she was kept busy providing for them both, and so she felt she had to have her daughter go to her neighborhood’s local Christian day care center during her working hours. However, what should have been a time of promise and learning, religiously oriented or not, would become a living nightmare for the little girl.
Delilah caught the eye of a priest who regularly taught at the center…just as a young injured deer would catch the eye of a wolf that prowled the wilderness. He began molesting her in his office on nearly a daily basis. In his Halloween mask guise of a man of religion, he remarked to his colleagues that Delilah was a special little girl. Delilah didn’t feel special…after the first incident, she was confused and hurt. The man who seemed so nice at first did the strangest things to her…he touched her in ways she couldn’t understand, and he made her touch that thing that was under his pants, she could only call it a thing because she didn’t know WHAT it was, but after a few moments it burst and suddenly her hands were sticky. She never told her mother what happened after that first day. She wanted to, but she couldn’t. She didn’t know how. Delilah, like a few other boys and girls at the center, held a secret she knew at her very core was wrong…but she never spoke of it.
Days in the center turned to months, and the “special time” took place every other day in the priest’s office for Delilah. After some time, the priest began to have intercourse with the little girl. Confusion and humiliation and fear turned one day into searing pain for Delilah, pain she never could have imagined. The terror and agony coalesced and she knew once and for all what evil was. Delilah, through tears, said she would tell her mother what he did to her. But the priest said she couldn’t talk to anyone about this, the secret times he and Delilah spent together. He was doing God’s work, he said, and He would be so angry if the little girl said anything to anyone that her mother would be struck dead by lightning.
Months turned into years. Delilah became more withdrawn and sullen as she began parochial school. The priest followed her and became a teacher there. Yes…Delilah was special to him. Her mother didn’t seem to notice her daughter’s moodiness…in fact she did, but she had so much to worry about providing for them both, and she was sure her daughter was being HANDLED well by her teachers. Then, a few months before her thirteenth birthday Delilah’s mother, an accountant, was given a lucrative job offer…but to accept it, she had to move to another town. Enroll her child in a public school. Delilah, who felt like she was dying inside for so long, finally knew the meaning of hope when she and her mother moved.
In public school, outside of the cloistered atmosphere she knew for so long in life, Delilah began to learn many new things. In her fourteenth year, one of those things was sex education, and it took all of her self-control to not scream in front of her classmates as she learned about the penis and the vagina. She never understood the evil that was inflicted upon her, but at least she now knew how to describe such things. The teacher said that sex is something adults do…and if one day those in class wanted to do the same, they should learn to use protection. How could she possibly want to go through that kind of pain and horror again? How could anyone think of such a thing as good?
One day her school’s counselor approached Delilah, noticing her depression. She was a kind and gentle woman who had experience as a psychologist, and felt someone should talk to this girl. At first, Delilah didn’t want to talk to her…she still didn’t know how to talk to anyone about this, but at least she realized that the threats the priest made toward her mother were bullshit. With patience and surprising grace, and more than a little experience in helping abused children in the past, the counselor gently questioned her. Delilah told her as much as she could bear…she told the counselor she always felt it was her fault the priest did those things to her, that there was something wrong with her. Her guilt more than her fear was what kept it inside for so long. The counselor quietly contacted the principal, and after a brief discussion Delilah’s mother was summoned to the school.
But when the principal and counselor informed her of what her daughter said, even when Delilah herself spoke of the abuse, her mother refused to hear it. She immediately called her daughter a dirty, filthy liar for calling a holy man – a man she knew, a man she trusted – a child molester. But the counselor had experience in such things, she knew the signs, everything Delilah said rang true. Unfortunately after much heated discussion the principal, a man who feared bad publicity and the possibility of legal troubles, erred on the side of cowardice and instructed the counselor to drop the entire matter. She was so furious with the principal she served her two weeks’ notice the next day.
Things didn’t improve for Delilah after her mother took her home. They argued…the anger of their words escalated, and for the first time in her life her mother hit her. She slapped Delilah across the face. Her mother was prideful and adamant: she would never hear such nasty, horrible lies from her daughter again, ever. Delilah once feared her mother would die…she never knew until that moment that something worse could happen. There was something wrong with her, the fragile young girl realized. What happened was her fault, she had been and always would be bad. Then and there she truly began to hate herself…to hate life. The relationship between Delilah and her mother frayed almost beyond repair. It was the natural consequence of trust lost between a parent and child.
Delilah felt like a stranger in her own home, with a mother who didn’t wish to understand her pain. Outside of her home, the girl became reckless…she lashed out in every way she should not have. She wanted her mother to recognize her, get her fucking attention. She became an incorrigible and troublemaker. She caused trouble for teachers and fellow students in high school for the smallest reasons…and sometimes she got violent. One day she literally lunged on the prima-donna bitch who led the varsity cheerleader squad. Delilah wanted to take the girl’s Walkman, which she used to listen to Madonna between classes, and shove it up her ass. The only thing she didn’t do as she progressed through her sophomore and junior years was try to be promiscuous with boys. The concept of sex with anyone, to even kiss someone, reminded her of the priest who molested her. Every time she was attracted to a boy, she wanted to fantasize of such things…but her pain made her turn from such thoughts. She felt more and more alone.
The one thing Delilah loved, the one thing that made her feel alive, was dancing. She had begun learning dance at a studio not long after she escaped the priest and began a new life away from him. In spite of her pain, in spite of her self-loathing, it was what gave her life meaning. It was her escape, to give herself to music, to have her body flow with the rhythms of it. And she did so wonderfully…even her mother was moved by her talent, even after the rift grew between them. As she grew into a beautiful woman, this one part of her life showed the greatest promise for happiness.
It wasn’t long before Delilah’s seventeenth year of life that what seemed to be an explosion of arrests began…arrests of priests within the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse of children. One of those arrested was the priest Delilah said molested her. The man her mother trusted and believed in, the wolf her mother thought had handled her daughter so well for so long. His arrest and the charges listed against him by former students, some of whom Delilah knew from the center, were part of a news report on television. For a moment, the teenager’s heart swelled…maybe now mother would understand! Maybe she would finally see that man as the monster he is!
But incredibly, Delilah’s mother didn’t believe it…she wouldn’t. She said it was all lies created to destroy the Catholic Church, to destroy him. Catholics had been persecuted before, she said with the blind resolve of a borderline zealot, and now it was happening again. Delilah begged her mother, pleaded with her to listen, but she wouldn’t. Instead, she told her child to leave…and never come back. The girl felt torn apart inside, she was a stranger to her mother, and she did the only thing she could do: what her mother wanted. She ran away.
Delilah began moving across the country, existing as best she could…as well as any runaway her age with no sanctuary and few prospects could. Any hope for a new life faded, even when she managed to find other young adults just like her who sought to survive. When they attempted to evade those who would prey on them. Delilah lost friends just as quickly as she made them in part because of predators just as bad as the monster who devastated her childhood, and she knew she was fortunate to have escaped the same fate. But a part of her wondered why she even wanted to survive. It was a growing part of her that secretly wished for death, to bring an end to a life that brought her nothing but pain…pain that she believed was her fault.
At the age of nineteen, she was approached by a lecherous bug of a man as she panhandled outside of Union Station in St. Louis. The man claimed to be a scout looking for fresh young talent. She had heard offers like that before, and immediately began to walk away. But what stopped her was his claiming to work for a local strip club, and he said he was looking for new dancers. He might have been a malignant bastard, but he was a practical bastard: the moment he saw her, he knew the girl had the potential to make his boss a lot of money in the long-term. By this time, she had nearly lost all hope for making a life for herself…a life she wanted. And the lure of losing herself to music pulled to her, in spite of her better instincts. After visiting the club and discovering the offer was truthful, and after a brief tryout, she reluctantly said yes. The manager of the club asked her name…but she wouldn’t use the name she was born with. That life was gone. She remembered from her poisoned childhood the biblical story of Samson, and the woman who betrayed and destroyed him. She thought ruefully, I’m not that much better than her, anyway. It was in this way she gave herself the name Delilah.
Delilah already knew how to lose herself to the music, and that was the only thing that made her first night dancing nude in front of leering eyes tolerable. It got easier with each performance, but each night of dancing made her feel more alone…more guilty. That didn’t change when Guido Roccoli, son of Boss Roccoli himself, went there to meet with one of his many lieutenants and noticed Delilah. One of Guido’s few redeeming qualities was the fact that he loved his wife, and would never do anything to betray her. But some stripper joint was where the jerk wanted to meet and it was important, so what the hell could you do? Guido resolved not to watch any of the girls while there, but he couldn’t help but be beguiled by Delilah. Guido decided then and there that the girl would be a perfect fit for this new club his dad opened up and gave to Tony Pucci to manage, the Hot Biscuit. Guido approached the manager and bought out her contract, and that was how Delilah came to be there.
Two years later, the dancer’s feelings didn’t change…they intensified. On that early morning after Good Friday, as she danced, Delilah wanted to die more than ever before. Maybe that way she could have escaped the guilt…and the loneliness.


Then, as she danced, Delilah noticed the woman.
She saw the woman was strangely dressed in men’s clothes, and would have dismissed her…except that there was something more to her. There was an unusually neutral expression on the woman’s face. Delilah knew better than anyone that the moment a customer came into the showroom to see the dancers, one thing that customer never had was a neutral expression. This couldn’t have been called forced neutrality, either. Maybe…maybe we honestly don’t matter to her, Delilah thought. But if that’s true, then what’s she doing here? As if in response to her thoughts…
…the woman looked directly at her.
Within the next moment, Delilah was startled to feel a strange sensation…the feeling the woman was not simply looking at her, but into her. Delilah focused on her dancing, but couldn’t help but look back at this strange woman in turn. She couldn’t help but think to herself: It’s like…like she wants to know me. But why would she want to know about me? Why would she care? As quickly as the sensation came, it passed.
Because the woman had looked away from Delilah, and had begun moving again.
Toward Danny Choi.


Every instinct in Danny virtually screamed THREAT as the woman walked directly toward him…toward the doorway to the V.I.P. rooms and access to the basement where Antonio Pucci was. Every aspect of his being, body and soul, tensed in preparation. He didn’t know what she wanted, and he didn’t care. But she walked up to him, casual, not presenting an overt threat of any kind. She stopped a respectful distance away, and regarded Danny for a moment. Like Delilah, he got the brief but disquieting sense that she was looking into him…but that feeling quickly passed because she was in motion again.
She walked past Danny to the doorway. With practiced speed he turned and followed her, closing the distance quickly as they crossed the threshold into the back, out of the view of everyone in the showroom. He reached out and took hold of her shoulder and began to proclaim, “You can’t go back there!”
But Danny barely managed to say, “You can’t – !” before the woman spun around with incredible speed and grabbed his wrist. An inner switch was flipped in his being and nearly two decades of accumulated knowledge in the martial arts took over. He attempted an incapacitating open-palm strike to her chest to knock the wind out of her, but she parried it easily.
Danny tried again, no longer fooling around. However, no matter how strong or fast he was with his strikes, she blocked every one as if he was in slow motion. Then her right hand shot out like lightning and grabbed his throat. Danny, startled, was driven backward to the near wall. Her grip was like a vise…he grabbed her wrist with both hands, and he was shocked by how strong the woman was. More than that, the cords of muscle under her skin felt like welded iron. Her fingers felt like iron as they held him by the throat and wouldn’t let go. He tried to breathe, but couldn’t and he started to choke –
And then. She looked into Danny Choi’s eyes.
He looked back into her own…he couldn’t have helped it. And then.
Danny began to see…


One song had begun to wind down for another…of course, that didn’t have to happen since most ‘popular music’ not only sounded but felt the same. A new group of dancers appeared at the stage to take the place of the odd-numbered ones, Delilah being one of them. She blew a kiss to the customers in the room, the gesture as fake as the breasts of the dancer who took her place. As she took a red silk robe from one of the bouncers and put it on, she couldn’t help but think about the woman she saw several minutes before. She was so distracted she didn’t notice for a moment the rest of the girls had left her behind to go to the back. She then proceeded to the back, as well…and naturally, like always, Danny was there. But when she reached the doorway…
“Delilah, wait,” Danny said, and he placed his hand out in a gentle ‘hold it’ gesture. “If it’s okay, someone needs to talk to you for a moment.”
“Who wants to talk to me?” Then Delilah tensed up. “Hey, if you’re talking about doing something for one of the customers, forget it! I told Mister Pucci I only dance, and that’s it!”
“It isn’t that,” the enforcer said reassuringly. “But this really can’t wait. I know you want to get back to the dressing room, but…could you please come with me?”
Delilah, in spite of her mood, gave Danny a strange look. She had really wanted to like Danny, in spite of what he did for Mister Pucci, and she couldn’t help but think of him at times…but he was always so aloof and distant. He was never this…nice. “Just as long as this doesn’t take too much time, okay? That was my last set for the night, and I want to go home.”
Then Danny smiled…a genuine, sunny smile Delilah didn’t know he was capable of. “Of course. It’ll be in one of the V.I.P. rooms. Let me show you the way, all right?” He reached out and gently took hold of her arm, and guided her through the threshold. Delilah let the man guide him…she didn’t know this man at all, but a part of her wanted to in spite of her guilt. She felt she had no reason to be afraid as they walked down the hall and within a few seconds he guided the dancer into one of the side rooms.
Inside, Delilah was surprised when she saw the woman from before, waiting for them. Before she could say anything, Danny quickly side-stepped behind Delilah and twisted her arm hard behind her back with one hand and slapped his other hand around her mouth. A nova explosion of fear hit Delilah and she tried to struggle, but she realized she had no chance against the man’s superior strength. Then the woman walked to them. Delilah froze, her eyes bulged over Danny’s silencing hand. She didn’t know what this woman wanted. She didn’t want to know. She wanted to get out, to get away –
And then the woman was right in front of her.
She looked into Delilah’s eyes.


Danny Choi felt Delilah stiffen in his grip, and he knew. He didn’t have to look at her face to know.
Delilah had begun to see.
Danny couldn’t help but look at himself, as if for the very first time, and he had marveled at how incredibly foolish he had been for so long. How blind he was…until he had seen. All of that anger over all of those years…it was so pathetic. To think it once didn’t matter to him who he hurt, how much pain he could have caused. He never knew the truth until now…he never knew what could be possible. He never knew that there were those in this world who deserved his anger.
He never knew there were those who truly deserved to die.
Danny felt Delilah under his hands. He wondered if it would be possible to…no. He had such thoughts about her before, but they were so brief in the face of his useless, stupid rage. He had to help Yuki, he had to assist her in every way he could…if she asked him to give his life, he would and with pleasure. Such thoughts about Delilah didn’t matter…they couldn’t matter in comparison to his service to Yuki. Or could they? He honestly wondered about that.
After a few moments, Danny felt Delilah’s muscles soften from their prior rigidity, as if her very being was deflating. He didn’t have to imagine what the dancer was feeling. He knew. He took his hand from her mouth, and he could hear it as Delilah’s breath broke into quick, hitched gasps.
Danny didn’t have to see her face to know Delilah was crying.


Yuki held Delilah’s face gently…tears flowed down her cheeks and over Yuki’s fingers, as if from a deep wellspring of sorrow given release. Yuki was patient…she knew what she had just shown the girl was too much for anyone to absorb immediately. It was so for the others. She waited a few moments…and then Delilah’s quivering lips parted. She wanted to speak, but she was uncertain. Yuki stepped even closer until their faces were bare inches apart. When she spoke, it was with silken softness. “You understand what you have seen.”
It wasn’t a question. Delilah managed to whisper, “Yes.” And she did, just like Danny and the others.
“I am Yuki. I will need those who can serve me.” She paused for a brief moment, and then said, “I will need you.”
Delilah’s breath steadied and deepened, relaxing. Danny let go of her arms, and her hands flew upward to close about Yuki’s. Her voice was unsteady, but there was strength in it. “Anything for you. I’ll do anything for you.”
It was so for Danny and the others.
Yuki kissed Delilah, fully and deeply. It was a kiss returned with passion.

This story is the copyright (2006) of Charles Spencer, and is the sole property of the author. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted, by electronic means or otherwise, without the express permission of the author.

No comments:

Post a Comment