Thursday, November 10, 2016

Illuminating the Hidden: The Socio-Economic Impact of Invisible Work



The United States has always had a complicated relationship with immigrants. The nation’s expansion and economic power are due in large part to constant streams of immigrants, both legal and illegal, yet there is a tendency for Americans to blame the newcomers for economic and social woes. Much of the United States’ early economy was dependent on cheap labor, in particular, the forcibly immigrated African slaves. When slavery became prohibited, many slaves found themselves in similar conditions as sharecroppers; still providing the economically advantaged with cheap labor. When the United States began its westward expansion, many blacks were hired to work the railways and were joined by Irish and Chinese immigrants, who were considered to be nearly as undesirable as blacks. They were paid less than American workers, lived apart from other Americans, and were hired to do the menial and difficult work that Americans preferred to avoid. In the 20th century, due to employment and work condition reform, most Americans found themselves able to work forty hour work weeks, in safe conditions, receiving a guaranteed minimum wage. Not so for immigrant workers, who often worked in sectors which were not regulated, such as agriculture and meatpacking. The 20th century, especially after World War II, also saw a rise in domestic service among the middle and upper class. These workers were often women of color. The common thread through these immigrant workers, from slaves to illegal Latino immigrants, is that they have contributed significantly to the American economy by doing work that most will not do, and that many do not think about or acknowledge – they do invisible work. Janitors, maids, and landscapers perform their duties surrounded by people who speak and act as if they are not present. Like the Untouchables of the Hindi caste system, illegal immigrants perform the invisible work needed by society. They do so because it is the best opportunity they can attain and they are rewarded for their contributions with discrimination and exploitation.

Describing the work done by illegal immigrants as invisible work is a recent phenomenon. Devault explains that the concept of invisible work originated in the 1970s as a means of “bringing women’s work more fully into view,” as part of an “era of interrelated ‘social justice projects’ that have continued to percolate since then” (2014:777). Recently, the term has expanded and now applies to much of the work that people of color perform as well as the work of the illegal immigrant. The term has two-fold meaning for illegal immigrants who perform traditionally invisible servile work, but are also invisible in their more skilled employment since they must do their legitimate work illegally. Sociologists study invisible work as it pertains to the efforts taken to “achieve and maintain full membership in the society” in which they operate (Devault 2014: 777). Illegal immigrants perform these duties because it is the only option they have to provide for their families and potentially operate as an equal in America.

Some academics prefer to call the invisible work done by immigrants “brown collar” because undocumented workers “cluster into low-wage, low-level service industries such as landscaping, farm work, and painting” (Hipolito 2010:68). Illegal immigrants may also be found in the service industry as domestic staff, where they fulfill the same invisible work that women of color often perform. Undocumented workers also work in more skilled capacities such as mechanics and construction workers but do so as an open secret, hidden as contractors and day laborers.

This skilled work done by illegal immigrants is part of an informal economy which is described by Webb, et al, as “the set of illegal yet legitimate activities through which actors recognize and exploit activities” (2009:492). A primary of example of this is in construction where an entrepreneur utilizes undocumented workers (an illegal means) to “produce legal, legitimate products” such as homes and commercial buildings (Webb et. al, 2009:496). The benefit to the entrepreneur is that undocumented workers “provide services similar to those of documented workers, they may be willing to accept lower wages and work without benefits” (Webb et. al, 2009:496). The benefit to the consumer is a reduced cost in their product which allows for greater purchasing power or reduced overhead. This scenario is not rare or isolated, it is estimated that the informal economy accounts for “approximately 17 percent of gross domestic product in developed countries” (Webb et. al, 2009:493).

In the United States, much of the informal economy is reliant on the existence of illegal immigrants who are willing to “hold positions in the labor force that U.S. citizens are unwilling to do, despite high levels of unemployment” (Furman et al 2012:1). Some industries are particularly reliant upon this illegal labor force. Much of the agricultural, construction, and meatpacking work done in this country is performed by “day and migrant labor” (Furman et. al, 2012:1). The work that undocumented workers perform is often physically demanding and dangerous, “with one in five suffering a work-related injury and more than half not receiving medical care for the injury” (Furman et al 2012:5). The conditions of their employment are equally disadvantageous, with many experiencing “wage theft, and almost 50 percent of [surveyed undocumented workers] stated that they had been denied access to water or bathroom breaks while on the job” (Furman et al 2012:5). These workers have little recourse against such basic violations of workplace ethics since they cannot rely on the law to protect them for fear of arrest and deportation, and are unlikely to remediate their situation by finding other employment because the practice is widespread.

Businesses do not passively wait for illegal immigrants to apply for work. Employers intentionally recruit and assemble brown collar work forces because undocumented workers are vulnerable and “more likely to be subservient than native citizens” (Hipolito 2010:74). Since these undocumented workers fear deportation they are “beholden to the employer” (Hipolito 2010:68) and lack the bargaining power to receive just compensation or address working conditions. Employers who hire undocumented workers often “subject these immigrant to employment violations and reduced wages, which ultimately degrades the job for documented workers as well” (Hipolito 2010:68). This allows the employer to produce a product or sell a service at lower costs than competitors “who do not engage in similar exploitation” (Hipolito 2010:68). Thus, employers are well served by hiring illegal immigrants because the reduced cost of labor, benefits, and basic employee rights lowers costs overall and increases profit. While the employers knowingly and willingly defy immigration law, just as the immigrant does, they are not equally punished for their transgressions. Congress and the courts effectively ignore “ignore that many employers intentionally hire undocumented immigrants to exploit their vulnerabilities stemming from their immigration status” and “focus on the undocumented worker” (Hipolito 2010:73). The fines for hiring illegal immigrants do not negate the cost benefit of hiring them in the first place, so that even when punished, most employers merely continue to conduct business. The undocumented worker, however, faces imprisonment, deportation, loss of wages, and all of the consequences thereof.

The benefits of a subservient and low paid workforce applies to all sectors of the economy, even the highly profitable tech sector. While prominent Silicon Valley companies report record profits and share that wealth with their employees, they do so in part by contracting many of their operational services to companies that overwhelmingly hire illegal immigrants and African Americans. These contractors directly contribute to the corporate climate and functionality of these tech firms by working as “janitors, security guards, shuttle drivers, landscape workers, cafeteria workers” and other positions which endure “low wages and insecure working conditions” (Benner & Neering 2016:3). Benner and Neering admit that studying this invisible workforce is difficult, “given the lack of direct data on the nature of employment contracts,” but have utilized indirect methodology to estimate “a good picture of the demographic characteristics, wages, and socio-economic circumstances of this population” (2016:3). There is an estimated “19,000-39,000 people in low and medium wage occupations who contract directly with high-tech firms in the valley,” who work not only in service and blue-collar occupations, but include many white-collar occupations as well such as “secretaries, sales representatives, couriers and messengers,” and are “disproportionately people of color” who are paid less than 70% of what “comparable direct-hire employees of high tech firms earn” (Benner & Neering 2016:3). This disparity in pay results in approximately 18% of these workers earning “below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level – despite working an average of 39 hours a week” (Benner & Neering 2016:6). Due in part to the high cost of living in Silicon Valley, these contract workers face “substantially worse socio-economic conditions and housing circumstances along a wide-range of measures, including ability to own versus rent, levels of over-crowding, dependence on public assistance, access to health insurance, and overall poverty levels” (Benner & Neering 2016:16). The average rent for a two bedroom unit in the area is $2,813 dollars, which leaves workers in low paid jobs “only a few hundred dollars left after paying rent, forcing difficult choices between stable housing and food, transportation, medical expenses or child care” (Working Partnership USA 2016:7). Silicon Valley tech firms achieve great financial success in part due to the underpaid contributions of these contracted employees which places them in situations where the taxpayer must bear the burden of feeding and housing them, essentially subsidizing these very profitable firms by providing the barest essential support for an invisible workforce.

Despite the contributions that illegal immigrants provide to the companies that hire them, and as a consequence the contributions to the economy as a whole, approximately half of Americans are “greatly concerned about illegal immigration, and their concern has escalated since 2001” (Diaz et al. 2011:303). While a majority of Americans believe that undocumented workers are hard workers and contribute economically, they fear the costs incurred through the “use of public resources by immigrants, such as educational and medical services, as well as how immigrants drive wages down for many citizens” (Diaz et al. 2011:303). This worry is coupled with a preconception that the United States is being flooded with immigrants when in actuality the “number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has stabilized over the past few years, due in part to greater enforcement of immigration laws but mostly to the slowdown in the U.S. economy” (Furman et al 2012: 2). These concerns often manifest in hostile nativist exclusionary sentiments directed at immigrants.

These sentiments have led to increasingly hostile legal and social policy towards illegal immigrants. These policies are based on rhetoric which constructs two opposing groups, the hardworking “hardworking ‘taxpayers/citizens’ who were being unfairly burdened by government versus ‘freeloading’ immigrants who entered the country in search of free education, health care, housing, and food stamp benefits” (Fernandez 2010:108). This rhetoric describes “immigration as a redistributive policy that was unjustly taking away taxpayer’s privileges and rights as citizens and sharing them with foreigners who had not earned them” which ignores evidence to the contrary, that “legal and illegal immigrants are in fact also ‘taxpayers’—contributing income, social security, property, and sales taxes to the nation” (Fernandez 2010:108). These sentiments are not unusual in the history of the United States. Immigrants as a whole, and illegal immigrants in particular since the 1980s, have long been targets for displaced anger during economic crisis. The United States has a long history of xenophobic reactions to “the influx of immigrants from various cultural backgrounds” that has created social policy which seeks to protect American cultural values and citizen’s economic status (Diaz, et al 2011:301). Historically, critics of lax immigration policy posit that illegal immigrants steal jobs from Americans while simultaneously burdening the educational, welfare, and health systems, and often consider “a large number of illegal immigrants to pose a threat to the society’s basic structure and safety” (Diaz, et al 2011:302). This mirrors the concern and discriminatory practices that have accompanied every prior influx of immigrants to these shores. Whether those unwanted immigrants were Irish, Italian, Polish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Mexican, they have contributed to the diversity and economic prowess of the United States, “which has contributed to the nation as a whole from colonial times to the current day” (Diaz, et al 2011:303).

Regardless of their merits, these sentiments and rhetoric have resulted in subsequently stricter immigration laws in many states, including Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia. These laws have resulted in unintended consequences to the agricultural sectors of Alabama and Georgia. Both states are now experiencing “significant labor shortages and [these states] have expressed concern over their inability to plant and harvest crops” (Furman, et.al 2012:4). This supports the implication that immigrant workers contribute to the economic well-being of states reliant on agriculture by performing jobs that many Americans would prefer not to do. The Georgia Department of Labor reports a 5.4% unemployment rate (Butler 2016), while the Alabama Labor Department reports a 6.2% unemployment rate (Labor Market Division 2016), both of which are higher than the national average of 4.9% (Butler 2016).

Currently, U.S. immigration law and employment law do not function in tandem. A company that employs illegal immigrants may is willingly breaking the law but they only face fines from immigration violations. The United States prioritizes “immigration violations at the expense of employment remedies” (Hipolito 2010:68). The crimes committed against the undocumented worker, for instance wage theft or overtime violations, are not repaid. Employment law is effectively irrelevant in the case of undocumented workers, which means that in many cases, even with fines, it is still financially beneficial to hire illegal immigrants. This creates a demand for illegal workers which is continually filled by new immigrants who are subsequently punished for providing the labor our legal system encourages. If employment rights were protected equally, it would encourage an equalization of labor costs of documented and undocumented workers, resulting in employers having “less incentive to hire undocumented worker, and thus there would be less demand for undocumented workers overall” (Hipolito 2010:69).

Current American politics is inundated with rhetoric which portrays illegal immigrants as job stealing parasites who are overrunning the country with anchor babies. The first part of that accusation seems hollow in light of the effects of curtailing illegal immigration in states such as Alabama and Georgia. Even in immigrant friendly states such as California, illegal immigrants perform backbreaking physical labor such as picking grapes manually, or serve in invisible underpaid contract jobs for the tech sector, jobs that the majority of Americans evidently would prefer not to do, from the vast number of minorities represented in their number. The second part of the accusation, that they are parasites, is a direct consequence of lax labor laws in regards to immigrants and the ability of employers to leverage that into reduced costs which are then transferred to the taxpayer, which by extension, includes illegal immigrants. While immigrants are likely to be paid low enough to not pay income taxes, they do still consume products which contributes to the overall tax revenue of their state. The welfare costs associated with illegal immigrants is a result of employers leveraging their legal status to their benefit. The third accusation, that illegal immigrants are overrunning the country is unlikely and the result of racial and cultural stereotyping. The rate of illegal immigration has stabilized for the past decade, and despite former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s claim that “immigrants are more fertile” the birth rate has “declined more than twice as much for immigrants as natives between 2008 and 2013” (Camarota & Zeigler 2015:1). While technically, Jeb Bush was correct, “immigrant fertility has only a small impact on the nation’s over­all birth rate” and raises “the birth rate for all women in their reproductive years by 4% percent” (Camarota & Zeigler 2015:1). This potential increase is mitigated by the reduced Total Fertility Rate (the total number of expected children) which has declined for immigrants more rapidly than for natives and if trends continue will drop below the “level necessary to replace the existing population” of immigrants (Camarota & Zeigler 2015:1). The rhetoric aimed at illegal immigrants focuses on negative societal effects which are either incorrect, such as stealing jobs, the result of lax employment law, such as taxpayer cost, or based on racial stereotyping and without consequence.

If it is beneficial for the United States to curtail illegal immigration, it is necessary to create and enforce laws which prevent employers from profiting from illegal immigration. The results of such laws have potentially steep costs to the economy, as seen in Georgia and Alabama. It is likely that more economically powerful employers, such as Silicon Valley tech sector firms, would be able to withstand the increased costs of such potential laws, but it would result in significant changes to the industry and its profits, which would affect their direct hire employees and stockholders. If, on the contrary, it is beneficial for the United States to embrace illegal immigrants, then it may become necessary to dispense with the concept of illegal immigration and grant them a legal status which protects them from abuse, which as a consequence will increase the costs associated with hiring them. This may result in higher wages for low-skilled natives but it may also result in a reduction in workforce, just as minimum wage hikes result in increased automation and reduced staff. Regardless of what policy changes occur, it is clear that the invisible work done by illegal immigrants is an essential part of the United States economy yet they are held in contempt by many Americans. Politicians gain influence by speaking against illegal immigrants while simultaneously receiving campaign contributions from companies who benefit from their labor. The economic, political, and social benefits and costs of illegal immigration form a complex equation unlikely to be solved by blunt application of political force.










References

Benner, Chris and Kyle Neering. 2016. “Silicon Valley Technology Industries Contract Workforce Assessment.” Everett Program: Digital Tools for Social Innovation 1–34. Retrieved (http://www.everettprogram.org/main/wp-content/uploads/contract- workforce-assessment.pdf).

Butler, Mark, ed. n.d. “Georgia Department Of Labor.” Georgia Department of Labor. Retrieved April 6, 2016 (http://dol.georgia.gov/).

Diaz, Priscila, Delia S. Saenz, and Virginia S. y. Kwan. 2011. “Economic Dynamics And Changes in Attitudes Toward Undocumented Mexican Immigrants in Arizona.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 11(1):300–313.

Devault, Marjorie L. 2014. “Mapping Invisible Work: Conceptual Tools For Social Justice Projects.” Sociol Forum Sociological Forum 29(4):775–90.

Fernandez, Lilia. 2010. “Deconstructing Immigration Discourse.” Journal of American Ethnic History 30(1):107–11.

Furman, R., A. R. Ackerman, and N. J. Negi. 2012. “Undocumented Latino Immigrant Men in the United States: Policy and Practice Considerations.” International Social Work 55(6):816–22.

Hipolito, Joey. 2010. “Learning From RICO: Immigration Enforcement Through Employer Accountability.” Berkely La Raza Law Journal 20:67–88.

Labor Market Information Division, ed. 2016. “ALABAMA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE AND NUMBER UNEMPLOYED.” Alabama Department of Labor. Retrieved April 6, 2016 (http://www2.labor.alabama.gov/laus/map.pdf).



Webb, J. W., L. Tihanyi, R. D. Ireland, and D. G. Sirmon. 2009. “You Say Illegal, I Say Legitimate: Entrepreneurship In the Informal Economy.” Academy of Management Review 34(3):492–510.

Working Partnership U. SA. 2016. “Tech's Invisible Workforce.” Silicon Valley Rising. Retrieved April 6, 2016 (http://www.siliconvalleyrising.org/).





Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Damned and the Redeemed - Second Draft

The Damned and the Redeemed
That damnable fool.  That strutting, idiotic peacock and his gallant naivety.  For every time he has saved my life, I have saved him from himself.  For every ridiculous scheme that sunk, I have been there to toss the drowning moron a line. This time, he has implicated me.  Not only has he implicated me, but he has left me solely accountable for whatever comes of this debacle.  I should be livid but under the circumstances that would hardly be honorable. 
I should have stopped this before it began.  When he first told me of his intentions toward Lady Auxten, so far above of his station, I should have convinced him to seek another union.  I did attempt to persuade him.   I reminded him of his reputation as a rake and a gadfly, two aspects of his personality which overshadowed his stalwart bravery and naval acumen.  Lady Bronwyn Auxten was the adopted niece of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Auxten, Charles Windmere.  Harlon Sonne was the orphan son of a house destroyed in the revolution.  The same revolution that killed his parents also allowed for social advancement, even for someone with nothing to their name but shame.  A naval commission may have allowed him to attend the same balls as the young Lady Bronwynn, but there was no chance that such a union would ever be approved.  He simply lacked the resources necessary for Lord Auxten to approve such a dalliance, much less any union.  I told him exactly what our chances were after the Worricker Ball, in our shared apartments.    
“I won’t hear anything so dire,” cried Sonne as he gesticulated with a snifter of brandy.  “You speak of marriage as if it were a matter of politics and court!  It is love, you damned accountant!  You keep reminding me that this is now a world in which any man may rise in station, but here you speak to me of limits!”
“If you were in line for a Captaincy, I do not doubt that you could persuade Lord Auxten to consider your worth, but you’ve destroyed any chance of that, haven’t you?” I asked, not expecting an answer.  Sonne had been caught with the daughter of the Vice Admiral in his very quarters aboard the Seneschal.  He’d been demoted and drummed out of the command training program as a result.  Only his reputation as a swordsman and pistoleer had kept the Admiral from dueling him, and those same skills made him invaluable on an assault frigate such as my ship, the Vendetta.  Were it not for my letter accepting responsibility for his future actions he would have been run out of the navy. 
“I have a plan,” he said with sudden sobriety.  “I have heard of a fellow named Mr. Wilde in Stonebottom, they call him the ‘repairer of reputations,’ it’s said that he can fix all sorts of problems.  Even the kind of problems beyond helping.”
“What in the twelve hells does that even mean?” I asked. 
“I have absolutely no idea,” he cackled, “but what the hell, it should be good for a lark.”
He’d retired to bed then, laughing about the whole thing, but the very next morning he woke me with full expectation I would accompany him in his excursion to Stonebottom.  I objected on two grounds.  The first being that it should be impossible to be in such good cheer after having consumed so much brandy, and the second being that there was very little chance some nobody from the city’s poorest ward would have any sway with the powers of the city or their opinions. 
  From the barracks tower it was but a short ferry ride to Stonebottom, the squalid community that served the docks and shipwrights.  It was a hive of taverns and tenements, whose streets were only cleared by dint of being built upon a hill and rain a common occurrence.  Mr. Wilde’s office was in a particularly charmless split level attached to some sort of warehouse, outside which lurked men of ill disposition.  Inside the building, a young boy had lounged upon the stairs, playing with a wooden figure crudely carved and painted to look like a navy officer.  He’d smiled at us with his two front teeth missing and said, “You’ll be wanting Mr. Wilde, upstairs.  Go on in, the door’s unlocked.”   
Opening that door had been like visiting an abattoir of good taste. The noisome odor of mildew assaulted the senses.  Stacks of books and rough crates stuffed with maps and scrolls left little room to navigate, but a circuitous path led through to an inner office, a split door whose upper section was open, and from which a haze of smoke wafted. 
Mr. Wilde was like no man I had ever seen.    He wore some fungus colored frock coat and a lemon yellow cravat seemingly tied by a toddler.  His proportions left the eyes watering.  Too long arms extended from a barrel chest, his hand undefinably wrong, and a head far too small, wrinkled and spotted like a turnip left too long in a cellar.    I should have taken Sonne by the shoulder and run out of that place then, but I was captivated.  As much as I loathed the atmosphere in that place, between the mildew, the foulness in his pipe, and the man himself, I was entranced by the prospect of the strange. 
And strange it had been.  In a watery voice, he’d asked few questions, the whole time seated behind that double-hung door and smoking something that reeked of piss and jasmine.  He’d laid cards out on the counter at one point, most of them common playing cards, but mixed in were symbols and signs like no deck I had seen, neither of the minor or major arcana’s with which I was familiar.  Finally, after Sonne had claimed to offer him any sum he could manage, he’d agreed.  “You speak of a price.  I speak of costs.  Your reputation can be restored, but your coin is meaningless to me.  What I require is something lost by one and found by another, a ledger bound in seal hide, locked and bound with a star clasp.”
I knew the book of which he spoke.  It’d been captured by our very ship the foregoing week, taken from a sleek cutter with no flags or name, with a masthead of squid bottomed siren, and a crew of cutthroats who had fought to the last, even after quarter had been offered.  The ledger lay in the ship’s tower hold, not yet inventoried, and its provenance unknown.   How could he know such a thing? 
“Listen,” Sonne began, “I have no idea what you are going on about.  I have coin and I have the willingness to be in your debt, to perform some favor or task you set before me.  This book you speak of, I have no idea.”
“Then fate has intervened on your behalf,” Mr. Wilde smiled then, nodding to me.  My fascination was now replaced with an urge to bathe.  With his full attention on me there was no escaping those jaundiced eyes or the sickly rot of his rictus smile.  He unnerved me, I am not ashamed to admit.  “Your friend here knows, and when you have decided you know where to find me.”  He slid backwards as if his chair were on a track and the upper door closed with finality.  The interview was at an end. 
“What is he referring to, old friend?”  Sonne asked while picking his way through the stacks of moldering texts. 
I convinced him that it would be better to discuss such matters out of Mr. Wilde’s earshot.  He suggested a local tavern he was familiar with, the Wicker Witch, a name that did not inspire much faith on my part.  Still, I had gone and found it to be less odious than I imagined.  Common it certainly was, its patrons at this early hour a mixture of dockworkers and doxies.  While neither of us wore our uniforms our garb marked us as a step above in station, which garnered the attention of two of the comelier fille de joie.  I’d have rather sent them off, but Sonne suggested that we try to fit in, and two aristocrats slumming was common enough.    So we’d made an offer to pay them to laugh and drink with us, but nothing more.  The payment tendered was sufficient for any of their services.
“This, by the way, is not how one shirks the reputation of an indolent drunkard hedonist,” I said gesturing to the two women now bouncily entertaining us.
“If I am to use a repairer of reputations, I may as well get my money’s worth” he laughed as he made a show of accidently pouring some of his mead down the girl’s blouse.    
“If I am correct,” I began over the sound of the cocotte’s singing some bawdy song involving a chicken, “he is referring to a ledger taken from that smuggling sloop we captured last week.  The captain authorized you to lead the boarding when they refused quarter,”
“And those tattooed heathens actually put up a decent fight,” he interjected.  “I remember the ship.  The holds barely had anything worth the fight, I recall.”
“Just so.  I’ve not fully inventoried it, but she was carrying mostly exotic pottery and some statuary, as well as a few crates of opium.  Honestly, there was no reason for the fight.  The taxes would have been minimal, far less than what we found in the captain’s chest.”
“Maybe they’d just taken too much of their own opium and were looking for a fight.  They certainly fought as if mad.”
“Well, obviously, your friend Mr. Wilde was in league with these madmen, and whatever is in that book is almost certainly why they were willing to die to get it here unremarked and unseen,” I explained. 
“Does he look like a pirate to you?  No, he’s just some nutter who works as a fence or some such.  It’s only a book after all, no harm would come of it disappearing from the hold.”
“Says the man who isn’t responsible.”
“Exactly!” He laughed good-naturedly and bought another round of drinks. 
We’d gone around the issue for hours, I made the case that the book must be dangerous of valuable.  He’d argued that the book was probably just a pretense to get us to do something that would put us under his thumb.  When I asked how that was better he’s said that if he tried to blackmail us he’d wind up in Crab Bay as chum.  Eventually he had convinced me to go to the tower and examine the book.  The bargain being that if it were something dangerous or valuable we’d report it to our captain without delay.
It was a strange book to be sure.  The hide cover was poorly tanned and held some scent of rot about it.  Four shanks of brass formed a brace holding the pages tight, the key hold set into a kind of curved star upon the center of the book.  The workmanship of that lock was superior and neither Sonne nor I was able to breach the lock.  Still, the cover gave just enough to bend the pages at the upper and lower edges and it seemed to be blank pages of heavy weight rag paper.  It was valuable in its workmanship but nothing illicit. 
I’d agreed to think it over but said we should wait until the morning, as I wanted to get some more information on this Mr. Wilde.  To that end we’d caroused the finest establishments that Stonebottom had to offer.  We’d spent coin on drinks, coin on girls, and coin just for conversations with men of ill repute.  His name was known to a few, but he was friends with none.  He was called a purveyor of lost things.  One called him a slackjawed serpent and a cheat, but he’d been too drunk to remember what the cheat had been.  One woman said he was a man you could trust, considering her profession as a seller of flesh I was unwilling to take her word for it.   I was drunk, I realized, and so did Sonne.  He’d changed tactics at some point and was no longer looking for some edge over Wilde.   He was now sure that Wilde could perform some miracle for him. 
“Ambrose,” he drawled as he propped my legs up on the couch in our apartment, “look at it this way.  If this works, and I he does repair my reputation, and I do woo and wed Bronwynn, you will be my best man.  You’ll be in with the highest social circles in this heaven forsaken city.  You’re already destined for great things.  I could introduce you to her cousin Mavis, she’s just the sort for you.”
I don’t know how I responded.  I don’t believe I relented.  I can only say with certainty that the day of drinking had finally caught up to me.  In my dreams that star shape had burned in my mind.  Silver like mercury, some lambent flame where the keyhole should be.  I’d dreamed of forcing it open, my hands burning on the cold brass.  Inside had been words that blurred and moved and hurt the eyes.  I’d dreamed of turning pages faster and faster looking for something clear, something I understood.  I felt a hand upon my shoulder and turned only to find…
…myself awakened by the cries of pie sellers below.  I scrambled to my feet and found my keys gone.  I imagined how it had gone.  The bastard was one of those drunkards who could pass for sober, and for whom drink made sleep nigh impossible, filling him with an unholy energy.  Passed out and dead to the world I had been easy prey.  He’d taken my keys, wobbled down to the Confiscation Holds, and played just sober enough to convince the posted guard I had sent him for some papers or such.  To the guard my ledger would look no different than that seal hide tome, and he’d be off.  As an officer, he’d requisition a ferry from the seawall, just as I had done now.  And while I had shouted and waved my service weapon to get a carriage to stop for me, somehow, I knew that one would be waiting for him, they’d call him by name, and they would not need to know their destination.  Mr. Wilde would be waiting for him, not in his office but that warehouse beneath his offices.  He’d have the key, and it would be as eldritch as that confounded ledger.  The sick hollow in my stomach as the carriage raced up Carroway Avenue told me that it was no ledger, at least not one in which funds and supplies were accounted.  I feared what that book really accounted and knew that the cost Mr. Wilde had spoken of was far more than just some book, if my fears were correct and my nightmares prophetic, the cost would be far dearer.  
The carriage had lurched to a sudden screeching halt, its fore axle snapping and smashing the chassis into the cobblestone road.  I’d climbed out through the seized door, and found the coachmen seeing to his steeds, one of which was mewling in a way no horse ever should.  I approached and drew my pistol, proffering it to the man with as much sympathy as I had to offer.  He’d done the deed and thanked me.  Into his hand I had shoved a five guilder coin, enough to replace the horse and then I ran. 
From Carroway I turned on Weald, and ran, my pistol drawn, and my scabbarded saber in hand.  The night porters on this road did not mark my passing.  The splash of chamber pots around me did not deter me.  Yet, when I turned on Marrow, the lane upon which Mr. Wilde’s office crouched, and I could see that lights burned within that low roofed building, a pair of men stepped out of the mists to accost me.  Their intentions were clear enough, with one carrying a ball and chain, and the other a wicked rusted shark knife.  Quartermaster I may be, but soldier I was first.  Without hesitation I raised my pistol and fired, a blossom of red and white viscera blooming where the knifeman’s throat had been.  He gurgled his outrage even as his friend swung the chain.  My offhand raised in defense, the scabbard of my blade catching the worst of the sting but the tip smashed my pistol from my grip.  I thrust downward with all my strength, pulling the larger man off balance and drawing my sword with my main.  My upswing sliced through his belly in a moon shaped gash, and he went down, fleshy filth slithering into the street.  I did not stop to ensure they would not rise, instead quickly grabbing the gun and hoping the firing mechanism was sound.
I ran headlong into the warehouse, ready to fight, but found no living thing to challenge me.  Fires burned in crude crocks.  Squiggling lines and static curves were scrawled with precision on the floor, etched in black on the wooden floor.  The place stank wet smoke, emanating from a man sized effigy of reeds and bound herbs, bound in bailing wire.  A lectern stood before it, at the conjunction of these strange lines and curves.  Gun and blade in hand, I approached, and found the surface of the pulpit seared with weird branch like sigil.  Wilde was in the wind and the tome with him.  My friend, Harlon Sonne, damn his eyes, was gone as well.  The rage that had fueled me seeped from my limbs and I felt all the weight of carousing and now fighting leaden my limbs.  Yet, I could not leave well enough alone.  With the tip of my blade I pushed aside the reeds and found beneath a boy, blackened by smoke and wedged between his missing teeth, that wooden doll painted in navy blue. 
I retched then.    
I am not sure how long I stood there looking on that corpse.  He was hardly the first I had seen, nor the youngest, nor the goriest, but there was a gruesomeness to the act, an emotionlessness which hung about the chamber that left me adrift in a void.  As a navy man I had opened holds where slaves had been left to eat their dead.  I’d been in boarding actions where boys had been strapped with crude explosives and shoved into our men.  I’ve seen horror and human debasement used as weapons.  Yet something about this boy’s corpse chilled me.  I realized then that he had no eyes, they’d been taken before being smoked. 
When I stumbled from that place, my assailants corpses were gone, taken by whom I do not know.  Nothing seemed right.  Were they brigands as I had assumed?  Or were they in cahoots with Mr. Wilde?  Where was my friend and why did the boy have to die like that?  The questions hounded me, leaving me adrift.  By the time I made it to the docks it was past midday.  I realized that I was covered in a spray of blood, and that passersby had shunned my approach.  It was not until a dock warden tried to arrest me that I came to my senses.  I told him of the boy and the warehouse and Mr. Wilde.  My rank and my bearing may have been enough to convince him I was no lunatic, but he did not seem shocked by my tale either.
As I climbed the steps of the barracks, Mate Runnel, caught me, asking “Have you not heard?  Come, it’s Lt. Sonne!“   Of course, I had heard nothing but the look of anger in Runnel’s face told me enough.  I followed runnel across the sea wall to the Vendetta, and down into the hold where our ship’s doctor, Kalstein, was wrists deep in my friend.
“What happened?” I shouted, filled now with rage for whoever would strike my dearest compatriot. 
Sonne lifted his head and answered me himself, his voice the languid tone he affects when under the power of poppymilk.  “I went straight away to Lord Auxten, seeking him at the Grand Exchequers, and he agreed to speak to me privately in the garden.  We were set upon.  Blaggards who thought to ransom the Lord, I imagine.  Or perhaps they were royalists.  I know not.”
                He was interrupted by a terrible gurgling from within his open belly.  Dr. Kalstein dragged out a mass of bloody filth and tossed it into a bucket while his aide flushed the area with saline. 
“That is enough, lieutenant.  I kept you awake to tell me when the pain spikes above the effect of the laudanum, not to extoll your exploits,” said the doctor.
“I feel no pain, doctor.  I have to make my report.  I have to tell my friend,” Harlon’s voice quaked, and I went to his side, and saw what was left of my friend. 
My gun hand rose and I leveled the barrel directly at the doctor’s chest. 
                “That is quite enough of that, Kalstein,” I managed to say without screaming.  I knew what I was doing would see me court martialed, but that ghoul was no longer trying to save his life.  There was no living with those wounds.  The stench of his bowels flooding into his bloodstream told me everything I needed to know.  My education at the citadel was not without some merit.
Runnel had no idea what to do.  He shouted some kind of admonition but the doctor dropped his butcher’s tools on the table and walked away without another word.
“There were four of them, in grey rags with daggers and these scarves with sharp discs sewn in them.  They disarmed me easily, they were so fast.  Auxten is no fighter, but I dove into the fray, weapon or no.  I held them off, breaking one’s nose, and another’s neck before the Exchequer’s guards showed.  By then, it was too late.  Auxten was unharmed, but…” his eyes made a downward kind of motion, “you see what happened to me.” 
                “Lord Auxten called me the bravest man he’d ever seen.  He swore he would recommend me for promotion.  He told me that I would be held up as an example of all that is great in the service of one’s fellows. “
“You’re a good friend, Ambrose.”
Those were his last words.  He started to froth at the mouth, convulsing as the poisons in his blood sent him into shock.
“Kalstein, you bloodless hack, give him something for the pain or I swear your brains will paint the walls of this boat,” I said sharply as I cocked the hammer of my pistol.
                He did as I asked and then left, to report my insubordination to the captain.  I watched my damn fool friend die, from wounds that would certainly see him posthumously rewarded for gallantry and noble sacrifice.  He’d fought off four assassins, saved the life of one of the most powerful men in the city, and done so with no regard to his safety.  No one would mention his indiscretions again.  Like all the great fools in this world, he’d died with honor and left me, the real fool to settle his accounts. 


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Speakeasy

The Speakeasy

“You ever been to a speakeasy?” Chad had asked over the sound of sizzling latkes, a specialty of his.  He was probably at his most charming in the morning.  He wasn’t yet an investment broker this early on.  The hard edges were not yet honed.  Out of his suits he was more approachable, a towheaded lanky man in boxers who watched cartoons and made Polish food.

“Pretty sure those went out of fashion in 1933,” I responded between bites of fried potato and cheese.
With a rather wry smile, he explained, “I was given an invite to a club, very exclusive, where some of the real powers in the city go to let loose.  I thought maybe we’d go and mix things up a little.  You’ll have to dress up a little.  Maybe even a dress.  Do you even have one?”

“Bite me.  And yeah, sounds fun.  What’s the name?” I asked.

“The people who own it didn’t want it to have a name.  Like I said, it’s pretty exclusive.  I called it a speakeasy because there is a password and everything, in addition to having to be on the list.”

So, yeah, I had agreed to it.  It sounded a little extravagant and pretentious, but that could be fun.   Since the initial torrid run of casinos, bars, and hotels our dates had become rather simplistic.  We’d meet up for drinks and dinner, maybe catch a movie, but usually it came down to me crashing at his place for a few days before I needed to head out on a case.  It was beginning to feel like an old worn in sort of relationship, not the hot sexy romance I needed to balance everything else going on.

I’d not heard of a speakeasy in the city, but we travel in different circles.  I’m more likely to drink someplace that doesn’t have a cover and everyone knows your name.  Chad, though, he liked the trappings of his wealth.  Most of my cases were more plebian in origin, so I’d rarely operated in the upper echelons of the city.

My family, being black and metis, was on the poor side as well.  Still, grandma had raised me to have some manners and to have some pride.   As to myself, I’d dressed as well as my closet allowed.  The dress was a couple of years old, a red satin A-line number with corset lacing in the back.  The nice thing about it was that it would never be fully out of style and the full skirt hid a multitude of sins.  The negative being that the demure neckline and slight shimmer gave me the look of a schoolgirl at a formal.  My penchant for Kate Bush inspired smoky eyes and blood red lips combined with my caramel skin was, if I do say so myself, fairly appealing if somewhat unconventional.  For me, it is what passed for charm.   So I wore that A-line with panache, back straight, my walk a balance of hip shaking sex and frigid don’t fuck with me attitude.  The power-stripper heels helped.  In a pinch, I am pretty sure I could kill a man with them.

“Check that out, a cigar girl,” Chad laughs one of his humorless chuckles and points crudely across the span of the darkened room.  She’s in a gold vest with a red pillbox hat, hair perfectly swirled to frame her rather striking features.

“It’s like Jackie O. fell on hard times,” I quipped, noting the resemblance to the former first lady, one the hat reinforced, whether the girl knew it or not.

“Jackie?  Which one is that?  Is she that rich bitch you go shopping with?”  He’s grinning as he sips his drink, a neat Johnny Walker.

I’d like to think he was joking, but his knowledge of American politics is about as deep as his knowledge of whiskey.  I don’t bother to respond, instead I choose to enjoy the feeling of a well stuffed leather chair, the constant pound of blues and rock, and the atmosphere of indulgence.  My eyes were drawn to the cigar girl, who wore only a leotard and smoke grey hose beneath the tray.  She was exquisite, gliding through the tables with winks and smiles.  Her customer, a tanning bed bronze blonde of trophy quality, was treated to the ritual of the cigar.  The label was carefully slipped off, the end neatly clipped, then delicately dipped and swirled in a glass of amber liquid, Brandy most likely, then placed in the blonde’s waiting crimson lips.  A sliver of balsa is produced and lit, turned to insure proper heat, and applied to the end.  Suck, draw, and exhale.  The ritual is complete.  A generous tip is slid into the cigar girl’s bosom by the blonde’s male escort, and she curtsies her farewell.

“Oh, man, that’s hot.  You want a cigar?”  Chad had watched the transaction as well.

“You know I can’t resist anything thick, tasty, and hot.”  I said in mock seriousness.

He grinned in a response and said, “And that’s your best quality.”

It wasn’t of course.  Even without dirty jokes I could be pretty funny.  I was great at small talk, especially any conversation my degrees in History and Sociology could come in handy.  I liked sports, drove a motorcycle, and could cook.  I should have men lined up outside my trailer door, in my opinion.  An opinion which was evidently not shared with most of the city’s male population.  Chad liked it though.  I tuned up his car.  I could talk sports to his friends while he read Forbes.
He waved her over with a folded twenty, “What’s your name, doll?”

“Garnet,” her smile was professional and slyly solicitous just as I’d expect, but her working name was original.  I found myself liking Jackie O.  She offered a few suggestions, Monte Cristo, Flores, Hoyo de Monterrey, but Chad interrupted and asked for a “Cuban”.

“Well, sir, I’d love to, but we usually only have a box or two from Cuba, and it happens to be that we’ve sold out.  If you don’t mind me saying so, these Drew Estate Tabak Especial from Nicaragua are just the sort of cigar for the discerning man.”  I noticed that she did not give a price, and Chad didn’t ask as he agreed to two of them.

“Ladies first,” she asked, with just a hint of flirtation as she bowed beside me.

“Uh, yeah.”  Chad, ever the gentleman, seemed on the verge of correcting her, but her position afforded him a distracting view of her d├ęcolletage, and he seemed to forget whatever it was he was about to say.

She described the cigar as infused with essence of rich, aged, coffee beans, with long strands of the finest tobacco.  She suggested that a shot of Amaretto would set the palate in the right mood, and without confirmation poured a shot from her tray.  The array of goods on her tray was surprising.  Aside from the cigar boxes, she carried lighters, matchbooks, clippers, balsa, Amaretto, Brandy, and a Baileys, two high balls, a couple of shot glasses, individual cigarettes in a lovely silver tray, and condoms in neat black wrappers.

She was right.  Though the first puff was drowned by the Amaretto still clinging to my mouth, the second draw was divine, a lovely espresso like sensation that filled and surrounded me upon the exhale.

“Oh, you’ll love this Chad,” I purred as I glanced around the room, realizing that there was actually a dance floor of some kind past the bar.  Chad wasn’t paying attention. He was transfixed by Garnet’s ritual, modified just slightly for his benefit.  She wet the tip, not with Amaretto but with her own tongue, pink, darting, and precise, and deeply sucked and exhaled to provide him with a nicely burning tip.

“Thanks, Doll,” he said earnestly, his hand slid up her thigh as she stood and deposited a folded hundred and the twenty into her pocket.  She did this hip bounce thing by way of thanks, and slinked off to find another mark.  She reminded me of a Playboy bunny from the old Playboy Club show.  She was all sass, sensuality and sly humor, and she sold it well.  

“This is a nice place,” I mused as I watched groups of well-dressed men and women mingle near the bar and meander on and off the dance floor.  One distinguished man in a grey suit was holding court to three ladies of ages ranging from mid-20s to 40s.  There was a gesture towards another man at the bar, who raised his glass in salute before the man slipped his arms around two of the women and the group made their way towards recessed booths on a raised platform, a VIP area of some sort, I assumed.

“Oh yeah, it’s great.  My finance guy turned me on to it last year.”

“Oh, yeah?  How are he and Shannon doing?”  I’d met his finance guy at a barbeque, an officious little prick with a darling girl far too good for him.  Shannon and I had hit it off and played a few games of tennis and followed each other on Instagram.

“His girlfriend?  Oh, yeah.  They’re doing great.  He said something about maybe taking her to Jamaica this spring.

“That’s nice, do you think he’s going to propose?”

“Huh?  Why would he… I mean I guess he might.  I really don’t talk to him about his girls.  I mean, we get drinks together and hang from time to time, but guys don’t talk about that stuff.”

“So, it’s all work, video games, and cars.  Guy stuff all the time,” I quipped.

“Pretty much.  And I’m sure you and,” there was a pause as he searched for her name, “Shannon get together and talk about mani-pedis and Real Housewives and me.  I mean come on, what do you even have in common with that girl?  You don’t do the girl thing.  Your idea of relaxing is working on your bike or shooting at the range.   It’s not like you have girlfriends.”

I wanted to argue.  Actually, I wanted to throw what was left of my martini in his face.

“You mean it’s not like I have friends,” I said, my voice low.

“No, I,” his voice trailed off, and I think he might have even felt a little bad but whatever he was going to say was dropped when the waitress appeared again, depositing another round without ordering.  The efficiency of an experienced cocktail waitress never ceased to impress.  Slender arms slinked between shoulders, depositing martini, whiskey, and waters into the grasp of waiting fingers.  The waitresses here all wear dainty red vests and sleek black skirts with hose, very classy.

“From the lady,” she whispered, and gestured towards a statuesque mature woman in an emerald gown, who tipped her high ball in greeting.  Chad slipped the waitress a bill.

“Well, that’s flattering,” I laughed.  Even from across the room I could see that she was admiring us lasciviously.  Her violet rimmed eyes roamed over us, her mouth curled into an appreciative grin.  As my eyes met hers she licked her lips in the universal greeting of one who wants to take you to bed.
Chad smiled his best frat boy grin and leaned towards me, asking, “What do you think of her? Nice, huh?”

“She’s gorgeous for her age.”  That was probably unkind.  She’d certainly aged well, and it looked like there wasn’t much surgical enhancement.  From here I could see the fine impression of lines around the mouth and eyes, but her neck and arms were still pliant and smooth.  She obviously worked out and probably spent a small fortune on skin care and personal trainers.  She took care of herself.  The purse was obviously quite high end, the shoes exquisite, and the dress had the presence of something not off the rack.  I’m terrible at fashion, but even I knew that she was wearing more than my van was worth.  Whoever she was, she had money and power and was used to getting what she wanted.

“She’s totally into you,” Chad whispered into my ear, after shifting to sit closer.  “Why don’t you go over and talk to her.  I bet she’d love to dance.”

“I came here to be with you,” I protested.

“Of course you did, but maybe it would be cool to add something to the routine, you know?”

“What the hell, Chad.”  Each word was said with precision, measured, far calmer than my clenching fist.  Things started to slip into place.  The nameless club, the extravagance, the cigar girl and her condoms, this place was starting to feel more strip club than exclusive watering hole.

“I thought we might spice things up a little,” he smiled sweetly, his big paw resting on my thigh. “Ever since you showed me pictures of your ex, I’ve been wanting to watch you with a woman.  Why do you think I bought those DVD’s?  I know you enjoy women.  I just wanted us to have one hell of a time.”  He obviously didn’t see anything wrong with this scenario.

“I ‘enjoy’ women?”  I rounded on him, putting my freshly manicured hand against his chest in a warding gesture.  “I don’t ‘enjoy’ women.  Women aren’t like whiskey, Chad.  I don’t pick one out and taste it and discuss it.”

“Oh come off it,” he snarled.  “Of course you do.  That’s what we all do.  You picked me out of a bar.  I picked you.  We went to bed and we liked it enough to keep doing it.”

“Is that what this is?  I’m just good enough in bed to call back?”  I wasn’t being polite anymore.  My voice had carried and a few people had turned their eyes towards our table.  The older blonde couldn’t hear but I was sure she realized we weren’t giving her the attention she wanted.

“Of course not.  You’re awesome, Threnody.  I’ve never known anyone like you, but I’m a pragmatic man.  This isn’t love.  You’re not made to love me and I’m not exactly looking to stop playing.  I care about you.  I do.  That’s why I want to share this kind of experience with you.”  He was at his most charming now.  He’d lowered his voice into his deepest range, speaking in this slow earnest tone that was meant to portray himself as imminently reasonable and affectionate.  It pissed me off.

This experience he wanted to share was really him wanting to fulfill some bog standard sex fantasy.  He wanted his lesbian porn live and in person.  In the back of my mind I knew that there was a circumstance in which it might have happened.  Had it been someone I knew, maybe even the ex he was talking about, Becca, enough booze and poor impulse control might have led down that road.  Had he been subtle enough I might have even planned it myself.  This idea of setting me up with a stranger rankled.

I centered myself and stood in one fluid motion, back straight, head held high, my clutch firmly under my arm.  I gave myself a moment to look around the room while I decided on my next move.  The demographics of the place were becoming obvious.  Women outnumbered the men greatly, and were almost universally good looking and exquisitely dressed.  The men, however, were generally older, of average looks, and in general older.  Chad was probably the youngest guest in the room at thirty-eight.  Hot young women, cougars, and rich old dudes made this place into a gourmet meat market with a VIP area closed off with discreet black curtains guarded by two men in tuxedos.

“What the hell kind of place did you bring me to, Chad?”

“Hon, I said it was a private club, one where you could do pretty much anything you wanted.”  He was still using his bedroom voice.  Normally that would work on me.

“Yeah, I figured you meant smoke, maybe get a gram of coke or something.”

“I thought you liked women?”

“What does that have to do with anything?  I thought we were a couple.”

I thought we were just having a good time.”  He wasn’t confused anymore and he wasn’t playing the reasonable affectionate boyfriend either.

“Such a good time that you brought me to a swinger’s club?”  I hissed as I leaned closer to him, bending at the waist and pressing the palms of my hands against his shoulders.  “Look, dude.  If you wanted a lesbian fantasy we could have gone to a strip club.  If you had talked me up maybe I would have played along with something like this, but springing this on me?  Not right.  No way.”

Mentally, I began to catalog our conversations.  Did I talk about girls being hot more than men?  Had I not told him how much I enjoyed our time together?  I realized that we never talked about our nights together.  We talked about movies, craft beers, motorcycle repair and the sad state of rock and roll.  I barely knew what he did for a living.  I never talked about my cases.  Our whole life was sex, booze, and small talk.

The sound of laughter caught me off guard, especially when I realized it was my own laugh.  I was on the verge of tears too, but the laughter came first.  It always did.  This was when I was at my most dangerous.

A cool delicate hand touched my shoulder, and I spun to find myself face to face with the older blonde.  Up close, she really was lovely and very self-assured.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to apologize for being so forward.”  Her voice was velveteen and cultured, a mixture of Southern belle and East Coast education.

 “Oh, you don’t have anything to be sorry for,” I said, still laughing.

“But he does, I take it?  Let me guess.  This was all rather a shock?”

“You could say that.  Don’t let me stand in the way of a good time though.  By all means, have a seat.”  A waitress appeared like magic and pulled out a third chair for her, which she folded into gracefully.  Chad hardly tried to keep it cool.  His eyes sparkled, his grin flashed white, and he extended a hand in greeting to her even as he slipped his other down my back and against my ass.  

“You two have a lovely time,” and with that I turned on my heel and strode out, matching my heels to the beat of Bauhaus’ “She’s in Parties” playing.

The club was leather and velvet drapes and hardwood, pounding music and the smell of human mating rituals.   The lobby, protected by sound proof walls, was like every other high rise building in downtown.  Cold featureless tile, steel girded tinted windows, a security guard in a cheap ill fitted faux police style, and as empty as I feel.  The security guard asks if I need a cab and I respond with a dismissive wave. I have a ride.

We’re on the 20th floor of a multiuse building with a bank’s name on top.  The elevator is purely functional, a little dingy, and smells of sordid decisions.  I hate elevators but at least I am alone.  By the time the doors open on the ground floor I have a message on my phone. “We can go somewhere else,” it says.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen.

The garage is a car thief’s heaven, ill lit, filthy, and with huge support beams blocking casual observance.  It was also filled with luxury and sports cars and the only security a gate attendant in a booth.  There is a BMW bouncing on its springs, a tawdry continuation of the goings on upstairs.
Chad’s Porsche is his baby.  It is only driven for occasions, otherwise it rests under a soft cover inside the garage.  I realize, without breaking into tears, that he really does love this car more than he would ever love me.  Too bad for him he gave me the key.

It turns over with a dull roar and my seat thrums with bridled power.  He can have the blonde, I have his car.   He’ll get it back.  Tomorrow, maybe.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Precious Stones

The efficiency of an experienced cocktail waitress never ceased to impress.  Slender arms slinked between shoulders, depositing martini, whiskey, and waters into the grasp of waiting fingers.  Deftly, she picks up the cards for the tab, and checking IDs before slipping them into a check holder.  The waitresses here all wear red vests and sleek black skirts with hose, very classy. 
Chad insisted we try this club he’d heard of.  It wasn’t one I had, but we travel in different circles.  I’m more likely to drink someplace that doesn’t have a cover and everyone knows your name.  Chad, though, he liked the trappings of his wealth.  “Check that out, a cigar girl,” Chad laughs one of his humorless chuckles and points crudely across the span of the darkened room.  She’s in a gold vest with a red pillbox hat, hair perfectly swirled to frame her rather striking features.
                “It’s like Jackie O. fell on hard times,” I quipped, noting the resemblance to the former first lady, one the hat reinforced, whether the girl knew it or not.
                “Jackie?  Which one is that?  Is she that rich bitch you go shopping with?”  He’s grinning as he sips his drink, a neat Johnny Walker. 
                I’d like to think he was joking, but his knowledge of American politics is about as deep as his knowledge of whiskey.  I don’t bother to respond, instead I choose to enjoy the feeling of a well stuffed leather chair, the constant pound of classic rock, and the atmosphere of indulgence.  My eyes were drawn to the cigar girl, who wore only a leotard and smoke grey hose beneath the tray.  She was exquisite, gliding through the tables with winks and smiles.  Her customer, a tanning bed bronze blonde of trophy quality, was treated to the ritual of the cigar.  The label was carefully slipped off, the end neatly clipped, then delicately dipped and swirled in a glass of amber liquid, Brandy most likely, then placed in the blonde’s waiting crimson lips.  A sliver of balsa is produced and lit, turned to insure proper heat, and applied to the end.  Suck, draw, and exhale.  The ritual is complete.  A generous tip is slid into the cigar girl’s bosom by the blonde’s male escort, and she curtsies her farewell. 
“Oh, man, that’s hot.  You want a cigar?”  Chad, it seems, had watched the transaction as well. 
“Yeah, sure.  Why not.”
He waved her over with his usual charm, “What’s your name, doll?” 
“Garnet,” her smile was professional and slyly solicitous just as I’d expect, but her working name was original.  I found myself liking Jackie O.  She offered a few suggestions, Monte Cristo, Flores, Hoyo de Monterrey, but Chad interrupted and asked for a Cuban. 
“Well, sir, I’d love to, but we usually only have a box or two from Cuba, and it happens to be that we’ve sold out.  If you don’t mind me saying so, these Drew Estate Tabak Especial from Nicaragua are just the sort of cigar for the discerning man.”  I noticed that she did not give a price, and Chad didn’t ask as he agreed to two of them. 
“Ladies first,” she asked, with just a hint of flirtation as she bowed beside me.
“Uh, yeah.”  Chad, ever the gentleman seemed on the verge of correcting her, but her position afforded him a distracting view of her d├ęcolletage, and he seemed to forget whatever it was he was about to say.
She described the cigar as infused with essence of rich, aged, coffee beans, with long strands of the finest tobacco.  She suggested that a shot of Amaretto would set the palate in the right mood, and without confirmation poured a shot from her tray.  The array of goods on her tray was surprising.  Aside from the cigar boxes, she carried lighters, matchbooks, clippers, balsa, Amaretto, Brandy, and a Baileys, two high balls, a couple of shot glasses, individual cigarettes in a lovely silver tray, and condoms in neat black wrappers.
She was right.  Though the first puff was drowned by the Amaretto still clinging to my mouth, the second draw was divine, a lovely espresso like sensation that filled and surrounded me upon the exhale. 
“Oh, you’ll love this Chad,” I purred as I glanced around the room, realizing that there was actually a dance floor of some kind past the bar.  Chad wasn’t paying attention. He was transfixed by Garnet’s ritual, modified just slightly for his benefit.  She wet the tip, not with Amaretto but with her own tongue, pink, darting, and precise, and deeply sucked and exhaled to provide him with a nicely burning tip. 
“Thanks, Doll,” he said earnestly, his hand slid up her thigh as she stood and deposited a folded bill into her pocket.  She did this hip bounce thing by way of thanks, and slinked off to find another mark.
“This is a nice place,” I mused as I watched groups of well-dressed men and women mingle near the bar and meander on and off the dance floor.  One distinguished man in a grey suit was holding court to three ladies of ages ranging from mid-20s to 40s.  There was a gesture towards another man at the bar, who raised his glass in salute before the man slipped his arms around two of the women and the group made their way towards recessed booths on a raised platform, a VIP area of some sort, I assumed.
“Oh yeah, it’s great.  My finance guy turned me on to it last year.”
“Oh, yeah?  How are he and Shannon doing?”  I’d met his finance guy at a barbeque, an officious little prick with a darling girl far too good for him.  Shannon and I had hit it off and played a few games of tennis and followed each other on Instagram.
“His girlfriend?  Oh, yeah.  They’re doing great.  He said something about maybe taking her to Jamaica this spring.
“That’s nice, do you think he’s going to propose?” 
“Huh?  Why would he… I mean I guess he might.  I really don’t talk to him about his girls.  I mean, we get drinks together and hang from time to time, but guys don’t talk about that stuff.”
“So, it’s all work, and sports, and cars.  Guy stuff all the time,” I quipped.
“Pretty much.  And I’m sure you and,” there was a pause as he searched for her name, “Shannon get together and talk about mani-pedis and Real Housewives and me.  I mean come on, what do you even have in common with that girl?  You’re a P.I.  You know more about guns than I do.  It’s not like you have girlfriends.”
I wanted to argue.  Actually, I wanted to throw what was left of my martini in his face. 
“You mean it’s not like I have friends,” I said, my voice low. 
“No, I,” his voice trailed off, and I think he might have even felt a little bad but whatever he was going to say was dropped when the waitress appeared again, depositing another round without ordering. 
“From the lady,” she whispered, and gestured towards a statuesque mature woman in an emerald gown, who tipped her high ball in greeting.  Chad slipped the waitress a bill.
“What the hell?” I wondered, as the woman clearly checked us both out.  It’s not like I’m not used to being eye groped, and Chad was a slice of beef cake, but this woman, probably old enough to be our mother, was far more forward about it than I was used to outside of a gay bar. 
Chad smiled his best frat boy grin and leaned towards me, asking, “What do you think of her, nice, huh?”
“What the hell, Chad.”  Each word was said with precision, measured, and way more clam than my clenching fist.  Things started to slip into place.  The nameless club, the extravagance, the cigar girl and her condoms, this place was starting to feel more strip club than exclusive watering hole. 
“I thought we might spice things up a little,” he smiled sweetly, his big paw resting on my thigh.  “You told me how much you enjoyed the women you have dated, and I thought maybe this would be fun.”
Enjoyed the women I dated?  I’d dated women, loved one.  I told him, because we’d been together a while and she and I still talked.  Yes, I was bisexual, but when I committed, I was monogamous.  I didn’t play around.  I thought that’s where Chad and I were, in a committed relationship.
“What the hell kind of place did you bring me to?”  Now, the demographics were becoming obvious. There were way more women than men.  The men ranged in age greatly, while most of the women were under 40, and none that I could see were less than pretty.  The VIP area had discreet black curtains that the waitresses ducked in and out of. 
Chad seemed honestly confused.  “Hon, I said it was a private club, one where you could do pretty much anything you wanted.”
                “Yeah, I figured you meant smoke, maybe get a gram of coke or something.”
“I thought you liked women?”
“What does that have to do with anything?  I thought we were a couple.”
“I thought we were just having a good time.”  He wasn’t confused anymore.  His tone hardened quickly.
“Such a good time that you brought me to a swinger’s club?  Jesus, Chad, if you wanted a little kink we could have gone to a strip club and gotten a lap dance.  Not this.  Where would you even think that I would be into something like this?”  Mentally, I began to catalog our conversations, wondering if I had ogled too many girls, caused some terrible misunderstanding.  I began to realize that we barely talked.  We talked movies and TV, he talked about his work, I talked about my clients, we didn’t talk about us.
“Hey, so I was wrong.  Sorry, seriously.”  Chad’s voice had gone low again, and his hand was on the table, kind of patting my forearm.  “Just think about it, OK?  We’ll invite her over and see how it goes, OK?”
                “Yeah, invite her over,” I said as I picked up my clutch and walked out, calling a cab from my cell the moment the elevator hit the ground floor.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Land Raider Part 1

This model was bought almost a decade ago and has been rattling around for nearly as long close to finished.  It suffered from inexperience and a bad can of Citadel primer.  As a result, the original paint job was super heavy, rough, and had these scale like blemishes from the primer.  Basically, the primer clumped and left a powdery residue, and the GW store manager said that it was normal and just paint as I normally would over it.  This was obviously not correct.  Regardless, I painted up the model and I was never happy with it.  Years later I tried to strip it and start over, but the primer was so thick it would not come off.  I ended up using some fine grit sanding paper to smooth it out as best I could.  Rather than give up entirely I decided to make the tank look ancient and battle worn.  I also added some of the many, many (so, so many) Dark Angels icons and such that I got from a Ravenwing Battle force, that were not available when I first bought this tank. The remaining pebbling gave the tank a worn look, and I used the new Eldar Flesh dry brush medium to give it a dusty look to match the natural wear.

Thematically, my Dark Angels are fully engaged in the legion building the High Lords of Terra fear they are, and this command tank actually recalls their status as the first Legion Astartes openly.  I might be adding a few more bits to it here and there.  You can see that it is missing a sensor on one of the sponsons and a smoke grenade launcher on the front headlight flaring.  I'll be replacing those or adding another icon and a headlight, at the least.  I may add a sensor suite or a communications dish up top on the spare (unopenable hatch).

Certainly the next step is to add some weathering powder to the tracks and the lower portion of the tank, as well as adding a little more soot and weathering to the exhaust vents and hinges.  I just bought my first Tamiya weathering kit and am looking forward to playing around with those.