Preppy had organized this party for me, and the pre-prison me would’ve already been snorting blow off the tits of strippers. But post-prison me just wanted some food, a good night’s sleep, and these fucking people to get the hell out of my house.
“You okay, boss-man?” Preppy asked, peeking his head into the room.
I pointed to the unconscious girl in the chair. “Come get this bitch out of here.” I ran my hand through my hair, the pulsing of the music making the pounding in my head grow stronger. “And for fucks sake, turn that shit down!” Preppy didn’t deserve my rage, but I was too fucked up in the head to dial down my orders.
“You got it,” he said, without hesitation.
Preppy slid past me and didn’t question the half-naked girl on the table. He hoisted her limp body over his shoulder in one easy movement. The unconscious girl’s arms flailed around on his back, smacking against his back with each step. Before he could get too far, he turned back to me.
“You done with this?” he asked. I could barely hear him over the music. He gestured with his chin to the brunette on his shoulder, a child-like grin on his face.
I nodded, and Preppy smiled like I’d just told him he could have a puppy.
I loved that kid.
I closed the door, grabbing my gun and knife from the bottom drawer of the tool box I kept my tattoo equipment in. I sheathed my knife in my boot, and my gun in the waistband of my jeans.
I shook my head from side to side to clear away the haze. Prison will do that to you. Three fucking years sleeping with one eye open in a prison full of people with whom I’ve made both friends and enemies.
It was time to keep some of those friends and call in some of those favors, because there was something more important than my own selfish shit that I needed to take care of.
Someone more important.
Sleep could wait. It was time to go down stairs and make nice with the bikers. I’d avoided doing business with them in any capacity for years even though their VP, Bear, is like a brother to me. Bear tried to get me to join his MC a hundred times, but I’d always said no. I was a criminal who liked my crimes straight up, without a side of organized. But now I needed connections the bikers could provide as well as access to shady politicians whose decisions and opinions could be swayed for a price.
I never cared about money before. It used to be something disposable for me, something I used to fund my I don’t give a fuck lifestyle. But now?
Payoffs to politicians didn’t come cheap, and I was going to need a lot of cash and very fucking soon.
Or I was never going to see Max again.
Nikki was my one and only friend in the entire world.
And I kind of fucking hated her.
Nikki was a hooker who’d found me sleeping under a bench. I’d unsuccessfuly avoided the previous nights downpour and had just shivered and chattered myself to sleep. I’d already been living on the streets for several weeks at that point and hadn’t had a real meal since running away from Camp Touchey-Feely, a nickname I gave the group home I’d been left to rot in. I’m pretty sure Nikki was trying to rob me—or what she thought was a corpse—when she just happened to have noticed I was still breathing.
Frankly, I’m surprised she even bothered with me after realizing I was very much alive.
Not so much living, but alive.
Nikki snorted the last of her blow through a rolled up post-it-note off a yellowed sink that was days away from falling free from the wall. The floor was littered with toilet paper, and all three toilets were on the verge of overflowing with brown sludge. The overwhelming scent of bleach singed my nose hairs like someone doused the room with chemicals to lessen the smell but hadn’t bothered with any actual cleaning.
Nikki tilted her chin up toward the moldy ceiling tiles and pinched her nostrils together. A single florescent light flickered and buzzed above us, casting a greenish hue over the gas station bathroom.
“Fuck, that’s good shit,” she said, tossing the empty baggie onto the floor. Using the wand from an almost empty tube of lip-gloss, she fished out whatever was left and applied it to her thin cracked lips. She then smudged the thick liner under her eyes with her pinky until she nodded in satisfaction into the mirror at her racoon-esque smoky look.
I stretched my sleeve of my sweater down over the heel of my hand and wiped the filth off the mirror in front of me, exposing two things: a spider web crack in the corner and the reflection of a girl I didn’t recognize.
Light blonde hair. Sunken cheeks. Bloodshot blue eyes. Dimple chin.
I knew the girl was me, but who the fuck was I?
Two months ago, a garbage man discovered me in an alley where I had been literally thrown out with the trash, found lying in my own blood amongst a heap of garbage bags beside a dumpster. When I woke in the hospital, with the biggest fucking headache in the history of headaches, the police and doctors dismissed me as a runaway. Or a hooker. Or some hybrid combo of the two. The policeman asking me questions at my bedside didn’t bother to hide his disgust when he informed me that what probably happened was a simple case of a John getting rough with me. I’d opened my mouth to argue but stopped.
He could’ve been right.
Nothing else made any sort of sense.
No wallet. No ID. No money. No possessions of any kind.
No fucking memory.
When someone goes missing on the news, teams of people gather together and form a search party. Police reports are filed and and sometimes candlelight vigils are held in hopes the missing would soon return home. What they don’t ever show you is what happens when no one looks. When the loved ones either don’t know, don’t exist…or just don’t care.
The police searched the missing persons reports throughout the state and then the country with no luck. My fingerprints didn’t match any on record, and neither did my picture.
I learned then that being labeled a missing person didn’t necessarily mean I was missed. At least not enough to require any of the theatrics. No newspaper articles. No channel-six news. No plea from family members for my safe return.
Maybe, it was my fault no one had bothered to look for me. Maybe, I was an asshole and people celebrated the day I went away.
Or ran away.
Or was shipped down river in a fucking Moses basket.
I don’t fucking know. Anything was possible.
I don’t know where I came from.
I don’t know how old I am.
I don’t know my real name.
All I had in the world was reflected back at me in the bathroom mirror of that gas station, and I had no fucking clue who she was.
Without knowing if I was a minor or not, I was sent to live at Camp Touchey Feeley, where I only lasted a couple of weeks among the serial masturbators and juvenile delinquents. On the night I woke up to find one of the older boys standing at the foot of my bed with his fly unzipped, his dick in his hand, I escaped through a bathroom window. The only thing I left with was the donated clothes on my back, and a nickname.
They called me Doe.
As in Jane Doe.
The only difference between me and a real Jane Doe was a toe-tag because what I was doing sure as shit wasn’t living. Stealing to eat. Sleeping wherever I could find cover from the elements. Begging on the side of freeway off-ramps. Scrounging through restaurant dumpsters.
Nikki ran her chewed-off fingernails through her greasy red hair. “You ready?” she asked. Sniffling, she hopped on the balls of her feet like she was an athlete amping up for the big game.
Though it was the furthest thing from the truth, I nodded. I wasn’t ready, never would be, but I’d run out of options. It wasn’t safe on the streets, each night in the open was a literal gamble with my life. And not to mention that if I lost any more weight, I wouldn’t have the strength to fight off any threats. Either way I needed protection from both the elements and the people who lurked around at night before I ended up a real Jane Doe.
I don’t think Nikki was capable of registering the feeling of hunger. Given the option, she chose a quick high over a full stomach. Every single time. A sad fact made obvious by her sharp cheek bones and dark circles under her eyes. In the short time I’d known her, I’d never seen her ingest anything but coke.
I judge her and I feel shitty about it. But something inside me tells me that she’s better than the thing she does. When I’m not extremely irritated with her I feel almost protective of her. I was fighting for my own survival and I wanted to fight for hers, but the problem was, she didn’t want to fight for herself.
I opened my mouth to lecture her. I was about to tell her that she should lay off the dope and change her main priority to food and her overall health, when she turned toward me. There I was, my mouth agape, ready to rain down judgment on her regarding like I was better than her. The truth was that I could’ve been knee deep involved in the same shit before I lost my memory.
I closed my judgmental mouth.
Nikki eyed me up and down, appraising my appearance. “I guess you’ll do,” she said, blatant dissatisfaction in her tone. I refused to cake on makeup or pluck out all of my eyebrows just to draw a thin line in their place like she did. Instead, I’d washed my hair in the sink and used the hand dryer to speed along the drying process. My face was makeup free, but it would have to do, because if I was going to do this, I was determined to do it my way and without looking like Nikki.
Yep, I am a judgmental asshole.
“How is this going to work again?” I asked. She’d already told me ten times, but she could tell me ten thousand times and I still wouldn’t feel comfortable.
Nikki fluffed out her limp hair. “Seriously, Doe, do you ever listen?” She sighed in annoyance but continued on. “When we get to the party all you have to do is cuddle up to one of the bikers. If he likes you there is a good chance he might want to take you in, keep you around for a while, and all you have to do is keep his bed warm and a smile on his face.”
“I don’t know if I can do it.” I said meekly.
“You can do it, and you will do it. And don’t be all shy like that around them, they won’t like that. Besides, you’re not the shy type, that’s just your nerves talking. You’re all rough edges, especially with that horrible case of foot-in-mouth syndrome.”
“It’s eerie how you have me pegged in the short time you’ve known me.” I said.
Nikki shrugged. “I’m a people reader, and believe it or not, you are very easy to read. Like for example, right now you’re super tense. I know this because your shoulders are all hunched over.” She presses my shoulders back. “Better. Stick out your chest. You don’t have much to work with up top but without a bra, if you keep your shoulders back, they can catch a glimpse of a little nip, and guys love the nips.”
That was it. I could get a biker to like me, he would protect me, hopefully long enough for me to figure out plan B. “Worst case scenario is that he’s only looking for a quick one-time thing and he’ll throw you a few bucks and send you on your way.” Nikki made it sound more like a vacation than prostitution.
I could fool myself into thinking that if I wasn’t soliciting on the street then I wasn’t like Nikki, but the truth was no matter which way I twisted the facts, this plan would turn me into a whore.
When I wracked my brain for other options, I’d come up as empty as my stomach.
Nikki pushed open the door, and sunlight invaded the dark space as it swung back and forth. With one last glance at the plain-faced girl in the mirror, I whispered, “I’m sorry.”
It was a comfort knowing that whoever I was before my slate was wiped clean didn’t know what I was about to do.
Because I was about to sell her body.
And whatever soul I still had.
I sat in the back seat of some bald guy’s ancient Subaru, willing myself to become temporarily deaf so I wouldn’t be forced to listen to Nikki suck off the driver. He was taking us to the party, which was in a house in Logan’s Beach. When we finally came to a stop, I leapt out of the car like it was on fire.
“Bye, baby,” Nikki said sweetly, wiping the corner of her mouth with one hand and waving with the other as our ride pulled away. When he was out of sight, she rolled her eyes and spit onto the ground.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I said, trying not to gag.
“Well, I didn’t see you offering to suck his cock for a ride,” Nikki snapped. “So shut the fuck up about it. Besides, I got us here didn’t I?”
Here was on a dirt road at the edge of a property overgrown with trees and hedges. A small gap in the brush allowed room for a narrow driveway. It was dark and there were no street lights to guide our way up the to the house, the path seemed to go on forever. A mild fish odor permeated the air. My empty stomach rolled, and I covered my mouth and nose with my hand to keep from getting sick.
Flickering lights appeared in the distance. As we approached the house I realized what we were seeing weren’t lights at all, but plastic torches stuck into the ground at awkward angles, creating a makeshift path through the grass around to the back of the house.
The house itself was three stories and built on a foundation of pilings. The majority of the bottom floor under the house was open area, filled with shiny motorcycles and cars parked in every inch of available space. Two doors took up the far wall, one with a deadbolt and a metal bar across it and another a few feet off the ground with two concrete steps leading up to it. Wrap around balconies made up the second two stories and lights flashed through every window, revealing shadows of the people within. The music vibrated off the wet ground, shaking the water off the tall blades of grass onto my legs.
“Do the bikers live here?” I asked Nikki.
“No, this house belongs to the guy they’re throwing the party for.”
“And who is that?” I asked. Nikki shrugged.
“Beats me. All I know is that Skinny said it was a coming home party.” Skinny was Nikki’s sometime boyfriend, sometime pimp.
When we reached the back of the house, I got my first glimpse of the bikers and my stomach rolled again. I stopped dead in my tracks.
There they were, surrounding a fire pit in the center of the massive yard, flames and billowing smoke shot up as high as the house. I was so caught up in what I was going to have to do I’d forgotten to stop and think of who I was going to have to do it with. There were seven or eight men, some sitting in lawn chairs, some standing with a beer in their hands. They all wore leather vests with varying amounts of patches adorning them. Some wore long sleeved button down shirts under their vests; others wore nothing at all. Women who looked like they took their fashion cues from Nikki laughed and danced around the fire. One girl was on her knees, bobbing her head up and down on the lap of a man who casually talked on his phone while guiding her head with his hand.
This is just a means to an end.
I turned to tell Nikki that maybe we should reconsider the plan, but she was already gone. Scanning the yard, I spotted her with an arm already draped over a tall guy with a red braided beard. An American flag bandana tied around his forehead.
Strong arms wrapped around my waist from behind and hauled me hard against a wall of muscle. My immediate reaction was to shake him off, but when I struggled to break free he held me tighter. His hot breath smelt of garlic and liquor, assaulting my senses when he spoke with his lips pressed against my neck. “Hey, baby girl. I’m ready to party. How ’bout you?” Grabbing my wrist he forcefully wrenched it behind my back until I was sure my shoulder had dislocated. He shoved my hand down the front of his jeans, rubbing my clenched fist up and down the length of his erection. “Feels good, don’t it, baby girl?”
I opened my fist and grabbed his balls, squeezing them with all the strength I could manage.
“You bitch!” he yelled out.
Releasing me, he dropped to his knees in the grass. Hands cupped over his privates, he fell onto his side and raised his thighs to his chest. I raced up the steps that led into the house.
“You fucking bitch! You’re going to fucking pay for that!” he called as I disappeared into the house sliding past a ton of party-goers. I took the first set of stairs I came across and ran all the way up to the third story. I tried the handle of several closed doors down a narrow hallway, but they were all locked. It wasn’t until I was almost to the end of the hall when one finally gave.
I hadn’t even taken a step inside when I quickly realized the room may have been dark, but it wasn’t empty.
A smattering of neon paint on the walls made the room look like as if it were glowing. I couldn’t see much in the way of features, but I could make out two bodies in the center of the room. At first glance it looked as if someone was standing behind another person who was lying down. It took me a second to register it, but after I did, there was no mistaking what it was I’d walked in on.
Skin slapping against skin. Moaning. The smell of sweat and something else I couldn’t quite place. It seemed like hours I’d been standing there, but in reality it wasn’t more than a few seconds. I should’ve turned around and closed the door the instant I realized the room was occupied, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the scene playing out in front of me.
A magnetic pair of eyes locked onto mine. Under the artificial lights, they glowed bright green. The man stared right through me and much to my surprise he didn’t blink or look away. Faster and faster, his hips slammed against hers. His eyes bore into mine as he thrust over and over again. When he closed his eyes and threw back his head with a long throaty groan, our connection was severed.
The man collapsed onto the girls back and released his grip from her throat. He’d been strangling her? She was moaning when I first walked in on them, and then she had fallen silent.
I quickly remembered I had feet and closed the door, fleeing back down the stairs. I hid beside the water heater under the house, beside all the cars and bikes, where I sat for over an hour, running the gravel through my hands and hoping to come to terms with the shitty direction my life was heading in. As much as I wanted to take off into the night and run I couldn’t go far, my overwhelming fear of the dark held me captive at the house where I may have just witness a murder, but it least I could find light.
Fear had seriously fucked with my priorities.
It was that fear, as well as my growling stomach and light-headedness that reminded me of why I was there in the first place.
I am desperate, and desperate people don’t have the luxury of options.
I sucked in a deep breath. I had to do what I had to do, even if I didn’t exactly know what that was. I mean, I knew the mechanics of it. But my brain was like a car with the mileage turned back to zero. A clean slate that I was about to make filthy dirty.
I may have been homeless and starving, but I was determined to get myself off of the streets and into a real life someday. A life with a soft bed and clean sheets. Once I didn’t have to worry about my safety or my stomach, I could focus on finding out the truth about who I really was.
I made a promise to push through the here and now and do what needed to be done, then I would never think about this time ever again. It would be a small spot on the radar of my life that I vowed I would never dwell on.
I stood up and brushed myself off and began my internal pep talk. I was going to do this. I was going to make it. I was going to have to fake like I knew what I was doing, like I wasn’t afraid, but pretending like I wasn’t scared shitless wasn’t something new for me, I’d done it every single day since I woke up with no idea of who I was.
I would be a biker whore because it was what I needed to be. I would be a tightrope walker if that’s what it took to stay alive.
With newfound determination, I walked back around to the bonfire, grabbed a beer out of the cooler, and cracked it open. The cool liquid lubricated my dry scratchy throat. I darted around from biker to biker and the girls who had their attention. I found myself particularly interested in a girl straddling the lap of a biker who must have outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds.
It was the look on her face I was intrigued by. The smile she wore that said your dick would feel great jammed down my throat. I mimicked her demeanor, and hoped it was enough to get the attention of someone who would take an interest in me.
Someone who could help me survive.
* * *