"Could I ask why we're here, exactly?"
I pulled open the thick, crumpled envelope and handed the contents out in reply to Myah's question.
"Sandra was bragging about going to some theatre show." Lisette mused, taking her share eagerly.
We were standing outside the Fabulous Fox Theatre, a few hours after the day's performance and a good ten minutes before the starting time listed on our tickets. I had, upon returning to my dressing room, rediscovered the mail Eli had gotten to me way back in New Orleans only to find it contained tickets and photo ID's for the five of us, with different names listed for each for the night's show.
When I questioned Eli about it he said that a courier had brought the envelope and he didn't know a thing about it, naturally. I believed him.
It was possible we had some kind of anonymous benefactor, but speculation was not on my mind at the time. The pictures on our cards were grainy and not exactly high quality, but whoever had made them clearly knew enough about our group, and very early on, to get look-alikes for them. The taxi's exact fare had also been included.
Someone close to the circus, with the resources to and an incredible amount of foresight must have done it. Though why we could possibly need ID to get into a theatre was beyond me.
Considering that the ticket vouchers called for formal dress, we had managed to blend into the crowd alright. I was in a backless, cobalt blue gown I had 'borrowed' from the costume designer's studio with a chignon at the nape of my neck and a touch of makeup that Nix had been kind enough to help with (as in completely do) for me.
It was good that my feet were hidden by the dress, as I was wearing my regular combat boots beneath it.
Myah was in crisply pressed dress pants and a ruffled white shirt, observing the people milling about with curiosity. Lisette was in some red tulle outfit and Nix was in her signature gold, all looking stunning.
Stinger had yet to arrive, but then again he had promised to catch up when we left. Despite the recent events it seemed best for him to accompany our group, seeing as he was starting to return somewhat to normal and the evening would provide a chance to observe any changes further.
I felt a bit uneasy. I had a long knife in my right boot (that one of the knife-throwers had left lying around) and my fists were something to be reckoned with, but if this was some kind of death trap I would be leading us all to our ends, and being dressed to the nines didn't exactly put me in a position to defend anyone.
Yes, they had all willingly agreed to join me and see what this was all about, but I still felt responsible. I was one of the youngest, but I saw myself as a guardian.
"Guess who's finally here?" Nix chuckled, inspecting her painted nails.
My thoughts were interrupted and I looked up to see Stinger hopping out of a cab, in an immaculate tux and grinning as usual.
"Hellloooo, ladies!" he called, trotting over to our group dramatically.
I handed him his ticket and corresponding ID tag with my usual serious demeanor, turning to walk towards the entrance without a word. Hadn't noticed it before, but Stinger looked remarkably like a younger version of the Admiral. It was disturbing.
The group followed me, chattering excitedly without missing a beat.
When I handed both my ticket and ID to the man in the booth he punched a hole in the former and attached a lanyard to the latter, handing both back through the slot in the plastic with a small smile.
"Welcome, Miss LaRaze. I do hope you will enjoy the show."
I plastered on a pleased expression and thanked him, walking on as my odd feeling started to peak.
When I emerged in screening room number six with the others behind me I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow.
Plush red seats, practically gilded walls and the smell of money filled my senses, along with the sight of many rich-looking persons mingling about, talking over flutes of champagne. I suddenly noticed Wiseacre sitting in the front row beside a scantily-dressed Sandra and my stomach plummeted. Security detail was everywhere.
"Everyone, split up." I whispered, moving to the other side of the theatre as fast as the blasted dress would let me.
I nearly had a heart attack when an usher appeared out of nowhere but I took a glass and hurried past him, keeping my eyes glued to the ground.
The usher looked exactly like the ticket collector. All of the workers, in fact, looked exactly the same. Unsettling green eyes and too-vibrant red hair. Strange employment policy.
I swallowed down the bubbly and handed the glass unceremoniously to another nearby server. The lights were too bloody bright, any second I was sure Wiseacre would turn around and spot me in the crowd.
Now was the time to be a cucumber. A tranquilized cucumber.
As soon as I happened to find another tray-holder I downed a couple more glasses of liquid confidence and started to settle into my role. I belonged here. Yes, I was not an outsider but just as rich, if not richer, than the others in the room.
A strange trance was taking hold of my brain and for whatever reason I was totally confident within moments. I was milling about, on my sixth or seventh flute of the good stuff when I was approached by one of the people I was pretending to be.
He was tall but young with cerulean eyes and hair possibly darker than mine, with an ego that was clearly comparable to a million blazing suns.
"Why, I believe I have not made your acquaintance yet, Miss..."
"LaRaze." I supplied, with an astoundingly smug air that rivalled his, "You have heard of my endeavours, no doubt, Monsieur Boltake."
I was speaking with a French accent. Sounded like my mother. Dear God, I was glad I had read the ID tag he was wearing right.
"Yes, of course." he replied, without hesitation, "An honour to meet you Miss LaRaze."
The lights started to dim and Boltake gestured to one of the balconies to the right.
"Would you care to accompany me to my seat, Miss LaRaze? That is, if you are not already obliged to another."
My swirling brain seemed to realize that it would prove a good hiding place.
"I would be delighted."
I still had nil understanding of what was going on, but it was getting stranger by the minute. Boltake led me to the balcony with a gloved hand against the small of my back, causing me to walk with low, smooth strides to keep my misplaced shoes from showing.
When we finally got to our seats the lights dimmed further, one sole spotlight fixating on the stage where another of the red-haired, green-eyed gentlemen was standing behind a podium.
Boltake pulled something from a compartment beneath his chair and I, out of curiosity, did the same.
It was a small circular sign, one that it took me a few minutes to recognize.
This was no theatre show. It was an auction.