The weather in Kansas City was dreadful, and to make matters worse, the atmosphere in the cirque was even more chilling. It seemed as if the Admiral had posted his cronies at every turn I took. Even now while I warmed up my hardly healed body in the ring for that night’s performance I could sense someone watching me. I bent gingerly to straighten my leg warmers and from the corner of my eye I saw a tall man dressed in black lurking in a corner.
As angry as I normally would have been, I was subdued by the bruises on my back and the memory of what had happened. After making it back, Lisette, Myah and I decided to keep away from each other and Stinger until…if, Camille came back.
No, I thought to myself, she’s okay and she’s coming back. I stood up, let out a shaky breath and woke Kaveh and Ensi up. I really needed her to come back.
ONE WEEK PRIOR
“Everyone split up,” Camille whispered, bolting for the other side of the theater before anyone had a chance to react.
“Wait, what?” I hissed before noticing that everyone else was already gone.
I clicked my teeth in frustration at my slow reaction time. Glancing around the wide room I noticed a gaggle of high society women all in sparkling finery and sauntered over. It was time to make a slight spectacle of myself.
“Would you ladies believe this is my very first time at one of the affairs?” I said, plopping myself right in the middle of their group and laying on a thick southern accent.
Startled, they all shot filthy looks my way but did their best to ignore me. One of the women, an amazon with jet-black hair and a nose like a hawk, couldn’t conceal her curiosity.
“Angelina Mordeau, my husband is a highly decorated general in the army.” She extended a dainty hand, which I shook lightly.
“Freda Belle, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
I small blonde woman with immaculate makeup and diamonds pouring from her earlobes turned to me with raised eyebrows. “Belle, as in the Atlanta Belles?”
What harm could it do? “You hit the nail right on the head, sugar,” I answered, winking.
That got the attention of all the women, and they started chattering excitedly at once.
“So Fredrik Belle must be your father! What is it like to be the daughter of such a renowned firearms dealer?” asked Angelina, all smiles.
What sort of women talked about things like this? I was beginning to feel a little out of my league when the lights dimmed and an announcer walked out onto the stage.
“Oh goody, the show is about to begin,” I sighed. “I wonder what sort of performance it will be.”
“Honey, this is not that kind of show,” whispered a redhead causing everyone to chuckle. “Here, have some champagne.”
She handed me two flutes, one of which I chugged right away. My head began to swim immediately which I attributed to me being a lightweight.
“We only come to these things to make our husbands look good,” Angelina said, laughing. “Tell me a little bit about yourself. I met your mother once; she didn’t mention having a daughter.”
I shrugged and started sipping on my second glass while trying to come up with a story. “I’m what people call the ‘black sheep’ of the family. She hates that I would rather go country-hopping with nothing more than a sturdy pair of boots and a backpack, than frequenting society luncheons with her.”
The women were throwing questions at me left and right and I answered them with more ease as I became more comfortable with the persona I was weaving. With my other ear I was trying to get a grasp on what was going on onstage, but it wasn’t making any sense.
When the lights came back on I realized I had ingested 3 glasses of champagne, and it felt like the room was spinning. I didn’t think I was that cheap of a drunk.
“Freda, would you mind introducing us to your charming father? I’d like to take a good look at what he purchased today,” asked Angelina.
“What do you mean?” It was getting increasingly harder to focus.
“Why, isn’t that him over there?” The blonde woman was point to a far corner on the other side of the room. A well-built older man with a graying head of hair was sitting down shaking his head in apparent frustration, and standing over him whispering something in his ear was the creepy man I had spotted with Wiseacre before Aaron left.
“I’m not exactly supposed to be here…” As if I had shouted his name, the creepy man looked up and made eye contact with me, causing Fredrik Belle to look up as well. “If you would excuse me, ladies, I need some air.”
Stumbling over my dress I tried in vain to make it to the front doors. My vision was hazy and I had to hold onto the walls to keep from falling over. I could feel myself starting to sweat and willed myself not to pass out or vomit before I got outside.
It had been creepy enough to get tickets and fake IDs from some unknown benefactor, but to have my false identity be linked to someone as potentially dangerous as Fredrik Belle was downright frightening.
I heard someone call my name and looked up to see the blurry outline of Stinger. “Oh good,” I whispered, “Please help me, I think I’ve been—ouch, Stinger you- you’re hurting me.”
He had closed his vice-like grip around my wrist and it was already beginning to bruise. “I’m sorry, Nix, you’ve got to get out of here.”
Before I could even think, he lifted me up and flung me as hard as he could. I hit the front doors with a loud crunch and lost consciousness. As I drifted in and out I heard screams, then felt fresh air hit my face, and the steady movement of a car.
“Camille?” I asked, reaching out.
“No, it’s me, Myah,” she said, squeezing my hand. “Lisette is here too, we managed to get you out before Stinger could hurt you again. I saw a man put Camille in his car but he was gone before we could get to him. We need to get you to a hospital.”
“What is happening to us?” I asked softly before losing consciousness again.