My reflection was all shoulder-length black hair, crimson lips and smiles. The smiling thing was a rare occurrence these days, but at the moment it was really hard not to. The past few days had been an absolute blur of rehearsals. Vance and I had come up with the idea of portraying me as a glammed up witch on stage, and having a few of his girls dance around with me as my adoring servants. It wasn’t my usual style, but Vance’s enthusiasm for the bit had me sold.
I came up with the choreography pretty quickly and was surprised by the girls’ willingness to follow my direction since I was an outsider. They had some pretty great ideas about costumes as well, and Vance let me go a little crazy with his in house designer. The end result was outrageous and beautiful—definitely my style.
It was opening night and I was in one of the large bathrooms in Vance’s penthouse, putting the finishing touches on my makeup and bopping around to a strange techno song that was coming from the wall speakers. There was a soft knock on the open door and Vance came strolling in, eying the handiwork of my costume folded neatly on the counter in appreciation.
“Okay, now I see what your game is,” he chuckled. “You let China do all the hard work.”
“Bingo,” I said, poking my tongue out at him. “China makes the money and Nixie handles all the ass kicking. Tonight is going to be amazing, Vance, it’s been way too long since I’ve had a legitimate crowd. Your girls are phenomenal! I couldn’t have asked for better costars.”
“I can’t wait to see your work, Nixie gal. Before you get dressed we have a bit of business to attend to.” Vance pulled a manila envelope out of his briefcase and placed it on the counter in front of me. “There’s no reason to panic, love, and trust me when I tell you I’ve done no advertising of your show tonight for your safety. Whoever happens to be in my casino at the time will be the only ones fortunate enough to witness it. I just need you to look into the folder and tell me if that’s the guy.”
After a little prodding, I had finally caved and offered Vance a description of my “psycho ex”. My palms immediately started to sweat as I reached for the folder. Sure enough it held a photo of Abraham, looking as handsome as ever, sipping a mimosa and looking straight at the camera. He was smiling too. I felt the blood drain from my face and I thought I was going to be sick.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” I groaned, my mind racing wildly trying to decide what to do first.
Vance grabbed me by the shoulders before I could dart out of the room. “Baby gal, I promise this photo was taken nowhere near The Candy Shoppe. I had my boys on high alert looking for this clown so we could keep an eye on him if he did happen to show up in town. As long as you’re under my care, there’s nobody that can hurt you. I swear it.”
My breathing didn’t calm. My nerves weren’t soothed. My legs still wanted to run. But I nodded anyway and Vance released me.
“My boys have this place completely covered,” he said pointedly. “I can’t have anything happen to my headlining act, now can I?
I nodded again and he chucked me under my chin before leaving. Everything I had screamed at me to run, to forget all the nonsense of performing and putting myself on vulnerable display and get the hell out of dodge. Despite all of Vance’s assurances, and his abundance of security, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that Abe would show up.
I looked back to his smiling image in the photograph and shuddered. The cocky bastard wasn’t even attempting to stay out of sight this time. He wanted to make sure I knew he was coming for him. I ripped the picture to shreds and tossed the remnants into the toilet.
This was it. My days running would come to an end tonight, I could feel it. If that was the case then I sure as hell wasn’t going to be caught hiding in a corner. If I was going to go out, I was going out with a bang!
With newfound determination I began the grueling task of squeezing into my costume.
“Eat your heart out, sucker,” I said to the mirror, making a gun with my fingers and aiming it at some imaginary foe.
The lights aimed at the stage were bright and I felt glorious, donned in silver and black sequined glory with my back to the crowd. I tried not to think about the fact that Abe’s eyes could be on me right at that moment, and purred into my headset microphone.
“Are you boys ready for me?” I asked sensually, reveling in the hoots that rose up from the audience. “Oh no, that’ll never do. I said….are you ready for me?”
The calls got louder and I giggled like a school girl. The music started, I turned around and my inner rock star took over. There were tons of special effects every time I waved my magic wand and the girls were all over me, doing their best to portray my sexy minions. It wasn’t something I had done before, but I could definitely get used to it.
The whole performance was dark, beautiful, and exhilarating—and the crowd ate it up. By the end I was sweating and exhausted, but the immense applause and the whistles were well worth it. My happiness totally fizzled out, however, when a blue rose came flying out and landed at my feet.
The lights were beaming too brightly to see who threw it, but I already knew. I blew a quick kiss to the audience and walked briskly backstage to give myself a head start. Abe was getting bold, and I knew he was going to close in like a shark smelling blood. Gathering all my nerve, I made a decision that would put all the cards in my hand.
As I made my way to the penthouse I stripped off my clothes as I went. I started the night as China but I was going to end it and my life as good old Nixie Stark. My wig went first as the elevator doors closed. Then the stiletto boots to reveal my favorite argyle socks. The corset came next and then the sequin pants.
I heard rushed footsteps behind me as I slid the card in, but it didn’t matter anymore. When the door busted open I was already on the balcony and when the footsteps started running I launched myself over the railing.
Goodbye, dreams of the spotlight.
Goodbye, beautiful city.
Goodbye, wonderful audience.
Goodbye, shithole life.
Goodbye, Abraham Wolffe.
I closed my eyes to welcome bliss, but before I made it all the way over, two strong arms grabbed me around my middle and yanked me back into my nightmare of a reality.