(A gift from 1995.)
He sat there in his top hat, vest, ripped jeans and smudged black eyeliner, cigarette dangling from between his fingers, warm stolen beer in a bottle in his other hand, trying to talk sense into me.
I'm standing against the canvas because who is going to listen to an angry freak magician in eyeliner? He looks evil. He looks mean. And I think he's lost his mind.
It's a lot of money, Bridget.
I walk to him slowly, take his cigarette, put it between my lips and walk back over to my side of the alleyway. I lean against the wall, closing my eyes, sucking smoke back into my lungs. It gives me a headache but so does everything these days.
Fine. I drop the cigarette on the ground and cross my arms, pulling my shoulders up close to my ears. He jumps up and crosses to me, putting his arms around me, telling me I am doing the right thing. That we can do this. We've practiced. Everything will be alright.
This isn't the right thing. This is some weird underground thing and we have no business being mixed up with these people. Plus this isn't a show routine, it's an x-rated routine. Adults-only. This is a line I didn't think I'd be shoved across.
The door opens and he lets go, turning around. The manager steps down into the crowded alley and gestures to Lochlan. Your fire breather. Loch tips his hat and nods at a rather tall, sinister-looking man with a cane. But the man with the cane isn't looking at Loch, he's looking at me. I stare back with open hostility but say nothing.
He points the cane at me. What about her?
She's not exactly part of his formal routine-
Her, I want her.
Loch, tell them to fuck right off. I push out from the wall and stand tall, all five feet of me. I am shaking.
The manager shoots me a dirty look but the man with the cane breaks into tinny, stilted laughter. He sounds like dry leaves scratching a windowpane, like death.
I don't mean it in that way, dear girl. I want the two of you to perform for my guests and you will be renumerated quite handsomely. If my guests are pleased I will offer a standing date with you for the same money.
No, more. If they like us they'll want to see us again so our rate will increase fifteen percent. Also we get paid the day before.
Ten and I don't pay freaks in advance. Why would you show up?
Code. I'm not a thief.
Yes, you are, dear girl. A thief of hearts. Are you together?
No, I say and Lochlan says yes at the same time. I roll my eyes.
Ah. A lover's quarrel. Perhaps you can use that as material for your routine. Three hours, beginning at nine sharp. No drugs. No weapons. Half payment when you arrive, the other half when you leave. Do we have an agreement?
I look at Loch and he nods. We'll be there.
The men turn and go back inside and I walk across the lane and shove Loch into the wall. What the fuck are you doing? We're going to get killed.
He smiles that smile that makes it hard for me to breathe, dimples on high, eyes rimmed in black and I know he's picturing the nights he stripped me from my clothes and practiced a slow burn.
I can't wait to light you on fire for an audience.