Authors: Nicole Camden
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Two weeks later, Kim Chan was having the time of her life at the Fetish Box. The place was freakin' coolâlike a boho coffee shop with a sex theme, an old Parisian madam's parlor, and a Las Vegas hotel room all rolled into one. Lille, the blond beauty queen, had taken over the decorating, and now tinted black-and-white photos of vintage nudes posed in huge gilded frames. Small tables and chairs had been set up in the corners, with erotic-themed lamps decorating them. Lush bouquets of roses filled tall blue and white vases covered in tiny depictions of men and women in various states of coitus, and carefully posed mannequins whipped, begged, and spread themselves shamelessly. Jordan, the weird dude with the gauges who worked behind the counter, had finally taken a hint and stopped flirting with her; he was now reading an X-rated graphic novelâhell yeah. She zoomed her camera in on him, but he noticed her attention, so she swept it back to the gorgeous blonde whom he called the Fetish Queen.
When Carl, who owned an art gallery and was friends with the Fetish Box's owner, had told her he had a job for her, she hadn't quite believed him. A sex shop documentary just seemed like a practical joke. But now that she'd seen the place, she was all for it. This wasn't a typical porn shop, which mostly left Kim feeling dirty and a little sad; this was a celebration of sex and sensuality, a riot of freedom and fun and fantasy. It was the people, though, that set it apart. The strange crew who ran this place seemed more like family than most “real families” she'd known. She'd already recorded hours of film and had begun editing it into short episodes for the Web site. Most of the customers were camera-shy, but she'd gotten signed releases from those who hadn't minded being on film.
“The cameras are making some of the customers uncomfortable. When someone walks in, try to stay out of sight. If the regulars want to be a part of the âdocumentary,' they can let us know,” Lille echoed Kim's thoughts.
Kim thought about calling the blonde out on the not-so-subtle air quotes she'd put on the word
but prudence held her back. She needed this job.
“Any chance you want to work here as well?” Lille's voice seemed to come to Kim from a long way off; she'd zoomed in on a glass dildo with small nubs covering the top. It looked as big as her forearm. One look at it and she couldn't help but think of the hospital ER, which was where she'd be if she shoved something that big up her golden palace.
“What?” She turned aroundâcamera at the readyâand caught Lille looking at her as if Kim were a recalcitrant schoolgirl and Lille her strict headmistress. Kim smiled a little at the thoughtâshe certainly wouldn't mind, though she didn't think Ms. Fetish Queen swung that way, which was a sad piece of irony. A movement out of the corner of her eye had her shifting the camera over to porn boy with the gauges. He was watching her knowingly, wiggling his eyebrows at her and grinning.
She smirked at him and turned the camera back to Lille's beautiful face.
“I said,” Lille repeated with amused impatience, “would you be willing to work here as well as film the documentary? We're short-handed at the moment.”
“Because someone broke in and beat the shit out of the girl who was working nights,” Kim countered. “Yeah, I saw it on the news. Why the fuck would I want to work here?”
Lille raised an eyebrow at her. “No offense, darling, but you look like you could use the money. You'll be here anyway; you don't have to work nights. And besides, we have a security guard now.”
“Uh-huh. An old fart in a golf cart. What's he gonna do if one of those protesters”âshe gestured outside to the Sunday morning picket line of concerned citizens outsideâ“gets crazy?”
“He'll stop them,” Lille replied confidently. “Or I will. Or John, the other manager, will.”
Kim knew John was ex-military, and Lille was certainly scary, but Kim didn't trust anyone to look out for her.
“John doesn't mess around,” Jordan volunteered, flipping to a new page in his porn comic.
Kim thought that was nice and all, but she'd just continue carrying Mace and keeping a four-inch switchblade strapped to her thigh. The gorgeous blonde was right, though. She did need the money.
“Yeah, okay. I guess you're rightâI'm here already. So when does training start?” She lowered the camera to her side and focused her dark eyes on Jordan.
“Training?” he repeated absently. The movie he was playing in his head clearly involved her, likely holding a whip over him while he was strapped into a chair.
“Job training, dickhead. Not the kind of training you're thinking of.”
He grinned again. “Here it's pretty much the same thing,” he said, giving her a ridiculous Charlie Chaplinesque leer, which made her snort.
“Yeah, yeah. The practical shit. Where's the paperwork and the W-2 and all that noise?”
Lille's expression reminded Kim of her eighth-grade biology teacher, endlessly patient and superior. “I'll take care of it.”
“I can do it if you want.” Jordan jerked his head back toward the door that led to Mary's office.
“That's okay. You show her how everything works. She probably has most of it down from filming, but give her the rundown anyway. Kim, I also think a virtual tour of the store would be good to add to the Web site now that we've finished redecorating. Can you handle that?”
“Sure.” Kim shrugged, eyeing porn boy, who looked all too eager to have a reason to talk to her. God save her from boys who read too much dirty anime. They saw her as their personal fantasy come to life, given her purple hair, short skirts, and kick-ass boots. She didn't bother to tell them anymore that she dressed for herself; she knew better, but it never failed to make her uncomfortable. “A virtual tour of the Fetish Box. Why not? Too bad old Pandora couldn't have gotten a sneak peek before she let all that mess into the world.”
Jordan, who had been carefully sliding his comic back in a plastic case, paused and considered her carefully. “What kind of boring world would it be if she hadn't?”
Kim shrugged. “I just know that what she had left wasn't worth much more than a pile of dog shit.”
“Hope?” Jordan frowned.
“Yeah.” Kim pulled up her camera and trained it on his face. “Hope is for the criminally stupid.”
Jordan disagreed with herâit was written all over his long faceâbut he shrugged. “Guess that depends on what you hope for. After all, âHope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things.'”
She didn't say anything for a heartbeat, and then she lowered the camera slowly. “Did you just quote
Jordan shrugged. “If you know it, it's not that stupid.”
“Maybe I have an eidetic memory.”
Jordan smiled and waved a hand around the store. “Because now you'll have a harder time remembering how everything works.”
Kim cocked one hip, using her elbow to prop up some of the weight of the camera. “Are you always this much of a smart-ass?”
“No, sometimes I'm a dumb ass,” he informed her cheerfully, and came around the counter to stand next to her, practically vibrating with puppy-like excitement at being close to her.
She nodded in agreement. She didn't have any difficulty believing that. “Just don't think you can touch me, 'kay? And if I'm nice to you, that doesn't mean I like you.” She'd begun every conversation with him in the past two weeks with that disclaimer, but it bore repeating. “We clear?”
Jordan placed a hand solemnly over his heart. “We're clear, but a man can hope.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
up her bag on her way
into Mary's office, absently listening to the kids squabble as she went through the door and shut it firmly behind her. She'd made few changes to the office, finding the simple furniture and soothing colors a relief after the excess she'd gone for in the interior of the Box. She'd kept the simple white desk and the framed movie print of
hanging above it, but she had traded the lamp with the pin-up-girl base for an ultra-modern lamp with a long, adjustable metal arm. She'd put pin-up girl in the main area of the store, on one of the little tablesâthat lamp had been too cool to waste in the office.
She walked over to the filing cabinet in the far right corner of the room, then used the key she kept on a stretchy band on her wrist to unlock it. The lock was rustyâshe didn't think anyone had ever bothered to use it before herâbut it turned. She immediately pulled open the drawer containing the employment forms. She'd spent half an afternoon reviewing all the paperwork and organizing it to her liking. Mary had turned everything over to her without a second thought, already obsessed with her next painting. Mary wasn't much of a businessperson, which was why it was a good thing Lille was now handling this side of things.
Lille withdrew the blank employment forms and set them on top of the filing cabinet. Closing the top drawer, she knelt and opened the bottom drawer, where she'd put interesting documents she'd found while going through the files. One file contained several decades' worth of tax returns; another had marketing materials: documentation for the current Web site, Facebook and Twitter account passwords, a list of customers who attended fetish parties, and some rather interesting photographs of people at some of those fetish parties. She thought she recognized a senator in one, and peered closer to try to make out the man's face.
She was considering throwing a fetish party, one that would really kick off the store's new look, but she wasn't sure that incorporating it into the documentary Kim was making was a good idea. If the people who attended were that influential, it was highly unlikely they would want to be on film. Still, maybe it would be enough to show the preparations, the costumes, without actually showing the guests.
She tapped the photograph against her lips, thinking about Mary and what she'd gone through, how she'd been almost raped and practically killed. That had been at a fetish party, although Lille very much doubted that anything like that would happen again. According to MaxâMary's business partner in a pub down the street, whom Lille had been avoiding since their night of passionâeveryone had liked and respected Mary's mother, Mandy. Lille wished she'd known the woman.
Lille was actually quite surprised that Mary was up and about and apparently still willing to go forward with this business. It seemed rife with opportunities for conflict, for hate, for blackmail and secretsânone of which were Mary's style. She liked walks and long afternoons painting or knitting or exploring antique shops. The only hint that Lille had ever seen of a wild side had been Mary's choice of friendsâhippies for the most partâand her art. Mary's paintings were always very sensual, but now they'd taken on a lusty energy that seemed to find desire in every blade of grass or snapping breeze. Just looking at them made Lille itch with restless, pent-up desire.
She glanced down at the photo of the fetish party again. Lille had never been the type to put her appetites on display, but this was marketing, of a sort. She didn't mind putting on a show for business, but a small part of her, the part of her that had never outgrown the fear of discovery, the part of her that was Sarah Wells, preferred to stay unknown.
But then again, so did these people,
she thought as she touched the masks covering their faces.
On impulse, she rose, closed the filing cabinet drawer, and went back to the desk, where she'd set her bag. She pulled out her Louis Vuitton wallet and found the card that Mary had handed her two weeks ago after they'd worked a closing shift at the pub, the card she hadn't stopped thinking about since she saw the Las Vegas number written on it. She didn't want to call the number from her cell phone, and she didn't have a burner phone handy, so she used the big black landline that sat on the desk. The man clearly knew she was associated with Mary, so he knew about this place. There wasn't much point in hiding that much.
The receiver was heavy in her hand; she'd forgotten what one of these things felt like. She dialed the number, ignoring the way her hand shook. No one knew she was here. No one knew she had once been Sarah Wells, she reminded herself.
The phone rang several times, and then a man's voice answered, a smooth baritone, cool and accent-free. “Yes.”
Lille didn't believe in handing out information. “I believe you left your card for me.”
“Ah, yes, Miss Marceau. That was two weeks ago.”
Lille fought the deeply ingrained instinct to reply with “How may I help you?” Instead, she remained silent.
“I'm calling on behalf of your father.”