The Tender Trap
“What?” Ray’s voice was incredulous, hand raised high to strike another blow. “What did you just say to me?”
Felicia sobbed, a broken noise from a broken girl. The flesh around her right eye was already swelling, and would be a royal shiner in an hour or so.
“Did I stutter?” I asked, reasonably.
I stood in the open doorway to the dressing room and met Ray’s stare, arms folded across my chest. A thin man in a gray suit. Nobody.
“No.” Ray replied, straightening and turning to face me. Behind him, Brandy and Alotta sat frozen, mouths hanging open as they watched the crazy person in the door signing a ticket to a world-class beating. “No man, you didn’t stutter. But now I’m gonna have to hurt you.”
I smiled. “You can try.”
(5 minutes later)
“And that’s for when you grabbed my ass!” Alotta snarled fiercely, kicking the bleeding club owner solidly in the gut. Her wig had slid slightly to the left and forward due to her exertions, but she didn’t seem to mind. It certainly didn’t affect her aim.
“And that’s for when you grabbed my tit!”
“And that’s for when you grabbed my other tit!”
“And that’s for when you cut my check by two hundred bucks you miserable shit!”
Ray was a mess. Bleeding, missing two of his front teeth, curled into a helpless ball on the changing room floor while his dancers kicked eight kinds of hell out of him. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, if you asked me. The little wheezes he was making as their feet connected reminded me of the noises you'd get out of one of those well-chewed dog toys. Delightful.
They’d have to leave of course, and they knew it, but they didn’t care. Even Felicia, timid as a mouse, had smashed him across the back of his head with a make up case, a little squeak of a scream escaping her as she did so. Brandy had applauded the younger girls enthusiasm with gusto, then kicked Ray right in the balls with what had to be a size 11 shiny, red pleather boot.
Payback was a bitch… in this case, three of them.
“Ladies, you can stop now. He’s out.”
They stared at me, faces flushed, three feet poised to deliver more blows frozen at various points in their arcs.
“You can stop.”
They each straightened, eyes darting from the beaten form of their ex-employer back to me, then to each other, then back to me, straightening and backing away just a little from the mess on the floor.
“Of course, you won’t mention me to anyone.”
They nodded. I suspected they’d be texting about this in about five minutes, if that. “We won’t say a word, Mr…?” Felicia asked, panting just a little from her recent exertions.
Three smiles. Three smiles that were worth more than any amount of money. “And perhaps…” I looked at each of them firmly. “…perhaps it would be best if you sought other employment?”
I pulled a large manila envelope out of my jacket pocket and laid it on the only table that had survived the last few minutes’ energetic activities. “There’s enough there for the three of you. Two months or so, if used frugally.”
Three sets of eyes locked onto the envelope, brows narrowing almost in unison as they contemplated this. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. It’s true, I did. In the back of my mind I heard the laughtrack, I swear to God.
“Why?” Brandy finally asked, eyes searching mine. “We don’t know you. You don’t owe us.” She looked again at the silent form of Ray, then back at me. From behind me a heavy bass beat drummed as Ming Lee began her set out on the stage deeper in the club. “Isn’t nothing free in this world, Mr. Shine.”
“You’ve paid enough, I think.” I replied gently, making her blink. “Good night, ladies.”
I left. Nothing dramatic, no cape swirling, no smokebombs or invisible jets. Just a regular Joe fading back into the city. I did pause long enough to fold a hundred into Ming Lee’s rhinestone-studded G-string on the way out. That girl really knew how to twirl ‘round a pole, let me tell you! Such enthusiasm and practice deserved monetary recognition. Ray would recover, eventually. And he’d be looking for me, but he wouldn’t find me. Not until I wanted to be found. The girls took the money and left town. I did check on that. I have an IT person for that sort of thing. And I hope they found something different. I doubt it, but still I hope. If nothing else, they did find some justice. At least for that night.
And the story of the glowing man, of the man who can’t be hurt, of Mr. Shine, began to make its way out into the world.
Let them come.