Traci quickly punched in a familiar number on her cell phone.
“Hey, it’s me.”
Alyssa yawned. “What time is it?”
“Girl! It’s after noon.”
Traci tried to act tough but deep down she knew it was all about Alyssa. Without Alyssa, this shit wouldn’t be going down as it had been. So far, the teamwork had been going well. How long has it been? At least five or six years. Time flies when you’re having fun.
She just had to remember to play her cards right. Alyssa could get the men easily; all Traci was looking for was the green stuff, the money. Her love was paper, not people. She didn’t really give a damn what Alyssa wanted. She wasn’t too sure what she was all about anyway. All she knew was that she was good at what she did…being the seductress.
“What do you want?” Alyssa stopped smoking years ago but she pulled out an electric cigarette from her nightstand. She couldn’t help it. She knew it was all psychological but it helped her think. She had been thinking about the calculations earlier: if Traci and she pulled off this next trick successfully, they could become rich and quit this racket. What would she do if she weren’t seducing and blackmailing? Her inner voice annoyed her-as if she had a conscience! “Well, I would probably fly to Jamaica and stay there and party, little Missy!” she told herself.
Alyssa hadn’t realized that she had said anything aloud. “Nothing, nothing. What’s up?”
“Time to turn on your charms lady. Your classmate’s in town.” When Traci quoted their code, Alyssa knew it was time to get to work. Traci gave her some information and no more conversation needed to be said. Alyssa knew what to do.
* * * *
Several heads turned as Alyssa walked into the hotel bar. For good reason: her legs were a mile long, and her black pencil skirt only a few inches long. Her thigh-high suede boots accentuated her shapely milky-white thighs. The center cut white backless blouse showed off her cleavage in a seductive, almost hypnotic way. She received stares but she was used to it. It was obvious that she was looking for someone and disappointment set in with some of the men once they realized this.
Most women have a similar checklist for the perfect man: good job, established, an interested and active listener, works out at the gym, walks on the beach; bullshit according to Alyssa. Her checklist: moneyed up and lonely. Simple. And that’s how she liked it.
She was the one who initiated this blind date via a dating site just a week prior. Alyssa noticed two men at the bar and wondered which one was her date. You can never trust men, she thought, they lied about their age and height all the time.
One man sitting at the far end of the bar was about 50 years old with a lined face of a smoker. That wasn’t him. She vaguely remembered this guy’s picture, and he didn’t look like he smoked; she couldn’t stand smokers anyway.
Even though this blind date was her idea, she still required the man to make the first move, whether they knew the rule or not. Sitting down several stools from the second guy, Alyssa positioned her body toward him and crossed her legs. She knew this looked enticing, it was in the plan; she studied body language in college and was good at it.
She took out her compact mirror and calmly patted makeup on her nose with a foundation sponge. If this didn’t get the guy’s attention then nothing will. When she was satisfied with the touchup, Alyssa glanced in the wall-to-wall mirror below the shelves of liquor bottles. Blushing slightly when she noticed that her date was staring at her, she watched as he slowly took a drink of his beer. Without taking his eyes off her, he nodded slightly and waved to the bartender.
“Another,” he said as he pointed to his beer, “and something for the lady.”
He smiled slightly, not showing any teeth. She actually liked his smile. Not too full of himself. Now she almost felt bad that he wasn’t going to think much of her in a few hours but she couldn’t help that. He scooted over the two stools to sit beside her.
A man of few words. Nice. Makes this a whole lot easier. She held out her hand. “Alyssa.”
He took her offered hand and kissed the back of it. “Dan. But of course you know that.”
He took a gulp of his beer. She realized that he must be nervous. Good. Makes them more interesting that way, she thought as she openly admired his chest and arms.
“You do keep in shape, I see,” she commented, recalling their conversation from several days ago.
He didn’t gloat as a younger man might have done. He shrugged. “I try to keep in shape. Harder the older I get.”
She placed her hand on his arm bicep. “You feel young,” she whispered squeezing his hard bicep. She expertly looked down and noticed that his bicep wasn’t the only thing that was hard.
As he flexed his bicep in response to her touch, Alyssa noticed his tattoo. “Pretty mermaid.” She kept her soft hand on his bicep, slightly caressing the mermaid.
“Yea. Long story.” He downed his beer and gestured for another.
“Tell me.” Alyssa was just a tad curious. She had never seen a tat quite like this one. The mermaid’s hair flowed around the body, her eyes penetrating and seductive, almost real. The colors popped and the outlines were solid, proving that the artist was a true professional.
Sipping his beer and lost in thought he glanced at her briefly as he began his story, his eyes trying not to show his sadness and pain. He rarely told this story but when he did, it brought back memories of a younger self and that’s what made him sad.
“Back in ’09 I found myself on the VALIANT.” Noticing her slightly confused look, he added, “Coast Guard.”
When Alyssa nodded, he continued. “To make a long story short, I contacted a virus called ‘Alice in Wonderland Syndrome,’ which is affectionately called ‘AIWS’ by the experts. In common speak it’s a ‘disorientating neurological condition that affects human perception.’” Dan let out a long breath. “Yeah, long-winded I know. I memorized that from Wikipedia, believe it or not. Lucky for me AIWS is a temporary condition and doesn’t affect the brain power, if you know what I mean.”
Dan shook his head. “Anyway, AIWS is associated with migraines and oh boy, did I get a migraine like I’ve never experienced before. My head felt like it was imploding and I began hallucinating.” He paused at this point to take a drink of his beer so he could collect his thoughts.
“During that hallucination I saw a woman, a beautiful woman with flowing wavy yellow hair, fine, like cotton candy and her wide eyes hazel with flecks of turquoise.” For a few seconds Dan was lost in thought as he recalled the memories. His hand shook slightly as he clutched the handle of the beer mug.
“When Petty Officer Marrison came into the sick bay with my evening meal, I surprised him with a quick punch in the jaw and ran out. Don’t ask me why I punched him; I was delirious I guess.” He paused in his storytelling to grab a handful of peanuts out of the wooden bowl on the bar. Alyssa noticed the beads of sweat that began to form on his forehead.
“Go on, tell me what happened,” she coaxed in her silky voice.
“By the time I got up to the top deck, the girl had turned into a mermaid. I watched her beckoning to me seductively, her skin glistening with light metallic blue glitter. She had a magical laugh, like beautiful harp music.” Dan paused here and rubbed his chin, deep in thought. “My hallucination was so real! So real that I saw her place her glittering hand against her full red lips and after she blew me a kiss, she suddenly took a graceful swan dive off the railing, barely making a splash in the sea.”
Dan’s eyes were somewhat glazed over and Alyssa was beginning to get worried. A delusional man was not part of the plan. She may have to snap him back to reality before too long.
Dan continued his story. “The churning sea beckoned me. It seemed so graceful and fluid. I wanted to be with it, with the greens and blues, and feel the caress of the smooth fluid flowing over my hot skin. Before I knew it, I took a dive. It was almost without thought. I realized too late that the sea is not as harmonious as I thought it would be.”
Dan looked directly at her without actually seeing her. “You see, at that point the mermaid had turned into an evil witch. I couldn’t get out of her clutches.” He paused and wiped his forehead with the damp cocktail napkin from under his mug. “She wasn’t all bad, though, I guess. I didn’t die that day.”
“I’ll tell you right now I don’t get impressed that easily, but honey, that was impressive.” Alyssa squeezed Dan’s bicep again for emphasis.
This time, he felt his arm hairs stand up as if electrified and her touch sent a surge from his arm to his endorphins in less than a microsecond. He became pleasantly aroused.
“You are a fascinating person, Dan. Tell me the rest; what happened after you dove into the sea?” By now, she was into his story and hell, she might as well give him his 15 minutes of fame. After all, she may never see him again or if she did, he would hate her. Either way, she didn’t really care.
Dan chuckled, oblivious to the twisted mind of the beautiful woman sitting next to him. “The rest of the story is not so romantic. I was in sickbay for the duration of the trip home. Had to see a shrink and endured lots of tests to see if I was sane. Ha, who is sane I asked them. They couldn’t give me an answer.”
Dan subconsciously rubbed the tattoo almost as if he were caressing it. “The best thing that came out of that nightmare was this tattoo. It reminds me that there may be something beautiful out there, somewhere.” He glanced over at Alyssa. “No offense of course,” he quickly added. “You are beautiful, you know.”
“None taken, no worries.” She smiled seductively and leaned towards him. “How about I buy you a drink. Would that be a beautiful thing or what?” She laughed softly, her fingers rubbing up and down his arm. She leaned in closer and whispered in his ear. “I can show you beautiful.”
He involuntarily gulped. He began thinking that maybe this online dating wasn’t so bad after all. “S-Sure,” he stuttered. It wasn’t every day he met up with a beautiful woman who offered to show him something beautiful that same evening. He felt like he scored. His mind mentally scanned the contents of his wallet and involuntarily sighed with relief. Check: a condom in the third slot under his Discover credit card. Nothing to worry about then.
He traced a finger from her beautiful long and kissable neck down to her cleavage. His finger stopped abruptly. “Hey now you didn’t mention you also had a tat.” He moved her blouse over a bit and saw a three-dimensional deep burgundy rose with dewdrops just above her left breast. “Ouch, that stem has many thorns. Now it’s my turn to be impressed.”
Alyssa took his hand gently but firmly and placed it on her leg. Obviously, she didn’t want him to touch her tat for long. He noticed the move of course, but her leg was tight and she obviously worked out so he wasn’t that put out by it; he was just excited to feel new territory.
“What does your tat mean; do you have a story too?”
Alyssa didn’t answer for a few seconds. When she did, her tone of voice changed a little bit and she sounded abrupt. Not at all like the seductive woman she was a moment ago. Daniel’s eyes showed a little bit of confusion.
“Love hurts. That’s all. Simple.” Alyssa reached for the glass in front of her, threw her head back and drank the golden liquid in one gulp. The contrast from beautiful, dainty woman to thirsty trucker confused Dan even more.
“Nothing in life is simple,” he said slowly. “A beautiful girl like you should know that.”
Alyssa raised her hand towards to the bartender. “Two double shots. Patron.”
“You have expensive taste,” Daniel said as he raised his eyebrows.
“This time you’re buying.” Alyssa uncrossed her legs, placed her hand on top of his and slowly moved his hand up her thigh. “And I’m worth it.”
Her skin felt soft and warm and he looked forward to learning more about this mysterious alluring woman.
After the bartender placed the two shots in front of them, she said, “Now, do you want to simply drink this with me or should I make it simple and drink them myself?”
He chuckled. “Touché,” he responded as he took the glass and downed his drink.
Unfortunately, that’s the last thing he remembered.
* * *
“Oh, geez, I left my purse in the jeep. Bess, can you come out with me?”
“Jesus, Julianna. Bess doesn’t need to go with you everywhere. What? Are you afraid of the dark?” Traci’s sneer was very unbecoming.
Julianna took a deep breath. “Fuck off, Traci.”
“Okay, okay, hurry up, you two. Room 28. Hurry up, Alyssa’s waiting.” Traci repeated, agitated that the women were stalling getting to Alyssa’s “date.”
“Oh, and Julianna?” Traci’s voice was saccharine-sweet as she stood with hands on her hips, her mini-skirt and heels accentuating her long legs. Julianna remembered that when she first met Traci, which seemed like eons ago now, she found her smile genuinely honest and friendly. Now, with the low lights behind her, Traci’s face looked hard, and there was a hint of shadow under her eyes. Julianna noticed, for the first time, the sharpness of her nose and the crow’s feet around her eyes, which Traci tried so hard to mask with makeup.
“Don’t fuck with me. Ever. Again.” Traci intensely stared at Julianna for a few seconds, her nostrils flaring dramatically. She turned and headed toward the elevator.
“Come on.” Julianna pulled Bess outside and walked quickly to the side of the building.
“Listen. Let’s not do this. This is not right, Bess, you know this as well. Blackmail? Did we really do that, Bess? That’s against the law! Oh my God, Bess, what are we becoming?”
Julianna closed her eyes, pulled her hair into a ponytail and subconsciously rolled it and put it on top of her head. She leaned over, coughed deeply, and promptly vomited onto the parking lot gravel. She used the back of her hand to wipe her mouth.
“Oh, sweetie, sit down, sit down, before you fall down!” Bess grabbed Julianna around her shoulders and helped her slide down onto the curb. “I hear what you’re saying. I really do. And I agree. But as we discussed in our conversation earlier, if we leave now, Traci will never leave us alone. We need to ease out of this carefully, and with a plan in place.”
Julianna wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. She looked at Bess, with a pleading in her eyes that Bess had never seen before. Bess noticed Julianna’s under-eye shadows and her pasty complexion.
“I’ve never seen you like this, Julianna. I’m getting worried.”
“I’m scared, Bess! Just promise me that we’ll meet very soon and like you say, make a plan to get out of this mess. If we stick together, we can do this.”
“Yes, I agree. If we stand together, we can overcome Traci’s overbearing personality. Think of it this way,” Bess urged, trying to sound confident, “this is Alyssa’s date. There are only a few after hers and we’re done, Julianna. You’ll see, it’ll all be over and we can get on to being normal people again.” Bess almost sounded like she was trying to convince not only Julianna, but also herself into believing that this could actually happen soon.
“But what about her hold over us regarding the blackmail?”
Bess took a deep breath. “It was her idea. We can go to the police or something.”
“Why don’t we leave right now, Bess? I can’t do this.” Julianna gasped for air.
Bess faced her and took her hands. “Julianna, listen to me now. Traci kept duplicates of those pictures I just know it! Dammit, my future’s on the line. My fucking face is out there for the world to see…and recognize.”
“I understand that, but-”
“No buts, hon. No buts. We can’t pull out in the middle of this tonight. She has those pictures and she has evidence that we participated in a blackmail. I promise we’ll put together a plan to get ourselves out of this.”
Bess’s phone vibrated. Pulling it out of her jeans pocket, she glanced at the screen. “Traci. ‘Where are you two bitches?’”
Any other time the women would have had a good laugh as Bess imitated Traci’s demanding voice, but tonight was no laughing matter.
Bess stood up and offered out her hand. Julianna grabbed it, stood up and brushed off her behind. She suddenly gave Bess a big hug. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”