Karla woke up with a slap. She muttered a low-pitched fuck as the ember died under the palm of her hand. Ruins of the firewood clung thick in the smoky air. A few bodies coughed. Karla’s groggy figure sat up and examined the sky. The soot looked like oversized glow bugs trapped in tar. The dead fire murmured. Karla stepped over the sleeping bodies surrounding the hearth. When there was enough space to avoid disturbing Louie’s workers, she shook out her skirts sending a small cloud of smoke in the air.
Gachi entered the bar and climbed the rickety staircase concealed in the tunnel. She opened a hatch at the end of it leading to a mangy hall lined with mismatched doors. The women who worked here rented the rooms from Louie when they had customers. Most of the girls hated the rooms. They opted instead for the body heat provided by huddling outside sharing smokes and food. Karla’s room was located at the extreme East side of the hall. She jiggled the knob to find the frame had expanded with thehumidity. She groaned in exasperation and kicked the door open.
Light bled through cracks along the plaster and between the wooden planks on the floor. In the corner of her room nearly hidden by a large stack of hay and rubbish was a small closet. She brushed the hay aside and tugged the door open. There sat some garbs and a trunk. She pulled the trunk open and took out a small jewelry box hidden below the trunk’s fake-bottom. She placed the box on her mattress and sat on the ground; then, she lift the rounded latch on the container with a soft click. The inside contained a collection of several bottles, brushes, and herbs. She inspected a small bottle with a bright-red candy-colored liquid inside, and set it apart, placing it left side of the intricately decorated wooden box. On the right of it, she placed the brushes and ointments she would use to decorate her face. The jewelry box had a small compact mirror carved into the lid. Karla angled the mirror, so the moonlight refracted off the glass and illuminated her face. Using the moonlight, she applied rose tonic on her skin, rouge on the apples of her cheeks, and a heavy layer of charcoal on her eyelids. The make-up magnified her already heavy-ladded lashes and hid the dullness of her emaciated skin under the bright red powder.
Karla pulled on a loose cotton shirt and struggled with a dress hoop and a lacey pair of bloomers with crocheted flower embroidery under which she displayed her black netted tights. Her skirt was a black silky base with small cut-out patterns of foliage that made her blood-red petticoat underneath visible. The skirt was shorter on the front displaying the petticoat, bloomers, and her legs. She used a red corset to tie her outfit together. The skirt drooped around her waist so she tightened it closer with a pin. She rummaged through her box until she found dried pechji petals. Her skin crawled at the sight of the drug-rose. The nurses at the home told her scary stories about the seizures she experienced due to it as a babe.
She crushed the petals in her fist. Dry like this, the flower was a harmless aphrodisiac. She sprinkled the dead flower on her hair. It smelled exquisite, but perfume wasn’t the reason for its use. Displaying the flower on your hair or provocatively inked on your skin was a tell-tale mark. It made the girls easy to identify.
Gachi sauntered out of Louie’s through the back alley and made her way to the rendezvous point.
The silence was stifling. The men sat pinned between the wet concrete ground, the decrepitated wall, and the ground. Nathan and his brothers sat on the outer-part of the circle waiting. He heard a click, a steady click click click of boots approaching his location and took aim. A small woman in a skimpy black skirt met his eyes.
“HEY!” she mouthed.
He was dumbfounded and took a few seconds before he lowered his aim. The girl sighed in relief she hiked her skirt and proceeded to the front of the line. Nathan looked away. It wasn’t proper to stare at a lady’s bloomers. A quiet murmur ran through the line as his companions winked and waved at her with coins in their outstretched fingers. The girl marched to the front of the line to meet the gnoll who’d quieted Mr. Hollon.
The girl crouched by the gnoll.
“I’m here,” she whispered. “Everybody else?”
The man fired a warning shot at her feet. Karla tumbled backwards.
“What the hell?!” she cried out crawling away.
The man kicked away her arm and she fell on her back. He pinned her down with his boot.
“Who are you!” he demanded.
“Let’s calm down a sec,” she fussed trying to lift his boot from her chest. He leaned into it and she wheezed.
“Jus-Jus’ a call-girl, hon. Nothing to…” he leaned in further and Karla struggled against the instinct to claw his pant leg.
“…Nothing to be afraid of.” she promised with a forced smile.
He lingered for a second and got off her. She heaved and rolled off her back. She was hardly recuperated when the man pulled her up by the arm.
“Christ,” I thought we’d settle that I was OK.”
“That’s for the captain to decide” he grunted pulling her along as he made way for the ship.
Karla traced the path in her head, only slightly distracted by the trunks packed thick with pelts, spices, and precious stones.
Some of the crewmen securing the perimeter hollered or whistled as she passed and she rolled her eyes at them and tried to keep up with her captor. He stopped at the main hatch and she struggled out of his grip. He didn’t bother getting her again; instead, he pounded on the door to the captain’s quarters. A stout man with a grizzled whisker and a heavy leather jacket stepped out of the room.
“Ah, Captain!” exclaimed Karla with an exaggerated bow and curtsy.
The captain turned towards his beefy crewmember.
“says she’s a whore. A present from...”
“…Magistrate Vess or some politic. I got word of it at Louie’s brothel,” Gachi piped in.
The captain stepped forward and examined a lock of her hair. Karla perked up and smirked at the guard awaiting command. His face turned red but he didn’t say a word.
The feeling of dread had remained in the man’s stomach since morn. He welcomed the ditzy guest inside and retired the crewman. He locked the door.
“Would you like a drink?” he offered, extending his hand toward a rack of spirits.
The girl smiled, “If you have any rum, I’ll be a lucky gal.”
The captain poured two drinks into a pair of small glasses…She downed hers in a single drink and closed in on him forcing the cap’n into the nearest armchair. The girl pushed him into his seat just as she pushed her tongue into his mouth. Her moppy curls encased them like a curtain and she smiled kissing him and retracting with a series of soft kisses going down his neck. He could smell the pechji in her hair; the sweet addictive aroma of the drug-rose wafted into his nostrils as she burrowed her face in the crook of his neck. He pulled her onto his lap and she moaned faintly into his ear, pushing her self closer to him. His hands squeezed her rear and groped for outer thigh lifting her bloomers over her knee so he could feel her fishnets under his grip. She responded by wrapping her legs round his side straddling him to the seat. He felt a tug as she peeled his coat off. He fondled her breasts and she pulled his shirt loose by the back part of his collar.
“Help me with the corset,” she breathed into his ear.
The man grappled with the corset which Gachi had triple knotted at the back. She smiled to herself. As he struggled with the lacing of her binder, she inched her boot closer and closer to her hand. He felt her shudder pressing him tighter between her torso and the armchair. When he felt a sudden jab of pain in his mid-back.