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FROM THE ASHES
I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to be named The Dungeon. I’d heard of this club and the things that went on here. More than just stripping, lap dances and prostitution, this place was also known for B & D, bondage and discipline. After paying the ridiculous cover charge, and taking in the dark, cavernous setting, I was exposed to the elements right away. Everything was black, the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the bar, the stools, the sofas…and an odd techno beat pulsed through the place. Moments later, I found myself staring as a woman dressed in a skimpy leather contraption, that showed more flesh than it covered, led a grown ass man, with a ball gag in his mouth and wearing what looked like a leather diaper, around with a leash. I shook my head and decided right away not to touch anything, or anyone, and not to sit down. God only knew what kinds of fluids people left on the fake leather seats.
But judgment was not why I was here. So, I gathered myself up and started looking around at the faces of the people I passed. I was thinking about the text I’d received from my former student. A cryptic message for sure, but it sounded like she really needed my help. So, here I was, with the dregs of society at two in the damn morning when I had to be at work at 8am.
I was a guidance counselor at a public high school in a tiny little town in southern New Jersey. The town was not far from Philadelphia, about 30 minutes by car, hence my presence in the City of Brotherly Love at such a ridiculous time on a school night.
“Damn, you’re new. Looking for a partner tonight?”
I glanced at the man speaking to me…and shuddered. Really? He had to be close to 60, or older, white, with bad skin and smelling a little funny. He was also dressed in a leather contraption, straps and chains draped across his body, a collar around his neck, and he was holding his own chain. I shook my head, averted my eyes, and rushed past him. I found myself in a rather crowded room a minute later, four naked bodies on a stage, white and black, three women “servicing” a man in various ways, one on her knees with his erection in her mouth as she bobbed up and down, one whipping him with what looked like cat-o-nine tails, the other allowing him to feast on various parts of her body…there were people in the audience, on sofas, at small tables, watching, riveted, as the scene played out. I averted my eyes and made my way through the room into a corridor.
I glanced up as I heard my name, hoping it was my student, but knowing by the timber of the voice it wasn’t. Someone older. I squinted at the person, my mind drawing a blank.
The woman approached me, but I still didn’t recognize her. She was taller than me, also much larger. Dressed in a black tee shirt and black jeans, her hair shaved down close to her scalp…she had a thick, muscular neck, bulging biceps, and thighs the size of small tree trunks. Her face was distinctive, thick, dark eyebrows, a nose that was crooked with a lump in the center, full lips and eyes that I couldn’t really see clearly, but they were dark, framed by thick lashes. I stared for another moment, but still didn’t recognize her.
“What’re you doing here?” She asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. She’d called me by my professional name, so I was thinking she knew me from school… and I certainly didn’t want the news that I was in this club getting back to anyone.
“Uh…” I hedged.
And it suddenly dawned on her I had no idea who she was. She smirked, “Cap Collins? You helped with my niece about four years ago? Ariella?”
And in one of those moments of clarity, I saw her niece’s pretty, caramel face, and tall slim frame. She’d been bounced through the foster care system for a few years after her mother overdosed, finally taken in by her aunt, Cap. Acapella actually, a silly name for a woman who was anything but silly… she went by Cap. Her niece did quite well in high school after that. Played basketball… and I remembered she earned an athletic scholarship to a state school somewhere in the south.
“Right, yes. How is she?”
The woman smiled, “graduating next year if you can believe that. Planning to take a year off and then go to graduate school for an MFA in graphic design.”
I nodded, smiling a little. A success story. Cool. I remembered that success had a lot to do with the woman standing in front of me. In her 40s when she took in the teen, they’d had a lot of adjusting to do…and I remembered the woman didn’t have a ‘traditional’ job. There were rumors that she was actually engaged in something illegal. I raised a brow as the thought crossed my mind.
“You work here?” I asked.
She smirked a bit, “uh, close enough. Never thought I’d see you here.”
I laughed nervously, that made two of us. I glanced around, no one was paying attention to us, thank goodness. It’s not like I was dressed to draw attention in any way. I was wearing a navy, long sleeved tee and jeans. I’d thrown on whatever was hd porno easiest before grabbing my purse and keys on my way out the door. But I was built in a way that tended to get attention regardless. Although I was knocking on the door of my ‘late thirties,’ I was still pretty curvy, despite my efforts to downplay my hourglass figure. Well, it would resemble one of those old, curvaceous hourglasses, and my hips were probably a lot rounder than I preferred, but like I said, I still garnered quite a bit of attention, especially from the male species. My cinnamon brown skin, light brown eyes, sculpted cheekbones and full lips didn’t hurt either. Not that males were my preference. In fact, they were not. But considering I had not dated anyone in years, perhaps humans were no longer my preference. My last girlfriend had done quite a number on me…and to say I’d been on a hiatus was putting it mildly.
“So…what’re you doing here?” She asked again.
Oh, yes, my student! Penny. She’d sent me a text…a text I wasn’t sure she wanted me to share with anyone…
“Uh, I’m looking for someone,” I hedged, nervously combing a hand though the silky curls on my head.
She nodded, barely, and raised a brow, clearly waiting for me to continue. I licked my lips nervously. To be honest, I didn’t know my way around here. She looked like a bouncer for the place (she was certainly large enough to be one), so I just shrugged and dove in.
“Look, a former student of mine sent me a text over an hour ago…she sounded like she was in trouble. She said she was here.”
She nodded again, “name?”
I hesitated for another moment, but then sighed. She’d either help or get out of my way and allow me to keep looking.
“I know Penny. She works here. Strips.”
I burst out laughing, thinking of the shy girl who I had to coax into doing anything in school. She’d hated getting any type of attention. I mean, this was the same girl who almost passed out when she had to give a presentation in front of a class. I remembered long, blonde hair she wore long in a way that hid most of her face…stripping? Penny? I think not.
But then…what else would she be doing at The Dungeon?
“Uh…do you know where I can find her?”
She turned and headed down another corridor and I assumed I was supposed to follow her, so I did. I took in her broad, muscular back appreciatively, but then shook my head, dismissing the image. I wasn’t here for that. A few minutes later, she knocked on a door and opened it, revealing a collection of women in various stages of undress. Okay, to be honest, most of them were tall, curvy, and butt ass naked. White, Black, Hispanic…I think I saw an Asian woman…these must be the strippers. I looked down, a bit embarrassed.
“Guys, any of you seen Penny?” Cap called out over the chatter.
A moment of silence as they turned her way…but no answers at first.
“She looked pretty fucked up earlier, might be in the bathroom,” one woman offered.
Cap nodded, closed the door, and headed further down the corridor. I followed.
She knocked on another door, but when she tried to turn the knob, it was locked.
“Penny? You in there?”
That was Cap’s deep voice. Considering the message Penny’d texted, I thought she might want to know I was there also.
“Penny, it’s me. Jenna Graham,” I called out.
Still nothing. I watched as Cap looked around and then snapped a finger at someone dressed pretty much like her, a big, burly guy who looked like a former linebacker.
“Joey, get me a key for this door.”
He nodded and I watched him take off in the opposite direction. I knocked on the door, harder.
“Penny, it’s okay. Can you open the door?” I called out again.
“Someone could have locked the door on the way out. It happens,” Cap tried to reassure me. Clearly my nerves were showing.
We waited until the huge guy showed up again, handing Cap a set of keys. She tried four of them before the lock finally gave and the door swung in.
And there she was…
She was on the floor, propped up against the wall like a huge doll…her friendly blue eyes were glassy…cold…and there were puddles of red…oh my God, was that blood? All over her clothes, her face…she was sitting in a pool of it.
I felt my stomach clench as bile rose up and into my throat…God, the smell…what the hell?
I took a step toward her, the odd angle of her head, the lack of movement, none of it really registering. Where had all that blood come from? Jesus. Had she slit her wrists? What…the…hell?
“Joey, take her to the office.”
Cap’s voice, harsher, barking a command. The giant of a man took my arm, rather gently actually, and started leading me away…but…but…
My brain was shutting down. I could feel it. I’d never seen anything like it…its nothing like you see in the movies. Nothing could prepare a person for that…God…Jesus…was she okay? sex izle Would she be okay? Could a person lose that much blood and be okay? And her eyes…so dull…glassy…they didn’t look like normal eyes. And that smell…what the fuck was that smell?
My eyes took in the small office, dark, rich colors, burgundy and deep greens…I sat, or I think I did. Maybe Joey sat me? Then there was a glass in my hand and I was drinking an amber liquid that burned on the way down. Moments later there was more liquid in the glass and I drank it down again, feeling my body warming when I hadn’t realized it had chilled. Jesus…her eyes…those eyes…so much blood…Jesus…
I have no idea how long I sat there. I don’t know if Joey stayed with me or not. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t process anything for a while…and then I only felt…regret. I was too late. She’d texted me, asked if I could come get her, and I was too late. Jesus. I had no idea. If I had dressed faster, driven faster…it never occurred to me she was in so much trouble. I mean…I didn’t know people who were murdered. That wasn’t a part of my life. I worked with teenagers. Suicide was always a possibility. She was only 20, maybe 21. All that blood, she could have cut her wrists… Perhaps her life had spiraled out of control and…but why here? Why in a public bathroom in this club? Well, people who committed suicide didn’t think like that, right? I mean…how would I know? I didn’t know…
How long had she been like that? When had this happened? It had only been a little more than an hour…God, her mother. Who would tell her mother? I closed my eyes, I would have to go see her mother. No one should have to deal with that alone…was her mother married? Seeing anyone? Did she have close friends? Siblings?
I was there for hours. Hours and hours. The police arrived, kept asking me about the text even after I showed it to them. First officers in uniform, then the ones dressed in wrinkled suits. They were nice, courteous, but I couldn’t help feeling like a suspect. They said they were from homicide, so I guess…I guess…
She wasn’t going to be okay.
I called my principal, told him I had an emergency…but I didn’t tell him what was going on. I wasn’t in the mood to hear yet another lecture about my inappropriate relationship with my students and my willingness to spend too much time after school hours involved in their lives. I mean…who would want to hear that now? And nevermind that my tactics seemed to work. I had tons of emails, cards, and texts from students who were enrolled in college, finished with college, working in various professions. Many of them came back for career day. They stayed in touch, they’d moved on after typically facing serious hardships…success stories, most of them, regardless of the sanctions I received periodically from the principal and the school board…
Although…not this time.
That thought depressed me.
I was done talking to the police. I think. They weren’t asking any more questions. Yet, I was still sitting in the small office, a bit dazed, my head heavy, my stomach churning… I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to leave…I wanted to go home. Crawl into bed and just sleep…sleep…until I dug up Penny’s mother’s contact information. They had to notify her first, so I would probably have to wait a day or two anyway…
I was just sitting there, not sure what to do next, when the door opened and a large frame filled the doorway. My eyes cleared after a moment…Cap. She was looking down at me, her dark eyes not giving anything away.
“You okay Jenna?” She finally asked, softly, carefully…like she knew I was close to losing it.
I shrugged, not sure how I should be.
We didn’t say anything for a moment and I watched as she drank some of the same liquid I’d had earlier.
“You need a ride?” She asked, her voice cooler, more distant.
Was this her office? She probably needed her space back. Yeah, right, I should get the hell out of this place. That was a good idea.
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Sorry.”
I stood, my knees a little weak, looking around for my purse. Where the hell was it anyway. I glanced around until I noticed it on the sofa. Maybe Joey had put it there. I snatched it up.
“Sorry. I’ll just—”
She grabbed my hand, squeezing it gently.
“Wasn’t kicking you out. Thought you might want to get out of here. Let me get you a ride home.”
I frowned, “I drove here.”
She nodded, “but you probably shouldn’t drive home. I’ll get your car to you.”
I nodded, thinking about the cost of hiring someone to take me home…a hired vehicle, a thirty-minute drive…sounded expensive. I wasn’t poor, but I wasn’t well off either. I was on a budget, like every other working person. This wasn’t in my budget.
As I was processing all of this, I realized she was talking to Joey again.
“Get her home, okay? altyazılı porn She’s over in Jersey.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
Joey was taking me home? Boss?
Except my brain couldn’t process another damn thing. So, when he held the door open for me, I just followed him out of that dark, depressing place.
We were looking at the video footage from just a few hours ago. No one had seen him enter the bathroom. He’d locked the door, so no one could interrupt him. No one had seen him leave. But she’d been there, beside me, when we discovered the body. There was no hiding her from them.
She looked good for an older chick. She was probably close to 40, but she had sweet curves…her tits looked good…her hips soft, curvy…she was nice to look at. Carmel brown skin, long dark lashes, full, pouting lips and a dimple in her chin…I remembered her smell, something light and sweet…I typically went for younger women, mid-twenties, strippers mostly who wouldn’t expect anything after…but I’d fuck her. My brain had already wrapped its mind around the idea.
“Jenna Graham. She didn’t see anything.”
Gabe turned to me, raising a dark brow. Gabe…Gabriella. A pretty effeminate name for a woman who oversaw a pretty serious bunch of criminals…hence the nickname.
“Why is she still breathing?”
I shrugged a shoulder casually, “she didn’t see anything. I was with her the entire time.”
“That fucking bitch was about to destroy everything we’ve worked for, and now you’re hoping this one won’t talk?”
I stared into Gabe’s dark, dark eyes…I knew what was coming. As her second in command, I knew the policy. No loose ends. No witnesses. We didn’t take chances.
But this woman had saved my niece. Turned her life around. And although she didn’t know it, she’d helped me too. I had no idea how to be a parent when Ariella’s mom, my sister-in-law, had overdosed. No idea how to ‘be’ around a teenager who’d lost both her parents (my brother had been shot to death years earlier). She’d let me vent, helped me deal with those erratic teen emotions…she’d saved us both.
Guess it was time for me to repay that favor.
“I’ll look in on her. She’s not going to the cops. She doesn’t know anything.”
Gabe raised her brow even higher, “you vouching for her?”
I hesitated for just a moment…was I taking responsibility for this woman? Did I know her well enough to stake my life on her?
“Yeah. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Gabe nodded, “you do that.”
I hadn’t slept in days. I mean…okay, I’m exaggerating. I’d slept, here and there, but there were nightmares. Every time I really sunk down into a deep sleep…I would see her. All that blood…those glassy eyes…and she would ask me why I hadn’t helped her.
And so, I found myself, for the tenth night in a row, sitting up, drinking a cup of decaf tea, staring at some idiotic show on television.
I still had goose bumps from the nightmare…and I refused to take any more sleeping pills. They were over-the-counter, so I doubted I would get hooked, but still. An alcoholic father made me more than paranoid about addiction. I drank in moderation, I smoked weed in moderation (or really not at all), I took pills and other meds in moderation…the only thing I didn’t moderate? Chocolate. Especially when I was PMSing. Hence the pretty curvy hips and rather plump ass.
Hey, no one is perfect.
But I’d eaten all the chocolate in my tiny little house in New Jersey…so it was tea and bad television for me tonight.
I sighed. It’d only been 10 days. Did I need to see someone about the nightmares? Or was this normal? I mean, how many people saw dead bodies? Especially bodies sitting in all that blood in strip clubs. I mean…surely it was normal to freak out a bit. But how long was I supposed to wait before going to see someone? Did I even need to wait? Would the dreams go away on their own?
I mean…really, just whatever. I felt horrible that I hadn’t found Penny in time. I don’t know how long she’d been there, but she’d texted…and it took me too long to get to her. I knew it wasn’t rational to blame myself, but I did anyway. I might have been the last person she reached out to. The police certainly thought so when they’d questioned me. But they were ruling it a suicide…although who committed suicide in a public bathroom in a strip club? And she hadn’t said a word about being depressed when she’d texted. She’d been…scared. Terrified actually. Not depressed.
Then again, I was no shrink, so how would I know exactly what she was feeling? It was a text message after all. Ms. Graham…it’s Penny…can you…uh…I’m in trouble…can you come get me? I’m at The Dungeon. That was it. I guess it could have been a suicide.
Except…something was not gelling for me.
I gathered the rest of papers from my desk, not looking forward to the weekend. Usually I was so tired I needed the down time, but the nightmares were getting to me. Tomorrow would be the two-week anniversary of Penny’s death…I was not looking forward to the dreams that would bring on.
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