I knew what the kid was there for the minute he walked into the club. There’s been enough come through with that look on their face, a look of blind desperation and devotion, that dealing with them had become a routine.
“What are ya drinkin’?” I asked, moments before be stumbled over a bar stool.
He startled and looked at me. It was a good sign; if he’d been too far gone, he wouldn’t have even heard me until he’d taken a nose-dive into the floor.
“Drinking?” he repeated back to me. “Is this a bar?”
“Jazz club,” I told him. “No cover tonight but a two drink minimum. What are you having?”
“Oh,” he said and appeared to think about it. “What does she drink?”
He was gone. While he didn’t appear to be the sharpest tool in the shed in the best of circumstances, he’d been rolled good and it hadn’t helped him any in the brains department. I grinned at him. “The blood of the innocent but I’m afraid we’re out.”
“Um.” I could see the braincells trying to fire. “A beer?”
I decided not to force him to think any harder than necessary so I asked for his ID and handed him a bottled domestic. He fumbled for his wallet and handed me some cash then turned and made his way to the tables next to the stage.
If I hadn’t known what was going on, I would have been a little offended that he hadn’t stayed at the bar to chat and flirt a little like most men do. I’m a bit tall for a woman, with blonde hair down to my waist and a body that’s driven more than one artist to tears. The look on his face as he stared at the empty stage told me he’d already been claimed, though, and being mad at him for not noticing me would be like being mad at the ocean for being wet.
The club was dead, even for a Tuesday, and I had little to do beyond watching the young man and contemplating his fate. I checked the clock and made a call back to the dressing room.
“Hello?” The dusky voice on the other end said.
“Hey, Rena, you’ve hooked one. You’re scheduled for a set in thirty but he’s the only one here if you want to do it early.”
“Thanks, Posey. I’m almost ready. Play me an intro in ten?”
“Will do, darlin’” I said and hung up. On the weekends, Rena sings with an all female jazz ensemble dressed to look like classy mermaids. The Sailor’s Lantern wasn’t the only place on the wharf with a maritime theme but it was the only place where the music was more than ‘loud’ and had a reputation for being a classy joint, even if the main act had a thing for sailors. During the week, the band was canned and I controlled the lights and music from behind the bar. We could run the whole place, her and I, with a laptop and an apron if we had to, though we hadn’t needed to since the first week we opened. There had been more flips to switch back then but the locals had liked the music and appreciated the booze. We didn’t start with an all-girl band, of course, but the necessity quickly became apparent when the men in the band started looking like the young man sitting by the stage. Slavish, unthinking devotion might be a good quality in a boyfriend, at least the kinds of boyfriends Rena preferred, but it tended to interfere with a musician’s talents.
I started the program for the show; the lights faded with the ambient music and I could see the only person in the club lean forward in anticipation as the intro music started. The spotlight came on slowly, started at the floor by her feet, and Rena started singing. When it illuminated her face, her eyes were closed as though in exquisite pain. I took a moment to appreciate the artistry she’d put into her appearance. Her black velvet dress blended into the dark so that her bare white shoulders seemed to glow, her dark red lipstick was the color of old blood and her hair was just barely contained, as though it just needed a hand through it to send it and her inhibitions tumbling.
The music always made me chuckle. Rena had long ago mastered all the old standards and she included her own songs between them. Her voice was so seductive, most people didn’t even listen to the lyrics.
You’ve whet my desire
made me want your fire.
I want to take you in
make you part of me.
It may be a sin
but I’m in ecstasy
You’ve set me on fire
let me do the same to you.
Pretty standard, really, unless you knew who Rena really was. The lounge singer act was a good gig for her and I didn’t mind tagging along to help. I probably could have set myself up in a similar situation but my needs were much simpler, more easily satisfied, and Rena needed somebody to watch her back. We’d moved west after one too many mistakes on the east coast and we wouldn’t have had the chance to do the runner in the first place if I hadn’t been watching.
Half-way through the set, a group of teenagers stumbled in and made their way to the stage, caught by the magic in Rena’s voice. Drop-ins like this were the reason I pumped the music into the street outside the door. The young ones were much easier to catch, especially the ones who thought they were tough.
When the last song was over, Rena disappeared into the darkness of the stage and I watched the first young man stumble to his feet and follow her. The group that had come in sat staring at the stage as the ambient music came back up. I went to check ID’s and turned a blind eye to the obviously fake ones. I bought a round of beers and stayed to chat, asking about their lives and school. Half of them were in high school and the other half should have been. I sent them back out into the world with the admonishment to stay in school and maybe learn a trade. They were too young to keep but would be easy pickings when they got older.
The club was empty for the second set and we decided to close early. Rena fairly glowed on the drive home. Silently, she handed me a bag as I cut the engine in front of our house on the rocks. I watched her sway her hips to the song she was humming as she walked into the house. I wouldn’t be joining her for a while; the ocean and my father were calling me. I stripped quickly, enjoying the salty ocean spray on my skin, then ran into the water with the bag. The wallet in the bag would make its way to shore eventually but the clothes would disintegrate long before that happened. There was rarely anything else left of Rena’s victims. She was efficient like that.