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"How y'all bitches doing tonight?"
With a toss of her ebony curls, the statuesque black diva greeted the crowd. The modest gathering of men seated near the stage hooted and wolf-whistled back.
"That bad, huh?" she asked, deadpan, hand on one hip. The crowd cheered louder. Her rouge red smile widened in approval as her hand fluttered against her ample breasts. "Yes, honey, much better, much better. Show me your love."
She strutted and sashayed across the small stage, her sequined gown accentuating her curves as her stiletto heels clicked in time to the sway of her hips. "I'm Miss Doreena Dee Vine. That's Dee for"--she paused, primping her wig, patting herself on the butt--"delicious." She peered into the crowd and held out her hand, open-palmed. "Wait a minute now. Hold up, y'all, hold up." She pointed one lacquered red nail. "Girl, what have you done to your hair?"
The busboy looked up from where he was clearing a table, surprised for the moment to find the spotlight turned on him. He grinned shyly, then mouthed something toward the stage.
"What's that?" Miss Doreena asked, cupping her hand to her ear. "You say that's your natural color?" Her jaw dropped in disbelief as she scanned the crowd, then fixed her sights back on her target. "So does that mean you're blue all over?"
At the crowd's laughter, the boy blushed pink to his blue-tinged roots and quickly went back to busing tables. Miss Doreena turned her focus to another unsuspecting audience member and continued working the crowd.
From the corner of the dimly-lit alcove, Derek Graves took in the drag queen's antics. Reclined in his chair, his long legs stretched and crossed at theankles, he turned the chrome butane lighter in his hand and tapped it against the scratched tabletop. Turn, tap, turn, tap. With his other hand, he nursed his third drink of the evening.
He watched; he waited. Turn, tap, turn, tap.
He wasn't sure what had snapped him out of his stupor, a misery fest of self-loathing that had lasted the past few weeks. He only knew it was time to act, time to seek...
If only he could remember the asshole's face.
Certain a simple sighting would jog his memory, he peered between wisps of his shoulder-length auburn hair and scanned the club, the alcove affording a good view of the premises while its occupants remained discreetly tucked in the shadows.
Blue Ruin, his preferred haunt in the Oakwood district for a few years now, with watered-down well drinks, bad disco music, and all. He'd found so many willing young men here, taken in by his easy cash and sleek vintage suits, their appetites further whetted when he'd lured them outside to his black Porsche--a cheap model which he drove courtesy of a low-interest lease, but his passengers never knew the difference. Pretty boys, skinny boys, all of them over eighteen but their hands stamped Under 21, his instincts to their natures confirmed once he'd gotten them back to his place, and they'd easily submitted to his every carnal whim.
As always, post-libido guilt had plagued him afterward. As always, he'd come back to Blue Ruin, hunting for new prey, his sadistic urges renewed. Nearing his thirtieth birthday, he'd searched in vain for the one who would stay with him and let him raise things to the next level--one strong enough to take the pain, yet submissive enough to relish the role of hapless victim.
And then three weeks ago, the tables had been turned. He'd found himself on the wrong side of the fantasy, his part in it nonconsensual.
A clatter of glass and ice broke Derek's reverie. From a closer vantage, he saw that Miss Doreena had not been exaggerating about the busboy. A shock of bangs, dyed cobalt blue save for a strip of pure white, fell from beneath the black scarf that held the young employee's hair back.
Forgetting, for a moment, his purpose for coming that night, Derek peered over the rim of his drink and watched the new boy. He took in the eyes smudged with kohl, the cheap plastic bracelets that ringed one skinny arm. Pierced ears added to the youth's disaffected vibe, the row of studs on his left ending at the cartilage on top.
Despite the seedy surroundings, Derek assumed the owners only hired ages eighteen and up. Yet the boy's lush, full lips and soft, cherubic features lent him a younger aura. Draining his drink, Derek plunked the glass down. Ice rattled around wedges of lime.
The ruse worked. His attention caught, the busboy stepped into the alcove. As he approached, Derek noted his build. Just his type, roughly five-foot-eight, making the boy half a foot shorter than he, with a pale and slender frame--at least what Derek could make of it, given the oversized black T-shirt and wide-legged carpenter jeans.
In the shadows now, the busboy greeted him with a shy grin. "I'll get those," he offered, swiping Derek's empty glasses into the plastic tub balanced at his hip.
Derek nodded and lit up another cigarette.
"Smoking's bad for you," the boy said, wiping the table with a damp rag. Derek noticed he used his left hand.
"So is breathing," Derek countered, studying him intently.
The boy laughed, casting him a sidelong glance, then bit into his lip. He began to scrub the table more vigorously. Even in the dark, Derek could tell he'd just blushed. Reaching out, he placed his hand over the boy's wrist and stopped him. The boy flinched in surprise, but he didn't pull away.
"Tell the waiter I need another drink." Derek gave the boy a pointed look. "I'll be here a while."
The boy darted out his tongue, just a little, and licked his lips. "Sure."
Standing straight, he held Derek's gaze a moment longer before turning to leave.
If he came back sooner than three drinks this time, Derek would take that as his cue and make his move.
He watched the boy walk away, his rhythm lithe and svelte beneath the baggy clothes. Derek entertained the prospects, the urges he'd repressed since his last visit to Blue Ruin rising full force. The things he could teach such an innocent, ripe for the plucking, perfect for training. With that enticing notion came an image of the skinny, blue-haired busboy, naked and tied to his bed, moaning in pleasure, crying in pain.
Instantly, his thoughts were bombarded with another vision. A bright flash of light. His own hands tied to a stranger's bedposts, the rope cutting into the flesh of his wrists as he'd been pummeled from behind. The drug in his blood, the belt at his neck. He could barely breathe ... another snap, another flash of white...
Derek sat straight, stifling the gasp that had nearly burst from his throat. He crooked his finger and loosened his tie.
"No," he whispered. Never again would he take another in such a fashion; never would he do what had been done to him. And he was here to make sure it never happened to him, or anyone else, again.
A volley of boos and hisses erupted near the bar. Derek peered through the smoky din of the lounge and caught the muted television screen that hung above the drink rack. The late-night recap of the local news featured District Attorney James McGowan addressing the press at the courthouse steps on some latest ruling. His office had earned a reputation for its anti-gay bias in how certain cases were prosecuted, if at all. Combined with the policies of his equally homophobic cronies on the police force, it made for one tense relationship between Oakwood denizens and city law enforcement. In fact, it was that very prejudice and ineffectiveness that had influenced Derek's decision not to go to the police after what had happened.
At least that was what he kept telling himself.
He caught sight of the pretty busboy, stopped behind the bar to alert the waiter. The boy gestured toward the alcove, then stared up at the screen, his face twisting in a scowl. He dropped the plastic tub with a loud rattle and turned away. Wiping his hands on his apron, he stormed off and disappeared into the bathroom, the door slamming behind. While the DA certainly proved unpopular among the crowd, Derek found the boy's reaction particularly curious. Somehow it seemed ... personal.
Miss Doreena chimed in, never missing a beat. "Now I know y'all bitches aren't booing at little old me!" She squinted across the club at the television, then tossed her glorious fake mane in contempt. "Oh, that asshole! Jimmy McGowan, this next number is dedicated to you!"
A bass note sounded, and the disco classic It's Raining Men began pumping through the sound system. On cue, the crowd started clapping in time to the beat while Miss Doreena launched into campy, choreographed lip synch.
Another half hour passed; patrons came and went, some in pairs, others alone. The busboy tended the tables in between. Derek plunked his fourth empty glass against the table. His head spun, a buzz finally hitting him. He lit a fresh cigarette, inhaling deeply. Smoke scorched his abused lungs.
A face in the crowd caught his attention. Sitting straight, Derek exhaled a thick plume of smoke. Through narrowed eyes, he stared across the lounge at the man who had just taken a seat on the main floor.
Could that be him?
He had the same blond waves, pleasant features, spotless smile. But Derek saw something different in the eyes, something dark and cold and remote. Why hadn't he seen it that night, before he'd allowed himself to get talked into going home with someone who normally wasn't even his type?
Just a drink, the asshole had told him, so Derek had agreed, thinking maybe it was time to play with someone his own age.
His vision dimmed. Anger rising, he started to stand, then stopped short. Beside the tall, blond stranger sat the blue-haired busboy. Apron off, he shared a drink with the man, popping open a single can of orange soda. He looked in the general direction of the alcove, his smile gone from shy to sly, and raised the can in toast, apparently sensing--or hoping--Derek watched.
Cute, thought Derek, his alarm tinged with jealousy. And you chose to have a drink with him instead, because he's sitting in the middle of the club while I'm lurking back here in the shadows.
He continued to watch and wait. If they went outside, he'd follow them.
Minutes passed, only a few by the clock, but the wait tedious. The boy chatted with the blond, his body language open and flirtatious, yet his eyes drifting back to the alcove. The blond went for the boy's hands a few times, going so far as to gently pry one from the can, but the boy played coy each time and pulled away, his gaze shifting toward the shadows and Derek.
What is this scamp playing at? Derek wondered. If the boy had been sitting with anyone else, he would have marched over there and stolen him away.
He watched; he waited. He detected the boy's movements growing sluggish, and his eyes seemed a touch unfocused.
Surely the asshole wouldn't be so bold as to drug the boy right there in the club?
He hadn't observed the blond slip anything into the can, but then he was admittedly distracted by the boy, his sense of concern mixed with an inexplicable desire to protect--and possess.
Suddenly, the boy slumped in his seat, his eyes glazed. With a cool glance around the club, the blond rose swiftly, hefting the boy with him. Derek froze, rooted to his seat, his best-laid plans of action, of violence, of sweet revenge eluding him.
The boy's head lolled against the blond's chest, yet somehow, his gaze found Derek's, through the smoke and the shadows, and their eyes locked. He managed to mouth a single word before his jaw went slack.