Muffled strains of Jagged Little Pill punctured my sleep and dragged me into the land of the living. I cracked open my eyelids through a pounding headache to see Kilroy sitting on the corner of the mattress beside me.

“Turn off your fucking phone,” I mumbled.

Kilroy silenced his phone with a swipe of his thumb and extracted a pill bottle from his pocket. He had contracted HIV sometime during his needle days and had to take a retroviral pill every day at the same time. This was not the world’s easiest task for someone on the road changing time-zones every few days, so he had programmed an alarm into his phone to go off every twenty-four hours: day or night, interrupting meals, sleep, rehearsals, and, at present, my self-absorbed pity party.

“You should really get out of the house.” Kilroy tipped a tablet into the palm of his hand, tossed it into his mouth, and washed it down with the last swig from a nearby water bottle.

“Fuck off,” I buried my face in the pillow again. It stank. I stank. Ever since the trip to the Big House I’d slipped back into the funk of depression. The bedroom of the Cursèd Place was airless and hot, and it was all I could do just to lie still on the damp mattress and drink myself back to sleep. I didn’t have the energy for anything else.

“C’mon, we’re going to the club for Gorey. You’re coming with, and you are ripe, man,” Kilroy insisted. I gave him the finger and cut the hugest fart I could.

“Fuck you too.” He scooted up until his ass was next to my ear and farted back.

“Jesus, fuck, dude.”

“Just take a goddamn shower,” he told me. “We leave in an hour.”

*          *          *          *

“Drink up.” Jojo shoved a bottle of something I presumed was Not Water into my hand and nudged it toward my face. “The club’s full nude.”

Which meant no booze.

I sighed. “It’s going to be a long fucking night.”

“We’re here for Gorey,” Jojo jabbed a fingernail into my arm. “I’m not putting up with Thackery’s pawing all evening just so you can shit in the punchbowl.” She tossed a glance toward the front of the limo’s cabin where Khaki Thackery was sandwiched between Tombstone and Kilroy as soft and white and vanilla as a slice of sponge cake. Jojo had her feet on his lap, and he was kneading her instep devotedly.

That explained who was bankrolling this boondoggle.

I gulped down an eye-watering shot of something homemade and about a million proof. The liquor burned going down. The fumes burned coming back up. I was pretty sure I was going to need to stay away from open flames.

“Holy hell, what is this stuff?”

“Just what the doctor ordered.”

I wiped my streaming eyes on a sleeve then tossed back the bottle again; gulping and gulping and gulping as much as I could before my stomach could protest.

“Omigod, stahp!” Jojo yanked the bottle out of my hand before I could finish it off. “Sonovabitch, leave some for the rest of us why don’t you?” She shook the dregs meaningfully in my face as the limo pulled into the parking lot belonging to a strip club and came to a stop. A color-changing LED display spelled out CLUB LURE in shifting rainbow letters.

On the outside, the club was an asymmetrical, modern building embedded into the industrial blight of Stone Park like a faceted pink jewel on a pornstar’s asshole. On the inside, it was a cavernous space made up of smoked glass, mirrors, and theatrical haze. Brass poles rose at intervals from stages around the room where nubile figures writhed and twisted in the murky semi-darkness. The floor host ushered us to a booth near the main stage where we could see and be seen, signifying to the girls we were pockets of some expected depth. They were circling before our asses even hit the seats.

I folded myself into the darkest corner of the booth to wait for the alcohol to take effect. On the stage, a blonde climbed to the top of the pole and flipped upside down, rotating in a lazy circle to survey the room. Locking eyes with me, she grinned and licked her teeth.

It was fair to say I’d seen more than my fair share of strippers in my life. As a species, they fell into two breeds: the ones who danced because they had to and the ones who danced because they wanted to. The bottom-line was the same though: they were there for the money and were prepared to take you for every cent you had. As long as you were throwing money around, they would sit on your lap. They would laugh at your jokes. They would listen to your sob story if you wanted to talk and make inane small talk if you didn’t. If they got you into a lounge, they would take off every stitch of their clothing and grind whatever part of their body against whatever part of yours that made you open your wallet the widest; but they didn’t like you and never would. All the cheap perfume in the world wouldn’t cover the whiff of apathy permeating the room. It was as much a part of the job as the neon G-string and the Lucite heels.

None of the other guys seemed to mind. Tombstone and Kilroy were already bellied up to the tip rail with a stack of singles between them and a coterie of dancers fluttering for their attention. Gorey had a dancer on each knee and was entertaining them with a sleight of hand making a gold coin appear and disappear in front of their wondering eyes. Jojo, the self-nominated party planner, had cornered the floor host and was whispering something conspiratorially. I glimpsed a roll of cash change hands. She returned to the table looking pleased with herself.

“Hrrrmmmgthkay ladiesngerrmen, whreeengdgberder bachelor!” the DJ made a garbled pronouncement over the PA and the two dancers on Gorey’s lap stood. They hauled him up and escorted him onto the stage to enthrone him in a folding chair where he sat grinning with his hands clasped in his lap like a schoolboy trying to behave himself.

“Hurrgbennnnngg durrrammmmmmbbberrr!”

The blonde slid down from her perch and raked up her tips from the stage floor as an enormous Black girl emerged from the curtains at the back of the stage and ran her hands over Gorey’s shoulders. She strutted around in front of him and bent in half, twerking the mighty cheeks of her ass to Foxy Shazam’s I Like It.

Gorey liked it, alright. He was grinning so widely the corners of his mouth threatened to reach his ears. If he died right now in that exact moment, he’d die a happy man.

The blonde descended from the stage with a wad of singles in her hand. She paused for a minute to put a foot on my knee and tuck the bundle through her ankle garter.

“Hey now.”

“Hey yourself,” she said through her eyelashes. “Why so serious?”

I let my eyes follow the contours of her leg up into the promising darkness beneath the fabric of her dress. The Lycra hugged her body in a way that made me suddenly painfully aware of how long it had been since I’d last gotten laid. Almost a month. Back before we’d gotten kicked off the tour. Another life.

“I’m Camille,” she said, sinking onto my lap. “What’s your name?”



“Damen. There’s no ‘i’ in it.” It was a conversation I’d had a million times before.

“That’s what I said.”


“Damien,” she stuck her tongue behind her teeth and laughed. I couldn’t tell if she was an idiot or if she was doing it on purpose to troll me. “The things I would do to you…” she murmured to herself, leaning in close to take a deep inhale of my hair. “You smell like someone I’d like to fuck. You ever notice how some people just smell fuckable?”

“Where have you been all my life?” The stain of reality was receding, leaving only a luminous fantasy in its wake. I felt myself coming awake for the first time in days.

The blonde threw her head back and laughed. “You’re not afraid of me, are you?” She settled against my chest, making herself comfortable. “Most guys are. Give them a woman who knows what she wants and poof! Suddenly their big, swinging dicks disappear.”

“Not me. I’m average-sized at best, but I make up for it with stamina and cunnilingus.” I licked the tip of her nose with a flick of my tongue.

Camille laughed and slipped a hand down between us to size me up through my jeans. “You’re a rotten liar,” she said.

“I never lie. It terrifies people.” My eye was drawn to the stage where the Black girl sat on the folding chair while Gorey lap danced her. Kilroy and Tombstone were enthusiastically making it rain.

“Friend of yours?” she asked.


“Oh, you’re in a band?” she tugged gently at my lip ring with a half-smile on her face. “I never would have guessed.” Even through the increasing haze of alcoholic stupor I could hear the sarcasm. She wasn’t as dumb as she looked. She stood up languidly. Towering over me like a luminous Venus she held out a hand. “Come with me. There’s someone you should meet.”

“Lead me astray.”

I got to my feet and followed her across the dance floor and through a doorway marked Private to the business side of the club. A cluster of girls were taking a break in the half-lit backstage hallway, exchanging gossip in the vulgar, over-loud tones of women who did not give a single shit about gratifying the male gaze. I was on their turf now. Camille led the way up a short flight of stairs and ushered me into an office that overlooked the dance floor through a wall of darkly tinted windows.

“Look who I found!” Camille enthused, presenting me to the room’s occupant: a hefty dude wearing a Man of Snakes t-shirt who sat enthroned like an elder statesman behind a large wooden desk. He looked like a side of bacon: pink and porcine with a soul patch and nappy white-boy dreadlocks. He gave me a perfunctory glance over the top of a pair of black plastic reading glasses.

“Baphomet on a bicycle, not another one of your strays,” he muttered, clearing the room with a wave of his hand. A power move that said I’m the boss here, which was evidently for my benefit because Camille flopped down onto a couch with an easy familiarity.

“Strong words from a fucking Snakes fan,” I said.

The big dude narrowed his eyes. “You can shut your blaspheming face-hole right now, pal,” he said, resting an elbow on the desk to point at me with his pen. “Man of Snakes is a national fucking treasure. Anybody who says otherwise can suck my gnarled troll dick.”

“They’re a pack of self-important assholes with the cultural relevance of a rat turd,” I persisted. “Kester couldn’t play his way out of a paper bag, and Kelle sings like someone’s tonguing his balls.” I imitated the lead singer’s signature, limp-wristed affect to demonstrate and hit a falsetto high-note that featured prominently in their best-known hit.

Camille laughed. The big guy didn’t. The deliveryman deposited his stack of boxes and beat a hasty retreat out the door.

“Who the hell do you think you are, you shit-spackled fuckwhistle?”

“Judge, gawd! Don’t be lame. This is Damien.”

Damen,” I said, automatically. “D-A-M-E-N. Like the street.”

“D-A-M-E-N, like the blue-haired faggot that fronts OBNXS?” Judge said. I got the feeling it was a question he already knew the answer to.

“That’s me.”

“Prove it, motherfucker.”

I reached into my pocket and fished out the laminate for Lollapalooza and showed it to him. Damen Warner. OBNXS.

“Ha!” Camille pointed to the laminate, victorious. “I told you it was him. Pay up.”

Not an idiot.

“Aw, fuck.” Judge’s face split into a grin and he slapped a folded bill into Camille’s outstretched hand, now all good humor. He turned to me: “Well, you’re a shithead, but I grudgingly admit your music don’t suck.”


He extended a paddle-like hand in my direction. I shook it. “So, it’s true you’re playin’ Lolla, then. I heard a rumor.”

“Yeah, it’s true.”

“D’you get free tickets?” Camille wanted to know, pressing her body against mine.

“Ain’t nothin’ in this life that’s free,” I told her. Now that my anger was cooling, I could feel my inhibitions slipping away into a warm haze. I inhaled the smell of her hair and sweat and perfume. She was right—some people did smell fuckable.

“I’ll make it worth your while,” she said, reaching behind her back to cup my hard-on with one hand. She squeezed gently through the denim, lighting up every nerve in my skin. I grabbed a handful of hair at the back of her neck and peeled her head back to expose her throat.

“Alright, that’s enough you two.” Judge didn’t need to be looking at us to know how we were carrying on. “Some of us are tryin’ to work.”

Camille rolled her eyes. “Laaaame,” she proclaimed, taking my hand. “C’mon, let’s go have some fun.”

“When you’re done fooling around, come find me and we’ll talk music.” Judge made a five-pointed gesture by way of dismissal and turned back to his laptop.

I tripped along behind Camille as she led the way back out into the thunderous reverie of the club. The booze was hitting me hard now. The world warped and twisted around me as we made our way to a champagne booth overlooking the room from a mezzanine level. Brushing aside a curtain of beads, Camille escorted me into the velveteen darkness and shoved me down on an overstuffed couch.

Jojo was already there with Khaki Thackery and a temptation of dancers in various states of sobriety and undress. Jojo herself was topless, her legs flung across Thackery’s lap while she did a line of something off the missile-shaped tits of a Suicide Girl with candy colored hair. She glanced up at me, rubbing her nose self-consciously before running her tongue across the dancer’s skin where the powder had been.

“Someone’s feeling better,” she said, grinning as Camille melted into my lap, every inch of her soft and warm and supple. “Aren’t you glad you came out now?”

“Yeah,” I had to admit it was true: life did seem to suck a whole lot less.

“You like to party?” she asked. Camille pinched her nose between her finger and her thumb with a sniffle and a wink.

“I didn’t come here for the food.”

“I’ll be back—don’t go anywhere.” She stood up, dragging her body across mine as she did. The sensation of her flesh sent shivers through my body.

Jojo nudged my shoulder. “You should probably pace yourself,” she said. Her expression was casual, but her tone pierced my unraveling thoughts. Temperance was not known to be one of her core values.


“No reason. Just, maybe, plan to drink a bunch of water later.”

Why,” I asked again, struggling to pull my mind together. “D’you slip me something?”

Jojo just stuck her tongue in her cheek and said nothing, which said everything.

“Did you fucking roofie me?!”

“I was sick of hearing you whine, okay?” Jojo admitted at last. “Just a little something to take the edge off. C’mon—enjoy the ride. It’s designer. The lab’s legit. Totally mellow high.”

“What the hell d’you give me?!”

“Just the tiniest bit of Liquid G.” She pinched her fingers together: just the tiniest bit.


Jojo seemed to consider, then made the pinch bigger. A big little bit.


She thought about it again. Made the pinch bigger. A big bit. I was going to get hammered.

“Jojo, what the fuck?!”

“You weren’t s’posed to drink the whole fucking bottle, Bogart.”

I remembered the bottle of engine de-greaser I’d practically chugged in the back of the limo. The drugs were hitting me like an avalanche now: building speed, gaining momentum, burying me alive. My body weighed a million pounds. I sank into the cushions like quicksand.

Don’t struggle, it’ll make you sink faster. A completely useless survival instinct murmured listlessly in the back of my mind as I stared at the dancing lights and let my mind dissolve.

“Just relaaaaaxxxxx,” Jojo told me. Like I had much choice. Whatever she’d given me, she’d clearly had some too and was rolling hard. “It feels amaaaaazzzzzing. Doesn’t it feel amaaaazzzzzinnnngggg…”

Lay back and try to float.

But I was already sinking into a deep well of muffled darkness. Camille returned to find me staring, wasted, into the middle distance like a drooling idiot.

“Heyyyy, rockstarrrr?” Her voice seemed to take forever find its way down to me. “You alrighhhhhtttt?”

I couldn’t tell if I responded. She grabbed me by the hair to pull my head up and inspected my pupils.

Hey.” Somebody snapped their fingers close to my face, but I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do about it.

“He’s not dead, is he?”

“No, he’s just fucked up.”

“We’re gonna have to call the cops again.”

“No, no cops. He’ll be fine, just let him sleep it off.”

The music throbbed through my body. Time passed as a blur of motion across my mind. I was aware of voices and flesh, the touch of hands, the flash of photographs that I was almost certainly going to regret. One by one my senses burned out, first feeling, then sight, then sound.

And then I passed out, and there wasn’t anything else.

New chapters released every week. Come back and read the next chapter absolutely FREE!!

CHAPTER 12: LAST CHANCE will go live Monday, September 13th, 2021

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