Doing a blast from the past today. This story first appeared here in February of 2014.
They once called it a Cathouse
The spark and burst of flame from the match broke the darkness. The light bounced from the brim of his hat into his face as he inhaled the flames through his cigarette. Triston tossed the match away without putting it out.
A few deep puffs on the cigarette and he kicked his feet up on the chair in front of him. He removed his hat and set it on the table when the spotlight clicked on the stage.
Music boomed out of the stage side speakers when she stuck a leg out of the curtain. The rest of her followed, wearing nothing more than high heels and a g string. She didn’t bother with elaborate costumes, instead she relied entirely on moves and stage presence.
The music built as she strutted to the pole in the center of the stage. Though she stood tall her eyes were transfixed to a point on the ground, a point just before his feet. Her body found the rhythm of the music, slow, steady, building.
In a flash of light the music hit a crescendo and she exploded with the music. Gyrations and shimmies worked through her. The movements a tease to draw him into the story of her dance. When she found the pole he moved to the edge of the stage. He held out a folded bill as she crawled to him.
He remained at the edge of the stage for the rest of the dance. Triston’s eyes followed her when she stepped back behind the curtain.
He lit another cigarette then returned to the bottle of whiskey at his table. She popped out of the back rooms dressed in a short silk robe and walked directly to his table.
“I didn’t expect to see anyone here this morning,” she said. “How did you even get in here?”
He smiled and pulled a key from his jacket pocket. “I have a key. Comes when you buy a building I think.”
“Wait, you own this place?” In the subdued light on the floor the few creases by her eyes jumped out at him. Still in great shape, her skin stretched a bit, it lost the suppleness of youth.
“I heard you liked to work the stage when no one else was around,” he said. “Triston, Triston Reynolds.” He offered her his hand. When she reached out for it he held her fingers as he pressed the back of her hand to his lips. “Unless I am mistaken, you are Shanon.”
She pulled her hand away with a snap. “So what, now you’re going to come in here and change the place?” she asked. “Or are you just looking for a cash cow, count this place as a tax loss?”
“I don’t know what you’ve heard,” he said. “There will be some changes, but nothing too drastic.”
Her club, the slimy bastard sold her club. Never even said anything to her about it. How the fuck does he get away with shit like this anyway. Shanon showered while she argued with Rick in her mind. They had a deal. She ran the club and watched over the girls while he took care of his other holdings. This was the deal when they split up. She should have gotten it all in writing.
She turned off the water and stepped into the steam-filled bathroom. The half bath came with the rest of the apartment, a small studio above the club. It wasn’t much but it worked for her needs. She spent most of her nights at the club anyway.
She had an hour before the girls would be showing up downstairs. Downstairs, where she left Triston to go over the books in the office. Took a few calls to get a hold of Rick to check out the man’s story. Damn Rick, what were you thinking?
“Let me get this straight,” Triston said. “This is just a gentleman’s club? I mean I get it, the girls are exotic dancers, but that’s it?”
“What did you expect?” Shanon changed into jeans and a T-shirt after her shower. “The girls who work her are clean. I don’t have time for any of those games you find in other clubs.”
“How do you make any money then?”
She crossed her arms and leaned forward in her chair. “What the hell are you getting at?”
“Well, aren’t there any back alley deals? Or drugs? How about some shenanigans?”
Her eyebrows creased in concentration as she considered what to say. “I run a respectable club here. My girls are not hookers, if that’s what you’re asking.” She pulled a cigarette from the pack on the desk and lit it. “This is a business and I like to keep it clean.”
He reached into his coat and pulled out a folded up newspaper clipping. “What’s this about then?”
She knew the article. A few years old, came from around the time she took over the club. “Nothing like that has gone down in a long time. This crew likes the way I run the club and stands behind me.” Jessica, it felt like a different world back then. Where did he find that article.
“The girls are screened extensively when first hired,” she said. “Hell, most of them have been her for a few years now.” She blew out a cloud of smoke then took a quick drag. “I make a point to take care of the girls and protect them from predators like that.”
“The article says she was mutilated in your parking lot,” he said. “Did they ever catch the killer?”
“Why all this fascination with old news? I thought you were looking for how we turn a profit?”
His smile, she hated that smile already. “I want to protect my investment. What kind of security have you placed outside now?”
“I have closed circuit cameras spread throughout the parking lot with security monitors at our guard station near the main entrance.” She leaned her forehead into her hand as she rubbed at her temples. “A guard also goes out with the girls when they leave at night. Girls don’t leave alone.”
“You have that under control it seems,” Triston said. “This helps to keep the drug issues in check too?”
“I won’t let the girls work if they’ve been using,” she said. “Hell, a few of them are in school and don’t have time for anything like that anyway.”
“I don’t like him,” Traci said. She sat across the dining room table from Shanon at the end of the night. At four AM Shanon was more concerned with sleep but Traci forced the issue. “What does he know anyway?”
“I did a background check earlier,” Shanon said. “From what I could tell he checked out ok. But it was a quick check.”
“That isn’t what I was asking.”
“He pulled out the article earlier,” she said. “I can’t tell what he knows about it.”
Traci stepped into the kitchen and returned with the coffee pot. “What the hell was Rick thinking?”
“This isn’t the first time today I have asked the same thing. We need to dig deeper into this and see what is going on.” They both jumped when a knock hit the door. “Didn’t everyone go home?”
“I thought so,” Traci said. “You weren’t expecting anyone?”
Shanon peered through the peephole. “It’s him,” she whispered. She attached the chain to the door then opened it a crack. “What are you doing here this late?”
“Can I come in?”
“You should probably come back tomorrow,” she said.
“I don’t think so. We need to talk, now.”
She glanced back at Traci, who gave her a quick nod. “Fine, though I don’t think I will be much help this late at night.” She opened the door and stepped aside.
“I think you’re hiding something from me,” he said as he walked over to the dining room table. He sat across from Traci and tipped his Stetson in her direction. “Evenin’, Jasmine, right?”
“I go by Traci when I am not working,” she said. She wrapped her arms tight together as she shook with a chill.
“We were discussing some club business,” Shanon said.
A raised eyebrow. “Oh, anything I should know about?”
“Nothing that important really, girl talk,” she said.
He shrugged. “I actually had a follow up question from our discussion earlier.” He pulled the folded up news article from his pocket again. “I noticed in this picture that there were some odd tracks in the mud near the murder scene. What do you know about them?”
Traci and Shanon both examined the photo. He had circled the marks with a pen, something Shanon hadn’t noticed when he showed the article to her earlier.
“I don’t know what you know about animal tracks but those are cat tracks. Notice how the paws don’t have claw marks?” he asked. “Cats retract their claws when they are walking for the most part.”
“So a cat walked by the body,” Shanon said. “I don’t see what you are getting at.”
He pulled a cigarette from the pack in his coat and lit it. “Well that’s just it. The tracks are bigger than any cat from around here. If it was an escaped zoo animal that killed her, why weren’t there any marks on her body?”
The women looked at each other. “That information wasn’t released to the public,” Shanon said. “How do you know this?”
He took a long drag on the cigarette. As he released the smoke he said, “I’ve seen the reports. I’ve also read the reports of the man that was shredded by a wild cat found a few miles from here. The claw marks on his body would match the paws that made the marks in this photo.”
Shanon stood up and went into the kitchen. “I still don’t understand what it is you are trying to figure out, Mr. Reynolds.” Her voice from the kitchen sounded muffled.
“The dead man, he was my brother,” he said. “I am looking for the cat.”
A soft growl drifted from the kitchen into the dining room. The sound echoed, louder across the table from where he was sitting. He reached for the pistol he wore at the back of his trousers but too late.
Traci sprang from her side of the table as her body shifted and changed. The cougar knocked him to the ground. She was joined by a tigress from the kitchen.
At first they toyed with him batting him back and forth between them. Words were not spoken as their claws ripped and tore his clothes then his flesh. What was left of the body, they dumped in the woods close to where they dropped off his brother.
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