Chapter Two: Trini

It was a good thing the tips were plentiful, because I was going to need a new set of air boots by the time this shift ended.

“Over here, Trini!” Ondar, one of my regulars called out.

“Right there,” I smiled, hoping he wouldn’t see past the plastic grin I’d had plastered to my face for the last hour.

Just because it was still morning didn’t mean a thing. Not here.

The low pulsing music throbbed in time with the flickering light that draped the stage in the middle of the room with rhythmic shadows.

Pausing to dodge around another drunk, I slapped absently at a hand that stole across my hip.

“Oh, come on honey. Why don’t you take a seat and watch the show with me?”

“You know perfectly well that’s against the rules, Girdar,” I ground out. “Why don’t I freshen up that drink for you.”

“Sure, sure.” But his eyes were fixed on Risti as she twisted and bent around the dancing polls, the spangled scraps of fabric catching the light.

Making my way through the crowded floor I leaned against the bar top.

“We need to start charging more,” I groused.

“What’s this we, little girl?”  Russar snapped back, but by the broad grin I knew the burly bar owner hadn’t lost his temper with his patrons yet.

He wouldn’t, not as long as they kept ordering his high-end stock.

And while their eyes were on Risti’s gyrations, they seldom noticed if it was a little water down.

“I know, I know. I only work here. But as your senior employee, I think that should give me a little bit of say in how we run this place.”

He handed me a glass, filled with light, sparkling trakko, patted my hand in commiseration.

“I know it’s wild when your friend is dancing, but you’ve got to admit,” he waved at the crowded room, “she packs them in.”

It was true.

Risti didn’t technically work at the Merry Stormcloud. She considered her occasional morning sets here as advertising for her real job, over at Momma Deese’s pleasure house.

It was a good thing all around.

We won, because all the men wanted to come and see her.

She won, because a good portion of them would come back and set up appointments at Deese’s for later.

And that’s how things worked here in Rondi, the pleasure capital of Heladae.

Everybody made a deal, everybody tried to get ahead.

It was just good business.

And in a sector run by the megacorps, you couldn’t get away from it.

Russar filled the orders I’d sent ahead from my tablet, but instead of placing them on my tray, he set them aside.

“I’ll have one of the other runners take them out.” He shook his head at my sour expression. “I’ll make sure you get your split.”

“If I’m gonna put up with people’s hands on my ass, I better be getting my split,” I muttered, knowing he couldn’t hear me over the music.

Probably.

“Why don’t you take this one over to table eleven?” He set a tall glass on the center of my tray. “Special request.”

My eyes narrowed. “That’s never a good thing,” I said, waiting for an explanation.

Russar sighed dramatically. “It’s just Makkar. He asked if he could see you for a few minutes.”

I didn’t bother to hide rolling my eyes.

“We haven’t dated for what, two, three years? I don’t think he gets special favors.”

For all that Russar was willing to work his self and anyone else into the ground to keep his bar running, none of that work ethic had rubbed off on his younger brother.

Makkar could be fun to hang out with, sure. But after a while I got tired of babysitting someone with a lot of big talk he wasn’t willing to work for.

“You just want me to work for free in the family business. But we’re not getting back together. ” I insisted, picking up the drink for table eleven. “I’m more likely to go out with you than him, any day.”

Russar laughed. Easy for him. He and his husband had been partnered up longer than anyone I knew.

As I headed away from the bar, I ran through my mantra.

Focus on the good things, Trini. You’ve got a solid job, a place of your own, friends and good money coming in. You don’t need anything else.

At least table eleven was farther away from the noise and strobing lights of Risti’s performance.

That surely counted as another good thing.

“Hey baby!” Makkar slid out of his chair, lunging forward to hug me before I could dance away.

“Ow!” A sharp pain caught at my upper arm and I stepped back.

“Sorry, baby,” Makkar took the tray from me, pulled another chair out from the table. “I think I’ve got a pin or something in my coat. Keep meaning to look for it, but you know how it is.”

Yup. I knew exactly how it was.

“Print,” I ordered, holding my datapad out for his thumb.

“Why you gotta be so harsh?” Makkar whined as he approved the order. With a stingy tip.

“Not harsh, just busy. Look around, we’re slammed here.”

“Not so busy you can’t sit down, right?” His trademark charming grin flashed, right on schedule.

And… sure, we were busy. But my boss had pretty much ordered me over here.

And my feet were screaming for a break.

“Fine. Five minutes,” I said as I dropped into the chair.

A thought struck me as I took a deep breath. “Aren’t you hooked up with Mada these days? She seems like someone who should be able to keep you busy enough that you don’t have time to hang around here, bothering folks.”

“Man, Trini,” he shook his head. “That is one stone cold bitch.” He waggled his eyebrows like an eight-year-old. “But she can make it worth it.”

“Don’t tell me anything further,” I snapped.

I really didn’t want to know any details. One, because that was gross.

And two, because Mada Sommu would probably be happy for her boytoy to call her a stone cold bitch.

And in no way, shape or form did I want to get tangled up in her business.

“Trini!” a voice shouted from the darkness. “Where’s that drink?”

“Break time’s over,” I pushed back from the table. “Try not to get into any trouble, would you? Your brother’s a good guy.”

“Be seeing you,” he smirked.

Not if I could help it.

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