The men kept their distance, but I could feel them walking behind me. It was like having someone read over your shoulder. The tingling down my neck and spine let me know someone was there, and I had to fight the urge to turn around and face them down. In my experience, that only emboldened drunk men. Knowing that they were scaring me—or, at least, thinking they were scaring me—would make them feel powerful. And there are few things better to scummy men than feeling powerful over a woman.
I quickened my pace, but in the back of my mind, I was already planning for the confrontation. As minutes ticked by, I could hear their footsteps growing louder, and I began to catch snippets of their slurred conversation broken up by booming laughter that ricocheted off the old iron gates and railings of the buildings along the road.
There were few women who needed an experience like this one, but I especially didn’t need it. I was low on cash, and every motel I could afford in the city was booked solid. Walking the streets late at night was a dangerous pastime for me anyway, but in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, it felt like someone had thrown chum in the water and the sharks were circling. Drunk sharks. The entire city was hammered. But work called.
“Hey there, girly,” one of the men slurred, giving a long, low whistle.
I took a deep breath and kept walking, praying that a miracle would occur, and they’d give up.
“You hear me up there, pretty thing?” he called.
“Oh, she hears you,” a second man said. “She started walking faster.”
Just as I’d predicted. My clear desire to get away from them only spurred them on. If I’d shown interest, they would have pursued me. If I’d politely refused, they would have harassed me. And if I’d ignored them, they’d have become belligerent. It was a losing game from the start.
“Well I don’t mind. Keep on walking, baby. It looks good,” the first said.
There was another wolf whistle.
“Shake it, baby. Shake it.”
At this point, all of their voices began to blend together, and I didn’t attempt to separate them. They were one malevolent force.
“You were asking for attention with a dress like that. You can’t make your ass look that good and expect me not to notice. I’m simply an admirer of beauty, baby girl. Come back here and let me admire you up close.”
For being drunk, they sure were creative with their come-ons. Still, I ignored them and continued walking down the street, my heels clacking against the cement.
“Don’t be a bitch.”
The predictability of the encounter almost made me smile. Almost. It had shifted from complimentary to degrading. From here on out, they would be belligerent.
“You think you are too good for us? You’re the one shaking your ass up and down the street like a damn prostitute.”
“You want us to treat you like the dirty slut you are?”
“We can take her back to our room and show her a good time.”
“We’ll share her. Take turns until she learns some goddamn respect.”
The verbal onslaught continued, the men moving progressively closer until I could practically feel their breath on my neck. Passersby heard them shouting at me. A few people even glanced at me as they passed in a kind of apology, though what good did that do if they weren’t going to stop and help? No matter. I didn’t need their help.
The men were directly behind me now, no more than a few feet.
“Let’s see if your face matches your backside,” the man said.
I could see his hand reaching for me as if I had eyes in the back of my head. It was so damn predictable. I spun around fluidly and batted his hand out of the air with my own. His arm fell limply at his side, surprised. Then, he regrouped, his wide eyes squinting in a dopey, sadistic grin.
The man was blonde and square all over. He whistled. “Even better from the front.” His eyes roved down my body and back up, stopping at my chest.
His friends were short and squat, bobbing around behind the blonde like flies around a pile of shit, nodding.
“Fuck off,” I growled, trying to let them know I was not up for playing games.
He only smiled and turned back to his little minions. “Feisty. She will be fun.”
The man seemed at ease in the confrontation, making it obvious he’d done things like this before. He was no stranger to harassing women. I was simply another pair of tits to this man. Another set of curves he would force his meaty hands over. That made what I was about to do a lot easier.
“Don’t do something you’ll regret,” I said, taking a step away from the man—for his sake, not for mine. “Just go back to whatever hole you crawled out of and try to sober up. I’m sure you’ll be marginally less horrible once you do.”
He shook his head. “I could never regret you, baby girl.”
His sausage fingers crossed the space between us and just barely brushed across my chest before I blocked his arm with my forearm as if they were swords, wrapped my hand around his thick wrist and spun his drunk and lumbering frame around so his back was against my chest. Then, I jumped onto his back and wrapped my arms around his neck.
Now, I was practically sitting on his shoulders while his friends stared up at me with matching expressions of shock on their faces that gradually shifted to horror. The man clawed at my arms and tried to loosen my grip from around his neck, but the alcohol had severely inhibited his already inadequate fine motor skills. He batted uselessly at my arms like a blindfolded child would swing a stick at a pinata.
“You’re crazy,” one of the men slurred, making no move to help his friend, who was clearly beginning to lose steam and oxygen.
“Get off him, you bitch.”
I squeezed harder. The man’s body vibrated with the effort to move oxygen in and out, and I could feel that his attempts to remove my arms from his windpipe were growing more feeble. Then, he swayed. I’d become adept at knowing the precise moment when someone is going to pass out, and I felt it in the man whose neck I had in my grasp. He swayed front to back and then in the moment before he began to faint, the muscles across his back and shoulders went soft. It was at that point that I let go and jumped off. The man hit the pavement like a bag of cement.
I straightened the hem of my dress across my thighs and pushed my hair out of my face. “He is going to wake up with one hell of a headache. I suggest you get him some aspirin and a glass of water. Also, he’ll have some serious bruising around his neck, so maybe buy him an ascot.”
The two men blinked dumbly at me, looked down at their friend, and then turned their empty faces back to me. Sensing I wouldn’t get a response out of them, I turned and walked down the sidewalk, confident the situation was handled.
Finally, I could focus on a truly important problem: finding a place to sleep for the night.
While being an attractive girl on the street could gain a lot of unwanted attention, being an attractive woman in a high-class hotel brought quite the opposite. As I walked up to the gold-plated double doors, the doorman—donning a blue wool suit and white gloves—didn’t look twice as he opened the door and let me into the luxurious lobby.
Honestly, luxurious is an understatement. A crystal chandelier hung from the domed ceiling at ten-foot intervals, casting the marble and mahogany lobby in a warm, romantic light. All the staff wore crisp uniforms and tight buns and straight bow-ties, and the guests were donned in suits and ball gowns and cocktail dresses. I was grateful for the decision to wear my red dress and heels rather than my black trousers and collared shirt. This hotel definitely called for traditionally feminine evening wear.
I breezed past the reception desk and took a hard right down a small marble staircase and through another set of gold-plated double doors into the hotel bar. A jazz singer crooned on a tiny stage in the corner with a piano, drum kit, and saxophone backing her up. Red velvet booths circled the outside of the room, small circular tables with candles in the center filled the middle of the room, and an intricately carved wooden bar with a mirror along the wall behind it ran the full length of the back wall.
I headed straight for the bar. Couples leaned towards one another over the candles and cuddled together in booths. A few people were swaying softly in front of the stage in the corner. And a few more were openly canoodling against the wall, seemingly forgetting they were in public. It may have been a high-class bar, but it proved that people are motivated by the same things regardless of how much money they have. The men in here were bound to be just as horny as the three drunk men I’d met on the street. And that was an unfortunate truth I had always been able to use to my advantage.
The bartender winked as he handed me my gin martini, and then I half-turned on my stool so I could better see the room. I needed to be able to see the room, but I also wanted to look casual. I was leaning one arm against the bar, and my legs were crossed at the knee, feet resting on the metal bar of the stool.
This was my first time in New Orleans, but every hit was the same. Big city, trolling bars and clubs for information, finding the best time and location to strike. It was like a Chess match that ended in murder. And it had been fun at first. For a while, actually. But the game had lost its luster after the last hit went wrong.
The target had been a good guy—a father and a husband whose only sin was that he refused to work with the mafia. The boss wanted him to leverage his position within a large company to funnel money to local crime rings, but the man had refused, which made him a target. I’d found him at a sports bar after a round of drinks with his friends. He’d offered to pay, so he was alone at the bar. When I’d approached him, he had been friendly, but not overly admiring. And even when I’d pushed, trying to lure him into leaving the bar with me, he’d been firm yet kind. You are a beautiful woman, but I’m married to a beautiful woman myself whom I love very much. I can’t leave with you.
How could I kill someone like that? He was an honest man and a loyal husband. As far as I could tell, he hadn’t done a single thing to deserve my deadly attention, so I walked out of the bar, got in my car, and went home. When I got the call the next day to ask how the hit went, I told them that I hadn’t been able to get him alone. Little did I know, I’d been followed. It was a kind of performance review. They wanted eyes on how I operated to make sure I was being discreet, and thorough. Instead, they’d discovered direct insubordination. I’d refused to take out a target, and in a surprising show of mercy, I was being given a second chance. Take out this new target, and my life would be spared.
Honestly, I didn’t know if I believed that. In all likelihood, I would be killed anyway, but if taking out one more person could save my life, it was worth a shot, right?
I glanced at myself in the mirror behind the bar. The bar lighting was golden and flattering, and despite my altercation with the drunk men less then ten minutes before, I looked put together and polished. I tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear for good measure, and as I lowered my hand, I looked to the right and saw a man near the end of the bar looking at me. Our eyes met in the reflection and I expected him to look away, nervous at having been caught staring, but instead he maintained eye contact. In the end, I looked away first. Men enjoyed feeling like they were the dominant ones, and my feigned shyness would give the man a thrill. It would make me more desirable.
I sipped on my martini, conscious of the man’s eyes still on me in the mirror. Then, the middle-aged man and his wife a few barstools away from me got up and moved to the dance floor. As they left, I turned and made direct eye contact with the handsome dark-haired man from the mirror. He was even more attractive in real life. He smiled at me, and I knew I had him. I smiled back and then lifted a finger, beckoning. Without a second’s hesitation, he picked up his drink and moved towards me.