Coming across a dead body on her way home, this woman's life is about to change.
I cut through the alleyway from P Street to 12th Street and saw a hand stretched beyond the edge of the wheel of a TSL Skyward. Blood stained the snow that fell on those soft, blemish free fingers. Her rigor mortis hand clung to a purse with a black leather journal in it.
I tugged the purse from her lifeless hand. The journal’s cover was embossed with a US Treasury logo. I flipped through a few pages and realized it was a book of crypto-certificates. The woman died holding a million dollars in her hands.
Behind me, I heard footsteps.
“Hand me the notebook,” the woman said.
“Who are you,” I asked.
“I’m the one asking the questions,” the woman replied.
“You act like I planned on finding a body on my way home.”
Her pistol clicked. Was she arming or disarming the gun?
“You’re out late,” she said. “You working?”
“What’s it to you,” I shot back.
The answer seemed obvious. What woman walks dark alleys at 3 a.m. for leisure?
“I bet you want to kill him,” she said.
Did she see my face, I wondered. Turning slowly, I looked to the ground, trying to hide my bruises.
“I can help you make sure that never happens again,” she said.
The woman was familiar: her floral perfume, long red hair, bright green eyes, bronze skin, and Spanish accent: Esmerelda Salgado, house mom at Club86 off 9th and Prospect. All the girls looked up to her.
“I’m getting out,” she continued. “That woman is Eleanor Fiore, Niko Fiore’s wife. Her notebook has $1.5 million in untagged certificates. You help me and I’ll take care of you.”
Some girls loved the life. At 20, being a dancer seemed fun and exciting. I made a month’s worth of wages on a Saturday night. At 25, being a dancer became exhausting. When a man has enough money, he expects you to stay undressed.
“What are we doing,” I asked.
Esmerelda murdered Niko Fiore earlier that night. When Mrs. Fiore left for a few hours to take care of her sick mother, Niko called Esmerelda to come take care of him. For months, Esmerelda planned to exact her revenge. Like most Johns, Niko acted sweet for the first few visits. Then he started pushing boundaries. He started disregarding the off-limits list. He kept going when she said, “Stop.” Tired of his escalating behavior, she told Niko it was over. Niko then began stalking her. Esmerelda threatened him with a restraining order. Then Niko threatened to kill her.
“I’ll put you in pig slop,” he said.
So, when Niko called on Esmerelda earlier, she went over. While she disrobed, she hid a knife in the bathroom. After, they were cleaning up in the shower when Esmerelda started punching holes in him. She left him on the floor and waited for Mrs. Fiore to come home. When Mrs. Fiore arrived home, she saw Esmerelda laying on her bed and her husband on the bathroom floor, carved by a butcher’s knife. Mrs. Fiore sprinted for the door.
“So here we are,” Esmerelda said.
“Who’s next,” I asked.
“You tell me.”
My John’s name was Peter Howard. Peter worked as an assistant to the Chief Risk Officer at a local insurance company as an actuary. On the weekends, he frequented The Fish Bowl, where I met with him earlier and got mangled by his pack of wolves.
“Does he have any certificates,” Esmerelda asked.
It didn’t matter. If she planned to kill our Johns and split the booty, I would comply.
“I’m sure he does,” I said.
She handed me a phone. I called him. I smelled the liquor on his breath through the phone as he spoke.
“You want more,” he asked.
“Where are you?”
He lived in a penthouse uptown where he and his crew partied on Saturday nights. His screaming guests drowned out his voice.
“I have another girl with me. Can she come?”
“You boys want some meat,” he shouted.
We heard a carnal roar. Esmerelda’s eyes lit up.
“Jackpot,” she said.
Peter opened the door and Esmerelda opened fire. My ears rang as she slaughtered the herd. Eight bodies slumped across tables and furniture, bottles of craft beer still in their hands. She headed for the bedroom as I started picking pockets. When Esmerelda returned to the commons area, I held a dozen platinum crypto-cards. Esmerelda found another notebook with a hundred crypto-certificates. Sirens rang in the distance. We packed up and left quickly.
Esmerelda’s safe house was hidden a few miles in the country between Salt Water Creak and Stony Meadows. She sat at her teak wood desk, scanning crypto-certificates while we sipped hot chocolate. A lamp cast yellow light on her hands as she typed my name, date-of-birth, Work ID number, and Treasury ID number. The wind howled outside as the snow picked up. She loaded a half-inch sheet of platinum and hit the print button on her currency shell. The printer clunked and hissed. Its laser etched a US Treasury logo on the front, then a QR code on the back.
“Enjoy your freedom,” she said, handing me the heavy card.
She loaded the card with $150,000, more than enough money for me to leave town and restart my life. She slid the keys to a Hudson Coupe and a pistol across the table, nodding her head as I put on my wool coat and fleece-lined gloves. Once I wrapped my plaid scarf around my face, I walked out into the blizzard, ready to forge ahead and make a new life for myself.