Chapter Six | 9 to 5

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Ye Olde Cabaret occupied a grimy strip at the backend of the theater district. The patrons that ambled these streets had the worn and desperate look that Cash always found a little haunted. Their makeup, clothing, and laughter all a little too bold to feel genuine. Clawing desperation ran like an undercurrent through the air, sending a shiver down Cash's spine, her spurs jingling and heels clicking against the cobblestone. Escorts leaned against doorframes and archways, beckoning with silk fans and netted stockings, licking their lips in disappointment when they caught sight of Boss on Cash's arm.

"Bon-jer," said a tired-looking doorman, his antennae drooping through the holes in his brimmed cap, "Tickets see-vu-play."

"Charming," said Boss with a forced smile as she took the ripped ticket stubs and flashed Cash a worried glance.

The two women stepped onto the faded rug that ran from the doorway through a chipping gilded arch and into the auditorium. After a few fumbled attempts at finding their seats, first reversing the aisle and seat number and then having to evict other guests who had claimed the wrong chairs, they finally sat. The springs in the cushion beneath cash groaned with age as she leaned back, pretzeling her arms behind her head, booted feet crossed at the ankles.

"You been here, before?" Cash dug in the pocket of her duster and withdrew a cigar.

Boss shook her head. "No, but a few of the girls used to work here for extra cash, back in the day."

Boss had a nervous habit of picking at her nail polish when she was anxious. Cash reached down with the hand not occupied by her cigar and took those soft brown fingers in her own.

"Worried someone might recognize you?" Cash said after letting out a quick puff.

Boss laughed lightly. "No. No...I'm not ashamed of where I came from." She looked up into Cash's face and held her in a searching expression.

"Then what's got you fidgeting?" Cash replied.

"Just worrying about July," Boss's voice was strained.

Cash had no response to that, having no experience with children, much less parenthood she could conjure nothing sympathetic that would have helped in the slightest. The handhold seem to do the trick, as Boss stopped her picking with a soft sigh. She looked around the theater and realized that they were among only a small handful of attendees and among even a fewer number of those sober. The thought was interrupted by a jarring blast of music from the speakers at the front of house. Spotlights flooded the stage, illuminating the swirling particles of dust that danced into the air as the thick velvet curtain rose into the air.

In dazzling unison, a menagerie of dancers leapt, ran, or vaulted onto the stage. Their colorful skirts rose and fell in rehearsed patterns over stockinged legs. The pace of the burlesque moved so quickly you almost couldn't see the snags or holes in the opaque tights. High kick after high kick were executed to the rompish music before the group split and exited the stage. It felt almost rude to offer up the paltry amount of claps that took up where the music suddenly died after such a display, but she participated in the mediocre applause anyway.

The next act was a slapstick comedy routine that brought genuine laughter spilling from the throats of the meager audience. The two clowns were both Jontar, their enormous size only adding to the humor that threaded their comedy of errors performance. Cash gave an appreciative whistle as they bowed and then a guffaw as one of the clowns booted the other off stage.

Suddenly the stage went dark. The only illumination that remained were the rope lights that ran down the aisles of the audience. After a quiet beat, one spotlight snapped on and illuminated the single figure now occupying the stage.

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