The evening was still young, when Moray felt his stomach turn up. He tried to focus on bills, but his stomach was promising high levels of problems and after second cup of coffee he tossed them aside and wondered downstairs in the bar. It was going to be full house thanks to new performers and he usually helped out in the bar. Much better way to spend the night than paperwork, especially when he knew ahead it was going to rain dirt down his alley. This way he could keep an eye on his favorite too – Garcey was about to start his acrobatic acts.
He knew his first name, but loved the sound of his family name. The man was like winter storm cooling the overheated salon down to icicles. His nut brown eyes were fake, just like the highlighted hair and Maori tattoo on his back. It ticked him off to see him wearing it, missing his gun-metal eyes. But that was business and if public demanded themed nights, then what they want, they must get!
He dried the whiskey glass and set it on the wooden shelf above the counter, dusting the water drops off his black shirt chest. He was not in the mood to go upstairs to change right now. He muttered curses under his breath and felt his chest tighten in unexpected shiver running down his spine.
“Shit!” she exhaled hard, eyes fixed on the front door.
“Who?” His eyes jolted up and turned to the doorway.
“Shit! That’s Newman!” she exhaled, eyes fixed on the front door. An older lady had entered with Ackley Garcey, Daren’s brother and his 10-year-old sister. His eyes darkened in second, sending where the blow was about to come.
“Who is she?” he asked absentminded, eyes fixed on the extravagant green scarf she was pressing her chin in. He actually knew, who she was, but he had never seen the woman before. Only heard stories of her prestigious works and felt the now and then pressure to protect the impeccable innocence of the local youth, who used their untainted soft palms to toss tomatoes against their doors after school. Social Movement was her game and she used every part of the law to make her views the ultimate rule book. The fact he still had his business made him chuckle.
“That’s the officer, who checked me out last year! She’s mean old witch!” bartender concluded his fears, “Hey, isn’t that Cindy, Daren’s sister?”
He was all aware of the custody battle going on between Daren and his half-brother over their underage sister. Daren had blurted it out one night, when he asked why he was coming in late. He knew very well what impression his club left of people working there and that Daren had done everything in his power to keep the children’s custody officers from finding out.
His instincts told him to send word backstage not to send Daren on stage, but heard Andrew call out his name next and watched with dropping mood him walking through the ribbon curtains.
Daren eyes widened in horror, then they turned on him and back on the brother shooting up his free hand to show on the stage. He begged him in his mind to go back, let Andrew send somebody else to cover for him, but the music started and he began soothing movements in the rhythm. Thank god his act began with his clothes on!
“Get me Sandra!” he growled through his teeth, wrenching his hands in the towel and grabbing for his jacket.
“She’ll be on stage next!”
“Get Andrew replace her with someone, I don’t care! And tell her to dress polite! Fast!”
While she left everything to her assistant and ran backstage, he buttoned his jacket up, draw in air and went to salvage the situation as well as he could manage.
He made his way through the dance floor and stood next to the child. Her wheat white eyebrows were frowning so hard her temple was wrinkled with red lines. Her eyes were aimed on the floor, flipping from the shoes of the visitors, who, seeing the sudden angel in the devil’s den turned their eyes dutifully away. He quietly slipped his thumb between her small palm and took strong hold of it, forcing her to glance up.
“Hi Mr. Moray!” she exhaled, recognizing familiar face and he gave her a smile, then leaned next to her ear and nodded towards young lady glad in business suit they used for another act. In some other situation he would pinch her for such a poor choice, but in the dark she looked very sophisticated and proper. No one would guess the small top glittering behind the black jacket was nothing more than a bra from zookeeper’s costume.
“Go with your nanny, darling,” he said calmly and watched with flip of heart how she with joy let go of her brother’s hand and reached out for Sandra. The man escorting her grabbed after her, but bumped in his rigid chest instead.
Ackley pulled his hand back, moving his bruised fingers and darted his eyes in his. He remembered why Daren’s brown eyes raised every hair on his body. When Daren put the lenses on, his eyes were indistinguishable similar to his brother’s two wrinkled raisins.
“Take her upstairs,” he said to the blond woman and Cindy. She nodded and led her quickly away while the child sent worried looks over her shoulder to her brother.
He glared at him until they had left the salon before turning to Ackley with venom spitting through every word.
“I didn’t know Cindy’s school was to end so early, Mr. Garcey!”
He could try diplomacy, minding the woman standing just feet away, but his was fed up by the man’s shoddy meddling. He would make it up for Daren later.
“It is for today!” Ackley forgot wheezed. “Bring her back here, at once! I just came here to show Mrs. Newman the situation this child has been pressed into and then we go home!”
He was calm as the sea, he played the mantra they used in their yoga classes the dancers had here each Tuesday, calm like a squally fucking sea in a tea cup, flipping over more and more salt as he…
“The child is with her nanny,” he managed with calm, “and Daren will take her home after his shift. The last time we spoke, she was under his care.”
“That’s about to change!”
Not when he was in charge, he retorted, but kept his mouth shut and the seawater splashing calmly against the sharp spiky rocks.
“Who was that woman?” Mrs. Newman stood closer to avoid hearing wrong.
“Ms. Sandra Sterning,” he warmed up his tone. “Mr. Garcey hired her to keep her company while he is working!”
“Yes, she takes her home, watches that her homework is done and makes dinner! Like every week-day,” he added to Daren’s brother. “She works here part-time too. As a waitress. She studies childcare in evening school.”
“And Mr. Garcey?” she asked.
That stack of neon glowing hair made him uneasy.
“Daren works as a waiter, tonight he’s covering an acrobatic, who called in sick an hour ago.”
“I bet he is!” Daren’s brother didn’t miss a chance. “He’s quite experienced by the looks of it!” He pointed on the stage. “Any minute his clothes come off too! You know,” he bit, “like that acrobat’s!”
“His clothes NEVER come off!” he said, threat visible in his voice. “That’s part of our agreement!”
In his head he prayed Daren to have enough brain not to do the stripping part! He gritted his teeth, locking his eyes in his, battling hard the urge to turn around and check him on the stage. The man was a menace and he knew only one way to deal with problems like this cockroach – toss him back in the gutters he dragged his infested body out of. He could do nothing but trust the dancer to have his wits about.
“Really?” Ackley drawled and by the sound brought cold sweat on the back of his neck.
“He is an acrobat, that’s his deal!” he repeated, nails digging deeper in his closed fists.
“If you can show me his contract?” Mrs. Newman asked, shrugging, eyes calmly on the man pulling his toned body up slowly up the pole on the stage.
“Yes, of course.”
He had such a contract. They had re-signed it only a week ago, after it became clear how dangerous his job description would become in the trial.
“I think I’ve seen enough then. Shall we continue in your office?”
“Yes, ma’m.” He felt relief and showed them way to his office. It was in the end of a neatly tucked away stairs leading to the second floor. There were only three rooms there – a small lounge, restroom and his office. Nothing fancy or unnecessary.
When he pushed his black wood door out of their way and froze for a moment. The makeshift nanny was there sitting with Cindy and leafing through one of his big animal lexicons he kept on the shelf. He had thing with exotic animals.
“He has too small paycheck to keep up a growing child!” Ackley whined and bumped into him.
He gritted teeth, but smiled to the child instead. This wasn’t something he’d discuss in front of the child.
“Will you excuse us for a moment, darling?” They got up and took the book. “The lounge is free right now,” he held Sandra for a second, “ask the key from Andrew. I won’t be long.”
“I’ll raise his salary,” he said without doubt, closing the door behind them. If that’s what it took, then he wasn’t sorry for the money.
“He works all night! How do you imagine him being there for her if…”
“I’ll switch her to cafeteria.”
“Yes, but he can’t give her full attention like I can, his finances just won’t allow it!”
“Like every other parent in this town.” He searched the documents from the filing cabinet and after locating the contract, gave it to the officer for inspection. “The child will have everything she’ll need. Money isn’t everything. He loves Cindy and Daren has never left her unattended.”
“Your father got their mother pregnant and then left her with two kids! Your father is a legalized rapist as far as I care!”
“How dare you!” Ackley howled, but choked on the sound, finding another loophole. “Does he share all of the family problems like that? She told you about this?”
“She had no need.” He didn’t look up from the files, enjoying the fury radiating from Ackley. “It was all over the news when it came out our dear minister was having an affair.”
“So that’s why the name seemed familiar…” Mrs. Newman murmured.
“This isn’t proper job for a parent!” Mr. Garcey changed the subject back.
“You mean your daddy or Daren?”
“At least he has a job!” his patience ended. “Look! Whatever is necessary, I’ll do it! Daren has done wonderful job raising the child so far and I intend to give him all support I possibly can!”
“Even hiring him nanny?” Mrs. Newman asked suddenly in the middle.
“Yes!” He shouted, realizing then that he had just blown his cover, “Even hiring him a nanny if necessary…”
The office heated up fast while Mrs. Newman gave the document back and they glared at each other.
“You really love that boy, don’t you?” Mrs. Newman asked Moray with compassion.
“Yes, I love them very much. I will help him with court if that’s what it takes.”
She smiled and shrugged, saying then without even looking at the brother. “Then do something about it. As a single parent, working in a strip club, he has very little changes in court, but engaged to you and he has much stronger platform. Comprende?”
His lips crawled up and nodded while Mr. Garcey next to them went white and began a list of offensive protests. “Comprende.”