Fourteen – Opal
Ian was asleep under me, his long legs splayed open, his arm resting on my back, his lips pressed to my forehead. I didn’t want to move, but the sun was up and there was shit to be handled and paybacks to be set up.
“Mpfh,” the big man under me mumbled when I slithered out from under his arm. His eyes flickered open, the blue so incredibly brilliant it stole my breath. He smiled. My heart took to wing. I smiled back, unconsciously reaching up to run a hand over my hair. “Don’t be mourning its loss. You look handsome no matter the length of your hair.”
“It looks like I laid down in front of a lawnmower,” I said, leaning down to kiss his chin. “You should go shower and shave.” I ran my fingers though the red scruff on his face. “Then go to work.” His brow crinkled. I kissed the lines away. “Go. I’ll be fine. I have to call Diamond and set up a meeting somewhere where we won’t stand out.”
“Have him come to Blue Moon,” Ian offered, sitting slowly up then rolling his shoulders and neck to free the kinks.
“Right, because two whores named Opal and Diamond will blend right in at your satellite factory.”
He chortled a bit, pulled me into his arms, and buried his face in my belly. “I love you and I am so glad you’re here. You make me smile.”
“I’m glad I’m here, too.” I shoved my fingers into his short hair, loving the crisp feel of it on my fingertips. “Go get ready for work. I’ll make coffee.”
He hugged me tight, stood, and cradled my face for a long time, saying nothing, just staring into my soul. Then, with a sigh, he ran his thumb over my lower lip and padded off to the master bedroom, his gait sloppy and slow.
Making the coffee was easy once I found everything. The kitchen was enormous. Filled with silver appliances, cupboards packed full of plates, cups, glasses, and pans. Two mugs in hand, I turned from the cupboard and carried them to the breakfast nook. I climbed onto the bench, kneeling as if in church, and looked down on Colchester coming to life. Big city life. Streets filling with cars and buses, and down below the street, the subway was rolling. Chicago was the biggest city in the state, and I’d spent some time there after I’d been put out on the stoop like an unwanted cat. I preferred Colchester.
“Morning.” I looked over my shoulder to see Butch in the doorway in a nice gray suit that made his hazel eyes look stormy. He reminded me of a bulldog. “He up?”
“In the shower. He’ll be going to work today.” I twisted around on the bench, sat down, and motioned to the coffee maker with my chin. “Fresh pot.”
“Thanks.” He moved around the place with confidence, even knowing where to find the packets of sweetener to refill the tiny crystal bowl beside the steaming coffee pot. His hair was this brown-mahogany color, the morning sun making it glimmer with red highlights.
“Why do you hate me so much?” I asked, picking up one of the mugs I’d prepared. His shoulders tensed a bit under his worn jacket before he turned to look at me. “No need to lie and say that you don’t. I know you do. But why? I’ve never hurt Ian. I make him happy.”
“Honestly, I don’t hate you. I think you’re not good for Ian. Now you make him happy, yeah, but what happens when you go back to hooking?” He leaned against the counter and took a slurp of his coffee. A bulldog detective. That was him. He could have his own cartoon show. Once he had a lock on what he thought you were, he never let go. “What happens when you find yourself at thirty and Ian is looking at the short side of sixty? I have concerns, is all. I think he could do better.”
“I do, as well.”
That seemed to shock him a bit. “Honesty from a whore: first time for everything.” I sat back into soft padding. We studied each other like combatants, but I really didn’t want to fight with the man. I wanted him to like me. Our futures were linked because of Ian. “Look, Opal… sorry, Shin. This isn’t personal, not really. I think you’re a good kid, you’re just too far below Ian to ever be a suitable match. Did you finish high school or were you turning tricks instead of studying math?” I lowered my gaze to my cup. “I figured. You do know what Ian does, right?”
“He owns a factory where they assemble satellites,” I replied quickly, my sight lifting from my coffee to find his. He looked amused.
“Not even close. He designs propulsion systems for satellites. He’s a genius, graduated summa cum laude from MIT with double degrees. His scribbles are worth millions to the government. I shit you not, the defense department scrambles to catch his sneezes. And you suck dick for a fast tenner. Do you see the disparity?” I went back to looking at my coffee. “Sure, this is all hot and heavy now, but what happens when you finally wiggle your pretty ass into his life, his home? What do you two talk about over dinner? What does he tell his associates when he takes you to a dinner party? Does he confess that you’re his favorite rent boy? He needs a man at his side, one that’s in the same orbit that he moves in. I think you’re a cute kid, and you have spunk, but you’re not in the same fucking solar system as he is. This insane love affair will crash and burn, then my friend will be picking up the bits while you scamper off with some younger man. Been there and done that with him. Do not want to do it again.”
Wow. Okay, well, I did ask. “It’s not like that with us.” He rolled his eyes, smirked, and went to leave the room. “Can’t you give me a chance to prove to you that I’m here because I love him?”
He paused by the island and looked back at me. “Shin, I know you love him and that he loves you. That’s crazy obvious. For the record, I did give you a chance. I brought you to him last night despite some enormous misgivings. This is your chance. Don’t fuck it up.”
Off he went, leaving me to sip my coffee while shoring myself up for a tough road ahead with Ian’s best friend. I’d win him over. Eventually. I hoped.
Hood pulled up over my chaotic hair, hat pulled down to my eyebrows, Ian’s massive clothes on, I sat slouched in a booth in a small pub overlooking the Southside river. Colchester was separated not only by water, but by prestige. Over here on the south side of the twin bridges, life was a race to see who could sell the most drugs, turn the most tricks, and traffic the most guns before hitting twenty-one or dying. Over there, where Ian lived and had his labs, life was a race to see who could get the most money the fastest. They had high rises, we had tenements. The only upper class establishment on this side of the Colchester River was Gems, and that diamond among the coal lumps was forever tarnished.
It was slow at Mike’s Pub, which suited me fine. The less eyes on me and Diamond, the better. Kennedy had lots of reach on the Southside. From the mayor to the cops to the sanitation workers, we’d all been asked to entertain a friend of his for a nominal fee. Which usually meant for free with a trinket from Kennedy thrown to us after the deed was done. Kennedy liked to brag how he was the third cousin of Bella Bianchi, the wife of Richard Bianchi, next in line to take over the Bianchi organized crime family. I think it made him feel important and reminded us what kind of pull he had in Colchester to boast about his distant family ties.
Once, I had to suck off the head of the local sanitation workers union while he yanked on my hair and called me Ricardo. I got no money for swallowing that spank’s spunk, but I did get a nice new wallet with a crisp twenty inside from Kennedy for making Mr. Trash such a happy clam.
“Hey,” Diamond huffed and dropped down across from me all in one smooth move. I startled a bit. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. How you doing?”
“Good. I’m with Ian.”
“Yeah, we all kind of figured that. Climbing out the motherfucking window, what a berserker you are. Coffee good here?” He pointed at my full cup. I shrugged. He waved at the bartender and asked for a mug of coffee. “He’s putting bars on the windows as we speak.”
“Kennedy is?” Diamond nodded, the long silver hair on top of his head falling down over his aviator glasses. “Man, I am so sorry. Did he freak out on you guys?’
It was his time to shrug. I scowled, the guilt clawing at me like a cat on the back of an armchair. His coffee arrived. He paid and tossed a buck at the old man for a tip. When we were alone once again, he dumped some sugar into his coffee and stirred, skipping the creamer sitting beside my mug.
“Took a swing.” He lifted the reflective shades to show me the purple coloration under his left eye. I gasped. He dropped the sunglasses back onto his long nose. “It’s a nothing. Better me than Amber or any of you pretty skinny dudes. I can take it.”
“Fuck but I’m sorry.” I wanted to cry and shout and vomit.
“No need for sorry. You did what you had to do. We all have different paths to walk, Opal.”
“Shin, my real name is Shin Khan. I want you to know that. Opal’s probably dead to me now.” I reached across the table and touched the small raven tattooed on the back of his left hand. “We need to talk about Kennedy. About the money he’s keeping from us.” One slim black eyebrow climbed up into his undercut.
“Tell me what we need to hear, then, Shin.”
I told him everything. The longer I talked, the tighter his jaw became. “That dick,” Diamond snarled when my tale was told.
“Ian and I are working on a plan. Can you give us a couple of days to get things settled?”
“I hope this plan includes lots of blood, maybe some missing teeth, and a fist so far up his ass, he’ll be able to open his mouth and wave at himself in the mirror.” He held up a fist the size of an Easter ham. I grimaced at that thought. His bidders had to be gluttons for punishment.
“He’s going down, I can promise you that.”
“Then what happens to the business? To us?”
I’d not given that much thought. “We’ll work it all out. I won’t leave my friends dangling.”
He leaned back into the booth, his wide shoulders settling into the torn leather. “I’m not worried about myself; my particular skills are always in demand. It’s the younger ones, your age, who have been there since they were sucking pups. I’m old enough to go it alone, but most of them are damaged goods.”
“Yeah, just like you.” He gave me a smile that lifted the broodiness from his handsome face. “I took care of you for three years. I’ll look after the others.”
“No one will be left on the streets. I promise you that.”
He nodded, that clump of hair slipping over his brow once again. Sexy as hell, he was. He lifted a hand, we rapped knuckles, and he left before he was missed. I slipped out the back, head down, in case Kennedy had friends looking for me, which was almost a given. I ducked into the subway, rode to the end of the line, leaped off, and hustled up to the street where I grabbed a bus across the river. Then, I visited the bus depot and unlocked a small locker that I’d rented the day after Kennedy had hired me. What I hoped would be evidence in my hand, I left the empty locker open and threw the key down a sewer drain. Then, it was back on another bus.
Mass transit took me within a block of Ian’s penthouse. I never raised my head until I was inside the lobby. Even then, I stayed to myself because it was a whole different kind of scrutiny I was getting from the elites who lived on the floors below Ian’s place. I pattered around, looking at his stuff, watching reality TV and then ordering some Thai take-out that arrived about four minutes before Ian did.
“I’m home,” he said as he walked into the penthouse, swept me off my feet, and nuzzled my neck. I pulled away and led his mouth to mine. His blue eyes grew hot and then he kissed me as if his life depended on it. Yes, he was home, and I was as well.