Archive for the ‘Paris’ Category

The Complete Works, (so far!)

Hey there, and many thanks for stopping by. On this site you’ll find a collection of my short stories and screenplays for your enjoyment. Please feel free to leave feedback both good and bad – as Plato once said –  the worst thing is to just be ignored!

Even better however, would be if you could find your way to actually purchasing one of my published books using the links below, that way I may continue to dodge bullets and bailiffs with your help. All books are available online, in all reputable books stores, E-books… and no doubt soon, all local Charity Shops.

Hope you find something here to enjoy….

Best Wishes,

Mike   x

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“SPRINGBOARDS”         – A further collection of original short stories, short scripts and feature screenplays.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Springboards-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1291060103/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1369732955&sr=8-2&keywords=michael+zealey

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“BUM NOTES”          – A collection of eighteen original and diverse short stories:

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1447839889/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=103612307&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=1447823931&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_r=0G9A7XND7E5NS8XMQ3Z1

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“DIFFERENT STATES”           – One Man, One Credit Card, One Continent… No Plan. A travelogue from East to West Coast USA.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Different-States-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1447824245/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366284192&sr=1-3

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“MOLEHOLE”            – Essays on the Human Condition. The story of one man’s dark and lonely three year journey so far up his own ass that he arrived out his mouth to recount the tale to a deaf world.  (Not suitable for minors or miners.)

miol

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Molehole-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1447824113/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332168305&sr=1-1

Thanks awfully x

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Ex-Stacy

The following story is for adults only. It was recounted to me last week in a bar in Montmartre and I have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

 

03:00. Friday morning, Le Crazy Horse Strip-joint.  Pigalle, 18th arrondissement, Paris.

Despite all eyes being on her, Stacy still felt bored. Worse than that she was actually beginning to feel numb to the whole experience. She didn’t even feel that rush of excitement anymore when she took the stage to see the eyes of all the seedy men light up with a dirty animal desire, a desire not to love her, but to possess her body as a trophy, an outward symbol to other men of their own power. For Stacy, the feeling of ennui had been a slow creep over a couple of months, but as she removed her basque and brushed her breasts against the silver pole turned purple in the rotating floor lighting she felt a blankness that depressed her. She kept her eyes fixed into the middle-distance on a neon beer sign above the back bar, trying to conceal the fact that her heart wasn’t in it as she revealed everything else to the leering crowd.

Stripping defined Stacy, it was her metier, she needed to get the excitement back and quickly, otherwise it became just another job and she’d be no different to the grubby men out there in the audience trying to pay for a fantasy moment outside of the mundane grind. She used to consider herself the John the Baptist of stripping, evangelising to other women how liberating and empowering it was. But tonight it felt squalid.

Perhaps she’d give the protest rally a miss tomorrow she thought as she gyrated in time to the bass-heavy music. Maybe it was her illness, maybe just the season. How long would she be allowed to continue lap dancing once her monthly medical came back anyway? She upended herself on the pole allowing her legs to suspend her vertically as she twisted slowly back round to the ground, all the while worrying whether she’d deadlocked the door of her small apartment on the Rue de Rivoli earlier that evening. Things were getting desperate, she prayed for something to take her out of this stasis, but she reminded herself that you should always be careful what you wish for. And sure enough, the next day she met Gortman.

 

15:00. Friday afternoon, Protest rally, La Défense business district, Paris.

The rally was quickly descending into a full on riot. If it was one thing Parisians liked to do it was moan, and Stacy was no different. The Banking Crisis had in turn led to massive cuts in public sector spending, and she felt it was her duty to take a stand and voice her dissent, just to feel part of the greater society, even if that society often judged what she did as immoral as the bankers. She was carried by the angry crowd towards the head offices of Credit Lyonnais, a mass of hooded and masked youths brandishing poles, chair-legs, anything they could get their gloved hands on to weaponise for this storming of the Bastards. She’d seen how quickly the mood of a crowd could change enough times at Crazy Horse to know it was time to leave and using her snake-like flexibility she began to weave through the crowd and off down a side-street.

It was cooler here in the shade of the overhanging buildings and she meandered up the alley unsure what to do next but enjoying the respite from the dusty battle. Sitting on the pavement curb in front of a small bistro a solitary man sipped from a can. He looked out of place down in the gutter with his smart suit and Stacy caught his eye as she passed.

‘Good march?’ he asked, his accent sounding southern, Marseilles she guessed.

‘Nah, it’s too much.’

Yep, for me too. I’m just trying to get home.’

He offered up his drink and with her voice being so hoarse from shouting along with the crowd she accepted, sitting down next to him, feeling the cold stone kerb on the underside of her bare thighs.

He smiled at her, flashing capped white teeth, ‘You do realise, you’re drinking with the enemy?’

‘You’re a banker?’

He nodded his head, pointing at the entrance to the road where the marchers were still filing past.

‘It’s such a complex issue, these numpties think it’s so black and white.’

‘And isn’t it?’

‘No. Why should us rich pay more for services we never use and the poor pay nothing for using everything?

‘I thought all you bankers were bastards, that’s what I’ve read in the papers’. He took back his drink.

‘The only thing I believe in papers is the date, my name’s Gortman.’

A rose-seller stumbled past them, his flowers broken.

‘Flowers. Such a female thing. They serve no purpose but to be beautiful, that’s why men never buy them. But women have an eye for beauty. They want flowers just because they are beautiful. Men are interested in human flowers no?

She eyed him suspiciously. Maybe he’d seen the Le Crazy Horse logo on her bag.

‘…but we’re of no use or value except to look pretty for you, right?’

‘Exactly. Nature has made you bloom, why complicate things?’

‘No, I hate that shit. You assume because I take my clothes off for money I can’t have a thought in my head, and that I’m being taken advantage of by evil men. Am I right?’

Gortman rested the can between his knees and crushed it a little.

‘How should I know that you’re a stripper?’

She gritted her teeth at hearing the word.

‘I’m an Exotic Dancer.’

A boy in a hooded top, his face obscured by a white plain mask, picked up a loose paving stone at the entrance to the alley. They watched as he hurled it at something unseen further down the main road.  Stacy jumped in the air and looked around her. Everyone seemed to be angry and lashing out, their faces hidden behind balaclavas and masks. She looked to the banker for sudden reassurance and his calm, smiling face relaxed her. Another angry wail went up from the crowd. Gortman tutted.

‘At least in medieval times the food the peasants were forced to eat was healthy potato peelings from the rich man’s kitchens. Now the peasants must go to one euro frozen food stores to feast on antibiotic-fed grey chicken and processed fats. If I was them, I’d probably be rioting too.’

Stacy lifted her right buttock and relocated it as far away from him as the step would allow.

‘Urgh, you really are a hateful individual, aren’t you?’

He took a sip from his can of cola still cold enough to have condensation running down the side, as red and flowing as the perspiration on her forehead.

‘Yep. I certainly am. Never said I wasn’t.’

He stared intently at her, not so much undressing her with his eyes she thought, but more as a slave-trader would study a particularly pricey subject.

‘You have a bloom, darling. You do know that, don’t you?  I could put some very lucrative work your way. If you were interested of course? If you see a future beyond today’s smashing of bank windows?’

‘I’m not with these dicks… I’m with Satyagraha. Are you a model scout then?’

‘After a fashion, I scout for the unusual, the brilliant, the things money can buy. You have the bloom, I want to buy you…’

‘What the fuck?’

‘… I want to buy your time for one evening. Tomorrow night in fact… if you’re available of course’

‘Where?’

‘You are a beautiful flower that needs arranging next to other beautiful flowers. I’m sending you to an underground florist.’

‘Eh? Maybe it’s not just coke in your can?’

He reached into his tailored suit pocket and produced what looked to Stacy like a small jade hand. She took it, feeling its cold and heavy weight in her still sweaty palm, flipping it over she could see something engraved.

‘Ex-Stacy?’

Gortman drained the remainder of his can and swallowed noisily.

‘Uh-huh. It’s Latin. Out of Stasis. It’s where we get the word Ecstasy. Out of the boredom. Remember, a flower only blossoms for so long, then after that you can give it all the sun and water it needs and it won’t stop it fading.’

Stacy ran her fingers through her hair.

 ‘It’s worth about five hundred pounds,’ Gortman continued, ‘It’ll get you into the private party I’m arranging. Do you know the catacombs?’

‘Sure, who doesn’t.’

‘Well, some friends of mine, some very rich friends of mine, some very rich and powerful friends of mine are holding a soirée and they need…entertaining shall we say?’

‘An orgy? You’re talking about a fucking orgy aren’t you? Do you think I’m a whore?’

He threw his head back and laughed with such force that it echoed up, ricocheting off the tight glass buildings and causing a nesting pigeon to scatter.

‘Orgy doesn’t quite cover it. This is phantasmagoria for the senses. I’m talking extremely connected people, ambassadors, royalty, magnates. You may know them as Illuminati. I bet you’ve never danced for them in the Crazy Horse?’

She shrugged her shoulders.

‘We get all sorts’.

‘You only have to dance, you won’t be expected to join in. All girls have to be medically checked in advance and there isn’t time.’ he winked at her.

‘I wouldn’t pass anyway.’

He took her hand holding the jade and pressed it against his.

‘See the trust I’m putting in you. You can run now and use the jade hand to slap me in the face by selling it. Or you can do yourself a favour and come tomorrow night and get a round of applause with twenty more hands. Yes, five thousand Euros.’

He played with his salmon pink tie, flipping it up and down over his pale striped shirt.

‘You know beneath our differences you and me are the same. We’re both viewed as politically incorrect by the repressed and jealous mainstream. Society insists you must be miserable and exploited because you work as a stripper…’

‘Exotic Dancer…’

Exotic Dancer, excuse me… and I must go to hell for being successful and rich, made to constantly apologise and feel guilty for my hard-earned wealth.’

He let go of her hand and she saw he had left a small alabaster coloured business card with the jade.

 ‘Yeah, we’re regular peas in a fuckin’ pod you and me.’

‘Come-on, what was it Al Capone said? No-one’s untouchable? Every person has got their price. Look at all these hooded numpties smashing windows and rioting. Do you think if they were taken aside one at a time and offered millions and inclusion into the world of the rich they wouldn’t jump at the chance and miraculously forget their principles? They’re not philosophers at all, they are just angry at being excluded from the playground. They see us having fun and are jealous. Just like the feminists wearing their denim dungarees and comfortable shoes are jealous of the power you have over men with your body. Because they can’t do it, they resent you doing it. And woe-betide if you actually enjoy it: they’ll scatter more than your cushions.’

Stacy leant back on the paving stone now that the sun had crept over the facing building and watched the rays light up her floral skirt, the green becoming luminescent against her manicured finger nails freshly painted with the red, white and blue of the French flag in anticipation of the rally.

‘Yep, I hate to admit it but I was actually thinking the same last night,’  she conceded, ‘Feminists say: let’s have a campaign for real women in the media, and as long as they are misshapen and over-weight like us then we’ll be happy. It’s body fascism whichever way you slice it. Slice of lettuce or slice of chocolate cake. My sister hates what I do. She’s convinced that I must be secretly exploited somehow.’

‘Why?’

‘Because she and her right-on feminist friends aren’t comfortable with a woman making money from her body. Feminism says a woman is only allowed to make money from her mind. If she’s making money from her god-given beauty then she must be being exploited because most women are in secret competition with each other and can’t stand the thought of others getting by on beauty when they can’t. They see it as unfair so they want to spoil it for everyone else. Real women must have one breast smaller than the other and hips that look like they’ve been flattened by a steam-roller, Then they’re not a threat to the feminists. Pretty people don’t feel pain? No danger. Well sorry. I’m dangerous. I’m not going to reach out to you with an apology for my sexuality. DEAL WITH IT. DEAL ME IN.’

‘That’s quite a rant. You should go into politics. You play poker then?’

‘You better believe it. I’m the best I know.’

‘Mon Dieu, but it’s too good! I’ve got a deal for you then. You simply must come tomorrow night, they’ll be a great game too.’

‘Straight?’’

 ‘Full House. So you’ll come then?

Yeah, fuck it. Why should the boys have all the fun?’

‘Excellent. Bring a mask.’

 

11:30. Saturday night, Catacombs, Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, Paris. 

‘You sure you just want to be left here?’ The taxi driver turned in his chair to face her, showing a genuine concern.

‘That’s what the man said’, she replied giving him a small tip for caring.

It was only when she got out of the taxi and tottered on her stiletto heels that she understood what the driver had meant. Once out of range of the small orange street light she found herself walking in complete darkness. The entrance to the catacombs was a simple turnstile cut out of the rock face. The entrance portico was covered in a lush dark green algae drooping down over the door to give the effect of dreadlocks over a yawning mouth. A man was waiting in the glass booth to the left of the door watching a small portable television. He was captivated. Stacy guessed it must be CCTV with the grey flickering image, but what she saw was such intense pornography that she knew this old goat had probably rigged up the internet somehow. She tapped on the glass with the heel of her stiletto before putting it back on her feet. She looked at her mud-encrusted toes. Shit, she’d need to freshen up before she went in, but what were the chances? She was getting a sinking feeling. This whole enterprise was starting to smell of a joke:  The entrance to the catacombs with its faded tourist guides in many languages looked deserted and this old pervert in the kiosk was dressed like a tramp, neither boded well for a multi-billionaire’s orgy.

The man in the kiosk asked for identification, she reached into her bag and pulled out the jade hand. He replied with his own hand, pointing through the now unlocking door. She followed, leaving him to his porn.

It was hard to walk on the loose shingle in such high heels, so feeling that her feet couldn’t get in a much less presentable state anyway, she took them off and walked along the torch-lit stone passageway with nothing but the scrunch of pebbles echoing off the limestone walls. Only the rich can afford silence she thought to herself. After the hot anger of the previous day’s marching, the noise of smashing glass and drunken orc roars, sirens wailing and nightsticks a-crashing, the tranquility of the catacombs was exquisite. Turning a corner she heard the shrieks and groans of people lost in ecstasy, all wrapped around the rhythmical throb of heavy Timpani drums beating as on a slave-ship marking the strokes of the oar, the crack of the whip on sun-burned backs.

A further hundred meters and she could see the bright flicker of unnatural torch light. It was more silver and beguiling than regular flame and burnt with an intensity. She moved directly under one of the torches and looked beneath it, the walls weren’t rock at all but human skulls, long-since polished to the smoothness of sea stone with empty sockets no longer raging at the inequalities of the world they’d been born into centuries ago without invitation, their rioting long past. Ahead of her she could see two small carved statues, each had the face of a smiling Buddha with clay horse heads covering their genitals. As she walked closer she jumped as one of them moved.

‘Your invitation madam?’

She reached into her purse and showed him the jade hand.

‘Mademoiselle, this way…’.

The heavy silk curtain was pulled back by the two masked men and as she walked through she could smell the musk of the curtains already getting damp in the cold cave air. A futher smell, coupled with a dramatic rise in temperature hit her. It was a smell she knew only too well from the club. Her mouth fell open at what she saw. Even for someone who’d spent two years dancing at Sapphire in Las Vegas she was shocked. It was like watching the fall of the Roman Empire, all lit by bright silver burning torches with magnesium flame. Such decadence and profanity that someone who’d only ever worked a nine-to-five job could never hope to imagine. At first she thought the glistening on the cave walls was from water above, but the steam coming off it told her it was sweat from the mass of writhing naked bodies engaged in acts of such depravity that a pope would tear his own eyes from his sockets.

Each person was masked in the style of a Venetian ball, but the intricacies of each mask, so complex and diverse in styles, some seemed to be pagan, others tribal African, some were in the style of angry Chinese dragons, cast from solid Jade. But of all the masks one stood out with a chilling simplicity. It was a plain white mask, slightly too small for the jowls it tried to contain. The expression was blank with only a mouth and two eye holes cut into the plastic. Compared to these indescribable works of masked art rising and falling on an invisible tide of ecstasy all around her, this surgical mask was anathema. The wearer sat on top of a pyramid of naked flesh corpulent and engorged, like a fly recently feasted on dead carrion and now too satiated to move. Bodies were intertwined and creating a hot steam that rose up to this fat fly. He was the head fly and beneath him his maggots writhed obediently. Stacy squinted her eyes to see what it was he was doing, but immediately averted her eyes in disgust. Of all the sights she’d see that night, this was unspeakably depraved. Other masked people walking past, upon seeing what he was doing, involuntarily threw-up where they stood. The vomit slowly moved like lava towards the lower incline where it was collected with all the other juices of the night.

The sound of a single bazook like a strangulated wail rang out reaching into every stalagmite crevice. People began to gravitate towards a black stone altar at the far end covered with a large drape showing incantations and sacred inscriptions. On top of this a woman was lying prostrate, grimacing in an opiate ecstasy. All began to gather at the foot of the altar as if being called by a mullah to a dark pray. The woman inserted a small Faberge egg into her sex. She groaned, half aware. The bazook stopped to be replaced by a slow rhythmical drumming. Stacy looked through the circle that had formed, past the altar and to the circle behind, all with hands linked, all masked and all with erections. A naked and masked servant handed the woman what looked to Stacy like a small green snake. The woman held it by is neck, tail writhing wildly and inserted it to follow the egg. The snake disappeared up to its tail, which remained in the entrance, throbbing instinctively from side to side. The woman continued moaning, lost in a dark pleasure. The snake re-appeared, pieces of shell on its head, as it ate the mysterious contents of the delicate egg. Stacy tried to catch the eye of the girl on the altar, but she seemed oblivious to everything except her own thoughts.

‘Jeez, whatever they paying you sister, I hope it’s enough…’ Stacy whispered to herself.

The drumming stopped, replaced by a low chant of voices, neither Gregorian nor Tibetan, a low guttural repetition that seemed to melt into the rocks and reverberate  back imbued with their ancient strength.

She looked around at the men showing everything but their faces and wondered if Gortman was amongst them.

Away from the altar, a servant was leading a white tiger towards the centre of the cave. Around him the many skulls of plague victims and French aristocracy which were stuck into the walls of the burial crypt looked on, unable to avert their eyes, forced to watch as the man goaded the beast. It appeared drugged, with large once-imperious head lolling from side to side, trying in vain to resist the yank of the masked man on the linked metal chain around its neck. The man’s mask reminded Stacy of the Gargoyles she’d seen at the Sacré Coeur years ago. Demonic creatures reaching out of the towers, horned and leering, tongues outstretched beneath rolling mad eyes, much like the men on the building sites when she went to work each morning. She recognised the look. Dying of thirst, but not for water, for something more primal and necessary.

The chanting rose in volume as the man pulled out a ceremonial dagger from a strap on his leg. In a swift and decisive downward arc, the man sliced the tiger’s throat causing an arterial spray to shoot a clear six foot onto an oblivious naked couple lost in their own passions. Stacy jumped in the air and looked around her. Not for the first time this weekend, everyone seemed to be possessed and angry, lashing out, their faces hidden behind balaclavas and masks. She felt powerless to do anything but watch. The tiger fell first to its knees as if in prayer, then slowly rolled to its right side where it collapsed, its legs twitching in motor spasm. Out of the shadows they came, the naked masked figures, male and female, all shapes and sizes. They fell upon the tiger and rolled in its life-blood. ‘Blooding’ themselves in the successful hunt. Taking in the tigers strength and vitality.

Stacy turned away in disgust and headed for a side door hewn out of the wet rock, hoping to find a drink, a lot of drink. What she found instead was the poker game. At the head of the table she recognised the white plain mask, beer belly hanging over the felt. The head fly spoke to her.

‘Ah my dear. Would you care to join us, we could use some new blood?’

She chose an empty seat and sat down. The player to her immediate right spoke up. He wore a mask that reminded her of the statues she’d seen in a travel brochure for the Easter Islands.

‘Too hasty. What is her collateral? I don’t see her chips before her?’

The man in the white party mask leant forward, his beer belly pressing against the felt table causing his chips to cascade towards the dealer.

‘It looks like I’m all-in at last gentlemen.’ He silenced the modest ripple of laughter that followed with his upturned palm. In the silver magnesium light bouncing off the watching skulls, his greenish hand reminded her of the jade ornament. She instinctively checked it was still in her bag. It was. Good, she thought, I can either use it as collateral or to cut my loses and get the fuck out of this madhouse with a profit.

‘Reality is better than the dream here at the Hellfire Club, my dear.’

The fat man beckoned over one of the servants. Now up close Stacy could see they all wore gold masks with eyes casting downwards in subservience, she guessed this must denote to the other guests their position and that they were not to be included in the action. He brought across a large tureen filled with a grainy brown substance. Ignoring the large silver ladle that hung from the side, the fat man stuck his whole hand into the bowl and pulled out a fistful which he began to devour, licking his sticky fingers like a cat after fresh kill.

‘Do you know how they make foie gras, my dear?’

Stacy confessed that she didn’t, and didn’t much care either.

‘They force feed a young chick grain until its liver explodes.’

Stacy began to play with the dealer button, twisting it between thumb and forefinger trying to consciously look nonchalant. The fat man was enjoying her discomfort.

‘I am a gastronaut, an explorer of fine wines and food. So much so that a few years ago I needed a liver transplant. It was such a success I celebrated by having my own cirrhosis liver served to me with a rare bottle of Israeli wine found in the Qumran caves where they found the dead sea scrolls. In case you were wondering, my liver tasted excellent having been steadily marinated in the finest wines and brandy for fifty years previously. So tender my dear. I think I’ve developed a taste for it.’

Stacy tried to remain as business-like as possible. ‘I was told I’d be paid five for dancing tonight. Could I use an advance on that to buy some chips?’

The whole table broke into sinister laughter.

‘The blinds are five and ten my dear,’ his voice dripped with condescension, ‘But there is another way. How about a side bet for two?’

‘Thousand?’

Again the sinister laughter moved round the table like a Mexican wave.

The man held up his hand to silence them. His voice was deadly serious.

‘Million, my dear. We don’t deal in thousands down here.’

Her voice came back with an equally deadly earnest.

‘What’s the bet?’

‘Human foie gras. A true delicacy especially when coming from such a young chick as you. If you lose then our expert surgeons will insert a catheter directly into your stomach and pump you full of the finest grain and Louis XVI brandy until your liver ruptures and releases my fine foie gras.’

Stacy moved back in her chair, the legs catching on the ancient rug. ‘Cannibalism? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me and besides, what use is two million to a half-eaten corpse?’

‘My dear, of course we give you a new liver, and you’d be under general anaesthetic for the whole procedure. It should take about twelve hours from start to finish. Our debauchery here lasts three days and nights, as was the lost time between the crucifixion and the resurrection. We’ll even wait for you to come round so you can join us in eating your own liver. Just imagine it gentlemen!’

One of the other players began masturbating with a handful of 50k chips under the table. They fell to the floor clattering on the loosely laid Moroccan rugs. Stacy stood up from the table and tried to catch her breath whilst the fat man clicked his fingers, recalling the servant.

‘Check with Hans that we have a transplant surgeon on standby as usual…’

He looked across at the masturbator.

‘Hell, if we haven’t, you could do it yourself, hey Piotr?’

The masturbator slammed his fist down on the felt table causing his remaining poker chips to dance in the air.

‘No names. She now knows I’m a world class surgeon AND my Christian name.’

Stacy felt compelled to speak.

‘If you were going to operate on me, you’d best believe I’d be checking you weren’t just a naked guy sitting here beating his meat. Anyway, don’t worry, my job is to keep secrets anyway…’

‘Really? Let’s say Liver Let Die? You’re a spy then not a whore?

‘I keep telling you people… I’m a fucking Exotic Dancer… Exotic Dancer!’

‘Ah. How weak and feeble is the male desire when compared against that of the female. What’s your name?’

‘It’s ok for me to tell you my name, huh? I’m just little people, right?

‘Right.’

His honesty took her aback.

‘It’s Stacy’.

‘It’s too beautiful’.

‘Thank you’.

‘No, don’t you see? Our evening is called Ex-Stacy – literally out of stasis. And we’re taking your liver out of you, literally Ex Stacy – Out of Stacy. It has to be. You must accept.’

Not quite believing she was saying the words, Stacy found herself sitting back down at the table to a rapturous round of applause.

’‘Deal me in,’ she said.

She felt something brush against her bare leg and looking under the table she saw a masked man felating the player to her left. She looked up slowly into where she judged his eyes to be. He spoke softly:

‘You came here looking for suckers, eh?’

‘No, I never go looking for suckers, I look for champions, then I make suckers outta them.’

He pushed the man under the table away, feeling a little deflated.

One by one, the hands were played and as she’d hoped they all played like ego-maniacs to a man, never believing she could be bluffing. Within four short hours she had made her mark on the table. Within seven the men were pleased they were wearing masks to hide their twitching, tell-ridden faces. Stacy could smell victory, she even began allowing herself brief moments when she left to make her toilette of thinking what she’d do with the money. But as is always the case with counting chicks before they’ve hatched her over-confidence was her undoing.

She looked down at her two personal cards to see an Ace and a King of Clubs suited. She raised and everyone but the fat man folded. She studied his body language, trying to get a read on him in the absence of any facial tics. What did he have, she wondered? She knew her hand to be the second best hand to have at this stage, so felt it was probably now or never to settle it.

When the first three cards of the flop came all Clubs she could barely hide her excitement as she made the nut flush: five cards all suited. Nothing could beat her. She moved all-in, pushing all of her chips to the centre of the table.

It took her brain a moment to register what the fat man had just said:

‘I call…’

She daren’t believe it was true. She knew she was almost guaranteed to win about  95% of the chips in play, as she turned over her hand to the table. She looked up triumphantly but the mask on the fat man’s face remained as implacable as ever, as he revealed a pair of aces to a gasping table.  Excellent, she thought.  He’d made his three of a kind, and now she was going to read him the news with her mighty flush. What felt even better to her was knowing how badly this mysogynistic prick would take it.

The next card came as a seven. Her heart began to flutter. Then like a bird being shot out of the sky the last card fell. The fat man’s belly began to wobble in the building laughter.

‘Another seven. Would you credit it. My full house beats your flush, my dear.’

The room began to spin around Stacy coinciding with a sinking feeling as if gravity was trying to pull her through the gravelly floor of the catacombs. She slipped off her chair and watched helpless through the legs as the fat man summoned the servant who came into view carrying a large hypodermic needle on the tray.

Despite feeling winded, Stacy managed to speak in short, gasping syllables.

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you’.

‘And why not my dear, a bet is a bet. We just want your liver?’

Holding the arm of the chair she rose to her feet as the fat man approached salavating with his glistening injection.

‘I have Hepatitis C’, she replied.