Only one more opening left after this one. TL;DR of the story thus far: whichever of the seven novel openings I've posted scores the most comments will be written in full online before a live studio audience. Of Hidden Shadows is a high fantasy epic. In Times of Cold Rain is noir crime-lit. Women, Weed and Weather is so-called "literary" fiction. Lyon's Den is a genre mash-up between chick lit and detective story.Forged: Book I of the Weaponslayer Trilogy is my offering to the YA gods. This one? This is a bit of a flashback for me. The Heat of the Frozen Road is a, well, novel. Featuring strippers, debauchery, drugs, gambling and a trip to dancer's El Dorado: Alaska during the rig off-season.
The Heat of the Frozen Road
She slammed the door shut as soon as I set the last box in the van. It was hard to believe how much the girls managed to pack. I looked down at the small bag I was bringing. Toothpaste. Toothbrush. Roll of toilet paper. And that's about all of the personal stuff I feel like sharing. Fair enough; I had a change of clothes, two paperbacks, a carton of smokes, and a twenty-four pack of condoms I bought at Sam's Club. Those were hidden, covered by the extra boxers I brought along. Maybe a bit presumptuous, but it was a long drive to Anchorage, and there were going to be more than a few late nights.
"We don't mind leaving you here," the other girl, the one I didn't know very well, or at all, threatened me. Alicia slapped her ass.
"You said I could bring him with," Alicia reminded her. She put her arm around me. I wanted to think it was because she was standing up for me. Looking back, it was as if I was a well-trained dog and she wanted to show off all the tricks I could do. I guess it's better to be a talented dog, if you have to be one.
The girl whose name I still can't remember scoffed and folded her arms in front of her chest. I should have caught that as the first sign of trouble. No good can come from a woman who has to cross her arms six inches in front of her shoulders.
"Do you have everything?" Alicia asked me.
"Nah, but I'm pretty sure I have enough." Sometimes I could be a literal minded person. Other times, I was just an idiot. The only time it ever really got me in trouble was when I was younger and someone told me to go fuck myself. After the awkward moment with my dad, I decided that not everything could be taken at face value, and that whenever possible, you shouldn't do anything alone.
She giggled a little bit, and it almost sounded genuine. The pout on her girlfriend's lips only made her laugh harder. When the van door slammed again, she looked at me.
"I promise, she's a lot of fun, she'll like you," Alicia said, her thousand watt smile cutting through the early morning fog that had snuck up on us.
"As long as her idea of fun doesn't end up with me in handcuffs and leather underwear, I trust you," I winked. I headed towards the passenger side but she stopped me. She gave me the keys.
"You volunteered for the first leg, remember?" she smiled again and actually batted her eyelashes. She might have been being sarcastic, but it was effective either way.
I settled in and pulled out towards the highway. As it turned out, the first leg ended up being about eighteen hundred miles.
Day 2 -- Morning
I hadn't been in an IHOP while sober in about five years. I sat down across from the girls who looked as ragged as I felt. I almost would have thought that they were the ones who slept in the van instead of the hotel I paid for. Had there not been a month's worth of costumes and shoes stacked on every available inch, it might not have been so bad. As it was, I had no interest in looking in a mirror. I kept my head buried in my notebook, scribbling away, writing ideas for the first article.
"Whatcha writing?" the other girl asked, a drop of water teetering on the edge of her porn-star lips. Alicia rolled her eyes. I let her explain what I was doing.
While I listened, I thought about when I pitched my editor on the idea. I didn't think he'd actually go with it. Even after driving over a thousand miles, I still wasn't sure it was happening. None of the sentences were coming out right. The paper had more cross-outs than coherent words.
"When can we read it?" the other girl asked when Alicia finished explaining. She leaned over the table, almost falling out of the thin blouse she hadn't even bothered to button all the way. Alicia noticed that I noticed and slapped my hand. I pulled it back and used it to shield the nonsense I had scrawled on the page.
"I'm still working on it," I protested. She recoiled and threw her hands up as if to say she was sorry. Alicia's laugh was like the sound of silk sheets rustling over a piano; soft, smooth, with a melody. There isn't much a laugh like that can't make a man do. It had the same effect on her girlfriend. The other girl calmed down and ordered them both strawberry pancakes with whipped cream and real fruit. I got my usual omelette.
"I'll let you read it before I send it in," I said. I don't know why. Writing is the closest a man can come to having a baby. And just like a baby, it's never a good idea to show it off before it's popped out, bloody and crying for attention. Otherwise, you only wind up with the first part.
Day 2-- Evening
I was out in the van, grabbing a fresh notebook when the first drunk asshole was tossed out.
"I din't ev'n touch 'er," the man belched. "Bitch is lyin' and shit." I could tell he was wasted. It was an impressive feat considering it's barely after seven and the club didn't open until five on weekdays.
When Alicia first told me about the pilgrimage she and the other girl were taking to dancers El Dorado, I had a hard time taking her serious. The thought that some small oil rig town in Alaska was filled with piles of singles and stacks of folded hundred dollar bills was as ludicrous to me as the prospect of tagging along.
It was her idea, in the end. I still hadn't expected the editor to sign off on it. It probably helped that I pitched it to him after we finished a bottle of greasy gin and vodka doubles.
Admittedly, the idea seemed a lot more glamorous back in the Midwest, not crawling around the van listening to some unknown Don Draper wannabe splatter chunky beer on the pavement. The Lounge dressed itself in flowing neon, the blacklights and red trim giving it a look that wouldn't be out of place in the trendiest neighborhood in SoHo. Some out-in-the-woods type places settle for a cheap, hand-painted sign and plywood instead of dark tint, but The Lounge went all out on massive jet black bay windows, a valet booth, and an elegant wrap-around drive that had only recently been stained by the stumbling drunk's post-adrenaline heaving.
I found a new notebook around the time the unruly patron fished his car keys from his pocket. I was glad I was heading back inside. I wouldn't have been surprised if the van had a few new dents when I came back out.
It is possible The Lounge spent as much money inside as they did with the façade, but it was impossible to tell. A long walkway led to the main stage, but the only source of light was the red frame of the admissions stall, glowing softly like the emergency lights at a movie theater. I skipped the ticket window and made my way back inside.
The stage was dimly lit in the way that Hitler was kind've racist. Red and purple neon trim provided the illumination. Renting a spot in the line-up was cheap--which was why the girls stopped there--but I could see why in the first two hours. With the lights as low as they were, the girls became indistinguishable from each other, just brief glimpses of a smile or two, and short flashes of what might have been tits or bush. I doubted there was any money to be made at the place.
But the bar was serving me free drinks, and the bartender found the idea of writing appealing enough to spend most of the first part of the night flirting with me and tugging on her boobs to push up more cleavage. I went outside with Alicia and the other girl a few times to smoke, and the lady behind the bar looked sad every time. I was hoping I might not have to sleep alone in the van when the other girl grabbed me and started pulling me towards the door. I could almost see Alicia arguing with The Lounge's owner.
"Motherfucker," she yelled, poking her finger into his ribs. A rather large bouncer--the one I had seen earlier with the drunk--hovered nearby. "There's, like, four fucking people in here, and the only one getting dances is missing her teeth."
The other girl explained to me that the owner had signed up too many dancers. I knew that stage time was worthless, more like an advertisement than a way to make any money. At twenty-five to a hundred bucks a song for a private show, it was obvious why it was a problem if no one was heading for the VIP.
"I told you, it's slow now, but it'll pick up," the owner grumbled in what sounded like a Louisiana drawl, even though we had made it through into Montana already. "You can't leave now. You've got six hours."
I was standing behind Alicia when he said it. The other girl started trying to walk around both of them to the exit. The bouncer blocked the door. Alicia is barely five feet tall, but she wasn't backing down. I couldn't see her face, but I remembered the one time I had ever seen her mad at me. When someone carrying the delicate lines of an elf princess is fixing you with the kind of glare usually found on arch-villains and lawyers trying to be serious, it's a shock.
"There's no reason for us to stay," the other girl jumped back into the fray, her already dark hair a black halo surrounding her pale face. She put her hands on her hips and stood next to Alicia. Even in the dim light it was obvious they were the two hottest girls in the club, and I could see the bouncer almost drooling. Between the two of them, the girls might have weighed as much as one of the bouncer's legs.
I tried my best to look intimidating, but nobody was mistaking me for a bodyguard. If you want to look non-threatening, there are few ways better than holding a pen and a pad of paper. Just ask Clark Kent.
"Oi, let 'er go," a very deep, very British, and very female voice came from the office the owner had stepped out of earlier. A grotesquely fat woman ambled into the space where we were all standing. If the bouncer was capable of eating Alicia and the other girl, the woman who started eye-fucking me as soon as she saw me would have used them as toothpicks.
It was hard to see in the light, but the most frightening thing about her wasn't the four hundred pounds she had to be hauling under the Coogi tracksuit she was wearing; it was her face. She had high cheek bones and soft eyes. Her full pout was wide, showing off a brilliant white smile. She was beautiful. A unicorn. A nothing butterface. I'd heard of them before but never seen one. If she sent a picture to you from the shoulders up, it's hard to imagine you wouldn't meet her for a drink.
"It's slow," she admitted, pulling the owner out of the way. The bouncer gave her a quizzical look, but let us pass. Alicia tugged on my arm. The British woman was licking her lips. As we walked to the car I found myself horrified by at least four scenarios that would eventually give me nightmares.