The Trouble with Diamonds: Ten

He pushed deeper inside of his wife. Her gasp pushed her warm breath onto his full lips, her brow furrowed in borrowed ecstasy. He wound his arms around her, sharing the air between their mouths and the sweat on their skin. “Tell me you love me,” he said as he watched her. She squirmed on top of him, trapped like a field mouse and its slithering predator. He filled her again and again with no remorse for her moans. “Tell me. Say it.”
“I love you.”

He rolled over deftly, still tucked away but she was different, her scent spreading through the room: honeysuckle and orchids. She pushed her knees back so he could peer down and watch her love bloom for him. He pressed his lips onto her knees as he dipped inside of her. He could feel every muscle inside of her twitch around him and he felt himself unravel with every thrust. He wanted to hate her; he wanted to stop and drag her into the deepest hole the federal government could provide. Yet, he wanted nothing but to bury himself deep inside of her, to release the thick sorrow and melancholy that kept him captive. He was trapped in quicksand; a harrowing love for his dead wife and the forbidden lust he possessed for the thief.

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The Trouble With Diamonds: Eight

Olivia squealed as Dorian picked her up in a bear hug and swung her around. “Congrats, baby!” she laughed. He set her down gently and kissed her cherry red lips. His graduation from Quantico was a huge achievement, however, it wasn’t the reason behind his fluttering heart. “Marry me,” he said, his forehead pressed against hers. “Shut up,” she said, slapping his chest and laughing. He caught her arm and sank down on one knee. He reached in his inner pocket and produced the blue box holding the single solitaire. “Olivia…” he began. They’d only been dating for 8 months but Dorian was sure the sun rose and set with her. “I’ve never been in love before you. I’ve never known someone so amazing, so loving, so deserving of everything the universe has to offer and if you say yes, I promise I will spend the rest of my life trying to give it to you.” Olivia’s eyes swelled with tears at the beautiful man knelt before her. Her head was nodding before she could get the words from her lips. “Yes!”

“Where the fuck is the power?!” Dorian yelled into his earpiece, making his way through the dark and panic. It was her, it had to be. As soon the power was out, she slipped from his grip and into the darkness. “I had her!” he yelled as he got closer to the Markov. “Sanchez, do you have eyes?!”
“I can’t see shit! It’s pitch black!” The party began to grow more and more anxious in the dark, escalating to some screams and raised voices. “Everyone, everyone, please remain calm! We are working on this issue as expeditious as possible! If you can all just stay where you are to prevent any further injuries,” Mayor Hayes said from somewhere in the dark.

“Maverick, what the fuck happened? We still had time!” Noelle said, pushing through the obscured guests. “I may or may not have blown the power for the entire Eastern grid. Don’t worry, I’m working on getting it back! I guess it couldn’t handle the surges I was sending to the security systems and I didn’t realize that…”
“Maverick! Focus! I wasn’t in position! How long until the power comes back on?” Noelle barked when suddenly, the lights flickered on in the manor. “The entire grid just came back live! I didn’t do this!” Noelle had nearly made it to the display holding the Markov when she noticed the glass case was already empty. “Oh my God, it’s gone.”

“What’s gone?”
“My wedding ring! I took it off to wash my hands and when I looked back, it was gone!” Olivia half-sobbed. “Hey, no, it’s ok, baby, we’ll find it.”
“I can’t believe I even took it off…” she said as he pulled her into his chest. “Don’t cry baby. If it’s really gone, we’ll just get another one.”
“That’s not why I’m crying….I…I just haven’t told you…” Dorian’s heart dropped into his stomach. Her tone had changed and he immediately feared the worst. In the few months they’d been married, they’d been fighting more frequently. At first he wrote it off as the end of the honeymoon phase, but after the things she said to him last night, he slept on the couch. He silently prayed for control over his temper over whatever she told him, no matter how awful. He pulled her away and looked in her tearful eyes. “My emotions have been all over the place and making me a little crazy lately and I just decided to take a test and….I’m pregnant.” She could tell Dorian was braced for bad news and it took a few seconds for his steely resolve to melt. “You mean…I’m gonna be a daddy?”

She had to move fast when she saw the Fed making his way towards her; it would be a matter of seconds before he and his backup surrounded her. She ducked out of sight into a nearby hallway. She needed a few seconds to look over the plans for the house again when she spotted it out the corner of her eye: her father’s coin. Tied to string, it dangled on the doorknob catty-corner to her position. She crossed the hall and examined the coin closely. She instantly recognized the symbols on either side. How did it get there? Who put it there? Questions burned in her mind until her adrenaline prodded her. It had to be a sign. She pushed the door open and slipped inside.

The office was decorated warmly: pewter green wall, gray carpet and a large oak desk decorated the east side of the room. A French double door was situated on the other side, showcasing the grounds towards the main entrance. Someone had given her a way out. She had no time to contemplate the mire; she needed to run. Now. She kicked off the gold heels and pushed through the doors in a full sprint.

Dorian had made his way to the front door as the party continued on inside. He scanned the view until he spotted the woman in white hopping into her red Corvette. He drew his weapon and pointed in her direction. “FBI! FREEZE!” There was no way Noelle was giving up that easily. She peeled away from the curb, almost hitting the valet and burned rubber down the driveway. “Dammit!” Dorian yelled as he galloped down the stairs. He made his way to the Mustang being pulled around. “FBI! I need this vehicle,” he said as he shoved the valet out the way. He sped around and down the driveway after the thief.

“Shaw, where the hell did you go?”
“I am in pursuit of the suspect! Female, African American, approximately 25-30 years old, driving a red 2017 Corvette!”
“I’ll put local P.D. in the loop. Dorian, are you SURE she has the bracelet?”
“Affirmative. I’m going after her ass,” Dorian said, before hanging up the phone. The hum of their engines ripped through the air as they sped down to the expressway. Dorian remained mere paces behind her as she zig zagged through traffic trying to lose him. Noelle hit redial as she dodged a Caravan in the farthest lane. “Maverick, I need you to get me out of here. I got a Fed on my tail!”
“Whoa, FBI?! How did that…”
“Never mind, Gina! I need to lose him!”
“Take the expressway for 4 more miles. You’re close to the Casup Basin. There are a few cabins still in those woods.” Noelle stomped on the accelerator hard and shot away from her pursuer, eager to get out of sight. “Exit’s on your left!” Maverick yelled as she watched her GPS display of Noelle’s location. Noelle turned the steering wheel hard and zoomed across three lanes to get off the freeway. “Shit!” The Fed yelled, nearly having to make a U-turn in front of several cars.

“Push, Olivia, push!”
“I CAN’T!” she yelled before collapsing back into his arms. “Please…we can still make it to the hospital, Dorian,” she sobbed. Her labor began and progressed quickly, too quickly for them to make the trip to the hospital like they’d planned. “How long before that ambulance gets here?” Dorian barked into the phone. “I’m sorry, sir, but they are still 20 minutes out due to the collapse. From the sound of things, I’m gonna have to walk you through delivering your daughter,” the 911 operator said calmly into the phone. Olivia, slick from sweat, shook her head furiously. “No, no, no, no, please, I can’t—“ she began before she was overwhelmed by another contraction. She let out a scream that sent a shiver down Dorian’s spine. “Dorian, can you please look between Olivia’s legs and describe to me what you see?” He kissed his wife on the top of her head before changing his position on the bathroom floor. “Oh my God! I think I see the head!”
“Ok, Olivia, that means you’re crowning. You need to push as hard and as long as you can so you can have your baby tonight, ok?”
“No, no, we had a plan. Dorian, tell her, we had a plan,” she said, on the brink of exhaustion. “Hey, hey, look at me,” he said to her. “You are going to have our baby tonight. But I need my warrior right now. I’m not giving up on you and I’m sure as hell not letting you give up. So on my count, I need you to push hard and long so we can meet our kid, ok?” The tears welling in Dorian’s eyes were enough to convince her. “With me, one, two, THREE!”

“Shaw, what….your….-cation?” Dorson yelled into the phone. His connection faded the farther he drove into the woods around the lake. “She’s in the Basin! I’m not gonna lose her!” he yelled before the phone disconnected. He threw the phone into the seat next to him and pushed on. Noelle steered the car deeper and deeper into the darkening woods but with every turn she made, the headlights behind her followed. Dorian pushed the car next to hers, both of them casting heated glances at one another. He turned the wheel and bumped the back of the Corvette with the front of the Mustang. Noelle shot an incredulous look at the Fed before she tried to zoom away, however, the ground had become too muddy for the car to gain necessary traction. Noelle, afraid for her life, veered the car away from his last bump and steered the car over a log. The car skidded down a slight embankment and rolled twice before landing on its lid. Dorian slammed on the brakes but the mired ground sent him sailing headfirst into a large oak tree.

The Trouble With Diamonds: Seven

Her body shook as she pulled herself up on the bar. “Come on, I need five more, Noelle,” he said, his voice gruff below her. “I can’t!” she yelled as her scrawny arms gave out and she swung from the bar. “CAN’T isn’t in our vocabulary,” he barked. Noelle dropped down onto the floor and stuck her acrylic fingernail in his face. “No, it’s in YOUR vocabulary. This is some bullshit, I’m gone,” she said as she grabbed her bag. “Noelle,” Antonio yelled after her, his hands on his hips. “I don’t know why I have to do this crap. I told you, I don’t need a dad!”
“So what, you expect to go back out there and do what? Keep grifting at the grocery store? Go to juvy? Get lost in the system?”
Noelle adjusted the bag on her shoulder and bit her lip. “If you want to do this, you need to do it RIGHT. I’m offering more than these lessons…” he trailed off. His own daughter would be a little younger than Noelle and he was constantly reminded of her when Noelle was around. He felt like it was a second chance and he needed to do it right. “Do you wanna go grab some dinner?”

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The Trouble With Diamonds: Six

Deputy Director Dorson signed the last of the paperwork as she waved Agent Sanchez into her office. “You said you have an update for me on the Trevant case?”
“Actually, it’s about Agent Shaw,” Sanchez said as he sat down. Dorson’s brow furrowed and she stopped her task. “What happened?”
“I think you mean ‘What hasn’t happened?’ Shaw hasn’t shown up to any briefings in 3 days now. Security puts him in the building, but I have yet to see him coming or going.”
“I’ll admit, he’s been a bit reclusive since he was reinstated but that’s nothing to be worried about.”
“Yeah, well, you won’t feel that way when you see what he’s been up to,” Sanchez said, before he placed the files onto her desk. She flipped open the first few and was puzzled. “What is this?”
“I think he has a ‘lead’. According to these and his web of delusion in his office, he believes the thief is a bounty hunter of sorts, contracted from the Dark Web to steal priceless items. He researched EVERY high value item stolen in the last 5 years and its history. How many times it was almost stolen, tips and rumors about those who would pay for these items, etc.”
“So…he’s tracking the criminals who could have paid this thief?”
“”Exactly and the last four thefts have been within a 100 mile radius of the Trevant case…”
“Meaning a local contract,” Dorson said.

Sanchez produced a different folder from Shaw’s office. “All the items that have been taken have been on the assumed radar of one Li Yiao.” Dorson’s skin crawled when she saw the dated mugshot of the mobster. “We’ve been after this guy for years. He’s untouchable. How did he get this information?”
“I have no idea. Like I said, he’s working all this out on his own.”
“Does he have anything concrete?”
“Nothing. It’s all circumstantial, and frankly, a little crazy.”
“Well, we can’t go after this guy again because he likes expensive things. He has the best representation money can buy and the Bureau refuses to go after him until they have enough to put him away for good.”
“Don’t think Shaw cares about that. Also on that web of his, he’s planning on catching the theft in the act. Tomorrow.”
“Jesus Christ,” Dorson said before she picked up the phone.

“What you’re asking for is impossible,” Noelle said, tossing the invite back onto the table. She was at her wit’s end with the mafioso, especially after the incident at the train station. “You’re a professional. The best money can buy, or so I hear,” Yiao said. He shuffled a pair of cards behind his desk, the clacking of the plastic cards reverberated around the circular room. “I’m the best because I don’t get caught. Robbing the house of the most affluent man in the city in a crowd doesn’t exactly resonate that.”
“A thief is a thief,” Yiao said passively.
“The building hasn’t been cased. I don’t know ANY of the security protocols AND it will be filled with security guards, police officers and hundreds of witnesses, INCLUDING the Mayor.”

Yiao seemed unperturbed by her concerns. He pushed a black folder across the desk with his index finger. Noelle grimaced before she picked it up. “I took the liberty of doing all the legwork for you. Consider it a parting gift.”
“And the video?”
“All evidence against you will be surrendered upon completion of the job. We’ll be done.” Noelle narrowed her eyes suspiciously. She didn’t trust him but she had very little choice in the matter. He had too much dirt on her and one anonymous murmur from him could lead to a lifetime in a hole under the Pentagon. She snatched the file from the desk and Yiao’s face spread into a sickly sweet smile. “Relax. You’re holding the ticket to your freedom.”

Outside, the busy street was humming in the unusually warm weather. Noelle turned towards home and began maneuvering through the bodega traffic when someone slammed into her, throwing her back against the wall. “Jesus!” she yelled after the stranger, whom had continued walking. She straightened herself when she noticed a piece of paper tucked between her and the folder. She opened it and nearly lost her breath.
In a familiar hand, she read:

THE MAYOR’S GALA IS A TRAP. DON’T GO.

She peered down the street but the stranger had disappeared into the sea of people.

“I’m not comfortable with this, Dorian,” Davis Shaw whispered to his son. He didn’t want to alert anyone to his son’s plan to play Cops and Robbers during the biggest event he would probably experience. The great hall was swarming with decorators and local volunteers, readying the space for the following night. “Dad,” Dorian said. Davis stepped closer to his son and hissed into his ear. “You’re asking me to let a criminal steal a precious valuable in the home of the most respected figure in the city. Surely, you can understand my apprehension.”
“I promise, I have everything under control.”
“How come someone hasn’t come to, I don’t know, debrief me or the mayor? What kind of security measures are being taken?”
“Dad,” Dorian said, turning to face his father and grabbing him by the shoulders. “Relax. Everything is already in place. The sting will be handled swiftly and with such care that you or the guests will know it ever happened.”

The lie seemed to placate the senior Shaw, who went off to double check the rest of the arrangements. In reality, Dorian was flying solo and blind on the mission. He had alerted security of a credible threat and (after showing his credentials) insisted on coverage for all the exits for the entire evening. As he made another walkthrough, his phone buzzed in his pocket; upon first glance, he saw it was Deputy Director Dorson’s fourth call. “Not now,” he whispered to himself as he silenced the phone. He turned around to see Dorson, standing before him, phone in hand. “Seems like an important call,” she said sarcastically. Dorian felt as if his stomach had dropped down to his feet. “Deputy Director…”
“Can I speak with you? Alone?” she said before walking towards the alcove beneath the grand staircase. “HOW DARE YOU SET UP A STING OPERATION WITHOUT INVOLVING THE AGENT IN CHARGE OR YOUR COMMANDING OFFICER?!” she hissed, nearly pinning him to the wall. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I…” Dorian began before she held up her hand to stop him. “Never, in my tenure at the Bureau, have I seen such blatant disregard and disrespect for authority, even after a slew of warnings and second chances. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t suspend you WITHOUT PAY upon review and recommendation of termination,” Dorson continued in a low voice.
“I know this is complete unorthodox but….”
“Unorthodox?! This is completely unprecidented!”
“I’m going with my gut here. You know I wouldn’t jump headfirst like this without being absolutely sure.”

Dorson scoffed as he tried to reassure her. “I’ve done all the pertinent research. I’m 100% sure that something is going down tomorrow night. You know I’m a bloodhound. I just need you to trust me.”
“You WERE a bloodhound, Shaw. Now, you’re a loaded gun in the hands of a child. I don’t know what to expect out of you anymore and frankly, I cannot stick my neck out any farther for you.”
“Ok, I’ll make you a deal. If I don’t make an arrest tomorrow, you can take my badge and put me on leave. Fire me, stick me in a padded room, if that’s what you desire.”
“You’re that confident?”
“I am,” Dorian said. Dorson thought for a moment, before pointing a finger into his chest. “I’m sending backup, Sanchez and his team. One fuck up, ONE and you’ll be praying for that padded room.”

The Trouble With Diamonds: Four

Li Yiao had his tentacles spread through the far reaches of the east coast. He was a mobster by choice; a career path laid out by his father and his father before him. He was ruthless, powerful and money hungry. He never accepted “no” as an answer when it came to things that he wanted, including people. His men were everywhere, always watching Noelle, whether she came or went. She constantly changed phones and phone numbers but Yiao was always one step ahead and lately, the first and most frequent call she received on each phone. The sun was rising over the horizon, the orange glow brightening the room as she scanned through his file. Hidden in a pizza box, Maverick had managed to sneak his entire dossier to her. He was wanted for racketeering, prostitution, assault, murder and a laundry list of other offenses. He was infamous for getting his own hands dirty; he was an avid believer that when you killed a person, you absorbed their power from their blood. He was a monster and he was poised to ruin everything Noelle had worked so hard for.Read More »

The Trouble With Diamonds: Three

It felt as if they had been sitting together for hours, but 17 minutes had only passed since Dorian walked into the room. Dr. Wilhemina Harris stared at him through her cat eyed glasses, legs crossed at the knee and a notepad balanced in her lap. Dorian was, what she defined as, a textbook pessimist; he never believed in therapy or “shrinks”. Culturally, Dorian was raised to believe therapy was a waste of money. If you couldn’t “pray” your problems away, you bottle them and push them down until you developed an ulcer. He cleared his throat loudly and dramatically, as he silently prayed she would just give up the stalemate and let him leave. “So…tell me about the case you’re on,” Dr. Harris said as she patted her notebook. “That’s classified,” he said flatly. “I’m actually qualified to any information involving case files. I do work for the FBI as well,” she said. Dorian folded his arms, subconsciously on the defensive.Read More »

The Trouble With Diamonds: Two

The wind howled on the 20th floor of the construction site. Noelle took another deep breath as she prepared the gun and grappling hook. Her next contract was located deep within the walls over 1000 feet away. The hair on the back of her neck stood erect, apprehensive to complete a job so soon and so close to the one before. “Are you ok?” the voice chirped into her earpiece, startling her slightly. “I’m fine,” Noelle said questionably. “Like I was saying, Rex Tech just went public 6 months ago. $534 MILLION, can you believe? I applied for a job but they told me I was too…” the girl rambled on in her ear. Noelle rolled her eyes and called back. “Radio silent, Maverick, until I’m across,” she snarled back to her “Eye in the Sky”. With another deep breath, she aimed the gun and fired. The hook exploded from the gun and shot across the skyline until it secured itself to the neighboring rooftop. She secured the gun to the exposed beams near her and attached the rappelling hook on the tension line. With a ‘click’, she took a running leap over the edge.

After what felt like an eternity, she landed on the gravel that covered the roof. “I’m across,” she said. “Ok, at the door, there will be a card access. Use the key I gave you and let the algorithm do the rest,” Maverick said. Noelle removed it from her pack and slid the key into the reader and waited for the handheld device to flash green. “I can only disable the cameras for 40 seconds at a time with 1 minute intervals. Any longer and a secondary security system is engaged and will send out a silent alarm. You need to get down 5 floors to get to the next blind spot, directly under the camera on the 15th floor. Got it?”
“Got it.”

The lock disengaged and Noelle took off galloping down the stairs. “30 seconds,” Maverick said into her ear. She made it to the 15th floor and she jammed the hacked key into the reader. “10 seconds.” It felt like it took longer before the light turn green and the latch on the door withdrew. “8…7…6…” Maverick counted down as Noelle used her foot to slow the door from slamming. With barely a second to spare, she dipped beneath the security camera that was settled in the corner. “Cutting it a little close, are we?” Maverick said, her keystrokes audible from the phone. “Maybe you should rewrite this algorithm to be a little faster,” Noelle said. Another 30 seconds needed to pass before the cameras could be looped again. She was careful not to exhale too hard or move in any way. “Ok, loop is restarting…now!”

Noelle took off into a sprint down the hallway. She repeated the memorized directions from the map she studied: right, right, left, right. There were no cameras where she was going. She met with the large cherry wood door, out of sync with the other doors on the floor. She jammed the lock picker in once more and gained another accepted access. She dove into the room and waited, still catching her breath. When she stood, she surveyed the office of Vice President of Research and Development quickly. The view was breathtaking, meaning that she was in the correct place. The painting on the wall was flush against the wallpaper. The desk was tempered glass and contained no drawers. The bookcase on the opposite was awkwardly shaped; each shelf was misaligned on its intended symmetrical side. Noelle scanned it momentarily before she grinned to herself and shoved the two halves apart. Surrounding the case along the wall and floor were unmistakable tracks, used to wheel the shelves back and forth to hide and reveal the safe. “A billion dollar company and they cheap out with a McGinnick,” Noelle said as she pulled off her backpack.

“I’m in,” she grinned to herself as she removed the borescope from the hole she drilled just above the dial. “Wait, what?” Maverick said as her keystrokes furiously tapped in the background. Noelle spun the handle and the safe popped open with a dull clank. “Literally NO ONE can crack a McGinnick that fast! How did you…”
“I have my ways,” Noelle said. She had been trained by the best. Her father’s words rang in the back of her head: “Nothing is impenetrable. Patience opens ANY lock.” Inside of the safe were stacks of cash, manila folders and a group of microchips settled into a display. “Ok, which one is it?” she said as she began flipping through the nonsequential bills. “Hang on,” Maverick said, her fingers moving like lightning. “Seriously, you couldn’t have figured this out before I got it open?”
“It says all of them.”
“What? I thought you said A microchip, not 20,” Noelle said, looking back at the display. “He says it is impossible to know which is which so bring them all.”
“You make sure you let him there is an upcharge,” she said. She took the plastic display from the safe and dumped it into her backpack. She glanced at the money again and grabbed it as well. “Alright, I’m gone. Set up the meet.” she said as she swung the safe closed.

She made it back across the line a few minutes later. Just as she began to celebrate another win, she was met with a swift kick to the torso that knocked her on her back. She jumped back up and looked up at her attacker. They were dressed in all black and wore a black ski mask, but from their stature, she could tell it was a man. “Who the hell…” she began before the man attacked again. She was deft at blocking his moves; his punches and kicks were met with her own. He pulled a knife from his hip and swung it at her, causing her to jump backwards too close to the edge. He reached out and grabbed her hand to pull her back. He swung the knife again and barely missed her flesh, but he had severed the strap to the backpack she wore. He grabbed it and tried to take off running, but she jumped on his back and tackled him to the ground. He elbowed her on the side of the head and pushed her off of him. They both held a steady grip on the bag, swinging at one another for one moment of slack. As they fought, she felt her father’s coin unlodge itself from under her shirt. The mystery man glanced down at it and back to her before he snatched it from her neck and kicked her away. “Wait, no!” she yelled as she took off after him. She followed him as far as she could but he disappeared into the night with her prized possession.

The meet was scheduled for an hour later at the Zen Gardens restaurant. The man enjoyed his dinner at the back table; 4 of his most loyal henchmen surrounded him, each of them strapped with a semi-automatic gun. The bell rang to signal someone had entered. Before the man could address the woman, she had stormed inside and pushed the table right against his bulging stomach and pinned him to the wall. His henchmen had their guns aimed right as her back as she held the man in position. “Who else did you contract out for this?” she yelled. The man coughed into his napkin and tried to defuse the situation. “I placed an ad and you answered.”
“Did you send someone else after me?! To push me off a building?!”
“Now why would I do that and you’ve done what no one else could for me?” the Asian man said. He signaled to his men to lower their weapons; he felt powerful enough to not feel threatened by her. “He stole something from me and I want it back. Until I do, I’ll be keeping this,” she said, holding up the backpack. She released her grip from the table and began to walk out when the man began speaking again. “You may not want to go too far with that information. I’d hate for something to happen to that pretty little head of yours.” The henchmen moved into her path and blocked her way to the door. She spun and faced the man as a scowl spread across her face. “Sit,” he said, his hand extended toward the chair next to him. “Let’s talk business.”

Mom, Dad, Let’s Talk Unemployment

I graduated from Windsor University two years ago with my Bachelors in Interpersonal Communication with a minor in Marketing. Somehow, Malcolm Henderson Jr. High School thought I was more than qualified to serve as their guidance counselor, a cushier job than I expected fresh from college. I didn’t realize the reason behind my hiring was the fact that the school was nearly broke and they could only afford a “guidance counselor” who didn’t think to go into negotiation concerning salary. So when we received the mass memo that the school would not be reopening for the 2015-2016 school year, my jaw hit the floor.Read More »

Siren

All it took was one deep breath and the room was ablaze.

The women were captivated. The men were enthralled. Cascading through the room, all of the eyes were on him and his instrument. He told a story to the crowd; one of seduction, one of love, one of the raw passion that lie deep within them all. Every chest rose and fell to the melody of his march. He was the hypnotist and they were hypnotized. This was a tale to be told over and over, one that he could never complete, one that consumes his life. It was his work, his lover, his religion, his consolation. It made him smile, made him cry, pissed him off but still clung to his skin like the sweat on his back.

So they danced again. The hot stage lights burned him, beads of sweat rolling from his hairline, down the crease in his forehead and down his face. It was a small price to pay for the love and he paid it every single time. He put his all into the music, even though his shoes were too tight and his back had begun to cramp. Small price to pay. The music radiated from him like a pheromone, ensnaring the unattached women in the joint, the women who had shimmied into tight dresses and tall heels for him; women who burnt their ears and applied and reapplied rouges and powders to impress him. He was a simple man. His woman was not a vain nor jealous lover; she was always patient with him when his attention was diverted because it would only be for a moment. She knew that soon, his rough and warm fingers would careen around her and it would only be a moment before his lips were wrapped around her and when they were, what a glorious sound! She was his siren, his muse, his Aphrodite. She owned every part of him and he gave himself to her willingly.

So they entwined, their tangled webs drifting through the air and surrounded those in earshot. The world fell away and littered at his feet, nothing but rags of stress and dissatisfaction. Nothing gave him the feeling of the humming in his feet, the sway in his hips, the tap of his shoe. Nothing mimicked the moment of escape, no one could guide him from the darkness, away from the flame. The room was ablaze and he would burn for it.