Chapter 5



Another wet November night, another eight to ten hours walking the street in ridiculously high boots and a faux fur jacket. Marie forced her hands down from around her collar. There was simply no way to look sexy while shivering and her sorry excuse of a jacket didn't help anything. It didn't even cover her stomach.

The only people on the street that weren't trembling hard enough to shatter their teeth were the ones tripping out on heroin or meth. They were cold, too; they were just blue around the lips and fingers because their bodies didn't know enough to shiver. Marie felt sick doing so but she had to ignore them. Except maybe for the mass of rags in the middle of the alley just behind her. That person hadn't done much but twitch in the past fifteen minutes. He or she-- hard to tell under all the clothes-- had shot something up an hour ago. The minute he or she stopped twitching, she was going for help.

From across the street, Skids waved her down. Marie returned the wave. Skids must have thought of that as an invitation because she ran across four lanes of traffic to get to her.

"Use the crosswalk, crackwhore!" yelled an irate driver.

Skids flipped him a double finger. "Fuck you, asshole!"

"Not if you paid me!"

"With your face, you'd have to buy pussy!"

The lights went green before the fight could escalate. Marie handed Skids a cigarette which she accepted with glee. "You're always so good at making friends, sugar."

"I fucking hate people sometime, y'know? That's the kind of asshole who wouldn't think going to a titty bar is a big deal just because you sit down on some pretty chairs and the whores serve you fruity drinks in dim lighting. A whore's a whore like a john's a john; whether you buy one on the street or in a fucking 'gentleman's club' or whatever, you're still paying for pussy. They should just nut up and admit that."

"I'd love to be doing this inside a bar, chairs or no chairs," said Marie. "Like that party in the near the Financial District. That was awesome, huh? Too bad the fucking pigs busted it up."

"Cops ain't so bad. They're some of my best customers." Skids laughed and Marie joined her.

"Figures. They know where to get the best goods."


"I heard they have a whole, like, fucking house with parties like that all the time.

"Yeah, people talk a lot about them."

"Worth checking out."

Skids sent her a look from the side of he eyes. "You're new around here so maybe you haven't heard. Most places like that are run by flatscans. Probably a way to get rid of us all."

"The fuck it is."

"I'm telling the fucking truth, okay? Who else would? It's not like your average genejoe can afford a place to themselves. We ain't allowed to get decent work, the banks don't fucking trust us-- it just don't work. Then you got a bunch of people holed up outside of Mutant Town saying it's a fucking party? Fuck that."

"There's that mutant mayor in Boston."

"His daddy made Novomane. Fuck him." Skids spat out a thick, brown plug of phlegm. "I'm telling you, girl, Magneto was fucking right. They're trying to get rid of us. Only it ain't fucking-- what do you call it-- politically correct to just shoot us on sight any more so they're doing it in secret. If Magneto was still alive, I'd sign up with him no questions asked."

If Marie was more like Storm, she'd've hugged it out with Skids and maybe dropped an Xavier's number. She might still give that number, if she could do it discretely enough. But the cop in her-- in her not in Logan or Lebeau or even Magneto-- stayed in character. She was on a job. "I don't give a shit about all of that. I just want my jib or my zif and someplace warm to sleep it off. This winter is fucking brutal." She blew on her hands to make a point. "My nips could cut glass, I'm not fucking kidding."

That snapped Skids out of her morosity." The shelter on Avenue A's open. Wanna go?"

"Girl, I got nothing on me tonight."

"It's a shelter, you fucking twat. It's free." After a tick, she added, "Blitzen goes there a lot. She might know the guys with the house. Or at least she used to go there a lot. I ain't seen her in days. You?"

Marie shook her head.

"Blitz can get blitzed, if you know what I mean." Skids tapped her forehead. "Chick'll give it away for free when she's in a good place. That's why I came to see you, to ask if you'd seen her."

"Not since the party."

Skids spat on the sidewalk. "What did I tell you about those fucking flatscan parties?"

Marie refocussed the conversation. "Where's this shelter you were talking about?"

"Ain't it too early to call it in?"

"Sugar, it's so cold, no one's going to pick up in the next hour. I'd rather be warm."

The shelter Skids had been talking about was run by Mennonites out of a converted warehouse. With its proximity to Mutant Town, the developers had yet to jump into the otherwise prime real estate. Marie hoped they'd stay away as long as possible. Tensions being what they were, the eviction of mutants from Alphabet City could result in some pretty ugly riots. Mutant Town might be a ghetto but it was their ghetto. Having their home razed to make room for rich, usually baseline humans would cut a pretty deep insult. In Marie's opinion, the only thing worse that tearing everything down was if developers only demolished and renovated the backs of the buildings to market the neighbourhood as "artsy" or "edgy."

The shelter allowed both men and women to have dinner but once ten o'clock struck, the men were kicked out and the beds saved for women. It caused a lot of grumbling but the people in charge stuck by their mandate to provide a safe place for women to sleep without the fear of sexual assault. Marie hadn't even thought of that until she used a few shelters herself. She couldn't believe how many women were solicited for sex, harassed, or even blatantly groped even with monitors. Really, this op was making her bitter against men which was really a shame.

With fifteen minutes left for the dinner service, Marie and Skids managed to grab the last few plates. They didn't see Blitzen but Pinhead, the small-time pimp, dealer, and all around neighbourhood skeezeball, was there, chomping on a buttered dinner roll.

"Hey girls! Looking good. Didja get any of the pie? Fu--freaking amazing pie."

The people in charge didn't like swearing. They'd been known to kick people out for swearing too much.

"It's all right," said Marie. "Hey, you seen Blitzen around? We haven't since the party."


"The one where Pinhead dropped us off? Lots of guys in Eurotrash outfits, drinking warm beer," said Skids. "Cops messed it up."

"Ooooh, that party. Sorry, I get invited to so many." He grinned and paused, obviously waiting to be asked. When they didn't he pouted a bit. "Haven't seen her either. Was busy trying to dodge the blues myself, y'know?"

"Where could she have gone?" Marie asked. "Does she have a usual place?"

"Naw, Blitz is a free spirit, man. She goes wherever, she does whatever."

Translation: Blitz smoked too much of her earnings to have a permanent place to rent so she slept wherever she landed after a trip.

"I'm thinking she went with one of the guys from the party," Pinhead continued. "One of them was pretty territorial about her, y'know?"

"Damn. Hope she doesn't get lost in the Outer Boroughs. I heard they put you in jail for weeks there for just hanging out," said Skids.

But at least in jail, she'd have a roof over her head, three square meals, and a chance to sober up Marie thought. Instead of saying that, she asked, "So, you think those guys'll have another party soon?"

Skids frowned and backhanded her across the shoulder. Marie shrugged it off, waiting for a response.

"Not just another party." Pinhead curled his finger, gesturing them to come closed, then leaned forward and said, in a stage-whisper, "I hear they're looking for some permanent workers from our folk."


Skids hit her again. "We're not interested."

Marie hit her back. "What're they asking?"

"Just genejoes. Or rather, genejills. Well, maybe a couple genejoes if they're pretty enough is what I hear. You get your own room, food included, and the customers come to you." Pinhead slapped the table. "Come to you. Get it?" He guffawed at his own pun.

"Where is it? Do you think they'd take me?"

Skids finally snapped. She shot out of her seat, the force sending the collapsible chair skidding towards the neighbouring table. "Bitch!" she screamed. "Fucking bitch! Fucking stupid cunt! I told you about that place!"

Marie pulled at her sleeve, desperately trying to quiet her down before the shelter workers kicked them out.

"I told you they're fucking killing us and you still want to go? And you!" Skids turned her wrath on Pinhead. "You're fucking selling your own people out to the flatties."

Pinhead glanced nervously from side to side, trying to assuage the audience's judgment. "Ain't like that, Skids. It's a steady job is all. It's a community service is all."

"Fuck you, traitor!"

"Skids! Stop it." Marie yanked. Skids tripped but jumped back on her feet as soon as Marie loosened her hold. "I want to do this."

"Then you're stupid. You're a stupid fucking cunt. I don't associate with stupid fucking cunts."

The shelter workers were upon them now. "Five minutes to settle it outside, ladies, or you don't get back in for the beds."

Skids bared her teeth. She pulled her bag up on her shoulder. "I'd rather sleep outside than spend any more time with dumb and dumber."

"No, I'm the one who wants to go with Pinhead. I'll go."

"Fuck if I care."

Marie almost said something. Something stupid like "thank you truly for caring" or "you're a lot stronger than you think." Something that would break her cover. But she couldn't do that so instead, she flipped Skids the finger and stalked out of the shelter with Pinhead haplessly following. If his lead wasn't legit, Marie had just cut ties with someone desperately needing a friend. On the streets, friends were the difference between living and dying. She needed to wrap up this case fast.

Pinhead didn't know the exact address but some of his contacts did. Half a dozen of them actually, each spouting a different address. Word of mouth was perhaps the best and worst part of being undercover. Marie called the different addresses in but MacTac didn't get back to her with information until the next day. By then, she had another two addresses. Baglady Sue made a trip into a seedy internet cafe to do her own research.

In the end, MacTac narrowed it down to three most likely addresses out of eight. Marie had a feeling about the artistically distressed brownstone in Midwood but Charlotte had a point about casing them all out first. Stake-outs were hellishly boring but it gave Marie an excuse to bathe-- really truly bathe with hot water, a loofah, and conditioner in her hair-- and sit on something with padding, drinking hot coffee for a whole day. Heaven, even without heating.

With Henshaw looking too middle-class-white-priveledge and Charlotte Jones as acting captain, Marie and Everett Thomas partnered up to stake out the Midwood place. Fortunately, their working relationship had graduated from outright hostility to civil nods. And Charlotte thought Marie needed to work on her personal growth.

Thomas ducked back into the hotel room, holding a paper bag of deliciousness upright. "Lunch. And coffee."

Eyes glued to the house across the street, Marie held her hand out for her share. In New York City, handheld foodstuffs were kings and very few handheld foodstuffs were as good as sushi cones, in her humble opinion. Five years ago, she wouldn't have near anything more dangerous than a California roll but her neighbour with the labradoodle introduced her to the real stuff. Too bad they weren't going out any more. Especially, with the new tricks from Lebeau's training session, said a voice in her head that actually sounded a lot like Lebeau. Marie quashed the thought. The man was like a candypop song, stuck in your head whether you liked him or not.

Thomas cleared his throat.

Marie mentally groaned. No. Not now. For the love of God, she didn't need Thomas turning this into a chance to tease her about her cover. Or worse, try to be friends.

"So, it's gotta be tough living on the streets right now."

Crap. Friendliness. Marie grunted, stuffed her face with another sushi cone. Hopefully, he'd get the message.

"When I ran away, it was spring time in California. Not exactly a hardship." He tried for a smile. "Y'know, I was thinking about doing an annual neighbourhood outreach program--"

She held up a hand. "Is it directly relevant to this case? No? Don't give a shit right now."

"Damn, D'Ancanto, you can be a cold bitch."

"Aww shucks, thanks, sugar."

"Look, if you're still angry about my attitude last year, I'm sorry already, okay? I was a shithead. Did you need to hear that?"

"Yes. But still not caring very much right now. Maybe one day, during a Christmas party or something, we'll have too many beers and hug it out. For now, the landscape is the case."

She felt Thomas' stare drilling holes through her head. Metaphorically, not literally in his case. And damn, days like this, she missed Scott Summers. She wished she'd touched him even for a second so she could tap into his calm logic when she had her rage-bitch on.

"Fine." Thomas sighed. "So, are you getting anywhere?"

"Actually, I think so." Keeping one eye on the camera viewfinder, Marie tapped a picture from one of the many dated folder on their laptop. She scrolled through half the images before bringing one up to full size. "Second guy on the right with the cigarette in his hand. He looks like he's coming out the back or side door to the building. I'm pretty sure he was at the party that got busted up last week."

"What was he doing?"


Thomas whistled. "One of those creepers."

"It wasn't even that. He wasn't getting off on it; at least not that I could tell. He was... shopping."

"Come again? Looking to see who he should get for the night you mean?"

"Kind of. Shopping like you're looking for a car or scouting for a football team," said Marie. "Like it was serious business. The sex going on was just someone else taking his possible purchase out for a test drive."

"That's even more creepy than getting off on watching."

"Yeah, I thought so, too.

The thing about stake-outs, Marie discovered soon after graduating from the academy six years ago, was the sheer, mind-blowing boredom of it all. It was the type of boredom that led to mistakes even with the invention of the video camera which was why it wasn't until Marie reviewed the morning's clips that she came across the mysterious man at the party again. That was the second sighting at this particular address. He was hanging around the side-entrance again, loose-limbed as he smoked. In fact, Marie had never seen anyone use the building's front door. That was weird.

She shared her suspicion with Thomas. "Sounds like a good reason to ask for the audio surveillance equipment," he said.

"Please, oh, please let us play with the tech toys. We promise not to hurt them."

Thomas grinned. "If we're lucky, it'll come with batteries."

"Such miracles aren't for people like us," said Marie.

"How much memory do you think we'll need before they give you the okay to approach?"

"We just need one good conversation. Judge Walter's on our side; she'll sign the warrant." Marie crossed her fingers as she spoke. Judge Jennifer Walters was mutant-friendly, true, but even she had to toe to fine line in terms of all the political webbing surrounding MacTac. This was the mayor's final year and next year's incumbents had been strangely quiet about the future of MacTac. While that might be an indication of the unit turning into "just another one of the guys," Marie preferred to be pragmatic about it all. She was a cog in the wheel. And right now, this cog needed to nail an asshole to the wall.

Liz' body shifted appropriately, wearing cheapest Dom gear a streetwalker could afford as well as Lebeau's purple handcuffs. Looking appropriately desperate, Marie knocked on the side-door of the brownstone. She danced in place, rubbing her arms, waiting for an answer. If she was wrong or if they didn't let her in, it was the end of her murder case. Sure, MacTac or Vice would close the place down but that still left the murderers on the loose and this time with an inkling that the cops were onto them. She had no intention of letting them get away with killing any more people.

"Who is it?" someone asked from behind the door.

"Um, I'm Liz? Pinhead sent me."


"Blue skin. Looks kind of like a monster from those eighties horror movies." She smiled for the peephole.

No sounds came from behind the door. The place must have had great sound insulation, much better than standard for a building this old. Even more evidence that this was the right house. The door opened and Marie jumped inside.

"Thanks. Cold as shit out there."

The bouncer looked like boulders glued together and magicked to life. Behind him stood the man she'd recognized from the stake out, the bland guy from the party. Well-groomed just like before, in slacks and a polo shirt, he'd fit right into the college crowd in Yale with brown hair in a business cut, and stubble-shadowed jaw. He rolled a cigarillo between his hands, his nails neatly cut but not professionally manicured.

"Pinhead sent you?" he asked.

Marie nodded.

He dismissed the bouncer who took his place on a stool by the door once again. Slowly, he walked a circle around Marie. She felt like a car on the showroom floor.

"He does know our clientele. What can you do?"

Marie shrugged. "This is it. Oh, my spikes kind of hurt."

"Other people?"

"Yeah. It gives them a zap. Like, um, those fugu sushi things."

He dipped his chin, watching her from under heavy eyebrows. "Where did you learn about fugu?"

"One of my customers told me. Hey, I know how to google things."

"And you have these spines all over your body?"


He circled her again. "If your spines could hurt our clients, why should we hire you? You could scare them away."

Marie cocked her hip to one side. "Honey, I am an expert at making it hurt so good. Try it for yourself; it's on the house this time."

"No, thank you."

Leaning forward, Marie reached out to drag her clawed finger down from his collar to his navel. "Aww, are you scared, honeybuns? Miz Liz likes her boys nice and sca--oww!"

He had taken her finger and bent it backwards. Any bit more pressure and he'd pop it out of joint. Marie knew how to get out of that hold but Liz wouldn't. She sank to her knees.

"No, thank you," repeated the man. He released her and then wiped his hand on his pants.

"Sorry," she said. She let her voice go into a bit of a whine. "It's just my thing, y'know? I'm just doing my thing. I promise I'll only do it for the johns from now on. And they'll like it! They like shit like that, y'know."

"Perhaps." He signalled to the boulder bouncer who whipped out his phone to send a text. "We'll try your game for two nights. If you make us enough money, I'll consider letting you stay."

"Thank you! You'll make a shitload, I promise."

Another bouncer, this one looking half-hippo, clomped down the stairs. "You called, boss?"

"Bring her up to Stefan," said the man who'd interviewed her. Marie realised she didn't have his name. "Tell him we might have someone for Room 6."

If crooks played good cop/bad cop, Stefan played good cop to a tee. He greeted Marie with a toothpaste commercial smile, hugging her with one hand, and offering a glass of wine with the other. She took it just to have something to hold.

"Pinhead's taste is amazing. Just last week, he brought Blitzen in. You remember her?"

Marie nodded.

"She's loving it here. Thinks it's great. You'll like it, too, baby." Wrapping his arm around her waist, he snapped his fingers at the hippo-bouncer. "Get rid of the bag. Don't worry about it. We're gonna give you everything you need."

"But my stuff's in there. My toys and... and my clothes and shit."

"What you think we don't got toys and clothes?" Stefan threw his head back and laughed. "Baby, we got stuff you ain't even tried yet. Let me give you the tour of The Genie."

"That what this place is called? I don't gotta wear belly-dancer shit all the time, do I?"

"No, no, that's just what we call the club. Genie, genes, mutant genes."

"Genejoes and genejills."


Following Stefan, Marie took in the layout, all possible exists, and made note of useful impromptu weapons. Heavy drapes covered every wall, hiding all the windows. Two hallways led out of the main room: one ending in a restroom door, and a longer one led up a darkened, narrow staircase. Where the front entrance should have been was an elaborate bar.

"As you can see, there's not much of a kitchen," said Stefan. "You girls don't have to worry about that. We order out every night. The bar's more the thing." He pulled out a bottle from the top shelf. "Twenty year old single malt. Ever tried one?"

Marie shook her head. She hadn't but Logan had.

"I'll have to introduce you. We wanted a real open concept with the main floor. Kind of like a VIP lounge, small but decked out." Three cylindrical stages rose up from the floor in various heights with dancing poles embedded in their centres. Sequined cloth draped and rusched on the ceiling from the poles outward so the room resembled a tent. Coloured lights hung between the folds. Some of the cloth dropped down from the walls to create see-through screens between the couches and chairs in the periphery of the room. The tiny side tables were barely visible; this place wasn't for eating.

Stefan pulled her by the arm, gently but possessively, up the stairs. "Your room will be up here on the second floor. You'll get your own. Doesn't that sound nice?"

"I ain't ever had my own room," said Marie. They'd passed two doors on either side so far and she counted another six down the hall. The house wasn't that big. The rooms had to be the size of closets.

"It's small but it's all yours. We even dressed it up a bit for your particular talents. If you get good, you can move up to the third floor. Bigger rooms there." He opened the fourth door on the left.

Marie peered in. A large mirror covered one wall. Another, slimmer one was nailed to the ceiling above the bed. Classy. The bed itself was a full-sized mattress and boxspring directly on the floor. Two black-satin pillows lay on top of a black-satin sheet folded over what had to be more black satin. How the hell she was supposed to use that bed without sliding off was beyond her. The wall closest to the door held tools of Liz's trade-- riding crops, elastic whips, a couple thin canes, an impressive collection of handcuffs, gimp masks, ball gags, blindfolds, rubber paddles, even a wooden ruler.

"Jesus H Fucking Christ," she breathed.

"I take it you approve?" Stefan slid in closer. His hands spanned her waist and he rested his chin on her shoulder. "I would love to try some this out on you."

"The deal is I try it out on you," said Marie.

Suddenly, his grip tightened, squeezing her torso hard enough to make breathing difficult.

"Of-- of course, I'm willing to change the rules some for the man of the house," Marie said.

"Good. If the customers are willing to pay for a spanking instead of a fuck, that's their business. But me, I want this." He cupped her groin roughly enough for her to feel his fingernails. "I own this." His other hand squeezed her breast through her corset.

"F-fine. That's fine, Stefan." Marie hoped to God he was the kind who finished in under three minutes or else he was going to have the shittiest afterglow. On the other hand, absorbing his memories would make this case go a lot faster, warrant or no warrant.

"Good. Now strip and get on that--" Stefan's phone rang. "Blyad, not fucking now."

Marie started to strip anyway but he stopped her.

"I need to handle this but you start working tonight, got it? We'll have some customers in a couple hours. Get something to eat from the fridge. You'll need the energy." He stalked out the door, still muttering to his phone in Russian.

Marie fell back on the bed. Holy bipolar pimps, Batman! That had been close. She took her collar off and pushed out one of the spikes. The base unscrewed to reveal a transmitter. Seeing as how she was going to do most of her work close to the mirrors, she pressed the transmitter behind the mirror closest to the bed, leaving seven more transmitters to spread out. She definitely needed to put one near the bar and at least two in that skank's paradise they called a parlour. There had to be other rooms in this place for dirtier deeds than sex. If she drew on every lesson Lebeau crammed into her for three days, she might get Stefan to crack a bit.

No, she told herself, There's no might about it. You are going to make him crack.

She should have eaten a full meal before going undercover again. Switching between powers always made her hungry and she'd been going pretty hard at the surveillance using Logan's hyperkeen senses. The problem being, she switched back to Sauron's form with every footfall near her door. She felt like she'd just run ten miles. She could eat a roasted horse whole right about now.

Her room didn't have a clock and with Liz's phone dumped with the rest of her bags, Marie had no idea how much time had passed between knocking on the door and Stefan's exit. Her stomach told her it had to be at least three in the afternoon. She tried her door. To her surprise, it wasn't locked. When Stefan led her in, she'd noted the bar lock on the outside of the door. So, the doors locked from inside for the johns' privacy but the girls could also be locked in by anyone from the outside. A shiver went down Marie's back.

Break time over. Back undercover. She slid back into Liz's shape, wincing a bit at an overall soreness. Yet another reason to get this case wrapped up as neatly as possible. Marie stepped lightly down the hall. She couldn't hear anything from the other rooms. The interior walls were probably sound-proofed, too. This place wasn't just a stable, it was a long-term investment. How many years had it been around to gobble up mutants with nowhere else to turn? Worse, how many other murders had been committed before MacTac was around to give a damn?

She made it down the stairs and to the kitchen where have a dozen girls were hanging out. Eight more sat in the dance floor/lounge, already eating. By the smell, the night's fare was breakfast and marijuana. Marie's stomach yowled for stick-to-the-ribs omelettes. Her sinuses stung at the scent of pot. The other women gave her a cursory glance before deciding food and drugs were infinitely more interesting than the new girl on the block. Best not to shove herself in the herd. Groups always had a pecking order and new guys were always at the bottom of it. In a day or two, someone would approach her either to make friends or try to put her in her place.

"So, how's this work?" she asked the room in general. "I gotta put money in a jar or something?"

The closest woman jerked her chin at the bar. "Eat before it disappears."

"Okay." Marie had to admit that for a brothel, they had decent food. Even if wasn't haut cuisine, it was at least plentiful. Standing in attention at the far end of the bar were half a dozen boxes of cereal ranging from sugary kid fare to bran flakes. The rest of the bar was covered in at least two loaves' worth of toasted bread, two cartons of juice, a plastic gallon jug of milk, a bowl of scrambled eggs, and an industrial sized coffee maker. There was always a bunch of fruit; they were part of the entertainment.

The top tier prostitutes had plates and seats at the bar. They obviously had first pick of the food and the option to come back for seconds. They also claimed all the bacon served and all the bongs. The remaining sex workers spread around the main floor in an apparent approximation of the hierarchy. The farther away from the food and drugs, the lower on the ladder. According to the way the others closed ranks around the food on her approach, the only person lower on the totem pole than Marie was Blitzen.

If Blitzen had a longer tail, it would have been tucked between her legs. She approached the breakfast bar slowly, making way for the others first before daring to snatch a slice of toast from a heaping platter and a bunch of grapes hanging over the edge of a bowl. As she turned to leave, one of the male workers shoved her aside to get to the bar. Blitzen fell on her butt. One of her toasted slices dropped to the floor. Another girl stomped on it before Blitzen could retrieve it. Cowed, she scrabbled to a corner with her remaining loot before she lost any more.

Fine. If that how they were going to be. Marie squared her shoulders for her turn at breakfast. The others pulled tighter around the food. That was all right; Marie had already picked out the weakest brick in that wall, a leafy-haired waif that looked like Tinkerbell's sluttier cousin. Marie grabbed Leafgirl's shirt and pulled her away. She tripped back, squawking. Pretty funny for a tree-person. Before anyone could recover from the shock, Marie grabbed a box of cereal, an orange, and the milk jug.

"I will hit you with this," she said, hefting the jug over her head when the nearest people surged forward to take it from her.

"You can't take us all, bitch," said the guy who'd shoved Blitzen.

"Maybe not, but I'd fucking love beating as many of you as possible before I go down. Starting with you two." She pointed at him and Leafgirl.

They had the numbers but she had Logan's aura of badassery to augment her own. The second floor prostitutes backed away, muttering, looking to a blue-haired, pink-scaled woman for support. She sat at the head of the bar, closest to the coffee machine. Marie mentally labelled her Big Kahuna. Big Kahuna pushed her seat away from the bar to cross her arms.

"You've got some balls, bitch."

"Not that kind of mutie," said Marie. "Me and Blitz just want to eat."

The leaf-haired girl all but spat in her direction. "It ain't right is all, Stacey. She's in Zeb's room." She pointed at Blitzen.

Big Kahuna's name was Stacey? What a letdown.

One of the other girls smacked her on the arm. "Shut up. Y'know they don't like us talking about Zeb."

"Who's Zeb?" Marie dared to ask.

"Shut up."

Stacey ignored the side conversation. She stood, looming over Marie. Marie wasn't petite by any means so Stacey must have been at least five foot ten in those heeled slippers. "Know your place, bitch."

"Fuck off. We're all in the same place: on our fucking backs, sucking off closested mutaphiles so we can smoke the rest of the day away. Don't pretend you're any better just 'cause you kneel on designer carpets when you suck dick. A cunt is a cunt is a cunt."

Marie's head snapped to the right. She felt the slap half a second after the heard it. The warmth spread from her cheek down to her neck and up around her eye. So Stacey X was also pretty strong. Good to know. Marie licked her lip, tasting the penny-like flavour of her own blood. None of her teeth felt loose; she must have just split her lip.

"That was on me. Next time, I hit back," She turned her back on Stacey and started the countdown. Five, four, three...

Marie crouched as soon as she heard Stacey's roar. She left the food on the floor. Her left leg swung around and back, catching Stacey's ankle. As the other woman flailed her arms to regain her balance, Marie shot back up to her feet, grabbed Stacey's arm and twisted her body around so Stacey flew over her back in a perfect front flip. Marie rescued the milk jug before Stacey could fall on it. The cereal was a lost cause though. She took it away way, with the oranges, and sauntered to Blitzen's corner. So much for blending in.

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