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Alice Fisher from Parallel Lines by Steven Savile

Alice Fisher wants out of her life. She’s had as much as she can take.

Alice Fisher was one of Archer’s girls.Parallel Lines_high res.jpg

She loathed that label. She wasn’t a girl. She was a woman. It was condescending. She wasn’t the prettiest, but she had never cared about that. She wasn’t blessed with a doll’s face or any of those other impossibly perfect Photoshop features the world delighted in telling women they needed if they wanted to find love. What she had was a dancer’s definition. Even now, eight months since she’d last danced, her abdominals, lats, quads, biceps and triceps, glutes and hamstrings carved out an impressive terrain beneath her skin. Some of Archer’s clients would pay good money for muscle. A lot of what the big man did was trade in fetishes. It wasn’t about being beautiful, it was about ticking certain boxes.

Alice hated herself, but she hated Samuel Archer more. That didn’t alter the fact that when he whistled she came running.

She saw Archer crossing the gaming floor like a shark in shallow waters, predatory, powerful and fully aware of both. He moved with an arrogance born of his brawler’s physique. The pearl buttons of his crisp white shirt strained across his barrel chest, offering the occasional glimpse of the black skin beneath as he moved. He’d rolled his sleeves up and carried his jacket folded over his left arm. He flexed the fingers of his right hand, making a fist then relaxing it only to make it again. A vein pulsed in his temple to the same rhythm.

“Come see me when your shift’s over,” Archer said as she dealt a fresh hand for the only person at the table. “I’ve got a little extra gig for you tonight.”

“Will do, Samuel,” she said, the implications of those few simple words leaving her feeling sick.

“Hit me,” the player said, tapping the edge of his cards on the green baize. Alice flipped a card towards him. The whip-crack sound of it leaving the deck was lost in another payout from the slots behind them. The card landed face up. A seven. “Stick.”

“Dealer takes one,” she said without missing a beat. She turned the card face up. A six. Eighteen total. “Dealer pays nineteen.”

The player turned his remaining two cards over: Queen of Hearts and Three of Clubs.

“Player wins,” Alice said, sweeping the cards off the table.

She turned over another forty-seven hands before her shift ended. The house won thirty-five of them, more than breaking even. The job had a ritualistic nature, the repetition of the same actions over and over, the exchange of tokens in offering and the fervent wishes of the players worshiping at her green baize altar. She wasn’t sure if that made her a priestess or a sacrifice.

Her replacement brought her own decks and chips to the table. There were three players now, all men, all losers, both financially and in life. Alice left them with a smile and a “Bon courage,” each one as fake as the other.

She went through to the staff quarters to change out of her uniform. She had a change of clothes in her locker—a sweatshirt, ripped jeans and a pair of white leather pumps. As she put her right leg into the empty leg of her jeans Archer appeared in the doorway with a little black dress slung over one arm. “Put this on,” he said. No pleasantries.

She did as she was told. She wasn’t stupid. If Samuel Archer told you to do something, you did it. That was just one of the irrefutable laws of her universe.

He watched her undress. There was nothing lascivious about his scrutiny. And yet it left her feeling like a piece of meat. He made her skin crawl.

“Nice dress, but I can hardly wear these with it.” She held up her battered white pumps. Archer produced a box with a brand new pair of sling-backs in her size. He had all the answers. He always had all the answers.

She stepped into the sling-backs. They chaffed a little around the heel but she wasn’t about to complain. She’d seen what Archer did to girls who complained.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Good to go,” she replied.

Alice could still hear all of the noise and chatter from the gaming floor as he led her down the gangplank back onto dry land. A black Escalade with blacker windows waited for them on the shore.

“What’s the job?” she asked as Archer opened the rear passenger side door.

“You’ll find out when you get there,” he said, which was enough to tell her that it was the kind of job she really didn’t want on her résumé. He closed the door on her.

They didn’t speak during the forty-mile journey back into the city. Archer wasn’t a chitchat kind of guy. Alice watched the world go by outside her window.

The roads were deserted this early in the morning. The streetlights gave Chicago an otherworldly glow. It would be a few hours before the moon gave up the city to the light, so for now it was a warren of shadows and dark places that came together to offer a distinctly apocalyptic feel only broken by the sight of sanitation workers doing their best to make the place look respectable come morning. The city is a different kind of monster at night, she thought. That was when it showed its dark side both literally and metaphorically. In her experience the worst things always happened under the cover of darkness, as if the perpetrators couldn’t bear to be seen when they released their inner monsters.

She hated the night.

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