Foxhunt: The Sparrow

(A JP between Winters and Wandering Wolf)

It was a normal night for Tosh same shit, different day. Women pinching his ass, men giving him the side eye and the endless order of drinks. He dropped off the next order when something gave him pause. At first, he didn’t know what but it was like someone was forcing his head to turn.

There! On the bar counter in the distance! Toxx hadn’t noticed yet but the din of the club started to fade back.

There was a BIRD on the counter, the kind he only saw in pictures. It wasn’t big but it strange looking. White with speckled brown on his wings and back, long, thin beak. It stood there elegantly staring at him. It pecked the counter three times, the sound was so loud it made Tosh jump. It was like someone knocking on a grand door!

The bird chirped. Can you hear me? I can help you.” the bird spoke its voice was crackled and distant like a bad radio station.

Toxx rubbed his eyes with his free hand, the other cradling a cybodraught for a customer and come to think of it he couldn’t remember who to give it to because this bird here, standing on the counter was the only thing in the world--Saul chimed it, hold on their, bud, I’m picking up an anomaly, yeah, I know, I thought you put it there, Toxx chided back--I’m trying to work I can’t have bullshit like this going off in my head, bring the lights back up now, Saul returned with, that’s not me, in fact I find a seventy-three percent probability that someone is doing this to us--doing this to us!? Saul said, tell the bird to go away, quickly, you’re done your shift for today--but the boss didn’t say, I don’t care, interrupted Saul, just tell the bird to go fuck itself

“Go away,” Toxx said, timidly, with a wide arc of his arm to shoo it, he’d never seen a bird let alone one up close and the eyes stood out like brilliant black holes sucking him in--Not like that, you’ve got to tell it in here, like you’re talking to me--shit, the bird can read my mind? Okay fine, Go the fuck away, bird, I don’t have time for this shit did that work? The lights were flickering around him in the Flesh Pit, yes, you did great, now leave--Toxx served up the cybodraught to whoever he was standing next to; this job had been open to anyone who could carry things and had a pulse and he was trying to care less whether he would get enough money to eat, Saul had always looked out for him, after all, and Toxx headed toward the back door at a jog

“TOXX! HEY!” One of the waiters called out as Toxx opened the back door. “You okay mate?” The waiter asked. “It’s going to be happy hour soon and Rowen wants you in VIP in 10.” The waiter said hoping the good news would help.

“Rowen wants me? You sure?” he’d heard all kinds of things about Rowen, and to see her here in VIP 10 would be like the myth becoming reality; Toxx, you don’t have time for this, someone is coming and it’s not going to be pretty, Saul’s tone was biting, I gotta keep this job--it’s this or back to the skin business and I’d sooner gas that whole place than go back, stock still Toxx had been buried in his own internal dialog, but he dug out and sidled up to the waiter, “Why me?” he was a nobody, a forgotten orphan stuck in the Hive’s clutches from infancy to adulthood, it was all he’d ever know and the skin business stole his childhood, stole his reality

“Something about a guy you help last week? Turns out he some son of a CEO … why the fuck does it matter they tip in CREDITS?!” The waiter threw his hands up. “If you don't want it I'll take it … I don't mind making a week's wages in one night for half the work.” He offered with a tint of hope.

“Shit no, man, I need that money, I’ll be there in ten,” Saul was bristling, like fight or flight or some shit, “Just give me a minute I’ll be right back,” he couldn’t shake seeing the bird talking to him, with a sideways glance he looked for it on the counter but it was gone, Saul was probably freaking out for no reason, and as he made his way back to the kitchens he made a B-line for the bathroom, suddenly he felt the need to freshen up, like he used to for his Johns and Janes and he was washing his face with cold water when Saul wrestled his way back in through the mirror; there were all kinds of numbers floating there, complex calculations for the myriad ways that flowed down in a chart to a huge word circled and underlined: DEATH, I’m not playing around here, Tosh, if you don’t leave you will die, we will die--”But think of the cash, and in Creds! Saul, we can actually rent a place instead of sleeping out back,” Toxx was speaking to his reflection in the mirror and suddenly it was filled with dollar signs and math that lead up to the words: DOLLA BILLS in all caps, “You’re just paranoid,” he said again aloud, and when he was finally finished in the back Toxx emerged from the kitchens by the bar to watch for this Rowen, so he could be there with a drink in hand, “Hey, when Rowen comes by, what’s her drink?” he asked the bartender with big eyes, nonchalantly leaning against the bar

The bartender laughed. “Oh, baby doll that's not how it works. Let's mama bear give to the DL … VIP … means you are there to impress and make Rowen look good. Rowen has her own girl to serve her … you get assigned to a VIP and you basically get whatever they want at a trot.” The bartender explained. “Top bitch in VIP is Red … unless someone's bleeding don't bother her. Chi-Chi though is nice as they come she's always happy to help so you run into a problem you run to her. Oh and most importantly … don't speak to Rowen unless she directly asks you a question. Seriously baby doll. Other than that smile and let the credits roll.” The bartender advised. “Here comes Red smiled n’ nod …” The bartender waved as a girl with flaming red hair approached.

“Have this billed to room 3, Amy will be down shortly for pick up. Where that guy .. Tock? The one Mr. Satori requested” She said nearly rolling her eyes.

Toxx nodded along as the tender said how it is, social hierarchy like this was just like in the skin, he trained his flashiest smile on Red when she approached, and with a wave, “Toxx,” he eyed the ‘top bitch’ sizing her up and she had all the right curves to attract just enough attention, though he sorta wished he’d met Chi-Chi first--he’d been a piece of meat enough to know how to judge what the heart wants, and that eye roll already had him setting his jaw; Saul was showing him all her social media posts in rapid succession, floating beside her face framed by that fiery red hair

“Oh.” Red said giving Toxx a look up and down. “Right. Follow me.” She said walking briskly. The girl was dressed from top to bottom in black, from her fitted blouse to her pencil skirt, Accented by her glittering red bow tie. “VIP agents have lockers upstairs since we have standards and your new so a uniform in being provided. If you don’t fuck up Rowen might keep you on so if you don’t have all black formal wear you can rent one from us. No sex. No video, No recording and no talking to the VIPs. Your a ghost and whatever they want should magically appear.” Red explained not even looking back to check of Toxx was keeping up at she they made their way to the locker room. “Chi-Chi will be by in sec to show you the ropes … you're at locker C go change.” She said holding the door to the locker room open for him.

Passing through, Toxx found a black, short-sleeved button-down shirt, identical red bowtie to Red’s, and pair of black slacks and shiny black shoes in the locker labeled ‘C’ and he was lifting up his shirt when he looked back to see if Red was watching, it was always important to see who was watching, and then the rest came off as well with remarkable swiftness--in a moment, uniform donned, Toxx was at the mirror again smoothing his hair, making sure his waves were perfect before he met the next link in the chain to get him paid: Chi-Chi, but Saul was conspicuously absent, no pithy remarks or even foreboding of doom, all was silent and it was almost eerie, but he pushed that to the back and made sure he was primped enough to appear next to Rowan, but completely invisible (it was a delicate balance, and boy did shining and up-staging come easy)

Red had left the second he passed through the door. She wasn’t a babysitter and she had bigger fish to fry.

Tosh was mid primping when he heard a knock at the door before a petite girl entered. “Heeeeeey! You the new guy?” She said brightly. Chi-Chi wasn’t so much sexy as she was cute, her hair was dyed a metallic purple and done up in an impossibly neat bun with an artfully curled strand to frame on side of her face. Even her makeup screamed adorable splashed with glitter and sparkle one might think Tinker Bell smacked her dead in the face! Lastly was the gold filagree makeup on the one side of her face.

“I’m Chi-Chi!” She said flashing a smile and holding out her hand.

From the reflection in the mirror Toxx saw Chi-Chi come in and introduce herself and my wasn’t she cute, girl, he would have said, they’d eat you up where I come from, you’d be booked every day of the week, and that’s not a good thing, but what he said instead was, “Toxx, so I was told you can show me how not to make a shit-show of myself, that true?” he was still smoothing his waves in the mirror while talking to her in the reflection, but he turned now to shake her hand and man that hair was on fleek, he found himself looking her up and down, but in an entirely different way than he’d sized up Red, “So I’ve got the basics: don’t talk, don’t record, don’t have sex--be in their heads--any other words of wisdom?” the black button down was snug around his shoulders and biceps, and the slacks were reining him in tightly, but he liked being on display and gave himself a once over in the mirror from behind

“Breathe.” She advised. “So this is your tablet, you place orders and requests through … “ Chi-Chi passed to him what looked like a paper sized piece of plastic, the logo of the Flesh Pit danced across the screen. “ … this is your earpiece. I’ll be on channel two to walk you through anything you need.” Chi-Chi assured him. “Just a heads up, Rowen tends to roam about sometimes but don’t think she isn’t watching. She is always watching. Oh never worry about the cost of what the client wants, believe me, they have creds to burn. It can be a bit intimidating but these guys come here for the white glove service. Money is not an object to the folk in the VIP.” She explained.

“The one you’ll be working with is Mr. Satori. He is the grandson of a major CEO he’s s party boy so taking care of him is a great way to get your feet wet. He’s also a regular. Since he asked for you special he is paying extra. Do good, make him happy and Rowen might ask you to come up here full time! You look like you have a good head your shoulders so I think you’ll do just fine.” Chi-Chi chattered in seemingly one breath. “This the big leagues. Seriously any question just ask! I’m here to help.” She said straightening his bow tie. “Need any makeup? You can borrow some of mine? You would look so dashing with some gold eyeliner!” She cooed.

“Do your worst,” he said, feathering his hands in front of his face, the tablet was light and thin in his hand, it felt like money, in moments he had ascended from slinging drinks to servicing the highest clientele the Hive had to bear, the earbud in, he relented from commenting on how he had enough voices in his head; speaking of, Saul was awfully quiet, are you there, where’d you go? distinct and restless silence back told him Saul was busy, then he tore back in, I’m trying to save your ass--whaddya mean? Shut up, Toxx, I have to repeat this sequence exactly and your chatter is distracting, fine, fighting with Saul caused an itch to crawl up his spine; after Chi-Chi finished applying the eyeliner Toxx tilted in the mirror to see the gleam, “you’re a bad bad actor, miss Chi-Chi, we’re going to get along prime,” those pearly whites flashed

Chi-Chi squealed her approval. “Alright follow me! Let's get you working!”

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