Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The go-go joint was as I remembered it — foul and not for the faint-of-heart. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the usual open-air drug deals and negotiations for sex, and I started to relax. For the first time since crossing the Causeway — had that only been last night? — I felt like I had come home.
I glanced at Willard and Lauren and had to smile. Maybe it was the dim light inside Big Daddy's, but they both looked incredibly young and beautiful. Willard was the rail-thin kid I first met a lifetime ago, and Lauren ... I had to avert my gaze because suddenly my mind had wandered down certain paths where handcuffs are fun and friends do not tread.
Lauren sidled up a little closer and whispered in my ear: "It's all good, rondavis. I'm not offended. Now get your mind out of the gutter and look at that woman working the pole."
I did, and I did, and I gasped: the woman from the mask shop — the woman with planets in her hair — was writhing on stage, not 20 feet from where we stood. She looked a little different — she was wearing some godawful bleach-blonde wig and had put on more than a few pounds since our last encounter — but it was her.
Willard looked at his watch, showed me the face. Six-twenty. We had exactly 13 minutes to separate the stripper from the pole and get her back to our hotel room. This sounded like a job for Adam. Unfortunately, he was all tied up.
"We are not going to make it," Willard intoned. "In advance of the mayhem that is about to ensue, I offer my sincere apologies and regrets."
"We've got time," I protested. "The sun doesn't set until — "
"We are out of time because we are not in any time you would know," Willard said. "Look around, Ron, and tell me what you see."
BIG DADDY'S throbbed with life, as always — but Willard was right. Nothing was quite in focus; the lens of the world seemed covered with a layer of petroleum jelly. It was hard to make out the feathered hair and ... feathered?
I looked at Lauren again. At Willard. At the patrons ogling the woman on stage.
"If you looked at yourself," Willard said, "you would see a man with more hair and fewer lines. You would see a man who has not yet seen 40, and we are standing in a club that has been closed since 2008. This is the quandary we face, dear friend." He pointed to a hallway just behind the main stage. "And now we are four."
Adam's eyes glinted as he scampered to the stage. He saw us and tipped us a wink.
Lauren punched me on the arm. "I thought he was cuffed!"
"He was," Willard said. "But Ron has forgotten that the handcuffs are a novelty item, the kind sold in sex shops and gag stores. They are easy to slip — no key needed, as Adam quickly figured out." He pointed to the stage. "And now — "
We saw everything, even though it took less than a minute.
THE DANCER didn't notice Adam until he hopped on stage with a dollar in his clawed hand.
"Well, hello there!" Adam said. "Fancy meeting you in such a fine establishment, m'lady."
Two bouncers made their way to the stage.
"Be gone, evil one," the mask-shop woman shouted. "I command you to return to — "
"Now I'm sorry, sweetie, but that whole 'be gone' bullshit ain't gonna work with the Hoop," Adam said, flashing his best wolf smile. "Besides, all I'm asking for is a lap dance and a little drink. And we can skip the lap dance."
One bouncer tried to lay a hand on Adam's shoulder. The other tried to grab his legs. Adam whirled around and clipped them with an index finger. Both of them fell to the ground, eyes wide open and staring at nothing.
"Hey hey, everybody!" he exclaimed.
The dancer jumped off the stage and ran smack into Willard and Lauren.
"Where do you think you're going, you slut?" Lauren had clearly had enough of this shit. "All I wanted was a sweet trip for my birthday. Why'd you have to go and fuck it all up, you Hillbilly Ho?" She backhanded the dancer, sending her spinning straight back into Adam's arms.
"We meet again!" he said with a smile. "Now, about that drink ... "
He dropped his face onto her long neck.
"DID YOU SEE THE LOOK ON HER FACE?" Adam howled as we walked out of the club and back into the present. Behind us the building folded in on itself with an audible sigh, and the neon lights winked out. "I don't think she thought I was gonna do it! Hot damn, but that was fun!"
Lauren stopped him with a stern look. "Fun? FUN? You think I'm having fun right now? Oh, sure, this is exactly what I wanted to do in New Orleans. I'm having the best time watching you go all Teen Wolf. I can think of nothing else I'd rather do than schlep around this stinking hellhole, watching you boys be stupid. This is not the way the girl rolls. I deserve to be treated better. I mean — " and here she struck The Pose — "do I look like some troll to you?"
Adam, Willard and I shook our heads. "Of course not," I said.
"Then get with the program or get lost," she said. "And get moving while you're at it, because here comes trouble."
Behind us, two police officers, a man and a woman. He looked mean. She looked thin again. Her grey eyes glittered with amusement.
"Hello, my four friends," she said.