The last drawings, Ray realized, were of him.
There were sketches of his naked body laying supine. She must have done these at night, Ray thought. He looked close and said to himself, "Oh, that's an exaggeration. No way it's THAT big."
Ray flipped back through the pages, desperate to find something to track Brooke with, and stopped suddenly at a drawing of a building. It was faint, but there was an address penciled in the margin... and a phone number.
He had found a place to start.
Half a country away, Brooke was led through an alley to a metal door topped with a security camera by a big man in an ill fitted suit. The door clicked open and she was roughly shoved inside.
"Ouch! Stone, that hurts!" complained Brooke as she shook her arm from the big man's grip. He shoved her forward again, down a hallway lined with beer kegs and small open doorways. These were the 'Champaign Suites' as her old boss termed them. Most were occupied by a single nude woman entertaining one or more guys. Brooke glanced in one and saw her friend Jane between the legs of a client delivering the 'Businessman's Special.'
After Stone snatched her in Portland, he and another guy drove straight through to Cooch's, with the girl bound and sedated in the back seat. Brooke remembered none of it, but had been scolded for peeing all over the upholstery somewhere in Kansas. Her jeans still felt damp in the crotch and she smelled like piss.
At the end of the hallway, Brooke was pushed roughly past the ornately carved wooden door and into Tony Cucina's office. She felt the bile rise in her when she saw him. He didn't look anything like the nicknames he preferred to go by; 'Cooch,' 'the Fat Man,' or 'The Kitchen.'
No, Tony looked like the chubby, red headed kid from the affluent suburbs that he really was. His adopted persona was intended to command authority, but that melted away as soon as you met him.
Brooke knew he was much, much worse.
Underneath that freckle-faced facade was a cold, petulant and deadly psychopath.
She stood shivering and disheveled in front of Tony's oversized desk.
"Hello, Brooke!" said Tony. He ignored her lack of response and continued, "You knew the rules. Nobody leaves me. We have a contract, and I want you honor it."
"We DON'T have contract, Tony!" Brooke spat.
Tony looked offended. "Of course we do. It's a verbal agreement. I got you out of the gutter and you promised to dance for me."
"That's OVER, Tony!" shouted Brooke. "I don't perform for you any more!"
Tony looked at Brooke hard, and said, "Here's the deal, Brooke. I've decided to renew our contract. You will continue to dance for the club -or- we'll track down this boyfriend of yours and..." He slashed dramatically across his throat with his hand flat, like they used to do in late-night gangster movies.
"You bastard!" shouted Brooke, red-faced. She lunged across the desk but Stone grabbed her arm and pulled her back. Soon she slumped, realizing she was defeated. The only way she could protect Ray is to do what Tony wanted. She would dance for the club, and never see Ray again.
Tony pushed a button on his desk, and stood. He walked around and faced Brooke just out of arms reach, and said, "I want my headliner back. You'll be the draw for Thursday night. Let's make some money!" He slapped the desk to punctuate his statement.
The office door swung open and a topless woman with the stylized club logo tattooed high on her right tit entered the room. Addressing the woman, Tony said, "Take Brooke back down to the bullpen, and get her cleaned up."
As they left the room, Brooke heard Tony laughing like a maniac with that nasally, squeaking voice, and a wave of nausea passed through her.
"Cooch's," answered the voice on the phone.
"I'm sorry, who is this?" asked Ray.
"Cooch's Show Place," said the obviously irritated man on the line.
"Uh, I would like to speak with Brooke, please?"
"Brooke?" said the man "She's not here."
"Well, uh," stammered Ray, not sure what to say.
"Listen, buddy, Brooke will be here on Thursday. Bring your cash and you can see her then." said the man on the phone as he ended the call.
Ray's face burned and he hung up the hotel phone. There it was. Brooke was going back to stripping. He knew she would not leave him voluntarily. The number had an Illinois exchange. He could find the place. He could be there by Thursday, but how would he get her back?
Ray took out his wallet, pulled out a worn business card and turned it over in his fingers.
He picked up the phone and dialed.
"Yeah," said Toad, "I made some calls. Tony Cucina is a fucker, a real son-of-a-bitch. He calls himself 'Tony Kitchen' or 'the Cooch.' He bills his club as 'high end' and his girls as 'top-shelf'-- but the word is none of those chicks are there voluntarily."
Ray absorbed what his biker friend had found out with horror. Brooke was ensnared in some sort of sex trafficking ring. "I've got to get her out of there," said Ray.
"Whoa, wait a minute, brother." said Toad. "This guy is a criminal, and every one of those girls is a witness or a victim. You won't stand a chance alone. You might wind up dead."
"How did he find us?" said Ray. "I rarely use my cell phone and we've been traveling back roads and obscure places. Brooke doesn't carry a phone...."
Toad said, "Ray, the man has eyes around the country. If he offered enough cash, anyone can be found."
Ray recalled their stop at that strip club in Nebraska. "Maybe that's where they picked us up," he said to himself.
Toad continued, "Oh, and that car of yours stands out. Easy to follow."
"So, what,...what do I do?" asked Ray.
The biker was quiet for a moment and then said, "Meet me in St. Louis."
Cooch's Show Place was in Washington Park, across the river in a dilapidated neighborhood. The metal-sided building sparkled in bright lights and had a sturdy iron fence that completely surrounded the parking lot. It truly looked out of place, but, for an over-paid, under-sexed yuppie from the west St. Louis suburbs, it offered a perfectly respectable and safe entertainment venue.
"Hello, I am Melonie" said the buxom woman at the door.
Ray said, "Yes, I can see that," as his head swung back and forth involuntarily for a few beats.
Toad nudged him in the ribs.
"Oh, yeah." said Ray who put on his best Cagney imitation to say, "Well see, sister, we're here meet to the big man, see? Tell Tony, we got a business proposition for him,... see?"
Ray looked back at Toad who whispered, 'What the fuck was that?' Ray shrugged, turned around and started to ask again, but the girl was conferring with a monster of a guy in a pin-striped suit with a maroon shirt.
He stared hard at Ray and Toad for half a minute before gesturing to follow him-- through a petting zoo of recumbent lonely men and naked women in high heels willing to trade a few seconds of intimacy for cold hard cash. The big man knocked twice at a door at the back of the show room and entered with his entourage in tow.
Tony didn't look like a 'Tony' to Ray. He had red hair and freckles. Seemed to be about thirty-five, five foot five, and pleasantly chubby. He sat behind an enormous mahogany desk in a massive tufted leather chair that made him look all the smaller. There was a plastic Thompson sub-machine gun laying flat on the desk with its business end pointed strategically at the two chairs in front of the desk.
As Ray and Toad sat in those chairs, the big man whispered in Tony's ear, and then stepped aside.
"So, what's the business proposition?" asked Tony. His voice was squeaky, like a kid fresh from his Bar Mitzvah.
"Mr. Cooch," said Ray, "We understand you have a girl here named Brooke McHenry. She was taken from me in Portland, and brought here. I would like her back, please."
Tony flushed, glanced at his body guard and spoke evenly, "Let me be clear. This chick is property of Cooch's. We, uh, have a binding talent contract. She is not permitted to leave."
Ray said, "Yes we assumed that, and we'd like to buy out her contract." He clicked the latches on a brief case they had picked up in a thrift store.
"Fuck you!" Tony interrupted. "Who the fuck are you to come in here and demand I release Brooke to you? That ain't gonna happen. Stone, throw these clowns out!"
The big man made a slight move forward, but Toad stood and held up his hands with a 'halt' motion, and said very quietly, "The man has a legitimate beef and a business offer to make. I suggest you hear him out."
Apparently, Toad was every bit as impressive as 'Stone' because Tony shrunk a little more into his big chair and his bodyguard stepped back.
After a few moments Ray pulled a paper out of his case and continued, "This is the title to a vintage, restored 1972 Plymouth Duster. It is all I own. You can have it, if you release Brooke from her...uh...contract."
Enraged, Tony yelled, "I don't want your piece-of-shit car! That girl is my money-maker. She stays! Now, get the fuck out of here!" He slammed down his tiny fist as a mist of spit settled on his desk.
Stone moved forward, but Toad held up his hand again to pause the body guard. Toad placed two hands on the desk and leaned over. He said, "Look, man. Here is the second half of the story."
Suddenly alarmed by the presence of the big biker, Tony sat silent and pushed himself further into the chair.
Toad looked over at Ray and then back at Tony, and said, "Ray made a very generous offer that you refused. We understand your position, but we REALLY like Brooke, and so I think we'll just have to keep coming back here. My friends and I will be your most regular customers."
Smelling victory, Tony offered, "Well, that's fine. You can see her anytime she's on stage. Remember, there is a two drink minimum.... which we could wave, of course."
Toad looked at Tony steadily and said, "You don't understand. Take a look at your parking lot."
Tony turned to a small monitor and keyboard on his credenza, and pressed some keys. With Stone looking over his shoulder, Tony gasped when he saw dozens of motorcycles circling his lot. A recent model Toyota filled with college kids eased through the crowd and slowed near the entrance, but sped away at the sight of bikers swilling beer by the front entrance.
Tony's forehead glistened with sweat and he stammered, "These... these are your friends?"
Toad nodded and said, "The El Proscritos have just adopted Cooch's Show Club. "
"I don't understand," said Brooke.
Ray nibbled her ear, and said, "Tony was afraid regular high ticket clients would avoid his club..." He paused to kiss her neck and continued, "... if it was a biker hangout."
Brooke tousled Ray's hair as he kissed her breast. She shivered as he sucked on one of her nipples, and said, "But, biker money spends too, right?"
Ray nuzzled under her tits with his nose "Bikers can be very disciplined with their drinking when a club is charging too much for hard liquor," he said.
Brooke giggled as Ray's three-day-growth beard tickled her navel. "Ah, poor Tony, that little dirt bag,... he thought his club was going bye-bye," she said sarcastically and then sighed, realizing she was free from him at last.
Ray was nibbling the inside of Brooke's thigh, when he suddenly stopped and looked up. "Hey," he said, "I saw those drawings you did. They were really good!"
Brooke was holding Ray's head with both hands, willing him to pay attention and move on to her labia. Frustrated, she answered, "Yeah, thanks," as she impatiently scooted out from under Ray. She set herself up on the bed, on her hands and knees with her butt turned up.
Ray asked, "I have to ask about the sketches you did of me. Is it really that big?"
Brooke grinned over her shoulder, wiggled her ass at Ray and said, "Oh yeah."