Veronica smiled. "Yeah, why not? Can't a women's shelter be in Jack's side of town? Is this area too good for those poor battered women and lady ex-cons?"
"No, not at all. I just never thought there was such a place here, I haven't noticed any place like that either. I guess that's part of the strategy, though, for a women's shelter; to not stand out and be less conspicuous in case some asshole is looking to punch-out his girlfriend again. I'm also glad it's a shelter for women and not male ex-cons or crazy people. So, why did you leave the shelter and come here?"
"I never went to the shelter. I mean, I took the bus to the shelter, but when they dropped me off outside of it, I asked the driver where I could buy some cigarettes so I could smoke before I went inside. He pointed to a 7-11 across the street, so I went inside and waited for him to drive off. He did, and then I left the 7-11 and just started walking away. (I don't smoke, by the way)" She mentioned in a short break from her narrative. "I did that because I'm not the only woman who was in jail who knew Dante. The county jail is a lot more controlled than a state or federal jail, so while I was in jail I was pretty much safe from any chance of Dante retaliating against me, but once I was out, it was a different story; if I'd stayed at that shelter, one of those bitches would have gotten word back to him that I was out and was staying there. I needed to go somewhere totally unconnected to that world, somewhere no one I knew would see me or know I was there. This condo tower seemed as far from that world as I could get."
"What about the clothes you wore when you got out?"
She laughed quietly, sheepishly. "Those things stank! Really, they didn't wash them at the jail after the cop arrested me, and I hadn't washed them for two days before I was arrested, so they were nine months of stink when I put them back on. Good for me that they were jeans, running shoes and a jacket, so they looked working class enough that no one in this building was suspicious of a dark-skinned black woman, dressed as I was, moving boxes. And as for the other movers, there were at least three different crews unloading all the boxes from those three trucks; no one really knew who most of the movers were. After I got into your condo, I waited a whole day in your pantry,"
"You mean, 'food closet'?" Jack asked her wryly.
"Hey, I knew people in the neighborhood where I grew up who called it that." She said, smiling and half-heartedly landing a soft punch against his shoulder. "Anyway, I waited all day in your pantry, so afraid you would find me, until I was sure you were in bed. When I felt confident you were asleep, I quietly opened the pantry door and crawled under the main section of the sofa and slept there on the floor. You have a hard, cold tile floor, by the way... It was a miserable night, I was so worried you would see me, or smell me, but you're not much of a tv-on-the-couch kind of guy in the morning, so after you woke-up, worked out, showered and left, I crawled out from under the couch, used the bathroom, took a shower, and tried to understand how to use your washer and dryer. I thought I had it figured out, but you only had one more detergent pod left, and I guessed you would know if I used it... So, I buried my clothes at the bottom of your kitchen garbage can, and put on one of your tee shirts and a pair of your boxers. Each afternoon, I would get back under the sofa or into one of your bedroom closets for the night. Each morning after you left, I changed to a new pair of boxers and a new tee shirt. As I changed each day, I thought you wouldn't notice as I put the dirty clothes in your hamper."
"It worked, I didn't notice. It wasn't until I saw your hair on my soap and the closet door moving that I knew you, well, not you, but someone, was in here."
She raised one eyebrow and extended her hand in a 'What can you do?' gesture.
"Back to the clubs on the Northeast side, how many does he have, and what are their names?"
"He's got four: Baby Doll's, Poison, Pirate's Cove and Desperado's." She said. "All four of them are in the same area of town, and even run specials to compete against each other."
"Like what?" He asked.
"Baby Doll's always had extended happy hour, three-for-one shots, and no minimum drinks, you know, an alcohol focus, because we were closest to the university." The mention of the university made something click in the back of Jack's mind, but he ignored it for the moment. "Poison and Desperado's both have full size kitchens, so they have prime rib and barbecue ribs on Fridays during happy hour for half price."
"Barbecue ribs at a strip club?" Jack asked, wrinkling his eyes and frowning as he thought of men with barbecue sauce on their fingers pawing at dancers...
"Not all guys want private dances; some of them, especially at lunch time, would just come in, eat, and watch the girls dance." She told him.
"And Pirate's Cove?"
Veronica smiled. "They have the best talent, the youngest women, mostly white women, and their DJ plays the best mixes, so they have the most black clients. Though I never saw a shortage of black guys at Baby Doll's, just that most of the white guys there were young, university students, or at least they looked like they were, and they usually came on Fridays and Saturdays."
"Where does Dante spend most of his time?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, but he was always at Baby Doll's on Wednesday nights, in that office, with money all over his desk."
"Okay. Did you ever hear that he visited the other clubs, too?"
"Yeah, sometimes we'd get customers or girls from the other clubs, especially Pirate's Cove; When the girls got too old or fat to dance there anymore, they'd either leave the business or move down to some of the other clubs. They'd talk a lot of shit, but they'd also mention that Dante would frequently show up there, too. He always had a girl or two at each place, at least one or two, whom he fucked or had suck his dick whenever he stopped by."
"'Whom he fucked'? There's that giveaway again..." He gently chided her.
She smiled and rolled her eyes in response, believing he was being playful, and he confirmed her belief when he chuckled at her reaction.
"How does he deal out of the clubs?" Jack asked.
"Easy. We dealt his drugs for him."
Deciding he had enough information by now to ascertain Veronica was finally leveling with him, that he was now seeing who she really was (and that he liked what he saw and knew of her), he chose to postpone his further questions about Dante's dealing and other aspects of his criminal operation(s) to attend to more basic matters. Jack stood up and once more offered the box of tissues to Veronica.
"Here, let's clean up, then I want you to come with me out to the living room."
She accepted the tissues and first she, then he, cleaned off the residue of their intense sex.
"I have this, too, if you're cold." He said, holding up a very pale white and fluffy looking robe. "It was my last girlfriend's, at least, I bought it for her, but she left it here. I washed it. You're welcome to wear it if you like." She nodded, smiling shyly, and accepted his help putting it on. It was warm, and very soft; she loved it. He admired her for a moment, and decided that she looked unbelievably beautiful. The starkly white color of the robe contrasted so strongly with and complimented so well the almost jet-black color of her smooth skin. "Ronnie, you look amazing." He marveled, and though she outwardly smiled politely at his compliment, internally she greatly appreciated it, offered as it was without a resulting demand for sex or an obvious attempt at manipulation. Even these exceedingly minor acts of humanity to Veronica seemed deeply chivalrous after the last nine months of depravity she'd had to navigate.
He turned from his closet to his dresser, and pulled out a pair of his institutional looking, cheap gray-white boxers and put them on, before they proceeded to his computer in his living room.
"First," he said, sitting down at his desk, in front of the large, floor to ceiling windows opening onto his balcony. He turned on his CPU tower and the large, 37 inch screen connected to it. "We're going to get your essentials, and some clothes. As much as I'd love for you to stay naked and on full display for me, you need clothes. So, pick out what you need and I'll get it, with..." He looked at his calendar app for a moment, estimating that ordering late Friday evening would leave the earliest delivery option as: "Sunday delivery."
She stood behind him and stared down at the back of his head, surprised. "You don't owe me anything more than you already agreed to, and we agreed you'd let me stay here in return for cooking, cleaning and sex-on-demand; why are you giving me more than that?" She asked him. Still a bit off center from the lack of having to pay a price for every kindness, Veronica was reflexively trying to confirm that he did not in fact want anything additional from her, in return for his subsequent largesse.
Finishing his login, he turned his chair around and faced her, put his right hand on her left hip, taking her right hand in his left, and looked up into her eyes. "Because, Ronnie, I like you. And like I said before, you're not my slave, you can stay or go, as you like. But if you stay with me, I'm going to take care of you. No diamond rings or brand new Range Rovers, but then you don't strike me as the unreasonably greedy type."
She didn't answer, but kept looking at him, looking into his light green eyes and enjoying his smile. The wind outside began to howl and shake the windows of his condo. She knew if she had been caught out in that frigid weather, she might very well have succumbed to the subzero wind. He let go of her hand, then took his right hand back from her hip and turned back around to face the screen, bringing up the ubiquitous and globally familiar Amazon homepage. She put her hands on his shoulders and bent down to kiss the back of his head. He didn't see the thin film of tears that blurred her vision, nor her hand angrily wiping her eyes clear. Rationally she knew that what he was doing was not normally, in the first world, an act of anything more altruistic than basic decency. And yet, in that same first world, for at least the last nine months (and numerous occasions during the preceding years since she emigrated to the US), she had not often experienced such basic decency.
"But, why?" She whispered in his ear, nuzzling the point and lobe.
"Because that's what decent men do when they agree to help a woman; they help erase some of the disadvantages she faces. Only drunks, wife beaters and the sorriest excuses for men just take and take, like half-assed tapeworms on two legs. You're a beautiful woman, Ronnie, and you've been through some shit, some of it I think I can sympathize with. You need some help and I'm glad to offer it."
An hour later Veronica finished loading up the shopping cart with the hair products, wardrobe and hygienic products she anticipated she'd need for the next month (based on Jack's suggestion). The total in the cart was in excess of $2,000 and she felt very nervous when she told him she was done. She'd shaved costs and selected the cheapest brands she'd known for the things she picked, and perhaps splurged just a little bit on some of her clothing choices, but not, she thought, to an unreasonable amount. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves a bit and then gently called to him, getting his attention and signaling him she was done.
Jack came back to the computer from the sofa where he'd watched, intermittently, from streaming content. She watched him very nervously, chewing her lower lip as he looked at the cart quietly for a moment. Then she flinched when his serious, green eyes swept from the screen to lock onto her eyes.
"Did you get what you need?" He asked simply, neutrally.
"Well, I mean, I think, I tried to only get the essentials, but I can-"
"No, that's not what I'm asking." He said calmly, smiling gently. "If there's anything else you need, make sure you add it. We'll get as much as we can delivered Sunday, but if we don't place the order soon, you'll have to wait until Monday. So, are you sure you don't need anything else?" He explained earnestly, no hint of emotion in his voice, nor any outrage at the cart's total cost.
"Oh, um, nope, it's all there." She said, smiling shyly, and unable to help herself, flicking her gaze back and forth from his eyes to the cart.
"Okay, let me take care of this then." He rapidly scrolled through the cart, checking Sunday delivery on every item for which it as offered. "Sorry, these shoes and this thing here, (is it shampoo?)" he wondered aloud. "They aren't eligible for Sunday delivery, so we'll get them on Wednesday, it looks like. Is that okay, or should we get them somewhere else?" He asked without turning around.
"That's okay. Sunday, I mean Wednesday is fine. Just fine." She said still nervous, and he quickly clicked through the review process, used his credit card on file, and completed the order.
"Okay, it'll mostly be here by Sunday." He said, and turned to look at her. He smiled his handsome, mischievous smile at her, but only noticed her slight smile in return. He mistook her quiet return gaze as nonchalance rather than the latest of her disbelief that he could truly be so nice. He stood up and stepped away from the computer. "I'm going to take a shower, please officially make yourself at home, Ronnie. I don't remember what I have in the kitchen, but get something to eat if you like. And maybe later tonight we can talk more about Ass-hat the drug dealer. Okay?" He asked, winking and smiling as he did. When she nodded mutely, her same slight smile still frozen on her lips, he again took her reaction as polite acceptance, then walked back to the bedroom.
Veronica looked back at the screen and was still a bit in shock. He hadn't hesitated buying her in excess of $2,000 worth of things (considering the tax and shipping charges, which were at least another $300); no one had ever so blithely spent that much money on her, nor made it a point to go beyond their basic social contract in helping her. Or, perhaps she was just now experiencing what the vaunted "All-American" attitude was really like; Could it be, she wondered, that all the Americans she'd been close to before, were scum or opportunists? Whatever the reason, Veronica was stunned in the way no one who had not grown up poor and dispossessed, and having had to literally flee for their lives in their formative years would ever understand. And he asked nothing in return, which reminded her again what he'd told her earlier that day; she was free to stay or leave, and to say no to further sex, as she wished. She felt her feelings for him intensify, particularly the growing attraction she felt to him, and her need to express it to him. She stood up and walked toward the hallway, intending to make unambiguously clear to Jack her wishes, at least insofar as they applied to the two of them.
Jack stood under the hot spray of water, his palms flat against the tile wall under the shower head, his feet a step back from the invisible, vertical line connecting the shower head to the drain in the floor. He held himself in this position, leaning forward with a straight back, almost like a modified pushup position, so that as his head and neck became too hot, he could bend his elbows and lean further forward, letting the hot downpour beat against his shoulders, his lower back, and finally his ass and legs. The heat felt good on his skin, and soaked into his muscles, helping to relax them. He'd very quickly washed his body with soap (and scalp, for as short as it was, why bother with shampoo?), and had been luxuriating in the hot water of the shower for ten minutes, as only someone so used to hot showers, then having to give up on reliable supplies of hot water, can. "I miss this more than anything else when I'm deployed, even more than sex..." he thought. He heard the door to the master bath open and shut, firmly, snapping him out of his adulation for indoor plumbing.
"Ronnie, are you okay?" He asked, concerned that something was amiss. He was about to turn off the water and exit the shower when the door opened, a thick cloud of steam billowing out of the shower and leaving behind a pocket of suddenly colder and clearer air. Into that pocket of air Veronica stepped inside the shower, wearing a cheap, clear plastic shower cap that Ashley had left behind, and only the shower cap.
"Can I join you?" She asked gently, staring into his eyes and smiling the whole time. He turned fully around so that the shower beat almost scaldingly hot against his back, shielding her from the hot spray. He ran one hand over his face and scalp, clearing the water from his eyes.
"Of course." He said, shocked, not expecting her to seek him out in the shower. In spite of all the sex, fore and afterplay they'd already shared, he still paused as she stood before him, naked and so incredibly exotic. He saw, looked away from, and felt himself drawn back repeatedly to the intense look in her wide, almond shaped eyes and dark brown irises, framed as they were by her long and curly lashes. She was devastatingly gorgeous, and Jack could feel his throat tighten as she quite literally took his breath away with her beauty. He felt his breath return and his pulse strengthen and his heart hammer as he was once more that night deeply attracted to her assertiveness. She had sought him out, she'd come to him; to Jack, they felt like sexual equals and the demonstrable truth of her desire for him turned him on like nothing else in his life ever had.
She walked forward without any hesitation and put her arms around his back, her breasts pressing hard into and against his hot, wet pecs, and kissed him on the mouth, feeling his cock steadily become erect against her. He took hold of her waist, pulling her tightly to him and kissed her in return, instantly feeling his desire explode to a raging conflagration that consumed his thoughts and tore his focus from anything else but her. As he returned her kiss, he was dimly aware of the very pleasing sensation her fingers generated against his skin as she brought her hands up along his back to his neck, and then gently stroked his cheeks, temples and ears with her finger tips. He was unaware of how his passion fed into and ignited her own, and he did not see the way she involuntarily and in reaction to his hunger for her, first bent her knee, lifted up her right foot and squeezed the toes together as her foot dangled in the air behind her, nor did he notice how she exhaled deeply or how the blood surged almost audibly through her arteries as her breaths quickened. She wanted him badly. No man had ever treated her so well nor made her feel so safe and secure. Nor had she ever found any man so handsome, sexy, adorable or powerful as she did Jack. He consumed her focus and she would not be denied him.
Neither of them said anything, they were totally lost in the feeling of kissing and touching each other. Veronica shifted her kisses to his chin and neck, very gently biting and then slowly pulling the skin of his throat, trailing her teeth as she moved down to his pecs, kissing each of his tattoos and then turning her head to continue her trail of kisses across his sensitive ribs and then back to his hard and chiseled abdominal muscles, enjoying the way they rippled from his sternum to his pelvis. Teasing him, she reached down and grabbed his long cock with both of her hands, with each of them gripping him, one above the other, it still left an inch of his shaft and all of his head untouched. She quickly and hungrily took the head of his cock into her mouth, sucking it firmly and twirling her tongue around it as she did. She gently twisted each hand in opposite directions around his shaft, making him shake and gasp from the feeling, before she let go of his cock and stood back up, kissing him passionately again.