01 – Playing Hard To GetA Devil's Hope
December 2, 1985
Castian bounces on my knee making gurgling noises and sucks his fist like it’s the best tasting thing in the universe. He loves the train. Helena sleeps in the carrier nestled between my legs on the floor. With Magellan at work, I don’t have a car of my own. The doormen at our building happily get us a cab or help us out when we wander.
Today is special. We’re heading to the Oyster to check on the progress of Le Salon, and to catch up with the Rittendorfs. Our last conversation was weeks ago and resulted in the need for a cash infusion. I never realized how much starting a new sex club would cost.
The train comes to a halt and I gather up the bag and children to quickly step onto the platform. The tick of my heels echoes faintly as I make my way across the platform to the stairs. Castian has discovered the puffball at the end of his adorable cap’s ties and gums it with great gusto. Helena does not approve of the wintry weather and makes a squawking noise while I adjust the blanket over the carrier. Their grandmother in Spain sent him an assorted amount of winter gear because she’s convinced we don’t have enough for Castian, and that we live in the North Pole. Castian’s waddling and snowman shape while in the gear makes me smile. She, thankfully, has sent nothing for Helena to wear yet.
A few quick steps and I hail a cab. I’m not going to carry these two that far. It’s too cold to be walking to the Oyster from the station and I still have issues from my streaking incident. On cold days like this I think of Tony. It will be two years in February since his death. For all his faults, the man was there when I needed him. I’ll never forget him and what he did for us, or what he did to me. I ignore the incredulous look the driver gives me about taking an infant and toddler to The Blue Oyster.
I get Helena’s carrier secured with little fuss. My gaze turns out from the cab while I hold Castian in my lap. I wonder how Tony’s son is doing. I kept in touch with Margaret Scapelli for a few months after Tony’s death. I wouldn’t want to be in touch with the one that got away, either.
Fifteen minutes later I stroll into Harold’s office. Stella and he are already there. Their beautiful baby girl sleeps in the playpen in the corner. The juxtaposition of a playpen in a strip club makes me chuckle. I drop the bag and peel us out of the winter gear before I turn and hand Castian off to Stella, while I set Helena in one of the chairs in front of Harold’s over-sized desk.
“He’s getting so big!” She snuggles him into her lap.
“And heavy,” I bemoan. “Mick says he’s shaped like a footballer.”
“You’re lookin’ great, kid!” Harold wraps me up into a tight hug and I reciprocate. He’s a Wolfe by proxy. “Thanks for comin’ in. I know it’s cold out there.”
“Of course, anything for you, Harold,” I bat my eyelashes at him and grin.
“Cute. About Christmas. We’re having a soft open for The Salon–.”
“Le Salon.” I correct him.
“Whatever, and I need you to work.”
“No. Le Salon doesn’t open until July. We agreed not to open it until then. I have finals next week. The club isn’t ready. You said, yourself, we’re being iced out on the liquor license. Magellan and I already made plans to run the gauntlet to see both sides this year. I know you would never deny Helena’s grandparents seeing her for her first Christmas, would you Harold?” I jut my lip out, pouting at him while giving him the big doe eyes.
“Don’t give me the puppy-dog look. You know it doesn’t work on me.” He brandishes a finger at me.
“Hear me out. We need to have a soft open. The Scapelli Christmas party is the perfect start for The Salon–.”
“Le Salon. We don’t even have the kitchen operational. Is the bar even put together yet? Last I heard, we were behind on the stage and there was a problem with electrical.” His lack of respecting the brand name grates on my nerves.
“Not a problem. Got some guys on it. We’re catering that night. License is dealt with and will be ready. Scapelli’s covering the costs. I need you, kid. Mistress is great and all, but the boys get excited for you. I got you booked solid for the night. All sixteen mini sessions booked and paid for.”
“One problem, Harold. The Scapelli contract.”
“Hate to break it to you, Hope-Marie, but that contract means shit now. With Tony dead, there’s no reason to keep it up. The rest of the Scapellis behave.” Harold shrugs. “Besides, it’s for The Salon–.”
“Le Salon, Harold. Say it with me. Le. Salon.” I pucker my lips and motion with my hand toward him as I enunciate the words.
“Lay.” Harold rolls his eyes.
“Eu, no Ey. Like you’re hocking a loogie.”
“Whatever. I’m not French. That’s your job. Back to the Italians.” He waves his hands dismissively. He’s trying to be funny.
I inhale slowly to prevent chucking the paperweight on Harold’s desk at his head. I’m irritated that he thinks I’m going to forsake my entire family for the Scapelli Christmas party. “No.”
“What do you mean, no?” He shakes his head and blinks in disbelief at me.
“No. Nein. Nyet. Nada. Non. Not happening. Exactly what I said. I’m not telling any of my parents that I’m going to skip Christmas to dominate a bunch of horny drunks, and they’ll maybe get to see their granddaughter in six months when I graduate.”
“Oh, you’re graduating from high school! That’s great. We don’t have to lie on your application anymore,” Stella teases me while still bouncing Castian on her knee.
“You damn well know I’m graduating from Columbia. I’ll be getting my bachelor’s in psychology with a minor in sociology.” I hrmph, “With honors.”
“Wait, you’re serious?” Harold blinks in surprise. I ignore the astonished looks between the two of them as Helena begins to fuss. With an easy motion, I scoop her out of the carrier and bring her up. I don’t even hesitate as I shift my blouse around and unclasp the bra.
“Whoa! Hey!” Harold dramatically throws his hands up.
I roll my eyes. “Really, Harold? You tried to convince me to let some weird prick milk me when Castian was born.” I toss a blanket over the exposed side and shift in pain as she gums the shit out of my nipple.
“Fine. Uh, when are you done with your school stuff again? I may have a compromise.”
I raise a brow. “Last final is on the thirteenth.” My eyes narrow as I see the gears turning in his scheming brain.
“And you’re sure Mick can’t take them?”
“I am.” I try not to grin at him trying to weasel out of me traveling with them. “Helena’s still feeding. I’m not sending him with formula.”
Harold pouts at me. “Fine. My plan is we’ll fly you out to Kansas-.”
“That’s what I said, we’ll fly you out to Kansas–.”
“Kansas City. Missouri.”
“Whatever. We’ll fly out there in no man’s land on the fourteenth.” He pulls up his desk calendar. “You’ll stay out there until the twenty-third–.”
“And you’ll fly Mick with the kids to Spain from KC on the twenty-fourth?”
“To Spain? You’re killing me, Hope-Marie.”
“No Spain, no deal. And I still get my quitting bonus.”
“No. You’re getting paid to work, plus holiday, plus the airfare, plus international.”
“Then I’m not flying back until the twenty-fourth, and you’ll pay for Mick to fly with the kids on the Concord.”
Harold and I stare each other down as if we’re going to duke it out like Rocky Balboa.
Stella chuckles from the couch, and she coos to Castian, “Your mommy drives a hard bargain.”
I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing at the comment. “Harold, I love you to death, but you aren’t my boss anymore. We’re partners, and you’re asking me to give up my entire holiday, and family. You’re the one that said family’s more important than anything.”
“Fuck,” Harold groans as he throws himself back in all his dramatic glory. “Okay! Fine! I’ll fly you to Kansas whatever, then Mick to Spain, and you’ll be here to work Christmas for the party. No bonus.”
“Deal,” I reach out and offer my hand to shake. After getting Helena burped and settled back into her milk-induced slumber, Harold and I take a tour of Le Salon while Stella stays with the kids. He wasn’t kidding when he said he had been slave-driving the guys. There are workers everywhere. They pay us little mind and I’m beyond excited at the progress. All the details of the salons themselves are perfect. From the lighting to the feel of the furniture, everything sets the tone of a French salon. We won’t bring in the bondage gear until after final inspections. Our public play salons are going to have a playground of sin in equipment.