When her client arrived, she recognized him this time. That night he had shown up, drunk and defeated, he had been a stranger to her. But now he was back to himself: neatly combed platinum blonde hair, impeccable three piece suit, confident smile on his lips.
“You look nice,” he told her as he led her by the arm down the stairs. Men usually wanted to take the back stairs to avoid being seen with escorts, but he did nothing to hide his place with her. Everyone in the brothel knew the young man was one of their own. “You look nervous,” he added as they stepped out into the brisk night air.
“We’ve never gone out before like this. I’m your informant, Aleksander. I know the people you deal with, and I...” She stopped as he put a hand on her arm to gently steer her to face him.
“Hailey, I would never put you in harms way,” Aleksander promised. “The instant you start to feel uncomfortable, I’ll take you home, okay?” He smiled, and she suddenly found herself flashing her fangs as she grinned and nodded along. No wonder he’s so successful in his plans, she thought, when he’s this persuasive.
Soon the pair arrived at the steps leading below street level to the club. Hailey felt immensely out of place as she followed the young man into the dining room of CEOs, actors, and governors. Her red dress sparkled in the chandeliers’ light, tricking viewers into believing she belonged among the modern paintings and live orchestra, like a life-sized optical illusion. Aleksander lead the way to the bar featuring hundred-year-old bottles of thousand-dollar wines. He slid onto a bar stool with relaxed shoulders and flicked a wrist to get the bartender’s attention. Hailey knew he came from the same place she did: a child of a prostitute, an unwanted hybrid, an outcasted orphan, but his actions made her question even those simple, concrete facts.
“You still haven’t touched your glass,” her date noted after several minutes. He had been chatting with the bartender and seemed reassured by the gossip he had intercepted.
“I gave you good information. You don’t have to coerce the waiter,” she huffed. Her tone gained her a surprised raise of an eyebrow.
“Not everything is as it seems,” Aleksander pointed out, “Even you aren’t infallible. Can you blame me for being cautious?”
“If this is so dangerous, then why are you here?” Hailey wanted to ask. But the young man’s eyes were trained past her on someone else. When she started to turn, he put a calloused hand on her bare shoulder to stop her.
“Stay here,” he told her softly as he stood. “I won’t be long.” Aleksander walked past her towards the quartet playing Vivaldi. The mirror stretching behind the bar gave Hailey a glimpse of a middle-aged Japanese man with thinly rimmed spectacles amongst a consort of associates as Aleksander reached then. He jutted out a confident hand as he introduced himself in a manner that made the stranger raise both eyebrows in surprise, but the shock must have been pleasant, for he put a hand on Aleksander’s shoulder and guided him through a door behind the orchestra with the rest of his business partners. Hailey watched the door close and crossed her fingers in her lap. She forced herself to take a sip of the martini to ease her nerves.
Half an hour later, the woman remained alone at the bar. The lack of her partner’s return had caused worry, then annoyance, then anger in that order. Hailey knew she was being paid as his escort, but her role of a chauffeur left to wait in the car while the man went off to do the important work make the tips of her ears burn with embarrassment. Every time the bartender cast her a pitied glance, Hailey sank her fangs a little deeper into her lower lip to keep from hissing. She was a skilled informant, clever and calm under pressure, so why was she being treated like nothing more than a piece of Aleksander’s costume to help him pass for an revered gentleman?
Hailey suddenly found herself walking away from the bar. The most sensible course of action would be to leave the club. Aleksander would know to find her back at her suite at the brothel, and she could explain that it looked suspicious for her to be hanging around the establishment by herself. Yet Hailey’s feet were carrying her towards the door behind the quartet. She could easily slip into the room, pretend to be lonely, wrap an arm around Aleksander’s waist to incorporate herself into the group. No one would notice her as anything more than a common prostitute, and Hailey could listen for important information to discuss with Aleksander later over a cup of coffee. With this plan in mind, Hailey strutted past the orchestra with her head held high and turned the unlocked door’s nob. She stepped inside and immediately ducked to avoid a bullet that splintered the doorframe behind her.
Hailey whirled around to the misfired gun where Aleksander had a burly guard in a headlock. The young man snapped the guard’s neck without hesitation.
“What the hell are you doing in here?” Aleksander demanded as he dropped the body to the ground. Hailey took a startled step back and nearly tripped over an outstretched arm. The Japanese man lay on the floor next to the door, as if he had been attempting to flee the room when the throwing knife had been flung into the spot between his shoulder blades. His glasses were cracked where they lay beside him.
There were more bodies in the cramped, smokey card room. Around the lone circular table were a dozen littering the floor. Every person who had come into the room now lay tangled in heaps and pools of blood.
Hailey took another step back until her back hit the door, and Aleksander rose a hand as if to stop her. Before the stunned woman could react, a shadow raised up behind the other and smashed a champagne bottle over his head. Aleksander fell to his knees with a stunned grunt.
The attacker, a businesswoman in a beige suit stained red with blood, took a step toward Hailey. She swept up the gun where the dead man had dropped it, loaded it, aimed it at Hailey. The latter was prepared this time as Aleksander rose to his feet behind her. Hailey opened the door he charged the armed woman as, tackling her to the dinning room floor. The pair rolled into the quartet, causing the dining room to fall into shocked silent. Screams rose as the young man slammed his head into the businesswoman’s, knocking her unconscious. Hailey was already at his side. She took his arm as the concussed man stumbled to his feet, and the pair ran from the club. Bouncers attempted to follow, but she had scooped up the gun on her way out and fired wildly to scare them back. Hailey pulled Aleksander into the back alleys, running with him back to the brothel.

This time they used the back stairs. There was no point anymore in trying to act as if there were honor in their actions. Aleksander’s jacket and tie were gone, his sleeves rolled up, blood splattered on his shirt, rips in his vest, gashes in his knuckles, and blood running down his face from a cut on his forehead caused by the wine bottle. Hailey assessed him once they reached her room and the young man had collapsed onto the couch. His disheveled appearance reminded her so much of the night he had arrived in his drunken stupor that she wondered how many people he had killed then before coming to see her.
“They were human traffickers,” Aleksander muttered, then hissed as Hailey pressed a cloth to his head wound.
“So you killed them all?”
“They started it. One if the guards drew a gun, and—“
“That doesn’t make it okay,” she ground out between clenched teeth. When she undid his tattered vest and bloodied shirt, she saw the bruises darkening his torso where his ribs were broken. “No more.”
“Is that not a word you’re used to hearing?” she snapped. “SOMEONE has to stop you. You were lucky not to be a part of the body count in that room tonight. You were WAY outnumbered, yet you went in alone. You could have warned me, or at least told me what you were really up to! Don't you trust me to help you? I know how smart you are, so why do you always do the stupid reckless things?!”
Aleksander was silent at first, but as Hailey bandaged his knuckles in fuming silence, he quietly replied, “Because I’m the only one willing to do it.” He reached to take her hand as she closed the medical kit, and sighed when she flinched. “I won’t hurt you, Hailey. I never would.”
“How do I know that? How do you know that?” she demanded. “You pretend to be so righteous, so humble, so normal. But it’s a lie. You’re capable of so much, but you’re good at pretending like you're the innocent choir boy. That makes you unpredictable...that makes you dangerous.”
After a quiet, tense minute, Aleksander sat up, a hand to his head. “I’m sorry, Hailey, I didn’t mean to scare you. What can I do to make it up to you?”
“How about being honest with me for once?” She looked up at him, eyes glistening with frustrated tears, but he shook his head at her pleading and spoke regretfully, “I don’t think I know how to do that.”
Hailey blinked quickly, turning her head to stare out the window rather than at him. She stood, but put up a hand to stop Aleksander when he moved to get up. "The police will be looking for us. I’m going to go sleep with one of my sisters, and you can rest here until the worst of your concussion passes...then get out. And don't come back."
Aleksander laid his head back as she left the room. He listened to her footsteps fade down the hallway until he was left alone in the silence with his lies.