As long as I can remember, I was always in the eye of the hurricane. It’s like a gift that I have. Maybe I was born with it? I never asked for it, looked for it, or jumped into it on purpose. Trouble just always seems to show up when I’m around. Or is it the other way around? I’m always there when all hell breaks loose. When I was little, I thought it was the same for everyone, an endless parade of broken objects, weekly ragweed contagions, and neighborhood dogs with burnt tails.
As a teenager, I realized I was different. I crawled out the window after curfew. I’d pretend to sleep at friend’s house to go to parties that I was not supposed to attend. I snuck in at sunrise through the back door. I pulled the same shenanigans as any other ordinary teenage girl, but with that magnetic ability to be where the tornado is going to touch down. Friendly gatherings deteriorating into debauchery, fires getting out of control, having to run from the police. Again. It was exciting, exhilarating, electrifying. Until one day, someone got hurt. It should have been me.
My name is Vicky Durocher and I now use my gift to pay the rent. I opened a private investigator’s office in the Saint-Roch district of Quebec City and true to my nature, I am always and forever searching for and finding trouble.
Like right now, for instance. I’m not a fan of jogging. I have coordination problems. But still, I’m running with stilettos in a poorly lit hallway. I turn a corner with quick, small steps to avoid spraining my ankle. Sneaking a peek behind me, I see He’s getting dangerously close: a big guy, in a black suit, with a blacker look. He’s huge, he’s fast and he’s not happy.
I push the first door I see with both hands. On the other side, men in white shirts with nets on their heads are bent over stainless steel tables. Everyone looks up and the place goes silent. I greet them with a flustered smile, rushing across the room, sprinting between work tables. The men start whistling at me. One of them makes a lewd offer.
It might have something to do with my looks that evening. I don’t usually dress this way. Black cat-eye eyeliner with extra layers of mascara, combined with voluminous hair. My black skinny jeans looked painted on, my t-shirt’s two sizes too small and my towering stiletto heels feel like stilts.
Without missing a beat, I wave goodbye to my new friends and rush through swinging doors at the far end of the room. I end up on familiar ground, in the bar. Waddling, I cross the room and take a look at the stage. Several girls are dancing, including the bubbly Vanessa whom I had met a few hours earlier.
The place was dark and packed. Not surprisingly, the majority of clients were men. I had managed to find a stool at the bar. When a busty waitress brought my rum and coke, I tried to refrain from looking down into her plunging neckline.
“Is Sandy Love dancing tonight?” I asked the waitress.
“Yeah!” was the only response I got from her, before she sashayed away to serve her thirsty male clientele.
“Sandy Love, she’s HOT, HOT, HOT!” squealed the girl next to me, while snapping her fingers. “She uses fireworks!”
“Whaaaat? That’s awesome!” I responded, getting a little bit closer.
“It’s really HOT! You’ll see.”
She was pretty, with large sparkling eyes and a broad smile. She wore a miniature leopard print sweater paired with a fake leather short skirt. My high heels looked ridiculous next to hers.
“I can’t wait to see her!” I replied. “I’ve heard that she’s dating M for Metal’s lead guitar player.”
“You mean the lead singer! She’s so lucky! These metal guys, they are soooo sexy!” she said with fluttering eyelashes. “Sandy is such an amazing dancer she got signed by some Las Vegas agency. She’ll become a Show Girl! What a DREAM!” she added, shouting the last word over the loud music.
She nodded, flashing me her dazzling smile.
“I’ve been working here for about two months. But I don’t have her talent. Not yet!” she went on, winking at me.
I introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Vicky!”
“I’m Vanessa. But everybody calls me Van.”
A few hours later, power walking towards the exit, I noticed that Vanessa was clearly capable on a stage, when I collided into something stone hard. If strong arms hadn’t grabbed me by the armpits, I would have french kissed the beer stained, butt strewn, strip club’s floor.
What I had hit turned out to be human. The body was concrete and hadn’t flinched when I ran into it. With my nose in the guy’s chest, I looked up to a square jaw, a two-day beard and half-open mouth. My gaze was glued to green exotic eyes. The kind that immediately gets you in trouble when you’re a young girl from a good family. The man had caramel-colored skin. His curly black hair tickled the tip of my nose. When I realized that he was still holding me, I felt the heat rise on my face.
Sadly, the moment didn’t last. To my dismay, a drunk guy bumped into us, breaking the spell. I landed on a table, crashing into bottles of beer. Male grunts of indignation rose, followed by colorful curses. I straightened a few glasses, apologizing. Then, putting on my best smile, I turned back to Mr. Sexy Guy. But there was no one there.
I scanned the room and recognized a familiar face, but not the one I was looking for. My tracker, the bar’s doorman, was on the other side of the room and had just spotted me. He leaped in my direction. As quickly as my stilettos allowed me to, I rushed to the exit.
Once outside, I tripped on my shoes and fell. Landing on asphalt, I rolled behind a 4 X 4 just as the doorman passed through the club’s doors.
Still on the ground, panting from him chasing me, I tried to hold my breath. The big man stopped at the doorstep, surveying the line of people waiting to get in. He walked quickly along it, scanning hopeful faces. At the end of the line, he turned towards the parking lot. After a moment that seemed endless, he finally circled back to the door. He took one last look then disappeared into the bar.
I counted to ten, slipping my high heels off, and came out of hiding. I rushed into the woods surrounding the Red Mill strip club, and headed for the back of the building towards the dumpsters and emergency exit I had spotted earlier. The door at the back was held open. I saw a black Mercedes with tinted windows parked nearby. Its engine was purring. I squatted down and waited. Minutes later, Sandy Love appeared, escorted by two men.
Her real name was Sandrine Plamondon. She was tall, slim, with endless legs and womanly curves where it was most attractive. She had a feline walk. Her whole body radiated sensuality. Her fitted crop blazer vest hinted at the contour of her perky breasts and barely hid the huge snake tattoo that started at the small of her back and curled up to her shoulder. She had a smaller one on her butt, which I suspected was the logo of the M for Metal band. I had seen it earlier during her show, in which she had indeed used fireworks.
Finding Sandy Love was the purpose of my evening at the bar.
What immediately bothered me about Sandrine was the blackness in her eyes. I had seen that look before. And to see it again in Sandy Love had given me the chills. It was like an old curse had finally caught up with me.
The men who were escorting her were close shaved, with stylish hair and expensive clothes. They seemed on edge, fidgeting and looking around, as if expecting to be attacked at any moment, or maybe trying to protect Sandy Love from an invisible danger? Why would she need bodyguards?
I was contemplating that idea when another man rushed out through the emergency door. In his fifties, he was tanned with platinum blond hair. He called out to Sandy Love who immediately turned around. The man caught up to her and grabbed her by the wrist. With a clenched jaw, he spoke in a low voice, looking Sandy Love straight in the eyes.
The two bodyguards did not interfere, but they had stopped moving restlessly, one hand on their hips. Their jackets had rolled up and I could make out that they were armed. Since Sandy Love had her back to me, I could not see her face. She had jerked her arm to get free of the man’s grip.
Unfortunately, this scene looked familiar to me. I had encountered it several times in the past, and had done nothing to stop it. I lived with the consequences. My jaw tightened and my hands closed into fists as a result of seeing a woman struggle to recover physical control.
With her free hand, Sandy Love punched her assailant in the face. He finally let go of her and retreated back, his hand on his jaw. An evil grin appeared on his face. He started to laugh. He slowly ran his hand through his blond hair, replacing rebellious strands that had fallen in his face. He stretched out both arms and buttoned his jacket, without taking his eyes off Sandy Love. His gaze was challenging her. Meanwhile, the two bodyguards seemed to wait for the signal to attack. Without a word, the tanned man turned on his heel. Clenched fists, legs apart, Sandy Love watched him go. When he disappeared into the bar, the bodyguards relaxed. Sandy Love signaled them to follow her. She vanished in the back of the black Mercedes.
Crouching in the woods, I reached for my leopard bag to grab my cellphone. I wanted to take a picture of the Mercedes’ license plate. My hand plowed into grass and soil. When I looked at my feet, there was no bag. I must have lost it while running away from the doorman. The Mercedes quietly left the Red Mill strip club parking lot, followed by another car driven by Sandy’s bodyguards.
When the vehicles were out of sight, I got up. Shoes in hand, I walked around the building. At the opposite end of the lot, I got out of the trees and headed for my car. Once in front of it, I silently went bananas. I stomped my feet on the concrete, threw punches in the air and open my mouth to its fullest to let out silent screams of despair.
My keys were in my leopard handbag. That was my favorite bag! I had just lost it and I didn’t know where. I imagined the doorman searching through it and finding my ID, with my complete name and address. After kicking the wheel of my car a few times, I went to the street and hailed a cab.