Prologue

Always in trouble

Illustration by Valessa Leblanc

As long as I can remember, I have always found myself in the middle of trouble. It's like a gift that I have. Something that has always been there with me. I never ask for it, look for it or did it on purpose. Confusion and disorder seemed to always show up when I am around. Or is it the other way around? I am always there when things get out of control. When I was little, I thought it was like this for everyone else. Broken objects, weekly ragweed contagions and neighbourhood dogs with burnt tails.

As a teenager, that is when I realized I was different. I got out the window after curfew. I pretended to sleep at friend's house to go to parties I was not supposed to attend. I got back at sunrise by the back door. I did the same shenanagans as any other ordinary teenage girl. But with that innate attraction to go where the storm is going to break out. Gatherings that degenerated, fires that got out of control, finding myself running away from the police again. It was exciting, exhilarating, electrifying. Until one day, someone got hurt. It should have been me. It would have been easier if it was me.

My name is Vicky Durocher and I am now using my 'gift' to pay the rent: I have become a private investigator. I opened an office in the Saint-Roch district of Quebec City. And still today, I am always and again 'in trouble'.

Like right now, for example. I am not a fan of jogging because of coordination problems. But still, I am running with stilettos in a poorly lit hallway. I turn a corner with quick, small steps to avoid spraining my ankle, and I glance quickly behind me. He is still there and is getting dangerously close: a big guy, in a black suit, with a black look. He's big, he's fast and he is 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 at me and the place goes silent. I greet them with a flustered smile, rushing across the room and sprinting between the work tables. Once the element of surprise passed, the men start whistling. One of them makes me an improper offer.

It might had something to do with my looks that evening. Black 'cat-eye' eyeliner with extra layers of mascara, combined with super voluminous hair. I had put on skinny black jeans, a t-shirt two sizes too small and my highest stiletto heels.

Without taking a beat, I wave goodbye to my new friends and push a swing door at the other end of the room. I end up on familiar ground, in the bar. Waddling as quickly as possible, I cross the room and take a look at the stage. Several girls are dancing, including the bubbly Vanessa whom I met a few hours ago.

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 platinum blonde waitress served my rum and coke, I had trouble not looking into her plunging neckline.

"Is Sandy Love dancing tonight?", I asked.

"Yeah!", was the only response I got from her, before she sashayed away to serve more manlike customers.

"Sandy Love, she's HOT, HOT, HOT!", said the girl sitting next to me, while snapping her fingers. "She even uses fireworks!"

"Whaaaat? That's awesome!", I responded as I got a little bit closer.

"It's really HOT! You'll see."

The girl was pretty, with large sparkling eyes and a broad smile. She wore a miniature leopard sweater paired with a short skirt in fake black leather. My high heels looked ridiculous next to hers.

"I can't wait to see it!" I replied. "I've heard that she's dating M for Metal's main guitarist player."

"You mean the lead singer! She's so lucky! These metal guys, they are soooo sexy!", she said with fluttering eyelashes. " Sandy is so great that she got selected by Las Vegas agents. She will become a Show Girl! What a dream!", she added, shouting the last word.

"No! Really?"

She nodded with a big smile.

"I've been working here for about two months. But I don't have her talents. Not yet!", she went on, winking at me.

I introduced myself.

"Hi, I'm Vicky!"

"I'm Vanessa. But everyone calls me Van."

A few hours later, power walking towards the exit, I was thinking that Vanessa was doing well for herself on stage, when I collided into something hard. If strong arms hadn't grabbed me, I would have kissed the sticky floor of the strip club.

What I had hit turned out to be human. The body was hard as concrete and hadn't flinched when I ran into it. With my nose in the guy's chest, I looked up. Square jaw, two-day beard, half-open mouth. My gaze was glued to green and exotic eyes, with a dash of rebel. The kind of look 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, interrupting our intimate time. I landed on a table. Bottles of beer crashed, male grunts of indignation were heard, followed by curses. I straightened a few beers, apologizing. Then, producing my best smile, I turned back to the 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 pursuer, who happened to be the doorman of the bar, was on the other side of the place 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. I landed on asphalt and rolled behind a 4 X 4 just as the doorman came through the club's doors. Crouching on the ground, I held my breath. Still panting from chasing me, the big man stopped on the doorstep, in front of the line of people who were waiting to enter. He walked quickly along it, browsing the faces. When he didn't find who he was looking for, he turned to the parking lot. After a moment that seemed to never end, he finally circled back to the door. He took one last look outside then disappeared into the bar.

I counted to ten, took my high heels off and came out of my hiding place. I rushed into the woods that surrounded the Red Mill strip club, and headed for the back of the building, where the dumpsters and an emergency exit that I had spotted earlier were located. The door at the back was kept 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 curves where it was most important. There was something feline in her walk. Her whole body radiated sensuality. She was an Amazon. Her fitted black jacket hinted the contour of her breasts, and could barely hide the huge snake tattoo that started down her back and curled up to her shoulder. She had a smaller one on her butt, which I suspected was the art tag of the rock band M for Metal. I had seen it earlier during her show, in which she indeed used fireworks.

Finding Sandy Love. That was the purpose of my presence in the bar that evening.  What immediately bothered me about her was her stare. Eyes that were charming but very hard at the same time. There was darkness in them. I knew it because I had seen that look before. And to see it again in Sandy Love's eyes, it had given me the chills.

The men who were escorting her were shaved up close, with stylish hair and expensive clothes. They seemed on edge, fidgeting and looking around repeatedly, as if expecting to be attacked at any moment. Or trying to protect Sandy Love from an invisible danger. Why would she need bodyguards?

I was contemplating that idea when another man rushed out of the emergency door. He called out to Sandy Love who immediately turned around. The man ran after her and grabbed her by the wrist, pulling her towards him, planting his face two inches from hers. In his fifties, he was tanned with platinum blond hair. With a clenched jaw, he spoke in a low voice, like a growl, looking Sandy Love straight in the eyes.

The two bodyguards did not interfere, but they had stopped moving restlessly. With 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 make her face.

She had jerked her arm to get rid of the grip of the man. He had squeezed tighter. This gesture of physical control, I had encountered it several times in the past. At the time, I had done nothing to stop it. And I have regretted it ever since. At the present moment, my jaw was tight and my hands had closed into fists as a result of seeing Sandy Love struggle.

With her free hand, she 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, and he started laughing. He slowly ran his hand through his 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 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 turned abruptly and signaled them to follow her. She then vanished in the back of the black Mercedes.

Still crouching in the woods, I reached for my leopard bag to grab my cellphone. I wanted to take a picture of the Mercedes' licence plate. My hand only 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 did not know where. I imagined the doorman searching through it and founding 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.

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