Chapter Nineteen: The Birthday Brand Silently, Rich sat on the edge of the bed and watched Angel as she slept. She seemed peaceful, but Rich knew better than to believe that. Angel had always suffered from bad nightmares that terrorized her so badly that many nights she would thrash and even hurt herself in her sleep. Rich remembered the beginning of their relationship, when he first brought Angel to his home.
At the time, he was living with another pimp, and that pimp's girls, Angel was tense around them. Frank had always kept her away from the other girls, so Angel never knew how to interact with them. The girls frequently teased her, and so Angel spent most of her spare time in the bedroom she shared with Rich. But in time, Rich pulled her from her shell.
He instructed her what to do with a client, and taught her the ways of the life. For a while, he would wait on her as she serviced men. He'd park down the street and watch the house, just in case trouble happened. That was then. Now Angel was twelve years older, more stubborn, more cold, more lifeless. Rich knew the fire in her was still there, but the life had drained her.
+-+-+ Angel let out a soft groan as she woke. Her body was tense and stiff, like every morning. It would seem easy to just lay there and let men do what they will with a girl's body, but the life called for more from her physical shell than one would think. Many clients would beat the girl, force her to do things that she did not want to do, put her in physically uncomfortable positions, all of which drained her energy, and took a toll on her body.
She was always bruised, muscles sore and stressed, and her body was slowly giving up on her. Angel lifted herself from the bed, and rummaged through a pile of clothes until she found a pair of grey denim shorts and a black sports bra.
She quickly slipped into the clothes and walked down the hall to the bathroom, rubbing her tired eyes. She opened the bottle of mouthwash and took a quick swig before replacing the cap and wiggling out of her shorts to sit on the toilet.
Sleepily, she swished the mouthwash as she did her business. When she finished, she flushed the toilet, spat out the mouthwash, and washed her hands, cupping handfuls of water to rinse her mouth.
Downstairs, she found Rich in the kitchen, standing over the stove. When he caught sight of her out of the corner of his eye, he turned to glance at her quickly and nodded towards the table.
"Sit down," he mumbled around the cigarette that hung from the corner of his mouth. Obediently, and still only half awake, Angel sat, running her fingers through her hair. A cup of coffee slid across the table at her, and she stared at it for a moment, her brain processing what it was, and what it was for. The toaster dinged, and Angel jumped, having not noticed that it was even on and in use.
A moment later, a plate of scrambled eggs and two pieces of toast slid across the table at her. Angel stared at the plate, her brain still not awake enough to process the events of the morning. Rich turned the stove off, and walked around the table to set a fork next to the plate of food.
"Eat up," Rich encouraged with more enthusiasm than Angel thought necessary at such an early hour. Angel picked up the fork and stabbed at the eggs a moment before taking a bite. She chewed quietly, willing her body to wake up. "You seem pretty tired," Rich noted, pulling a chair over next to Angel, and promptly sitting down. She glanced at him before taking a swig of coffee. "Better wake up, you're in for quite the day." Another glance. "You remember what today is, right?" She took another bite of eggs, chewing instead of answering him.
"It's July twenty-fifth," he answered for her. She made no acknowledgment toward his questioning and answering.
She knew perfectly well what day it was, and why Rich was acting like it was a day out of the ordinary. Despite the pimp-and-hoe relationship between the two of them, to Rich, this day was special, different, and certainly out of the ordinary. "Did you forget?" How could she forget? July twenty-fifth was the day Frank gifted her to Rich, to help Rich start up his own pimping business.
July twenty-fifth was the day she was released from a physical cage, only to be placed in a metaphorical one. July twenty-fifth was the day her life changed; for the better or for the worse was still yet to be determined. But it changed nonetheless. She nodded, figuring it best to act naïve about it. He clicked his tongue, making a tsk noise. "That's a shame. I think we should do something special for your birthday." Angel chewed silently. Birthday. That's what he called it. Angel was never sure when her actual birthday was.
For the life of her, she couldn't remember a time when she wasn't with Frank or Rich. This life was literally all she'd ever known. She had no memories of life before.
She had no memories of a family, of school, of childhood. There was Frank, and there was Rich. Nothing else. So Rich chose the day he received her from his teacher, to be the day they would celebrate her birthday. Rich always gave the girls the day off on their birthday. He would treat them to a day at the spa, a nice dinner, and usually a new outfit and some jewelry.
It was his way of showing gratitude for their service under him. Angel dreaded her symbolic birthday. She found no pleasure in going to a spa, getting her nails and hair done, receiving gifts, the whole nine yards. It wasn't fun. It was cheap. It was a cheap thank you for another year of hell. It was a pathetic attempt at buying happiness that she herself couldn't even comprehend. Angel found no happiness in being the center of attention.
She preferred to blend in and go unnoticed, and on her 'birthday' she could do anything but. "Well, it's your special day, what would you like to do?" Angel shrugged, honestly wanting nothing more than to go back to bed and wake up again tomorrow; skip the day in its entirety. "How about we hit up that French restaurant downtown?" It was the usual place Rich took the girls for their birthday.
It was fancy; had white linen tablecloths, live music that usually consisted of piano and string instruments. And it was expensive. No meal was under thirty dollars, and the menu was littered with French words Angel didn't know.
Angel bit her lip. She didn't want a fancy dinner at some expensive restaurant. "I know, that's not your style," Rich played, giving her a half smile. "I know a place I want to take you." He smirked, and stood, giving Angel no other clue as to where they were going tonight. He stood from the table, and put a hand on each of Angel's shoulders as she scooped another bite of eggs into her mouth.
"But first, I'm going to take you to the mall. You'll need a dress." +-+-+ The mall was more like a local gang hang out. Everywhere you turned there were pimps and their girls, thugs, hood rats, drug dealers, and other people who would generally be labeled as "trash" or "ghetto." Angel kept her eyes low as Rich led her to one of the smaller stores.
It was a women's apparel store, and Angel notices that the store specialized in flashy club attire. Angel felt awkward, and did not want to be in the store. Rich moved over to a rack of dresses. He leafed through them, the sequence and rhinestones on the dresses caught the light and gave a twinkle here or there.
He looked up "find something you like," he encouraged. Reluctantly, Angel thumbed through a rack of dresses half-heartedly.
"Grab any you want to try on." She sighed, continuing to leaf through the dresses, not really paying attention to them, despite their twinkling demands for attention. After a while, Angel for a red dress that seemed alright. She looked up at Rich, who had four or five dresses for her to try on. She sighed again. Rich wasn't going to let this be easy. +-+-+ Angel repeated the process, mindlessly.
Wiggle into some tight sheath of a dress that Rich picked out, open the dressing room door, awkwardly spin for Rich to examine, awkwardly tug at the dress to make sure it covered what it needed to, go back into the dressing room to wiggle back out of the dress, to repeat the whole process with another dress. Dress after dress. Angel finally managed to get down to the last dress in a pile of flashy, flirty, and showy dresses that Rich had wanted her to try on.
She wasn't sure she was going to have any luck, and every time she opened the door, she could sense Rich's irritation at not liking any of the dresses. One more dress, and maybe he'll take her home.
She tugged the dress free from its hanger and unzipped the short zipper in the back. Half-heartedly she slithered into the dress, zipped it, and opened the door. Rich's expression changed. He perked up and his mouth hung slightly open in awe.
His eyebrows rose in surprise, and he straightened in his seat, on the little bench outside of the dressing room. "What?" Angel wasn't sure what to make of Rich's reaction. She looked down at the dress, and ran her hands over it, in an attempt to flatten any wrinkles there might have been.
"You look," he paused, blinking a few times in surprise, "amazing!" Angel still didn't understand him, she turned, looking back into the empty dressing room, at the mirror on the back wall. Her breath caught in her throat, and her eyes widened. The dress, which she didn't even bother to look at after putting it on, was a red halter top dress, that came to just below her knees. Where the halter straps met the bodice of the dress, there was a small crystal cluster, almost like a broach.
It wasn't like the other, flashy dresses that were better suited for going to the club. It was classy, elegant. "You like it?" She nodded, still absorbing her appearance in the mirror. It was the first time she actually liked the image in the mirror. +-+-+ Angel stared out over the river. She had finished eating, and was patiently waiting on Rich to finish.
The food was good. Angel had eaten a small dish of rosemary chicken, and Rich had insisted she have a glass of white wine. Rich was still chowing down on a steak he had ordered medium rare. "Did you like the food?" Angel nodded, glancing back at Rich before looking over the river again.
Their table sat on a nice patio outside, that overlooked the river that ran through the downtown area. It was dark out already, and the water seemed to be pitch black and silent. Rich thought nothing of the dark evening. He was in fact, quite impressed with the lit candles, and the warm evening breeze. But to Angel, the darkness was suffocating.
It was wrapping it's ugly fingers around her mind, and pulling her down towards the silent black pit that was the river. Rich had meant well by their candle lit dinner, but Angel would have much rather slipped into the shadows, and be washed down stream and out of sight.
+-+-+ Rich had stopped at the club to collect money from a handful of his girls who were working there that night. He had dragged Angel along with him, not wanting her to be alone in the truck. It wasn't uncommon for Rich to make stops at the clubs and streets his girls worked at, to collect their earnings. "Amber, I know you made more than that. Hand it over." "Daddy, they just ain't buying tonight.
It's slow." "You better have made more than that." "Daddy, I swear!" Rich had rolled his eyes, looking past the red haired dancer, silently counting to ten. His patience was running thin.
There was no way, in the crowded club, she had only made one hundred dollars. "Daddy, please!" All he wanted was to grab Angel and get out of there.
It was her birthday, and she shouldn't be here, at work. "Well you get up there and shake your damn titties. Get me my money." He folded the bills, and shoved them in his pocket, looking around the club for Angel. Where the hell was she? "I wonder if that girl is dancing tonight. I love seeing her dance." Rich wandered through the club, still searching for Angel.
"What's that chick's name? Fallen Angel?" He stopped, searching out the men who were talking about Angel.
He followed their gaze, finding Angel standing by the stairs to the stage. She was talking to one of the dancers, who was doubled over, trying to hear her over the crowd. Rich made his way through the crowd, shoving himself between the men who were gathering around the stage, whistling and shouting their vulgar compliments at the dancers. "Angel," he shouted, once he was within hearing distance from her, still pushing his way over to her. She turned, her gaze searching the crowd until she spotted him.
She turned back to the dancer, and told the girl something Rich couldn't hear, before the girl looked up at Rich, then back at Angel, nodded, and left. "Angel, let's get out of here," he spoke just below shouting once he had made his way to her.
She nodded in response, and pushed past him, heading to the front door.
Rich looked around the club. Amber was right, the men weren't tipping the dancers. The only thing they seemed to be throwing at them were their crude comments. He looked up at the balcony, catching sight of a few fellow pimps, all of them seemed to be focused on Angel.
Some spoke to one another, some pointed, but all seemed to be highly interested in her. Rich's jaw clenched and he followed Angel out of the club.
+-+-+ The car ride was quiet. Rich had his radio on low volume. It was a police radio, tuned in to the local police station, so Rich could hear about any disturbances that could involve any of his girls.
A gentle rain had begun to fall, and Angel watched it out the truck window. She debated about asking him.
It could easily be considered out of line to ask, but the question was eating at her. "Why didn't you tell me about the shooting at the club?" Rich glanced over at her. "Why would it matter to you?" She kept quiet, still staring out the window. "It was just some drunk guys arguing. Nothing serious." "It is serious. There was a shooting." "Shit like that happens all the time. It doesn't effect you." "It does effect me. I dance there." Rich didn't respond.
"Rackel said the club has be dry since it happened." "Who's Rackel?" "One of the dancers." "And who's girl is she?" "Why does it matter? She works there. She makes a living there. Like me. She's there every night. She said people just aren't paying anymore. They're afraid the police will show up. And she said there's been some really sketchy guys hanging around after hours." "It's just an off season. Business will pick back up again." Rich really wanted to believe what he was saying, but he couldn't deny the fact that money wasn't flowing at the club.
He hadn't allowed Angel to work at the club since the shooting. He knew her fan base was not exactly the safest crowd, and he didn't want to put her in more of a risk than she already was.
He hadn't told her, because telling her about the shooting would force him to come to terms with the fact that the club was no longer working in his favor, and he would have to pull all of his girls from there, and find another club.
It was the terms that Angel was now forcing him to accept. He had enough on his mind as it was. Pimps were taking more notice in Angel, and that was never good.
They could easily corner her and force her to choose up. They could take her from him. They could hurt her. He couldn't let that happen. +-+-+ Rich had set up his bedroom with candles and had turned the lights down low.
It was, in Angel's opinion, a pathetic attempt to seduce her in romantic way that was clearly more than just the pimp-prostitute relationship they had.
She let him believe his seduction was a success, and had submitted to his lustful desires. She knew he wanted her more than she would allow him. He wanted their relationship to mean more than it did to her, and she had to continuously keep him a metaphorical arm's length away. Rich looked down at Angel, lying on the bed. The comforter pulled up far enough to cover her breasts, still left her collarbone and neck exposed.
Her dark hair curled around her neck, and her eyes were closed. Rich knew she wasn't asleep; she was only resting after an hour or so of pleasing him.
He turned away, sitting on the edge of the bed. He stared into the flame of a candle that sat on the nightstand. Mesmerized, and lost in his own thoughts. He had to do something to keep other pimps away from her. He had to ward them off; let them know she was his, and his alone.
Mark his territory. He reached into the nightstand drawer, pulling out the pocket knife that he kept there. These men needed to be taught a lesson. He flipped the knife open, examining it. They needed to know that Rich wasn't one to mess with. He pierced the candle's flame with the tip of the knife, rotating it there; watching the tip turn darker, and then start to turn orange with the heat.
He looked at Angel. She was watching him. Gently, he took her chin in his hand and turned her head away… Angel's short, pained cry echoed through the house.
Rich pulled the blade away, admiring the V shaped burn on the left side of her collarbone, its point standing up like a tiny pink mountain peak. She was his; his property had been claimed.