Like last time, this is a first draft. I’m not sure I want to keep it, but I like where it ends up.
Life at home got worse. Miska was glad that she was working at The First Blood in the evenings now. It gave her an excuse to avoid the scanty dinners and thin tempers of her home life. Before, she would hear murmurs, laughter, and sometimes the sounds of sex coming through the thin walls from her parents’ room. Now there was more often silence, or the harsh sounds of a hushed argument.
Leonora and Mirabelle obviously felt it too. They spent more and more time working at the sail loft and trying to ignore the tension at home. When they had to be at home, they were usually working on fine sewing work for another project that they’d taken in. Anything to get a little more money. Miska wished that she could bring in more too.
Miska nodded to the bouncer by the door, trying to act confident even though she felt like squirming. She’d never spent any time at the various pleasure houses of Marseille before, though she knew where they all were. She felt underdressed, with her rough work clothes standing out amidst the comfortable finery of The Golden Cage’s welcoming chambers.
There were a series of low couches and small tables laid out around the edges of the room, and the whole space felt vaguely familiar from her time at The First Blood. There, over on the wall to her right, was the bar. It was more finely made than Haubert’s, but it obviously served the same purpose. All the employees of the Cage wore thin red wristbands of some sort, sorting them out from the other well dressed clientele. But if you took away the upholstery and nice seating, and the gilding and carvings and dressy clothing, it looked a lot like a bar.
“Good evening, young mistress. My name is Anton. May I be of any assistance?” Miska was brought up short by the figure who appeared at her elbow. He was dressed in a closely tailored jacket that left little to the imagination and a set of pants that emphasized his butt and legs in a very distracting fashion. The little red wristband gave Miska some reassurance, but while his tone was perfectly helpful, his expression looked like he thought she might not belong there. Miska squeezed her hands together, fingers wound tightly behind her back.
“Yes, yes please.” Miska looked around to try to get some idea of where to start.
The man’s expression softened. “I’m flattered, young mistress, but I’m afraid that I might be a little bit beyond your means.” He leaned in just a little, still speaking quietly. “In fact, our whole house might be a little beyond your means. I’m very sorry.” He looked as though he’d just had a sudden thought. “Unless you’ve just had a particularly profitable voyage…?”
Miska blushed. “No, no, sorry, not like that. I was wondering if you needed any, um, help. Workers.”
The happy buzz of quiet conversation continued around them. People sat and drank, sometimes cuddling with their companions, sometimes simply talking and laughing. Occasionally two or several people would stand and walk out, through a door that led further into the building.
Anton eyed her quizzically. “I’m sorry young mistress, but from the way that you look, I’m not sure you’re cut out for my line of work.”
Miska opened her mouth to respond, and shut it again.
“I’m so sorry! I just realized how that sounded.” Anton looked embarrassed. “Let me try again; you look uncomfortable here. The entire idea is to make others feel comfortable, and that’s hard to do when you feel uncomfortable yourself.” He searched her face to see if she understood.
Miska nodded, swallowed, then spoke in a very quiet voice. “I meant, like a bouncer or something.” She fought the blush that still covered her face, and lost. “I think you’re right about me and your line of work. But I’m strong.”
“Ahhh, I see.” Anton nodded, looking her up and down. “Yes, that’s a bit different. Come, let me get you set up in the corner over here.” He walked with her, somehow making it feel like a casual stroll taken by friends, and led her to a chair by a small round table next to the bar. It was tucked away, secluded from the rest of the room. “I’m so sorry about my earlier misunderstanding. Please, let me offer you a drink on the house, and I’ll fetch the owners right away.”
Miska sat alone with her mulled wine, sipping from it and watching the rest of the room. It was such a different sort of experience from working at The First Blood; she’d been going there ever since she was old enough to remember, first with her parents and then on her own. But there were enough things in common between them that she could see how alike they were. Since having started work at The First Blood, she could now tell how the severs made their circuits, and she admired the speed with which they worked. They were obviously very good at their jobs. It didn’t hurt that they could use whatever companion was accompanying a guest as a sounding board for the guest’s needs. Though she couldn’t tell what they were indicating yet, Miska could see that the companions often signaled the servers as they came around.
She looked up in wonder at the couple that was approaching her now, following Anton. They seemed almost to float across the room, passing by without leaving a trace, hardly interrupting the movement of anyone else. They sat opposite her, with their backs to the rest of the room, and when they smiled they looked so similar that it was eerie.
“Good evening, young mistress. Anton was just telling us that you were looking for work with us, is that correct?”
Miska nodded, and swallowed her sip of mulled wine. Anton silently bowed himself out of the conversation.
“My name is Yvonne,” the woman spoke, her fingertip resting on her chest, “and this is my brother Yves.” The fingertip drifted to her companion. He smiled again.
Yves inclined his head towards Miska. “And you are?”
Miska cleared her throat cautiously. “Miska. My name is Miska. I’m a stevedore, and I work at The First Blood too.” Yves hummed and nodded.
“And what sort of work were you hoping to do for us, Miska?” Yvonne’s voice was kind.
Miska looked around the room, trying to get an idea of how people were behaving. “Well, I’d thought that you might want another bouncer, or something like that.” The room didn’t seem rowdy enough to warrant more bouncers, and she could feel her idea slipping past her. Maybe there wasn’t an opportunity here after all.
“No need to look so crestfallen, my dear. Though you’re right to think that we don’t need more bouncers.” Yves turned to look at his sister. “Perhaps we could find some other job for her? I think she’d do marvelously for the deal that we were talking about last week.”
Yvonne turned to face him, her eyes narrowing. “Yes,” she said slowly, “I think you’re right.” They stared at each other for a few moments more before nodding and turning back to Miska.
“We won’t be needing your services here at The Golden Cage, I’m afraid.” Miska closed her eyes. She could feel the rejection wash through her like a wave. But Yvonne continued talking, “There is, however, something else that we feel might suit you better. It would make use of your, mmm, strengths shall we say.”
Miska opened her eyes again, to find the two of them smiling at her again in their unnerving way.
“You see, while we have no need of another bouncer here,” Yves said, “we would be quite interested in acquiring some unknown local talent for another business of ours which we just recently started.” He reached into his vest and withdrew a thin leather wallet. When he set it down Miska could hear its contents clink. “Would you be interested in fighting? Professionally?”