All the King’s Queens – Chapter 10: Daring Escape

For twenty-eight minutes, four bandits and five hostages sit together in complete silence. Nobody even wants to make too much noise breathing (which becomes more difficult the longer everyone has to endure each other). Melanie has snuggled up next to Dylan. Peggy still has not let go of his hand. Monique and Henry are leaning against each other shoulder to shoulder. After what seems like an eternity, the silence is interrupted when Thomas Sellars briskly barges into the room. Stephen gets up when he sees him enter and approaches him. They speak together near the door, their conversation unintelligible, conducted in hushed tones. A few minutes later, Thomas returns to the storage room while Stephen lumbers back to his spot. When he sits down, he decides to break the gym’s silence.

“He’s making good progress. He says he should be done within an hour. That’s good news for all of us. We can leave soon with our loot, and you can leave with your lives,” Stephen promises the hostages. He looks at everyone individually. “This nightmare will soon be over. Trust me.” He looks at his watch and sees the time is now 1:14 in the morning. Moments ago, Stephen received a text from Bill Marks informing him that the security systems are now back online everywhere in the region. This means they cannot leave the property without being caught on camera. However, that shouldn’t be a problem because they’ll leave with masks on. Plus, the bandits have every reason to believe that none of the hostages will report them to the police.

“How do you plan to get away with this? We clearly know who you are,” Henry asks. Stephen is amused that it’s Dylan’s chef who asks this probing question.

“Ah, yes. You’re right. You do know who I am. You may not know the first and last names of my associates, but you certainly know me, which theoretically should be good enough,” Stephen says. “However, we also know who all of you are. You’re Henry, the cook. That’s Peggy, the porn star. This is Melanie, the professional bodybuilder. And that’s Monique, the aspiring Olympic athlete and future gold medalist. And of course, the man of the hour, Mr. Dylan Tanaka. So your identities are not a secret.” Stephen flips through everyone’s confiscated driver’s licenses, reading the names and addresses of all of his hostages. He flashes them in front of his audience, like a magician showing the anxious crowd his deck of cards.

“Miss Wright lives in Chicago at 19903 87th Avenue Southeast, the lovely Miss St. Martin resides at 2477 Santiago Boulevard North in Miami, our famous porn actress Peggy Cole lives at 9090 Cortez Road Southeast, apartment number 540 in Las Vegas, and Henry lives in a humble little condo in West Seattle. Pretty close to one of my favorite pizza places,” Stephen taunts the crowd. “And we all know where Dylan lives and sleeps. Hell, I also know who he sleeps with. Or at least, who is willing to actually sleep with him.” He gives Dylan a cruel look, knowing he’s as emotionally drained as can be. Dylan doesn’t justify his taunts with a response. Besides, he has none to give.

“Damn it,” Peggy murmurs.

“Oh yeah, you can see why it would be dangerous for any of you to turn us in to the police. Or the FBI, CIA, NSA, DOD, DOJ, or whatever alphabet soup federal bureaucracy would have jurisdiction over an investigation into our, um, illegal activities.” Whistling at the sudden realization that he could be potentially in extremely hot water if caught, Stephen drops the taunting act and becomes serious for a moment. “So, you all keep your mouths shut. Don’t say a word about what happened here, what we stole, and whatever we plan to do with it. Actually, I don’t think any of you know what we plan to do with the intel we retrieve tonight. That’s advantageous to us. Let’s keep it that way. What’s the expression, Dylan boy?”

“Loose lips sink ships,” Dylan educates the group.

“Bingo! That’s exactly right. I could never keep the verb tenses straight. Thanks for knowing the exact phrasing. Anyway, you all saw how we easily broke into Dylan’s very expensive home and took you all hostage. You see we have guns and are not afraid to use them. If we have the technical know-how to subvert Dylan’s advanced security systems, you can be damn well assured that we can track all of you down and hunt you down like wild rabbits. We’re deeply connected. We have associates everywhere. Literally everywhere. Am I right, boys?”

“Oh yeah. Everywhere. For sure,” Roddy confirms.

“I got a buddy who lives not far from you, Miss Wright,” Xander says directly to Melanie. Her eyes widen, goosebumps suddenly forming on her skin. She doesn’t know if he’s being serious or if he’s just trying to frighten her, but can she really take a chance? Her life depends on it.

“Wow. That’s crazy. What a small world!” Stephen smirks. He’s pretty sure he’s scared the hostages straight. None of them are going to try anything stupid or unnecessarily heroic. Now is the time to hammer the point home in case there is still any ambiguity. “This means you stay silent about tonight for the rest of your lives. If you squeal to the authorities, we’ll know about it. We may not know exactly who squealed, so that means we’ll just have to silence all of you just to make sure. Do you want to risk it? Do you want to risk your life and the lives of everyone sitting next to you? And we won’t just come after you all. We’ll come after your friends, family, and anyone we think is important to you. I mean, we know Dylan is important to all of you. I can easily come on over at any time and put a bullet between his slanty Asian eyes.”

Dylan, still committed to not giving Stephen the satisfaction of getting a rise out of him, dismisses this racist comment as being par for the course. He always assumed Stephen was an honorable man. One supposes that notion should have challenged during their time working for the Department of Defense. The occasional glee he would exhibit when a successful drone strike killed hundreds of militants (they tried to avoid using the word “terrorist” because not all of them were formal members of al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Boko Haram) should have raised alarm bells. Unfortunately, Dylan just assumed his colleague was excited to have contributed toward a heroic effort to save innocent civilians from barbarians. How wrong he was, in retrospect. Stephen is and always has been a “grade A” psychopath.

“You just keep getting more and more charming,” Monique says to her captor. “You may get away with this, but one day your time will come. Your luck will run out. You can’t keep doing things like this forever. Eventually, your fun will come crashing down.”

“Oh, I have no doubt about that,” Stephen admits. “You’re right, Missy. One day I will face my day of reckoning. Some day. Not sure when, but I’m sure it’ll be thoroughly unpleasant. But, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. That day is not today, I’m sure of it. Your day of reckoning, however, could be today if you do anything stupid to piss me off.”

All the hostages look down to the floor, almost simultaneously. Stephen gives a look to Roddy. Both men seem to agree that their message has been received and understood with crystal clarity. They shouldn’t have any persisting issues with these five frightened, vulnerable souls. In less than an hour, they should be able to stroll out of this place with their loot successfully stolen and not a care in the world. Soon, they’ll have wealthy bidders from across the globe begging them to sell their intel to them. And Stephen will make sure he gets the best deal he possibly could. Nothing less than the most lucrative.

“Hey. Speaking of getting pissy, I got to pee. Like, real bad,” Peggy speaks up. The other hostages all look at her. Stephen turns around to face Miss Cole.

“Well, we’re all human. I’m glad none of you pissed or shitted yourselves up to this point. I’m quite impressed with that. I may be a cruel monster, but I can’t deny that when nature calls, one must pick up the phone.” Stephen looks at Cortez, who appears to be getting bored listening to everyone lecture each other while they wait for Thomas to break into the vault. “Cortez. Take her to the bathroom. I saw one across the hall, is that correct?”

“Yes. It’s a changing room with shower stalls and lots of toilets,” Dylan confirms. “You can take her there. It’s literally just across the hall.”

“Uh huh. Go. And don’t do anything stupid, you hear me? No drama. No foolishness. Nothing that will risk your life or the lives of your beloved friends,” Stephen issues a stern warning. He looks right at Peggy’s face as she stands up and drops the blanket to the floor, revealing her naked muscular body. Until now, all the bandits have forgotten that the hostages are actually naked since they’ve been huddled up in these fleece blankets for the past thirty minutes. Cortez’s heart jumps at the sight of one of his favorite porn performers walking toward him as nude as the day she was born.

“I hear you. Yeah, nothing stupid. I got it. I’m just going to take a piss, wash my hands, and come back here like a good little girl,” Peggy promises her lead captor. Stephen nods his head without saying a word. He glances at Cortez, who starts to head to the exit.

“Let’s go,” Cortez instructs Peggy. She follows behind him at a timid pace.

“If any of you also need a bathroom break, just speak up. But you can only go one at a time. No group trips to the toilet. Got it?” Stephen offers. Everyone nods their heads meekly. As Cortez and Peggy leave the gym, the four remaining hostages return gazing at the floor. This is enough of a confirmation. “Good. I’m so happy at how cooperative we all are. This is going swimmingly!”

***

Cortez, like a true gentleman, opens the door to the locker room/shower room for Peggy. She smiles at him, showing her appreciation for his kindness. Yes, she’s angry at all five of the thugs who’ve taken them hostage, but the bulk of her rage has been directed at Stephen Callahan. She knows the rest are simply hired goons doing a job for a paycheck. For the rest, it’s not personal. It’s all business. As a former professional bodybuilder and current hotshot in the adult entertainment industry, Peggy Cole knows a thing or two about doing whatever paying job you can to get by. The bills must be paid somehow. Food won’t just materialize on the table out of thin air. You have to work in order to eat, sleep, and play. So because of this, she can rationalize why these men have turned to a life of crime in order to make their living. It’s certainly not an honorable living…but it is a living nevertheless. She hopes one day they will all wake up and decide to abandon the life of crime. Everybody has a conscience, right?

Right?

The locker room is spacious, just like the other rooms in the building. It looks just like one you’d see at a small fitness gym. Dylan sure knows how to spend his money, Peggy thinks to herself. There are wooden benches everywhere, a few metal lockers (for guests), and a row of sinks with ceiling-high mirrors. On the far side of the room, there’s a short hallway that leads to a walk-in sauna and a few individual toilet stalls. Cortez struggles to find the light switch but eventually does. Peggy watches him check her out once the room is fully lit.

“Do you like what you see?” Peggy asks him with a strong condescending tone.

“Uh, yeah, actually,” Cortez stammers. “Um, er, hey, I actually know who you are. I’m a big fan. I’m actually one of your subscribers. I love your videos.”

Before entering into the nearest toilet stall, Peggy turns around to face him. She looks surprised. “Really? Well, that’s quite a coincidence. Never in a million years did I ever think one of my fans would hold me and my friends hostage at gunpoint. Are you still going to subscribe to my channel even after what you and your loser buddies are doing tonight?”

“Oh yeah, of course. I, uh, I hope you aren’t pissed off at me. Honestly, this is just a job. I don’t want to hurt any of you. I don’t want anyone to get shot or nothing. That’s not my style, you feel me?” Out of nowhere, Peggy’s intuition kicks in. She sees an opportunity. She clearly heard Stephen’s fire and brimstone speech about the damnation they’d experience if they squealed to the cops or attempted to escape. However, Peggy doesn’t intend to let these bastards get away with it. Not if she could help it. Keeping mum forever isn’t in her DNA.

“I can believe it. To tell you the truth, I’m not really angry at you or the other guys. The main guy, that motherfucker, I hate his fucking guts. You can believe that!”

“Oh, I believe you. I’ll be honest, I don’t really like him neither, you feel me? He’s smart and all, but he can get really intense for no reason, you know what I mean?” By now, Peggy realizes that they are down the hall in another room separated by large glass doors and a longer hallway. Plus, everyone is hanging out on the far side of the gym. That means she and Cortez are really far away from everybody. Nothing they talk about can be heard, which also means they can make a lot of noise and (theoretically) nobody will be able to hear them. Peggy keeps this observation to herself as she formulates in her mind an escape plan. She has a funny feeling about that Callahan guy. He may seem calm on the surface, but he’s shown just enough “crazy” to tell her that he could be a loose cannon. He insists he doesn’t want to shoot any of them, but how sure can they be of that? What if he decides at the last minute to execute every single one of them just as they walk out the front entrance with their loot? Or, what if he decides to kill just Dylan? The thought of that poor man lying on the floor surrounded in a pool of blood is enough to make hers boil.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I know you’re no innocent boy, but I don’t hold anything against you. How long have you been living this kind of life?” Peggy comes closer to him, drawing his gaze entirely on her face (a face, it should be noted, that many plastic surgeons have worked on over the years). Cortez looks down at her puffy red lips, wanting to kiss her sooooooooooo badly. But he’s a professional and cannot let his guard down. Right now, she says she needs to use the bathroom, so that’s what she’s going to do.

“Uh, not too long. Say, didn’t you say you had to pee? May…maybe you should, uh, do that now, you know?” Peggy strategically circles around him so that her strong body is covering the exit. If he wants to go back to the locker room, he’ll need to get through her first. Also, she knows he cannot resist her. She’s met enough of her fans throughout the years to know how they normally react when they see her in-person for the first time. They usually go nuts, losing all sense of dignity and sense of decorum. This guy appears to be no exception. This can work to her advantage.

“I do. Now you tell me, big boy, how long have you known about me?” She rubs her enormous breasts together and pinches her nipples so that they stand straight out like pointed arrows. Cortez cannot help but stare at her 40FF cup size. He swears they’re the largest pair of boobs he’s ever seen before. Involuntarily, as if under the control of a magic spell, he begins rubbing his fingers across her hardened nipples.

“At least four years. Maybe longer than that. I don’t know for sure…”

Before Peggy can ball her hand in a fist and punch him in the face, Cortez snaps out of his trance and back off a few paces away from her. He takes a deep breath, refocusing himself on the job at hand…and ignores the growing erection developing in his pants.

“Okay, okay, okay, let’s stop this. Right now. You said you have to pee. Now, do it. Just DO IT, NOW!” He points to the closest toilet stall. The authoritative tone of his voice tells her that he’s smart enough to not let his horny imagination get the best of him. Unless…

“Okay, sugar pie. You’re right. You win.”

“Hold it!” Cortez puts out his arm to stop her from going into the stall. “You, uh, do have to pee, right?”

“Yeah, I’m about to burst if I don’t go right now, so move it or lose it buster.”

“Uh, um, would you mind if…uh…would you mind doing me a favor?” Almost giving up on the idea of executing a daring escape, Peggy sees that perhaps this guy is being led by his horniness after all. This could be the opportunity she so desperately needs!

“Go on, sugar. What favor can I do for you?” She gives him a coy look. When she bites her lower lip suggestively, this makes Cortez unwillingly blurt out his deepest, most forbidden fantasies to a woman he’s had a celebrity crush on for years.

“This will sound really weird, but…” he tails off. Peggy urges him to go on by raising her eyebrow. He takes this as permission to say whatever he needs to say to her.

“…Could you pee in my mouth?”

Stunned but not scandalized, Peggy’s eyes open wide after hearing Cortez’s dirty request. She’s been in the porn industry long enough to have seen and done it all. It’s been several years since she’s participated in a fetishistic video involving urinating in someone’s mouth, but she (technically speaking) does have experience in this arena. Her first foray into a “pee-pee video” was a gang-bang episode of a now-defunct late-night pay-per-view erotic public access TV channel. This must have been at least twenty years ago, maybe longer. She laid on the floor while eight (or nine) men stood around her and peed into her mouth, all over her face, and everywhere else on her body. She hated doing it, but it paid a decent amount of money. The director eventually became a close friend of hers, and they went on to make several videos together in the coming years (none of them involving urine, for the record). So in a gross sort of way, it was totally worth it. Peggy insists she still gets the occasional nightmare where she can distinctly smell it in her sleep. And when she wakes up, Peggy feels like going to the bathroom will trigger her PTSD. But this time around, he’d be the one receiving it, not her. That’s a step in the right direction.

“Sure, baby. I do that all the time,” she fibs. “Get on the floor, NOW!”

Without hesitation, Cortez lies down on the floor like a trained puppy. He slaps himself in the face a few times, as if trying to test to see whether or not this is a dream. It’s not. Or maybe he likes getting slapped before a bitch pees on him. Who knows? Peggy stands over him, spreads her legs wide, and squats down so that she positions her vagina directly over his mouth. Now it’s her turn to take a deep breath so she can calm her nerves.

“You ready, darling?”

“Oh yeah! I’m ready. You know I’m ready. LET’S GO!”

“Good. Just lay there like a good, obedient little boy and let mama do the rest.” A few seconds later, Peggy releases her bladder. She goes as slowly as she can so that she doesn’t urinate too fast or too much. Cortez’s mouth is wide open, gleefully taking in as much of her golden yellow urine as possible. He makes a nauseating gurgling noise as he drinks Peggy’s hot smelly liquid. She looks up so he cannot see her face as she cringes with disgust. Peggy becomes even more repulsed as she feels a steady stream of warm urine overflow out of his mouth and pool around her bare feet. She struggles not to gag. Cortez, to his credit, appears to be having the time of his life. For as long as she lives, Peggy Cole will never understand why people have this fetish. But they do. And they apparently get turned on by this. She’s not usually a judgmental person. However, the strong odor and uncontrollable sounds of arousal coming out of him make for another horrid memory that will forever be burned into her brain.

Finally, she completely empties her bladder. She has nothing left to give him. She stands up straight and looks down at Cortez. His eyes are closed, and he has the biggest shit-eating (or pee-drinking) grin on his face. He licks his lips so he can enjoy every last drop. Seeing this makes Peggy want to vomit all over him. Maybe he’d enjoy that too?

“Oh, girl. That was fantastic. I loved it. Every second of it. Thank you, baby girl.” Cortez gets up off the floor and looks at himself in the mirror. He sees his shirt is all wet. Thankfully, he’s wearing all black so none of the guys will notice. However, they might note the pungent smell…

Before he can turn on a faucet to wash up, Peggy grabs the back of Cortez’s head and knees him in the face. He lets out a sharp cry of pain. Now properly bewildered, Peggy holds on to as much hair on the back of his head as possible and sees a white-painted brick wall in front of them. She winds up, grits her teeth, and smashes his head against the wall as hard as she can three times. Peggy lets go and watches Cortez drop to the floor like a ventriloquist dummy. She leans over him, seeing an ugly gash on his forehead and a modest amount of blood dripping down his cheek. The three powerful collisions knock Cortez out cold. She backs off so she can accurately observe his unconscious body. Cortez doesn’t move. Sure enough, he’s not getting up anytime soon.

“Sweet dreams, you sick fuck,” she says to him, knowing he cannot hear a single word she says.

Peggy sees Cortez’s gun in its holster. She picks it up and flips the safety switch from “safe” to “fire” with her thumb. She takes one last look at the perverted idiot lying on the floor like a pathetic passed-out drunk. Satisfied with her beat down of him, she exits the bathroom. Treading carefully, she knows not having shoes on will make it easier for her to walk around without being heard. As she leaves the locker room, she looks down the hallway to see if the safecracker guy is still at work. She can hear the dreadfully annoying sound of his drill cutting through metal to confirm that he is in fact still going at it. The gym door is closed, so no one inside can see her sneaking around with a loaded Glock 19.

It’s been almost a year since Peggy last fired a gun. One of her boyfriends is named Wally, a proud self-professed gun nut who lives on a survivalist ranch in the middle of the Nevada desert. They met while shooting a promotional video for a gun convention that was coming to the MGM Grand Conference Center. She wore a skimpy bikini, carrying a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle as suggestively as possible, and strutted around a stage as Wally and some other spokesman stood front and center to invite the viewers to the convention. During their lunch break, she and Wally snuck off to the bathroom to quickly fuck. They exchanged phone numbers and stayed in touch. For the last four years he’s been one of the seventeen lovers (Peggy is proudly polyamorous to a fault) that she sees regularly. Dylan is one of them, of course, but Wally is great because he lives in close proximity and shatters the smear that guys like to shoot guns because they have small penises. Wally isn’t nearly as big as Kit or Henry, but he can hold his own and not feel ashamed. He taught her how to shoot all sorts of guns, pistols included. She’s not a great markswoman by any stretch of the imagination, but for the time being she’s probably the most experienced shooter out of all her friends holed up in the basement.

“What the fuck should I do?” Peggy desperately whispers aloud to herself. Should she storm inside the room and blast her way toward liberating her friends? Or would that put her and her pals in even more danger? She thinks long and hard about what to do.

I have a gun, but so do the three other men that are inside that room, she figures. My friends would be in the line of fire if I went in there “guns blazing.” That is a risk I cannot take. Instead, I need to get out of here and call for help. Once I’m outside, I can start screaming my head off until one of the neighbors hears me. They can call 9-1-1 and get a fucking SWAT team in here to take care of the rest of these motherfuckers.

“Yes, that’s what I’m going to do. Call for help,” Peggy decides. She hurries up the stairs, her body running on pure adrenaline. She sprints toward the front door and dashes outside. The fresh cool summer air has never felt so damn good. Knowing time is of the essence, Peggy has to get help as soon as she can. By now, that Stephen guy is probably getting suspicious at why they’ve been in the bathroom for so long. Suspicion breeds paranoia, which breeds anger, which could lead to his friends getting shot by the madman. She must act now.

It takes only twenty-five seconds for Peggy to run down the driveway and reach the front gate. The darkness of night prevents her from seeing the walk-through pedestrian door located right next to the car gate. She frantically looks around for a way to leave the property.

“Damn Dylan, how the fuck do you get out of here?” She yells in frustration. “How the fuck do I leave? There has to be a door somewhere!”

Giving up trying to leave the traditional way, she looks up at the gate and wonders if she could climb over it. The ominous metal spikes at the top deter her from even trying. She spots a lone light coming from the next-door neighbor’s house. On the second floor, only one window is illuminated. And, it appears as though the window is open! Peggy can faintly see a pair of white curtains waving gently in the cool summer breeze. Deciding that her options are limited, she does the only thing she knows she can do at the moment.

“HEEEEEEEYYYYYYYYYYYY!!! CAN YOU HEAR MEEEEEEE? HELLO!!! HELP! SOMEBODY GET HELP! CALL THE FUCKING POLICE!!! HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLP!!!” Peggy screams at the top of her lungs. She’s never screamed this loud before in her entire life. Out of breath and desperately trying to save her friends from untimely deaths, Peggy almost gives up screaming until she sees a porch light turn on at the house. If she had her glasses on she could better see the figure of the woman sticking her head out the window. A few seconds later, an older man in his mid to late 60s walks out the front door, an annoyed look on his face. She doesn’t blame him, though. She’d be upset too if an insane woman interrupted everyone’s sleep by screaming her head off nonstop in the middle of the night.

The old man trudges along slowly, drowsy and not wanting to deal with this commotion. His name is Kurt Ward. His wife, Bethany, is the woman who’s watching the drama unfold from her bedroom window. The Wards are friendly to Dylan Tanaka, but they are not exactly good friends. In the months after the federal trial ended, a seemingly endless stream of newspaper reporters, TV news vans, helicopters, bloggers, and idiotic tourists came by the neighborhood on a daily basis to get in contact with Seattle’s newly infamous war criminal who got away scot-free. The racket these intrusive morons caused made living in this cul-de-sac an absolute nightmare. There were times when Kurt couldn’t even drive to and from his house to run errands. The massive crowd of people would clog up the street. A few times TV news vans would actually block his driveway! He had to call the cops in several instances when they wouldn’t leave at a decent hour. The good news was that after about six or seven months, the bothersome traffic subsided and life eventually returned back to normal. Still, Kurt and Bethany couldn’t forgive Dylan for those hellish several months.

They also aren’t the biggest of fans of endless Middle Eastern wars, which is a whole other matter.

“Quit your yapping! Dear God, stop making so much goddamn noise! People are trying to sleep around here. Damn it. What seems to be the problem?” Kurt asks as he approaches the front gate of the Tanaka Residence.

***

“What the fuck is taking so long?” Stephen asks his men. “She said she had to pee, not take a long shit. I don’t like it. Xan, go check it out. Tell her to get going and not wipe her ass.”

Xander, amused but not willing to show it, leaves the room without saying a word. Now that there are only two gunmen and four hostages, both Stephen and Roddy remove their firearms. This sends the message that being outnumbered is no reason for any of the four remaining captives to try anything bold.

“Trust us, we’re not attempting shit,” Henry reassures both gunmen. “We’re staying put.”

“It’s just a precaution,” Roddy insists. This sort of puts everyone at ease. But not really. It’s never a comfortable feeling when men with guns are standing within an earshot of you. Melanie begins to worry for Peggy, unsure if she’s done anything imprudent that could lead to her tragic demise. Dylan sits back and wonders how this nightmare will eventually end, if at all.

Across the hallway, Xander pokes his head into the locker room. The lights are on, though nobody seems to be around. He can’t hear the sound of anyone peeing.

“Damn, look at this place,” he says to himself as he meanders around. “It’s like a real gym in here. Shoot, the rich sure know how to live!” As he approaches the toilets, Xander instantly notices the horrible smell of urine wafting down the narrow corridor. Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, Xander has always had an excellent sense of smell. Right now, it’s definitely a curse. His eyes look down, as if his nose knows which direction the smell is coming from. He gasps when he sees Cortez lying on his back, apparently either knocked out…or dead.

“Holy shit! Cortez, you alright?” He bends down and shakes him violently. Xander tries his hardest not to puke as the smell of urine invades his delicate senses. “Motherfucker, what happened here? Did that chick pee on you and knock you the fuck out?”

As if the accusation alone caused him to awaken so that he could defend himself against such a factually accurate guess, Cortez’s eyes slowly open, his vision foggy from his head being slammed against the wall multiple times. Xander grabs him and brings him to a sitting position. Then, he sees the blood trickling down Cortez’s face. He grabs a nearby towel, places it on his forehead, and tries to wake him up even faster.

“Dude, what the fuck happened to you? You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay…” Cortez looks around at his surroundings but can barely remember what just happened to him. He knows he has a concussion, though this is something he’ll have to soldier through. Right now he has much bigger fish to fry. “That bitch knocked me out cold. For real. Where is she?”

“No idea. The boss man asked me to come over to check on you. You were gone a long time. He got suspicious. That’s all. Looks like he was right,” Xander says, cleaning off the blood from Cortez’s cheek, chin, and neck. The wound has already begun to clot, so the worse of the bleeding has stopped. From Cortez’s perspective, everything is blurry, hazy, and unfocused. He hopes this doesn’t last long.

“I…I think that bitch got away,” Cortez reaches for his gun and doesn’t find it. “Oh shit! She took my gun. Fuck, she’s packing heat now!”

“Damn it! We got to go. Come on.” Xander gives Cortez a hand to help him to his feet. Xander sprints back to the gym with his partner struggling to keep up. Standing up and running is only making his massive headache even worse. Less than twenty seconds later, both men burst through the doors to alert their boss about the missing hostage.

“Boss, boss! She’s gone. The bitch disappeared. She knocked him out, took his gun, and fled somewhere. We don’t know where,” Xander blurts out. Everyone freezes when they wait for Stephen’s reaction. Mr. Callahan closes his eyes for a moment, then picks up his chair and throws it across the room. It lands on top of a stationary bicycle, making a loud CLANG noise.

“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!! What the fuck do I pay you pieces of shit for? How the fuck did she escape? You had a gun. She’s unarmed. No, she literally had NO FUCKING CLOTHES ON, YOU ABSOLUTE DIPSHIT!” Stephen’s face becomes red with hot rage. Both men, including Roddy, flinch at their boss’s explosive temper. Dylan can only smile, enjoying seeing his former colleague throw a tantrum like a small child.

“Go look for her. NOW! She’s probably trying to escape. Try the front gate. And keep things quiet,” Stephen growls. “All three of you, get going. I’ll stay behind. And don’t start shooting unless she shoots first. I don’t want to wake up the neighbors. GO!”

The three men don’t bother to ask any questions. They immediately take off, running up the stairs on the way to the front door. Stephen paces around, his head looking down, trying to formulate his next move. An escaped hostage was not in his plans. In fact, Dylan was the only person he anticipated would be home. The four others were a total surprise. If this bitch blows their cover and somehow gets ahold of the police, this operation will be a failure. He’d have no choice but to tell Thomas to stop drilling, pack up his things, and get out before the cops arrive. And any chance of repeating this operation is next to nil. This is a once-in-a-lifetime heist that could go off the rails in a hurry if his men don’t catch up to her in time.

“Well, now I know how you feel, Dylan,” Stephen remarks, surprisingly in a much calmer mood.

“How so?”

“Now I know what it’s like to have to work with incompetent underlings. I’m sure this isn’t foreign to you, is it?” Stephen cannot bear to look at Dylan, knowing he’s probably enjoying seeing him explode in a rage. His eyes remain focused on the floor.

“Yeah, I know what this is like,” Dylan says. “I mean, who hasn’t had to deal with the occasional intern who makes the coffee too strong…or the hired thug who lets an unarmed naked woman beat him up and steal his gun?” This elicits a laugh from the rest of the hostages, further enraging the lone criminal left in the room.

“Fuck you all! Fuck this shit. I’d stop laughing if I were you. When my boys catch up with her, I’ll bring her back down here and shoot her in the head myself. All of you will have to watch her brains explode out of her skull. How does that sound? Huh?” Stephen’s threat shuts up the hostages immediately. The reality sinks in that if she gets caught, Peggy would certainly be executed. Everyone returns to feeling grim. “Oh yeah. That’s what I thought. You’re not laughing anymore. Are you?”

Silence.

“That’s what I thought.”

***

It wasn’t until Kurt Ward came within twenty feet of the front gate that he noticed three highly unusual things about the woman whose screaming has woken up the entire neighborhood (Kurt has already taken his contact lenses out, limiting his vision). First, she’s naked. Second, she’s muscular. As in, more muscular than a lot of the guys who work out at the YMCA he regularly goes to. Third, she’s carrying a firearm. These three facts make Kurt realize that his evening is about to get a whole lot more interesting.

“Um, ma’am. What’s going on? Why…uh, why are you not wearing any clothes? What the hell is going on here?” Kurt is a modest man who realizes his wife may be watching this interaction. He tries his best to only look at the woman’s face and not dip his eyes too low.

“You got to call the cops! NOW! We were having a party, then these armed men showed up and took me and my friends hostage, you got to call 9-1-1 right now! They took our phones. Do you have your phone on you?” Nearly out of breath, Peggy almost starts crying tears of joy knowing help may soon be on the way. Her heart sinks when she sees the man reach into his back pocket and not take out a phone.

“A hostage situation? Sweet Jesus. Uh, my phone? Oh, no I do not. My phone is in my house. I, uh, I can go back and–”

Before Kurt can finish his sentence, both he and Peggy hear the front door of Dylan’s home burst open. She turns around and sees three dark figures running toward her. Out of instinct, she drops to the ground even though she’s carrying a loaded gun. This move saves her life, as she hears a loud “BANG!” noise reverberate throughout this (previously) quiet neighborhood. She watches the man fall to the ground next to her. Peggy cannot tell who fired the shot, but it hits the man directly in his stomach. Her ears burn from hearing him holler out a blood-curdling scream that certainly will wake up even more neighbors. Her second instinctive decision, this time motivated by vengeance instead of self-preservation, is to point her gun at the three black figures and randomly fire two shots in their direction. The three men start shouting as they fall to the ground to avoid getting hit. Both shots miss. One bullet hits the garage door and the other hits the top of a chain-link fence. The distinct “CLANG!” sound is a dead giveaway. The shouting from the men ceases as they come to the realization that unnecessary sound will reveal their locations.

“Don’t move! Or I’ll fire again. And trust me, motherfuckers, this time I won’t miss!” Peggy quickly looks up and notices a porch light hanging right above her. It’s attached to the top of the front gate. There’s another one on the opposite side but this particular one is of more interest to her. If it’s activated by a motion sensor, a sudden move could turn it on. This would certainly give away her position and make her a sitting duck. She creeps away from the light just to make sure.

“Ohhhhhhh, my God! I…I’ve been sh…shot!” the man cries to anyone who’s willing to listen. Peggy doesn’t dare look back because she needs to concentrate instead on the three gunmen laying on their bellies ahead of her. She can’t see them but she knows they’re out there. They are wise to not make any noise.

Several hundred feet away, Bethany Ward, who heard all three gunshots but (as of yet) is not aware that her husband is currently laying on the pavement bleeding to death, goes to her phone and calls 9-1-1 like a good citizen. Her voice shakes as she waits for the operator to pick up on the other side.

“9-1-1 what is your emergency?”

“Oh! Uh. Hi, my name is Bethany. I live on Winchester Drive, right off 43rd Avenue. Th…there seems to have been a shooting. My husband is out there, trying to figure out what’s going on. He’s not back yet, I don’t know where he is…”

“Ma’am, please try to remain calm. You said there were shots fired? About how many?”

“Oh, uh, three I think. Yeah. Three.”

“Okay. Three shots fired. Has anyone been wounded, as far as you can tell?”

“I don’t know. Oh my God, my husband is out there! He might be hurt! I need to go to him–”

“No, please ma’am. You need to stay on the line. We need more information. Please don’t go. You said you live on Winchester and 43rd Avenue. Is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. Where did the shooting take place, exactly? On your property or somewhere on the street?”

“I…I…I don’t know. It’s dark. I can’t see real good. There was a woman shouting just now. My husband, Kurt, he went outside to see what all the commotion was about.”

“Is the woman possibly the shooter?”

“Maybe. Th…that’s possible. She…she was screaming her head off, making a lot of racket. Probably woke up the entire neighborhood. But I don’t know. It’s too dark to see. Please hurry!”

“Don’t worry, ma’am. We’ve just dispatched some patrol cars to come your way. They should be here in a few minutes. Please stay on the line and provide us updates if anything new happens.”

“Uh, okay. I…I can do that.”

“Please remain calm. Help is on the way. You’re doing great. You really are.”

On the other end of the line, the operator sends a message to all patrol cars on active duty in the area to head over to 43rd and Winchester to investigate a possible “active shooter” situation. Specifics are unclear. No known casualties. Three shots fired. A woman was screaming earlier. She could possibly be the shooter. Proceed with caution.

Just as the police scanner begins to alert nearby patrol cars to arrive at the scene as soon as possible, Peggy stands up and runs behind a neatly trimmed rosebush located about twelve feet away from Kurt’s body. She’s still on the other side of the gate, unaware of how to escape. But right now, escaping is not on her mind. Avoiding being shot by not one, but three gunmen, is currently at the top of her “to-do” list. She quickly glances at the man and is relieved to see he’s still alive. He’s not making any noise, but she can clearly see him writhing around the pavement, holding his stomach with both hands. Poor fellow, she thinks to herself. He may have been rude to her, but he’s still an innocent bystander in all of this.

“Okay, fuckers! I’m packing heat. You know that now. I know you all are, too. So let’s not do anything stupid, alright?” Peggy yells into the darkness.

“Fair enough,” Roddy says, still laying on his belly in the driveway. Xander and Cortez are lucky to be on the grass where it’s much more comfortable. “You want to be a good girl and come back inside with us? I have a clear shot at that old man. I can kill him right now if you don’t do what I say. Do you want his death on your conscience, you bitch?”

This makes Peggy stop and think. She looks back at the wounded old man, hoping somebody has called the paramedics by now. If help isn’t on the way, he’ll bleed out and die. Now, it’s not just her life that’s on the line. It’s also his.

“No, I don’t want that on my conscience. You son of a bitch. Okay, you win. All of you. I’m coming out…”

“Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah! Hold it right there. Not so fucking fast. Toss your gun toward us. Any direction. We don’t give a shit. Toss it back to us and come out with your hands up. You hear me?” Roddy orders. Peggy curses under her breath, knowing she has to give back to them her only trump card. But if she doesn’t, he’ll murder this poor old man. She lobs the gun high in the air in the direction of the voice. It lands six feet away from Xander. He picks it up and hands it back to Cortez. “That’s a good girl. Thank you.”

“I’m coming out now. Don’t shoot me or him, you promise?”

“Oh yeah, I promise. I’m a man of my word. Come on out, you raggedy old bitch,” Roddy snarls at her. He gets on his feet, which gives permission to Xander and Cortez to follow suit. Peggy hates being blatantly insulted like that, but she knows there’s not a damn thing she can do about it. Not right now.

Taking one cautious step at a time, Peggy stands up and walks out from behind the rosebush. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see the old man still wiggling around outside the gate. A dark red pool has formed around his body. She tries not to react to the sight of blood. Peggy Cole loves all sorts of movies and TV shows – except for horror. She can’t do horror. It’s too much for her. All that dying, killing, bleeding, and screaming…it’s all so oppressively unpleasant to watch.

“Okay,” she begins. “Here I am. Let’s go back inside.”

Before Roddy can respond, the distinct sound of police sirens echoes softly in the distance. All three gunmen look at each other, horrified at what’s about to happen. Given the distance of the sound, Roddy estimates they’re about two to three minutes away, tops.

“Fuck! Run for it! Back inside the house, NOW! GO, GO, GO!” Roddy commands his two comrades. Xander and Cortez do not hesitate, sprinting back to the front door and reentering the mansion as fast as possible. Roddy waits a split second to make sure Peggy doesn’t attempt another dash for freedom. When he sees Peggy catching up to him, he turns around to catch up with the others. Roddy stumbles a bit when he trips over a step leading back to the house. Peggy notices a small object fall out of his inner jacket pocket. Roddy, however, is so scared of being caught by the police that he doesn’t notice that he’s dropped something. As he runs inside the house, Peggy bends down to see what he dropped. She picks it up and sees that it’s a switchblade. Nine inches, give or take (she’s an expert at guessing the exact measurements of objects that long).

Looks ideal for hunting wild game, Peggy determines. Or evil men.

“Well, well, well. Look at what we have here…” She tries to hide the long knife behind her forearm by cupping it in the palm of her hand. It’s awkward, but she’s got to do what she’s got to do. Desperate times call for desperate measures. She no longer has a gun, so this gift left behind by that idiot will have to suffice. Suddenly, that idiot shouts at her from inside the house.

“Get back in here, you fucking bitch! If you don’t, I’ll fucking execute your fucking friends!” This forces Peggy to have to make a quick decision. She needs a weapon but has to hide it somehow. She can try to keep it behind her forearm…but it would only be a matter of time before they discover it.

Then, it suddenly dawns on her what she needs to do.

Fifteen seconds later, Peggy Cole is back inside the house. The sounds of the police sirens grow louder and louder. Cortez slams the door shut. Xander finds all the light switches in the foyer and turns them off. Peggy stops dead in her tracks when she sees Roddy pointing his gun directly at her forehead.

“Come with me, you fucking cunt. And don’t you even think about escaping a second time. If you do, your friends will be no more. Guaranteed. We’re done fucking around. Got it?”

Peggy gulps after hearing this unambiguous threat. “Yeah. I got it.”

“Follow me. RIGHT NOW!”

Roddy storms back to the basement. Peggy follows him. Xander and Cortez remain behind just in case she does anything unwise. She can still smell her urine drenched all over Cortez’s clothes. Peggy wonders if he’s told any of his colleagues why he reeks like that. She doubts it.

They reach the bottom of the staircase just as two police cars enter the cul-de-sac. A third is not far behind. Dylan’s home is constructed well enough to block out a lot of outside noise. When a thunderstorm hits he can barely hear it. None of the people down in the gym can hear the police sirens, a testament to how well the contractors built his home all those years ago. Roddy dreads having to deliver even more bad news to his boss, but it has to be said as soon as possible if they’re going to have any chance of getting through this without finding themselves in a jail cell.

“Boss! Bad news, man. We got her, but she somehow called the cops. Or some old man on the street called the cops. We don’t know for sure,” Roddy reveals as he and the rest come back into the gym. By now, Stephen looks haggard, ready to burst at the seams at the slightest provocation. “They’re coming. The fucking cops are coming. We’re fucked.”

“No, we’re not. Not yet,” Stephen says in a voice so soothing it shocks everyone in the room that he can remain so calm when he demonstrated a lack of emotional control just a few minutes earlier. “Did anyone see you?”

“No. Someone saw her, though.”

“Okay, but not you? Or Xan? Or the other one?” Stephen insults Cortez by not even mentioning him by name. Cortez knows he deserves it so he doesn’t feel too bad about it.

“I don’t think so. We all got away before the cops or anyone else saw us.”

“What about the old man?” Xander asks Roddy.

“What old man?” Stephen asks. “You mentioned him before. Who is he?”

“I don’t know. Some guy who happened to be talking to her on the other side of the gate. I shot him, when I was really trying to shoot her. It was an accident,” Roddy confesses.

“Is he dead?”

“Nope. He’s hurt bad, but not dead. At least, not yet,” Peggy answers. Stephen walks up right to her and slaps her in the face with the back of his hand. Dylan and Henry make a sound of protest, but nobody pays attention to them. Melanie and Monique stay quiet, not wanting to incur the wrath of any of these men who are about to lose their minds.

Peggy rubs her cheek to soothe the pain. This is not the first time an angry man has slapped her out of nowhere. It’s happened to her far too many times to count. An abusive ex-boyfriend of hers, back before she lived a polyamorous lifestyle, frequently slapped her when she didn’t do what he asked her to do exactly the way he wanted it done. Cooking, cleaning, household chores, grocery shopping, you name it. He was a former porn producer who was exiled from the industry after being verbally abusive to too many young actresses on set. That should have been a red flag to warn her to stay away from him, but she couldn’t help herself. He was handsome, charismatic, wealthy, and devilishly arrogant. They broke up after two rocky years together. She learned many valuable lessons from that failed relationship.

“You sure do know how to treat a lady,” she teases Stephen. “Your mother must be so proud of you.”

Stephen considers pistol-whipping her but decides against it. Now is the time to solve a much more pressing crisis at hand, not punish this worthless slut for disobedience.

“Sit down. Over there.” He points to where the other hostages are sitting. Peggy complies without putting up a fight. Melanie stands up to hug her as she returns to her friends. Dylan is too emotionally numb to move.

“Dylan. Do you have a room anywhere where we can view a live feed of the security cameras?” Stephen asks. He hesitates to take too many steps toward the hostages out of fear that all of them will pounce at once and rip his heart out.

“Yes. It’s actually upstairs. Second floor. Close to where you found us.”

“Show me.”

“Okay.”

Dylan stands up with his blanket still wrapped around his naked body. He takes a moment to regard his former colleague, who looks like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown. Dylan is pretty sure he’ll have one himself soon enough. Misery loves company, right? Melanie extends her hand toward him, wishing him good luck. Dylan grabs it and grips it tightly for a moment before letting go. He and Stephen leave the room to go upstairs, leaving the three exhausted gunmen alone with the four remaining hostages. Nobody says a word while the two former Perseus Analytics executives go search for a view of what’s happening outside.

Outside near the gate, two of the police vehicles stop in front of the body lying on the pavement. The third vehicle parks in front of the Ward’s driveway. Bethany runs outside, still in her pajamas, wanting to see what’s happening with her dear husband. One of the police officers calls for an ambulance to show up. The other, a man named Connor Dietrich, is a 57-year-old burly cop who’s been on the force for 31 years. Officer Dietrich inspects the body of Kurt Ward and is thankful to see he’s still breathing. The younger officer accompanying him, a short young man named Cunningham, attends to the wounded victim. He gently turns the man on his back so he can better inspect the wound. Sure enough, it’s one single gunshot to the stomach.

“Gunshot wound, sir. Just one. I don’t see any other trauma on the body,” Officer Cunningham tells the elder officer. “I assume you’ve already called for an ambulance?”

“Yes, it’s on its way,” Officer Dietrich reassures the youngster. Cunningham nods.

Immediately, Dietrich recognizes the property. He knows this neighborhood is home to a lot of super-duper rich families. The type of folks who would expect a top-notch police response if anything bad were to happen around here. Usually, nothing too dramatic occurs in these parts of town. This is probably a first, at least for the residents of this cul-de-sac. Dietrich pulls out a flashlight and shines it on the property behind the gate.

“This is Dylan Tanaka’s house,” Dietrich proclaims. “I knew it looked familiar. Wow. He sure does live like a king.”

“Really? Dylan Tanaka? Damn. I knew he lived around here, but I never knew exactly where,” Officer Cunningham says as he tries to keep the old man at bay until the paramedics come. “Sir, are you okay? Can you hear me?”

“Yeah, I can hear you just fine,” Kurt Ward says to the young officer. “Fuck, eh…whoever shot me better…better get the electric chair, y…you know?”

“We’ll see to that, trust me,” Officer Cunningham comforts the wounded man. “What’s your name?”

“Kurt.”

“Well, Kurt. Don’t you worry. An ambulance is on its way. You’re heading to the emergency room pretty soon. Probably not the way you’d like to spend your Saturday evening, huh?”

Kurt grumbles something unintelligible, clearly not in the mood for small talk. Officer Dietrich gives the young man a dirty look, telling him to cool it with the gratuitous chatter. This shuts Cunningham up really quick. The sound of an ambulance making a sharp turn into the cul-de-sac distracts everyone from the momentary awkward pause.

“You see? They’re right on time,” Cunningham says. Unfortunately for the two officers, the wounded victim passes out from shock, preventing either of them from asking additional questions.

“Damn it!” Dietrich curses.

“Looks like we’re going to have to do some old-fashioned detective work,” Cunningham says.

Officer Dietrich grumbles. He sees the third police officer, a young woman named Kerry Gutierrez, trying to comfort the man’s wife. Bethany Ward is screaming and crying, desperately attempting to get closer to her husband. Officer Gutierrez tells her that seeing her husband surrounded by a pool of blood would be too upsetting to witness and could traumatize her. She does her best to restrain her. Dietrich turns away, figuring that part of the situation is already taken care of. He steps away to make room for the paramedics to attend to the gunshot victim. Right now, he notices several households in the cul-de-sac have turned on their bedroom or porch lights, awoken and curious to see what all the hubbub is about. Two paramedics pull out a stretcher from the back of the ambulance. Officer Cunningham assists in lifting the man up onto the stretcher. Dietrich figures a younger man without creaky knees should do the backbreaking labor instead.

As Officer Gutierrez questions the distraught wife and offers to give her a ride to the hospital, Dietrich shines a flashlight onto Dylan Tanaka’s property. Nothing seems out of the ordinary. Not a single soul in sight. As dead as a morgue. He approaches the gate and tries to open the pedestrian door. It doesn’t budge. So, he concludes, the shooter couldn’t have run through the property. How would he or she have gotten in?

“It seems like nobody saw who did the shooting,” Cunningham tells Dietrich. “The wife heard the gunshots but couldn’t see clearly who fired the bullets. In fact, believe it or not, she had no idea her husband was hit until she came outside her house and saw him lying on the pavement. Can you imagine that?”

“Hm. It’s dark and this street is poorly lit, so that’s not a surprise,” Dietrich says. There doesn’t appear to be a single light on in Tanaka’s house, which is curious considering every other household in the neighborhood has its lights on by now. A few folks have even stuck their heads out their front doors to see what all the excitement is about. Yet, Dylan Tanaka is nowhere to be seen. The shooting, after all, did happen right in front of his property.

“What should we do?” the younger officer asks.

Officer Dietrich sees a callbox located next to the pedestrian gate. The next logical step seems all the more obvious.

“We ask Mr. Tanaka what the hell just happened.”

***

Off to the side of the cabaret room is a large closet that Dylan converted into a security room. He asked the folks at McDonald & Pierce Security Systems to install several large computer monitors in this room, all of them showing a live feed of all twelve security cameras located outside the house. The few cameras that are inside the house just have their feeds directly stored onto the cloud. Dylan and Stephen enter the room, turn on the lights, and look for which monitor feeds from the front gate camera. Monitor #7 appears to be the one.

“Holy shit, Dylan. This place looks like a casino. Look at all these monitors.”

“Yeah, something like that. Speaking of which, how the fuck did you break into my house without triggering any of the alarms?”

“I’ll tell you later, old sport,” Stephen says with a smile. Dylan chooses not to react. “The police have arrived. Not too many cop cars, from what I can tell. There’s already an ambulance taking that guy away. I hope he lives.”

“Damn. That’s Kurt,” Dylan says remorsefully. He can tell by the man’s terrible comb-over that it’s Kurt Ward. “Fuck, I hope he makes it.”

“It looks like one of the cops is trying to buzz in. Can you answer it when he does?”

“Yes.” Dylan picks up a wireless transistor radio sitting in a charging station. “I can talk to whoever is at the gate right from here. No need to access my phone, although I do get a notification when someone tries to speak to me. Lawrence does too, so if he’s up at this hour – which I sincerely doubt – he’ll see that someone is trying to buzz in too.”

“When that cop does try to talk to you, you play along and say everything is cool and quiet around here, you understand?” Stephen taps the gun in his holster. Dylan doesn’t need to be told twice what that means.

“Oh yes. I understand as clear as day.”

“Good.”

A split second later, the transistor radio starts making a sweet melodic ringing sound. Dylan waits a few seconds so it doesn’t appear as though he’s standing right by the radio expecting a late-night visitor out of the blue. Stephen was about to tell him to answer it until he figures out what Dylan is doing. He smirks at his former boss’s cleverness. Finally, Dylan picks it up and presses the “talk” button.

“Yeah? What do you want? It’s late. I’m trying to sleep.”

“I’m sorry, sir. But my name is Officer Connor Dietrich. I’m with the Seattle Police Department. There’s been a shooting right here outside your home. Can you please open the gate so I can come to talk to you?”

Dylan gives Stephen a quick look. Stephen nods his head silently.

“A shooting? Oh my God! That’s horrible. I’m a heavy sleeper so I didn’t hear anything. Yes, I’ll open the gate and will be down in a few moments.” Dylan presses a button on a control panel, which opens the front gate. Stephen and Dylan watch on monitor #7 the gate slowly open and Officer Dietrich walk onto the driveway. Dylan puts the transistor radio back in the charging station.

“I need to get dressed. In something. I can’t just come out wearing nothing but a fucking blanket.”

“You’re right. That’ll look, uh, odd. Hold on.”

Stephen backs off and proceeds to strip off a few items of clothes. He takes off his pants, jacket, and black t-shirt. He’s a tad taller than Dylan, so it won’t be a perfect fit. However, time is precious and this is the best he can do for now. Dylan takes the hint. He puts on Stephen’s black pants, zips it up, and puts on his shirt. It’s way too tight (Dylan’s persistent workout routine has really paid off, apparently), but it’ll do. Stephen decides against giving him the jacket.

“This is good enough,” Dylan says.

“I agree. Now go downstairs to the front door. I’ll stand close by, out of sight. Remember, if you do anything stupid, you and your friends will pay the price. Not just me.”

“Uh huh. No worries, old friend. I got this.”

Less than a minute later Dylan turns on a light in the foyer while Stephen finds a convenient place to hide behind a couch in the living room. The curtains are drawn in the living room, but he wants to play it safe. Stephen is less than forty feet away from the front door. Dylan sighs, then opens the door. The bright red police lights flashing in the distance temporarily blind him.

“Good evening, officer.”

“Good evening. You are Mr. Tanaka, am I right?” Officer Dietrich politely inquires. He looks at Dylan’s strange appearance and wonders how a man so wealthy could dress so…plainly? A black pair of pants, no socks, and a black shirt that looks like something he wore back in high school isn’t the type of clothing he’d expect a billionaire to wear around his palatial home. Dietrich makes a mental note of it and quickly moves on to questioning him.

“Yes, that’s me. You must recognize the house.”

“Yup, that’s the reason why. Tell me, Mr. Tanaka, I want to be clear that you didn’t hear any gunshots just a few moments ago? Probably about ten or twelve minutes ago.”

“No, officer. Like I said, I’m a heavy sleeper. And I’ll be honest with you, I’m sort of feeling a slight hangover right now. Too much scotch earlier today, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know exactly what you mean,” Officer Dietrich laughs. “I am so sorry to have to wake you up at this late hour. But as you can see over my shoulder, a man has just been shot.” Dylan sidesteps to the left so he can see the ambulance beginning to back up so it can race to the nearest hospital. The sight of Bethany, tears streaming down her face, is heartbreaking. “We have not been able to identify the shooter, however, given the fact the victim was lying on the ground right in front of your property and facing your property, it seems reasonable to me that the shot came in this direction. I’m about to call in more officers to look around your property, is that alright with you?”

“Oh, yes. Please do so. By all means. If there’s a dangerous shooter in this area, we need to find him immediately,” Dylan urges. He feels the palms of his hands get sweaty as he watches Officer Dietrich mumble something into his radio, most likely calling in for reinforcements. Seemingly within seconds, a few more police cars show up out of thin air, as if he had magically conjured them up. But Dylan realizes those additional cars were probably already on their way. “Does that mean I need to keep the pedestrian gate unlocked for the time being?

“Yes, that would be great. I wouldn’t want any of my boys to have to climb the fence, now would we? Anyway, we recommend you stay in your home and not leave until me or another officer gives everyone in the neighborhood the “all clear” signal, alright?”

“Of course, that makes sense. I can do that.” Dylan’s left eye begins to twitch. Dietrich sees this but says nothing.

“Good. Have a nice rest of your evening, sir. We may be in touch later if we find further evidence that warrants your attention.” In the back of his mind, Officer Dietrich believes the shooter is hiding somewhere on Dylan Tanaka’s property. This is his first time actually talking to the man…and he seems just like how he appeared on TV interviews. Polite, well-spoken, and saying exactly what needs to be said using the exact words necessary. He still cannot believe that the guy is allegedly a war criminal. He seems nice enough.

“Sounds like a plan. Good luck catching them,” Dylan says with special emphasis on the last word.

Officer Dietrich walks away, noticing the weird way he said “them” just now. Why would he use the plural form of “him” (or “her”) when there is only one alleged shooter? Was he just being “gender neutral,” which apparently is all the rage with society these days? As he ponders this, Dietrich walks by the garage door and notices something strange. He shines his flashlight on the top left corner and sees a small hole. After looking at the hole for several seconds, it dawns on him that it’s a bullet hole. Whoa. And given the strange way Dylan Tanaka behaved…

“Cunningham,” Dietrich says to the young officer as he walks through the pedestrian door back onto the street. “Tell the new guys who just showed up that we’re inspecting the Tanaka residence first. And…”

“Uh, yeah?” Cunningham asks, confused why Dietrich would pause mid-sentence.

“…I think either he’s involved with the shooting, or there’s an uninvited guest staying inside his house. I don’t know why, but I got a funny feeling. He acted like he was, I don’t know, being watched by someone, you know what I mean?” Like Dylan Tanaka himself, Connor Dietrich has always had a keen sixth sense about oddities like this. He’s dealt with enough domestic violence cases to know when someone is trying to act normal but struggles to because their abuser is watching them from a distance, testing them to see if they’ll remain loyal or rat them out to the cops. This probably isn’t one of those cases, however there are some similarities, he notes.

As of now, seven police cars are parked in various places around the cul-de-sac. The ambulance is long gone. Officer Gutierrez approaches Dietrich as he watches Cunningham summon the other officers to plan an inspection of Tanaka’s front and backyard.

“Hey there. So I just got done speaking to both the wife and, very briefly, the man who was shot. Remarkably, he woke up and was actually able to speak to us,” she says. “Despite the wound to the stomach. He’s lucky the round didn’t pierce any major organs. I’m guessing after minor surgery he’ll be back home within a day or two.”

“Well, you don’t know that until a doctor gets to look at him. What did he have to say?”

“He says the woman who was screaming was standing on the other side of the gate over there,” Gutierrez points to Dylan’s front gate. This further confirms Dietrich’s theory that Dylan Tanaka is directly involved somehow. “And you won’t believe this part. Are you ready for this?”

“Not only was she armed, but she was naked. She actually fired two shots toward the house, most likely at whoever was chasing her around,” she continues. “I think we got ourselves either a really, really, really bad case of domestic violence here, or…”

“…Or what?” Dietrich asks.

“Or she’s being held hostage in there. The man didn’t know how many people were chasing her. At least two, maybe more. I think this is serious. Want to know my theory?”

“Please, do tell.”

“I think whoever was chasing the woman was trying to shoot her but accidentally shot the old man instead. It wasn’t intentional. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. She screamed for help, he came out of his home to investigate, and a bullet intended for her pierced him instead. That sounds feasible to me,” Gutierrez concludes. Dietrich has no doubt that this young lady will make a fine police detective one day. She’s bright, easy to talk to (which comes in handy when you’re interrogating people, especially serial liars and psychopaths), and can think like a criminal. Those skills are what police departments look for when deciding who should and shouldn’t get promoted to better paying jobs.

“I think your theory is right,” Dietrich confirms. “I walked past his garage door and saw a bullet hole on the top left corner. It must have been from when the woman fired back at her captors.” Oh, great. Now they’ve got a much more complicated mess on their hands. This is going to be a long night, he fears. His shift ends in two hours, but he has another funny feeling that he’s going to have to work overtime today. “Damn! I’m one lucky son of a bitch.”

“Huh?” Gutierrez was about to turn to leave. “Why do you say that?”

“I’m glad you told me that now, not before I spoke to him,” Dietrich thinks aloud. “If I had mentioned to him a shootout had just happened on his property, if he also is being held hostage – which is a possibility – whoever the bad guy is might have killed him right after our conversation ended.”

“Wait, what? You didn’t tell him there was a shootout? What did you tell him?”

“I told him a man was shot. I didn’t say a woman was involved or that she shot back…in the direction of his house. If I had asked him about the, uh, naked woman who was on his property, he would have been forced to acknowledge her. And that would’ve complicated matters…” Dietrich rubs his chin. The stubble reminds him to shave whenever he gets the chance.

“Which leads you to believe he’s being held up at gunpoint by someone who was right behind him, out of sight?” she posits. Both officers look at each other and don’t need to say anything. They know this is a likely theory. Whoever is holding him and the woman hostage told Dylan Tanaka to “play it cool” and pretend he was sleeping the whole time. Hell, he even lied about being hungover just to make his story more believable. If Dietrich had mentioned that there were two people exchanging gunfire, one of them a naked woman who was screaming bloody murder on his property, him sleeping like a baby and being completely oblivious to whatever had just happened wouldn’t have been plausible. That explains why Dylan was dressed so weird and referred to the shooters as them

“Holy shit,” Dietrich curses to himself. “We need a SWAT team and a hostage negotiator here, NOW! And keep things quiet. Don’t make any sudden moves. I think we’re being watched.” Officer Dietrich points up toward a security camera perched high above the front gate. Officer Gutierrez peeks at it without moving her head too much. Once again, they don’t have to say what needed to be said because they were both thinking the same thing.

“What else do you know about this…naked woman?” he asks. “Besides the fact she was screaming like a banshee?” This question makes Gutierrez blush a little.

“Well, he said that she’s, um, that she’s muscular…”

Dietrich cranes his neck forward. “Wait, WHAT? Muscular? Like a, uh, like a bodybuilder?”

She nods. “Yup. Like a bodybuilder. Or a football player. And, she has gigantic boobs.”

Dietrich blinks after hearing this news. Gutierrez smiles. For once, he’s completely speechless.

***

“Good job, old boy,” Stephen says as he and Dylan walk back down the stairs. He gives his former boss a light pat on the shoulder. “I think he believed your story. They’ll just send a few cops to look around your backyard, find nothing suspicious, and move on over to the other houses. I think me and the boys dodged a bullet, no pun intended. And they seem to have no clue about your slutty little friend who tried to escape. That’s good. They think you’re all alone in your quiet little mansion. Just you sleeping off a hangover. Oh by the way, I liked that touch.”

“Yes, it appears as though that’s what they think,” Dylan says, hoping that the cop caught on to the clue he spilled at the end. Stephen didn’t appear to notice. “Well done. You just might get away with this score of yours.”

“Yes, it does look that way.” Stephen’s triumphant grin makes Dylan want to punch him in the face so, so hard.

“Who do you think the cops will think shot my neighbor?” Dylan asks as they reach the basement.

“Oh, they’ll probably conclude it was a common burglar who wanted to steal his wallet or something. It looks like your neighbor either had already died or has passed out from the pain. Either way, he’s obviously in no position to talk about what happened to him.” Stephen and Dylan come back into the gym. Judging from the mortuary-like atmosphere, it seems as though nobody had moved an inch since they left. This is probably a good thing. Everyone stares at them as they approach, eagerly anticipating an update.

“Good news, gentlemen!” Stephen begins, in a much more positive mood than before. Everyone is a bit confused why Dylan is wearing some of Stephen’s clothes. “We’re in luck. Hell, we should head to Vegas after this and gamble to our heart’s delight because we’re on a lucky streak! First, the cops have no clue about us. They think Dylan is all by himself in here. Second, the old man you shot hasn’t talked yet, so they have no idea about that bitch over there or any of you. So he’s either dead or passed out from the pain.” This news brightens the faces of all the bandits. None of the hostages seems too thrilled; believing their one chance at being rescued has been squandered for good. Dylan sits back down next to Melanie. He takes her hand again.

“However, we’re not out of the woods yet. The cops are coming over to inspect the property. Just the outside, so don’t worry too much. This means we need to move to an interior room.” Stephen points to the windows on the opposite corner. “Let’s move. NOW.”

Relieved to know their screw-up didn’t result in them getting caught, the bandits instruct the hostages to stand up and follow them. The hostages, deflated that their chances of escaping this nightmare unscathed are still dire, do not protest and obediently follow orders. Melanie and Dylan hold hands. Henry stands close to Monique and Peggy as if he’s taken it upon himself to act as their personal bodyguard.

Though he doesn’t say anything, Dylan is confident there is light at the end of the tunnel. He doesn’t know why. It’s just a gut feeling. The only question is:

How long is the tunnel?

All the King’s Queens – Chapter 9: Hostage Situation

Dylan Tanaka doesn’t believe in the paranormal. He has an auntie who claims to possess extra-sensory perception (and can talk to the spirits of the recently deceased who haven’t yet “passed on to the afterlife”), which confirms his skepticism in such baloney. She’s kooky in more ways than that, a fact that her six ex-husbands could corroborate. Yet, despite his condescending attitude towards people claiming to have ESP, a “sixth sense,” or anything like that, Dylan can occasionally “feel” when something is out of place without knowing why or how…or having any evidence to back up his feelings.

This is one of those times.

He and his party guests are still in the cabaret room, drinking and dancing the night away, completely lost in the little world that they’ve cultivated for themselves. Melanie has stopped teaching Henry how to pose like a bodybuilder and has moved on to asking him how to properly fillet a fish. Henry pontificates with the expert credentials of a tenured college professor. Monique listens intently, also interested in learning proper seafood preparation techniques from Dylan’s talented chef. Peggy is at the bar making herself a margarita. She saw Monique drinking one and decided she should consume one as well.

“Hey, are you okay?” Monique has drifted away from Melanie and Henry’s conversation toward the host, who seems lost in his own thoughts. “You’re just standing around all by yourself. What’s up, honey?” She kisses him on the cheek. Dylan remains in a state of alertness.

“I don’t know why, but I got a funny feeling. I think…someone’s downstairs. Or coming up the stairs, or…”

Before Dylan can finish his thought, the doors at the front of the room violently swing open. Right over Monique’s right shoulder, he sees several moving figures dressed in all black sweep into the cabaret room. In a moment that takes only five seconds but feels like an eternity, the first figure shouts something Dylan cannot understand while the others behind him point pistols at the party guests. Monique turns around to see what the commotion is all about and lets out a high-pitched scream when she sees the men with guns. They aren’t wearing masks – probably because it would attract suspicion and unwanted attention – but without question, they are armed and carry malevolent intent.

“Everybody FREEZE!” the lead man shouts. Peggy drops her margarita to the floor and also screams. Melanie and Henry – who are standing in front of the balcony, furthest away from the entrance – stop conversing and stare in horror at what’s unfolding in front of them.

“What the fuck is this?” Henry says to Melanie. Before she can respond, everyone freezes when the man who shouted fires a single round straight into the ceiling. The bullet blasts a Fresnel stage light into a thousand shards of glass and metal.

“All of you, get your fucking hands up in the goddamn air, right now! I will not repeat myself,” the lead man warns. “Then, I want you all to walk slowly towards Mr. Tanaka and gather around him. Do it NOW!”

Dylan’s eyes finally adjust to the traumatic scene. It is at this very moment that he finally recognizes the leader of this pack of armed men. It’s unmistakable.

“Stephen?” Dylan asks the man.

Thomas, Roddy, Cortez, and Xander also adjust their eyes to the bright lights in the cabaret room. Once they finally see that every single person in this room is naked, they react with a mixture of shock and morbid curiosity. They may be dangerous men in “assault mode,” but they are men nevertheless. Nothing, not even a high-stakes heist, can change that.

“Hello Dylan. It’s, uh, nice to see you again. WOW! Look at you. Look at this place. I thought you were all alone. I seriously thought you’d be here, all alone, jerking off to an old VHS tape you hid under your childhood bed,” Stephen teases his former boss. He stops to regard the scene. His eyes get wide when he sees every partygoer is as naked as the day they were born. “HEY! Damn. What in the actual fuck is going on here? What is this, a Roman Empire-style orgy? Yikes. Can we all join in?”

Dylan doesn’t say a word. He’s too stunned to comprehend what his former employee is saying to him. It’s been at least three years since he last spoke to Stephen Callahan. Their last meeting wasn’t exactly cordial. In fact, it included a lot of cursing, innuendo, threats, and unforgiving stares of bitter anger. And that came from both sides. Peggy cautiously walks closer to Dylan, who has a frightened Monique standing by her side. She quickly glances down to avoid stepping on broken glass with her bare feet. Melanie and Henry, their hands still high above their ears, come closer to their fellow party guests at a snail’s pace. Everyone’s heart rate is racing a million miles per minute.

“Seriously, Dylan Tanaka. What the fuck is going on here? I have to know, my friend.” Stephen’s four companions (miraculously) remain as professional as can be. Cortez, however, recognizes Peggy Cole right away. He would never admit it to anyone, but he’s been a loyal subscriber to her videos and livestreams for years now. It’s like he’s seeing a celebrity!

“We’re just having a party. Maybe not quite like a Roman orgy, but pretty damn close,” Dylan says between gritted teeth. “Are you planning to kill me? Because if that’s your plan, just kill me. Spare my friends. Let them go. They didn’t do anything to you. Your beef is entirely with me. Not them. They’re innocent.”

“Oh, I know they’re innocent. And you’re absolutely right, Dylan boy. I have a lot of beef with you, you fucking coward.” Stephen takes a step closer to him, taunting him by pointing the barrel of his Glock 19 right at Dylan’s genitals. “Hell, I could just blow off your tiny little dick right here and leave the rest of you in peace. It’ll be messy, but hey, that’s why you have a butler, right? To clean up shit like that? But no, I have bigger plans in store for you.”

Dylan is accustomed to hearing taunts about having a “tiny Asian dick” from idiots like him (middle school was the worst years of his life), but the fact he and his men are pointing loaded guns directly at his friends is an entirely different experience. Filling him with rage, he knows he must remain calm and rational so that no one gets hurt. He sighs. “What plans, exactly?”

“Oh, you’ll see,” he grins. At last, all of Dylan’s party guests are standing in a row right in front of Stephen’s band of armed goons. Once he refocuses his eyes on the rest of the partygoers, Stephen realizes these aren’t just normal people Dylan has invited over on this fateful Saturday evening. The tall chubby black man is Dylan’s personal chef. He doesn’t know his name, but he knows his occupation and purpose for regularly visiting the house. The other three are women…

…but not your typical looking women. They are women with…big muscles.

Whoa.

Big muscles. Big, big, big muscles. Really fucking big muscles.

“Holy shit. Are you a fag? A secret fag? What the fuck is with all these muscle chicks? Sweet mother of God, this is fucking incredible. You are a woman, right?” Stephen zeroes in and taunts Melanie. Miss Wright gives him a dirty look that would make even the most sadistic serial killer cringe. “HOT DAMN! I didn’t know you were into muscle chicks! I suppose that’s not something you usually tell people, let alone your coworkers.” Stephen circles slowly around Melanie, keeping his gun pointed right at her head. Melanie, usually full of confidence and raw power, feels utterly helpless in this situation. She may have much larger muscles than this guy, but he has a gun pointed at her. That more than tips the scale in his favor.

Inside his mind, Stephen cannot actually believe that he just used the word “fag” in a derogatory sense. Having grown up in a traditionally liberal northeastern family, he’d been taught all his life that you should never use the f-word. Ever. Especially in today’s era when the gay rights movement has achieved so much progress. But in this case, he’s using it not as a homophobic slur, but as a self-aware immature schoolyard bully insult intended to belittle a man he abhors. He knows this doesn’t excuse his atrocious behavior, but tonight is not a night for taking the moral high ground. That ship has sailed. That will wait until a later day.

“Let me guess,” Stephen says to Melanie. “You have a bigger dick than him? I guess that wouldn’t take much…”

“Fuck off,” Melanie mutters. Everyone holds their breath. Melanie wonders if this will be the final thing she ever utters. He looks her in the eye. Instead of being angered, however, Stephen is amused.

“Whoa, your voice isn’t as manly as I had expected it to be. You actually sound like a real woman, so congratulations you slut.” There he is again, with the sophomoric schoolyard insults. Dylan has never heard him talk like this before, even back when they used to go out for drinks after work. “Well, you may end up surviving this if Mr. Tanaka here behaves like a good little Asian boy, like his mommy and daddy raised him to be. So, no pressure.” Stephen glances down at Melanie’s clit to see if it is indeed as large as a small penis. Yikes. It’s considerably huge, he notes, but alas – not as large as Dylan’s small pee-pee. Oh well, it’s still a funny joke.

“I have no fucking clue what you’re all doing here, wearing nothing at all, but that actually works to our favor, doesn’t it?” Stephen glances at Thomas, who still cannot fathom the bizarre sights he’s seeing right in front of him.

“Uh, yeah, very convenient,” Thomas stammers, struggling to return to “bad guy” mode. “We’d probably end up stripping you naked anyway, or at least down to your underwear. The good news is that we know none of you have your phones on you. So, uh. Where are your phones?”

Nobody speaks for a while. The five naked hostages can barely breathe. Roddy, Xander, and Cortez look at the nude women with lustful intentions. The three women notice this unwanted attention but are powerless to do anything about it. Finally, Henry decides to break the awkward silence.

“My stuff is in her bedroom,” he says, pointing to Peggy. She nods.

“Yeah, me too. My phone, my clothes, my luggage, everything is also in my bedroom,” Peggy says. She declined to point out her sex toys, vibrators, collection of lingerie, lube, condoms, and BDSM paraphernalia are also in her bedroom, though she figures these armed jackasses will find that out soon enough. “It’s all there. Nothing is on me. As you can clearly see.”

“I can see that,” Thomas says, checking out Peggy’s body from head to toe. His eyes leer at her enormous breast implants for a moment before he returns to barking out orders. “What about the rest of you? Speak up or I put a bullet through Dylan’s forehead.”

“My phone is also in my bedroom,” Monique squeaks. Her legs are shaking and she is on the verge of tears. Out of everyone currently involved in this mess, Dylan feels the most empathy for her. She’s the one who’s experienced the most trauma up to this point.

“Mine too,” Melanie says.

“My phone is right on that counter over there, by the bar,” Dylan points to the area where Peggy dropped her margarita. Immediately, Xander walks over to it, avoids stepping on the broken glass, and grabs Dylan’s iPhone. He returns to his original spot.

“Fantastic. Give it to me,” Thomas requests. Xander does so. The safecracker takes a small brown leather sack out of his coat pocket and puts the phone inside it. “Where are these bedrooms that you’re speaking of?”

“Go out through the doors you can in, turn left, and walk down that long hallway,” Dylan instructs them. “You’ll find a series of guest bedrooms at the far end. I have no clue who is staying where, so you’ll have to search through all of them. All the doors should be unlocked.”

Stephen nods at the three men to leave the room and search for the other four phones. Xander, Roddy, and Cortez put their Glocks back in their holsters and promptly exit the room. Everyone watches them leave. “Excellent. So far, I like the cooperation I’ve been seeing out of all of you,” Stephen says. “If you want to leave this luscious house alive, just keep up being good girls and boys.”

Suddenly, Stephen looks down at Henry’s penis. He cannot help but be impressed by what Dylan’s chef has hanging between his legs. The jaw-dropping sight of his endowment makes him chuckle.

“Huh. Well. I might as well blast Dylan’s dick off,” he says while pointing his gun back at Dylan’s genitals. “It’s not like anyone will miss it. If I did the same to you, Mr. Chef, I’m guessing a lot of ladies would be sorely disappointed. Emphasis on sore.” He lets out a self-congratulatory laugh. Thomas politely follows suit.

“Go fuck yourself, you fucking piece of shit!” Henry defiantly curses at him. Stephen then points the barrel of his Glock right at the tip of Henry’s member. Dylan closes his eyes tightly, anticipating a gunshot that would be followed by a horrifying scream and gushing blood.

“What did you say to me?” Stephen threatens.

“You heard what I said. Go ahead and shoot me. If it makes you feel like a big man to cut a man like me down to size. Come on. Do your worst,” Henry says coolly. This act of defiance makes Stephen back off from Dylan’s trusted chef. He returns to standing next to Thomas and repoints his gun at the entire group.

“Wooooooooooo, I like your friends, Dylan. They have spunk. They have balls. Literally, I’m sure you ladies also have balls, if you know what I mean.” This elicits a dirty look from Peggy and Melanie. Monique is still too frightened to feel any emotion other than paralysis caused by guttural fear. “Anyway, enough chit chat. Let’s cut to the chase. As soon as my three comrades return with your phones, we’re going to take a little field trip to the basement. Can you guess why we’re going there, Dylan?”

Dylan pauses for a bit and bows his head. From the moment his brain processed that Stephen Callahan and four unknown associates had broken into his home, he knew the purpose of their unfortunate visit.

“I do. I know exactly why you’d want us to go down there.”

Melanie tries to turn her head to look at Dylan, but she decides it would be safer to not make any sudden moves. She wonders what he could possibly have hidden down there.

“Great. I’m glad we’re on the same page,” Stephen sends his former boss a wicked smile. Dylan Tanaka can only stand there, naked and shaking, as scared and vulnerable as he’s ever felt in his life – hoping he and his friends survive until the morning.

***

“Dude, like what the fuck is going on? Did you see the chicks that are in that room?” Roddy cannot contain his excitement as he and his two companions briskly walk toward the guest bedrooms. “I’ve literally never seen shit like that in my life. Fuuuuuuuuuuck dudes!”

“Yeah, this shit is crazy. For sure,” Xander adds. He hopes his fledging erection isn’t visible through his pants.

“Want to know something? I actually recognized one of them,” Cortez quietly confesses.

Roddy and Xander stop dead in their tracks. They turn around to see Cortez following behind them. He has a sheepish look on his face. Roddy has to know what Cortez is talking about. “Really? Who?”

“You know the chick with those enormous boobs? Yeah, she’s like a, uh, a pornographic actress, or whatever they’re called. She’s in porn, for real guys. I sort of, uh, subscribe to her videos.” Cortez looks embarrassed to be confessing to knowing who LATINAMUSCLEPRINCESS67 is. For the past three years he’s been a monthly subscriber to her videos, livestream chats, and photo albums. That part isn’t something he’ll reveal, though.

“Damn, dude. That’s fucking sick. But I shouldn’t judge. I’m into some kinky ass shit myself,” Xander jokes. At last, they reach the part of the hallway where the guest bedrooms are located. Cortez wants their conversation to come to a swift end for obvious reasons. Hopefully, the search for everyone’s phones will do the trick.

“Bruh, what kind of porn does she do?” Xander inquires.

“I don’t know how I found her, but she does the usual shit. Girl on girl. Her with a guy, or two, or three, or fifty,” Cortez smiles. “She does a lot of normal shit, no joke dude. And she’s a real chick, not a guy who became a chick or nothing. Seriously.” As they chat, Roddy enters an empty bedroom, takes a quick look around, and moves on to the next room. He is now in what is currently Melanie’s bedroom.

“Where the fuck is it?” Roddy asks himself. “Ah, there it is.” He finds a larger-than-usual phone with a fuchsia-colored case sitting on a bedside table. He figures it’s rather fitting that a huge lady (at least he thinks she’s a lady) would possess such a huge phone. Seems logical enough. He picks it up and leaves the room, turning off the lights before closing the door.

“Wow, that’s like, uh, weird that she’d be here. But I guess that makes sense. Rich motherfucker like him could invite skanks like her over to his place. He’s rich enough.”

“Oh yeah. So I subscribe to her videos. It’s pretty cheap. Only two dollars a month,” Cortez lies. It’s actually $19.99 a month to subscribe just to her videos. It’s an extra $4.99 on top of that for the weekly livestreams. And subscribers have to pay a shit ton more for personal one-on-one virtual chats. He’s never done that, though. He doesn’t have that kind of money to burn. “It’s a pretty good deal. Yeah, it’s pretty wild that she’s here. Fuck, man.”

“Oh yeah. Fucking wild.”

“Hey, you pathetic little fuckwads. Get to work!” Roddy commands them. This snaps Xander and Cortez out of their pleasant little chat. Xander dashes to the bedroom next to the one Roddy just came out of. Sure enough, it’s the one belonging to Monique St. Martin. The hot black chick seems like she’d be a good fuck (like a lot of sisters who keep themselves in shape), except for the fact she was on the verge of tears the whole time. That’s not hot at all, Xander thinks. It’s too bad there had to be innocent bystanders unexpectedly inside the house during this time. He really hates to get people who don’t deserve shit all covered in shit. It’s a stain on his professional record, not to mention a permanent black mark on his conscience. Even though he’s lived the life of a criminal-for-hire for several years now, he still has enough of the proverbial angel sitting on his shoulder to remind him that he’s still a human being. And, that the people he encounters during jobs are also human beings.

After sifting through the black girl’s purse, Xander finds her phone, stashed away next to a tube of lipstick, a taser, a spare tampon, a small travel makeup kit, a phone charger, and her wallet. He looks at the tampon and imagines what it would be like to shove it up her tight little pussy, watching her squirm as she experiences this unexpected painful penetration.

(Like he said to his partners in crime, Xander is into some kinky ass shit. He is not necessarily proud of this fact)

At the same time, Cortez silently prays that he’d be the one who could enter into LATINAMUSCLEPRINCESS67’s room. It would be like walking into a holy house of worship, a sacred palace, an historical monument. And to his pleasant surprise, it sure looks like the bedroom his (favorite) pornographic actress is staying in. The bed is a complete mess. Cortez sniffs at it, noticing the distinct scent of sweat and body odor. The muskiness is enough to send shivers down his spine. He turns on the lights and audibly gasps at what he sees.

“What the fuck is this shit?”

The room is littered with clothing and costume pieces strewn across the floor. Several bottles/tubes of makeup are lined up perfectly on top of a pearl white dressing table, with a suitcase full of sex toys and erotic equipment sitting in the corner. Cortez’s professionalism instantaneously goes out the window as he regards the beautiful mess surrounding him. It truly feels like walking into a sacred altar where one could experience the Divine. He picks up a clear glass dildo that looks about eight to nine inches long, significantly longer than his own dick. He puts it down once he sees on the floor by the foot of the bed a pair of sparkly, scarlet-colored bikini bottoms. After bending down to pick it up, Cortez takes one long sniff of it, taking in the musk and history this bikini has gone through. He looks around to make sure his compatriots aren’t spying on him. Thankfully, they are nowhere to be seen. He stuffs the bikini bottom into his inside coat pocket, hoping he can have fun with it later once this job is complete. Several seconds later, he finds her phone sitting on a chair, next to her wallet. He opens the wallet to see if her driver’s license is inside. It is.

“Peggy Cole. That’s her name. Wow. I had no idea. And she lives in Vegas. I guess I already knew that…”

“Hey, have you found it yet, you horny bastard?” Roddy’s voice beckons in the distance. Cortez takes the phone, drops the wallet back on the chair, and turns around to leave the room. He is, at the moment, a horny bastard, but he can’t act out on his horniness until they successfully steal whatever it is that they came here to steal. That means later. Much later.

“Yeah, I found it!” Cortez slams the door shut behind him to rejoin his other two companions. Roddy says nothing as they walk back to the cabaret room. Xander, however, has one last question for him.

“Was that the porno chick’s room?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“Did you find anything, uh, weird in it?” Roddy is several steps ahead of them, clearly not interested in this conversation. “I’m just curious, man.”

“Oh yeah, there’s some weird ass stuff in that room. We’ll come back later tonight to check it out. Trust me, my dude, she’s one hell of a fine bitch. I’ll show you a video of her squirting all this juice out of her pussy…”

“Squirting? What the fuck? Wow, that’s hot shit for sure. Real hot shit!”

“Hey, you two, get off the horny train and get your mind back in the game,” Roddy chastises them without turning around to look at them. Their sudden silence tells him all he needs to know. Those two horny idiots may have their alternative preferences, but Roddy won’t allow that to distract them from the job at hand. He knows Stephen and Thomas would agree. The stakes of this heist are too high to allow unnecessary levity to seep in.

The walk back to the cabaret room did not include any further chatter about LATINAMUSCLEPRINCESS67 or her breathtaking anatomical abilities.

***

“I learned a lot while in prison, Dylan.” Stephen finds a plate of maraschino cherries sitting on the bar and eats one. “I learned a lot about myself, the world, the criminal justice system in our country, and, most importantly, the ins and outs of being a top-notch professional thief.” He glances at Thomas, who feels touched by the direct acknowledgment of his expertise. Stephen flicks the cherry stem on the floor carelessly, showing little regard to cleanliness. “The things I learned and the shit I experienced have led me to this moment. And you know what I want from you, don’t you?”

By now, Dylan, Henry, Melanie, Peggy, and Monique are bunched together, as if this formation gives them the most power in a scenario where they lack all power. Thomas has his gun in hand but not pointed at anyone in particular. Stephen’s firearm is now in his holster. “I do. But you’ll have a difficult time getting it. I made sure of that,” Dylan says.

“Oh? You were expecting me?” Stephen laughs. Dylan’s face remains cold and unchanged. “Whether you were or weren’t, I’m flattered you wouldn’t just let any old associate of yours waltz in here and take whatever they want. Who knows? I may decide to take more than I had anticipated.” He pinches Monique’s left nipple, causing her to squirm. Melanie almost comes forward to her defense but chooses to not directly confront two armed men while she and her friends are standing around as naked as the day they were born.

“Don’t touch me,” Monique warns in a low voice. Stephen backs off, apparently remembering that he’s still a civilized human being, despite the present circumstances. Watching his former deputy violate Monique makes Dylan seethe with rage.

“Sorry, my dear. I got ahead of myself.”

The tension is broken when Stephen’s three hired goons return with a sack full of everyone’s phones. Roddy hands it to Thomas. He looks inside, pokes around, closes the sack, and nods his head to Stephen, signaling that everything they need to collect has been collected. Stephen nods back. “Excellent. It would appear our business up here is done. And I must say, Dylan, I love what you’ve done with the place. You have some sort of stripper joint right here in your home. Is that what this place is?”

“It’s a cabaret room,” Dylan says coldly.

“Oh. Whatever you call it, it’s quite a sight to see. I feel like I’m on Broadway.” Stephen takes a deep breath and sighs. “Well, let’s get on with it. Time is short. I don’t want to be here all night. Where is it?”

Henry and the three ladies look at Dylan, still confused as to what he and this vicious monster is talking about. As Dylan’s loyal chef, Henry has been to this house thousands of times over the years. He’s never been aware that anything valuable or important is hidden here. He’s well aware of his boss’s taste in women, but nothing that would incentivize armed bandits to break into his house and commit multiple felonies over.

“Downstairs. In the basement. Where everything about my past life is stored,” Dylan says.

“Excellent. Shall we?”

“No, not yet,” Dylan insists. “Please. Let my friends go. Let them get dressed, gather their things, and leave this property. I asked you before to let them go. I’m asking you again. You have their phones. You can get whatever you want without them here. I’m sure they’ll promise not to call the cops because if they do, you’d no doubt execute me, right?”

Stephen eyes Dylan’s friends. He can tell they are all tremendously uncomfortable, wondering how this fun evening suddenly came to a crashing halt. “Yeah, that’s what I’d do. But I don’t want to risk it. Whether you like it or not, your friends are now a part of this. They’re in this until the very end. Sorry about that, old pal. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Let’s get moving. Now.”

“Let’s go. Move it. Lead on,” Thomas demands.

“Okay.” Dylan turns to his friends. “I’m so, so, so sorry about this. I had no idea this would happen. Please forgive me…”

“Hey, boss man. It’s all good. It’s not your fault. It’s their fault. He’s doing this to us, not you. You’re good, my man. You’re good. He’s the one doing this,” Henry reassures his employer. The rest signal their agreement in their own way.

“That’s right. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” Peggy declares. “We’re here to protect you, Dylan darling. We all love you. If this motherfucker, or any of these motherfuckers, lay even one goddamn finger on you, there’ll be hell to pay. For sure.”

“Thanks, love.”

“Oh, how charming! The love in this room is palpable,” Thomas says sarcastically. “Let’s fucking move! Downstairs, NOW. All of you. Let’s move it or someone will get a bullet through their skull.” Dylan (reluctantly) leads the way as the group exits the cabaret room. Everyone walks in a single file line to their ultimate destination. Xander and Cortez cannot help but stare at Monique’s perfectly round butt as she walks by. It’s still a shame that she’s practically been on the verge of tears for as long as they’ve been here. Roddy shows no emotion as he decides to be the one at the back of the line. Dylan leads, followed by Stephen, Thomas, Henry, Peggy, Monique, Melanie, Xander, Cortez, and Roddy at the tail. The three guys in the back have holstered their firearms but are prepared to draw them in the event that any of the hostages decide to make a run for it. Chances are nobody will do anything foolish. Especially since all the hostages are without clothing, weapons, or a reason to run.

“You have a lovely home,” Stephen says.

“Go fuck yourself, old buddy,” Dylan responds. This makes Stephen so happy to see Dylan so pissed off, scared, angry, confused, embarrassed, powerless, emasculated, and whatever else emotions he’s feeling at the moment. They say vengeance rarely tastes as delicious as one would hope, however, so far Stephen begs to differ. This is going exactly the way he thought it would. Watching Dylan’s pathetic naked self, full of dread and guilt, is as satisfying as he had fantasized about while sitting in his prison cell.

The group trudges down the spiral staircase at a leisurely pace. Like dominoes, all it takes is for one person to accidentally trip to send everyone crashing down to the ground like ragdolls. Nobody says a word the rest of the way. Dylan is careful not to make any sudden moves or take any sharp turns, out of fear that all it takes is one of Stephen’s men with an itchy trigger finger to cause an unnecessary bloodbath. Once everyone is on the ground floor, Dylan leads the group to the staircase leading downstairs to the wine cellar (where he, Monique, and Melanie were earlier this evening before dinner, which seems like centuries ago), home gym, a meditation room (which Dylan rarely uses), and a storage room. This is where they are eventually going. It’s here where Dylan has allowed many things to collect dust over the years. It’s also where he keeps his walk-in safe. Very few people are aware that he has this. Lawrence does. A few former Perseus Analytics executives also know. So does a friend who lives in London. Henry doesn’t, nor does Joey the landscaper. It is in this room where Dylan’s memories from the good old days are stored, along with a few unexpected surprises.

“That’s one impressive collection of wine,” Stephen observes casually.

“It is,” Melanie chimes in, feeling more confident to stand up to her captors. “Dylan appreciates the finer things in life. He has no time for low-brow trash.”

Stephen stops mid-stride. He turns around to look at Melanie. Even compared to his hired goons, Melanie’s size is remarkable to see up-close. She truly is a large muscular woman who could snap his neck in half if she had to. No doubt she wants to at this moment. “Ouch. That hurts. You should hold your tongue, young man.”

Melanie’s eyes widen. Nothing makes her angrier than to hear a man sarcastically refer to her as a man. She didn’t mind when that little boy at the airport didn’t know whether she was a boy or a girl, but he’s a kid who doesn’t know any better. This prick is a full-grown adult. She considers making a comeback but refrains after Peggy gently grabs her hand to warn her to cool it. Melanie’s better nature comes out, telling her to remain quiet.

His time will come, she thinks to herself.

“We’re almost there,” Dylan says, trying to calm everyone down. He’s the last person who wants to see anybody get hurt this evening. That would live on his conscience until the day he dies.

The large home gym takes up the majority of the basement’s floor layout. Once you get to the bottom of the stairs, you see a long hallway that sort of looks something out of a horror film if all the lights are turned off. When Dylan, Melanie, and Monique went downstairs earlier to fetch a couple bottles of wine and spirits, they kept the lights on, almost as if they intuitively knew they’d soon return down here. The gym is on the left side. On the right is a shower/changing room, a meditation room, a few emergency guest bedrooms (with futons instead of actual furnished beds), and finally, a spacious storage room. Stephen sees that the thick glass door has no handle. Before he turns to Thomas to ask him to break through it, Dylan sticks his thumb onto a small scanner pad. It makes a small “beep” noise, which unlocks the door. This makes Stephen smile. Thomas is also amused at this. Henry, who hasn’t been down in the basement in a while, cannot believe there’s a secret room in this house that’s secured behind a thumbprint scanner. How long has this been installed? What could Dylan possibly be hiding that’s so important?

“Here we are,” Dylan says. “The last time I cleaned this place up was last summer. So that was almost a whole year ago. Forgive the mess.”

“Not to worry. I don’t give a shit about how your interior decorating preferences,” Stephen responds. “No offense.”

The large room (though not as large as the gym) is filled with glass shelves showcasing the various plaques, awards, honorary degrees, and trophies Dylan has earned throughout the years. Every institution, from Harvard University to the Sierra Club to the U.S. Department of Defense to the Seattle Seahawks, have at some point in time given him an award. It’s basically all symbolic. There’s also some spare furniture, a few paintings that Dylan couldn’t find wall space for, a small bookshelf full of old college textbooks, Christmas decorations, and clothing that he’s been too lazy to donate to charity. It’s not quite an obstacle course to get around it all, but one must be careful about where one steps. Dylan switches on a light that illuminates all the treasure (and worthless junk, which makes for an interesting juxtaposition) the room has to offer. Finally, Stephen sees clearly a modest metallic door in the far corner of the room, surrounded by a sturdy dark gray frame. The wall itself looks like it could withstand a tank shell blast from point-blank range. This is the “Holy Grail” Stephen Callahan has been seeking all these years, right here in front of him. Right within his grasp.

“At long last, here we are. Look at it, I’m impressed. It looks like a bank vault,” Stephen observes. Indeed, he is correct. There’s a long vertical steel handle on the left side, a round black security camera hanging over the top with an ominous red light glowing at all times, and a white panel right next to the handle that’s connected to the wall. Thomas takes a closer inspection and sighs when he sees the white panel contains two keyholes.

“Fuck. Damn it. This shit isn’t going to be the walk in the park that I hoped it would be,” Thomas complains. “It can only be opened by two keys. I’m assuming he has one of them, right?” The safecracker turns to Dylan. Everyone also looks at him. For the first time since these thieves crashed his fun little party, Dylan Tanaka cracks a genuine smile.

“I do. In my bedroom. But you’re wasting your time. You’re right. It takes two keys to open it. I have one upstairs. The other, however, is in Europe. A friend of mine who shall remain nameless has it in their possession. They live in London, in case you care. I’m assuming you don’t have a plane scheduled to land in Heathrow anytime soon?” Dylan gives Stephen a sassy look, believing this stumbling block will derail his carefully laid out plans. “What are you going to do now?”

“You’re right, we don’t have any contacts heading to Europe or based in Europe. At least, not yet. We may get there, eventually.” Stephen rubs his temples, realizing now that he’s in for a long night. “I get it. We knew this would be a possibility. It’s impossible for you to open the safe by yourself. You need a second person, or more specifically, a second key, to open it. I can threaten you, your friends, or even burn down your entire fucking house, but that wouldn’t make any difference. At all.”

“That’s correct, Stephen boy,” Dylan taunts him. “Kill me. Shoot me right in the chest. It won’t get you any closer to accessing the contents of this safe. It’s a fail-safe system, no pun intended. I can’t open it even if I wanted to. You can clearly see it for yourself. It can only be opened if my friend hops on a jet, flies across the Atlantic Ocean, gets their ass down here, and provides us with the second key. Do you want to know where my key is?”

“Yes.”

“Fourth floor. You’ll find it on the bedside table, bottom drawer. Underneath an old high school yearbook.”

Thomas turns to Roddy and Xander. “Go get it. Now.” The two men promptly leave to fetch it. Cortez takes a few steps back so he can have all five hostages in his sightline. His hand hovers over his firearm but he does not remove it. Melanie just realizes that she and Dylan made love near this key that apparently can help unlock this safe that she (like Henry) never knew existed. This surreal feeling brings goosebumps down her massive body. Monique can feel her shivering.

“Sit down, all of you.” Stephen eyes a long couch sitting along the wall. Melanie, Peggy, Monique, and Henry sit down. Dylan defiantly remains standing. Even though it’s summer, all five nude hostages suddenly start to feel chilly. Basements are supposed to be chilly, Henry reminds himself. That’s why they always put the wine cellars down here. It makes sense.

“I want to make sure he’s not lying. We’ll try opening the safe with just one key,” Stephen thinks aloud. “If it doesn’t work, as I expect it wouldn’t, then we’ll go with Plan B. Can you get that ready, please?”

“Sure thing.” Thomas squats down, unzips his duffle bag, and takes out a series of gadgets and devices. The four hostages sitting on the couch lean over to watch, curious what equipment a professional thief has at his disposal. Dylan’s eyes remain locked on Stephen, the inner rage against this man boiling over to an almost unbearable temperature. He never thought he’d ever see his former deputy again. And if he did, it certainly wouldn’t have been under these circumstances. Dylan’s mind is spinning a million miles per second. This is making an escape plan almost impossible to come up with. For now, he’s just going to have to accept that he and his four beloved friends are stuck being hostages. It stinks, but it is what it is. Any resistance will certainly be met with punishment.

“While we wait for your key to be retrieved, do you want to tell your friends why I’m here and why this safe is so fucking important?” Stephen gives his former boss a self-satisfied smile, knowing he’s just getting deeper and deeper under Dylan’s skin. “I’m sure they’re eagerly waiting for an explanation of why they’re down here, naked, afraid, and at the mercy of a bunch of thugs like us.”

Dylan turns toward his friends, as he’s lost all interest in looking at Stephen’s face. His voice is calm but authoritative. He knows the truth must be revealed in order to prevent a massacre from happening. All four of his friends watch him intently. Dylan takes a deep breath and starts speaking.

“Right before I resigned from my position as Chief Executive Officer of Perseus Analytics, a company I love, founded, and worked tirelessly to grow, I took with me a bunch of documents outlining an ambitious project we were in talks to do for the U.S. government. We were developing a prototype for a Battlefield Smart Armor Tech suit. It’s basically a wearable suit of armor that incorporated the most advanced artificial intelligence capabilities available to us. It would have been a game-changer in the world of modern warfare,” he says.

“Stephen and I worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get this program up and running. Pilotless drones could kill people high above the sky, but they’re prone to lead to civilian casualties,” Dylan continues. “We all know what led to my downfall. So the military wanted my help in developing armor that could protect our troops from bullets, bombs, IEDs, biological and chemical agents, and any other conventional weapons they encounter on the battlefield. No technology in the world could replace the necessity of boots on the ground. No technology can replace human agility.”

“And,” Stephen interjects. “We were sooooooooo close to getting something substantial to the Department of Defense until, well, until the wheels came off the bus. And just as Perseus Analytics fell like the Roman Empire being sacked by the Visigoths, Dylan here made sure this new cutting-edge technology wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. Or anybody’s hands, for that matter. Isn’t that right?”

“Yes, you are correct,” Dylan admits. His gaze remains fixated on the floor, utterly embarrassed to look at his friends in the eye. “The documents I took with me outlined everything we were doing. Sketches, 3D models, code, concept reports, documentation, transcripts of planning meetings, you name it. I took papers, DVDs, thumb drives, blueprints, photographs, even one of Stephen’s personal diaries. I took it all. I left behind only meaningless things that were meant to give the DOD the impression that this program was still in its infancy. In reality, we were much deeper into the project than we led on.”

“We were two years away from an earth-shattering breakthrough that could revolutionize the future of warfare for good,” Stephen beams. “Unfortunately, this progress has stalled. For three years it’s been stonewalled, forgotten, locked away in this secret hidden vault that you see before you. Dylan holds the intel that could give any nation the military might they need to become unquestioned superpowers. The U.S., China, the European Union, the Russians, Saudis, Iranians, you name it. However, it’s not just this particular technology that could change world history forever. It’s the doors that this tech would open. The future is limitless. This would only be the beginning.”

Stephen takes a deep breath, proud of the future that will be in the palm of his hands. Thomas and Cortez look at each other, this being the first time they’ve ever heard in full detail what it is they are intending to steal. They knew they were snatching something important, but they had no idea it was this important. Smart tech that could transform ordinary human beings into super soldiers? This is definitely a game-changer if put into the proper hands. Military vehicles, troops, and commanders equipped with state-of-the-art smart technology? That would be a force to be reckoned with. That type of power is unprecedented.

“Damn. That sounds like some scary ass shit,” Peggy breaks the room’s silence. This elicits a faint snicker from Thomas. Melanie, who is hearing this for the first time, is in shock. She had no idea Dylan was this close to inventing tech that could lead to world domination. While that’s probably an over-exaggeration, to hear it directly from both Dylan and his former partner speaks volumes. She knew Dylan was involved in things that he’d rather not talk about, but this is a whole other ballgame. This is about human lives on a massive scale. This could tip the scale of geopolitical game theory. This is about what a hypothetical World War III would look like. Melanie hangs her head low, dreading the fact she may have to reconsider her entire view of a man she loves.

“This is as scary as it gets,” Stephen says to Peggy. “Dylan here has many skeletons in the closet. Before tonight, I had no idea he was into, um, women like you. I thought he was normal. Amanda McDermott isn’t a bodybuilder, is she? She’s about as skinny as it gets, if I recall.” Dylan looks up at him, miffed that he’s referencing his ex-girlfriend and current CEO of The McDermott Corporation, the company that “merged” with Perseus Analytics during the aftermath of the federal investigation. Amanda isn’t strong physically but she’s as mentally strong as any human being on planet Earth. Dylan resents Stephen mentioning her name.

“No, Amanda isn’t like these women you see before you,” Dylan mutters under his breath. He gives a loving look at Melanie, Monique, and Peggy, regretting even more the fact that they had to be dragged into this personal vendetta. He also sees Henry, his buddy and loyal chef, sitting quietly on the edge of the couch, processing everything that he’s just heard. All four of his friends appear to be thinking long and hard about their relationship with Dylan and whether or not they want to continue being his friend once this nightmare comes to an end. Assuming they all make it out alive, that is. “Well, I can assure you that if you want to steal the contents of this safe, you’re going to need one hell of a powerful drill. You need two keys to open it. The other one is on another continent, I promise you. You can strip this house down to its last floorboard. You’ll never find the second key here.”

“Oh, I believe you, but I must do my due diligence,” Stephen says. “You understand, don’t you? Never leave any stone unturned.”

“That’s right. Why, if you don’t mind me asking, do you believe me? I could be lying. The second key could actually be somewhere in this house,” Dylan inquires.

“It could be, but I doubt it,” Stephen begins. “I know you pretty well. Better than you think. We go way back, after all. But if there’s one thing I know about you, it’s that you believe in accountability. Checks and balances. That sort of thing. Which means, there’s no way you’d allow anyone to singlehandedly access this safe’s contents. Even you. You know how dangerous that would be.”

“Very good, old buddy. You do indeed know me pretty well.”

“That, I do. Plus, I have no patience for tearing this house down brick by brick. It would be easier, and more cost-effective, to just break in the old-fashioned way. I trust my man to do just that. It shouldn’t be too difficult, right Dylan?”

Before Dylan can respond, two of Stephen’s goons return with a long silver key that was (until tonight) safely stored in his bedroom. The key looks unremarkable, except for the length and the inordinate number of grooves on it. If you look at it from afar, it’s just like any other key that would lock and unlock a liquor cabinet or backyard fence. But upon closer inspection, one could clearly see that it’s designed to be “uncopiable,” meaning one could not simply go to a Home Depot and get it replicated. Roddy hands the silver key to Thomas. The safecracker gives his boss a quick look. Stephen nods his head. Thomas walks up to the key panel, inserts the key into the right slot, and turns it. He then attempts to open the door, but it won’t budge. He then inserts the key into the left slot and turns it. Once again, the door doesn’t open. He faces his boss and shakes his head in defeat. They are indeed in for a long night.

“Sorry, boss. He wasn’t lying. The key works, but we need two of them to open this sucker. I should get to work right now if we want to open this thing up before morning.” Thomas leans over to pick up a high-powered drill and a few spare Titanium drill bits. Everyone watches with interest as Thomas sets up his industrial drill meant to cut through steel beams. He inserts a fully charged battery into the bottom, locks it in place, and inspects the safety vault’s door to look for a logical place to start drilling.

“Well, well, well. It looks like we’re going to be here a bit longer than we had anticipated,” Stephen says, no hint of disappointment found in his voice. “Will it be loud?”

“Oh yeah, very fucking loud. It’s going to sound like a construction site in here really soon,” Thomas warns. “I recommend that everyone leave if they don’t want their eardrums blown out.” Taking his own advice, Thomas puts around his neck a pair of yellow over-the-head earmuffs. Once he finds the right place to begin drilling, he fully intends to wear them properly so he doesn’t go deaf.

“Hm. In that case, let’s get out of here and shut the door behind us. You don’t need us, do you?”

“No, sir. I can do this all by myself. I should have an estimate of how long it’ll take once I start seeing what I’ve got to work with,” Thomas promises. “Honestly, it’s impossible to tell at this juncture. I need to begin. Like, now.”

“Sounds good. Let’s get out of here and let Mr. Sellars get to work,” Stephen says. “Let’s move to that home gym I saw while coming down here. I’m sure you’ll all feel right at home there, am I right ladies?” The three women refuse to give Stephen Callahan any acknowledgment whatsoever. Henry shows no emotion. Dylan also remains silent. This pleases him. He doubts any of them will put up a fight. “Let’s move it.”

“Up, sugar tits,” Xander says to Peggy, who then gives him a dirty look while standing up. Dylan leads the way, followed by Stephen, Henry, Melanie, Peggy, Monique, and Xander, with Cortez at the rear. Dylan sees a few old fleece blankets sitting on a pile of clothes and bedding in the corner of the room. He stops and turns around to face Stephen.

“If we’re going to be down here for an extended period of time, the five of us are probably going to get cold. Do you see those blankets over there?”

Stephen glances over at the corner and sees the blankets. “Yes, I do.”

“Can we bring a few of them with us so we don’t catch a cold? And to cover our modesty, if that means anything to you.” Stephen smiles, looking down at Dylan’s penis and over at the three naked ladies and naked black man. The chilly basement may be unflattering to Dylan Tanaka, but it certainly hasn’t affected his chef one bit, Stephen observes. Shrinkage is all relative, after all. And we all know who hit the genetic jackpot.

“Yeah, we can do that. Cortez, grab a few blankets and take them with us, please.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Cortez acknowledges. He goes over to the pile of blankets and picks out a few at random. He coughs when a cloud of dust poofs in the air. After wiping the dust away with his hand, Cortez chooses five large fleece blankets, rolls them up, and takes the bundle with him. One by one, they file out of the room, leaving Thomas all alone to begin drilling through the vault’s door. By now, he’s put on a pair of heat-resistant work gloves, a welding mask, and a protective jacket (in addition to his earmuffs). Stephen snickers at how ridiculous he looks, but he realizes Thomas isn’t trying to win a fashion contest. He’s a professional thief on the job, doing what he does best, facing a monumental task. He’s entitled to look however he needs to look.

As quiet as church mice, the group silently walks down the long hallway. You can hear a pin drop, as the old cliché goes. The mortuary-like atmosphere is not lost on anyone. The five hostages don’t feel like dead bodies yet, but they have no illusions that they could very well be living their final moments on Earth. Their next destination could be an actual morgue. This is why none of them have any intentions of acting out or crossing their captors in any way. It may not just be them who receives a bullet through their skull. It could be others, too. This gives them a sense of responsibility and incentive to not act irrationally.

Once they enter the home gym, Stephen spots a few metal folding chairs and a long wooden bench situated on the far right-hand corner. He decides this will be their “home base” for the time being. He leads the group over there, walking past a fruit smoothie bar, several exercise machines, a box full of kettlebells and elastic cables, and a stack of clean white towels. He points to everyone to sit on the wooden bench. All five hostages sit down without saying a word and immediately grimace at the thought of wood splinters poking their naked bottoms. Cortez hands out a blanket to everyone. Dylan just holds his while the four others wrap them around their naked bodies. Eventually, Dylan follows suit and puts a red and green Christmas-themed blanket around his torso.

“Damn, this room is also impressive as fuck,” Stephen marvels. “You could open this place to the general public, not just the two girls who come here on a weekly basis.”

“How…how do you know about that?” Dylan asks. Only three people use this gym on a regular basis: Dylan Tanaka, Lindsay Wells, and Laura Kang. Their presence is kept under-the-radar for obvious reasons, a mutually agreed-upon arrangement that benefits all parties involved. Dylan is horrified that Stephen would know this fact about him and his deal with those two women.

“We’ve done reconnaissance work for the past several weeks, Dylan boy. Do you honestly think we just showed up out of thin air without scoping out the place first? Come on! Gives us more credit than that,” Stephen replies. Dylan finally realizes that’s where the mysterious marijuana smell came from earlier today. It wasn’t Joey lighting up on the job. It was one of these goons snooping around his property.

“Did you know we were going to be here tonight?” Melanie asks. It suddenly dawns on her that Stephen Callahan knows a lot about Dylan’s normal routine, but not necessarily his plans for this weekend. Were they a monkey wrench thrown into the engine? Are they a wild card element he wasn’t expecting?

“To tell you the truth, no. I did not expect you to all be here. I knew Dylan’s landscaper would be here this morning and that he’d leave before lunch. I figured your butler would be gone before eight o’clock and your cook shortly before that. I fully expected you’d be all alone, old sport. I guess I was wrong.” By now, Roddy is standing at Stephen’s side while Cortez and Xander are leaning against the wall. Stephen pulls up a folding chair and sits to face his hostages at their level. “That’s okay. Luckily, none of you are any threat to us. I mean, how dangerous can a naked person be?” He reaches out to stroke Monique’s supple leg. She, once again, squirms at this unwanted touching.

“Don’t touch her like that!” Dylan lashes out. “I mean it. Don’t even think about it. Leave them alone, do you hear me? Don’t you fucking touch her!”

Amused but not angered, Stephen pulls away and leans back in his chair, letting everyone know he doesn’t intend to make anyone feel more uncomfortable than they already are. “Forgive me, my dear. I may be a monster to you, but I am still a man. You are one gorgeous, delicious little cookie. You don’t look like the other two. You clearly keep yourself in shape, but you’re different. Who are you, exactly?”

“Don’t talk to him. You don’t owe him shit!” Peggy warns Monique. “He doesn’t deserve to know anything about you, honey dear.”

“It’s okay sweetie. I can handle myself,” Monique says, breaking her long silence. “In case you must know, I’m an Olympic athlete. A weightlifter. I do the clean and jerk and the snatch. I competed at Rio and tore my UCL while attempting a heavy lift. Maybe you recall that?”

“Oh shit! I remember watching that. Holy fuck, that was you?” Xander interrupts. Everyone looks at him. “Damn, I remember watching you on the floor, crying and shit. Wow. I didn’t recognize you.”

“Uh huh. Well, yeah, that was me.” Monique lifts her right arm and flexes it, showing off her full bicep. “As you can tell, I’m training for next year’s games in Tokyo. I intend to compete and win the gold. If anything happens to me tonight, you can bet the whole world will hear about it. There’d be nowhere for any of you fuckers to run.”

Xander raises an eyebrow. Cortez lets out a whistle. Stephen and Roddy look at each other, thoroughly impressed that the silent black girl who looked like she was on the verge of tears had some spunk in her. Apparently, they had an international celebrity (not just Dylan) as one of their hostages. And Cortez is fully aware of how famous LATINAMUSCLEPRINCESS67 is in the world of online porn. He’s now just discovered her full name but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people around the globe know who she is. And none of them know who Melanie Wright is, though it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a woman with a sculpted body like hers probably isn’t completely anonymous. All of a sudden, it dawns on the bandits that they must tread carefully because they aren’t holding hostage a bunch of nameless, faceless nobodies that wouldn’t be missed if they were killed off. Rather, they’re actual somebodies who would garner a lot of attention if they were to meet their untimely demise.

“Unbelievable. So you’re a famous Olympic athlete. I had no idea. I don’t pay attention to sports, so I wouldn’t have known that otherwise,” Stephen confesses. “I guess that means we must treat you with respect, right? I apologize for touching you inappropriately like that. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.”

“Fuck that. That should be the least of your worries,” Monique scolds. “You’ll pay for this. One day. Mark my words.” Dylan wants to tell her to cool it. He refrains from adding fuel to the fire.

“Oh, that’s quite the threat. I believe you when you say that. We will all get our comeuppance. Some day. Maybe not tonight. But perhaps later. I don’t know.” Stephen sits up in his chair. He takes out his pistol and waves it in the direction of his hostages. This causes all of them to flinch. “Huh. If I were to kill one of you, that would surely make the evening news. Or at the very least, trend on Twitter for a few hours. So I shouldn’t do that if I ever intend to get away with this little heist unscathed. Good to know.”

“Look, let’s just sit here quietly while your guy tries to break into my safe,” Dylan suggests, trying to avoid any bloodshed. “I won’t put up a fight. I promise. You’ve already won. I’ve lost. You’ll leave here with your treasure, go along your merry way, and we’ll remain here suffering from PTSD. Right?” It’s clear Dylan wants to play peacekeeper. He hates Stephen’s guts but doesn’t want any of his friends to die. Dylan’s former friend also senses this attitude.

“Yes, that sounds like a prudent plan. Let’s just sit here, quietly, and not do anything stupid. We have these guns…but trust me. We don’t want to use them. Am I right, guys?” Stephen looks around at his associates.

“Oh yeah. That’s right,” Roddy says.

“Yup.” Xander acknowledges.

“Sure thing. We’re not animals. We just want to get what we came here for and leave as quietly as possible,” Cortez reassures the group of hostages.

“Excellent! So we’re all in agreement. I love it,” Stephen taunts Dylan. He leans back in his folding chair with a self-satisfied grin on his face. After several moments of silence, he turns to Roddy to ask him a question.

“Check on Mr. Sellars to see how much progress he’s made so far.”

“Of course, boss. I’ll be back.” Roddy exits out of the gym and goes to the storage room.

“He can’t get in without me,” Dylan reminds Stephen. “He can’t get in unless he has my thumbprint. Get him to come back.”

“Shit. You’re right. I forgot about that,” Stephen curses. “Go after him and open the door. And don’t do anything funny, or one of your lady friends will get a bullet between their eyes. Or up their pussy.” He points his pistol directly at Melanie’s crotch. She gasps, her heart skipping a beat. Dylan immediately stands up (with his blanket still wrapped around his body) and walks slowly toward the door. He glances at the group before exiting to make sure no harm comes to Miss Wright. He loves her dearly and would hate himself if any harm were to come her way. He’d also tear Stephen limb to limb if he actually shot her (even if it kills him). For his own sake, he’d better not do anything foolish.

“You sick motherfucker,” Melanie tells Stephen once Dylan has left the room. “Put that damn gun away. I’m not going to do anything. I’m not stupid enough to try to escape. Stop pointing that at me!” Now it’s Melanie’s turn to be on the verge of tears. For whatever reason, she feels protective over Dylan, Henry, Peggy, and Monique – as if she’s the mama bear looking out for her cubs. If anybody is to get hurt, it might as well be her…nobody else.

“Don’t worry, my man,” Stephen lowers the gun and puts it back in his holster. “You’re safe. You’re good. All of you. Oh! That reminds me. If you don’t mind me asking, you are a real woman, right?”

Melanie closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and reopens them to focus on her captor. “Yes. I am a woman. I’m more of a woman than you’ve ever known. You’ve never met anyone who’s more of a woman than me. Just because you’ll never be as strong as me, both literally and figuratively, doesn’t mean you can call me a man. I’m not a man. But if I were, I’d be more of a man than you’d ever be.”

Stephen stands up, takes out his Glock 19, and pistol-whips Melanie directly in the face. She lets out a sharp cry of pain. Henry, Peggy, and Monique jump up in shock. Even Roddy, Xander, and Cortez flinch at this sudden act of brutal violence. Stephen then points the barrel of the gun at the rest of the group and cocks it, warning them that they should remain seated if they want to avoid suffering a similar fate.

“Sit down, all of you. If you say one word, I’ll give you the same treatment.” He looks at Melanie, who’s already developing a dark blue bruise on her left cheek. A few drops of blood run down her jaw where the edge of the pistol sliced her skin. “Sorry my dear, but I hate being insulted like that. I suppose I should also apologize for mistaking you for a man. You are a woman. You talk like one, that’s for sure.”

“I’m glad we cleared the air on that,” Melanie grimaces in pain. “I don’t think Dylan will appreciate that you did that to me.”

“No doubt he’ll get pissy about that,” Stephen says, genuinely regretting his actions. “Let’s just sit here and not say another word until Dylan gets back with news about Mr. Sellar’s progress.” Everyone returns to a seated position. Stephen’s associates remain alert. The tension in the air lingers, even though all involved agree a bit of détente could go a long way.

Several moments pass. It’s the most awkwardly silent atmosphere that anyone in this room has ever experienced before. A few minutes pass until Roddy, Thomas, and Dylan enter through the home gym’s front door. Dylan is still wrapped in his blanket. Thomas is completely covered in his industrial “construction worker” gear. He’s mildly out of breath, acting as if he’s just run a country mile at full speed.

“Hey boss. I’ve made some progress but it’s going to take me, oh, an hour and a half to get the door busted down, I think,” Thomas estimates. “At a minimum, it’s going to take me seventy minutes. Two hours at the most. Good thing I brought extra drill bits because the one I’m currently using is being worn down pretty good. It’ll last about twenty more minutes until it’s reduced to nothing but a useless nub. But don’t worry. I’ll get it open. It’ll take time, but time is on our side. If the butler shows up early, we’ll capture him and bring him into our custody.”

“Thank you for the update. Keep at it. Give me updates every thirty minutes, alright?”

“Yeah, I can do that. I’ll keep you posted.” Thomas turns around and disappears from sight, eagerly wanting to return to his project. Thomas Sellars has broken into many safes in his life, but this one takes the cake. This is the Mt. Everest of safes, as far as he’s concerned. After Thomas leaves Dylan sits back down. Then, he notices the blood dripping from Melanie’s face.

“Wha…what happened?” Dylan caresses her face, careful not to touch the bruise.

“Ask him.” Melanie points to Stephen. Without needing to ask, Dylan boils over with rage.

“You…fucking…piece…of…SHIT!” Before he can stand up to confront him, Stephen and Roddy point their guns right at Dylan’s forehead. Cortez closes his eyes in anticipation of Mr. Tanaka’s brains being blown out, which would leave a graphic bloody mess. He doesn’t like gory horror movies and would hate to experience one in real life.

“Ah, ah, ah! Stay where you are. You don’t want to know what’ll happen to you if you charge at me like that,” Stephen warns his former boss. “Just sit down, shut up, and nothing terrible will happen to any of you. I won’t repeat myself. Got it?”

Dylan closes his eyes, breaths deeply through his nose, and calmly sits back down. He’s not normally a believer in “Zen” or whatever that means (this explains why the meditation room is rarely ever used). But right now, he needs all the positive vibes he can possibly muster. Melanie kisses him on the cheek. Peggy grabs his hand and holds it tightly. Monique grabs Henry’s hand, just so everyone feels connected and supported. Even Stephen decides to relax, sitting down in his chair and letting out a rasping sigh. The other three gunmen put their pistols away, sensing the détente happening before them is for real.

Nobody speaks a word for a long, long time. The silence is much welcomed.

All the King’s Queens – Chapter 8: Party Crashers

Stephen Callahan estimates his crew should arrive at Dylan Tanaka’s property at a quarter to 11 o’clock. That should give him plenty of time to coordinate the shutting off of Dylan’s security systems. Bill Marks, a man Stephen has known for several years from their days working together at a Silicon Valley startup that eventually folded, is currently the Regional Manager of the West Coast office of McDonald & Pierce Security Systems, a private home security company that specifically caters to the rich and famous. MPSS’s clients span professional athletes to Hollywood celebrities, corporate CEOs, government officials, lobbyists, media personalities, investors, and anyone with enough money (and a healthy dose of paranoia) to pay for such expensive services. Bill, who did some contract work for Perseus Analytics back in the day, is also not a fan of Dylan Tanaka. He feels strongly that Stephen was the convenient scapegoat who served the role as the sacrificial lamb so PA’s higher-ups could avoid prison time.

Bill, knowing his actions could cost him both his job and prison time for himself, enthusiastically agreed to join in on the scheme when Stephen first approached him about it. His role is fairly simple but no less crucial: His job is to temporarily create a systems error between midnight and 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 30. MPSS regularly goes through a region-wide system reboot/update on the final day of every month for a few hours, usually beginning at midnight. This is completely routine and happens as scheduled every single month. Occasionally, this system reboot will cause a small handful of homes to lose the connection between their security system and the main servers at the MPSS regional headquarters. It’s typical for anywhere between 5-10 homes on the West Coast (Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California, and Utah) to temporarily experience this technical glitch for no more than an hour or two. MPSS tries to minimize this bug, but technology isn’t always a perfect ally. Since they have more than 170,000 clients in these five U.S. states, that number isn’t trivial but is small enough that if it were to happen, it wouldn’t be considered unusual.

Stephen proposed to Bill the simple scheme of intentionally cutting off the connection between Dylan Tanaka’s house during those critical three hours. As far as he’s concerned, his motion detectors, security cameras, door locks, and direct lines to emergency services will still operate – but any data captured from those systems will not feed back to HQ (located in Redwood City, CA, where Bill lives and works). Which basically means Dylan’s security systems will be useless during that window of time. He won’t receive any error messages on his end, but that won’t matter because for three hours the Internet connection between his home and Redwood City HQ will be cut off. All of this, while “tragic,” is perfectly normal. Thankfully for MPSS (whose main corporate headquarters is in Austin, TX) this secret technical glitch hasn’t come back to haunt them – yet. It’s only a matter of time, Stephen and Bill have decided, when a regularly scheduled systems reboot would result in a catastrophic event where a rich man whose house is being broken into isn’t reported to the local police. And, no footage of the crime is ever recorded onto MPSS’s cloud servers.

During their initial planning discussion, Bill estimates this would cost the company dearly in a lawsuit brought upon by Mr. Tanaka, as well as bad publicity. But since Mr. Tanaka has become a social pariah after being dubbed a “war profiteer” by a Congressional defense committee, he will most likely receive very little public support. MPSS’s stockholders and board members will temporarily freak out, but the market has a funny way of returning back to normal after the news cycle moves on to something new. You’re only one controversial Donald Trump tweet away from your sins being forgotten by the media. They are easily distracted. And the current U.S. president has a knack for distracting people from what’s really going on around the country.

Still, such a plan comes with immense risk. After lengthy brainstorming, Stephen Callahan and Bill Marks decided that every client in the greater Seattle area should experience the same “technical glitch” as Dylan in order to minimize any suspicion that this was an inside job. That would victimize only 378 homes – including a few business buildings – a fairly small number compared to MPSS’s total number of clients, but large enough to make it look like Dylan Tanaka’s home wasn’t specifically targeted. This “outage” could also be shorter or longer for some people. Some people may only experience a glitch lasting 20 seconds. Or 10 minutes. Or 30 minutes. Or three hours. Dylan’s home should experience some of the longer outages, of course, which would give Stephen’s team plenty of time to break in, steal whatever they need to steal, and get out without giving Dylan or any of his nosy neighbors a chance to call the cops.

In return for this invaluable service, Stephen promised he’d pay Bill and two unnamed mid-level employees at MPSS (it would be nearly impossible for Bill to singlehandedly execute a plot of his magnitude and technical difficulty) $175,000 each upfront and at least $1.5 million afterward. They could get more if the information Stephen steals ends up being as valuable on the black market as he suspects it is. All in all, Stephen will have to pay at least $5,025,000 to ascertain Dylan’s hidden documents. However, he knows that’s small potatoes compared to their estimated worth: At least $40 billion when you consider the fortune you’d make producing state-of-the-art artificial intelligence programs for foreign governments, militaries, corporations, NGOs, and any party who desires to weaponize data to their advantage.

None of the people involved in this plot seem morally concerned about the potential blowback this operation could create. Oh well. Life goes on.

Until it doesn’t.

“Dude, this drive is long and boring as hell. There’s nothing to see. It’s just darkness.” Thomas resists the urge to yawn, which could communicate tiredness (which he is at the moment) and the possibility that his mind wouldn’t be sufficiently sharp enough to complete the mission. Despite the late hour, Stephen doubts anyone on his team will actually fall asleep on the job. The stakes are way too high.

“You should try driving this road during the day. It’s no better. But we’re not here to be tourists.” Stephen looks at his trusty safecracker for any sign that he’s considering backing out. Unlike most gigs he’s worked on, the loot they’re stealing is potentially worth billions of dollars. This is a scale Thomas has never experienced before. He’s accustomed to stealing boring shit like passports, birth certificates, legally-binding contracts, wills, jewelry, expensive watches, or the occasional key to a safety deposit box. He has never been asked to actually go to the bank and retrieve whatever is in that box, just to steal the key to get in. So not even the jobs where really valuable stuff is involved is directly stolen by him. However, this evening is a whole new ballgame, a whole different can of worms.

“Relax, we’re going to be okay. We’ll be there before you know it. Just pretend like you just chugged seven Red Bulls. That’ll do the trick.”

“Hm,” Thomas reacts with less enthusiasm than a little kid eating a plate full of brussels sprouts. Usually, Thomas does jobs where his only stake in the game is the payment for doing it successfully. It’s never personal, just business. This, however, is a slightly different matter. He doesn’t necessarily consider Stephen a friend, so failure tonight wouldn’t devastate him too much emotionally (unless they get caught by the police, which goes without saying). That doesn’t mean he isn’t rooting for Stephen to win. Thomas has no qualms about stealing money or assets from a super-rich billionaire. It’s not like Dylan Tanaka will miss it. After all, he’s the one who’s chosen to sit on these documents for all these years. He could have easily chosen to sell them to a third-party bidder at a ridiculously high price. That isn’t something he’s done – yet. So if a man like Stephen Callahan, who deserves his fair shake after the clown show that was the congressional investigation and hearings, can’t be faulted too much for taking something that Mr. Tanaka refuses to give away. Morality is a funny thing, Thomas often thinks. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Meanwhile, inside the SUV Xander carefully removes a small flask out of his coat pocket and takes a small swig. He knows he’s supposed to remain “clean and sober” until the job is done, but feelings of nervousness cannot easily be shaken off. He’s only human. The small amount of bourbon he drinks will calm his nerves, loosen him up, and make him more at ease once they get to the rich guy’s mansion. What’s the harm in that?

“How are we all feeling?” Roddy asks his passengers. His gaze is focused on the road.

“Meh. Let’s just get it over with. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a job,” Cortez says. “I feel out of shape, know what I mean? This shit better not take all night, that’s all I’m asking.” Xander, sitting in the back seat, takes a second swig of bourbon before sharing his answer with the group. Before speaking, he puts the flask back inside his coat pocket, thankful that nobody seemed to have noticed it.

“I’m good. Kind of excited. I’m like you, Cortez. Haven’t been on a job in a long time. Damn. Probably my second one this year. Shit.” Xander shifts around in his seat, genuinely surprised at his lack of activity this year.

“That’s it? You worked with Tony Morocco and his boys, right? They snuck all those trucks full of cocaine across the Mexican border right around Valentine’s Day. The DEA had no fucking idea it happened. They probably still don’t. As far as the Border Patrol is concerned, those trucks had corn maize in it,” Roddy says. Tony Morocco is an infamous drug smuggler who is intimately connected with many of the big Mexican and Central American cartels. He’s born and raised in the United States, has lots of personal (and family) connections south of the border, and knows the right federal officials and law enforcement personnel to pay off in order to keep the flow of narcotics onto American streets going smoothly. Almost every hired goon on the West Coast has worked for him before, either directly or indirectly. Roddy, to his credit, knows almost every major player in the game. His knowledge of everyone’s sordid history should come as no surprise. He didn’t assemble this team himself – it was Thomas who gathered all the players on Stephen’s behalf – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know who he’s riding with.

“To be fair, they did have some corn maize in them,” Cortez chuckles. “But not all those boxes, that’s for damn sure.”

“Tony’s a big bad cat. Never met the dude, but I’ve worked with his boys before. But that was a while ago.” Xander hopes this will end the conversation. He won’t ever admit it, but Xander once ratted out one of Tony’s homeboys to the FBI because he tried to sleep with his then-girlfriend. The feds know who Xander is, even though they won’t officially bring him in on criminal charges. He’s too low-level for that, plus he can be helpful in conducting internal “house cleaning” of gangsters who stray too far from the “code.” Therefore, Xander isn’t technically speaking an FBI informant, though he has been an informant before. This isn’t a rare occurrence. Lots of dudes low on the totem pole have talked to the police, FBI, Border Patrol, DEA – even the CIA – at some point. They just don’t rat out the “big fish” swimming in the pond. They only talk to either save their own hides or eliminate idiots on their own side who are about to get caught or killed anyway. Tony’s friend, in addition to trying to fuck Xander’s girl, had a tendency to get sloppy with his hit jobs. One unfortunate mistake led to a pregnant woman getting killed by a car bomb when the intended target was a female judge who happened to share the same name as her. The judge, who at the time was presiding over a case involving submachine guns smuggled across the border by one of the cartels, doesn’t get a scratch on her head (she was in another part of Ciudad Juárez at the time) while the pregnant woman gets killed along with three other innocent bystanders. This mistake was forgiven at the time, but it certainly put him on the “expendable” list by the powers-that-be inside the cartels. His death was inevitable. Xander ratting him out made sure that instead of him getting killed by a cartel assassin, he’d hang himself inside his holding cell with bedsheets. Which he did.

“I see. Yeah, he’s a bad motherfucker. Never met him either,” Roddy adds.

“I have,” Cortez chimes in. Both passengers express their pleasant surprise. “Once. About a year ago. I was at his daughter’s birthday party. Can’t tell you where, but it was by the beach. Nice ass place. Goddamn, he’s a rich motherfucker, just like this asshole we’re about to meet right now. I’m telling you, he has about eight different wives, or girlfriends, or whatever. I don’t know who those bitches were. But hot damn! He gets more pussy in a day than we do all year. Fuck man.”

“Wow. I’ve heard stories about him, bro. But you actually met him?” Roddy asks. He genuinely wants to know.

“Yeah, but we’re not friends or nothing. I just met him once, know what I mean?” Cortez squirms in his seat a bit, knowing he probably just said too much. Tony Morocco is infamous for having a lot of mistresses at any given time. However, that doesn’t mean he likes his employees talking about it openly. He’s a man with typical male desires, but he’s also (technically speaking) a family man with a wife and four kids. He’s also a violent gangster who’s responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people over the years, a fact that doesn’t obscure the truth that he’s also a philanderer. Nobody’s perfect. “So I don’t know a whole lot about him other than the rumors I’ve heard. We’ve all heard rumors about him, right?”

“Right.” Xander quietly coughs to himself, wanting to hide the one final swig of bourbon he just swallowed. This is it for now, he thinks to himself. “Lots of rumors of a lot of people, man. Fuck, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not, you dig? Hell, motherfuckers out there are probably saying shit about us, you know?”

“For real. Our boss on this job, Callahan, is new to the game. Nobody knows shit about him, except he spent years in the Big House with Tommy,” Roddy says. “I don’t know him, but he seems like he knows what he’s doing. It makes me feel better about our chances.”

“Oh yeah, for sure.” Xander adds.

Cortez checks his firearm to make sure the safety is still on. It is. “This shit should be easy. I’ve had to break into far worse situations. Remember that boathouse, bro?”

“Oh yeah, that shit was wild,” Roddy remembers. Five years ago, Roddy and Cortez first met doing a hit job on some hotshot lawyer who represented the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC was investigating a Ponzi scheme set up by a former Wall Street executive. They and two other guys had to locate this man’s boathouse in the middle of a well-guarded Florida Keys dock, put two bullets into the back of his skull, and get away before his private security guards showed up. The hit was successful and the SEC eventually eased off on the investigation. But Roddy and Cortez had to learn how to scuba dive (!) in order to sneak onto the dude’s boat unnoticed. It was cold, windy, rainy, and dark outside. Thankfully, all four hitmen were paid handsomely for their work. “We don’t have to go swimming this time around, thank God. If our insider at the security company works, we don’t even have to worry about how long it takes. Just get in, steal whatever the fuck we’re stealing, and get out of there in time for breakfast. Shouldn’t be too bad.”

It was at this exact moment that all three men realize that they had broken the one unbreakable rule of the business: they said it would be “easy.” You never do that. Ever. It’s considered bad luck, a sure-fire jinx that would (nearly) guarantee things won’t be as easy as they think it will be. With that, the three men nod their heads quietly, refocus their minds on the mission at hand, and sit silently in the SUV as they approach their ultimate destination.

***

“He’s so different in real life, you know? He’s not what you think he is. For real. That’s true of a lot of guys in the business.”

Peggy Cole has garnered an attentive audience eager to learn about the dirty little secrets of the porn industry. Sitting on Henry’s lap on a comfortable eggshell white L-shaped couch, Peggy has spent the last twenty minutes sipping whiskey, passing a joint around the group, and recalling her favorite moments working as a pornographic actress. Dylan and Melanie are cuddling on the carpet while Monique is sitting by herself at Peggy’s feet. At the moment they are hearing Peggy dish about Kit Styles, a b-level porn actor who is considered a “rising star” among those who pay attention to this sort of thing. “He’s shy and legit an introvert. Seriously. He gets really awkward around girls like me, and, well, people in general, I guess. But he’s a real sweetheart,” Peggy says.

“He reads off a script when he’s making his videos, so that’s not surprising. I can’t imagine someone being that smooth with the ladies all the time,” Dylan says, inhaling a bit of marijuana smoke. Melanie playfully pinches his shoulder. It’s been at least six months since he last smoked weed. It was New Year’s Eve 2018. He was hanging out with a few friends who were visiting from Europe. Thankfully for Dylan, he’s not as much of a pariah overseas as he is domestically. It’s not that Europeans aren’t aware of Dylan’s legal troubles, it’s more that they can’t bring themselves to hate an American suspected of being a war criminal more than a European suspected of being a war criminal. Dylan considered moving to either France or the U.K. at one point. He doubts he’ll ever leave the United States. “Although porn scripts aren’t exactly that well written in the first place, if we’re just being honest for a moment.”

The group laughs. Peggy, not surprisingly, isn’t too offended by everyone poking fun at her chosen profession. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re not known for our Oscar-worthy writing. Who gives a shit? All people want to see are boobs, pussy, dicks, and flesh banging against flesh. What conversation they have before isn’t on anybody’s mind when they’re trying to jack off in the privacy of their own homes,” Peggy argues. Melanie reaches over to caress Dylan’s limp penis, attempting to bring it back to life. Dylan, to his credit, would rather hang out with his friends, smoke pot, drink whiskey, and talk about whatever is on their minds instead of going at it with Melanie again. He loves sex, but he loves being in the company of friends even more. He gets enough sex throughout the year (normally) but not nearly enough quality time hanging out with friendly company.

“I’ve seen a few of his videos,” Monique confesses, a look of embarrassment forming across her face. “He’s not my type, but DAMN he’s big AS FUCK down there!”

“He sure is, baby.” Peggy tickles Henry’s scrotum, making him squirm with her on his lap. “But here’s the thing. He’s got a big dick, but he ain’t a big dick, if that makes any sense. Sort of like you, Henry baby. Big down there, but that don’t mean he’s a jerk or nothing. He’s sweet and humble. He treats everyone with respect.” Henry rolls his eyes, not wanting the sort of attention Peggy is giving him. Yes, he’s aware of what he has between his legs. But he’s not proud of it (or ashamed of it). To him, it’s ridiculous to be proud of something that you’re born with. It’s not like he climbed Mt. Everest or graduated from MIT or was elected President of the United States. He has a large penis. So what? Peggy seems to like it (quite vocally, in fact). That must count for something. But not much, Henry thinks.

“I’d imagine there are a lot of egos going on in your business, just like mine. Or rather, the business I used to be in,” Dylan adds. “I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Kit Styles before, but he sounds like quite the character. When will your podcast launch?”

“Oh, we don’t know yet. This fall? Maybe during the winter? Or we could launch it next year. Or never. We don’t really have a plan yet. He’s still down in L.A. trying to break into Hollywood. Legitimate filmmaking,” Peggy says. “He wants to be an actor. Like, a real actor. He says he wants to eventually stop doing porn. I hope for the best, but don’t hold your breath. He’s cute and all, but once you do porn a few times that reputation sticks with you. Plus, all he can do is memorize and say whatever shitty lines he’s given. That’s it. He ain’t cut out for Shakespeare, that’s for damn sure.”

Everyone laughs. Peggy, embarrassed that she just threw her good friend under the bus, attempts to steer the conversation away from Kit’s lack of acting abilities. “But you can go to classes for shit like that. L.A. has a shit ton of acting coaches. I’ve taken lessons, he tells me. We’ll see if it works. I hope it does for him, I truly do.”

“I’m sure he’ll figure out a path that works best for him,” Melanie says. “We all have to give ourselves permission to step outside of our comfort zone and leap into the great unknown. If we fail, then we fail. So be it. It happens. Failure happens. It’s inevitable. What really matters is how we bounce back, if we do at all.” Dylan, wondering if this pep talk is indirectly pointed at him, kisses Melanie’s shoulder. She leans her head back on his chest, closing her eyes as he plants more kisses on her body.

“I know what failure is like. I also know what it means to bounce back,” Monique chimes in. “You’re right, baby girl. Failure happens to all of us. What matters is what we do with it.”

“Goddamn, I feel like I’m attending a wellness seminar!” Henry jokes. Peggy giggles charitably, slowly rolling the back of her index fingernail up his shaft. She hopes to get him hard again so she’ll have an excuse to get that 7.5 inch dick stuffed again inside her pussy. However, she decides against it and shifts gears.

“Dylan, baby darling. Did you like my performance earlier? What did you think about it?” Dylan whistles, suddenly remembering Peggy’s remarkable demonstration of her unique anatomical talent. Melanie immediately catches on that Peggy is trying to seduce him, which is something she fully expected from the beginning would eventually happen.

“Oooohhh, I loved it. You were amazing. I’ve literally never seen a woman do that before. Thank you for sharing your special talent with us. It was a joy to watch,” Dylan beams. Even after making love to Melanie twice tonight, his desire for Peggy hasn’t waned one iota. He stares at her enormous breasts, imagining what it would be like to stuff his face between them. He intends to find out sooner rather than later.

“Thank you, darling.” Peggy’s eyes zoom in on Dylan. She slowly stands up, careful to avoid scraping her long fingernails against Henry’s skin. Monique smiles devilishly, knowing what’s about to come next. She looks at the bar, wondering if there are more fresh limes in the refrigerator. “Say, you know that special toy I brought with me? Would you like me to show it to you up close? Would you like a closer inspection?”

Melanie suddenly experiences a strong twinge of jealousy. She knows Dylan intends to have sex with Peggy at some point during this weekend’s festivities. It, like failure, is inevitable. Yet, she feels strange about it. She feels possessive about Dylan, like he’s her man and nobody else’s. This is ridiculous, Melanie thinks to herself, especially considering not even 30 minutes ago she was considering “breaking up” with him for good. Why does she feel this way? What’s going on?

“I would, yes.”

“Then come with me to my bedroom. Enjoy the rest of your evening, ladies and gentleman,” Peggy teases the group. She winks at Melanie, Monique, and Henry as she takes Dylan’s hand. “I need a few private moments with our host, if you don’t mind.”

“Nah, girl. Go get it. Go do whatever you got to do!” Monique cheers her on.

“Have fun, Boss Man!” Henry shouts.

Melanie Wright doesn’t say a word. Nobody except for Dylan notices this.

“Let’s go!” Peggy aggressively pulls Dylan away from the group. Everyone remains sitting together huddled up and naked in the cabaret room. Monique is already walking up to the bar to fix herself (hopefully) a margarita. Henry stands up, stretches, and decides to pour himself some more champagne. Melanie is still on the floor, watching Peggy and Dylan leave the room, not budging an inch. Hoping nobody notices, she closes her eyes and bows her head, wiping away tears that have unexpectedly formed.

***

At 10:52 p.m., the Buick and SUV quietly arrive about 50 yards away from the cul-de-sac entrance that leads to Dylan Tanaka’s home. A large public park (where Lawrence picked up Dylan’s three guests earlier this afternoon) sits at the base of a busy residential street. The street – and park, for that matter – runs parallel to the north-south edge of Lake Washington. To the east are several private roads that lead to very expensive houses. Many of them are gated. Dylan’s cul-de-sac, however, is not gated since six other homes are located on this small street. Dylan and his neighbors have discussed installing a gate at the entrance over the years, but nothing has ever materialized. After tonight’s events, that will probably change.

The main road has a few open parking spots. Motorists have to pay to park between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (but not on Sundays or holidays) but at this hour you can basically park wherever you like for as long as you like. Parking fare enforcement officers rarely show up in wealthy neighborhoods like this one. They’re too busy patrolling the Downtown shopping areas and business districts to care about what happens in this (usually) quiet part of town. During their weekly scouting trips, Stephen’s team noticed several security cameras installed around the private properties. It wouldn’t be wise for two unusual vehicles to park anywhere around the cul-de-sac. The main road, however, contains very few security cameras outside of the major intersections. Fortunately for Stephen Callahan and his team, Dylan’s home is located in a cul-de-sac several hundred feet away from any intersection. They should be able to park on the side of the road and not attract any unwanted attention.

Stephen and Thomas park the Buick ahead of the SUV. Once they shut off the engine, Roddy does the same to his vehicle. Both drivers take out walkie-talkie two-way radios to communicate instead of getting out of the car to chat, not wanting any passerby to eavesdrop on their conversation. “Okay, so we’re pretty lucky right now. Almost no traffic around here. That’s not a surprise. This is a quiet rich neighborhood. No party houses or college kids in sight. The pedestrians who are around seem more interested in either going home or going to the nearest bar instead of strolling around the neighborhood,” Stephen assesses. “What do you think? Am I far off?”

“No, I don’t think you are. I noticed one cop car a couple miles back. Not sure what they were up to. Probably looking out for drunk drivers at this time of night,” Roddy says. “I see two pedestrians about 100 yards ahead of us. They’re walking straight toward us. Do you see them?”

“Yes, I do,” Stephen squints his eyes to see what looks to be a man and a woman holding hands, walking their German Shepherd. It’s way too late to be taking your pooch out to take a crap, Stephen thinks to himself, but people run on all sorts of different schedules. “Just lay low until they pass. They should be behind us in two to three minutes. Put your radio down, now.”

All five men try to remain inconspicuous as the couple strolls by, oblivious to the fact that the shiny Buick and mud-stained SUV are full of armed bandits. Roddy peers at them through the review mirror. The girl has a nice ass, he observes. Thirty seconds after they’ve passed by their vehicles, Roddy picks up his radio again to talk to his boss. “Alright, we’re good now. What’s next? Are you going to call your man at the security company?”

“Yes, that’s the next step.” Stephen hands the radio to Thomas. The veteran safecracker watches Stephen dig his Android out of his pocket to make a crucial phone call. After dialing the number, Stephen waits a few seconds for Bill Marks to pick up. “Hello? Bill?”

“It’s me. Good evening, sir,” Bill answers. Sitting alone in his home office in Redwood City, Bill Marks is drinking his fourth cup of coffee and shaking like a death row inmate nervously awaiting the electric chair. Bill’s two co-conspirators at McDonald & Pierce Security Systems are currently working the graveyard shift at the West Coast Regional Headquarters, located about two and a half miles away from Bill’s plush seaside home overlooking the San Francisco Bay. It would be considered highly unusual for the Regional Manager to be at the office this late – especially since his normal office hours are the typical 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. shift – so he decided to conduct his role in tonight’s heist from the comfort of his private home. His wife is aware of the plot to rob the “war profiteer guy,” as she dubbed him. However, she’s been sworn to secrecy – which should be easy to maintain considering the vast sum of money that’s been promised to come their way should this score succeed. Besides, her husband has assured her that if things were to go to hell in a handbasket, she and Bill would summon a private helicopter that would take them to a noncommercial airport where they’d board a chartered jet to an undisclosed location in the Caribbean. There, they’d either live out the rest of their days on a beachside resort home or relocate to a country that doesn’t care that they’re white-collar criminals.

“Good evening. We’ve just arrived at the target’s home. From what we can tell, nobody is tailing us. Nobody is watching us. No one suspects what we’re up to. We’re good to go,” Stephen reassures his partner in crime. Stephen understands that he has the most to lose if this job goes south, but that doesn’t change the fact that the others involved also have skin in the game. “Can I say the same with you and your boys?”

Bill resists the urge to tell Stephen that one of his co-conspirators is a woman, instead preferring to keep as many strategic secrets as possible. “Yeah, we’re ready as well. I just sent a text to one of them a few minutes ago. I received a response almost immediately. We’re ready to begin rebooting the system once the clock strikes midnight. We sometimes do it earlier, but let’s not do anything out of the ordinary. Not tonight.”

“Damn straight. Keep me posted. From my watch, it’s 11:03. Does your watch say the same thing?”

“It does.”

“Great. Fantastic. Very good. Let’s start as close to midnight as possible. In the meantime, me and my guys will review what’s about to happen once more. When you’re ready, text me. Then the show will get going.” Stephen looks at Thomas for approval of the plan. He nods. Taking this as a “yes,” Stephen signs off. “Over.”

“Over and out,” Bill responds with the glee of a child playing a spy game with his buddies. Stephen puts the radio back inside his jacket pocket. Bill puts his radio back on his desk. To calm his frazzled nerves, Bill gets up to get himself some scotch.

No ice, he decides. Now’s not the time for that.

After spending ten minutes reviewing the plan to his crew for the umpteenth time, all five men are now feeling confident in what they are about to do. There’s no going back. It’s now or never. Bill has repeatedly told Stephen that if any technical glitches were to unexpectedly come their way (such as a citywide power outage or large-scale systemic failure at the Austin HQ), he’d immediately tell him about it. Then, Stephen would have to decide whether or not to abort the whole mission. Bill doubts any such emergency would happen. Stephen, on the other hand, refuses to leave any stone unturned. He doesn’t believe in luck. He believes in preparation. Meticulous, intelligent, forthright preparation. Anything less than that would increase their odds of failure.

And as the cliché goes, failure is not an option. Not tonight. Not after all the countless hours and sleepless nights Stephan Callahan has had to endure because his former boss, Dylan Tanaka, betrayed him and threw him to the wolves.

This time, he intends to be the wolf.

***

“Here it is. The star of this evening’s show. My new favorite toy.” Peggy hands the 10.5-inch long dildo to Dylan. He inspects it with admiration, wondering in awe at how she was able to fit the entire thing inside her vagina. “I call it “Mr. Jerry,” as you found out. What do you think of him?”

“He’s something else,” Dylan observes. “Can’t say I’ve ever seen one as large as this before. I can see why you like it. It’s right up your alley, no pun intended!” This gets a mild snicker out of Peggy. At the end of the day, she’s no different than any other woman who’s ever walked this planet. Just because she works in the porn industry doesn’t mean she’s constantly thinking about sex, desiring sex, or wanting to have sex with anything with a pulse. She does have a plurality of partners – eight, to be exact – but they’re spread out across the world. She doesn’t see them all the time. Her currently live-in boyfriend, Roger, is a bisexual porn producer who also has multiple lovers (of all genders) scattered around the country. They have sex maybe once or twice a week, tops. Most of the time Peggy is at the gym, lifting heavy weights and working out just like any typical professional bodybuilder would. She’s not technically a professional bodybuilder at the moment, but her chosen profession does require her to be in top physical shape. Her appeal as a “sexy, curvy muscular Latina” has earned her tens of thousands of loyal fans across the globe. In addition to Roger, she also regularly goes to Morgan, a fellow female bodybuilder based in Las Vegas, for conjugal visits. Peggy loves dick, but she also loves pussy. Especially muscular pussy like hers. They have sex quite often, sometimes multiple times a day. That’s the advantage of lesbian relationships: They can go at it for as long as they want to without stopping, unlike guys. Peggy takes full advantage of her female parts when she’s with Morgan.

“Yeah, it’s quite a piece of machinery,” she says, eyeing Dylan’s penis getting a little bigger and bigger as their conversation continues. “But nothing beats the feeling of a real man inside me. I mean that honestly.”

Dylan turns to face Peggy. He knows she’s been with hundreds of lovers before (this is probably not an exaggeration). That doesn’t mean he wants to “rise above” any of them. He has nothing to prove. Still, he cannot help but feel some anxiety being with a woman whose experience with sex can fill multiple lifetimes. “Is that true? I…I saw the way this made you, you know, squirt to the high heavens. That was impressive.”

Luckily, it seems as though Peggy cleaned off “Mr. Jerry” between her earlier performance and now. It’s not sticky or dripping wet. Peggy takes the dildo out of Dylan’s hand and places it on top of a nearby credenza. She kisses him passionately. Dylan rubs his hands across her firm butt. Her pointed nipples dig into Dylan’s chest like a stab wound. He doesn’t mind it.

“It’s true. I love dildos. I love sex toys of all kinds. I really do,” Peggy says, moving her hands across his back to bring his body close to hers. “But nothing, I mean nothing, beats the feeling of a man inside me. And you can believe that. Take it to the bank, good sir.” Peggy gets down on her knees to lick the underside of Dylan’s scrotum. He moans, looking up at the ceiling as he feels her experienced tongue lap his sensitive flesh. By now, Peggy has become a true expert at giving head, but that’s not what’s in store for her and her lover. Tonight, she plans to do something a bit more…special.

“Go down on me. NOW!” she commands. Dylan obeys.

Peggy plops herself down on the bed, the sheets still containing the smells from her earlier coupling with Henry. Dylan also notices it, but figures it’s a new brand of fragrance she’s wearing. She spreads her legs out wide, inviting Dylan to taste her musky feminine parts. He gladly accepts her invitation, getting down on his knees and leaning his chest against the edge of the mattress so he can inspect her bits. Her engorged clitoris is large…though not as large as Melanie’s. Nobody in the history of womankind has had a larger clit than Melanie Wright, Dylan believes wholeheartedly. Peggy wouldn’t disagree with this assessment. Still, it’s a sight to behold. Dylan pokes with his tongue the large pink head protruding out of her dark brown clitoral hood. Her folds are already dripping wet, almost as if she’s in a state of constant arousal. Peggy groans as Dylan’s hot tongue touches her ultrasensitive bud. When Dylan slowly laps his tongue across it, shivers creep down her spine. She grabs hold of the bedsheets to brace herself for what she hopes will be an earthshattering orgasm.

“Oh fuck yeah, fuck yesssss babyyyyyyyy,” Peggy moans.

Dylan’s mouth envelopes her entire sex. Peggy closes her eyes as Dylan dutifully strokes her clit with his entire tongue. When he closes his lips around her bud, she knows this will end well. Dylan’s oral skills are second to none, as Melanie would testify to if she were here as a witness. Peggy feels the heat radiating off her body. She’s surprised the windows haven’t steamed up yet. Dylan’s mouth is exhausted between orally pleasing Melanie first and now Peggy. He doesn’t mind one bit. Both women deserve all the pleasure they can get. And then some.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck………”

One final gentle tug at her clit with his lips is all it takes to send her over the edge. Waves of orgasm careen through her body. She’s enjoying it too much to say anything, not that there’s anything meaningful to say at the moment. Dylan’s lips come apart from her. He watches intently as she wiggles around the bed. Watching a woman orgasm might be just as fun as giving her an orgasm, Dylan decides.

After her heavy breathing subsides, Peggy reaches over to her purse to take out a condom. Unlike Melanie, Peggy’s prolific bedroom escapades require her to be as cautious as possible. Mostly for the sake of her lovers, not just her. She tears the foil, beckons Dylan to come closer to her, and kisses him once more. By now, his erection is standing at full attention. He knows he can’t compete with Kit, Henry, or “Mr. Jerry,” so they both agreed to a compromise, one that both of them find beneficial. After rolling the condom onto Dylan’s penis, Peggy also removes a bottle of lubrication from her purse. She opens it and hands it over to Dylan. He squeezes a small amount onto his index finger. Peggy turns around and gets on all fours, her butt facing out to him.

“Beautiful. Just beautiful,” Dylan remarks, admiring her muscular butt. Peggy slaps it hard, wanting to excite both him and her. It works.

“Come and get it!” she demands.

Slowly and methodically, Dylan inserts his lubed-up finger inside Peggy’s anus. Little by little, he pushes forth until his finger is completely inside her. Dylan made sure to clip his fingernails earlier this morning just for this reason. He circles it around, noticing this gives her a jolt of pleasure. The sound of her moans is music to his ears. He then removes his finger from her ass and applies additional lubrication to more of his fingers. Dylan strokes his hardened manhood, wanting to add more jelly to it despite the condom already being oiled. For this kind of penetration, it’s better to be safe than sorry. For the sake of everyone involved.

Once everything is properly prepared, Dylan grips Peggy’s hips with both hands. He positions his penis right in front of her tight entrance. She doesn’t speak a word. Neither does he. Carefully and cautiously, he pushes the head of his penis inside her anus, paying close attention to her body language. She doesn’t twitch or anything, a sure indication that he’s good to go. He now feels confident to go all in. Peggy’s moans get louder as Dylan fully enters her tight cavity. He also groans at the indescribable feeling of being in such a constricted space. It makes him feel like a “Man” with a capital M to be so tightly inside a woman like Peggy Cole, someone who’s had more lovers than most people have casual acquaintances. Full of confidence, he pushes in and out of her, his hands still gripping her hips. Peggy, to her credit, drops the fake “porn star orgasming shtick” and just enjoys the moment by rocking back and forth to Dylan’s rhythm. She’s been a porn actress for so long that she sometimes doesn’t know how to get out of character and be herself. This is one of those times when she wants to be who she really is.

Peggy’s reputation as a “size queen” is well deserved. Her sexual preferences require larger-than-normal vaginal penetration. However, for other types of sex she is as normal as one can imagine. For what they are engaging in at this very moment, Dylan is more than perfectly suited for the job.

“Oh, God damn it, Dylan. Fuck baby…”

“Fuck, I’m close, I’m so fucking close,” Dylan clenches his teeth, anticipating his third climax of the evening. He continues to rock back and forth, sliding himself as far in as he can go without losing balance. Making love to Melanie was a truly erotic experience rooted in genuine mutual affection. This, on the other hand, is a pure hard drive toward orgasm, an exercise in fucking a porn star in a way that thousands of people around the world could only dream of. He knows there are countless men who would commit murder to take his place at this moment. Dylan intends to cherish his privileged position for as long as possible.

Peggy’s throaty cries fill the room. Dylan, feeling as sexually empowered as he’s ever been in his life, drinks in her shrieks like a hypnotic drug. Peggy rejoices in the deep anal massage this man is joyfully giving her, thankful for the large amount of lube they used beforehand. She feels her pussy dripping wet as Dylan continues to pound relentlessly into her.

“Yesssssssssssssssss…” Peggy hisses.

One final forceful thrust sends Dylan to the point of no return. He collapses on top of her. Peggy falls to her belly, still spreading her legs so he can climax inside of her. This climax isn’t nearly as consequential as his previous ones, a testament to him being drained of energy and his relationship with Peggy. He loves her as a friend, but nothing more. She feels the exact same way about him. While he’s on her “list” of lovers, he’s not near the top. They both know it, so it’s not an awkward designation. It’s the way both of them want it.

“I haven’t done anal in a while. Whew! Fuck me, that was amazing. You’re good at this, Dylan baby darling.” Peggy scooches away from Dylan, forcing his softened manhood to slip out. Incredibly, the condom remains all the way on. After several moments of laying on his tummy, out of breath and still slightly drunk from the champagne (not to mention high from taking a few hits of Peggy’s joint), Dylan gets up and heads to the bathroom to clean up. Peggy checks herself in the mirror to make sure her makeup still looks presentable. It doesn’t. She digs through her purse to find some mascara, which desperately needs reapplication. A few moments later, Dylan emerges from the bathroom in mid-yawn. He watches Peggy reapply her face paint. Even though he knows nothing about makeup, there is something intriguing about watching an expert participate in their craft. Before becoming a bodybuilder and porn star, Peggy worked briefly as a makeup artist for one of Las Vegas’s local TV news stations. She was excellent at her job but didn’t find it satisfying enough. She wanted to do much more with her life. Thankfully for everyone who adores her, she eventually did.

“You look beautiful, Peggy,” Dylan kisses her on the neck. She closes her eyes, soaking in the feel of his warm lips on her skin. “You look like a queen.”

“How many queens look like a ‘roided up sex doll?” Peggy smirks. When she’s calm and collected (or high as a kite) she can exhibit a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. This is obviously one of those times. She flexes her left bicep, looking at both herself and Dylan in the mirror.

“Oh dear, you shouldn’t tease yourself like that.” Dylan kisses her bicep peak. It’s not as full as Melanie’s biceps (very few women have biceps as large and vascular as Melanie Wright), a fact that doesn’t take away from Peggy’s accomplishments. Her physique is still impressive compared to most women, despite the fact she’s not as perfectly symmetrical or jaw-droppingly massive as Melanie. She’s big enough to earn her title as a “muscle chick” and hot enough in all the right places – including her massive breasts – to endear her to the porn community. “Though you do look like a ‘roided up sex doll, if I may say so myself!”

“You rude little boy!” Peggy playfully scolds him. She gives him a light slap on the butt as punishment. “I don’t look like a traditional woman, but then again I wouldn’t be where I am if I had stuck to tradition, that’s for damn sure. It pays to be different.”

“And…to not be afraid to be different.”

“Damn straight!” Peggy stands up. A few inches shorter than Dylan, she tilts her head up slightly to look into his eyes. Peggy thinks he’s fairly handsome, maybe a good professional haircut away from being low-key sexy. She’s told him this many times before, but Dylan simply brushes it off as her being nice to him. She kisses him. Their lips take a long time to come apart. Neither of them wants to rush this. “This has been a lovely evening, baby. I’ve had a great time. I seriously can’t think of the last time I had this much fun.”

“Seriously? Isn’t your life one long continuous party?”

“That’s funny, but no,” Peggy laughs. “You’d think the life of a porn star is all fun, glitz, glamour, and orgasms, but it’s much more boring than you’d think. Arguing over pay, complaining about the shitty food on set, waiting forever for the male performers to get hard again, fighting with lawyers over bootleg copies of our DVDs, shit like that. Not to mention all the backstabbing, gossiping, and other shit that happens in every workplace. It’s funny to think of it that way, but it is a workplace. Not like the places you’ve worked, but similar. I guess.”

“That makes sense. Workplace politics is universal, whether we think it is or not.” Dylan fondles Peggy’s breasts, teasing her nipples with his fingers. They’re a handful, both literally and figuratively. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Please, baby. Ask away.”

“It’s fine if you did, and I’m not upset or anything, I’m just curious. Did you and Henry hook up earlier tonight?”

Peggy’s face becomes serious. She’s certain Dylan means what he says when he claims he’s not angry about it, though it is curious why he’d ask about it. “Yeah, we did. A few times. Right here, in fact. While you and Melanie were up in your bedroom. He’s a sweet man. You know that. And he’s great in bed, as I just found out.”

Dylan smiles, nodding his head with gleeful approval. “That’s great. For both of you. He’s a big fan of yours. He loves you. Over the years we’ve talked endlessly about you, your career, and your best videos. He was really excited to see you this weekend. I’m sure it never occurred to him that he’d be able to, uh, you know, bang you. Pardon my language.”

“No apology needed.” Peggy pinches Dylan’s soft penis, hoping to wake it up again. She knows guys can’t go at it as often as women can, but there’s always hope. Even if it’s faint. Dylan shakes his head, signaling he’s not in the mood – and probably done for the evening. As much as he’d love to, Dylan knows he’s spent. Anything more would probably cause him to fall asleep right then and there. As the host of the evening’s festivities, that would be supremely rude.

“Thanks, but I think I’ve had enough fun for one night,” Dylan declares. Peggy kisses him on the cheek, which tells him she understands where he stands. She takes his hand into her hand, swinging it back and forth. They head back to the cabaret room hand-in-hand, Peggy’s head lightly leaning against his shoulder. A triumphant grin can be seen on Dylan’s face.

***

“Make sure you keep your back as straight as you can,” Melanie instructs Henry. “Think of it like there’s a metal rod going straight down your spine from your head down to your butt. Meaning you can’t arch your back no matter how hard you try.”

Henry is currently standing on stage in the cabaret room, attempting a few bodybuilding poses while being coached up by Melanie and Monique. Melanie is the true expert here, although Monique has dabbled in amateur bodybuilding before. The chef-turned-faux-bodybuilder has already demonstrated side chest and front lat spread. He’s now attempting side triceps. Melanie gives him a candid smirk of approval. He feels a bit silly, especially because he’s “out of shape” by his own definition and is surrounded by three beautiful athletic ladies who are a cut above anything he could ever dream of being. A tad out of his league, Henry decides to be a good sport and do his best.

The ladies seem to be enjoying themselves, so that counts for something.

“Like this?” Henry holds his breath, hoping that sucking in his potbelly will help matters. He doubts it will. Monique stifles a laugh.

“Yeah, just like that. Just hold that pose for eight to ten seconds, if you can,” Melanie teases. “I’m just kidding. You can drop it whenever you feel like it. You may not look like a pro, but you are worth, ahem, looking at.” She shifts her eyes downward toward Henry’s impressive member. He blushes, which is probably not noticeable under the oppressively bright stage lights. It’s definitely not normal for him to be this naked for this long in front of more than one woman (let alone three!), so he’s not exactly accustomed to all this attention. His clothes are still sitting in Peggy’s bedroom.

“Ah, thanks Miss Melanie. I appreciate the compliment.”

“Melanie! I think you’re embarrassing him,” Monique chastises. “As a black woman, I can attest to the fact that the stereotypes you’ve heard about black men aren’t always true. Buuuuuuuuuuut…” Both ladies are now staring impolitely at Henry’s crotch, enjoying the opportunity to unapologetically objectify a man for a change. “You, my dear, do in fact fit every stereotype in the goddamn book. Wowee!”

Usually a polite man himself, Henry chooses to remain quiet once he realizes it’s only fair that these ladies should be able to ogle him in the same way he ogles cute girls he sees on the street. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s well worth it, Henry rationalizes. As fortune would have it, the tension breaks when Peggy and Dylan reenter the room. Holding hands like old lovers, Henry looks to see Melanie’s reaction. Her face is as unexpressive as a bald eagle. This does not surprise him. Melanie’s not the jealous type, or so he’s heard.

“We’re back! Did you miss us?” Peggy throws her hands up like a princess entering the throne room. Once she sees Henry standing on stage under the bright lights, she runs to him like a paparazzi chasing after a Grammy Award-winning singer. “Well, I’ll be damned! Henry my dear, you should seriously consider becoming a bodybuilder like the rest of us. You’ve got great body composition. You can tell when someone has the natural physique for being a competitor, even if they haven’t never lifted a weight in their life. You can tell, am I right girls?”

“Oh yeah, you can tell by the fullness of someone’s legs, the way their body fat is dispersed, and how much muscle they can develop without lifting,” Melanie posits. She rubs her chin like a scientist spelling out a groundbreaking hypothesis. “That’s what somebody told me all the way back in middle school. I looked like an athlete, even though I hated gym class and never did sports before. I think he was just hitting on me, though. I can’t remember.” Dylan winks at Henry, a nonverbal cue that he appreciates the fact he’s putting up with the ladies’ shenanigans like a complete gentleman. Henry sighs, acknowledging his boss’s show of appreciation. Dylan pours himself another glass of champagne – the bottles are now practically empty – and sips it as he walks to the front of the dais.

“Whatever he was doing, he was right. And prescient.” Dylan squeezes Melanie’s meaty forearms. She seems happy with this gesture, as if he’s proactively trying to make her forget that he and Peggy just made love. “Words of encouragement can go a long way, especially when we’re young. That’s something we should always remember and never forget. Our words have power. I suppose that’s still true when an adult speaks to an adult. I remember the first time I really had a conversation with Monique. Remember that, my darling?”

“The rooftop restaurant in Miami? Oh yeah, I remember that. How could I forget?” Monique reminisces about that fateful luncheon. It was then when Dylan revealed his intentions to financially sponsor her Olympic bid. “For whatever reason, I just really admire women who break the traditional mold by being strong, athletic, and driven to win,” was what he told her. Those words are forever burned into Monique’s memory. She’ll remember it word-for-word for the rest of her life. She always thought of herself as someone who strives to “break the mold,” but nobody had ever told her that before. Those were words she never heard anybody say to her, despite a bounty of evidence that that’s exactly what she wants to be.

Someone who defies expectations and does things people literally say are impossible.

Just retire.

You’ll never win a Gold medal.

You’ll never overcome your injury.

You had a good run. Quit while you’re ahead.

She’s heard all that bullshit before, oftentimes from the people closest to her. Her parents, her friends, her trainers, even her boyfriend from time to time. But not Dylan Tanaka. He’s always believed in her…and never ceases to remind her of his belief in her. That means something. Always has, always will.

“That’s why I try to act intentionally,” Dylan continues. “In everything I do. I try to treat everyone with respect and dignity, even when they haven’t done the same for me.” He bows his head and stares down at his lukewarm champagne. Melanie wraps her enormous arms around him, squeezing him tightly. He tries not to cry, a feat he (astonishingly enough) actually accomplishes. Peggy, Henry, and Monique can only awkwardly look around the room in silence, hoping someone will speak first.

Nobody does.

***

“It’s time.”

Stephen Callahan decides it’s now or never. Moments earlier Bill Marks sent him a simple text message that says:

Ready.

That’s all he needs to know.

He sends a quick message back instructing him to “get the show on the road.” Then, Stephen turns on his Bluetooth earpiece so he can communicate with Bill verbally. “Let’s start the fireworks, old boy. We’re heading out.” After raising his hand so the inhabitants of the SUV can see the signal, all five men exit their respective vehicles. Stephen is carrying an empty briefcase and wearing his backpack. Thomas trudges along with his rolling suitcase and duffle bag. Roddy is also carrying a duffle bag, but this one is empty. Xander and Cortez are not carrying anything, but they do have spare clips hiding underneath their coats.

“Everything is ready to go, hang on a moment,” Bill says over the phone. He opens an encrypted chat window with one of his MPSS co-conspirators. The time is now 11:57 p.m. In three minutes, his criminal act officially begins. From the engineering side of the scheme, all seems ready to go as well. “I can confirm that we’re ready to get going once the clock strikes midnight. Hopefully, Cinderella doesn’t have a pumpkin carriage waiting for her outside the ballroom.”

“If so, we’re all royally fucked, with or without the glass slipper,” Stephen replies back. The five men quietly stroll through the neighborhood toward Dylan’s property. For such a wealthy community, Stephen is surprised at how little lighting there is on this small street. Only one tall streetlight located right at the entrance of the cul-de-sac. Because of this, he and his men can go by without anyone seeing them. So far, they do not see any pedestrians enjoying a late-night walk through the neighborhood.

“One minute until showtime,” Bill announces.

“Copy that.”

Roddy, Cortez, and Xander remain uncharacteristically quiet. This is, in their estimation, the riskiest part of the heist. Getting in. After that, they don’t expect Dylan to put up much of a fight. He’s all alone in his big fancy mansion. No bodyguards. No butler. No cook. No guests. No one except for this lousy, pathetic, and lonely parasite. Stephen wishes he could catch him while he’s jerking off to a b-level 90’s-era HBO sex movie just to embarrass him even more. That would be delicious. It would be fitting for what he aims to do.

“Ready. Stand by.” Bill wipes a drop of sweat from his brow. He can feel his heart racing a million beats per minute. If he were to drop dead from a heart attack right then and there, it would be pure poetic justice, he’s decided. He’d probably deserve it, too.

Bill watches his computer screen move through the normal routine of a monthly system reboot. A popup window says it’s about to begin. He waits for it to disappear under his “notifications” tab. A progress bar shows up, showing the reboot has begun. So far, it’s at 1%. It takes approximately 15 to 18 minutes for the process to finish. Right on schedule, he receives a text from Roger, one of his co-conspirators, telling him all the homes in the 98112, 98122, and 98144 zip codes are officially “disconnected” from the mother system. Bill breathes a sigh of relief.

“Systems are down in your zone, I repeat, systems are down in your zone. You and your men are clear to enter the property as undetected as a housefly,” Bill informs Stephen. While Bill may be struggling to maintain his composure, on the other end, Stephen Callahan is struggling to contain his excitement.

“Thank you, buddy. I appreciate the good news. Anything else you wish to inform me before we cut off communication for now?” The four men surrounding Stephen stop breathing momentarily so they can listen in on their conversation.

“No, boss. We’re good to go. Nothing else to discuss, unless you want to talk about the Dodgers and whether or not they’ll win the World Series this year.” Bill amuses himself with his own irreverence. He eyes an unopened bottle of scotch sitting on a shelf across the room, tempting him like a Greek Siren. He needs something to help him calm down.

“Good. I’ll be in touch soon. Over and out.” Stephen doesn’t wait for verbal confirmation to turn off his Bluetooth earpiece. By now, the five men are standing right outside Dylan Tanaka’s main gate. There’s a modest pedestrian entrance off to the left side and a keypad above the door handle. Thomas takes out a device that looks like a ballpoint pen, holds it against the keypad, and twists the clip outward. This activates the machine. Roddy, Cortez, and Xander watch with amazement as this gadget disguised as a writing utensil scrambles the keypad, essentially deactivating it. Thomas puts the “pen” back in his pocket and leisurely opens the door as if he owned the place.

“Excellent. Follow me.” Stephen leads the way. Thomas closes the door behind him once everyone has entered the property.

“Damn! I got to get me one of those!” Xander whispers to Cortez. Roddy hushes him up, not wanting to make any unnecessary noise, especially now that they’ve entered the hot zone.

The house’s spacious driveway is enclosed by tall grey and white brick walls, ensuring none of his nosey neighbors could spy on him (or see who enters and leaves the property). Stephen crouches low regardless just to be safe and is pleased to see his four comrades following suit. They gently walk in a straight line along the bricks to make sure anyone inside the house to the right – which is four stories high but situated about a hundred yards away – can’t possibly see them. The cover of darkness also makes this an irrelevant precaution. Still, Stephen refuses to allow even the possibility of failure to creep into tonight’s activities.

Stephen and his men have decided to first locate Dylan before breaking in so that he doesn’t have time to find his phone and call the cops. All five men have night vision binoculars and are looking at every visible window. Dylan’s three-story house (Stephen doesn’t consider the attic an actual floor) appears to be completely empty except for the man himself. Nobody is in the kitchen or dining room (both are visible through the left side of the first floor), as well as any of the bedrooms on the second floor. There is a light on in the foyer and the living room, but nobody appears to be in either of those spaces. As the thieves make their way into the backyard, all five men are startled by the beauty of Dylan’s spacious Japanese garden and try to block it from their thinking. Now is not the time to sightsee.

Damn. This place looks nicer up close than in satellite photos, Stephen thinks. So this is how he chooses to spend his blood money. It must be nice being a rich, petty fool with no conscience. You can spend it on extravagancies like this while old friends like me rot away in prison. Fuck that.

“Ah ha! Look up there,” Thomas points to the second and third floors. A faint light is seen coming out of the third-floor balcony. The flickering suggests it’s from a fireplace. A longer balcony going across the entire backside of the second story, on the other hand, clearly shows a much brighter light emanating from behind the scarlet red curtains. No flickering detected.

“He must be on the second floor. What do you think?” Roddy asks. Stephen shakes his head.

“It’s impossible to tell from this angle. Perhaps if we–” Before Stephen can finish his sentence, all five men see a shadow quickly fly across the scarlet curtains. Indistinct music can be heard, which further provides evidence that Mr. Tanaka is on the other side of those curtains.

“Can you hear some music?” Cortez asks. Everyone nods their heads silently.

“It’s confirmed. He’s up there,” Stephen decides. He cocks his pistol. “Let’s go inside and make ourselves comfortable.”

“With pleasure,” Thomas says. With that, the veteran safecracker calmly walks up to the screen door leading to the kitchen/dining area. Not worried about sounding any alarms, he takes out a tiny drill, points it right at the door handle, and cuts away a ten-inch-long half-circle of glass so he can access the lock from the other side. The four other men marvel at how silently the drill cuts away at the glass. Thomas fashioned an extremely sharp blade at the end of a low-power drill, which gives him the ability to pierce the thick glass without having to generate a lot of torque – and noise that comes with high torque. Within 90 seconds, he’s cut away all the glass he needs. Thomas gently places the glass on the ground and unlocks the door. The men enter Dylan’s home. Out of the corner of his eye, Xander sees a blinking red light coming from a wall right across from the screen door. He knows the signal won’t reach the security company or the local police station, but his heart cannot help but skip a beat just at the sight of it blinking like mad. It’s an involuntary reflex.

“Relax. We’re good. Trust my people to do what they’re supposed to do. We’re fine. We’re good,” Stephen reassures his men. This brings Xander’s heart rate back to normal, whatever that was before.

As the group weaves through all the rooms, they finally reach the front of the house and see the gothic-looking spiral staircase that leads to the second (and presumably third) floor. It’s in the foyer that the music becomes more pronounced. It’s definitely confirmed that Dylan Tanaka is there, probably drowning his sorrows all alone to cheap second-rate jazz music he probably got off Spotify.

“Let’s get it.” Stephen arrogantly says in a normal voice. The four other men are surprised by his cockiness.

One by one, the five armed bandits nonchalantly walk up the staircase as if they were welcomed guests themselves, awaiting what they expect to be a pathetic lonely man sitting all by himself drinking cheap wine and listening to knockoff Miles Davis.

All the King’s Queens – Chapter 7: Carnal Delights

The walk up the stairs took almost no time at all. The guest bedrooms and the cabaret room are on the second floor. Dylan’s entire bedroom occupies the third floor, while a fourth-floor attic can be found on the northeast corner of the building. Lawrence uses it to store miscellaneous items like souvenirs, Dylan’s childhood memorabilia, artwork he no longer finds valuable, and mismatched old furniture that became obsolete when they refurnished the house shortly before Dylan’s fall from grace. But the third floor is the only place where Dylan and Melanie were planning to be for the next few hours.

Dylan’s bedroom is actually several rooms. There’s a main room where his bed is located. There’s a spacious shower and bathroom, and a separate room for taking baths. It’s basically a large jacuzzi, but a bath is a bath no matter how you take it. This is where he goes to physically unwind from a long, difficult day. Then he has another room where he stores all of his clothes. The life of a billionaire means needing several dress suits, a few tuxedos, and lots of ties, loafers, shirts, belts, socks, and hats. Lawrence figures his boss’s wardrobe is worth more than the property value of most middle-class suburban families. He’s probably not wrong about that.

Melanie and Dylan enter the bedroom, turn on the lights, and kiss once more. This time, it’s a kiss that’s in private. No one watching them. No one teasing them. Just them in this room, alone together. When their lips come apart, Melanie notices that Dylan is trembling.

“I’ve missed you,” Dylan confesses. Tears well up in his eyes.

“I know. I miss you too. Badly.”

“I…I love you.”

Melanie gazes at Dylan with her captivating green eyes. She doesn’t respond or react to Dylan’s unexpected confession of love. During their entire friendship, she’s made it clear that she’s not ever getting married again. Too many husbands. Too many fights. Too many messy divorces. Too much trauma that her kids have had to endure. Never again, she vowed to herself many years ago. That chapter has closed. For good. Dylan knows this. He’d much rather marry a girl more in his age range (Melanie is about 15 years older than him) but that hasn’t been in his cards…yet. Becoming a social pariah certainly hasn’t helped him settle down and start a family. But he’s always felt a special bond with Melanie, even if the love they share isn’t romantic or meant to become too intimate. Perhaps that’s why they choose to live so far away from each other. They fear what could happen if they got too close.

“Come here. Let’s make love.” Melanie wipes Dylan’s tears away and kisses him again, this time softly. Still wearing her pink bikini and heels, she walks over to the bathroom to remove any makeup she may still have on. She tried to remove most of it before the show started, but some residue may still be caked on somewhere. Dylan goes over to the fireplace and turns it on. It’s not a real fireplace with real wood, but it does the job. There’s no shame in having an electric one, especially if it sets the mood. He turns off the lights, opens the white silk curtains, and peers out into the fading sunset. It should be completely dark in about 10 minutes, he estimates.

Dylan has floor-to-ceiling wall windows that stretch across almost half of the entire room. Each panel is about four feet wide and 14 feet tall. A long drape of silk curtains stretches across the windows. All one has to do is manually pull them to the side to reveal the outside world. On the south-facing side there’s a small balcony overlooking Lake Washington. It’s a sight worthy of a king, or someone rich enough to pretend to be a king. Dylan is certainly rich enough, though he rarely ever feels like royalty.

After removing a few smudges of foundation from her chin, Melanie returns to the main bedroom area. Dylan swiftly comes to her. She reaches out and takes his hands. They’re as warm as the inside of the fireplace. Instead of kissing again, Melanie removes the charcoal gray blazer Dylan is wearing, plops it on the floor, and unbuttons the rest of his white dress shirt. At the same time, Dylan leans over to unfasten her bikini top. He struggles to reach his arms around her broad torso, an amusing challenge she immediately recognizes. She kindly removes the top for him, revealing her full, plump breasts. Her implants aren’t nearly as eye-popping as Peggy’s, but they’re noticeable to anyone with the inclination to look. Her tiny pink nipples stand at attention. Dylan thumbs them in circles as Melanie unfastens his belt, drops his slacks to the floor. She feels the bulge in his underwear. For all his wealth, Dylan still insists on wearing cheap Calvin Klein black underwear. He could wear something much fancier, but that assumes that he cares about such things. He does not.

Melanie lets out a quiet moan as Dylan caresses her sensitive nipples. Monique may have larger nipples (which some guys are really turned on by) but Melanie has bigger muscles, so she’ll accept that as a victory of sorts. Dylan pushes his underwear down toward his ankles, removes his socks, and kicks them aside. He is completely naked.

Still, her eyes do not leave his eyes.

Next, Melanie places her thumbs inside her bikini bottom and slides them down her tree trunk legs. Dylan watches in amazement as he gazes upon her erect clitoris. Unlike Peggy and Monique, Melanie chooses to keep some of her pubic hair intact. She lets a classy thin strip of hair run down her pelvis, which is more than the other two ladies can say they still have. Peggy waxes almost monthly and Monique shaves weekly. Melanie finds all this too bothersome. Plus, she likes to remind herself that she’s a fully grown adult, not a small child. That’s the life of being a woman in the western hemisphere.

If Peggy is famous for her ability to ejaculate far distances, Melanie is equally famous for her enormous clitoris. Before settling down into wifehood and motherhood, Melanie made a few pornographic videos when she was in her late 20s to pay the bills. This is when her famous endowment put her on the map. She may not have been able to appear in Terminator 2, but her gigantic clit found its way in adult video stores across America. All the porn she made exists either on VHS or in grainy Internet videos, so it’s been a while since the world got to regard her jaw-dropping piece of female meat. That is another chapter of her life that she prefers to never reopen. That’s done. She’s never doing that sort of thing again. If someone wants to see her naked, they’ll have to earn it the old fashioned way. Like Dylan.

Dylan obediently gets down on his knees and licks Melanie’s clit. Measuring at almost three inches in length (it’s a tad shy of three inches, a fact that disappoints her immensely), it’s been mistaken by uneducated fools as being a penis. It’s not. She’s not a man or a woman with male genitalia. No, she’s a woman, a pure woman whose femininity should go unquestioned. Melanie loves the way Dylan treats her. He has soft hands that feel like pure silk when they touch her coarse skin. And Dylan is always attentive to her needs, taking his time to physically explore her body. Standing at 5’ 10” tall and weighing 215 pounds, there’s a lot of her body to explore. Dylan intends to enjoy every square inch of her. And she intends to be enjoyed.

Melanie backs up a few feet, wanting to find the bed. She does. Dylan scoots forward to meet her. She leans back onto the bed, cherishing the feel of the cool sheets against her naked skin. After spending twenty minutes under hot stage lights, this is a nice contrasting experience. Dylan proceeds to crawl next to her, his eyes laser focused on his lover’s face. Melanie isn’t a pretty woman, but she’s not ugly either. Her eyes are kind and her smile captivating, two facets of her that make Melanie attractive enough. For a variety of reasons, you won’t find her on the cover of fashion magazines. But Dylan loves the way she looks, from head to toe. She has never really cared about her skincare regimen since she dedicates most of her time to her weightlifting regimen. So once wrinkles and lines started forming across her face, she wasn’t surprised or particularly concerned with it. She prefers to let her biceps do the talking. And she has no desire to be 25 again. Those days are over. Those days were boring. She loves who she is right now.

“God, I never tire of your skin touching my body,” she confesses.

Dylan leans over and trails a line of kisses along her breasts, stomach, and pubic area. Hearing her compliment him like that is a genuine turn-on, especially since he rarely ever hears benevolent words said about him these days.

“And I never tire of touching your body, my dear. You’re unbelievable. So gorgeous.” After running his fingers across her chiseled abdomen, he returns to massaging her engorged clitoris with his tongue. He loves pleasing her orally. It’s especially enjoyable because her enormous size makes it easy to do so. Once his soft lips caress her sensitive clit head, her gentle moans transition to audible groans. Lapping the tip with his entire tongue, Melanie lifts her pelvis up high in the air, an indication that she’s both enjoying the stimulation and ready to climax. Nothing pleases Dylan more than knowing Melanie is being pleased. He truly loves her. He may not love her like a husband loves his wife, but he loves her deeply regardless of what kind of love it is. Giving pleasure is the ultimate act of love, a mantra Dylan takes to heart. That’s why he takes great care to ensure his guests eat the best food, drink the best wine, and enjoy each other’s company as much as possible. Pleasure takes many forms, as Dylan knows full well.

“Ohhh, that’s it, yes, right there…”

Dylan grips her hips with both hands to stabilize her body as much as he can. It’s a difficult task to maintain oral contact with her sensitive parts when she’s squirming around like a restless kitten. One final lift of her hips, and Dylan knows she’s just seconds away from a satisfying climax.

When it hits, Dylan knows it immediately and stops pleasing her. He loves watching her experience an orgasm. It’s almost as delightful as experiencing one. Melanie writhes around in the bed uncontrollably as waves of orgasm pulse through her body’s core. The Ms. Athena Championship, the most prestigious female bodybuilding competition in the world, is in two months. Which means Melanie is approaching the best shape of her life. It also means she’s exhausted – both mentally and physically – all the time, which leaves little room for her sex drive to be addressed. This weekend, however, was going to be a special time where she could relax, kick her feet up, and not think about her strict diet or the endless hours she needs to spend at the gym. So while this may not be the greatest orgasm she’s ever experienced, it’s certainly the best she’s had in a long while.

“Oh baby, that was fantastic. I loved it. Thank you, sweetie.” Dylan lifts her face up to kiss it. She can taste her own juices on his lips. For whatever odd reason, she actually enjoys the way she tastes and doesn’t mind Dylan sharing some of it with her. When their lips come apart, Melanie sits up so she can remove her shoes. She purchased them in Venice several years ago, so she makes certain they’re properly removed and placed neatly next to the bed. Wanting to return the favor, Melanie suddenly grabs Dylan’s face and kisses him again deeply, making sure her tongue explores the inside of his mouth. He welcomes her penetration. She reaches down and strokes Dylan’s penis, which (miraculously) had gotten soft between now and when she first started to undress him. Slowly but surely it returns to being as hard as a rock.

At 53 years old, Melanie has had her fair share of lovers. She has three children (all adults ages 23, 21, and 18) with two different husbands (she’s had four husbands total). She’s also experienced extensively with synthetic steroids – which are still a (somewhat) taboo subject within the bodybuilding community – to help her grow her massive musculature. Melanie got really seriously into steroids after her third child was born. A few doctors warned her that this could essentially end her child birthing days. She was completely fine with that. Now that she’s a few years past 50, she knows pregnancy is no longer an issue for her. STDs still are, but she trusts that Dylan is clean. He is. So whenever they make love, they never use protection because there’s no danger involved. There’s no reason to. It makes their lovemaking more natural. And also more trusting.

By now the sun has completely set. It’s pitch-black outside. The only light in the room comes from the small fireplace fifty feet away. Still, it radiates enough illumination so that the two lovers can see each other clearly, but still leave enough mystery to the imagination. The romantic atmosphere couldn’t be more perfect, both of Dylan and Melanie observe together.

Melanie would never admit this aloud, but Dylan isn’t the most skilled lover she’s ever been with. He’s perfectly fine, but no one can ever match up to her third husband. That man was special in the sack, even though his money troubles and overall flakiness derailed their lengthy marriage. He, like Dylan, took his sweet time with her. He treated her like a Queen. Dylan also treats Melanie like a Queen, but Robert was incredibly intuitive in the bedroom. Dylan has required a bit of “coaching” throughout the years. By now, Mr. Tanaka knows what she likes, what she doesn’t like, and how to please her.

After gently placing her head against the pillow, Melanie lies on her back as Dylan trails more kisses onto her leathery skin. Melanie’s skin is as rough as Dylan’s is soft. Age, steroids, and muscle mass will do that to you. He doesn’t mind, though. She closes her eyes as his lips touch her most intimate areas. He can tell from the moisture developing between her massive legs that she’s ready. At last, after he can no longer take it, Dylan pushes his penis inside her wet entrance, little by little, until he’s fully inside her. They both gasp at the same time, as if their bodies were synced to react similarly together. Peggy may be the “size queen” of the group, but Melanie isn’t. She enjoys it whenever a man is inside her. Especially if she truly loves that man.

The heat emanating from their bodies could power a furnace. Between kisses, Dylan cannot help but groan as his manhood slides in and out of her. Like most Asian men living in America, he’s a little insecure about his size. Melanie has reassured him many times over the years that he’s perfectly normal. He believes her, but decades of teasing from cruel classmates can be hard to deprogram. Dylan has heard his fair share of racist taunts, as well as assumptions that can never seem to die off. His 5-inch penis certainly isn’t the largest in the world, but it’s not the smallest either. He’s just glad that he can say he’s a solid five inches without lying.

Stroke after stroke, thrust after thrust, Dylan’s breathing intensifies as he makes love to her. When their tongues connect, they can both taste tonight’s dinner on each other’s breath. Melanie smiles at him while she watches her lover build toward a dramatic orgasm. They don’t speak, instead choosing to allow the rhythm of his strokes to do the talking.

Dylan doesn’t want to confess the last time he ever made love to a woman. Has it been a full year? Maybe longer. Melanie senses it’s been a while for him. All she wishes is that he gets what he needs. She intuitively knows he needs this badly. She moans when his pecs slide against her taut nipples.

Finally, Dylan feels his climax impending. Heat, sweat, energy, and strong feelings of love, lust, anxiety, and insecurity all come to a boiling point the exact moment he spurts deep inside her. It goes on seemingly forever. Melanie just lays there, enjoying this moment on Dylan’s behalf. Their eyes connect. She smiles at him. He struggles to catch his breath. Sweat is dripping down his face. When he collapses on top of her, she wraps her strong arms around his toned body and squeezes him as tight as she can without hurting him. She could never hurt him. And she never will.

After ten minutes of pure silence, Dylan withdraws from her. He turns to his side and caresses her thick legs. Melanie playfully pinches his small sticky penis, licking whatever semen residue is left off her fingers. They choose to continue to not speak. The only sound that can be heard is the siren of an ambulance blaring in the distance.

The two lovers stare into each other’s eyes. They don’t talk, but the looks they share speak volumes.

***

Lawrence loosens the knot of his necktie once he believes no one will see him for the rest of the evening. It’s nearing 9:00 p.m. All seems to be in order. His boss and the three guests he’s entertaining are apparently upstairs, participating in some sort of hedonistic fun. He doesn’t know for sure and, if he’s being honest, he doesn’t particularly care. He’s not one for eavesdropping or gathering gossip-worthy material. Who would he share it with?

Right now he’s in the living room, gathering empty glasses of margaritas that have been sitting there for a few hours. Normally, Lawrence tries to keep every room in Mr. Tanaka’s house as tidy as possible, but he (rightfully so) anticipated the evening’s festivities could take unexpected turns. So he chooses to clean up after it appears everything has calmed down.

“Don’t mind me. I have a lot of cleaning left to do,” Henry says, poking his head through the door. Lawrence turns around to see Henry, still dressed in his chef’s uniform, smiling right at Dylan Tanaka’s faithful butler. Mr. Jameson is loading the dishwasher full of dirty plates, wine glasses, silverware, and a few pans. Lawrence resists the urge to ask him about the unusual way Miss Cole greeted him earlier this evening. Chances are, he won’t ever bring it up. Lawrence isn’t one for creating unnecessary confrontations.

“Excellent. I have a feeling Mr. Tanaka won’t be needing our services until the late morning. I will see you until then. Have a good night.” Henry nods to Lawrence. After loading the dishwasher, he pours a small cup of detergent into the slot, closes it, and turns on the machine for a “normal” cleaning cycle. Henry can barely hear Lawrence exit through the backdoor as the dishwasher begins to rumble. He looks up at the clock, waits for a whole minute to pass, and then scurries over to a nearby bathroom to change clothes. It’s doubtful that Dylan would be able to “entertain” all three ladies at once, so hopefully his faithful chef will score the chance to get in on the action. Mr. Tanaka is not known for being a greedy man, despite his immense financial wealth.

Outside, Lawrence trudges toward the staff parking garage. There are only four slots available, which is usually fine because it’s rare for more than three staff to be at the house at any given moment. Lawrence and Henry are regular employees, with Joey the landscaper showing up a few times a month and others less often than that. Mr. Tanaka will sometimes meet with his personal bookkeeper, a few professional arborists (all those exotic trees, many of which are not native to North America, won’t take care of themselves), a wealth consultant, a barber, and occasionally, his “personal trainer” who happens to be a competitive bodybuilder in her own right. The few guests who come over to use Mr. Tanaka’s home gym show up either via Uber or Lawrence escorting them onto the property. As Lawrence unlocks his car door and gets in, he reflects upon the mostly solitary existence his boss has to endure. Is it possible for him to have a more active social life? Can’t he find a part-time consulting gig somewhere? Certainly someone, somewhere would be willing to hire him. They don’t have to make a public spectacle out of it, of course. All of this loneliness can’t be good for his mental health, Lawrence worries.

“He’s allowed to enjoy a few pleasures in life,” Lawrence says aloud to just himself. “After all, what else would make life worth living?” Dylan’s butler ponders this thought – and many others – as he drives off into the night. He decides to stop off at a local grocery store and pick up a few items before heading home. As far as he’s concerned, the rest of his evening will be nice and quiet. What disturbances could possibly come his way?

Back in the house, it takes a grand total of five minutes for Henry to change out of his work clothes and into something more comfortable. He exits the bathroom wearing slick Gucci blue jeans (being Dylan Tanaka’s employee has its perks), a long-sleeve dark purple shirt, black shoes, and a modest gold chain across his neck. Henry keeps himself in decent shape, despite an insufferable potbelly that can’t ever seem to go away. No matter how much dieting and exercising he does, he can’t ever figure out how to eliminate the bothersome belly fat that doesn’t want to burn off. Mr. Tanaka seems to know how to stay slim – although Henry figures it has to be because of his Asian genes. That’s scientifically backed, right?

Yeah, probably not.

After taking one final look at the kitchen, Henry decides it’s in acceptable shape. The dishwasher is humming, the countertops are sparkling clean, the fresh fruits and vegetables are already precut for breakfast tomorrow, the coffee grounds are locked and loaded in the coffeemaker, and the dining room has been properly cleared and preset for the morning. He turns off the lights, takes a deep breath, rustles his hair slightly, and walks upstairs toward the guest bedrooms. The house boasts excellent acoustical design, meaning neither Lawrence nor Henry could hear the festivities happening upstairs in the cabaret room. Dylan’s top-notch chef hopes his boss will kindly allow him to join in on the fun.

Before he can get halfway up the long staircase, Henry sees Peggy Cole, still wearing her over-the-top Vegas showgirl costume, leaning casually against the top railing. Their eyes connect. Peggy has the largest grin on her face. Henry feels his heart almost leap out of his chest – as if their earlier encounter had instilled a Pavlovian response inside his brain.

“Oh, hello there baby,” Peggy flirts.

“Damn, girl! That’s one hell of a costume you’re wearing. How the fuck did you fit that feather hat inside your luggage?” Henry cautiously takes a few steps further up; almost as if he’s afraid Peggy’s feather outfit will magically form into a literal bird and attack him. His favorite porn star walks to him, twirls around, and laughs.

“Gee, I sucked you off a few hours ago and this is how you greet me afterwards?” Peggy unhooks her sparkly bra and throws it at Henry, freeing her enormous breasts. Miraculously, Henry catches it in mid-air. He sniffs at it, noticing Peggy’s distinguishable scent. It may not smell like fancy perfume, but as far as Henry is concerned, it might as well be. “Go figure. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, shouldn’t I?”

“Oh darling, you know I appreciate you and everything you do,” Henry says, trying to simultaneously walk up the stairs and feast his eyes on her bare breasts. “Especially what you did for me before dinner. Woohoo, that was quite an unexpected treat.” Once they stand face to face, Peggy wraps her strong arms around him, gives him the tightest squeeze she possibly could, and plants a wet kiss on his lips. The unmistakable taste of Altoids permeates his breath, which Peggy finds both charming and dorky. Henry figures if he were lucky enough to get intimate with his favorite porn star, he’d better practice good hygiene in the process.

“Shall we take this party somewhere else? Such as my bedroom? It’s not far from here. Just a few feet that way.” She points down the hall to the room where her luggage happens to be stored. All of Dylan’s guest bedrooms are spacious, well-furnished, clean, inviting, and as luxurious as any Las Vegas hotel suite. Every bedroom comes with its own bathroom and shower, plenty of closet space, dressers and drawers, a bed (obviously), and – most remarkably – a small kitchenette. It’s not quite a self-contained living unit, but it comes damn close. One probably wouldn’t want to live with just a tiny refrigerator (no freezer) and an oven with only two stovetop burners, but for a quick weekend getaway trip it’s about as close to living in someone’s studio apartment as one can get.

It takes no more than eight seconds for Peggy and Henry to hop, skip, and jump to their private bedroom. Unlike Dylan and Melanie’s intimate gathering one floor up, these two are in no mood for taking things slow. On the contrary, the moment the door slams shut the two of them are already ripping off each other’s clothes. Henry amuses himself with the thought of the uselessness of changing out of his chef’s outfit and into these “street clothes.” He supposes he couldn’t guarantee that this would happen – and that he shouldn’t have expected it to – but the thought of getting dressed just to get naked a few minutes later was something that he found funny.

Little did either of them know that at the other end of the hallway, Monique was watching them converse, kiss, and sprint away from spying eyes. Miss St. Martin is still wearing nothing but white lacy panties. She’s determined they are beyond the point of the evening where walking around the house naked (or near naked) would be discouraged. She probably could have entered the house naked and eaten dinner naked too if she wanted to be especially adventurous. It’s not like Dylan would mind. Or any of the other guests. Oh well. Maybe next time she can be so bold.

“Have fun, you two.”

Realizing she’s the only one without a partner – Lawrence is a nice man, but definitely not her type – Monique turns around and heads back to the cabaret room. She intends to take full advantage of the stocked bar Dylan mentioned. She thinks she’ll make herself an Old Fashioned, assuming there’s ice available. She couldn’t see why there wouldn’t be.

“Everyone’s getting some except for me…” Monique points out to herself. “The night’s still young, though.” Her boyfriend might object if she did anything unfaithful. Their relationship is already on rocky footing. However, he’s 3,000 miles away. And she suspects he’s strayed a few times here and there himself. That, if Monique is being honest with herself, is a reality she’ll have to deal with sooner rather than later. For tonight, “later” would have to suffice. She’ll cross that dreadful bridge when she gets to it.

Now it’s on to that Old Fashioned.

***

“Okay, gentlemen. Get packed. It’s time to go. Now. You have ten minutes to get ready. Get on it.” Stephen doesn’t raise his voice because he doesn’t need to. After a few hours of nervously fiddling around with their weapons, equipment, and photographs of Dylan Tanaka’s property, the whole group is on edge. They don’t need to shout when it’s not necessary. The time is to get serious, get prepared, and get ready for tonight’s little score.

“Yes, boss.” Roddy is the only one who verbally expresses Stephen’s command. Everyone else has scattered throughout the house, not in a mood to make small talk. Xander goes to the bathroom to pee one final time. Cortez waits outside the bathroom, wanting to do the same thing. Stephen has had his coat on all afternoon, which got irksome because of the hot, humid weather of Central Washington. But this was his chosen outfit for the evening, mostly because he could conceal his firearm inside it. A careful man who takes great pride in thinking through every possible detail, Stephen wanted to get accustomed to wearing the coat and holster so that when they arrived at Dylan’s home he wouldn’t feel awkward or too uncomfortable. He’s been “in the zone” since he woke up this morning. There’s no use getting out of character now. Not when so much is on the line.

“I’m ready,” Thomas says. Out of all of his men, Thomas is the one who has to transport the most equipment. A professional safecracker for several years – he’s lost track of how many – Thomas fashioned a suitcase and duffle bag to specifically carry his thievery gear. He learned from his mentor, a man who’s currently serving a fifteen-year federal prison sentence for stealing important documents from a local FBI office in Houston, Texas, that a professional safecracker should never just stuff their equipment into any old large bag and hope nothing breaks or wears down over time. Like a guitar case that’s shaped like a guitar to minimize damage to the instrument as it gets carried around, a safecracker’s instruments should also be transported in a case that’s specifically tailored to contain said instruments. It’s this level of ingenuity and diligence that attracted Stephen to Thomas in the first place.

“Ready, boss,” Xander acknowledges. Stephen sees Cortez right behind him. Roddy, the driver of the SUV, is warming up the car. The two hired guns go to their respective vehicle. Stephen locks up the safehouse, doubting anyone would dare break in. How ironic would it be if a house being used by thieves were itself broken into by other thieves? The thought made a mostly serious Stephen Callahan smirk to himself. Besides, there are advantages to choosing a place that’s almost in the middle of nowhere. Who would think to break into a place like this?

Once Thomas slams the trunk shut, he tosses the keys to Stephen, who then unlocks the doors of the Buick and gets in the driver’s seat. In the backseat is Stephen’s backpack, sitting inconspicuously beside a few candy wrappers and empty containers of takeout Chinese food. Despite his best efforts to maintain proper appearances, serving time in prison changed Stephen’s outlook on life. Never in a million years before prison would he ever tolerate allowing garbage to accumulate inside his car. But three years in a federal prison cell really changes your personal habits. You no longer care about cleanliness when the filthy stain of being a convicted criminal forever mars your once sterling reputation. That’s just one way that prison changed him.

“Are you ready?” Stephen shouts to the occupants of the SUV. All three men nod their heads. Roddy gives him the thumbs up. “Excellent. Let’s get moving.”

Thirteen minutes later a black Buick and white SUV are traveling 65 miles per hour down the I-90 freeway towards Seattle. The speed limit is 70 mph for cars and 65 for trucks, but Stephen doesn’t want to take any chances. Very few police patrol cars are around these parts. However, Stephen is at this moment as paranoid as one can be. And for good reason. He and the other vehicle are going fast enough to get to Seattle at midnight or so, but not too fast that they attract the attention of Johnny Law. That would be a major disruption to their evening plans. Both vehicles remain in the slow right lane during the entire commute.

Stephen and Thomas don’t say a word to each other during the long drive to Seattle. Neither men have any idea if Roddy, Xander, and Cortez are conversing in their car. Probably not. These men are all studious professionals. No need to waste energy on frivolous activities like making small talk or listening to the radio.

Now’s the time to get to work. This job is straightforward and should be fairly easy.

What could possibly go wrong?

***

Dylan doesn’t think he fell asleep, but he does know he closed his eyes and looked up at the alarm clock sitting on a bedside table and saw that 45 minutes have passed. It seems like only five minutes have passed, so maybe he actually napped for a solid 40 or so. Gosh, he’s such a stereotypical guy. Falling asleep right after sex? Yeesh.

He rolls over in the bed to snuggle with Melanie. To his disappointment, she’s not in bed with him. This prompts Dylan to sit up and investigate. A moment later, he sees the balcony screen door is slightly ajar. That must be where she is, he guesses. He then stands up, stretches his arms high above his head, yawns, and walks toward the source of a gentle warm summer evening wind sweeping into his bedroom.

Before he can go outside, Dylan stops dead in his tracks.

Wow.

Sure enough, Melanie is outside, as he suspected. It’s the sight of her that makes him freeze. Right before his very eyes, almost like an image out of a dream, is Melanie Wright standing naked on his balcony. She’s overlooking the lovely view of Lake Washington, deep in thought. But it’s the image of her that jumps out at him. She’s standing tall and proud, yet relaxed and serene. The way the bright moonlight illuminates her naked body is more picturesque than what any artist could ever conceive. None of the greatest painters could ever render an image this quixotic. They wouldn’t believe such an image could actually exist. But it does.

She’s tall. Authoritative. Powerful. Curvy. Feminine. Erotic. Mesmerizing. Captivating. She’s every word you can think of without needing to consult a thesaurus. The moonlight’s glow highlights every mound of muscle on her formidable body. Every curve, every muscle fiber, every heavy repetition at the gym is on full display right in front of him. He feels blessed to be able to witness it. Her body seems to be radiating, a gentle outer aura outlining her perfect silhouette. Her round butt. Her thick hamstrings. Her bulging calves. Her meaty triceps. The layers and layers of muscle mounds on her back. She’s a living poem. A sculpture conceived by a brilliant artist made of flesh and blood. She looks like an angel, not a human. To call her a human would be an insult to who she’s worked so hard to become. Dylan cannot breathe because the only thing he can do is marvel at her. It’s the only thing he wants to do.

In reality, Melanie Wright is deep in thought. She’s pondering her future. To be truthful, she figures she only has three to four years left of being a top-level elite competitive bodybuilder. Most of her new competitors are girls in their 30s and 40s. She’s 53, which isn’t old by the standards of her unique profession, but she can feel her age in her body. All these years of lifting heavy weights, taking steroids, eating large amounts of food, and traveling the world have taken its toll. She used to feel a sense of pride when she woke up every morning feeling sore from the previous day’s workout. But now, that soreness has transitioned into pain. Real, deeply felt pain. Her entire body hurts. All the time. No amount of painkillers will make it fully go away. It’s a reality she has to deal with every single waking moment of her life. It’s the new normal.

She started to notice it when she got into her mid-40s. She denied it at first, but after a while she could no longer ignore the fact that she’s getting older. And that means your body can’t recover like it used to. When she was in her 30s, she felt invincible. She felt like a true goddess. She believed she could do this forever, that she had no limits, that nothing could keep her down. Giving birth to children was a challenge. Raising them was another. But alas, Melanie Wright is not invincible. Deep inside her soul, when you strip away her muscles, she’s as vulnerable as any other fragile human being. Maybe that’s why she feels a keen connection with Dylan. He’s fragile too. And he does his best to maintain a strong façade. But even he has his moments of weakness. Hell, she witnessed it just a few moments ago when he tearfully confessed his love for her. Melanie still has not figured out how she’ll deal with that. How can she maintain her friendship with him without breaking his heart? She has no idea how to do that…and dreads having to eventually confront it. Like every problem that she’s ever faced in her life, there’s no way to delay the inevitable.

“What are you thinking about, dear?” Dylan asks. Melanie turns around to see him, standing behind her with innocent puppy dog eyes. He hugs her, then kisses her on the back of her neck.

“I was thinking about my future. About how long I can remain a bodybuilder,” she confesses. Dylan kisses her neck again. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

“I understand. I get it. Have you made any decision yet?” Melanie shakes her head, not wanting to look at Dylan in the eyes. She may start to tear up herself if she did. Instead, she gazes at Lake Washington’s tranquil waters, admiring its remarkable stillness.

“Sort of. I think I have three, maybe four years left. You know, of being elite. I can still compete after that, but it would have to be in a lower category. Sheesh. When I turn 60, that’s when I’ll really start to evaluate my life. That sounds like a good round number. But I don’t know. My body aches. All the fucking time. Even now. My lower back hurts. My wrists hurt. My neck hurts. My knees hurt. My ankles hurt. My shoulders definitely always hurt. God, I hurt everywhere.” Melanie remains strong, refusing to break down in front of Dylan. She knows she can be vulnerable around him, but now is not the time for that. Now is the time for her to be as strong as possible around him. “Pain is a regular part of my life. It’s unavoidable. It’s unstoppable. Every time I squat or deadlift or do lunges, I feel like my bones are literally crunching. I’m crumbling.”

The only thing Dylan can do is listen. He rubs her shoulders now that he’s aware that they’re hurting her. He kisses her delts, hoping this wouldn’t cause her any additional pain. She seems at peace right now.

“So, I may quit earlier. I don’t know. I really don’t. Not now. I don’t want to think about that right now. And not just about quitting. I have other worries. Like surgery. I know I’ll need double knee surgery eventually. God, what an awful thing to have to think about.”

“You do whatever is right for you. I want you to be happy. You’ve accomplished so much. You can retire tonight and no one would look down upon you. Least of all me. You’ve done things that millions of people could only dream of. You will always have my respect, for all eternity,” he says. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, with or without your muscles.”

This final compliment makes Melanie turn around to face Dylan. She traces a callused finger across his jawline. She can feel his stubble. Melanie knows she’ll burst out into tears if she didn’t do something to take her mind off of what’s nagging at her. So, she leans over, kisses Dylan, and picks him up. Dylan gasps when his bare feet lift off from the balcony floor. Melanie carries her lover back to bed. Soon, she plops Dylan onto the soft sheets and mounts him. The first time they made love, he was on top. Now, she’ll be on top.

Melanie wastes no time. She reaches down to stroke Dylan’s soft penis. It only takes a few caresses to get it hard. Then, she raises her massive body above him and slowly lowers herself onto his erect manhood. Once he is fully inside her, Melanie moves up and down as languorously as she possibly can. She’s lucky her leg muscles are strong enough to support her weight and maintain her balance. Dylan reaches out to stimulate her clit. This adds to her pleasure. Lightly pinching her hard feminine endowment with two fingers, he is committed to making sure she comes as many times as she desires this weekend.

Dylan leans his head against the pillow after the initial waves of orgasm rush through him. God, she feels so wet, so hot, so ready for him. Melanie feels the heat rising from their bodies. She’s convinced there’s more heat coming from the two bodies intertwined on this bed than there is in the fireplace that’s still roaring away. Melanie closes her eyes, trying to soak up every moment of this experience. She’s not sure how many more like this she’ll have with Dylan, so she better make it count.

“Oh God…” Dylan cries out. He’s not there yet, but he’s damn close.

Melanie also feels the built-up tension of her own climax looming. She didn’t come the first time they made love, so she’s committed to orgasming this time around. Dylan seems close, and she’s not far behind. It helps that he’s also stimulating her clit at the same time. Their delicate dance takes them higher and higher, until neither of them can hold back much longer. She tightens her vagina around him, hoping this final move pushes them both over the edge. He keenly notices her hotness surround him, beckoning him, breaking the boundaries between them.

“Ahhhhh!” Melanie gasps.

Miraculously, Dylan and Melanie climax together. This has never happened before. Dylan empties himself inside her, pulsating until his spasms come to a joyful end. Melanie’s vaginal muscles contract around him, adding to his sensations. She grabs Dylan’s wrist and pulls it away from her oversensitive clit, not wanting more stimulation at this moment. It would be too much for her. They stay like this for several minutes, Melanie truly wanting this moment to last forever. While standing on the balcony, she also came to the conclusion (and wisely chose not to say this to him out loud) that she’ll eventually need to break off their relationship. Not now, but soon. Meaning this could very well be the last time they ever make love. Ever.

So she wants to make it count.

The truth is that Dylan has gotten too close to her. In her heart, she knows that she also profoundly loves him. She doesn’t want to be hurt again and rush into another foolish marriage. Dylan genuinely touched her heart. That scares her. Frightens her. This is why she must break it off now until it becomes too painful for the both of them. And more pain isn’t something she needs in her life.

At last, Melanie collapses on top of Dylan. She doesn’t crush him but comes pretty damn close. Dylan doesn’t mind 215 pounds of woman being on top of him. There are worse ways to go. He looks over at the fireplace, impressed by how beautiful the flickering light of the flames fills the entire room with a pitch-perfect orange glow. Dylan never understood all the hype around fireplaces until this very moment. They do add to the romance, as he’s just joyfully discovered. He has no doubt that he and Melanie look like they belong on the cover of a romance novel.

“Now I really need to take a nap,” he confesses. Melanie reaches down to tickle his scrotum. She licks his right nipple, which sends shivers down his spine. “Well, that certainly will help keep me awake. Thanks for that.”

“I am to please.” Melanie moves on to lapping his other nipple. Eventually she stops fondling his scrotum and shifts toward rubbing his tired shoulders. It’s as though she wants to massage all of his emotional baggage away as if he were both symbolically and literally carrying heavy burdens on his shoulders. “You’d be a terrible host if you just passed out while your two other guests are wide awake, since they’re both hundreds or thousands of miles away from home. Besides, it’s not even 10:30. The night is still young.”

Dylan sits up, kisses her once more, and returns the favor by lightly pinching her nipples. She seems to enjoy it, closing her eyes to better drink in the sensations. “You’re right. I would be a terrible host to fall asleep before we got to even open the bottles of champagne. I’m pretty sure we have a few bottles chilling in the refrigerator. Henry and Lawrence should both be gone by now, so we don’t have to worry about our, uh, modesty, so to speak.” Dylan stands up and walks to the bathroom. It’s a surprise that it’s taken him this long to have to pee. Melanie stretches her arms out before getting up to close the balcony screen door. It’s not cold out, but that doesn’t stop Melanie from being concerned about wasps or flies (or worse, spiders!) getting inside the house. She doesn’t live here, of course, but she still feels a slight bit of responsibility to ensure Dylan’s home doesn’t get as unkempt as a yuppie bachelor pad.

As Dylan exits the bathroom – still naked – Melanie finally starts to wonder what Peggy and Monique are up to. Drinking scotch? Watching television? Staring at their phones playing Temple Run? One could only wonder…

***

“YAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSS! FUCK YEAHHHHHH!!!”

Peggy screams at the top of her lungs as Henry relentlessly pounds into her. No more than seven minutes earlier, Peggy and Henry were ripping each other’s clothes off inside the privacy of her guest bedroom. Now, their clothing (Henry could have sworn he heard something rip) is strewn lazily across the floor. It’s a good thing Lawrence vacuums the carpet at every chance he gets.

Just as Monique is hanging out by herself in the cabaret room making a cocktail, Peggy could not stop making out with this tall handsome black man who happens to be both a great chef and a loyal customer. Once they were both completely naked, Peggy raced to her purse to take out a condom wrapper. It was a normal type of condom, not an “Extra Large” packet that she figured a man like Henry would need. She gave Mr. Jameson’s penis a few sensual strokes with her hand, which was all it needed to fully wake up. Peggy then ripped the foil with her teeth, took out the oily piece of rubber latex, and rolled it onto his erect manhood. His claim that he’s a solid 7.5 inches seems accurate to her. Most guys lie about that sort of thing – especially the guys with whom she talks to during her webcam shows – but Henry isn’t a lying type. Besides, what’s the point of lying when you don’t really need to?

After sheathing him, Henry stuffed his face inside her plump breasts. He’s a “boob guy” and is not afraid to admit it out loud. Eventually, they found themselves on top of the bed. Laying down on her back, Peggy spread her legs wide open, inviting Henry inside. He did not hesitate to go in for the kill. After several minutes of pounding into her with no finesse or absolutely no inclination to take things slowly, he can feel his orgasm impending. Peggy also senses her vaginal muscles tighten in anticipation of a toe-curling climax. Sure enough, they both find the release they are looking for after Henry pounds into her one final time.

“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUUUUUUUUUUUCK YAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!”

Henry and Peggy, like the other couple who were simultaneously making love one floor up, climax together. Henry curses like a drunken sailor as his orgasm drains all the energy from his body. It’s been a long day of running errands, prepping, cooking, cleaning, and waiting for his boss’s three distinguished guests to arrive. He needed some sort of release to burn off all the pent-up tension that was residing inside his body. Doing the dirty with his favorite porn star is exactly what the doctor ordered.

“God damn, baby. That was the best fuck I’ve had in a long, long while,” Peggy says slightly out of breath. While Henry was doing most of the work, she took it upon herself to provide the vocal soundtrack to their mating ritual. Well, they were using protection. That doesn’t mean they weren’t engaged in a mating ritual of sorts. “Good job, baby darling. I really needed that. Mama really, really, really needed that.”

“Really? I’m sure you get plenty of dick whenever you want it. But I appreciate the kind words.” Henry rolls over on his back, sweat dripping off his face. Peggy playfully slaps Henry on the chest to scold him for the implications of what he just said.

“Hold on, are you calling me a whore?” Peggy heartily laughs, clearly not offended. “You’re right. I do get plenty of dick. All the time. But I’m talking about good dick. Good, hard, thick, ruthless dick like yours. I don’t get that all the time. Most of what I get is pretty forgettable. But not you. I’m going to fantasize about this for a long time.” Henry has never heard his penis be described as “ruthless” before, so he’ll accept the compliment. He stands up to go clean up in the bathroom. Peggy watches with amazement at how quickly a man’s penis can go from being as hard as a rock to as soft as a pair of socks the moment after he ejaculates. She also cannot fathom why it takes guys 30 minutes (some older guys need upwards of an hour!) to get hard again. Why can’t men be more like women, who can keep going and going and going until they get tired of orgasming? What’s the deal here? Well, that’s why God invented vibrators, she supposes. They keep pleasing her until the batteries run out of juice.

After disposing of the condom, peeing, and washing his hands with plenty of soap and hot water (even after having sex, Henry still washes his hands like a professional chef who just handled a whole bucket full of raw chicken), Henry returns to the bedroom, only to find Peggy lighting a joint. She doesn’t smoke marijuana all too often, but it’s perfectly legal both in Nevada and Washington State (she purchased it at a pot shop close to Treasure Island in Vegas) so she might as well get high when she’s allowed to. She also has a small amount of cocaine hidden inside an empty tube of lipstick. The TSA agents never catch her with it if she puts the tube inside a small makeup purse. She doesn’t think she’ll snort it tonight (Dylan isn’t known to be an avid drug user since alcohol and muscular women are his vices of choice). However, one can never accurately predict the future.

“Want a hit?” Peggy offers. Henry nods his head, takes the joint from her, and inhales. “I’m lucky it’s legal where I live. It’s legal here too. But not everywhere. So I got to use my supply when I can. I’m constantly flying across the country, so I have to be careful.” Almost like a magical elixir, Peggy feels calmer than before. She could just be exhausted from traveling and getting pounded by Henry’s huge cock. But chances are the cannabis is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.

“I hadn’t thought about that. I don’t travel too much, so I don’t think about it. Plus, I don’t smoke that much. Mostly when I’m hanging out with my homeboys.” Henry returns the joint to Peggy. She takes one more hit before extinguishing the flame on an ashtray and putting it back in her purse. After letting the CBD do its thing, she gets up, closes the window (she doesn’t want the smell of pot to linger inside Dylan’s gorgeous mansion), kisses Henry on the cheek, and places her hands on both of his butt cheeks.

“Let’s go see what Monique is up to. I don’t want her to feel lonely.”

“That’s a good idea. Let’s go.” It is at this moment that Henry realizes he still doesn’t have his boss’s permission to be here this late, especially to hang out with his party guests. Mr. Tanaka is a pretty chill dude, so he can’t imagine he’d be upset at him. Still, it’s considered taboo inside the world of personal chefs to fraternize with your client’s friends without their permission. Henry knows a few chefs who got fired because of that. Let’s hope he isn’t breaking any rules so he doesn’t suffer a similar fate.

Several moments later Henry and Peggy walk into the cabaret room, still as naked as the day they were born. Monique is sitting alone at the bar, sipping on an Old Fashioned made of sugar, bitters, and Macallan 15; while checking her phone for unanswered text messages. There are a few to respond to, but she feels a bit too drunk to answer them properly. She turns around when she hears the doors open.

“Yoo hoo, Monique baby, are you here? We have another special guest with us. You remember the tall beautiful black man who cooked our dinner tonight…” Monique pokes her head around the corner to catch Peggy’s attention. She is surprised to see both Peggy and Henry are still stark naked, not even having the decency to put on a bathrobe or anything. And to think Monique at one point felt weird just wearing panties! She stands up to greet Miss Cole and Dylan’s talented chef. “Ah, there you are! Ooohhh, I see you’ve helped yourself to a drink. Goddamn, I could use one myself. Henry baby, are you an expert mixologist in addition to being a fucking great cook?”

Before he can speak, Henry awkwardly looks at Monique, noticing that she’s practically naked, while he’s fully naked. It seems strange at first, but Henry doubts anyone was under the impression that Dylan’s dinner party wouldn’t include casual nudity at some point. He’s not running a bed and breakfast for Benedictine monks, for crying out loud. Henry and Monique exchange smiles, which appears to be enough to break any embarrassing tension that may exist. Peggy, not surprisingly, dashes toward the bar to fix herself a simple rum and Coke. She opens the freezer to find a tray full of ice cubes ready for her to steal from.

“Good evening, Miss St. Martin. I see the fun has already started around here!” Henry jokes. Monique giggles at Henry’s attempt to put her at ease with humor. It works.

“Oh, it has. It sure has. We just gave Dylan a fun little show an hour ago, or whenever it was. It was delightful. You should have been there, Henry darling.” Monique returns to sipping her drink, trying her hardest not to look down at his enormous penis. Henry considers fixing himself something – an Old Fashioned sure does sound delicious right about now – but decides against it. Maybe later.

“I have no doubt it was amazing, and, uh, very entertaining. But I had chores to do downstairs. Those dirty dishes ain’t gonna clean themselves, if you know what I mean.” The Olympic athlete raises her eyebrows to communicate agreement. By then, Peggy returns from behind the bar and sits down on a bright red sofa. Unconcerned for her nakedness, Henry makes a mental note that he should tell Lawrence later this week to scrub the surfaces of every couch, chair, and barstool in this room. That would benefit everybody. Especially future guests. He’ll decline to provide an explanation, though Lawrence should have no problem figuring out why.

“You deserve a break, and um, a little fun,” Peggy says while sipping her drink. It is stronger than she had anticipated. This is a good thing. “Speaking of which, where’s Dylan and Melanie? Are they doing what I think they’re doing upstairs? Naughty, naughty!”

“Ha, it’s not like you’re so innocent yourself,” Henry reminds her. “You know what? I could use a drink. It’s been a long day at the office, if you catch my drift.” As Henry saunters over to the bar, all three of them hear the doors swing wide open again. This time, Dylan and Melanie walk through, hand-in-hand like old lovers, also completely naked. They also didn’t seem to think putting on something would be necessary. Dylan stops dead in his tracks when he sees his faithful chef approaching the bar, apparently ready to make himself a cocktail.

“Good evening to you all, thank you for letting Melanie and I enjoy some private time together,” Dylan begins. “Well, well, well. Henry! I’m glad to see you. Pleasantly surprised. I thought you had gone home by now. Who will feed your cat?”

“Oh, I think he’ll be just fine. Good evening, Mr. Tanaka.” Henry and Dylan also share an awkward moment of silence together. Both men have endlessly discussed their mutual love for female bodybuilders, however this love has only come in the form of casual conversations around the kitchen. They’ve never done any “intimate” activities with Dylan’s guests together, so this is certainly breaking new ground (for both of them). Sensing his chef is probably feeling more awkward than him, Dylan thinks it would be a good idea to verbalize his approval of him being in their presence.

“Good evening, Henry. I’m so happy you can join us! If you’d like, I’d love for you to stay with us for as long as you want to. You can definitely spend the night in one of the guest rooms if you don’t feel up to driving home. After all, you’re supposed to be back here in less than 12 hours, so you might as well stay.” Henry appears to be genuinely reassured by his boss’s kind invitation. This brings a smile to everyone’s faces. “I think we have a few bottles of champagne in the fridge if anyone is interested in popping a couple of corks of some bubbly.”

“Thanks, Dylan. Thank you for inviting me to stay,” Henry grins at Peggy. She puckers her lips to give him the “kissy, kissy” motion. Dylan, still holding hands with Melanie, could not help but look down quickly at Henry’s prodigious endowment. Dylan had no idea what Henry looked like down there. He didn’t want to stereotype, naturally (especially when enough people casually stereotype men like him), but one can be excused to just assume certain things are true whether they are or not. When men happen to be naked around each other – gym locker rooms are a prime example – subtly glancing down at another guy’s junk to see what it looks like is a common pastime. There’s (usually) nothing overtly sexual about it. It’s just casual research to see what other dudes are packing down there and how you compare to them. That’s it. Dylan cannot help but do the same in this scenario. He’s unsure if Henry is doing the same. In fact, he’d prefer that Henry not do the same.

“Damn, I feel a bit overdressed for the occasion,” Monique observes. “It’s like I stepped into a motherfucking nudist colony, or something!”

“I don’t know girl. Everybody here is naked…except for you!” Peggy scolds Monique. Feeling a combination of peer pressure and reckless abandon, Monique accepts Miss Cole’s challenge and strips off her white panties. The four others cheer her on. She tosses her underwear carelessly to the side, not giving a rat’s ass where it lands.

“Now girl, we’re really at a motherfucking nudist colony!” she announces. This elicits even more cheering from her compatriots.

“Between these walls of my humble abode, we might as well be in a nudist colony,” Dylan says while opening the refrigerator to take out a couple bottles of chilled champagne. As he requested, it’s a Bollinger Special Cuvée, just like his fictional hero, James Bond, would drink. After popping the corks and fishing around the cupboard for five tall champagne glasses, Dylan gleefully pours everyone a generous amount of bubbly. The image of five naked people, three of them muscular women, crowding around a home bar drinking overly expensive champagne must be quite an amusing sight for someone not familiar with the circumstances. Dylan decides to propose a toast.

“To friendship, great company, a better future, and finding your inner light,” Dylan declares as he lifts his glass above his head. The four others mimic their host. “We may not yet know the source of that light. That is for all of us to discover for ourselves. But rest assured. It’s there. Somewhere. We are all unique souls traversing through this rock in outer space toward an unknown destiny. May it be a good one. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’re all fortunate to have been able to cross paths with each other. Deeply, profoundly fortunate. Cheers.”

“Cheers!” everyone repeats. Dylan and his four guests drink from their frothy glasses.

“Motherfucker, that’s some good ass shit!” Peggy proclaims. “Dylan honey, you know how to live life to the fullest. Yessssssir!”

Melanie wanders off to the A/V booth to turn on some music. Apparently, the jazz mix they started playing earlier for their performance had expired long ago. Dylan thought the music would play on a continuous loop, which apparently is not the case. She quickly searches through a playlist of Top 100 hits, selects a few artists, and begins playing it for all to hear.

“Oooooohhh baby girl! I love me some Missy Elliott! Get it!” Monique puts her glass down on a nearby table and starts to dance all by herself. Henry decides to join in on the fun. Melanie sashays toward Dylan, grabs his hand, twirls him around as if they were at a midwestern dance hall, and sways with him to the beat. Their chests join together, Melanie noticing Dylan’s heartbeat rapidly picking up the pace. They lock eyes, kiss, and continue to rock side-to-side to the song’s beat as Peggy joins the other two in creating a makeshift dance club right here in the cabaret room. Dylan feels Melanie’s firm glutes, which is enough to make his heartbeat quicken its tempo even more. How could it not? He wouldn’t be surprised if he got another erection right here in front of everyone. That wouldn’t be out of place for how the evening has gone so far.

If he were to get hard again, he and Melanie would certainly know how to deal with that particular situation. For now, he’s content to just enjoy the music and dance along with his four friends.

Little did anyone in this room know that this would be the highlight of their evening. The festivities would soon come to a crashing halt. Not yet, but soon enough. Unbeknownst to any of the five naked partiers in attendance was the fact that as they were dancing the night away, five armed thieves were caravanning over Interstate 90 at 65 mph with Dylan’s home as their intended destination.

All the King’s Queens – Chapter 6: Dinner and a Show

Leave the place cleaner than you found it.

These words are ingrained in Henry’s psyche. They’re practically his life’s guiding principle. It’s not enough to simply tidy up after yourself and make it look like you were never there. No, that’s not enough. You must also do a service to the people around you by cleaning, scrubbing, sweeping, washing, and dusting the whole place till it’s shining so brightly the room seems to be winking back at you. Tonight is no exception. Maybe he’s working harder than usual because he’s both super nervous and super excited to see Peggy again live and in the flesh.

“Heeyyyyyyyy baby!”

Henry, who’s huffing and puffing while scrubbing a roasting tray laden with sticky honey sauce, turns around to see where that voice came from. But he doesn’t need to investigate whose voice that is because he already knows.

Miss Peggy.

“Oh my Lord in Heaven, is that the voice of Miss Peggy I hear?” Henry drops the sponge in the sink and dries his hands with a towel. And sure enough, standing in the kitchen entrance wearing a crimson red V-neck dress that leaves very little to the imagination (especially her enormous breasts) is none other than Henry’s favorite erotic webcam performer. “Yes it is! I knew it was you the moment I heard your voice when you came in.”

“Hi baby. It’s been forever since I last saw you,” Peggy hugs one of her most loyal clients, then kisses him on the cheek. “I always look forward to our little chats together. It always makes my day.”

“Oh baby, tell me about it. Trust me, I’m waaaaaaay more excited for them than you are!” Still as professional as ever, Henry pauses his attempt to not focusing on Peggy’s boobs for a quick moment to turn off the stovetop keeping the garlic mashed potatoes warm. After another kiss on the cheek, Peggy roams over the oven to see what’s cooking.

“I know it! So, baby, what are you preparing for us tonight? It smells delicious.”

“On the menu are sweet and sticky braised short ribs, curried vegetables, classic niçoise salad, garlic mashed potatoes, and blueberry cream puff pastries,” Henry announces as theatrically as a TV show host. Slow-cooking tough cuts of meat requires braising them in a red wine reduction sauce for at least three hours, meaning Henry has been working his butt off in the kitchen nearly all day. Peggy acutely senses how much work her favorite client has put in to preparing tonight’s dinner. For that, she wants to reward him for his artistry, loyalty, and optimistic attitude.

“Sounds delightful! I’m sure Dylan is taking Melanie and Monique down to the wine cellar to select a few bottles for supper, so we have a few moments alone together,” Peggy kisses him once more, then gets down on her knees to unzip Henry’s pants. He looks around the kitchen for Lawrence, who seems to be out of sight.

“Oh baby, this…this is unexpected! This is, um, quite a way to say hello to a fella!” Henry shuffles his feet toward a large walk-in pantry full of canned food, spices, flour, breakfast cereal, and oatmeal. Peggy follows along on her knees, laboring to pull out Henry’s penis from his boxers.

“I aim to please.”

Finally, once they are settled in the pantry Henry closes the door behind them and switches on a lightbulb hanging in the middle of the small, cramped room. At last, Peggy frees Henry’s bulging length from his underwear.

“Ah! There it is!” Peggy exclaims.

“It’s been waiting for you, baby.”

The reason why Henry is Peggy’s favorite client is because of his most noteworthy and memorable physical asset: His prodigious member. Reluctant to fit the tired old stereotype associated with black men like him, Henry has always known that he’s unusual in this regard. Peggy has been with many men in her life of all races and ethnicities, so she knows the stereotype that all black men have big dicks isn’t universally true. But in Henry’s case, it’s as true as the sky is blue. During their webcam chats, Peggy genuinely looks forward to mutually masturbating with him because she loves watching him stroke his enormous penis as she rubs her clitoris along with him. Very few clients actually turn Peggy on (to be honest, most of her clients are overweight balding middle-aged men with zero sex appeal), but Henry is a notable exception to the rule. Watching his enormous member get hard, harder, and eventually spurt everywhere is something that Peggy dreams about. It gets her genuinely excited.

Henry may not be able to compete with her dear friend Kit Styles, but then again very few men in the history of the human race are able to. If the podcast scheme doesn’t work out with Kit, perhaps Henry would be a suitable replacement.

“I know it has. I know!” Peggy wraps her fingers around the base of Henry’s manhood and strokes it up and down. It instantly gets as hard as stone. Henry has told Peggy that his penis measures 7.5 inches when erect, a claim she believes 100%. He also claims that if he’s aroused enough, he can get up to 7.8 inches, which Peggy can also believe. A self-professed “size queen,” Peggy has seen her fair share of dicks in her life. Some big, some small, many that are average, and a few enormous ones that stand out in her memory. Henry’s is definitely in the “memorable” category.

“I wasn’t expecting this…” Henry drifts off as Peggy opens her mouth wide and takes in his manhood. Earlier today he was talking to his boss about the possibility of (maybe) seeing Peggy tomorrow afternoon just before everyone is about to leave. He had no idea Peggy would proactively seek him out and do…this.

“Ooooohhhh Peggy baby…” She grips the back of Henry’s knees and deep throats him as far as she can go. She gets more than ¾ of the way home until she begins to gag a little. But that doesn’t stop her from servicing the portion of him that she can. Henry’s eyes roll to the back of his head as Peggy’s experienced little mouth does its work. He can tell she knows what she’s doing and has plenty of experience to perfect certain techniques.

“Are you close?” Peggy temporarily gives her lips, tongue, and mouth a break. “Because I want to taste all of you baby.”

“OHHHHHH, yeah. Yeah, baby, I’m close…”

Before he can finish his sentence, Peggy licks Henry’s sensitive tip and resumes her work. A small gasp escapes from him as he struggles to stifle loud noises in case Dylan, Lawrence, or the other two ladies are within earshot. His manhood has grown hot, pulsating to its largest capacity possible. Peggy senses he’s near the end. She hopes he is. She’s been craving this moment from the moment she stepped off the plane.

“Oh baby!”

Henry knocks a can of tomato paste to the floor as he releases deep inside Peggy’s mouth. Five powerful pulses of hot semen roll down her throat. It’s a miracle he doesn’t collapse from the sheer ecstasy of the moment. Peggy obediently swallows everything Henry has to offer, circling her tongue around him in order to lap every single drop. He tastes like most guys. Nothing unusual or noteworthy. She hopes the supper Henry prepared will wash the taste out of her mouth. Totally spent, she pulls his manhood out of her mouth slowly and watches it drop innocently between his legs. She stands up to kiss him on the cheek.

“Oh yeah, baby. That’s one heck of an appetizer,” she teases him. Still in a trance, Henry smirks at her, unable to speak. “I can’t wait for dinner.”

“Y…you’re welcome, Miss Peggy,” he stammers. “I…I sure didn’t expect you to greet a fella like…like that.”

“Well, I am a woman of many surprises,” she quips while exiting the pantry. “I’ll see you later tonight after supper. Take care!”

And with that, Peggy casually strolls out of the kitchen toward the dining room as Henry remains standing surrounded by old boxes of Wheaties and linguine noodles, still in a daze. A happy daze, more specifically.

“Wow! What a woman!”

***

Sure enough, Dylan and the other two ladies also have taken a detour. They are off to the basement to select a few bottles of wine – and other spirits – to enjoy both during dinner and afterward. Dylan suspects Peggy went to go chat with Henry. He has no idea their “meet and greet” would transpire quite the way it did. So, the rest of the crew remains oblivious to what’s happening upstairs.

“Damn, this is an impressive collection,” Melanie marvels. She leans over the middle shelf in Dylan’s wine cellar to read the labels on the bottles. Not an expert on the subject, she selects a 2017 Chateau Ste. Michelle cabernet sauvignon for no reason other than the design looks pretty. Monique knows a bit more about spirits (her grandparents owned a liquor store in Cuba before the Castro regime deemed the establishment an unnecessary “symbol of capitalist indulgences”) and chooses a bottle of Glenlivet XXV for sipping after dinner.

“Thank you. I’m not exactly an expert on wine and spirits, but luckily I know people who are,” Dylan says while inspecting his collection. “Leave it up to those who know what they’re talking about, right?”

“Yeah, no kidding,” Monique says. “There’s no way I could train for the Olympics without a whole team of people telling me what to do.”

Dylan chooses a 2018 Columbia Valley Syrah, a 2017 Malbec, and an unopened bottle of Macallan 25. He is happy with these selections. “Sometimes it’s best just to let people tell you what to do. It makes life so much simpler.”

“True,” Melanie chimes in. “But you surrender a little bit of your, uh, agency when you do that. But maybe I’m being a little overdramatic.”

“Ha, yeah, probably a little bit,” Monique says. “I mean, I still decide how I train. It’s my life. But it makes me feel better knowing I’m not going at it alone.”

Dylan locks the sliding glass door (he technically doesn’t need to do this since no kids live in his home, but old habits die hard), turns off the light in the cellar room, and leads the way back upstairs with their drink selections in hand. On the way up, Melanie cannot help but notice a prominent painting of herself winning the 1998 Tampa Pro. Is it a painting Dylan had commissioned or is it a photograph that was made to look like a painting using a clever Photoshop filter? Melanie cannot tell which it is.

A few moments later, Dylan, Melanie, and Monique enter the dining room and find Peggy already sitting down and buttering a piece of toasted sourdough bread. She has the biggest grin on her face. Gee, does she like bread that much?

“Whatever Henry has in store for us smells great!” Peggy takes a quick nibble of her bread. “I literally can’t wait. What drinks did you get for us?”

“A few bottles of wine from local wineries and a couple of my best scotches,” Dylan announces with beaming pride. Peggy seems amused enough. He takes his seat at the head of the table. Melanie sits right next to him, with Monique and Peggy sitting next to each other on the opposite side. Lawrence has already lit the four tall candles sitting in the middle of the table – each candle representing all the people sharing this meal together.

“Thank you all for being here,” Dylan begins. “As you know, my life can get quite lonely. It hasn’t been easy for me these past few years, but I refuse to wallow around in self-pity.” His three guests nod along in silent agreement. Melanie gets a corkscrew and pops open all three bottles of wine. She pours everyone a short glass.

“Thanks, dear,” Monique whispers. “Self-pity is a terrible place to be. Trust me, I know what that’s all about. After my accident, every single day was a challenge. Not just physically, you know, but emotionally too. For real.”

“My life ain’t been perfect, but I got nothing to complain about too much,” Peggy says. “But damn, I feel both of you. For sure. That’s why you got us in your life, Dylan baby.”

“Oh yeah, do I know it!” Dylan fights the urge to cry.

“My career was able to recover from it, but I know a thing or two about having your whole damn reputation destroyed,” Melanie sips her Syrah, marveling at its fully developed flavor. “I still won’t ever forget the sick pit-in-the-stomach feeling I got while sitting in that jail cell. You know, in Budapest. God, I try so hard to forget that night. Worst time of my life.”

The room remains silent for a while. Lawrence quietly enters the dining room with a rolling cart with four plates of niçoise salad, more bread, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

“Good evening ladies. I’ve placed all your luggage in your rooms. Is there anything else you need from me?” Looking as dapper as ever, Lawrence tries to respectfully look everyone in the eye and avoid inadvertently looking at the conspicuous cleavage revealed in the three women’s choices of dresses.

“No, Lawrence dear,” Peggy says. Lawrence avoids looking at Peggy in particular, especially given the fact her dress doesn’t seem to want to contain her enormous breasts. While he doesn’t share the same “tastes” as his boss, Lawrence does appreciate a beautiful woman when he sees one. But he does whatever he can to remain as professional as possible. Even though he knows it’s not necessary. After all, Lawrence did in fact accidentally walk in on the sounds of moaning coming from inside the kitchen pantry. He immediately identified what the cacophony signified and quickly walked in the other direction. Mr. Tanaka’s esteemed chef and Miss Cole were obviously engaging in very “intimate” activities. Lawrence felt it would have been awkward for him to do what he had originally intended to do when he came into the kitchen: Check on the bread to ensure it wasn’t overcooking. Thankfully, it hadn’t.

“Excellent. The rest of dinner will be served shortly. Enjoy.”

“Thanks Lawrence.” Dylan nods at his loyal butler with approval. Lawrence nods back and exits back into the kitchen. “I think it’s safe to say we’ve all done things in our past that we regret. But what matters isn’t what we’ve done, but what we are doing now and what we will do moving forward. At least I think that’s the case.”

“I think it is,” Monique says. “What happens to us happens for a reason. I don’t know why, but I truly believe that.”

Peggy claps her hands in agreement. “Amen! Ya’ll know that not everyone I know and love approves of what I do, but I’ve made peace with that a long, long, long time ago.” Everyone has by now dug into their salads. Including Dylan, who is usually too nervous or self-conscious to enjoy a meal when in the company of a beautiful muscular woman, let alone three at a time. “I’ve never been happier. So, I win!”

“You certainly have, my dear!” Dylan agrees. Peggy grins.

“Making peace with ourselves is sometimes our only option,” Melanie quips. Everyone seems to agree with that.

After the second bottle of wine is completely finished, Lawrence finally brings out the entrées. Sweet and sticky braised short ribs (slow-cooked to make the meat as tender as possible), curried vegetables (inspired by Indian cuisine), and garlic mashed potatoes (as classic as you can imagine). By now, Dylan and his guests are a bit drunk – not too much, for the record – and have moved on to less dire subject matter. What does a group of bodybuilders (and one token fan of bodybuilding) usually talk about?

Bodybuilding.

“For years now I’ve tried to make my delts fuller. But I could never figure out how,” Peggy complains. “It’s like I’m genetically not allowed to have them. I’ve done it all. Bent-over reverse flies, chin-ups, standing shoulder press, hell, doing fucking kettlebell exercises for two fucking hours! Still, nothing. NOTHING! I swear, it never works out. Can’t figure out why for the life of me.”

“Oh sad. I’m pretty lucky in that area. Not sure how, but my delts are one of the best parts of my body.” Melanie demonstrates this by turning her back toward the group and raising both arms toward the sky. Monique almost chokes on her food looking at her impressive striations.

“Damn woman! You have muscles on top of muscles where I’m pretty sure they don’t exist on my body!” Monique exclaims. “Good for you.”

“Melanie has accomplished many things most of us could only dream about,” Dylan says. He runs his index finger along Melanie’s back to feel the full meatiness of her shoulder. “Wow. Impressive, indeed. How on Earth do you get this?” He knows he’ll have plenty of time later this evening to explore Melanie’s body, but he cannot resist it while sitting at the dinner table next to her. It’s a miracle Dylan has been able to hold out for this long.

“Not eating delicious food like this. Or drinking too much wine!” Melanie empties her glass, pours herself another one, and takes one final bite of her braised beef. “I obviously can’t eat like this during my training schedule. But in the off-season? Yeah, occasionally.”

Lawrence enters with the dessert cart. He’s happy to see everyone has loosened up, including his boss. Liquid courage will do that to you. Tonight’s menu concludes with a blueberry cream puff pastry. Henry let him try a few leftover scraps to get a preview of what everyone will be enjoying after dinner. Lawrence was not disappointed. Nor will the diners be, either.

“Lawrence dear, tell the cook that I’ve loved everything he’s prepared tonight,” Monique says.

“You can tell him yourself, Miss St. Martin. I’ll bring him out. He’s currently washing dishes, but that can wait until the morning,” Lawrence pats Dylan on the shoulder, which is his subtle way of asking permission to bring the chef out into the dining room.

“That sounds lovely,” Dylan says with approval. “I’m sure we’d all love to pay our compliments to the chef for the lovely evening we’ve had thus far.”

“Excellent. I’ll let him know he’s invited to make an appearance at his earliest convenience.” Lawrence disappears back into the kitchen. Henry is also an expert at preparing just enough food that you feel full and satisfied afterward but not overstuffed. Feeling too full is a great way to ruin the rest of your evening. Yet another reason why Dylan has kept him around for so long.

“This dessert is giving my mouth an orgasm!” Peggy exclaims. Monique blushes at this rather blunt description of a simple puff pastry. Melanie smiles. Dylan sips some espresso, trying not to laugh. He fails.

“Well, that’s definitely one way to put it!” Dylan says. Peggy doesn’t seem to hear what anyone is saying anymore. She has a sweet tooth that’s difficult to satiate.

“Hello lovely ladies!” Henry barges into the dining room. He shakes hands with Dylan. Melanie lightly rubs his shoulder. Monique waves at him. Peggy, now done wolfing down her dessert, gets up to give Henry a big hug, nearly lifting him off the floor.

“Baby, dinner was fabulous. FABULOUS! Goddamn, can this man cook!” Peggy lightly grabs Henry’s crotch and squeezes it, a subtle move no one seems to notice. Except for Henry, of course. “My highest compliments to the chef!”

“Thanks darling. I cannot believe how lucky my boss is right now! Look at this!” Henry gestures toward the group. Monique pretends to “tip her cap” to the chef. Dylan once again shakes the hand of his faithful cook as a demonstration of his appreciation. It may not be scientifically proven that delicious food is an aphrodisiac, but in this moment, Dylan can only hope that there is a semblance of truth to it.

“Yes, I am one lucky son of a bitch,” Dylan proclaims. “And you’ve truly outdone yourself, Henry. Dinner was remarkable. Perfectly prepared, all around.”

“Well, I have plenty of dishes to wash. Rumor has it ya’ll have got something special planned for Mr. Tanaka, am I right?”

“We do, yeah,” Peggy nods in agreement. “We’ve got a special little show in store for Dylan baby here. It’s going to be fucking fantastic. You should drop by after you’re done with your chores.” She kisses Henry on the cheek suggestively. By now, Dylan has caught on that she and Henry may start their own fireworks show sooner rather than later.

“Can’t wait. In fact, why wait? Come with me to the cabaret room!” Dylan proclaims as if he’s Willy Wonka inviting his guests to tour the mysterious chocolate factory. Yes, Dylan does in fact have a professionally designed cabaret-style room in his home. Modeled after a 1920s speakeasy, it contains a fully stocked bar, tall scarlet red curtains, cushy leather sofas, a small stage large enough for a few performers, A/V equipment, a modest light setup, and a Broadway-like spotlight at the back of the room. The room isn’t used terribly often, but when it is Dylan makes sure his private entertainers are given the best environment to showcase their talents.

“I cannot wait to see this!” Monique says to Melanie. She smiles back with equal anticipation.

Located on the second floor toward the back, Dylan leads his three guests up a gothic-looking spiral staircase. The guest bedrooms are also on this floor, which is convenient for everyone involved. Melanie, who’s seen the cabaret room before, goes straight to her bedroom to get changed. She realizes she’ll most likely spend the night in Dylan’s spacious bedroom, but that still means she needs someplace to put her luggage. She decides she’ll get dressed in her sexy little number as the host gives the other two girls a tour of the new cabaret room.

“I had this room specifically designed to look this way,” Dylan says, leading Monique and Peggy inside the cabaret room. “Before, it was basically a glorified library, or study, as you both may recall. But I wanted to do something special with it. And here we are!”

Both women are gobsmacked when they see the cabaret room in all its glory.

“Sweet mother of God, this is fucking fantastic!” Peggy slides her fingers down the scarlet curtains, admiring the texture. “I love what you’ve done here! Who did you hire to do it?”

“Some guy I know who used to work on Broadway. He’s now retired and does contract work for rich idiots like me.” Monique sneaks up behind Dylan to plant a wet kiss on the back of his neck. He turns around, smiling at her. She smiles back, placing the palm of her right hand underneath his groin. This is an unusually bold move for her, Dylan notes to himself. What’s going on?

“Do…do you like it?” Dylan asks.

“Oh, I hadn’t been looking around much, but yeah, you can say that,” Monique answers. “And you’re no idiot, darling. I remember interning with you.”

Dylan laughs. “Yes, I’m sure you do. That was just a figure of speech, my dear. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Monique gives him a coy look. Dylan continues to wonder why she’s in such a flirty mood today. Peggy is still amazed at the authenticity of the room’s design. It’s remarkably similar to performance halls she’s seen in Paris, New York, London, and Las Vegas. She even imagines what it would be like to shoot erotic videos here since she doubts Dylan would charge a camera crew for the rights to use the space. That’s a conversation she’ll have to have with him later. She makes a mental note of it.

“Girls! It’s time to get dressed and get ready for showtime!” Melanie yells from a distance. Peggy and Monique give each other a look. They turn toward Dylan.

“I think we’re needed. We promised that we had a little show prepared for you. So we must be off,” Peggy remarks as she leaves the room. This leaves Monique alone with Dylan.

“I totally forgot the bottles of booze in the dining room. Should I go get them?” she asks.

“No, that’s fine. This room has a fully stocked bar. I’ll find something to sip on my own. Go on and get ready with the others,” Dylan instructs her. Monique dutifully leaves, giving him one final flirty wave as she exits. Gee, what’s with all these sexual vibes she’s giving him all of a sudden? Monique is usually not like this. She’s in a stable relationship with a man who barely approves of her coming over for dinner dates like this. Has she broken up with him without telling anyone? Or is she drunk and not thinking straight? Dylan ponders these things as he investigates the bar and chooses an already opened bottle of brandy to drink from.

Fifteen minutes later, Dylan receives a text message from Melanie telling him they’re almost ready to go. About a week ago, she sent him a Spotify playlist with various easy listening jazz artists on it. Dylan turns on the computer located at the back of the room, logs on to Spotify, and begins to play it. The playlist runs for three and a half hours, so they’re in no danger of running out of music. Besides, it’ll just automatically return back to the beginning once it finishes. Dylan then turns off the room lights and cranks up the stage lights. He leaves the spotlight off, as it’s so powerful that it can be overwhelming if you’re not accustomed to performing in front of it. The bright Fresnel and floodlights hanging overhead are impressive enough. He has no doubt they’ll give the three performers all the electromagnetic exposure they need to be adequately seen.

The smooth musical score provides complementary ambiance without being distracting. Dylan sees a small flutter in the curtains, indicating the three ladies are now behind it. With a glass of brandy in hand, he’s ready for the show of a lifetime. Suddenly, a long supple leg sticks out between the curtain slit.

“Oooooh, I like this already…” Dylan mutters under his breath. He takes another sip of brandy, nearly coughing afterward. His heart starts to race.

Little by little, it is revealed that the owner of the supple leg belongs to none other than Miss Monique St. Martin. She’s now wearing a classy green satin V-neck dress that makes her the “belle of the ball” who would undoubtedly capture the heart of any Prince Charming. He can only imagine he could be so lucky. Monique struts to center stage, twirling her arms in the air like a ballerina. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I can see we have a full house here tonight, and I have every confidence that you’re all in for a real treat. I am your host this evening, Monique St. Martin. But you can call me just…Monique.”

“Hi, Monique!” Dylan calls out from his comfortable leather chair located right in the center of the room. Monique waves back at him. Her hair is pulled back so he can clearly see her gorgeous face. She’s wearing a little bit of makeup to accentuate her features but not too much that it becomes distracting. Her natural beauty is distracting enough.

“Hi, sugar pie! As you can probably tell, I am an Olympic athlete who plans to compete at next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Can you tell how strong I am?” She gives the “audience” a double biceps pose, showing off her impressive physique. Dylan watches with amazement, then gives a silent nod of encouragement. Monique, seeing she’s properly captivated the crowd in attendance, removes her shoes (Dylan couldn’t quite figure out what kind of shoes they are) and does the spread-eagle splits with elegance and grace. It doesn’t appear to be challenging to her at all. “As you can clearly see, I take good care of my body. After all, my body is my life. And what puts food on the table. It’s my moneymaker. Can’t you tell?”

Once again, Dylan nods his head enthusiastically up and down. He refrains from verbalizing his enjoyment. “Well, I sure hope it’s obvious that I work out a lot. They don’t just let any old bum on the street compete in the Olympics.” Monique swings both of her legs forward, does a backward roll, and once she returns to her feet, performs a backflip in one sudden fluid motion. This causes Dylan to audibly gasp. She lands once again on her feet, bows to her audience, and gives herself a modest round of applause. The sound of Melanie and Peggy clapping from behind the curtain can be faintly heard.

“Whew! Not bad for someone who’s not a gymnast, huh?” This elicits a genuine laugh from Dylan and the two other ladies backstage. “So okay, I can do a few neat tricks like backflips and whatnot. But do you know why I’m actually going to Tokyo next summer? Any guesses?” Apparently, this is where she wants to solicit guesses from her captivated crowd. Audience participation, Dylan supposes.

“Uh, I think I can guess!” Dylan raises his hand. Monique grins. She points to her lone audience member sitting all by himself.

“Yes, sir! You there, the Asian guy with the crisp-looking necktie. What sport do you think I compete in? Figure skating? Track and field? The discus throw? Curling? What?” The curling bit makes Peggy chuckle from backstage, but not Melanie. Maybe it’s because Melanie actually lived in Canada for several years (with her first husband) before moving to Chicago to live with her second husband. There, she developed a genuine respect for curling. This marriage ended in divorce, but that didn’t end her love for watching curling whenever the Winter Olympics were happening. She understands why Americans scoff at it. That doesn’t mean she still can’t like it!

“Well, I will say something like weightlifting? I mean, you do have some impressive guns there, young lady…” Dylan points to her arms, which at this point do not need any further pointing out. Now it’s Monique’s turn to nod her head.

“Very good guess, sir! Ding, ding, ding! You are absolutely correct. I am an Olympic weightlifter. For my final act, would you like to see me attempt a lift?” Dylan has no choice but to say “yes.” He pretends to look around at his fellow attendees to see if they also would like to see Monique attempt a really heavy lift. It appears as though the hundreds of imaginary people sitting around Dylan all agree wholeheartedly.

“Great! This will give me the opportunity to introduce our next performer, Miss Melanie Wright!” Monique steps toward the curtain and lifts it up to allow Melanie to enter the stage. Unlike Monique, she’s dressed in a mysteriously elegant fur coat that covers her entire body. This coat must be enormous because Melanie has quite a substantial torso. She appears to be wearing heels and…well, it’s unclear what else she’s wearing besides the fur coat. Melanie struts around, waves to the entire “audience” as if there were thousands of screaming fans in attendance, and stands right next to Monique. The size contrast couldn’t have been more obvious. Melanie is much bulkier than Monique – and three to four inches taller, even though both of them are wearing heels – a fact that anybody with a pair of functioning eyeballs could see. Monique is your typical athlete who looks fantastic when she’s wearing minimal clothing but can easily blend into a crowd if she’s in a heavy jacket. Melanie, on the other hand, is unmistakably a professional bodybuilder who takes her muscle-building endeavors seriously. She looks like she can barely fit through a door frame. Whenever she rides in a car, it’s a miracle the tires don’t blow out. While she’s no bigger (in terms of weight, not sheer muscle mass) than a lot of male bodybuilders, your brain isn’t accustomed to seeing a woman that large. And her muscles are evenly distributed from head to toe. No one would ever think of her as being fat. She’s a marvel to look at, no question about it.

“Hi, everyone! My name is Melanie. How is everyone doing tonight?”

Dylan decides to speak up this time, just for the fun of it. “We’re doing great! Couldn’t be better. I cannot imagine doing anything else right now than being here, watching you lovely ladies do your thing.” He gives them a brief round of applause to show his appreciation for their willingness to travel away from their homes and come out all the way to Seattle (which some people consider to practically be South Alaska) to his not-so-humble abode. The two ladies currently on stage take a bow to acknowledge this kind gesture.

“Well, thank you so much for that rowdy ovation!” Melanie acknowledges. “So, Monique, I hear you have a special lift you’d like to attempt. Is that true?”

“It sure is! I will lift you up off the ground, place you on my back, and squat you for at least 20 reps. How does that sound!” Dylan can hear Peggy proclaim something unintelligible from backstage. It seems as though not even she was privy to what Monique had in store. Melanie acts surprised, but it’s clear she knew what the plan was all along.

“Hot damn! That sounds like quite a feat. You should probably take those lovely shoes off first, my dear.” Monique nods her head. One by one, she removes her heels and places them off to the side. She then does a little bit of stretching to get ready. Dylan doesn’t want to worry that she’ll reaggravate her injury, but he can’t help himself. The horrific scene at the Rio Olympics will forever be seared into his memory. How can anybody forget that? Just the image of the ambulance’s lights and the stretcher being carried out by a team of medics is enough to trigger traumatic feelings. Nevertheless, Dylan figures Monique wouldn’t do this (and Melanie wouldn’t have agreed to participate) unless she was confident that she could do it safely. This eases the tension somewhat.

“Good suggestion, girl. Can’t wait! I’m sure our audience can’t wait either.”

After stretching out her quads, bending down to touch her toes, and swinging her arms in a helicopter pattern for several seconds, it appears as though Miss St. Martin is ready to attempt her feat of strength. She takes a deep breath. Dylan holds his. Melanie loosens up by twisting her torso around in a circle. Monique quickly looks into Melanie’s eyes, then turns her head to look directly at Dylan. He still has not released his breath. The naughty smile on her beautiful face reassures him that she isn’t going to put herself in jeopardy. Finally, Monique bends her upper body toward Melanie, grabs her left knee with her right hand, places her left hand underneath Miss Wright’s armpit (Melanie kindly places her left arm around Monique’s back), and lifts Melanie off the ground. Dylan’s mouth drops agape. Now, Melanie is completely resting on top of Monique’s back. Melanie lets out a quiet gasp after she finds herself completely parallel to the ground. Monique has still not made any noise, as if this whole stunt were totally normal. As if she does this sort of thing all the bloody time.

“Alright, time to show you all how strong my quads are!” Monique brags. “Are you ready?” She receives no audible response from anyone.

And sure enough, she bends her knees almost all the way to the floor and powerfully lifts them back up. One rep. It looks as though she isn’t even breaking a sweat. And…Dylan must keep in mind that she’s doing this all in a dress! Then she proceeds to do two reps. Then three. Then four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight…

The entire time Peggy is screaming “Go girl, go!” from backstage. Dylan wants to join in on the raucous cheering, but something compels him to just sit there like a respectful audience member. It must be his Japanese heritage that forces him to be quiet when other people have the spotlight on them (metaphorically speaking). Nine reps. Ten reps, eleven reps, twelve reps, thirteen reps, fourteen reps – by now, Dylan’s concern for Monique’s safety has shifted toward being genuinely impressed by her strength, balance, and endurance – fifteen reps, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one (she promised at least twenty repetitions, so from this point on everything else is just gravy on top), twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four…

It’s obvious that Monique is finally getting tired. So, she’s human after all. She attempts one more rep and then decides to quit.

Twenty-five!

After achieving five more reps than her initial goal, Monique gently puts Melanie down to the floor, ensuring she doesn’t slip and fall. Melanie appears to be just fine. Monique is now dripping sweat, which is also a product of standing under these hot stage lights for several minutes. She gives her audience a bow, which prompts Dylan to respond with an enthusiastic standing ovation. It’s the only thing he can do to demonstrate his appreciation for her performance.

“Wow! That was quite a ride,” Melanie exclaims. “Unbelievable!”

“I hope you don’t get motion sickness easily…” Before Melanie could respond, Monique slides the straps on her dress off her shoulders, dropping the green piece of fabric to the floor. She kicks it aside. Wearing nothing but a bright white pair of lacy panties, the Olympic goddess gives Dylan a triumphant pose, lifting her fingers toward the heavens as if an angel delivered her onto this earth. Monique’s small, flat breasts are outshone by her remarkably wide areola and inch-long nipples, which are standing at full attention. Dylan could only imagine what it would be like to circle his tongue around her long, thick nipples.

Monique gives her audience one final bow before slowly exiting the stage through the curtain. She soaks up every minute of her allotted stage time. Melanie stays behind, pretending to fan herself with her right hand. “WOW! Well, that girl sure knows how to put on a good show, am I right?” Dylan verbally responds in agreement. “Not sure how I can follow that up, but I’ll try…”

The music continues to play, which Dylan almost forgets is still on. He’s too distracted by the shenanigans going on onstage to pay attention to the ambient noise. Still wearing her enormous fur coat, Melanie walks downstage from left to right, teasing her audience of one, forcing him to guess what’s about to happen next. “As you can probably tell, I am a woman of mystery. I don’t like to reveal too much about myself unless it becomes absolutely necessary. I suppose it’s a product of my life experience, of the paths I’ve had to cross over the years.” Expressing more melancholy emotions than expected, Dylan isn’t quite sure where Melanie is going with this. “But that’s about to change right now. You folks are in for a real treat. As you may or may not know, I am a professional female bodybuilder. I love women with big muscles, don’t you?”

“Oh hell yeah!” Peggy yells from offstage. Dylan cannot help but smirk at her eagerness. He decides to remain silent and let Melanie do her thing uninterrupted.

“Thank you, baby. I appreciate your enthusiasm,” Melanie quips. “Society isn’t always open to seeing a woman with big muscles. Some people say it’s gross, or unfeminine, or too masculine, or unnatural. They say a woman shouldn’t look like that. That looking like that will turn folks off to her. Ouch. What do I think of that, you may wonder? I say we need to ignore the haters. After all, what have they ever accomplished in their lives?”

“Nothing!” Monique shouts from behind the curtain. Melanie smiles.

“That’s for damn sure. But I don’t believe that. Not for a second. And if anyone out here tonight feels the same way, that a woman with big muscles can’t be sexy, desirable, and majestic, well, prepare to have your mind blown!”

And with that, Melanie takes off the fur coat, dropping it to the floor with more pomp and circumstance than is necessary. But none of that matters because of what is revealed to have been hidden underneath that coat: A world-class muscular physique. Dylan’s heart almost leaps out of his chest when he regards her. There she is, in her full glory, right on display underneath the bright lights, exactly how she’s meant to be seen. Wearing a cute pink sparkly competition bikini, Melanie stands tall and proud, ready to show off her decades of hard work. She flexes both biceps, making sure all 18 inches are seen in full view (in actuality, her right bicep is 18 inches while her left one is 17.75 inches, but who cares?). Melanie turns to the side and hardens her meaty triceps. So full, so thick, so meaty. Dylan is in a trance-like state at this point. He feels his erection straining against his underwear. Next, she turns away from the audience to showcase her broad back, wide shoulders, and round butt. Indeed, it’s a mystery how she can fit through doors. She’s as wide as a truck but as graceful as a figure skater. Finally, she turns around again, takes a deep breath, and bounces her quads. Nearly 30 inches in diameter, even for a top-level competitor, Melanie’s thighs are famous throughout the industry for their girth, fullness, and ability to “bounce” on command. Her muscle control is also famous among people who pay attention to these things. Dylan definitely knows this. Henry also knows this. Melanie definitely knows this and revels in it.

Melanie proceeds to show Dylan all the standard bodybuilding poses: abdominal and thigh, front double biceps, front lat spread, side chest, side triceps, rear lat spread, rear double biceps, and the classic “most muscular” pose (which basically means a final pose where you get to show off all your front muscles from top to bottom). She’s a real pro, which one can tell by how seamlessly she can transition from one pose to another. Going in a whole circle, she makes sure no inch of her immaculate body is left unseen. Dylan has seen Melanie’s body many times before – including fully nude, which he expects to see again later this evening – but this time it’s different. Perhaps it’s because he hasn’t seen her in a long time. Maybe it’s because of the dreary funk he’s been in during the past several weeks. But at this moment, in this exact moment in time, Melanie has never looked better. And he’s not sure he’s ever witnessed a more beautiful woman. This means something, considering Monique St. Martin was just on stage a few minutes earlier. Monique looks like a finely chiseled athlete. Melanie, on the other hand, looks like a beast. A monster. A giantess. She looks like she was carved out of stone. She cannot possibly be from this earth, but she is. She’s a real flesh-and-blood human being as far as anyone can tell. It could also be the lighting that’s doing the trick. Stage lighting (especially good stage lighting coordinated by a professional designer) can make any normal human being look…ethereal.

But Melanie is far from a normal human being, with or without the stage lights cascading onto her gorgeous body. She may not have Monique’s natural beauty, but Melanie’s flawless physique more than makes up for it. In fact, her physique makes her a one-of-a-kind, a once-in-a-generation athlete. There will never be another Melanie Wright ever again.

“So…do I have your attention now? Are you still unsure if a woman can still be sexy, curvy, feminine, and undeniably hot with all these big muscles?” Melanie asks these rhetorical questions without expecting an answer. She knows the answers already. Everyone in this room does. Especially her host sitting all by himself in the house. He knows better than anyone.

“I hope this was an educational experience for you all. This is proof, once and for all, that muscles don’t make a woman look like a man. They make her look more like a woman!” With that, she strikes a final pose (similar to the Broadway-style pose Monique did earlier) and waits for applause. Dylan and the two other ladies backstage are more than happy to give it to her. And they do with cheerful enthusiasm.

“Wow! Bravo! Well done! You are so magnificent, so beautiful!” Dylan bellows.

“Thank you darling. Thank you all!” Just as Melanie is about to leave the stage, Peggy barges on stage wearing the most ridiculous costume imaginable. Dressed like a Las Vegas showgirl, she has a bright red feather hat that must be at least three feet tall and five feet wide, a scarlet-colored bikini with shiny sequins all over it, and matching scarlet stiletto shoes. Peggy wears long silver gloves that go up to her elbows, gold hoop earrings, a diamond-encrusted necklace that Dylan hopes isn’t actually real (for the sake of accidentally losing it at the airport), and enough makeup to supply an army of Beverly Hills housewives. “Over the top” would be an understatement. Melanie giggles as she leaves the stage.

“Hi baby! How are ya’ll doing out there tonight?” Dylan whoops and hollers, which isn’t usually his style, but it feels right for the occasion. “I can feel the love in here, oh yes I can. For the finale of tonight’s entertainment, it seems like we need to add some spice in the air, don’t you agree?”

“Yeah!” Monique and Melanie shout in unison.

“And if you need to heat things up, I’m your gal. Now, you might be wondering what it is that I have in my hand here…” Peggy coyly asks. Dylan was so focused on her outfit that he completely didn’t notice that Peggy entered the stage carrying a long black object. What was it…?

“This, my darlings, is a little friend of mine. Or shall I say, a large friend of mine?” Dylan is finally able to see that Peggy is carrying around an enormous black dildo, probably anywhere between eight to 10 inches long. When Peggy ordered it from Amazon.com several months ago, the manufacturer said it was a solid 12 inches long. When she unboxed it and measured it, it turned out to have been about 10.5 inches. Sort of a case of false advertising, but Peggy was too lazy to return it and demand a refund. Instead, she kept it and added it to her collection of naughty paraphernalia. As a professional erotic webcam performer, Peggy Cole must constantly replenish her stock of sex toys so that her audience doesn’t get bored of her act. It’s both exhilarating and a chore, a contradiction Peggy embraces.

By now, Dylan sees Monique and Melanie reenter the stage by sneaking on from the right-hand side. They’re standing off to the side, just as curious as Dylan is as to what stunt Peggy has planned. “This thing here is a good friend of mine. We’ll call him Jerry. Now, Mr. Jerry and I are closely acquainted. He’s long, he’s thick, he’s hard as a rock, and he stays hard forever and ever. Now, you ladies can sure appreciate someone like that, am I right?” Monique and Melanie improvise words of approval. Between servicing Henry earlier today and eating the mouthwatering dinner Henry had prepared for the group, Peggy is in an especially erotic mood. Good food, good wine, good friends, and good cock are guaranteed to get her horny. Already dripping wet down there, Peggy prances around the stage until she decides to sit on the front edge. She licks the tip of the dildo as vivaciously as one could possibly lick a piece of lifeless polyvinyl chloride.

“Mr. Jerry wants to come out and play. I think that would be a wonderful idea, don’t you all agree?” Her mesmerized audience verbalizes their opinion on the matter. “I’m feeling really, really, really horny right now. Why? Well, because I’m always horny!” She laughs to herself. No one laughs back, but that doesn’t seem to stop Peggy from enjoying herself. “So to release this pent-up tension that’s inside me, I figured I should ask Mr. Jerry for assistance.”

Peggy spreads her legs out wide. She removes her bikini bottom with the poetic ease of an experienced professional striptease artist. Which makes sense considering that’s one of her side gigs. Then, she tosses it into the crowd, hoping it lands close to Dylan. It does. Dylan leans over to pick it up. Sure enough, it’s soaking wet. This makes him chuckle. But when he looks up, what he sees next takes his breath away. Little by little, inch by inch, Peggy inserts the comically large black dildo inside her vagina, moaning softly along the way. Nobody could tell if she’s faking it or not. The box says it’s 7 inches in circumference, which Peggy has surprisingly never bothered to measure. It takes a while, but at last, Peggy manages to stuff the entire thing inside her vagina, a feat that the other two ladies are witnesses with a combination of shock and disgust.

“Hot damn! Isn’t that painful?” Monique whispers to Melanie.

“Well, she doesn’t look to be in pain. But I hear you. Holy shit…” Melanie responds.

While it seems like Peggy is grimacing in pain, Dylan can see a genuine smile spread across her face. Finally, she begins to slide the dildo in and out of her moist entrance. It’s slow at first, then becomes quicker as she builds up more natural wetness. Peggy made sure to cover it with enough lube jelly to make this stunt as painless as possible. She considers herself to be a bona fide “size queen,” but at her age she needs a little bit of assistance. Especially when dealing with a brand-new dildo as large as this one. As she masturbates for her audience, Melanie and Monique slowly creep up closer to inspect Peggy’s performance.

“Oh, baby, oh yes. This is what mama likes. This is what I like, baby doll.”

Dylan cannot sit still in his chair. By now, he’s actually afraid he might come in his shorts. It wouldn’t be the first time. His penis is as hard as rock and desperate for release.

“You like this? Does this turn you on? It’s turning me on, that’s for damn sure,” Peggy whispers to anyone willing to listen. “I like it big and hard, like Mr. Jerry here. Ohhhhh, baby…” A veteran masturbator, Peggy has never used this particular dildo before in public. During her cam shows, she’ll use all sorts of sex toys on herself. Vibrators, bullets, wands, beads, butt plugs, sex machines, clit toys, you name it. If it’s out there, she’s done it in front of her high-definition 4K webcam. But this toy is one she was saving for a special moment.

“Oh God, I’m going to come! Right all over this fucking floor. Do you want to see that? Do you? Oh, I’m soooooooooooo fucking close!” Dylan knows what’s about to happen. He’s seen her do it on her shows, but never live in-person. So this should be a treat. He’s not sure if Monique and Melanie have any clue as to what’s about to happen…

“OH FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!”

Peggy quickly pulls the dildo out of her vagina, spreads her legs as wide as they can go, and squirts three large spurts of milky white fluid out of her urethra. It travels almost three feet in front of her, making a small mess on the carpet. But that’s the least of Dylan’s worries. Peggy screams at the top of her lungs, writhes around violently, then collapses onto her back. A few more shudders travel throughout her body as her orgasm subsides. It must’ve been a powerful one. Maybe one of the most powerful ones she’s ever experienced.

Monique and Melanie are stunned. Obviously, they had no idea what Peggy had up her sleeve!

Dylan falls to the floor, applauding like a madman who’s just listened to the London Symphony Orchestra perform the climax of Beethoven’s 9th. Instead, he just watched Peggy perform a different sort of climax, but one much wetter and messier. For anyone who watches Peggy Cole’s cam shows (Dylan and Henry know this very well), she is infamous for being a prolific ejaculator. She’s convinced that she’s the best in the world. Nobody in the porn industry can do it better than her. No guy, no gal, nobody. She can launch her female ejaculate farther than anyone else on planet Earth. She may not squirt as much volume of liquid as others, but in terms of distance traveled, Peggy Cole is peerless. Unmatched. Unchallengeable. Undisputed.

If you need scientific proof that “female ejaculation” is a real thing, go introduce yourself to Miss Peggy Cole. She’ll persuade you in an instant that yes, it is in fact a real thing.

After several moments of catching her breath, Peggy gets up and beckons the other two ladies to join her. She puts the dildo down on the floor, joins hands with her compatriots, and takes a theatrical bow to their appreciative audience. Dylan gives them a rousing standing ovation, thanking them for their splendid show. Monique’s eyes widen when she sees how far Peggy’s “girl cum” shot out.

“Holy shit, girl. What the fuck was that? Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn!”

“I have special talents that nobody else can match,” Peggy brags. Monique doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t need to. She agrees wholeheartedly.

“Thank you for attending tonight’s performance! Don’t forget to tip your waitress. Drive home safe,” Melanie announces. Dylan stops clapping and runs toward his three guests. Monique jumps off the stage and gives him a warm embrace. Peggy kisses him all over his face, not letting him get a word in. Meanwhile, Melanie is inspecting the mess Miss Cole left behind.

“Sweet Jesus,” she mutters to no one. The milky white fluid on the floor looks like someone spilled a bottle of hand soap everywhere.

The music is still playing. The lights are still shining. And the evening has just gotten started. Dylan looks up at a nearby wall clock and sees it’s currently 8:49 p.m. The night is still young!

“Wonderful, ladies. Splendid. Holy shit, you surprised me. I didn’t know what to expect. But what I got was better than I could’ve imagined.” Dylan kisses Melanie on the cheek. She kisses him back on the lips. Her kiss is deeper and more meaningful than their first kiss. He knows it. Peggy and Monique know it. Everyone knows it.

“The show isn’t over yet. Are you in the mood for an encore?” Melanie unbuttons the top of Dylan’s shirt, then kisses his neck. Peggy growls. Monique can only stare in silence. Without needing to say a single word, Melanie grabs Dylan by his wrist and leads him toward the exit.

“We’ll see you two later. Bye!” Melanie says as she and Dylan leave the room.

Nobody moves for a moment. Finally, Monique turns to Peggy with an exasperated look on her face.

“Seriously, though. How the fuck did you do that?”

As they tidy up the room for the next few minutes, Peggy cannot stop laughing. Neither can Monique.

All the King’s Queens – Chapter 5: Meet and Greet

No matter how many hundreds of times Dylan has invited a female bodybuilder over to his home, he always gets butterflies in the stomach right before she arrives.

For the first time ever, he’s hosting three beautiful ladies all at once, which only adds layers upon layers to his current state of anxiety.

Before becoming a social pariah, Dylan frequently hosted dinner parties with high-level Perseus Analytics executives, lawmakers, media personalities, celebrities, athletes, and friends (the ones who didn’t object to his work with the U.S. military and government). But since then, these kinds of gatherings have become few and far between. In his estimation, which Lawrence confirmed recently, his last dinner party was more than a year ago. He was celebrating his older brother’s 40th birthday party with nearly three dozen guests – his parents and three surviving grandparents among them. Nothing too crazy happened (he comes from a Japanese-American family, so the bar for “craziness” is set pretty low) and it was a nice reminder of a time when life seemed normal. For Dylan, those days are getting further and further away. There was no talk about his past scandals, dead civilians in the Middle Eastern, or controversial government contracts. It was great.

Right now, Dylan is pacing around his living room, pretending to be looking at a picture book sitting on the coffee table. The photographs of boathouses in Maine, beaches in the Florida Keys, and horse stables in Utah are pretty to look at – but he’s not interested in them at the moment. Dylan estimates he’s burned at least 500 calories just pacing back and forth. Perhaps this should be the start of a new workout routine.

For security reasons, non-employees aren’t allowed to bypass the front gate without requesting access. There’s a callbox right outside the gate that visitors can use to communicate to someone on the inside. There are transistor radios strategically placed throughout the house, with a security room located on the second floor. This makes it easy for Dylan or Lawrence to speak to and let in visitors. Once the gate has been opened, they can go park on the driveway. Lawrence, Henry, and Joey have their own keycards so that they can come and go as they please. Uber/Lyft and taxicab drivers must instead drop off their passengers at a nearby public park (a dog park that’s mostly used for pooping and scooping purposes) and either walk up to the gate to request permission to enter or wait for Lawrence to personally escort them to the house. It’s rather bothersome when a large number of guests come over, but that’s the way it is. Being a billionaire has its drawbacks (in addition to a few perks). The dog park runs along several blocks of 43rd Avenue, with Dylan’s home located at the end of Winchester Drive.

“I just got a text from Miss Wright. Her driver is about a mile away from here. I’ll pick her up shortly,” Lawrence informs his boss. Still pacing around the living room, Dylan turns toward his loyal butler and smiles.

“Thanks Lawrence. I’m guessing Monique shouldn’t be too far behind,” Dylan says. “We’re expecting Peggy to be the last to arrive, yes?”

“That is correct, sir. She’s estimated to arrive shortly before dinner.” Lawrence knows his boss is nervous as hell. It’s obvious to anyone observing his behavior. The butler usually ignores this and pretends like everything is normal. He hopes this sense of “normalcy” will help put Mr. Tanaka’s mind at ease.

“Great. Thanks. Go ahead and wait for Melanie to arrive.” With that, Lawrence turns around and walks to the garage. Dylan finally sits down to calm his nerves. He doesn’t know why, but he feels an extra amount of anxiety at the moment. Which is perplexing, considering how excited he should be feeling instead. He’s about to spend quality time with three of the most beautiful women he’s ever met. This opportunity doesn’t present itself all the time. Perhaps that’s why he’s feeling so anxious.

He looks at the living room liquor cabinet, eyeing an unopened bottle of Glenlivet 25.

“Is it too early to drink?” Dylan asks himself. He looks at his watch. The time is 1:38 p.m. A single drop of sweat rolls down his cheek. His pulse is racing. He’s out of breath, even though he hasn’t been running.

“No, it’s not.”

***

Five minutes later, Lawrence is sitting in his red 2019 Toyota Avalon right next to the dog park, listening to the radio. At first he was listening to some random bozo complain about the Seattle Mariners bullpen. Was Henry complaining about that earlier this morning? Lawrence thinks so. Now, he’s listening to some Ariana Grande song. Lawrence has vaguely heard of her. He’s pretty sure she’s young enough to be his daughter.

Or granddaughter. Who knows?

Buzzzzzzzzz!

Lawrence’s phone starts to buzz, indicating an incoming text message. He checks it. Sure enough, it’s from Miss Wright. It reads:

“Hi Lawrence sweetie! I’m here. What are you driving?”

Before he can respond, Lawrence notices in the rearview mirror the figure of a large, shapely woman wearing a sleeveless blue polo shirt, white skinny jeans (which leave no doubt that she never skips leg day), and black platform boots. It would be difficult not to see her. She appears to be walking toward the car but still looking around for her ride. Just as she comes a bit closer, Lawrence lightly taps on the horn to alert her to his presence. She immediately spots the Avalon just ahead of her. The butler pops open the passenger side door.

“Greets, Miss Wright. How was your flight over here?” Keeping his composure and professionalism, Lawrence tries his hardest not to stare too long at Melanie’s broad shoulders, bulging biceps, or massive quads. He may not share the same “tastes” as his boss, but Lawrence knows a beautiful woman when he sees one. Even if she’s “non-traditional.” And he is without question in the presence of one fine looking lady.

“It was fine, just any other flight,” Melanie says while stuffing her luggage in the back seat. “I landed safely and didn’t get motion sickness, so that’s a bonus!” One disadvantage of being such a large woman is that it can be incredibly difficult for Melanie to get into cars. Her enormous frame forces her to uncomfortably contort herself as she bends over, enters the vehicle, sits down, and pulls the seatbelt over her massive torso. It stretches to its furthest limit.

“Indeed it is. It’s a blessing to be alive.” After managing to buckle her seatbelt, Lawrence starts the engine and drives toward his boss’s property. Twenty seconds later, his phone starts to buzz again. He pulls to the side of the road to check it. “That might be Miss St. Martin. She’s supposed to arrive shortly after you. But I wasn’t expecting her to arrive quite this soon.”

“I love that girl! I’m excited to see her again. It’s been forever.” Melanie takes out a pocket makeup mirror to see if her eyeliner needs to be touched up. It doesn’t. She puts the mirror away back in her handbag.

With the engine running, Lawrence gets out of the car to look for Monique St. Martin’s cab. In the distance, he sees one approaching the park from the south end. Not one to make a spectacle of himself, he waves his arms in the air (like he just doesn’t care) to catch the driver’s attention. It obviously works, as the taxi makes a hard right turn toward the red Avalon.

“Indeed it is her,” Lawrence informs Melanie. She looks up and sighs.

“I hope she’s doing okay. My heart still aches for her after what happened.” Like Dylan, Melanie couldn’t help but shed lots of tears as she watched that poor girl get carried out of that stadium on a stretcher. It didn’t help that the NBC camera crew kept focusing on Monique’s distraught coach weeping at her side. The esteemed television network received harsh public backlash from their coverage, which was labeled “exploitative” and “insensitive” by critics. To their credit, they later apologized.

A yellow taxicab stops thirty feet away from Lawrence and Melanie. The back-passenger side door opens, with a single supple leg stepping onto the pavement. Wearing a long-sleeved white t-shirt and tight-fitting jean shorts, Monique is also unafraid to wear clothing that generously shows off her fit, athletic body. While not nearly as muscular as Melanie, Monique still stands out in a crowd. Her sturdy body is hard to miss, with curves layered upon curves. Wherever she goes, she turns heads. All the time. She’s allowed her fluffy black hair to drape all over her scalp. As Lawrence tips the driver (in addition to the payment he’s already receiving automatically from Mr. Tanaka), Monique and Melanie embrace like two old friends who haven’t seen each other in ages.

“Girl! It’s so good to see you again!” Melanie has, for quite some time, become a surrogate “auntie” to Monique. After her accident at the Olympics, Melanie called and texted her every single day until her rehab was finished. Even after that, she still contacted her on a weekly basis to check in on her progress. Monique feels indebted to her. They met through Dylan, though their paths could have still crossed without him being in the picture.

“I’m doing great. There’s so much to talk about, trust me!” Monique says. After stuffing her luggage on top of Melanie’s suitcase in the back seat, the three of them are finally able to depart for Mr. Tanaka’s home. Lawrence doesn’t expect Miss Cole to arrive for at least a couple hours. He still has his phone handy though, in case the unexpected were to happen. One can never assume anything anymore.

A random jogger stops running to see what the commotion is all about. It’s quite unusual for this much activity to transpire in this quiet neighborhood. The sight of two gorgeous women with big muscles hugging on the sidewalk nearly makes him run into a mailbox.

Luckily for him, he doesn’t.

The black girl is short but sturdily built. She’s gorgeous as a supermodel and as fit as an Olympic athlete (which, unbeknownst to the jogger, she actually is). The other lady, however, is taller but much bulkier. Much, much bulkier. At least, he thinks she’s a “she.” There isn’t a chance that she could be a man in disguise, right? Or someone who used to be a man but is now a woman? What’s the proper term for that these days? As the two ladies enter the car, he can only stare impolitely and think such politically incorrect thoughts.

“What the fuck is going on here?” the jogger wonders aloud. “God damn…”

As the red Avalon drives off to the far end of the cul-de-sac, the jogger looks down and sees his erection straining against his gym shorts. There’s no hiding it. A little old lady sitting on a nearby park bench feeding some squirrels gives him a look of profound disapproval.

“Whoops.”

***

“DYLAN! It’s so good to see you again!” Melanie screeches with delight.

Embracing in the foyer, Dylan tries to wrap his arms around Melanie’s thick torso but fails to do so all the way. A testament to her substantial girth, Dylan cannot help but notice her new breast implants. Peggy Cole is still the Queen of Comically Oversized Boobs (she’s currently a 40FF, which is as eye-popping as you might expect), but Melanie has enhanced herself quite beautifully. But it still makes hugging her a challenge.

“Hi darling! It’s great to see you again too.” Dylan kisses her on the cheek. “I love what you’ve done with your hair! It looks fabulous.”

Once she turned 50, Melanie decided it was time to stop coloring her hair to remove the grey. Three years later, she’s fully embraced the white streaks complementing her dark brown locks. Standing at 5’ 10” and weighing 215 pounds, Melanie is a force to be reckoned with. Her statuesque figure and dazzling chiseled muscles make her stand out even amongst her bodybuilding peers. Famous for her enormous biceps, triceps, forearms, and quads, Melanie figures her hair is the last thing people will notice about her. She’s not wrong about that.

“I’ve finally decided to stop trying to be younger than I am,” Melanie says. “After all, with muscles like this who gives a shit what anybody thinks?” She strikes a double biceps pose, showing off her impressive guns. It steals Dylan’s breath away. Unable to control himself, he reaches out and places his fingers onto her hardened flesh. He squeezes her 18-inch bicep, focusing on the hardened peak at the top that very few female bodybuilders can say they have. It’s like she has muscle piled on top of other muscles. Dylan temporarily forgets that anyone else is in the room with him.

From a short distance away, Monique cannot help but laugh. “God damn! Wow, we’re starting the party early. Hey, don’t forget about me now.”

Dylan turns around to see Monique standing in the doorway. She bites her lower lip suggestively. Lawrence has already taken everyone’s luggage upstairs to the guest bedrooms. “My dear, my beautiful Monique. There’s no way I’d forget you! Come here.”

Monique picks up Dylan with her embrace, engulfing him into her warm body. Monique is smaller than Melanie (she’s 5’ 7” and 189 pounds) but she’s built like a World War II tank. Her legs could move mountains. Her calves are as large as most women’s thighs. Her six-pack abdomen looks and feels like small stones glued to her tummy in a symmetrical pattern. Dylan bets he could scrub his dirty clothes on them.

“Hello baby.” Her sweet smile sends his heart fluttering.

“I’m glad the two of you showed up together. That’s one fewer trip Lawrence needs to make.” Dylan kisses Monique’s cheek. Her distinct musky smell is like sweet perfume to Dylan’s senses. He could smell it all day and never grow tired of it. “I’m sure you’re both feeling a bit jet-lagged, perhaps?”

“I’m doing okay. I travel a lot, so I’m used to air travel.” Melanie points out. She looks at a marble statue of an Amazonian warrior sitting atop a stone pedestal. Not wanting to touch it out of fear of accidentally chipping this priceless piece of art, she marvels at its artistry instead from afar. This happens to be one of many artistic masterpieces he has in his collection. The others are located throughout the house and downstairs in a storage room. “Some little kid at the airport asked his mommy if I was a boy or a girl.”

“Oh my!” Dylan remarks. “I sure hope you didn’t feel the need to prove anything definitively!”

Melanie and Monique both laugh. “Ha, no. That wasn’t a problem,” Melanie reassures him. “It goes to show that you still don’t see women built like us out and about every day. I think I turned his world upside down today. He’ll probably never forget it as long as he lives.”

“I have no doubt you did,” Dylan approaches her, peering into Melanie’s dark green eyes. “You certainly turn my world upside down, even at this very moment.”

Dylan and Melanie share a long, deep kiss. Monique awkwardly tries to look away but cannot help but feel a sense of pride that Dylan, a man who’s stood by her through thick and through thin, can guiltlessly enjoy his life even for a brief moment in time. Dylan and Melanie are good people, even if the rest of the world doesn’t agree.

“Oh, get a room you two!” Monique playfully taps Dylan on his behind. This makes him gasp.

“We will!” Melanie devilishly declares. “Later tonight, we will.” She reaches down and strokes Dylan’s pulsating groin. It’s been a long time a woman has touched him like this, a fact that both Melanie and Monique know full well.

Dylan’s heart doesn’t stop mid-beat, but it might as well have. The wicked grin Melanie gives him reveals her intentions unambiguously.

Before this evening is over, they will make love.

***

Looking at himself in the mirror, Stephen Callahan suddenly realizes he’s living out a tired old Hollywood cliché. He’s the dastardly villain who’s looking at himself in the mirror before committing an evil act, wondering if a little bit of his soul will perish upon doing so. Or whether his soul already has. Not one to usually sympathize with history’s wicked men, Stephen is under no pretense that he’s a flawless human being who’s been wronged by powers beyond his control. He is a victim, yes, but he is not without blame himself. And, he can choose not to do this. He can still call it off if he wants to. There’s still time. They haven’t done anything illegal yet (at least nothing that they’d be caught doing). However, he has no intentions to abort the mission. It’s still on. Does that make him a complicated villain?

Perhaps.

“You’re about to burn the bacon, goddamn!” Xander yells at Roddy from the kitchen. Stephen was under the impression that it was Cortez’s turn to cook for the group (Xander prepared lunch), but that assumption is obviously wrong. “Do I have to do everything around here? Holy shit, dude.”

“Shut the fuck up!” Roddy fires back. “Don’t tell me what to do, motherfucker!”

“Come on, guys! Don’t get into a petty fight about goddamn bacon,” Thomas scolds them. “Seriously. Cut it out. Now.” This brings a smile to Stephen’s face. He’s glad Thomas has taken on a larger leadership role within the team. It was getting exhausting to do it all himself. While everyone in this outfit is a professional crook with a substantial résumé, that doesn’t mean everyone is going to get along at all times.

“Sorry,” Xander and Roddy reply almost simultaneously. The bacon does smell burnt, but Thomas decides not to say anything about it. Xander backs off to give Roddy some space. Thomas smiles. Cortez is nowhere to be seen.

Stephen is not a fool. He knows the chances of today’s score being 100% successful isn’t guaranteed. Not by a long shot. Even though they’ll be well-armed – combined with Dylan’s lack of stringent security systems outside of a tall gate, a few security cameras hidden here and there, and the possibility that Lawrence the butler may be carrying a concealed firearm – anything can go wrong. That’s one difficult lesson Stephen has taken to heart in recent years. Even Stephen’s plan to temporarily disable his security systems isn’t guaranteed to work. It should, though. But always expect the unexpected.

This is why Stephen has a secret back-up plan. It’s so secret, he’s the only one who knows about it. His compatriots have no idea about it. And they never will unless they have to find out about it.

Several months ago, Stephen’s first robbery after being released from prison was at a local hospital. He snuck through the back of St. Mary’s Cancer Research Institute and entered the building by paying off a security guard with a wad of $100 bills. The guard was near retirement as it was, so he had nothing to lose. Once inside, Stephen and another man (who was too busy to work on this particular job) went to the radiology wing of the hospital. Disguised as maintenance workers, they stole a portable x-ray imaging machine – which is the size of a typical backyard grill – and left the premises without being harassed by anyone. They passed by about a dozen people, who didn’t seem to suspect anything nefarious was going on. He and his partner looked official, acted calm, and seemed like they belonged there. Two people dressed like technicians carrying a piece of equipment didn’t ring any alarm bells, both literal and figurative. It was one of the easiest scores both men have ever been a part of. In and out, just like that. They stuffed the machine carefully in the back of an unmarked van and casually drove off into the proverbial sunset. Stephen has never bothered to check whether or not the security guard they paid off was ever discovered or reprimanded. He also has no idea if the stolen x-ray machine caused a stir over there.

X-ray machines are useful for developing weapons because of the radioactive material found inside them. There’s a damn good reason why you wear a lead apron before getting pictures of your bones or internal organs taken. Long story short, afterward Stephen reached out to an expert chemist (who was a member of the controversial Weather Underground during the late 1960s) who had plenty of spare explosive materiel on hand and absolutely no love for coldblooded warmongering corporate assholes like Dylan Tanaka. For a modest fee, this gentleman reconfigured the x-ray machine to Stephen’s specifications. It took several weeks for him to finish this project, but he eventually got it done. Of course, there’s no way for Stephen or his bombmaker to test it, so there’s an element of faith at play here that the contraption won’t be a dud. However, given this man’s track record, Stephen has every reason to believe that it will work beautifully – though he hopes it doesn’t have to come down to that.

Today, what was once a device about the size of a gas-powered grill can now fit inside a backpack. It’s fitted with a timer that can be set at the most 48 hours ahead. That backpack is now sitting atop Stephen’s bed across the hallway, looking as innocent as a backpack can possibly look.

That’s why Stephen is looking at himself in the mirror and experiencing a momentary existential crisis. This is why he can’t be bothered with whatever arguments are happening elsewhere in the safehouse.

Because inside that backpack is Plan B just in case Plan A doesn’t work or gets derailed unexpectedly. If he can’t win, nobody can win. It’s that simple. It’s a device Thomas, Xander, Roddy, and Cortez have no idea exists because this is Stephen’s ace up his sleeve. His “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” contingency plan. The rabbit he can pull out of his hat.

A dirty bomb.

***

An hour later, Dylan and his two guests are drinking margaritas in his spacious living room. Hearty laughter fills the air, a joyous noise that hasn’t been heard inside this household in a long time. Whatever nervousness Dylan felt earlier today is now completely gone. He’s finally relaxed and able to be himself for once. From a distance, Lawrence feels happy for his boss. This truly is one of the few times Dylan seems happy. While he doesn’t share his boss’s love for muscular women, he approves of him doing whatever brings him joy. After reading a short but crude text on his phone, he enters with a grand announcement.

“Miss Cole has arrived, sir.” And she certainly has, uh, an unusual communication style, Lawrence notes to himself.

Melanie and Monique’s eyes get wide. Dylan stands up, with his two guests following suit.

“Fantastic! Now we’re all here,” Dylan pronounces. All three hurry to the front door as quickly as they can.

Standing in the middle of the spacious foyer, Peggy admires the décor. She cannot remember the last time she came over, but it certainly was before Dylan’s legal troubles. Before she can take off her aviator shades, Melanie and Monique bust through the side of the hallway, sprinting as fast as they can toward her.

“Peggy! You’re here!” Melanie screams. She embraces Peggy as tightly as she can, lifting her off the ground. Melanie clearly takes every opportunity she can to showcase her impressive strength. When Peggy’s heels touch the floor, they make a loud double CLICK sound. “Excuse me baby girl, I may be a bit drunk already.”

“Damn girl! I need whatever you’re having because you’re thick AS FUCK! Damn woman!” Peggy pinches Melanie’s enormous biceps, admiring both their sheer size and vascularity. Peggy’s sexual orientation is “all over the map” (in her own words), so her admiration of Melanie’s body isn’t just professional. Suffice to say she’s quite appreciative of beautiful looking people of all gender identities. “I need to stretch out my legs, that plane ride doesn’t get any shorter. Then, I need a drink. Pronto!”

Dylan enters the foyer as meekly as a church mouse. He pauses a moment to take it all in. Right before his very eyes, standing in his own home, are three gorgeous strong women. It certainly wasn’t planned this way, but he cannot help but admire the diversity of his three guests: Melanie is tall, powerful, authoritative, and massive in size. Peggy is short (a modest 5’ 4”), squat, muscular (though not nearly as bulky as Melanie), and surgically enhanced in all sorts of places (her enormous boobs are the most obvious, but there are plenty of places that are not-so-obvious). Monique is slim, sturdy, curvy, strikingly beautiful, and possesses the picture-perfect “athlete’s body.” Melanie gives off “motherly” vibes. Peggy is a pure hedonist. Monique is calm, focused, goal-oriented, and determined. Melanie’s skin has a pale golden complexion that allows her muscles to shine. Peggy’s light brown caramel tone comes directly from her Peruvian side. Monique’s rich dark black skin is just as silky smooth to the touch as it looks from a distance. Dylan’s gaze cannot focus on any single one of his guests because all three present a feast for the eyes. This may be a few margaritas talking, but in this moment, he thinks they are the three most beautiful women on the planet. Nobody comes close.

“Hello Peggy. Welcome to my humble abode.”

As if time had suddenly stood still, Peggy’s eyes zero in on Dylan’s. Having perfected the art of the “sexy walk,” she saunters over to her host with the sultry confidence of a Brazilian supermodel. She and Dylan embrace. Her considerable chest makes it difficult to lean over to kiss her, but Dylan successfully does so by craning his neck as forward as he possibly can. It’s a miracle he doesn’t suffer any neck strain.

“It’s good to see you again, baby…” Peggy whispers in Dylan’s ear, causing the hairs on the back of his head to stand at attention. Dylan tries to contain his composure, which becomes even more difficult after Peggy lightly strokes his groin. “I have a special treat for you that I’ll show you later tonight!”

Dylan’s eyes widen. Melanie and Monique lean in with curiosity. Peggy, as usual, loves an attentive audience.

“Is that so? I’m intrigued.”

“Me too!” Monique chimes in.

“And I,” adds Melanie.

“Well, it looks like I’ve set expectations pretty damn high!” Peggy releases her grip from Dylan’s groin. She looks up at a remarkably beautiful 128-light candle-style tiered chandelier hanging from the ceiling. “Mother of God. Is that new? I don’t remember seeing that last time. Holy shit! Dylan baby, you know how to live the high life!”

Dylan tries to display modesty but cannot do so convincingly. “To answer your question, it is new. I had it installed last year. And yeah, I certainly do. Just because I’m holed up in here for the rest of my life doesn’t mean I can’t have nice things on the inside. You know how that is.”

An awkward silence ensues. Peggy’s gaze shifts from the chandelier – which cost Dylan more than $50,000 to have specially made, shipped, and installed by a team of expert interior decorators – to Dylan’s somber eyes. She knows he’s not literally trapped like a rat in his own house, but the sentiment has been conveyed loud and clear. He doesn’t have much of a social life. Weekends like this are all he has now. This makes it even more critical that this be a weekend to remember.

“Not exactly, but I can imagine,” Peggy rubs Dylan’s shoulders. “Still, I think you’re going to love this, uh, special treat I have in store for you. The two of you as well.”

Melanie and Monique nod along in agreement. Dylan and Peggy kiss once more. No one feels the need to say anything else.

“Ahem,” Lawrence interrupts them. For who knows how long, the butler is standing in the doorway leading to the dining room. Dylan’s faithful domestic employee found the time to change into a black tuxedo between breakfast this morning and this present moment. He was probably wearing the tux right before picking everyone up, but Dylan was in no mental state to notice or care. But right now, he looks urbane. He definitely respects decorum. “I have just been informed by Mr. Jameson that dinner is ready. And the dining table has already been set.”

“Henry’s last name is Jameson? I didn’t know that!” Peggy says. A naughty thought suddenly crosses her mind. She grins, hoping nobody notices.

“Indeed, it is, ma’am,” Lawrence answers. He turns around and promptly exits.

“Fantastic!” Dylan claps his hands in excitement. “Let’s eat. I’m starving.”

“As am I!” Monique declares. Melanie silently nods.

Just by luck, the grandfather clock sitting in the foyer rings six times, indicating it is now 6:00 p.m. on the dot. Henry’s ability to finish dinner on time is impeccable, yet another reason why Dylan keeps him around and will continue to keep him around. As Dylan and his guests scurry off to the dining room, Peggy breaks off from the main group and makes a beeline toward the kitchen.

“Speaking of Mr. Jameson, I’d like to poke my head in and say hi! Don’t mind me.” She scurries off to the kitchen. Dylan, Melanie, and Monique don’t think much of it. Then, Dylan decides they should go down to the wine cellar to pick out a few bottles for dinner – and afterward.

“I have a grand idea. Let’s go downstairs to the basement.”

“Why?” Monique asks, her tummy growling.

“I have a wine cellar down there. Let’s go select what we’re going to drink tonight. Have you seen it before?”

“No, but that sounds lovely. I’m not supposed to drink too often, but this weekend is an exception, for obvious reasons,” Monique says.

“It should be the most memorable weekend of our lives,” Melanie promises. She takes Dylan’s warm hand and leads them on. “Mark my words.”

All the King’s Queens – Chapter 4: The Guests of Honor

With a small suitcase packed and ready to go sitting near the front door, Monique takes one final look at herself in the bathroom mirror before heralding an Uber to go to the airport. Esmerelda, her four-year-old fluffy orange cat, jumps onto the toilet next to her, purring as loudly as a motorcycle cruising down the highway.

“Mama has to catch a flight soon to visit some friends,” she says to Esmerelda, lightly patting her head. “When I get back we’ll snuggle on the couch. Which should be tomorrow night!”

Esmerelda looks at her mother, quickly peers out the window after a gentle breeze lets itself in, and hops off the toilet. She scoots away to the laundry room, looking for a warm clean pile of socks to sleep in. Sadly, she will be disappointed that laundry day isn’t until Tuesday.

“Silly girl.” Monique shakes her head. Esmerelda chooses a dirty pile of clothes to sit on instead.

Monique St. Martin lives with her boyfriend in a crammed one-bedroom apartment in downtown Miami. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is more than a year away (14 months, to be exact), but that doesn’t mean she isn’t hard at work training for the biggest athletic competition of her life. After her horrific injury at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics where she suffered a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) in her left elbow after attempting the clean and jerk, doctors told her she’d need surgery and at least two years of rehabilitation work before she can even attempt such a lift again. One Boston-based surgeon she visited told her she probably should never attempt the clean and jerk ever again out of fear she may reaggravate the injury. But Monique knew 2020 would be her best – and most likely final – shot at winning a medal at the Olympics. She’s “on the bubble” as it is, with younger and younger athletes emerging who are so much stronger than she is. The powers-that-be at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee says she’s basically guaranteed a spot at Tokyo but nothing beyond that.

Therefore, she’s in it to win it next year, the consequences be damned. If she does reinjure herself, Monique is confident she’ll have no regrets. Not trying will haunt her much more than trying and failing.

Before all of this happened, Monique met Dylan Tanaka by accident. Prior to becoming an Olympic athlete, during her junior year in college she scored a coveted internship at Perseus Analytics in their data modeling department. One day, Dylan paid a random visit to their Miami-based office to check on how everyone was doing. By a stroke of fate, she shook hands with Mr. Tanaka after her boss delivered a brief presentation on their progress on a supply chain modeling project. He remarked at how impressed he was at her grip strength. She casually said she’s currently training for the 2012 London Olympics. Like magic, his eyes lit up. He smiled at her and whispered in her ear “I’ll be in touch.”

And with that, he left the building and got back in his private helicopter to fly up to New York City to meet with PA’s east coast headquarters.

At first, Monique didn’t know what to think. Is the boss hitting on me? An intern? How crazy is that? she thought to herself. He wasn’t creepy (and Monique has encountered her fair share of creepy guys in her life) or seemed like he had bad intentions. In fact, he came off as warm, gentle, and caring. After a few weeks, she forgot about the whole incident. About a month later, she received an email from Mr. Tanaka himself inviting her to lunch. After picking up her jaw from the proverbial floor, she nervously but excitedly said yes. One week later, she and Dylan were enjoying blackened salmon Caesar salad, crab chowder, and toasted garlic breadsticks alone in a private dining room atop the Panorama Tower in Downtown Miami. After requesting that what they discuss not leave this room, Dylan revealed a secret interest in strong, athletic women.

“For whatever reason, I just really admire women who break the traditional mold. Women who are driven to win, who love being strong and athletic,” Dylan tells her. “I see those qualities in you, Miss St. Martin.” His kind eyes peered into her soul. Same as before, Monique did not feel uncomfortable having lunch with the CEO of the company. Her nervousness went away the moment they started chatting.

“Thank you, Mr. Tanaka!” Monique blushes. She can only stare at the last breadstick, which was getting colder by the minute.

“This will sound so ridiculously clichéd, but please call me Dylan,” he instructs her. She silently nods her head. He smiles back. “So, I have a modest proposition for you, since you appear to be striving toward competing in London next year…”

Dylan proceeded to offer Monique the opportunity to be sponsored by him. He’ll wire her $5,000 per month into a private bank account that he’ll create for her. This will be enough to cover the cost of her training, dieting, coaching, supplementation, and travel expenses. The only catch being that she must keep this business relationship a secret, even from close friends and family. Dylan admits his “secret admiration” for female athletes could harm his reputation if revealed to the public, a sentiment that Monique understood completely. She had lost count of how many times random guys have told her they “dig her muscles” in hushed tones, as if they were afraid someone would hear them say it out loud. She knows men like her muscles but cannot express that admiration publicly. It’s understandable why Dylan Tanaka would feel the same way. He’s not just the CEO. He’s a mini-celebrity. His public profile is much different than a random dude jogging on the treadmill at the gym.

From then on, Monique and Dylan formed an unusual friendship. They were rarely in geographic proximity to each other but always found time to chat on the phone or talk via teleconferencing. He would ask about her progress and Monique would gladly update him on what she’s been up to. After graduation, Monique decided to go into business for herself by becoming an Olympic-style personal trainer – while training for the Olympics herself! Most of her clients were high school and college students training for their sports teams. She learned a lot about running her own business from a nice couple who runs the gym she regularly attends. They taught her everything she knows. It isn’t always glamorous but it’s honest work. No offense to Mr. Tanaka – er, Dylan – but working in an office all day bored the hell out of Monique. She’d rather be on her feet and actually do stuff instead of sitting at a desk and stare at a computer screen for eight hours.

Dylan said if at any time she ever felt uncomfortable by his relationship with her, she could cut it off without any penalty. The money would eventually stop coming in (of course) but he wouldn’t launch any legal or personal vendetta against her. Monique always smiled and insisted she was perfectly happy with her friendship with him. Thus, their friendship-from-a-distance continued with no issues…and all in secret.

Unfortunately for Monique, a year later she did not even qualify for the London Games. She was disappointed, but not devastated. The same goes for Dylan. Despite her failure to earn a roster spot on the Olympic team, Dylan still offered to sponsor her for the next four years in preparation for 2016. Monique thanked him for his generosity. Even throughout the scandal, federal investigation, trial, and media circus that wore Dylan down to a nub, he still deposited that $5,000 into her account without pause. His fierce loyalty endeared him to her.

Then 2016 arrived. She qualified for Team USA! Dylan was ecstatic. So was she. Most experts didn’t think Monique would win a medal, but she did have an off chance of earning a bronze if everything went her way.

Sigh. As it turns out, things did not go her way.

Not only did she tear her UCL on live television, the heavy bar fell on her neck, fracturing four of her vertebrae. She was lucky she wasn’t paralyzed from the accident. As she lay there on the floor, screaming in pain and crying tears of agony as emergency medical personnel attended to her, Dylan sat on his couch thousands of miles away in stunned silence. Tears also formed in his eyes. Eventually, as an ambulance with ominous red flashing lights rushed into the stadium, Dylan couldn’t handle it anymore and had to turn off the TV. He sat there all night, unable to get up. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t do anything but think about Monique, a beautiful and intelligent young lady whose physical pain is outweighed by her emotional pain. During the following months, Monique spent a lot of time in hospitals between multiple surgeries and consultations with physicians about the future of her Olympic aspirations. Many told her she should quit. She refused to let her dreams die like that. If she’s going to go down, she’ll give it her all.

Dylan wisely kept his distance from her. They stopped talking to each other for long periods of time. But he still deposited that $5,000 into her account. Like clockwork. During a time of uncertainty, he felt like the one thing she needed most was certainty.

He was that certainty.

As she finishes reflecting on her past, Monique quickly touches up her eyeliner before heading out. She takes her phone out of her pocket and hails the Uber. It says it should be here in less than five minutes. Just enough time to turn off all the lights, lock up, and take the elevator downstairs.

Jake, her boyfriend, is currently at work. He’s a civil engineer for the City of Miami. She already kissed him goodbye earlier this morning. Even though it’s a Saturday, the city is attempting to close a major highway for construction next month, meaning structural engineers like Jake are having to work 60-hours a week in preparation for it. So only the cat is around. Which may be a good thing because she and Jake aren’t on the best of terms at the moment.

“You be good, Esmerelda,” Monique says to the feline.

“Meeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrr,” she responds back.

“I thought so!”

Jake knows that his girlfriend has a long-time friendship with a rich billionaire who has a secret fetish for strong muscular women. Dylan’s friendship with Monique predates their relationship. He says he doesn’t care what they do together as long as they don’t have sex. Monique has strong reasons to believe he’s lying about that. However, that’s not something she wants to think about right now. Her current priority is to dally off to the west coast to see Dylan, Peggy, and Melanie for the weekend. Whatever happens will happen. She’ll try to have the time of her life.

She may even break the longstanding “limitations” she has with Dylan. Previously, there were certain boundaries she refused to cross. Sex with Dylan was one of them. Dylan knows this. Monique knows this. Jake knows this. However…that may change.

With that, Monique turns off the living room lights, locks the door, and walks to the elevator.

***

As Melanie Wright sits at Gate D17 at O’Hare International Airport, she cannot help but notice a little boy staring at her. He must be at least five or six years old. Melanie has been a professional bodybuilder long enough to have grown accustomed to people – both children and adults – giving her strange looks in public. But there he is, sitting in a row of seats right across from her, unable to peel his young eyes from this unusually large lady.

The boy’s mother is reading something on her iPad, oblivious to the fact that her son is being rude to a perfectly innocent stranger.

“Mommy!” the boy taps his mother on the shoulder. “Is that a boy or a girl?”

The boy’s mother, perplexed and annoyed that her reading is being interrupted, looks up in the direction he’s pointing at. She notices Melanie sitting no more than six feet away. Her eyes widen when she sees Melanie’s enormous frame sitting across from her. She looks feminine, though she’s much bulkier on top than most women she knows. Melanie smiles at the mother. Embarrassed, she wags her finger in front of her son’s face.

“That’s a very rude thing to ask! She’s a lady, of course. Stop it!” At least, she thinks the giant woman sitting across from them is a woman. Could she be transgendered? Or a man in women’s clothing? She couldn’t be sure, but she wanted to nip this situation in the bud as soon as possible and not cause a scene.

“Oh, okay,” Unsatisfied with that answer, the boy continues to stare at Melanie’s 18-inch biceps, which are prominently displayed in her sleeveless blue polo shirt. The mother looks even more embarrassed, looking Melanie straight in the eye (and trying to avoid looking at her muscles as well, which are truly a sight to see!) and apologizing.

“Sorry for that,” she begins. “He’s young and doesn’t quite understand the art of proper etiquette. I mean, he is five. If he’s making you feel uncomfortable, I…”

“No, he’s fine. I’m used to it,” Melanie responds. Her deep voice almost makes the boy (and mother) jump out of his seat. She doesn’t sound like a man, but she also definitely doesn’t sound like a woman. Who is she? What’s her story? Where did she come from? Why does she look like that? The boy has so many questions that he’ll never get the answers to.

She lifts up both of her arms and gives the boy a quick double bicep flex. She smiles at him. The boy’s mouth remains agape, with a small bit of drool leaking out. This is also a fairly normal reaction from onlookers. Melanie loves the attention when she’s in the mood to receive it. Other times, she finds it annoying. This is one of those times when she sort of likes it. Especially coming from an impressionable young child. No doubt this kid will remember this moment for years to come.

The mother takes out her phone and tells her son to play Temple Run while they wait for the flight to Denver to depart. The son agrees wholeheartedly and starts to play, his eyes glued to the screen instead of Melanie’s figure. The mother gives Melanie one final apologetic look before resuming reading from her iPad. Melanie looks up at the clock and sees the time is 10:16 a.m. Even though she’s taking a private flight to Seattle, she still must wait somewhere in D Gate until she gets a text message from an airport employee telling her the jet is ready. Then, she’ll go up to the front counter and meet a different airport employee who will then escort her down to the tarmac. Sounds simple enough.

This isn’t the first time Melanie has ever flown over to Seattle to meet with Dylan. But this is the first time she’s flying in a private jet to do so! The flight is scheduled to leave at 11:00 a.m. But she was still asked to arrive at O’Hare two hours beforehand. She isn’t sure why but she didn’t think to question it.

Like many professional female bodybuilders, Melanie supplements her income by providing muscle worship sessions to paying customers. A “muscle worship session” is when a paying customer is given the opportunity to meet a female bodybuilder alone in a hotel room for about an hour or two. It’s usually men who pay to see her, though she’s had a small handful of bisexual and lesbian women as clients. For many professional female bodybuilders this is a great way to supplement their meager income. There isn’t much money to be had in competing. And it’s tough to hold down a 40-hour a week job on top of training for bodybuilding contests. So, providing sessions around the world is a sure way to earn income (tax-free, since all of this happens off-the-record) so one could continue pursuing the bodybuilding lifestyle without the fear of going broke.

Usually, she travels from city to city to offer these appointments, normally at a rate of $400 per hour (bikini) or $500 per hour (fully nude). These rates are a tad higher than what is considered “market value,” but Melanie is in high demand for good reason.

She’s a world-class bodybuilder with an eye-popping physique. And name recognition.

At 53 years old, Melanie is no spring chicken but she’s still at the top of her game. She hasn’t stopped competing professionally. Her first competition was in 1987 at the tender age of 21. She placed 8th at the IFBB Chicago Pro in the Women’s Lightweight Class. From there, her career took off at warp speed. Considered a “rising star” in the bodybuilding industry, Melanie placed higher and higher in regional competitions as the years went on. She even gained attention from Hollywood executives.

Her claim to fame was being in a deleted scene in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” She played a female cyborg that briefly clashed with Arnold Schwarzenegger in a flashback scene at a Skynet research facility. The director of the film, James Cameron, didn’t want the sight of an attractive woman with big muscles to distract viewers from their moviegoing experience (or polarize them), so her scene was left on the cutting room floor. To this day, the scene still has not been released on DVD or Blu-ray. Or YouTube. It still makes Melanie a little bitter for her hard work has never seen the light of day.

But that did not stop her from being on the cover of several fitness/bodybuilding magazines throughout the 90s and early 2000s. She wasn’t a major celebrity but those who paid attention to the sport of professional bodybuilding definitely knew her name. She’s racked up impressive wins throughout her career, culminating in placing 3rd in the Ms. Olympia in 2005, 5th in 2007, 6th in 2008, and 9th in 2010. Melanie is no fool and could clearly see the writing on the wall. She was declining. Her hopes of ever finishing in first place were diminishing quickly. To this day, she still competes at the highest level but has yet to recapture her “elite” status from a decade ago. Melanie has no regrets, however. There’s no shame in being a bonafide top 10 bodybuilder for a brief window of time. She still treasures her “brush with greatness” even to this day.

Melanie first met Dylan in 2009. She took a year off from competing in the Ms. Olympia due to a minor ankle injury that prevented her from training for a short period of time. She was, however, perfectly able to travel the globe to provide muscle worship sessions as usual. She was floored when Dylan first reached out to her. He was a major celebrity! Well, he was a well-known CEO, which is almost like being a celebrity. They met at The Westin hotel in Downtown Seattle one cold October evening. During their two hours together, she and Dylan really “hit it off” and formed a genuine friendship.

Then in 2015, almost at the exact same time Dylan was going through his own travails, Melanie’s life nearly came crashing down.

While traveling to Budapest, Melanie was arrested for illegal prostitution after local authorities caught her during an anti-human trafficking sting operation. She and her client (who apparently had a history of soliciting underage prostitutes, unbeknownst to Melanie) were both booked and spent the night at a local jail. Utterly humiliated, things got worse for Melanie after word of her arrest “went viral” and started to trend on social media. Ultimately, she was fined 1,500 Euros and avoided having to serve any prison time because of her American citizenship. The local authorities didn’t want to deal with the potential backlash of jailing a U.S. citizen for a minor crime. But the financial harm she experienced was no match for the personal turmoil this would incur on her life.

For about a year afterward, Melanie became sort of a social pariah within the bodybuilding community. Everyone knows that many female competitors offer sessions as an “off-the-record side job” in order to make a steady income. Everyone knows this but it’s taboo to talk about it. It’s the worst kept secret in the industry. Yet, her brush with the law was enough for several corporate sponsors to cut ties with her. Her friends dare not be seen publicly with her or stand up for her. She was branded a “prostitute,” a stamp that one cannot easily get rid of. It was like a scarlet letter being tattooed on her forehead. A permanent stain on her record. A grime that could never be washed off.

Her husband, an aspiring Illinois gubernatorial candidate, divorced her in a public spat that made local headlines. Her four adult children (and two infant grandchildren) still love and support her, but she knows her relationship with them has changed forever. She dreads what her grandchildren will go through once they’re old enough to learn about grandma’s sordid past. Will they still love her? Will they get teased for this? Will they lose respect for her?

After this, her friendship with Dylan deepened, as both of them knew what it was like to be banished from public life, shunned by the very people who once held them in high esteem. While they were together, they never talked about it. But they both knew each other’s tragic stories. It was an unspoken truth that hovered over their heads at all times.

Eventually, Melanie was able to reintegrate herself into the bodybuilding community. A small handful of sponsors came back. An athletic apparel line was willing to have her name and face appear on the boxes of fitness smartwatches. So unlike Dylan, she was able to ride the storm and come out on the other end fairly intact. A bit beaten and weary, of course. But still intact nevertheless.

Dylan was canceled. She was just postponed.

Just as Melanie was about to go to the Starbucks kiosk to buy a cup of coffee, her phone buzzes. She takes it out of her pocket and reads the text notification:

HELLO MELANIE WRIGHT. YOUR FLIGHT AXKPP18833 IS NOW READY FOR DEPARTURE. PLEASE SEE THE FRONT DESK AT YOUR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE. END MESSAGE.

“It’s go time!” she announces to herself. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

With that, instead of getting that elusive cup of overpriced coffee, Melanie picks up her carryon, puts her phone back in her pocket, and walks up to the front desk with her boarding pass in hand. The little boy looks up from playing Temple Run and waves good-bye to her. Melanie returns the favor and waves back. His mother is still staring at her iPad, more interested in reading about vampire hunters than witnessing a moment that her young child will remember for the rest of his life.

***

“Damn girl! Are you some sort of bodybuilder?”

Peggy readjusts her sunglasses, which are almost falling off her nose. Her kind-hearted but chatty taxi driver hasn’t quite gotten on her nerves yet, but that could change in short order. They’ve just left the airport and are now cruising north on the freeway toward Seattle. Traffic is light at the moment, which is common for a late Saturday afternoon in the Pacific Northwest. She – and her driver – knows this wouldn’t be the case if it were a weekday during rush hour.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am,” Peggy tells the man, whose Jamaican accent and colorful rastacap are a dead giveaway of where he’s from. “I’ve been a bodybuilder for almost ten years now. Damn, has it been that long?”

“Whoooooeeeee! Yes ma’am. I see you girl. I see you!”

“Thanks sugar!”

As long as she’s been a professional bodybuilder, Peggy Cole has grown accustomed to curious strangers asking her all sorts of questions about her life. Some of them appropriate…others not so much. It probably doesn’t help matters that Peggy chooses to wear skimpy or tight-fitting clothing as often as she can! Nor the fact that she’s carrying around two large suitcases, which is suspicious considering she’s simply enjoying a “weekend getaway.” Or her enormous breast implants. Or the many plastic surgeries she’s had on her face. Or if you are into certain kinds of fetishes, you might recognize her by her Internet nom de plume:

LATINAMUSCLEPRINCESS67

So every time Peggy gets a weird look from a complete stranger, she’s left wondering if that person recognizes her for who she is…or just simply because she’s a woman with large muscles and even bigger boobs. There’s a part of Peggy that enjoys that kind of mysteriousness. It makes for great stories around the campfire.

“I know I shouldn’t be asking you this, uh, but do you mind if I ask you a personal question, my dear?”

He seems like a kind enough fellow, so Peggy decides to humor him. “I get the feeling you’re going to ask it no matter what I say.” She rolls her eyes. Hopefully he doesn’t see this.

He heartily laughs, knowing that not only is she right, but she can probably predict his every move. “Yeah, well, you got me there, sis! So, I got to know. Are you here in Seattle on vacation or are you seeing someone in particular?”

“Are you referring to the two large suitcases I brought with me?” Only one of them fits in the trunk, meaning the other one is currently sitting right next to Peggy in the back seat. The driver didn’t say anything when he saw her with her luggage, but she could tell from the look he gave her that his curiosity level was sure piqued. “Yeah, you’d be right, my man. I’m here to see a dear friend of mine. I won’t say his name, but he’s a pretty big deal. A big deal.”

“Oooooooh, is it Bill Gates? Jeff Bezos? Pete Carroll?” The driver frequently looks into the rearview mirror to gauge her reaction to his questions.

“Now, now,” Peggy chides him. “I said I won’t reveal his name. His identity is a secret. I gave him my word I’d protect his privacy. So I won’t tell. That’s the way it’s going to be.”

“Sorry, ma’am. I’m an old soul, so sometimes I can’t keep up with what’s right or wrong these days,” the driver defends himself. As they enter Downtown Seattle, traffic begins to noticeably pick up. Peggy hopes this doesn’t mean she’s stuck having to converse with this inquisitive person for too long. “But that’s cool, sis. That you’re seeing a friend. He’s a lucky man!”

“Yeah, you can say that.” Peggy knows Dylan’s life hasn’t been peachy since his downfall, but she doesn’t want to reveal that to her driver since that’ll be a sure giveaway. Instead, she decides to switch gears just for the fun of it.

“I’m also deeply involved in the adult entertainment industry, in case you’re curious about that.” Even though his head is turned away from her, she can sense his eyes bulging out of his eye sockets after that bombshell reveal!

“REALLY? WOW!!!” the driver screams. Peggy is afraid he might swerve off the road at any moment if he doesn’t contain himself. Luckily for both of them, he remains committed to being a safe motorist. She notices the car ahead of them switch lanes after getting peeved that the taxicab is tailing them too closely. “I can’t say I’ve spent too much time watching videos of that nature, but damn girl! Good for you! I’m glad you feel like you can put yourself out there like that, you feel me?”

“Thanks. I’m not super famous or anything. I’m no Jenna Jameson,” Peggy quips. This is ironic, considering Peggy has met Jenna before (and several years back did a couple of videos with her). But that’s a story for another time.

“I don’t know who that is, but I doubt she’s more beautiful than you!”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you.”

“You’re welcome!” The driver reveals a bold, toothy grin. Peggy raises an eyebrow in response, hoping this will please him. It appears that it does.

Peggy began her career as a professional bodybuilder but wasn’t quite able to win enough trophies to earn a lucrative living. At the age of 31, she dipped her toes in the world of adult entertainment by appearing in a few fetish-themed videos with other FBBs looking for quick cash. She had a tremendous amount of fun showing off her sculpted body to people who weren’t official IFBB judges (who could be a stuffy bunch). A turning point in her life was when she received a ton of fan mail after releasing a particularly steamy video where she gave blow jobs to a roomful of men (17, to be exact) wearing nothing but a skin-tight BDSM-style leather outfit and semen smeared all over her face. She was hogtied by rope and suspended from the ceiling several feet off the ground. At first, Peggy was reluctant to get too deep into this scene, but as more adult film production studios began to know her name, more job offers started to stream in. Eventually, she decided to quit bodybuilding to pursue porn full-time. She was probably going to quit competing anyway, so this was a convenient backup plan.

Her online avatar is Latina Muscle Princess, which is sort of true because her mother is half Peruvian. In reality, she’s half Irish, a quarter German, and a quarter Peruvian. But her olive complexion, jet black hair, curvy figure, and amber brown eyes make her look just as Latina as Shakira. So she went with that identity and never looked back. She’s carved out a fantastic niche for herself as a webcam performer who hosts both weekly shows for the general public (for a small fee) as well as offering personalized one-on-one shows for individual clients (at a significantly higher fee).

Dylan is, not surprisingly, one of her loyal clients. As is Henry.

Other than making videos and webcamming, Peggy is in talks to co-host a porn-themed podcast with Kit Styles – a male adult entertainment star known for his 12-inch-long penis and fabulous hair – but the details of this venture are still up in the air. She’s reluctant to wade through the choppy waters of podcasting, but it seems to be all the rage these days. Besides, caution never got her anywhere. Everything she does she does boldly. Maybe it’s prudent to continue to live life like this.

“We’re almost here, my dear. I received specific instructions to drop you off at a park near the house, but not at the house itself. Is that still fine?” Peggy has been to Dylan’s house many times, but she understands why he would want to instruct a taxicab driver to drop her off in close proximity to his house but not at it. It’s doubtful the driver would take it upon himself to investigate who lives at each house and “out” Dylan to the general public. But one can never be too careful. Especially these days.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Drop me off where you’ve been told to drop me off. I’m a big girl. I can carry my suitcases to my friend’s house just fine without any help.” Peggy pats her suitcase for good measure.

The driver looks into the rearview mirror to check out his passenger’s impressive biceps. If the mirror were a bit larger he could probably also see her big boobs. He wants nothing more than to stick his face inside her cleavage. That, most likely, would result in his termination. He knows that outcome would be unacceptable to him and his family.

“Oh, I know you don’t need my help, sister! I can believe that!”

All the King’s Queens – Chapter 3: The Master Plan

As smoke billows out from the makeshift barbecue pit, Stephen Callahan’s eyes begin to get watery. Rising out from the ground and surrounding him like an ash-filled blanket, it prompts him to try to remember the last time he shed tears.

Was it after the verdict was read by the judge? Or right after “lights out” during his first night in the federal penitentiary? Or was it after his first confessional with the prison priest?

Stephen cannot for the life of him recall at the moment. Perhaps it was before all of this shit had transpired. Or not.

For three long years, Stephen has been planning his revenge against his former boss. To him, Dylan Tanaka isn’t a bad man but rather a dishonorable one. He got away scott-free while Stephen had to sit in a federal prison cell for 1,095 days – stewing in his emotions, denied his freedom. Stephen knows what he did was wrong. But what he objects to is the fact that he got punished for it – and well as witnessed his reputation suffer – while Dylan simply was forced to resign from his position as CEO, pay a fine that he had no trouble paying, and quietly retire from public life. If unofficial house arrest in his palatial mansion is his “punishment,” then the least Stephen deserved was a mighty slap on the wrist. Which he did not end up getting.

“Lunch is almost ready, my man,” Xander, a professional thief he just met a week ago, happily reports to the team leader. Xander is a man recommended by Thomas Sellars, whom Stephen considers in high regard. While in prison, Stephen met Mr. Sellars, a professional safecracker who was caught breaking into a high-end New York City jewelry store and stealing nearly $1.8 million worth of merchandise (the majority of that coming in the form of a rare 1948 edition of a Rue de Pierre Flaubert Modernité XIIV wristwatch). He was convicted of that – as well as a robbery of Caesars Palace’s main casino vault in Las Vegas – and sentenced to five years in prison. Thomas was serving his final year just as Stephen was beginning his first. They formed a “friendship” (which tend to be dubious in nature due to the circumstances of living together with someone in forced confinement) and started plotting what they’d love to accomplish once they both get out. One ingenious plot they came up with was the one they are about to execute later tonight.

“Thanks Xan. Smells great,” Stephen says. “But no beer until tomorrow, remember?”

“Oh yeah, we’re staying clean and sober till our job is done,” Xander reassures his boss. “We all are. I got that, chief. Don’t worry about me.”

“Good. Thanks.”

Xander returns to the barbecue pit. He splashes a bit more honey glaze on the beef ribs so they don’t dry out too much. Roddy and Cortez, two of the other hired hands who’s worked with Thomas before, are lounging around on lawn chairs sipping Gatorade. It’s not their usual beverage of choice.

Clean and sober until tonight.

Clean and sober until tonight

Clean and sober until tonight.

“We can’t let anything distract us,” Stephen whispers to himself. He wipes away a cloud of smoke with both hands.

Stephen does feel a bit apprehensive about tonight’s job, but that’s natural. Until three years ago, he never considered himself a criminal. He always imagined the “bad guys” to be people not like him: Destructive, amoral, violent, psychopathic, jaded, and social misfits. It never occurred to him that crimes are committed for a wide range of reasons – fear, vengeance, impulsiveness, desperation, mental illness, social conditioning, and so on. His perspective of the world has certainly evolved over the past several years. Now, crime is not just something “bad people” do. Instead, it’s a clause in our Social Contract. Written (unofficially) in fine print. When society has wronged you, it is perfectly justifiable to wrong them back. Without such a system, where is the justice?

It’s not personal. It’s just business.

Dylan Tanaka has wronged Stephen Callahan. So it’s only fair to wrong him back. Thomas, Xander, Roddy, and Cortez have no direct connections to Dylan, Perseus Analytics, or the congressional show trial that engulfed the nation. However, they know a good score when they see it.

And tonight is guaranteed to be a great score.

In 2014, the year before the New York Times essentially ended his sense of “normalcy,” Stephen and Dylan were working on a top-secret project behind the scenes for the U.S. military. They were developing a prototype for a robotic suit that troops could wear on the battlefield. Basically, it took bullet-proof vests, helmets, communications equipment, and other types of armor to the next level. Far from being like Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” these suits couldn’t fly or shoot out laser blasts, but they were sturdy as hell, agile, and contained AI technology that could alert them to enemy movements, strategy, and predict future behavior. Not surprisingly, the military fell in love with the idea of what Dylan and Stephen were working on. Pilotless drones were fine, but sometimes you needed human boots on the ground to do the dirty work you can’t do from the sky. And, casualties are bad for morale back home. It’s terrible publicity. It causes voters to demand that wars come to an end well before the mission is complete. So, how do you fight wars with people without endangering those people?

This is when Perseus Analytics swept in. Already a trusted government contractor, PA’s top engineers drew up several plans for developing this “Battlefield Smart Armor Tech” that would eventually be presented to high-ranking military and government officials. The BSAT Program was in its infancy when the bombshell New York Times report made everything come to a crashing halt. The news that innocent Iraqi and Syrian civilians were being incinerated to death did not sit well with the public. Of course, they had few objections to the hundreds of terrorists PA’s technology helped kill. But photographs of charred men, women, and children should make anybody’s stomach churn.

After the federal trial wrapped up, Dylan quietly put all his research – blueprints, sketchbooks, CDs, DVDs, photographs, computer models on external hard drives, USB flash drives, and even a personal diary kept by Stephen himself – into a large impenetrable safety vault somewhere in his mansion. The BSAT Program may have come to an end, but the dream lives on.

That vault contains information that, if utilized by a rival tech company, could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Warfare is costly (especially in terms of soldiers’ lives), so anything governments can do to reduce that cost – with no regard to innocent civilians, of course – would be invaluable. Priceless. Coveted. Worth a damn fortune.

Tonight, Stephen and his crew plan to break into Dylan’s home, steal every piece of intel they can, and sell it to the highest bidder on the black market. Stephen may or may not kill Dylan in the process. He hasn’t decided yet. But afterward, all five men are guaranteed to become rich beyond their wildest dreams. There are already two interested buyers whom Stephen has already spoken to. Both have the financial resources to participate in this expensive transaction. No more petty crimes. No more jobs. No more “living the life” because there would no longer be any need to steal anything.

Stephen approaches Roddy and Cortez casually, wanting to take the temperature of the whole crew. “Hello fellas. How are things going? Nervous for tonight?”

“Nah, we should be fine. He has basic security and no armed guards at his place, right?” Cortez asks. He takes a sip of his Gatorade.

“That’s correct. His self-imposed exile has made his life so low-key he doesn’t think he needs it,” Stephen hypothesizes. “That means we can just simply walk up to the front door, knock, invite ourselves in, threaten him with our weapons, and take what we came to take.”

“Holy shit! Seriously? It’s going to be that easy?” Roddy asks. Stephen laughs.

“No, it’s going to be a little more complicated than that. But don’t worry. I’ve got it all figured out.” Stephen looks at both men, hoping neither of them is having second thoughts about tonight’s score. It would be a shame if anyone got cold feet this late in the game.

Roddy and Cortez nod along, seemingly happy with the plan. This puts Stephen at ease. As it were, the plan is to arrive at Dylan’s home in two separate vehicles. Stephen and Thomas would arrive in Stephen’s Buick; while Xander, Roddy, and Cortez would arrive in a spacious SUV with plenty of room to store their loot. They’d park their cars a block away at around 11:00, activate the anti-security system measures at around midnight, sneak onto the property, and armed with Glock 19s (Xander claims he has an Uzi, but no one has seen it yet), break in through the back door, and calmly round up Dylan Tanaka and put him in the basement. They would take his phone away and threaten to kill him (and any unlucky son of a bitch who happens to be there) if he disobeys.

Stephen anticipates Dylan will most likely be alone. From a safe distance, he and his team have spent a lot of time scoping out the joint. The landscaper shows up a few times a month. A couple of women (both of them hot, it should be noted) visit during the day but never on weekends. Henry, the cook, leaves by 7:00 p.m. Lawrence, the butler, normally leaves about an hour after that. Sometimes two hours. But by midnight, everyone should be gone except for the owner of the house. Dylan Tanaka.

He’ll occasionally have company over, but it’s usually a small crowd of no more than four or five guests. Assuming none of them are packing heat, Stephen and his crew should have no issues handling a small crowd – assuming such a small crowd will even exist tonight. Stephen doubts it. His former boss is living as a hermit. All alone. Living life aimlessly with no clear purpose. No more parties with celebrities. No more luncheons with politicians, powerful businessmen, and global influencers. That part of his life is over.

If Dylan refuses to hand over the loot willingly, Thomas says he can crack the safe in two or three hours. Most personal home safety vaults contain either a combination lock or a keypad and password. Thomas guesses the vault’s steel walls should be at least two inches thick. Using his supremely sharp drill, it might take a few hours to crack open the door. But none of them suspect it’ll come down to that. Most likely, Dylan will succumb to his survival instincts and just open the vault himself without putting up a fight. He knows the secrets contained in that vault cannot stay hidden forever. Eventually, it will come out into the light. But he has no idea tonight would be that day. Or who would show up to snatch it.

Once they get the booty, everyone will quietly exit the house, get into their vehicles, and drive back to the safehouse using different routes (so traffic cameras can’t spot them as easily).

So that’s it. That’s the master plan.

But right now, all Stephen and his crew are thinking about is lunch.

The safehouse is located in Cle Elum, a small town in Central Washington. About a two-hour drive away from Seattle (depending on traffic), it’s far enough from the crime scene that no one will suspect they’re holed up there. But it’s also close enough that they can drive there, steal their loot, and drive back before the sun rises.

“Let’s eat! Have at it,” Xander announces. Everyone hovers over the grill to see what’s been cooking. Ribs, corn on the cob, potato fingerlings, and some kind of homemade coleslaw. In addition to being a former U.S. Marine who was dishonorably discharged from active service after participating in a robbery of an Iraqi museum (he and a few of his fellow Marines drunkenly stole some priceless artifacts after one of their translators dared them to. They were caught and subsequently kicked out of the military after a speedy court-martial), Xander is apparently an excellent cook. He may have done that while on active duty. Or not.

“You know, I have a feeling – a gut feeling, you know – that this guy may not be alone tonight,” Roddy says nervously. “When I was there earlier this morning, he, I don’t know, seemed to be in a different kind of mood, you know? Like, he was excited for something, you know?” Taking a generous bite out of a succulent piece of barbecued beef rib, Roddy leaned against a moldy wooden picnic table to eat his lunch. The past few Saturdays, Stephen has sent at least one person on the team to scope out Dylan’s property in order to learn about his daily routine, movement patterns, and report back anything unusual. That, and to become familiar with the terrain.

“Excited for what? I’ve known the man for a long time,” Stephen says, cracking open a can of LaCroix. He sips it. “He doesn’t usually wear his emotions on his sleeve. Did he say anything strange?”

“Nah, man. I couldn’t hear him exactly, but he had, I don’t know, sort of like a skip in his step, know what I mean?” Roddy tries to replicate how he observed Dylan walk around the house, but it doesn’t seem to persuade anyone that anything would be out of the ordinary. Everyone shakes their heads dismissively.

“You’re just imagining things, my dude,” Cortez reassures him. “Please don’t tell me you were smoking weed at the time. That shit smells. And he notices bullshit like that, remember? I learned that the hard way.”

Stephen looks up at the group, chewing on a piece of grilled potato. “He does, yeah. Several years ago we sat next to each other at a board meeting and he literally could smell on my breath what I had for dinner the night before. It was pretty fucking insane. I brushed my teeth the night before, trust me. I’ve never met anyone who had that great sense of smell.” He meanders toward Roddy, eyeballing him carefully but not with any hint of intimidation. “Were you lighting up near his property?”

Roddy smiles sheepishly, trying to diffuse any hint of him messing up the mission. “Nah, man. It was nine o’clock in the fucking morning, dude! I don’t smoke that early, man. Nah, that ain’t me, bruh. Don’t worry about it, we’re good.” Seemingly convinced by his defense, Stephen resumes eating his lunch. Roddy looks around at the others. Nobody looks back at him. Thomas, who’s been silent practically the whole time, burps loudly. He stands up and grabs a second beef rib from the grill pit.

“Good. Let’s not be reckless. Not today. Not now. We’ve come this far, we’re not fucking up now.” Thomas rips a huge chunk of meat from the bone like a primitive caveman. He swallows it quickly, almost as if he didn’t even chew on it. “Clean and sober until tonight, am I right?”

“Fuck yeah, my man. Clean and sober until tonight, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Cortez grins. He finishes his Gatorade and tosses the bottle in a nearby recycling bin.

“Clean and sober until tonight,” Xander repeats.

“Because this time tomorrow, all five of us will be on our way to become rich beyond our wildest dreams,” Stephen promises. “Seriously. Whatever petty amount of money you’ve made before will pale in comparison to what we’re going to acquire from this. And that you can believe.”

“Here, here!” Roddy exclaims.

Roddy, who was in fact smoking pot earlier this morning while he was sneaking around Dylan’s spacious property, hopes his eyes aren’t bloodshot, which could reveal his lie. Still, he doubts this rich guy can smell that well from a distance. Nevertheless, he hopes his incessant smoking – which he does mostly to relieve himself of anxiety, which becomes more prevalent on the day of a risky job – didn’t blow his cover or the cover of the team. That would be fucking brutal. Not to mention he’d never work with this outfit – or any outfit – ever again. It would be career suicide. Word spreads fast in the business when people screw up big time.

After lunch, Stephen plans to gather everyone around and meticulously go over the master plan once more. If he’s learned anything during his brief life outside of prison, it’s that it’s impossible to be overprepared when you’re about to do something like this. Poor planning, complacency, or forgetfulness is a one-way ticket back to the slammer. And that’s something Stephen refuses to experience again. He’s done that before. He’s not doing that a second time.

No way. No fucking way.

***

After a brief ten-minute jog on the treadmill, Dylan walks into his home gym, an expansive room in his basement that contains enough equipment to open his own CrossFit business. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but it’s pretty damn close.

Dylan has always been (fairly) in shape, but never as much as he is now. During his days as a celebrity CEO, Dylan rarely had time to do anything health-wise. He’s always eaten right, never smokes, and drinks occasionally (a classic “social drinker”). But now that he has much more time on his hands, Dylan regularly works out in his home gym an average of 4 to 5 times a week. After all, he has nothing better to do with his copious spare time but run, lift weights, stretch, and down protein shakes afterward.

The other reason he built this gym was so his guests could have a place to work out while they’re over. Tonight won’t be the first time Melanie, Peggy, and Monique have visited his residence. Nor are they the only female bodybuilders and athletes he’s had over. Locally, 3 to 4 times a week a young woman named Lindsay Wells – a CrossFit star in the making – comes over to train. In fact, she comes here (where she doesn’t have to pay a membership fee) more often than she goes to her actual CF gym. In exchange, Lindsay is more than happy to “entertain” Dylan for an hour or two after she’s finished. She lives up in Snohomish, which is only about 35 minutes away in good traffic.

It’s a small price to pay for accessing world-class exercise equipment for free! There is also no crowd of creepy guys hitting on her or staring at her while she works out.

Dylan also invites Laura Kang, a half-Taiwanese amateur bodybuilder who lives down in Olympia, over for dinner about once a month. Her husband and 6 kids (you read that right!) have no idea she does that. They just think she drives up to Seattle for “business reasons,” which isn’t technically inaccurate. She’s 48-years-old but looks half that, a testament to the fact she’s Asian and she treats skincare like a religious ritual. She and Dylan have never had sex (that’s a strict limitation for her), but she appreciates a quiet place to lift and enjoy a fantastic Henry-cooked meal afterward.

All Dylan asks for is to be able to “worship” her for an hour in his bedroom. She gladly obliges. Then, she goes home and resumes her life as a working mom.

Today, Dylan decides to go light. A few sets of dumbbell back rows, pull-ups, seated dumbbell shoulder presses, front raises, and lat pull-downs are all that’s necessary for now. He usually finishes with stretching and several sets of incline bench sit-ups. Normally, Dylan does deadlifts on Saturdays, but today he’ll play it safe and not do any significant heavy lifting. He’s always cautious, but today is a special day – it could very well be the best day of the year! – and he wouldn’t want to accidentally injure himself in any way.

“Got to get the blood flowing, especially for tonight!” Dylan gleefully tells himself. He picks up a towel to wipe the sweat off his face.

Dylan is pretty sure Lindsay came over yesterday, but he can’t be certain. He can usually smell her scent. Miss Wells probably needs to consume more magnesium in her diet because her musky odor is noticeable even 24 hours after visiting. Then again, Dylan does possess remarkable olfactory senses, so perhaps he’s being a little (pardon the expression) oversensitive. He makes a mental note to talk with her about this the next time he sees her.

“I wonder if the four of us should work out together tomorrow morning before everyone leaves?” Dylan wonders aloud. Then, he proceeds to make his pre-workout smoothie. He pours protein powder, a banana, yogurt, and other frozen fruits into a blender and turns it on. The loud whirring of the machine fills the entire room. The thought of the four of them lifting weights together in the privacy of his own home is quite…arousing.

“Unless Henry wants his own private time with Peggy, of course. Devilish man, that Henry is.” He stops the machine, opens the lid, sticks his finger in it, and tastes the smoothie. It meets his standard of excellence. Dylan pours himself a tall glass and drinks it as quickly as he can. This turns out to be a mistake once “brain freeze” takes over and gives him a headache.

“Damnit! I got to be more careful next time.”

An hour later, Dylan walks over to the shower stalls located right next to the weight room. It contains four showerheads in one large room. Perfect for himself, Melanie, Peggy, and Monique! The very thought of the four of them, naked together and showering off their sweat and grime, is enough to give Dylan an unexpected erection. He looks down at his hardened penis, smiles, and chastises it. “Calm down, little fellow! You’re in for a real treat after dinner tonight. Just keep calm. Don’t want to get too excited yet! Your time will come. Literally.”

After drying off, Dylan gets dressed, puts on his shoes, and heads outside to take a casual stroll through the neighborhood.

This beautiful summer-like weather won’t enjoy itself, after all. Time to get some Vitamin D.

***

“You seem nervous. But you shouldn’t be,” Thomas says to Stephen, who’s noticeably twiddling his thumbs with enough anxious energy to power a whole skyscraper. Both men are still outside, lunch being long over. The other three companions are inside either cleaning their weapons or going over the schedule again.

“I know. We’ve done our due diligence. We’ve spied him outside his home almost every day for the past five weeks. We know his daily patterns, his sleep schedule, his normal activities, everything. We know who comes in and out of his house,” Stephen says. “I shouldn’t be nervous. But I am. Don’t know why.” He spits on the ground.

“I think you’re nervous about seeing him again, not the job,” Thomas replies, channeling his inner psychologist. This isn’t the first time he’s had to calm down an anxious colleague. “We have five armed guys robbing one rich guy with minimal security systems. And your guy is taking care of that. We have the clear advantage. His butler won’t be there. His fucking cook won’t either. The bitches who come over to work out won’t be there either. We’re good. We’re good to go.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Stephen stands up to stretch his legs. He hates long drives, which the five of them will be embarking on soon. The plan is to leave Cle Elum at 9:30 p.m. and arrive in Seattle at around 11:00 p.m. From there, things should be pretty straightforward. Stephen has a man inside the company that provides Dylan his security. He’ll make contact with him to get the party started. Once inside, the only issue is how easily Dylan surrenders and delivers to him what he wants. Will he put up a fight? Or will he capitulate the moment a gun is pointed at his forehead? And if he does, what will this vault be like? Can Dylan easily open it himself, or has he installed some special security protocol where a second authorized person (who could very well be thousands of miles away) has to help him open it? This is the nightmare scenario that is somewhat keeping Stephen on his toes.

But that’s why Thomas is along for the ride. He’s an expert safecracker who can do it all – and has seen it all. In fact, he was the one who suggested the possibility of the two-person authorization protocol (heck, it could require three or four people to open up this fucking vault, depending on how valuable its contents are). That’s why he’s bringing his high-powered drill and other specialized equipment with him. Just in case.

“Well, I’m guessing this’ll be much easier than we think it’s going to be. At first, I was concerned that he’ll have advanced systems like security cameras, electric fences, or even a 24-hour armed guard standing at attention at the front door. Thankfully, that’s not the case,” Thomas says. “Like you said before, he’s a loner and a social pariah. Who the fuck would want to break into his house anyway? Tourists? People looking for his autograph?”

“People like us, my dude. People like us.” Stephen and Thomas fist bump. Inside the safe house, they can hear Xander and Roddy arguing about which version of the Remington RP is better. It’s unclear who’s winning the argument. Probably neither of them. Cortez seems to be taking a nap on the sofa.

The two men who sat next to each other at the prison lunch table for nearly a year exchange a quick glance before returning back inside.

There’s work to do.

All the King’s Queens – Chapter 2: Everything is in Order

The chirping of birds outside is not making it easier to sleep in. Even with newly installed windows that normally do a good job at blocking out exterior noise, the incessant chirping cannot be ignored. And it will not stop.

Dylan Tanaka has no choice but to wake up. Curses!

But all is not lost. Today, after all, is the Big Day. No, not his wedding day. Not the day he graduates from college (even though graduating as the class valedictorian at the Hamburg Institute of Futurist Technology was quite a spectacular accomplishment). But the day of the Big Dinner Party. With three distinguished guests.

The time is 6:48 a.m. Dylan planned to sleep in at least till 8:30, but the army of chickadees just outside his window yapping away is derailing those plans. Oh well. No big deal. If that’s the worst thing that happens to him today, Dylan will consider himself lucky.

Dylan crawls out of bed and quickly dresses in a comfy old pair of jeans, white polo shirt, and grey cashmere socks. As he walks downstairs to the dining room, he can already hear Henry, his personal chef of twelve years and close confidante, complaining about the Seattle Mariners’ frustrating bullpen issues.

What else is new?

“Damn, if a baseball game were seven innings long, we’d be going to the World Series!” Henry exclaims. He’s evidently talking to himself because no one appears to be in the kitchen right now except for him. Apparently, he’s listening to sports talk radio or some baseball podcast. Dylan cannot tell which one it is.

“Good morning Henry!”

“Hi Boss Man! Don’t worry about my ramblings. I know we suck this year, but this shit still frustrates me, you know what I mean?” Henry is chopping scallions and looks to be preparing a frittata. That makes sense because this is Saturday morning, which is when Henry alternates between making Dylan either a veggie omelet or a frittata. Occasionally, he’ll switch it up and make eggs benedict, but that’s usually reserved for special occasions. Which apparently today isn’t, for some strange reason.

“Yeah, I hear you loud and clear.” Dylan leans over the kitchen counter and watches Henry cook. “No eggs benedict this morning?”

Henry stops what he’s doing and gives Dylan a sarcastic side-eye. He’s worked for Dylan long enough to know that giving him sass won’t endanger his job security. Even if it did, he’s confident he’d have plenty of other job offers lined up.

“Sorry, no. But I ain’t making no omelet or frittata neither! I know today’s a very special day,” Henry smirks. “You’re having a chorizo scramble with sweet mango salsa and whatever the hell vegetables I have in the fridge.” Henry gestures to the opposite side of the long sixteen-foot kitchen island. Dylan sees a package of unopened chorizo sausage from the local Mexican grocery store thawing. This brings a welcomed smile to Dylan’s face.

“Thanks Henry.” Dylan opens the refrigerator and takes out a can of Starbucks Frappuccino. “Are we all prepared for tonight’s festivities?” He opens the can and drinks from it, while Henry stops what he’s doing to look his boss in the eye.

“Oh, hell yeah! Can’t wait to see the ladies again. Damn, it’s been a while since you’ve had anyone over. And three at a time? Whooooooooooooooooeeeeeeeee!” Henry resumes cooking, imagining in his head what sorts of naughty fun his boss will partake in tonight. One’s imagination will often be more scandalous than reality, though Henry suspects his boss has plenty of erotic shenanigans on his personal to-do list.

“Make sure you say hi to them. I know you appreciate these ladies just as much as I do!” Dylan pats Henry on the shoulder and walks out of the kitchen toward the dining room. Henry heartily laughs to himself. It may have happened by accident, but when Dylan hired Henry to be his personal chef twelve years ago, he had no idea he was bringing on a fellow fan of female bodybuilders into his home. Dylan has done everything he can to keep his fetish for strong muscular women a secret, knowing how embarrassing it would be to him if the public found out (let alone the awkward texts he’d receive from his own mother!). After he hires a new domestic employee, Dylan usually asks everyone to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep his personal secrets private. With Henry, however, such an agreement was still done, but somewhat unnecessary. Henry is more open about his love for strong beautiful women than Dylan, however he understands why his boss would want that part of his life kept hush-hush. Plus, silence has its benefits.

Every so often, Dylan will let his trusted cook join in on the fun!

Well, not at the same time, of course.

As Henry continues to work in the kitchen, Dylan sits down at the head of a 12-foot-long oval glass top dining table. Lawrence, his butler of fourteen years, has dutifully left the latest issue of The Atlantic sitting at his place. The cover story, unfortunately, is enough to make Dylan want to vomit.

“Throw Every Billionaire in Jail?” Henry reads aloud the front cover headline. “It’s a travesty that in Modern America men like Dylan Tanaka is a free man while thousands of Iraqi and Syrian children are dead.” Dylan stops reading and almost tosses the magazine across the room in disgust. Before he can do anything impulsive, Lawrence emerges from the dining room entrance.

“Sorry, sir. When I first saw the cover story, I figured this would be an issue you wouldn’t want to read,” Lawrence picks up the magazine, inspects it once more, and hands it back to Dylan. “But orders are orders, if that makes any sense. You always want reading material to go along with breakfast. I didn’t just want to assume you wouldn’t want to read this.”

Dylan finishes his Frappuccino and gives the empty can to Lawrence. He sighs. “No, you’re fine. You did what you’ve always been instructed to do. It’s not your fault.” Dylan rubs his tired eyes with Lawrence watching his boss with a mixture of concern and empathy. “It’s been four years since everything that happened. But it seems much longer than that. I need to get over myself, but I still need more time. Fuck. Looks like I’m going to need at least twenty years to get back on my feet.”

Now, it’s Lawrence’s turn to pat someone on the shoulder.

“Perhaps tonight’s dinner party will lift your spirits. Because I highly doubt the FBI will be knocking down the door anytime soon, regardless of what this author may fantasize about in his or her mind.” Lawrence takes the empty Frappuccino can so he can toss it in the recycling bin. “Other than that, everything is in order. All the preparations according to your requests have been made.”

Dylan gives his loyal butler a smile of approval. He smiles back. Exiting to the kitchen, Dylan hears Lawrence and Henry having a pleasant conversation faintly into the distance. He cannot make out what they’re chatting about. He places the magazine face down on the table defiantly.

“Let’s hope the only visitors I get tonight are those who actually like me,” Dylan whispers under his breath. He sighs again.

At the age of 23, Dylan was a recent graduate of the most prestigious technical university in the world. He became an intern at Boeing in the fall of 2004, right when the U.S. was more than a year into the Iraq War and a few years into the larger War on Terror. Big technical firms were being given multibillion-dollar contracts from the Department of Defense to build weapons, vehicles, and technology to help defeat al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and whatever new threat would rear its ugly head. After four months at Boeing, Dylan developed in his parent’s basement an AI program that could analyze international bank transactions, phone calls, emails, texts, trade agreements, and satellite images to predict when future terrorist attacks would happen. His algorithm analyzed trillions of pieces of data simultaneously and calculated a “threat coefficient” to whoever cared to know. His test modeling used data collected from the ten years leading up to the 9/11 terror attacks, in which his program predicted with 97% accuracy the likelihood that Osama bin Laden would successfully plan and execute a mass terror attack on U.S. soil sometime between Jan. 1, 1998 and Dec. 31, 2002. This gave him confidence that his algorithm works. It’s not 100% reliable but it doesn’t need to be. All it has to do is provide intelligence officials credible warnings that certain threats are imminent. Dylan had all the confidence in the world that his AI program can do just that. After quitting his gig at Boeing and working at the Pentagon as a contract worker, young Dylan spent the next few years successfully helping the U.S. government sniff out potential plots that may have saved the lives of thousands, if not millions. He felt really proud of himself. So much so that in 2007 he tendered his resignation at the DOD and began his own startup firm.

This is when Dylan went from being a boy genius wunderkind to an international celebrity CEO.

His company, Perseus Analytics (named after the Greek mythological demigod who slayed monsters like Medusa), skyrocketed to become one of the largest and most influential corporations in world history. PA mostly used AI technology to help agricultural, shipping, construction, and engineering companies make data-driven informed business decisions. However, they also carried on as a military contractor, continuing the work Dylan did for the DOD – but at a much larger scale.

PA’s immediate success as a cutting-edge leader in the “Business Intelligence Software” industry made Dylan Tanaka an overnight celebrity. He was on the cover of several magazines, profiled by TV stations across the world, and spoke at several prestigious technology conferences. He went from a modest 4,983 Twitter followers to 2.4 million in less than a month. Forbes Magazine even suggested that he should run for president when he’s eligible in 2016, writing that “Mr. Tanaka represents what the future of our world is rapidly becoming: data-driven, pro-active, emotionally intelligent, innovative, and best of all, altruistic to a fault. If he were to run for President of the United States in 2016 – when he would be 35 years old – we would be hard-pressed to come up with a plausible reason why he wouldn’t receive this magazine’s glowing endorsement. This sentiment would gladly apply in 2020, 2024, 2028, and so on.”

The first several years of Perseus Analytics’ existence were a whirlwind for everyone involved. Dylan’s sudden celebrity, while amusing in the moment but ultimately meaningless in the long run, caught the attention of people other than tech journalists, social media influencers, and podcasters. His work also captured the imaginations of powerful men and women inside the U.S. government. The hefty contract PA signed with the DOD in 2009 is a testament to that. At first, the work was fairly modest. Dylan continued the work he did prior for them but at a larger scale. However, that quickly changed as the geopolitical landscape also changed.

In 2011, as drone technology was reaching its maturity, Dylan’s AI programs helped the military decide which targets to bomb. He entrusted Stephen Callahan, a longtime colleague he first met at Boeing, to head up this division. This project signified a dramatic strategic shift in PA’s work with the government. At first, they provided military and intelligence officers with information to help them make wise decisions. Now, they’re assisting in dropping bombs, launching missiles, and planning precision airstrikes. PA went from providing useful intel to delivering weapons of mass death.

For several years, their work went largely unnoticed by the public. Every PA senior executive and several high-ranking employees signed confidentiality agreements. Their top-secret work remained exactly that: a secret.

That all changed in 2015.

An explosive New York Times article – quoting several anonymous sources inside Perseus Analytics, the Pentagon, CIA, and U.S. military – claimed a bug in the AI program led to several drone strikes killing untold thousands of innocent civilians. In the wake of ISIS’s shocking November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, the U.S. and its European allies stepped up drone strikes in the Middle East and North Africa. Most of those drones were equipped with Dylan’s AI protocols. Unfortunately, as Dylan and Stephen publicly admitted, the AI wasn’t perfect.

So yes, thousands of innocent people lost their lives because their technology wasn’t flawless. Additionally, this work flew under the radar of the usual systems of checks and balances. Many members of Congress, even those on defense and intelligence committees, were kept in the dark about PA’s relationship with the government. So not only was their work borderline immoral, it also could have been illegal.

Demands for a public inquiry grew. It quickly happened. Testifying before a hostile Congress, Dylan and Stephen (along with several other high-ranking PA executives) had to defend themselves amidst accusations of being “war profiteers” and engineers of genocide. Dylan felt like Howard Hughes being accused of the same thing shortly after World War II.

After a truncated federal investigation and trial, Stephen was sentenced to three years in a federal penitentiary for “gross negligence” that led to the deaths of countless Iraqis and Syrians. After cutting a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice where Dylan agreed to step down as CEO of Perseus Analytics and “retire” from public life, he was able to avoid any prison time if he agreed to pay a hefty fine. He did. As one of the youngest billionaires in the world, the fine was substantial but not life-altering. It was just money, not his freedom. Stephen Callahan, on the other hand, took the fall. A few others served much lighter prison sentences, but that didn’t stop Dylan from becoming a public pariah. Many said he got away with murder. Even members of his own family told the media that Dylan deserves jail time! That led to an estrangement that continues to this day.

And in the blink of an eye, Dylan Tanaka went from a beloved celebrity to genocidal monster.

Whew.

Most of his friends and family abandoned him. His own university unceremoniously stripped him of his degree. After cleaning house, Perseus Analytics rebranded as The McDermott Corporation (named after the brand-new CEO, Amanda McDermott, a woman Dylan briefly dated before the New York Times’s bombshell report ruined his life). All mentions of Dylan were scrubbed from the company’s website and social media channels. He was erased. Cancelled. Exiled. Ostracized. Turned into a “persona non grata.”

For the past four years, Dylan has lived quietly in his mansion in Seattle, rarely going out in public or doing anything worthwhile. He has no friends or acquaintances who are willing to be seen with him. Nobody who values their professional and personal reputations wants anything to do with Dylan Tanaka. He still sees (some of) his family during the holidays, but rarely outside of that. He is alone.

But not totally alone.

Still flushed with plenty of cash, Dylan decided to live his life the best he can despite the less-than-ideal circumstances. Just because he’s considered a war criminal in the eyes of an outraged public doesn’t mean he can’t do what he loves. And what does Dylan love?

Muscular women.

Dylan has befriended – although he knows better than to actually consider them real friends – several female bodybuilders and athletes throughout the years. Either inviting them over to his home or visiting them in their hotel rooms, Dylan figures if he can’t live a normal life, why not enjoy the stripped-down existence he currently has to suffer through? So as often as he can (averaging two or three times a month), Dylan sets up meetings with female bodybuilders so he can enjoy some companionship outside of Henry, Lawrence, or Joey (a weird but reliable landscaper who comes over periodically). He pays them for their time, of course, which is why he’s reluctant to call any of them “friends.” During their time together Dylan touches, kisses, and massages their muscles to his heart’s delight. In return, his female companions usually give him either a hand job or blow job to ensure he leaves the encounter perfectly contented.

He knows their relationship is strictly professional, but at least it’s something. Dylan has met at least 50 female bodybuilders in his life, many of them multiple times. But out of all of them, Melanie Wright, Peggy Cole, and Monique St. Martin are his three favorite. Dylan secretly is one of Monique’s sponsors, as he’s followed her Olympic career from the very beginning. He’s met Melanie dozens of times. She’s even told him that she considers him a real friend. But he still pays her nevertheless, mostly out of kindness.

His relationship with Peggy and Monique is more business-like, but still close. Monique allows Dylan to touch her body but has limitations when it comes to sex. Melanie and Peggy, however, have no limitations. He’s made love to both women many times throughout the years.

Dylan’s interest in muscular women began when he was 12 years old. He was always interested in sports like baseball, football, and basketball. One aimless Sunday afternoon his dad took him to a used bookstore. After perusing through dusty books and finding nothing interesting, he stumbled upon a bin full of old sports magazines. They were on sale. Five magazines for $4. Not a bad deal! Dylan looked through almost all of them, selecting an issue of Sports Illustrated and a few ones previewing the upcoming baseball season. Then, he found it.

An old issue of Muscle & Fitness from 1985.

On the cover was Cory Everson, who at the time was in the middle of a Ms. Olympia winning streak that ended up lasting six years. It was his first time ever seeing a photograph of a muscular woman. Not just that, but a beautiful muscular woman with a bright, friendly smile. Dylan could not stop staring at it. He probably looked at that cover for a solid five minutes without moving. He had to have it. His dad didn’t notice what his son decided to buy (he figured they were all baseball related), so Dylan felt like he got away with something naughty without being caught.

That night – and several nights afterward – he masturbated in the privacy of his bedroom to a two-page spread of Ms. Everson flexing her big, sleek muscles. It was an eye-opening experience. He just started noticing girls but fantasized about more “traditional” women like Pamela Anderson, Cindy Crawford, and Carmen Electra. He had no idea there were women in this world with big muscles. Women who lifted really heavy weights like Arnold Schwarzenegger. They weren’t as big as Arnold, but they were pretty damn impressive!

It was a revelation. An epiphany. A mind-blowing discovery. He knew he liked looking at pictures of beautiful women…but women with muscles? How crazy is that?

Young Dylan knew this was strange. He knew he could never tell another soul about this. So, he kept this his little secret. Nobody ever found out about his massive crush on big buff ladies. Whenever he could he returned to that used bookstore and eventually started to buy bodybuilding/fitness magazines with his own money. He flipped through all of them to make sure they didn’t just feature buff guys. The ones that showcased ladies were his for the taking. And he took them home and hid them under his bed. He made sure his mom never found them. Every night until he left for college he jerked off to photos of some of the world’s most famous FBBs: Cory Everson, Rachel McLish, Carla Dunlap, Lenda Murray, Bev Francis, Peggy Schoolcraft, and famous fitness competitors like Monica Brant and Deidre Pagnanelli. He knew all their names, faces, birthdays, hometowns, competitive history, and measurements.

He was obsessed with muscular women. He thought about them day and night. But throughout his many years fixating over female bodybuilders, he never ever told a single soul about it. Not even his pet dog knew about his scandalous fetish. It was a closely guarded secret. Even today it’s still a secret, though to a slightly lesser degree. Dylan’s domestic employees know about it. The female bodybuilders he’s met over the years know about it (obviously). But that’s it. Nobody else.

He’s sworn every FBB he’s ever met to secrecy. They are to never tell anyone that Dylan Tanaka is one of their loyal clients. Ever. Being “outed” like that would be an utter embarrassment. So far, so good. Female bodybuilders who provide muscle worship sessions are great at respecting and maintaining privacy. He has no worries of his secret being exposed to the public. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d ever be humiliated on the world stage.

“Breakfast is served!” Henry enters the dining room, places the frittata and a cup of coffee in front of Dylan, and notices the magazine lying face down. “Anything else, Boss Man?” This pleasant interruption disrupts Dylan’s unpleasant trip down memory lane. He shakes his head.

“Nah, I think that’s it. Looks absolutely delicious!” Dylan takes a bite out of his breakfast, savoring every morsel of flavor. “You’ve outdone yourself, my friend. Incredible.”

“Thanks my man!” Before returning to the kitchen, Henry turns to his boss and asks in a lowered voice: “Tomorrow morning, before she leaves, can I spend some time with Peggy? After watching her latest video, wow! I got to have some of that!”

Peggy’s primary source of income isn’t bodybuilding, but instead being a webcam performer. As a fairly well-known “celebrity” in the world of adult entertainment, Peggy boasts a regular following of 1,260,000+ people from around the world. You don’t need to speak the same language in order to understand that watching a beautiful muscular woman strip naked in her bedroom and masturbate is a sexy thing to behold. Not unexpectedly, her large subscriber base doesn’t just supplement her income. It is her income. And also unexpectedly, Henry is one of those subscribers who pays a modest monthly sum to watch her “do her thing.”

Dylan too. This goes without saying.

“I can’t guarantee anything, but what I’ll say is this,” Dylan begins. Henry is nearly drooling with anticipation. “I’ll ask her if she has time before she has to leave for her flight. Of course, I can’t guarantee anything. But it never hurts to ask. How does that sound?”

Henry’s eyes get really big, a sure sign that he’s responding positively to this proposition. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That sounds good with me! I’ll make sure to say hi to her when she arrives for dinner. Maybe that’ll sway her. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

Henry returns to the kitchen, laughing to himself. Dylan didn’t ask what’s for dinner, but he’s assuming it’s going to be absolutely delicious. For special gatherings – and yes, Dylan occasionally hosts dinner parties with non-female bodybuilders – Henry has an impeccable record of choosing a menu that makes all the guests happy. From braised lamb shanks to grilled salmon to carbonara to prime rib to sushi to Korean tofu soup, Henry can cook anything. Anything. Any culture, any region, for any occasion. In addition to their shared love for muscular women, his culinary skills are the primary reason why Henry has been employed by Dylan for so long. That is, after all, why one keeps a chef around.

A few moments pass in silence. Eventually, Dylan begins to eat his frittata. After dreading it, Dylan picks up the magazine and opens it to a random page somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, a story asking for Dylan to be incarcerated in a French Revolution-style “eat the bourgeoisie” class war doesn’t appear. Some random story about the Chinese government hacking into the CIA’s database. As if that’s any more comforting.

Eating and sipping his coffee in silence, Dylan decides he should simply enjoy his breakfast so he could prepare for what should be the best weekend of his life. He learned at an early age that if you let negative emotions fester too long inside your mind, it will have a direct impact on your entire life moving forward. This weekend is intended to be one of the greatest of his life, so he better get his head right if that’s going to be the case. The outside world may hate his guts, but inside his own little kingdom he’s in control of what happens. And he knows the three guests whom he cordially invited to his home love him for who he is, not for what he’s done. It’s a comforting feeling to be around people who truly care for you.

A half an hour later, Dylan returns his dirty dishes to the kitchen. Henry has left for the morning – probably off to run errands – and Lawrence is nowhere to be seen. Dylan looks out the kitchen window overlooking Lake Washington. It’s a gorgeous day, with the weather forecast promising an even greater weekend. He hears the faint sound of a chainsaw roaring away in the backyard. That must be Joey, Dylan’s stoner landscaper who comes around usually once or twice a month. Usually on a Saturday. Today being Saturday, that makes perfect sense.

After putting on a pair of shoes, Dylan takes a stroll outside to see what Joey’s working on today. He immediately smells the strong odor of marijuana emanating from the backyard toolshed. Dylan isn’t a smoker himself and has no problems with people smoking reefer – even while on the job. But that still doesn’t change the fact that the reek of pot bothers him. But not enough to tell Joey to stop doing it while on his property. Dylan tends to be a “live and let live” kind of guy. He’ll give him a pass.

The ruckus caused by the chainsaw is probably powerful enough to wake up the whole neighborhood. Either that or the smell of weed. Dylan’s 6,125 square foot property boasts a massive backyard designed in the style of a traditional Japanese garden. In the middle is a large lotus pond that snakes around almost ¾ of the whole property. The lip of the pond feeds into a small waterfall that flows downward toward the beach. That water then gets recirculated back into the top of the pond, located adjacent to a massive cherry blossom that still takes his breath away even to this day. The rest of the yard consists of lines of willow trees (which Joey is most likely trimming with the chainsaw), lanterns, a gorgeous walking bridge connecting one end of the lotus pond to the far west side, rocks big enough to sit on, bamboo, Japanese maple, rhododendron, and various other plants and flowers. Many years ago, Dylan hired an architect and his wife – a world famous gardener – to design everything.

They did a bang-up job.

A small chashitsu (a traditional Japanese teahouse) sits in the northeast corner, which serves as a toolshed for Joey (and whenever a professional arborist pays a visit). Sure enough, a few feet away Joey is hard at work trimming some of the overgrown willow trees. He has Beats by Dre headphones on, listening to some kind of music as he works. It’s a good thing he has noise-cancelling headphones on because that chainsaw is so annoyingly loud. If he didn’t, he might go deaf after twenty minutes of having it on.

Dylan waits until Joey stops for a drink of water to interrupt him. “Hey there! How are things going?”

“Oh, hey Mr. Tanaka! Things are going good, nothing to complain about. I got a new chainsaw! Take a look at it.” Joey carelessly waves the sharp blade of the 20-inch gas-powered Helinski Class-A toward his boss’s face. Even as Dylan suddenly leans back, Joey doesn’t seem to notice. “It’s super sharp and cuts through these branches like melted butter. It’s really meant for wood, you know? But it’s all good.”

Admiring the clean, sharp blade and jagged teeth, Dylan gives Joey a courtesy smile and nod. He inspects the willow trees from the top on down. “As long as it gets the job done. I just wanted to say hi and tell you I love your work…but could you do me a favor?”

Joey puts down the chainsaw, removes his headphones (so the music he was listening to wasn’t that loud?), and turns to his boss. “Sure thang, what is it?”

“Could you, uh,” Dylan hesitantly begins, “Could you maybe smoke before you show up to work, as opposed to during? No offense, but it’s sort of messing with my head. I can be oversensitive to smells like that.”

“Oh, that’s weird! Because I ain’t smoke nothing yet today, my man. It must’ve been the neighbors, for real,” Joey says. He must be telling the truth, because when he gets high his Mexican accent comes back. When he’s “sober” – or as sober as he can possibly be – he tends to ditch the accent. “Seriously though, I can smell the pot too. But it ain’t coming from me, I can tell you that homie!”

“Ah. Okay. No worries. It must be the neighbors,” Dylan reassures his nervous employee.

Joey gives Dylan a fist bump and burps loudly. Dylan chuckles. They shake hands. As he proceeds to return to his job, Dylan sniffs the air one more time and notices, strangely enough, that the smell of pot has gone away. Joey is wrong about the neighbors smoking. He highly doubts anyone who lives in this neighborhood would do anything that even resembles rebellious behavior, even though marijuana has been legalized in this state for a few years now.

No worries. Maybe it was his imagination playing tricks on him.

As he looks up, one of the pesky birds who woke him up earlier today is staring right back at him.

“Are you the one who was lighting up this early in the morning?”

The bird does not verbally respond. It then proceeds to fly away to a different tree in someone else’s yard.

“I thought so,” Dylan mutters under his breath.

All the King’s Queens – Chapter 1: Sincerely, With Love

Melanie Wright
19903 87th Avenue SE
Chicago, IL 60640

April 18, 2019

Dear Melanie,

I hope this letter finds you well. It’s hard to believe I’ve been “retired” for nearly four years now, but here I am, alive and well. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of health, happiness, and contentment. It’s a shame it takes a life-changing event to make that truth reveal itself.

The reason I’m writing to you today is because I would love to invite you to a special dinner party at my home in Seattle. I know you are currently traveling Europe, so you may not receive this letter for at least a few weeks. But don’t fear! I plan to host this party on the weekend of June 29-30. I will send a private jet to pick you up at O’Hare International Airport on the morning of the 29th at 11:00 a.m. (CT) It will take you directly to Seattle, where I’ll have a taxicab ready to pick you up and drive you to my private residence.

For the sake of transparency, I’ve also invited Monique St. Martin and Peggy Cole to join us for the weekend’s festivities. I believe you are acquainted with both of these fine ladies and are on good terms with both. I cannot guarantee that both will join us, but I have no doubt our weekend together will be a special one to remember regardless of who will be here with us.

Speaking of which, please bring with you any toys or “accessories” you think would enhance our fun together. As well as a few sexy outfits. I know you’ll look beautiful – as you always do!

I expect our weekend’s frivolities to end on Sunday afternoon after lunch. I will guarantee that you will be able to return home to Chicago by 9:00 p.m. (CT) at the latest. I hope this will not be an inconvenience for you and interfere with any prior engagements.

If you will be so kind, RSVP to this invitation by Sunday, May 26th at the latest by calling or texting me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely, with love,

Dylan Tanaka

***

Monique St. Martin
2477 Santiago Boulevard N
Miami, FL 33125

April 18, 2019

Dear Monique,

Hi honey! How are you doing? From what I’ve read, your rehab process went better than expected, meaning you were able to begin training again sooner than your doctors thought was even possible. That’s great news!

Like many people across the world, I was heartbroken when your accident happened. I cried real tears as I watched the horror unfold on television. I cannot even imagine what you were going through as it was happening. My heart still breaks for you, even though your accident was almost 3 years ago. It’s like it happened last month.

However, it’s on to better times!

I’d love to invite you to a private dinner party over at my home in Seattle during the weekend of June 29-30. You’ve been over here before, so you know where it is. But don’t worry about transportation! I can arrange for a private airplane to pick you up at Miami International Airport on the morning of the 29th at 10:00 a.m. (EST) You should arrive here in Seattle at around 1:30 p.m. local time (PST). I will then arrange for a taxicab to pick you up and drive you to my home.

Just so you know, I’ve also invited Melanie Wright and Peggy Cole to join us for the weekend. I believe you’re acquainted with both of them, am I right? I cannot guarantee that both of them will be able to join us, but that shouldn’t get in the way of everyone who will be in attendance from having a banging good time!

Speaking of which, please feel free to bring any sexy outfits or “accessories” along with you. I understand you have strict “limitations” when it comes to your relationship with me, so I promise you I will not pressure you to do anything you feel uncomfortable doing. If at any time you feel like your boundaries are being crossed, please speak up and let us know. I would be horrified if you felt violated during our time together.

I will also be able to give you your quarterly sponsorship money in a sealed envelope. No need to hassle with the bank on securing a wired deposit. Unlike that one time, I don’t plan to show up to Miami unannounced anytime soon!

I expect our weekend’s frivolities to end on Sunday afternoon after lunch. I will guarantee that you will be able to return home to Miami by 10:00 p.m. (EST) at the latest. I hope this will not be an inconvenience for you and conflict with any prior engagements.

If you will be so kind, RSVP to this invitation by Sunday, May 26th at the latest by calling or texting me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely, with love,

Dylan Tanaka

***

Peggy Cole
9090 Cortez Road SE, apt. 540
Las Vegas, NV 89110

April 18, 2019

Dear Peggy,

Hello gorgeous! Long time no see, am I right?

I love watching your cam shows every Tuesday night! It’s definitely the highlight of my week, which seem to be getting more and more pointless as time goes on. But enough about me. Let’s talk about you.

I’d love to invite you to a private dinner party over at my home in Seattle during the weekend of June 29-30. You’ve been over here before, so you know where it is. But don’t worry about transportation! I can arrange for a private airplane to pick you up at McCarran International Airport on the afternoon of the 29th at 1:30 p.m. (PST) You should arrive here in Seattle at around 4:00 p.m. I will then arrange for a taxicab to pick you up and drive you to my home.

Just so you know, I’m also inviting Monique St. Martin and Melanie Wright to join us for the entire weekend. I believe you know both of them and are on good terms with each other. I wouldn’t want any unnecessary drama following us around! There will be plenty of excitement as it is, I’m sure. Obviously, I can’t guarantee that all four of us will be able to enjoy each other’s company, but no matter who shows up it will certainly be a weekend to remember for years to come.

Speaking of which, please bring along with you lots of sexy outfits, underwear, toys, accessories, lubricants, bondage paraphernalia, and “magical substances” you think all of us will enjoy. You know about Monique’s limitations, but Melanie and I are up for anything, as usual.

I expect our weekend’s frivolities to end on Sunday afternoon after lunch. I will guarantee that you will be able to return home to Las Vegas by 5:00 p.m. at the latest. I hope this will not be an inconvenience for you. I know you are a busy woman with all your clients, cam shows, wrestling sessions, and video shoots to keep track of. Trust me, I’m watching your career unfold very closely. A little too closely, perhaps!

If you will be so kind, RSVP to this invitation by Sunday, May 26th at the latest by calling or texting me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely, with love,

Dylan Tanaka

***

Saturday, April 27, 2019

8:49 a.m. (PST)

MELANIE WRIGHT
Hey baby! I just got your letter. Yes I’d love to come over for some fun at your big mansion. Can’t wait! Thank you darling!

DYLAN TANAKA
Fantastic! It’s great to hear from you. Thank you for the quick reply, my dear. You’re the first to respond, to tell you the truth.

MELANIE WRIGHT
O really? Haha

DYLAN TANAKA
For sure. I look forward to seeing you, my lady. I’ll text you flight itinerary info once we get closer to the big weekend. Lots of love!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MELANIE WRIGHT
Love you baby xoxo

***

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

11:17 p.m. (PST)

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
Heeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyy babyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DYLAN TANAKA
Monique my dear! I trust you just received my letter in the mail?

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
Yassssss daddi! I want to come over and see you and the girls soooooooooo badly lol

DYLAN TANAKA
That’s great news! You’re just in luck. I heard from Melanie a few days ago. She said she’ll be able to join us. Haven’t heard back from Peggy yet, though. But that doesn’t mean she won’t be able to make it. She has so many lovers I cannot imagine how many hundreds of texts she gets every day. That’s why she can be slow to respond.

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
I hope she can cum lol

DYLAN TANAKA
Me too.

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
Sounds like fun. You know about my limitations, but you just may be in luck.

DYLAN TANAKA
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
lol

DYLAN TANAKA
I hope you don’t feel pressured or anything. That’s not my intent at all.

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
Oh no, baby! That ain’t it. I’m just feeling a little more generous than usual lol I want to show you how much I appreciate you supporting me and stuff xoxoxoxoxo

DYLAN TANAKA
Oh good. Well, I certainly look forward to seeing you and knowing how generous you plan to be. I love you, Monique dear.

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
I luv you too daddi

DYLAN TANAKA
Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
haha looooooooooool do you still think of me when you jerk off every night?

DYLAN TANAKA
Yes, definitely, yes. I always think of you and those beautiful biceps of yours. Mmmmmmmmm

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
Keep your dick in your pants daddi!!!!!!!!! But you can still think of my big 16 inch biceps when you nut all over yourself lol

DYLAN TANAKA
I’ll make sure to blow an extra large load just for you, my dearest. All over my silk sheets…

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
looooooooooollllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yo nasty!!!!!!!!!!!!

DYLAN TANAKA
I love you, my sweet angel. I’ll text you flight info when we get closer to our date together.

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
k

DYLAN TANAKA
Love you.

MONIQUE ST. MARTIN
Luv you 2 bye bye

***

Monday, May 13, 2019

2:31 a.m. (PST)

PEGGY COLE: Oh fuck yeah…………

DYLAN TANAKA: Yesssssssssssssssssss!

PEGGY COLE: Oh I’m close…I’m so, so close baby!

DYLAN TANAKA: I can see. You’re so fucking wet, my dear. So, so wet. I can see it dripping all over the place. So beautiful. Such a sight to see.

PEGGY COLE: What about you? Are you close too?

DYLAN TANAKA: Uh, well…

PEGGY COLE: Tell me you sick fuck! Tell me you little fucking bitch. You worthless cunt. Are you going to come too? With me? Like a good little boy?

DYLAN TANAKA: I think so, yeah.

PEGGY COLE: You better. You and your tiny little dick better come with me. If we don’t come together, I’m going to laugh at your limp little Asian cock and tell ALL MY FRIENDS how tiny it is! Do you want me to do that, you fucking little bitch?

DYLAN TANAKA: NOOOOOOO!!! Don’t do that. No!

PEGGY COLE: Well, I’m going to. I’m going to unless you –

DYLAN TANAKA: – Oh fuck!!!!!!!!!!!

PEGGY COLE: Yaaaaaaaaaassssssssssssss king!!!!!!!!!!!

DYLAN TANAKA: Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh…….yessssssssssss!!!

PEGGY COLE: I’m coming too! I’m coming too! I’m going to…oh, oh, oh, oh, YAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DYLAN TANAKA: Oh my fucking God. So juicy! Wow! Look at the juices flowing out of your beautiful pussy, my dear. Look at that.

PEGGY COLE: FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DYLAN TANAKA: It’s so beautiful! So, so…so beautiful!

PEGGY COLE: Oh fuck yeah. Fuck, fuck yeah. Did you come all over the fucking place?

DYLAN TANAKA: You know it. All over the floor. Mother of God. I’m too embarrassed to ask Lawrence to clean it up. I think I’m going to have to do it. Holy shit, it’s everywhere. Man, I made a mess in here. Woooooooooooooow…

PEGGY COLE: Me too!

DYLAN TANAKA: Drink your pussy juices like a good girl.

PEGGY COLE: I’m drinking, I’m drinking…

DYLAN TANAKA: How does it taste?

PEGGY COLE: Like your cum. Like you came all over me. On me, inside me, everywhere.

DYLAN TANAKA: I want to come inside you so badly.

PEGGY COLE: How badly?

DYLAN TANAKA: Really badly.

PEGGY COLE: Well, you’re just in luck.

DYLAN TANAKA: How? Um, why?

PEGGY COLE: I’d love to come over to your party next month! How does that sound?

DYLAN TANAKA: I was going to ask you about it once we’re done here, so I’m glad you brought it up. That’s great to hear! I look forward to seeing you and everyone else.

PEGGY COLE: Did Monique and Melanie also say they can come?

DYLAN TANAKA: Indeed, they did. You’re the last to RSVP, incidentally. I almost was afraid you didn’t get my message. I’m a bit old fashioned, as you can tell, sending people actual letters in the mail. It’s a nice touch. At least, I think it is.

PEGGY COLE: Yes, it sure is.

DYLAN TANAKA: Fantastic. Lovely. Damn. Such a fucking mess.

PEGGY COLE: I’m sure we’ll make an even bigger mess when we’re all together.

DYLAN TANAKA: Oh for sure. Speaking of which, make sure to bring lots of outfits, toys, and ideas for our time together. Monique says she’s open to getting in on the action, believe it or not.

PEGGY COLE: Really? Wow! I thought she’s the innocent type.

DYLAN TANAKA: Ha, she’s not as innocent as she appears. On TV she’s perfectly wholesome, but she has a bit of a nasty side to her if she allows you to see that side of her, of course. Rumor has it she may get freakier with us than she normally does.

PEGGY COLE: Huh. That I got to see! I knew she was freakier than she seems.

DYLAN TANAKA: Well, you certainly can a month from now. I’ll email you flight itinerary information once we get closer to our special weekend together, okay?

PEGGY COLE: Sounds great. Can’t wait.

DYLAN TANAKA: Same here.

PEGGY COLE: Love you, Dylan.

DYLAN TANAKA: Love you too, Peggy. I’m still going to watch your cam show tomorrow!

PEGGY COLE: Cool! I’m introducing the same vibrator that I used tonight, so you just got a sneak peek at something the world hasn’t seen before.

DYLAN TANAKA: Lucky me.

PEGGY COLE: For sure.

DYLAN TANAKA: When I’m watching I’ll pretend like I’m seeing it for the first time. I’ll, uh, “act” surprised.

PEGGY COLE: I’m sure you will. Good night, sweetie.

DYLAN TANAKA: Good night, my sweet princess.

PEGGY COLE: Kisses.

<LATINAMUSCLEPRINCESS67 has ended the conversation>

<How would you rate the quality of your chat? Please give us a rating out of 5 stars>

***

Dear future me,

After three of the longest fucking years of my life, I will finally be a free man.

I will be let out of this cage.

This hellhole.

This torture cell.

This prison.

But not just a physical prison. But a psychological prison as well.

A prison in my mind.

But all of that will be over soon. I have a plan. I know what to do.

I have the means to do it. But every day I ask myself whether or not I have the will. I have the means. I have the methods. I have the help. But, do I have the desire to see it through to the end?

I’ve wondered this every day for the last three years. These thoughts never leave my mind.

And you know what?

I do.

Let’s rock.

Sincerely,

Present me

P.S. – Regardless of what happens, all that matters is that this motherfucker burn in Hell. Like he deserves. Even if I die in the process, as long as he bleeds like a stabbed pig, I can die a happy man. But he must get hurt. Badly. In order for this to be worth it. Anything less than that would be a failure on my part. I cannot let it come to that.

Never.