The pulsing throb of a sub-woofer sounded in the distance. The reverb of a wide, open room made fools of the treble and mid-range frequencies while an erratic strobe added to the place’s confusion. Below it and the disco ball, center stage, was Candy. She gripped and mounted the greased pole better than any other girl in the joint. Her body whirled and spun, unfurled and contorted with sexual predation and temptation.
Soren watched a cascade of bills flutter out around her from some jackass at the pit. Another one with more money than sense. Candy dipped low to show her tits from an upside down angle. To her credit, she was more an expert than any other girl Soren had. She swung past while upside down, gripping the pole, and managed to pull twenties from between his teeth with her own. She was an earner, and damned if she didn’t deserve every penny liberated from dumbasses like him.
Soren threw back the last of his straight scotch, made a come hither motion toward one of the other girls– a waitress in nothing but a G-string and two tassels. Soren ordered up another drink, stuffed an extra twenty in the side of her thong. She sauntered to the bar for his drink as he focused on the American across the curved booth from him.
The guy was well-dressed. No suit or anything, but he had a certain flair of style that said he liked fast women and expensive cars– or perhaps it was the other way around. In either case, he’d come in looking for more blow than anyone Soren had ever met. It wasn’t unusual that someone came to him for drugs. He ran the club, after all, and everyone knew if you blew enough cash on strippers you were probably doing coke off their tits at some point.
Still, Soren had gotten out of the game years ago. More importantly, there was something about this guy he didn’t like. Something in his features. They were American features, but with an almost translucent skin that he swore showed bone beneath. That’s not to say that Soren was prejudiced. One man’s money was as good as any others’ and he’d happily take it regardless. In fact, most of his best girls were Americans working off debts back home. The exchange rate nowadays was enough to bring in scores of ’em, even with his high standards.
This guy though, there was something in the way he held himself. He seemed not to inhabit the room, or even reality around it. It sent a chill down Soren’s spine. He didn’t like that. He’d learned to trust his gut long ago, and it was telling him to lose the guy. Something else though– curiosity, maybe– told him to understand the gut feeling better before deciding.
So, instead of sending the guy straight to the bouncer, who’d escort him out back to the dealer, Soren sat him down for a drink. He was going to do his best to suss out the guy’s overwhelming creep-factor. The thong and tassels girl brought Soren his scotch and something equally strong for the American. He watched her leave again, then refocused on the American before him.
“What you’re asking for,” he said casually, testing him. “It’s not something many people could get. Even if I were so inclined to make deals of that nature, it would be beyond me.”
The guy was clearly disappointed, but his face suggested he wouldn’t give so easily. He spoke with half-ridicule, half scorn, and in a tone so cold it froze Soren’s veins, “I thought you were a player, man. Cock of the walk, and all that shit.”
There it was, Soren thought. That was what he’d sensed, the thing he disliked, that he didn’t trust. At least, he was pretty sure that was it. The tone of voice had thrown him. Anyway, he should’ve guessed it; everything with this guy was dominance and alpha-level bullshit. He looked as though he had no idea how the game was played. Even if Soren were still in it, he wasn’t stupid; he wouldn’t have been so easily baited even on his worst days.
“Get out of here,” he said firmly.
The guy didn’t budge, only his jaw tightened. Soren made eye-contact with a bouncer. Bane was a thing of meat so wide he had to angle through the club’s doors to avoid getting stuck. He looked like he could lift a semi, and at that, Soren was pretty sure he did it regularly, just to pass the time.
Bane appeared as Soren rose. He drained the last of his scotch and buttoned his blazer, “Escort our friend outside. He’s hereby barred from the club for life.” The guy made to speak through his teeth but Soren spoke over him, “If he resists, break his knee caps.”
The guy held his tongue with a snarl. He stood to be escorted away. Soren blew a relieved breath feeling his blood warm again, “Americans.”
He made for the club’s rear, passed through the long room of lighted mirrors. The other girls were half-naked or getting there for their shifts while Candy finished being eye-fucked on-stage. His eyes skirted the girls for anything unusual, came away satisfied.
Past a door at the back of the dressing room, he entered his office. It was small, with just enough room for a desk, some chairs, and a couch along one wall. A laptop was closed and powered down on the desk. Behind them, a wall of flat-screen TVs showed feeds from cameras across the club. Soren gave them a passing glance then sank into his chair and opened the laptop.
It was roughly a half-hour later that the hairs on the back of his neck upended. He smoothed them with a hand. The same shiver from earlier coursed through him, made his shoulders buck and jostle with a shudder. His blood froze again. He swallowed hard, audibly.
“Something wrong?” A familiar voice said.
Soren spun ’round, a pistol out to see the American a little beside and behind him.
He raised the gun, “You!”
His features pointed lethally, “Me.”
“What the hell are you doing here!?” Soren demanded. “How the fuck did you get in?”
His face angled downward. Shadows played across it. He looked downright demonic now. His eyes glowed yellow from fury rather than light. His translucent skin iced over until his whole body was almost opaque.
Soren barked an order at him, “Get out!”
The man stared. The yellow eyes glowed in transparent sockets. Soren went pale as the wall behind the man appeared.
“You should’ve taken my offer, Mr. Soren. I could’ve made you rich.”
Soren thumbed the pistol’s hammer, ready to fire, “I’m warning you!”
There was a sudden flash. An icy wind impaled Soren. His innards froze. Ice crystals formed on his hands, froze the gun to them. He fell to the ground. His still-warm legs bucked him onto his back. He gasped for breath against frozen lungs. The man approached and Soren’s eyes widened.
“You wonder what I am,” he said, his voice now discordant with grating harmonies. “But a wraith is nothingness, that primal terror no man wishes to accept as true. It is for ego’s sake alone. He fears nothingness, for in it, he is nothing. And man must always be something.” He hesitated with a snarl. His eyes flared brighter, “But you will not be a man when I am finished with you. You will be nothingness too.”
The man suddenly disintegrated into a fog. It fired at Soren like a missile. He screamed, but it was drowned out by a climax of laughter in the dressing room and the pounding beat of a dancer on-stage. When Bane came looking later, he found nothing. There the wraith was proved honest; nothingness where once there’d been a man.