Re: The Show Must Go Off

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Herr D

The Show Must Go Off–part sixteen

Seventeen days in I was cleaning the room when Upclose stopped by to help. I had been expecting her to try to have me killed again or proposition me any day now. Or both. I hadn’t been expecting her to try to make us some money. I was extra suspicious of her because she had told me to pass on a compliment to Gibb. He had ‘done real good’ building and installing a thermal pattern event recorder so we’d know for certain whether anyone had even been in the bathroom and whether they’d been in the shower tub. Then she’d climbed into it herself and started scrubbing. Not knowing what to think, I’d gone to folding linens and storing them above my ‘trophy case,’ a steel locker that supposedly only contained a swatch of a pirate’s homemade spacesuit liner, two wiped and smashed I.D. implants, and Yew’s hollow rib. The idea of the trophy case enhanced my rep as a nut. I’d bolted it to the bathroom wall with Gibb’s help the week before . . .
“Q? I’ve been thinking.” Uh oh.
“About?” I prepped an adrenal boost.
“I could pay you a lot faster if I rented this room for business.” Upclose? Hooking? No . . .
“It’s none of my affair, of course, but will Crunch know about this?”
She laughed a little. “Crunch knows I’m a dominatrix, and he’s not into that.”
I didn’t need GameFace to look thoughtful and slightly confused. “So you miss it?”
“Yes. But I don’t have to do that with a partner. I’ve compartmentalized my life before. I can do it again.”
I gave her a slow nod. Why not, right? “I don’t suppose you could whip your clients into cleaning, could you?”
I heard her stop scrubbing and looked over at her. She was doubled over, sponge dripping from a clenched fist, vibrating with silent laughter. “Ohh, huh. Heh. I hadn’t thought of THAT. That’s pretty good. Maybe.”
From her voice I would never have known she’d been laughing hard enough to shake the shower door. I did have to GameFace then, not to laugh at the situation: how does a fake nut stay safe from a genuinely murderous sadist? Get her giggling. Oh, brother.
“How do you feel about contracts?” As if I didn’t know. She still had them on file with people she’d killed in the Gladiator Games.
“I like contracts.”
“Let me show you one. Give me a moment.” I tossed up the last linens, walked to the wallscreen remote, and called up the public version of one of my clients. She joined me and skimmed the boilerplate while I opened a u-box and imported a nameless updated schedule–you know those old redaction spreadsheets? I’d written one, not expecting to ever need it. She smiled then.
“Rent is about ten times a pro cleaner fee. Average slave boy pays me about triple the rent.”
Average slave boy. Great. “Are these repeat customers?” Funny how this didn’t bother me when BDSM in general nauseates me.
“Some of them.”
I highlighted all but two of them in red. “I must put these customers first. They bring in steady money and are more than reliable. They give me retainers. If they reschedule, I have to be understanding.” I highlighted one in orange. “This one is second. He only pays weekly and hasn’t been on time. Coming or going.” I highlighted the last one in yellow. “This isn’t rented at all, but I’m in negotiations to rent it out at double the rate for a full cycle.” I pointed to the gray areas. “Regular customers get a cushion around their time for privacy.”
“So people might not notice them coming and going?”
“Right.” I pointed to the white areas. “If you have clients here, I just need the room clean for the next one on schedule. So book it in this file–I’ll make it remote accessible so either of us can check it before renting. Are you licensed?”
She gave me a funny look. “Are you serious?”
“The Enforcers aren’t detectives and don’t really care to be. They’ll assume you’re a hooker, even if you stay after to make sure the room’s clean. The fine is fifteen times rent.”
She pulled up a ‘no sex agreement’ on the screen. “How about this?”
“Sure, if you have your clients sign one of those, I won’t be liable. That’s good. They still don’t license other private entertainment, do they?” I knew good and well they did, but they never bothered fining for that.
“Rates, then: full rent for one-timers or short-timers plus triple the cleaning fee. Anyone you get long-term it becomes full rent plus double the cleaning fee. That’s the OFFICIAL rate. Whatever else you can manage out of that goes to your debt with me.”
She hadn’t expected it to be so cheap. I didn’t need my hardware to see it. “BUT.” I had her full attention, “Per complaint per client any breach of privacy you will pay twenty times the rent. Five to the client in reparation and fifteen to me.”
“Twenty! That’s awfully steep.”
“Fifteen bundle-rents happens to be the smallest fine the Enforcers — well, enforce. This room is my largest livelihood. Agree to this, and there could never be a need for arbitration over it.”
“What if a client lies?”
“The difference between myself and the Enforcers is that I AM a detective of sorts. I’ll find out and you won’t owe me. I, through you, will start paying them the five.”
She looked at me like I was mining in my own room. “But you’ll know they lied.”
“After I’ve made them a first payment, I’ll confront them. If they don’t make good, we’ll arbitrate.”
Her eyes followed my finger as I slowly pointed to my section on arbitration. “They have to see it your way or fight you on your terms? And they signed this?”
“No one reads it.” I paused while she digested this. “But then, if you stay away during times in the gray fields, my clients may never know who you are. And your clients would be bad-mouthing you. I would suggest you kill all those who mess with your reputation.”
“Oh, I do. How do we split up who cleans when?”
We hashed it out then. She could subcontract cleaning if I approved the service, or she’d ‘see to it’ personally. She was now manager of my room for rent. And I had limited my own access to it. Electronically I would know more about the room than she thought possible, because of the things Gibb had made for me. My ‘trophy case,’ my wallscreen, my remote, my door modules, my plumbing, and even my ‘weapons check’ were tricked out. With utilities per month being cheaper here than a fancy dinner, I was free and clear. She offered me more. She had two rooms off-books that she wasn’t using. They were bad locations for her. Worthless, in fact, to almost anyone. Except someone like me. Gibb got to move closer to his new job for another highchit a week, a badly designed restaurant rented his place as a storeroom, and I got a noob named Jones thinking like I had been thinking–live away from the action! Don’t get mugged as often, stay out of crowds, do more recreational walking–he paid me to live outwardly. His old room I tricked out like mine. And then there were two one-room businesses. I doubled Upclose’s work, tripled our income, and, of course expanded our client base considerably by my twentieth day. It was Jones’ death on the twentieth day that really got things going.