Jackson, Tommy, and Wayne are sitting at a sidewalk table when I get to Spice & Sage. Around the table, various brown and clear drinks are watered down due to melted ice and an abnormally humid Friday afternoon in the city. I order Kettle One on the rocks.
"Stephan, ever date a stripper?" Tommy asks me as my drink arrives.
I take a long drink, and then loosen my tie, noticing Tommy is wearing a yellow tie, the same color yellow as mine. "I dated a stripper from New Jersey, but it was for only, for like, two dates."
Wayne calls over the waitress and orders another round. "What happened? Was she a tease?"
"No, no, Chance, that was her dancer name, I can't remember her actual name, but she was cool. It just didn't work because she lived in Jersey."
Our drinks arrive, Jackson drinks down half of his Scotch. "Bridge and tunnel strippers, there should really be a law." Everyone nods and takes a drink.
"Wayne is going out with..." Tommy points over to Wayne.
"Alexis, from The Rear End."
I finish my drink, "Nice, how did you meet?"
No one answers. We have another round of drinks and then split, Tommy and Jackson going to a new club called Sassy, Wayne and I heading to a rooftop bar called the 600 club.
Inside a cab Wayne says, "She was with my dealer, that's where I met Alexis."
"Cool, your guy doesn't mind? I mean, those are usually the guys you don't want to piss off."
Wayne laughs as we get out of the cab, "No, he doesn't mind, the amount of money I give him, damn, he should be so lucky she is all I take."
A long elevator ride and we are greeted by a man in tight slacks and a girl in a tighter skirt. Both dressed in black. They take us to a table, near the bar, with a great view of downtown. We both order Vodka and light Parliament cigarettes.
"Yeah, she's pretty cool; the only thing is that Alexis is a headliner." Wayne looks over at the bar, watching our drinks being poured.
No ashtrays, I put out my cigarette on the side of the brick table. "Damn, how are you handling that? I've never heard of such a thing."
"It's not easy."
"Damn, a headliner."
Wayne finishes his drink, takes a long breath, and looks around. "You want to go tie off?"
Just inside the open roof-top area there are private bathrooms, spacious enough for couples to have sex. Spacious enough for two heterosexual males to shoot heroin.
Sweat, I'm covered in sweat when I wake up the next day. I'm on a patch of grass, which after further analyzing is a field with no end in sight. I don't have a headache, and there are no marks on my arm. A lake is off to the left, mountains straight ahead, a camouflaged painted cabin to my right. It's not humid, just dry heat as I pick myself up and walk over to the cabin.
Welcome to Idaho reads a postcard taped to the door as I enter. There is a kitchen table, set for eight. Steam is pouring out pots from the top of the stove. A woman wearing a tattered apron and red scarf appears. "Oh, you must be Stephan. I'm Lucy." Lucy grabs my hand and leads me out of the kitchen before I can ask where I am.
Ned is sitting on one of the four chairs in the living room, as I enter he looks up, "Welcome, what happened to you?"
"Not sure, I just woke up..." I point with my left hand toward the kitchen. "I'm from New York, uh, city."
Ned looks over at a man, napping in the chair next to him. "That's Cameron, he was a cop in New York. He cheated on his wife, and well, the way Cameron tells the story she grabbed his gun and surprised him one morning. No hesitation."
I sit down on a chair, "Oh."
"And me..." Ned laughs, "I'm a victim of AIDS, but it's my fault you see." Cameron stirs, Ned looks over, "You see, I married a stripper, and not just any stripper, but a headliner."
I look down at the floor for a second, and when i look back up everyone is gone.
"What am I doing here?" I'm back in the kitchen, asking Lucy.
Lucy's face turns red, embarrassed. "Oh my, you didn't get your basket, did you?"
For some reason I look around the kitchen, scanning the place for a basket, "No, I didn't."
Lucy runs out of the kitchen, and is back in a minute, she's carrying a basket and hands it to me. Sitting on top of the basket is a welcome card, welcoming me to the after life.
"You're staying on the second floor, don't bother looking for a key, because we don't have any." Again, Lucy pushes me out of the kitchen, this time toward a staircase.
About a hundred stairs and I'm on the second floor, a hallway of doors, no names or way of identifying who or what is behind each door. I open the first door. A man is strapped to a chair and getting a tattoo from a person mixing ink, gasoline, and gun powder. Gagged with a rag, only tears escape, blood drips from his right ear.
Behind the second door an old man sits in a metal chair as a woman continues to stick a needle in his arm, purposely missing his veins, but promising next time will be the one. The man's arm looks black from the bruising and he is shaking from withdrawal.
Opening the third door a man is stripped naked on a bed. A table saw is hanging a few inches over his mid section, naked girls are dancing around the bed. Also gagged, the man is unable to communicate his thoughts as the table saw is turned on and his excitement brings him inches closer to the blade.
After this, I run down the stairs, back to the kitchen where there are seven seated at the table.
"Hi Stephan, right on time, I made omelet’s."
"What's going on here? This isn't heaven, what is this place?"
Lucy laughs, "Oh Stephan, who said anything about heaven?"
David S. Grant is the author of BLOOD: The New Red. Follow David on Twitter: .david_s_grant