A woman dressed in a shimmering silver tank top leaned into the passenger window of a black Escalade. The scent of cherry vanilla seeped into the vehicle until it was almost smothering. Las Vegas neon turquoise and gold lights silhouetted the woman's spry ringlets. She smiled with dark red lips.
"Are you looking for some company tonight?"
"That I am," answered the man dressed in a suit. "Come on in."
The woman straightened to pull open the door and climb into the passenger seat. She also wore a dark red leather skirt that reached well above her knees. The driver steered back onto the main street beside the boardwalk of the Las Vegas strip and the hustle of pedestrians.
"So what is your name?" asked the driver.
"Call me Cherry Bomb," the woman smiled back at him. "Ever hear that song?"
He nodded. "Once or twice."
"What would you like me to call you?"
"I am Telihu," he sent her a gentle smile. She could see now that he was a tall man with a medium structure and a square jaw. His hair and eyes were dark and almost exotic.
"What an unusual name."
"It is the Washoe word for 'man.' My mother is Washoe."
She nodded. "That explains that."
"Sure does," he steered into the parking lot ahead of a massive hotel whose enormous fountain trickled water from what must have been fifteen feet. "So what do you like to eat, Cherry Bomb?"
"Sorry?" she shot him a surprised glance.
"I would like to get us dinner. Order anything you like."
He swept into a painted slot close to the doors and removed the key from the ignition. He climbed out and came around to open the passenger door, but she had already scrambled out.
"That is generous of you, Mr. Telihu."
She strode beside him to keep up with his pace. He opened the door of the hotel and allowed her inside ahead of him. Her maroon heels clacked on the marble designs beneath them. She stared around the golden trimmed entrance with its chandelier that seemed to sparkle with diamonds.
"Good evening, Mr. Marshall," the young woman at the desk smiled at him.
"Good evening, Lisa," he returned with a polite nod and a smile. To Cherry Bomb, he added, "Second story, up those stairs," he pointed past her. "Room 251 is where we are headed."
Together, the pair climbed the stairs and strode down the hall. Small mahogany tables presented abstract gold statues and vases of red roses. Oil paintings of beautiful women adorned the walls.
"Here we are," Telihu snapped her out of her admiration. He removed the key card from the door and pushed it open to reveal a suite as lovely as the entrance: a chandelier, sheets that resembled silk, and more room than her own apartment.
"Beautiful place," she remarked.
"I agree," Telihu seated himself at a dining table to one side of the room. "Make yourself at home. Menus are over here. Let me know what you decide to order."
In the end, she said she would have a Caesar salad with Merlot. She watched the man as he ordered her meal and his own steak over the phone. When he ended the call, she asked, "So what is the plan?"
"My plan, assuming you do not mind, is to have a nice dinner and discussion with you."
"A discussion?" she raised her eyebrows incredulously. "I don't have discussions for a living."
"Please, let me explain," Telihu raised a calm hand to silence her protests. "And I will compensate for your time. Statistically, 90% of women in your line of work would rather get out of the business, but are stopped by some sort of fear. Sometimes this is a fear of their boss, or the fear of not having another way to make ends meet. My goal is to meet with women and help anyone who wants out to get out."
His companion snorted and shook her head. She rubbed her palm nervously over her dark knee.
"In my case, what I do pays the bills and more. What are you going to say if I'm all right with that?"
"I will give you my number in case you change your mind, and then we will eat dinner."
"And that's it?"
"And that's it."
She stared at him with lips pursed in curious skepticism. "How in the world do you plan to get women out of this situation? My pimp is cool, but most of them are a little more possessive about their girls."
"There is a local organization that acts as a shelter for women escaping prostitution. They provide medical care, vocational training, child care, education, therapy, and when necessary, the means to relocate to an unknown destination."
"And so you just sweep a girl off her feet and take her there? What about all the pimps and madams that beat their girls and chase after them when they escape?"
"My area is not limited to the rescue," he answered with hands clasped on the table. "I also gather intelligence on pimps and madams deemed a threat to their workers."
Cherry Bomb crossed her arms with a spark in her brown eyes and a smile. She cocked her head to one side. "What exactly drove you to such an unusual line of work?"
He returned her smile. "I hate victimization," he answered simply. "My mother was abused, and I hated that I could not do more to help her when I was a boy. But now," he pointed his index finger and straightened his spine triumphantly, "now I can do more than I ever realized before."
She wagged her head with disbelief. "You are a rare gem, Telihu Marshall."
His smile widened. "And you are a kind woman, Cherry Bomb."
"Marika," she corrected.
"Marika. Nice to meet you, officially. I would rather you not say anything to your boss about me. I'm not here to interfere with your life decisions. I want help anyone get out who wants out."
"Understood," she nodded.
"Thank you. And here," he reached into his pocket for a plain business card and a pen, "is my number. Keep it in case you change your mind, and give it out to any women who might want out."
He scribbled out his number without a name and passed it to her.
"Will do," she said as she accepted it.
And as she spoke, dinner arrived.