"Come on Ruby, get back up on that pole!" -insisted Booty D
"IDK guys, maybe I shouldn't...I already slipped off the thing and banged my left shin on the stage..which is gonna leave an ugly bruise...maybe I should do something separate from the rest of you"
"So?...you'll just have to wear stockings or tall socks when not wearing long pants for a while is all...plus we've already planned for and billed this upcoming show as a 'Pole Dancing Extravaganza', so you doing something else would take away from the whole 'Extravaganza' thing"
"Shamefur give me a break, I can totally do something with the pole without having to do gymnastics on it..." -her eyes shot sideways to Booty D- "...don't give me that look!"
"Uggh!..." -Booty D groaned while rolling her eyes- "...honey, you've got the girlish thing down pat, but your stick-to-it-tiveness is severely lacking..." -she practically stormed up on stage, which caused Ruby to quickly take a couple of long strides away from the stripper pole- "...here, just watch me..." -she then proceeded to execute the exact same move Ruby had just banged-up her shin failing to do, except that the large framed Booty did it with all the seeming effortless grace of a ballerina- "...well ok..maybe it wasn't apparent by just looking, but I ran and with a little hop I gabbed the pole up high with an initial tight grip while at the same time shifting my weight to the right so that I spun around counter-clockwise...then I adjusted my grip just the right amount to make sure I didn't stop mid rotation or spin so fast that I hit the stage all out of control which is where you messed up"
"I messed up by not getting my right leg pulled back in time"
"Well yeah...and that's because you spun around and descended too fast..and not only didn't you get your leg up in time but you also didn't even close your legs up fully which would have also helped to control your rotation and descent on the pole..." -said Shamefur as she strode onto the stage; and then upon finishing her statement, she did the exact same maneuver she was referring to with all the grace and aplomb previously displayed by Booty D...her body spinning around the pole with an initial quickness which slowed to a perfect, seductively leisurely pace...her arms high and legs spread until at about three-quarters of the way down she pulled her legs together while bringing her lower legs back; ending up resting on the stage on her knees and the front tips of her shoes- "...you see...it's all in grip control"
"Well that's easy for you guys to say and do, but I have a hard time thinking it through in my head while I'm there spinning around and falling so darn fast"
"Well you're not supposed to think it through...it's the kind of thing you learn by hands-on doing it over and over until it becomes ingrained in your muscle memory"
"Muscle memory?..." -Ruby responded to Booty D with skepticism- "...memory is in the brain not the muscles"
"Actually!..." -all three pairs of eyes on the stage turned to look at the one whose purposefully loud exclamation reverberated throughout the stage-room; after-which they noticed all the rest of the Force members there next to Barney- "...muscle memory is a thing...sure the movement information and neural signals may reside in and come out from the brain, but it's through repetitive motion that a series of motions becomes stamped in to the point where the muscles involved seem to move on their own as if they themselves are somehow remembering what to do"
Darren popped his head out of the sound-room's window and remarked with a measure of confusion and alarm:
"Only staff and other authorized personnel allowed during non-business hours...and how did you people get in here anyway?"
"I let them in!" -called out a gruff yet still female sounding voice from some unknown area of the bar; the owner of which became visible shortly thereafter when she walked into the stage-room carrying a crate full of liquor bottles.
"Oh hey Monroe!" -exclaimed Shamefur with a wide sweeping and fully raised wave of her hand to the rather buff and heavily tattooed and pierced head of the bartending staff.
"You need help stocking the bar?"
"No, but thanks anyway Booty D"
"You know, I don't think Hassan would like the idea of customers roaming around the place during off hours"
"Think again Erin's little tag-along..." -rebutted Monroe with a disdainful grin- "...Hassan and everybody who works here know that the party's on when these guys show up..so they're more like VIPs than regular customers..plus it's not like they're here unattended...also if you want to get technical, since you're not on this place's payroll, that makes YOU just a customer..so using that as a criteria for who can or can not be here during non-business hours is a cuts-both-ways kind of sword that you should just drop"
Darren's response was a sour glare and the mumbling of something incoherent before his head disappeared back into the sound-room.
"What crawled up his butt and died?" -queried Monroe as she walked with her typical bit of swagger up to the stage where everyone (minus Darren of course) had congregated.
"Oh it's the usual thing with him..." -answered Shamefur at a fairly quiet volume in a display of politeness towards the person they were discussing- "...he saw Winter and especially Latino Dru feeling-up Erin with their eyes" -Winter's eyes dropped to the floor out of obvious embarrassment while Dru looked at Ruby and smiled.
Booty D on the other hand mirrored none of his friend's sensitivity as he blurted out at full volume:
"And since he's still stuck in his adolescent stage, in his mind he made the other two of you guilty by association"
"Very immature" -thought Monroe out loud.
"Come on guys, be nice"
All eyes turned to Ruby, who had a distressed look on her face.
"Oh!...sorry pretty lady"
Shamefur and Booty D quickly followed up Monroe with their own apologies; with the latter going further by adding:
"We all know he's a big ally of yours...and he's helpful around here, especially with Stacy and Gary and the two other part timers who work the stage and sound"
"Yeah, they like him well enough...and I've never once seen or heard of him asking for any compensation...not even free drinks"
Everyone then seemed to expect that Monroe would come right after Shamefur with at least a grudging compliment...but she and the rest of the bartenders got very little to no help from Darren (since the bar activities had no direct bearing on Ruby's shows); and also they were witnesses to the young man's nasty attitudes and sometimes behavior towards those who were openly appreciative (in any remotely non-platonic way) to the pretty redhead he fiercely clung onto...so instead she moved the conversation on to another subject.
"Speaking of being helpful around here and free drinks, how would you guys like to be the first ones to taste test a new mixed drink I'm rolling out for the weekend?" -she shot glances at all four Force members who responded with silence until Drew finally said with a big smile:
"Count us in on that!"
Six minutes later:
...Drew scarfed down the square of lemon/honey cheesecake on a toothpick that each Force member had been given as an "extinguisher" for their drinks.
...Winter sat still on his barstool starring straight ahead...his martini glass on the counter with his hand still clutching it.
...Barney's face scrunched-up as he let out a long exhale. Then his expression did a complete turn-around to one of satisfaction as he took another sip of his drink.
...Dru looked at Drew and chucked before saying in bemusement:
"Yeah, what a wimp"
Dru took another long sip from his glass before responding to Winter's taunting of their blond teammate.
"Just who are you calling a wimp?..with your face all red and your body tensed-up like it is"
"Yep...he's definitely faking being able to handle that spicy heat"
Indeed, Winter's face was varying degrees of beet red (mostly his cheeks and forehead), his position was rigid, and even the outer edges of his eyes were glistening due to the build-up of water there.
"You're feeling the effects of the Thai hot pepper juice that I mixed in with the already spicy Kahlua Chili Chocolate liquor that makes up the better part of this drink..." -Morgan directed her words to everyone, but looked at Winter with an evil grin as she spoke them- "...I call it Dragon's Breath Mocha Martini"
"Good name...here, I'll breathe some fire right now" -and with that, Dru took the last of his drink into his mouth, swished it around for a second or two, swallowed, and then turned his head and blew right into Winter's face; who's reaction was to purse his lips and squeeze his eyes tightly shut while turning his head so fast that it looked like he would have gotten whiplash from the action.
"Uuuuuohh..not cool man!"
"Maybe not, but it was funny"
Morgan pulled out a steel tray of square sectioned cheesecakes and added several to the ones already on the little foam plates in front of Winter and Drew.
"Go ahead and stop acting all hard and eat some of my specially made Fire Stopper Cheesecake"
"Do it Winter...it seriously stops the burn...and it tastes excellent too"
"Thanks Drew...I got the idea for it from hearing how some people got relief from spicy hot food by drinking milk or eating a dairy food...or sucking on a lemon..or even eating honey, so I decided to put all three of them together..." -while she was talking, Winter had put a square of the dessert into his mouth; which seemed to immediately help since his posture loosened and he let go of the iron grip he had on his glass. She looked at him and said- "...works wonders doesn't it"
"It's good...the taste of it that is...and it settled the spice fire in my mouth..not that it bothered me that much"
Drew rolled his eyes while the other three just looked at each other and grinned at Winter's poor attempt at playing it cool. Winter ignored all of this and took one big gulp to finish his drink...no doubt deriving the confidence to do so from the sweet little 'extinguishers' at his ready disposal, which he helped himself to in liberal amounts.
"Oh I see Monroe's tasty little fire department out in full force...must be something spicy on the table" -called out Booty D as she and Ruby and Shamefur walked up to the bar.
"It's these drinks" -said Drew as he handed the rest of his out to Booty D. who took it and gave it a quick sniff and then a sip.
"I'm calling it Dragon's Breath Mocha Martini...I'll make you guys some fresh ones"
No sooner did Monroe's last syllable leave her mouth that Ruby asked with concern:
"It's like super hot isn't it?"
Knowing Ruby's personal tastes in food pretty well (in this particular case, that she could handle up to jalapeno levels of heat), Booty D though for a second and then answered.
"It's a little bit above what you'd be comfortable with I think"
"Oh but try a wee sip anyway..I've got plenty of my Fire Stoppers on hand"
"I've got just about exactly a wee sip left" -said Booty D as she reached out what was originally Drew's glass to Ruby; who took it hesitatingly and just as hesitatingly put it up to her lips and took a sip with her eyes closed tight in anticipation of an unpleasant experience to come.
"Ah!" -Ruby exclaimed after a couple of seconds, and then she took a quick and long step to the counter (thus wedging herself between Dru and Winter) where she shot her hand out to procure a couple of cheesecake squares.
"Guess you'll be joining the non-hackers club with Drew and Winter" -quipped Dru.
"Well that's 3 out of the 7 of you, which is close enough to half that it tells me that I should tone down the spiciness a fair bit"
Barney countered with:
"That's one way to look at it, or you could say that a little over half of your customers...considering us as a fair representation...will be just fine with or like the level of spiciness in the drink"
"Yeah that's not too shabby if you ask me...and anyway, you have those yummy little snacks for people who can't take the heat"
"Orrrrr..." -followed up Winter from Booty D- "...you could have low heat and high heat versions...or even have low, medium, and high so that everyone gets covered"
"Dude, that's askin too much of the bartenders to have to make three versions of one drink to accommodate wimps like you...WIMPter"
"Not even!...you bone-headed boo boo"
"Quit bickering!" -exclaimed...ironically enough...both Barney and Booty D at the same time.
"Huuuh!" -and then Winter was followed-up by Dru with an equally indignant:
"Yeah, look who's talkin!"
"WHAT I'D LIKE!..." -called-out Monroe to draw attention to herself- "...ahem...what I'd like to help me make a decision is a larger pool of testers"
There was a brief silence until Ruby partly raised her hand and made a suggestion in a frail and thinly voiced manner.
"Well...there is at least one more person who can test your drink ATM"
"You mean Darren..." -Monroe said with a frown; and Ruby wasn't going to push the matter, but the former reached back behind her and set a glass of the Dragon's Breath drink in front of the latter- "...I already had one made for him, but I wasn't going to offer unless you asked"
With an appreciative smile, Ruby took off with drink in hand...and when she was out of earshot, Drew asked:
"So just when did that Darren guy show up in your lives anyway?"
"Not MY life" -instantly retorted Monroe with a wry grin.
"Well I've known him for as long as I've known Erin"
"Same here..." -added Shamefur- "...it's been a little over a year now"
"And he's been stuck to her like a big ol' booger the whole time"
"Booty that's gross!...but true" -said Monroe with a laugh at the end.
"We don't know much about him..." -Shamefur paused to think- "...I don't even think Erin knows much about him either...like where he works or if he even has a job, or what he does when he's not glued to Erin's side...he's a real mystery man just like the four of you"
A lightning bolt of alarm ran through each of our four heroes as they looked at each other; but it was quickly dissipated when Booty D said in sharp contrast to her fellow Queen:
"Nah, it's you guys who live across from Erin that are the true mystery men...cause unlike you, Darren at least has a known previous address...it was Austin, Texas"
"No..it was Thailand" -countered Shamefur.
"No!...and yes...it was Thailand, but then when he came back to the States his first stop was Texas for a few years and then he came here"
"Oh yeah, that's right...well it's not like him or his history's worth me keeping track of"
"Harsh" -uttered Dru not meaning to be heard.
"I know...I sound like a real bitch when talking about Darry, and so does Booty and Monroe...and several other people for that matter...and I suppose he's not like the Anti-Christ or something"
"He actually was a pretty chill dude at first...real friendly to everyone...but then he changed...thanks to Erin"
"Thanks to Erin?" -Winter thought out loud; and before he finished speaking, Shamefur quickly interjected herself to clarify Booty D's poorly worded statement.
"Ahhhhhh it's only thanks to Erin because she purely unintentionally became the object of Darry's obsession"
"Oh my bad, I said that all wrong to where it made poor innocent Erin out to be the one at fault...no...it was Darren who all by his lonesome became a jealous, possessive prick...and as if that wasn't bad enough, he jammed himself into the work we do as performing Queens and started acting like he was the Sergeant Major of all three of us!"
Monroe added in her jab.
"But he acts like he's all three of your best friend...the key word being 'acts'..because he only acts like a friend to you and Jason because you're tight in with his fantasy wife"
"Ha!...fantasy indeed!...him and Erin being involved seriously is just something that only exists in his own little fantasy world...Erin never once gave any indication to me that her 'shadow' was steady boyfriend material"
"Same here Booty...at most Darry is just a friend with benefits to her...and I even have my doubts about the 'benefits' part...now as far as him acting like he's a bestie to me and Booty...well for sure he hates us because we're always trying to get Erin to hook up with different guys and stuff...but there's a consolation in that..which is to say, that it's satisfying to know that it must drive that guy completely out of his freaking mind to have to behave at least superficially nice to us to stay on his hope-to-be waifu's good side"
"Amen to that!" -roared Booty D while handing Shamefur a glass of Dragon's Breath Mocha Martini, Version 2; after which they klinked their glasses together and took a swig.
"Well...what's the verdict?" -asked Monroe as she handed out the same drink to each of the Force members.
"This is more...mainstream?" -Shamefur said, sounding like she was skeptical of what she just said.
"Mainstream?...that makes it sound like something that you'd serve at a church picnic...I'd say it hits it's target right in the middle"
"'Hit's it's target'?...of course an ex-military person like you would frame a thing in terms of guns and shooting, even when that thing is as far away from that kind of violent activity as a mixed drink is"
"Now you two ladies don't get into an argument about guns and stuff and focus on the new version of my drink"
"I think it's a winner..." -chimed-in Drew- "...even someone like me can down a whole one without feeling like I suffered too much just because I spent money on it and didn't want it to go to waste"
"I like it too...I mean, the first one was better..but if I hadn't had that one to compare it to, then this one is plenty spicy enough to satisfy those who can take and enjoy the heat"
Dru just smiled and nodded his head and gave a thumbs-up in approval after Barney gave his opinion. Then all eyes turned to Winter, who was swishing the liquid around his mouth. After a few moments of this he swallowed, reached out for a cheesecake square, and said after a long exhale:
"I can deal with one of these...but just one"
The sharp 'clacks' of Ruby's heels hitting the un-carpeted sections of the floor were faintly heard just before she called out:
"He likes it!..." -then upon reaching the bar she stopped behind Winter and finished her statement- "...but he says it would probably appeal to the most amount of customers if the spiciness were toned down to about seventy percent of what it is"
"He's right, and I've already got it covered" -Monroe replied with a crooked and annoyed grin.
"Oh really?...well that's good cause IMHO, I felt the same way"
"Well your opinion is the only one that matters out of the two of you" -Monroe mumbled too low for anyone to make out the words after she turned around to pick up the revised iteration of her mixed drink to give to Ruby, who took it and cautiously gave it a small sip.
"Oh wow!...I'd prefer it even less hot but with this one I can actually taste things without the flavors being drowned out by all the heat"
"Alright guys, I've got everything set up to play the music that goes along with your dance routines..." -Darren's voice came exactly after Ruby's which startled everyone and drew their attention to him as he stood several meters from the bar. Suddenly he looked up and to the far left of the bar counter at the one TV screen that was on but muted- "...oh hey Erin, I think that's one of your father's new campaign commercials"
All eyes turned from Darren to the TV, with Monroe reaching to the back counter to grab the remote to un-mute the sound.
On the screen was an image of an anti-war protest featuring as the central figure Joan Marvel wielding a megaphone while close by an American flag partially engulfed in flames lay on the sidewalk. The camera slowly zoomed in on her face as the narrator said in dire tones:
"...to represent you in the 35th District...but as an American whose life and hopes and dreams are all woven into the sacred Stars and Stripes, is this the way you want to be represented?..."
The scene shifted to one showing Mrs. Marvel and several others chained to a gigantic log that was nearly as thick as her and two of her comrades put together. Altogether they were an obstruction on some two lane country road completely preventing passage or even bypassing them since on one side was a steep drop-off and on the other a long stretch of neck high rock wall. Behind the chained protesters and log a large equipment laden truck (a Hydration Unit that mixes the fluid that does the actual 'Frac-ing' in a Fracking well) along with it's sour faced driver could be seen until...just as in the previous scene...the camera zoomed in on Joan's face which of course had a less than pleasant look on it. The commentary was:
"...Whether directly or indirectly, energy jobs like Hydraulic Fracking and Coal mining support and enrich the lives of many in the district and the whole region...yet Mrs. Marvel and radical environmentalists just like her have opposed domestic harvesting of energy resources and the tremendous benefits to the local economy that they bring...she even opposed and caused the cancellation of a clean energy wind farm that would have provided a much needed boost to the area's economy...is this the kind if environmentalism OR economic growth policy that's good for the 35th District?..."
For the next scene one thing was conspicuously missing...namely an unflattering image of Joan Marvel. Instead there was a picture of U.S. Soldiers walking in patrol somewhere in a desolate and rocky part of Afghanistan.
"...a full Twenty-three percent of the residents of the 35th District are Active Duty military or prior service or retired Veterans, and as such your Republican Representative, Allan Byrne, a former Green Beret Captain, is part of the same Military family and has the utmost respect and appreciation for you and your service to our blessed Country..."
The image of the Soldiers slowly faded out, while an image of three tweets from Joan's Twitter account was slowly faded in.
"...but Representative Byrne's Democratic contender for your District's House Seat has a far different view of those who give or gave what they could out of devotion to this great Nation..."
The top tweet, from the 17th of August, 2015 read:
"The GI Joke 'heroes' are at it again; 'defending' the country by killing innocent civilians"...and included in the tweet was a link to a blog post by a self-styled ex-Army whistle-blower with the ostentatious name of: DeyOfJudgement (Dey being the last name of the blog's author).
Joan's middle tweet, posted six days after the first when the story told in Dey's blog and numerous tweets posted from his Twitter account were having their validity challenged read:
"Believe Corporal Dey and his account of 5th Spec Forces war crimes or else be complicit in those crimes! Nuff said!"
The final, far more reserved, tweet which was posted a week and two days after the previous one read:
"Re. all the neg info surrounding Cpl Dey and his allegations: I still believe him. Where there's smoke, there's fire"
After pausing to let viewers read and absorb the tweets, the narration continued.
"...on August the 16th of 2015, an insignificant blogger made big waves by telling a tall-tale of military misdeeds supposedly perpetrated by members of the 5th Special Forces Group operating in Afghanistan...this blogger, Lewis Dey, who at the time was an Army Corporal, portrayed himself as some sort of super secret operative in Military Intelligence...but..as always..the truth comes out, and what was revealed about Dey was that he was a mere driver for a Military Intelligence Battalion Commander whose 'first hand' accounting of Special Forces 'war crimes' was actually a loosely woven fabric of anecdotes from people who of course could not be contacted for further information or testimony...and so the tall tale shrank to nothing...but Democratic contender Joan Marvel and her kind glommed on to this story and held on to it with tenacity even after it was long proven false...do the honorable Veterans and Service people of the 35th District really want and deserve someone who so doggedly fights against them..."
The scene then cut to one showing Allan Byrne standing tall in full dress greens sporting a chest full of medals and decorations and flanked by other Armed Forces members and ex-members (the image taken from a Memorial Day event a couple of years previous).
"...or do they deserve and need someone who stands proud with them..."
The final scene showed Allan from chest up in a suit and tie and with a stern expression and the American flag in the background; and the narration and ad ended with the words:
"...for stable incomes and local jobs...for national defense and security...for honoring old world traditions, values, and love of Country and honoring those who believe in the same...vote Republican Allan Byrne"
All in the Secret Station were speechless and wearing either shocked or blank expressions...save for one: Darren, who cracked a small, knowing smile.