Salvar: to save, to overcome, to preserve, to rescue, to cover, to pass
Salvarse: to survive, to escape
CHAPTER 4: LOS OJOS MISMOS, PART 1
Catherine shifted on the pole, legs bending and embracing the cool metal in front of her. The trick to dancing -- this kind of dancing, as it was -- was elegance.
The chilled steel felt good against her calves, which were barely covered by cream-colored fishnet stockings.
She glanced at the crowd, assessing her financial prospects of the night.
Hungry eyes peered at her from many angles, all seats running parallel to the platform she walked on. One regular -- Steve, a fifty-something factory worker -- waved at her, like an old friend. She smiled back, amused at the strange camaraderie that the eager exchange of lust created.
A less friendly, more salivating smile met her in the seat next to Steve's, where a slightly overweight man in a business suit leered at her with pale eyes. She met his eyes with a challenging raise of the eyebrows.
A younger, tired looking man with dark brown hair and bright mahogany eyes sat two seats down. He looked to be just old enough to drink, and was staring at one of the worse dancers, Christine, with pure exuberance and surprise -- like a boy at Christmas, or like an over-eager teenager about to "do it" for the first time. The excitement and adulation in his eyes told Catherine in less than a second that this was his first time at a strip club, and, quite possibly, his first time seeing the opposite sex in anything less than a full state of attire. This was, of course, before the days of online porn.
Behind him, further toward the bar, was a well-proportioned silhouette of a man, sipping what looked to be a margarita. Catherine could barely make out his deep sepia hair, which shone in the light.
Catherine's gaze drew inwards, stopping at a shorter, middle-aged man with a small grey-brown mustache. His broad shoulders were distinctive, and she smiled with glee.
Marie -- known there only as 'Foxy' -- danced next to her, two meters down on the platform. She could see Marie making the move for the man, whom all strippers at the French Palace knew to be one of the big tippers. Marie's bleached blonde hair swayed dangerously over the silicone cleavage spilling out of her scarlet bustier.
Catherine scowled, sizing up the competition. She didn't need the tips so much, but she sure wanted them.
Crisp heels cut into the ground as she drew up from the blue lighting, making her way across the dirty beige platform toward her new opponent. She knew the customers would appreciate a catfight, even one without visible claws bared.
She swayed her hips at just the right moment, so that the pleats of her short white skirt flew up on the side for a millisecond, revealing a lacy red thong to the big tipper, a balding man -- probably in his late thirties -- with greedy eyes that spelled money.
Catherine cast an alluring glance at him, and she knew she had him in her trance. She could sense the catch in Marie's throat as the other woman realized her prey had been averted. Catherine smiled with a knowing smirk as Marie was forced to lightly sashay past, over to the right side of the stage, allowing Catherine to make for the kill.
Catherine leaned down, showing off her own cleavage to the hungry eyes -- and to the pocketbook burning through jeans covering a raging hard-on -- in front of her.
She embraced the knowledge that she, unlike Marie and the vast majority of her other coworkers, could lean down further, to show off a real, non-plastic burst of cleavage. She could feel the warm sweat of the man's hands on the fifty-dollar bills he placed in her shirt. She smiled -- appreciatively, but still with feistiness -- before lifting her head.
Soft organ steps progressed as the next song broke out. Catherine stepped lightly down the platform, in sync with the song's light beat.
An equally light stirring of saxophone joined in, giving way to Marvin Gaye's sensual, quivering voice, and the seductive back-up vocals.
As the chorus began, Catherine moved toward the center of the platform, and let loose.
Smooth words gave way to sliding keyboard melodies. The words were not only beats, but orders to the eager crowd, who snapped along.
The beat carried her, as she moved faster and faster, lost in the music.
The crowd slowly assembled in front of her to watch the emotive display, leaving the other dancers in her envy-inducing wake as she thrust her hips into the air, swaying lower and lower.
Her humming to the music was lost in the smooth boom of notes, but it didn't matter. She reached nirvana on the dance floor as the neon lights hovered down upon her. It was pure bliss.
The song, as Catherine knew, signaled the end of the night, and thus elicited groans of disappointment from the regulars. Looking out over the crowd that had slowly amassed in front of her over the course of the night, and especially the last song, she was pleasantly surprised to see that the well-proportioned silhouette had made his way out onto the floor, and that his handsome face was equally well-proportioned.
It was his smile, however, that caught her off-guard. It was friendly -- kind even. Catherine smiled back, with gratitude for the one kind look free of lust. And she was sure she could still find the lust in him, anyways. He was, after all, at a gentleman's club.
She was hit with a strange burst of cheesy romantic optimism, one that had long ago been lost on the Vegas-raised stripper.
She smiled to herself as she stepped off of the stage, bouncing down with grace. Then, she turned her warm smile to the stranger.
"Hi, I'm Catherine Flynn," she said, reaching out a hand. Forward had always been her style.
"Ari Marvin," he said, replying with a more restrained smile and a hand extended with care. At a gentleman's club, he -- surprisingly -- did in fact play the gentleman.
"That your real name, or just the one your wife doesn't know about?"
He chuckled, rolling his eyes, though the gesture held bemusement rather than rudeness or exasperation. "The former," he replied -- revealing a perfect set of straight, white teeth. Catherine was immediately disarmed by the smile.
Fainter music poured in through the background, and she was relieved to hear organs again. This was her kind of music.
The organs opened with a eulogy for the night and, in the immortal words of the song's craftsman, "this thing called life." His seductive voice began to waft in, and Catherine was struck.
The metallic pattering of drums gave way to heavy guitar rifts.
Catherine swayed to the beat, but, when the chorus started, she grabbed the hand of the gentleman in front of her. He swung her around with grace. It was not the style of the era, his dance moves; they brought Catherine back to Frankie Valli's better days, the ones Lily Flynn seemed perpetually caught in; the ones of swingin' pop and harmonizing ballads. All that was needed, Catherine thought -- lost in the deep blue eyes of the man before her -- was a fedora... and a kiss goodnight.
His light, swinging steps were, she knew, not those expected as accompaniment by Prince. But they worked just fine for her.
His hands grew moist in hers, as he swung her around again, smiling to the tune.
In the heat of the moment, Catherine didn't even register the jealous eyes, until her mysterious stranger leaned in to whisper, "I think you've got some admirers."
"Don't worry. They're no competition," she whispered back quickly, not ready to lose her dancing partner over customers' leers. She was on her own time now, and free of obligations to anyone. And she wanted to dance with Ari Marvin.
He replied with a troubled look of complexity, which left Catherine baffled.
"I have to go," he replied quietly, a look of regret apparent on his face.
"Why?" Catherine asked. She was caught off guard by the unanticipated rejection, and lost the rhythm in her step, and the seduction in her voice. "You sure you don't want to go out?"
"Nah." He stepped away as the last line rang, prophetically, giving Catherine one last apologetic glance.
Catherine, having totally lost her fašade of cool seductress, stared, mouth wide open.
"What, you married or something?"
"I wish," he said smoothly, as he wove towards the door.
A hand reached out for Catherine. "How come you never give me the time of day? I tip more than he did. And he wasn't even watching you dance!" Jimmy Rosetti, the big tipper of the night, leaned in with the last comment. "And trust me, babe. I watch you good."
"I gave you a Benjamin today! An' you're still not gonna give me anythin'?! Not even a dance like that candy ass got?!"
"Watch your language," Catherine said warily, backing up. It was clear the man was drunk.
She looked around for help, but was disappointed to see that the manager had already left.
She tried not to display her own nervousness at the moment. She remembered as much from hours of self-defense training. She raised a wrist, unsteadily, ready to deliver a good poke to his eyes, especially knowing that, while he may be stronger, her quickness was vastly superior, especially given her own sobriety.
The man reached out to grab her wrist, with a surprising show of agility, especially for one so drunk. Catherine succeeded in poking him in the eye, but it only aggravated him more. He twisted her wrist, eliciting a pained cry as she felt a snap. Now she was mad.
She could feel his other hand creeping over her shirt, and she responded with a knee in the groin, before he could get anywhere.
What happened next was a blur. She felt the man lunge. She jumped out of his way, but he continued forward and down. It was then that she realized it was less of a lunge than a fall.
It seemed just desserts to see the man he had called a 'candy ass' on top of him, holding down the man's own wrists.
She could tell quickly that Ari had probably limited himself to one Margarita.
"Aw come on," the panting drunk let out. "You really think your boyfriend won't mind you tryna take me?! You perv!"
"You're not my type."
"Well if she isn't either, I'm not too surprised. Fag."
Catherine scowled at the language. Ever since she met Tam, she had hated that word. Even in her fear, her anger for her friend surfaced easily. "Don't call him that. Don't use that word."
Ari smiled up appreciatively, before grabbing the man's hair, and pulling face up to face Ari. "Now, I'm gonna let you go, having already called the cops with the pay phone out there. It's your choice whether you wanna stick around and wait for them."
The man scowled back. "Fine," he mumbled.
Ari pulled his hair, and face, up again. "What was that? That a promise?"
"Yes. Fine. I'll leave her alone."
"Stupid queer," the man mumbled under his breath.
Ari merely smiled his charming, full-toothed grin, even as Catherine took offense at the words.
The man finally came to his feet, and promptly stumbled over them to the door.
"Why did you just let him go away, and insult you like that?" Catherine said, as she watched the man stumble into the next taxi.
"There is no pay phone out there."
"Then why are you asking?"
"You know that's not what I meant."
Ari looked at her, discerningly, for a moment, before replying. "Sticks and stones may break my bones. But words don't hurt me. At least not anymore."
Catherine nodded, puzzling over his words.
"Your wrist all right?"
Catherine looked down at it. There was a purple bruising mark, but it wasn't broken. At worst, it may have been lightly sprained, but that wouldn't get in the way of her getting home or, more importantly, dancing the next night.
"Nah, I'm fine."
"Well," he began, shuffling to the door with surprising nervousness, given the last smooth display. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Catherine responded, betraying more enthusiasm than she would have liked.
He chuckled at the eagerness in her voice. "I'm the new bartender," he said, before sliding out the door, with the same smooth steps she was already adoring.
Ari Marvin was a puzzle, and one Catherine Flynn anticipated solving. As a stripper, she wasn't used to men playing hard to get. But, as a competitor, she knew she would still get him.
She stood for a moment, listening as Diana Ross's soprano drifted through the air, softly fading out. Catherine stared, brows furrowed at the man walking out the door, trying to figure him out. She hadn't realized then just how quickly the puzzle would solve itself.
Two men -- the smaller, ruder man and the big, burly one -- made their way back into the room, prompting Greg to look up from his position, hunched over on his knees and leaning in over Catherine's shoulder. He was relieved to see that the blood was no longer seeping out after around the time that she'd woken briefly.
The robbers took a few steps forward. They seemed to be chuckling at the sight of Greg kneeling over Catherine. They seem to chuckle at everything, Greg thought hopefully. With a sense of humor, they can't be that bad.
"You like being on your knees, boy?" the smaller one asked, smirking.
Okay, maybe they can be that bad, Greg thought, quickly losing his optimism and reflexively altering his position. He didn't respond, only staying where he was, next to Catherine. Chances are they won't mess with either of us anyway. We're not what they came here for.
He continued to stare at Catherine, trying to allow the still-steady beat of her heart to calm his own, and force his mind from the taunting words of the masked men.
Don't be afraid, he repeated to himself. Don't be afraid.
Searching his mind for better material to ward off the sinking feeling in his stomach, he resurfaced, recalling instructions to "remember the audience in their underwear."
So what if that advice doesn't fit precisely, he thought angrily to himself. There had to be something there, in the more trivial reaches of his mind, where he stored the humorous anecdotes and ridiculous information he had seemed to have been known for back in his lab days. He stared more closely at the men in front of them, trying to make them less intimidating in his mind.
Standard robber clothing, he thought ruefully, recalling scenes from too many movies. It reminded him of an old episode of CSI: Miami, where Eric Delko had been stuck in a bank hold-up. He chuckled to himself for watching such a silly show. He had watched it more for a certain Ryan Wolfe than for the episode plots. Horatio Caine and his ridiculous sunglasses of justice had irritated Greg greatly.
He took a deep breath, blinked once and continued to stare at Catherine. Play it safe and they'll leave us alone, he thought to himself.
"Well, she's one of the prettiest corpses I've ever seen." The small, ruder one again.
Greg looked up, horrified. Of course the statement broke his calm. "She's not dead," he replied simply, cursing himself for stuttering.
"We could help her along the way," the man responded, meaningfully.
Greg shuddered. "But you won't. Because she's Sam Braun's daughter." Suddenly, he was growing particularly testy. The stress of the situation was getting to him. "We've been over this."
"Have we?" The man leaned down to Greg's eye level. He was probably smirking.
It's ridiculous, Greg thought, to try to convey any significant facial expression when you're wearing that kind of mask -- ridiculous, and cocky, and stupid. He stared back empathically, resisting the tension once again.
Catherine shifted, groaning, under his hands.
"Well, that's a sound we like to hear, isn't it, Biggs?" The smaller man nudged his companion -- apparently, and appropriately, named Biggs -- in the ribs.
Geez, they're stupid, Greg thought in reply. They're not touching Catherine and they know it. They'd better know it. And they've already given away one first name. How do robbers this stupid break into the fuckin' Tangiers of all places?! This is ridiculous.
Only Catherine, as she woke, seemed to notice Greg's internal fuming. Her eyes, as they opened, read 'What's wrong?' loud and clear, even if her voice stayed silent.
Greg shook his head, bringing a finger close to his mouth, as subtly as possible. Neither of the masked men seemed to notice, and Catherine instantly closed her eyes and stilled herself. It would be better for all involved -- at least all CSI's involved -- if Catherine remained asleep, or at least pretended to be so.
Despite their apparent stupidity, the first one -- still nameless -- did in fact seem to notice the nonverbal exchange.
"Aw, up so soon?"
He leered again, and Greg was grateful that Catherine was too out of it to notice. Then again, he thought, she probably was used to leers. Even straight women in LVPD noticed her curves, if for no other reason than envy.
Biggs elbowed him in the ribs again, and he scowled back at his partner.
Biggs quickly explained himself to his quizzical and glaring partner. "We're supposed to take care of her when she wakes up," he insisted.
Greg looked up startled, but Biggs, strangely, explained himself. "Not that way," he reassured the sitting man. "Ar -- Our boss says we have to take care of her --" he fumbled for words briefly -- "bandage her up and stuff."
Greg nodded, still not taking his eyes off of the robber speaking. "You trained in that?"
Biggs replied this time. "Mine an' Richie's boss is."
He received an elbow in the ribs, this time, no doubt, for giving away his partner's name.
"Hey, you did that to me!" he insisted to his partner, who merely scowled in response.
It seemed unusual -- and foreboding -- for the robbers to be so careless about giving out personal information. They'd only be that way if they didn't expect us -- or at least me, since I'm the one awake -- to make it out alive, Greg thought, grimacing.
As if on cue, Catherine shifted, no doubt growing restless in her pretend sleep.
He sighed, hoping she made it out to see Lindsey again.
"Richie! Biggs!" The leader ambled into the room. He was of medium build, though muscular, with strong-looking shoulders. His appearance almost reminded Greg of Nick. "You guys found anythin'?"
"Define something," Richie replied, grinning menacingly down at Greg and Catherine. "ĺCause I'd say this" -- he punctuated the word with a kick to Greg's side -- "has to count as something."
Greg groaned as the kick pushed him almost toppling over Catherine. He stared ahead at the wall, with the corner of his eye still focused on Catherine.
He wanted out, but, in the very least, acting invisible -- ignoring the thug -- would, or at least should, Greg hoped, help.
The new man bent down to stare at Greg, who still kept his gaze pointed away. The hand that jutted out to grab his chin took him by surprise. It was cold, even with the black polyester gloves, and strong. It clenched his chin, leaving no room for resistance. Greg could feel the fingernails digging into his skin as the man quickly turned Greg's head around. Altogether, it was too much force for such a gesture.
Greg glanced down, finding something to stare at other than the man in front of him, but the hand knew its own intentions. When his gaze dove, his chin was pushed up, so the man could still stare grimly into Greg's glaring eyes. Greg tried to keep his expression resolute and apathetic. Dark blue eyes bored into his. Greg furrowed his brow, boring back into the eyes in a staring contest, seeing that the game of gaze averting was of now a lost cause. But he could at least win the staring contest. He could, at least, try not to betray too much fear.
In the man's gaze, he felt like he was being sized up for market, like a cow, pig or other piece of livestock. He hated it, but he kept staring. The eye before him showed comparable apathy, but hid rage, shock and some other emotion that Greg couldn't pinpoint.
Greg stared at the face before him, or at least what he could see of it. He traced the eyelashes -- dark, short and spread apart -- to the eyes' ends. He saw the lines interspersing and meeting where a deep, stormy ocean's blue melted into a lighter cerulean as his gaze neared the centers of the eyes. The pupils were shiny and of a smaller size, indicating that the man had been in the light for a decent amount of time.
That was where his thoughts were cut off -- where the eyes shifted, lifting up at the edges. The eyes sneered down at Greg, and Greg shifted his stare on reflex. This time, both hands curled around his cheeks, bringing his whole head to face the man's. The hands were warmer now, and almost shaking. Greg couldn't tell if it was his own trembling causing that, or the man's.
A light rumble of laughter hit Greg next. It was almost gentle, but for the remaining smirk. Greg glanced down at the lips, curled up, like the eyes, into a satisfied sneer. Greg tried to turn away again. He could feel the other men's eyes on the pair in the middle of the room -- the reluctant tango of eyes, one pair submissive, one dominant -- and Greg didn't like it. His face flushed, and his eyes' outer edges descended, revealing his humiliation in the unspoken conversation. He jerked his head, trying to escape.
One set of fingers fell to his chin again, gripping firmly and holding him in place, while the other bowed further down to skip over his neck lightly. Fingers danced over him, almost in a caress, and he flinched, losing his blank and unfeeling fašade in an instant. One lip, now tipped downward, revealed his displeasure and revulsion in the hand's gesture. He glanced away before tugging his head again. Once again, the attempt was futile.
The eyes maintained their staring contest even as the mouth opened, sending vibrations through the prominent, lunging ball in the throat. "This isn't what I meant. As intriguing as they are."
"You gonna have fun right now?" The voice sounded like Richie. Greg gulped, hating the connotations evident in the question. He knew it was no fun involved for him that they had in mind.
"No." The mouth barely moved with the single syllable, but opened in a small, curt gesture. "We have to get back to work and find the money."
The eyes sent strange, paradoxical waves of melancholy, fury and guilt that caught Greg off guard as the hand retreated, leaving Greg to sit over Catherine once more.
Greg breathed quickly, trying to push the exchange from his mind. He felt Catherine's hand flutter over his face once fading footsteps revealed that all three men had left the room.
"You all right, sweetie?"
Even in her position -- lying static with a bullet in her shoulder -- Catherine still could not turn off the mother hen in her, Greg thought, chuckling lightly. But the context of the situation quickly turned the chuckling bitter.
He gave a small nod.