Uday had his hand up my dress, an automatic rifle resting against my bare knee. The other girls had said not to wear stockings, so I was bare-legged chicken skin, and he raised his gun, shot at the stars, bullets raining down somewhere, you fool, trampling off uneasily into the desert. His team of guards trailed him, guns drawn, speaking in hushed voices into their earpieces. What did they say to one another in those moments? The girls and I hustled inside and retrieved our bags, packing quickly. Mostly it was wardrobe changes; the more ambitious carried toys, hoping to drop future leaders to their knees, let them know who was really the boss.
We always took a jet, drank champagne, so when we threw up later it wouldn’t taste so bad, staring into the bowels of a toilet or hiding behind a hedge or swallowing it back down if we were entertaining our clients, princes and sons of dictators and film and music stars with eyes set on power, on what we represented. They wanted us because others before them had wanted us.
In a West African palace, we wore fluffy bunny suits and slipped about the ivory tile for three days, wondering how many elephants had to perish for this place to shimmer. The leader’s teenage son would leave us food in our bowls, watch us eat. We were told to relieve ourselves in the yard, and we did, and he watched from the window. At night, when it grew cold, we would huddle together on the rug, and he would make a fire and sit in his armchair and masturbate.
I came to understand that he was trying to leave a mark, to be original, which was something I suppose. The others were too self-involved to entertain us.
Kim was timid and would not touch us, hiding behind his signature shades.
Leo was just as bad, scratching at his homeless beard and fingering through photos on Instagram.
El Chapo was temporarily free and wanted us all to dog-pile him.
“Rub my buttocks,” Kanye begged, “tell me you know who I am.”
Each year we visited the doctor in the tangled mess of Mexico City. He was quick at his work as he lasered and froze our faces, sucked out our fat, attempting to undo any scars we’d acquired in the past twelve months. But we were aging, and the doctor could only do so much. He tisked into my ear as he injected the lines around my eyes and mouth with poison.
I fretted my wrinkles into a compact all the way over the Andes, until we were descending over the valley city, its towers and crumbling sprawl and the thick brown haze like soup they called air. I double-checked to make sure I had my inhaler as the others pounded their champagne, whispering about riots in the streets, the dead president’s daughters who’d called for us. They’d refused to move out of the president’s estate, and the streets, they were crowded with angry protesters bleeding and shouting into the swinging clubs of the police.
We were smuggled into the main house through some back entrance, hustled past the kitchen staff into the bowels of the building, past a giant home theatre, to an indoor pool, Olympic size, echoing with the tisk-oomph of bad techno. Dancing, an electric spindle of lights, the glistening bodies of the nearly naked. I recognized the daughters immediately, at the center of the pulsing crowd, in matching red maxi dresses.
It was a strange sight, a pool party in a windowless basement, not a touch of sunlight. We mingled and danced and made our way toward the daughters. When they saw us, they shared a look. The older, meaner one told us to strip. We did, to varying degrees—why not? It was a pool party after all. Servants brought us red berets and handed us guns, and I whispered, “Is this real,” nearly buckling under the weight of it. It certainly felt real, and cold, not unlike the muzzle of Uday’s automatic rifle. I hadn’t been sad exactly, when I’d heard he’d been killed, but I grieved, just as I did when any of our clients passed. I’d entertained him for one night, and he’d paid me to love him, all of us, and we did. That was what was so special about us—we opened our hearts to them despite what they’d done.
“March,” the daughters told us.
We glanced at one another.
We did, first one, then another, then all of us, struggling to find the best way to heft our rifles. Were they loaded? I didn’t want to drop mine and find out.
We marched for nearly an hour, sagging under the weight, the champagne worn off, my asthma kicking in. When I stopped for a moment, the younger daughter came over to me, fists dug into her hips. “What are you doing? We have to stay ready!”
I knew I needed to find a way to love her. That’s what we did best. I placed my gun gently on the ground and looked into her eyes. They were brown and large and really quite lovely if you looked deep enough, and I had read once that she was a mother, and her body looked quite well, considering. I myself have never bore children; too much stress on the body. I touched her bare arm, walked my fingers up her shoulder, pulling her close to me, swaying, dancing, we were dancing, and she was mine—I could feel it—when her sister screeched at her to pay attention, and the soft body went rigid, her elbows bending and breaking free of me, and outside was an explosion. “You see?” The older daughter shouted. “This is your fault.” She pointed at me. “Pick up your gun.”
“I don’t want it.”
“I said pick it up.”
I picked it up and tossed it into the pool. The others trembled under the weight of their guns, and before I knew it, they were in the pool too. We stood there naked or nearly so, gunless, a smoke smell in the air, and the older daughter was furious, the younger afraid, on the verge of tears, no crying. She ran and threw herself into the burly arms of a suited guard. He held her as though it were not the first time, patting her hair, his face maintaining the same alert, semi-pissed look of all the guards. The lights went out; the techno music stopped. A woman made a sound like she was sucking air. The guards had flashlights, so prepared, like Boy Scouts. We took their arms and followed the daughters out the way we’d come. They fixed their hair, pinched each other’s cheeks. When we opened the doors to outside, there was a glaring bustle of flashing bulbs. I’d forgotten my clothes, and I felt momentarily uncomfortable in my skin, all that exposure, a first really.
Soon my naked body would be all over the front pages of newspapers from across the world. It would truly break the internet, and I would never work again, none of us. Captured on camera like that, no beguiling lingerie or toys or soft lighting. No, we were done for, not that it mattered. Our bank accounts were bulging, our lives still sprawling ahead of us like poorly planned cities.
And now that I am old and my face has fallen, my ass, our clients all dead or cryogenically frozen, I will write my memoir, tell the world our story—we sucked power towards us like an SUV, entertaining the worst, hoping for the best.
Katie M. Flynn’s stories have received nominations for the Pushcart Prize twice and appeared in Carve, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, Superstition Review, and elsewhere. Recently, she completed her first novel about love, revenge, and uploaded consciousness. She serves as Fiction Editor at The Indianola Review. You can find her on Twitter: @other_katie.