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Sneak Peak...

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     The scaffold’s built. The noose is hung. Now, they need to find me.

​     I doubt they’ll search for me here. Wafting cigarette smoke, clacking pool balls, and cheap liquor isn’t my style. With gouged brick walls and a low-beamed ceiling, Max’s looks more like a fortress than a tavern, but an uninviting place that scares folks away will keep me safe.

    I smooth a shaky hand over my hair, blonde, and rolled into a French twist. When I find every strand is in its proper place, it calms me until I see the doe-eyed girl perched on a barstool next to mine. She’s staring at my winking diamond ring. Its five-carat stone is an ostentatious oddity in a drinking-den like Max’s, and I’m mad I didn’t slip it off.

     I eye the girl warily, hoping recognition won’t light her face, which looks too young to be in a bar. She’s petite with pixy features and light corkscrew curls that remind me of Little Bo Peep. Of course, she’s not wearing frills and carrying a shepherd’s crook. She’s clad head to toe in black biker leathers and has a patch sewn onto her back, reading, Property of Grinder. Looks like bringing home sheep, minus their tails, has landed poor Bo Peep into custody.

     Or maybe her captivity is voluntary. Mine was. Then I escaped, but years of freedom haven’t erased my memories. I know what it’s like to be closely watched but also ignored, and I’m tempted to feel sorry for the girl. Especially since Bo Peep’s jailer, a denim-clad brute, hunched on a barstool next to hers, doesn’t seem benevolent. With bold features and a barrel chest, Grinder looks like a tank built for hard things.

     When he sees Bo Peep staring, he turns and scrapes stone gray eyes over my red Tadashi dress. His fierce perusal ends with a yellow-toothed sneer. It seems my refinements offend Grinder’s rough sensibilities, and I realize, too late, my ring isn’t the only thing I should’ve ditched before coming to Max’s. Changing from my Saks Fifth garb into Walmart duds would've been prudent. But too many years trying to be conspicuous kept me from thinking about it, though it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve worn cheap fashions made in China. though it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve worn cheap fashions made in China. What Grinder doesn’t know is I’m no better than him. I’m just a better liar. My expensive clothes are part of a deception that, after today, will no longer deceive.

     The bitter thought sours my tongue, and I grab a chipped mug filled with beer. I’m about to gulp it down, but Bo Peep, ignoring the manners her mother gave her, points a black-painted fingernail at me.

“Grinder,” she says, then slaps her warden’s beefy shoulder. “That’s Savannah Tate. We’re sittin’ next to Savannah Tate!”​ 

     I silently curse as Grinder glares at the girl. “Jesus, woman, I ain’t blind. She’s up there too.” His pork-chop hand points to the television hanging above the scratched Formica bar.

     Earlier, I’d asked the heavily tattooed bartender to change the channel, but he just shook his head. Apparently, Max’s regulars prefer Fox News over tractor pulls. Of all the roughneck bars in Houston, I’d pick the one filled with armchair politicians.

     I reluctantly raise my eyes to the TV. Sure enough, a woman in a form-hugging, crimson dress is walking across the screen, her hips swaying to a ha-cha-cha beat, only she hears. With blonde hair and Norwegian cheekbones, she’s sex-kitten sultry. Yet, the wrinkles fanning her blue eyes confirm she’s a cougar.

     She tosses a cautious glance at the reporters stalking her. When they don’t abate, her pouty lips flatten, determined not to speak, but microphones still stab, and voices still holler. Denying the reporter’s “gotcha questions,” the blonde shakes her head, but it’s no use. It’s fight-or-flight or be eaten alive. Choosing survival, her nude Louboutin heels begin to trot.

     Even though the television is muted, I know why she’s running. I also know she’ll escape into an idling black Town Car. Once inside, she’ll collapse against the hand-stitched leather and wonder how the press discovered the one thing she swore to hide. It wasn’t a small vow, done with crossed fingers and a mumbled “scout’s honor.” Nondisclosures were signed; formal ceremonies were performed—it’s a secret a person takes to the grave.

     It’s why when her driver asked, “Where do you want to go?” The blonde answered, “Take me someplace they’ll never expect.”

​     It’s how I ended up in a dive bar, hours before five o’clock.

Grinder’s hard gaze drops from the TV to me. “Nice play, you keepin’ your mouth shut.” It’s a good endorsement. With GAME OVER tattooed across his knuckles, I suspect Grinder knows a thing or two about keeping secrets.

     Bo Peep points to the muted television. Across the bottom, a closed caption reads, Allegedly, sex symbol turned feminist, Savannah Tate, has been linked to the RMB since the 1990s . . .

     Keeping her eyes on the screen, she asks, “What does R-M-B stand for, anyways?”

     “Revolutionary Men’s Brigade,” I reply, publicly acknowledging, for the first time, knowing anything about them.

Bo Peep considers me. “Ain’t they some secret society or somethin’?”

     I look at the TV. “Not so secret now.”

Grinder shakes his grizzled head. “If you ask me, they ain’t nothin’ but a rich bunch of fuckers.”

     I nod, agreeing. It’s why I need to be careful. Deep pockets buy a lot of revenge.

Anchor 1

Snakes Trilogy:  Snakes of Eve. . .Snakes of Jezebel. . .Snakes of Lillith

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