The following is an excerpt from “All Dressed Up“, Clown Conspiracy Book 4…
A Bow-Tie Affair
[22:15] <13713> THIS IS A MESSAGE TO 15273.
[22:15] <13713> YOU HAVE BEEN CARELESS.
[22:15] <13713> DO NOT FORGET WHAT I KNOW.
[22:16] <13713> GET THE JOB DONE.
[02:37] <46389> WOW
[02:37] <46389> WHO PISSED IN YOUR CHEERIOS?
Joanie’s electric toothbrush had Princess Peach on it. The bristles were small, it was a kid’s brush after all, but, hey, Princess Peach. She chewed it by habit, and it hung out of her mouth like a pipe as she opened the bathroom door a crack to peek out.
No one was in the common room or kitchen so she left the towel wrapped around her wet hair and tip-toed naked out to the long desk. Her poor laptop was tethered to dial-up in this hell-hole. Life was a bit better in the halfway house than it had been in jail but between sharing her space with part-time whores and the paralyzing lack of wi-fi, she was one bad day short of a one-way trip to Anywhere Else.
She woke up her screen and checked the chat room again. There was still no reply, from anyone.
When she had first joined a few months ago, she thought 13713 was a lurker. He was in the room but never posted, possibly never read, was maybe just a bot. Whoever he really was though, wow… what a douche. He was obviously unclear on who 15273 was, or he wouldn’t be making threats.
Dragging down the info on each nick she saw that all but two were offline; 13713 (douche) and the only one she really cared about, 15273.
She circled the word with her mouse.
They met, once, at the store where she worked as a cashier. He noticed the tattoos down her arms and said he’d served some time, too. She’d been impressed that he knew what her ink meant, and for a lot of reasons she much preferred older men, so she let him buy her lunch. She had a sandwich at the bar next door, he’d drank a whiskey. Then he’d turned those wicked dark eyes on her and… she’d never cut curfew so close.
They got to talking about the where’s, and the when’s, and after they got comfortable, the why’s. He gave her his phone number and she sent him a text, he went back to Boulder, she stayed in Denver, and three days of texting got her an invite to the chat room. He just had a feeling about her, he said.
She had some feelings about him, too.
The chat got dark sometimes but didn’t life always? Joanie had always found it a little easier to adapt to the dark than to the light anyway.
15273 texted her less and less and soon everything they had to say to each other they could say to the whole group. Her phone served as a flashlight now, though sometimes she wondered if he’d answer her call…
Joanie figured out pretty quick she was the only woman in the chat room. She didn’t mind that either. It was an interesting sort of power, an invisible cord drawing these men to her, and the more twisted her contributions to the chat, the tighter the cord pulled. She could pretty much reach out and touch 38026. Or she could have, before he went offline. She was starting to worry about him.
13713 wasn’t going to rip the cord between her and 15273, or any of the others. He was going to scare them all out of the room and without the room, all she had was “Did you find everything you needed?” at the checkout. Mumbled answers from uptight strangers was not going to cut it for social interaction.
No one she knew had ever understood her, not like the guys in the room.
Choice words exploded through her fingertips, a paragraph’s worth. She hit Enter. They popped back to her, gray and in italics, to tell her she was offline. She threw her hands in the air and moved to rip the dial-up cord out of her laptop, then heard a key rattling the lock. She slammed her laptop closed and sprang like a silent gazelle into her tiny room.
She tugged on a T-shirt and shorts and laid on her mattress in a triangle of purple-pink streetlight. People didn’t stay out as late in the winter; she missed the noise of tires on the road outside her window.
Groaning, she reached for her phone to turn on music. The back of her door caught her eye and she turned the screen’s light toward it.
She studied the empty folds of blue cloth and scrunched red and white striped tights with a smile. She still wanted to find blue heels to go with it, her black ones were only okay, but he was tall and she wanted to be taller. She needed to find the right shade of red lipstick to match the yarn wig, too. She had the white makeup and the black eyeliner already, so that was good.
Joanie turned on music and slid under the covers. She’d go shopping in the morning. She’d spend the money on the right heels and the exact right lipstick because tomorrow night, well, 15273 had promised to see her again.
A bow-tie affair.