Becky stared at the river of percolating neon that stretched from her feet to infinity. There were few sights as spectacular as Las Vegas on a clear night, especially from this vantage point. She remembered reading in the travel agent's brochure that the Stratosphere's tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. Up here, it was easy to pick out the other casinos that got bigger and glitzier as you headed south: tacky tourist traps like Circus Circus and the Riviera; ornate playgrounds like Treasure Island and Caesar's Palace; the faux cityscapes of Paris and New York, New York; the medieval mockery of Excalibur's castle; and the Luxor's pyramid with its sky-piercing pink laser.
Somewhere behind her, the man's voice said something about the Strip now.
Becky nodded silently, her wet eyes glittering like disco balls from the sparkle of a million flashing lights on the other side of the glass, each representing a like number of good intentions paving the highway to Hell below her. Modern Vegas was so different from those old movies starring leggy blondes and overdressed men who smoked too much. The sin looked less sinful in those swanky bingo halls of yesteryear, loaded (in more ways than one) with packed-rat anxiety, conniving dames and monogrammed cigarette cases. Not some silly theme park for undergrown adults.
Becky's gaze shifted to the traffic crawling down Paradise Road. She wondered if the taxicab she saw scorching the Stratosphere's parking lot was the one taking her husband to the airport. They would have to jam if Jerry was going to catch that plane to Chicago. Otherwise, it would be a long night for him on the floor of the departure lounge, listening to the incessant dinging of the slot machines that never?
"I said strip. Now."
It had been her idea to elope. Jerry's contribution was a honeymoon at the Stratosphere, thanks to the cheap room rates, the purported million-dollar jackpots and the new management's policy of extending credit to anyone with a valid library card. Becky would have preferred something more romantic like the Bellagio, but Jerry would never spend a nickel when a penny would do the job.
Well, all she really wanted was a ring. Coming to Vegas for a long weekend was simply frosting on the store-bought cake that defined their relationship.
Becky heard the smooth squeak of well-oiled wheels as the man pushed back the antique chair that looked like it had been hijacked from a Medici manor.
After they had returned from the Love Me Tender Chapel, where they exchanged their vows before an overweight Elvis impersonator who couldn't be bothered with even a token "thank you, ma'am," Jerry had headed straight for the Stratosphere's noisy casino while Becky had lugged the suitcases upstairs to unpack. By the time she had rejoined him at the roulette wheel, he had already lost the thousand dollars her mother had given them to cover the cost of the trip, and was asking her to punch in her password at the convenient ATM next to the bar. Thirty minutes later, she was co-signing papers at the cashier's cage for the promised line of credit.
By nine, they were fidgeting nervously in the owner's office on the top floor of the casino's tower, ostensibly closed to the public for remodeling.
He's coming toward me, Becky thought as she watched the man's reflection loom larger in the picture window, his scowl more menacing than the seamless black leather of his exquisitely tailored suit.
And he's holding a knife.
With a sharp intake of air, Becky reached up to her chest and undid the top button of what had been her favorite cashmere sweater.
"That's better. Continue."
Paul Forte was the owner's name. He had told them he rescued the Stratosphere from bankruptcy court after its previous landlord invested a small fortune in failed "improvements" like a roller coaster that twisted around the tower like a kid's Crazy Straw. Becky had seen Forte's picture in the lobby; with his chiseled jaw, spiky blond hair and dueling scar of a mouth, he looked like an extra in a black-and-white documentary about the Gestapo.
"We seem to have a financial discrepancy," Forte had said with the professional charm of a dentist explaining why he didn't believe in Novocain. "I am anxious to hear your strategy for its successful resolution."
Becky slipped the sweater off her shoulders and began folding it the way she had been trained at the most popular casualwear boutique in the United States of Generica.
"Don't bother. You won't be wearing it again."
Jerry hadn't start shaking until Forte pushed a piece of paper across the massive mahogany table that served as his desk. The total was scrawled in livid red ink at the bottom of a computer printout. Between her dented Accord, their shiny new wedding rings and his porn collection, the Coopers were probably worth $3,000. Which left them $65,000 short.
After being apprised of their net worth, Forte had pressed a button on his intercom and asked the female voice on the other end to connect him with the Las Vegas police.
"Of course, there is an alternative," he had suggested casually as a shrill digital ringtone crackled out of the speaker. "But you'll have to say yes before the dispatcher picks up."
With a squeeze of her hand, Jerry quickly agreed.
A time-honored solution, Forte had explained as his fingers danced across the calculator keypad. Divided by the current minimum wage of $5.15, their debt of $68,400 would be worked off after 13,281 hours, or 553 days, give or take a few minutes.
"You can't expect us to work 12-hour shifts!" Jerry had yelped after he verified the math using his fingers on the palm of his hand.
"Certainly not," Forte had replied as he pressed another button on the intercom. "Rebecca's salary will be calculated on a 24-hour basis. Starting now."
Before Jerry could come up with a suitable reaction that didn't involve falling on his knees, something heavy had knocked on the door. It swung open to reveal two identical men wearing black turtlenecks that stretched perilously around their torsos.
"Larry, Moe, meet Mr. Cooper. He's going to be leaving our happy Stratosphere family at your earliest convenience. Please make sure he gets to McCarran before the last flight departs to Chicago. I believe United has an 11:40 to O'Hare with plenty of seats available at the check-in counter."
"You want us to get Curly to drive?" one of the twins had grunted in an accent that sounded more suited to chugging homemade vodka.
"I think not. If you and Larry accompany him on either side of the back seat, I am sure a cab will be fine. That way, you don't have to park at the airport when you escort Mr. Cooper to the gate. Wait until you see the plane leave the ground before coming back. That is all."
"What about his suitcase?" the one apparently named Moe had asked as he forcefully grabbed one of Jerry's arms.
"How many times do I have to tell you? When I speak, don't think. Do."
"You can't get away with this!" Jerry had cried as he was brusquely escorted into the hallway. "I'll?I'll sue! Becky, call the police!"
"We already debated that option," Forte had replied. "Larceny at this level will get you five to seven, easy. I'm offering 18 months. A much better deal, don't you agree?"
The elevator doors whooshed closed, leaving Forte alone in his office with a very angry Becky.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" she had exploded. "You can't treat me like?like a fucking?"
"The word is 'slave,' and my employees never use that kind of language," Forte had said coolly as he sat down in his chair and began carefully raking the sand in the miniature Japanese rock garden that served as the only nod to decoration on his desk. "This is a very simple matter. You took. I'm taking back."
"But I didn't take anything! Jerry was the one who?"
"I believe that is your signature on the receipt accepting responsibility for the line of credit. But if you'd rather take your chances with the legal system, I'm sure airport security can grab?"
"Fine! I'll wash your goddamned dishes for the next?"
"You will do no such thing, and I will not warn you again about your language. In fact, starting now, you are not allowed to speak unless you say 'fuck my ass, sir.' If anything else comes out of your very pretty mouth, you will spend the next year and a half in the gift shop as the 'try before you buy' demonstration model next to the butt-plug display. Understand?"
Becky distinctly remembered gulping before she had nodded. Forte's words hadn't make any sense, starting with "gift shop" and ending with "butt plug," but she knew that tone of voice. It was the same one Jerry had used the night of the homecoming kegger when she surrendered her virginity in the back of his pickup.
"Good. Our discussion is finished."
While he attended to the garden, Becky had backed away from the desk and wandered over to the picture window, where she now stood shivering--even the bathrooms were air-conditioned in Vegas--with her skirt pushed down to her ankles.
She couldn't imagine what was going to happen next. Was Forte going to rape her, or measure her for a Stratosphere uniform? When she tried to remember what the waitresses were wearing, her memory banks responded with a tasteless catalog of hot pants and thigh boots. Black, slimy and plastic, to match the way she now felt about her life as a wife.
Becky's heart tried to convince her it wasn't Jerry's fault. "Of course it is," her common sense prevailed. "He's a cow-tipping farmboy from eastern Iowa who will never admit to your friends and family that he lost his shirt, not to mention his loving spouse, in less time than it takes to watch a baseball game."
Not if I tell my mother first, she resolved. Which meant it was time to finish the talent portion of the pageant and find a payphone where she could make a collect call.
Becky stepped out of her puddled skirt and slipped off her white summer sandals. The reflection of her near-naked flesh glowed in sharp contrast to the office décor behind her. The chairs, the sofa, the coffee table, even the walls were covered in supple acres of dark leather that matched Forte's chief executive lizard haberdashery.
She closed her eyes just as his lips brushed against her ear.
"Put your hands behind your neck."
The icy edge of the blade slid against her spine beneath the strap of her bra.
"Spread your legs."
Her panties never stood a chance.
Becky wondered how much force it would take to shatter the window in front of her and jump. Certainly more than her 117 pounds could muster. But there had never really been any question in her mind about the chain of events unfolding like her worst nightmare. Once the scope and scale of her situation had been made clear, Becky knew sex with Forte was a matter of when, not if.
As long as he was kidding about fucking her in the ass. Not even Veronica would go that far, and she'd been married to Fred since he knocked her up when they were both 16.
When she felt Forte move away, Becky opened her eyes just enough to see his reflection striding toward a cabinet next to his desk. It was too dark to make out the objects he removed from the shadowy depths. Even when he returned to her side, she didn't recognize the items; one sort of looked like a dead octopus, the other was closer to a fold-up bag for a rifle.
She caught a glint of polished chrome that she identified as buckles. Far too many buckles.
Panic boiled in the pit of her stomach and started climbing toward her throat. Stupid rich bastard. He's just trying to scare you.
And doing a hellacious good job of it.
"Hands behind your back."
Becky finally screamed when Forte grabbed her wrists and thrust them into the small compartment at the bottom of the leather sack, then pulled up the zipper, crushing her arms together until her elbows were practically touching. She struggled to keep her balance as he tightened the belts around her wrists, forearms and biceps, followed by straps that criss-crossed above and below her heaving breasts, pulling the binder painfully up to her shoulders and pinning it against her back.
"Rebecca, because you're new, I gave you a bonus warning," Forte said. "Evidently, your mouth will require more persuasive forms of remedial correction."
Something large, flat and dangerous danced in front of Becky's face.
"That is not one of the four words in your permitted vocabulary."
Tasting bile as she swallowed hard, Becky managed to choke out a curse before Forte jammed the long rectangle of rubber between her teeth, flattening her tongue and filling every moist space between her lips and her throat.
She had guessed wrong about the number of straps; an octopus has eight arms, not ten. Four of them secured a thick leather plate in front of her mouth, two passed under her chin, and the remainder were wrapped around the top, sides and back of her head.
Becky complied, her heart thundering like a squadron of surplus jets at the county air show. Things had gotten too weird, too fast, too soon. An hour ago, she was chugging a third Screwdriver while her husband of three hours bet the last of their life savings on red. Now she was standing naked in a stranger's office, bound, gagged and displayed in a picture window visible all the way to Hoover Dam, her body apparently sold to a stranger for the price of a decent tractor.
Or a championship-stock breeding mare, she shuddered as Forte approached her with something that looked like a black dueling sword in his now-gloved hand.
"Spread your legs."
The blade, apparently made of leather, accelerated and collided with the tender flesh of her inner thigh.
"And don't ever make me tell you again."
For the first time since entering his office, Becky saw Forte smile as he reached forward and squeezed one of her nipples to the point where the tips of his thumb and forefinger connected between the dense tissue.
Okay, you can officially start crying, Becky told herself as tears dribbled down to the thick harness plastered against her cheeks. You are Grade-A certified screwed, most likely in places that usually don't get touched by anything rougher than warehouse-club toilet paper.
Another rendezvous with the thin lash accented Forte's displeasure with Becky's knees when they buckled during the inspection of her rectum.
The sadistic pinching, poking and prodding continued as he assessed every limb, muscle and orifice from her ears to her toes.
"A credit to your gender," he finally announced as he stood up.
Becky wasn't sure if she was supposed to be pleased, or horrified.
He cupped her leather-encased chin in his likewise-covered hand.
"I remind you that I chose neither the circumstances nor the decisions that led you to this situation."
Becky stared at Forte's narrowed eyebrows while her brain pinballed stupidly on random distractions like whether he had to dye them blonde to match his hair.
"I also point out that you took off your clothes voluntarily. Most of them, anyway. I stopped the video camera mounted on the wall behind my desk before I picked up the knife. Still, there's more than enough footage to convince a jury, especially in this town."
Terror lapped around the edges of Becky's perception as she willed herself into passive submission like the counselor had recommended on that special day in gym so long ago. Only she doubted she could get a clean shot at his balls with her arms incarcerated like sausages behind her back.
"Contrary to popular belief, prostitution is illegal in Clark County, even more so when combined with solicitation," Forte continued, his menacing tone piercing her fog of fear. "And I believe you have already been paid for services yet to be rendered. So there's really no point in resistance. Especially given the fact that your charming husband will doubtlessly confirm that you're a cheap slut who ran off with some sleazy high roller."
Becky had to admit that Forte was right about Jerry. And maybe everything else. Was it really rape when you're talking this kind of money? There were millions of girls who might think otherwise.
Don't think, Becky. Survive.
"Starting now, you will do exactly as I say, without hesitation or remorse."
Forte dropped his hand, and Becky's head followed.
"On your knees."
She wavered uncertainly as she lowered one knee to the floor, then the other.
"Forehead on the floor."
It was at this moment when the former Becky Chatsworth, not to mention Mrs. Gerald Reginald Cooper, Jr., grasped the inalterable fact that portions of her biography were going to be displayed in the curtained-off section in the back of the video rental store.
She watched as Forte's hand reached down to pick up her abandoned clothes and shoes. A minute later, the unmistakable metallic grinding of a shredder filled the office.
"Curly," she heard his voice bark into his intercom. "I've got a new one for the Statuary. Bring the dolly."
Becky's very constrained arms ached as she tried to find a comfortable position on the plush carpet. Her only hope was to escape, get to the airport, beg for a ticket to anywhere. Or she could hitchhike. Where to? Los Angeles? Reno? Knowing her luck, she'd get dumped at the only truck stop within 50 miles, where it would be child's play to spot a woman wearing?what? Her skirt and sweater had been mangled into threads, and the rest of their luggage was most likely stashed in the Stratosphere's storage room, if not tossed into the nearest dumpster.
No, she'd have to take her chances with the police. Her word against his. He only had his local reputation, a signed receipt, dozens of employees and spectators who witnessed Jerry's spectacular losing spree, and a video of her taking off her clothes in his office. "Your honor, the defendant told Mr. Forte she would do anything to save her husband?"
Something cold, hard and greasy nudged the very unprotected opening to her ass.
"You require stretching."
Becky bit down hard on the noxious rubber in her mouth as Forte pushed the prod deep into her rectum.
"And if it falls out, we'll just move on to the next size tonight instead of tomorrow."
Her mind was so overloaded with white flashes of pain and panic--the next size? Tomorrow?--Becky barely heard the knock on the door, nor did she register the entrance of the another man into the office.
Not until she saw the wheels parked next to her head.
"What color, boss?" she heard the stranger snarl in a KGB-model accent.
"Oh, that's right," Forte replied. "Thank you for reminding me, Curly."
The sound of shuffling cards rasped as harshly as the shredder.
Curly stomped over to the desk with the grace of a rhino learning to walk upright.
"Eight of hearts, boss."
"Heart eight. Heartache. How appropriate for a lovely lady in such tragic circumstances."
Becky felt the floor shake as the two men walked back to her prostrated body.
"Up," Forte said.
Violently aware of the promised consequences for losing control of the hateful plug, Becky clenched the muscles in her ass as she struggled to her feet. Once standing, she was startled to see that the new grunt looked exactly like the two men who had bum-rushed her husband. Meaning Forte's goon squad was probably composed of identical triplets. Or else a cloning experiment gone terribly wrong.
But that tidbit of information wasn't nearly as interesting to Becky as the dolly being pushed behind her that was clearly designed for hauling something other than boxes and suitcases. In addition to a support rack for the handlebars, a long metal pole rose from the chassis, adorned with at least a dozen thick leather belts.
Including one in the middle that hung down vertically sporting a gigantic dildo covered in plastic spines.
Curly slid the lip of the loading platform under Becky's heels and tilted the dolly backward.
Becky struggled to keep her balance as her bound arms pressed against the post. After Curly returned the dolly to the upright position, he wrapped the first strap beneath her breasts and pulled it as tight as he could before buckling it.
"Such a pity airports don't offer skycap service anymore," Forte deadpanned as he watched Curly bind her ankles, then her shoulders, neck and forehead, before pushing the massive dildo into her sweat-slick pussy and securing its belt to the one around her waist. More straps followed around her calves, ankles and hips.
After inspecting every buckle, and tightening more than a few, Forte inserted the playing card under the belt that passed just above her pussy.
"Welcome to the Stratosphere, 8H."
"You want me to prep her tonight, boss?"
"No, your brothers are running an errand, so you're the only one on duty. Take her to the Statuary and leave her for tomorrow."
"She got nice hair, boss. Pity to?"
"Don't think, Curly?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
Curly grabbed the rubber grips, angled the dolly and started wheeling it toward the door, his breath hot against the back of Becky's head that was trembling noticeably despite the strap that forced her eyes to stare straight ahead at whatever destiny had in store.