So, I finally finished my second prompt story, which I've tentatively titled Reclamation. I have no idea when it will be out on the Goodreads M/M Romance Group's website, but you can have half of the first chapter right here! It's a dystopian (because what else have I been doing lately) near-future-with-a-sci-fi-flair fic, and it all starts with strippers. Because that's what my prompter wanted, and that's what my prompter gets.
Matt could tell by the way Jojo sashayed over to him that he wasn’t bringing news he thought Matt wanted to hear. He leaned in close, suffocating Matt with the scent of his favorite floral perfume, and purred, “You’re up, Cali-boy. Your favorite patron got here five minutes ago, and he’s getting impatient.”
“Well, fuck.” The reluctance was all part of the act but genuine enough that Matt didn’t have to try too hard to sell it, either.
His reply got the expected laugh. “He might be a dog, honey, but he’s more bark than bite when it comes to you.” Jojo reached around and smacked Matt firmly on the ass. “Lucky you, huh? At least you know you’re gonna make the rent on nights like these.”
Matt rolled his eyes. He’d put on so much mascara that his eyelids felt weighed down by it, but there were certain expectations when it came to the look that Johnny Rock’s went for in its strippers. That meant his personal opinion was meaningless. It also meant Johnny, the owner and manager of the place, had taken one look at Matt three weeks ago when he first hired him and said, “You’re going to be California, you got it, boy?”
“California?” Matt didn’t follow. They lived in the sprawling urban center of Phoenix, Arizona. “Why?”
“’Cause you’re tan and you’ll look good as a bleach blond,” he’d said. Johnny was probably in his seventies, with a head full of white hair covered by a cowboy hat and his hand never far from a glass of whiskey, but the folksy affectations were nothing more than a costume for Johnny. Matt had seen more genuine emotion in roadkill. “Everybody’s got a schtick, kid, and that’s going to be yours. I lost my last California a week ago.”
In retrospect, it had been a dumb question. “Death,” Johnny had replied simply. “You in, boy?”
“Yeah,” Matt had said, because he really didn’t have any choice. This was his job, after all. His part of the case, the mission. He was going to do whatever it took to make it work. “Sure, I can be Cali.”
Three weeks later, Matt had his routine down pat. Cali was a sweet, slightly vulnerable West Coast transplant with a big, wide smile and a slightly goofy personality. Cali liked to be admired, and Cali wanted to be loved. Cali particularly liked the attentions of the youngest son of the head of the Jimenez cartel in Phoenix, a frustrated gay boy who flouted the disapproval of his family by frequenting the only all-male strip club in the city.
The Jimenez cartel ran a smuggling ring that trafficked drugs through the heart of the sun-burnt West, sneaking cocaine and heroin up into Canada and bringing high-tech mod chips that could enhance a person’s mental and physical traits when installed by a decent neurosurgeon. Mods were all the rage for people who could afford them, ways to keep yourself alive longer in the mess that had been left after the bullshit of the Second Secession thirty years ago. They were illegal to transport without some heavy-duty permits, but they could be smuggled easily enough inside of people.
Federal law enforcement had been happy enough to leave the Jimenez cartel to their work as long as the scope stayed small. They had bigger things to worry about than a few hundred pounds of heroin or a couple dozen mod chips making it over the southern border every other weeks. But the Jimenez patriarch wanted to expand his business, and he needed manpower to do it. Not the armed kind, either, or adding chips to girls who were trafficked north as part of the sex trade. They needed people who could blend in, carry dozens of chips in their bodies without rousing suspicions. That meant kidnapping locals and “persuading” them to work for the cartel. And while the easiest ones to press into service were the runaways who made their home on the cancerous edges of a dangerous city, there were some high-profile exceptions that had caught the attention of the feds.
All of which meant that Matt, recently promoted to detective out of Phoenix PD’s vast rank and file, was sent undercover in an attempt to gather enough evidence against the Jimenez cartel to give law enforcement an idea of how to put a stop to the kidnappings without resulting in unacceptable levels of violence. No one wanted a repeat of the Meth Wars, after all, and while the Jimenez cartel was as tight as any mafia family, there was always a way in. In this case, the feds thought that one way might be Tito Jimenez. And Matt was just his type. For now, at least.
Tito of the clammy hands, Tito of the bulldog set to his jaw, Tito who was too young to have that permanent frown line between his eyebrows. Tito was a regular at Johnny Rock’s, but who he spent his money on was fluid, ever-changing. He’d go as far as he could without getting rebuffed by either the stripper or Johnny, or however far his family would let him go before reeling him and his spending back in. Tito was a man desperate for something he couldn’t even put a name on, and it was Matt’s job to give it to him.
Matt stretched his back and shoulders out behind the curtain, listening to his intro begin on the stage. He still wasn’t used to the way his new implants had left his body so freakishly flexible. He’d lost his strength mods during prep for the mission— there was no way a young, unemployed drifter like he was posing as could have afforded police-standard modification chips. The force’s doctors had even removed Matt’s generic forearm implant for connecting to the web, to help emphasize his needy, destitute state. So it was bye-bye enhanced fast-twitch muscle development, hello black market insert that somehow turned his hips into a lazy Susan.
“You’re up,” Jojo reminded him, and Matt nodded. “Don’t forget your sunglasses.”
Matt groaned but took the shades, complete with bright orange frames. “These look fucking ridiculous.”
“But they’re so California!” Jojo mocked, grinning around his fake teeth. “Maybe Johnny would let you switch them out for a surfboard or something, if you’re really—”
Matt shot Jojo a horrified look. “Don’t even think about suggesting that to him!”
“I won’t if you buy me a drink after your show.” Jojo pressed a sparkly kiss to Matt’s cheek and then wiped it off with his thumb. “Go and impress your admiring hordes, Cali.”
“I got it.” One more quick inspection in the mirror and then he headed out on stage, ready for another round of seducing Tito Jimenez.
It was a game of catch and release, working at Johnny Rock’s. When you were onstage you played the field, heading for whoever waved the most money. Johnny ran a cash-only club, a throwback to the early oughts, but his acts were exclusive enough that people complied, bringing precious bills in with them in order to get a taste. There was a bounty on paper money, the government trying hard to transfer over to a card-only system that could be more easily tracked, and so that made cash even more desirable.
An old club remix of West Coast came on, and Matt headed out onto the stage. He didn’t affect a sexy strut like Jojo used, not for Cali. As Matt became Cali, he toed off his sandals and walked out barefoot, wearing nothing but a pair of ripped jeans so thin now they were almost translucent, and that stupid pair of sunglasses. The rhythm of his hips and shoulders was an enticing wave, sliding up and down the line of his body in time to the beat. This was a sensual song, even sped up to its current pulsing beat, and Matt elongated every murmur of the singer’s voice with a soft, subtle movement. He kept his smile small and secretive as he paced out to the pole in the center of the stage, spread his legs, and leaned his shoulders back against the cool metal.
The stage wasn’t raised very high, making it easy for Matt to jump down and work individuals depending on who earned his personal attention for a measure or two. He tilted his head down toward the floor but kept his eyes moving beneath the dark lenses, surveying the crowd. About thirty people sat around scratched wooden tables on uncomfortable chairs, some of them drinking or checking the screens on the backs of their forearms, but most were looking at him.
No one was looking harder than Tito Jimenez, his dark eyes wide and focused in his foxy face, a stack of bills on the table in front of him. He wore diamonds in his ears that glittered in the low light, and a gold cross on a chain around his neck that seemed to drag him forward. The two men sitting with him were less intent, one of them looking actively uncomfortable—bodyguards then, or rather, babysitters. Tito ignored them and shifted the top bill into his hand, waving it back and forth like a flag to a bull.
Well, Matt couldn’t be that easy. He grabbed the pole above his head and arched forward, hips leading the way, turning his upper body into a perfect ∩-shape. He pushed up onto his toes, bowing bare skin and toned muscle toward the crowd and then swiveled back to standing so smoothly he got a few gasps from the audience.
Tito had two bills held up now, rubbing them against each other like he was imagining them as flesh. Matt smiled and slid his free hand down his chest, absently tracing the cut plane of his abs as he picked his first target. There, two tables deep: Ball Cap. He came in a couple times a week and always had a leer for Matt. He smelled like day-old chewing tobacco, but he was a decent place to start. Matt sidled to the edge of the stage and dropped off the end like a leaf falling through the air, lilting and tilting but landing as softly as if he’d floated down. He ignored Tito’s small, shocked exhale as he headed away from him, hips swaying, to bend over the table in front of Ball Cap.
There was no grabbing, no pulling and no touching under the clothes or across the crotch. Johnny Rock’s was a surprisingly chaste place, all things considered, but that was part of the appeal. There were plenty of highball clubs where enough credit would put a naked girl in your lap to play with for all the world to see. Johnny’s strippers were desired in part because there was still an element of mystery, something that made mental fingers itch to uncover them.
Matt rolled over so that only the base of his spine and the tops of his shoulders touched the table, his head dangling off the far side just inches over Ball Cap’s lap, and grinned lazily. Rough fingers roamed over his bare chest, settling fast on his nipples and pinching them hard before Matt pulled away with a gentle tsk.
“Oh, c’mon,” Ball Cap whined, sticking two hundreds into Matt’s waistline and letting his hands linger there. “Come back, I’ll be nice!” He slipped his hand around to Matt’s crotch and palmed his dick through the smooth denim. Matt slipped gracefully away, ignoring the way his skin seemed to crawl. Keep it together. Put on a show.
“Not nice enough,” Matt drawled. “Maybe next time, baby.” The song was getting close to the halfway point, and he needed to draw Tito’s anxiety out a little more. A guy at the bar… there.
Matt had seen him in here several times before, always drinking just one beer at the bar before he left again. He’d never paid for any company, never catcalled or even made a gesture in Matt’s direction, but Matt’s thirst for lowbrow was at an ebb for the moment. He needed a chance to breathe a little, get his composure back, and this guy seemed like just the way to do that.
It didn’t hurt that he was handsome in that sweet boy-next-door way and obviously dead tired. Matt wondered what brought this guy in so late, then pushed his curiosity back as he set his palms down on the edge of the bar, encircling his mark, and rolled his hips in a figure eight that just barely brought their pants into contact. The man wore the plain, sand-colored cargo pants of a city worker and a T-shirt with a faded circular logo, oversized for his frame, but Matt could see the firm muscles in his arms and the definition in his shoulders. The frisson of desire that followed was surprising.
Matt wrapped his arms around the man’s shoulders and swayed gently into the protective curl of the man’s body. He didn’t smell too sweet, probably just off a shift somewhere, but his tentative hands rested like petals against Matt’s waist, barely brushing him. His palms were rough too, but warm and dry.
“I can’t…” The guy cleared his throat. “I can’t afford you,” he said quietly.
“It’s okay,” Matt whispered, pushing his sunglasses up. He glanced over his shoulder at Tito, who looked livid, a whole fistful of bills raised in Matt’s direction. “I’m just catching my breath.” When he looked back into the man’s eyes, though, he felt like he was losing air instead, his lungs going still for a moment under the weight of that considering amber gaze. “Thank you,” he finished, and then pulled away and headed for Tito, still swaying, carelessly undoing the top button of his jeans as he went. A few other men and one determined woman thrust bills at him, but Matt ignored them, trying to focus on his target and forget about the way the pockets of his hips still tingled from the man’s touch.