NEW BEGINNING: MAGGIE SCHLOTZ’S ORIGIN STORY
The narrated version of this story is available in the Nightbus Fiction Collective Volume 1
Maggie made her first appearance in The Exterminator. You can listen to the audio version here
Maggie rolled away from him, relieved his session was over. She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. It was out of fashion but she wore her hair loose and natural. The auburn waves undulated down below her shoulder blades. She clutched the bed sheet to her chest, about to stand up and wrap it around herself. She stopped when she felt him reach out and rub his knuckles up and down the small of her back. She winced as he slowly traced his fingers along the bruises he’d left there. It took all of her composure not to flinch away in revulsion.
“You really should come with me to Kilian. MicroTech is building a new facility there. They landed a contract to make exclusive components for military devices. ”
“What’s that got to do with Revel & York?”
“You know these executive types. They need their luxury hangars, especially in less than ideal climates. I’ll be administering the design and construction.” He folded his arms behind his head. “Will be there for a couple of years at least. If you come, I can help you start a small business. A modest shop of some kind. Lots of activity in the area.” He looked around her apartment. “Your place and things always look so chic. You have a knack for it.” He leaned over and coiled a fist full of her hair around the palm of his hand. “There you’d only have to worry about pleasing me. We could be seen together in public, no questions asked.”
She yanked her hair out of his grasp and stood up. “What about your wife?”
“What about her?” He stretched and yawned. “She’s not coming. Doesn’t like to travel and damn glad of it.”
“I bet you are.” She thought to herself. Aloud she said, “but you’re glad of her money and so am I.” She felt him rise up behind her but this time she was faster than he was. She bolted off the bed and moved out of arm’s reach before turning to face him. He wasn’t bold enough to hurt her while she was looking directly at him. She seethed on the inside, “coward!” To him she sad, “I need to straighten up. Another customer coming soon.” He glared at her, hands balled into fists.
Larry was tall dark and handsome as they say. It was his soul that made him ugly. He backed off the bed into a standing position. “You know that disgusts me.”
Playing innocent, she cocked her head to one side. “What’s that?”
He ground his teeth and flexed his jaw before answering. “The idea of other men,” he spat.
She wanted to laugh in his face. Instead, she said, “Sorry, love. You know you’re the only special one.” Placating him felt like chewing on glass. She did it because he was her highest paying and most frequent customer. She needed him for a while yet.
He dressed quickly. Jerking on his clothes in anger. She walked him to the door feigning concern for his feelings and gave him assurances that she would consider his generous offer. And she would, just not in the way he thought.
Maggie wondered why anyone married these creatures. She could respect the single men looking for diversion and satisfaction. Or the older lonely ones. Unfortunately, Larry’s species was much more common, especially among the clientele of licensed paramours. It helped them feel less grimy in their illicit behavior and unfaithfulness.
Maggie sat across from Kitty. She was on the sofa trying not to be consumed by the avalanche of brightly colored fluffy pillows. Kitty was sitting cross-legged on her bed. Her face was heart-shaped and matched her plump girlish figure. Maggie was her polar opposite. Tall, lithe with keen features, and almond shaped brown eyes that dominated her face.
Kitty looked at Maggie expectantly, her bright blue eyes framed by three-inch artificial lashes that made a clicking sound when she blinked. Her surgically altered lips were set in a perpetually plump pout. “So what’s this idea you wanted to talk about? Haven’t heard you that excited in ages!”
“Larry mentioned something that got me thinking about changing my line of work.”
Kitty made a sour face. “Larry? Eww, surprised you’re smiling after seeing him,” she interrupted.
“He has his uses.” Teasing, Maggie said, “We can’t all have romper room sessions.” Waving her hand at Kitty’s outfit she continued, “I don’t think they make those in my size.”
Kitty popped to her feet on the bed, overturning several pillows and life-sized stuffed unicorns. She struck an innocent pose and pressed an index finger to the corner of her mouth. In her best apologetic child’s voice, she replied, “I know. Kitty sorry, Maggie big-limb giant.” She spread her arms wide. “Come, Kitty make it all better.” They both guffawed.
Referring to Kitty’s current outfit of pink ballet slippers, thigh high pink-n-white striped tights, multicolored tutu and pink leather bustier, Maggie said, “I don’t know how you wear that shit all day.”
Stealing a line from Maggie she said, “it has its uses,” and flounced down into a sitting position. “So what’s this idea?”
“In the past, Larry’s mentioned incentives offered to folks who settle on newly terraformed planets or bring new businesses to underserved areas. He’s being shipped out to oversee construction of new Revel & York hangars in Kilian. He wants me to go with. Would help me start a small business of some sort for income with him being my only client.”
Kitty’s eyes widened in horror.
Shaking her finger Maggie said. “Not to worry. Fuck being tied to that asshole.”
Patting her chest feverishly, Kitty said, “Thank God. Almost gave Baby a heart attack.”
“His offer got me thinking though. Why can’t we start up a business in a system where subsidies are being offered on our own? Even without a grant, if we can find a reliable lead on a developing community and the inside track on a prime location, we’d be in decent shape.” Maggie leaned back for a minute to consider. She looked around Kitty’s apartment. It was the same size and configuration as her own albeit themed for her clientele’s tastes.
Their quarters were larger than average being corner units. They had space for an oversized bed, formal sitting area, kitchenette and a bathroom with a double sized shower and Jacuzzi. The coup-de-gras, however, was the breathtaking view. A feature very few others had on the Granada space station. These suites were usually reserved for corporations, high-ranking government personnel, and military officials. Their ability to acquire them was the benefit of being a licensed paramour paying top union dues. The Paramour Union bid for and championed getting their members the best accommodations. They argued it kept up one’s spirit and attracted a better class of patrons. And they were right.
There were many nights when Maggie soothed her aching body and bruised soul by staring out of her apartment’s lavish floor to ceiling windows. The view of Vann from this distance was mesmerizing. Predominantly covered in ice, it was a pale blue ghost in the perpetual night sky of deep space. She could lose herself for hours watching ships pop in and out of quantum, arriving and departing from Granada, the largest residential and commercial space station in all of Croshaw.
Her life here was far from perfect but she’d seen worse. Her parents were hard working but unskilled laborers. Clinging to their faith, they shunned modern birth control options and struggled to provide for five children. Her early years were spent in slums of overly crowded resource-stretched cities. Her teens, living in what amounted to little more than tins cans with oxygen, on congested space stations. When she was eighteen, she’d set out on her own, determined to have better.
Her career as a paramour had provided comfort and predictability. She knew the rhythm of every day before it began. She wanted for nothing and had over the years sent money to her family who begrudgingly accepted it. Her father, all that was left of their tragic clan, was ashamed of her and refused to visit. His voice echoed in her head. “Glad your mother isn’t alive to see.” Maggie had always wondered at the stupid saying. She couldn’t imagine anything she could ever do that her mother being dead was preferable. “Jackass!”
Kitty scrunched up her face confused. “What hon?”
Maggie blinked, coming back to the present. “Nothing. Look – we can do more than this. See more than this.” Glancing around the room, “have more than this.”
“I don’t know. This is pretty good.” Kitty grabbed a nearby unicorn and hugged it to her chest.
“I’m being serious Kitty. Are you gonna be rocking that outfit when you’re 50? 60? If not, then what? Not planning that part now, is how we end up eating out of trash bins later.”
Kitty sighed and dropped the baby act. “I know what you mean. I think about it sometimes but it makes my tummy hurt.”
“No shit. It’s risky and scary but I don’t want to do this forever or wait until it’s too late. I could maybe squeak by opening something alone. But my savings can’t cover relocating and starting a business.” She looked up to gauge Kitty’s reaction. “Together we could. Don’t think it can be just you and me. We’d need a third to be safe.”
Kitty warmed to the idea. She knew Maggie to be a level-headed person. “Men do it in business all the time. I have a few clients that love telling me about their big deals and how savvy they are, all the while wanting to play patty-cake with ‘lil me.” She giggled. “I agree though. There’s safety in numbers.”
“Exactly! You, me and Bosha could do it. We’re good friends and trust each other.”
Kitty hopped off the bed and sat on the sofa next to Maggie, her face alert. “Think three is enough? There’s travel, start-up costs, license fees and we have to live on something while things get going.”
“I was thinking we should focus on finding a place where we could live on the premises in the beginning. That way all money is going to the business location minus food.” She poked Kitty in the ribs when she saw her make a face at the idea of cohabitation. “Temporary girls club!” She poked her to the point of tickling. “Popcorn and pillow fights,” she laughed while Kitty squirmed.
When she stopped laughing, Kitty took a slow look around her room. “I haven’t shared a room in ages.” Momentarily slipping back into her shtick, “Baby likes her stuff.”
“So does Maggie. We can have our stuffs again later. You in?”
Kitty got up and went to the window. “This view…” She leaned her cheek against the cool glass. “How far you think we’d have to go?”
“I honestly don’t know. It wouldn’t be immediate. We can take our time and shop around.”
Turning back to face Maggie she asked, “How are we gonna get the inside track on something?”
Maggie looked at her cockeyed. “C’mon. You don’t think between the three of us we can find a client who can scare up the information?”
“True.” Kitty turned away again.
“You in? I can’t do this without you, Kitty.” She hesitated. “Don’t mean to pressure but you, me and Bosha been each other’s rock for years. Two might could make it but…”
Kitty faced the room again and took a deep breath. “I’m in. Not leaving Baby behind!”
Maggie jumped up from the sofa and clapped her hands. “Excellent! Now the work begins.”
Maggie had waited over three hours for the time-delayed response from Richard. She was sitting at her dining table, half of which served as a desk. Watching his reply on the vidMail she could see how much he’d aged in the years since she’d seen him. Widower-hood wasn’t doing him any favors. His bushy hair was completely gray, including his eyebrows. He’d gained weight and his gentle face was completely lined with age. His hazel eyes, however, were still kind.
“Good to hear from you, Maggie. It’s been a while. My work in Goss is going well. Kind of you to ask. I’m surprised and relieved to hear that you’re contemplating a different career.” Chortling as though it were a shared joke he said, “Lord knows you are good at what you do but I always suspected you could do more.”
Maggie glowed on the inside from his sweet words. It wasn’t something she’d heard much. To her father, all of her choices seemed a day late and a credit short.
Richard continued. “I made contact with a few leads to see what was available and I think I lucked up on a sound opportunity in Stanton.”
“Stanton?” Maggie paused the playback and searched for the Stanton star system on her data pad. Not much information on it other than it contained four super-earths and the locals were in a quarrel about ownership with the UEE. She pressed play on the tablet again.
“It’s a rare find of four planets that are geologically capable of supporting life. Pioneers and separatists have been freely making use of the star system since its discovery but now that the UEE is strapped for cash and resources, they’re claiming eminent domain.” He rolled his eyes as if he wasn’t necessarily in agreement. “We’re not sure what’s going to happen with the planets themselves BUT there’s an asteroid belt actively being mined which ensures a certain level of commerce. Banking on that, Green Imperial Housing Exchange is building a station and trading post inside one of the asteroids. It won’t be luxurious. Nothing the likes of Granada but it’s a safe bet it’ll attract a high amount of traffic, especially during the early years of terraforming the system’s planets.”
Maggie traced the outline of Richard’s face on the display. She knew him to possess exceptional business acumen. More importantly, he was a good person.
“Friend of a friend knows the leasing agent. I took the liberty of transferring them a security deposit to hold a location that meets your expressed requirements. Things are moving quickly though. You only have four weeks to arrive on-site with a six-month rent deposit and to sign the papers. They don’t want absentee landlords or people squatting on locations. If you miss the deadline the security is forfeited. I hope this arrangement is agreeable to you. I think it’s an excellent opportunity. And selfishly, it would allow me to see you occasionally since I pass through there on business. You can repay me the deposit in credits or …” A huge grin spread across his face. “… or in services. Good luck. Hope to see you soon.”
Maggie was dumbstruck. He’d already secured a place! “Holy shit.” Her excitement immediately gave way to the harsh reality of the looming deadline. “We have to raise the money, pack up and be there in four weeks.” She bolted up from the table and began pacing.
They probably had the credits for the rent but then they needed more to turn it into — whatever business they selected and have funds to live off of in the interim. “Might have enough if we liquidate everything we own.” She chewed on a fingernail but abruptly stopped, not liking the taste of the red glitter lacquer on it. “Only keep bare necessities to take with. Live off space rations for a while if we have to.” She cupped her forehead. “Kitty’s not going to like that idea.”
The fifteen days since her conversation with Richard had been a blur. Getting rid of her big-ticket items had been the easy part. The station had a waiting list for her apartment. They were more than happy to take it off of her hands furnished. She was bunking with Bosha, who’d found someone to take the lease on her smaller apartment and was willing to wait until she departed if Bosha paid the first month’s rent which she did.
Dealing with Larry had been infinitely harder. She’d physically moved in with Bosha before canceling her client sessions to avoid anyone showing up looking for an answer, particularly Larry. The messages he’d left had quickly escalated from concern to outrage to threats. He’d refused her offer of meeting in a public place to discuss her change in circumstances, claiming someone who knew his wife might see them. He eventually relented when her final reply said that if he didn’t want to meet in public there was no point in contacting her again.
Maggie was sitting alone at a bistro table on the observatory deck of the Tip Top, watching customers come and go. Tip Top was a popular gathering place for drinks and a light meal owed to the glass walls and spinning platform which afforded an amazing view of the space station and Vann.
Being one of the few public locations with an exterior view at all, it was also a favorite spot for visitors to congregate. She’d asked the hostess for a table at the back edge of the round dining room. She didn’t want to be sitting front and center if her conversation with Larry became contentious. Not that she should care. She was leaving. Still…
She checked the time — again. Larry was uncharacteristically late. She regretted not taking the coward’s way out by leaving him vidMail the day of her departure. But she didn’t want him harassing anyone he thought knew her or contacting the Paramour Union. This way if he did, she could respond that she’d done everything in a professional manner. In which case, they’d put him in his place and threaten to blacklist him if he persisted. Although she didn’t plan on needing the union again, it was better to play things safe. No point in burning a bridge she might have to cross again one day.
Deciding that she was only waiting another ten minutes, she looked up from her watch, to find him staring at her from the entrance. “Here we go.” He had that look on his face. The one he wore when contemplating how far he could push her. Maggie schooled her expression into a mask a calm aloofness.
The room was full, with a line of people waiting at the entrance. Occupants were dressed to be on display. She watched Larry weave his way toward her. He wore a chest hugging shirt, slim fitting pants, and an aged leather duster. His swagger was attractive and he knew it. He’d planted on his patent slanted sexy smile. They both noticed a few heads swivel in his direction. When he reached the table he leaned over to kiss her but she pointedly turned away.
“We’re not sweethearts,” she said.
“We could be.”
“How easily you forget that you’re married.”
He waved away the statement and sat down across from her. “That’s a circumstance. Nothing more.”
Maggie rolled her eyes. “If you say so.”
“So — why the cloak-n-dagger routine? I’ve been seeing you for almost four years. Or rather, I’ve been paying you for that long.” He looked down his nose at her.
Maggie wasn’t taking the bait. Nor was she insulted. She always considered him and all of her other clients business. He couldn’t hurt her feelings by stating the obvious. “You seemed not to understand my change in status.” She sipped at the goblet of red wine in her hand. “The new tenant says you’ve contacted her several times looking for me.” She put the glass down and leisurely folded her hands on the table. “She doesn’t know me. We’re not friends. It’s a business arrangement of her taking over my lease. Period.”
He put both of his arms on the table when he spoke. “You’re living somewhere. I want that address.” He leaned forward with a menacing smile. “I’ll get it eventually. Station’s only but so big.”
Maggie made a mental note to tell Bosha that they needed to be more careful entering and exiting the apartment. Bosha’s place was on one of the lower floors with modest accommodations and less security. “I already told you, the friend I’m with isn’t fond of visitors. She works from home.”
“Still claiming it’s a she?” He asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Not claiming. Telling.” She reached for the wine glass but he grabbed her hand instead.
“I don’t believe you. How are you living?”
She resisted the urge to jerk her hand back. He was being civil. Well, his brand of civil anyway. “On my savings. Like I told you, I’m entering a new line of work and making a fresh start.”
He toyed with her fingers alternately rubbing them gently and applying uncomfortable pressure. “I think that’s a great idea. I can help you.”
“I think you missed the ‘fresh start’ part of that. Fresh means not being a paramour OR a mistress.” She looked him directly in the eyes. Here was a fact he couldn’t refute or weasel around.
He laughed. “Not likely. Think you’re the first whore to say that?” She pulled her hand out of his grasp. He narrowed his eyes and looked around to see if anyone was watching. “Pipe dream. Nothing more.”
“Well, it’s my pipe to smoke.” She stood up and let her mask fall away. Her eyes raked over him with disgust. “I’ve suspended my license and notified the union about potentially unwanted contact from a client. An accusation they don’t take lightly. If you contact me again, in any way, I’ll notify them and you’ll be blacklisted.” She stepped back from the table when he rose. He lurched for her arm but she leaned out of the way. The glasses and cutlery on the table rattled violently. Heads swung in their direction.
Conscious of the sudden stares he said, “We’ll discuss this again. You’ll see things my way before it’s all said and done. I promise you that.”
There was a palpable threat behind the statement but she refused to let him see her acknowledge it so she tossed her hair and laughed. “Bye Larry.”
Fearful of Larry’s threats, Maggie convinced Kitty and Bosha it was better to be gone as soon as possible. They each took extra care when leaving or returning to the apartments. Maggie did her best to conduct as much of her final business as she could using video conferences. She sold her remaining possessions through third party merchants to avoid sharing information with potential buyers. Unfortunately, moving up their timetable compromised how much money they earned for liquidating their assets. It also landed them with horrible travel arrangements to Stanton by having to take whatever was cheapest and readily available for three.
An hour before they were due to board a Starliner to Ferron, as the first hop on their journey, Kitty still hadn’t arrived at the departure gate. Waiting passengers milled around the pressurized ramp leading to the ship or sat on the rows of cushioned benches. Bosha and Maggie were sitting alone on a bench near the glassed wall watching the ground crew prepare the Starliner for departure.
The Starliner was one of Crusader Industries premiere passenger transport ships. It was long and narrow, with sleek lines accentuated by red racing stripes. Maggie watched the ground crew refuel and load cargo. She wished they’d been able to go with their original plan of securing private cabins. Unfortunately, that was no longer option with their accelerated their departure arrangements. Bosha’s voice interrupted her wishful thinking.
“No surprise Kitty’s late.” Bosha was moderate height and full figured. She wore a tan cowl-hood sweater over a tight fitting jumpsuit that emphasized her curves. She had the hood up. The exaggerated folds draped against the sides of her face, contrasted against her mocha colored skin and covered her tattooed scalp. Her voice was deep and sensual. “It’s going to be real interesting to see her ‘off stage’ interacting without her — uh — props.” Both women smiled.
“She’s not responding on her mobi either.”
“Probably on silent. Old habit and all.”
“If she misses this flight she’s screwed. These are nonrefundable passes.”
“She’d find a means to cajole her way on the next one. I’m fairly certain of that.”
Maggie exhaled and tried to relax but another thirty minutes passed and still no Kitty. The boarding light turned on and passengers were beginning to enter the ramp to board the ship. Maggie and Bosha were near the door, standing off to the side, craning their necks looking for Kitty. Maggie gasped when she spotted her. She grabbed Bosha’s hand and squeezed it so hard, her knuckles turned white.
“What the…” Maggie’s mouth fell open. She saw Larry arch his eyebrows and smirk while holding Kitty in a death grip, slightly in front of him. One side of Kitty’s face was red, her eyes were watery and her upper lip quivered. “Think fast,” Maggie screamed inwardly.
Larry abruptly forced Kitty to stop walking and she almost tripped over her own feet. People brushed passed the two on their way to the boarding ramp. He crooked a finger at Maggie, pointed to her and then Kitty as if to gesture an exchange.
Bosha, now fully aware of what was going on said, “No fucking way. The balls on this fucker!”
Maggie watched in horror as he began slowly backing up, heading toward a secluded corner. No way could she follow him there. Realistically, what could he do if she just screamed? She didn’t think he was armed but she couldn’t know for sure. She suddenly remembered a prime lesson from self-defense training about never allowing yourself to be taken to an isolated location. Her mind raced. Wouldn’t he just let Kitty go if she boarded the ship? “Shit!” Her stomach roiled.
“What are we going to do?” Bosha asked.
Maggie was about to say she had no idea when an idea came to her. She dropped the small valise she’d been carrying at Bosha’s feet. She smoothed back her hair and walked forward. Behind her, she heard the gate attendant announce final boarding.
She saw Larry sneer when she headed in his direction. Half way to him, at the end of the line of passengers still boarding, Maggie spotted a young man alone, bringing up the rear. He was wearing a bomber jacket with cargo pants and looked pretty fit. She stopped in front of him and gave him with her most divine smile.
“Sorry to bother you.” She laid a hand on his chest. “My friend isn’t feeling well and needs help boarding.” She pointed toward Kitty and saw Larry’s eyes narrow. “That gentleman there was kind enough to help her this far but he’s not boarding.” She used a hand to slowly brush her bang out of her eyes. “Buy you a drink on board if you can give us a hand?”
The young man’s face brightened. “Sure, no problem.”
“I’m Maggie by the way,” she said while simultaneously hooking her arm in his and moving him along.
With an excessive sound of being pleased, she cooed, “Marvelous, don’t hear that one much these days.” She noticed Larry stiffen as they approached and she tightened her grip on Xavier’s arm. “Kitty, this wonderful gentleman has offered to assist you to the ship.” She kept her eyes trained on Kitty’s face, praying she’d play along. “I explained that you’re not feeling well and need assistance getting to your seat.”
Kitty looked the part. Her free arm was hugging her stomach and beads of sweat were trickling down the sides of her face. “Uh — okay. Th-thank you,” she stammered.
Larry interjected himself. “No need. I can help them both.” Dismissively he added, “You can run along.”
Xavier raised his eyebrows, bent his head to one side and cracked his neck. He’d felt Maggie’s grip on his arm tighten when Larry spoke. “Don’t think that’s possible unless you have a boarding pass.” He turned his attention momentarily to Maggie and smiled. “I’m here to help either way.” He extended a hand to Kitty who grabbed it like a life preserver. He felt Maggie begin backing away and so did he, gently tugging on Kitty.
Behind her, Maggie heard Bosha say, “C’mon on last boarding” with a raised voice. Followed by, “Hang on, those three there are coming.”
“Good girl,” Maggie thought. Correctly assuming Bosha was pointing them out to the attendant.
Larry went rigid and he momentarily yanked Kitty back to him. Bless Xavier, who didn’t let go or give in. He continued tugging Kitty while stepping backward one foot at a time. Hurried footsteps come up behind them.
“Excuse me, but you have to board now. Please hurry,” the young woman in her black uniform with red trim commanded.
Kitty fell forward, into Xavier, as Larry let go. Maggie grabbed her arm and the three of them hurried away toward the boarding ramp.
“Sorry for the holdup,” Larry said in a silky voice to the attendant. “I need a boarding pass.”
Maggie overheard and turned her head in horror.
“I’m sorry, this flight is booked. Next available departure is in three hours.”
“I have standing first class status. Surely…”
“My apologies Sir, there are no seats. As soon as I get them boarded, I’ll be happy to assist you in booking passage on the next flight. Please wait here.” She turned and rushed Maggie, Kitty, Bosha, and Xavier through the tunnel.
While the quartet was walking down the main aisle of the ship looking for their seats, Maggie turned to Xavier, who was directly behind her. “Thank you. I will happily buy you a drink or several after take off.”
“You don’t have to but I’ll gladly oblige if it’s not an inconvenience. Boring flight ahead and not tired enough to sleep through it.”
“Happy to.” They were nearing the middle cabin where Maggie knew their seats to be. Spotting the row she said, “We’re over there. Come by when you’re ready.”
“I’m up a bit further. ” He walked passed them then turned back to Maggie. “Not to pry but I hope you have help where you’re going. It’s easy enough for that bozo to follow you on the next flight.”
Maggie grinned like a Cheshire cat. “He could if that was our final destination but it’s not. We have many more flights to go. Doing it on the cheap and last minute is taking us via a very circuitous route.” She exhaled. “We’re good now. Thanks again.”
He winked at her. “Excellent. See you later.”