Erik waited patiently in the shadows; his position was hidden from the patron audience. This had become a nightly ritual, a new part of a carefully ordered routine. He would wake, dress, and then create music for hours on end, but only recently had he begun to watch the girl. It was unusual for him to take much notice of the goings on around him. He ignored others, and others had been happy to ignore him.

It had been a mutual agreement for years.

But then, that girl had appeared and upset his equilibrium. Erik glanced at his watch. The show was set to begin in mere minutes, already he could feel anticipation build in his chest, a strange sense of excitement that was foreign to him.

Come on, hurry up back there, he urged silently as he checked his watch again. Five nights a week the show went on promptly at ten o'clock. There had been opening acts, but she was the star; she was a gem tarnished by a difficult life, yet she shined all the brighter for it.

He had often wondered what it was that this Christine Daae did for enjoyment on the days when she was free from the stage. Did she have any remaining family? Her parents were gone, but perhaps there was a younger sibling. Did Christine have a lover that she had kept secret?

The thought rankled Erik more than he cared to admit. Only three more minutes until showtime…

Erik moved down and changed his position for a better view, moving behind the audience so as not to be seen. It wouldn't do to steal her spotlight and upset the manager, would it? He moved as close to the stage as he could for a better view; no one could see him from where he was, but instinctively he kept to the shadows behind mirrors.

The music came alive, the curtains were lifted, and the girls came to enthusiastic greeting by the audience. Their feet padded over the polished stage, and they moved to their posts. Erik's eyes searched their faces, ignoring the bodies on display. Where is she?

His eyes darted back and forth, but it was difficult to locate her with all the movement and colorful lights. She was not at the curtain, not at stage left or right, where had she gone? He had seen her arrive earlier, he'd heard nothing of her becoming ill before curtain call, so where was the girl?

He searched for her. Then…there!

Erik watched as Christine took her place and began to dance to the eager, devouring delight of her audience. He hated watching her as she gyrated on the stage, her nude body on display for the hungry eyes of the gambling customers. She gripped the metal pole and writhed against it with a sensual smile on her glossy lips. Her body arched backward until her pale blonde hair brushed the stage floor; her long legs twined around the pole, her feet encased in cheap, clear plastic high-heels.

The men crowded around her and littered bills onto the stage. Christine kneeled down to be eye-level with her audience and she began to writhe her slim hips in a grotesque mimic of sex. She cupped her naked breasts and ran manicured nails down her sides, along her loins and thighs.

A man, more daring than the rest, reached to her. Erik's hands tightened into fists as he watched the customer slip a $100 bill into the thin strap of her thong. Christine glanced down to see the amount of money and she smiled that cunning grin Erik recognized far too well.

She leant forward and whispered to the man with the brave hands who'd touched her. They spoke for a moment and then they both nodded in agreement. The man stood and crossed the room, heading towards a section reserved for the higher-profile clients. Christine continued to dance for fifteen more minutes. Erik watched her dance with impassive expression. Why do you do this to yourself…?

Christine then descended the stage and followed the same path that the man had taken, into the seclusion of the back rooms. Erik sighed and glanced down to his watch. May would want to see him soon to go over the new schedule.

"Still after that girl, are you Erik?" May asked.

They were above the audience, in her office. Two-way mirrors served as her windows into the club below them; here they were invisible, while nothing that happened below would be able to escape security's notice. Certainly nothing escaped May's; the woman must have eight eyes, six of them hidden somewhere within the mass of her badly dyed hair. She had an addiction to home hair color- this month's color was christened Radiant Ruby on the box, but from what Erik could see, it should have been labeled Brassy Rust.

Erik shook his head. "What ever gave you that idea? I've never even spoken to her,"

May shot him a knowing look. "Many things I am, but blind ain't one of them. If you like her, Erik, all you have to do is ask. I'm sure that with a little coaxing I could arrange a special night for you."


She held up a hand and rolled her eyes. "Oh, stop it. You knew what that girl was when she walked in the door. She might turn down customer offers- as far as we know- but don't let that fool you into thinking she's some kind of pure saint. If the money's right, I could have her in your room tonight, Erik, chained to the bed and awaiting her master's punishment,"

Erik sat down and sighed. "Must you be so vulgar?"

May ignored his disapproval. "Yes, I must. And if you're suddenly sensitive to vulgarity, then what the hell are you doing here? This isn't the opera or one of your fancy ballets. This is a strip joint. High class, I'll admit it, and without you I'd probably still be in Louisiana, still waiting for my FEMA trailer to arrive. I owe you big, more than my life. I want you to be happy, but I don't think you'll ever be happy watching the girl of your dreams give lap dances to the Johns downstairs. Stop torturing yourself, Erik."

Erik scowled. "Leave me alone, May. I didn't come to be badgered. Tell me about the schedule,"

May sighed lightly and poured him a drink- a whiskey on the rocks- and retrieved the sheet from her file cabinet. She handed it to him. "Remember when I saw your apartment for the first time? I told you that I could have fit my entire house in the living room. I wasn't exaggerating and you know it. You could get any girl in New York and you deserve better than that bottle-blonde pole dancer. She's no better than any of the others down there, peddling her ass for next month's rent. She's nothin' but a trick."

Erik folded the new schedule and slipped it into his pocket. He didn't feel like arguing. "You're wrong about her May, and just for the record: that blonde is natural."

He slipped out of her office and took the employee exit the same way that he'd come into the club; it was a tunnel that followed along the perimeter of the entire club. It ran along all three levels of the building from the main entrance to behind the bar and even behind the secret back room. Mirrors lined the walls of the club interior, forming two-way mirrored windows into every facet of the facility.

The bartenders never gave away free drinks or stole shots themselves for fear of being seen. Eyes were always watching behind the walls at Mama V's Dancing Dolls. Erik ignored the club as he passed it by. He had no interest in the girls on the main stage, the table dancers or the bartenders. He pulled on his gloves and readied himself for the harsh cold that awaited him outside.

The tunnel was dimly lit, it had to be to prevent those in the club from knowing they were being watched- there was a lot to be said for a false sense of privacy. More money changed hands when the customers were comfortable, which May had planned on when she explained her idea of the mirrors to Erik. He only liked it for the privacy it afforded him when he went in and out of her office.

Erik paused on his way out and moved closer to the glass that gave him a view into the back room. Christine was there with her man from the stage. She was smiling and running her hands over the man's chest, giving him the show he'd paid for. She writhed her body against his, simulating carnal desire, as if she was truly enjoying herself. Erik knew better, there was something about her eyes…

He felt sick watching her debase herself like a whore.

Erik turned away from the scene and stepped out into the cold.