Six Years Later...

She was glad that this particular strip bar didn't require anything to dance but the willingness to get naked in front of a group of horny strangers. Dancers were paid under the table a bare minimum and were expected to split tips with the management. She didn't care. She wasn't in it to make money. Had it been a "classier" establishment and required Social Security numbers or a driver's license to ensure the dancers really were 18, she would have had a problem.

"You're late, Lolita," the bouncer growled as she passed by him. He didn't bother to check her bag, management didn't care if their girls were coked out of their minds in order to get through their sets as long as they got through them. But it wasn't drugs "Lolita" would have been concealing.

"Got held up in traffic," she snapped back. "How's business?"

"Best it ever is on a Tuesday night," the bouncer said.

"Lolita" knew that Tuesdays weren't exactly the busiest night in the flesh trade. Guys didn't get horny and desperate enough to darken this establishment's doors that early on into the week. Wednesdays, maybe. Something about "hump" day really drove home the point that they were going to spend the weekend alone again, with only a porno or two to keep them company. That's when they came here, to oggle the real thing, live and in person. And for a few extra hundred bucks, you didn't have to just oggle. If she had been one of the dancers trying to make ends meet, she would have been pissed to be stuck with the worst shift possible.

But Tuesday nights were the reason she came to work here in the first place.

"Lolita, where have you been, you're up next!" Sugar Cane, one of the fellow dancers desperate enough to make a couple of bucks on a Tuesday night, greeted her in the bar area as the buxom blonde finished serving (or was that servicing) a customer. Sticking her tip in her g-string, she said, "The boss is pissed."

"He'll get over it." "Lolita" cast a glance around the room. "Is my favorite regular here yet?"

Sugar Cane gave her a knowing smile. "He's been asking about you. He won't tip any of the rest of us, stingy bastard. Maybe tonight's the night you take your act to a private room, girl." She winked.

"Thanks, Sugar. I better not disappoint him. I'll go get ready." She made her way past the stage and into the curtained off section behind where the dancers changed. One of the other dancers, Carmen, barely looked up from the line of coke she was snorting to give "Lolita" any acknowledgment. That was good. The less people around here remembered her, the better.

She changed out of her street clothes and into her costume – an indecently short pleated skirt, a cropped button-up white shirt and knee socks. It played up the "Lolita" name, the school girl fantasy many of the men that came here had. And the fact that she actually was underage only helped. Well. For a few more days anyway.

Her eighteenth birthday loomed ahead. Matilda acted like she had forgotten Leon's promise about that day, but it never left the back of her mind. Soon they would have to revisit the issue one way or the other.

The last six years had been good for their partnership. They had stayed off the grid and out of Stansfield's reach, never staying anywhere longer than a month at the most and taking jobs where they could find them. Despite what he had said about wanting to live in a house and have roots, they both new it was impossible with Stansfield out there, somewhere, looking for the little girl and the cleaner that had taken out his personal force. Matilda was Leon's roots now.

At first, it had been like it was in the first days of their life together – Matilda would cook and clean while Leon did the jobs. But once Matilda's training had become complete and word had spread about the brand-new cleaner with the face of an angel that could go places most male cleaners couldn't, demand for her work had increased.

Which had lead her to this hole-in-the-wall. A well-known gun runner was known to frequent the place on Tuesday nights. He was too well-known for his own good, however, and word was he was going to squeal to the cops on his customer-base for a plea deal. Matilda had been hired to make sure he never made that deal.

She had attracted his attention right away, that wasn't difficult. At some point between 12 and now, her small frame had filled out to womanly proportions. Matilda, for wanting to stay under the radar, attracted male attention easily. Well, except for the one male she actually wanted, but that was going to change very soon. No, the problem with the job was the gun runner had a habit of being surrounded by his cohorts. He would watch her dance, he would tip, but he never would go anywhere alone with her. Matilda had been pushing for time in the "champagne" room, but he never budged. Maybe he had heard about the health qualities of most of the dancers here and didn't want to take his chances. He didn't seem like the type that would be above buying a woman, but maybe there was a boundary to his sleeziness. She doubted he suspected the truth – that she was a top cleaner trying to take him out. Leon had cautioned her about getting too close to the mark and wanted her to take him out at a distance, but she had refused, calling that amateur work and she was a professional now. The truth was, she liked seeing the hint of jealousy in his eyes as she got ready to bare all to strange men. That look was the only thing that got her through her sets.

She called upon the memory of that look as she had called out, "I'm going to work, I'll be back by four at the latest," as she walked out the door that evening as she stepped onto the stage to the grinding music. Many of the dancers tried to engage the men, but "Lolita" wasn't one of them. She moved to the music, shedding clothes behind provocatively, with a faraway look in her eyes, as if she wasn't seeing the crowd, but something else. Someone else. But her biggest tippers didn't seem to mind.

She did what she usually did during her sets, run through how she was going to approach her discussion with Leon about her eighteenth birthday. She had dated boys her own age. Even tried to fall in love with a few of them. As far as her quiet partner knew, the subject had settled – she had moved on past her crush that had made things so awkward between them back when she was 12.

He didn't realize she had been biding her time.

The song ended and Matilda broke off her thoughts of Leon abruptly, turning her faraway eyes on the mark, who had at some point during the song, stuffed a few 20s down her g-string.

"Set's ended, daddy," she said in a breathy stripper voice she affected while here, along with a pigtailed wig of long brown hair and bright contacts-blue eyes. "Unless you'd like something a bit more private tonight?"

The mark opened his mouth to say no and Matilda continued on. Her birthday was only days away and she wanted this miserable job behind her by then. "My boyfriend's getting jealous of all the time I'm spending here. I might have to quit. This could be our last chance together."

The mark's eyes darkened. "How much?"

"150. Just you." She cast her eyes around the table at his cronies.

He eyed them. "250 for all of us."

"I'm a one-on-one kind of girl." Matilda seethed inwardly. If this didn't work tonight, she was going to hide up in some parking lot and try to take him out from a distance, amateur or not. But she did her best to give him the big doe eyes, the innocent little girl that was too dumb to suspect of anything other than selling her body to get a buck.

The planets aligned, God smiled down on her, however you wanted to put it. The arms dealer smiled. "100."

Cheap bastard! If she wasn't getting paid a hell of a lot more than that to kill him, Matilda would have been insulted. "I'll go get ready, daddy."

"You're fine the way you are, baby," he said.

"You've got to get a 'show.' House rules. Keeps the cops away." She winked at him and went to get the key to the champagne room from the boss.

"I get half," the boss reminded her, handing her the key to the room Matilda had picked. It was actually the worst one, the one closest to the stage. But for Matilda, the best as behind one of the draped curtains was actually a locked door to the alley – a lock Matilda had broken weeks ago. Dressing again backstage, she gave a quick glance around the room to make sure none of the other dancers were watching her, and slipped something out of her purse and onto her person. Grabbing her bag, she headed to the room.

His guards must have all ready checked the room, because the gun runner was alone. Walking over to the stereo system, Matilda put on some techno music that, combined with the music leaking in from the stage outside, made it impossible to hear anything going on inside the room. She got up on the table and started to dance even as the gun runner shed his clothes in anticipation for what was to come after.

He didn't expect the silenced-gun and the two shots that followed – one for the kill, one for the insurance policy. Never in the face, the client must be able to identify the mark to get paid. Acting fast, Matilda rifled through his pants pocket to take his wallet – she was to send the driver's license as an extra procaution to her client and it made it look like he had been rolled for his money, shoving it and the small cheap champagne bottle into her bag. On the defense, she whipped aside the curtain and pushed the door open to the alley, making sure none of his cronies were waiting. Slipping down a side street, Matilda left "Lolita" behind with each step, losing the contact lenses, shoving the wig down into her bag to reveal her short dark brown hair and slipping on her skullcap and dark glasses. Another trip into a darkened alley and she was back in jeans and a black tank top, stripper clothes shoved down into the bottom of her bag to be burned later. "Lolita" was gone. Matilda remained.

Many blocks later, she climbed the stairs to an unassuming apartment and knocked three times, once, and then twice. She blew a kiss into the peephole as she heard locks clicking and then the door opened to her, revealing a quiet, thin man with a long nose, graying rough facial hair, wearing all-black clothes.

"All done!" she said, holding up her bottle of champagne victoriously as she walked inside the room.

"What's that for? We don't drink," he said in his heavy accent.

"It's for a special occasion."

"Killing a gun runner is a special occasion?"

"No, but my birthday is. It's in a few days." She met his eyes directly. "My eighteenth birthday." She let the stressed word hang in the air between them.

He glanced away from her. "Matilda..."

"And we have a promise to discuss."

"I thought that you had forgotten about that."

"I didn't."

The air was thick with tension between them. Matilda stared him down, waiting.

He blinked first. Turning away, he said, "We'll discuss it later then. Job's done. Get some sleep." He turned to go into the bedroom and closed the door behind him. She could almost swear she heard the locks turning.

With a sigh, she headed to the foldout couch the meager room offered. "Not sleeping on this damn thing much longer," she mumbled as she stripped out of her clothes, leaving on only her bra and underwear. Let him walk in on that in the morning. Going to the window, she opened it, reaching past the clothes she would destroy in a neighboring building's incinerator in the coming days, she grasped a pack of cigarettes and lit one. She sat on the windowsill, wafting the smoke outside so Leon wouldn't smell it and complain, and looked out into the nighttime city. Waiting.

Many blocks away, a shady strip club had discovered the body of a patron in one of their private rooms and a missing stripper. The police had shown up, and unfortunately for them, no one seemed to know much about the girl. She was new, and the club wasn't big on record-keeping.

"Probably a john being rolled for his wallet," one of the cops said nervously to his partner. "It's the only thing missing. Stripper had to have been packing some serious heat, though. Clean shots."

Norman Stanfield looked at the body in front of him and smiled. He looked up at the young cop who had been assigned to him. "Do you like Beethoven?"

Author's Note: Well, should it continue? And what about her birthday?