Torch Song: A Kickass Heroine, A Post-Apocalyptic World: Book One Of The Blackjack Trilogy
energy and passion, I sang. By the time I got to the bridge— “my breaking heart and I agree”— I was deep into the song, knowing it was right, sure the performance would touch a chord in my audience of one if Jo had ever loved anyone at all and lost for whatever reason. My exhaustion didn’t get in the way, it carried the message.
    I sang into the darkness beyond the glare, and when the song was done, dropped my head, my arms, my shoulders in a spent bow that I hoped looked humble. And waited.
    A second passed. I held my breath.
    The sound of two hands clapping.
    “Brava, Miss Rica. Brava.” The spotlight went out, the ceiling globe came back on, Jo was walking toward the stage. She reached her hand up, helping me down.
    “Lovely. Damned near broke my heart. I hope you’re not really that sad.”
    “Never mind. The room will be finished, we think—” she emphasized the “think,” raising one dark eyebrow to show that the workers were perhaps not as efficient as she might have wished— “In three days. Be ready to do an hour. We’ll reschedule your restaurant shift around it. Does that suit you?”
    If Jo, perfectly groomed right down to her velvet knickers, said an hour, I thought, she meant exactly an hour.
    “Suits me fine. Thank you.”
    She glanced at the beet stains on my shirt. “Guess we’ll wait until tomorrow to take a photo.” She shot me a quick half-smile to soothe the sting of that. “I’ll set it up. Probably around noon. Wear something gorgeous.”
    We talked about pay, and it wasn’t bad. Another hundred reals a week. Adding it to the restaurant gig made a living wage.
    “Are you vaxed?”
    I thought about saying no, to conceal my income. But then she might have gotten nervous about my health. “Yes.” She didn’t show any reaction at all.
    “Did anyone tell you? —if you stay here, we’ll take care of your boosters.”
    “You’re generous, Jo.”
    She grinned, showing a dimple in her left cheek, a dimple that seemed to be out of character somehow. I wasn’t sure I liked it. Too cute, maybe. “Yes, I am. And so is Judith. You look tired. Go to bed. I’ll let you know when and where on the photos. And when you’ll be starting. Exactly.”
    We walked out of the lounge together, not speaking. With a little salute, Jo turned off and headed toward the mezzanine and Judith’s office. I was on my way to the back door, planning to grab what I could from my car in one trip, when I heard a commotion from the direction of the front of the casino. Yells, cries, metal crashing, glass shattering. Shots and the sssst of lasers! As I ran to the end of a row of slots to take a look, Timmy the headwaiter dashed by, shrieking, Fredo behind him, part of a crowd running for the back door, right toward me.
    Behind them, two big ugly men, heads shaved, dressed in heavy black boots and jackets, one of them clutching a broken chair from the restaurant, the other waving a laser pistol, were shoving their way toward the wide aisle, where they joined a stream of a dozen more just like them crashing through the front door, knocking people down, pushing them aside, blasting holes in slot machines, roaring like hungry cougars. I stepped aside, out of the traffic, half-concealed behind a slot machine. What should I do, run with Timmy and the others?
    Customers were dashing in all directions, screaming; some of them were bleeding. One man, apparently not in the mood to run, grabbed his beer bottle, broke it against the bar, raced between two rows of slots to the wide aisle and lunged for the invader with the chair, who brought it down hard on the brave customer’s arm. He shrieked and dropped to the floor, but got up again and fled. I saw a middle-aged woman in a flowered dress half sitting, half lying against a poker table, holding her right wrist, eyes wide with shock; her shoulder looked wrong; dislocated, probably. I went to her, helped her to shelter behind the bar.
    “Someone will

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