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The night has turned into a haze. After some initial enquiries from other patrons and divas alike, the crew has kindly left Helena largely to her own devices which means that she is free to roam the room. It is a small pub but with a back room that includes several cosy tables, a stage and even something resembling a runway – of sorts. It will accommodate about two steps but as Betty points out, sometimes two steps is all you need. The crew certainly knows its way around the stage and runway and the dazzle that goes on during the talent show of the night is almost blinding. These girls know a good time.
It is halfway through the poetry slam round – the format is in a try-out phase – when Betty joins Helena at her table again.
“Immensely! Thank you for taking me along,” Helena replies and waves her shockingly pink cocktail.
“Good, I am so glad. However, I think that maybe you ought to know that your man has been prowling the area for the past hour or so.”
Helena jumps and looks around. “He is here? Where?”
“Not in here, my little frog, but outside. He has often been spotted in the alley outside.” Betty looks worried. “He stood out on camera. Charlie first thought he was one of those hangers-on that want to ogle at the ladies but doesn’t dare come inside – we get that a lot and they’re not always friendly for patrons and staff alike – but it seems he has no interest in the clientele at all, but he does keep hanging around. Charlie saw him turn the corner and patrol the bridge for a while before heading back again. We think he knows you are here.”
“How does he know? We first went to Ash’ place and everything!”
“I know I know! But I am thinking maybe we shouldn’t have returned to this part of town with you,” she frowns.
Helena sighs, “the talent show is here tonight, and the girls have been preparing for ages. What choice did we have?”
“Maybe, but we can’t stay in here forever, even if it seems that way now. After the prize ceremony we will have about an hour of celebration and congratulation but then we will have to move. Everybody else will!”
“Where do you usually go?”
“The girls normally go to a club to dance and flirt. I usually go home. I am not a young girl anymore, and anyway I have a shop to open in the morning. My days of clubbing until four or five in the morning have long gone, I am afraid” she sighs.
“Mine too. I can’t do that, not even to hide from creepy crow people,” she sighs too, “so I better come up with an exit strategy. Does this thing have a back door?” she adds hopefully.
“Not one that leads to anything useful,” Betty says, “not like the café yesterday. And anyway even if you do manage to make your way out that way, you will still be in the area that he is patrolling.”
“Shit!” Helena puts her pink drink down and frowns, “This constant silent pursuit is getting on my nerves. I think the time is coming when I do need to confront him. And maybe that creepy boss of his.”
“Did you ever meet his boss? That Craay fellow?”
“No!” Helena shakes her head, “never! I only ever heard footsteps in the hallway and I heard him speak with Julia when she was creating the distraction for me to get away. He didn’t sound like a very old man, really.”
“I have half a mind to go to the house tomorrow and ring the bell and run away,” Betty says as she takes a sip from Helena’s drink and grimaces. “That is vile stuff!”
“It is,” nods Helena thoughtfully, “and it was doing a great job of relaxing me and taking my mind off things until you came over to tell me that Freddy boy is still after me. Not that I object to your warning!” she tells her friend immediately, “but as I said, I am getting tired of this.”
“I can imagine. And I am thinking that if we don’t get you away unnoticed, he will continue to tail you all the way home. If he doesn’t catch you first. What will he want with you?”
“The stone, I have no doubt of that.”
“Will you give it to him?”
“No!” Helena says indignantly, “people have suffered for the fortune that befell that family so far! I can tell you about all the people near the Craay family who were unlucky, fell on hard times, encountered all kinds of sickness and unexpected deaths…”
“And they couldn’t be coincidence?” Betty asks, shrewdly.
Helena shrugs. “Of course, they could be. But then the sheer volume of bad luck of people around the Craays is uncanny. It certainly looks like they were able to offload the payment for their own good luck onto others for a long time.”
“Until it hit them in the face.”
“Well, that is the part that is a bit unclear. Why it suddenly struck them – or at least why their good fortune suddenly failed, because that Emmeline certainly went down like a lead balloon.”
“Seems like it.”
“Always the sign of the evil eye,” Betty says mysteriously.
“Don’t give me that crap,” Helena snaps, “there is nothing mystical about depression, but it is uncanny that it suddenly popped its head up in the family.”
“She wasn’t a Craay, was she? Like, maiden name?”
“No, she wasn’t. I don’t remember her own name. She married into the family, had children with him.”
“And developed a mental illness. Something that was new to the house of Craay.”
“Perhaps. I do know that Theodore had never learned to cope with misfortune.”
“Like you can learn to cope with suicide!”
“I don’t mean it that way, you know that,” Helena sighs, “but he had no idea how to deal with someone who wasn’t counting on all things going well for her, like his family had done for a century by then.”
“Not the best of times for someone with depression anyway,” Betty added, “unless getting locked away in a nuthouse was your idea of proper treatment.”
Helena shakes her head. The mood has gone gloomy now, despite the glitz going on, on the stage before them. Coco Chocolata is making an entrance, puts on a pair of stunning glasses, and starts reading a self-made poem about apple pie. The friends listen glumly. The bit about the cream on top in particular is quite imaginative. It is when Priti Princess comes on, wearing a meringue-like creation, that Helena stands up.
“Time to think strategy.”
“Gods woman, just because you’re supposed to be undercover doesn’t mean you have to look like a dock worker!”
Coco, Dahsa, Princess and Ashley all object but Helena is determined. She has borrowed a black suit from one of the bar staff – in exchange for her yellow tasseled dress that, she has to admit, looks better on him than it did on her. They step out onto the wet streets of nighttime Amsterdam where an Uber is waiting to take the crew onwards into the night, and Betty back home.
“Are you sure you are going back to your own place?” Betty asks anxiously, “he is sure to find you there!”
“Of course he will, but I will know what to do there,” Helena tries to put her ease, but without much success. “Here we are just running after each other, this is useless.”
Betty takes her friend’s hand. “If you are sure, then.” She kisses her on the cheek and presses her bicycle keys into Helena’s hand. “There, be gentle with her!”
“Thank you Bets.”
Only half a minute later, perhaps. Helena is unlocking Betty’s bike to take her to the train station. A car stops beside her. Who is in it?
tl;dr Helena spends half the night out with her new friends in the drag queen scene but now it is time to go. She is unlocking her bike when a car stops…
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