The Ninth Circle Club opened at eight, but no one of any consequence arrived before eleven. Ashlyn Abel showed up at midnight.
The bouncer outside took the time to shine his penlight between her face and her ID, multiple times. Unable to deny her or the fifty she’d tucked under the plastic card, he pressed the door open and the bass inside wafted over the line just long enough for Ashlyn to slip through into the dark interior. “Happy Birthday.” The bouncer said before the door snapped off the sounds of the street
Ashlyn descended down the twisting hallway, her heels coming down heavy against the slanted floor. The hallway ended, leaving her on the upper level of the club proper. Here, bottle service booths and the bar overlooked the pit below, where most of the clubs dancers pressed against each other in a sea of arms and shoulders. She watched them for a song.
The bar was easy to find, lit with icy blue light and surrounded by club goers trying to catch the staffs’ eyes. Even with her heels, Ashlyn had to lean up on her toes to set her elbows on the high bar. She ordered something through the din, hoping the bartender could read lips. While she waited, Ashlyn took the opportunity to soak up the noise and appreciate the solitude of the crowd.
Being here was, at best, foolish, and at worst, dangerous. Alone, without friends who were bodyguards, or siblings who acted as bodyguards, or just people her father hired to be plain old bodyguards, Ashlyn was vulnerable. But it was her twenty-first birthday, and she wanted that first legal drink normal teenagers and early college students fantasized about.
While others’ teen years were reduced to raiding parents’ cabinets and begging older siblings for cigarettes and plastic bottled vodka, Ashlyn had personally overseen her father’s shipments into and out of the city, watching over boxes and flats filled with every illicit substance a teenager could ever want. Long before her twenty-first birthday, she’d strolled through bordello, den, casino, and other houses of ill repute and no one had been stupid enough to look at her funny, much less ask her for an ID.
Now, mere minutes into that birthday, Ashlyn wanted the rite of passage, even if it was meaningless. The bartender set her drink down and she placed a twenty on the bar, taking the symbolic glass of rum and coke with her to the railing. Below her, other, normal people enjoyed themselves. Ashlyn sipped her drink slowly, savoring the unremarkable taste.