Offensive Behavior (Sidelined #1)

Offensive Behavior
 
Sidelined Book 1
 
Ainslie Paton

 

 

 

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places and events that happen are the product of the author’s vivid imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations
or people, living or dead is purely co-incidental and beyond the intent of the
author and publisher. Copyright © 2015.

 

Offensive Behavior

 

Ainslie Paton

 

Everyone is virgin at something

 

This is the story of a man who’s never done it, and a woman with the
experience to teach him how.

Reid McGrath is drunk and
intends to stay that way. It’s what a man does when the world he built gets
ripped out from under him. He’s staked a claim on the back booth at Lucky’s
where he can fixate on a dancer who makes him wish things were different.

Zarley Halveston dances under
shimmering lights in a barely there costume, but it’s not the gold medal life
she trained for.
She expected to stand on an Olympic
podium, instead she glitters under disco lights, gyrating on a chrome pole.

Zarley can’t see the brooding
man in the back booth, but she knows he’s there. He’s toxic, but it’s not her
job to care, until the night he collapses at her feet
and
she has to choose to step over him or help him up.

Reid thought he’d hit bottom
when he was fired as CEO of his own company, but knowing he’d needed the
kindness of a stranger, and realizing she was the dancer he’d lusted after was
a new low.

Question
: What do a fallen golden girl and
a sacked tech tycoon have in common except humiliation and failure?

Answer
: The reawakening of a champion
competitor and the sexual education of a frustrated geek.

 

ONE

 

Reid eyed the glass in his hand. He swirled the amber liquid. This
was his sixth or seventh. He wouldn’t be the only drunk loser stumbling toward
a foggy San Francisco dawn. But he was probably the only one who was on his way
to making his first billion before he turned thirty.

Whatever
the count, the scowling hostess knew by now to keep ’em coming.

Was it
a month or longer this had been his routine? Drink till he was a swallow off
face-planting the sticky table of the booth he’d made his new home. It felt
like years since he’d had an ordinary life; no, not ordinary, there was nothing
ordinary about his life, except that it was gone.

That
was shit ordinary.

He’d
never gotten drunk on bourbon until the night his life came to a dead stop, and
then getting drunk and staying that way seemed like the only decent hack left
in the world, even though it made him a miserable bastard.

Right
now, all he cared about was the contents of this glass hitting his throat and
seeing Lux on stage.

He’d
already seen her first spot. She’d been dressed as a sexy schoolgirl in a short
pleated tartan skirt, a white sleeveless shirt tied under her breasts and her
hair in pigtails. She’d be dressed differently for her second spot. Didn’t
matter what she came out as, harem girl or bikini babe, she was mesmerizing,
regardless of how much or how little she wore, the height of her heels or the
style of her hair.

She was
his own personal electric shock every time she appeared. More dangerous to his
continued health and wellbeing than the cheap swill he was drinking.

None of
the other dancers affected him like Lux did. It’s not that they weren’t as
athletic, as graceful or as fuck hot as Lux, it was just that they didn’t send
him like she did.

Lux
sent him to places he’d never been and never wanted to come back from while he
watched her for five eight-minute sets, six nights a week.

On
Sunday, Lux, and Reid’s liver, rested.

He was
worse than miserable, he was a pathetic excuse for a human being, hiding out in
the last place anyone from his old life would ever look for him.

Like he
cared.

He
downed the bourbon and watched while Missy finished her set. Missy was a tiny
slip of a girl who danced barefoot and always wore a bright colored bikini. She
had short curly hair and a come-get-me smile that made men leave their booth
seats for a place nearer the stage. This bar didn’t allow contact between the
dancers and the drunks, definitely no touching, but he’d seen Missy leave with
another regular, so that rule was wide enough to power a space shuttle through.

Lux
never smiled, never played to the audience like the other girls did. It was as
if no one in the room existed for her. The only thing that got her attention
was the spinning pole and the beat of the music she worked to. For all he knew,
she went with men whose eyeballs had dried out, whose tongues flapped from
watching her too, but he liked to think she was just using this place for a
workout, to play dress-ups, and getting paid for it.

But
then he’d always been a big dreamer and look where that had gotten him.

Lucky’s
Nightclub.

Nowhere.
With nothing to recommend himself. And no idea how to kick-start his life again.

TWO

 

She wore a new costume and there was always a chance that a new
get-up could let her down, but Zarley was betting Lux’s ballerina bitch look
was good to go.

Her
pointe shoes did feel weird, years since she’d worn them and even then it was only
for the fun of it, but she’d spend more time upside down with her feet in the
air than she would teetering around on tiptoe. The satin shoes were red and
perfectly complemented her black punk tutu with its ass-grazing torn net skirt
and fitted satin bodice. The rest of her punk ballerina look consisted of a
tight bun, a diamante tiara, eyes done like Natalie Portman in the
Black
Swan
movie poster and bright red lips to match her shoes.

She
rocked—but not if you were into less is more. Tonight Missy’s bikini was flesh
colored. She might as well have gone out nude. In another bar they both
could’ve stripped for bigger tips, but Lucky’s had a keep your bits covered and
a no fraternizing rule, which made it virtually a family place in the unseemly world
of gentlemen’s clubs.

Zarley
could earn more in one of the high-end clubs that charged an admission fee and
allowed dancers to earn cash for stripping, lap dances and selling alcohol, but
none of them would let her be a punk-ass goth ballerina on stage, so for now,
Lucky’s was her sweet spot.

Hidden
in the wings at the side of the stage she gave the audience a quick once-over.
When she was at the pole she’d forget they were there. She danced for herself
first and if the men liked it, well and good. If not, there were plenty of
other exotic dancers on shift at Lucky’s, and at dozens of bars more hardcore
into the sex industry, for them to get fixated on.

Peering
into the audience, she saw regulars, out-of-towners slumming it, a group of
overexcited frat boys and, a sprinkling of single men and yes, he was there,
again. Alone at the same booth at the back, an endlessly refilled glass of
spirits in his hand, not a hint of any food ordered. A brooding mess of a man
who exuded such a toxic air of anger and disgust that, despite being a big
tipper and a quiet drunk, none of the hostesses wanted to wait on his table.

Not
that it meant anything to Zarley. If he didn’t have enough sense not to drink
himself into a disease that was his problem. Cranky, moody assholes like him
were only her problem if they tried to get too close, when she was offstage,
and then not permanently blinding them with her pepper spray or unmanning them
with her knee was an issue—but not much of one, and once they were cowering
they were easy to get away from.

All she
cared about was school and her paycheck, bigger than she’d make waiting tables
or pulling beers, and not getting injured. Two, maybe three years and she’d
have enough money to pay her student loans. That was a lot of dancing, a lot of
days that ended in long nights, a lot of not having much else of a life outside
of Lucky’s and college.

But
that’s something she knew how to do. Focus. Exclude everything else that was a
distraction. Keep trying till you broke something or it broke you.

And it
would be worth every bruise, every sore muscle and strained ligament, every bleary-eyed
dawn and solitary weekend at her books to have a fresh start.

Back
booth dude was nothing except a pang of conscience. He was too young and too
pretty, and his clothes were all wrong for courting the kind of trouble hanging
out at a place like Lucky’s inspired. A liver disease was probably the least of
it if he was taking drugs as well as drinking till he weaved, and on occasion the
kitchen served up a fine side of salmonella that could probably end you. Any
one of Lucky’s regulars would likely jump him for his watch and phone, and the
longer he took to acknowledge Vi for waiting on him, the more Vi was inclined
to spike his drink with something that would wedge his very fine backside on a
cold porcelain seat for an uncomfortable length of time. He was so out of it
when he left here, it was a wonder the cabbies who picked him up didn’t roll
him.

He was
a total disaster and she wished she’d never heard the others talking about him
and searched him out in the first place. She didn’t need to see a car crash
waiting to happen.

Hearing
her music stopped her obsessing. Skylar Grey singing about needing a doctor. Now
it was just the sound and the way it moved in her body and made her want to
fly.

Once
it’d been gymnastics that was her physical passion. On the parallel bars and
the vault, when she tumbled across the mat, she really had been airborne, a powerful
force with no respect for gravity and every inclination to manifest wings and
never come down to earth.

But
that was before.

Now the
closest she could get to the sun was a nine-foot, competition standard one
point seventy-five inch spinning chrome pole. So she took these moments
selfishly. She didn’t look at the audience, she didn’t try to see through the
glare of the stage lights to flirt with a bunch of losers and will them into
tossing their grocery money and car payments at her feet. She went inside her
body, into the rhythm and the melody and pitched herself against bone-deep
disappointment, the ache of loneliness and appalling regret, and the laws of
mechanical physics.

And she
soared.

THREE

 

Every time Reid cleared his various electronic inboxes, Owen filled
them up again. The only way to get rid of the guy was to let him bear witness
to the depth of Reid’s fall. That’s why Reid ordered surf and turf with his
bourbon and kept half an eye on Lucky’s door. He wanted to be good and mean by
the time his former best friend showed his incredulous face.

He
waited through Cinnamon and Lavinia, and Missy was on stage wearing an electric
yellow bikini when Owen finally slid into Reid’s booth. Owen didn’t speak, but
his smothered smirk could’ve provided sustenance to the starving it was so
self-righteous. He put his hands on the sticky tabletop, then lifted them again
as though he could feel germs invading through his fingertips. He scoped the
place out then fixed on Missy, waving his germy hand toward the stage.

“Okay,
I get it. But this place, it’s not even doing stripping right. You’d find
better almost anywhere else, so what the hell?”

Reid
kept his eyes on Missy. After Missy came Lux. Never before, always after. For
her last set Lux was an old-fashioned bathing beauty complete with those rolls
in her hair, gorgeous in navy blue polka dot swimsuit with white ribbons at her
hips and neck.

“Reid?”
Owen snapped his fingers in front of Reid’s face.

He
closed his eyes. “What?”

“Not,
what, man. I get the what. I get your devastation. I don’t get the venue.”

“You
get my devastation.” Reid shifted so he could look at Owen straight on. “You
get it. Last time I checked you had my job, stock options, a healthy public
profile. Is there something I don’t know?”

Owen
shook his head. “You can’t tell me you didn’t know this was coming. In the back
of your big stubborn head, you had to know pushing like that wasn’t smart.”

“It’s
my fucking company.”
Was. Was my fucking company
. And now it was Owen’s.
“Just do whatever gloating you need to do to make yourself feel good and get
out of my face.”

“I’m
not gloating. I hate this.”

“You’re
the CEO of Plus.” Reid kept his voice even, but let it get sharp around the
edges. “Capitalization of billions, one of America’s top ten up-and-coming IT
firms.” He turned his face back toward the stage. Missy was upside down hanging
from her ankles. “You’re right, you’re not gloating—you’re dancing on my
fucking grave.”

“I
didn’t ask for this. It’s not my knife in your back, Reid. We’d have weathered
the resignations. You churned up and spat out highly skilled, hard to find
people, but we’d have found others and paid more to keep them willing to put up
with the crap you dished out. But the bullying charges, the assault charge.” Owen
shook his head and looked at his hands, now in his lap.

Reid
took a sip of his bourbon, an overly large sip. “I didn’t touch her and you
know it.”

He’d
never even been in a meeting or a common room at Plus or anywhere else with the
woman from marketing who’d accused him of sexual assault. He’d once ridden a
crowded elevator with her according to security footage and apparently that’s
all she’d needed to fabricate a charge against him. It’d shocked him at the
time, even though it was quickly dismissed, but the cumulative damage to his
reputation was a lasting blow. If he’d made Plus people nervous before with his
sharp tongue and his exacting manner, the women in particular became doubly
nervous afterward. It didn’t help that he was physically imposing at six three
and because when he wasn’t at the office, he was in his home gym.

“All of
us who know you know it.” Owen looked up and sighed. “But Plus is too big now
for you to stand on a chair in the staff lounge and do one of your famous mea
culpa acts. It’s too big for you to bail a junior programmer up in a hallway
and publicly eviscerate them for doing something in a way you think is idiotic.
You were still running Plus like it was five years ago and there were fifty of
us and you and Dev and I lived on beer and pizza and slept under our desks when
we’d been up all night coding. We have over a thousand employees now. It’s not
the same. You’re a control freak and you don’t trust anyone, you have no idea
how people tick. You’re charming until you’re so viciously offensive you can rupture
someone’s internal organ with a look. The bigger Plus got, the more of a jerk
you became.”

Reid
closed his eyes again. His body hurt. His eyes felt like they were made of pot
scourers. “I was sacked for being an asshole. Is that what you think? Is that
what everyone thinks?”

“You
were sacked because you and our chairman had a fundamental disagreement about
what style of leader you needed to be to take Plus to the next level.”

“Obviously
I wasn’t the same style of leader you’re going to be, a no talent, brown-nosing
suck ass, too worried about being liked to make the hard calls.”

Owen
slapped a hand on the split vinyl seat. “And there you go proving my point. You
were sacked for being a fucking asshole, Reid. If Kuch hadn’t exercised his
authority as chairman, you’d have either run Plus slowly into the ground or had
a heart attack at twenty-eight. You appointed him precisely because you were
smart enough at twenty to know we needed help, and Kuch did exactly what you
wanted him to do. He told you a thousand times how you needed to modify your
behavior. Hell, I told you, Sarina told you, Dev told you. We had a rule for it—no
assholes—and you fucked us all over.”

Owen
put his hands to his head and grunted a hard breath. “We were yours, Reid. You
were our best friend and our freaking guru until you showed all the signs of
turning into a fucking psychopath.”

Reid
had been told he was too intense, that he did eye contact like it was a
challenge. He couldn’t meet his oldest friend’s eyes.

“Do you
think any of us are happy about this? We were doing this together and now we’re
not. How do you think I feel about trying to pull Ziggurat off without you? I
barely know where to start. I don’t have a tenth of your presence. When I stand
on a chair to make an announcement Sarina has to shush everyone. Plus isn’t
better off without you, but it’s less likely to implode, and I think you know
that. I think that’s why you’re here, where no one who cares will find you,
punishing yourself. And you know what, you’ve already been punished, it’s time
to get straight, sober up and fight back.”

Reid
forced his eyes to Owen’s. “I was canned.” He put his glass down carefully so
it didn’t shatter in his hand. “The industry, the whole market knows I’m out. Every
journalist we’ve ever spoken to has messaged me for comment about my
exploration
of new challenges
.” He made finger quotes around that phrase from the press
release. “Anyone with ears on their head knows I’ve been fired. I’ve taken
legal advice and I’m not getting Plus back. Kuch was acting within his rights
to sack me for non-performance. It’s over, so it doesn’t matter if I’m ever
sober again, this is what I do now.” It was impossible to put the anger he felt
into words. “I drink, I watch pole dancers, I sleep, I don’t dream, repeat ad
infinitum. Go back to where you belong, Owen. Eventually I’ll stop feeling
sorry for myself. Eventually I’ll have a new idea to explore and I’ll get the
backing to build it, or I’ll go to Vegas and count cards like I did the first
time, and when I do, I’m coming for Plus. I’ll buy up shares until I have a
majority and can oust the great mentor, Adnan Kuchnitski, and replace him as
chairman. Then we’ll see if I’m too much of an asshole to let you keep your
job.”

“You’re
furious, I get it.” Owen slid to the end of the bench seat and stood. “The idea
of revenge must seem sweet.”

The
music changed, some female rapper singing about a man who was trouble. Revenge
was a bastard act. Lux stepped out on the stage dressed as a slutty
cheerleader, in the tiniest red shorts known to mankind, paired with a cropped
top that showed every lean muscle in her incredible torso.
Now that was
sweet
. She had two pom-poms which she used to dust over her body before
flinging them at men crowding the stage, and then she attacked the pole as though
her life depended on being wrapped around and suspended from it six feet above
the ground.

Lux held
her body away from the pole with straight arms, feet pointed to the ground and
made it undulate as if she was a fish, then she turned herself upside down and fireman-slid
toward the floor stopping short of cracking her skull. Reid had seen this move
again and again and every time he tensed for blood. But every one of the pole
dancers was smarter, sharper, faster and more flexible than he’d been. He’d met
his limitations, crashed into his own success and it’d beaten him raw.

“I
sucked, Owen. I fucked it all up.”

Owen’s
hand came down on his shoulder. “No, you—”

“Am
always right.”

Owen
squeezed his shoulder once then took his hand away. “You didn’t used to be so
hard to get along with. Driven, an exacting pain in the neck, but not
impossible.”

“Kind,
but not true.” He’d always found it difficult to understand other people’s
points of view, especially when they were wrong, when their logic was faulty or
their reasoning clouded, and he wasn’t good at soft-soaping, couldn’t see the
point of lying.

“Once
upon a time you had a sense of humor. I’m sure there were even entire moments
when you smiled. I think I remember laughter, Reid, lots of inspired laughter. I
think I remember having the time of my life working with you.”

He shot
a look at Owen who was watching Lux, but not seeing her.

In the
early days it hadn’t mattered that Reid had been a hardass, because no one took
offense, no one judged his behavior, and his arrogance was part of the package
for success. But as CEO of a company on every serious investor’s watch list he
had to be above reproach. Instead he’d been a bully, a workplace terrorist and
Plus’ biggest liability.

On
stage, Lux held herself in a full split as the pole rotated her and the
lighting washed across the finely wrought muscles in her legs. She was a
gladiator, strong, focused and steady, but able to be lithe, gentle and playful
too. She had the kind of versatility Reid lacked.

Beside
him Owen sighed. “Do something with your life, Reid. How long has it been since
you played a game, went to a movie, rode your bike till your head cleared? How
long has it been since you’ve had a date? You need to learn how to just be, and
not like this.”

He
grunted.
A date
. He had more money than he knew what to do with. He had continuing
income from his Plus shareholding. He could travel for pleasure, he could have
a life, and maybe he could work out how to trust himself like Lux did, not to
grip too hard or too soft and break things. It was at least a year before he
could start a new venture without Kuch suing him under a non-compete clause, so
unless he wanted to change industries, in the short term he had nothing better
to do than learn how to be a nicer person.

If only
he knew how to do that. If there was a program or an app or even a book he
could read that would teach him how not to be somehow too much.

“I’ll
be all right. I’ll regroup. I’ll take some time to smell the roses.” He tried
to sound upbeat. It wasn’t like he was dying, he had a first world problem, the
kind most people would never have, but it came out flat and resigned.

“The last
rose you smelled was probably in a kid’s picture book. Having a normal life is going
to be difficult for you. Don’t spend too much time here trying to avoid the
hard stuff.”

“You
knew I never touched that woman and you know I’m drunk and lusting after second-rate
pole dancers because I’m terrified. I never meant to be a monster and without
Plus I don’t know who I am.”

Owen
pointed at Lux, now on her knees in front of the pole. In a second she’d invert
herself and defy the natural laws of the way a body can move. “There is nothing
second-rate about that woman.”

That
was for sure. It was probably the only thing Reid was sure of. He smiled into
his bourbon.

Owen
quirked his head. “Except perhaps the fact she doesn’t know you’re obsessed
with her, and when Reid McGrath is obsessed, the future holds its breath.”

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