We pulled up to the curb in front of a dimly lit door shrouded beneath an emerald green awning. A line of people spanning a city block was tucked neatly along the sidewalk.
The car door opened and a tall, blonde model type—her eyes shadowed under the gritty lighting and the grey smudge of makeup—greeted me, “Ms. Snow?”
I said, “Yes,” and got out of the car.
Her expression was a numb mask and her voice matched. “I’m Petra. Mr. C asked me to escort you. After you are inducted, I will bring you to him.”
“Yes, he mentioned it in his text.”
“This way,” she waved her hand and we walked past the doorman and throngs of people waiting to enter. The screening room, as I’d later thought of it, was done in black velvet from the walls to the carpets and even the formal sofa, the only furniture in the narrow space. We walked up to a small podium upon which rested a laptop managed by a tall brunette woman with the straightest hair and bluest eyes I’d ever seen.
With her face glowing from the monitor, she addressed me. “Welcome to Club XO, Ms. Snow. May I see your driver’s license?”
I handed it to her and replied politely, “Here you are.”
“Before Petra takes you on the tour, I need to go over a few rules with you.”
I was perplexed, and it showed in my reply. “Rules?”
“Yes, membership to Club XO requires you agree to the rules of conduct. The rules are in your favor. Almost no rules apply to women at Club XO, but we have to go over them with everyone.”
This was getting strange. “Okay.”
“Thank you, this won’t take a minute.” Her tone shifted and suddenly, I was listening to a well-tuned flight attendant preparing for takeoff. “First, no cell phones are permitted in any part of the club. You may not use phones for any reason while inside. If you need to make a call, or check messages, please exit the building to do so. Do you agree?”
Except for the times I had visited the FBI building and the data centers I’d worked in, never had I been somewhere my phone was banned. Now more than ever I wanted to know what was inside. “I agree.”
“Great,” she praised. “The next thing is safety. We have established a consent only rule, which means no one may touch you without your permission. You must also get permission before touching another person. We adhere to, ‘no means no.’ Do you agree to that?”
The rules piqued my interest. Though I hadn’t been to a club since college, I’d never been to one when someone didn’t lunge or press something unsolicited against me. “I do.”
“Wonderful. When Petra shows you around, you’ll see the rooms and different areas of interest. Keep in mind you may never open a closed door or curtain. Can you remember that?”
Closed-door or curtain, what was she getting at? “I can remember.”
“Excellent, and the last thing is, you may be anywhere in the club dressed or undressed to your liking, but men must remain clothed throughout the club except for the designated areas. If anyone is lingering or acting creepy in any way, get the attention of one of the employees. They will address the matter. We have security guards in force to ensure you have a fun and safe night at Club XO.”
I can be dressed or undressed but men have to stay dressed! What the hell kind of place was this? Now I knew why Rye didn’t escort me. He was probably afraid I’d walk out, and I would have, but it seemed dramatic in the face of calm presented by Petra and my flawless inductor to sin.
Petra lurched on six-inch heels toward a curtain in the wall. The heavy brocade pattern was raised against the dark fabric, hiding the curiosities on the other side. She pulled it back for me to enter.