The Doll’s Deception: Scarlet and Smoke in the City of Dolls

Eden, a high-end sex worker known as a Doll, navigates this perilous environment, balancing between her clients' desires and the constant threat of violence. Her encounter with a war-scarred veteran named Murphy reveals the deadly games played within the city. As she deals with the lethal intricacies of her profession and the secrets that come with it, she ultimately demonstrates her survival instincts and cunning, embodying the brutal reality of living in Danger City.

By DangerGirl Episode 2: The Doll's Deception: Scarlet and Smoke in the City of Dolls
26 Min Read
Eden Doll, in the City of DollsImage courtesy of DangerGirlx.
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I exhale smoke across the venetian blinds in my flat. The buzzing red neon light cuts through the slits in the blinds, slashing me in shades of red and black. The cloud of some lights as crimson as the blood spilled in the streets of the Fringe and the black – well, that conceals plenty. It’s the color worn in the Core for a reason and being striped with both colors reveals me for what I am, a jungle cat that stalks between the two parts of the city, always lethal but with different airs.

Being less than cruel would get me ripped apart with the kind of red that makes the sparking neon comforting inside my room.

I spread some of the blinds with two fingers, watching for lower paying or fat cat clients walking into this building. Life isn’t easy here and I’ve seen plenty of those greasier, greedier money men slip into from the Core the same way someone slips out of a ten story building. The fall is always brutal and not always an accident.

Exhaling again, I take my spent cigarette and smother it on my tongue. The wet sizzle and heat licking my tongue (the one many would pay to keep quiet) reminds me how valuable secrets are.

I spit the cigarette in my trashcan as my hologram on my dresser lights, filling my small room with a weak blue glow. My mistress turns on the hologram until she sees me. She wears slightly more than me, enough to tempt and disarm, but making it clear she’s not a doll customers can buy.

“Ah, Doll, you have an eager client on the way up,” she informs.

My white silk robe slips over my shoulder and my thigh slips between the cool fabric as I step forward. “Any information on him?”

“Already sent to your receiver,” she notes. “Be nice, he’s a veteran.”

“I’m as nice as they are,” I reply as her ghost like image wavers.

Laying across my plush bed, I sink into my simple comfort. Clean sheets, a clean room with windows that open (if I pay for that luxury and the risk of me diving from it), and a life were options on my life are limited. It’s the best a girl like me can get and more than I deserve.

My door opens just as I undo my robe. The man who walks in is a living ghost.

Eden Doll

My door opens just as I undo my robe. The man who walks in is a living ghost, with glassy eyes and the reminder of war etched across his body in scars. It takes a ghost or someone poorer than I am to let those marks linger when so many doctors are able to heal them. I’ve heard storytellers love them, that they save every paper cut, and name their scars as if they’re friends more dependable than any human. But story teller, poets, artists, whatever they call themselves wouldn’t throw this man into paint or print.

His dark hair is long, his nose too straight, all of him just too pretty, but chipped and wrong. He’s an empty glass that sweats as if it was just drained and the person is still lurking in the room.

“Come on in, honey. Lay down, relax,” I purr, watching him with the kind of eyes only a ‘doll’ has. The kind that shift in the light like a cat’s. It’s a mere cosmetic surgery. “It’s just you and me in here.”

I sprawl out, one leg angled towards him as I point my toes. I may deal mostly in secrets, but being appealing, that’s effortless for most women, it’s simple burden worn by all women like clothing.

His eyes stroke over me and he kicks off his shoes before shedding his coat and shirt as if they’re a skin he’s desperate to shake off. More large, expansive scars litter his body that summon images of torture not war – though who am I to say they’re not one and the same?

Just living here means being on the brink of victimhood. One wrong alley chosen at the wrong time turns a weak or naïve person into a headstone while cementing the stronger citizens as threats. There is no middle ground. There is no ‘safe’ person, no ‘innocent’ who sees more than their teenage years in Danger City.

This man in front of me, as exhausted and pretty as he looks, is as much a threat as a loaded gun aimed pressed to my forehead.

“Never been with a doll, only heard about your eyes,” he drawls as he climbs onto my bed, keeping a distance with his hand on my hip.

“Our eyes are just the start,” I inform. “Use me however you want, make me into what you need, I’m yours and yours alone – for an hour.”

“Use me however you want, make me into what you need, I’m yours and yours alone – for an hour.”

Eden Doll

“As long as I treat you right, I’m guessing. Heard dolls ain’t more innocent than a spy,” he growls.

“Innocence is more lethal than cunning,” I answer, moving closer simply by rolling onto both my elbows. My thick black hair rolls over my shoulder in heavy ringlets. One brushes my wrist like a soft shackle. “Do you want to talk about me or use me?”

“I get to use you how I want, maybe I just wanna talk,” he says, continuing to watch me.

“Are dolls the new priestesses? Where drowning men come to confess their sins before they settle into water that’s too deep?” I ask.

A slight smile turns up his lips. “The mistress was right about you.”

“She’s right about plenty,” I say.

He sits up. “A drink?”

“The bar is right there, take what you want. It’s included,” I invite. “Take a smoke as well if you want one. Anything money can buy is here.”

“No wonder you’re premium,” he says.

He pours two drinks as I watch. Ice – a luxury – tinks in the glasses, the only sound that breaks the near constant buzzing of the neon outside my window. Seeing this man with slats of red ripping through the shadows is something else.

I’ve gotten used to the view of my own deep tan skin and black hair opened by the red. I’ve spent time imagining what kind of corpse I’ll leave once I set the wrong secret free, when I refuse to barter with secrets, drugs, murder, when I stop being willing to cut others down to claim one more day alive.

This man is an unwelcome, pale reminder of how I’ll turn out.

“Admiring my scars?” He guesses. “I feel your gaze. It might as well be a caress. Is that a doll thing?”

“It’s a me thing.”

“So you aren’t a robot?”

“That would be far too easy for everyone involved, not at all like Danger City,” I comment.
He walks back with a cigarette and two glasses of scotch. I take mine from him, then he lifts my legs and sits, lowering my calves onto his lap. “You got a name?”

“It changes by the day, but people call me something,” I reply before regarding the drink. He takes a drink of his and switches our cups. I drink as well. “Do you have a name?”

“Murphy,” he says. “My old military rank doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Your scars might as well be medals,” I purr, setting my drink on the table and sitting up. I stroke some of the scars, imagining I can feel that kind of pain and choose life, nearly feeling the burn, the sharpness of what ripped through him against my fingertips. “A survivor.”

“I’m a damn monster and I know it. Been saving up for months in the Fringe to get here. To get to you,” his gaze focuses on me, then he downs the glass in one go, his throat bobbing as the ice cools his lips.

“You’re a focused man.”

“I’m a man who ain’t fooled easily … Eden,” he says.

My blood cools, slows under my own name. I watch him from under my lashes as his grip on my leg tightens. I take a slow breath before speaking. “Don’t do something we’re both going to regret, Murphy.”

“If they don’t call you Eden, what do they call you?” he asks.

“Heaven. Paradise. Beautiful. Doll. Sweet. Baby. Lover,” I list simply. “I’m a placeholder for whoever they want to talk to, for whoever they want to fuck, want to own. I’m a doll and I do it well.”

“Heaven. Paradise. Beautiful. Doll. Sweet. Baby. Lover,” I list simply. “I’m a placeholder for whoever they want to talk to, for whoever they want to fuck, want to own. I’m a doll and I do it well.”

Eden Doll

“That’s the thing about dolls. They used to be play things, things that could be owned, couldn’t move on their own. Pretty with empty eyes, a smile that didn’t match, cold skin, hair that never changed,” his eyes focus on the window, glassy for a moment.

I don’t bother his thoughts. If a man knows my old name, my childhood name, this could be the day I lose rank on the food chain. Losing rank is only worth it if I’m under the protection of someone bigger, badder; a better survivor with sharp teeth and a temper like a trigger finger – poised, controlled, and sure. This man doesn’t meet those qualifications.

“You used to play with a doll like that. You hated that you had straight dark hair when she had curly blonde hair. You only got one of your wishes,” he says. His eyes focus on me again. “Shame you’re a wanted woman.”

“Wanted by many, claimed by none, not … for more than an hour,” I warn.

He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that we were apparently once friends. Friendship is a string easily broken, after all, but I recognize a hit man when I see one. Plenty of veterans go that path. It’s hard to lose a skill that helped one survive, especially when Danger City is darker than a battle front.

“A lot can happen in an hour. I recommend confessing your sins, making peace with being ended by a once-friend, and parting with this bed spread. I’ll be keeping it. The window ought to be a good place to do it,” he motions.

His hand slips into his pocket. I reach back for the drink and his eyes focus on it. He draws a baggy from his pocket, filled with powder I know well. He taps it twice and shrugs. “Slipped it in the drink after I took a sip. Can’t blame a man for wanting time to look at his first love before killing her.”

“Should have fucked me first then,” I comment.

“I would have, if you weren’t a doll, taking what you’re given and always being sweet,” he says calmly.

I straddle his lap and wrap my arms around him. He shivers as the cool glass brushes his nape. I sigh. “Such a nice face. Such a shame it has to end this way.”

“Call me an angel then. I’m sure you feel the poison, making you dizzy, quickening your blood, making breathing hard. Just lay back and leave a pretty corpse. You might just make the news … then again, I decided to be nice, so who’s to say,” he says.

I lean forward and kiss him. Kisses are more dangerous than sex. They can be more disarming than a kick to the groin. I should know, I’ve dealt with it all.

Murphy draws back, but I kiss him again, sucking his bottom lip. At the same time, my eyes focus on the glass in my hand. It catches the light, throwing red across the room before I bring it down on his head.

The first time he grunts- though that could be from the bite I layer on his bottom lip. The second time I feel his blood or mine fill my palm, but the third time hit, I bring the shard in my hand into his spine and watch as his whole body tenses. I draw back from the kiss and he falls across my once-white bed.

His blood is black, red, black, red, all based on how the blinds fall. I stand, inspect my robe, then lay it over him once I see it’s stained.

“You’ll be cold at first. It won’t take long for your brain to cut off your lungs, for your heart to miss the message to beat. My mistress told me to be nice. I planned to smoother you after satisfying you however you wished. From an hour to ten minutes. How sad.” I pout sarcastically.

He watches me, eyes wide, confused. Aren’t men always confused when women outsmart them? I climb on him, determined to watch him die, to be sure it’s finished. “They call me Heaven because I deliver people there. They call me sweet because I am when they are. No doll like me is as innocent or sweet as the toys I used to play with, Murphy. Now you’ll know for your next life.”

They call me Heaven because I deliver people there. They call me sweet because I am when they are.

Eden Doll

I draw a black coat over my lingerie once the life snuffs in Murphy’s eyes. I walk to my receiver and type “Y” to get a cleanup. I give him no stars.

He should have known better. No self-respecting doll leaves herself open to poison. No self-respecting doll allows a man to have the upper hand. A girl who survives knows death hangs between sweet words and will never surrender more than the illusion of control.

I pay to open my window, then drag the blinds up, and climb the rusted, rickety fire escape to the roof. I sit there, smoke and look over the Fringe side of the city. The buildings are as black as the sky, only backlit with shades of neon creating an industrial rainbow that no one loves.

Gunshots echo, ricocheting against the steep walls of skyscrapers until a person could believe guns are having conversation in the streets. A scream sounds, a promise of silence to follow. I walk from the Fringe side and look over the Core. Streetlights glitter yellow as if each road is lined with gold. None of the neon there flickers, none of it buzzes, they would never tolerate the constant headache or twitching eyes.

The Core’s buildings are white, turned ethereal at night. The skyscrapers are stretched white fingers, sharp and dragging their nails against the cloudy night. Once, I wanted to be in one of those buildings – working, living, making a home as a respectable wife.

Respectability is a veneer to hide worse crimes. The Fringe is built on grit, blood, unyielding determination against a society and god that doesn’t want it to survive. The Fringe is spite and a universal language of violence that doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is. No smile is longer than an instant, no one here lives long enough to tell a story, but living a day is worth the effort. Brutality is a kindness and kindness … that’s a beartrap waiting to claim those who don’t look closely enough.

But the Core is worse. Their money is laced with razorblades to better cut fingers and throats and no promise comes without fine print, always offered to those who will never read it – turning contracts and legalese into a noose and hangman. They’re pretty on the outside, but fat cats are still cats, willing and able to chase mice with intellect and claws. Dressed up in pomp, glamour, and ideals, the Core is still Danger City; they just play games like I do – minus the mess.

I light a cigarette as I walk to the line that separates the two, just off-center of our building. There’s no guard to separate the street below, but the elite Core don’t cross into the fringe unless they want to flex their claws in a new way, test their merit. The citizens of the Fringe only bait them.

Those in the Fringe – if they’re my age or older don’t dream about the Core. We know what it is, call it ‘the pit’ in whispers because it’s that darkest part of hell. The shining buildings call sinners in, dare them to test themselves against devils and demons, and leave no survivors. Hell dressed up as Heaven, trying to be different in a city that creates monsters.

My eyes flick to the dividing line. A girl – not a doll (or call girl as we were once called) – tries to tempt a young elite to cross the barrier. Cross into no-man’s land where murder is a way of life, not a crime, where sex comes easy if you have money and no fear of a blade.

The elite boy glances around, a sign he’s not sold, then he’s retrieved by a self-driving car and saved from his sight-seeing.

I’ve seen how they live, how they talk, what they offer, and I’m ready to return to passive-aggressive people rather than those who flash their teeth, his absence says.

Exhaling smoke over the street, I see someone on the Fringe toe the line. She’s young, innocent, eager to step over and see if all the sweet-dream stories about luxury and decadence are true. Her foot hesitates before it comes down. Though the road is no different, the same pavement, we can feel it’s wrong.

We follow the cracks and potholes, enjoy the low lighting rather than the yellow guiding light that traces every road in the Core. The constant surveillance just over that line means the back of our necks prick as eyes fall upon us.

Step over, see if the roads are nicer, if honey drips from their mouths, if their baths are hotter than ours, I urge silently, you’re young enough they might take pity. Craft your story, cry to the right artists, learn which deals to take.

But she doesn’t. She steps back, as we all do when faced with a decision like that. Gambling only works if you have something to fall back on and in the Fringe, we know where the power sits.

Life here is blunt, brutally honest, unflinchingly direct. People like that warn us what we’re getting into. It’s why I survived tonight. No man with good intentions pours a doll a drink. No man with good intentions asks a doll her real name. When you’re happy with someone, when they’re showing any kind of sweetness or care … they’re plotting against you.

expired polaroid portrait of a porcelain skin woman in a night city

“Funny how all those lessons are proven correct,” I say to myself.

“The lessons that are passed on tend to be,” a deep voice says from behind me.

I give in to the briefest smile before I turn with a face as passive and pretty as a toy doll’s. I drink in the familiar blonde man. “Morgan Cain. Did you clean up my mess already?”

He walks forward and grabs my throat in his hand. His smile spreads and mine answers his. He kisses me, taking his payment for a thorough cleaning. I cling to him for a moment, then glance at the ‘smart’ watch around my wrist. “I don’t have an appointment for two hours. Can I pay you with one?”

“Here,” he agrees. “One hour. No talking … toss your knife.”

“When you toss yours,” I barter.

In Danger City the only way to survive a day, let alone a life time is to be as dangerous as a tasteless poison – I’ve made it an art – dressing my danger in pretty smiles, lingerie, and sweet promises I don’t mean. Everyone has their weapons. I’ve mastered mine.

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