"Hey, baby! Wanna lick? Hey, daddy, let me show you a good time. Whaddaya say?" The hefty woman in the red sequined halter leaned over to waggle her tongue at the passing cars. The woman sitting a few feet away sneered at the ploy.

"Hey, Lolly, have you ever stuck that tongue into a place you didn’t like?"

Lollipop squinched her nose up at her friend and flipped her the bird. "Say what you like, Roni, but let me tell you this. For every twenty bucks you spread your legs for, I can get in three lick jobs at a dime a pop. Do the math, girlfriend. Three! That puts me five bucks in front every thirty minutes. Which means on a good day I’m gonna bring in . . . uhh . . ." Lolly frowned as her brain struggled to do the math. Unsuccessfully.

"On a twelve-hour shift it would net you an additional one hundred and twenty bucks," Roni calmly calculated.

Lolly glanced over at Ginger, who shrugged. Who was to argue with Roni? Chances were the woman was a hundred percent right anyway. "Shit, girl, how do you do that?"

"Do what? Add?" Roni gave a little grunt that she passed off as a laugh. "What’s the matter, Lolly? Flunk out of elementary school?"

"Piss off, Roni," the woman suddenly vented. "I ain’t in no mood for your holier-than-thou crap. I gotta earn me some rent money." Tossing her bottle blonde hair over her shoulder, the hefty woman marched across the street against the light to ply her wares on the other side of Dross Avenue.

"Gee. Was it something I said?"

Ginger shook her head as she rubbed her hands over her upper arms. "Don’t mind her. She misses her kid. Puts her in a funk like that when she does." She turned to the young woman perched on top of the fire hydrant. "Hey, I was thinking about going over to the Brown Kettle for a bite. I’m starved. Wanna join me?"

"No, thanks." The woman glanced upward at the orange clouds. "It’s gonna be dark in another hour. I don’t wanna be out at night after sundown."

The strawberry blonde shivered with fear. "I hear you. But that maniac’s not in this area. He’s been focusing on the east side near the housing projects. You know that."

"Yeah, but the guy’s got legs, don’t he? He can walk. Or take a bus or cab." Roni glanced over at her friend. "Take my word for it. That sadistic son of a bitch is gonna make his way up to our neck of the woods sooner or later." She sighed loudly as she went back to staring at the traffic. "Sooner or later."

A bright blue sedan pulled up to their side of the street. The window melted into the doorframe to reveal a young punk wearing a nose ring, a dirty brown vest, and probably not much else. "Hey, mama. What does a fella hafta pay for a blow job?"

"Fifteen!" Roni and Ginger chorused simultaneously. The unexpected stereo effect left them in giggles. Mr. Nose Ring eyed the woman, weighing the benefits of both. "Hey, you. Cutie mama!"

Ginger took that as her cue. Roni wore a black leather bustier and black pleather pants that looked poured on. With her jet black hair, she always scored the biker types. The rougher set. Which was fine with Ginger. With her short plaid skirt and fur boa, she enjoyed playing the innocent young thing easily enticed by the overweight business men who often went looking for a quick hand job during the lunch hour.

Swaying her hips, she sashayed around the front of the car and approached the guy on the passenger side. "I got a little place over at the Sutton," she drawled seductively as she leaned inside the window.

"Yeah? Well, I got a little place over on Chambers," Mr. Nose Ring replied and flipped back his vest to show her his badge.

The truth hit all three women at the same time. "Oh, shit! Cops!" Ginger screamed as Mr. Nose Ring deftly grabbed her wrist to keep her from escaping. Seconds later four more undercover police appeared from nowhere to arrest Roni and Lolly.

"What’s your beef?" Lolly protested as one man cuffed her with a nylon tie-back. "Why aren’t you over on the other side of town searching for that murdering sicko instead of harassing us hard-working women?"

"Well, last I heard, hard-working women didn’t include prostitution as one of their occupations," one man quipped as he helped her into the back of Mr. Nose Ring’s sedan.

Roni turned around as her hands were placed behind her back and a nylon cuff went around her wrists. She gave the cop a little snarl to show her displeasure, but he laughed in her face.

"You should be thanking us, lady, instead of showing your teeth. Officer Tayson over there could have been the Crescent City Cutter." He gave Roni a little shove toward the police cruiser coming to join them.

A rough hand reached down to pinch her bottom through the thin fabric. Hard enough to bruise. Roni winced at the sharp pain and jerked her hips away from the man’s grasp. "Watch it, numbfuck, or you’ll be pulling back a stump," she hissed at him.

The man’s eyes narrowed. "Cunt licker," he threw back at her and shoved her at the car. Roni managed to regain her balance just before landing on top of the vehicle’s trunk.

"Hey, Simmonds! Did ja remember to pat her down?"

The man who had groped her gave an oily laugh. "Shit! I forgot!" He reached for her with a waggle of his fingers. "Come back here and let papa see if you ain’t carrying a weapon up that pretty ass of yours."

Roni twisted away from him at the last second, baring her teeth at the same time. There was no mistaking the growl coming from her throat. A couple of officers hooted at her show of bravery.

"Goddamn cunt. C’mere!"

Simmonds stepped down off the curb to reach for her again when a dark voice behind Roni called out, "Did you remember to Mirandize her?"

Simmonds stopped dead in his tracks. Anger mottled his face as he stood staring at the man behind her.

"I’ll take that as a ‘no’."

Whirling around, Roni stared up, and up, at the man standing less than a yard away from her. Like the others, he wore a sweat-stained wife beater and a pair of jeans. His brown hair was longer than the regulation cop cut, and at least three days’ dark growth covered his cheeks and chin.

But it was his blue eyes that made her hold her breath. They were such a pale blue, they almost looked like frosted chips of ice.

Those same blue eyes locked onto hers for an instant before his eyebrows snapped downward in an expression of growing anger. "Have I seen you before?"

Unfortunately, no, Roni said to herself, I would have remembered you if you had.

Mr. Ice Eyes went back to Simmonds. "Mirandize her, then put her in the back of the car. Let one of the female officers search her when she gets to the station."

"Yes, sir."

He gave Roni a final glance, then turned and stalked off, leaving her to watch his departure in silence as he muttered something under his breath about a civil lawsuit. His rear end humped seductively, making her eyes widen in surprise. She was faintly aware of another undercover cop reading her her rights, then helping her into an unmarked police car.

As the vehicle pulled away from the curb, the orange rays of the setting sun spilled into the back seat, bathing Roni in their reddish-yellow light. Night was coming. Already she could feel her outer skin growing softer and less taut. In another hour or so she would be able to shed it and let her real skin breathe.

Cursing softly, she watched the scenery pass by as they headed for the Chambers Street Station for booking. With a little luck she would be able to pay her fine and be home before the night was too old. The last thing she needed was to be stuck overnight in a holding cell with twenty other assholes. Because if she couldn’t change into her true self before the next morning, the shit was definitely going to hit the fan big time.