Brooklyn drove east on Sunset Boulevard in a new, gleaming white Tesla Model S, a replacement for the red Range Rover Sport she totaled going a little too fast while a little too drunk. This earned Brooklyn a DUI, but since her blood alcohol level was below 1.5%, her license suspension only lasted a month. Tonight, that month was up, so she decided to go on one of her Midnight Rambles. The hot spot of the moment was the Rooftop Bar at the Q Hotel on the Sunset Strip, so that’s where she was headed.
As she approached the formidable six-foot-six, shiny-headed doorman guarding the velvet rope, Brooklyn was nervous. Eyeballing Brooklyn with a stern expression, the doorman knew from a previous encounter that Brooklyn wasn’t yet of drinking age, but for underage celebrities and hot girls like Brooklyn who brought the place caché, the Rooftop Bar was willing to risk the penalties.
On this brisk mid-winter night, outdoor heaters made the Rooftop Bar feel as balmy as a summer evening. Passing by a row of curtained-off beds, Brooklyn tried to imagine who was doing what to whom while high on whatever.
Standing at the main bar, Brooklyn cast a flirtatious eye on Petya, the well-built Ukrainian bartender. He looked especially fine tonight in a tight black T-shirt, but Petya ignored her provocative glances. As an undocumented worker, Petya had to be extra cautious. Brooklyn could be under eighteen, and he hadn’t survived three years fighting in Chechnya only to get nailed for statutory rape in Los Angeles. Mixing the Zombie she ordered, Petya skipped the 151-proof rum in the recipe. Pretty young things like Brooklyn were part of the Rooftop Bar’s allure, but not when they were passed out comatose on the floor.
Not quite a full minute passed before Brooklyn was hit on by a short-but-cute junior agent who asked if he could buy her a drink. Pointing to her Zombie in hand, Brooklyn said, “Already got one, thanks.”
“Well then, can I buy you a car?” he asked. Which was a little funny.
“Got one of those, too. How about a pony?” she asked, pointing arrows to her age.
After exchanging introductions, the junior agent started trying too hard to impress her. “Do you like sailing? Come with me sailing on Bradley’s sloop this weekend,” he said casually.
“Cooper,” he added.
The agent was counting on Brooklyn exclaiming, wide-eyed, “You know Bradley Cooper?” But instead, she asked, “How is Bradley? The last time I saw him was at a dinner party at our place.” Which was true. When the junior agent dropped yet another famous name, Brooklyn didn’t try to disguise her boredom. As he prattled on, she scanned the room for someone more interesting.
She found him.
Khalil was perfect-looking—tall, broad-shouldered, and immaculately groomed from his dark hair to the perfectly shaped cuticles of his manicured hands. In his exquisitely tailored royal blue suit, Khalil looked like he could have just stepped from the pages of GQ. Ordinarily, Brooklyn didn’t go for model types. But he also had an intelligent face and undoubtedly was a somebody in Town as he was in a serious discussion with a Disney executive. Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper’s alleged friend, the junior agent, was still prattling on about something. Now seriously annoyed, she had to get rid of Junior. Brooklyn asked for his phone and tapped in her number, holding his hand a flirtatious moment too long. However, Brooklyn’s tapping gave the devious jerk a chance to slip some GHB in her Zombie. This will make it easier for him to get Brooklyn into bed, the clueless guy calculated.
When he’d call her the next day, he’d get a fax machine at CVS.
Teasing and flirting the night away, Brooklyn finally gave up on Mr. Perfect, who seemed impervious to her most seductive glances. She decided to call it a night. But after three Zombies chased down by two Perrier’s, she had to pee. The bathroom was co-ed, and it wasn’t long before Mr. Perfect walked in and stood just a few feet away from Brooklyn, watching her wash her hands. Finally, she challenged him, “What are you staring at?”
“I could have asked you that same thing all night,” he said in his intriguing foreign accent. “You’re very lovely.”
“So are you,” she replied. What a strange thing for me to say. Now, it was dawning on her that she was feeling strange all over, but not in a bad way—in a euphoric way.
“I’m Khalil,” he introduced himself.
Ah, Middle Eastern, she thought, which was beautiful. As the roofie the junior agent slipped in her drink hit, everything seemed beautiful. And perfect.
“So, what do you do, Khalil?” Brooklyn asked.
“Only Americans ask that question. Isn’t, ‘so who are you, Khalil?’ more interesting?”
His voice was deep and resonant. What a fantastic night, she thought. I feel…happy! “So, who are you, Khalil?” she asked sincerely.
“I’m someone who sees a gorgeous creature who’s been caged for too long and wants to fly free.”
If she’d been in her right mind, Brooklyn would have busted him for being cornball, but she was dosed. “Oh, yes! Yes, you’re so right!” she gushed.
“Brooklyn… I love that name. Brooklyn, if you could go anywhere, where would you like to go?”
“Anywhere?” she asked, imagining many different places in vivid Technicolor. “Paris! I love Paris! Oh, god, I love Paris. Is it still there?” she asked, which seemed to her like a perfectly reasonable question.
“I’m not sure,” he replied coyly. “You want to come with me to find out?”
“I’ll just look it up on my phone.”
“Put your phone away, Brooklyn. How would you like to come with me to Paris right now?”
“How can we do that?” she asked with a charming giggle.
“Simple. We go to the Santa Monica Airport, where my family’s Gulfstream 650 is fueled and ready to take us to Paris. Or wherever. Are you a spontaneous girl, Brooklyn?”
“No!” she laughed. “I’m not. I wonder why, Khalil?”
“Maybe because you haven’t met the right person. Someone who, on a whim, can fly to Paris for dinner, or to Rome for the opera, or to Saudi Arabia for a party at the palace.”
“Have you ever been? It’s the real magic kingdom. We don’t have Mickey Mouse, only princesses and princes, who’ll definitely want to meet you. Brooklyn, let me whisk you away. Everything’s possible, my dear when the right man unlocks the door to your cage.”
It sounded like a fairy tale and a wonderful one. “Won’t I need my passport?”
With his roguish smile, he said, “Saying ‘yes’ is the only passport you’ll need.”
To Brooklyn’s mind, which she was currently out of, all of this made perfect sense. “Really? I can be in Paris tomorrow?” She could envision it so clearly, a magical Parisian holiday.
The last time she and her mother were truly happy was when Brooklyn was eleven. The two struck a rare truce, and Jean, who’d gotten a part in a French film, took Brooklyn along with her to Paris. Jean was working on set most of the day, so she gave her daughter a wad of francs. Accompanied by her nanny, Brooklyn went on a shopping expedition, but not for herself. She spent all of her l’argent on a gorgeous Hermes “Etriers” silk scarf in jade green, the color of her eyes, and gave it to her mother that night. Jean hugged her tighter than Brooklyn could ever remember being hugged when suddenly Jean broke down sobbing uncontrollably, and they weren’t happy tears. What an odd reaction, Brooklyn remembered.
Breaking into Brooklyn’s reverie, Khalil continued, “Paris it is, then. We own a Château not far from the heart of the city.”
“We?” Brooklyn asked.
“My family. Imagine an eighteenth-century Château with acres of tulips and fountains and topiary statues on manicured lawns. Can you see it?”
“Oh, yes! Is it real?”
“It’s real, Brooklyn. Just say yes, and you’ll wake up there tomorrow morning. Don’t worry about clothing or packing. You’ll have the very best of everything, and if there’s something you need, a courier will race to get it for you.”
“Then let’s go!” Brooklyn said, and they both headed out the exit just as Petya, the bartender, was heading in. Khalil stepped aside to let Petya pass, but the Ukrainian also stepped aside and stood directly in front of him. Thinking this was just an awkward shuffle, Khalil stepped aside again, but Petya also stepped aside, mirroring his move. Now the two stared at one another.
“Excuse me, please!” demanded Khalil.
“Where are you going?” asked Petya evenly.
“That’s none of your business!” answered Khalil.
“No, probably not. I don’t care where you’re going. You’re just not taking her.”
“Out of my way, or there will be trouble,” Khalil threatened.
“Yes, there will be,” Petya promised coolly. The two men were now in a standoff.
They were about equal in size, but Brooklyn could see from Petya’s tight t-shirt that he was hard and well-built, though Khalil didn’t look like a pushover either in his well-fitted suit.
“My friend,” Khalil said, trying to reason. “Involving yourself in our business is a big mistake.”
“Those are the only kind I make,” countered Petya.
“Look, you’re not her father, and the young lady is an adult… or is she? What do you think, my friend?” he asked the bartender. “Does she look twenty-one? You served her alcohol. That’s against the law, isn’t it? That can get you deported. Easy to get deported nowadays, isn’t it?”
Petya weighed Khalil’s words heavily. Being undocumented, deportation was always just one bust away. Was helping this girl going to get him shipped back to Odessa?
Another déjà vu spell came over Brooklyn, and again, she was time-ported back to that foggy place where someone once abducted her at the age of four and held her prisoner. He’s taking me away. He’s taking me away from my mommy!
“Are you ready to go, Brooklyn?” asked Khalil.
As the déjà vu episode wore off, so did the mind-clouding effects of her spiked drink. “Get away from me!” She turned to Petya, “Please! Get him away from me.”
Petya fixed a challenging glare on Khalid, who backed down, muttering, “Fine. Who wants anything to do with this bitch anyway?” He brushed past Petya, roughly bumping his shoulder. Then Khalil was gone.
Ashamed, Brooklyn couldn’t look at Petya.
The Ukrainian said, “I’ll call an Uber. You don’t drive.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Never come back here,” Petya replied.
Earlier, Khalil encouraged Brooklyn to ask, ‘So who are you, Khalil?’ His honest answer would have been, “a sex trafficker.” Brooklyn knew the only thing that saved her from becoming part of a harem was Petya, a man who had only contempt for her.