First time I went to The Leather Lizard, it was around two p.m. on a Sunday. Strange time to go to a strip club, I’ve been told, though I’ve often wondered, when is the “normal” time?
There were countless visits afterward, but I always go back to that first time. After I got hooked on Candy, I began working more and more to be sure that my place in the club would always be secure. Money might not make the world go round, but you sure won’t get far in a titty bar without it.
It wasn’t just the naked women I liked about it. It was like an X-rated Cheers; like a support group where no one had to admit they had a problem.
As a programmer, my schedule is fairly spastic, yet every time I came in the cast of characters was the same. Maybe the dancers changed, it’s hard to keep track of such things.
But, there was Lana, my waitress. If you don’t know, the waitresses at these establishments are one of two breeds; they’re so damn cute you’d trade a footfull of toes to watch her dance, or they’re the type who, with one look, you understand why they didn’t see necessary to have bouncers up front. Let me put it this way: I’d screw Lana before I’d screw her over, and I’d probably be just as afraid.
Petey B tossed bottles behind the bar. The kind of barkeep who never worried much with measuring out his shots, so that a two-fifty well could kick the ass right off any of the name brand mixes. He had three runners, two of them cute Asians. I took them for twins at first, but I’m a bit racist I guess because they’re not related, one’s Korean and one Vietnamese, and there’s a five year age difference. And, I can’t ever remember who’s who. It’s really dark in those places, in my defense. The other runner was a scrawny, squirrel-bearded metal head—my instincts said meth head too, but who knows—who looked like he must’ve gotten the job with a fake ID.
The main man with the dang plan—as he reminded the audience at least once per shift--was resident music magician DJ Operata tha Hot Potata. A white man should just not be able to have dreads so full and vast as his brown locks were, but judging from his marijuana tattoos and jewelry, I assume he’d given it a heartfelt, dedicated effort I could never appreciate.
Lana brought me my fourth rum and cola, round about six that afternoon when the first wave of A-teamers was beginning to take the stage. Petey B must have run out of cola on the second because I had a blazing fire stoking my chest, puffs of courage pouring out like the smoke rings I was trying to fashion.
A few dancers had stopped by, taking a seat on my left knee and asking for a cigarette or a light, sometimes both. One after the other, almost without fail, they would cup my hand in theirs and shove through my resistance with fire-lit eyes, sucking instead of dragging on the cig. What the technique lacked in originality it recouped with its effectiveness. It was a good thing I’d just gotten paid, because each set of flames melted another lap dance from my wallet.
Wednesday was a long-legged Nubian number with the kind of tone-but-ample backside that oh so very few of my honkey brethren have learned to appreciate. For the early evening dancers, she was quite a jewel. She had deep, heavy eyes that blinked purposefully, and only every few decades of awkward chit chat. Even when I’m paying them to pretend they like me, I’m still nervous with women.
I believe I was explaining how the role of Green Lantern is dissimilar to, say, Superman or Spiderman when Wednesday mercifully interrupted, “Do you play pool?”
I thought about lying but realized she might call me out on it, perhaps inviting me for a round of billiards and brew back at her place where she roomed with several of the other dancers. Don’t stop believing, ok.
I compromised, “Well, I’ve played but I’m not very good.”
She smiled sensually, her cheeks glowing through the dark. As her cheekbones seemed to rise into her temples, she surrendered a laugh. She released my non-smoking hand, which I don’t know when she had grabbed, and put both of hers to her mouth trying to catch the runaway giggle.
“What?” I sighed, presumptively embarrassed.
“Pool. It’s…” she bit the inside of her lip, “a code of sorts.”
I tried to convey my facial expression as “Oh I see,” but she did see. She smiled sweetly and took my hand, and walked me to a back corner with a low, deep armchair. A techno remix of a couple of Southern rock hits, I know them but I don’t know them, came on and she went about her routine.
With each pass of her mouth near my ear she would demystify a bit more until, even my simple mind, surmised that for four-hundred-bucks, she would take me in the back and… Well, something really cool was going to happen. I never precisely figured out the specifics.
When we returned to the table, I excused myself to the restroom, where I counted my cash. I could get a private throw and about four more drinks, just enough to help me cope with what I had resorted to. But when I returned to the table, a quarter-smoked cigarette with a pinch of bright pink on its white butt sent up a smoke-signal, floating away like the Ghost of Call Girls Past.
I sunk back into my drink, which was now mostly melted ice, and scoured the room for Lana. When I spotted her, she was coming down the steps of a section so exclusive I hadn’t realized it was there. To my tax bracket, it may as well not have existed at all. After a few passes of the strobe, I could just make out Wednesday’s bare back as she replaced her top.
Lana came to me, a crowded tray from the VIP section giving her an off-balance approach. “Wednesday was called away, Sugar. Fella over there said he’s got your next drink. And dance.” She gave me a look that was a little embarrassing, as if to say, I know you’ll like that.
“Well, I’m waiting on Wednesday anyway, so unless he wants to share…”
“He picked out someone else for you. You’ll like her.” She started away from my table but stopped after a few waddling steps. “Ya want the dance or doncha?”
Of course I did, so I followed her, stopping briefly at the bar to cash in my free drink. “A Godfather.” Even Petey B didn’t know that one; amaretto in Scotch. “Dewars,” I corrected as he went for the well.
She led me into a room which had, much like the VIP section, been invisible since I’d arrived. I sat on a plush couch, afraid to look at the seats too closely under the black light. After a few minutes of bass shaking my greater head back into prominence, I decided to slam my drink and leave.
“Ok, gents we gottanother hot mother—What! Shut yo mouth!” prattled DJ Operata, “Why doncha whip it out and give it up! Easy guys, I mean the dollaaaaaaassss. Hey! And it’s getting’ a bit cuh-ra-ra-ra-razy up in hee-uh! Des-ti-neeeeee, got a switch in the rotation, move that moneymaka’ to the main stage, while Mrs. C-c-c-candy, gets dandy with one lucky guy! You too fellas, got the dolla they’ll make ya holla…”
Then Candy came into my life and everything else sort of disappeared. Right then and there.
Candy was out for at least twenty minutes and I was worried. I’m not around much trauma, but that can’t be how long you’re supposed to be out, right? She finally stirred, her body contracting then swimming headfirst across the couch, stretching like a cobra from a pot, with an obnoxious yawn. It was cute on her.
She looked about; at me, her stuff. “What the…” Her eyes froze in saucer shape. Then her irises ticked about the room, the rest of her remaining perfectly still. “You need to go.” She emphasized the word strongly enough I almost did.
“We’re ok. One look at my little buddy,” I raised my hand, the roly-poly exploring it, “and they turned tail and ran.”
“They don’t run, they regroup.” She popped from the couch like a magnet pressed against its own and crashed into me, her hands pelting me with gentle—though I think she was going for tough—shoves toward the door.
I pirouetted behind her, afraid that I might not have the upper body strength to resist her if I tried. “Candy, I don’t mean to be a dick, but I just saved your life and you’re really being…” I couldn’t say anything mean to those pretty green eyes, “Rude.”
Those green eyes weren’t nearly as pretty when she snapped back her lashes and fried me with them, hissing, “Fuller is an idiot,” she struck the d and t sounds like they’d done something wrong. “He kidnapped me because he knew Benny was looking for me.”
God, it was only a day ago, I realized.
“Benny’s lookin’ for the redhead, Petey,” said the scrawny bar runner, apparently convinced that the blaring club tune would keep his secret. “He says he’ll give fifty-g to anyone who brings her in. Seventy if she’s alive.”
My heart split into dozens and the pieces scattered to play bumper cars from my ribs to my ears. I felt like the throbbing from my blood must have been making my skin bubble. I guess not, as they kept talking.
Petey B pressed out a sarcastic laugh, and I swear he checked me out in his peripheral. “Someone snatches up Candy, they ain’t bringin’ her in alive. That’s fact.”
“Are you listening!” she demanded the rhetorical question, somehow, rather than feigning any sort of inquiry.
“No,” I hollered defensively. I’d missed the word I wanted to say, but hey at least I was in the ballpark. Usually I would’ve tried to get away, so I counted it as a small victory in and of itself. Baby steps.
“I am,” thundered what I guessed was the voice of Satan’s meaner big brother, the sound flooding the house so that it seemed to be coming from everywhere.
Then I fainted. Only seemed fair.