Laurie sat in the dressing room, staring at herself in the mirror. Her set was coming up and she had to change and redo her makeup. She was looking kind of haggard lately. She sure as hell wasn’t getting enough sleep. She swigged at her drink and then grabbed a square of gauze to start repairing the smudges. Her regulars were thin on the ground tonight. She had a few new prospects she was mining; let’s see if they didn’t show up. She winked at herself in the mirror, then made a kissy face to put on her blush. Laurie was the hottest girl in the Scarlet Pimpernel, and there was never a shortage of men to line her pockets.
Problem was, where did it go? She walked out of the club with a thousand dollars some nights, and never less than $300. But by the time she got up out of bed the next day, she was broke. Maybe it fell out of her bag on the way home.
She put on fresh deodorant, sprayed her crotch with cologne, and stood up to reapply glittery body gel to her legs and belly. Most of the first application had rubbed off on the customers’ pants. It was a service to the wives, leaving evidence like that.
Laurie was a bit of a chameleon. She was a feminist to the girls and a sex addict to the boys. Her mom thought she was a virgin, and each of her brothers thought he’d been the only one. She was in it for Laurie. But since everyone wanted her to be in it for whatever they wanted, she spent all her time fooling them. Her own image of herself was stark: two-faced and ruthless as a matter of principle, playing people against each other, manipulating events whenever possible, and always getting her way.
She changed her thong and bra to something lacy, pulled on a mini-schoolgirl skirt and a white shirt that tied below the breasts, footless knee socks, and fuck-me saddleox pumps. She redid her hair in pigtails with ribbons, and did a few cheerleader moves in front of the mirror to check the effect. 1 2 3 4 who the boys all squirtin’ for – Roxy.
* * *
Gordon watched her set with interest. Laurie on a pole was a stunning sight. Some girls did acrobatics on the pole. Some did yoga. Some treated it like it was a piece of schoolyard equipment. Laurie illustrated the Kama Sutra. Gordon put a lot of effort into remembering his favorite positions for later.
His mind kept drifting back to his favorite subject – ripping off the club. Everyone knew where the safe was. But there was another safe where they put the money at closing time; else they took it home. Except that Gordon never saw bags of money leaving the joint. It would be hard to hide half a million in small bills every night.
He’d like to go over and smash the cops for talking while Laurie was dancing. Every other jerkoff in the place was drooling, staring up at his girlfriend and wishing hard. Those jokers were whispering in each other’s ears like they were in church. He didn’t care if the whole house talked thru anybody else’s dance, but the extraneous movement ruined it for him when she was onstage – he could see the whole layout and only wanted to watch his girl. He glared at them as the music changed and Laurie started on some floor work that quickly grabbed his attention again.
He could easily satisfy his curiosity about the club’s cashflow if only he would go on the payroll. The owner asked him often enough. He always said no. He liked his freelancing, and wasn’t going to call anybody boss. But he had to find out, it was an essential part of his plan. Can’t walk off with all the money if you don’t know where it is. He couldn’t ask the managers or bouncers what happened to the take at night. The girls didn’t know (Laurie’d been angling among them for information). Maybe the house mom knew, but nobody was getting anything out of her. His main idea was to keep on sitting there until the answer revealed itself.
The music changed and Laurie did her strut dance, demanding that the customers stuff her garter. They queued up for the privilege. All but the cops. Gordon sat and fumed. Bad manners was a beating offence at the club.
Laurie came by the table when her set was over. She radiated heat from her body; her healthy, libidinous, sweaty, flushed body. Gordon squirmed with pleasure as she ran her hand up his thigh with one hand while picking up his drink and chugging it with the other. He raised a finger for another as Cocoa passed, and turned to gaze at his mostly naked companion. He felt true love welling inside him.
“There’s a loose board on that stage,” she groused. “I nearly caught my heel right there at the end.” Gordon muttered an offer to go up and fix it himself. She ignored it. “I mean it’s hard enough doing splits in high heels on a good, flat floor. The ridges on that stage, you can just slip right over them, and then you land real hard. I’m afraid I’ll get splinters.” Gordon offered a pain-free way to remove them, and leaned in to nuzzle her neck. She slapped him away and reached for the fresh drink, winking at Cocoa. “Did you see where it was?” Gordon blinked uncertainly a few times. “Where I almost fell.” He tried to look knowledgeable. “I’ve asked Jerry twice already.” Gordon swore to have a word with him immediately, and put his arm around her, feeling blissful. The drink was mostly ice when she turned it loose.
Laurie went off to get some table dances while she was warmed up, and Gordon went to the bathroom to do some blow. And to jerk off. On the way back, he stopped by to visit with the cops.
From a distance they looked like bobble headed penguins. They resolved into clean-shaven, short-haired guys in sunglasses. Their white shirts and ties were sweat stained and grimy polyester and their charcoal suits were made of viscose and had never been cleaned. They sat nursing their drinks; immobile.
“Whatcha having?” Gordon shouted as he loomed over them, a big grin on his face, his hands in plain sight. The fat one started, as if he’d been snoozing. The black one looked guarded. “Can I join you gentlemen?” Gordon persisted, smiling charmingly. He pulled a chair away from the next table and sat down. The cops were wary, their eyes darting around wildly behind their shades.
Gordon waved at Cocoa for a round, and flashed a free drink signal at his friend the bartender. Then he turned back to the cops. “I just happened to notice,” he said gravely, the cops exchanging worried glances, “that you boys seem like you’re from out of town. Is that right?” He grinned as they composed their faces. We’re just a coupla salesmen from Ohio. “I couldn’t help noticing,” Gordon continued, “because I’m from out of town myself. Used to be. Come and go.” He winked at them. “I know what it’s like being in a strange place, not knowing the local customs, not knowing where to go.” He waved at the club around them. “But you must have good instincts, because you landed up here. The prettiest girls in the world.”
“Do you work here?” the black one asked, hoping to type him.
“Nah. I’m just a customer. A businessman, like yourselves.” They nodded. Gordon reached over the table. “Name’s Gordon.” They shook hands. The fat one was “Sam”, the black one was “Dave”.
Their drinks came and they stared appreciatively as Gordon stuffed a fifty down Cocoa’s bra. Dave looked like he appreciated his shot of Jagermeister. “Fact is, I used to be a strip club virgin once, and it’s a difficult thing to watch, if you know what I mean.” They squirmed. “So I thought I’d come over with a few helpful hints.” They listened, rapt, even tho they were probly recording.
“Well, like a few minutes ago, when the star dancer was on, you should have been more attentive. And I notice you didn’t go up and tip her during the finale.” He shook his head sorrowfully. “That’s bad.” They looked shamefaced. Dave covered his mouth with his energy drink and Sam looked down at his stained tie. Gordon looked stern. “And I gotta tell you, the management is being real easy on you, letting you sit there and not buy drinks and lap dances. Especially since you don’t tip them, either,” he said, nodding at the bouncers.
The cops looked pained. “We just don’t have the money,” Sam sighed. “We’d like to, really.”
Dave looked sincere. “Things’ve been slow.”
“Well, that’s why we hustle all day selling shit.” Gordon laughed, clapping Dave on the back. “It’s hell what we have to do for the ladies, ain’t it?” He wondered if he should offer to advance them a little green. Nah.
“Well, my point is you just gotta be a little more expansive, is all. You don’t have to spend a lot. You can get the bar to change it all into ones, if that’ll help. You gotta learn to be generous and kind spirited if you want to get anywhere around here. See how fast those drinks came? That’s cuz I take good care of everybody who crosses my path. Like you two.” He put his arm around both of them and pulled them in for a just pals hug.
“Let yourselves enjoy the ambiance,” he finished, standing and returning the chair. ‘You’ll be surprised at how nice people can be if you just treat them with dignity.”
The cops thought about it. Gordon sent them a round from his table and saluted them when they looked up in surprise. They thought about it some more. Then Sam bought a lap dance. Then Dave bought one. Then they ordered a round by themselves. Gordon looked on, satisfied and happy. He loved to help people.
Jake came up and lingered by the palm tree. “Wired for sound and video?”
Gordon clicked his glass on his teeth. “Dunno, couldn’t tell when I patted them down. Maybe.”
“Know what they’re looking for?”
Gordon took a sip and reached for a cigarette. “Not yet. Soon.”
* * *
Sam and Dave pooled the last of their money for a final round of Jager shots. Plus tip. Sam smiled brightly at the doorman and promised to take care of him the next time, and didn’t notice the pained smile. They were a little unsteady reaching the car, and sat in the parking lot for a few minutes. Observing. Sam was tired. Dave wished he had more money so they could go stake out the other clubs..
Dave was new at this. Just out of the academy. He was paired with a seasoned agent, the way they always did it, but Sam’s experience was in mail fraud, and they were both floundering there in the strip club. Not sure what they were looking for, they had to report on everything so that their supervisor had as much to go on as possible.
The big picture involved international crime syndicates, corporate espionage, high tech treachery, drug trafficking, white slavery, money laundering, tax evasion, immigration violations, terrorism, and even mail fraud. Never mind gambling, prostitution and underage drinking.
There was a promotion in it for Dave, and a retirement bonus for Sam. If they got their guy. Which they weren’t sure who the guy was. All they could see was a probable citation from the health department and out-of-code neon signage in the parking lot. To them it seemed nothing more than a plain old strip club – like a legitimate business. Like they would know.
They went home to their airport motel. Sam kicked off his shoes at the door, and shed bits of clothing all the way to the bathroom. Dave stepped gingerly around them checking the room for bugs. He was quick; he didn’t want Sam making fun of him for going by the book.
Dave pulled a box of macs and cheese from the closet, dumped it into a plastic bowl, added water from the sink, and nuked it until it started to pop. He scraped off the plastic forks and plates from last night’s dinner, and set two grimy water glasses on the bedside table.
“We need more money,” Dave said, picking over the cheese globs and uncooked noodles. He sat on the edge of the bed, fully dressed.
“You need to get started on that report,” Sam waved at Dave’s Blackberry with a full fork. “We got a lot of information tonight.” Sam was under the covers, buck naked, dribbling four-cheese macaroni on his chest.
“I’m kind of tired.” Dave looked at his pillow.
“Hah,” Sam gargled, his mouth full. “By the book.”
Sam flipped thru the channels while Dave itemized the night’s gleanings. He made much of the new informant, stressing the need to increase the budget accordingly.
Sam found the on-demand channels and was deciding between several soft porn offerings.
“At least turn the sound off,” Dave insisted. His wrists were getting sore and it made him cranky. “Hey, I’ve been thinking…”
Sam looked over at him, hunched over on the edge of the bed holding his Blackberry on his lap, furiously thumbing it while staring off into the distance. Well, it was no miracle with those skinny fingers.
“I feel that we need a different approach,” Dave said when he finished typing his sentence.
“I don’t get you.” Sam kept his eyes on the TV.
“He thinks we’re businessmen, right? Salesmen or something. What if we came on like players?”
Sam looked over at him. “Why?”
“If we could get this Gordon guy working for us we might learn something.”
Sam snorted. “Recruit him? As, what, a salesman? An agent?”
“No.” Dave lapsed into pirate talk. He did that. “We fly their flag until we get within boarding range, and then we run up the Jolly Roger. And our pal Gordon will tie off the boarding ropes (lines?) for us.
“Um. I mean Arrgh.”
“No, listen.” Dave’s eyes were bright. “We seduce him. Get him on our side. Make him eager to betray the big boss. We come on as more important than his boss’s boss. Emirs of fucking Bahrain kind of thing. Hollywood moguls. Famous plastic surgeons. Enough money to set up three Scarlet Pimpernels across the street and turn this place into a dry cleaner’s.”
“I saw something like that in a film once,” Sam said, learning forward and shedding macaroni further down the covers. “We appeal to his greed and tell him we’re going to take over the joint and make him king.” Then he had second thoughts. “I don’t know if we could pull it off. You’re kind of young and I’m kind of…”
Dave felt supportive. “You cracked the Social Security check ring in Cleveland.”
Sam thought. “Hey, there was this case where I had to infiltrate this mob family in New Jersey. I dated the daughter.” Dave looked incredulous. “Hey, it was twenty years ago. But it was easy.” He grew animated. “We could do it.”
Dave started to argue with him. Could not. Could to. It got to that point immediately; they weren’t used to being drunk. They weren’t sure what exact plan they were arguing about. They agreed they had to have more money to do more research at the strip club, and that Gordon was dumb enough to fall into their trap, and they argued about all the details.
They went to bed still mumbling. Sam dreamed of running a Mafia dynasty. Dave dreamed of being Miami Vice. He was the blond guy.
* * *