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Peaches and the Gambler 21


  “It’ll be a few minutes,” he said, hanging the phone up. “Like something to drink while you wait?” he asked, politely.

  “No, thank you.”

  “Alright. Well, just relax. Somebody’ll be with you in a minute.”

  He lumbered away, leaving Peaches to her own devices. She would have dearly loved to sit down, her feet, encased as they were in a pair of silver stilettos, were already sore. But the bar stools were too high and her dress too short to make that comfortably possible.

  More girls were streaming in by the minute. It was interesting seeing them fully dressed. Many of them looked young and vulnerable. Others looked hardened by the game, their faces tight, their smiles forced.

  A beautiful girl of no more than twenty or twenty-one walked up to the bar, her brief pink shorts and white high heels highlighting a pair of legs that would put any fitness instructor to shame.

  “Hook me up with my usual, Trina,” she said, leaning across the bar.

  “You know I ain’t supposed to do that, Nikki,” said the bartender, a short, plump girl dressed in black shorts and black sequined top. “Management already warned me once.”

  “Yeah? But you know I’ll do you right if you do this for me,” the girl whispered huskily, a coquettish gleam in her eyes as she softly stroked the back of the bartenders hand.

  Nikki must’ve been good at whatever it was she did because in the blink of an eye, she had a half full highball of top shelf Cognac in her palm. Quickly gulping it down, she gave the bartender a smoldering look, then headed to the curtained area behind the stage.

  “Mona?”

  Peaches looked up, heart in her throat as her name was called. She was somewhat surprised to see an attractive middle-aged woman standing there. Her dress was professional, her expression neutral as she gazed at Peaches.

  “Yes?”

  “They’re ready for you in the back. Please follow me.”

  She led her through a locked door, closing it behind them. They walked down a long hallway, finally coming to another locked door. There was a camera situated over the door, a state of the art device Peaches imagined might be used at FBI headquarters. The woman buzzed a doorbell and was allowed entry almost immediately.

  Peaches heart thumped hard and heavy against her ribs as she walked inside. It was a private viewing room. There was a small round stage with a brass pole. Spotlights angled to show off every nook and cranny of a stripper’s body, shone down on its surface. The small stage was surrounded by two half moon couches upholstered in rich, dark fabric.

  There were six television screens on the walls of the room. Two of them, gigantic plasma monoliths, showed different aspects of the main dance stage. The other six showed empty rooms with small stages much like the one in the center of the room they were currently in. They were outfitted with either smaller versions of the half moon couches or two fabric covered chairs situated in a semi-circle around the mini-stages. Two girls were practicing on the pole on the main stage, perfecting their dual fetish act.

  Three men were seated, clipboards and pens in their hands. Feeling a bit nauseated, Peaches wasn’t sure how she was going to go through with this. Then she thought about Ms. Penny and poor Lenny and found the strength to move forward.

  The woman that had led her into the private viewing room sat down at the far end of one of the couches, crossing her legs and picking up the clipboard and pen that were there.

  “Mona, right?” one of the men asked. His face was half-hidden in shadows, his voice deep and smooth.

  “Yes.” Peaches found that her voice was trembling and worked to gain control of her nerves.

  “Please hand your purse to Ms. Eileen, then go stand on the stage.”

  The woman got up and took her purse. Peaches stepped onstage, fighting the urge to cover her body with both arms.

  “This is going to be quick,” the guy with the smooth voice said. “We’re going to turn on some music, watch you dance, removing your clothes, of course, and make a decision based on what we see.”

  She nodded her head mutely. How the hell was she going to play this off? She had never danced, especially naked, a day in her life. They were going to see right through her ruse and kick her out of the club. Or, worse yet, kill her.

  Despite her hysteria, she knew she was being dramatic. Both Stick and Charm knew she was here. If she didn’t call them by two o’clock that morning, they were going straight to the police.

  “Please begin.”

  Music began playing, a grown and sexy song by Calvin Richardson.

  Peaches began dancing.

  **

  She wasn’t sure how she got through it, but somehow she managed to blank everything save her mission of finding Lenny’s killer out of her mind.

  After what seemed like forever, the music stopped. The small gathering drew together, consulting their clipboards and speaking in hushed tones. Peaches used the time to quickly pull her bra and dress back on, stepping down off the platform, flushed with shame.

  How did strippers do this day in and day out as a career? Peaches had a newfound appreciation for those girl’s desperate or calculating enough to pursue this line of work.

  “You did great,” the guy with the smooth voice said once everyone was finished comparing notes. “You need to work on keeping your eyes open while you dance, but otherwise, really good.”

  “Thank you,” she said, for lack of anything better to say. The woman walked over, returning her purse. Seeing Peaches downcast eyes, she reflexively reached out, lightly touching her arm and whispering: ‘It’ll get easier’ before returning to her seat.

  The shame of it all paid off when for the second time this week she heard:

  “You’re hired. Can you start tonight?”

  **

  “Satin Doll’s has a number of rules you need to follow,” Ms. Eileen was saying as they walked out the two locked doors and down the long hallway leading back to the main entertainment area. “No drinking and no smoking while you’re on the clock, ever. Clients don’t like to smell any alcohol or cigarettes on the girls. If they do they may complain or not leave you a tip. Also, if you’re on your period, you can’t work. It’s that simple. We give mandatory, unannounced drug tests around here. If we find anything harder than THC in your bloodstream, we will automatically let you go. We don’t have time for meth heads, crackheads or dope fiends. We like to keep things nice and clean around here. You break any of these rules more than twice in a two month period, you’re automatically fired. Our rules are a little stricter than other exotic dance clubs in the area, but that’s how we keep our customers happy.”

  Peaches head was whirling as she took in all Ms. Eileen was saying. She had always been under the impression that working at a strip club was a simple matter of having a decent enough body, walking through the doors and getting hired. Random drug testing and no cigarettes or alcohol while you were on the clock certainly did away with at least some of her media conceived stereotypes. Though clearly there were strippers like the girl at the bar who broke the rules, Peaches appreciated that even within an industry as shady as strip clubs, some standards existed.

  “None of our dancers are ever to accept real cash,” Ms. Eileen continued as she pushed open the door and they walked out into the main area. “We have our own in-house currency we prefer to use.”

  “Really?” Peaches asked, genuinely curious. “Why is that?”

  “Cuts down on embezzling,” she stated matter-of-factly. “Without real money, staff isn’t tempted to skim. In-house currency gets turned in at the end of the night. New dancers get forty percent of anything they make. Our most requested dancers get fifty. You get cashed out at the end of your shift. Any questions so far?”

  Peaches shook her head, somewhat dazzled by the clever mechanisms operating just beneath the surface of what at first appeared to be an unsophisticated, hood strip club operation.

  She went on to walk Peaches around the club, telling her that for he
r first few days she would simply be learning the ropes, only doing lap dances. She wouldn’t go onstage or dance in any of the private rooms until management felt confident she was sharp enough to go through an entire five minute performance without falling apart.

  “We’ve learned that putting a girl on stage too soon can ruin her confidence and you’re going to need all the confidence you can get once you’re under those spotlights,” Ms. Eileen said, taking her on a tour of the facilities. At the moment, they were in the dressing rooms. It was filled with laughing, chattering, half-naked girls applying make-up, costumes or talking on their cell phones.

  “This is where I get off the train, Mona,” Ms. Eileen said. “I am assigning you with Melinda. She’ll be your handler and will answer any additional questions you have. We’ll see each other around.”

  Ms. Eileen left and when Peaches turned to meet her handler, her smile froze upon recognizing the face of the same girl she had seen fucking like a bunny on her last visit.

  “Do I know you from somewhere?” Melinda asked, brow knitted.

  Dressed in a brief pair of white boy shorts, plastic stripper heels and a tight, referee styled crop top, the expression on the dancers face was nearly as nasty as it had been the night Peaches and she had first ‘met’.

  “Not that I know of,” Peaches said, forcing a nonchalance she didn’t feel into her tone. “My name is Mona. Do that ring a bell? I used to work at another club in Rocky Mount called Get It Girls. You ever work there?”

  Melinda looked at her a while longer before saying, “Naw. Ain’t never heard of that club and ain’t never been to Rocky Mount. Heard it’s a shithole of a town so I won’t be vacationing there anytime soon. Anyways--,” she said, holding graffiti tipped nails up. “You just stay out of my way, don’t fuck wit none of my customers and you and me’ll be all right.”

  “Damn, Melinda!” a petite girl with a pink feather boa draped around her neck said. “Why you gotta be so nasty? She ain’t done nothin’ to you.”

  “Yeah, not yet,” Melinda said, grimacing. “But I know how these new bitches are always trying to move in on somebody customers.”

  She was glaring at one girl in particular while she said this, a small-waisted, large breasted girl who was returning her glare with equal ferocity. The two held a silent pissing contest until Peaches intervened.

  “I ain’t tryin’ to ‘cause no troubles, Melinda. Just tryin’ to pull my shift and go home, okay?” Peaches said, holding her hands up in an uncustomary conciliatory gesture when really all she wanted to do was smack the scowl off Gina’s face.

  “Yeah, well, just stay out of my way and I’ll stay out of yours,” she growled, strutting out, the scent of cheap perfume trailing in her wake.

  And with that, her tour of Satin Doll’s came to an end.

  **

  By the end of that first night, Peaches was three hundred dollars richer, ten lap dances closer to being a real stripper, and had feet so sore she limped instead of walked her way to her car.

  That first lap dance had been the hardest. Harder even than dancing in the private room because of its relative intimacy and proximity.

  Using one of the tricks she had learned in a college theater class; she role played, pretending as if the strange guy greedily ogling her bared tits was Stick as opposed to an unattractive middle aged man whose hard-on she felt the moment her thighs were between his.

  After that first dance, walking away with thirty dollars in Satin Doll’s currency tucked in her thong—the option to go completely nude one which she readily turned down—she felt her confidence grow.

  By the close of the evening, though still not completely comfortable, the money she had earned spoke volumes to her desirability and competence as a dancer.

  She could see how girls grew addicted to the lifestyle. Quick money, men constantly wanting you, willing to do anything to get at you, and short hours. Peaches firmly reminded herself she was here for one reason and one reason only, to discover if this club was where Lenny had met his end.

  **

  It was finally over. She had made it through her first night. She hadn’t had the presence of mind to bring a comfortable pair of slippers or flip-flops like all the other girls. She wouldn’t make the same mistake tomorrow.

  “Hey, Paula?” Peaches asked, slipping back into her dress and high heels.

  “Yes?” The pink feather boa from earlier was gone. In its place was a Winston Salem State University sweatshirt and a pair of black leggings.

  “Got a quick question for you. Did you know this guy?” Peaches asked, slipping the picture of Lenny out of her purse.

  Paula looked at it for a moment, then shook her head. “I didn’t know him. But I’ve seen him before. Think he was one of Mooney’s regulars. I heard he was dead.”

  “He is,” Peaches said, somberly.

  “Why are you askin’ about him then?” she asked, pulling her silky black wig off and revealing a head full of short, reddish colored dreads.

  “His wife is my neighbor,” she said, scrambling to come up with a passable lie. “She knew I was comin’ to work at her husband’s favorite strip club. And she just wanted to know what her husbands last days were like. Wanted to make sure he had a good time.”

  “That’s…liberal,” Paula said, surprised. “Most women wouldn’t approve of their husbands coming to a strip club at all and here she is wanting to make sure his last days were good ones. It’s weird, but sorta sweet.”

  “Ain’t it,” Peaches asked, thinking of Cynthia’s menacing demeanor and nearly choking on the lie.

  “Well, Mooney’s right there,” she said, pointing over Peaches shoulder. “She can tell you anything you need to know.”

  She turned around. It was the fuck bunny, Melinda.

  “But I thought her name was Melinda?” Peaches asked, perplexed.

  “It is. But her nickname is Mooney. Good luck with that,” she muttered, flicking eyes filled with dislike in Mooney’s direction. “See you tomorrow.” The girl picked up a large leather satchel and left.

  Shit.

  Mustering up her courage, she tentatively advanced on Mooney. She was currently filing her claws and radiating hateful vibes. A pair of earbud’s were stuffed in her ears, so Peaches had to go so far as to tap her on the shoulder to get her attention.

  “Mooney?”

  “What the hell you want?” she snapped, pulling out an earbud. A baleful gaze bore into Peaches as though she were a bill collector or the repo man. “Can’t you see I’m busy? If this ain’t nothin’ important then leave me the fuck alone.”

  Gritting her teeth and plowing ahead, Peaches thrust the photo of Lenny under Mooney’s nose.

  “Do you know him?”

  Her eyes slid to the picture, then she shoved her hand away.

  “Why you wanna know?”

  “None of your fucking business,” Peaches hissed, tired of playing games with this low rent ho. In fact, she was tired of this whole dirty business. This woman was going to tell her what she wanted to know one way or another.

  “Who the hell you think you talkin’ to?” Mooney demanded, shocked. She began rising from her seat, but Peaches next words made her sink right back down.

  “I know you’re one of the ho’s this club pays to fuck in the basement,” Peaches said harshly. “Oh—don’t try to deny it--,” she said when Mooney opened her mouth to issue a denial. “I know for a fact that you fuck in the basement. I’ve seen the rooms myself. If you don’t tell me what I want to know right now, I’m gonna send the video I made of your little fuck session to the police.”

  It was a grand little lie and it worked.

  The woman’s mouth opened, then shut, then opened again as her eyes filled with recognition.

  “You that chick that was down in The Suites a week ago!” she said in astonishment. “I knew I’d seen you before!”

  “The Suites?” Peaches questioned.

  “That’s what these idiots that run the
place like to call ‘em,” she snorted, derisively.

  “And who runs this place?”

  “Oh, you don’t know?”

  “Evidently not,” Peaches said, impatiently.

  “Well, join the club,” she said, sarcastically. “Don’t nobody know who runs this place. They keep that info very hush-hush.”

  “And why is that?”

  “How the fuck should I know?” she said, regaining her momentum as well as her nasty attitude.

  “Do you know this guy or not?” Peaches asked, a dangerous glint in her eye.

  Mooney eyed Peaches for a long moment, wisely deciding to answer her inquiry.

  “He was one of my regulars,” she said, breathing noisily. “Not down in The Suites. He couldn’t normally afford that. But upstairs? Used to see him every Friday like clockwork.”

  “What do you mean? Normally?” Peaches asked.

  “I mean he came into a little cash. Least that’s what he bragged to me,” she said, lighting a cigarette and leaning back in her seat as she took a drag and exhaled.

  “Do you know how much?” Peaches wouldn’t put it past this mean piece of work to rob a man using nothing more than a stiletto and that sharp edged tongue.

  “Nah. He didn’t tell me that. Nigga probably was lyin’ anyway,” she said, rolling her eyes and waving her cigarette around. “Most of these nigga’s do. They come up in here rainin’ they entire weeks paychecks on bitches. Go home broke to they wives.”

  “When was the last time you saw him?”

  “A few nights before the police found him. He paid for thirty minutes with me down in The Suites.” Surprisingly, her voice had become somber. If Peaches didn’t know better she would’ve thought his death had actually affected the harpy. “I ain’t really like him. But he didn’t deserve to get killed like that. Some sad shit.”

  “Did you tell the police any of this?”

  “The police?” She looked surprised.

  “Yes. They did come here, didn’t they?”

  “If they did, they ain’t never come and talk to me,” she said, shaking her head.

  Unbelievable! The police didn’t even bother coming down to what may have been the last place Lenny had visited before he was found murdered? But maybe she was jumping to conclusions. Maybe the police had come but hadn’t spoken to Mooney. Perhaps management had arranged who the police would talk to in order to keep them out of the basement and above suspicion.