Her name was Amethyst. At least while she was working.
But John wasn’t sure if she even knew what that stone was. “The prettiest one,” she retorted, in a sultry but firm tone that implied Amethyst didn’t want any more conversation about it. She groped at his crotch, in a general and haphazard motion that made him very aware that she was on the clock, doing her job. Might as well have been flipping burgers, “Order up. One dog, the usual fixins.”
Which is to say that John himself had lost interest. He stared off at the carpeted walls as she moved over him in the dim neon glow. He wanted to know her name, her real name. What she did outside of work, how she got through her day, what she hoped to do when the allure of her naked body no longer paid the utilities, which- he didn’t want to be a dick, but… that date was fast approaching if it hadn’t already expired.
She pressed her too-firm tits against him and gyrated up and down to the beat of the music – Britney Spears’ Gimmie More. John’s mind continued to wander – what was ol’ Britney up to? Vegas, he remembered reading somewhere? It didn’t matter. Neither did this. Amethyst spun around, rocked her powdered ass into his jeans. She put his hands on her thighs. “You like that baby?”
“Come on baby, you gotta want it.”
You gotta want it.
She stopped moving. “What?”
Shit, had he said that out loud? He’d pounded a pint of Early Times in the lot with Eddy before walking in, but he didn’t think he was feeling it that hard. “Sorry.”
“No. Not sorry. This is my fuckin job. If you don’t want it, don’t buy the dance, asshole.”
“Sorry, I came with a buddy, the 2 for one special. It’s not you, this just isn’t my thing. I’ll tip you, I’m sorry.”
“Whatever.” Amethyst picked up the polyester straps she’d been wearing as a top when they’d first walked in, and stomped off. Embarrassed and alone, John got up and slunk back to the main lounge.
He ordered a coke and waited for Eddy to return from his dance. Eddy had literally b-lined it to the back VIP area the moment they’d stepped in, John hadn’t seen him since. He felt like an idiot for buying into the hype, yet again – “You’re gonna love this place, bro. It’s the real deal.” Bullshit. Just Eddy with the hots for some girl candy, afraid to fly solo.
The music switched over, something newer, one of those songs that John recognized from being dragged to too many places like this, but couldn’t place the name. Had a good beat. He thought he heard Drake on the track, but he didn’t think it was a Drake song. The dancer on stage took to the pole and began to perform some acrobatic moves. This, John liked. This, he could appreciate. She was petite, slender up top, but packed it in the back. If Eddy was here, he would’ve texted a ‘peach emoji’ to John, then winked. “I told you this place was the best, bro!”
Her hair was long, platinum with strawberry streaks running through. At first he guessed it was a wig, but no, he could just make out some dark roots at the scalp when she twirled around. He wondered what the other women at the salon had thought when she ordered that color. Arched eyebrows? Hisses of “slut” and “whore” behind her back? Or maybe all these girls went to a special stripper hair place, talked shop and traded tips… Why the fuck was he thinking about this? John decided it was best not to look anymore, and focused on eating the ice out of his $12 soda.
He was on his last cube when he heard her voice. “Did you like my dance, baby?” Strawberry-Platinum was standing next to him, her fingers fluttering on his shoulder. John nodded. “You weren’t looking much, are you shy? Maybe we could go somewhere more private.”
Up close, she looked young, shady young, and John’s thoughts had already wandered to whether this place had a license. He politely declined, and caught her eyes dropping just a little. She must’ve thought he didn’t like her, had judged her body and passed. That wasn’t it at all. Man, he hated this joint. Where the fuck was Eddy…
A large man in a track suit walked over to him, and sat across the high-top table. “I need you to finish your drink and go,” he said.
“Is this about the dance?” John replied. “I’m sorry. I’m just waiting for my buddy to get out, and we’ll go, promise.”
“Look, we like to keep a certain vibe going here, and you threw off one of my girls – she’s back stage bitching a fit. Now I pass by another one, all sullen after spending a minute with you. You’re just… bad for business overall. So let’s hit the road, yeah?”
“Can I just wait here for a couple more minutes? I’ll tip everybody who walks by, all smiles, I swear.”
“So what do you want?”
“No, come on. Man to man. What do you want?”
John sighed, his politeness teetering into exasperation. “I want to meet a beautiful girl, who falls in love with me.”
“At Club 87?”
“Dude I don’t know, sure.”
The big man laughed. “Get the fuck out.”
John stepped outside into the chill of the late night air. Club 87 was located in a rundown industrial district of San Fernando, and there were virtually no cars on the road at this hour. He looked around for a convenience store or somewhere to kill time, but all the buildings were dark – anything and anywhere of value was chained up and wrapped in barbed wire, the rest crumbling behind plywood and graffiti. Aside from the low thumping bass of the music inside, all was quiet.
Come on, Eddy. He’d been gone a solid twenty minutes now, surely he’d either gotten his rocks off or come up for air. John wished he’d ubered instead of riding with Eddy, but then again, as he idly flipped open the app, there weren’t any drivers for miles. He texted Eddy:
“i’m outside. we gotta go. can hit another spot on the way home if you want. but gotta go. hurry up.”
He leaned back against the club’s slab concrete wall and waited, looking down the street as a purple BMW SUV pulled up along the front entrance, and three men got out, laughing and tripping over each other, having the time of their lives. One of them absently flicked a cigarette, and it hit John’s jeans. He noticed, and in a thick Armenian accent, waived a reluctant, “Sorry, bro” before disappearing inside.
John kicked the cigarette away, and watched the glow of the ember as the tobacco burned away into the night. No one had bothered to pick up the trash on this sidewalk in decades, probably some real antiques tied up in all the weeds bursting among the cracks – might as well have been in the fucking wilderness. He decided to take a walk around the block, try and get out of his own head.
Why was he here? Because it’s that one day. That one day a year where you’re supposed to live a little, do something ‘fun.’ But he wasn’t having any fun. Those Armenians were having fun, that’s what fun looked like. He, John, was miserable, and he was making everyone around him miserable. The Midas of Misery. That asshole in the track suit was right, he was bad for business.
John pulled out his phone again – to Eddy: “you comin or what?” He saw the little dots of a reply-in-progress as he rounded the corner, returning to the club, but then nothing. This was bullshit. John stormed back inside.
The lounge had a new energy, emanating from the far corner where two of the Armenian Beemer Bros had set themselves up in a booth. They were pouring liquor from flasks into their sodas, and not being shy about it either. No one seemed to care. John didn’t see Eddy. He made for the private dance rooms. The bouncer blocked him with a stiff arm. “Dances only.”
“Yeah, I know, but my friend is back here, it’s been a good thirty minutes, and I just want to see if he’s still there, maybe nodded off, I don’t know.”
“Ain’t nobody sleeping back here man.”
“Can I just walk down the hall and ask his name? He drove and… my medication is in his car.”
“Great.” John turned around and looked over the girls working the floor. He spotted the platinum blonde, the poor thing was still trying to work the tables. He slipped into her sight line and waived her over. Her name was Celestia. She asked for his. “Midas.” Have a little fun, why not. That was all the intro needed, and they were back at the VIP section. John paid the fee.
When they arrived in their booth, he “confessed” to Celestia that he was just having a hard time and didn’t want to be out there alone, but she could take a break or something and he would leave at the end of the song. It almost backfired, as Celestia was all too willing to sit with him and let him vent his feelings- he should’ve done this from the start, next time… but right now she was just looking at him, soft doe eyes, ready to listen. He decided to drop the games and straight up tell her: his concern for Eddy had reached an amber-alert level, and John was pretty sure he was back here. “No problem, we can walk the hall and ‘accidentally’ choose an occupied room or two, my mistake.” This girl was awesome, should change her name to Angel.
She took his hand and led him deeper down the hallway. Nikki Minaj’s Chun-Li thumped from the main lounge. They’d investigated two empty rooms and one blow job in-progress when they heard the voices. A man and a woman, coming from the far cubby.
“No, baby, this isn’t funny.” she sounded like a nice version of… Amethyst. John heard a slap.
“It’s fucking hilarious. Get video this time.” The Armenian.
John stepped in front of Celestia, then plied his fingers between the curtains, trying to sneak a look. There, sitting comatose against the center of the bench, was Eddy. Amethyst was on the left, holding up some gaudy gucci encased iphone, camera app open. The Armenian was on the right, facing the wall and fixing his belt. He looked over, “ready?” Before she could answer, bam! his penis slapped against Eddy’s face, sliding all over it, over the eyes around the lips. John ripped open the curtains!
“Get off my friend!”
“What the Fuck!” The Armenian charged John, pants low on his hips, dick swinging in the wind. But the wardrobe issue tied him up a bit, and John was able to dodge. Celestia backed him up with a good kick into the Armenian’s flank, and sent the man stumbling sideways, his pants slipping down below his knees and tripping him up. He fell hard with a good thud to his head, and the ensuing pain became his immediate focus as he pressed his hands to his temples and moaned. He tried to get up again but staggered even on his knees and gave up. John looked back into the cubby.
Amethyst was frozen before him. “What happened to him?” John inquired, pointing to Eddy.
“You’re supposed to be fucking outta here.” and with that, she cut by him, giving Celestia a quick “bitch,” before stiff arming her way into the girls’ dressing room.
“Is there a back door I can use to get him out?” John asked.
Celestia pointed. “Yeah, end of the hall.”
“Great.” John hoisted Eddy up over his shoulder, huffing under the weight. He staggered his cargo down the hall and out the rear exit, Celestia holding the door for them.
Outside, John got his bearings, and made for Eddy’s car. He slung Eddy to the side of the vehicle, and Eddy slumped to the ground. John felt around in Eddy’s pockets for the keys. Nothing. No wallet either. He’d been drugged and robbed. How bad, John had no idea. But they were stuck for the moment. John carefully leaned Eddy back against the car letting his head gently loll to the side, and looked back toward the club. He’d have to go in, one more time. And that’s when he noticed Celestia was still standing by the back door, waiving him over. John hurried back to her.
“His keys and wallet are gone.”
“Yeah I know.”
Some loud noise from the front entrance around the corner interrupted them. The Armenians.
“Come with me.” Celestia pulled him inside. She led him to the first available cubby, and flicked on a red light from some unseen switch hidden behind the carpet on the wall. “How much cash do you have?”
“I am not up for a dance right now,” John replied.
“No, I know, we just need to keep you hidden for a sec.” She pointed up at the lamp. “This light is for… special dances, no one will bother us while it’s on, but I need to give the VIP bouncer a tip or he’ll get suspicious.”
John pulled out his wallet. He had $220 left of the $300 he’s taken out for the night. Celestia took it all. “Are you kidding me!” John hoarsely whispered. She shushed him and disappeared. He waited another moment. If she didn’t return, if she’d just robbed him too, no one would have to come after him, he’d beat the shit out of himself…
But the curtain fluttered and she was back before him. “Okay. We’ve got some time.”
John just sat there for a moment. His heart was thundering in his chest. He hadn’t been in a moment like this in a long time, it was as if years of unused adrenaline were coursing through him all at once. Celestia sat beside him, brought her hand up and lightly scratched the back of his neck. It was nice. But he had to figure out how to get the keys and escape. “What’s going on here?” he whispered.
“Look, club 87 isn’t just a strip club. It’s a club. Like with members. They let randoms in for some extra cash, but if they don’t like you, or if they just want a laugh, they fuck with you. Did you guys do anything weird?”
“I don’t know about Eddy, everything seemed fine when we came in. He got a dance, then I got one from that Amethyst, and, it wasn’t great and she got all upset. Then some big guy told me to leave. I came back in because Eddy’s my ride.”
“Oh, yeah. Her and Orlando, the big guy, they’re fucking. She thinks it means she shouldn’t have to work anymore. He doesn’t.”
“But what’s that got to do with Eddy?”
“Did you guys come two-for-one?”
“That’s like the bait. They’re assholes.” Her arm dropped from his neck. “I hate it here.”
John looked down, too. He hoped Eddy was alright… their car was packed in with several others, so he should be fairly out of sight… John heard Celsetia sniffle.
“Hey! don’t cry, please don’t cry.” She nodded, seemed to get it together a little. “You’re gorgeous, you could go somewhere else, right? I know a ton of places that would die to have you on their roster.”
“It’s a long story. But the short ending is, they’d just find me and fuck my shit up at another place. And I think Orlando wants to fuck me when he’s done with Amethyst.”
“How do you know?”
“He told me. It’s a little better when you’re with him.”
“Damn. But what about, when… you’re on the outs, like her?”
“I don’t know. They got another place in Korea Town where most of the girls go- some kind of karaoke bar, but I heard its mostly just gang-bangs with asian businessmen.”
“We gotta get you out of here.”
“To where? They hold my money, my credit is shit, I don’t really know anybody outside of the club, I don’t know how long it might take to be a waitress or some shit… It’s fine.”
“This is not fine. Look, seriously, you could stay with me. No funny business, I just wanna help. – We get these fuckin keys back, and we’ll get outta here and you can figure something else out, take your time. This,” John gestured at the dim walls around them, “is a dead end, and I’m not gonna let that happen to you.”
She pulled away. “You don’t even know me. I’m not your damsel in distress, you don’t get to save me, and then fuck me, and then, whatever your little happily ever after vision is, where I’m your perfect little house wife or some shit.”
“It’s not about that, I just wanna help.”
“It’s always about that.”
“Fine,” he countered. “But maybe, what you’re doing right now, sticking your neck out for me, no reward, there’s more in there than just a pretty face and a sexy pole routine. So just, don’t be afraid to accept a real chance at a way out of this. I owe you. This is not a con to get in your pants.”
Celestia didn’t reply. She just looked at John, deep in the eyes, trying to read him. He looked back at her, willing her to take the leap. Then she kissed him, full on the lips, then pulled back. “Your serious.” It wasn’t a question. John nodded. He’d never been more serious about anything. Her eyes began to water. He brushed away the tear. She kissed him again, hard. He kissed back, tongues intertwining, overwhelmed by the emotional release she was sharing.
She pressed her body into him. He wrapped his fingers around her waist, caressing her lower back. She lifted her head and let him nuzzle her neck, kissing up to her ear before they locked lips again, their bodies slowly sliding down the bench, her on top of him. She unzipped his jeans, pulled out his cock, and… from some sight unseen place, procured a condom and slipped it over. Then he was inside her. And a moment of stillness. Their heads apart, hips locked together, sweating and staring into each others’ eyes. John reached one hand up to the back of Celestia’s neck, and pulled her back to him. Their lips locked, and they made love. When it was over, he just held her for a moment, stroking her hair as her cheek nestled on his chest, their breathing in rhythm. Then she looked up to him. It was the same look from mere minutes ago, yet something different in the eyes.
“We need to get those keys,” she said. Right. He had forgotten, forgotten everything, as if the entire universe had been pulled into an orbit of two, nothing else existing, and now suddenly space and time had blasted back out to the harsh reality. The magical moment sealing their fates together was over, and ahead lie only the consequences. “I’ll go look, you stay here,” she said as she fixed her thong, then vanished through the curtain.
John stretched his eyes, then blinked. He had to get sharp, and be quick about it. He got his pants zipped up and tried to smooth himself down. Her scent was all over him. He liked it, and he didn’t. Celestia was amazing, but the strong overtones of… the job. He wondered what she really smelled like.
Focus. If she got the keys, they could escape pretty easy. The car was parked facing the street, and it was only a few blocks to the highway. If Eddy was seriously out, they’d get him to the hospital. The 405 interchange was just south, they could get him to UCLA. Hopefully though, it was just a Roofie, and he could sleep it off at John’s place. Give Eddy the couch, Celestia the bed, and he’d sleep on the floor – he wanted to give her some space, this was gonna be a lot for her. He felt good good about the plan. Tomorrow, he’d call his cousin in Redondo, see if he couldn’t get Celestia a job there… that reminded him, he really needed to get her real name.
But if she couldn’t get the keys… He waited. Didn’t hear anything outside. In fact, there wasn’t even any music…
John peeked out of the cubby into the hall. No sight or sound of movement from the other vestibules. But he did pick up some quiet conversation from the main lounge- people out there. Men. John eased forward. The VIP bouncer had left his perch. The lights were off in the lounge- good for cover, but bad overall. He took a quiet step out. The hushed voices stopped. silence. The red light from his cubby went out, he was plunged into darkness.
Then… a slow clap. “My man.” The lights faded back on. Standing before him, right as rain, was Eddy, his big toothy grin stretching from ear to ear. “Ha ha! You did it!” John’s knees felt weak. He looked around. The Armenians were all still sitting in the corner, drinking. The one he scrapped with had a small piece of gauze taped to his forehead. He raised his drink to John, then returned attention to his friends. Amethyst and some of the other girls were sitting casually at the bar, counting tips.
“What’s going on?”
“What’s going on is HAPPY FUCKING BIRTHDAY, bro!” Eddy threw and arm around him, guiding John back to their high top table. “I told you this place was the best!”
They took a seat, two whiskeys appeared before them. “Eddy, I just pulled you out of a vestibule, comatose with some guy slapping his dick in your face.”
Eddy’s grin dipped a little as he cleared his throat. “Yeah, that was a little bit of improv I wasn’t exactly cool with, but they said we had to do something to get your blood fuckin’ pumpin’ man.” Eddy mimicked John’s normal lumpy demeanor. “You know, you’re a tough one to crack!” He took a deep sip of his drink, chomped a few ice cubes. “But worth it, bro.”
“This was all a setup??”
Eddy shrugged, a little guilty hearing the undertone of hurt in John’s voice. “Club 87, always delivers. That’s their hook, that’s why people drive all the way out to San Ferna-fuckin-death-row to come here.” He took another sip. “But it ain’t cheap.”
“I’m not gettin my $220 back, am I.”
“Nooooo, no. And put a seven-x multiplier on that for what I paid.”
“Holy shit. Just to get me laid?”
“Dude. No. It’s the two-for-one special.”
“Oh, wow, so… who did you bang?”
“Bro. The two.” He wagged his finger back and forth between them. “For one.” Pointed to the hallway, where Celestia was emerging. “Special.”
There was a tightness in John’s chest. He tried to nod through it. This was probably the most generous thing Eddy had ever done in his life. And really, it all made more sense this way.
“Aw, don’t get sad, bro. It’s all in good fun.” He slapped John on the shoulder. “Amethyst is a genius, man.”
“Amethyst??” John almost spat his drink.
“Yeah man, mastermind.” He tapped his forehead. “She reads everybody like a tabloid magazine, knows your darkest shit right off the bat.” John looked over at her. As he now saw it, Amethyst wasn’t counting money with the girls, she was counting money for them, with Celestia right there in line. She must’ve felt his eyes on her, because she looked up. Gave him a casual smile. A casual knife, right in his chest. It had all been a show.
John couldn’t lie though, with the disappointment, came a swell of relief. he could go home, and live his normal life. boring, but safe. And this was a pretty cool story.
Eddy finished his drink and tapped John on the shoulder. “Come on, let’s go get some pancakes, I’m starving.”
As they exited, Eddy turned to look back at the Club. “I’m gonna miss this place.”
“What’d you mean?” John asked.
“Eh, they got rules. You get to come once for yourself, once on a two-for. After that, they gotta like you and you can apply to be a member, but… that’s too much work.”
“Meaning they didn’t like you, huh?”
“Fuck you. They loved me in there, I was born to act, man, think I missed my calling.” John just shook his head.
– – – – –
Celestia sat in front of her mirror, wearing yoga pants and a Pretenders’ t-shirt, wiping the makeup off her face, and leaning in to examine a few new pimples that had appeared. This foundation was terrible on her skin. One of the other girls, Amber, stopped by on her way out. “Quite a set you had tonight, huh?”
Celestia shrugged, “He was just wound up, I think it’d been a while.”
“Uh huh, you might want a take one of these.” she placed a small pill on Celestia’s vanity. “Bet he blew a big load right through these shitty condoms they give us. One time, I was blowin this guy, and, swear on my mother, it’d been so long, he shot the whole rubber into my throat.”
“Christie!” Amethyst’s voice interrupted from the office, “Come in here, please.”
Amber gave Celestia a look. “uh oh, good luck.” and she zipped out.
Celestia entered the office, where Amethyst sat behind a large desk, filing cabinets to the left, Big poster of Hawaii behind her. To the right, was a large flat screen TV, the display criss-crossed with various camera feeds from the club. Orlando lounged on a large black leather sofa beside Celestia. Amethyst held the remote in her hand. Without looking up she pressed a button, filling the TV with the live feed of “Vestibule 7”. “Do I need to rewind this?”
Celestia looked down. “No.”
“What rule did you break?”
“The big one.”
Amethyst pressed another button, and the feed switched to a bright and noisy feed of the VIP hallway.
“And what if I play back the infra-red camera?”
“You didn’t know we had an infra-red camera.” Celestia did not. “Is that why you turned the red light off, hoping no one would see you standing behind your John, holding the keys to his buddy’s car, ready to go?”
“No, I… I just… didn’t know how far we were supposed to play the story. That’s all.”
“Well Christie, I’m just gonna cut this short and say I don’t believe you.” She finished writing in her ledger, and looked up at Celestia. “And if that little wet noodle of a knight comes back here looking for you or tries anything…” She turned her head to Orlando.
“We’ll have to take care of it,” he finished with a shrug.
“He won’t.” Celestia assured them, “He just needed to get laid.”
“Wonderful,” Amethyst responded.
Celestia lingered. “Can I get my tip out.” Orlando shook his head solemnly as Amethyst answered. “Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow. But rest up. You got a divorce party coming in tomorrow, one of those… ”
“UFC fighter.” Orlando warned, “could get physical.”
“Yeah, get your boys in shape, too,” Amethyst responded.
They both looked back at Celestia like she should be gone already. She nodded, hoping her internal shakes weren’t visible, and departed.
– – – – –
As they took to the highway in the car, Eddy continued regaling his incredible performance. “The only thing, you know, I don’t like, is that they don’t let you kiss, you know?” John froze, but Eddy paid no mind. “For that kinda money, you should be able to play a little tonsil hockey, all I’m saying.” He began to recycle his story, a little grander this time, but John’s attention was now fixated in the rearview mirror, watching the signs for San Fernando shrink into the distance behind them.