Thursday, April 14, 2016

Vradin, Chapter Two

I don't think that Ladies Night is a typical strip club. For one, it's the only one I worked at, and the women I worked with thought it was a step above some of the other clubs, but that was because Joe was obsessed with staying on the good side of the military police. As far as I can tell, there is no way to separate strippers and drug dealers as a whole. The same forces that drive women into stripping drive people into drugging and other less legal activities. Jody was a rare bird in that she was a functional alcoholic and no worse. When Joe caught any of his staff drugging they were out, don't bother coming back. The same went for whoring. He ran a strip club, it was a legit business, and he was adamant about keeping the club's reputation on the up and up.

Also unlike most of the clubs in the area, the strippers were employees, not contractors. In a lot of the other clubs a stripper paid the owner a flat fee for use of the facilities, agreed to abide by the law and maybe a few extra facility rules, and she kept anything over and above the facility fee. The owners charged cover fees to the clients and let the strippers know when they could show up. Some of the other clubs included rules about how much the strippers could charge for a lap dance, but that wasn't an across the board type of thing. A lot of the strippers worked two or three clubs and tried to make a mobile fan base, but few succeeded.

Joe was a bit of a control freak and, like I said, he wanted Ladies Night to have a premo rep. He employed the strippers along with the wait staff, held them to a schedule, and had some kind of commission system going for the lap dances. If he ran a special, it didn't change how much the strippers got paid, and he could also have more control about how and when and how much the ladies danced on the stage.

Stage tips were usually mediocre and most of the ladies resented the time away from the lap dances, which were the money makers for them. I was never clear if it was a state law or a county law, but full nudity was a no-no. Joe took that to mean that the performance needed to be stepped up. When the ladies took the stage, they really had to dance, not just grind around the poles and wiggle their chests and hips in the clients' faces. Ladies Night was very nearly a burlesque venue, but the shirts and the pants (though not the panties) came off during the performances and the ladies came down from the stage to give private dances in the VIP lounge.

Jody had wanted to be a ballerina. It was about the only thing her mother had encouraged her to strive for. She was fourteen when her father decided that he was wasting his hard earned money on the dance classes. She loved the stage time, and loved even more the fact that it pissed her father off.

I could empathize. My mom had bailed on us when I was a baby and Dad, well, he was about as loving as a turtle. Looking back, that's probably a pretty apt description of him, too. It was like he had no clue what to do with me so he pawned me off on his girlfriends, Mama Lu, and my step mother. It came time for me to look at college and I came to him with my FAFSA (Federal Application for Financial Student Aid) which is only the foundational document for getting any financial aid for college. He refused to provide his financial information. I asked if he was paying for everything and he said that he had worked his way through college so I could do the same.

I rolled my eyes, found the classifieds in the newspaper and answered an ad for "drink servers". I didn't realize that I was applying to a strip club until half way through the interview, and by then I felt too embarrassed to make a huge deal of it. Joe needed someone that night and the promise of the cash to be made was enough for me to give it a try.

Oh, another departure from a lot of the local clubs: Joe actually had a uniform for the wait staff instead of just a "dress slutty" code. We wore low rise short shorts, daisy duke style, in black denim and very white (the better to glow in the black lights used throughout the club), nearly a sports bra style top with a little metal band between the breasts to show off cleavage. The shirts had enough built in support for even the ladies with, shall we say, a surplus of natural endowments to fore go a bra. That was a good thing because the material was not-quite sheer enough to show flesh, but it did show any major color differences underneath. We were encouraged to wear platform heels, but I found a pair of kick ass lace up boots that went nearly to the hem of my shorts. Joe had taken a long, thoughtful look and then okayed them for the entire staff. I won't argue that getting more clothing on had been great, but the biggest bonus was that they were damned comfortable to walk in.

While the waitressing wasn't that bad, I was ready to keep looking. Then Dad started harping on how I should be in college and it turned into a huge blow up. The look on his face when I told him where I was working, well, as my step mom Isabel likes to say, you can push me around right up until you can't. Dad hit my can't-push point.

Jody was already working at the club. We hit it off talking over books, and when the next big blow up with my dad came around she offered me a spot on her couch. We found out we worked pretty well as roomies, found happier accommodations, and I've been saving for university tuition ever since. My dad may think I'm not going to try for anything more than cocktail waitress at a strip club, but I am taking classes at Tacoma Community College and one day I will have my engineering degree.

I just didn't plan on telling him about it until it was time to show up for the graduation ceremony.

. . .

That Saturday, Jody was up on stage (still mostly clothed) when Carl, Jimmy, Nate and two new faces came in. I had managed to stake out a reserved sign for the boys' favorite table despite the growing press, and I met the fellas a few feet into the club.

"Hey, guys! You're just in time! Sylvie's been grumbling about holding up one of her favorite tables. A coke for Carl, Sprite for Jimmy, Arnold Palmer for Nate and what would you two fellas like?"

After getting drink orders, I swung by the drink station I thought of as the "on stage" station (because it was in full view of the clients), got their drinks and came back. The boys always tipped well, but more than that they were generally pleasant people. I rarely had to call on my waitressing mantra with them, and smiling and giving the pleasant face Joe demanded of all his employees was more natural with them.

Carl was putting his phone back in his breast pocket when I showed up. "Hey, Clare Bear! Looks like we'll need a coffee, black, too in just a minute. So how you doing?"

"Not too shabby. Things go well for you in Seattle?" I asked.

One of the two new guys, Blake, stilled and shot a grumbly look at Carl, who just said, "Eh, like I said, when Tank calls, you answer. He didn't say what you all were talking about when I met up with him, though."

At that, we had the attention of the whole table.

I was not going to answer Carl's indirect question, however much I could tell he wanted me to so I gave them all something else to chew on. "You know, I'm not sure why he was playing metro-metro man, but he managed to fool Neveah into thinking he's gay."

Jimmy chimed in at that point. "Metro-metro man? Tank?"

I shrugged. "Very dapper, almost like a clothes horse kind of put together, lots of wrist and hip action, very metro-sexual. Throw in a weirdly pissy attitude, well, yeah, if I hadn't caught the way his gaze kept focusing below our chins I would have totally agreed with Neveah."

The other new guy, Mike, face palmed and said, "Good Lord. He was meeting Silas, wasn't he?"

Carl sucked in his lower lip and didn't say anything.

Before the silence could get too awkward, I asked, "For that coffee, decaf or wake me up? I'll need to start a pot brewing either way, so it'll be a little bit."

"Full octane will be great, actually," Carl answered. As I turned to get that started he reached over and caught me in a one armed hug around the hips. His fingers brushed around my back pocket so I knew he was sliding me a tip. "You like that whole new agey stuff that was in that shop?"

I shrugged. "Way more Neveah's tastes. She complains that I live in a man cave, but I never did get the whole thing with fancy decorating. I mean, I totally like what she does with the common spaces in our apartment, but I just don't have the eye for that, you know?" With a wiggle and a swivel, I slid out of Carl's semi embrace and headed for the drink station again.

I made another two circuits of the room before the coffee was done. I added a little cold water to the mug before adding the hot and, in my opinion, super strong brew on top of that. Despite Carl's ordering the coffee black I added the standard creamer and sweetener tote because Joe would have a fit if he saw me without them. Control freak, and very much about the details. Besides, Carl was ordering for someone I didn't know. Better safe with extra stuff than having a perturbed client waiting for to doctor up his coffee. I added another round of drinks for the guys. Carl was usually ready for a second coke by now, any ways.

The new fella was sitting facing away from me as I came up to the table. He had short brown hair and was wearing a black leather biker jacket. He was slim and had good posture. The fellas were in conversation when I got there so I just started switching out empties for fulls as I worked my way around. When I reached the side of the new guy I asked, "Were you the one wanting coffee?"

The table went quiet. Tank, sans fancy glasses, looked up at me. I nearly bobbled the tray, but managed to recover before I did more than spill a little from the remaining fulls. "Thank you, yes," he said.

Suddenly feeling both obscenely under dressed and clumsy as a newborn colt, I set the coffee down beside him along with the creamer kit and moved around to the next fella, who happened to be Carl.

"Hey, Clare Bear, I forgot what it was you said Tank was looking like the other day?" Carl asked with mock innocence.

I smiled and switched out the drinks. "I'm sure you'll remember soon enough. Has Alissa been over yet? While she's got a particular fondness for Davy, I'm sure she'd appreciate any consolation you care to show her."

Carl choked on a laugh. Alissa did like Davy quite a bit, but she also loved men in general. Carl's crew were stand up guys and they enjoyed being at the center of a certain competition between the ladies of Ladies Night. "I'm sure she would, too." He gave me his one armed hug with concealed tipping maneuver again. I finished switching out the empties for fulls and was off, with tips from Nate and Blake as well.

I never looked at the tips while I was working. Luann, my first step mom, her family had been in the restaurant business for generations, and one of the pieces of advice that always stuck with me from her was, "You can't count your tips on the clock and give good service. Focus on the job at hand or go home." She usually told me that about homework, but the idea was the same: focusing on the reward made it a lot harder to do the work to get that reward. Besides, Joe never asked for a tip count. Everyone in the club made minimum wage on the books. Tips were up to us to manage and report.

I made another circuit of the room before I cycled back to the back stage drink station. Seeing as there was hardly room in our uniforms for ourselves, let alone a surplus of tips, Joe encouraged us to get little locking tip boxes and to mark them up so that it was easy to see at a glance whose tip box was whose. The strippers carried around these cute little purses that served the same purpose.

We got to carry our tip boxes on our trays with us because Joe didn't want to bother with providing a safe place to store them. Besides, some of the clients liked to have us bend over and watch as they gave us a dollar here and there. Yeah, that last bothered me. It was one of my idiosyncrasies that I hated showing off that I was getting tipped, so I waited until the relative privacy of the drink station to transfer tips from my pockets to my tip box. I didn't really look at what I was putting in there, but the box was getting full and I was only half way through my shift. I chewed my lip - on the inside, no need to muss my lipstick - while I considered, but there really wasn't much choice. I would have to make a quick trip to the bank on my lunch break or leave money in my car and hope no one would break into it.

I had a bad feeling about one of the new waitresses, Marie. She was constantly asking how much we made in tips and eying the tip boxes. Her boyfriend Anthony had come into the club a couple times so far, and he asked similar types of questions. There were rumors that he had served time for armed robbery. Being a boom Saturday, you had to be on Joe's shit list not to be working, and she had not made it there yet. Armed robbery was a lot worse than breaking into a car. Bank run it was.

On the next circuit I found Jody sitting in Carl's lap, Alissa making a cute moue at Tank, who was not letting her sit in his lap. "Nate looks like he could use a snuggle, don't you Nate?" Tank was saying as I swung by to check on drinks. I handed Jody an orange juice on auto pilot.

"I am a little chilled tonight, sugar. Think you could maybe warm me up a bit?" Nate asserted, laughing at himself. The man was a walking steam engine and Jody and I had teased him for it on more than one occasion. Alissa's gaze lingered on Tank as she swept over to Nate, but she was enough of a pro to go with the flow.

"Thanks, darling," Jody said to me, making sure that she gave Carl a very good look at her barely covered endowments as she twisted toward me.

I grinned back at her. "No worries, sweet thang." Looking around the table, I asked, "Anyone wanting a change up?"

Tank slid an arm around my hips, a la Carl's move, and slipped a tip in my front pocket. "I think we're all doing pretty well where we're at. But it looks like you're getting a bit chilled, too. Care for a warm up?" Somehow, the way he said that sounded both sexual and angry. There were guys who had said a lot worse, a lot raunchier, and a lot more blatant things to me in the year and a half I had been working at the club, but maybe it was that he had already scared me before tonight. I swiveled out of his half embrace and threw a shaky smile over my shoulder as I scurried off.

When I returned with refills Nate, Blake and Carl were missing. Jimmy and Mike were joking with each other while Tank watched them. I stayed as far out of his reach as I could and still do my job, but I was chanting my waitressing mantra in my head the entire time. "I am peace, grace and serenity. When the night is gone, I will remain and they too shall pass. A week from now, this will mean nothing to me." I had only ever had to step it up to my desperate endurance mantra once before, but Tank had shifted his attention from the crew to me and he was no less scary for all of his attempts at pleasantry than he had been at the Market. By the time I had no choice but to get into his arm's length, I was up to controlling my breathing and mentally chanting, "peace in, stress out, peace in, stress out". I'm not sure that it did my nerves any good that he just watched me like I was a strange puzzle he was dead set to figure out. He avoided touching me this time around, and I escaped from his orbit with a shaky sigh of relief.

I passed Jody and Carl on the way to the back stage drink station and let her know that I was leaving the club on my break.

"You'll be back, though, right?" she asked with a laugh. We had had more than one coworker take off in the middle of her shift.

I grinned back at her. "On a night this packed? Please give me some credit!"

Carl frowned in the general direction of my shirt. "You shouldn't be going out and about looking like that in this part of town, especially not alone."

"I do have a long coat," I said, smiling at him.

He frowned harder and clashed gazes with mine. "I'm not sure that's worse. I'll come with you."

Jody made a melting little coo and said, "That is soo sweet! Z girl, you have got to say yes or I'm giving you shit for the next week!"

I rolled my eyes at her but, like she said, Carl was a sweet guy and it would make me feel safer so I smiled and thanked Carl. "Thank you. I'll meet you out front in a moment." A stray thought made me shiver and I added, "Just please don't bring Tank. He kind of scares me."

Jody frowned at me. "Tank? That guy from the Market? Why would he be here?"

Carl and I both looked at her funny. "He's the new guy in the biker leathers," I said.

She looked up at Carl, who nodded back at her.

"But he's straight! The guy up in Seattle was a rude little gay piss ant!" Then she realized she had said that in front of said piss ant's friend, whom she happened to have a serious lust-on for.

Carl bellowed in laughter and ended up bent over braced on his knees. "Oh my lord! Oh, gods above! That's fucking priceless!" he finally gasped out, straightening with a huge grin stretching across his face. "Yeah, he was meeting up with a fella that deserved dealing with a 'rude little gay piss ant', and he's a bit ashamed that he took some of that frustration out in your direction. You have noticed that he's been trying to be very nice to you two tonight, right?"

Jody was still in obvious consternation, but I said, "He's just naturally very scary. See you out front?"

Carl nodded and headed back to his table with Jody trailing along.

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