The black Mercedes-Benz sedan pulled into the last spot at the far end of the lot. The rest of the cars sleeping in the lot were dark and covered in a light mist, reflecting the golden streetlamps that overlooked the slick street. Damien slowly got out of his car. His worn dark dress shoes with barely any shine or sole left planted on the pavement as he pulled himself up, his body weak with fatigue. He hadn’t had proper sleep in months.
He shut the door and leaned against the side of the car, lifting a cigarette to his mouth and lighting it. Damien stood under the canopy that extended over the top of the lot, out of the rain, and inhaled the filtered ash. His lungs felt full, cool almost, as he filled them and exhaled slowly out his crooked nose. He could barely feel the cigarette in his huge calloused hands as he brought it up to his lips, thinking of the many things his hands had touched over the last forty-six years. Hammers, car keys, forks, knives, women, books, guns. “Tools.”
He looked across the street to the illuminated neon pink and white sign that read “Stilettos Gentlemen’s Club.” It was the only thing aside from streetlamps that offered any light since all the neighboring apartments would be asleep at three in the morning. Damien knew that this particular place would stay open twenty-four hours for certain customers.
He flicked his cigarette to the ground and crushed the little stick under his shoe, twisting back and forth. He walked heavily across the glistening pavement. He didn’t work out much anymore, but the leftover muscle he did have from his younger days still remained, making his six foot four frame seem that much bigger, but it still couldn’t help the ache he felt in his knees.
As he approached the front of the establishment, he eyed the two men standing at the door. One, tall, clean cut, creased all black clothing, former military. He was in his late twenties, beginning the real “man” chapters in his life. The other, a sleazy looking kid with shaggy hair, wrinkled clothes, and his back turned most of the time, trying to hide his constant need of a cigarette from his bosses, was early twenties and took this job because he thought he’d get to see from free tits, not knowing he would be sitting at the front door all night watching cars pass and johns walk in.
As Damien approached, the clean cut man eyed him. But as Damien approached the door, the man simply nodded. The kid looked up at Damien and said, “that’s twenty bucks there big guy,” and exhaled his charred cigarette cloud in Damien’s face, more arrogant than intentional. Damien gritted his teeth and clenched his jaw, looking over to the clean cut man. The man was staring daggers at his partner, displeased with his lack of courtesy for their noted guest. The kid’s expression transformed from arrogance to confusion, suddenly unsure of who he was confronted with, seeing as his partner and the tall man in the charcoal knew something he didn’t. Damien loosened his fist, remembering a promise he had made, and stepped passed the young kid, nudging his shoulder as he walked through the door.
He walked through the blackout curtain and was hit by a combination of perfumes and the odors of booze and cigarettes. The heavy bass music thumped through the floor, masking the transmission of sweet nothings and lustful wishes while allowing for some hidden freedoms taken by patrons and their secrets. Dark walls, some with mirrors reflecting multiple angles, surrounded the dim room as purple, pink, red, and other various warm color lights danced around the chairs, tables, and stages, glistening off of the silver poles that were elevated and carefully placed throughout. Beautiful women with glitter showered on their trim bodies floated from table to table, enticing the gentlemen and singing their songs. Others put on shows on the various stages, pressing out their curves and displaying their most attractive assets. Various men and a few women watched in awe, worshipping the bodies of those in front of them.
Damien walked passed the bar on his right and waved his hand at the young black-haired bartender with the scar that was commonly mistaken as a dimple who smiled as she saw him walk in. Tracy handed Damien his favorite drink, a vodka tonic, something he picked up from his grandmother.
“How’ve you been, sweetie? Haven’t seen you around here in a while,” said Tracy as she leaned across the bar, her perky tasseled breasts squished up against the edge.
“I retired a while back,” Damien said. “I tried to do some traveling for a bit, get my mind off things,” he said, rolling his wedding band around his finger anxiously, his stomach sinking.
Tracy’s bright smile sunk into a frown as her brow furrowed. “I heard about Karen. I’m so sorry, Damie, I’m sure she was a great woman,” said Tracy, reaching her hands out and cupping Damien’s.
He gave a pained smile as he looked down at the neon green nail polish on her fingers. “Yes, she was,” he paused. “Can I get another?” Damien said as he raised his glass before gulping it all down.
“Sure thing, sweetie,” said Tracy as she turned and walked to the other end of the bar. Damien watched her tiny butt as she bounced away. He turned to look around the rest of the bar, some men watching the dancers and others with girls in their laps, rubbing on them and some letting the men’s hands wander. Tracy returned and placed the drink in front of Damien.
“Thank you, Darling,” he said, taking a sip.
“How’s retirement?” asked Tracy, twirling her hair in her fingers.
“It’s not bad. More time for myself and to do the things I always meant to but couldn’t when I was working, but I’ve been moving on to bigger and better things,” said Damien, running his hand through his hair.
“I bet. I remember when you were working for Mr. Krupa, he came in here almost every week,” she said. “I’m sure he kept you busy with all the things he had you doing.”
Damien stared down at his glass, nodding his head and recalling his former boss, the well-known mafia boss that was as ruthless as he was reckless. Damien’s official title was bodyguard, but his duties included more cleanup work. Fixing up hotel rooms, bleaching out bodily fluids, removing people that Mr. Krupa deemed to be in his way. The obese mobster would drown himself in vodka, coke, and women, fogging his intuition and his judgment. He had put Damien in some avoidable and sickening situations, one eventually leading to Krupa’s demise as a mob boss. Damien hated him.
“He was a dirty man,” said Tracy. “All the girls here hated him. He would grope, kiss, and try to do gross things to them. Luckily, I was always tending bar and didn’t draw his attention, seeing as he always sent you to get his drinks. That’s how we started our blossoming relationship,” she said giggling.
“Where it all began,” Damien joked. He briefly pondered what it would be like dating a twenty-two year old. Probably too much for him to keep up with. He had lived up his party days, established himself, and seen more in his forty-six years than most people would see in a lifetime. He couldn’t imagine dating someone who had yet to do any of that. He wasn’t against the idea, but just thought it wasn’t for him. “When are you gonna go back to school, Tracy? You’d better get back before life sucks you in.”
Tracy had gone to college for a year before she dropped out to work. Growing up, her mom was an alcoholic and wasn’t home much, always chasing male suitors that would lift her hopes high only to leave her in the wind. Tracy managed to develop her own morals and values as she grew up watching her mother’s mistakes, her mom wasn’t much of a parent, before she moved out her junior year of high school. Despite working in a strip club, Tracy never got on stage and never did anything sexual for money, although she had considered it. Her friends had made some great money flaunting their assets and performing favors, but Tracy didn’t want that for herself. She wore tassels and tiny shorts, because it was the most her manager would allow her to wear but it also allowed for her to get better tips while working. After getting to know her, Damien found that Tracy’s dream was to be a nurse, but college was incredibly expensive and it was difficult for her to manage both work and studying.
“I’ll get back over there soon enough, don’t you worry, Damie. I’ve been saving up!” Tracy said as she popped the caps off a few beer bottles and placed them on a tray. “I’ve been working almost every day.”
“Just be sure you actually make it back. Don’t let other things get in the way.”
“I won’t, Damie. I’ll make ya proud,” said Tracy, handing the tray to another girl who was taller than Damien and all legs.
Damien smiled and turned to his side to get a better view. He saw a couple faces of regulars and a lot of people whose faces blended in with everyone else. Krupa would come to the club to grope the girls but Damien would leave him and go talk to the girls. He was happily with Karen and didn’t have an eye for other women. But now, he was conflicted. Karen was gone and he didn’t have a job to do. He found himself looking at the women again seeing quite a few he found attractive but he felt bad for doing it. He wasn’t sure if he was allowed to look at other women. His wife was gone, but he was still in love with her and missed her. She wouldn’t be coming back and he wasn’t sure if he was ready or allowed to move on. He figured at the very least, he could look.
Scanning the club, it was difficult to see the faces of many of the girls. The music was loud, the lights would reflect off the poles and would briefly strike a face before moving on, and dark shadowy figures were moving around the room. He eyed a young blonde, just stepping out of the room where the girls would change. She looked like she was new and was just starting her shift. She had on white lace panties, a red lace bra, and black high heels. She had a firm butt and small breasts, seemed shy. Her hair fell in curls down to her shoulders with a lock that came down the side of her face, as if she were hiding or ashamed.
“You always had a thing for blondes,” said Tracy, sneaking up behind Damien and placing another drink in front of him.
“Is she knew?”
“Yeah, she started here last week. She’s twenty-four I think. College girl who fell on hard times. She a sweetheart though. Just needs the money,” said Tracy as she adjusted her tassels.
Damien thought for a moment, trying to determine how to go about this. “Hey Trace, is there still a VIP bedroom in the back?”
Tracy’s eyes widened, surprised by Damien’s question. “Damien you never even get dances from girls. This one must really catch your eye. Yes, we still have the VIP bedroom in the back. It’s not used much anymore so it’s clean,” said Tracy, running a cloth through a glass. “It’s normally $1000 for the room and then the girl gets about $75 per half hour. If you sneak back, I can get you that room for half since you’re a friend.”
“I will do that,” said Damien, finishing his vodka tonic, the alcohol starting to loosen him up and make his peripherals start to get fuzzy.
He rose from the barstool, adjusted his loose crooked tie, and started walking towards the young blonde girl in the corner. He walked among the club’s patrons unnoticed. Passed the working girls, the generous men, and those in between. He stopped about fifteen feet from the girl who was still scanning the room, looking for a place to start her shift. Damien studied her. Aside from her outfit, she didn’t look like a stripper. She had a cute face, soft eyes, flowing curly hair, and appeared timid, not a common trait among women in her profession. She was small but not what you’d consider petite, although she looked it compared to Damien. He took a few steps closer, her glistening green eyes looked up at him.
“Hello,” said Damien, clearing his throat.
Her shy demeanor changed. She perked up, smiled ear to ear, put her hands on her hips and stuck out her chest. “Hi there, baby. Did you want a dance?”
“No, no. I actually had something else in mind,” he said. “Would you please go with me to the private VIP room?”
Her face softened, unsure. She was new, she hadn’t been back there before but she knew what the room was used for. “Um, I don’t really do that, Honey. Maybe one of the other girls will go with you.”
Damien was hoping for that answer. All the girls know how much money can be made in the VIP room. You could make three months’ rent in one night. “I promise, we will only do things that you are okay with.”
She looked at him closely, trying to see if this was another John trying to take advantage of a new girl or a genuine guy who just needed some attention. She already didn’t feel proud working at a gentlemen’s club, but she could justify using the appearance of her body to pay bills. She didn’t, however, want to be a whore trading sex for money. She figured some groping wouldn’t be so bad, that occurred at any bar once the night went on. She looked down at her toes, red in color, and looked back up at Damien. She decided he was the latter.
“Okay, but only what I say we can do. Got it?” she said, smiling.
“Yes ma’am,” said Damien, a grin showing across his face as he extended his arm. She wrapped her arms around his bicep and the two walked back over to the bar where Tracy waved them through to the VIP bedroom. They walked back through hanging beads to a black door with “VIP” written in pink letters along the top. Damien opened the door, holding it open for the young lady with him.
They both entered the room for the first time. Purple walls with dim lights, a bed with a red comforter, silk sheets and pillows, and little lights scattered throughout the room. There was a black couch, a few tables, and a bathroom in the back with a hot tub and shower. Although it wasn’t all that well decorated, it had quite a few amenities that added to the high asking price.
Damien walked over to the bed, checking to make sure it was actually clean. It hadn’t been used in a while and the manager, from what he could remember, was a clean freak when it came to the rooms, all getting disinfected after each use. He sat down and removed his tie, laying it down on the nightstand next to the bed. She walked over to him and grabbed his hand, holding his calloused fingers and feeling his scars.
“I’m just letting you know sweetheart, no sex. I strip, I’m not a prostitute,” she said.
“Understood,” said Damien, feeling her soft hands on his. “What is your name?” he asked.
“Macie,” she said, perking up. “What’s yours?”
“Damien. Now, what is your real name?” he asked.
“What?” she said, furrowing her brow. Most guys would want to just cut to the action. “Why do you want my real name?”
“So I know who I’m really talking to,” Damien said, still holding her hand and looking up at her. He could see the uncertainty on her face.
“Er… it’s Mary,” she said, trying to read Damien’s face but seeing nothing.
“I like that name. Mary. Very… biblical,” he said, giving her a soft smile. She gave one back, peaking out behind the lock of golden hair. “So Mary, how is it that you ended up here, you’re new, right?”
“I started last week,” she sighed, staring down at her feet.
“What made you want to do this?” asked Damien.
“Well, I love dancing and talking to people and the attention from good-looking guys,” said Mary with a wink.
Damien saw through her perky smile, passed the lock of hair that she hid behind. “I’m sure there are other occupations that you could’ve chosen where you’d be talking to people and could dance. You don’t seem like you really wanted to become a stripper.”
Mary’s eyes narrowed. “How would you know? Maybe I really like this job.”
“I don’t think you do,” said Damien.
“Why not?” asked Mary.
Damien shrugged, “you don’t seem like the type of girl that would be doing this.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Oh, I don’t know. You just seem, out of place I guess.”
“Sometimes I feel like I am, but maybe that’s just ‘cause I’m new. I’m sure all the girls felt that way when they started,” said Mary.
“I guess,” said Damien. “What’d you do before this?”
Mary leaned back and cocked her head to the side, “wait, what did you want to come back here for? Guys don’t pay VIP prices for conversation.”
Damien took a deep breath, running his fingers through his dark brown hair. “I have a favor to ask you, but it’d be better if we got to know each other before I asked it,” he said.
Mary’s eyebrow raised, intrigued yet confused. “What kind of favor?”
“Nothing too taxing,” said Damien.
Mary looked down at him. He had bags under his eyes and his daily scruff was getting thick. Damien looked like he hadn’t had a moment’s rest in days. He didn’t look like a weirdo or a creep. He just looked tired, and sweet. She could see that Tracy trusted him, she figured she could too.
Mary let her hands drop and took a step forward. “Good. So, what would you like to do Damien?”
“I want to sleep,” he said, letting his eyes fall to the floor.
Mary’s eyebrow rose, unsure. “Sleep?”
“Yes, sleep,” he said, looking back up at her, reading her face.
“If you want to sleep, why’d you come here then? This isn’t exactly a quiet place.”
Damien reached forward, taking Mary’s hand. “My wife passed away not too long ago,” he said, bowing his head. “I’ve been unable to sleep since she’s been gone. I used to lay with her every night and any night that we weren’t together, I either wouldn’t sleep or wouldn’t try to. I just want a good night’s sleep.”
Mary looked down at him, “so you want to – er – sleep with me? Just sleep?”
Damien let out a deep hearty breath. “Yes, just sleep. I’ll pay you the regular hourly charge obviously.”
“Sure, sure,” Mary said. There was something she wanted to know first. “Why me?” she asked. “Out of all the girls here, why would you pick the tiny new girl?”
Damien looked up at her, following the curls on her shoulders all the way up, stopping on her eyes. “You look just like her.”
Anyone else saying that they wanted to sleep with her because she looked like someone else would have been creepy, gross even. But Damien was nice, and handsome. He didn’t want anything else from her. He just wanted to sleep with the woman he was in love with, and although he could only have what would be the closest thing, Mary thought it was, well, sweet. “Okay,” she said.
“I can leave all my clothes on,” said Damien, “I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable with this, I know it’s an odd request.”
Mary sat down next to him on the bed, looking at the wrinkles on his face from seeing too much too soon, at the bags under his eyes from sleepless nights and the scruff under his chin. “However you would sleep with her is fine by me,” she said, her lips stretching into a smile
Damien dropped his head, “okay.” He stood up, removed his jacket and his white button-up shirt and placed them on a chair in the dimly lit room. Next he took off his shoes, socks, and his pants. Mary ripped out the covers and crawled under them. Damien, now in a white undershirt and striped boxers, climbed into bed.
“How would you two sleep?” Mary asked.
“Karen would get close to me, put her arm over my chest and place her head here, on my shoulder,” said Damien, lying on his back as Mary moved in close, resting her head on his shoulder and draping her arm over his chest.
“Like this?” she asked.
“Yes, just like that,” said Damien.
Mary held him like it was natural, as if she had before. He didn’t feel as much like a stranger to her anymore. How sweet he was and how innocent his intentions were, she wished more men were like him, especially considering the men she had grown to expect to encounter in the last week. She sunk into him, listening to his heart beat, her head rose and fell with his breath.
Damien lay back, feeling as though every breath he took wasn’t out of habit, but because he wanted to. Feeling her next to him, he felt as though that piece of him had returned, if only for a night. He let his eyes close and for the first time in months, he felt Karen next to him, and for the first time since that day, he didn’t feel alone.