By Jeffrey R. DeRego

Part One

I’m in the “naughty” schoolgirl costume. I have to safety pin the plaid skirt in the back and tie the see-through white blouse instead of buttoning it. The getup used to fit perfectly but either one of the other dancers stretched it out, or I’ve lost more weight than I want to think about.

The jukebox creaks and rattles as my song falls onto the turntable. We have to pay for our own music here even though there’s a DJ barking at the crowd. I hit the chrome pole just as the song starts.

Hands offering dollar bills float just beyond the bright stage lights. Cigarette smoke masks the customer’s faces until I am almost on top of them. Lots of regulars tonight.

I’ve got at least fifteen bucks in my garter already, not bad for the first thirty seconds of Hot for Teacher. The bar is a dive, but not so bad that people won’t come here. Then again, I suppose any bar with nude dancers will draw a crowd even if every third customer dies from poisoned beer.

The blouse comes off first, then the skirt. The men hoot and cheer as I progress down to just shoes and some skin-glitter. Hot hands brush my flesh, the rough edges of one and five-dollar bills scrape up my thigh. Customers aren’t supposed to touch us, but that’s state law and not necessarily club policy.

I try and make eye contact with anyone who tips, blow them a kiss too. The guitar solo starts and I strut back to the pole. The song ends thirty seconds later. I haven’t even broken a sweat.

“Let’s hear it for the naughtiest schoolgirl in the whole city, Josie Juggs!”

I walk off stage as Rosemarie slips past and starts feeding dollars to the juke box. She’s older than me ā€” I’m 19 ā€” by at least ten years but looks more like twenty. She queues up her signature song, Push It.

I am in the back dressing room before the first bass-thump. The other girls are hustling the floor for lap dances and expensive watered down drinks. New costume now, atomic-snot green lace gown, stockings that’ll glow in the black lights. Fix my makeup. Rosemarie, has left a rail of coke on the dressing table. I take half and it burns my sinuses for a second before a rush of happy warmth spreads out through my body.

Push it good. Push it real good.

I swing out of the dressing room start the hustle. Gotta keep moving so no one notices that I twitch constantly. I’ve made sixty bucks in lap dances and probably another twenty in kickbacks on vodka-tonics before the DJ calls my name. Five minutes to curtain Josie. I’m ready for my closeup Mister DeMille.

Some of the girls work a side scam out the back, car-dating customers. I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean I won’t. Katie said she made an extra three hundred bucks last week in, like, forty-five minutes, but I don’t need the money that badly yet.

Closing time. I count out the night’s take, four hundred and twenty three. I’ve done better I slip into my regular clothes, black sweats, pink tee shirt, pair of scuffed black high heel boots, then pull my mop of glittered red hair into a pony tail.

The hollow cheeks and pale skin in the mirror are mine but I try not to look at my reflection much anymore.

No girl wants to watch herself die.

Club policy is we tip the bartender ten percent, doormen get ten percent too, each, another five percent for the DJ, and five for the “stage fee.” All said and done I clear two fifty cash. Not bad for eight hours work. Not great but not bad.

I drop an even fifty on Tommy Martinez at the bar.

He palms a little brown vial into my hands. “Little something extra for my favorite lady.” Tommy winks and places a vodka tonic on a little square napkin right in front of me.

I slip the coke into my purse, down my shift drink, the only one that isn’t water and lime juice tonight.

It’s a long walk home, but the coke and the booze aren’t getting along. I’m nauseous and call a cab from the battered payphone right outside the front door.

Ten minutes and the driver doesn’t want to let me out. Not surprising as I am in the middle of an abandoned mill complex. “Lady,” he says, “this ain’t no safe place.”

“Just take the money.” Finally I shove the bill through the slot in the bulletproof glass that separates us and climb out of the taxi. I walk off a little until I am sure he’s gone, then leap up to the third floor fire escape. The top floor is mine, but it’s not much of an apartment really, one small bedroom, one small kitchen/living room, and a bathroom with shower. The windows are tinted so no one can see inside. The fire escape is the only way in but the bottom two floors worth of iron steps are rusted away.

Home again, home again, jiggidy-jig.

I shower the glitter and most of the cigarette smoke off and wrap up in a pink terrycloth robe that smells like a month old gym sock. My radio only picks up the local talk station after I accidentally broke the antenna off but it’s enough noise to drown out some of the loneliness. They’re talking about the Police contract negotiations. InterCity Police, the largest private security firm in the United States with patrolmen contracts in every city from coast to coast, has threatened to walk off the job.

My gear waits for me in a hidden closet framed into the bedroom wall. I start pulling the pieces out: blood red one-piece custom fitted breastplate, magenta Teflon-spandex one-piece jumpsuit, blood red knee high leather steel toe boots, red gauntlets with integrated communicator and beacon, black and red calf-length cape, red eye mask.

All the stuff laid out on the mattress looks good. I wriggle into the one-piece, it’s custom fitted but I’ve lost more weight than I thought and the Kevlar impregnated spandex doesn’t hug me as tightly. Depressing.

I tap out a little pile of coke onto my knuckle and burn my sinuses. I’m starting to feel like myself.

The breastplate goes on easy. I have to adjust the straps in the back to make it fit well enough to protect me from knives and bullets but still let me breathe. I’ve pulled to the tightest setting and it still isn’t quite snug enough. It’ll have to do. Boots next, then gloves.

I’m thirsty but the fridge is empty except for left over Chinese food from a month ago. I slam the door before the stink makes me puke. Another blast of coke and the repulsion goes away. I find a half-empty pint bottle of Smirnoff and gulp down three shots.

My weapons, all non-lethal, are stored in a plastic box in the bottom of the closet: sticky-goo cartridges, empty, tazer, dead battery, smoke bombs, wet and therefore useless, telescoping baton. Well, that works at least. I clip it to my belt and drain the last of the vodka.

The booze hits me like a speeding bus full of angry skinheads. I try to tap out a full rail of the coke but my hands aren’t steady enough and the gloves make me extra clumsy. I snort what I can off the counter but it’s not enough to level me out. I stumble towards the fire escape but my feet are having a dance contest and my brain wasn’t invited.

I crawl to a kitchen chair and sit, heart thundering, eyes blurry.

Get a grip girl, you’ve got work to do.

I put my head in my hands as the flat spins around and around and around.

Shake it off Crimson Nightshade, shake it off!

 

One hour and three flashes of cold sick sweat later I come out of the stupor but it’s almost dawn; too late to make any headway in the war on crime. I crawl half way to the futon and fall asleep.

TO BE CONTINUED MONDAY!

Jeffrey DeRego was born in the seaside city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, one time home to both Fredrick Douglass and Herman Melville. A graduate of New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, He now lives in Derry, New Hampshire, with his children Ian and Margaret and the memory of his beloved wife Cindy. His wildly popular Union Dues stories have appeared in audio format at Escape Pod, and Clonepod. His post award winning post apocalyptic tales of Pleasant Hollow are available at Tales of The Zombie War. His novels, Escape Clause and Fleas, are available wherever books are sold.