"Let's shake it. Whattaya think I'm runnin' here, a home for unwed mothers?"

Chris is miffed. He is losing business. How to build a dependable clientele is his dilemma—with personal interests best described as 'fickle.' His blackjack scheme, at first, was good; the locals wanted practice. Sights set on Las Vegas, they were glad to hone their skills. But that was when the bar was country-western. When Chris converted to rock 'n roll, VOLUME virtually blew away most regulars. College kids began to show, in unimpressive numbers, and all they bought was beer in economy pitchers—exit co-eds. Then he switched to strippers—male—on weekday afternoons, trying to draw in idle, horny housewives. Too few came. And Molly got a bit frisky with those goose-greased jocks around. Next he tried some headliners, mostly New Wave groups from the coast, whose music (almost instantly) made Chris wretch. He let that die a natural death, biding his time, conniving, casting about for something, anything to generate more dollars. Enter strippers—female; hell, why not? A sure-fire ploy. Of all the wide-world's appetites, none had proven more insatiable; tits 'n' ass would boost receipts, no sweat.

"Angel!"

"Yeah, Chris?"

"Where the fuck's Michelle?"

"Search me. The can?"

"Go check, will ya? And tell that other broad I want her pronto."

Dikes have leather pussies
Debbie takes it up the ass
If Chris could blow himself he would
He'd have to find it first
This hell hole sucks so bad I wanna SCREAM

The handiwork of steel-toothed combs, pocket knives, key chains, nail files, mars the restroom stall that corrals Michelle. Chris is on the warpath; best lay low; the john is safest. Besides, she is not 'up' to putting 'out.' Listlessly, she spins the toilet-paper roll.

I found out her name. Not from the lousy adoption agency; they wouldn't tell me squat. I found out on my own. Her name is Bridget. Took me months. Nine, to be exact—nine months to give my baby life, another nine—post change of heart—to trace her. Been here since. Five, six years, come Saturday.  Through all that time, I told myself her birth had been 'immaculate.' Put that down on the forms they gave me: "FATHER?" "None," I wrote. They wanted that revised to read "unknown;" I wouldn't do it. "None," I said, "she's mine alone; she'll soon enough be yours. Until then, all she's got is me, and vice versa." I kept saying "she" because I was sure. They probably thought I was nuts or something; in any case, "unfit." Waiting, I admit, was irresponsible. But I liked being pregnant. Made me feel important, somehow. Isn't that a kick? Any woman, fool enough to spread her legs, can breed. Yet I considered motherhood—mine—a blessing. Especially when I found out she was "perfect." Wasn't allowed to see her—had to promise that up front—so when they told me "perfect" I took them at their word. She was. She is. Though once you autograph papers, it's a done deal; no retractions. Second thoughts? Go find a shrink. Instead, I found a bar, discovered Alabama slammers—this happened down in Selma... Selma, Alabama; what a swamp!

Michelle regards a section of graffiti.

What's black and white and can't turn around in a phone booth?
A nun with a pear through her neck

Huh? I don't get it. Dumb. The women here are so dumb, most of them. Helene was dumb. Cindy's dumb. Hell, I'm dumb. "A pear through her neck"?... Oh; not a pear, a spear; someone smudged out the s. Congratulations, bird-brain. Ain't I brilliant?

A rush of noise intrudes.

"Michelle?"

Anticipating Angel's search, Michelle avoids detection, by lifting both her feet above the tiles. Angel stoops, sees nothing. The noise abates.

Oldest trick in the book and that girl fell for it. See? All stupid. You have to be to shake your ass for the likes of them out there; dull or drunk or both.

She reads another scribble.

Double your pleasure  double your fun  Xerox your clitoris

Liz, probably. Liz was actually smart, just angry all the time. Wonder where she went? Nobody keeps in touch; even Helene just vanished.

To punctuate her thought, she tugs the flush handle. Pipes commence to cough, and choke, and wheeze.

If pricks could talk they'd speak in Spanish
June + Vince forever
Jesus loves you
(only when he's horny)
I give head
God saves

"Move that sexy whoopee cushion!"

"Hot! She's hot; eh, Robby?"

"Yup, she sure is bitchin'. Wouldn't you like..."

"A piece like that? You bet!"

Michelle, in humdrum mode, revolves her elevated buttocks. Fourteen men, entrenched along the stage front, leer and cheer—their comments disregarded; she has wiped her mind of content, she has dropped it into a vortex, watched it swirl and whirl and sink...

A biker hails his tattooed girlfriend.

"Bridget. Over here!"

...until coincidence hauls it back...

From pit to bar, the girlfriend reels.

...intruding on Michelle's self-styled forgetfulness; she recoils, employs another tactic. Wishful thinking, to the rescue, she zeroes in on Morgan. Is he watching? Yes. She waves, enlivens her routine—upon interpreting his interest as distinguished from the uncouth throng of rudeness at her feet; the dealer, from afar, transmits respect. 

What's he doing; writing? Seems he's jotting something down. Wonder if... he's glancing back and forth like I'm his subject. Wonder if... it feels like bees are buzzing in my spine. Hard to get to know this guy; he never stays to chit-chat. Puts his hours in—poof—he's gone. Maybe has a girl. Never makes a pass; I guess he's faithful. Or disinterested? Hell, we've hardly spoken. I was tipsy, when we did. First impressions tend to stick; he's no doubt penning insults. Acts a bit stand-offish. None too handsome, either. Cute. His most attractive features are his eyes—pale blue, his fingers—that move like ballerinas, and his skin—no scars or zits.

Michelle achieves a blur of twirling spangles with her pasties, then turns her whole anatomy in a perfect pirouette.

Hey, where'd he go?

"I gotta dollar for ya."

"No, take mine."

"Bend over!"

"Get a load o' that!"

"You mean 'er..."

"How 'bout five?"

"Or ten!"

"Do you take Master Card, Michelle?"

Behead all faggots, niggers, wetbacks
I suck cock—leave name and number
TUCSON TEENS ARE TARTS 
Please flush twice, it's a long way to the White House

Morgan stands, his fly unzipped. Nothing new confronts him: weary slogans, vulgar puns, clich�s, and boorish rhymes. He shakes and squeezes, shakes and squeezes....

(Players must be patient; Morgan runs the only game on the premises; times are hard; there once were seven blackjack spots, an eighth reserved for poker; the pit boss wore a three-piece suit; barmaids donned sombreros; bets, like now, were just pretend, though play was much more sociable; patrons laughed, got 'spirited'—as opposed to roaring drunk—and lavished, for gratuities, bills in lieu of change.)

... adjusts his drawers, then steps aside to the grubby sink (no soap; cold water only), to wash, then dry (on a loop of towel unchanged in recent memory), tightens up his tie (by feel; the men's room has no mirror), combs his hair, then ambles out—and into Dawn (half naked) en route from feeding quarters to the jukebox.

Startled, not embarrassed, Dawn lets Morgan do the blushing. Charmed, she smiles and winks, then scurries backstage.

Leanne is on, her ego freshly bruised by her employer, whose ultimatum—"Lose some weight"—has caught her unawares. "The guys don't like it," Chris complained. "Obesity is a turn-off."

"Obesity meaning what?"

"Too much."

"Of what?"

"Rear end, for starters."

"But, Chris, I started Tuesday. You said Tuesday I looked 'great.'"

"Well, honey, this is Saturday. Shed some tonnage, or you're fired."

Leanne dares not protest (though she considers Chris an ASSHOLE), braving, now, the raucous crowd that greets her with a whoop, praise enough to reinstate her sagging self-esteem; men—real men—subscribe to 'more is better.'

Morgan passes.

Michelle, on break, awaits him in the pit.

"Can I join in?"

The players to her right and left nod welcomes. Once reseated, Morgan slides some chips beside her square. She bets the lot.

"Hundred dollar limit."

"Why? This money isn't real." She pouts, inflates her bosom. "Please?" Then hates herself. He pauses. Finally she withdraws the chips save one.

Behave, you jerk!  He's not your typical redneck.
She rebukes herself, inaudibly.

Morgan runs a subtext of his own:
rough, up close, with all those pockmarks... pale... her skin looks colorless... as if it's been in someone's mouth too long... but what a shape!

The House goes bust. Michelle slips off her shoes, collects her winnings.

"You married, Morgan?"

Morgan shakes his head.

"You got a lady?"

He nods.

"Is she good-looking?"

He looks up. He nods again.

"She built as good as me?"

He breaks his noncommittal silence.

"No one's built as good as you, Michelle."

"You know my name!"

Flattered, she decides to put her shoes back on; she concentrates.

A Joker glides her way, gets apprehended, then replaced, as Morgan reinserts it as his cut-card.

"Hey, that's mine." Michelle attempts to grab it, gets her hand spanked. "Brute!" She scowls... then flashes him her most seductive smile. "Whatcha doin' later, Mister Dealer?"

Hold your horses! Christ, you'll scare him off.

He balks. Michelle, contrite, splits fives—a strategy that garners disapproval.

"Fool's bet, Miss."

"And who asked you?"

Steve spreads his palms.

"No offense intended."

Michelle retracts her anger.

"You just watch. He's showing six. He'll bust."

The dealer counts.

"Ten, sixteen—must take a card—eight, bust."

"I told you."

The House disburses chips all round.

"So... what about my question; are you busy, Morgan? No; don't answer. Sure you are. Your lady... Unless... I don't suppose she'd maybe share you for the night?"

Morgan's only answer is to flush a deeper red (his blushing a response that has tormented him since childhood, rendered him abnormal, in his mind's eye, shy, reserved, and taciturn to the point of anti-social). 

"What's 'er name?"

To redirect attention from himself, he breaks a precedent.

"Gillian."

"Very classy. Is she rich? Sounds upper-crust. Does Gillian work, or dabble?"

"She's an actress."

"Oh? In movies?"

"In theatre."

"On the stage, you mean? Spotlights? Sets? Applause? I guess we two have lots in common."

Whoops; that pissed him off, comparing lowly me to her. If she's so damned respectable, why's her boyfriend working in a sleaze-ball dive like this?

Lem, the Casanova to Michelle's immediate right (his shirt front half unbuttoned, gold chains draped) engages knees.

"Someone's being naughty."

She takes hold of Lem's left cheek and pinches it with fraudulent affection (pinches hard); the knee abutting hers retracts with haste.

"CRYSTAL, ALABAMA SLAMMER." Crystal signals she is coming. "AND BRING A GLASS OF OJ FOR THE DEALER, WHILE YOU'RE AT IT." Michelle then lowers her voice to address Lem and Steve. "Morgan doesn't drink, you know. Or smoke? Do drugs? Chase women?" Crystal brings the order. "He's a saint, I guess. No fun." Michelle stands up and lifts her cocktail, palm atop it snuggly, and slams it on a nearby table—THWACK—gulps down the fizz, then sits back down to recommence her inquiry. "Do you fuck?"

Her question, like a stagnant fart, pollutes the anxious airwaves. Morgan, overcoming his self-consciousness, replies.

"Ewes."

"Use what?"

"I bugger ewes."

"You what; I beg your pardon?"

"Every other Thursday."

Steve guffaws. Lem smugly smirks. Michelle, left out, interrogates.

"Does he mean yous, like us?"

"He means like lambs, like female sheep."

"And here I thought I'd found myself a cub scout."

"Hey; House busts!"

Morgan's shoe is out of cards.

Lem rubs his palms together.

Morgan cracks a grudging grimace, pays, solicits tips. Steve bestows a quarter. Lem departs (to take a leak). Michelle extends a dollar.

"Not allowed."

"You gotta eat."

"I feast my eyes."

He looks beyond... at Debbie, as she dances, agitating skullcaps on her cocoa-buttered breasts.

"So that's your hang-up; Peeping Tom? You like to watch, is that it?"

"Aren't you due up next, Marlene?"

His gibe, like an incision, is quick and keen and calculated. Hurt, Michelle retreats, anxious to deny, conceal blood drawn.

 

 

His long deft...

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