"What the fuck?"

Angel, standing by, is leaning against the pole, stage-right, pausing while the juke suspends tune three. She shrugs at Chris, who yells for no one in particular to "Fix it!" Angel yawns and scratches between her wings. An audience of five could not care less; they have come for "Beer Hour—8-9 pm," when draft (whatever the brand) costs 50�. "They'll mob the place," was Chris's forecast—mindless of the detail that his promo (measuring eight by ten) was posted two hours prior.

"Goddamn-it, isn't anybody working here besides me?" Chris comes from behind the bar. "You sure you fed it?... Angel?... ANGEL!"

"Huh?"

"You put money in?"

She nods. She would just as soon not budge; her feet feel glued. Her strapped-on seraph wings—some gimmick—make her itch.

Chris tinkers. Cindy exits from the john.

"Is something wrong with the juke box, Mr. Stefanakis?"

"No, I'm down here on my knees to suck it off."

"Just kick it."

"Huh?"

"Kick it. Back here."

"Do you know what this thing costs?"

Cindy kicks it for him. Angel's third selection drops into place. Chris, smirking with mock-gratitude, nudges past his employee into the head... which downright reeks. Half a dozen one-ply tissues drown in pools of piss. Cigarette butts, in the urinal, slowly decompose—a process Chris accelerates with a well-aimed torrent, relishing the volume, the relief, and his semi-rigid cock... Cindy having perked-up his libido.

 

 

Morgan, at his station, deals to a single customer; Steve. (Good man, Steve: even tempered; plays cards mainly as a form of recreation; graceful when he loses; cheerful when he wins.) Morgan likes him, relatively speaking—patrons at The Golden Spur being mostly sordid types, the bar itself a slice of seamy-sided life that Morgan savors, his role of "Peeping Tom" (Michelle's depiction) largely apt. He casts a furtive glance at the flood-lit stage; Angel (not Michelle) is entertaining.

Steve twists round, then back; rarely does he watch the strippers strip. Morgan overturns the House's down-card.

"Twelve; must take a hit." He deals to himself again. "King; bust."

He pays out chips to Steve's four spots, gathers cards and stacks them, electing to perform a general reshuffle.

"Hey, come on, Morgan, you've got tons of hands left in that shoot."

Morgan moves his fingers deftly, mechanically. Angel flutters off; Michelle takes her place... promenading... billowing her see-through shift with aplomb... pointing at, massaging (suggestively) her well-proportioned torso... inwardly self-conscious (as she catches Morgan's eye)... hoping he will overlook (or appreciate) her endeavors... noticing that his notice is a little short of rapt... as she flaunts her bust, her rump, her loins in provocation... showing off for him (whose stare has grown transfixed)... indicating, brazenly, her g-string's waxed periphery—vagina barely masked by the intervening panel. Fifteen others likewise are entranced; Michelle ignores them (in deference to the eyes that have not strayed, nor have they blinked.) Focused on her prepossessing pucker, Morgan ponders, contemplates the ways in which her soft-spot might behave were he to pet it, part it, poke it, plumb its pith, provoke its passion. Tempted all-too tangibly, his resistance is in vain—virtue proving flimsy when confronted by desire, the breed that stokes a young man's fancy into frenzy. Ill-at-ease, he racks and stows the decks.

"Back in ten minutes."

Disregarding Steve's vexation, Morgan leaves the pit and heads outdoors.
("We never promised one another fidelity, Morgan." Weren't those Gillian's words precisely?)
His breath is yellow, in the neon; a cowboy boot and spur flicker harshly overhead.
(Ten to one, Michelle has herpes... or worse. An hour of lust, a lifetime of disease; seems hardly worth it. Which is not to say that having sex with Gillian guarantees health. What she may have caught from 'him,' then passed along to me, I shudder to think. At least Michelle... I must be crazy. Spend the night with a hooker? Okay, maybe "hooker" is a trifle overstated. Nonetheless, with a build like hers, I doubt she's all that chaste. Besides which, we have nothing whatsoever in common. A mutual crush, is all... at most... at best. Curious term: 'crush.' What gets crushed, I wonder? Must be the heart.)

"Morgan?"

Morgan starts; Michelle is standing next to him, hugging herself for warmth, goose bumps raised on goose bumps wherever her flesh is bare (which is almost everywhere).

"You'll catch pneumonia dressed like that out here."

Morgan takes off his vest and drapes Michelle's shoulders.

"I thought you maybe left. You know, for the night?"

"No, just needed some air."

Bunched against the chill, her breasts look enormous. A passing motorist honks; Michelle flips the bird. Morgan tries to escort her back inside; she will not yield.

"So, are you planning to meet me after work, or not?"

Her teeth are chattering.

"I said I would."

Her lips are almost blue... and yet feel balmy, as she seals his reassurance with an airtight kiss. Several seconds pass; at last they part.

"I'm glad."

Morgan offers his arm. Together they reenter.

As Michelle returns the dealer's vest and wends her way backstage, Molly, arching an eyebrow, watches from the bar.

 

 

"Then she goes, 'Pull it out, I gotta crap!' But he's still wonka-wonka-wonkarin'. So she goes, 'Now! I really gotta poop!' But lover-boy pumps; he just won't stop. Then she goes... " Angel puts her palms together, holds them to her mouth, and simulates a loud, protracted fart (the dancers titter); inserting, then, her index finger, pressing out her cheek, she generates a POP (the dancers roar).  "Exactly like a champagne cork; shit and cum explode like nobody's business."

"Gross me out!"

Michelle appears. The girls are doubled up with laughter.

"Angel, tell Michelle!"

"Again? Let Leanne."

"Michelle, you gotta hear. These newlyweds was on their honeymoon and the guy, see, he's kinda slow, and..."

"They're re-tards, Leanne. You're gettin' it all wrong. And besides, it's not so funny with them being handicapped."

"What a hypocrite! You was laughin' just as hard as us. Don't play Cindy Prude-puss just on account o' Michelle..."

"Never mind; I've heard it."

Leanne looks disappointed.

"Well, in that case."

She plucks a pasty off, gives it a lick, sticks it back in place, then hoists her brassiere; she is late already. Any second, Chris will bang the door. Michelle retreats to the dressing table.

BANG!

"LET'S SHAKE IT."

Leanne, now dressed to undress, hustles out.

 

 

"Hey, Morgan, yo; anybody home?" Morgan breaks his reverie to look across at Steve... "You only paid me half. I doubled down." ...the residue of lipstick slow to lose its flavor... "You gonna deal or sit there all gooey-eyed?" ...breasts against his shirt slow to lose their squishy feel. He corrects the error.

"Ever gone out with any of the women who work here?"

"Women; what women? I come here to play cards. Could we maybe have our chat and gamble, too?"

Morgan, in compliance, deals by rote.

"You mean you don't even notice what's going on right behind you?"

Leanne is up on stage, in all her ample splendor.

"Noticing and paying attention are two different issues. Sure I notice; who wouldn't? I just don't pay attention. Women who strip in public are trouble. In spades. In capital letters. Believe you me, my friend, I know; I married one."

"No kidding?"

"Sad but true."

Steve taps for a card.

"Do you mind talking about it; her?"

Steve Bartholemew's ex is seldom a fitting topic. Morgan's avid interest, however, persuades.

"Name was Lucy. Lucy Sherman. Lucy Deucy, in the trade, referring to her bosom—big as her behind. We met in Las Vegas, at a bona fide casino, not a poor-excuse like this. She was eighteen years old, going on thirty-five; that's how much the kid had been around. Most strippers are like that, you know, even these boon-dock babes. The youngest have an ingrained, hard-knocks core, soft as sponge-cake outside, inside tough as beef jerky. Except they fool you. Don't know how a man mistakes a whore for the Virgin Mary; none, in my acquaintance, ever are." Steve takes a swig of beer. "Lucy had the aura of a nun, the morals of a sailor. And every one of her pals, I swear, had done time. Or was hooked on dope, or in dept, or on Welfare; you name it. Not a one seemed capable of coping with life alone—that is to say, without help from my spouse. Which meant Lucy got involved, hung out a lot, drank and smoked and inhaled whatever they passed between them. When she finally swore off stripping, matters got worse. She got bored, missed the action, missed the adulation. You'll never compete with that, by the way. Once a woman gets applause, she thinks she's exceptional. Once that happens all she wants is more applause, needs it to sustain her self-esteem..." Morgan wins a hand. "...craves it to the exclusion of everything else. 'Got your pasties in your ears again, dear?' I used to tease her. She'd snap back, 'You're just jealous.' And the truth of it is, I was. Especially when she found herself back at it, dancing, leaving me alone night after night. Drove me nuts, wondering what she was doing, with whom, after hours. And that's another thing. How can one man compete with a hot-'n'-horny mob? Even when she came home, I'd feel inadequate, as if I had to be Hercules to measure up in bed. Sex, post whoops and hollers, was downright anti-climactic... to my Lucy..." House wins again; Steve shrugs.  "...my Lucky Lucy Duecy." He plays two, instead of four spots.

"So your advice to me is, don't date a stripper?"

"My advice to you is, don't lose your head."

House shows twenty; Steve busts. Morgan collects the chips, then the cards. He deals two fresh hands.

"How about Michelle?"

Steve splits queens.

"The one with perfect tits and a dart-board complexion?"

"Cruelly phrased, but I guess that more-or-less fits."

"Did she ask you, or did you ask her?"

"The former."

 "Go for it."

"Go for it? Geezus, Steve, you just..."

"Michelle's a special case."

"How would you know? You haven't...?"

"No, I haven't. No one has, as far as I've been told."

"So why encourage me to accept her invitation?"

"Because, dear boy, to be blunt, you need a good lay."

Morgan, bristling slightly, stifles his denial. If sex, devoid of love, had made his life seem incomplete, how could sex, with a stranger, hope to make it whole?

 

 

The lullaby...

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