Brandee looked up from her book at the clock duct-taped to the wall above the cracked, lipstick-smeared mirror.
“It can’t be time to do it again.”
She glanced around the empty dressing room, strewn with pizza boxes and coffee cups. Stockings hung over a pipe that ran along the wall. A rolling wardrobe rack held an odd assortment of bits of lingerie, leather, a white vinyl nurse’s uniform, a silk kimono, and a fuzzy chenille bathrobe. The space heater humming away under the counter just barely eased the chill in the air and kept condensation from forming on the whitewashed cinderblock walls. Brandee kicked off her fleece boots and slipped into the purple satin heels that sat on the floor by her chair. She pulled one knee into her chest, stretching out her leg and hip, and then the other. Then standing, she leaned into the mirror, swiped on another coat of lipgloss, and headed for the stage.
Even though it was dark on the street, the ambient light from street lamps, neon signs, and passing cars made it seem bright compared to the darkness inside the bar as the patron cracked the door open and slipped inside. He blinked and looked around, letting his eyes adjust to the dim before he stepped forward. His black leather collar was still turned up against the night air and his cap was pulled down low as he surveyed the place. On the other side of the bar, lights hung low over the pool tables. The place smelled of men: sweat and motor oil and sawdust and cologne. There was still a tinge of stale cigarette smoke in the room, even though it had been more than a decade since California outlawed smoking in bars. “It’s probably been that long since they cleaned this place,” he thought.
Not that he was complaining. The patron knew from experience that this wasn’t a high-class joint. It wasn’t a place for businessmen, bachelor parties, and tourists. This was a place to get lost.
The entrance was marked only by a small window stenciled with the name “Mike’s.” Inside, it had been curtained against the light. Jammed between a dry cleaner and a Vietnamese nail salon, this was a neighborhood joint, filled with men who worked hard and usually went home alone. This wasn’t “Cheers,” filled with warmth and repartee; it was an evening’s diversion from another frozen dinner.
He eyed an empty spot at the end of the bar and sat down. The bartender stopped in front of him, wiping his hands on his apron.
“Diet Coke,” he said.
The bartender landed a can of Coke on the bar with a glass of ice, and grunted, “Four bucks”.
Even though it was robbery, the patron didn’t complain. He didn’t come for the drinks; he came for the girls. He laid a five spot on the bar and popped the top on his soda.
Brandee peeked out around the curtain. The place was almost as empty as it had been earlier. It was minutes before midnight – what should have been her peak earning hours, but business had been flat all weekend. She blamed it on the Giants’ three-game losing streak that had started in Pittsburg. She’d been around long enough to know that kind of set-back could really kill the buzz in a little place like this.
She felt Franco sidle up beside her. He was Mike’s muscle and right-hand man. He watched the doors and made sure everyone kept their hands to themselves. He kept the girls as safe and happy as they could be in a place like this.
“Girls,” she thought to herself. “I’m still thinking there’s somebody here besides me.” It was her fourth set of the night and it was bound to be her last. Krystal was home with a sinus infection and the new young girl, Marika, had dropped by earlier to say she was leaving with her boyfriend for Humboldt County, where they hoped to find big money working the harvest. She didn’t give any notice, just gathered up her things in a paper grocery sack and left.
That left Brandee alone, and tonight, Brandee could feel that the guys were tired of her. Hell, the feeling was mutual. She was tired of them. She was sore and had worked hard all day, walking dogs before her shift started at the bar. She wanted some hot chocolate and a bath. If it wasn’t for her rent, she’d be home already.
“You’re up,” Franco said. It was both a statement and a question.
“I know. Just give me a moment.”
Mike turned toward the curtain and gave an exaggerated look at his watch.
Brandee ignored him and glanced around the bar. There was someone new sitting at the end.
“Who’s that, Franco?” she asked, nodding toward the patron.
“Dunno. Came in a while ago, alone. Doesn’t look familiar. I don’t think he’s from the neighborhood.”
“Like the jacket,” Brandee said. “It suits him.”
“Ready?” Franco asked.
“Play it, Sam.”
Franco pushed the button on the stereo and the bass began to thump around the room. She climbed the steps to the stage as Franco’s voice came through the speakers. “Gentlemen, for your evening’s pleasure… welcome back to the stage, Brandee Alexander!”
The lights cooled to blue as Brandee came through the curtains to Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”.
The tired customers began to wander toward the bar, leaning in. They were only semi-interested, still talking and jostling each other. Pool balls continued to click in the background. She caught the patron’s eyes and felt the intensity of his gaze. He was locked on her and it energized her. The room fell away as she danced for him, spinning under the lights, sweat breaking out on her skin.
The tempo of her dance increased as the music segued into Tom Jones singing “Sex Bomb”. Her hands tangled in her hair as she swung her head back and forth. As she bent forward from the waist, her hair brushed the stage, catching the blue lights.
The last song of her set was a classic: Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”. Brandee’s strut around the stage included stops to collect the dollar bills offered to her. She swung her hips and teased the hands that reached for her garters and the top of her fishnet stockings. Experience had taught her which of the guys at the bar were breast men, and she leaned in to receive their gifts in her cleavage. Franco kept a watchful eye as she slowly spun down the bar.
“Let me see your backside, honey,” one of the old-timers slurred and she turned so he could tuck a bill under the satin bow at the back of her g-sting. As his hand slapped her ass playfully, she yelped and Franco immediately appeared. “Cut it out, Mitch. You know better than that. One more of those and I’m sending you home to the missus.”
She continued her trip down the bar, collecting bills and saying thanks, calling the guys she knew by name. Finally, as the music died down, she stopped in front of the patron.
“New around here?” she asked.
He nodded, gaze never breaking from hers. In the dim light, he looked young, boyish even, and somehow familiar.
“We know each other?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, but I’d like to,” he responded. His voice was soft and low. Sweet, even.
“Private?” she asked, cocking her head toward a curtained doorway.
He nodded and poured the rest of the coke into his glass.
“I’ll see you there,” she said.
The side room was lit with votive candles. An upholstered chair stood in the middle of the room, and heavy fabric hung on the walls. As the patron entered and let the drape fall behind him, the sounds of the bar grew far off and muffled. He sat down in the chair and waited.
Brandee came into the room wearing a heavy silk kimono. It was vintage, the real deal, with chrysanthemums and a dragon embroidered on the back. He noticed she had changed her shoes, and saw a long stretch of black leather boot reaching up under her wrap. She walked close to him and leaned in. He reached for her hair, brushing it back from her face, but she caught him by the wrist.
“Here’s the deal,” she said. “I can touch you. You can’t touch me – at all. Franco’s right outside and will be in here in a heartbeat if I ask him to. The price is $40 a song, money up front. That work for you?”
He nodded, swallowing hard and pulled a handful of neatly folded twenty-dollar bills out of his jacket pocket.
She slipped the money into the pocket of her kimono. “I pick the first song. What do you want to hear for the second one, Cowboy?”
His voice was hoarse, and he barely whispered. “ ‘Crazy,’ by Patsy Cline.”
She slipped her head through the curtain and whispered something to Franco.
The music started low and slow – Nora Jones singing “Turn Me On”.
Brandee stood in front of him and untied the sash of her kimono. With excruciating slowness, it slid from her shoulders, the heavy silk brushing the insides of his thighs as it pooled on the floor. She wore her garter belt and thong, the fishnet stockings she had worn on stage, and tall black leather boots that covered her knees. Nothing else. He felt a shiver run up his spine.
The candlelight caught her bare skin as she leaned forward, brushing the tips of her breasts across his arm. His fingers drummed on the chair and his face reddened as he fought to maintain control.
“Are you new to this?” she asked him.
“Well then, relax honey. You’re in good hands, and I just love leather.”
She ran her hands up his jacket and slid one inside, massaging his chest. He watched her face closely for a reaction and saw her register surprise as she felt his curves. Then she broke into a smile that looked like pure delight.
“And here I thought the rest of my night was going to be dull,” she said.
Slowly, Brandee removed the patron’s hat and looked deeply into the other woman’s eyes. This was a tricky moment and she knew not to let her own rising passion break the illusion this butch had worked so hard to create. It was the bubble of safety that had allowed her access to the bar in the first place, and Brandee wasn’t going to compromise it.
“What’s your name, Cowboy?” she asked.
“Well, Duane, I like your style,” she said. “You from around here?”
“ ‘cross town,” Duane said. “The Mission.”
“I understand,” Brandee said.
“I kinda thought you might.”
She slid off Duane’s lap and, turning around, slowly bent forward, her stance wide. She put her hands on her knees and looked back at the butch behind her. Duane clearly liked what she saw. Brandee was using a night’s worth of hard-earned flexibility to keep her movements slow and sensuous. Her own heat began to show in her dancing, and it became clear to both of them that this was more than a one-way transaction. As Brandee sat back onto Duane’s thigh, she let her hand brush across the fly of her jeans and found the bulge there.
She dropped her head back and gave a deep moan. Duane’s thigh flexed and hardened under her and Brandee tilted her pelvis instinctively.
“That’s awfully big. You planning to hunt bear?” she asked.
“I like to be prepared,” Duane said.
“I see.” A deep flush was creeping across Brandee’s chest and a sheen broke out on her skin as her hips continued to slide up and down Duane’s thigh in time to the music.
“Look,” she said. “I have to say – I usually don’t…”
She stopped as she felt Duane’s hands on her waist. She inhaled sharply.
“Is this okay?” Duane asked softly.
“How about this?” Duane asked, reaching around and sliding her hands up to Brandee’s breasts.
“I never…” Her breathing was coming fast and shallow, and her stockinged thighs began to rhythmically clench the denim-covered one between her own. “I mean, it’s against all the rules…” As though it had a mind of her own, her hand began to rub the bulge in Duane’s crotch, and she heard the woman’s breath begin to quicken, matching her own. She fell back against her, hearing the creak of her leather jacket and feeling the coolness of the zippers and buckles against her bare back. She matched the rhythm of her hand on the butch’s cock to the rocking of her own hips.
“Really, I usually don’t…”
“Shhh,” Duane whispered hoarsely in her ear. “Just go with it.”
The butch’s hands, both rough and tender in a turn, began to pull at her nipples, pinching and tugging. “Oww,” Brandee said, gasping. This only seemed to inflame Duane more, and her hands grew even more firm on the stripper’s nipples. Brandee felt a familiar pressure in her own groin as Duane pushed her cock upward into the palm of her hand. Suddenly, it was all too much. Just as she was about to shout – not for Franco, but in release – Duane slid a hand over her mouth, pulling her head back and muffling her yell. Brandee felt her body stiffen and her back arch, her wetness soaking Duane’s thigh. The butch’s teeth sunk into her shoulder as her own thrusting speeded, and her series of deep, throaty moans were followed with a prolonged sweet cry.
They collapsed, both aware that the music had ended. Brandee slipped into her kimono and stuck her head through the curtain, indicating to Franco that everything was fine.
She returned to the butch and dropped to her knees in front of her.
“I’m so sorry about your pants. Really. I usually don’t…”
“Shhh,” Duane said again. “Stop with the ‘usuallys’. I get that this was different.”
Brandee rested her head on the butch’s belly, and Duane stroked her hair.
“Can I call you?”
“Well I usually…” Brandee stopped and smiled shyly. “Of course you can.”
Duane felt Franco’s curious eyes on her as she walked out of the side room. She paused – once again – to turn her collar up and pull her hat down low. Franco raised his eyebrows and gave her a wry smile as she passed, which she returned with a nod of her own – a moment of knowing between guys. Keeping her head down, the patron walked out into the night, the air cool on her damp thigh.