Chapter One: Jack
I wake up to the taste of blood in my mouth. When I finally open my eyes I see the world through a Vaseline-coated haze, like a dream sequence in an old soap opera but grossly overdone. The blur of moving figures, undefined and out of focus, tells me nothing of my surroundings and I begin to panic. But the smell of ammonia coupled with the slight hint of urine puts me at ease, and I realize that the beeping I’m hearing is my heart slowing down. I’m in a hospital, but I have no idea how I got here.
A bluish dot moving in front of me slowly becomes larger and takes on a more definite form. A face begins to take shape; blonde hair turning gray, a little pudgy around the cheeks, some wrinkles. Kind green eyes look down at me through horn-rimmed glasses.
“Welcome back,” the kind eyes say to me. I try and respond, but the only thing that comes out is an inaudible croak. The woman smiles knowingly and disappears from my line of sight, only to reappear moments later holding a plastic cup with what I assume is water. She holds it to my lips and I take a swallow, then cough.
“Careful now,” she says as she puts down the cup and plays with a machine off to my right. I try and turn my head, but pain shoots through my body and I scream. I feel hands on my chest, easing me back down against the bed, and I dimly realize that they belong to the nurse. I look at her with what I know must be crazed eyes, but she doesn’t say anything else. Moments later, a needle pricks my arm and I close my eyes as the opiates work their way into my bloodstream.
Rewind several days. I’m driving south on the I-15, heading for Los Angeles. It’s a sunny day in April, the top is down and the wind is blowing through my hair. There’s a clear stretch of desert highway in front of me, and not a single car on the road. I fumble with the knobs on the radio and finally get a clear signal; an infomercial for a free sample of some new anti-aging cream. I’m about to try my luck again, when the DJ comes on and announces a request for Magic Carpet Ride. I raise the volume instead and press my foot down on the gas.
The beat has my blood pumping, the way only good classic rock can. There’s a smile on my face and I’m singing along when I catch sight of what I think is an abandoned service station on the side of the road. The windows are cracked and covered in dirt, and the paint is flaking off one side of the building. There’s an old 1950′s Ford truck parked out front that looks as if it’s been parked out there since the 1950′s. But when I see the fluorescent OPEN sign glowing in the window, I pull in and park next to the pump.
A bell on the door rings as I open it, and I’m greeted by an old man in a plaid dress shirt and worn jeans.
“Nice car,” he says, nodding in the direction of my ‘68 Caddy. “Must be tough on the gas though.”
“Yeah, a little.”
“You traveling far? You don’t look like you’re from around here.”
“Oh.” He says this as if it has some dire implications, and I turn away and look for something to eat. My eyes scan the near-empty shelves littered here and there with candy bars and assorted bags of chips. I settle on a cheese Danish, but put it back down when I notice that it expired several weeks ago. Unable to find anything else, I pull two strips of beef jerky out of a container, pour myself a cup of what smells like extremely burnt coffee, and head for the counter.
I hand the man fifty dollars and tell him to put the change on the pump. He looks at me like I’m insane, then explains to me that this is an old gas station and that I should just go out and pump the gas. As I’m heading out to fuel the car, a girl walks in, maybe twenty, sun-kissed blonde hair and a cocoa butter tan, clothes three sizes too small. My jaw drops as she brushes by, and I can’t help but turn my head so I can get a view of her ass, which is squeezing its way out of her soccer-style shorts. She turns her head, catches me looking, and shoots a smile my way.
Five minutes later, my gas tank is full and I’m ready to get back on the road. I’m about to get in my car when the girl comes out and asks me where I’m headed. I tell her that I’m on my way to Los Angeles and she asks me if I’m in any hurry. I shrug off the question and she tells me to follow her.
We get back on I-15, still heading south, and take an exit about three miles down. It amazes me how unremarkable the landscape is. The road that we’re now on looks exactly like the Interstate, with nothing but empty dirt fields – spotted here and there by the occasional dead tree or cactus – as far as the eye can see. I remember thinking how easy it would be to get lost out there.
Another ten miles, and we pull up to what looks like a ranch house with a giant neon sign hanging off the roof. Three or four other cars are parked out front and there’s some horrible country music playing inside. I pull up next to the girl but before I can say anything, she jumps out of her car and runs inside, waving at me to come along.
Inside the bar is completely empty. It looks like the other cars belong to the band members and the bartender, who is the only employee on tonight. The girl is already at the bar, tapping the stool next to her impatiently, a giant smile on her face. My boots thump noticeably on the wood floor as I cross the room and take a seat beside her. That same smile is still on her face, and she extends her hand towards me.
“I’m Chrissy. I know I didn’t get to introduce myself earlier.”
“Jack.” I try to take her hand gently, but she grabs mine with a strength and fervor that surprises me.
“So Jack,” she says with emphasis, “why are you going to Los Angeles?” I turn my head towards the band playing on stage and try to come up with a good reason, but nothing comes to mind. Nothing I’d want to share, anyway.
“Why not?” I ask, a deflection if there ever was one.
“Hmmmm . . . mysterious. I like that.” She winks at me in what I think is an attempt to be seductive, but really makes me wonder if she’s having a seizure. Her hand falls somewhere along the middle of my inner thigh, and I immediately feel the temperature in the room raise five degrees.
I’m considering asking Chrissy if she knows a good place I could stay for the night, when the bartender makes his way over. A short, skinny, scrap of a boy with greasy hair and bad skin, I’m not even sure he’s old enough to drink, much less tend bar.
“What can I get for you two tonight?” There’s a smile on the kid’s face, but a look in his eyes that makes me distrust him. I get the distinct feeling that I’m invading his territory.
“Scotch for me.” I turn and look at Chrissy.
“Just the usual for me, Jim.” Jim nods solemnly and makes his way to one of the coolers alongside the bar. When he comes back he has my drink in one hand, and a bottle of Coors in the other. He sets them down without a word and walks away.
The drugs fade from my system. It makes me sad to know they’re gone. There’s still a great deal of pain, but I’m able to turn my head enough to see a man in a white coat sitting next to me. A metal clipboard with what I assume is my chart is resting in his lap. He’s flipping through the pages and seems unaware that I’m actually conscious. But when he’s finished reading and our eyes meet, he doesn’t seem surprised at all.
“Well, this is quite a mess you’ve gotten yourself into.” He says this with all the compassion of a block of concrete. I try and smirk, but wince instead. Tentatively, I place my hand on my face and I don’t have to look in a mirror to know that there’s a giant bruise there.
“What . . . What happened?”
“You don’t remember?”
I close my eyes and try to locate the memory, but it’s lost in a fog.
“Not at the moment, no.”
“The paramedics scraped you off the highway several days ago. We thought you were dead when you first came in. There was a lot of alcohol in your system.”
“I was in a car accident?”
“With a telephone pole, as I understand it. Don’t worry, you didn’t kill anyone.”
“Where’s my car?”
“Let’s worry about that later.” There’s a long pause while the doctor stares at me, as if he’s expecting me to say something. What, I don’t know. He’s an older man, mid-fifties maybe, but his demeanor reminds me a lot of my father – always disapproving. I stay silent, and after a moment he sighs, then starts talking. “You were really lucky. There were no cranial breaks, or any fractures anywhere for that matter. It’s quite remarkable. Given the nature of your accident, your injuries were extremely superficial. There were several lacerations to your head, which required stitches, but for the most part the worse you seem to have suffered is some bruising, albeit to a rather severe degree. You really should consider yourself quite lucky.” I notice that he keeps repeating himself about how ‘lucky’ I am, and it makes me angry.
“So when do I check out?” The doctor raises his eyebrow at this, which sends a ripple of wrinkles jutting across his brow. I do my best to mimic his expression, but deep down I feel stupid for even asking.
“Not so fast. You’re not in any condition to go anywhere, and I’d like to keep you a few more days for observation. On a scale from one through ten, how would you describe your pain level?”
“A two.” It’s a lie and he knows it. He frowns, stands up, hangs the clipboard by the foot of my bed and heads for the door.
“I’ll have the nurse bring you something for the pain. It was nice meeting you, Jack. I’m Dr. Horowitz.”
And then I’m alone again. For the first time since waking up, I realize that I’m no longer in the ER. My eyes go up towards the ceiling, where I count beige Polystyrene tiles until a young woman wearing purple scrubs comes in. She’s attractive, but unremarkable. Average height, average weight, shoulder length brown hair and brown eyes, she’s holding a tiny plastic cup with two pills in it. She hands me the cup, then a larger one with some water. I swallow the pills in silence and she smiles. She leaves and I close my eyes as the world fades to black.
The pills bring me back to the night at the bar with Chrissy. We’re three drinks in, the bar is still empty, and the bartender is giving me the evil eye from across the room. I ignore him completely. Chrissy is talking about something, but I’m not really listening and she knows it. Her knee is between my legs, gently rubbing my already hard cock. I put my arm around her waist and let her know that it’s time to leave. She laughs, leans in and bites my neck playfully, then takes my hand and leads me out the door.
Outside, she tells me to follow her and peels out of the parking lot. I have to press hard on the gas just to keep up. I follow her through some back roads, past several developments and into a small community of decrepit townhomes. She pulls into the driveway of a shack-style house at the back of a dead end street and signals from her window that I should park on the road.
By the time I get out of the car she’s already inside, a bottle of Coors in each hand. Chrissy hands me one, then lights a cigarette. She points to a dusty old chair that time forgot and I take a seat. She pulls a CD off the rack and places it in the stereo. Motley Crue starts playing Girls Girls Girls and she tells me how this is the ultimate stripper song.
“Watch,” she says “I’ll show you.” She turns, places her beer next to the stereo and leans over so I can get a good look at her ass. Her body begins to sway with the beat. She raises her arms into the air and spins around as her hips awkwardly gyrate and thrust and I try not to laugh. Then her top comes off and I’ve lost all interest in her dancing and she can tell. On hands and knees she crawls over and unzips my jeans. My eyes roll back in my head and my body goes limp as I slide into her mouth.
Six beers and several hours later, her father comes home.
My pants are dragging around my ankles as a six-foot-four giant of a man – no more than ten years older than me – throws me out of his house and into a tree on his front lawn. His face is crimson and I can see the veins bulging near his temples. He threatens to get his shotgun and then heads inside. I try not to think about how old his daughter might be as I run for the safety of my car. Adrenaline and alcohol are coursing through my system in equal amounts and it’s a challenge just to get the door open. My eyes are blurry and my hands are shaking but I throw the car in gear and peel off into the night. It takes me several minutes before I realize that I have no idea where I am, or how to get back.
And then it happened. I remember speeding off on some unknown stretch of highway. The car is swerving across the road. I’m fighting to maintain control but failing. A truck appears, large and indistinguishable, its color lost to the night. The lights catch me off guard. First I’m swerving into them, then away from them. I’m blind. A horn blasts. My car slides off the road and the back tires catch on something unknown. I lose control and head towards a telephone pole. Next there’s the screech of metal bending and giving way, followed by the crack of glass, and my body is catapulted out of the driver’s seat. I fly through the windshield and land hard on cold asphalt. My body burns where it connects with the pavement and I can feel something wet spreading across my face. I try to get up but my body won’t respond. My eyes focus on a small piece of glass on the road next to me while I wait to die.
Chapter Two: Angie
The pole was where I shined. I had the muscles and the experience. There wasn’t a single girl in the club that could even compete with me. Although that wasn’t saying much, here in this dive. I look out across the smoke filled room, trying to make eye contact, trying to smile. They needed to connect with you, feel the allure. That was how you got dances. And the private dances were the only way a girl could make money in a shit-hole like this.
The only good thing about SPECTRA was that the club didn’t charge. The other, better venues charged the girls to perform. A hundred dollars upfront or you couldn’t work. And competition was fierce, cutthroat. It was too easy to lose money stripping. And that was a risk I couldn’t take.
Joseph switches tracks and the clothes come off. The first song is all for show, shaking your curves, teasing them. But the second song was when you had to give it up. The negligee Alyssa’s father gave me is the first to go, off my shoulders and onto the black fiberglass of the stage. I kick it off to the side with a flick of my heel. My breasts are exposed, soft but still firm. I play with them and bring them to my mouth, all the time wondering how long it will be before they’re flat and useless. I look for a reaction in the crowd but all I get are a few puffs of smoke. Someone tosses a bill onto the floor.
I squat up and down on the pole, throwing my ass out, arching my back, before lifting myself upside down in a spin. Another bill hits the stage. I ride the pole for another thirty seconds and then it’s time for the finale. I hate this part. The satin thong flies up and away, over my head, to the back of the stage and my kitty is exposed for the world to see. But they want more, so I put on my most seductive face, slide my hand down low and jingle my piercing, right before dipping a finger inside. And as I raise it back to my lips for a taste, a final, crumpled bill lands at my feet. The music ends. There are a few claps but nothing fantastic, and I all I feel is empty.
It’s Tuesday night, I remind myself, as I shrink off the stage in shame after collecting my three dollars. I run into the back room and open my locker and put the money inside. I switch into a black lace teddy and thigh-highs and matching heels that I bought at Payless. I try not to cry and after a few deep breaths I pick up what’s left of the cigarette I started earlier and finish it. I want to stay back here and hide, but I have to go out. I have to get back in the game. I need to find a guy and do a dance and maybe even let him grope me a little. All so I can buy breakfast in the morning.
I check my makeup, see my lipstick is getting a little light, reapply, and then I’m back in the crowd. Off by the tables, but the near the stage, is a middle-aged man sipping what might be whiskey and looking very nervous. He’s wearing a dark long-sleeved t-shirt and khakis, with loafers. I know he must be married but I wonder if he teaches too. He looks like a professor. Maybe he teaches elementary school. That would be hot, I tell myself, if only to psyche myself up for what I know is coming. It’s the quiet ones you have to worry about.
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