The address turned up above a metal door with chipped green paint at the end of a dark alley. To buy a few minutes, I messed with my lipstick, which was down to the dregs.
“I’m supposed to ask for Ignacio,” I said to the fat guy who answered the door. I pulled aside my leather jacket to show the bare skin between my breasts.
The dude opened the door wide enough for me to pass. I left the chilled alley and stepped inside. A black fox with a white-tipped tail greeted me from the wall. The heavy spice of cigar smoke from the table did its best to cover the smell of death. I took my time shedding my jacket. Opera seeped from the back.
“Iggy, your girl’s here,” the bouncer announced.
The guys were old and heavy lidded. Something comes over old smart dudes with money to burn. It’s almost like they turn into zombies.
“Hello, gentlemen,” I cooed. They liked that. I leaned forward and rested my scantily clad chest on their table and ran my hands over the pile of cash in the middle.
Ignacio smiled around his cigar and turned to eye me up. I inhaled his smoke with a grin. “Watch it, young lady,” he glowered at me. “You have a job to do.”
“Yes, sir,” I licked my lips when I smiled. Zombie on the other side pulled out his cigar, then leaned in and ran the wet end between my breasts. Luck was on my side.
I stood up and moved toward my little podium with a bronze dance pole in the center. This was a first, stripping to opera.
“Can one of you gentlemen fill me in on the rules?” I made my voice all innocence and honey. I batted my lashes at zombie dude for good measure. He death rattled deep in his throat. “Honey, you gotta line ‘em up, make a match, or get outta here,” he stared at my breasts. Girl’s best friends.
“What’s the minimum?” I slurped, shaking slowly along with the opera.
“Fifty for newbies,” the dealer shot out.
“Maybe someday,” I replied wistfully, feeling more like a sculpture than a stripper. The zombies went around calling and raising. No one folded. Fifteen minutes in I was down to just my thong and heels. I pretended the arias were dance numbers and worked my shoulders and hips. An hour passed like that, maybe more, and my feet began to burn. To distract myself, I thought about gene expression for my bio exam Monday.
I stepped off the podium to give the zombies what they were paying for, and right then Puccini came on. Maria Callas’ voice made the perfect accompaniment to my own.
“I can never remember,” I said, doing my best to sound thoughtful. “What comes first, Queen or King?” Several of the zombies laughed around their cigars at that one and the smoke hung over the pot.
I made the rounds, breaking hearts with Maria, careful not to touch any old guy parts. When I got to Ignacio, he smiled and laid down his cards, thoroughly enjoying the close proximity. “Young lady, you are to die for,” he said in my ear, then reached into the pile of money in the center of the table. “This is for you,” he announced, and then flung a bill into the hazy air. The crisp G-note hung there in its little two-dimensional plane of reality, Grover Cleveland’s face superimposed over the watery-eyed zombies, all clamoring for a look as I reached across dimensions for my reward.
It fluttered for a moment, magnificent in its struggle, then wilted and lay still. With my red-tipped fingers, I grabbed it. “Thank you, sir,” I gave him a quick smile. I shoved the money into my handbag, pulled on my dress, and slowly put on my jacket.
“Good evening, gentlemen. Maybe one day you’ll let girls play,” I laughed. They snorted collectively. It was kind of cute.
I waltzed to the door, nodded to the fox, and slipped through the gap that the bouncer dude offered. I headed back down the alley and stopped to peek at the money inside my bag. It was enough for this month’s tuition bill plus a little left over. Dumb as it sounds, all I wanted was a new lipstick.