Previously published: Johns, Marks, Tricks & Chickenhawks (Soft Skull Press, 2013); Best American Erotica, 1995 (Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1995 as Scarlett Fever)
Originally published: BUST Magazine, Summer/ Fall 1994 (as Scarlett Fever)
I paused at the doorway to the dining room of Laurent—it was not quite Lutece, but it was in the same neighborhood, the same price range, and just as French and fancy. I let the room get a good view. My deep purple spandex dress fit like a wet suit in the few places it bothered to cover. One arm bare and supple, the back cut low and the sides cut high. My nipples, straining against the tight material, managed to rise to the occasion of all the attention. The maitre’d smiled and motioned, across a sea of perfectly coiffed silver heads, for us to follow. The gentle murmur of polite conversation slowed as all heads turned in concert. I heard the whisper of pearls across black velvet, the subtle intake of breath, and the click-click of my three-inch heels as polite conversation stopped to watch me stroll across the room. The maitre’d, seemed to be getting a real kick out of the attention I was getting. He took his time parading us to the center of the dining room, then turning to direct us back to a semi-private corner banquette. I felt the watery eyes of flaccid ruddy-cheeked men gaze surreptitiously, while the eyes of wives shot hot arrows of disgust.
I loved this.
I didn’t belong here. My dress was too tight, my hair too short and too red, and my class too low. My date was my ticket in. It was as if the stripper who popped out of the cake at the bachelor party showed up at the wedding on the arm of the bride’s father. No one could ask me to leave. The men knew what I was. The women suspected. So I took pleasure in just being there, in that tiny bit of power I held for that moment. The power not to be thrown out of a place that ordinarily wouldn’t even have let me in.
My date for the evening seemed only slightly uncomfortable in his conservative suit and foolish grin. Maybe the simple gold wedding band he wore was too tight. Or maybe he wasn’t prepared for the reaction my appearance in a place like this would create. Whatever it was, it was his problem, not mine. He’d paid me my fee for the evening, two hundred dollars—just shy of a months rent—to compensate for the money I was losing by being out to dinner with him, and not working at the Mardi Gras.
I slipped next to him on the brocade cushions of the banquette, our thighs touched and I felt the heat rise as his face colored slightly. His uneasiness excited me. The more uncomfortable he was, the more comfortable I became. We shared several martinis before dinner and he began to relax, asking the questions they all do eventually.
“So, do you like your work?” Oh sure. When I was little I always imagined I’d grow up, be naked and spend my time drinking cheap champagne with assholes.
“Do you get turned on with everyone watching?” If I was turned on do you think I would be charging you?
“Does your family know?” Sure. Sure they do. They brag over holiday dinners. They’re thinking of including photos in the next family newsletter.
“Have you ever done it with a woman?” C’mon, buddy. Have you?
I could think whatever I wanted, but I told him what he wanted to hear—that I loved what I did, I got horny when I danced, that I got me wet just thinking about him watching me, that I fantasized about being with a man and another woman—and tiny beads of sweat began to appear around his hairline. There was a moment of relief for him as the waiter came for our order. I leaned over to whisper in his ear, one hand resting between his legs, letting my breast and one fabulous hard nipple rub against his arm.
“I don’t know what I want. I think you should make all my decisions tonight.” I left my arm, hand, and breast on him while he ordered, feeling his erection growing.
“Thank you,” I whispered as the waiter retreated, “I knew you could take good care of me, Daddy.” His name was José. Or Jack. Or Jabberwocky. It’s crazy how many men get hard when you call them Daddy, so I stuck with that. It was hotter for him, and less for me to remember. I let my hand brush across his cock as I leaned back and fished the olive from my martini. He smiled and slipped his hand between my legs as I sucked the vodka off the olive. I crossed my legs, trapping his hand, “Not here, Daddy…after dinner it’s all yours.”
We had a sumptuous dinner, watched by proper mature ladies whose glares he tried to avoid, and envious men whose eyes I caught intentionally and smiled directly into while my hand tortured Daddy Jabberwocky’s erection beneath the linen tablecloth. The women were self-righteous and upset, their balding overstuffed husbands—thinking of the deflated breasts and dry pussies across the table from them—groaned in desperation. My date was straining for the release of orgasm. Everyone was right where I wanted them to be and I was in my glory. I had my little bit of power.
“Check,” he called, unable to stand the teasing another minute.
“And coffee, please,” I added.
He pulled out his gold American Express card. It’s what I’d been waiting for all night, the pièce de résistance.
“Would you pour me the last of the Cristal? It’s a sin to let good champagne go to waste.” Actually, it’s a sin to let any champagne go to waste. He reached over for the bottle and gave me a clear view of the gold card. It’s just a matter of memorizing a short series of numbers: fifteen numbers divided into three segments. A child could do this. I took one sip of the champagne and excused myself to the ladies room.
I slipped into a phone booth instead. Charlie answered on the first ring; he’d been waiting for my call.
“Am Ex. Gold. Member since 1981.” I thought for a second, pictured the card in my mind and reeled off the name and numbers on the card. I don’t think I’d known his last name before that. I’d barely bothered remembering his first. “I gotta go, Charlie. I don’t want to lose my momentum.”
“You comin’ home?”
“Later, he’s still got some cash I think should be mine.”
The dried-up women and unhappy husbands watched again as I walked the length of the dining room back to the secluded corner where my Romeo of the moment was waiting. He was thinking about a hotel, I could see it on his face. The wedding ring he wore made it obvious he couldn’t take me home with him.
I always looked for the wedding ring. This was one of those situations where the existence of a wife actually made my life much easier.
He didn’t even suggest my place, saving me the trouble of coming up with a reason we couldn’t go there. Sometimes I used the excuse of my imaginary kid. The one I trotted out whenever it was convenient. The one I home-schooled, because I didn’t know the names or locations of any real schools. His, or her, father was dead, killed in action, in prison, had abandoned me, or raped me, or was dying of terminal something. A good lie has a bit of the truth at the center. I’d been pregnant, and involved with men who were now dead, or in prison, or who had abandoned or raped me, so I never felt like I was lying all that much when I talked about my kid. But this one wasn’t interested in my home life.
“Let’s get a little blow and a drink before we settle in for the night. What d’ya think? Coke makes me really crazy.” I let my body brush full against his. He was lost, he was helpless, he was mine. I hustled him into a cab and we headed thirty blocks downtown and two flights up to a dim and dirty cavernous space where I knew everybody. Through a dark room with an old pool table and a couple of warped sticks into a darker room where the bar was. The liquor was cut-rate, the glasses were plastic, and the music was blaring.
Now he was the outsider, the one who didn’t belong. These were my people—unfortunately that meant that everyone there wanted his money as badly as I did. But I had a leg up. Literally. Next to him on a threadbare corner couch, with one leg sprawled across his lap and snaking down between his legs, pressing against the ever-present erection. My hand slipped inside his jacket and played with his nipple while Max the Mumbler wandered over with pockets filled with cocaine. My Jabberwocky flashed his bankroll, and paid for an eight-ball.
Nightcrawlers and coke whores can follow the scent of cash in the air like hyenas on the smell of a rotting carcass. Drifting closer, they slowly surrounded us, drawn by the sweet perfume of a sucker’s money. We were the center of this particular universe as long as we had cocaine and money. He loved it. He’d never known people like this. The red light of the club gave it all a surreal and dangerous quality, but he felt safe with me. We shared our coke with his new friends: Johnny Blue Eyes, Mouse’s old man and a jewel thief wanted in five states; Franco, a Richard Gere look-a-like who would have sex with anyone for $100 and would eventually marry Patti; Wella, recently released from an eight-year bid she did for dismembering a Japanese trick (She’d stuffed him in Hefty bags and stored him in the closet, dragging one bag out each day until a leaky bag left a bloody trail from the curb to her closet.); Smilin’ Dennis who was anywhere Raymond was; Raymond, who designed g-string outfits for the girls and was anywhere girls and booze were; Jack the Jew, a card counter banned in all the Vegas casinos and the Atlantic City casinos as well; and Jimmy Bug Eyes who had an after-hours and was hooked up with the mob in some way I was never able to make sense of, but he was and he made sure you knew it. The more coke we had, the more friends we had. José, or Jack, or Jabberwocky, the longer the night went on the less sure I was that his name even began with a “J” so I just stuck with Daddy or Baby when I needed to use his name, but whatever his name was, he loved it. They talked to him as if he was one of them. He began to imagine that he was not just a daytime citizen anymore, that he was something more, something darker.
I was beginning to lose control. There were too many fingers trying to stick themselves in my pie. I steered him to one of the blackjack tables in the corner.
“I wanna play too,” I pouted. He peeled off a $100 for me and settled in to play cards.
“Oh, Vincent’s here,” I whispered in his ear, “his coke is so much better than Max’s…please, can I, Daddy? You’ll see. You’ll see how good it is.” Daddy gave me money, I got an eight-ball, of which I let him have half a gram and kept the remaining three grams for myself. I sat in for two hands of Blackjack, both of which I promptly lost.
“Too rich for my blood.” I pushed away from the table stretching my body out against the thin plum fabric of my dress. I let my hand drop into his lap and caress his cock, which—thanks to all the booze and cocaine—had shriveled down to its original birth weight. That’s the thing about men and cocaine. It tells them they can go all night, when the truth is they can’t go at all, really. I was just fine with that situation. I spent another twenty minutes feeding him more coke and more cocktails and letting my breasts rub across the back of his head while rubbing his shoulders from behind. He was losing like crazy. And everyone was happy. The house had some of his money, I had more of his money and most his coke, and he thought he had me.
“I’m gonna shoot pool with the Mouse out front. Come get me as soon as you’re ready. O.K. Daddy?” He turned and looked at the Mouse, her breasts barely covered by the black strapless number she was wearing. Her breasts had a gravitational pull all their own, and her long hair slid over them like dark water, washing them, caressing them. She slipped her arm around me and he looked as if he was ready to pass out. It’s the reaction we got when we were together, we were an irresistible one-two punch. If I couldn’t hurt them, she could. If she couldn’t hurt them, I could and there were damn few that could resist the combination of her dark voluptuousness and my pale outrageousness.
“Yeah, here take this.” He handed me his vial of coke. “I just want to get a little even here. Turn your friend on, too.”
“Oh, I was planning on turning her on. You ready for me to turn you on, Mouse?”
“Ready, J,” she purred. We turned. We kissed. Long and soft and warm.
“Don’t keep us waiting too long.” We walked away, my arm around the sharp curve of her waist, her hand on my big round ass. We walked away from the card table, and past the bar Johnny Blue Eyes was leaning on, watching us, and not saying anything. He never said much. I don’t think he liked me, but he didn’t seem to mind the fact that Mouse did.
Mouse and I entered a barely lit room where the pool table was occupied by a couple of baby pimps. We couldn’t’ve played in those dresses even if the table had been empty. The minute either one of us leaned over to shoot, our respective breasts would roll out of our respective dresses and display themselves on the worn green felt. But the thought of actually shooting pool had never crossed either of our minds.
We strolled right on out the door, down two flights of stairs, and into a yellow Checker cab headed east into the morning light. Me and the Mouse sat cross-town in another after-hours club drinking cheap vodka, sharing the coke and laughing over “Daddy’s” probable reaction when he discovered that we, as well as the coke and his money, were gone.
The game was fixed.
The whole evening was fixed.
He would always be just a daytime citizen. And this was my world, where no matter what the sun was doing, it was night o’clock. They would not let him back into the club the next night or any night unless he was with someone like me. Or Mouse. His wedding band was my guarantee he wouldn’t go the police and risk having the wife find out.
Other people’s wedding bands were my insurance policy.
He would go home and tell outrageous stories about his wild night with a bad girl to his buddies over backyard barbecue, exaggerating what actually happened and leaving out any embarrassing details. And when I got home some time that afternoon, what ever time I finally made it home, there would be a new American Express card, exactly like his, waiting on my pillow.