Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 109 in 2004.
Time was Mac entered Billy's Topless like a moody conqueror. He would greet the bouncer, bartender and dancers with a wave, pull up a table ringside, and call for a full-throated bottle of Hennessey. He was having an affair with Tigress, a favorite dancer, and had been given the run of the house.
Pause. Fast forward 14 years: past his marriage/divorce, Tigress; past his marriage/divorce, Suzette; and you'd find him in his present, much reduced, nearly love-starved state.
This night he'd swept into the club on the back of a bitter December wind that shook the beaded curtain at the entrance to the VIP rooms and stirred a couple of cocktail napkins on the bar.
It was late Monday night and not only were there few patrons, but few fixtures. The place was being renovated. One side of the runway was ripped up; the mirror behind the stage half dismantled; and five or six tables in a corner draped with draw cloths because the ceiling above them was being plastered.
Still, the show must go on, and, as luck would have it, the very woman he'd come to see, Femy, a Filipina dancer, was doing her thing centerstage. She was already topless, swaying to a love song. Each bass thump got the shot-put of her tiny rump.
Mac bought a drink at the bar to avoid the carrying charge you got when you ordered from a waitress, then piloted his beer to a table. Femy alighted from the silver pole she'd been shimmying around and gave Mac a wink as she sashayed over to a fat guy who was waggling a creased dollar her way. She stuck two fingers under the waistband of her red panties, pulling it out so he could shove the money into her crotch. The joker made sure his knuckles slowly rubbed up her pubes as he slid his hand out.
She danced back, keeping her hand in her panties and began to strip them, turning so her ass would be the first thing exposed. Mac looked on with wolfish admiration. She had a compact body, stout legs, and petite, pouty breasts, ending in large, creosote nipples. When he could take his eyes off her shape, he noticed her highly made-up face with its penciled-in eyes, lacquered eyelashes, and a mouth red as persimmons. A shock of straight black hair ran down her back in a muddy, ebony column.
When the song ended, she collected her negligible clothes to make way for the next girl. She carefully retrieved the bills that lay crumpled on the stage like origami swans. Bouncing from the platform, robing, and nodding offhandedly to Mac, Femy started toward the bar. Mac caught her wrist and asked her to sit down for a moment. She did so ruefully, though with a big smile.
"Move the table a little, will you, sweetie?" Femy said. "Just over here."
"What are you practicing feng shui?" Mac asked irritably, though he complied by shifting the table to the left.
The waitress was already upon them when Femy mentioned, "The manager won't let me sit here unless you treat me."
She ordered a glass of champagne.
Ironically, he hadn't come here to buy Femy to a drink, but to try and get back some of the $200 he'd loaned her a couple of months ago. He figured the champagne wouldn't put too big a dent in his wallet. It was an investment, anyway.
You see, Billy's was the last of a vanishing breed: the clip joint with tiny shears. The city's current mayor, Guiliani, was on a purity campaign, though one that aimed mainly at stifling workingmen's joints. The expensive gentlemen's clubs were staying open, but the cheaper topless places were being shut down. The renovations being done at Billy's were a belated attempt to upscale the premises, but, to Mac's mind, it was money wasted on a lost cause.
Of more immediate concern, though, was the fact, until then unknown to Mac, that the place was also crafting its prices upward, and the tab for one champagne Cinderella was a 10 spot.
After he suavely laid out the money and a lavish tip, he joked with Femy about the anemic Christmas touches like the one-foot-high, lit-up Santa, sitting at the back of the stage. He pointed out that it looked more like a small heating unit than a decoration.
By now Mac had realized why she had been so anxious to change the position of the table. As he had been trying to amuse her, she kept smiling at the fat man at the other table.
As Mac glanced at him, he jumped up and stepped over. "Sorry to interrupt you, buddy; but I just wanted to ask the lady if she might be available for a private session, that is, after she's done here."
"I'm free now," she said, bounding up. She put her arm through chubby's. "We have to talk price first, honey. We go over there." She was polite enough to whisper to Mac, before moving off, "Honey, I see you quick later."
She waltzed the guy away, and the last thing he saw of her was her lovely panther back passing through the beaded shower of sequins that curtained off the VIP rooms.
He didn't know if it was worth sitting around and waiting. Still, if fatso was generous, his money might be used to settle Femy's debt. To pass the time, Mac quaffed champagne. It wasn't much of a drink, tasting less like a wine than sugared piss.