Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Once more with feeling....

Okay, so true confession time: I'm really having a blast with these trunk novels we've been publishing on Girlfriends Book Club.  And it's not just because it allows me to procrastinate when I should be writing novel #4 (Dear Editor: if you are reading this, I am *totally* kidding!!).

There's just something about these old novels that we've tucked away in the trunk.  It's like being with an old friend again.  THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB got such a nice response that I decided to post Chapter Two here, and now I'm doing the same thing with LOVE, LOSS AND BAIL ON THE VEGAS STRIP.  If you haven't read Chapter One, it's right here.

So, without further ado, here's Chapter Two!


By Brenda Janowitz

Chapter two

            “Those guys this morning were hot,” Heavenly says as the frat boys file out of the shop.
            “I suppose they were if you like trust fund babies who live of their father’s money and have no regard for human life,” I say, finishing the paperwork on their bond.
            Heavenly shrugs her shoulders as if to say, ‘What’s wrong with that?’
            “So,” Heavenly says, pouring a cup of coffee for me and bringing it over, “I met these guys last night….”
            “No,” I say, taking a sip of the coffee and setting it down to get back to my work.
            “You don’t even know what I was going to ask you!” Heavenly says, “Destiny and I met these awesome guys last night at ghostbar.”
            “Double no,” I say, “definitely no.”  Even Donny gives a tiny laugh in acknowledgment.  I know that these “awesome” guys going to be a pair of old guys trying to score with younger women.  Because that’s generally the type one meets at ghostbar.  Especially, if like Heavenly, you usually go out at night with your stripper friends.  “Why can’t Destiny go with you tonight, then?”
            “She has to work,” Heavenly says, “You know what slavedrivers they are at Olympic Gardens.  Every girl in town wants to work there, and they know that and they totally hold it over the girls’ heads.”
            I for, one, do not know what slavedrivers they are at Olympic Gardens, being that I’ve never been a stripper before.  Heavenly, on the other hand, knows exactly what she’s talking about.
            “Get one of the other girls to go with you,” I say.
            “Chastity and Mercedes are doing a bachelor party, Dusty, Angel and Cinnamon are working a private party for some Tokyo businessmen, and Lola and Sugar are on the same schedule as Destiny at OG’s!”
            “Don’t you have any friends who aren’t strippers?” I ask.
            “Don’t you have any friends who aren’t me?” she says.  Donny looks up from his paper and regards me.  He instinctively knows when I’m about to get angry, when I’m about to need him.  He once called me from the Federal Pen in Nevada after I’d been in an argument with my study group in Boston.  It’s uncanny.
            “I don’t need friends,” I say.  “I’ve got you two.  Now, everybody back to work.”  Donny puts his head back down into his newspaper and Heavenly gets back to her paperwork, making a big show of lifting her pen and flipping her papers.  I sit at the front desk watching the door and waiting for the phone to ring. 
            Three hours later, Heavenly’s still at it.
            “I’ll wash your bike for the next three months,” she pleads as she does the paperwork on a three hundred dollar bond for a drunken bar fight.  That’s the only other action we’ve gotten for the whole day, so I’m feeling bored and antsy.  I could use a drink.  Especially a free one, with the way business has been going.
            “I’ll come along,” I tell Heavenly, “but I’m just not going to the Bellagio.”
“We’re not going to the Bellagio, baby,” Heavenly assures me as she touches up her makeup in the mirror she hung up in my office. 
“I will go anywhere in the city—no, in the entire state of Nevada—but I just will not step foot in the Bellagio.”
“Not a problem.  No Bellagio.  You’re going to go home and change first, though, right?” she says, looking me up and down.
“Jeans are very trendy nowadays,” I tell her.  “As are wifebeaters,” I say, checking my pits for sweat marks.
“You’re wearing combat boots,” she says.
“Not everyone can wear four inch stilettos and a skirt as large as a grosgrain ribbon to work, Heav.”
“That’s it!” Heavenly squeals running over to the front desk of our office, “You can wear these!”  She pulls out a pair of five inch heels with Lucite soles—a holdover from her own stripper days of old.
“I can not wear those.  How can anyone wear those?”
“Why are you always so difficult?” she asks, pulling out another pair of shoes.  This time, it’s a pair of blood red three inch strappy heels.  I had a feeling that they looked like stripper shoes on her, but I could see from the label they were Manolo Blahniks, so I figured that they were classy.  “Got them at the Neiman’s sale last spring.  Don’t ruin them!”
“These will go great with my red leather jacket,” I say, slipping the shoes on.  They fit like a glove.
“You are not wearing that ratty old thing,” she informs me, “throw this wrap sweater on over your wife beater.”
“What I’m wearing is fine,” I say, checking the shoes out in the mirror.
“I’m not letting you wear that jacket,” she says, “so unless you want to freeze your ass off at dinner, I suggest you put on the sweater.”
It was a nude colored cashmere wrap sweater with lace lining its edges.  It still smelled faintly of Heavenly’s perfume.
“I’m not wearing this,” I say.  “I’m sorry.  But I’ll take the shoes.”  Heavenly rolls her eyes at me and goes to the front window to keep watch for our dates.
“Here they come!” Heavenly says a half hour later as the car pulls up to the shop.  The guys have gone all out tonight and rented a fancy black limo which is equipped with lights that change colors every three seconds and a fully loaded mini-bar.
            Heavenly introduces me to our dates for the evening—two old dudes (as suspected) who are both named Dave.
“I knew a guy named Dave once,” I tell Dave #2, as I grab my red leather jacket and get into the limo, “He tried to get onto a plane to Columbia at McCarren with a gram of coke stuck up his—“
“Cat!”  Heavenly interrupts, “We see where you’re going with this one.”  She laughs her coquettish laugh and the Daves laugh along with her.  Dave #1 takes the opportunity to put his hand squarely on the inside of Heavenly’s thigh.  She doesn’t even flinch.
I continue, “Anyway, he was a good looking guy.  Real popular in prison.”

Heavenly smiles an embarrassed smile to the guys and says to me under her breath, “Can’t you at least try to be a lady?”  I tell her that I have big breasts—I don’t have to be a lady.
You may be disgusted with me right about now, thinking that I use my sexuality (read: large breasts) to get what I want, but don’t be.  The way I see it, if society is going to put us in these fucked up gender roles, we may as well use precisely what is being used against us to help us out wherever we can.  “Use what you’ve got.”  My daddy taught me that.  “As long as it’s legal.”  That was his caveat. 
            The limo turns onto Las Vegas Boulevard—The Strip—and I turn to Heavenly.  Even though I just met these guys, already, I know them.
“I’m not going to the Bellagio,” I say to her.
The lights on the strip are blinding.  So much so, that as the limo makes its way down the Strip, I want to yell and scream and tell this guy that I want to get out.  I don’t belong here.  But, I don’t want to make a scene.  I figure, if I promised Heavenly that I’d go on a double date with her, it’s probably not appropriate to have a nervous breakdown the second the guy tries to take you to a nice place.  I just wish we could’ve stayed downtown.
“You’re going to love Picasso,” Dave #1 says to me as he leans into Heavenly.  Heavenly looks at me with an apologetic smile.  Picasso is the gourmet dining room at the Bellagio and I know it’s the sort of place that Heavenly would give her first born child to go to. 
“Who doesn’t love the Bellagio?” Dave #2 asks me, trying to do the same lean-in trick.  I scoot back into my seat and regard him.  “The Bellagio is classic Vegas.”
The limo clumsily drives up the massive driveway leading to the Bellagio.  Hoards of fat Americans are walking in and out of the front walkway and bunches of strippers, escorted by old men who are even older than our old men, are waiting at the taxi stand.
“This isn’t Vegas,” I say as a look of horror crosses Heavenly’s face.  She begins canoodling with her old man to distract him.  “Vegas is where we work.  Downtown.  Old school Vegas.  Where Sinatra and his friends used to play games and break hearts.”
“The Bellagio isn’t Vegas?” Dave #1 asks me, gently removing Heavenly’s face from his, “What is it, then?” 
“Disney for adults,” I say.  Both Daves are staring me down and I don’t back down one bit.  When you’ve gone bounty hunting in Brazil with a three hundred pound former resident of the Nevada State Pen, very little scares you anymore.
“We’re here!” Heavenly cries out, amping up her Southern accent for effect, as the Bellagio doorman opens the limo door.
            Dave #2 tries to get me to take his arm as we waltz into the Bellagio, but I’m having none of it.  My skin starts to crawl the moment I see the Chihuly blown glass in the lobby and the orange and yellow striped awnings of the casino.
            “I don’t feel like gambling,” I tell Dave #2 and try to turn him away from the casino. 
            “You have to walk through the casino to get to Picasso,” Dave #1 reminds me as he leads the group past the tables.  He’s walking fast and has almost approached Pit 7.  I do not want to be anywhere near Pit 7. 
            “Let’s get a drink at Caramel first,” Heavenly says to Dave #1, diverting him from Pit 7.  He obliges.
“I’m going to hit the ladies room and meet you in there,” I tell Dave #2.
“I’ll keep a seat warm for you,” he replies, and smacks me on the ass.  I grab my ass in reflex and walk over to Jimmy Andrews, the pit boss at Pit 6.
“Is he here tonight?” I ask Andrews.
“No,” he says, smiling at me.  “Why?”
“No reason,” I say, “Don’t tell him I asked for him.”
            By the time I make it to Caramel, the Daves are ready to move.  We make our way into the casino, and I’m grateful that Heavenly diverts them to the exact opposite side of the casino from Pit 7.  Better safe than sorry.
            Dave #2 turns to me and asks if I like Roulette.  I shake my head ‘no.’  Who in their right mind likes Roulette?  It’s a sucker’s game.
            You can tell the type of man you’re dealing with by the game he choses to play.  If he like to play Roulette, he’s a loser.  He’s got no skills, no smarts, so he needs to play a game that relies solely on chance.  “Real men play poker.”  That’s what my daddy used to say.  But, if pressed, Craps is the only acceptable game to play at a casino.  Unless you’re a numbers guy, in which case Blackjack would be okay. 
            Heavenly suggests Blackjack, which is in the heart of Pit 6 and barely visible from Pit 7, and we settle down at a table.  Heavenly stands behind Dave #1 with her hands on his shoulders, but I sit right down at the table next to Dave #2.
            “I find a girl who plays cards very sexy,” Dave #2 says, leaning over to me.
            “You’re not allowed to touch the cards,” I say, pushing him back, even though he was nowhere near the cards.  He leans back with a chuckle.
            “Hey, sweetheart,” Dave #2 calls out to a passing cocktail waitress, “we’ll take two Heinekens over here.  Cat, would you like a glass of white wine?”
            “I’ll have a white wine spritzer,” Heavenly says.
            “May I please have a Grey Goose, rocks?” I ask and throw a $5 chip onto her tray.
            “Coming right up,” she says with a smile.
            “Oh, Kitty Cat,” a voice from behind the dealer says to me, “you’d better not hit or you’re going to bust.”
            I look up and it’s Dallas standing there with Andrews.
            “I thought you said he wasn’t here?” I say to Andrews.
            “He’s my friend, Cat,” Andrews says with a laugh and walks away to monitor the other tables in his pit. 
I should have tipped him.  I thought he was my friend, but I should have tipped him.
            The truth is, everyone in Vegas is looking for a tip.  And I’ve got my red leather jacket on over Heavenly’s sweater, so I’ve got no excuse.  I put my singles in my left jeans pocket (valets, bathroom attendants), fives in the right jeans pocket (waiters, cocktail waitresses), tens in the left inside pocket of my red leather jacket (maitre d’s and minor tipsters), and twenties in the right inside pocket of my red leather jacket (major tipsters and informants).  This would have taken a dip or two into the right inside pocket of my jean jacket.  Rookie mistake.  And now I’ve got to face the one person I want to see least in the world—Dallas.
            “Hit,” I say to the dealer.  I know this is a mistake.  I’ve got a fifteen, and the dealer has got the same.  As a general rule, the easiest way to play Blackjack is to assume that the dealer’s got a ten under his cards, just dying to come out.  With that in mind, conventional wisdom would tell me to stick, and not take any more cards, since the odds are in the House’s favor that I will bust on the next card I take.  Furthermore, the House has to take cards until it hits 17—rules of the game—so I should just sit patiently until the House busts.  But I just can’t stand Dallas trying to tell me what to do.
            The dealer pulls out the next card in the shoe and it’s an eight.
            “Bust,” the dealer says as he whisks my chips away.  Dallas gives me a sly smile and I want to vault my body over the Blackjack table and strangle him.  But I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he’s gotten to me.
This is why I hate the Bellagio.

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