Beware the wounded animal... beware even more the wounded man. There was nothing to do now other than sit back and drink as the night was now going to be just like any number of nights where i do business, get drunk and then wander home with nothing more to do than watch late night telly and talk to the cats. It wasn't so much admitting defeat as this wasn't some competition, all i really had to do was leave the waitress and Veronica would have been handing me keys to her place. Having traveled together our learning curve was steeper than most and we knew that we'd get on just fine. But the facts were i was not about to do anything to upset the kingdom, the business was what mattered most and right or wrong that's how i was going about things. Like a bad Hemingway protagonist women were viewed as a luxury, something to do in my spare time. I should have been the last person any female should have wanted to be involved with yet i didn't seem to have any shortage of females who wanted to be involved with me.
Across the club i could see Veronica talking to Franco and assuring him that things were cool. I bore the kid no malice yet had i walked over, bounced his head off the wall and kicked the shit out of him no one would have stopped me. The situation wasn't his fault though it was mine. And so i sat and felt this hollow feeling in my chest. If the first time it had ended hurt this one hurt even more... not that it had began again but in my mind there were those possibilities and now they were gone, gone for good. Franco kept his distance and Veronica came back over and told me that Franco said thanks for the drink. I nodded towards him and raised my beer and as she stood there gazing at me she wrapped her arm around mine and gave me one last hug. Then she walked to the waitress stand at the bar, grabbed the tray and delivered the next round of drinks. I sat and lit another cigarette. I needed to quit smoking. I was the loneliest man in a crowded room
So i sat and pondered what to do... the thought of going home crossed my mind but the thought of sitting in my apartment alone was depressing. On a normal night i would have relished it actually but considering what i thought this night was going to be i now didn't know what to do with myself. The thought of the all-night diner, bacon and cheese omelet and a milkshake, crossed my mind. I was lost in thought when i felt the presence of someone standing next to me... it was Red and Penny, a couple of veteran dancers who'd been working the Baum Blvd. circuit since i'd shown up five years ago. It was later that i found out Penny actually had a thing for me until i brought one of my minions in who she immediately took a shine to and started to see to the dismay and anger of his current girlfriend. Red was her best friend. She had long thick curls, breast implants and kept herself in top shape. She had these beautiful and shapely legs, strong thighs, just enough muscle but not bodybuilder type, feminine and attractive. They stood there smiling at me and began to talk, asking how i was doing and if i was okay. They said i seemed a little off and i said i was fine, that i was just relaxing. Later on it came out that they knew what had gone down and that Red had always wanted to talk to me and so with Veronica effectively ending things, information that seemed to rip through the place like a wildfire, she wanted to take a chance and pull up a stool next to mine.
Having been to my first strip club at 17 i was not a novice to how things worked in these places, a mark is a mark even if he is a ranking hood and so i was cautious as i told Red that she was more than welcome to pull up a seat next to mine. We began to chat. From the start Red was a bit demure but as she relaxed we talked and laughed at the usual non-sense of the club. She admitted that she knew about the things that had happened between Veronica and myself and that she thought Veronica was a great girl, beautiful and smart and then she added, lucky and gave me a slight smile. It wasn't long before it was her turn to go up on stage and she asked if she could come back and hang when she was done, sure i smiled, i'll save your seat. She got up and walked to the stage for the first of her three songs. It was going to be a good night for the dancers as the money was flowing freely at the stage, i walked up to the corner as she got close and she came over and i handed her a $20, said Happy Christmas, and walked back to my seat. When she was done she collected her cash from the stage and headed towards the dancer's room. She came back out and i could hear a bit of frustration in her voice, she had to give a lap dance or two though she told me she thought of turning them down because she wanted to keep sitting with me but the problem was they got in trouble if they didn't do them. Not a problem i said, i've got nowhere to be, go make your money i smiled. She gave me a quick hug and headed towards the two little tables where the dances were usually given.
As she danced for her customer she kept looking over and smiling. It was obvious something was going on here, i had talked to Red before, brief snippets, small talk, friendly but not flirty and these were places where flirting was a way of life, it helped to separate the suckers from their money by giving them a sense of false hope. I noticed a lot of the dancers didn't flirt with me the way they did the "customers" as apparently i fell into a different category. It was told to me later that i was one of the most well-liked guys to ever walk in the place, i was quiet and respectful (which was a bit shocking to anyone who knew me), tipped well and generally kept to himself. The whole Veronica Experience had elevated me to legendary status as guys in these places made false promises all the time while i had followed through and Veronica had told a few of the girls she worked with that i was a really sweet and thoughtful guy... who fuckin' knew? When Red finished with her lap dances she bee-lined it over to sit next to me again and as the night progressed she became more touchy, giggling and telling me how attracted she was to me and asking if everything with Veronica and i was over. I said yes it was and she explained that she really liked Veronica and was glad she was getting out of this place and that she didn't want to step on anyone's toes. The last bit wasn't lost on our hero here.
With the conversation with my new found friend rolling merrily along the clock ticked ever closer to that hour when last call would be shouted and a large majority of the denizens left would head to the after-hours clubs or weave their drunken way home. As the lights came up and the last dancers finished up Red asked if i could stay and walk her to her car. No problem i said and laughed, she smiled and gave me a rather tight hug and went into the back to get her things together. There were a lot of glances going back and forth between dancers and Veronica seeing if she saw what was going on, that Red had moved in and had spent the last two hours of the night glued to the seat next to me when she wasn't dancing. It wasn't lost on me either as i saw the look on Veronica's face a few times... it was a look of sadness with a little shock.
The dregs of the club poured out into the cold December night to stand and commiserate on who was going where and doing what, separate groups with the occasional shout to someone about plans. Red and i stood off to the side, she stated she felt a bit awkward and bad about pursuing me because she really did like Veronica then she asked if she could kiss me. Sure i said and leaned over. After a minute or so we stopped. I could see Veronica staring, a look of disbelief on her face, her eyes shining as she fought back tears. Beware the wounded man and in particular this wounded man as this one is capable of great cruelty... in short i was a shit-heel. I knew what i was doing, i knew it was going to hurt her to see me openly kissing and flirting with another dancer but i didn't care, i wanted it to hurt her because i'm a bastard and seeing her with Franco made the Alpha Dog non-sense erupt out of me. Tell me you don't want me? Fuck it i'll find someone else who does. As we stood on the sidewalk i watched as Veronica looked at Franco and said let's go, grabbed his arm, turned and headed to his car. I could tell she was upset. It hurt. Red was talking to her friend and came back over. She looked at me and then at Veronica walking to Franco's car and said she felt bad and hoped Veronica didn't hate her but she really wanted to talk to me. She then leaned in and began kissing me again. Would you follow me home? she said. Where's that? i asked. The West End, she said. We were standing in the East End, my territory, i hardly ever left my turf as i didn't need to, everything i wanted was right here at my fingertips, hell i'd lived in this city for five years and couldn't even tell you where the West End was... i stood there pondering, if you wanted to hang out some more we can go back to my place, it's like five minutes from here i told her. She then explained she had a four year old son and needed to get back because her sitter was there and waiting for her to get home. I nodded. Oddly for me i said we could hang out another time because in my head i was not keen on the prospect of driving across town to a hood i
didn't know in the DUI hours as i called them. Now she stood there practically pleading, please come home with me, please, i really want you to. I thought for a second and then knowing it was the wrong decision said okay.... to be cont.