( Background: My current story takes place in the early-1980s, in my old home of Oceanside, CA. The main character is Sam "Doc" Pepper, a former musician and owner of Dirty Jake's, a strip club that caters to the young Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton. City leaders have attempted to clean up this section of town in the past decade, even changing the name of the infamous Hill Street to a more tourist-friendly South Coast Highway.)
“Okay, show us your tits.”
The girl hesitated, and Doc’s head drooped at the neck in frustration. She wants to work at a strip club and won’t take her top off in front of potential bosses. The irony, seasoned by Doc’s direct nature, made Sledge's mouth part in a minimalist grin.
“Lydia, there’s nothing to worry about,” Sledge being the comforter, “We just need to see them in a natural state, that your figure isn’t enhanced by artificial means.”
Her eyes went from embarrassed to indignant. “They’re real.”
“He means we have to make sure you’re not stuffing your bra, Peaches.”
She looked at her shirt, pausing as if the buttons would undo themselves. A frustrated sigh whistled through Doc‘s hand.
“Look, we’re not going to jump you. You’re not our type.” A truth. While she was definitely twenty-two (Sledge had made her bring her high school yearbook, a more complicated forge), she still sported the “innocent school girl” look. It brought in the customers but interested Doc only slightly more than Italian Renaissance poetry.
Sledge, on the other hand, loved Italian Renaissance poetry. He just preferred men.
Lydia unbuttoned her blouse, going slow as if this was an audition for a film and not a seedy strip joint just south of Camp Pendleton. Doc perceptibly rolled his eyes, causing another smile to cross Sledge's face. Both he and Doc realized stopping her now would only prolong this audition, so they remained quiet. Sledge knew she had the “talent” for the job. Gina was the most senior dancer as well as the best at scouting dancers. She liked the girl’s moxie and had asked Doc for Lydia's special audition last night.
The shirt came off in a practiced motion, thankfully without any burlesque twirling once removed. Even Sledge had to admit the girl was physically perfect. Creamy white skin unblemished by a single pimple or scar. She even lacked breast tattoos, something that plagued almost all their recent auditions.
“Okay, here’s the rules. No hooking, ever. You get caught or arrested for it, even if it’s on your day off, you’re gone.” This was a rule Sledge and Gina had forced on Doc. Not that Doc wanted to pimp the girls out; he just didn’t care if they did it on their own time. Gina had almost quit over his laissez-faire attitude. “Next, no hard drugs. You smoke a bud with your friends at a concert, that’s your business. But you come to work with needle marks or pipe burns or shaking from the DT’s, that all folks.” Doc’s rule. Gina had fought for “diet pills”, but Doc wouldn’t allow it. Personal history is a bitch sometimes.
Sledge still wasn’t sure about this one. She was sucking on her bottom lip, in what was probably shame but reminded Sledge of a teenager asking her parents for the keys to the family car.
“Okay, here’s the employee agreement. You don’t have to sign it now, just bring it in on Satur-” Doc paused mid-handover, eyes locked on her hand. Sledge followed his eyes until he saw what had caught Doc’s attention.
“So how long have you been married, Lydia?” Doc had already pulled back the small packet of new hire forms. Lydia had taken the ring off, but the impression in her finger showed she'd only done it right before driving to her audition.
“About a year, why?”
Shit. “What rank is he?”
Sledge looked away.
“Sorry honey, tell your husband if he wanted to be married to a stripper he should have married one instead of trying to make one.”
A confused look.
“It’s real simple; your husband started clamoring about money, right?”
She nodded, her confusion slowing it down considerably. “We wanted to move off-base and into our own home.”
“And he then he suggested you pulling a few shifts here would make a lot more money than thirty hours a week at the PX, right?” Sledge’s words came out calm, trying to ease her into the understanding.
“But he’s right,” Lydia’s rationalizing reflex had already kicked in, “You’ll pay me almost four times what I could make working there.”
“True, but what about your friends? Have you told any of them?”
Lydia’s eyes looked into a dead space a few inches off of the floor. The strong head shake was unnecessary; of course she hadn’t. Most of her friends were probably military wives. She still didn’t make the next logical step. Sledge was about the dust off the path, when Doc could no longer hold the frustration.
“And I bet a few of HIS friends asked when you started, right?” He stayed in his desk chair, but from her reaction you’d think Doc was yelling an inch from her face. “And they’re all the single ones, too? Now let’s think, why would he tell them? What possible reason? You’re wanting to start a family soon, right?” Another baby nod. “So you won’t be working here very long? And I bet all of them said they’d be there for ‘moral support’ on your first day, right?” Double-nod. “Tell me Lydia, does your husband get stuck at the office late most days?”
Sledge winced at Doc’s rough shifting of the conversation. Lydia nodded again.
“Been fighting a lot lately?” Another nod.
“But not about money?” A paused head shake.
A thick tear rolled down her cheek, followed by several friends. Sledge got up to comfort her, but shot a harsh glance at Doc in transit. Doc's directness was sometimes cruel, even by strip-club owner standards. The school-girl innocent look had actually been honest for once. Her agreement to this "career path" was obviously motivated by tearing him away from whatever action he got at the “office”.
“Here honey,” Sledge said in a calm voice as he slipped Vanessa’s card into her hand. “She’s an old friend of ours. Her real estate agency is always looking for new salesman.” Especially amongst former military wives who get dragged halfway across the country by their husbands only to end up stranded after he hooks up with a suntanned native.
Lydia stood up and looked at Doc. “But what do I tell my husband?” Even Doc had to admit the girl was an optimist.
“Tell him you didn’t get the job, because you didn’t.” Doc stood up to herd her towards the exit. “But do that after you talk to Vanessa. I’m sure she’ll hook you up.”
Sledge shut the door after walking her out.
“Tell Gina she owes me,.. Big time.” Doc sighed as he popped open a ginger ale.
“She didn’t know?”
“She knew.. The guy probably over-tipped her big time, so she felt obligated, of course. To the wife.”