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|Chapter 17: The Show Must Go On|
Letting himself into the club, Keith found the main room empty. “Hey, Janse, you here?” he yelled as he relocked the door.
“Yeah, back room,” came the reply.
Trotting towards the back room, Keith said, “Fucking Craig’s pulling a no-show and I’m sick of being left hanging and the rest of his shit, so I d–” Keith stopped cold as he entered the room and spotted Eric standing near the sink, wearing nothing but white briefs and toweling off his hair. Keith looked to his side, to see Jansen, stripped down to his boxers, rinsing off with a sopping-wet towel from the sink.
“Eric stopped by and he’s been helping with the setup,” Jansen said, hurrying to finish his improvised wash. “We got all sweaty so we’re doin’ this to save time. So, what about a replacement for Craig? Know any other gymnasts?”
“None! Can you think of anyone? I’ve been calling everyone I know, not just the good-looking ones. Right now, anyone would do, they just have to serve soft drinks,” Keith said, surprised that Eric had pitched in to help on the dirty end of the business.
Eric finished toweling his hair and used his fingers as a comb to push it back into place, a few wet strands still curling across his blue eyes. With a nod of greeting to Keith, Eric stretched out his arms, puffed out his bare, tan and defined chest, and said, “What about me? Would I do?”
With a chuckle and a shake of his head, Keith replied, “You’re certainly hot enough, but you’d be recognized within seconds.”
“Nope,” Eric said, as he spun around and left the room, leaving a perplexed Jansen and Keith behind. They shared a puzzled look, and Jansen shrugged.
They didn’t have long to wonder. Eric re-appeared in the doorway a few moments’ later, having retrieved his black tank top from where he’d dropped it. With a theatrical swoop of his arm, Eric shook out the black shirt, and then slid it over his head, stopping just above his mouth, and tying it tightly behind his head. “I’ll need eyeholes, but will this do?” Eric asked.
“You’ll look like a pirate, but that’ll work,” Keith said with a relieved chuckle. “You sure you want to do this?”
Pulling the shirt off his head, Eric replied with a grin, “Hell yeah, I’m not shy. This sounds like fun, but all I’ve got with me are jeans and I’ve been working in those. Got anything you can lend me?”
Jansen jumped in to say, “Yeah, no problem, hold on,” as he snatched up his gym bag and plopped it on the counter next to the sink, then began rummaging around inside. Finding what he sought, he grabbed it with one hand and spun around to face Eric and Keith, and with one smooth motion tossed the pair of black leather shorts to Eric. “They’re tear-aways, but they’ll be fine, you’d have to pull really hard to open the side-seams. Try ‘em on.”
Eric stooped over to pull on the shorts, and Keith turned to lock eyes with Jansen, giving him a look that said clearly, in spite of the absence of words, ‘Are you insane? That guy is our employer.’
Pulling the thigh-length shorts up with difficulty, Eric got them into place, and said, “Damn, these are tight. Do they look okay?”
Seeing that Eric was okay with the idea, Keith abandoned his reservations and said, “Yeah, they look damn hot actually. Black leather shorts, black pirate’s mask, great combo and it suits you. What about shoes?”
Looking down at his bare feet, Eric shrugged. “I’ve got white runners, not a good match. I’ll be behind a bar, right? I’ll just go barefoot.” Eric turned his attention to his shirt. Using a shard of jagged metal protruding from where he’d smashed the lock off the fuse box, Eric carefully cut two slits for eyeholes. Then he pulled the tied shirt over his head, knot to the back, and positioned the bottom edge just below the bridge of his nose. The shirt stretched, opening the oversized eyeholes enough for Eric to see out of, and he took a theatrical bow and said, “I think I’m ready. Now, what’s left to do?”
Keith scratched his head, gave Eric an approving, lingering glance, and said, “I’ve got the sodas, cups, and ice in my car, right out the back door. The other two dancers should be here inside an hour, and then all we need to do is rehearse, start the music, and we’re set to go.” Keith was less than pleased with the improvised mask; it looked a mess, but having no better ideas, he decided that it would have to do.
Crossing his arms on his bare chest, Eric asked, hoping that he was wrong, “Please tell me you guys set the sound system up?”
Nodding, Keith replied, “Yeah, I did that a few days ago. It was playing when you got here the other day, remember?”
Eric chuckled. “Yeah, good point. It’s just that you guys did forget about the air conditioning...”
Keith’s expression shifted rapidly, from confused, to concerned, and finally to mild panic. Jansen turned towards Keith and said, “Eric took care of it. He bashed the thing open.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Keith pulled a folder from his bag, opened it, and handed Eric a sheaf of paperwork. “Here’s the insurance stuff. You’re fully covered.” Keith walked to the back door and began to unlock it, saying, “Janse, give me a hand with the sodas and stuff.”
Jansen tugged on his Levis and turned to follow as Keith swung the door open.
“I’ll help. I don’t need to worry about attracting any attention now I’ve got this mask on,” Eric said, as he tagged along.
Jansen looked back at Eric, ran his eyes pointedly over the bassist’s body, and then quipped, “Yeah, skin-tight leather shorts and wearing a mask. Nothing noticeable there, right?”
Keith opened up his well-worn hatchback as Eric replied with a laugh, “I’m safe from the kind of attention I don’t want. Any other kind suits me just fine.”
The three guys made fast work of bringing in the supplies. A series of Styrofoam coolers were set up to hold the ice and soda bottles, and the disposable plastic cups were stacked under the bar top.
“Ready to rehearse?” Keith asked Jansen once they were done.
“Yeah, you want to change first or should I?” Jansen asked.
Keith turned, tugging his shirt off over his head as he headed for the back room, “I’ll go. You keep Eric company and answer the door.”
Watching Keith leave, Eric asked Jansen, “What kind of crowd are we expecting tonight?”
“According to Keither, about eighty percent college-age girls and twenty percent guys. If that’s anything like the mix I’ve seen at similar parties we’ve worked at, about half the guys will be straight; dragged along by their friends or girlfriends. The other half will be gay or bi. I’ll warn you now, those girls can be vicious.” Eric began to laugh, but noticed Jansen’s serious expression, and Jansen added, “I’m not kidding. I worked a sorority party once, and they tore my g-string off and grabbed my dick. Gay guys are tame compared to sorority chicks.”
Keith strolled out of the back room, wearing khaki shorts, flip-flops, sunglasses, and a white polo shirt.
Jansen headed back to get changed as Keith told Eric, “We worked up a few variants on the act we showed you before. We’re doing two routines tonight, but this rehearsal will be just a simple warm up.”
“Sounds good to me. Can’t wait to see ‘em,” Eric said.
Feeling a little awkward, Keith cleared his throat and fidgeted for a moment before saying, “Thanks for pitching in tonight, and today as well. You probably saved our asses. I know you didn’t have to do that, and I just wanted to say thanks.”
Eric knew exactly what Keith had left tactfully unsaid; that he was surprised that a celebrity would help with work, especially unskilled stuff like cleaning counters. Deciding to meet the issue head-on, Eric said, “Just because I’m in a band doesn’t mean I’m stuck up. I like to help out, and you guys are fun to be around. Hell, I’m probably going to have more fun than you tonight,” Eric puffed out his chest a little and patted his hands against the sides of his shorts, “This is kinda different, but in a good way. No way I’d miss this.”
Smiling with relief and no longer feeling uneasy around Eric, Keith heard Jansen’s footsteps and turned around, heading for the stage, pausing only to say over his shoulder in a low, sincere voice, “Thanks, man.”
“Anytime,” Eric replied honestly.
Eric slipped behind the bar and poured himself a soda, and Jansen, dressed near identically to Keith, fired up the sounds system, kicked up the bass, and the deep, driving beat of the music began.
With the lingering scent of sausage and eggs still hanging in the dawn air, Felecia hauled Wilhelm aside for a private chat. “I thought I told you to make sure he failed yesterday!” she said, still angry with herself.
“I had no chance. He had the pennant hidden and then ran it up the flagpole. What could I do?” Wilhelm replied.
Felecia let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine. Today you’ll have a chance. Focus your defensive deployments on the south side of the hill. I need to win this.”
Wilhelm hid his reservations. Felecia was asking him to throw the exercise, and to do so in a way that some of his men would likely recognize for what it was. However, his first loyalty was to Felecia, and orders were orders, so he said, “Consider it done.”
Once again, Felecia handed out the ‘weaponry’ for the day, but she kept an eagle eye on General Bradson. The General took custody of the ammo can, and made an ostentatious point of checking to be sure it contained the flag. Felecia checked her watch and then told General Bradson, loud enough for all to hear, “The exercise begins now. Horst’s platoon and I will stay within the confines of the compound for thirty minutes, and then we’re coming for you.”
General Bradson tapped the ammo can with his fingers, and then gave Felecia a pleasant smile. “Just so we’re clear on the rules; your objective is to capture this flag and run it up the flagpole here in the compound before sunset. Mine is to stop you,” The General said.
Thinking that she’d detected the General’s plan, Felecia replied with a decidedly smug smile, “Yes, but you can’t hide the flag. It must be in plain view in the center of your defensive position, and cannot be moved except by whoever captures it. Are we clear?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” General Bradson replied pleasantly, as he turned on his heel to join up with Wilhelm for the march to the hilltop.
Five minutes from the compound and about halfway to the hill, the General glanced at the oddly quiet Wilhelm, who was leading the way, taking no protective measures. There wasn’t a need for any due to the rules confining the opposing force to the compound for thirty minutes, but it was still a breach of standard combat procedure: you always deployed for the unexpected.
Arriving at the summit of Aardvark Hill, Wilhelm, without consulting General Bradson, deployed his men on a circular array of foxholes around the hill’s military crest, with a few more men on the south side. Eyeing the terrain, General Bradson could see that the southern approach was the least likely threat axis, confirming the General’s suspicions with regard to Wilhelm. Keeping those thoughts to himself, he asked, “Taking a guess, I’d say you’re expecting the attack to come from the least obvious approach.” Wilhelm nodded, paying more attention to his troops than to the General. “Well, Wilhelm, I have a different idea in mind. She’s expecting us to be here but I’d prefer to use the element of surprise.”
Giving the General his undivided attention due to the unexpected words, Wilhelm said, “The rules are clear. We are in the defensive role. The flag cannot be moved by us.”
Breaking into a confident grin, General Bradson replied, “I know. We’ll leave it here and head north to clear their likely line of approach, then circle back, putting ourselves astride their most likely return route to the compound, just outside it. An ambush gives us the element of surprise, which is worth more than a prepared position in this case. They have to get that flag up the flagpole to win, right?”
Knowing that Felecia would not be pleased, but seeing no way out, Wilhelm gave the order, “Okay, men, you heard the General. Patrol formation, two men on point, let’s move out.”
In order to obfuscate his actual plan, General Bradson waited until they were on the move and asked Wilhelm, “Under the operative rules, how do we achieve a silent kill if need be?”
“That would be a knife kill, as the rules do not anticipate silenced firearms, Herr General. The attacker has to touch his target with a knife in a vital area, at which point the target is considered dead and can be told to stay in place and be silent, just like a corpse.”
Twenty minutes later, Wilhelm brought his platoon to a halt, three hundred yards to the north of the compound. “Where do you have in mind for the ambush?” he asked the General.
“Send two men to reconnoiter the compound. I want to be sure that Felecia hasn’t left anyone behind,” General Bradson replied cryptically.
Ten minutes later, the soft snap of a breaking twig heralded the return of the recon team. The two men immediately reported to Wilhelm in a whisper, “All clear, no sign of enemy forces.”
Again, Wilhelm asked the General, “Where do you want the ambush? We may not have a lot of time.”
Grinning, knowing that he’d won again, General Bradson replied, “We’re heading for the compound, double-time.”
Keith and Jansen, having finished their routine, jumped down from the stage, wearing nothing more than red Speedos and eager grins as they closed in on Eric’s chair. “So, was that okay,” Keith asked, though Eric’s smile had told him that much already.
“Love it,” Eric replied, nodding his head as he envisioned that act at Brandon and Chase’s party.
“Wait until you see the full routine in our opening act tonight. That’s the one we’re thinking of for the party, but it’ll be your choice.” The muffled chirp of Keith’s cell phone caused him to make a mad dash to the back room. Fishing the phone from his bag, he flipped it open. He listened impassively for a few seconds, and then tried to interrupt twice. Leaning back against the counter, the words he was hearing brought his high hopes crashing down. Finally, with a sigh of despair, he said, “Yeah, I understand. Half an hour to opening... this fucking sucks!” Keith snapped his phone closed, and closed his hand around it, squeezing tightly. Slowly, dreading the task, he returned to the main room to share the bad news.
Eric and Jansen knew at a glance that something had gone badly wrong, but before they could ask, Keith sat down on a barstool and laid his head in his arms, before saying, “We’re screwed. That was our other dancers. They were on their way and tried to call in sick to G-Strings. George told ‘em that if they weren’t there in fifteen minutes, they were fired.”
Eric, not knowing much about the business, asked, “Can’t you guys do more routines?”
“Yeah, but that won’t work too well. The customers aren’t coming to see just two guys. We can do it, but it’ll cut down on the take. Unhappy customers tonight will kill tomorrow’s crowd. For me and Jansen, that’s not the worst of it.” Keith took a long, slow breath, and then added softly, “We’re unemployed. That was the other message; George found out about this gig and fired us. I don’t know how, doesn’t matter, but we are well and truly fucked.”
Jansen sat down next to Keith, and the two dancers sat in miserable silence for a few moments. Eric thought he could see a partial solution and asked, “You guys were getting less than half of what I was paying G-Strings for the party, right?”
Nodding, his head still resting on his arms, Keith replied, “Even that’s gone. You’ve got a contract with George. That doesn’t include us, not anymore. I guess George will find you somebody else, but he’ll hold you to the contract, count on it.”
Eric began to smile. “Wrong. That contract he had me sign specified you guys. If he can’t provide, then the contract’s void. If he tries to get nasty I’ll introduce him to some lawyers he’ll never forget.” Spotting the phone in Keith’s hand, Eric said, “If you’ve got G-Strings’ office number on speed dial, give me your phone and I’ll fix this. First, I gotta ask; do you want your jobs back? I can use the contract to push George into re-hiring you guys.”
Jansen and Keith shared a look, and Keith answered for them both. “Not much point, not past your party anyway. Once you’re out of the picture, he’ll either fire us or make us quit.” Keith handed Eric the phone and said, “It’s number three.”
Eric dialed, and when the receptionist picked up, gave her his name, and demanded to speak to George Tankardsly. He got his wish within seconds. Not giving the man a chance to speak, Eric said in a firm voice, “Look, I just heard that you fired Jansen and Keith. They were scheduled for my party in less than two weeks.” Eric paused to listen for a few seconds, and then interrupted to say, “No, not interested.” Again, he paused to listen, his mouth twitching up into a smile as he prepared to lower the boom. “No, I said I’m not interested in any other dancers and I suggest that you read the contract you had me sign; it specifies Jansen and Keith. That means you’re in breach and the contract is void because you can’t meet the terms. You’ll refund my deposit within twenty-four hours, and if you want to argue, call my lawyers,” Eric said, and then ended the call and handed the cell back to Keith. “That’s that. Now, you guys need work and I’ve still got a party that needs you. I’ll pay you the full amount I was going to pay George, so you’ll get his cut as well as your own. It’s all the same from my end except I like it better this way, so don’t bother arguing. You in?”
Neither Keith nor Jansen had to think twice. The offer was extremely generous, and the money would tide them over for a few months while they found work at another club. They nodded in unison, their faces brightening, and Keith said, “We’re in. Thanks Eric, you saved our asses again. Okay, we have a show to do tonight. Let’s see if we can pull this off without crashing and burning too bad.”
Keith glanced at the clock and said, “The flyer guy who’s acting as doorkeeper and admissions-taker will be here any minute. We need a cover story for you. He goes to our college... so how about... you’re a swimmer we went to high school with, but your old man’s a stuck up prude so you’re wearing a mask to keep from being seen working with exotic dancers and recognized by anyone you might know.”
Eric found the story a little too complex, but felt it would do. Thinking of his father, he also had to admit that it was a true enough description of the man. Eric smiled and nodded, just as a knock sounded from the door.
Keith unlocked the door, and let in a guy who Keith introduced as Charley. Eric gave Charley a friendly nod while Keith gave the cover story. Charley seemed nice enough as far as Eric could tell; a big, average-looking guy who wore a non-stop grin.
They didn’t have much time, so Jansen and Keith dashed off to get dressed, while Charlie took his post by the door. Eric settled in behind the bar, adjusted his eyeholes, and made sure he had everything ready.
Charlie peered out through the window and called out, “We’re five minutes from opening time, but there’s a crowd out there. Can we start letting them in?”
Jansen and Keith, who had just finished dressing and were still on the stage, jumped down. Jansen ran for the light controls, flicking them on, while Keith queued up the sound system and started it playing. As the deep, driving beat of the music filled the club, he took a deep breath and said, “Open up, let’s get ‘em in.”
Charlie collected the money, forty dollars a head. Eric worked frantically, aided for a while by Jansen and Keith, to serve up the sodas. Within fifteen minutes the club was packed. Jansen and Keith made their way backstage, and as the next song began, they took the stage and began to dance, still fully clothed, to the wild cheers of the mostly-female crowd.
Eric, meanwhile, was reveling in the attention, taking care to keep his chest puffed out and his muscles tensed, as he worked behind the bar. Girl after girl tried to ask who he was under the mask, or try to talk him into taking it off. With humor and not a little flirting, Eric fended off the advances and kept serving up soft drinks, as the crowd turned its attention to Jansen and Keith.
A roar of applause, accompanied by a few shrill screams of approval, shook the building as Jansen and Keith did a close pass, pulling each other’s shirts off in one fluid move.
The night went approximately as Keith had expected; the club becoming a hangout, entertainment included, for the college girls. Jansen and Keith’s next act, starting out with surfboards and boardshorts, was one Eric recognized from their audition. He was delighted to see that they’d improved it, though they still stripped down to the same gaudy gold g-strings. Eric correctly guessed that due to needing more routines for the night, they’d utilized some from their old job. That, in Eric’s opinion, meant they were saving the best – the new routines – for last.
The crowd’s cheers diminished with each passing set, and only the fact that each act was better than the last saved the night from being a disaster. Doing four routines an hour, the strain was beginning to show on Jansen and Keith, causing Eric to wonder if they could last until closing time, still over an hour away.
The take at the door had been good, matching Keith’s most optimistic estimate. Looking out, scanning the crowd from the stage, Keith could tell... The tips were drying up, and the crowd was getting restless. They were getting tired of seeing the same two guys over and over, but there was nothing he could do about that, so he focused on his dancing, and worked the stage edge, letting the more adventurous of the guests run their hands over his legs and torso, though fewer and fewer were slipping banknotes into his Speedos.
Backstage after the routine, Jansen pulled a small clump of banknotes from the front of his tight swimsuit, and then gathered up a few more from his hips. “Damn, Keith, they’re down to mostly one-dollar bills.”
With a sigh, counting his own notes, Keith replied, “Yeah, and if this keeps up they’ll be sticking pennies in our crotches before the night is over. Not much we can do about it though, just keep ‘em as happy as we can, otherwise tomorrow night it’ll be a ghost town in here.”
A soft murmur from the crowd made its way backstage, and Jansen discerned a few cheers. Sticking his head out into the main room, he looked for moment and called back to Keith, “Eric’s keeping ‘em happy. He’s standing on top of the bar, doing a jig. They’re eating it up.”
Keith walked to Jansen’s side and looked, seeing that was indeed doing what could pass for a dance on the bar. He also heard a few shouts of “Take it off!” His practiced eye also caught sight of several girls with twenty-dollar bills in hand, waving them in Eric’s direction.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking,” Jansen asked with a knowing smile.
Keith shrugged. “Yeah, and if it was anybody else, I’d be out there telling him to go for it, but Eric doesn’t need the money, and he’s already drawing lots of attention. If anybody figures out who he is, he’s in trouble.”
“Yeah, but he jumped at the chance to work here tonight, and I can tell he’s having a blast. I think he’d want to do it. Just let it be his choice, don’t ask him to, just tell him he can if he wants,” Jansen said.
With another shrug, Keith replied, “You’ve got a point. If he wants to, why not? Okay, you go out there and mingle with the guests a little. I’ll pull Eric aside for a chat. Let’s go.”
The two dancers walked onto the stage, flexing a little in their black Speedos, and then jumped down. Jansen headed for the center of the room, smiling and reaching out to touch hands with the guests who were crowding around. Keith made his way to the bar, and eased in behind it. Eric, who was back to serving sodas, noticed his arrival and said, “Hey, how’s it going?”
Grinning, Keith leaned forward to say in a quiet voice, just loud enough for Eric to hear, “I saw you up on the bar. The crowd was eating it up. If you want to have a try on stage, go for it.”
Eric arched an eyebrow, interested in the idea, but reality intruded and he replied, “Sounds fun, but I don’t know how. I can dance a little, sorta, but you saw me up on the bar; that’s the best I can do. I also don’t know how to strip.”
Grinning, Keith replied, “Look, you don’t have to be good. They’re getting tired of me and Jansen, so a fresh act, even an amateur one, would be a big deal for them. I’ll announce you as a first-timer. All you’d need to do would be dance around the stage for a minute, rip the shorts off, dance for a minute or so more, then either quit or work the stage edge, but skip the stage edge unless you’re comfortable being pawed all over, and I do mean all over. They’ll want to stick money in your briefs, sometimes right down the front.”
Eric thought it over for a second. He liked the idea of giving it a try, but he was concerned that he’d screw it up. Reluctantly deciding against it, Eric opened his mouth, intending to say no. “Yeah, I’ll give it a shot,” Eric said, to his own surprise.
Keith bounded up onto the stage, microphone in hand, to say, “Hey, I’ve got a surprise for you. As you can probably tell, we were left shorthanded here tonight, thanks to some last-minute no-shows. The guy in the black mask and black leather shorts is a friend of ours and he offered to fill in behind the bar. He’s never done that before, and he’s done great. How about a round of applause for our bartender…” A loud roar of cheers, accompanied by a few wolf-whistles, ensued. “He wears the mask for a reason: a stuck up family. So, he has to remain unknown. Now here’s the big surprise: He’s been hearing some of you calling out for him to strip, something else he’s never done before. However, he hates to disappoint, so tonight, he’s agreed to give it a try. Please welcome The Mystery Stripper!”
Eager for fresh meat, and especially meat as hot as Eric, the crowd began to cheer, not quite as loudly as Keith had hoped, but more than loud enough.
Jansen edged forward, approaching the stage as Eric hurdled the bar, and to the cheers of his female – and some male – admirers, charged toward the stage.
Keith stood aside as Eric leaped up and took center stage. Smiling, and then grinning, Eric began his somewhat awkward attempt at dancing, clicking his fingers and moving his body to the music. A few catcalls, and the occasional cry of ‘take it off!’ come from the audience, though most had begun clapping along with the music, as Keith had known they would. They were trying to show support for a first-timer, and that was just the kind of audience interaction that Keith knew they needed.
Less than a minute into his dancing, Eric noticed that the crowd’s enthusiasm was ebbing fast. It was then that he had two simultaneous revelations; the first was that he needed to rip his shorts off and bring the act to a close, and the second was that he hadn’t thought to ask how, exactly, the shorts came off. Taking a guess, Eric hooked his thumbs in his waistband, and pulled. The staccato rip of Velcro competed with the music for a second, and Eric tugged on the leather shorts again, trying to rip them free. The only problem was that he’d only opened the sides most, but not all, of the way down. Growing uneasy, he stopped dancing and gave the shorts another hard pull, ripping them free.
Holding the shorts in one of his outstretched hands, Eric stood motionless in front of the audience, without a clue as to what to do next. The applause was decent, but Keith knew that Eric was blowing it by just standing there. Trotting onto the stage, he began to dance, and took his place at Eric’s side. Eric took the hint, tossed the shorts backstage, and in only his white briefs and mask, did his best to dance a little, facing the audience. Keith took a step forward, towards the stage edge, and glanced back meaningfully at Eric, telling him without words that if he wanted to work the stage edge, he needed to get started.
Due to his career, Eric could read an audience even better than Keith could, in some ways. He could tell that the crowd was less than impressed with him, and couldn’t blame them; he’d been clumsy and wouldn’t even take his mask off. He glanced ahead, and he could see several eager girls waving banknotes, but he was out of his depth and knew it. The final deciding factor was the flash of a few cameras – used in violation of the posted rules, which the lack of manpower precluded enforcing – from the audience. Eric figured that if anyone recognized him, he’d have far less trouble if there weren’t any shots of him having money stuffed in his crotch.
After a few seconds, Eric trotted to the side of the stage, jumped down, and returned to his post behind the bar. The applause made him feel good, though he was well aware that he’d been a disaster as a stripper. Keith, grinning broadly, yelled to the audience, “Let’s have another round of applause for The Mystery Stripper! That was his first time, folks, and let me tell you, doing what he did, without any training or rehearsals, took guts...”
“Or insanity,” Eric added with a yell and a laugh from behind the bar as he poured a new round of sodas.
With the mood in the club much improved, Jansen and Keith raced backstage to get dressed for their final routine of the night.
The final routine was greeted a little tepidly by the audience, but better than their prior routine. Charlie began clearing the room not long after the final act, and Jansen and Keith joined him by the door to press the flesh one last time with the guests.
Once the room was cleared, Charlie handed the evening’s take to Keith, who peeled off two hundred dollars and handed it back. Charlie nodded, pocketing the money as he said, “I’ll be back tomorrow – same time, right?”
After receiving an answer in the affirmative, Charlie hurried away, leaving Jansen, Eric, and Keith alone. Keith locked the door, and then dumped the money on the counter and began counting.
“Fifteen hundred and twenty,” he said when he was done. “That’ll cover the insurance plus all expenses, with a little extra. That makes tomorrow pure profit.” Keith peeled off another two hundred, and shoved it in Eric’s direction. “That’s for your work tonight, nothing to do with what we owe you for using the club, which you’ll get tomorrow.”
Eric shoved it back. “Keep it. Look at it from my point of view; if I wasn’t here, what would I be doing on a Friday night? I’d be hanging around at the hotel with my brothers and Brandon, like every other night. I almost never get to go out and do stuff, and I had a blast tonight.”
Keith nodded, and asked, “What about tomorrow? I can probably get somebody to work the bar if I phone around enough. I’m also going to try to round up two more dancers. Tonight went okay, but not great. Thanks for helping out, it could have been a disaster without you.”
Eric smiled, feeling at ease with the two dancers. “I’ve got an early studio call in the morning, then some PR stuff in the afternoon, but I can be back behind the bar by opening time. I had fun, so count me in. I better hit the road; I’ve got to be up in about seven hours.”
Eric jogged to the back room to retrieve his clothes, and was still pulling them on when he returned to the main room, tugging his jacket over his bare torso. He set the improvised mask aside and smoothed back his hair, and then, heading for the door, he turned to say, “See you guys tomorrow,” before slipping his helmet on. Eric stuck his head out the front door and quickly closed it again. “There’s about twenty people out there waiting, all girls,” he said.
“Back door, fast,” Keith said to Eric and Jansen. “I’ll give ‘em a diversion here. Wait thirty seconds and make a dash for your bike.”
Wearing nothing but a gold thong, and hoping that no cops were around, Keith stepped out front, offering to sign autographs for the people rushing to crowd around him.
Jansen stood by the back door and listened until he heard the sound of Eric’s motorcycle starting. After locking the door, he returned to the front door, in time to help Keith force the door closed, blocking the press of the eager fans. Returning to the bar, Keith fished out a notepad and began taking an inventory of the sodas. With a shrug, he said, “We’ll need to top up a little, plus get ice, but other than that, we’re okay on supplies. I’ll make some calls in the morning and see if I can round up one or two more dancers. Eric’s hot, and great with the customers while behind the bar, but on stage, not so good, even if he’s willing.”
Jansen chuckled. “Not so good is putting it mildly, but... having him here was additional eye candy for the guests, plus having him on stage took the focus off of us long enough to keep the crowd happy. They were burned out on us, I could tell.”
“Yeah, they were, and yeah, Eric’s no dancer.” Keith paused for a few moments’ thoughtful silence before saying, “I still feel weird around him sometimes. He likes to be treated like a regular guy, but he’s rich and famous. I don’t know where his limits are. People probably try and take advantage of him a lot, so he’s probably real defensive on money issues. He’s a cool guy though, and he saved our asses in several ways tonight, even without the party gig. I’ll miss him after the gig is over.”
“Yeah, me too,” Jansen replied, more than a little sadly.
Half a mile from Aardvark hill and its unguarded pennant, Felecia squinted through her field glasses as her mood continued to darken. “No sign of ‘em, nothing. I think they’re staying low in their foxholes, maybe trying to sucker us in. Well, that won’t work. Send a two-man team to the south slope; they’ll be our diversion. Have them start lobbing shots in exactly thirty minutes. The rest of us are going up the north slope. We’ll break cover and charge as soon as we’re detected. We’ll catch ‘em off balance and looking the wrong way. I’ve got the bastard this time.”
Moving silently, making use of every scrap of cover, Felecia led her force into position, meticulously making ready to assault the utterly deserted hill.
© 2008 C James
Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick for his advice.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.