My knees were bruised, but I dropped down onto them anyway, using the pole between my shoulder blades to keep my balance. The man sitting front and center at the stage blew cigarette smoke at me and gave me a toothy grin.
He was missing a couple, both his incisors and the first top molars, and his gums were dark. I’d take the stench of cigarettes over his breath. It probably smelled as foul as the strip club’s carpet. I’d been unlucky enough to fall face first into it a handful of times—well, I didn’t fall, per se, but was pushed—and it smelled like urine, vomit, and something else I couldn’t and didn’t want to put my finger on.
The Redlight was the most unsavory strip club in Spanish Springs. The town was only ten miles outside of Reno, the club fifteen, and it attracted the worst of the worst sort of people who couldn’t find what they were looking for in Reno. They wanted the smelly-carpet club.
They wanted a place where there were no rules and they could put hands on the dancers.
I lifted my ass from my heels, leading with my hips, and stretched one hand over my head to grip the pole. The man in front of me watched with hooded, hungry eyes. He had a swollen lower lip that made him look like a fish out of water as he continued puffing on his cigarette. As soon as it burned to the filter, he dropped it in the ash tray and lit up another one. Between puffs, he sipped a glass of whiskey.
On the stage beside mine, another dancer twirled around the pole. Her name was Brianne. We’d been dancing here together for the past six months, and things were okay until about three weeks ago when a group of bikers rolled in dressed in leather and looking roughed up.
One had a bloody wound in his torso. I never could tell what or where. All I knew was that he was bleeding a lot, and he couldn’t go to a hospital, most likely for criminal reasons.
They’d shut the bar down and called the owner. Apparently, he knew the bleeder. The girls and I had been ushered into the back room and we’d all huddled together while the bleeder screamed bloody murder and endured what I was convinced was a botched medical “procedure” to save his life.
He was still alive and kicking.
Well, not really kicking.
He’d been in a bad way for the last three weeks since he came in. I’d been sent on runs to pick up antibiotics from a dealer who worked out of a basement suite half a mile away. The infection spread quickly, but the meds fixed him up, and now he was regaining some color and mobility. He was able to keep food down.
And he was starting to get a taste for our show.
Tonight, he sat in the far corner dressed all in black. He had his posse around him. The group of men watched me through the haze of cigar, cigarette, and weed smoke. They hardly ever tipped unless they paid for a private dance.
Those were the worst nights.
Brianne’s legs wobbled on the other stage. I slid back up the pole, hooked my leg around it, and swung around one hundred and eighty degrees so I could catch Brianne’s eye. She grimaced, looked up at me, and caught her balance.
We’d been up here for hours. At least three. A dancer usually only did a five-minute set three or four times a night. If she was lucky, she’d get called over to sit in some guy’s lap and kiss his neck while he chatted with his buddies. Those were the easy nights. But these guys never wanted that kind of service. Either they wanted a lap dance, a face-full of your tits, or a fuck.
Luckily, I’d managed to avoid all that over the last three weeks. But I wasn’t sure how much longer they’d let me exercise my free will. I was starting to get the feeling that things were going to get a lot worse before they got better.
Brianne wobbled again.
The men gathered around her stage booed her. One crumpled up his beer can and threw it at her. She flinched, hunched her shoulder up, and attempted to hide, but there was nowhere to go. She was half-naked in nothing but a thong and pasties. She’d lost weight over the last three weeks, just like I had. Her ass wasn’t as perky, and the muscle she used to have was fading away. The same thing was happening to me. I was hungry all the time. Dizzy.
But these men? They didn’t care.
They thought they owned us.
And maybe they did.
The owner of the Redlight, my boss, Kip, never said no to them. He avoided the gangbangers every chance he could, often abandoning us girls to our fate and hiding out in his back room to work on “the books,” as he liked to say. He was scared.
We all were.
I gave one last wild twirl, using my long blonde hair to add extra flourish. It seemed to impress the decrepit asshole in front of me, and he didn’t complain when I slid off the stage, crossed the moldy carpet, and climbed up onto Brianne’s stage with her. My thigh muscles screamed with the effort.
She looked up at me with sunken brown eyes and thin lips. She looked exhausted.
I put a hand on her shoulder, turned her around, and moved in close behind her so the men thought we were putting on a show for them. I rested my chin on her shoulder so I could whisper in her ear.
“They’ve all only got an hour or so left in them before they pass out, Brianne. Don’t stop. You know what they do if you stop. We’ll be able to rest soon.”
“My feet are numb,” she whimpered.
My feet were blistered and aching. The straps of my heels had rubbed me raw across the top of my feet and the back of my ankles. Everything had burned for the first half of the night, but now, hours later, the pain had faded into a numbing nothingness.
The agony would return when I washed them.
“I’m so tired,” Brianne breathed.
I looked around at the men watching her. Brianne was a hot commodity around here. She had jet black hair and wild blue eyes. Her skin was fair, and she had the sort of body that men would murder each other to claim as their own. Her thighs were full and strong, her breasts perky and large, her wrists and ankles dainty and feminine. I had a more slender build and less curves. Back in my prime when I’d played sports, I’d been much fuller, but this life had been hard on me.
It was hard on everyone.
Brianne was in worse shape than me. I needed to give her a break.
So, I stepped out in front of her, nudged her backward with my hip, reached behind my back, and untied my tiny gold bikini top. The men hooted and hollered. Their attention was now wholly on me. The man chain-smoking at the other stage came over to enjoy the show.
I played coy at first, knowing I had to stretch this for as long as I could. Brianne inched down the stage toward the back room where the other two girls were sleeping. There were only four of us left. When the mystery man in black with the shaved head and milky white eye had first arrived, there were eight of us.
Two had acted quickly and fled.
One had fought back when the men put hands on her. She was roughed up and thrown out and never came back.
Another had fallen apart just a couple days ago. She passed out on stage. We hadn’t seen her since.
I couldn’t let Brianne disappear. We just needed to buy more time. Eventually, the right person would walk in here and see how bad things were. They’d call the cops. They’d do something to help us.
“Take it off!” The man with the cigarette pinched between his swollen lips pounded his fists on the stage.
I turned my back on them and removed my top, letting it dangle from my fingertips. They hooted and hollered, chanting to see my breasts, and I cringed before slapping on a sexy smile, spinning back around, and giving them what they wanted.
I had never felt so small.
Stripping had never been my dream. It wasn’t most girls’ dreams who ended up on a stage like this. But my life had fallen apart quickly, and when I needed to turn a quick dollar, I hopped up on an empty stage at a club in Sacramento one night and started taking my clothes off. I made three hundred dollars over the course of a four-minute song, and I was hooked.
That was three years ago.
One thousand and ninety-five days of working as a stripper took a toll on a girl.
At first, I hadn’t minded showing off my body. Most of the places where I danced let me keep my bra and underwear on. I invested in sexy outfits, figured out what made people the most willing to open their wallets, and raked in dough until I was cast out for younger, fresher blood.
I should have quit and started waitressing.
Instead, I took a job at this shithole. Now here I was, dancing for criminals who probably fantasized about doing worse things to me than just watching me dance.
I shuddered but kept my smile plastered on my face.
This was for Brianne.
In the back corner, the man with the milky eye watched me. I caught his gaze, and the corner of his mouth twitched in the closest thing to a smile I’d seen in the three weeks I’d been here. His movements were slow as he took a swig of his drink, and then, like he already knew I could read his mind, he set his hand on his knee and gave it three tiny pats.
I tried to pretend that I hadn’t noticed and kept dancing. Maybe he’d let it go. Maybe I’d misunderstood.
The man who followed him everywhere, a mean-looking bastard with a flat nose, cauliflower ears, and buzzcut, got to his feet and put two fingers in his mouth. He whistled. I flinched. He pointed his finger at me before curling it toward himself, beckoning me to come to them.
Disobeying meant punishment. I couldn’t endure any more. My body hurt from dancing, from being pushed around, knocked to the ground, squeezed, grabbed. It was better to comply with men like this when there was nobody here to save me and when I was too weak and too small to save myself.
I left the stage. The men who’d been watching me grunted with disappointment and watched me go.
After wading through all the smoke in the air, I made it to the man. The bleeder. He still looked sickly, but he was cleaner than everyone else in here. That was something, at least. He patted his knee again, and I sat, perching my ass on his thigh and draping my arms around his neck.
His gaze raked up and down my body, lingering on my breasts for an excruciating several seconds. He didn’t touch me. Instead, he inhaled me, breathing in my vanilla body spray. His one blue eye and other milky eye fluttered and rolled back in his head.
I had the urge to lean over and puke.
He squeezed my hip. “When I call you, you come. Understood?”
He pressed a finger under my chin. “Good girl. Now,” he purred, “I want you to sit on the floor.”
He opened his legs, and I slid between them, settling onto my bruised knees with my back to him. My arms rested on his thighs, and he raked his fingers through my hair, pulling it off my shoulders and twirling it around his fingers. If he’d been someone I trusted, the exhaustion in my body might have made me pass out right then and there, but I was more alert than ever.
His fingers slid down to my shoulders and back up, tracing my jaw, lingering over my pulse, and following the tendons in my neck.
If he wanted to, he could kill me right now and there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do about it.
“Pretty, isn’t she, Moss?” he asked.
The one with the buzzcut smiled mercilessly at me. “She sure is, boss. She sure is.”
Thank you, Susan <3 I'm so glad you enjoyed it.
Where is the rest of this book?
You can click the link on the post and grab Chips Fall on Amazon.It’s also free in Kindle Unlimited.
Thank you, Susan <3