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About the Author: A two-time Claymore Award finalist, Vinnie Hansen is the author of the Carol Sabala mystery series and LOSTART STREET, a stand-alone novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Santa Cruz Noir, Crime & Suspense, Web Mystery Magazine, Destination:Mystery!, Fish or Cut Bait, Fishy Business, Fault Lines, Transfer, Alchemy, Porter Gulch Review, Lake Region Review, Santa Cruz Spectacle, phren-Z on-line literary magazine, PseudoPod, and Mysterical-E.

All I wanted was another shot. But this, sadly, is not a story of redemption. Angela, the cocktail waitress, pointed for me to go down the backstage hall.

In the dim corridor, Ted clamped a hand on my bare shoulder and told me to report to his office. “Get dressed first.”

“Another Ted talk?” An old joke, but he could have smiled.

“Ten minutes.” He snapped his fingers.

I lifted a middle finger to his retreating shirt—form-fitting paisley like he was headed to a disco party rather than his dumpy office.

Maybe Ted had learned of my little indiscretion.

I didn’t get dressed; I only unclamped my tassels. They chafed if I kept them on too long. I rubbed Lubriderm on my nipples.

“Whoa, girl, look at those bullets.” Carolee spoke into her mirror. She was putting on false eyelashes, preparing to go on stage: hand standing to the pole, swinging into the Butterfly, sliding down with the Nose Breaker Drop.

Every skootch Carolee made toward the mirror caused her vermillion robe to slink farther apart, rendering it irrelevant. Myself, I slipped on a white terrycloth robe, like you’d find at a swanky hotel (which is where I got it during my aforementioned peccadillo). The hotel suite had been courtesy of one Charles Pitschke, a customer who thought my job included extra-curriculars. But Gals Galore was a strictly hands-off club, even though Ted was a hands-on boss. Fortunately, I either wasn’t his type or he sensed the seething in my veins.

When Charles had appeared a couple of weeks ago, he had been such a gentleman in his approach, sliding a twenty into the delicate strap of my G-string, avoiding the slightest graze of my skin, that I’d relented. His dark eyes and other features had something to do with it too.

After work, he’d taken me to the city’s best hotel and rented the suite. When we had finished that night, he’d propped onto an elbow. “You’re leaving?”

“You thought I’d spend the night?” How sweet.

He offered me his phone number.

I snorted. “You know where to find me.”

“What if you want to find me?” He beamed dimples and straight teeth and I entered his digits on my phone.

Now before heading to Ted’s office, I ducked into the employees’ restroom and pulled out a paper towel for a French whore’s bath. I reeked of nervous sweat.

Back in the hallway, I rapped on the office door.

“Enter.” Ted squinted at me through a swirl of cigarette smoke. “How can you wear that thick robe? It’s ninety degrees out.”

The mercury had dropped from the high of the day, but I didn’t bother to correct him. The mugginess of the night crept into Gals Galore with every arriving or departing patron and had won the battle against our anemic AC.

Ted’s office afforded only an oscillating fan, which ruffled his thin hair in the middle of each pass.

“Have a seat, Suzi.”

I leaned against the paneled wall.

“Suit yourself.”

I started to sweat again. Or glow, as we dancers called it. On stage you wanted that just-right patina. “What’s up?”

His scrutiny traveled up and down my body. “We’re downsizing.” He stubbed out his cigarette in an overflowing ashtray.

Downsizing?” I felt gut-punched. “Do you think we’re Starbucks?”

Ted leaned back in his desk chair and pointed a finger at me. “See. Right there. That attitude.”

“So you’re firing me for my attitude? Not downsizing?”

“It’s downsizing. To make room for new blood.”

“That makes no sense, Ted—downsizing to add people.” I pushed off the wall. I was only thirty-six, but had sensed this night impending for a while. It was just not what I’d expected on my way down the hall. “How much new blood?”

“Nineteen-year-old Belarusian twins.” His voice carried a soupçon of glee, about as close as Ted came to animated. “On stage together.”

“I’ve been with you for ten years, Ted.”

He flipped one palm up. “Well, there you go.”

I stalked out of the office and slammed the door. I’d been Ted’s first exotic dancer, and before Carolee, his best dancer. Gals Galore had been built on my back—or perhaps I should say on my T and A.

This story appears in our SEP 2021 Issue
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