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Paul Heatley
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thedancers.jpg
Art by Lee Kuruganti 2015

The Dancers

 

By

 

Paul Heatley

 

Not long out of prison and there he goes, ski mask on, gloves on, baseball bat down by his side like he’s itching to go back. He’s parked outside the building where Cherry lives, ‘cept Cherry’s a stage name, down at the club where she swings naked round the pole. She’s about nineteen maybe, though she’s telling everyone she’s twenty-two. Got the tight little body of a dancer and still sportin the tits God gave her, not like the other girls, most of whom’ve taken a trip under the surgeon’s knife.

          He thinks of Jazz, those two telltale scars on the underside where they slid the silicone in to pump her up. They wouldn’t be noticeable if it weren’t for them being so pale, the rest of her skin tanned almost orange the way it is with cream squeezed out a tube.

          Jazz didn’t make much noise when he was on top of her. Kinda just lay there, stared off into a corner of the ceiling, face blank. They’d shared cigarettes at the back door of the club, and she’d wear that same look on her face, staring out across the car park, into the bushes on the other side of the fence. He’d ask her what she was thinking about and she’d say Nothin, but he’d keep pushing and after a while she let it all out, slowly, dribs and drabs like a broken tap, he waited one cigarette to the next for another little piece of her story.

          She’s getting older. Her looks are fading. The manager is bringing in younger talent and she’s getting edged out.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, Jazz was the number one attraction, the top earner, the woman all the men and boys paid to see, clamouring over each other for a one-on-one dance in the backroom. Those days are done. Now they want Cherry, a slice of sweet and innocent Cherry pie with her long lean body, blonde hair and blue eyes. The girl next door, that’s what they’re after, not some broad looks like she can’t cut it in porn so she’s turned to the stage and the pole instead.

          She didn’t say all that, not word for word, but he understands. People think he’s dumb, but he understands plenty well enough.

          After that time, that one magical time he offered to give her a lift home ‘cos it’d been snowing, then he invited himself up and she shrugged and said Sure, not giving a shit, after they’d done the thing and he was lying on the bed and she’d gotten up to make herself a drink, he’d said to her “You know who you remind me of?” When she didn’t answer he told her anyway. “My ex-wife. You remind me of her. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re a helluva better looker believe me, and if the two of you were stood here right now I’d go for you every time, but there’s just somethin about you that’s got me thinkin of her.”

          Jazz took a sip of her drink then lit a cigarette. “You sure know how to flatter a girl.”

          “Hey, no, she turned out to be a bitch and everythin, but I meant what I said in the nicest way. Y’know, you can hate a person in the present but you mighta loved them once, and sometimes it’s those little things you loved that get you thinkin.” Like the way she’d lie there and take it, the way Jazz had.

Or the way she’d stand and take it until his fists finally knocked her down, mouth bloodied, eyes blackened, and she’d never say a word. Until the day came she did say a word, and the fucking police turned up at his fucking door.

          “You think you’re gonna hate me one day?”

          “Baby, I doubt it. I don’t wanna do nothin but treat you right.” He gave her his best, most charming smile, but she wasn’t looking. He sat up then, took a cigarette from her pack on the bedside table, lit it and blew rings. “Say, that girl in the club, the one causin you all the trouble – Cherry, right?”

          Jazz breathed out through her nose, mighta been a sigh. “She ain’t causin me the trouble.”

          “That ain’t what you’ve been tellin me.”

          That sound again, another sigh. “It’s not just her. It’s…it’s everythin.”

          “Yeah, but forget about everythin else – this girl Cherry? She’s takin your place at the top, am I right?”

          She turned to him, raised an eyebrow. “The top of what?”

          “In the club – you were marquee, baby! You were the girl until she came along, right? Anyway, just hear me out, okay? All you gotta think is that she’s young, she might decide this ain’t for her, move on to somethin new, you get me? Then you’re gonna be right back where you belong, on top.”

          She looked at him for a long time. “There’s no top. There’s just a pole, and the women that dance round it.”

          He winked. “Got ya.” He took a long draw on the cigarette. “By the way, what’s Cherry’s real name?”

          Anna Oates. Number seven. He doesn’t hit the buzzer cos he knows she won’t let him inside. What he does is, he waits round the corner until someone with a key comes, then he grabs the door an inch before it closes, then hangs around the lobby until he can be sure this resident has gotten to their apartment, locked themselves in and they ain’t gonna catch a glimpse of him. Then he goes up the stairs, goes to number seven, knocks on the door.

          Then he leaves, hurries from the place, and there’s a ringing in his ears from all her screaming, and there’s blood on the bat. He throws it in the trunk of the car, with the ski mask and the gloves, and he drives away fast, clears a few blocks before he pulls over next to a payphone. He catches his breath before he drops a few coins, and he can hear something else now, something breaking through the screams. The cracks, like stepping on dried twigs. Up on the stage, musta been the lighting, her legs looked all muscle, but up close they were real thin, real fragile, and they broke real easy. She ain’t gonna be dancing again for a long damn time, if ever. And shit, missing a few teeth like she is now, she ain’t even gonna be able to get by on her smile. Maybe one of those teeth is still in the bat, he’ll have to check. He bites on his lip, feels an excitement course through him. Her pretty face is all bust up. He’s done good. He’s done real good.

          “Hello?” Jazz sounds tired, like she’s just got back from work, the same weariness Cherry had in her voice when she opened the door, looked him up and down, the mask, the gloves and the bat, and said I think you’ve got the wrong place before she tried to slam the door.

          “Hey baby, it’s me.”

          “Me who?”

          “I get it, pretend like you don’t know – good thinkin. Hey, that thing that needed done? It’s done.”

          “You’ve got the wrong number, buddy.”

          “Sure I do. Hey, I just cut myself a nice big slice of cherry pie. I’m real sorry, but I didn’t leave any for anyone else.”

          There’s silence on the line for a long time. When she speaks again, her voice is real quiet. “Who is this?”

          “It’s your number one fan.”

“What have you done?”

          “I got her for you, baby.” He smiles into the phone. “You’re back on top.”

 

The End







thelizard.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2016

The Lizard

By

Paul Heatley

          The night is cold, but Lizzie does not feel it. Her skin is stone. Her heart is glass. The cigarette draws fire into her lungs.

          There are other girls, but they are not stone. They wrap themselves in scarves and oversized coats, rub their arms and hug themselves. Their hands shake when they try to smoke. Their breath mists from between chattering teeth.

          Lizzie stands in the shadows, watches them. Watches the lorries as they pull in, the overweight drivers that hop down from the cabs and go to the diner, or to the motel to book a room, or stop and talk to the girls.

          She wears heels, and a short skirt that pulls tightly across her buttocks. Her jacket is zipped, but only to her cleavage. Beneath it, she wears nothing but a bra. No one can see her. She is in the shadows.

          Eric grabs her arm harder than he needs to. He and Buck have been watching the drivers as they pull in, have studied their rigs. “That one,” he says. He points.

          Lizzie looks. The driver is not overweight. He is lean, looks like he is not long free of prison. His hair is shaved short and tattoos snake up the back and sides of his neck and down his arms. Two girls are already talking to him, one has short hair and the other has long, both brunettes, both pale-skinned and big-eyed. “He looks mean,” Lizzie says.

          “Sure does,” Buck, her other brother, says. He stands behind Eric.

          “Looks like trouble,” Lizzie says.

          “You scared?” Eric says.

          “Nah, I ain’t scared. Y’all scared?”

          Eric pushes her out of the shadows. “Just go get him.”

          She takes her time walking over, rolls her hips and blows smoke rings. When he sees her, he will want her. All interest in the women before him will be gone. They are haggard, sickly, strung-out. She is not.

          “Hey.”

          The three turn. The three look her up and down. The women scowl. The one with long hair wears denim shorts that don’t entirely cover her crotch. Through the half-light cast by the streetlamps that mark the perimeter of the lot, Lizzie can see pubic hairs poking free like spider legs, as well as the track-marks that pock the insides of her thighs and arms. The short-haired girl has similar scars. She picks at a weeping sore on the inside of her left elbow.

          The driver smiles. His right canine is missing. “Hey.”

          Lizzie smiles, puts a hand on her hip and cocks it, keeps smoking. She takes a long moment before she says anything else. “Y’all orchestrating a threesome?”

          The driver flashes his missing tooth again. “There’s always room for one more.”

          Lizzie makes a show of looking the other two over. She sucks her teeth. “No thanks,” she says. “I don’t need no team-mates.” She walks past them, brushes the long-hair with her shoulder, hears her hiss, but she’s already gone. Her hips roll, her heels click-clack on the wet tarmac.

          She hears the driver follow. He catches her up. “Slow down,” he says.

          “Told you already,” she says. “I ain’t interested in a gangbang.”

          “Then maybe you can dissuade me.”

          She cocks her hip again, blows smoke over his shoulder. His shirt collar is unbuttoned and she sees tattoos on his chest, too. LOVE and HATE are across his knuckles. “How long ago’d you get out?” she says.

          He regards her for a moment, then says “A year.”

          “Figured.”

          “That right?”

          “You ain’t got that hunched look no more, like you think someone’s gonna sneak up on you in the shower to either fight or fuck you. And you’re still lean. Long days drivin that rig hasn’t played hell with your gut yet.”

          He laughs. “How d’you know so much about it?”

          “I been doin this a while.”

          “That so? You’re still a young thing. How old are you, eighteen?”

          “Thereabouts.”

          “When’d you get started in this game, when you was twelve?”

          “Thereabouts.”

          He laughs harder. “Darlin, you still got all your teeth, you ain’t sportin bruises or needle scars, and your hair ain’t fallin out. You didn’t walk the walk and talk the talk, I’d think you started last week. Shit, I’d believe you started today.”

          She drops what is left of the cigarette, crushes it with her heel. “Believe what you want, honey.”

          He bites his lip.

          “What’d you do to get locked up?”

          “Assault.”

          “Did they deserve it?”

          “Everyone does.” He looks round, sees the two hookers he’d originally been talking to still staring them out. “Get outta here,” he says. “I ain’t interested.”

          The girls stink-eye Lizzie, then move on.

          “You got a room?” Lizzie says.

          The driver checks the time. “I ain’t stayin long. But I got the rig.”

          “It big?”

          “Big enough for what I got in mind.”

          He takes her by the hand, and her fingers lace through his. She strokes the letters that spell HATE. They go to his cab and climb inside. Lizzie lies across the seats, opens her legs. The driver sees she does not have underwear and his face lights up.

          “Nice and smooth,” he says, unbuckling his jeans, chewing his lip and running it through the gap where his tooth should be. “That’s how I like it, honey, nice and smooth.”

          When he comes closer Lizzie looks past him, to the mirror. She sees Eric and Buck heading to the back of the lorry. They will break inside, help themselves to the merchandise. Lizzie will keep the driver busy until they are done.

          The driver forces himself in. Lizzie bites her lip, arches her spine, pretends like she feels it, like she enjoys it. She pulls the driver in closer, puts her hand to the back of his head and keeps his face at her neck so he will stop looking at her, so she can stop contorting her face. As he breathes in the smell of her hair, as he thrusts, she watches the mirror. She sees her brothers carry things to the motel room they paid for earlier in the day. She sees them rush back and forth. Occasionally, for the driver’s benefit, she will moan, she will shift beneath him. She waits for her brothers to finish. She waits for everyone to finish.

*

          Afterward, she lights a cigarette and slips back into the shadows. The driver goes to the diner. When he is inside, Lizzie goes to the room.

          Eric and Buck open boxes, inspect their looted cargo. Lizzie lies down on the bed, taps ash into the bedside ashtray, stares at the ceiling.

          “He gone?” Buck says.

          “He’s eating,” Lizzie says.

          “Didn’t ask you to join him?” She can hear the grin in his voice.

          “He did.”

          “One day I reckon you’ll take up one of these boys on their offer to run away.”

          “He didn’t offer.”

          “He’s one of the few.”

          “Leave her alone,” Eric says.

          “Just askin how she’s doin,” Buck says.

          “Well don’t. Let her rest.”

          “Ain’t sure I would call what she’s been doin work.”

          Eric clears his throat. “I ain’t gonna tell you again.”

          Lizzie glances at them, sees what is in the boxes they took. Microwave ovens. Eric puts down the one he has been inspecting. Her brothers are staring hard at each other. They are both older than she is, and Eric is the oldest. They are equally broad, equally muscled.

          Buck grins. “Relax, Eric. You’re so tightly wound, you’re liable to give yourself a heart attack.” He turns to Lizzie. “Why don’t you get yourself a shower. You ain’t gonna get a chance come the mornin.”

          Lizzie stares at the ceiling, watches the smoke that passes her lips as it makes its way up there.

          “You listenin to me?”

          There is a knock at the door. A hard knock. Her brothers fall silent, look at each other.

          There is another knock, harder and faster. The door rattles in its frame.

          “He see you come this way?” Eric says.

          “No,” Lizzie says.

          “You sure?”

          “Yes.”

          Buck starts carrying boxes into the bathroom. Eric helps him. The person outside knocks again, calls “Open it up! I know you in there, bitch!” It is a man’s voice, but it is not the driver’s voice.

          Eric pauses with a box, looks at his sister. He puts the box down then goes to the door, stands behind it. He motions for Lizzie to answer.

          She does not recognise the man, but she knows the two women behind him, one with long hair and one with short. The man wears a wifebeater stained with egg yolk, and there is more drying yolk at the corners of his mouth. He sucks on his teeth and Lizzie guesses he was eating when his girls went to get him. She guesses he’s their pimp.

          He steps into the room without an invite, jabs a stubby finger into Lizzie’s face. “You workin?” he says. He is head and shoulders shorter than Lizzie. “This is my lot, girl. You don’t just come on up in here and look to take away my muthafuckin bidness, you unnerstan?” The two women follow him in. “Gimme the money, bitch. That’s my money, you hear that? Gimme that fuckin money or I’m gonna cut your face up real pretty.” He produces a switchblade from the pocket of his sweats, waves it in front of her face.

          Eric comes up behind him, grabs the switchblade from his hand and throws it to one side, then clamps on a chokehold. Buck leaves the bathroom, plants punches into the pimp’s ample gut. After a few hard shots he starts to throw up. The two women squeal, hold each other. Eric and Buck take the pimp to the ground, stomp him. Teeth fly from his mouth, past busted lips. His nose is crushed. One eye closes completely while an eyebrow tears, is almost scraped from his face by a rough sole.

          The two women look at Lizzie, still holding each other. They’re too scared to move. Their legs shake. Lizzie looks back at them. She blows smoke. She sits on the edge of the bed, then she lies back and closes her eyes.

The End






Paul Heatley's short stories have appeared online and in print for a variety of publications including Thuglit, Spelk, Horror Sleaze Trash, Near to the Knuckle, and Shotgun Honey, among others. He is also the author of six novellas, available from Amazon for Kindle. He lives in the north east of England.

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