They Call Me Red

Dane Cross, he liked the sound of that, simple, direct, easy to spell, easy to remember, enigmatic. A life of deception can’t have too many complications or explanations. He was a man for hire, private investigation, bouncer, anything this side of legal. Trained as a black op in combat with a license as a Private Investigator he was equipped for many rolls, most of them quick and dirty. Always the guy from out of town. He had no recorded past, not even fingerprints. He’d traveled the back streets and alleys in the worst districts of the world. What he’s seen, no one should see, no one should take part. The reality was that crime exists everywhere. The removal of low life crooks was his obsession.

Registered in a nondescript hotel he headed down the dimly lit back street in search of a bar. He saw flashing pink and blue neon and followed his instincts. The Playmate came into focus, a strip bar, how convenient. For a single male stranger, new in town, the sources of entertainment are limited. Movie theatres, restaurants are visited mostly by couples. A single person stands out. That he didn’t want.

She’s a Brick House by the Commodores was blaring from the downstairs club:

Ow, she’s a brick house
She’s mighty-mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out
She’s a brick house
That lady’s stacked and that’s a fact
Ain’t holding nothing back

Inside, past the bouncer, the ticket booth and the compulsory coat check were the sights and sounds of lust paid for by the minute, also the scent of cherry. He took a seat at a circular, Formica topped table in a dimly lit back corner with a view of the entrance. The wooden chairs were worn but not shabby. The carpet was worn also, paths of high traffic led to to the bar, washrooms and to a stairway that led to the private upstairs VIP rooms. He thought to himself, All that’s required to become a VIP is to hand a stripper a wad of bills.

A scantily clad woman was immediately at his side. “I’m Amber,” she said in a breathy voice. “Drink?”

Again the scent of cherry. “Double shots of Jameson, neat.” It wasn’t that he particularly liked the taste of Irish whiskey, but it reminded him of his roots and The Troubles, also it slowed his drinking. He couldn’t afford to become drunk and conspicuous.

“Coming right up,” she said in a Barbie Doll voice. His drink came soon enough. “There you go,” she giggled.

He gulped it down and said, “Another.”

“You’re a man of few words. With your drink would you like a table dance, or I could take you upstairs to the V.I.P Room. We can be more intimate there.”

“Just the drink, thank you.” As she sashayed towards the bar for his drink he thought. What a lack of creativity.  With all the names in the world she chose — a fossilized tree resin, yellow in color. Why didn’t she just name herself Yellow?  A wave of relaxation spilled over his crusty mood. The liquid from his glass burned his throat in a comforting way. He remembered his father’s words, ‘If it don’t hurt, it ain’t no good. Don’ t go spendin’ money on fancy labels.’

Amber kept coming back, pressing her thigh against his, placing her hands on his shoulders and letting her breast touch the top of his head. He knew her situation — there was no money in selling drinks, only in table and lap dances.  He wasn’t in the mood for either so he walked to the bar.

He pulled up an end stool with his back to the dancers and his eye on the door to see who might come in. “Name your poison.” said the woman behind the bar. He couldn’t help but notice her small delicate hands, elegant fingers with fiery red nail polish to match her luscious lips. He named his usual. As she walked away he noticed her waves of red hair cascading down the sparkling green fabric of her short dress. She had to stretch for the Jameson bottle. Her legs were long and had a graceful shape, muscles undulating as she moved. She had a feline sureness about her as she set down his drink, collected empty glasses and gave the bar a quick wipe. He tossed it back and absentmindedly looked at the rows of colored bottles.

“Another?” she asked.

“Yeah, hit me again,” he replied, gazing into her golden-brown eyes. They had a quizzical, dangerous look about them.

As she placed the drink before him she said, “You’re not like the typical customer we get here.”

“Describe the typical customer?”

“Well,” she said, “you sat at the back, so you weren’t interested in a clear view of the stage. You turned down Amber for a table dance and a visit to the V.I.P Room. That’s not typical.”

“What? Can’t a guy just come to a bar for a drink?”

“Yes, but not usually to this bar. They call me Red. If you need anything just shout.” The honeyed tones of her voice had timbre and resonance even when she was speaking softly. She’s probably a damned fine singer.

Red, he thought, how original.

She came back shortly after and asked, “You’re not a cop are you?”

“And if I was, do you think I’d tell you?”

She lingered before she answered, “No, I suppose not, but we do occasionally have unpleasant incidents — fights, girls being assaulted. It would be comforting to know that we had one officer of the law to keep us safe.”

“I saw your bouncer at the door, I’m sure he can take care of himself and your staff. I also noticed the line of motorcycles out front and the full patches on vests and jackets. I didn’t recognize the name but, surely some of them would come to the aid of a damsel in distress.”

“Have you looked closely at their patches. The top rocker is Sons of Irony, the bottom is Middle Earth, the image is a prairie dog. My dad was a poet, he thought the name was as appropriate as any other. Anyway, bikers can be unpredictable and the bouncer can’t be everywhere or see everything.”

“Well, Red, as they call you, who works in a biker bar, you want to come to me for protection? I should be the one concerned about protection. I don’t like cops any more than you do. If a fight breaks out I’ll stay well away from it. If one of your girls is in trouble I’d have to think, what’s in it for me?”

“I can see that you’re a real gentleman.”

“I know that these places are euphemistically called gentlemen’s clubs, but I don’t see a gentleman in sight, including me. As for ladies, I’ll reserve judgment.”

“I have one question, a stripper friend of mine said that and I quote, ‘My anecdotal survey says 10% of dancers are strict lesbians, 40% are strictly heterosexual and the rest are somewhat bi, in that they’ll fool around with other women besides just for entertainment value for men.’ What do you say to that?” She replied, “I expected more class from you. Why do you ask such a puerile, callow, hebetudinous question? It’s not something that I ask during a job interview. Firstly, it’s illegal; Secondly, I don’t care; Thirdly, why would it make a difference? We get lots of women as patrons, sometimes they are interested in having a lap dance by a girl they admire on stage. At bachelor parties, we often have a group of nude dancers rubbing against each other and the bachelor. Are you turned on by lesbians or bi women? Strippers entertain, they flirt that’s what they’re paid for. If you’re aroused, they’ve done

fall in love with you even if you get that impression. Does that make you feel less of a man?” “Mea Culpa. I truly apologize, that was a crude, senseless and discriminatory thing to ask. Please forgive me. I don’t even know why I inquired, it must be the Jameson talking. I’m actually very respectful of people, all people. I even wrote a post about it:


In the past year
I’ve had a lot of time to think
about important and unimportant things
(long story).
I have come to some very basic conclusions
as is my right and obligation.
They may seem obvious to some.

To others, they may seem inflammatory.
Deal with it —
say what you want on your own page.

I believe that as humans
we deserve:

These are big issues
that have repercussions in news events
around the world.
I haven’t worked out all the details, yet,
but I have seen a lot of headlines on television
in print media and on the internet.

On our planet
we must eradicate (as much is humanly possible,
as opposed to what is economically viable)
(and others too numerous
to mention).

My neighbors:
MUST NOT starve while I eat,
MUST NOT die of illness while I have access to a cure,
if their lives, health, or opportunities
are at risk,

MUST HAVE universal access to the best education
in order to best express their natural abilities,
MUST HAVE equal access to meaningful, rewarding and satisfying employment,
MUST HAVE the freedom to make their own life choices;
these choices MUST NOT be dictated by GOVERNMENT

In short, I AM my brother’s/sister’s keeper.
I WILL treat them as I would prefer to be treated.
I WILL NOT be the cause of abuse,
whether physical, verbal, mental or emotional.
I WILL live my life
according to the best of my potential.

‘NUFF SAID (for now)…

I support women’s rights, children’s rights, LGBTQ rights. I even walk in Pride parades.” “Now, you’re making excuses. Are you next going to tell me that you have a gay friend?” With that, she left me alone to enjoy my drink. Feeling somewhat sheepish, I pulled out a pocket notebook and jotted a few sentences. Sometimes the right amount of alcohol and the right atmosphere brings out the poet or novelist in me.

With that, she left me alone to enjoy my drink. I pulled out a pocket notebook and jotted a few sentences. Sometimes the right amount of alcohol and the right atmosphere brings out the poet or novelist in me.

“What are you writing? Anything about me?”

“I’m writing reflections, observations, impressions, word pictures. Maybe I’ll write about you. It relaxes me.”

“You a professional writer? Do you write for newspapers? Have you published any books, anything I may have come across?”

“You may have read some things that I’ve written, but then I don’t know your tastes in reading.”

“My tastes may surprise you, Rumi, Aristophanes, Baudelaire, Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Mary Oliver, Charles Bukowski, William Wantling…”

“You have eclectic tastes. I’m genuinely impressed and I don’t impress easily. I don’t recognize the last name you mentioned.”

“William Wantling? He was an American poet, novelist, ex-marine He said that at age 17 he was the youngest Marine Sergeant in Korea during the winter campaign of ’52-’53— he must have listed his age as 18. He’d been seriously wounded in combat. He’d been given morphine for his wounds and had subsequently become addicted.  In his own words ‘War injuries led to addiction led to prison and a lifetime of problems’. It’s been reported that ‘he got hit with a flamethrower.’ He served time at the California State Prison at San Quentin for forgery and narcotics. There he took creative writing classes and began to write poetry. After being released he attended university and graduated with a BA and an MA.  He became a college professor. He also hung out with Charles Bukowski. He’s considered one of the last beat poets.  A Wantling scholar Kevin E. Jones wrote that ‘Wantling lied, cheated, ripped off his friends, shat in their bathtubs.’ Another wrote,  ‘He was a long-tall- 229 storyteller trying to lift lying up to mythmaking.’ Here’s a copy of one of his poems:



I’ve got to be honest. I can
make good word music and rhyme

at the right times and fit words
together to give people pleasure

and even sometimes take their breath away –
but it always

somehow turns out kind of phony.
Consonance and assonance and inner

rhyme won’t make up for the fact
that I can’t figure out how to get

down on real paper the real or the true
which we call life. Like the other

The other day I was walking
on the lower exercise yard here

at San Quentin and this cat called Turk
came up to a friend of mine

and said Ernie, I hear you’re
shooting on my kid. And Ernie

told him So what, punk? And Turk
pulled out his stuff and shanked

Ernie in the gut only Ernie had a
Metal tray in his shirt. Turk’s

shank bounced right off him and
Ernie pulled his stuff out and of

course Turk didn’t have a tray and
caught it dead in the chest, a bad

one, and the blood that came to his
lips was a bright pink, lung blood,

and he just laid down in the grass
and said Shit. Fuck it. Sheeit.

Fuck it. And he laughed a long
time, softly, until he died. Now

what could consonance or assonance or
even rhyme do to something like that?

“You may not find much. I certainly haven’t. He was never a New York Times bestseller, but he wrote reality, his reality, raw, violent, gritty, the life you’d find in prison.”

“That’s more what interests me. Cut the bullshit, tell it like it is, not just to glorify rich people like you see on tv, but for the families scraping to make a living, the people working for minimum wage or less with no pension to look forward to, the waitresses, janitors…”

“So is there a market for the kind of books you write?”

“People buy my books, but I’ll never be a bestseller. In some ways, it’s like this place. You don’t make money off the drinks, customers like me. You make money from sex: the sight of it, the touch, smell and whatever else goes on upstairs. The popularity of my books sometimes depends on the level of sex, violence — things I know about — just enough to get my point across.”

“What is your point?”

“My point is the human condition. I try to understand people, why they fall in love, why they hurt each other, why they kill each other. It’s a mystery, like you for instance. Why is a woman who reads Baudelaire and Aristophanes, serving drinks in a biker strip bar?”

“That would be a long story if I chose to tell it. I don’t just serve drinks. I own this place, inherited it from my father who was a biker. Even when I was underage he would bring me here off-hours if he needed to work on the books. I’d keep myself entertained with the pinball machines, pool table and sometimes Solitaire…”

“I take it that your mother wasn’t around?”

“You don’t pull punches, do you. She died when I was five. I don’t remember much about her. I was raised by my grandparents and my dad. He played a big part in my growing up, so did a lot of the other bikers in here. He was nuts about vintage Harleys. He loved the look of them, the feel and sound when he rode them. He’d go to swap meets, get to know other bikers, buy what looked like a wreck, take it all apart, then rebuild it. Soon other bikers came to him to repair their bikes or buy ones he’d restored. He’d tell me about panheads, knuckleheads, shovelheads, softails, hardtails. They formed a club. I was their mascot. They said I brought them luck. When I was older, Dad would pay me to sweep out the place, wipe tables, wash glasses and ashtrays, clean washrooms. When I was old enough I started serving behind the bar. What about you?”

“Nothing special. I grew up on a small farm. I like animals more than people. I never had much social life. Dad was getting weaker year by year, so I took on more of the farm work. Eventually, he passed on, Mom shortly after. I moved around a lot. Never in one place long enough to make any real friends. I was always the new kid, the guy from out of town. Attended college on a football scholarship. I have the aching joints to prove it. I did my military service after college. I liked the military but didn’t like taking orders, so now I’m what you would call a security contractor.”

As a security contractor, what do you actually work at?”

“I’m open to whatever a client wants me to do, as long as they can meet my price. I don’t come cheap.”

“You’re a mercenary!”

“That’s not a term I use to describe myself. Call me a Private Military Contractor. Mercenaries work for everybody, they’ll go for the highest bidder on either side. As a PMC I like to think that I’m working on the right side of the fence most of the time. The main difference is that a PMC’s role is to protect and escape, rather than engage and attack.

“I do a lot of investigative and surveillance work. It’s not as interesting as the private eye shows on television. One of my former partners did not like surveillance work. He described it as, ‘sitting around and doing fuck all.’ For me, it allows for time to think and occasionally write.”

“If I had a problem and met your price could I hire you?”

“I’d need details. Maybe we could work something out.”

She called out, “Amber, take the bar. I’m going to the back.”

In the back room were open cases of liquor, a large commercial dishwasher, laundry facilities, a door marked Dressing Room, a staff area for coffee and a glass-enclosed office. Red directed me to a client chair in front of her desk. She started by saying, “It’s discouraging the way things have changed. In the early ’90s, a strip club in Montreal started offering lap dances. I visited the club and the owner showed me a closed circuit tv monitor of what was happening in the private rooms. He said they needed the cameras for security in case a dancer was assaulted, also they wanted to make sure the girls didn’t go too far. Prostitution wasn’t allowed.

“I discussed the changes with my dancers and the opinions varied. I didn’t want to force anyone out of their comfort zone. A lot of girls left the business at that time. I didn’t blame them. Some saw it as a way of earning extra money. I decided to leave it up to them to decide whether or not they wanted to offer lap dances, but it’s the dancer who sets the limits. I run a clean club which means no prostitution or drugs. We no longer hire feature dancers. It used to be that we’d book some of the best in the world, real international cabaret stars There were regular tour circuits. Now the girls serve drinks then take turns on the stage. I don’t like what’s happening. I see it as demeaning.

“I worked a deal with a local jiu-jitsu and kickboxing club. The girls get a free membership to learn self-defense.  The membership of the club has seen a big boost in enrolment. The guys love seeing my girls training with them in singlets and short shorts.

“These girls, women, are like sisters to me, but more often I have to act like a mother. I hear all their problems. I have a calendar where I mark down when they’re having their period, so I know if they’re going to be grumpy or if they might phone in sick. If they thought they may be pregnant, because they were late, I could check the calendar and see if they’d missed the date or just forgot.

“People always ask me if I thought a lot of dancers had been abused as children. I always answer no to that question. Then follow it with, ‘not a lot of them, all of them.’ And I still believe that to this day. A woman can’t show her body to a man for money unless she’s lost something that once made her body special to her.

“When a girl is fifteen and has to leave home to get away from an abusive situation there aren’t a whole of opportunities out there for her. It’s pretty much stripping and hooking. The government makes it difficult for underage girls to strip, with their license requirements and all that. More of them are ending up as prostitutes instead…

“The club has a problem. A larger organization wants to take over…”

“If the larger organization is a one-percenter motorcycle club, you’ve got a big problem. I’d suggest you do what they say, take your losses and leave.”

“I agree, I don’t have a choice, but I don’t want to give this place away. These are my friends, this place is their livelihood, this is my home. I need a negotiator. It’s not like I can go to our local real estate agent. Do you have any backing?”

“Yes, I can bring in a private militia, as many men and guns as needed, if you want to start a war you can never finish.”

“I don’t want any violence. I want a fair price and protection for my staff during the transition. I want a show of force, not a war. A friend of mine who owned a club similar to this had a very unfortunate experience. He was contacted by a group of supposed buyers. He made an appointment to meet them early in the morning before the club was open. Four very large men were waiting for him at the entrance. He showed them the club. They offered him a lot of money, more than the club was worth. They said they’d drive him to their lawyer’s office. While in the car they threatened him with death if he tried anything. The guys stood around while the papers were signed. They pushed him back in the car. Before they dropped him back at the club one of the thugs grabbed the owner’s face in a large hand and squeezed firmly. He said, and I can still remember the words he used, ‘Welcome to the real world, you ain’t gettin’ nothin’.’

“Okay, work out your selling price, talk to other owners. My senior operatives are on call for immediate response. A local company can provide me with guards in a matter of hours. It’s the same situation with canine patrols and handlers. Those out of town will need to make travel arrangements. Set a date to meet the purchasers. Make sure the meeting takes place here. Tell them to come unarmed. Do you have metal detectors? If not get some. Also, have closed-circuit tv covering all areas of the club inside and out. We don’t want surprises. We’ll also need all areas bugged for sound. I’ll have some of my people bring in the equipment and install it. You can reach me at the hotel down the street. Do we have a deal?”

“I don’t know your price yet.”

“We’ll work it into the price of the sale. Let me get some figures and background on who we’re dealing with. Don’t discuss my involvement with anyone. I don’t want to be a target before it’s absolutely necessary. I’ll contact my crew.”

“Okay, I guess you’ve relieved some of my stress. Don’t let me down.”

“Cheers, Red.”

Two days later:

“Okay, Red, I have details of the audio and visual security. Everything seems to be in place and has been checked for reception.  Arrange a meeting with the prospective buyers as soon as possible.  Have your bouncer check them for weapons.  Take them back to the staff coffee area. My men and I will be out of sight in the dressing room.

Three bikers entered, one wearing a Vice President’s patch. After looking around the room they agreed to be searched electronically for weapons. They were young, muscular and huge.  Four men with grey hair and long beards wearing Sons of Irony patches were quietly playing cards at a nearby table.  The new arrivals wandered over to talk, ‘You guys look as old as the bikes parked out front. Are you against buying American or can’t you afford Harleys.”

One of the greybeards stood up and said, “I ride a ’41 flathead BMW R71, the one that Harley copied after World War Two since theirs wasn’t good enough for the American Army. Where do you think Harley got their engine  and transmission?”

Another of the older bikers said, “My ’73 Triumph Hurricane X75 is a classic.  This model set numerous speed and distance records at Daytona and Bonneville. I’ll agree that their market was taken over by rice rockets, but It still gets me where I want to go.  Harleys’ are overrated, overpriced and too noisy.”

The old man got up from the table and confronted the VP, “It’s not polite to disrespect your elders. I think an apology is in order.”

“You old coot, I’ll show you disrespect.” With that, he threw a right fist at the other’s jaw. The older man dodged and blocked the punch with his left wrist. His right hand came around the waist of his opponent finishing with a Hip Throw and standing Armbar. He said, “I can break this wrist, or let you walk away after I hear your apology.” The biker’s face was contorted in pain as his wrist was bent near to breaking. The other two bikers were ready to step in when they heard. “You may want to consider the two guns under the table about to blast away your manhood.”

The VP forced out the words. “I apologize. Let me up.”

The older man said, “You telegraphed your punch. You made it too easy.”

“What do you mean I telegraphed my punch?”

“I understand, in this electronic age telegraph is out of date. What I meant was, before you threw your punch you dipped your right shoulder. I knew exactly what you were going to do and counteracted appropriately. Now, do you want to try that again?”

The big man stood up. This time he tried a left hook. The older man defended with his hand to his right ear then attacked with his elbow, downing the biker again. “There, you did it again, you dropped your left.  If I hadn’t hit you with my elbow I could have chopped your neck, wrapped my arm around yours, hit you with my right then taken you down with my right leg behind yours. Do you want to try that again?”

“Some other time, old man. I got business to conduct.”

“It’ll make more sense if I demonstrate. Are you sure you don’t want to give it a try. You could learn something.”

“Later. old man.”

The bouncer shouted, “Red, your guests have arrived.” Red walked up as the man was rising from his knees.  She said, “Hey big boy, I appreciate respect, but I wasn’t expecting you to kneel. I see you’ve met Sensei Digger, my jiu-jitsu instructor. Would you mind following me to the back.”

They sat at the staff table, “I have some papers drawn up. you may want to have them checked by your lawyer. It’s being offered on the open market: twenty-five thousand square feet including a commercial kitchen, refrigeration, fixtures valued at four hundred seventy-five thousand and stock of twenty-five hundred. Included is the liquor consumption license with an estimated value of $175,000, and a municipal certificate of occupancy for adult entertainment. Sales revenue is four hundred thousand with a cash flow of eighty thousand.  Total asking price is nine hundred and ninety-five thousand. Any questions?”

“Look, Bitch, this isn’t the way we do business. We’ll tell you what we’ll pay and you’ll accept it, or else.”

Dane and twenty men wearing street clothes and balaclavas entered from the Dressing Room. They were armed with AR-15 type rifles with a bump or slide fire modification. Handguns were strapped to their thighs. Each had a snarling dog at his side.

Dane said, “You’re not calling the shots here, I am. You’ll play by my rules.”

The biker said, “Hey, dude, that’s some heavy fuckin’ duty security you got there. Is that for our sake? Are those guns loaded or just for show?”

Dane said, “We don’t want to scare the patrons and staff or have someone phone the police. To keep the noise down, Number Two, show the man what you can do.” With lightning speed, he pulled a knife from his sleeve and threw it across the room sticking it inches above the lead biker’s head. It was still quivering. “To answer your question, yes the guns are loaded if needed and the dogs do bite.

“These soldiers are used to fighting in the jungles and rainforests where the breaking of a twig can mean instant death. They’ve learned to fight like ghosts. Nobody sees them coming until it’s too late. The fact that they’re still alive attests to how good they are. Also, they’re international. There’s nowhere you can hide that you can’t be found.

“You may take these real estate papers to your President. After your church meeting phone me with your decision. I can be contacted on this cell phone.” He placed it on the table. There will be no negotiations. If you don’t want a bidding war, or if you’re fussy about your future neighbors we’ll need an answer as soon as possible. Your clubhouse is now surrounded by soldiers with rocket launchers, so don’t consider bringing reinforcements or any kind of retaliation. Your telecommunication and internet devices are being monitored by encryption specialists. We also have audio and video recordings of your skirmish at the front door where you were humiliated twice by an old man. That could go viral before the night is over if we so choose. I’m sure that your home chapter and your enemies would find it very entertaining. You may leave now to make your decision. Call me.”

Dane and Red showed the bikers to the exit.  The VP said, “I haven’t finished with you, Red.”

She confronted him and asked in a sweet as honey voice, “I don’t understand, whatever do you mean?”

The biker said with a smirk on his face, “I mean we have some unfinished business involving your legs draped over my shoulders. Your pussy could use a taste of my tongue.”

The smile still on her face she said, “You’re not man enough for my taste.” Her stilettoed foot came up with a right snap kick to his chin followed by a left roundhouse to the side of his head. He fell hard on his back with his legs spread.  She placed her shoe on his crotch and pressed, “You owe me an apology, or I’ll crush what little balls you have.” The remaining two bikers were about to come to his aid when they looked at the Sons of Irony at the card table, guns are drawn, smiles on their bearded faces. “I apologize.”

Red said to Dane, “I’m glad that’s over. These soldiers must cost a fortune and you mentioned encryption specialists. I don’t know how I can pay for all this.”

“I’ll take ten percent of the selling price. If costs run over that I’ll cover them.”

“That’s very generous.”

“Well, I don’t expect to need all of them for the full term. As long as our three friends are convinced we have them they’ve served their purpose. They’ll convince the other members of the gang that we’re not to be messed with.

“They’re are on call twenty-four hours a day. We also have access to any other military equipment we may need. If we need a tank to crash through their clubhouse we can do it. Now, we wait for their phone call. If this fails we can probably find legitimate buyers. It’s a fair price and good value.”

Red said with a smile on her face, “This calls for a drink. Will you have your usual?”

“Yes please, ma’am.”

“Don’t call me ma’am. That makes me sound like a grandmother.”

As they entered the bar area, Amber was on stage suspended from the dance pole by her legs. Her body arched back and her long dark hair touched the floor. She slid down to a handstand, then supporting her weight on her hands she came down to a headstand, returned to a handstand. She slowly pulled herself up to her former position, hung on to the pole with her hands and spiraled to the floor.

Dane watched with appreciation. “She’s really very good.”

“She’s a trained gymnast and ballerina. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many jobs that can make use of her skill set and grace. What you saw was a tabletop, going into a lean back, leading into a bridged handstand, back up to a plank stand, ending in a spinning straddle to the floor. She makes it look easy, but it takes an expert to avoid pole burn.”

“So, what’s in her future after you close here?”

“Probably another strip bar in another town. She’ll do alright as long as she stays clean. Drugs take a lot of dancers. It’s not a problem for her now, but so many girls fall into that lifestyle, especially when their age begins to show and they aren’t so pretty or so popular.”

“Do you have someplace where I can crash for the night? I don’t want to be out walking the streets alone. There could be a sniper waiting for me.”

“Are we really in a lot of danger?”

“That all depends on the bikers and the skill of my soldiers. They’ve been issued infrared glasses for night vision. I’ll post snipers on the roof in four-hour shifts. Your windows will be manned. Roving scouts will be patrolling the outlying area and I’ll have snipers in camouflaged blinds, similar to hunting blinds but underground. They’ll be completely invisible even in broad daylight.

Two days later Dane’s phone rang. The voice on the other end said, “Okay, we’re in. Where do we exchange the money and the sales papers?”

Dane answered, “We’ll take two-thirds of the purchase price now. Bundles of large bills will fit in the saddlebags of a single bike. We’ll sign the papers, and count the money in the middle of the parking lot.  In two weeks, after the premises have been vacated, we’ll accept the balance of payment and turn over the keys. After that, it’s all yours.”

The voice answered, “Okay,” then the line went dead.

“Okay,” said Dane to Red, “We’ve got the ball rolling. With luck,  in two weeks you’ll have the money in your hand and can start a new life.”

“I have a feeling it’s not going to be that easy. We’re not dealing with Mr. and Mrs. suburban couple. These guys are used to taking what they want, on their own terms.”

Dane said, “Then let them bring it on. We’re ready.”

A phone call from the lookout advised, “A group of thirty is suiting up and have mounted their bikes. What should we do?”

“If they turn left towards the strip club launch a mortar shell ahead of them to blow up the road. We’ll see what happens then.”

“They’ve turned right. It may be that they’re planning to circle around and come at you from the other side.”

“We’re ready for them. Hold your location.”

Spotters with telescopes saw small groups advancing from all directions. Dane ordered his men on the roof to fire several rounds of rubber bullets to let the bikers know they’ve been detected. “What’s the reaction?” he asked.

“They’re moving back, but they’re not leaving,” said a spokesman for the shooters.

“Launch a couple of mortars. Try not to kill anybody, but let them know we’re using live ammo. Can you see what kind of weapons they’re using?”

“I see the expected axe handles, chains, handguns, shotguns also assault rifles. I see some Remington Bushmasters, GPCs, Colt CQBRs, CM901s and a Robinson XCR, all American dating from 2004 to 2010. I don’t see any grenade, mortar or rocket launchers.”

“What’s happening now?”

“They’re retreating slowly. I think it’s a standoff.”

“Call out to our roving men and the ones in the blinds. See if they can single out stragglers and hit them with tranquilizer darts. Work from the back of the group to the front. It would be great if we could immobilize their leader.”

“We’ve hit a couple and the leader is walking directly towards one of the blinds. I don’t know if our man has been spotted or not. I don’t think so. I can see a slight movement in the leaves, the tip of a dart gun has emerged. The President is down. Let’s see what happens now.”

“I think a phone call to the VP would be in order.”

“I see him picking up his phone. He looks pissed.”

“Your President is down, so are a half dozen of your men. Do exactly as I say or the next round of bullets will be live and we’ll be shooting to kill. Order your men to drop their weapons immediately or your leader dies first, then you. Raise your arms. You’re surrounded.”

“Fuck you!” yelled the VP as he ran toward the building firing his submachine gun.

Dane said, “He doesn’t have a target, the only damage he’s doing is to the brick walls.  Shoot a tear gas cartridge in his path. That should slow him down. If he gets within thirty-five feet we can use a taser to stop him. It would be preferable if we can avoid killing anyone, on the other hand, we are under attack.”

“The tear gas seems to have worked. He’s holding his eyes and coughing. Bring the soldiers out of their blinds. They can approach from the rear. Keep using the tranquilizer darts. Fire more tear gas cartridges if anyone approaches. Bring out the dogs. What is the body count now?”

“There are about six still standing. They’ve dropped their weapons and have their hands above their heads.

“Round them up, use cuffs, herd them into the back room. Lock them in the beer cooler, with the exception of the President. He’ll be groggy, but if he wants this place he should be able to sign his name.”

The leader sat on a chair in the middle of the room, his hands cuffed behind his back. Red asked, “So what’s it going to be. Do you meet our price or do we offer it to another biker club?

“Uncuff my hands. I’ll sign. You’ll have the money tomorrow.”

Red said, “Send a lone biker to our parking lot. We’ll do a count and if we’re satisfied he’ll ride away unharmed.”

The President stood “I assume you’ll release my men now.”

“Yes,” said Red, “all but your VP. He can cool off here until the payment is settled.”

The bikers trooped out of the beer cooler, with the exception of the VP who was on his back with the boot of a soldier across his throat and a snarling dog straining against its leash. They left by the front door and walked the empty street towards their clubhouse.

Next day:

The financial transaction took place at noon in the parking lot. The VP was released, arrangement for the handover of keys was arranged for later that night and the bikers rode away.

“Thank you,” said Red to Dane, “I really couldn’t have done it without you.”

“You handle yourself well. If you don’t have any other offers I’m in need of a partner with your qualifications.”

“That sounds interesting. I could give it a try. Shall we discuss it over a drink.”

They walked back into the bar, sat at a corner table as Amber poured their usual drinks. “So Dane Cross,” said Red, “what is this job you’re offering me?”

“Don’t get too used to the name Dane Cross, it’s an alias. In my line of work, I don’t like to be tied down to any particular identity or background. I like to stay flexible and creative. I’m usually on the move, but I stay in luxury. We’d be equal partners, share in the decisions and the profits.

“You mentioned spending a lot of your childhood here. I grew up in pool halls as well. When my brother who was fifteen years older, was assigned to babysit me. He’d take me to a pool hall, prop me in a chair and keep me contented with comic books, chips and soft drinks. I was in heaven. He’d be hustling the tables. Things sometimes got ugly if there was a sore loser, but Jack was a fighter, so he could take care of himself.

They talked into the evening. Amber brought sandwiches from the kitchen. After the last of the patrons and staff left and locked the doors they continued their conversation. An hour later the sound of a motorcycle approached and stopped out front. Dane got out of his chair, stood behind the pool table, switched off the overhead light and picked up two balls. There was the sound of feet stomping down the concrete stairs and the crashing of the door as it was kicked in. A spray of bullets from a machine gun broke lights, broke chairs, mirrors followed by the biker. When the dust had cleared he saw Red sitting at a table. She said, “You could have rung the doorbell, but it’s your place now, do what you like to the furniture and fixtures.”

“It was you I came to see, Red. I said we weren’t finished yet.”

“Yes, I remember now, it involved my legs draped over your shoulders. Do I have that part right?  Then you indicated that my pussy could use a taste of your tongue. Are you up for that big boy? or was it all talk?”

Dane settled one of the balls into his right hand and pitched it at the biker hitting him between the eyes. The second followed in quick succession. He next picked up a pool cue and smashed the leaded handle on the other’s unprotected neck. The biker staggered but remained on his feet. Dane grabbed a fist full of his long hair with his left hand, jerked the biker’s head down as his left knee slammed into his chin.  From his loose right pocket Dane drew his go-to weapon of choice in tight quarters, his spring assisted knuckle or trench knife — brass knuckles combined with a double-edged switchblade. While still holding him by the hair he drove the knuckles into his the side of his opponent’s head, then reached under and jabbed the two-sided blade into his neck, pulled back and slit his throat from ear to ear.

Red said, “I guess now would be a good time to leave by the rear door. My car’s out back.”

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