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Gentlemen’s Night Club, where I pole danced, reeked of cigarette smoke and stale booze. Heat from the overhead spotlights illuminated the stage floor and made my skin clammy. I bumped and gyrated to the tune “Let’s Get it On” in front of twenty or so leering men with beer bottles in one hand and a fistful of dollars in the other. I pasted on a smile as their sweaty groping fingers slid the green stuff into my g-string.
Scanning the room, I spotted two men in designer suits sitting at a small table drinking from amber-filled glasses. One man had wavy, jet-black hair and the other a shaved head and a large moustache that covered his top lip. The loud music and jeers drowned their words, but by the looks on their faces they were engrossed in a serious conversation which didn’t include me.
I grabbed the aluminum pole and pivoted around, arched and lowered my body for the audience. When I unfurled from the pole, I wiggled my hips and focused on the two men again. The bald-headed man handed over a thick envelope to Mr. Jet-Black Hair. He slipped it inside his jacket. They both rose, shook hands and the bald guy strolled toward the exit. He didn’t give me a second glance. I jiggled my breasts and returned to the pole. The chorus required a final straddle and dip.
Two minutes later, I circled near the bar area and gyrated for more tips. The guy in the suit neared, leaned in close and held up a hundred-dollar bill. I danced across the varnished floor in his direction. He wasn’t part of the usual crowd. I’d never seen him before tonight. Swerving my hips, I strutted and gave him a good show.
Usually, the nightly clientele consisted of drunks and hard-up men. This guy’s Nile-green eyes seemed to caress my every move and never left my disco dancing body. When I crouched before him, he inserted his hundred inside my sequined top. The touch of his fingers sent chills quivering along my spine. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, then he whispered, “Can I see you after the show?”
“Yes, but I’ll have to change,” I answered, knowing I couldn’t date the patrons per club rule number twelve. But I had my own set of rules.
He nodded and returned to his table. As the music faded, I took my cue to exit the stage. Beads of sweat trickled on my brow and between my breasts. I hurried to the dressing room. Once inside, I settled into a chair and bragged to another dancer named Crystal.
“Is he the guy in the Versace suit?” she asked.
“Yes. He’s handsome, don’t you think?”
“I’ll say. Maybe he’s a traveling salesman. You better be careful, they’re almost always married.”
“He’s not wearing a ring,” I said, and remembered his touch.
“Well, well… Ginger, you checked,” she said, raising an eyebrow. A drumbeat pounded and a guitar played the first lines of a song that signaled Crystal’s entrance. She scrambled through the door for her performance.
I creamed my face and removed the heavy stage makeup. Staring into the mirror, I hesitated. Relax and take it slow, there’s a first time for everything.
I thought about Brian, my four-year-old son. He was probably asleep now in the capable hands of my mother. These past two years, I’ve raised him all by myself, after that fateful day the doorbell rang. Two grim-faced police officers loomed in my doorway informing me that my husband, Richard, had died when a Mustang lost control, crossed the median and hit his Toyota head on.
His life insurance covered the burial, but didn’t leave much for Brian and me to live on. In order to supplement my income and continue my college courses, I auditioned for this weekend gig. The boss hired me on the spot. Tips were very good and the extra money put food on the table. Weeknights, I attended university criminal justice classes, worked on homework and the rest of my free time I spent with my son. I needed to intern somewhere for my thesis and final project to graduate. After two years of grieving, I figured I deserved a date or two. It’d be in my best interest.
I showered, applied a coat of modest makeup and donned a low cut black spandex dress and matching heels. After I sprayed on JLo’s Glow perfume, I took an appraising glance in the full-length mirror and hurried to meet him. He saw me the moment I entered the room. A grin appeared on his handsome face. My heart beat faster.
“By the way, my name is Nick Donovan.”
“My stage name is Ginger, but you can call me Susan. Susan Murray.”
“Okay Susan, let’s get out of here.”
He grabbed my hand and waves of electric current traveled under my skin. I remained calm; I could do this. Once outdoors in the warm night air, I breathed easier knowing I’d left behind the loud music and leering men.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m enjoying the fresh air.”
“It does smell good tonight,” he remarked. “But isn’t it the fragrance you’re wearing?”
My lips parted. I smiled and adrenalin raced through my veins..
We walked half a block and arrived at an opal-white Porsche.
“This is mine.” He stopped and patted the hood.
“Wow. Nice ride.” My heart raced. Nick tugged open my door. I sashayed in. I watched him slide into the driver’s side. He had to be at least six-foot tall, his long-legs melted into a trim waist, topped off by muscular shoulders. What a hunk, this would be easier than I thought. I pinched myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. Hmm, could I be taking a ride to my new future?
“Hungry?” he asked.
“Famished. Dancing gives me an appetite.”
“I have a place in mind.” He shifted into drive and accelerated into traffic.
“So you know I’m a dancer, may I ask what you do?”
“Sure. I’m a Wall Street broker. I live, breathe and digest stock five days a week. But, I don’t discuss it after hours.”
“I guess it’s a high stress job?”
“You could say that.” His face sobered.
So much for Crystal’s theory of a traveling salesman — this guy was first class all the way.
“Dancing isn’t your real job, is it?” he asked.
“There’s nothing wrong with dancing.” I pretended to be insulted and pursed my lips.
“No. But, you’re much classier than the others.”
“I confess. Weekdays, I’m a receptionist at a dental office. But not for much longer. The dentist is retiring soon, so I’m taking some college classes.” Hmm. I wondered if I’d get to know him better. “What do you do to relax?”
“I’m a pilot. Five years ago, I bought a Cessna Citation and took several lessons. Now I zoom away any chance I get. It really helps dissolve the daily stress.”
“Interesting. I’ve never flown.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing.” He grinned.
“Hmm, not sure I want to fly.” Since the conversation turned to me, I bragged about my son, Brian. Pretty soon Nick steered into the driveway of an expensive looking French restaurant.
A royal-blue awning supported by strong columns covered the entryway. Nick parked, climbed out and hurried around to my side. The young valet waited until Nick turned and handed him the keys. He hopped in and the Porsche zoomed away.
We strolled in through stained glass doors, and a waiting hostess seated us. Everything looked expensive, even the crystal salt and pepper shakers.
When I opened my menu all the entrees were in French. I must have had a puzzled look on my face because he ordered for us both. Our waiter returned with a bottle of 2008 Chablis. After tasting a sample, Nick gave his approval and the waiter filled our crystal glasses.
“Let’s toast our new friendship,” Nick said.
“Cheers,” I said. We clinked glasses and sipped. His eyes glittered in the candlelight and focused on mine. My cheeks heated. Could this be the beginning of something special? I scanned his handsome face and emerald-green eyes. Oh yes, but not the special Nick would appreciate, if my sources were right.
After dinner, Nick suggested a popular nightclub that played lots of dreamy, slow music. He held me in his arms and we danced till the place closed. He finally drove me home at three A.M.
“I’d like to see you again,” he said. His face dazzled with another magnetic smile.
“Me, too.” More than he’d ever know. After he left, I jotted down some points of interest, hoping to add more as our relationship progressed. All night I tossed and turned, my mind replaying the events of the evening.
A week passed. Nick never called. I figured it was too good to be true. But, come Friday night, he arrived at the club carrying a dozen beautiful red roses. Discreetly, I swiveled across the dance floor. I had wondered if I’d ever see him again. My future depended on it.
“Are we on for later?” he whispered, but failed to stick any dollars in my thong.
“Yes.” I smiled and finished my act. When the song ended I exited the stage and paused at the doorway to glance back. He sat at a table with a gentleman who passed him a manila envelope. Probably a business matter, I guessed.
After I showered and dressed, he met me at the door and presented me the roses. I found five accordion-pleated hundred-dollar bills inside the bouquet. I hesitated accepting the money, but Nick convinced me to buy something for Brian. The night was a repeat of the previous Friday’s date.
Our unscheduled dating regimen continued. Nick never called me, but twice a month, he showed up at the club around 10:00 P.M. during my last set. He showered me with roses and hundred dollar bills and we always ended up at a hotel. He’d tell me little tidbits of his week at the stock exchange.
The next Friday night, Nick arrived in a new silver Porsche bragging about a good week on Wall Street. He carried two wrapped packages. We skipped dinner and drove straight to the hotel.
Nick ushered me into the presidential suite and placed the presents on the king-size bed. I tore open the first gift and pushed aside thin tissue paper. A candy-apple red Vera Wang dress stared back at me. First designer dress of my lifetime and I hoped I’d buy many more.
“Oh, Nick. It’s so beautiful.” I kissed him on the lips.
“I knew the color would suit you.”
I ripped at the second package. “A pair of matching Manolo Blahnik heels,” I squealed. Wrapping my arms around Nick’s neck, I hugged him.
“Next weekend, I’m flying you to Vegas,” he announced.
“Wow.” Things were moving fast, I’d never been out of New York City. I kissed him again. Inner doubts confronted me. Could I pull the trip off? I needed to make a couple of phone calls.
“You must have had a very good week.”
“Yes. My formula is working. My technical analysis combined with the fundamentals is making me a multimillionaire. The other guys are calling me a market wizard.” I watched his lips slide into a proud grin. “Let me explain. I use economic data to forecast prices and internal marketing data to confirm those prices. Right now I’m on a winning streak, but I’m practicing risk control too. Monday, I plan on buying several shares of Tech.com. They’re merging with another software company. This is all hush-hush, not public knowledge. I’m certain the stock will soar. It’s almost like playing the odds on horse racing.”
“Sounds exciting,” I said to him. Hmm! Had I just heard one of those insider tips? My college professor required we read the details of Martha Stewart’s case, where she received nonpublic information from her broker. This could be the right internship for me. But what could happen to me if I really invested?
I thought about the money he’d given me. I’d banked it all. After three months, I had five thousand stashed away in a savings account. Maybe I should buy some of that stock? The dental office had a patient named Mr. Stein, who owned a brokerage firm. He always flirted with me at his appointments. I made a mental note to contact him.
Monday morning, I sat in the dental office, picked up the phone and dialed Mr. Stein. We chatted and he explained that he charged a percentage on each stock purchase or sale. I accepted his proposal and promised I’d deliver a cashier’s check and sign final papers after work that night.
On Tuesday morning Mr. Stein telephoned. He purchased my hundred shares of stock at fifty dollars per share. Now I just had to sit back and be patient. By 4:00 P.M. the next day when the market officially closed, the stock rose just like Nick had indicated. It doubled, and so did my money.
My five thousand dollars now was worth ten. My heart hammered in my chest. Could I stand the risk? I let the stock ride out the rest of the week. On Friday the stock split. Mr. Stein explained I had twice as many shares but at the same price I originally purchased them. I beamed. I trusted Mr. Stein and thanked him for his support and inner knowledge.
Each morning I grabbed the newspaper at work and opened the business section. I checked the NASDAQ. My stock remained the same for two days, but between Wednesday and Friday it soared like a kite in a windstorm. Each share was now worth a whopping one hundred and fifty dollars. I had made thirty-thousand dollars on my initial investment. A nice college fund for my son. I dialed Mr. Stein and ordered him to sell the stock and place the monies in my cash account.
The next weekend arrived and Nick showed up at my apartment promptly at six. He carried my overnight bag and stuck it into his Porsche. When we arrived at the airport, Nick parked in the long-term lot in his designated space. A couple of take-off rumbles overhead echoed in my ears as we walked to Nick’s hangar.
“Stay here,” he said. He walked over and unlocked an oversized garage door. While I waited, I saw a steady stream of airplanes take off and land on the runway. All the men in the hangar area had that expensive look, except the uniformed mechanics.
“Here she is,” shouted Nick.
I swirled around. He strutted toward me heaving a miniature airplane. I gasped. I’d never flown before and this plane so resembled an overgrown toy.
Swallowing hard, I mumbled, “I like your plane.” I didn’t know what else to say except a few prayers. I wasn’t used to putting my life on the line and I don’t mean the flying.
“Thanks. She sure is sweet. My pride and joy.” He pulled on a side hatch, lifted the door and shoved in our luggage. Then, Nick pried opened the passenger door.
“Time for the ride, Susan.”
I climbed into the seat and strapped on my seatbelt ready for a real adventure. A uniformed man drove over and attached a tractor-type machine to the front. He towed the small Cessna Citation to the airstrip, where he unhooked his vehicle and drove off.
Nick spun the key, pressed a few buttons and the twin engines roared. He taxied down the runway. I shut my eyes. When that elevator feeling squeezed my stomach, I knew we were flying. I needed to be brave, and in more ways than one.
“Susan. Open your eyes. You’re missing a great view of New York City.”
I gazed through my side window at the tiny city below and gulped. “Wow.” We leveled out and flew smooth. Four hours later, we circled the Las Vegas airport until Nick got radio approval for landing. My stomach churned as we descended. I thought about who’d attend my funeral if this trip didn’t pan out.
He landed the Cessna Citation’s wheels on the runway. The plane bounced some before settling into an even ride. Once on the ground, I clapped my hands. Inside my heart pounded.
Nick unloaded our suitcases. A uniformed guy drove up on a golf-cart to give us a lift. We boarded and he dropped us off at the rental car area. Ten minutes later, Nick had rented a silver Cadillac. He drove us through the airport and onto the famous Las Vegas strip. I pointed in awe at the skyscraper hotels and colorful flashing lights. Was this any indication of how this would go?
Dressing for dinner that evening, I played the part of Cinderella attending a ball. The power of the Vera Wang red dress turned many a head. Nick had made reservations for three people, which included a new business associate, Gerald Hayden, the CEO of Synergy Corporation.
While dining, the casual conversation included the stock market. That didn’t surprise me. Nick informed Mr. Hayden that because of the slower economy, two major corporations were forced into a merger. I listened and got a fly on the wall version and recognized the names. Nick explained the stock expected a fast boost. All this was strictly confidential. His calculations placed this deal as the next real moneymaker.
Mr. Hayden reached inside his suit jacket and produced a stuffed white envelope, which he slid across the table to Nick. Another pay-off? I made a mental note for my dissertation.
Nick shoved the payoff into his pocket and excused himself. He headed toward the restroom, probably to count the cash. I watch him walk away and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Susan,” said Gerald Hayden, my FBI contact. He played the part of the investor, all unknown to Nick. Gerald narrowed his focus on me. “Great to see you, but we have to talk fast. I can’t thank you enough for contacting the FBI. We had no idea he was scamming the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. You’re doing a good job so far. Nick is riding high now. I want to bring him down fast. We need you to meet with him one more time back home, where I have jurisdiction in New York. Are you up for it?”
“Sure.” My hands trembled beneath the table. So far Nick didn’t suspect a thing. I needed to finish the weekend as normally as possible, in order to achieve a high mark on this internship that would secure my future.
“By the way, did he tell you he’s married?”
“No…the cad.” I smiled. He had a wife. A guilty pang climbed up my spine. On the positive side, the promise of an entry level job at the FBI when I completed my Criminal Justice degree was well worth deceiving Nick.
“Anyway, I need your help. Contact me when you get back to New York City, so we can plan the final details. Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing, he doesn’t have a clue. Here he comes.”
I nodded and swallowed the rest of my wine. Gerald Hansen stood, shook Nick’s hand and excused himself. He winked at me. I rose and continued on with my performance.
“Okay, time for fun.” Nick grabbed my hand and led me to the gambling area. He sat me on a stool in front of a slot machine with a handful of twenty dollar bills. I watched him settle in at a Blackjack table. Like a robot, I fed the slots with his money and wore a permanent smile. Might as well enjoy Las Vegas. I’d already gambled my life when I agreed to be an amateur undercover operative.
Nick never caught on to my act. He flew us back home Sunday afternoon. His good-bye kiss held the promise that he’d see me next week at the club. I wondered about our next step. I hardly slept all night, dreading the important call I had to make in the morning.
Monday, I consoled myself and waited for lunchtime. The last five minutes I tapped my pen on my reception desk. Shuffling to the break room, I dropped on the couch and immediately dialed Mr. Hayden. He filled me in on the details. I’d see Nick for one more dinner date, if he showed up next weekend.
On Friday, I rushed to the club and watched the hands of the clock creep by. Around 10:00 P.M., the bewitching hour, Nick would arrive and the curtain would rise on my best drama performance ever. I finished dancing, but he was a no-show. The time crept to 11:00 P.M. My doubts rose. I waited in the dressing room. Is this how it would end? I’d fail my Criminal Justice course and lose my future. I frowned. That’s when Crystal came walking in, her dance over.
“Ginger, honey. You look so pale. What’s wrong,” she asked.
“I don’t feel too good.” Probably jitters. Nick lingered heavily on my mind.
“Crystal, let me know if Nick arrives, okay?”
“Why sure, honey. You just rest and feel better.”
Taking her advice, I trudged outside and took some deep breaths of fresh air. Tormented, I worried what would happen to me if he didn’t show. I returned to the dressing room and made myself think positive.
“Nick is here,” said Crystal.
My hope soared like his plane had. “Thanks. I’ll be right out.” I opened my purse and retrieved the micro transmitter Gerald gave me. I clipped it on under my sweater and pressed the power button on the wire. As soon as I saw Nick, my insides quivered. He placed his arm around my shoulders and led me to through the door. I stiffened, he noticed.
“What’s wrong, Susan. You seem worried.”
I forced a smile and announced, “I quit my dancing job tonight.” Nick dropped his arm and turned to faced me.
“You did? Why?” His green eyes darkened to an icy-gray. He searched my face as if he were examining my every feature and then looked away. When we approached his Porsche he paused and opened my door.
“I’ve invested some money in that computer stock you mentioned and I have quite a lot socked away.” Thanks to your stock tip, I thought. He had passed intimate knowledge my way, along with his using me. Touché.
“You never mentioned you were investing,” Nick said. “Susan. Who’s your stockbroker? You didn’t divulge how you chose your stock, did you?” He stood tall, waiting for my answer. I swallowed hard.
Mr. Stein turned out to be FBI Agent Gerald Hayden’s friend and broker. Small world. He helped us with our scheme. All five thousand dollars of Nick’s money sat untouched in my cash account as evidence. We had invested in theory only. Easy come, easy go.
“Mr. Stein, he’s a patient I met at the dental office. And, no, I never mentioned anything.” I grinned. He seemed satisfied with my answer. We slipped inside his Porsche and headed toward our favorite French restaurant.
Nick bragged at dinner, after a couple of glasses of fine wine. “Well, the wizard is striking again.”
I shifted in my seat and leaned in closer. Ready to capture the next tip.
A sly smile crept on his face. He glanced around and whispered, “Arrow Microsystems is seizing Sun Electronics, a smaller company. It’s a hostile takeover, but the stock should prosper.”
He was passing along another insider tip. My heart almost leaped from my chest, I knew his words were betraying him. But I let him continue. My eyes avoided his face. I downed my whole glass of wine.
The restaurant door opened, Gerald Hayden rushed in with two local FBI agents. I ignored them and raised my glass for more wine keeping Nick busy. He poured me a full glass. The three of them walked over and stopped right behind his chair.
“Nicholas Donovan. You’re under arrest for violating the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules,” Gerald said. He placed his hands on Nick’s shoulders. Nick jerked his body forward and scrambled from his seat. The chair fell sideways and banged against the oak floor. Silverware rattled off the table and a crystal wine glass shattered. He swerved around and sprinted toward the entrance. The two other agents followed and one leaped forward and tackled him. Muffled groans sounded.
A few diners rose, their napkins clutched tightly in their hands, as all eyes focused on the scene. Loud gasps broke the monotonous hum of conversation. A moment later, silence prevailed heavily in the air.
“Simmer down, Mr. Donovan, there’s nowhere to run,” Mr. Hayden said. Together the agents dragged Nick to his feet. They yanked both his arms back. Handcuffs snapped.
“It’s okay, folks. Sorry to disturb your dinner, we’ll be done here in a minute,” Hayden said. A waiter hurried over with a broom and towels. Relief flooded me as I turned off the recorder.
“You whore. You did this. I trusted you, Susan,” Nick yelled. His face scowled at me. “She’s guilty, too. Check her stock purchases,” he said, and laughed.
“There’s nothing to find, I never invested a penny,” I said. In awe, I watched my first criminal suspect apprehended and arrested.
“Take him outside,” Hayden ordered. He dropped in Nick’s chair and took a deep breath. “Susan, it’s finally over.”
“Except for my testimony at his trial,” I said and frowned. I handed him the micro transmitter. What we had on tape would help convict Nick. His millions wouldn’t buy his freedom.
“Yes, but with the backing of the FBI. Susan, I am now able to offer you an entry level position. When your Criminal Justice degree is complete your status will rise. Remember you only had a crash course, and you still did one hell of a job. You’re a natural.” He studied my face.
“Thank you, Sir. I accept.” Goal reached. I would never, ever dance again at another gentlemen’s club.
Suzanne Baginskie has sold several fiction and non-fiction short stories. She’s appeared in fifteen Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, two Cup of Comfort books, The Wrong Side of the Law anthology, Snowbirds Vol.1 and 11, Woman’s World Magazine, two Daily Flash fiction books and several True Romance magazines. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Florida Mystery Writers and Sisters-In-Crime.