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Fiction Page 15



Lawrence R. Dagstine

       It was now more than ten years since Luther Candido had worked in a nightclub, but the change in his fortunes had not altered his personal habits.  He still didn't drink or smoke because he just didn't like to; he had sometimes wished he did because he saw clearly that their use was one of those convivial links which bound people together.  And Luther liked people.  After all, he was once a pimp, and all procurers in today's society are likeable by certain standards, and loyal to their clientele.  But what he enjoyed most about clubs was the sex-induced atmosphere; he would stand sipping his soda and soaking up the friendliness of people, the rhythm of the music, until his own well-being overflowed and he would exhibit the same quick affection and intolerance of opposition.  Just like ten years ago, as one who was intoxicated by money and women instead of sheer congeniality.
At the moment when he spied the young woman at the corner of the bar he was rapidly reaching this point.  He had had an interesting night.  He was a bouncer, so almost every night was an interesting one.  He had talked to old friends¾a few old connections¾received some money under the table, and partaken once more of the full life which for some time, due to his arrest record, he had been denied.  Even the ginger ale in his hand had begun to taste marvelous.
He smiled at the girl's image in the mirror and at life in general.  He had crammed more conversation into this day than he had known in the previous ten years of routine living.  The happiest moment had begun for him an hour before midnight when the pawnshop clerk across the street picked his gold chains out of a box of other gold chains, which he had hocked some years ago.  With a quick twinkle, like a gymnast's legs folding and unfolding, the pawnshop clerk had flipped it to him under the grilled window.  The owner of the pawnshop hadn't sold them in the years that they were in his possession, so he felt that selling them back to Luther, for a fair price, would make him happy.  Luther had thought of going back into business; he had promised his customers he would, and he had meant to keep his promise.  But as he picked up the chains and put them around his neck, a better thought had come to him.  
Why be loyal this time around?
It was his loyalty to high-paying customers and the community that had put him in jail three times over a period of seven years, and it was this same loyalty that had driven his pimping operation out of business.  Why dedicate his life to being a good pimp? It wasn't as if love and respect was a necessity.  Why not start over? But this time organize a pimping operation based on disloyalty.  It was his devotion to his clientele--all about making them happy--that gave him an inordinate amount of felonies in the first place; it was his lack of attention to the basics of making money through prostitution that left him in the position he was in.  
He had chosen a place well away from the row of colorful lights and dancing feet; he was ashamed of his appearance, not like in the old days, and he thought carefully before proceeding up to his friend at the bar to question him.  Luther was a big man, six foot seven, broadly and harmoniously built, slightly more than forty years old, which had gotten him the bouncer position right away.  His heavy-boned, big-featured, mulatto face showed few signs of age: lines a little deep, maybe a few jail scars, especially two harsh straight ones running from under his broad cheekbones to each side of his mouth.  His hair was fuzzy at the temples, in need of a trim, and showed more of a bushy Afro appearance at the top.  But a good-looking, light-skinned black man, that much you could certainly say.  Except for the tight leather pants and old Timberland boots he wore, his clothes were the height of nightclub fashion.
As he passed the small tables dividing the path from the bar and dance floor, the people holding cocktails, laughing and drinking amongst each other, looked up from their beverages and studied him with interest.  The people at these tables were the club's unofficial welcome committee, schooled in social niceties as sophisticated as the conventions of a five-star hotel.  They accorded recognition only to their own kind, but still gave a watchful eye when Luther passed the floor.  They were yuppies, young urban professionals who Luther, because of his immense size and strength, had no problem intimidating.
       It was still early; the club was almost empty for a Thursday night.  About half a dozen men and women stood at the bar while an assembly of bouncers in black outfits bustled to and fro in the disco area adjacent, laying out wary looks to suspicious characters in the sections beyond.  A head bouncer identified Luther at once, and asked him politely what he was doing off his post.
"I'm takin' my break early," Luther said. "I gotta talk to Mike."
The head bouncer just nodded, and went on through.
The bartender was leaning over the counter giving free refills.  Luther seated himself in one of the leather stools in front of him, remembering the old days when he'd drank here with the gang.  He jerked his thoughts back to the present.  His women were always telling him not to dwell on bygone things.  He sat straight in the highchair (he rarely slumped, even when perfectly at ease) and clasped his fingers tight around his soda, still sipping it.  Mike was certainly taking a long time to notice him.  Earth, Wind & Fire was blasting over the DJ's console.
Finally, Luther leaned over and said, "Hey, Mike, who's the white chick sittin' on the end?"
"Who, her?" said Mike, taking notice. "That's Missy Carter.  She's a regular in this place."
"If she's a regular, then how come I've never seen her when I've worked the door?" Luther might have been talking straight to Mike, but his attention was still focused on the blond girl sitting in the corner.  She had nice hair, a strange shade of ash, and she had the fullest lips.  And her tight, athletic body in the silk white dress only added to her scrumptious looks.
"She usually comes early, before your shift starts.  Leaves early, too.  Most of the time she just comes to knock down a few martinis.  She's got class, that's for sure.  But you know, in all the time I've been working here, I've never seen her leave with a man."
"That's a shame," said Luther. "She's fly."
Mike laughed. "I've seen that look before.  Put that tongue back in your mouth."
"Maybe the reason you never see her with a man is because she's married."
"Nah, I doubt it.  Almost every bouncer in the place knows what's up with Missy Carter.  She's too "Donna Reedish" to be single, yet she's too hot looking to be already taken.  And I don't see a rock on her finger."
Luther scratched his chin in thought for a second. "You know, she has possibilities."
Mike put down the glass he was wiping and tossed the rag at his friend. "Hey, I know what you're thinking," he said. "Just forget about it.  Leave your past behind you.  That lady has more to show for herself than to be your little piggybank whore."
"One man's delusive thoughts can be another man's rise to fortune." Luther slipped a Ben Franklin across the bar, but Mike refused it. "Oh, so since I got outta the slammer my money's no good anymore.  I see."
"Don't take it like that, Luther," Mike tried to explain. "My brother and I just don't want any trouble here.  The joint's been clean for three years now.  It was tough enough getting rid of the drug dealers.  And if you want my opinion, I'd stay clear of the old days.  Getting busted again just wouldn't look good on your record.  Remember one thing, my brother didn't only hire you because of your strength and size.  You said the parole board was breathing down your neck about a job."
       "They were," said Luther, "but I promise things will be different this time.  No more Mr Nice Guy.  No more letting those punks take advantage of me.  The same way they stabbed me in the back, is the same way I'll stab them in the back.  I can play society's game too, but this time by my own rules.  Just you wait.  And you have my promise, Mike, that I won't involve you or your brother's club in any of my underground activities."
"Well, as long as I have your promise.  But don't come to me when the same shit happens again.  I'm not bailing your ass out, because you're asking for trouble! And if you're looking to recruit that blond chick--good luck to you! There is no way in hell that girl's walking out the door with you."
Luther was confident as always. "We'll see…"
Confidence always played a big part in Luther's life, and it played an even bigger role where his pimping was concerned.  For Luther Candido the community was silent.  This new generation of street thugs and moneymakers just didn't know him.  Yet ten years earlier, at the height of his career, he had operated successfully in the bathrooms of nightclubs and the backstage areas of concert halls.  He had belonged to this nightclub just as he had to every other, which seemed pretty much a distinction.  You made the money.  You were supposed to spend it someplace.
At the same time his confidence was taking over, give or take twenty minutes, Luther was standing with his drink clamped against the bar, drinking his third ginger ale.  He was still looking with enjoyment at the reflection in the big bar mirror of the blond woman seated, just a couple of feet behind him.  He loved bar areas.  He loved the dim lights, the pungent liquor smells, the glint of women's eyes, the shine of glasses, the colored glow of bottles, the feeling of remoteness from the outside world.  But he didn't want her to notice him.  Not yet.  He did not attempt to smoke or drink.  Trying to be cool just wasn't his style.  If he was going to approach her he felt there would be no need; not to mention the fact that he regarded these practices without aversion but with the conviction that they were not for businessmen like him.
He walked to the end of the bar, right beside the woman's stool. "Hello, Ms Carter," he said, maintaining an urbane tone in his voice.
The woman slowly swiveled her head around and smiled at him.
"It's a nice night to be beautiful."
"How do you know me?" asked the woman.
"I know everybody that comes in and outta this place.  I work the door.  Also, not to mention the fact that I've been hanging out here for over ten years.  The name's Luther…Luther Candido."
"Fine, Mr Candido," the woman said in a bored way. "Nice to meet you."  
"Been workin' it?" Luther's voice had become thin and raspy.  
Missy Carter looked at him in surprise; also, somewhat astringently.  This was a question which you never asked a woman.  Only when you knew if you had to.  But Missy had given it some thought.  She actually enjoyed it a little, and decided to play along.
"Sure, some…"
"You're looking good," Luther said, but his tone was becoming ironical--just like a pimp.
Missy smiled. "Thanks."
"If you were one of my women, you'd be lookin' even betta." Luther kept up with the smooth talk.  He seemed to be making it with the conversation.  All he had to do now was compliment her a little and convince her.  The third part was the hardest, but if he did succeed, he would definitely deserve the "Pimp of the Year" award.  In a black dress this woman could easily pass off as a five hundred dollar an hour knockout.  Definitely a wise investment, and long term.    
But Luther would start off small, of course: fifty bucks with an attitude, and as more women are recruited, the customers start multiplying and returning and the price goes up.  Missy Carter would be the first of these recruits, hopefully.  That is what Luther had been planning from the start, as soon as he had seen her face for the first time, in the club's big bar mirror.  Little did he know that Missy had been studying him unconsciously and rudely--for she knew he was a pimp--and Luther, for his part, did not overlook any details of her appearance.
"It's obvious you're from around Detroit," said Luther. "You have potential-the potential you need to be a success story, and a future mentor to the rest of the women in this community.  You have assets." He flashed his eyes at her breasts. "I'm sure you've heard this before, but you're a fatal attraction.  And the list of compliments goes on.  Hallelujah!"
Missy was getting sick and tired of her company. "Listen, buddy…"
"Yeah, Luther, listen…I know what you do for a living, and you're trying just a little bit too hard.  There's no way I'm going to be a member of your flock.  I've never hooked in my life, and I don't plan on hookin' anytime soon.  I also might as well inform you that I just met someone recently and we're planning on going steady." A lie, of course, but maybe Luther would fall for it.
       Luther was silent for a moment, and then said, "All right, sweetheart.  You do what you think is best.  But you know as well as I do that there ain't no opportunities in this minimum wage-makin' society of ours." It was the truth. "You probably work for a department store chain¾let's say Sears or K-Mart, full-time, sometimes overtime on the weekends, somewhere on the outskirts of town."
Missy slammed her hand on the bar, and said rather harshly, "Yeah, and it's none of your business what I do." She was very persistent in avoiding the subject; perhaps she just wasn't up to having a conversation with a pimp.
Luther shook his head. "I just think it's a waste--someone pretty like yourself.  Would you rather be working in Kmart, as a cashier, makin' $6.50 an hour? Or would you rather put that gift that God gave you to work, and make two-Gs a night?" He snapped his fingers in the air. "And that's on a bad night." Missy just turned her head and rolled her eyes…But, moral or immoral, two thousand a night would make anyone's head spin around and reconsider their thoughts.
"Do I look like the kind of girl that would be trickin'?"
"No, but I'll make you an offer you can't refuse." Luther went into his pocket and pulled out a heavy bankroll.  He threw it on the bar in front of Missy.  It was mainly composed of fifties and hundreds.  Some of it came from his private stash, the rest from the funds he had collected under the table all night.  He smiled at her and added solemnly, "An offer you won't refuse."
Missy found it hard to swallow. "What's this?"
"A bunch of dead presidents," said Luther simply. "A hefty advance." The bartender Mike witnessed the whole thing, but he thought it best to keep his distance.
Missy picked it up and held it in her hand. "I don't know what you expect out of this."
After hours of talking and planning and conducting business, a partnership was formed, one based on loyalty and mutual respect¾except on the customer's part.  This newly formed organization was even given a name.  Disloyal Divas.  Luther was ecstatic; so was Missy, but just because of the money.  She now had enough loot to put down on that condo up in the Heights she had always wanted.  Selling her body to strange men for a couple of hours each night wasn't something she liked, but the pay wasn't something she had banked on either.
Luther glanced at his watch.  It was almost 5:00.  His shift had ended, and the sun would be coming up in just a little over an hour.  He grabbed his coat and invited Missy back to his place.  The entire staff of the club toasted him as he led the young lady out, his arm around her waist.  In this posture they stood on the corner looking for a taxi, for in his role as a daddy mack, the Impala of his would never do.
There were no taxis at that hour, but with a squeal of brakes an old Cadillac with two women in it pulled up.  Luther, looking over his shoulder, saw the woman sitting next to the driver of this car leap out and bear down on him, bent forward like some predatory animal.  Luther was shaken.  His quickness of mind, which he had frequently retained in situations of great physical hazard, left him; the familiarity of the crouching, speeding figure, plus its unexpectedness outside the club, at this hour, all conjoined to freeze his nerves.  He gaped, then made a clumsy lunge for-ward. "Uh¾Rita…"
The woman looked pissed. "Don't you Rita me!"
"Luther," said Missy. "Who's this?"
"It's his woman, that's who!" said Rita violently.  She seized Missy and spun her around, to the sound of tearing cloth.
"Ouch! Get off me you crazy¾" cried Missy.  She tried to pick herself up.
"Now, sweetheart, wait!" That was Luther, backing up.  His hand fell on Rita's shoulder (a hand powerful enough to have broken her in half but which did not even slow her up).
"Don't sweetheart me!" Rita cried. "You two-timin', son of a bitch playa!"
Luther could not help admiring the proficiency with which Rita backed her larger opponent against a lamppost.  She was a small woman.  But what Missy Carter did not know was that this woman was the original flock member, Luther's main squeeze, a faithful woman, which for years people thought was his wife.
The bartender, Mike, had run outside to see what the commotion was about.  An overcurious crowd was building.  He pushed his way through, but he was just an outsider now.
"Is this for real?" a customer leaving the club asked him.
"You know it," said Mike, still wearing his apron.  He added reflectively, "Ladies like that need to be put on a leash.  My man has to understand that being disloyal may do him more harm than good.  It's true what they say…"
Pimpin' ain't easy.