The strip club's base beat in time with the feelings of guilt and fear that pulsed through Max's heart. His wife, Amber, as going to kill him. Todd Farnsworth he cursed in his mind. Todd always thought a strip club was the perfect place to seal a business deal. "They create a bond among the players," he'd said when Max had complained about it. Max looked up at the female associate on the other side. Janice looked at her watch then at the exit. Max agreed with her. The sooner they were out of here, the better.
Max wasn't the only one to notice. Todd, the object of her and Max's scorn, raised his hand and whistled out for a girl he called Trazelle. The scantily clad dancer strutted over to their table, went behind Todd and ran her arms down his chest. Her absurd fake breasts squished around Todd's thick neck and she nibbled on his ear. Todd turned and whispered in hers. The club's music drowned out what the two were saying to each other, but whatever Todd was saying, the girl nodded her agreement to it and Todd slid her a wad of cash. Max couldn't tell how much, but the top bill was a hundred and he could see there were several other bills underneath it.
The stripper, acting out her payed-for commands, walked over to Max's companion in misery. She put her arm around Janice and motioned for her to come with her. Janice shook her head no, then Trazelle said something else and pointed towards the exit. A look Max took to be relief spread across Janice's face and she got up to follow the bleach blond dancer towards it.
Max tapped Todd's shoulder and his partner leaded over so he could hear what Max had to say. "Can I get out of here, too?"
Todd looked at him and asked, "What do you mean?"
"Well, you just sent Janice home, didn't you?"
Todd's scoff was audible over the music. "She ain't going home, man. Have a shot. Calm your nerves. We've almost got this one locked up for five years."
Sitting up, Todd took his own shot glass and a second for Janice's partner. He handed it to the man and pointed at the girl shaking her large, bare breasts on stage. The man said something that made Todd laugh and the two of them downed their shots together. Max just looked at his glass. Like Janice's glass across the table from him, it still contained all its light brown liquid from the moment it was set in front of him. Amber would know he'd been at a strip club, he didn't want to make the looming showdown with his wife any worse by being drunk as well.
Max sighed. His life was a series of ifs. If only he'd been partnered up with someone besides Todd when he'd joined the firm. If only Todd hadn't been such a good partner outside of the strip club mess. If only Todd understood that they didn't create a bond for everyone. If only they hadn't been so successful, not a month had gone by where the two of them weren't the top ranked sales team. If only Max could be happy with what he'd already made. With what he'd earned teamed up with Todd, Max and Amber had been able to leave their small apartment behind and get a nice ten mortgage on a two-story just outside of town. If only Max would have begged for a new partner years ago. Teaming up with Rodger would have given him enough in commission to keep making the payments. If only Amber was more forgiving of his partner's tactics. Max knew no matter how hard he tried there'd be no way he could hide that he'd been drug to another strip club.
He had no idea how long he'd stared at his glass when Janice came stumbling back. Her previously kempt hair was a mess and lipstick was smeared across her lips and face. Her pantyhose was gone and the zipper on her skirt was twisted from its proper place on her side to being in the front like a pair of pants. She grabbed her glass off the table and downed it before sitting down. She leaned over to her partner and whispered to him. He in turn said something to Todd.
Todd's face lit up. He shook the man's hand with both hands. After that, there was a flurry of activity, most of which had Max sitting by as a spectator. Contracts were pulled out and signed by both sides. Trazelle reappeared with a fresh looking coat of make up. She gave Janice a wink which cause the other girl to blush before Todd sent the stripper backstage on an errand. Seconds later, she came back with the dancer whom Janice's partner had been ogling. The man stood up and put his arm around her waist while Todd gave her a thick roll of bills. The man said his thanks and walked off. At some point, Janice and Trazelle had also disappeared, but Max didn't notice until he realized he and Todd were alone.
"What just happened?" Max asked.
"Max, my boy, I am a god. Ten years! They agreed to ten fucking years!"
Max's heart skipped a beat. "Ten years? Did you say ten years?"
"That I did." Todd took Max's untouched drink and downed it. He slapped Max's shoulder and said, "Come on, let's get out of here."
Stunned, Max followed Todd out of the club. Outside they congratulated each other again and went their separate ways. Max floated home more than he drove. His head buzzed despite not having taken a sip of alcohol. They'd worked months on building their pitch and Max would have been happy with a one year deal. The commission on that alone would have been almost more than his income from all of last year. The five years Todd had been going on about seemed like a pipe dream to Max, but with what he was about to make with the ten, he could ditch his current mortgage and flat out buy that five bedroom off the golf course that he'd been dreaming about.
So lost in his joy, Max almost drove past his house. He squealed into the driveway and hopped out of the car. Max flew through the door, looking for his wife to tell her the good news, then crashed into flames as he ran into her eyes that shot beams of anger. Amber's round jowl shook with her rage. She raised one of her short, pudgy fingers and pinned Max to the wall with it. Her bulbous nose grew even larger as her nostrils flared out, smelling Max's shirt. "You went to a strip club again."
Max couldn't meet Amber's stony, blue eyes. Instead, he looked down at the large black shirt that hid her rotund form. When they'd first married, she'd been thin and fit, but after Max had admitted to being drug to a strip joint by Todd, jealousy and paranoia had gripped Amber. The stress caused her to eat, which turned her once athletic figure into a crude imitation of a ball of cabbage. That only added to the jealousy and paranoia.
Before Max could open his mouth, she was on him again. "Don't deny it. I can smell it on you."
"Oh my god! You didn't even try to deny it!"
He tried to find some of the exuberance that had carried him home, but it was all gone. Max felt like his body was an empty husk, devoid of all emotional feeling. It was replaced by a numb emptiness. He looked at his wife. The glower she wore made her once joy-filled eyes completely disappear into the fleshy folds that her face had become. The realization hit him hard. He no longer loved her.
"Take me there," she said.
Max was taken aback. "What?"
"I want to see what it is you love so much about those places."
"I fucking hate them! Todd's the one dragging me there because he thinks that they make a good place to close up deals. And he might be right! We just closed an account that will more than triple all of what I made last year! All of last year!"
Meaty hands beat into his chest. "I'm sick of hearing that lie! You go there because you like to look at those other women! Now FUCKING TAKE ME THERE SO I CAN SEE WHY!"
The house echoed from the couple's screams and then died down. He was done. He was done with this woman he'd been sharing his life and hard-earned money with. He didn't care what her deranged reasoning was for wanting to go nor did he care about what insight she thought she might gleam by going. It no longer mattered. He just wanted to get ride of her. Maybe he could just take her there, dump her off, and never see her swollen face again. "Fine. Let's go," he said.
He turned and walked back out the door. He hadn't been home more than five minutes and his whole life up to that point was gone. His marriage. The joy from his big payday. Any sort of happiness. All of it was gone. He'd gladly pay every penny now to get rid of his wife. He couldn't take her any more. Yet here he was, taking her to the last place in the world he wanted to go back to.
Max had already sat down in the car and put his seat belt on when he felt the vehicle sink down further as his wife put her full weight down next to him. He didn't speak as he pulled out and headed back to the seedier side of town. Neither of them spoke as the buildings passing by the car got dingier and older. It wasn't until several neon signs advertising nude shows had past by that Amber said in a monotone voice, "Which one was it?"
He didn't know. Max was sure Todd had drug him to over half of the strip clubs in the area and all of them blended together. Had it been Chix on Dix or Topless Bottom's? It didn't matter at which one he stopped. Any one of them would have been the same to him and thus the same to Amber. He was sick of feeling her presence in his car next to him.
"That one," Max answered as he pointed at the first place that popped up. He pulled his car into the club's parking lot. The bright pink sign reading "Reality Changer's" reflected off his car's hood.
The seat moaned as Amber leaned around to take in the sight. "You sure?" she asked.
"Yeah I'm sure," Max lied. "I just left here. I think I can drive back to some place I just left."
.... There is more of this story ...