Joining the Marines was a mistake. Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot about myself and my adopted country, and acquired skills that have come in handy a time or two. Especially that fateful night. Of course, I still froze like a civilian, but how the hell was I supposed to know someone would be stupid enough to start shit in Angus' club. Or rather, Sal's club; Angus' domain. The only reason I ever agreed to work at Exposé was because Sal introduced me to Angus when I inquired about a job there. Of course, he introduced him as Mike. I only learned his full name was Angus Michael FitzKiern after working there nearly a year.
Angus winced the first time I said his first name. He reminded me so much of the big, burly guys who worked in the factories and on the docks in Belfast where I grew up. My mum died trying to give me a sister when I was four and da died on the docks in an accident when I was twelve. I was sent to America to live in Boston with mum's brother who was an abusive drunken asshole. I guess I should be thankful he only beat my aunt, my cousins, and me and didn't rape us, too.
Mum and da left me money in a trust and by the time I was sixteen I had enough of Uncle Ronan's shit. A friend from school, Andi Argenti, told her father about me. He was a lawyer and he helped me get emancipated and a green card free and clear of my relatives. I lived with Andi's family through senior year and then joined the Marines. Why? I really don't know. I guess part of it was that joining the military would make me a citizen without jumping through the rest of the hoops I would have had to without doing so. Also, while I had a trust, going to college would have drained it. I got good grades but not being a citizen and not being an illegal immigrant meant that the financial aid was sparse and was mainly loans that I would have been carrying for years after I graduated. I played no sports and my dancing (ballet and Irish dancing) was rusty. The Marines would pay for college after my enlistment was up and I would learn to defend myself, something I was keen to learn after living with Uncle Ronan for four years.
The recruiter actually tried to talk me out of joining, mainly because I was so short. Dancing back in Ireland and cheerleading in high school kept me in good shape, so boot camp wasn't terrible, just insanely hard work. After that I spent a year and a half as a med tech before being honorably discharged after a week into my first tour in Afghanistan.
I was in a HUMVEE convoy that was hit by the Taliban. I was told an RPG flipped my vehicle, knocking me out for all of it. I woke up in Germany and the doctors told me I took a bullet to the hip that would require surgery and a discharge. It aches in the winter and before storms, but other than that and barely noticeable scars it is fine. I got home and applied to Columbia University's nursing program. I was done with Boston. I wanted to see if New York City was any better. It wasn't.
But Columbia isn't cheap and, even with the G. I. Bill, my trust would never cover four years of nursing school. A friend told me she made good money dancing and I had visions of ballerinas, despite the gravity defying DD balloons she had on her chest. She said the club she worked at wasn't hiring but she knew of a place from a friend of a friend that would make me tons of money for what amounted to part-time work. When I found out that most of the girls there were whores, I found new friends.
I was two years into my four-year program when it all went sideways that night. It was just into autumn and the weather was cool but not cold. I'd gone into work early that night with a bagful of books so I could work on a paper on the neurological effects of exposure to lead. I lived in the dorms and my roommate was popular. Hell, I think she saw more men some weeks than some of the sluts I worked with.
Sal made it plain when I started working at Exposé that selling myself was my choice. And after meeting Angus, I know he meant it. Angus didn't tolerate anyone bothering us girls, including Sal, whether some of them might not have minded being roughed up or not. He had a very medieval chivalry sense of honor. Sal knew that and kept Angus away from the girls who liked getting slapped around by their clients.
I danced. I only danced. On a good week I could make well over a thousand dollars for roughly twenty hours of "work." Some of the girls made that much a day, but they were whores and I was never going down that road. Angus' honor let me feel comfortable in an environment I never would have felt comfortable with if he wasn't there. Angus is six and a half feet of bulging muscle sheathed in pale white skin. He moves gracefully. Looking at him standing still, you would think he moved like an elephant or rhinoceros when he actually moves like a leopard or tiger. Gracefully dangerous. The carelessly combed, straight, short, black hair and deep blue, almost purplish-black eyes might make you miss the Irish in him, but I grew up around so many (though less well-built, shorter, and less handsome) guys just like him back on the island.
And he was oblivious. I was someone he watched over. I know for a fact that some of the other girls fucked him because they couldn't stop gushing over him. But he never "dated" any of us. He slept with the other girls mainly because they wouldn't take "no" for an answer. It was his reward for keeping them safe on their "dates." And he was male. Men can't seem to pass on free, hot pussy. I was raised better than that, though. I couldn't just throw myself at him. Besides, I wanted him forever, not just for a night. Ever since my first night at Exposé and he pulled a drunk thug off me, and then walked me to my car at the end of the night like a gentleman. Every night after just made the desire burn more. Imagining that he was the only one in the audience was how I got through some nights when I first started. Especially the private lap dances. I used to imagine I was writhing around on Angus even as it was his presence at the club that gave me the courage to even do lap dances at all.
Oy, I could talk about that lad until my tongue fell out, he is so fit!
That night started like any other; a boring Tuesday, the club almost empty. I didn't see the first two assholes come in. I was too deep into an Angus-inspired fantasy while I danced to ZZ Top on the main stage. My second set of the night finished and I went backstage to freshen up before trolling the club until my third and final set. I noticed all the other girls around two guys who were throwing money around like it was nothing. One of my regulars was in a booth in the corner so I approached him with a smile.
"Fancy seeing you here on a Tuesday night, Phil," I said huskily, my blood still a bit hot from dancing for an oblivious Angus.
He smiled. Phil was handsome in a mortal sort of way. Where Angus looked like some kind of Celtic God of War descended to earth to walk amongst us mere humans, Phil was under six feet tall with a medium build, plain brown eyes, light brown skin he got from his Puerto Rican mother, straight black hair, and a nice though mild personality. I think one of the things Phil liked about me was that he knew I wasn't a whore, just a dancer. He was married to one of Sal's criminal friends' daughter and was some kind of accountant. He came to Exposé mostly on Fridays and Saturdays, when the wife was visiting her mum on Long Island.
"Angelita's mom got sick so I decided to blow off a little of the work tension from today," he replied, sipping his scotch on the rocks.
"It is always nice seeing you, Phil," I told him honestly. I gave him my innocently sultry smile and asked, "Fancy a dance?"
He nodded, rising. I took his hand and led him to one of the private rooms down the hall opposite the hall that led to Sal's office. If you didn't know it was there you would probably miss it. I saw Angus notice us leaving and nod for the only other bouncer who worked weekdays, Al, to follow us. That was also when the b-and-t (bridge-and-tunnel) crowd wandered in. I saw Angus tense and his eyes narrow before the curtain to the hall fell back into place. Al pushed it aside just before I led Phil into the first booth on the left and took up sentry position just inside the hall. Close enough to come to my rescue if the client got handsy and I yelled but far enough away to give the illusion of privacy. That is what stripping was all about: illusion.
I did my usual dance for Phil and he passed me a hundred dollar bill, kissed me on the forehead, and left. I slipped my robe on and left the booth to head to the main room. Al shook his head. "If I didn't know you better, Candy, I'd swear you was doin' him," he said gruffly before pulling aside the curtain. Al was kind of old to be doing this sort of thing but he apparently had been here as Sal's muscle for ages. He was six feet of bulky Italian with gray hair cut very short and a lined face that said he had seen it all and was impressed by none of it. "I don't know any of the other girls who got someone as vanilla as that boy passin' them C-notes. Speaking of C-notes, Sal told me to tell you that he knows you could use the cash but he don't want you playing with either the bachelor party or them wanna-be mobsters throwing around money out there. He'll make sure you get a share but he wants you to go backstage and get ready for your next set."
I was torn. I stood in the doorway and watched the rest of the girls getting what amounted to weeks' worth of money in an hour or two. Sal was right; I could use the cash. I had an eye on an apartment in a converted warehouse in a neighborhood that was being gentrified; I had to get away from my oh-so-popular roommate. I was also attending Columbia University. Both of those cost money. Most of the money I made at Exposé went straight into my tuition account. The apartment rent would be paid out of my trust. Extra money on a night like this meant the trust would last longer, maybe even long enough to graduate.
But there was also the paper to write. So I sighed as if much put upon and headed across the main room to the hall to Sal's office. The door to the backstage area was the first door on the right. I took a quick shower and slipped into the overalls, thigh-high cowboy boots, white linen shirt, and the thong with the Confederate flag covering my twat before hauling out my research, notes, and laptop. Before I knew it, I was rolling in the zone.
Growling with frustration, I noticed the time and put it all away to go do my third set of the night. The first time I heard The Black Crows I fell in love with Southern Rock. So I dance to ZZ Top, The Black Crows, Lynard Skynard, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and even Kid Rock, 3 Doors Down, and some others. The other girls think my taste in music is strange and Jimmy, the DJ, hates playing it. But I can't bring myself to dance to hip-hop or techno or pop and if I am going to dance to rock, I prefer it hard and/or Southern.
The first hint of trouble that penetrated my little fantasy world wherein I was dancing solely for Angus was when the first shot was fired. I froze, watching the best man from the bachelor party shoot one of the eight guys standing by the front door. I was down to my g-string and just stood there as guns suddenly appeared all around me, as if by magic. The other girls scrambled for the hall to Sal's office and the backstage locker area even as the armed thugs scrambled for cover behind the booths. The Marine training vacated my brain and I just stood there, staring.
If it weren't for Angus, I would have been killed. I felt his arms around me as he tackled me, bullets whizzing over us to shatter the glass of Jimmy's booth and blowing out the speakers. I clung to Angus until he peeled me off of him, roaring, "Get backstage and stay low!" My Marine trained came back to me and I belly-crawled backstage to the sound of gunfire that slowly trickled to silence.
The other girls were all dressed and huddled fearfully together on the couch that sat behind the make-up mirrors. I had been down to my thong when everything went sideways so I threw on my jeans and shirt and boots, waiting for Angus to give the all clear.
"Candy!" I heard him yell, his voice sounding a bit funny, the way it usually does after he winds up fighting with someone who doesn't want to leave when he tells them to.
I darted my head out and saw all but one gunman unconscious, Jack pointing his much loved shotgun at the last man kneeling before him.
Angus looked over at me and smiled, his eyes a little unfocused. "Throw something on and go get something to tie all these guys up with," he ordered.
I stepped out on stage in my tight white jeans, black silk camisole top, and ankle-high, black leather boots. Angus' eyes roved over my body in a skin-tightening wave from head to toe.
"Back closet with the cleaning stuff, Candy," Jack said, his voice all growly and the shotgun steady on its target.
There was some rope in the closet but it wouldn't be enough. There was, however, a spool of wire hanging on a nail and wire cutters on the rack on the door. Grabbing the wire and cutters, I returned to find Angus was in the process of lining up the unconscious thugs in a row in front of the bar.
"Will this do?" I asked with a hopeful lilt to my voice, not sure what we would do with them all if it wasn't. "There was a wee bit of rope back there but not enough for the lot of them."
Jack snorted angrily. "And what do we do with them?" he demanded, jabbing his shotgun in the direction of the groom-to-be and his buddies.
Angus flushed a little. "Oh, yeah," he muttered, walking over to where they were huddled by the stage. "Join Mumbles over there by Jack and Candy until we decide what to do with yous."
It wasn't until Sal reappeared and the police sirens were audible that I realized Angus was hurt. "Oh my Lord, Angus! Yaer bleeding!" I heard my accent thicken as fear shot through me and tears made his hulking form waver.