Brothel in a Strip Mall by Wes Civilz

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I did some research before we flew to Vegas: an escort can easily run you a thousand dollars in this town. First you have to pay the agency’s fee, then the girl’s fee, and then there are the “extras.” My buddy and I will not pay a thousand bucks. This is a price jacked up for desperate tourists. We will find something cheaper, something off the beaten path.

“So,” I say to our cab driver. “Do you know anywhere we can go and, uh, pay women to have sex with us?” We’ve been in town maybe four hours. We’ve been hitting on women in bars, and striking out whole innings.

The cabbie is around our age, early thirties. Russian, if I had to guess. Scar on his cheek. Seems like he would know. “There is such a place,” he says in that slow Slavic way that always sounds a tad malevolent. We turn down a side street and leave the Strip behind.

* * *

            We pull into the parking lot of a serious contender for Most Boring Strip Mall in America. There’s a pizza place, a nail salon, a space for rent, and—apparently—our destination. The cabbie points at two storefronts with blacked-out windows. All the regular shops are closed, but I can hear music faintly thumping from somewhere.

“Go in,” he says. “Is swingers’ club.”

“We don’t want a swingers’ club,” I say. “We want a—”

“Dude,” he interrupts. “Is swingers’ club, but is not just swingers’ club. You see?”

“Oh,” I say.

“Okay now, dude,” he says.

We pay him and walk to the door, where there is a small sign bearing the firmly unimaginative name of The Swingers’ Club. It isn’t even a sign—it’s magic marker on a sheet of yellow legal paper. This doesn’t bode well, but when we go in I can see the place means business. There’s a big sign with red letters on the wall:

 

NO PROSTITUTION IS PERMITTED ON THESE PREMISES

 

You might think that this would be the last sign a brothel would put on its wall. But in fact, only a brothel would have this sign. Pure plausible deniability. If the place gets busted, the owners can say: Darn it, we told these girls—these paying members of our swingers’ club—that they must never, ever engage in prostitution here. Gosh, it’s hard to prevent people from doing bad things. Look! We even put up a sign about it.

            Each girl pays a member’s fee when she comes to work. This is how the owners make their money, and it buys the girl a private room where she can hook to her heart’s content. Presto: a legal firewall between the money she pays the house, and the money she makes for herself. And of course we, the johns, have to pay a member’s fee as well. My buddy and I are going to join The Swingers’ Club, for one night only.

There is a woman waiting behind a ticket window of very thick glass. Bulletproof, I’d guess. Further down is a large metal door of the kind that requires buzzing into.

“Welcome to The Swingers’ Club,” she says. Intercom voice. “We are a members-only sex club for recreational purposes only. Prostitution is illegal in Clark County, and is therefore not permitted on these premises. Do you understand?”

We understand.

“It’s ninety for a two-hour membership. Two hours minimum, and each additional hour is forty. I will need to see some IDs.”

Handing over our driver’s licenses does not feel good, but we slide them through the slot anyway. Sex is waiting on the other side of the door. After we pay, it buzzes open. A hulking security guard pats us down and wands us. The experience is like entering a jail, except for what happens next. Two painted, perfumed women emerge from the shadows. A blonde and a brunette. The brunette takes my friend’s arm and pulls him down a hallway to the left, and the blonde pulls me to the right. They have this separation tactic down pat. Before I can decide if I want to go along with it, it’s happened.

The two of us walk. I take a look at my sudden companion. She looks back at me. There are pretty good odds that I will be putting my penis inside this woman, whose real name I will never know, within the hour. Her eyes are definitely hooker eyes. If it is true that the eyes are windows to the soul, you could say that sex workers often have the equivalent of bulletproof glass installed. Dead isn’t the right word for these eyes; it’s more that they are blocking off the soul from view. A hard outer shell of dissociation.

“Come on, come on,” she says, even though I’m keeping pace with her. “Let me give you the tour. My name is Enchantress.”

“That’s an interesting name.”

“It’s from a fantasy novel,” she says.

I briefly try to square up reading fantasy novels and being a prostitute. I’d have thought these things were mutually exclusive.

I let Enchantress lead me through the club, which is surprisingly large. They must have knocked out the walls between the two storefronts. We pass by several hook-up rooms, each with a twin bed, chair, desk and computer. Google is pulled up on the screens: what do people search for in these rooms? Soft orange lights line the hallway, set in fixtures like medieval sconces. We come out into a larger space: vinyl couches, a coffee table with a bowl full of condoms on it, and a sex swing in the corner. This must be the orgy room, but there’s nobody here. A disco ball hangs overhead, missing many facets, and an electronic remix of “Stayin’ Alive” is playing.

I take a moment to absorb the immense and cheesy sadness of the orgy room.

My friend and his lady appear in a doorway. The four of us wave to each other, and then his girl spirits him back the way they came.

“Let’s go somewhere more private,” Enchantress says, slipping her hand into mine. Sexual adrenaline surges through. She brings me into one of the hook-up rooms, and tells me to take a seat. I choose the bed.

She closes the door and wiggles out of her skirt. She drapes her blouse over the chair. Her body suddenly before me: a thin and well-shaped girl, pale, feline. The bra and panties are a dark satin green. She lets me have a good look, then says, “I’ll be back in a minute. Take your clothes off and wait for me.” She kisses me on the cheek, and closes the door behind her. This is the thing about these red-light experiences: each one has its own rules, and there’s no way to learn the rules except by playing the game. I consider the scenarios. Is she going to come back? Is she going to come back with someone else—like a pimp? Am I being set up for a mugging?

And are people watching me through that big mirror on the wall, which is almost certainly a two-way?

Hookers often ask their johns to get naked before talking about money. It makes sense, because most cops won’t go that far to make a bust. It lets the girl make sure you aren’t wearing a wire, and it makes you an easier mark. It’s hard to bargain effectively with your dick out. I decide to listen to the least paranoid of my thoughts: just do as she said, and things will probably work out. I strip down, leaving my clothes in easy reach.

When she comes back in, she says, “Good, you’re naked.” She smiles. “I like it when boys do as they’re told.”

“Some boys don’t do what they’re told?”

“Some boys are annoying. You aren’t annoying, are you?”

“I’m very easy. I’m in your hands.” Everything is a sex pun when you’re talking to a hooker. She unfastens her bra, standing in the computer screen’s light. She squeezes out some lotion from a bottle on the desk, and rubs it into her breasts and stomach. She sits down next to me, and puts her hand on my chest. “So,” she says. “Why have you come to see me tonight?”

“Well, I’m hoping to have a little fun.”

“How naughty of you. Are you a naughty boy?”

“Uh, hopefully?” I say, and she laughs.

Her tone changes, husky and aggressive: “What kind of nasty shit do you want to do to me? Do you want to fuck my tight little asshole?”

“Wow,” I say. “No. Nothing that complicated. I was just hoping to see you naked. To touch you. I like to touch.”

“And?”

And, for whatever reason, I know that I don’t want to have sex with her. More I just want to put my hands on her body, and have her hands on mine. “Can we finish up with a handjob?”

“That works,” she says, the aggressive tone gone as quickly as it came. “I don’t feel like butt sex tonight, to be honest.”

“Let’s keep it simple,” I say.

I’m wondering how to bring up money when she says, “People that leave 200 bucks on the desk leave happy.” As if it isn’t quite clear that the cash is payment for what’s about to happen. I fish the bills out from my wallet and set them on the desk.

“Good,” she says. “You’re easy to work with.”

We lie back on the bed and look at each other.

“Enchantress,” I say.

“Random boy from the street,” she says.

“We’re pretty naked,” I say.

“Yes we are. Would you help me with my panties?” She does that move, that move that all men love, which is hard to describe but I’ll try: when the woman is lying on her back, panties still on, and lifts her butt up by bracing her feet on the bed, and slides them off. Or in this case, lets me slide them off.

It murders me right down to the bottom of my contaminated soul, taking off panties. I could do it ten thousand times without a break. I ask if I can put the panties back on so I can take them off again. She says yes. She’s laughing at me. I put them back on, I slowly strip them off. Then I pull them back up and ask her to lower them for me. She does, pushing her butt out and slowly, agonizingly slowly, bringing them down.

“Panty fetish,” she says. “Busted.”

It’s the same part of me that can listen to a song on repeat for hours. Now she’s posing, her butt level with my face. I squeeze the green satin. She pulls them down again, bending forward as she goes. I catch a serious glimpse of what’s under there before she whisks them up again. Then I’ve had enough—I yank them down to the floor. I want to stick my tongue in and taste her. But that would be crazy, so I kiss her ass, pressing my lips hard into the smooth and yielding skin. She seems to enjoy this, in a kind of dominant way, grabbing the back of my head and mashing my face into her.

She pushes me back on the bed. She grabs the lotion and, with a surprisingly nimble motion, sits down on my chest, facing my feet. I realize that she is a dancer of some sort. I feel her hands spread lotion on my dick and start rubbing. She wiggles around, sliding over me, and I can see everything, all her parts rubbing against my chest.

“So what are you looking at back there?” she says, over her shoulder.

“Everything,” I say.

“Good,” she says. “Now relax, and I’m going to get you off.”

Just like I’d hoped, she does it slowly. I’m pretty turned on and the orgasm is definitely coming, but it’s still a little way off. I take a moment to think: an hour ago I was drinking badly made cocktails and having zero luck with women in crappy bars. Now, a woman is displaying her most private parts for me to look at, while her hands slowly stroke me. She caresses expertly, moving her fingers in subtle patterns. Delicate, unbearable patterns that repeat and merge and shift. Sexual geometry. I dissolve into the feeling and become a single nerve, held prisoner in her confident hands. The touches get softer and softer, and after a while she is almost not touching. Just the softest little tracings.

Then I go, flowing out in pulses, going, going, going…

And I’m back. Back in this strange room, with this strange woman perched naked on my chest, and our clothes in a heap beside us. Here in the strangest town of all the towns in these United States.

* * *

            Enchantress opens the door to the street, and gives me a kiss goodbye. My friend is waiting on the sidewalk. It’s dawn, the majestic-horrible dawn of palm trees and neon buildings and lost stakes that follows an all-nighter in Vegas. The green, glowing face of the MGM Grand peers down at us, inscrutable.

There’s a girl in a silver dress sitting on the curb. She isn’t the one who was with my friend earlier, but she’s obviously just finished a shift at the club. She is not holding things together as well as Enchantress. Her eyes are full of contempt and tragedy and drugs.

It turns out my friend didn’t do anything with his woman. He’s proved himself capable, lately, of bedding a new woman every week, yet tonight he couldn’t bring himself to buy a prostitute. “Not that I’m judging you,” he says. A year from now, he’ll be freaking out about how much money he’s spending on hookers.

We wait for a cab. “Jesus,” he says, looking at the sad and lovely girl in her glittering dress. “How did we get here?”

 

wes civilzWes Civilz lives next to a cactus in dusty Tucson, Arizona. He writes poetry and prose, and he also makes video art that can be found at youtube.com/wescivilz. “Brothel in a Strip Mall” is an excerpt from his memoir about lust, the first chapter of which was published earlier this year by Cobalt magazine.

 

 

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/thomas hawk

 

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