Todd, out of town on business and looking for a bit of comfort, knew he was in trouble when the topless dancer he just couldn’t say no to slipped his next twenty into her silver garter, and, with a twinkle in her green eyes, asked, “Would you like to go to the champagne room? It’s more private in there.”
Although this was Todd’s first visit to this particular club, he had been trapped into that expensive intimacy once before at another topless spot in New York and knew, legally, she could offer him little more than he was enjoying in the crowded main room, except higher prices.
“Sure,” he replied, unable to put wisdom before attraction, as straightforward men have been unable to do from time immemorial.
Lila took his hand and led him toward the blue neon sign that heralded The Champagne Room. She pushed aside the black curtain and led him past it.
There, in the dim light, were about a dozen small tables, with topless dancers at work on their eager attendees. She looked toward an unoccupied table that was promisingly back in the right corner, offering what might be considered a little more privacy, and winked at him, as she said, “How ‘bout that one?”
He smiled and followed along, like a happy male puppy with the woman who supplies his every need.
When they arrived at the table, he took his seat, and Lila, to afford herself a rest from her physically demanding occupation, as well as to present the illusion of enhanced intimacy, took a seat beside him. Moments later, a waitress showed up, in her own scant black outfit, obviously with aspirations to join the big earners in topless entertainment, should the occasion arise.
“What would you like to drink?” she asked, cleverly taking their thirst for granted and looking at both of them, just so Todd would know that Lila also obviously had the right to a beverage.
He decided to make a show of his capacity for foolish extravagance, and asked, “Would you like champagne?”
“Love it,” Lila replied.
“Do you want to see the list?” the indulgent waitress asked.
“Yes,” Todd said, wary of the usual overpricing and hopeful of finding a halfway decent deal.
“Be right back,” the waitress told him, and off she went.
“I could use some champagne,” he said with bravado. “I’m tired of drinking beer.”
“I love champagne,” she replied, seeming distracted, and slid a little toward him. “We can be so much closer back here.”
Todd gulped. “I like it.”
“Me, too,” she told him.
Just then the waitress returned with the champagne list. Todd looked it over and noted that, as expected, each bottle was marked up about five times over retail. He avoided the cheapest bottle, a California brand with a tenuous French heritage, lest he take some glitter off the festivities, and ordered the second least expensive bottle, which was authentically French and had some credibility toward extravagance. Obviously, California “champagne” has not made as big a dent as California wine in French claims to being superior custodians of the grape. Price: just over a hundred dollars.
“We’ll have some Moet Chandon Brut Imperial,” he said.
“Very good,” the waitress replied, and off she went to get the valuable bubbly.
Todd reached down to hold Lila’s hand, feeling he had, by his unspoken agreement to overpay for the champagne, earned the intimacy.
She looked down at the sudden conjunction of flesh, and then, smiling, said, “You know we have a different way of charging back here?”
“You do?” Todd asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m sorry but I have to charge you for holding my hand.”
“You do?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s part of our Intimacy Price List. Would you like to see it?”
“Naw,” he replied bravely. “You keep track.” Then, looking down at their irresistibly joined hands, he said, “But, tell me, how much am I spending?”
“Ten dollars,” she told him.
“Is there a time limit?” he asked warily.
“No,” she smiled. “Once you pay, you can hold it all night. Holding hands is one of our better values.”
“Great,” he said, and, feeling he had copped a bargain, took out ten dollars.
She tucked it in her garter.
The waitress returned with the champagne and held the label toward him.
He smiled, and soon he and Lila were toasting like a voluntarily enchanted couple.
“To a great night,” he said.
“With you,” she replied, and flicked her tongue at him, as if to intimate the possibility of more than the law allows.
He looked at her lovely, long blonde hair and couldn’t resist stroking it lightly.
“You’re very pretty,” he said, catching his breath.
“Thank you,” she breathed back. “You don’t mind if I bill you for that, do you?”
“For what?” the poor soul wanted to know.
“Caressing my hair.”
“Oh,” he said, and withdrew his hand. “How much is that?”
“Only ten dollars.”
“Is everything ten dollars?” he asked.
“No,” she replied, smiling as if to indicate that more intimate things would rightly cost far more.
He took out another ten and handed it to her.
As she tucked it, he was unable to resist giving her a little peck on the cheek, breathing, “Lila, tonight money is no object.”
“Thank you so much,” she said, “twenty dollars.”
“Twenty? For what?”
Wagging her finger at him charmingly, she replied, “Kissing my cheek.”
“Oh,” he said, “I should have known.” Then, feeling just a tad upset, he reached out and pinched her arm. “How much is that?”
“Thirty,” she said.
“For pinching you?”
“It would usually be only fifteen dollars, because it comes under Innocent Contact. But, since I could get a bruise due to its intensity, it comes with a fifteen-dollar surcharge.”
“I see,” he said, and took out his wallet. “Kind of inflationary, isn’t it?”
“Isn’t everything?” she asked cannily, and then added, “On my last job, I had to give them away.”
“You did?” he replied, wishing he had known her then. “Why?”
“I was a stewardess.”
“Oh,” he said, with understanding but certain that by now women’s advocacy groups would have overcome such a flagrant incursion into an unsuspecting lady’s space. He paid her for stroking her hair and pinching her arm and decided that for convenience, he would leave his wallet on the table. There didn’t seem to be anybody nearby who would run away with it while he had his eyes on her. “What else do you offer?” he asked with wily charm.
“Oh, lots of things,” she said, visibly excited.
“Well, intelligent conversation.”
“You offer that?”
“Yes, a lot of men seem to want it. So we have to take a course in it. Pick any topic – philosophy, politics, literature, finances. I got a Pink Pussycat in finances.”
“Yes. It’s the highest grade.”
“Good for you,” Todd told her. Being a bit of a literary buff himself and eager to dwell on romance, he said, “Let’s talk about Romeo and Juliet.”
“Sure,” Lila said, and, looking into the distance, as if reciting from something she had memorized, she went on, “Romeo and Juliet is a play by William Shakespeare. It is based on the timeless theme, ‘The course of true love never runs smooth.’” Her recitation complete, she turned to him, and said, “My personal choice for Romeo would be Brad Pitt.”
“Excellent,” Todd said. “Would you like to continue our literary discussion?”
“No, that’s enough for tonight.”
“Good,” she told him, and held out her hand. “Ten dollars, please.”
“For what?” he asked. “I didn’t touch you.”
“The intelligent conversation,” she let him know. “I had to study hard to learn that.”
“Oh, well, that’s understandable,” he told her, and slipped a ten out of his wallet, which, he noticed, was quite a bit thinner than it was when he arrived, fresh from a nearby ATM. “I seem to be running a little low on cash,” he confessed. “Would you like to buy some funny money?”
“Sure,” he told her. Lila waved her hand at the waitress, who happened to be nearby. She was at the table in a flash. “He needs to buy some funny money,” Lila told her.
“How much?” the waitress asked.
Uncertain of how expenses would mount and wishing to present the impression of throwing caution to the wind, he said, “Three-hundred dollars.”
“Would you like me to put it on your credit card?” the waitress asked.
“Please,” he said, pretty certain he had enough credit left on it to cover that amount.
When he had arrived, the club, being punctilious about matters such as money and identity, demanded custody of a credit card and his driver’s license, with assurances that both would be returned when he departed.
He turned to Lila, and, with a slight indication of passion, which he felt he had by now earned the privilege of displaying free of charge, and said, “What else do you offer?”
“Thanks for asking,” she replied. “This week we have a sale on games.”
“Games? Like what?”
“Oh, you know, scrabble, monopoly.”
“What about video games?”
“We don’t allow those. They’re much too distracting.”
“Then how about kissing games?”
“You want to kiss me?”
“Sure, why not?” he asked.
“Where? My hand, cheek or my lips?”
“I’ll take the lips.”
“For how long?”
“What do you mean, for how long?”
“Rates vary, according to location, duration, and tongue placement.”
“Oh, you know. Regular kissing or French kissing.”
“This place is amazing,” he said. “Is there anything you don’t charge for?”
“Not very many,” she joked.
“How’d it get that way?” he wanted to know.
“It was started by a dancer who saved up and got her CPA.”
“Yes. She worked her way through college by dancing. Someday I hope to go to college myself.”
“Going for your CPA, too?” he couldn’t resist asking.
“No,” she said, “I expect to be retired by then and just enjoy life. Maybe I’ll study art and paint.”
“That’s a nice dream. I hope you achieve it. But, please, don’t try to earn your entire retirement package tonight.”
“I won’t, you silly man. Now, back to business. Where did you want to kiss me?”
“The lips,” he said.
“For how long?”
“As long as I feel like it.”
“I’m sorry, Todd, I need a number. What if we say thirty seconds?”
“How much is that?”
“Tongue in or tongue out?”
“Oh, you are so sexy.”
“So how much did I spend?”
She added the figures in her mind assiduously. “Thirty dollars,” she told him.
“For one kiss? That’s a dollar a second.”
“Well, it is me.”
“You’re right,” he said. J
ust then the waitress returned and held out her hand. “Here’s your funny money, Mr. Watson,” she told him.
“Thanks,” he replied, and, as a token of his appreciation, he gave her back a twenty.
“Thank you,” she said, and off she went, to leave them to their extravagant privacy.
Clutching the funny money, as a moment of self-reflection intruded to incriminate his intellectual self-respect, he nevertheless resolved to proceed and leaned forward to give Lila the most passionate kiss he could manage. She returned the lip-pressing interlude, with only an occasional glance at her watch.
When thirty seconds had passed, she tapped his back. But he did not stop kissing her. She attempted to tell him his time was up but could not free her lips to do anymore than make an indefinite noise. She whacked his back again.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, breathless.
“Your thirty seconds are up.”
“Do you want me to stop?”
“No, but I have to abide by the rules. Or I could get penalized, even fired.”
“Oh,” he said. “If you got fired, does that mean I could date you for free?”
“You’re too funny,” she said.
“You know the saying? The best things in life are free.”
“But not here,” she told him.
“Maybe we should go back to lap dancing. It’s cheaper.”
“OK,” she said.
“Oh, come on,” he informed her, “that’s not even foreplay. It’s before-play.”
“I never thought of it that way,” she replied.
“And now that I’ve had you in my arms, how can I settle for just seeing you naked? I want to kiss you and hold you and – you know.”
“We can do everything except, you know.”
He held up his funny money. “I have $250 left. How much can I get for that?”
“Oh, Todd, you say the nicest things,” she effervesced.
“I mean it,” he confirmed.
“You can kiss me – and I won’t even watch the clock.”
“Take it,” he said, handing her the funny money, “take it all.”
She did, and he became lost in her wildly extravagant arms.