Authors: Ivy Mason
Copyright © 2014 Ivy Mason
All Rights Reserved
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
The club was dark and lined with mirrors. Colored lights flashed on a long, narrow stage, where a chubby woman with thick, black hair was grinding against a pole. The air was thick with cologne. Mexican strippers in short dresses were scattered throughout the crowded room, draped flirtatiously over men’s laps, skirts hitched to mid-thigh, fishing for cash. Along a velvet covered bench at the back of the room, a fleshy bleach blond in a tiny red thong was sitting on a mustached man’s lap, riding him like a rodeo horse as he squeezed her breasts and nodded his head to the thumping bass of the music.
Madison had never been in a strip club before. And why would she? They were places that existed in the exclusive netherworld of men, along with brothels and pornography. She was only nineteen, after all, and sex was still relatively new to her. Still she had to admit, it was something she found deliriously thrilling. But there was sex, and then there was
: a sordid display of desperate libidos, so drunk with lust that they didn’t care who saw them doing what, which embarrassed her immediately.
She looked at Enzo and furrowed her brow. “You’re serious?” she said in Spanish, which was the only language they ever spoke to each other. After all, Enzo’s English was terrible, and Madison’s Spanish was flawless.
Enzo was wearing one of his casual-chic tee shirts tailored to flatter his broad shoulders and narrow waist, and she could see a lot of the dancers watching him hopefully. He put an arm around her shoulders and gazed slowly around the room, an amused half-smile on his face.
“Just for a week,” he assured her. “Para quitarte la pena. To get rid of the shame.”
Madison coming to Mexico City was Enzo’s idea. He knew what it was like to be desperate for money, and he had no patience for preciousness. Life is about sacrifice, he always told her. The world is indifferent, and no one owes you a thing. If there’s one thing you need to remember, he’d say, it’s that you make your own luck.
Madison looked around the room at the Mexican cowboys grabbing the strippers and licking their breasts, sometimes even biting them. Her hands went unconsciously to her own breasts in sympathy. She wondered how they would taste after being sampled by every slobbering, peanut-flecked mouth in the place. Howdy, stranger! Suck this lollipop and pass it on down! She stifled a shiver of disgust. This was not the kind of place where shame was taken away. Here shame shacked up in your bones and hung out for the rest of your life.
The woman on the stage called down to Enzo with a flirtatious wave. She pushed her tongue against her teeth and made porn star lips, the way most girls do privately in the bathroom mirror. Enzo blew the woman an effete kiss, and winked. It was stifling and airless, and Madison could feel her glasses sliding down her nose. She leaned into Enzo so that their shoulders pressed together. His body felt cool through his jacket, as if the suffocating heat of the place couldn’t reach him. Enzo was absolutely at home anywhere, from an embassy party to a seedy strip club. The world was his oyster.
Enzo was Madison’s best friend. He was a gay dancer from Cuba she’d met while spending a year in Mexico. She’d been studying Spanish at a private Mexico City high school that did a foreign exchange with her public school in Denver, and Enzo’s dance troupe once came to their auditorium to perform. Even though Enzo was two years older than Madison, they’d hit it off immediately. And because he’d already been in Mexico for two years, he drove her around to all the social hot spots where even minors could get a drink. Since then, his career had taken off, and he was now frequently cast in music videos, commercials, and as backup for famous Mexican pop stars.
He turned to look at Madison, his eyebrows raised expectantly. “Well?”
The stripper knelt down on the stage to let an old drunk man lick her thigh. Madison cringed and shook her head.
“I think I’d rather die.”
He just shrugged and laughed, though she knew he thought it was a mistake. How was a girl like Madison supposed to transform into a glamorous Gentleman’s Club dancer overnight? She couldn’t even turn a head in the street. Besides, everyone had to pay their dues. Start at the bottom, even if only for a week or two. After all, that’s what Enzo had done. But he didn’t chastise her. Instead he hooked his arm through hers and led her toward the exit.
“Okay, doll. I guess we’ll just go straight to the top.”
Money was something Madison had never really thought about. She wasn’t like some of the other girls in her high school who dreamed of marrying a millionaire, swooning over magazines of haute couture and jewelry. Madison was a bookworm. She spent her days reading in cafés, or meeting with equally brainy girls to talk about books. She was a diamond-in-the-rough type: tall and awkward, with wide blue eyes hidden behind oversized, unfashionable glasses. Her thick blond hair was shapeless and uncombed, and she always slouched about in tee shirts and baggy jeans. Madison didn’t ask for much, and she was more than happy with what she had. Until the day she woke up and discovered that she had nothing at all.
No one had ever expected her father, William, to be a good businessman. Money just wasn’t his strong suit. He was an English teacher, the girls’ volleyball coach, and Madison’s kitchen table tutor, helping her with everything from algebra to Shakespeare. In the summer he would take Madison and her mom, Virginia, camping in the Rockies, where he knew the best mountain lakes and pristine wilderness areas in the state of Colorado. He was a loving husband and a great dad, and that was enough for Madison and Virginia. No one could understand why he’d secretly gambled away their lives.
Without a word to his wife, William embarked on a high-risk venture that turned out to be a complicated scam. Since they didn’t own their house, he’d been convinced to double mortgage Virginia’s beloved family restaurant to bring extra cash into the deal. It was one of the oldest establishments in Denver; a storied place that had been in Virginia’s family for generations. It felt like a fourth member of their family. William had been hoodwinked into believing it was a sure thing; that his ship had finally come in. But overnight, the restaurant, their retirement savings, and Madison’s college fund had vanished. And the shock went straight to his heart.
When the dust cleared, there was barely enough to cover William’s funeral and a subpar burial plot at the Goldhill Cemetery far across town. The only asset they had any hope of saving was Virginia’s restaurant, but it was still far out of their reach. The bank offered to return the title if Virginia could come up with a hundred thousand dollars in four months. She tried desperately to get a loan, but her credit had been destroyed along with William’s. Their friends and family were struggling to get by as it was, and no one had that kind of money to spare. It was inevitable. The family business that had managed to survive since World War I would die in Virginia’s hands.
Madison felt as if the world had swallowed her whole. She’d given up all hope of finishing college and came home to look after her mother. Virginia was Madison’s hero, and the strongest person she knew. And so it was all the more painful to watch her unravel. Shortly after William’s funeral, once she’d exhausted every possible source of money to save her restaurant, Virginia collapsed. Early one morning, Madison found her mother in the backyard still wearing her nightgown, her feet bare, despite the freezing temperature. She sat on the stiff, dead grass rocking back and forth, muttering nonsensically.The doctor assured Madison that her mother would likely recover, but for now she was taken to a psych ward in Aurora for treatment. And for the first time in her life, Madison found herself alone.
Even worse, there was no one waiting in the wings to save any of them.
The first time Enzo suggested she come to Mexico to work at The Gentlemen’s Club, she assumed he was joking, since it was beyond incredulity. Whenever Madison looked in the mirror, all she saw was a homely introvert. Only Enzo could see past it. Even through her baggy clothes, Enzo could see the tall, svelte body, the bulge of her round breasts, the long legs. He knew that men would love her wide, blue eyes and plump lips. All she needed was a bit of a makeover.
Fortunately, in the two years Enzo had been living in Mexico City, he’d gotten to know so many people that he was only a degree of separation away from anything they needed. One of Enzo’s close friends was a Cuban ophthalmologist who was happy to squeeze Madison in without an appointment. On her second day in town, he checked her terribly myopic eyes, confirmed the prescription, and found a pack of disposable contact lenses in stock, which he gave her for next to nothing. Madison had never considered wearing contacts before; they seemed like more trouble than they were worth. But once she got the hang of putting them in, she loved being able to see without her glasses.
Next, Enzo brought her to see his friend Pati, a famous transvestite hair stylist who worked for the glitterati in the entertainment industry. Together they fussed over Madison’s hair, giving her a rinse that brought out the blondest highlights, and cutting it into a Scarlett Johansson bob.
When Enzo took her shopping, he wouldn’t let her pick out a thing.
“If you’re going to pull this off, you can’t go around dressed like a boy!” he’d hissed when she pointed to a cute tee shirt in the active wear section. Instead, he dressed her in fitted pants with an ankle flare, a sexy scoop-necked top, which accentuated her boobs, a tan leather jacket, and brown heeled boots.
“I knew there was a smoking body somewhere under there,” Enzo exclaimed when the makeover was complete.
Madison stared at herself in the mirror, dumbstruck. She was completely transformed.
“Jesus, Enzo,” she managed, the panic rising in her voice. It felt like he was stripping out her soul and turning her into a Barbie doll. She’d never envied the women whose only purpose in life was to be beautiful. They seemed empty and dull. Their very existence had a shelf life, and once they expired, there was nothing left for them in the world.
“I’m not making over your brain, sweetheart,” Enzo said, wrapping his muscular arms around her. “You can read books with contact lenses, too, you know,” he said. Then he turned her around, holding her shoulders and looking earnestly into her eyes. “Get money for your mother, Madison. You go out there and get the money.”
Madison was exhausted after a long day of being primped and prodded, but she decided to take a walk alone to clear her head. She made her way to the Condesa, her favorite neighborhood in all of Mexico City. It was only across the Parque Mexico from Enzo’s house, and she still knew the route like the back of her hand.
The city grumbled, just as it had back then. Madison always felt that walking through a city of twenty million people was like being in the middle of a concrete ocean. She could feel the expanse of it all around. Even on quiet, tree-lined streets she could hear the urban din. The sidewalk cafés were full, reminding her of the many afternoons she’d spent drinking coffee with friends, discussing literature and philosophy. It all felt far away now.
She headed for El Pendulo, which had been her favorite café during her year abroad. Madison was amazed at how much attention she drew just walking down the street. Men called out amorous things, hissing from car windows, and turning their heads to watch her pass. She’d never experienced anything like it in her life, and she wasn’t yet sure she liked it. It made her self-conscious to suddenly have so many eyes on her. She didn’t want to scratch her nose or adjust her bra strap, because she knew someone would be watching.
El Pendulo, thankfully, hadn’t changed at all. The bookstore still displayed Spanish translations of American and European new releases, art books, and classic literature. Across the bookstore, the restaurant hummed with life, and the café upstairs looked crowded. Madison browsed the books, trying to fend off the darkness that had circled her constantly since her dad died. She’d once made the mistake of letting it in, and it had wrecked her completely, ravaging her body like a flu, settling into her with a black weight that left her bedbound for days.
She sought refuge in an anthology of Spain’s Romantic poets, searching out her favorite poems to raise her spirits. When she glanced up, she noticed a tall, very handsome man staring at her from across the room. He was at least ten years older than Madison; dressed in a beautifully tailored suit. Best of all, he held a copy of Jose Saramago’s
in his hands. He didn’t look Mexican. Though she’d met Mexican men who were just as tall and fair, but this man’s features looked European. When she met his gaze, he smiled. At first she looked around, certain that there was a beautiful woman standing just behind her. But there was no one there. He was smiling at her.
Madison had always found something sexy about a man with a book in his hands. It suggested complexity and refinement. Whenever she indulged in the occasional schoolgirl fantasy about finding her soul mate, she always imagined him carrying books. At night he would read aloud in bed, her head resting on his chest, the pages dog-eared from when they got too sleepy. They’d sit together in cafés reading separate books, but every now and then they’d stop and tell the other about it.
When Madison looked up again, it was just in time to see the man leaving, his newly purchased book in a small brown bag tucked under his arm. Just before he stepped through the heavy glass door, he turned, his eyes searching her out one last time. This time it was Madison who was caught staring. The man gave her a demure, parting smile, and a wink that confirmed what she had been struggling to accept. She wasn’t the old Madison anymore. And maybe that
such a bad thing.