Fine Diamonds Gentlemen’s Club (366 Parsecs From the Sturgeon-Clements Galaxy) In the Year of Our Lord 2033
I watched Ruby gyrate on stage, her ass swinging like a pair of churchbells. Long, high-heeled legs carried her from the pole to the half-dozen mooks huddled before her, shimmying in one of six pre-programmed routines. Heavy rock music smothered the whirring of rotors in her hips, her neck.
In red neon she looked bathed in blood.
The mooks whistled and hooted, tossing dollar bills at Ruby’s feet—old habits died hardest in titty bars—but otherwise behaved themselves. Until they grabbed her or stuffed money into her bald box I left them alone.
I went back to my poem.
“Hank! Are you even paying attention? Jesus, do something!”
Ruby had unhooked her bra, flung it behind the stage, and continued reaching to unhook it again. The mooks found it hilarious, whooping each time her tits strained upward.
Sometimes the girls’ circuits got stuck in a loop and it’s no big deal. Ruby, though, had shredded the MetaFlesh between her shoulder blades; it hung in flaps, revealing the steel column of her spine.
I dropped my pencil, uttering a curse, and shambled to her.
This was why a lot of clubs had switched to holochicks.
I looked like an asshole, dragging my bulk onstage. The mooks taunted me accordingly. One of them told me to shake it, baby, and threw a dollar. I pocketed it.
Heath didn’t like it when I worked on girls in the open—spoils the illusion, he said, like the illusion wasn’t the goddamn point—but Ruby had torn herself up good, and he hatedspending money on repairs.
Heath’s the owner of Fine Diamonds. He’s a cocksucker.
Ruby was an easy fix. I tinkered with a few knobs under the plate on her back and she resumed grinding and humping like she was supposed to. The tear in her flesh needed patched but could wait.
When I returned to the bar Joe had an earful for me.
“The fuck do we pay you for, Hank, to write your little love notes? Keep that barstool from getting cold?”
Joe managed the place. Most nights he sat with his buddies from the Satan’s Pilgrims. Joe used to ride with the Pilgrims until his ticker acted up; a couple of his boys remained on hand for security. I called them Motherfucker #1 and Motherfucker #2. Not to their face.
“Go grab another case of Yuengling, Shakespeare, Nikki’s almost out.”
The beer was heavy and carrying it hurt my back; I’m not a young man anymore. I plunged bottles two at a time into the ice chest, thinking how good one would feel sliding down my throat.
“He’s only putting on a show for his biker pals, you know.”
Nikki looked sympathetic. She was real but had enough piercings to be practically half-metal. She used to dance before Heath brought in the robots, still had the legs and ass to show for it.
“Yeah, I know.”
She slipped a Yuengling into my palm.
“On the house, writer man.”
“You’re a good gal, Nikki. Why don’t we sneak back to the VIP room? I’ll give you the ol’ blue-veined behemoth.”
“Maybe when you’re rich and famous, Hank.”
Fine Diamonds had some nice scenery—Sapphire, Emerald, Jewel, they were some well put-together robots—but Nikki was the best thing about the job, blueballs notwithstanding. On the worst nights I could watch those legs—real skin, not that MetaFlesh horseshit—or her too-short skirt filled out just right.
I’d written at least twenty poems about her, published most of them. She had no idea.
The poem I’d been working on had turned to vapor in my absence. I tried summoning the next line, that beautiful next line, but it was gone.
Fuck. I sucked my Yuengling and brooded.
I’d expected working in a titty bar would be fun and Christ, had I been wrong. When it was dead, time moved so slowly not even writing could curb the ennui. Busy nights, you got to watch other people enjoy themselves, scrambled to restock the bar or prevent the clientele from damaging the merchandise (whether she’s flesh or steel, some men just loved seeing a woman broken by their hand). And the VIP room? Jesus.
The job made sure I had booze and books, gave me a tiny room above the Korean market, and was about all I had left in me to do. God help me, some nights I wished I was back in the post office.
The egg timer at Joe’s elbow chimed.
“Hank, go tell Sapphire her fifteen’s up.”
The VIP room—little more than a glorified closet—occupied a dark corridor in back of the club. Thumping bass from the DigiJuke drowned out most incidental noise, as intended.
I rapped my knuckles on the door. “Time’s up, Sapphire. Let’s go.”
I gave it half a minute. Some guys aren’t finished when the timer goes off. Usually I cracked the door—not enough to embarrass anyone, but to deliver the message fifteen minutes meant fifteen minutes.
The doorknob didn’t move.
“Who the fuck told you it was okay to lock this door?”
I pounded hard, like a cop.
“Sonofabitch, if I gotta break down this door—”
The knob clicked, turned. The door creaked open a hair. Pissed off, I kicked it the rest of the way.
Some scrawny college-looking prick yanked his pants over a pair of bony hips, still wearing the rubber he’d just shot into. Behind him, on the cracked vinyl loveseat, Sapphire sat in re-dress mode.
“Goddamn, Grandpa, I just wanted some privacy.”
“Think that sign doesn’t apply to you? Next time I’ll bend you over the bar, stick a beer bottle up your ass. We’ll talk privacy then.”
He scurried off. At least the prick used a rubber. Lots of guys don’t, even though it’s club policy.
I gave the loveseat a once-over, raised the cushions with my foot and scanned for wadded tissues, condom wrappers, anything left behind in the throes of passion. Once I knew no one would plop into a stranger’s love juice I sprayed some deodorizer (the air reeked of fucksweat) and corralled Sapphire into the dressing room.
There I rinsed out Sapphire’s mouth, cunt, and asshole, again grateful that the college twerp had bagged it. Then I swabbed her down with a disinfectant cloth, careful to get into her navel, behind her ears, her cleavage. Places where men liked to drool.
This part I didn’t mind so much. Sapphire was built fair-skinned and willowy, even had a small patch of cinnamon-colored pubic hair I thought was real sexy.
I sent her into the club. Ruby passed us on her way to the VIP room. With her stood a pudgy fella that I’d seen sitting alone by the stage.
“Half an hour,” Ruby said.
I sat at the bar and waited for something to happen. The night was winding down—a couple of mooks would want a turn in back, asking twenty minutes before closing time, the bastards. I’d never left this shithole on time.
One of these days my luck had to change. The writing would finally bring in some real money, at least enough I could afford to quit.
The music thumped on.
When the egg timer dinged I headed to the VIP room. Knocked.
“Come on, does every sonofabitch need an engraved invitation to move their ass—”
I threw open the door.
“Aw shit. Shit. Joe! HEY, JOE!”
Pudgy Fella sprawled on the loveseat, vacant eyes stuck toward the ceiling. His mouth locked in the O he’d tried screaming through over the DigiJuke. Blood spilled over the cushions, pooling on the floor.
Ruby crouched in the blood, head bobbing over his groin in slow, pre-programmed rhythm. She’d gnawed the cock that had been in her mouth to gristle.
“Jesus-fuck, Hank, what happened?”
Joe stood behind me, flanked by Motherfuckers #1 and #2. He looked pale.
“Hank, watch the door. Anyone shows up, tell them we closed early.”
“He come in with somebody?”
“No. And he’s wearing a wedding band. Probably didn’t tell anyone he was coming.”
“Good, that’s real good. We’ll take care of it from here, Hank.”
I didn’t argue. I took Joe’s spot at the bar, watched the door like I was told. Prayed this wouldn’t be the night Heath showed up to count the till.
Nikki asked if I’d seen a ghost.
“Wish I had. Gimme a belt of Wild Turkey, will you? Extenuating circumstances.”
Joe came back not too long after. The color returned to his cheeks. The Motherfuckers were nowhere to be seen.
“We got it under control, Hank. My boys are taking care of the mess.”
“You’re a team player, ain’t you, Hank? You’re not gonna fuck us on this?”
Joe smiled, but I knew a threat when I heard one. I was about to learn just how much he minded having me around.
“I think it’s time we talked promotion, Hank. Got you invested in the business.”
“Christ, no! I can’t stand it here as it is!”
“That’s because you’re not part of the team. You’d have our back, we have yours.”
He grinned again, his eyes spelling it out. The Motherfuckers could handle two stiffs as easily as one.
“Okay, so let’s talk benefits.”
“What’d you have in mind?”
I told him.
“Absolutely not. Heath would hang my balls on his mantle.”
“I’ll bring her back, of course. C’mon, Joe, I thought you trusted me.”
Joe lit a cigarette. “Fine. But you know which one you’re getting, right?”
After we closed, Joe escorted me and Nikki to the parking lot. The girls had been hung in the dressing room on their charging hooks, except for Ruby. I’d cleaned her up and put her in street clothes, walked her to my car.
“Have fun,” Nikki said. “Don’t fall in love.”
Joe said, “See you tomorrow, Hank.”
Maybe he hoped Ruby would malfunction again, make me a problem he wouldn’t have to worry about. Maybe I hoped the same thing.
I laid Ruby in the backseat and pulled out. Above us the night sky yawned wide, infinite, gleaming with a million stars.