Available Now On Amazon
2nd Novel Released in 2011
Shelia King, a fun-loving grandma’s girl, needs to keep her days open for auditions in the hope of landing a role that will catapult her to stardom. With the threat of eviction looming, she scrambles to find a night job and convinces the owner of a hostess club to hire her. Now she’s a dance-partner-for-hire by night and struggling thespian by day. When her agent pitches a topless role, fearing her grandmother’s disapproval, Shelia declines. But after setbacks and considerable thought, she agrees to meet the producer. Gregory Livingston III is rich, suave, ridiculously fine, and the panacea for Shelia’s career woes. At first sight she shapes plans to win the role and his heart. She gets both and works hard to give an Oscar worthy performance. However, when the movie wraps, nothing can prepare her for the startling revelations about Greg’s past and the aftermath of a dream gone awry.
I imagine I’m an actress in a low budget 1950’s mafia movie, and this is the scene where the mob boss is giving me the once-over, trying to decide if I can be trusted. Tina Turner’s Private Dancer blasting from the jukebox pulls me out of my melodramatic fantasy. It’s 1985 and I’m standing in the lobby of the Flamingo Club, and the manager is eyeballing me from the top of my wig to my red Payless pumps, trying to decide if I have what it takes to keep the customers on the dance floor. I pray he likes what he sees, because I need this job. My best friend Edwina turned me on to the joint. At first I thought it was a topless bar, so my answer was a resounding, “No.” I don’t have the nerves, or the right cup size. When I learned it’s a club where men buy tickets to dance with girls, I was a little more interested. Back in the twenties and thirties it was called taxi-dancing. “Girl, the only other thing you have to do is sit and talk with ‘em and act like you give a flyin’ rat’s patoot,” she said.
Heinz moves in closer, looks down at me and says, “Turn around.” I can feel his eyes undressing and redressing me into something a bit more risqué. He looks down at my application and says, “I’m a be honest with you, Shelia. College girls don’t do good here. They get bored quick.”
“I dropped out after two years, and I’m not here to be entertained. I just wanna work.”
“You got any kids?” As if on cue, his eyes lock on my midsection.
I suck in my gut even more. “I don’t have any kids, at least none that I know of.” I search Heinz’s face hoping it’ll break into a smile. A chuckle would even do. He seems as serious as my landlady when she told me I would be evicted if I didn’t come up with this month’s rent.
“I’m sure you’re a nice girl and all, but I can’t hire ya right now. We got too many girls.” He throws his hulk-size hands into the air and walks back to the counter dragging his boat-sized feet.
I look down at his feet and concentrate hard, hoping I can will them back in my direction. “Heinz, I can do this job. Please give me a chance.” I walk to Heinz with my aching feet and press my flat chest against the counter, anchoring myself to the place.
“Black girls don’t do so good here.” He clears his throat and averts his eyes.
“But Edwina told me she made a lot of money when she worked here.”
“She told you wrong.” He tosses my application to the side, snatches a dingy handkerchief from his shirt pocket, and wipes his brow.
I feel a kick in my stomach at the sight of my application teetering on the edge of the counter. “Let me work one night, and if I don’t get any dances, I’ll leave with no pay.”
He removes his glasses and grins. I stare at the black space between his two front teeth, praying his crooked grin means a yes. “Can you work tonight?”
“Of course I can work tonight. Does that mean you’re gonna give me a chance?”
“No, I’m not gonna give you a chance.”
My lips part and I begin to protest, but before I can, he says, “Geez, Shelia. Would I be askin’ ya if you could work tonight if I wasn’t gonna give you a chance?”
“Don’t thank me yet. Let’s see how ya do tonight.”
# # #
My car parked toward the back of the parking lot looks very inviting, in spite of its missing hubcaps and taped-on side mirror. The trick is getting to it with my throbbing feet. There’s no way I can wear these shoes tonight. I reach the bottom of the stairs and veer toward the right in an attempt to get out of harm’s way. The emaciated figure rushing past me, and now charging up the stairs, doesn’t look back.
“Excuse you,” I say. Squinting, I look up at the rail thin woman, who with hands on her bony hips, glares at me like I was the one who had tried to plow her down. She descends the stairs.
“Oh…huh…what? What you say?” Her face twitches and contorts.
“You ran into me and you didn’t even bother to say excuse me.”
“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean no harm. It’s just…I’m tryin’ to…I got to get…my money.”
She’s a few feet in front of me, and the funk oozing from her pores knocks me back a few steps. The scars and lines on her face read like a horror story. She pushes her matted hair off of her wrinkled forehead and blinks wildly. “Don’t worry about it,” I say. My eyes sting and tear up and not because of the stench. I’ve never seen anyone strung out on crack before, not this bad, and not this up close.
“Is he up there?”
“Heinz, the manager. I used to work here before he cut me loose. Sonofabitch. And if he think he gonna keep me from gettin’ my last paycheck, he got another thang comin’.”
“Okaaay…well…I hope things work out.” I turn to leave, because the last thing I need is to get mixed up in some drama.
“You work here now?”
I know I should keep it moving, but I feel compelled to answer. I turn back toward her and say, “I’m trying to. I’m an actress, and I need my days free to go on auditions.”
“How’s actin’ goin’?”
“I’ve been on a few soaps, and I’ve done a lot of theatre.”
“I was an actress once.” Her face breaks into a jack-o-lantern smile.
“Really?” I try to hide the look of disbelief that’s pressing its way onto my face.
“On the real. About five years ago, I got a job here, just to keep myself goin’, until I landed that righteous gig. You know…the big one.”
“I hear you, girl. Well, it was good talking to you, but I gotta go.” I back away from the stairs, but she ignores my attempt at escaping and rattles on.
“A year passed and I was still waitin’. Then I lost my agent and I kinda got depressed. The rejection in Hollywood is a mutha and sometime you need a little pick-me-up. Five years passed and I forgot I ever was an actress. I was just happy when some asshole would ask me to dance.”
I’m several hundred feet away from her now, and I can see her mouth moving, but I can no longer hear her story. I walk to my car as fast as I can, putting as much distance between me and her as possible. I’m not sure what her real story is. Poor thing. Like my grandmother always says when she sees a bum on the street, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I get in my car, snatch my wig and shoes off, and head to Hollywood. Class starts in less than an hour. I stop at a red light and can’t help but think about the crackhead. The light changes and I merge onto the Hollywood freeway. She was jacked up. I give myself six months at the Flamingo Club. I’ll have a series by then. Stan says there’s gonna be a spin-off to the Cosby Show, and that he’s gonna submit me for a part. I wonder how she ended up on that stuff. After tonight I’ll have a job, I’ll be able to pay rent, and catch up on acting class payments. That scar on her neck looked like a knife wound. I should get some good tips too. I might even be able to put some money down on my school loan. I swear, six months and not a minute longer.