My cell phone started ringing around four thirty that morning. Cecil must have found my note when he came home from his nightclub and found me gone. I didn’t want to hear anything he had to say, but I knew I had to talk to him eventually so that I could get my things out of his house.
“Where are you, Melanie?”
“I’m somewhere safe. What do you want?”
“Why did you run away like a child instead of talking about this like a woman?”
“You hit me, Cecil.”
“I’m sorry, baby. Come home and let’s talk. I’m sorry about pushing you.”
“You slapped me, Cecil, you didn’t push me.”
“And I’m sorry about that. I was under a lot of pressure and you were being unreasonable and I lost my temper. I’m sorry, Melanie. You know I would never purposely hurt you. Come home, baby, and let’s talk.”
I didn’t want to give in. I was mad at myself for even considering what he was saying.
“Come home, Mel. I don’t want to be without you.”
Cecil was the sweetest-talking man I’d ever met. He was a hustler all the way.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Just come to the club tomorrow. If nothing else, we’ll settle up and I’ll pay you what I owe you.”
There it was: I was giving in to him again.
I showed up at the South Pole the next afternoon. The gentlemen’s club looked depressing in the daytime, with only a few cars in the parking lot. My face still burned with what I’d done there the night before.
I hadn’t even known Cecil owned a club when I first met him. I was working for a large Chicago accounting firm as a CPA, a nice safe job I’d had for over six years, but to please him, I ended up leaving that job to keep the books at his club.
I had been working in the office at the South Pole for about a month when one of the barmaids quit. Cecil asked me to work behind the bar until they hired someone new. Bartending was different. I was out front with the loud music and the garish lights, and the guys were, for the most part, respectful. Cecil made sure they knew that I was off-limits. Bartending was okay for the first week, but when I told Cecil that bartending was not for me, he said he totally understood.
“Hang in there,” he said. “I extended an offer to someone who will be starting tonight.”
I was glad, because I’d learned by now that Cecil was stubborn like a pit bull. My relief was very short-lived, though, because he had another surprise for me.
“While you were at the bar, did you notice how much money the dancers make?”
“Yeah, I noticed,” I replied cautiously. I felt him leading up to something.
“Well, I think you can make more money dancing than any woman in here, Melanie.” As I drew back in disgust, he pulled me close. “And I’m not just saying that because you’re my girl. I can’t tell you how many guys have approached me about you. You are in demand, baby. Would you consider dancing?” he asked while tenderly stroking one of my weak spots, the base of my back.
When I didn’t answer, he placed a humid kiss on my lips and said, “Try it, baby, and if you don’t like it, don’t do it again.” He kissed me again, really making me ache for more. “It’s just that simple,” he whispered in my ear.
When I finally found my voice, I protested loudly. I was hurt that Cecil would ask such a thing from me.
I was initially solid with my decision not to dance, but after a couple of evenings of sweet talk, gifts, and passionate lovemaking, I was making my debut appearance on the tawdry stage.
I was extremely nervous. I looked down in a state of shock at the silver tassels hanging off me. If Cecil hadn’t run off all of my girlfriends, I’m sure someone would have told me not to do it. That was Cecil’s way. He isolated me from everyone I knew in my normal life until I became dependent on him for everything. I got what I deserved for wanting to walk on the wild side.
Cecil walked into the cheap dressing room, handed me a glass of something, and said, “Drink this, Melanie. You’re on next.”
I drained the glass of unknown liquor, feeling the burn as it slid down my throat. He looked me up and down, and after his critical perusal he smacked his lips. “You look good, baby, and I know you’re going to make me a lot of money tonight.”
I walked onto the stage and let the world see what I thought Cecil didn’t want to share.
I don’t know how I made it through the dance. All of my movements felt mechanical, like I was a life-sized wooden doll. Still, I felt the men groping and feeling me all over. Cecil didn’t mind. He was watching me the whole time from the back of the club.
When the song ended, I hurried off the stage, feeling low as dirt. Cecil was there waiting.
He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and said, “Good job, baby. Now listen.” He turned me around to face him. Resting his hands on my shoulders, he said, “One of the customers asked for a private dance.”
I instantly pulled out of his arms. Taking a few steps back, I met his eyes again. “Cecil, you want me to give someone a private dance?”
He pulled me close again. “Yeah, baby, we’ve got to keep the customers satisfied.” Then he whispered, “If dude pay me enough money for a private dance, then you dance. You hear me?”
I stared at him, not believing him. How had I sunk so low? I finally said, “You go give him that dance, Cecil.”
I retreated, almost running, back to the office. Cecil was right on my heels.
As soon as the door closed he yelled at me. “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to make Big Daddy’s money?”
Who was this man? I stared at him, not believing he was treating me this way.
“Why are you doing this, Cecil? I danced onstage in a room full of horny men because you asked me to do it for you. But I’m not giving some strange man a private dance!”
That’s when he hauled off and slapped me. His stinging fingers had enough force to snap my head to the side. I could feel the burn of every one of his digits.
“You hit me!” I cried. “Why did you do that? Why are you hitting me?!”
He put his hand up. “Don’t want to hear it.” He turned and walked out of the office, slamming the door.
I shed that tacky outfit and put on my own clothes in about ten seconds flat. I grabbed my car keys and headed straight for the back door of that awful place. I drove around aimlessly for at least an hour. This was the bottom for me and I only had myself to blame. I had lost everything that was important to me because I wasn’t smart enough to realize how deeply I was being sucked in by a con man.
Cecil and I met while I was in a healthy relationship with a longtime boyfriend, and the man I had hoped to marry one day, Michael. Cecil was relentless in his pursuit to spend time with me. He offered to take me to lunch or dinner a couple of times a week even though I told him about my relationship with Michael. He promised that he wasn’t trying to come between us, and that he was only interested in friendship. He said he liked my style. After numerous short conversations, I realized that we’d become friends, after all, so I agreed to have lunch with him. I made sure that he understood that in no way was I interested in going any further.
Although I was happy in my relationship with Michael, I found Cecil exciting and interesting and thought our lunch dates were harmless. Eventually, Cecil convinced me to have dinner with him. He thought I would enjoy his favorite restaurant, but there was a problem. The restaurant didn’t open until 5 p.m. That meant I had to lie to Michael about my plans so that I could have dinner with Cecil.
I didn’t usually fall for the lame lines that men used when they were trying to get me in bed. I thought I’d heard them all, but with Cecil, he had a way with words. I enjoyed Cecil’s company and he kept me laughing with his great sense of humor. He was very complimentary and made me feel beautiful.
Still, I was uncomfortable that entire evening, worried about what Michael might do if he ever found out. I loved him, and I planned to end things with Cecil, but Cecil had other plans.
Before I had a chance to stop the nonsense, Cecil came to my house and told Michael about us. Michael walked out on me that same day.
I was devastated. I loved Michael and never thought I would lose him this way. I made numerous calls to him, but he never answered, nor did he return any of my calls. I was surprised that he kept the same number. All this because of a sweet-talking man who now wanted me to dry-hump strangers.
I decided to return to the club. Getting away from Cecil without a lot of drama called for an exit plan. The first person I saw was the new girl, Benita. She had become quite chummy with Cecil. I wondered if he would soon be taking her out for lunches and dinners.
Cecil looked up when I walked in. “I need you to dance tonight, baby. Some of the guys are asking for you. Can you?”
He said that like nothing had transpired between us a few hours earlier. “No, Cecil. I’m not doing that anymore,” I said as I sat down and turned on the computer.
I was shocked when he pulled me out of the chair by my hair. I grunted in pain when my knee hit the side of the desk before I fell to the floor.
This time I wasn’t scared, I was mad as hell. I tried to stand, but he tightened his grip in my hair and proceeded to drag me down the hall. Other employees stood lined up along the walls and watched me crawl to keep up with him. I saw Benita standing at the end of the hall with a huge smile on her face. When we reached his office, he slammed the door behind us and got in my face screaming.
“What the fuck did I tell you about talking back to me, Melanie? I told you that I need you to dance tonight.”
I was finally able to get to my feet. I was crying as I straightened my clothes and fixed my hair. I walked promptly toward the door. “I’m done with this, Cecil. I can’t do this anymore.”
He grabbed my arm and said, “Have you lost your fuckin’ mind? You don’t leave until I tell you to leave, and if I say you’re dancing, then you’re dancing.”
I just stared at him.
“Now sit your ass down and wait for me. I’ll walk you to your dressing room so you can get dressed.”
“I said no, Cecil.”
He slapped me so hard my earring flew out of my ear and my hair fell into my face. He dragged me to his desk and practically threw me in the chair. “Now sit down and stay there.”
That was the last time he was going to hit me. I immediately slipped my hand in the desk drawer and felt around . . . until I found the gun that I knew he kept there. I felt the cold steel as I pulled out the .38-caliber pistol. In one motion I stood up and pointed the gun at him.
He chuckled. “Put that shit down, bitch, before I take it away from you and beat you to death with it.”
I was so afraid of what Cecil might do that I slowly lowered the gun. He came toward me, open contempt written all over his face. That was it. I was so done with giving in to a man who seemed to enjoy beating me.
He reached for me and with an awkward movement I raised the gun again, this time pulling the trigger. Since I didn’t know how to aim the thing, and with its recoil, I shot Cecil in the thigh. About three inches away from where I should have shot him, if I had been thinking straight.
The office door flew open and Benita rushed in. When she saw Cecil on the floor holding his leg, she started screaming. I stood silently staring at Cecil, twisting in pain.
“Call nine-one-one!” he shouted. “Call nine-one-one!”