The very scary, very large man jumped in front of the doorway, blocking the entrance. “Is she eighteen?” he growled, pointing down at the young girl cowering behind the woman. “This is a strip… ahh.. an adult gentlemen’s club, Ma’am. You can’t bring that kid in here if she’s not eighteen.”
The woman rolled her eyes and sighed. “Like I don’t know that, dumbass. I used to work here! And it’s none of your damn business how old she is,” the woman yelled, glaring up at the huge man. She pulled the young girl closer to her. “This is my daughter! And besides, you’re closed. Move out of our way! I need to talk to Frank.”
She pushed the man away and walked through the doors, pulling the young girl along by her hand. Instantly, the girl was appalled by the rancid smell of spilled alcohol and cigarette smoke. She gagged as it filled her lungs.
“Stop that! The woman yelled. “It’s not that bad!”
Holding on tight to the young girl’s hand, the woman hurried past the long forty-foot bar lined with tall stools: past the stage, she’d danced on thousands of times and past the small round tables and chairs that filled the room. She walked through the double doors in the back, turned left, and climbed the stairs.
Frank Fontana, the owner of The Black Pearl Gentlemen’s Club, was sitting behind his desk, reading, when she opened his door.
“Hi, Frank.” She said softly.
“Juliet?” He said, not smiling, a little angry and unnerved to see her. “What are you doing here? What do you want?”
She pointed to a couch. “Go sit over there,” she barked. The young girl nodded and took a seat.
Juliet stood in front of Frank’s desk. “I know what you’re thinking. I probably don’t look so good right now, but I bought this new long wig, and with some makeup, I can still fix up pretty good.“
Frank shook his head, sighed, and looked away.
“Please, Frank. Look at me. Don’t look away. I’m desperate. I really need to make some money fast. All I need is a few sets in the Black Pearl, and I’ll be good. Come on, please. Just a few sets on the side stages.”
Frank turned, looked at her, and frowned. “Juliet, I’m sorry, but I told you the last time never to come back, and I meant it… This is a strip joint, Juliet, not a bordello. You were giving blow jobs to the customers in the friggin’ bathroom for twenty bucks. If someone had called the police, they would have shut me down..”
He studied her for a moment. “And from the looks of you, I’d say that you’re strung out and using again. Am I right?”
“NO!” She shouted. “I’m clean! I swear I am.” She unfolded her arms, revealing red and blue injection marks. “These are old, really old, like at least a couple of months. I swear, Frank, I’m clean. Please, I’m not asking for a handout. Just give me a few sets. I need the money to buy groceries to feed my kid.”
“I didn’t know you had a daughter, and I’m really sorry Juliet, but you know I can’t do that.”
Juliet slumped in her chair and wiped her wet eyes with the back of her hand.
“Juliet, I’m sorry, but you need to go,” Frank said to her softly, “I have to get back to work.”
She slowly pulled herself up out of the chair and turned to walk out. Then she stopped and turned around. “What about her?” she said, pointing at the young girl. “Could she do the shift?”
She pulled her to her feet. “Spin around, honey. Let him see you.”
“What’s your name?” Frank asked.
The young girl smiled and said, “Claire.”
“How old are you, Claire?” He asked, staring at her trembling hands.
“She’s nineteen,” Juliet shouted.
“I’m not talking to you,” Frank yelled.
He pointed his finger at the girl. “I’m talking to you, young lady. How old are you, and don’t you dare tell me a lie!”
Claire dropped her head, staring down at her feet. “I’m almost sixteen,” she whispered, “but everyone says that I look older.”
“Come on, Frank,” Juliet shouted. “You’re connected. Get her a fake ID. Look at her. She looks eighteen or nineteen, maybe twenty. No one will ever know but us. Please, Frank. Let her do a few sets. We really need the money.”
Frank walked around his desk to get a better look at the young beautiful girl. “Do you know how to dance?”
She smiled. “Yeah, sure, I can dance.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked. “You know, dance in front of strange men?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “No, sir, not really,” she said, shuffling her feet. “ I don’t want to do it, but we have no food at home. We really need money.”
Frank sighed, picked up his phone, and dialed a number. “Darlene, come to my office. I have a new girl that needs your help.”
A few minutes later, Darlene opened the door and walked in. Frank motioned toward Claire. “She’s green. Never danced before. Go help her pick some outfits and show her what she needs to do to get ready for the first shift.” With a frightened look in her eyes, Claire followed Darline out of the office, closing the door behind her.
Frowning at Juliet, Frank walked around his desk and lowered himself down in his chair.
He opened his top drawer, pulled out a wad of cash, and started counting it.
When Juliet saw it, she began to fidget in her chair and lick her lips. “Is that for me?” she asked.
He lifted his gaze and made eye contact. “You don’t get this until you tell me the truth. How old is she? I need to know that.”
“I think she really is fifteen, but she’ll be sixteen soon.”
He dangled the cash under her eyes. “One last question,” he said. “She is tall, has black hair, olive skin, and brown eyes. Don’t try to bullshit me. There’s no way that girl is your daughter, right?”
Juliet shrugged. “No, she’s not my daughter.”
“That’s what I thought. Where did she come from?”
Juliet looked away. “One of my exes left her there. I was so messed up back then I’m not really sure who she belongs to. I can’t remember.”
“Good lord, Juliet. That’s disgusting. You seriously don’t know who her father is?”
He stood, walked around the desk, and handed her the cash. “Get the hell out of my office.”
She reached for the money, but he pulled it back. “Don’t come back here again… ever. This is the last money you’ll get from me. Do you understand?”
Juliet jerked the money out of his hand, stuffed it in her purse, and stood. “Thank you, Frank. You’ve really saved my life. I promise I’ll never bother you again.”
He shook his head, disgusted. “I doubt that.”
Before Juliet reached his door, he asked. “Does she have any identification? Maybe a Birth Certificate, Social Security card, anything we could use to track down her father?”
Juliet shrugged her shoulders. “No, sorry,” she said and walked out.
An hour later, Darlene opened his door. “I thought you’d want to see some of the outfits we chose.”She backed out of the doorway and said, “Go on in, honey.”
A much older-looking Claire, wearing thigh-high fishnet hose, a sparkling red G-String, and a matching bra, walked through the doorway and smiled at him. He almost didn’t recognize her. “Claire? Is that you?”
Her eyes twinkled as she laughed. “Yes, sir. It’s me.”
Frank looked at Darline. “You’re a magician. She looks absolutely amazing, so much older. How did you do this?”
”To be honest,” Darline said, “it wasn’t all that hard. I mean, look at her; she’s beautiful. All it took was a little foundation, a touch of mascara, the right outfit, and Voilà… a star is born.”
Frank walked around his desk to get a closer look at her. She was breathtaking. She had a tall, muscular body with very long legs. There is no way anyone would suspect that she was only fifteen years old, he thought to himself… no possible way.
“I have something for you to sign,” he said to her. “It’s here on my desk. You can sit in my chair.”
“What is this?” Claire asked.
“It’s your new identity. If you want to work for me and make money here at my club, you have to be 18. If you promise never to tell anyone about this and sign this document, tomorrow, when we get everything back, you will become someone new. Someone who is eighteen years old.”
She signed the papers. “Will I have to change my name?”
“Oh, Yes,” Frank said, holding up the paper. “Your new name is…” he scanned the paper, “Olive Green DiAngelo.”
“Olive?” she said, frowning. “Yuck! I don’t like that name.”
Frank smiled. “Ah, come on…there’s nothing wrong with Olive. It’s not that bad. It’s too late to change it now anyway.” He looked over the desk at Darline. “You need to take her to the police station and get her fingerprinted.”
“Fingerprinted?” Claire said, shocked. “Why?”
Frank sighed. “Good question. I have no idea why, but if you’re going to dance for me, you have to be fingerprinted, and those prints have to be on file at the police station. Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a city ordinance.”
When they reached the door, Claire turned around and asked. “How about Olivia?”
“What?” Frank asked.
“Could I go by Olivia?” she asked with a smile. “The official papers could still say Olive, but I could go by Olivia. Would that be ok?”
Frank sat down in his chair and thought for a moment. “Humm… Olivia DiAngelo. That sounds like a movie star. Sure, from now on, we’ll call you… Olivia.”
Olivia’s first-ever shift or ‘Set’ (That’s what all the other girls called the time you were out there on the floor) went really well. Darline wouldn’t let her work the tables, so all she had to do was dance to three songs on each of the side stages, and the guys would throw money at her. By the end of her first round of stage dances, she had earned over fifty dollars. By the end of that first night, after the thirty percent cut for the house, she had earned four hundred and seventy dollars!
Olivia couldn’t believe it. She counted it again… Four hundred and seventy-two dollars. “Wow!” she shouted. “I can’t wait to show Juliet all of this cash! She’s gonna freak.”
She waited outside in the parking lot after her set was over, but Juliet didn’t show up to get her.
When Frank walked out and locked the door, he saw her sitting on the steps. “No sign of her, huh?” he asked.
She slowly shook her head. “No, sir.”
“Something must have come up,” he said. “I’m sure she’ll come back to get you tomorrow. You can’t stay out here alone. Get in. Tonight, you can say with my wife and me.”
The next night after her shift, Olivia waited in the parking lot for hours and hours again, but Juliet never showed. That night, she went home with Darlene.
On Olivia’s third day, Frank received a phone call from the police. They had matched the fingerprints of a victim to one of his dancers. “Oh yeah?” he said, “What’s her name?”
He could hear the police officer flipping pages. “The victim’s name is… hold on, let me find it. Oh, yeah. Here it is. Her name was Juliet Harrison. One of our patrol cars found her body slumped next to a dumpster in an alley. It was an apparent drug overdose. She still had the needle sticking out of her arm when they found her. The were no signs of foul play because she still had some cash in her purse.”
When he hung up from talking to the policeman, he leaned back in his chair and drew in a deep breath. “You stupid, stupid junkie. How am I supposed to tell Olivia?” he shouted. “It’s going to break her heart and devastate her. Who’s going to take care of her? Where is she going to live now?”
He sat quietly for almost an hour, staring out his window, trying to decide what to do. Finally, he picked up the phone and dialed Darline’s number. “Tell Olivia I need to talk to her. Tell her to come to my office as soon as she can. I have something important to tell her.”
“Ok,” Darline said, “She’s on a side stage. I’ll go get her.”
“Thanks,” he said softly. “And when she comes up here, gather the girls and ask them to hang around after their sets if they can. Olivia is going to need her friends with her tonight.“
It started my senior year of high school, and ever since then, my life has remained in constant flux, always confusing with lots of ups and downs. It has never been simple and easy.
So far, my life has changed unrecognizably three times, forcing me to start over. I'm talking about changing completely from scratch... a new place to live, a new job... a new life.
Understand, I'm not complaining. I’m just giving you the facts so you know where I come from.
I was born and raised in a small suburb of Houston, Texas, called Galena Park. My parents were the epitome of blue-collar rednecks. They were wonderful, loving parents, but very much the product of their raising. Both of them were extremely pessimistic. They were the glass is half empty kind of people. Taking a risk of any kind was out of the question because, of course, you'd probably fail. The possibility of succeeding wasn't part of their vocabulary. Unfortunately, if something good happened to either one of them, they lived in fear, waiting for the other shoe to fall because they honestly believed that something bad was about to happen to make up for the good luck.
My father dropped out of school at 13 to work in the West Texas cotton fields. He actually did well in school and didn't want to drop out, but he had no choice. He had reached the age where he could be hired "to pull a grown man's wage.” That’s how he always described it. The money he earned would help support his mother, his disabled father, and his three sisters.
He was pulling weeds in one of those cotton fields when he met my mother. He was fourteen, and she was fifteen. My mother was very intelligent, A straight-A student, but unfortunately, like my father, she had to quit school and go to work in the fields to help support her family.
About a year later, they added up how much money they were making together and decided that it was enough for them to try to make it on their own, so they ran off and got married. My mother was 16, and my father had just turned 15.
At seventeen years old, my father decided he needed to learn some kind of a trade to make a living, so he packed up everything they owned and moved to Galena Park. That's where Armco Steel was located, and they were hiring. He signed up and began working from 8 pm to 8 am, better known as the night shift. That was in 1979, and he worked that shift for the next four years. That job ended when Armco Steel filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors in 1983.
After that, for the next 31 years, every Monday morning, Dad would leave the house a 5 am and drive the 215-mile, three-and-a-half-hour drive to Longview, Texas, to work the afternoon shift for Nucor Steel. And every Friday night, he drove the exact 215 miles back home to Galena Park after his shift.
When he was in Longview, he slept in the small camper in the pickup bed. Nucor Steel, in Longview, was the closest and one of the few working steel mills remaining in Texas. Why he didn’t simply move to Longview has always been a mystery to me, but I assume it had something to do with their house in Galena Park. Either they owed too much on it, or there was something else wrong, but for whatever reason, we never moved to Longview.
On one of those weekends when he was back home, I was conceived and was born nine months later, in June 1989.
I never actually asked my father, but I’m sure he didn’t like his job much; however, I never heard him complain about it. He just seemed to accept his fate and did it. For his entire life, the only real fun I ever saw him have was drinking beer with his few friends on our back patio and cooking brisket in his smoker. He loved that smoker and seemed to love those rare get-togethers and cookouts with friends and family. He would smile all day long.
I have a vivid memory of one of those cookouts when I was about thirteen. Dad sat in a lawn chair next to me and said, "Son, it just doesn't get any better than this!"
I nodded and smiled back at him, but inside my head, I was thinking, "God, I hope that’s not true! This is all there is? Really?”