Underbelly Ballerina

PART ONE

 

 

…you’re a teaser, you turn ‘em on

                                    Leave them burning and then you’re gone

                                    You’re in the mood for a dance

                                    And when you’ve got the chance…

                                                                                    ABBA

 

ONE

Apples’ eyes moistened as she placed the short letter back in its envelope, careful not to wrinkle or damage the paper in any way, as it would be kept, treasured. Added to all the letters and postcards she had received from her Nana and Pop, since she had first arrived in Europe.

The letters were from Pop, Grandad on her mother’s side. The postcards were always from Nana, an attempt at a cheerful light heartedness, showing picturesque scenes from New Zealand and Australia. The text was bright and bubbly, neatly printed and spaced perfectly, full of family gossip and news. Never any mention of where or what Apple was up to, never a query as to how her life was proceeding.

Apple was grateful for that. She knew the cards were purchased locally, back in home town Melbourne. Her Grandparents didn’t have the money, or most likely the health in the case of Pop, to be gallivanting all over Australia, let alone tackle the short flight across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.

The letters were a different story all together. Pop made the effort to use what was obviously quite expensive writing paper, matching envelopes. The words were smudged and smeared in places, the old man still a fan of fountain pens, though he had never quite mastered the art of blotting. Pop never wrote a great deal, never at length and he never dwelled. But he wrote often and his words were full of emotion and feeling. Never did he tip toe around a subject or topic, and it was his scrambling lines that always left Apple tearful and hurting. Not for what was said. For the emotions dredged up from within.

Today, this latest letter was no different. Apple had to get up, off the bench at the inner edge of Turnham Green in the west of London, seeking a distraction that might stem the onset of tears. She turned to look at the Piccadilly Line tube rushing through the station, along the track she had just had her back to. As the sound of the train died, traffic noise filtered back in. Tinkling in and around that noise, the sound of laughter, children nearby enjoying the warmth and sunshine a late spring day provided. London at its finest.

Apple turned and watched the kids. She resistied the temptation to let her mind wander to a future, one that included white picket fences, Labrador puppies’ and two point four children. A life she doubted was ever going to be allowed to her. Instead, she forced a small smile on her face, raising her head to the play of the nearby children, finding the smile able to stick, of its own accord.

Apple had become very adept at forming whatever expression on her face was required at the time, or the one she deemed necessary. The facade, the exterior, these days at least, was always composed and prepared, particularly around those that it needed to be.

There was an inner core of people close to Apple, as close as Apple would allow people to get, able to see these expressions for what they were.

Masks, barriers, warning signs. S weet and inviting traps.

These were the people that wore similar expressions out of necessity also. The girls, the women she worked with. Apple too, could read these artificial contortions of facial muscles, knew when one of her colleagues was distressed, had something they wanted to say. Like her colleagues, when they picked the same in her, Apple did not ask if there was a problem, and if so, was there any way she could help.

Those you worked with, those you had come to be close to over time, conversely, you kept at a distance.

Your own problems were just that, your own, and how it had to be for everyone. Apple felt particularly sorry for the new girls, the young and inexperienced. She wasn’t without sympathy, but that didn’t mean she put herself out there too much, offered a shoulder to lean on, or any other form of support or comfort. She had learnt to become hardened to her world, by dint of being left to find her own feet in it, or equally, left to drown.

Apple ducked her head, turned, slipped the letter delicately back in her hand bag and started off down the wide path winding between large swaths of damp grass.

Her vacant gazing at the cluster of children, whooping and screaming as they attacked the playground equipment with gusto, attracted the attention of the parents, gathered as they were around the fringes of the play area. Men and women, sipping takeaway coffees, fussing over their kids when there was a fall or a knock, chatted pleasantly among themselves.

They wore Gap or F.C.U.K, or whatever other label was currently in fashion. The buggies looked as if they could successfully be pushed across the Andes and the sunglasses, tilted jauntily on top of hairdos that spoke of regular grooming, were designer brands. Those not chatting were texting or talking on cell-phones, all examples of the latest gadgetry out there on the market.

Apple didn’t have a phone. She wasn’t allowed one.

She was aware the stares she was getting from the parents were not favourable. Apple wasn’t surprised and she wasn’t particularly troubled. At first she rankled, wanting to defend her right to be in the park, just as much as any other person. But time was getting on, there was still much to do, and if she started to run late her minder, Toto, would get edgy. Then, what had been a very pleasant day to this point, would become uncomfortable.

So Apple strode away from the happy playground scene purposefully, head held high, heels clacking loudly on the sealed walkway. She didn’t feel the pride her gait and posture indicated, but she felt no shame either.

For every look of scorn shot her way by a disapproving woman, Apple registered the slight hint of jealousy.

Every time a man gave her a look of contempt, Apple registered the almost pleading note of desire, of arousal.

Not one of those women could perform, and not one of those men had received, a blowjob like she was capable of.

And none, even in their dreams, could dance like Apple.

 

 

Two

Toto Mensah fell into step a few paces behind the petite blonde as she rose, paused for a moment, seemingly lost in her own thoughts, then made for the northern end of the Green.

He wondered briefly at what might be running through the girl’s head. He did this quite a bit, with many of his charges. Particularly the ones who seemed as if the harsh realities of the world they lived and worked in, hadn’t quite managed to quell their previous spirit, whatever that may have happened to be.

This girl was one of those. Toto greatly enjoyed his time with her. He had long since stopped being attracted to any of the girls it was his responsibility to administer and this particular girl was by no means his type; damn near only half his height and a mere fraction of his size. Kosey Mensah, as he would much rather have been known, feeling that it was his just right to be known, his Father’s name and his Fathers before him, liked his girls fuller of figure and strong, someone that was able to at least attempt to match him physically.

This, of course, was a near impossibility, for even the most athletic of men, let alone a member of the fairer sex. To that end, Toto took his pleasures well away from his work place and the girls it was his responsibility to monitor, protect and on occasion, imprison. He avoided, too, the type of girl that he spent so much of his life with, instead waiting until he was on his own time, away from the job that was more a life, back in his place of birth, the African continent from which he came and constantly yearned for. There he found the women that could satisfy him, the women that understood him and that appreciated, not only the man that he was, but the man he was meant to be.

Toto’s thoughts were interrupted, as he found himself having to concentrate on his stride, gaining too quickly on the girl, running the risk of over taking her, or worse, knocking her down. Easy enough for a man of his bulk, if he didn’t take care.

He knew the girls were essentially advertising, when they were out and about, the rare occasions any one of them was allowed into the wider world. Even then, only for the privileged few, the trusted. It was not his role to be her chaperone, or to appear as her partner. Toto was not there to protect, to guard, though he had been required to in the past. Toto watched, closely.

A faint breeze picked up the girl’s platinum hair, gently shifting it against the sway of her stride. To Toto, she looked every bit as she was probably hoping to; a sophisticated young woman in her prime, flush with success, subtly attractive, without being audacious, over the top. He was not so completely naïve as to be unaware what others might see, the casual observer, those that might make a closer inspection. A working girl, working at what and how, maybe not quite so easy to discern.

She was certainly of a type. Heroin chic maybe, makeup applied in a way that was too much yet somehow spare, heavy around the eyes, highlighted cheekbones. Her outfit was snug but did not squeeze, accentuating her pert bosom, slim waist, her hips and buttocks. The hem was above the knee, just. A split that hinted at more, revealing the remaining length of toned leg with each stride.

Toto didn’t think she looked cheap. He told himself the idea had never crossed his mind. And so far, he had seen the seriousness of the money she had spent today. Not her money. Not his. The sum was not inconsiderable, the establishment both she and he represented aware that if it was class the girls needed to exude, then it could only come at a price. Her clothes were fashionable, even if last season. The dress might have been designer, but the jewellery was faux, as were the rest of her accessories.

These added adornments were meant for the stage, they were for a look that was best achieved under the bright glare of lighting, better viewed from a distance. At a glance it was fine, closer inspection revealing the pearls as good imitation beads, the rings glass or maybe crystal.

In the establishment, the club, within its sumptuous and plush interior, this girl would be wearing the real thing, as would her colleagues. As much as she was trusted, neither her nor any of the girls even dared to think they would be able to adorn their beautiful young flesh with such bling, beyond the secure walls of where they worked and lived. Once removed from their wrists and ears and fingers, around their necks, all items were ticked off and locked away in a safe, far from their reach. No one tried to sneak a brooch here or a necklace there. The risk was too high.

Toto knew many out in these streets recognised his ward for what she was. Knew too she was as equally aware of the recognition. He had seen the way her shoulders had gone back in the park, when the mothers had looked up from their recyclable cardboard coffee cups, sneering. He saw too, when her eyes drilled into shop assistants, positively looking down their noses.

This girl attracted attention. Toto mused on the idea this girl naturally caught the eye, without effort or intent. Not his type, but a beauty he couldn’t deny, her allure. The eyes falling on her would have done so even if she was strolling these streets in a daggy tracksuit, sneakers, hair not done, no makeup applied. She was a mobile billboard of sorts, one that told of promise, an advert that said she was available.

At a price.

Hers was not the package one may have been thinking of when they saw her, but the message was clear enough and if she was self-conscious of it, she did not let it show.

Here and there she might attract comment, in passing, or a more direct approach. She was, on occasion, recognised. Here, on the High streets of London, she was less likely to encounter those that might frequent the club where she worked, but her role was not exclusive to that establishment. There were videos, DVDs, even websites. In her world, her market, niche as it was, she was a star, Far from being a celebrity, there were plenty of people that felt they knew her, more than simply knowing of her.

It was Toto’s primary role to ensure the girl did not bolt, did not attempt to use her brief excursion into the wider community as a chance to run, to abscond with the money with which she had been entrusted. A break for freedom.

She would not run though, he trusted her that far. Not enough to give her the funds, the cards and the cash. Those he held on to.

If the girl was approached in the street, in the stores, then Toto made his presence known, stepping forward to draw alongside her, making it clear she was not alone, towering over both her and anyone that sidled up to her. The big man was intimidating. He knew it and he used it to good effect.

Toto genuinely liked this girl. Apple as she was known to him. He felt a sudden pang of guilt, realising he did not know her real name, or at least, the name that she would have had you believe was her real one. Toto watched as she sashayed down the street in front of him, her mannerisms screaming confidence, self-assuredness. He thought it would be right to think of Apple as one of the more settled of the girls. For a start, she had been around a year or two now, so was by no means a newbie. She had worked one or two clubs before, she was part the scene. She had been quick to identify and adopt a specialty and she was extremely popular with the punters.

Apple was therefore a valuable asset. It was a source of pride for Kosey Mensah, Toto, to be assigned to her while she conducted the task of the monthly shop, on behalf of the girls at the club. It meant a big day, possibly a second one, if finding all the items proved to be difficult. Of course, there was all the sundry bits and pieces a group of women required on a day to day basis; the toiletries and the haircare products and the sanitary stuff toto preferred to consider. Apart from the more specialist things, either relating to a girl’s specific act or simply to their personal taste, a great deal of time was spent on fashion. A girl, after all, had to look her best.

Toto would start the expedition with the best of intentions, but his boredom was quick to set in. He found it difficult to remain focused as the day wore on. At least with Apple, only the second time he had shared the duty with her, he knew he would not be expected to act as pack horse, a task he greatly disliked, despite being more than capable of doing. The girl would carry as much as she was capable of, the rest would be delivered, or there were regular trips back to the car.

Nor, and more importantly for the big man, would he be expected to offer his opinions or advice, something he felt uncomfortable being asked to do, didn’t feel he was adequately prepared for. Neither did Apple. The big Nigerian was thankful for that.

With Apple there would be no queries of his opinion on shade, colour, contour size or fit. She knew her role well, and knew his. They may well lunch together, perhaps at some stage share a coffee, but there would be little contact between the two otherwise. And for his part, Toto trusted Apple. She was not one of the girls he knew terribly well, but he knew her to be trustworthy. She would not run, she would not draw undue attention to herself. She would go about her task efficiently, without fuss or preamble and when the two were in direct contact with each other, Apple was polite and pleasant, sharing an openness and honesty that Toto felt was refreshing, without being demanding.

There never seemed to be any trouble around Apple. Though Toto was professional enough to never relax, never let his guard down, neither would he feel on edge when working with her.

This girl could be hard work, in the clubs where she performed. She was extremely popular with the clients, her routines mixed and varied, always a hit and her company was eagerly sought when her act ended. Everyone seemed to want a piece of her, to have an exclusive moment.

These days, when Apple did step from the stage, was when Toto worked, when he and the other security staff were called into action. It wasn’t that there was ever any problem or threat, that there was ever any real need for concern. It was just, when the music stopped and the house lights came back up, this girls work was done.

She was something extra, something different. Even the other dancers rallied around her. The interest in her might have been high, higher than shown to the other girls, but she was also respected. Maybe a respect the other girls were just as worthy of, but didn’t seem to garner. Not when Apple was around.

More than that. Apple was revered, loved even, receiving a huge amount of adoration. There was an aura about her that people seemed to respond positively to, were drawn into. A spell that was cast, like a grip the girl took of you, not releasing until she saw fit.

Not his type.

But by God, she could dance.

 

Three

“Did you find my heels?” Lilly looked up from where she was reclining, book tilted towards her face, there more for show rather than any interest she may have actually had reading it. “Oh please tell me you found them?”

Apple smiled at the display of eagerness from the young Canadian. As eager as the buxom twenty-four-year-old got, never raising herself from the tangle of sheets and duvets she had managed to stay curled in since early that morning.

Apple turned and thanked the hulking form of Toto, the proud Nigerian, her escort over the course of the day. She watched as he lowered the myriad of bags and packages to the floor in the centre of the large room. He would be back soon with another arm load, and possibly again after that. She had not asked for his help, but he was not the type to let a woman struggle up the two flights of tight and narrow stairs from the street below on her own, loaded with all the goodies that the days shopping had provided.

Apple was tired but satisfied. As the car had entered the small alley giving access to the rear of the club in Soho, she purposefully set about resigning herself to the fact it might be some time before she was to see the light of day again. Of course much, if not all, of Apple’s work was conducted late in the evening, stretching into the small hours of the morning. Sleep was gained during the day. And though a trip to the beach had been promised, to all the girls, provided they hit their key performance indicators, the excursion was most likely at least a month away. If it eventuated at all. For now, if any of the girls wished to maintain any colour in their skins, it was off to one of the two tanning beds set up in the basement, or up to the roof where the smokers congregated.

For Apple it wasn’t so much the sunshine, the daylight she missed. It was fresh air; a rare enough commodity when she was based in a big city like London.

Apple’s complexion was fair and she loved the way she looked when the sun had touched her, long enough to colour her skin. She knew that she looked just as pretty pale and that stage lighting could be set to highlight either skin tone.

Apple had never been able to handle the acrid scent of years of accumulated stale cigarette and cigar smoke, a smell permeating to the third floor where the girls were housed. That stench, despite smoking not being permitted in the rooms below, the entire club, restricted to certain areas.

This attack on the civil liberties of smokers was not something being forced upon the girls by law. Certainly, the tide of public opinion was strongly in favour of banning smoking in public places and while the debate was raging in many quarters, it was by no means a foregone conclusion. The desire by the management and proprietors of the building in London’s’ West End, to subject the smokers amongst their patrons and staff to strict control and regulation, was a direct reflection of the cost of renovation.

The ‘Joint’ as it was known, referencing visions of smoky old bars and clubs made famous by the James Cagneys and Humphrey Bogarts of this world, had been maintained in its original state, since the day it was built; all walnuts and oak, with genuine crystal chandeliers and gold leaf trim. The current owners and operators of the premises had maintained, even enhanced the old-world look, when they had set up business in the Brewer Street building. The furnishings were plush velvet, deep tartan carpets.

Plush was the word often used to describe the ‘Joint’. Even the upstairs rooms, where the other half of the business was conducted, were beautifully presented and maintained, where cigarette smoke was deemed to be not only unsightly, but harmful to the decor. The effect was one of an old-time gentleman’s club and exactly the look being sought.  Extremely comfortable, extremely high class.

From the street, the terraced building was clad in brick, like all that surrounded it. Thoroughly nondescript. The frontage was a retail store, dealing in natural wellness, its trade supplemented in order to survive. The shop acted as a perfectly innocent looking business, no standout among similar types of operations, up and down similar Soho streets and Lanes. The only thing that alluded to the activities and services provided within the interior of the building, was a small brass plaque set into the brickwork, just to the right of an equally nondescript door, painted a rather drab and weathered, royal blue. Beside that plaque, a small, circular, unostentatious brass bell. Ring it and a large man, or at least a pleasant enough, though menacing man, would answer. Produce your ticket or membership card, and in you went. No door sales, no cash transactions.

On the top floor, and some of the attic above, the girls were housed. Up here, the girls were joined, but kept separate from, some permanent or semi-permanent residents. Waitresses and bar staff, accepting lower wages in return for accommodation and meals. The staff that worked the stage, the girls that worked the second-floor rooms, all of them resided on premise. And, temporarily, the touring girls, of which Apple was one.

This latter group were the specialty acts. There were several troupes, all with their own flavour and theme, various dedicated acts within that theme, touring the United Kingdom and Europe, on a seasonal basis. Off season, these troupes could be found in the Middle East or Asia, perhaps the Caribbean, catering to the discerning tastes of men and women in such parts of the world.

Internet sites dedicated to each girl, or the acts as a whole, foretold of their imminent arrival. Similarly, DVD and video releases, or the appearances of solo performers from these groups, top billings at exhibitions taking place in some of the bigger venues, in some of the larger cities, throughout Europe.

The skills, talent, artistic ability and point of difference among these performing ladies, was at times quite breath taking. Apple was amazed, not only by what each and every individual brought to the group, but also the way they would develop and change their acts, in order to keep things fresh and new, to keep the clients coming back for more and to get them gagging, sometimes literally, to see what was next.

New girls, who would suddenly appear, immediately challenged the existing ladies with a new range of skills and abilities, raw and unfocused as yet though they were. New heights were aspired to new, boundaries pushed out and away.

Old hands too, some kept on despite the fact that much of their performing days were over, old bodies. Forced to develop, or blessed with a knack of running a smooth ship. These were the ladies who were natural leaders. Sympathetic people who matched their level of understanding with an ability to take charge, to give direction and to provide motivation. They were readers of a crowd or an individual, experienced enough in what they did, and knowledgeable enough in what the other girls were attempting to do, able to provide guidance both on stage and off. Not old women by any means. The harsh reality was that, depending on the type of act the girl tended to specialise in, she was nonetheless likely to find her popularity, and therefore her career, well and truly on the wane by the time of her thirtieth birthday.

And so it was for Apple, all too aware that her physicality was exactly the thing that was going to put a halt to her career. The very thing that offered her the career. Apple never intended for things to last until the moment eventuated, when she was gently asked not to prepare for that night’s performance. Whatever outcome this line of work might well bring, Apple was sure until then, her popularity was unlikely to fade.

Apple held the enviable position of not really having to make massive alterations to her act, her show. She knew she was popular, her reputation attracting new customers through the door each and every time she performed. She was still young enough for her flame to burn bright.

The changes she did make to her act were subtle. She too had learnt to satisfy an audience by the way she read them, or from the feedback she received, info from the girls that had adorned the stage prior to her. Each night brought a different crowd, though there were many regulars and as far as Apple was concerned, the sea of faces she looked out on were much of a type; white, upper-middle class, wealthy, bored.

Each city brought a different perspective and with it a different set of wants and expectations. The girls and their acts changed and adapted to suit, but Apple remained constant. In her troupe, she was the draw card, she was the main act. Apple held centre stage.

Apple didn’t have the heels. Lilly had been desperately keen for the pair of high fashion footwear last season and they simply weren’t to be found on the shelves anywhere this year.

“I’ve been everywhere Lilly, Broadways to boutiques,” Apple grinned as the girls finally gave in to temptation, beginning to tear into the bags and packages. She had been careful not only to have the items wrapped, labelled and bagged according the group that the recipient belonged to, be they dancers, staff or whores, but she had also been careful to ensure that Toto timed his delivery from car to rooms spaced well apart, so as to avoid a crush, any confusion. The tour girls knew all too well the tactics that Apple employed, some choosing to actively ignore the almost comical scene playing out in front of them. Others smiled knowingly in their own heightened sense of anticipation, more still waiting for an opportunity to quiz Apple about her day; the sights and the sounds, the smells, her impressions of the world beyond the bricked walls,the stage lights.

“I’m sorry though sweetheart, but there wasn’t even anything close to what you were looking for, and I wasn’t presumptuous enough to opt for an alternative.”

Apple simply loved to speak in this manner before, during and after her shopping expeditions, giving herself what she hoped was an old East London, south of the river Cockney twang that spoke of harlots from the ‘old profession’. She was awful at it but the but the others indulged her.

The shopping and re-supply task was rare and when conducted on this scale, rarer still. Nearly a year ago, a mini revolt had taken place within an establishment, very similar to this one, located in the south of France. Under the same management, same ownership. The girls there had derided the arbitrary fashion choices made for them. The unrest had spread, rapidly, throughout all the establishments under the jurisdiction of the owners, thanks in no small part to travelling troupes like Apples, who had witnessed what could be achieved, when enough of the girls stood strong together, worked cohesively. Operators had been reluctant to acquiesce at first, but the improved image of the girls was immediately reflected in the takings, and the equally as improved attitude from the performers had a positive effect on the running of the operation in general.

Since the unrest, the girls were relatively well catered for. Food of a better standard and more of it. Bulimia aside, they were all much healthier.

The girls had quality products for use on their hair, their makeup and skin, their nails. Clothing was of the latest fashion and trends, well pressed and laundered, the girls taking care of this responsibility themselves, having been furnished with state of the art laundry facilities.

They were more or less held captive. Pay and wages were withheld, controlled, metered out in small amounts. Glorified pocket money, held back in times of disciplinary action. Alcohol was banned, the girls never allowed to touch a drop, not even when bought and paid for by a client. Access to alcohol lead to intoxication, a generalised lowering of standards, of appearance. Certain drugs and cigarettes were readily available, the rooftop the designated smoking area. A place of solace and escape even for the none smokers. Drugs and nicotine kept you thinner.

Little expense was spared on appearance. The Joint marketed itself as a classy establishment, a cut above. Consequently, the girls had to be too and looking around the room now, Apple had to agree they were.

Apple often felt a sense of awe and wonder when she was with the girls of the troupe. She hadn’t been part of the last tour to Asia and doubted she would ever be forced to go again. She hadn’t enjoyed it, as some of the others girls did, a highlight of their year. There were more freedoms allowed the girls when they were away,  more opulence on display and the clients tended to be far more generous if not a bit more demanding, a reflection of their extreme wealth and patriarchal societies.

Apple had simply not proven suited to their tastes, though later in the tour, in the Middle East, she was found to be much more agreeable.

Apple wasn’t leggy or buxom, not curvy and rounded. She didn’t even have big hair. Hers was a dancer’s body, slim, lithe and athletic. What Apple could do with that body was impressive, exciting. The key to her act.

“Chocolate, where’s the chocolate?” This was a common request and was echoed in unison on this occasion. Most, if not all, the bags had by now been opened, the items contained distributed. Toto was still to return with the last of the purchases, those that Apple had carefully put to one side, requested the big man did not bring up till last, the stuff that was for her travelling troupe. The stuff that was for Apple’s girls.

“Sorry ladies, didn’t have enough left. Wax was a bit tight on the budget this month.” Apple moved from her spot near the centre of the room, aware suddenly of the unhappy faces turned to her. She made for her corner, a space as private as was possible, made that way with the use of hanging sheets. Other girls in the dormitory type space had done similar things to maintain a little of their own space. Only Apple had a window.

“That Wax, christ she is a bitch.”

Cat, a permanent fixture at The Joint, one who was destined to be a lifer in the place, if she didn’t ever make the choice to leave. She was young, looked younger than she in fact was and made that part of her ‘thing’. She did the white trash slut thing, making it appear to every man that looked her way he could have her, if only he would just ask.  Cat had every man thinking she was about as wild as you could ever hope to get in the sack.

For Cat, it was more about her rapport with customers. She was born and bred for sales. In this place, that meant bargirl. Quick witted and intelligent, sharp with a barb when it was required, tough and thick skinned and brilliant at putting names to faces. When Cat was no longer suited to the stage, she would be behind the bar. She already picked up extra shifts waiting the tables.

Cat’s problem was her mouth. It tended to run away on her and had more than once gotten her in trouble. Toto or one of the other heavies would put her back in line. Cat had worn black eyes and bloodied noses before, a sure sign she had really pissed somebody off. Marking the face was a bit of a no-no. It put the girls out of work until they had healed.

There were economics to be considered in the brutality that was dished out, should a girl get seriously out of line. A dancer could not afford to have her ribs cracked, or a limb broken. Unless, of course, the thought was to put the girl out of action permanently.

Apple had suffered the nasty side of her employer’s retribution, early in her time with the troupe. She had refused to take part in a particular act, the role she had been currently playing. Punishment had been simple. No lubricant had been applied. Apple had still been able to dance, though admittedly, not her full repertoire. Because she could still get on the stage and perform, she had been able to earn and had maintained an income for her employers. Apple had been sore for weeks, very sore. Unable to sit, tentative around hot water and bath salts, careful with her choice of soaps and shower gels etc. Apple had learnt her lesson.

Cat seemed unwilling to learn hers, constantly battling the authority that was wielded over her and the rest of the girls. She got herself involved in the issues and troubles of others, claiming she was merely standing up for them, but there was more to it than that. As Apple eyed the young Irish woman now, she wondered if perhaps Cat had simply settled on a method of finding her way out.

Nearly every girl had one. A theory, a plan, an idea. A way out of ‘the life’. There were those resigned to their lives, who would stay with the industry in one way or another, because they sought nothing more. Others would remain in the industry because they lacked the courage, confidence, ability or motivation to try anything else. Others, stayed from shame.

There were of course, those who enjoyed it. Apple thought that perhaps Cat intended to push the overseers, the enforcers, so hard that eventually they disfigured her, crippled her or damaged her mentally, forcing them to let her go. Or maybe, Cat wanted them to kill her. Cat would not be the first girl to disappear.

The ‘Wax’ Cat had referred to was the overseer of the ‘Joint’. Her nick name derived from the extensive plastic surgery she had subjected herself to, perhaps in a desperate bid to have her looks stack up against those of the young girls she was surrounded by. Youth had long left Wax. She was estimated to be in her late fifties, but could just have easily have been well into her sixties, even seventies. Her life had been a hard one with evidence of that was written all over her.

The way Wax chose to live was hard. She smoked and drank heavily, always a glass of brandy within reach and a Rothmans hanging from her lip. But more than the hardness inflicted upon Wax in her life, more than the hard nature with which she faced up to her days, Wax was hard on the girls.

“You just be careful what you say and where you be sayin it Cat baby.” The lanky black girl who had just spoken, offering her sage words of advice to Cat in her languid Caribbean drawl, was the voice of reason. So much so, Reason was the moniker by which she had become known. At thirty, she was the oldest in the room and an absolute veteran of the adult entertainment industry, She had a well-deserved legendary status among her fellow performers and audiences alike. Her act was all flames and fire, Reason literally giving off the heat that burned within her.

An Uncle and cousin had lured the impressionable sixteen-year-old Reason to London just over fourteen years ago. Promises of steady work, a roof over her head, education and ongoing opportunities in whatever field she chose to pursue. The two men had been heavily indebted, to a variety of criminal networks, thanks to gambling and sour drug deals. Reason had been part payment.

She had been immediately shipped to the Persian Gulf, where her lanky frame, smooth dark skin and laid-back island attitude had been seen as attractive qualities, in a market place that thirsted for the exotic. Within weeks Reason had escaped numerous times, inflicted serious physical harm on some of those who had tried to engage with her and caused a great deal of damage to the property and possessions of a number of high profile clients. Consequently, there had been no takers. Her handlers had not been able to sell her.

Reason had been beaten, severely, before being shipped back to England. There she was held captive for months, forced to clean for the occupants of the building in Folkstone where she was billeted, living with transients and other unfortunates who found themselves caught up in a world of crime, the scale of which they had little concept.

Reason was raped. Repeatedly, brutally, by many different and varying men. She was tortured physically and sexually, psychologically, nearly all of it at the behest of paying customers. The sick underworld of the sex industry brought home to her in the course of a few short, terrifying weeks. The fight was sadistically fucked out of Reason. Not her strength, her inner light and power. That was still evident.

Long before her seventeenth birthday Reason, like Apple, had learnt her lesson. A harsh lesson, teachings from which she still carried the scars, the haunt of the nightmares. A course of life education Reason felt she had suffered so that others in her position, or similar, would not have to suffer also. She was wary of physical violence and human contact now, was ruined for prostitution consequently, but she had a presence and bearing on stage that was captivating, exciting.

“Well I say fuck that battle-axe bitch Wax and I say fuck you too Reason.” Cat spoke vehemently, but she never raised her head, buried now in one of the many magazines Apple had managed to beg from a street stall vendor.

The mags were tatty, out of date, in places mouldy, pages sticking together with damp, but they were the closest images of the latest fashion, trends and styles, that the girls were going to lay their eyes on and they lapped up the pictures and photos with relish. Apple relaxed too, with her own magazine, removing her heels and rubbing at the soles of her tortured fee.

Cat wasn’t serious. She was just venting, baiting, seeing if any of the girls would bite. If then she would put more effort into the topic of their overseer, their Madame. But there were no takers. Cat lapsed into silence.

The Irish girl wasn’t in one of the troupes. Of the girls domiciled in this particular room, only Apple and Reason were of the travellers, though often Lilly went on the off-season trip. She loved the heat and the desert sun, she loved to get to the beach whenever possible and she had the ample bosom, big blonde hair, blue eyes and accent attractive to the men in that part of the world.

Apple really enjoyed the times she shared a room with Cat. They had clicked almost instantly. Apple envied Cat her bravery, to say out loud the exact things that were running through her mind. Cat was dangerous to be around and that made her fun, like an illicit cream bun. Lively, often angry and obviously bitter, she could be funny too, more than likely the life of any party.

For her part, Cat liked Apple for her steadiness. She loved the fact Apple, the quiet and unassuming Australian dancer, could always be relied on to come up with the right answer, the sensible solution, the resolution that suited everyone. Cat counted Apple as a friend, or as close to being a friend as a girl like Apple allowed you to be.

When Cat trained, she would ask Apple to join her. The two ate together, normally in the company of Reason and Lilly, this quartet having no pretensions about healthy eating, hovering food into their mouths as if it was the last supper. This foursome were aware they were going to need the energy, that the exertions of their performances easily counteracted their calorie intake. These four were a pretty tight bunch, particularly Reason and Apple, who had worked together for three years. Lilly was rapidly cementing herself as part of what was becoming a trio and Cat was always roped in when the troupe was in town.

There were other girls that filtered in and out. How much contact each individual girl could have with another, depended greatly on accommodation arrangements, schedules, and of course, compatibility. In the interests of harmony, girls that knew each other well and got on in each other’s company, were normally housed together. This maintained an equilibrium amongst the performer, saw them happier and from an overseer’s perspective, far more compliant. In a room like the one Apple found herself for the next few nights, she felt as if it was an arrangement not going to cause her any concern. That is of course, as long as Cat didn’t stir anyone up.

None of the eleven or so girls, who were to call this room home for the foreseeable future, were new to the business. In one way, shape, form or another, all had been part of the scene for some time, several months at a minimum. Even Lilly, who at twenty four was relatively late getting involved, had been doing what she did for nearly nine months and was as much an old hand as the real stayers, like Apple and Reason.

Each and every girl accepted a role within the dynamics of the group, particularly when confined to quarters. In the heart of a big city, it was difficult for the overseers to allow the girls out en-masse and still be able to maintain control. Some of the girls were bolters, took an opportunity that they felt was presenting itself, and ran. Invariably this proved unsuccessful. It was unlikely an escapee utilising the option to run was ever seen again Sadly, it wasn’t because she had made it to safety.

If the remaining girls never heard word of the one that got away, they gave thanks, allowing themselves the belief that she was safe, well, maybe even back in the folds of her loving family. They all knew deep in their hearts what a fallacy this was. Very few came from a family anywhere even close to loving. But it felt good to hope, a nice way to cherish the memory of the runaway girl.

Often the grapevine would feed the sad truth back. Perhaps, if the runaway had been lucky. she died of an overdose, cold and lonely under a bridge somewhere. Better still, she ended up in custody. Typically, this escapee was found on the streets, back working in some sort of capacity, in the same industry or related, which had seen her running scared in the first place. Once found, she would be snatched, punished, probably shipped overseas to some low rent, degrading duty, in some shit hole spot near enough to the third world. If she wasn’t killed.

Apple was happy tonight. She did not allow these sorts of thoughts intrude. Reason was here with her and for Apple, that made all the difference.

Reason was camp Mother. She was the one person that others turned to. Not just because she was the oldest and most mature of them, but because she was always so cool, calm and collected. Apple had seen the athletic Haitian fire up, on more than one occasion. She had seen the nostrils flare, the muscles flex, had been witness to the lightening quick movements and reflexes. Reason was a force to be reckoned with. Apple knew the woman was always in control, always knew her boundaries and her limits and Apple had learnt a great deal from the larger and older woman.

Three and half years ago Apple had started in a club in Amsterdam. She had done her time, working the smaller, budget outfits in cities like Bon and Berlin, venues in Italy and Croatia. She had just completed the summer season, in Majorca.

It was in Spain Apple had caught the eye of Wax, an overseer employed by a Moroccan syndicate with extensive Russian backing. Wax hadn’t had to play Apple, as she had with so many of the others she coerced into the business. The young Australian she saw on the stage was already working, already dancing, but it was the talent that she possessed that interested Wax, more than the potential of the girl herself.

You see Wax knew a good girl when she saw one. She didn’t care about the upbringing, the troubles and traumas leading a girl to the downfall that finally saw her removing her clothes on stage, for the pleasure of men, for money. Wax saw Apple as a skilled and obviously trained, dancer. Apart from the slim, attractive figure, youth, the pretty face, Wax noted a cool remoteness. The fifty something ex-burlesque star, now Madame, saw in Apple a girl able to cope. She would cope because at an early age, Apple had learnt to shut herself off. She was simply not there.

Where she was, what she was thinking and feeling, as she moved lithely across the stage, a sensuous display of grace and poise, was of absolutely no concern to Wax. The point was, the girl was capable of being entirely lost, removed and isolated from that moment in time. It was a defensive mechanism that was not only quite rare when displayed so adeptly, but one meaning a girl could have a long and illustrious career in the industry. It also meant she wasn’t likely to be much trouble.

Wax approached Apple immediately after the show. It proved to be one of the easiest recruitments she ever made. The dancer already knew the reputation of the clubs Wax spoke of, informed her she represented, like name dropping the faintest of associations with a celebrity. The older lady could nearly see the dollar signs flashing across the young girl’s eyes. Accessing their incomes may not have been easy, girls were in fact remunerated reasonably, at times very well, especially if you were popular. Tips, gifts, the add-ons like accommodation and meals, drugs. It all added up, even when an actual wage often didn’t. Of course, Wax picked the lies that the girl fed her; her name, her age, her place of birth, all standard stuff.

‘You are a peach aren’t you?’ Wax had smiled into the girls face as she draped a leathery arm over her shoulder.

‘I prefer apples actually.’ An innocent response.

Two weeks later and Apple had not only her name, but a new wardrobe, new roommates, a new address, a new job.

Apple was in Amsterdam, long time home to Wax, to the club at which she was due to give her opening act. Apple remained quiet, almost sullen, focusing on the upcoming performance. Others girls thought her rude, scoffed at her warm up routine, laughed out loud, in her face, when they heard of the routine she was going to give. Cinderella, the ballet. Apple ignored them all, never even lifting her head, never making eye contact or challenging them. Instead bending into her stretches and flexe,s as if she was the only person in the room.

But there was one girl who did not laugh. Didn’t offer an opinion at all. This tall, lean, dark woman, simply sat back and made a study of the new girl, who couldn’t have been more her physical opposite if she tried.

Where this woman was all ebony, afro hair on a grand scale, tall, muscular and strong to look at, the new girl was short, not more than five feet two inches, blonde and fair. She was small. Her physique was very well defined, every muscle and contour standing out proud. She was obviously fit, was extremely co-ordinated and balanced and was so supple, to have labelled her a contortionist would not have been far off the mark.

Reason was fascinated.

The spirits had sent them a dancer.

 

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