As if that had been a signal, the house lights went down, the stage lights popped on, music began to play, and Claude came prancing out in spangled silver tights and boots, and nothing else.
"Good God, Sookie, he looks edible!" Holly said, and her words flew straight to Claude’s sharp fairy ears. (He’d had the points surgically removed so he wouldn’t have to expend energy looking human, but the procedure hadn’t affected his hearing.) Claude looked over at our table, and when he spotted me, he grinned. He twitched his butt so that his spangles flew out and caught the light, and the women crammed into the club began clapping, full of anticipation.
"Ladies," Claude said into the microphone, "Are you ready to enjoy Hooligans? Are you ready to watch some amazing men show you what they’re made of?" He let his hand stroke his admirable abs and raised one eyebrow, managing to look incredibly sexy and incredibly suggestive in two simple moves.
The music escalated, and the crowd shrieked. Even the heavily pregnant Tara joined in the chorus of enthusiasm as a line of men danced out on the stage behind Claude. One of them was wearing a policeman’s uniform (if cops ever decided to put glitter on their pants), one was wearing a leather outfit, one was dressed as an angel-yes, with wings! And the last one in the row was …
There was a sudden and total silence at our table. All of us sat with our eyes straight ahead, not daring to steal a look at Tara.
The last stripper was her husband, JB du Rone. He was dressed as a construction worker. He wore a hard hat, a safety vest, fake blue jeans, and a heavy tool belt. Instead of wrenches and screwdrivers, the belt loops held handy items like a cocktail shaker, a pair of furry handcuffs, and a few things I simply couldn’t identify.
It was painfully obvious that Tara had had no clue.
Of all the "oh shit" moments in my life, this was OSM Number One.
The whole party from Bon Temps sat frozen as Claude introduced the performers by their stripper names (JB was "Randy"). One of us had to break the silence. Suddenly, I saw a light at the end of the conversational tunnel.
"Oh, Tara," I said, as earnestly as anyone ever could speak. "This is so sweet."
The other women turned to me simultaneously, their faces desperate with hope that I might show them how to spackle over this awful moment. Though I could hear Tara thinking she would like to take JB to the deer processing plant and tell the butcher to make him into ground meat, I plunged in.
"You know he’s doing this for you and the babies," I said, injecting my voice with every drop of sincerity I could muster. I leaned closer and took her hand. I wanted to be sure she heard me over the booming music. "You know he meant the extra money as a big surprise for you."
"Well," she said through stiff lips, "I’m plenty surprised."
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Kennedy closing her eyes in gratitude for the cue. I could feel the relief pouring from Holly’s mind. Michele relaxed visibly. Now that the other women had a path to follow, they all fell into step. Kennedy told a very credible story about JB’s last visit to Merlotte’s, a visit in which he’d told her how worried he was about paying the medical bills.
"With twins coming, he was scared that might mean more time in the hospital," Kennedy said. She was making up most of this, but it sounded good. During her career as a beauty queen (and before her career as a convicted felon), Kennedy had mastered sincerity.
Tara finally seemed to relax just a smidgen, but I monitored her thoughts so we could stay on top of the situation. She didn’t want to draw any more attention to our table by demanding we all walk out, which had been her first impulse. When Holly hesitantly mentioned leaving if Tara was too uncomfortable to stay, Tara fixed us all in turn with a grim stare. "Hell, no," she said.
Thank God drink refills came then, and the baskets of food soon after. We all tried hard to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and we were doing pretty well by the time the music started pumping "Touch My Nightstick" to announce the arrival of the "policeman."
The performer was a full-blooded fairy; a little too thin for my taste, but he was real good-looking. You won’t find an ugly fairy. And he could actually dance, and he really enjoyed the exercise. Every inch of gradually revealed flesh was just as toned and tempting as it could be. "Dirk" had a fantastic sense of rhythm, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. He was basking in the lust, the excitement of being the focus of attention. Were all the fae as vain as Claude, as conscious of their own beauty?
"Dirk" gyrated his sexy way around the stage, and a shocking number of dollar bills were stuffed into the little man-thong that had gradually become his only garment. It was clear that Dirk was generously endowed by nature and that he was enjoying the attention. Every now and then someone bold would give him a little rub, but Dirk would pull back and shake his finger at the miscreant.
"Eww," Kennedy said the first time that happened, and I had to echo her sentiment. But Dirk was tolerant if not encouraging. He gave an especially generous donor a quick kiss, which made the hollering rise to a crescendo. I’m good at estimating tips, but I could not even begin to guess how much Dirk had made by the time he left the stage-especially since he’d been handing off handfuls of bills to Dermot at intervals. The routine came to an end perfectly in time with the music, and Dirk took his bow and ran off the stage.
In a very short time, the stripper pulled on his glittery policeman pants (though nothing else) and came out to wander through the crowd, smiling and nodding as women offered him drinks, phone numbers, and yet more cash. Dirk took only a sip of the drinks, accepted the phone numbers with a charming smile, and tucked the money in his waistband until he seemed to be wearing a green belt.
Though this kind of entertainment wasn’t something I’d want to experience on a regular basis, I honestly couldn’t see the harm. Women were getting to shout and scream and get rowdy in a controlled environment. They were obviously having a great time. Even if some of these women were enthralled enough to come every week (a lot of brains were telling me a lot of things), well, it was only one night. The ladies weren’t aware they were cheering for elves and fairies, true; but I was sure they were happier not knowing that (besides JB’s) the flesh and skill they were so admiring wasn’t human.
The other performers were more of the same. The angel, "Gabriel," was anything but angelic, and fluttering white feathers drifted through the air as he apparently divested himself of his wings (I was sure they were still there but invisible), and nearly every other stitch he’d worn, to "Your Heavenly Body." Like the policeman, he was in wonderful shape and apparently well endowed. He was also shaved smooth as a baby’s bottom, though it was hard to think of him in the same sentence as the word "baby." Women grabbed for the floating feathers and the creature who’d worn them.