LIKE A MOTH TO THE FLAME - BRAD MENGEL
You never forget your first love and, as mine nearly ripped out my heart, I have an extra special reason to remember her. I was only sixteen but, thanks to an early puberty, looked a lot older when I met her. I had skipped school that Friday and was wandering around the city. I had no plan and was only killing time until I could return home.
I had noticed the doorway earlier in the day and wondered what Bettie’s Place sold. I walked down the stairs to the basement club. The plain drab stairs gave no hint of the wonders that awaited me. The bouncer glanced at me and merely growled, "Keep your hands to yourself", as I walked through the entrance.
The club was seedy and dimly lit. If I looked hard, I could make out the pictures of showgirls hanging on the wall as I walked to the bar and grabbed a rum and cola. The barman looked me over but handed over the drink.
I sat down at an empty table and watched a busty blonde gyrate around a brass pole in her bra and panties. I sipped at my drink as she removed the bra and ran the pole between her breasts. I felt the rum burn down the back of my throat as I looked at my first live pair of naked breasts. Men waved cash and, as she went past, stuffed the notes in her panties. One patron decided that his twenty dollar note bought him a quick feel but bought himself a swift knee to the nuts and quick exit from the club.
The blonde left the stage and the next act came out. The announcer called it Roxie’s First Kiss. The two brunettes in school uniforms stripped, pretending to be a young girl stripping in the mirror, ending as the pair locked lips clad only in panties. Men again waved money and shoved them in the side of their panties.
Suddenly, the room went silent and a tension covered the room. I could feel the anticipation in the room as everyone focused on the curtain and it was at that moment that I fell in love. A flame-haired goddess walked onto the stage. She was announced as Miss Fifi La Flame, direct from the Moulin Rouge in Paris. She walked onto the stage and looked right into my eyes and smiled.
The smile sealed the deal. Fifi was like no other girl or woman I had ever met. She oozed glamour and sophistication. Her seven-inch crystal stiletto heels walked towards the table set up on stage for her. Her pantyhose had seams up the back, something the cheap pairs my mother and teachers wore didn’t have. The green sleeveless dress swayed as she moved down the runway and sat at the table. She poured a glass of champagne and began to sing a song in what I figured was French. I had no idea what she sang but it made me weak at the knees.
The black gloves that covered most of her arms were the first to be removed; I was fascinated as she slowly exposed her arms and then took a sip of champagne. She then removed the diamond necklace and dropped it in the ice bucket. The man next to me roared with laughter. I didn’t understand until I remembered that diamonds have been called ice.
I missed how the dress came off whilst my attention was diverted to the next table. Under the dress, Fifi wore an emerald green corset studded with emeralds that flashed as the stage lights hit them. Her panties were the same shade of green. But what really fascinated me were the pantyhose. They only went to her thigh and were strapped to her waist; I’d never seen such things before.
You chuckle but we never had the internet back then and none of the girls in the cheap magazines the guys at school flashed around ever wore this type of gear. I know now that they were stockings and garters.
Then Fifi removed her shoes and stretched her legs. She undid the garters on her right leg and slowly peeled off the stocking and then the same for her left.
Fifi sat on the chair and took another sip of champagne. Her bright red lips smiling as she sipped, the lipstick staining the rim. I imagined those lips kissing mine.
Fifi stood and twirled the chair so the back panel now faced the audience and she straddled the chair and slowly lowered herself onto the seat. The chair had a cane back with small diamond-shaped gaps and, as she removed the emerald corset, we saw only glimpses of her breasts.
"Bon Jour," she called as the curtain lowered.
Whilst it felt like an eternity, her act had only taken five minutes. I took another sip of my rum and coke. The curtain rose and the announcer advised that Trixi Tassels was coming out. I pitied the girl for having to follow the act that I just saw. I didn’t care about Trixi or Roxie, I wanted to see Fifi again.
Fifi was different to any other woman I’d ever seen. She was sophisticated and worldly. She looked elegant. She was alluring and mysterious. I’d only seen her for five minutes and I would have marched into hell for her. Then reality set in. Like I could ever obtain her, my parents would drive us on dates and my money from my part time job could buy us dinner at McDonalds. I let out a bitter chuckle, finished my drink and prepared to leave.
As I was about to stand, a woman walked up to my table. I think she was one of the Roxies. "Miss Fifi would like to see you," she said. "Follow me."
I left the table and followed her through a doorway to the backstage area. We walked down a corridor and past several dressing rooms. Girls sat chatting in various stages of undress and helping each other into and out of outfits. Others sat facing the brightly lit mirrors and applying make up.
Roxie walked to the last door and knocked. I must be dreaming, I thought, as I subtly pinched myself. But this was really happening as I was escorted into Fifi’s dressing room.
Fifi was draped over a green velvet couch, wearing a white robe, sipping a glass of champagne. "I haven’t seen you before. What did you think of my show?"
"Awesome," I blurted, sounding like I was sixteen, rather than the man of the world I was pretending to be.
Fifi chuckled. "I like your enthusiasm. You’re different to the other men out there," she said in her French accent, causing me to go weak at the knees.
"C-can I sit down?" I stammered.
I sat in the matching green chair she indicated. I drowned in her green eyes as she told me how I stood out from the crowd with my total focus on her performance. I appreciated her show as real man should.
Then she kissed me.
It was so unexpected that I didn’t have time to react. "I was right about you," she said. "Most men would have tried to go further but you have class."
I frantically tried to think of something to say, something that would make me seem like the classy man she thought I was. But nothing came and I fought the urge to declare my undying love for her. Fifi took another sip of her champagne and asked me to join her for supper at 10pm and to meet her at a little French café she knew of. How could I refuse?
Fifi then asked me to leave as she had to get ready for her next performance. I kissed her hand as I walked out the room.
I watched her perform again and then left the club. I withdrew all my money from the bank, preparing for my big date.
The hours seemed to drag as I lied to my parents about my day and lied again about going to the movies with my best friend that night. It was hard to pretend that everything was normal. I certainly couldn’t tell my parents what had happened and my friends would never believe me.
Finally it was time to leave and I borrowed some of my Dad’s aftershave. It was Old Spice but better than nothing. Dad dropped me at the cinema and told me to have a good time. I think he suspected I was meeting a girl from school when he smelt the aftershave.
I quickly made my way to the café but I needn’t have hurried as Fifi arrived fashionably late and looking amazing in a black evening dress and an emerald necklace. I rose and pulled out her chair and she ordered for both of us in French.
After some concern that I was getting snails or frog’s legs, I was relieved to see that we had French roast coffee with crepes. I had little to say, but luckily, she thought I was the strong and silent type and did most of the talking. I was content to listen to her. She told me about her time in Europe where she performed before Kings and Princes.
I paid for our meals and she took me for a drive in her 1966 cherry red MGB convertible. We drove to the lookout where we kissed again. I never pushed to go further as I thought it made me seem sophisticated.
We repeated this pattern for several dates and, as she became more comfortable with me, she confided that her manager was beating her. I wanted to go and sort him out then and there but she wanted me to catch him in the act. I looked into her desperate eyes and agreed.
She was meeting him the next day at 4pm and, if I came to his office at 4.30, I’d catch him in the act.
At 4.20, I was ready to charge in, a knight errant ready to rescue his damsel in distress from the dragon. I waited until the time and burst in the door. There was Fifi, bound and gagged, and her manager standing over her with a belt ready to flog her. He had undone his shirt and rolled up his sleeves for greater freedom.
Rage filled me as he brought down the belt and I dived across the room and crash-tackled him. The belt lashed my back but I barely felt it. The pair of us tussled on the floor. We separated and scrambled to our feet.
"What are you doing?" he panted as I swung for his jaw.
My punch was wild and he punished me for my mistake. Practice beating on his clients had shown him the best way to hit and his fist pounded near my liver. Pain exploded through my side as I staggered, nearly knocking over the camera.
He was on me faster than I expected but I was able to block his next blow and punch him in the gut. I heard the wind gush out of him and I pressed home my advantage, knocking him to the ground and kicking him in the ribs. He flew across the room and his shirt snagged the camera tripod.
The camera fell lens-first on his skull and gave a sickening crack. I walked over and checked his pulse. There was none and grey matter leaked from his ear. What lunch was left in my stomach rose up my throat and covered his body as I retched.
I’d never seen a dead person before and the thought that I was responsible had me rattled. It took an eternity to untie Fifi as my hands shook so much. After I removed the red ball tied in her mouth, Fifi calmed me and talked me through untying the knots.
After she was free, I grabbed the phone to call the police but Fifi slapped the phone out of my hand and asked if I wanted to go to jail. She told me to go, she would clean the place up and we would meet in her dressing room at eight tonight. She hugged me and I left.
I ran from the building into the nearby shopping centre and threw up again. After cleaning myself up, I walked home. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was that I had Fifi. She knew exactly how to handle this situation. She was in control and even her voice was different as she guided me through this difficult circumstances. As I walked down my street, I saw a police car parked out the front. Something had gone wrong. Had Fifi been caught with the body? I knew she wouldn’t betray me but I must have left something at the scene.
I was a fugitive now and I had to know if Fifi had been caught. I made my way to Bettie’s Place. I walked in as Fifi started her act. Relief flooded my body. She was free. She would know what to do. I walked through to her dressing room. I was early but I had nowhere else to go. I sat and waited in the green chair where she first kissed me. I noticed a suitcase in the corner. My heart leapt. We were going to run away together and start a new life in a new city.
It was then that Fifi came into the room. I turned smiling towards her. I saw the look on her face and knew something was wrong.
"How did you get away?" she demanded.
It was at this point I realized what was different about her voice: there was no trace of a French accent.
"What happened to your accent?" I asked confused.
She laughed in my face. "My poor naïve simple boy," she said, "I’ll bet you even think that I’m a natural redhead."
I was stunned and horrified. She laughed at the confusion on my face. "You actually did believe everything."
"I thought you loved me," I said, barely choking back the tears. "I – I love you"
The tears flowed down my face. I saw the blur of her outline.
"You were a moth to a flame as I drew you in, stroking your ego, making you think you were sophisticated. I only used you to scare that sick bastard. He was keeping the money he owed me from our photo sessions. Killing him wasn’t part of the plan but I’m nothing if not adaptable. His safe was easy to crack and there was enough money to repay his debt and some interest."
She laughed again. "I lifted your wallet and left that nice piece of evidence for the police to find when I called for them. I was hoping you would make it here. The publicity of your capture would mean I’ll get a centerfold in Playpen Magazine and a better club than this dive. Of course, you’re a deranged fan and no one will ever believe your story if you survive."
It was then that I felt a sharp pain in my chest as if my heart was breaking but I nearly screamed as she twisted the blade.
I told you she nearly ripped out my heart.
BIO: Brad lives in Australia, with his wife, daughters and dog. Over the years he has worked as a barman, teacher and librarian. Currently, he written a study of the Serial Vigilante, the often violent action adventure series of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, such as the Executioner, and the Destroyer, which is to be published by McFarland Press. He was a contributor to Myths for the Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe.