Strip Pokerby Nancy Bartholomew
When Vincent Gambuzzo, the not-so-bright proprietor of the Tiffany Gentleman's Club in Panama City, Florida, loses his business playing poker, his headliner, exotic dancer Sierra Lavotini, faces a crisis. The new sign out front reads BIG MIKE'S HOUSE OF BOOTY, and Big Mike's new business strategy leaves a little to be desired in the class department and even less
When Vincent Gambuzzo, the not-so-bright proprietor of the Tiffany Gentleman's Club in Panama City, Florida, loses his business playing poker, his headliner, exotic dancer Sierra Lavotini, faces a crisis. The new sign out front reads BIG MIKE'S HOUSE OF BOOTY, and Big Mike's new business strategy leaves a little to be desired in the class department and even less to the imagination of the increasingly rambunctious clientele.
As the dancers' unofficial leader and mother hen, Sierra leads most of her coworkers in a walkout and schemes to restore Vincent to power. But he's in jail, charged with murdering a man in a shootout at the end of that same disastrous poker game. Can Sierra prove Vincent innocent, help her fellow out-of-work dancers, and manage to make next month's trailer payment without a job?
With the help of her neighbor Raydean, her on-again boyfriend, Panama City Homicide Detective John Nailor, and her "uncle," "Big Moose" Lavotini of the New Jersey syndicate, of course she can, and it adds up to another fantastic ride in this hilarious and sexy series.
Read an Excerpt
By Nancy Bartholomew
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Nancy Bartholomew
All rights reserved.
Somewhere around the stage area of your finer gentlemen's clubs like the Tiffany, there is a panic light. When there's a problem in the back of the house it glows red, kind of like Rudolph's nose. It's there, up above the runway, so the bouncers who are watching the front of the house can see it and respond. To my knowledge it had never been used. But on the Saturday before Christmas I saw Bruno, the steroid-impaired bouncer, stare at a spot just above my head. When his jaw dropped like a granite boulder, I knew we had trouble.
He wheeled around and left me at the mercy of a pack of salesmen in for a little pre-Christmas merriment. Lucky for me, the guys didn't see him leave. I was standing at the edge of the runway, wearing my new Santa pasties with the little jingle bells on the tips. I was swaying back and forth, left to right, my hands clasped behind my back, my 38 double D's keeping perfect time as Dolly Parton sang "I'll Be Home with Bells On."
I couldn't figure it at first. Bruno never leaves me. But sometimes my act even gets to the tough guys. They start thinking about their sweethearts or their mothers, or as with this particular production, home and Christmas. But Bruno is not prey to his emotions. He wouldn't turn away to shed a tear. No, he's all business. So when I saw him move off down the corridor toward the office, motioning to Eugene to follow, I knew something was wrong, and I also figured they were gonna need finesse, a woman's touch, in the form of Sierra Lavotini, headline dancer at the Tiffany Gentleman's Club and troubleshooter par excellence.
I looked over my shoulder at Rusty the stage manager, mouthing to him to hurry it up. His eyes widened, but he nodded. In exotic dancing, true exotic dancing, where you choreograph your routines, "hurry it up" is just not done. It would be like starting Romeo and Juliet and then saying, "Let's cut to the chase and get this suicide thing over with." Art is a risky business. You do not rush the creative muse.
Dolly's voice suddenly squeaked an octave higher as the deejay cranked the speed on the tape and I began to half tap-dance my way across the stage. The men loved it. They thought I was purposefully trying to jingle out a tune with my bells. When I hit the switch on my battery-powered G-string, a little sign began flashing over the red-sequined front. NAUGHTY OR NICE? it read.
I turned around and wiggled, stooped in front of the cluster of men, and let them stuff bills into my red and green jingle-bell garter.
"Have you boys been good?" I asked as they pushed and pawed their way toward the runway, all of them eager to ply me with money. It's big money, too, not the little bills the strippers get.
"Sierra," moaned Max, a regular, "when you gonna sit on ol' Santa's lap here and tell me what you want for Christmas?"
I muttered, "When hell freezes over," and smiled. He took that to mean soon, very soon.
Rusty hit the gas on the smoke machine a little too heavy. A huge cloud rolled out across the stage, enveloping us and choking the businessmen in front. When they were done hacking and coughing, I had vanished, rushing into my purple silk kimono and hurrying to see what the trouble was with Vincent Gambuzzo. After all, it wasn't like he had the brains and the manner to work his way out of a tricky situation. He was only the boss and owner of the Tiffany by default — the fault of his father, a used-car dealer who knew Vincent didn't have the brains to sell cars to rednecks on a sucker lot, so he figured to give him an easier job and bought him a nightclub.
I flew down the back corridor, avoiding the public and ignoring the girls who called to me from the dressing room, wanting me to stop in and catch up on the latest catfight. The trouble with being the head woman in a club is you get double the responsibility and nada for extra pay. It was my responsibility to keep the girls in line, but it was also my job to keep Vincent from so totally fucking us up that there was no job. So I ignored the current little brushfire and scurried on, headed for what could easily become a major two-alarmer, given Vincent's gift for trouble.
The back room at the Tiffany Gentleman's Club is cramped and crowded with all the junk nobody wants. It is a catchall room, one step away from the trash Dumpster and the alleged fire exit that everyone uses, regardless of the big signs over the door that read FIRE EXIT ONLY and ALARM WILL SOUND IF DOOR IS OPENED. But the alarm hasn't worked in years, and we all know it, so on the days when we come to pick up our paychecks or need to reach Vincent without walking through the house, we use the back door.
Vincent started a big-stakes poker game in the back room about three months ago, for the purposes of meeting his IRS payments in a semi-timely fashion. I think he saw something poetic in paying off the feds with illegal money. I saw it as just plain stupid and tried to tell him so, but you don't tell Vincent nothing.
When I tried to talk some sense into him, he just sat there in his black wraparound Ray-Bans, choking his three-hundred-pound frame into a too-tight black silk suit with a matching black silk shirt and tie, and giving me the evil jaw twitch. He does this when he's displeased, and Vincent's usually displeased around me.
"Sierra, you're acting like an old lady, worrying about nothin'. Ain't nothin' gonna happen. You know what I think?" he said, leaning back in his swivel chair and trying to lace his pudgy fingers behind his head. "I think it's that cop you've been dating. He's got you all paranoid." Vincent gave up trying to act cool and leaned forward, his elbows resting on the desk. "Next thing you know, you'll be driving the speed limit."
"Bite me, Gambuzzo," I said. "And don't come crying to me when you get popped and your fancy lawyer can't go your bail."
"Do the crime, do the time, Sierra."
Vincent didn't even know what he was saying. It just sounded good and he liked the way it rolled off his tongue. Vincent hadn't known a hard day in his life, thanks to his daddy.
I crept up to the back room, heard the sound of angry voices, and put my hand out to push open the door gently. Cigarette smoke billowed out, choking me, and I heard Vincent say, "Listen, wiseass, play the hand and let's get going. We're both losing, so I don't see why you're looking to bust my balls."
"You're full of shit, Gambuzzo. You're losing to make the house look good," a whiny, high-pitched voice answered.
I slipped inside the room and stepped up behind Bruno. Around a battered oak and metal table sat an assortment of gentlemen, and I use the word loosely. A few of them I recognized, but three I hadn't ever seen before. I knew Mike Riggs, a local charter-boat captain. He was leather-skinned, with bleached-by-the-sun blond shaggy hair that made him look like a sheepdog, complete with dark button eyes that now and then peeked out at the action. His Greek fishing cap sat pushed back on his head and his muscled forearms held his cards close to his barrel chest.
Next to him was Izzy Rodriguez, owner of the Busted Beaver, one of the scummier clubs along the strip down near the beach. Izzy was half Jewish, half Puerto Rican. He was a little man, balding with wiry black hair that he arranged in a careful comb-over, which instead of hiding his scalp only seemed to frame it, making it more obvious. This was completely overshadowed by a long, bulbous nose that seemed to take up most of his face, pushing his eyes into a beady squint. Izzy had a bad reputation with his girls, and the rumor was he was running dope out the back door and prostituted his dancers if they owed him money. I couldn't figure Gambuzzo for letting him into the game. Paying off the IRS was one thing, but using dirty money from somebody who hurt others; that just didn't sit right with me. It crossed the line.
I didn't recognize the man sitting next to Izzy. He looked to be in his mid to late fifties, average size, average build, a fringe of black and gray hair rimming a bald spot, and a cigar hanging, unlit, from his mouth. He wore a shiny red satin baseball jacket that had the word KOKOMO lettered across the back. Above the pocket on the left side it said JOE in loopy white script. I figured him for an amateur.
Sitting next to Joe, on the hard wooden armrest of his chair with one arm stretching across his shoulders, was a ball of fluff that looked somewhat like the Barbie doll I saw on sale last week at the local Target. Beach Bimbo Barbie, I think it was. Beach Bimbo was dressed in candy-fluff-pink spandex, with chunky white sandals, long pinkish blond hair, and pouty, puffed lips that looked to rival Mick Jagger's.
I was surprised Vincent let an observer sit so close to the table, but then I took a second glance. Beach Bimbo Barbie was draped at such an angle as to provide Vincent with a bird's-eye view of her silicone-implanted breasts and a little angel tattoo that danced right above her left breast. She knew what she was doing, and the little challenging glance she shot me let me know she knew I knew it and didn't care. Where Joe from Kokomo was a rank amateur, Beach Bimbo Barbie was a pro. I figured her for a bill a night at least. Poor Joe.
Sitting next to Joe and Barbie was a thin, good-looking man who had no idea how to dress. I thought he was maybe color-blind, with his brown leather jacket and his navy-blue pants. His polo shirt was chartreuse and his shoes were black and cheap, like bad knockoffs of high-top sneakers. I thought he must live alone, or with other men who didn't know women. He was staring at the guy across from him, the guy with the mouth who was fixing to get himself uninvited from the game. He looked anxious, as if he expected trouble.
The whiner picked this moment to jump to his feet, his hand moving to his waistband, pulling a small gray gun from behind his back. The Beach Bimbo shrieked and Bruno's gun seemed to emerge from nowhere, thick, black, and ugly.
The whiner was a thin, short man with a brassy blond buzz-cut and a weather-roughened face. A cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth. He was wearing black, bug-eyed dark glasses, and I figured if he tried to shoot Vincent, he'd miss on account of he couldn't possibly see. The hand that held the gun was thickly callused, and his fingers were yellowed with nicotine stains.
"You rigged the game," the whiner said.
The bad dresser tried to calm him. "Denny, hold up, man. Mr. Gambuzzo didn't rig nothin'. How could he? He lost his own freakin' club."
I couldn't help myself. "You lost the Tiffany?" I shrieked.
Bruno had frozen at the words, the hand holding his gun dropping to his side.
Vincent, still facing Denny, slipped his hand into his jacket pocket. He pushed his coat forward ever so slightly until it became obvious to everyone that he was holding a gun, too.
"Shut up, Sierra," he growled. "This don't concern you."
Bruno's eyes met mine for a brief, shocked instant.
"Vincent, what are you saying? What do you mean it doesn't concern me? Of course it —"
He interrupted me. "It's a setback, Sierra. I can fix it."
"Fix it? You're gonna fix it? How much're you into him for, Vincent?"
"Shut up!" Denny yelled. His voice was pitched to carry the length of a football field. "I don't do arguments. I'm telling you I want my money back, with interest. You rigged the game!"
No one spoke. No one even moved. There was something wrong with Denny. His arms and legs seemed to jerk involuntarily back and forth. It was weird, the way they moved. And from where I stood, six feet away, I could hear the breath rasping in and out of his chest in rapid, shallow pants. He was sweating but the room wasn't even warm. If anything, it was cold.
"Denny, calm down," his friend said.
Denny looked across the table, trying to focus maybe, and finding it difficult.
"I said shut up!" He raised the gun, pointing it at the center of Vincent Gambuzzo's chest. "Tell your fat bouncer to put the gun away or I pop your chest open and work my way up."
They stood facing each other, two men in bug-eyed dark glasses, guns in hand and not two rational brain cells between them.
"Guys," I started, but never finished. At that moment the back door exploded into a thousand splinters and an army invaded the room. In the chaos of the next few moments, the world we had all known was transformed.
Four huge men filled the shattered doorway, black snub-nosed semiautomatic guns in hand. They wore black combat gear, black helmets with dark-tinted face plates, heavy Kevlar vests, thick black boots, and gunbelts that hung heavily around their waists.
"Down! Down! Down!" they screamed, pushing their way into the room. "Get down!" But their words were lost. The room had erupted into movement. Bruno flew forward, kicking the table over with one huge shove. Beach Bimbo Barbie ran out the door past me, screaming. Denny and his friend moved to the left, the poker game quickly forgotten as survival became the first order of business. Vincent pulled his gun out of his jacket pocket and the next few seconds became a blur of movement.
Kokomo Joe, the amateur, moved toward me, a gun flashing out from a holster underneath his arm. As he reached me, his free hand shot out and punched me dead center in the chest.
"Get out!" he yelled. "Out!" I felt the air whoosh out of my lungs and I was aware of sailing back into the hallway as a small explosion and flash lit the room in front of me.
At that point, I heard gunfire. I couldn't breathe, the wind knocked from my lungs as I lay sprawled out on the cold tile floor of the hallway. I had to help, but I could barely move.
People were running behind me. I heard footsteps and voices and tried to pull myself up as they ran toward me. In the room in front of me, Bruno was working overtime. Using the table and a couple of stuffed sheep from my old Bo Peep routine for a shield, he popped up and down, firing in an attempt to hold the armed intruders at bay.
Vincent and the others contributed to the fray, but Bruno was the best shot. I couldn't make out what was going on inside the room. There was too much smoke and I sat angled to the door. It would've been suicidal to try to get any closer. Instead, I backed up, struggled to stand, and ran down the hallway toward the others.
Eugene, Bruno's doorman, stood in the dimly lit corridor, a black semiautomatic in hand, his mahogany face dark with anger and frustration.
"What the fuck's goin' on?" he asked me. "There's no fuckin' way to get to them."
"I think we're being held up," I answered. "They came in through the exit door."
That was all Eugene needed to hear. He whirled around and headed back toward the house. I knew he'd try the back doorway and I knew they'd kill him.
"Eugene, they got protection. There's four of them." Eugene didn't seem to hear me. He never stopped moving. Rusty ran past him, toward me, his freckled, white face even paler with fear.
"Sierra, I called the cops. They'll be here in a few minutes."
It seemed that the shooting had gone on forever.CHAPTER 2
The good thing about a smaller town is that the cops don't have to travel far in an emergency. They were there, sirens screaming, within moments. The Panama City Beach Police are tough, mean characters, used to bikers and minor hoods and drunken college students looking to raise hell on spring break. But they weren't a match for the cyclone that was hitting the Tiffany Gentleman's Club.
They fought, guns drawn, shotguns hastily brought out of squad car trunks, with reinforcements called for and all the might the force could muster, but the invaders got away. I heard them blasting their way out the back, their attention turned from the club to making an escape. Eugene rematerialized by my side, then ran past me, headed for the back room, his gun drawn and held high in the air. It was like watching a bad action flick. It didn't seem real until I heard someone moaning and recognized the voice.
That got me to move. I ran down the hallway toward Eugene, stopping just behind him as he cleared the doorway, darting into the room, gun held out in front of him, both hands gripping the butt, finger on the trigger. He came face-to-face with a terrified young cop who screamed, "Drop the gun! Drop it now!"
Excerpted from Strip Poker by Nancy Bartholomew. Copyright © 2001 Nancy Bartholomew. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Nancy Bartholomew is the author of three previous Sierra Lavotini mysteries and two Maggie Reid mysteries. Born and raised outside Philadelphia, she now lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she is a practicing psychotherapist.
Nancy Bartholomew is the author of the Sierra Lavotini mysteries and the Maggie Reid mysteries. Born and raised outside Philadelphia, she now lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she is a practicing psychotherapist.
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Is she now?
Sierra Lavatoni works at the Tiffany Gentleman¿s Club, a high priced strip joint in which the ladies do not provide extracurricular service to the customers. Sierra is actually an exotic dancer who affectionately treats the girls and the club¿s owner Vincent Gambuzzo as her children. Life at the serene club turns nasty when a back room poker game incites the murder of one of the participants and the police charge Vincent with the crime. Before the homicide occurred, Vincent signed over the club¿s ownership as collateral to Mike Riggs, a charter boat captain in Panama City. Mike lowers the standards renaming the joint Big Mike¿s House of Booty. Most of the women quit, but Sierra temporary remains to learn the identity of who framed Vincent. Between a gangster who wants her and a police officer that loves her, Sierra runs from relationships because she knows men leave. This makes her vulnerable and sympathetic to the audience when she dives into her investigation. Readers will like her and root for her, hoping she obtains whatever her heart¿s desires. It is very amusing to observe Sierra try to not get killed while on the case. Nancy Bartholomew ties everything up with a bow except for one critical personal question that will leave the audience coveting the next novel in this series quite soon. Harriet Klausner