Exotic dancer Sierra Lavotini's latest brainstorm to help the Tiffany Gentleman's Club turn a profit is a disaster. Sierra, headliner for the classiest strip joint in Panama City, Florida, and the club's owner, Vincent Gambuzzo, invited a gallery of porn actresses to guest star on the Tiffany stage. It's a gutsy plan, considering that most of these silicone-enhanced creatures don't have much in the way of true talent. As Sierra likes to say, at the Tiffany dancing consists of more than T&A working a pole.
Still, under Sierra's firm guidance, the venture seems to be raking in the cash. At least until a sniper begins taking exception-starting with Venus, who is shot and killed. Sierra takes a bullet in the, ahem, posterior region during the attack, and would like nothing more than to forget about the whole thing and convalesce with the help of her on-again boyfriend, Homicide Detective John Nailor. But when the investigation hones in on Marla, another Tiffany girl, Sierra is forced to focus her energy on finding the real killer. No small task, considering the interest of the local "organization" in the situation, even once Sierra enlists the help of her landlady Pat; Raydean, her psychotic neighbor; and her oldest brother Francis.
Steamy romance, intrigue, laugh-out-loud humor, mob bosses, and Sierra's overprotective Italian family-it's all here in Film Strip, Nancy Bartholomew's latest hilarious tale.
About the Author
Nancy Bartholomew was born and raised outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is also the author of two previous Sierra Lavotini novels, The Miracle Strip and Drag Strip, as well as one book featuring country-and-western star Maggie Reid. She currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with her family, where she is at work on Strip Poker, the next novel featuring Sierra Lavotini.
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.
Read an Excerpt
By Nancy Bartholomew
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Nancy Bartholomew
All rights reserved.
When Venus Lovemotion died it was a giant pain in my ass. Literally. I was bending over to unlock the door of my '88 Camaro when I heard the shot and felt a stinging sensation in my left cheek. Venus's agent started screaming; Bruno the bouncer started shooting; and I started to feel something warm and wet run down my leg.
I would like to tell you that my life flashed before my eyes as I sank slowly to the ground, but it didn't. Instead I thought about Panama City Homicide Detective John Nailor — not because he would wind up catching my killer, but because I had never seen him naked. Now, that was a regret. In fact, that one thought probably kept me alive. That, and the fact that a wound to the left posterior is in no way life-threatening.
I am told that the bullet tore through Venus's carotid artery on its way to my ass. But I don't like thinking about that. I prefer to think about what a lovely evening it had been, at least up until the moment that gunplay broke out. Venus and I had teamed up, the visiting porn star and the house headliner, together in a rousing number designed to stiffen the resolve of the most passive customer and loosen his already-thinning wallet. We had danced to "When You Wish Upon a Star."
Venus was lowered carefully from the ceiling, perched on the tip of a quarter moon. I swung in slowly from the diametrically opposed corner of the stage, clinging to a huge sequined star. It was poetry in motion. We were wearing complementing G-strings; hers was gold, mine was silver. Our pasties were gold and silver stars, the very tiniest things imaginable.
Venus's agent, Barry "The Snake" Sanduski, made Vincent Gambuzzo, the Tiffany Gentleman's Club owner and my boss, take out extra insurance on account of how he didn't want to suffer the consequences of our risky routine. See, according to Tonya the Barbarian, one of Venus's former roommates and a Tiffany girl, Venus was the eighth wonder of the world, carefully constructed by the finest medical care money can buy.
Tonya said that Venus had more silicone in her body than a sucker-lot special has Bondo. She said Venus used to be flat-chested and pudgy with mousy brown hair and an astigmatism that made her squint.
The Venus I met had 48 triple D's and a waist like a Barbie doll's. Her eyes were large and contact-lens purple. Her lips were pressed into a permanent kissy pout and her hair was something between spun gold and cotton candy. Her brain, however, left something to be desired. Venus was a fluffball, but that ain't at all why men paid to watch her strut across the stage.
So when the first few strains of "When You Wish Upon a Star" rang out, and Venus and I were lowered slowly from the ceiling, the men in the house were not thinking of Jiminy Cricket and Walt Disney. They were watching the finest talent on the northwest coast of Florida. I mean, you pair a girl like Venus up with a girl like me, and you've got serious lust action. While Venus is definitely artificial, I'm the genuine article: five feet ten inches in my stilettos, long blond come-hither hair, legs that won't quit, and a pair of 38 double D's that have never known a surgeon's scalpel. Furthermore, I got the know-how to crawl inside a man's head and drive him wild.
Barry "The Snake" Sanduski and Vincent Gambuzzo couldn't have been happier with our number. Probably because the house take, according to Gordon, the doorman, had never been higher. I know I'd never seen the house so crowded, even during spring break or Bikers' Week. It is a given that the Tiffany is a class joint, and that is why we attract such high-caliber clientele, but when you import traveling talent and appeal to your locals, you've got a moneymaker. I can say these things, because it was my idea to call in Venus Lovemotion.
Of course, I let Vincent take the credit, and I don't spread it around, but lately I feel as if I'm the brains behind the Tiffany. I mean, business was a little slack, it was off-season. I figured, why not call in the southeastern traveling circuit out of Atlanta. People from Atlanta always head to Panama City for vacation; why not call in some of that city's biggest talent to make the tourists feel more at home?
I didn't expect Vincent to come up with such a brilliant marketing ploy. See, Vincent comes from a used-car-lot background. He talks a good game, and he intimates that he's connected, in your Italian "family" sort of way, but it's all smoke and mirrors. When it comes to business savvy, I'm your go-to girl. So you can understand how I came to feel that it was all my fault that this horrible tragedy had befallen Venus. It was, after all, my idea.
When Venus arrived I made sure we came to an understanding. She was the visitor and I was the host. We worked the room my way and we didn't pull any of that work-the-pole stripper stuff that your B-grade porn artists fall back on when they can't do much more than walk and chew gum. I taught Venus the routine. I insisted that she learn how to put her heart into it and not just her anatomy. And in the end, we were of one mind: mine.CHAPTER 2
We closed out the night with an encore of our star act and were in the process of heading out to the Waffle House for breakfast when all hell broke loose. Venus and Barry were heading for his car, which was a beat-to-death Grand Am that only reinforced my guess that Barry wasn't exactly raking in the business. Bruno, the steroid-impaired, all-neck and no-brains bouncer, was watching from the back stoop. The parking lot was fairly empty, being as how last call had gone out over an hour ago. Vincent was standing by his fire-engine-red Porsche, trying to decide whether to lower himself and eat breakfast with us or go home to his empty high-rise condo. Most of the other staff was leaving, shooed out by the cleaning crew. As I mentioned before, I was unlocking my car door.
All of a sudden, I hear a pop like a cap pistol and screams echoing throughout the parking lot. The other sound I heard was people racking the slides of their guns. See, in your customer-service-type professions like ours, it is not uncommon for people to carry personal protection. I settle for Mace and a lovely little Spyderco knife that my big brother Francis gave me.
As I slid to the ground, people were taking cover and looking for a target. Only Bruno seemed to have a bead on the location of the shooter. The rest of them seemed about to shoot anything and everything. I swear, I never saw so many guns in my life. And when the cops arrived, I never saw so many guns mysteriously disappear.
I tried to roll under my car, but for some reason I couldn't get my left leg to move. I figured I was about to be riddled with bullets, and maybe from friends of mine looking to plug a killer and settling for a blonde. I brought my hand up to pull myself along and saw that it was covered in blood. That's when I started thinking about John Nailor and what a shame it was that we would never consummate our undying physical attraction to each other.
Sirens wailed in the distance, but Barry Sanduski's voice rose above them.
"Oh God, she's dead! Venus, don't leave me, baby!"
Bruno sent a couple of rounds from his .45 winging over our heads and into a group of pine trees that separated our club from the adjoining strip mall. Then he came running down the stairs, leaving the shelter of the steel-lined back door to jump behind a trash bin. He waited a cautious moment, then rolled out to Barry's car.
Gordon, the doorman, materialized by my side, having run at a crouch from the darkened lot. He was out of breath, and from the look on his face, new to violence and bloodshed.
"Oh Lord," he gasped. "You're hit!"
I peered up at Gordon. He couldn't have been more than twenty-two or -three, reedy thin with a tiny black goatee. I did not want to die in his arms. He was no John Nailor.
"Gordon," I said, trying to sound like I knew what was going on and less like I was taking my final breath. "Where am I hit? Is it squirting blood or just seeping?"
He turned even paler. "Oh God, oh God."
"Gordon, look. Keep your head low and check my ass; it hurts something terrible."
He gently rolled me onto my side. "It's a gusher, all right."
The sirens were coming closer, screaming out into the early Panama City morning, disturbing the retirees who'd come to Florida for peace and quiet and instead found Party City, USA.
"Gordon," I said, shuddering as I did so, "apply pressure."
"Where? To you?"
Gordon was neither a ladies' man nor a paramedic.
"Do it, Gordon!"
Tires crunched into the parking lot, squealing to a stop. Panama City's finest had arrived — well, finest minus the very finest. Nailor was home in bed, I knew that much; whether he was alone or not was another matter.
"Over here," Gordon cried. "She's hit!" He jumped up, forgetting all about his first-aid ministrations, and ran off.
Great, I thought, while he's fetching help, I'm bleeding out. And I did feel faint. Things did go dark, but only because at that moment, the parking lot light nearest my car went dead. I actually passed out, briefly, when the EMTs picked me up and put me on the stretcher. The rest of the time I was conscious. Waiting. Eventually some eager-beaver cop was gonna piece it together that I was the Sierra Lavotini. Then he'd call my buddy Nailor, just to give him a heads-up that his favorite dancer was lying on her stomach in the emergency room, her derriere exposed to any and all who cared to walk by.
I'd been lying there only an hour, doped up on some kind of painkiller, when he made his appearance. He stood there in the doorway, knowing I'd sense his arrival before I even saw him. He was leaning there with the nurses all passing by and admiring his dark-haired good looks and the way his trademark white oxford-cloth shirt complemented his tanned skin. He didn't mean to be pretty; it just came with the territory.
The son of a bitch didn't even have the courtesy to act all torn up about my well-being. No, he was smirking. Of course, that's his job. He has to act unconcerned, to laugh in the face of danger. He was probably trying to make me feel safe, as if some crazed maniac hadn't just killed my new buddy and taken a bite out of me.
"Well, if you'd wanted to see me, Sierra, you coulda just called. You didn't have to generate a homicide and assault with intent to maim your own person."
I lifted my head groggily from the gurney and favored him with the Lavotini raised eyebrow. "Hey, Nailor. Kiss my exposed ass."
"Sure, honey, if you think that'll help."
"Nailor! How about a little sympathy and concern here? I am wounded."
How is it that the man could smell so good?
"I could've been killed, you know. That maniac could've been aiming for me."
He pulled up a stool and sat close to my head, reaching over and taking my hand. "I know, honey," he said. He leaned a little closer and stroked the side of my face, gently pulling a strand of hair out of the way. "Does it hurt bad?"
I moaned, but it was not on account of the pain. I loved the feel of his work-roughened fingers paired with the gentleness of his touch. I could get used to those fingers. "Ummmm," I moaned again, louder.
"Sierra, are you in pain?" Now I had his concern.
"Oh, yes," I sighed. "Big, big pain. Oh, baby, I might not make it."
This would've been fine had I not giggled.
"Sierra!" He pushed back and sat up, taking his lovely fingers with him. "We're in the ER, for Pete's sake!" He looked at me again, his eyebrows knit together like a stern father. "Well then, I think you're up to answering a few questions." And with that, he whipped out a little notepad and settled down to work. Damn, I'd lost him again.
"You heard the shot that hit you and Venus, did you not?"
I moaned, this time because the medication was wearing off. It felt like my little chihuahua, Fluffy, had sunk her teeth into my left cheek and forgotten to remove them.
"I heard it, but I was facing my car, so I didn't see a thing."
Nailor took great care to write this all down.
"Did you see anything suspicious right before she got shot or maybe earlier in the evening?"
Outside the tiny examining room I could hear the banter of nurses and cops, the sounds of carts wheeling past and equipment being prepared for other patients. I wanted nothing more than to go home to my trailer and crawl into bed.
"Sierra? Did you see anything suspicious?"
"Nailor, put two and two together here. I work in a strip club. It would be better to ask if there was anything unsuspicious going on."
Nailor sighed. "You know what I mean," he said.
I thought back over the immediate few moments before the shooting. Anything suspicious? No. I let my mind drift back over the events of the evening. The regulars had all been there, a few newcomers, out-of-towners. I started to shake my head and then stopped.
"Well, there was one new guy who seemed to be paying a lot of attention to Venus." Meaning he had overlooked the real talent. After all, I was the headliner.
Nailor looked up. "What do you mean?"
I thought for a moment. "He sat at a table down front, didn't watch any of the other acts, didn't talk to the girls that were circulating, and only seemed to pay attention when Venus walked out."
Nailor stretched. "What's unusual about that?"
It was all I could do to answer him now. The pain was spreading throughout my body, making it hard to concentrate.
"He didn't watch her like a customer. He wasn't inspecting the merchandise. In fact, he didn't look too happy with her."
"Tall, a little husky, but like it was muscle, not fat. One of them gotta-shave-four-times-a-day guys. He put me in mind of Salvatore Minuchin, a wiseguy from the old neighborhood. Salvatore was the muscle for Lucky Pagnozzi, back before Lucky took the whack outside of the Sons of Italy Social Club. I don't know what Salvatore's doing now. I sorta lost track of him after he went to prison." I was drifting, my eyes weighted down by the late hour and the pain.
"Was he wearing a suit or leisure clothes?" Nailor asked.
"Salvatore? No, I think it was a blue prison jumpsuit if I recall correctly."
Nailor sighed and flipped his notebook shut. "Not Salvatore, Sierra, the guy from the club, the one watching Venus."
"Yeah," I said. A nurse entered the room with a syringe on a tray. World peace was at hand. "He was wearing a charcoal-gray Brooks Brothers suit."
Nailor sighed again. "Sierra, focus."
"No kidding. I know my suits and this was a Brooks Brothers. I make my living off of knowing my customers. He wasn't stargazing and he wasn't looking to shop the talent. He was suspicious, just the man you want to talk with."
"If you don't mind?" The nurse glared at Nailor. He was holding her up, endangering her patient's welfare.
"He don't mind," I muttered. "He don't mind at all."CHAPTER 3
John Nailor drove me home in his unmarked brown Taurus police car. He stretched me out on the backseat, covering me with his coat and treating me as if I were a bubble about to burst at any second. I felt nothing. I floated on a cloud of Demerol-induced nirvana, not really caring that a bullet could've permanently scarred one of my main sources of income. Life was good.
Fluffy, my hairless chihuahua, waited on the stoop of my trailer. She did not share my euphoria. She was hungry and I was late.
Nailor pulled me out of the backseat and was holding me up, his arm around my waist, and my head on his shoulder. Fluffy approved of this, at least. Her little tail started to wag and she yipped.
"Hey, Fluff," Nailor called softly. "Hungry, girl?"
"Starved," I answered.
"Hold it right there, buddy," a voice called out. Nailor and I froze, for two different reasons. I stopped because I recognized the sound of my crazy neighbor, Raydean, the woman voted most likely to be unpredictable and violent by the members of the Lively Oaks Trailer Park. Nailor froze because he had heard the unmistakable sound of someone chambering a round into a shotgun. Nailor knew Raydean, so he knew what he was up against.
Excerpted from Film Strip by Nancy Bartholomew. Copyright © 2000 Nancy Bartholomew. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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