I first saw her in this low-life strip club on the boulevard. She was a dancer, but... You see, Clarise only danced in the private back room. She did special parties, but to see her you would never, ever, believe she was any kind of dancer. Especially not a sex dancer. She was young then, and beautiful, and just over three hundred pounds of pulsating female flesh. And with all that weight she still moved like a cat, every roll of fat quivering, straining, shaking over every inch of her sweat glistened skin. Her flesh bounced obscenely, lustfully. It shook, it beckoned. She was disgusting. At first I couldn’t look at her.
Then, I couldn’t look away.
I used to go every night after that to see Clarise dance. I know I was obsessed with her largeness. I was like a tiny moon revolving around her massive planet-sized body and I loved it and she knew it. I would stare at her jiggling flesh, drinking the hot odor of her woman sweat rolling off her body in waves as she gyrated before me. There was the look of fire in her eyes. When she finally stripped down to her G-string, I found myself fighting with other men in the room to touch her, to thrust bills between her massive private parts. She deftly took the dollars and placed them gently under her ponderous breasts or between the lips of her vagina where the bills stayed put as if in a wet, clammy vault.
Thinking about it now as I sit here in this cell, I don’t know why I got into it with her. I just did. I went there every night after work, elbow to elbow with all the other chubby-chasers and losers in the place, watching Clarise in amazement. We were like jackals at a feast; each of us attuned to her every move as she danced. She was incredible. Standing above me on the stage, her huge body defiant, her foul language, taunting obscene gestures, the slaps and rants of her rage. The odor that abounded from her was terrible, and at the same time...intoxicating.
I remember when Bud and Joe at work first took me there, saying I needed some adult entertainment to take my mind off all the numbers in my head. I was good at numbers, being an accountant.
“And besides,” Bud told me, “the fat chick that dances in the back room is a fucking laugh riot!”
Maybe, but not for me. For me she was beautiful, the most sexual woman I had ever seen in my life. People say a 300-pound woman can not be sexy. Well, you’ve never seen Clarise; never felt the stage moan under her weight as she rocked back and forth like an elephant in heat, dancing to the howls of dozens of lust-crazed admirers. I can’t explain it. It’s not…healthy… It’s not supposed to happen this way. In our culture of anorexic, toothpick-thin models or big-breasted blonde amazons, short and fat is not supposed to be what a man wants. Clarise’s gross obesity was beyond anything most men would ever consider sexy. But it was more than that. Clarise was special. She had a way of pressing the right buttons on a certain type of man. From the first day I saw her, I knew that I was that type of man. I knew that I had to find some way to meet her.
It was a mysterious thing to me because the night that I finally got up the balls to speak to Clarise -- to tell her I’d picked her out of all the women I’d ever seen as the most sexual and the most beautiful – she seemed to have picked me out of the crowd of her admirers. She beckoned me to come to her after her last set.
When I saw her afterwards, she was picking up her dirty, soiled clothes, ringed with sweat and odor. She rolled them into a balled up handful, looked at me and threw her dirty clothes in my face, saying, “Take these and follow me out back.”
I grabbed each item greedily; they smelled of sweat and other rank odors, from her underarms, her genital area, her buttocks. I held them tightly savoring the smell. Then I followed her, watching her ponderous nude buttocks shake like mountains of jelly as she walked in front of me. She was like some obscene female version of a Sumo wrestler. It was disgusting but I was aroused all over again. Nervous. Anticipating. Fantasizing.
She turned around for a moment to see if I was following her, said, “Come on, God-damnit! We don’t have all fucking night.”
I hurried up, holding her discarded clothing tightly, feeling the rough fabric on my fingertips, against my cheek, breathing in the smell of her. I did not care if anyone saw the boner in my pants, I just hoped I would not have any accident that might embarrass me in front of her.
We reached her small closet-like dressing room and she pointed for me to go inside. Then she threw a large, tent-like robe over her dripping nakedness, and slammed the door behind her.
I took a deep breath.
“Sit down,” she said. It wasn’t an invitation, it was an order.
“I’ll stand,” I replied.
“Suit yourself. Tell me, what’s your name?” she asked pulling her clothing out of my hands and throwing them in a corner of the cluttered room where they landed upon a similar pile of dirty and discarded clothing. The whole place stank of rancid sweat.
“Arthur Berger,” I said, finally.
She shook her head. “That just won’t do. Your new name from now on is... Let me see... Your new name now is ‘Service.’ Do you understand?”
I didn’t understand but I wanted to play along. “Arthur Service?” I asked.
“No, damnit! Just, Service!” She barked, watching me closely. Her cold, dark, beady eyes darted to my crotch and she grinned, wickedly, licking her lips, rubbing her own crotch for one brief but intoxicating moment in front of me while I watched her. The way she did it, it was the most incredible thing I had ever seen in my life. She was so obscene, so animal sexual. I almost fainted.
When I smelled her juices I became hard again.
She said, “Very good, Service.”
I was hot, feverish, I said, “I don’t understand.”
She said, “Yes you do. Come here. Closer.” She disrobed. “I want to show you something, Service.”
At first it was embarrassing; eventually it grew disgusting. I hated her. Just as much as I loved her. Even today, so many years later, when I fully realize all she did to me, how she manipulated me, hurt me, and used me, I still love her. Even after all the terrible things she made me do and the terrible things I finally had to do to stop her – I still love her.
“Service! Come here, we’re going out,” Clarise told me one day. This was weeks later. Now I was living at her apartment up the boulevard from the club where she worked. She had a lot of men callers. It was amazing. I tried to put them off, let them know they weren’t wanted anymore because I was Clarise’s new man, but they all just laughed.
“You’re just the latest, young fella,” an older man said to me one evening when he came by and asked to see Clarise. I’d seen him before on TV, he was some kind of soap opera star.
“You be the new babe in the damn woods here, boy,” a tall black man named Bert said, laughing in my face. He left an envelope for Clarise that was stuffed with cash.
I went into the bedroom where Clarise was laying naked upon her big round bed. She’d just come out of the shower – she almost never took showers. Or baths. That had been hard for me to deal with at first, but after a while I didn’t mind. In fact, I grew to like it. Clarise told me that I would. I guess she knew me better than I knew myself. I never realized at the time that that would be my undoing.
I realized later that her men never minded either. No matter what she did. I was just another of her admirers, of which I was the latest in a long line and probably the stupidest of the lot. That was when we had our first and last fight.
“What the fuck do you expect me to do, Service!” she’d screamed at me from the bed, “Men give me presents. If you were a real man you’d give me presents too!”
“Clarise, I love you.”
She just looked away angry.
Then I got angry too, feeling that tightness around the top of my head.
“I want us to have a good normal relationship,” I said.
She just laughed, bitter and cruel. “I don’t do ‘normal,’ Service. Neither do you. You think you’re here because you want to be here. But you’re really here because I want you to be here. And don’t ever forget it! You get it now? If you won’t do what I want you to do, Service, you can just pack up and get the hell out!”
I was crushed, defeated, just the thought of being without Clarise set my mind in panic and dread I had never felt before. My eyes just stared at her. I didn’t know what to think, say, or do. I felt tears run down my cheeks. “Clarise...”
She looked at me and laughed in my face, loud, callous, taunting me. “You are so damn weak! You worm! You little piece of crap! You dirty turd! You lying bastard! You said you’d do anything for me! Anything! Now you’re going back on your word! And to think, I used to love you?”
Her use of the word ‘love’ for the first time to me shook me more than I realized. It was like a slap in the face, but it was also a thin strand of hope, a lifeline, and I lunged at it with all the desperation I felt.
“I meant what I said, Clarise,” trying to hold back my tears now. “I really did!”
She looked at me boldly and shouted, “You said you would do anything for me, Service. Anything I ask! Will you lie, cheat, steal for me?”
I was quiet for a moment, knowing what I should not say, but knowing what I had to say.
“Yes,” I said, defeated, trying to wipe away my tears.
“You mean it, Service?”
Clarise smiled now, patting the big bed, “Come here, Service, sit next to me. I want to show you something nice.”
That was the first time we really talked. I told how good I was with numbers, and Clarise was very interested, asking me pointed questions on accounting, taxes, and money laundering. My answers made Clarise happy. She said, “Service, I’ve never let one of my special admirers into my business before, but I need a good accountant, money manager, cash flow expert. Do you think you are up to the task?”
I jumped at the suggestion, “Yes!”
“Will you do exactly what I tell you to do?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Anything? No questions asked?”
“Yes, anything... to be with you... to be of service to you.”
I found out Clarise had a mansion high up in the hills. It was a secluded estate with trusted servants and everything a rich person could want. She used the apartment in town and her club on the boulevard to recruit young men. A certain type of young man. Like me.
My life of crime began a few days later. It started with me going out on my own on jobs. Clarise would tell me what to do, and I would do it. It was as simple as that. Thefts mostly, at first. It began with petty shoplifting, and then purse snatchings, escalated to B&E, armed robbery and finally kidnapping for ransom. I did it all. Under her orders. Anything she told me to do. When she told me to kill a man I’d met months ago at her city apartment, the TV soap opera star, I did that too. She gave me a gun and an address. That’s all I needed.
Clarise said he had made her mad, that he’d been slacking in his admiration.
I knew what that meant; he wasn’t keeping up his gifts, booty, bribes, pay-offs, goodies to Clarise.
Clarise said, “Don’t slack off on me, Service.”
“Never, Clarise,” I said and meant it.
It went on like that for months. I was Service now. Arthur was dead. I lived in Clarise’s big house. I wasn’t the only one there though. The big black guy, Bert -- who’d made fun of me so long ago – who’d dropped off that envelope full of cash to Clarise -- lived there too. There were half a dozen others. Sometimes Clarise had us work together as a crew on scams or jobs, but mostly we worked on our own, each one of us doing whatever we could do to lavish cash or jewelry at the large feet of our obese goddess. Each jealous and paranoid that the other would gain more favor in Clarise’s eyes or some kind of one-upmanship because of his gifts to her. It was sick and twisted, but none of us cared, least of all Clarise who owned us all and used us any way she pleased.
I never questioned how this woman could have such power over myself, or so many other men. I was just a small satellite revolving around her largeness – one of many small moons caught in the power of her planetary orbit. Her heavy gravity threatened to crush me at any moment, along with all these others. And like all these others, I could not bear to live without her.
I soon discovered that Clarise’s criminal empire -- and that’s in fact what it was – stretched far and wide, and ran deep. She had extensive interests. Businesses where she was a silent partner, modeling agencies, gaming houses, the garment district, Wall Street, legal and illegal drugs. She had a chain of brothels that poured cash into her coffers. Bert ran them for her. He brought Clarise a fat envelope stuffed with hundred dollar bills every day, gifts from the women that worked for her. It seemed Clarise also had female ‘admirers’ she put to work in her brothels. They too, it seemed, would do anything for love. Love of Clarise. It was like some kind of twisted cult, and I was in the thick of it, in a privileged position. I was happy. And that’s all that mattered to me at the time. I lived in the big house with Clarise. I saw her almost every day. It was only when the time between visits to Clarise began to grow longer that I began to feel edgy. Jealous, paranoid, finally even angry. But I didn’t want to express that anger or jealousy, or even ask questions. You never questioned Clarise. I didn’t want to ruin the good thing I had or get her mad at me. So I shut up. But things were beginning to worry me.
When Clarise called me into her suite of private upstairs rooms a few days later I was surprised but delighted. She had an unusually pungent odor that morning, body odor mixed with the slickness of sex. Then I noticed the man in her room seated on the sofa across from her. I knew him as Riordan, a homicide cop, and another ‘admirer.’ He sat quiet and calm, eagle-eyed, watching me jealously, openly salivating over Clarise. I hated him. Clarise got up and stood before us rubbing her hands across her lush obeseness with a lust and venom that made me sweat. I wanted to reach out for her and devour her sex right then and there.
“Easy now, Service,” she laughed, noting my mood, mocking me the way she always did. She looked over at the cop. “You know Riordan?”
I nodded. I’d seen him around at the house, like a lot of the others.
“You two are going to do a special job for me.”
I waited. Riordan didn’t say a word either.
Whatever Clarise wanted done, we were ready to do.
Clarise said, “Bert has been making plans with my little Black Lolita.” The word ‘plans’ was a bad word in Clarise’s book. Only Clarise made plans.
Bert was the large black fellow who ran Clarise’s brothels; Lolita was her most prized girl, young, sexy, beautiful, ebony black. It was rumored she was Bert’s own daughter from before he had taken up with Clarise. I should have known something was up when Bert moved out of the big house last week. Now he stayed in the house with Lolita. That looked like Bert was into doing his own kin, but before my thoughts went too far down that road, Clarise cut them off by saying, “It’s not what you think. Bert’s trying to take my darling Black Lolita away from me. Out of my service. He’s not going to get away with that. I don’t know or care what his reason is. He’s not going to get away with doing that. Now this is what you two are going to do for me.”
I swallowed hard, looked at Riordan. He smiled evilly. Waiting.
It was simple really. Bert was now living at the brothel on West 20th Street, a brownstone in the center of Midtown. The girl known as Black Lolita had a room upstairs and did her business there for Clarise. Sometimes with Clarise. Riordan was to get me in with his badge. A bogus bust or shakedown. We’d go upstairs. Then I was to put a bullet or three in Bert’s head. Quick and easy. Riordan would take the gun and dump it. I’d go out the back way and head back to the big house to report to Clarise how Bert had died. She always liked to hear the details. Riordan would bring Black Lolita to the big house later to see Clarise. To make amends. She said I could watch if I liked. I didn’t think so.
Problem was, I liked Bert. He always treated me good, even if he made fun of me that first time we’d met. He’d just been telling it true. Anyway, what I knew was that he had some kind of thing for Black Lolita, but I knew she was not his kin. Not exactly. She was his stepdaughter. She’d got herself involved with Clarise the same time as Bert. Similar situations but for different reasons. Clarise was powerful, she could bend will, manipulate minds, get anything she wanted. And she wanted it all. She had all of me and now she was going to have me murder Bert. Such was my mission for Clarise. A mission I could not deny. And I knew that Riordan was her latest man-toy and that once I killed Bert he’d draw his gun and kill me. And all the loose ends would be nicely tied up. I’d been noticing that Clarise had been getting a little tired of me lately. She got like that sometimes.
When Riordan gave me the gun I just gave it back to him, determined I would not kill Bert and that I’d have it out with Clarise once I got back to the big house. That was my thought, and my big mistake. Riordan just sneered at me with his big cop face and pulled out another gun.
“Big Mama told me you might be trouble, and to be ready, Service.”
“Clarise? Clarise!” I cried.
“She’s been watching you lately. She knows the signs, how her admirers are consumed with love and lust for her big juicy body, obsessed with the nearness of her large gross flesh, desiring to feast upon that flesh in an orgy of wet...”
Riordan stopped his fantasizing, smiled, licked his dry lips. His face was flushed, puffy, strange. He pointed the gun at me, said, “Goodbye, Service.”
Riordan pulled the trigger and I felt bullets tug at my chest. I felt shock and anger and then terrible pain. A warm wetness ran over my body. I saw that it was red and sticky and smelled like copper. I couldn’t believe it was ending like this, alone, in a back alley behind one of Clarise’s brothels.
Moments later I saw Bert come outside and suddenly Riordan took out the gun I was supposed to shoot Bert with – the gun I had foolishly given back to him because I refused to be a part of this murder plan. Riordan got off three quick shots and Bert fell down dead. One slug had entered Bert’s head and torn his skull apart.
I screamed and cried, watching with fear and fascination as Riordan placed the gun he had used to shoot me in Bert’s hand, melding the man’s dead fingers to the gun stock. Next he took the gun he had used to shoot Bert and put it in my hand.
I looked up at Riordan as he was taking off his gloves and he just laughed, the fatty folds of his face bouncing with delight – in much the same manner that my beloved Clarise would laugh. That same cold evil laugh of doom.
I tried to lift the handgun, to get off a shot at Riordan but I was too weak and fading fast. It just made him laugh all the harder.
“Clarise?” I cried, dropping the gun, falling into darkness.
I don’t think I was supposed to live. I know that now. At first, I thought everything would be okay once Clarise came to see me. I was up for first degree murder. We were in a death penalty state. My heart leaped with joy when Clarise came to see me that first day. She had a man with her who she said was to be my lawyer. A fellow named Sinclair, another of her admirers.
Clarise carefully placed her large body into a chair across from me and said, “Just play along with what Mr. Sinclair tells you, Service. Everything will work out alright.”
“But Clarise...?” I stammered, full of tears.
She reached out and touched my arm, softly, “Don’t worry, Service, it was all a terrible mistake and everything will be arranged.”
“But why?” I asked. The DA was already putting pressure on me to make a deal and give up Clarise. But I wasn’t talking.
Clarise smiled, beady eyes gleaming darkly, “Bert had to be made to pay, it was handled badly...”
“But Riordan said...”
She withdrew her hand from my arm, “Service, now don’t make me mad. You know you can not trust what anyone tells you, except me.”
“I want you back with me, Service. Now you do as Mr. Sinclair tells you.”
“Service!” she said sternly, then she took my hand again and rubbing it, said, “I wouldn’t let one of my best boys go down without a fight. Don’t you trust me?”
I nodded. I wanted to believe. I still loved her.
The court case was quick and conclusive. Riordan and his partner testified. They lied. I asked Sinclair to put me on the stand but he didn’t think it would be a good idea. “Do you want to hurt Clarise, Service? If you testify, that will give the prosecutor the opening he needs to ask you all kinds of questions about Clarise and her business activities. You know Clarise doesn’t like anyone knowing her business. I know you’d never tell, Service, but these damn prosecutors are all tricky rats. You want to help some damn DA looking to make a name for himself off of the love you and Clarise share?”
“No!” I shouted, but they were already offering me deals to talk.
“Then be quiet and let me handle everything, Service. You’ll do a little time, then we’ll get you out.” He had such a reassuring manner. Sinclair added, “Do it for Clarise. She’d want it that way, Service.”
I nodded and I never talked.
Clarise never came to see me again either.
I got twenty years to life in prison. I’ve only done a few months. I may get out someday on parole, or I may not, but there’s really nothing to go back to now anyway.
Clarise won’t return my calls, she won’t respond to my letters. When I told Sinclair to ask her to come and see me he said, “Now, Service, you know Clarise can’t be seen visiting a convicted, incarcerated murderer. If Clarise -- a lady-friend of our gubernatorial candidate by the way -- were seen coming to visit you, those damn Republicans would have a field day! You know he’s leading in the polls? She’s supporting Teddy Longerman for governor. Teddy’s one of her ‘boys’ from the early days? Even before you, Service.”
I said that I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for Clarise. Last week I read in the paper Riordan had been appointed Chief of Detectives. I heard through the joint grapevine that Black Lolita ran all the brothels now – in a very roundabout way, of course – for Clarise. Lolita was convinced that I had killed Bert. I never let on different.
Now I sit here alone. Waiting. They say I’ll get out in twenty years. Maybe. But I know that Clarise don’t like loose ends. I’m a loose end that needs to be looked after. A problem that needs to be solved. Permanently.
“How does it feel, Arthur? To know it’ll be decades before you’re a free man,” the guard said to me. He stood by the bars outside my cell. “That’s a long time.”
I hardly remembered the name Arthur now. I had been Arthur, once. Now I was just Service.
“My name is Service,” I said simply.
“Sure. Sure, Service,” he continued smiling at me.
“Some day I’ll get out,” I said. Some hope in my voice. “If I could just talk to Clarise...”
The guard shook his head negatively.
Then I saw the glint of the slim blade he pulled out from his uniform pocket. He threw it to me through the bars, where it landed on the mattress behind of me.
“She wants it done before breakfast, Service. She told me to tell you to do this one last thing to prove to her that you love her.” Then the guard walked away.
It was lock-down time. Lights out. The noise in prison never stopped but I didn’t hear any of it now. It was all quiet for me.
It wouldn’t be morning for eight hours yet.
I looked at the blade – your generic prison shiv, handmade, untraceable – I picked it up. The cutting edge was jagged but sharp. It would do.
I thought about Clarise.
I lifted the blade to my throat.
Then I lowered my hand.
What had she ever done for me that I should do this final deed for her? Nothing! Nothing at all. All she ever did was run my life and fill me up with a lot of empty promises. Promises about ‘us’. Not one promise ever came true.
Now I’m locked away in here and she is out there. Away from me. I know she is with other men. Other women too, probably. Riordan! And she does not come to see me. Never a message or a good word. Now This! She wants me to commit suicide for her! After all I’ve done for her?
I was thinking about spilling my guts on Clarise when I heard a noise down the hall.
It was the guard coming back. This time he had two other guards with him.
I grew alert, nervous.
He was carrying an electric cord. He let me see it as he approached the bars of my cell. It swayed back and forth in his hand, like a noose. The image was not lost on me. He smiled evilly, like Riordan.
I looked at the shiv, and said, “I can’t do it.”
He said, “Here, try this.” He threw me the electric cord.
I ignored it, shook my head, “I’m through with that, with all of it. I’m not going to cut my throat. I’m not going to hang myself either.”
The guard shook his head, “Oh, yes you are, Service – whether you do it, or not.”
They came closer, opening my cell door. They caught me and placed the electric cord around my neck.
The first guard’s lips touched my ears as he pulled the cord ever tighter. I couldn’t breathe!
The other guards held me fast. I couldn’t move!
He whispered to me, “By the way, Service, Clarise told me to tell you goodbye. SUCKER!”
The guards laughed loudly. Taunting me in death.
They laughed so loud I woke up.
I froze, horrified.
Then I was shaking with sweat, chills, my teeth were chattering cold.
I found myself mercifully alone.
I let out a peep of laughter like some madman, or some madman suddenly become sane.
I kicked the shiv under my bed.
“The hell with you, Clarise!”
I tried to relax, savoring thoughts of how I was going to get back at her.
Then I heard footsteps approaching my cell. Two pairs of feet entered my field of vision. I looked up at the prison guards, who were smiling strangely. One carried something horrifyingly familiar.
BIO: Gary Lovisi is the editor of HARDBOILED magazine which he publishes under his Gryphon Books imprint. He is the author of numerous hardboiled and crime short stories and novels, as well as non-fiction books such as Dames, Dolls and Delinquents. His latest book is Ultra-Boiled (Ramble House, 2010) which collects 23 of my best and nastiest hard crime tales. You can learn more about Gary and his books at Gryphon Books.