"The Bitters Bordello"
It was 2:00 AM Brussels time when I made my way out of the Skoob & Thistle, still waiting for the burn to stop from the Jalapeno cheese burger I had consumed minutes before. I followed McCarthy's instructions down the alley towards the door with the glow of a red neon light washing over hand hewn cobblestone.
McCarthy wasn't kidding. The neon tube had been twisted into the shape of the great State of Texas.
I'll admit that I fancied the idea of a little "Ride 'Em Cowboy", but mostly missed the warmth and touch of a woman. It had been weeks of travelling around Western Europe in the search of story ideas, without much success, and without any companionship. Reaching into my pockets to find a wad of crumpled up Euros, I counted them out only to be disappointed with the total. Near the point of giving up and walking back to my seedy hotel room, I looked up to notice a sign above the neon light that said, "Penguin Sex Special, 10 Euro". I knew I had close to 50 in my pocket, and if the Penguin special was only 10, perhaps I could get my ride for 40.
The house Madame, Miss Bitters, greeted me at the door with a smile and outstretched arms with palms down as if to welcome, and pull me past the threshold at the same time. "Welcome" she said. "Could you use a little companionship this evening?"
"Yes" I replied sheepishly, as if it was the first time I had ever done this sort of thing. Describing Bitters would take me back to the words of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler singing Walk This Way. "She was classy, kind of sassy with her skirt climbing way up her knees."
"You smell like the American Southwest", she said. "You must have eaten at the club down the alley."
"Yes, but how…"
Before I could complete my sentence, she finished my question with an answer. "You still have a little sweat on your hairline, your breath smells of Jalapeno, and your voice sounds raspy enough to have lost a recent layer of skin from your throat. Jalapenoman must be on the grill tonight."
"Well done", I responded, sounding like Ron Wood after a night of cigarettes, Tequila and Red Bull.
"What's your pleasure this evening?" She asked.
"I think I'd like to see the menu, but I fancy the thought of having one of your girls ride me like the bull my astrological sign says that I am."
"Taurus eh? I think I have just the girl for you."
Bitters called down two of the girls, and handed me the price list for services about to be rendered. My fears were partially realized, seeing many prices above what I had left in my pocket. Bitters saw my face and read the body language well.
"Relax honey", she said. "There's an ATM in each room. No penalties, or fees for withdrawal", she said with a smile, followed by, "Our customers always come first".
As two lovelies appeared at the top of the mahogany banister trimmed staircase, the door opened behind me. A pair of gentlemen entered with thick moustaches, tightly fitting brass buttoned jackets and military epaulettes.
"Colonel Juan and Mr. Rodriguez, nice to see you both again. Are you looking for the two-on-one special with Kate Gosselin again? You know, she asks for you all the time", Bitters, working her clientele with customer focus and a marketing spirit. "I'll be right with you once I finish with Mr.?" Madame Bitters pointed back my way.
"Wortham", I replied.
"Yes, Mr. Wortham. Which one of our cowgirls would you prefer?"
"They're both quite striking, can I please have the lass with the wavy auburn hair?"
Bitters looked back towards the top of the stairs and called out, "Kimberly? Mr. Wortham would like a number 22. Grab your Stetson". Before letting me touch the stairs, she grabbed my arm. "You've never been here so you need to know the rules. Disrespect or mistreat my girls in any way and you lose your jewels courtesy of my rusty garden shears. In case you're wondering if I'm full of shit, look at the Spoof Club menu next time you're in. Take a guess at what the appetizer called Texas Oysters are?"
"OK I get it", I replied. "I'm not that kind of guy".
"Good", Bitters followed, and let me pass.
Kim was from the Wyoming, or so her story went. She casually mentioned that this was the quickest way to cover her graduate school expenses. "Work a couple of months in Amsterdam or near Brussels and I'm set for the year", she said. "Now cowboy, you want to get started?"
"Yes, but first I have to ask about the Penguin Sex poster in the front window. I don't think I've ever heard of that technique. What is it?"
"We just put that up for the cheap bastards who think they can get something for barely nothing. If they demand the 10 Euro service, we take them to the alley, pocket their money, drop their pants around their feet and place a sardine across their noodle. When we walk away back inside, they usually try to follow like a waddling Penguin. In a way, they did get screwed." She laughed.
As Kimberly reached for her spurs and gun belt, screams erupted from the next room followed by a thunder of footsteps running up the main stairs. Still dressed, I opened the door to see what the commotion was all about only to see another girl in the hall with a look of shock upon her face. Bitters was running towards the room with her trusty and rusty garden shears.
"What's wrong?" Bitters asked.
"It's HUGE", the woman replied.
Bitters looked in and saw Monkey Woods still lying on the bed covered in a sheet, but pitching a tent about 12 inches (30cm) high.
"Can't you prepare these girls in advance?" Woods asked of Bitters. He pointed to the Big Top adventure between his knees and his chest. "You need to tell them what to expect."
"I thought she knew, Woods. My apologies. I'll go get another girl that can handle you and I'll throw in a number 37 for free."
"With pudding?" Woods asked.
"Don't push your luck. The pudding is another 10", said Bitters.
The commotion subsided in the hallway and I returned to the experienced hands of my little cowgirl. Tried as I might to throw her from the saddle, she held on for the full eight seconds and finished me at the bell.
The handy ATM machine provided me with enough of a cash buffer to tip Kimberly nicely as I wished her good luck in her next semester. The walk down the stairs seemed a little more difficult compared to going up, which forced a smile out or Madame Bitters still tending the front desk near the alley door. "I see Kimberly took care of you well", she said.
"It's always good when you have trouble walking", I replied. "Thank you for taking care of me this evening".
"My pleasure", she paused "to take your money".
Just as I reached for the door, it opened in front of me. White ecumenical robes spun into the room attached to a certain bartender that had recommended this place. "Padre?" I said. "I dismissed the fact that you could be a bartender, I mean, it is the new millennium after all, but a priest entering a house of ill repute?"
"Hang on there", Bitters replied. "This place has the best reputation".
"My apologies, it's just… it's just… Fergus is a priest!"
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence while McCarthy stood there without an explanation, but Bitters rose to the occasion. "He's here to say mass for the girls. Father McCarthy is truly a man of the people."
I almost bought the explanation, because I wanted to believe in the man who offered me a kind word a couple of hours earlier, but just then Kimberly freshly appeared at the top of the stairs.
"Fergy!" she exclaimed. "Is it a number 17 or your usual 24 plus a dash of 31?"