Read chapter One from Lay Me Odds

CHAPTER ONE

Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

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The room was locked and the windows were bolted from the inside, yet a man lay dead in the room into which I was trying to gain admittance. And judging from my quick glance into that room from the flag-stones of the back patio, Eric Downes could not have shot himself.

Eric Downes had been my contact man; he had a roll of precious microfilm which I was to pick up and bring back to L.U.S.T. headquarters with me. It was a routine job, there were supposed to have been no emergencies like a man shot to death inside a locked room. I was on a vacation here in merry old England after my part in the Balder Cunningham affair in Miami, and I wanted fun and games, not murder and sudden death.

I was supposed to rest up, soak in the sunshine at Brighton and the neon lights in a couple of private clubs in London. Instead of this, my fingers were working a slim length of metal in the study-door lock of the manor house that had been the property of Eric Downes.

My name is Eve Drum. They call me Double Oh Sex as a sort of joke (I hope) at that secret agent organization known as L.U.S.T., the League of Underground Spies and Terrorists. Only its enemies know about L.U.S.T., which is a natural child of the State Department by way of the C.I.A. Our job is to do those things which must be done to preserve peace and the happy continuance of O.A.S., N.A.T.O., and other assorted initial groups.

I am a female blonde, the sexiest spy in the business, with meaningful measurements of 38, 24, 35. I weigh a hundred and ten pounds in my smooth bare skin. I am the wearer of the red and white Sixth Dan belt in judo, an expert with rifle or revolver, ditto swimmer. I can throw a knife with reasonable accuracy, and I can usually open a lock like the man who made it.

Right now, however, this damned Chubb was resisting my every effort to pry its pin-tumblers loose from their cradles. I painted, I swore in a definitely unladylike fashion. I cursed David Anderjanian who is my case officer in L.U.S.T., and his thrice-damned assignment sheets.

Why do all these things happen to me? If the local constabulary should chance to pay the Downes manor house a visit, they would find a pretty L.U.S.T. agent bending over with her mini-skirt up to her behind, trying to make an illegal entry into a locked room where a recently dead man lay lifeless. I had the feeling this was the one morning the police would decide to stop in and exchange neighborly pleasantries with this man Eric.

This gee damn lock was fighting back at me, resisting my every effort to get it open. I leaned my head against the door and drew a deep breath. My father was a locksmith; he had taught his only daughter all he knew about locks and keys, which was plenty. I told myself I could open the eff damn thing, just give me time.

I bent to the lock, I moved the metal rod this way and that. I held my breath. The rod caught. I heard a faint click of metal on metal. Ever so gently—I did not breathe—I wriggled the rod. A tumbler clicked.

I pushed. The door opened.

I was staring into a wood-paneled library, the thick carpet of which held a twisted dead body that had been shot in the back of the head with an antique dueling pistol, The pistol lay on the far edge of the big desk where it had been hurled by the recoil action, its muzzle now pointed away from the dead man. Most of the walls were filled with books on shelves built into the paneling. There was a standing globe of the Earth, a library ladder, a couple of wooden prie-dieux holding huge volumes, and various assorted odds and ends which a British bachelor in his forties might possess.

I tiptoed across the carpet.

Eric Downes had lived alone. A charlady came in twice a week to clean up any messes he might make. He had not made much of a mess in dying. The hole in the back of his head was neatly round, faintly blackened by gunpowder. He lay huddled as he had fallen. Death had been instantaneous.

I straightened and touched the desk with my eyes. I would have liked to have found his murderer, but I had something more important to attend to. I must find the roll of microfilm I was to bring back to L.U.S.T. headquarters.

I have been trained to search a room. I began to do so, quietly and with thoroughness. I made sure the corpse did not have the film on his person, as best I could without destroying evidence. I went over the carpet and under it, the desk, the books on the bookshelves (and what a job that was!), the keyholes in the doors. Outside the door through which I had entered, there were two other doors to the library. One door led into the lavatory. The other was locked and useless, for it had been boarded up and plastered over on the other side to widen the dining room wall.

After three hours, I was dirty, dusty and defeated.

The microfilm was nowhere in the room.

I had no time to search the whole house. This was a task which would take weeks. I went over to the desk and stared down at the dueling pistol that had killed my contact man. It was a beautiful piece of work. It was a rare ivory flintlock made by Van den Brock of Mastricht about the middle of the eighteenth century, long and slim and deadly, for all its beauty. The butt was shaped in the head of an Oriental girl.

I tried to think back to the last briefing I’d had from my case officer, David Anderjanian. He had told me, Eric Downes would turn over the microfilm to me on presentation of my authority, which consisted of a set of my fingerprints which he would take. Since he had my prints already on plastic-coated paper, he could verify my identity easily enough.

Eric Downes had gotten the microfilm from his own contact, a man David knew only by the name The Satyr. Later, I was to learn the name was very appropriate. The Satyr hung around the strip joints in Soho, and was in the habit of asking the strippers to step out with him after work.

It would be like hunting the proverbial needle in the fabled haystack. I did not know whether finding The Satyr would be any help to me, he probably knew no more about the microfilm than I, but I had to do something

The thought occurred to me that Eric Downes might not have contacted The Satyr, that The Satyr might still have the film on his person. I dared not let even that slim chance elude me.

I would go back to London. I would visit Soho. First, I slipped the plastic-covered paper that held my betraying fingerprints into my handbag. Then I closed and re-locked the library door, and tiptoed down the long hall and out the front door into brilliant sunshine,

The English countryside in this very early springtime of the year was a brilliant green. I have never seen grass quite so green as English grass, anywhere. It leaped out at you from lawn and meadow and sodded field. It made me glad, suddenly, to be alive.

Poor Eric Downes I wondered who had shot him—and why. It might have been a H.A.T.E. (the Humanitarian Alliance for Total Espionage) agent, a spurned girl friend, even a jealous husband. H.A.T.E. was the likeliest choice, however, for H.A.T.E. is the bugaboo of L.U.S.T., our own personal bogeyman with which we maintain a constant vendetta.

I went around the side of the house and just before I stepped onto the patio I saw two footprints, one oddly deeper than the other, and where this deeper print pressed into the loam there was a shallower rut just behind it, as if it dragged something behind the heel. I studied them a moment, but could not understand what might have made that deeper imprint.

On the patio flaggings I peeped in the big library window once again, seeing the desk almost within arm’s reach of me, except for the thick pane of glass between. I ran a gloved hand over the glass, wondering if by some crazy chance I had missed a bullet hole.

No bullet hole, nothing to show how the murder might have been committed. It began to look more and more as if the dueling pistol had been jarred into firing, catching my contact in the back of the head with its smooth round ball. A damned crying shame, because Eric Downes had been a good man. An R.A.F. leftenant shot down during the battle of Britain, he had gone into espionage work when the doctors certified that he was no longer fit to fly a Spitfire.

About ten years ago, Eric Downes had retired to putter about on his estate here in Somerset. From time to time he accepted small assignments for a fee, perhaps out of sheer boredom, perhaps to make ends meet. I never knew his financial status.

Now fate had caught up to him in the shape of powder and ball. Oddly, I felt that it might be all my fault.

There was no sense standing around and blaming myself for accidents—or deliberate murder, if murder it was. I had to lam out of here and back to London.

To Soho and The Satyr. I ran to the Austin Healey Sprite I had rented in London, and started up the engine. If The Satyr dated strip teasers, if he had a thing for ecdysiasts, then I would peel down with the best of them. I revved the motor, shot the shift into gear, and roared down the gravel path.

I had to have a plan of action. I felt sure that places like the Sunset Strip and Raymond’s would have more strippers waiting for jobs than I could shake a gee-string at. I needed a gimmick.

I scooted the Sprite along a narrow twisting road that ran from Glastonbury toward Wells. There was little traffic, a Frames bus filled with vacationers, a small truck bearing crated eggs, an MG Midget driven by a bearded man. I had plenty of time to think.

Sure, David Anderjanian had nicknamed me Double Oh Sex, but I am modest enough to admit that there are plenty of females with just as good shapes as mine, even maybe with just as good breasts and legs. So I had to do more than show my nipples or my bare behind to a lot of sex-surfeited onlookers, assuming I could get a strip job.

I could be Cleopatra in an Egyptian kalasiris of sheer linen and with an uraeus on my golden locks. I would do a sort of snake dance with a make-believe asp.

Yeeech!

I might make a good Lolita for the crowd, in baby dolls and a braided asp.

Yeech again.

I might make a good Lolita for the crowd, in baby dolls and a braided wig.

Nahhh!

So how about Lady Godiva? I refused to share the billing with a horse.

Still, I had to come up with something!

Think, girl spy: Think of men and what men like. I knew plenty about men and what they liked. But I couldn’t go on a stage and do anything like that.

I had no other ideas. My mind was blank. I wheeled the Sprite into London by way of Old Brompton Road, passing through South Kensington and Knightsbridge. There was a spot of traffic here and there so I had little time to think about the gimmick I needed.

I parked at the car rental garage. I would walk to Soho by way of Oxford Street. It was not a long walk, but maybe by the time I reached Oxford Circus, I would have thought of something. It began to rain when I was about four blocks from Regent Street.

It rains in England every other hour, just about. The rain lasts maybe ten minutes to half an hour—just long enough to get you soaking wet—and then it stops and the sun comes out. You would swear it pours at the exact time you are unprepared for it. Now I know why Englishmen carry umbrellas. They never know when they might need them.

I only got half soaked, actually, because I ducked into the entrance to a bridal shop. I looked at the rain, I watched the people walking along unconcernedly, I told myself I simply must develop an English nonchalance to rainwater.

I even looked in the display windows at wedding gowns. After a time the rain was gone and the sun with with it. I departed the bridal shop door and moved on Soho. I walked happily, I even hummed a bar or two. For now I had my gimmick.

I would be a brand new bride stripping down for her bridegroom. It was a natural. I would be eager, yet shy, bashful but bold. I told myself the theater manager would be a fool to turn me down.

Soho is that area of London that falls between Mayfair with its Georgian buildings and fancy shops, and Holborn, which houses the Smithfield markets, where at one time you could buy somebody else’s wife if you had the urge and the cash, and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It is the theatrical section of swinging old London, and Shaftesbury Avenue is its Main Street.

The strip shows starts in the morning, at a quarter of high noon, and go on long into the night. Breasts for breakfast, if you eat late, or behinds for brunch. You can get ecdysiasts with your eggs and ham, if you like the mixture.

I bypassed a couple of places, like the Red Rooster and the Revue Bar. I was going to settle for something not quite so plush. After all, while I’ve removed a Maidenform bra before a man in my time, I’ve never slipped off my unmentionables in front of a big crowd. The sign read: OFF LIMITS. It hung before a big glass door, to one side of which was a display board behind a glass panel, crammed with pictures of strippers in pasties and panels. They were all good-looking girls, but they didn’t scare me. I could strip down with the best of them.

My only worry was, did The Satyr frequent the Off Limits? I told myself he must, if he specialized in this type girl. After all, how many new strippers came along for him to date? A new body would catch the eye and make tongues wag.

I walked into a dim interior to the sound of a piano and the sight of a girl strutting on a little stage along one wall.

There were maybe twenty men seated at the tables sipping bitters, as our English cousins name their beer.

I paused a moment, staring. The girl was down to a black cache-sexe. She was doing a slow grind, her white thigh-flesh rippling as her hips dug and twisted. Her breasts were like small melons, shaking and jiggling, and the nipples were a bright red. I thought that voices should be raised and feet be pounding the bare floor planks, but the room was silent except for the piano. Englishmen are very polite. I moved toward the bar. “I’d like to see the manager,” I told the lady barkeep. “I’m the manager,” she answered gruffly. “And we don’t need any more strips.”

“Not even a bashful bride baring her bod?” She hesitated with a hand on the tap. Something glinted in her eyes. “Bashful bride?” she repeated slowly.

I hooked a nyloned leg over a stool and leaned closer. “Every man in the world has either spent a wedding night or is looking forward to his wedding night, when his little bride will hop between the sheets with him. I give some a preview. I make others remember.”

The woman looked past my shoulder at the girl onstage. She was turning her backside to her audience, shaking the soft buttocks she exposed. The room was so silent I could hear a man slurp his ale.

“No imagination,” I murmured.

“And you have?”

“Try me for a week,” I invited. “Fifteen pounds the week. You bring in trade, I’ll up it to a hundred,” she told me.

I pouted. “Fifteen pounds won’t even pay for my props. Make it twenty and you’ve got a deal.”

She scowled; she knew the value of a shilling, did the lady. Suddenly she grinned. “Tell you what, ducks. You put on your act and I’ll see about making it twenty. I’m not one for buying a pig in a poke.”

I shrugged. I did not need the money, this was only a temporary thing, until The Satyr showed up for a date.

“So okay, so I’m out dough if you don’t like me.” I muttered.

She grinned. “I’m doing a British girl out of a job, Yank.”

“You’ve got to prove yourself to me. You colonists think you’re all so smart.”

“How did you know I’m an American?”

“Ducks, all you have to do is talk.”

“What time’s the first performance?”

“Be here at six. First show starts at seven, with you in it. Two more shows, at nine and then eleven. After that you’re on your own.”

I was a little surprised that the show should end so early. The lady manager shrugged her plump shoulders, explaining that she could not compete with such posh places as Raymond’s and The Whiskey a Go-Go.

Under the law in England, no woman may appear nude and move, in a public place. It’s okay if she is naked and does not move, however. The catch—word is public. To get around the legal ban on strippers who parade naked all over the place, these strip joints become private clubs. There are no such laws for private clubs.

“Ta ta then,” I said, wiggling my fingers. I had to go practice being a bride. It was raining again so I ran for the bridal shop. I had no time to waste on such luxuries as staying dry during a brief thundershower. I had to buy a white satin wedding gown and assorted accessories.

I came into the bridal shop squeezing water out of my mini-skirt. A salesgirl hurried toward me, making sympathetic sounds. I flashed her a brief smile, then caught my skirt in two hands and squeezed. Water dripped down.

“I need a bridal gown,” I said, shaking myself like a hound dog shedding water. “Actually, I think I’d better have two gowns.”

She looked startled. “Two?”

“When one gets dirty, you know.” She nodded, mouth a little open, eyes wide. I give her credit, she was game. She guided me toward a number of dummy models set on a little daises.

“They have to be the same,” I muttered. “I can’t have two different wedding gowns, now can I? There might be a bit of confusion.”

She swallowed, nodding like an automaton. I am sure she thought me stark, raving crazy.

“We can’t have them getting spoiled,” I added brightly.

“They?” she yelped. “There’s more than one?”

“My wedding dresses have to be strongly made, against constant wear and tear.”

The salesgirl rolled her eyes, visualizing a succession of husbands ripping my garments off me night after night. She looked a little pale.

I chose a tight white gown of white satin that buttoned down the back, with a skirt that flared out and rustled. I would wear a rhinestone crown for my hair, to which a veil would be attached.

“Better make it half a dozen veils,” I told her, watching her knuckles go white as she gripped her ball point tighter while making out the sales slip. “I might even work out a dance of the seven veils after I strip down.”

The girl flushed. “You English are so staid,” I smiled. “I want yelling, foot stamping, whistles and shouts. After all, a girl needs some encouragement.”

I thought she might faint, but she rallied despite visions of a husband whistling and clapping and stamping his feet as I shed my gown along with my bridal modesty. I saw her glancing from time to time toward my finger, bare of any engagement ring.

“Now for the goodies,” I exclaimed. “Goo-goo-goodies?”

“Sure, you know—fancy bras, a couple of cute panties with strategic holes cut in them, black nylons—”

“—with a bridal gown?”

“Honey, I know what men like.”

“Men? I mean, how many—that is. . . .” I patted her pallid cheek. “Sweetie, I haven’t gone through the routine yet. I’m not sure just how I’m going to come on, but I know what makes the best impression.” I halted and put my fingertip to my cheek. “You know, I wonder if white wouldn’t be better.”

“Better than wh—what?”

“Than a black lace bra, silly, with maybe some red ribbons in it. And panties to match. A garter-belt, too, lacy and strong, that’ll hold up when I do my bumps and high kicks.”

The girl sat down hard. “You’re having a bloody lot of fun at my expense. Come off it, Yank. I won’t put up with this nonsense any longer!”

I reached into my handbag, brought out my wallet and waved some five pound notes around. Sight of the money sort of mollified her. She sniffed, as if to say that there were kooks all over, these days, and maybe one or two of them did get married.

Actually, I chose half a dozen sets of underwear. I was not quite certain about my routine. I might find black too bold, maybe the customers would want white as a symbol of virginity about to be ravished.

The things I do for Uncle Sam!

I figured I was on my own. David Anderjanian was stateside. Somebody had to start the ball rolling to find The Satyr. If anybody would know whether he had given the microfilm to Eric Downes, he would.

I had thought of visiting the strip joints in Soho posing as a tourist. But the odds against my being in the right place at the right time—when The Satyr would proposition one of the bump and grind beauties, were too big. If he liked new strippers, I would be one.

At six o’clock I walked into a dimly lighted dressing room of the Off Limits, carrying my prop valise. There were a couple of other skin kin there, a pert redhead with an impressive bosom that shook and quivered like white jello when she moved, a gal with black hair down to her behind, a couple of tired-looking blondes. They glanced up at me, nodded, and went back to doing their faces.

I dropped my bag and grabbed my skirt hem. Up it came until I was all girl in a black lace bra and ditto panties, gun-metal nylons and a red-ribboned, black garter-belt. In the mirror over the nearest dressing table I got a look at my firm white hips stuffed into black lace and nylon. I bent down, saw my breasts half exposed above the tight brassiere. Then while the other girls gaped in astonishment, I lifted out the bridal gown. I began undoing the satin buttons down the back.

“What’s that for?” asked the redhead. “She thinks she’s in a church,” said a blonde. The girls laughed. I scowled. Holding the gown up before me, posing in the mirror, I said tartly, “Relax, sweeties. Your star of stars is here.”

“She’s a Yank, too,” muttered the girl with the long black hair. “We ought to send her back where she belongs.”

“Don’t try it,” I warned them softly. “You might get yourselves hurt. I wear the red and white belt in judo, loves.”

The British are a brave people. They are also still fighting the American Revolution. The redhead and the girl with the long black hair and a hefty blonde came for me from three different directions, hands up and long red nails showing. If they marked my face or body with those nails, I might not get to do my bashful bride routine. And I must do that little strip bit for dear old L.U.S.T.

I grabbed the blonde with a hand on her left upper arm and right shoulder, kicking her right knee with my left foot in the knee wheel throw. She went down sideways like a sack of meal, screeching with indignation. As my right hand came off her shoulder, I just let it keep on going—into the redhead’s throat. Not too hard. Just enough to shut her windpipe for a second or two.

As the redhead doubled up, hands at her throat, I kicked out behind me at the girl with the long black hair, I caught her just above her dimpled navel with the heel of my foot and shoe. The air whooshed from her lungs and she bent over just as the redhead had done.

From the floor where she had sat down hard on her buttocks, the blonde stared up at me. She was wincing with the pain of her bounced bottom.

“First round to you, ducks,” she muttered. “There may not be any more rounds, if you Cuties want to help me—and get me out of your hair.”

The redhead could not speak yet, neither could the girl with the long black hair. So it was one of the other blondes who asked, “How can we do that, pet?”

“Any of you know The Satyr?” The redhead could talk enough to say two naughty words. I turned to her, “You don’t like him either?”

The blonde put up her hand. I caught it and lifted her to her feet. She muttered, “Promised to marry ‘er, ‘e did. And run off for h’a floosey down the block.”

“But he does come in here?” The girl with the long black hair smiled nastily. “Soon’s he’s heard there’s a new girl in our show, he’ll be in.”

I began to hum, lifting the bridal gown over my head and writhing it down over me. It was a near fit. I’d had to enlarge the bodice, being a female with twin 38s to conceal. I posed before the mirror.

A blonde came up behind me, began to do the buttons. “What’s the Satyr to you, ducks?”

“He got my sister pregnant,” I lied. The redhead was gasping more easily now. “And what do you think you’re going to do to him?”

I reached into my handbag and produced a large pocket comb. I pressed the comb and out flashed a thin, razor-sharp blade. The girls goggled.

“I’m going to cut his peter off,” I smiled. “You wouldn’t dare,” breathed a blonde. “It’ll be him or me, honey,” I told her, sliding the blade back into the comb-handle.

They stared at me in utter awe. I could hear the electric guitars working on the stage through the closed dressing room door. I gave my hips a little shake.

“I hope you girls’ll point him out to me.”

“We will, ducks,” muttered the girl with the long black hair. “I feel a little wicked, knowing what’s going to happen to The Satyr tonight.”

Black-hair was echoing the thoughts of all the girls. There is an animal savagery in us human beings, and the girls responded to the idea of unmanning The Satyr as bacchantes reacted to the castration rite of the male victims that fell into their clutches at the time of the Bacchanalia. Redhead was wearing the traditional black satin evening gown, with long black gloves. She lifted the skirt to her navel. Under it she had on a tiny red g-string that looked like the real thing. Slowly, she wriggled her hips, sliding the g-string down. The red was gone and only pale white skin was left.

“Wait’ll I do my act, girls. I’ll shake ’em up for you,” she giggled.

She swung around and waggled her buttocks at us. Black-hair muttered, “Maybe I’ll vary my own routine, ducks.” She gave me a funny look.

Redhead ran out of the room. I went after her, to get an idea of what the audience was like and to catch a performer’s eye view of the stage.

The music was low and rhythmic. It ground deep inside your flesh and made you want to growl at a man. The pert redhead sauntered out onto the boards, hips jouncing, flashing white teeth at the boys around the tables. The house was half empty.

But the men sat up with sudden interest as Red turned her back to them and flipped her skirt up to her head. I got a side look at shapely white legs, the curve of soft buttocks, her belly-bulge as she bent. Somebody whistled. She was shaking them up, all right.

The skirt came down and now she began her regular routine, walking back and forth, peeling off her long black gloves. The bit demanded that she tease them before getting down to business but Red was having none of that, this night. As she sauntered toward me, she winked with one of her false-eye-lashed, mascared eyes.

The strip tease began as an art form when Kla the cave girl learned that her man Mogok enjoyed seeing her take off her saber-tooth tiger-skin nice and slowly, maybe even while walking back and forth past a cooking fire. The rest of the world was quick to pick it up. Susannah unwittingly did a strip for the elders, and in the days when Rome was the only world power, the girls from Gades were renowned for the manner in which they waggled their hips and buttocks. The Romans had a word for this early bump and grind, they called it cassare.

The climax of this Gadean dance was the movement by which the women sank down onto the floor, thighs spread in a manner guaranteed even to excite Pelias (whoever he was), as the Roman writer Martial has pointed out. A lot of our modern ecdysiasts use this same method of finishing up a performance. So what else is new?

The erotic ritual dances of Africa employ a form of strip tease by both men and women dancing with each other, but here the only article of clothing to be removed is the futeh, the loincloth. And when this is done, the dance is done, the dance is mighty close to its climax, no pun intended. In the Middle East and North Africa coffee houses and hashish parlors, these dances, or modifications of them, are still being done.

Essentially, the strip tease and its subsequent bump and grind, is a mating dance. By displaying her nakedness to a man, a woman wants him to desire her and to do something about it. In the more savage communities, this is understood and acted upon. In our civilized areas, the strip does indeed, become just a tease.

Right in front of me Red put a hand onto her bosom and scooped out her left breast, then her right. She had good knockers, they were big and full, with tinted nipples. Her action was hidden from the audience by a stage prop.

She backed onto the stage, hips shaking. As she went, her hands were lifting up her skirts. In the middle of the stage she whirled, breasts bared and shaking, arms extended outward. And she started to shimmy.

I glanced at the audience. It seemed larger. A voice behind me whispered, “The word’s going up and down the street. There’ll be a big crowd for you, watch and see.”

I turned. Black-hair was standing at my elbow, dressed as a man in evening clothes, white tie and tails, with her glossy black hair hidden under a high hat. I guess I must have showed my surprise, because she giggled and leaned closer to whisper in my ear.

“You see before you your lovin’ bridegroom, ducks. Are you game for it? We’ll have to ad lib, but we can think of something naughty, the two of us.”

I nodded and turned back to the stage. Red was sliding her shoulder straps down, still shimmying. Her breasts were flying all over the place like puddings in a windstorm. There were voices raised, now and then, and a great scurrying of feet as waiters with trays piled high with bitters and whiskey moved in between the tables. The audience had more than doubled.

The black satin evening gown went down around her hips as the redhead went on shaking. She gave it a nudge with her thumbs and eased it past her hourglass hips. All she had on now were her shoes and a necklace of cheap black beads.

She ground her hips, she sucked in her belly, she shot her hips like a machine gone mad. Back and forth and from side to side. Her breasts bounced, her pale thighs rippled, her buttocks jiggled crazily. She was one bare bouncing babe.

The clapping began in a dark corner and spread across the room. Red was ape for applause this night. She even did a couple of high kicks before she ran off and into my arms.

The stage lights dimmed. A prop slid down that showed a bedroom and a big bed painted on the drop. A table and a chair were pushed onto the dais by a stagehand. The electric guitars went into The Wedding March.

I slithered onstage. A howl of anticipation went up at sight of my wedding gown. I had my hands to my cheeks, I pretended embarrassment. I turned and held my hands out, palms up, as if to ward off a too eager bridegroom. The crowd loved it. Feet began to stamp as my English cousins lost some of their reserve.

I turned my back and started unfastening the white satin buttons. The back-flaps of the gown fell open, showing the band of my brassiere. Holding my dress to my bosom, I turned my head as if fearful, toward the wing where Black-hair was waiting.

She stepped onto the stage, almost shrinking at the sight of me. She was a good mime, was Black-hair. I knew instantly that “he” was a bashful bridegroom, even more terrified than “his” bride. The crowd knew it too, and roared with laughter.

I put my hand over my open mouth, pretending dismay. As soon as I saw how Black-hair was acting, I removed it to crook a finger at her. She shook her head. The crowd yelped with delight.

I pointed to the floor before me. My bridegroom still hung back, so I raised the hem of my white bridal gown and putting a foot on the edge of the chair, began to smooth my gun-metal stocking up my leg. My bridegroom took a step forward. I smiled at “him.” I let the bodice drop so that the upper swells of my breasts were exposed. Black-hair gawked, mouth opening. A tongue came out to slide across “his” lips. I turned my back so my bridegroom could not see me, but the audience could, as I slid down the shoulders of my bridal gown and gripping the wired cups of the bra, lowered them so my breasts protruded.

Feet began to stamp. The contrast of the modest bridal gown, with sleeves buttoned down to the wrists and with a long skirt that hid even my shoes, to the sight of my exposed nipples, was too much.

I whirled and gave my bridegroom the benefit of my girl-girl goodies. The girl in the white tie and tails took two steps forward and the audience guffawed. I shook my breasts. Black-hair took another step.

I crooked my finger at “him,” but all I got was another head-shake. I looked at the audience, lifted my eyebrows and spread my hands. The boys shouted indecent encouragement.

I do not know how many brides do a strip tease for their bridegrooms before or on their wedding night. There are a lot of odd marriage customs all across this earth of ours, and even stranger courtships. In Utopia, Sir Thomas More suggested that a man and a woman remove their clothes before one another, that they might not buy the proverbial pig in a poke during the wedding ceremony. In India, a poor father takes his nubile daughter to the marketplace and there strips her down, showing off her charms to the assembled crowd in the hope of finding a man so smitten by her breasts, legs, belly and buttocks that he will make her his wife.

The Puritans bundled, in which a man and his girl went to bed together with only a board standing on end between them, the idea being that since the high jump had not been invented, the ardent youth would be unable to denude his intended before the marriage vows were exchanged. In Sweden this custom is called frieri, in the Black Forest region of Germany, probenachte, in the land of the dike and wooden shoe, queesteen.

These little trial marriages are by no means unique. They were known as far back as medieval days, when they were termed “hand-fasting”.

The Eskimos, the Tibetans, in ancient Arabia or almost any country you can name, the young man and his wife-to-be lived together for a period usually a year—at the end of which time they decided to get married or to split up, and nobody thought less of the girl for the experience.

In a sense then, I was courting my groom as I walked into the stripper’s strut, hips waggling and breasts joggling.

My fingers went to the rest of the buttons while I stalked back and forth. I undid the sleeves, I let the gown drop to my middle. My bridegroom covered “his” face with “his” hands. But the first two fingers of each hand widened so “he” could watch me.

I pushed the gown past my hips, and stepped out of it. Facing my bridegroom, I hooked thumbs in my black lace panties. The crowd shouted and stamped its feet. I started pushing down the sheer panties below my buttocks.

When I took my hands away and bent over to pick up my evening gown, the boys in the Off Limits got a real eyeful. I carried the evening gown across my arm toward the table, letting my high heels hit the floor hard so my buttock cheeks would quiver.

As I passed my bridegroom, Black-hair breathed, “He’s here.”

I kept right on going, not betraying the sudden thrill that rippled down my spine. The word had been passed up and down the street about the new act at the Off Limits. The Satyr was in the audience. I was hoping he would send a card into the dressing room, inviting me out for a late Supper.

But first, the show must go on. I walked back past my bridegroom, hands behind my back and unsnapping the bra hooks. The black garment fell away. I breast-bounced close to Black-hair and tossed my brassiere. Black-hair caught it.

“Where?” I whispered. My bridegroom stepped close, putting “his” arms about me from behind. I made a moué with my lips, opening my eyes wide so the audience could see I was a little shook by my suddenly amorous husband.

My bridegroom kissed my neck even as “he” whispered, “Third table from the left, in evening clothes. Blond hair, kind of wavy.”

Hands caught my breasts from underneath, lifted and shook them a little. The crowd bellowed, every eye riveted on my jumping nipples. My own eyes darted to the third table from the left.

The Satyr was easy to pick out. He was a big man, broad across the shoulders, with blonde wavy hair and real good looks. No wonder he got so many strippers to go out with him. He was a smasher, as our British cousins say.

I gave him a great big smile. Never taking my eyes from his, I turned in Black-hair’s embrace, put my arms about “his” shoulders, and gave my husband a great big kiss. Black-hair gave the kiss back to me, lips open and tongue working. I never hesitated. As if she were my real bridegroom, I snuggled my belly up to her, felt her soft palms move down my back to cup my exposed behind.

Glued together like that, we writhed toward the painted bed on the drop. Just before we reached it, the lights went out.

The audience groaned out loud.

Then the applause erupted.

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