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Naked Galveston

Michael Glassman

 

Iím sitting hands tied behind my back, in a strip club on the tattered edges of civilized society surrounded by three naked Asian women. This is a fantasy of mine from way back and I might be enjoying it if there wasnít at least two people in the room Iím thinking mean me some real harm. One is a fourth naked Asian woman, the mother of the woman I lusted after Ė pretty arousing in her own right Ė waving a real big gun around and screaming in Vietnamese. The other member of the cold shower team is Johnny Vinn. Heís holding a disembodied arm Ė most likely belonging to the woman I lusted after Ė sort of as a shield against mamma. The three witches of Saigon are staring at me with vacant eyes. Iím pretty sure any one of these pretty girls would gladly chew my balls off and spit them back in my face for two twenties and a champagne cocktail. They havenít said a word in English but Iím sure thatís what theyíre thinking. The real danger is over across the room. Mammaís screaming sounds awful nasty, and even though I donít speak a word of Vietnamese I got a pretty good idea of whatís coming. Iíve seen The Deer Hunter enough times to know.

It is this lust I have for Asian women, especially naked Asian women that put me in this position. I donít know what it is, the almond eyes, the hair so black itís blue, the fact that they make you feel like youíre screwing your little sisterís best friend and itís all legal Ė and sheís as good as those nights you fantasized about it. I once passed a Catholic high school filled with Asian girls in uniforms. I got an erection so fierce I couldnít walk straight for a week. But this is no wet dream. If things keep going in the same direction Iím going to wind up packaged in the back freezer before sunrise.

*

Coming down to teach at Houston Tech was a mixed blessing. I had gone through a very cold divorce in a very cold climate, and I needed heat, and passion, and tequila, not necessarily in that order. I also need a world where I was invisible in pursuit of all these things. In other words I needed a frontier town, at least as close as you could get to one at the beginning of the twenty-first century and still have cable. When the job offer came from Houston Tech I grabbed it. One thing I didnít know at the time was Houston ix breeding ground for a transplanted Vietnamese population, the plutocrats who were able to stay one step ahead of the communists. They came because the heat reminded them of Vietnam, the fishing reminded them of Vietnam, but mostly I think because the corruption reminded them of Vietnam. The Vietnamese and me had a lot in common as far as Houston was concerned.

What made the whole Houston trip so bittersweet were the daughters. These transplanted Vietnamese grew themselves some very nice female children Ė and seemed to send every one of them into my classroom. That old clichť that they do everything bigger in Texas is a clichťí for a reason. Of course the rule at Houston Tech, like all campuses is look but donít touch, except when you do Ė touch that is.

The alcohol, the heat, and these touchable/oh-so-untouchable women made for a fairly combustible combination. And I added a little extra fuel by sort of exaggerating and romanticizing my life before I got my Ph.D. I would regale my classes with stories of how I worked as a private dick in N.Y.C. This had your requisite kernel of truth. I worked at a private detective agency, and it was in New York, but as a typist/gofer to pick up a few extra dollars. The guys I worked for werenít exactly the Phillip Marloweís of the world to begin with. They were fat, dirty old men collecting their twenty-year pensions from the New York Police Department while they followed men and women around the city in hopes of photographing them in indelicate positions.

In my stories though I was Marlowe, and Sam Spade, and a host of other dime store shamuses. Whatís a little fantasy between leering old professor and young impressionable nymphette anyway? Then one day after class Iím gathering up my lecture notes and I notice, out of the corner of my eye, Susie Nguyen walking in the wrong direction, towards me rather than towards the door. Susie was one of those women that when she walked, menís appendages stood up and took notice. She was dressed real good this particular day. Tight blue shirt with the block white letters ARTA sprawled across her chest. Didnít know what it meant, but I stared at the acronym so intently during class that it was tattooed across the back of my mind. Underneath she had these yellow shorts barely protecting against scenes that make lesser women Hollywood starlets. Her white pumps made her sway, and made my intestines sway right along with her. I wanted Susie Nguyen to keep walking closer Ė so close I could touch.

I kept fiddling with my notes, praying to all that is holy that Susie Nguyen saw me as sublime destination. When Susie was within inches I turned around quickly so that Iím chest to chest with ARTA. I didnít have to slap her on the back to know she wasnít wearing a bra.

"I liked your lecture a lot," she says in that soft, breathy voice that sounds idiotic coming from anybody other than a beautiful Asian woman.

"I aim to please." I knew how bad that sounded, but Susie nuzzled closer like I was taking cues from Cyrano. My lower extremities were becoming something of an embarrassment.

"Iíve got this problem," she tells me.

"I think I got a bigger one." I looked up at the lecture hall door, realizing if the wrong person walks through my problem could explode in exponential fashion. "I think maybe we should go to my office and discuss this further."

"Oh!" It is this little high-pitched squeal that makes you think that youíre close, really, really close. "Yes, letís go up to your office." Never have I had this type of key to a womanís passion handed me with so little work, and if I were thinking with an organ above my waste this was my first clue that something wasnít quite right.

So we walked up to my office. Iím holding my lecture notes in front of me like Iím thirteen and Lisa Napoli has just outgrown her training bra. I open the door to my office, hustle Susie Nguyen in as quickly as I can, and close the door with salacious glee. I donít turn on the lights because I donít want to see what Iím about to do. ARTA is off in a matter of seconds. The yellow shorts are off soon after. I understand why you never see panty lines on Susie Nguyen no matter how tight her clothes.

"I shouldnít be doing this," I say, trying to do it as quickly as possible in case the cleaning lady walks in on us.

"Youíre damned right you shouldnít."

The only eruptions Iím able to experience are two syllables inside my head, the first being "Uh", followed closely by its good friend "Oh." I had somehow dropped Susie Nguyenís key, if I ever really had it.

"What do you mean?" I asked, even though I knew from the tone of her voice exactly what she meant.

"I think they call this sexual harassment when the lights are turned on," she says, "isnít that right professor?"

Susie gave me a little push and I backed away quickly, turning on the lights. I watch her dress in silence. I was in lust with a girl accusing me of being an amoral monster. "What do you want, an A?" I asked, only after determining there was nothing more to see.

Susie sat down in the swivel chair behind my desk like she owned the office. "Iíve already got an A. Do you ever think of me separate from my breasts?"

That was right, she was running an A in my class. "Then what?"

"Iíve got this person I need to find. I need somebody with experience in finding. I want you to come down to Galveston and help me find her."

"Why me?"

Susie thought on this for a while. "Because you were a private detective, because you seem pretty smart, but most of all because youíre a big enough loser to manipulate into this type of situation." She smiled and ran a hand seductively down from ARTA to the darker regions of her yellow shorts. Susie Nguyen was making only one miscalculation. I wasnít so much motivated by the sexual harassment charge Ė this was Houston Tech after all Ė as the chance to hold Susieís body next to mine. Then again, maybe she wasnít miscalculating.

I gave Susie my cell phone number and she said she would be in touch. I waited all weekend for the call. The next Tuesday Susie Nguyen and her tight shirt were missing from my class. I may not have remembered what type of student Susie was, but I always noticed when she was there. This was the first time she missed a class all semester. I was worried. You can develop a fondness for beautiful women who press their nipples into your chest. What I should have done was go swimming in tequila and porn and forgotten all about her. Instead I decided to take a roundtrip to Galveston.

Galveston isnít a big city, but itís got a spacious enough underbelly to support one. I had no idea where to start looking for Susie Nguyen and whoever she was looking for. I visited one of the few acquaintances I developed since moving to Houston, Donnie Del Reo. Donnie closely resembled the detectives at that agency where I once worked, a retired policeman playing third-rate dick for a few extra bucks. We met because of our shared predilection for Asian women. We both haunt the same Karaoke bars trolling for drunk, middle-aged Japanese women far from home. He knew every dive in Houston and Galveston, especially the ones that featured young women of the Asian persuasion. Besides, he owed me a favor because a few months back I gave him a flyer announcing a giant Asian sorority meeting in a local bar. I described my encounter with Susie, to a point, and asked him where he would start if he were me.

"How old?" he asked me.

"Just north of twenty," I tell him.

"Whatís her cup size?"

"Maybe 34 D. Nicely proportioned," I say, feeling a slight pain in the pit of my stomach.

Donnie takes a sip from his gin and tonic and then gets lost in a mid-forties Japanese woman karaoke singing I Will Survive. Weíre both thinking pretty much the same thing. This woman is about as sure as it gets. Probably her birthday, alone in a foreign country, you could get her to do all sorts of things.

"Always Risquť," Donnie says after the song ends, his eyes still following the woman as she climbs down from the stage.

"What?" Iím not sure what heís talking about.

"Itís a small club just outside of Galveston, very entertaining. All nude, all Asian, mostly Vietnamese, theyíre part of this little chain that calls themselves Trans Asian. You know, for guys like you and me."

Susie Nguyenís shirt with the four letters kept flashing in my mind. ARTA: Always Risquť Trans Asian, that was the place to start.

*

Friend if youíve never been to Galveston you are missing a city no down on his luck, alcoholic writer could come up with on his worst - best, night. Itís a joint masquerading as a city, with so many secrets floating in the air and ghosts walking the streets that it either suffocates the mind or drives it to insanity. It was supposed to be a grand city of decadence, like New Orleans or San Francisco, and it has the broken down mansions and weed infested boulevards to prove it. But Galveston drank a little too hard, laughed a little too loud, gambled beyond its means, and then sold itself too cheap. When bad times came its suitors were out the door, taking their attentions to a more chaste lady up the road named Houston. You would think a city would take its lesson, cough up a little humility, maybe even find God or something in his general vicinity Ė not Galveston. The city spit at its wayward suitors and the city they abandoned it for. Galveston reached deeper into its bottle telling the world you can do business in Houston, you can even find sex and decadence in Houston, but when you want to feed the uglier part of your soul you take that fifty mile ride down interstate 45 to the joint. The only thing asked in return is your money and your regrets.

The darker side of Galveston was busting at its seams, forcing the hardest of the sexual chop shops to its outskirts, like pimples on an ass. You start seeing shacks advertising all nudes conducting all sorts of business a couple of miles before the bridge that takes you into Galveston proper. I saw the pink neon sign flashing Always Risquť from the center lane of 45, wondering why I never noticed it before. There was an outline of a naked woman in yellow just below Ė very Asian and very young for those who took the time to look closely and cared about such things.

I pulled off the exit and into a dirt parking lot. The inside of the club was nothing like its rundown exterior. In other parts of the world the inside of strip clubs are cheap and uncomfortable. They want you to look at their women, spend your money on fantasies about them, and then leave. Here they set up the inside of the clubs like your living room, with comfortable chairs and couches, and drinks in the normal price range. They want you to stay and window shop ever when youíve passed your limit, because they know men become addicted. Spend enough time here and youíre going to want to come back. Places like Always Risquť donít want the money in your wallet as much as they want I.O.U.ís from your id.

I sat down in an over-stuffed chair and got served a Coke by the only non-Asian woman in the place. There were a lot of very naked women dancing in the crooks and crannies of the large room for desperate men. She found me, sauntering over in a virginís lingerie. Bathed in shadows, from a few feet away, I thought she might be Susie Nguyen and my heart quickened. I would lay down bad money after good to have Susieís body rubbing up against mine. As she got closer I could see the lines on her face. This was a woman who had been plying her trade over years, over continents.

"You want dance make your legs rubber?" she asked in an exaggerated accent, and for a moment I think Iím in a Kubrick film. The thing is I do want a dance, but what I need is information.

"There are other things Iíll pay twenty dollars for," I say taking out my wallet.

She had seen this routine before. "You come to the wrong place for information. You want tits, I give you tits, but thatís it Charlie."

"Itís about a girl Ė with really good tits," I tell her.

"I know plenty girls."

"A girl named Susie Nguyen."

She took a step back. I could see the look in her eyes, had seen it a thousand times in the eyes of students taking tests. Two possible answers, only one of them right, and she had to choose. She took a look back at a greasy haired young man standing behind the bar, leaning forward on his elbows, looking at all the naked bodies that writhed and wriggled in fat menís laps. "I need to strip for you so they donít look too close."

This was fine with me. The woman had a few extra miles on her, but she still looked like she could build up a pretty good head of steam. And she might have picked up some very valuable tricks over the years. I took out two twenties and placed them on a black, lacquer table to my side. "That should give us ten minutes to talk Ė among other things."

She takes off her top and I can see parts of her body have aged real well in spite of gravity. She gets close enough so my face becomes well acquainted with her heartbeat. "When the last time you see Susie?" she whispers in my ear.

"Last week," I say, my voice muffled by flesh. "She asked me to help her find somebody here in Galveston. She hasnít shown up for class since. Iím a professor of hers up at Houston Tech."

"Why you come here?"

"Susie mentioned this place." It was only half a lie.

She pulled my head deeper into her breasts, and hung her head over mine so her long black hair formed a curtain. "Susie in trouble, I know, I can feel it."

"You two have a special relationship?"

"Susie my baby," she said pushing her body into me.

I get a little queasy. Iíve had a lot of abnormal fantasies in my time, but mother/daughter never cracked the top ten. "Is there any way we could shorten this little dance here?"

"Susie must trust you, so I tell you, cause my baby is in trouble. You got a gun?"

It was the same question Susie asked. Or maybe she was just mistaking the bulge in my pants for something else. "Iím not from what you call a gun culture."

"You from Houston," she said, sounding annoyed that I didnít seem to know my own culture. She dug her fingernails into the back of my neck, which I might have enjoyed sans the Freudian nightmare. "Now you listen close Susieís friend. Susie is my baby in Vietnam. I dance in Vietnam. I come here and I dance. Susie donít like that. She wants me quit this place. I say no."

"Seems like dancing paid for Susieís Twinkies and training bras," I say. Momma dug her nails in even deeper. It was all I could do to keep from screaming out.

"Susie leaves country as a baby, goes and lives with American care program. I come here later with naked women stupid dancing program."

There were a lot of naked women. This was a pretty popular program. Momma didnít sound so happy with Susie and her judgments. "So they brought you here to dance in clubs?"

"Whatís a poor Vietnamese girl going to do?" she asks me. "There are three clubs here in Galveston. See that man behind bar?" I still couldnít see anything but mommaís breasts. "His name Johnny Vinn. He run a very mean program, donít like Susie coming around making trouble. I tell Susie leave it, not her business anymore. I been dancing most of my life. Susie a very stupid girl." Momma pretty much spit out these last words.

Susie Nguyen was many things - but a stupid girl was not one of them. The way momma was talking suggested tensions in family relations. "So we both want to find Susie."

She pulled back so quickly her large breasts were wobbling from the force of movement. "You come back tomorrow at four, after club closes." She got up from me, picked up her clothes, and started to walk away. Then she turned back and scooped up the two twenties from the table, giving me a little smile.

I came back before the club closed the next night with a bunch of twenties fresh from the ATM. Most of the girls steered clear of me, even when I flashed my little roll. Momma must have done a little talking. She passed by me, only once, and only to growl. I realized you diverged from Mommaís directions at your own peril.

I didnít have to wait for closing time. There was a wild, high- pitched scream at around three in the morning. Everybody ran outside to see what was going on. The girls didnít bother to put on what little clothes they had. A short guy who looked to be kitchen help was standing by a large green dumpster talking very fast and very excited in Spanish. We were all just standing there, naked or broke, watching him scream. Johnny Vinn breaks free from the crowd and strolls over to the dumpster like everythingís normal. Heís even carrying a little plastic bag of garbage. He throws the bag into the dumpster, leans over and takes a look for himself, and then pulls out what looks to be a womanís arm wearing a very ostentatious bracelet.

Momma screams, runs over to the dumpster and peers inside, her naked buttocks tightening as she stretches to look. I guess she found what she didnít want to be looking for. "My baby, my baby," she screams over and over again. I slowly start to get my mind around the idea that the arm belongs to the body of Susie Nguyen. I want to throw up. This was definitely a situation where the parts donít equal the whole.

"Chao, Chao," Momma continues to scream, "I kill her, I kill her." And Iím wondering who the hell is Chao?

Momma turned to Johnny Vinn who was still surveying the arm as if it were some piece of abstract art. She muttered some words I couldnít understand and then added in English, "Place is closed, everybody go home."

Johnny Vinn raised the arm above his head like it was a scepter. "Club is closed. Everybody go home." Then he added, "come back tomorrow," as if sending people home while they still had money in their pockets was more sin than he could bear.

Momma turned to me. "Not him. You take him inside."

A couple of the healthier women grab my arms and start pushing me towards the door of the club. They sit me down in a chair and tie my hands behind my back. All the time questions keep running through my head, "Who is Chao? Who is Momma going to kill? Why am I tied up when Iím on Mommaís side?" None of this makes any sense.

Momma comes back into the club with Johnny Vinn who is still carrying that arm. She reaches under the bar and pulls out a really big gun. I have to tell you, a small, angry naked lady in heels waving around a really big gun looks pretty funny, no matter what the situation. I laughed. This infuriates Momma who comes running over and slams me across the face with a handful of hardware. My teeth were rattled pretty good. I send my tongue to find out if anything is missing.

"Where Susie Nguyen?" Momma is hysterical. "You tell me right now or I kill you."

My headís too blurry from the blow to engage in the world as it actually is. Momma and the girls are part of some separate soft-core movie. Iím thinking Susie Nguyenís in the dumpster, except for her arm which is in Johnny Vinnís hand. "I thought sheís your baby," I mumble through a broken mouth.

I feel cold steal against my temple. "You disappear tonight, nobody ever know. Now you tell me."

The back door of the club bursts open and in jumps Donnie Del Reo pointing a sawed off shotgun in five different directions. Susie Nguyen is close behind, dressed in a tight, black leather suit. Susie barks some words in Vietnamese at Momma. Momma answers with what can only be a string of curses. She starts running towards Susie holding her gun out in front. Susie doesnít lose a drop of sweat. She steps forward and cold cocks Momma right in rhythm, sending the gun flying in one direction and the victim in another. Momma is spread out across the floor, her breasts still jiggling. Johnny Vinn races across the room screaming and starts hitting Susie with the arm. Whoever that arm belonged to must have packed quite a wallop when they were alive because Susie is reeling. Donnie takes a shot at the arm Ė BOOM Ė that leaves Johnny Vinn holding nothing but a piece of a hand. He puts all three hands up in the air to signal surrender.

Susie comes over and starts untying me. "Sorry about this professor. I hope this doesnít affect my grade."

Iím still so woozy I take her seriously. "Itís the classes you missed," I say. I start rubbing my jaw with my free right hand. "Whyíd you lay out your mother like that?"

Susie laughs. "Mother? Is that what she told you?"

I look over at the three witches of Saigon. They could use some popcorn. Then I look over at Donnie, "And what the fuck I you doing here?"

Donnie tells me, "Sorry about this, just some business that came my way."

Susie walks over and lifts the woman I thought was her mother off the floor by her hair. "This is Ma Nu. Her sister and my mother used to be business partners back in Vietnam. They had a little bar and sex club."

Ma Nu got out of Susieís grip and staggered towards a chair. "You do that to Chao?"

"Like I was telling my friend here," Donnie answers, "weíre conducting a little business transaction."

"Whoís Chao?" I donít know how it finally dawned on me that it was pieces of Chaoís body populating the dumpster out back.

"Sheís Ma Nuís sister. And a bigger bitch never walked the face of the earth. When I was young my mom got me out of Vietnam through a real friendly client and I grew up in foster care here in the United States, but she always intended for the family to be together. Chao and my mom decide to pool their money, their connections and their business sense to start a little concern here in America. Only one comes so they can put the rest of their money towards a club. Chao says she doesnít trust my mother because sheís got me here and will forget about her. My mother makes the mistake of trusting Chao. My mom is back in Vietnam waiting for Chao to send for her once the business gets going. Instead she sends for Ma Nu and forgets about my mother. What can she do, or that stupid little girl of hers, right? Mom writes to me and tells me to come to Galveston and clean up family business."

Iím still completely confused. "So whatís Donnie doing here? What the fuck am I doing here?"

"I came down to Galveston eighteen months ago and demanded my motherís half of the business. Chao and her sister and the sniveling pretty boy over there threw me right out on my sorry ass."

"We earn, we earn," Ma Nu screams, as if this is going to make a difference.

"Shut up bitch." Susie slaps her again. "I needed help and I had only one thing for trade. I started hanging out at Asian bars hoping to meet a nice Vietnamese boy with a gun. I met Donnie here instead, and he was very appreciative."

"Susie offers me a piece of ass and a piece of her business, how could I refuse?" Donnie says.

"Youíre the one who killed and cut up the woman in the dumpster?" I ask realizing Donnie was a little bit more than the harmless pervert I pegged him for.

Donnie shrugs. "Itís a sideline."

"My sister," Ma Nu wails.

I still donít understand why Iím here. "What about me?"

"We needed a diversion when we made our move," Susie says. "Donnie said we needed a schmuck to come in and confuse everything."

"Thatís me?" I say, already aching from the words.

"Donnie said he knows this guy who couldnít keep his cock in his pants or sense in his head if a girl like me rubs up against him the right way."

"Thatís me?" I repeat. I sort of preferred it when momma was threatening me with the gun.

"What could I do?" Donnie says, looking guilty. "You were just so fucking ripe."

"After Donnie told me about you I enrolled in your class and started showing up wearing tight shirts and no underwear. And the rest, professor, is the history of the American penis."

"So what happens now?" I ask.

"Just give me an incomplete in your class, and forget you ever knew me or this place," Susie says.

"We can pin you as an accessory to old Chaoís murder, so you need to remember to forget," Donnie warns me. "But if youíre ever around the Karaoke bar stop by for a drink."

Somehow I didnít think there was any future in my relationship with Donnie. I took one last look at Susie Ė she was beautiful. Truth was I never had a chance. Susie knew it, Donnie knew it, and I knew it. I walked out of the Always Risquť bar and in to the first lights of dawn. Donnieís right, I am a schmuck, and the only thing I want to do is forget. I drive down to the Galveston beach. Thereís only one place open this time of morning, a small coffee bar populated by Galveston whores and strippers and hangers on done with the night but not ready for the day. I watch the tides roll out from Galveston Bay and let Susie Nguyen drift off with all the other refuse and garbage.


Michael Glassman is Associate Professor of Child Development at Ohio State University. He lives in Columbus with his wife and two children. He became a fan of pulp fiction when he saw Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep and his brother gave him the book by Raymond Chandler. He has spent his life writing and trying to understand exactly what happened in The Big Sleep. If you have a firm grasp of exactly what occurred please contact him (but only if you are sure - he's already heard too many conflicting theories).

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