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"Hell no," Falicia said.
Venus went on and on with the stories. Falicia got quiet. She asked a few questions. And she figured out that Mike recently had been with Venus and some other girls, too. Mike had girls working for him, girls on the trade. Falicia realized she was only one of them. Mike was their pimp .
When she confronted him about it, he comforted her. She didn't work for him, he said. They were in business together. "Me and you, we're hustling," he told her. "I'm your nigger and you're my mama. We're like Bonnie and Clyde."
Mike began coaching Falicia on the notion that men who paid her for sex had money to burn and that they'd inevitably slip up. There were other ways to meet the $700 nightly quota, he pointed out.
As work was winding down one slow night, with Falicia earning just $300, she noticed another dancer had been doing really well. The girl had just changed outfits in the dressing room and had stepped out. She'd left her locker open.
There had been times lately when Falicia didn't make her quota. Mike would take her out to the "track," a strip of dope and prostitution trade on Metropolitan Avenue. Barely clothed, baiting men with ecstasy pills and hoping they'd take a little sex with their drugs, Falicia had gained a new appreciation for making all her money at the club. It wasn't hard to reach into the locker and take the girl's cash - just the 50s and 20s, not the 10s, fives or ones.
It wasn't just relief Falicia felt when she gave Mike her night's earnings. She got an adrenaline rush. Falicia had taken $500 from the girl, on top of her own $300. She beat quota. Mike liked that. And Falicia liked Mike when Mike was up.
When he asked her to start bringing home other dancers from the club - telling her that two girls together can make a lot more than two on their own - she willingly added to the mix. Mike started setting quotas for several girls, and he put Falicia in charge. Sometimes Falicia would even partner with a girl and go out of town to make money.
Once, when they came back from Miami with less than what Mike expected, he jumped on Falicia bad . Leaving him flashed through her mind. But afterward, Mike had a mink coat and a Coach pocketbook waiting for her. Perhaps to overcompensate, he showed up the next day with an even more over-the-top token: a champagne-colored Suburban. Despite the beating the day before, Falicia told herself she'd be stupid to bolt. After all, she had plenty of money and a man at her side. She had girls working beneath her, willing to do whatever she told them, whenever she said it. She was living like people live on TV. She was Mama and Mike was Daddy. She was 17.
When Falicia and her girls would hit the clubs, they'd hit them like a wave of money. They were well groomed and barely clothed. And Falicia had a purse full of dope for sale. They were irresistible.
But Falicia started drinking too much. Some nights she'd be too drunk to know what was going on. She was reeling in the clients, but the girls didn't always make their quotas. Sometimes their own appetite for drugs nearly wiped out their earnings. When they came up short, it was Falicia who had to make up the difference. When she didn't, which was often, she was beaten.
"Mama, you can handle Daddy's beatings," one of the girls told Falicia one night. Falicia slapped her.
"You're a thick girl, and you're taller than me," Falicia snapped. "And I'm way smaller than you. And you can't deal with him. So what makes you think I can deal with him?"
Things were slipping. Mike's next instructions to Falicia accompanied a pistol: Get all those men's money. Kill them if you have to. Start hitting those licks.
The week of spring break, Falicia went down to Florida, again with another girl, to make some money. While in Daytona, she got Mike a present. He'd been urging her for months to brand herself, literally, with his name. She'd refused. But because he'd been so antsy lately, so quick to strike, she wanted to appease him. She told the guy behind the counter at a tattoo shop exactly what she, and Mike, wanted. It would be in black cursive letters. "Michael" on the left side of her neck, "Berry" on the right.
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