The guy driving home in the blue Chevy, with the swollen left eye, was the dumbest fucker I ever met. I know this for a fact because I was behind the wheel. What I needed was a plausible story to explain this injury to my wife, Claire. I promised I’d have “no contact with strippers,” then I get punched by one. As a rule, nobody gets the drop on me. Embarrassed, I couldn’t admit the truth. I’d have to risk a lie, but Claire hates liars. Then again, even if caught in a fib, what was she gonna do, punch my other eye?

Let me explain how I got into this mess. I’m a 38-year-old law school senior, or as Claire says, a late bloomer. At school, I implied I had police training in the Army and used to run a high-level private security firm. I told everyone my clients included lawyers, celebrities, and politicians. I’d say, “Ten years being around them convinced me I was as smart or smarter. So I decided to go to law school.”

Most of my classmates are right out of college and act like horny teenagers. They’re still quite naïve. A group of them came up with the idea of renting a party bus to do a tour of central Iowa strip clubs. To them, it sounded like a fun way to celebrate our final year at school. I thought it was more like a senior class trip for people who should know better.

When asked to join them, I declined. In the last decade, I have seen acres of boobs and had my fill of pole ballerinas. But the pressure to go along was enormous. Believing what I told them about my background, all I heard was, “We can’t go without Van ‘The Man’ Temple. Who’s gonna watch our backs?” Keeping with my image and against my better judgment, I said, “yes”.

As a precaution, I came up with the idea I would follow the bus in my car. I told them I’d have more freedom of action if something went down. The truth was I’ve been on party buses before. It’s guaranteed at least one fool sticks his ass out the window in front of a cop and gets the whole crew pulled over. Then the next thing you know, the law school dean is dismissing everyone on the bus from school. I had to stay off that bus.

When I told Claire about this party bus event, her reaction was, “Aren’t you a little old for this?”

“Hey, don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll be a chaperone, the calm one, hanging back, staying out of the action. If somebody gets out of line, I’ll jump in, smooth things over, and keep everyone under control. You know, mellow. If there’s trouble, who better than me to sort it out?”

The eye roll told me all I needed to know about what she was thinking. “Van, you’re not cut out for the nightlife anymore. This is a bad idea, has trouble written all over it. If something goes wrong, you’ll get tossed from law school. Then where will we be?”

“I already said I’d go.”

“That doesn’t mean you still have to,” she said.

Seeing I was going to do it anyway, she relented. “Okay, but promise me no contact with strippers, hands off. When I ask you what went on, and I will, don’t lie to me about anything. You’re lousy at it.”

“I’ll only be watching the guys, promise.”

On the night of the event, Claire was heading to self-defense class. I said, “Have fun at fight club.” She repeated, “Stay out of trouble.” Her words were the last thing I heard and the first thing I ignored as I went out the back door.

After meeting the bus, I followed it to the first stop, the Body Workz. It was not large as strip clubs go. The tables were set up around a curved stage. As soon as the guys hit the door, they spread out to get drinks, ogle the topless waitresses, and grab seats. As I looked around, I felt as if I knew the employees and clientele. Then it clicked: I had spent the last ten years with people like this. I thought, these are the mopes I saw on arraignment day at the courthouse.

I got a seat right at the front of the stage as one dancer was finishing her set. Since I could smell the perfume and sweat on her, it occurred to me, “I’m sitting too close. I can’t see what everyone behind me is doing. I should get further back.”

Before I could move, the music started blaring from the speakers next to the stage. A crowd formed behind me blocking my way. The next dancer, looking very bored, started going through her routine. I made the mistake of making eye contact. She bent down and motioned that she want to speak to me. I leaned in. As she rested one knee on the stage floor and got close to my ear, I thought I heard her say, “Let’s go to your car and masturbate.” Thinking I must have misheard her, I shook my head no. As I was trying to think of a witty comeback, she made her next move.

Balling her right hand into a fist, she swung hard. Her punch connected on the cheek bone below my left eye. The punch didn’t hurt, but because I wasn’t expecting it, I found myself on the floor. Taking my eyes off her was a rookie mistake. I couldn’t believe some short-tempered stripper got the drop on me. Worse, I would now have a shiner.

My law school classmates erupted in laughter and cheers. The dancer, waiving to the crowd as she strutted off stage, seemed satisfied with her effort. In the aftermath, I was able to get back on my feet and moved a safe distance from the stage. Then two bouncers approached and asked me to leave. It wasn’t a request; they walked me out.

It was my job to watch these guys and I was getting thrown out. It was a bad start to the night. Now I had a developing shiner that I couldn’t explain to Claire and I was leaving my idiot classmates alone. As a welt was rising under my left eye, I went across the street to our next scheduled stop, Tassel Madness.

When I got in there I moved toward the stage, but this time sat back far enough to stay out of range of any violent strippers. My left eye was throbbing hard now. Needing some ice, I motioned to a waitress for a beer and a glass of ice.

While I waited, my left eye got worse and my vison became blurry. In a few minutes, the beer and ice arrived at my table. The waitress who brought them was beautiful. Her breasts were natural, a perfect size, and covered in glitter.

She had a pleasant but manufactured customer smile. It was the one she put on to get tips. As she came closer, I didn’t stare at her tits. I knew better. I looked straight into her eyes. She noticed and seemed surprised. Her smile changed; it was more genuine. I ignored the beer and immediately put the ice on the welt under my left eye.

She got close to me and said, “Let me guess, you were at the Body Workz and one of the dancers punched you.”

“Christ, how’d you know?”

“Oh, that had to be Darla; she can be a bit of a biter, too. Do you have any teeth marks? If so, I hope you’re up on your tetanus shots. She used to work here, got fired for fighting with the customers.”

I smiled and said, “It’s okay; only thing hurt is my pride. People don’t get the drop on me, but she did. Hey, thanks for the ice. Do you perform here, too?” I already knew the answer, having noticed the glitter on her chest.

“Yeah, I’m up in 15,” she said. ‘Get a chair close to the stage. I’ll let you do a little face cheating for a buck. No punching or biting; I promise.” Then she left to take an order at another table.

When her set began, I found her moves enticing. With my eyes glued to her, she stepped forward, right in front of my table. I grabbed three dollar bills and slipped one after another into the part of her G-string she held open. When she had them all, her hands reached out to me. I leaned forward. She pressed the right side of my face into the softness of her glittered left breast. She held me there for what seemed like an hour.

She then moved on to other guys seated around the stage waiving dollar bills. I knew it was time to go. As I walked out, I turned to get one more glimpse of that glittered goddess. She was busy with other customers and didn’t notice. Best three bucks I spent all night, I thought. Looking around, none of the guys were there, so I went outside, got in my car, and drove home.

When I got into the house, it was dark except for the night light in the bathroom. My left eye hurt, so I turned on the light over the mirror and surveyed the damage. Then I saw a reflection. It was Claire standing behind me.

“What happened to your left eye?” Her tone was more accusatory than concerned.

“Oh, one of the guys pushed me into the side of the bus while we were standing around in the parking lot; you know, horseplay. It’ll be okay; I’ll put some ice on it.”

With a sweet voice, she said, “Here, let me see.” Turning my head so she could see one side of my face then the other, she focused on the uninjured right side of my face. Moving her feet like she was checking her balance, she asked a strange question, “Did the bus have glitter on it?” Before I could answer, I felt a sharp pain on my right cheek bone, the area of my face with the most glitter.

I don’t remember how I ended up on the bathroom floor or how long I was there. When I got my senses back, using the tub rim, I steadied myself and climbed back onto my feet. Looking in the mirror, where the glitter was the thickest, a welt was forming under my right eye.

After washing all the glitter off, I thought, damn, she did punch my other eye? I guess she didn’t buy my story. I then remembered a conversation I had with Ray Cassio, her self-defense instructor. He said, “Claire’s a pistol. I’m teaching her balance so she can get more leverage into her punches. Man, she’s in great shape, learns quick, and has a wicked left hook. I wouldn’t want to get hit with it.”

From the bathroom, the night light cast a faint glow on Claire’s face as she slept. She seemed to be smiling. Her left hand, with scraped knuckles, rested on top of the blanket. I figured there was no sense going to bed. The last thing I wanted to do was wake her. So I grabbed a beer and headed to the porch. I needed to think things through. Being fall, the night air had a chill so I had to wear my coat. After I picked it up, I notice more glitter. I thought, “I’d better shake this shit off. No sense stirring up that memory again.”

This had not been a good night. A stripper, the bouncers, glitter, and my wife all got the drop on me. I had to face facts; I knew I was all talk. On Monday, I would be getting a lot of well-deserved smack from my classmates about everything. I sold them on the idea I was some badass who could protect them, but that someone was not me. It was true; I was in the Military Police. But all I ever did was guard the entrance of some government agricultural station. I never provided security for anybody.

My business wasn’t high-level anything. I did surveillance, served process, and stood around looking tough on cue. It was all an act. I’m not tough and was never any good at security work. I thought law school could give me a new start.

Claire was right; the nightlife is not for me, never was. Tomorrow, I’ll try to make things up to her, wipe this mess off the books. This situation has taught me one thing: if I ever make a promise to protect anybody again, I will need someone sharp and strong at the ready. Next time, I’m taking Claire; she’s got a wicked left hook.