Lucinda breathed in the aroma from the flowers delivered to her dressing room from Lester Shea, the Oasis Club’s manager. Life couldn’t get any better than this. The trip from New York to Chicago so far had been without devastating incident, a far cry from the horror stories she had heard about touring the country by bus. Sure, there had been the flat tire on route 80, and the bass player’s allergic reaction to the seafood in that greasy spoon diner that rerouted them to a hospital in Gary, Indiana. But other than that, it had been smooth sailing.
She took a deep breath and watched herself in the mirror as her breasts strained against the sequined material of the gown she wore. Lucinda was thrilled to find that the Oasis Club had added a dressing room to its amenities for its entertainers, as well as provided any musicians or equipment she might need. It was a step up from the fend-for-yourself business she had become accustomed to in most of the little smoky dives she had performed in throughout the years. There was a distinct difference in the nightclub entertainment industry, and she finally felt as though she were being treated like a real celebrity, instead of the hired help.
The Oasis Club on Chicago’s south side was the most successful black owned nightclub in the Midwest, famous for featuring an eclectic array of entertainers over the years like Bill Cosby, Redd Foxx, BB King, and Jimi Hendrix. Lucinda hadn’t performed there in over a decade. She had spent the last twelve years settling into the comfort of the home town entertainer and recording artist’s life, but the music-buying public had changed over the years. It was spending the majority of its money on an annoying new genre called disco, and many of her contemporaries were cashing in on it. Lucinda had made the tough decision to not jump on the disco bandwagon. She had made a nice living and enjoyed the exclusivity of the crowd that appreciated her personal brand of blues, jazz and soul.
So in the spring of 1975, she and her husband and manager, Ben Webber, decided to rent a bus and book a cross country tour from New York to San Francisco in clubs that held an appreciative audience and welcomed her with open arms.
Lucinda touched up her makeup at the lighted mirror as she caught the reflection of her husband walking in the door behind her. He stopped, stunned for a moment and stared at her.
“Don’t you look…” He blew out a breath that turned to a long, low whistle. “You’re beautiful, baby.”
Lucinda rose and turned to face him. Her gold sequined stage gown, a tight, form fitting bodice with a skirt that hugged her hips, revealed the sexy muscles in her thighs. “You like it? I picked it up in New York just before we left.”
“I love it.” He attempted to frown through his obvious approval. “It looks… expensive.”
Lucinda threw her head back and laughed. “Glad you noticed. It was.”
Ben placed his hands in the surrender position. “I don’t want to know,” he grunted. He was well acquainted with his wife’s obsession with expensive designer gowns for the stage. She had spent enough time as a child wearing hand-me-downs and the first few years of her career performing in dresses from the secondhand store. This was simply a vice that she had earned, and he was more than happy to indulge her. Over the years they had come to an understanding about her spending limits, and there was no need to question or check up on her now.
Lucinda grinned triumphantly as Ben moved toward her, grabbed her around the waist, and squeezed her against his body. “Looks like I got you trained, huh?” she chuckled.
Ben grunted again as he attempted to suppress a smile. “Don’t you think it’s a little too…? I mean the cleavage is a little…” He looked down into her grande tetons.
“Oh, this is nothing.” She waved her hand at him dismissively. “Wait’ll you see the one I picked up in Philly. I’ll model it for you, and you tell me which one I should wear for tonight’s performance, okay?”
Ben watched her as she dashed behind the Japanese dressing screen, shimmied out of her gown, and seductively flung it over the top. Even through the rice paper barrier, he could see the exquisiteness of her body, and he had to look away for a moment to control the stirrings that sometimes tended to get in the way of progress.
He adored her. At age thirty-four she had the body of a twenty year old, the smooth voice of an angel, velvety mahogany skin, eyes a man could get lost in, and the enthusiasm and playfulness of a teenager. This tour was something she had been wanting for years to bolster her career, and her enthusiasm excited him. Everything about her excited him.
“I think we’ve got another booking,” he said as he watched the silhouette of her body wiggle into the new garment.
“Yeah? Can we fit another one in?”
“We’re not due in Kansas City until the twenty-second, so we’ve got a free week. We’ve got enough for three hotel rooms for five days so we might as well stay in Chicago and take in the city.”
“The booking manager at the Blues Barn in Detroit had a cancellation, so I’m going to meet with him tonight to discuss a contract.” Ben could see that she was carefully adjusting her ample bosom into something extremely form fitting. “I can probably get a pretty sweet deal seeing as how we’d be saving his butt. I’ll be back in time for your second set tonight.”
“You have to leave? Why can’t you negotiate over the phone?”
“Small club… They aren’t familiar with your work… He wants to hear your demo tape… I want to see the place before we commit…” He wasn’t comfortable lying to her, and his stammering like an idiot proved it. He rubbed his eyes to try to massage in some semblance of composure. He had to stay cool. This little side trip to Detroit might be the turning point in her career that she’d always dreamed of, and if all went well, he’d be presenting her with the surprise of a lifetime.
She gave a disappointed sigh. “Okay, baby. When are you leaving?”
“In a few minutes. Called a cab to the train station, and the Turbo Liner will get me there in a couple of hours.”
“Okay,” she said with a childlike trust as, thankfully, she dropped the subject. “Well, you won’t want to leave me when you see this dress. Are you ready for me?”
Ben loved indulging her sense of theatrical play. “Ready,” he said.
Lucinda playfully outstretched one leg from behind the screen, and then her body followed, one hand on her hip, the other behind her head as she thrust out her chest. Her body was draped in what looked like brown body stocking material with patches of decorative brown lace placed strategically to mask her nipples and groin area. A high split up the side of the skirt revealed her right leg and most of her buttock. She playfully leaned forward and gently shook her shoulders, causing her bosom to vibrate.
Ben’s jaw dropped to the floor. “Damn, woman!” He smiled as he felt his cock strain against his pants. And just as quickly as his smile appeared, it vanished. “No.”
“No?” Lucinda stopped gyrating.
“I don’t understand.”
“No way in hell are you going out on stage wearing that.” He chuckled almost nervously.
Lucinda frowned. “Why? What’s wrong with it?”
“It may as well be invisible, that’s what’s wrong. Somebody like Cher Bono can wear something like that, but she needs it. She has to make up for the fact that she doesn’t have any curves, or much of a voice. You’ve got too much talent to dress like a stripper on stage. You’ve got an image, and that is not the message you want to send.”
She frowned. “It’s my image, not yours.” She pushed up her breasts with the palms of her hands defiantly. “And I like it.”
“I’m your husband, and that image is half mine… and I say no.”
“I don’t want to hear another word about it, you hear me?”
Lucinda opened her mouth to argue when there was a knock on the door. Before Ben could stop her, she had flung the door open and stood in full view of a young, handsome brother whose eyes opened wide when he saw her outfit. He wore elephant sized bell-bottom pants, a tie-dyed shirt in bursts of purple and blue, and a dangling earring in the shape of a crescent moon. His hair was a massive afro that seemed to take up half the doorway.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
He reached his hand out. “Ms. Hastings, my name is Frank Jackson. I’m a big, big fan of yours. I’ve got all your albums. Every one.”
Lucinda delicately took his hand and beamed graciously. “Well, aren’t you sweet!”
Ben stepped beside his wife and attempted to break Frank’s stare at his wife’s body. “What are you doing here, kid?” he demanded. “How’d you get in here?”
Frank’s eyes didn’t leave Lucinda’s breasts. “Oh… I’ve uh… Mr. Shea said your bass player got sick and you need a replacement for the weekend. I just came to find out when you want to rehearse this afternoon.”
She shifted her eyes to her husband to see if she could gauge his reaction and then back to the young man feasting his eyes on her form. Ben quickly interjected. “You’ll start rehearsing at two until the doors open at six. First set is at eight-fifteen. You’ll need to wear a black tuxedo for the performance.” Ben eyed him suspiciously. “You got a tux, kid?”
“We got two sets, sixteen pieces for the night. She’ll be taking requests at the end of the second set. Requests are usually standards from her Gershwin album. Can you handle it?”
“You need to make sure you do three things: Don’t be late, get a damned haircut, and stop staring at my wife’s breasts.”
Embarrassed, Frank blinked and looked down at the floor and then back up at Ben, who was glaring at him like a tiger about to pounce on his prey. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t you listen to him.” Lucinda glanced at her husband and frowned. “Your hair is beautiful. You leave it just the way it is.” She gently touched his shoulder. “I’d be honored if you would have lunch with me and the rest of the band in an hour. We’ll be at that little diner down the street, with the blue awning.”
“Yes, ma’am, I know the place,” he said excitedly as he tried to look anywhere but at her body. “It’s going to be a real pleasure working with you. I’ll meet you over there.”
“I’ll be waiting, Frank. And thank you.” When she closed the door, she turned to look at her husband with a bit of a self-satisfied smirk on her face.
“Okay,” he said, “you’ve made your point. So you can get some 20-year-old kid to drool over you.” Ben grabbed his jacket from the back of the door. “Which is exactly why you’re not wearing that dress.” He was clearly irritated.
Lucinda rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah.”
“Don’t ‘yeah, yeah’ me, woman. Now, I’ll be back from my appointment tonight around nine o’clock. If I walk in here and find you on stage in that dress, there’s going to be hell to pay, you understand me?” He pointed a threatening finger at her.
Lucinda threw her hands up as though Ben’s finger were a loaded gun. She knew exactly what he meant by “hell to pay”. He hadn’t spanked her in months, but those words were a definite warning she knew better than to ignore.
The last time Ben had spanked her was over three months ago. Lucinda had been booked at Lena’s Blues House on 42nd Street in New York for a short gig opening for Nancy Wilson. She had gotten into a conversation at the bar with some admiring patrons and allowed them to buy her a drink… and then another… and another. By the time Lucinda was introduced for her set on stage, she was so cloudy headed that she forgot the words to her opening song and spent a good three minutes of stage time talking about what amounted to gibberish to the audience. The manager walked over to Ben and demanded that he remove her from the stage, refused to pay for the set, and even threatened to sue for breach of contract.
Ben understood and certainly didn’t blame the man. He jumped on stage and took Lucinda by the hand, and as he quietly walked her off, he instructed her quartet to continue playing until the headliner’s scheduled appearance. He would have to pay them out of his own pocket. Lucinda was marched through a confused and murmuring crowd, out the front door and into a cab, and the two of them sat quietly through the ride to their brownstone on 179th street.
On the sidewalk, Ben paid the driver, and then reached down in his boot and retrieved the Swiss army knife he kept there for protection. Lucinda watched in horror as she imagined for a moment in her drunken haze that perhaps he planned on gutting her like a fish right there in the street, but was relieved when he turned his back on her. The terror resurfaced when she realized why he wanted the knife. He walked over to one of the small, decorative trees that lined the street and began slicing at a branch.
He was cutting a switch!
She shook her head and began backing up. “Now, Ben, honey… remember what the doctor said about your blood pressure…”
“Oh, good,” his smirk was a combination of bitter and sinister, “you’re sober. I wouldn’t want you to miss any of this.” He had a long, thin branch in his hand and had begun peeling the excess leaves from it. He then checked it out by swinging it back and forth, listening for the high pitched sound it made as it sliced through the air.
At that point one of the neighbors, Mrs. Byrd, stuck her head out of her apartment window next door. “Lucinda, honey, don’t you look beautiful. That gown is just… say, didn’t you tell me you had a gig tonight?”
Mortified, Lucinda turned and ran to the front door, nervously rummaged in her handbag for her key, then made her way inside, slamming the door behind her. She began pacing back and forth like a caged lion as she heard Ben apologize to Mrs. Byrd for his wife’s rude behavior and make polite conversation. She considered locking him out until he calmed down, but she knew better. She had been here before, and the pathetic measures she took to avoid punishment had only proven to exacerbate the situation.
She jerked her head up when Ben came calmly walking through the door, switch in hand. She backed up into the living room, eyes wide, desperately looking for a hint of mercy in her husband’s eyes.
“Can’t we talk about this?” Her voice came out strained and high pitched.
“I just got a little carried away. Ben, I swear it won’t happen again…”
“I know it won’t. I’m going to make sure of that.”
In a second he had seized her by the wrist. He turned her around and pushed her down over the back of the couch and clutched at her blue chiffon gown, flinging it up over her waist. Lucinda tried desperately to push herself up, only to feel Ben’s hand on her back, shoving her back in place. He then grabbed at the waistband of her pantyhose, and they ripped in his hand as he attempted to yank them below her cheeks.
“Ben… Ben, I won’t do it again, I promise!” she screamed as her legs flew up into the air, forcing her face into the back cushion. She felt her dinner and all those drinks begin to slide toward her throat.
He raised the switch high over his head and brought it down hard on her round, brown bottom as she screamed into the cushion at the top of her lungs. She kicked hard and squirmed to free herself, but it became clear she wasn’t going anywhere.
“How many times have we talked about not drinking before a set?” The switch came down on her bottom on every third syllable, making that horrible whistling sound as it sliced through the air. Lucinda was on fire as she kicked and screamed and pounded on the cushions of the couch with her fists.
“What the hell does professionalism mean to you? Do you have no regard for your reputation? There were entertainment reporters in the audience. Do you think this is a game?” Each sentence was punctuated with a strike of the switch, causing a surge of pain to radiate through her body.
She wailed with her face in a throw pillow, and the whipping seemed to go on forever. Stripe after agonizing stripe seared into her flesh as she cried hot tears of pain and regret.
He had warned her several times over the years to not drink before a performance. Most days she obeyed… but there were those few times she had crossed the line. Still Ben had let it slide, seeing as the audience had never been aware that she had flubbed a line from the chorus or allowed her voice to lazily drop a note. Those few times he had scolded her and threatened her. But this time he had to do something about it. She knew it, and deep down she really couldn’t be too surprised when he’d finally had enough and took action.
When he had finally stopped, he stepped back and watched her struggle to stop sobbing and collect herself as she lay draped over the back of the couch, whimpering like a lost puppy. There were raised red welts all over her backside.
“Come here,” he commanded.
Lucinda placed her feet on the floor. She had kicked off her heels in the struggle, and her nylon covered feet hit the shag carpeting. She straightened herself and adjusted her gown with as much dignity as she could muster. She wiped her tear streaked face with her hand and turned to look at her husband. “I’m sorry,” she choked the words out as she fought to catch her breath.
“I know, baby.” He extended his arm and beckoned her with his fingers. The switch had been dropped on the floor at his feet.
She reached under her gown to take hold of what was left of her pantyhose and then pulled them down to her ankles and off over her feet, leaving a heap of nylon on the floor. Reaching back, she rubbed her backside with her hand and winced as she felt the welts through the material of her gown.
She stepped over to him, eyes downward until she reached his arms, waiting to envelop her with warmth and forgiveness. The heavy makeup she used for the stage melted all over his clean, crisp shirt as she sobbed and sniveled.
“You have to make a decision, Lucy,” he said. “Either you’re going to sing with professionalism and dignity, or you’re not going to sing at all.”
“I don’t know why I did something so stupid,” she whined as she leaned her head into his chest. “Those people were just so nice. They said they were fans and…”
“And you got carried away with gratitude.”
A burst of nervous laughter broke from her throat as she wiped a makeup-filled tear with a shaky thumb. “I don’t handle being famous so well.”
“Well, you’re not there yet, babe. If you can’t handle fame at this level, I see a lot of butt whippings in your future.”
“You see me laughing? Now, you gotta make up your mind, girl. You can’t be sucked into this fame thing if it’s going to stop you from performing at your best.”
She shut her eyes tight and squeezed out the last of the tears. “I know,” she conceded. “And I won’t do it again, I promise.”
So far, for the last three months, she had kept her promise.