The car did not fit the man. Not that Lina was a car snob, but she imagined when Cazzo picked her up for their first big date, he’d be driving something more befitting a single, thirty-year-old beefcake with Paul Newman eyes—a muscle car or sweet little sportster, perhaps, or something macho, like a Jeep CJ-7 or Ford F-150 4×4 pickup with oversized wheels. She could imagine him in anything, really, except this.
This was something grampas drove to take the church ladies to Sunday brunch. This was something frazzled den mothers drove to cart around a rowdy pack of cub scouts. This was a pea-green Ford Falcon station wagon, circa 1965, with a three-speed stick shift on the column and a St. Christopher medal hanging from the rearview mirror. Lina wondered if maybe something had happened to his real car—in the shop maybe?—and this was just a loaner. If that was the case, Mario Cazzo was certainly not saying. Since picking Lina up, he had been quiet as a Tibetan monk, not only on the subject of his car, but on everything. He hadn’t said one word since they’d left her place, and his stiff and silent demeanor made for a very long and uncomfortable drive for Lina. Her feeble attempts at small talk were met with only shrugs or nods. After ten minutes of trying, Lina gave up. They couldn’t get to the restaurant fast enough.
After what seemed like an eternity to Lina, Cazzo finally pulled into the parking lot of a run-down strip mall on the western fringes of Phoenix. Lina scanned the mall’s storefronts looking for anything that resembled a restaurant. There was a liquor store, a nail salon, a laundromat, and a pawn shop. At the very far end of the mall, she spied a windowless façade with a weathered painting of a bare-breasted blonde hoisting a martini glass; the sign over the door read, The Booby Trap.
Cazzo drove the station wagon to the far end of the mall and pulled into a spot in front of The Booby Trap. He put the car in park, pulled the keys from the ignition, and looked at Lina, smiling for the first time since he’d picked her up. “We’re here!”
Cazzo exited the car and made for the entrance, halting at the door just long enough for Lina to catch up to him. Inside, the place was dark, dank, and smoky. Brassieres with enormous cups hung from the overhead light fixtures and the naked bust of a life-sized mannequin, surrounded by a wall of liquor bottles, occupied a conspicuous niche behind a barroom counter.
It was Saturday night and the place was packed. Besides the cocktail waitress, a statuesque blonde in tight jeans and a dangerously low-cut tank top, Lina was the only female in the joint. As she and Cazzo made their way to the bar, the other men ogled Lina, mostly to check out her chest, making Lina cringe inside; but Cazzo seemed oblivious to her discomfort as he called out to many of the bar’s patrons by their first names. From all the handshakes and back slaps that greeted him, it was clear to Lina that Officer Cazzo was a regular of The Booby Trap and these were his people.
At the bar, Cazzo slid onto a barstool and motioned Lina to take the stool next to him. Cazzo’s ass had barely hit the stool when the bartender appeared and set down before him a pint glass and a can of Budweiser beer.
“My man!” said the bartender, offering Cazzo a fist bump before casting a leering eye at Lina. “And what can I get for the little lady?”
Cazzo looked to Lina, eyebrows arched with curiosity. Lina hesitated to order, wondering if she dared order alcohol and risk getting carded.
“Do you have Chablis?”
“Can I see some ID, missy?”
Lina began to stammer, “Oh, I…it’s, um, in my purse…” and then fumbled for her purse.
The bartender laughed and laid a gnarled hand on her forearm. “I’m just fucking with you, sweetheart.”
Lina exhaled, relieved, then laughed at herself, as did Cazzo.
“Chablis, huh?” said the bartender. He scratched his graying head then stroked his woolly beard. “Might be some in the back. Let me go check.”
As soon as the bartender left, Cazzo turned to Lina and, for the first time that evening, said more than two words to her: “That’s Warren LeBaron. He was my training sergeant when I first started working out of the Maryvale substation. He’s a character, he is. Did you notice the diamond stud in his ear?”
“Back in ’69, he sued the department because they wouldn’t let him wear his earring while on duty. And, I’ll be damned, the S.O.B. won. The judge said it was a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of expression. I sure miss him. All of us do,” said a somber Cazzo, motioning to the roomful of patrons.
Lina scanned the tables and realized for the first time that all the men in the place were, like Cazzo, off-duty officers. This was a cop bar.
“You just never knew what he was gonna do next,” mused Cazzo, slowly shaking his head. “Anyway, he retired a few years ago after meeting Trixie—she owns this place. Left his wife and kids for her. And Trixie, she joined the Church of Scientology for him. That’s true love, I tell ya. That’s her over there.”
Lina’s eyes followed Cazzo’s as he looked admiringly at the bar’s owner, Trixie, the statuesque blonde pulling duty as the dive bar’s only waitress. Lina guessed she was in her late twenties, a good thirty years younger than the old codger who was tending bar…and who had just returned with a bottle of something that looked nothing like Chablis.
“Couldn’t find any Chablis, darlin’, but how ‘bout a pour of chilled Riunité?
“Sure, why not,” said Lina, who had no idea what a ‘chilled Riunité’ was.
Cazzo emptied his can of Bud into the pint glass, careful to avoid putting too much of a head on it. “What time’s the show start?”
“Any time now. The girls are in the back getting changed.”
“A show?” asked Lina.
“A fashion show,” replied the bartender, throwing a wink to Cazzo.
Cazzo grinned and added, “It’s a Saturday night tradition here.”
“And everything you see on the floor is up for sale,” said LeBaron. “So if you see anything you like…ah, looks like they’re ready to start.”
A short, round woman in a pink floral muumuu stepped onto the bar’s tiny bandstand and gave the microphone a hard slap before putting her lips to it. “Hello? Testing…”
“It’s working!” yelled an anxious man of fifty sitting at one of the ringside tables. The woman smiled down at him and began reading from the paper she held out before her.
“First up, we have Luciana.” She looked over to her left, toward the open doorway leading to the bar’s back room. “Come on out, dear.”
A teenaged Latina with waist-length black hair shyly emerged from the doorway and took her place on the bandstand.
The pink muumuu oozed sexual undertones as she spoke into the microphone: “Isn’t Luciana looking red-hot tonight in this lacy baby-doll nightie?” she asked the bar patrons, whose eyes all bulged in lascivious agreement. She then pushed the girl forward as she whispered off-mic, “Work the floor!”
On cue, Ann Margaret’s cooing of Let Me Entertain You dripped from the jukebox.
As the girl made her way around the barroom floor, stopping at each table for the men’s close-up inspection, the pink muumuu provided a running commentary: “This sexy little number has a beautiful, scalloped lace that plunges dangerously to the navel, and a soft satin drape that will sensuously caress your favorite woman’s curves. The lace-covered push-up cups certainly draw the eye to all the right places; am I right, fellas?”
A chorus of masculine hoots rocked the bar. As Luciana turned to head back to the bandstand, greedy hands reached out from all directions for an opportunistic grope of her satiny backside.
“This delicious little ensemble comes in three tantalizing colors—red, black, and white—and a matching lace panty to perfectly finish off this man-pleasing outfit.”
Luciana disappeared into the back storage room as the pink muumuu concluded her spiel: “This sure-to-pleasure two-piece lingerie set can be yours, gentlemen, for the unbelievably low price of just $14.99!”
Thunderous clapping and wolf whistles arose from the patrons.
“Next up, we have Juanita, looking ready for action in a black mesh corset and matching garter belt…”
The lingerie show lasted over an hour, every minute of which so mesmerized Cazzo that all he could do was stare and grin, rudely forgetting the bored young woman sitting beside him. A disenchanted Lina sat at the bar sipping her Riunté, a sweet, fizzy wine that tasted like strawberry soda. She watched in silence as the parade of half-naked models—all of them underage and barely able to speak English—smiled, twirled, and flirted with men old enough to be their fathers.
By the end of the show, Lina’s stomach was growling from hunger and her ass and legs were numb from sitting on the barstool so long. The appeal of Officer ‘Tampon’ Cazzo had evaporated by now and the combination of an empty stomach, cigarette smoke, and cheap wine was making her nauseous. All Lina wanted at this moment was to go home, take a shower, and wash away the sordid memory of both Mario Cazzo and this crappy date. She was working on building up her nerve to tell him she wanted to go when he turned to her and asked:
“Would you like to go somewhere quieter and listen to some music?”
“Yes!” Lina blurted, desperately eager for a change of venue. She imagined a cozy piano bar, or maybe a chanteuse at some clandestine little nightclub. Perhaps there was still hope for this night, after all, she thought.
“Do you like jazz?”
“Yes!” she blurted again, even though she had never in her eighteen years listened to anything even remotely sounding like jazz.
“Great!” he said. “I know just the place.”