The Stroke of Midnight

Hardy Denowitz had a good grip. Not too tight, not too soft. Just the right touch to keep the professional meat missiles standing at attention under all those lights and hours of filming. He was a porn fluffer, and by most accounts the best in the business.

Hardy never had aspirations to be in the adult film industry. He wasn’t gay and certainly didn’t have the equipment or the looks to be a star himself. He’d moved down to Florida chasing sunshine after a long stint working in the fish canneries of Alaska. Before that he had spent a couple of years bouncing around the Midwest working for the Amish milking cows by hand, the source of his current skill. A friend had given him a business card with a number on the back and told him he could find some work. One day became a week, then several months and now, five years. If a director had a problem with a limp dick and tight shooting schedule, they called Hardy.

Hardy had only one real ambition in life, winning big on the Greyhounds. He spent just about every waking moment either cursing the dogs as they streaked past at the Miami track or reading the forms and trying to find an angle on the next race. Hardy had a problem.

He had tried a couple of those support groups for gamblers, but that didn’t last long. They were full of long-faced losers with sad stories and sadder lives. Hardy didn’t think of himself that way. As he saw it, his only problem was funding. He was way overdue for a win, and the problem was a lack of cash to bankroll through the dry spell.

That’s where Big Sid came in.

Big Sid was Hardy’s real problem.

“Goddammit Denowitz! This better be the last time I get your fucking voicemail you slimy little dick-tickler. You have until Friday. You understand? Forty grand by Friday or you’ll be massaging those cocks with your fucking elbows. You got it?”

Hardy pressed delete on the voicemail and put his cell phone back in his pocket. The message was from two days ago, and his problem with Sid was getting serious. He didn’t have time to worry about that right now though, this was his race. Ten-to-one on a runner who liked to kick it up a gear at the last minute.

Hardy’s dog, Stiff Upper Lip, rounded the last turn in fourth place. The motorized lure hummed along the rail and the muzzled dogs barreled down the dusty track, heads low and focused. As predicted, his dog put on the steam, closing the distance with the leader. By the last ten yards, Stiff Upper Lip was just behind the lead dog and Hardy was up banging his fist on the table.

The voice on the loud speaker announced the winner: Daisy’s Dilemma followed by Stiff Upper Lip and Guns of Brazil. The sparse noontime crowd of old folks and race junkies cheered or tossed their tickets in disgust. Hardy just stood there, looking at the board with disbelief.

That was it, Hardy’s last five grand. He was broke, and with the porn writer’s strike dragging on, out of work until further notice. Things hadn’t looked this bleak in years. Hardy slow-walked the ramp that led down to the parking lot in a trance, trying to think of a way to find some cash. He stepped out into the cloudless summer afternoon and felt the Florida heat swoop down like a vulture and settle on the back of his neck.

Reality came crashing in when he saw Big Sid’s muscle, Black Frankie, leaning against the driver’s door of his beat-to-shit Acura. Hardy stopped and looked around. There was no place to run. The parking lot was empty except for a RV and a few cars sprinkled along the handicapped section.

Black Frankie was a mulatto Canadian who moved down south to beat an assault rap back in Toronto. He’d been breaking bones for Big Sid a couple of years now, and if he paid you a visit, it was going to hurt. Hardy felt the sweat begin to pour down his back.

“Hand Job Hardy. How’s those dogs treatin’ you little man?” Black Frankie said.

There was about two hundred feet between Hardy and the street. He thought about making a break for it, but didn’t think he could get his fat ass moving before Frankie got his hands on him.

“Not so good today, but there’s a hot number in tomorrow’s race that will put me even,” Hardy said with a forced smile.

Frankie nodded toward his black Escalade parked next to Hardy’s car. “Sid wants to talk to you Denowitz. Says you need to come on down to the club right now.” And as if Frankie could read Hardy’s mind he added. “It’s too damn hot out here to chase you down. Don’t make me come after you.”

Out of options, Hardy took a deep breath and started walking toward the Caddie.

Just then, the sound of screeching tires shot across the baked pavement. A silver Audi R8 roared into the parking lot and pulled up just behind Hardy. The driver’s side window powered down and a bombshell blonde in a string bikini top whistled at Hardy.

“Hey tubby, you the fluffer?” she asked behind a set of Gucci sunglasses the size of saucers.

Hardy didn’t recognize the girl, but she looked like one of the dozens of porn actresses he worked with.

“Yeah, that’s me,” he said.

“Get in if you don’t want that gorilla tearin’ you apart.”

Hardy looked up at his car and saw Black Frankie in a full run, his thick dreads bouncing around his angry face. The passenger door opened on the R8 and Hardy jumped in. The girl peeled out, leaving a thick layer of rubber on the hot concrete and Frankie huffing in the heat.

“Thanks for the save back there,” Hardy said buckling his seatbelt. “Which studio do you work for?”

The girl put the Audi through its paces, skidding through the busy intersection outside the entrance to the racetrack, and working the clutch in a pair of bright red stilettos. “Skintone Pictures outta Orlando. I specialize in group stuff.”

Most guys who looked like Hardy would’ve been intimidated by a woman of that caliber. She was truly flawless with a double-D boob job and glowing skin. But Hardy had seen them all, and seen them in their most compromising positions. They were just people. Really fucking beautiful people.

“So, you guys found a way around the writer’s strike I guess. Why’d you come all the way down from Orlando just to find a fluffer?”

The girl smiled, showing a dazzling set of veneers. “Name’s Pinky, good to meet you Hardy. Is it true what they say? That you’re the best in the business?”

***

Pinky parked the R8 in the center of a large half-circle driveway that fronted a spectacular Spanish-style beach mansion. Hardy got out of the car and craned his head, taking in the sheer luxury of the place. A valet in an immaculate white suit took the keys from Pinky. “Hello Miss Pink. Mr. Aldo is waiting by the pool.”

As Hardy followed Pinky through the marbled foyer, he was suddenly conscious of his sweat soaked-shirt and dirty Chuck Taylors. He had never been in a place so nice. Pinky whistled as they walked through a maze of antiques and high-end furniture, her thonged ass glowing like a perfect peach.

The pool was a carved stone grotto with one of those invisible edges that made it look like the water just dropped off the cliff on the far side. The view of the ocean was expansive and postcard-perfect. Pinky led Hardy around to a wicker cabana where an older man in a Speedo sat drinking a mojito and smoking a cigar.

“Pinky, my girl. I see you found our man.”

“Just where you said he’d be Hank,” She said. Pinky peeled off her top revealing a surgically perfect pair of breasts. She kicked off her shoes, tossed her sunglasses to Hardy and dove into the pool.

Hardy stood on the marble tile sweating and marveled at Pinky’s back stroke. She must have been a swimmer in school.

“Mr. Denowitz. My name is Hank Aldo, welcome to my home,” the man said offering Hardy a seat.

“You have a real nice place Mr. Aldo. How many movies have you shot here?” Hardy said sitting down.

Hank waved at a man standing in the shade who immediately brought out a fresh pitcher of mojitos and a glass for Hardy. “Please Mr. Denowitz call me Hank. Have a drink and relax. I understand that you’ve had a bit of financial stress lately over a gambling debt. Is that right?”

Hardy nodded as he took a sip of the sugary drink. “Jesus, did Sid say something? Look it doesn’t affect my work. I mean… yeah, I’m in the hole a little, but I’m on the comeback. I just need one good win.” He picked a mint leaf from his teeth as he spoke. “So you got a picture going and need my services?”

Hank laughed through a cloud of cigar smoke. “I do need your skills Mr. Denowitz, but I’m no porn producer. I have something else in mind.”

Hardy put his drink down on the wrought iron table and started to get up. He had run into creeps like this guy before. Rich pricks who wanted a premium tugger or some such. It was best to just cut it short. “Sorry Hank, I don’t work outside the industry. What I do is strictly professional.”

Both men stopped and stared as Pinky stepped out of the pool, her bronze body beaded with water like a freshly waxed sports car. She grabbed a white towel from a nearby chair and dried her long blonde hair.

“So did you tell him about the deal yet Hanky?” she said taking Hardy’s glass and draining it.

“We were just getting to that my dear. Mr. Denowitz here thinks I want him to give me a hand job.” Hank said laughing.

Pinky giggled and sat down in Hardy’s lap. He could feel the cold pool water soak into his tightening crotch.

“Oh Hardy, do you really think a man like Hank needs you for that, even though you are legendary,” Pinky said.

“Then what do you want?” Hardy asked.

“Mr. Denowitz, I own a string of thoroughbred race horses worth ninety million dollars. My team has won races all over the world. I have everything I could ever want except one thing.” Hank took one last puff from his cigar and stubbed it out on a silver tray.

Hardy adjusted himself under Pinky’s weight trying to suppress his erection. “I don’t understand.”

Hank sat up stared at Hardy with pale blue eyes. “There is a horse in Miami this weekend, Mr. Denowitz, a very special horse. A sire of the best race breed in the world. I have tried to buy this horse, but the owner refuses to sell. I want you to sneak into the stable and get a sperm sample. The window of opportunity is narrow Mr. Denowitz, this horse is only in town until tomorrow morning and I need someone with your particular talent to do the job.”

Hardy stood up nearly dumping Pinky on the tiles. “I’m sorry Mr…Hank, but I think you have the wrong guy.”

Pinky adjusted her thong and pressed her naked chest against Hardy’s side. “Come on Hardy, we know you need the money. This is a good deal for you.”

Hank stood up and extended a deeply tanned hand. “I’m willing to give you one hundred thousand dollars.”

***

 

“I can’t believe I agreed to this,” Hardy said from the passenger seat of the R8. Pinky pulled the parking brake and checked her makeup in the mirror.

“Relax Hardy, this is gonna be a piece of cake. Just go in, rub the hell out that thing and then get the fuck out. Here’s the sample cup. Make sure you seal it up tight, that jizz is worth a quarter- mil per spoonful.”

Pinky handed Hardy the cup and he put it in the inside pocket of the sport coat Hank had given him earlier. He was nervous, and when he got nervous the sweat began to pour. He could feel the crisp new dress shirt sticking to his back.

“What if I can’t get into the stable?” he asked.

“Do we really have to go over this again? We go to the party, and at some point I’ll ask to see the horse. While I distract everybody, you do the rub and tug. Is that clear?” Pinky said rolling her eyes.

“You make it sound so easy,” He said, checking a pair of latex gloves for holes before stuffing them in his shirt pocket.

“That’s because it is that easy. Now remember that stack of cash waitin’ for you back at Hank’s. You gotta focus, Hardy.”

The party was held outside on a large estate under a series of bright white tents near the beach. It was a swanky affair, and Hardy felt out of place immediately. Pinky was a vision in her short ivory sundress, and it wasn’t long before the host made his way over to meet her. The man was in his late fifties with short grey hair. He looked Middle Eastern and introduced himself as Hamish Al Elgrin. He gave Hardy a quick dismissive handshake and focused his attention on Pinky, who played it up like a true professional.

“So Mr. Al Elgrin, there’s a rumor that you have a special guest here this weekend. Is it true that Midnight Fire is in the stables right now?” Pinky said lightly touching the curve of her bronze neck.

“You are a crafty little spy.” Al Elgrin said flashing a megawatt smile. Pinky locked eyes with the man and Hardy felt invisible.

“What does a girl have to do to get a peek at such a legendary…beast,” she said, staring at the man’s crotch.

“Well, that depends. Security is very tight right now. I like it that way…tight.” Al Elgrin turned and smiled at Hardy who was trying to move away toward the bar. “You and your…friend here can get a quick peek, but only if you stay for the after party. I insist.”

“That’s a deal,” Pinky said. She put a soft, red tipped finger on the man’s lapel and let it trail down his jacket. “Can we see him now?”

***

Hardy thought the stables looked fancier inside than any place he had ever seen. Each stall was climate-controlled and the main area felt more like the entrance to a hotel than a barn where horses walked around shitting on the floor.

Al Elgrin had personally escorted Hardy and Pinky out to see the stallion, and after a quick glance in the stall, Pinky went to work.

“What about your boyfriend over there, won’t he mind?” Al Elgrin said as Pinky worked his zipper.

“He’s not my boyfriend, I just didn’t want to show up alone. He’s my boss’s nephew, I’m just doing him a favor,” she said.

Hardy walked around the stable pretending not to hear the grunting and moaning that began to rise from the corner. Al Elgrin had dismissed the two men guarding the doors after Pinky made it clear how she was going to repay him for the glimpse. Hardy carefully walked over to the stall and pulled on the latex gloves. As he slipped in and closed the gate, he began to hum a quiet tune to calm the horse. The same song he used on set when the actors were too tense to perform, “At the Stroke of Midnight” by Judy Garland.

***

Pinky adjusted her panties under the sundress as she drove the R8 back to Hank’s place. She had given Al Elgrin the full ride and didn’t want to get any leftovers on the driver’s seat. Hardy sat looking out the passenger window at the thick Florida vegetation streaking by. There was a small cooler between his feet on the floor board that contained the sample packed with dry ice.

“You did real good back there Hardy,” Pinky said without taking her eyes off the road. “You’re about to make some big money. How does it feel?”

“Good I guess.”

“What do you mean ‘I guess’? Hell yeah, it feels good to make a hundred grand. What are you gonna do with the money?”

Hardy laughed. “Pay off my debt and hit the track with the rest.”

He began to think something wasn’t right when they passed the entrance to the beach-side mansion and continued out into the swampy coastal forest.

“I thought we were going back to…” before Hardy could finish, Pinky hit him in the jaw with a set of brass knuckles. As everything went black, he could swear he heard her laughing.

***

Hardy came to as briny marsh water crept into his left ear. His hands were tied behind his back with what felt like tape and he was lying on his side, half in tall swamp grass, half on what felt like the side of a road. It was dark, but there was enough moonlight that he could see two figures standing over him. He was certain that the curvy silhouette was Pinky.

“The alligators will finish him off Hank, I don’t wanna risk firing a gun out here,” Pinky said.

“Well after all we’ve gone through to get to this point we can’t have him turning up later,” Hank said. “I got an old pillow in the trunk. We muffle the shot, and roll fat bastard down the embankment into the swamp.”

“I don’t know. I knocked the fuck out of him. He hasn’t moved since. Hell maybe he’s dead already. He didn’t look in that great of shape to start with. It won’t take the gators long to find him. Let’s get out of here. You’ve got some splooge to sell baby.”

“I don’t’ have time for this, Pinky. We need to get the car back to rental place and move the crew out of the house. If that Saudi prick catches us in his crib, he’s gonna go jihad on our asses.”

While they argued, Hardy slowly shifted his weight toward the downslope of the embankment. Then gravity took over, and he let it tumble him through the grass towards the marsh. Hardy said a silent prayer that he didn’t’ roll over anything sharp.

“Shit!” Pinky yelled. “Grab him!”

“I’m not going down there,” Hank said. “Alligators, remember?” Hank fired blindly in Hardy’s direction. One bullet smacked off a dead tree, two more splattered in the muck not a foot away from where Hardy had come to a stop.

“Stop shooting, you asshole,” Pinky whispered harshly. “There are houses just behind that stand of mangroves…shit…somebody just turned the porch lights on.”

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Hank said. “If I didn’t hit him, a gator will.”

Hardy remained perfectly still as the pair stomped off. After the sounds of their footfalls trailed off to silence, He slowly rolled over onto his back. A chorus of chirping insect noises rose up around him.

It had been a set up. The whole fucking thing. He could have kicked himself for falling for it. He sighed and started flexing his forearms. He knew he wasn’t the smartest guy, but at least he did have one thing going for him. Not only did he have the best grip in town, he had strong wrists too. With some effort he twisted the tape back and forth until it snapped.

Hardy pulled himself to his feet and tried to wipe the muck off his trousers. He was disoriented, and his jaw hurt like hell.

Something splashed in the swamp behind him, something big that had probably been disturbed by Hank’s wild shooting. Hardy quickly scrambled his way back up the embankment. As he reached the broken-down access road, he hoped that Pinky and Hank were already gone. Either way, he’d rather take his chances with those two than a possible gator any day.

As he made his way toward the lights in the distance, he realized that Pinky had dropped him off somewhere north of the beach. It was only a couple of miles to the main road from where he stood.

After some hard slogging, Hardy finally reached the shoulder of the asphalt highway. He stopped under a lone street light and unzipped his fly. He let his pants fall around his ankles, a comical scene in the lonesome night air, if anyone happened to see it.

He untied the latex glove full of horse sperm from the band of his underwear and held it up to the light. It had a pale glow in the sodium arc lamp. It was unbroken, even after his half-assed escape into the swamp.

Hank and Pinky were going to have a hard time making million dollar horses with that cup of Hardy’s man gravy, but with this liquid gold he would be able to pay off Sid and be back at the track in no time.

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