SHADOWS OF THE COMBAT ZONE by Peter Nolan Smith

In the late 60s lower Washington Street was anointed Boston’s Combat Zone for sex and sin. Working-class drinking dives became go-go bars named the Naked I and Two O’Clock Lounge. Gay clubs like Jacques and The Other End flourished freely in the alleys. Porno theaters openly screened XXX-rated to enthralled men and the cops ceased to persecute the flesh trade, so hookers plied their trade in front of Goodtime Charlie’s on La Grange Street.

Everyone was getting their cut.

The Mafia, the bartenders, the pimps, the musicians, and the taxi drivers scored cash off these strippers and hookers.

They were a gold mine.

From 5pm to 2am the hookers strutted their stuff. Hospital workers, lawyers, firemen, and sailors loved them and the girls loved them back for a price.

A quickie was $20.

An hour ran $50.

Showgirls cost a lot more.

The nearest hotel was the Avery, although most johns opted for the short-time rooms above Goodtime Charlie’s.

Sherri was the hottest girl in the Combat Zone. The blonde’s long legs stretched out of tight hot pants and her cupcakes breasts popped under a tube top. Platform heels transformed the 18 year-old into an Amazon.

She was better than good.

Sherri was wicked.

But she was far from easy.

Sherri was a freelancer in the Combat Zone. Many pimps tried to recruit the freelancer into their stables, but the blonde teenager was too hot for a single man and the police protected her for the sheer pleasure of her smile.

A few of the go-go dancers offered Sherri competition, but they needed beer, booze, and a three-piece band to create her aura of lust. The trios of sax, organ, and drum played low-down soul and the dancers loved grinding flesh to James Brown covers.

The strippers danced like ballerinas on ‘Ludes.

It was a true art form.

Bad people walked on Washington Street

The Combat Zone had dark alleys. Crazy Jack was the King of the Shadows. No one was scarier on those back streets.

Crazy Jack was running ten girls. The pimp treated them bad. He asked Sherri to be his queen. She told him ‘no’ every day of the week and Crazy Jack wasn’t happy hearing those nos.

Sailors from the navy Yard haunted the go-go bars. The girls never fell in love with them. Sailors had sweethearts in every port. One lieutenant said he loved Sherri.

“I bet you say that to all the girls.”

“Only you, Sherri. Only you.”

It almost sounded true.

Sam had gold braid on his shoulders.

He was an officer and a gentleman.

Normally Sherri ended her nights at the Hillbilly Ranch across from the bus station. The 45s on jukebox were mostly country-western. Hustlers drank at the bar and none of midnight cowboys queers bothered her.

A gin and tonic cost $1 and she liked the music on the jukebox.

Sherri came from the South. She never said where, but she listened a lot to Patsy Cline.

The Hillbilly Ranch was her home away and after work she pulled on a red wig to be someone other than herself.

Boston’s bars closed at 2am. Combat Zone was empty by 3. Sherri walked out of the Hillbilly Ranch at 3:10. The owner asked if she needed a cab. She shook her head.
“I’ll walk.”

Her apartment was short walk across the Commons on Beacon Hill.

She took a shortcut down an alley. Someone followed her into the darkness. Sherri walked faster, then heard a wet smack.

Crazy Jack lay out cold on the sidewalk.

The sailor was walking the other way.

She called out to Sam.

“You want to have a coffee?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll meet you at the coffee shop in ten minutes.” Sam walked away into the shadows.

Where she didn’t ask.

Nine minutes later Sherri checked at the clock. Sam was almost late.

A girl like her didn’t wait more than fifteen.

She had someplace to be.

And that someplace was bed.

With or without Sam.

FOTOS BY JERRY BRENDT, ROSWELL ANGIER, AND JOHN GOODMAN.

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