Last dance

In Dallas' cantinas, where the company of pretty young meseras is doled out by the drink, a killer lurks

Meseras typically pick whom they are going to entertain, but usually there is only one criterion, Laura explains. "If they have the money, we can talk all evening. They talk and dance, and they keep drinking and paying, and that way the night passes. Everyone wants to dance, so to be with us, they have to pay for our drinks. Their drinks are at regular prices. Ours aren't."

The mesera's beer might cost $5. The club in turn might kick $3 or $4 back to her.

"There are places that give you only half of what you make," Laura says. "There are places where a mesera will always make under $100 a night because they don't pay well. Sometimes the bar pays you directly, maybe $30 or $35 a night, but when they do, they want part of your tips."

Despite the obvious business relationships between the women and the bars, owners of the clubs where the two slain women worked say meseras aren't employees. In fact, they hardly acknowledge the two women were in their clubs at all.

Arturo Luna, owner of Mike's El Socio, declined twice to acknowledge he is who he is. On a third pass, he agreed to talk at the club, which is on Samuell Boulevard, behind a Centennial beer store. On this booze-soaked strip across from the Tenison public golf course, 15 liquor stores occupy a five-block stretch.

Luna, speaking hurriedly, concedes only that Olivia Hernandez "came in once in a while."

"Every three weeks or so, and she would tell lies and say she needed money and ask me for work," he says, without a trace of sympathy. "I would give her work as a waitress, and she would disappear again."

Luna's account was charitable compared to some of the things Ahmed Khan and his wife, Esther Khan, owners of the Tapatio Club on South Central Expressway, had to say about Maria Perales.

As they retreated from the purple-and-black steel barn of a tavern as a reporter approached, Ahmed said his club needs meseras to attract business. Yet his wife, talking almost simultaneously, denied even having meseras at the Tapatio Club.

"We want a family atmosphere," says Ahmed Khan, whose bar advertises "Ambiente seguro y familiar": a safe and friendly atmosphere.

Esther Khan, a heavy-set Hispanic woman, spoke a bit more the following day from behind the service window of the Tapatio taco stand, a loud blue building a block west of the club.

"I don't know her," she said of Maria Perales. "People come in my club for years, and I don't know them. Why don't you ask her mother?

"They [young women] come in and sit and maybe dance, have men buy them drinks. They leave, and I don't know what they do. I don't know. I'm not their mother."

Dallas police ask that anyone with information about these cases contact detectives at the homicide division, (214) 670-1633.

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