She was identified on the coroner's slab by the tattoos: the wind-up angel on her shoulder, a woman resting on a flower across her abdomen, some Japanese kanji across her wrist. A purple tank top and jeans were mostly intact, reeking of petroleum.

Her aunt gazed at the body covered in burns and perforated by gunshot and stab wounds. Yes, that was her niece. That was Brooke Alisha Phillips.

Moore, Pryor, Salina. The small towns of Oklahoma orbit the bigger cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma City, which exert a gravitational pull on the bored and restless. Some begin to burrow underground, slipping into the twilight culture of the state, its 5,000 gang members and rampant narcotics trade greasing the wheels.

Brooke was born July 27, 1987, in Moore to Greta Halfmoon, and Greta was familiar with the twilight hours. A drug addict, she unsuccessfully fought a court order for her 14-year-old daughter to be placed in the foster care of Brooke's two aunts. Brooke became pregnant at 16, dismissed the father of dubious worth and set about getting both her GED and a certified nurse's assistant degree, all while working full-time.

She would later tell Tyra Banks, the shrill talk-show host, that the schedule had led to such profound exhaustion that she was in danger of losing the baby. The child made it and stayed with a friend while Brooke took the bus back and forth to work. She scraped by, looked back at her own tumultuous childhood, and decided that both she and her child deserved more than the meager paycheck provided by cleaning bedpans.

At 18, Brooke started working at Night Trips, a strip club in Oklahoma City. As these places go, it was upscale: clean, white-collar clientele, with few fights or rowdy behavior. Brooke was attractive — a petite 5-5, short dark hair framing a pleasant face. She could dance, but her real talent was conversation. The first part of her shift was devoted to sitting with customers and talking to them, laughing at their jokes, frowning when they complained about work or wives.

They bought drinks and tipped her. Later, she would get on stage and dance for more tips. On a good night, she would see $1,000. Brooke — known as Hayden Brooks in the business — had everyone's attention when on the phallic stripper's pole, which she would envelop like a snake.

When business seemed to ebb, she'd hit another other club in the area. Once, she offered up a fake ID to get a job at Cover Girls, a place that couldn't hire anyone under 21 because of an arcane law involving the bar not being roped off from the stage. When the manager confronted her about it, asking why he should hire a liar, she shrugged.

"I worked at Night Trips and I'm cute," she said, and got the job. Two years prior, her mother had been on the same stage, dancing to feed her methamphetamine addiction.

She walked into Bosco's one day, a club where she could be a new face. She chatted with a few of the girls, auditing her chances of making money. One pointed to Lewis, a 50-something regular known as "the cute older guy" who talked to the women like women and not masturbatory objects. She sat down next to him.

"What do you think?" she asked. "Should I work here?"

"You'll make all the money, and all the girls will hate you," Lewis said, and that sounded just fine to her.

Lewis — not his real name — is an engineer and fancies himself something of a stripper anthropologist, coming into the clubs to drink and tell jokes and make small talk with the girls when they need a break from the customers. He's dated one and befriended many more. One, Montana, had two sisters; all of them danced.

Brooke would strip, flirt, pretend to find men desirable, then come sit with Lewis and drop the facade. She'd tell him how she needed new shoes, or that she had hurt her ankle, or that she just got an iPhone and needed lessons on how to use it. Sometimes she would ask for tips, and Lewis would shake his head.

"I'm not a customer," he'd say. "You've got enough of those. I'm your friend." It seemed like she needed one, he thought. Maybe she thought so, too, since she kept coming to his table.

"She put on a tough front," Lewis says, "but she was just lost."

Bosco's ended up burning down, so Brooke went to Double Ds Saloon, where the women were expected to be exceptionally well-endowed. Brooke wasn't, but she made money anyway. Lewis went there, too, and watched Brooke drink and steal glances at the clock until it was time to go home. She would be warm and inviting to the customers, pretend she was interested, sell them on the possibility of something they would never have.

He would sometimes see her with rough-looking types, men who flashed wads of cash and had nocturnal lifestyles. One, Jose Fierro, struck up a friendship and employed her for bachelor parties he organized. The day they met would be a seminal one, but no one would understand that until much later.

One of Brooke's boyfriends told her about one of his exes, Shelly Duschel. Shelly was a dancer, too, but then she went to Mound House, Nevada, to work at the Moonlite BunnyRanch.

Prostitution was legal there, the girls got tested weekly, and there was no chance that police would kick in the door. And surely Brooke saw Cathouse, the HBO series-slash-recruiting tool documenting the sorority-style hedonism of the Ranch and the patriarchal embrace of Dennis "Daddy" Hof, the P.T. Barnum of pimps. One episode drew 1.5 million viewers. The girls loved sex and loved lots of cash, and, really, what could be better than that?

"I'm going to try something new," she told Lewis one day. "I can make a lot of money."

Lewis shook his head. "You have more to offer than that."

"I know I do," Brooke said. "But the only thing anyone wants is this," and pointed underneath the table.

Shelly Duschel remembers Brooke coming to the Ranch in early 2008. Freckled, brunette, a few pounds from Hof's ideal, she introduced herself to Shelly and they talked about Moore and Popeye's chicken and the numbing inertia of Oklahoma. Brooke had submitted a video of herself pole-dancing, which attracted the attention of the front office. Thanks to HBO, they could receive upward of 1,000 applications a month.

Like all the girls, she was picked up from the airport and driven directly to the brothel, located at the inevitable address of 69 Moonlight Road. A doctor tested her for syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV. She was given a "Bunny Bible," a written code of working-girl conduct (don't discuss children or boyfriends) and a "mentor" who assisted in her first few negotiations.

Ranch workers are not unlike firefighters: They sit around in the windowless property and kill time until a buzzer goes off, at which point they stop whatever they're doing — including sleeping — and line up for whomever just walked through the door. The customer picks the woman he likes best, and she has 10 minutes to get him into a room and begin selling him on various sexual services from a menu. If she can't, he's turned loose for someone else to try and close. It was not unlike speed dating, Shelly recalls, only with a guarantee of a climax.

Brooke was a closer; she had experience chatting up men, making them feel special. Most workers average four to 10 partners per week. If they're popular, $15,000 for a three-week stint (four or five days a week, twelve-hour shifts) is not unreasonable, though the house takes a 50 percent cut.

When an escort closes a sale, she goes to an office and writes down the services to be performed, along with the agreed-upon price. The office hands her a fresh set of sheets. She inspects the customer's genitalia with a flashlight for any breakouts. Sometimes it's over quickly; sometimes the men just want to talk. Sometimes you hit a high roller: Brooke once made $20,000 for an overnight party.

No drugs are allowed on the premises, but no drugs are allowed in baseball, either. Mostly, the girls drink. "You had to be in a different place mentally," Duschel explains. "Girls drink in order to do the job."

Once, on a slow winter night, Brooke drank to excess and had to be carried to her modest room, the kind reserved for the new and unproven. Eyes glazed over, she stared at Duschel and pulled her close.

"I want you inside of me," she said, too cotton-headed to process the gender of the person in front of her.

"Honey," Duschel said, "I don't have a penis."

The next morning, Duschel told Brooke about it. Brooke laughed. She had been too drunk to remember.

Duschel left the Ranch in early 2009 but returned to visit. Brooke, tired but happy to see her friend, came out to greet her wearing a kimono; she had an interest in Asian culture, watching anime and reading manga in her free time. She was blonde now, and thinner, better tailored to Hof's preferences. She had slept with the boss, as many do, and had been an escort for promotional duties like the Tyra show. Her room had been upgraded to one for the better earners: She had a private bathroom and a fireplace. They talked about Duschel's pregnancy and her marriage.

"She looked beautiful," Duschel remembers. "Beautiful and troubled. Like all of them."

In late summer 2009, Brooke told management that she was pregnant with her second child. "She didn't seem to care who the father was," Hof says, claiming that Brooke had initially approached him with an offer to essentially be a sperm donor. They never pursued it.

There had always been boyfriends, none of whom seemed to stick around long. "It's impossible to have a normal relationship," Duschel says of adult entertainers. "You begin to believe you only deserve another damaged soul." Maybe, Duschel thought, Brooke got too drunk with a customer one night and forgot to use a condom.

She intended to return to Oklahoma to have the baby, then resume work in Nevada. She had appeared only briefly in one episode of Cathouse, masturbating while two other women watched, and hoped to get more screen time in the next season. Hof promised her a baby shower when she returned.

According to Air Force Amy, a popular Ranch attraction, Brooke could've stayed and earned money from men who "love lactation." While that notion didn't entice her, she did promote an auction for her "anal virginity," which she hoped would invite attention. Law school was on the table, too, but few women in the business can ever escape the stigma for mainstream careers.

Lewis saw her for the last time at lunch, just before her final trek to Nevada. He repeated his concerns.

"I'm fine," she said. "I'm safer than if I were home." He walked her to her car, hugged her and told her to be careful.

Less than a month later, she was back in Moore and phoning Fierro looking for cocaine, the damaged girl coming to the surface. He drove her to 1511 SW 56th St., where drugs and guns and bad feelings left her a witness to a murder. Fierro escaped. Brooke fought for two lives and lost both of them.

On the coroner's slab, Brooke's tattoos told another story. The wind-up angel was impaled with a pin. The kanji on her right wrist was mirrored by a bloody slash across her left. The woman at peace in a flower had been retouched during her stay at the Ranch; she used to be bound and helpless.

Brooke was cremated, the twilight culture of Oklahoma never skipping a beat. Her mother was arrested in a Tulsa Walmart in 2011 for trying to make methamphetamine inside the store, the fumes peeling paint off the walls. A scavenger went through her trash, saw the brothel's time cards and phoned its front office, offering to sell photos and other discarded belongings. A friend went to the Ranch bearing a tattoo of Brooke, but stayed only briefly. "She just wasn't very good," Hof says wistfully.

He installed a plaque dedicating their stripper pole to Brooke. Sometimes the new girls nervously ask if someone died on the premises. Of course not, Hof tells them. No one died here.

One day, Lewis walked into a club and saw his friend Montana on stage with her of-age daughter, showing her moves on the pole. "She wants to do this," Montana told him, "so I figured I'd show her how it's done."

"She had no clothes on," Lewis remembers. "Eight years ago, she called me 'Uncle.'"

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2 comments
friendlytxn46
friendlytxn46

This is a very well-written, non-judgmental and factual account of a pitiful life. It is also an excellent description of hell on earth. Tragic.

ginger4v
ginger4v

Is it really tragic? She basically chose to get into drugs. They alone is the beginning of a beat up waste of life.

 
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