As many readers undoubtedly know, three local publications have lately been locked in a heated struggle for readers and advertisers.

The Trib, the O and WW? Nah. We're talking about the three X's--Exotic, SFX and Excitement: a trio of monthly magazines that cater to the local sex industry.

For more than a year, the three publications have been going at it, pushing to outdo each other in ad sales as well as titillation.

Now, however, it appears that two of the competitors, in a moment of weakness, hopped in bed together, then--as is so often the case--woke up with a serious case of regrets.

As long as there have been strip clubs, there have been printed guides to cities' seamy underworld. In the past, they were black-and-white newsprint with bad photos. But in 1993, Frank Flatch, who goes by what he says is his family's original name, "Faillace" (pronounced fuh-LAH-chay), started Exotic magazine in Portland. It grew from eight pages to more than 80 glossy, full-color pages, and soon it was squeezing out its black-and-white competitor, T&A Times.

"Every time I think the Portland market is tapped out, it gets bigger," Flatch, now 39, told WW in a 1997 article.

His guides have become full-blown magazines, offering columns and articles with headlines such as "Nude Wrestling: Pay naked girls to kick your ass!" More importantly from a financial standpoint, they feature full-color glossy ads for strip clubs, lingerie parlors--known commonly as "jack shacks"--and escort-services.

Enter Christopher Loyd Baron, a 45-year-old British photographer who'd worked for Flatch before leaving Exotic in 1998 to form his own magazine, SFX.

The first issue of SFX, titled "Guns 'n' Babes," showed strippers bearing assault rifles and included a note from the publisher explaining that he was embarking on this journalistic mission "for my kids, present and future, along with their college funds."

Exotic still dominates the market with nearly twice the page-count of SFX, but Baron pulls ads from club owners who are unwilling to give money to a competitor. Flatch owns several clubs, including Dante's, Devil's Point and the Boom-Boom Room.

The rivalry has been intense. In 1998, for instance, Baron's magazine disappeared from three strip clubs. When police investigated, one of Flatch's employees said he'd been told to remove Baron's racks.

"The competition has always been kind of petty," says Karla Demaree.

Demaree, a 31-year-old Jefferson High grad, should know. The former bartender sold escort ads for Baron for six months before Flatch hired her away in 1999.

Three years later, Demaree left Flatch's employ to start up Xcitement magazine, part of a national chain based in Detroit. But in February of this year, the chain pulled out of Portland, causing Demaree to ask for her old job back.

Instead, she says, Flatch's general manager, Bryan Bybee, suggested she start her own magazine under a slightly different name, Excitement. Under the plan, the three of them would hold equal shares in the magazine, as well as a common goal: "Take SFX out of the game," says Demaree.

The plan, she says, was for her to match the lower ad rates offered by SFX and--by appearing to be an independent magazine--attract the ad dollars of people who did not like Flatch. "They told me 'People like choices,'" says Demaree. "Basically we were going to form an alliance to squeeze SFX out of the market. Everyone was going to play nice to make that happen."

Baron says he didn't know about the deal until Demaree told him--which was followed by a call from Flatch. "He said, 'Karla's saying a bunch of shit about us--don't believe any of it,'" Baron says with a chuckle. "He was doing damage control."

Contacted by WW, Flatch maintained that the partnership was intended to help Demaree, not hurt Baron. "Karla came to us wanting a job," he wrote. "We didn't have one for her, so we made a deal to keep her in business, and POSSIBLY go into business with her, so she could have an income."

In any event, after two issues of Demaree's new magazine were printed by Exotic, the secret marriage broke up when Demaree balked at being a minority owner. Demaree says Bybee and Flatch suddenly claimed she owed them $10,000 and would not release Excitement's third issue. Demaree says she owed only $200, but when she tried to pay Flatch and Bybee, they would not accept it.

Last week Demaree came out with still another magazine--one she says her clients and readers will name. She says she is bracing herself for an "underhanded" ad-sales campaign by Exotic. She hopes she can survive as an underdog--much like Baron, who, she says, "will be damned before he'll let Frank win--which is sort of where I've come to at this point."

Flatch, meanwhile, insists that the odd arrangement between seeming competitors was not, in fact, newsworthy. "You only find the story interesting because it will pique people's prurient interests," he charged in an email. "You are part of the decline of journalism in this country."