By Tom Pitts
Shari flagged down the cab. The two girls climbed into the backseat and told the driver the name of hotel. He looked back at them, dumbfounded.
“Don’t you know where The Morris is?”
“No, ma’am, I do not. I am thinking on Sutter.”
“It’s right across from The Opal,” said Shari.
The cabbie got on the radio and asked where the Opal was.
Shari rolled her eyes at her friend. These cabbies were dumb as shit. How could anyone not know where the Opal was?
Her friend’s name was Tatiana. Not her real name. Tatiana didn’t tell anyone her real name. That was okay.
Shari didn’t use her real name either. Not in
this business. They both made one exception. They both told their real
names to Money. He had their real names, their birth dates, their
addresses. He had to. He was the one that bailed them out, God forbid, they get
popped again. Bail could be expensive and Money didn’t like to spend money. Not
on the girls, not on bail, not on a decent meal. Money had his own agenda.
Once the cab was on its way,
Shari began to school the new girl.
“Money says we can take some johns off. Assholes that you can get what you can from. You know, the usual shit, rifle through their pockets.”
“Raffle?” asked Tatiana Still a hint of Russian accent deep in her speech, one she was sure would never entirely disappear. It made her feel odd in her line of work. When she spoke, she used as few words as possible.
“No, rifle. Like, go through their pockets when you sucking their dicks. When they take a piss, whatever.”
Shari paused to light a cigarette.
The driver shook his finger. “Oh no, Miss, excuse me, you cannot smoke in here, please.”
Shari glared at the rearview mirror, thought about ignoring him, telling this polite motherfucker to go fuck himself, but instead took one more deep drag, rolled the window down and threw an almost full cigarette out the window.
“Some you can rob. You know, our man will let you, but you gotta tell him. Some he wants you to rob. And he’ll let you know. Some, though, you can do it yourself, keep what you get, but don’t ever let Money know.”
Tatiana knew all of this from her previous life. She went on letting
she was new to the game. The rules didn’t change much from country to country,
city to city. If this was the oldest profession in the world, stealing from
johns was a close second. But she let Shari talk.
The taxi pulled up in front of the Opal Hotel—expansive, well-lit, expensive-looking.
paid, dropping fifteen dollars on the seat without saying a word to the driver,
and the two climbed out onto the sidewalk.
“It’s nice,” said Tatiana.
“Yeah, it is, but that’s the Opal. The one you want is The Morris. And that’s across the street. Right there,” she said, pointing to a small, old hotel sandwiched between a 24-hour porno shop and a vacant building. “I know, charming, right?”
Tatiana didn’t say anything, so Shari continued.
“Guy you’re supposed to meet, I call him soldier boy. This one is off the books. Money don’t know nothing ’bout it. So, you know, you can do what you like.”
“Yeah, supposed to be just back from Iraq or Afghanistan or some shit. He been creeping ’round the corner for days, so I hit him up. I guess I’m too brown for his tastes so I thought he’d be good for you.”
“He’s going to meet me where?”
“In front, I guess he must already have a room up there or something. You’ll know him when you see him. White boy, keep his hair real short. You know, a military man. That’s why I call him soldier boy. He be a quiet one, I can tell, likes it straight. Just show him a good time, grab what you can, and get out. He come looking for me after, I don’t give a shit, I ain’t afraid of no army boy.”
Richard Christopher Harding was not a veteran of any foreign war. He was a veteran of the California Corrections system. He’d recently had a 25-to-life sentence overturned because his lawyer was able to show his confession was coerced. That lawyer was worth every penny. His mother had died while he was inside and left him the house. He put up the house to upgrade his lawyer—and it paid off. His sentence was reduced to ten years for manslaughter and he was released with time served.
He kept his hair short, wore the right boots, and kept his shit clean, so it was easy to sell the Afghanistan story. When people thought you’d been overseas, they pried less, didn’t ask for proof, or ID, for every damn thing. Prison had built him up, taught him some manners, and now the world knew him by his new name. Christopher Tobin. Sergeant Christopher Tobin.
He’d been staying at The Morris for only two days. He didn’t plan to be on the outside long. Just long enough to build some memories—ones that would last him the rest of his life.
He’d been waiting down on the corner, watching the girls get out of the cab. He stood in a doorjamb as they crossed the street in-between traffic. He rubbed the hotel key in between his thumb and index finder as he sized up the smaller girl, the white one. Dyed red hair, black mini-skirt, leather boots with heels, 5’5” tops, about 100 lbs. Perfect. He watched them talk for a moment. Then the black one walked away. His was alone.
Tatiana spotted soldier boy immediately. It wasn’t hard; he practically marched up the street toward her. He had a bag under one arm, a laptop case or something, jeans, and lace-up boots. The first thing she noticed about his face was his thin lips. They were squeezed into a smile. Looked like it hurt.
“Hi, how ya doing? I’m Chris Tobin.”
“Christ Obin?” Her accent was thick; she wished she could hide it.
“No, Chris,” he said with that same tight smile.
“Oh, okay Chris. You live here?”
“I stay here.”
“Let’s go inside. It’s cold out here.”
He showed her the key in his hand and said, “C’mon.”
Inside of the building stank. Piss, stale cigarettes, and curry. Behind the Plexiglass booth where the manager normally sat, Tatiana saw only an empty chair and a video camera. No power light on top of the camera—probably not even plugged in. She heard no voices. The smell was the only sign of life.
She watched soldier boy hit a small button beside the wrought iron gate that separated the lobby from the stairs leading to the rooms. After a few moments, the gate buzzed and she followed him up. She watched him climb the stairs, wondering what was in the bag, watched his boots, scuffs on the heels.
They didn’t speak until they reached the room. He unlocked the door and let her in. She looked around. Like any shit-hole hotel room. She’d seen plenty. No personal items though, not even a cigarette butt in the ashtray.
“You mind if I smoke?” she said.
“Have at it,” he said, flopping the bag onto the bare dresser.
She pointed at the bag. “No picture, no video.”
“No, no, of course not.” He stood staring, sizing her up again. Tatiana hated those thin lips.
“Well?” he said.
“Are you gonna smoke? Or are we gonna get right to it?’
She got right to it. “It’s three hundred, up front—for everything.”
“Your friend said two.”
“She was mistaken. Three.”
“Where you from?” Johns either loved her accent or were intimidated by it, but they always had to ask.
“Brooklyn,” she said.
She took off her jacket and threw it on the bed. Her turn now. “You were in the war?”
“Yeah, Afghanistan. Just got home.”
“Huh?” He seemed a little offended by her question.
“What rank are you?”
Didn’t sound right to her. He didn’t talk like a soldier. He took off his jacket and Tatiana saw the blue lines of tattoos peeking out from the sleeves of his t-shirt. The lines were blurry and faded, self-inflicted. She was an expert at reading tattoos. In the old country, she had to be.
“You’re a little old for Sergeant, no?”
He reached into his pocket and produced three crisp hundred-dollar bills and handed them to her. She took the bills, folded them and began to stuff them into the top of her boot.
“Nice boots.” They were knee-high black leather with silver tipped heels. “You can keep them on.”
“Oh, they’re going to stay on,” she assured him as she began to unbutton her blouse.
He walked to the bag and unzipped it. Most men like to watch as she undressed. “What’s in the bag?” she asked.
“I have my own,” she said.
“This one is special.”
“I have my own.”
“Alright, have it your way.”
He turned to her and stepped close, standing in front of her at the foot of the bed. She instinctively tugged at his belt.
“No, not yet. Just lay back first, I want to get on top of you. Warm up.”
She did as he asked and lay on the bed, her shirt unbuttoned, bare breasts exposed.
He flipped up her skirt, exposed her black lace panties and crawled onto the bed. He was on all fours, hovering over her.
“Well,” she said, “are you going to undress?”
“Why? So I can fuck you?”
She looked up at him; the smile was gone. She felt his body weight drop on top of her, his hands clamp around her neck, squeezing. She knew it; she should have trusted her instincts. She struggled underneath his weight, trying to get leverage before her air ran out. She lifted her legs around his torso, and, in a position many of her customers enjoyed, drove her heels right into his kidneys. He flinched but didn’t budge. She did it again, pushing the spiked silver tips into his flesh.
For one quick moment he released his grasp, recoiling backward from the pain. She used the momentum to buck him upward with her hips, and, in one deft motion, she clamped her legs tightly around his head. Just like she had been taught, she used her legs, the strongest muscles in her body. She locked her ankles together while he punched her in the ribs and hips. She twisted to the right, toward the floor, his head still clamped tightly between her thighs. A loud crack. His body shook like a man who just had the best orgasm of his life. She held her legs together, waiting for the shaking to stop.
He looked pathetic on the floor, head twisted half-way around. She stood over him and buttoned her shirt. She picked up her jacket and purse and checked the room for anything she may have dropped, remembering what she may have touched. Before she left, Tatiana walked over to the dresser and took a look inside that bag of his. No laptop, just syringes filled with blue liquid, two knives—big ones—and a large roll of duct tape. Nothing to steal. She looked back at the dead man on the floor.
“You were no soldier. Just a boy.”
With the sleeve of her coat, she carefully opened the door and walked out. When she reached the street, she kept on walking.
Tom Pitts received his education firsthand on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, writing, working, and trying to survive. His novella, Piggyback, is available from Snubnose Press. He is also co-editor at Out of the Gutter Magazine’s Flash Fiction Offensive. Read more of his work at: http://tom-pitts.blogspot.com/