All dolled up. Back at it in high heeled boots and a body con dress. Swiveling on my bar stool as an act of restlessness. Squeezing my lime into my gin and tonic and stirring it with my finger because I guess they don’t give out straws around these parts anymore. I lick the gin off my finger and eye around the bar. Back on the clock.
The bartender nods at me knowingly as he picks up his tip. He knows me, somewhat. We never really talk, but we don’t need to. He knows better than that. He’s a good bartender that way. He sees them come and go, and he watches me down my drinks and tip more than twenty percent. It’s why I like this bar: these tacit nods of discretion. Nobody ever pries. Everybody knows the keep to themselves – getting entangled in someone else’s business is rarely worth the price you pay, unless, of course, you’re willing to pay the price. We’re not here to socialize. We’re here to drink in public alone.
I can always tell a mark by the way he walks into the bar. I guess that’s the thing about this bar – it’s not for them, it’s for us. And they’re not used to it, not quite yet, at least not when they’re fresh. I guess I know this innately on some level. It’s part of the marketing scheme. It’s part of the charm. It’s part of the gateway into another realm. The realm of flesh, which is starkly different from whatever realm they’re coming from. Usually some nice home in the Berkeley flat lands so that their kids can get a good education. The office, where they get tipsy with their colleagues and make the money that they blow here. Some sort of social scenario that sees them as men of means and dignity, not marks who blow money on hookers.
He walks in with a glimmer of awe in his eyes. Awe and fear. Awe because here he is, he has finally found himself at this place he had always heard of but never dared venture to. He has been invited here, and it’s the awe of suddenly belonging in a seedy place like this. This place is different. Which is why there’s the fear – the fear of getting caught. But we all already know that the fear of getting caught is part of the thrill. It’s the adrenaline rush. It’s why they’re here and not back at home doing the same thing they always do, which is never challenging and never new. This is new. This is challenging.
The problem with marks is that they talk too much. Which I guess is what makes them marks. They’re easy to spot, they’re easy to read, they’re easy to milk. Come on, baby, tell me more about yourself. I rarely find myself in the mood for it, which is why I don’t do it anymore. Someone else does it, and I just facilitate the meet up.
This mark is familiar. He’s been here before. He’s done this before. But the thrill still hasn’t worn off. He approaches me. He’s too familiar. I can see in his eyes that he wants to hug me – I’m not sure why. Is he too comfortable? Or is this just a mixture of nervousness and familiarity? Or is he really that dumb? Instead, he leans in, touches me on the arm, says hello, says my “name.”
“Don’t touch me,” I warn him. They love it when you treat them like that. Men with power know nothing about other people’s boundaries. Again, the fear, the awe. He looks peeved, and he responds peevishly, but that’s fine. Am I in the business of customer service? Well, yes, in a way, I am, but the service is tailored to the customers, and they would keep spending even if I spit in their faces. Some would pay extra for it, even.
We do our trade. Cash for keys.
“This one better be good. Last time sucked,” he snaps at me.
I roll my eyes. Even after years of having done it myself, I still love it when my girls tell me about their marks. Oh, the crying. The little dicks. The mommy issues. The begging. The seventeen seconds in heaven. All of it. All these Mr. Tough Guys, reduced to rubble by one clean shaven pussy. Amazing.
She didn’t suck. It’s the same thing every time – he nuts too quickly, then tries to make her stay longer for free while he waits for that little blue pill to work its magic. I can’t imagine how many of those he has to pop nowadays just to get it working, and I’m not medical professional, but, heart problems much?
I let him rant a bit at me about it. After which I wave him off. Customer service. I’m in customer service. I have to listen to him complain so that by the time he gets to her, it’s not her problem anymore. It’s an act of protection. I appease him. And everything’s okay.
I sidle from bar to bar. Doing the same thing over and over again. Another one. And another one. Not too many. Not so many that it’s suspicious. But enough to keep it going. Enough to keep me busy. Enough to get me drunk. Enough to entertain me. Until it’s time for my girls to come back to me, and back to the home stretch.
I close my tab at the bar. Time to hit the final stop before last call. It’s warm out because I’m drunk enough. Walking along the waterfront, which glistens under the moon. Me? I’m almost floating across the pavement past each different bar, each one with its own charm and its own worth. People are still out.
One of them, a man, crosses my path.
“Nice dress,” he says in passing.
I barely look up, but even while drunk in my peripheral vision, I know: jeans and a t-shirt and sandals? The fucking gall.
“You’re dressed like shit,” I offer back. Hey, it’s open season to comment on people’s clothing, it’s open season and I abide by that rule.
I can see him tense up, unsure of what to do.
“Fucking bitch!” he shouts as he continues to walk away. Continue to walk away. I laugh without looking back because, well, I bet you don’t know what’s in my purse either. Do you? Here, let me show you. It’s small, it’s fully loaded, and yes I know how to shoot it, and I know I’m not afraid do it. This is Oakland, baby, so, no it’s not in my name, and yes I can get away with shooting him. Nobody gonna snitch on me. Not on me. They know better than that.
So into the last bar I go, and there she is, glowing underneath the dim lights. After everything that might of happened and probably did happen tonight, and there she is, make up still right, ass looking tight, pretty just for me with some money in her hand. I could eat her whole.
“Hey, Mama, how you doing,” she says, embracing me gently as I stride up to her. She hands me the money first thing and asks, “You been drinking? You cool?”
I smile. Yes, I’ve been drinking, and you know it.
“Yup, I’m cool, lovely. How was it.”
She unloads her evening into my ear. I take it willingly. Not because I’m in the business of customer service. But because this is an act of motherhood. This is nurturing. This is tenderness. Her sitting there, jangling around in her jewelry, still twacked off coke, and desperately in need of a drink. I buy her some Hennessy and lean in close with my hand on her thigh while I let her ramble on. Another funny story, another day at work. I know everything she has ever said, and I know everything that she will say. Because I know her. I was her at one point, and now I’m me, but I’m also still her.
I bump her up and let her go. That’s some high quality shit right there. Which is why I treat her nice and pay her well.
I leave slightly after she does, with no place in particular to go to. Just the water right there, and me with my cigarette in the cold of night. This is fine as I float off into the ether, my feet a few inches above the ground. I am light. I am ethereal.
“Hey.” The voice of a man int he dark.
I drop back down to ground and turn around with my hand in my purse, but it’s him. The dealer.
“Hey,” I reply, a bit bemused by his presence. He’s there, by his bike, helmet still on. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to say to each other.
“What are you doing here?” I ask. A question. It’s uncharacteristic.
“I assume the same as you. Working.”
I smile and nod. Oh, god, the alcohol. It occurs to me that I’ve never seen him like this: outside of the apartment. In the real world. We criminals hide in dark corners and don’t like to bump into each other. It’s part of the game.
“I think I’m done for the night,” I say.
“I can tell.” I’m not sure if it’s jab, but I smile regardless, bright white teeth sparkling out in the dark.
“You gonna offer me a ride home or what?” I ask, feeling forward, as I motion to the bike.
“Of course. Hop on.”
It’s strange to touch him. It’s strange to touch him at all, much less press my body against his and wrap myself around him. I don’t think I’ve ever touched him before, not even when I met him to shake his hand. And it’s strange to think about meeting him, to realize that he isn’t just static in my life. That I met him, and maybe now I know him, and here I am as the city whizzes by, and us together, on the back of this bike. I can’t even recall immediately how I met him – it was probably a couple partners ago, before I went solo, when I was still young. I almost feel a flush of embarrassment just thinking that he knew me back then, back when I was still green in the game. I remind myself: that was ages ago, and look at you now, baby girl. Just like I tell my girls when I get them out of the same game I was in back then. Look at us now. We’re better now.
Look at him, now, too. He was probably different when I met him, but I can’t remember, because I simply don’t like to remember. Memories are a fool’s game, but I’m here to win. So I don’t think about who we used to be, because then I might start thinking about who we might become, and all I know is that I’m okay with right now. Which is all I can really ask for, because right now is all I have. The future? I’d like to think it belongs to me, but who knows. It could belong to someone else. I’m not in the mood to speculate.
Where was he all day? What has he been doing since I last saw him? Pulling around town on his motorcycle, attending to the errands that are probably otherwise beneath him, but it’s a hustle isn’t it? Responding to the beck and call of incoming text messages from his junkies in training. It’s customer service, too, and time is of the essence when there’s an itch to scratch. I can just see him, gritting through the clenched teeth and blabbering of eager customers who of course talk too much, which is why when he sees me we don’t have to say a word. It’s our moment of calm together, beyond the outside world of junkies and johns with hearts spilling out of their mouths.
He pulls up to the apartment, and I hop off. I guess this is how well we know each other: he doesn’t know that I don’t live here. But I’ll sleep here tonight. That’s fine.
“Goodnight,” I say. He peels off without a word.
Inside, with the light on, and the first thing I can think to do is dump the contents of my purse onto the table. The loud clack of the gun, the soft roll of money. I am gleeful. Indeed, it was a good night, even though it’s almost morning.