She stood on the sidewalk, waited for her light to change. I’d been going the other direction but my light was green so I crossed, joined her on the corner. She was very pretty, she smelled good, and she was less than half my age. Three for three.
“Hey,” I said, and stood next to her. Her coat was black, puffy, looked warm. It was winter in Oakland, temperature in the mid-fifties. “I like your jacket. It looks comfortable.”
She had to be about twenty-five. She smiled a moment, maybe with disdain. “Your jacket’s nice too,” she said.
My jacket was black leather, old school, like the Ramones would wear. I was a native Californian, so in this weather I was zipped up.
The light changed. She stepped off the curb, carried a small purse. I walked alongside her. “Cold, huh?” I said. “I could use something to take the edge off.”
“You could try walking faster.” She sped up, moved ahead of me.
I caught up. “I was thinking of a drink,” I said. “You want something strong, or something hot?”
She kept walking.
I walked with her. “The name’s Patterson,” I said. “There’s a bar on the next block. You’re an attractive young woman and I would like to buy you a drink.”
She shook her head but she walked with me, past restaurant supply stores and produce wholesalers, one ugly building after another. Skeeter’s was a sports bar on the outskirts of Jack London Square. The sleazy outskirts. When I held the door for her she walked into the bar. I assumed she would let me buy her a drink or two and that would be all. For those minutes, hours if she liked to drink, I would enjoy the delusion of hope offered by physical beauty. And if I looked at her long enough, if I memorized her, I wouldn’t have to go online tonight. I could jerk off to memories of the real thing.
There were a half dozen TVs scattered throughout the place. None of the current games attracted a throng. Music played overhead. A little whiny for my tastes, some high-pitched male vocalist with a pretty guitar, a combination I did not find appealing.
“Before I buy you a drink,” I said, as we took seats at the bar, “your name?”
“Ah,” she said, unbuttoning her coat, “there are conditions.”
Her coat opened. Her shirt was taut.
“There are always conditions,” I said.
Her hair and eyes were dark brown, her skin fair, her face round. She was too fat to appeal to Hollywood, not too fat to appeal to men. She looked healthy.
“Who are you,” I said, “and what do you drink?”
“My name is Mary Grace,” she said, “and I like margaritas.”
A tequila-drinking beauty. Hope kicked into second gear.
The bartender came over. I ordered a margarita for Mary Grace. “And I’ll have,” I started to order a house scotch and something cheap on draft, stopped myself. “A Glenlivet and a Lagunitas,” I said.
We drank. She smiled at me. If that was because of a father fixation, I approved.
“You can buy me drinks until seven,” Mary Grace said. “Then I work. I make two hundred an hour.”
“Two hundred?” I said.
“Plus the room,” she said. “I know a place up the street.”
I drank. I hadn’t seen that coming. “We finish these,” I said, “you can start work early. I just need to hit an ATM.”
Mary Grace nodded. “Good,” she said.
I waited impatiently while the bartender mixed her margarita. Two hundred dollars wasn’t much of an investment, but it wasn’t an investment at all unless I saw her again. I had to have that as a possibility.
Mary Grace probably needed a drink before sex with me, but she drank slowly. I couldn’t. She was only half done when I finished, so I ordered another beer. Nervous about a moment I knew I’d enjoy.
Mary Grace finished her margarita and I finished my second beer. I left a tip on the bar and we walked out, side by side but not touching.
“There’s an ATM this way.” I pointed and my arm bumped hers. I took a step away from Mary Grace and straightened, my body tightening. I’d never been with a hooker before, or with a woman two decades my junior. Never with a woman this pretty.
We made it to the ATM. She stood back as I stepped forward. I exhaled deeply, relieved. I needed her away from me. I was not used to being with someone who wanted me for my money. I didn’t have a lot of money. I had a job that paid my rent, and a lifestyle that allowed me to save a little, but one expensive indulgence meant the forfeiture of many small pleasures.
I withdrew three hundred. She could rip me off for the other hundred if she wanted, or maybe it would pay for something extra. I was too old to need something extra, unless it was a movie afterward, something like that.
I pocketed my wallet, waited until my receipt printed, wadded it up and dropped it on the sidewalk. A man of the streets. I turned and looked at her, too late to see if she was pleased or appalled by my idiocy. She walked alongside me, looked over and smiled, but that could just be business.
“It’s this way,” Mary Grace said.
She turned and I turned with her, didn’t know what to say. I’d been glib when I thought I had no chance. Now I knew I’d be fucking her soon but it wasn’t for the right reason. I should have been glad, but I’ve never enjoyed partial victories.
It didn’t take long to figure out where we were turning. A small wooden sign hung along the side of a brick building, in easy view for those on the sidewalk, three lines:
The “hotel” had a wooden door and it was shut. I turned the knob. It was locked.
“You gotta knock,” Mary Grace said, stepped forward and rapped hard on the door three times. We stood there a minute. I wondered if the place had lost its lease.
The door opened. A man a little taller than me, in a shabby dark suit that looked about my size, opened the door and stepped back as we stepped in. His long, straight hair died at his shoulders. “You guests?” he said in a reedy voice. God, I thought, you should be a singer.
Mary Grace said, “Yes.”
The shabby man stood on the opposite side of a counter. “You staying more than an hour?”
Mary Grace shook her head.
“Thirty,” he said.
I laid two twenties on the counter. I didn’t want to touch the shabby man.
“You don’t got exact?” he said. “We kind of need exact.”
“Then you should charge twenty,” I said, and took back a bill.
Shabby opened a drawer under his side of the counter. “Put it back, I got a ten.”
“Let’s see it,” I said.
He put his ten gently on the counter, smoothed it with the flat of his hand. Whatever diseases he had would be all over that money. I dropped my twenty and picked up the ten, stuck it in my wallet fast as I could.
Shabby reached behind him, grabbed a key on a ring off a hook on the wall. He held it out. “Twenty-two,” he said. “Second floor.”
“Put it on the counter,” I said. I wasn’t here to touch him.
He grinned with an open mouth. There was a gap where one of his teeth was missing. The rest were dark yellow. “Don’t you like me, mister?”
“Drop the key,” I said, “or gimme my fucking money back.”
The grin held. He dropped the key. Mary Grace looked at me, eyes wide.
I grabbed the key in one hand, took Mary Grace’s in the other. She pulled away but I held tight. She walked away from the counter first.
“It’s up the—” Shabby started but we were already on the stairs and away from him.
We got to the second floor. Twenty-two was the first room on the left. I unlocked the door, pushed it open and Mary Grace walked in.
“Thanks,” she said.
That mattered to me. I had a whore who at least knew how to fake manners. I shut the door behind us and looked down. The carpet was black and it looked stained anyway. I locked the door’s one lock and bolted its one bolt, turned around. The room was tiny, stains everywhere. There was no furniture except a bed and we were practically in it. “I wanted to pick you up,” I said.
“You did,” Mary Grace said.
“You weren’t supposed to be a hooker.”
She bent her arms at the elbows, palms up. “We’re here.”
“Yeah,” I said, “that’s what we are.”
She must have caught something in my voice, she backed up. One leg hit the foot of the bed and she sat.
“Where you belong,” I said.
Her eyes widened.
“It’s not like that,” I said. “I don’t hate whores, I love them. I’ve just never been with one.”
Mary Grace took the purse off her shoulder and set it next to her on the stained sheet. She raised her arms, pulled her shirt up over her head, flung it behind her. Her nipples pointed at me. “I’ll take the money now,” she said.
I stood a foot from her. “Yeah, sure.” I got two hundred from my wallet, handed it to her. I put the wallet back in my pocket and she put the money in her purse. I stared down at her breasts. A beautiful woman was going to fuck me for money, and part of me was grateful. Part of me resented my gratitude. I didn’t mind paying for sex. That’s what dating was, that’s what marriage was. I’d had my share of both; payment was no big deal. But she was taking advantage of my weakness, and she expected me to appreciate it.
I looked up from her bare breasts and smacked her open-handed across one cheek. Her eyes went wide and her hands reached back, braced her from falling. “What?” she said. “Motherfuck—” I grabbed her throat and pressed her back against the bed.
I lay fully dressed on top of her shirtless. Her lips pursed. I kissed her that way, pulled back fast before she could bite, pressed one hand hard into her chest and held her down, though her arms were free to move. With the other hand I stroked one of her breasts, let my fingers trail down to her belly. I felt myself getting hard, pulled up off her enough to get comfortable, brought my hand back up to her breast and smiled. Slowly, I lowered my mouth to her nipple.
Something slammed against the side of my head. I tilted my neck to see what it was, saw nothing and fell to the floor. I pushed myself up onto my elbows and saw her already on her feet, stepping away from me. Her shirt and purse were in one hand. The other hand held a small pistol by the barrel. Hair and blood stuck to the butt of the pistol. She turned the gun so its barrel pointed at my chest.
“Throw your wallet to the door,” she said. “Sit on the bed.”
I rolled onto my side and got out my wallet, flipped it forward. Good thing it only had to go a few feet. I touched the side of my head where it ached. Wet.
The whore knelt down, set her purse on the floor and dropped my wallet into it. She pulled her shirt down over her head and kept the pistol pointed at me, but she didn’t need to. I could barely sit up. She slipped one arm through a sleeve, switched the pistol to that hand and slid the other through. If I wasn’t so damned dizzy I’d have leapt off the bed at her, but she seemed to sway from one spot to another.
She grabbed the doorknob.
“I thought,” I said, and pushed myself to the edge of the bed, “you might like it rough.”
She looked back at me. Her eyes showed nothing. She looked at the door again, turned the knob.
I got to my feet somehow, tottered forward, fell at her as she pulled the door back.
My hands grabbed her hips and my weight pushed her forward. Her head turned sideways and hit the edge of the opening door. Blood trickled from the top of her forehead.
“I hoped you’d want to see me again,” I said, and fell to my knees.
She turned my way. Blood on her face, she pointed the pistol at the top of my head.
My eyes blurred. All I could see was her beauty.
“I can take you away from this,” I said.
She kept the pistol on me, opened the door wide. She was going to leave me. I had to see her again.
“I know where to find you,” I said. “I will find you.”
The door shut. She remained in the room. Blood fell past her nose to her lips. She licked it away.
I saw her tongue. She straightened her arm and I saw a flash. Pain was everywhere as I crumpled and held her, crumpled and watched her open the door and walk out. I fell and she went away, but I fell with her. She was gone, and now I fucked her. And she fucked me too. Man, did she fuck me. We made love so sweet I would never rise again.