April 16th: Decisions with terrible consequences
The Streetwalker
, by Hollis Whitlock

John straightens his legs and arches his back. He looks to the static ticking on the wall. Sixty seconds is a minute. Sixty minutes is an hour. Forty hours is a week. Ten years is a decade. John is twenty-eight. He’s worked here since high school. The hands read four forty-five. He has fifteen minutes of paper shuffling to complete. Fortunately, it is Friday and payday. He’s meeting Rod after work for a drink.

A ringing phone interrupts a shuffle. Incessant babble, interpreted as an angry complaint, coupled with a self-explanatory question is followed by an explanation that reads like the dialogue of a script. John places the receiver down and looks to the wall. The big hand stands erect.

“What are you still doing here! I don’t pay overtime!” his boss yells.

“I know sir.” John replies.

John walks toward the exit.

“Have a good weekend,” the secretary says.

“You too.”

John steps into the elevator, loosens his tie, and undoes a button. His fingers soften the binds of his gelled hair. A curl falls to his forehead. He tucks his wrinkling shirt into his pants. Four suited men, with gray hair, approach. Their voices are loud.

“Hold that door!”

“Yes sir,” John replies.

The businessmen enter without speech. Silence is awkward like the first day at a job. The men glare. John steps back and lowers his head. The businessmen turn. The first floor button illuminates. Bellowing voices are followed by loud guffaws. John watches the buttons illuminate in a thirty-second fall to the ground. The door slides open.

John walks through the corridor past three long mirrors. He glances and smiles. His casual and relaxed demeanor is free. He skips to the exit and opens the door for a lady. She smiles.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” John replies.

John steps into the cool night air, and walks past trendy vendors locking their shops with metal gates. Street lamps flicker and hum, as the sun’s light slowly vanishes. Shoppers, fashioning the latest trends, strut along the walk. Vagrants stroll the street corners with gloves and cups. Some have guitars. Others sit with their heads down and a sign begging for help.

A young woman with long curly hair approaches. She is wearing tight jeans and a snug sweater. Her blue eyes glisten in the artificial light. John transfixes on her natural beauty and smiles. She smiles.

“Hi,” she says. John stops. She stops.

“Hi.”

“What’re you doing?”

“Not much…Just going for a walk. What are you doing?”

“Nothing. Can I have ten bucks for food?” She smiles. Her perfect white teeth are alluring. John smiles and laughs. A stroller pushes past. John is oblivious to the intrusion. He’s transfixed on her beauty.

“Sure.” John removes his wallet and hands her ten dollars. Vagrants peer behind hooded faces, scruffy beards, dark lenses and mangy hair.

“Thanks.” She smiles. Her eyes sparkle.

John continues forward stepping around oncoming pedestrians. Opiates swirl in his cerebrum. His mind numbs thinking about the young woman. His chin rises like a helium balloon, but as he strolls farther, into the nightlife of the downtown core, depression manifests. Why didn’t he invite her? John stops and looks at his cell phone. It’s five fifteen. He’s not meeting Rod until seven. The pub is a fifteen-minute stroll.

John turns. His heart races like a fool chasing love at sea. He steps quickly around on coming patrons. Their presence didn’t bother him before, but now he feels like a running back, charging past linebackers, trying to score a touchdown before time runs out.

John peers into restaurants, shops and nooks in vain. Too many women have long curly hair. He peers hoping to catch a glimpse of beauty, but none release the opiates.

He reaches the street corner and stops. He realizes that he’s walked past their meeting point. He looks at a street vendor selling hotdogs. He considers asking, but the vagrants are watching him like a cat waiting to pounce. John’s chin sinks to his chest. He looks at his phone. It’s six o’clock.

He strolls along the sidewalk, like a bum scouring the sidewalk for butts, and wonders if their paths will cross again. His cell phone rings. John answers.

“Hello.”

“Johnny my man. I’ve got a couple of babes lined up. Reserve a table for four.”

“Sounds good, Rod.”

“Make it seven thirty.”

“Okay.”

“You got paid right.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, don’t be late. They’re cuties.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there.”

John looks at the vagrants who peer with animosity. He raises his chin and runs his fingers through his hair. The vagrants utter silent words under breath. John shakes his head. If only they knew what it is like to spend eight hours a day in an office, they wouldn’t be so resentful. At work, he’s been reprimanded twice for being underdressed. Here, he’s considered a prude. John steps forward. The woman appears from behind oncoming pedestrians. Opiates release.

“Hi,” she says.

“Hi… I was looking for you.”

“I was looking for you too.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

John feels the stares of the vagrants. He knows that she’s one of them. He wonders why?

“Do you want to get out of here?”

“Yeah, I do.”

John rubs his forehead. Tingling ascends his spine. He hasn’t had a girlfriend in almost a year. He feels like a high school student asking their sweetheart on a date and she says yes.

“Did you get something to eat?” The woman smiles and rubs her belly while bouncing on her tiptoes like a ballerina.

“Oh yeah. I’m all full.” John laughs and nods. The young woman points “I know a place… We could go over there.” John looks at the vagrants and then nods. He wants to leave their presence. The glares are discomforting. He feels moisture form under his collared shirt.

John and the woman stroll past three shops. She stops and points in the direction of a building with a nook and balcony. John follows her up the stairs, into the nook, to a closed door. He pulls on the handle.

“I think it’s closed.”

“Yeah, I know. We can do it here.”

John turns around and looks into the street. Rumbling engines muffle voices. Strolling pedestrians are oblivious to their presence. John looks at the woman. She smiles and pushes her delicate hands forward. The fingertips and palms are dirty.

“Well… won’t someone come?”

“Nope… I’ve done it here before.”

John puts his hand to his forehead, as blood rushes below. He adjusts his briefs. A rush of passion, but he wants more than sex. He wants intimacy too. He looks into her eyes. He feels empathy and compassion. She smiles. Her skin is flawless even without makeup.

“What’s your name?”

“It really doesn’t matter.”

“I just live a short walk from here.”

“Oh! You have a place.”

“Yeah.”

John and the woman stroll from the nook to the sidewalk past the tormenting glares of the vagrants. John feels uneasy and nervous. He increases his pace. The woman follows. Dusk brings darkness.

“Are you embarrassed of me?”

“No, I just wanted to get away from there. Do you know them?”

“Nope, I want to get away from there too.”

“Good. Are you going to tell me your name?”

“No.” John laughs. She smiles.

“Okay.”

John and the woman walk in silence along the walkway past bright street lamps. Their shadows gradually extend outward to a distance of fifty feet before vanishing under the light of the next lamp.

“Are we going to your place?”

“I’m supposed to meet someone tonight.” Her head drops. She looks away. “It’s only for an hour. We can go for a walk and get to know each other.” She nods. “Where are you from?”

“Kelowna.” John smiles. Memories of the warm sun and cool water returns.

“I used to visit there when I was a kid. Do you ever go to gyro beach?”

“Yeah, all the time.” She blinks and smiles. John nods.

“How did you end up here?

“Took a bus.”

“How long have you been in town?” She shakes her head.

“Just a week. All my stuff is in storage. I need forty bucks to get it out.”

“I see…Why did you leave?”

“My ex was abusive.”

“That’s not good. You’re really beautiful.”

“I know. I need to get something.”

“What’s that.”

“Nothing… I, I need forty bucks.” Her head drops to her chest. She toes the ground with the tip of her shoe and glances back. John looks at eyes that are pools of water reddened with blood. John nods.

“Are you addicted?

“Yeah.” John runs his fingers through his hair and exhales. She looks at John. “Then we can go back to your place.” She forces a smile and then looks away. John smiles and nods. He walks forward. “I know a guy.”

“Do you really need it?”

“Yeah, I do.” John nods. “He’s just around the corner.”

The young woman leads. John reluctantly follows along the sidewalk, across the street to an avenue and then down a narrow alleyway where the brick buildings are just wide enough for a car to fit. Graffiti brings life to the barren walls in colors of blue, red and green. Debris clings to sharp protruding objects. The stench of rooting food increases, as they approach a blue garbage bin that becomes illuminated by a motion detecting light. She stops and looks down a dark two-foot alley. The outline of a man in black is visible. He approaches smoking a cigarette.

“Maybe, I should wait for you somewhere.”

“Yeah… Wait down there by the statue. I’ll only be a minute.” She points to the end of the alleyway, across the street. John nods. “I need the money.”

“You’re going to show up?”

“Yeah, I need a shower… I’ve got nowhere to go.” She extends her hand forward with the palm facing upward. John opens his wallet. Numerous twenties expose.

“Okay.” John hands her forty dollars.

He walks down the alleyway. Moaning faintly resounds. He looks into a narrow passage. A man and woman are copulating against the brick wall. John looks away and jogs to the illuminated street. He stops and turns around. The motion light extinguishes to darkness.

John jogs across the street and sits, on the steps surrounding the statue, underneath a street lamp. He’s on the border of the red light district. Sports cars race past. Taxis putter looking for fares. Couples stroll to nightclubs. Drunken youth yell vulgarities. Vagrants linger within the shadows. Pigeons scour for crumbs. John’s phone rings.

“Hello.”

“Johnny, I’m running a little late. Have you got the seats reserved?”

“I’m just on my way.”

“Good, good. Make sure you bring some coin. It’s going to be an expensive evening.”

“I’ve got my card.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Later bro.”

“Later.”

John reads six thirty on the digital display. He ponders his decision to wait. Rod’s planned this date for three weeks. This is the first weekend that things could be arranged. His date is beautiful with long dark hair and blue eyes. Rod says she’s perfect, but John is infatuated with a low-end streetwalker struggling to survive.

John looks at his cell phone. It reads seven o’clock. He looks up. The young woman is skipping across the road. Her smile is toothy white. She walks up the stairs with a white grayish crystal about a quarter of the size of a sugar cube.

“What’s that?” John asks.

“Crack.”

“Well, have a seat.”

“No I don’t sit there. People piss on those things.”

“Oh… I see.”

“Can we smoke at your place?”

“Uh… no… it’s a nonsmoking suite.”

“Okay, I’ll have to smoke it here.” John stands. His face reddens. He runs his fingers through his hair. She removes a metal pipe made from the piping of a gas line. She crumbles a fragment onto a fine mesh within the bowl and flicks a lighter. After inhaling, white smoke wafts from her upward extended jaw. “Do you want some?”

“No, I don’t smoke.”

“That’s good.”

“What’s it do for you?” She looks John in the eye and crumbles a piece into the bowl. She pushes the pipe toward him.

“Here.” John raises his open palm.

“No… That’s okay thanks.” She shakes her head and flicks the lighter. John glances around the streets and sidewalks. Hooded vagrants lurking in the shadows are shifting gray outlines against dark buildings. She walks to the other side of the statue. John follows. She peers around the edge. Anxiety twinges.

“What is it?”

“You have to keep moving. They follow me.”

“What do they want?”

“They know what I got. Are we going to your place?”

John’s cell phone rings.

“Johnny! I’m just a having a quick drink at their place. Suzan is looking sweet bro. She’s in the ladies room getting dolled up for you as I speak,” Rod says. John runs his hand along his forehead. He glances at the woman inhaling on the pipe.

“Sounds good.”

“We’re heading out now. Get a window seat bro.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

“You’re the man Johnny.”

John closes the receiver and looks at the display. It’s seven ten. The pub is a ten-minute stroll. The young woman exhales a cloud of exhaust. The breeze blows it toward John. Sweet caramel and burning rubber permeates. John steps from the cloud.

“Was that your wife?” She asks.

“No, I’m not married. I’ve got a business meeting for a couple of hours. I can meet you back here… at say ten.” The young woman shakes her head and looks down.

“Can I wait at your place?”

“It’s the opposite direction from here.”

“Let me have your key. I’ll be all cleaned up for you when you get back.” She smiles

“No I… I can’t do that. I’ll meet you here at ten ok.” John steps down to the sidewalk. She follows.

“You have a girlfriend or something?”

“No, it’s not that. I have a meeting to attend.”

“What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

“Well…” John puts his hand to his forehead.

“Can’t you cancel it?”

“No, I can’t.” John walks in the direction of the pub. She follows.

“Can I have twenty bucks for my time?” John nods repeatedly.

“Okay, here. Meet me at ten, ok.”

“Sure… whatever.”

John walks briskly to the pub and arrives at seven thirty. He reserves a table for four, overlooking the street, and orders a beer. The patron’s conversation is masked by upbeat music. John sits, next to the window, and stares into the street while fiddling with a loose thread on his shirt. The woman’s face lingers in his mind.

Rod enters, dressed like a pimp, with his ladies dolled to impress. The ladies attire reveals cleavage and slender legs. Their faces are masked with rouge, red lipstick and blue mascara. Blonde and dark curls dangle seductively. Rod raises his arm and smiles.

“Johnny, It’s Friday. Time to party.” John stands. Introductions are made. Hands shake. The ladies sit quietly. The tension would snap a two thousand-pound cable. “What are you drinking Johnny.”

“Beer.”

“Come on Johnny… liven up a bit… Let’s get some shooters.” The ladies giggle. Rod motions for the waitress. “Four cocaine ladies.” The waitress returns. Test tubes are served. A sweet hint of peppermint tantalizes the tongue. Rod hands the waitress a fifty. “Four more.” Rod entertains with outlandish stories and wild hand gestures for two hours. The ladies excuse themselves for the powder room. “Johnny what’s wrong?

“Nothing Rod.”

“Come on. You can tell me.”

“Well… I met this girl.”

“Why didn’t you tell?

“Well…”

“Where did you meet her?”

“On the way here. I’m supposed to meet her at ten.” Rod looks at his watch.

“It’s nine forty five. Get out of here.” Rod slaps John on the shoulder. John smiles and walks to the exit

His walk turns to a jog, as he looks at the digital display on his phone. He arrives at the statue in a sweat. The woman isn’t in sight. He paces for half an hour condemning his decision not to have taken her to his apartment. He looks across the street.

Two vagrants scurry, from the shadows, into the alleyway. John pursues. He looks into the alleyway. Dark outlines shift forward. A light emits. The vagrants disappear from sight. John sprints to the blue bin and looks into the narrow passage. A feminine voice squeals. Splattering footsteps are eerie.

John steps forward into darkness and stumbles in a puddle. His shirt tears on the edge of the building. A shriek terrorizes. He rushes forward in blindness. Sweet rubber wafts. Voices whisper. The light extinguishes.

John turns around. A black outline approaches from the alleyway. John’s arms shake. He turns and runs over the uneven surface. A feminine voice shrieks. John trips and falls to the ground unconscious.

He awakens to murmuring voices and filtered light. His vision is blurred. The stench of old urine mixed with burning plastic nauseates. He rubs the stubble on his chin and runs his fingers through his matted hair. Engines are roaring. Horns are honking. A pipe is in his grubby palm.

Sixty seconds is a minute. Sixty minutes is an hour. Twenty-four hours is a day. Ten years is a decade. John is thirty-eight.

*

Hollis lives in Vancouver BC with his wife and four children. He completed a BBA at UFV in 2003 and continues to write as a hobby. His favorite pastime is feeding his koi in the backyard.


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