Chapter Seven (Part Five)
“What are you doing here,” Snow asks belligerently, sticking out her chin. “Fucking bitch thinks she can just come here and get up in our grill.” Some of the newer hookers look puzzled, but most of the older girls—the ones who didn’t like me because I was younger and prettier—are ready to back Snow up. It’s clear that Snow is hopped up on something—probably meth—and spoiling for a fight. “This ain’t your turf any more, China Doll, so beat it.”
“Where’s Mona Lisa?” I ask, refusing to let Snow intimidate me. I use to eat hos like her for lunch when I was hooking, and she knows it.
“That bitch is doing a trick,” Snow says, still not willing to back off. I’m about to teach her a lesson when Mona Lisa comes sauntering down the street.
“Hey, girl,” Mona Lisa smiles, her eyes glassy. “Who is this hunka hunka burnin’ love?” She tilts her head to get a better look at Mowgli who is doing his best to blend with the scenery. He isn’t succeeding, of course, as he’s big, gorgeous, and a male among whores. “Hey, sugar, you like Elvis?”
“He’s the king, isn’t he?” Mowgli answers easily.
“No, you’re the king,” Mona Lisa banters, licking her lips. After the scum she deals with, Mona Lisa must look at Mowgli as a starving dog upon a steak.
“M.L., I need to talk to you again,” I say, cutting short the flirtation. I don’t have time to deal with a strung-out whore’s ramblings. “Same deal as before.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Mona Lisa says. “Seems I should get more since it’s two-for-one this time.” The other hookers snigger.
“You tell her, Mona,” a tiny black hooker cheers, raising her fist in the air. “You ain’t nobody’s fool.”
“Let’s go, M.L.,” I say through gritted teeth. I hate a whore who’s on something because she can turn mean on a dime. I grab her by the arm and start herding her away.
“I can walk by myself,” Mona Lisa huffs, pulling away. I sigh and rub my forehead as we make our way to the Phoenix again. This is becoming a habit I don’t wish to endure for long. I hate reminders of my past with a passion. I used to get along with the girls even after I gave up the life, but I’m finding that I have less in common with them as time passes. Mona Lisa is stumbling on her heels, and Mowgli gallantly offers his arm.
“Madame, may I?” He bows theatrically, eliciting a giggle.
“You are quite the gentleman.” Mona Lisa accepts his arm with a clumsy attempt at grace. We walk to the Phoenix in silence. The same woman is working, Candace, and she gives us a jaded look as we ask for a room. She hands over the key, her lips compressed—no smile for Trip this time. I don’t give a damn and accept the keys with a shrug. We walk to the room in silence.
“I still don’t do girls, T,” Mona Lisa says, swaying her way to the bed. “If I did, I’d be all over that Angel before she kicked the bucket. She was tight, no offense. Boys, however. Them I do.” She plops down on the bed and smiles up at Mowgli. “You can watch, T, if that’s your thing.” She reaches for Mowgli who moves out of her way.
“Pay attention, M.L.,” I say harshly jerking Mona Lisa by the chin so she’s facing me. “I don’t have time for your fucking games, got it? You want the money, you gotta play straight with me.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see Mowgli frown slightly; he hates it when I slip into my street persona.
“Why you gotta be all hard, girl?” Mona Lisa whines, yanking her chin out of my hand. “You ain’t no better than me even if you not on the streets any more. You still a stanky-ass whore just like me, and why you dressed that way?” Her tone is petulant, and I’m itching to slap the sass out of her.
“I am nothing like you,” I hiss at her, losing my patience. “Listen, you told me that Andretti, DiCalvo, the short guy was here asking about me. Was he alone?”
“Hell yeah, what you think he’s going to bring his homeys down to the ‘hood?” Mona Lisa stares at me in disgust. “You been gone too long you think this the sort of place he brings his friends.”
“Caleb O’Reilly. Does that name ring a bell?” I curse myself for showing my hand, but I don’t have much time.
“What you think I keep a social calendar? You think I give a shit about names? They all John to me, T. You know that.” Mona Lisa has pulled a compact out of her purse and is powdering her nose. I knock the compact out of her hand, and Mowgli instinctively moves forward as if to protect her. I shoot him a hard look which subdues him.
“Don’t fuck with me, M.L. Don’t do it,” I warn her, shoving my face in hers. “Tall man, six feet nothing. Snow white hair, early fifties. Bright blue eyes. Attorney. North Beach. Irish accent. Has a paunch.” As I describe him, I berate myself for not finding a picture. I could be talking about countless men. To my surprise, Mona Lisa looks interested.
“Attorney…shit. Yeah, I forgot. That short sweaty prick? He mentioned he heard about us from a friend of his. A fucking lawyer. Fucking potato-eater. Showed me a picture. Sounds like your O’Reilly. He likes the yellow pussy, yes he does. When he can’t find one of the slants, he chooses me.” Mona Lisa giggles, then snorts. “Fucker usually came in five minutes, but paid by the hour. Dumbass.” She giggles some more, then sobers up. “I told him about the short prick. He liked to take my head off. See?” She points to her eye which has the remnants of a black eye that even her careful makeup job can’t hide entirely. “Kept telling me to forget about it as he whacked the shit out me. Like that’s gonna make me forget about it.” Mona Lisa snorts, then ducks her head. “What the fuck is this about, T?”
“Nothing you need to know,” I say, rummaging through my purse. Damn. I only have a hundred dollars in cash. I look to Mowgli who understands what I’m asking. He excuses himself to use the bathroom while I continue to discuss things with Mona Lisa.
“Come on, T. If my ass is grass, you can at least let me know why. I have to watch my back, you know?”
“Listen to me, M.L.” I enunciate carefully so what I’ll say will sink into her drug-soaked brain. “You cannot tell anyone what you told me, understand? Your ass will definitely be grass if those assholes hear that you’re telling tales out of school.”
“Shoot, girl, you think I don’t know how to watch myself?” Mona Lisa looks at me indignantly through bleary eyes. “I wasn’t fucking born yesterday. Who taught you how to walk in heels, huh? Who ganked your first lipstick for you, huh?”
“Cocoa !” I say indignantly. “It sure as hell wasn’t your fat ass. You just sat there and watched her do it. Oh, and do I really have to mention the time you tried to shiv me?”
“Girl, you just cold-snatched prime meat right out from under my nose. You knew I hadn’t eaten all day and that my man was going to cut me two ways of Sunday if I didn’t turn that trick. What was I supposed to do?”
“You needed the money for drugs,” I say flatly. “I bought you a damn grilled cheese sandwich, remember? You threw it in the trash.” We stare at each other, neither willing to give an inch. Mona Lisa finally looks away first, and only because she knows I’m not giving her money if she keeps getting in my face.
“You serious about that jerk?” She asks, her eyes fixed somewhere behind me. “He really trouble? ‘Coz he looked like some pansy-ass lawyer to me. Couldn’t even keep it up long enough for me to hiccup. The original one-minute man.” She sniggers, lying back on the bed. She yawns, her face suddenly haggard. Whatever she’s coasting on is wearing off, and now all she wants to do is sleep. Mowgli comes out of the bathroom and mouths, ‘three hundred’ to me. Good. We are more than covered for this excursion. What Mona Lisa has told us doesn’t even rate a hundred.
“Come on, M.L.,” I say, roughly grabbing her arm. I pull her up and force her to look at me.
“Stop it,” she mumbles, nodding her head. “I want to sleep.”
“Do you want to earn your keep?” I ask harshly. Mowgli looks away, but I don’t pay any attention to him. “Then listen to me. You need to tell me everything the Irishman said to you. Everything.”
“I already told you,” Mona Lisa whines. When I shake her again, she gives in. “He told me he liked to fuck a girl in the ass, and I told him it was extra. He said he preferred Chinks, but that I was a nice substitute.”
“Mona Lisa! I don’t mean that shit!” I am exasperated. Nobody stupider than a strung-out whore. “Tell me what O’Reilly said about DiCalvo.”
“The short prick? The tall prick say that the shorter one is in over his head, that he can’t fix this one, no matter if he’s the handyman. That the big boss is in too deep to get out of this one. He weren’t really talking to me, understand, more to himself. He just, fuck. He couldn’t get his fuck on, so he had to talk shit, you know? Said the short prick was doing the wrong thing picking on a girl like you. That’s what he said.”
“What?” I stop, a chill running down my spine. “He mentioned me?”
“Yeah, not by name. Just said that Chink bitch thief. Said the short prick fucked up by setting you up. Was pissed about it, too. Said too much trash to take care of. Two was too much. Does that make any sense, T? He didn’t explain anything else.”
“When was this, M.L.? When did O’Reilly come by?” It’s imperative that I pin the time down, though I’m not exactly sure why. Mona Lisa mumbles something that I don’t quite hear. “What was that?”
“Right before,” she says softly, her eyes on the ground. I still don’t understand and am about to ask her again when Mowgli steps in.
“He was your client before you talked to us?” His voice is gentle as if he’s talking to a child.
“Yes,” Mona Lisa say almost inaudibly. “Five minutes of fucking, forty minutes of talking and hitting. That’s some messed-up shit, huh?” She is slumped over, her face hidden by her hands. Mowgli kneels in front of her and carefully pries her hands from her face.
“Did he say where he was going, Mona Lisa?” Mowgli cradles her hands as if they are made of porcelain. “Think.”
“Said he’s gonna make the short prick see reason. Says they gotta talk it over. He didn’t sound too good. Said there couldn’t be any more disposal. What did he mean by that?” She lifts her eyes and looks at Mowgli; there are tears in her eyes. “I didn’t like him! He scared me, but what could I do? What could I fucking do?” She lowers her eyes again leaving her hands in Mowgli’s. She says something else that I can’t catch. Apparently, neither does Mowgli because he asks her to repeat herself. “I can’t tell you,” she says sadly. “Then I really would be dead.” From that, we cannot budge her. She is crying the tears of a junkie whore who allows herself to feel regret for what is happening in her life.
“You sure you won’t tell us?” Mowgli asks again. By this time, he is the one controlling the interview with me being the observer. Good cop/bad cop—it worked like a charm until she stopped talking.
“I can’t, really.” Mona Lisa has no defiance left—nothing but self-preservation. She is more fearful of O’Reilly than she is in need of our money, so it’s time to go. To my astonishment, Mowgli pulls out his wad of money, all three hundred of it, and hands it over. Mona Lisa is too stunned to react. Honor dictates that I give her something as well, so I hand over my hundred. Mona Lisa stares at the money in her hand as if it’s a snake about to bite her.
“Take the night off if you can,” Mowgli says gently. “Stay in the room if you like. It’s taken care of.” Or it will be as soon as we go back downstairs. “Order some food, watch some television, relax.” His eyes reflect sadness as he pats her hand.
“Thank you,” she whispers, looking at Mowgli as if he were her personal guardian angel. We take our leave of her before other unnecessary words are said. Between the two of us, we have enough money to make it back to Vandalia’s, but just. She isn’t there when we get back. We part after agreeing to talk in the morning.