This story is by Nick Stals and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Some people don’t get to make their own choices in life, the choices are made for them. I was walking the streets late at night waiting for a car to stop. A group of three women braved the cold with few clothes and heavy coats and eyed me as I walked by. I pulled my coat around me tighter as if that would stop the disdainful looks or the cold wind from getting to me. I crossed the street to the next corner and leaned against a lamp post to rest my feet which strained from walking in high heels.
A car came and slowed down. I stepped to the curb and looked at the driver—a balding forty-something in a cheap suit—but turned around to which the driver sped up and disappeared around another corner. The next car was what I was after. It was a white Impala which rolled by slowly as I revealed how short my dress was. It turned on the crossing to stop on the other side of the road by the streetwalkers. A dark man in label clothing stepped out and ignored me just as I ignored every other car. I eyed him as he talked to the three women. When he went back to his car, he looked my way and I could see the hesitation. My heart jumped when he changed direction and crossed the street.
“Ey, girl,” he said, “I haven’t seen your ass around here before.”
I started to stammer but ended up with nothing more than a smile as he looked me up and down.
“This is my cornah. You gotta pay to be here.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I just started out. I need the money.”
He shook his head. “I bet you do.” He reached out and pulled my coat aside. “Tell ya what, girl. You can work my cornah but you need to work me tonight. Feel me?”
I nodded and he promptly grabbed my arm. He was strong and I did not dare to resist as he pulled me in the direction of his car. He let go as we reached the Impala and I went around the other side to get in the passenger seat. The women rolled their eyes, shook their heads and muttered to each other. When I got in the front seat, the man was tallying some bank notes and putting them in his wallet. “What’s your name, young thing?”
“Jessica,” I said, “Jessica Ames.” He asked for some ID and I showed him my driver’s license.
“I’m Cody. You look good for your age,” he said and handed the card back to me. “You done something like this before?”
“No,” I said as he drove off down the street. “I’ve only been doing this a few nights. I haven’t had that many—you know—guys yet.”
He grinned and floored the pedal. “Well, I’m gonna see what they’re missing out on.”
We drove to his “crib” as he called it. It was a downtown penthouse apartment and he parked in the garage. He was frisky from the moment we stepped onto the elevator and I acted stiff all the way to the top floor. I refused drinks and drugs until he told me to “let loose a bit.” I decided to take him up on some champagne. I let the evening happen as it happened, doing my best to please him which happened rather quickly. He decided the night was not over yet and he elected to talk to me. I could have been mistaken but he seemed to care. That didn’t make any of this easier but I had to go along with it. I mentioned that I’m a single parent, my parents cut me off, boyfriend walked out on me—the whole single mom routine. He wanted another round at the end of the night but by then I was rather tipsy and he was flying high on his drugs so it didn’t lead to much more and I asked him if he could drive me home.
“You really think I should be driving like this?” He laughed. “Shiiiit, girl, lemme get you some bus fare or something.”
He went through his wallet and produced three hundred dollar bills before promptly opening the door for me and my coat. I told him goodnight but the door just slammed behind me. I took a lonely bus ride home. It was late when I finally got in. I paid the sitter and checked in on my boy before going to my own bed. I must have cried all night. I have quite forgotten what a good night’s sleep feels like since then.
This sort of night became a ritual. I’d go out on that corner, get picked up a few times, and wait for Cody to come by. He’d take half of what I should make, asked me about my boy sometimes, and twice he used my services himself. After five days I decided to talk to Cody and told him I needed more money. I told him my boy’s dentist’s bills were getting out of control and I couldn’t keep up. That’s when he offered me to stay at his hotel.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “How will that help me?”
He shook his head. “Psh, girl, you’re fresh.” He grinned. “It’s not a real hotel, you see? It’s got strippers, whores, booze, and drugs. It’s every man’s wet dream and fuck me if they don’t pay me like they’re snorting gold.”
I stayed quiet. I had to decide whether I wanted to step into this den of filth for myself. I felt unable to breathe so I put a hand on my mouth and gasped for air.
“You’ll probably make three times more,” he continued, “and whenever I got some homies who need some of that sweet white sugar, you got, I know I can count on you. Amirite?” He put his hand on my shoulder. “You gotta think of your boy. Wouldn’t you do anything for him?”
“I guess I do but I’m not sure about this,” I finally whispered.
He let go of my shoulder. “It’s not like you’d be doing anything different than you are now. More of the same, more of the money. Don’t let me down now.”
I nodded. “Alright, I really need the money.”
He was ecstatic. “Alright, Jessicá! You the best.” He grabbed his crotch as he walked me to the car again. “Come on, get in, I’ll show you the place. You gonna love it. It’s got golden chandeliers and velvet couches and shit. You know how to dance? You can wait tables maybe while you learn.”
He drove like a maniac. He didn’t stop for any red lights and went well beyond the speed limit. He took me downtown again but we passed the street to his apartment and kept driving until we got to an alleyway. There was a parking lot filled with cars, many of which looked expensive. This was a low-key place and it was not where I had expected it to be. He parked by what seemed like the back door to a big building. I could hear dance music from inside. He banged on the door and it opened just a bit before it swung wide. The doorman looked like a big mean fucker and he didn’t seem to care that anyone could see the grip of a pistol tucked into the front of his pants. The music was loud now and after Cody had greeted the doorman with an elaborate handshake, he took me through a curtain into the place.
He hadn’t been exaggerating much. It looked like a hotel lobby converted into a strip club. Women were on the runways and poles and walked among the tables with drinks and snacks. Men of all ages and complexions were seated and shown to have a good time. Cody walked like a god among them. Quite a few eyes would go my way but it seemed an unspoken rule that whoever Cody was with was hands-off until further notice as nobody was as forward with me as they were with the waitresses and strippers. We entered a dressing room where some girls were getting ready to dance or had just come off the stage. We went through here while eyes followed me through mirrors. Another door and another flight of stairs and we were in a long hallway. It was quieter here except when I heard a woman’s scream from one of the rooms. Further along, a man stepped out of a room and I managed to peek inside to see a young woman—too young maybe—sit naked on the edge of a tousled bed and smoking a cigarette. Her puffy eyes, drowning in mascara, coldly followed me as I passed.
The hallway turned and we entered a room which seemed like an office. One side of the room was a large window but it didn’t look outside. The flicker of the strobe lights lit up the room and I walked over to see a central view of the club below. The patrons enjoyed themselves and the workers kept up the charade.
“I gotta make some calls,” Cody said and rocked back in his desk chair. “Why don’t you go through there and freshen up?”
I went through the door he nodded to and into a private bathroom. I contemplated the seediness of the hotel and the men who I had seen along the way. I did my business quickly and was glad that nobody had gone through my purse. I came back out to see Cody with his feet on his desk and on the phone. He finished the call quickly and turned to me with hungry eyes. I felt I wasn’t as shaky as I had been on any night that I had been with him before but I still felt that knot in my gut. It was the knot of practiced instinct that I had to hold back.
“Do you have something to drink, maybe?” I asked.
He stood and opened the old school drinking cabinet. “Champagne, right?” He had already filled two glasses before I could answer.
I stood by the window and found myself systematically checking what each and every person below was doing. While Cody talked about how much money I was going to make and what I was going to be doing here, I had noticed several times that small items had exchanged hands. Pills, bags, and money. A girl would walk off with a man after receiving something.
“But right now I’m not interested in work as much,” he said as his hand slid to the back of my hip.
“Can they see us up here?” I asked and looked at the window.
“Nah, girl,” he said and tapped the glass with a knuckle. “It’s tinted.”
I put my hand on his side and he pushed up against me to start kissing my neck. This went on for a few seconds when he stopped and looked through the window. Men and women in blue stormed through the crowd. They pushed everyone else down on the ground and pointed their guns at anyone who moved.
“Fucking cops!” Cody shouted.
While Cody was distracted, my hand had reached his back where he had his Glock tucked. I pulled it out and pushed him back to create enough distance between us where he couldn’t reach for the gun.
“Don’t move!” I said. “LAPD. You’re under arrest.”
Some girls don’t get to make their own choices in life, but today the choice was mine.