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He frowned when he got to the part where I
had gotten out of my grate—the part where I had lost Cranston and
his thugs down that side street at the Bones restaurant; the part
where I saw the young man with the cane and the black
Joq continued telling me how he had
ultimately acquired the usher uniforms. After his pummeling, Joq
had dusted himself off, walked across the street to La Rouge, and
scouted. Apparently it hadn’t taken him long to find the
‘carrot-top usher brats’. There were two of them and Joq, seeing as
I had saved him, had deemed me worthy to partake in his ‘culinary
heist’. He had waited for me in my gutter, took me to this bar and,
when I fell asleep last night, had returned to La Rouge. He
supposedly beat the snob-ushers senseless, taken their clothes and
headed back here. Joq had implacable timing, as tomorrow was the
I looked at him and the clothes and keys.
That Julia woman will be shot dead. And I was leaving in a car
without Joq in that dream. What will happen to him? I thought.
Maybe he was in the car, and I just didn’t see him. I felt a shove
in my gut and knew that wasn’t the case. Still, the opportunity to
have a supply of food and some color in my dull life was tempting.
I wanted the car to take me away from this Hell—take me away from
Main Street to a real, permanent fantasy, with food I didn’t have
I told him I’d do it.
“What kind o’ name is ‘Nip’ anyway?”
I grunted, buttoning the pant waist. The
clothes were too wide, though the snob kids must’ve been shorter
than Joq, as the sleeves of the shirt were too short and the pants’
legs came up above my ankles.
“Don’t know. Some escort gave it to me. Only
nice escort I’ve ever met. Said she had a baby, lost it, and never
got to name it. Said she wanted his name to be Nip because he
always pinched her stomach…” I slipped my arms through the vest;
too wide—too short. I hesitated at the buttons.
“Say, Joq… These outfits belonged to Wealthy
Joq shook his head. I eyed him and went back
to buttoning the vest.
“Because if they do…”
“They’re don’t! On me word as the most
‘andsomest fing in the world!”
“So they’re kids of the Wealthiest Devils?” I
Joq looked up from his shoelaces. “‘ere!
What’s you worried about anyway? We tell a waiter that some Wealthy
Devil sends ‘is complements to the chef, an’ wants a whole ‘car
full’ of ‘is best!” Joq nodded at the car keys. “We pull ‘er ‘round
front an’ ‘ave ‘er filled up.” He pulled bunny ears and stood.
“That’s ‘ow it’s goin’ to go, Nipple.”
“What if these kids come back for revenge?
They’re not Wealthy Devil kids but they’re sure as shit not
beggars. They might come back with their parents or something and
accuse us of stealing their uniforms.”
Joq stood, fully dressed, pocketed the car
keys and went to the grimy restroom to wash his face and smooth out
his hair. The mirror was cracked but free of profanity—the likes of
which was usually scrawled in lipstick or scratched into the glass
of abandoned restroom mirrors on Main Street. Joq flipped the
handle on the sink. I took six breaths before the faucet rattled
“They won’t come. The looks on their faces!
Ha! Never in me life ‘ave I seen such a pair o’ wimperin’ ‘ickle
brats!” Said Joq, going into a laughing jag. I noticed that his
knuckles were red. He ran them under the water until he’d collected
Maybe he gave them a scare, I thought.
Joq dried his face on a dusty hand towel and
patted my chest. “You’ll want to wash that look off your face!
Confidence is our friend, Nipple. Confidence.” He patted me again
and I followed him back to the bar.
“I’m not scared or anything.” I said. “Just
hungry.” I was used to being hungry, sure, but experience in
starving doesn’t ease the feeling that there’s a gaping hole where
your stomach should be.
I swayed a little. I plucked at the white
collar—it was choking me. I gasped gulfs of heat. I grabbed the
door frame and stumbled out of the bathroom, slumping into a booth
after a hazy eternity’s trek across the bar.
When I cooled off a little I opened my eyes
to see Joq sitting next to me. I set my head on the rotted oak. I
was staring at the bottom of a bottle of a glass bottle that read
Ponce De Leon Vodka. A huge granola bar lay beside it. I looked up
at Joq. His mouth was moving but…
My ears popped.
“—was under the counter, I swear! Wasn’t
‘ogging ‘em all for meself! Eat up, yeah?” he pushed the granola
bar toward me, then unwrapped it when my clumsy fingers couldn’t. I
ate the bar and felt a little better, if tired. At first I refused
the drink that Joq kept on pushing at me. I relented when my head
gave another throb. Only one.
My head got heavy and soft by the third shot
and felt better than it had before. I half-listened to Joq babble
about some escort he’d hit on and his father and his brothers and
his life in the Hills and, before long, I fell asleep.
There was a low pressure wine fountain on the
back of my lids and me and Joq, all dressed up. The auditorium—the
fountain—Julia—the sword—the fountain—the young man with a cane and
a smoking gun. Julia dead at my feet. There were other images too
and, as they flashed, I tried to remember them. An escort—a bloody
poker slipping from my hand—two dead men—the devil kid glaring at
me from his father’s side. The black limousine peeling off.
I opened my eyes. Friday was sitting on my
I washed a pill down
with enough water to make my gut swell and rested a little more. By
midday the elephant stood and trudged off to find some other drunk
head to sit on. I squinted out the window.
Sun, on Main Street... Maybe I died, falling down that hill
Joq stirred, wiped the crust from his
eyes and sat up yawning. When he saw the grinning rays, he did a
dramatic double take and looked at me and pointed out the
“Fortune’s smiling on us Nipple!”
I shook my head. “You won’t be saying
that when… Anyway, shouldn’t we head up to La Rouge?
Joq pointed at the
sun. “We ‘ave
‘til sundown before the show! It starts at…” he flipped over
the flyer, read the front again and flipped it over. He glanced at
me. When I blinked at the flyer, the likes of which had no show
time on it, Joq begun to rummage in his empty pockets. He pulled
out a clenched fist and ducked under the table murmuring, “Ah, yes,
‘ere it is! Wrote down everyfing on this scrap. You didn’t think
Joq would forget the most important fing, did ya? No ser, not me.
‘Thoughtful Joq’ is what they call me! So, er, this piece o’ paper…
in me ‘and reads like this… as follows…. It reads the time, which
is written on this piece o’ paper in me ‘and…”
He glanced up to check if I was buying
his bullshit. I guess the look on my face spoke volumes. Joq
frowned, hung his head and pulled his hand out of the cookie
I frowned. “You don’t know when it
starts? You mugged two kids and stole a car but you didn’t find out
the time? The show could be going on right now.”
“Well… I mean! ‘int no show’s goin’ on
at midday, Nipple! We just ‘ave to wait a li’l!”
“We’ll be seen in daylight! An’ we’ll
‘ave to wait in the cold, in that morbid gutter o’ yours! Not that
it ‘int the most won’erfullest, magicalest gutter o’ all!” He
I sighed. “It happens that I know the
magic show is going to take place at night.”
Joq’s ears pricked up.
, we’ll go early to scope things
out. And we won’t have to ‘hide in the gutter’. We don’t look much
like beggar kids now.”
!” Joq stuck out his
lip and sniffed.
I raised my eyebrows, nodded at the
key, the flyer, the door.
“Fine then! Nipple
makes the rules! Joq never gets to make the rules, yeah? Because
Joq’s just an ‘
!” He stomped over to the bar and
filled up a flask before heading to the door and gesturing me to
follow with his middle finger.
We stepped into the square and Joq
shut the door tight and shivered. A tear shimmered down his
The burnt out shops loomed around us,
but they didn’t seem intimidating. It was like they were watching
over us (the bar heat and booze had gotten my head).
Far off, up the side
street, past that barrier between the buildings that kept the
Wealthy Devils out, Fly Me to the Moon was
on a far reaching
We started up the street to where Joq
had joqed himself off at the couple that had been going to the wing
place. The side street was hard to climb and we took our time so we
wouldn’t fall, which gave Joq a window to rattle off pointless shit
“—me father bought ‘em for me. Volumes
of ‘em British movies, yeah? Used to watch ‘em all the time at me
‘ouse in the ‘ills! Big ‘ouse, it was! Full of pretty maids what
gave me a good suckling even up ‘til me tenth birthday!”
I stopped at the top of the hill and
waited for Joq to catch up so he could lead the way to La Rouge.
Across the street, Love Bird’s Wings and Fries was empty. A few
cars drove past, but this side of Main Street was otherwise
Joq led the way, talking. I followed,
ridged, shrinking back whenever we passed a group. But none of them
bothered us—not even the Wealthy Devils. They just passed us and
kept pointing at the flyer-strewn street and murmuring excitedly
about an impending snow storm, and how they were going to be late
for the show, which bothered me more; the magic show in my dream
happened at night.
“Calm before the storm, you know.
Worst Main Street’s had, though you wouldn’t guess it by the look
of the sky.”
“Walk faster, or we’ll miss Julia! You
know how desperately I want to see her!”
“Damn you Marissa. I’ll never bring
you back to Main Street if you don’t shut up, you hear? Then you’ll
have nothing to contribute to your ‘gossip girl’ group!”
Grey clouds billowed overhead and
blocked out the sun, throwing Main Street back into shadows of
neo-noir gloom. They kept piling on heavy so that by the time we
saw the gold obelisk of Big Win Casino, streetlights tinked on.
At the intersection near my gutter
there was gridlock and a swamp of escorts and Wealthy Devils and
families, pushing their way into La Rouge, slipping around its
marble columns and clapping up its granite steps in their stilettos
and black shoes.
A man with a handlebar mustache was
standing on the island-roundabout, shouting into a bullhorn. “THIS
WAY, IF YOU PLEASE! ALL CARS TO VALLET! JULIA TO OPEN IN AN HOUR,
ON THE HOUR! EASY DOES IT! NO PUSHING IF YOU PLEASE!”
We joined the crowd and made our way
across the street and, after practically walking in place behind a
particularly large group of Wealthy Devils, walked up the stairs
and past the bellman. In a blur I was standing in the lobby of La
It was vast and airy and everything
was marble—the floor, the walls, everything. And there were crystal
chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and a low pressure wine
fountain near the center. Across the room was a sizable restaurant.
Tendrils of grilled steak and fried fish scents whispered across
the room and slithered up my nose.
The ‘no smoking sign’ was eclipsed by
cigar smoke. Usually people left smoking for casinos, but I guess
this magic show was big news and everyone wanted to show off their
hundred-dollar-bill-wrapped, gold-tipped Cubans.
Cool sweat beaded my brow. There were
so many adults in one place. Wealthy Devils in suits, lounged on
white sofas with their escorts’ fingers tracing their zippers and
the insides of their thighs. Model families sat on long,
white ottomans. Fathers wore wire-rim glasses with clear, circle
lenses. Mothers wore just enough makeup and had dresses that
matched their husbands’ ties. The children were nearly always
brother and sister and wore festive colors and khakis and dresses
with little waist belts.
Clinking wine glasses. Plumes of
cigarette smoke. I shut my eyes.
“Wasn’t such a bad fing we didn’t know
the time!” Squeaked Joq. “Everyfin’ worked out! I’m lucky with
these fings, Nipple! You’re lucky you ‘ave me!”
I massaged my eyes with my knuckles,
fighting the impulse to hit him. “Yeah. Okay, we’re in. Let’s get
the food and get out.”
“Shhh!” Joq pressed a finger to his
lips and jabbed a thumb over his shoulder.
There was a group of six Wealthy
Devils behind us. They were talking loud so I could make out what
they were saying. My stomach knotted.
“—just stolen, yes. Would buy another,
but you know the kind of flashy, touristy clunkers the Main Street
dealers sell. I’ll have my chauffer take me to my personal dealer
in the Hills after Julia’s show. He’s the one who makes the cars
with the ridges that snake elegantly up the hood—his signature, you
know. His work is immaculate—sartorial, in a mechanical sort of