|Publisher:||Random House of Canada, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)|
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IT WAS A BAD IDEA. How obvious. Put another way, she hopes she never gets an idea that makes this one look good.
Crazy with boredom, stoned with sleepless dreaming, so tired she can feel her skin disintegrate, her big toe burning with every step of these cheap fuck-me boots, she cinches the belt of her Spanish leather jacket to accent her hips and breasts, mocks herself for failing to wear tights under the suede miniskirt and makes pretty for the highbeams of an SUV as it slows, passes...
Whoa! Gettin' a little elderly, babe?...
and speeds away, leaving yellow dots in her eyes.
Elderly? What's your fancy, jerk preschool?
She wasn't elderly last time she looked. Maybe she turned forty since this morning. Maybe that's how it goes—life. You look at your watch and find you've been standing on an empty street corner for sixteen years.
She leans against the sodium-vapour lamp (metallic hum reminding her of the dentist) and checks her rubber watch. Six hours flushed down the crapper meaning, now she's like a Vegas loser, maxing out the card for one last throw.
Nobody else to blame. She understood the requirements — the patience of bait on a hook, the wriggle of a worm. Plus painkillers. We must never forget painkillers. Wishing she had packed more extra-strength codeine, she does a parody of a seductive wiggle for the dusty sedan as it slows down, allowing the driver time to look her over, inspect her for freshness like she's chicken on special.
Brake lights flash red, parking lights shine white, and now the Japanese mid-size idles at the corner, rusty muffler growling like adog.
Maybe not so elderly after all.
Smiling Miss America into the rear-view mirror, she totters down the passenger side on heels like stilts, checking to make sure the man in the car is alone, no football team if you please. The passenger window slides down and a backlit shadow leans across the front seat, maybe to check her skin more closely for signs of infection.
Are we paranoid? Is the pope a guy?
She bends into the window, half-expecting a lecture on hep C from a poverty activist or maybe an invitation to find Jesus, be saved, such a joke. Now comes the hard twist under her sternum, the corrosive burn in the throatwhat a sour bitch of a way to make a living.
"Hi there, honey."
Keeping the voice steady, she affects the Southern belle accent she learned from some caper movie she saw on TV, a tone of voice implying hard yet non-threatening sex, the ideal combination for a john cruising in a Japanese mid-size.
"Wanna have some fun, babe? Looking for company on a cold, lonely night?"
By squinting she can just about make out the pale face in the curve of the driver's-side window, the white hands tense on the steering wheel, the black digital watch on the right wrist.
Practical. Waterproof. Left-handed.
She leans further into the window on folded arms, smile stuck on her face like tape. The interior smells like cigarettes, ketchup and wet dog. Plus, she can detect a metallic whiff of tension coming off the silhouette in the dashboard lightthat and the edge in the voice tell her she's snagged one, he can't wait, wants it bad.
The driver clears his throat. "How much do you charge?"
"Depends on your needs, honey. I have a place in my heart for every budget." She widens the smile, shrugs for irony and waits for him to get up the nerve to be specific.
"I . . . I only have ten minutes."
Delores thinking, Statistically speaking that would clock eight minutes under the average. She looked it up.
"Then French in the front seat is the best it can be. I will take good care of you for sixty-five. Long as you wear a raincoat so nothing bad happens, honey."
"Will you take fifty?"
Well, isn't that just typical? Out of their element, nerves shot after a day in the office, terrified of recognition, still they can bargain like carpet salesmen.
Riding what's left of her self-confidence, she throws out a Southern belle laugh. "Sixty's the best I can do unless we go with a quick hand job, and if that's all you're after, what do you need me for, honey?"
The snap of the passenger lock announces the successful conclusion of negotiations. She pulls open the door and slides onto the fake tweed seat, kicking aside a brown paper bag containing the last of somebody's Happy Meal.
They drive in silence, two strangers on a blind date with no mutual interests. They turn a corner, pass under a soot-black railway overpass and pull over at the edge of an industrial park from the mid-twentieth century-cinder blocks and broken window squares, rats peering over the rims of Dumpsters, plus the silent guard dogs, wolves really, sharks in dog suits, eyes glittering behind the wire diamonds of chain-link fences.
Discarded condoms and wadded-up Kleenex litter the pavement. Used sharps twinkle in the beam of the right headlight, which seems to be way out of alignment. She notices a discarded spike-heel shoe near a storm drainsome rough stuff maybe, or someone got one blister too many and decided to walk home barefoot.
She wants him to turn off the engine and get on with it. The smell of the interior is getting to herthat, plus the baby seat in back. Jesus, couldn't he have put it in the trunk?
"Like I said, I only have ten minutes." He sounds more confident, now she's in his car and they're safe from the eyes of through traffic.
"All you gotta do is pay me, honey, and you'll feel sooo nice." She undoes the belt of her jacket, pulls it open and reaches tentatively for the top button of her blouse. The cleavage is respectable, might as well put it to use, in recent memory it's been good for nothing else.
Excerpted from A Gift for the Little Master by John M.Gray. Copyright © 2001 by John M.Gray. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.