Friday, January 10, 2014

A Work of Fiction

Written by an unreliable narrator.

She called from a cell phone somewhere downtown. It wasn't her own. A voice with a British accent introduced the call, stating that she'd agreed to let a stranger use her phone, but only for no longer than a couple of minutes. The woman I'd been corresponding with via e-mail for most of a day came on the line next. I knew she was homeless, or at least in the process of finding a soft place to land. These days, most people don't have to rely upon the charity of public libraries to check their inbox.

I was to pick her up in a part of town I usually avoided because it was mostly a tourist trap. Unfamiliar with this section of the city, I struggled to find a parking space for most of an hour. Once I did get situated, I found her nervously pacing back and forth in front of Planet Hollywood. She looked impatient and a little angry, but smiled when I established my identity. She followed me to my car, then began a conversation.

I had no idea what a quickie was. If I had, I'd never have gotten myself in such trouble. You may find it hard to believe, but I thought I was receiving at least a couple of hours worth of company. If it progressed beyond the platonic, I wouldn't turn it down, but her choice in words had been sparse and vague. I'll admit I was feeling needy. That familiar persistent tugging wouldn't leave me alone.

During our trip to where she was currently staying, we crossed over the tracks into an area blighted with crime and neglect. She pointed out the location of every crack house within a mile radius from my apartment, which we'd passed by on our way elsewhere. It was a piece of information that was as informative as it was unsettling. Such is the nature of living in recently gentrified parts of the city. I'd driven through the same area a thousand times on my way to other places, ignorant of the housing projects and what could be found there. Now I could never forget.

We'd initially planned to go back to my place, but she pleaded with me to take her home first. It seems she was planning on leaving and moving elsewhere, but wasn't sure where yet. One option was her gay brother and his boyfriend, but according to her they were anal retentive and obsessive about little things that didn't matter. She wasn't sure where to go and was trying to live a day at a time. I had no room for her at my place, though I momentarily considered that she might stay with me for a day or two.

I was trying to be a good person, but I didn't recognize that my life was in danger. I was wary of unfamiliar surroundings, but like in a film noir, I didn't realize the extent of my predicament until it was too late. The dingy, dark room of the house I entered contained a bed occupied by two nearly naked women and three televisions resting upon a beat up dresser.

Each set was tuned to the same pornography feed. The sound was fully muted on every one. I was invited to perform oral sex upon one of two women, and out of fear I obliged. Nothing is free in life. This was a lesson I learned later that evening and have not forgotten. I was naive enough to believe that the act itself was provided free of charge. Instead, I only increased my tab, and parted with even less of my money.

What saved me was my prowess, which was partially skill and partially abject terror. Even the man with the gun was impressed, admiring my handiwork. How did you learn how to do that? For a half-second I almost relaxed, glad for the praise. Praise was better than threats, better than psychological extortion. Compliments were effusive all around, but the woman who had originally set up this quickie felt a little threatened. In her mind, I was her john alone. I would never have taken part in any of this drama if I hadn't feared for my life.

Following the sexual interlude, I was taken to a separate room. The door was shut behind me. I was implored to buy a used electric drill which came with a thousand separate attachments, a heavy plastic container, and a shade of orange. I had no need for it, but I entertained his sales pitch for ten excruciating minutes. He made many assumptions about the extent of my income, each of which were equally wrong. While I recognized by now that I'd been taken for a sucker, my desire to escape kept my anger in check. What would it take to get back home, cut my losses, and resolve to never do something foolish like this again?

Paying a ransom, I reasoned, would allow me to leave without being physically hurt. I'd depart without being the latest crime statistic for the local news the next morning. I knew he would kill me if I didn't buy him something he wanted. We took off in my car. He indicated that he was after an expensive watch. The exact model he wanted cost $100. I reluctantly took the money out of the ATM outside the store and handed it over. This entire interlude had cost me over $300 already. While I may have been after something different, this wasn't the kind of different I had in mind.

She begged to stay with me. Her fear, which was not unreasonable, is that her W2 would get stolen. She'd stowed it away deep inside a canvass knapsack. She'd yet to file her taxes and knew that the forthcoming tax return provided needed funds. My trust had been violated and I was in no mood to accommodate any more of her pleas. I'd walked right into a trap that she had set. Because of that, I ignored her. I dropped her and her W2 at the residence where I'd just spent a terrifying hour, and headed directly for home.

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