story excerpt titled “Tropicana” part 2 (unfinished)

fiction, life, shortstory, story, writing

Chapter 2 – Dine and Dash

          Rosie and I had headed to a craft store to buy the needle and thread, and to a liquor store down the street for vodka. The clerk doesn’t look twice at me as I handed over the money. I guess serving minors is more of a guideline than an actual rule. Or maybe with all I’d just been through, I looked like I’d aged at least two years. The only money I had were a few bills stuffed in my back pocket, and by the time we are done buying ‘medical’ supplies, a new shirt for me, and a couple candy bars, all I have left is a couple bucks. Rosie leads me behind the convenience store and has me lay on some crates that resemble a makeshift operating table. Comforting.

I strip off my bloodied shirt and stretch out across the crates, frowning when little splinters of wood chafe against the skin on my back. Rosie pulls the clear vodka bottle, along with a shiny needle and a spool of thread, out of a plastic bag and places them neatly beside me.

“Ok, first things first.” She screws the lid off the vodka and holds her hand out to cradle my arm. Reluctantly, I place my arm in her grip, biting my lip.

“This might hurt a little,” she says.

I grit my teeth and stare up at the sky between the slates of the fire escape above me. “Just do it.”

Rosie pours vodka over the gash and it’s like she’s pouring gasoline, then lighting it on fire. Pain courses up my arm and I stifle a cry. When she finishes disinfecting she picks up the thread, and expertly threads the needle. “Ready?” she asks.

“Not really. But go ahead.”

Rosie’s brows furrow in concentration as she pokes the needle into my skin. I feel nauseous and turn my head away. I can’t watch. “Distract me please,” I blurt between clenched teeth.

“How?”

“Tell me about yourself.”

Rosie sews while she talks. “Well, I don’t really know what to tell.”

“Anything. How’d you get mixed up with a guy like Rigo?”

“My mother moved my sister, Gloria, and me to Los Angeles a couple of years ago. She has ___ and wasn’t able to work, so foster care took us away from her and separated us. I got thrown into an orphanage and I don’t know where Gloria went.” Rosie swallows hard before continuing. “The people at the orphanage beat me, so I ran away. I was living on the streets, scrounging for food when Rigo found me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, he told me a girl as pretty as me didn’t belong on the streets. He said he had a steady job for me and I would be safe.” She sighs. “But of course I didn’t know it would be growing pot. And soon after I started, Rigo started getting really friendly.” A muscle in my jaw twitches with disgust as she goes on. “I tried to leave, but he wouldn’t let me. I’ve been stuck there ever since. Until you saved me, that is.” When I look over she smiles at me. “Thank you.”

“But you don’t have anywhere to go. I landed you back on the streets again. I haven’t really helped you, have I?”

“Oh but you did. I’m going to find my mother. I’m nineteen. I can get a job and I’ll be able to support us.”

“Do you know where she is?”

Rosie leans down and ties a knot, snipping the extra thread off with her teeth. “I snuck into the main office at the orphanage once, where they keep all the files. I found mine, and it said her last known address was in _____, a few miles outside of LA.”

“That’s great!”

“Yeah, we’re going to be a family again. And once we have money, I’ll be able to hire someone to find Gloria.”

Rosie looks triumphant as she admires her handy work. “All done. That could possibly be the best patch job I’ve ever done.”

My eyes are wide as I look at Rosie. “You’ve stitched up other people before?”

Her laugh rings clear as church bells. “No, which is why this is my best work.”

I grin at her joke as I inspect my arm. “Well done.” Rosie hands me the clean shirt and I pull it over my head.

“You should probably eat, before you pass out or something.” She hands me a candy bar. “You look pretty pale.”

“Thanks.”

I bite into the chocolate and peanuts, chew and then swallow, before I speak. “So we have to figure out what do for a few hours until we meet up with Essy.”

“Well, we should stay off the streets until it starts getting dark.” She looks at me, “Maybe we should stay here for a while. You look exhausted.”

I am about to protest when she walks over and crouches in front of me, wagging a finger. “Uh uh. You are beat, take a nap and recharge. I’ll wake you if anyone comes.”

I hadn’t realized how tired I was until Rosie brought it up, but I wasn’t about to nod off and leave her defenceless in some alley.

She purses her lips when I don’t comply. “At least stretch out, you don’t have to sleep.”

I lay back down on the crates, propping my injured arm across my stomach. “Happy?”

“Ecstatic,” she says as she sits down on the concrete, her back against the crates.

I last about 30 seconds before my eyelids droop shut, and sleep covers me like a warm blanket.

“Tizzy?”

My eyes snap open and I see that the sky is dark and speckled with stars. I press the heel of my palm into my eyes. “Why didn’t you wake me sooner? What time is it?”

“6:45. I checked the clock in a shop a couple doors down. We should get going.” She holds out a hand and pulls me into a sitting position.

“One problem,” I say as I rake my fingers through my hair, “I just realized I don’t know where the Crescent Moon Diner is.”

Rosie smiles. “Well, then I guess you’re lucky you have me. Come on, it’s four blocks east of here.”

She takes my hand and leads me out onto the sidewalk and we walk in the shadows with our heads down, all the way to the diner.

It doesn’t take us long to reach the diner. In fact, we make it there before Essy. Turns out the Crescent Moon is one of those retro diners. The sign outside was a big flashing neon blue moon. Inside, everything is black, and white, and red. The booths are vinyl, the floor is checkered tile, and there is a juke box in the corner. The waitresses wear poodle skirts and horn-rimmed glasses. Our waitress, Peggy-Sue, according to her name-tag, leads us to a booth in the corner, away from the evening crowd.

“Can I get you anything to drink?” Peggy-Sue asks as she hands us menus.

“Just water. We’re waiting for one more to join us,” I say.

“Outta sight!” Peggy-Sue says as she departs to get us our drinks.

Rosie waits before the waitress leaves to speak. “It’s after seven, shouldn’t Essy be here already?”

“He’ll be here.”

We sit in awkward silence, stealing glances at each other across the table, before Rosie says something.

“It’s almost half past Tizzy. I don’t like this.” Rosie frowns. “Maybe the police got him.”

I don’t like this either. Essy is never late. I am about to suggest we leave, when Essy waltzes into the diner. He spies us, and quickly heads towards our table.

“You guys weren’t about to leave me hanging, were you?” He asks as he slides into the booth beside Rosie. She immediately shrinks away from him.

“I could ask you the same thing,” I say.

Essy’s eyes are darting toward the windows constantly, and his hands are balled into fists on the table, a nervous tendency he’s had since I’ve known him. I lean over the table. “Essy, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Essy grabs the straw wrapper from Rosie’s drink and folds it over and over itself like an accordion. Rosie eyes him cautiously. “We’ve got problems.”

I chuckle. “Tell me about it.”

“No man, real problems. The police are the least of our worries.”

“What are you talking about?” Rosie asks.

Essy looks over at Rosie, eying her like a Chihuahua that just won’t stop barking. He turns his attention back to me. “Rigo,” he says simply.

“What about Rigo?”

“He found me this afternoon. I was hiding out at this abandoned house on ____ street. Rigo, Bronco, and a few other goons grab me while I’m sleeping. I wake up to a punch in the face.” It isn’t until he mentions it, that I notice a bruise forming under his right eye. “Rigo’s in my face, yelling at me.”

“Yelling at you about what?” I ask.

“About you, Tizzy. He thinks that you’re the one who tipped off the police about his operation. Why else would they have raided his place the same night you showed up? At least that’s what he thinks.”

Rosie’s lip trembles while she speaks. “Well he’s wrong! Did you tell him it wasn’t Tizzy?”

“I tried to. I said Tizzy would never do that, but he wouldn’t believe me. I managed to escape, but he’s looking for me, for you! He’s out for blood.”

I slump back against the booth. I can’t believe any of this is happening. Fear seizes my lungs, making it hard to breathe.

Tears roll silently down Rosie’s cheeks.

Essy’s words echo over and over in my mind. He’s out for blood.

*****

I have a hard time swallowing the meatloaf I had ordered. Rosie and Essy eat hastily across from me. Essy’s eyes constantly dart toward the windows. Unable to eat anymore, I shove my plate away and lace my fingers in my lap. Once Essy pays the bill, we head out, heads down. We walk down the sidewalk, sticking to the shadows. I don’t know where we’re walking.

Rosie breaks the silence first. “So what’s the plan?” she asks, looking at the ground as she does.

Essy walks with his hands in his pockets. “We need to get out of L.A. obviously.”

“Easier said than done.” I roll my eyes. “Neither Rosie, or I, have any money.”

“You never were a visionary.”

“Thanks,” I reply sarcastically. I stop dead in my tracks, as something occurs to me. “Essy, what did you mean by ‘we, need to get out of L.A.’? Rigo’s not after you.”

Rosie watches him coldly as he replies. “Guilt by association. I brought you to his place. I said he could trust you, and he thinks I lied.”

“But he doesn’t think you called the cops? That you were in on it?”

Essy shrugs. “If he did, I’d be dead right now, not walking around with just a black eye.”

I mull this over. “Okay. Well we need to catch a bus to take us to the train station. And we’ll need to get you guys different clothes. Oh, and money. That’s probably the most important thing.”

“I got the last part of the problem covered.” Essy pulls a wad of bills from the pocket of his hoodie.

Rosie’s eyes bug out, and my mouth falls open. I grab the money as I exclaim, “Where did you get this?”

“Rigo’s stash. I grabbed it on my way out during the raid. Figured it might come in handy.”

“Won’t Rigo kill you if he finds out you stole from him?”

“Emphasis on ‘if.’” Essy cracks a smile. I grin back.

He shoves the money back into his hoodie. “It’s late, so we should stay at a motel. We can get a good night’s sleep, change of clothes, and make a plan for tomorrow. On me of course. How’s that sound?”

I glance at Rosie for her agreement before I reply. “Sounds like a plan.”

Essy leads us to a cheap motel that doesn’t ask questions, and in a matter of minutes my head hits a pillow and I’m out like a light.

The smell of coffee greets me when I wake the next morning. I sit up and blink my eyes a few times. We didn’t want to squander our money, so we opted for a single room. I had slept on a pull out bed, and I am pretty sure I’ll have permanent dents in my back from the springs that jutted uncomfortably up through the mattress. Rosie had slept on the small twin size bed, and Essy on the floor.

I yawn and stretch my arms over my head. “Do I smell coffee?”

“You sure do,” Essy says as he hands me a Styrofoam cup with steaming black liquid inside.

I take a long swig, and the caffeine hits me like a bolt of lightning, jolting me completely awake. “Where’s Rosie?”

“Taking a shower. You should probably have one after, you smell like . . . well, I don’t know how to describe that odour exactly.”

I roll my eyes and take another sip of my coffee.

“Oh I found some muffins at the breakfast buffet, if you’re hungry.” Essy points to a plate on the end table beside the bed.

My stomach rumbles in response and I quickly grab a carrot muffin, downing it in a matter of seconds. I grab another muffin and sit on the bed beside Essy. “So what are we going to do today?”

“I just got off the phone with the train station. They have a train headed to _____ today at 4 pm. I figure that’s out best bet.”

I remember that Rosie’s mother’s last known address is in ______. I want to help her find her mother, it’s the least I can do considering what she’s been through. She deserves a fresh start. “Are there any trains going to _____?” I ask.

“Why would we want to go there?” _____ is a way safer bet.”

I roll the empty cup between my palms. “Well, I sort of want to help Rosie find her mother. There’s nothing left here for her now. She’s helped me so much, I need to return the favor.”

Essy’s face grows grin. “Tizzy, don’t let some girl derail our plan. That’s great that she helped you, but we need to go to ____. I have a contact up there that can help us disappear. If we go to ____ we’ll be sitting ducks.”

I consider this. “I guess you’re right.”

Essy smiles. “I’ve always been the voice of reason.”

Rosie opens the door to the bathroom. She’s wearing new jeans and a denim jacket over a red polo. Her hair is damp, and hangs around her face in dark tendrils. Her cheeks are flushed from the hot water. “You can have a shower now, Tizzy.”

I stare awkwardly at her. “Geez, Rosie, you look great. Where’d you get the new clothes?”

Rosie’s cheeks deepen as she glances down. “Essy took me to a thrift shop beside the motel while you were sleeping. We picked up some clothes for you too.” She points at a bag on the floor beside the door.

I grab the bag and head to the bathroom. “Great, thanks.” Rosie moves quickly out of the doorway as I pass.

I goan in ecstasy. The hot water dulls the aching I feel in my neck and back. It numbs the pain I feel in my arm. I clean the crusted blood from my cut and wash my hair. Once I am thoroughly clean, I spend the next 15 minutes standing under the hot water until it runs cold. I towel dry my hair and slip into my new clothes: jeans, a blue t-shirt and a black pullover. The jeans are a little too big, so I take one of my shoes laces and thread it through the belt loops.

When I emerge from the bathroom, Essy and Rosie are packing bottles of water and supplies into a couple of backpacks.

-Collins

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