Dorothy was a waitress at the Promenade, working the night shift in an all-night joint that played jazz and played host to lonely souls, or souls ready to make a change. She had hair that was blonde, black at the roots, and her customers liked it that way. She was tall and she had a smirk her customers liked, too. She made a good living on tips. Nelson sat at her tables a few times a week; he was a man with slicked back hair and a thin mustache, but he made it work. His suit was rumpled and not dark enough to get anyone’s attention
“Gimme a fruit cocktail, I ain’t too hungry,” he said.
Dorothy smiled. “Sounds like a real man to me.”
She shimmied away and Nelson watched her hips (dear god, he loved her hips) and he couldn’t tell if she was joking or not. She came back with a fruit cocktail, placed it in front of him on a violet napkin, and winked.
“You come here a lot,” she said.
“I come here sometimes,” said Nelson. “You work here a lot.” Nelson tried to grin, but he was afraid it looked fake and he let it drop.
“Well. Grin if you need anything,” Dorothy said.
Nelson grinned and couldn’t help it, and Dorothy grinned right back. Nelson watched her while she worked, listening to the band. He smiled from time to time, not a full-fledged grin, but his smile dropped when he heard her three tables over, saying, “Grin you need anything.”
Nelson ordered a shot and left before she brought it.
Two nights later (maybe three), Nelson met Trick. Nelson had entered and sat in a table across the bar, away from Dorothy’s section, and he noticed Trick at Nelson’s own usual table. Trick was dressed in gold. It sounds like a joke, but it’s true—gold shoes, sparkly trousers, a jacket and bow-tie that glittered. He had angel dust on his face that sparkled, even in the half-light of the Promenade, and he winked at Nelson when he caught him staring.
Nelson frowned and puckered his face, at Trick and the liquor he’d ordered. “Give me something nasty,” he’d told the waitress, the one with brown hair and eyes Nelson didn’t bother appraising. “What?” she’d said, looking him square in the rumpled suit, and he’d only waved her away disapprovingly. She brought something brown and thick and when Nelson drank it he swallowed fast to keep from gagging.
Every few minutes he looked up to see Trick, whose name he did not yet know, and from time to time Trick looked back and winked. Whenever Dorothy approached Trick’s table, which was often, Trick had a hand on her hip and looked up at her, smiling and laughing. Dorothy did the same, smiling and laughing, touching Trick on the golden shoulder with her fingertips. Dorothy wore rings, four on her right hand, three on her left, the space for a wedding ring left absent. Nelson checked that every time he went to the Promenade, his eyes tracing the white of her cuticles past her knuckles to the space for a ring. He checked it whenever he could, that space. That’s what he focused on when he see her with Trick, when she delivered Trick’s wine and his shots and returned his glasses. Dorothy walked away from Trick, and Trick winked again at Nelson. He’d never seen this man before, but here he was, bathed in gold, Dorothy’s fingernails painting him with love.
Nelson raised his hand and snapped. The shadow of a waitress fell over him and Nelson didn’t bother looking up.
“Sumthin’ nassier,” Nelson said.
“I don’t know what that means,” the shadow of a waitress said.
Nelson turned to look at her. “Some-thing, nast-ee-ur,” he said, his eyes on the bags under her own.
She might have laughed, but Nelson wasn’t sure. He closed his eyes to keep the room from spinning.
“Nastier than what?” she said.
“That stanky ass cootch you got unner your--”
She slapped him and Nelson fell out of his chair. By the time his eyes opened he was in an alley, vomit on his chest, and he almost hoped it was his own.
* * * * *
I make no apologies baby, and you might as well print that on my gravestone. Not that I’m ever dyin’, because bitch, I’ll be too busy flyin’. My name is Trick, honey, and once I enter the room you won’t remember how drab your life was before I got there.
Now, I was eyeing this boy Nelson, the one with the nappy hair just dyin’ to be set free from whatever potion was keeping it in place, because I could tell he wasn’t quite at the bottom of his barrel. That’s when I like ‘em, right before they hit it. Cuz once they hit it, they gots nowhere to go but up—that’s when they start getting’ their shit together, and they take one look at Trick and know they gots to go the other way. So Trick (and that’s me baby, don’t be confused by the syntax) knows to grab ‘em when they think they hit the rocks, but in fact they still fallin’.
Well, Nelly, he was fallin’, and fast. I was eyein’ him with the intent to move in, and soon, and poor bitch-ass fool got hisself thrown outta the goddamn bar. Now, how the shit you get thrown outta Promenade? Well, in this case, it’s tellin’ Marmalade Maggie she got a smelly ol’ cooter, I guess, but fine. It makes my job different than I expected, but no harder. Like I says, Nelly was fallin’ fast. He was over there eyeballin’ me and thinkin’ I was mackin’ on his favorite waitress (and I was, but only because I don’t know no other way to talk to no ho), when in fact I was getting’ the digs on his own self. Askin’ that girl what was up with this boy, why he lookin’ so horse faced, whether or not she got the butter for his muffin.
“He’s attractive,” she done told me, “but I’m not attracted to him. He’s too sad.”
“Ooh, girl, everyone’s sad once in a while. Maybe you’s the one to perk him up.”
“Maybe you’re the one to perk him up,” she told me, but she done blushed when she did it. “Why are so interested in Nelson, anyway?”
(And that’s how I figured his name, see it? Tricks is Tricky, baby girl.)
“I’m a cupid swathed in gold,” I told her, and I held my arms out like Jesus done did when they hammered ‘em. But I fluttered my eyelids, and if there’d be any Romans in the Promenade, I’da converted ‘em over and over again.
But I digress. Girl, don’t even let me get on like that. I paid up my bill and I even paid down his, and Dorothy, she look at me funny for that one, but I just touched her on the arm and tell her I got a soft spot for alley cats. She laughed and told me I was a softie. I almost told her, “Not since I was ‘leven, baby,” but figgered I’d just put that one in my pocket and save it for later. I gots work to do.
I left out front, then swung around the side, through the alleyway. Contrary to popular belief, now, Mama Trick don’t mind gettin’ his feet muddied up when his baby birds is squawkin’. I stomped through the mud and piss and shits of that alley, knowin’ all the while that as soon as I got back home them pants was goin’ in the furnace. I stood over that unconscious, puke-stained man, and I knew there wasn’t much ol’ Trick could do to wake him up from wheresever he was. Not much, but a thing or two.
So, speakin’ of thangs, I unzipped my drawers and pulled mine out. Uncoiled it, unrolled it, stood on my tippies to keep it from brushin’ the stank as ground. I didn’t aim it at the poor bitch’s face, naw, just to the side, is all. I let him hear the spatter right in his ear, let the spatter go spatter on his face a time or two. A drop on his eyelid, a drop on that rotten-ass ‘stache of his, and shit baby, I don’t even feel bad about that one. That thing needed to go anyway. His eyeballs flittered and fluttered and his lips quivered and quavered and he blinked open just in time to see god, that is, my thang, being roped back up and put into stable. There was a twinkle in his eye, just a flutter of seein’ somethin’ greater than he be, before his throat done gurgled and his stomach done rebelled and he done puked all over hisself one more time. First time that happened to ol’ Trick, I can tell you that, some brother sickin’ on hisself at the sight of my glory, but that’s no harm. I don’t take it personal.
“Wake up, Mary,” I said. “I’m ‘bout to make you a happy man.”
Nelly said somethin’ there, but I know none what it was. I can talk drunk-speak all right, but his was drunk-speak on toppa self-pity, and pity ain’t no thing Trick knows much about. I pulled him up by his pride and put him in a cab, then sent it on to my crib. I got my own cab and followed, cuz there ain’t no way I was ridin’ in the same machine as that stanky ol’ bitch. Not Trick baby, no sir.