The street was steaming and Megan's high heels left indentations in the tacky asphalt as she crossed to the sidewalk. Glancing down at her outfit, she decided her camouflage would serve. She wore a tight black skirt, a hot pink halter with crazy green swirls, three-inch heels and more make up and jewelry than she ever wore. It was a look she might adopt when going out clubbing but kicked up an extra notch. She could pass for someone who belonged on the boulevard. Sort of.
The trick was to watch what was going on without appearing like she was looking so she leaned against a shadowed wall, her bare back scraping rough brick, and crossed one leg over the other. She took her time lighting a cigarette and was careful not to really inhale. She had invested way too much money on patches to start that habit again. Breathing in the humid, rancid air trapped between tall buildings, she let the cigarette dangle between her fingers and watched the show.
A couple of trannies in mile-high boots, sequined clothes and shimmering body glitter stood at the curb shouting at each other and gesturing dramatically. Their fight escalated to name-calling and expletives before the queens strolled off down the sidewalk, still arguing.
Next Megan's attention was drawn to a vintage red Corvette, which pulled up to the curb. A young man with dreadlocks and skintight leather pants swaggered up to the passenger side and leaned down. His upper arms rested on the frame and his ass jutted out behind him. He talked to the driver for only a couple of seconds then opened the door and climbed inside. Megan wondered what signals had passed between the john and the hustler. How had eye contact been made from inside the dark confines of the car? It had happened so quickly, she had missed the silent communication.
Her cigarette burned down and Megan pretended to take another puff. She noticed she was one of very few women on the street. Hookers traditionally worked Sunset Boulevard. Santa Monica was for the boys. The sexual vibe here was as thick and sultry as the summer air. Boys and men stood in pairs or groups or walked past on the sidewalk. Watching their conversations and pickups, Megan thought she had fooled herself into thinking fact-gathering for her article would be easy.
She had always wanted to be a reporter, but was currently a copy editor at a weekly paper. Correcting other peoples' writing was not what she had in mind when she entered the journalism program in college. Megan decided the best way to get ahead fast was to write a freelance expose that forced her boss to take notice of her talent. The homeless street kids who traded ass for cash were the focus of her story, but now she wondered how she had thought it would be simple to approach one of them and strike up a conversation let alone ask for an interview.
She looked around for anyone who appeared like he might give her a moment of time.
Farther down the sidewalk under the neon lit awning of a strip joint a guy leaned against the wall, smoking a cigarette. He was sandy blond, wore a white muscle shirt, low riding jeans and engineer boots. He gazed out at the street like he had all the time in the world to make a sale, like he would be doing the customer a favor if he graced him with his presence. Relaxed and easy, he lounged and surveyed the street.
Megan crushed her cigarette under heel and began to walk his way. She could bum a smoke or a light off him to get conversation started.
As she drew closer and saw his face, she saw that while his posture might be relaxed his eyes weren't. Light reflected off the whites as they moved restlessly back and forth scanning the people and passing cars. He was vigilant and ready to respond to potential clients.
Megan's pulse sped up and her throat felt dry. She was completely out of her element here. There was no way she could actually walk up to him. Instead she stopped and studied the posters plastering the window beside her. They announced that HOT ALL NUDE boys were just inside the door. For a low cover fee you could see Live! Hot! Action! Dancers Reggie Lee and Dustin were appearing along with a bevy of pretty boys.
Megan turned from the window and caught the lounging guy glancing at her. She looked out at the street as if waiting for someone and wished to hell she'd never left her safe, comfortable shadow.
A few minutes later a beige sedan glided up to the curb, the passenger door opened and a skinny black kid hopped out. He turned to address the driver, but the door slammed and the car pulled away from the curb. The boy had to jump back to avoid being run over. He chased after the car, hitting his hand on the rear panel before it accelerated out of reach. "Motherfucker!
That's right, you better run! I ever see you again I'm gonna..."
The kid yelled after the driver for a few more seconds then turned to another teen on the sidewalk, a lanky boy with greasy shoulder length hair and a T-shirt that read Bite Me! "Fucker stiffed me. If that no-neck, fat-assed, tiny-prick bitch ever comes round here again, I'm gonna personally make sure everybody on the walk knows! He ain't never gonna get another piece of ass down here."
A slight, pale boy ran up to the angry black kid from the sedan. He was shirtless and his scrawny chest reflected white like the moon, his cutoff jeans slipping down his narrow hips as he ran. He said something to his pissed-off friend, pointed down the street and the pair of them took off. Megan wondered what he had said and where they were going.
She ran her hands through her dark, curly hair, lifting it off her sweaty neck to let the air cool her skin. She considered going to the convenience store up the block and buying a soda. Then she considered simply going home. This had been a stupid idea.
A couple of men stopped several yards in front of Megan. They exchanged a small bag and some money. The dealer, a bald guy with an elaborate tattoo painting the canvas of his scalp, frowned at the wad of cash the customer had given him and said something.
The emaciated junky, who looked like he might jitter apart, began talking quickly.
The dealer grabbed a fistful of his shirtfront, wrenching the bag back from him.
The junky twisted free and ran--straight toward Megan.
She jumped to the side as the dealer tackled the junky, sending him down to the pavement and began viciously kicking his ribs and cursing.
Blood ran from the man's nose and he rolled into a fetal ball trying to protect himself.
Megan backed away from the violence and bumped into a body. She whirled around and confronted the lounging boy. "Sorry," she said, stepping away from him.
Meanwhile the attacker, having delivered one last order to pay up, stalked away from his victim. The other man moaned and writhed on the ground.
Megan wondered if she should call 911 or try to help the man. When she took a step in his direction, the boy behind her said, "Don't."
In another second the injured man got up from the ground, swearing and holding his hands to his gushing nose. He limped off down the sidewalk.
Megan looked at the young man beside her.
He gazed back with heavy-lidded blue eyes. His hair was tousled and overlong, his cheeks and chin scruffy with unshaven stubble. Megan was so close she could smell him, a mixture of cigarette smoke and sweat, which should have been off-putting but was surprisingly arousing.
"You shouldn't be here. It's not safe." He spoke around the cigarette tucked into the corner of his mouth.
Megan laughed at the obvious irony. "You think?" The adrenaline coursing through her subsided a little. She extended her hand. "My name's Megan."
He stared back at her not offering his name or his hand.
Megan took his cue and settled back against the wall beside him, arms folded. She continued watching the street. From the corner of her eye she saw the boy take the cigarette from his mouth, drop it to the ground and grind it underfoot.
"How often does that happen?" she asked after a moment. "Not the fight. I mean, that kid who didn't get paid."
He was silent so long she didn't think he was going to answer.
"Ricky," he finally said. "He knows better. You always take the money first."
He hadn't really answered the question, but at least he was talking. Megan looked up the street, thinking about what she wanted to ask. Farther up the block another boy was getting into a car. Megan turned back to her companion. "Hey, how do you know when..."
He was no longer beside her. He stood at the curb, forearm resting on the door of a BMW as he talked to the driver. In a moment he opened the door and got inside. Break time was over.
She watched the boy's profile through the car window as it closed. His face was white against the dark interior, his expression blank as he stared ahead through the windshield. The car drove off and he was gone.
Megan stared at the red taillights turning a corner. She pushed off the wall and walked toward the lot a block away where her car was parked. She was overwhelmed. All she wanted to do was get home to the security and comfort of her own world.
At home, Megan kicked off her too-high heels and went to the fridge for a beer. She popped the top, threw herself down on the couch, flipped open her laptop and began to write. The faces of the street boys haunted her. She stared at the glowing computer screen. It was easy to write what she had seen, but how could she depict what it felt like down there on the boulevard?