The city of dreams was dark, the alleyways creating shadows where untold dangers lurked every second. Traffic never ceased, horns of angry drivers honking incessantly. Pigeons peered down from above, surveying all of the humans as they passed by. Flashing lights ruled the streets, strobe-like in quality, briefly driving away the darkness.
Girls in tight outfits and small skirts with fishnet stockings roamed the sidewalks, high heels clicking upon the pavement. They leaned over cars so the sleazy drivers could smell the wafting clouds of their heavy perfume. Beggars fought on the streets over scraps of materials, each one hoping to make a nest to keep them warm at night.
The skyscrapers loomed overhead, flanked by the businesses that were run by the rough crowd or chains big enough that location didn’t matter. Half of them had foreclosure signs, forced out of business or just too bankrupt to keep going. Dirty, violent, and dark, it wasn’t what most people would consider when they heard the words Los Angeles. Still, this was my home, even if I didn’t like to admit it.
It was a Sunday morning, and I was at Abigail’s coffee shop, The Friendly Bean. The linoleum floors were scuffed and the Vinyl on the booths was ripped and faded, but she still managed to have regulars. Abigail was a friend of my mom’s, and so was a friend to me. My mom had passed away three years ago, but Abigail took it upon herself to act like she was my mother.
“Hey, Lucy, you gonna hang around all day?” Abigail asked, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“Is that a problem, Abby? And here I thought we had something special. I’m hurt,” I replied.
I clutched my chest in mock pain. She reached over and flicked me in the forehead.
“I’m just askin’. That’s your fourth cup of coffee, you’re gonna have a stroke. Haven’t you ever thought that you drink too much caffeine?” Abigail asked, looking exasperated.
I shook my head, sipping loudly at my coffee to make a point to her that I was still enjoying it. She just rolled her eyes. She had said I drank too much coffee every day since I started. Abigail tried her best to be a parental figure, but she was more like a crazy aunt. Tattoos of cars littered her arms, leading up to a pair of birds on her sternum. While her outfits could be considered mildly revealing, she still maintained dignity. She always wore a red bandana over her rambunctious shoulder length curly brown hair, all with some ridiculously bright earrings.
“Well, anyway” I said, “I’m just hanging around because I have nothing better to do. I’d rather not go back to Klaus’s place just yet. He just came back from Sacramento and I don’t want to deal with his jet lagged self.”
Abigail made a face of discontent, opening her mouth to give a lecture.
“I still don’t know why you put up with him. He’s such a jerk to everyone and he’s terrible. I hate what you have to do. It’s dangerous to be living in that house, especially when he treats you kids like he does…”
I tuned out, having heard it a million times. Abigail told me I was in a bad place, but the truth was that Klaus’s house was better than no house. Well, it was more like a warehouse he owned that was furnished. In exchange for living there, he asked the 10 other kids and I to provide our “services.” We dealt in business that’s only suitable for those with quick fingers and smooth stealth. It’s not so bad as long as you manage to perform. He’s gone a majority of the time though, so as long as you can get something decent by the end of the month, he just collects and moves on with a smile. Otherwise you spend the night on the street.
Abigail would rather I live with her, but that wasn’t going to happen. With three kids, and a small apartment paid for with her meager salary, I felt that neither she nor I would benefit from the situation. I couldn’t impose on her hospitality. I was just content with however much coffee I wanted for free. She threatened to cut me off, but I knew she couldn’t resist me.
“Lucy!” Abigail exclaimed, “Are you even listening? Oh, who am I kidding? You’re so stubborn that anything I say is useless.”
I smiled at her, finishing my cup of coffee in one swig.
“I’m glad you know me so well, Abby. As you say, I get it from my mother. Okay, I’ve got to go, Abby, check out the prospects while there’s still a lot of daylight. I can’t get back home after 10, the doors close.”
She made one more huff in protest, but decided to let me off the hook for today.
“Get out of here you ruffian, I can’t stand you anymore,” she remarked playfully.
“I love you too, Abby. See you tomorrow!”
As I headed out the door, I heard something along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah. You’re a pain in my ass.”
The sun made me squint as I stepped outside, my strawberry hair catching in the rays of light. Abigail says that every time I’m in light she’s blinded because, and I quote, “If you were any paler you’d be albino.”
I went along my usual routes by the markets, looking casual. I was really surveying the situation with eyes honed over the years. People on cell phones, reading a paper, perhaps even setting purses down on stands as they shop. Anything that would allow me a few seconds of opportunity, just enough time to dart in and out.
Sometimes big “prospects” as I call them, can have a big turnout, but more often than not the risk is too high. Better to gather small amounts over the day than go for the big fish without the necessary tools and environment. Newbies make that mistake too often, and sometimes it costs them jail time. If you’re going to be an idiot, you better be able to run.
I remember getting caught once. I ran all the way back to Klaus’s, the guy on my tail. I wouldn’t have made it if Klaus hadn’t pulled me through the door just before the guy rounded the corner. He was pissed after that one. He gave me a very harsh lecture for a few hours. And let me tell you, Klaus has a sharp tongue.
As I wandered the streets of L.A., I managed to snatch $30 in a matter of a few hours. Sometimes, I take the wallet and some money before throwing it to their feet. I mention to them they dropped their wallet, and they’re so relieved I found their wallet they don’t know money is missing until I’m long gone.
Around 5, the prospects started to trickle out, and I began to wonder if I should go home. But as I rounded a corner, I noticed a man. I hadn’t seen him before, which was unusual. I notice most people. But this meant one thing: Fresh meat. I still had time to size him up and check out what he had.
This would be fun.