The John is twenty minutes late.
Adriette watches another cab drive by, splashing its way through the red and pink lights puddled on the wet street. Another empty cab.
It would be the street again tonight then. Sighing, she unhooks the uppermost button of an already revealing blouse. Goddamn Pluto. He needs to get his shit together. She would never complain to him of course. Not without a weapon in hand. A howitzer, perhaps. Adriette’s pimp has the body of a bull and the brains of a cockroach. Pluto wouldn’t care that her customer was a no-show. Pluto would just ask for his take, his hand out, his beady eyes dead.
So she grinds her teeth and moves closer to the kerb. Her breath makes minted steam. The only warmth to look forward to is the hot sour stink of the backseats of cars, or the smoking, stale embrace of a pub. Once, another lady had told Adriette that working women carry the warmth around with them – that’s what the Johns came looking for.
I’m not warm at all.
It has just started to drizzle again when a car finally pulls up. If it’s the John, he’s almost forty-five minutes late. Nevertheless, she dons her best smile and leans into the unrolling passenger window.
The John is a slight, colourless man with a mousy face. His forehead is beading with sweat despite the chill and his upper lip shaking into a weak smile.
Battering down a wave of distaste, Adriette puts on her best husky-voice. “Hey gorgeous, lookin for some company?”
The John licks his lips, and his voice is hoarse as he replies.
“I…yeah. You….” he swallows and his throat makes a clicking sound, “…you wanna come for a ride?”
“Sure.” She bounces into the passenger seat, happy to be out of the rain.
They drive into the Sydney suburbs, making small-talk, until the John pulls into an undistinguished brick house on a quiet neighbourhood street.
Without a word, he takes her inside, leading her through the carpeted hallways to a neatly masculine bedroom. As he motions her past, Adriette notices his pale face still beading sweat, but it doesn’t bother her too much. Johns are like that – nervous. Unless they’re regulars. They usually managed to perform though, in their own fashions. This guy has obviously prepared for her, or whoever. The bed is freshly made, crisp and clean, perfectly tucked. The window is wedged open, the floor uncluttered. It almost has the air of a hotel. A three star.
“Can I get you anything? A drink? A…” he doesn’t seem to know what to offer her. She declines a vodka soda but accepts a can of beer. She never accepts a drink she didn’t pour. She has been slipped things before – the ecstasy was okay – the GHB wasn’t. Those bastards.
“What do you do?” she asks, wondering if he will lie.
“Research. I work at the University.”
She nods. “Is it exciting?”
He smiles, and she can sense him relaxing.
“Exactly the opposite,” he answers, “in fact it constantly puts people to sleep.”
“Oh.” She notices the enormous TV at the foot of his bed. “Do you have any porn? I like movies. You should put some on.” Porn always sped things up, and it was a good indication of how weird things could potentially get. He flushed a little.
“Yeah.” He flicks it on and a hidden drive whirs. He puts something on, clearly embarrassed, while she sits on the bed and takes her jacket off. When she looks up, his eyes are fixed on her chest. She doesn’t flinch.
Yes, it’s a fucking tattoo and yes, I fucking hate it. Reaching for the top of her stockings, she smiles at him invitingly then sneaks a lingering glance at the screen. Vanilla.
A sudden shrill shriek – the John’s phone rings in his pocket. He whips it out in an instant, like a magician. She expects him to ignore it – and is surprised when he doesn’t .
“It’s my…boss.” He leaves the room to take it in the hallway.
She listens closely, making sure he doesn’t go too far, but he comes back into the room again almost immediately, ashen white, his ardor clearly doused.
“Is everything okay?”
“There’s been a… I need to go. We need to go.”
He shakes his head, not looking at her. “We should probably just go, I think. I can drop you back to…or wherever you need to go.”
“Sure.” She nods. He doesn’t have to tell you anything, she reminds herself. You’re just a temp.
“Come wait in the hallway, I need to get a few things.”
While he disappears into the back of the house, Adriette pulls her jacket back on. He’s out of earshot when she takes the few steps into a living-room and pokes around a little. The only thing in reach worth investigating is a large veneered dresser against the wall.
Listening out and moving quietly, she pulls the top drawer of the dresser open – and gasps.
Tucked in the corner of the drawer is a carelessly bundled roll of fifty-dollar notes held tight with a thick red rubber band. A roll of fifties thicker than her wrist.
Enough to keep Pluto happy for…well, we’ll see…
She snakes her hand into the drawer and plucks out the bundle. Working quickly, listening with her whole body, she takes the roll and stuffs it into her small purse. It has an odd weight, a liquid center. A bottle? There is a scraping sound from somewhere in the house. Her blood thumps.
By the time he comes back she is leaning against the front door with a small smile. He doesn’t even glance towards the living-room. As they enter the cold night air, the adrenaline flooding her body begins to subside.
I hope there’s enough to cover the customers I’ll lose by changing spots. Pluto wouldn’t be happy about that either. Maybe she could take the train, disappear awhile. I have to count it first.. She glances at the pale John. Either way, I won’t see you again, vanilla.
The John’s hand shakes as he unlocks the passenger door for her. She straps the seat belt tightly around her waist, but to his credit he drives calmly, never taking his eyes off the road. His face is ashen, distant. Streets glide by. He isn’t blinking much.
“Are you okay?” She asks softly.
The john seems to wake from a doze. “Huh?”
“AIs everything okay?”
He frowns, watching the road. She bites her lip. After a moment he looks at her and nods. “Yeah… yeah. I just need to be somewhere.”
“Do you want me to come with you? I could wait, and maybe…” What the hell? Shit, please say no…
He smiles at her gently. “No. But thanks. Another time, maybe.” They’re close to where he picked her up.
“Go past. I’m going home.”
He drives another few blocks until she tells him to pull up – in the middle of parallel apartment buildings, housing commission flats stacked like endless hives. Her flat is almost six blocks from here, but the bus would come soon enough. If he comes looking for me here, he’ll give up soon enough.
He pulls up slowly, then fishes around in his top pocket for a moment. To her chagrin, he pulls out a small fold of twenties. She doesn’t reach for it. Guilt washes through her in hot waves.
“Are you sure… we didn’t even talk about a price.”.
“I’m sure. We…uh…Pluto and I…discussed… you’re Adriette, right?” Surprised, she nods before she can think better of it. He looks away. “Maybe you can…I don’t know. Owe me one.” He pushes the cash at her. “Go on, take it. It can’t be easy out there.”
Adriette looks at the cash. It sure ain’t buddy. I hope you never find out. Hating herself, she takes it. Not trusting herself to speak, she opens the door, climbs out, and watches him pull away.