ME – 10

ME – 10

The Girl

New Orleans was just fine. After a week, I couldn't understand why I had spent all that time traveling from place to place in order to find new fellows with whom to practice my trade. Everybody in the world, it seems like, comes to new Orleans sooner or later, with good times on their minds. I want to tell you, they came to have fun, too; it wasn't any trouble to do all the business I felt like doing.

Not wanting to use my private quarters at the Holiday Inn for business purposes – except to see Eddie, which wasn't entirely business – I went across the street the very first night to talk to the clerk of a little rooming hotel there. We fixed it up between us that I could have the use of a room anytime I wanted it, and in between he'd see there was clean sheets and towels.

Of course, right at first we had something of a misunderstanding. "It'll be ten dollars an hour," he said. "Cash on the barrelhead." He grinned at me. "No credit cards, not in this fleabag."

I frowned. "That's pretty strong room rent," I said. "You mean I got to shell out ten whole dollars every time I walk in the door? And if my fellow lasts longer than the hour, it's another ten?"

"If you know your business, won't many last that long," he said, grinning again. He seemed to like thinking about it.

I shook my head. "I don't know. It's right much, seems like to me."

His voice got real impatient. "It's no skin off your sweet ass, dear. In fact, it's money in your pocket. The john pays for the room . . . and you get half. Whack it up between us, see, the john and the hotel management will never know the difference."

"John?" I said.

"Your customer, for God's sake," he said. "When did you get in from the country, dear?"

"I've been on the road," I said, sort of absentminded, because I was thinking. "It don't seem fair to me," I went on. "The fellow pays me, open and aboveboard, and I don't see why I need to knock down on him. I'd a lot rather make it five dollars, and let you keep it for yourself."

He grinned again. "Long as I get mine, you can have a heart of gold, for all I care."

"All right, then, that's settled." I turned to go. "See you soon, I hope. Be sure there's clean sheets, now."

"His eyes ran over me suddenly, like little mice. "Of course, a fellow would expect to lay claim to a free sample from time to time," he said. "Can I count on that?"

I just looked at him. "Ain't no free samples. It'll cost you the same as any other john."

He got red in the face, and mad about the mouth, but I just went on. I didn't aim to bust my rules for nobody. I didn't know it at the time, but I would pay my dues for that cute little remark.

I did have to bend my rules about whiskey drinking, for the simple reason that I operated out of the bar where Eddie worked. So, willy-nilly, they did have liquor on their breaths, and for the first week it made me uneasy every time, until I got used to it. I reckon you can get used to anything, once you set your mind to it. Of course, I drew the line at dog-drunk, or even close. But, I decided, a couple or three drinks would have to be all right, given the situation as it was. A girl has to bend a little bit, sometimes, to get along, the way this world runs.

From the very first night, then, I was in business in a way that, if I didn't watch out, I'd wind up right. But my first customer – well, actually, he didn't turn out to be the first, though I didn't know it at the time – turned out to be right funny, though at the time what happened made me as mad as fire.

It was like this. I hadn't been in Eddie's bar more than ten minutes before he came over to buy me a drink. I sipped the ice tea and watched him take his drink, which he had brought in his hand, and ordered another one. Right off, he told me his name, which was Spence. A nice-looking fellow, but it was plain to see he was from out in the country somewhere, because his face was all brown, and his hands looked like they knew what it was to do a day's work. He was wearing a blue suit with a red striped tie, pulled loose around his neck, and you could tell he aimed to have him a high old New Orleans time if it killed him.

After he had ordered his second drink, Spence looked at me and said straight out, "Well, girl, how about it?"

"How about what?" I said.

He had just been running on his nerve, I saw right away, because he blushed and looked away. "I mean . . . you know what I mean."

"I reckon I do," I said. "But I want to warn you. It ain't for free."

"I figured," he mumbled. "How much do you charge?"

"Fifty dollars," I said.

The price troubled him; I could tell he hadn't expected it to be near that much. Which made me wonder just how much money he had on him.

"It's worth it," I told him. "In fact, if you ain't downright satisfied that you ain't never had nothing better, I'll let you have half the money back."

Now, that was a square deal if I do say so myself. I didn't plan to make a practice of guaranteeing satisfaction, but I sort of liked this plain old country boy. Besides, I was anxious to get started.

"Would you really do that?"

"Just try me and see."

He made a firm decision. "All right. You got a place to go?"

"Yes," I said. "But it'll cost you five dollars more for the room."

"For all night?"

"Just for an hour." He was still hesitating, so I said, "Look, it could have been ten dollars just as easy, of which I would have got five. Except I like to be honest and aboveboard."

He looked at me for a minute. Then he said very seriously, "I believe you. So I'll do it."

I glanced toward Eddie, and he nodded. It was a signal he had fixed between us to let me know that, in his experienced opinion, it was all right to go with this particular fellow. So I took Spence by the hand and led him to the door.

It happened just as we stepped onto the sidewalk. One of these willowy kind of chaps, of which you get so many in the French Quarter, boldly grabbed my customer by the other hand, saying, "You don't want to go with that thing, darling. You want to come with me."

It bewildered Spence something awful; not knowing what to do, he just stood there between us.

"What are you up to?" I said to the chap. He had this real pretty face, all made up with false eyelashes and everything, and he was dressed to the nines in pretty blue slacks and an embroidered shirt that both fitted him so tight it was like wearing a second skin.

"I can just tell he'd a lot rather go with me," he said, simpering. He already had his hand in Spence's crotch, right there on the street with people passing by. "Wouldn't you, darling boy?"

"I don't know," Spence said. "I ain't never tried it."

The chap was leaning on him now, his other arm tight around Spence's waist. "Oh, darling, you're just in for the biggest thrill of your life." He pouted his mouth. "Besides, she'll charge you the earth for her little golden twat, while with me it won't cost you a thing. Not a thing!" He looked daggers at me. "Because I'm not a cheap little hustler who'll sleep with just anybody who walks down the street."

"Listen," I said. "Why don't you mind your own business, and let me mind mine?"

He snarled at me, "Fuck off, fish! Can't you see he's trade, whether he knows it or not?"

I didn't exactly know what he meant by calling me a fish, but I reckoned from the tone of his voice that he didn't mean nothing good. So that was when I hit him in the belly with my purse.

He just doubled over, screeching like a cat, "She's killing me. The whore bitch is killing me!"

Which, naturally, drew a crowd. People passing by stopped to stare, whilest others up and down the block began to hurry to take in the trouble, like people will do. The chap straightened up and grabbed Spence's arm with both hands, pulling him away while screeching the durndest streak of cuss words at me you ever heard. He did have a foul mouth. I wasn't going to knuckle under to that, so I grabbed Spence's other arm to keep him from going with the chap, and started hollering too, giving just as good as I was getting.

So there we were, circled by a crowd of people, me hauling Spence one way while the willowy chap hauled him the other. It made me as mad as a wet hen to find myself caught up in public doings like unto that. So I swung my purse again, aiming for the chap's pretty face this time. He ducked, which caused me to hit Spence instead. He looked at me bewildered, like he thought I had done it on purpose.

The willowy chap came for me, clawing at my face with his fingernails. He meant to do me all the damage he could, too – he had long fingernails, painted green – so I doubled up my fist and just whacked him one.

I caught him good, too, let me tell you. I might not be no bigger than a minute, as Papa always said, but I'm stronger than you'd think. It set him right down on his tight little ass, and I was ready to let him have the brother to that first lick as soon as he got to his feet. But he stayed down, starting to cry something awful, the mascara streaking down his cheeks until he looked a holy mess. Seeing that I had won out, all I could think about was getting away, so people wouldn't keep staring and making comments. So, taking Spence by the hand, I led him across the narrow street right through the automobile traffic.

Once on the other sidewalk, I stopped to catch my breath. "That's just about the durndest thing I ever got into in my life," I said. I was still as mad as a hornet. "What made him want to do such a thing, I wonder?"

I noticed, then, that Spence was looking across the street to where the chap was standing now, wiping at his eyes with a lacy handkerchief. The people were moving on, the big show all over, so he was lost in the crowd, no longer the center of attention, even if he was crying.

"Come on," I said.

Spence didn't move. I jerked on his arm, making him move a step or two, but he was still looking over his shoulder.

"Listen," I said sharp-like. "If you want the chap, it's fine with me."

Spence gave me a look. Then he bowed his head to study his feet. "I've always wondered what it'd be like with a fellow," he said. "Ever since I first heard about it, couple of years ago."

I stared at him. "So the chap was right," I said. "He spotted you, didn't he?"

His voice got sullen. "Besides, he said it wouldn't cost nothing. I go with you, I ain't got but ten bucks left to get home on. I had it in mind to spend two nights in New Orleans on that kind of money." He braced himself up. "Why, it ain't been two hours since I got off the Greyhound bus."

It just flew all over me. "You don't have to explain," I said in a short voice. "Just go do your druthers, that's all."

With which remark, I walked to the curb and lifted one hand, beckoning to the willowy chap. He saw me and came across the street, still wary enough to stop ten feet away.

"What do you want?" he said, just as nasty as he could.

"He's all yours," I said. "You fellows have fun, hear?"

With that, I walked away.

I was so mad with the world, I had to walk the block three times before I could risk going back into Eddie's bar. If anybody had said a kindly word to me, I'd have bit his head off. But the longer I walked, the funnier it got, so that I started laughing in side, until finally I stopped and laughed out loud until my sides ached – and I made another spectacle of myself doing it.

So I came back to Eddie's bar in a real good humor. Eddie came, bringing me a Coke, and said, "Well. That was a quickie."

I laughed all over again. "It wasn't even a quickie. I lost him before I got two feet beyond that door yonder."

Eddie had to know all about it, so I told the story, making it even funnier than it had happened, Eddie laughing fit to bust a gut. Then I asked Eddie what the chap had meant, calling me a fish, and what the word "trade" meant, because when I hear something new, I like to find out about it. I don't believe in going through life ignorant; a person ought to learn something new every day if she can.

Before Eddie got through explaining, a stranger laid his arm around my shoulder, leaning over and saying, "I'd like to borrow your friend here, if I may. She's just the cutest little blond I've seen in a month of Sundays."

I looked around to see the biggest man I'd ever laid eyes on. It wasn't fat, either, but solid muscle. His head was so far up there you wouldn't believe it, making his face look terribly small, and he was as wide as he was tall, nearly. Tiny, which is what he was called, told me once he weighed exactly four hundred and two pounds, stripped naked, and he was a wrestler by trade.

So Tiny, instead of Spence, turned out to be my first New Orleans fellow, and big though he was, he was just as nice and gentle a man as a girl could hope to meet. He became just about my most faithful friend, good for once a week like clockwork, and after we had got to know each other he always took a whole night of my time, which set him back a cool hundred and fifty. He could afford it, though, because he made big money at his trade.

He delighted to drink with me at his side, which didn't bother me, because he could put down more whiskey than any ten men and not show the first sign. One of his pleasures, whilst drinking and being sociable with his many friends, was to set me up on his arm, not even bracing it on the bar, and have me sit there like a banty hen on a roost for an hour at a time.

Tiny told me he'd always had trouble with women because of his size. It scared them off, seems like, before he could get a chance to let them know he was just an ordinary good old boy. Well, he was the biggest man ever crawled on top of little old me, but the funny part was, his old Thing was, if anything, sort of puny, if you know what I mean. Of course, I never told him that in so many words.

So I was off to a fine New Orleans start, and it kept getting better. I was making so much money that Eddie showed me how to open a savings account, as a safe place to keep my earnings, and extravagant through it was, I kept on living at the Holiday Inn. After a month or two, the bar where Eddie worked got to be almost like the artesian well back home; I'd walk in every night to greet my regular friends with a kiss, letting them know who was first tonight and who was last, and in between trips across the street we'd laugh and talk and have a good time. Most, I do believe, knew right well that I wasn't drinking nothing but iced tea, but they were proud to buy it for me.

I didn't know at the time how lucky I had been to find Eddie right off the bat, didn't realize how much trouble he kept off my back. I didn't even know, at the time, that what I was doing was supposed to be against the law. Eddie had only told me I ought to be careful who I chose to go with, so that, when it was a stranger, I'd look at Eddie, to get either a nod or a shake of his head. It wasn't only that it might be a cop looking to run a girl in for practicing her natural trade; he warned me off men known to be weird in their ways, too.

So if it hadn't happened to be Eddie's night off, the bad thing wouldn't have happened – or maybe it would have, maybe there wasn't no way to dodge what was coming to me.

This new fellow come up to me that night. I was sort of uneasy about him right from the start, because he was the sharp sort of dresser that it didn't look like he'd have to buy It, but able to find plenty of silly girls willing to give It away. He was slim, with a dark, narrow face, and he wore this white coat and a real pretty hat, all pearl-colored, with a wide brim to it like a plantation hat, except it was too fancy to wear out working in the sun. He carried a smart cane, slim and pretty, and wore pointy shoes that you could see your face in, they sported such a shine.

But I did answer back when he spoke to me, because it was raining, the bar was practically empty, and I hadn't made a dime yet. Just one of those nights when none of my regular friends had come around, you see, nor any strangers.

He didn't make any bones about it, saying, "How much is It, sweetheart?"

I looked him over, seeing a thin mouth and sharp eyes, and told him.

"Let's go across the street," he said.

So he had already heard the good word about me, somewhere or other. It made me feel some better to know that.

We went outside, waited a few minutes under the awning – all the time him tapping his cane impatiently against the sidewalk – until the rain let up enough for us to hurry across the street. The fellow on the desk looked at my new friend; then he glanced at me, but he didn't say anything except "Five dollars," and turned away to his comic book. Which was strange; he generally had some remark, even if it wasn't always friendly.

Upstairs, my new friend looked around the room. "You're fixed very nice here."

Didn't many fellows noticed it, but I had worked on my room. I always used the same one, you see, and because it had been dreary-looking to me, I had spent my own money to fix it up. First I bought a new carpet – the old one didn't have any color left, and puffed dust at every step. Then I had a fellow to paint the walls a bright lemon color, so nice and cheerful, and I had hung some pictures I had found in this funny little shop around the corner. I had even brought in a good bed, because the other had squeaked something awful. At fifty dollars a throw, I figured a fellow ought to have a nice place to do It in.

I was pleased that he had noticed. "Did it myself," I told him. "It is nice, ain't it?"

"Take off your clothes, let me look at you," he said.

He stood in the middle of the room, leaning on his cane, still wearing his pearl hat and coat and a tie with a diamond stickpin, bright and shiny, watching while I got naked. It made me sort of chill, the way his eyes were cold and narrow, and suddenly I found myself wishing that Eddie had been on duty to check this fellow out.

When I stood naked, he reached out his cane and turned me with it. "Nice," he said "Very nice."

"Lots of folks think so," I said brightly, trying to be friendly.

"Yeah. That's what I've heard." He poked me with the cane again, turning me on around.

"Listen," I said, trying to laugh. "I don't like the way you handle me with that old sick of yours."

"What's to like, sweetheart?" he said. "I bought you, didn't I?"

My laugh sounded pretty nervous to my ears. "Ain't seen the color of your money yet."

Putting his hand in his pocket, he pulled out a roll of bills big enough to choke a jackass. Peeling off three twenties, he flung them on the bed.

"It ain't but fifty."

"That's all right," he said. "Now, undress me."

He stood there in the middle of the room whilst piece by piece I took off his clothes. I did it with careful loving, too, thinking I ought to get It over with, I'd feel a lot safer in the bar. But even with sliding warm hands over his naked skin, and talking nice, I hadn't done him a bit of good.

He saw me looking at his limp old Thing, so he said, "You know what to do about it, don't you?"

Well, I'd done learned a long time ago that lots of fellows like a girl to use her sweet mouth on him; it's not that I mind it, as long as their old Thing is nice and clean. But it did turn me off, the way he hooked the handle of his walking stick around my neck and dragged me down on my knees.

I put my hands to him, all right, to let him know my heart was in the right place. But then I looked up into his face and told him, "You do that one more time, I'll bite it off for you."

He didn't say anything, so I went about my business; I just meant to let him know he couldn't have his way about everything.

He stood there without making a sound of pleasure, didn't put his hands on my head to push my mouth deeper onto him, didn't do anything a fellow usually does in a situation like that. But finally he got a little something to brag about, so he moved over to lie down on the bed, letting me know that he wanted me on top.

It turned out to be just about the most curious kind of fucking I'd ever done up to that time. He didn't do nothing to help out; just laid there, not even holding me with his arms or arching his hips to take the goodies, and let me work. His old Thing would get hard, then it'd turn soft again, at which time he'd shove me down to mouth him up some more.

It went on for the longest time; we were already well over the hour, but I had already made up my mind not to start an argument with this fellow, not if I could help it. So I didn't mention that he'd owe the desk clerk another five dollars; I just kept on doing what he showed me he wanted done.

He never did get to it. Not even close. It was finally that his old Thing just withered away for good and all, and taking me by the shoulders, he shoved me sprawling to the floor.

"Say, now, that ain't nice," I said.

He didn't reply, just started getting dressed. Except, when I picked up my dress, he told me to keep naked.

"It's over and done with," I said. "I'm going back to the bar. You'll owe the fellow on the desk another five dollars."

He finished knotting his tie and walked over to the closet. Opening it, he took out a coat hanger, with one jerk of his hands pulling it out into two straight pieces of wire.

"Now, wait a minute. I don't go in for that kind of stuff," I said.

He hit me before I could speak another word. The wire coat hanger stung my ass, and I just knew it had made a welt. I squalled like a cat and started running. But, shoot, that fellow could move fast when he took a notion. Before I was halfway to the door, he had caught me, lifted me in one move, and flung me to the bed. Then, holding a pillow over my head to muffle my hollering, he went to work.

I had been spanked pretty good by Papa in my time. But it hadn't ever felt anything like this, because Papa had always used the flat of his hand on my bare bottom, and nearly always wound up drunk and crying for what he had done. This fellow was just as cold and mean as the devil about his whipping. He went at it like chopping wood, just whap, whap, whap, and no matter how I twisted or turned, he didn't hold back, striking wherever it happened to fall, front or back.

I hollered as loud as I could, which wasn't much, with my face mashed into the mattress and the pillow pressed down over my head. Then, for a while, I took to crying. That didn't relieve the situation either, so finally I laid there and took it, feeling my flesh jump and quiver with every burning lick. Didn't none of it make any difference; he didn't quit until he got through.

When he stood up and flung away the coat hanger, I sat up on the side of the bed to look at him. He hadn't even worked up a sweat. I wiped at my face with shaking hands, sore and shamed all over.

"Why did you have to do that?" I asked him. "I done you the best I could, given what I had to work with."

He showed me a tight smile. "Yes, sweetheart, you're as good as they told me you were. That was just a lesson to let you know that a little whore like you can't work my street behind my back."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm Snake Duboise," he said. He watched me to see if I knew the name, but, shoot, I hadn't ever heard it. "Every girl on this street works for me. Just like, from now on, you will, too."

"I don't work for nobody but myself."

He went over and picked up the coat hanger. "Let me hear you say that again, sweetheart."

I looked at the man. I knew him now. He could start in and whip me all over again, and enjoy every minute of it.

"Come on," he said urgently. "Say it again. I like beating on your sweet little ass."

"I ain't never worked for nobody by myself . . . up till now," I told him, my voice shaking with the words.

"That's more like it," he said. He went to pick up my purse, opened it, looked into it. "You mean to tell me I'm the first trick you've turned tonight?" he said, taking out his sixty dollars and putting it back on his roll.

"Yes," I said.

He was studying me again with his narrow eyes. "You're bone lazy," he said. "Just like all whores. When you work for me, I mean for you to hustle. Understand, sweetheart?"

"It's raining," I said. "It's a slow night."

"Five tricks, that's your quota," he said. "Any night you can't turn five, raining or not, I'm gonna beat your ass. Understand? I won't have you sitting on your tail in that bar having yourself a good time. I want you hustling. Hear me, sweetheart?"

"Yes, sir," I said. I just wanted to get out of there. I knew it wouldn't do any good to try to talk to this Snake Dubois. He was beyond talking.

It pleased him to hear me name him "sir," so he gave me the thing smile again. "That's more like it. I think we'll get along fine."

I stood up, stiff and sore and feeling like a hundred years old. Moving slowly, I started putting on my dress.

"Where do you think you're going?" he said.

I stopped. "I thought our business was over and done with for the time being."

"There's one other thing you've got to do for me."

I stood holding my dress in my hand, wondering, while he went out the door. In a few minutes he came back, with the desk clerk following. I stared at him so hard, this fellow's eyes darted here and yonder without looking at me.

"I promised my friend a piece on the house," Snake Dubois told me. "So you just lay down there and treat him as nice as you did me."

"I can't," I said. "I'm too sore."

The desk clerk, licking his lips nervously, looked to Snake Dubois.

"Lay down," Snake said to me.

I laid down. With the crook of his cane, Snake Dubois hooked one ankle and pulled my leg out. Then he hooked the other ankle and moved that leg, leaving me laid out open. He looked at the desk clerk.

"Jump and hump her, boy," he said. "Snake Dubois keeps his promises."

I said, "Mr. Snake, you say I'm working for you now. But right off the bat you're making me do something I ain't never done, and that's give It away."

I couldn't help but feel bad about taking that desk clerk's old Thing into me, with him not paying the first dollar to put it there. I hadn't ever been obliged to do It with somebody looking, either; Snake Dubois leaned on his cane and watched with his cold eyes like we were a couple of dogs going at It.

Well, I might be forced to give It away, but I want you to know, that desk-clerk fellow sure got a cold old me. Let him labor and snort and surge all he wanted to, he wasn't entitled to any of that sweet good stuff I knew so well hot to put out that I reckon I was just born without knowing how. Which made him take a while, his old Thing realizing the cold reception even if he was too dumb to know it himself. I didn't shift an inch to help, even to get rid of him, but laid cold and still like I was being raped. Which I reckon I was, in a sort of a way.

When finally he was done, he felt so mean with himself that he had to remark, "I don't see what all the talk is up and down the street about this one. She's just another cold hunk of tail, as far as I'm concerned."

"That's all you wanted out of it when you put me on to her," Snake said icily. "Now you're complaining, sport?"

The fellow got nervous. "Sure, Snake, sure, it was just that, seeing her switch her tail up and down those stairs . . . " He took a deep breath and tried to laugh. "I guess I got it all built up in my head, when she ain't nothing but just another whore."

"You can brag that you got the first piece she ever gave away. You'll have to be satisfied with that."

The fellow left as fast as he could. Snake looked to me. "You really do hate to give It away, don't you, sweetheart?" he said, laughing for the first time.

"Can I go home now?" I said, not making a move toward getting dressed until I had his word.

He looked at his watch. "There's time to turn three more tricks before the night's done."

"Listen," I said. "I'm sore as a boil from that whipping. I can't . . ."

"I've told you once, sweetheart. When you work for me, you hustle. So get to it."

I hustled. While Snake Dubois sat at a back table in the bar, just the one drink in front of him all evening. I found three fellows to take across the street, one after the other. Every time I came back, Snake looked at me with those cold eyes, and kept watching me until I went out with the next one.

Knowing he was there made me sort of frantic. I hadn't ever felt like I'd needed to push It. But I found myself cajoling and making promises like never before. I had always stood on my record, knowing that I was just the best piece of ass a man could hope to buy. But I didn't have my confidence after that whipping; every time I missed out and had to seek out another fellow, I could just feel that mean coat hanger whistling against my sore ass.

When I came into the bar after the third trick, Snake lifted his cane, beckoning. I went to stand before him. Taking my purse out of my hand, he opened it and found the hundred and fifty dollars. With great care he wrapped it around his roll and put it all back into his pocket.

"Don't I get to keep any at all?" I said.

He glanced up as if it surprised him I was still there. "Sweetheart, you've been working my street so long without paying me my share, I figure you owe me. You'll get cut in when I decide you've caught up your debts."

There wasn't anything else to do but take my aching body home to the Holiday Inn. But tired as I was, hurting though I was, I laid awake for the longest time, my head just spinning with hurt and shame and despair. The world can change so fast, sometimes, on a girl, she can't hardly know what to do.

The next morning wasn't any better. I woke up welted all up and down my backside, and even on the fronts of my legs, where he had caught me twisting. I had thought he was whipping me to blood, but he knew exactly how to use that coat hanger, hard enough to hurt but not to draw blood. After all, I was now his property; he wouldn't want to cause permanent damage.

I had always felt so good, getting dressed in the early part of the evening to go to work. As I had carried that good feeling out into the street, the lights were beginning to flash brighter with the going of the sun, people shaping themselves up for another exciting New Orleans night. Me, too, thinking about all my friends waiting, anxious to enjoy the use of my body the way it had been built to be enjoyed, and just knowing I was having fun and doing good in the world at the same time.

But now, with Snake Dubois taking charge of my life, you'd have thought I was going to pick cotton, the way I walked sad and heavy-footed, to stand outside the bar before I could screw up my nerve to enter.

Sure enough, this second night, there was Snake sitting at his back table. Eddie, I was glad to see, was behind the bar; I had hoped he'd come around today, so I could talk to him, but he hadn't.

Five tricks, I told myself. Then it'll be over for one night, anyway.

So I set to work. For good luck, it was easy, because tonight was a Saturday, and lots of friends had come to see me. I lined up five, one after the other, and in the interest of getting through as quick as possible, I told them to come on across the street as soon as the fellow ahead got back to the bar.

I hadn't ever hustled my friends so hard; we'd always sat in the bar, in between, and had ourselves a good time. But all I wanted was to get it over with; and though it puzzled them to see me change my ways, they agreed to it. So I went out with the first customer and started sharecropping.

It wasn't more than a couple of hours before I could come back across the street and face Snake Dubois, knowing I had filled my quota. Because I had the money in my purse, I sat down at the table instead of standing before him.

I took the bills out of my purse and handed them over. "There it is," I said. "Five tricks. Just like you said."

He smiled. "That's a good girl," he said. "You learn fast, don't you, sweetheart?"

"I wasn't standing behind the door when they passed out good sense," I said. I got up. "I'll be seeing you."

"Wait a minute," he said.

I turned around.

"Five tricks, that's the bottom line," he said. "I didn't say that was all you had to do. It's just enough to keep your ass from getting beat again."

He sure knew how to take the heart out of a girl. "What's the all I have to do?"

"All you can," he said. "What else? You quit work when the street closes, not a minute before. Understand?"

"You're a hard man," I said.

He smiled his thin smile. "I'm a nice man, sweetheart. If you'll let me be."

"What is all this?" Eddie said.

I turned to look at him standing beside me. He'd seen me give Snake the money, I reckon.

"What business is it of yours, sport?" Snake asked politely.

"Listen, this girl is my friend," Eddie said.

Snake's eyes got narrow and hard. "You're Eddie the bartender. Right?"

"Yeah, that's right."

"So you're the sport who's been running this girl on my street," Snake said. "Eddie, I've been thinking about you."

It must have been that Eddie hadn't taken a good look at the man before. He moved a step back. "I ain't running no girls," he said. "I wouldn't do that, that's not my line of work. We're just friends, that's all."

Snake sneered at him. "I suppose you're not taking money from her."

"Not a thin dime," Eddie said hotly.

"That's the truth," I said.

Snake looked at me. Then he looked at Eddie again. "She's my girl now," he said flatly. "She's working for me." He looked at me. "Isn't that right, sweetheart?"

I could just see that coat hanger showing in his hand if I said the wrong thing. Besides, there was Eddie to think about.

"Yes, Eddie," I said. "I'm working for him now."

Snake smiled. "See, sport? A nice girl like her needs somebody to look after her. Which I am now doing. So you'd better just get behind the bar and tend to your own business. All right?"

Eddie went away. Snake turned again to me. "You'd better get hustling, sweetheart. You're wasting time, standing here talking."

With a heavy heart I started in all over again, hurrying them along, doing those things I had always done just for nice, with nothing in my head but the idea of milking it out of their old Things quick, and get on to the next john. I guess I figured that if I could do enough to please Snake Dubois, he'd take his weight off my back. But I should have known; no woman in the world could have hustled hard enough to please Snake Dubois's greed. Because it wasn't just money; he had to lean on a girl at the same time, no matter how much cold hard cash she put into his pocket. That was just the way he was.

I didn't have the chance to talk to Eddie until the night was almost over. Finally, seeing Snake go to the pay phone, I whispered across the bar, "I've got to talk to you, Eddie. Can you meet me outside when the bar closes?"

"Sure," Eddie said. He glanced toward the back of the room. "Who is that guy, anyway?"

"Name's Snake Dubois," I said. "That's all I know."

Eddie's face went pale. "Snake Dubois," he said. "Oh, my God."

Seeing Snake returning to his table, I had to leave Eddie without another word. But when the bar closed, I found out why Eddie was so scared. I had paid Snake the money for the six new tricks I had turned, not even getting a thank you, and went outside to wait for my friend. He finally came hurrying out of the alley that ran beside the bar.

"Listen," he said, "I can't talk now. I've got to – -"

I grabbed Eddie by the arm. "What's the matter? I've got to tell -"

He shook my hand loose. Jerky in his movements, he was looking up and down the street.

"Listen, if you're working for Snake Dubois, I don't want to have anything to do with you," he said roughly. "Understand?"

"Ed-die . . ." a voice called.

We whirled around. Down the empty street – it's amazing how quick it can clear out once the bars close; all I could see was one fellow walking down the other side toting a trumpet case – there stood Snake Dubois. Two fellows were with him.

"Come here, sport," Snake said, his voice carrying in the night air.

Eddie didn't want to. But he went, and I went with him. When he stood before Snake, he said, "Listen, Snake. I don't want any trouble."

"But you've got trouble, sport," Snake said. He took a step to one side. "All right, fellows. He's all yours."

I knew what was going to happen. I set myself to charge in to help Eddie, even though he was just standing there, his hands hanging, his head down. But I didn't have a chance. Snake laid his walking stick across my chest, which was all he needed to do to hold me.

"You'd better go home and get your beauty sleep, sweetheart," Snake said. "You'll need it tomorrow night."

I looked at Eddie. He wouldn't look at me. "Don't hurt him," I said. "He didn't do nothing."

Snake pressed the cane harder against my chest. "Go home," he said. "Like I told you."

I went. Because there wasn't anything else a girl could do. I even hurried, so I wouldn't hear the sounds that Eddie would start making when they took to hitting on him.

I never saw Eddie again. He just didn't come back to work after that night. So all I had left in the world was Snake Dubois, and being Snake Dubois's girl.

It took all the suption out of my life. This Snake Dubois had the talent of making you feel like a slave must have felt in the olden times; it wasn't just that you knew he'd beat on you, or that his eyes were as cold as his heart. It was something so far beyond, I can't even begin to describe it.

Now, an independent-minded girl like me, you'd have thought that I would have packed my bag, found the nearest truck stop, and rode out of that town. God knows, I thought about it. But I couldn't seem to hoist myself up enough to make the move. It wasn't just that I'd be going back to work for a dollar a whack, when I'd got used to fifty dollars for exactly the same doings. Somehow, it just didn't seem possible to walk away from a man like Snake Dubois; I had the feeling, deep down in my gut, that somehow, somewhere, someway, he'd find me. Then I would catch it in ways I hadn't dreamed of yet. He had that effect on a person.

But, most of all, it was that the spirit, which had brought me all this long road from working for a quarter a piece down there at the artesian well, seemed to be gone out of me. All I could hold in my head was how to please Snake by hustling hard enough and long enough. All I could think about was getting done with this one and finding one or two or three more before the night was out. I used all my sweet little habits, that had ever pleasured mankind, not to make them feel good but simply to get rid of them as quick as possible. Which ain't the way any girl, getting paid or not, ought to do. So – and I suppose Snake knew this, too, how to bring it about – I had to feel cheap about myself, knowing I was a sorry lay when all my life I had taken pride in counting myself just the greatest girl that ever took off her pants.

So Snake Dubois really and truly owned me; he had made me his slave. Because he had changed my outlook on life, my opinion of myself.

I didn't have anybody to turn to. After Eddie was gone, I thought about my big man; he was so liked, so respected and if Snake wanted to beat up on him, he'd better bring along about a dozen useful fellows to do it with. So I talked to Tiny. But he wouldn't have any part of it, saying, "Girl, you can't expect me to go up against Snake Dubois."

"But you're the biggest, strongest man I've ever seen."

He shook his head. "Ain't a matter of muscle strength. Why, if I looked cross-eyed at Snake Dubois, I wouldn't wrestle in this town again. He's got power in ways me and you don't even know about, honey."

So that was that.

After the first week, Snake quit watching me so close, though he showed every night to collect the money. He hadn't let me keep a dollar yet, either, so that I was having to use up my savings for the privilege of working for him. So it was that, since he couldn't have seen how many fellows I had taken, I held out a trick on him.

When I handed over the night's earnings, he looked at the money and said, "You're fifty dollars short."

I started to tremble. "How did you know?"

He smiled his thin smile. "I'm not dumb, sweetheart. I knew it was the next thing you'd think up."

Without a further word, I gave him the fifty. But then I said, "You can't expect a girl to work forever without earning a dime. I've got to live too, you know."

Like it was nothing, he fingered a ten-dollar bill loose from his roll and tossed it to me. "Here. Go buy yourself something pretty."

I looked at the bill. Here I was in the hole again, making less than a dollar a man. Tonight I had done thirteen. But there wasn't nothing to say. There never was.

It wasn't just the money, it was Snake Dubois, too. About once a week, he'd show up at the Holiday Inn with a doctor in tow. At least, he was a fellow who carried a black bag, though he was so slick and greasy and sly of hand, that I wouldn't have let him doctor a sick cat. After he had examined me for disease, and had left, I had to take off Snake Dubois's clothes and give him a piece of It.

If you could call the way he did getting a piece. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I never did manage to make that fellow come to the point. He's the only man I've ever had to say that about. But, Lord, he was as cold as ice, he'd just lay there and let me work away until I'd think for sure this time I'd break him down – and I wanted to, because I had the idea that if just once I could make him come, it might cause him to be kinder in his nature.

So I gave Snake the best of everything, but all to no use. He liked a girl to be a slave, so I did them eagerly, all the slave things I don't like to think about even now. But as far as I could tell, it didn't make a dime's worth of difference in his feelings. I'd love him and love him and keep on loving him, and when he'd had enough he'd fling me off to the floor and go get a coat hanger.

I really do believe, come to think about it, he took more real hard-down pleasure out of beating on me than from all the fine things I did for him. But what hurt my feelings more than the weekly whippings hurt my body was that he'd make me give It away from time to time.

He'd hand me a card with an address on it and tell me to go there. Often it was a big house or a fancy French Quarter apartment, sometimes a hotel suite or a private men's club somewhere out on the lake. These men were different from any I had ever known, older generally, and pretty set in their ways. Big men, I could tell, used to power and money and getting free goodies like me from those who wanted to curry their favor. But when they took off their pants, often they had nothing but trouble getting their old Things up. And then blamed it on the girl.

It made some of them strange in their ways, let me tell you. One old fellow wanted me to walk all over him in high-heeled shoes, and another, who I saw pretty regular, just wanted me to throw oranges at him. It really turned him on, too. Sometimes it'd turn out to be a party, with other girls there and everybody doing It right out in the open. I never did like that, because after all, a girl is entitled to her privacy, ain't she?

Being so brought down to the nothing of myself, and knowing it every waking minute of my life, I reckon I would have stayed a slave to Snake Dubois till yet if it hadn't been that I took to wandering around the French Quarter in the afternoons. I suppose I did it because, snake having taken the rest of my life, I had to find a little something for myself. So I'd get up about two o'clock, and after dressing myself just as careful, go strolling up and down the streets looking into the shops and watching the people. New Orleans is a town for all sorts; I could study the passerby and wonder what kind of lives they were leading, and for an hour or two get outside of myself. Which was good, because I didn't like myself much anymore.

One afternoon, I noticed this woman following me. Every time I turned a corner, she'd turn the corner right behind me. It made my heart sore to realize that Snake Dubois had me staked out, even in this free time, and so knew all that I was doing.

I went along until I came to Jackson Square, where I sat down on a bench. After a minute she sat down beside me. So I just turned and looked her up and down. An old woman, thin and tall, with these glasses down on her nose like Ben Franklin used to wear, tied to her dress with a black ribbon in case they happened to fall off.

"What do you want?" I said.

She looked at me, sort of smiling. "What makes you think I want anything?"

"You've been following me long enough," I said.

She kept on smiling. "You're one of Snake Dubois's girls, aren't you?"

"You ought to know," I said. "You work for him to, don't you?" I looked her over, feeling mean. "But not in the same way, I don't think."

She laughed. "No. I don't work for Snake. But I know him." She paused, watching me. "A fellow named Eddie told me about you."

It perked up my interest. "How is Eddie, anyway?"

"He decided to leave town for his health," she said dryly. "Went to Miami, I think."

"Is he all right?" I said urgently. "Eddie was just the finest fellow in the world."

"He won't ever be as handsome as he was," she told me. "But he's all right."

"What did Eddie tell you about me?" I asked, going back to her first statement that had caught my interest.

She looked me over again. "He asked me to do what I could for you."

I felt my shoulders slump. "Can't nobody help. That mean old Snake . . ."

"I can," she said.

I didn't believe her. "How?"

She did seem to smile a lot. "I have this house, where lots of girls stay with me," she said. "A very nice house – you'd like it there. And if you wish, you may come to my house."

"But Snake Dubois . . ."

"Don't worry about him. I'll take care of Snake Dubois." She was fumbling in her bag. "Here's my card. Get your clothes and come along as quickly as you can."
I took the card. "Why are you doing this? Just because Eddie . . ."

She chuckled. "Partly. But mostly because people whose judgment I trust tell me you're the greatest whore to ever hit this town. Since I run the best house in New Orleans, it's not entirely out of the kindness of my heart."

I looked at her again. It had been a long time since I had been able to like anybody. Or trust them.

So that was how it was that I came to the house called Captain's Paradise.

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