Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, Chapter Two


This is a true story, but in the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you the following:

  • I went back and edited my last chapter, and among other things, changed the character of "Laura" to "Lori," because -- for various boring reasons -- I've decided to combine Lori with another real-life friend named Jennifer. Both had opinions about my involvement with Sheila and others whom you'll read about in this story. Semi-fictionalizing -- if that's even a word -- their involvement will also give me some leeway in writing dialogue which has largely been forgotten over time. An "honest cheat," as it were.
  • Speaking of dialogue, I've cleaned up a lot of it. Accuracy's one thing, but after a while, graphic over-use of the "F" word... and the "S" word... and the "C" word... and so on... can get a bit mind-numbing.
Last Time: A casual relationship of mine with a young woman named Sheila had been abruptly curtailed when I'd discovered that:

  • She had a rather unique profession, i.e., "the world's oldest."
  • She had a massive cocaine habit.
  • She had a large, surly boyfriend!
Any one of the above would be enough to disqualify Sheila from my lists of available dates, I suppose, but the combination of the three was a killer!

After my friend Lori had patiently listened to my telling her about the situation, she replied, "Well, anyway, it's a good thing you're done with her."

"Oh, I'm
not done with her. Not exactly."

Lori looked at me with genuine concern. "And what the hell do you mean by
that?"

This time:
What I meant by that. (Of course!)


* * * * *

I didn't answer Lori immediately, so she continued. "You just gave me a list of all the reasons you shouldn't see her again, and now you're saying you want to take all the chances you'd be taking by seeing her again?"

"I didn't say I was going to keep dating her," I began.

Lori interrupted. "Or whatever you'd call what you two were doing... "

"Very funny. I'm not going to 'see' her that way. I just said I wasn't done with her."

"This isn't one of your goofy revenge schemes, is it? You said you gave that stuff up years ago." She was referring to what little she knew of the so-called Irish Mafia.

"No! Don't be so freakin' dramatic. Besides, I have absolutely no reason to want 'revenge' on her, even if I were still involved in all that." Lori was still looking at me warily. "Actually, what I was referring to was a story idea I got the other night. "

"A story?"

"Yeah," I said, and at that point I proceeded to regale Lori with the basic plot of a story I called "Love for Sale." (I'll spare you the details, primarily because it'll probably show up on this blog sooner or later.) I'd read a few stories and seen a few films where some "john" (a hooker's customer) fell in love with a prostitute, or vice versa, and "Love for Sale" was my take on that whole idea.

My story took place in a very Worcester-like big city named... Well, I hadn't given it a name, but it was definitely not Worcester. And instead of having all the side streets off of Main Street for my hookers to walk on while plying their trade, I pretty much consolidated the streets into one: Dover Street. Where'd I get the name? I thought of a stupid, relatively unfunny play on words to which, sooner or later, at least one of the "Dover Street" characters will refer: "Bend Over Street."

I didn't know then that "Dover Street" would become an informal series, of course. At that point, "Love for Sale" was only one isolated story.

When I finished, she said, "Sounds like you have it pretty well plotted out. So what do you need her for?"

"Background information. What I know about the so-called 'street' is fairly limited. And I know even less about what it's like to be a drug addict. The people I've known have been mostly into alcohol and pot, if they did anything at all."

"You're saying you're going to use her for research?"

"Well, yeah."

"You're out of your mind."

"What else is new?"

* * * * *

Lori's forebodings to the contrary, my mind was made up.

Finding Sheila was predictably easy, as you may suspect. I spotted her late one cool spring afternoon, close to dusk. She was walking along Worcester's Main Street. I pulled over. She got in, but eyed me uncertainly.

"Hi," I said.

"Hi. What's up?"

"I've been looking for you."

"Well, you found me. How've you been?"

"Okay. You?" Dumb question.

"Same as always... Look, after the last time I saw you, I didn't expect to see you again. So what do you want?" Then she made a couple of rather blunt suggestions, adding "but I need money, so you gotta pay me."

"How'd you like to earn some money without having to do anything sexual for it?"

"Why so generous?" she asked, with a tone of suspicion in her voice.

"I didn't say I'd just hand it to you, I said how'd you like to earn some money?"

"Doin' what?"

"Talking."

"You're kiddin', right?"

"No. Don't you ever get guys who just want to talk?" She looked at me like I was insane. I felt awkward, suddenly. "I mean, I've seen movies where guys pay for a girl's time, and talk about their problems at home, or at their job, or... "

"You've seen movies."

"Yeah."

"Wow. I guess it does happen with some of the chicks out here, but not me." She started laughing. "So, you wanna talk about your wife, or your job?"

"Neither. Besides, I'm not married. You know that."

"I know what you told me."

"Why would I have lied about that?"

"Maybe I wouldn'ta taken you home if I'd thought you were married. Or at least, maybe you thought that. Guys lie." She shook her head. I was staring at her. I wish I could have seen the look on my own face. "Watch the road."

"Sorry."

"Don't be. Just don't get us killed."

I took a pack of cigarettes out of my shirt pocket. I withdrew one for myself, then asked her if she'd like one.

"Menthol?" she asked.

"No, sorry. Winston Lights."

"Good! I'll take one. Half the girls out here smoke Newports. They suck."

She used the lighter I handed her along with the cigarette pack and lit my cigarette as well. "Okay," she said, "Spit it out. What do you wanna talk about?"

I started asking her questions which would separate the reality of her situation -- and that of others who worked the streets -- from all the clichés I'd seen in movies, and on TV, etc.

At some point, however, I had to start watching the clock. I'd offered to pay her for her time, and had obviously thrown her off guard by doing so. If I were paying for her usual services, shall we say, she would have been right there with a list of (negotiable) rates for what she offered. But now, I figured we'd talked for ten -- maybe fifteen -- minutes, and wondered if twenty dollars would be enough this time, as well. (When I'd picked her up today, her boyfriend had been nowhere in sight. But that -- or should I say "he" -- wasn't the issue this time; I'd already said I'd pay her.)

I asked her where she'd like me to let her off, and she named a nearby side street. "Look, " she said, as I stopped the car, "could you wait for me while I run in and see a friend of mine, and then drop me at-- ?"

I interrupted her. "No. I'm not letting you back in this car once you go in there." I may have been more than a bit "green," street-wise, but I wasn't stupid. The "friend" was obviously a drug dealer she knew, and she wanted me to wait for her to score, and then take her home or to wherever she planned to use her drugs. I wasn't about to let her back in the car if I knew she had drugs on her person.

Sheila just smiled and nodded. I handed her twenty dollars. "Will this be okay?" I asked.

She nodded again, and then looked around us in all directions. "Hey, listen, it's gettin' dark. If you... umm... if you got another twenty... ?"

I had to laugh at the last-minute sales pitch. "No, thanks." She asked if I were sure about that, and repeated her offer in much more explicit terms, reminding me of our not-so-long ago past encounters... but I still found it relatively easy to say no.

As I drove away toward home, I started laughing at one of the more outrageous things she'd told me: She swore that she knew a drug addict who'd once hijacked a forklift so he could steal an ATM!

Now, how could I work that into a story?

I took my pack of cigarettes out of my pocket and searched for my lighter.

She'd forgotten to return it.

* * * * *

Lori was about as reproachful as I expected her to be. "And you didn't do anything with her?"

"Nope."

"You can tell me."

"I know I can. But there's nothing to tell."

"Easiest twenty bucks she ever made, I'll bet."

"Probably."

"Well, at least you've gotten that out of your system."

"Not really."

"Oh, terrific," said Lori -- much as you may be saying to yourself right now -- "now what?"

"I've gotten some more story ideas. I'm going to have to talk to her again, frankly, and... " I hesitated.

"And?"

"I'm going to see if she can put me in touch with some of her friends, as well."

* * * * *

Next time: "The more, the merrier," or the beginnings of my closest brush to date with "gonzo" journalism.

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