A Midnight Clear on the Boulevard of Boys

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Not the same old story....

A Midnight Clear on the Boulevard of Boys

by Donna Lamb

Molly staggered a little on her high heels, parts of the Boulevard of Boys were a bit steep to be walking in the dark. And it was dark, a moonless night in late December. No smog or fog concealed the skies; Molly didn't think she'd seen the stars so bright since she'd come to Los Angeles from her home in Pennsylvania. Only the glare of the traffic prevented her from seeing thousands of stars but even the few dozen bright ones she could see between the buildings and power lines were unusual sights.

Gooseflesh covered her bare legs and arms -- partly from cold, for even Southern California can be nippy in the winter -- but partly from an uneasiness she couldn't name. She wasn't strung out; she didn't do the heavy shit except a few skinpops. It had just been a weird night and it had barely got started.

Threats from her pimp had driven her out on the Boulevard before sunset and now she would have to walk more than a mile to her usual corner because Jerry had refused to give her a ride. "Damn," she cursed mildly. "Why does he have to be such a jackass?"

A cruiser slowed in the nearest lane, the driver checking her out. "Shit," she muttered. It really was a cruiser, a sheriff's cruiser. The black-and-white stopped, then pulled into the driveway between a dry cleaner and a storefront lawyer's office.

The county peace officer got out and looked at her over the top of the patrol car.

Molly tried to strike an attitude but she was cold, tired of walking already and freaked by something. She pulled her fake lambskin half-jacket around her and stood with her legs close together and her arms crossed over her chest. Maybe it was the hormones she'd been taking, she thought; maybe they were making her crazy like a real woman.

"What'choo doin' walkin' heah, Molly? It ain't hardly dark thirty yet and you muss be ten blocks from yo' corner?" The cop purposely spoke in the muddy street dialect of South Central L.A. and she knew his voice. An ex-gangbanger himself, the streetwise deputy had a reputation for being soft on the citizens of the Boulevard who carried no guns and sold no drugs.

"Joe Bertie," she said. "Deputy Joe, gimme a ride?" It couldn't hurt to ask.

"Shee-it," said Joe. "I ain't in the bidness of being a taxi fo' no ho." But he grinned at her, in a friendly way. "I 'spose I could maybe let you sit in the cruiser whilst I questions you 'bout -- stuff? Then we could sorta drift down the Boulevard and maybe I could let you back out, near, um, Hancock?"

"Ho, ho," she said.

But when he came around and opened the right hand door for her, she gratefully slid inside, out of the chilly wind. After he'd got back in and pulled out into the traffic, he asked her again, "'Choo doin' out so early and walkin', girl?"

She shook her head to say that she didn't really have any explanation. "You want something, Joe?" She thought his reference to Hancock Avenue might have been a hint and as long as she didn't mention money or offer him explicit sexual favors, he couldn't arrest her. Well, he could but he'd have to lie. Besides, this part of the Boulevard was in L.A. not the county and Joe was out of his jurisdiction.

"Nah," he said. "I'm good. I just goofin' on you wi'that Hancock stuff." He grinned. "Jerry th'ow you out?"

She nodded. "Told me he wants four hundred before midnight, and no excuses."

"Shee-it!" Joe shook his head. "That dink is pure loco. How you goan make fo' hundred tonight? They ain't hardly no traffic."

It was true; the Boulevard held not a quarter of its usual flood of vehicles for this time of night. She sighed. "I think it's his way of warning me I'm gonna get a beating."

"Why he want to beat on you, darlin'? And tonight?"

She shrugged. "You know," she said. Not many johns would stop for a quickie from a tranny prostitute on Christmas Eve; her beating was almost a certainty. And she didn't think Jerry was even from a Christian family, why would he care? He was probably pissed off just because it would be a bad night for his whores.

They said nothing for a few blocks while the police radio between them played a hymn to violence, misdeeds and disaster. "See the man," said Joe, pulling to the curb. "That my car number; I got to let you out, Molly, honey. Got to go see the man on Melrose."

"Kiss, kiss," she said in thanks as she climbed out; she had only a two block walk now. Joe laughed and sped away after she closed the door.

The wind coming up the Boulevard chilled her but it was nothing like a winter in the Rust Belt city where she'd been born sixteen years before. Of course, she would have been wearing more there. Or would she? Did pimps make whores dress in fishnets and mini-skirts in the winter in places like Boston and Detroit? She wouldn't have been surprised. "Bet they have to send out trucks to clean frozen hookers off the streets in the mornings, right ahead of the snowplows," she said aloud and giggled.

She reached her corner and alternated standing out of the wind in the doorway of the bakery for five minutes at a time with standing right on the curb where potential johns could see her pretty legs for as long as she could stand it. No one could doubt her profession but for the first half hour she had no takers. Still, she did her job as well as she could, trying to look alluring and cheap.

Night settled on the city, getting darker then lighter as the street lights and night time signs came on. The few stars bright enough to be seen against the glare twinkled like lonely drag queens. One in particular, east above the city, shone bright and steady enough that it must be a planet or a satellite, she decided. She imagined it to be Venus, not knowing enough astronomy to realize that would be impossible.

Tunelessly mouthing the lyrics to the song, she bopped on the street corner. "I'm your Venus, your desire," she sang. Dancing kept her warm for several minutes until three motorcycles pulled to the curb and she stopped.

The big man on the lead Harley had a Santa Claus beard, a dirty bandanna around his forehead and a tattoo of a ghost on the back of his hand. "You Molly Bedlam?" he asked around the joint in his mouth.

She nodded, wondering how he knew her street name. She didn't think she'd ever seen him before.

He fumbled in the pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a money clip. "This is for the kid," he said then revved his hog and pulled forward.

The second biker looked like an Indian, dark-complected and clean-shaven with a nose like the hood of an old Pontiac. His hair hung in two thick, black braids down the side of his face and he wore a rancher's coat over his jeans and plaid shirt. Molly tried to look at him and at the money in the fat clip at the same time; it looked like it might all be hundreds.

"You need some weed," said the Indian, pulling a large Ziploc out of his fleece-lined coat. The buds inside glistened with waxy potency, golden and seedless. "Ev'body must get stoned," he intoned then revved his bike and got out of the way.

The black biker was last, his shaven head gleaming like the black skullcap helmets of the other two. His tangled beard had yellow ribbons woven into it and two silver streaks running parallel down from his chin. He reached into his boot and pulled out a gun.

Molly gasped.

"Don't let nobody mess with you," he said and passed her the little automatic, butt first.

She almost dropped it, trying to juggle the money clip, the dope bag and her tiny plastic purse. She asked, "Who are you guys?"

The black man smiled, "I'm Skonk, that's Raven and Friendly. We're the Road Kings. Eddie Murphy told us where to find you."

Molly had never met Eddie Murphy, despite the legend that he liked to cruise the Boulevard of Boys, picking up the queens for a chat. She gaped at Skonk, wondering why he would tell such a strange lie.

Engines snarling and spitting fire, the bikers sped away, disappearing into the westbound traffic without looking back.

Molly stuffed the gun into her purse, hid the dope inside the sleeve of her jacket and retired into the bakery doorway to count the money. There were forty hundred dollar bills in the clip, four thousand dollars -- more than her life was worth, she knew. "The hell?" she whispered. She counted them again. Still forty.

She wouldn't have to turn any tricks to make four hundred for her pimp but she'd never be allowed to keep the money if she went back to Jerry. Not unless she shot him with the little gun. She shivered again and not from cold.

The thick wad of money would barely fit in her purse with the pistol already there but she shoved it in anyway. She stood well back from the curb, trying to hide from view in the skimpy cover of the bakery doorway. She tried to think of what she should do but before she could make a start she heard footsteps.

More high heels, the teevee hooker who called herself Willow strode up the Boulevard. Most nights, Willow and Molly shared the corner sometimes with two other girls. Molly prided herself on looking completely female, prettier than some of the real girls over on Sunset but Willow had hairy, muscular arms and beard stubble. They appealed to completely different clientele.

"'Zappenin'?" asked Willow in a slurred voice.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," said Molly.

"Got that right," said Willow. "I don't believe nothin'. I don't believe my sweet Jake got me out here on Christmas Eve freezing my buns off. For what?" She staggered on her teetery heels, calf muscles clenching.

Molly nodded, numb with tension. She couldn't confide in Willow for the sisterhood of whores is more myth than reality. Besides, Willow was drunk but Molly wasn't sure she'd ever seen Willow sober.

"You had any luck?"

Molly shook her head. Luck wasn't what she had had except for when Joe gave her a ride.

"You ain't going to make any money hiding in the bakery, sweetie," said Willow.

Molly just shook her head again, letting Willow have the place near the curb to wave and wink at passing cars.

A third girl showed up. She called herself Tamaqua and dressed in torn jeans and a red bustier worn over a long-sleeved yellow t-shirt. Molly had shared the corner with her before, too. Tammy, as the other girls called her, affected Gothic makeup and dayglo fingernails. Again, the three working girls did not really compete.

Tammy answered Willow's, "'Zup?" with a shrug and barely glanced at Molly. She stood back from the curb, smoking a Shermie and looking freakish -- possibly the most subtle advertisement in Hollywood.

The fourth girl arrived without the click-clack of heels. Mee-Lynne dressed like a college girl and wore cut down sneakers. She even carried a book, a paperback Stephen King, and she moved down the block a bit to stand in better light where she could read. The corner had become a delicatessen of tranny delights, something for every taste.

Molly stayed in the bakery doorway and dithered over what she should do.

Two white-haired little old ladies came down the sidewalk pushing shopping carts full of old clothes, record players and video cassettes. Howie Doon, one of the local winos, followed them, talking to himself. He wore a black t-shirt under a USC sweater with a camouflage field jacket over that. He had pulled a pair of drawstring sweatpants over his threadbare Levis, for warmth. All his clothes were too big and he had stuffed excelsior and shredded newspaper into his sleeves and pants legs so that he leaked stuffing like a worn-out plushie. He carried a bag of groceries in one arm and a bottle of wine wrapped in a newspaper in the other.

"Got no television, how'm I gonna hear the news? Man send me a messenger, I gotta go to the courthouse. Gotta tell the judge, 'm innocent. I didn't steal no bread, I didn't smoke no grass, and I sure didn't -- hello, ladies," he said to the ersatz girls on the corner. He smiled and his missing teeth looked better than the ones he still had.

Mee-Lynne ignored him, Tamaqua sneered at him but she snered at everyone. Willow cursed him and moved away so Howie turned his empty grin on Molly. "How'ee doin'?" he chirped, cheerful as sunshine.

"I'm all right," said Molly quietly, grateful that the wind was blowing up the boulevard so she couldn't smell him.

Howie peered at her through the tangles of his eyebrows and beard. "You got problems? Not to worry, some big man's goin' take care of you. You jes' got to wait a little while." He took a swig from the bottle and Molly caught a whiff of the potency of whisky, not wine. "See, the messenger from the court house, or was it the White House, he done tol' me -- Molly is goin' to be all right. She's goin' to be a queen among queens. Yessir." Near the curb, Willow snickered.

Howie seemed ready to expand on this theme when he interrupted himself. "Hey! Mavis, don't you go out inna street!" he shouted at one of the bag ladies. "Eva, don't follow her. Goddam." He nodded at Molly, "Scuse me, I gotta watch these two, get them down to the mission. And they got my stuff in they carts." He hurried off, taking his bourbonic plague stench with him.

Molly watched him shepherd the two old ladies down the boulevard, wondering if Howie realized he was going the wrong way on the wrong avenue -- the downtown mission was back the other direction and Covenant House was on Western. Eva's cart got away from her about then and Howie chased it into the street, yelling at the cars that had to dodge around him. The cart ended up stuck in the tracks of the old Electric Railway and he had to wrestle it free while Mavis and Eva giggled at him from the curb.

Molly decided that Howie had survived on the streets much longer than she had; he probably knew of some little church that would take him and his bagladies in on Christmas Eve. There wasn't anything she could do for him except maybe donate all the money weighing her down to some homeless shelter. She thought about that and huddled deeper into the doorway.

A big SUV picked up Willow and brought her back fifteen minutes later. A car full of boisterous suburbanites picked up Mee-Lynne. A new Thunderbird pulled to the curb and Tamaqua sauntered out to dicker. After a moment, she called to Molly, "Good news. He wants you."

Molly didn't know what to do. Moving like a sleepwalker, she ended up at the curb, clutching her purse and bending over with one hand on her knee. "I'm not working tonight, mister," she said, her voice breaking up a bit.

"Get in," said the man in the Thunderbird.

"I'm not working," she repeated.

"I'll double what you've got in the bag," said the man. He'd turned out the overhead interior light and she could see his face only in the dim glow of dashboard gauges. He had wavy hair that might be dark, a closely trimmed beard and moustache and regular features. He wore a shirt with a collar and a ring with a Masonic symbol. He looked right into her eyes and said, "Get in, Molly Bedlam. Get in the car, Matthew Lucas Bishop."

Molly gasped and got in the car.

"We're going to do things differently this time," the man told her.

Six hours later, just after midnight, Deputy Joe Bertie found her on a different street corner in West Hollywood with a man's suit jacket wrapped around her bulging tummy. Joe used his siren to get her to the only Westside hospital that would take street people having an obstetric emergency.

They had to do a caesarean, of course.

"It's a miracle," said one of the nurses.

"It's a girl," said the doctor.

Notes:

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