There’s nothing like sitting in a dingy diner at 2 a.m. in the middle of nowhere with absolutely nothing to your name. Although, there is some strange sense of freedom knowing you have nothing to lose when, quite literally, you have nothing.
Nothing to lose if you don’t count the cheap wig or the slightly misshapen dress I always wore. It was basically my work uniform at this point, if that’s what you can even call it. Except in my line of work you don’t get ahead. You just survive. It had gotten to a point where all I felt was indifference… I had already accepted that life just isn’t fair. Especially for a girl that grew up thinking it was normal to keep men entertained.
If I were to imagine life as an image, it would be of a seesaw. I imagine that the beings that control each person’s fate lies in the hands of two delinquent children. They probably enjoy each time they cause someone’s fate to teeter in the direction of misfortune. It’s like I can almost hear the whisper of childish laughter every time something bad happens in my life, like right out of some sick horror film.
I didn’t hear the laughter this time around, but maybe I was used to it by now. The sound that I could distinctly hear was the impatient clacking of my heel hitting the cheap linoleum tile. My “client” was late, but it’s nothing new. It’s not like I wanted to meet with him already, but I did want to get things over with. It wasn’t odd for me to meet with men at this diner. A deal with the owner ensured two things. One, he would be guaranteed a constant stream of paying customers, via moi. Two, the diner owner would watch and make sure I wasn’t dealing with anyone dangerous. And if that were the case, the owner/ex-bouncer would take care of it easily. I scanned the fluorescent-lit dirty booths and tables, mostly empty except for a couple of regulars, and chairs askew everywhere. I finally set my eyes on a man. He was average looking, albeit the sunglasses that seemed too big for his face. He would seem like a regular guy out on the town if it hadn’t been the middle of the night. He stood by the entrance, the black emptiness of his glasses boring into my eyes. I hadn’t felt this uncomfortable about someone I was meeting in a long time, since I began doing this kind of thing. But I smiled my sultry smile and crossed one leg over the other. My signature move.
“I thought you stood me up.” I joked coyly, trying to break the uncomfortable tension.
The man continued to stare from across the diner, his mouth in a solid line. No discernable expression on his face, mostly obscured by his sunglasses. After a few silent seconds he slowly made his way towards me. He walked with a slight limp, and he looked as if he walked right out of a time machine from the 90’s. Fanny pack included. The only thing that seemed out of place was the black duffel bag he carried with him. The man took a seat next to her, not giving her a second glance while he set the black bag down carefully between them. He stared emptily at the coffee machine behind the counter. He shakily slipped the glasses off his face, still maintaining his gaze straight ahead of him.
With his glasses off it finally made sense why he wore them. His eye was swollen shut with a nasty bruise. This close, I suddenly noticed small cuts covering his face as if he had a bad accident with broken glass. His lip was also split and dried blood was smeared across his mouth. Who the hell was this guy? My eyes veered over to the diner owner behind the counter as he gave me the same cautious look.
“One coffee. Black.”
The man spoke with a hoarse voice that sounded like it was on the verge of giving out entirely. I unfolded my legs and straightened up in my seat. Before I could say anything, the man spoke again.
“What would you be willing to do to change your life?”
The question was simple enough. I would do anything. I had tried before but felt like I could never get ahead. Working a nine to five job stretched me so thin and paid so little that I couldn’t even afford rent, let alone the bills. It just wasn’t possible for me to find my way out of my situation. The look on my face revealed more than I had wanted to share because the next thing he said made my stomach flip.
“What if I said I could change your life?”
Although it sounded tempting it just sounded too good to be true. Besides, I wasn’t buying what he was selling.
“I’m not into the whole sugar daddy thing if that’s what you’re getting at—” I began to say when the man whipped open the duffel bag between us. Inside the bag lay a mountain of cash, I couldn’t even count how much. As quickly as he had opened it, he zipped it back closed. I could see his whole face now and it looked grim. Why was he telling me all this? I looked up from the closed bag and glanced at the diner owner behind the counter. He gave me the look he always gave me when he thought I was getting myself into a bad situation. I shook my head at him and looked back at the man in complete awe. Could this be my ticket to freedom?
“There is a catch, though.” He muttered under his breath as he lifted his coffee mug up to his mouth. He bumped the mug on his busted lip and winced before taking a big swig.
“What is the catch?” I asked impatiently. The sooner I knew how to get my hands on the money, the sooner I would be out of this city and away from the memories made here.
“Well,” he began when his voice broke. He cleared his throat, quite disgustingly if I may add, and pulled out a black book from inside his fanny pack. Although he was hard to take serious, I couldn’t take my eyes off that book. I watched as he flipped the tattered pages open and revealed an odd combination of numbers. Or so I thought. What I realized was that the rows of numbers were records. Records of finances.
“It’s a game. The objective is to spend all this money,” he gestured to the bag. I smirked in amusement. Is that supposed to be a challenge? I can spend that money overnight if I wanted to.
“You’re supposed to spend it all before the people it actually belongs to finds you.” He finished. He still looked straight ahead, avoiding my eyes. Even though I couldn’t look at his face I could see the distinct fear in his stiff expression. Not even a minute passed before bright lights swept the entire interior of the diner. It looked as if a fleet of cars were turning into the parking lot.
The man snatched the duffel bag off the floor and pushed it into my arms. He grabbed my hand and slipped the black notebook into my grasp.
“You need to get out of here. The best advice I can give you is to not look back.” The man said as he pushed me behind the counter towards the swinging doors of the kitchen. I burst into the kitchen and quickly looked through the serving window where I could see the man walk out the entrance into the parking lot. He walked towards the vehicles with his hands up before suddenly being covered with a hood. I could see him struggle as he was dragged into the nearest vehicle by a pair of men in suits.
I ducked, hoping I was out of sight from the men outside. I had what they wanted and getting out of this wouldn’t be as easy as handing the bag of money back to them and saying “Sorry, my bad.” My hands shook as I folded the cover of the little black book open, to possibly find any clue as to what was going on. A set of rules of the game the man had mentioned was on that very first page. The sound of children laughing echoed in my ears.
The first rule read,
“1. Don’t die.”