Tatia finds out the difference between taking a road trip and being on the circuit – something she would rather not know, especially from experience.
For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo and will continue through Chapter 20. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 17. Chapter 18 will be posted on Thursday.
CHAPTER 17: CHOICES
Tatia was exhausted when she arrived at the rendezvous point a few minutes before midnight the following night. She hadn’t slept well, and her last day of school had been emotionally draining. The hours dragged as she went through the motions of a normal evening that was anything but normal. When it was finally time to go, all she wanted to do was stretch out on the bed and sleep. Instead, she peeked into the kids’ rooms, blew them silent kisses, and slipped out the window one last time. She walked along an off-road nature trail to avoid running into a late-night patrol car, and she waited in the trees where she wouldn’t be seen by any passing cars. The sounds of the night made her nervous, and she was relieved when the Beemer pulled up shortly after she reached her hiding place.
Zach jumped out as soon as the car came to a stop. “Evenin’, Miss Tatia, I mean Miss Kaitlyn. Eric said I need to use your new name,” he said, wearing a characteristic grin on his face and a pair of wireless headphones around his neck.
Tatia’s shoulders drooped, and she looked back the way she had come. It seemed she was leaving more behind than she had realized. She was leaving what little was left of herself behind and becoming whatever Eric wanted her to be.
“Miss Kaitlyn, we really need to get moving,” said Zach.
“I’m sorry,” she said, handing him her backpack.
He popped the trunk and stowed it among several bags of various descriptions. She was startled to see that her boots and the blue canvas shopping bag that held her work clothes were there.
“Zach,” she said. “You usually leave my work clothes at the motel after you check me in for the night. Why did you bring it with you?”
“I’ll let the girls explain that to you. Right now, Mr. Eric is in a hurry to get on the road.” He opened the back door and closed it behind her once she was seated beside Kaycee and Belinda, two of Eric’s other girls. Eric was in the front passenger seat, isolated from the rest of the passengers by a black satin eyeshade and a pair of wireless headphones. Zach slid into the driver’s seat, positioned his own headphones, and headed for the highway.
“What’s going on?” whispered Tatia. “I was supposed to have two clients tonight.”
Kaycee, a tiny girl with straight black hair and almond shaped eyes, whispered back. “Eric got a tip that the cops were gonna raid several of the motels tonight, so he cancelled all the appointments. We’ve been hanging out at the coffee shop for an hour or so waiting until time to meet you.”
“What about Cindy and the other girls?”
“They’re getting a night off, too, except for Cindy, of course. She’ll spend all night dealing with irate customers and trying to find safe places to set the girls up and get the cash flowing again. Eric hates downtime when he’s not making money. That’s why he’s hibernating. He’s in a really bad mood.”
Tatia was quiet for a few minutes, mulling over what she had just heard. Then she said, almost to herself, “I still don’t understand why Eric brought my work clothes.”
Belinda, who was a few years older than the other two, spoke up in the tone of a senior speaking to an inexperienced freshman. “You haven’t been on a road trip before, have you?”
“No, but Eric said we’d head up to Las Vegas for a little R & R,” said Tatia, a little defensively. “He said we might even do some sight-seeing, like the Grand Canyon or something.”
Belinda put her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle. “Honey, the only sights you’ll be seeing are the ceilings of some different motels and maybe the inside of some truck sleepers. We’re not on a road trip – we’re on the circuit.” With that, she closed her eyes, pulled a sweat jacket over her shoulders like a blanket, and leaned her head against the window.
“Don’t let her get to you,” whispered Kaycee, leaning close to Tatia. “She’s just got her panties in a twist because she’s not queen bee anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you hadn’t noticed, Eric specializes in really young girls. Once you’re past thirteen or fourteen, a lot of our customers don’t want you. Belinda is seventeen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Eric doesn’t trade her to another stable.”
“But what about Cindy? She’s almost twenty.”
“Cindy’s special. I don’t mean like she and Eric are in love or anything, but she was his first girl, so I think he keeps her around for sentimental reasons. She also knows his business better than he does. She keeps track of his clients, the appointments, the girls – all that kind of stuff.”
As it turned out, Belinda was right. When Eric woke up, he plugged his laptop and his wireless card into the accessory plugs and accessed the Internet. Tatia learned later what he was doing.
First, he contacted a nearby motel known to be friendly to the trade where he booked a room for each of them. Then, he went to one of several underground websites that specialize in advertising the services of prostitutes on the move. He posted the ages and vital stats of the girls along with their availability, and within an hour, they were all booked for four solid hours – three to four clients an hour. After their work was done, the girls had time for a shower and a few hours sleep before they grabbed a quick breakfast and hit the road again.
The next two nights they didn’t bother with a motel. Instead, Eric put out the word that they would be at a well-known truck stop around midnight. Again, all three girls were busy for several hours, moving in the shadows at the back of the parking lot from one truck to another. The nights at the truck stops were the worst, because they slept in the car while they traveled to the next destination. Eric wouldn’t even allow them to shower in the truck stops because of the cops that often dropped in for coffee and a bite to eat. On those nights, the smell of sweat, unwashed bodies, and stale cigarette smoke clung to all of them and kept Tatia awake until she finally passed out from exhaustion.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, after leaving another truck stop behind, Tatia was sitting in a cloud of second-hand smoke, wondering how long it took to develop lung problems. When Kaycee offered her a cigarette, she accepted it out of boredom and self defense. It made her cough, and she hated the way it tasted, but it gave her something to do. Kaycee and Belinda agreed that she looked more sophisticated and a bit sexy when she smoked, so at the next stop, she bought a pack of her own along with a disposable lighter.
Later in the morning, they finally drove into Las Vegas. The girls gawked and oohed and aahed as they rolled slowly past one glitzy hotel after another, but Eric told Zach to keep driving. Finally, he directed the driver into the parking lot of a motel that was off the Strip. It was far from five stars but was still better than many they had seen. While Zach went in to register and get room keys, Eric turned toward the back seat.
“Okay, time for a little break. It’s 9:00 now. Go take a shower and get some rest. Meet me back here at 3:00 this afternoon, and we’ll go on a little outing. Dress casual.”
The girls each had a separate room, so they knew they’d be entertaining clients later, but they were too tired to care. Tatia took a hot shower and crawled into bed with her hair still wet. She set the alarm on her cell phone and immediately fell into a restless sleep – and a new nightmare.
She fought to free herself from the arms that grasped her, crying out silently for Mama. Mama didn’t come, though. She was lying in a box with Daddy, both of them cold and lifeless, staring up at her with painted faces that melted into a pile of ashes while Eric grabbed at her, pulling her through the door of a shabby motel room filled with men waiting in line beside a bed covered with dirty, rumpled sheets. They chanted her name again and again as she struggled toward a persistent ringing sound just outside the door.
The fog of sleep thinned slightly – enough for Tatia to realize the ringing was her alarm and that the restraint she felt was from the sheets that were tangled around her and not Eric’s arms. She groped for her phone and raised one eyelid far enough to peek at the time. She groaned when she saw that it was already 2:30. Still exhausted, her body aching from the abuse she had endured the last three nights, she wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and sink into the oblivion of sleep. She feared the nightmares that waited there, though, and she feared Eric’s anger if she didn’t show up as ordered, so she dragged herself out of the snarled bedclothes and headed for the bathroom.
At two minutes before 3:00, Tatia trudged across the parking lot toward Belinda and Kaycee who looked somewhat refreshed as they leaned against the car, chatting and waiting for Eric to arrive. They fell silent as they saw Tatia, and Belinda eyed her with a sneer.
“Hey, girl! You look like something I scooped out of my cat’s litter box. You having trouble keeping up the pace?”
Kaycee shushed her quietly. “Hush, Belinda. You know Eric doesn’t like it when you rag on the other girls. Besides, Tatia’s not an old pro like you.”
Belinda scowled at her emphasis on the word “old,” but Kaycee ignored her and turned her attention to Tatia. “What’s the matter, girlfriend? Didn’t you get any sleep?”
“Not so much,” she said, stifling a yawn. “Too many dreams.”
“If Cindy were here, she could fix that,” said Belinda with a raised eyebrow.
“Right,” said Kaycee, “and then she’d need something to wake up, and on and on.”
“Don’t be so self-righteous. I’ve seen you pop a few uppers and downers in your time.”
Before the conversation turned into a real scrap, Eric and Zach showed up and jumped into the car. The two girls glared at each other as they slid into the back seat, and Tatia followed silently, ignoring them both and leaning her head against the window.
Eric directed Zach to a nearby shopping mall – not one of the fancy ones for tourists but one that looked as if it was frequented by the locals. When Zach had parked, Eric pulled out his money clip and gave each one of them, including Zach, two hundred dollars.
“You’ve worked hard. I have a meeting, so go have some fun. You, too, Zach. I’ll drive myself. Stay together or split up, whatever you want. Just be back at this entrance at 6:00 pm. We’ll go have some dinner before we go back to the motel. Don’t make me wait – we’re booked solid tonight.”
Belinda and Kaycee, drawn back together by the prospect of spending money, immediately began planning new outfits. Kaycee asked Tatia if she wanted to come with them, but she shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m going to look for a bookstore.”
Nobody asked Zach, but he walked beside Tatia as she headed for the entrance. “I don’t care much for clothes, so I think I’ll tag along with you if that’s okay.”
“Sure, Zach,” she said, brightening up a little. “I’d enjoy the company.”
“So you like to read, huh?” he asked.
“Yes, I usually take a book or two everywhere I go. But when Eric told me about this trip, I didn’t realize we’d be spending so much time in the car and, well, indoors. I didn’t bring anything to read, and I don’t sleep very well in the car, so there’s nothing to do but smoke – and I don’t like cigarettes much.”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “Reading is much better for your health.” They walked in silence for a few minutes, looking in the windows and watching the other shoppers. Then, Zach broke the silence. “Hey, I have an idea. Have you ever used one of those e-readers?”
“No, I haven’t, but that’s a great idea.”
“I think some of them even light up so you can read in the dark.”
She was energized, now that she had a goal. They found a map of the mall and located an electronics store one floor up and a few stores down on the right. She found a helpful salesman, and while he was showing her the options, Zach entertained himself by testing out all the latest headphones. She settled for a simple backlit reader so she would have as much left over as possible for e-books. The salesman helped her buy a couple of books and then helped her set up a gift card online with her extra money. All she had to do when she finished the books she had was choose another title.
When she was finished, she found Zach comparing the pictures on a line of TVs. “I’m all set and ready to read,” she said holding up her bag. “We have over an hour left. Now we need to spend your money.”
“No,” he said, suddenly seeming a little shy. “I’m saving for an engagement ring. With what Eric gave me today, I’m almost there.”
“Well congratulations,” said Tatia. “She’s a very lucky lady.”
“No, I’m the lucky one,” he said.
“So, how about the food court. I know Eric said we were going to dinner, but spending money makes me hungry.”
“Sounds good. I could use a snack.”
They found the food court without too much trouble, and he bought a slice of pepperoni while she ordered a cup of non-fat strawberry frozen yogurt. While they ate, they chatted about books they had read and places they would like to travel. When they finished, they disposed of their trash and strolled toward the entrance, as comfortable in each other’s company as if they had known each other forever.
They reached the parking lot before any of the others, so they found a bench and sat down. She reached in her purse, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and offered him one.
“No, thanks. I don’t smoke,” he said.
“But you have a pack right there in your shirt pocket.”
“Yes, I do, but have you ever seen me smoke one?”
She thought for a moment before answering. “Now that you mention it, no I haven’t.”
“I carry them because Eric expects me to have them in case he runs out. I don’t like the taste of them, and I don’t like how I smell after I’ve smoked them.”
“Yeah, me too. In fact, I had never smoked until this trip, but Belinda and Kaycee said I look good smoking.”
“Tatia, you’re a beautiful young lady, and you look good regardless of what you’re doing. But I personally don’t find a smoking woman particularly attractive.”
Tatia’s cheeks colored at the unexpected compliment. “Thanks for the kind words and the good advice.” She looked at the cigarettes and put them back in her purse. “You’re right, of course. I don’t seem to have much choice about what I do for a living, but I have decided not to drink or do drugs. I guess I can do without this vice, too. Maybe I’ll keep these just in case Eric runs out.”
They laughed as Belinda and Kaycee ran up behind them, giggling breathlessly, and Eric screeched to a stop in front of them and beeped the horn.
“Well,” said Zach, standing up. “Duty calls.”
“Yeah,” Tatia sighed. “No rest for the wicked.”
# # #
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Preface and Chapter 1 |Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 |Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 |Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16