Her skin was as black as freshly poured asphalt and her tall, thin legs resembled those of a roadrunner. Then there were her lips. They had a natural pucker that would make a goldfish cry. A pair of oversized sunglasses covered her eyes with thick aqua-blue frames and lenses resembling the peepers of a giant fly. In other words, she was the most beautiful girl Webster Mitchell had come across during his six-month stay in this dry, dusty land and he had nary a clue of how he was going to tell her he couldn’t pay up.
“Can’t you just tell Stephen that I wasn’t home?”
The guy next to her chimed in after shoving the corner of a crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich into his maw. “Do you know how many people ask us to tell Stephen that?”
The sandwich looked like a cracker between his fingers, which wasn’t to say it was small but that the man’s hands were huge, as was every other visible part of his body. Not an inch of fat, either.
“I mean, do you honestly know how many people ask us to tell him that?” His speech was peppered with the sound of his lips smacking together and visible strings of saliva and moist white bread stretching from the tip of his tongue to the roof of his mouth.
Webster stood in silence.
Yeah, he had a good idea how many people came up with that particular notion. He wasn’t proud of the excuse and if he was smarter, he would have been more prepared. But that’s just the thing. Stephen never gave anyone time to prepare. Webster certainly wasn’t prepared for the goddess and the oversized lapdog standing before him.
The woman looked down at the open spiral notepad in her hands and ran her index finger along a handwritten list. Tiny pieces of dried skin hung off the sides of her chipped fingernail.
“Mr. Mitchell,” she said and then looked up.
Her voice sounded as sweet as he imagined it would, like the songbirds that sometimes fly over his slab looking for a better place to land. Webster grinned with both the upper and lower teeth he had left, which always made it look like he was squinting into the sun even though it was morning and he was facing west.
She removed her glasses and Webster thought he was going to faint. Those big brown eyes surrounded by a sea of white almost put him in a state of delirium.
“Mr. Mitchell,” she said, “you’ve already been given two extensions and you already owe an extra twenty percent. Do you know what happens when a third extension is requested?”
So many questions, Webster thought. And these were the types of questions he hated. Questions with answers that the other party knew the answer to but still insisted on baiting you with. He turned his head back toward the inside of his tent as if the answers were somehow there. All he saw was a tiny ten-foot by ten-foot canvas square with a low ceiling that added to an already growing hunch. He couldn’t spot an inch of ground because it was covered in dirty clothes, plastic bottles, and flimsy, discarded cereal boxes. The only two things visible above the debris was a cot topped with a brown, cotton-bleeding bunny for a pillow and matted faux-fur coat for a blanket. And then, of course, there was the bucket for when he couldn’t stand to get up and piss in those ass-freezing winds of the desert nights.
“Yes,” he said, “I know what happens.”
If only he could have come across this vision a year ago when things weren’t so bad. If she’s working for Stephen, Webster was sure she had her own sob story.
“I have twenty more appointments today, Mr. Mitchell. I have to come back this way. I expect payment when I return.” She spun around on her sandals and started walking down the dirt trail towards the next tent-covered slab a quarter-mile down. Webster took a moment to imagine the full aspect of her svelte body only hinted at beneath the floaty yellow dress decorated with a print of white flowers.
He was pulled out of his brief reverie when muscleman shoved the rest of his sandwich into his mouth and wiped his hands clean across Webster’s chest, leaving the sweet mix of sticky strawberry jam and sugar-laden peanut butter spread across his t-shirt and its scent floating up into his nostrils. It made him salivate. The man winked at Webster and followed the woman.
“Wait,” Webster yelled, “I didn’t catch your name!”
The woman kept on walking and muscleman floated two middle fingers over his back.
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