I had hitched down to L.A. to visit my friend Paul back in the 70s when all you needed to get someplace was a thumb. I was going to school at U of Montana in Missoula. I had a week off in the spring so I caught a lift to Seattle and then from there, three rides all the way down the coast. Paul was living in the valley, sharing a house with a guy named Spear. Spear’s real name was Spheros, he was Greek, but everyone called him Spear. He was going to law school.

     Spear was one of those guys whose dad bought him a new corvette each year in high school. He was a couple of years older than Paul and me; a wiry guy with slick black hair and sharp cheekbones. His smile was a little scary; it was as if he was getting you comfortable but was ready to stab you with the knife he always carried if you said the wrong thing. We all thought Spear was really cool. Paul and I were actually friends with Spear’s younger brother Chuckie, a much nicer guy, but when Paul found out that Spear was living outside of LA and had plenty of room, he jumped at the opportunity and drove his Mustang out from Boston. We were all from Milton, a suburb south of Boston. Paul gave me a call at school telling me come visit during spring break. I couldn’t wait to get there.

     It wasn’t till I got to the house (my last ride was nice enough to drop me there) that I found out that Spear had brought this hooker out from Boston with him. I had heard that Spear used to hang out in a strip joint called the 2 O’Clock in the combat zone in Boston. I don’t know what the girl’s real name was; she went by Star. She was 19, attractive although not exactly pretty. Her face was too angular and her hair was a brassy bottle blond. She had a tattoo of a snake running around one of her arms and back then, nice girls didn’t sport tattoos. She leaned against the kitchen counter drinking coffee in white high heels, tight jeans, a tee shirt and no bra the first time I met her. Spear had told her to move out of her bedroom and onto the couch so I could stay in her room. I told him I was fine on the couch but he insisted so she resented me right off.

     “Unless you want her in there,” Spear said to me with that edgy smile of his.

     “No, that’s okay,” I said.

     “Just don’t fuck with my shit,” she said glaring at me.

     The next morning when I got up, Paul was sitting in the kitchen, eating some cereal. “Help yourself man,” he said.

     “Lucky charms?”

     “There’s other stuff up there.” He motioned with his head.

     I opened one of the cabinets and pulled down a box of Frosted Flakes.

     “Ah, those are Star’s,” Paul said. “Take a look in that cabinet.”

     I looked back. It was like a little corner store with sugar, coffee, salt and pepper, cereal, peanuts, bread, a kind of survival kit.

     “She keeps all her own food in there. In fact, she had a lock on it for a couple of weeks until I convinced her I wasn’t going to take any of it.”

     I put the tiger back and poured myself some Lucky Charms. When I put milk on them, the milk turned green and blue from the dyed chunks of marshmallow.

     Paul had to go to work. He drove a delivery truck for a construction company. I was putting my bowl in the sink when Spear came out of his room.

     “Find something to eat?” he asked me.

     I nodded. “How’s the corvette running?” I asked.

     “Spends more time in the shop than out of it,” he said. He looked over at Star who was still asleep on the couch. “Do you want a blow job?” he said to me. He wasn’t smiling. It appeared to be a straight forward question.

     I hesitated. I wanted to say no but I didn’t want to appear ungrateful.

     “Not from me,” he said smiling, “from her.”

     “No, I’m good,” I said.

     Star sat up. “Your friend thinks he’s too good for me.” She stretched and yawned. Her nipples were sticking out. She caught me looking.

     “They do that in the morning,” she said and laughed.

     Now I was getting hard and with my gym shorts on, it was obvious.

     “You may not want me but your dick seems to,” she laughed again and looked at Spear. “Who does he look like?”

     “I don’t know, who?” Spear rubbed his neck.

     “The cowboy on Rawhide,” she said.

     “You’re right, he looks like Rowdy Yates. I’m taking a shower,” Spear said going into the bathroom.

     Star took her top off and cupped her breasts. I took a couple of awkward steps towards her.

     “No way are you getting any of this Rowdy,” she said. She walked across the room in her panties and into the bathroom with Spear.

     I went back into Star’s room, closed the door and flopped on the bed. I needed a couple of hours more of sleep. I hadn’t slept hardly at all getting there and now I was wondering if I’d made a mistake taking Paul up on his invitation. I didn’t know what to make of Star and I couldn’t figure out why Spear would want her there. Nonetheless, I fell asleep envisioning sex with Star. We’d start out standing up and move to various pieces of furniture: the bureau, the chair, the couch. I imagined she knew a few techniques I had never even heard of. I had to roll onto my back to get to sleep.

     When I woke up it was noon. The house was empty. I guessed that Spear had left for class. His car was not in the driveway. I walked down the street and found a little Mexican restaurant where I had a veggie burrito and a Corona. Three Coronas later I meandered back to the house a little unsteady. I found a lounge chair in the yard and dozed in the sun. The rumbling sound of Paul’s Mustang GT shook me awake.

     He had picked up some steaks. He threw them on the grill and we were just finishing them up when Spear pulled into the driveway.

     “Where’s Star?” I asked when he got out.

     “You like Star?” he asked narrowing his eyes.

     “No I was just curious.”

     “Hey,” Spear said, “she’s yours for the taking amigo. I wish I’d never brought her out here, believe me. I thought she was going to make me some money but it turns out that she doesn’t even like to turn tricks. She wants to get out of the life.” Spear laughed. “Why don’t you take her back to school with you when you leave?”

     Paul seemed to be getting a big kick out of this. “She’s at this bar down the street, the Roadhouse,” he said. She’s a waitress there.”

     “She’s trying to get on as a stripper,” Spear said. “We’ll go there. Maybe she can give you a lap dance.”

     “She’s pretty good,” Paul said. “She’s been practicing on me.”

     “She sucks,” Spear spit on the ground, pulled out a pack of Camels and fired one up.

     A couple of hours later Spear left in his car. I asked Paul if he wanted a beer for the road.

     “Have to be careful drinking and driving around here,” Paul said. “I’ve been arrested twice for D.U.I. Second time I had to pay a thousand bucks and take a class. Next time they yank my license.”

     “Just one before we go,” I said tossing him a Bud tall boy.

     The bar was a huge sprawling three story surrounded by parking lots. We found a spot for the pony in back. Paul pointed out Spear’s red corvette parked between a string of pick-ups.

     The place was packed. I was surprised to see a lot of women. Paul told me the strippers worked the top floor. We climbed the stairs and found Spear at a table. He had shots of tequila, a salt shaker and lime wedges, and a couple of bottles of Bud waiting for us.

     I wanted to ask where Star was but I didn’t want Spear to get on my case so I kept my mouth shut and downed the tequila. I was chasing it with the Bud while watching a cute blond take off her police officer outfit.

     “I’ll bet you the next round you can’t choke me,” Spear said to me.

     I did not know what to say.

     “He locks his throat,” Paul said. “Try it. You can’t hurt him.”

     I was going to get the next round anyway so I put my beer down while Spear turned his chair so I could stand in front of him. “Tell me to stop if it hurts,” I said.

     He gave me the finger. I proceeded to put my hands, claw-like, around his throat and choke him. I squeezed as hard as I could. A crowd began to gather around. They egged me on. I wasn’t getting anywhere and my hands were beginning to cramp. I wondered if I could get arrested for assault. Spear would sue me. I’d be in debt to him for the rest of my life. I let go. There was a moan from the crowd. The choking seemed to have no effect whatsoever on Spear. “Jose Gold,” he said.

     In a couple of hours Paul was pretty wasted. I had stopped drinking after the third round. Spear had said he wanted to take a look around and he disappeared into the crowd. At some point Star appeared. She seemed to be dressed up as a French maid. She looked pretty sexy. She pushed me into an empty chair near the bar, sat on my lap and blew in my ear. I was not entirely immune to her charms.

     “Do you want a lap dance?” she said to me.

     I thought about how much money I had. “Not tonight,” I said.

     She stood up. “Back to the grind,” she said.

      Paul and I decided to leave. On the way out, we bumped into Spear holding hands with a tall, thin beauty with long blond hair. She wavered on her heels. He held his car keys up in front of him. “Let me take your Mustang,” he said to Paul. “I might need the back seat.”

     Paul took the keys to the corvette and gave Spear the keys to the Mustang.

     “So we get to drive the Corvette, cool,” I said as we searched the parking lot. “Was that chick drunk, or what?”

     “He picks them up and gives them delaudids,” Paul said.

     “What are delaudids?”

     “They’re downs, really strong. The girls love them,” Paul laughed.

     I noticed he was swaying. “Lemme drive,” I said.

     “I’m all right,” Paul said smiling.

     We were pulled over just as we drove out of the parking lot. The cop had us both get out of the car. He shined a flashlight on our licenses and had us walk, count backwards and touch our nose with one finger.

     “You drive,” he said to me. I couldn’t believe our luck.

     About a mile down the road, Paul asked me to pull over. He got out and threw up.

     When he got back in he said: “I can’t believe he let us go. I’ve got to get out of this state. If he had looked me up, he definitely would have taken me in. They’d be booking me right now.”

     The road was empty. I took it up to sixty in first gear. The big engine roared with power and the wide tires gripped the road but in second gear, going ninety through an S turn, the car turned sideways and skidded off the road to the edge of a cliff overlooking a canyon.

     We got out and stared over the edge.

     “Fuckin A,” Paul said and laughed.

      I reached in put it in neutral and we backed the car up to the shoulder.

     “You all right to drive?” Paul asked.

     “Yeah, it was just a little more power than I expected.”

     The Mustang was in the driveway. I pulled in beside it. I grabbed a couple of Coronas from the fridge as Paul turned on the TV. He found a classic games channel that was playing the Celtics/LA game where Wilt scored a hundred points. He lit a joint and passed it to me. I was just falling into a nod when the door to Spear’s room opened and Spear walked out in his boxers, propping up the beautiful blond. She looked like a scarecrow without any clothes on. He pulled her into the living room and when he let go of her arm, she slumped to the floor on her hands and knees. Her beautiful hair cascaded over her head.

     “You guys want to do her?” Spear asked.

     Paul looked at me. This was not my idea of cool. Not me. You go ahead,” I said.

     “My room’s a mess,” Paul said to Spear.

     “Use Star’s room,” Spear said.

     Paul lifted the girl to her feet. “What’s her name?” he said to Spear.

     Spear ran his fingers through his hair. “Shit,” he said. “Can’t remember, Jenine, something like that.”

     Paul took the girl into Star’s room. I couldn’t believe it. What was he thinking? Was having sex with that girl even legal? Spear sat down on the couch and we watched the game.  

     “So,” Spear said to me, “how’s it goin?”

     “It’s goin all right,” I said although, actually, I wasn’t feeling too comfy. In fact, I was beginning to think I should get the hell out the next day before something went seriously awry. Spear was not as cool as I thought he was. He was sort of a psycho.

     We heard a truck pull into the driveway.

     “Shit,” Spear said, “that’s Star. She gets a ride from one of the other girls.

     Star came in through the kitchen door. She stood beside us staring at the TV. We heard a series of thumps emanating from her room. We all turned and looked at the door.

     Star walked around the couch in front of Spear. “Who the fuck is in my room?” she said.

     “Shut up and grab a beer,” Spear said.

     “Look, you bring girls home, okay. I get that. I don’t exactly expect you to marry me.”

     Spear scoffed and stood up. “You want another?” he said to me.

     Star pushed him back down onto the couch.

     “That’s my fucking room!” she said. “First you give it to this asshole and now Paul is banging some skank in there.”

     Spear looked at me with his eyebrows up. He found this pretty funny and I could see he was about to laugh. Then he did laugh.

     “Fuck you,” Star said. She marched over to her room and opened the door. “Get out!” she yelled.

     We heard a drawer open and shut.

     “Oh no,” Spear said.

     When she emerged from her room, she was holding a gun, a .38. Her hands were shaking.

     I ducked and Spear stood up.

     “Baby,” Spear said. He had his hands in front of him.

     I peeked over the top of the couch. Then I realized that a couch would not do much to protect me and I sat up. She turned the gun toward me.

     “Sweetie,” Spear said taking a step toward her.

     An ad came on with a couple of blonds selling Budweiser. She pointed the gun at the television and shot it. She’d put a hole right in the middle of the screen; the television kept going for a few seconds and then died.

     “Nice shot,” Paul said. Paul stood behind Star in the doorway to her room with a sheet draped around him. He looked like a guest at a toga party. Meanwhile Jenine, nude, had staggered out to the kitchen sink. She seemed to be after some water.

     Star dropped the gun to her side and began sobbing. Spear gave her a hug. “It’s okay, doll,” he said relieving her of the gun. He turned and winked at me.

     I was shaking but at the same time I felt sorry for Star and for the girl at the sink and I didn’t like being winked at by Spear who apparently thought I shared his point of view.

     I was suddenly exhausted and I lay back on the couch and fell asleep. About an hour later I woke up. It was quiet and the lights had been turned out. Everyone had gone to bed apparently. I wondered if Star would mind if I crashed with her. I didn’t want to get her angry, but the couch was pretty uncomfortable and I thought she might even appreciate a little company.

     Her door was unlocked. She was lying face down under a single sheet. I pulled my shirt off and dropped my jeans and climbed in beside her. She opened one eye. “You’ve got a lot of balls,” she said.

     I ran my hand down her spine.

     “Turn over on your back,” she said.

      There was just enough light to see the outline of her head. I heard her tear something plastic and then felt her mouth slip a ring over my dick. I felt the sleeve and the pressure of her mouth. I was already hard.

     “Can I put it in?” I asked.

     She rolled over and I climbed on and entered her. It didn’t take me long to come.

     “You can give me the money in the morning,” she said.

     “What?” I said, “give me a break.”

     “Spear will know. He’ll make me get the money from you. If it were up to me, believe me, I wouldn’t charge you.”

     “How’d you get into this business?” I propped myself up on one elbow and looked at her. She looked a lot younger in the dim light. It was as if she had removed that hard shell she always wore.

     “A friend of mine was doing it and making money.”

     “Paul told me you’re from South Boston.”

     “D Street projects.” She turned away from me. “At least Spear got me out of there.”

     I thought about that for a minute. “What do you want to do?”

      She snorted. “I don’t know what Spear was thinking but I told him I didn’t want to turn tricks for him when I came out here. I thought maybe I could go to hairdressing school. There’s one not too far from here. I’ve already applied. Hey, I’m just trying to follow the American dream and be happy just like everyone else.”

     The American dream? Happy? Was she serious? I wanted to ask her but she had turned on her side and seemed to want to go to sleep.

     When I woke up I could hear Star and Spear arguing but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I got up, pulled on my jeans and walked into the kitchen where Spear was drinking coffee.

     I poured myself a cup.

     “Help yourself,” Spear said, but he didn’t sound friendly. “You owe Star a hundred bucks,” he said. “That’s her rate.”

     I just nodded. I pulled out my wallet and looked inside. I had exactly 108 dollars. I took out four twenties and two tens and handed them to Star.

     “Thanks,” she said. She gave me a look that was supposed to mean something but I wasn’t sure what. She gave half the money to Spear.

     He put the fifty bucks in his top pocket. “No freebies unless I say so,” he said. He looked at his Rolex. “If you want a ride,” he said to Star, “we better get a move on.”

     For a second I wondered where Star was going but I shook it off. I didn’t want to care about her, and I’d had just about enough of Spear. She went into her room to change. I drank my coffee on the couch while staring at the hole in the television screen. I suddenly wished I had brought a camera with me. It would have made a cool picture. When Star came out she handed me my shirt.

     Paul got up just after they left. I asked him if he’d drop me at the entrance to the highway. It was about twenty minutes away.

     “Heading back early?” He was looking in the cabinets.

     “I’m out of money,” I said.

     “I can lend you a few bucks,” he said.

      I asked Paul what happened to the thin blond.

     “Spear called her a cab. Shit,” he said, “I’m out of Lucky Charms.”

     An hour later, Paul pulled his car over just after the onramp to the highway. “Let me give you some money,” he said reaching for his wallet.

     “I’m all right,” I said.

     “I’ve got to get out of here too,” he said. “Maybe I’ll see you back in Milton this summer.”

     I got out and stretched. I watched Paul drive off. It was already hot and hazy and it was only 11:00. With luck I’d be out of California by dawn. It would be cooler up north. I was anxious to get back to school, back onto the solid ground of the plains where things made a little more sense. It was a little too edgy in California. In a couple of months, Spear would be getting out of law school and opening his own practice. The thought of it just made me shudder. That’s when I noticed the folded-up bill in my shirt pocket. Star must have put it in my pocket before she handed the shirt to me. I took the bill out and turned it over—Ben Franklin stared back at me. He was not happy.

Ed Meek has had stories in The North American Review, Cream City Review, Fiction International, Hobart and Adelaide.