Stella and the TurnaroundOctober 23, 2018
Leo had sold his grandfather’s railroad watch to get into the poker game. Already running for two days straight, he figured the lineup would be less than sharp, more like a dulled butter knife by now. The watch now lived in Dawn’s, an antique shop soaked in fluorescent light, located inside of Midtown Plaza. With nowhere else to turn, Leo had to accept the lowball offer made by the dusty old owner.
Darkness blanketed the vacant streets as he left the uninhabited mall. Intoxicated with the promise of a large score, Leo’s gait was now steadied by the swollen bankroll in his pocket. As he passed the Hotel Cadillac, a lady’s sweet voice emerged from a darkened doorway, “Hey mister.”
He ignored her and was a block away before registering a scream from behind. A man was grappling with the lady. Shadows, arms, and long swinging coats swirled beneath the glowing white Hotel Cadillac sign. He checked his bankroll, thought about the game, but doubled back anyway. He yelled for the guy to let her go.
Before he could step in, she jumped up with a gun trained on his forehead. The man’s eyes she was fighting with hid beneath the brim of his black fedora, his yellowed teeth flashed.
“Hand the money over.”
“Did you hear me, motherfucker?”
The faceless lady crept closer with the gun still pointed at his head.
Leo pleaded, “I don’t have any money.”
“You just sold that fancy watch of yours, hand it over.”
Panicked, Leo’s thoughts rewound; Had he been set up?
Leo limped up to Tony’s place, half a block down the alley, and knocked at the door. Tony opened up and said, “What the fuck?”
“I got mugged, out by the Cadillac.” Leo continued, “Can you stake me for a buy-in? I’m good for it Tony; you know I am.”
Tony backed up slightly and said, “No, not tonight big L. Find somewhere else, and get cleaned up.”
“C’mon Tone,” he searched for a cigarette in his coat pocket and continued, “I was just robbed, I need to get into the game.”
Before Tony closed the door, he said, “I gotta get back inside Leo, we’ll see you next week.”
Leo stood for an eternity palming his unlit cigarette. Pain swept over his body, the adrenaline subsiding. Now what? A vision of his grandfather winding the watch gave him an acute sense of shame, and a grim reality settled over the alley like a cold, lead blanket. As Leo watched the city collapse around him, shell-shocked and broken, his jones remained—viciously gnawing at his insides.
“You didn’t have to be so God damned rough,” Stella said.
She blotted her ripped-open knee with a lukewarm washcloth. Lonnie had gone too far before; like the time he broke her pinky and never apologized because they scored good dope from the hospital.
“Babe, you know it’s all for show,” Lonnie cooed.
Stella responded as if she were talking to herself, “Yeah, well, I’m done with the show. I’m going back to Cleveland.” She swatted away the smell of sulfur after lighting a cigarette and dropped the match into the rust stained hotel sink.
Lonnie said, “The fuck you are” and sunk into the hotel’s double-sized mattress, disappearing into its pink and brown comforter. A shaft of muted yellow street light squeezed through the heavy brown curtains, carrying with it the muffled sound of rain.
“You eat all my Quaaludes Lonnie?” Stella pawed at her silver pillbox without waiting for an answer. They were all gone.
The robbery from earlier in the evening closed in on her. She wanted out of the game. Three weeks on the road and Lonnie’s violence had only increased. She put on her second jacket, grabbed the pistol, and went outside to breathe fresh air.
The rain had subsided, and the cool air had rejuvenated her spirit until she noticed the mark limping on the other side of the street. A moment of crisis swelled inside of her. The robbery was hours ago, what was he doing limping around outside? She moved out of sight and wondered who the real loser was. Him or Her? She needed to get the fuck out of town. The Greyhound station was just around the corner. She could chip off a bus ticket from the score, give the rest back to him, never see Lonnie again. Lonnie would be furious, a man possessed.
She stepped out of the shadows a few feet from the mark.
“Listen, don’t say anything, I’ll get your money back.”
Leo wanted to run, but his leg throbbed, and his head hurt. Instead, he stared blankly at her.
“But we need to go into the hotel and get the money from my boyfriend.” She caught herself, “Ex-boyfriend. Here’s the thing, I can’t get it all back. I need a greyhound ticket. Take it or leave it.”
Leo walked away.
“Leave me alone. You already took everything.”
She yelled, “Stop. I’m serious. I hate that man. I’m leaving. I feel awful, and this is all I can do to repay you.”
Leo stopped and thought about it.
“Why are you doing this for me?”
“It’s for me. Do you want the money or no?”
Stella cracked open the door and poked her head into the room to make sure Lonnie was still sleeping. She nodded, and they entered. Leo was on full alert, adrenaline coursed through his body. He felt as if he was playing in the biggest game of his life. In essence, he was. Stella tiptoed around the bed and rifled through Lonnie’s leather jacket for the money. The leather squeaked, and Lonnie, as if conditioned to wake up to the sound of someone going through his jacket, awoke in a foggy state. Leo backed toward the door. Stella pointed the gun at Lonnie and growled, “Don’t fucking move.”
Lonnie tried to add up the score. He looked over and saw the guy that he robbed earlier in the night.
“What the fuck is going on Stella? What is he doing here and why are you going through my jacket?”
“It’s over Lon.” She turned to Leo, “Rip the sheets off of the bed and tie his arms to the bedposts.”
Leo hesitated but decided he had come this far.
Stella screamed, “C’mon, get over here!”
Lonnie tried to grab Leo with his free right hand as Leo tied up his left.
Stella knocked his face with the butt of the pistol, and said, “I’m not fucking around Lonnie.”
She pressed the gun against his forehead while Leo finished, then checked the knots. She hoped they would hold for a few hours. Lonnie thrashed around as she grabbed the money and her clothes. Blood dripped down the bridge of his nose.
“You’re both dead. Mark my words, you motherfuckers are dead. Stella, untie me now. You can’t leave me here. Let me out of this.”
“Fuck off Lonnie; you’re done.”
Leo stood back, massaging his beaten head, still confused as to how he found himself in this strange situation. They left the room while Lonnie screamed and damned them to hell.
Outside, Stella peeled off her bus fare and gave the rest of the money to Leo.
“I’m sorry for all of this.”
Leo said, “Thank you.”
He thought it absurd that he just thanked a con artist for beating the shit out of him, and taking ten percent of his bankroll on top of it. But Leo had one thing on his mind only, and that was to quell the itch that bloomed inside of him. To get into the game.
Stella purchased a bus ticket back to Cleveland, knowing at some point Lonnie would come calling, though, by the time he arrived in town, she’d be on another bus barreling toward California. Better yet, reinvented there, already cleansed of this rotten way of life, and Lonnie would be one horrible memory that littered her entire regrettable past, never to surface again.by