Around the table, through the beaded curtain, Sam could see the smoke rising. He shook the ice in his glass and swallowed, he thought the taste too bitter tonight. There she was standing before him, a proud and determined Venus—he could tell she was bluffing. She was a minor player in a major game and after the cards were cut, she ran. Her thin frame wavered in her heels. She was too far from the ground.
“Heya, Sam. I don’t suppose you have another glass and an extra hour?”
“Sure hon, but I thought you were catering to Louie and Stills tonight.” He knew when to hit and when to hold. For now, he held.
“Heh.” She sniffled, “I’m done for tonight. Actually, no, I’m just done. Listen can we go somewhere else and talk about it? Maybe you can walk me home?”
“No, I don’t think so. And I know you need the money so why don’t you make it easier on yourself and lay off the waterworks?”
“Why can’t you just let me go? I’ve been working these rubes every night for a month, just as you asked me to. I’ve made you some money and I’m not keen on staying here forever.”
“You know why.”
She did know, but she was betting her luck tonight. She needed to sit in the shade for a while; the heat from the spotlights that warmed her blood blinded her usually clear vision.
“Sam, I don’t care what you do to me, I can’t live like this.”
The shattering glass startled her. The bourbon ruined the rouge wallpaper as it trickled down onto the faded carpet. She took a deep breath. “You know I just had a hard time, those guys are rakes, and I’m no good at tallying the stakes tonight.” She began to pick up the broken glass.
“Listen, we’ve done this a million times, babe. I don’t have the authority to let you go, and frankly, I don’t want to see you out on the streets like some pigeon hoping for crumbs.”
“You’d rather watch me here, night after night, with men who have loving wives back home, waiting?
“Do you think that living on the streets is going to lift your spirit and fill your pockets? Maudy, I told you, the only thing you got going for you right now are those coins jingling in your purse and a few brutes watching your back. Their isn’t an honest man that’s going to come and swoop you up. For Christ’s sake, you’re no more than a cast off whore working for scraps.” Sam bit his tongue. He hated talking to her like that. He knew that if she could only see him outside of this life—outside of this nightlife—if she saw him sitting on the grass with a picnic basket like one of the good guys he desperately wanted to be, she would consider him more than just someone who shook her down. However, he also had debts to work off. More was at stake than his unrequited love and he knew that her smile would come back in the morning. He drew a long deep drag and crushed the snipe against the cold glass of the Roots Hotel ashtray.
The tears came quickly and silently, her face flushed with the shame only a coquette wore. Why did Sam swing so violently? What was it that made her look tough enough to endure it; was it the shade of red on her lips? She sat stooped over the shattered glass, blood trickling from her finger, and wondered if Sam ever noticed the delicacy of her hands.
“I’m sorry. I’ll get back in there.” Her resolve became obvious now, she couldn’t live with the shame, and she couldn’t survive anywhere else. She slipped a piece of the broken glass into her purse and focused on the soft clanging—the coins against the glass.