Trying to start a conversation with an unwilling participant. In semi-context – 1970s. In this excerpt I was trying to connect two people, both strangers in a strange land. The male hasn’t got a lot of baggage except for some heartbreak and confusion and being inadvertently waylaid by hallucinogens in New Mexico on his way to USC. He’s the piano bar background. The female character is supposed to unfold as the chapter progresses and her issues send him on a short quest to find her help. Here’s how he breaks the ice. Does it work?
Jackson stepped out the back door of the hotel kitchen after lunch shift with a couple of waiters, one male, one female, to burn one, post lunch rush.
The girl, Missy, was close to his age. Everyone called the guy Five-Oh because he dyed his hair, combed two-thirds of it back in a duck’s butt to cover the tanned or spray painted bald spot, left the front hanging greasy like Jack Lord from Hawaii Five-O. He was weird, too thin and nervous, probably a speed freak. But he knew somebody who grew killer, lime green hydroponic weed and he was loose with it.
Missy was too thin herself, wouldn’t talk to anyone but her customers. After her shift she changed into the same long, hippie-print tapestry skirt and a white, cap sleeve t-shirt, hit the joint with them and headed west on foot. After a week of everything he said to her hitting a wall Jackson followed her. It looked like she was going to walk to where the west side met the desert if he didn’t stop her.
He caught up at a light, pulled out the first conversation starter he could find. “Nice bracelet. Indian?”
“I knew you were back there, space man. I missed the ‘walk’ light on purpose and waited up so we could bale this and stack it in the barn. I don’t need a boyfriend or a new savior or a better job or a better way or better sex or Avon or Amway or the New York City Sunday paper or anything you’re selling. Leave me alone.”
“I asked about the bracelet.” It was thin leather covered in beads and more of a cuff, almost like Indian biker wear, and laced on with orange yarn.
“Indian, yeah. I don’t know what kind. It was wide enough for what I needed, and the bead pattern was cool.” He thought she was going to bite a hole in her lip. “I lace it on and forget it. Thanks. Gotta go.” She took off across the street without the walk light, dodged a couple of cars and kept on west. He watched for a minute, jogged in the heat all the way back to his car and drove west on Flamingo. He crossed under the interstate, saw her a quarter mile ahead, rolled up in front of her, stopped and got out.
“This is stupid. Missy’s not your name, nobody’s really named Missy and nobody in Vegas nicked you with it.”
“I’m not from Vegas and it’s not your problem, is it?”
“I’m from bale it and put in the barn country myself, you don’t talk through your nose, and Missy is still bullshit.” He could see her frustration with him ramping up.
“Do you get away with this, wherever you’re from, talking to girls like we need to talk back and telling us it’s bullshit if we don’t? I told you —”
“You didn’t tell me anything, it’s hot as hell and you aren’t walking like you’re going anywhere. You can ride in the back with the tire iron like the last girl that got in my car, but get off your feet and outta the heat, tell me where you need to go.” They stared at each other for a few seconds, he drummed his fingers on the top of his car while she fidgeted with the leather cuff. “Hey, I liked that one. Feet, heat.” She still wasn’t sold, but she let a quick, small smile get out. He was gaining ground.
“What, now you’re some kind of prairie poet or something? I heard twang. Texas? Not tin can enough to be Okie.”
“Okie born and raised. But I’ve spent a lot of time getting it out of my nose and down into a drawl.”
“You’re not there yet. Maybe North Texas?” She gave up a very small grin, crawled into the back seat. “Wow, baa-ad. The air conditioner even works!”
He pulled away from the curb, had no choice but silence since his radio had been stolen, idled them out Flamingo in third.
“Nice hole you have in your dash.” She cradled the lug wrench across her lap, opened his back window a crack, lit a long, white filtered cigarette and blew “Kansas” out with the smoke.
“No Kansas without a tape player.”
“Me, you Okie clown. I’m from Kansas. I could almost throw a rock and hit Oklahoma if I wanted, where I lived.”
In the mirror he watched her make a face while she leaned, twisted, pulled a seatbelt buckle out from under her backside. “Now I’m living across town the other way in a runaway shelter so you aren’t taking me ‘home’ anywhere around here, if that was your big ‘help Missy out’ idea.”