Sunset “Sunny” Sutton was the last person Meyers expected to see at two a.m. in the middle of this grimy intersection in old central L.A. hell. But there she was, crossing the street with a purposed stride while she slowly unrolled a paper grocery bag.
Meyers stepped out of the alley, angled his jog to intercept her before she could get to the twenty-four-hour liquor store. He caught her arm above the elbow before she made the curb.
“Hey, get off, you. I gotta…”
“Muh, muh…” she shook her head several times. When she stopped, her eyes settled like marbles that had been rolling around a bowl. “Meyers?” A quick look around, finger to her lips. “Shhhhh… Da fuck you doin’ down here, Meyers?”
“Better question. What are you doing down here?”
“I uh… I gotta… I needa…” She glanced around again. Her hair resembled a dyed blonde horse’s tail, styled with a blender. A perfect match for her wild eyes. Meyers pulled her across to the alley he’d come out of. “No nonononono… rats. I hate rats.”
“I have a gun if they get too aggressive.”
“Yeah?” He took the bag away from her, looked inside. “Somehow I knew this is what I’d find.” He pulled out a rubber Vampirella mask and a Mattel Fanner 50 cap pistol.
“C’mon dude, y’know? I need like two hundred dollars. Yesterday. Last week, actually. I got fifty-seven already, so -”
“I thought you were sober.”
“I am.” She ran her fingers through the tangled mass of hair, rubbed her nose with her knuckles. “But see, I got… I have… other money problems. Issues.”
“You think they’re so stupid in there,” he nose pointed toward the store, “that they keep enough cash in the drawer at two in the morning to make robbing them lucrative?”
“I… I mean they have a cash register, right? So…” Her eyebrows went quizzical. “What are you sayin’?”
Lightning ripped a hole in the sky, thunder right on its heels.
“If this was an easy knock, Sunny, there’d be a line of dope and unemployed designer purse junkies stretched around the corner. Vampirella was an unusual touch.” He held up the gun. “But there’s only one way to cap somebody’s ass with this thing and that starts by getting them to bend over.” He stuffed her unarmed robbery gear back in the bag, gave her a cursory once over. She seemed straight enough. Clean clothes, her bulging eyes clear. Scared shitless, probably jacked on a half dozen energy drinks. Otherwise, he believed what she’d said about sober. “What was the plan?”
“I don’t know, really. Just go in, you know, point the gun at them and hold out the bag…” she hugged herself. “I guess I come up with some fucking idiot assed ideas sometimes.”
“’Sometimes’ is generous.” Lightning lit up the alley and thunder let go again. Wind whipped up loose trash, spun it out into the street in a mini-vortex.
“I was just… Look, I need the money. And I’m totally out of options.” She took the paper bag, rolled it up.
“The hooker lingerie business go stale?”
“No. But that… The store I mean, like that’s the point, right?” She stood, still hugging herself, checked out the liquor store. “Assholes.”
“You know them?”
“Not them. The Five Block Cherries.”
“What does that band of shitbags have to do with it?”
“Everything.” More thunder, they both looked up, Sunny saying “Is it gonna rain or just make noise?”
“It’s all noise in this part of town. The rain gets to about 200 feet, sees how nasty the landing zone is and stops.”
“Bullshit.” She shook a grease-spotted waxed paper deli wrapper off her ankle, watched it take flight. “But probably true.”
“What is it with you and the Cherries?”
“You know I got the shop, right? Well, some months I do okay, and some not so okay. Like now it’s slow, you know? I can eat and pay my sales taxes and bills, but there’s nothin’ extra… And those bitches… See, I can’t afford insurance except what the landlord wants to cover his ass if some dick lookin’ for a Valentine’s present walks in with a blue pill hardon and fucks themselves up tryin’ to hump one of my mannequins… I’ve been thinking of going online. No rent. Direct deposit, no hassles. But my girls, a lot of them, you know, they’re street hoes. Half don’t speak English, they don’t have credit cards or even IDs or cars or any of that shit, so they aren’t going to Amazon or some store in the fucking burbs or the Valley, even if they could get there…” She took in the alley, the liquor store, the blackness overhead. “I guess since you won’t let me rob the liquor store, I need to beat it. It’s been cool seein’ you and all, Meyers, but-”
“I told you, I don’t have insurance.”
“And the Cherries are in the insurance business now?”
“Duh. They told me all kindsa shit could go wrong with my shop. You know, like fire and-”
“Yeah, I know.” He dug a thin fold of bills out of his front pocket, handed her three fifties. “Pay them.” He locked eyes with her. “Tell them it’s your last installment.”
“Fuck that. They’ll burn me out or kill me if I give them any shit. They already done the donut man and his wife.”
“Tell them they go back to running their brand of nasty fat pussy and shitty brown weed and leave citizens alone or Meyers and the Bishop will put their skank asses in the fucking ground. Tell them that. Those words, exactly.”
“Goddam!” Thunder boomed, her eyes doubled from their already enlarged state.
“Don’t sweat it, Sunny. It’s -”
“NO!” She screamed. “Goddam that!” Meyers followed her eyes to the van hauling ass down the alley straight at them, lights off. His gun came out, jumped in his hand until the windshield vanished. The van skidded sideways, sparks flying from metal on brick. Sunny grabbed the back of his jacket, yanked, sent him stumbling away into the street as the van rolled on its side, slammed into a dumpster and she disappeared.