Winner of 1st place in our Summer 2014 Short Fiction Contest.
All the street kids were angry but the hustler boys were the angriest of all, especially the straight ones who had no desire to have sex with men but did it just to survive.
Lucas looked like a twelve year old, blond blond hair blue blue eyes white white teeth red red lips, and when Gina first saw him in his green flannel shirt and faded holey jeans, sad K-Mart sneakers, she didn’t think he’d last two weeks. The streets were hard, unforgiving, no place for the timid and the weak, the kind and the scared.
“Spare a smoke?” Gina could tell by his voice he was older than she first thought. She pulled out a pack and handed him one. She ran errands every night on Bourbon Street for the barkers, dancers, bartenders, cocktail waitresses. They usually told her to get them a pack, get one for herself, keep the change.
“Where you from?”
The boy lit the cigarette and smiled.
“Kentucky.” He fell into step beside her. “Name’s Lucas.” His accent and attitude were pure country.
“Country hick, huh?” Gina took him to the Bourbon Steamboat and introduced him to the regulars. He recited his life story in five minutes. Drunk parents who beat him til he bled, they turned Religious but still beat him, eight or nine brothers and sisters, thrown out of the house for smoking weed, hitchhiked to New Orleans, nobody been nice to him at all except a truck driver who fed him and offered him money for sex. “Yuck, ain’t no way I’m doin’ that. I like the Ladies.” He smiled a gap toothed smile, a TV commercial kid going gaga over his Cheerios.
Gina plunked some quarters into the pinball machine. “Around here, people do lots of stuff they never thought they’d do.” She looked Lucas up and down. “How old’re you? Fourteen?”
“Nah, just turned fifteen, man. I can work, I can be a carpenter. My old man taught me a little bit bout carpentry stuff.” He joined Gina in the pinball game. He lowered his voice. “Only thing is, can’t read too well, so’s I need help filling out applications.”
Gina noticed Fat Phil at the counter looking in their direction.
“This place is cool, they let us hang out, but we gotta buy somethin’, a Coke or fries or somethin’.”
Gina bought a Coke for herself and ignored Lucas’s plaintive looks. After the pinball game, they sat at a table near the front. The place was open twenty four hours a day. There was no door— just shutters which never closed, tinny speakers blaring loud rock, clashing with the tired Dixieland Jazz of neighboring clubs. Gina pointed out the finer points of the pedestrian parade. It was eight pm and Bourbon Street was just coming alive. Tourists, conventioneers, hookers, pimps, drag queens, pickpockets, drug dealers, drifters, hustlers of every shape and size and color, all against a blurry background of neon naked lady signs.
A middle aged man eating a hamburger checked out the new boy. Lucas did have a lean muscular body; he was that rare type of blonde who tanned in the summer. A money maker, Gina thought. One who would be taken advantage of.
One by one the street kids drifted into the Steamboat. Some were prostitutes, some thieves, some runners for drug dealers. The black kids tap-danced til the cops came, then they shined shoes. Gina knew she was lucky, the pimps had never shown any interest in her, and the cops didn’t bother her since she wasn’t hustling or stealing. She ran errands, for those that worked Bourbon Street and for the bikers who hung out in the Bastille at Toulouse and Bourbon. She was smart, fast, and brought back the change, not out of any sense of honesty but because she would get better tips that way. An old time Carney named Curley—now a Lucky Dog vendor—explained to her the difference between the Long Con and the Short Con and Gina got it right away. When a biker called Crazy Dave gave her a twenty to run to the hardware store for him, he joked to his pals about never seeing the money again. He was surprised when Gina showed up with the wood glue he asked for and the exact change. Dave tipped her five dollars. “I’ll pay you ten more you polish my bike, and that’s only cause me an my ole lady split,” Dave said, as much for his bar room audience as for Gina. “I get another ole lady, that’ll be her job. Polishing my pipes.” Crazy Dave grinned and bought a round of Jagermeisters, including a shot for Gina, and she polished his Harley eagerly, glad to have fifteen dollars in her pockets.
Some of the pimps pimped only girls but some of the guys, like Speed, pimped girls and boys, no questions asked. “He’d pimp his own grandmother,” Curley said.
Sometimes Gina helped Curley sell Lucky Dogs. He paid her to help out, although she suspected he was just getting old and wanted company. Plus Curley was often too drunk to work his cart and keep track of the money.
Gina knew Lucas would turn tricks sooner or later so she introduced him to Speed. Speed slipped her a twenty and she felt vaguely guilty about it. She told Curley.
“Well, whaddaya gonna do, Kid?” Curley sat on his stool and surveyed the street. “Lucky Dogs! Get yer Red Hot Lucky Dog!”
“I mean, I told him he should call home, and he said, ‘Hell no!’” She sold hot dogs to a tourist couple wearing matching Disney World T-shirts and shorts. “And he is fifteen. If he was younger than that, no way.”
“Listen,” Curley said. “If he goes it alone, he’ll just get beaten and maybe even killed, by some prevert.”
“Pervert, Curley, not prevert.”
“Well, whatever.” Curley’s eyes glazed over. He looked like a clown with his white curly hair, red face, red nose, red and white striped jacket. “Did I ever tell ya bout my home town of Kalamazoo? Before I joined the circus?”
Gina laughed. “Yeah, only a hundred times.
Lucas hustled on Bourbon Street for a few months. Then Gina didn’t see him for awhile. One early August morning she saw him walking down St. Peter Street with an older man. Lucas was drinking a long neck Bud, no shirt on, chest shiny with sweat, tan smooth and even. He was wearing new jeans and new tennis shoes with bold blue stripes. He looked older somehow; his face still boyish but not the same boy. The older man was talking to him and Lucas swaggered, a tough guy swagger, every few feet he kicked a trash can and knocked it over. Then he threw the bottle of beer against a wall and the glass shattered, the beer splattered, extra loud in the early morning quiet.
Gina wasn’t surprised. All the street kids were angry but the hustler boys were the angriest of all.
© 2014 Sara Jacobelli
Sara Jacobelli grew up in the factory city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, dropped out of high school and left home to hitch-hike around the country as a teenager. In New Orleans she ran errands for the doormen and strippers on Bourbon Street before going to work in restaurants and bars. She writes fiction and nonfiction about the streets and the characters she has met along the way.