Her name was Lola and she was a showgirl. She believed in the Law Of Attraction – had read all the books – which is why she had just carefully inscribed her name and career goal in permanent marker on the left-hand wall of the toilet cubicle. She had one more job to do in this middle-of-nowhere town, then she’d be on her way to audition in Vegas. The moment was so close she could taste it, like the first sip of a cocktail at the end of her shift. She smiled to herself as she re-traced over the black marker on the wall and imagined her face on a poster someday, the girl they’d all come to see. Write it down. Believe it. Make it real. Her name was Lola and she was a showgirl.
It was a Friday night; Willie Nelson was on the jukebox and she’d just clocked off after serving a third round of tequila shots to a group of middle-aged cowboys who were in town for the weekend. They’d invited her to sit with them but she’d refused; instead, she’d gone to the bathroom to change out of her waitress’ uniform and into her best off-duty look – tight leather pants and a yellow bustier – then she let down her long, dark hair and re-applied her makeup. Now, she was perched expertly upon a bar stool, right leg crossed across her left, elbow resting lightly behind her on the bar to emphasise her cleavage, while her left wrist was draped elegantly across her knee. It was time to get down to business and she knew she had to choose the right mark – it was make or break tonight – or rather, make and break, if all went to plan. She focussed on putting this positive energy out into the universe, hoping desperately it would repay her in kind. Her name was Lola and she was a showgirl.
‘I’ll take a Manhattan, thanks Jerry,’ she said to the bartender. She was allowed one drink on the house, per shift, so she made sure it was worth it, always ordering something sophisticated and expensive.
‘Coming right up, Lols,’ Jerry smiled. ‘Hey, did I tell ya ‘bout this good-for-nothin’ who came in yesterday during happy hour, payin’ for all his mates and then tried to do a runner without paying his bill? Oh man, he was a son of a…’
Lola nodded along but she was really only half listening as she kept her gaze focused outwards, scanning the room with a practised glance. The suits were where the money was. They were also potential scouts and therefore the perfect mark; even off-duty, they still had the bright-lights of the casinos blazing in their eyes, hearts racing at the thought of finding ‘the next big thing’. She took her time choosing her target, waiting for the opportune moment to make her move. Maybe they’d even take her straight to the audition tomorrow!
The bar job was a cover; she was a hustler at heart. She’d been working her way towards Vegas when some guy had caught her out in the middle of a long-con, stupid mistake on her part. She’d spent the past two years running jobs for him in order to buy his silence; now she just needed to find a target for tonight that would allow her to pay off the last of her debt and finally buy a bus ticket the hell out of this town and straight towards her big break, as long as she made that audition in Vegas tomorrow. Looking back, she sometimes wished he’d just turned her in, instead of playing her at her own game. It was humiliating.
She had narrowed it down to two potential suits, weighing her impressions, when he walked in. He was all smiles as he approached the bar, hoisting himself onto a stool at the opposite end from her, loosening his tie. Distracted, she watched him as he ordered a beer. He glanced up and caught her eye. She quickly averted her gaze.
He can’t ever just leave me alone, she thought. The bastard.
He was still watching her; she could feel his gaze. She frowned at him. He glanced around the room then back at her, raising his eyebrows impatiently. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. She couldn’t work with him watching. Always watching. He was indiscreet and could easily tip-off the target, so it was game over, before it had even begun. She felt the panic rise in her chest. She needed that bus ticket.
She drained the last of her cocktail, cursing to herself silently as she slid off the stool.
‘I’m out,’ she said to Jerry.
‘Early one, then?’
‘Nothing for me here tonight.’
‘Maybe tomorrow, hey?’
‘Yeah, sure. Later, Jerry.’
She walked out, didn’t even glance sideways at him. She knew he was watching, but she felt anger rising within her now and knew she couldn’t make a scene, not here.
Arriving home to her rented apartment, she found an almost full glass of red wine abandoned on the bathroom sink, several corn chips soaking in it, complimentary of her roommate, Gloria, who’d gone out for the evening. Lola contemplated finishing it off. God knew she could use a drink right now. She sighed, carefully extracted the corn chips with her finger and flicked them into the bin, then rubbed the lipstick from the rim of the glass with her sleeve. She carried the wine into the kitchen, letting the glass hang comfortingly between her fingertips while she inspected the near-empty fridge, wondering if the cheese would still taste alright if she scraped off the mould. There was a knock at the front door and Lola felt her shoulders hold the tension as she went to open it.
It was him. She cursed herself for not scanning the streets on her way home. She took a sip of wine and narrowed her eyes, his presence disgusting her now even more than the taste of cheap Merlot. He leaned against the doorframe, arms folded, holding her gaze.
‘Poor show back there, Lola.’
‘You ruined it for me, Benji, and you know it.’ She hissed. He shrugged as he pushed past her and stepped through to the squalid living room, where he stretched out on the sinking couch.
‘Huh, got the place looking nice,’ he nodded, as his gaze took in the peeling wallpaper and cigarette-burned carpet.
‘Why do you have to watch me all the time? I can’t work like that.’ She said furiously.
‘Sorry, kiddo. Gotta make sure you’re doing the work to pay your debt.’
She scowled. ‘Don’t call me kiddo.’
He shrugged again and stood up, wiping his hands down his denim jeans, glancing at the sky through the window, ‘Looks like rain.’
‘With tonight’s job, we would’ve been even.’
‘Ha. You’re forgetting about interest, sweetheart.’
‘What? We never agreed on interest. And I’m not your sweetheart! I want out, Benji.’
‘So, you want me to go to the cops?’
‘You wouldn’t. Not now.’
‘I’m sure they’ll be very interested to hear about this nice guy who had his money stolen, by a girl who lives in a shithole rental,’ he sniggered.
Lola breathed in and took a step forward. ‘No,’ she spat the word out.
Benji stepped forward and pulled out his phone, ready to dial, smiling. Lola felt anger and panic combine, as a white-hot rage washed over her. She could see Benji saying something, but she only heard the rush of blood to her head.
‘I said no!’ She ran forward, pushing Benji backwards as she swiped the phone from his hand. Benji stumbled and Lola pummelled him fiercely with her fists. With one final, violent shove Benji lost balance, tripping on the edge of the carpet. He shrieked, eyes wide with surprise as he fell heavily, his head cracking against the corner of the coffee table, before he lay still and silent. Breathlessly, Lola stared down at the man who had let two years of her life waste away, the same way his was now bleeding out into the cigarette-stained carpet.
Then she worked quickly, dressing in jeans and a sweater, before packing a bag with her best outfit and her makeup kit. She grabbed what little money she’d saved up from under her mattress and then searched Benji’s pockets for more. She took one last look at him and walked out the door without a backward glance. Outside, the day had darkened and it had begun to rain heavily, washing away the bloodstains from her white sneakers as she began to run.
Her name was Lola and she was going to be a showgirl.
Jess Woods is a first year Creative Writing student, having decided to settle in Brisbane after several years living and working abroad. She writes fiction and memoir, with her work having been read at the QUT Literary Salon and previously appearing in ScratchThat Magazine.