Gone for Good Page 19

“Where’s Raquel?” Squares said.

“Working a car job,” Candi said.

“She coming back here?”


Squares nodded and turned to the two new girls. One was already leaning into a Buick Regal. You cannot imagine the frustration. You want to step in and stop it. You want to pull the girl away and reach your hand down the john’s throat and rip out his lungs. You want to at least chase him away or take a photograph or . . . or something. But you do none of that. If you do any of that, you lose the trust. You lose the trust, you’re useless.

It was hard to do nothing. Fortunately I’m not particularly brave or confrontational. Maybe that makes it easier.

I watched the passenger door open. The Buick Regal seemed to devour the child. She disappeared slowly, sinking into the dark. I watched and I don’t think I ever felt so helpless. I looked at Squares. His eyes were focused on the car. The Buick pulled away. The girl was gone as though she’d never existed. If the car chooses not to return, it would forever be that way.

Squares approached the remaining new girl. I followed, staying a few steps behind him. The girl’s lower lip quivered as though holding back tears, but her eyes blazed with defiance. I wanted to pull her into the van, by force if necessary. So much of this task is restraint. It was why Squares was the master. He stopped about a yard away, careful not to invade her space.

“Hi,” he said.

She looked him over and muttered, “Hey.”

“I was hoping you could help me out.” Squares took another step and pulled a photograph out of his pocket. “I’m wondering if you’ve seen her.”

The girl did not look at the picture. “I haven’t seen anyone.”

“Please,” Squares said with a smile damn near celestial. “I’m not a cop.”

She tried to look tough. “Figured that,” she said. “You talking to Candi and all.”

Squares moved a little closer. “We, that is, my friend here and I”—I waved on cue, smiled—“we’re trying to save this girl.”

Curious now, she narrowed her eyes. “Save her how?”

“Some bad people are after her.”


“Her pimp. See, we work for Covenant House. You heard of that?”

She shrugged.

“It’s a place to hang out,” Squares said, trying to downplay it. “No big deal. You can stop in and have a hot meal, a warm bed to sleep in, use the phone, get some clothes, whatever. Anyway, this girl”—he held up the photograph, a school portrait of a white girl in braces—“her name is Angie.” Always give a name. It personalizes it. “She’s been staying with us. Taking a couple of courses. She’s a really funny kid. And she got a job too. Turning her life around, you know?”

The girl said nothing.

Squares held out his hand. “Everyone calls me Squares,” he said.

The girl sighed, took the hand. “I’m Jeri.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah. But I haven’t seen this Angie. And I’m kinda busy here.”

Here was where you had to read. If you push too hard, you lose them forever. They burrow back into their hole and never come out. All you want to do now—all you can do now—is plant the seed. You let her know that there is a haven for her, a safe place, where she can get a meal and find shelter. You give her a way off the street for just one night. Once she gets there, you show the unconditional love. But not now. Now it scares them. Now it chases them away.

As much as it ripped you apart inside, you could not do any more.

Very few people could do Squares’s job for very long. And the ones who lasted, the ones who were particularly good at it, they were just . . . slightly off center. You had to be.

Squares hesitated. He has used this “missing girl” gig as an icebreaker for as long as I’ve known him. The girl in the picture, the real Angie, died fifteen years ago, out on the street, from exposure. Squares found her behind a Dumpster. At the funeral, Angie’s mother gave him that photograph. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without it.

“Okay, thanks.” Squares took out a card and handed it to her. “If you do see her, will you let me know? You can call anytime. Any reason.”

She took the card, fingered it. “Yeah, maybe.”

Another hesitation. Then Squares said, “See you around.”


We then did the most unnatural thing in the world. We walked away.

Raquel’s real name was Roscoe. At least that was what he or she told us. I never know if I should address Raquel as a he or a she. I should probably ask him/her.

Squares and I found the car parked in front of a sealed-off delivery entrance. A common place for street work. The car windows were fogged up, but we kept our distance anyway. Whatever was going on in there—and we had a pretty good idea what—was not something we cared to witness.

The door opened a minute later. Raquel came out. As you may have guessed by now, Raquel was a cross-dresser, hence the gender confusion. With transsexuals, okay, you refer to them as “she.” Cross-dressing is a bit trickier. Sometimes the “she” applies. Sometimes it’s just a tad too politically correct.

That was probably the case with Raquel.

Raquel rolled out of the car, reached into his purse, and took out the Binaca spray. Three blasts, a pause, a thought, then three more blasts. The car pulled away. Raquel turned toward us.

Many transvestites are beautiful. Raquel was not. He was black, six-six, and comfortably on the north side of three hundred pounds. He had biceps like giant hogs wrestling in sausage casing, and his six-o’clock shadow reminded me of Homer Simpson’s. He had a voice so high pitched it made Michael Jackson sound like a teamster boss—Betty Boop sucking helium.

Raquel claimed to be twenty-nine years old, but he’d been saying that for the six years I’d known him. He worked five nights a week, rain or shine, and had a rather devoted following. He could get off the streets if he wanted. He could find a place to work out of, set up appointments, that kind of thing. But Raquel liked it out here. That was one of the things people did not get. The street may be dark and dangerous, but it was also intoxicating. The night had an energy, an electricity. You felt wired out on the street. For some of our kids, the choice may be a menial job at Mickey D’s versus the thrill of the night—and that, when you have no future, was no choice at all.

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