Read Uptown thief Online

Authors: Aya De León

Uptown thief (page 4)

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She stood, naked, just watching him dress.“Adiós, Boricua,”he said.After she closed the door behind him and put on the safety lock, she climbed into bed and let her body unwind, sex-drunk, into the still-fresh sheets, and relaxed for the first time since she'd laid eyes on the pimp in front of the clinic.* * *The next morning, she woke up looking at her dress. Weak sunlight filtered around it through the clear plastic bag that hung in the window.Marisol put on yesterday's outfit and swung the dry-cleaned dress over her shoulder. She didn't really feel like emerald silk this morning, more like crumpled black lace.She rode the train home, surrounded by commuters running late. She wouldn't feel right until she showered and put on clothes that didn't smell like a stranger. And tonight, she'd bathe again then put on the dress.Chapter 7Manhattan offered hundreds of choices for a gala fund-raising event, but Marisol had always planned on using La Fleur Hotel in midtown. The hotel had loomed in her memory since she was little. That autumn afternoon, she and her mother had just run an errand when Marisol had to pee.“Wait til we get home,” her mother had said. She was pregnant with Cristina, and just starting to show.“They gotta have a toilet in there.” Marisol had pointed to La Fleur. Such a big building, with people going in and out, certainly there would be abañoinside.“It's for rich people,” her mother had told her in Spanish.“I can't hold it,” Marisol had said.“Coño, mija,” her mother had cursed, but then had taken a deep breath.Her mother took off her head scarf and shook out her hair. Then she removed her shabby coat and folded it over her arm. She put a hand under Marisol's chin and tilted the child's head back so their eyes met. “Stand up straight. Stay by me, and don't look around.”“I have to go really bad,” Marisol said, on the verge of tears.“I know,corazón,” her mother said. “So we're going to pretend we live here. And pretend we know where the bathroom is.” She ran her fingers through Marisol's unruly hair. “We can't ask anyone, because we don't want to make them mad, okay?”“Okay,” Marisol said. “They'll be mad because they only have one bathroom?”Marisol's mother laughed. “No,mi amor. Because . . . because they're rich. They have more bathrooms than they need, but they don't like to be close to anyone.”Her mother crossed herself. She never went to church, but she genuflected when she was worried. “It'll be okay,nena. It's an adventure.”Marisol's first midtown theft. Unauthorized use of a four-star-hotel toilet at age six. She was dying to gaze at the marble floors and chandeliers and velvet couches. In her peripheral vision, she glimpsed flower arrangements taller than she was.The toilet had felt exactly the same as the one in her apartment. She didn't understand the big deal. Afterward, they giggled all the way to the F train.Nearly twenty years later, she had stayed at the hotel as the guest of a wealthy media mogul from Barcelona. While he was in his business meeting, she sat in the lobby for over three hours, gazing at the delicious, once-forbidden sights.* * *The sun was setting when Marisol walked into La Fleur Hotel for the gala. Under her winter coat, she wore the emerald gown that had been altered to fit her perfectly. A fifties-starlet style in raw silk that flattered her hourglass figure, with spaghetti straps, a low neckline, and a narrow skirt that flared below the knee. Her invincibility shoes were hidden beneath the skirt's tulle. Her hair was swept up in a French twist, and the pearls at her wrist and ears flattered her dark hair and light brown skin.The sign in the lobby read:Gala Fund-RaiserMaría de la Vega Health Clinic7 PM Grand Ballroom“We finally made it to the big time,” Eva said to Marisol. They looked through the open double doors into the Grand Ballroom, with its high ceiling, chandeliers, velvet walls, and plush carpet.“Ms. Rivera,” the director of special events greeted her with an outstretched hand. “Let's do a quick walk-through to make sure everything is to your specifications.”The two of them surveyed the event from the mezzanine level. White tables made a polka-dot pattern on the ballroom's dark carpeting.The gala was the first in a series of fund-raisers for a clinic endowment. They aimed for fifty million in ten years. Then, after they paid off the clinic's mortgage, they could use endowment interest for operations—making them independent of grants and donors.The sign at the front table said: “Give now. Give big. And your money will keep giving for you.” All funds donated tonight would go directly into an endowment account and couldn't be used for current expenses.All of Loisaida Talent Agency's “models” were hostesses for the evening. They padded around prepping the tables and champagne glasses in low-cut surplice neck blouses and snug slacks. When the event began, they slipped on high-heeled pumps and circulated trays with flutes of champagne and canapés, while they collected donations.* * *By 8 p.m. the room was filled with enthusiastic patrons, and the sounds of a jazz trio.“Marisol,” her assistant Serena's voice crackled in her earpiece. “The deputy mayor just walked in.”Serena was a petite, fine-boned girl, with brown flyaway hair and intense hazel eyes—a former clinic client. Serena was transgender, and had been thrown out of the house as a teen by her Greek immigrant parents.There was still a line at the registration table. At $500 per person, they would have at least a quarter million walking in the door. With any luck, they would raise half a million for their endowment.The coup for the evening was having celebrity Delia Borbón signing exclusive preview copies of her rags-to-riches autobiography. Borbón's memoir promised to include her exploits as a stripper before her movie career and marriage to a New York congressman.* * *“Marisol,” Serena's voice warned through her earpiece. “The blonde has arrived and is headed your way.”Marisol spotted a woman in a pink dress that barely covered her huge breasts. She hung on the arm of a strapping young man.“Vixela!” Marisol bit back her rage at the strip club owner.From a distance, Vixela looked like a pinup girl from some bygone era. Even in a room filled with glamorous women, she turned heads as she strutted over to embrace Marisol.Up close, Vixela's seams showed. The arms embracing Marisol were tense and ropy. The breasts pressing against her were stiff, synthetic. Vixela's face had a taut, pulled look. She air-kissed Marisol with overplumped lips.Vixela must be about the same age as Eva—early sixties. Yet Eva wore her wrinkles and her love handles with grace. And wasn't that handsome Bronx Alderman always asking Eva out? He had to be fifteen years her junior. Eva had a face that made you want to get closer, get to know her.“You belong up on a pole,” Marisol said. “I bet you could show these young girls how it's done.”“Sometimes I have to hold myself back,” Vixela said.“The customers' loss,” Marisol said. “Will you walk with me over to the stage?”“Of course, darling,” Vixela said.“I need your help,” Marisol said. “I thought my staff was lying when they said they had problems parking behind your club. You know how lazy these girls can be. So I followed them in a cab last night. I was surprised that your security guys stopped them from parking in the alley.”“Must be a misunderstanding,” Vixela said. “You can park right in front, just don't block the loading zone.”“I knew it,” Marisol said. “Of course you would want the girls to get checked out if they needed it.”“I'm all about helping my girls,” Vixela said.Marisol took a glass of champagne from a hostess and handed it to Vixela. “Don't be surprised if I give you a little shout-out during my intro.”She unhooked the velvet rope, and gathered up the hem of her dress as she stepped up onto the platform.“Good evening, everyone,” Marisol said into the microphone.“Buenas noches.”Serena cued the jazz trio to end the song, and the clamor in the room dropped.“In these tough economic times, it's good to see that New York cares for its own,” Marisol began. “That the gorgeous, the fabulous, and the prosperous give a damn about the marginal, the vulnerable, and the so-called expendable. Everybody deserves health care. No matter what it is they choose to do with their bodies. Delia Borbón knows how hard it is out there. That's why she's here tonight. Because she remembers the tightrope young brown women have to walk. And she remembers all the sisters who don't ever write the book, attend the gala event, or even live to tell the tale. And that's where our clinic comes in. We insist on a real chance for the lives of our young women, and the occasional young man. Every cent we collect tonight will go into our endowment, ensuring that our services will be available for generations to come.”The audience erupted in applause.“This is a magical night,” Marisol said. “Just a few minutes ago, I sealed the deal for a new health initiative in the Financial District.” Marisol searched the audience, and easily found the bright pink dress. “Our outreach van is going to be parked at Vixela's every night to offer services to her fabulous girls.”Vixela's mouth grimaced, but her forehead and eyes remained immobile.“Please, everyone,” Marisol said, an open hand indicating Vixela's location. “A round of applause for our own sensational Vixela!”Vixela smiled and waved.“And thank you all for your incredibly generous donations tonight,” Marisol said. “But not everyone is so pleased with how we protect and support women. We need security volunteers over the next few weeks. Male or female. We'll take anyone who's ready to defend the women who come to our clinic.”The DJ spun a quick sample of a current club song: “Don't worry,” a tenor voice sang over thudding bass. “We gonna work it out, girl. Work it! Work it!”“Haaaaaayyy!” various voices in the audience chorused the next line of the song.Marisol laughed. “Thanks, DJ. I need to remember this is a party. And I think some of you might have come out to hear our special guest, right? Well, prepare to be inspired, anddáme un gran aplausofor Ms. Delia Borbón!”Borbón swept onto the stage in a flash of gold sequins and a cloud of her own signature perfume.* * *Later, Marisol counted the people in the book-signing line. With a donation profit margin of seventy-five dollars per book, the evening's financials looked good.“Marisol!”She turned and looked closely at a thirty-something Latino man. He wore a well-cut suit and a wide smile on his square-jawed face.Was he an uptown hookup who'd managed to find her? He was just the type of guy she liked to help her blow off steam. And there was an intimacy with which he'd called her name. She felt a flush of heat.She never told those guys her name, didn't even bother with a fake name. While she remembered all her former sex work clients, she immediately forgot the faces of the hookups, remembering only the notable physical quirks: a dick that curved left or a pair of bullet scars in a bicep.She blinked, trying to recall a shot of tequila, some flirtation on the way to the hotel, maybe the outline of his square jaw against the white sheet on a bed beneath her. He seemed so familiar, but the body was somehow wrong. And his expression was open-faced and beaming, instead of sly and smug.“I can't believe it's really you,” he said.He said it in perfect English. Definitely not an uptown hookup.“Do I know you?” Marisol asked.“I'm Raul,” he said, grinning. “You were in my sister's class.”“Raulito?” She smiled. “Gladys's baby brother?Dios mío!It's been two decades.”She kissed him on the cheek and they embraced. Her body buzzed with the intensity of the hug. She remembered him as a skinny kid, but the chest she pressed against was broad and firmly muscled. He smelled faintly of spice—maybe a soap or lotion—only detectable when he pulled her in close.She had hugged over a hundred people that night, but in the squeeze of their bodies, she felt the urge to lean in close and drape herself across him but at the same time she felt desperate to recoil. She stepped back. He continued to hold her hands.“How are you?” she asked. “How's your sister?”“Good. Married, on Long Island. Two kids.”“Give her my love,” Marisol said. “You still here in Manhattan?”“Yeah, I just moved back to the Lower East Side,” he said. His eyelashes were too long. He would have looked feminine, if not for the body.She gave his hands a squeeze and let them go.“What have you been up to all this time?” Marisol asked.“Wondering about you,” he said. “I had the biggest crush on you in high school.”“Whatever,” Marisol said, embarrassed.“Yeah,” Raul said. “I asked around after you graduated, but you'd disappeared. I even Googled you a while back. Did you know there are hundreds of women named Marisol Rivera? I looked at the pictures, but none of them were you.”“Isn't stalking a crime?” Marisol asked with a laugh.“It's not like that,” Raul said. “You were always so smart. I knew you'd be doing something big, I just wanted to know what.”“That's how you saw me in high school?” Marisol asked.“Definitely.” Raul nodded. “Like that time you spoke up about the girls' dress code. You threatened to sue the New York School System for discrimination.”“Like it did any good.” She laughed. “They just changed it so both boys and girls had to ‘dress modestly. ' But what have you been up to?”He opened his mouth, and she put a finger to his lips. “Wait,” she said. “Don't tell me. You became some kind of activist?”He shook his head.“Social services? Corporate America? Internet startup?”
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