Missing Persons, Continued (March 2019, Week 3, Day 6)
MISSING: HAVE YOU SEEN RENEE “NE-NE” HIGGS
Remo looked at the poster tacked up on the board in the vestibule of the cafe. It was put on top of other posters, obscuring a notice for an avant guard theatrical experience and part of the phone number for an in-home piano teacher. Checking these boards was the closest Remo let himself get to his past, and he lingered over it every time he came across one.
“Where are you, Ne-Ne? And what made you leave?” No one answered Remo’s question – he was the only one there to hear it. He shook his head as he pulled himself away from the picture of a fresh-faced young woman and headed into the cafe to take his place in line.
When you don’t have a job to get in the way of your free time, you get to see the world differently. Spending time behind bars gives you a still different view. Remo’s eyes were always open. He was friendly enough to get what he wanted, and not so friendly as to take up too much space in anyone’s memories. Anonymity was his security blanket and he never left home without it.
Remo spotted Ne-Ne before noon. He told himself that he hadn’t been looking for her and that was mostly true. Her picture had been in his mind since seeing it on the board. When she appeared within six feet of him there was a moment where he wondered if he’d willed her to appear. It had always been easy before, so easy that he’d earned the nickname of Magnet back in the day. Remo kept his eye on her while pretending to be engrossed in his book. He didn’t want any trouble.
She didn’t look exactly like the picture anymore. They never do, especially the ones who run. The conservative, girl-next-door haircut had been replaced both in style and color. Where the sweet young thing in the picture had an air of preppiness about her even though you didn’t see anything beyond the collar of her shirt, this version of Ne-Ne was strapped into an outfit that would have made her mother – most mothers – cringe. Remo could see more than these superficial changes between the poster girl and the street-smart young woman before him. Ne-Ne was hungry, and not just for food, with an edge that comes from figuring out how to make choices based on need over want.
Remo kept his eyes on the pages of his book while he rolled his shoulders back. He knew how to make hard choices, too. As tempting as Ne-Ne was in this moment he had no interest in taking that many steps backwards. She would move along soon enough. He worked on shifting his imgaginary magnetism over to something that would repel her from him and then laughed out loud at his magical thinking.
It was the laugh that caught Ne-Ne’s attention. He felt her eyes on him as soon as it rolled out of him. “The Magnet’s still got it,” he muttered to the book in his hands. “Still got it and don’t want it.” Before Ne-Ne had taken two steps in his direction, Remo was up, his book stashed in the large pocket of his jacket, and on his way. As he passed the corner musician he threw some coins in the young man’s bucket, paying penance for the brief moment of hesitation, before heading home.
His home. The bungalo sat in the middle of the block and, like Remo, seemed intent on not calling attention to itself. He’d furnished it with pieces he’d found on the internet. Everything inside was new. It was more space than he needed since he lived alone, and that meant it was perfect. His was the only bed that had been on his mattress. His was the only ass that had sat on the couch, the chairs. He’d even bought a new toilet seat.
The kitchen was fully outfitted, and cooking felt luxurious. He made himself a hot meal three times a day, making each meal from fresh ingredents. If he had it his way, he’d never eat food off of a tray again as long as he lived.
He was sitting at his dining room table, having just poured himself two fingers of scotch after eating his lunch, when there was a knock at his back door. “For fuck’s sake.” He carried his glass with him to the door.
Ne-Ne stood there, one hip popped, chest pushed forward, and her hand in her hair. Remo sipped his drink.
Remo took another sip, looked Ne-Ne down and up, and closed the door. To the empty room, he declared, “Not even if she’d been wrapped with a bow on top.”
Ne-Ne woke up with the sun, working out where she was while she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She eased herself out from under someone’s arm. His name didn’t matter, and he’d served his purpose. She grabbed her clothes off the floor and locked herself into the bathroom. Showering had been the last thing she’d worked out since leaving home and it still felt like a decadent treat. Before she left the apartment she helped herself to the cash from the guy’s wallet and planted a lipstick kiss on his forehead, thanking the power of drink for letting her leave without incident.
She made her way down Second Street, checking her reflection in the shop windows as she went. The money from last night, both what she’d earned and what she’d taken, would keep her going for a bit. She stopped walking, turned to the window of the clothing store to her right, and, to her reflection, said, “Mama always said, money is as money does. Wonder what mama would say now.” Ne-Ne gave herself a big smile and added, “Fuck Mama,” before continuing down the street.
The cafe was the only thing open on the block that early. Ne-Ne walked in, glanced at the WANTED picture on the board, and smirked. “I wonder where sweet Renee might be!” The baristas here had been walking past that poster for weeks and hadn’t put two and two together, and Ne-Ne had no reason to out herself. She took her coffee to go and sauntered over to a park bench to waste some of the morning.
Ne-Ne found herself absorbed with the street artist working on a huge chalk drawing of the Dali Lama on the cement patio to the rigth of the cafe. The streets were full of interesting people. Everyone was running from something, everyone had their hustle. If you were one of them out here, people were transparent. Ne-Ne needed transparancy more than she needed a roof.
The man’s laugh caught her attention. She almost spilled her coffee when she heard it. Finding the person that matched it had only taken a moment. He sat there, reading a book, and holding a coffee from the cafe. His head was bald in a purposeful way and his clothes hung on his body as if they were a size too large for him. They were nice, clothes, and new. His shoes were freshly shined and he’d taken his hat off and set it on top of the newspaper by his side. She guessed that he was probably in his thirties – young enough to get himself into trouble and old enough to want to. Ne-Ne could spot a mark in no time and this one was ripe for the picking. She didn’t need one again so soon, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her.
She let him walk away a bit before following him. It was always best to see how they lived, and where, before getting into the thick of it. She’d learned that the hard way in her first week and wasn’t one to make the same mistakes twice. You could tell a lot about a man from what they called home. Even the ones staying in hotels gave things away by their choices. Ne-Ne prefered the men with houses. Apartments were ok but didn’t guarantee the perfect combination of money and fear.
Ne-Ne knew she’d picked a good one when she watched the man throw a few bills at Maestro. When she got to the same corner she stayed and shared her coffee with her friend while keeping an eye on which house the man entered. She and Maestro shared a sandwich he’d gotten from a do-gooder who didn’t want to give him cash. Women with money never gave it up. Men, on the other hand, were easy.
With her makeup freshly applied, Ne-Ne decided to make her move. The back door was easy to find and she didn’t expect it would take much to convince him. When he came to the door, when she was face to face with him, she could see he was older than she’d guessed before.
She felt his eyes taking her in and waited for the invitation that usually followed. When he closed the door without a word, Ne-Ne smiled and whispered, “gotcha.”