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I first met Luce at a shady little pool hall on the far side of the Anklewood mountains. She worked the day shift from noon to seven and I came in at seven and stayed till two. All we did was ferry drinks from the bar to the tables. [End Page 11] If the crowd wasn’t spending enough, we’d put out little saucers of peanuts to make everyone thirsty and if someone was getting too ripped and starting to make trouble, all we had to do was signal the bartender and boom, they were cut off. It’s not like the customers couldn’t have walked a couple extra steps and ordered their own beer or liquor, but the owner—a well-muscled brute of a woman with knuckle tattoos that read your next—had decided the place could do with some decoration.
Everything was under the table. No hourly wages, no paychecks, not even a time clock to keep track of our comings and goings. After tipping out the bartender, Luce and I got to keep whatever else we could wring out of the customers. I’d just turned nineteen, and before that I’d only worked at a handful of fast-food places and a convenience mart out by the highway that stank of boiled hot dogs—none of which paid more than $6.50 an hour. The first night I flounced out of that pool hall with a hundred dollars cash in my pocket, I felt like a gold miner who’d finally hit a vein.
Of course, Luce and I weren’t paid for anything so easy as bringing alcohol to alcoholics. It was more like we did that part of the job for free and putting up with the rest of it was what earned us our money. Stupid stuff, mostly. A palm trying to cup your butt when you had a tray in one hand and someone’s beer in the other. A body grazing up against your backside while you waited for the bartender to hurry up and finish making your drinks. The owner, Kaycee, who could lift a full keg over her head like it was nothing, would flash her knuckles at anyone you asked her to—but I tried not to ask if it wasn’t important. If I caused too much trouble, she might decide to hire someone more accommodating and then I’d have to go back to Quik Chek and its gross hot-dog smell.
I didn’t know Luce yet. She’d grown up north of Anklewood or in a tiny unincorporated town called Ribbins. For the first week or so we just passed each other in the restroom during our shift change and gave each other careful smiles of assessment. While I shimmied into my denim shorts and tank top—the closest thing we had to a uniform—she’d be counting her cash, some of which she tucked into a well-worn Hello Kitty wallet. The rest she hid in the back of an eye-shadow palette, the fancy kind that let you pop out the bottom to change shades or add refills. In case her mom decided to try and help herself to her tip money, she said.
At the time I felt sorry for Luce. Not only did she seem a bit on the delicate side, but it was clear that the day shifts weren’t as lucrative as [End Page 12] nights were. If she was saddled with the kind of mother who’d go so far as to steal from her own daughter, then she had it way worse than I did. Not that my life was all that easy. The converted motel I’d had to move into a couple months prior wasn’t exactly the Mountain Paradise its name promised, and my car, a battered green Plymouth I’d inherited from my father, had begun letting out evil clouds of white smoke every time I hit the gas. Then again, working days probably meant that Luce didn’t have...