You Can Trust Me
Summer Los Angeles Tuesday, June 6
The line for this abominable Hollywood nightclub is ten miles long. Twentysomethings crowd together, passing vape pens back and forth as bouncers survey the queue and beckon the prettiest people to the front. Good.
For my purposes, the bigger the crowd and the more exclusive the venue, the better.
I bypass the line and give the bouncer a pretty smile. He looks me up and down and unclips the red velvet rope. It’s not just my ass that’s getting me inside; the last time I was here, I slipped him a Benjamin. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. “Have a nice time,” he says.
“Thanks.” I stroll through the darkened hallway, pay the cover charge, and present my ID to a woman behind a little glass window. Music thumps from within like a heartbeat.
My phone buzzes in my purse while my wrist is getting stamped. It’s Leo. Going in. Wish me luck!
The words are followed by a money bag emoji and a photo of the stairwell leading to the rooftop hotel bar we cased out together. She’s downtown tonight, a handful of traffic-clogged miles away from me.
I reply, You got this.
I think she’s nervous. I’ve tried reassuring her; we all have unlucky streaks. She’ll feel better when she has cash in hand, a feeling I relate to on a soul-deep level. Money is security. Money is doctor appointments, gas in the tank, food—and we’re running low.
I take my ID back—I’m moonlighting as someone named Claire tonight—and stow it in my bra. My car key is a hard little lump beside the license. I never keep my key in my purse. You can’t tell what might happen to the things you’re carrying.
I pull the nightclub door open. Warm, steamy air blasts into my face along with an assault of “Smack That” by Akon. I cringe, remembering the theme tonight is early aughts. The club smells like booze, cologne, and sweat. I stroll through the room, getting oriented. On the left are bottle service tables, a series of booths partitioned off with velvet ropes. Ahead is the double-sided bar with bartenders working frantically, arms flashing. Cocktail waitresses dart back and forth, graceful little hummingbirds sipping from flowers.
On the right is the packed dance floor, a bearded DJ presiding over it like a cult leader. My eyes follow the walls out of habit, locating the restrooms and the door that leads to the back room and service exit. I bypass dancers and tuck myself into a corner to take stock. The crowd is mostly early twenties and stupid rich, which is of course why I chose this club. I was tipped off by some UCLA students, and I can see in a single glance that tonight will be worth my time.
A smile creeps across my face. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been worrying about our little dry spell until now. All my energy had been used to reassure Leo.
I take fifteen minutes to select my people. It helps to nickname them—an old memory trick a veteran salesman taught me—so I work up a mental list that includes Yacht Chad (spiky blond hair, expensive boat shoes, drunk); Tennis Chad (looks like Yacht Chad but with brown hair); Fitness Amber, who’s trying to twerk while drinking her weight in Long Islands; and Med Student Jen, who’s going to be really bummed when she realizes she lost her ID but who looks enough like me to be my younger sister.
I move to a corner near the bar and stroll back and forth until I catch one of the cocktail waitresses logging in to the point-of-sale terminal. Heidi, employee number 120801. Perfect.
The DJ pivots to “Milkshake” with a vengeance. The crowd cheers drunkenly, and the college girls turn around so the boys can grind up on their L.A.-toned butts.
I slip along the perimeter of the club and let myself into the ladies’ room. Inside, someone is vomiting in the handicapped stall. I lock myself into the smaller stall and pull off my black dress. Underneath, I’m wearing a crop top with a deep V-neck and a pair of butt-cheek-baring booty shorts. Two bras have my cleavage welling up to an almost comic degree. It’s overkill; my chest is big enough. I can hear Leo’s voice in my head, teasing me about it. But the more my boobs bust out of my shirt, the less anyone will look at my face. Speaking of which, I slide on a pair of nonprescription glasses, which will be another thing people notice instead of my features.
I pull my long hair into a tight bun to hide its length, which is distinctive—it falls thick and wavy to my waist. Anyone remembering me from tonight will recall four things: big butt, big boobs, glasses, brown hair in a bun.
I tie a small black apron around my hips and tuck a server’s black folio into the front pocket. Finished with my look, I stuff my dress into my purse, which I hide among the toilet paper rolls under the sink, and freshen my lipstick in the mirror while the girl in the handicapped stall enters a fresh round of puking.
“You all right in there?” I call.
She gurgles something that sounds like “Go away,” then coughs. Okay then.
I exit the bathroom and am back on the dance floor. We’re onto Eminem now. Man, it’s packed in here. There must be a thousand people in this confined space. This is going to be an amazing haul, I can feel it. I let the anticipation flood my bones, and I find myself bouncing on the balls of my feet. A lifetime of this and it still gives me the same rush it ever did.
I have a rule: thirty minutes from this moment. In and out. It’s enough time to get a good haul without being a fixture long enough to be memorable. I spot Heidi the cocktail waitress on the far side of the bar, looking harangued. She loads a bunch of drinks onto her tray and hurries off into the crowd.
It’s time. Smile.
I show some teeth, stick my chest out, and enter the crowd. A pair of guys hollers at me within three seconds. I snap my smile onto them, and they tell me they want two Sex on the Beaches. One of them tries to dance with me, and I laugh like it’s hilarious. He gets too close, an arm around me, and starts dry humping me in the most ungainly way imaginable. I slide a hand behind him, remove his wallet with two quick fingers, flip it open with a thumb, pull the cash out, and slide it back into his pocket. The whole gesture takes three seconds. It’s my trademark.
“Do you really want to order those drinks?” I’m yelling up at him, making sure my boobs are bouncing hypnotically. “Or are you just being funny?”
His words are slurred. “If I’m funny, will you go home with me? I wanna see you naked.”
“A tempting offer.” I slide the cash into my folio. It’s just a few bills, but every night has to start somewhere. “Gotta get back to work, though. Have fun tonight! Be safe!” I slip away and continue toward the POS at the side of the bar. While the bartender’s back is turned and Heidi is taking orders on the other side of the club, I type in 120801 and click on the mixed drinks screen. I know this software well. This is not my first rodeo.
I order some rounds of shots. While the bartender makes them, I navigate through the crowd, taking drink orders I don’t have to write down and searching for my Chads, my Amber, my Jen. Yacht Chad is making out with an unfortunate brunette against a wall, and I help myself to the stack of cash he’s been flaunting, returning his money clip with a few twenties still inside. He’ll think he just overspent.
While the DJ revisits the magic of “Smack That”—I’m never listening to this song again—I wait for Heidi and the bartender to be distracted, grab a tray, and load up the shots I ordered. I take them through the crowd, selling them, collecting tips and cash from wallets one-handed. I’m better with my tray than Heidi is. I should do this professionally,
I joke to myself.
Med Student Jen is in the corner trying to have an actual conversation with a woman who’s way too drunk to track anything she says. Poor Jen. I strike up a friendly, screamed-above-the-music conversation. We make fun of the song, roll our eyes about the stupid guys here, and I gift them two Cokes I “happen” to have on my tray. Jen is relieved to be drinking something nonalcoholic, and her conversation partner is too drunk to tell if it’s Coke or battery acid. During all this, I get my hand into Jen’s purse, remove her wallet, hide it behind my back while I get out the license, and then replace it in her purse with her none the wiser. The ID is the most valuable thing I’ll get tonight. I’ve been needing a new one badly. Sorry sorry sorry,
I think to Jen as I walk away. It won’t cost her anything but a trip to the DMV, but I still feel bad. The Robin Hood thing is only fun when you’re stealing from rich assholes, not when you’re stealing from a nice college student.
Oh, well. I needed an ID, and now I have one. I didn’t create the world. I just live in it.