The quiet, and the dark. It was what he needed. He felt his way up the stairs of the abandoned factory, back into the room where he had met everyone only hours ago. Leaving the light off, he made his way to the table using only the lights coming in through the dirty window. He sank into his chair, his head still swimming and his feet like lead. The watch on his wrist said it was ten thirty, and he stared at it trying to figure out how a wrist watch was lying to him.
Vinnie sat alone in the dark room just long enough to wonder if he had made his way back to the factory too quickly. Then there were quick, heavy steps on the stairs outside the door. Before he could even sit up the door had flown open and Joey had entered, looking winded. He smiled big when he saw Vinnie, showing off his back molars.
“There’s the star of the show,” he crowed. “What are you doing sitting in the dark?”
“Reading-” Vinnie cut off as the lights above came on, stabbing the back of his eyes. He squinted and held a hand up. “Reading that many people takes it out of me.”
“Oh, sure, sure, of course,” Joey said. He left the lights on, and clapped Vinnie heavily on the back. “This calls for drinks. I’m sure I’ve got a bottle around here somewhere.”
Vinnie turned in the chair, watching as Joey opened and closed the cabinets on the far side of the room.
“Does this mean I have the job?”
“We’ll ask the others when they get here, but,” Joey pulled his arm out of a cabinet holding a bottle of something brown and flashed Vinnie another crocodile smile. “I think you’re our new Face.”
Dizzying relief pushed him back into the chair. He kicked his legs out and ran both hands through his hair. It wasn’t the sort of job he was looking for. It wasn’t even the sort of job he figured would be on the market. But it was a job.
“Are we going to tell them?”
“Tell them what?” Joey asked, not looking up from the red plastic cups he had found. He was setting them up on the table, one after the other, nudging them into a straight line.
“You know…about how I can do what I can do.”
Joey froze. It was only for a second, maybe not even. If Vinnie hadn’t been looking at him he might not have noticed. But for almost a second he froze in place, bottle mid air, eyes staring at the middle of the table as though he had only just now noticed that there was a tarantula sitting there, playing a squeeze box.
Then he was the same Joey, grinning and moving like a theme park animatronic.
“I think we should hold off on telling them. Let them get a better feel for how you work.”
Vinnie spun the chair around to face Joey, and leaned his elbows against his knees.
“When I first met you, you said you knew people like me. That you could get me a job with people like me.”
Joey held his meaty hands out wide. “I meant actors. Creative people. People who took their talents and used it for…well, whatever the hell they wanted.”
Vinnie sighed. He pulled at the tie around his neck, feeling like it was strangling him. The whole suit felt wrong now. Scratchy. Suffocating. As Joey poured the drinks, Vinnie found his feet.
“Thanks for the opportunity, then. But I don’t think this job’s for me.”
“What? Kid, come on.”
“I was looking for people like me. I thought I’d get to be myself, and if I can’t, I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Kid. Vinnie. Of course you can. You’re a natural, even without that little gift of yours. I mean, it helps, but-”
“Thanks, Mr. White.”
Vinnie got halfway to the door before he heard from behind him, “Fine, it’s fine, you can go. You’ve got, what, a week, week and a half until rent is due? They can try to evict you, but that’ll take months. Of course, shitty little apartment like that, they’ll probably just muscle you out.”
Joey wasn’t animated anymore, or smiling. He was still a crocodile, just one getting ready to strike. His hands were in his pockets, the brim of his hat casting a shadow over his eyes so Vinnie couldn’t really see them.
“And all that debt you got?” Joey made a low whistle. “Close to fifty g’s, isn’t it? Think the banks are going to play nice about that?”
Vinnie only stared at him. It’s not like it was lies. He had thirty five dollars in checking and another six dollars and a subway token in his wallet. And it was more like sixty thousand dollars.
Joey read his face and shrugged. “I’m all you’ve got, kid. Stick with me for a while, stick with us. We’ll fix your money troubles. You can worry about the other thing later.”
They were still staring at each other across the room when the door behind Vinnie blew open.
“There he is! My man,” Fist said. His hands were on both of Vinnie’s shoulders, squeezing and shaking. “Can’t believe you pulled it off that fast. Joey, where did you find this guy?”
Joey grinned. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”
Smile and Eyes came in next, hanging off each other like they had been drinking. For the first time Smile was actually smiling at him, the two of them swaying and laughing. All three of them were around him, talking over each other as they had earlier that day. This time, though, there was a difference in tone.
“…how did you know who to talk…”
“…It’s not even eleven, they never knew what hit…”
It was getting to him. He was trying not to let it. What he had told Joey was the truth, he could only stomach this job if it meant meeting people like him. These people around him were not like him. Maybe there wasn’t anybody like him.
But Joey had been right. He needed money. Like, now. And being surrounded by people who thought you did a good job and were thrilled about it was turning out to be rather intoxicating.
The door swung open for the last time. Spirit walked through and casually tossed the bag onto the table. Everyone cheered, and Joey handed out the red plastic cups, forcing it into Vinnie’s hand.
“So!” Joey called over the din, getting everyone to shut up. “What’s it going to be? In or out?”
“In!” the others called to him.
Joey turned to Vinnie. “Well, kid? Want to tell us your name?”
Or do you still want to leave?
Vinnie swished his drink around. He really didn’t have anywhere else to go.
“Duane,” Fist said, before pointing to Eyes, “And this is Hannah.”
“Verna,” Face said.
They all turned to Spirit, who shrugged.
“You can just keep calling me Spirit.”
Hannah rolled her eyes. “Jesus, Maggie, don’t be a bitch.”
They toasted, and then Joey was pouring more in their cups. Vinnie hadn’t really drank before, and had no idea what they were having. It was harsh, and burned, but it wasn’t terrible.
“I’ll bring this to Poppy. He’s our fence. He’ll turn our ill-gotten gains into sweet-gotten riches by…oh, say Tuesday.”
Joey smiled at him over the others, and tipped his cup to him. After a pause, Vinnie tipped his glass, too, and they both drank.
It wasn’t what he had wanted. But right now, it was all he had.