Almost two hours later and six city blocks away, Rhea’s train slid into Union Station. It was three in the morning and almost busy. She followed fellow travelers through the cavernous hall; hurried past a gloriously huge Christmas tree and slipped through the front doors into the night. It was cool in LA. And misty.
Rhea stopped dead in front of the station, mouth agape at what she saw: Blocks of high rises mixed with Deco buildings, wide streets and Our Lady Queen of Angels church – all asleep for the night. But the streets were alive with cars. The sheer vastness of it stunned her. Scared her. Threatened her. And this was just a corner of it. She couldn’t move – didn’t know which way to go – didn’t know where to start looking.
“Bad place to stop.” A woman snarled at Rhea as she slammed into her on the busy walk outside the station.
Rhea started walking. Then she stopped. She unzipped the patent leather bag, grabbed the photo of Aggie and ran after the woman. “Wait! Wait –” she cried as she caught up to her and grabbed her arm. The woman stopped. Rhea showed her the picture. “Have you seen this girl?” The woman looked at the picture and shook her head, backing away from Rhea’s pain. Rhea shoved the picture into the faces of anyone she could who was leaving the station. She followed them into the parking lot and onto the street. “Have you seen her? Have you seen this girl?” Nineteen, twenty, thirty five times. No one had. A Security Guard finally shooed her away. “Take that business somewhere else.”
Rhea crossed the street and started walking up Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Away from the hub of the train Station, a darker vibe set in. There were few homeless back then but the sight of them huddled in doorways, asleep on cardboard, their arms around the wad of bags and rags that were theirs – shocked Rhea. She hurried past them and crossed the street toward Chinatown. Someone in a car driving by hissed at her, “Tasty Girl…” Another car pulled to the curb a few yards up. As she passed by, a man opened the passenger door, his big dick swinging free at her, the smell of stale piss and cum penetrating the mist. She ran.
At the end of the block, two teens huffing Krylon hung out in a little parking lot. As Rhea stopped on the corner, they checked her out. As she waited for the light to turn green, they moved closer. The light turned. She started to cross. They hurried closer. In the middle of the street she suddenly turned and swung her case at them, smacking the bigger one straight across his jaw, freaking them out. She ran, across the street and up a long block. Ahead she saw the sputtering purple and green neon strips that framed the Paradise Motel. It was open.
A ninety-pound woman with a popcorn ball in one hand and a tv remote in the other waved at a sign that said “NIGHTLY RATES $45.00.” when Rhea asked her how much was a room. Rhea handed over the cash. “Checkout’s at noon.” she informed Rhea and gave her a key.
Inside room 27, Rhea locked the dead bolt. She fell on the bed, holding the picture of Aggie close to her. She fell instantly asleep. She slept for fourteen hours.