Accounting could be so cruel some days, with extracts of numbers on the Excel spreadsheets and Sharepoint glitches nauseating his brain. Garrett took one last breath before he closed his briefcase, breathed in and out, and closed his eyes. He took the last scraps of paper from today's balancing budget and tossed them into the recycling bin under his desk.
He closed the door to his small accounting firm that he kept up after 20 years. With some clients he made a stabile relationship with, to pay off his rent for the office every month on time. This firm was his bread and butter since he married Cindy in 1992, with just a small business loan they signed up together. He was the boss, the accountant, the clerk and janitor for New Horizons, LLC. Who needed anyone else, when you've got two arms and two legs to do everything yourself? Cindy never understood why he was never home, so she left in 2000, because Jenna, their daughter, wasn't there anymore either. Long story.
He got out of the building five minutes since he turned off the computer. He held his briefcase under his armpits and his lunch bag in his right hand. He searched his pants pocket for his keys with his left, opened the car door, tossed his lunch bag and briefcase to the passenger seat, and started the car. His stomach fit snug underneath the driver's wheel and his weight sunk the car an inch down to the Earth.
Forty-five wasn't bad, he thought. I looked 60 but younger in reality.
With greying hair, Garrett's older features gave respect out on the streets, because since he last saw Jenna, he has been searching for her all around the streets in Los Angeles, daily, sometimes taking trips on weekends to find her at the outskirts towards Las Vegas.
I gotta be there by six, or there will be no parking anywhere, his mind kept working.
Monterey Park was close to Los Angeles that he took the side streets on Valley Boulevard and hopped on the 10 West Freeway to get to 101 North towards Cahuenga Boulevard and got off Hollywood. The trip took the usual hour and some twenty minutes, but there was no heavy bumper to bumper, just the overflow and hold ups at the lights. The sky was lavender with pink rays on sunset, but the smog stunk on the street level.
Garrett turned left on Hollywood Blvd and drove into a semi-residential street, just before Sunset. He parked a block away from the strip and took out his handicap sticker and his usual note that said, "Out of gas, please don't tow. BRB in 30 minutes." Garrett's thrifty, not stupid. Parking was costly and he'd never stay more than 30 minutes per day. Besides, this area was on the way home to the Valley, so this daily mission was not allowed to cost him more than the pamphlets he was about to give out.
Women of the night, was Garrett's main mission since Jenna left home. To look for her and to give out as much pamphlet about the Restitution Program nearby his work in Monterey Park. The program transformed women who went through sex trafficking or prostitution, to change their behavior, lifestyle and perhaps, instilled education for the long run.
Word had it, there were more women in the congregation who enrolled in the program last year than ever before, at 25 women. This was his third year doing these daily missions and his 10th year anniversary working for them as their main accountant. Salvation was of the Lord's, or as Garrett liked to say, "Payback."
He walked to the strip with his messy hair from sweat and heat. It was 90 degrees again in November, but who's complaining. He had about 10 pamphlets, just in case it was a good night. There were some girls in front of him, standing in their heels and tight leather pants. One woman had long finger nails, holding a cigarette, with silky black hair to her butt and wearing an ankle bracelet. Her ankle bracelet made twinkling sounds like a row of charm bells.
"You handsome man. What's your name, mister?" she said. There was a younger girl beside her.
"Garrett, and yours?" He smiled and ready to pass out the goods. He turned the pamphlets over and she noticed.
"Ah, man! You a priest or somethin'?" she said as she rolled her eyes.
"Do I have a robe on?" Garrett said.
"Oh, so you a customer then? Let's go then. What you want, mister?" said the woman, smiling with one leg in front of the other, posing with her hand on her waist. "I'm cuter. She's younger. You pick." The younger girl snatched her cigarette and walked off as Garrett hurried after her.
"No, No, don't leave. I want you, too," said Garrett. "You're both gorgeous girls. I'm sorry. I'm not a customer. I just want to talk for a minute."
"You are a priest. Damn!" said the girl with silky hair. "I thought I was gonna get lucky."
"You need help or something, mister?" asked the younger girl.
"Yes, but not what you think. Here, I want to give you both this. I'm helping young women like you," said Garrett. "Take one, just read it, please. You can read, right?"
"Yeah! What you think? We dumb?" said the younger girl. "I finished high school. GED, but still finished. Stupid, pamphlet. What is this?"
"It's not stupid. Read it. Please," said Garrett, with his eyes pleading.
"Magdalena Res-prostution Program," said the woman with long silky hair.
"It's restitution. It's a program for young girls and adults. To get off the street," said Garrett. His eyes widened. "They take care of you there, and you can stop working on the street, and get a good job in the future."
"Yeah? Then get married, with someone handsome like you?" said the woman with long silky black hair. "You single or married, or in an open relationship, or what?"
"Divorced, but I'm in love with someone," said Garrett.
"Who she?" said the younger girl, "She cuter than my girl here?"
"No, not cuter, but sweeter. Very sweet. She is the one who turned me around," said Garrett. He laughed and felt like Harrison Ford for a second, because two beautiful girls just took an interest, even if it was just in a simple hook-up sort of way.
"So you work with her? She work with you?" said the girl with the ankle bracelet.
"I work for her. Yes. Come to the program. Can you get there, to this address?" Garrett asked eagerly, pointing to the address on the pamphlet.
"Yeah, I know where it's at. I got a iPhone," said the younger girl with the cigarette in her mouth, lighting it, smoking it, and puffing it.
"Come there, and you can get better. So you won't have to turn tricks anymore," Garrett said.
"You got a girl? A daughter? Because you sound like a father," said the girl with the cigarette.
"Jenna, that's who I'm in love with," said Garrett. "We haven't found her since she was fifteen. She was mad at me because my wife and I divorced. So, she never came home from school."
"What happened?" the girl with the long black hair asked. Her eyes grew concerned with her hands on her hips, with angry eyes at Garrett.
"I don't know," said Garrett. "I hope I'll see her again one day."
"You do this to find her probably, huh?" asked the younger girl.
"How old are you?" asked Garrett. "She might be your age." He took out his wallet and slides out a small photograph of Jenna, when she was in high school.
"Wow, she's a brunette," said the woman with the ankle bracelet. "She's my age, probably. How long has it been?"
"Since 2000," said Garrett. "She'd be in her thirties by now."
"Nope, don't know anyone like her that age. We don't talk to no one out of this strip. Territory business. Our man won't let us do that," said the woman with the ankle bracelet.
"What's your name?" asked Garrett.
"Yuki," she said. "She's Misha. We pretty, huh?"
"Yes, very pretty," said Garrett. "We have girls all ages, please come."
"Why you so nice?" asked Misha, the younger girl.
"I don't know. I guess a part of me wants to see if I'd find Jenna one day or if I can help someone at the same time," said Garrett.
"So, you come here all the time? Why not Las Vegas? Plenty there," said Yuki.
"Closer to home, and I can do it more often," said Garrett. "Please come, please. They can help you there. Promise. Leave your man. Just bolt."
"Misha and I can go this weekend. We have clients waiting, but we can go in the morning. I can go in the morning?" said Yuki to Misha.
"Please come anytime. The office is open from 8 to 6, everyday and on weekends too. There are free foods and gift certificates to Starbucks," said Garrett.
"Hell yeah! I can go for the Starbucks," said Misha, dropping the burnt cigarette on the sidewalk, twisting her left foot on the bud.
"We go, we like you," said Yuki, giggling.
Garrett smiled with teary eyes, immediately hugging Yuki as his pamphlets slipped out of his hands and fell on the sidewalk.
"Careful! Careful, old man. Gosh, it's just a date," said Misha. Yuki giggled.
Garrett stooped down to the ground and picked up his pamphlets, taking each one in a hurry. "I gotta go back to the car," he said.
One more soul at least, with a hope for two at the same time, he thought. Yuki and Misha, those names were memorized in his mind.
"Okay, we promise to go. You better show up," said Yuki, poking Garrett on his stomach. He giggled and straightened out his hair. He felt his heart jumped for a minute.
"Okay. We'll talk about Maria Magdalena, my girlfriend," said Garrett. Handing another pamphlet to Yuki.
"I guess, mister," said Yuki, bitterly taking the pamphlet.
"Thank you," said Garrett. "You'll love her." He gave Misha a hug and walked back to the car. He turned around to give them a wave goodbye and saw the girls reading the pamphlet together. He overheard Misha said, "Free Starbucks."
Garrett cried silently, because another day he didn't find Jenna, might meant she was alive somewhere. He found his car in one piece with the note still on it and not a parking ticket in sight. "Phew, risky business," he said.