Darla glared at the puddles amid piles of dirty snow and thought of the long night ahead. All of the covered pitches on Seventh Street would be gone by now, snapped up by those girls who got there early enough to ply their trade below awnings or porches. No, Darla would spend the evening trying to look enticing while freezing on a street corner.
Not that anyone will be buying tonight, she thought.
She set off in the direction of Seventh Street, hoping that some of the Artisan Quarter's inhabitants might be seeking muses, if only for a night. They were always fun to be around.
Footsteps rang out in the street - sharp heels on concrete. Darla peered through the haze of steady drizzle, expecting to see another streetwalker heading her way. Perhaps she might see one of the elegant ladies of Carlington Square, slumming it in Barshton with a rough dockworker, their illicit 'bit on the side'. The other girls told her tales of these legendary predators, out at play while their husbands worked late, but Darla had never seen one. As far as she knew, no one had - they just knew the stories.
The street was empty in both directions, yet still the stillettoes approached, growing louder with every step. Darla paused, teeth digging into her plump red lip. The footsteps came towards her from Fifth Street.
And I need to go that way.
Darla considered stepping backwards into the doorway of the pawn shop, and waiting until the footsteps passed. Out in the darkness, a clock chimed the hour, the deep toll of the bell carrying all the way from the Cathedral District. Darla swore under her breath. She didn't have time to wait.
The heels were right beside her. Darla turned aside, expecting them to pass her, and continue down the street. Something collided with her, pushing her aside. She stumbled forwards, falling toward the doorway. She put out her hands to break her fall, and grabbed the rotting doorframe of the shop.
A sharp snort broke the silence, and the footsteps resumed their quick march into the darkness. Darla clung to the doorframe until only their echo remained.
"That was one of them," said a voice at her feet.
Darla looked down to see the head of a homeless man poke out from beneath a damp pile of newspapers in the doorway. He looked at her with bleary eyes.
"One of what?" asked Darla.
Darla stared down the street. Only steady rain and boarded up shops stretched away from her.
* * *
Mrs Nash took two steps backwards and put her arms out to keep her balance. She looked around to see what blocked her path, expecting to see an elderly blind woman, bent double from her years of toil. Perhaps she'd collided with one of the Barshton street sellers, screened from view by a veil of rain. She saw neither, only a homeless man asleep in a doorway.
She snorted. You'd never find a homeless man in Carlington Square, but then you couldn't expect much better from the sort of riff raff you'd encounter in Barshton. Only in Barshton would you find an entire street that sold nothing but women.
Speaking of riff raff, Mrs Nash set off down the street. According to Mrs Phillips, there was a particular bar on the next block, and it would no doubt be filled with any number of local ruffians. Mrs Phillips described a particular young man who enjoyed a taste of the finer things in life.
Mrs Nash allowed herself a smirk as she adjusted her pearl necklace and set off at a brisk walk, eager to make the acquaintance with the lowlifes of Barshton.