Ruby's Harvest

Everyone called her Ruby. It wasn't her real name, but that didn't matter. She sat at a small table outside the beachfront cafe, sipping sangria, chewing squid, and watching the latest shipment of Manolo's girls invade the sand. They were mostly European and spoke English more fluently than Ruby, although she knew more than enough to get by. They brought a touch of the familiar to the lonely, homesick sailors and marines stationed at the nearby American Naval base.

The girls had come to the little Spanish town for a few months of sun and fun before returning to college or their plush office jobs. Most of them would be gone by September, while Ruby and the others like her would still be here...making a living the best way they knew how. Ruby didn't resent the competition too much and gave a wry smile at the eager attempts of the pale-skinned senoritas to tan their fair complexions to a color which was hers by virtue of birthright.

Over the next couple of nights she'd get acquainted with some of them, for she too was one of "Manolo's girls," and he'd probably put three or four of them to work at "The Krazy Kat," her permanent location. They never presented much of a threat or challenge. Ruby's regulars were not usually of the type in great demand...older, balding and usually with bizarre tastes. None of that bothered Ruby as long as they were generous with the dollars, but the new girls were in search of something more romantic. In any event, not many of them were as friendly as Ruby. They didn't have to be. Unlike Ruby, they could afford to pick and choose.

Manolo didn't pay much, but Ruby was good at her job and knew how to pad the earnings with a small commission on the expensive drinks she wheedled the servicemen into buying for her, heavily watered down, of course. Most of the guys knew what was going on, but said nothing and just kept on buying. However, it was after hours that Ruby really racked up. That was when she didn't have to share any profits with Manolo and the time...not to mention the dinero...was her own. Even so, it was often difficult to make ends meet and Ruby looked forward to the days when the ocean delivered up its bountiful harvest.

A marine drill sergeant Ruby had known for several months, and with whom she had spent a good part of the previous evening, strolled by nursing a sweating glass of Seven-and-Seven. He didn't recognize her...nobody ever did in the daylight with her henna hair wrapped in a turban and the unforgiving sun laying bare every line and blemish on a face scarred by years of rough living and the ravages of childhood smallpox. It was a different story entirely in the dim lighting of "The Krazy Kat" and her tiny apartment, after she'd applied the thick make-up and wriggled into the short skirt and high heels...and she always made sure her escorts returned to base long before morning.

The sergeant, his expression as unattractive as his personality, paused to appraise the new imports lying on the beach...like he had a chance. He'd probably try his luck, but Ruby knew he'd be back with a flea in his ear. His harsh gaze shifted to the horizon and she followed his glance. The vista that met her mud-brown eyes was almost as welcome a sight as that of her children who lived with their grandmother back home in Morocco. Ruby wished she could see them more often, but wishes didn't put food in their mouths and clothes on their backs.

She threw a few pesetas on the table, downed the last of the sangria, and left the remnants of the rubbery squid to the hovering cloud of black flies. It was time for Ruby to become beautiful and, these days, that took some time. The coming week would be a beneficial one for all concerned. The Atlantic Fleet was rolling in with the ocean tide...and Ruby was ready and more than willing to reap her share of the abundant harvest.

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