Blues from a Gun, Chapter 6: Fuck and Run

By Bryan Pedersen

The metal ridge that runs along the bottom of the bathroom’s windowsill is digging into my stomach. I’m trying to free myself and get through, get over, get out, but of course it’s snagged my shirt. I hoped this would be easier, but as it turns out, Houdini I am not.

“Get back here you fucking whore!”

And that really isn’t helping.

It’s a precarious enough position already. My head and arms hanging out the tiny window, out into the cold night air above the cookie-cutter rectangle of back yard. I didn’t plan this very well. Leaning forward, thin shirt riding up, the metal rail pinching my flesh, my legs still hanging on the other side of the wall, kicking, trying to propel me forward to freedom.

“You cunt!”

Not exactly the first time I’ve been called that.

“Allie! What’s going on in there? Sean! Dude, what the fuck?”

Great, now Glenn wants to join the fun.

* * *

The night had begun ripe with possibility.

I checked the entirety of his coffin-sized house, starting with the kitchen cupboards, digging through coffee cans and Tupperware containers, then the closet in the hall. I scoured every possible hiding space in the bedroom, crawling between the soiled mattresses, rummaging inside dresser drawers and old shoeboxes in his cobweb-cornered closet. I started out optimistic, yet still put everything back as I found it because I’m also pragmatic.

So I pulled apart and put back together, excavated and replaced, and what I ultimately found was zip. Nothing. Not one single dime. It doesn’t make sense. What sort of dealer doesn’t have at least an emergency stash of cash tucked away somewhere?

I knew Glenn would be back soon and I wanted to be long gone before then. This was the first time he had left me alone and I didn’t want to stick around for it to happen a second time. But still, I couldn’t leave empty handed.

The living room window lit up with headlights. He was pulling in and I was almost out of time. My eyes shot around the place searching for one last chance, something I might’ve missed, finally landing on three framed photos from his childhood.

I tore one then another off the wall, checking behind each picture, inside the frames, but once again nothing. His car door squeaked open and slammed shut and my heart sank. I was going to have to tough it out, play nice with the creep and wait for another chance. But then I heard that squeak and slam again, and a new, unfamiliar voice, and that couldn’t be a good thing.

When Glenn opened the front door I was sitting on the couch trying to look like a demure little pet. It wasn’t hard to pull off; I’d been practicing for the past few days.

Then he stepped aside and introduced Sean. Things went downhill pretty fast from there.

* * *

“Allie! What’s going on in there? Sean! Dude, what the fuck?”

Leaning forward a little more and wriggling my hips I can inch farther out into the cold night air, but there’s nothing to grab onto outside. I’m worried that if I’m not careful I’ll fall face first onto the cement below, and I kinda like my face.

“Get back here you whore!”

But then again, it’s not too far down.

“Bitch!”

Splintering wood punctuates each shout as Sean keeps slamming against the bathroom door. It’s a crunching of cheap materials and groaning metal as the thin gold chain that is keeping me safe promises to soon give way.

Twisting and turning and ignoring the pain I work myself a little further out the window. My hips reach the ledge and my top half is out the small opening. I lean down, reaching and pulling at the bare outer wall with my fingers, trying to create some leverage.

Another slam, louder than the rest, and then an iron grip closes around my ankle.

“Whore!” he yells and pulls, trying to yank my thigh from my hip. “I’m gonna fuck you, and then I’m gonna fuck you up, and then I’m gonna fuck you again!”

Kicking and thrashing, hanging out the window and pulling. My foot comes free for a second, and then he grabs it again. I keep kicking at him, trying to push forward, trying to get free.

It happens suddenly, the way I fall. All the extra movement serves to free me from the ledge and I tip straight forward all at once. The heel of my foot slams against the top of the window as I go down. My wrists hit first, cracking hard against the pavement, sacrificing to save my face. They don’t get the whole job done, but enough.

Crumpled on the ground, I lie still and try to block out the pain. I wonder if anything’s broken, if I can walk, and if, after a week of lows, this here was finally my rock bottom. Then I hear the front door swing open, I hear the voices and rage closing in, and just like that I’m up and running.

Well, limping.

* * *

It’s been a bad week. It started long before Glenn, before Sean, a good seven days before I met either of them. It started at the bottom of a frozen phone booth.

I would’ve spent all night on that icy metal floor. Would’ve spent all night crying about the brother I lost; about the bag full of money I lost; about the pathetic life I still had left but suddenly didn’t want to lose. I would’ve stayed in that booth all night if it hadn’t been so damn cold. The tears were leaving icy trails down my cheeks. My teeth nearly chipped from their chattering.

So I got up and walked on, past the empty bars and into the night. No direction, no money or friends, no options at all, all I had was a developing case of hypothermia, so even though I couldn’t afford to buy anything I wound up in an all-night grocery store. It was warm.

The heat performed a bit of soul-soothing, but the pervy stares from the night stockers soon ushered me back out into the cold. I wasn’t so desperate back then. Now I’d have stayed and let them look. It’s sad what a week can do.

The next few days were tough. I hung out in coffee shops. They too were warm, but I couldn’t afford a drink. I snuck into ritzy hotels at night and skulked down hallways, driven by hunger and repulsed by my joy at finding half-eaten sandwiches left on room service trays outside of doors. I devoured them without hesitation.

I figured that was what people meant when they talked about hitting rock bottom, the hollow shame born from acts like eating another person’s garbage. Not just the shame of doing it, but of being thrilled at the opportunity. But still, it wasn’t what I had expected. Rock bottom wasn’t a barren existence, lonely and empty. It’s worse than that. It’s being surrounded by a city of people far better off, people with homes and beds and families. It’s being gawked at by some of them, and easily ignored by the rest.

Sure, there are homeless shelters. There are even kind places specifically designed for lost and unlucky young women to stay for a night or two. I know three of them. But as much as I needed something like that there was a darker cloud hovering above me. Right up there next to the cold and hunger and the need for a good night’s sleep was the understanding that I was still being hunted. So, homeless shelters, well, I know if I were looking for me I’d check there.

If nothing else, I’ve learned that I’m a wimp. Four days is all it took. Four days of poverty and hunger, of no bed and little sleep, four days on the floor of that particular rock bottom before I was able to find a crack, dig away at it, and tumble down even further.

It was on a stark afternoon with a sun so high and bright it almost didn’t seem cold that I broke into some happy family’s home. They had a nice backyard with a privacy fence so nobody could see as I kicked in a basement window and crawled down inside.

The house was warm and clean and it took almost an hour before their shower’s hot water ran lukewarm. I shampooed my greasy hair and shaved the stubble from my legs as the pulsing jets pounded my skin. The fear of someone coming back without my hearing kept clouding my thoughts, but every time it did I turned my face into the spray until the worry washed away.

That afternoon I ate their food and changed into their daughter’s clean clothes. I felt radiant, believing for a time that I had landed on a way to make it through these cold winter days until I could figure a way out of this mess. Home invasions would be my answer. I lingered as long as I felt was safe and was readying to go when I turned a corner and saw the lady from their perfect family photos frozen in the hallway.

“Please,” she said, her bottom lip trembling.

I wanted to run but she was blocking the door.

“Please don’t hurt me.”

The look on her face, fear coupled with pity, a touch of disgust. What it reflected was enough to convince me I couldn’t do that again.

But that’s fine because there are all sorts of new lows to reach; you just have to be willing to let yourself go. Every small town and major city has its own secret soiled places where you can go to get what you really need. There are shady rest stops and notorious street corners, and if you know what you’re after, if you want it badly enough, you’ll figure out where to get it.

The old railroad tracks scar the edge of the city like varicose veins. Rippling out from them are destitute neighborhoods spackled with broken sidewalks and rundown schools, streets ravaged by potholes and neglect. Shotgun shells and rust have given the street signs the pockmarked complexion of a fourteen-year-old boy. The people who live here do so because they can’t afford better, they hole themselves up in rotting one-story boxes built generations ago, back when train tracks meant commerce.

It took the better part of my day to trek across the city, the wind rubbing my face raw, but once I crossed the tracks I soon found what I was looking for. The bar was typical for the area, Old Style on tap. It had booths with bright red vinyl seats and a slanting old pool table, both torn.

I had no money, no ID, and no illusions left as to what I had become, only needs. The small bar wasn’t even half-full but already a thick cloud of smoke hung low while classic rock tumbled from the jukebox. I went over to it, pretended to care about the albums, instead used the mirrored liquor signs to scout out the patrons behind me.

Some small groups sat at tables playing Keno, chain smoking and sharing pitchers. In one booth were a couple of guys with yellow teeth and spider web tattoos on their elbows. They could have been in prison as recently as that morning. A trio of tamer looking blue-collars perched behind them stared at my ass, but I wasn’t looking for a group thing.

I flipped through the pages of albums, pretended like it mattered which Lynyrd Skynyrd they had in stock, before settling on the single guy at the far end of the bar. In a place like this it doesn’t take long to tell who’s holding.

“Hey,” I said as I sat on the barstool beside him.

“Hey yourself.”

The bartender, a scrawny guy with scars and a mullet studied me, his brow knotted as he wondered, of the three of us, which one was the customer.

I swiveled the stool back and forth, stopping to face the dealer beside me. “You got a name?”

“Yeah, I got one, sure.”

I burned holes in his eyes with my want, and I waited.

“Glenn.” He swallowed hard. “Name’s Glenn.”

“Okay, so buy me a drink,” I said, swiveling the stool back and forth, “Glenn.”

I bit my lower lip and twirled a lock of hair in my fingers, and he did what I asked. I drank and leaned forward so I’d be below him, so I’d be gazing up into his eyes, and I sipped at my drink and laughed at his jokes and pretended he was the most fascinating guy in all the world.

We carried on like that until the place closed down, almost five hours later, and during that time I never once swayed from making him think that I wanted him. It wasn’t a hard act to maintain, because indeed I did want. I wanted a warm house, a soft bed and a hot breakfast if I could score it. If getting that turned me into a whore, well, that really didn’t seem like such a long way to fall anymore, and I’d finally reached the point where my needs dwarfed my self-respect.

Throughout the night all sorts of people came up to Glenn. Everyone knew his name, shook his hand, bumped his fist or grabbed his arm, all smiles and hope, sweaty with desire. In turn he took each of them to the back for a minute to do some quick business, then returned with a fresher wad of cash in his pocket.

By the time we left I was drunk, but not nearly enough. On the ride to his dirty little house by the tracks my stomach was an eddy of unease, my head awash with second thoughts. Glenn pawed at my thigh the whole way there and I wondered: if his hand touching my leg through a shield of denim repulsed me, how could I manage what was to come?

Getting inside helped. Sure, his house was a dump, a dusty, cluttered mess, but it was warm. The walls blocked the wind and the furnace kept the place a toasty treat, but I couldn’t appreciate it for long because as soon as he shut the door he was on me. I steered him back to the bedroom, and then did what I did.

It didn’t take long, but after he finished the idea of sleeping next to him repulsed me. The mattress was lumpy and the sheets reeked of stale cigarettes. But it was the first bed I’d stretched out on in over a week. Noxious though it was it still beat cement, it beat park benches, beat snatches of sleep grabbed in public bathroom stalls and library corners. His was an actual bed with blankets and a pillow. Yes, I felt dirty, but sleep soon took me from all of that.

The next morning I cooked him breakfast. It wasn’t out of affection or gratitude; I just wanted a good meal. I cooked for him and offered to clean the place up some and he didn’t mind me sticking around. I guess he liked looking at me, and being able to use me when he wanted.

Two days passed. I did what I did. I did it and I waited for him to trust me enough to leave me alone, waited for an opportunity to rifle through his mess and find the wedge of bills all smalltime dealers have tucked away somewhere. It started to seem like he’d never give me that chance until, of course, he did.

I never did find out whether Sean was Glenn’s supplier or customer or just some friend. Whatever the relationship, he was someone Glenn wanted to impress, and I was how he planned to do it.

After searching the house to no avail, the three of us ended up sitting around the chipped and stained coffee table in Glenn’s living room as he brought up the idea.

He asked Sean what he thought of me.

Sean said that I looked like a good time.

Glenn assured him that I was and I feigned blushing, then Glenn said, “Wanna take her out for a spin?”

I couldn’t let on how repulsed I was. I knew if I refused outright, if I resisted at all it wouldn’t stop what was coming. It’d still happen, it’d just hurt more.

So I smiled and cast a hungry leer toward Sean’s crotch, tossed off a line that would’ve made Mae West blush, and garnered enough leash to be allowed to use the shower first. I think Sean liked the idea of me readying myself for him. But I was in there too long and he got antsy. He pounded on the door, opened it as wide as the chain-lock would allow and caught a reflection of me in the mirror crawling out the window.

* * *

Running without direction, only trying for speed and distance, I follow some rusted train tracks glazed over with ice. My right wrist is hurting like a bitch from the fall and my ankle throbs with each step, but they’re still behind me so I can’t slow down.

Cross the tracks and through old, crunchy snow. Flakes filter down, slipping along my ankles into my shoes, freezing my feet, but I keep going. I run until I’m out of breath, and then I run some more. Needles in my side. My heart is a bloody fist that keeps punching my tired lungs. I don’t see them behind me and I can’t breathe anymore so I pick out an abandoned boxcar, crawl inside and suck down huge gulps of frosty air. My jacket is back at Glenn’s house. I miss it already. My arms can’t wrap tightly enough to ward off the cold.

I sit and wait, wait and listen. There in the icy boxcar, time has frozen solid.

I’m still wearing what I took from that nice family’s home, a teenage girl’s clingy t-shirt and a pair of snug blue jeans. Sure, it works well for picking up a sleaze in a shitty bar, but right now it’s only going to get me frostbit. So even though I want to stay hidden, I need to find somewhere warm.

Time comes unstuck as I begin to crawl. I move through the shadows at a snail’s pace. An hour passes since I’ve last seen or heard from them, but I still expect each corner will have them waiting. But who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe they got bored and went back to Glenn’s house to pound some beers, suck a bong, bitch about the bitch that got away. Maybe. I stopped trusting in my luck a while ago, though, so I stick to side streets and dive into the shadows every time headlights turn my way.

I continue on in this fashion, but my cautious, mincing little steps are taking too long. I desperately need to find someplace warm. Each gust tears through me, rips me to shreds. My bare arms are so cold they’re starting to tingle, to feel almost hot. I need something, anything, a gas station to duck into, a video rental store, hell even a sleazy porn shop, I don’t care.

And I round the corner, frustrated and desperate, only to find my answer staring me in the face.

“Oh, god.”

Looming all gray and judgmental is an ominous looking stone church. Its thick gray slabs look colder than I feel. Next to it, blanketed by its oppressive shadow, sits a much smaller building with the words Helping Hands glowing bright and red over the door. Now I know what I said about staying away from poorhouses in case they’re staked out, but sometimes you’re left no choice.

Opening the door sets a bell to ringing, and I’m greeted by heat and a wave of smells, most of them good. Tables are stretched out, long and narrow with bench seats running their length, looking like a school lunchroom. There are a few other people huddled here, bent low, hunkered over their meals. None of them even glance my way.

At the counter I’m greeted by a plump, freckled face and a smile.

“Would you like some soup?”

I do, not just because I’m hungry but because I can see it steaming and I’m frozen to the quick. So I nod, and then add through chattering teeth, “I d-don’t, d-don’t have…”

Tosh. You hush now. Don’t worry about that, dear.” She dips a ladle and pours a thick brown broth into the bowl and the smile reaches her eyes as she hands it across the counter to me. Those eyes alone nearly bring me to tears.

I find an empty patch of table and sit. I don’t even eat at first. I just hang my head low and let my hair fall around the bowl. The steam fills my face. I shut my eyes and breathe deep, inhaling the warmth.

It’s already late, probably why there are so few people here. It’s even later after I draw out eating my soup. I’m starving but I take my time because I really don’t want to go back out there.

The lady comes out from behind the counter and cleans her way around the room. Her pendulous hips bump the tables as she gathers up empty bowls and used napkins. I notice that I’m the only person left, get the hint and stand when she asks if I’d care for another bowl.

“Yes. Please.”

“Then you sit right back down. Go on. I’ll get it for you. Lord knows I could do with the extra walking.”

Again I take my time with the soup, and before I’m done she’s cleaned the tables, swept the floor and flipped off the outside light. I still don’t know where to go next but I know it’ll have to be somewhere. I’m trying to think of a decent option, maybe back to another bar, when she sits down across from me.

“I’m Gayle.”

“Hi, Gayle.”

“Was the soup okay?”

“It was. Very. Thank you.”

“Not too much pepper in there? I always use my own taste as my guide and everybody knows by now that I do like pepper.”

“No. Not at all. It was delicious.”

“Well, it’s awful kind of you to say so.”

I’m waiting for her to say something specific, maybe clear her throat and glance suggestively at the door, and I know I should save her the trouble and stop infringing on her generosity, but it’s only getting colder out there. It takes a minute, but I finally manage to say, “I suppose I should go.”

“Forgive me if I’m prying, but do you have a coat?”

“Um, no.”

“Oh, dear, but it’s so cold out. I swear, this winter simply will not end. Now you sit still for a second, okay? Let me see what we’ve got.”

With that she shuffles back to the counter and out through a door. She’s gone for a minute before it swings open again. A large black parka’s draped over her arm.

“Now, it’s not going to fit you properly. ‘Fraid we don’t have anything in your size, but –”

“It’s great. I’m… thank you.”

“Well, you’re welcome to it. And again, I really do hate to pry, although I bet you’re starting to not believe that, but would you allow me one more question?”

“Of course.”

“Dear, do you have anywhere to stay tonight?”

I used to have an inner voice, some might call it pride. It would speak up at times like this. I saw handouts as proof that I’d failed in the basic task of taking care of myself. But my need silenced that voice long ago so I told her the truth and let her show me through to a long, dim hallway.

“Have a seat. There’s someone you should meet. I’ll only be a second.”

It’s an old, polished bench. I’m pretty sure at one time it was a church pew.

“Dear,” Gayle says when she returns. I look up and see a man with her. “This is Father Ellis.”

Gayle says her goodbyes and the priest leads me down the hall towards the back. He makes some small talk, as we go, and the few windows in the hall reveal the church on the other side. At the end of the hall, through a few sturdy doors, the priest shows me to what appears to be the coziest looking bed and breakfast one could possibly hope for. I’m stunned.

“There’s a bathroom through that door, a shower inside. You’re welcome to it if you’d like. There should be some towels and soap already. If you find you need anything more, simply ask.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” The words slip out of my mouth on automatic. “Thank you.”

He exits with a promise to check in on me later. At first all I do is stand and stare. I can still feel the winter’s cold on my fingertips, but that could be in my head. I sit on the bed and stare through the walls, wondering how this happened. It isn’t until I’m alone in the shower that I come apart. I scrub and I wash and I scrub some more but I can’t get to feeling clean. I turn the water hotter and hotter until my skin’s all tender and pink and the steam’s so thick it’s choking me, but I’m still dirty. Finally I sit on the floor of the shower, sizzling hot water raining down over me, and I quiver and cry, seeing flashes of Ben in his hospital bed; remembering the look on that mom’s face when she found a thief in her family’s house, a thief dressed in her daughter’s clothes; and then I curl into a tight ball and gag and retch at the memory of nights spent beneath Glenn.

When I climb out I feel raw. A thick cotton robe hangs beside the towels and I wrap myself in it before crawling under the covers. There’s a patchwork quilt draped over the bed and I sit up, lean back against the pillows and headboard, feeling warm and almost protected, but still hollow.

A knock at the door and the priest enters with a tray.

“Would you care for some tea?”

I have a hard time believing where this day has gone. My life has suddenly taken on a very through-the-looking-glass like quality. A nervous voice in the back of my head worries that this all could be some elaborate trap, but if it is I don’t want to know about it yet.

“Sure.”

He pours and we sip and it’s quiet and peaceful. And I don’t mean to sound rude or spiteful when I say it, but I ask, “I suppose this is when you make your pitch?”

“You mean for the church?”

“It’s not that I don’t—”

“Don’t worry,” he says. He sets his cup down on the tray. “The Italian poet Dante once wrote, ‘sorrow remarries us to God.’ Nice, right? But even though it appears that you’ve been dealt more than your share of sorrow this is not a proposal.”

“So what is it?”

“It’s tea.” He picks up the tiny kettle and tops off my cup. “Okay?”

“Okay.”

“I gather that you’re not fond of religion,” he says. “Or maybe priests?”

I take another sip and he smiles and reaches up to his neck, fiddles with the collar for a second and pulls out the white strip.

“Now I’m just a man. No judging, no preaching, no titles,” he says. “You can call me Frank.”

But I don’t know what to say, and he seems okay with that. We sit there, drinking his tea and getting used to being in the same room together. After a bit I thank him again and he accepts, asks if there’s any more he can do and when I say no he wishes me a goodnight and leaves. Soon after I turn off the light, sink into the deep pillow, and sleep a purer sleep than I have ever before known.

* * *

When I come to I panic. My heart races and I’m searching for my clothes and a way out before my mind catches up and reminds me of where I am and how I got here. And then I hear soft knocking at the door and realize it’s probably what woke me in the first place.

“Come in,” I say and Gayle enters with a breakfast tray holding a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. I wash it down with orange juice and wonder again if it’s all some kind of trap. Maybe killing me with kindness.

A few minutes later Frank arrives, dressed in blue jeans and a loose-fitting flannel. No authoritarian collar today.

“Sleep well?” He pulls up a chair to the side of the bed and sits down. “Do you have time for a little talk?”

“About anything in particular?”

“I’m open to suggestions, but given the choice, I’d like to talk about you.”

“Would you?”

“Yes.”

“What about me?”

“Oh, the little things, maybe even some of the big stuff. Mostly, I guess I’d like to discuss how you got lost.”

I cinch my robe a little tighter. “Is this where you tell me all about how God can find me if I let Him?”

“Well, you found us. Why don’t you think He can find you?”

“He hasn’t yet.”

“Are you sure about that?” He smiles wide and it relaxes me some. “But no, I wasn’t planning on talking to you about God. Not unless that’s what you want.”

“God’s cool, I guess,” I shrug. “But I always preferred Superman.”

“Of course,” he says. “So I take it you know all about the story of Superman? About how his father sent him down to earth from the starry heavens, sent him to protect mankind, to serve as an example of how us mere mortals can help each other in times of trouble? Almost like a savior.”

“Do you turn everything into a sermon?”

“No, but that one’s easy, and I enjoy a good metaphor. Again, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I told you, this isn’t about the church.”

“So what is it about?”

“The same thing it’s always about: people. Like I said, I think you’re lost. And that’s no insult, it happens to all of us from time to time. We get tripped up and we fall down. It’s what we do. Sometimes we fall so low that we think we’ve hit the very bottom, that things couldn’t possibly get worse, and then one day we’re surprise to find ourselves falling even further. At moments like that, you find yourself in places you’ve never even imagined existed. Moments like that, it’s only natural to feel lost.”

“And I suppose you’ve got a compass?”

“What I’ve got is better.”

“A bible with a compass in it?”

He laughs. “What I’ve got are people who have been down there before, who have seen what you’ve seen, who know the way out.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. But you have to be willing to open up. Different people can help with different problems, so I need you to tell me how you got lost. Talking about it might not easy, but if you can find the strength then I’ll try and get you the help you need. Would you like to give it a try?”

Sitting there, beneath a quilt someone stitched by hand, food in my belly, and a full night’s sleep propping me up, I’m more optimistic than I have been in a very long time. I feel stronger, and the thought of going back out there on my own scares me. I’m sure I’d end up falling down the same holes as before. So even though I know he won’t be able to help, I swallow the lump in my throat and search for the words.

“Okay. It’s… A few years ago I made a promise to these guys. In return they gave me some money to help my brother.” The thought of Ben stops me and I have to take a deep breath to say, “But he’s dead now.” It’s the first time I’ve said that out loud. I do not like the way it feels.

Some time passes before I can go on. Frank remains silent and waits for me. “Now those guys, they’re coming to collect. But it’s not money they’re after, it’s, it’s me, and…” I pause while the whole world vibrates, and when everything eventually shifts back into focus I tell him. “I don’t want to die.”

“I see.”

“So, that’s it. I appreciate all you’ve done, and Gayle. I really do, and I don’t want to sound rude or ungrateful, but do you really think you know anyone that can help with something like that?”

I want to make sure he understands before I leave, but his calm demeanor doesn’t waver.

“As a matter of fact,” he says, “it just so happens that I do.”

* * *

Thick, starchy napkins, a smooth white tablecloth, and heavy crystal water glasses flanked by sparkling silverware reflect back the candlelight. When Frank arranges for you to meet a friend of his, he goes all out. The waiter fills my glass with ice water and tells me he’ll return when the rest of my party arrives.

Frank was busy tonight so Gayle found me some suitable clothes and dropped me off at the restaurant’s front door. She even gave me a hug before she left. Inside, a gorgeous red head in a tight green dress led me to my table.

I don’t even want to open the menu. I’m far too nervous to think about food. My stomach is keeping busy with all sorts of springy time-killing gymnastics. Whoever he is I’m waiting for, he’s late.

The entrance is far off, but set below me, my table being on a dais raised a half level above the first floor. Frank didn’t say much about his friend, only that he was familiar with my sort of situation, and would be willing to help.

I watch as the many moneyed and beautiful people come and go, and every time a single man enters I wonder if he’s the one. Most arrive in gorgeous pairs or small, confident groups, but finally a lone middle-aged man approaches the hostess. She grins and points me out. He gives her half a hug and hands her something before heading my way.

This guy doesn’t belong here. There’s a rougher quality to him, but rough might be good for what I’m up against, so I’m keeping an open mind.

“Alice?” He pulls out the chair opposite me and sits. “Alice Lorca?”

“Allie,” I tell him. “But yeah, that’s right.”

“It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Yeah, I’m glad Frank could set this up.”

“Huh.” He pauses as the waiter fills his glass, takes a sip when the waiter leaves. Then he looks at me and asks, “Who’s Frank?”

Fuck.

* * *

My knees shake as he loops an arm though mine and casually leads me down the stairs. It’s not quite fear that descends on me, it’s inevitability.

“Thanks for the call, babe,” he tells the hostess on our way out.

“Sure thing, Fin.”

Maybe I should’ve yelled in the restaurant, made a scene to draw attention and slow him down, but I didn’t. I didn’t know what to do. Staring across the table into those ice-blue eyes of his crushed my hopes, suffocated my brain. I was too stunned to react.

Outside a line of Esquire-model men and scantily clad women stand along a velvet rope, waiting to get into the nightclub below.

As I’m pulled along the line of people I pick out a couple near the end. A tiny slip of a blonde being fondled possessively by her steroid-fueled boyfriend. I stare her down as we get closer and when we’re finally beside them I cry out.

“You bitch!” I lunge and slap her as hard as I can.

She’s shocked as I grab a handful of hair and twist, tugging her to me, bending her over the rope.

Fin tries to pull me back but her muscled-up man misreads it in the confusion and attacks him, and in the middle of all the swinging arms and confusion I make a break for it.

It’s amazing how fast you can run when your life depends on it. I can’t look back, not yet, can’t waste the energy, but he’s coming. My heartbeat crashes in my ears and through it I can hear his feet slapping the cement. I turn down a vacant side street and keep going.

“Don’t think… I won’t,” he yells between breaths, “shoot you… in the back!”

I zig and zag, in case he’s trying to aim. I cut across the street and weave between parked cars. My heart slams as my feet skim the ground. I round another corner.

Another block and another turn and I’m sure I’ve put some distance between us, but not enough, I can still hear him. Another block then another and my lungs are burning. I can’t keep this up, not for as long as it’ll take to get away.

There’s a parking garage across the street. A horn blares and brakes squeal as I dodge a couple of cars to get to it. Big mirrors around the entrance show me what I feared: he’s not even half a block back.

I duck the arm bar and sprint down the ramp because at this point my rubbery legs can’t take a climb. The buzzing yellow lights turn everything a sour, sickly shade. I run a circle around parked cars, descending again, keeping my eyes open for a stairway. If I can lose him in these turns and find the strength to double back up the stairs I might be able to shake him.

But the next turn brings me to a stop. There’s nothing ahead of me but a solid wall. I turn to the right, sprinting to the door on the side, hoping it’s the stairwell, hoping my legs have enough left to propel myself back up to street level, but then a thick chunk of wall shatters. Shards of concrete pelt me, dig into my flesh and slice a thin river in my forearm.

“The next one’s at your head!”

I lower my bleeding arm and look back. He’s walking slowly down the ramp, arm extended, gun level and steady. Even with all his heavy breathing the gun doesn’t shake.

“Step back,” he says and I must not have done it because he yells again, “Now!”

I backpedal, sideways and reverse, away from the exit sign until my back is flat against the wall.

With his free hand he digs a phone out of his pocket and makes a call, says a few things and hangs up. “Have a seat, babe. Our ride’s on the way.”

So I slide down the wall until the concrete hits my knees. I want to look away, can’t stand staring into the sleepy eye of that gun barrel any longer. I look off to the left and then right, trying to find something else to focus on.

“What? You think someone’s coming to save you?” He laughs. “Why? Who would care about you?”

I don’t say anything.

“Aw, c’mon, answer me. Who would come for you?”

Again I don’t speak. There’s really nothing to say.

“Are you waiting for that dealer, Glenn? Is that it?”

I’m shocked by that and he can tell.

“Yeah, I found him. I heard all about how you used him like a cheap little whore, flaunting what God gave you to get what you wanted. Bet you been pulling that trick since you were sweet sixteen, am I right?”

“Twelve,” I answer softly.

“Ooh, you naughty, naughty thing, you did start early. Figured out how to get daddy to let you stay up past bedtime, huh?”

“Something like that.”

“Well, you can stop looking around because that junkie dealer ain’t coming for you tonight. Me and him, we reached an understanding,” Fin says.

And that’s it. I‘m ready to give up now.

“So who’s that leave? Huh? Who would save you?”

I look up.

“Well?”

“Superman would.”

“You think so?”

“Sure.”

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” he says. “You think a trashy little whore, one who sells her body, sells out her own little brother –”

“I didn’t –”

“Someone who will fuck for a warm meal? You think there’s a superhero that exists solely for skanks like you? Some sort of superpimp?”

No, the truth is I don’t. But after Gayle and Frank, for one night there I guess I kinda did. I believed in possibility and redemption and remembered what it was like to hope. But that was then.


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