Blues From A Gun

Blues from a Gun, chapter ten: Who Can You Trust?

by Bryan Pedersen

 

S it safe?”

I’m not sure how I expected him to answer. I’m not even sure why I bothered to ask. If he’d have said yes, would I have believed him? Of course not. If he’d have said no, what could I do about it?

“The food should be.”

And what sort of answer was that? Reassure a girl, k? Help me out a little bit. Tell me that this gorgeous apartment is an impenetrable ivory tower and nobody’s getting up here unless I let my hair down for them.

“The food should be.”

Smart ass.

The elevator doors closed over him and he was gone. I didn’t know for how long so I moved quickly. I sprang from the couch and started in his bedroom. I scrounged through drawers, dug under socks and t-shirts, looking for money to finance my way out of here. All this time and I’m still trying to fund my grand getaway.

Nothing spectacular in any of the drawers so I moved on to the closet, but I was stopped before I got there. On the nightstand beside his unmade bed, sitting right out in the open, was a stack of cash. A big and beautiful bunch of bills folded together and waiting for me. I decided to consider it a donation and stuffed them in my pocket. On my way out I borrowed a nice, heavy overcoat from one of his closets, pressed a button on the wall, and a few seconds later the elevator opened up, quiet and smooth and efficient, beckoning me inside.

Now, from the time the doors closed to when they opened again to reveal the parking garage beneath the building, it couldn’t have been more than seven or eight seconds. That’s hardly time enough for a person to take two deep breaths. It surely couldn’t be enough time for someone to completely change their mind.

Except it was.

So that was me a couple of hours ago, and here’s the crappy new part of the tale: I can’t get back up. I’ve ridden the elevator a few times trying to figure out a way to do it, but you need some sort of key or card or code or something to get it to let you into the apartment, and whatever that thing is I don’t have it. All I have are his jacket and money, and right now that’s not enough.

So I give up. I’ve stood and I’ve sat, but mostly I’ve waited because he has to come back at some point, and I’m fairly certain that means he has to come back to this spot here. At least I hope there’s no sneaky back way in for him to take. It’s really not getting any warmer out here.

While waiting I’ve been waiting I’ve been wondering why I changed my mind, why I’m not running. And maybe even more important than that, I’ve been wondering if I can trust this guy. It’s taken the past three hours to come to a conclusion. Basically what I’ve decided is no, I can’t. But then again, and probably the most important point of all, what choice do I have?

“Nice coat.”

I didn’t see him walking up to me, but I play it off, try not to jump.

“It’s warm,” I tell him.

“My apartment’s warmer,” Wex says.

“Wow, that’s awful forward, mister.”

“Hey, I just figured a little girl like you, out here all by herself, who knows what sort of people she might run into?”

“Present company excluded?”

“Included,” he says.

“Well, I’m not exactly Little Red Riding Hood.”

“And I am not the Big Bad Wolf,” he says and the elevator doors open. “Going up?”

“Should I?”

“I don’t know. What did your mom tell you about accepting rides from strangers?”

“That it was cool so long as she wasn’t dating him.”

An eyebrow cocks, his forehead furrows a bit.

“You know,” I say, “she didn’t like the competition.”

Up in the apartment he points at the couch, indicates I should sit. Normally I don’t like pushy men, but since I’m wearing his coat and have his money in my pocket I figure I’ll let him get away with a bit of pushing for now.

“You want something to drink?” he calls from the kitchen.

“Sure.”

So I sit and wait. I take off his coat and when he comes over to give me a bottle of beer identical to the one in his other hand I offer him the cash I took off his dresser.

“What’s that?”

“It’s yours.”

He checks it out, then looks sideways at me before stuffing it in his pants pocket. “Thanks, I guess.” Then he sits. “Listen, we need to talk.”

“Are you breaking up with me?” I say and I like that he laughs. It’s better than when he’s all serious. His serious look kinda worries me some.

“What’d you do?” he asks.

“Um? I stole your money? Sorry about that.”

“No, not that.”

“Oh. You mean about last night? The whole damsel in distress thing?”

“Yeah. That.”

“I stole some money,” I tell him. “Sorry.”

He stares at me, so I stare back. He takes a sip of his beer, so I do the same. Finally he picks up a remote from the coffee table and presses a button. Music comes on, smooth trip-hop sounds fill the air.

“You think this is about money?” he asks.

“Isn’t it usually?”

“Most of the time it is.”

“So why wouldn’t it be now?”

He stares at me some more. I’m starting to think that’s his code for: slow down, I’m thinking. A bit more time, a little more thought, and he says, “Because I know these guys.”

“You mean the guy from last night? The one you…?”

“Yeah, I know him. Knew.”

“Oh. And?”

“And that makes me think that this is about more than money.”

“It does?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay then.”

And we sit silently, listening to the music.

“I need to know if I can I trust you,” he says after a minute.

“Trust me? Can I trust you?”

“Huh. Let’s see, I’ve already killed someone for you. What does that tell you?”

“Exactly. All that proves is you’re a killer. Are killers especially trustworthy people, Wex?”

“Not especially, no.”

“Well then.”

He reaches back into his pocket, pulls out the cash I stole and tosses it on the table top between us. “And you’ve stolen from me already.”

“I gave it back.”

“All that proves is you’re a thief, and a shitty one at that. Are thieves especially trustworthy people, Allie?”

“Not especially, no.”

The music keeps playing. I swear, this song goes on forever. I take another pull from the bottle and set it back down.

“You said you knew him,” I say. “That guy from last night.”

“I did.”

“What did you know about him?”

“Little things, mostly. That he was a prick. That he had a shitty sense of humor.”

“Okay.”

“And I know the sort of work he does. Did.”

“How do you know that?”

He stares at me again. I’m guessing he’s trying to decide whether he wants to be honest with me or not. I guess that means I’ll have to decide whether or not to believe him.

“I know about the sort of work he did,” Wex finally says, “because I do it too.”

And okay, yeah, I believe him.

After a few more minutes of song from the stereo and stunned silence from me, a DJ comes on, tells us about Morcheeba, and that we’re listening to station KXYZ, then it’s more music.

“What’d Frank tell you?” I ask.

“Not much. Just that you needed some help.”

“That’s all?”

“That was all.”

“Wow. You’re pretty loyal.”

“He’s a friend,” Wex says. “What’d you tell Frank?”

“Not much,” I say.

“Just that you needed help?”

“Pretty much.”

“Wow,” he says, mocking me, I think. “You’re pretty lucky.”

And more music. The window across from me stretches from floor to ceiling and looks out over the city. The sky has gone black. Scattered city lights dot the buildings across from us, lighting up the horizon with little man made constellations.

“So, what did you do?” Wex asks again.

“You know, you were wrong before, about the money. I do think money is what this is about, ultimately.”

“You stole some money, now they want you dead?”

“How come you don’t say we?”

“What do you mean?”

“How come you don’t say, now we want you dead? Aren’t you one of them? Aren’t they who you work for?”

Because really, that’s what I’m worried about. Sure, and fuck it, I don’t have anywhere else to turn. And also, yes, the only person in a longtime I felt able to trust was Frank and he sent this killer to me. So either I shouldn’t have put my faith in Frank to begin with, which wouldn’t surprise me too much to discover, or it’s all just a too confusing. But really, and here’s my point, how do I know if I should trust this guy?

“I don’t know,” he says.

It’s not the best answer. It’s definitely not reassuring. But it feels honest, so at least there’s that.

“Okay, fine. I sold some stuff. For money.” I tell him because if he can try to be honest, I suppose I can, too. “You’ve heard about poor people, college students, that sort, selling plasma for a few bucks?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, it began like that.”

“And?”

“And it became more than that. At first it was just some small studies. You know, those medical studies where you go in, become a guinea pig and let them try out new drugs on you.”

“Okay.”

“Well, that’s how it started.”

“What came next?”

“What came next was more. Next was I started selling myself, a little piece at a time.” It always feels dirty and I hate admitting it, but maybe it’s time to start. “You ever hear about how some guys donate sperm? Did you know you can get almost a hundred bucks for that? And that’s easy for guys. Squirt that stuff out a few times a week, a guy could pay his rent that way if he wanted.”

“Okay.”

“How much do you think you can get for an egg?”

“An egg?”

“Yeah.”

“I take it we’re not talking omelets.”

“You don’t know any of this stuff?”

“I know where eggs come from, Allie.”

“Good, but I mean about the donations. You work for them, don’t you?”

“It’s not like that.”

“What is it like?”

He leans back on the couch and exhales, looks around for words printed on the walls or ceiling. Silly little me thought it was an easy question.

“Well?”

“It’s bigger than that,” he says. “It’s hard to explain.”

“This isn’t easy for me. Maybe a little mutual sharing might make it easier for both of us. Maybe you could try.”

“Or maybe I’ve already saved your ass, fed you, given you a place to sleep. Seems a bit one sided on the give and take, doesn’t it?”

“Don’t be a dick.”

He stands and heads back to the kitchen. His bottle of beer is still on the coffee table where he left it, three-quarters full. When he returns a minute later he’s got a large glass of orange juice.

“It’s hard to explain because I don’t really know much about it myself,” he says after he sits back down. “I know that the people I work for, that the company’s huge, that it owns dozens of other companies in countries all over the world. Dozens, maybe even hundreds, I don’t really know. But we’re talking banks, law firms, energy resources, all sorts of stuff, and, as you know, medical research. The one thing I am sure of is that I don’t even know the half of it. All I know is what they tell me to do, what they pay me for.”

I want to ask him flat out what exactly that is, but I kinda already know the answer and I’m not sure I want to know any more than that. So I’ll let it pass, for now.

“Have you ever been poor?” I say instead. “Really needed the money? Wondered how you were going to pay your overdue rent bill, frustrated because they shut off your heat again, afraid to answer the phone or door because you knew it was another bill collector? You ever been that brand of poor?”

“No.”

“But you hear people talk about it sometimes, right? About how it weighs on you. How you worry about money and the necessities and how that worry sucks the life out of you, crushes your soul, how after awhile… So I did some stuff.”

“Is this the, I was young, I needed the money, speech?”

“Like I said, don’t be a dick.”

“Well?”

“It started out that way. Alright? I started selling little things like plasma, did some more studies, after awhile you start recognizing faces, not just the doctors and nurses, but the other donors, the regulars. That’s how you realize you’re a regular, too.”

He’s drinking his orange juice but the beer still tastes fine to me so I work on finishing off my bottle before I go on.

“One night I’m out and I run into this guy I know from the studies, Carlos. Only this isn’t the same shabby-shoed guy I knew from the labs, okay? This guy was driving a shiny Benz, had on a suit that probably cost a couple grand. I saw him step from that car and did a double-take. At first I figured I found his doppelganger, but he caught me eyeballing him and smiled back and waved, strutted right on over, and that was the other thing. He had a strut. You wouldn’t get that, I guess, but thing is, us people in those studies, we were poor, desperate, and when you get like that you tend to shuffle along. You end up moving like a dog that’s used to being kicked. It’s just what happens. This guy, Carlos, seeing him in that suit, bouncing out of that car, that was weird enough, but that strut, the smile on his face. He was beaming.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, I figured he’d won the lottery. In a way, he had. He came over and hugged me. There was this piece of trashy platinum arm candy with him who didn’t care to be ignored. She huffed about him paying attention to me and he told her to fuck off. That felt good.”

I finish my bottle, reach across the table and start in on his.

“So she stomped off and he took me inside. It was this fancy French place and it was gorgeous and right away he tells me all about how it happened. How it’s true and how fantastic it is.”

“What is?”

“The whitest of white whales, Wex. The mother of ‘em all.”

“Allie?”

“I’m telling you, okay. Just…” I take another sip and set the bottle back down, but I fuck up and almost spill it. I catch it right before it tips over on its side but still splash some beer across the glass surface.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says.

“D you have a towel? I’ll–“

“Don’t worry about it,” he says again, a little firmer.

“It wasn’t just because I was poor. It was, I don’t know. I was really tired.”

“What’d you do?”

“Later that night Carlos told me all about how it works. First off, they have to approach you. If you ask about it you’re blacklisted straight away, just like that. They say it’s legal, but only kinda, so they need to keep it quiet or, well, they just do. He told me which doctors to cozy up to, how to hint that I’d be interested.”

“Allie, let’s not make this a riddle, okay?”

I reach for the beer again but then pull back.

“For one little egg a gal can get almost five thousand dollars. Do you believe that? Five thousand dollars for such a tiny thing. Sure, that’s for the upper echelon types, ladies with Ivy League degrees or donors whose eggs have already gone on to become healthy bundles of joy, but even the low-end of the scale is still around three grand.”

“For one egg.”

“Yep. It’s a way to get by, you know, if it doesn’t bother you.”

“Did it?”

“That’s kinda personal.” The DJ comes on and then a commercial and for some reason I let them do all their talking and schilling and return to their music before I continue. “Yeah, it did some. Not enough.”

“I’m going to assume Carlos wasn’t selling eggs.”

“If you can get a few thousand dollars for a tiny little egg,” I say. “What do you think you can get for everything?”

“You mean…?”

“I mean two kidneys, a liver…” I don’t look at him when I say it because there’s something embarrassing about suicide. And no matter how you do it, that’s what this comes down to. I think it’s got something to do with how we’re taught that giving up is a moral failure, a personal shortcoming, and I guess that maybe it is, really.

“Everything?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say, still staring at the carpet. “The deluxe package.”

“How much do they pay for that?”

“You wanna know something? It turns out in the end that it’s really more a question of how long than how much. You get a year,” I tell him. “They give you twelve months and a checking account that fills up with cash every two weeks. You can’t leave the country and they make you check in once a week, but the money is… Just wow. It’s so much money that it’s not even money, it’s wish fulfillment. You can travel, splurge, indulge. It’s enough to share, to shower your friends with life changing gifts.”

I glance up and try to read how he’s judging me. It shouldn’t matter, but it does.

“It’s the sort of money that, let’s say you’ve got a loved one, someone you want taken care of after you’re gone, maybe you want to make sure he gets off to college, gets a chance at the things you didn’t. This money’d get him there.”

“One year.”

“Yeah.”

“So what is this now, second thoughts? Your year’s up and you’ve changed your mind?”

I take a drink of beer again, this time to buy some time, then ask, “How many people have you killed?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your turn.”

“Who said we were taking turns?” He says but I wait him out. The DJ is giving us another song before he answers. “Enough. More than.”

“So there have been lots more than just that one asshole last night.”

“There have.”

“And I guess you kill whoever they tell you to?”

“That’s my job.”

I wait, take another drink. I wait some more and finally he adds to it.

“I do.”

“How long has that been your job, Wex?”

“About five years.”

“Wow. So I’m also guessing all of that death paid for this fancy pad.”

“Good guess.”

“That must be a lot of blood. Now tell me this, you ever say no?”

“Excuse me?”

“Let’s say your boss gives you a name, you ever say, no, sir, I don’t think I want to ruin anyone’s life today?”

I wait longer this time, but he doesn’t say anything. After awhile I figure that’s an answer in its own right.

“This boss of yours, he ever tell you to kill a friend?”

Again no answer, but I think I see his jaw tighten some.

“And your boss, say someday he shows you a picture of little old me, tells you I’m next up on your list. What happens then? What do you do?”

We wait. I want an answer, even if it’s the wrong one. Even it it’s a good one but a lie I want to have some idea of where he stands. He said he helped me as a favor for a friend. I would like to know how far that favor extends.

“There has to be collateral,” he says. “Some sort of penalty.”

“What do you mean?”

“For your contract to work. They give you money and a year, fine, but there has to be a reason for you to come in after that year. You don’t spend a year living in luxury and eating at five star restaurants then gladly call it quits. There has to be something to keep you from running. They have something on you, don’t they?”

Now I’m the one not answering.

“Or had.” He pauses and thinks. “One of two things must have happened; either you decided to screw over your collateral, to forfeit it, or it was the other way around.”

“Don’t worry about it too much,” I tell him.

“But that’s just it, I am worried. I worry because you’re here and I’m pretty sure of what that means for me if someone finds out. I’m also worried because I’m sensing that you have a track record of screwing over people you once found important to you. Am I right? There was a someone, wasn’t there? It’d have to be a person; it couldn’t be a thing because you were poor. There was a person who had to take your place if you didn’t show up to fulfill your part of the contract, right? So, Allie, where’s that person now?”

I swear to Christ if I start to cry right here I am going to be so pissed.

“How long into that year did it take for you to change your mind?”

“I didn’t… Fuck this,” I say and stand up.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Thanks for the help last night, you’re a hell of a guy, but I should go now.”

Wex doesn’t say anything as I go to the elevator and press the button. He doesn’t say anything else and I’m glad because I’m trying not to think about Ben in that hospital bed, trying not to remember that he’s dead now and how that makes me feel. Finally the elevator doors open and I step inside. He still doesn’t say anything. And then they close.

When they open again I’m hit by the cold of the parking garage. It’s dark and cold and I walk out and realize that, once again, still, I have nowhere to go.

The elevator doors shut behind me and the wind slaps my face. I left the jacket upstairs because it was his and because I wanted to get out quickly, but I’m starting to regret that. It’s freezing as the wind whips around these tunnels, and fuck me I’m starting to cry. I want to go back in time and do it all over again, want to trade places with Ben, want to so badly, but I can’t. I can’t. He’s dead and buried and I’ll be that way soon, too.

The parking lot ramps up to the left and to the right, each side leading up to a street, shuttling cars out to the city and suburbs, and I don’t know which way to go so I just stand still and wipe freezing tears off my cheeks with the back of my hand.

After a minute I hear a sound and turn around. It’s Wex standing in the elevator. He’s wearing a coat and gloves and starts to step out but sees me and stops. I stare at him and he stares back at me, then he motions with his head, signaling that I should get in with him.

“Why?” I ask.

His brow furrows like it’s the dumbest question he’s heard all year. “It’s freezing out here.”

He holds the elevator and waits, and after a minute of him not saying anything else I get in. The doors shut and as I start to warm back up I notice I’ve been shivering, and that I’m starting to stop.

It only takes a moment to reach his floor, and when the doors part he holds them open for me. But I have to know, so before I get out I ask, one more time, “Can I really trust you?”

He thinks about it, and there’s something deep and sad about his face when he says softly, “No.”

At least he’s honest.

 

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Chapter 1: The Punchline

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Chapter 2: The Way We Get By

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Chapter 3: Alice

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Chapter 4: A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left

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