"·And that's how Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox made the Grand Canyon."
To be honest, I just wanted to find a dark hole to lounge in, and reread "Catcher in the Rye" for about the tenth time. If I was feeling frisky I could have even slipped in "The Fountainhead." Unfortunately, my new sidekick didn't seem to understand the merits of reading, unless it was a price tag (as if she even did that.) I had been unable to retrieve my jacket back from the sidekick in question, but my nerves were generating so much heat it wouldn't have mattered. I pulled the car to a stop in front of a duplex two feet from the city line and cut the engine. (I was going to have to get rid of this car.) I turned around in the seat and hit Wade with the largest smile I had in my arsenal. For a second I wondered if I was making a mistake and scowling, because her eyebrows actually looked like they were about to meet her hairline.
She scooted towards the window and smirked. "Stop smiling like that, you look like the clown from It."
I scrunched my brow. "I need a better pop-culture reference."
"Huh? Oh, um, you look like the Joker in Batman." I nodded and then toned down my smile just a notch, her eyebrows lowered as well. "I take it you want something?"
"Good to know I haven't lost it." She smiled. "You want to impress me, Wade?"
"Suddenly I'm frightened of what you want."
She was dancing on the line to seduction, but still hesitant enough to be worried. "Ms. Walking-Target-but-still-wants-to-go-out-and-party is frightened?" My voice was teasing.
She rolled her eyes. "I didn't say I was afraid of you, hot shot."
"Wasn't suggesting it."
She let out a small growl, (that was absolutely becoming on her) and then spoke. (I guess I was getting to her.) "What is it, Charlie?"
"You've got a choice..." I lowered my head and until she followed my nod. "A, you can go in this house here, and tell the guy in there you need a place to stay, you're not going to pay him a thing, but if he gives it up, no questions asked, you won't be forced to break his fingers." I smiled at her and she just nibbled her lip waiting for me to continue. "or, B, you can go find a car to steal."
Blue eyes opened wide in delight. "That I could definitely do."
"That's what I figured. By the way, his name is Jerry and he's really nice, just a little neurotic, and he's got a nervous tick, but I swear he's harmless."
"What! Charlie, I don't know that guy. Charlie! Come back, what the hell?"
I leaned in through the window. "Do your little girl voice, it'll work magic, I promise." I wiggled my eyebrows, and then I left her sitting in the car sputtering for words as I ran down the street.
Let's face it, my heart was in the right place when I went to get another car. I thought I was doing the decent thing. It was still light enough outside to be considered daytime, traffic was just beginning to thicken, and I also wasn't going to find the most expensive car. I figured Wade would have pranced around in a jacket two sizes larger than her, drawing all kinds of attention to herself as she peered in the windows of parked cars checking to see which one had leather seats and Bose stereo systems. We didn't have time for that, and I wasn't about to end up in jail for grand theft auto. As for Wade's mission, I told Jerry we were coming and to expect her. He'd probably give her a hard time for a split second, just to mess with her, and then give her the keys. All in all, the point was to be back on the road in about five minutes.
When ten minutes rolled around, I had half a mind to lean hard on the horn of the Jetta I picked up. (So it had Alpine speakers, what do you want?) Right before I thought a blood vessel was going to pop, a grinning Wade came out of the house (skipping no less,) while she was twirling the keys on her finger. She tossed her bookbag over the seat as she hopped into the car, still smiling. I shook my head and decided to save my questions until we were on the road.
"You proud of yourself?"
"Immensely. May I?" She held her finger over the stereo. I almost swallowed my pretzel stick in an effort to speak, so I just nodded. I heard a faint giggle right before she turned on the radio. "Nice car, by the way. I'm impressed."
"Well, I live to please you." I made sure my tone was facetious as possible, lest she take me seriously.
She sucked her teeth, but broke into a grin all the same. "So aren't you going to ask me for directions?"
"I need to?"
I was too busy focusing on switching lanes to see her ginning wildly (I bet she had the worst poker face on earth.) "There was a little problem with the place you wanted, so Jerry gave me another."
I raised my brow and looked at her as we came to a stop light. "He gave you another?" She avoided my eyes as she began to bob her head to the bass-laden hip-hop pouring out from the radio. I was more than willing to press the issue, but I actually like the song, so I turned up the volume and ignored the butterflies in my stomach.
Wade let out the smallest of yelps, as I made a left turn on red. I looked at her oddly, thinking I ran over a squirrel or something (although it was more than likely a rat.) "It was a one way to a one way, that's still legal right?"
"Not that. You just passed it."
"I passed what?" I started looking around for a billboard or a boutique window.
I stopped the car and put on my hazards. I could tell she was trying to become one with the seat. "There is no place here." I wasn't quite yelling, but I was certainly getting warmed up as I spoke through clenched teeth. "There's no place here, Wade, because we're in the middle of the damn city, on a weekend, that's why."
"I figured you'd want to, you know... uh, hang out and drink with your buddies or something." Small shoulders shrugged and she avoided my intense stare. I could tell she was trying to be sincere, and I knew she was leaving something out, but as karma would have it, I was too wrapped up in being extremely pissed.
I didn't stop to think if throwing a temper tantrum in a confined space would be physically possible, but I was going to try. My face went red the second I heard the words 'I figured' come out of her mouth. She'd be lucky if she had a figure when I got through with her. I balled my fists up as I let out what was a cross between a growl and high-pitched scream that my normal voice comes nowhere near. I pounded my fist against the head rest and then closed the space between me and Wade, who was now trying to meld with the window.
I reached out and made for the collar of her shirt, but I stopped my outstretched fingertips and pulled back. I shut my eyes tight and breathed deep, until I could only hear the traffic from outside. (I was counting down from 120.) I leaned up and held my hands away from myself. My eyes were still shut tight when I started to talk. "Okay·okay·Wade. I want you to get out of the car. Then I want you to start walking to the place and go inside. That's it." I let out a deep breath as I sat back in my seat and put both my hands on the steering wheel. At least she proved she wasn't a complete idiot, as she got out of the car without a word and started walking.
The vein in my forehead was swelled to the point of bursting. I let out a breath and got out of the car. I walked into the side entrance of the building on Charles and gave myself a quick reality check as I held onto the stair banister. I ran off every cliché in my head that teased me with the knowledge that I had indeed gotten what I asked for, that I bitten off more than I could chew, put my foot in my mouth, and yeah, I think even the chickens came home to roost on this one. Obviously, I should have let her steal the car. Better yet, I just could have played good little shadow girl and taken her with me, but no, I was enjoying myself. Let's face it, I was enjoying Wade. My motives were impure and selfish, and now my chances of getting out of this alive just grew to about a one out of a billion. (Maybe I'd go play Lotto.)
When I walked into the spacious studio apartment, the only reason I didn't puke was because I knew it was going to be a bitch to get it out of the deep mauve carpet. I was on the verge of hyperventilating as I leaned on the door and looked around the place. This was some artists' sanctuary. It was a little too posh and trendy for my own tastes, but I could appreciate it. And the bright pastels of the Kitchen Aid appliances, while a little over the top, fit so nicely into the kitchen. (I could live here.) But the point was, I was here to cop a squat, not house sit.
Wade was making herself at home, as she sat cross legged in an oversized velvet beanbag and rifled through her bookbag. I stood up straight and crossed my arms across my body as I took three long, deep cleansing breaths. I ran through an abbreviated martial arts form which served to calm me down. Although, for good measure, I punched the wall just to make sure it was all out of my system. I smiled at Wade, even though I was grinding my back teeth, and tried not to seethe as I spoke. "Wade, I really appreciate your concern for me, but of all the places you could have found, this was not it. I shouldn't have to tell you that this is a small city, that's why I like it, but it's a small city, Wade." I cleared my throat as my volume threatened to grow loud. "Which means the gay community is about this big." I held up my hands and made a six inch box. "Everybody knows everybody. It's like playing six degrees of separation using The Hippo as your base." I took another breath and started to walk around.
I looked over at her and then quickly turned away. I was going to finish my little rant, regardless of how sorry she looked, with her hands in her lap, her little bare feet hanging onto the floor, and sea-swept blue eyes all big and contrite. I played with the kitchen light to get back on track. "But this is okay, really, we can do this. It might make getting something to eat a little harder, but hey, our hosts probably got stacks of venison in the freezer, right?" She gave me a small nod. I turned away again, for fear that I would actually start kicking myself. "And if you don't eat meat, than I'm sure we can rustle you up the best·" I opened a couple of cabinets and grabbed the first thing I saw, "some curry vindaloo Ramen noodles." I looked at the package oddly and a small smile creased her lips. I tossed the package her way.
She caught it with a slap and grinned. "What about my three kinds of Tequila?"
"Th--" I stopped myself from saying 'that's my girl' and finished my thought. "That might be a little harder, but I'll see what I can do."
She smiled and tossed the noodles back to me. "Charlie, um, I-I'm sorry." Her eyes darted from the floor to me and back.
"I accept, but I need to ask a question."
"Okay?" Her voice was slightly hesitant.
"Are you trying to kill me?"
I thought I sounded dead serious, but she laughed at me at me all the same. "You think I'm trying to kill you, Charlie?" Clearly she thought it was absurd.
"I wish I could say there was a moment when I thought you weren't, but I just considered those lulls in your scheme."
She laughed again. "I'm not trying to kill you, sugarpop. Actually, I like having you around, keeps me on my toes."
"Oh, I keep you on your toes?" Meanwhile she was keeping me on pins and needles.
"Maybe dad'll let me keep you."
I grimaced and shook my head. "No way kiddo, if I survive this, I might be easily persuaded into faking my death and moving to Hawaii."
She tilted her head to the side and looked at me with the softest expression of wonder. (I could so wake up to that.) "Big island or little island?"
For a second, the question didn't make sense, and then I came back to reality. "One of the smaller ones. Preferably near the lava pits."
"Ooh, sounds exotic."
I shook my head. "It's magnificent, is what it is. It is majestic, breathtaking, and awe inspiring. It reminds us how insignificant we are, yet how intricate we are as we fit into the grand scheme." I ran my hand through my hair and realized she was staring at me openly. I could feel a faint blush rising to my cheeks. "Sorry, got carried away."
She still wore that soft expression. "I'm glad that you did."
Blue eyes bored deep into my eyes and I couldn't find anything to trip over in order to break her gaze. I started to say something but I could feel my voice start to crack, so I just went into a coughing fit and grabbed a glass out of the cabinet. (Maybe I should go out to get some drinks or something.) "Have you ever been there?" My back was to her as I spoke.
"Nope. Been down to South America though, saw the Aztec ruins and all that."
"Did you know they played football with decapitated heads?"
She groaned as I turned around. "Technically, it was a cross between basketball, soccer, and possibly football." I shrugged. "Do I get some wine?"
"I was fixing myself a glass of water."
"Fine, what do you have on tap, bartender."
I grinned. "Well we've got the 2000 reservoir water, and..." I opened the fridge. "Looks like a nice vintage of Evian, on ice." I wiggled my eyebrows at her and she laughed.
"What year's that Evian?"
"Good till 2003."
"Sounds like a good year, I'll take it."
We shared a laugh as I poured the water and sat down on the couch.
* * *
What's the phrase? Ah, yes, 'I was flying high in a Brooklyn sky'. I was gone, and most enjoyably so. Surprisingly, Wade had refrained from my herbal gift and opted to fix herself a few cocktails. After about two hits from my magic cigarette however, I could have cared less. Now, somewhere in the babysitter's/assassins handbook is a rule about being sober. Somewhere in that handbook, exists commentary on making assumptions and letting one's guard down. Somewhere in that handbook are lists of do's and don'ts, and somewhere in that handbook was a picture of my face right under the heading of complete fucking idiot.
I left a doe-eyed Wade comfortably ensconced in the bean bag to go shower. There was nothing I enjoyed more than a steamy shower when I had reached a certain point of intoxication. It was something about the constriction of my breathing through all the steam and the heat and the haze that just seemed to amplify my mood. Maybe I had some issues with aphysixation, but it was a strangulation I would not have been adverse to if I had only been on my job. I won't pretend to know how long she waited. I probably hadn't unzipped my jeans before she was out of the door. She was probably already dressed, which would have explained the afghan she had wrapped around her shoulders. I'm sure she had timed everything perfectly, so that the second the lock slid into place on the bathroom door, the front door clicked closed.
A good twenty minutes later (or maybe an hour), I emerged from the bathroom, satiated. It was a satisfaction that turned to horror the moment I opened the bathroom door. I had not yet realized that Wade was gone, but worse than that, I realized how gone I was. I'm old enough to know not to smoke in bed, I'm old enough to know that you don't hang your hands out of car windows, and you don't cheat on your tax returns. I'm smart enough to know that you don't make your jobs personal, and you keep yourself emotionally barren in order to get through the day. I had already thrown that wisdom out of the window the moment I met Wade. So there I was, standing in the doorway of the bathroom, looking like I had just stepped out of a transporter pod with all the steam billowing behind me. Perhaps, if David Cronenberg's creation of the Fly had swooped down and crushed my skull, it would have been a perfect ending. Tragic-- but just, in my perfect execution of stupidity. My staunch white towel was wrapped tightly around my waist. My hair hung like a heavy black curtain between my shoulder blades, adhering to my still wet back. The towel that I was supposed to be drying my hair with was hanging haphazardly about my shoulders doing nothing to cover my breasts let alone dry my hair.
Thankfully, I registered the pain as I stubbed my toe on the floor and managed to take a gander at myself. I cracked a smile at my warbled reflection in the fogged mirror and then I saw my own green eyes grow large beyond belief. Lots of things ran through my head, mainly, why was I about to walk through this house under the carefree notion that I was in my own home, half naked no less? It was a moment when I almost wished I could have stepped outside myself to see the comedy of the moment. My eyes were squinted so tightly, as if I was waiting for some nightmarish movie stalker to greet me in the living room wearing a hockey mask and a butcher knife. (If only I had Jamie Lee's lungs, I would have put the scream queen to shame.) Instead, I did the more manly thing and dropped to my knees in the middle of the livingroom, pounding my thighs the whole way. When my knees sunk into the cushion of the carpet, I did the next natural thing, which was more child-like, and rolled onto my back where I broke into a fit of hysterical laughter that was verging on sobs. I mentally and physically flogged myself for a solid minute, until the last thread of control I had snapped like a crisp dead branch.
I wrenched the towel from my body and didn't worry about drying off, since the heat of my own anger surpassed the Ferenheight scale and had moved into Kelvin. I had more than decided I was just going to kill her, get it over with. I had had enough, so forget about the consequences. At that point I had rationalized that her father would thank me for doing him a well needed favor. I was in full kick-ass mode by the time I left the apartment six minutes later. My leather jacket was flapping behind me, as if I had my own personal fan blowing on me as I walked. At best (or worst) I figured she had been gone for an hour, so it couldn't be that hard, considering the car was still parked by the curb. I walked into Central Station, and I swore I heard the dj scratch the record. I was hoping it was just my appreciative figure that was turning heads and not the fact that at least half the people in the room knew who I was, and more so, knew what I was worth. Then again, maybe I just looked like I was about to break some kneecaps.
The bartender, who's name I forgot, was smiling at me so hard I thought his cheeks were going to crack. "Char-Charlie." He squeaked out. "Need a drink?" I shook my head hard, sending droplets of water everywhere.
"I'm looking for somebody." My insides rumbled with the bass of my own voice. The kid behind the bar grinned. "A girl, about yea high." I raised my hand until it stopped at my collar bone "Blue eyes, blonde hair with red highlights. Hair about to her shoulders. Really sly smile and a smart mouth."
"Uh, I'm not sure."
I leaned over the bar and got as close to him as I could without pulling him across the counter. "Would you be any surer if I put your head through the fucking countertop?" I arched my brow and watched him swallow hard. For a second I thought he swallowed his tongue, but he grinned and waved the other bartender over.
"S-sam, you see a girl in here, a little while ago? Red highlights and blue eyes." Sam had his back to the bartender as he waved his hand through the air and giggled out, "I've seen a lot of girls. Seen a lot of boys too." I steeled my eyes at the boy. "Um, Sam!" Sam turned and quickly assessed the situation.
As if his selective memory came back online, he stopped what he was doing and came to me. "Short girl, right, sweet little smile?"
"If you want to call it that." I shot back.
He tried to smile, but couldn't quite manage it. "She was here about an hour ago, um, took off with some girls and headed to The Hippo."
I gave him a snarl just for good measure, and then smirked as I dropped a twenty on the counter and then left the bar. I darted through traffic like I had control of the lights and walked into The Hippo. The bouncer grabbed hold of my arm as I bypassed the guy collecting money. He felt me flex my biceps and then met my hard stare. Sometimes, whether people know you or not, they know when to just shut the fuck up and let you pass. I walked up to the bar and yelled out Smitty's name. The music from the dance floor was a little loud so I picked up a lime from the condiment tray and bee-lined it into his skull. He whipped in my direction ready to break a bottle over my head, and then dropped the formality of being tough when he recognized my face.
He was genuinely surprised. He met me at the corner of the bar. "Jesus Christ! What the fuck are you doing here?"
"No time Smitty, I'm in deep here."
"No shit. You might want to walk out of here real fast before some people get downwind of you."
I did a cursory search of the room utilizing the mirrors on the wall and saw the people in question. Two questionable looking women, straight from Dundalk, with their customary short-longs, were leaning over the pool table, not quite looking in my direction. "Just tell me what I want to know, and I'm outta of here." He nodded. "Looking for a girl who came in here about an hour ago." I rattled off my description of Wade, and Smitty nodded a lot.
"Yeah. Yeah, I think you just missed her. She walked out of here with Skinny and Julia... uh, you might want to check the back, though. What did she do by the way?"
I groaned and leaned away from the bar. I had no clue who Julia was, but Skinny got her name on account of her waifish figure, and unlike Audrey Hepburn it was far from genetic. "I'm her babysitter."
Smitty rolled with laughter. "You're obviously getting your license revoked. I'm surprised she's still moving, so it might not be that hard to find her."
Smitty rolled his eyes. "You'll be lucky if she's drunk. But it won't be that hard to find her, she's got some admirers."
I just rolled my eyes as I slapped the counter and then moved to the back room. Once again selfishness had reared its ugly head and realization was creeping into my enraged brain. Being downtown had nothing to do with me and more to do with Wade. (I'd bet my right arm she talked Jerry into this.) Between the blood pumping in my veins and the bass filling the dance floor, I thought my ears were going to explode. (Clubs are not conducive to finding anyone.) I would have loved if she had been dancing on top of one of the speakers, but I had a feeling she was somewhere in the mob of sweaty bodies, sandwiched in between a few admirers.
It was just my luck that the spastic light show was in full swing. Strobe lights, glitter balls, color discs, a little smoke and mirrors, and I was starting to feel like I was back stage at a Siegfried and Roy show. I cut my eyes to the dance floor, and I swore I saw the sway of her ponytail slap against slim shoulders in a halter top. I hopped the railing and shoved through the bodies, moving quickly to the other side of the mid-sized dance floor. I clamped my hand down hard on her shoulder and spun the girl around. A pouty pair of lips glistening with silver lipstick, turned into a grin as she caught my grimace. I let go of her as soon as I released it wasn't Wade. The flashing lights certainly weren't helping. I nodded my head in an apology and pushed past her off to the side, where I climbed back over the railing. I didn't know if it was the all the pot or the smell of alcohol or just the lights, but I kept seeing Wade everywhere. They all turned out to be too tall, the wrong color, not enough hair, too much hair, or hair in the wrong places.
I found myself doing my own trance-like dance in circles as I made my way through the back room, running into faces that just weren't what I wanted. I was heading back out of the entrance when I ran into a set of faces that I didn't want to run into. Apparently, I had stood downwind too long and the women from the pool table had caught my scent. The last thing I needed was to get kicked out of the Hippo again (hell, I was past that stage,) I had finally worked my way back into their good graces. I wasn't in the mood to come up with fancy quips that would leave their heads spinning, so I utilized the small bottleneck created by the people coming in and out of the back room to my advantage. I drove my fist deep into the gut of the chick on my left and gave the woman on my right a slashing elbow to her face as I moved through the doorway. Whatever commotion may have been caused was far behind me by the time I made it out the front door and back onto the street.
I roughly drew my hair up as I stood in the middle of Eager street and contemplated just yelling at the top of my lungs. I was counting down from 35 and calming myself with the notion that Wade was leaving me a trail of crumbs, and big ones at that. One so big, in fact, I saw her walking across the street. Skinny was actually taller than me, but she was nothing but arms and legs at 6'3". She actually reminded me of a praying mantis, but I had no real time to make gross comparisons. I practically tackled her to the ground as I came up behind her and pulled her away from the cafe she was about to enter. I could smell the alcohol on her even before she opened her mouth to slur out her dislike of my rough treatment.
"What's the big idea, ass wipe?!" I pinned her up against the brick wall and grabbed her cheeks so that I clearly had her attention. A wry smile spread across her face and she started to giggle. "Ooh, I'm in trouble, aren't are?"
I wanted to slap her into sobriety, but I knew it wouldn't serve a real purpose, so I just gave her a good shake and stepped back. "Where is she, Skinny?"
"Char-lay!" (I never did mind when she screwed up my name.) "What's happening?"
"Skinny, I'm not asking again." I squeezed her cheeks and she grimaced.
"Chill, baby... what's the question again?"
I took a deep breath and let go of her cheeks. "The girl you left the Hippo with, where is she?"
Skinny rolled her eyes and laughed. "So many girls, how should I know?"
I put my hands on my hips and bared my teeth at her. She physically slumped under the weight of my stare, bringing us eye level to one another. "Three seconds."
She sighed and held up her hands. "Chill... chill.... Little girl, right? Pretty blue eyes." I nodded. "Yeah, her and Julia left me about twenty minutes ago."
I smiled on the inside. I was getting close. "Where?" She shrugged. "Skinny!?"
"Shit man, I don't know. She said something about going to a Rave... I think Julia was taking her. I'm probably supposed to meet them, but you know me."
"Fuck me." I mumbled to myself as I tousled my hair. "Where is it?"
"Like, three blocks over, I think."
"You think." I reached back up and gave her cheeks a hard squeeze.
"Ow!" She rubbed her jaw as I released her. "Yeah, yeah, three blocks away. No need to hurry though, you'll probably run into her."
I groaned as my stomach filled with acid. "She score off you?" Skinny grinned and shook her head slowly. "Skinny..."
She shrugged. "She had her own shit, Char-lay, I swear."
I groaned inwardly. "You didn't give her anything?"
Skinny tried to become one with the brick wall as she backed away from me. "I told her who to find when she got there, but I didn't give her a thing, I swear."
I bored my eyes into Skinny's glassy eyes until I was satisfied. "Which way, you shit?"
"Up Charles towards Brewer."
"Go home, Skinny." I didn't wait to watch her roll her eyes as I took off in a full sprint down the street, around the corner--my legs pumping ferociously, my heart pounding, and my lungs on fire with one clear thought in my head: I was going to kill Wade Worthing.
* * *
There are always certain things in life that you wish to forget. There are those things that you pray you'll never forget. When I parked the car in front of the club, and passed by the snail-paced line of youth in disguise, I remembered that there are things that will never be forgotten only because you can barely remember them. I, too, was once young and enraged, ready to dress up on Saturday nights and dance my life away. Now, I'm just slightly young, and I don't think I'm that enraged any longer, although Wade was proving me wrong. I got the most freakish sense of nostalgia as I passed by the kids dressed in pants big enough to hold four people in one pants leg. I found myself grinning in remembrance and with a little bit of pride, as I watched the ingenuity of teenagers at work, as they packed away blowpops, vibrators, and menthol inhalers in the bottoms of their pants. You could tell the kids that were already rolling, and you knew who was soon to follow as they moved closer to the door and suddenly a small pill was consumed. I briefly wondered if I dropped a little Ecstasy, would it make the urge to kill Wade go away. Actually, it would probably just make it take longer and then I'd have to do it with my hands.
I made sure my game face was on as I stalked through the line up to the bouncer. I recognized his face and he surely recognized mine, since he held up his hands and stopped my progress. "No weapons, Chuck."
I arched my brow. "You going to cut off my hands?"
"I'm serious." I didn't bother to voice the fact that I was as well, since I think he could see the image of himself bursting into flames flashing across my eyes. "Just tell me what you need and I'll find it for you, okay."
"Looking for a girl, blond, about 5'1", eyes so blue you think you're swimming in the Caribbean. Pouty little lips, little nose, little everything." (Was it me or was I getting carried away?)
He nodded and then grinned at me like he had a secret. "Let me go get her. She said she didn't want you to spoil her fun."
I held his eyes for a whole second before I drove my fist into his jaw. His head snapped back as he stumbled back and fell into the security table. I stood over him with my arms folded across my chest, damp hair framing my face and I looked down at him with nothing but contempt. I guess from his point of view, down on the floor, I appeared to be growing. He struggled to move backwards on his hands until he gained some footing and stood up. I was waiting to see if he'd say something to the rest of security, but he did the smart thing and held up his hand to let me pass. It wasn't until I was swallowed up into the human sea that I let out a breath of relief. (Thank god he was smart, because I was not in the mood for a battle royal.)
One thing about Raves, they never change. Perhaps the drugs get more expensive or more complex, but the light show remains the same, the pulse of the bass stays, and whether they're grinding up against speakers, massaging one another, or performing their own solo ballet, the look, the feel, the smell, and the taste always stays the same. Perhaps if I had been there under other circumstances, I would have rolled a joint and enjoyed the picture show. The sight of the huge warehouse floor was not one for the easily nauseated, since the entire room moved with life and rhythm. Granted, some of it was a little slower than the music, or perhaps faster, but it just depended on the playback to your ears. Right before I almost ran into some bare-chested, pink-haired boy twirling glow sticks, I was honestly beginning to think I'd never find her.
Something should probably be said for the fact that I managed to pick her out of a crowd of hundreds. Something should probably be said about the fact that I felt her before I saw her. Something should even be said for the fact that she found my eyes, even in the wan light, and held my gaze as I moved towards her. (But let's face it, I'm not going to be the one to say anything...) She was like this Pygmy goddess being raised up to Gaia and surrounded by her worshipers. It was odd and strangely ritualistic, but refreshing in the sense that it was only here amidst the heartbeat of the music, the sweat of strangers, and the pleasant assault on the senses, that these kids connected with the world. I was two feet away from Wade's private light show, when her little circle collapsed around her and formed a small wall in front of me. (And here I was feeling all spiritual and holistic.) I watched her smile that smile and back away as I cracked my knuckles.
It clearly was no one's intention to start a fight, since I was merely being delayed in this chase of sorts. I grabbed a hold of a pair of fluorescent light sticks being twirled in my face and snapped them in half. The girl grimaced, and I kept on moving. As I pushed my way through dancing kids, some oblivious, some obviously trying to get in my way, I was reminded of that Wack-a-mole game at amusements parks. Everytime I knocked one of the kids out of my way, two or three more, or even four more, would pop up, and then I'd have to knock them all out of the way. Some kid was using me as her own personal pole when I caught sight of Wade, headed in the opposite direction with some guy's arm around her. Blood rushed to my face (no, I didn't surge with jealously, but I got quite angry at the fact that I might have to castrate some overzealous hip-hop-wannabe freak.) The opposite direction proved to be an easier trek, until two bald-headed young men decided I was on the desert menu. I was all ready to shove them off politely until I heard one of them say, "go call Mason."
My stomach grumbled its disapproval at this change in the situation (this was exactly why I wanted to stay inside.) Mason was a hotheaded punk, but he worked for Cabron, and Cabron wasn't friends with Carlo. Long story short (too late!), Mason was going to make serious brownie points when he came in with my head on a platter and Wade in his arms. This was about to get really ugly, but I had a goal, and that goal was the bathroom that was a hundred yards away. (I don't recommend a gauntlet to anybody, unless it involves naked bodies and slippery food products.) I was nothing but elbows and knees as I marched forcefully through about ten guys. By the time I made it to the door, I was sure my jacket was ripped, my ribs were certainly bruised, and my nose was bleeding.
I slammed my forearm into the door as I opened it. If cleanliness was next to godliness, then I was in the Devil's workshop. The one or two people that were standing outside of the stalls made haste, as I bellowed out Wade's name and kicked in the first bathroom stall. Every time I kicked, I called her name. On the fifth one, the door bounced back. I guess I knew what I was going to see when I kicked in the door, and, as much as the thought hurt me, I was really hoping she was giving him head.
Her fingertips were barely gripping the syringe, but the blood was fresh on her arm. I grabbed her new boyfriend by the neck and yanked him out of the stall, throwing him to the floor. (I really hoped that was urine he landed in.) I pressed my boot into the back of his head and rubbed his face on the ground. I didn't bother to pick him up, so I just slammed my foot into his ribs and back until his arms gave out and he collapsed on the floor. I turned back to the stall, where Wade was still sitting on the toilet seat, barely upright as her head leaned against the side partition. I popped the band off her arm and tried to stand her up. She was silly putty. I sat her back down on the toilet and tipped her head back, holding her by the chin as I lifted her eyelids. "Wade! Wade! Can you hear me?" Her pupils were filling up her cornea, they were so dilated. I was starting to sweat now, and it had nothing to do with my previous exercise. I gave her cheek some light slaps, and I thought I heard a moan, but she couldn't keep her eyes open, and I knew she was fading fast (either that or her heart was going to explode out of her chest.)
I let her lean against the wall again as I squatted and picked up the syringe off the floor. I brought it to my nose and sniffed, but it wasn't like that was going tell me what I wanted to know. I dropped the syringe and went to the boy on the floor, who was slowly making his way to his feet. I let him find his balance before I sent him reeling back into the paper towel dispenser with a kick. I slammed him into the wall before he could fall to the floor again and hoisted him up into the air by his throat. "What the fuck did she take!" He was shaking his head, and it didn't dawn on me until I saw the color start to leave his face that he wasn't saying he didn't know--he just couldn't breathe. I relaxed my grip and let him drop to his feet. I gave him a second to catch his breath right before I drove my forearm into his sternum, sending the air right back out. "What did she take you shit!" I hit him again. "Tell me now, or you won't walk out of here on your own."
He let out a cough and then spoke. "It was just some stuff, not that bad."
The back of my hand connected with his mouth and I watched the saliva and blood splatter onto the wall. "What is it!?"
"Just a speedball... Christ!" I hit him again. I thought he was going to try to scale the tile as he tried to avoid my hands. "What! I told you!"
I grabbed him by his hair and made sure he looked at Wade, who was losing color as I spoke. "That is not a speedball, dickhead! What else?" He was moaning and groaning as I pulled hard on his head. I saw the gleam of a nipple ring through his tank top, and I yanked on it. The metal loop flew across the floor and I'm sure he wished he could go with it. "What else!!" I stood him up straight.
He was choking back sobs as he spoke. "I think she was in a k-hole or maybe she candyflipped."
I didn't think about what I was doing as I threw him across the floor, I just suddenly didn't want to touch him. I watched him desperately clawing for the door knob, but I grabbed him by the hair before his could even touch the wooden door. "She was in a k-hole and you gave her a speedball?!" I knew he wasn't going to answer me, but I kicked him anyway. I knew I should have stopped pounding him, but I was fuming. I was mad because he gave her the stuff, and more angry because Wade was stupid enough to take a horse tranquilizer and top it off with cocaine and heroin. If she did drop acid like he suggested, I'd be lucky if Wade lived through the next ten minutes. I came back to myself when I caught my reflection in the now shattered mirror. I let go of the boy still in my arms and watched him slump off of the counter and down to the ground. My image was cut up and distorted, but I could see myself. The image was nothing but red and black, illuminated by piss yellow light, and two hard points of green that seemed to have grayed over with cataracts. Perhaps it was the sting of my tears mixing in my cut lip, or what I assumed was Wade moaning, but the world snapped back and I remembered where I was.
I was as gentle as I could be, but I knew Wade was beyond feeling, if she was lucky. I scooped her into my arms, an arm under her legs, her head hanging precariously on my shoulder, and I tore through the warehouse as fast as I could. I got her into the car in one piece, but as I was strapping her into the seat, I realized there was no way we could head back to the apartment. Wade needed a hospital and I couldn't take her to one. I looked down at her arms and shook my head at my own stupidity. Besides the fresh track mark there were two other faint track marks. (I'm so observant sometimes.)
I held her face as I lifted her eyelids. Her eyes were rolled up and her heart was beating too hard for human proportions. (I should have known, I should have known...) I was calling her name and shaking her gently, but she was well on her way to overdosing and I knew it. I had been here before and this I did remember. My tears were angry as they streamed down my face. I made sure the belt was tight as I closed the door and got in the car. I gave her a glance as I pulled out and sped off, rolling down all the windows. "Stay with me Wade." I pushed her a bit so that she'd fall towards the window. "You're not dying on my watch." I desperately wanted to see that quirky grin, but as I headed towards my apartment, I was beginning to think I never would.
* * *
My mother loved that I was a smartass, even when she would pop me in the mouth for talking back. As I got older and we realized we could have civilized conversations, she was really happy I was such a smartass. I was happy to know that she was too. It was hard when we needed to be serious with one another, but who needed to be worried about gun shot wounds when you were making jokes about the draft in your hospital gown. I was making jokes to myself as I got Wade out of the car and entered the building on 23rd. I was trying to be discreet, but I had already taken the risk of returning to my home, so there was no point. Like my father said, when it's your time to go, it's your time to go. I believed that, but I was sure as hell going to try to delay Wade's time if I could. (I was a smartass with an authority problem, go figure.)
"All right you shrimp, I know you can hear me, so you better be listening in there." I was cradling her like a newborn as I walked into my house. The dogs immediately stifled their normally joyous greeting and just followed me curiously into the bathroom. I laid Wade down on the cool tile and threw my jacket off as I turned on the water in the shower. I took out some of the heat as I tested the temperature with my fingers. "You're not going to die on me, lil' bit...unless I'm the one killing you." I got her up to her feet. "And you know I'd be a lot more creative than this, right?" I gripped her about the waist and stepped into the shower with her. Her head lolled back onto my chest, and it was only my arms around her keeping her upright. I reached out and adjusted the shower head so the water sprayed over her head and not directly in her face. "C'mon Wade, you gotta hang in there... just wake up, and I promise I won't kill you, 'kay?" I brushed some of the water from her face and felt for her pulse. It was thready and her breathing was shallow. "C'mon Wade!" The cool water was doing nothing to calm me down. "I'm ruining your outfit, you pissant! No more DKNY, or whatever this is!" She was slipping out of my arms and I could feel her start to convulse.
I let out my own whimper as I pulled her out of the tub and carried her across the floor where I laid her out on the kitchen floor. Scully and Mulder were hanging behind me, tails drooping and those big eyes mirroring the confusion in my own. I was pulling stuff out of my cabinets and rifling through the refrigerator, hoping I could find the stuff I needed before she went into cardiac arrest. "C'mon babies, where would mommy put a dispenser of adrenaline, huh?" Scully just barked at me. "How about saline?" Mulder whimpered. "Obviously you guys never met Lassie." I reached all the way to the back of the fridge and this time they both whimpered. I yanked my hand out of the fridge and almost dropped the two bottles as I saw Wade. She was shaking hard now, and the spit was gathering at the corners of her mouth. I fell to my knees with a thud.
"Don't you go Uma Thurman on me, Wade!!" I knew yelling at her wasn't going to help, but I knew if she died I was going to be taking a nice swan dive off of the Legg Mason building at the Harbor. I filled up two syringes, one with saline in the hopes of flushing her system, and one with adrenaline if it got too bad. She stopped shaking, and I just knew God was going to appear in my oven and tell me to just be cool, and then to go join a nunnery. Two seconds later, there was no light from God, but there was silence. I didn't realize I was holding my breath until I touched my fingertips to her neck and gasped. No pulse, no breath, no nothing. I fought myself not to lose it as I leaned over her and cleared an airway in her throat. Her lips were cold. I breathed into her twice and I could see her chest rise in my peripheral vision, but I knew it was just from me. I sat back and started chest compressions. "Jesus, Wade, please, please-please-don't-fucking-die-don't-fucking-die-breathe-baby... Christ!" I was babbling like crazy and pumping her chest. I leaned in again and breathed into her mouth. Tears were burning my eyes as I started compressions again. The dogs were going crazy behind me and a part of myself was out there with them, wondering frantically where all this was going to end.
I was breathing into her mouth for the third time, when I swore I felt a hitch in her throat. I raised my head, so that my lips hovered over hers and I placed my fingertips at her pulse. There was nothing so I breathed into her once more. This time I was sure I felt the hitch. I backed away as she begin to cough. I rolled her onto her side and let her puke right there on the floor. I didn't really care at this point -- she was breathing. When her diaphragm seemed too sore to constrict anymore, I picked her up from the floor and we went back into the bathroom. This time I made the water warmer, as I stripped her of her clothes and stepped under the spray with her. (If I had had any stray thoughts of holding her naked in my arms before, this was not one of the scenarios.) Jesus, it was just good to feel her heart beating and hear her groaning. I slid down the wall of the shower with Wade in my arms. I closed the drain with my booted-foot and let the tub start to fill. I still held her around the waist as I kept her close to my body and just took a moment to breathe. I felt her head roll and I opened my eyes.
I could barely hear her over the running water, but she rasped out my name and the word cold. I couldn't help but smile. I turned off the water with my foot and stood up gingerly. I wrapped one towel around her hips as I sat her down on the toilet and wrapped another around her shoulders. I was prepared to use every towel in the house on her, even though I was a walking sponge at this point. I slipped out of my soggy boots and socks as I got a towel for her head and walked back to her. I was rubbing her like I was shining a penny, not realizing that I was probably hurting her until she gave a little whimper. I gave her a weak smile and figured she was as dry as she was going to get. I wrapped the towels securely around her and took her into the bedroom. I laid her down so gently it was as if I was trying to keep a bubble from breaking. I dressed her in a pair of sweat pants and a sweatshirt that made her look like a ten year old, and managed to push a syringe full of saline in her arm before she fell asleep. I just stood at the foot of the bed and watched the rise and fall of her chest. I stood there so long, I think I had dripped dry. It was only the sympathetic nudges of my dogs that made me move.
I told both dogs to stay put in the doorway, in case Wade woke up. Scully, of course followed me. With wet feet, I sloshed across my hardwood floors into the kitchen for the mop and for paper towels. I peeled off my wet clothes and dropped them in the sink, and commenced cleaning in my underwear. I took a quick, hot shower that did nothing to ease my nerves. I drank a liter of water and fixed myself a Jameson on the rocks. Normally, it would have put me to sleep, but actually it was keeping me awake. I sat down in the chair in the corner of my room and drew my long legs up under me, and made myself comfortable as I watched Wade from my dark corner. I didn't quite have the voice to thank God for his mercy, so I just raised my glass in the air, fixed my eyes on Wade's small frame, and let my ears fill with her breathing.
I suppose she was tired, and in truth I was as well, but I didn't sleep. Even as the tenth hour passed and the early afternoon sun hung high in the sky, peeking out from behind graying clouds, I was still awake. It was only when I lost all feeling in my legs that I decided to get up. I ignored the prickles of recirculation in my legs as I walked to the bed. Mulder had taken a shine to her and was curled up in a ball at her side. Scully rose from her spot by my chair as I moved Mulder off the bed. I palmed Wade's face and felt the warmth of her body. She stirred a bit and I pulled away, not wanting to wake her up. I adjusted the covers and left the bedroom.
I didn't want to go outside, but I knew I had to, if only to get my Jeep out of the garage. According to the police scanner, I was still being looked for, but there was no mention of Wade, so I took that as a good sign. I ditched the stolen car in Columbia and picked up my Jeep with no incident. I guess the police figured I had skipped town, because there was no way a brutal murderer would be driving around Suburban Columbia in well-worn sweatpants and flip-flops. I wanted badly to visit my parents at the cemetery and have a small chat, but I had the kind of luck that promised a gaggle of cops would be waiting for me at the tombstones. It was going on 3pm when I made my way back towards 23rd. I hoped my ice cream wouldn't melt as I walked the two blocks back to my apartment from where I parked and took the long way around to enter my house through the back entrance. I was actually feeling better. Maybe it was the mild weather, or the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream that I couldn't wait to tear into. Mostly, though, it was Wade (yes, I'll admit it.) I was happy she had made it through the night, and most of my reasons were far from selfish.
When I stepped into my house, I distinctly remembered that I hadn't smoked pot in my house in two weeks, but there was that smell nonetheless. I dropped my bag in the kitchen and took off my sweatshirt. I was rubbing my teeth across my bottom lip so hard I was on the verge of reopening my cut. I bellowed out Wade's name while shutting off the blaring stereo with a slap. My eyes cut across the room to the bathroom, where she stopped in mid-dance holding her bookbag. She did look a lot better, in her own track pants and a tank top. Her face was full of color and other than the fact that her eyelids drooped low, she looked well rested and high. I knew I had shut off the stereo, but my ears still filled with a dull hum. I experienced tunnel vision as I focused on Wade and willed the space between us to disappear. I hadn't moved yet, because when I did, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. Every vein in my body was visible and my breaths were deep and ragged. She smiled at me lazily, and even though I couldn't hear her say my name, I watched her lips move.
The humming stopped in my ears and then it was only the sound of my heart pounding in my chest that I could hear. I stared into Wade until I was seeing into my past. It wasn't her face, but the face of the girl who I had considered my sister. It was her face that I saw as she died in my arms. It was watching my best friend be shredded with bullets because he just didn't know when to stop. I saw myself standing over too many caskets and then I saw Wade's face as it had looked the night before. Her body limp in my arms-- simply dead weight. I don't remember if I howled in pain or anger, but I closed the space between us and grabbed her by her shirt as I dragged her out of the bathroom. She was like a rag doll as I easily slung her into the wall. The bag dropped as her breath left her body. I pinned her to the wall with my forearm against her chest. We were eye to eye and I could feel her feet hitting my shins. "What the fuck are you doing?!!"
She tried to giggle, but I relaxed and shoved her into the wall again. My pictures shook. "Charlie, Charlie, put me down. Please. You're scaring me." I gnashed my teeth and let her down, but I kept her pinned to the wall. Small hands were braced against my torso, and her eyes searched my face frantically for some sign of sanity. "Charlie, please."
I pressed my arm hard into her chest and I saw a small tear escape her eye, but I was beyond caring as I yelled at her. "Tell me!"
She closed her eyes at the strength of my voice and I could tell she was trying to stay calm. "I-I went down hard last night, Charlie, that's all. I was just trying to level out. I swear, nothing big...just a pick me up." God she thought this was funny. I closed my eyes tight, willing away the hum in my ears, but it was too much and her words were salt on open wounds. "I'm sorry I smoked your stash Charlie...I'll get you some more."
I know I yelled at her that time, because she flinched. I wanted to hit her, but the spot on the wall to the right, above her head, was good enough. I pounded the spot until my fist went through the wood. I didn't know if I heard her whimper or one of the dogs, but I threw her to the ground and kicked at the wall, at the sound. When I turned around, she was sitting on her butt clutching the bag to her, face full of tears, and not doing a good job of keeping herself from trembling. I held out my hand. "Give me the bag." She shook her head like a scolded child. "Give me the fucking bag!" My voice grew loud and she scooted back. I could hear the dogs scampering around behind me at all the commotion, feeding off of my energy, waiting for the word. "Give me the bag, Wade!"
"No, no way." She yelled back and the dogs started to bark.
I reached down and grabbed for the bag, but she twisted out of my reach. She managed to make it up to her knees, when I grabbed her by the ankle and pulled. She collapsed onto her stomach and quickly turned over on her back. She kicked out at me with her free leg, but I blocked it with my hand and pulled her closer as I dropped to my knees. She was trying to keep the bag away from me, but I still had almost a foot of height on her, not to mention I was sure I was smothering her, as I leaned across her body and reached for the bag. She wasn't letting go, even though all my weight was on her. Finally, I grabbed a hold of her wrists and squeezed, until she had to let go of the bag with a scream to keep me from breaking them. My plan was to trap both of her smaller wrists in my one hand and use my free hand to get the bag, however she was squirming like a fish and yelling at me.
"Let me go Charlie! I can't fucking breathe, let me go!" I stopped focusing on the bag and relaxed a bit as I drew my eyes down to meet hers. It seemed the power of speech had left me, so I could only scowl at her. She stopped struggling as I held her hands above her head and spoke in much more sedate tone. "Charlie, let me up." She was talking in a soothing tone. "Just let me up, Charlie." She wouldn't look away from me and I knew what she was trying to do. "Come on Charlie, let me up and I'll give you what you want. Just let me go."
I blinked about 30 times as I listened to her. This must have been what it felt like to go insane. She was making sense to me and I was starting to calm down.
For the record, she kissed me back, but yes I started it. Truth be told, even in retrospect, I can honestly say it was just a reaction to her tactics. It was confusing and I can't explain it, but it seemed liked the thing to do. My options were strangling her, slapping her silly, or maybe even head-butting her if I wanted to get creative. Anything to get her to shut up. I one-upped myself and kissed her. (Did I mention my mind was somewhere else in this encounter, probably hiding in a dark room watching Three Stooges reruns.) It wasn't romantic and it wasn't filled with the promise of a ravenous night of hot monkey sex. It was an angry action. Rough and violent. It was meant to be intrusive and forceful. The thing was, she took it, bruised lips and all. I was still holding her wrists as I pulled back, receiving a faint lick to my bottom lip from Wade. Her eyes seemed to no longer hang heavy with intoxication, but with something altogether different.
"Is that what you want?"
Her voice was all husk and heat. It took a moment for her words to register, but when they did--I suddenly felt like we were on stage. I was sure if I had looked to the side, I was going to see the glow of stage lights and the edges of the curtain. I was certain the sweat coming down my face was being caused by the heat of a spotlight. And here we were on the floor in our pivotal scene...and I forgot my damn line. I focused on Wade again and then pushed away from her like she was covered in maggots. She was on stage, and I could see it in her eyes that were empty beyond comprehension. I got to my feet and snatched the bag. She sat up and shook her head. "Charlie..." I didn't even look at her as I emptied the bag onto the floor. The contents landed with quiet slaps and plinks on the hard wood floor.
It was not the six inch knife that caught my eye, or the leather case that was made just for hypodermic needles, or even the bottles of pills. My attention was drawn to a leather bound book, that was no doubt older than both her and I put together. It was held together by a rubberband and I knew without turning it over whose initials would be on the front. I picked up Barberry's book and flung the empty book bag at her. I covered my ears as if my imaginary audience was laughing at me. I stuffed the book in the back of my pants and just stood. I heard her start to say my name and I spun around in her direction to face her. I grabbed her by her collar and pulled her to her feet. I was too far away from the wall, so I just gave her a hard shake. My voice was low and gravely as I spoke. "Get the fuck out."
"Wh-what?" Her eyes went wide.
"Get the fuck out!" I spoke slower, but louder.
I shook her and screamed the words into her face. I let her go with a shove and walked to the kitchen. "Get the fuck out! Get your shit and leave!"
"But Charlie..." Without looking I reached for a glass and threw it. It shattered on the wall behind her and sent the dogs into a fit of barking. Her hands were up by her head as she spoke. "Christ, Charlie, let me explain!"
I shouted the word "guard" and watched my dogs spring to attention. They stood between Wade and I, teeth bared, bodies rigged, snarling. "There's nothing to explain. You were going to sell me out...if you haven't already." The tears looked real as they fell from her eyes, but I had shut down.
"Charlie, that's not it. Just let me talk--"
"Scully!" I watched the 120 pound dog skulk closer to Wade, barking. Wade really was scared and she might have had something to say, but I didn't care. I didn't. "Take the back door and go. Just go." My voice was hoarse and spent. I turned my back on her and didn't bother to watch the dogs follow her to the door. It was only when I heard the closing of the door that I allowed myself to collapse to the floor.
I lay on the floor, prostrate, for some time. I could hear the dogs nearby and I could hear myself breathe. I only moved when I realized the blood that Mulder was licking off my hand was actually ice cream. I thought I was bleeding to death, but in reality my dogs were just hungry and scared. Suddenly, the house filled with strangest sound. My dogs looked at me oddly, but the sound continued and my body shook.
It was my own laughter.
I laughed until my sides hurt, my head ached, and my tear ducts went dry. (Who knew inevitable death would be so funny?)
* * *
Let's face it, I really didn't care anymore. At that point in my life I wasn't quite into self-therapy, well, not the kind of therapy that was conducive to solving my problems. The hour or so that I laid on the floor, I spent running through the emotional chaos of my life. I was angry, I was giddy, I was hysterical, I was raving. I was on a sensory overload and my head was on the verge of exploding. Rather than make a mess inside my house, I decided to take my self-destructive and self-loathing therapy out among the denizens of the city. I decided to just walk in plain sight. How's the line go - "If I'm gonna go down, I'm going to do it in style." In this situation, as in most, I tend to side with Camus' Stranger. I think Mersault essentially had it right: it's better to burn out than fade away. And that was exactly what I was doing.
I showered again, put on my best slacks and a nice dress shirt, grabbed my other leather jacket and picked up the Cadillac. I was hanging my hand out of the window, giving pedestrians a whiff of cannabis as I sped through the city streets wailing with John Lee Hooker. I had already had one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer (as the song goes) and I was well on my way to more. I'll be honest, even though I was all ready to die, that didn't mean that I necessarily wanted to be present for the incident in question. I was dropping down fifties at bars and being generous and smug, all at the same time. My eyes were barely open most of the time, so I couldn't really tell if people were looking at me with pity, or with the amusement that most people watch drunks with. It was going on eleven o'clock when I found who I was looking for.
She was walking out of The Belevedere with some fat-cat on her arm, and I caught her eye just as she came out of the turnstile doors. I never believed that there really were hookers with hearts of gold. Outside of Julia Roberts, I thought that kind of crap was just a fantasy, but Cynthia on a bad night could put Julia to shame. Sure, if I had any sense, I would have put on the charm and fed her some line about taking her away from all this. (And I really would have.) But Cynthia liked her job, and most of the time Cynthia lived better than me. She was picky as hell, but my chivalry got the better of her one night when she wasn't as high priced as she is now, and as they say, the rest is history.
She did a sly job of winking in my direction while still paying attention to the guy on her arm. I tapped my watch two times and she gave me this pouty look like I ought to be ashamed of myself, but then she nodded. I watched her walk around the corner and figured I should at least go get a cup of coffee, so that in half an hour I could function properly. It was no use, though. Yeah, I got my jollies off and all that, but something was missing. We were laying in her bed at her apartment, all twisted up in the sheets, her head on my chest, still breathing hard, and I was wide awake. Normally, I would have been searching for an oxygen tank or on the verge of passing out, but tonight, I was just spent. I wanted to blame it on the alcohol, and if memory serves me correctly I think I made some joke to her about that.
She laughed at me and sat up, resting her head on her arm as she looked at me. I rolled my head to the left and looked at her. For a split second, she looked like Wade, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. She gave me a playful moan and ran her fingers through my hair.
"Are you going to tell me what's up, Charlie?"
I smiled at her weakly, trying with desperation not to look like I was going to cry. "I'm supposed to have a good comeback for that, aren't I?"
She placed her hand on my forehead and scrunched her brow. "You're not feverish, so I can't imagine what's wrong." I rolled my eyes at her and removed her hand gently. "I know you're in trouble, Charlie, but something else is bothering you."
I chuckled as I sat up in the bed and rested my back against the pillows. "You saying imminent death shouldn't put me on edge?"
"Don't get smart, Charlie." She wagged her finger at me and pinched my arm. I rubbed my arm as if I was hurt. "Poor baby." She kissed the spot she pinched and then looked up at me. "So what's her name?"
I don't know if I groaned out loud or not, but Cynthia smirked at my reaction all the same. "Why's it have to be a girl?"
She laughed and sat up next to me, mocking my tough-look by folding her arms across her chest and pouting like I was. "Charlie, why does the sun come up in the morning?" She spoke matter of factly.
"Well, actually, because the earth is rotating..." She cut me off with a glare. I gave her lopsided smile.
"Talk to me, Charlie."
I sighed. "Don't I hafta pay extra for that?" She sat up straight. "I'm just joking, sorry." She shook her head, but allowed me to put my arm around her. "Really, though, I just got in over my head on something. Broke some rules and all."
"Well, Charlie, you never listen do you?"
"It's not even that..." I ruffled my hair. "I made a job personal, and I swear I wasn't trying to."
She sat forward so she could see my face. "How personal?"
"Not that personal." I answered quickly. "Seriously, nothing that far--well technically."
She arched her brow. "Charlie?"
I grinned. "I want to tell you I kissed her, but it was in the middle of an argument... mostly one-sided on my part." I rubbed my face and mumbled under my breath.
She took my hands from my face and caught my eyes. "You hit her?" Her voice was quiet. I shook my head, but I'm sure I looked guilty. "What happened?"
"Ugh, I kind of tossed her around a bit, but I didn't leave any bruises. And I didn't hit her, I swear. I'm a reformed wife-beater." We smiled at each other and she caressed my cheek.
"I know you are, and I'm not accusing you of anything. Charlie, you've fallen off every wagon except that one, and it's been too long to fall off now."
I shrugged. "True, but damn it, I wanted to. Fucking idiot." I let out of small growl and punched the bed.
She put her hand over my fist and coaxed my fingers away from my palm. "What did she do?"
"Besides being a pain in my ass, she managed to get me in at least three fights, almost fucking died on me, degraded me, chastised me, I'm almost certain she's a fucking drug addict, and to top it all off I think she sold me up the river."
"Good grief, how long have you known her?"
I answered flatly. "Three days." Cynthia's laughter filled the room and I couldn't help but join in for a few chuckles.
"She's good... And here you are, crying on my shoulder when you know she's out there in trouble."
I bounced my head of the wall with a little more force then necessary and groaned. "Cyn, please don't make me feel bad about this. She's been trying to kill me since day one."
"Has she really?"
"I don't know, but shit. I got cops on my ass, government people. I probably shouldn't go home again, and not to mention Cabron is hot on my ass. And when she shows up dead, her father is going to rip me into confetti."
"Jesus Charlie, then why the hell are you here?"
I turned to her with my best puppy dog eyes and smiled. She grinned and gave me a sweet kiss on the lips. "I should die happy, shouldn't I?"
"Shut up, Charlie." She rolled her eyes and gave me a harmless shove. "You'd die happy if you were surrounded by your dogs at the top of a mountain." I smiled at the thought. "But you could at least listen to what she has to say and find out why she tried to sell you out, since you say she did."
"I don't know, I just reacted."
"Exactly. Look, even if you don't want to clear things up, just get out of here. Go away and find that little island and raise some Emu's or something."
I laughed. "I should, shouldn't I?"
"Yes, Charlie." She started pushing me out of the bed. "Take yourself home and get sober, and then get out of here."
I stood up and saluted her. "Yes ma'am." I started to put my clothes on. "Maybe I'll call you or drop you a line from wherever."
"No you won't, Charlie."
"Yes, yes I would--"
She put her hand on my lips. "As long as I don't hear from you I know you're safe, and alive."
I looked at Cynthia with understanding, and pressed my lips into her fingertips. "Cyn, if I were a better human being, I'd take you with me."
She waved me off as she put on her robe. "Charlie, you are the best human being. And sweetie, I wouldn't go."
We shared a solemn kiss, and I climbed out the window and down the fire escape. She was right, though. If I managed to get out of here, she'd be the last person I'd call, on account that if somebody was really looking for me they'd be looking for her. I had probably put her at risk already, but I wasn't that sober when I first got there. I wasn't much more sober after the fact, not that that had anything to do with me not driving, but I thought the walk would do me good. After all, I needed to plan.
I was just about to bypass Charles street when I realized that we hadn't necessarily cleaned up that apartment. If I was going to be found, I at least wanted to make the bastards work for it. I was up the stairs and through the door before I gave thought to whether or not I had locked the door. I managed to keep my balance when a body came flying at me from the right. I controlled the tackle and we rolled to the ground. I rolled on top of my attacker and almost did a double take right before I cracked him across the jaw. It was 'eye-candy', up and moving again. He still had a bruised jaw, and looked really pissed off. I drew my hand up to punch him again, but my arm was quickly jerked backwards. To avoid the dislocation of my shoulder, I rolled with the pull. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the best of positions, so I had to endure the two pairs of feet kicking at my sides.
I reached out and grabbed an ankle, which opened me up for a swift kick to the ribs. If they weren't broken before, they were well on their way. I held onto the ankle and pulled and twisted until found an opening. I was barely up on my feet before I was tackled over the couch. Luckily the table that broke my fall wasn't as merciful to the guy who tackled me, and was now sporting large chunk of wood though his hand. He was howling like a banshee, but his shrill scream was the only thing keeping me focused. (Alcohol is so not my friend.) I got into a defensive stance and thought that I was beyond drunk, because I was definitely seeing double. I shook my head and realized that it really was two people, and 'eye-candy' had been cloned or something. The thing about cloning, though, you may get the same well-engineered body and all that, but you get the same brain, too.
'Eye-candy' (number two) rushed me like he was a second string linebacker, but he didn't quite understand the concept of putting his head down. I did my best to knock his head off his shoulders with a swift kick. I balanced myself on my left leg and sent a barrage of rapid fire kicks to his head and chest. He went down after a sharp kick to his temple. That left me and the original 'eye-candy'. I smiled at him, and he growled at me. Suddenly, I was feeling much better. That was until he anticipated my punch and kneed me in the stomach. I swore I felt my pancreas move. He swung me into the wall using my arm, and I could tell he was trying to return the favor and dislocate my shoulder. (Thank god mine popped in and out.) I relaxed my arm, so on his next pull my shoulder would slip out. He pulled, I relaxed. The sudden change in force was just enough to knock him off balance. I drove my knee into his groin and shoved him to the floor. I held onto my arm as I put my boot on his windpipe and pressed down.
"She's still got you doing her dirty work, you shit." He was struggling and gasping for breath. "And here I was about to forgive her, and she calls in her goons. What kind of shit is that?" He was shaking his head and I decided to be nice and give him a moment to breathe.
"Fuck you." He coughed. "You won't make it, so give me the book and I'll let you walk."
I started to laugh and then I heard what he said. "The book? I thought this was about Wade... Fuck you." I kept my foot resting on his chest.
"Tell me where she is and I'll make it worth your while."
I stomped on his chest. "Where is she?"
"Fuck if I know."
I looked around the room like Alex Trebek was going to come out of the back room and give me the answer to the unasked question. I gathered myself and looked back down at 'eye-candy'. "Are you going to tell me anything?"
"You're dead any way you go, faggot."
I nodded and looked over at his buddies who were starting to come back to their senses, and then back down at him. I grinned and shrugged. "That wasn't what I wanted to know." I brought my foot down on his windpipe with force and then left the apartment the way I came.
After I popped my shoulder back in, I was playing the role of the gimp as I made my way back to my house. (I want to say suddenly things took a turn for the worse. But this wasn't really suddenly, was it?) I mean I knew this was coming, didn't I? I wondered, if I turned myself in to the cops, how long they would give me asylum before they turned my ass over to Cabron, or better yet, to the boys in black. I still had Barberry's book, at least (not on me, of course, but I knew where it was,) and that was probably going to keep me alive. Now, though, I needed (I cringe at saying needed) to find Wade. This time it was purely selfish. If I didn't find her, she was going to be used for leverage, and nobody was going to hesitate at killing me to get the book and keep her alive.
I was beginning to wonder if there was any way out of this. I was still unsure who I was working against, and not sure how I felt about who I was working for. If I didn't get Wade back, Carlo would kill me. If I did get her back, we might all be dead. I couldn't trust Cabron, and I didn't trust a government that couldn't trust itself. As skewed as my priorities were, I just knew Wade was in trouble, and for the life of me, getting her back in one piece was the most important thing (to me, anyway.) There was supposed to be an upside to all this-- a silver lining. A light at the end of the tunnel, if you will. To my dismay, that light at the end of the tunnel was looking more and more like a train.
* * *
I want to go on record as saying I walked through the front door because it was faster. Maybe I was being lazy, but I was trying to make up for lost time, and that didn't allow me time to go the roundabout way. That was ten minutes of my life that would have been better spent packing. However, as Karma would have it, it was ten minutes of getting my ass kicked that seemed to be a much better use of time. In high school physics, we learned that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, that meant when you pushed on the hinged kitchen door with a certain amount force, that was going to be the same amount of force that the door swung back on you with. We learned about inertia, and the fact that nothing stops unless something stops it. In high school we learned these lessons the fun way, with water filled rockets and toys. When I entered the lobby of the building on 23rd I relived all those lessons in a much harder fashion.
The fist that greeted me when I made it into the stairwell sent me back the way I came. The wall stopped me. I didn't even have time to put my guard up as well placed punches assaulted me in my most vulnerable places. As I slumped to the ground it was quite clear my attackers knew what they were doing. Two people dragged me up the stairs by my arms and took me through the door of what was technically my apartment, 2B it was. I was dropped to the ground and I heard the door close. I wanted to pass out, but the stale urine and smell of decay mixed with my own blood was making me queasy and keeping me awake. I felt the need to prolong the inevitable for as long as possible, so I allowed my body to do what it had wanted to do for an hour now: I puked.
"Are you done Charlene?" The voice was smooth and unwavering in its authority.
I know I looked like a deer caught in headlights when I lifted my head. I rooted in my pocket for a tissue and wiped my mouth. The single light bulb in the room was actually working and it was obviously made before the invention of 'soft-lights'. I squinted into the harshness, and I could just make out my host - looking like he was supposed to be on the President's detail in his black double breasted suit, black tie, crisp white shirt, arms crossed in front of him. He wasn't pretentious enough to be wearing his sunglasses inside, but he did have an earpiece in his ear. "Should I even bother to ask how you know my name?" He smirked and I started to get to my feet. I felt hands around my arms and I flinched. "No need for chivalry boys, I think you've shown me more than enough courtesy already." My helpers backed away and I stood up. I took my time straightening my clothes and combing through my hair with my fingers. I gave up looking for a ponytail holder and finally stopped fidgeting with my clothes.
"Are you sure you're finished?"
I shrugged and smirked. "A girl's got to look her best." He shared my grin. "Do I get to ask what this is about?"
"You're smarter than that Charlene." I bristled and he chuckled. "Prefer Charlie, huh?"
"I like my name and all, but mom used to call me Charlene when I was in trouble."
He looked at me with a bit of surprise, brown eyebrows lifting a bit. "And you don't think you're in trouble?"
I shrugged. "I'd like to think there's a way out of this, you know." I wiggled my eyebrows.
"Sort of like give a little, get a little, huh?" I nodded. "Fine. Give me the girl and I'll give you twenty minutes longer to live."
I know my jaw dropped to the ground, but I couldn't hide my confusion. Damn, I wish I had a remote control that could just pause the action. I just wanted to take a moment to run screaming around the room until I felt composed. "What the hell do you want with Carlo's daughter? I've got the book, dip wad!"
He looked at me oddly for a fraction of a second, but it was nothing that struck me as odd at the time. "What I want with Carlo's, um, daughter, is none of your concern. As for the book, I guess I should take that too. Probably would make clean-up and reports make sense, right?" He voiced his question to the man to his left and the man at my back.
I slapped my thighs and huffed. "Well this is just great!" I started pacing in my own little box, but I had their attention. "Don't worry, I'm not having a breakdown, I'm just working stuff out." I kept pacing and mumbling to myself. Every few steps I'd get a little closer to the guy behind me. I stopped abruptly right in front of him, with my back to him, and let out a loud laugh that sounded like I had just had enough. I raised my arms in defeat and sent a sharp elbow to his head, which crushed his nose. In the same moment, I turned towards the door and stepped over his fallen body and walked out of the door. I didn't have time to wonder why I didn't hear gun fire, as I was lead back into the room with a pistol at my head.
I smiled at my host and shrugged. He hadn't moved. "Nice try. Perhaps in another life we could have used you."
"There's always this one."
He smiled and then nodded at the guy with the gun. He held the gun on me as he knelt and felt for the pulse of the guy I elbowed. "Dead."
My host clapped quietly. "Good job."
"Well if I had known I was getting points, I would've been more creative."
"I'm sure, Charlie, now tell us where she is."
"Can you tell Billy the Kid here to go away?"
"You going to behave?"
I raised my arms slowly, palms up. "Not going to try a thing. That was my last ditch effort." I watched the man nod, and the gunman left my side and stood by the wall with the gun still in his hand.
"Now, I helped you, Charlie, so you help me."
"I really want to, but I don't know where she is."
He rolled his eyes. "Do we have to do this, Charlie?"
"I'm telling the truth."
He shook his head at me and then reached behind his back. I just knew he was going to pull out a gun, but it was a small leather case, almost like the one Wade had. (I always choose the oddest moments to think of her.) When he pulled out the needle I heard the gun click at my side. I stuck out my tongue at the guy with the gun and rubbed the back of my neck.
"I don't do drugs, kids, so that would be bad for your report and all."
"Oh come now, Charlie, this isn't that at all. I just want the truth."
"Dude, if you want to know when I lost my virginity, I'll tell you. I was 15. I'll admit I was also the one that wrote the graffiti on the back wall at St. Frances, never told anybody and I'm telling you. See how I'm telling the truth? Just like I told you about the girl. I don't fucking know." I watched him squirt the liquid and I wanted to cry. (I hated needles.) I could stick a person, just not myself.
My arms were being held tightly, so it was useless to struggle. "Come on, this is so not necessary." He just shook his head as he found the vein on my arm. "Christ, will you at least talk in a German accent and tell me how this isn't going to hurt a bit?" He smiled at me and then stuck me.
"You watch too many movies, Charlie."
"And here I thought I was cutting back."
He stepped away from me and I was released. I rubbed my arm and pushed my sleeve back down. "So, do I get some coffee or something while we wait?"
"Shouldn't be too long."
"Perfect. Well since we're getting in the honest mode can you at least tell me--"
I got cut off when his cell phone rang. He didn't say much except 'yes' a couple of times, then he hung up. "Boys, change in plans, we don't have time for this, time table's been sped up."
I watched the man to his side disappear into the back room. I was getting frantic and, truth serum or not, I really did want to know what was going on. "Do I get to know the change in plans? I mean, I thought we were going to get cozy and roast marshmallows and stuff."
"Sorry, Charlie. I was looking forward to it as well, but things change all the time, you know that."
"Can you at least shoot me in the chest? I'd like an open casket funeral. I know that's vain and all, but I promised my mother."
"Fine, he won't hit you in the face."
"The quicker you tell me what I want to know, the quicker I can shoot you."
I looked from my host to the guy moving out of the back room holding a 2x4. (When it rains it pours.) I threw my hands in the air. "Are you kidding me? You're fucking joking, right? This is insane!" I rolled my eyes and then closed them. I felt the 2x4 even before it slammed into my ribs and then the back of my head.. As I fell to the ground I couldn't help but wonder how long all this was going to take. My answer came in the unexpected darkening of the room and the sound of gunfire. As I lay there on the ground slipping into unconsciousness, I couldn't help but notice the fact that bullets didn't seem to hurt as much the second or third time around.
* * *
Is this the end for our hero?
Where the hell is Wade?
When will the hurting stop?
More to come·..
Return to Main Page