As the knives go in and the blood starts to seep over their silver edges I am brought to a moment of reflection. The man underneath my blow is half way to dead and with one more push forward it’ll be the end. In that instance - with a man I had no quarrel with - I am faced with an unsettling choice. If I stopped and allowed his wife to call the paramedics he’d be saved, but if I continue she’d undoubtedly call the police, and she has seen my face. If her husband survives she may find it in her heart to forgive me my brutality. It’s a fascinating if and the face of agony in front of me was begging a much similar question. I know this because once upon a time I was in his position. Wondering what the man who had me trapped in his death grip would be doing next. It was a face begging for mercy but wishing for death, whichever would bring an end to the suffering the swiftest.
This isn’t some random event. My knives didn’t find this man by mistake, he was my mission and while I appreciate the frantic questioning in his expression I press my blades in. The blood in his throat sends a gurgling sound up till a puddle of red ooze collects before it drips down the corner of his mouth. His eyes showed pain for the last time. I envied him. I envied that his troubles had ended. I did not envy whatever foolhardy thing brought him here. But, as I’ve said, I was once upon a time in his position as well.
The day it happened it was overcast and humid. One of those days that in appearance looked cool and inviting from the safety of an air conditioned loft. That in reality was hot as actual hell. It was that sticky sort of hot that caused your shirt to cling to your back and your skin to become oily with sweat. We had been sitting in our apartment - my girl Allison and I – having just ravished each other and since the A/C had busted we hadn’t bothered to return our clothes. My back was laid against the headboard and her slender figure was pressing against my chest, while her hair was bunched up into my shoulder.
“What do you love more?” She asked me after we had caught our breath.
I remembered that question coming out of the blue, but everything about her was like that. She had a habit of surprising me, usually in good ways but then things often would become off kilter. It was a signal that she was entering the darker side of her bi-polar attitude.
No one could blame her though. The first time I saw her after all she was on her hands and knees with some asshole slamming himself inside of her. I was dropping off a bag of product to this asshole drug dealer/pimp. He was sitting in a back room so that I had to go through the halls of his massive unkempt penthouse. The smell of cat piss was prominent but there were no cats. The carpet was soiled so that no one would be able to guess its original color or texture. And through this lovely den of vice I found him, a bag of coke in my hand and a snub nose under my belt. His hair looked as though it were drenched in the grease from a shitty pizza from a crap pizzeria. That kind of grease that if you were to fold the piece in half and squeeze could fill up a glass. He always wore this white lab coat. It was rumored he dabbled in creating drug cocktails. Expirments of his own design that were just as likely to have a drop of salt as to have a drop of bleach. He called himself the doctor.
“Beautiful isn’t she.” He said underneath the shaking light of a desk lamp that rested on a table alongside the bed that Allison and this prick resided on. I turned my head to her as it was hard not to take notice of such a sight. There was initially already a knot in my stomach at the initial sight, a knot of horror and rage. This wasn’t how I conducted my business. It was the act of a circus side show, The Doctors business, a twisted demented version. He was right though, she was beautiful, but beyond that I saw her misery, I saw the tears. It wasn’t even a choice, and I made it my duty to rescue this woman.
“How much?” I said.
“Five hundred a round.”
“No, to take her home.” I correct. That’s when he turned to me and sniggered at my suggestion. But I turned my attention away from Allison and to that son of a bitch and I looked him dead in the eye. “Something funny?”
Again he laughed, one of those laughs that is accomanpied by the noise of his nose trying to help the air escape a blocked nostril. His eyes were big and he cast them up and the bloodshot nature of them was evident, his eyes met those of the man behind Allison and he smiled broadly. To me he said, “What is she worth to you? A fine pussy like that bring me in a lot of cash. Suppose I said she’s not for sale, what could you offer me to change my mind? To make me loosen up by code.” He laughed again, but his eyes were wild and serious. The tone in his voice demonic and feral.
“This shipment and every shipment for the next year are on the house.” I said without a second thought.
“Seems like you’d some of your partners would be upset with you for giving away blow like that. No profit made from a let’s face it a major client of yours.” He wasn’t lying. The Doctor was indeed a major contributor to my growing enterprise but I looked over at Allison again, her eyes were cast down, still exposed, her hips still gripped by that son of a bitch behind her.
“Looks like I’ll have to put some of my own money back into it. Don’t you worry yourself with my financial predicament. You got enough on your hands to worry about. Why don’t you imagine how much more money you can put into your little carnival here.” I mocked him and he stood up at that like a flash of lightning.
I reached for the snub nose and his hand landed over mine and a smile knife pressed its tip into the bottom of my jaw. “If you have a problem with people like me, maybe you should find yourself another line of work. You can save this one girl, but not all of them. What then? Next time you see me what will you offer me to save the next whore? You think you can come in here with your corn bread smile, your hospitality and small town charm. You are in The City now boy. “
Inside my heart beat with the force that only comes with the fear of an inevitable demise, but I was usually like that. Outside I focused my attention and tilted my head forward so that I felt the tip of his blade puncture the first lair of skin. “Do we have a deal then?”
Instantly he released his hold, and I relinquished the grip on my pistol. He turned to the man behind Allison and snarled, “You heard the man, get out of her, she’s his now.”
“I paid a grand for this bitch, I’m gonna get my fill of her.” The client challenged. The Doctor in a blinding motion through the knife he had threatened me with and it entered deep into the stomach of that bastard.
“The fuck!” The man exclaimed unsure if he should remove the knife or not.
“Get up Allie, you belong to Mr. Harrison here now.” He held his hand out to her and she took it and crawled off the bed. Then I reached for a long yellow dress that I assumed to be hers that was draped on the back of the chair The Doctor had been sitting in and threw it on over her head. She found her way into it and stood in place. She was afraid of me.
Back in the bedroom where I hold her naked body against mine I respond to her question, “What do you mean what do I love more?” The question coming is a sign of another depressive state. When I walked out of that hellhole of an apartment with my arm calmly on the small of her back I could feel her heavy breaths. In a place like The City you usually expect things to get worse. A lowlife would buy someone from another lowlife. There were no levels this place didn’t sink to. Truth is I had no interest in sleeping with her. To me she had the potential to recover herself, get out of this place and find a way to forget things. I may have found my calling here, but not everyone was so lucky. Every facet of this metropolis was corrupt and if you didn’t step in line with the seedy philosophy you were broken down and destroyed. That’s what Allison was, destroyed. She’d heard stories of people getting their start here, with big eyes of ambition. What they didn’t tell you was what you’d have to do to get there. Or what you’d have to do to stay there. She was an easy target.
“Do you prefer your job over me?” She continues, and I listen and feel to her breathe in front of me. The job she referred to her was a line in the drug dealing business. My cousin got me hooked first. When I was at a high school party after some shitty dance this two bit dealer came by offering the kids blow. I took some but never partook. I held onto it, and then decided to test my luck. I offered it at twice the price the dealer had charged, and I offered it to people who wouldn’t be caught dead dealing with no “bottom feeders.” People were willing to pay more to avoid their reputations being sullied by being spotted with the wrong people. In a matter of no time I found my niche. That isn’t to say, as The Doctor clearly illustrates that I continued only dealing with the cleaner cut of the junky community but it did mean that I developed a reputation as an approachable gentleman dealer. Soon I wasn’t only selling to the people with clean reputations but those people who were too scared to seek out dealers on their own. The chicken shits who thought every drug dealer had a side business in murder. I was there in. But there comes a point where you can’t grow anymore, my small mid-western home wasn’t growing any bigger if anything it was shrinking. Not only on a traditional economic level but in our little underground illegitimate business we were seeing clients drop off and disappear. Hauling ass to the next towns. That’s how come I came to be in this place.
Despite the terrifying crime rates, people still came to The City in droves. And so I knew I would be set for the rest of my life. “I love you more than anything Allison.” I said, and I wasn’t lying. “My job, is like my hobby. You love your hobbies, but you don’t want to screw your hobbies, you can’t. You can’t hold them either. But you enjoy them. There it is. My job I enjoy, you I love.”
She was silent. All I could hear was her breathing.
After the rescue we ate a late dinner at a dive bar. The lightning was shit, but she had whispered that she didn’t want to be seen by anyone who could have possibly known her. So we went two blocks too far and sat down to a pill of beef fat with a side of beef trim. It was shitty food, but she devoured everything on her plate. I didn’t blame her, her cheeks were gaunt, and her skin clammy. That psycho path hadn’t kept his girls fed, and up and down her arm you could see the injections he forced upon them. I would later get the full story, how The Doctor had his employ a few good looking twenty somethings, all of whom were beautiful examples of the male sex and he sent them out whooing tourist and coeds. Luring them back to one of The Doctors safe houses were he would be waiting with a bag full of goodies guaranteed to get them jacked. He’d keep them around injecting them with heroin until they craved for it and needed it all on their own. Those that wanted to leave were allowed to but almost all of them came back, suffering withdrawal pains. Prisoners of an addiction that wasn’t even their own. The track marks on Allison’s arms told the same story.
At that dinner I told her, “You know after this, we can get you out of here. You can go back home. To your family.”
She let her fork slide out of her hand and stared at me with her dry eyes, and shook her head, “Please don’t.” It was a look of pure unadeltered terror. Whatever was waiting for her back home was enough to make her find her current predicament a better one. I backed up my words and assured her that she would be safe with me and that she should stay under my supervision for the time being. If left to her own devices she’d be back with The Doctor not in a matter of weeks, but days.
It was a week after she moved in with me that I found her in my bathtub dressed in that yellow dress. The water was cloudy red, and the slits on her wrists were huge and done with exact precision. If I had been moments later she would have been dead, but I saved her. It was while I sat with her in the hospital that I realized I cared so deeply for her. After she had first awoken from the sedatives they gave her, she wouldn’t look at me. Not out of being ashamed, but because she was angry that I had saved her yet again. It didn’t last, I fell asleep next to her in an ucomfortably padded hospital chair two nights in a row never once leaving her side, and something in her changed. I had brought her back from oblivion, and she had met, ironically, the one good guy in this city. That was before I was watching men choke on their own blood. Back then I was sympathetic to the fools, like Allison, who let the bright lights and tall buildings seduce them. While the claws of men like The Doctor rose out of rain gutters and gripped their flesh and dragged them into darkened alleyways to be forgotten. But Allison was safe now, thanks to me.
Allison tilted her head up to me and I met her lips with mine and we held that pose for a moment. Then slowly she pulled away the flesh of our lips slowly pulling away from their sticky embrace. “I’m scared for you.” She says to me. And I don’t blame her, if I go she goes. I know this, I am the only one in this place who has ever cared for her, and she seldom left theapartment without me. I make promises I can’t keep, like that we will be together forever, or that I’ll protect her from anyone who could do her harm. It’s not a lie, I want to believe what I said, but it seldom works that way. After she says that she stands up and I watch her naked form climb off the bed and round the corner into our bathroom. Normally I’d be smiling and admiring the view but what she said bothered me.
“Why are you scared for me?” I call to her. She didn’t say anything back to me, and that bathroom holds painful memories for me. The sight of the closed door brings me back to that day when I found her floating. That day when I fell in love with her nearly lifeless body. When I lifted her up into my arms and carried her dripping through my apartment and down the six flights of stairs to the lobby where the paramedics were just getting in. I felt ashamed that she’d be scared for me, when I was scared for her first.
Then her voice answers me, “Your line of work. It’s, messy.” That was an understatement to say the least, but I knew how to handle myself, and was connected with the right people. My cousin had introduced me to Marcus Riley, a young entrapaneur like myself who had similar ambitions to mine but not the business sense. However, Marcus knew the people I didn’t, had the connections already in place. His Uncle was the son of so and so, who was in business with so and so, and it when on like that. When I got here I was just a big eyed dreamer like anyone else save that I came here to be a part of the underbelly and not the imagined glitz of street level.
Marcus was working for a fat Italian prick named Vincenzo Caprolli. This was the kind of guy who liked to play everything close to the chest. He was a glorified joke, but he was born into the business and inherited his share of wealth to be respected. Rumor was he liked to cut up people, not to kill them,but scar them so that they would A either ship out or B get in line. He was one of those stereotypical mobsters who happened to have a family relationship with his suppliers. Those kind of people who only liked to work with their own kind. And since they were Italian, and Vincenzo was Italian that was all they needed. I only ever saw Vincenzo once before and that was in the back of a limousine. I was laughing inside at the sight of it, it was an old run down thing. Meant to make him look like a man of means, but made him more like a man who was trying far to hard to show off his wealth and power. He had pulled up to the curb when he saw Marcus and I walking out of some taco joint at the end of my block and he waved Marcus on over. When I approached with him he waved me away and talked to Marcus on his own. I was never sure what the conversation entailed because when I asked Marcus about it he told me to forget about it.
When I approached the door to continue my conversation with Allison my phone began to ring. That annoying tone heard throughout The City in old phone booths that were never used anymore. That ringing no one ever had because their cellphones could play popular music to alert them. This was my house phone a corded thing that I approached as it was resting on my kitchen counter next to my espresso machine. Before I picked it up I thought of waiting so I could check on Allison but I didn’t, “Hello.” I said to whoever was on the other line.
Marcus’ voice came over and he sounded frantic. “Clive?”
“Yea?” I responded a tad nervous myself to what this call might entail. After all when you deal with the worst of the worst of the criminal underworld you are prepared for a little blowback at some point.
“Vincenzo’s on a mad spree. He’s rounding up people asking questions.” What he said was vague and I wanted to say as much. Mildly irritated at his cryptic speech but I let the following silence ride out. “Clive? You there?”
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“We need to be careful.” This concerned me but I still wasn’t sure what we were being careful about.
“What’s going on Mark?” I said calmly, my eyes were still cast into the bedroom, to see if the light from the bathroom would reflect on the wall in my view to notify me that Allison had finally come out.
“Someone’s been shaving off from his stock. Apparently its been going on for awhile.”
I didn’t see what Marcus was so afraid of. We hadn’t done any such thing. When we first met we had agreed to do our business legitamently or not at all. We were up and comers in a city of established business men. We always paid out tributes to the right people, always kept an eye on our territories and mainly dealt with people who weren’t already spoken for. Dealing coke to a guy who was getting weed from another source was fine, but you never entroached on another man’s client. That was just good business practices. I wanted there to be an equilibrium to my practices. I wanted to co-exist with the big dogs and work my way up the ladder.
“What are you worried about then? We’ve been getting our product from another source?” That was when I started to get worried. All I heard was static on the other end of the line. “Right?” I asked, my teeth clenching, my free hand balled up into a fist. Still silence for another moment, “Marcus!”
“I borrowed –“
“You borrowed?” I interrupted. I didn’t like that word, in this line of work it wasn’t a word you wanted to hear. Borrowing meant the intention of returning, that you had a means to pay back if not immediately within good time. Our enterprise wasn’t nearly big enough to payback anything yet. “You mean you stole?” Then self preservation jumped to mind, “We didn’t do any borrowing Marcus. Why are you calling me? Why are you warning me? You did this.”
“We’re partners man.” He said, as if “man” would somehow represent an undisclosed bro code that belongs to men who go into unsavory business together. That they owe each other something.
I hung up the phone and stepped further into my kitchen, my attention no longer on the bedroom, no longer concerned for Allison at the moment. I ran my fingers through my hair and uttered a “fuck” under my breath. Dragging the palm of my right hand down the length of my face till it dragged and stuck to my lips for amoment. The phone rang again, I rushed over and picked it up.
“You can’t hang up on me like that Clive.” He sounded like he was on the verge of tears, which was out of character for him. A guy who usually acted as though the world belonged to him that ever street vendor owed him respect. That every woman wanted to suck his cock. A man brewing with confidence.
“This is your problem. Fix it.” I hung up again and then pulled the receiver from its cradle and laid it on the counter.
Then the bathroom door opened. And when I looked over into the bedroom I saw Allison step out with her hair in a pony tail and wearing one of my oversized t-shirts that it more represented a sleeping gown. “Who was that?”
The first day I met Marcus Riley I was wary of him. He was wearing a pair of trim sunglasses, and had obviously just gotten his hair cut. It was slicked back with gel and he was wearing a cheap suit from JCPenney. My immediate labeling of him was “tool” but as usual I waited to lay down my final judgement. After all it was my first contact within the confines of The City if I didn’t want to work with “tools” I couldn’t work with anyone. We sat down over beers, he on one side of a bar corner and me on the other. My ass was rested on an uncomfortable metal stool, and around the whole place was fashioned with this sleek black metal modernist bullshit architecture. The girl behind the bar was pure beauty and she was obviously there to milk the horny drunks for tips. In that place we got to know eachother. That he too had a cousin who knew a guy, and all of that jazz. What I liked about him was that he knew what he was talking about. He knew the players, since he had done random errands for people, and he knew the type of people that didn’t like to deal with the criminal underworld.
The main reason he wanted to meet with me was because I had a sizeable deposit I had bought out for my trip. A nice wealth of blow in a few dufflebags in the trunk of my car. I had driven across three or four state lines to make it here, with enough drugs in vehicle to put me away for life. My entire life savings had gone into procuring myself a place to live, gas for my junked up little jalopy and buying out my supplier a wealth of product. I figured you had to spend money to make money, and besides I could mark it up over here. The only problem as I was warned by Marcus is that we had to be careful what toes we stepped on. There were plenty of nobodies like me that we could encroach upon but then there was Vincenzo whom Marcus was quite pleased had brought him in on his operation.
“Vincenzo is a piece of work let me tell you,” Marcus was saying in between nervous shots. I could tell right then he was afraid of him, “That fat bastard is paranoid to all hell. He’s always looking over all three shoulders you know what I’m saying.” As he continued I thought that was a good line of respect to have for a man, fear. If you feared someone you wouldn’t take chances screwing them over, I thought it was good. Marcus continued, “That’s how come I got in tight with his crew. I’m like a son to him.” I knew that sounded to good to be true, in my experience most “tools” think more of themselves than is actually the case. There was a level of exaggeration, in their own eyes they were something when the whole of the world knew they were nothing. “See we keep on his good side, and we do business on the side. Knocking out his competition then we have nothing to be worry about.”
“I have a finite amount of product under my belt.” I reminded him, “We can’t build an industry on finite goods. Addicts will always need, that’s why they are addicts.”
“Don’t worry, my sisters been sleeping with this Polish son of a bitch up over on the east end. He’s got a supply line coming through but he doesn’t want to be on the street level. We’ll be fine come that time.” He guzzled down his pint of beer and let out a small belch. He excused himself with a palm under his throat and then asked me, “Do you wanta get laid?”
“It was no one. Just a wrong number, called back twice.” I lied to Allison. She smiles at me and walks into the kitchen toward the refridgerator.
“So what are we doing today?”
“What’s today?” I say.
“It’s Monday.. She says matter of factly and proceeds to pull out some milk from the fridge. She stretches up to retrieve a cup on the top shelf of one of our cupboards which hikes up her shirt so that I catch a clips of the purple panties she’s wearing. I’m trying to distract myself from the shit storm that is obviously circling around me.
Its best not to worry Allison with it so I try to pretend I’m not growing panicked. I walk up behind her with my hands on her waist I say, “Whats so special about Mondays?”
“Nothing. Its just another day. A world of possibilities awaits us just outside that window. We have a whole city to explore.” She twirls around and faces me and takes a sip of her milk. “So what is it, dinner, movies? Maybe you could take me to that carnival that’s going on down on the boardwalk?” There’s nothing more I’d like to do than do any of those things she ssuggested, but Marcus’ tone is echoeing in my ears. And I feel a slight guilt at leaving him to panic on his own. She must see something hesistant in my expression because she takes a long sip of her milk and keeps her eyes locked on mine, “That wasn’t a wrong number was it?”
I nod my head.
“Marcus?” She asks.
I nod again. “He’s gotten into some trouble. I should probably go help him straighten it out. Its nothing though, just a misunderstanding that needs clarifying.” I kiss her forehead and turn away, trying my hardest not to break into a sprint for my bedroom closet. Trying my hardest not to get dressed in a frenzy. “You know how Marcus is.” I call back as I step into a pair of smiley face boxers. “He gets things confused and is prone to stuttering.”
Allison steps into the doorway arms folded a stern disapproving look on her face, “You can’t bail him out of every little mix up.”
“Baby if I don’t he’s liable to wind up dead off the docks some place. Probably with his tongue shoved up his ass.” I slide a white t-shirt on and quickly step into each leg of a pair of blue jeans. “I’m the voice of reason.” I can tell she’s upset with me, which doesn’t exactly take a detective to deduce. So I approach her and rub each of her shoulders and look her dead in the eye, “When I get back I’m all yours.”
“If you come back.” She turns her head away from me as a tear swells in her eye. With my index finger against her left cheek I guide her face back to mine. “I’m sorry.” The tear escaped and glided down her cheek before turning to slide on her lips. Her hand came up to wipe it away, and she became a little hurried, “I can’t stand the idea of losing you. I don’t have any place to go back to. You are everything I have that doesn’t want to hurt me. And everyday your out I sit by this window chain smoking a pack of cigarettes because I’m so panicked the police are going to show up and say you’ve been put in jail or worse.” She won’t say dead, as though the word isn’t in her vocabulary. As though it’s the worst kind of explatitve to exist.
“I’m sorry for that.” I lean in for one more kiss, and taste the tear that passed upon her lips. “But I know what I’m doing.” Or at least I liked to think I did.
As Allison had pointed out it wasn’t the first time I had to help Marcus in a pinch. But what Allison referred to wasn’t a clusterfuck of this magnitude. It was typical of Marcus to pick fights with the wrong kind of drunks, to flirt with the wrong women. Any such procurements were usually settled with fist fights, and he’d have a bloody nose and I’d be dragging him up his apartment complexes stairwell. Or letting him borrow some money to pay back a small debt. Those were the kind of bail outs that were typical of our relationship. When I first met Marcus I never figured he’d be a friend of mine, he was always going to be a strict business partner. Then soon he needed a wingman for a Friday night, or a partner for a double date for some twins he was trying to bang. He spent his money as fast as he made it, and I collected, and saved. Waiting to invest in growing my enterprise. He was unfortunately in his already laundry list of character defaults and end user. Not at first, if that had been the case I wouldn’t have given his offer to work together a second thought. But eventually, he was taking hits off of hookers, and out of urinals in unsavory public restrooms. His everlasting redeeming feature was loyalty. So even though he was going the path of self-destructing I had already invested so much in the guy that I never tossed him aside. This latest mess was the icing on the cake though, I knew it was time for him to go.
When I stepped out the doors to my apartment complex I was thankful that I gave Allison a kiss good-bye and told her for the hundredth time that I loved her, because in front of me sitting cooly against the curb was Vincenzo Caprolli’s dirty cream colored limousine. With a door open for me. I didn’t take the chance to appear hesistant as I feared that would raise suspicioun that I somehow knew something about Marcus’ thievery, instead I walked straight for it. I was hoping Allison wasn’t sitting up there on the window ledge smoking her cigarettes and watching me enter some random vehicle she’d never seen before. God only knows what she would assume was going to happen to me.
The man holding the door open was dressed in a perfectly pressed two button suit. It was the color of pitch and he had underneath it a nearly blackened blue shirt and a shade lighter tie. On his face hung a pair of aviator sunglasses and a vacant expression. When I stepped up to him I gave him a glance to see what I should do next, but his face was turned away from me. He never acknowledged me. I climbed inside the limousine and crawled over the leather seats to the far side, and then he immediately followed in after me. The door creaked and slammed as he shut it, and he hung his hand out the window slapping the exterior of the car to signal to the driver to start moving. Vincenzo was nowhere in sight.
“Are we going to meet Vincenzo?” I inquired, knowing before I even asked it that the man beside me wouldn’t answer. Instead he reached into his pocket and produced a red pack of cigarettes with only a small tear at the top. He packed it in his hand till one of them popped out, and held it out to me. I made to protest, as I didn’t smoke, but he shook the pack at me without turning in my direction so I obliged him and pulled one out. It was never intended for me because he shoved the pack back into his coat and grabbed the cigarette from fingers with the same hand he was holding his pack in. Then he pursed the unlit thing between his lips and proceeded to light it. Not with some fancy zippo, or decorative lighter, just a generic tiny green piece of shit thing you buy for fifty cents at a corner store. Still operating the thing with the same hand. That’s when I noticed his left hand was missing a thumb and forefinger.
“I took something that didn’t belong to me.” He said as he puffed on his cigarette, and extinguished the lighter flame. His face was still turned from me and staring out at the blurred object that passed us by. There wasn’t enough momentum to cause the air to circulate and in this heat I could feel my arms sticking to the leather interior. I could feel the sweat forming around my ears, but I wasn’t sure if that had so much to do with the weather than the situation I somehow found myself in. “Its okay though. The important thing is knowing you did wrong. Accepting punishment.” I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about but it was obviously some kind of code to make me start shaking in my boots, and while I wasn’t that far into my fear, it wasn’t that hard to imagine getting there soon.
“Where are we going?” I asked to more silence. He let out a bellow of smoke with an exaggerated blowing noise, and wiped his lips with the back of his hand.
“I always liked you.” He said, “Seemed like you were smart.” I was more confused and tried to search my brain to figure out where I’d met or seen this guy before but I was drawing a blank. “I’ll pray for you.” He turned his head toward me with his aviator sunglasses and a crooked smile went over his face. “Roll down your window its like a goddamn oven in here.” He lifted up his damaged hand and pointed with his middle finger.
Reaching my hand down I cranked the window and realized that this was the first car I’d been in in sometime without power windows. It was a strange thought to have but my mind was looking for anyway not to ask questions during the lengths of uncomfortable silence. If this guy was a psychopath I didn’t want to be on his bad side. Didn’t want to cause any aggravation, so contemplating the nature of power windows and their monopoly on cars nowadays was the best I could come up with. If I thought about Allison I’d think about me dead, and her alone, and then dead. Maybe a small fraction of good would come of that, we’d both me dead together, and if I was wrong and there was an after life we’d probably be together. The prostitute and the dealer. A match made in hell.
“Are you married?”
“Me?” I say for some reason. He’s looking at me now and smiles again and nods.
“No, no I’m not married.”
“That’s good.” He looked back out and took a longer drag on his cigarette than usual. “When Mr. C’s upset he likes to do things that are a little impulsive. Like cut off your fingers, take a mallet to a wife’s face.” He inhaled and talked through a cough, “I once saw him yank out atwelve year old girls teeth with a pair of pliers.” His smile went away and he finished blowing smoke out. “And to answer your question we are going to Mr. C’s boat yard.” I knew the place, it was all the way on the other side of The City. Over the drawbridge and passed all the smells of oil and melted metals, and rotting fish carcasses. I’d only ever been over there a couple times. To pick up Marcus’ younger brother Ford who worked at the boat yard.
Then I chimed in, “He didn’t have to send a car. I could have explained everything over the phone.”
“He doesn’t like phones. Its face to face or not at all. Now if you don’t mind shutting the fuck up I want to enjoy the sights of decay.” With that he laid his head against the frame of the open window and if I were to venture a guess he fell asleep because he didn’t say another word or move the rest of the drive.
If the heat hadn’t been so unforgiving, or if the fact that I was potentially driving to my ultimate death I might have ventured a try at falling asleep myself. But I was awake the entire length of the trip watching the passerby’s go on with their daily routines. Carrying groceries, jogging, cycling, skipping down the street with their kids. It still surprised me that people would have children here, but our base need to procreate made it make sense. Despite the absolute hold this city had in the crime world, even bad guys needed spouses and children to care for. Maybe they were the only rays of light in this madness, a way to differentiate themselves from who they really were. Murdererers and thieves, pimps and prostitutes, dealers and users. And these people walked to and fro along level sidewalks, and over abused ones with potholes both small and wide. I watched the buildings go from snug and cramped shopfronts and apartment complexes, crap diners and school yards. A colossal mess of architectural design. Then they spaced out more and brokerage firms passed by, several theaters both film and stage and the police station were some bike messenger was handcuffed to the railing looking bored. Then it all vanished as the cars tires echoed out the sound of the steel that made up the bridge out of town. The steel towers along its entrance the decaying railing. An ugly green chipping paint job along the walk ways on either side. Walk ways devoid of people and their families. Of foot or bike traffic. As the only business over here involved either freight trucks or hearses. By the time we had made it here, through all the stop signs and traffic lights the sun had begun to set.
We drove around a ways more on the other side. Smoke stacks on either side of me, as the road twisted one way and then the other and back again so that I feared we were driving in circles. You’d have thought the island was smaller but it seemed to stretch on miles upon miles and it stank of industrial waste. Like coal and gasonline, like fish and rotting flesh.
Then we pulled into a vacant lot. That was towered over by a large unwelcoming warehouse. A stained white box with rippled dirty walls. At the far end where the limousines headlights landed was a lone door. A steel thing with a bare bulb sitting over it, in a steel trap. “Get out.” The asshole next to me spoke. He rolled up his window and then opened his door. I opened mine, “Hey, roll up the window and make sure you lock the door. This is a bad neighborhood.” He said with a not to subtle hint of glee. I obeyed and cranked my window back up and pushed down the lock before slamming the door shut. On the other side of the he adjusted his collar and carefully shut his own door before walking forward. I followed. Even though everything survival instinct within me told me to turn and run. That this man could never catch me. Then I thought maybe he had a gun, and if he didn’t have a gun, they could chase me down with the car. Maybe I’d run inbetween shops and through a small forest of trees so that they couldn’t see me. Then the drawbridge could be raised and even if it wasn’t making it across on foot would leave me exposed. I could swim across the wide channel but I’d be liable to be picked up by boat or they’d just be waiting for me on shore. None of those really stopped me from running. If I were to go they’d go after Allison, maim her, get her to betray me and get me to come out. So I followed after him as the driver of the limousine switched off his car and the lights died out so that the door was solely illuminated by that bulb overhead that gave off a pail and eerie yellow light.
He arrived at it and opened it up. Pulling on it hard as it creaked open and its base scratched against the paved ground and followed suit into the scratches that were already present. There were no shapes to make out inside, it was pitch black. A void that beckoned me forth so that it might swallow me whole. The sweat trickled down the back of my neck as I entered and he was right behind me dragging the door shut so that that creaking and scratching echoed like mad voices in what I assumed to be an enormous gigantic room. Then it shut and it was almost like a moonless night. Just ahead of me however there was a window with a bright yellow light that cast its rays into the room till it was lost in the far shadows. And through that window a large wide figure stood. An enormous body with its arms folded so that the shadow of his elbows poked out from the round shape. Up in that foremans office Vincenzo Caprolli looked down on me like a malevolent god. Then there was a buzzing and all the lights slowly came to life.
The room was all but empty save for about four or so shipping containers all pressed up against the far wall. The floor was bare concrete with stains of metallic rust and random colors of splashed paint. Then the man from the car brushed passed me so that his shoulder knocked into mine and he gestured with his head for me to follow. We walked straight on our footsteps sending light echoes into the vast empty spaces of this unwelcoming place. Each step bring us forward and closer to that foremans office. A square box that resembled the steel containers that hung suspended in the air with a metallic staircase of mostly rust that ran out of its side and out along the wall for a ways before turning and leading down to the ground floor. I remembered thinking that that the whole thing would buckle under the weight of that fat bastard but unfortunately that never happened.
It wasn’t until we were practically under it that I saw the table. A small steel thing with chipping rust along its corners. The red mixture of that and what I could only assume were stains of blood. The legs of it were bolted to the floor along with the chair on the left side which was also made of a smiliar rusting steel. The chair on the other side was cushioned and made of thick wood, and it was free from any restraint. “Sit down.” The man said to me. He stepped to the steel chair and placed his palms on the back of it. Upon the table were two arches were made thick into the table. A thick metal chain ran through them, and on the other side each housed a couple leather straps that were connected to the chains, which ran down to the floor behind the chair. I hadn’t moved since he’d said to sit, and he cleared his throat so that my eyes met his. I swallowed ahidden lump in my throat and walked toward him.
I took a seat and he moved around to the side of the table and pointed with finger to the arches. “Lay your hands flat and put them through here.” I looked at him momentarily to see if this were some kind of joke, but he kept his finger aimed at the metal contraption. Without a fight or a remark I did what he said. In retrospect I wished I had put up a fight, in retrospect maybe I wished I would have died going out in some sort of blaze of glory. That was never the case. I was complacent in this act, which made me feel like a fool. As soon as my hands were through he reached forward and placed my hands through the leather straps and made sure to secure them as tightly as he could. Then he vanished some place behind me. Soon I heard the clanking of the chains as they dragged along the floor and then my hands were yanked backwards so that they pressed against the archways were the leather was too thick to pass through. I was now stuck.
“You’re a curious sort.” He said to me as he came back into view. A cigarette pack in his good hand he tilted towards my fingers to retrieve a cigarette, which I complied with. Then he did what he had done before retrieving the cigarette from me and placing it between his lips and lighting it with his cheap ass lighter. “Most people put up more of a fight.”
“Why should I fight?” I answer swiftly . It would only serve me well to be confident in my innocence. Let these bastards know I wasn’t stupid enough to find myself in this kind of situation, even though I was indeed in this situation at this moment. The man didn’t answer me but instead dragged on his cigarette, removed it and blew a ring of smoke that dissipated into the air. Then the sound of lumbering footsteps could be heard from overhead compartment. The man looked up and then down at me, I could see his eyes a little through his aviators and he dragged once again on the cigarette and stepped away. The floor creaked as the footsteps went in the direction the stair case was and then the door noisily opened and slammed shut. A foot landed on the stairs and then another. Heavy intense footsteps. Slow, and deliberate footsteps. They came down the stairs one by one, and the form of his enormous body came down fully with each step. A thick suit coat that waved a little as it was still tight and form fitting. Sinking into the rolls of his flesh.
Vincenzo turned on the stairs holding onto the railing and then the man with the sunglasses walked away from me to some hidden place behind me. Vincenzo lumbered slowly down the stairs and paused briefly to catch his breath. Every foot step echoed intensely and I could hear him wheezing slightly unable to handle the small workout he was facing. Then he continued down, until finally he took a step onto the ground floor. There was sweat underneath his armpits that ran down the sides under his arms. And his face was meshed with the greasy sweat from his hair. Oily and pasty he came closer and closer. Looking at me the entire time, not with any look of emotion but eyes still on me. When he came to the other chair he unbuttoned his suit coat, and hollered off behind me, “When you bring the tools grab me a bottle of water from the cooler. Its like a sauna in ‘ere.” Then he sat down slowly as if testing his weight on the chair so that it wouldn’t break. Then there we were, eye to eye.
“You’re Harrison?” He said in surprise. I nodded. “You loose your voice or something?”
“No.” I said. What the hell did he mean by tools I thought as I tried to maintain composure. I knew I had nothing to worry about but clearly Vincenzo was trying his hardest to frighten me as though I did. But what could he do to me for something I at best was only guilty by association of.
“Have you spoken to your associate Mr. Riley?” I said yes. “And he told you what I found out did he?” I said yes again.
I added, “He told me he borrowed from you.”
Then Vincenzo after all his stone faced expression burst into a grin which exploded out with laughter, “Borrowing? This is what he said? Borrowing?”
I nervously smiled back. I shrugged my shoulders, “His words.”
“That’s one of those,” he paused a moment while his eyes looked back in his head searching for the word, “One of those words you say for something that is shitty but you say it to make it sound much nicer.”
“A euphanism.” I inform him.
“Yes, that is what this word is. A euphanism. Stealing no matter what you call is stealing.” As soon as he finished speaking the man with the glasses came back and dropped a large tin toolbox on the table so that it shook the damn thing. Lightly he placed a bottle of water in front of Vincenzo who picked it up and took his time unscrewing the top. He tilted his head back and knocked away one of his chins to a double as the water poured down his gullet, and in a matter of seconds it was gone. I could see the pooled sweat against the folds in his neck. He placed the bottle down and dropped the cap next to it and pointed toward the sunglass guy and said, “Abner here stole from me once.” At the words my eyes went to Abner’s hand with the missing fingers, “But you know what he came back to me, even after I cut off his fingers and he out of respect continued to work for me. He owned up to his mistakes.”
“He sounds likea good man.” I condescended.
Vincenzo shook his head, “Good? No. Loyal? Yes. Effective? You bet your ass.” Abner was grinning proudly at the words like some sick minded strange-o. He began unlocking the tool box and pulled back the lid. Vincenzo looked over the items inside and even I tried to peak but still something inside me thought it’d be better if I didn’t know what the box contained. The first thing he pulled out was a rubber mallet and he laid it on the table in front of him before wiping his fingers around so that the sound of metal scraping metal could be heard. “Did you think you could get away with it?” He said without looking at me.
“Sir, I didn’t do -” As soon as I said the word didn’t his free hand snagged the mallet and he brought it down hard on the table. His eyes were hard on me, slanted and vile. He looked uglier now than he had earlier. Droplets of sweat ran down several of parts of his face and a small drop was resting on the top of his nose.
“Mr. C doesn’t like liars.” Abner chimed in. Vincenzo shook his head silently the mallet was pressed hard into the table still. “Lay your hands flat on the table.” Abner commanded.
“Why?” But even when I said that Abner was removing a gun from inside of his suit and he aimed that forty five in my face. I complied. Then it happened the mallet came up briefly and in a blinding rage was brought down hard on my knuckles, not only once but twice, there was a cracking sound and I tried to move from my chair but was stuck. I tried to ball my hand back into a fist but the pain was too much so I left it as was. “I didn’t steal from you Mr. Caprolli. Marcus acted on his own.”
“Maybe.” He said. He wiped some of the seat away and rubbed the wet hand on his breast pocket. “You kids.” There was a pause and he shook his head, “I’ve been this city for forty five years, and before that I was a puddle of cum in my fathers ball sack. And he was in this City till he was just the same as I was and so on and so forth since the conception of this gloriously vile place. And you kids come here because you thought you had what it took to try and push me out of the way. Peddling your junk around to everyone who didn’t deal with me. There is an established law to our enterprise you little cocksucking fuck.”
“I didn’t mean any disrespect.” I cried through the pain radiated up my arm from my broken hand. “Marcus misinformed me.”
“Oh I don’t doubt it.” He looked up at Abner and nodded.
“Lay out your other hand.” He said gun still pointed at me.
“No.” I said in amoment of strange defiance. He pushed the gun forward till I could feel the barrel driving into my skin, pressing it tightly against my skull. “No.” I said again. He walked around me and moved the barrel so that it pressed into the side of my head just above my right ear. His lips were right near my left ear because the breath was warm and foul that brushed against my skin. “I promise you if you don’t comply it’ll be much much worse.” He slithered and spit on me.
I complied and again I was struck hard with the blinding force of the mallet. One, two, three times this time. The thin hair ontop of Vincenzo’s head had fallen uncontrolled in front of his eyes in his brutal attack and he slicked them back to the top of his head. Again he placed the mallet down.
“Marcus is my wife’s nephew and while I don’t like the little shit he is a relation.” I’m told by that fat fuck as I try to keep my eyes from watering to heavily. There’s a rage building in me and I try to keep it under control, my punishment should be over soon. But I was never told that Marcus was related. “He’s a son of a bitch I’ll give him that. His father is some meth head nobody, his mother well his mother my wifes sister is gone. Run off. I kind of took him under my wing you see.” So that was what Marcus had meant when he said he was like a son to Vincenzo. That son of a bitch lied to me. “I couldn’t kill him. Or hurt him too bad. But before you showed up he was loyal to me. I had no trouble with that little cunt, and then you show up, and suddenly he gets big ideas. When did you suggest to him to cut into my supply?”
“I didn’t!” I found myself screaming, “That motherfucker assured me were getting our blow from some Polish bastard his sister was fucking over at the east end. That’s where our blow was coming from.”
Vincenzo leaned his face into me, “He’s an only child.” He fumbled around again in his toolbox and took out a long flat head screw driver. It was stained red. “You see Marcus has no common sense, he’s too stupid and scared of me to foul up like that. Not without a push.” He pointed the screwdriver at me, “A push I think that came from you.”
Abner who had still been breathing down my neck removed the gun barrel from my head and slid his hands down the length of my arms and the stub where his fingers used to be ran down the length of my left arm till he to my wrists. “You have the flesh of a young woman. Its soft and fine. Such a shame.”
While I was distracted by Abner that’s when Vincenzo used the screwdriver and with sharp stabbing motions he jabbed repeatedly into my right hand. My attention returned swiftly and I balled up my hands but as soon as I did so Abner moved his hand forward and pushed down hard to flatten out my hand. He even was stabbed once. And with each stab Vincenzo scooped out a splash of blood and a porotion of red fleshy matter. Screams escaped my lips non-stop and I tried to pull my hands out but Abner held them down hard, showcasing a strength I didn’t realize he was capable of. The pain said lightning rods of pain down the length of my right arms and up into my neck, and the blood flew up and I was stuck. My feet sliding frantically against the floor trying to push myself off my chair. There was a moment when I thought it would be over where the stabbing metal tip of the screwdriver stopped tapping against the metal of the table. And I thanked god it was over.
Then he lightly placed the tip of the screwdriver just above the knuckle of my indext finger. But he didn’t stab me again. I closed my eyes and let my breaths escape slowly so that I could gather my thoughts. That maybe I could reason with him. Convince him to end it here. The tip of the screwdriver waited in its place. My eyes looked up at that fat fucks and he grinned sadistally at me, up at me and his face was stained with a small spray of blood. Blood from my hand that pooled underneath the mangled thing that laid on the table and flowed toward the edge of the table where it dripped into a pool on the floor. “Watch this?” Whispered the maniacal Abner and he licked the bottom of my ear. My eyes opened and I saw the mallet raised in the air and I saw it come down and I heard the bone snap apart and saw my finger slide forward disconnected from its source.
“Stop!” I begged. “I won’t do it again.” I admitted to my non-existant crime. Hoping it would inspire sympathy, but somehow doubting it. If he stopped I might save the hand, the broken thing full of holes like tears in paper. Shavings of skin above each wound. The tip of the screwdriver rested atop the middle finger. “Please just let me –“ Down it came. Vincenzo used the screwdriver to push the dismembered fingers to the side so that they fell on the floor and landed in the pile of ooze on the floor. I was feeling light headed. Then he continued with my ring and pinky fingers. When he came to my thumb he didn’t even use the mallet and just stabbed heatedly and exhausted himself ripping in the process most of my wrist apart so that if you pulled on it would be like tearing plastic wrap.
I had on hand left and my right arm without a hand slid easily from the secure confines. There’s was nothing to feel as my fingerless hand remained where it was. I was light headed, and tired. Exhausted. I’d accepted that something would happen to me and I was in a way okay with the outcome. The brutality was no expected but I still had my life. I pulled my arm off the table so that it dangled and dripped blood. I’d be dead from blood loss soon. Abner was at my side tying a piece of cloth around my arm as a tourniquet. “Hospital.” I said looking at him. Even that sick bastard could be my savior at that moment, I had no fight in me.
“Soon.” He said to me he scratched his fingers through my hair like an adorable puppy.
That’s when the stabbing started on my other hand, and I passed out to a world of black numbness. The sound of scraping metal and spraying blood, the echoe of dripping ooze as if it sounded amplified beyond comprehension, all there until it was silence.