“Stupid bastard.” That is all Julia says as she kicks David’s unconscious form into the gutter. Her lips curl into a sneer of contempt as she spits on him and turns away. Personally I think it’s a little overdramatic, but to be fair, David is in fact a stupid bastard.
“Let’s get out of here before Eli comes back and get’s all mental on us,” I suggest. Eli is a good kid, but he tends to panic when things get bad, which is why he normally doesn’t get to hang out with us at night.
“Sounds good to me, babe.”
Julia and I walk down the street, trying to look casual, but our hurried pace is a dead giveaway. “Man, why did he have to go and do that? I mean, Jesus, of all the nights to go too far.”
“No shit.” Julia reaches into her pocket and pulls out a cigarette. She tries to look cool lighting it with her father’s old zippo, but I can see the tremble to her hands. “Do you think we should have left him?” She takes a drag off of her cigarette and exhales through her nose, looking like an angry mythical beast.
I reach for her cigarette and take a drag before handing it back. “Yeah, if we had hung around Albert would have gotten there, and I don’t think he would be satisfied taking it out on the unconscious guy.” I pick up my pace, it’s subconscious at first, but the more I think about it the more I want to put as much space between myself and David’s passed out form. “Have you ever been on Albert’s bad side before?” Julia shakes her head and keeps her eyes staring straight ahead. “I still have the scars from being there.”
“Well then what do we do now?” Julia asks. Her voice is flat, but the way her eyes search out every shadow tells me that she is scared. She was dragged into this life less than a year ago and learned well the danger of exposing your fear, but this is the first time she was in a spot she couldn’t talk or fuck her way out of.
“We run. We keep running until we feel safe and then run a little more.” She is lucky to be paired with me tonight. I have an escape plan ready.
“Sounds a little cliché to me.”
“Yeah, I suppose it does.” The sad thing is that I am being completely honest. The bulk of my plan includes running. Some of the running will be done in a car, but it is still running. I figure we have about half an hour to be away from everything we know before Albert starts looking for us. We might have a little more, but I’d rather assume that he will make a snap decision and come after us. Albert is not reckless, but he doesn’t agonize over his choices either.
I don’t normally carry cash on me because it is far too easy to lose, and tonight is no exception. I would give just about anything for a little cash at this moment. We are too far from my apartment to walk and still get away. Without cash we aren’t likely to get a taxi this late at night in this part of town. That really only leaves two options: take a bus and cut it close or forget about hitting my place and leave with nothing. It wasn’t a question but I hate the bus.
“Come on, Julia.” I say as I drag her down the street for another block. I look up and down the road, making sure we’re not being followed, then cross the street. We take shelter in a rundown bus stop, hiding beneath the rusty, hole riddled roof that was there long before Julia had been born. Hell, the thing was probably older than her parents, but the mottled shadows within feel safe. The dark gloom inside is more comforting than the unforgiving streetlights outside. I keep an eye toward the street, watching for the bus which is due in five minutes. Julia shivers against me despite the warm breeze of the night.
Time slows as we huddle in the dark. Julia talks tough and acts the part, but she is new enough to the street to still feel the fear. I surrendered my fear long ago. I have been down low so long that anything more than survival is the shadow of a dream glimpsed through tinted windows. Hope is forgotten as soon as reality crashes back around me. I don’t give us much of a chance for success tonight, but I have to try. If nothing else I want to find a way to get her out of this sewer and give her a real life.
The bus heralds its arrival with the screech of over used breaks. We hurry into the bus, showing our bus passes and quickly moving to the back. Thankfully the bus is nearly empty. The only other passengers are a drunk couple furiously making out, a homeless guy who smells of wet garbage and urine, and a prostitute. The amorous couple and the homeless guys are the regular window dressing for a two A.M. bus trip, but I know the hooker. She lives in my building and works for one of Albert’s associates. We are leaving a trail already.
The twenty minutes it takes to get to my apartment drags on for an eternity. The hooker, Charlene is her name I think, never looks back at us, but I keep my eyes on her just the same. I hope that she doesn’t notice us, but I know she has been on the street too long not to have. In the movies street people claim to see nothing, but the reality is that they notice everything. Survival depends on not getting caught unaware, so you learn to take note of every little detail, no matter how insignificant they seem.
The bus jerks to a stop a block from my apartment. I stand and drag Julia after me. We pass Charlene as she stands up. Subtly is out of the question. Speed is all important and I know the clock is working against us. “Come on, we’re running out of time,” I whisper roughly to Julia as we leave the bus. She struggles to keep up. Her high heels make it hard for her to walk on the crooked, broken sidewalk of my neighborhood.
“I know, I know,” she says as she follows after me. She is scared and I’m sure I am not helping her either.
“I’m sorry, but we’ve only got about ten minutes before somebody checks my place for us and I’d really like to be gone before they get here.” The door to my apartment building comes into sight and I feel a wave of relief come over me, but it quickly crashes down about me as a long grey sedan rounds the corner up ahead. It should be too soon, but my gut tells me it is no random occurrence. I turn down the alley on my right, pulling Julia after me. We are too screwed, too quickly.
“What the fuck…”
“Shut up! They’re already here,” I whisper as I clamp my hand over her mouth. “Damnit! I thought we’d have more time.” I look around, hoping to find something that might help out, but sometimes an alley is just an alley and it’s filled with nothing but other people’s refuse. I pull my hand from Julia’s mouth. “Get on my back. We need to get out of here.” I turn around and she climbs on board. ‘Thank God she’s small,’ I think to myself as we jog into the darkness away from my escape plan.
I turn the corner into another alley and hear two gunshots behind us. They are muffled, probably from within my apartment. Whoever had gone to find me hadn’t been to my room before or they wouldn’t have shot the full length mirror that hung on the wall opposite of my door. More than one visitor had been startled by seeing themselves upon entering. It doesn’t surprise me that some thug would squeeze off a couple rounds after breaking down my door. It won’t take long to figure out I’m not there. They will start asking my neighbors and Charlene will tell them we were on the bus.
I’d like to say that I have a back up plan, but my escape plan is my back up plan. I need some time to figure out what to do next. It takes time to stop and I know that they are too close and stopping means dying. My mind races for somewhere to go, someplace that Albert won’t think of. I have been a local fixture for too long. Albert knows where to find me and probably knows where to find Julia too. The only place we can go is nowhere we have been.
Uptown is the only place I can think of where we will not be found right away, but uptown is pretty far for us to walk and we have no other means of getting there. I could steal a car, but I do not want the police involved. Albert owns most of the local cops and most of the uptown ones as well. You don’t get to be a big time player like him if you don’t have the law on your side. It is times like this when I wish I could call for help.
Julia’s muffled crying against my shoulder makes up my mind for me. If I am going to save us I have to go back to my old life. It has been a long time since I left, but some lessons learned long ago become more instinct than memory. I know I am not as good as I once was, but the real question was whether or not I was good enough for right now. There were a few tricks up my sleeve even Albert did not know about, but I, we, had to get uptown to stand a chance.
I say a little prayer as I run through the alley and take it as a good sign that my prayers have been answered as we leave the alley. Sitting there on the little side street is a taxi with its “available” light lit. It is against all odds, but that is the beautiful thing about prayer. I walk over to the passenger side and knock on the window.
“Jesus!” The cabbie would have jumped out of his chair if not for the seatbelt strapped across his lap.
“No, Justin, but I appreciate the compliment. Now can we get a ride?”
“You got money?” he asks.
“No, but wouldn’t you like to do something nice today and take s to uptown?” I am straining, trying to eek out as much goodwill and good fortune as I an It has been a long time since I have tried to bring forth the power and I have to throw all of my concentration behind it to even get the trickle I am starting to feel.
“Ha! You’re a funny guy you know that? Ha!” The man in the cab pulls out a cigarette and lights up. He looks at me over his thick fingers as he delicately holds the cigarette to his lips. “What’s wrong with the girl?”
“She had a bit too much to drink and I need to get her home.” I keep my eyes locked on his while I feed the flow. I push at his heart and soul, trying to get him to let me in, but I am too weak, too out of practice.
“You two don’t look old enough to be drinking,” he says after taking a long drag. His smoke stained fingers grip the filter tightly. “In fact, you don’t look like you’ve been drinking at all.” He eyes me suspiciously.
“I wasn’t. I was just along for the ride. Before I knew it she was falling all over the place and I thought I had better get her out of there.” Suddenly I can feel it, the crack I am looking for. I push my will into the crack, feeding as much positive energy into it as I can muster.
There is a change in the cab driver. It is almost imperceptible, not much more than a twinkle in the man’s eyes, but it is there. “Look kid, I can’t take you all the way uptown, at least not for free, but I can take you about half way okay?”
“Bless you Carl.” I open the door, put Julia in and climb in beside her.
“All right, let’s get going,” Carl says as he turns the car on and quietly drives off.
I feel something pull at my consciousness so I look over my shoulder in time to see three men walk out of the alley. It may be my imagination or the exhaustion from reaching out to Carl, but I see a glint of red through the darkness. It is the light in Carl’s eyes in reverse, only it comes from the men behind us. What have I gotten myself into?
Don’t forget to offer up your thoughts on a title for the story in the comments below. I’m counting on you!