(C) Tooluser Feb 2011
This story is fiction, and no similarity to persons either living or dead is intended. Any such resemblance is entirely coincidental.
As always, comments, criticism and feedback appreciated! Hope you enjoy this episode!
Jase snuck another look at his watch and bit his lip. Where the heck was Mickey?
He hunched down in the diner’s hard plastic seat and patted his pockets nervously for about the fiftieth time. Both packets were still there, good. One, large and fat; the other small. He faked a sip of his soda and looked around the narrow room as he did so.
The rain battered against the windows, and the dull, flat light managed to mute even the aggressive primary reds and yellows of the plastic benches and tables. Mounted on the wall behind the chrome-topped counter, an old TV mumbled a morning news-cast. Idly Jase read the scrolling banner: hints of some politician having shady financial dealings – well, there was something unusual – not! He looked away, disinterested.
At one of the window tables four guys sat, shoulders hunched, chatting amiably and drinking coffee after demolishing the largest fried breakfasts that Carlo’s had to offer. Two more guys, weary and unshaven, were munching thick sandwiches separately at the counter.
Although he’d never worked Carlo’s, Jase had no doubt they were all truckers; they had the look. It wasn’t just a physical thing: big bellies from sitting down all day, and strong arms and shoulders from working the rig; it was a deeper, internal toughness. Ready to enjoy company if it was available, but equally content to be alone. Some boys only worked the truck-stops: drawn to that private, rock-like inner strength. Some liked the “wash ‘n’ go” of no-strings camaraderie; some, like Mickey, found one guy and dug in deep. And where the hell was Mickey, anyway? Jase peered out of the streaked window into the lot, but all he could see was rain bouncing knee-high off the shining blacktop and the hulking shapes of the rigs like looming icebergs, half-shrouded in the downpour.
He couldn’t remember if Mickey had said his guy – what was his name? Oh yeah, Pete, that was it – was due back in town today or not. In one way it would be good if “uncle” Pete was back already: he needed to fix this up as soon as he could: Sherry was getting worse every day. Jase found himself fondling the pocket with the smaller baggie in it and pulled his hand away, scared of damaging the pills. Come on, Mickey! he thought.
Of course if uncle Pete had come back to town, Mickey was quite capable of forgetting which season it was, never mind the time. All he seemed capable of was boring everyone with how wonderful his big, hairy, eager guy was, and what they’d gotten up to during their latest marathon fuck session.
Okay, so it was early – too early for any of the boys from Faggot Park to come over here and ogle the truckers: that was the whole idea. For uncle Pete’s sake, Mickey didn’t work Carlo’s, and Jase was pretty sure he himself hadn’t been with any of these guys – at least, none seemed to recognize him – which was exactly how he wanted it to stay.
He felt a gust of unseasonal cold, and the rain sounded suddenly louder. Jase looked over at the door and breathed a sigh of relief. He waved.
Mickey saw him, and skipped over, grinning as he unzipped his slicker.
“You look like you’re in a good mood,” Jase said. “Been having fun?”
“Sort of,” Mickey giggled and wiggled his eyebrows, his wet little face gleaming. “Although Pete’s not back yet – still two days to go.” He looked around, smiling as he bundled up his gleaming yellow slicker and dumped it on the floor. “But I always get the happy feelings when I come here – it’s where Pete and me met!” He slipped into the seat on the other side of the table and wriggled, his eyes sparkling.
“Oh,” Jase said, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. He saw Mickey’s brows wrinkle in a frown and was just about to explain when Carlo came over.
“A root-beer and a hot-dog, please!” Mickey said, grinning up at the mountainous, dark-haired man and leaning closer as Carlo ruffled his hair.
“Your uncle due in today then?” Carlo asked.
“No, they put him on a different route, so he’ll be a coupla days late. I’m just meeting my buddy.” He jerked a diminutive thumb at Jase. “You want anything for breakfast, Jase? ‘S okay - I got money.”
Jase jumped, and restrained himself from kicking Mickey. “Uh, yeah – could I have a cheeseburger?”
“Sure.” Carlo looked at him, his small, black eyes thoughtful, and Jase did his best to keep a bland smile on his face.
Among the boys who worked Faggot Park and the Grid, opinion was divided about how much Carlo knew. A few boys believed he was totally oblivious; most thought he was at least turning a blind eye. So the restrooms here were strictly out of bounds for tricking, and the boys only ever tried to hook up with guys sitting at the tables outside, in the lot.
When Jase had first started working the Grid, Andy had told him not to worry: the Police were “fixed.” He’d been dubious, but they had seemed to leave the boys alone. Later, once he’d gotten to know Sherry, he’d asked him about it. Sherry had said that pretty much everyone here in Grayport was fixed one way or another: turning a blind eye, or paying close attention and selling the information on; “just business” he said. No doubt Carlo was fixed too.
He waited until Carlo was out of earshot and then hissed: “Don’t use my name, doofus!”
Mickey looked puzzled. “Why not?”
Because Sherry’s sick in the head and it’s freaking me out, too. Jase thought. He managed a smile. “Because I want to keep this private,” he said. It wasn’t all in Sherry’s mind. The trembling, broken thing who barricaded himself into their shabby room and babbled about conspiracies and devils hunting him had once been a man. Someone had done that to him.
Jase found he was stroking the bag of Sherry’s pills, and pulled his hand away again. “I need to ask you to do something for me,” he said. “Can you keep a secret?”
* * *
Ben could feel himself shaking with rage. He pressed the cold plastic of the handset against his ear and stared round at his devastated apartment while he waited for Georgette’s quacking voice to cease.
“I don’t fucking care,” he said. “I’m going to wait for the police, after which I’m going to shower and rest long enough that I won’t be a goddamn’ danger on the roads anymore! Yes, then I’ll drive all the goddamn’ way back up there. I promise, yeah, I’ll keep you informed.” It took a few more reiterations for emphasis before Georgette rang off, apparently satisfied for now.
Ben righted the end-table and dusted it down before he replaced the phone on it. The burglars had forced the lock on his kitchen window with neat professionalism; it could hardly have made a sound. Bizarre that they hadn’t taken his Hi-Fi or TV – easy to carry out the window and down the fire escape and they’d surely be easy to fence.
He guessed they’d been looking for money: they’d thrown all his books on the floor; flung the contents of his desk everywhere; emptied baking goods into the sink, and thoroughly turned over his closet and tallboy; scattering his clothes everywhere.
The burglars hadn’t found any money because the most he ever kept in the place was a couple of twenties in an old cigarette box in the hall, in case he ordered groceries or a pizza or something. That had obviously pissed them off. Ben ground his teeth as he looked round at the gaping, foam-lipped wounds of his slashed upholstery. Bastards!
Two police arrived, hours later: an older, near-retirement, pot-bellied sergeant and an obvious rookie. The sergeant looked the place over with disinterested, seen-everything eyes, asked a few questions for form while the rookie noted everything down with eager concentration, and then prepared to go.
“Here,” the rookie said, smiling as she handed him a slip of paper. “That’s the crime number for your insurance company.”
“Is it okay to tidy up?” Ben asked. “You don’t want to look for clues or dust for prints or anything?” The rookie looked uncertain and glanced at her older companion.
“Look sir,” the sergeant said. “There’s nothing suspicious about this case – straightforward breaking and entering for gain. So it’s going straight to the bottom of everyone’s @’to do’ pile.”
“You mean you’re not even going to try to find the criminals?” Ben could hear his voice had come out harsh with anger.
The lines in the sergeant’s face deepened; suddenly he looked tired to death. He looked at the rookie. “Just wait outside a moment, would you?”
She looked confused. “But regulations -”
“-Are just fine. I won’t be more’n ten steps behind,” he said quietly.
“Look,” the sergeant said once it was just the two of them. “Do you have any idea how many junkies we have in Grayport?” He held up his hand as Ben drew breath to speak. “Believe me sir, we’re doing you a favor: if there was anything suspicious and we got the boys in, your insurance company would back off and refuse to pay a dime until everything was settled. That way they get to make interest on the money they would’ve paid out, see? This way we report ‘No leads: case closed;’ the company pays up and you get your life back. Everybody’s happy, see?”
Ben snorted. “I bet if this were the Fageauld family home you’d be saying something different.” He could feel his fists were balled tight at his sides and opened them with an effort.
The sergeant looked pained. “Don’t be like that, son. It’s nothing personal.” He nodded at the paper in Ben’s hand. “Just stick with the system.”
“Business as usual, huh?” Ben said, trying to keep the heat out of his voice and failing. “Don’t fight City Hall.”
“And don’t go being a hero,” the sergeant added, turning to leave. “Trust me, the benefits are lousy.”
* * *
The soft click of the lock was enough to jerk Andy out of the shallow doze that was the closest he’d gotten to sleep. That slight movement was enough to start his face hurting again. His heart was hammering in his ears and his stomach felt like it wanted to climb up his windpipe: he could hear himself whimpering with fright. His ass felt sore, yet numb: he wished the rest of his body felt as numb. His ribs hurt when he tried to breathe, and his back and his arms added their own sharp and dull hurts.
His face felt not only swollen but also frighteningly stiff. Part of him wanted to touch it, to feel if he was still beautiful, and part of him didn’t dare. He was a worthless little shit, and part of him whispered that now he was as ugly to the world as he was inside.
He’d broken: spilled everything he knew or guessed about Jase. Frightened for himself: for his looks; for his body; he’d dropped his little cousin – the little kid he was supposed to love and protect: Jase; he’d dropped Jase in it. Faced with the choice, he’d rather they hurt Jase than hurt him any more.
He’d made that choice, and now he had to live with the knowledge that he simply wasn’t brave enough to be a hero. Andy screwed his eyes shut, feeling the hot tears stinging on his cheeks and perversely glad of the way his ribs stabbed him with every heaving sob. He was glad: he deserved it, little shit that he was.
There was someone in the room with him. Andy stared at the wall, trying to still his shivering; trying not to curl up and signal his wakefulness. Perhaps if the intruder thought he was still asleep, he’d leave him alone.
Someone behind him. The smell of Gitanes.
“Wake, mon cheri.”
Andy flinched as the big hand dropped onto his shoulder and turned him irresistibly over. He saw Gilles’ square, handsome face, a smile dropping off it – paling with shock.
“Mon Dieu!” He felt Gilles’s hand tighten, the big fingers biting into his shoulder muscle, and Andy tried to hold down the moan of fear. He must look bad: really bad.
“Wait!” Gilles said. The big man strode to the door, and then out.
He should escape. Andy stared at his clothes, heaped on the floor at the foot of the couch, and pulled the thin gray blanket higher about his shoulders. His stomach knotted, and he stared at the sliver of light where the door hadn’t completely closed. If someone caught him trying to escape, what would they do? He felt a rush of acid bile in his throat and raised his hand to his face, his fingertips hovering close to his swollen, gashed cheek, afraid to touch.
He’d hesitated too long. The door swung open again and Gilles reappeared, napkins and bottles in his hands. “No, no – do not touch, mon cher!” he said, kicking the door closed behind himself. “Not with the dirty fingers. First we clean, hm?”
Andy swallowed, and nodded agreement. His breathing didn’t seem to work right any more. He watched as Gilles approached and knelt beside the couch, was shocked to see the man’s big blunt fingers trembling as he unscrewed the cap from a bottle of clear liquid and sloshed some over a napkin.
“Lie still,” Gilles said. “Do not move. First we soak the blood, eh? To make soft. Then we will clean.”
The liquid had a harsh, antiseptic smell, and burned like the fires of hell. Andy leaned into the pain, shuddering. “Little shit,” he whispered.
Gilles winced. “Non: the big shit, I think. Hold it, the pad against your face, so.” He lifted Andy’s hand with the soft care of a professional and placed it against the cold, wet pad. “Bien,” he said. “Good. Do not rub, okay? I will get your clothes.”
Andy could only stare at him dully. Thinking was too much work, and hoping was too much pain. And nothing mattered anyway.
Gilles seemed to understand. “You leave here now,” he said, moving to gather Andy’s clothes from the floor. “I have a friend, a doctor. Everything will be all right.” He came back to the couch, Andy’s shorts in one hand, his shirt and pants draped over his other arm.
Andy tugged the blanket closer around himself with his free hand. “C’n dress m’self,” he mumbled. It was stupid: there was no part of his body Gilles hadn’t already seen. Gilles had caressed him with exclamations of delight mixed with murmurs of passionate French that he still didn’t understand. But then it had been that imagined, curious schoolboy Gilles had been appreciating. Now there was only himself: bruised, unwashed, and too tired for games. He slapped pettishly at Gilles’s hands and drew in a sharp breath as the pad stung his face again.
“Of course,” Gilles murmured. “It is not the time for love; I understand.” He laid Andy’s clothes on the couch and reached up to the pad. “Let me see.” He lifted the bloodstained napkins away and grunted approval, although Andy saw his face tauten with distress. He was sure he hadn't made a sound, but Gilles looked at him and squeezed his shoulder. “Still beautiful,” he said, and winked.
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