Another Tale from the Shack. This one is after Pogo and Spooky. Really it fits right before the last paragraph of that story. You don’t have to read that one to get this one, but it will make it better. There is no graphic sex in this story line. Special thanks to Sbrooks and Crkcppr for editing and beta reading it for me. Any remaining errors are entirely mine -- probably added after their assistance. And thanks to everyone for the encouragement and support.
The woman staring across the sad, flaking grey metal table clearly knew that already. She never bothered asking my name.
Just gave a dismissive glance at me as if to try to figure if I had any use at all. Just a raggedy-girl crumpled in the chair in front of her.
“Fifteen years. You’re mine for fifteen. If the police had rolled you up, you’d have probably been sentenced to twenty. Maybe gotten parole after six.”
“So why fifteen, if it’s six?” I wasn’t even sure I cared anymore, but I had the sense that looking weak to her would be a very, very bad idea.
“Because the police didn’t catch you. We did.” She paused, waving her hand dismissively, “Well, he did. And you may not understand it, but that was a death sentence.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but nothing came out. She was telling a cold unvarnished truth. I’d been dead. Lying in a cold grave in the basement of a house. I knew, absolutely, knew that I was dead. My life had ended and it didn’t matter to anyone. The only one who would have even realized I was missing was lying in the grave next to mine.
“Who is he?”
“That’s not really important, is it? The important part is that you were dead the second you walked into that house.”
There was no arguing with that either - the white-haired guy had put Duarte down so fast and smooth I still hadn’t figured out how he’d done it, and I’d been looking right at him. I’d been in, and seen, plenty of fights. But nothing like this. It was more like watching a lion attack on a nature show. Or a crocodile come out of nowhere.
He’d played us. The limp, the stiffness that had gotten my attention, and convinced me he was a good target had been a lure.
Whenever I thought back to it, I could still feel it.
That terrified, startled, feeling you get when you are just starting to drift to sleep and it suddenly feels like you’re falling.
Your leg kicks out.
Your heart explodes.
And after a fraction of a second, you calm down and try to relax.
Except I hadn’t calmed down. Because I wasn’t in bed and I wasn’t going to wake up.
I was trapped in a suddenly too-small room with a real predator.
I’d managed to suppress my panic just enough to try to run and found the door somehow locked to trap me in. When I turned around, he was standing stone still over Duarte’s bloody form, not even breathing heavy.
There wasn’t any question; this was the end. I would be killed and nobody would ever know or care what happened to me.
I was so stunned by how quickly everything had turned I went numb. No fear, no panic, just acceptance of my fate.
But it hadn’t happened. For his own reasons, he’d decided to let us live.
Not unscathed, in Duarte’s case.
And I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t have been better off dead.
The grimly amused woman across the table from me had made it perfectly clear without saying a word that “dead” was still an option. Maybe even the preferable one, as far as she was concerned.
I only knew her as “Donna”. That was all her guards called her, all anyone ever called her. It felt more like a title than a name.
She glanced down at a piece of paper then back up at me, calculating.
“You do what I tell you or we finish what he started. He thought you might have use as a bird dog.”
Seeing my confusion, she clarified herself. “He thinks you can follow people.”
I tried to suppress a little smile at that. He’d actually seemed impressed, and for some stupid reason that felt important to me.
“Don’t get too happy. You’re a throwaway. You don’t know anything. The important thing is that you’re clean. Unknown.”
She paused, looking through me cold eyes. “The important thing is that you’re nobody.”
At least they gave me some oversized jeans and old tennis shoes to go with my sweatshirt before they took me back to a room and locked me in. I pretty much sat and rotted in what looked like an old-school room with painted over windows for an eternity, until one of the guys I was thinking of as one of “Donna’s Dobermans” opened the door. Barely looking at me, he gestured me to follow and led me out to a half-rust beater car. A skinny, ragged, washed-out guy in a faded, tattered, brown crew cap and a jacket that might have started off blue about two decades ago, was sitting in the driver’s seat, with a lost, spaced-out expression.
The Doberman just turned and walked away toward an alley, leaving me standing by the car. He hadn’t said a word.
The driver looked up and gave a halfhearted smile that was missing a few teeth. “Hop in. I’m Tommy, your cruise director.”
I shrugged and walked around the car to the passenger seat. He seemed somewhere between thirty and fifty, colorless, brittle. Like he’d just crumble away at any second.
I fumbled my way in, sweeping a couple hamburger wrappers off the battered used-to-be leather seat, and keeping an eye out for any rats that might still be alive. From the smell, I suspected they’d died of black mold.
Once I was in, he looked over at me with the slightly jittery eyes of a speed addict. “What do I call you?”
Not “What’s your name?” I noticed.
I thought for a second. “Spooky. Just call me Spooky.”
“Cool. S’all good, Spooky. I’m taking you to your new home, the Ritz Carlton.” He paused and shrugged with a slightly crazed half smile. “Maybe not the Ritz, but the doors lock, mostly. And the toilets flush, and sometimes you can even get hot water.”
He scratched underneath his cap for a second, leaving a few strands of wispy light brown hair sticking out. He fumbled in his jacket and pulled out a ratty looking envelope, shoving it at me. “Your key’s in there. And a cash card –there’s a PIN number on the back. And an unlimited subway card. Your cash card has $500 dollars, and it will be loaded with another $500 every two weeks.”
Enough to live on, but not really easy to build enough to run with.
We drove through a maze of streets, each one worse than the last until he pulled in front of a sleazy 1950’s two story motel. The sign was broken out and unreadable. The parking lot was edged with dead weeds.
He stopped in front of the main entrance. “There’s never anybody on duty at the front desk. You’re in room 223. Next to Amber.” There was a hint of something when he said “Amber.” Something, a tone, a feeling, maybe, in his voice.
“How do I...”
“You don’t. They’ll call when they need ... anything.” He seemed to pause heavily at that word, and for a second I really considered that maybe “dead” might have been my best option. “If they need you, they’ll call between 4 and 5 in the morning.”
“What if I’m not there?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. But I don’t think you want them to have to go looking for you.”
He pulled out without saying anything else.
I made my way past the desk to the stairs and down the hall to my room.
Faded. Stained. There were more holes than carpet, and the peeling veneer desk next to the bed was a collage of cigarette burns and coffee cup rings. The only things on it were an ancient liver-colored phone and a neat stack of maps – Washington DC, Arlington, Rosslyn and so on. The maps might as well have had “study me” printed on them.
The closet had a battered, off-kilter door and the bathroom had no door at all. A fragment of one hung from the top hinge though.
At least there was toilet paper.
I’d been sitting on the folding metal chair by the desk trying to make sense of the maps for an hour when somebody knocked hesitantly on the door to my new home.
A watery-eyed, bone-thin bleach-blonde girl stood there. Garish makeup and gold lame shorts with a white fur-trimmed jacket made her profession pretty clear.
“You must be Spooky. Tommy told me. I’m Amber.” She held up a white paper bag. “Indian food. You okay with that?” Her voice was slightly nasal, the way characters in movies from New Jersey talk.
I didn’t even really have a chance to answer, she just walked past me and plopped her skinny butt down on the bed.
As much as her skinny, 90-pound ass could “plop”, anyway.
She kicked off ridiculously tall heels and sighed with relief.
She began to pull Styrofoam containers out, standing them precariously on the bed. “We have chicken vindaloo ... and ... chicken vindaloo.” She looked up at me with a slightly apologetic, fragile smile. “I like chicken vindaloo and I didn’t want to take the chance you’d choose it.” She pulled a couple of bottles of water out.
I closed the door, realizing I hadn’t eaten since ... since sometime before Duarte and I had run afoul of the white-haired man. I even kind of tried to smile when I picked up one of the containers and walked back to the pulled out chair.
“Thanks. I’m starving.”
“Confusing, isn’t it?”
“Who are they?”
.... There is more of this story ...