Brody still held out hope that someone had dropped their wallet, money, some change, anything. There was nothing of any value lying along the curb, only litter, empty plastic soda bottles, and bent cans partially covered with fresh snow.
The green Dumpsters by the bar were all empty, except for a few bags of trash, mostly full of cigarette butts and dirty bar napkins. He gathered up handfuls of long cigarette butts and wrapped them in a napkin. He only had a few smokes left and wasn’t too proud to take what other people had let go out in the ashtrays.
The rusty blue Dumpster near the liquor store held some flattened cardboard boxes, and there was a broken tequila bottle at the very bottom. Brody looked down at the shards of glass sparking in the dim light, wishing that bottle wasn’t broken and empty. Patrone. Hell, he hadn’t been able to afford a bottle of Patrone in years.
He could sell his piano. That thought often came up in his mind. It was worth a lot, but he’d made it this long without parting with his old friend. He wasn’t going to let it go now.
He tried counting the loose change from his pocket again, but his hands were shaking too badly. Most of what he had was pennies, but a quarter slipped from his fingers and fell into the snow on the sidewalk near his feet. He jammed the rest of the money back in his jeans and clawed at the ground, trying to find the dropped coin in the snow. Brody lost his balance and fell, slamming his elbow on the icy cement. He felt nothing for a few seconds, but then pain shot up his arm. He lay there for a while, staring down at the dirty sidewalk, wondering if he’d broken any bones. Gingerly he wrapped his hand around his arm, trying to feel jagged pieces. There didn’t seem to be any damage, and his body was so numb from cold that the pain had already diminished.
With considerable effort he pulled himself onto his knees. The snow around him shimmered beneath the sallow glow of the streetlights. A cold gust whipped down the street, and Christmas lights rattled against the side of the building that housed the liquor store. Christmas was over, wasn’t it? Yeah, it was mid-January now. He’d promised Sam again on New Year’s that he’d clean himself up and get a job.
Like most of the promises he’d made over the past however many years, that wasn’t going very well. Maybe he just hadn’t tried hard enough, but it had been harder than he’d thought it was going to be. It seemed like he should be able to do it for Sam. Hell, the way he felt about Sam it seemed as if he should be able to do anything for him.
The woman at the clinic said you couldn’t stop using for somebody else. You had to do it for you, because you wanted it. She had gone on to explain that your first reason for wanting to quit could be for someone else, but until you reached the place where you wanted it for yourself as well, you were not going to be successful. She’d shared that little pearl of wisdom in the same bored monotone that she spoke of everything else, except that one had stuck with Brody.
If it was true, that probably explained why he was having such a hard time quitting, because in all honesty he didn’t give a shit. He felt better when he was high than when he wasn’t, and if it was up to him, he’d be high all the damn time. Sam was the only reason he was trying to quit. Brody had yet to get to that place where he wanted it for himself, and if he looked at things honestly, he highly doubted he ever would.
He’d keep trying—but only for Sam.
Sam was something special, a rare find, a precious diamond in a sea of shit. A man big enough to snap him in half but who was more docile than a kitten, a guy who was flat-out gorgeous, who could have had anyone he wanted if he wasn’t so shy.
If someone would have ever told Brody that there was a man out there like Sam, he never would have believed it. Never could he have imagined meeting someone like Sam Marcello. Brody knew the truth. It was he who was the lucky one, because he did not deserve the love that Sam lavished on him.
Sweet Samson, who had come to Brody damn near a virgin. A virgin where it mattered as far as Brody was concerned. Sam’s muscled ass fit Brody tighter than his leather stage pants once had, but it was Sam’s shyness, his sweet, good-hearted wholesomeness that had really set him apart from the rest.
Brody had immediately sensed Sam’s fear that he was just one of many. Initially Brody had manipulated him through that fear, made him believe Sam was lucky just to kneel at his feet and service him. Brody had seen the broken, lonely boy inside of the big, strong Sam. He’d homed in on that boy, knowing Sam would be easy prey. Brody hadn’t expected to fall for him. Strong, beautiful Sam, who had willingly surrendered his body while stealing Brody’s heart.
Sam got off on being dominated, and while Brody got off on dominating him, he knew there was something more that Sam needed, something Brody couldn’t give him, something Sam probably didn’t even recognize he needed. Sam needed softness. He needed tenderness and warmth, needed to be held and reassured.
Brody had tried, but he couldn’t give Sam that. Sam’s appeal was his innocence, and Brody loved to bruise that innocence. Loved to tarnish Sam’s cleanliness and sometimes get a little rough when he was fucking him, but he really didn’t want to hurt Sam. The marks Brody sometimes left—red handprints on the pale skin of Sam’s ass—they weren’t meant to be marks of pain, just…ownership. Sam was his. He’d never really hurt Sam. Never.
Not like that plumber or electrician or whatever the fuck he was. Sam didn’t talk about him much, but Brody had heard enough and he could guess the rest. That was the reason the boy inside Sam was broken. Poor Sam had just been a kid, and that plumber was a grown-ass man who shouldn’t have done a high-school boy like that. Brody knew that man was the reason Sam always wanted to be hurt. Rough sex was the only thing the kid had ever known. All you had to do was look in Sam’s eyes and you could see he needed more than that. Brody wished he had that in him to give, wished he could learn to be more loving and patient. Why was it so damn difficult? There was not a doubt in his mind that he loved Sam, so why couldn’t he be what Sam needed?
If they split up—then what? Brody couldn’t stand the thought of life without Sam, and what would Sam do? Go from club to club, getting picked up, used, fucked, and then discarded.
That fucking plumber, he’d messed Sam’s mind up good, made Sam believe he loved him. Brody sort of felt bad for Sam’s mom since he’d heard that story about the plumber. Sam had told his mom he was gay, told her he loved the guy and he was going to be with him. That plumber hadn’t stuck around too long before he just tossed Sam out. Alone, estranged from his mom, his whole fucking life…left poor Sam all mixed-up and twisting in the wind.
Wind. There was plenty of that right now, and it felt like it was blowing straight out of Antarctica. He shivered.
Brody didn’t have a coat on. He’d been outside over an hour, and it finally registered in his hazy mind he’d forgotten to put it on before he left. No wonder his arms were numb. He wished Sam would have at least left him enough money to buy some cheap wine. The man seemed to think going to the methadone clinic was going to be magical. Brody only wanted to feel normal, and for him, at this point in his life it took either heroin or booze to do it. He really didn’t want to get high right now, but he was tired of feeling sick.
There was a bright glow up the street. The sign on the pharmacy lit up like a lighthouse beacon, calling to him. They’d have pills there. He didn’t have a gun, but there were knives at home in the kitchen drawer. How hard could it be to rob a pharmacy? It wasn’t a bank; there weren’t any guards.
It would be a whole lot easier to go in the liquor store and steal a bottle. He could just hide it under his coat. No, he hadn’t worn the damn coat. All he had on was a thin ribbed T-shirt, and there was nowhere to hide a bottle without it being seen.
He looked back at the drugstore. Oh, they’d have pills there. Pills— No, wait…he had pills. A few Vicodin that his buddy Benny had given him for helping him clean out a unit in an apartment building downtown. He had a few sleeping pills too. They didn’t interest him all that much, but at least when he started feeling like he needed something, he’d be able to close his eyes and shut away that feeling.
He stood up unsteadily and made his way down the sidewalk toward home, his mind focused on those three white pain pills he’d left lying on the dresser. There were a few wine bottles in the bedroom. Some of them probably had a swallow or two left. Something to wash those pills down would be a nice touch.
At the corner of his apartment building he stopped for just a second to rest. He leaned against the rough brick, his empty stomach cramping. He couldn’t throw up; there was nothing to throw up. It was hard to remember the last time he’d eaten. Yesterday, possibly, but he couldn’t be sure. His memory wasn’t very good anymore.
Looking at the narrow space between the buildings, he saw all the garbage cans lined up against the side wall. Maybe there was something in one of them. Maybe someone had cleaned out their medicine cabinet and got rid of old prescription drugs or threw away a vodka bottle that wasn’t quite empty yet. A few Vicodins would hardly get him through the night. He needed more. Brody made his way down the alley and began opening the lids, ripping open bags, and looking for treasure among the trash.
Something lay on the ground in front of one of the cans. He picked it up and examined it. The light back here wasn’t real good, but it appeared to be a sock. It was dark and squishy in his hand, still slightly warm, and he smelled the rich, coppery odor of blood. Brody let it fall to the ground at his feet and stared down at the red smears on his fingers.
Something wasn’t right here. He didn’t need to be in any new shit. He had enough problems. As he quickly turned to go, he saw something protruding from a piece of frozen cardboard and some old newspapers. A bare leg.
His breathing quickened and his stomached churned. His first instinct told him to go—just get the fuck out of here. He didn’t need this, didn’t want this…
But he didn’t go. For whatever reason, he couldn’t leave. No one deserved this, to be dumped out here like a bag of garbage.
A mannequin, it’s just a mannequin, he promised himself as he moved the trash away from it. People died around here every day, but he didn’t want to come face-to-face with that, didn’t want to find a body.
She wasn’t a mannequin. It took him a minute, but he recognized her. One of the working girls from up the street. One he’d taken notice of, the newest one, a pretty, sad-eyed girl who looked like if life was fair, it should have been nice enough to give her something a little better than being a prostitute.
He squatted for a better look, his eyes focused on her face, slack and relaxed like some sleeping fairy-tale princess. In this light, with her eyes closed, she looked more like an angel than a whore.
Dark hair framed the face of the angel in the snow, full lips, her mouth slightly open, and yet she was so very still. His gaze slid down her body. She was all pale skin and lush curves, lying bruised and broken. She was completely naked, except for a little sock on one of her feet. Blood splattered the snow around her.
He sat back on his heels, the scene before him blurring. This was real, it was really happening. Despite everything being sort of dark around the edges in his mind, this was actually happening. A body. Fuck. Fuck, fuckity-fuck! Shouldn’t have left the apartment. This was way worse than letting Krieger stay in and piss on the blanket. Sam was gonna shit.
Brody crumpled beside her in the snow, trying to decide what to do. A weird tightness gripped his chest. She shouldn’t be here like this. He wondered who would miss her, who besides him had ever noticed her. He wished he’d talked to her. He’d walked right by her a dozen times, and they’d never exchanged a single word. She’d smiled at him once when he’d walked to the liquor store. He didn’t think he’d smiled back, but he hoped like hell that he had. She’d deserved that much at least.
One night she’d given him a dollar when he was bumming change from people in the liquor store parking lot. He hadn’t asked her for money, because he knew what she had to do to earn it, but she’d offered and he’d taken it. He hadn’t smiled at her then either. If anything, he’d probably looked at her like she was a moron. All it took was a look at her to know she didn’t have a damn thing, and she was giving away money. It occurred to him now, as he looked at her, that not everyone was like him. Some people still knew how to be kind. Some people still had goodness inside of them.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I should have thanked you. I don’t know who did this to you, but I’m real sorry.” He lay beside her body trying to remember a prayer, but his foggy mind couldn’t make it past Our Father…
Brody finally gave up trying to pray, instead murmuring more quiet apologies, for not smiling back at her, for being an asshole to Sam, for being a piece of shit drug addict, for being a rotten son and leaving his mom.
Closing his eyes, he took the girl’s hand, imagining he was back home. Mom was in the kitchen, singing, wearing her favorite apron. The smell of fresh-baked bread drifted on a warm breeze. Sam and he were sitting on the big wraparound porch of Brody’s mother’s house. This girl was in a white summer dress, laughing, unharmed, and running barefoot in the grass.
He opened his eyes and stared up at the darkened sky, watching the snow coming down on him and thinking about every horrible thing he’d ever done in his life. It wasn’t fair that this poor girl who’d been nice enough to give him a dollar was lying here dead in the cold. He balled his hand into a fist and brought it down hard on the side of his leg, cursing life and himself, for both being so fucking unkind. His anger cooled as the snow melted on his face. For him there was still time to fix things, still time to be something more than what he’d been. He briefly wondered what she’d do with another chance at life.
He should probably go call somebody. Like 911. The phone had been turned off at the apartment for a while now, but old Mrs. Mueller down the hall would probably call them if he told her about this.
Brody imagined knocking on her door. Ironically hers was the only one in the building with a big welcome mat in front of it.
Hi, Mrs. Mueller, it’s me, Brody Redlinger, your neighbor from 511. Um…hey, listen, I found this dead chick out back…
He could just see her peering at him out of the crack, with a big brass chain lock on the door. Then she would call the cops, all right, and he’d be the first one in the back of the squad car.
He was going to have to walk down to the building manager’s apartment and ask him to call the police. That idea didn’t sit well with Brody either, especially since old man Varnes didn’t try to hide the fact that he didn’t approve of Brody and Sam’s relationship either. Aside from that, Brody was sure Sam and he were behind on the rent, but at least the building manager wouldn’t automatically think Brody had something to do with this.
The cops would come, and they were going to ask questions. No way around that. It would make things a lot easier for him if he just went home and left her for someone else to deal with. Fuck, he dreaded sitting at the police station all night, answering a bunch of questions about something he didn’t know a damn thing about.
He glanced at the girl again, remembering how at every funeral that he’d ever been to, the bodies all seemed hollow and dull, like empty shells or dried husks. She didn’t. She seemed to glow with life.
Hesitantly he touched her neck, trying to feel a pulse. The silken skin was warmer than his icy fingers. She hadn’t been here long.
Dumped. Fucking dumped, like trash.
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” he whispered. “If there was some way I could change this for you, I would. I promise you that.”
He traced her jawline with his index finger, resigning himself to the idea of dealing with the cops and their questions. Leaving her alone back here without calling anybody would be a shitty thing to do.
A small, rattling breath blew from her lips. Brody jerked his hand back.
She isn’t dead.
Impulsively he gathered her in his arms and struggled to stand up. She was heavier than he expected, and he stumbled. His weak arms shook with the strain of supporting her weight. He silently vowed that no matter what, he would not drop her. Brody was unsteady when he walked on his own; carrying the woman was a monumental task. His legs trembled as he stopped to open the front door of the building.
In the stairwell of the apartment building her eyes opened, and in the bright fluorescent lighting she stared up at him and blinked. A single tear streaked down her cheek, while a thin trickle of blood ran from her nose. Knowing she was awake gave him a new surge of energy as he trudged up the narrow flights of steps. He moved as quickly as he could up each flight, hoping no one would be coming or going this time of night and see him carrying the naked girl. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but somebody would definitely call the police.
“It hurts. Why does it hurt to be dead?”
“You’re not dead,” Brody said.
“But I flew. How did I fly if I wasn’t dead?”
“You’re not dead. You weren’t dead; you were unconscious. It must have been a dream.”
Her eyes were glazed. “I’ve seen you before. You’re not one of them.”
He didn’t know who them was, but he wasn’t one of them, whoever they were. “I’ll call an ambulance for you,” he said.
She shook her head vehemently. “Please…don’t.”
“No. I don’t want any shit… Cops asking questions, all that, you know?”
He tried to give her the smile that he wished he would’ve the day she’d smiled at him, wishing for her that whatever fucked-up shit she’d been through had never happened. “Me neither. What’s your name?”
“I’m Brody.” Speaking hurt. His chest burned, and he struggled to catch his breath. The back of his legs ached, and so did his arms. Damn, she’s heavy. Why we gotta have so many steps? She had tofeel his heart thumping as she snuggled against his chest. Almost there. He began counting his steps to take his mind off the act of climbing them. One. Two. Only a few more to go. No more than ten. At fifteen he could finally reach out and touch the cool brass of the knob.
He fumbled with the lock on the apartment door, only to realize he’d forgotten to lock it when he left earlier. Sam would have a fit if he knew. Sam would probably have a fit about this whole fucking situation. The keys fell in the hallway, and he kicked them into the apartment, still holding the girl tightly.
“If I die…if you do have to call somebody…one of them was named Bobby. He was older. I heard the other ones talking to him. That’s what they called him.” Her fingers dug into his arm, her nails biting into his skin. “He’s the one who… He had a bottle.”
Brody finally managed to get the door open. “You’re not going to die. What’d this Robby guy do? Did he hit you with a bottle?”
“Bobby. They called him Bobby. He mostly used his fists, I think.”
Brody set her down on the sofa. Blood was streaked down her legs, all the way to her bare feet. Most of it was concentrated on her thighs, her inner thighs.
A horrible idea pierced his cloudy mind, and he tried to push it away. “What did he do with the bottle?” He was afraid he already knew. He knelt down in front of her and studied her face. She looked down and began to sob. He shook his head as his worst thoughts were confirmed.
“Everything hurts.” She wept like a child, nothing held back. He floated in his mind, thinking how honestly she cried. For a long while he did nothing but hold her. He let her soak his shirt with tears and cling to him like he could somehow magically protect her from all the fucked-up things that had already happened. Finally he pulled his head back from hers and looked down at her.
Pretty, so damn pretty and just all beat to hell. It was a shame what people were capable of doing to other human beings.
She was such a soft girl. Holding her reminded him of how much he’d once enjoyed the company of women. He struggled to pull his mind back from the place it was wandering to. She wasn’t here with him naked because she wanted him. In fact, he wouldn’t blame her if she never wanted a man again.
He held her on the sofa and rocked her. The way his mother had done for him after he’d taken beatings from his father. His father had never accepted Brody’s attraction to other men, but Brody had been lucky. His mother had always had his back. Always.
“I’m sorry, Angel,” he said. “It’s going to be okay.”
She pulled back and nodded, her hands trying to scrub the tears from her face. “I know. It just…hurts.”
“I have something for you.” He got up and turned around.
“It’s pretty,” she murmured.
Brody paused but didn’t turn to face her. “What’s pretty?”
“The tattoo. On your back. I can see it through your shirt. Are those wings?”
“Like an angel,” she said in a dreamy-sounding voice.
Not really. In fact, not at all. They were just wings on his back. He hadn’t been thinking of angels or saints when he got them done. They were just wings. Just a cool-looking tat he’d picked out of a book full of drawings. She probably couldn’t read the script lettering between them through the ribbed athletic shirt. This is the end. Beautiful friend, the end. A little tribute to Jim Morrison.
He’d never thought of it before, the idea of being an angel. He’d jokingly told a few people they were demon wings, but no one had ever made a comparison to him and an angel.
It was foolish…and cute. Almost funny. When he died—even in hell—he could be an angel. Not just any angel, but an angel with wings. Didn’t you have to do righteous shit to earn them? Apparently not—all you need is a buddy with a tattoo gun.
Brody went into his room and retrieved the Vicodins off his dresser. They were dirty, no longer white, now more of a brownish color, from his dirty pockets and dirty hands. He took one from his palm and held it between his thumb and index finger. Brody stared at it, thinking of how he’d polluted it with his filth. Finally he swallowed it, dry, wishing he had more. He saved her the last two and went into the other room.
He rinsed out the cleanest dirty glass on the counter and filled it with water, then held out the glass and the remaining two pills toward her.
Her eyes narrowed as she looked down at the Vicodin and then back up to his face. He saw the way her expression changed, like she suddenly saw him for exactly what he was, not a fucking angel…just a fucking druggie.
“I don’t take drugs.”
“It’s just pain medicine. Vicodin. It will make you feel better.”
She still seemed to regard him suspiciously, but she cautiously took the pills from his hand.
“Go ahead, take them.” He nodded and did his best to smile at her.
Her hand shook as she took the pills and sipped the water. She set the glass on the coffee table and hugged her arms around her body, reminding him that she was naked. And cold. Fuck, he was an asshole. She was freezing, and he hadn’t even offered her anything to cover up with.
“I’ll get you a blank—um, a sheet. I’d give you the blanket, but it’s dirty. I had the cat in here before and he… Well, never mind. Let me get you a sheet.” He left to get it without looking back at her.
He tossed the sheet beside her on the sofa.
“You need to be washed,” he said.
She nodded, her eyes solemn. “A hot shower would be nice.”
“I’m going to make sure you’re okay first,” he said, looking at the blood staining her pale thighs.