Here's my entry in in the Things I'd Rather Be Doing challenge. To see other stories check out http://tirbd.com
It looks like her from here. I shove past the crowd and duck under the crime tape, wheezing through the giant clog in my throat.
“Back behind the line, old man.” The cop slaps his baton across my chest.
“I think I know her.”
He raises a brow, but grabs my arm. “Okay, Chief. Have a look-see.”
The CSIs, or whatever they’re called in Portland, swarm around her, poking and pinching, little bags and cameras in their free hands. I force myself to look. The body lies in damp bark dust, the shadow of a jungle gym criss-crossing over it. The hair’s the same, faded red, the brow’s heavy, the cheekbones high. But Pigeon’d be nearly fifty now and this dead girl would need a fake ID to get in a legit tavern.
“So?” The cop’s in my face, rattling my arm.
I shake my head and barrel through the throng. My mission mac and cheese gushes out, right under the legs of that big metal elephant. Wiping my mouth on my sleeve, I stagger to the nearest bench, collapsing, head in hands.
It’s been so long. The image of her floats in my brain, more fairy tale than reality.
I empty my pockets and slide back on the creaking vinyl bench. The coins and ones plop on the diner table next to the meager pile she just dumped out of her My Little Pony purse. “That’s it, Pigeon.”
She scoots the money into matching groups with a trembling forefinger. “This won’t even buy half a rock.”
Or feed us or pay for a cheap room. I don’t say this out loud. She doesn’t need to hear that the shape she’s in. My fingers feel too much bone when I rub her back.
“Don’t.” She twitches out of reach, scratching at a sore on her arm. It’ll abscess if she doesn’t leave it alone. Another trip to the emergency room. Maybe we can find a doctor who doesn’t know us and score good pharmaceuticals.
She echoes my thoughts. “We need to get some stuff. Anything.”
“Maybe we can call in a favor.”
She falls into a laugh which deteriorates into coughing and on to choking. I lift the white mug to her lips. She gulps and sputters. “Like anybody owes us.”
“Yeah, even Bruno won’t front us.” I wave the coffee cup at the tired waitress. She ignores me. She knows she’ll be lucky to get paid for the bill let alone a tip.
Pigeon raises her plucked to nothing brows, sure sign she’s getting an idea. A bad idea. “Bruno’s in Seattle, bailing out his whore.”
“Raf.” She sags into me. “Baby, I’m hurting. Real bad.”
I look down. Her face is thin and drawn. She looks more like an old woman than the kid she is. I feel the shivers running through her and I know it’s going to get worse. And worse. “He still live in the same place?”
The bus cruises over the bridge with me, my girl, a kid shrouded in his sweatshirt, and a hard-eyed old lady. After I paid the surprised waitress, we had barely enough for the fare. Pigeon’s teeth chatter like we’re heading into the Arctic Circle. She moans when I pull her closer, but she doesn’t push me away this time.
I half carry her off at our stop. The old lady scowls her judgment. Pigeon’s still with it enough to flip her the bird in return.
We back-track a block and enter the no-man’s land by the tracks that straddle Powell, Division and 12th. A few houses nest among warehouses, vacant lots and closed businesses. Everything’s pretty dark, scant light provided by a half moon buried beneath a layer of Northwest clouds. The moisture in the air bores into my bones, but good news. No rain.
She’s babbling and shivering. No help. I’m on my own.
The tiny house leans against a larger cinderblock and sheet metal building. Both look deserted. I know it’s the place because I remember the ornate Victorian trimming, gingerbread. That’s what they call it. It might have been appealing once, before the paint peeled and the wood cracked.
I prop Pigeon up on the sloping back porch and listen for silence before checking the windows. Breaking and entering is not really my forte. A small window on the side is open a few inches. I’m in luck, if I can fit through it. I’m big even when I’m skinny. It slides up a little, tight, but I squeeze through. And fall into a bathtub, still wet with who knows what.
I shake like a dog and feel my way to the back door. The deadlock pops free and I pull Pigeon inside. We’re in the kitchen. I smell food scraps and rancid meat. Pigeon slaps into a wall a few times until I settle her onto a chair. It creaks with each jerk she makes. “Stay put.” I brush a kiss over her hair.
“Okay.” She maybe says.
With the little glow from my lighter, I search for Bruno’s goodies. He makes his patrons wait in the front room. The storing, cutting and cooking goes on elsewhere. The kitchen yields nada. All those cupboards and drawers hide nothing but plates, cups, cans, bread crumbs, and a few stray chicken bones. The bathroom provides only dirt and sticky bits I hope are candy.
I push open a door into what’s likely a bedroom. There’s a dresser by the bare window, and I think, a bed in the corner. My lighter’s flickering, so I turn it off and explore the drawers by hand. One gives up a few baggies that sound off with the crunch of old dry weed. I pocket them and kick around for the bed. The mattress is topped by a damp blanket. I flip the whole works off, click my lighter and behold the mother lode.
Bags of snowy powder, vials of crystal shards, neat stacks of cold hard cash. I stuff the pockets of my jeans and jacket. Some creaks and a muffled moan emanate from the kitchen. “Pigeon hold on. You’re gonna be one very happy woman.”
When I run out of pockets, I cram what I can under my T-shirt and tuck the worn cotton into my belt. I click the lighter again for one last glance at all the sweet things remaining on the springs, but I got all the rock. “Let’s get out of here.”
Brightness flows out of the kitchen doorway. My stomach clenches, the sour rises up my throat. My feet anchor to the floor. I force them to shuffle forward.
“Hey, Chief.” Bruno grins at me, gold tooth and steel pistol reflecting the fluorescent light. “Is that my product under your shirt or are you just glad to see me?” He laughs, harsh, sharp, jamming the gun into Pigeon’s neck. One of his henchmen fills in the back door. Others must be close by, Bruno travels in a pack.
“Hey, Bruno.” I stand there seeking words to talk our way out of this, but the only thing that percolates in my brain is the thought I only used alcohol before I met her. Booze, hooch, rotgut, firewater, all safe as babies.
I don’t need an invitation. I clear my pockets and shirt of all the treats. Pigeon watches the mound grow on the table, desire rising in eyes that were dead seconds before.
Bruno snorts through his long nose and follows my every move like he’s counting the bills, bags and vials. “Where’s the rest?”
“In the bedroom. I didn’t take it all.”
“Well isn’t that kind-hearted of you, leaving a bit for me.” He yanks Pigeon to her feet. “Show me.”
He shadows me to the bedroom, his goon in his wake, and flips on the light to scan the remains littering the box springs. “Seems all here. If not, Kemosabe, you’re easy to find.”
I must have let a hopeful look glide over my face because he laughs again before gesturing me back into the kitchen.
He sits, balancing Pigeon on his knee. His scrawny whiskers brush her neck, the gun now caresses the side of her breast. “You aren’t treating her right. She used to be such a pretty thing. Now she’s all skin and bones.”
I clear my throat.
“I’m talking. You’re listening.” Bruno pushes the barrel in hard enough to make Pigeon sob. “I hate blood on my floor so I’m thinking kindly of making a deal. I’ll keep her, fatten her up, put her on the streets where she belongs. You can go.”
“I see the gun in my hand, so I believe I may do whatever I wish. You should be grateful to have your lives.” He nods his narrow head and the goon steps toward me.
“Pigeon, baby.” When she doesn’t respond, I raise my voice. “Baby.”
Bruno slips a vial into her hand. She stares at it like it’s the love of her life.
Goon grabs my arm. I’m big. He’s bigger, double my weight, all muscle. He drags me through the door. I shout back over my shoulder. “I’ll be back for you.”
I raise my head and watch the last of the cop cars leave the scene. The girl, who is not Pigeon, is taking that final ride to the morgue.
The little crack house burned down a few days after I left. I don’t know if Bruno was there. I heard he relocated his business to Seattle. Somebody said they saw Pigeon in Tacoma, god knows why, but I hope it’s true. Me? I spent a good twenty-five years gazing into the bottom of a bottle before I finally climbed out.