“Oh baby girl.” He whispered, his palm, cool and soft as he pressed it against my mouth, “You know the rules. Why then, are we in this predicament? Why are you forcing me to do this?” His voice was kind in his admonishments, as if he loved me and wanted me to learn. Every syllable made my skin crawl.
Joseph Regan Donovan, or Jay, as the family called him, spoke with refinement, but never looked the part of an elegant man. His clothing was cheaply made and years out of date, his steps heavy and waddling, his thick, muscular body strong but not at all graceful. Yet his fingers moved along my cheek and temple like a dancer moves across a stage, delicately finding the bruising flesh and reminding me with increasing pressure that I was vulnerable; that I was his to damage if he pleased.
His hands slid down my throat with repulsive tenderness before locking around my airway with a vice-like grip. I met his glassy eyes, now wide with rage, trying to read in them whether or not I was going to die.
“So baby girl,” He began through clenched teeth, drawing his mouth close enough to mine that I could smell the expensive gin on his breath, “You want to explain to me why my boy is in custody and your name, your name Clara, is on the booking form?”
He let loose his grip, the sudden rush of blood making me dizzy. “He made a mistake.” I answered, in the calm, melodic tone I had spent years perfecting. I would not give him the satisfaction of making me afraid.
I felt the pain rattle through my skull as he threw the next blow, this one containing enough force to knock me onto the cold warehouse floor. “Fuck you, Jay! He made a mistake! A stupid fucking mistake!” I snarled, warm blood pouring from the gash above my eye.
“He made a mistake, did he?” Jay growled, his tone mocking as he lowered that heavy, hulking frame to lay on the floor beside me. “What sort of mistake?”
“He stole a bottle of vodka off the shelf at O’Harveys’ then pointed a gun at the owner when they called him on it. I was the first on scene, which is why he’s sitting on only a petty theft charge and not a bloody robbery. If I had not arrested him for that, he would be facing years in prison. Because I was there to save his ass that dumb fuck will get ten days and probation. Next time ask me, before you beat the hell out of me, and maybe we’ll get on a little better.” I answered, watching my dark hair grow matted with the pooling of blood.
Jay let out a quick breath and pushed himself to his feet, standing at his full, if unimpressive height. He motioned for Frankie, who had kept his pistol trained on my head since they drug me out of my bed that morning, to holster his weapon and get me onto my feet.
“You did the right thing then, it sounds like.” He said with a proud smile and gentle nod, looking me in the eye as I blinked the blood out of my own. “I suppose I owe you an apology.”
Jay liked to bounce erratically from one mood to another, and after 20 years under his thumb, I had learned to adapt to him just as quickly. I grinned, the perfectly practiced grin of an exceptional liar, “You didn’t really think I’d do anything to hurt Bill did you, Jay? He’s as much a brother to me as my own blood.” The words tasted like poison, but they ran off my tongue like honey.
“Don’t I know it, baby girl,” He said, patting my cheek affectionately despite the blood that covered it “and we all know what you do for your own blood.”
A knock tightened in my stomach, but instead of a snarl I conceded with a nod.
“Now go clean yourself up. Your shift starts in half an hour and you have that briefing to give.” Jay pressed, unlocking my cuffs and steadying me as my equilibrium struggled to keep me upright. I glanced to Frankie, who tilted his head in respectful acknowledgement. It never was personal with Frank. Jay said kill and he would kill, no qualms or bad blood needed. He was the perfect guard dog.
I picked my war bag off the ground and headed into the dank little warehouse locker room. No one had used it in years, which is why it was the perfect place to do business like this. It had been a good investment, as Jay put it. My hair, a dark auburn like my mother’s, fell loosely around my shoulders, tugged from the bun I had tied it into that morning. I ran a brush through it quickly, wincing as it tugged against the split flesh that trailed from my part and onto my forehead. Irritating, but not life threatening.
I spun the silver handles of the open shower until the water was a tepid but bearable temperature, surprised it still got hot. I dipped my head beneath it, disregarding how it soaked through the tank top and pajama pants I hadn’t bothered to take off.
“I can stitch that up for you, if you’d like.” Came the calm, slightly accented voice of Jay’s youngest son, Hank. He was still a good five years older than myself, and liked to remind me, like all the Donovan boys, that I worked for their father, and thus, worked for them. Unlike his father and brothers, however, Hank was well educated; his medical degree long ago secured and put to use in the family business. He was the one Donovan to stitch up wounds instead of creating them, and the one son that had inherited his father’s intellect instead of his temper.
“I’ll be fine.” I answered, turning away from him in hopes of preserving at least a hint of modesty.
“No no no.” He approached, his presence much more gentle, though equally as disturbing. He tilted my head, his sleeves soaking under the shower as he looked at the wound. “You’ll need stitches.”
“I have some liquid stitches in the bag. I’ll be fine.”
“They don’t question you at work about this? You'd think detectives of all people...” He trailed off, still standing uncomfortably close. I reached past him and produced a small bottle of shampoo, filling my palm with the peach scented liquid.
“I do a lot of mixed martial arts. I am always bruised up. And with no man around, they don't really suspect domestic violence.” I answered, scrubbing the blood out of my hair and pretending his presence didn’t bother me. He smiled at the comment, as if it was an invitation to dinner, but he didn't press the matter.
“I'm sure you'd like to know Caroline is doing well. I saw her this morning.” He said with a smile.
I hated hearing her name on his lips, and hated even more that he had such free access to her. I always pictured his hands, just like his fathers, clamped around my baby sister’s neck, squeezing until her eyes were red. But she did not have the choice to fight back like I did. She couldn’t make choices like I could.
“She’s making progress there?” I asked, rinsing the soap out of my hair and clothing and disappearing around a corner to change.
“She’s doing very well. Her care is excellent, and she's been painting. You know how much she loves to paint. She's getting better every day, they say. Well, you know Jay pays top dollar to make sure of that.” Hank said with a smile audible in his voice, as if his father did it out of the goodness of his heart and did not make me work for every penny of my sister's care.
“I’m glad to hear it.” I answered, daring not to hope that I could eventually take her out of there and get as far away from these bastards as the Earth would allow.
Having learned long ago to keep a bag packed, I was able to dress in work appropriate attire, namely a slim pair of dark jeans and a black fitted button up. I pressed my gym towel, now damp from use, into the cut on my head. “Am I free to go?” I asked, stepping around the corner, my black danner boots slipping slightly on the wet floor.
Hank looked me over, “God you are a sight when you’re cleaned up.”
I tried not to think about the pistol tucked into my shoulder holster, or the one secured inside the waistband of my pants. If I put a bullet in Hank, a creep, no doubt, but far from the worst of them, then they would kill Caroline in a second. We all knew that. Which is why they always allowed me to carry guns, even around the most prized of Donovans.
“I need to go to work, Hank.” I insisted.
“Give me the stitches and I’ll fix you up. Then maybe you should wear your hair up today. It makes your eyes look so green when your hair isn’t allowed to hang in them.”
I did as I was commanded, and soon the bleeding stopped. I spun my hair into a loose bun and pinned it into place, my bangs combed strategically to hide any remaining evidence of the wound. The bruising, which now began to blacken one eye and dot my left temple with the reddening imprints of Jay’s knuckles, could be hidden under make-up when I got to the station.
“Sufficient?” I asked, glancing to the athletic monitor on my wrist which displayed my heart rate as well as the time.
“Lovely.” He whispered, taking a step closer.
“Sorry Hank, I need to go.” I answered, slipping past him quickly and moving through the doorway. Frankie and Jay were sharing cigars, the latter lifting his hand in farewell as I passed. “Enjoy your day, Clara.”
I smiled, “Always do, Jay. Always do.” Bastard.
I slipped behind the wheel of my jeep wrangler and tossed my war bag onto the passenger seat. With the turn of the key the engine roared to life as it always did, and with the eagerness of a drag racer I knocked it into gear and sped toward the highway, kicking up gravel as the vehicle lurched forward. What a fucking morning.