Chapter Four

"Ok. But come by here as soon as you can." I hang up and lean my forehead against a cabinet. I stick my thumbs deep in my bleary eyes. Eventually I light a cigarette from the gas stove.

The flat is cold. My naked skin ripples with gooseflesh. In between draughts of abrading smoke, I sip yesterday’s tepid tea and consider my circumstances.

That Jake fellow is a right decent bloke. Sometimes I threw him a bone, especially when he was wicked blitzed, only so he wouldn’t remember my pro bono work and start thinking there was something more.

I make another phone call. I say something in French then I hang up. There are just some people who get into stuff without really thinking about it, and before long it’s all they know. You forget that there’s more out there, some sunshine outside the thundercloud that you’ve been following. That’s Jake. And me, I guess.

A spidersilk strand of blue smoke balances on the drooping cigarette butt. It burns my finger and I jerk from my reverie. The frown of ash drops on the formica. I pour myself a fresh cup of the same old pot of rank tea. I light another cigarette.

I stink of sex. Always have, ever since I was old enough to do it. I probably wasn’t old enough, though. I try to remember last night. Sometimes you drink to forget the things you do when you drink. That was last night. It didn’t work.

It was busy is all I can say. It helps to be numb. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. Today is different, I lie to myself. But it is different, in a way. Today things come to head. Plans succeed or unravel. Either way, people are going to get hurt.

I run my hand through my greasy blond hair. There’s all kinds of smells in it, and I don’t wish to think about it. I reach for the pot. Damn. The tea’s out. So’s the cigarette. I start to cry. I pull myself together, smear my fingers wiping at the mascara.

Bryant. I mouth his name. Blow a smoke ring as I enunciate the ‘R’, only just realizing I had taken the pack from the table, snapped open the steel lighter and closed the cigarette to the flame with my fingers, all without awareness of doing so. Bryant. We met after he arrested Jake for a convenience store job. Bryant came back. He paid well.

He was sweet on me. Then I was sweet on him too. Before we knew it, we were making plans. He had dreams. I was content with following his. “The city’s poisoning us,” he said, “the streets filled with bloody pikers, like Jake.” I thought he was wrong, but a woman with a life like mine knows when to shut up. “We’re better than that,” he continued. “Someday, when we’re Stateside...” At that point, I usually silence him with a kiss. Sometimes things are better left half-formed, so disappointment won’t be too much of a drag.

Bryant was bollocks deep in an one-man skimming operation. Drugs, guns, cash, whatever it was, he swiped it. The cream of the evidence. An investigation was in the works. “It’s a matter of time, Alice. I’m just fortifying myself,” Bryant often said. His flat was pristine. There’s a storage locker under an assumed name. He takes me there sometimes, to lift me onto snowy white pillows of contraband, where I can run my hands along the glistening shafts of high caliber weapons.

“Most likely Jake’s told that wanker Frenchman,” Bryant said as I powdered my nose in the afterglow. Jake had caught Bryant slipping a twenty from the bag of cash he had taken. “It was his eyes, growing into little moon pies,” said Bryant. “I saw that he saw.” I thought he was being melodramatic. But then, you didn’t get last too long in this business without growing paranoid. “Alice, you’ll help me? We gotta fix this before we go.”

I look at the clock and take a final drag from my cigarette. I grind it into the table top. I won’t be coming back. I don’t think so. I go to the window and look through the blinds. The Frenchman and his goons are here, crowded in a beat up Prefect. On time. Not the skip tracer Jake was expecting. My hand gropes for another cigarette. No! I get dressed.

The phone rings. It’s Jean. “Jake’s just down the street. You have my money, no?” I grit my teeth and tell him Jake’ll have it, did he remember his part of the plan? Jean continued, as if I had never spoken: “If you don’t I’ll... comprenez vous?” I hang up on the sleazebag’s implied threat, hoping Frenchy wouldn’t bollocks the plan. The man was off his nutter. I squeeze the sock in my hand and stuff it in my mouth. We all are actors here, whether we know it or not, I think as I swing my head against the banister.

“I’ve got friends who’ll help Jake get bleeding cockeyed.” Bryant was pacing, taking pulls of bitter. “He must not remember anything, and then all it takes is a seed of doubt.” I didn’t think the plan needed to be this complicated, I remarked as I played with a rolled up dollar bill . “What’s complicated?” he snapped. “Don’t worry your pretty little head and just do your bloody part.” Bryant would rob the Cohens’ place.

I scream through the sock. The look on Jake’s face as he comes in makes me feel something I have not felt in a long time. It says he loves me, or something like it. Not like how Bryant looks at me. I almost falter. But I steel myself. I have dreams, big dreams. I’m not thewhore with the heart of gold. I’m just as bad as everyone else.

Jake plays the hero, and Frenchy shows signs of blowing his top. Hurry up, Bryant, I whisper. Jakes takes this the wrong way and speaks to me with concern. It is harder than I expected. Come on, Bryant, hurry the bloody hell up with the tip off. “What coin?” asks Jake and the other guy says something that is lost when all hell breaks loose. The door splinters inwards.

“Pigs!” Jean is yelling, then there is gunfire. Jake has thrown himself over me, slamming us both to the ground. It’s over so fast. “It’ll be all right, Alice, baby,” that last a hiss when he is drawn to his feet by an officer. Jean and his thugs are limp on the ground.

“Hey, she can explain,” Jake says, his eyes touching mine. A tingle runs through me, then I think of Bryant, waiting at the rendezvous, probably nervously rubbing together two intercontinental flight tickets. Oh, Jake, maybe it is not too late!

A cop slapped handcuffs on me and frisked me. I bloody needed a cigarette.
“Hey, she can explain,” I said, nodding at Alice. They pulled the sock from her mouth.
She screamed, “Oh, thank God! Get him away from me!”

And I thought the day couldn’t get any worse.

The End

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