“Hi, honey, I’m home,” I called out, throwing my purse on the ground. All I wanted was something to eat, perhaps a roll in a hay, and a hot shower. I went into the living room where Matt was staring at the television. Though he had it on the Sox game, he wasn’t really watching. “You hungry? I’m going to order a pizza. You want in?” No answer. “Hey, Matt, what’s wrong?” No sooner did the words leave my lips then I knew. “Oh, Matt. It’s not Shawn, is it? He’s not…worse, is he?”
“He’s dead,” Matt said, his voice empty. “He flat-lined while I was there late this afternoon.”
“Oh, baby,” I said, pizza forgotten. I sat next to him and put my arms around him, wishing desperately I could take the pain away. Again, I didn’t say anything as I knew there was nothing to say.
“He was only fifteen, Scar. Fifteen! What the hell am I doing?” Matt’s voice cracked on the last word, and that broke the floodgates. Putting his head in his hands, he started sobbing. I rocked him back and forth best I could, my own eyes filling with tears. “I saw him die, Scar. I can’t fucking take this any more.”
He turned to me, his face wet with tears. I looked up at him, letting him know whatever he wanted was fine with me. Without saying anything, he dropped his head and crushed my lips under his. I twined my arms around his neck, drawing him closer. I knew that I’d have to stop having sex with him if I started dating Martinez seriously, but for now, I only had thoughts of comforting my friend. It sounded strange, but sex was the one thing that could erase the bitter taste of death, if only for an hour. From death, life must spring. Sex was a way to confirm that we did live, that we did breathe, that we did love. Neither of us said a word as he led me to his bedroom.
“Damn it,” Matt mumbled as his cell phone yowled incessantly. We had fallen asleep after two rounds of sex, and I had no idea what time it was. It was probably nine or ten as there was no light outside, but I couldn’t pinpoint it any closer than that. As Matt scrambled to find his phone, I glanced at his clock. It was only nine-thirty, which meant that I might have a fighting chance of getting some work done before going to bed for real. I also had to eat something as I was starving. I stumbled out of bed and gathered my clothes before going to the bathroom. I had to take a shower before doing anything else as I couldn’t stand feeling sticky, especially after sex. I was in the middle of a hot, luxurious shower when the curtain was whisked aside.
“That fucking bitch,” Matt fumed, not paying attention to the befuddled expression on my face. “Do you know what that idiot did?” He continued without giving me a chance to answer. “She went to her dealer and demanded that he give Danny back to her. When he claimed he didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about, she went after him with a knife. Of course, he took it from her and sliced her up to teach her a lesson. Plus, he’s still fucking pissed off about the coke she stole. She’s in the fucking hospital! I have to go.” He didn’t seem to realize he was still stark naked. As he looked as if he were going to go barging out of the apartment as is, I had to help him. I caught him by the arm just as he was about to leave.
“Matt, you have to get dressed first,” I said gently. I knew that this news on top of what happened to Shawn—I bet Kayla was at the same hospital—HCMC—wouldn’t make things any easier. “Wait for me, and I’ll go with you.” To my surprise, Matt grabbed me in a fierce hug and kissed me on the cheek. Even though we were best of friends, we weren’t usually demonstrative to each other outside of the bedroom.
“Thanks, Scar,” he said before turning and leaving. I shut off the water and toweled off before returning to my room to find something to wear. As it was only the hospital, I threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I stifled a thought of the work I should be doing because I had to back up my boy.
“Matt, can we run through the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way over?” I asked tentatively, meeting Matt in the front hallway. I didn’t want to impede him, but I had to eat something.
“Good idea,” he said immediately, pulling on his shoes. “I’m starved.”
We went through the drive-thru as quickly as we could. I tried not to eat at McDonald’s especially since I watched Super Size Me and saw what that shit could do to you, but this was an emergency. Besides, once in a long while, I just had to have me a Big Mac—just what did they put in that secret sauce?—and a large order of fries. I figured that the Diet Coke I ordered would even things out. Ok, I knew my logic was faulty, but I had to justify the indulgence somehow. Matt ordered two Quarter-Pounders with cheese, large fries, a hot fudge sundae, and a large Coke. He must really be stressed to be eating so much junk food. He considered his body a temple, but he deserved whatever solace he could find on a day like this.
We gobbled down the food as Matt raced towards the hospital. I kept an eye out for the cops because the last thing we needed was to be stopped. In between bites, Matt told me that Kayla was doing fine. Alexander had inflicted mostly superficial wounds, though there was a nasty cut across her back about five inches long. She was lucky he missed her kidneys, but there was no way she was stripping any time soon. That meant, of course, that she had to make money some other way. Even more importantly, if Alexander didn’t have Danny, who did? And what did he want from Kayla? I wondered if Alexander was working some kind of Machiavellian plan, but it would be in his best interest to divulge he had Danny if that were the truth. Shit. That left us back at square one with no suspects. I thought about Digger and decided that I had to talk to him soon. He had moved to number one on my suspect list.
“Damn it, what the fuck was she thinking,” Matt muttered as he whipped into a parking spot. I sent a silent prayer of thanks that we’d made it alive and without being stopped, then hurried after him. As he was nearly a foot taller than I, I had difficulties keeping up with his long strides. “Kayla Richardson,” Matt barked to the beleaguered person manning the Information desk.
“Room 214,” the woman said briskly. “Go down the hall to your left and take the first set of elevators up a floor.”
“Thank you,” I tossed over my shoulder as Matt was already on his way.
“What an idiot,” Matt said under his breath. As I surmised he was talking about Kayla and not the front desk woman, I couldn’t disagree.
When we exited the elevator, he straightened his shoulders as if he were going to face the firing squad. Standing in front of her door, he hesitated. I understood why and gestured for him to go first. I wandered to the waiting room and sat, leafing through an outdated People magazine. I would never buy one myself, but I could never resist seeing what those wacky celebs were up to when I had the chance. Not more than ten minutes later, Matt came out and indicated for me to follow him. As he was heading for the elevator, I surmised that the talk with Kayla hadn’t gone well at all. It was fine with me if she didn’t want to see me, but I was puzzled why Matt looked so upset. I found out as soon as we left the hospital.
“She asked me, no, she ordered me to stop you from helping her any more,” Matt said, his jaw set. “It was the first fucking thing she said to me. When I asked her why, she refused to tell me. Fucking bitch sits there like she’s the Queen of Sheba, telling me to stop looking for my son! Who the fuck does she think she is?” I wanted desperately to say, ‘the Queen of Sheba?’, but I knew that wouldn’t be well-received so I held my tongue.
“Do you think she’s been pressured by someone?” I asked cautiously, not wanting to set him off.
“Fuck if I know!” Matt exploded, clenching his hands into fists. Even though I knew he wasn’t mad at me, my heartbeat sped up, anyway. He took some deep breaths which seemed to relax him a bit. His voice was calmer when he added, “She certainly seemed scared of something. I don’t think it was just the knifing, either.”
“So either Alexander is our guy, or someone else is and he got to her.” Both options were unpalatable, but I knew that I wasn’t stopping. More to the point, I knew Matt wouldn’t give up, and I had to make sure he had backup. I didn’t give a damn about Kayla, but I sure as hell gave a damn about her poor son.
I thought about her ploy with Alexander which didn’t make any sense at all. Even if he did have Danny, there was no way in hell he’d give him up that easily—knife or no knife. Besides, Kayla had ripped off his coke, so he’d be in no mood to play nice with her. I stopped short, thinking about what I just figured out. What if Kayla hadn’t been telling the truth about ripping off Alexander? What if she had only told us that to give us a plausible suspect? What if she knew who had taken Danny, but was planning on dealing with him herself? She wouldn’t be that stupid, would she? Then again, I couldn’t help shaking the feeling that she had asked for me to be involved solely to fuck things up.
“Matt, does Kayla ever tell the truth?” I asked abruptly, ready to let Matt into my mindset.
“Are you kidding me?” Matt snorted, though there was little mirth in the sound. “She’d lie about the color of the sky without even giving it a second thought. Why?”
“How do we know anything she’s told us is the truth?” I told him what I’d been thinking, and he slowly nodded his head in agreement.
“I wouldn’t put it past her,” he said, his hands gripping the steering wheel a bit tighter. He wasn’t driving like a bat out of hell, however, so I wasn’t worried.
“What if she lied today? What if Alexander isn’t the one who beat her up? I have his number,” I said, my voice growing with excitement. “I’m going to call him.” I turned on the dome light so I could rummage through my purse. Unlike many woman, I only used one purse so I was sure the number was in there. When I found it, I pulled out my cell and dialed the digits. To my intense disgust, though not my surprise, the number was out of order.
“Doesn’t work?” Matt asked. He didn’t sound surprised, either.
“Nope,” I said glumly, shutting off my cell. “I really need to talk to Digger. The owner of the club where Kayla stripped,” I clarified. “He would know about the dealer if there was one, and he is up to his ass in some of the shit Kayla snooped about. He’s number one on my suspect list, and it’s about time to see what the fuck he knows.”
“No time like the present,” Matt said, glancing at me quizzically.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “If we go there, I need to dress up. I’m not going there like this,” I said, glancing down at my clothes. I knew how those places worked, and I’d need every advantage I could dredge up.
“What do you need to dress up for? You look fine.” Matt asked, proving that even the most sensitive of guys can be a lunkhead.
“Never mind,” I said, folding my lips inward. I was thinking unkind thoughts towards him as we reached our street. He didn’t know what it felt like to be judged solely on how you looked. Not only was I going to be the only dressed woman in a joint full of augmented, highlighted, good-looking women, I was Asian to boot. In the lutefisk world of Minnesota, I qualified as exotic.
“Sorry, Scar,” Matt said softly, dropping his hand on my thigh. He was lucky the car was an automatic or he’d have us in a ditch right now. Or maybe not. I wasn’t completely sure how a stick-shift worked as I’ve only driven automatics all my life. “I can be such a jackass sometimes.” Since I’d been thinking essentially the same thing, I didn’t say anything. “Want me to dress in all black, wear my shades? Look like I’m your muscle?” I had to laugh at the thought of Matt being my muscle. He may have the body for it—let’s face it, he did—but his face was too sweet to pass for a thug’s. Then again, toss a pair of Ray Bans over his eyes, and he would look like one scary motherfucker. Neither of us said another word as he pulled up to the curb.
“Give me half an hour,” I said, bounding into the apartment. I normally got ready in five minutes, but I knew it would take longer than that for me to primp for our job tonight. “I got dibs on the bathroom,” I added, racing into my room. I didn’t want to be out too late even if I didn’t have to be at Julia’s until one, but we needed to do this tonight. It had already been too long for a poor, frightened little boy.