20 YEARS LATER
I take a long, bitter swig of my beer, draining the brown glass of its amber liquid. I choke it back. To be honest I don't even like the taste of the stuff, I just like how it dulls my senses enough so I don't have to think about certain things.
Like family day.
Yay, family day! I think to myself sarcastically.
Just another excuse to squeeze a day off into the calendar for suburban yuppies with white picket fences. It has nothing to offer people who’ve seen the way the real world works and have no choice but to live in it.
Plus it just reminds me that I don't really have much of a family at all.
It reminds me that my mom is dead and my dad’s the one in jail for her murder.
I know he didn’t do it. The police are wrong. They never even looked for other suspects. He was railroaded from the day they came to our door when I was a kid, right through the courts and into jail.
I'm going to prove that he’s innocent someday. I don't know how, but he’ll be set free and then we’ll leave this filthy city that the foster system left me to survive in. We'll leave this city behind us, along with everyone and everything in it.
I break out of my anti-reverie to take a long and unimpressed sideways glance at the occupant of the couch cushion next to me.
It's a stale, half-eaten pizza from Goodfellas. A clever name for a restaurant in a town where the residents wear their mob roots on their sleeves as a symbol of pride. What they have in naming savvy is lost in product quality. Every time I order from there I tell myself it's the last time, but there's nowhere else in this town I can get a large pie with Italian sausage, onion and banana peppers for just $8. The toppings are thin, there's not enough sauce so it's dry and it's likely going to give me diarrhea tomorrow, but it will feed me for at least 2 meals. And it was $8.
I look at my couch companion for a few more seconds before I force myself to look away, toward the old picture tube TV in my living room where the colors in the top right corner don’t match the colors on the rest of the screen. I can catch the highlights of last night’s fight thanks to the free-to-air antenna I swiped from the surplus store.
“Fuck it, I’m goin’ out,” I mumble out loud to no one in particular.
I stand, slamming my bottle into the case of empties sitting nearby atop the footstool. The entire case rattles as the glass vibrates with the squeal caused by glass-on-glass friction.
I cross the dingy apartment in one quick stride, reaching to grab my lucky vest where it drapes over a folded TV table. It’s not expensive. I’m not crazy enough to believe it has, like, magical powers or anything, but we have been through a lot together. It’s warm when I need it and it has never failed me yet. Nothing incredibly special, the vest is black with a narrow white stripe across the chest and a wide red band across the upper torso, covering the shoulders and collar. It was given to me by someone special, one of those rare people that genuinely care.
I slip the vest on and briefly glance at the door. The light from the hallway leaks in through the edges between the door and the frame. I turn and head out the back window toward the fire escape. I prefer using the fire escape when I can for two reasons: first, I don’t like nosy people able to see when I’m coming and going, and second: the fire escape leads to the alleys, and I know the alleys in this city better than anybody. There isn’t a place I can’t get to through the cover of back alleys. In the shadowy bowels between the streets, there are less prying eyes and those that do see something suspicious aren’t the type to tell anybody about it.
I step out onto the metal grate and into the chill February air. My breath instantly becomes mist. I turn back and slide my window down, securing the valuable warmth inside.
My cell phone buzzes and I pull it out of my vest. There’s a text message on the screen.
From Fiona: Don’t forget that my dad wants to meet you tomorrow. So excited! :)
That’s my girlfriend. Fiona. She’s a wonderful girl, if a bit naïve. She’s beautiful but never had to deal with survival the way I have, so she comes across as a little simple. I can’t blame her for being the way she is, she’s been sheltered and pampered her entire life. I’d be lying if I said my interest in her was just physical. It also includes a good opportunity at a meal ticket.
I think about the fact that it really is finally time to meet her dad. I forlornly slide my cell phone back into the vest pocket.
My girlfriend happens to be the daughter of a very powerful mobster. I’m hoping to get onto his payroll. Tomorrow is a big day.
Tonight is tonight though, and it’s time to go and scope out the scene, make a living. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a little wasted as well.
I slide off the spring-loaded ladder at the bottom of the fire escape with the fluidity of experience. I’m already stepping away as it begins to swing back up.
I walk down the darkened alleys and side streets. Snow encrusts the ground and latches onto the sidewalks as banks left behind by plows. It’s quiet at this time of night, very little traffic and no other pedestrians. I like the peacefulness of it, contrasting with the hectic pace of the day.
I step out from a side street and into the brightness of the streetlights. I wait for a couple of slow moving cars to pass, then quickly stalk toward a flashing neon sign that reads “The Cheshire Cat.”
The cat is one of the few real night clubs in the city, ones where you can get a drink, hear some horrible goddamn techno music and maybe get laid. You can also make some money, if you know what you’re doing.
Despite the horrible music, the place is vibrant. Also a lot of well-dressed and wealthy young people with little common sense frequent the establishment, making it a great place for anyone savvy enough to take advantage of that. I eye the behind of a thin brunette as she walks into the club on the arm of a young man. The young couple is already half wasted and appear not to notice anybody else around them.
As I approach the building, the sound of the music begins to get louder. First, just a faint thump, but by the time I cross the sidewalk and approach the entrance, it reverberates through my chest and into my skeleton.
I’m also eyeing the bouncer at the door as I approach. He’s a bald, scowling Samoan in black jeans and a tight grey sweater named Trey. Trey is a bit of a dick. Things really came to a head when he decided to start a fight with me during a recreational league hockey game. The result of which was me busting out some of his teeth and both of us being banned from the arena. I don’t know what his problem is. He thinks he has something to prove, or that he’s better than me or something. As if I’m even in the running for that competition.
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