a Short Story by Raquel Swann
Cascading sheets of water fell from the darkened gray sky above. It was as if a pipe burst from somewhere inside the dense cloud cover. The downpour made tinny pinging sounds as it collided with the lids of some steel garbage cans. Lexington Avenue was nearly empty, except for a man and woman who were casually navigating through the rainfall. They were absent of umbrellas, newspapers, or any other device deemed suitable to deflect the torrential downpour and keep them dry.
The man, whose clothes could not become saturated any further, took his shirt off and draped it over his shoulder. He clutches the woman’s hand and draggs her towards the other side of the street. They escape the summer shower and stand underneath a fancy violet awning.
The man clenches his shirt and twists it, ringing out a stream of water towards the ground. The woman stands there, wearing a muddied red skirt and matching bra, watching him with a blank stare on her face. The woman reaches inside a little snake-patterned black purse that was strapped across her shoulder, and pulled out a crumbled up black tank top, which she immediately threw over her body.
A fancy looking woman trots out the front door of the building attached to the awning, like some kind of show pony, gives the couple a look of disgust and contempt. She daintily runs towards an awaiting taxi cab letting out high-pitched screams as if the rain was hurting her physically.
The woman notices a well dressed gentlemen in an expensive navy suit, hunched over in a corner underneath the awning. He takes a pack of cigarettes out of his pants pocket.
“Sir, may I have one of those please,” she asks cordially. She speaks with a hint of a southern accent. The tone of her voice was soft and proper, unfitting of the way she was dressed.
“Sure,” replies the man as he ejects two cigarettes from the pack and distributes one to the woman.
“Do you need a light as well?” he asks as he scans her up and down. He safely assumes if she did have a lighter it was most likely as wet and broken down as she looks. The man doesn’t mind, after the all the woman is gorgeous.
“Yes. You are so kind,” she leans in to the flame with the cigarette in her mouth. She takes a long drag, smiled as if to say thank you, and walks back over to her companion.
“If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have anything,” he says with a much more defined southern accent.
“Why do you say that?” she asks as she blows a cloud of smoke in the air.
“You are so hot. People will give you anything you want.”
“Is that why we’re here?”
“You know why we’re here.”
“I know what you told me, but I still don’t understand,” she says as she hands him the cigarette.
He places the cigarette in his mouth while he takes off his shoes. He removes his drenched socks and twists them into a knot. He inhales vigorously and continues to do so as smoke pours out of his nostrils. He places his shoes back on his bare feet and places the cigarette between is fingers.
“How do you not understand? It’s pretty simple,” barks the shirtless man.
“All this to get back home to North Carolina? Is it really worth it? I mean can’t we find another way?”
“I don’t think there is another way. Haven’t we tried Kat? We’ve been through this.”
“Do you think we’ve tried? I mean, tried everything?” She questions, her tone embodied with sarcasm and disdain.
“I would have to say yes. We can’t keep sleeping on the street, Kat.”
“You won’t let me call my mother or even ask my sister for help. But you’ve cooked up this plan. I just don’t know.”
“Your mother wrote us off when we left. She told you not to go to New York with me. You followed me, even when she thought we would fail. You don’t want to let her know we’ve failed, do you?”
“She would help me if I called. And it was you that failed. All you think about is blues. Those damn blues is what got us here,” she replies. She was tired of sharing the blame for things she could not control.
“One hour and we’re on our way home,” he responds. “It’s not like you haven’t done this kind of thing before.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Snaps Kat.
“You know what you’re doing. You’ve got it and you know how to use it. Trust me, I know.”
“My god, I’ve only slept with you. We’re talking about giving my body to a complete stranger!”
“You know Russ. You’ve met him lots of times,” pleads the man.
“I know he’s your dealer. That’s all I know about him.”
“He took one look at you and offered me fifteen hundred dollars.Fifteen hundred dollars! He even gave us five hundred up front. You looked like you were okay with this whole thing.”
“The same five hundred you happily spent on some more blues. Putting us in the street, once again. You made me feel like their were no other options. I love you but look at what you’ve become. You need to look at yourself in a mirror.”
“Kat, we are gonna go home. I’m gonna get help, I promise. I need those pills. Without them I-“
“You were Zach,” interrupted Kat.
“What did you say?” Zach asks. He was confused as to why she would mention his name.
“I said, without those pills you were Zach. The man I fell in love with. The man who wouldn’t offer me up to some horny fuck for a couple of pills. The real man that was going from audition to audition and wouldn’t give up. Well, at least until you met your new little blue loves, compliments of Russ.”
Kat looks down at the ground. She worries that he would once again find the right words to change her mind. Zach always seemed to know how to melt her heart, especially when they argued. She vowed earlier that day to stay clear about her intentions on the matter and remain wavered.
“Kat, I do love you. I love you with all of my heart. I don’t want you to go through with this, but this man is dangerous. He wanted you from the moment I bragged you were a prom queen. He kept goin’ on about how he’s never slept with a redhead and he knew you were a clean country girl. He used our weakness against us,” begged Zach as he lovingly places his hand on her wrist. He brushes his finger under her chin and lifts so he could get a glimpse of those blue eyes he adores.
“So what’s it going to be, Zach? Are we doing this? I don’t want to hear about love right before I screw some guy’s brains out.”
“Don’t say shit like that. Please, it hurts me.”
“What? Are you serious?” screamed Kat. She leans in and begins to whisper, “ I am going to screw another man while you wait downstairs. I’m gonna go down on him just like I do for you. I will pleasure him like you are used to being pleasured by me. Is this a problem for you?” Her own words make her cringe, but they are necessary. He has to realize how she feels in this moment. She steps back to gauge his reaction. Would this change things, she wonders. Could he finally be stronger than the pills? Would he finally break the chains and no longer allow himself to be a slave to his little blue narcotic masters?
Zach was taken aback by the idea of her kneeling in front of another man, and the sickening thought of foreign hands groping her body. His mind floods with pictures and images of the despicable acts she so vividly described to him. She triggered something inside of him that was more potent than any pill. Finally, for the first time in a long time, Zach was thinking about something other than his addiction.
“Zach,” whispered Kat, “What’s it gonna to be?”
Zach pauses for a moment trying to make sense out of everything. His thoughts scatter in different directions. The visions of Kat and the vile acts she would perform for another man. All of this grief for a little money that he squandered on drugs. Then he ponders about the thousand dollars he will earn if she goes through with it. The same thousand dollars that would get them home and get him high for the ride home. He just needs a few pills for the bus or train ride home. That isn’t too much too ask. It would barely cost a hundred or so for a couple of highs. Calling her mother wasn’t an option as he knew that she would only send the money for Kat to return home. One hour was all it would take and then this waking nightmare will be over. He will have his pills, his girl, and his salvation.
“We have no choice, Kat,” Zach responds.
“There is always a choice,” sighs Kat as she continues, “Okay. Give me a kiss before I walk up there.”
Kat grabs Zach gently by his back and pulls him in closer until their lips touch. It was a soft, tender, and loving kiss. She looks back at him with a tear in her eye as she walks through the door to the hotel. The same hotel they had been standing in front of for the last twenty minutes. The one with the violet awning. The one where Zach had asked her to have sex with another man.
He watches as she disappears into the lobby, his mind spins one hundred miles per second. He glances up at the gloomy sky, musing about the grayish color and how it matches his heart. He couldn’t, for the life of him, comprehend, why he would do such a terrible thing, especially to someone he loves.
“It’s the fucking pills,” he mutters, “I love that girl. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Zach, you got this. One hour and it’s over.”
He begins to pace back and forth anxiously in front of the hotel door. The rain had stopped a short time ago but Zach remained under the awning. He paces and paces, worrying curious patrons that walked out of the front door to the hotel. Zach is so focused on Kat, he didn’t realize that there was a man standing outside the front door addressing him.
“Sir!” Exclaims the manager, “What business do you have here?”
“Huh. Oh. None of your business pal,” he responds.
“It is my business and you need to leave,” commands the man.
“I’m waiting for a friend. Please, I won’t bother anybody.”
“Sir, I apologize but you must leave the premises immediately. Now. You have already bothered some of our guests and they are frightened by the way you are acting. Leave.”
“Okay. I’ll leave,” lied Zach.
He was delirious with jealousy, anger, and rage. He pretends to walk off and then cuts back pushing past the manager, knocking him down. Zach runs past the lobby into the hallway frantically looking for the elevators. Zach could hear the sounds of hotel employees calling for him to leave. He heard someone say, “call the police, now,” but it didn’t matter. He had to get to Kat and stop her before it was too late.
Zach stands by the elevators for a moment slamming the buttons and pounds on the doors to the shaft. He gives up waiting when he notices the elevator has stopped on the fortieth floor. He sprints down yet another hallway until he reaches a door with a picture of stairs on it. He sprints up the stairs as fast as his feet could take him. He spots the sign for floor ten and bolts out looking for room ten-forty.
“Ten thirty-four, ten thirty-six, ten thirty-eight,” he murmurs to himself until he finally finds the room. The very same room number he had written down when he agreed that Russ could sleep with his girlfriend. He pounds on the door nearly shaking it off its hinges.
“Oh, isn’t this something,” said Russ as he swings the door open.
“Russ! I’ll pay you back your money. You can’t do this. You can’t do this to me— Kat, she is a good girl, not a slut. Please let me pay you back. I’ll find a way.”
“You have some fucking nerve. Get your ass in here,” shouts Russ.
Zach enters the room looking frantically in all directions. He sees a bottle of champagne unopened, still chilling in the ice bucket. He sees an untouched tray of strawberries accompanied by a plate of cheeses with caviar and crackers. He does not see Kat, however. He fears that something is terribly wrong.
“Where is she?”
“You dumb fuck. You really don’t know, do you? I want my money now plus interest for all this shit I ordered from room service. You owe me seven hundred bucks,” bellows Russ, his gaze as cold as ice.
“I’ll pay you anything. I need time. Where is she? I need her, please Russ,” begs Zach as he grabs for Russ’s arm. Russ pulls back his arm and throws a punch that collides with Zach’s chin. Zach falls back crashing into the door.
“She isn’t here. I thought you two had it all planned all along until I saw your dumb ass through the peep hole. She came in here, asked me for my phone, made a call and bolted out the door. She said she’d be right back. I knew she was flaking—”
“No. It can’t be Russ. She wouldn’t leave me. She wouldn’t just leave me.”
Zach was so upset he finally notices the gun that had been aimed at his face. He waves his hands in the air and pleads for more time.
“Nah sorry. You have my money or what?”
“I need a little—”
“There is no time. You and that bitch embarrassed me. I floated you five hundred dollars worth of pills because I thought I was gettin’ me a piece of that sweet country redhead of yours.”
“Russ, this is a bad idea man. I ran up here so fast I knocked the manager over. They called the cops. If you kill me you ain’t walkin’ out of here,” advises Zach as he slowly stands to his feet trying to keep his hands in the air.
A crashing sound from one the adjacent rooms distracts Russ for a moment. It was long enough for Zach to charge at him like a bull and grab on to the gun.
As the two men wrestle for control of the weapon, the barrel of the gun shifts into different positions. Zach’s brow furls as he looks down the shaft of the pistol and catches a glimpse of a bullet. He desperately shifts his wrist. Russ stares down the barrel a few times before he forces the front of the gun back towards Zach’s abdomen.
Downstairs in the lobby the police just arrived. A frantic bell hop attempts to recount the story of a homeless man that pushed his way through the corridors of the Famous Strickland Hotel. He added how he was appalled by the rudeness and unsanitary conditions that would not meet the approval of their guests. Then a gunshot, which came precisely from the tenth floor, sounds off. Everyone in the lobby seems to freeze with fear. The police rush up the staircase without hesitation.
Twenty minutes later they bring him down in handcuffs. Multiple police officers stand outside, some with guns drawn, as the prisoner approachs. His eyes never leave the ground as he is being dragged towards an awaiting squad car.
A greyhound bus, halted by an officer, as she directed traffic is stuck right in front of the crime scene. The driver inside yells obscenities outside his window to the cops screaming for them to move. He was already behind schedule because of a woman who had no I.D. and a damn good story. Good deeds, on this day, were in short supply the second after he gave in to her continuous pleading and crying.
A cop grabs the prisoner by the top of his head and pushes it down into the car. The man moves his eyes forward and sees her. She is sitting in the sixth row behind the driver and has her hands on the window. Her eyes meet his for a brief moment before he is pushed into the car. Kat begins to sob. Her tears are constructed from every emotion she had felt over the last few months. Most of her sorrow was made from happiness. Happiness that Zach was still alive and will not be able to hurt himself any longer. She watches with her hands pressed against the window as the squad car slowly pulls away. The Greyhound Bus with the word, “Charlotte,” plastered all over it begins to move again towards it’s destination.