Jun 30 2012 10:00am
A Mouth Full of Blood: New Excerpt
A Mouth Full of Blood is the sixth action-packed crime adventure in the Fight Card series by the pseudonymous Jack Tunney (available July 17, 2012).
“Jack Tunney” is a pseudonym for a group of authors who write hard-hitting crime stories inspired by the great sports pulps of the 1930s and 40s. They are short, action-filled throwbacks to a time when the pages ran red with great fight action in and out of the ring. Each book is written by a different author, but released under the unifying pseudonym Jack Tunney. This installment in the series was written by Eric Beetner.
A Mouth Full Of Blood continues the story of young Jimmy Wyler after his narrow escape from Kansas City at the end of Split Decision (the third of the Fightcard books, also written by Beetner). Relocated back to Chicago where he grew up in an orphanage under the guidance of Father Tim, the boxing priest, he is trying to put his life back together. Leo, a young boy Jimmy knows, is having trouble at home and Jimmy wants to help out. The trouble is deeper than Jimmy considered, however, and to resolve it he must enter the underground world of unsanctioned boxing matches using the skills in the ring he swore he’d never use again.
The steam always made me think of the train platform. How I left Lola, shot in the back and bleeding. Chicago wasn’t far enough away to keep the memories at bay.
I’d been back in my hometown for nine months. Seemed appropriate since I was attempting a rebirth. So far all it got me was a dishwashing job at Papadakis’ Greek Diner, living each night in a cloud of steam and damp memories. Didn’t much matter what I did, so long as it kept my fists uncurled and me out of a boxing ring.
I still jumped rope in my one room joint, still shadow boxed against the wall with the long crack in it. Still fought my own heavyweight opponents, only now they had names like guilt, regret, and shame. A hundred sit-ups each morning, a hundred more every night and a mile run, even in Chicago winter, kept up my middleweight physique. Mentally, I could no more take on a bout than perform open heart surgery.
So when I heard the telltale signs of a fight out back, I almost didn’t go.
One a.m. and the Greek was already at home with his six kids and fat wife. That left me to lock up with Rico the cook, and the little Polish kid who bussed tables and helped me on the washer during the rush. Lolek, or Leo as he wanted to be called, was all of fifteen, but that didn’t bother Papadakis. Leo was a kid from the neighborhood and, far from exploiting young labor, the Greek was keeping the kid’s family afloat. See, Leo’s dad was a heavyweight drunk, championship level. And the old man had a wicked right hook, to judge from the welts on Leo’s face from time to time.
Leo was a good kid. Worked hard, showed up on time and stayed late. Reminded me a little of myself, only I never had to work a job like this when I was his age. Spent most of my time in the gym with Father Tim and the rest of the boys trying to punch our way out of the city. Leo used his fists for grabbing up half-eaten plates of diner food. He probably would have been good in the ring, fast as his hands were. He could palm half a steak and slip it in his chinos like a magician. By the time his shift ended that kid could have a four course meal for six lining his pockets. I think it was about the only food his family had to eat since the old man was too soused to work anymore.
The shouts of the crowd were what caught my ear. Then the slap of skin on skin and the grunt of someone who just took a sock to the gut. I listened as the steam dissipated and I shook my hands dry.
I looked around the kitchen. Leo wasn’t there. Rico stayed up front after lock-up to count out the till and pay the waitresses their tips.
I finished drying my hands on the apron hanging around my waist and poked my head out the open back door. Leo had gone out to dump a load of trash in the alley. Some jobs were even too low for me. I glanced one way, then the other and saw what had him waylaid.
Leo caught hell from a group of neighborhood kids all the time. When your dad’s a drunk, and a loud one at that, the whole block knows it. Living stacked on top of one another the way you do in a city, everyone knows everyone else’s business real quick.
The group of kids were Greeks. Not enough Polish around to make up any gangs for Leo to be a part of. They weren’t real bad kids, just teenage boys emboldened by their numbers and needing a place to take out their anger at the world. Leo made a pretty good target, skinny and weak with a weariness behind his eyes thanks to his home life.
I saw the group of six boys, and three girls hanging at the margins, as they formed a circle around Leo and made him into a hot potato in the middle. One boy would shove, another boy would catch him and push off, sending Leo stumbling across the circle, the boys shouting taunts about Leo’s old man that probably stung more than the manhandling.
Leo may have been outnumbered, but he was about to have one more on his side.
“Hey,” I said. I tried to be firm and adult sounding. To them, my mid-twenties may have seemed like old man territory, but I never felt comfortable acting like an authority figure. Guess they didn’t see it in me either because the group didn’t disperse, only stopped pin-balling Leo around and turned to regard me like nothing but another alley rat.
“Go back to your soap and water,” said a skinny boy with a thick single eyebrow across his forehead.
I untied my apron as I stepped down the three stairs into the alley. The smell of the trash cans was trapped in between the high brick walls. Lamps with bare bulbs hung over a few doorways, giving the alley pools of yellowish light and swaths of dark shadows.
“Why don’t you go back to your homes and leave the kid alone.”
“Who are you?” a pimple-faced boy asked. “His pop?”
“Naw, ain’t his pop. He’s not drunk enough,” said the kid with one eyebrow.
The gang laughed. Leo stood in the center of the mob and hung his head. He shrunk in on himself like he was trying to disappear.
“You had your fun, now run along.” I dropped my apron across a trash can lid from the tailor shop next door as I advanced down the alley. One by one the boys turned to face me, ignoring Leo. Six against one. They might be dropout city kids, but they could count.
I figured the eyebrow for at least nineteen, the rest of his crew around the same. Too old to be picking on a kid like Leo, too young to know better.
“I think maybe you oughta run along, mister,” said the eyebrow, obviously the leader. Every gang had one, usually the one with the loudest mouth.
“I got nowhere else to be,” I said.
“You better watch it, mister,” said a kid next to the leader. “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”
“This here is the golden gloves champ-een,” said another kid in the back row. “Ain’t that right, Roy?”
Roy lifted that thick eyebrow and feigned modesty.
When I was nineteen I could have beaten the tar out of a guy twice my age. I didn’t underestimate Roy, or the fact he had five backups in his corner. But I wasn’t looking for a fight. I came out in the alley to break one up.
“Leo, come on over here,” I said.
Leo shuffled through the crowd of kids. They let him pass, all eyes on me.
“Maybe you don’t believe me?” Roy said.
“Oh, I believe you fine, kid.” Calling them kid always riles them up. “I just don’t give a good goddamn.”
I put a hand on Leo’s shoulder and turned us both back toward the diner. Behind us, the crowd grumbled and whispered. I knew the drill. There would be the kid who wanted to run, the kid who wanted to chase us down, the kid who wanted to shout something insulting and wait until someone in an apartment in the building above told us to go home. And none of them would do a damn thing without Roy’s okay.
We made it to the bottom of the steps when I heard a big gob of spit and then a bottle smash against the wall. I felt tiny shards of glass against the back of my pants leg. I stopped.
“Go on ahead,” I said to Leo. He looked up at me with eyes fighting back tears. I could tell it was routine for him, lots of practice at home trying at act tough, but wanting like anything to cry like a kid ought to.
“Jimmy, you don’t have to do nothing for me. I can fight on my own.” The words were tough, but his delivery weak.
“I know.” What I knew is skinny little Leo would get his tail whipped if I let him near that crowd again. “You better go inside now.”
Leo walked to the top of the steps and waited.
I turned back to the gang. Roy stood flanked by his crew, his blue jeans cuffed high on his ankles, his hair greased up into a sweeping wave, tight white t-shirt tucked in under an open windbreaker jacket. Not exactly silks and leather gloves, but I wasn’t dressed any better for a fight.
Roy put his hands up in a fight stance. Nine months since I squared off against anyone but myself. Roy wouldn’t take no for an answer, though. My nerves jumped up all of a sudden. A feeling I used to get before a fight. A feeling I didn’t know I missed until I felt it again.
I looked back to Leo who disobeyed my order to go inside. He gave me a grateful, “Go on and tan his hide,” look through squinted eyes. I only hoped the kid had enough sense to run and get Rico if they all jumped me at once.
Roy realized I wasn’t going anywhere so he took off his jacket and tossed it to one of the peanut gallery. He resumed his practiced pose, exactly like the shining boy on top of the Golden Gloves trophy.
I stepped forward, arms at my sides, unthreatening. “I really think you oughta go home.”
“And I think you oughta shut the hell up and mind your own business.” The crowd let out a muffled laugh, subtly voicing their approval.
“Leo’s only a kid.” Part of the reason I wanted Leo inside—so he wouldn’t hear a line like that. I knew it hurt his feelings. Any self-respecting fifteen-year-old hates being called a kid.
“Leo can kiss my fist,” Roy said.
That about settled it. I gave him the out. Time to dance.
I shook out my arms once and started to move lighter on my feet, shuffling around to his right. My body slipped back into old habits worked hard into my muscle memory by hours of training in Sal’s gym. I put any thought of my former manager out of my head. Had to concentrate on Mr. Golden Gloves in front of me, not to mention all his friends.
“Let’s go, old man,” he said. I couldn’t get too insulted since I was no more an old man than he was a boxer. His feet stayed flat on the concrete floor of the alley, his hands out way too far in front of him, in my opinion. Whoever the kid’s coach had been wasn’t that good, or the kid didn’t listen. My money was on the latter. Either way, the kid must have won his Golden Gloves trophy on a lucky shot or a lousy opponent.
I remembered the dishrag in my back pocket. I took it out and tore it down the middle.
Roy and the gang stared at me like I’d just done a magic trick. I wrapped the two strips of soggy cotton around my knuckles. Busted fingers were not on the menu tonight.
“Come on then,” I said. Let them come to you. Words of wisdom from the days before Sal. Way back to Father Tim. Back to Chicago. Same town, same alleys. What a difference a decade makes.
Roy charged me, a Tarzan yell in his throat. I kept my hands down, luring him in. The rate he was moving, I could have sidestepped him and he would have kept going into Lake Michigan. I let him get right up on me, then faded to my left and let his right fist sail over my head. I resisted the urge to rabbit punch him on his way past.
He stopped and turned, looking at me like he had no idea how he got behind me. I stayed light on my feet, shuffling steps side to side, one eye on the gang of kids I’d turned my back on.
Roy came at me again, minus the yell this time. I stayed put and raised my hands. I wanted to see what he had, so I took the punch. Not too bad. A lot of power, most of it misplaced. Now, I’m not the kind of guy to go giving advice to fighters. And if I did offer any, you’d be a fool to take it. My record would indicate as much. But some mistakes are obvious to a blind man. I wondered something.
“How long ago was that Golden Gloves trophy of yours?”
Roy didn’t answer me, only stared with hate in his eyes.
“Four years,” said one of his cronies. Made sense. Bet he got too big for his britches and hadn’t listened to a word from a coach or manager since. Naw, a guy like Roy, he knew better than some old timer with a busted nose.
The way I see it—always listen to the guy with a busted nose. He’ll tell you how he got it and he’ll always know what he did wrong. Thinks about it every time he looks in a mirror. That’s solid advice.
He came at my gut this time, four rapid punches in a row. I folded up and took them with my forearms and elbows, only a little with my abdomen. When he backed off, I figured it was time to wake the kid up.
He leaned back to admire his work, let his hands drop the way I knew he would. I sent a simple left jab to his chin. A jolt to let him know I was still here. The crowd howled when he took the hit. They’d been fairly quiet up until then, a few calls to, “Go get him, Roy” and “Knock his block off!” was about it. Now it had turned into a real fight and they had front row seats.
Roy sent a wide arcing right at my head. I leaned away and gave him a right hook of my own. He got a hand up in time, but the blow knocked his defense hand into his temple and stunned him anyway. I sank two quick lefts into his gut as a chaser.
If you spend much time in alleys, eventually you come across your fair share of rats. And invariably you come upon them at times that surprise both of you. And cornered, a frightened rat can be a vicious, unpredictable creature. Roy went ratty on me.
That one long eyebrow bent into an M shape and he curled his lip. Fueled on by the shouts and jeers from his gang, he charged me, arms flailing. The first two I blocked easily, but they kept coming. Some high, some low, at my head, my stomach, below the belt. Roy let it all hang out and the crowd loved it. I took a few that stung and the sheer speed of the hits left me no time to throw my own punches. I sat back and waited. A flurry like this couldn’t last long. Sure enough, like snow coming off the lake in March, the attack came on strong, but died quickly. Roy stood up straight, sucking wind. I felt bad taking advantage of the kid when I knew I could, but he left me no choice. He dropped his hands and I think he honestly thought he’d done me in. That type of crazed punch-o-rama might work with his pals on the street corner, but I’d suffered worse beatings when I shadow boxed.
My hands went up to fight position. I moved aggressively forward. My arm muscles coiled as I advanced and when I reached a few inches inside arm’s reach, I let him have it. Two left jabs to the nose and a right uppercut underneath his chin.
Roy staggered back. The crowd booed. One of the girls shouted, “Give him hell, Roy!”
No way. I still had work to do. I followed him as he stumbled and laid another between his limp hands that connected with his cheek bone. Hurt like hell on my knuckles and I was damn glad I’d wrapped my hand even a little bit. When I drew back that punch, the cotton came back tinted red. Doesn’t take much to open a guy up under his eye.
Roy had his souvenir from the fight. Time to end it.
“Had enough?” I said.
“Get ’im, Finn!” The shout from the crowd blew the sneak attack. I started a half turn to my right when I saw the boy approaching, hand high over his head and a loose brick in his fist. Out of instinct, I threw a right into his exposed face, cracking his nose and bruising my knuckles. No time to be pulling punches now.
Finn reeled backward and dropped the brick. The forward momentum carried the projectile on toward me and it bounced off my head. A heck of a lot less impact than if he’d kept it in his hand, but still enough to hurt like a son of a gun.
Finn tried to find footing, but he tumbled back into a stack of garbage cans. The same cans Leo filled with the night’s scrapings from the diner, a unique bouquet of stench that wouldn’t come out of Finn’s clothes with anything less than a match.
I spun around, expecting an attack from my back side. I saw one of the boys had taken a few steps forward, a stick of wood in his hand. He stopped when Finn took his punishment, thought it over, and decided he’d rather keep the nose he had.
I swung ninety degrees, my fists pointed like gun turrets at the faces of all the young punks. Nobody moved.
Roy took a knee and pressed a hand over his bleeding cheek. One of the girls crouched by his side to play nursemaid. More comfort than I’d get that night. The others slowly stuffed hands in pockets, shuffled away down the alley, taking their wounded with them. As they retreated, they all seemed like kids again, worried about what they would say to Mom and Dad when they came in so late.
“Your dad’s still a drunk, Leo,” one anonymous voice said as the last of the gang rounded the wall of the alley, leaving me alone, my hands still up in fight stance. I shook out my arms as if coming out of a daze. I turned back to Leo who stood where I’d left him on the top step, the bleacher seats.
“Jimmy!” he said, not with pride, but with worry.
For the first time, I felt the blood dripping down my neck and behind my ear. I tilted my head down to see red soaking into my white work shirt.
“It’s nothing. Head wounds bleed a lot.” I put a hand on the back of my head to confirm my statement. The cut was nothing to write home about. Not more than you’d expect when you take a brick to the skull. My shirt was ruined, my hair matted with blood.
I unwrapped my hands and rubbed my knuckles as I walked to Leo.
“Let’s go. I got dishes to do.”
“Thanks, Jimmy,” Leo said. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Sure, kid, I know.” I felt bad calling him kid again. I tried to make up for it. “You had ’em right where you wanted ’em.”
We both smiled as we walked through the back door into the humidity of the kitchen.
I finished the rack of plates, letting the warm water loosen my arm muscles. Rico came back from the front and took one look at me. Said, “What the hell happened to you?”
“Knocked my noggin. No big deal. Looks worse than it is.”
“For Pete’s sake, Wyler. Try to be more careful, huh?”
“Yeah. I will.”
Leo and I shared a look, a secret now between us.
When I got home, I didn’t even turn on the light, just tossed my jacket over the back of the chair and shuffled the six steps to my bed and flopped face-first like a K.O. hitting the canvas. The blood on my shirt, already dried, would have to wait.
My one room apartment was a rat hole, and I knew it. The water ran rusty for a few seconds every time you turned it on, and the windows were painted shut. Not that you’d want them open, because the view was nothing but a brick wall on the building across the way, which I could touch if I really stretched. I’d left Kansas City with a few bucks in my pocket and the clothes on my back. Starting from zero and working a dishwasher’s wage got you this.
Chicago had a lot to offer. Bright lights, shows, people, music, girls. I saw none of it. I went from home, to work, back home again. I wasn’t ready to step out into the nightlife yet. No, my debutante ball would have to wait, if it came at all.
I turned over on my bed, stretching out the kinks. When I set my head back on my pillow, I jerked my neck forward, feeling a shock of pain from the sudden pressure on the head wound I’d forgotten about.
I tried to never feel sorry for myself. I’d made my own trouble, made my own way out of it, and now I had a second chance. At what, though? Boxing was over for me. My time in the ring had been growing short anyhow, I knew that. Keeping my head in the sand wouldn’t help me join the real world again. My three p.m. to one a.m. shift didn’t help.
But I didn’t mind. There, in the dark, my flapjack flat mattress and distant screech of the El tracks rocking me to sleep, for better or worse, I was home.
I woke at noon. Not lazy, another normal day since my shift didn’t start until the afternoon. I skipped my workout since my body ached from last night’s dust-up out back of the diner. I grabbed my robe and walked down the hall to the shower.
Mr. Van Munster was in there, I could tell from the singing in German or Dutch or whatever he spoke. The old guy loved his hot showers. Spend all day in there if he could. Only time I ever saw him was in the hallway, either going to or coming from the shower. He’d wink at me and maybe spin a tall tale in that funny European accent of his, then be off to drain all the hot water out of the already anemic heater.
I decided on a swim instead. A milder workout, and that way I could do my showering at the YMCA.
All afternoon I replayed the night before in my head. My lousy technique, the satisfying sting of my fist connecting with Roy’s face. A love/hate relationship with what happened.
As was typical, I hadn’t spoken to anyone all day, so I had time to reminisce. I got to work five minutes ahead of schedule. Mr. Papadakis liked that, and liked that I did it all the time. After the Y, I’d changed into my spare set of work whites and arrived ready to go.
“Hi, Jimmy,” Nick said, barely looking up from his lunch receipts.
I made my way to the kitchen, tied on my apron and relieved the day shift dishwasher, a Spanish guy who never gave me the time of day, let alone the privilege of his name.
Leo wouldn’t be there until the dinner rush. No sense paying the kid when the place was so slow, plus you couldn’t work kids a full shift. Not like anybody would call Nick on it, but it’s not right either way. The kid had homework to do. With any luck and a decent education, Leo wouldn’t be doing a job like this when he got to be my age.
“Jimmy, what happened?” Nick said from behind me. “You’re bleeding!”
I put a hand to the back of my head and it came back pink. Between the pool and the shower, the scab must have lifted off my brick wound. “It’s nothing, Nick. Just a little cut. It’ll only take a sec to clot up.” I took my pocket dishtowel and pressed it to my scalp.
“You lose an argument with a cement mixer or something?” Nick fancied himself a funny guy. He was the only one.
“No. Had an accident is all.” I smiled along with him to show I wasn’t in any pain.
“Toss that rag straight in the laundry, ’kay? Don’t go washing no dishes with it.”
Rico showed up five minutes late, as was his usual. He saw the bloody rag in my hand. “How’s the noggin?”
“You shoulda seen the other guy.” I smiled. Really, he should have.
“Oh, hey, Jimmy,” Nick came back into the kitchen on other business, but something reminded him to give me his message. “Some guy came looking for you earlier. I told him you ain’t here ’til later.”
“He say his name?”
“Nah. Just some guy.” Nick stopped in his tracks. “Wasn’t the guy who cracked your lid, was it?”
“I don’t know. How many eyebrows he have?”
Nick crinkled his nose. “Two. Why?”
“Not the same guy.”
Around four thirty, before the dinner rush, the bell over the door dinged. My dish rack was empty, so I’d been going over the glasses with a dry rag to get rid of the water spots. After a brief, muffled exchange, Nick called out, “Jimmy!”
My gentleman caller had returned.
I wiped my hands on my apron as I entered the dining room. A tall man in a green hat pushed back high on his head smiled when he saw me.
He stuck out a hand to shake. Father Tim taught us respect—always shake an offered hand. I learned my own lesson—always check to see if that hand has a brick in it.
“Name’s Ajax. Can we talk?” He motioned to one of the booths along the window on the street side. I threw a look to Nick, who nodded his okay. I followed Ajax and stood until after he’d removed his long coat and sat down.
“Heard you had a bit of a kerfuffle last night.”
I prefer a guy who makes a more formal introduction before slapping me in the face. “Where’d you hear that?”
“My boy. He’s seventeen. Saw you fight in the alley out back.”
Ajax wasn’t hairy enough to be Roy’s dad, so his kid had to be one of the peanut gallery. “What’s it to you? I didn’t hit your boy. And anyone I did hit, I did it because they came at me first.”
“Oh, don’t worry. You’re not in any kind of trouble from me. If it makes you feel any better I gave Warren a tanning myself when he came in so late and started spitting lies at me. A few backhands and he spilled it all about the thing in the alley.”
“So, what brings you here, mister? Nick doesn’t like me taking long breaks on personal business.”
“Right you are. Well, when my boy told me about how you pasted that Roy kid and then took out the one with the brick, well I knew right then and there I had to meet you. See, I could use a guy like you.”
“Use me for what?” I felt my fists tighten under the table.
“I run some fights in town and I’m always on the lookout for new talent. These are off the books kind of bouts. Strictly unsanctioned. Not illegal, but they sure won’t get you to the title fight. For bets mostly. Well,” he laughed and scratched his ear. “Let’s call a spade a spade. For bets all the way.” He smiled.
Ajax seemed like a nice enough guy. A world away from the types I’d met in Kansas City. That experience left me with a strong nose for trouble, and this guy didn’t stink a bit. Then again, a decent cloud of aftershave can cover a whole lot of stink.
“You want me to fight for you?”
“Not for me, I’m not a manager or nothing. I want you to appear at one of the fights I sponsor. My talent pool is drying up. People don’t want to come and see the same six or seven guys fight every week. It gets boring. I need new blood, so to speak.” He pointed to my ear. I reached up and dabbed my finger in a thin drip of blood. Took off that dishrag a little too soon I guess.
“Not interested,” I said.
“Don’t you even want to know what it pays? Twenty-five percent of the take. See, I take fifty and you and the other guy split the rest. I can’t make no guarantees, but on a good night when the bets are flowing, you can take down a pretty penny, and couple hundred of his friends.”
“Sorry. No sale.”
“You sure? I really liked what I heard about you. Fisticuffs in an alley after midnight? You’re practically working for me already.”
“I said no thanks.” I stood, indicating our conversation was over.
Ajax put his hands flat on the table and pushed himself up. “Well,” he said. “I’m sad, but I understand. Still, I admire you coming to the aid of that kid. A noble thing to do.” He withdrew a card from his vest pocket. “You change your mind, you call me. Ask for Ajax.”
The bright white card read a phone number and only the word Ajax below it. I put it in the pocket of my apron.
“Good to meet you, Jimmy.” Ajax pumped my hand again and left.
Felt like a dog’s age since I disagreed with a man and it didn’t end with fists. Made me admire Mr. Ajax even more.
Leo showed up a few hours later with a hangdog look on his face. He moped around the kitchen, bringing in trays of empty plates without a word. I couldn’t tell if he was embarrassed about last night or if he had another lousy day at home with his old man. I didn’t want to push it, but it broke my heart to see the poor kid with such a heavy weight on his shoulders. I got enough of that in my years at St. Vincent’s, most of it staring into the mirror.
At midnight there was only one person in the diner. I leaned against the dishwashing station and folded my arms, bored.
I saw the take out container Leo had going at the end of the counter, a good night’s haul for him and the family.
“Hey, Leo,” I called him over. “Why don’t you knock off for the night? There’s nothing to do. I’ll punch your card at one.”
Little kid was dead tired, I could see it. Working the way he did would send him to an early grave.
“You sure, Jimmy? Is that okay with Mr. Nick?”
“I’ll make it okay. Besides, what’s between you and me stays between you and me, right?” I winked at him, a reminder of our secret from the night before. He squeezed out a smile, but a weak one. “What’s on your mind, Leo?”
“Nothin’ Jimmy. Don’t worry about it.”
“Hey, I’m not worried about you. You can take care of yourself. I just want to know.”
Leo gave a look over his shoulder to see if Rico stood within earshot. With nothing to cook, Rico leaned against the front counter to talk to Irma, the night waitress. Irma filed her nails, ignoring his patter.
“You keep a secret, Jimmy?”
I held out my hand in mock insult. “What do you think?” Rico laughed out loud at one of his own jokes. Leo lowered his voice. “It’s my sister.”
“What about her?”
“She ain’t come home.”
“For how long?”
I crossed my arms again. Damn, the kid had more weight on him than I thought. “Is anyone lookin’ for her?”
“I know where she is.”
“Well, did you tell your Pop or someone?”
“Yeah, he knows.”
“So what’s the problem, Leo?”
He took on that same stare-at-his-shoes posture from the alley, and he wouldn’t meet my eye. “It’s who she’s with.”
Leo explained she’d been hanging around with a guy who liked to take girls from the neighborhood and be real nice to them. Nicer than they ever got at home, which in Leo’s case wasn’t hard. This guy, Flip he called him, ran a business and everyone in the neighborhood knew the business he ran.
“You mean . . .?” I said.
“You think he’s gonna . . .?” I didn’t want to be having a conversation like that with someone as young as Leo, especially about his sister. The kid knew the score though.
“He’s gonna turn her out.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “If he hasn’t already.” I ran a hand across my chin, trying to think. The gears ground to halt. Did Leo tell me what I thought he told me? His sister was being groomed for the street corner?
“And your dad knows?” I asked.
Leo nodded. “Not my mom, though. It’d kill her.” I nodded my agreement.
I’d never met his sister, Alenka. I knew it was only the two of them, their long suffering mother and that dad of theirs. As much as I thought bussing tables in a diner was beneath Leo, I never thought Alenka would sink so low.
“It’s gonna be alright, Leo.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll take care of it.”
Copyright © 2012 Eric Beetner
Eric Beetner is the author of Dig Two Graves, Split Decision, and A Mouth Full Of Blood, as well as co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. His award-winning short stories have appeared in Pulp Ink, D*cked, Grimm Tales, Discount Noir, Off The Record, Murder In The Wind, Needle Magazine, Crimefactory, The Million Writers Award: Best New Online Voices and more.