A Woman Has A Job To Do, Whether She Likes It Or Not...
It was two thirty in the morning when Sandy Latham was awakened by the noise. She immediately recognized it as a door slamming shut from somewhere upstairs. Or was it downstairs? She wasn’t sure anymore. The last thing she saw before the man carried her down here draped over his shoulder was that long, narrow staircase, the steps going up and down, seemingly without an end or a beginning. She didn’t think she was in a building; there were too many steps and too many landings. The tallest building in Steamport was only three stories tall; not nearly tall enough to have this many stairs. Unless…
Unless they were underground.
Sandy sat up on the old moth eaten mattress and looked around. She realized she was the only one in the dimly lit room. Sometimes that meant it was a good thing, but most of the time it just meant that she would soon be having company.
No, she thought. Not another one. Please not another one.
She could tell by the sound that he wasn’t alone. The stairwell wasn’t carpeted, and the loud thumping noise that echoed through the walls was a dead giveaway that he was bringing another one down. That thump, thump, thump was his limp. He always limped a little on his right leg, but not as bad as when he was carrying something. Or someone. She wondered just how old this one would be. Would it be a he? Or a she? And would they be conscious this time?
She didn’t have long to wait for her answers. Thirty seconds later she heard the click of his key in the padlock, and then the gray metal door swung open. He stood there for a moment, his large body framed in the doorway by the Coleman lantern, the limp body of a frail old man slung over one shoulder like a bag of potatoes.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he dropped the body into a chair. He closed the door, locking it behind him with another padlock. “The bars were empty tonight. I had to find this one in an alley.”
Sandy remained quiet, not knowing if she should say something or not. What would she say, anyway? The man took off his jacket, ran his hands through his greasy dark hair, and then hobbled over and sat down beside her on the mattress.
“Miss me?” he asked as he sparked a cigarette and casually blew a smoke ring toward the ceiling.
Sandy looked into his face, knowing if she didn’t he’d belt her a good one. “Yes,” she said, trying her best to sound sincere.”Yes, I missed you.”
She hated it when he sat next to her. She hated it when he was anywhere near her. He smelled like a bear that hadn’t taken a bath for a month; a crippled old bear wearing black lace up army boots with a scraggly beard and mustache and a scar that snaked down his cheek and continued into the collar of his t-shirt, where wiry chest hair tried to crawl out.
Bear, Sandy thought. That’s what I’ll call him. Bear.
He put his hand on her knee and gazed into her eyes.
“Good,” he said. “Because you know I’ll never leave you, Sandy. Never.”
Just then the sack of potatoes moaned and looked like it was starting to stir.
“Aw, crap,” Bear said. He crushed his cigarette out on the cement floor and went over to the guy. Sandy could see that it was just a bum. Nothing special about him. He wouldn’t be missed.
But it still didn’t seem right.
Bear picked up the wino and carried him over to a metal table in the corner of the room. Grabbing a rope from a hook on the wall, he began tying him to the table, wrapping it several times tightly around the man’s torso. The guy was still moaning, but he was completely oblivious to what was happening. When Bear finished with the knots, he turned around to Sandy.
“Well,” he said. “Are you just going to sit there or what?”
Sandy wanted to just sit there, God, she wanted to just sit there, because she knew what ‘what’ was. She’d done this for him too many times. So many people had come through here and gone. And why? Why did he do this? When would it end? It was like that stairwell.
Where did it end?
Reluctantly, she got up and walked over to a cabinet that was set in the wall next to the hook. She took out a hypo and began filling it with a blue liquid. Last night it was green. Tomorrow it would be red. After handing the syringe to Bear, she watched as he inserted the needle into the bum’s neck. The bum didn’t flinch, and his moans slowly subsided. But he was still breathing.
She hated it when they were still breathing. She hated the way Bear smelled. She hated the way Bear looked.
She hated this room.
Bear walked over to the cabinet and came back with a scalpel. He handed it to Sandy.
“So what are you going to start with tonight?” he asked. “The eyes or the tongue?”
God, how she hated this job.