They're just a couple of nighthawks, whose chances at redemption expire at sun-up.
|Word Count: Approx. 2,100
Notes/Warnings: Implied character deaths. Maybe.
Summary: They're just a couple of nighthawks, whose chances at redemption expire at sun-up.
Late the next evening, he rolled himself upright in his creaking Murphy bed, ignoring his hangover and the churn of his empty stomach. He automatically reached for the near-empty bottle of Jim Beam on his night table.
The angel on his shoulder began begging him not to give in to slow despair, yet again, by starting his “day” blind, stinking drunk. To, for-God’s-sake, take up the great, difficult, and long-overdue work of redeeming himself. Of getting his life together right-the-heck-now—before mere existence got any more agonizing. Or before he landed in prison again.
It’s not too late, Peace, the angel said with hope as faded as a skein of old silk. It sounded like his abuelita, who’d believed in him to her dying day, more fool her. It’s never too late to make a better choice.
The angel was right. It’d never been wrong, even when it was misguided and naïve. So he let go of the bottle of Beam. . . .
Moments later he was chuckling at the angel’s weary dismay, while swigging from a full-ish bottle of Jack—it was, indeed, a better choice—relishing the way it burned away everything, even disappointed sighs.
He didn’t need no stinkin’ devil.
His—unsavory—business taken care of, near-abouts dawn he strolled into a diner not far from his place. He’d passed it a million times and never gone in. It’d always seemed a bit as if it’d be like walking into that Hopper painting.
At least the place ain’t called Phillies, for Chrissakes, he thought, gritting his teeth and stepping into Myra’s All-American, shaking off the chill of mid-fall as he did.
He was one of two other people in the joint, including the counter-lady—tiny, frail-looking, could’ve been in her fifties, could’ve been in her eighties . . . hair dyed a weird orange-y red, face so smile-creased and wind-burned, it was tough to tell her age—and a young black guy bent over the computerized jukebox, picking songs and shaking his gape-worthy ass to Sly and the Family Stone.
The counter-lady, started singing along in a surprisingly brassy, mostly-in-key voice. She caught sight of him and waved him in with a big, welcoming smile. Disconcertingly, she reminded him of his abuelita, with those obvious dentures and that misplaced enthusiasm at seeing him.
Nonetheless, he opted for a seat at the counter, rather than a booth, to his angel’s delight.
“Back in a flash, hon,” the counter-lady had said after pouring him a coffee, black, without being asked. Then the small woman stepped from behind the counter, singing once more, to join the young black guy at the jukebox.
He didn’t realize until his stomach was growling, his patience had worn thin, and Dance to the Music had begun its third go-round, that the jukebox was on the fritz.
Sighing, he found himself staring at the guy’s perfect ass. He’d stopped shaking it, as if he, too, had grown sick of the song.
Finally, the counter-lady huffed and unplugged the jukebox. The guy shrugged apologetically in the silence. He had a strikingly handsome profile
“Sorry, Myra.” His voice was low, smooth, and pleasant. “It may be time to get a new jukebox.”
“Pah!” The little counter-lady moved briskly to her post, stopping in front her other customer. “Nothing’s wrong with that one! It’s only twenty-five years old!”
“So’m I, and if I sang Dance to the Music, nonstop, my boss’d get rid of me, too!” The guy faced the tiny counter-lady—Myra—and his fellow customer.
The guy’s eyes met said customer’s, and—
—one empty coffee-cup shattered on the floor.
By the time Myra’d swept up the shards—she’d refused his dazed offer of help and the young black guy’s—he was staring dead-ahead and barely breathing.
Myra took the shards into the kitchen and he could feel the guy’s curious, gaze.
“So,” the guy finally said as Myra reappeared, wearing insanely thick trifocals and wiping damp hands on her checkered apron. Not glancing over at the guy for oh, so many reasons, he swallowed and nodded, as if answering a question.
“What can I get you, Jason, dear?” Myra asked, blinking now-huge eyes at the young guy, before glancing at the pile of stomach-acid and future cirrhosis said guy’d sat right next to.
“The usual, to go, Myra.” That smooth voice was relaxed. Unsuspecting.
Myra nodded, her gaze swinging to Jason’s left again. “And you, Mr., er. . . ?”
Flushing for some reason—Jason was staring at him again, all bemusement and interest—he hunched his shoulders in his navy pea coat and managed to maintain eye-contact.
“Benitez. Poe Benitez,” he mumbled, then kicked himself. Not that it’d come to anything, but he hadn’t given anyone his actual name since he was Jason’s age. “Um. I’ll have another coffee and, uh, I guess a slice of that cobbler. It’s not peach, is it?”
“Apple,” Jason—and Myra—said, smiling, from the sound.
He cleared his throat and nodded at Myra again.
“Okay, I’ll go wake Mike and have him get your order ready, Jason. Mr. Benitez—”
“Poe . . . please.”
“Right. Poe. I’ll have your coffee and cobbler in a trice.”
When Myra moved toward the coffee-maker, he finally dared to glance at Jason. The other man was still looking at him, still smiling.
“What?” he demanded of Jason a bit harshly. The other man grinned and leaned in close.
“Nevermore,” he quoted, as if imparting a secret, and he . . . Poe . . . laughed. For the first time in years, maybe. Since the last person who’d thought they’d surmised the origin of his first name.
Moran or Costello, maybe? Or Les Rivers? Or . . . or even Captain Jones?
Didn’t matter, he supposed. They were all dead. Long dead. And there was only one person to blame, really . . . and he was rotting in the Ninth Circle of Hell.
Momentary levity gone, Poe smiled, cold and dead like all his friends. Jason’s eyes widened and his breath seemed to catch in dismay.
“Peace-On-Earth,” Poe whispered.
“I . . . I beg your pardon?”
Letting just a hint of dark mirth touch his dark eyes, Poe faced forward in time to get his coffee and cobbler, immediately digging into the latter as Myra hustled off into the kitchen.
“I wasn’t named for the poet, though you’re not the first to assume I was. Peace-On-Earth Javier Benitez is my full name. Mom and Pops were hippies. She came up with the name, but no one’s called me that since—” since she died “—since I was nine. Everyone just calls me Poe.”
Or any one of a dozen aliases, Mr. Nelson Castellano. Or is it Orrin Esteban? Or Jonah Milian? What fake name are we wishing we’d used, tonight, hmm? the angel snarked, both bitter and panicked. Poe let a genuine smile touch his eyes for a moment, though Jason wouldn’t have seen it.
None of them. Though I don’t suppose it matters, now, Poe told his brooding, regret-filled conscience with resigned calm. Johann’s boys are probably tracking me down as I shovel down this cobbler. They’re gonna find me before the sun comes up. Probably Liam Leary, or that ex-Special Forces captain with the pale eyes—Felicia-something. But by the time the birds start to sing, I’m gonna be sans fingertips and teeth, and plus an extra hole in my head.
Another snort from the angel. Yes, well, it’s not just you going to that great, rotisserie below-ground, now is it? You’ve got an obligation, Peace, to—
“’M not obligated to do a goddamned thing, Jimminy,” Poe muttered into his coffee.
“What was that?” Jason asked tentatively, warily. He was no longer leaning close to Poe, or even looking at him. As if some sort of survival instinct had kicked in and warned him against tempting fate or luck or whatever stepped between cute, clueless guys with nice asses who’d pissed off Johann DeWitt.
“You’re too decent for your own good, Jason Sullivan,” Poe noted with that same, deathly calm, like a graveyard at twilight. He scraped up the last of his cobbler crumbs and goo, and licked the fork clean. As last meals went, it was pretty satisfactory. And the coffee wasn’t bad, either.
“What—how—you don’t even know me,” Jason said as if equally offended and surprised that Poe knew his last name.
“And yet, you’re not denying what I said.” Poe laughed, and dug out his wallet. Slapped a fifty on the counter. “That’s for us both. Dinner’s on me.”
Jason was gaping when Poe finally looked at him, his round, dark eyes wide with confusion and puzzlement. Poe chuckled. “Have a good night,” he wished the doomed young man, even as the angel railed and raged throughout his psyche about injustices and unfairness.
Don’t tell me about injustice and unfairness, Poe thought at it mildly. Meanwhile, Jason was shaking his head in disbelief.
“Who are you?” he asked, searching Poe’s face as if looking for familiarity or something. Whatever he was looking for, if he didn’t find it in ten seconds, he’d never get another chance to.
“No one special. Just a . . . well-wisher.” Poe shrugged again and with a lazy salute, strode past a once-more-gaping Jason.
“Wait—what—where’re you going?”
“Nowhere you wanna be, kid. Trust.” At the door, however, Poe looked back to find Jason staring at the fifty on the counter. “Unless you wanna join me in that alley across the street? Maybe get felt-up and receive the best blowjob of your life? I don’t got anywhere to be till the horizon lights up.”
Whipping around to face Poe, goggling, Jason shook his head no, still agape. Poe pouted, though the regret he felt was a token, as he hadn’t really expected a yes.
“’S what I thought, hot-stuff. Have a good day.”
“I really can’t be here once the sun rises.”
“What’re you, a vampire?” There was a weirdly hysterical edge to Jason’s voice. A mirthless sort of amusement.
“Sure. That’s as good a monster to be as any. Hasta luego.”
Out in the chilly pre-dawn air, Poe glanced west, toward his shitty apartment . . . then started walking east, toward his last sunrise.
Before first light kissed the sky, Poe sat in a bus shelter, still warm from the coffee and cobbler. In his hands was a picture printout.
Like so many attractive people, Jason hadn’t photographed well. But more than well enough for Poe to recognize the . . . his current Mark.
His two-fingered salute to fucking Johann and his cronies.
His redemption. Or at least, so the angel claimed. It’d been M.I.A. since the diner.
It'd refused to accept what Poe already knew: Jason may not have died by Poe’s hand, but that didn’t mean he was safe. Didn’t mean that, had he known he was on Johann’s kill-list, he could stop counting out the moments left to his life with an egg-timer.
Either Liam Leary or Felicia Corso or some other hired gun like Poe—until very recently—had been, would get the kid. Put a bullet right between those pretty eyes.
Which Poe had been primed to do, mere hours ago, as Jason exited Front Matter Publishing.
According to Johann’s intel, the Mark often stayed at work late, then still started his days there at a little after dawn.
Well, not today, he won’t, Poe thought wryly, crumpling the printout and leaning back against the shelter wall. He closed his eyes on the coming dawn.
It was mere minutes till someone sat next to him heavily. They’d made no attempt at stealth when approaching. And, why should they? Poe wasn’t in any position to defend himself. He’d even tossed his gun into the river after his . . . crisis of conscience.
“Don’t draw it out, Liam,” he sighed tiredly. “Or is it Felicia?”
“Actually . . . it’s Jason.”
Surprised for the third time in one night, Poe smiled, but didn’t open his eyes. “Hiya, sexy.”
“Johann DeWitt sent you after me, didn’t he?”
Another sigh. “So why’m I still alive?”
“Because I’m a sucker for a fine ass and pretty, dark eyes. And because the angel on my shoulder likes you.”
Jason groaned. It, too, sounded tired. “He’ll kill you for sparing me.”
“It would’ve happened, eventually. He doesn’t much like me.”
“If this’s the kind of assassin you are, I can see why.”
“Well. But don’t get used to bein’ alive, kiddo. Whoever he sent after me is probably gonna plug you, next.”
Now, Poe opened his eyes and turned his head. Jason was staring down at his hands, which were folded between his knees.
“Why’s he want you dead, anyway?” Poe asked, trying to sense something about this guy that would equal the kind of enemy Johann would put out a kill-notice for. “What’s a guy like you doin’ tangled up with DeWitt, anyway?”
Jason snorted and glanced at Poe, his eyes shining and brimming.
“It’s a long story. Maybe too long, for . . . unless you want half a shitty, depressing story to be the last thing you hear?”
“Sure.” Poe smiled, reaching up to brush away tears as they rolled down Jason’s cheeks. “We got a little time left, I figure. And I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend it. Well . . . I can, but you already turned me down, so. . . .”
Jason chuckled semi-fondly and more tears rolled down his cheeks. “Horn-dog.”
“Nah . . . I’d be happy with just a kiss, truth be told.”
“Is that so, Peace-On-Earth?”
Poe rolled his eyes. “Well, if you’re just gonna poke fun—” but he didn’t get to finish his sentence because Jason’s lips, full, soft, warm, and dark-sweet like black coffee with a ton of sugar, were pressing his own. Instantly, moaning, Poe surged up into the kiss, tasting those sweet lips and, with a demanding push of his tongue, exploring that warm, wet mouth.
“I was supposed to be telling you a story,” Jason gasped, breaking the kiss. Poe closed the brief distance between them again, slowly.
“Plans change,” he whispered. “Believe me: I know.”
All around them, the first rays and fingers of roseate-gold light stroked across the city, lighting up the bus shelter until the very air seemed to glow.
And still, Poe and Jason kissed, stopping neither for life-stories nor oxygen, sunrise nor the soft, nearby click of a disengaged safety.