A night at Ginger's crib
|Author's note: I wrote this chapter too soon.
approximately 1800 words
Toby turned the shower to the coldest setting and rotated to let the spray wash away the grime of the street. Cold was good--exhilarating, to use today's word--after the oppressive heat of the day. He ducked his head in Ginger's cramped shower to rinse cheap shampoo from his hair. It felt--what was it? Decadent. That was it. Showers were decadent.
He stepped out of the stall and grabbed a semi-clean towel to scrub himself dry. His palms still hurt from where he'd skinned them yesterday afternoon, running away from that scumbag John. That guy was fucking freaky. What he'd done had to be some kind of trick, like that street magician Chriss Angel he'd read about. Toby decided to Google street magic tomorrow in the library. No john was going to fuck with his head. Holden Caulfield could wait, if need be.
Ginger lay sprawled, naked and snoring, on her bed. Or at least what served for a bed: a crumpled mattress shoved in a corner of her one-room flat. She twitched and squirmed without waking. One hand scratched at an open sore on her left thigh before she snorted and flopped over. Toby threw a sheet over her and tucked her in. He squatted beside her and ran his fingers through her tangled hair. He had to admit, without her wig and makeup 'she' could be a pretty handsome 'he.'
But she wasn't a 'he,' despite her male body. She was what she was.
Toby stood, wrapped his towel around his waist, and eyed the place. What a dump. Someone had punched a hole in the wall, and there was brown splatter on the windowsill. Ginger's pimp had given her a split lip last month, and Toby wondered if the spots were bloodstains. He dampened some toilet paper and rubbed until they disappeared.
Besides the empty box from the pizza they'd shared earlier tonight, druggie crap littered the floor--tin foil, soda cans with a hole punched in the side, and cheap ball-point-pens. Plus overflowing ash trays scattered everywhere. The place stank of cigarettes and burning plastic, but that was just the meth. He opened the only window and let in the sounds and smells of the city at night. A siren wailed by, and voices murmured from the sidewalk below. Country-western dance music thrummed from the leather bar across the street. A faint scent of diesel mingled with the sickly-sweet smell of garbage left out too long. Still, it was better than the meth smells.
Lightning flickered and distant thunder rumbled. Maybe it would cool off some if a boom-banger passed through.
At least Toby was inside and safe for the night.
He dug into the cabinet underneath the single sink and found a slim roll of trash bags. If he was ever lucky enough to have a place like this, he'd take care of it. No drugs allowed, that would be for sure.
Not likely he'd ever have a place, though. Ginger's pimp paid for everything, and Toby squelched that scumbag whenever he showed up. That asshole was the one who kept poor Ginger hooked on meth. Bless her heart, as his mother used to say, except she said it to be nasty. Looking at Ginger now, all asleep and innocent-like, Toby had to admit he cared for her, flaws and all. She'd helped him when he was fourteen and new to the street. She didn't have to do that. And she never hit on him or asked for anything in return, neither, even though he knew she wanted him without him ever having to push her. She was an angel.
But her pimp, well, Toby hated him. Reviled him. Half the time he was high. Lately rumor was he'd started smoking flakka. Toby'd heard that shit fucked you up good, turned you into a bat-shit-crazy freak. Even without drugs, the asshole beat her up, sometimes for no reason other than that he could. Just like Toby's dad.
An hour later, Toby had filled two trash bags and the place looked and smelled better. He'd hand-washed Ginger's and his clothes and draped them over the only chair in the room to dry. He'd improvised a broom and dust pan out of an old tabloid newspaper and swept up most of the dust. A brief rain shower had passed by, and so it was even a little cooler.
He glanced at the digital alarm clock on the floor next to Ginger. Just after one in the morning. She'd been high on meth for the last two or three days, so she'd probably be out of it for at least another day. If he took the trash down to the dumpster now, he could come back and get a few hours of undisturbed sleep before heading out to the library. That would be decadent.
He tightened the towel about his waist and padded down the narrow stairs and out to the alley, tugging two trash bags in his wake. He tossed them into the half-full dumpster and paused to savor the night. A breeze cooled his torso, and he heaved a sigh. The gravelly surface of the asphalt bit his bare feet, but even that felt pretty good. His stomach was full, he had a clean place to sleep, and he hadn't had to sell his body to get either one.
Life was good.
Sudden screams pierced the silence of the night.
Toby jerked, alert and his senses tingling. Sounds of a scuffle thumped from inside Ginger's tenement, followed by more shrieks. "Please stop," the voice sobbed.
A raspy shout replied, "Stupid bitch."
Toby ran inside and up the stairs. The crashing sounds grew louder, but the screams had stopped.
The door to Ginger's room stood wide open. Ginger's prone body lay half on the floor and half on her mattress. Crimson stains splattered across the bedding and up the wall. Her pimp hulked over her, his Mohawk slaked to his skull, his features crimson and contorted in rage. He kicked Ginger in the face, and her head snapped backwards. More blood splattered.
Without thinking, Toby launched himself onto the devil's back. His fingernails tore into the man's tattooed muscles, and his teeth snapped at his neck. The man's fevered skin seared Toby's palms, and his muscles writhed under his tattoos.
With another incoherent roar, the pimp flung Toby away and slammed him against the wall. He swung a meaty fist that caught Toby in the jaw. A second clubbed him on the side of the head, and Toby collapsed to the floor, stunned.
The pimp rubbed his knuckles, and then reached behind him and pulled out a gun. Not a big gun. Toby thought it was a ridiculously small gun for such a big asshole. The pimp pointed it at Ginger. The barrel flared and the gun cracked. Ginger's head flung backwards in a spray of red, yellow and white.
A grin split the pimp's features. "Take that, Bitch. That'll teach ya to hold out on me."
Toby struggled to his knees, and the pimp turned toward him. His gun pointed at Toby, who stared into its hollow depths. The brittle scent of gunpowder burned his nostrils, mixed with the foul odor fluids that now leaked out of Ginger's body. The pimp's bloodshot eyeballs rolled in their sockets. His pupils dilated and narrowed in wild cycles, out of sync with each other.
Sirens screamed to a stop outside the building.
A voice from the hallway shouted, "Stop."
Toby's gaze floated to the doorway, where a man stood like an avenging angel. His handsome face contorted with determination and flushed with rage.
At the same time, something gentle, something reassuring touched Toby's mind. Where had he felt that before? This angel--he was familiar, too. Toby struggled to pull memory from fog. John! It was the guy from the BMW, the one who'd bought him chicken and a milkshake. What was he doing here?
LIghtning flashed from the pimp's fist, and blood splattered on the door behind the angel. Shock flashed across his features as he tumbled to the floor, like a deflated balloon.
The pimp sneered. He turned back to Toby and his ham-fisted grip tightened on his weapon.
Toby squelched, but he knew it was too late. The pimp knew he was here, was interested in him. His pupils narrowed to pin-points in sudden synchronicity with Toby's squelch, but his drug-induced rage was too much for Toby's super powers.
The pimp squeezed the trigger. Toby held his breath and looked into the man's eyes, into the blankness of death. The gun clicked.
It clicked. Could it be it misfired?
The pimp yowled and convulsed in frustration. He rushed forward and used his weapon to thwack the side of Toby's head, not once but twice. Toby tumbled back to the floor and the creep kicked him in the ribs before running over John and escaping out the open door.
Toby curled about the agony in his side where the pimp had kicked him. Pain flared in his skull. His right eye was fucked up. Double vision and dizziness disoriented him. He tried to get up, but his arms were suddenly weak and trembling. His hands kept slipping on something wet and slimy. Ginger's brains. His stomach twisted and sour vomit soared up from his gut.
John lay motionless, but Toby's powers told him the man's mind writhed in agony. Where the fuck had he come from?
The room spun about him. Chaos and confusion clouded his mind. His ears roared, and his double vision rippled, turning the walls into waterfalls of drab color. The stink of vomit, shit, blood, and gunpowder drenched the air.
Someone--a cop?--squatted next to him and Toby managed to squirm away. A hand pressed on Toby's gut, and a new spasm of hell flared in his ribs. Toby tried to take a swing at him, but the cop just grabbed his wrist and held it, like the school nurse used to do.
An eternity later, he was floating, gliding, as though weightless. He couldn't move. He was strapped down! What were they doing to him? He struggled, but weakness consumed him. Red lights flashed, then steady, bright fluorescent ones dazzled him. A guy in green scrubs shoved a needle in his arm and Toby panicked. "No. No drugs, fucker." The phrase echoed in his mind, fading to nothingness. No drugs. No drugs. No...
Something wet stroked his brow and burned like fire. A calm voice whispered, "Don't worry. It was just a shot of Ativan. You'll feel better in a moment. It's going to be all right. Just relax. We'll take good care of you." A siren wailed and Toby's body told him they were moving. An ambulance, maybe?
Then, blessedly, the pain of the world went away.