Little Mouse

The long bus ride from Stockton, the demands of his first paid job, and the stress of calling his father had exhausted him. Sawyer needed to decompress. Calling Dad had been more of an emotional experience than running away to Detroit. He grabbed an empty bucket from the kitchen and went out the back door. The alley was empty. Careful to prop the door with the brick that was there for that purpose, he stomped down the back stairs, and set the bucket against the wall in the alley behind the staircase. It was relatively quiet except for the expected city noise. He sat on the bucket and stared at his feet, grateful to be blessedly alone.

Why stay? He had a few dollars in his pocket. Marchesi had not paid as much as he expected, but his debt was covered. However, he wasn’t any better off than he was when he arrived last night. He didn’t have enough money to set up another situation. At least here, he had a job that paid for a cot and a daily meal, and Marchesi offered him a second shift.

A loud bang reverberated through the streets. Sawyer crouched against the building in the corner between it and the staircase. How fast could he scurry back into Marchesi’s Bar and Grill?

Scurry…like a little mouse, Topino. The tattooed man had given him that nickname when he woke Sawyer this morning. He sat up a little. The noise was probably backfire from an old engine.

The back door banged against the wall when Rat Snatcher stormed out.

Again, Sawyer crouched as the noise reverberated around the alley. Don’t look this way, he thought. Rat was a whisper-in-your-ear kind of guy, and Sawyer needed some peace.

“Hey, Topino. Whatcha doin’ out here?” said Rat.

So much for peace. Sawyer sat up. “The name’s Sawyer,” he said, as anger flared at the nickname.

“Yeah, whatever. Answer my question,” said Rat, as he jogged down the steps.

“Just taking a breather.” Sawyer stood, tall and straight.

“Yeah, well you’re gonna need it,” said Rat, standing in front of him, close enough for Sawyer to feel his words when he added, “The night shift is rough.”

The morning shift was a brutal learning curve, but Sawyer had survived it. How much worse could a night shift be?

“There’s a meet tonight, big money, lots of clients. You know what I mean?” Rat, playfully punched his cheek.

No. Sawyer had no idea.

As Rat moved a step closer, Sawyer shrank the wall.

Rat’s face darkened, and his voice lowered when he said, “Word of advice? Don’t look into the eyes of the people you serve. That’s an invitation. Keep your mouth shut, just… don’t engage them. If you can do that, you’ll come out unscathed.” Rat pushed a button on the key fob he held in his hand. In the distance, a car beeped. Rat slapped the railing, then, poked Sawyer in the chest. “Just keep your head down.”

Rat jogged out of the alley.

What the fuck was he talking about? Keep your head down? No problem, head down, mouth shut, don’t look. How hard was that? Sawyer settled back onto the bucket. As the day cooled to sunless gray, he was confident the evening shift would be easier, even though a little voice in the back of his mind whispered, fool. But if he ran into real trouble, he could call Jack again.

Could he? Would he be brave this time and speak up?

Hearing his father’s voice had spooked him. He wasn’t a little mouse, not a little mouse. He was almost a man. No way would he let his father send him back to Stockton.

He shifted on the bucket and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. Tucked inside, next to the measly ten-dollar bill, was a worn and ragged piece of stationery, a letter from his father. He didn’t need to read it again; he had it memorized by now. Jack had written it after his last visit because during it, they barely said two words to each other. In it, his father had apologized that they hadn’t taken more time to get to know one another again. He was sorry he hadn’t made more of an effort to stay in touch. Sawyer didn’t know his father, didn’t know how to talk to him. Rick, his older brother, shared camaraderie with Jack Tyler that Sawyer just didn’t feel. Most times, Sawyer never thought about his dad, but every time he did, anger clogged his throat until he felt like screaming. He slipped the letter back into his wallet and stuffed his wallet back into his back pocket.

So, sue him, he had hung up on his father. He didn’t need to run to Daddy. He could make due here until he figured out something better for himself.

A shiny black CT6 with windows tinted black pulled into the shadows at the end of the alley. Fear frizzled through him, so he hunkered into his corner once again. He lifted his head just enough to peek over the landing.

The door opened and a young woman stepped out. Her clothing floated around her body like a diaphanous cloud, giving her an air of seduction that hit him in the gut. As soon as she shut the door, the driver gunned the engine and the car leapt away from her, tires squealing. She stared toward its departure, presumably watching to see where it went.

She flipped her heavy, dark hair behind her. It cascaded into place like liquid, black silk. She turned and began walking toward him. Her hips swayed, her heavy breasts rolled. Each step sent shivers of delight through him. Sawyer’s fear slipped away, and he sat straight up, heart pounding with a different emotion. As she neared, her eyes knocked him breathless. Dark pools of coffee, ringed with fire, flashed danger he didn’t understand until that fire ignited his manhood. Embarrassed, he pulled his shirt as low as he could.   

“Hello?” she said.

He stared, her captive.

“Excuse me,” she said again.

He stood slowly, careful to pull the hem of his shirt lower.

“Do you speak English?” she asked. “English?”

“Uh, uh, yes. Yes, I speak English,” he finally said.

“I came to see Evan?”

“Evan?” He had not met anyone named Evan. “I-I don’t know who that is, but if you wait right here, I can get someone who does.”

She turned as if to look back at the car even though it was not at the end of the alley. As she did, her swollen, turgid belly was very apparent under her flowing clothes. When she saw that he noticed, she covered it as best as she could with her arms. “Evan,” she repeated, “I want Evan.”

Sawyer motioned to the bucket and offered it to her. She eased herself onto it, and said, “Grazie.”

“Uh, you’re welcome. I’ll be right back.”

He ran up the stairs and banged into the kitchen. It was empty. He heard men talking in the bar.

Marchesi and his men sat at a table in the far corner speaking heatedly in a different language. They quit talking and stood when he stepped into the room.

“What do you want, Topino?” said the tattooed man.

“There is a woman in the alley that wants to see someone named Evan,” said Sawyer.

Marchesi pounded a fist on the table. “Take care of it,” he ordered.

The tattooed man strode toward Sawyer. As he passed, he grabbed Sawyer’s arm and said, “Where is she?”

“She’s sitting out back, behind the staircase, on a bucket.”

Tattoo Man laughed and clapped his shoulder, but then he shoved Sawyer forward. “Introduce me.”

“Uh, I don’t know her name.”

The tattooed man looked down at Evan’s crotch and laughed again. Evan pulled his shirt low.

“Heh, I do,” said the tattooed man.

Well, why then did he need an introduction? Sawyer stumbled after him, holding onto his shirt.

The girl was on the bucket, rubbing her swollen belly.

“Bree, che diavolo.” Tattoo Man rushed down the staircase and grabbed her, pulling her onto her feet. She tottered, unbalanced by the heavy load in her belly, and fell against his chest.

“Bitch,” he said, and shoved her.

She fell against the staircase, and her elbow hit it with a crack. Her eyes filled with tears. “I need to see Evan. His baby,” she looked at her belly. “She’s due and I need money for the curandera.”

Marchesi appeared in the doorway. “Why is the Morelli bitch still here,” he said in a threatening voice.

“Please, I just want to see Evan.” Tears flowed freely down her face.

“She needs money for the curandera,” said Sawyer, pleading with him.

Tattoo Face backhanded his mouth. It knocked him hard enough against the wall of the building that he saw stars and scraped the knuckles of one of his hands as he fell to ground at the base of the staircase. “This ain’t no business of yours,” he growled.

Tattoo grabbed the trembling girl and shook her. “Fuck the Morelli clan and their get. No one cares if Evan is the father. You hear me? Least of all, Evan.” He looked up at Marchesi.

Marchesi had murder on his face.

Tattoo Man grabbed the sobbing girl and hauled her down the alley. She fell once, landing hard on her knees and hands. As she struggled to her feet, Tattoo Man yelled back at them. “Bitch comes back here, she won’t live to regret coming.” Tattoo shoved her forward. By the grace of God, she remained on her feet. Sawyer, frozen, too horrified to look away, watched until the tattooed man and the scared, pretty girl were around the corner and out of sight.

He didn’t notice Marchesi who had walked down the steps until he offered his hand to help him up. He ran his thumb over Sawyer’s lower lip. It came away bloodied. “Get yourself cleaned up. There is a lot to do tonight, and I expect you to show well.”

“Show well?”

“Yeah. You’re running drinks tonight at a meet. Put on some clean clothes.” He walked up the steps and disappeared into the bar.

Sawyer slowly followed. He couldn’t get the sobbing girl out of his mind. He failed her. He hated that he had not protected her. Who was Evan and where in hell was he?

Was Evan the boy that Marchesi’s men carried up the stairs last night? At first sight of him, Sawyer thought that the boy was dead, but then he heard his labored breathing. His face was a nightmare of bruises and rips. It made the couple of beatings that Sawyer had endured at Stagg High School seem like mild harassment. The tattooed man seemed enraged, Marchesi was yelling. Sawyer had run back to his closet to hide.

He looked toward the apartment above the bar. Upon consideration, it was probably why Tattoo Man had dubbed him ‘Topino.’

He went back to that closet now and sat on the cot. Which emotion was burning hotter: shame, anger, or fear? What kind of person stands by and watches while a crazy man beats a girl? Why didn’t he see the strike coming toward his own face? How did he let Tattoo Man get him like that? Where was his head? He needed to grow some balls.

God, Marchesi looked at him like, like…he didn’t want to think about how Marchesi looked at him. He was beginning to suspect that Marchesi did not have altruism in mind when he rented this room. What the fuck did he want? To be truthful, the danger he felt the moment he walked into the pub intrigued him, and was in part, the reason he stayed for a second shift.

And now, the wheel turned back to shame. Why didn’t he keep walking last night?

“Hey, Sawyer.” There was a knock against the wall. “Hey, Topino.”

Dammit. Rat was back. It was probably time to go and he hadn’t changed his clothes.

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