The Favor

The Favor

At a full run, Sawyer left the mixed martial arts venue full of rich patrons with money to spend on any pleasure they desired. He ran down the dark lanes of the industrial park following the train of parked cars. He passed the man in the brown suit who startled where he stood next to his blue Lincoln Continental.

“Hey, kid,” he said. “Hey!”

Sawyer didn’t answer, nor did he look back. He ran until he came to a wider street with a marked middle line that ran north. He paused, overcome by nostalgia as river smells filled his sinuses. He was so far from Stockton, living a life in direct opposition to the sheltering of his mother and stepfather.

The brown suited man in the blue Continental pulled up to the curb and rolled down his window.

“Hey, kid. Can I give you lift?”

Sawyer didn’t know anything about this stranger, other than he’d spilled drinks all over him. He shook his head, and backed away from the car.

“Hey, no problem,” said the man, throwing up his hands. “I’m not out for anything other than offering a ride.”

Sawyer backed up two more steps, and said, “Thanks mister, but I’m alright. It’s not far.”

“Suit yourself,” said the man. Then he pulled forward and turned right, heading north.

The truth was, Sawyer wasn’t sure where he was, but he did know the general direction in which to go. So he ran, following the red taillights of the blue Continental. If the man noticed, he didn’t slow his car.

Sawyer ran until he reached W. Jefferson, frantic with traffic as one would expect for a city of this size. He would have to cross at a light. He ran east until 21st Street. Impatient, and aware of everything around him, he waited for the cross signal.

Then he ran north again. He ran past hookers catcalling as cars rolled past. He ran past a group rapping on a corner. He zigzagged until he found Howard, a name he recognized. He ran some more. He ran though the muscles in his legs burned. He ran though he couldn’t swallow, his mouth was so dry. He ran until his heart pounded hard enough against his chest to crack his ribs. 

He stopped and hid in a doorway to catch his breath. A National Dry Goods building was ahead of him. He remembered seeing it from the window of the Greyhound when he arrived. Was that only last night? Geezus.

He bent over, wondering for a moment about how angry his mother and stepfather must be right now? Shaking off that worry, he ran east until he saw the Greyhound depot. After that, Marchesi’s Bar and Grill was no more than a mile away.

Knowing where he was, he ran following the course he took last night, block after block through darkened neighborhoods and past street gatherings through which he wove. A loud crowd of hip-hop artists jeered at him when he ran through a performance. He didn’t stop to apologize.

He ran to Marchesi’s Bar and Grill, and then he ran around the block to the alley behind it. He ran past the staircase to the corner where he had used a bucket as a seat earlier in the day. He threw his hands against the wall, and though that stopped him, his legs twitched, trying to run on.

He gasped, and gasped, and slowly slid his hands down the wall until they rested on that bucket. His heart slowed in increments, his breathing eased, he twisted until he could sit his aching glutes down. Gently, he eased his weight onto them. He leaned against the wall and rested in the corner, the blessed dark corner, in the alley behind the building belonging to the man who sought to make him his tool. He leaned over his legs and combed his hands through his sopping hair.


Someone from above him was trying to get his attention.


He twisted to look up.

“Hey,” said a slurred male voice from a window above him. “Hey, can you hear me?”

Groaning, Sawyer stood and stepped away from the corner.

“Hey, come up here.” It was the boy with the mangled face. What was his name?


“Yeah. Come on man, I need help.”

Sawyer laboriously climbed the steps to the apartment above the bar. Timidly, he knocked on the door.

Evan opened it. His right eye was completely swollen, a tennis ball of reddened oozing skin. His other eye, though swollen, was at least a slit through which he could see. One arm was in a sling, and he leaned heavily against the wall, bent with pain.

“Sit,” he said, slurred because his lips were swollen, his jaw lumpy. He nodded toward a small dinette before he tottered toward it and sat heavily into one of the chairs. “I need a favor, like, tonight. I know you don’t know me, but I am a good guy. You met my girl this afternoon. The pregnant one.”

Sawyer was listening hard, trying to understand Evan’s slurred speech.

“I need to get money to the curandera. Can you do that, man? You don’t know me. I don’t know you, but no one else is going to help.” Evan’s eyes betrayed his panic.

Was he asking for money? Sawyer had a hundred, ten dollars in his pocket, but Rat had been very clear. “Give Marchesi this hundred, all of it.” The words, “all of it” rang loud like a chime in his mind, echoing, ‘all of it, all of it, all of it.’ He did not want to end up looking like Evan.

He had a ten he could give him. Sawyer would live if he skipped a meal.

As if reading his mind, Evan said, “I don’t need money. Look.” He picked up an envelope thick with bills. “I have money. Take it. The curandera’s name and address are right here. See? Tell her it’s for Sobrina Morelli.”

Sawyer took the envelope.

“Get there as soon as you can.”

Sawyer held the fat envelope, staring at it.

“Please, man.”

He was supposed to wait for Rat. What if he wasn’t back by the time Rat returned?

“It’s not far. Only a few blocks north. It won’t take long.”

Sawyer nodded. “Okay. Sure. I’ll do it.”

“Thanks, man.”

Sawyer let himself out of the apartment and stumbled down the stairs. He took off, hoping that after a few moments his legs would warm up, but his heart beat wildly. It wasn’t the stress of too much exercise; it was the possibility of seeing Sobrina Morelli again. He headed further into town.

“Only a few blocks further north,” he said to his protesting muscles.

The block where the curandera lived was deeply shadowed, but the light was bright over the entrance. He stopped under it to catch his breath. He had no idea what time it was, but he knew it was after midnight. How would he do this? Knock? Slip the bills under her door with a note? He climbed the steps and tested the outside door. It was locked. There was a call button to the left. He hunted for Rodriguez and pushed the buzzer. 

“Si. Who is it?” Her voice was loud and abrupt. 

Sawyer was surprised that anyone answered and felt badly that she did. “I have money from Evan for Sobrina Morelli.”

The door clicked open.

Her flat was on the second floor. He sighed as he looked at the darkened stairwell. “Grow some balls,” he thought and took the stairs to the second floor two at a time. If the numbers were in order, her flat was at the end of the hall.

As he stepped up to the door, it opened. A small, frazzled, matronly woman with gray hair dyed black said, “Come in. Come in.”

Someone moaned in the background.

She said again, “Come in. You stay.”

A loud moan morphed into a scream.

Emilia Rodriguez hurried down her long dark hallway toward the source of the moans and screams. Sawyer stood just inside the opened door as she disappeared into a lit room to the left at the end of the hall. He slowly turned and closed the door. Did she mean for him to stay by the door or follow her? Hesitantly, he walked toward the light.

He stepped into a tiny postage-sized kitchen. The first thing he saw was a sweaty, half-naked girl sprawled, legs open, upon towels and blankets placed on the cracked and dingy linoleum floor. When he realized he was looking at Sobrina Morelli in thrall to labor, he looked up, around, everywhere but at her heaving and shaking body.

A bare yellow bulb hung over the round dinette beneath which she lay and created the pall of hazy golden light. To his left, dirty dishes filled the sink. Beyond that, pots half full of grits with ham and over-cooked broccoli remains stunk like a sewer. Some kind of yellow sauce, that may have been that color only because of the pervasive light, was in a small white porcelain bowl between the burners.

Sobrina screamed again. Sawyer couldn’t help it. His eyes followed the sound. Her dark hair spilled beneath one of the four chairs around the table. Each time her belly heaved, she raised her head, and a lock would catch on a roughened dowel between the chair’s legs. When she set her head down to catch a break from the heaving and groaning, hairs ripped from her scalp and hung from the dowel like a weird talisman. 

“Come on, Sobrina. You can do this,” said the curandera. Her wizened hands shook as she rested them atop Sobrina’s cramping belly.

“It’s too early. Weeks too early,” sobbed Sobrina.

“Breathe, just breathe,” said the old midwife.

Jackson Tyler opened his eyes. There was no dingy kitchen, no screaming girl; there was only quiet, velvet darkness. He threw the blankets from his bed and struggled to catch his breath. The horror felt by the person who watched the girl bleed onto the towels as she tried to push a child into the world gripped his heart like a vise. He glanced at his clock. Two am. His eyes fluttered shut as the vision took him again.

The girl tried with all her might to push the child into the world. Only, he didn’t see how she could do it. There was so much blood.

A loud knock ricocheted through the front hallway. He froze. The old woman attending the girl froze. The girl heaved one more time. The knocking became angry, as if someone meant to bust down the door.

When he looked back at the girl, a tiny body lay between her shaking legs.

The woman lifted the impossibly small infant and sadly shook her head. There was no life in its body. She tied a string on the cord dripping between the girl and the baby and then cut it. Quickly, she wrapped the baby in a blanket and shoved it into his arms.

He backed up a step, horrified at the bundle he was holding.

The knocking grew more insistent.

“Quick mijo. The fire escape is in the back bedroom.” The woman urgently waved, twisting her head to look over her shoulder at the room across from the kitchen. The knocking had turned into frantic pounding. “Now, sal de aqui!” She slapped his leg.

Too stunned to disinherit the impossible task given him, he backed into the darkness of the hallway behind him.

“Go-o-o-o,” screamed the girl from the floor of the kitchen.

He crossed the hall, ran through the old woman’s bedroom to the window. Outside was the fire escape. He cradled the baby against his chest with one arm and with the other hand he curled his fingers into the cut out at the base of the window frame and pulled up. The window caught. He considered setting the baby on the floor but knew he wouldn’t pick it up again if he did. He pulled one more time. It moved up enough for him to get his hand under the frame. He pushed it as far open as it would go and climbed out. Clambering down the rickety metal staircase to the alley behind the building, he decided which way to run. He hit the pavement at full speed, heading south.

He ran, crossing the first street without a care for oncoming traffic. Cars honked and brakes squealed. He didn’t look back. He ran down another alley and crossed a second street. Midway through the next alley, he stopped. Hidden from lights over doorways and street lamps he lost it. Painfully, his stomach heaved. Again and again, long, stringy, sour rivers of bile splashed against the pavement under his feet. All the while, he cradled the dead infant against his chest held in the crook of his arm.

“Oh, my god,” said Jack. He ran to his bathroom. In the darkness, he swished the taste of vomit from his mouth. He lurched to the wall and flipped on the light. Tea. He needed a cup of tea to settle his stomach. He flipped on the lights in his bedroom, turned them on in his living area, the front hallway, and the kitchen. Even with his apartment lit up, he could not shake the darkness of that alley, running from an unknown danger with a dead baby in his arms. “Please, God,” he said, shaking as he turned on the gas under his teakettle. “Please don’t let these be Jonathan’s eyes.” 

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