(Warning: Street life often ends in violence. This is one of those scenes.)
Sawyer huddled in an alcove, leaning against the door of a small pharmacy, hidden from the terrors of the night. The body of the baby rested next to his feet. He never should have put it down, but he was cold, hungry, and scared out of his mind. In his haste to get away from whatever terror was knocking down the door at Emilia Rodriguez’s flat, he ran past the streets he recognized. He would have to retrace his steps to find his way back to Marchesi’s Bar and Grill.
He stared at the body. He couldn’t bear to pick it up. Would it be safe here? Surely, someone would find it when the shop opened in the morning. He had to get going. Rat was expecting him. Marchesi expected the hundred dollars. Evan expected to hear the outcome of his desperate plea for help.
Sawyer couldn’t bear to leave it. But he had to, didn’t he? Shaking, he stood. With his back solid against the door, he said, “Bye, baby.” His feet refused to move. With as much will as he could muster, he pushed away from the door and took one step. “I have to go now,” he said to it, shaking his head. “You’re safe here. Someone will find you in the morning.” He took another step.
Three more steps took him out of the alcove. He stopped, wanting so much to look behind him and reassure the little baby that all would be well. Tears blurred his vision.
The baby was dead. There was no baby, just a body. Sawyer felt his stomach lurch, but before he allowed it to empty the sadness that filled it, he ran. He ran back the way he had come.
Numb and cold and shaking with shock, Sawyer stumbled down the alley behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill as the first kiss of dawn rose above the building. He felt death in the crook of his arm, though the tiny stillborn baby was no longer there. A scream ricocheted off the walls of the alley, but it registered in his mind as an after burn of the screams of a broken, beautiful girl birthing death.
The second scream, as desperate and haunted as the first, surrounded him where he was, in the alley. The person screamed a third time. It came from an empty garage beyond the bar. He ran to it and froze outside a sliding door made of corrugated metal. From inside, he heard jeering men, like the men in the warehouse championing the mixed martial arts fighters of their choosing. Yanking on the heavy door, he pulled it half way open.
Inside a mob of men circled around a commotion on the floor. The same voice screamed, “No-o-o-o,” before gasping another sobbing breath.
Sawyer ran to the edge of the circle. He couldn’t see what was happening, so he jostled the preoccupied men until he slipped through them to the center. Allessandro, the tattooed man, pressed Lincoln, the other server at the fighting event, into the cold, grease stained, cement floor. His heavy hand smashed the poor boy’s cheek into his own spit and tears.
Lincoln’s clothes, ripped and bloodstained, hung off his naked arms and legs. A second man stepped up to him. While Alles held him down, the second man grabbed his torn pants and yanked them to his knees, leaving Lincoln bare-assed. Then he motioned obscenely to the crowd, rousing a cheer before he pulled down the zipper of his own jeans.
Sawyer yelled, “No,” as he shoved the man away from Lincoln. Sawyer fell onto his knees and put a gentle hand on the younger boy’s face. Alles let go of Lincoln to grab at Sawyer but immediately slammed his hand on the younger boy when he tried to squirm away.
Simultaneously, three men grabbed Sawyer, one on each arm and another that pulled him by his hair. He twisted and kicked. He tried to grab the hand that was clawing at his scalp, but the men on each arm held him too tightly and he couldn’t reach the fingers digging into his head. Sawyer shouted and bucked, trying to free himself. As a team, they jerked him out of the circle, which opened up to let them through. “This ain’t your business,” shouted Allessandro. He sat on Lincoln who sobbed uncontrollably, face first on the cold, dirty cement.
“Leave him alone,” said Sawyer, jerking against the hold on his arms.
Someone in the crowd tittered.
“Or what?” sneered Alles. “You gonna take me down?”
Someone else said, “Yeah, he’s gonna slap you with a dishcloth.”
The crowd roared with laughter.
“I’m not going to let you hurt him,” said Sawyer, furiously struggling with the men on either side of him.
A woolly, bearded man with a slashed and scarred face said, “The new little kitchen pet is gonna bust our butts.” He made kissy noises at him. “Thinks he’s gonna take away our fun.”
Several grumbled, “Yeah right. No way, fool. I’d fancy his ass, next.” The crowd agreed.
A loud crack resounded against the metal garage door. Everyone froze. The men that held Sawyer turned. Rat Snatcher stood in the doorway with a jaggedly cut two by two in his hand. His face snarled when he growled, “Let Sawyer go before I break some heads.”
Alles sneered. “He’s interrupting some business. That’s going to cost him.”
The crowd hooted.
“He’s my business. I’ll deal with him.”
“Since when, Rat,” said Alles, stepping away from Lincoln to yank Sawyer’s hair.
Rat swung the two by two against the door, and the crack resounded through the alley.
Allessandro let Sawyer’s hair go, and the men threw him at Rat.
Sawyer fell to his knees in front of Snatcher who also grabbed his hair to pull him up.
Sawyer winced and cried out in pain. With both hands, he grabbed Snatcher’s wrist.
Alles said, “Get your bitch outta here before we jack roll him after we’re done with this little thief.”
Lincoln’s screams escalated.
Alles strode back to the struggling boy, squatted over him, and shoved one of his filthy hands into Lincoln’s mouth to gag him.
Snatcher yanked Sawyer out of the building.
Lincoln’s screams turned to agonized gurgles. Sawyer fought, swinging his arms ineffectually. Snatcher tightened his hold. When they were clear of the alley, Snatcher sat and pulled Sawyer down with him, wrapping his neck in a bear choke.
“They are gang raping him,” gasped Sawyer, struggling against the hold.
“Obviously,” said Snatcher, tightening his arms around him. “He’s been pocketing money. He’ll have to pay for that. Ain’t nothin’ nobody can do about it. It’s best if you mind your own business or you’ll find yourself on the floor of that garage in the same position, Jon.”
Sawyer quit struggling and lay against Rat’s chest, panting and trembling.
Snatcher loosened his hold slightly. “That’s right. Jonathan Tyler, fifteen. That’s what the flyer said, you little twit. How the hell do you get the name Sawyer out of that?” He jerked Sawyer, aka Jon, firmly against his chest and tightened the bear choke.
Jon squirmed and kicked against the pavement trying to loosen Rat’s hold on him. “My name is Sawyer. Who are you anyway?”
“Yeah, that’s a good question, isn’t it? One I’m not going to share with you. This is what’s going to happen next. That hungry crowd back there is expecting you to crawl back to them with some sense beaten into you. Guess that falls on me.”
“Who are you!” screamed Sawyer, trying to twist out of Snatcher’s arms.
“I’m the guy that’s going to teach you just what you stepped into. Stand up.” Snatcher let him go, stood, and backed away two steps.
Sawyer scrambled to his feet, swaying on the corner like someone who was too drunk to see straight. Snatcher crouched in a fighting position, one leg back and angled for good balance. Recognizing the basic stance in mixed-martial arts, Sawyer mirrored him, but he couldn’t focus.
Snatcher sent a forward jab against his right shoulder and knocked him to the ground. “Get up,” he ordered.
Sawyer put his feet under him and rose.
Snatcher jabbed his cheek.
Sawyer’s head flew back and he fell flat against the cement. For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, he saw stars.
Snatcher straddled him, hand held out for him to take. Sawyer took it. Snatcher, pulled him up, threw his arms around him, and rolled. He locked Sawyer’s right knee between his legs.
Sawyer’s leg muscle bunched into a Charlie horse and he screamed, “Aaugh. Stop. Stop.”
Snatcher held tight.
Sawyer’s leg slowly relaxed and with it, the fight went out of him.
Snatcher did not release him. “Detroit’s a long way to come from Stockton. What are you running from?”
Sawyer hunched a shoulder, the only part of his body he dared move.
“Not an answer,” said Rat Snatcher. For good measure, he pulled Sawyer’s body into a tight bear hug. The pressure pulled against his trapped leg, causing pain. It also caused Sawyer’s breath to whoosh out of him in a grunt. Then Snatcher let him go and sat on the sidewalk next to him.
Sawyer rolled onto his belly and lay there, too stunned to get off the ground. He mumbled, “What now?”
“Now you tell me where you’ve been all night.”
Sawyer wiped his nose with his fingers. They came away bloody. “Here, in the alley.”
Snatcher slapped his back.
Outraged, Sawyer sat up and faced him.
“I don’t appreciate it when people lie to me,” said Snatcher, backhanding Sawyer’s chest. “I saw you run out of the alley last night. You’ve been gone hours.”
Sawyer shook his head and pushed away from Snatcher, putting some distance between them.
“Not going to talk? Let me see if I can fill you in. Evan talked you into taking some money to Emilia Rodriguez, Sobrina Morelli’s midwife. You delivered that money, but you never came out of the building. Where did you go? Obviously, the Morelli brothers didn’t catch you, although Sobrina and Emilia were hauled outta there pretty fast.” He stared at Sawyer.
Sawyer stared back.
“Okay. I will finish the story then. You ran out the back window and down the fire escape. However, that was hours ago, and it doesn’t take that long to get from there to here. So I will say it again, where were you?”
Sawyer bent over his knees and grabbed the back of his neck with his hands. Who was this guy and why did he care so much?
“We can’t sit here much longer waiting. I’ll be late again. Hawg, our esteemed cook, threatened to throw me in the cages, and I have to stay outta there to get done what I need to do.”
Sawyer looked up, still crouched beneath the shelter of arms thrown over his head. “Why do you care?”
“I do, that’s it. That’s all you need to know. I told you Hawg and I will look after you, but if you can’t be straight with me, I gotta cut you loose. A run-away puts a monkey wrench in my plans.”
“How, how did you find out?”
“My business. Assume I know a lot. You still have that money I gave you?”
“Now we go back and face the consequences. First thing you gotta do is pay Marchesi. He thinks you’ve been working. You owe him.”
Sawyer looked up. “Why? Why do I own him?” Sawyer had a suspicion but refused to wrap his mind around it. “Why did you give me this money?”
Rat Snatcher scrubbed his face with both hands. “Oh my god, kid. He thinks you ran out of the venue last night to go with the man in the brown suit. Why do you think I gave you money to give to Charlie? That is how much you are worth, at least for a good blow job.”
Sawyer crawled to the curb and gagged. The only thing he had left to heave was air.
“You shittin’ me?” said Rat. “Haven’t you been payin’ attention? Marchesi owns every fool’s ass in this place.”
Had Marchesi been in the garage directing the attack on Lincoln? Sawyer didn’t see him there.
His face must have shown his surprise because Snatcher said, “That’s right. Who do you think ordered that little display of affection?” His voice dripped with sarcasm, but it didn’t make Sawyer feel any better or any less scared for Lincoln.
“He owns that mob, he owns that boy on the floor, he owns Hawg, he owns me. He owns you.” Snatcher stretched a leg and kicked the sole of Sawyer’s shoe.
That was the last straw for Sawyer. Defeat crashed down on him. He felt no bigger than the beetle scuttling across the sidewalk away from the heat of his body.
Snatcher’s face softened. “I have your back, but you are my bitch now. You go where I say you go, you run when I say you run, and you hide when I say you hide. I can keep you safe, but only if you follow my lead. You hear me, Bitch?”
Sawyer gulped and nodded. He sure as hell didn’t want to end up on the floor of that garage at the mercy of Marchesi’s mob. Who was Rat Snatcher? What did being his bitch mean? Rat Snatcher extended his hand to help him off the ground.
Sawyer took it.