Nothing To Do But Follow

Sawyer, aka Jonathan Tyler, runaway, scared out of his wits and subdued, followed Rat Snatcher into the alley behind Marchesi’s Bar and Grill to go to work. Technically, he didn’t need to work, he hadn’t stayed in the room last night. That meant he hadn’t rented it. Didn’t it? However, his bag and his jacket were still there. How much did it cost to leave stuff somewhere?

He had not eaten for…he couldn’t remember when. He could hand Rat the ten he had given him and walk away right now. There had to be a soup kitchen he could find somewhere downtown.

He hesitated at the stairs and looked beyond to the garage where Marchesi’s men had raped Lincoln, the other boy serving drinks with him at the fight. Several of those men stood in the shadows just inside the open doorway. The low growls of their bickering carried across the alley, but he couldn’t make out the words.

“None of yo’ business,” said Rat from the top stair. “None of what goes on here is yo’ business. Understand me, Bitch?”

Sawyer nodded and followed him to the kitchen.

As soon as they opened the door, Hawg said, “Get your asses in gear.” He stood at the counter, slicing bacon. Hawg seemed bigger and more imposing today than he did yesterday, but when he turned to look at them, he said, “What is this?” He stopped slicing and grabbed Sawyer’s face. “Who did this?”

Rat Snatcher shrugged. “He had it comin’.”

Hawg glared at Rat. Then he grabbed a cloth draped over the edge of the sink and swiped at the blood on Sawyer’s face. “Just the one bruise,” he said.

The cloth, saturated with the smell of bleach, was rough against his skin.

“He has more,” said Rat Snatcher, as he ran his eyes up and down Sawyer’s body.

Hawg lifted Sawyer’s shirt.

Sawyer winced when Hawg’s massive fingers skimmed over his ribs and shoulder as surveyed the bruises littering his torso.

“One day on the job, and already askin’ for a beating. Go figure,” said Hawg. He let go of Sawyer’s shirt and shoved him.

“He’s fine,” said Rat.

“Shivering from hunger again,” said Hawg. He went to the stove and splashed batter on the hot grill. Then he took three eggs and cracked them onto another, smaller grill, fired up especially for eggs. He quickly scrambled them and added bits of bacon over the top.

Sawyer sat in the corner of the kitchen, behind the door, and inhaled the food that Hawg made for him. Even if Hawg charged him for it, he could pay for it with the extra ten dollars that Rat had given him when he handed him a hundred to give to Marchesi. There would be no need to work another shift here. As he stuck the last bite of pancake into his mouth, Marchesi slammed into the kitchen and rushed Rat Snatcher where he stood slicing side pork.

“Who do you think you are?” shouted Marchesi, as he grabbed a handful of Rat’s shirt.

Marchesi was half of Rat’s height, so Sawyer was surprised at the fear in Rat’s eyes. “What’s this about, Boss?” said Rat.

“Seems we have a little problem on our hands in the garage, and you’re just the man to take care of it. Get it done.”

He turned to storm out of the kitchen and saw Sawyer.

Sawyer froze, mouth stuffed with pancake.

“Where have you been?”

Silently, staring at Marchesi, Sawyer pulled the folded bills from his pocket. He handed the hundred to the angry man in front of him.

“What’s this for?” said Marchesi. “Where the hell did you get it?”

“Blow job,” said Sawyer, around the mushy pancake in his mouth. He gulped but the mush didn’t slip down his throat. Instead, his stomach flipped. Marchesi, the kitchen, Rat, and Hawg faded away as an imagined, giant stiffy waggled in front of him. He gagged as his body physically reacted to the picture his brain conjured. Did the horror show on his face? He tried to swallow past the gag reflex. The mush caught in his throat. He gulped again. It slid down. He hiccoughed and bile soured the sweet taste of what had been a decent breakfast.

Marchesi noticed something, because his glare became amusement. He turned away to glare at Rat. “Word is,” he nodded toward Sawyer, “he’s yours. Take your little bitch with you,” he said, as he slammed out the door.

Rat slowly finished slicing the piece of meat he was running through the machine. More slowly than that, he took off his apron and hung it over a hook on the back wall of the kitchen. He didn’t look up at either Sawyer or Hawg, but he kept shaking his head. Finally, he said, “Damn.”

Hawg clapped his shoulder. “Do what you can do,” he said. There was a glint of sadness in his eyes that Sawyer didn’t understand. An understanding passed between the two that seemed to say, “We’ve seen this before.”  

Since Sawyer had not known either of the men for more than a couple of days, he figured it was a quiet moment between them he should not have seen. When Rat caught his eyes, Sawyer felt the same fear he had felt in the curandera’s flat, one he recognized now as an inescapable knowing that his life was about to change forever. “What?” he said.

Rat shook his head. “Get that dish cleaned and meet me in the garage.” He shuffled out the door, seemingly half of who he was.

Sawyer followed Rat to the garage. It took a second for his eyes to adjust to the change from bright to dark, but when they did, he saw Rat sitting on the floor next to Lincoln. Lincoln didn’t seem to be responding as Rat smoothed his soft blond hair away from his face.

Sawyer joined the two of them and sat on the cement facing Rat Snatcher.

Snatcher didn’t look at Sawyer. His eyes followed the movement of his hand as he continuously ran his fingers through Lincoln’s hair. He said, “Marchesi found him on a street corner seven months ago, skinny, full of drugs, trickin’. Mostly men, but women too.”

He looked at Sawyer. “There’s a lot of money to be made in the sex trade. He made a lot of money, but he was skimming Marchesi’s share. No one meant for it to end up this way.” 

“He’s dead, isn’t he,” said Sawyer.

“Poor kid probably had a heart attack.” Rat Snatcher frowned and shook his head. “We have a job to do.”

“What?” said Sawyer. He couldn’t catch his breath. The sound of his heart pounding against his ribs echoed in his ears, a sudden chill shook his bones.

“You sit with him. I’m going to get my van.” Rat shuffled out of the garage and disappeared as he passed through the beam of light streaming through the open door.

Sawyer gasped. He stood, wanting so badly to follow him, to get away from death and follow Rat into the light. Instead, he simply backed up until a workbench stopped him. There, he froze, keeping watch. As he did, he thought he saw Lincoln breathing. Timidly, he approached and stared at his chest. It didn’t seem to be moving when he looked at him from this angle. Did he dare touch him? He watched, holding his own breath, listening for Lincoln’s. Nothing. Not one single part of Lincoln moved. It was as if he was frozen in time. In a way, Sawyer guessed he was.

He returned to his spot at the workbench. Again, did he see Lincoln take a breath? Sawyer looked away. His eyes could play all kinds of tricks on him. It didn’t alter the fact that Lincoln was lying on the cold cement, unresponsive. Dead.

When Rat Snatcher returned, he had a tarp with him. Together they wrapped Lincoln’s body with it, then they hefted him to the back of the van.

As they pulled out of the alley, Sawyer said, “Where are we taking him?”

“Well, that’s a good question,” said Rat. “Normally I would drop him off at the morgue, sign the paperwork, and get back to my job, but today…today we have a bigger problem. Eyes are watching us. Your little stunt with the curandera last night caught the attention of Marchesi’s rivals, the Morelli Brothers. I can’t be seen going to the morgue. That information could get back to people who could use it against Marchesi. I can’t have that happen.”

“Why? Why would he care?”

“He just would, okay. There’s some stuff you just don’t need to know.” His voice was sharp and his eyes were fierce.

Sawyer got the picture. “Okay.”

“I outta shove you back onto a bus and send you home.”

“No,” said Sawyer.

“Exactly, you would just run away again. Am I right?”

Sawyer didn’t answer him. He wasn’t sure he was right. He wasn’t sure of anything at this moment. The thought of sleeping in a real bed, in a safe room, his room, eating breakfast at a table with family instead of on a bucket in the corner of a steamy industrial kitchen appealed to him right now. Would he run away again? He didn’t know.

“Can’t take the chance of being seen doing that either. You’re Marchesi’s property now.” Rat glanced at Sawyer. “My bitch and Marchesi’s property. What a dilemma, huh?” Rat reached across the center console of the van and quickly squeezed Sawyer’s leg.

Maybe it was because he was thinking about the safety of his parent’s house and how far away that was, or maybe he was just exhausted. He didn’t take the gesture as a creepy ‘come on.’ Instead, it felt more like a promise that whatever happened next, Rat had his back.

Rat drove to the river and followed it until it headed south toward Lake Erie. Was he planning to dump the body in the river or the lake? Did he dare ask? Rat’s jaw was set, and it was obvious he was grinding his teeth. Whatever he had planned caused him to hold onto the wheel of the van with an iron grip. He slowed and turned left onto a single lane road. They crossed a cattle guard after which the pavement became a loose rock path. Rat drove to a trail head and pulled off the path to park.

He disconnected his seat belt and turned to Sawyer. “We carry him from here.” He pointed to the right. “Through those trees. We won’t take the trail in.”

“We are going to leave him here?”

“Yeah. We’ll find a pretty spot to lay him to rest.” Rat jumped out of the van.

Sawyer didn’t move. He was having a hard enough time processing the fact that he knew this boy, spoke with him last night, and now he was dead, a body that was to be disposed of in the woods. What about Lincoln’s family? What about his friends? Did he have either?

Rat pounded on the van door.

Sawyer jumped.

“Now.” Rat’s mouth moved, but Sawyer wasn’t hearing, he wasn’t seeing. The world was fuzzing around the edges.

Rat pulled open the door, grabbed his arm, and yanked him out of the van. “We have to move now.”

At the back door of the van, Rat handed Sawyer a second tarp, a shovel and a rake. He took them.

Rat lifted Lincoln’s body and threw it over his shoulder. Then he trudged toward the trees. There was nothing to do, but follow. 

Sawyer did.

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