Those words echoed with delayed effect through my mind. The voice was distorted through phone lines, but the speaker was clear. The message went on and had been going on for minutes now.
The voice on the other end offered years of experience and advice so freely. About life and anything oddly inparticular. Yet as casual as they appeared, they were most definately more. Almost as if they were rehearsed they held with them a charismatic aire rivaled by no political speech since Gettysburg. Unlike the President, these words seemed natural. There was no arguing or debating that everything said came from heart and not from an overpaid speech writer.
"I couldn't be more proud of you..."
That was yesterday. Right before the biggest storm the Lower City ever had sauntered on in.
The sky cried, raining tears down to drown out the tear stains all over my ruined leather jacket and the layers of white shirts beneath it. The ground was soup and the asphalt was a river bed carrying the sky's tears down below the street into the sewer to be carried out to the coast with the garbage caught on the curb. Doubtless in the next few days there would be bodies carried out and popping up all over the beach. Gangsters and prostitutes and children caught in crossfire. None of them buried deep enough.
Hopefully he was.
The cemetary was like those in movies. Grass empty lot filled with grave stones out just beyond the city limits. Right on a hill where you could see the ocean.
Behind us: Lower City. Industrial Park, Gangland. The smoke stacks filled the air with disgusting gray mass that covered the sky for miles and miles, just up to the Line; the suburbs that divided Upper City's wealth and clean air from Lower City's pimps and dive bars.
The ocean was opposite. Clean, clear and peaceful. I was in limbo. Directly between Heaven and Hell.
I'd been here from early morning to mid afternoon, unmoving and letting the rain soak me. The chill was getting me, but the the grave stone in front of me held up just fine.
His name was etched in the stone. His birthdate. And yesterday.
Viktor Reis. Devout Catholic. Husband to Lynn. Father to Mary, Matthew and Vincent.
My lips rolled into whatever smile I could make. Strained and sad. It was just to fight back the tears that I felt like shedding.
I reached a hand into the inside pocket of my jacket, grasping that small recorder I'd carried with me for the last few months. I had intended to give him this when I had come home just days ago. But I had figured I had all the time in the world. The recorder started up and even through the rain soaking the earth I could hear the fuzz of analog recording and then the opening notes. It had taken me forever to learn the song. But I knew it would mean a whole lot to him. The miniscule speaker piped out chordal melody. From a one chord to the octave then down a half step. Instantly familiar just from that.
A slightly roughnecked tech at a music store had taught me a version of Somewhere over the Rainbow a while back. Taken me forever to get the damn thing practiced and in time. It would have been worth it too.
I was done. That's all I had wanted to do for him, now that it was too late.
The song kept playing and now it was burned into my skull, rattling around almost annoyingly if it weren't so damn beautiful.
When I had arrived I was the only one here. And just as I seemed to be leaving, the headlights crept up the road. Right on time. I hated being around when mourners were weeping.
The car was brand new. Black and shiney. The county code said it came from the Lower City, but it was far too nice. As if on cue, the puzzle solved itself.
Tall, blond and as imposing as you could get. The man was instantly recognizable. To me at least. I'd heard stories, seen pictures, even met him once but I doubt he'd remember.
Allan Tourelle. The little Tourelle Twin.
Rumor had it that the Tourelle Twins, Allan and Michael, were raised by a single mother after their deadbeat father ran out. They'd had records and even spent some time in juvenile hall since they were ten years old. Pretty bad boys.
But, they had a spot for their mother. Or at least Allan did. I had heard she was buried here when she died of a heart attack just a few years ago. The younger brother made a trip every week or so out here to pay his respects. Michael, however, was more elusive. All the cops and feds in this part of the country suspected him of something, but they never could get anything solid. Or they'd simply wind up dead.
We didn't exchange any glances or anything. Just two guys, mourning, and walking opposite directions.
It wasn't until I was back at my car that my mind wandered back onto my dead father. The car Mom had wanted us to restore when we were younger, but we were both too lazy and busy to get around to. What started out as a beat up Chevy turned into a beautiful hardtop with a big block and four barrel carb that sucked more gas than any massive soccer mom SUV on the market. It was a thing of beauty. A thing louder than any labor of love before it.
The engine thrummed to life as it kicked and growled like a caged animal waiting for a liberal diet of octane.
"Old stomping ground."
The streets ran with the residual run off of rain. On my way back to the city, the storm had quieted it's fury. For a time, at least.
I'd driven down the row of biker bars and clubs. Most of them closed. Everyone was just waking up and it was already a quarter past three. The Lower City was party central. No business besides prostitution and drug deals. A lawless place who's power did not come from police or government, but from crime bosses and pimps.
My car rumbled and growled, shaking the earth with one final shudder before it died on cue right infront of the 234 Pub. The bar was small and the drinks watered down. Ran by a guy named Dave. Small bald man. Ugly bastard. But I couldn't come all the way home without saying hello and having a drink in some of my old hangs.
It wasn't like in the movies. No one paid any attention to me as I walked in. I was just another bum coming in for a shot. I sat at the bar and waited for the bartender. Before she could even get to me, I heard a familiar voice.
"Welp..If that ain't little Vinny.."
I stirred, twisting to look at the three men at the table behind me. One of them was a small smiling man that I recognized immediately. A friend of mine from school, Duncan Smith. I used the term friend loosely. The man was a grade A asshole. Two faced as you could get. The other two guys I'm sure I had met but couldn't put names to faces. Duncan, or Smithy as he was more commonly known, stood up and made his way towards me, extending a hand that I took sluggishly.
"It's been years, man. I didn't expect you to come back."
I shrugged and breathed out a small sigh.
"Only in town for a while. Family stuff."
"Yeah, that's right. Your old man croaked, right?"
He had a knack for saying things that made people want to kill him. The only way I knew of reacting to something like that was to tear his throat out with my teeth or bash his head in with a table leg. It took tremendous restraint on my part to simply nod. Smithy continued.
"Come on, come on, pull up a chair and tell us what you've been doin' with your life."
He led me to the cramped table beside the bar, with the two other fellows. I leaned back in my chair and stared across at Duncan.
"I heard you joined the army, Vinny-boy."
"Air Force, Duncan."
"Same difference. All tools of the government. Drones to oppress---"
I zoned him out. I heard that entire speech before by so many different people it'd lost its effect. Sure, the Armed Forces were sometimes used like that. Most times, even. But having to hear it from these little punks was enough to make me sick.
"Yeah, right on.."
"Exactly. You know EXACTLY what I mean, Vinny. Gah, I've been saying this for years. You should have just talked to me before you left to go kill kids in Malaysia."
"I've never been to Malaysia. I didn't even leave the States."
"Or so you say. Top secret shit, eh?"
Duncan Smith also had a knack for being utterly annoying. Insecure, too. And if there was one thing that could get his goat, it was bringing up his pissant little job working for the underbosses in town.
"Hey, you still running numbers and lunch for those Twins?"
That caught his attention. His ever present and cocky grin was gone, replaced with one of seriousness that was almost foreign to him. I'd offended him. The desired effect.
"Unlike the military, my bosses haven't held me back. I run the racket up near the 'burbs. I even drop the pay offs to the cops. As I recall, just a few weeks ago I dropped something off at your Pop's place."
The comment before, this one, the total disrespect and the fact that I just hated that bastard welled into one quick physical response. I reached a foot up and slammed the table across the floor into his chest, pinning his hands down at his sides. Before the other two could react I already had my right hand wrapped around the Glock in my shoulder holster and only a moment later was the barrel firmly pressed against Duncan's left eye socket.
"Choose your words more carefully next time, Smithy. Now, tell your boys if they don't want to see what the insides of your head look like splattered on the wall and the bar, they'll lay their pieces on the table."
The look on Duncan's overconfident mug was hilarious at least. This confident little bottom feeder went from smug and controlled to sniveling and cowardly in a matter of me pulling out my Austrian. The two men on the opposite sides reached a hand into their jackets and brought out their silvery weapons. Colts. Or Springfields maybe. Either way, out of the price range of thugs. They had money behind them.
I shoved the cold dark barrel into Duncan's eye hard, reaching out my free hand grasping his jaw firmly. I looked into his eye threateningly.
"Blink that pretty eye of yours once for yes and twice for no."
Duncan's open eye blinked once, twitched and then stared straight at me.
"Do you have any respect for the dead?"
Duncan's eye flapped once, securely, carefully. As to not bring anymore rage from me.
"Good..Then you couldn't possibly have meant to be so disrespectful towards my father, right?"
He shook his head quickly. I tightened my grip.
"Now, Sonny-Jim, I said blink. If you start using other forms of body language, I'll get confused. And when I get confused I have a nasty habit of firing randomly. Try again."
That scum bag's eye welled up, as if he were going to cry. He shook his head slowly and then started to blink his eye, before it shifted and looked over my shoulder. I could barely see an outline of someone there just in the relfection.
It was too late.
The familiar sound of a shotgun pumping filled my ear, as the cold barrel pressed against the skin of my neck. I weighed my options, or what options I thought I had.
There was no way I was quick enough to reach around and grab that gun and take down the guy behind me before the men and Duncan were all over me like white on rice. Hostage taking would get me nowhere. The only thing I could do is lower my hand from the thug's jaw, and pull the gun back from his eye and hold it loosely on a finger back behind my head. A moment later a hand plucked my weapon from my hand.
I stood up and heaved a sigh. The other men moved toward their guns, but stopped as soon as a voice moved through the din.
"None of you soggy sons of bitches are going to touch your guns. I don't give two goddamns whether you boys kill yourselves outside, but I'll be damned if you're going to cause a ruckuss in here."
The voice was strong, feminine and so familiar. Another sigh heaved and I turned around.
Standing there, all but six or seven inches past five feet, weilding my pistol and her shotgun, was Eva. Short black hair that was painfully cute, a figure that made you mad with immature desire, pouty pierced lips and a matching eyebrow ring.
While all that was a bit different than how she'd been last I saw her, it was her eyes that made me remember her completely now. Amazing hazel green swirling eyes that I always found myself lost in. A void pulling me in and filling me a sensation of calm. Of peace.
That was right when she clocked me with the side of the shotgun barrel. I coughed out a grunt as she struck me off guard. The metal's cold sting bit hard as I recovered slowly and rubbed the side of my head. She'd snuck up when I was recovering, getting close to my face with those amazing eyes and that horribly intimidating glare she wore. Her voice was the same it had been all those years ago.
She didn't even have to say anymore. She didn't want to say anymore. She just hit me again, this time though, with my gun. The butt of my pistol crashed down on the crown of my head and I recoiled again, landing against the table the others were at.
Duncan saw that moment as an opening, and grabbed a handful of my hair, pulling me back hard against his chest, with a small knife already digging into my throat before Eva raised the Glock she'd taken from me toward Duncan's head.
"Drop the knife, Smithy-boy. You don't have the balls to die here tonight. Drop the knife and go."
The two men on the opposite sides of the table grabbed their guns and immediately pointed them at Eva. The woman snarled something under her breath while she kept the pistol trained on the lead thug's forehead, and the shotgun on the man to her right.
Duncan spoke up from his meager position of power.
"You. Him. You're all going to die if you don't drop those guns, Eva."
"You'll get me, sure. Cut his throat, I don't care. But I'm going to put at least two bullets in your head before Tyler or Rico can get a shot off."
All those memories flooded back. Almost like my life flashing before my eyes. All those memories of Eva came back too. Her ferocity and candor. Awe inspiring and scary at the same time. I caught her eyes again. She stared at me freely and I stared back. Those damn beautiful eyes.
My right hand crept up my side, subtley grasping fingers around the knife I kept on my belt. All eyes were on Eva to make her move, I was free. Eva must have seen my movement, though, because she caught on quick...
"Hell, Tyler's safety is still on.."
The man on my right and Eva's left took that second to stupidly stare down at his weapon and take his attention off her. That's when I struck. The long knife I had on my belt slide out perfectly as I thrusted it into Tyler's side and twisted. The man screamed and let loose a wide shot that missed any intended target. She instantly fired off the shotgun into Rico's chest, sending the man flying back into the bar, dead as dead. All this happened a bit too fast for Duncan. He was just barely cutting my flesh when Eva finally got the shot off at his eye she'd been aiming for. As if seeing it coming, he'd turned his head and dropped the knife from my throat. From where I sat, I couldn't see, but I could hear the bullet rip through flesh and the loud crack of bullet shattering bone.
Duncan screamed in agony and grabbed his face. The broad's shot must have missed by just so much. Still, she didn't pay anymore attention to the broken man, and instead fired the shotgun into Tyler's chest before he could bring his gun up again to fire.
The bleeding and one-eyed man was back on his feet, knocking the table over and screaming a deafening cry as he ran towards the front door and out into the night. I fell over with the table, down on the ground with my hands covering my throat and trying to stop the bleeding and pain all across my neck. I knew any second that Eva would shoot that bastard who'd caused this, or follow him out. What she did instead surprised me.
"Are you alright?"
She was down on one knee, looking at my throat with a cloth in one hand. Her face changed from that glare of doom to one of concern for a matter of a second or so. Just until I looked up at her and her eyes with a small smile. That's when she slapped me with the back of her hand and then drew close to me with that same angered glare.
"You always have to start fights and problems wherever you go, don't you? You just have to finish everything and cause even more problems. Or you just leave and don't come back for years and years, hoping it all went away, is that it?"
She was truly enraged. But her anger and words were pretty much par for the course. She was never the happiest person I'd ever met.
"Thank you, Eve."
"Oh, no you don't. Don't try to do that to me, you asshole. I just saved your life so that I could strangle you to death. You piece of filth. You coward. You lying piece of---"
It may not be totally proven. But to me it's close enough. When you're that much in love with someone there is no amount of time or anger that can truly destroy all those feelings for that special someone. As if on cue, both of us moved and pressed our lips together. And for that one moment of euphoria, I felt happy to be home. That's when she broke away and popped me on the forehead with the clip end of my gun.
"Don't you dare kiss me, you cheating, murdering, lying,......Grrrr! I hate you."
Eva stood up and straightened her hair and clothes just after setting the guns down on the bar and looking around. All the customers had left, it was just us now and the two dead goons.
"You have to admit, babe, you did miss having to bail me out all the time."
She glared at me again. She always had that scowl. And I always wound up telling her to smile more.
"Unless you want to find out, in great detail, the not-so-delicate procedure of male castration, I suggest you never, ever, call me that again."
And to think I had left this....
"Feelin' the same way again."
"Get you a drink, slick?"
I swallowed against a dry throat. Eva was standing beside me in the chair she had me propped up in near the bar while she bandaged my cut neck. Nothing a little gauss and alcohol wouldn't fix.
"Some water or something."
She snorted and shook her head, keeping her eyes on the bandages and my wound.
"Even the pansies and boys drink. Some man you are."
"Yeah well, whenever I drink I wind up doing something stupid."
That look she had twisted again. And at that moment she stuck her fingernail into my split flesh, twisting to open the cut even more. I cringed and yelped through closed teeth. I'd hit a nerve.
Big nerve. I really wish she didn't have the memory of a goddamn elephant. The only thing to do now was what I always did: recoil and try vainly to smooth things over.
"Really, thanks for this, Eva. I owe you."
Another snort as she spilt cleaning alcohol all over my shirt and neck.
"You sure do. Causing fights in here like old times. I swear, you'll never grow up. Just a silly little boy that's completely immature."
"Unfortunately, I was born a silly little male. We mature slower."
I'm sure we'd had that conversation before. A strange wave of nostalgia and deja vu swept over me just for that moment.
She sighed and straightened herself. Her hand swept up to reposition a stray piece of hair from her eyes as she took one last look at her handiwork. With a nod she turned around and headed towards the bar. I stood up to follow and took a seat on one of the bar stools. She slapped a pint down on the bar and slid it towards me. Filled to the brim with the dirty horrible water that came out of the faucet.
"One tall glass of water, a field dressing and a table. Not to mention the bodies of those two dead blokes."
I laughed softly and took a swig of that horrible liquid. It tasted worse than I remembered. I all but spit it out and made a face to match the taste. Eva caught it and laughed whole heartedly.
"Add it to my tab."
She shook her head and slapped her hands down on the bar to hold herself up as she stared at me straight with those eyes of her's.
"It's been too long. Your tab ran years ago. If I could even find the ticket I'd charge you. But it's too much of a hassle and I know you're just going to leave again in a few days."
She kept taking stabs at me. They hurt, but I deserved the hurt, I suppose. I simply nodded and let her keep going. She looked mad as usual, but she had something on her chest she needed to get out.
"I don't even know what to say. I want to keep beating you up, but I doubt you've even seen your mother yet. Tell you what, come back when you have, then I will knock you on your ass. Gah, I bet she's going to flip when she sees you. She'll probably have a heart attack. You selfish little asshole, you left without even telling her goodbye. You'd have to be something lower than dirt to do that to your own mother. The person that gave birth and life to you, you treat with such blatant disrespect..."
I held up a hand and a sigh. My eyes darted away, ashamed.
"Eva, I've had just about all I can take for an evening. I'm starting to feel----"
She reached out and grabbed my raised hand, slamming my hand down on the bar and then pulling my finger the opposite way God had intended. The pain in my neck was gone at least...
"You're finally starting to feel? How about your family's feelings? Huh? Your friends? Or mine, huh?!"
She twisted my middle finger with a kind of fire in her eyes that I could have sworn came straight the bowels of Hell. She didn't let up, either, just kept twisting while she kept going with her speech. The one she'd been working on for the last five and a half years. Still, as soon as she spoke of her own feelings I could see her face break a little, her eyes redden. Not with anger this time, either.
"Lynn was sick for months. She still cries for you, you selfish bastard..."
Her face broke just slightly, and her grip on my finger loosened.
"You left me on the porch, waiting for you. And you never came. Not a word."
I stared right at her, right into those fiery eyes that I'd dreamt about since I'd left. Every night. Seeing them red rimmed and teary like never before. I'd never seen her come close to tears. Even more shit piling up to make me feel like more of an asshole than I already did. I had nothing to say, though, nothing I could think to say. And she had more.
"I waited...I waited and waited for you. And because I did, I wound up like this...Working in a dive bar. Getting oogled and hit on and mistaken for one of the whores on the curb. The money is shit here, and some of those offers from the cops and bikers are getting so tempting."
She smiled as she joked about that last part. A smile that was to bring her back from the brink of crying and tearing my finger clean off. She composed herself admirably and looked back at me after letting my hand go easily and resting her strong and gentle finger tips on mine. Her eyes were on me, piercing me and cutting my core.
"You really had me, Vince. You had me. But, I'll be damned if you think you ever will again."
The words hurt. I knew they were coming. Nightmares filled with foreboding coming true after so many nights of what I thought was insomnia. Rearing it's ugly head was Fear. I was afraid she'd actually say those words to me.
I had loved her. So much more than any man could love a woman. And I'd blown it. I'd destroyed her life with that love.
She just shook her head and pursed her lips tightly after she finally removed her warm touch.
"Get out, Mr. Reis. Take your troubles with you."
"Past the overture and through the nocturne."
Just like that I was back on the street. As part of the opera the rain started falling and soaking through my clothes once again.
Eva had slid my piece across the bar and given me one last stare before turning away. I'd even heard the door lock securely behind me, along with a mingled whimper. She'd never been one to show her feelings so openly...the fact that she couldn't help it made me feel worse and worse.
My thoughts were quickly brought back around from the beautiful eyes of the beautiful woman who might have turned out to be the love of my life and instead became a scar over my heart and the splinter in my mind's eye back toward the road and the long drive from here towards the suburbian area that most cops and their families lived in.
It'd been years and years since I set foot on this driveway. The grass was exactly how I remembered it. The fence around the yard was still just as pretty and just as white.
The moon was high and casting a shadow across the small suburban home. Rain still poured from the heavens in a steady stream, filling my ears with the sound of water pummeling car hoods and drive ways.
It felt like an eternity just making my way up the walk and thinking of things to say.
Luckily, I didn't have to think too hard.
The porch light sprang to life, covering me with a yellow blinding light that set me aback at first before my eyes could adjust. A moment later, the sound of creaking dead bolts twisting from the other side of the door. Only a moment later did the door swing open, and a short woman answered with a mess of dark hair stuffed in a tail over her shoulder.
Her eyes widen and then squinted harshly. Out of tiredness maybe. The woman wrapped her arm around her and held her robe close, simply staring up at me and into the eyes we shared. She cleared her throat after a long moment and spoke a bit hoarse as if to fight against fatigue or emotion she might be feeling.
"Been awhile, kiddo."
I nodded and smiled softly. I spread my arms and set my hands on my hips. The rain had soaked me completely by now, no use if avoiding it.
The exchange was painful and boring. I felt uncomfortable standing there just staring back and forth. I suppose I deserve it though. It must have been worse on her. Finally, she made a move and opened the door a bit more, motioning a hand inward.
"Come on, you're soaked to the bone and you're going to catch cold."
Dear old Mom. Always looking out for me..
Rays of sunlight broke through the blinds of the room I was in. My eyes opened slowly, staring blankly up at the empty white ceiling. Then it hit me.
The sound of a music box. The sound of tiny metal keys tuned to specific pitches playing in slow succession a beautifully dissonant melody. I sat up in my old bed, letting the covers drape down across my stomach now. There, in the chair beside the door sat the woman who'd welcomed me in the night before holding a music box in her hand and smiling while she turned it in her hands.
"This is your song. I used to sing it all the time to remember you by..Heh. I still sing it from time to time."
Lynn stood up and walked to the dresser next to her the chair, setting the music box down and moving her hands towards the spare change and anything I had in my pocket from the night before. She laughed softly in her throat and picked up my pack of Turkish Royales. She waved them around slightly and opened the pack to see the four or five I had left in there.
"You've changed a lot, Vincent. Smoking? I never thought I'd ever have to worry about my boy smoking."
I laughed sheepishly and pulled back my greasy black hair.
"I think we're both a little old for you to tell me what to do."
She scoffed and turned around to face me again. She pressed a thumb into her chest and gave me a sort of incredulous look.
"I'm your mother. I'll never stop telling you what to do."
We both shared a laugh and then she left and allowed me take a shower and get a fresh set of clothes. All my old clothes still fit, and they all were there, as was all my old stuff.
I made it to the kitchen finally. Dressed and looking like I always had. White shirt and blue jeans with my hair exactly how it's always been. Maybe I just hated change, or was too lazy to do anything about it.
Mom already had a plate on the table with some eggs and hash browns. Over in the corner, she was busy slicing up bananas and other fruits to put in a blender. She was so into those protein and health shakes. Crazy health food junkie.
We talked and talked. About anything and everything. Neither of us brought up the recently departed or why I left.
My siblings, it seemed, had both moved on and away from this place. Mary, my sister, had moved somewhere on the other coast and was attending some law school or another. Had a nice boyfriend and a big loft.
Matthew had long been gone. Months before I had left he had been accepted to a medical school up north. He'd left as soon as he thought Lynn could handle the loss of another son.
Mom smiled as she told me stories that they'd told her. Stories of how well they were doing, how much money they were making, and how soon they would raise enough money to buy a nice house away from the city for her. Her pride was unrivaled. I felt myself smile like I hadn't in a long time. One son a successful doctor and a daughter an aspiring lawyer. I kept my smile as best I could when I saw how proud Mom looked, and how proud Dad said he was when left me that message.
As soon as I thought of him I thought I would crack right in front of her. But I didn't. I had practiced this careless facade relentlessly. I thought of how he put Matt and Mary through college while working a desk job in a police station. The words Duncan spoke the night before stuck with me. As much as I hated that bastard and knew he would have said anything to piss me off I knew somewhere deep down that he was right.
A knock on the door was all I needed to snap me back into the now.
I would have been paranoid, had we not been in the cop neighborhood. No thug would dare start a fight here unless he was wanting to start a full-scale war. I stood back near the kitchen while Mom answered the door. I could hear excited greetings, but no discernable voices. I sat there, over my coffee and eyed the cigarettes on the counter top.
A moment later Mom came back in, smiling ear to ear and carrying a bag of groceries. All I could see was a shadow behind her, but whoever was following her started talking just as she turned the corner.
"I can get this stuff don't worry about it. You just sit down and have some---"
The woman stopped short as soon as she turned the corner into the kitchen. Her eyes lifted and widened just as soon as they saw me. Those big damn beautiful eyes.
Made up with slightly less make up than the night before, Eva was wearing her normal dark long sleeved shirts and chains. Less piercings, though, probably because she knew my mother disliked them.
Eva stood there for a moment, letting out a little breath and then offered a very tight lipped smile as she turned and set some more bags on the counter.
"Visiting your mother finally, huh? I should have known. Her smile was too big today."
The air was thick now and that lump in my gut came back and weighed me down even more.
"Yeah...She was smiley..."
The door closed and in walked my little mother again, still sporting that youthful grin and carrying the rest of the food Eva had brought. She turned to the both of us and clapped her hands together out of happiness. Silly thing..
"Evelyn has been helping me for a while now. While your father was sick and all you kids have been gone. You remember her, don't you Vincent?"
I nodded and smiled right at Eva.
"Of course I remember Evelyn."
Eva turned bright red and gritted her teeth tightly. She spoke through them as she felt a small embarrassed smile tug at her lips.
"Lynn...please. It's Eva."
Mom waved her hand and snorted softly.
"Evelyn is a pretty name. You should be proud of it.
"I'm not arguing with you, I just...Nevermind."
Eva forced a smile and straightened her clothes and impeccable hair as she looked back and forth between me and mom.
"Well...It looks like I'm interrupting, so I'm going to leave now. You two have fun catching up. Have a nice visit, Vincent."
"Oh no no, you can't leave yet, we have to sit down and all catch up. You have to have a protein shake too!"
I dunno what was funnier. My mother, or how she embarrased Eva. Either way, I couldn't help but smile.
Minutes turned into hours and before we all knew it the sun had set and darkness had fallen. We had all sat there talking of memories we'd held dear through these long years and sharing insight on just about anything that crossed our minds. Politics, food, music, whatever.
Mom yawned something fierce and stood from the table with a slight stretch.
"It's late. I can hardly keep my eyes open. I'm going to get some sleep. Goodnight, Vinnie. Goodnight, Evelyn. You be careful driving home, okay?"
The older woman stretched and bucked as she spoke, slurring words left and right and it was only half past seven. Eva smiled and said her goodnights, standing up and walking towards the door. I stood and followed her to lock the door behind her.
The door swung open and Eva stood on the front step, staring out at the rainy night before her. I stared at her from behind for that long moment she just stood there. A second later, she turned and looked at me with her beautiful smile and eyes.
"You really made her happy, coming back."
I nodded and leaned a shoulder against the hallway wall.
"I was happy to come back. And even happier to hear that you're looking after her."
Eva smiled and laughed as she pulled herself close around her. Her smile slowly faded and her eyes glazed in thought.
"Yeah well...Your mom, just in a night, says more to me than my mother has ever said to me."
"She's always been like that. Taking in my friends and anyone who needed someone."
She smiled and looked away. My chest heaved with a deep breath.
"I've enjoyed coming back. If only to see you again."
Her smile faded and she started to shake her head with her eyes racing from different spots to keep off one thing.
"No, no..Don't say those things..You don't mean them and you...Nevermind."
There were things that she was hiding, things she didn't want anyone, especially me, to know. And I knew that the more I press the more she would retreat and hide.
I finally nodded slowly and grabbed the door handle.
I saw those big beautiful eyes peer up at me just before she turned and braved the rain fall to her car.
I turned around and saw my mother standing there, leaned up against the wall like I had been. Her eyebrow raised.
"You know, regardless of what she says, it's never too late."
"Ma, thanks, but don't..please you don't understand."
She sighed and shrugged, kicking herself off the wall and back to standing straight.
"Of course I wouldn't understand. I've never gone through what you're going through, couldn't even imagine."
Now I knew where I got the sarcasm from. She continued.
"All I'm saying is that I know how you get when you're around her. You smile more, you're happier and you're a joy to be around. Your entire face lights up like when you were just a little kid. I see that and I feel it's my duty to kick your ass in gear. The worst thing in life is regretting not doing all you could have done."
The speech hit home. Like so many of those other bits of advice my parents had given me. I remember my father even saying the exact thing she'd just said but about something completely different.
I nodded and walked by her, not uttering a sound. Back to my room and back to my sleepless night full of memories and regrets.
"Like old times."
Trying to fall asleep was always hard for me. Unless I'm exhausted there's no real chance of me getting to sleep, no matter how long I wait.
Which is exactly why I slipped out of my room. Just like I had when I was a kid.Only this time, I'm sure Mom wouldn't care if I left. Still gave me that "young again" feeling all those old people talked about.
My car shook with torque as I took off from Mom's place. I was sure that just with the idling of the engine I had woken up have the neighborhood. No sense going quiet now.
There were so many other places to go. So many other people to see...Why I ended up there, I will never know.
The old chevy let out it's dying groan as I choked it to a halt right in front of Dave's bar again.
Through the glass of the door I saw two silhouettes. A man behind the bar and someone else sitting at a table facing the door. As soon as the door creaked open on the one hinge that worked, I caught both their eyes.
Dave, that bald bastard, was behind the counter. Cleaning glasses, counting money. Boss stuff.
The creature at the table looked up over the flame of a zippo lighter, through the smoke of it's cigarette climbing to reach the ceiling. I walked past Dave without a word and sat opposite the thing at the table. I stared for a moment without a word then reached into my pocket to grab my pack of smokes; tearing one out by the filter as soon as I freed it. The creature covered in darkness on the other side of the table laid a hand down on the metal lighter and slid it across the table. I smiled as I lit my cigarette and took a lungful.
"Still believe zippos make them taste better?"
The creature snorted and shook it's head behind the veil of darkness.
"I was always of the mind that it not only tasted better, but it was infinitely cooler. You still prefer your matches?"
I nodded and let out a long breath of smoke.
"They seal in the flavor of a good smoke. Cigars too."
The creature nodded and kicked out rings of smoke.
"What do you know about flavor?"
I motioned the tip of my cigarette toward the glass by the creature's hand. The one filled halfway with an amber liquid.
"I know that that drink usually is darker."
The creature laughed and flicked it's wrist, sending the glass to my outstretched hand. It then leaned forward out of the darkness and halfway across the table. I closed my eyes and took the drink offered, exhaling sharply as it started to sting my throat.
"A bit harsh for you? Like I said. Even the boys and pansies can drink the watered down juice here."
"I guess that would make me what then?"
Eva blew out another ring of smoke and then smiled. She squinted her eyes and pointed her cigarette at me accusingly.
"I'm not sure yet. But there is a name for losers like you."
I laughed and skirted the drink and lighter back across the table at her.
"You know, I was hoping to run into people I knew. Not just see you over and over again."
She giggled and leaned forward with a dark squinty-eyed curious glance.
"So you say. But you always seem to run into me."
"Run into you? You came to my house."
"Ah, but coming to the bar yesterday? And tonight? Hardly a coincidence. You want something..."
She seemed more playful and happier now. For some reason. Probably because it looked as if she was on her fourth glass.
"You know what I want."
"Do I? All I can do is assume what you want. And I'm just drunk enough to think you desperately want a boat. Well, as long as my ass is this skinny, you have no excuse for mistaking me for a marina."
I sighed and sat back in my seat to get a bit more comfortable in the wooden chair. Eva took a big swig of her drink and held up a hand as she talked.
"You've never said a damn thing to me. Not even a hint of what you really wanted. And that was fine. That was fine when we were kids, running around getting stoned in Johnny's basement, going to a movie, seeing a concert or heading over to Ron's club. It was fine. But then..you had to up and..and go. And that's not fine. And now you're back. And I don't know whether you want me to hop into your lap or leave you alone. And what really scares me is if you'll actually tell me that you love me that you need me and can't live without me. That's when I'll crumble and do this entire thing over, knowing that you'll just break my heart again."
Eva rambled on and on. Every word on the brink of a squeal. I moved to say something but then let out a breath and stared over at her. Her voice was quiet, barely an audible whisper. Her eyes were down, looking at the rim of her glass.
"I lost myself that night. In many ways I'm still back there. Just standing there in my dress. And now? I drink more than I ought to drink. Hah. To forget about you. And to bring you back."
Debating with a drunk person was never really that much of a challenge. But this was Eva and she was right. I reached a hand out and touched her hands with mine. Her eyes looked up. For the first time, I actually saw her cry. Not just red rimmed and watery. Tears streamed down her face and her makeup ran horribly. She looked a mess. But even as the tears fell she didn't whimper or sob.
She pulled a smile on her lips, forcing it as best as she could. She rolled her hands around to show the long sideway scars. She stared at me and my shocked look.
"As soon as they told me you left...Heh..... I missed the artery on my left hand. I can still feel the blood run down my arms."
"I had..I wouldn't have...I'm so sorry."
"It's a little late for that, Vince."
It was late. It was a lot too late. Half a decade late.
After a long moment of staring into those big beautiful eyes Eva rose her hand and formed it into a gun, pointing it right at me.
In her big eyes I could see figures moving stealthly by the door, just outside.
A moment later, it all exploded.
A firefight rang out loud. The sound of bullets piercing wood and glass filled my ears just as I dove over the table in front of Eva, shielding her as we both slid across the floor to the relative safety behind the bar. The hail storm of bullets seemed to be without end.
Eva was in true form. Instantly out of her drunken stupor and depression. She crawled on the floor behind the bar. Over the Dave's bleeding body and grabbed at the compact shotgun she'd used the other night. She screamed out something that I couldn't make through the roars of gun fire and then preceeded to fire off blind blasts over the bar and toward the door. With no other option, and no real target, I was forced to join her. Making pot shots and hoping I landed one or two.
I fired off two more shots toward the door. I knew I hit something this time. I even heard the man scream. Hopefully I got him in a good place that pinned him out of the fight. That's when I heard the noise behind me. I swung my gun around to look at the door leading back to the bathrooms and the store room. I instantly fired at the dark skinned man who stood there with his gun already trained on me. As soon as my shot went too wide, he fired two back, one of them tearing through the muscles in my leg. I screamed out in pain and dropped the gun as I held my hands close over the bleeding wound.
Behind me, Eva had ceased her flurries of shotgun blasts and thrown her weapon to the ground. She stood stock still now, her eyes peering between the man who'd shot me and the men on the other side who were now walking through the wreckage that was the entrance and front window of the bar.
The pain seared up my leg and overwhelmed me. All I could do is apply as much pressure as I could and watch the man approach me. His movement was so casual even as he raised his boot and pounded it into my head. The blow, mingled with my fatigue and wound, was enough to send me slipping into unconsciousness. The last thing I heard before it all went dark were the screams of a woman. Eva's screams.
I fell into a dream world. A place where the pain in my leg and the worry over Eva's fate had all gone away and I was just existing.
Everything around me was dark. No shapes. No lines. Just darkness. Horrible darkness.
Except for those eyes.
They came out of nowhere, jarring me awake. I couldn't stop myself for even a moment. My eyes flew open and I let loose her name out in a frenzied breath.
My eyes took a long moment to adjust to the small amount of light in the room that came from various candles scattered around. The light was omnimous, not romantic like they should have been.
The chair that I was tied to was surrounded by these home made candles. Across from me was a table that was similiarly surrounded by the dim off-white light the candles cast.
My thoughts raced back to the time back at the bar. To the man who'd shot me, my wound and Eve. My gunshot wound ached as I remembered it. I stared down only to find it stitched and clean through a cut hole in the leg of my pants.
Everything was like in a dream. I couldn't wake from it.
And like all my other dreams. I watched in vain as it just got worse.
"You are finally awake?"
From across me at the table, a man stepped out of the darkness and into the dim light and braced himself there. I couldn't get a good look at him and even if I could I doubt I could tell who he was. I didn't think about it too long, either. My mind was on someone else.
"Where is she?"
The man looked at me for a moment and then with a small smile pulled back the blanket covering whatever was on the table. Even in the dark I could make out the lines. Her hair, cheeks and lips. My arms fought against the shackles across my wrists. Trying to break out of steel ties with all the anger and fury I felt at that moment. Needless to say, I wasn't successful. I gave up with a low sigh.
"If you touch her...There will be nothing you can do to stop me from tearing your lungs out with my bare hands."
The man kept his smile and reached his hand down. Slowly he caressed Eva's cheek and throat. I knew it was just to get me even angrier. It was working.
I saw her shift away from his touch and sluggishly whimper. I even heard her say something that sounded like my name, though it was cut short as the man above her started speaking again.
"You have no idea how often I hear that..And how empty and meaningless those threats are to me."
He came into full view now, circling Eva and heading my way with a filthy syringe he'd taken from somewhere I couldn't see. I leaned away reflexivly as he plunged the needle into my neck and shoved whatever was in it into my veins.
I could make him out now. On the short side, small build. Brown hair with a kempt goatee. Suspenders holding up his pants, hanging off the shoulders of his expensive dress shirt with the rolled up sleeves. I didn't recognize him, but something in my gut kept telling me that I knew him.
I saw him near Eva again. He used a similiar syringe on her. She moaned and whimpered quietly, her eyes closed and probably still dreaming. I fought against my restraints again. Always in vain.
"If you even---"
"Yes, I heard you before. Just relax, Mr. Reis. If it will be of any comfort to you at all, I am above all such sexual impulses."
That didn't comfort me.
I watched him while the drug he slipped into me took affect. I couldn't move and I was becoming numb all over. Him, Eva, everything became hazy.
Just before I passed out I heard her call out to me again.
Music flooded my ears and filled my mind. Slow, mellow, beautiful. Descending chordal melody in an accidental-free key.
I'd crashed so many times in the last few days it was starting to lose effect. The constant loss of consciousness was becoming common place.
Recovering was slow as well. Though the music jarred me, it was the cool breeze on my face. My eyes opened sluggishly to a dark blue sky stretched out before me. Twilight had fallen over the Lower City. I must have been out for at least a day.
I stood up slowly from the concrete bench I'd been resting on. It wasn't familiar to me, but I could tell it was a balcony on some sort of building or another. One of the taller ones in downtown. From here you could see all the way past the suburbs and into the Upper City's massive bright white and silver towers.
The rail supported me as I looked down off the balcony. We were high up. High enough to send me reeling back in fear. With a hand on the rail still, I turned my back to the sky. That's when my eyes caught something silky and something blue.
I leaned back against the rail and stared right across at her. A woman with her back to me, dressed in a simple and elegant dark blue dress that looked as if it were made directly the star filled sky above. Her hair was dark and cut short and her skin was a beautiful pale white.
My vigor returned and I moved at her, still favoring my good leg. I reached a hand out and grabbed an elbow, pulling her toward me. She fell against me so easily, her entire body weight resting against my chest. Her chin was pressed against my sternum as she looked up at me.
I could feel my entire body tense with every horrible emotion I had ever experienced or even heard of ran through me. I couldn't make a sound. My vocal chords were petrified. My hands cupped her face gently, holding it close to mine as I stared into the big vacant holes that once held her beautiful eyes. The eyes I had dreamt and remembered for all these years. Her eyelids were gone as well, nothing covering those big empty holes now. My stomach churned and my heart ached. My mouth tasted like acid and I could feel my face melt as tears flooded and threatened to fall. But I was too damn sad to cry.
Eva's voice was weak. Barely audible had I not been holding my breath and slowing my heart. I made myself smile to hold back the tears that would feel so good to shed. Her hands moved around my back and held me close. Her grip was so weak...
"I'm here, Eve."
She held me tighter now and pressed her ear against my chest.
"It's so dark. I don't like this."
She was so calm. That bastard had probably pumped her full of more drugs than me. My heart raced off-beat and my breathing was rushed and sharp. I couldn't think of anything but to hold her close and kiss the crown of her head like I had done before countless times.
It was like a dream. A horribly beautiful dream that I couldn't wake from. All my fuzzy dreams collided with my nightmares to produce this.
I heard the footsteps. Loud and clear. Someone wasn't even trying to hide their presence. I twisted around with Eva still in my arms. Standing not a few feet from us was that same man. The man who'd taken her eyes. He looked so damn smart in his suit and tie. Everything was pristine about him. My entire body tensed as that bastard had the guts to smile at me again...I knew him now.
The massive structure. The ritualistic mutilation. The added fact that his face's shape vaguely resembled his little brother's.
Michael Tourelle, the reclusive older brother of Allan Tourelle.
Seeing him now, with that smile, after what he'd done to her was enough to send lethal surges of adreneline through my veins. I let go of Eva, letting her rest against the floor now. I turned and lunged at the man, still hindered greatly from the bullet in my leg.
Michael dodged easily out of the way. He moved so quickly and I was still sluggish from the drugs and sleep. Every time I would throw a punch, he would move out of the way with that same smile on his face.
One moment I thought I had him, he slid away again, right under my arm and behind me. Before I could even turn around I heard the familiar crack that I would have hoped was thunder.
I couldn't feel it for the longest time. Just heard it. But as soon as I staggered sideways and fell to a knee I could see him smiling there with an Austrian nine-milimeter. The barrel smoked as if out of some old movie or cartoon noir. As I writhed in agony, holding a bleeding hole in my stomach, he started talking again. Always in that low booming voice.
"Look at this town, Mr. Reis. Can you just...smell the decay. Can't you taste it? That is what makes this city so unique. There is nothing good and decent in my town. There is nothing beautiful."
He turned and walked towards the edge of the balcony. Smiling wider as he looked out at the city below. He turned back toward me with that same smile. A childlike smile full of glee.
"Which is also the answer to your next question. 'Why am I here?,' or 'What have I done?." Well, it wasn't exactly you that caught my eye at first. Yes, yes, you did kill a few of my boys and destroyed the face of a replacable minion. But, when I heard about your little girlfriend over there and her fancy glowing eyes of her's...I knew I had to intervene."
My look was frantic. This man was insane. I tried to steady my breathing and distract myself from the searing pain in my gut.
"Intervene...? What's wrong with you, you sick mother---"
I felt it immediately this time. Michael aimed the gun down and blasted a hole right through my left knee. My kneecap shattered and I screamed something that drowned out the boom of the gun. Tears streamed down my cheeks now. I couldn't hold it back anymore. The pain was too much for me to bear. Michael continued.
"Yes. Intervene. As I said before this is my town. And this town is ugly. It is despicable and a godless place. I saw those eyes for myself when they brought you here. And I saw how you looked at her when you saw her again at the bar. Your love, her eyes, the nuns in the convent. They don't belong here. Your suffering feeds this town. You broke the natural order of things. So now you both...Look at me!"
He was next to me now, grabbing my chin hard and holding his face close to mine.
"I carved her eyes out. I wanted you to see her broken and lying there helpless. I'll even use the same knife on you when I cut yours out of their sockets. Then, for the rest of your short lives, you will hear each other's screams as I make you both into demons. Cutting, carving, flesh and bone. You won't resemble anything human when I'm done. And I'm a very slow working perfectionist. So be patient. Oh, so patient. I wouldn't want you leaving us before I could bring your mother to see you."
The pain in my knee and gut was horrible. Now the pain of his words stung deep into my heart. The bastard was sick and threatening the people I had loved for so long. It was too much to take.
The pain was still there. But I had to ignore it. I had to summon all my strength and speed.
I stuck my thumb so deep in that bastard's eye that I knew I was touching brain. My remaining leg sent me forward ontop of Michael. One thumb in his eye and the other fighting to wrench the gun free from his hand. He screamed and fired off randomly before he could aim. Smart thinking, bringing the gun in close and pressing it against my stomach. He fired off shell after shell. Copper bullets tore through my flesh as if it were paper. My blood poured out like a broken faucet. My hand on the gun was torn to shreds by the action of the slide firing off bullet after bullet. After five bullets had gone through me, my finger was wedged and broken in between the slide.
With my thumb in his skull, I took a hold of his head tightly, slamming it into the ground as hard as I could with the strength I had left. My other hand tore the gun from his now limp grip and pressed it against his chin. I fired once. I could hear the bullet tear through his brain. I saw it exit on the other side and take with it fragments of his skull. I didn't stop, though. Had I stopped I would have died. I had to stay alive just a bit longer. I kept firing until his skull was completely open and there was nothing left of his face to speak of.
I rolled over him and pulled myself along the concrete floor towards Eve. I stopped halfway, turning onto my back and laying the gun on my chest. I couldn't make it to her. My lungs filled with blood and my mouth filled with that taste of iron. Sharp and raspy, I called out to her.
She twisted slightly, following my voice and staring those big empty holes out in all directions. She moved just as slowly as me.
"Vincent? W-where are you?"
My voice cracked and refused to say another syllable. I felt her hands wrapped around my chin and run through my hair. Eva cried softly and pulled herself along until she was cheek to cheek with me. Her lips pressed against the skin of my forehead and I held her hands in mine for that warm touch I had ached for. I kept trying to tell her what I wanted to say. But I hadn't the energy to say it. Everything came out as a wheeze and a hack. She said something I couldn't make out. Everything was dark and I couldn't hear anymore. I stared up at the sky and the two stars I could see as a curtain was being pulled around my eyes.
Eva's hand moved slow and weak, shaking miserably as it moved toward my face. I would have loved to feel her touch just one more time. Her fingers left my hair and cheeks, grasping at something out of view. I felt a shudder. A vibration that tore through us both, and then her body fall limp against mine.
The nocturne was through. The curtain was descending and the audience had its cue to leave. My opera was one of regret and loss. No clear victor, no pristine white hero, no fairy tale ending.
The ambient, intangible melodies moved in odd meter through my head in my dying moments. The kind that left you unsatisfied and craving resolution.
I mouthed those words one last time to the body beside me before I let out the breath of a dying man.