“Blues? Ah come on, Brian. Blues?”
AJ whined as they pulled up into ‘Mosquito’, a trendy, if a little exclusive blues bar. Brian had a membership, so he felt safe there. He knew that none of Billy’s people would be able to find him here. He knew he was being paranoid, but they’d known so much…it unnerved him.
“Come on, Bone, you’ll love it.”
It was a nice place, with red velvet walls and grey suede couches. More of a cocktail bar than anything else, it was filled with elegant people, all drinking champagne and various other drinks that AJ didn’t even know how to spell.
“Brian, this place looks kind of upper class. It aint good for a working class kiddo like myself to be seen in such places. Ah man, they don’t even have a pump for Budweiser. Do they even sell it?”
AJ sounded like a spoiled child in a sweetshop that didn’t sell limeballs. Brian swore to God he’d be stamping his feet at any second.
“AJ”, he smiled, “you got to widen your horizons. Be adventurous…”
“Brian, there is adventure, and there is this. This, I might add, is not adventurous.”
“Are you going to complain all night, Alexander?”
AJ lost his smile. “You’re pushing it, Mr Littrell. You really are pushing it…”
Brian laughed, almost forgetting his predicament. He wished that his brain were like a prison, where you could lock away bad thoughts and forget about your problems until they needed to be recalled. He wished that he could put them all into a huge box, and pretend they didn’t exist until he got that phone call…
The thought of it made his insides twitch.
“Have yourself a Jim Beam, AJ. You’ll be anybody’s after that.”
AJ frowned, digging his friend in the arm. “Such a pussy, Brian.”
He almost swallowed his words when Brian asked for two Jim Beams on the rocks. What was he trying to do? Kill himself?
“Hey yo, Brian. What’s got into you with the man’s drinks? What happened to your Vodka and Coke? “
Brian smiled. “Guess I just want to loosen up a bit.”
“I like it, I like it. When did this happen? Are you feeling alright?” Putting a hand to his friend’s forehead in play pretend, he lauged.
“I’m gonna call the doctor. Brian has changed…”
Brian felt the vibration in his pocket, and the fear of God ran through him. He couldn’t let AJ see that he was afraid, however, so he quickly made an excuse.
“Give it a rest, AJ. Just take your drink and find a seat. I got to go to the bathroom.”
He knew that it would be Billy. Who else could it be at this time? Nobody else would call him if they thought he was sick…
“I’ll be in the corner, drowning my sorrows. How could you drag me here, Bri? I mean, how could you do that to young, innocent me?”
Brian shook his head and headed towards the men’s room.
“Have you reached a conclusion yet, Brian?”
It was him. Why the Hell was he calling him now?
“You said I had until tomorrow. By my watch , it isn’t tomorrow for another hour or so, so why are you calling now? That wasn’t the deal…”
Laughing on the other end, followed by the clearing of the throat.
“I call the shots, Brian, not you. I know what I said…but I changed my mind. And blues, Brian? I never saw you as the blues type. Obviously, I don’t know you as well as I thought.”
Brian laughed. “You don’t know me at all, Billy. Truly you don’t.”
“I see you’re with the rebel kid. Never did like him much. He kind of gives me the heeby-jeebies. What’s with the tattoos? He think he’s an artist or something?”
“Forget him, this is between you and me. “ His voice was breaking, the nerves building up and causing him to shake quite violently. He didn’t want to be a part of this…
“So, me and you again? Well, Brian, what do you think? You do me a few favours then we call it evens?”
He sounded almost smug, and Brian wished he could reach down that phone and shake him until he woke up. What kind of dream was he living in? He never understood that…Why was he the way he was?
“Do I even have a choice?”
Laughter on the end of the line.
“Yes you do, Brian. I gave you a choice.”
“Some choice.” It killed him to say it, but he had to now. No matter what, he had to.
“I’ll do it, but as soon as I have finished, you will never come near me again.”
“Comprende, my friend. As soon as I feel we are even, then payback is over. I think that is a pretty fair deal, don’t you?”
Brian laughed ironically. “Sure.”
“Well, then. I will have somebody come by to pick you up at 5 o’clock tomorrow evening. That gives you the chance to rehearse with your sissy-boys. We can make some arrangements then.”
The phone clicked down, and Brian was left open mouthed and terrified. What was this arrangement going to be?
“So I said ‘Hey, are you really that stupid?’ He honestly thought that I’d go for that.”
AJ was rambling, and Brian wasn’t hearing a word. He was good at being able to look like he was listening when in actual fact, he was somewhere off the planet. It had taken years of History lessons to be able to perfect that, and Brian looked upon it as a gift.
“Brian, are you listening to anything I’m saying? I feel as though I’m talking to my dog. She never replies either…”
Brian snapped out of his trance. “Yes, I was listening.”
“What did I just say then?” AJ challenged, a strange smile playing on his lips. He was being such a child tonight. Brian was in no frame of mind to deal with one of his moods, so he changed the subject.
“Bone, have you ever been in a completely hopeless situation? You know what I mean, one that is…hopeless.”
AJ laughed. “That generally is what a hopeless situation is, Brian, but to answer your question, yes I have.”
Brian looked on intently. “What did you do?”
“I leaned back and did what needed to be done.” AJ sighed, placing both hands on the table around his strangely shaped, almost phallic looking glass. He absently brushed it aside, and began tapping his hands.
“Brian, are you going to tell me what is bothering you? I know you better than this…ALL of this. Jesus, you’re drinking Jim Beam. Only a desperate B-Rok would go near the hard stuff. Here we are, at 1am, in a friggin’ Blues bar, which is admittedly cool, but….what the Hell, Brian?”
His smaller friend’s hand came up to brush his hair back. AJ noticed something which frightened him a little. Brian’s hand was shaking.
“You can talk to me. Just look beyond the fucked up image and remember that I’m just Alex, and you used to be able to talk to me.”
“I want to, AJ, but I can’t do that yet…but I will.”
“That’s cool. I understand that….you got to come to terms with whatever it is by yourself first. That’s fine. I am the King of dealing, Rok. All I can say is do what you need to do.”
Brian knew that. He knew that AJ would talk to him sensibly.
“My life is just a complete fuck up.”
AJ gasped. “Fuck isn’t in the bible, Brian.” Brian fought a smile and continued.
“My life is a fuck up, and it’s up to me to fix it. I have to do something which I wouldn’t ordinarily do,but as soon as I have done it, then this will all be over, and I’ll be fine. “
AJ looked solemnly at his friend. He was worried about him, but he understood that Brian had issues just as he did. Brian probably didn’t know that he cried himself to sleep some nights just thinking about how much he wanted out, how much he wanted Alex back. He probably didn’t know that he had seriously considered suicide on more than one occasion.
There was so much about each other that they didn’t know. Best to keep some things for yourself. Best to allow yourself at least some things that can be just yours and nobody elses. He assumed that this was what Brian was doing right now. If only he knew…
“Come on, Rok. Next one’s on me!”
“Number One, wear something inconspicuous. None of that nancy-boy crap you’ve been wearing lately. Don’t want to draw more attention to yourself than necessary. Look at you, Brian. When did you discover your sexuality, huh?”
Brian refused to rise to the bait. He remained rooted to his seat, staring ahead, trying his best to be brave.
“Number Two, you go alone.”
Brian laughed. “What do you think I am? Stupid?”
Billy snorted. “Oh how much do I love that beautiful Southern twang of yours, Brian honey? Stunning…now shut the fuck up and listen to me.”
He sat down in front of his pawn and clasped his hands together.
“Number Three, if you see the cops, act naturally. If they ask what you’re doing, not that they will, you tell them you’ve been shopping for prizes in a fan club competition. Put on your cutest face, and they’ll fall for it, baby”.
He pinched Brian’s cheek, but he pulled away. Mad, he grabbed a handful of his hair.
“This is important, Littrell. You better be taking all of this in…”
“I am, Billy. Every last word.” His voice was dead. So dead…
“Good”, the criminal said, “We won’t have any problems, then, will we?”
Brian shook his head. He did have one question, though.
“What exactly am I doing?”
Billy merely smiled. “All in good time, Brian. All in good time.”
Brian slumped into his bed, tired and ashamed of what he had done. He was a law abiding guy, and he knew that God would not approve of what he was doing, but He would understand, right? He wouldn’t condemn him for having good intentions, would He?
He felt warm underneath his blankets. Warm and safe. He had closed every single curtain and locked every single door in his house, even the ones he knew that nobody could enter through. It just made him feel safer. No place safer than your own home? That was proving to be the most inaccurate saying he’d ever heard.
He lay down, and buried his head in the pillows, sobbing silently as he recalled the events of the day. The worst day of his entire life. He felt used, and he felt tainted. He almost felt as though he should punish himself for doing bad, but he didn’t. That was so medieval. No, this mental torment was punishment enough, and that wasn’t even including the guilt.
He’d only drove a car. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Not in itself, but if you took into account the thousands of dollars worth of goods that settled in the back seat, it really was. It wasn’t as though he were chauffering a killer around, but this was morally wrong. Brian had always prided himself on his morality.
Not only was this the worst thing he had ever done, but he knew that this was the most tame compared to what was going to be expected of him. Dropping off a car filled with off the wagon junk was a breeze, Brian had told him. No problem. There would be someone to pick it up at the other end, and he’d have somebody to pick him up from a grocery store only 5 minutes walk away.
That had been the longest, most guilt-ridden walk in his entire life. The only time a feeling had came close was when he kissed his high school junior year pin-up girl when he was supposed to be dating a choir-girl named Adele, and there was almost a world of difference between the two. This was criminal, that was merely immoral. At least it was to a church-goer like himself. Any of the other guys, with the exception of Kevin, would have given each other a high five for tongue licking with the head cheerleader. Maybe it was their upbringing.
He needed to get some sleep. He had popped some pills before he’d got into bed. He just wanted to sleep, unnaturally or not, just wanted to sleep. He wanted to be fresh for rehearsal in the morning, because they were going through some pretty tough ones, and he wasn’t the greatest dancer at the best of times. He wanted to be on top-form, partly to make up for what he had just done.
He dreaded to think what would be expected of him tomorrow…
“I could see you handled that well, Brian. We’ll try something a little more time consuming tomorrow, if that’s ok with you. You’re a natural at this kind of thing…”
That comment had angered him more than anything. How could anyone accuse him of being a ‘natural’ at something which made him feel so unnatural? It also worried him, because it had been so easy.
Didn’t matter how easy it was, however. This was wrong.
Turning to face the wall, he curled himself up into a ball and tried to sleep. The pills should take effect soon, he hoped, but until they did, he was stuck alone with his thoughts.
And they weren’t the best of thoughts…
“Hey guys, look who it is. It’s Mr Jim Beam himself…”
Brian sighed. These guys were incorrigible.
“Oh come on, Bone, it wasn’t such a big deal. I’ve had alcohol before, and you didn’t make such a deal of it then. Why is this so different?”
“Because you knocked back more of the fuckers than me, Brian, and that makes me sad. How can you beat me at that, Angel Face?”
The name hit a chord inside of Brian. That was exactly what Billy had called him. Angel face…
“Yeah well, we all have our days, don’t we?”
The tone was mocking. He could play Alexander James at his own game. He may be a choirboy angel, but he could give just as much teasing as he got.
“Maybe you weren’t feeling too good”, he said with a wink, putting the ‘angelface’ comment to the back of his mind. It didn’t mean a thing.
“Oh rematch, rematch my friend. I can’t accept defeat so easily.”
Brian laughed, and wandered over to Nicky. He was reading a comic entitled Dungeons and Dragons.
“Whatchya readin’, Chaos?” he asked.
“Dungeons and Dragons. I thought it would be like the cartoon, but it isn’t at all. I can’t say I’m not disappointed. Whatever happened to Diana, Brian. She was hot…”
Brian gave him a crooked grin. “Nicky, you do realise that she was made out of paper and crayons, didn’t you?”
Nick feigned shock.
“No…Brian, you’ve shattered my illusions. And here was me thinking she was real. No fair….she looked just like a Scully/”
Brian loved the way Nick could make him laugh. When he needed some light-hearted humour, he knew that Nick was his guy. He never let him down. It was probably why they were such good friends, despite their age difference.
“So, how come you took up the alco-frolics then, Brian? You feelin’ alright?”
He felt the same panic reaching up his body, but he pushed it aside before it reached his heart. It was always the worst when it reached his scarred heart. It made him feel as though his chest were compressed and his lungs were devoid of air….
“Yeah, I just have some stuff to think about right now. No biggie.”
Nick nodded his head. “You wanna play some B-ball after rehearsal? I got it all planned out…Frick and Frack against the other three. We could beat them hands down.”
Brian smiled. “Sure…” until he remembered.
“We’ll be by to pick you up same time, same place.”
His smile faded. This was hard. “Um, Nick? I have some things to do, you mind if I pass?”
“Sure. But are you sure you’re ok? You’ve never in your life passed up the opportunity to whoop their asses.”
“I know, but it’s kind of important. Maybe we could play tomorrow?”
He hoped….Nick nodded his head.
“Sure, man. I mean, if you got stuff to do, then I won’t stand in your way…”
Brian was grateful he had such understanding friends. He was glad that he didn’t have anybody to answer to in his spare time. If he’d been dating, then he’d have been accused of being unfaithful just based on the vagueness of his explainations.
Keeping his promise to himself, he performed perfectly in the rehearsal. He felt good in himself that he hadn’t let anyone down. Looking at his friends, he also felt a little bit better about what he was being forced to do. Anything to keep these guys safe…they were his life. If anything happened to them, then he wouldn’t be alive. He wouldn’t be able to breathe. He wouldn’t be able to live. They were a vital part of his survival. They we as important as the oxygen that entered his lungs…as vital as the beats of his heart. They were his heart…
“Good job, cuz”, Kevin smiled, tapping him on the back of the shoulder. Brian faked a convincing smile.
“I try…”he laughed.
“Look, Brian, I’m sorry I was a little hard on you the other day, but I don’t like to see you sick, and you were so jumpy. I just thought…I assumed that something was wrong.”
He looked almost guilty, and Brian felt awful about this.
“I did have some things on my mind, but I’m sorting them out myself. It’s kind of personal…”
His voice trailed off into nothingness as the words came out. He was lying to his own family, which was something he had vowed never to do, but what choice did he have?
“Hey, no problem. You know you can come to me if you need me, right?” he asked, playing the protective big brother over his cousin who he had came to love like a sibling anyway…
Brian smiled and nodded. “Thanks. I might just do that.”
He was lying again, of course, but it would get him off his back for the time being, at least.
He hoped they would understand, if it ever came to them knowing about all of this…because if they didn’t, then he may aswell be dead.
He felt the tears coming, but he was desperate to keep them inside. He couldn’t show his weakness, not in front of these people.
“Brian, you’ll be great. I promise you that. No problem. Just walk straight in there, take the money, then leave…”
Brian stuttered. “But…but what if…what if the….”
Billy laughed. “Oh you stuttering freak. Can’t you get out a sentence, B-bb-bb-Brian, B-baby?”
He was such a cruel bastard. Brian looked to the floor, knowing that the more notice he took, the more likely he’d be to break down. Be strong, be strong…..
“Don’t be such a fag, Littrell. You aint gonna get caught. This is easy street. My kid brother could do this kind of thing, and I’d let him do it, only I want you to…”
He could beg, he could plead, he could get on his hands and knees and tell Billy he wouldn’t do it, but what good would it do? Even if he called the cops, Billy had a whole network of bastards doing his dirty-work for him. He’d made sure that Brian had never seen any of them, so identification would be virtually impossible. He’d never been allowed to see the route to their HQ, as Billy so elegantly called it, so how on Earth would he be able to incriminate him?
“Please don’t make me do this, Billy. I’ll give you whatever you want….”
Billy laughed, lifting Brian’s glistening, moist eyes to rest upon his own.
“You’re giving me exactly what I want, Brian.”
He sensed Brian’s growing unease, and tried his best to calm him. If he was too worked up, then none of this would work, and he’d be fucked. They’d all be fucked.
“Look, kid, it will take 2 minutes, max. You’ll be in and out…I swear to God.”
Somehow, the thought of Billy Fernandez swearing to God didn’t bring Brian much comfort, but he tried his best to calm down.
“I know Marcus, and he’s a good guy. He won’t give you any trouble. He’ll just give you the money, and you’ll both be on your way.”
Brian flinched. This was getting more serious. He’d gone from handling stolen goods to taking dirty money. He couldn’t handle it, and it had only been going on for a matter of days…
“Just in and out, and that’s it?”
Billy nodded his head. “Yeah. A bit like your sex life, huh Brian? A quick in out?”
Brian closed his eyes. “How would you know…?”
“Because I’ve watched you, Brian…”
His blood ran cold at the thought, and he sunk his head into his hands, worshipping the darkness they held.
“I can’t do this”, he whispered, over and over, his head in his hands.
“You can do it and you will”. The tone of Billy’s voice was adamant. Brian was going to do this whether he liked it or not.
“Please, don’t make me do this…”
“Oh Brian, Brian, Brian”, his voice became a whisper as the repeated the name. “You will do this, because you know what will happen if you don’t.”
The young blue eyed man looked up out of the window. He hadn’t looked at his surroundings since the car had stopped. He was kind of afraid of what he might see. It was like a challenge that said ‘don’t look down’. Sooner or later, everybody does.
They were outside what looked like a garage. ‘Harley’s Auto Repair’. It was dark and dinghy looking, the paintwork on the sign looking worn, with chunks of wood missing from it. There was no way of seeing through the pitch black of the interior, so Brian was once again psychologically challenged. He was blind…unable to defend himself should the occasion arise. Not that he would do much good in defending himself anyway…tiny little Brian who had never raised a finger in his life.
“I hate you”, he whispered under his breath, screwing his eyes tightly shut, not allowing anything to pass into his consciousness; not wanting to see a thing.
“Now now, kiddo. You don’t say that. Do you want to know why?”
Brian simply ignored him, keeping his eyes clenched shut. Billy reached inside of his pocket.
“ I said, do you want to know why?” The gun clicked, and Brian’s eyes, as if by magic, shot open. There was no magician’s wand, however, only an illusionists pistol.
“Don’t you fucking ignore me again. Do I make myself clear?”
He nodded his head, knowing full well that if he spoke, a simple ‘Yes’ would take him an hour to complete. He wasn’t used to guns, and he was certainly not used to violence, aside from the incident with Billy that caused all of this. That had hurt…
“Now get in there.”
Brian panicked. “N-no!”
“Fucking get in there or I will shoot you.”
Brian, completely defeated, paused briefly to take in the words, and then moved toward the car door. He felt light-headed, as though any sudden movement would cause his body to go into shock and never recover. Opening the door and exiting the car, he turned to look back. Four pairs of eyes stared intently at him, and he knew that if he tried to run, they would feel no remorse from shooting him in the back. He would have to learn that this was the type of person he was dealing with, now.
Slowly, he made his way through the garage. It looked like any normal auto-repair shop, with oil and tools aligning the walls, spanners and screwdrivers hanging up in various positions. In his lost innocence, Brian wondered whether one of these would make a good defence weapon, should he get himself into trouble. Realising his evil thought, he shook it from his head. He was Brian from Lexington, not Brian from Hell’s Kitchen.
In the far corner of the shop was what appeared to be an office. Perhaps this was where he was meant to go….
He pushed the door open slowly, and crept his way inside.