Another chapter to my work in progress novel, Ride for Life. Here we meet another soon to be important character: Nacho. Catch up by starting with chapter 1 here.
John did not look like John. His dark hair stuck out in all directions. His face dripped water. Though the dirt on his face appeared scrubbed away, his skin seemed no lighter. There were patches of soap bubbles strewn around splotches of chest hair. He stood chuckling at Kidd with one hand holding together the only thing between him and the rest of the apartment: a now dirt-infested towel. Kidd assumed correctly that at least half of John’s grit and grime still remained on him when he dried off. Or what could be considered drying off. The amount of water that cascaded off him onto the linoleum flooring made him wonder if John himself were not a shower head raining down in the room’s center.
“Dude,” Kidd yelled. “You’re dripping everywhere.”
He shooed him back into the bathroom with exaggerated waving of his arms. John giggled a wet giggle. He ran his hands through his soaked hair and flicked it at Kidd. Laughter trailed away as he turned and padded off back into the bathroom and slammed the door. John’s laughs rose several octaves, obviously proud of his little prank.
Like being sprayed by a stray dog in an alleyway after a summer storm, Kidd’s face pursed as he thought of what probably still lived in his client’s hair when he sprayed him in the face. With his sleeves he tried to wipe it away.
It hit Kidd then that Birmingham was cleaner than before. If he put on the same clothes he wore earlier, all would be for naught. He hoped he would find even ill-fitting clothes in the three drawer dresser, and he did.
Obviously weathered, they were at least clean. He fisted a shirt, underwear, and a pair of jeans he could already tell were too wide at the hip for John. He knocked on the bathroom door.
“Ay,” Birmingham barked from beyond the door.
“I have new clothes for you.”
He heard nothing from the other side. He knocked again, louder.
“Wha,” Birmingham squealed. This time the door swung open. Standing in the outfit he was born in, Birmingham looked irritated. Kidd squeezed his eyes shut and thrust the pile of clothes at him.
Birmingham cackled. He coughed on something soggy. Kidd felt the tearing away of the fabric in his hands right before the door slammed. Just as he opened his eyes, he heard the distinct squeak of feet slipping on wet floor.
John’s laughing stopped, but there was not thud. Kidd heard a hushed chortle. He chuckled to himself as he turned back to the bedroom to seek out a belt or something comparable to keep John’s pants afloat. Nothing that he could fashion into anything resembling a belt was in that apartment, except for his own. But it was a brand new belt, purchased at the same time as his new slacks.
Suddenly, the dresser drawer he thumbed through slammed shut. He had just enough time to pull his fingers out before losing them. At first he did not budge sans the removal of his hands from the now closed drawer. History taught him to keep his fear bottled up, or in his case, folded and neatly tucked in a pocket for some future use.
A sharp jab to his side made him sneer, but his face was turned away, so he allowed it to bubble up.
“Ay,” a familiar grunt sounded.
He turned, forcing a smile.
“Ayn,” John grunted again, pointing to his chest. Kidd interpreted his client’s comment to be a playful retort that what he was doing was violating his privacy. That dresser drawer now belonged to Birmingham. They were both right. Kidd was excited that Birmingham understood the gravity of the apartment and what it meant to Birmingham.
The flannel shirt he found for Birmingham was four sizes too large. Its sleeves splayed out beyond his bony fingers. A breast pocket hung on by mere threads. His pants, too, were clearly too big for his body type, but they moved freely, unlike the caked-on mess he wore earlier. With his free hand not pointing at his clean chest he held up his jeans. For the first time, Kidd took in the sight of the man he was put in charge of beyond superficial appearances.
Birmingham stared back at Kidd with his emerald glazed gaze. Surrounding his red and green eyes were bushes of eyebrows shooting in all directions similar to his drying hair. Drooping from his eyes began his lush beard. It held streaks of gray visible without the grime of months of disrepair. Dug into its center laid a wrinkled mouth that bobbed as he chewed at what was probably nothing but years of habit.
Standing face to face, Kidd noticed Birmingham leaned slightly to his left, swayed somewhat. His toes wiggled like worms after a spring rain. They watched each other for a time. Neither spoke.
When Kidd’s emotional side pinched him from his pocket, he cocked his head in wonder. Birmingham followed suit. Kidd smiled. John stopped chewing long enough to respond in kind. Then he continued on his merry, chewing way. The entire time, Kidd was careful not to look directly into his client’s eyes. Whatever he recognized in them, he was in no mood to engage. The day had been long enough thus far.
John’s stomach growled.
“Hungry,” he asked, rubbing his flat stomach for reference.
Birmingham brought the hand not pointed at his chest up in a fist and shook it as if it were a puppet nodding, “Yeah.” With that, his pants dropped to his bent knees. Kidd brought his right hand up to eye level and pointed downward.
He pulled his new jeans up in two giant fists well beyond his waist. His eyes wide open and fearful, his lips pursed and quivering, like a child who just dropped his mother’s favorite knick knack.
Kidd rubbed his hands together a few times trying to determine what to do. Biting the inside of his lip, he pulled his new belt off. John grabbed at it with both hands, sending his jeans south again. Kidd could not help but snicker at Birmingham’s forgetful, and excited nature.
“Put it on, Mr. Birmingham. Then meet me in the kitchen.” As he passed his client headed for the kitchen, “Hopefully there’s something edible in here.”
With John by his side, he made effort not to look through the pantry with the trapdoor. There was no reason to share that knowledge with John. Not yet, anyway. Besides, he already knew the only food in the apartment was in one cupboard. He grabbed a box of pasta, filled a pan with water, and set it to boil.
The next few minutes passed in absolute silence.
John and Kidd stared at each other. He was unclear if John understood what they were waiting for, or if he thought anything at all. John just chewed at his mostly toothless gums. His smile faded in and out like waves on a shoreline.
When his emerald eyes grabbed Kidd again, Kidd’s thoughts floated back to his imaginary version of his client on a motorcycle. The same dark Harley. He still wore the black helmet and silver visor making it impossible to peer into. Kidd kept trying to get the imaginary Birmingham to stop the bike long enough for him to pull off his helmet. But it never happened. Somehow, he knew John was smiling behind that visor. Smiling, and knowing, knowing Kidd’s thoughts, his wishes, and his dreams. It was a strange, but calming, feeling.
John broke their connection first as he struggled with the box of pasta. Several pieces fell to the floor as the box tore open, but he managed to dump the rest into the boiling water.
Maybe he does know how to do some things.
Kidd waited until the pasta was drained and some was placed in a bowl. He dusted off the few ants crawling along the top of the sugar container and sprinkled a small amount of it into the bowl of steaming pasta.
“It’s not much, sir,” he admitted. “But it’s all you got today.”
John licked his flopping lips like he sat at his first Thanksgiving meal.
“Hey,” Kidd said before remembering he could not be heard. He knocked on the table. Looking up at him, Kidd mimed something he hoped told Birmingham he was leaving for the night and that he would return at daybreak. Without acknowledgement, John dove into his sugary pasta.
Kidd smiled and left.
The peacock woman had already left. Nobody else sat around against the walls of The Club. Only his own feet made noise. The white walls leading out into the night seemed to have darkened. All the chairs previously occupied by bored and near comatose people sat empty and just as bored and comatose.
The double door entrance hissed open as he walked up to them.
Kidd stopped dead. His heart punched his chest but forced himself not to budge. His emotional side fluttered in his pocket. Without moving his body, his eyes searched the periphery. Only twilight and the company car was visible. The voice was one he had not yet heard.
“Did I scare you?”
Pulling from the voice the sound of compassion, a sound not mimicked by anyone seeking to do harm, his muscles melted. He turned to find a tall stocky man wearing all gray.
“This place will turn you inside out and upside down if you let it. It’ll tear you in two from the very depths of your soul.”
Kidd could not hold back his curiosity from the man’s mention of the tearing of the soul. He thought only he had ever experienced such a thing.
“You’re new around here aren’t you?”
“Can always tell the new ones from the veterans.”
Too curious not to speak, he managed a whisper, “How so?”
“You were here way past quitting time.”
He checked his phone to find the stocky man accurate, the time was well past the end of the business day. He swallowed something hard and looked back to the stocky man in gray.
“That, and I’ve never seen you here before.”
The man smiled at his own joke.
All the emotions Kidd taught himself to fake, smiling remained out of reach. It was not for trying. It just hurt his chest to do it. Each time he tried, he felt it flicker. So he rarely attempted it. Tonight was no exception.
“Must have really ruffled your feathers there, Son. Didn’t mean to.”
Realizing he bruised the man’s feelings, he produced his half-hearted smirk.
“Sir,” the man’s voice retained its light air. “There’ll be none of that ‘Sir’ garbage with me. Around here, they call me Nacho.”
He let down his guard long enough to show confusion to the man known as Nacho.
“Hey, Son. I don’t know. It’s just what they call me. Called me that for a dozen years running now. Frankly, I’ve come to see it as a sign of affection. What’s yours?”
Trepidation caught in his throat, “Well, lately it’s been Kidd. So, I guess that’s it.”
Nacho chuckled a hearty throated chuckle that echoed in the otherwise quiet night.
“Someone must really like you then, Kidd. The names don’t usually come till after, well, after you’ve made a name for yourself. Consider yourself lucky.”
“Nacho. Please, just Nacho. You make me feel old.”
“Sorry, si…I mean Nacho.”
“‘At’a boy, Kidd. You’ll fit in just fine. I better get back to work now. Got lots of bathrooms to clean before morning. Can I expect to see you at this hour often?”
Kidd peered at his phone again for the time. It was nearly eight in the evening.
“God, I hope not.”
Nacho produced another hearty chuckle and entered through the double door entrance.
Tonight was the first time he saw his apartment in the dark. Bar-laden windows and a door flimsy enough to blow away in the wind were it not bolted to the brick wall. In the near distance he heard screaming and what he hoped was not a gunshot.
Locking the deadbolt behind him, the screams and gunshots faded into squeaking bed frames from overhead. The dangling light fixture just above him swung in rhythm with the wet slapping and wrenching bed frame against the plywood walls of the apartment above him. He rubbed his eyes. Then looked around his one room studio.
What the hell have I done? I left that crap town for this? Mother was right. I’m an absolute failure. I only think of myself.
Shadows swayed to the beat of the upstairs neighbors’ sex romp and the dangling light fixture. The kitchen faucet shadow snaked along the broken tile wall mount. A beaten microwave sat on the only counter space allotted this tiny closet. Moaning emanating from above transitioned into a female obviously near climax and sharing frequent updates with the rest of the neighborhood.
Futility overwhelmed him and he fell back into the front door doubling as a south-facing wall. When it bowed and cracked, however, he used what little energy he had left to drop to the floor without its assistance. He pulled off his shirt, balled it, and shoved it under his heavy skull. In his familiar fetal position, he drifted off.