Chapter 28

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Sophie

July 20th, 2017

1:13 PM

“Do you know anything about this boy? His name was Pip,” Sophie held the photo to the twenty-fourth bitter face she had seen today. And this m*********** was ugly, a trophy amongst the gallery of ugly people she had been forced to interact with.

Detectives have it hard.

He nodded his head, Sophie bit her lips and made the scorn clear with a groan. Useless.

The ugly-face walked away, and she wandered, next to one of those toy metal unicorns. The ones you put a quarter in so they could endure the weight of a small child and rock away. Well, it was supposed to be a unicorn. But it looked like someone had sanded down all feature and paint, a kind of deformed, burn-victim of a unicorn. She sat on it. The rusted coil underneath whined. She put her feet up the quarter-taking mechanism (a small black square box) and rested her eyes. The heavy bustle of laundry machines churned behind her.

All day she had to tolerate their faces. Mostly homeless, especially at this hour. And of those homeless, mostly the drunks. Because they would be only ones to stop and listen.

‘Why the f*** should I care about this kid?’ She remembered an old man saying such. A homeless (though not drunk!), who she had found throwing out lottery tickets like breadcrumbs at the park. Just scratching them out, groaning, and ripping them to small shreds. She wished he’d been the last of the assholes. But this homeless ended up being the first, of a long, long, long line of dispirited assholes. She didn’t even mind calling them assholes anymore, though she felt guilty at first (considering most of them were poverty-disease-struck people), but over time, it seemed even her soul was corroded.

“Hey, who’s there?” She saw the flashlight some paces off from her. It was a light bright enough, a voice commanding enough, to have her fall on her ass.

The unicorn waved back and forth. She ran out and towards the street.

She walked with her map out and paid so much attention to it that she didn’t even notice the empty bottles she kicked around. Artisan Lager, one of them read. It smelled of urine. And it rolled down the corners of the block, it led her through the streets and the growing noise and the bustling groups of people.

There was a buzz in the air from the red fluorescent lights. Then the air moved from bass from the nightclubs opening up all around her. She could feel it on her skin, vibrations in the form of tingling. Her hair rose from the back of her neck. And she wasn’t the only one experiencing this, the people with their tight pants and low tops seemed to feel it too. They made small dance and smaller talk.

As she progressed through the street and through the night, she began hearing the noise of smacking lips. In the alleys, on the street, hell, she even started to hear it in the gutters. The next sensation to attack her was the smell of nicotine. Her nostrils flared up. Then alcohol, the nose-hair burning substance. And to relax her from the sudden barrage of sensory information, marijuana, that for some reason (she didn’t understand) made her calm.

Then there was vomit.

It was distinct. Bile. And that’s about the time she realized she had made it to The Devil’s Tail. This is where the scum is. She looked at the club, one of the broken windows had a grey tarp over it. The air pushed it in and out. Graffiti littered the brick, cheap lights flickered on and off. She felt her confidence retreat. Weird people with weird hair and even weirder tattoos came in and out. Could gel do that? She looked to the men. Where do their tattoos end? One of them had a Baphomet on their neck. She shuddered.

These were the last people she wanted to interview, but they sure as hell seemed like the guilty she was looking for. And she hoped, for a brief moment, that reason would overrule her sense of justice and that she would run back home to her mom.

She squirmed and contemplated it, walked back and forth. She raised her shoulders and made herself small and started, but only started to walk back. Within minutes she was back.

She just couldn’t let it go. All she wanted was an answer, she’d settle for a hint of Pip. Sophie took a breath, fixed her over-alls and dragged her blond hair into a ponytail. She took a step into the alleyway, leading to a short line and a bouncer idling below a flickering light. She aimed for his direction but stopped. Someone passed her, he dragged a breeze with him. She looked up. He was studded head to toe, a robot with too many buttons, glistening brighter than the stars.

He showed her teeth and unhinged his jaw for a laugh.

She stepped on the laughing man’s shoes and dug her heel deep in his toe.

“What are you laughing at?” She asked. He held his foot and the people around her, hanging by the walls of the alleys, began to stare.

She clutched her pocket and traced the outline of her knife with her fingers. People came off the walls to her direction, she ran deeper into the alley. Her hands were to her pockets, her eyes dashed along the shadows of the walls and the irking sound of people dragging their feet. She turned back to catch the fleeting feeling, the stalking sound of people. Nothing. Her hands trembled, when she caught them, she punched herself. When she heard the loud creak of a straggling cart, she ran.

She wasn’t looking. Something struck her. Her body fell, a crash of metal resounded out.

“The f*** is your problem?” A man yelled.

“I’m…” She rubbed her head and without even looking, asked, as if that was the only thing she could think of at the moment, “I’m looking for someone.”

“Oh?” Someone asked. The same person, she presumed, who put a hand on her shoulder. It gave her chills, she tried to run.

“Where are you going?” This same person asked. He clenched his hand harder on her shoulder.

She wanted to amputate it off her. It felt like a parasite on her that leeched from her all strength. An infection of the touch, a bite from Medusa’s head, petrifying her. Sophie turned her face, slow and careful. He wore no tattoos and no studs and was not particularly strange, and that frightened her the most. The black shirt, the shaved face, and teeth that showed through the darkness. His hat was thin and crooked like a birds beak. She felt like a worm.

“You’re looking for someone I hear? Maybe I can help you. Why don’t you give me a shot?” His beady eyes looked into her, black and empty, as if a dying man was staring at her. His breath too, was putrid. She could see the toxic stench as fumes, watched them go up like a spirit leaving a body. She moved her hand, and the photo of Pip escaped her arm. It fell. The man picked it up, and Sophie stared at him. She hoped the bouncer would help now, perhaps throw this man out into puddles, far away from any of them. But he was not there, only the door and the swishing sound it made as it went in and out.

The man tilted his head and blew out his nose. Sophie wanted to leave, but could not. She knew his kind, knew what running would cost her if she didn’t make. She put her hand in her pocket, she looked for her knife.

“I’m trying to find out what happened to him. Do you have any ideas?” Her heart beat fast in her chest. Louder than the music inside the club, louder than the far-off laughs of fools and drunks.

“I might,” he said. “I might’ve seen him somewhere, sometime. Maybe you can help jog my memory.” His breath was hot, wet.

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“You’ve either seen him or not,” She breathed quickly, in arrhythmic pace.

“Were you his friend?” He smiled. “Girlfriend, maybe?”

She felt her blood freeze. The man threw the photo away. His palms extended out for her.

Sophie clutched her knife, she varnished the small blade.

“Get away!” She swung. Horizontal, across from her. It cut him, and he took a step back to hold the palm of his hand. The wounded dog.

“You f****** bitch.” He sucked on his wound. He was very much a stray dog with his famished frame. The small wrists and necks. He was a sick man, she figured, of mind and body. She held the knife to her side as she faced him. They looked like two crabs locked in dance, with wide hands away from their bodies. She lunged. He was cut, after all, he screamed it as much. Like a howl. She looked around for help, but there was no one conscious, not the frenzied men and women inside, not the drunks outside sleeping on bags of trash. Alone. Alone she fought. Stabbing, slicing, the small feral cat against the hound. She cut him and tattooed his arm with scars. But he pressed. Angrier each time he bled a new way. He backed her to a wall, and she screamed when she felt it against her back. He grabbed her at last, and she could feel his hand bleeding onto her own.

“You’re like everyone else, ain’t ya?” His breath, it smelled of that nose-hair burning stuff. “Everyone thinks I’m funny.” He grabbed her neck. His hands were rough, bleeding, full of contours from his ripped skin. He brought her in closer. “Come on, fight like you did before. Fight like your life depends on it, I like that s***,”

She swung. He took it to the chin, but did not flinch. Rather, smiled. Her heart sunk. But she kept going, kept trying. Laughing. Swinging. Squeezing tighter. She felt her last breath leave her body, and she stopped trying to swing by then. She just clenched his fingers, just tried to pry herself free.

A thunk.

He fell face first into the floor.

Face first into the mud and asphalt, nearly dragging the girl with him. He shook violently, his eyes rolled up his skill. A police officer with his flashlight lit her face.

“Are you alright?” He asked. He dragged her out of the alley and towards the street where he screamed at the club goers. “Nothing to see. You hear me?”

Another officer went to the direction they walked from with cuffs. She read the name tag of the man guiding her, Officer Palas.

“He’s yours,” Palas said.

And then it was like procedure. Stuffing her in a car, putting a blanket over her. Asking, over and over, are you alright? Are you hurt? So on, so forth. Inspecting her (as well as an officer could) then finally, smiling and assuring her that it would – quote on quote – never happen again.

As if little girls would never get hurt again, in all of man’s history to come.

As if.

He took her to the car and sat her and immediately began typing on his computer screen. He wrote some things, heard the radio and talked into his shoulder.

“I had a call in about a girl causing trouble at the Laundromat, then I got another from an anonymous tip. Found her here, Devil’s tail. Yeah. Yeah. She was in a fight.” He smiled. “Yeah, she held her own. Yeah.”

He turned to her.

“Glad we found you when we did,”

“Me too.” She looked down and her depressed arms.

“You know what freaks are running around town at this hour. Why would you think of running around like you did?”

“I’m looking for a friend. I think…or just trying to learn something, I guess,” She presented the photo in her hands. He grabbed it. His eyes widened.

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“Oh,”

Were his hands trembling? Probably not, right?

He started the car. “You’re the one who started a fight with the cops before, right?”

“Yeah,”

“I’ve seen him in reports, which makes you the stubborn girl. Stubborn like a mule,” he said. “That’s what they nicknamed you after your little show. The Mule. I hope that’s not embarrassing, aha.”

“I’m not ashamed. I was just trying to figure out what happened to my friend.” She lied. She felt her cheeks go red. He laughed then saw her and stilted his humor with a cough. They went off and followed the golden-yellow lines.

“You should really let the police handle investigations.” He started off with his arm dangling out the window. “Some answers aren’t worth finding out. The truth hurts, you know?”

“I can handle it.” She said. Her eyes narrowed. He had a tattoo, on his shoulder? On his bicep? What was it?

“It’s rare to see someone as young as you act like you do,” He smiled. “And that’s a good thing. It’s good to be tough and to be stubborn. Even if it gets you into trouble.”

He drove down to a red light. It reflected off his eyes, the red. The air was cold. As cold as his smile and calm veneer.

“But boy is it stupid huh? To do something like that in public,” He said.

She could not move. She was held by fear as she looked at him. She couldn’t quite put it, the strangeness of the man. The tattoo, the glean in his eyes, the way he reacted at Pips picture.

“Where are you driving?” She asked. “Don’t you need to know where I live?”

He turned and smiled. Chuckled, but said nothing.

Her breathing stopped, and she felt her pocket for where the knife should have been. F***. He confiscated it, didn’t he?

“Homesick all of a sudden?” The windows rolled up, he threw down shoulder radio onto the back seat. “I thought you wanted to know what happened to your friend, didn’t you?”

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