A Loyal's Turning Point

Brooke Tracy Smith

           It was a cold night. Heavy smog made the air taste of copper and it stained Charlie’s nostrils – he snorted lightly as he ran. The rhythmic thudding of his feet upon the sidewalk went in perfect tandem with puffs of hot air that blasted out from his maw that billowed up and away into the night air.

Of course you forgot again…
God dammit, Charlie.

~You better know who this is from.

Even with the bar in sight, he still couldn't help but wince. With all the recent events with his family, his own brother hassling him for what seemed like higher and higher rent left more and more exhaustion on his shoulders. Yet even then, this was the third time, for the same reasons he managed to forget. At his own bar. She had every right to be angry with him, but hopefully she would be there waiting for him like all the times before.
     His feet flew up the short steps to the door, his hand jammed the key into the lock, twisting it and shoving the door inward. Fighting to loosen the key from the door, the loud grinding from the key echoing into the empty room, he began to ramble. “Look, Shae, I'm so sorry – ” Facing towards the counter he was met with darkness, her slim hourglass figure nowhere to be seen. Slowly he let his keys collapse back into his pocket as he took a few good strides. The door lightly clicked shut behind him. Luckily the place had some good windows on the east side of the building that let in a bit of light and bathed his pride and prison in soft cream, though at that moment the dust tumbling through the air gave it a gray hue.
     Everything still smelled the same; the musty old place had been here for decades, although times had been better at its founding. Now it was just like every other watering hole in the ghetto. Even with keeping the place as mold-free as possible and offering higher grade booze to his customers, the rent was tearing any kind of face-lift funds right out of his desperate fingers. The walls had cracks running along them like spider webs, and though Charlie's feet danced along it, the hardwood floor was uneven and dipped in odd places. But he’d been practically raised here, and the bar brought him a sense of home, even with the rats chittering in the walls.
     His eyes scanned over the worn down tables and the chipped chair legs that were thrown up into the air haphazardly from their sloppy stacking. He neared the counter and in the glint from a street light saw a crystal glass shimmering on the far end. He could feel his back begin to twitch, a twitch that ran down into his finger tips as he peered into the glass. Nothing but cold rock remained. Huffing deeply, he felt the tension slip from his neck as he pressed his side into the counter, ran a calloused hand up and through his hair, and found himself looking back to the front door.
     Not being one for patience, he lightly walked forward, his side hugging the smooth edge of the wood and sliding right into the landing behind the rugged bar top. He noted that everything was all squared away, just the way Shae liked it, though Saul would dishevel it all by dinner time. A smirk tugged at his lips as he recalled meeting the bartender for the first time. They’d just been kids back then. He’d been ousted out of his birth right for murdering his mother during his birth, and his elder brother was now the loyal servant to the mob, while Saul had been given up for collateral to a rival gang that managed to get snared in deep debt with his father.
     He pulled out a bottle of whiskey, twirled the aged bottle in his hand and, not wanting to dirty a glass, snatched the one waiting for him on the counter. Playfully swinging the glass in front of his nose to get a good whiff of Shae's feminine concoction of orange juice and vodka, his thumb popped the cork off the top of his favorite malt. He almost dashed in his whiskey without a thought, yet his arm froze from a lingering harshness emitted by the glass. The scent was much too pungent for a simple screwdriver.
     Scrunching up his nose, he tipped the glass back and took a chunk of ice into his mouth. As he crushed the ice into shattered splinters, his eyebrows began to narrow in confusion. This was pure hard vodka. Shae was too much of a proper bitch for this. But Saul had already closed everything up, so the ice should have melted by the time Charlie arrived. It left a squirming feeling deep within his gut. In all of his life running this bar since he was a preteen, he would find a forgotten glass on the counter, long abandoned, but never fresh like this one.
     Gingerly setting the glass back down, he glanced around, swished the sharp liquid around his tongue, wiped his hands on his stained shirt, and let out a muffled, “Saul!”
     He took a few steps back and let his spine open up the kitchen area, spinning lightly on his heel as the cool melted froth slid down his throat. “C'mon, I know you're here, what the fuck?”
     Glancing around the small, white, tiled room, he was only met with off white bins and an empty stainless steal tub that had the nozzles broken off of it. Turning to his left, he saw the cellar door and the small fold-out table they all would play a good game of poker on after closing. Saul had a good poker face, though Charlie always managed to have all the luck. Sindy would have his ass if he knew they dipped into the booze, though it wasn't like he was around long enough to pilfer the coffers and hobble off like the pompous pig he was. Owner or not, he had very little interest in the scheme of things. It left both the boys to their own devices, resulting in many scars and hard lessons.
     His hands found themselves back up into his hair nervously as his body fully faced the cellar door. He’d always hated it down there, even as a child. As if it was full of the worlds dark secrets, thrown and locked away in the crumblings of what used to be a fortuitous city. It was as if the darkness pulled him forward by his very hands, and before realizing it, he swung the door open and gazed down at the dry, rotten wooden steps below.
     “Saul..? Shae..?” Surprised to hear his voice waver, he quickly cleared it and stepped down onto the board and was met with a creak from the wood. “You better not be pranking me. This isn't cool.”
An odd smell hit Charlie as he continued down; apart from the heavy cotton taste of dust, it smelt like fear. Cold, dank, and tumor-ridden. The shadows themselves were heavy. Lightly stepping down onto the compacted dirt floor, his eyes adjusted ahead of him, seeing a sprawled figure. A soft snarl started to curl up his lips; he could feel his muscles tense up under his shirt and he took a hesitant step forward, his feet scuffing up the dirt noisily.
     “Hello..?” A growl wormed its way up, gripping his throat.
The shadows were draped over the lump on the floor, though the closer he drew the stronger the odd scent became. Soon the taste of copper stained his tongue and nostrils, and he suddenly realized who it was. He yelped out her name and pushed off his feet to close the gap. A harsh gust of wind whipped the back of his head, and as he grabbed Shae's shoulders, he clenched his teeth tightly together, baring them like an animal while twisting his head back.
     Standing, silhouetted against the soft dulled light, was a slender figure, its eyes ablaze with treacherous sickness. Clouds of dust swirled around the figure as he grasped onto a large metal pipe, the light glinting off of it just perfectly to show odd dark and light patches. No rust.
A deep rumbling echoed off of the cement walls: “Charlie…”

           “S-saul..!?” He could feel his fingers digging into the soft white skin of the girl beside him, his eyes widened and skin crawling. He almost hit me…
Light continued to trail and spark off of the metal pipe as Saul's arms relaxed at his sides, the top of the beam almost resting down onto the floor. His chest was heaving lightly, but his voice was as smooth as ever. As it had always been.
           “What are you doing here, Charlie?”
           “W-what in the hell is going on, Saul!? What's happened to Shae? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” His barking was more of an order, his body straining to comprehend what was happening. He couldn't take his eyes off of Saul, he couldn't check on Shae, he could hardly breathe.
           “You're no idiot, Charlie.”
           Watching his friends lips move in slow motion, Charlie's heart pounded frantically against his ribcage.
           “You see,” he lifted up the pipe and spun it slowly in his hand, “we all have to mark our place here. To have freedom. We aren't all born the mobsters bastard son--”
           “What does this have to do with her?! Were you jealous?! Jesus Christ, Saul--”, a swift kick to the face sent his jaw clacking loudly shut. A sharp pain and hot liquid filling his mouth as his teeth cut down into his tongue. He slowly brought his head back up again as the metallic tasting liquid dribbled out over his lips and pattered down onto the thirsty earth beneath him.
I wasn't done,” murmured Saul. Sucking in a hissing breath, Saul grinned, his lesson obviously sinking in as the silence graced the small dirt hovel, though he still paused, taking in the situation as his facial muscles twitched and twisted. “I'm a hitman, Charlie.” He held out his arms as the words pushed from his lungs, admission finally washing over the room. “Me. A poor little prick who was given away by Mommy for collateral so Daddy could buy his new BMW.”
           Charlie sputtered as blood trickled at the back of his gums, and he spit a good bursting gush out onto the floor. As a few coughs racked his body, he tried to wipe the gunk from his lips with his forearm but only ended up smearing it all over himself, painting his creamed skin red. Saul waited patiently, like a gentlemen.
           “I had to make myself useful, Charlie-boy. They liked my poker face, you even commented on that before. You remember, don't you? I'm sure you do.” A soft chuckle graced his face. “Bitches don't even know what was going on until my thumbs crush through their Adam’s apple. They're so fragile.”
           Saul began to pace slowly in front of the crumpled mess before him. Charlie's stare remained cold, vacant. He was a mouse in this cat's claws. This wasn't his friend – the mobster craze had hazed his mind and turned him into a demon. Why Saul, not you too…
“It's been awhile, Charlie. I just couldn't pass it up.” Saul's voice began to tremble to a whimper, like a toddler being refused a sweet. “She smelled so fresh, and those eyes… they kept staring at me, into me. All of these years, and I finally gave in. She was enjoying it so much.”
           “You're insane.”
           “You used to always have all the luck. The bitches. The protection.” The pipe was now pointed to him, hovering inches from Charlie’s jaw as a hoarse cackle strained out of the mad dog’s lungs.
           “P-protection?” More hacking clogged his words until it was shot back out onto the floor, yet he still struggled to continue. “Saul, what are you talking about?”
           “NOBODY could kill you. Not even Daddy could curb stomp your fucking little head into the dirt and be rid of you. You looked too much like her, apparently.” Charlie was agape. Saul's eyes were flicking about, pupils dilated, and a light streak of blood dripped from his friend’s nostrils. The crack had only been a catalyst, although who know how long he’d been licking into his own product. “You. You always had the luck!”
Charlie didn't even have time to react; the metal pipe came down onto his back with a loud reverberating thud. A choking gasp shocked his insides and sent him to his hands, his body leaning over the petite waitress as mucusy red streams poured from his lips and nose. His eyes stung harshly from the hot biting liquid now coating his sinuses. He's going to kill me. A flash of rage began to intermix with his pain, yet his body remained frozen, his joints iced over by fear and confusion.

           “You would have found out my little secret sooner or later. Sure we grew up together, Charles. But we was just kids. Now we are men. The ghetto, the mob… they don't appreciate us. But they need you; they don't need me. I gave them a reason to need me. And it's been a good run until now.”
           Charlie slowly turned his crumpled form towards Saul while staying low to the floor. A hand smearing more of the red ooze into his trembling skin, he managed to block out the blood and focused in on the pipe; he had to survive. It was always about survival. Against his blood brother, against his Father, and now even against his partner in crime. Tears began to slip down his cheeks; he’d never thought his best friend would succumb to the evils of the world.
           “Now I have to kill you.”