Great. A Portland back alley. Definitely not the place you wanted to be when someone was stalking you.
Jay couldn't help but smirk to himself, glancing back down the rows of brick buildings. Did they really think they were being subtle? Lamar sure wasn't hiring professionals anymore, unless he had resorted to professional idiots. He shook his head, pulling up his hood and slinging his backpack higher.
It was a drizzly day, typical of Oregon state. There was a flat sheet of gray clouds high in the sky above. His surroundings smelled of garbage – mildewed paper, rotting food, beer that has sat out too long. Smells that were familiar. Homey. Jay was a lanky boy for seventeen, very tall but a little too skinny. Once upon a time, he had been told that he resembled his father, with his cocky features and ice-colored eyes that clashed with the ebony hair. He couldn't be sure. His father had been out of the picture for a long time.
Jay glanced back again. The two men – rugged coats, bulges in particular areas beneath the jackets, tattoos – were nowhere in sight. Yep, obviously top of the barrel. But they hadn't lost him yet. He had heard one of them trip over a dumpster a moment ago. The clanging was loud enough for the whole block to hear.
Still, he knew that he should lose them for good and then head to his hiding place. After all, he hadn't invested in a cell phone yet, so he couldn't call anyone.
Hiking up his backpack, he dashed down a side street and made several turns. His worn-out, holey shoes thudded onto the pavement lightly as he dodged between garbage cans. After several twists and turns, there was no sign of his followers. He slipped through a fence and walked past several doors, then came to to a building that had a hole in the wall. Bricks sat around it, wet and dirty, just as they had been for weeks. It looked as if something had knocked them there, abandoning them to the cold of the street. He wasn't sure what had caused the hole, but he did know that it made the perfect hiding spot. The opening was just big enough for him to squeeze through. Once he was safely inside, he dropped his backpack and looked around.
The inside was bare and dark, but it kept out the wind and the rain. Arranged on the floor was his scant belongings. Some clothing he had taken from a few unconscious drunks. A stack of bills he had been saving his entire life. A dictionary and several history books that he had read dozens of times over – really, they should increase the security at the library. Occasionally, Jay lit a fire. The nights were cold. So he had some wood and matches collected in one corner.
Glancing out the hole again to be sure that he was alone, he began digging through his backpack, pulling out the contents. For years and years he had been able to make an honest living. Maybe not quite honest, but it was indeed work. But now that he'd had a falling out with Lamar, things would get much more difficult. His savings wouldn't hold out forever. He sighed, pulling out the meal he had bought from Taco Time, as well as a box of granola bars, crackers, and several apples. That was life though. It didn't give you crap no matter how hard you tried.
Unwrapping his taco and taking a bite, he dug through his pocket. After a moment, he found what he was looking for.
It was an old, wrinkled family photo. There was his father and mother, proud and straight, dressed in rich attire. He stood between them, grinning, as happy as could be. His family had been destroyed long ago, and he was still unsure of the cause. Oh well. Good things never lasted. But he at least wanted answers one day. After all, he figured he deserved at least some satisfaction out of life.
There was a sudden clatter nearby. Jay jumped, stuffing the picture back in his pocket. It had come from somewhere in the building. For as long as he had been here – a couple weeks – there had been rat problems. But that didn't sound like a rat. It sounded like something bigger.
Swallowing, he put down his taco and picked up a baseball bat that sat near the entrance. Some All Star kid was probably missing this baby, but Jay felt certain that the boy's parents would manage to afford another one. And really, when you left your belongings out in the front yard, it was fair game. His eyes scanned the room around him. It was very dark, but he didn't see anything out of place. However, everything beyond the dark doorways was invisible.
He thought he heard whispers, faint and rushed. They must have found him already. It was time to find a new hiding spot. It took him thirty seconds to have everything stuffed into his backpack, bat still in hand. He glanced over his shoulder toward the dark doorways. There was only silence.
Maybe it had simply been his nerves, but he wasn't going to take the chance.
He got on his stomach and began to wriggle through the hole. As his head came out, it was clear that it wasn't drizzling anymore. The air still felt damp. And something was horribly wrong. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow on the pavement. Before he could pull himself back into safety, hands gripped his jacket, dragging him free. In the same instant, what felt like a leather belt constricted around his throat. His breath was cut off. He thrashed, gagging, trying to struggle free. His vision was a blur. He couldn't see his attackers, but he knew it must have been the “amateurs”. Every part of him pounded with adrenaline and the need for air. He pried at the belt.
His mind raced. He knew he wouldn't be conscious for much longer unless he did something. Chuckles and taunts from the men filled his ears. Twisting, he swung his knee at the first blurred figure he found. There was a cry of pain. Jay flung his elbow back, jabbing over and over. Finally, he felt the belt loosen, and he slipped free, dropping to his knees.
Above, there were sounds of swearing. Jay hauled air into his lungs, trying to crawl away. A boot slammed into his ribs. Pain shot through him like a white hot knife. He cried out through his teeth.
“Not so tough now, are you?” a man said, his fingers knotting in Jay's hair. The man wrenched him to his feet.
Jay thrashed, slamming his fists against anything he could reach. One of his attackers spewed colorful obscenities. All at once, hands locked onto his arms, forcing them behind his back. Gasping, Jay stared at the blue-eyed, slick man. The man glared at him.
“Finally caught up?” Jay wheezed. “I thought that Lamar would have done away with me long before. He must be losing his touch.”
The man backhanded him, then slammed his fist into his diaphragm. Jay doubled over, blood trickling from his lip. “Stupid bastard. Do you think this is a game?”
“Everything's a game.”
A smirk spread across his face. “Now, are you going to come quietly, or will we have to do this the hard way?”
Jay laughed. “Doesn't look like I've got much of a choice now. I'll take the easy way.”
When he felt the man's grip loosen, he gave a sudden jerk, slipping free and leaving his jacket still clenched in the other man's hands. After a brief moment of shock and confusion, the men converged on him, but he had already dove at his hole and grabbed the discarded baseball bat. Whirling around, he struck the first man on the shoulder. It was a rather glancing blow, but it still put him on the ground, howling. The other man dodged and grabbed onto the bat, trying to twist it away from him. Jay beat on him with his free fist. “GET OFF!”
He realized that he had forgotten about the other man when a fist slammed his face. The bat slid out of his grip. Anger coursed through him. He swung wildly but received another crushing blow to his stomach. Red spots speckled his vision. His vision was swimming as he staggered, trying to stay upright. Fingers curled around the collar of his T-shirt, and one of the men punched him twice, a blow for each eye. Jay recoiled, hands clapped over his face. His eyes were instantly beginning to swell.
Half-blind, he stumbled back against the wall. Something swished through the air. He lunged to the side in an attempt to dodge. The baseball bat narrowly missed his head, slamming down on his collar. There was a sickening crack, and he screamed through his teeth, dropping to his knees.
“You want to fight, boy? You think we're playing?” the blue-eyed man hissed, his chest heaving, the bat in hand.
A blow to Jay's groin put him on the ground, moaning in pain. His vision swirled. Surely his collarbone was broken; the rest of him would be no better soon enough. Spitting out a gob of blood, he grunted, “Takes a big man...to attack a helpless teenager...”
“Ha! When did you begin referring to yourself as helpless?”
One of the men said something, and a knee pressed down into Jay's back. Pain shot through him at the pressure put on his collar. He struggled weakly, wincing. Through his blurry vision – he was now looking through the slits that remained of his eyes – he saw the shoes of one of the men. Hands grasped his wrists together. There was a sudden tearing sound, and something began wrapping around them. After all this time, he hadn't thought that it would end this way. Lamar was an expert in his field, but still. Jay thought he was better than this.
He rasped, “Shit,” trying to jerk his arms away.
The man pressed down harder on his back, and black clouds drifted across his vision.