Numb Like Her

Chapter 25

Kid Blink bounded up the stairs, trying to keep himself awake and alert. When he reached the top of the stairs he could hear the boys' laughter and smell the cigarette smoke. He opened the steel door and stepped onto the roof. The sky was light blue and purple, a vast painting covering the city, and no one was in the streets. It was near four a.m.

The fresh air was cool on Kid Blink's face and the boys shouted out to him, inviting him to join them at the roof's ledge. Snoddy held a cigarette out to him. Kid Blink took it, smiling half heartedly as he sat next to Temper, the Brook that had searched with him from before.

There were both Manhattans and Brooks on the roof, scattered out to keep a watch on every side of the theater. They relaxed enough to make each other laugh, to share stories. The groups were fascinated with each other, wanted to learn about the other side of the city, to see if it was the same. They had more in common than they had realized. Manhattans had always seen the Brooklyns as the scum across the river but they were the same age, had the same experiences or close to them, and wanted the same thing: to leave the city.

The Manhattan's enjoyed the Brooks' company. And both parties felt more secure: there was definitely strength in numbers.

"So, how's Kelly holdin' up?" Temper asked as he exhaled a cloud of smoke.

Kid Blink shrugged his shoulders, "Jack's always holdin' up. I try to talk to 'im but he gets mad when I try to. I mean, I'm his best friend…I always know what to do to help 'im. But now…I don't know how."

"To get his girl back," said one of the Brooks, Kit. "'s the only way ta help him. 's nothin' worse than havin' someone ya care about in trouble. Once she's here, he'll be fine."

"But what about her?" said Boots. "Jack's not the one I'm worried about."

And right then, they heard the clip of hooves coming from the street a block away. The boys jumped to attention and looked over the ledge, seeing the black coach and David in the driver's seat.

"They're back," Kid Blink said in a rush, scrambling to run to the door. Most of the boys on the roof followed him, their boots thundering down the wooden stairs, down the hall, and down to the backstage.

The boys in the backstage looked up when they saw Kid Blink and the ones from the roof. Jack looked at Kid Blink as if he was coming out of a daze.

"Jack," Kid Blink shouted, going to his friend and gripping his shoulders. His good eye glinted with excitement, "They're back."

Jack's eyes sparked and he stood quickly.

Next to him, Spot clapped Jack's back, "Almost there, Kelly."

One of the boys opened the door to the alley and the boys immediately cleared the way for David who rushed inside, looking around frantically. When he spotted Jack, he went to him, holding up his palms.

"Get back, guys," David said quickly, his face sweaty and his eyes frenzied. David held out his arms, trying to push the boys away from the door.

"'s goin' on?!" Spot yelled angrily, trying to see past David to the door.

"Let me pass, Dave," Jack said evenly. He was not in the mood to be shuffled away.

"Jack, just trust me alright?" David said, his voice strained. "Just go-"

"Tha hell I'm goin' anywhere!" Jack barked in David's face.

Jack and David spoke over each other, trying to overpower the other. But the reality was that Jack was terrified of the look in David's eyes. David was desperate to get the boys away from the door. But why?

"I wanna know what's goin' on," Jack said loudly.

"Jack, just trust me, you don't want to see her like this-"

And then everything happened so quickly.

Toby came through the door, carrying what looked to be Talia's body, wrapped in his coat.

"Give 'im room!" Spot yelled as he went outside to help Medda.

The Newsies by the door made a path for Toby quickly, jumping out of his way and he hurried across the room to the staircase. The boys looked down at her face and half exposed body, which were riddled with bruises and stains. Some looked like they were going to be sick; she looked like she was dead.

The boys on the other side of David craned their necks and saw her, lying in Toby's arms like a rag doll, her skin filthy. The boys were livid.

"Talia…" Kid Blink said. His expression was pained as he watched her hands reach for something, anything.

"That filthy son of a bitch," Mush choked.

Jack saw her face, her eyes rolling around in her head as Toby took her up the stairs. She was here. Jack pushed against David who pushed back, his hands on his chest.

"Jack, it's no use," David said loudly, holding back his friend. "She's drugged, she doesn't know what's going on."

"I don't care," Jack said angrily, not caring what came out of his mouth. "I've been lookin' all ova for her and I'll see her now."

"Jack, just think for a minute, think about Talia-"

"I am thinkin' about her," he snapped. "Don' ya dare tell me I'm not thinkin' about her."

"Jack, it's not like last time where they poured something into her drink," David said, shaking his head. "It's worse than last time; they've been testing drugs on them - she doesn't know what's going on. It was to make her submissive-"

Jack didn't know why David was telling him all this; it only made him want to run up the stairs even more.

"Dave, let go of me," Jack threatened darkly, his voice rising over everyone. "Or I'm going to hurt ya."

"Jack," David pleaded, "If you see her, it'll drive you mad-"

Then, Jack heard his name from up stairs. She was screaming, her words incoherent as she moaned and sobbed from Medda's apartment.

Jack looked up the stairwell, listening to her screams. The boys winced and looked away, trying to block out the pain and fear in her voice. They could only imagine what she was screaming about…

"I'm here!" He said loudly up the stairs, ignoring the eyes on him. "I'm right here!" he shouted, frustrated.

He glared at David but David didn't move. He was so stubborn. But Jack didn't want to hurt him…

"Jack, trust me, stay down here. You don't want to see her…not like this."

Talia let out a screeching cry, sobbing as she cried for Jack.

Jack's dark eyes flashed and he shoved David out of the way, ready to bound up the stair. But Medda came inside with Spot and she ran to the stair well, blocking Jack.

"Keep him out here," she said sternly to Spot as she went to the stairwell, removing her wig.

Jack glared at her, "What's going on? Let me see her!"

"And call on Dr. Kirkland," Medda continued to Spot. "7459 Umber Street."

Spot nodded and looked to two of his boys near the door. They left without a word.

Jack's anger grew until he looked like he was ready to punch someone. He didn't like to be ignored. His muscles shook as Talia's cries still pierced his ears.

"Someone tell me what the fuck's goin' on!" Jack's voice erupted throughout the backstage, his muscles shaking. The room fell quiet and all the boys could hear was Talia from upstairs, crying for Jack.

Medda looked at Jack for a moment but her attention was torn away when she heard Toby call for her. She ran up the stairs.

Jack followed her and David went after him. The others stayed downstairs, unsure of what they had seen and unsure of what to do.

Upstairs, Toby had put Talia on the bed in Medda's spacious bedroom. Talia rolled around on the sheets limply as Medda took off her coat and rolled up her sleeves. Her fingers were shaking.

"Hot water," Medda said to Toby.

Jack appeared in the doorway just as Medda removed Toby's coat, revealing Talia's horrible body.

"Oh god," David choked.

Jack felt like he was going to be sick. A sharp pain went through him, much worse than when his side had been riddled with broken glass. And it was her skin that he had touched so many days ago when it was just him and her, now broken and stained with cigarette burns on the inside of her thighs. He had kissed that skin, before it had been grabbed, raped, and beaten. There were bite marks on her breasts. She was still screaming, her voice cracking as it strained through her throat.

"Don't leave me here," she moaned loudly, tossing and turning as she writhed with pain. She sobbed and tried to move away from Medda, resisting her touch.

"Please, no," Talia sobbed. It was the one word Jack had never heard her say. He watched her on the bed, screaming for her life and more terrified than he had ever seen her. He wanted to scream too; there was nothing he could do for her, nothing to take away the haunting nightmare that she thought was reality. But it wasn't just a nightmare; it had actually happened to her.

"Don't—no more!" She sobbed, fighting against Medda with what strength she could muster. "Let me go! Please, don't-"

He hadn't seen her for over a week, had been waiting to find her and have her safe. He tore the town apart and would do it again. Now she was here but she was not safe. He couldn't imagine what was in her head, the faces she was screaming at, the hands that were grabbing her. She looked like a different person, completely broken and trapped inside her own body, unable to fight for herself.

Flashes of her from weeks ago appeared in his memory, hearing her laugh and seeing her eyes light up. He had never dreamed of this happening, not to her.

So quickly that he wasn't sure if it had happened, he felt a rush that stung his eyes. He stopped it quickly but he had to look away from Talia.

Medda looked to the door and saw David and Jack and she quickly covered Talia.

"Oh, Jack," Medda complained as she went to the door. "I didn't want you to see her...I knew how upset you'd be." Medda had never looked so frightened and frantic before. "It's worse than we thought and I can't have any distractions. Stay down stairs. Send the doctor up when he arrives."

And she shut the door. Jack turned and left the apartment with David running after him. Jack ran his fingers through his hair and over his face as if he was trying to erase the images from his head. They reached down stairs and the boys' looked up to Jack. His eyes were red and glassy, his hand rubbing his mouth. He was more bothered than before; he looked sick, fighting with all his strength to keep himself together.

They knew he cared about her, they had seen it in his eyes as he searched the city for her, pleaded to Spot. But they understood why David had been so protective of him.

They turned to David and bombarded him with questions.

"David, what happened, man?" Mush asked earnestly. "Is she gonna be okay?"

"What did they give her?" Racetrack asked.

"More importantly," Boomed Spot's voice. "Where can we find Rockefeller?" Spot's glare was deadly and Jack looked up. Understanding passed between them: Spot knew Jack wanted to find Rockefeller more than anybody.

The Newsies erupted in agreement, ready to crush skulls. David looked around at all of them and then to Jack. Jack had passed Spot to sit on a crate near the back wall. Mush, Kid Blink and Racetrack went to his side, like protectors.

David met Jack's eyes, empty and heartless.

Jack nodded, "I wanna know, Dave."

David swallowed and ran his fingers through his hair. He didn't want to tell them; it was something he didn't even want to repeat. He wanted to forget. He knew he would have nightmares. But he did not regret going. He was still able to help Talia.

But Jack watched him with those dark eyes and David sighed. Jack had been searching all over for this girl. He knew Jack had been expecting Talia to be in bad shape, but not this bad…Jack deserved to know. But David was nervous of his reaction.

"We…we found the neighborhood, in Queens, and I stayed outside when Medda and Toby went in. The… smell was unbearable—I can't say what it was. I heard screaming—and when they brought her out she couldn't even stand up. Medda gave 'em $500 for her and he just… took it."

"Five hundred?" Race asked with wide eyes.

David nodded, "It was all Medda had. And it was just a little more than what they had paid for her…from Rockefeller."

"How many times they drug her?" Asked Snoddy.

"Every day," David said, upset. "More than that. I heard him say at the door that they got their supply from Rockefeller, been getting them for weeks. Rockefeller has his hands on some pretty serious stuff…They drugged her the most because she kept fighting through it, hurting customers."

Jack bit his lip. That sounded like Talia, strong and stubborn. As he listened to David, he felt restless again; his anger wouldn't let him rest. He stood up casually and began pacing, listening to David describe the ride back to the theater when Talia had vomited.

"She kept getting sick," David gasped, wiping him mouth and the sweat on his brow. "And the skin on her wrists is raw. I think they had her tied up… to her bed."

The Newsies made uncomfortable noises. She had been treated like an animal.

David watched Jack pace anxiously, fighting to control the anger inside him, the images in his head. David knew what he was saying was only making it worse for Jack, making him go crazy at the thought of such horrible things…

Jack turned abruptly and kicked the crate he had been sitting on. The boys around him scattered away from his attack, watching as he kicked the crate and then punched the wall five times in a row. His knuckles bled. He felt so much energy, so much hate, that he wanted to break everything around him. He was useless and couldn't have done anything to stop those rat bastards but he would find a way to hurt them one way or another.

Jack stopped and breathed heavily. He turned to David.

"Take me there," Jack said.

David shook his head, "No, Jack-"

"Take me there, David," Jack said louder. "I want ta see their faces and have them screamin' for help. I want them ta beg for mercy. I want them ta suffer, just like her!"

The boys rallied behind Jack but David went up to him and put his hands on his shoulders, trying to see his dark crazed eyes.

"Jack, think about what that could do; Talia is here, safe, and she needs you now more than ever to be here when she wakes up."

Jack breathed heavily, staring into David's eyes. Talia needed him. He would have to deal with his anger later.

"But he can't get away with this," Mush said loudly. "We've gotta stop 'im! He's killing people!"

"He's a fuckin' Rockefeller!" Spot yelled, motioning to the door to the alley. "He can do whatever the fuck he wants!"

"But if people knew," David said, shaking his head. "About the drugs, the girls; people can't ignore that. I don't care how much money you have. You can't ignore kidnap and murder."

"You'd be surprised," Spot said darkly.

A knock came from the alley door and when Boots opened it, an old man in a black coat stepped inside with Spot's two boys behind him. It was early morning outside, the streets beginning to wake.

The old man's gray eyes swept over the thirty faces in front of him, seeing their wide eyes: they didn't trust outsiders. His white hair was swept back and his black leather shoes were shiny. Despite his elderly appearance, he was spry as he walked up to the boys.

"Where's Medda?" He asked.

"This way," Mush said as he bounded for the stairwell. The old man followed him up the stairs. Jack saw the doctor's bag in his hand.

Spot ordered his boys to go home but some stayed to keep watch on the roof. Spot stayed inside with jack and the others. His boys reassured him they'd be back that night; it was getting brighter outside, almost eight o'clock.

Jack ordered some boys to go home too, to get some rest, and they unwillingly left. David, Kid Blink, Racetrack, Mush, Specs, Snoddy and Jake stayed.

Jack dropped his face into his hands, shutting his eyes tightly.

"I think Rockefeller's guys may be looking for you," David said. "It's just a hunch but I think Rockefeller may have been expecting us to come for her."

"Let them find me," Jack said darkly. He glared up at David, "'cause when they do, they'll wish they'd left her alone."

Spot clapped Jack's shoulder, "And we'll be right here, Jack."

"We got you, Cowboy," said Specs.

Soon everyone relaxed and their emotions ebbed as they took their seats around Jack and Spot. They didn't talk much; they listened to Talia's moaning and crying and some drifted off to sleep. All they could do now was wait.

"I've never seen this drug before," Dr. Kirkland said, looking at the vile Medda had given him.

"I got it from the men who were holding her captive," Medda said, her eyes on Talia's sleeping face. "I lied and said I needed some. Gave them thirty dollars for it. They said they used it the most on her. She was screaming so much…"

"From what you've told me, it's meant to relax her," he said. "But it's had nasty side effects… unpredictable. Those men are just playing with fire, giving this to girls. She seems to be hallucinating…but what I've given her shoulder counter it. Mind you, she will be very sick for the next few hours or so, until it leaves her body.

"Physically…the damage is extensive. The bruising will go away with time but I'm afraid the burns will stay. As for internal damage, she's lost a lot of blood…and it is more than likely that she will never be able to have children."

Medda nodded. She had already known Talia's past and her physical condition, the children she had lost. But her diagnosis had just been a guess. Now it was permanent, all doubts removed. Tears filled Medda's eyes.

Medda kissed Dr. Kirkland on the cheek, smiling sadly at her dear friend. She followed him downstairs, walked past the eager gazes that were staring at her, and shut the door behind him. She turned around slowly, her tired eyes landing on Jack. She had been crying.

"You can see her, Jack," she said tiredly. "The doctor said all we can do is wait for the drugs to wear off."

Jack swallowed and Spot kicked his leg, "Go see her, Cowboy."

Jack went up the stairwell two at a time and Kid Blink went to Medda.

"She'll be alright?" he asked.

Medda smiled but tears formed in her eyes, "It'll take time."

Upstairs, Jack entered the room carefully, seeing Talia asleep on the bed. Medda had washed her skin and he could see the clear outlines of the dark bruises on her arms, chest, and neck, all in the shape of cruel fingers. She was dressed in a lightweight nightgown and her dark hair was unmated and lying across the pillows.

If she hadn't looked so sick and broken, it would've felt like she had never left. He looked past the bruises and the ripped skin, seeing the peaceful look on her face as she slept, her chest moving up and down steadily.

He lifted the chair in the corner and brought it to her bedside. He sat down and leaned his elbows on his knees, sighing. He was relieved, he admitted it, but he was still afraid to sleep, afraid she'd be gone in the morning. It felt like she was a dream that he was unsure about, unsure if it was reality or if he was asleep, still searching for her.

He watched her. All night his eyes were on her face, retracing the features he already had memorized. The boys stayed downstairs, kept watch, and Medda stayed in the living room of her apartment, glancing in to make sure Talia was ok. Medda would see Jack, still sitting in the chair, still watching her. He watched her all day, oblivious to the sun that was rising outside.

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