Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen -

Sneaking into my mother’s house is not the easiest thing in the world. Thankfully, I’m an expert in sneaking into my own room. Mom will never even know I came home in the first place. At least I hope not. When my fingers squeeze between the window and the sill, I hold my breath hearing the TV from the living room. When I don’t hear a cough or anything else, I carefully push open the window allowing the hot air to fill the room. Silently, I lift my leg through the opening and manage to get inside gently pulling in the last leg. Inside the room, I can hear my mother’s snores from the living past the overly loud TV. I It’s then I realize that maybe I should get her to bed and let her know I did get back safely. She never even has to know that I snuck in, in the first place. My truck is parked away from the house and walked behind each house to make sure that I wasn’t seen.

The drop calls make more sense now.

I shake my head moving toward the closet. Shoving open the cheap doors, I find my duffle bag. Thankfully mom hasn’t been in my room, she hasn’t seen the duffle bag. If she had, I don’t think her natural curiosity would have stayed away, she would have asked about it. Inside the duffle bag are clothes, the rest of the ten thousand, and different license plates. That’s one thing I learned thanks to my employers, if you really want to disappear, change the plates. I decide to change my clothes, tossing them toward the floor. If mom does get up, she’ll see my clothes on the floor, and the bed messed up. She’ll think I was here all night.

Leaving the bag on the bed, I head out of the bedroom. Mom’s so out of it by her pills, she’s mumbling in her sleep. It takes three tries to wake her and as we ease down the hall, the phone rings. My blood runs cold, glancing toward the kitchen. Mom moans which pulls my attention back to her. Getting her into bed, she grins at me, drool sliding past the corners of her mouth.

“Night, ma. Get some rest. I’ll see ya later.” I press a single kiss to her forehead. Her eyes immediately fall close the moment her head hits the pillow. I push hair away from her face, smiling down at her. “Love you, ma.” Walking away from her, I feel something inside me break. It’s as if I know what’s coming and I wish there was something I could do to stop it. Heading back into the bedroom, I find something blinking in my duffle bag. When I find it in an inside side pocket, my heart rate picks up.

Working with one of my employers, I had to keep a burner phone. The kind of phone that didn’t keep information and couldn’t be tracked as well. Only one person, I know of, has the phone. The screen indicates he’s been trying to call. I can’t call him back, that’s now how it works. He always calls me, never leaves a trace and only lets the phone ring twice before hanging up. The phone has always been on my person, I’ve always been able to answer it. If he’s calling, I know I’ll have to answer, because I know him. He owes me and if there’s one thing Julio King doesn’t like, it’s owing someone.

I zip up the bag once I’m fully changed out of my clothes. Leaving them on the floor, I convince myself it’s to ease my mother’s worries. Glancing at the door again, I leave it cracked open before easing myself out the window once again. My truck is parked a good distance away thankfully unharmed once I return. I toss the duffle bag toward the passenger seat and as I slide the key in, Brooke’s perfume covers me. I know what I need to do when I see her again. I have to tell her the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth so help me god. It will either make her stand beside me, but I know she’ll probably run. If she has any common since in that brain of hers, she’ll run as far as her legs will carry her.

I start the truck heading back to the motel.

~*~

When I return to the motel, Brooke is out of the shower. She’s raking her fingers through her wet hair as she sits on the edge of the bed. As I step into the room, she rolls her eyes, glaring at the wall.

“I had to get a few things.” I turn my back to her, dropping the duffle bag on the table. I pull out the burner phone leaving it on the table waiting to see if it blinks.

“Yeah, you couldn’t actually say that. You had to put it in a note that you’d be back. In the mean time, I’m sitting here worried the people following us are either going to find me or you and I’ll never even know about it.” I hear the bed squeak as she stands, the bed resumes it’s natural position without her weight. “You can’t just do that. I was worried sick about you.”

I twist around, half surprised she’s standing so close. “You didn’t seem to care before I left. Why now?”

She shakes her head. “I was freaking out. I don’t about you, but I’ve never been in a car chase before. I’ve seen plenty on tv but never participated in one. Cut me some slack alright?” We’re quiet as I stare into her eyes. It surprises me the amount of relief I see in her eyes.

“I just needed to grab a few things. We can’t exactly stay here with no money. I spent what I had on the room and dinner.” I sigh, raking my hand through my hair. “I never meant to get you involved in this. Wasn’t my intention.”

“Why don’t you start at the beginning? Hmm? I think I deserve to know what’s going on.” Brooke folds her arms over her chest. She walks past me, sitting at the rickety off yellow table. She pats the top of the table, her eyes flickering toward the empty chair.

“If I tell you the truth, you’ll probably hate me. Want to be as far away from me as possible.” I hesitantly sit down, my nerves growing more.

She reaches over the table, twisting her arm so her palm faces upward. I drop my hand into hers and she grips it tightly. “I’m already apart of this now, Ashford. Just start at the beginning. Who are those people?”

My hand loosens as she releases noticing how worried I’ve become. “If you really want to know, I have to start at the very beginning. About a year ago, to be exact.” Her eyes are wide to know that I’ve been involved with these people for a while.

“It all started when I got a part time job as a bartender.” My mouth cracks a smile as the memory forms.

---

The music is loud, pumping and I can feel my palms sweating. The lights surrounding the bar are bright. Considering that I only got about three hours in my truck last night, the sounds and light are enough to make my head hum in sync with the headache forming at my temples.

“Hey, man!” Another customer screams. “Are you ever going to get my drink?”

I bite my lip, staring at my hands as I shake the canister. Damn, bartending has got to be the worst job. Probably only second to wall-street, then again those guys most likely have no idea what hard work truly is behind their desks. I’d give practically anything to be one of them.

“I’m getting that right now.” Judging by his face, he’s the gin and tonic guy. Surprised to find a guy like him in a place like this. It’s more rowdy tonight than any other night. I’ve only been working here for about two days and it’s the first Saturday of my shift. If it weren’t for the rowdy, rough crowd tonight, my boss, Samson, would probably be glaring at me. On more than one occasion, he’s taking the cups from my hand and making the drinks himself. Normally, when he’s doing the drinks, I’m on the register.

Then again with the large mirror behind me, he’s probably staring at me through the crowd without my knowledge. Somehow I manage the guy’s drink, bringing it to him. He stares at the glass as if it’s grown a head.

“I didn’t ask for this. I asked for a martini!” The guy screeches, his face turning almost purple. Everyone inside is already sweating, faces are red, but in the light and his frustration, gives him almost purple appearance.

“I’m so sorry about that. I’ll fix that right away.” I take the glass back, swearing both inside my head and under my breath. To avoid wasting the drink, I begin to chug it. Maybe if I relax a little bit, I’ll do a better job. Suddenly the crowd on the dance floor becomes even louder and the entire room begins to chant. “Fight! Fight!” repeats over and over again. The customers surrounding the bar run over to the dance floor.

I roll my eyes, but glancing in the mirror, I recognize one of the fighters. Damn, Samson. Sometimes I wonder how a drunk can own a bar. Isn’t that against some moral code? I shake my head. He should deal with his own mess, but I know I need to step in. This is the first job I’ve gotten in two weeks. It might not be glamorous, but it’s money, keep gas in my tank and food in my stomach. Plus, I need all the cash I can get if I want to head two states over. I heard there’s a construction job for three months that pays better than anything I’ve had in two months.

I sigh as the fight grows worse. Jumping over the bar, I shove my way through the crowd toward the center. Samson is a small guy, probably thanks to his two year alcohol addiction. Otherwise he’s one of those guys from high school with shaggy brown hair and matching eyes. Yet the guy he’s fighting is darker skin, Hispanic, dark hair, arms almost as as thick as both of Sam’s legs. I should have paid more attention to Sam. The first time I met him was in this place, he was throwing back shots. Having a hard time staying out of the liquor and serving costumers, he decided to hire me when I mentioned needing a job.

Of course at the time, when we met, he’d thirty days sober. Though according to his assistant manager, he never could make it further than thirty days on even a good month for the bar. I felt it was my fault when he had to take over for me the past two nights when I drowned in the customers. Sam was the first person not to see me in the way everyone always did. I immediately headed toward the fight, grabbing Sam’s shirt by the back collar.

“Sam! What the hell?!” He grinned drunkenly at me. Blood covered his mouth, showing his crooked yellow teeth. His nose looked broken again, blood pouring from his nose over his mouth.

“I-I,” he stuttered, tripping over his own feet. Some of the crowd began to boo at my interference.

“What the fuck, man?” the large Hispanic man suddenly hissed. He glared at me, raked his large pudgy fingers through his hair. “This is between me and him.”

I pushed Samson behind me, shaking my head. “Can’t you see his shitfaced? Not exactly a fair fight, right? Why don’t you go bother someone else? Let it go.” He continued to glare at me, his hands balling into fists.

“Why don’t you tell him, to get me my money?!” His fingers began to ball into tight fists at his sides. “Samson owes me. He can’t get out of debt and allowing us to sit in his place doesn’t exempt that.”

I roll my eyes. “You like to pick on the weak, don’t you. Don’t think your boss would much appreciate that. Or the scene you’re making. Doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that wants to air his dirty laundry.”

The man turned his head, glanced in the direction of the VIP section of the club. The town was small, one of only two clubs in town. Samson had a deal with a group of men in fancy suits that took up and entire two corners of his bar section. The rest of the club kept seating at a minimum to keep people dancing and spending money. Yet, Samson kept highly suspicious people seated in his reserved corners. I noticed the man covered in shadows, dressed in a suit, wave his hand.

The Hispanic man in front of me, huffed. “This ain’t over. Not by a long fucking shot!“He turned, pushed people aside and walked away. I breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing I wanted to deal with was a fight. My shoulder still ached from the fight I got into last night. Not the best town to sleep in your truck certainly when people wanted to break in and steal it.

“Sam?” I asked him, grabbing his shoulder. He grinned at me, but it was obvious he didn’t know what was going on. Suddenly I heard commotion at the bar.

“Ash? Samson?” Damn. I looked up, through the crowd to see Samson’s girlfriend and assistant manager, Stacy. Her dark hair was in a pony tail tonight and she had a very disappointed look on her face. “What happened this time? Ash, you know you can’t leave the bar.”

I rolled my eyes, grabbed Sam by the arm dragging it around my neck. “Your boyfriend was getting into another fight. Only this time, with your VIP section.”

Her eyes grew wide. She glanced nervously toward the VIP section with a shake of her head. “He really can’t quit. He keeps this up, we’ll have to sell. I can’t keep the place up with a drunk attached.” We slumped Samson behind the bar, in a chair. Stacy shook her head, her face crestfallen. When she looked up at me, I already knew she had made up her mind.

“Don’t worry about it, Stace.” I removed the apron from my waist, dropped it down on the bar. “I sure hope you guys figure out what to do. Thanks for giving me a chance.” Stacy was never keen on my hiring in the first place. Constantly complained even before I started working that I needed more rigorous training.

“Sorry, Ash. Really.” Stacy looked embarrassed. I could tell she didn’t like firing people. When Samson was sober, the rarity for everyone, he was usually in charge of firing. It found it almost appropriate that the firings usually took place at the end of the month. I gave Stacy a hug, told her to take care of Samson and grabbed my things from behind the counter.

Pulling out my pack of smokes at the back down, I sighed leaning against the wall. It was almost freezing outside but it gave me something else to think. Besides the overwhelming feeling of defeat. I needed a new job and fast. Something that would tie me over for at least a month with good cash flow. Cupping my hand around the end of the lighter, I breathed in the smoke deeply feeling my nerves ease.

My eyes fell close on their own accord as thoughts of high school came back. There she was, Brooke Baker, the girl that just wouldn’t leave me alone. The girl I had ruined everything with, she’d never forgive me.

Suddenly the door opened and my eyes opened. Stepping out in a suit and thick coat, stood a short man with a cigar between his fingers. There was something about him, an aura around him that made me a bit scared. His dark eyes fell over me as I noticed his complexion. He was Hispanic just like the other guy, but this man wasn’t as rugged as him.

“What’s your name kid?” he asked, looking down at me.

I raised an eyebrow at him without speaking. He chuckled, took a drag from his cigar. “Fine. I’ll introduce myself. My name is Julio King. I’m a pretty powerful man around these parts. You saved me a lot of trouble in there. Damn Marvin lets his temper get the better of him.”

“Oh, that was your man?” I tilted my head toward the door.

“Unfortunately, he was. He knows my employer doesn’t take too kindly to public outbursts. He’s not too happy with me at the moment, but he knows what he did was wrong.” He shrugs his shoulders, walks past me, shows me his back. Immediately I realize he’s a powerful person in this area. For one, he’s showing me his back, you only do that around here if you have everyone on your side or in your pocket.

“What do you want with me?” I ask quietly, blowing out a tunnel of smoke.

He laughs, turns around. “I’m here to offer you a job, Mr. Rocks. Or do you prefer, Ashford?”

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