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Strong Hold
Little Prince Station
Just a Line
Coming Up:
One by One
Episode 3:
Downtown’s dizzy traffic howled around Trash, who walked always looking down, eyes fixed half a meter beyond her feet, walk-man at top volume, avoiding people out of habit. One month, Rover said. One month at
least. Time crawled like a snake since that subway issue. A single card with the old man’s name was enough for
cops to let them go at once, Boss and her, after taking them in at the last station. But they’d got too exposed and
now they had to really dissappear for a while, let them believe they were out of work, let them relax. Meanwhile,
absolutely nothing to do but trying not to die from boredom. And Kao just about to finish his second month at the clinic. A thorn in her side refusing to be removed without a lot of pain, and promising even more pain when done so.
She absently waited for the light to cross the broad avenue and got into a dim street. Stopped by a door and knocked twice. A small fat man showed up, smiling from behind his white apron, and let her in.
Trash followed him in silence to the big kitchen, where two cookers and three waiters were having lunch at a table in the furthest corner.TThey also smiled at her and kept on eating. The man opened the freezer and took out a box smelling vegetables and meat.
— You’re lucky. Today we had a lunch for twenty —he said handing it to her.
Trash just nodded and closed it carefully
— Want a bag ?
— Go eat. I’m taking it.
The man smiled again and sat back at the table with the others. Trash crossed the kitchen, put the box into a plastic bag and walked back up to the shop’s doors. From the rounded glasses at the upper side of them, she could see almost all the restaurant insides, expensive, warm, almost empty at that hour. And straight ahead from her, the midday sun lighted a well-known profile at a small table by the window. Run? Run with his arms folded before a cup of coffee, listening to and staring at the man in front of him, who slightly leaned forward as he spoke.
— Don’t let the manager see you —she heard one of the waiters was saying.
Trash withdrew at once, thanked them for the food and headed at quick pace to the side door. Five minutes later she was on bus that crossed the poor suburbs belt, the city’s most dangerous and miserable zone. She sat alone at a double seat and lit a cigarette. Those drivers knew her well, and considering that line’s usual costumers, it surely was the only one in town where passengers were allowed to break some rules.
...What was Run doing at that fancy restaurant, with that guy ? Despite he was always very careful about how he looked, she noticed he had done his best for the ocassion, simple but elegant, just like the other guy. She saw them again sitting face to face at that small table. The attention on Run’s expression, the vague grin on the other guy’s face as he talked to him... the distance between them, so scarce... Who could that guy be to behave like that with Run, always so messured and circumspect ?
* * *
She got off the bus ten streets after it entered the first suburb, on a soil street’s corner bordered by dirty water drainages, the sewer blocked with lots of rotten garbish. She headed for an alley, too dim for a car to drive into, and stopped at a wooden cabin a few meters before the first corner. Two children were playing in front of the old ruined door ; they played with small broken cars, both of them in bare feet, their cloth as old and ragged as their toys. Both of them raised to her their dirty little faces and gave her wide smiles. One of them ran into the house calling out loud for her mother, the other threw his arms around her neck and happily kissed her cheek. Trash lifted him up and walked into the cabin. A young woman was coming from the inner rooms, drying her hands in a stained apron.
— Hi ! Didn’t except you ! Come on, we already had lunch, but I can cook you something if you want.
Trash followed her to the small kitchen and left the box on the sink’s counter. There she noticed four plates and gave a fleeting glance over the courtain playing the door between the kitchen and the cabin’s only bedroom.
— I already ate, thanks —she said, putting the kid down to light a cigarette—. I brought you something. Did you fix the freezer ? Else, you must eat it tonight.
The woman’s smile surprised her, and followed her eyes when she looked to the corner where the frezeer used to be. There was a new one there now.
— Tommy bought it right today —her voice was full of pride.
Trash sat down on an almost borken chair and frowned.
— Tommy ? —she repeated—. Tomás ? And where... ? —her face and her voice hardened all of a sudden—. Wouldn’t he be stealing, would he, Fanny ?
The woman quickly shook her head.
— No ! How could you think that ? He got a job ten days ago. They pay him weekly, and as soon as he got the first bill, he signed up for its credit... Well, his boss did it for him.
Trash grimaced looking away. Tomás was thirteen... what kind of job could he got to earn enough in a single week to afford that credit ... ? And getting his boss signing for his debt...
— It’s nothing illegal.
Trash raised the head at once, facing the boy standing at the bedroom doorway. That voice and that expression weren’t what you’d expect from a boy his age, but he had to play the-man-of-the-house role there. Anyway, what surprised her was how he looked. New expensive clothing, his brown hair fell over his shoulders clean and bright, his tennis were as new and good as the clothes.
— Tomy ! Didn’t mean to wake you, I... —the woman apologized.
— It’s okay, mum —the boy crossed the kitchen towards Trash, but didn’t lean to kiss her cheek as he used to—. I’m glad you’re here. You don’t need to bring us anything anymore, now I’m working and I can support mum and the kids. Your aunt lost her job again, so you can take it to her, she should be needing a hand.
Trash stood up before the boy, barely taller than him, and stared into his eyes with no trace of affection.
— Tell me what the fuck are you up to —she hissed.
The boy held up her glare without a blink, and even grined, refusing to answer. She turned to the mother, who avoided any eye contact shooking her head, and faced the boy again.
— If I get to know you’re up to something weird...
— Cut it off. Already told you I’m not, and that I don’t need you to help us anymore. From now on, I’m taking care of them.
Trash nodded still drilling into his eyes. — Careful what you do, you prat —she snarled—. You better stay out of trouble —she dodged him and walked out of the cabin without a word. The boy grined again turning to his mother, who looked concerned at the door Trash just got through.
— Easy, mum. You know how she is. She’ll forget it in a few days and come back like nothing happened.
* * *
— Are you sure ? You’re gonna get a kick in the ass...
— You just stay cool and learn some stuff. I’m picking her up.
Boss agreed with a sigh and sat straight back again. Slash slowed down to brake just by a fifteen girl selling flowers by the streetlight. When she saw him smile at her, she hurried to the van, handing out to him an already withered bunch.
— You wanna earn some, baby ?
The girl pretended not to understand and tried to look surprised. — Flowers, sir ?
— My bud here and I, you dare ? I’m paying you all your bunches left plus some more for you.
— Excuse me, but what...
Slash rested the arm on the window and the chin on his arm, smiling as he looked down at her from above his sunglasses. At his right, Boss was triyng to anticipate the exact moment when the girl would slap him and turn away.
— You ate today ? I can pay your lunch too.
The other shook the head and looked away waiting to hear the slap, but it didn’t come. Instead, he heard Slash talked to the girl laughing softly and stepped out of the van to let her in. The girl sat in between them with her head down, trying to avoid any contact with Boss. Slash gave the finger to the driver behind him, sat again by the wheel and speeded up before the streetlight turned red again. He turned the radio on as they drove downtown, singing aloud as he used to, hidding the girl’s silence. Boss felt her shiver, saw her hands grasping the bunch, her teeth biting her lower lip. Salsh offered her a cigarette, she shook the head always looking down. He laughed again clapping her leg.
— Come on, baby, be my guest.
Boss noticed how the girl stiffed and the wet glimpse on her eyes. He glared at Slash, but his grin told him to stay aside. They stopped by a one way comercial gallery, where only the two front shops were open. Slash parked the van and stepped down, signaling the girl to do so and holding her hand, pretending not to see when she tried to step back. Boss followed them noticing how the flowers were shaking on the girl’s free hand. The shop on the left was full of guitars, keyboards and drums, and the man reading behind the till grined with a blink when Slash waved a hand at him.
— Hi, Fish, I’m upstairs for two hours.
Slash dragged the girl again heading for the gallery’s bottom. By the toillets there was a narrow stair, which they walked up to a door that Slash opened with a key he took out from his pocket. On the other side they found a square room, with no more forniture than the large bed on the opposite wall and a table with two chairs by a small window. Boss came in after the girl and turned to Slash, still at the last step by the open door.
— I’ll be right back, gonna get some food. Lend me some cash, just in case.
Boss did as he said shaking the head. — Bring her something good.
— Okay, daddy. If you get bored before I’m back, remember what she's supposed to be here for.
— Don’t be such an asshole and hurry up, will ya.
Slash closed the door with a giggle and they heard him jumping down the stairs. Then Boss spun around drawing in a deep breath to face the girl, standing in the middle of the room, the head always down, still gripping tightly the bunch. He saw her quiver when he got closer to her, closing her eyes when he rested a hand on her shoulder.
— Easy, it’s allright —he said with the softest voice he could manage—. What’s your name ?
— Stella... sir...
Boss touched her chin to make her face him.
— Never done this before, Stella ? Why did you come ?
— I’m... hungry... —her voice was but a whisper, refusing to look at him.
— When did you last eat ?
— Two days...
Boss smiled again pressing her shoulder. — Allright, then. All we actually want is asking you a few questions about your boss.
The girl gawked up at him, though her face soon showed her fear. — But... when they see I’m gone...
— We’re gonna pay you as we said, and as soon as we have lunch, we’re taking you back to your corner.
Think you’re gonna have any trouble for this ?
— No if I get the money...
Relief and confussion mixing in her dark eyes moved him, and smiled at her gently. — Then you don’t need to worry.
* * *
They walked side by side in silence, matching pace, no hurry, their shadows casting beyond them as the sun slid down to sink behind the buildings. Run looked at León out of the corner of his eye; his constant grin, that strong presence that always made him stand out, no matter who he was with.
— I can’t believe you still don’t dare to ask it, Rosschild —León said, his eyes always moving over the
faces they crossed.
— Maybe I’m still waiting for you to explain it yourself.
The other man tilted his head grining wider. — You’re harder than a sixteen.
They walked in silence some more streets, up to a wealthy apartment’s building. They crossed the lobby and a broad hallway to the elevator. It left them on the twentieth floor, right into the hall to a large and enlighted loft, which style just matched the building’s look.
— Let me see if Marron is still here. Make some coffee, Rosschild.
Run headed for the large kitchen, so clean and nice as the rest of the place, and turned the coffeepot on.
He heard León’s laughter as he found his mate. A soft, short laugh. He heard him walking back, stop, a giggle, the unmistakable sound of a kiss.
— Cool down, I’m not alone. Get dress and join us for a coffee before you leave.
Run took a deep breath before spinning to face Marron, forcing himself to smile.
— Hi, Rosschild, didn’t know you were here —Marron was standing by León, nothing on but underwear.
— It’s allright. Coffee?
— Thanks, but let me get dressed first.
León was already back at the kitchen. He sat at the table and pointed a chair in front of him for Run. He observed his friend before tasting the coffee. — You still can’t manage it seeing me with him.
Run raised the eyebrows trying to smile again, but didn’t answer.
— You’re not leaving the sixteen's pose to play the mother-in-law, aren’t you ?
— As though anyone could try pokking into your life, huh?
León just laughed at his tone, half mocking, half irritated. He didn’t need Run to tell him anything, but the temptation of teasing him was just too funny to refuse it. However, Run spoke again before he did.
— I’m waiting for that famous explanation of yours.
León agreed with another grin. — What Joel did was just like ripping a feather’s pillow open in the wind, Rosschild. No matter what I would do, nobody was to treat me like before after he blurted it out.
— But we all knew he did it out of envy, for he knew we liked you more than him and he couldn’t stand being just your right-arm man.
— Ok, Rosschild. But you gotta see I just couldn’t stay ; for the team’s sake if you want it to be so, but I had to leave. All of you knew me well and accepted me, but think about the younger boys’ parents. They wouldn’t allow a homosexual trainer sharing the showers with their kids.
— So you had to leave like that, without warning, in the middle of the night like a thief... Leave and be careful enough to keep anybody from knowing where to find you...
Run looked away as he spoke. But León saw the old impotent rage within his bright green eyes. He reached out and held his hand for a fleeting moment, withdrawing before Run could do or say anything to reject him.
— I didn’t do it on purpose, Rosschild, not to you —he whispered—. You were the very last person I wanted to hurt, but please understand I really had to vanish. For the sake of all of you, and my own too...
Marron joined them then. Tall, athletic just like León, but pale and blond. Looking at him, Run thought he was just the perfect match for his friend. But there was still something about Marron he couldn’t stomach for good, though he couldn’t find out exactly what it was either. Marron swallowed his coffe in one gulp as he wore his jacket.
— Don’t wanna be late. Meet you there —he turned to Run smiling—. See ya, Rosschild, don’t keep him later than ten, we’re having a hell of a night at the disco.
Run smiled back at him watching their brief good-bye kiss by the elevator’s door. León came back with no hurry, his dark eyes staring at him from afar with an ironic glance.
— He’s jelaous about you —he poured more coffee for them and grined at Run’s surprise—. It’s okay, he knows you’re too straight for my nerves. But he also thinks you look too alike to him to like it leaving us both alone too long.
* * *
The house was unusually quiet when Run got back that evening, about nine. The dinning room was empty and dark, and there were no lights on at the hallway when he headed for his bedroom. He changed his clothes and went back to the kitchen. Then he found the note, written in a childlike handwriting he recognized as Trash’s. "Boss and Slash still hunting pimps, I’ll be home late".
Fiteen minutes and a sandwich later, he took his bike out of the garage and got onto the street again. If Trash was out alone, he knew where to find her. And it wasn’t a nice place to walk through, not even for somebody like her. He drove away from downtown towards the first poor suburb passing the Third Highway. Ignored the teens’ gangs gathering at every corner and headed for the "square", a thousand meters far from the highway.
Barely lit by one street light at each corner, two rotten wooden goals bordered the dusty soccer field, while on the opposite corner some huge concrete pipes painted in bright colours, a broken slide and two swings marked out the spot for the neighborhood’s kids. He guessed more than see the shadows beneath one of the goals and stopped at once, turning the bike off. Then he pushed it back to the corner and hid behind the first cabin. He also sensed the eyes fixed upon his back from every opening around, but ignored them as well. Two dark shapes came closer from behind him trying not to make any noise. Run didn’t turn around, he just let his 9 mm’s butt show up at his waist. The boys stopped at once.
— It’s Anita’s bud —one whispered. He heard them retreat and dissappear.
Trash didn’t seem to be in any hurry, sitting with a dozen boys, their ages between twelve and twenty, sharing the grass and the cheap wine as they chatted. Run gathered all of his patience, always ready to react at any movement from behind him. Finally, almost an hour later, he noticed the group was moving. They were standing up, waving their goodbyes very aloud. The two tallest boys set at Trash’s each side and walked with her towards the highway. Run waited to see them go into the parallel alley, engined the bike on and drove back slowly, waiting to see them cross each corner before going on. At the suburb’s border he speeded up, crossed the first street and hid in the shadows under the highway. From there he watched Trash saying goodbye to her friends and walking alone to the bus stop. Not five minutes later a taxi drove down the highway, slowing down by the girl. Trash frowned at the driver, checked out her watch, got in. There was still half an hour left to the next bus. Then Run drove out from behind a pillar and speeded up in the opposite direction.
* * *
Trash stood in the garden by the kitchen’s door, smocking one last cigarette before coming into the house. There was light on Run’s bedroom, and she didn’t want him to smell the grass in her breath. He wasn’t to say a word about it, but she knew that night rides she used to take worried him a little. She thought about what she had just known. Tomás working at that downtown disco... the boys assured its customers weren’t only young wealthy people. "A whorehouse for screwed old men" they told her. She tried to keep her anger in control. He worked at the kitchen, they said, washing the dishes, and also cleaned the toillets to earn some more. But his friends were already distrusting his words. They’d seen his expensive clothes, the new freezer he bought for his mother. Too much for a kitchen’s boy... She squashed the cigarette and came in.
Nice slow music from Run’s room. That old English pop he loved. She stopped before his door and drew in a deep breath before knocking. Found him laying on his bed with a book, ready to go to sleep. Run lowered the book and faced her with a brief smile.
— Everything ok?
She nodded trying to smile back.
— You ate? You’ve got cold meat and beer in the freezer.
Freezer. She shooked the head frowning.
— I think I got something —she said—. Some disco. They must be running a whorering in there.
Run sat up straight at once, staring at her with a questioning look. She just shrugged.
— I’ve only got the name of the place. But we could just check it out.
— Where did you get it?
— Somebody’s son is working there and...he seems to be earning more than he should.
Run observed her for a moment, then he looked down at his watch.
— Go take a shower before you go to bed. Tomorrow, when we are all here, we’ll see what to do.
Trash held up his eyes for a moment, trying to guess why he was telling her so. Run gave her another brief smile before turning to his book again. She nodded and walked out in silence. If Slash got home within the next two hours and found her with those redened eyes, he wouldn’t repress his tongue. And Run just wanted to read some more and go to sleep, instead of having to stop any possible answer from Trash to help the other big mouth from getting injured.
* * *
Boss and Slash left the van at the garage and came quietly into the house by the kitchen’s door, surprised when they found light at the other two’s rooms. Slash stopped by to take a beer, still laughing under his breath.
— We’re gonna lay it nice for that son of a bitch —he said—. Since Run’s still awake, I’m gonna tell him about it right now, so we can get moving right tomorrow.
—All yours, I’m going to bed.
— Sleep tight, honey.
Slash followed him to the bedrooms up to the first door on the left. Boss went on to his room mumbling his goodnight. Run was still reading, and chose not to argue when Slash forced him to move aside his long legs an sat by him at the edge of the bed, the beer in one hand and a wide smile on his face.
— We’ve got him, Run. The fucking son of a bitch is a rich sucker. He has several guys to do his work, but all of them grassed him with a little squeeze.
Run just raised the brows, waiting for him to explain himself.
— He picks them up from the street, both boys and girls. He washes and dresses up the better looking ones and puts them to work on his disco, for the joy of any old crock with a bill. For the others, he sends them to the street to sell flowers, cards or whatever. That’s why he has some managers, to deal with the kids on the street and...
Slash noticed Run's eyes had narrowed, his trade mark sign that he was figuring out some puzzle, gathering things he heard or saw somewhere else; in those cases, he used to be able of decoding something the other three had completely missed.
— You already got it, for a change.
But Run slowly shook his head, still thinking.
— Nop. Trash came up to something like that...
Slash just nodded, giving him time. Run’s eyes blindly stared at the painting in the wall in front of him, but soon he shook the head again.
— Tomorrow we’ll see what you’ve got, you and her. Then we’ll decide how to move.
The other stood up grining. — Ok. But don’t even dream of waking me up before midday. Tomorrow’s Boss’ turn to do the clean.
Run watched him going out without a word, his eyes turned back to the painting, but they still didn’t see it. He wondered why he still had on his mind, so clear, the picture of León and Marron ("so alike to you" his friend said) kissing at the loft door.
An angry voice and the sound of something heavy falling down startled him up. He jumped onto his feet and looked out at the hallway just like Slash, who got the picture first and laughed out loud. The bathroom’s door slammed shut as Boss, wearing only his boxers, tried to straighten up covering his mouth with one hand.
— Wrong approach, lover boy —Slash mocked, clapping his back when he passed by him towards the kitchen.
— Fuck off! —snarled the other, yanking away from his hand.
Run stopped Boss and asked him to show his mouth. Seeing the blood dripping from the lower lip, he told the youth to get some ice as he went for the first aids box at the bathroom. He knocked twice, not stepping back when it burst apart and Trash almost jumped over him, her fists ready to beat him.
— Antiseptic —he said, stopping her only with his usual serenity.
Trash’s head was pouring water all over the t-shirt, which wasn’t enough to hide the fact that she was naked beneath it. The girl gave him the box breathing hardly.
— Next time gonna really knock his lights out —she growled.
— You were having a shower ?
She agreed snorting. — The very sucker brushed away the curtain and...
— Don’t think it’s gonna happen again —Run spun on his heels and headed for the kitchen, telling Slash, who was about to go back into his room :— I don’t want a sinlge word about this tomorrow. Not yours, at least.
— Roger, sir.
Boss was waiting for him by the sink, pressing against his mouth several cubes of ice, wrapped into a napkin already stained with his blood. Run took a briek look at the wound.
— A right punch from below, huh? You bit your lip. Take, do it yourself, you know where you need it more —he took the ice from his hands and looked for a clean napkin.
— I heard the shower, and got scared when nobody answered —Boss managed to say, bearing the antiseptic’s burn—. Didn’t know it was her, and didn’t know...
— She takes her walk-man to the shower —Run nodded allowing himself a fleeting grin—. It would be better if you sleep with the ice on your mouth, so you don’t have a bruise tomorrow.
Boss agreed mumbling something like "gonna look like a fucking monkey" and thanked him before going back to his bedroom. Run watched him grining openly now and turned the lights off, hoping now he would be able to finish the chapter and go to sleep in peace.

Sayaki - 4/2k