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3. Of the Vulgar

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And I was back to sitting on my suitcase, playing guitar halfheartedly. I was outside the bar. A few weeks had gone by. And he was right – I did decide to join the show. I was elected into the office of public relations. I would sit outside, despite the weather, and play to my heart’s content. I could get whatever I wanted from the bar, and when I was tired, go back to the underground to crash. It was steady. It was secure. I had a nice place to sleep, and that was the most important part. Beggars can’t be choosers. It was a home. It was safe. We had a city under a city. A city of freaks, outcasts, misfits. It really was a circus. There were acts and everything.

Dusk was the ringleader. He told me about it. The first male since its establishment.

I caught people’s attention, being outside, playing in the rain. The lost would ask questions. That’s what they were. Lost. The wanderers. The outcasts. Misfits. Freaks. Public relations meant I gave directions to those who could not find their way. I wore a hat that matched Dusk’s, just less elaborate; he said it was the symbol of what we were. It would draw more attention – it would be a sign to the wanderer.

I had been part of the show for a while. Every so often, if the mood struck him, Dusk would sit outside with me. Usually the kids from the show would be in and out. The more time I spent, the more I came to know. More or less, I kept myself to myself. If I had a problem, I would speak to Dusk, but besides all that, I was still alone. And it was comforting in itself.

Something had happened, I was out on the streets for hours, playing all over the city, drawing in the crowds as best as I could. It was early morning when I got back to the bar and continued to play. It was nearly three, and the rain only got worse. I had been up for hours, days. I was soaked to the skin, but still I wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what we were fighting for, why we had to pull the whole team together, but it was something. I had been playing for hours. I was exhausted but wouldn’t quit. I was in the middle of a song when I stopped. The rain was gone. No, not over. Just, gone. I glanced over to find a slightly older, bigger guy holding an umbrella over my head. He smiled over at me. I finished my song, smiling back. He stayed.

“You take requests?”

I nodded a bit. “Maybe, depends on if I know it or not.”

He smiled. “Come inside, dry off.”

“I don’t believe I know that one. I have a job to do.”

He nodded. “I understand; I have a job to do as well. And I can’t just allow you to die of pneumonia out here. Come on, just for a while. I promise, it’s all right.”

“You do huh? And who are you to make such a promise?”

He held out the hand not holding the umbrella, which I shook slowly.

“My name is Colt Brogan.”

He slipped a hand around my back, ushering me closer to him, out of the downpour and into the bar. The place was mostly cleaned up. It wasn’t theoretically open, but there was always someone there. He led me in, closing the umbrella, shaking it off at the door. I wandered in awhile, sitting down at the closest table. I put the guitar back in its case. My suitcase still had my life in it. I never got too settled in one place at one time. Colt shook himself off and sat down.

I knew who Colt Brogan was. Everyone knew. Colt was the street leader, the head demon, the latest in a long line of them. He controlled the streets. He knew everybody and everything. All in all, he was a very powerful guy. I’d say he was in his early twenties. He wasn’t as active on the street, but he was considerably involved. Dusk was his brother. Together, they ran the streets and the circus. Colt was bigger, older, faster, wiser. He was more respected. His younger brother was more troublesome, cunning, a terrible liar. But they both had a lot of power. And that was important to keep in mind at all times.

There was a girl behind the bar, wiping things down here and there. Colt went over to her, said a few quiet words, and she gave him a bottle. With it, he got two glasses, some ice, and came back over. She nodded, looked around one more time, and walked out the door. I could hear it lock behind her. In the time it had taken to watch her lock the door, Colt had poured himself a drink. When I looked back at him, he was working on pouring me one.

“You must be new.”

I nodded quietly, sipping from the drink he’d poured, watching as he held his own but took not a sip from it. I wasn’t all that new, but if he thought so, I’d let him think whatever he wanted. If it suited him, fine.

He took a sip, thinking a bit. I could feel the shivers all over my body from the rain. I was drenched to the bone. He cocked his head a bit, sliding his jacket off and handing it across to me. I tried to refuse but he was persistent.

“Take it. You’re shaking the table.” He smiled a bit and I took it and slid it over my shoulders, careful not to become too attached.

“Thanks,” I muttered.

“So what exactly do you do for the organization?”

I laughed. “Organization?”

He shrugged. “What would you like me to call it? Asylum? Freak show? The gangs? The drug trade? Pick something.”

“I work in public relations.”

“Really? What kind?”

“The lost.”

Colt smiled. “So you’re not all that deep into it yet.”

“No, I suppose I’m not.”

He gazed around the empty bar, nothing here but us two. When he was able to focus again, he looked me dead in the eye. “Good. You’re a lot better off.”

I tried to play ignorant; I tried to pretend I had no idea what he was talking about. I smiled back at him over the glass.

“What exactly do you do?”

And he grinned. “Everything.”

I took another sip, thinking about the circumstances. I belonged outside, rallying more troops. But this was the boss. He made the rules and he could bend or break them as he saw fit. It would be considered unwise and impolite for me to refuse his offer of rest.

“When was the last time you slept?”

“Huh?”

“You know, sleep? That thing where you close your eyes and everything fades to black? Sometimes you wake up feeling better. It’s really something, you should try it sometime.”

I shrugged. “Maybe.”

Colt laughed. “Maybe? As in, maybe you’ll try it sometime? And if so, when? Sometime…next year?”

I shrugged again. “Hey, you never said when, you just said ‘sometime’. Nowhere in there did you suggest a time.”

He laughed again, more of a chuckle. “You’ve got me there.”

“What do you really want?”

He was glancing around a bit, pouring more alcohol into each glass. “Figured me out, huh? You’re quite the sharp one.”

“You’re stalling.”

Colt smiled again. “You really are on top of this. Let’s just say…my brother can be…pushy and reckless. I wanted to make sure that things were…suitable. I usually meet most of the lost that acquire positions of trade, yet he didn’t formally introduce you to me. I was most curious to learn why.”

“So here I am. What have you learned?”

He thought about his answer for a moment. “That you’re very talented.”

I quirked a brow. “How so?”

“Because we’ve been sitting here talking all this time…and I don’t know a damn thing about you.”

And all I could do was laugh. As hard as he tried, as obvious as it was, all the lies fell apart and every facade shattered. And in the end? I was figured out.

“I should get back out there.”

He checked the time. “You should get to sleep. You’re not the only one trying, kid.”

“Kid?”

“Yeah. How old are you?”

I smiled at him. “How old do I look?”

And Colt laughed. “Oh no, I know better than to answer that one. Either way, if I’m too high or too low, you’ll be mad.”

“Try me.”

And he raised a brow, smiling this sideways little grin. “Really?”

I coughed while taking a sip from my glass. Just the way he said it, and the look on his face, his mind was on other ideas. I watched his eyes wander while I coughed.

“18,” I muttered.

He nodded. “I’m 23.”

I nodded and the silence returned.

“Come on, go on home, change, rest.”

I shook my head. “Not tired.”

“That’s bull, you look exhausted.”

“How I look and how I am are two completely different things.”

He looked around for a minute, considering his options. With a start, he got up, shaking the table. I watched him take my guitar, as well as the case I’d been sitting on, and he locked them in a closet somewhere. Then he turned his gaze back to me.

“Now what are you going to do?”

“I can sing without music.”

He smiled again. “I’m sure. Let’s go.” He had a hand out to me. I finished my drink and took it, slipping out of the chair. I wasn’t really trashed or anything, but some of the lines were a little fuzzy here and there.

He put an arm around me and led me out of the place, and I went. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I trusted him, why I didn’t walk away or quit. And it wasn’t even a matter of trust. I was just…there. I was in the now and this was it. He was the boss. He literally was the top of the chain. I was working for him, when you got down to it.

And here’s to getting down to it.

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