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8. Vague Turned Vagabond

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I was behind the bar, watching silently as the show began. Everything was working out fine – the band was playing beautifully. Everything was perfect, the crowd was in the mood and the cops lingering on the edges were peaceful. And then all hell broke loose. Literally.

From where I was standing, I had a front row seat to the action. Irish looked over at me, reaching under the bar and threw a firearm over to me. I checked to make sure it was loaded then let it hang loosely in one hand. As the lights dimmed, the crowd started to murmur amongst themselves. Then seven shapes made themselves known, jumping on top of tables. And they all opened fire. Some of them shot at the lights, keeping their faces hidden. Some fired on specific people, others just went into the crowd. Irish ran back and forth, dodging shots here and there, trying to take out whomever she could. She aimed for legs and arms, careful not to kill anyone. I followed her example. The cops had their weapons in hand, looking around wildly to try and target someone. Deacon’s brother, Roger, looked completely baffled. He seemed lost. And in the corner, smiling ear to ear, was Miss Ransom herself, smiling as the madness took over.

I stayed behind the bar, keeping opposite Irish. She kept firing until Officer Burton got to her, resting a hand on her shoulder strongly. As I turned to see what her response was, I felt a fire tear through my chest. I saw Dacien come up behind Deacon and knock her flat as I was slipping to the ground. I hit hard, dropping the gun and clutching a hole in my chest that was spouting blood. The last image that crossed my mind before I passed out was Irish’s face, full of concern and worry, a tear sneaking down her cheek. And then it was all black.

I woke up surrounded my white, machines whirring away, lights flashing at my side. There were tubes running into my arm, pumping chemicals into my body. Blinking revealed more of the room, Irish’s crumpled form curled up in the chair next to me. The bed next to me was also occupied. I could hear steps pacing the room on that side, waiting impatiently. I coughed suddenly, causing the steps to stop. As they came closer to my side, I closed my eyes tight, hoping to disappear. The figure crept past me, towards the door. I opened my eyes again as they were on their way out, watching Dacien’s form leave the room.

“Red’s next to you,” Irish whispered when she was gone. I looked over at her slowly.

“What happened?”

“Brie, Wes, and Mason are all dead. Shot in the fray. A few customers won’t be coming back, another bunch are seriously injured, Red and Jekt among them. Shirley and Moe are okay – they were smart and slipped into the back when shots started flying. The two cops tailing you are outside, and Deacon’s brother disappeared when things got tough. We spoke, but he was just as clueless as I was about what was going on. I told the kids to open the shop without you. They booked another band, completely unrelated to everyone. The bar’s closed – police are all over it. They caught a few of them.”

“Dacien?”

“She just left, as you saw. She’s got an alibi – they already brought her in. Deacon’s disappeared. Riley too, but I assume she’s gone underground with Dusk.”

“When can I get out of here?”

Irish shrugged. “You took a pretty heavy hit, but you’re otherwise alright. The cops don’t think it’s safe for you to go home, or to the shop, or to the bar, until this is all sorted out.”

“So I can get out of here right away?”

“Sure,” she shrugged. She looked around the room, then got up and went out to get the doctor. Two hours passed before I was legitimately signed out. They ran a few more tests, unhooked all the wires, and I was free. The Morrows appeared as I was stepping out the door.

“Mr. Dorrance…”

I looked at Jerome. “Let me guess, you would recommend that I stay here? Or that I hole up somewhere? You guys are doing a half ass job in solving my parents’ case, and you’re doing even less for me. So if you’d kindly just leave me the hell alone and let me get on my way, I’ll be just fine on my own. And if I’m not, I’ve got money to bury myself, thanks.”

And I turned on a heel and walked off, Irish holding an arm around my shoulder. She kept pace with me, both of us silent the entire time – the only sound my harsh breathing when I pushed myself too hard. On the way home, we opted to drop by the shop and say hello to the kids, make sure things were going smoothly. We found Officer Burton there, making sure that everything was working out well. He kept his distance from us, which was a relief to me. We sat at the front desk, Irish and I, while Shirley and Moe entertained the crowd.

The whole event, the shooting at the bar, the hospital, it was all a blur of events. I was on all kinds of medications for the pain. I was on a good streak, getting my life in order. I couldn’t afford to live in fear; I had better things to be doing with my time. Irish looked exhausted. She’d been through a lot in her life – pain and loss. The bar was her home, her safe haven, and it had been temporarily taken from her. Having so many cops around bothered her. The crowd here seemed tense, everyone shooting sideways glances at each other, whispering rumors. The Morrows had given up the chase, or they just got better at hiding their presence. Either which way, everything was a blur. For a moment, I missed my parents, my old life. I got up slowly, while people milled around and music blared from the back of the store. Caine was playing solo instead of a big band. It was better that way. Pushing through the crowd, I made it outside, lighting up a smoke haphazardly. Irish slipped out shortly after and I handed the pack over to her. She lit up, exhaling heavily.

“So what now?”

I took a few heavy pulls, looking up and down the street idly. I was trying to pretend that I belonged somewhere right now, or that I belonged here at least. I just wanted to be somewhere. The smoke made me feel real, its effect coming from my cause. I was a slight impact on the world. It was just smoke, but it was something. Just like all else, I was required to breathe for survival. But you can’t see the air as it leaves one’s body, or gets sucked in. But smoke, that you can see. You can create it and do tricks, whatever you want. It was something I could control, albeit simple, it was better than nothing. Right now I had very little left in my hands, despite popular belief. But that was the truth of it. I just needed something that was beyond fate and circumstance, something well beyond the bars of all else. For the moment, this was it. I looked at Irish long and hard and could come up with nothing but smoke. When I gave no answer, she simply shrugged and kept smoking, as if words had never passed her lips. However unsettling, the silence was momentarily soothing as a step away from the madness of the world.

I felt like I was living in a glass box, stuck, seeing everything happen but unable to prevent any of it. No matter how hard I pounded on the walls, they refused to budge. If I tried hard enough, they might crack a bit, but they still remained despite my best efforts. After years of fighting my invisible prison, I’m still here. And still pounding at the cracking walls. One day they’ll yield, and I’ll cut myself to pieces on the shards. But I’ll be free, despite the sacrifice. That’s how life works – we’re always giving up something in exchange for something that might be better. There are no guarantees – we’re promised nothing. It’s all a gamble, a hope and a chance. I had given up a lot for security in my youth, letting opportunity slip by. I would start this business and make it work. I would learn what it was to truly suffer for your art. And I would learn what it was like to let it all slide. To just let go. I think that’s why I had such a fascination with Deacon. Because she didn’t care, nothing could hold her. I longed for that freedom from restriction. Restrictions that I myself had enacted on my own person. I longed to be away from the rules of life. But there’s no such freedom – we all know this. We’re all left to make due. We’re left to wonder and suffer, to bleed and burn – do or die. This was my life changing decision, the turning point – the crossroads. I had started making big decisions already, but this was the one that would take the cake.

“If I had to go, would you go with me?” I asked. My tone was even; I felt like I’d matured ages lately, assuming my position as a man in the world. No longer a lost boy, hopelessly searching for the way home. I would make it on my own – I had no choice. I only truly had myself to depend on. But I was curious for Irish’s answer. She smiled, taking a few more pulls on the smoke.

“What, and leave before all the fun starts? Never.” She had a sort of evil grin on her, a mocking smile that made one creep across my face as well. I couldn’t be sure if she was answering in such a way to avoid hurting my feelings, or if sarcasm was her defense mechanism. She was impossible to decipher; I quit trying ages ago. There was just no use. Either which way, I had known the answer before asking, I was just curious to find how Irish would approach the situation. I thought she’d handled it rather well.

There would be a lot to settle with the kids. But it was none of my business. I had enough going on without worrying about how this would be taken care of. Irish would collect damages from somebody for the bar, I don’t know whom, but she would, somehow. She always did. Nobody trashed her place that didn’t pay for it one way or another. With everything set in the amount of madness it was in, I decided to take the cue to go on a vacation. There was too much going on here; I needed to clear my mind, to get working again. This atmosphere was too stressful, I felt like I was suffocating, slowly being choked of my life, each breath being stolen from my lungs carefully. I’d lost hundreds of breaths by now and barely noticed that things were spinning. It was time to stop the cycle, step off the carousel, and relax awhile. I would have to go alone, this I knew. Not by choice, but there was too much going on for anyone else to go with me. Irish had things to settle, Shirley and Moe had the business now. I would come back when things were calm and sedate, better. Right now, anything was better than this.

“It’s been real,” I said, reaching out to shake Irish’s hand. She put her smoke out, taking my hand and pulling me close into her.

“Don’t go too far, we might need a smart guy like you around here after a fashion.”

“You know you won’t. Going to miss me?”

And Irish smiled that same grin as before. “Course not.”

We parted, with promises to keep in touch with the highlights of events as time went by. I couldn’t be sure if I’d be gone a few days, weeks, what have you, but I knew that I would have to be gone for a while. Irish called Caine and told him I was looking for a place to crash. Caine’s father owned an inn upstate, so it was settled I’d start my wandering there and see where it headed me in the end. If there even was an end. I couldn’t tell you if there was a new start, and old finish, or a meaningless middle, but either way, it was something to do. It was my something better, at least for the present.

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