“There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.”
― Guy Gavriel Kay,
Off. On. Bright. On. Off. The cycle repeated every few seconds. Off. On. Bright. On. Off. Frank, in the car, was cycling through the headlights. In front stood Trey, gun still in hand, looking down at Tag. Frank left the headlamps on bright then Trey reached down and slowly removed the bag that had been placed over his head. Tag instantly turned away giving his pupils time to adjust to the photonic assault. The car and two men are stationed in a clearing surrounded by trees. The moon high above casting it’s white gaze over them.
“Where are we,” Tag asked through the corner of his mouth, his face still cringed in the opposite direction.
“Frank where we at?” Trey said.
“Somewhere up in the hills,” Frank replied.
“You going to fucking off me,” Tag asked sarcastically.
Trey pointed the gun at Tag, “you think I won’t?”
“I know you won’t… and you aren’t fooling anyone pretending you will,” Tag made his way to his feet with out the use of his hands which were zip-tied behind his back, “so if you want to intimidate me you’ll have to do better.”
“You’re right,” Trey punched Tag in the diaphragm, he gasped before buckling over. For a few moments the only sounds were those of Tag coughing and the idling of Trey’s old Cadillac.
Trey bent down and whispered in the ear of a still coughing Tag. “You’re right I don’t have it in me to kill you but this,” he gestured to wilderness with his gun, “this just might.” Trey stood up and walked back to his car before adding, “Oh and if you do make it back and I catch you anywhere near our house again, I’ll break more than just your nose.” A reference to a past encounter and, perhaps, a foreshadow to the next.
With that Trey closed the pastel orange driver’s door and was off, his engine slowly faded into the distance leaving Tag alone in the dark crunchy gravel. He exhaled finally having caught his breath and began thinking of a way to get out of this mess. He rolled on his back and pulled his legs through his arms getting his hands in front of him. He felt around on the ground for something, anything, he could use to cut the zip tie. After a few moments of kicking up dust and coming up empty he found the tip of a rather large rock protruding from the ground. He rubbed the zip tie on one of the corner until the plastic was compromised.
Several minutes later Tag broke free with a flex his back muscles. After taking a moment to rest he searched his pockets. Wallet with no money, Trey must have taken it, battery is missing from my phone, Trey, but everything else is here. After examining his belongings he took a second to survey the area. The vast fields of tree tops rapidly stretched into the distance., covering the Jalapeño Mountain Range with it’s familiar green fur. Finally he saw, in the distance far-far-away, the glow of civilization and the twinkle of a midnight calm ocean.
That is likely OS but he hesitated before heading towards it. Trey drove off in the opposite direction on a dusty dirt road. The opposite direction though. What if that road lead miles into the woods before eventually looping around. Not a good choice. He could just make a straight line towards the warm simmer of the city… through the forest…. at night. Neither option seemed preferable to the other.
He sat unmoving. Breathing. Just breathing in and out. With a long deep inhale and a quiet exhale he grabbed the dropper of liquid from the breast pocket of his jacket. A flick of his thumb he popped open the cap. A drop in the right eye. A drop in the left eye. Two drops on the tongue. Breathe. Kneel. Stand. Move.
Tag decided to take his chances with the forest.
“He slipped? That’s it? He slipped and hit his head on the curb?”
“Yeah he was just out partying and dancing and lost his footing…. Not drinking though. He’s to young to be doing that.”
The officer scribbled on his pad as Eric talked. A series of scratches to be referenced later. I personally don’t think the officer was buying it but you’d have to ask him. His name was Jim Cranbay, new to the streets, some fresh blood patrolling this college community. Soft and rare not yet seasoned. He had a sunken face accented with protruding bug eyes; each hair on his beard caught the burn of the street lamps so marvelously though.
“And where were you when this happened?”
“I was walking back from the Fried Olive with my friends. We just came up the street when we saw Edward.”
“And your friends names were?”
Jim Cranbay was grilling him. He wanted the full story. OS is know for four things: college, parties, beaches and drugs. What it is not know for is violence; the community is peaceful. Officers will let small things slide such as minimal drug possession and public drunkenness as long as the community stays safe. What happened to Edward… was not safe.
Jim Cranbay snapped his fingers to reclaim the attention of Eric’s wondering mind. His eyes were translucent filling themselves with the aroma of night. Breathing every light. Tasting every sound. Seeing all the flavors. Jim Cranbay snapped his fingers once more.
“Oh shit, uh… my friends are: Trey Gover, Frank Hustle, and my man Kevin Reed over there,” Eric pointed to Kevin who was being interviewed by Jim Cranbay’s older more veteran partner, Jim Daily.
“Where are Trey and Frank?”
“You and Kevin are here but where are the other two?”
“Shit man I don’t know I ain’t their keeper.”
Jim Cranbay paused and looked and Eric.
“Alright just wait here for a moment.”
Jim Cranbay walked away as his partner excused himself and did the same. The two men met next to the squad car.
“So probey, what do you think?” Jim Daily asked.
“I feel like something isn’t right. I interviewed six of them and they all gave the same story. Not similar but exactly the same story. Word for word.”
“I noticed the same thing.”
“Also what was Edward’s last name again? Gover right?”
“It seems like his brother, Trey, ran off after Edward injured himself. You’d think he’d want to stay.”
“What about their-Oh shit! Get on the ground!”
Jim Daily removed his gun from the holster. He grabbed it with both hands and continued to bark orders at Eric. Daily walked through the crowd of semilucid color-splattered partiers.
“How the fuck didn’t you catch this piece tucked in his pants Cranbay? This gangbanger could’ve shot you!”
He attached the cold metal rings to Eric’s hands and, after removing the pistol, rolled him back over. The crowd was mostly in shock. “Get up,” Daily pulled Eric to his feet and walked him to the car. “Dispatch we’re gonna need back up at 6871 Olas de Oro for a raid on a possible drug house.”
“Drug house? Man what the fuck that’s racial profiling!”
“Yeah so your pupils are always just that big. You’re coming with us.”
Jim Cranbay stood in astonishment of the firecracker work of Officer Daily. It was entertaining if not a bit excessive.
Red. Slowly covers the wall. Blue. Next yellow. A can rattles. Spray once more.
“Hand me the green.”
“Why don’t you just get it yourself?”
The girl turned her head towards him, one eye covered by a purple bandana.
“Cause I can’-”
“Cause you can’t see right now. Blah Blah Blah. Well if you uncovered your good eye… guess what… you probably could.”
He did have a point. Her left eye, the uncovered one, hand been blind since birth. Her right eye, the covered one, however worked fine. This was her method though. Never liked to see what her tag looked like until the end. Her friend placed the green can in her hand as he removed the yellow one.
“Just a few more spurts. How’s it looking Nitro?”
Nitro stood back and lit the cigarette in his hand. After a lengthy drag said, “Always a blind Pollock,” he took another drag, “Well a half blind 16-year-old female Pollock from Sunny Shores.”
“Was that a compliment or an insult,” she felt around the wall for where the paint was fresh then added some more lines and dots.
She kept on spraying the wall adding dashes and blurts while Nitro exchanged the cans in her hands. The work was coming together. The fetal form frame slowly grew and evolved in the following few hours. Into an abstract adolescent before maturing into a full fledged adult. A few specks of silver spray made him look older than his age. The girl stood back.
“I’d say I’m more Lee Krasner,” she paused, “What do you think?”
Nitro took a long look at the wall. He breathed it in with each drag of his fag, taking his time, while she became increasingly impatient. He loved to annoy her.
“I’d say you’re not Krasner…”
“That’s not what I meant. I want to know if you thi-”
“I don’t think it’s finished.”
“Fuck. Good thing I left the bandana on. Can you lead me to the wall again?”
“Sure. I’m gonna place your finger on the ‘o’ I think it needs more work.”
She took his hand as he lead her back to the bricks. Fingers interlocked. The two of them together… spending time with one another lik-
“Shit!” Nitro whispered.
“What?” She whispered back.
A silent moment echoed the passing cars.
“I thought I heard someone coming,” he placed her hand on the wall, “we’re good though.”
“You just wanted to hold my hand longer.”
A wink of her dead eye. She would’ve seen him blush. Cheeks a deep rose red which matched his eyes and polished his albino skin.
“Maybe it was both,” he said kissing her on the neck.
“Nitro stop it. I got finish this.”
At least he was able to see her blushing.
“Is this the middle of the top of the rim of the ‘o?'”
“Hand me the pink,” she stretched her hand out.
He gave her the pink can, “how’d you know?”
“You always want more pink you fucking fag,” she joked at him, “Alright. Done.”
She stepped back once more, beside Nitro, and removed her bandana.
“Krasner still your jealous heart. My girl’s done it again.”
Sirens began to wail.
“Oh shit we gotta get outta here. Let’s go.”
The two grabbed their paint supplies and ran. They left behind the police station on the corner of Disney and Maple. A fleet of cop cars pulled out of the garage heading for OdO; passing a forgotten pink spray can and a piece of art that reads ‘Buckshot.’
He wandered through the woods as the night grew steadily darker. Over logs and under branches. Right than Left. Left than right. He knew not what lay beyond each trunk or every shrub he just knew the direction he needed to head. West.
Every so often he’d here the call of an owl or the slithering of a snake. He heed them no mind and expected they give him the same pleasure. The last thing he wanted was to encounter another obstacle. A twig crunched under his feet frozen by dew in the cold winter air. Each step a small echo of where he’d been but no indication of where he may go.
The glow of OS was eventually engulfed by the rising sun reflecting off the ocean. Each city light becoming an indistinguishable pixel in the beauty of the morning sunrise. He knew not what time it was but sunrise typically happen around 7 am so he knew that he’d been out here for hours. The trek was long, his legs tired, his body frigid. The trip still at it’s peak. A new sound was added to the symphony of morning doves and crunching grass, the low rumble of a slowing starving body.
His drugs could only hold it off for so long.
He found himself at the top of a hill just as the sunrise was at the peak of beauty. Strokes of orange, brushes of red, lush yellow, shimmering off the dark salty blue Pacific. He stopped to admire the view and think. What is my next move?
Trey left him out here, but aside from the obvious personal reason of revenge, Edward still owed his employer’s money. This was no small amount either, it was enough to raise alarm, if not worse, for his friend Cheyenne. She was the one who gave him this job when he was at his lowest and someone he never wanted to let down. How could she be so stupid though? As to give Edward so much without collecting payment. Edward had also cracked his head on the sidewalk so collecting may be difficult.
The stress was getting to him and the last thing he wanted was a drug induce panic attack while stranded in the woods. He closed his eyes and took a deep breathe. The powerful smell of smoke filled his nostrils bringing back memories of home. Wait. Smoke. Where there’s smoke there’s fire and where there’s fire there may be people. Tag turned back and fourth surveying the ground shading his eyes with his hand. There! Among the green canape of the forest lay a clearing with a wooden house and a metal barn.
Tag alter his path towards the house, happy his wanderings led him to this hill top, it was the only one that broke the tree line. Without it he may never have seen the large cabin in the distance. He was still far out in the woods and may very well have died before reaching OS.
He set off once again.