Three Thousand Five Hundred and Thirty Three

I long ago set aside the notion that every day is a gift, but not out of some cynical resignation to the mundane nature of life. No, I simply came to understand I had lived so long I could find no reason to resent the notion of there being no tomorrow.

And yet there are those times when I wish another tomorrow were a gift I could bestow. Life is not fair and never will be.

Rest In Peace, Cathy.



I was moving even before Aiko’s panicked shriek died in the air and the deputy was right behind me. We found Dalene stretched out on her back in the doorway to the bedroom, her head cradled in Neff’s lap as she twitched and gagged, foam drooling from the corner of her mouth.

I froze, staring at her as Neff looked up at me with terror in her eyes, Aiko standing over both of them with her hands twisted in her hair and tears streaming down her face. In that moment there was nothing but paralyzing fear- had I made a mistake? I expected withdrawal, expected it to be very unpleasant, but this bad, this suddenly?

The Deputy swore a quiet oath and gently yet firmly guided me to one side as he brushed past me to kneel beside her.

“Turn her head, girl,” he said to Neff, “don’t need her choking. Miss Angie, you dial zero on the phone there and ask for an ambulance. Tell ’em Buck Carlyle is here.”

Ambulance? Disaster. I had to stop it, had to deflect his concern, take control of this, think of something…
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Stories About Me, Written By Others…

Chapter 1

I usually play video games with my wife and son on Thursday nights. Our rule: if the phone rings, we ignore it unless it’s important. Since not much is more important than helping my son blast assorted nasties to bits, the phone rarely was answered. Still, I’m no fool, and when the caller said, “…we have a freelance job available for you from a well-paying client, if you can pick up the phone now. Are you in? It’s now 6:15pm Eastern Time, and if you can get back to me before…”

“Dude, frag that Elite!” I yelled as I picked up the phone. Then I forced a smile into my voice. “Hello, hello, well-paying client? What can I do for you?” I try to be moderately informal, even in business. I only freelance on the side, so I like to have fun with it. I don’t like dealing with uptight clients anyway.

Caller ID showed a blocked number, but he identified himself as working for a company in Boston that was offering me $10,000 if I would fly out to Colorado on Saturday morning.

I laughed a little. It wasn’t the biggest offer I’d ever gotten. On the other hand, it was the biggest I’d gotten in a few years. He repeated that he was serious, but wasn’t allowed to give me any more details. He said that if I could accept delivery of a package with a written offer tomorrow morning by 10AM, and call him back by 11, I’d have the gig. Otherwise, he had a list of other people he needed to call right now instead.

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We were three days on the road when Dalene began digging through her bag, her face a study in quiet desperation as she pawed through her few belongings searching for something she knew she would not find. Aiko was driving with Neff beside her. Dalene and I were in the back seat.

“When did you run out?” I asked her.

Her gaze settled on me, her eyes a curious mixture of fear and resignation. “This morning,” she said. “I’ve been trying to stretch it out, but…” She sat back, her head lolling to one side as she stared out the window. “I’ll be ok.”

“No, you won’t.” I tapped Aiko on the shoulder, “We need to find a motel. We’re stopping for a few days.”
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A Sudden Change of Plans

I seldom attempt anything drastic without having a sense of certainty regarding the outcome. I require no guarantees, but there must be some logical expectation of success. Unfortunately I set out that morning without such expectations, instead simply counting on Jacques’s greed or, failing that, being prepared to use force- the latter option not being looked upon with any favor whatsoever. I would have taken more time to plan, but events were moving so quickly there was no other choice. If we simply ran Jacques would send people after us. I had the resources to make it easier, but I knew that would bring everything crashing down: we were the four of us against the world and that was the only strength holding Dalene together and through her, Neff and Aiko as well. Even this plan, assuming I could see it through successfully, was fraught with potential for disaster

The morning air was thick, the temperature passing the eighty degree mark even though it was barely seven o’clock. If there was sweat upon my brow it was as much from nerves as from the heat. The heavy overnight bag pulled at my shoulder as I made my way to the hotel to meet with Jacques, but the pistol taped to my back was the heaviest weight to bear. Those few people out and about paid me little attention as I was dressed like a tourist rather than a whore. I passed people who knew me and they never looked up, a symptom of the human predilection for placing people into categories: I could not be Angie because I did not look like a whore and Angie was a whore. A predictably flawed bit of logic, but it relieves one of the need to think about what one sees and it served my purpose that day.

I reached the hotel and paused at the steps. There was no doorman. In the fourteen months I had spent here I had never once seen the door unguarded. I stood for nearly a minute waiting for somebody to appear, but it became an uncomfortably long time and I had to either go inside or move on. I climbed the steps and entered the lobby only to find another oddity: there was nobody at the desk. Jacques’s mother always watched the desk Sunday mornings since there was little business going on. Jacques liked to believe she knew nothing of what he did, but in truth her sweet, grandmotherly exterior was home to the heart of a toad and soul of a crocodile.

I peered over the desk and found the small chair tossed on its side, but nothing else seemed amiss. Still, there were too many things out of place and I reached back under my blouse to peel the heavy snub-nosed revolver from my lower back. I wadded up the duct tape that had secured it and stuffed that in my pocket, then held the revolver low as I carefully made my way back to Jacques’s office. The entire building was eerily quiet and when I turned the corner I saw the door to the office was ajar. I set the overnight bag down against the wall and stepped quietly to the door, listening for a moment before pushing it open with my toe. I took in the scene with a single glance, then turned and took up the bag, heading for the front door. At the front desk I scooped up Ham’s car keys from the ashtray where he always left them, then went out the door, crossed the street and dashed down the alley to the parking lot.

The Falcon convertible started with a simple twist of the key and the temperature gauge showed it was still quiet warm- it could not have been parked more than fifteen or twenty minutes. I pulled out of the lot and headed north, away from our flat, then stopped at a gas station to put the top down. Next I turned towards the canal, crossing at the first bridge with no traffic, and the gun went over the rail and into the brown water. After that I followed a circuitous route back to our flat, parking in the alley behind the building.

“Get up!” I hissed at Aiko when she opened a blurry eye to see who had walked in.

She shook her head and sat up as I went to the couch and nudged Dalene hard. She lashed out at me and I grabbed her wrist, pulling her off the couch where she landed on Neff who was only just stirring.

“Damn, Angie!” Aiko moaned, “What time is it?”

“It’s early, get up. We need to get out of here right now.” Dalene started to say something and I stamped my foot emphatically. “No questions! Get moving- we’re leaving in ten minutes.”

“What’s wrong?” Dalene finally asked as she struggled into a pair of hot pants.

“Jacques is dead. So’s Ham, Gillie and Aggie, maybe more.”

All three of them froze, staring at me.

“Oh my God, will you three just move!”

It was more like twenty minutes before I could get them out to the car even though we left almost everything behind. Each had a change of clothes and we’d brought two guitars since most of our instruments were junk. When we reached the alley and they realized I had Ham’s car all of the doubt left them. Ham never let anyone drive his car, ever.

“Where are we going? Why are we going?” Dalene asked as we left Metairie on the Causeway, striking out across the lake.

“Right now we just want to get out of Louisiana and lose this car, then I was thinking New York City. Why? I’d think that’s obvious.”

I described for them the scene at the hotel- Gillie and Ham face down with their hands tied behind their backs, each with a bloody hole on the back of the head. Jacques slumped over his desk and from the amount of blood it looked like his throat had been cut. His mother had been sitting on the couch against the wall, looking like she was simply napping except for the small red hole in her forehead. It was clearly not a simple robbery- somebody was moving in and taking over and that somebody was pretty ruthless.

“I’m not sure I like New York,” Dalene said, and I could read her mind just by looking at her face: too close to home.

“Me, either,” Neff shouted from the back seat, “You think New Orleans is bad, wait’ll you’re on the street in the Big Apple.”

“We aren’t going to be on the streets in New York!” I laughed, suddenly feeling the tension and uncertainty drain away. “Look in the bag on the floor back there.”

Aiko reached down and unzipped the overnight bag, then almost screamed at what she saw.

“Where did you get this?” she shouted, almost laughing herself as she held up a bundle of twenty-dollar bills.

“I knew where the key to the locked box was hidden, so I cleaned it out,” I lied. Dalene looked at me with a mixture of awe and suspicion, but said nothing.

“How much?” Neff asked, and I told her I had no idea, but that was also a lie.

The bag contained two hundred thousand dollars in twenties, fifties and hundreds, Jacques’s price for our freedom. I still wonder to this day what his reaction would have been had he lived to receive it. That it became our lifeline over the next three years seems nearly karmic.

An Aside

“It’s not really fear,” she finally offered. “It’s more akin to shame. It’s also been self-indulgence, as I’ve been letting you try to sympathize with me. That’s a nice feeling. And, you may not realize it, but I do care what you think of me. It’s not something that I worry over, but… in truth I’m no saint my friend, and no innocent.”

“You think I’ll stop liking you?” I asked, unable to keep the irritation out of my voice. After the past two months it seemed pretty juvenile, especially coming from her.

Note: What follows may be distressing to some readers
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My only thought is to somehow ease you from the grip of this death spiral that defines you. There are but two things capable of touching your darkly secreted soul and you continue to hold the first at bay. I could seduce you with ease, but I fear to introduce yet another complication. All that remains is music. The three of you have not played together since I joined your group, but the introduction of the new guitar rekindles interest and soon music is again a real presence in this dingy flat.

The band forms almost naturally, a development I did not foresee. It makes sense now, a way to release the massive reservoir of anger and pain, that horrible angst you could never express as anything other than self-destruction, but at the time it seemed little more than a lark, a distraction from the goals I hoped to achieve… for all of you.

Truly Dalene, it is for all three of you, but you are first amongst them. I may have held Aiko and Nefertiri in lesser regard as I began this madness, but they are not to be lightly dismissed. You love them for a reason and it becomes clearer with every passing day. Those inclined to worship Fate or the Providence of the Divine would see those powers at work in your meeting, but I understand better than most: you are much like me in some ways, for you draw others to you as they see there is more than what meets the eye.

Your anger fuels the muse, and its grip is tight upon us. We play to small crowds with instruments scavenged from any source we can find. People are amused, disgusted, or merely indifferent, but it is unimportant- the need to express what lies within is overpowering. I am so very accustomed to steering those who stray into my sphere I am astounded to realize this is nothing of me and all of you. You play your guitar and I feel your pain- I give it a voice, words you would never allow yourself to speak, words appalling to those many that prefer to view the world through a veil of civilized indifference. It is amusing for they view me as the unstable and violent one while all believe you are the calm center of our angry coterie.

We cannot escape our reality- Jacques demands we attend the duties he assigns us, but he is first and foremost a man of commerce and he sees opportunity in our performances. Our first real show, with decent instruments and a stage and an audience, comes at his behest in a back room performance at a club he owns. We perform topless, a twist lending a certain surreal flavour given the tales your music tells, and the night ends with us plying our given trade; yet it matters not a bit, for we have the taste of it now. We had them in our hands, even if only for a moment.

The more we play the more animated you become… and then comes the first of three fateful events.


“It’s an electric guitar,” I said, blinking at her as innocently as I could manage.

Dalene smirked at me, “I know what it is. Where’d you get it?”

“Last night. You know how musicians are- always horny, always broke. I made a trade.”

It was mostly the truth, though I had laid out cash for the amplifier, dipping into my reserves to make it all come together. Dalene turned the case and opened it, then looked at me with a question in her eyes.


“This is a pretty nice guitar,” she said, “and it’s left handed.” She drew the Fender Stratocaster from its case, “You didn’t steal it…”

“Ham would have my head if I got caught, you know that.”

Aiko walked in and just stopped, staring at Dalene and me.

“Holy shit, where’d you steal that?”

I looked daggers at her and she stuck out her tongue at me, then we both broke down in giggles as Dalene plugged the guitar into the amp and hit the power. It took a minute for it to warm up and she touched the strings lightly, her fingers barely in contact with them as they hummed in high, clear tones that warbled, then steadied as she twisted the machine heads with practiced precision.

It was like the whole world just vanished for her- Dalene shut out everything and concentrated on the instrument in her hands. She plucked at it: weak, discordant sounds bleeding from the amplifier until she reached for a knob on the amp and twisted it to the right. It didn’t get louder- it just started to howl, and after that it was almost hypnotic, watching her long fingers dance along the neck of the guitar as it sang in high, moaning notes that blended into harmonies almost too high pitched to hear before crashing down into low, dirty tones that grabbed us by our bellies and shook our bones.

By then Neff was watching, and Aiko looked at her, the two of them grinning as Dalene’s fingers sailed up and down the register, coaxing agonized harmonies from her instrument until a sudden metallic whine scarred the sound and she clamped her fingers across the neck of the guitar.

“Needs new strings,” she said, then she looked at us, saw the expressions on our faces. “What?”

She stared at us for a moment, perplexed, then grinned.

“I’ve been playing since I was five, you know…”

Her voice trailed off as she looked down at the guitar in her hands and I watched all the joy drain from her as she closed into herself again. She yanked the cord out of the guitar and dropped it back into its case, staring at it for a minute before she slammed the case shut.

When she looked at me again she was the gaunt, wounded, joyless girl of the past months once more. She thanked me, but there was so much pain in her voice I had to believe I had made a terrible mistake. Neff and Aiko saw her shaking, but neither of them would approach her, instead just standing there as if to recognize her suffering would somehow shatter their world. In a way it was the honest truth: Dalene was the center of everything for them, she was the strong one… and she was slowly unraveling before their eyes.

I reached for her, just laying my hand on her shoulder, feeling her tense under the touch. She fixed her gaze on the floor, taking slow, deep breaths as her face flushed with the effort of burying her pain, but I moved closer, settling to my knees beside her, drawing her head to my shoulder. She was stiff, tried to resist the simple physical contact I offered, but something inside her yielded just a bit and she let me cradle her as we sat in an awkward silence, Neff and Aiko both frozen nearly as thoroughly as Dalene.

“My father…” she whispered, then she stopped, choking on the words before starting again. “My father bought me a guitar just like this… just a few months before he… before he threw me out of the house.”

It was not what she said, but the way she said it- there was a pause there, something she was desperate to say, but could not force herself to put into words. I looked up at Neff for she had known Dalene the longest and she stared at me wide-eyed for a moment before ever so minutely moving her head from side to side-Don’t do it.

Aiko’s eyes were nearly pleading with me to just let this go as we had so many times before… but I knew what that would mean and if I gave in to their fear yet again I might as well slip away and leave the three of them to their chosen fates. I nearly did just that, once again overwhelmingly aware of my own arrogance in thinking I had the right to intervene; to judge Dalene, and Aiko, and Neff and decide they had to have choices made for them. By me.

Dalene would be dead within a year, either from the drugs or from the brutal reality of the life she lived. Since my coming to this place there had been three prostitutes murdered and those were just the ones the police would admit to. There were more, of that I was certain. When Dalene was gone what would her friends do? How far behind her would they be? Aiko was already dabbling in Dalene’s heroin habit and Neff… Nefertiri was wasting away be sheer force of will, refusing to eat for long stretches until Dalene could coax her into it again.

All of this ran through my mind for the hundredth or thousandth time as I clasped the shaking nineteen-year-old girl to me and finally chose for her, for all of them.

“There’s a lot more to that story, isn’t there?” I whispered, “What really happened?”

She went rigid in my arms, not even breathing as I felt her heart begin pounding so hard it was as if her whole body was being struck by the repeated blows of some infernal hammer. She tried to pull away, but I held her tight.

“What did he do to you? What happened when he found out you were a lesbian?”

She drew a deep shuddering breath and this time I let her sit up straight. She stared into my eyes, not even looking at her friends, just completely focused upon me, seeking something in there. I opened up every non-verbal cue I possessed, asking her to trust me, to let this out. There was utter silence in the room. The outside world had melted away so that the universe was nothing more than that small space and the four people within.

“He said there weren’t going to be any dykes in his family… He said… he made me pack a suitcase and he drove me to New York, to Albany.”

“He left you in Albany?” Neff asked and I quietly raised my hand, gesturing for her to keep quiet. Dalene hesitated, looking now at her two friends, uncertainty in her eyes. I shook her gently, just once, and her gaze snapped back to me.

“What happened in Albany?”

“Daddy… he knew a young man there, a guy who’d done contracting work for our family when we had a summer place up in the Catskills. I guess he’d called ahead because when we got there he already had a Justice of the Peace waiting. The wedding was over before I even really knew what was happening.

“Daddy tossed my bag in Doug’s pickup and told him he knew he could straighten me right out. Then my new husband dragged me out to his cabin in the middle of nowhere and spent the next two months raping me two, three, sometimes four times a day.”

I heard the sharp intake of breath from both Aiko and Neff- neither of them had known of this. Despite the squalor of their current lives, what Dalene described was something beyond horrific. She was sixteen, her husband was twenty-five and he patiently explained to her that this was her life now, that he wanted a big family and he had promised her father that he would take good care of her. He was not violent, at least not overtly, but he kept her on a very short leash, confining her to his rustic home for three months before finally taking her into town.

“I finally got pregnant,” she whispered, her voice straining to escape her throat as tears began to flow, “and he wanted me to have a good doctor. I’d been pretty docile, just biding my time and when we realized I was pregnant he got all gooey about it, like this meant I’d finally come around… at the doctor’s office they sent me into the ladies room to pee in a cup and I went out the window. Second floor… dropped into a dumpster, then ran like hell.”

She had no money, no idea where she was, but she found the bus station and managed to beg bus fare from two women, telling them she was a runaway, but was going back home. At the station in New York City she hopped the first bus she could find and landed in New Orleans.

“That’s how I met Jacques… I needed an abortion and he offered to help me out. And then…”

She just waved her hand over her head as if to say “and here we are now”. Neff and Aiko drew close, the spell that had held them rooted to their places finally releasing them and the four of us held each other there on the floor.

I finally understood her. I finally realized that I could indeed help her, help all of them… if they would let me.


“You look like hell,” she said, but there was a very real note of concern in her voice. I looked up at her, staring into those corn flower eyes sunk within their dark sockets, and I offered her a wan smile.

“You should talk.”

Just a week ago she would have made some cutting remark and stalked off, perhaps to find another needle, but today she just grinned and shook her head.

“That was pretty stupid, getting in that guy’s face like that, ‘specially with Black Eye hangin’ around.”
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Matters most urgent press upon me. I shall return on Twenty-Second of May.