It was a slow night in the park, but to be honest, she didn’t mind. With Daddy being held for questioning by the Feds, she felt vulnerable and exposed on her perch atop the walkway railing. It had been hard enough to get dolled up and ready to work; she wanted to curl up somewhere safe, wrapped in flannel and sipping hot chocolate, not putting herself out on the street.
The warm night air was as familiar to her as her own face in the mirror – She fancied she could smell the distant Atlantic Ocean. Nearby, a couple was curled up in the overgrowth by the park’s edge. Their murmurs and endearments made her own heart warm; love, in itself, by itself, was a thing of beauty that gladdened her heart.
Her chosen spot wasn’t perhaps the wisest; the broad cone of light cast by the street light overhead was a trade off. It displayed her ample curves to good advantage but played merry hell with her night vision. Figures beyond its bright circle were indistinct, shadowy. She shivered on her cement perch, masking the movement by smoothing her blouse and skirt. Focusing on the whispering lovers gave her a bit of calm. Over by the bridge, she could barely make out the hulking form of JeJe, a homeless Jamaican she had recently befriended. He was swaying like a metronome atop a piano, well into the second half of a bottle of rum. She smiled at his turned back; he was a good man fallen on hard times – she knew what that felt like. Her musings on what had brought him to this current situation were interrupted by the scuff of leather on stone. Glancing down the stairs to where the pathway dipped under JeJe’s bridge, a figure was coming into the view. By the walk, they were male, so she put a smile on her lips and arched her back slightly, putting her body on better display to a potential customer.
As they ascended the stairs and into the light, the man’s wiry frame, the angular line to his eyes, the purely Japanese cast to his features was illuminated. His pace was an arrogant saunter, and leather gloves covered his hands. Her mind recoiled in terror; Yakuza. Memories flooded her like a tsunami, washing away any reason and leaving only panic in their wake. She scrambled backwards, falling off her perch and landing hard on the cobblestones three feet below. Heels scraping and finding no purchase, her retreat was almost comedic in its ineffectiveness. The park disappeared from view – her vision narrowing to just his face, a cruel smile curving thin lips, his brows arched in insolent amusement, the expression so horribly familiar. Her gut wrenched and she sobbed, almost crab-walking backwards in her haste to create distance. The open door of the park halted her progress, her head meeting its wide surface with a loud crack that left her seeing stars.
He stopped walking towards her, dropping into a graceful, predatory crouch, a frown appearing on those thin lips. With one gloved hand, he reached out, grasping at her. His touch was all it took for her tenuous grasp on reason to snap. A shrill, wailing scream of despair and denial echoed through the park as she gave voice to her fear and horror. His spoken words to her of suspicious curiosity were not what her mind heard. Instead, it was yet another taunt, more scorn piled upon a useless gaijin covered in inked graffiti and insults, a bathhouse slave. She struggled to her feet using the door as support, hobbling as one high heel of her expensive leather boots snapped from the abuse. Staggering, she shoved past a trust-fund baby and accompanying boy-toy who had paused, drawn by the commotion, and bolted into the street. Cars honked and tires screeched as she ran blindly through traffic, an accident left unnoticed in her wake.
A long block away, she ducked into the alleyway, ricocheting off the trash cans and garbage that the shadows hid from view. Crashing to her hands and knees more than once, she finally followed gravity’s imperative and crawled behind a dumpster. There, she hid, drawing her knees up to her chest, rocking back and forth like a child faced with the terrible reality that the boogey monster wasn’t simply a story. The world around her did not exist; only an internal landscape of memory-fed horror.
It was her soft keening, much like a wounded animal that drew the attention of the detective hours later. He was the sort to bring the battleground to the enemy; in the south side, that meant walking the turf that belonged to the gangs, the dealers, the whores. Recognizing the girl, he keyed his mic, calling for medical attention. Almost immediately another call came out over the radio; a hostage situation. He groaned softly, wanting to help, but torn by his duty. He called out her name, inquiring what was wrong – but as with the man in the park, simple words could not break through the barrier of her trauma. Attempting to fend him off, she shoved outward with both arms, her mangled boots failing to gain purchase in the slimy muck pooled around the base of the dumpster. Reverting to his training, he tried a subdual hold; the disciplined grasp made her panic more, flailing and shrieking her refusal. The call came over his radio again; all available units needed. Lunging forward with a muttered curse, he pinned her arms to her side, wrapping her in a bear hug and pulling her against his chest. Nose buried in the skin-warmed fabric, she breathed in the distinct scent of his aftershave, mixed with the smells of the city itself. The blended whole was entirely un-Japanese. Yakuza did not hug. These two facts combined with his entirely New England accented cussing broke through her panic. Anguished cries turned into sobs, and tears spilled down her cheeks to drip heavily on his shirt. His name was a hesitant question; his affirmation was comfort in and of itself. The terror-sparked hallucinations faded, leaving her wrung out and exhausted, shivering in his arms. One hand lightly stroked her hair as the other keyed his mic again, acknowledging the call for all officers.
Footsteps in the alleyway heralded the arrival of the medic and he slowly pulled away, leaving her to the trained compassion of the redheaded woman in scrubs. The nurse’s questions sparked cautions quickly learned in the five years since her escape from that nightmare. A struggle for composure, hurriedly spoken – if easily seen through – lies … she used them all to wrap herself in shreds of safety. Staying out of the system was paramount. No names. No finger prints. To be in the system was to be separated from the one who had been her savior in those dark days. Forcing herself upright, she made the appropriate refusals, trying to patch together appearances and be convincing enough.
At last she was alone in the alley. Sliding back down the brick wall, adding further scrapes to those on her hands, knees and thighs, she wept more softly this time. This city was hard; more so in some ways than Los Angeles had been. She had never been strong, never been the Alpha leader that others turned to. Instead, she had survived through compliance, through surrender, by bending and not breaking. Here, as in LA, safety went by the name Abe Shackleton. He was far away, enduring question after question from a Federal racketeering task force, lawyers taking the place of the guns he usually used to defend himself with. Her hand slipped to her lower spine, caressing the one piece of indelible artwork on her body that had been of her own choice – his name, his affirmation that she belonged to him. As always, it was her anchor, her comfort. Closing her eyes, she traced its raised contour on her flesh, imagining it was his possessive touch. Comforted, she clambered back to her feet, kicking off the ruin of her boots. Scooping them up in one hand, she picked her way through the trash and obstacles that was a perfect metaphor for the city, and disappeared into the welcoming shadows of Perdition.