He didn’t really like the bar. It was too loud, the sounds seemed to bounce off the walls in never ending echoes. The place reeked of human misery. A stench so strong that it had taken permanent residence in the fake black leather on the bar stools.
Angel watched as two women tried to move seductively in an attempt to catch his eyes. They were scantily clad in skirts so short he wondered why they even bothered to put anything on. These painted whores were nowhere as sexually enticing as some of the women, covered in big dresses and fancy hats, he’d seen a hundred years ago.
“Another beer?” The bartender asked. He nodded. It wasn’t like another beer, his fifth, would actually make him drunk. He could probably drink every single beer they had and still walk, mostly in a straight line, out of the bar.
Angel turned just enough to look over at one of the tables in the corner of the badly lit bar. Five men were sitting at the table playing poker.
“That’s the third time you’ve lost tonight, Tony!” an overweight man in a grey sweatshirt and worn jeans laughed and slapped one of the other men on the shoulder.
“Fuck you, Pete,” a dark-haired man snarled and pushed the cards away.
The winner, a thin pale man in his late forties, chuckled and scooped up the wrinkled dollar bills on the table and stacked them neatly by his elbow.
A flash of something made Angel tilt his head and focus on the darkness underneath the table. There it was again. A brief movement. A beer coaster slowly rolled out from under the table. It hit the shoes of a woman walking by and stopped its journey. A small hand inched out from under the table, reaching for the coaster. The fingers wriggled but couldn’t get a hold of the piece of cardboard.
Suddenly the man called Tony grabbed on to the wrist of the searching hand and roughly pulled out a scruffy looking little boy. The boy flinched and protectively brought his free hand up over his head as if he expected to be hit.
“What the hell did I tell you, you little bastard?” the man yelled as he tightened his hold on the thin wrist.
“s-s-stay under the table,” a small voice answered.
“Even someone as fucking stupid as you should understand that,” the man pulled the boy closer.
“Come on, Tony,” the thin man said, “Give the kid a break.”
“Keep the hell out of my business, Phil,” Tony said and pushed the little boy away, “Get back where you belong.” The boy scrambled under the table and disappeared in the shadows again.
“Another round of poker?” the overweight guy asked, “Or are you broke, Tony?”
The other men snickered.
“Called Child Services once,” the bartender said as she put the beer in front of Angel, “Told them the kid was being mistreated. He’s here almost every night,” the woman shrugged, “Never heard from them, though.”
Angel turned his attention back to his beer. He didn’t usually go to bars. He tried to keep to himself. Stayed in the alleys and whatever abandoned rundown apartment block or empty warehouse he could find in the darker parts of LA. But sometimes he just needed to know that all this…the humans and the life…still happened, even if he wasn’t there to observe it.
Sometimes he wondered if it was the soul longing for company. Wondered if it could shrivel up from loneliness and isolation, like a plant deprived of sunlight.
“Come on, Tony,” one of the men at the table behind him said, “You’re either in or you’re out. So which is it?”
“I’m in…I’m just,” Tony mumbled, “I’ve got the money, just not with me.”
“How stupid do you actually think we are?” Angel turned his head and watched one of the men, the youngest at the table, stand up.
“I’ll pay you back, Dan,” Tony said and glared at the man.
“Yeah and pigs may fly out of my ass,” the overweight man rumbled with laughter.
“If you don’t have anything of value then don‘t waste our time,” Dan said and sat back down.
Tony looked around at the men at the table and suddenly reached down and pulled the boy back out. The kid made a startled sound as he was pushed in Dan’s direction.
“You can keep him for a week if you win,” Tony said and took a gulp of his beer, “Don’t think I haven’t heard about your sick idea of a fun time, Dan,”
“Hey,” the thin man said and looked alarmed, “That’s…”
“Shut the fuck up, Phil,” Dan said and looked at the kid for a second, “Okay,” he nodded, “But I get to keep him two weeks.”
Tony ran a hand over his forehead, “Okay…“ he said reluctantly, “Two weeks…”
“I’m not playing this round,” Phil said and stood up, his pale skin looked ashen in the light from the lamps in the ceiling, “This is fucked up. Come on, Pete…let’s go drink somewhere else.”
“I wanna see this,” Pete said and leant back in his seat.
“I’m outta here,” Phil left the table and stormed out of the bar.
Angel looked at the people sitting around at the other tables. No one had noticed what was going on. At least no one who actually cared. He turned back to the bar. The woman who had talked to him earlier was gone. A large man was taking orders now and serving drinks with a few grunts and mumbled words.
No one gave a damn.
He stared down at his beer. Watched the foam slowly dissolve. He could just walk out. He could walk out and never return. It wasn’t any of his business.
They had messy lives. They had short messy lives. Lives he tried to stay out of.
He pulled a few bills from his pocket and threw them on the bar top. He walked straight to the door and out of the bar. Out into the cold air and didn’t look back once.
He blamed the soul. That damn voice going on and on in his head. About doing the right thing, the thing that would bring him redemption.
So here he was. Standing in the dark alley next to the bar. He had a perfect view of the small parking lot. Angel closed his eyes. How could they waste everything so easily, so effortlessly, as if nothing they did had consequences. As if they were small isolated islands. Their mortal lives wasting away as time chipped at their souls, made them callus and indifferent. Until they could watch one tragedy after another evolve and come to its violent end as if it was simple entertainment.
He opened his eyes and watched as Tony, mumbling under his breath, stumbled over to a dark blue car, more rust than anything else, and unlocked it. He got in and fumbled around for a few seconds, then finally the car started and Tony drove out of the parking lot and down the street.
The door to the bar opened and Dan walked out on the dirty sidewalk. His hand was clenched around the skinny wrist of the little boy, dragging him along behind him.
“Stop shuffling you fucking feet,” the young man hissed and pull so hard on the boy’s arm that the kid lost his balance and scraped his knees on the curb.
Limping slightly the boy was dragged across the dimly lit street and over to a red car parked on the edge of the parking lot. Dan shoved the child against the car and started to dig through his coat pocket for the car keys. The boy hunched his shoulders and wrapped his arms around himself trying to keep warm in his ratty t-shirt and jeans.
“Get in the fucking car, kid,” the man said and turned just enough to open the door to the backseat and grab on to the collar of the kid’s t-shirt.
“i wanna go h-home,” the boy quietly begged.
“You’re getting in the car,” Dan said and backhanded the child. The boy’s head hit the side of the car.
“No he’s not.”
Dan turn his attention on the tall man standing a few feet away. The little boy was holding his pale hand against the bleeding gash in his forehead.
“Fuck off,” Dan pushed the kid through the open car door and slammed it, “It’s none of your business, pal.”
“You know…” the stranger said and sighed, “Once upon a time I wouldn’t have lifted a finger to stop you. I might even have enjoyed watching you use him,” the man moved like a predator, smooth and almost soundless. Dan took a step back and felt the cold metal of the car against his back.
“I-I…” Dan tried as the man moved closer, close enough for him to see that the stranger’s eyes were a weird yellowish color, “Uh…I don’t mind sharing,” Dan said and licked his lips.
“See,” the man stopped right in front of Dan and tilted his head, staring into the car where the blood smeared kid was watching them, “I don’t really think that’ll work for me.”
“W-what would work for you?” Dan asked and instantly knew he wouldn’t like the answer.
“I think…” the man said and smiled, “I think what would work best for me…would be if you weren’t,” he ended cryptically.
“Weren’t?” Dan gulped.
“Here,” the man clarified.
Dan squeaked as the bigger man grabbed him by the lapels of his grey coat and dragged him across the street and into the dark alley.
Angel dried his hands off in the torn piece of grey cloth he had ripped off the bastard's coat. The blood was a little sticky and the dirty rag was almost useless. He threw it in the gutter and looked across the street. The car was still there. The kid, big brown eyes wide and blood smeared across his forehead, still stared through the foggy side window of the car.
Angel walked over to the car door and opened it. The kid didn’t move an inch.
“Guess you’re coming with me then,” Angel said and held out his hand.
The kid nodded numbly, sniffed once and took his hand.