They took Cal’s shoes first and then blindfolded him, their hands like large vices on his arms, pulling him along and when he tripped they would pick him up and keep on pulling. Cal should have been worried or scared or something at all. But all he could feel was relief. The decision of what to do now that he was miles from home and family and everything that used to matter was taken out of his hands.
Cal was shoved into a chair. The blindfold was removed. Cal blinked the white spots away. The men who had herded him here left without a word, leaving him alone in the dingy, dim apartment with the man who had had the gun.
Nigel. That’s who the man—dead now—had been begging to.
Nigel stood beside the table and poured the bottle until the shot glass overflowed with vodka. He looked to Cal, amused. “Scared?”
Cal shook his head and nearly jumped when Nigel laughed.
“Such a brave boy.” Nigel said. He pushed the glass with his finger until it was under Cal’s nose. “Drink.”
“Don’t be stubborn.”
Cal glared at the vodka. “If you’re going to kill me, just do it.”
Nigel sighed. He pulled the chair up next to Cal and sat, chin jutted and full of thin patience that wasn’t likely to stretch. Cal hated that look. It was too close and saw all the cracks, the big obvious ones and the little ones he wanted to keep to himself.
“What’s your name?”
“Are you a moron, Cal? Because I would think at this point in our brief acquaintance you’d know better than to fight the tide.”
Cal shook his head. “No.”
Nigel pulled out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deeply and blowing the smoke in Cal’s face. “Brats your age shouldn’t be suicidal, it’s bad for the heart.”
Cal stood up, knocking the chair over. The door opened. The metal click as guns were cocked, but Nigel waved them away without taking his eyes off of Cal.
“Drink.” Nigel said, more insistent. The edge of his voice blaring. He gestured at the glass again.
“I said no.”
“I get it, I get it. A cunt for a father? Drank too much and was a little too handsy and you don’t want to end up like him or some dumb shit like that.”
Cal jerked and shook his head. “No, he didn’t. She was the one—“
“Mommy, too?” Nigel grinned, his teeth were pointed and beastly. He’s going to eat me. “Damn, a straight flush then, huh? Lucky you.” Nigel said. He blew a ring of smoke straight up and then dropped his cigarette on the floor, stubbing it out wth the heel of his shoe.
Nigel got up, he moved in a relaxed stride. He was a big man and up close Cal could see his muscles moving intimidatingly under his shirt. The gun was an obvious thing in his waistband, the outline showing that Nigel was not intent on hiding it. He walked behind Cal and Cal used every ounce of will he had to not turn and keep his eyes on him. He expected to feel the skin-warm metal of the gun pressed against the base of his skull.
Nigel picked the chair up and righted it. He stayed behind Cal causing the hair on his neck to stand on end. He could hear Nigel breathing, calm and collected like he did this every day. He probably did.
“Sit the fuck down.” Nigel said. Cal sat, his knees knocked out from under him. His breath was lodged in his throat and the adrenaline from where he was was beginning to kick in. “Good boy.”
Nigel went back to his seat.
“You know, Cal. I’m the nicest fucking guy you’re going to meet tonight and likely the only one who gives even the slightest shit about whether or not there’s going to be a bullet in that pretty head of yours by the end of this.” Nigel brought the bottle of vodka to his lips and took a few drinks. He slammed it down on the table, but didn’t let go of the neck. He shifted his grip to something he could easily throw with.
Cal flinched. He could already hear glass shattering and his mother yelling and the sound of the squeaky front door opening as his father left.
“I don’t like killing babies, Cal. It’s not my thing, but you saw something you weren’t supposed to see and I don’t know you well enough to know if you like to wag your tongue or if you got a goddamn vise for a mouth. And you,” Nigel grabbed Cal’s chin and yanked his head to look at him. “Dear. Darling. Little boy. You are a baby. So, you see my problem, don’t you? We’ve got a fucking conundrum to solve.”
Cal grit his teeth and shoved Nigel’s hand away with the back of his wrist.
“Don’t touch me. You can kill me, but don’t fucking touch me.” Cal said. His hands shook so he gripped his knees to stop them, digging his fingers in until it hurt. Tears teased at the corners of his eyes and he refused them vigilantly. “I don’t care what you do. I don’t, okay?”
Nigel didn’t say anything. Cal stared down at his feet. His toes were cold. There was blood covering them.
Nigel stood and grabbed the shot glass and downed it, sighing heavily as he set it rim side down on the table delicately enough that it didn’t make a sound. He looked over his shoulder at Cal.
“I don’t stutter, Cal and I definitely don’t like repeating myself.” Nigel said. “Are. You. Hungry?”
“You’re going to poison me?” Cal said, not understanding. Nigel laughed, head tilted back and hand gripping his stomach as he moved to the little kitchenette He crouched to open the small fridge.
“Do I look like the kind of guy who has that sort of patience?” He brought over a takeout box of egg rolls, sniffing them before setting it on the table. “Eat.”
“I don’t want your pity.”
“You’re mistaking pity for mercy.”
“I don’t want that either.”
Nigel leaned down, bracing himself on the back of Cal’s chair and the table.
“And I don’t want to do this dance again. I’ve had a long day, you know, and I have a long night ahead of me. We both do.” Nigel’s breath puffed hotly on Cal’s face. Nicotine and vodka. Father and mother. Unpleasantly familiar. “Now, my sweet boy, eat your dinner.”
The food did look good. Greasy and unlike what he ate back home, the scent wafting up and making his stomach clench. But he made no move to eat. Nigel’s irritating words failed to find any footing to dig into.
Nigel stepped back.
“You won't drink and you won't eat. Do you live off the sun? What’s wrong with you?”
Cal kept his hands in his lap. "I don't like eating in front of people."
Nigel stared at him, bewildered. ”Well, thank fuck I’m not people so you can shove as much food as you want into your face.” Nigel said. He picked up an eggroll and bit half of it in one big chomp as if proving he was not in fact people. “Now eat.”
Cal tentatively picked one of the egg rolls and ate it slowly. The urge to chew it quickly and eat all of them was head spinning, but he wouldn't. His pride was stubborn, even now. He ate delicately with small bites and pausing in between.
Nigel watched him the entire time, with every bite Cal took he seemed to become more pleased with himself. When Cal finished with one, Nigel would nudge the box closer and one by one Cal ate every egg roll until the box was left with only grease stains.
"You ran away, right?"
Cal shrugged. He wiped his hands on his pants and began to pick at the box, bending the cardboard into small sections.
“Mom and dad won't be worried?"
The thought of either of them noticing he was gone was enough to make Cal laugh. "Mom's too drunk and dad forgets I even exist. Too busy with—” He cut himself off and grinned at Nigel, it felt good to say it out loud. "I'm on my own."
"Are you trying to figure out if anyone will go looking for me when you kill me?"
Nigel smiled. It wasn't particularly kind. "Not exactly, no."
"Then why?" The questions, the comments, the insistence. All this attention was more intense than seeing Nigel murder another man. "I really don't understand any of this. Why I've been dragged up here and why you fed me, why you didn’t just kill me and why the hell I don’t feel more scared than I should—I saw someone die, there’s blood on my socks and I don’t even care—and I'm not a fucking baby, fuck." Cal rubbed at his eyes and his nose, sniffing angrily.
He was drained and the food was settling heavily in his stomach, making his limbs groggy. He wanted to just go to sleep already.
“Fuck all that. Asking ‘why’ doesn’t get you anywhere. Actions, that’s what you should rely on. I saved you from Hector’s nasty trigger finger. I fed you.” Nigel said, he traced his bottom lip with his thumb, thinking and then looking back at Cal, eyes bright with possibilities. “I would say you’re in my debt. You owe me your life.”
Life? It felt too big of a word. “Is that fair?” He said, mildly.
“Fair is subjective and to me it's more than fair. I'm being absolutely charitable.”
Weight lifted from his shoulders. He sat straighter. The air even smelled fresher. This was it, he thought. A new path to follow. “What are you going to do with my life?”
“Oh, Cal.” Nigel said, his gaze biting. “You’ll absolutely love it.”