Creed, p.2
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       Creed, p.2

           Kristen Ashley
 

  To deal with a life that turned total shit, she eventually got hooked on meth. Now she worked Colfax and her life expectancy wasn’t very high considering her pimp was an asshole, her strip was dangerous and her mind was always on her next fix.

  Rhash fought his way out of that shit, eventually found Knight and lived every day knowing the kid he created with his girl was somewhere better. Knowing it and hating it because that better did not include his real Mom or his real Dad.

  Somehow, all this shit got twisted in his head. The gang mentality wasn’t gone. His loyalty was ingrained and extreme. It was just that now it was to Knight, Knight’s team and Knight’s mission.

  Therefore, when he took in the evidence that one of Knight’s girls fought back before getting a busted lip and a swollen eye, it pissed him off.

  Rhashan Banks pissed off was a little scary and I say that even though not much scared me.

  When he made no reply and I was done with his dark eyes burning holes into mine, I asked, “You got any cash on you?”

  “Your tits wear off?” he asked back and I fought back another grin.

  “They’re b-cups, Rhash. They look good but they only go so far covered up,” I replied.

  He twisted his torso and the light went out.

  Then I heard him say, “Let’s move.”

  * * * * *

  We turned from the night clerk who was two hundred dollars richer and told us what we already knew from the empty, wrecked hotel room.

  Serena’s client had paid in cash. The credit card he put on file for incidentals cleared at the time of check in which was eight o’clock. When the clerk ran it again, it had been reported stolen. Plus he had checked in under a different name and address than he’d given us.

  The false name and paying in cash was not surprising. Clients did their best not to leave trails.

  The address and stolen credit card, not good.

  This meant he felt safe to leave the room in that state, knowing they couldn’t find him to charge him.

  Knight had a stable of fifty-seven girls and shit happened. It was rare because Knight also had a reputation. Nevertheless, it happened sometimes. But no girl took a client without him being checked out. This was part of the work I did for Knight. He didn’t dig deep but he did dig. He never sent a girl out if the client was shady, had a record, cash flow problems or anything of concern turned up. We ran credit history, work history, financials, criminal records and we checked homes and places of work, all on the down low so as not to scare away clients.

  In other words, this particular kind of shit did not happen.

  Ever.

  “His house,” Rhash growled. “Meet you there. I’ll text you details.”

  “Right,” I muttered, walking beside him to the door. My head was tilted back, eyes up and aimed at his profile. I was assessing the level of his anger. I sensed it was not only increasing, but expanding to take in the guy who took his fist to Serena and whoever did the legwork on the client.

  We were pushing out of the doors when I felt it.

  Eyes on me.

  I twisted my neck and shoved the door open with my gaze trained over my shoulder. I swept the reception area with not mild attention.

  It was early morning, no one was there that I could see but the clerk.

  Fuck.

  I turned my attention to where I was going, heading for my girl in the lot.

  This had been happening lately, too much. I long since learned how to sense it and read it. I might not be girlie but I’d have to be blind not to see that I wasn’t hard on the eyes. This meant I got a lot of looks.

  This wasn’t that, some guy who liked what he saw and wanted in there.

  This was a different kind of watching.

  It had been going on now for about a month but every time I felt it, when I scanned or circled back to take a better look, I could find nothing.

  I didn’t like it but there was nothing I could do if I couldn’t discover the source.

  Now I had a job to do and I didn’t have the time to swing back into reception on the guise of asking the clerk more questions to see if someone was checking me out.

  So I followed behind Rhash in his car with my eyes peeled, looking for a tail.

  And finding nothing.

  * * * * *

  I stood in the empty living room trying to hold my shit.

  “Who did the check?” I asked, my voice low with anger.

  “Live,” Rhash grunted and I flipped open my phone, using my thumb on the keypad to scroll down my phonebook to Lively.

  I heard Rhash hitting buttons on his own phone, I knew connecting with Knight.

  We’d hit the client’s house and found a for sale sign in the front yard. When we’d gone in, there was nothing there. Not a stick of furniture. Totally cleared out.

  This gave me a bad feeling. This was not your random asshole that got off on paying for sex and roughing up women.

  Stolen credit cards. False addresses.

  This was bad.

  The phone rang four times in my ear before I connected.

  “Pip, what the fuck? It’s after four in the morning,” Live muttered sleepily in my ear, using the shortened version of the nickname that the boys gave me. Pipsqueak.

  The guys jacked around all the time. We were always fucking with each other, playing jokes, giving each other shit. It was just the way. Pipsqueak and Pip were not the nicknames for badass bitches like me who could kick ass but what did I care? It was ironic and it sure as fuck could be worse. I knew this because one of Knight’s men was nicknamed Tiny, this wasn’t ironic and it didn’t refer to his stature. He hated it but he put up with it because if he didn’t it would mean he not only had a small dick but also no balls, which would have been worse.

  And anyway, he had a secret that I knew because one of his women shared. This was, his dick might be small but that didn’t mean he didn’t know what to do with his tongue and fingers. The way it was described, he made up for it in a big way.

  I didn’t delay in sharing what the fuck to Live.

  “Serena was worked over tonight. Client paid for the hotel in cash, gave a fake name and a stolen credit card. Right now I’m standing in his living room with Rhash and it’s empty. By empty I mean there’s no furniture and there’s a for sale sign in the yard.”

  “Fuck,” he whispered.

  “Baby, it’s late. What the hell?” I heard in the background and knew this was Live’s woman, Amy. She sounded sleepy and snippy. I’d never heard her sounding sleepy. I frequently heard her sounding snippy.

  Incidentally, she was not one of the guys’ women that I liked unreservedly or at all. She was a ball buster. I didn’t like women like her who happily accepted the dresses, shoes, jewelry and free cover to get into Knight’s club, Slade, from her man. Amy didn’t have any problems bitching about everything under the sun, including the fact Live had to work for the money it took to buy her dresses, shoes and jewelry.

  “Yeah, fuck,” I agreed, ignoring Amy which was my usual tactic for dealing with her. “You do the full check?” I asked.

  “Fuck yeah, I did. ‘Course I did,” Live told me, insulted. “There was furniture there when I checked him out, all through the house. There sure as fuck wasn’t a for sale sign in the yard.”

  “Baby, what… the… hell?” Amy snapped sounding less sleepy but definitely more snippy.

  “Give me a minute, darlin’,” Live replied to Amy then to me, “How bad’s Serena?”

  “Fat lip, swollen eye, could be worse but that isn’t the point,” I answered.

  “Yeah,” he agreed.

  I heard Rhash’s phone snap closed so my eyes went to him through the dark.

  “Knight says meeting. Now. Slade. Get his ass in there, Sylvie,” he rumbled then didn’t wait for me to respond. He stalked to the door.

  I went back to the phone. “You hear that?”

  “On my way,” Live muttered.

  “What?” I heard Am
y ask, her voice going shrill. “Now?”

  “Later,” I said into the phone then snapped it shut quickly in a successful effort to avoid hearing Live get his balls busted. I hoped she excelled at giving head or tasted like pure honey to be worth that shit.

  I followed Rhash out the backdoor. We’d picked the lock and I made certain it was secure again before I moved around the house. As I approached my car, I watched Rhash give me a finger flick through the window as he drove away in his black Nissan Z.

  I hit the sidewalk and was moving around the hood of my Corvette when I noted the big Ford Expedition motoring down the street the opposite direction from Rhash. My eyes locked on it, taking in the Arizona plates then moving up to the cab.

  At the front of the hood of my Corvette, I stopped dead and my chest depressed like a boulder had landed on it.

  The Expedition drove past, the driver not even glancing my way and my head turned, following it.

  No fucking way.

  No fucking way.

  I’d seen him, this was true. I’d seen him dozens of times in the last sixteen years. Or, I had convinced myself I had.

  But I hadn’t.

  He was gone.

  There was no way after sixteen years he’d make his way from Kentucky to a street in Denver at after four o’clock in the morning at the same time I was on that street.

  No way.

  There was a time when I wanted it. I saw him everywhere, that was how much I wanted it. I wanted to see him again so he could take me away like he promised. Time passed and my life that had been swirling flushed down the toilet and I wanted to see him again so I could scream in his face, kick him, beat him, share exactly what his betrayal meant to my heart and my life. How, when he left, a shit life that was only ever good when I was breathing his air turned even more shit.

  That time was not now. I was over it. I’d gotten out, moved on, lived my own life how I wanted to live it, not how someone forced me to live it. It wasn’t easy. It was fucking hard. It nearly ended me.

  But I did it and I was here. I liked my life.

  And I didn’t look back.

  Not ever.

  Not fucking ever.

  So that wasn’t him. It couldn’t be him. It was my mind playing tricks on me.

  Not the first time and, the way he fucked me over, I knew it wouldn’t be the last.

  I’d learned to live with it.

  I came unstuck, rounded my girl, got in, started her up and headed to Slade.

  * * * * *

  I screeched to a halt in my driveway, threw open the door, angled out, slammed the door and ran across my yard to my neighbor’s.

  Shit, I was five minutes late. And five minutes for Charlene was five minutes too many.

  I knocked loud twice on her front door then turned the knob and walked in.

  “I’m here! I’m here!” I shouted over what sounded like pandemonium. “I had work. Sorry I’m late.”

  He came around and slammed into my legs.

  “Sylvie! Sylvie! Sylvie!” Adam cried. “Toads are slimy!”

  Then he pounded a fist hard into my thigh and raced away.

  I followed him, walking from the entry into the living room, rounding through the dining room before I hit the kitchen which was bedlam.

  Charlene was in a robe looking harassed. Adam was bumping repeatedly into the side of the counter. Theo was in his high chair, slamming his fists into the tray. Leslie was sitting in her booster seat, slamming her feet into the chair.

  I went to Adam and gently led him away from the cabinets to the kitchen table, my eyes on Charlene.

  “Sorry, I should have called,” I said quietly. “Something went down. I got here as soon as I could. You go shower. I’ve got this.”

  Her eyes were brimming with tears, none of which had flowed over yet. That would happen in the shower. She’d go to work with puffy, red eyes again and hope they didn’t notice she was strung out emotionally and physically.

  “Thanks, Sylvie,” she whispered before she took off and thus began the morning ritual.

  “Cocoa Puffs!” Leslie shouted, still banging her feet into the chair.

  “Right, Cocoa Puffs,” I agreed. “And you’ll get them if you stop making so much noise. Adam, up,” I ordered, guiding him carefully into his chair then I got down to business.

  I’d lived next to Charlene since I bought my house four years ago. Six weeks ago, her husband Dan took off on her. They went to bed and when she woke up, he was gone and so were most of his clothes, the flat screen TV they’d just bought, the string of pearls he’d given her two anniversaries before and, upon inspection, half their checking and savings accounts.

  He hadn’t cleaned her out. He’d left everything else.

  He’d also left her with Adam, who was six and had Down syndrome, Leslie, who was three and Theo who was one and a half. He also left her a mortgage, daycare and special schools bills she couldn’t afford on her salary. She had a job as a bank teller and family that all lived in New Mexico.

  She was fucked financially, heartbroken and barely holding it together.

  She said, over wine that faded into tequila and tears, that she had no idea Dan was over it. Money wasn’t great, they were always struggling but they had a good family and lots of love.

  It was my opinion that many women lived in denial and Charlene was one of them. Her husband’s eyes followed my ass enough that she couldn’t miss it; she just chose to ignore it. Dan would often stare off into space as if he was imagining himself somewhere else, not there. And for the last year, the rare times I was home to notice it, he got home from work later and later.

  She was pretty clueless, her being surprised by Dan’s defection was proof of this fact, but she was a fun drunk, loved her kids and her husband and she always took care of my cat when I went to Vegas or hit a beach. She made me a huge tin of Christmas cookies and brought it over with eggnog every year for Christmas. She also made me a massive birthday cake and brought it over with a premium bottle of bourbon or tequila.

  Further, she was open and friendly. She told me she only ever wanted the simple life. A husband, a home, kids. She knew Adam was Down’s before he was born and she didn’t care. Didn’t give it a second thought. Before Dan left, she was happy as a clam. Adam’s special needs didn’t seem to touch their lives. He was high functioning but he still needed more care and attention. She never complained.

  “Pure joy,” she told me on a smile. “Wake up to it, go to bed with it and it comes from Adam. How lucky can I get?”

  She meant that shit. That was Charlene.

  And that was probably why, last year on the fifteenth anniversary of it happening, when she brought over birthday cake and bourbon, I got sauced with her and laid it out.

  All of it.

  Everything about me.

  Then I let it out, bawling like an idiot for the first time in years, clutching onto her like I could fuse onto her healthy, happy family cheerfulness.

  I could count my friends on two hands.

  But I could count those I was tight with on two fingers.

  Knight and Charlene.

  The only two people who knew everything about me.

  So when Dan took off on Charlene, I stepped in. Every morning I came over and while Charlene got ready for work, I got the kids breakfast, got them dressed and helped Charlene get them in the car so she could get them to their different schools and daycare. If I was around in the evenings, I lent a hand then hung to give her some company. I’d also corralled Rhash’s woman Vivica and Knight’s woman Anya into helping her out a couple of times, looking after the kids so I could take Charlene out to get her hammered and forget her husband was a dickhead and that life could be fun.

  Dan had not contacted her, not once in six weeks. My guess, he was wind. She’d never hear from him again. I’d offered to track his ass down so, at the very least, she could divorce it and hang a massive child support payment around his rat bastard neck but she refused.
<
br />   She was certain he’d see the error of his ways and come back, tail between his legs.

  I was certain he was banging as much tail as he could find in an effort to turn his thoughts from the fact he was a total fucking douchebag and he’d never come home to a lifetime of shit he was not man enough to deal with. Not to mention guilt over the fact that he’d given up and fucked over a decent, kind, good woman who loved him. Charlene wouldn’t serve up that guilt. But he’d feel it. And he’d do all in his power to avoid it.

  Thus I’d already done a few searches and made a few calls. If he turned up, I’d be all over his ass whether Charlene said yes or not.

  She showered and got ready for work. I fed the kids, cleaned them up and got them dressed. This was not an easy task but I was not a Mom who needed to be at work on time at the same time worrying about how I was going to pay bills so I had nothing on my mind but them and making it fun, which I did.

  When Charlene was ready, we corralled them and got them out to her sedan.

  “Work?” she asked me why I was late as she was strapping Theo in his car seat.

  “Yeah,” I answered, strapping Adam into his.

  Her eyes found mine over the roof of the car and I saw her brows go up. “Bad?”

  “Not good,” I told her.

  She pressed her lips together. She knew my history, she knew my work. She didn’t agree with it but she was a good friend, she kept her mouth shut. Or, at least, she didn’t lecture me too often, just enough for me to get her and for her not to be that annoying.

  I leaned in and blew a raspberry on Adam’s neck.

  He giggled and shoved at me, shouting, “Sylvie! Toads are slimy! Raspberries too!”

  I grinned at him and looked into the backseat to check that Leslie was secure. Then I tossed a smile at Adam who smiled back so huge I was sure I could see all his teeth.

  Yeah. Pure joy. The world would be a poorer place without Adam in it.

  Or, at least, mine would.

  I leaned in, touched my forehead to his, pulled back and slammed the door.

  I rounded the hood of her car on my way home when Charlene said what she always said.

 
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