CHAPTER ONE

SWEET SIN


I prefer crashing through a window to breaking down a door. Not to say that I don't like the solid effect of a door-breaking. The crack of the frame, the door whipping to the side and smacking against the wall, me bursting through the doorway, people stiff with fear...it's pretty sweet.

On the other hand, the sound of shattering glass is lovely music. You just have to keep your head protected and mind the flying shards. I've gotten good at this sort of entrance. I haven't cut myself up too badly, and the expressions you get are priceless, particularly if they come from the face of a wife-beating asshole like Harry Eastland.

I first heard a rumor about Mr. Eastland through the Helpers. After keeping an eye on the Eastland family for a few days, I made a few conclusions --

1) Harry wasn't going to stop beating his wife and son.

2) Mrs. Eastland and her son were too scared to ask for help.

3) Nobody in his neighborhood was going to intervene.

I'm not sure why neighbors were ignoring the cries and shouts from Apartment 305. All I knew was that nobody in that building was going to call the police. I could have called the cops, but there was no guarantee that one anonymous phone tip would solve the problem. Besides, my personal technique is very effective, as you will see.

And I hadn't gone through a window in a while, so...

Neither Harry nor Beth Eastland noticed me on the ledge that wrapped around the third floor of their apartment building. I was peeking through their window. Harry had his back turned to me as he held Beth against a wall. God knows what was pissing him off this night -- his dinner hadn't been cooked right, she had interrupted him in the middle of watching TV., whatever. As for her there was terror in her eyes, but also resignation.

So I decided -- showtime. I climbed up to the next floor. Then I grabbed a wire which was tied to the roof two floors above me. The wire dangled past the Eastland window.

I faced the building, moved a step to my left and jumped off the ledge. As I plummeted down the wire I swung my body back to the right, straight toward the window.

I raised my legs. Boots met glass. I released the wire and followed the shards to the floor. I landed upright on the rug of the Eastland living room, my boots crunching broken glass into powder.

It's not as easy as it sounds.

But as I said, the expressions of the other people were worth the effort. I will leave your imagination to conjecture about Harry Eastland's face. How would you look if you saw a teenager in a black leather jacket make an entrance like this?

He turned to face me. He was holding a gun. Apparently his anger had reached its zenith with his wife. I had arrived just in time to give him someone else to shoot.

Believe it or not, I just smiled. Harry wasn't the first person to point a gun at me.

He initiated a conversation with me. "WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!"

"Harry..." I replied calmly.

"WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU, ASSHOLE?!"

Beth remained behind Harry as he took a step toward me. He couldn't go further than a step. A coffee table and the corner of a sofa blocked the way between us.

"Harry..." I repeated, still smiling.

"TELL ME WHO YOU ARE OR I'LL SHOOT YOUR FUCKING HEAD OFF!!"

He wouldn't have. Not then. He was scared, and people like Harry Eastland don't know how to deal with their fear. They prefer seeing fear in others; he wasn't seeing it in me.

"Before I tell you that..." I leaned forward and lifted my leg. I stepped onto the sofa's corner, looking casual.

I continued, "There's something you should know about that gun."

Harry instinctively looked down at the gun. In his moment of distraction I pushed my leg down on the sofa and lifted my other leg off the ground. Your average person wouldn't have been able to jump too far from that position.

But, as you might have guessed, I'm not your average person. I flew across the living room and landed with my right foot on the table's edge. Still looking at his gun, Harry heard the thump of my boot on wood. Before he even looked up, he was aiming at the coffee table. When he did look up, he discovered that I had bounced off the table and dropped to his far right. I grabbed his wrist with my right hand before he could re-aim.

I wrapped my left hand around his thumb. I bent it. Crack.

I let go of his wrist and caught the gun after Harry dropped it. He was too busy screaming to keep a grip. Then I released his thumb and inserted the gun into his open mouth. He stopped screaming.

"Here's what you should know," I explained. "This gun only works if you pull the trigger."

Then I pulled the gun out of his mouth and pointed it at the ceiling. I pushed the chamber to the side and allowed the bullets to fall. I tossed the unloaded gun over my shoulder.

I grabbed Harry by his shirt and threw him against a wall away from Mrs. Eastland. His body made a framed photo of his family slide down to the ground. I forced him to stand, then slapped him.

"This..." -- slap -- "...is the feeling..." -- slap -- "...of helplessness..." -- slap -- "It isn't..." -- slap, slap -- "...really nice, is..."

"Jason!"

I first thought Beth had said my name. When I looked at her, she was running toward a five-year-old boy. He had just walked from his bedroom to the living room's doorway. Jason Eastland had learned to hide when he heard his father's bellows, but he had heard new sounds on this night, strange enough to risk exploration.

Now he was seeing the terror of his life being terrorized. He stared at the sight with incomprehension; he wasn't enjoying it. When you're that age, you can fear your father, but you can't hate him. You need a few more years before you can learn how to do that.

I would have done all the damage to Harry that his son would have wanted, but Jason wasn't ready for that. As I looked at this man, I didn't see a point in making him hurt anymore. Well, other than him being a bastard, but that had stopped being enough for me.

Must be getting soft, I thought as I pulled away from him. He sat down on the ground, holding his right hand and trembling.

I walked toward Beth and Jason. She was tightly holding her child. When I reached into my pocket she pleaded, "No, no, please, don't hurt my baby, don't..."

I pulled out a folded piece of paper. I held it out to her. After a few seconds of hesitation she accepted it.

"This is a place where you and your son can go." I explained. "The woman in charge is named Claire. Tell her that you need a Helper. She'll understand what that means."

She didn't move. She and her son just stared at me.

"Why don't you go get packed?" I suggested with a soft voice. Many seconds passed before she gently took her son away from the living room. "Come on," she whispered. "We're going on a trip."

After she was gone, I sat down on the sofa with my back slumped. Harry remained where he was.

"You're not gonna bother them, are you, Harry?"

He shook his head.

"Well, then it's all good."

A half-hour later, Beth and Jason left in a cab. Harry still hadn't moved by the time that I made my exit through the window and up the wire.

So that was my good deed for the day. I could now party. No more fighting for that night.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"You dirty motherfucker, you spilled my beer!"

I heard this protest in Knucklebones which is the kind of bar where the bathroom stinks, pool cues aren't just for billiards, and people still smoke, Bloomberg be damned. I was here to see Psychocharger and have a good time. Some other guy hadn't been looking where he was going, so he bumped into me and spilled his beer over his sleeveless black shirt. It wasn't my fault, but I guess I was in a conciliatory mood because I said, "Whoops, sorry."

"'Sorry?' You spill my beer and you say 'sorry,' asshole?" My antagonist had a heavy black mustache and cheeks grizzled with a thin beard. His naked arms were lean and muscular. He looked like a guy who had been in fights, knew how to fight, was ready to fight.

I shrugged. "I don't have any money, but I know the guy who runs the..."

"You don't have any money?! Who the hell let your Mouseketeer ass in here?"

I had to smile. 'Mouseketeer' was original. Besides, you did have to wonder about this high-schooler in a bar full of bikers, car thieves and Teamsters.

My smile didn't please Mister Mustache, though. "You think that's funny? Will you think it's funny when I make you eat all that pretty long hair, you little faggot?"

Back to the standard insults, I thought. I decided to stop being conciliatory. "Why," I asked with an innocent tone, "are you calling me a British term for a bundle of sticks used for making fire?"

Mustache stared at me, eyes widening. He wasn't sure about what I had said, but he knew that I had somehow insulted him. He was going to pounce. I waited for him, smiling.

Then two hands dropped onto his shoulders. They were very big hands; they looked like a football player's pads on the angry man's shoulders. When he felt those hands and heard a soft voice, his face turned meek.

"C'mon, Ollie," the soft voice told him. "No need for this. The kid ain't worth it."

"He spilled my beer," Ollie mumbled.

"No, you bumped into him. I was watchin'. But..." The soft voice paused. "...I'll buy a new one. All right?"

"All right," Ollie consented. After he got his refill, he walked meekly away from the man with the big hands. That man's hands were connected to a very large body. His old blue denim jacket looked like a tent draped over a tank. Perched on that enormous body, though, was a kindly grandfather visage complete with curly beard and understanding brown eyes. I had seen those eyes retain their compassionate look even as their owner dragged a man's face over a chain-link fence.

"Oh, thank you, sir," I said to him. "Thank you for saving me from that ruffian."

"Uh-huh," Dan replied. "So how many pieces were you going to break him into?"

"Six or seven, maybe. You never know."

"So I guess you didn't get enough out of the last guy."

My face showed surprise at his deduction. He pointed at my hands. I saw a few cuts over the knuckles, lightly bleeding.

"Just doin' the justice thing," I said with a shrug.

"If you say so."

"I do. By the way, since you're buying people beers..."

"Forget it, Jacob."

"C'mon..."

"Look, I like this bar. It's already got enough problems with people violatin' the health codes..."

"FUCK BLOOMBERG!" I called out to the smokers in the bar. They raised a brief yet loud cheer before returning to their business.

"It doesn't need to serve beer to minors," Dan continued as if I hadn't said anything. "Besides, your dad would kill me."

"Don't worry about my dad. I can handle him."

The expression in Dan's eyes became slightly worried. "How is your dad?"

"He's okay."

"You know, your dad is a..."

"Righteous person. I'm aware of that." Dan was old enough to consider 'righteous person' one of the highest compliments. He respected the hell out of my father. Hell, everybody did.

Nearly everybody.

I looked for a way to change the subject and saw it in the mirror behind the bar. "I think Ollie had a point."

"About what?"

I ran my fingers through the thick blonde hair that went down to my shoulders. "Maybe I need to see a barber. I don't why I let it grow this..."

"Who's your friend, Dan?"

Dan and I turned to see breasts yearning to be free of a black leather corset. Thin straps looped over milky white shoulders held up the corset. Above those shoulders was a heart-shaped face decorated by a black-lipsticked mouth and red hair cut evenly around the head.

Red hair and black leather. My favorite color scheme, as Richard Thompson once sang. Provided, of course, that you have the kind of body which can look good in tight leather. I was looking at such a body.

I smiled at Dan. "Now I remember."

"Excuse me?" the woman said.

"This is Jacob," Dan interceded. "Jacob, this is..."

Huh. I've forgotten. I remember plenty else about her. I remember that she was in her mid-twenties. I remember that she worked in a sex-toy store. I remember how she laughed at my jokes and liked to play with my hair. (As I implied earlier, chicks dig the hair.) I remember how we danced together when Psychocharger took the stage and played their rockabilly-meets-industrial tunes about zombies, fast cars and porn. And I remember how we found an empty stall in the men's bathroom, smoked a few joints from her purse and fucked each other with the smell of piss in our nostrils and the sound of "Hell to Pay" in the next room. (After I had gotten a rubber from the vending machine. I'm that conscientious.)

Still, I can't remember her name. I wonder if she remembers my name or the feel of the teenager with the bloody knuckles and beautiful hair.

In any case, I had gotten my sex, drugs and rock'n'roll for that night. And violence, to boot. What more could a young man need?

A place that he could call home, even one he really didn't want to.

 


Continued in Chapter 2