Going Soft and True

Leroy glanced down at his watch for what felt like the hundredth time. They were late. Very late. And he was out on a limb here, risking his ass for Mr. Tony Boss-man. As if the Boss-man ever did a day’s work in his life, sitting there on his throne of black leather on wheels, computer screen hiding half his face, playing at being all modern. Sure, he was modern. If modern was looking at dirty videos all day.

Patting his pockets, Leroy searched for his lighter. Realizing it was already in his hand, he drew his pack of Marlboro cigarettes from his jeans, shook one out, and lit it. He glanced at his watch again, breathing in the smoke as if it was much needed oxygen. They were so late, he thought again. He could feel the prickles on the nape of his neck; he was sweating so badly that his hair seemed to be leaking. There was no reason for them to be late. Not unless… But he wouldn’t go there. Not yet, not consciously.

Glancing at his watch yet again, he realized that this was the first time in a long damn while that he’d been up in the small hours of the night. He remembered the last time vividly now, as if it had been yesterday instead of eight years ago. He could almost smell the smoke from the barrel of the gun – but no, that’s the cig, he reminded himself – and could almost see the hole in that man’s chest. That was a long time ago now, and Leroy tried to forget it more often than not. Only right now, with them being late and all, it was getting hard to separate his quickened heartbeats from that other night when he’d felt them so strongly too.

He realized he was muttering under his breath and shut up quickly. It was a habit he’d picked up at the pen. Some banker who’d offed his business partner had told him that muttering made people stay away from you. Leroy’d started doing it one evening when one of the thugs seemed willing to come beat on him for some sport, and he’d found that the thug turned away pretty quick when Leroy didn’t respond to his taunting but just kept on muttering. The thug had made his dumb friends laugh by making fun of the crazy dude talking to himself, and that had been it. The habit of muttering had stuck. The Boss-man told him to cut it out, that it was freak-show quality stuff that would scare away his clients. Didn’t need the muttering, though, to scare them away. Since they were so late that Leroy just assumed that they weren’t coming.

Just as he took his last puff and was flicking the butt into the road, he caught sight of headlights coming towards him. That moment seemed to stretch into forever. Leroy saw the headlights, saw the flare of his cigarette hitting the ground, saw the man’s chest torn open eight years ago, saw the bars of his solitary confinement when he’d raged at first, saw the eight wasted years. He saw it all in that one instant, and instinctively turned and jumped over the railing of the highway into the adjacent field. He ran through it, the dew making the ground slippery and the plants moist. He slipped, fell, hands covered with mud where he caught himself in the wet earth. He stayed down, heart beating, and listened.

He heard the idling car. He heard voices, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. The blood was pumping so loudly in his ears that he felt that they must have turned into beacons of sound, broadcasting to all the crooks he’d ever known, telling them all that Leroy’d turned soft. That jail had reformed him. That Leroy wanted to clean up his act and never think of how another deal gone bad could turn into a gaping hole in a man’s chest.

He stayed down for a long time, long after the car had gone with the dealers in it. He lay in the damp earth until the sun rose, until the plants and ground around him seemed to start steaming. When the sun warmed the back of his still sweating neck, the warmth gave him goosebumps and shivered. The involuntary movement jarred him, and he finally managed to make his stiff limbs listen to his brain. He sat up, and stared around him. The field he was in looked nice, tended, except for the long path he’d made from the highway where all the plants were trampled, bent and broken. Like him, like Leroy the ex-crook, the ex-brave, the ex-badass.

There was a house a few hundreds yards away, at the end of the field. Leroy got to his feet, shaking, and took a good long look at it. He’d go there, ask about making amends for the ruined crops. Ask if he could work to pay for some food. Maybe if he’d prove he was strong and just as able as any man to work a long day in the sun, they’d let him stay for a while. Rent a room for his labor. That is, if there was anyone in there. With his luck, it’d be some old bag who hired illegals to work her fields, or some senile man with fifteen sons who did everything that needed to be done. But then again, maybe it’d be a husband and wife and a little boy who needed some extra hands to help get the harvest in proper. Leroy started towards the house, thinking that soon enough he’d find out.

Boots [Part II]

Part I

Sandy wasn’t sure what to say, so instead of responding, she looked around the shop. It was like she expected it would be. The shop was only sparsely lit, the clothing racks were mostly full of black garments, with the occasional shocking pink or electric blue peeking through. A television that was hung on the wall was showing an old horror film with the sound muted. Sandy gulped, eyes fixed on the fake blood spraying from a man’s stomach.

She tore her gaze away from the gruesome image, worked up her courage, and spoke.

“Um, can I see what boots you sell, please?”

“Sure thing,” the red-haired woman chirped. “Size seven-and-a-half?”

“Yeah, how could you tell?” Sandy was so surprised at the lucky guess that she looked up into the red-haired woman’s face and met her eyes.

“I know about boots. ‘Cause of that, I know about feet. Anyway, I’m the same size, so I know what seven-and-a-half looks like,” she winked at Sandy, and disappeared into a back room.

A half hour later, Sandy had tried on three pairs of boots and hadn’t liked the look of any – either they had too many laces and complicated bits of string, or the buckles were too big or they didn’t cling right to her calves.

“Maybe I should just forget it,” she moaned.

“Oh, Honey, don’t think like that – we’ll find the perfect ones for you.” The red haired woman was packing the discarded boots back into their large boxes, folding the tops meticulously over the gigantic heels. Sandy cast a sideways look at the curtain that hid the store-front window from the interior of the shop. As the woman finished replacing the last pair of boots, she said shyly “What about the ones in the window? You know,” she paused, received an encouraging smile from the red-haired woman, continued. “The ones I was looking at last week.”

The red-haired woman smacked her forehead, an act which Sandy thought should have left marks there because of the amount of heavy and spiky silver rings were on the woman’s hand. “I should have brought those out first thing!” The woman exclaimed. She smiled apologetically and bustled out of sight into the back room again, yelling over her shoulder. “They’re an older model, you see, which is why I didn’t think of them straight off!”

Within a trice, she had Sandy’s feet in her lap, the boots from the window on and clasped. Sandy found herself lifted to her feet and steered towards a full length mirror at the back of the shop. She looked at herself- light blue dress, brown hair cut in a simple, good-girl style, arms and legs tanned from the sun, and there, at the bottom of the image in the mirror, the boots. They clung to her legs, the buckles glinting faintly in the feeble light, deadly and beautiful and cool.

“They look… I look…” Sandy was lost for words. The red-haired woman laughed a throaty, deep voiced laugh.

“The word you’re looking for is awesome,” she said.

Boots [Part I]

Boots, black and full of silver buckles, beckoned to Sandy from a store window containing a couple of corsets, a long velvet skirt, a collar with spikes on it and a jacket with so many artful rips in it that it didn’t look like it should be on sale. Unlike the other items in the window that rather alarmed Sandy, the boots seemed beautiful, like roses – tender and elegant but full of dangerous thorns.

Sandy realized she’d been staring at the store window for some time only when a red-haired woman appeared in the open doorway. She cocked one perfect eyebrow at the sight before her – Sandy, light brown hair tumbling in the wind, wearing a flowered white sundress and staring open-mouthed at the boots in the window.

“Need some help, Honey?” the red-haired woman asked. Sandy jerked out of her reverie. The wind died down just at that moment, and her bangs settled back on her forehead. She ducked her head, hiding behind her hair, shook her head “no” and walked away briskly. The red-haired woman ambled back into the shop, and knew that she’d be seeing that shy, flowery girl again soon.

All week long, Sandy thought about the boots. She tried not to, but couldn’t help it. She also thought about the red-haired woman a lot – there was something in that woman’s gaze, in her voice as she said “honey” so casually, that exuded a confidence that made Sandy profoundly envious.

It kept coming back to the boots, though. The red-haired woman had been wearing boots very like those in the window, Sandy remembered it well – the way the boots reached up all the way to her knees, with black and white striped pantyhose peeking above them. The boots, with their multiple-inch heels and the silver buckles along the sides, had made the red-haired woman’s legs look endless, beautiful and deadly. Sandy felt that if only she could have boots like that, everything would feel better.

By the end of two weeks, Sandy made up her mind. She collected her paycheck from the diner’s manager, changed out of her yellow waitress uniform and into one of her favorite pale blue dresses, walked to the bank to cash the check and then strode, with more confidence than she felt, right into the shop where she’d seen the boots.

The red-haired woman looked up from behind the counter, smiled, and said “Well, hello there, Honey. I had a feeling I’d be seeing you again.”