A faint fluorescent crackle escorted the flickering overhead lights. Whiskey glanced at the ceiling with a frown. Fuck. Closing time already?
In answer, the two patrons sharing her table gathered their things. Elsewhere others spoke above the standard mandatory hush of the vast room. A woman called out, “Library’s closing. Ten minutes.”
Whiskey glared at her book. Only fifty or sixty pages left. She could finish it in an hour. Reading it in ten minutes was impossible. She’d become so engrossed, she hadn’t bothered to seek out and remove the security apparatus. No time now. She’d never get out the doors without setting off the alarm. Getting away wouldn’t be a problem, but she was a regular here. Some of these librarians had memories that rivaled elephants.
She committed the page number to memory. Disgruntled, she dropped the book on the table. She had an appointment with Father Castillo, at the Youth Consortium on Saturday. If he let her use the shelter as a permanent address, maybe she could get a library card. While she’d only had him as her caseworker a couple of months, he seemed a decent enough guy, interested in her welfare in a way the previous ones hadn’t been. He’d probably get a kick out of the idea; he’d run into her at the library before. Helping her become a card carrying member would tweak his cassock.
Whiskey stood and shouldered the total of her worldly belongings, looking out the vast windows to the Seattle streets. The invisible sun would set soon, the daylight gloom of overcast skies growing darker in preparation. Street lights had yet to blink on. When they did, they’d bathe the city in a yellow glow, paving the roads and sidewalks with shards of glittering reflection. At least the rain’s let up. The other book-loving diehards closing the library avoided her, not trusting her grimy appearance. She grinned wolfishly at their discomfort, playing up her outsider status. A prudish librarian scowled down his long nose at her. She winked lewdly as she passed.
A uniformed security guard watched from the main doors. She shook her graying head, a grin on her face. “Cut him some slack, kid. He’s new.”
“Got to break him in right, Wilma.” Whiskey’s expression softened to expose real humor. For a security officer, Wilma was all right. “See you tomorrow maybe.”
Wilma gave her a look of both exasperation and amusement, and waved her out the door.
Outside, Whiskey went to the nearest bench. She set her pack down, and pulled out a dirty hooded sweatshirt. Though she was still warm from being indoors for hours, the cool humidity of the evening would inevitably seep into her bones. Her Levi jacket went on over the hoodie. Once her pack settled comfortably on her shoulders, she snapped the thick support strap around her waist. She began the long trek to the University District, about a four mile hike.
Her stomach grumbled. She delved into her pockets, coming up with thirteen cents change. She’d only had a bagel and a mocha today after she’d left Gin’s flop. That and the bus fare downtown had wiped her out. At the time, getting out of the sunlight was the priority. Her eyes didn’t tolerate brightness well, and too much sun resulted in migraines of epic proportions. The sky had clouded over after she’d gotten lost in the pages of the library book. Panhandling downtown was out of the question. She shouldn’t remain here much longer. The old-timers would set upon her as soon as they saw her; once the sun went down they became very territorial. Her turf, along with that of most street youth, was the U District where the majority of services were available for them. I won’t get anything tonight, anyway. College students were more interested in clubbing at night than giving hand outs. She couldn’t hang for another night with Gin. Ghost should have returned by now. He’d monopolize Gin’s time, and glare daggers at Whiskey all night. If there was any food to be had, his family wouldn’t easily share with her. Maybe I can find somebody to mooch from.
Street lights came on around her. Rather than dispel shadows, they blinded her, created pockets of impenetrable grayness. Hungry and cold, her eyes flickered to the deepening shadows. Occasional reflections brought to mind the mirror-like properties of animals, their eyes flashing golden from black depths. She became more jumpy as the hour passed, then laughed at herself. Dumbshit. Halloween was months ago. Get over it. She focus her thoughts on the library book she’d been reading — a historical account of children kidnapped by American Indian tribes in the mid to late eighteen hundreds. It didn’t work. The bleakness of the warehouses around her, and her skittish imagination drew her thoughts to the recurring nightmare instead. She had a sense of something awful hovering over her, and couldn’t shake it. Something big loomed out there. She didn’t want to see what it was.
Traffic was brisk on I-5 as she crossed an overpass into the University District, The stink of vehicle exhaust mixed with the smell of open water and wet concrete. The noise from the highway receded behind her. She corralled her rampant fears and thoughts, paying closer attention to her surroundings. It was too late to get into a shelter for the night. The doors were either closed now, or would be by the time she arrived. It was Thursday, so Tallulah’s was open — as good a haven as any. Gin and Ghost were probably there. Despite the aversion she had at watching Ghost flaunt his masculine ‘“ownership” of her best friend, it would be acceptable to make an appearance. She could hang on the edges of his street family, maybe swap watches with them. So long as she stayed clear of Gin tonight, he might not mind her tagging along. She just couldn’t make it a habit.
She didn’t see them until she rounded a corner.
A group of teenaged boys lounged on and around an expensive car. Name brand labels were on their clothes, easily legible from a half block away. She bet the vehicle belonged to one of their parents. She’d seen their kind before. It wasn’t unusual — rich teenagers out on the prowl for homeless kids was a popular past time. The U District was the best place for them to find easy prey. She hadn’t expected to see them; it wasn’t quite summer, and a school night. Is school out already? Regardless, there wasn’t time to avoid them. They’d already spotted her, moving out onto the sidewalk to block her path. Crossing the street would give them the edge, thinking they had her scared. They’d be right, but running from a pack of dogs only guaranteed a chase. Deciding she might be able to bluff her way through, she braced herself for a beating or worse. She pulled her hood over her head, and set her jaw.
“Hey, look what we’ve got here! You come to party with us, baby?”
The others laughed. Whiskey kept walking.
“Bitch, I’m talking to you,” the ringleader said. “We’ve got beer and a car. What do you say we go out, and have a little fun.” He rubbed his crotch suggestively, receiving hoots of agreement from his friends. “It’s cold out tonight. We can keep you warm.”
“Yeah, baby, really warm.”
They closed ranks behind her. She was forced to stop when they wouldn’t get out of her way. “Back off, asshole. I’m not in the mood for your shit.”
“What are you going to do about it, bitch?” the leader sneered, reaching out to take a lock of her hair.
“Man, she stinks, Paul. Let it go.”
“Yeah, who’d want to fuck that? Ugh.”
Whiskey glared into Paul’s eyes, not flinching when he tugged sharply on her hair.
“Maybe she needs a bath,” he suggested. “We can take her to the bay, and scrub her up good.”
One of the boys beside him held his nose, and backed away. “No way, man. I don’t want that in my dad’s car.”
“We can put her in the trunk,” another said.
Whiskey’s heart thumped harder as they considered the idea. If they got her into that car, she’d be dead come morning whether they raped her or not. At the very least, she’d be in the hospital, and the cops would poke their noses into her business. It’s not like these kids would end up in prison for it. No one would believe me over them, anyway. “Touch me and die,” she growled, fists balled.
A couple of them took her at her word, shuffling back a step, but Paul’s grin widened. He pulled harder on her hair.
Whiskey lashed out with a fist, punching at his face. He’d expected the attack, and leaned back to avoid it, unable to defend against the knee she planted in his groin. As he bent over with a choked cry, she aimed another wild swing at the boy standing beside him. That one had the sense to get out of the way, leaving her an opening she gratefully took.
Before she got two steps, hands grabbed at her backpack. She wriggled out of the straps, fighting with the buckle at her abdomen, but didn’t get the catch open in time. They pulled her back, slammed her hard against the trunk of the car, bloodying her lip. The pack strap was still attached around her waist, the edge of the safety catch digging sharply into her abdomen.
“Get that fucking thing off her,” Paul wheezed.
“Fuck, man, watch the car. I can’t bring it back dented,” one whined.
A hand reached around Whiskey’s waist to release the pack’s catch. She winced as she heard it land hard against the ground. Granted, she didn’t have many breakables inside, but that pack was an old friend that had seen her through the last two years. The hand continued to her crotch, and copped a feel. She grunted in fear and disgust, rearing up to pop the perpetrator in the chin with her head. Stars filled her eyes as he cursed in pain, and released her. She didn’t have time to make an escape before someone else pinned her down.
“You fucked up, bitch,” Paul growled in her ear. He rubbed suggestively against her ass, though she’d bet he wouldn’t be able to get his dick up for another hour. One of his hands was on the back of her neck, keeping her head down. The other squeezed between between her body and the car in search of something to grope. “I was just having a little fun with you, but now I think you do need a bath.” He raised his voice. “Pop the trunk.”
“Dawg, I don’t think we should do this.”
“Pop the fucking trunk!”
“Shit,” one whispered. Another jumped into the front seat, and did as Paul ordered.
“Put her shit in there.”
As her pack went into the trunk, Whiskey’s breathing became more difficult. Her mind frantically searched for something she could do to avert the train wreck she saw barreling down the tracks toward her. She tried to slide out from Paul’s grip, only to have her head slammed back into the hood. Her teeth clicked shut on the inside of her cheek.
“Shitshitshit. My dad’s going to kill me!”
Dazed, the taste of blood in her mouth strengthened her. Whiskey gritted her teeth and grunted as she forced herself to stand upright. Paul tried and failed to pin her again as she wrenched herself sideways, breaking his hold. “Fuck you, asshole. You’re dead now,” she growled, licking her lips.
“Come on, Paul, let’s go!” The owner of the car started, and gunned the engine.
“Not without our new girlfriend.”
Realizing that he wasn’t going to fall for bravado, Whiskey snarled and swung at him. He easily ducked out of reach.
“That the best you got, bitch? ‘Cause I got something better.” He grasped at his genitals, albeit gingerly, and grinned.
It’d be a bitch to lose her pack, but at least she’d still be breathing. Whiskey turned to run. He was immediately upon her, tackling her to the sidewalk. Her elbows and head hit the ground, causing her vision to blur. “Lemme go!” she yelled.
Paul sat on her, and grabbed her by the hair. “Not yet. You owe me.” With that he knocked her head hard against the concrete.
Just like in her nightmare, the world went dark.