Salt The Earth
Valentine asks me to wait in the car while he goes and arranges the motel room. He leaves the keys in the ignition, certain I won’t take off, and he’s right. He comes back a few minutes later, grabs our bags from the trunk, and leads me across the lot, his hand resting just below my shoulder, guiding me. The whole time he’s looking around, calm but alert, his diverted attention putting an extra kink in his gentle limp. Ready to put his large frame between me and any potential observers at all times. There aren’t any, though – it’s the middle of the night.
The room has a TV attached to the wall, a double bed and a ratty armchair. Valentine pulls the chair around so its angled at the door. That’s where he’ll sleep.
Valentine isn’t unpleasant to look at. He’s a tall guy, tight-packed but lithe. He’d be movie-star handsome but for some quirk of childhood – a calcium deficiency – making one side of his body grow slightly more or slightly less than the other. At first look you’d think he just had his nose broken one too many times. But then you notice the way he moves, always favouring one side, and then you realise he isn’t winking, that isn’t a slight half-smile. And then you can’t not notice it.
He’s good to me, though. Lets me choose what food we get for take-out. Is always courteous.
Not so good at small-talk. He spends a lot of time going over what little he knows about our last hours in the city:
“I can’t work it out…” He says.
“Who gains from this?” He continues. “And who could have done it? Only a handful of us even know about your father’s safe house.”
“Is daddy okay?” I ask. I know he’s been checking in.
“Aww, don’t worry, kid. He’s awake. Already giving us all our orders.” He misreads my expression as relief. “There’s a police guard on him at all times, but we’ve got people inside the hospital.”
“I’m going to turn in.” I say.
The bed isn’t bad for a fifty dollar room, but it’s not what I’m used to. I don’t sleep well. These days I don’t.
In the dream I’m dancing. I can tell there are other girls nearby but they’re hardly moving as I spin and jump and skip along to music I can only feel. I’m wearing the old gym clothes I wore in high school – they still fit fine these five years on – which confuses me for a second. I haven’t danced ballet since the lessons my momma sent me to when I was six or seven. Daddy always pushed hard for me to keep going, but then I hurt my foot and he had to stop.
And I’m loving the dance, in the dream, but I feel something behind me and I look. The world is falling apart there. Splitting but not splitting. Bursting, something coming through, wet and dark. I dance harder, skipping forward faster and I feel something loose at my feet. Look down as I move, and the decay is spreading out behind my feet.
No, not behind. Every time my toes touch the ground, the world weakens under them, like sand melting away form a footfall. Spreading, breaking apart in my wake.
I can stay ahead if I keep dancing, but I can’t escape. I’m causing this.
Valentine has passed out in the armchair, his gun resting on the arm, his hand resting on the gun. He doesn’t notice that I’m awake, though. He’s exhausted from driving for two days. He doesn’t stir when I slip out of the bed and into my jeans, or even when I open the room door, letting in dim pre-dawn light, and slide out.
I’m talking to the college kid who cleans the pool, and smoking the college kid’s cigarettes, when Valentine finds me.
“Go and get our bags.” he says, a low growl, not even looking at me, already putting his hands on the pool boy.
I can’t stop watching as he kills the teen.
If one of daddy’s lieutenants hadn’t found Valentine, given him focus, he would have been a serial killer. He even has a signature, but I don’t think he knows it.
He strangles them. But one hand is stronger than the other and he almost always pushes too hard, his thumb breaking the skin of their throat, pressing into the meat of them.
He’s done this to three people who’ve seen me since we left the city. Always because they saw me.
When he’s done, he yells again to get the bags, and I do.
An hour later we’re driving. Valentine didn’t find the note I’d snuck in the boy’s pants pocket before he found us. It’s for the police, but it’ll take them too long to find the body.
He’s driving fast, brain working the problem of the raid again, thinking he’s trying to keep me safe from a rival gang. But he’s never going to work out it was me who called them, and the cops.
I want it all to end.
I reach across and he’s too surprised to react when I yank the wheel toward me. The car takes the hint.
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