100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #15
THEME: 15. "Seeking Solace"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, untitled/unwritten story
RATING: R (adult language, adult themes, mild violence)
WORD COUNT: 4600+ words
SUMMARY: Jay Campion (see Scene 2, "Complicated," for info on him, and Scenes 4 and 9, "Rivalry" and "Death," for appearances) is a childhood kidnap and abuse victim, former teenaged prostitute--first working for a pimp, then on his own--and now a sort of hitman or heavy for a cult which decided to make use of him for his multiple personalities. ("Jay," the primary presenting personality, is actually not the original; he ousted Jason for good after being introduced to heroin, which helps him keep in charge.) So needless to say, he's had a pretty rough, nasty life. In this scene, he's recently gotten out of working for his pimp (who runs a sort of...bordello or brothel or however you'd call it, exclusively offering young men), and has set out to work on his own. His former pimp, Clint, is sad to see him go but there are no hard feelings seeing as, while he was there, Campion drew in quite a bit of business. (I guess the relations between pimps and their prostitutes are a bit more relaxed in North Dakota. At least, here they are.) Campion starts out pretty well but there's the inevitable bad trick here and there, and after a brutal run-in with one such john, Campy unexpectedly finds himself returning to the one place he knows for a little bit of TLC before heading back into the big mean world. Yes...a rather odd setup for "Seeking Solace," but even a sociopathic teenage prostitute needs some caring now and then.
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It felt like it took all the strength he had left just to ascend the small set of concrete steps to the door and knock, once, twice, several times. He waited and had to repeat the process until a light somewhere inside came on, then he leaned against the brick wall, huddling in his jacket. He breathed heavily, plumes of steam rising from his mouth and nose, and feebly held his jacket tight around him with one bruised and swollen hand. He had to swallow a few times, fighting down the urge to cough at the burning that was still in his throat.
The curtains over the window to the right of the door were shoved aside and somebody looked out at him. He stared back, having to lean forward into the dim glow from the porch light to be seen. He saw the man inside blink, eyes going wide, before he pulled the drape shut and disappeared. A moment later a rattling noise came at the door and it carefully opened. The man staring out wasn't that tall but he was powerfully built, head shaved clean, eyebrow pierced, tattoos on his arms. At any other time, he would've looked like the type of person who might accost his visitor on the street and beat the living shit out of him. Instead, until relatively recently he'd been taking a cut of his former employee's pay for every job well done, and toward the end, business had been very good.
Hence why Campion had decided to branch out on his own.
"Jesus Christ, Jay," the bald man said, looking Campion up and down, brow furrowing. "You look like shit."
"Thanks," Campion croaked. He had to swallow again as he lost his voice, his throat still raw.
"What happened...?" The other man--Clint--reached out to grasp hold of Campion's elbow and help him step over the threshold. "Who did this?"--as he assisted him into the vestibule and turned for the inside door.
"One of my tricks. Got a little too handsy."
"Why do I figure that's an understatement. Well, just goes to prove it. Should've stuck with me. I offer a great health plan."
"True, but every good boy has to stretch his wings and learn to sell himself...for himself." He made a face, rubbed his throat again; they reached the old familiar den with its battered coffeetable and overstuffed chairs and couch, where men--and the very rare, very occasional woman--could sit and wait to be seen by someone of Clint's staff, which consisted exclusively of young men, a few of them at least straddling the borderline if not being downright underaged. Campion had been his best draw. Campion the Chameleon, a few of the others had started to call him. Always able and willing and very, very good at being anything anyone else wanted him to be, as long as the pay was right. Campion had been underaged. Sometimes he'd even lied to make himself seem younger. That had suited everyone just fine.
Now he was out on his own--with no hard feelings, though Clint had been genuinely sorry to see him go--and had been, for several weeks. Things had gone pretty well; occasionally, one of Clint's regular clients would seek him out on the backstreets where he now walked in the evenings, and it was odd not to feel compelled to return to Clint's place and offer his typical cut, but a clean break was a clean break, according to Clint, and the few times potential tricks hadn't seemed too interested in passing an hour or so with him anyway, Campion had been fully willing to direct them to Clint, where they might find somebody more to their liking. Perhaps somebody younger. Clint's boys were treated relatively well since they brought in the cash, and the time Campion had spent in his employ had certainly been far better than the years preceding it. At least he'd been getting paid for what other men had formerly taken from him for free. He hadn't minded whatever vaguely odd, often painful, and sometimes downright weird things his clients requested. One of the very reasons they kept coming back, and why Clint had been getting such good business a while before he left, was his willingness to do almost anything they asked. He had a reputation.
Now, however, one of those tricks upon whose good graces he relied for his living had gotten a little too carried away. "Gonna get you a drink, for starters," Clint muttered as soon as Campion was settled in one of the chairs, its massive cushions making him look even frailer than usual, and as he left the room Campion continued rubbing at his sore throat.
He had to assume it was his relatively slight build and nonthreatening appearance that had convinced tonight's trick he could get away with the one thing Campion was unwilling to do. Anything short of snuff, he always said, though that also included anything brutal enough to leave lasting damage; he figured they would understand what he meant. So far, they had. This one, not so much. Or perhaps he had understood, and snuff had been exactly what was on his mind. The livid bruises around Campion's neck made that much pretty obvious. Things had gotten a little too close for comfort this time. He'd had guys hit him, scratch him, pull his hair, and do a few more unpleasant things to him, but nothing serious. This was another matter entirely. He lifted one hand to peruse his knuckles. They were lacerated, swollen to twice their normal size, and already turning purple. There was blood under his fingernails; not his blood. He made a face. He'd have to wash this all off soon.
Clint returned from the kitchen with a bottle and a glass. He sat down on the coffeetable and poured a drink for Campion, passing it to him. Campion didn't care much for alcohol, but it felt like every bone and muscle in his body was throbbing with pain, plus his head was full of cottony fog, so he accepted the glass and downed its contents in two swallows. Clint raised his eyebrows, took the glass back, refilled it. He started to hand it back but hesitated long enough for Campion to peel off his jacket. They both made faces this time as the dark marks around his neck were made clearer, as well as the bruises on his wrists. Campion turned both arms this way and that, examining the damage.
"Christ," Clint said again. "So, what'd the asshole do? What'd he want?"
"Just the regular rough stuff. Or so he said. Ties me to the bed, how original is that. Things go as such things go. Then he decides maybe he wants to choke me a little. Nothing wrong with that, as long as he stops before I pass out. No such thing. I almost did lose it, in fact I think maybe I was blacking out and coming to a few times before I could do anything about it." He took the drink, downed half of it. "Dumbass doesn't know I easily know how to slip a knot. Get my hands free and have to claw at him a little bit before I knee him in the family jewels hard enough for him to loosen up a little, though of course he doesn't let go. Guy has to be twice my size." He finished the drink, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "Think maybe I pissed him off. Eh. Doesn't matter. Too bad he had me strip naked else I could've just put my knife in him, but I had to make do without. Anyway, finally get him off me, and take more than what money is due, just because in this case it seems fair, and head out on my way."
"Think maybe you left a little bit out," Clint mused, pouring a third drink. "The most interesting bit, in fact. What'd you do to the guy? Leave him there? Call the cops on him and then run? Steal his clothes?" He chuckled to himself. "I would've loved to see that..."
Campion wrinkled his nose. "What are you, thirteen? I have no use for some fucking grab-ass clown's clothes. Though now that you mention it, it would've been kinda fun."
"There's a learning curve involved. Shut the fuck up unless you're willing to hold my hand the entire way." He took the glass back and sniffed its contents disdainfully, as if just realizing how much he disliked liquor. "Anyway, no, didn't take the slob's clothes. Didn't even want his watch. Just the money. Plus damages, and pain and suffering and whatever other shit." Clint laughed to himself again. Campion took a sip. "After pummeling the living shit out of the dumbass. I admit, I got kinda carried away, but then again so did he. That's what all this came from, anyway." He held up his bruised hands.
"Any chance the SOB'll call the cops on you...?" Clint asked with what sounded like genuine concern.
Campion snorted, took another sip. "Hardly. I checked the guy's wallet, you know, just in case--"
"Ah. Not so amateur after all, are we!"
"--and turns out the guy works for the city! Not a cop, no, but still. Isn't that awesome? I left his ID but took his card and made sure it'll be obvious it's gone whenever he, I dunno, comes to or whatever. Left him kind of sprawled out on his ass. Like I said, got a little carried away. Not that I care." He quit talking, and held the glass to his mouth and started sipping at it delicately, staring across the room as if attempting to curse the far wall. After he winced and shifted uncomfortably a few times Clint got to his feet.
"I assume you could use a place to crash tonight."
"Seeing as I don't technically work here anymore..."
"Don't think about it. You brought in some of my best-paying customers. And a lot of 'em still come around. Place isn't the same without you, but it's sure better for having had you in it." He turned for the stairway. "Let me go fix up a spare room for you before I go getting so sappy you'll have to shoot me. Oh, speaking of." He glanced at Campion over his shoulder as he set foot on the first step, and Campion frowned back at him. Clint looked him up and down briefly, pursed his lips, then turned away and resumed climbing. "I'll fix something up for you," he finished, and disappeared again.
Campion tried settling back into the chair once more, wincing. The alcohol only made his chafed throat burn worse, but it helped to settle his equally raw nerves a little. He peered around the room--slow night, or else everybody's night off?--and finished the drink when he heard Clint coming back down the steps. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
"Room at the end of the hall. Wash yourself up. There's stuff in the medicine cabinet. I'll bring up some food while you're at it and you can eat when you're done."
Campion leaned forward to set down the glass on the coffeetable, then put his hands on the arms of the chair and pushed himself up and out, grimacing the entire way. Clint pursed his lips disapprovingly but Campion nudged his hand away when he tried to take his arm to help him up the steps. "I can still walk, sweetie," Campion said in a strained voice, and Clint snorted and stepped out of his way.
"Yeah, well, try not to get blood all over the bed, huh?" Campion gave him the finger. "And I'll have your food up in a bit."
Campion made it to the top of the single flight of steps and trudged painfully and wearily to the end of the hall. He glanced at the door to the room that had once been his, where he'd entertained clients (to use the goofy euphemism that Clint occasionally enjoyed), but it was closed and likely locked, probably the abode of some young newbie. He wondered if the kid would be as nervous as he'd been his first time in the place, if Clint would give him the same relaxing treatment he'd given Campion, then brushed the thought from his head as totally irrelevant and tried the knob on the last door. It opened easily and he slipped inside, shutting it behind him but not locking it. He looked around the room. Small--just a bedroom--but serviceable. It wasn't like he planned to hold a party or an orgy or any such, though the latter thought made him stifle a laugh. He glanced toward the bathroom, then made his way to it and stepped inside. Not just a shower, but a bathtub to boot. Good. He didn't think he could stand long enough to take a shower.
He winced and grimaced and made horrible faces the entire time he stripped off the rest of his clothes, tucking shirt and pants and underwear over the towel bar so they wouldn't fall to the floor. He turned to the mirror over the sink and looked at himself. He frowned. Against his fair skin the bruises on his neck and elsewhere on his body were positively livid, ugly purple-black marks that would take a while to go away and wouldn't be particularly attractive to any other clients. They didn't like being reminded he made a living being with numerous other guys; everybody he was with wanted to imagine themselves as the only one. He snorted at the stupidity and near-romance of such an idea as he turned to look at his back, and stepped back to examine the rest of himself now that he was in better light. The worst of it was on his neck and wrists and somewhat lower down. Nothing too serious. He'd been through worse.
He turned the knobs on the tub, waited for the water to get as hot as he could bear it, and as it started to fill, opened the medicine cabinet to see what was within. Rubbing alcohol might be good, once his bath was done. He pulled out bath salts; even though he didn't care for frilly things, he'd heard they were relaxing, and he could use that right now, why not seize the chance. He also found what else Clint had left behind especially for him, evidently having noticed the fresh track marks on his arm after he'd removed his jacket. Campion took this out and set to preparing it as steam started to fill the small room. Clint had been the one who'd introduced him to heroin, to settle him down when the demands of his first client had made him panic with fear...or rather, Clint had introduced Jason to heroin, and Jay had just taken over since then. Jason hadn't cared for drugs, never had, still didn't; but as long as Campion took them, he stayed quiet and well behaved and lost in his own world, unless Campion should call him out for particular clients who wanted a more interesting experience. Some people were into weird shit like that; why deny them life's small pleasures.
He waited until the tub was full before shooting up, so he could turn the water off and not overflow the place. He sat on the edge of the tub as he felt it work its way through his system, lifting weight from him, the aches and pains fading into dull throbs that didn't bother him nearly so much anymore. He stood, blinked at his pinprick pupils in the mirror--fogged over but now dripping with condensation so he caught his marred reflection in pieces--and that was so amusing to him that he let out a laugh, just one sharp one, before grasping the tub's edge and swinging his leg over to lower himself into the steaming water. He dumped in the entire canister of bath salts just for the hell of it, and lay back so he was completely submerged but for his knees and his shoulders and head, the latter of which he rested against the wall near the hot-water knob. The water was hot enough to sting, but he no longer cared; he shut his eyes and swirled one foot to dissolve the salts, inhaling their fragrance. Lavender? Lilac? Who knew. Who cared.
He dimly heard noises in the other room, and then the door opened and steam billowed and went rushing out. He let his head loll to the side and blinked his eyes open in time to see Clint waving the steam away as if it were smoke, making faces; he was carrying a tray in one hand.
"See you made yourself at home already," he said with what Campion would have taken as disapproval, if he hadn't known him better. He stooped to set the tray down on the tub's edge; Campion looked at it, seeing a pair of sandwiches and a cup of soup; he took the soup first--"Hey, hold on, that's scalding ho--" Clint managed to get out--and downed it in several swallows which made him gasp and cough convulsively, nearly upsetting the tray so Clint had to grasp onto it, scowling.
"I said it's fucking hot! Christ! I know you're high as a kite but use some sense, all right?" He tapped on the tray. "Here. Have one of these. Cool yourself off some. The way I remember it you liked cucumber and peanut butter, right?"
"I think you need your fucking head examined."
"Bologna and American cheese. Christ. Take a joke already."
Campion took one of the sandwiches and bit into it, meaning to eat like a normal person, but his hunger got the better of him and he wolfed it down in seconds even though it felt like it got caught halfway down his esophagus. Clint rolled his eyes and held out something; Campion took the soft drink from him, popped it open, and started drinking. He had to stop and cough a few times.
"So...would now be a bad time to assume business isn't so good?"
"Actually..." Campion had to stop and swallow. "Actually, business is pretty great. So far. Don't get me wrong, not so nice and lovely as here, but I'm handling myself."
"Except for this time, huh."
"Into every life a little rain must fall. I know better than to fool myself. This kind've shit's routine, right? I've just lucked out so far, is all."
"'Lucked out'? Holy Christ, you're an optimist. Whatever gets you through the night, I guess. I'll take your word for it, because you know full well you'd have a job waiting for you here if you ever decided to come back, shit, I'll have a job waiting for you when you're forty-five if you want--"
"Considering if we're both still in the business then, I do plan to retire to a nice little cottage in the country and raise ponies sometime in the future, you know."
"--but if business is so good, if you don't mind me asking, why then do you seem ready to eat your own leg off? What, are the prospects so numerous you don't get time for food?"
Campion considered answering, but wasn't quite sure what the answer was. He settled for making a vague face and swirling one hand through the scented water. He tried whistling a little bit, didn't really succeed.
Clint frowned. "Anything?"
"Let's just say I'm frugal. Putting money away for a rainy day. Or whatever."
"Frugal enough that you don't seem to be eating, period?"
"I eat, thank you very much."
"Is it this..." Clint gestured toward Campion's right arm, and he responded by submerging it in the water again, though he'd never been the self-conscious type and he wasn't now either, "...is this keeping you from eating? You do realize food's more important than that shit, right?"
Campion barked again. "You're one to talk! People like me mellow and compliant. Chameleon. The customer is always right. Well...except tonight, obviously. Tonight the customer got a little handsy. Decided maybe he'd like snuff after all. Think I overdid it a little. He'll probably be aching for a while. Might need some painkillers. Should I've, I dunno, given him your card or something...?" He started chuckling, then, just because, took a deep breath and sank, head going underwater. He heard Clint start to say something just as he did this, his voice cutting off in an irritated growl. Campion stayed under the water as long as he could, though when he tried to open his eyes the salts made it sting too much. He let a bubble escape his mouth, then pushed himself back up, letting out and then sucking in a deep breath and sputtering a little, his usually spiky hair plastered against his skull. "You're still here," he said to Clint. "Blow a bubble, make a wish, pimp disappears like a teeny-tiny fish."
Clint rolled his eyes. "Cute. Betcha thought up that one right on the spot."
"I've actually been saving it for weeks, just needed the right excuse to come here and crash in your tub." He pursed his lips and blinked a few times, his eyes feeling heavy. "So...am I right in assuming the room is mine for the night, then?"
Clint raised an eyebrow. "Well...nobody ever accused you of being tactful. Yeah, room's yours for the night. For however long you need it, if you like."
"One night should be enough. Just wanted to wash up and rest a bit."
"Sure you don't wanna head to the hospital? Your neck looks like hell."
"I'll buy a scarf. Some guys like that girly shit."
"Look, I'm just saying. The door here's always open. And I don't mean for if you wanna come back to work or anything. You're new to being off on your own and it's hard at first, I get it. If you want to just crash here until you learn the ropes..."
"Like I said, just the night'll do. Got places to go and people to see. Life doesn't stop over one little booboo."
This time Clint pursed his lips. "At the very least let me keep you supplied till you get enough money to pay for that and for the food, okay?" he said; Campion opened his mouth and he held up a hand. "No fucking arguments. Who's to say this so-called city worker wouldn't've come over here and messed one of my kids up, if he hadn't just found you first? Way I see it you probably did all of us a favor."
Campion narrowed his eyes though then all he could see was a blur of sparkling colors; still, he found he rather liked that. "No way you could ever in a million years prove that, y'know."
"I'm a man of faith. You did me a service, I do you one. If you won't stick around here till you can feed your arm and your stomach, then at least let me take care of the first half. For now. If it wears on your conscience so damn bad you can owe me, how's that sound?"
"Conscience? Doesn't wear on my conscience any. You're the one who seems to be having shit wear on you. Down periscope." Campion sucked in a breath and submerged himself a second time, again hearing the irritated growl. He counted to ten, tried to say, "Up periscope," only to remember a little too late that he was still underwater and couldn't speak, and so a blast of bubbles escaped him and he came back up, coughing and spitting. He lifted his hand to swipe water from his stinging eyes.
"Are you going to be able to fucking sleep tonight--?" Clint inquired.
"Course I will." Campion let out a sharp cough. "Once I'm done here. Where'd that other sandwich go--?"
"Here. Thought you were gonna sweep the thing into the tub, for Christ's sake." He sat silently while Campion ate it, with somewhat more reserve this time. "So...you accept my offer or do I have to...I dunno...lock you in here or something?"
"I'll just jump out the window."
"And land in the alley and break your neck."
"Yeah, but at least I won't feel it."
"Am I gonna have to be the second person to tie you down tonight--?"
"Only if you pay me. Yes, I'll take you up on your offer," Campion interjected before Clint could protest anew. He screwed his knuckles into his eyes to try to rub out the sting of the salts. "Just till I get enough saved up to not need to suckle at your teat or whatever anymore."
Clint made a face. "Ugh, God, please don't put images in my head. Fine then." He picked up the crumb-littered tray and pushed himself to his feet as Campion sank so his mouth was submerged, and swirled his fingers through the scented water. "You're welcome to eat with us too, in the morning, if you want. Or if you want to sleep in I can just leave something in your room."
"Lemme know before you bail out so I can pack a sack lunch for you. And no...I don't mean food." He halted from turning to the door and glanced back. "Sound good?"
Campion responded by tilting his head back and puckering his lips. He managed to blow a bubble that floated in front of his face for a second or so before popping and making him blink, and gave Clint his most disgustingly sweet smile. Clint snorted and turned away again.
"Good...see you tomorrow. Or whatever."
The bathroom door shut, and the steam started to clog the air again. Campion continued swirling his hands in the water, and put his head back and rested until it started to go lukewarm; only then did he sit upright and start to carefully wash at a few scrapes and small cuts he'd sustained, paying particular attention to his knuckles, which didn't really hurt at the moment but he knew they'd feel like shit in the morning. He watched the water go down the drain when he was finished, dried off, scrubbing at his hair with a towel; he ran the water in the sink until it was as cold as he could get it, and submerged his hands for a little while to try to get the swelling to lessen a little. When he'd done the best he could he rubbed salve on the cuts and wrapped Ace bandages around them, briefly admired his handiwork, had to take a moment to relieve himself, then exited the bathroom. Clint had left a bottle of beer on the bedside table, as well as the paraphernalia and right amount for another hit, but he was too drained by now to bother and was still floating in his current state of half-bliss, half-exhaustion. He flopped on the bed and its size and softness seemed to drain all remaining energy from his muscles; he stifled a yawn.
There was a small TV toward the foot of the bed. Campion turned it on, flicked to a channel that was showing some kind of ultra-violent fight scene, considered leaving it there, then found a goofy children's cartoon with all sorts of bright colors and silly voices. This amused him for some odd reason--what children were possibly up at this time of night, watching this?--then lack of sleep won out over amusement, and he collapsed onto the bed and raked the comforter up to his shoulder and within moments was fast asleep and slightly snoring into the pillow.