Jim looks in Lucy’s eyes then turns and looks into Kayla’s and knows the game is up. Ron tries his damndest to mind his business but he’s just as interested as they are, as everyone else in the bar is.
The bruises and scars on Jim’s body didn’t come from working in a warehouse, they came from something else, something dangerous. The scars on his arms are faded, the scars and cuts on his chest–aside from the fresh one–are also faded which indicates they took place years ago.
Lucy, Kayla, and Ron know that much, which means they know Jim isn’t just “good ole Mr. Regularity”. The silence between the three of them is more intense than the previous silence in the bar, the atmosphere is thicker, the air stifling, and the gazes of Lucy and Kayla on Jim are scorching.
Jim looks at his clock and it hits ten-thirty, the veggie burger and fries came around when the women came in but remain uneaten.
Jim calls Ron over and asks him can he put it in a to-go container and Ron nods then goes to fulfill the request. The women grab Jim’s arms and look at him with penetrating gazes tinged with concern, Jim relents when Ron comes back with the food in the to-go box.
“Alright,” Jim says, “if you want to know what happened, meet me at 2345 Boulder Street at 11:30 tomorrow night. I’ll tell you then.”
The girls nod and let go of Jim’s arms and he takes his food and leaves without another word.
Jim lives in a large, gray building in the middle of the block, where the years of harsh winters and scorching summers have caused the walls to deteriorate and the paint peels off the gorgon statues on the banister.
The time is eleven-twenty-seven when the women, and Ron, pull up to the place in Ron’s black Toyota Camry (Ron took the rest of his shift off), finding a parking spot is easier than he imagines. They all get out and walk up the stairs and ring the fifth-floor bell, it buzzes them in.
They climb up five flights of stairs and enter a dimly lit hallway with doors on either side in a straight line. They spot a dim, gold light shining from an open door and assume that’s Jim’s place and walk toward it. The women stand behind Ron and he goes in to see if they have the right place, they do.
The place is nothing special but suitable for one, maybe two, people. To the left is a black sofa, coffee table, flat screen T.V. on a T.V. stand, and the window with a view of the rooftops and taller buildings in the distance; on the right there’s a kitchen with a dining table and four chairs in the center of it, if it was any more compact one could fit it inside a box and ship it out in a U-Haul truck.
Ahead of them is a little hallway with three doors, one to the right, left, and ahead. Jim comes out the right door and doesn’t look surprised to see them.
“You’re all here,” Jim points to the kitchen, “please, make yourselves comfy.”
“You always leave your door open like that, Jim?” Ron closes it behind the women when they come in.
“Only when I’m expecting company,” Jim says,” why? Think someone might come and try to rob me?”
“No, just asking?” Ron sits with his back to the door and the women sit on either side.
Jim walks over and sits in the only remaining seat, “So, you all want to know what happened to me.” He starts. “I understand why Ron would want to know, but why you two?”
Lucy and Kayla shoot glances at each other.
Lucy says, “because it’s shocking when you come into a bar to see someone you were just talking to bleeding out on the floor.”
Jim doesn’t buy but is willing to accept that answer, for now. There’ve been many times he’s been left to bleed to death but he won’t go into those just yet.
“And those scars and bruises,” Ron says, “what’s the deal with those? Your body looked like it been put through a meat grinder.”
Jim laughs, “yeah, haven’t always been good when it comes to taking care of myself. I’ve lived an adventurous life, reckless depending on how you look at it, but adventurous nonetheless.”
“All those scars and bruises and that’s how you describe it?” Kayla asks. “You looked like you’d been dug from a grave.”
“About those scars,” Jim starts, “let’s just say I was in with the wrong crowd for a long time and there were certain rules you had to follow. I broke a couple of those rules and there were repercussions.”
They all wait for Jim to go on.
“Some being cut all over, some being beaten with blunt instruments, and one being death.” Jim sighs while they look on with interest, “yeah, good ole Mr. Regularity has had a brush or two with death.” He chuckles.
“When did they happen?” Lucy asks.
“And how is it that only your body is scarred but not your face?” Kayla asks.
“And how the hell are you still alive?” Ron asks.
“One question at a time,” Jim says, “uh, the scars happened when I was in a gang called Shadows of Death–a biker gang that was also a club, of sorts. The guys were cool and everything was just peachy, we’d ride along in the California desert with the wind blowing through our vests, speeding past station wagons and sedans and SUVs,”
Jim goes on to explain the ten cardinal rules of the club which are akin to the ten commandments. Instead of ‘thou shalt not kill’, the rule would be ‘thou shalt not kill the wrong guy’ and ‘thou shalt not steal’ would be something like ‘thou shalt not steal unless it’s from a rival gang’.
Jim describes the time one of his buddies, Brady, broke a rule and had sex with the leader’s woman, how the leader found out because Brady just wanted to smash and dash but she wanted more and Brady wouldn’t give her what she wanted, so she told the leader, Chaz, that Brady raped her and Chaz had Brady. . .
“Skinned and put through a meat grinder,” Jim’s face remaining expressionless, “we all watched Brady get beaten to a bloody pulp then shot in the head. They cut his hair and started skinning from the scalp, it took about an hour and a half to get all the way down to his toes.
All of their faces become pale, Kayla sways back and forth on the verge of fainting but finds the resolve and steels herself for what Jim may say next.
“Chaz wore Brady’s skin as a cape for a month so we all got the message, especially when it flapped in the wind when we rode through the California desert,” Jim’s once chocolate brown eyes are now a bottomless pit of darkness.
Ron asks Jim where his bathroom is and Jim tells him, Ron steps out quickly and a loud, retching sound reverberates throughout the apartment. Ron comes back out and Kayla goes in after him and the sound repeats, this time for longer.
Lucy gets up to see if Kayla is alright but something is strange about Lucy’s walk, that graceful, runway model walk has now turned into something mechanical, almost catatonic in its stiffness.
Her arms lay limp at her sides, her legs move in a perfunctory motion and her head is focused straight ahead, and, when she gets to the door, pivots like a soldier in a lineup and goes into the bathroom.
Ron clenches his fists to keep them from shaking and tries his hardest to push the image of Brady’s tattooed, dirty pig pink skin flapping in the breeze out of his head but can’t seem to shake it for the life of him.
He looks at Jim and Jim’s eyes take up a knowing quality to them like he can see into Ron’s thoughts and read them word for word because those are the exact same thoughts Jim had when he first witnessed it. The toilet flushes and the coughing and hoarse vomiting repeat for two to three more minutes until Lucy and Kayla walk out and retake their seats at the table.
Jim continues, “It’s funny that you call me Mr. Regularity, Ron, because that’s what they used to call me in the gang, because of how on-time and ‘consistent’ I was when running errands, tracking down snitches, and keeping certain policemen happy.”
An astonished look overtakes Ron’s face, the horror washing away and being replaced with coincidence, something akin to fate.
“I got my scars when I ‘broke’ a rule and ‘allegedly’ killed one of our own, a guy named Chico I wasn’t cool with but had no problems with either. Chico was found laid out on the ground in front of the club with a note that said ‘hope you like my little gift’ from yours truly, good ole Mr. Regularity.
“I was out of town on an errand at the time, I don’t know what Chico was doing, and when I got back the first thing that greeted me was a baseball bat to the chest. I was beaten and stomped out until I was nothing but a limp sack of dark meat. I woke up in a small room known to the club as the ‘the room’, my wrists chained to the ceiling and my legs bound. One of the guys went and told Chaz I was awake and he came in and said, ‘before I skin and wear you like a cape, I wanna know why. Why’d you kill Chico?’ I looked at him with a confused look because that was the first I heard of it; Chaz told one of the guys to hand him the note and he passed it to him and then Chaz held it to my face for me to read. I told him I didn’t do it. One of the guys handed him a bat and he took it to my stomach.
Lucy and Kayla place a hand over their open mouths in horror and Ron listen intensely, trying to remain strong.
to be continued . . .
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