Book: Outside The Ropes

Previous: 24: Numb
Next: 26: Sorry

DAMIEN’S EYES SLITHERED OVER ME AND HE used two fingers to slowly unzip my jacket.

A trail of dread running down me at the same time.

“I can think of a couple of different ways for you to pay.” The pressure of the gun never let up as he stepped closer.

The guy behind me laughed with sickly sweet breath. He no longer had his gun on me and used both hands to pull my jacket off my arms causing Damien’s smile to grow.

Leona was back to crying, I could hear her panic rising and the volume increasing with hysterics. It cracked the shield I was trying to put up. This wasn’t just me. I wanted her to be quiet though, she was only making things worse; I could tell by the way Damien’s smile dropped.

He suddenly left me, building momentum in his strides, and he kicked Leona in the stomach.

She grunted as the air escaped her and then she was quiet. To my relief she curled herself into a silent ball and Damien stalked back to me.

Dexter had called out when Leona was kicked and the tall one in front of him pushed him down and was now kicking him in the stomach.

My stomach spasmed with each kick I witnessed, as if I were being kicked myself. The man behind me tightened his hold on my arms, keeping me up, and then Damien was in front of me and yanked me to him.

He gripped me so my back was flush with his front. His hand wrapped around me grabbing my chin, forcing me to witness Dexter being beat, and his other hand held the gun to my temple.

“Where were we?” His wet breath dripped into my ear and he ran his empty hand down my neck and over my shirt. “Ways to pay…” he pushed my head to the side with his gun and ran his tongue along my neck before sucking on a spot just above my shoulder.

I didn’t even care what he did. My heart was breaking as another man joined the tall one and kicked Dexter in the face. The tall one crouched down, grabbed Dexter by the shirt and lifted him up some, saying something I couldn’t hear. Dexter’s head rolled slightly. When he lifted it, blood poured from his nose.

Damien’s hand slid into my pants and all I could do was stand there as hell took up residence around me.

The tall one, holding Dexter up, looked over at us, and his eyes flared. “What the fuck Dee, we don’t have time for that shit. Drop the girl and go check the fucking office.”

Damien removed his hand, but still kept his gun on me. “She’s part of it too. She runs with Rusnak’s crew.”

“Rock didn’t mention no girl. Finish this job, we ain’t got all night.”

Damien dragged me to where Leona was and tossed me down, stomping to the back of the gym.

“Now, where’s Rocks money?” Tall man turned back to Dexter, gun under his chin.

“I told him. After my fight Saturday.” Dexter’s voice was strained with pain.

My shock shook me so hard it felt like the building was collapsing. I attempted to scoot to Leona, but the man with the gun aimed at us told me to stay still.

“There ain’t time for that. He’s cutting all ties tonight, but first he’s getting what’s owed him. So try again. Where’s his fucking money?”

Leona started sobbing again and the man with the gun on us, standing a couple feet away, eyed her. His face dropped into a deeper frown.

“Shhh” I tried to get her to stop, but it was no use.

The man crouched low beside her, grabbed her hair and yanked her head up, only to slam it into the ground.

And she didn’t move or make a sound after that. But blood began pooling around her head.

Damien and another guy came out from the office. The other man, in the Raven’s hoody said, “There’s a safe back there, but we can’t open it.”

“Fuck’s sake. Get your ass over here. Hold him. I’ll get it,” tall one said as he dropped Dexter back to the ground and rose into standing. “Dee you’re with him. Leave the girls alone.”

Ravens jacket stood next to the littlest man, the one with his gun trained on me and only me now that Leona was unconscious.

Tall man gestured for Ravens sweater guy to come with him and they went back into the office.

Damien stood over Dexter, gun pointed down at him. “You think your running with some big boys, Regan?”

He swiftly kicked Dexter in the back. “They ain’t shit no more. You choose the wrong crew. After tonight, this is Rocks world.”

I just stared at him. I didn’t know how to process any of this, still reeling from the fact that Dexter was the target here, not me. Dexter, my funny friend with seemingly no cares in the world, brought this chaos.

He licked his lips, tongue balanced on the top one for a moment as he cocked his head, considering me. “But it might not be too late for you. I’d take you on, give you a job.” His smile glided up “After I tried you out of course.”

I didn’t say anything, just sat on the padded gym floor and said nothing. Damien didn’t like that.

He stormed over to where I sat, gun pressed to my forehead so hard I had to lean back, supporting myself with my arms behind me.

“That’s right bitch, you should be scared. Scared of me, scared of my boys. Scared of what I might do with this gun.” He dragged the gun roughly down my face, over my eyes and cheek, and jammed it into my mouth. Forcing me to open wide or lose my teeth. “Show me how you can suck?” his voice was back to an eerie whisper.

A voice yelled from behind me, from the office. “We got it. Let’s go.”

Damien looked up as the two men jogged out with full backpacks. He removed the gun from my mouth, but still kept it pointed at my head as he stood up.

Tall one went over to Dexter and kicked him again, making him groan, and then put his gun to his face. “Silas will be getting his own warning. Cause that’s all this is. A warning.” He shook his book bag. “We’re all clear now, debt’s paid. But don’t come around no more. Rock ain’t fuckin’ with your boss. Business is canceled.”

As the three made their way to the door, backwards, gun’s still drawn, Damien said, “Ask your boy, who can’t fuck with who now?”

He tossed me one last smirk before putting his gun away and following the others out the door.

The click of the door closing was a gunshot starting my actions. I popped up off the ground and sprinted to the door, locking it, bolting it. I leaned against it for a moment and listened, there was no sound and I released an inch of tension in a single breath.

I flipped on the lights and surveyed the gym with a clinical detachment. Dexter was by Leona now. He must have crawled to where she was; a trail of blood spotted his path. She groaned as he lifted her head carefully to his lap. Her face was streaked with blood, her hair matted with it.

I dashed to the front desk and grabbed a stack of towels and the first aid kit hanging on the wall, carefully balancing it all in my hurried walk to where they were.

Dexter's nose was slowly oozing deep red blood, and I tossed him a towel dismissively and focused on Leona.

Kneeling in front of them, I scooped Leona's head in my hands and moved her to my lap.

Looking down at the blood in his lap Dexter began to rock and cry low, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry..." was on repeat.

I looked up, anger burning strong. "Call your brother," I demanded then pressed a towel to Leona’s face, trying to find where she was bleeding. It was everywhere, thin, bright red blood everywhere, and more flowing by the second.

Dexter stilled. "I can't. He-I'll call Silas."

My heart raced, recalling what the guy said to Dexter, “Silas will get his own warning.”

I pulled away the blood soaked towel and found the source. Her eyebrow was split. Opening the first aid kit I looked for anything that could be of use, not really sure what I should use.

Dexter was still sitting there, doing nothing but staring and bleeding.

"Call him then. Now. Do something," I shrieked, panic starting to rise.

I took a calming breath and dumped the overstuffed first aid kit, to better search through the contents. I found small butterfly bandages and took a handful, as well as a large bandage, Neosporin, and gauze.

Leona groaned again as I patted at her wound with the gauze and pinched the skin together to see if the bleeding would slow. It did. I tried to use comforting words as I taped her wound shut with the small bandages and put the large bandage over it all. I had forgotten to use the ointment, but wasn't about to undo everything I just did. Especially since new blood was no longer flowing over her face.

Dexter finally had his phone out. He had his head tilted back and towel held to the center of his face as he made the call to Silas.

"Gage," Dexter's voice was flat. After a moment of silence he said, "We're still at the gym." Then he hung up the phone and pulled the towel away, looking at me. "Gage answered Silas’s phone." His voice was a whisper of shock. "Something must have happened with them too. He's on his way."

I couldn't worry about them yet; I would have to wait till they got here.

Focused on Leona again, who had started crying in my lap, I wiped her face with another towel, trying to clean up the remaining blood. I used a wet wipe that had spilled from the kit, attempting to clean up the already drying blood on her face.

Her small whimpers were like nails on a chalkboard. I tried to shush her and mumbled words I didn't believe. "Everything's alright now, they're gone, we're safe." But there was an edge to my voice as a hard anger crept in and I met Dexter's eyes.

"I think my nose is broken," he whispered.

I nodded my head. It was; even in its grotesquely swollen state I could see the bend in it. "Why? What have you done?" my voice was icy.

He dropped his eyes and shook his head, his shoulders slumped over.

The sound of the locks at the front door caused a white cold terror to surge through me and I pushed Leona off of me as I stood up, looking for the nearest weight to use as a weapon. But if they were back with guns, there was nothing I could do.

It receded as quickly as it came when the door opened revealing Gage and Silas. Silas was holding a blood soaked shirt up to his head, but Gage looked fine at first glance.

Gage's scanned the room and in the next moment he was in front of me, eyes searching my body. "You’re bleeding?" he tried to grab my blood spotted shirt.

I stepped away, pushing his hand at the same time. "It's not my blood, its Leona’s."

He let out a breath of air, eyes still moving over me. "You're alright?"

"I'm fine," I lied. I didn't feel fine, but physically I guess I was.

One hand circled around my neck and the other around my back as he pulled me in, and my heart leaped to my throat. He kissed my forehead and trailed the kisses to my cheek before I pulled away.

"I'm fine," I repeated with more strength. "But Dexter and Leona were hurt."

I gestured to them. Silas was sitting with Dexter, hands to his face. Silas made a quick motion, adjusting Dexter's nose. I thought I heard a sick crunch under Dexter's yell, but couldn't be sure.

Leona's cries grew louder, and I sat beside her, trying to give comfort. She buried her head into my lap and curled up on the floor. At least this kept Gage away. I didn't trust any of these men in the room, but couldn't think of my next move.

"What happened?" Gage asked.

I took a breath and spoke with a surprisingly calm voice, focusing on a spot of blood on the floor. "Four men came in with guns and they emptied your safe."

"Fuck." Silas jumped and ran back to the office, slapping the bandage in his hands hastily to his cut forehead.

"They didn't hurt you?" Gage asked softly, kneeling beside me.

I shook my head. "They were here for Dexter."

Dexter dropped his head, hiding in the folds of the towel he still held to his face.

"We have a lot to talk about Dexter. But first let's get the girls out of here." Gage stood up, his tone final.

Silas walked out of the office like a ghost, his face lifeless and movements slow.

"How bad?" Gage asked him.

Silas's blank eyes looked to Dexter. "We're fucking dead."

"All of it?" Dexter stood up, voice shaky and Silas nodded.

Gage looked between the two, brows furrowed, "How much money are we talking about?"

"It's not money. I was holding for Rusnak and they took it. All of it."

Gage took a deep breath. "What the fuck have you two been doing?"

Dexter was shaking. "I'm sorry. Gage, I'm so sorry. You've got to help me."

Gage charged him, pinning him to the front wall, his forearm across his neck. "What have you done? I give you everything" Gage's voice cracked with more than rage. "Why did you do this?" Dexter's face was darkening with trapped blood and Gage released him, letting him drop.

He turned to Silas, finger pointed at him. "This is your fault. Why the hell would you bring him into this?"

Silas put his arms up in surrender. "Let's talk about this later." He glanced at us, making it clear Leona and I weren't meant to be part of this conversation.

"We deserve to know, too. We were brought into this and I want to know why?" I said from the floor. Leona only gripped me tighter, trying to hide from everything.

I had been an idiot to not want answers from Gage that day we went to Nan's house. I thought not knowing would keep me safe. I was wrong.

Gage glanced at me and after a few deep breaths he said, "Let's go. We need to leave."

I helped Leona to her feet. Dexter came over to help support her, but Leona whimpered and turned into me further, avoiding his touch. I couldn't blame her. Dexter's face crumpled further than it already was and his body drooped as he walked away.

Once we were all in the SUV, Gage and Silas up front, and Dexter, Leona, and I in the back, Leona finally spoke.

"I want to go home." Her voice cracked through her tears.

Gage met my eyes in the rear view mirror. "Not tonight."

She tightened her arm around me. "Please." Her sobs escalated again. "I just want to go home."

"Maybe we should drop them off," Silas said.

"Not until I've figured out what's going on. They can--"

"They'll be safer away from us, at their own place," Silas insisted.

"And then what? Her roommates start questioning her? They go to the cops? They stay with us tonight."

My heart dropped to my stomach at what this all meant. "Where are we going then?"

"My house," Gage said, turning right onto a busy road.

A wave of panic hit me. "Shouldn't we go somewhere else? A hotel? Maybe drive far away, to another state?"

"I can't leave. I have to figure out what all went down tonight. And we can't go to a hotel like this, everyone's injured it would cause suspicion." He softened his stern voice as he looked at me in the rear view again, "My house is safe. It's protected."

I was grinding my teeth. This didn't sound like a safe plan. "Who protects your house?"

"Me. But I don't think anyone will come anyways. They already delivered their message and took what they wanted."

I held little confidence in his words. I didn't believe him. But I saw little choice except to go along. The night felt too dangerous to be alone.

Leona kept her arms around me, face hidden, even as we walked into the house.

Gage turned to me and ordered, "Take her upstairs to the guest room. Help her calm down."

I didn't want to go. I wanted to stay and hear what was going on. I needed to know.

At my hesitation Dexter stepped up. "I'll take her."

But Leona's nails cut into my stomach, through my shirt. "No. You leave her alone." My eyes locked on Dexter, steel in my tone.

Getting her to bed would make it easier to ask questions. Her constant crying was grating on my nerves.

I found Benadryl in Gage's bathroom medicine cabinet and gave it to Leona, hoping to get her to sleep. Her blow to the head concerned me, and I remembered hearing in school that you're supposed to keep those people awake, but I thought she'd feel better if she slept through this.

And she did. After ten minutes of lying with her, her breathing evened, and she was out.

I escaped from the room and went down the steps, listening to the raised voices in the living room.

"Poker? You borrowed money from Rock for a fucking poker game?" Gage's voice was incredulous.

I rounded the corner into the room. Dexter was sitting on the couch, head in his hands. Silas leaned against the front window, eyes looking out, and a rifle by his side. A metallic taste filled my mouth at the sight of the gun, acid rising in my stomach. Gage stood in front of Dexter, hands spread, questioning him.

Without his coat on I noticed that the back of his shirt was torn and blood circled around it. But it looked like dry blood at least. My mind raced, trying to understand.

"I'm good at poker. I usually win. Just this night I didn't. I had bet using the money I knew I'd get from my fight this Saturday. I've done it before and its fine. But I don't know what happened tonight. Why that all changed." He looked up at Gage. "This wasn't my fault. Something else is going on."

Gage's hands clenched and anger lined his face. Dexter moved back on reflex as Gage gripped his shirt, lifting him into standing. "You got involved with people like Rock. You did that. You took the risks." He tossed him down onto the couch and turned around trying to bring down his rage.

He spotted me at the door and turned back to Dexter. "And now you put Regan and Leona in danger. For Christ's sake, your girlfriends up stairs with who knows what injuries. This is your fault."

Silas pulled away from the window. "Rock isn't the big problem. It's Rusnak. What are we going to tell him? I've got to get his money or shit back, or it's me and Dexter that will pay."

"Why is Dexter involved in that? Why are you?" Ice ran through his words.

"It was supposed to be easy money. Dexter is good at sales," Silas said simply.

He crashed to the floor, Gage on top of him in the blink of an eye. Gage's fists pounded on Silas and the blood on the back of his shirt began to spread, he had opened up whatever injury was there.

I just stood and watched, detached, not caring what happened to these men. They could destroy each other and I don't think I would lend a hand to any of them.

Dexter got up and put his arms around Gage, trying to stop him, without success. Gage slowed on his own. His body shook as he stood. Silas groaned and rolled to his side, spitting out blood and a tooth.

Gage stood up, an animal rage still in his eyes. Turning to me he demanded, "Go back upstairs and stay there."

The look he had scared me, especially with the spray of blood on his shirt and neck from Silas. But I needed to see what was happening. I was part of this now. "I- I want to know."

He took a few steps towards me, his fire barely contained. "I. Said. Go. Upstairs. Now."

With him towering over me, I knew I had to listen. My shaky legs carried me up the stairs. I went into the guest room with Leona. She was still asleep.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, millions of thoughts ran through me, but none of them made sense. I kept waiting for the shock to come, for my breathing to escape me, for panic to set in, but instead, all I felt was cold--a prickly, needley cold all over.

Every now and then I would hear shouting and then I heard footsteps stomp up the steps, but nobody came to the room.

A while later the door opened, but I didn't move, not even to look at him. I knew it was Gage.

"I've got to leave. But you'll be safe here. Dexter is downstairs."

I looked up. He must have showered and changed his clothes. All signs of blood gone.

"Just in case. Take this." He extended a small black gun to me but I just stared. "Have you ever held one, used one? Here's the safety-"

I stopped his demonstration by taking it, feeling the heavy cold weight in my hand. "I've used one." At his questioning look I explained, "At a gun range with Nan."

I stared at the gun in my hand, on my lap. The icy feeling shattered me.

He reached a hand towards me and I leaned away. He dropped it, shuffling his feet.

"I'm sorry about all of this. I'm going to make it better." He walked away and my heart pounded and strained painfully.

"Wait," I choked out without thinking.

He paused at the doorway, looking at me.

I looked up at him and opened my mouth a few times before I finally pleaded, my voice strained, "Don't go."

He was sitting next to me a second later, arms wrapping me up into him. "I'll be back soon. I promise," his voice was soft.

I gripped the front of his shirt, not wanting to let him go into danger. I was confused about everything, except that I wanted him safe and leaving wasn't.

Doing the only thing I could think of I pressed my lips to his neck, his lips were too far a reach.

He grabbed my wrists and held me away, leaning himself back.

I stared at his hands between us, heart sinking.

"I've got to go. This will be over in the morning." He stood up and walked away, the door not making a sound as he closed it.

Tears escaped my eyes for the first time tonight. It would be over in the morning, that's what I was afraid of.

Previous: 24: Numb
Next: 26: Sorry