Book: Outside The Ropes

Previous: 25: Debt
Next: 27: Abandoned

DEXTER OPENED THE DOOR AND PEEKED IN.

“How is she?” He nodded to Leona.

I stood from my cross-legged position on the floor by the window. I had been watching for anything, hoping to see Gage’s SUV pull up. I set the gun on the nightstand, reluctantly parting with the security.

“She’s hurt.” I was pissed at Dexter and didn’t want to make this any easier on him. He was the reason Gage left. He was the reason Leona was passed out on the bed with a bloody bandage.

I swallowed my anger to focus on her; it felt better to have something to do. “She must still be bleeding. She needs stitches. Do you have bandages or something so I can change those?” 

We both stood on either side of the bed. Dexter brushed her hair back from her head and lowered his head to hers.

I shoved his shoulders from across the bed. “Focus,” I demanded.

He stood up tall, throat moving as he swallowed. He looked to me with heavy eyes that were already bruising from his broken nose and nodded before walking out of the room.

I looked out the window and my muscles vibrated with nerves and mixed emotions. If Dexter hadn’t looked so beat up, I would have punched him. I needed to punch something.

I held my breath every time headlights came up the road, but they always passed by or parked, going somewhere else. For someone else.

Dexter came back into the room with a handful of supplies and dropped them on the bed beside Leona.

“We’ve got super glue. Use that to keep the cut closed.”

“Keep an eye out. I’ll take care of her.” I nodded towards the window.

Her eyes fluttered but didn’t open as I removed the bandages. Squeezing her cut to keep it closed, I cleaned up the surrounding skin. I held my breath as I applied the super glue. It worked. The clear liquid dried on contact, bonding the skin together. I placed a new bandage over it and Leona’s hands moved to mine as she groaned, opening her eyes.

“Rea? I hurt,” she mumbled.

“I know. Try and go back to sleep,” I said, too stressed to find my gentle voice.

She looked down at herself and her hand floated to her head, patting at her hair and cut. “Ugh. I need to get out of these clothes and get all this blood off of me.” Her voice began rising in panic and she squeezed her eyes with the pain of it.

Dexter moved to the side of the bed, bouncing with nerves. “I’ll get her some clothes.” He ran out of the room.

“You can wash your hair, but don’t get the bandage wet. Maybe a bath?” It sounded nice. I would love to wash the night off of me, but couldn’t. I needed to stay by a window, to keep watch for what might happen next. To keep watch for Gage to return so I could breathe again.

At her nod I helped her up. She seemed steady enough on her feet so I let her walk to the bathroom on her own, the one connected to this room. The sound of water rushing filled the room as she started the bath.

Dexter returned and stared at the bathroom door. “Did she say anything? About me?”

I flicked my eyes away from him, back to the window. “No.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry. I really messed things up.” He sat on the edge of the bed.

“I don’t want to hear sorry. I want to know what the hell happened. Why?”  I snapped.

He continued to stare at the door where Leona was. “I don’t know. Something went down tonight, bigger than what I did.”

I waited for more, but he didn’t say.

“Tell me what you do know,” I demanded.

“I like to play poker. I go to games at different places, with different groups and Silas invited me to Rock’s. Gage’s uncle, Nick, goes too. Some other people I know as well, all people that I grew up around. A lot of the times I would win, so they’d always invite me back. Sometimes I’d lose or not have cash on hand, but they knew I was good for it. Then the other week it was a high stakes game, and I was all in. It was a different group playing, though, so Rock spotted me some money. He’s done it before. He said I’d pay him back when I won the hand or when I won my fight, this Saturday.” He raised his hands slightly, confused amazement clear. “But they showed up tonight.”

“And what about this stuff they stole?”

“They took more than I owed Rock. Silas owed him too, but still. They took more than what was owed. And that… that’s the worst part. They took more than we can pay back. And it’s not Rock we owe, but Rusnak.”

“Who is that?”

Dexter shrugged. “I never met him. I always went through Nick or Silas. But he’s the one in charge, the one we have to worry about owing.”

I tapped my finger on the gun sitting on the nightstand, unable to keep the nervous energy in. “And that’s where Gage is? I still don’t get why tonight happened.”

“I don’t know either. Gage left with Silas. That’s all I know.”

I went back to looking out the window and waited for Leona. When she came out Dexter jumped off the bed, going to her.

“Let me help you. I’m so sorry lee. Please let me help,” he pleaded as she stood warily. She nodded and he put his arm around her, walking her to the bed.

Tucking her in he lay beside her and I was shocked that she even curled into him a little.

“We need to talk, Dex,” she whispered.

His eyes shone with tears. “I know baby. Rea can you give us a moment?”

I turned to them, looking directly at Leona and she nodded. I picked up the gun and walked out with disbelief. She had been clinging to me earlier, a crying mess, and now she was ready to forgive so easily?

Since they kicked me out I went to Gage’s room. The large master bedroom stretched across the house, views of both the street and the harbor. It was probably the best room to be in anyways, for lookout purposes. And it had a chair at least. The guest room was bare minimum but his room had style. A simple dark style, but some extras like a TV and large lounger type chairs. I scooted one to the window overlooking the street and sat with the gun in my lap, so wired I was in no danger of falling asleep.

Hours later the sun began to rise, and the sky turned a muted dark gray. Seeing the familiar headlights of Gage’s SUV, I hopped up, heart in my throat as the car pulled into the garage. There had only been one person driving; it was too dark to tell who, but there was no one in the passenger seat.

I was frozen in spot for a moment, not allowing myself to think anything. The stomping up the stairs got me moving. I gripped the gun and stepped out of the room, into the hallway.

All the tension in my muscles released, and my stomach spasmed, almost crumpling me, as Gage appeared at the top of the steps, in one piece. His ear was bloody, as well as the collar of his jacket, but he was standing.

I dropped the gun as we both moved to each other, wrapping each other up. I couldn’t stop the tears from coming and my body shook with relief. His solid warmth reassured me as his arms tightened around me.

“You’re alright?” I asked, pulling my head back to look at him. My hand went up to his ear, hovering over the dried blood.

He nodded and pressed his lips to mine, sucking me in, as necessary as air.

My hands roamed his body, more for reassurance that he was here than passion. He pressed me back to the wall, hands moving to either side of my face as he deepened the kiss.

He pressed his forehead to mine with little pecks on my lips and cheek. He gripped my hair and his breath hitched with his retrained effort.

“We’ve got to go. Get what you need, but we have to leave. Now.”

I would have stepped away if the wall wasn’t blocking me. I stiffened in his grip. “What?”

“We’re going to leave. Out of state, like you said.” His grip in my hair loosened and he petted me, moving one hand down my hair. A failed attempt to soothe me. “It’s only temporary.”

He stepped back and realeased me as he looked me over. “Change your clothes, take a shower. We have time. But we need to leave. I’ll get Dexter.”

My mind swam, trying to catch up. My thoughts were still stuck on the relief of him being here.

“I’ve got to work. I don’t have anything here. I can’t leave.”

He gripped my arms suddenly, an edge to his voice. “Don’t fight me on this. It’s only until next week. I’ll explain later, but listen to me. It has to be this way.”

His tone scared me and I still wasn’t clear on the situation, so I listened. I changed out of my blood-dried clothes and into Dexter’s shirt and sweatpants; Gage’s clothes were too large.

***

“Can we go to our place, to get some things?” Leona asked as she slid into the backseat of the SUV, Rocky, the cat, in her hands.

“No. I don’t want your roommates questioning anything. You can buy what you need when we get where we’re going.”

I buckled myself into the passenger seat and questioned, “Where are we going?”

“New York. My fight is there next Friday. I’ll get a hotel until then.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Why? What happened tonight? What does it have to do with your fight?” I was surprised he was even thinking about it. For some reason I thought this night blew up both of our careers in boxing. But maybe it only ended mine, at least until I could find a manager I could trust, which may never happen.

“Where’s Silas?” I whispered my last question. I may not like him, but I didn’t want him dead.

“He’s fine, but he’s not coming with us.” Gage drove out of the neighborhood, and at a red light, he finally responded to my other questions. “I’ll explain, but not now.” His hand gripped the steering wheel, turning his knuckles white. “I need some time with my thoughts before I explain.”

My panic was choking me. “So you can make up a story? I want the truth. I want to know now, before I go off with you.”

Dexter spoke up from the back, “Rea, he’s doing what he thinks is best. Leave him alone for now. We’ve got time to talk later, everyone’s exhausted.”

I turned on him. “Shut up. I’m not talking to you.” We were turning onto the ramp, crossing the bridge out of Baltimore. Reality settling in, I had been holding it in all night and I was cracking. “Tell me why we have to leave now.”

A low rumble, almost a growl, vibrated Gage. “Things aren’t over yet. It didn’t get resolved last night. So I’m getting you the fuck out of this city until it’s clear.” He breathed deeply pulling back in his anger. “I’ve had a rough fucking night. Can you give me some time to calm down before you ask all your damn questions?”

I crossed my arms and looked out the window, anger and dread pressing on me, making it hard to breathe.

Leona leaned her head on Dexter and they both fell asleep before we were out of Maryland.

Gage’s eyes flicked to me for about the millionth time when we crossed into New Jersey. “Have you slept yet?” He asked softly.

I gritted my teeth. “Oh, are we asking questions now?”

He sighed, “I’m sorry for that. I—you don’t know Regan. Last night was bad.”

I widened my eyes, but my voice was soft as I looked at him. “I know last night was bad. I don’t know the details, but I know that. I didn’t sleep; it was bad for me too. Not knowing is killing me.”

“It was cocaine. That’s what Silas and Dexter were holding. And lots of it. I went to Rusnak first, laid it all out, and we tried to get it back. But Rock, he had tonight planned and was hidden away somewhere. He made a new contact and cut Rusnak out of the deal. Rusnak found out last night, that’s why Rock sent his men out to collect anything owed that was connected to him. But his boys took more than they should when they cleared Silas’s safe.”

“So Silas and Dexter still owe Rusnak?” I tried to make sense of his story.

He glanced at me, before watching the road again. “Silas still owes, but not Dexter. I took his spot. I thought I had been keeping him out, by not telling him things. But he still saw these people; he knew them. I gave him the connection but never told him about the danger. It’s my fault.”

I shook my head. Dexter’s wasn’t a kid anymore, he should have realized. “What’s next?”

“I get you to New York and you stay until my fight. Then I can pay everything back.” He glanced at me. “You should try to rest now.”

“So should you,” I countered.

He smiled slightly and nodded. “When we get to the hotel, I will.”

I nodded. I would stay up until then too.

***

Dexter put his arm around Leona and walked her into one of the bedrooms of the hotel suite. I sat on the couch alone, unsure of what to do now.

Dexter and Leona seemed to be treating this as a vacation, they had pointed out buildings and signs as we had driven on the busy city streets. But they were crazy, and I knew better.

Gage came out of the washroom and approached me, hesitant, hand extended. “Lay down with me? We both need some sleep.”

I swallowed. My heart was stuck in my throat, and I stood without grabbing his hand.

We walked to the remaining bedroom, and I lay on the bed, head resting on the pillow without comfort. I turned to the side and stared at the wall.

The bed moved as Gage climbed in behind me. His arm circled around me, severing the hold on my emotions with a painful slice.

I turned around, facing him, burring my face in his shirt. He surrounded me with his warmth, smell, and body. Tears pricked at my eyes and I struggled to make sense of my churning emotions, they pulled every which way.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” I said breathless, the one thing I knew. “What happened? Here?” I put my hand to his ear, he had cleaned off the blood, but it was a marbled red and blue and there was a gash behind it. “And your back?” I asked, recalling the blood through his shirt before he left.

He pulled me in tighter, resting his head on top of mine. “I was hit with the butt of a gun in the ear. But I was cut in the back. When Silas and I went to our meeting, before everything, some guys attacked us as we left. Four of them, they tried to get us into the car. I disarmed one, but another tried to cut me from behind, only a graze. They underestimated us though. Silas and I got away without much damage besides my cut and Silas was hit in the head.” His body tightened in my arms. “I knew Silas was still involved with crap like this. I just ignored all the signs. I’m sorry.”

I nodded, wordless. I had seen the signs too with Gage, and had chosen to ignore them. I had walked into all this and now I was stuck, wanting to push him away, but unable to.

“What happened when you left?”

He pulled away to look into my eyes, hands moving down my hair and back. “No more questions. Not now. I want to rest and hold you, and feel like everything’s okay. Even just for a moment.”

The pleading and sadness in his eyes pulled at all my strings, undoing me. I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but for now I wanted the same thing. I needed it too, even though I knew it was a lie. I knew nothing was okay and I could feel the unspoken words between us. He was holding back something important, but I’d let it go for now.

I curled into him and once he became heavy with sleep, his even breathing lulled me into unconsciousness.

I woke up to an empty bed. Evening light shone through the window. A note, with not enough words, on the nightstand table, written in Gage’s small, tidy print.

Stay here. I’ll call soon. Sorry.

Previous: 25: Debt
Next: 27: Abandoned