Sunsets and Gold Rings and the Evening Which Never Ends

Submitted by Zilla Babbitt to Contest #14 in response to: And there's a twist! It actually all took place in the past.... view prompt

Sullivan turned the corner, listening to his heartbeat and the rhythm of his strides. Some inconsiderate person in a flat was playing loud music, some song that had no idea how drums were supposed to work. A cat ran out from an alley and almost tripped him. Cursing, Sullivan kicked it out of the way, and it ran screeching back to its alley.

He rounded the corner of the building. The woman’s apartment building was ugly and old, with chipped paint and dangerous-looking fire escapes. He wondered how such a rich woman as she could bear to live in such a hovel.

The sun was still setting; its golden rays throwing beams of light all over the hood.

Sullivan stood before a battered red door. The curling metal letters whispered Toprigging Flats. Smiling slightly at the elegant name, Sullivan raised his hand to knock.

The door burst open, swinging out toward him and would have knocked him out had he not leaped clumsily out of the way. He opened his mouth angrily to curse at the men but shut it hastily and servilely when he saw who the men were.

They were wearing dark suits, their brown hair combed slickly back, dark glasses obscuring their eyes, and they were carrying heavy leather briefcases in one hand. In the other was slung, almost casually, like an oh-so-casual threat, small billets, like the ones policemen used to carry. They were held too casually for comfort.

The men did not look at Sullivan and left the door wide open behind them as they stalked off into the misty alley.

Inside the wide red doorway stood a woman.

Charlotte.

Barefoot, her expensive-looking clothes slightly askew, as though the men had grabbed her by the shoulder and yanked to express displeasure or threaten. Her glasses were gold-rimmed and guarded reddened, slightly watery eyes. Her clothes were silken and embroidered heavily; they looked like an item from a wealthy boutique in Paris.

Her hair was almost pulled free from its loose bun, and she was not looking at him. She was looking at a small cut on her arm. It was little, barely bleeding, but she was absorbed in rubbing at it and soothing the bleeding.

She looked up at Sullivan.

Her mild features contracted harshly into a scowl so fierce that Sullivan took a step back. The woman’s eyes flicked back and forth angrily from his bruised face to his dirty clothes.

Under the woman’s scrutiny Sullivan grew angry. He was not that dirty, was he? Sure, there were a few cuts and scrapes, a few strips of rust betraying his harrowing escape, but nothing to attract attention in the hood where she lived.

The disgust on the woman’s face grew deeper at his expression of indignation. She spoke. ‘You again.’

She could not have expressed her loathing of him in a better way than if she had slapped him across the face.

Sullivan flashed his emblem in her face. ‘You know me. Let me in.’

Her eyes flickered, her will wavering. She moved quickly, almost slamming the door in his face, then changing her mind. She huffed angrily. ‘Come in.’

He followed her, in the dingy entryway, scuffing off his feet on the disgusting white tile floor, nodding to the drunken man who served as a door guard, and climbing behind her up the creaky, swaying metal stairs.

On each landing, Sullivan stopped and pressed his side, where he had scraped it while escaping a few minutes before. Each time the woman rolled her eyes and jibed him, not waiting for him to catch up. The stairs were like those cheap steps used for fire escapes, or second-rate stairs at parking garages. Holey on purpose, and rusty not on purpose, they added another layer of decay and poverty in Toprigging Flats.

They passed no one on the way up.

Behind a few doors, Sullivan heard laughter, weeping, shouting of children, crying of babies, the clattering of pots and pans, the cheer and noise from a TV set, couples arguing animatedly and thoughtlessly; all the sorts of noises one gets used to in apartment buildings.

Charlotte rubbed at her cut all the way up.

It was in this respect only—thin bleeding cut—that he resembled her. His side was scraped and bleeding, and there were many small nicks and scrapes on his face and arms, and so he did not pity her the minute cut on her left arm.

Charlotte’s clothes were beautiful and fancy. His were a suit and tie, but plain and dull. His black hair was close-cropped, and he wore no glasses. He prided himself on his pristine eyesight. In truth Sullivan cared nothing for his appearance, but Johny made his men dress formally, to keep a good appearance. Sullivan’s otherwise handsome face was marred slightly by a thin white scar that tugged at his lower lip and curved around his chin. A trophy from a fight well fought, long ago. This scar gave Sullivan, when he grinned, a rather seedy and hang-dog look, which irritated most people but which he rather liked.

The ceiling lights on the stairs were dim and flickering, a gentle buzz emitting from the circles of light dotted with buggy spots. The walls were a depressing color, streaked with who knew what, pierced with holes and drawn on by bored children, most likely.

The woman let him into her apartment.

It was tiny, impractical, and dingy. The kitchen shared the room dubbed bathroom, and the living room and bedroom were the same things. One window let in a few rays of golden light. Three small glass tumblers sat on the windowsill, empty, with a bottle of vodka next to them.

She walked over and poured herself a glass, not offering Sullivan one.

To waste time, Sullivan asked to use the bathroom. Inside was a small sink, a microwave, a toilet, a miniature dishwasher hidden in the wall, and a few cupboards. The toilet paper was the consistency of Egyptian papyrus, and was so old it looked like it was possible it had been made by ancient Egyptians.

Once out, Sullivan walked around the living room silently.

‘Charlotte,’ he began.

‘Don’t call me Charlotte.’

‘Miss Ha—’

‘Or that. Don’t call me anything.’

‘Well. You know why I’m here.’

‘I do.’

‘So why am I here?’

‘Your bosses are angry with me.’

‘Yes.’

‘Stupid bribery scandal.’

He paused. ‘Yes.’

‘They want money,’

‘Yes.’

‘And probably something else.’

‘Yes.’

‘What?’

‘Quit guessing. You know why I’m here, Charlotte.’ He waved away her look of anger. ‘You know why Johny sent me.’

‘I do.’

‘Well then, give it to me.’

‘Don’t have it anymore.’ She turned back to her glass, staring out the window at the red-gold sunset, fingering the rim of the glass and a small ring on her finger.

‘That’s a lie. I can see it.’

She showed him her ring, ‘This one’s a fluke. Quit being an idiot, Sullivan. I know why you’re here. You know you shouldn’t be here. Johny’s an idiot if he thinks they won’t find you here. They can track anything. Now get out before they track you to me,’ she waved her arms wildly over her head, shooing him away.

He didn’t budge. ‘I know you’re lying, Charlotte. That’s real. Give it to me and there won’t be any trouble.’ It really was real, he knew, and he wondered how foolish she must be to wear the real one casually like she was right now. Did she think she could get away with it?

‘Is that a threat?’

‘Johny knows better than to threaten you.’

She laughed.

‘But he also knows your weakness. Give it to me and he’ll stay safe.’

‘No!’ her eyes were suddenly wild.

He started toward her, and a long, loud, intrusive knock stopped him. Rap, rap, rap-rap-rap-rap-rap, rap. It was the door, and he heard heavy breathing and clumping of feet. Charlotte froze, her glass clutched in her hands, her eyes wide and fearful.

‘Open up!’ commanded a voice, a calm, loud, deep voice.

Charlotte came alive. Crazily she motioned him to the window.

‘Are you crazy!’ he hissed at her. She hit his mouth. ‘Shut up!’ she bellowed under her breath. ‘They’ll hear you! Yes I’m crazy! Get out there!’

‘I almost died on those stairs! The fire escape’s gotta be a thousand times worse than those stairs! You’ll get me killed!’

Her voice was high and mad, ‘If you do it, I’ll throw the real ring down to you.’

He warned her, ‘If you don’t Johny is coming back with guys with stronger stomachs.’

‘Open up!’ yelled the voice again, no longer calm. ‘We’re breaking it down if you don’t come this second.’

You don’t have a choice! Go!’

‘Promise you’ll throw it first.’ He was sitting on the sill.

She pushed him out the window.

Sullivan didn’t fall very far, but hit his back on the creaking, swaying fire escape. Shockingly, the fire escape did nothing but complain quietly at this new, heavy intruder.

Sullivan heard Charlotte call out to the men, ‘I’m coming! Just wait!’

She opened the door and two men in suits burst in. They were carrying brown leather briefcases and billets held loosely. Angrily, loudly, they began to search, shouting, ‘Where is it? Where is he?’

Sullivan climbed down the fire escape before the men thought to look out the window. He cut his hands and face, scraped his side painfully on a protruding metal arm, dirtied his new clean clothing with rust and dirt and ash, and scuffed up his shoes. He grumbled the whole way, cursing Charlotte, cursing Johny, cursing those evil men. The fire escape creaked and groaned, and Sullivan held his breath until he stepped out onto the hard concrete ground. Sullivan thanked the gods of the fire escape for allowing him to live.

He waited a few minutes.

Finally, finally, Charlotte leaned out, holding her finger to her lips. The men were still there. Her hair was hanging in her face, and her dress was haphazard, and her arm was outstretched, holding something tightly in her fist.

Sullivan looked up.

Charlotte dropped it.

It was like a little bullet by the time it touched his hands, and he nearly dropped it in the grate he was standing on. Gasping, Sullivan pocketed the ring, and waved at Charlotte. She disappeared back into the room.

He would probably never see her again.

Sullivan walked away, rounding the building, rubbing the ring inside his pocket. It most certainly was a fake. No idiot would drop such a precious thing from such a height. The fake circle.

Carefully Sullivan brought the ring to the light. He had been right. It was a fake. The gold was heavy plastic, the engravings stamped in from some machine in China. Charlotte Hallan was no fool. She had never intended to give him the ring that represented the circle of life, that represented so much to Johny and his goons.

Cursing himself and rolling his eyes at Johny, who had thought to fool Charlotte, Sullivan turned the corner, listening to his heartbeat and the rhythm of his strides. Some inconsiderate person in a flat was playing loud music, some song that had no idea how drums were supposed to work. A cat ran out from an alley and almost tripped him. Cursing, Sullivan kicked it out of the way, and it ran screeching back to its alley.

He rounded the corner of the building. The woman’s apartment building was ugly and old, with chipped paint and dangerous-looking fire escapes. He wondered how such a rich woman as she could bear to live in such a hovel.

The sun was still setting; its golden rays throwing beams of light all over the hood.

Sullivan stood before a battered red door. The curling metal letters whispered Toprigging Flats. Smiling slightly at the stupidly elegant name, Sullivan raised his hand to knock.

The door burst open, swinging out toward him and would have knocked him out had he not leaped clumsily out of the way. He opened his mouth angrily to curse at the men but shut it hastily and servilely when he saw who the men were.

They were wearing dark suits, their brown hair combed slickly back, dark glasses obscuring their eyes, and they were carrying heavy leather briefcases in one hand. In the other was slung, almost casually, like an oh-so-casual threat, small billets, like the ones policemen used to carry. They were held too casually for comfort.

The men did not look at Sullivan and left the door wide open behind them as they stalked off into the misty alley.

Inside the wide red doorway stood a woman.

Charlotte.

Barefoot, her expensive-looking clothes slightly askew, as though the men had grabbed her by the shoulder and yanked to express displeasure or threaten. Her glasses were gold-rimmed and guarded reddened, slightly watery eyes. Her clothes were silken and embroidered heavily; they looked like an item from a wealthy boutique in Paris.

Her hair was almost pulled free from its loose bun, and she was not looking at him. She was looking at a small cut on her arm. It was little, barely bleeding, but she was absorbed in rubbing at it and soothing the bleeding.

She looked up at Sullivan.

Her mild features contracted harshly into a scowl so fierce that Sullivan took a step back. The woman’s eyes flicked back and forth angrily from his bruised face to his dirty clothes.

Under her scrutiny, Sullivan grew angry. He was not that dirty, was he? Sure, there were a few cuts and scrapes, a few strips of rust betraying his harrowing escape, but nothing to attract attention in the hood where she lived.

The disgust on the woman’s face grew deeper at his expression of indignation. She spoke. ‘You again.’

She could not have expressed her loathing of him in a better way than if she had slapped him across the face.

Sullivan flashed his emblem in her face. ‘You know me. Let me in.’

Her eyes flickered, her will wavering. She moved quickly, almost slamming the door in his face, then changing her mind. She huffed angrily. ‘Fine. Come in.’

He followed her, in the dingy entryway, scuffing off his feet on the disgusting white tile floor, nodding to the drunken man who served as a door guard, and climbing behind her up the creaky, swaying metal stairs…

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