“So who were you before?”
The young woman appeared like she was barely 18 as she sat, posing for her new photo identification card. Her hair had been lightened and toned to an ash blonde and styled into a bob with blunt bangs. She wore a bright orange cropped hoodie, black mini skirt with fishnet tights and thigh high black boots. At first glance, no one would ever think she was once part of the Amish Community.
“Don’t speak.” Axel Reed commanded from behind the camera.
Why must they always try talking to me?
Axel thought to himself as he repositioned the angle of the camera.
Marco stood in the corner of the loft, leaning up against the unadorned brick wall.
“Are we done here yet?” He asked, getting impatient.
Axel took a few photos and they appeared on his computer screen.
Without looking at Marco or the girl he said,
“You can come pick which one you like the most, and we’ll be done here.”
They both come over to the computer screen and the girl gasps and immediately points to the first one he took.
“That one is perfect!”
Marco makes a face and says, “Okay then, so we're done now?”
Axel goes over and makes the finishing touches to the card and hits print.
“The rest of the money?”
Marco nods and reaches into his jacket, pulling out a manila envelope, and gives it to Axel's outstretched hand.
Axel immediately counts it to make sure and nods before tucking it into his bag.
He grabs the freshly printed card and gives it to the girl.
“Here’s your fresh start Talia, may the odds in your life prove wanting.”
She looks at him quizzically, “What does that mean?”
Axel goes over to the door and holds it open for them.
Marco grabs the girl’s hand, “Alright, let’s go.”
The girl bites her lip as she lets him lead her out of the door and looks back to see Axel quickly closing the door.
Axel sighs and leans up against the door.
That one got to him for some reason.
That girl is in for one huge reality check.
He thought to himself.
He glances at his wrist watch and sees it’s 2 a.m.
“Shit.” He mutters to himself.
Axel hurries and tears down the set up and gets it quickly packed into his duffle bag.
He double checks the loft to make sure he doesn’t leave anything behind and locks the door on his way out. He decides to take the stairs to build up some adrenaline.
The New York City summer streets are filled with various people passing by. Some high, drunk, or on their way to the place that will get them there.
Axel sets out on a brisk pace and hails for a taxi.
“23rd on second.” He tells the driver.
It’s nice when the driver doesn’t try to make conversation.
Axel rests his head back against the backseat door’s window.
“Again!” The instructor had demanded.
The young boy’s fingers hurt and he didn’t want to play anymore. So he crossed his arms in front of his chest and shook his head no.
“Reggie, you must perfect the piano, listen to what the piano master says and do it again.” Lyla had demanded. She had been listening in right outside the parlor and had decided to come in when she heard the instructor getting annoyed.
The boy held back his tears and sucked in a breath.
He’d rather be back in the orphanage.
“Oi, we’re here, pay up!” The taxi guy hollered back at Axel.
He must have fallen asleep.
Axel sits up and quickly hands the man his money, grabs his duffle bag, and gets out of the cab.
He makes his way down the four blocks to his temporary place of residence.
When he gets to the warehouse, Sarge friendly barks when he sees Axel through the upstairs window. Axel opens the door and he barely has time to shut it before Sarge jumps up on his chest and licks his face. His black bushy German shepherd tail wags uncontrollably.
Axel chuckles and hugs him back,
“Hey buddy, let’s go for a quick walk.”
He turns around and opens the door, Sarge now sits looking up at him waiting.
Axel nods and Sarge takes off to his favorite spot by the light post.
After a few moments Axel whistles and Sarge comes back through the door with a stick in his mouth. Smiling, Axel trades the stick with a treat then turns around to close the door and lock it up for the night by the sliding the bolt into place. He uses an app on his phone to turn on the rest of the lights before following Sarge up the steps to the kitchen.
Axel opens the fridge and reaches for the rest of the can of wet dog food he had opened earlier that day.
“Do chunks of beef and gravy sound good again, Sarge?”
Sarge barks in agreement so Axel opens the can and dumps it into his food dish and goes to refill his water dish when he feels his cell phone vibrating in his pocket.
He ignores it and continues on with what he’s doing and places the water down next to Sarge who’s inhaling his food. His phone starts vibrating again and he sighs as he pulls it out of his pocket.
Cam’s name comes up on the caller id.
Axel answers it without saying anything.
“Oi, got another job for ya buddy.” Cam says with her natural flirtatious voice.
“This is my last one for awhile. I need a vacation.” Axel replies as he rubs his forehead feeling a headache coming on.
Cam continued on to give him the contact information and that they’d be in touch tomorrow afternoon for the next steps to finish the set up for the following night.
Axel hangs up the phone, turns on some metal music, and makes his way to the makeshift gym where a living room would typically be. He throws himself into a series of sets at the bench. Pushing himself over and over again, striving for the perfection that will never come. After a bit he’s drenched in pools of his sweat, laying on his back on the bench. Sarge is across from him gnawing on what was once a big bone that Axel had given to him a couple of days ago.
He pushes himself up off of it and makes his way to the shower, stripping off his clothes on his way there. He turns the water on and doesn’t care about waiting for the water to warm up before stepping in.
As he lets the water rush over him, he finds a sense of peace.
Stepping out, he grabs his towel hanging on the wall by the shower and wraps it around his waist. He turns to the sink and catches his reflection in the mirror.
He barely recognizes himself.
The loneliness of his life has crept into the shadows hanging beneath his brown eyes.
He hand combs his wet jet black hair, brushes his teeth, puts on his boxers, and throws himself into his unmade bed while finding comfort in the silk sheets.
Sarge comes up on the bed with him and settles into his place at the bottom of the bed.
“Reginald! It’s time for supper!” Lyla called from downstairs.
He continued laying in bed and pretended that he couldn’t hear her.
The unshed tears creep back into his eyes and this time he finds he can’t control them and they rebelliously creep down his cheeks.
I hate my life.
He hears her footsteps as she climbs the staircase to his bedroom and he shoves his pillow tighter to his face.
Lyla opens the door without knocking and sighs,
“Come now, I know you’re not really asleep kiddo. You must be starving. Come down to eat.”
He manages to say, “No, thank you,” but he’s unable to hide the emotion in his voice.
She chooses not to push it this time.
Sighing she says, “Starve then,” and closes the door behind her.
One day… he thinks to himself.
Axel wakes up strangely remembering his dream of that night.
Will I ever be rid of these memories?
He looks over at his phone to see it’s 10 in the morning.
Sarge, as per usual, has made his way up to where he slept, and had settled his head on his chest.
“Morning, Sarge. Wanna go for a quick run?” Axel pats his head.
Sarge licks his face.
“Argh! Sarge!” Axel wipes his face off with a corner of the blanket.
Right after doing that, Sarge jumps up and comes back with his leash, bushy tail wagging impatiently.
Axel sits up and pushes himself off the bed and throws on some joggers, sneakers, and a hoodie and they’re out the door.
They jog down the few blocks to Lola’s Café and Axel holds the door open for Sarge as they go in. The strong smell of freshly brewed coffee and a variety of confections wafts throughout the café. There are already a few people in line ahead of them so they patiently wait.
As usual though, Lola spots them and waves at them from behind the counter and motions for Kat to get their usual ready for them.
Kat soon comes out over to them with coffee, a bag of goodies, and a treat for Sarge.
“Here you are!” She smiles as she hands them to him.
Axel hands her the cash, winks, and says, “Keep the change.”
By the time they make it back to their home Axel’s phone has buzzed at least 10 times.
Texts from Cam with details about tonight and orders to call her asap.
He quickly responds to the texts and calls her as he starts getting everything in order for tonight.
“Where’s the meet up?” He immediately asks.
“Well, hi to you too, mister.” Cam replies seductively.
Axel rolls his eyes, “I’m waiting Cam.”
“No need to be in a hurry, hold on a sec, I’m finishing my sandwich.”
Axel puts the phone on speaker and opens a new can of food for Sarge.
A couple minutes pass.
“Alright sugar, the location for tonight is at Bravo Gulf, second floor, room 2 bravo.”
He hangs up and looks at the time, 3:30pm and logs into his laptop to start prepping the new information for the client.
New name: Delilah Winters. Age 26. Blonde. 5’3’’
Needs a photo identification card and passport.
Typically a passport would take a few days to process, but luckily he’s done it enough times to know all the shortcuts. Axel works at his usual fast pace and finishes the prep work in no time.
He glances at the clock, 5:30pm.
Time to go.
He grabs his duffel bag and checks to make sure he has everything he could possibly need. Nodding to himself, he throws on his jacket, pats Sarge on the head, and grabs his bag as he heads out the door and hails a taxi.
Unlike before, this taxi driver talks to him, or more so at him.
Going on and on about how the stock market is going to crash again and of how we better be prepared for when it does. Axel just nods along in agreement, counting the seconds until they’re at the destination.
The cab stops, Axel hands the guy the cash, grabs his bag and is out the door before the driver can bat an eye.
This spot is above an old theatre.
He climbs the elaborate front steps and makes his way to the elevator, checking the time, 5:45p.m.
He makes his way to the updated elevator and pushes the button for the second floor.
“Hold the elevator!” A woman calls.
He quickly sticks his foot out and the doors open back up.
“Ah! Thank you sir!” The woman seemed around her mid-20s, her blonde head coming up to his chest.
She must like being early too.
“Which floor?” He asks.
She looks and says, “Oh, 2nd is where I’m going too.”
“Marco on his way then?” Axel asks knowing all too well that Marco is always the last one to show up and the first one to want to leave.
The girl looks at him surprised, “You must be Axel.”
“How long will this take?”
He shrugs, about an hour usually.”
The elevator doors open to the 2nd floor and they make their way to the room.
Axel pushes in the number code for the door, opens it and says,
She looks at him and smiles demurely,
He follows her into the empty room and makes quick work of setting up his gear.
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
She asks, sincerely wanting to help.
Surprised that she said that, Axel simply shakes his head no and continues on with what he was doing.
Once he’s finished, they sit there in silence for a moment, still waiting for Marco to arrive.
“Shall we just begin? Marco has a tendency of being late.”
She nods, “Okay.”
He starts off asking the basic questions and she answers them all as quickly as he asks them.
Afterwards she jokes, “Would you like a urine sample too?”
Axel feels a smile form on his lips, “Naa, I prefer blood.”
“What?” She asks, unsure if he was just kidding.
“Alright, ready for your photoshoot?”
She nods. “I s’pose.”
Delilah doesn’t try to talk to him while he makes adjustments to the camera.
Which he finds incredibly refreshing.
He looks at her through the frames.
She’s quite beautiful, but not your typical kind of beautiful. The kind that has felt pain, but decided to push through… Like he did.
Her deep blue eyes stared widely at the camera lens. Her long blonde waves cascaded over her plain black V-neck top. For the first time while doing this he actually wondered what her story was.
What is she running away from, or who?
They finish up and Marco still isn’t there.
He hurries and takes down the set, stuffing one thing after another back into his bag.
She watches him for a bit and then silently stares out the singular window in the room facing the streets below.
He writes his number down on a piece of paper and says,
“I normally don’t do this, but here.”
She turns to face him and takes the piece of paper, curious, she opens it there and looks surprised.
“If you’re ever in a pinch, or just need someone to talk to, know that you can call me.”
A look of puzzlement came over her face and scoffs of disbelief.
“You are Axel Reed, are you not?”
He returns her puzzled look.
She shrugs, “This is just the last thing I’d expect from a guy like you.”
He says, “I believe the right response is Thank you.”
She smiles sadly, “Yes, forgive me. Thank you.”
In that moment, Marco shoves the door open.
“Ah, you’ve made it. Finally.” Axel says dryly.
Marco looks around,
“Finished? Great! Let’s go, err, Delilah? Oh, and here’s the money Axel.”
Marco tosses the envelope at Axel and for once Axel doesn’t check it.
Delilah and Axel share a look and Delilah says,
She follows Marco out the door and doesn’t look back.
Wondering what the hell just came over him, Axel waits a couple minutes, grabs his bag and follows in suit.
When he gets to the main floor of the theatre, a plethora of people are on their way in.
He now notices the advertisements for the ballet.
For a moment he contemplates staying for it, immediately taken back to when Lyla forced him to go with her. Although he never admitted it to her, he surprisingly enjoyed the art.
Shaking his head, he goes towards the exit.
On his way there, he passes by a couple of women and one of them questions,
“Is that you, Reggie?”