I woke up drenched in sweat. It seemed to be happening more and more often lately. I sat up in bed, gasping as if I’d just completed a half-marathon. “Another damned nightmare” I thought irritably. “Can’t get away from the jackass, even in my sleep.” I looked around at the dark bedroom, observing the whirlwind of clutter that obscured most of the hardwood floor from view. The small, dirt-streaked window only allowed a few rays of morning sunlight to penetrate the room. As the fog of sleepiness cleared from my brain, I realized my head was pounding like someone had knocked me out cold with a bludgeon. “Goddamn, did we have a fight or something last night?” Before I could ponder the answer, a sharp pain in my stomach doubled me over. I leaned over the side of the bed, and vomited. “Shit” I muttered. “Kayla!” No response. “Probably out with her friends all night” I thought. God, that kid had no respect for me or the rules I set. But she was still my daughter, so I loved her anyway. I stumbled out of bed, and called for my daughter again. Still nothing. I staggered to the bathroom, and vomited again into the sink.
I turned on the faucet, started to drink the water from my cupped hands, then immediately spat it out as the taste of iron overwhelmed my mouth. “Could get a flamethrower if you held a match under the damned thing,” I thought bitterly as I stumbled out of the bathroom like one of my old college friends who’d had one too many margaritas. “Although what can you expect living in a shithole like this?” The shithole I was referring to was the trailer that I shared with my daughter, out in the midst of the “Last Chance” trailer park in San Francisco, California. Kayla always complained about it. “Better than living with that SOB though. Kayla doesn’t know how lucky she is, anything’s better than exposing her to him.” The thought did little to cheer my spirits, however. As I wandered my way down the hall, a feeling of nausea suddenly overwhelmed me, and I slumped against the wall. “God, how did we get here?” I thought.
I hadn’t had much growing up. My family lived in a shitty tract house in Skid Row, LA. Dad worked all day on the docks, mom sat at home, drank, and screamed at me whenever I was within earshot. “Hell, we lived in a place that looked pretty similar to this one” I thought, glancing around. “Oh the irony.” I stayed out of the house as much as possible. Me and my small group of friends, we used to hang out in this big abandoned Victorian-style house that used to be owned by an old lady that had passed away when I was a baby.
The group was always very tight-knit, which is why it was all the more surprising when one of my girlfriends, Alicia, brought a boy named Damien over to the house one night when we were all busy getting stoned. At first, everything was great. But then, like everything else in my life, it all went to hell. The cops pulled up to our spot late one night while we were getting wasted, and we all had to scatter like bats caught in a sudden flash of daylight. In the chaotic escape, I ended up running in one direction with Damien, and by running, I mean speeding away from the approaching police on his old Harley. When we got away from the scene, and onto a backroad, he asked me what I thought of his motorcycle. It was the first time he’d spoken directly to me. I said it was the most fun I’d ever had, and I meant it too. We ended up spending the night together at his place.
From then on, it was just the two of us. After a few weeks, we left LA for good. We took Damien’s Harley all the way down to San Francisco, and never looked back. Six weeks later after we arrived in the city, I discovered I was pregnant. When I finally worked up the courage to tell him, that’s when he started to change. He would come home angry every night, like I was some sort of inconvenience to him. He started coming home later and later at night, as if he were trying to avoid being around me. Then when the baby arrived, it got worse. He would constantly demand to know why the hell we had a kid. He started smoking pot in the apartment, in front of me and the baby. He would shout at me whenever I asked him for anything, such as baby diapers, and it would always escalate into a screaming match that resulted in him leaving for the rest of the night.
This went on for several years, until one night about a year ago. I brought Kayla home from school, to find Damien sitting at the kitchen table. I started to take Kayla into the other room, when he suddenly grabbed her arm. “Kayla,” he rasped. I tried to pull her away, but he had an iron grip on her arm. “I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about what a pain in the ass you are to me and your mother.” I could see Kayla start to cry. “Let go of her, you shithead!” I shouted. Damien stood up suddenly, and backhanded me hard enough to send to the floor. “Anyway” he continued, as if nothing had happened, “I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve decided I’ve had just about enough of you.” His voice rose with every word. “So I’m gonna do something about it!” It happened in slow motion. I saw him reach for the gun, swing it around, and point the barrel at my daughter’s forehead. I heard myself scream, felt myself spring off the floor. My left hand closed around a knife that had been left on the kitchen counter, and I swung it at Damien, fully prepared to kill him. The blade connected with the side of his face, drawing a spray of blood. Damien’s eyes widened in shock, and the gun clattered to the floor. I didn’t think twice. I grabbed Kayla and ran for the door. I heard a gunshot and a bullet struck the door frame right next to me as we sprinted out of the apartment.
I was interrupted from my thoughts by the sound of the phone in the kitchen ringing off its hook. “I’m here, I’m here” I muttered as I answered. “Yeah, who’s this?” “You know perfectly well who this is, Tracy.” I almost dropped the phone. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt as though I were floating through a dream, like I’d wake up one minute and none of this would be real. “How the hell did you get this number?” I demanded. “Our daughter gave it to me when I picked her up last night,” he replied. My blood ran cold. “Listen to me, you son of a bitch” I said angrily as I entered the bedroom. “If you hurt her, I swear to god I will end you!” I reached into the top of the dresser, and removed the locked and loaded Sig Sauer P226. I had hoped I’d never need to use it, but when your ex-husband is a drug dealer, you never take chances. “Oh don’t you worry, Tracy. No one is going to lay a finger on our daughter. Not anymore.” And with that, he hung up. I stormed out of the trailer, weapon in hand, mind spinning. If Damien had left town, there was only one person in the world I could think of who might know where he went.
To my surprise, I entered the apartment unimpeded. A bear-skin rug covered a large patch of the polished hardwood floor. The walls were decorated with racks of knives, rifles, and other assorted weapons. An enormous poster with a king cobra saying something in Russian was featured prominently behind a large, oak desk. Behind the desk sat Damien’s boss in the Russian mob, Andrey Petrov, twirling a large Cuban cigar between the middle and index fingers on his right hand. Three other smoking men toting pistols leaned on the wall or sat in hardback chairs. They all turned as I entered the room. Andrey smiled humorously when I entered the room. He turned to the man closest to him and said “Yuri, your escort has arrived.” Yuri smirked. “Not mine, sir. If I had your money, maybe.” Everyone laughed at that. I was not amused.
“Where’s my husband?” I demanded. Andrey stopped smiling. “Who the hell you come talking to me like that?” he said, brandishing his cigar at me. “I’m the wife of one of your dealers, Damien Price, and I want to know where the hell he is” I spat. Andrey leaned back in his chair, looking at me as though I were an irritating fly that he was debating whether or not to squash.
“You want know about Damien?” “Yes,” I replied, a little shakily. “A week ago, he miss big deal with boss from Chicago. I obviously not happy with this, I send some guys to look for him. They finally find him last night at Motel on Straussberg Avenue. He tell them he hiding from cops. He think he in big trouble, he say they bust one of his customers. He tell them he will talk to me in morning, I say fine, they leave.”
“So what happened when you met him?” I asked. “We not meet at all, the little bastard run off. He not show up next day, my guys check motel, he gone. We still looking for him, but my guess he fled city.” “So then, where is he?” I asked. “Truth is, I have no idea where he is, but if he running, he probably go somewhere he knows, somewhere he is familiar with” Andrey said. “He feel safe there, you know?” I nodded in reply. There was only one place in the world where Damien Price would feel safe from the Russian mob. “Well, thanks Andrey” I said as I turned to leave. He nodded. “Hey” he said as I started to open the door. “You find the little shit, you kill him, understand?” I turned to look at Andrey. “Gladly” I replied.
Ten hours later, I strode down the street lamp lit sidewalk in the arid desert city of Barstow, California, pistol drawn. I barely noticed the pedestrians on the street giving me especially wide berths as I passed. One glance at their face. Nope, not them. Next person. Nope, not them either. Next person. And repeat. As I continued down the street, I saw a squad car pull over on the curb next to a small diner. A man and his wife exited the restaurant. The man had a hand on the girl’s shoulder, and was steering her to the other side of the street. As I watched, the woman turned her head in my direction so that her long dark hair billowed around her head. For a brief moment, her pale green eyes met mine. I felt the world slow down. I stared, mesmerized by the sight of the woman. “Kayla,” I whispered under my breath. I barely had time to process what was happening before she turned away, and began crossing the street with the man.
I didn’t even think to call out. I started to hurry after them, almost getting hit by a woman in a prius who cursed me out as I dashed across the street. As we entered the next block, I saw them leave the crowd, and enter a small back alleyway. I hurried after them, shoving people out of the way as I ran towards the alley. I entered the mouth of the alleyway, strode around the corner, and froze. Damien was standing against a chain link fence that cut off the alley from the street, leaning against it with his legs crossed. Kayla was nowhere to be seen. “Where’s Kayla?” I screamed, brandishing the gun at him. He didn’t even flinch. “I’ll shoot, I swear I will!” Still no response whatsoever. I got close enough to shove the barrel against his forehead. “I’m gonna make sure you never hurt my daughter again” I said through gritted teeth, my finger slowly applying pressure to the trigger. “No,” he said slowly. “You won’t.” My head exploded with pain as solid metal connected with the back of my skull. I dropped to the ground, unable to move. Before I passed out, I heard someone above me say “We got her, Dad.”
I woke up on a rough wooden floor. The room spun as I laid there on the floor, unable to move. I felt two strong arms lift me up under the armpits and throw me into a hardback wooden chair. Through my dizziness, I could see about a half a dozen faces standing in front of me, including Damien’s and my daughter’s. A pair of strong hands shoved mine behind the chair, and bound them to the chair with a laundry cord. They did the same for my feet. “Pathetic bitch” he spat as he rejoined the group. “We spent half our childhood together in this house, and she barely recognizes me anymore.”
“You’d be surprised how much she doesn’t recognize anymore” Damien said, striding into the center of the room. The sight of him sparked a flame of anger in me. I raised my eyes to meet his. “I recognize that you’re a drug addict, and that you kidnapped my daughter” I spat. Kayla suddenly strode in my direction. “Kayla…” I whispered, and then was cut short as she slapped me hard enough to draw a thin stream of blood from my mouth. “I was never your daughter,” she said tonelessly. “Not after what you did to Dad. To me, to your friends, to everyone!” she screamed, her green eyes glowing with anger. “Do you know what happened that night?” I stared at her, speechless. “Do you?!” she demanded. I slowly nodded my head. “He tried to kill you baby…” Kayla stared at me in disbelief. “No Tracy,” Damien said, putting a hand on my daughter’s shoulder. “No, I never laid a finger on our daughter. You, on the other hand…” I never heard the rest of his sentence. Suddenly, it all came flooding back.
Damien was sitting at the kitchen table, looking dejected. He looked up as Kayla burst through the door, sobbing her eyes out. “Kayla, what…” he started to say, but cut off as I stormed in behind her and whacked her on the back of the head, almost knocking her over. “Leave her alone,” he said, standing up. “Go upstairs and sleep off the damn booze.” I grabbed the gun off the kitchen table, and shot Damien in the shoulder. I grabbed Kayla by the hair as she tried to retreat into the other room, and pulled her out of the house. Suddenly, I was sitting on the couch in front of the TV, an empty beer can in my hand. “Kayla, go get me another damn beer!” Then suddenly I was my mother, and I was screaming the same words at my 7 year-old self. Then I was me, then my mother. The two images began to change faster and faster, until they were one, blended together like a sick recreation of something you’d see in photoshop.
“Oh my god” I whimpered. My daughter and husband stared at me blankly, completely sympathyless. “Kayla…” She turned on her heel, and left the room, but I saw the tears in her eyes. Damien wordlessly turned away from me, and walked towards an old stone fireplace. He withdrew a match from his breast pocket, and tossed it onto a pile of old logs, setting them ablaze. He stood in front of the fireplace, his shadow dancing off the wall in the firelight. “This ends tonight,” he said calmly. Everyone in the room nodded in agreement. For the first time, I recognized them. They were my old friends. All of them. Joshua, the black man in the golf cap who had driven me to Barstow, had known me since I was 7 years old. We’d grown up in the trailer park together. The rest of them had come later, some after we’d discovered this house, some before, but they’d all been there for Damien. For what he’d done. For what we’d both done.
Slowly, I watched as Joshua withdrew a small can of lighter fluid from his pants pocket. I wailed in terror as I realized what was about to happen. No one paid me any attention. Joshua tilted the can, pouring the lighter fluid in a thin trail as he exited the room along with the rest of the group. Only Damien remained, his back to me. “The truth is, I should remain in the house with you tonight” he said, completely devoid of emotion. “Alicia died, after we left. Suicide, alcohol poisoning. Literally drank herself to death on purpose.” He shook his head. “I should die for the way I abandoned her. But I can’t leave Kayla. Not yet.” He looked at me, and our eyes met. His expression was filled with loathing. “So, for better or worse, you will die alone tonight. Goodbye, Tracy.” I said nothing. He looked at me for a moment, and then he strode out of the room. I saw him guiding a trembling Kayla down the hallway towards the front of the house. I closed my eyes, and rested my head against the back of the chair, suddenly not afraid anymore. I was finally ready to accept the fate I had deserved for so long. A moment later, I heard the crackle of flames.