Read The Furies Online

Authors: Mark Alpert

Tags:, #ScreamQueen, #young adult

The Furies (5 page)

BOOK: The Furies
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John dismissed the idea at first, but he took it more seriously after Salazar's boys fired a warning shot at him. The army was desperate for soldiers at the time—the war in Iraq was in full swing—and the recruiters were delighted to sign him up. Once John started basic training, though, he quickly learned that he hated army life. The rules drove him crazy, and his drill sergeant was a sadist. After enduring the full ten weeks of basic, John got into a fistfight with his sergeant, who busted him out of the service. But when he returned to Philly and told Father Murphy what had happened, the old priest just laughed. Then, after he stopped chuckling, he offered John another chance. St. Anne's Church had just won a grant to start the Anti-Gang Project to convince the neighborhood kids to stay away from the drug crews. Father Murphy told John he'd be perfect for the job. He could get paid for steering kids away from the bad choices he'd made.

John was skeptical about this idea too, but it worked. Although the new job was part time and didn't pay as well as the drug business—he had to take landscaping and construction jobs to make ends meet—it didn't chew up his insides either, or make him jump every time he heard a noise behind him. After a few months he started to adjust to the regular world, the normal innocent life of paychecks and taxes. He bought a cheap suit and started a bank account. For the next seven years he was a happy, law-abiding citizen. He went to community college and met a great woman named Carol DeSantis. They got married and had a daughter.

Then his luck changed and everything went to hell.

Now John turned left on Somerset Street. He drove a few blocks and approached a two-story row house with peeling red paint. Since Carol left him three years ago, he'd lived alone in an apartment on the building's second floor. It was a small, dingy place, not so different from the apartment where he'd grown up. Despite all the bad memories, this neighborhood was still his home. He'd have a hard time living anywhere else.

He slowed down and scanned the street in front of his house. The sidewalk was empty except for a crumpled Budweiser can and a heap of broken glass that reflected the streetlights. But he didn't park in his usual spot by the corner. Instead he drove another three blocks and made a right on Hancock Street. He was going to see Gabriel Rodriguez, who'd also grown up in the neighborhood. Gabe was a thief and a junkie, but there was a chance he could do something for Ariel.

Gabe's house stood alone in the middle of the block. It was a brick row house whose neighbors had been demolished, leaving vacant lots on either side. For extra security, Gabe had put up a chain-link fence around the house and topped it with coils of concertina wire. Gabe's pit bulls, Maurice and Malaga, started barking when John parked by the curb. He stepped out of the Kia, opened its back door, and scooped up Ariel, who squirmed and grimaced but didn't open her eyes. Then he carried her to the gate at the center of the fence. The dogs hurled themselves against the other side of the chain link, snarling and growling. They usually calmed down once they recognized John, but the smell of blood must've disturbed them.

“Gabe!” John yelled. “Get your ass out here!”

A light came on inside the house, and a few seconds later Gabe appeared at the front door, wearing boxer shorts and a tattered bathrobe. Like most junkies, he looked like a scarecrow, a really pathetic scarecrow with greasy black hair. His face was so emaciated you could see the shape of his skull underneath his blotchy skin. He stared at John with sunken, red-rimmed eyes. “What's going on? Is that a girl?”

“Open the gate, goddamn it!”

Gabe stepped forward and removed a set of keys from the pocket of his bathrobe. The pit bulls slunk backward as he approached the gate. “I don't get it,” he said, squinting at the wounds on Ariel's legs. “Why don't you take her to the emergency—”

“She's not a bystander. She's wanted.”

“What? The crews are using girls now? Who—”

“Jesus Christ, hurry up!”

Gabe unlocked the gate and pushed it open. While he shushed the dogs, John carried Ariel into the house and down the steps to the basement. Gabe used this part of the house as his operating room. There was a padded table in the center of the room and bright fluorescent lights on the ceiling. Along the walls were various pieces of medical equipment that Gabe had stolen from Temple University Hospital before he was booted off the hospital's staff: a ventilator, a couple of defibrillators, a whole refrigerator full of antibiotics. Although the state of Pennsylvania had taken away Gabriel's medical license, he had a lucrative practice catering to the gangs of Kensington. He treated their injured soldiers, extracting the bullets from their bodies and stitching up their wounds, but unlike the doctors in the city's emergency rooms he didn't report the gun violence and stabbings to the police. In return for his services, the gang bosses paid him in dime bags of heroin.

John carefully placed Ariel on the padded table. As he let go of her he noticed that her skin was clammy. He pressed his fingers against the side of her neck, checking her pulse. It was there, but very faint and thready. “She's in shock,” he said, turning to Gabe. “I can barely feel a pulse.”

“Relax, Johnny boy.” Gabe went to a stainless-steel sink in the corner of the room and washed his hands and emaciated arms. Then he ripped open a plastic bag containing an intravenous kit. “So you're telling me this redhead's a gangster?”

“Just get to work, okay?”

Holding a syringe and the intravenous tubing, Gabe approached the table and scrutinized Ariel. He grabbed her limp right arm and began hunting for a vein. “Well, she's got good muscle tone, I'll say that for her.”

He plunged the syringe into the crook of her arm. Then he went to his refrigerator and removed a plastic bag full of blood. He hooked the bag to the intravenous tubing and hung it from an IV pole so the blood could drain into Ariel. The label on the bag said
, the universal donor blood type. Gabe's refrigerator was full of the stuff.

He pointed at Ariel's bandages, the strips of black silk tied around her legs. “This is very creative. You did a nice job.” Grinning, he looked at John over his shoulder. But his grin disappeared when he started untying the bandages. “Man, that's ugly. When was she shot?”

“Around midnight,” John replied. He had to turn away from the operating table. “Two hours ago.”

“What caliber? Jesus, these look like rifle shots.”

“Yeah, the asshole used an assault rifle. An M4 carbine.”

“What?” He looked over his shoulder again and raised an eyebrow. “Where did this happen? Afghanistan?”

“Look, is she gonna make it or not?”

Gabe didn't answer right away. He studied Ariel's bullet wounds, using a sponge to wipe the dried blood from her legs. “It doesn't look good. The bullets fragmented inside her. They cracked the fibula in her left leg and the tibia in her right. Tore up a lot of blood vessels, too.” He shook his head. “Honestly? I'm surprised she's still breathing. She should've bled out a couple of hours ago.”

John's stomach churned. He forced himself to look at Ariel, and for a moment he pictured someone else lying there on the table. A child's body, blood-soaked and torn.
Ivy's body.

Clenching his jaw, he pushed the memory out of his mind. “Answer the question, Gabe. Does she have a chance?”

“Let me work on her. We'll see what happens.” He went to his supply cabinet and collected the surgical tools he needed—scalpel, forceps, suction tubes. “You can go upstairs if you want. There's a coffee machine in the kitchen.”

John would've loved a cup of coffee, but he didn't leave the operating room. Instead, he leaned against the wall and watched Gabe work. For a junkie, he had surprisingly steady hands. But this was no accident—Gabe timed his heroin usage according to a rigid schedule. He shot up at 10:00
, which made him drowsy for two hours and then restless. He was alert and able to work from midnight till dawn, the prime hours for carnage in Kensington. Once the sun came up, though, he'd start sweating and shaking and going through withdrawal. Gabe would be completely useless a few hours from now, but for the moment he was as skillful as any surgeon in Philly.

John felt sorry for him, but also a little disgusted. He'd known Gabe since they were in kindergarten. The guy was fantastically smart and phenomenally stupid, all at the same time. In high school he aced all the tests but got suspended for throwing a firecracker into the girls' bathroom. He was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania, but then the campus police caught him selling pot to his roommates. Somehow or other, he made it into medical school, and for the next seven years it looked like he'd cleaned up his act. He became a success story, a Kensington boy who grew up to be an emergency-room doctor at Temple University Hospital. He'd managed to beat the odds and climb above all the shit. But it didn't last. He got addicted to codeine while working at the hospital. He stole the painkillers he was supposed to prescribe to his patients. After Temple fired him, he switched from codeine to heroin. It was an expensive habit, and he didn't have a salary anymore, so he started offering his surgical expertise to the local drug crews.

There was a clock on the opposite wall of the operating room. After an hour Gabe was still hard at work, cutting and cleaning and splinting and stitching, but John was too tired to stay on his feet a minute longer. So he slumped to the floor and closed his eyes. Maybe he could catch a little sleep. He was luckier than Gabe, he thought. He didn't have to work for the crews anymore. But as long as you lived in Kensington, you couldn't really escape the business. It was always there. You were at its mercy.

When he opened his eyes it was almost 6:00
Gabe was at the sink again, washing the blood from his hands. Full of confusion and alarm, John staggered to his feet and rushed over to the operating table. Ariel's face was still pale, but now her legs were professionally bandaged and splinted. Gabe had covered her chest with a thin, white blanket, which rose up and down with each breath.

“Is she okay?” John asked. “She looks better.”

Gabe dried his hands and nodded. “The lady gangster will live. I stitched the bullet wounds and set her broken legs. She'll be able to walk again in eight or nine weeks.”

John felt a surge of relief so strong he almost lost his balance. He didn't understand it: in just twelve hours Ariel had become the most important person in the world to him. And he didn't even know her last name.

“So where the hell did you find her?” Gabe asked. “Here in town?”

“I met her in a bar. In New York.”

“In a bar, huh? And this was before she got shot?”

“They followed us to Brooklyn. The assholes with the rifles, I mean. I think they were mafia.”

“Mafia?” Gabe walked over to the other side of the table. “So what's this?” He picked up the small brown leather-bound notebook, which had slipped out of Ariel's grasp. “You think it's Italian?”

He opened the notebook and showed John one of the pages. It was inscribed with line after line of unfamiliar symbols. Some of them looked like backwards
's and
's and
's. Others resembled tree trunks and lightning bolts.

“Shit,” John whispered. “What the fuck?”

“Crazy, right? It's like something out of
Lord of the Rings

“What are you—”

Lord of the Rings
has this kind of writing in it. To show the language of the elves and all those other weird fuckers.”

John had to laugh. It was too ridiculous. “Well, can you read the language?” He pointed at the page. “Do you know what it means?”

“No, man. I don't have a clue. But it's pretty freaky, don't you think?”

Squinting, John took a closer look at the symbols. They were drawn in black ink by a skillful hand. Someone had obviously lavished a lot of time and effort on the notebook, sketching each character with great care, like Chinese calligraphy. Gabe was right: it was pretty weird. Did Ariel write those symbols in the notebook, or was she carrying around someone else's strange jottings? And were they part of a code?

“There's something else,” Gabe said, putting down the notebook. He lifted the thin blanket to show Ariel's uninjured left arm. “This girl has scars all over her body. They're old and faint, but they're everywhere.”

He pointed at several thin, jagged lines between her elbow and shoulder. They were similar to the scars John had seen on her face and neck when he met her. “Yeah, I noticed that, too. She must've been in an accident when she was a kid. A car wreck, probably.”

“No, that would look different. Some of her scars are fainter than others.” Gabe stared at her arm for several seconds, then examined the other arm. “It looks like she was in a lot of accidents. Some big and some small. But all her injuries healed nicely.”

“So she's accident-prone. That's not so unusual.”

“Hold on. There's more.” Gabe let go of the blanket and pointed at Ariel's mouth. There was a bit of dried blood on the left side of her lower lip. He gingerly pressed his index finger to the lip, pushing it down to expose her teeth. One of her molars was missing. “I noticed this while I was cleaning her up.”

John winced when he saw the gap. He remembered that Ariel had fallen on her side after she was shot. “She hit the ground during the firefight. I guess it knocked her tooth out.”

“I don't think so. I found the tooth still in her mouth, under her tongue. I think it came out afterward, while you were driving her here. She was probably grinding her teeth together because of the pain.”

“Jesus,” John muttered, wincing again. This was even worse. “I didn't know you could lose a tooth that way.”

BOOK: The Furies
4.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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