Sixteen ~ Caliste
Sweet Lord but I hated upheaval.
It seemed as if the past few days had been nothing but a grisly and terrifying maelstrom. Even now, several hours after the horrors had concluded, I was still shaky, my stomach tender, and my nerves frayed. Every tiny sound made me jump and squeak. I paced – actually more of a limp as my hip and thigh pained me so – the hall outside the waiting room of the ER, frantic with worry over Butch. That arm of his had been so badly charred…
The police had arrived as the flames of Gems leaped into the sky and had begun interrogating those of us who had escaped. When Ian got rebellious, the Colchester Police got mean. Butch pushed into the shoving match like the overbearing and protective bulldog that he is. If not for the intervention of the US Marshals, we all would have been hauled off, and probably buried out at the dump given the corruption in their ranks.
“Caliste,” Shin called softly as he bounded down the hall. I paused by a water fountain and turned to look at him. The poor boy. He was in dire need of a shower and clean clothes, as we all were. My dress was thick with soot, I’d lost a shoe, and my wig reeked of smoke. But my sweet Butch was in worse shape. That arm of his. I shuddered as I recalled the raw, red flesh. “They’re taking him to a private room on the fourth floor.”
“He’s well, then? Truly fine?” I grasped Shin’s hands and squeezed. The young man looked up at me and nodded, a flimsy smile on his dry lips. “Praise God!” I whispered, then hugged Shin to me. He also reeked of smoke and lost dreams. “When may I see him?”
Shin pulled back and took my trembling hand. “We can go up now. Ian got him a luxury suite, private nurses and food delivery from the finest diners in the west side.”
“I had no idea there were private suites in a major city hospital,” I said as he led me to a bank of elevators, his arm around my waist as I gimped along. Lord above, I was weak and tired. So damn tired…
“Guess if you donate enough millions you get a private suite,” Shin replied as we stepped into the lift. I leaned against the wall with a sigh. “The cops have been taken care of, too. Guess the Marshals and DEA are all over the southern precinct.”
“Good, hopefully they’ll clean up that nest of crooked cops. But whatever shall we do? Our lovely new Gems is gone…” A tear or two snuck free. And here I’d thought I was cried out.
“I don’t know,” Shin replied emotionlessly. “Ian had a lot of insurance on the place. We might just collect the insurance and divvy it up between all the employees. Give everyone a nice chunk to move on with, maybe start new lives away from the sex trade if they want.” He rubbed at his pretty brown eyes. “I don’t know yet. My brain feels like mush. I just want us all to be happy in whatever life we so choose.”
“You are such a dear sweet thing.” I bent down to kiss his dirty cheek. That got me a tender look. “I imagine we all can think of things to do with ourselves if we put our minds to it. Every one of us has dreams.”
“Yeah, we do.” The elevator lurched a bit, the bell chimed, and the door opened. We stepped out into a corridor that looked nothing like the floors below for the general public. I gaped at the shiny floors, potted plants, and framed artwork from famous masters on the pale blue walls. “Room 7-A.”
We made our way to the first of ten doors in the hallway. With a soft rap we entered. Ian was standing by the bed talking a mile a minute, his hand grasping Butch’s unharmed fingers.
My man peeked around his boss and his hazel eyes lit up. “There’s my baby,” Butch said, his voice raspy and weak. He coughed and moaned. I hurried to his bedside, nudging Ian aside, and looked him up and down. His right arm was bandaged from the elbow to his fingertips. He was hooked up to an IV and was wearing an oxygen mask. They’d cleaned up his face and neck before slipping him into a gown. I bent over to kiss him on the forehead. My fingers slid into his grimy hair. He grabbed hold of me with his left hand, fingers clamped around the back of my neck, and held onto me for the longest time. When my back kinked painfully, I straightened just a bit, and stared into his fuzzy brown-green gaze.
“You’re still so pretty,” he said, his voice wheezy and weak. I rolled my eyes. He coughed violently. I held onto his left hand until the coughing abated. “My pretty Caliste. Sing me a French song, baby.”
I glanced at Ian. “They’ve given him some painkillers. The arm has second degree burns and will require skin grafts,” he said as Shin slipped up beside him. “He’ll have the best care and surgeons money can buy.”
I nodded. I knew Ian would take care of Butch just as Butch had taken care of Ian.
“Baby lay down here with me. Don’t leave me. I don’t trust no one from taking me to you,” he muttered, the drugs obviously taking effect. Which was good. I hated to think of him being in pain, the heroic ass. He would face so much agony because he had to run inside to try to save a person who deserved to burn. Call me a cold-hearted bitch, but Carlotta Bianchi and her sick minions had doled out enough pain to innocent people to ensure a nice roasting in the bowels of hell.
“I’ll get them to bring in a cot,” Ian whispered then took Shin by the hand. “We’re going to go home and clean up, then we’ll be back.”
“Go rest. Can someone stop by my place and grab me some clothes?” I looked down at my ruined frock and felt slimy all over again. “This was one that Raphael bought for me and made me—”
“Fucking Ralph.” We all glanced down at Butch as he battled to stay awake.
“We’ll bring you whatever you need. Just text one of us. Caliste, I’m glad you two found each other. I realize you’ve not exactly had the best courtship…” Ian said.
I smiled at him. “It will be quite the tale to pass along to our grandchildren.”
“That it will be. I’m happy he found someone to love. He’s a good man, a little rough around the edges, but a heart of pure gold.”
I patted Ian’s forearm, which was also thick with black grime. “I promise I will take good care of his big, gold heart.”
“I know.” He leaned in to buss my cheek, then led his man out of the room.
“Baby, come sing a French song for me…” I turned to find Butch gazing up at me with pure devotion. “I know you sing. Hear you at Gems. Angel voice for angel face. Sing for me…”
How could I deny him? I sat down in a nicely padded chair, reaching out to take his left hand in mine. I took great care of the needle in the back of his hand. Yes, I did sing, although I had never taken lessons as my life had taken a different route. I rubbed my cheek along his knuckles, my gaze on his rugged face, and one of my favorites began to fall from my lips. It was an old song that my Grand’Mere used to sing, a classic by Edith Piaf.
As I sang Life in Pink to him, his eyes caressed my face. When the song was done, he gave me his best smile despite the oxygen mask then tried to kiss my grimy hand. We had a small laugh over that.
“Will you show me French someday?” he croaked as his eyelids grew heavier and heavier.
“Oui, yes, I will teach you French before we go there to visit.”
“Might go and never come back. You like that? Me and you and crusty bag-hets.”
“Baguettes, my sweet, and yes, I would love that.”
“I love you, baby.”
“And I you, my darling.”
To be concluded…