It was two o’clock in the morning. Bruce didn’t know where John had gone. Steve took off around midnight saying something about his wife. Bruce didn’t care about anything. He had no ride but he didn’t care about that either. He had all the time in the world to walk back to his parents house. It was only temporary. That’s what he told them when they picked him up at the bus stop. Shelley had dumped him in Vegas, left him on his own in the city of sin and sin he did. When he called his folks, he lied and said he’d been mugged. Everything had been stolen, his credit cards, his cash, his car everything. They didn’t question him. They never did when he called. They wired him enough cash to get on the Greyhound and three days later he arrived in Ottawa. Bruce’s dad picked him up. He didn’t say much. Bruce figured he was either pissed that he’d come home or pissed that he’d let himself be mugged. Either way, Bruce didn’t care. He needed a place to crash. He needed time to patch things up with Lila.
Bruce stumbled through the street behind the strip club. He hoped to catch Carlene before she headed home. There were some guys he didn’t recognize hanging around the stage door.
“Hey guys what’s happening?” Bruce said. He was trying to see what was going on. They ignored him, or didn’t hear him. Bruce was drunk, but he recognized a drug deal when he saw one. He took a step back, not wanting to be mistaken for someone he wasn’t. One of the guys turned and looked at Bruce. He sneered and nudged one of his buddies beside him. Bruce stood his ground, feeling braver than he should have. He swayed.
“What the hell do you want asshole?” one of the other guys said. His voice was thick and menacing. Bruce peered at his face in the shadow of the backdoor light. He didn’t recognize him either. The guy’s black eyes gave Bruce chills. Bruce stepped back when he saw a fourth guy step forward holding a long hunting knife. Before he could turn and run, the back door suddenly burst open and a gaggle of girls spilled out, including Carlene. Bruce brightened and called her name. Carlene looked around for who was calling her, and saw that it was Bruce. She frowned and walked over to the big guy with the knife.
“you know that guy?” he asked Carlene, nodding to Bruce. Carlene sniffed and then made a show of slipping her tongue into the guy’s mouth. Bruce couldn’t help himself, he licked his lips too.
“Yeah, he’s a loser, just ignore him. Let’s go baby, I missed you” Carlene said. “Get lost Bruce. Things have changed a lot here. It ain’t the way it was. You better watch yourself” She said it as if she was doing Bruce a favour. He said nothing. Stupid bitch, she had no idea how things had changed. They left Bruce standing alone by the rotting garbage. He wanted a fight that he could win. When the thugs were out of sight, Bruce kicked one of the cans. He yelled after he did and then stalked back into the shadows on the alley way to find his prey. Bruce turned the corner and walked into the hulking mass that Carlene had been tongue wrestling with.
“Don’t fucking look at her again, asshole.” The guy growled. Before Bruce could get his bearings, the guy sucker punched him in the gut. Bruce dropped like a stone on the asphalt. He curled up into a ball and tried to protect his head, his face. Each kick from the thugs motorcycle boots sent fire like white lightning through Bruce’s body. He felt his nose break, then his ribs broke in so many places he couldn’t identify where it hurt more. Bruce passed out before they finished with him. He was beyond the point of caring whether or not he woke up.
A light snow had fallen overnight. It had been an unusually warm December, and it was the first snowfall that stayed. The pure white flakes blanketed the town, hiding the concrete sidewalks and asphalt streets, the garbage filled alley ways and parks. Only the trees stood bare and untouched by the new snow. Their long black wet limbs raked at the sky, unwilling to give up their place. They stood unmoved by the season while everything else remained temporarily hidden. As the sun poked its head over the horizon, the tiny flakes of ice started to melt.
A ring of pinkish snow surrounded Bruce’s body. He lay in the alley barely breathing, and unconscious. The strip club thugs had left him for dead after they took turns kicking Bruce and beating him to a bloody pulp.
“He doesn’t look so good.” a voice said.
“No man, he looks dead.” Said another voice.
“what we gonna do?” said a third. Three boys stood over Bruce. They were young, ten years old. Kevin, Craig and Corey. The three c’s. That was how everyone knew them. Corey touched Bruce’s shoulder with a stick. Bruce didn’t move and didn’t make a sound.
“Oh man Kevin, I think this guy’s dead.” He said. His voice quivered. He was not as brave as the other two. He couldn’t stand the sight of blood or the smell of dead stuff. He was glad that it was cold at least and he couldn’t smell the dude lying in the alley behind Lolly’s.
“How are we going to tell anyone where he is?” Kevin asked. He was always thinking about things like that, thinking about how not to get into trouble. “We’re not supposed to be walking back here remember?” The other boys nodded vigorously.
“Maybe he will wake up.” Craig offered. He prayed that the man would. The guy’s face was totally bashed in. Kevin shook his head solemnly.
“I don’t know man, I am sure that he won’t. He looks pretty dead to me.” He said. Kevin took the stick from Corey and poked the guy in the back. This time, Bruce moaned. It wasn’t a full moan, more like a whimper.
“Oh shit!” Kevin said and jumped back. “Come on, let’s get out of here. The dead guy’s moving.” The three boys ran down the alley and rounded the corner out of sight again. Bruce didn’t move. The wind picked up as the sun climbed higher in the sky. No one came by the strip club on Sunday morning. Not even the squirrels were interested that Bruce lay dying in the street.