previous: The Remains of Angelo
“Hey, Jeff,” Angelo called from his seat in the dining area (the café’s one table and four chairs facing the window overlooking the neighborhood.) My new friend managed to get discharged from the hospital in less than a month. During his time in physical therapy, he wrote a training schedule entitled, ‘How to operate the ancient industrial kitchen equipment without losing a finger.’
“Yeah?” I asked from behind the mixer. Angelo had ordered enough ingredients to make and freeze a week’s worth of pizza dough, all I had to do was get it started.
“Have you ever fucked a call girl?”
“What did you say?” I got to my feet. Angelo was sitting by the window looking out at the corner. Turns out I had heard him correctly. I met him at the front, curious to see who he was accusing of being a prostitute. There was a group of girls dressed like they were on their way to entertain in Las Vegas. The bright colors portrayed a sense of youthful innocence. Especially one girl.
I saw her standing on the corner, with her hair in multicolored waist-length braids. The ethereal beauty was leaning against a stop sign, with her arms crossed over her stomach. She looked happy to be there, a little too happy. She reminded me of the actors in Disneyland; the kind who play Cinderella or Snow White. The photogenic performers have to be joyfully approachable at all time, to the point where it feels fake. ‘Was that what she was?’
Suddenly I was distracted by a knock on the window. “Yo Angelo! when’s this dump going to reopen?” The voice belonged to a young, attractive woman dressed like she was on her way to a comic or sci-fi, convention. She wore a jacket with neon fur, complete with a hood and horns (made of plush fabric, as if she had cut the limbs off of a child’s toy.)
Angelo got up and unlocked the front door. “Maybe when you kids stop trying to rob me.”
“Come on! You know Craig got arrested. What more do you want?” She stayed in the doorway waiting for permission before entering. It was an act of respect that displayed her status as a friend.
Angelo stepped away from the door, reaching for a can of soda from a nearby refrigerator. “I know he’s saying that I was the one who shot myself.”
She shrugged, eagerly opening the soda. Given the hot California day, I imagined it was a truly appreciated gift. “Any truth to that?”
“Does it matter?” Angelo had a valid point. If he had never had a gun pointed in his face, none of this would have happened.
“I’ll make you a deal; if I can guarantee a conviction without you having to testify, will you throw me and my girls a pizza party?”
“That’s up to my apprentice.”
My ears perked up. ‘Why was it up to me?’
“An apprentice? Oh, neat! I got one of those too.” She motioned to the girl with the braids. “She’s fresh off the bus from Kansas City, Missouri. Did you know that place has a worse crime rate than Chicago?”
The girl entered silently and stood behind the strange woman. She forced a smile and nod, but did not move to greet either I or Angelo.
I had to assume she was deaf, mute, or perhaps had been instructed not to speak. I waved at her, but she looked at the ground, refusing to meet my gaze.
This did not go unnoticed by her mentor. “Anyway,” the first woman held out her hand to me like a corporate executive in a boardroom. “I’m Dragon.”
My hands were covered in flour, so I had no intention of actually touching her. But within seconds I was overcome with laughter. “Dragon?” She was dressed like a cosplayer, and judging by her appearance, she was of Asian descent. Therefore, that choice of a street name (or nickname) was just humorous. I somehow resisted the urge to ask if her last name was ‘Fruit.’
Angelo spoke up from his space by the window. “Jeff this is Dragon, she’s kind of a big deal around here. Dragon, this is Jeff, my new apprentice.”
I had not noticed if Dragon had been offended, but her laughter was just as loud, if not louder. “Jeff?”
“What about it?”
The girl with the name of a fighting game character giggled so hard she nearly spilled her drink. “Please tell me you were named after your father, because I have not heard of a single Jeff who was not a boomer.”
My mind went blank. “Well, I’m pretty sure your name isn’t actually Dragon. Let me guess, did your parents name you Nora, maybe Annie?” I asked with a clear hint of sarcasm. (It was not my proudest moment.)
“Annie?” She chuckled. “I get the Nora reference; actor musician Awkwafina is quite the remarkable representative of our kind. But Annie? What the fuck?” Dragon turned to Angelo. “This one has balls.”
“Jeff is a former paramedic,” Angelo replied. “He probably knows a few dozen Doctors named Ann, Annie or Anna. The immigrants who come to this country looking for a better life; all they know are movies like Annie, so they saddle their kids with names out of the early turn of the century.” His answer was more confident than even I expected.
Dragon nodded. She turned her attention back to me. “Fine, Jeff, I will forgive you if you can name even one Asian person named Annie.”
I actually could not, so I attempted to follow Angelo’s lead. “Dr. Annie Cho, a very respectable doctor from the emergency department. When I met her, she was passing through Facebook hospital as a specialist, so I don’t know where she works now.” I knew Dragon was biting her tongue, trying to decide if she wanted to call out my lie.
Just then, the girl with the braids standing at Dragon’s side turned and whispered something. “What’s up, D? Can I go? I have some shit I need to get for tonight.”
“I told you not to call me that.,” Dragon muttered, before returning her attention to Angelo. “Hit me up at the club. I can get you in through the VIP. think of it as a welcome home party.”
“Is that an order?” Angelo asked from behind the register. His voice was so calm I had no way of knowing if he was being sarcastic.
Dragon leaned over the counter. “Don’t act like you’d even dream of standing me up.” She put her arm around her girlfriend.
“What’s your name?” I asked Dragon’s apprentice directly.
Dragon stepped between us. “You’re going to have to wait and find out. Doors open at midnight.”
I watched her leave before continuing with the mixer. “Are we actually going to that?”
Angelo tilted his head, unable to look me in the eye. “Go wash up, put on some clean clothes.”
“Are you serious?
“Dragon is not typically this nice. If she wants us there, it’s best we make an appearance.”
“Have you been “there” before?” I asked with finger quotes.
“Yes,” he said as he dusted himself off. “Just as an audience member,” He headed to the apartment, passing me on the stairs.
“As opposed to what? An honored guest?”
Angelo was clearly refusing to give a straight answer. “Did you want to walk or can we take your car?”
My car was kept in the public parking lot a few blocks away. It was one of those places that charged by the hour, but thanks to the neighborhood generosity I could park there for free. Now I had a sickening feeling that it was, in fact, Dragon’s power and authority that allowed such a miracle to occur.
Angelo put on a normal white shirt, with tan slacks, but the most notable thing was his addiction to accessories. He had more belt buckles than a cowboy, along with religious necklaces and rings (inherited from his late adoptive parents.) I had to assume that was why he was frequently robbed.
“Angelo?” I put my arm around his back, leaning my head on his shoulder. “Is this real gold?” I asked, slipping the decorative crucifix into my mouth like a communion wafer.
“You think I would wear it if it was real?” With two fingers he took back the pendant, removing it from my lips.
I pouted. “You know I have an oral fixation.”
Angelo laughed. He cupped my face, brushing his lips to mine. We met with a tender kiss, the kind that made my heart flutter. “Stop screwing around and get dressed.”
“Why does it matter what I wear?” I had on a t-shirt and jeans, with a dark blue hoodie from my days as a paramedic
At midnight we started our drive, towards the area of the city that resembled a series of unmarked warehouses. I let Angelo drive as I rested my head against the window. He seemed to know a short cut, one that took us past a farmers’ market of drugs, and sex.
“We are way too old for this,” I muttered, making sure to keep my head down, face covered with my hands. I had been to this place on more than one occasion, but I would rather the evening not focus on my checkered past. Who am I kidding? I wanted Angelo to continue to see me as the former paramedic who did a little bit of sex work on the side.
Although I had done private parties, I actually had never been to a sex club. We drove up to the door, where a valet was waiting. “Welcome,” they said in a digitized voice. “The queen has been expecting you.” They held open the door as Angelo handed over my keys.
“Do we get a receipt?” I asked.
The valet chuckled. “No, I think I’ll remember which car belongs to you.” She opened the door to the main building. “Please, have a lovely evening.”
The door creaked open and quickly shut. Inside, there were people in cages, looking like an interactive zoo of sex positions. There were also seats in the hallways for people waiting their turn, and in the center of the room was an elevated platform. On the stage was a large, reclined chair. ‘A dentist chair? Maybe.’
There were a series of cups next to a container of water, sanitizer and ink. This was a tattoo set up. The girl with the braids approached the stage. She wore a bikini, and gloves, looking more like a superhero than a sex worker. “My name is Rainbow, ‘cause I can see the world in every shade.”
What did that even mean?
“Is everyone ready to get fucked up?”
I assumed this party was the newcomer’s assessment test, and she was clearly drunk or high in anticipation. Rainbow started to walk around, trying to get any of the audience members to volunteer to be her personal project. But needless to say, everyone was preoccupied. She was offering drugs, money, in addition to her mesmerizing beauty.
The girl approached Angelo and I, but for whatever reason she turned away without even speaking to us. I was nursing a beer while Angelo had a shot glass of something. I could barely see the color since the room lighting was intentionally tinted purple, complete with a strobe effect.
I watched as she approached Dragon. The neighborhood kingpin sat on an elevated throne, with her legs crossed in the duchess slant. She looked like a queen, ruling over her land of sin. When Rainbow shot her a look of disappointment and confusion, Dragon pointed at Angelo and I. This made sense, given that she had personally invited us.
Rainbow glared. She looked like a popular girl who had just been paired with the class nerd. I couldn’t make out any of the expressions of other audience members. If I hadn’t accompanied Angelo, I might have found this situation humorous? (In a twisted way.)
‘Seriously, WTF was her problem?’ This was more than hatred; this was a look of disgust, as if she truly felt sickened by Angelo’s presence. My first guess was that she was a man-hating lesbian, but that idea lacked substantial proof.
Dragon seemed to pick up on her friend’s hesitation and pointed her back in the direction of the tattoo setup. “Ladies and gentleman,” Dragon said from her seat. I couldn’t see if she had a microphone, but that was the only way to explain what was happening. “Tonight, we have a very special guest, let’s bring him onstage.”
The audience did not seem to give a crap, quickly returning to their own activities. And since there was no real way for Dragon to force their attention, she sighed and let them be. “Angelo, will you do me the honors?”
Angelo gulped the last of his drink. I was anticipating him asking for my permission, or at least taking a moment to acknowledge my existence. But no, he just got up and walked to her, like a loyal pet.
He sat in the tattoo chair, leaning back in Dragon’s embrace. She coaxed Angelo to remove his shirt. “Fruit of the loom? Did you buy this at Target?”
“I picked it up at Goodwill.”
“Was that your only clean shirt?” Before Angelo could answer, she kissed his lips, gliding her tongue over his unshaven chin, down his throat to his chest. She took a moment to stroke his chest hair before applying a single nipple clamp, attached to a silver chain.
Angelo flinched, but he dared not move from where he sat. This was Dragon’s domain.
“Now, my girl Rainbow here is going to give you a special treat.”
“Like hell I will.” The room went quiet. It was then Rainbow realized her anger had been captured on Dragon’s mic. “Fuck this.” She attempted to walk away, but Dragon quickly grabbed her arm.
Dragon was much shorter than Rainbow (likely because the lower ranking girl was wearing platform shoes.) “Angelo is a friend, a pillar of the community.”
“Then you can tattoo him.”
“Fine,” Dragon tilted her head like a doll. “Perhaps your apprentice will be more accommodating to our ways.”
I took off my shirt, if only to prove I was up for her game. On the stage I was greeted with applause. I leaned over Angelo. “How much does it hurt?”
Dragon walked her fingers down my chest, and without asking she attached the other half of the clamp to my throbbing nipple
We were connected by the chain like a pair of marionettes. I guided his cock inside me. He was soaked with precum, just begging for a release. As his juices lubed the path to my prostate, I attempted to remove my pants. This was a process that required Dragon’s assistance. As soon as she had freed my legs I stretched my hip, moving my foot over his shoulder.
“Hey Stretch Armstrong, watch out for my table.” Dragon was actually going to attempt to tattoo Angelo while we were fucking.
My leg was nowhere near her, but I knew what she meant. My job was to distract Angelo. That was when I noticed the position of his arm. Dragon was tattooing a cross on to his wrist, moving with the rhythm of my hips. She was going to tattoo until we all finished together.
Angelo was also wearing a few gold and silver rings (all inherited, from various relatives from his Italian family.) One thick silver piece, could have been mistaken for a wedding band. ‘Actually,’ I chuckled. ‘Could this be what Rainbow was so triggered about? Screw it, more for me.’
“What are you smiling about?” Angelo asked as he leaned his head back. He closed his eyes, biting his lower lip.
I leaned in for a kiss, hovering my mouth over his chin. His facial hair was soft, tender and smelled of alcohol and sweat. I stuck my tongue out to taste. Now we were both smiling. I took a moment to savor his breath, the warmth of his skin.
I cupped his face. My body was tense, all I wanted was to kiss him, devour him. I could feel him move his free hand to my neck. First, he choked me from the front, placing deep pressure on my throat. I was climaxing all over myself when he moved his hand to the back of my neck, pulling me close for a kiss. His mouth felt so good. I could taste his orgasm; the sweetness of his breath, the soft electric tingles as he held the kiss. I never knew what it meant to crave a person.
Dragon thankfully finished her work and released his hand. “I love your ring,” she said as she licked Angelo’s finger. “It looks just like the one my husband wears.”
I chuckled, assuming this was her idea of flirting. And then she motioned to a man on the second-floor catwalk, he was in the shadows, lurking around like a guardian of the second circle of Hell.
“So, play nice.” She slipped between us, kissing Angelo on the lips. She then turned to me; her mouth pressed to my ear as she spoke, “I’ll be seeing you, Jeff. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
Angelo buried his face in my shoulder, grunting, moaning, gasping for air. We connected on a truly spiritual level.
I clenched every muscle as he climaxed inside me. My breath whimpered softly; my body would devour him if I could, just to hold Angelo inside me forever.
Do you want to get out of here?
“Yeah, I do.” Angelo reached his bandaged hand, pulling me close, “but let me hold you for a while.” I rested my head on his shoulder, close enough to feel his racing pulse. “I think you’re going to have to drive.”
“Fine by me.”
When we regained feeling in our legs, we slipped out unnoticed. True to their word, the valet recognized me and had my car ready when we exited out the backdoor. “Leaving so soon?”
I gave the valet a tip, in the form of whatever I had in my wallet, making sure to show that I was now broke. She/he/they (it was possibly an actual robot) freaked me out in an uncanny valley sort of way.
I drove for a while, looking around for a place to just rest before heading home. Soon we reached a playground. At this time of night parking was plentiful. We just needed to hope that no cops came along thinking we were selling (or worse.) For such a beautiful night, it would be worth the risk. I took a seat in the sand. I pulled my knees to my chest, while Angelo reclined beside me.
He raised his hand, looking at his new tattoo in the soft glow of the early morning light. “Just two sweaty grown men watching the sunrise.”
I let slip a giggle, that I quickly covered with a cough. “Tell me about your rings.”
“You mean this one?” He removed the silver band. It had a thick cross in the center, with decorative patterns around the side. “This piece belonged to my father.”
“You were close with him?” All I knew about Angelo’s family was that they were all either dead or living abroad.
“The bastard made my life a living hell.”
“Oh?” I had meant that sound to be comforting, but I couldn’t help but be confused.
“The cafe was my mother’s dream. She needed me to stay; to protect her, love her.” He clenched the ring, holding it against his palm. “What my father did to her, it made me wish I was back in Russia.”
“Oh.” I had known about the Pizza café being his mother’s passion, while his father was a volunteer catholic priest. Yet I had no idea of the extent of Angelo’s rage.
“I stole it off his corpse during the funeral,” he said with a smile, “My mother had never been so proud.”
That made sense. The object brought him happiness because it reminded him of his mother. I reached for his hand, stroking the area around his new tattoo. “You are so amazing; kind, beautiful, and certifiably insane.”
“Yeah, says the guy who rode me like a sex doll in front of a room full of potential customers.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way. Most participants in a sex club would wear a mask, or some sort of means of hiding their identity. (But not us; we had to go and fuck under a spotlight.) I racked my brain to think of a comeback; a reason why I was (and would always be) willing to express my love for him no matter who was watching.
“This was the first time we made love,” I muttered, letting the words fall like drool from my lips. “I know we’ve hooked up more than a few times, but tonight felt special, magical.” I cringed at my words. Speaking from my soul, I sounded like a lovestruck puppy. I was still holding Angelo’s hand, when he abruptly pulled away. “Angelo?” I was about to apologize when he placed the ring on my finger.
“I want you to have this,” Angelo said, his sleepy voice was a deep sensual whisper.
“Your father’s ring?”
“I figure if I can give it away it’ll no longer remind me of my past. Just my,” he paused to kiss the back of my hand. “Our bright future.”
Angelo suddenly sat up. “I gotta take a piss. I’ll be back. Don’t leave without me.”
“I’ll be here.” I stood up, dusting off my legs. I thought about wither or not I wanted to keep the ring on, when I caught the glimpse of a cigarette.
The soft orange light illuminated her face. It was Rainbow. “Hey!” I said, perhaps a little too aggressively.
She turned her head. “What?” Rainbow squinted her eyes, taking a moment to fully recognize me.
“Yes, it’s me.
“The apprentice,” she said with a smirk.
“What the hell is your problem with Angelo?”
She took a few steps towards me before shaking her head as if I was not worth the effort of composing a valid argument. “Fuck off.”
“No, not when you’re being such a bitch to the one person who doesn’t deserve that.”
She rolled her eyes in disbelief. “Are you done defending your boyfriend? If that’s even what he is to you.”
“What?” For a moment I was too confused to be offended.
She lifted my hand, revealing the ring. “Is he paying for your college, maybe your rent? Did he buy you a car?”
“Um, no.” Now I was offended. I didn’t know the kind of people she’d known in Missouri, but she had no right to pass judgement on Angelo.
“Well, you need to get on that,” she said with a supermodel smile. “And once you get your car you need to leave town and find a way to get out from under him.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I know men like him. Sick, disgusting human beings who prey on the young.”
“You don’t know Angelo.” I gripped her wrist. Only then did I notice her scars. There were cuts but also burns. Some were old and others were quite fresh and painful looking.
Rainbow jerked away. “And you don’t know me.”
“I’d like to.”
“I know what it’s like to have no one.”
She paused for a moment, taking in the meaning of my words. “Where you from?”
She nodded. “Cali is a long way from home.”
“Yeah, it is.” I had nothing else to say on the subject of ‘home.’ So, I instead switched the topic. “What’s your name?”
“Katie.” She lit up a new cigarette, and walked away, heading down the street to God knows where.
“Ok, sure…” That was the day I met Katlyn ‘Rainbow’ Diaz.