Somewhere off in the distance the dark, angular forms of the city’s skyline broke up the blackness of the night. Dim panels of backlit windows offered the only indication of structure instead of sky.
He didn’t notice.
If he could have seen through the building across the street he might have been able to catch a glimpse of the sun just beginning to kiss the sky with light. Soon it would rise over the lake, lighting the sides of those darkened buildings aflame. It would herald the start of a new day, signal a whole new round of the bustle of a busy, fluid metropolis.
He couldn’t see through the building. He couldn’t even see the building. His right eye was long swollen shut, his left blurred with blood and tears.
“C’mon, baby, just one dance.”
“I said no.”
He grabbed her arm. “It’s just a dance. It’s not like I’m asking you to fuck me, bitch.”
She screamed. Some massive, unexpected force suddenly lifted him off his feet.
“You look like hell, brother.”
“Come on, buddy. It’s time to go.”
The bouncer’s breath smelled of stale cigarettes and bad scotch. The flaming skull tattoo on the beefy arm wrapped around his throat said something bad was about to happen.
“I thought I told you to leave and never come back.”
“It’s a free fucking country,” the captive gasped.
“Then I guess I’m free to do this.” The bouncer used his charge’s face to open a heavy, metal door. They stepped out in to a trash strewn alley.
“I don’t like it when assholes like you hassle my customers,” the bartender said, slamming the smaller man against the wall. “It sends the wrong message. Tells the ladies they’re not welcome.” He swept his leg around, taking the already dazed man’s legs out from under him.
He hit the ground, hard. The bouncer planted a steel-toed boot in his rib cage. One gave way.
“Got anything to say for yourself, fucker?” The bouncer stepped back.
“Yeah.” The other man pushed himself up slowly, painfully. He slowly rose on wobbling knees. “I got something to say. Is that the best you can do?”
The bouncer smiled. “You just don’t learn, do you?”
“I said, ‘You look like hell, brother.’”
“I don’t have a brother.”
“What’s that? Speak up. You’re mumbling.”
“I said,” the bloody man lifted his head and looked up at his unwelcome companion, “That I don’t have a fucking brother.”
“It’s just an expression, you know. A term of endearment.” The words rolled off the stranger’s tongue with a deep Scottish brogue, making the entire situation even more bizarre.
The wounded man wiped his left eye clean and took stock of his situation. He was on a bench at a bus stop, somehow. His unexpected and unwelcome companion was standing off to the side, bathed in the light of a street lamp.
The only color his strange, Scottish brother seemed to possess was in the shock of red hair on top of his head. His clothes were all black, his face so pale he might as well have been a sheet of paper. He was slight of build, but taut. It looked like he knew how to handle himself in a fight.
“I don’t think we know each other well enough for terms of endearment, friend.”
“Ah, true enough.” The Scotsman stuck his hand out. “Name’s Sean. Nice to meet you.”
“So what happened to you, Kevin?”
“Got to leave a bar through the back door.”
“I’ve been there, brother,” Sean nodded sagely. “I’ve been there.”
“I was just trying to get some chick to dance with me.”
“Damn women. If they can get something out of you they’ll let you do anything you fucking want to ‘em and they’ll say, ‘Thank you,’ too.”
“But when they think they’ve bled you dry or if they can’t get anything, they’re gone.”
“Exactly,” Sean nodded. “You want to hear my theory?”
“They don’t have dicks.”
Kevin blinked once with his good eye. “I know I was hit on the head tonight,” he said, “But did you just say that your theory is that women don’t have dicks?”
“You’re an idiot, you know?”
“Hear me out. Women don’t have dicks. But they still want to do the fucking. So they do it by taking our shit and leaving with the bigger, better, handsomer, richer guy.”
“And all we get is fucked,” Kevin finished.
A bus turned the corner a block down and rumbled toward them.
“This your bus?” the Scotsman asked.
“Can you make it back to your flat okay?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll see you around, then.”
The bus came to a stop and opened its door. Kevin struggled off the bench and walked towards it with wobbly knees.
As he put his foot on the first step he turned back towards the Scotsman. He’d disappeared from the street lamp’s pool of yellow light.
It was like he’d never been there at all.