Corner of the Sky
As comforting as the re-entry to his former world had been, by October, it had begun to chafe. He had finally begun to grow taller, and his growing pains extended to his work. His tolerance weakened, and his patience followed.
One November night, Feuilly finally exploded. Claquesous was nowhere to be seen, and Brujon had been even more silent than usual. Babet had selected the job, he and Brujon had staked it out, but Feuilly had taken no part in it until that night. Something about the place gave him a bad feeling, and Brujon’s refusal to look at him made him think they shared a sense of foreboding.
Babet pointed him to the gate, and Feuilly deliberately broke the silence.
“No. I don’t like the look of it. There’s something wrong about this place.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it,“ Babet hissed. “Now come on, open the gate.”
“No,” Feuilly repeated with more force. “I’m not going in there.”
“Dammit, boy, you work for me!” Babet pushed him up against the fence, and before Feuilly could fully grasp what had happened, he felt a knife at his throat. “Now, you’ll be a good boy and open up, won’t you?”
He started to laugh. “Damn, your holiness, one would think you did own me! I’m not going in if I don’t feel like it.” Names were never used in public.
“I’m telling you, boy -”
“Oh, get off it, Babet!”
“Shhh! You want to get us all topped?”
“I’m not fond of hospital, all right? I’m not looking to get anyone topped, that’s why I’m not going in.”
“Dammit, I’ll just top you myself if you don’t fucking open up!”
“Careful, your holiness. You may not be prudent, but I always am. Did you really think I’d risk landing myself in the hospital? Ah, but don’t think you know me as you think you do. Do you think I wouldn’t come armed? Yes, I know what you think of me. Effeminate, with my books and my drawings. But kittens grow up, don’t they? And a cat knows precisely when to use its claws. I’m not a fool.”
Babet forced his knife even further into Feuilly’s neck. He could not move his head without cutting himself, which allowed Babet to look down without giving up his advantage. Sure enough, a hint of silver glinted in the boy’s hand. “The cat does have claws.”
“And is prepared to use them. I’m not going into hospital, and I’m not laying down tonight, but if you don’t let up, by god, I swear I’ll top you myself.”
“Where’d you get yourself a piece like that?”
“What does it matter? I’m not so stupid as to go around without a little protection. You’re the fool who left my hands free. Did you really think I’d be afraid of you and that little knife?”
“Let the boy go,” Brujon put in quietly. “I don’t much like the look of the place tonight, either.”
Babet glared at them each in turn but finally pulled his knife away from Feuilly’s neck. “Fine. Go on. See if I care what happens to you.”
“When your pocket burns enough, I’ll find you,” Feuilly replied, pulling away as soon as he could. He bowed low. “I suppose I shall see you gentlemen later.” Before Babet could strike at him, as he appeared poised to do, he turned and ran down the alley.
Closing himself in his room, he immediately began to curse his luck. He had no desire to see Babet again in the near future, but he had run low on cash. As there was no job tonight, he would have to open up the wall and actually begin to use his stash.
What had gotten into him? Ordinarily, he would have opened the gate but refused to go in. Now, he would not even assist in what he felt would be a failure. There was probably nothing wrong with the house, and it was far from the first time Babet had been violent with him. Yet the night’s situation had made him sick, and he went to bed early, debating what he should do about it.
Feuilly woke earlier than usual, early enough to hear his neighbour return from the night’s work, though he did not get up for a long time. What am I going to do? he thought. I have my pride. I’ll be damned if I’ll give up my pride. When he rose to dress, he grabbed for an old pair of canvas trousers only to find that in nine months, they had become rather too short. That settles that, he thought. No turning back when the clothes don’t even fit.
He went out only to complete the most necessary errands: to pawn a bit of his stash and provide himself with a stock of food so that he would not have to run into Babet at the tavern for a few days.
After three days of sulking in his room, however, Feuilly grew tired of hiding and subsisting on bread and cheese. He ventured out early, hoping to be able to at least eat before Babet came in. Indeed, he was nearly successful, as he was finishing his wine when a commotion at the entrance signaled the man’s arrival.
“And that -” smack “- is for following me like a fucking dog! I kick dogs that follow me, you know that!” A whimper was faintly heard. “Now I paid you, so go on, dammit!” The door to the tavern flew open, and a very angry Babet stormed in. “Jesus fucking Christ, why are women so goddamned clingy?” One of the prostitutes hurried outside, and momentarily, a woman with a split lip and an eye that was turning black was seated near the door with a drink in front of her. Babet did not notice, as he had already seen Feuilly, who had been unable to escape. “The boy comes back after all!” His laugh was sickening. “No, we didn’t go in, monsieur.”
“Babet, calm down. I was just finishing dinner, and now I’ll be going.”
“No, you’re not ’just finishing dinner’. Any time you show up here, it means you’re in.” As he sat down, Feuilly could smell the liquor already on him, which explained the state of the woman. “You,” he pointed, “are the reason I feel like I’ve been fucked with a broomstick.” And again, he laughed that sickening laugh.
“You’re not in any state to talk about anything. I came to see if there was a decent job up, but it’s apparent that no one is in any condition to work. I don’t know why I came back if you are going to turn into a drunk on me.”
“As if you haven’t seen me get drunk before, you stupid little fuck.”
“What was so important about that house? Why did Brujon not like the look of it?”
“That was an English duke or something, and you were supposed to let me in because I lost my fucking salary!”
“What are you talking about?” Feuilly asked firmly.
“You were supposed to open up. Best the little woman not know what I had going. It would offend his weak little heart. You and Brujon provide cover while I go upstairs, slit the bastard’s throat. Double gig. But you blew it for me. Your nose is too good, so I’m damned if I kill you for it, since I’ll need it later.”
“You’ve branched out into murder for hire? You stupid, worthless, mindless -” He wracked his brain for the appropriate word, and nothing came to mind. “- thing! Jesus! You’ll get us all locked up!”
“Blow it out your ass. You’re the one who fucked me over.”
“Then slit my throat for it, because no one will give a shit if I live or die. Do you ever use that thing that sits on your shoulders? Who on earth would want this English duke dead and would know to come to you?”
“It was a trade, shall we say.”
“A trade. Now the coppers are really onto us!”
“His life in exchange for the job.”
“Oh, you imbecile! That place was made! That place didn’t just have too many people at home, it was made! And you say I fucked you!”
“It wasn’t made.”
“How do you know? You haven’t used your brain at all when it comes to that house.”
“It was a copper what gave me the job.”
“You’ve sold out into contract killing for the bleeding government?!”
“My permanent pass out of jail. You fucked it up for me.”
Feuilly tilted his chair back and put his feet on the table. “You’re drunk, and I don’t believe a word you say. It’s too far-fetched. I believe you’re perfectly willing to kill a man, or even a woman, for a price, and to save your own skin, but why would you have tried a little highway robbery on a copper?”
“Not just a copper. The superintendent of police. Not my fault he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know how the poofs go strolling around at night, making like barnyard cocks and all that shit.”
“Not that I understand your analogy, never having seen a barnyard, but yes, everyone knows when the poofs are out, preening themselves like pigeons.”
“They are pigeons. Figured they’d be easy targets. No one wants to admit what they’re looking for in places the prosses don’t go.”
“So you went out to redistribute some otherwise quite filthy currency.”
“Precisely. How was I to know the big man would be out with the poofs? I just grab him from behind, like, got my knife to his throat, it’s only going through his pockets that I realise the bastard is telling the truth, he does have a real police card, in glass and everything. He offers a trade - a life for a life, and money, too. Now, why should the place have been made? You didn’t see how the prick was about to shit himself.”
“The place was made, you’re in imbecile, and you should have topped him then. Instead, you bring in Brujon with the truth, and me on half-truths, and when I actually care about my own skin, I get that knife to my own throat.”
“I didn’t know you’d found yourself a piece.”
“I’m not stupid. Did you really think I wouldn’t arm myself the first chance I got?” He pulled out the knife, which he kept in a rough attempt at a leather sheath. “Paper knife from the first job. Small, but sharp and altogether neat.”
Babet tested the edge. “Not bad.”
“I know.” Feuilly took it back. “So don’t underestimate the kitten. In any case, I piss you off then disappear, your skin is probably safe, so now you take the afternoon to beat on some poor pross.”
“I only beat on her, as you say, because the bitch wouldn’t let go of me when I was done. Jesus Christ, I hate women.” Suddenly he caught sight of her as she tried to leave, moving slowly as if she were in pain. “The bitch is in here! Who let that bitch in?!”
“Babet, stop this shit now. She’s leaving. And so am I. When you are sober, we’ll cast about for that next job. For the moment, your pocket can’t handle the prosses any more than your temper can.”
“My temper can handle anything, dumbshit.”
“And you are proving it now, aren’t you?” Feuilly calmly rejoined. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
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