Infected: Revolution, Part 7
N.B.: There is actually a chapter that goes before this, but I skipped it, because of massive spoilers about the potential end of the Infected series (or Roan’s storyline at least). Sorry, but you’ll probably have to wait until it’s published to see it.
7 – South Paw
Ahmed was just one of those weird dudes – like Roan, like Dylan – who thought if they could help people, they should. Which is how Holden came to know him in the first place. He used to work for this non-profit organization that helped street kids, and he came up to Holden when he was working the boulevard. Holden was at the time uninterested in the food/shelter thing, but as it turned out, the organization was secular, not religious, which was the thing that always bugged him about the other ones. After all, coming from a hypocritical, overly religious home, more religion was the last thing Holden needed.
But Ahmed just meant well. He wanted to help everyone, and strove to do so as much as possible. His interest in the leather scene in his off hours made Holden like him, because even a do-gooder needed an outlet. A do-gooder without an outlet for their darker impulses was a time bomb waiting to happen. Before his lion became the expression of his darker id, even Roan repressed, which was probably why he ended up kicking the shit out of the wife beater and getting himself booted off the force. Holden wondered what Dylan’s release was – art? Hard to believe, but maybe that’s where his Buddhism helped him. Holden found it difficult to fathom, but he knew it might just be because he didn’t get Dylan in any respect. He was a rare and exotic creature, possibly the most arguably “normal” person either he or Roan knew, and that was fucking ridiculous. Artists should and pretty much could never be the normal one in a group, but most of those groups didn’t contain hooker vigilantes and lion based superheroes.
Ahmed did not go for hustlers at all, he didn’t like the transactional basis of the relationship, which was another reason they were friends. It was difficult to have a “clean” relationship with a patron of the sex arts, as it always seemed to cast a shadow on things, at least in his experience.
Ahmed had invited him to come hang out after work, and Holden figured why the hell not. Ahmed usually had decent take out, fair pot, and good tastes in movies, and Holden figured he could use the break from looking into Omega. It was a bit less god focused than most apocalypse cults, but it was still kind of depressing what people made themselves believe in the name of finding some meaning in life. Maybe Ahmed had some insights into that. He was pretty savvy when it came to people.
He had an apartment near Capital Hill, in one of those old buildings with vague art deco features that looked like it could very well be a fire trap, but hopefully wasn’t. There was really only one way to find out for sure.
Most people had drinks after stressful days at work, but social work was hard, ugly, stressful, and a not well paid job, so Ahmed skipped it and went straight to a blunt, as he felt his amount of stress at the end of the day would turn him into a chronic alcoholic in no time. Holden just took a couple tokes, mainly to be polite, because he didn’t want Ahmed to think he was saving most of the pot for Ahmed, although that was exactly what Holden was doing. Take out was Vietnamese food, which was pretty good, even if Holden wasn’t sure what he was eating half the time. (It had never stopped him before.) For tonight’s entertainment, Ahmed put on Airplane, and since they’d each seen it about a million times, that’s when they also started to talk.
Holden respected Ahmed’s need to decompress and relax first, as he could be that way sometimes. More when he used to hustle, but probably because dealing one on one with people was always hard. He had no idea how people in retail fields did it, because Holden was sure he’d go on killing spree on his first day. Of course, the older he got, the more he suspected he was getting completely psychotic. He’d always been slightly antisocial, but the more time wore on, the worse it became.
Ahmed told him a bit about Danny, a guy he’d met in a local leather fetish chatroom, and was kind of seeing now. Ahmed wasn’t opposed to relationships, but they usually took up more time than he had. He managed to find some time for Danny, though. This led into Ahmed asking him about Scott, which was a conversation he didn’t want to have.
He was sick and tired of people asking him about Scott, and he told Ahmed just that. That just made Ahmed chuckle and shake his head. “You’re protestin’ too much, dude. Besides, you’ve never had anything approaching a boyfriend since I’ve known you. Scott is something to you, no matter how much you deny it.”
He rolled his eyes. “We’re occasional fuck buddies. That’s all it is, and all it can be.”
“Now why do you say that?”
Holden took a pull off his beer before answering. Normally he wasn’t a big beer fan, but Ahmed was really into microbrews, and found one Holden could stomach. “’Cause he ain’t never coming out of the closet, and I don’t see myself having a relationship with a guy who remains closeted.”
“Isn’t that premature? Just ‘cause he hasn’t come out yet doesn’t mean he won’t.”
“Yeah, but I know he’s not gonna. You know how hard he trains? Like a complete motherfucker. He’s probably days away from injecting nandrolone straight into his eyeball to keep up. He’s worked too hard and too long to risk tossing his career away just so he can publicly admit he likes outies as well as innies.”
Ahmed had a sip of his pho before answering. “Man, you’ve made up his mind for him. He may come to the decision he has more to gain than to lose. Just ‘cause it’s what you would do if you were him doesn’t mean that’s what he’ll ultimately do.”
Holden glared at him. “Fuck you. That isn’t what I’d do. The closet is for chumps.”
“So why are you dating a coward? I mean, that’s what you’re saying, right? He’s a coward.”
“No,” he protested, immediately resentful. That wasn’t what he meant at all! Okay, maybe there was an implication, but it was accidental. “You’re twisting my words.”
“No I’m not, I’m clarifying them. You just said he wasn’t going to risk his career by coming out as bi. And since the closet is for chumps, he’s a chump. Is a chump, in your definition, a coward, a loser, or simply a fool?”
Holden rubbed his forehead, trying to figure out how Ahmed always trapped him like this. This was why he had to be friends with him, because the people who were more adept at verbal bullshit than he was were few and far between, and Holden needed to keep them close. “Goddamn it. No, he’s not a – why am I justifying myself to you? Whose boyfriend is he?”
“Oh, so he is your boyfriend. I thought he was just a fuck buddy.”
Holden wadded up his napkin and threw it at him, and while it did hit him, Ahmed just laughed. Bastard. He’d never formally introduced Roan and Ahmed for this very reason – they’d get along far too well, and would live to torture him.
Holden’s phone hummed in his pocket, saving him from this conversation. He was so grateful he didn’t even check the screen to see who was calling, just answered the phone. So that’s why he was surprised by an automated recording asking him if he wanted to accept the charges. Wow. It had been a while since he’d gotten a call from prison. He was even more surprised when it turned out to be Newt calling him. “Newt,” he said, as soon as they were connected. “Since when did you get back into Seattle?” Last he’d heard, Newt had headed to Texas to see if he could crash with his half brother.
“Um, good question,” he replied, sounding tired. “Last thing I remember, I was eating peyote buttons in Southern Oregon. I thought I was still in Oregon until I saw a cop, and I recognized the uniform as Seattle PD.”
Holden knew he shouldn’t be surprised, because this was Newt talking. And Newt not only had the drug tolerance of a man three times his size, but always seemed to be involved in something colorful. His life was one long, sustained acid trip. “They tell you what they brought you in for?”
“Well, I’m in the drunk tank, so I figure they pulled me in for public intoxication. Musta been trippin’ my balls off, but they thought I was drunk.”
“That would track. How much is the bail?”
“None. They’re gonna let me walk, but only if someone picks me up. I think they think I’m a transient or a risk or something.”
There was a long pause, allowing Holden to hear the sounds of the jail beyond him. It actually sounded like a quiet night there, not too much yelling or cursing. Or maybe it was just the calm before the storm. (The bars didn’t close until three, after all.) Finally, Newt said, “Maybe. I guess it depend on whether or not Steve’ll let me crash at his place.”
Holden sighed. “You can crash on my couch until you can find a place. But only if you stay sober at my apartment. I don’t want a repeat of the toaster incident, or I’ll kick your ass out on the spot. Got it?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Newt agreed. “Thanks man. I gotta get my shit together and figure out my next move.”
“You really should. I’ll be there shortly.” Holden hung up, and Ahmed asked, “The toaster incident?”
He shook his head. “Don’t ask. I might start suffering from PTSD.”
Ahmed smirked, but actually left it alone, which was kind of him. “So who was that?”
“Newt? Do I know him?”
“Yeah, you do. Think about it.” Newt was one of those unforgettable people, people who you’d swear couldn’t exist if they showed up on an episode of Breaking Bad, but truth being stranger than fiction, somehow they did.
Holden stood up, stretching because Ahmed’s comfy couch always made him sleepy, and Ahmed finally said, “Oh, wait – the Filipino Hunter S. Thompson?”
“How the fuck is he still alive?”
Holden snickered at that. It was a good question, and one that Newt seemed to constantly evoke. Hence his nickname Newt. Even with a bunch of acid blooded aliens on his ass, somehow that little fucker didn’t die. “I dunno. Friends drop dead from killers and suicides, overdoses and bad luck, but somehow the human car crash never gets seriously hurt. I think he proves the universe has a sense of humor.”
“Yeah, that’s the only possible way he can still be drawing breath. Wasn’t he a drug mule?”
“Briefly. From his explanation, it doesn’t sound like they were exactly a cartel, just a bunch of half assed wannabes, who’re probably dead now if they ever met an actual drug cartel.” Holden shrugged on his coat.
Ahmed gave him a look that suggested he didn’t think this was wise. Ahmed gave him that look a lot. “Isn’t there a possibility he’s making that up?”
“The drug mule stuff? Yeah, there’s a possibility, but it’s a greater possibility he’s not telling us the worse things he’s done. He’s not a liar more than he’s a guy who lives like he’s gotta be dead by six. I’ve never quite figured it out.”
Holden shrugged. “Yeah, that, and why he has such a hard time succeeding. How can he possibly try harder?” Newt had his share of demons, just like everyone else on the streets, but his story was particularly tragic. He didn’t talk about it much, he usually only mentioned it when really wasted, but he was thrown out of the house at fourteen after a “it’s me or him” declaration by his step-father, and his mother chose her new husband. From what little Newt talked about his mother, she was a dedicated alcoholic and abusive as it was, so he didn’t consider it a great loss. Since then, he’d been a homeless rambler, just surfing from couch to couch and city to city, another faceless throwaway kid in a silent army of them. Newt was just one of the rare kids not thrown out for being gay or bi or gender transgressive. He was just thrown out for being inconvenient, which was almost worse. Hate and ignorance were depressing, but somewhat understandable. Complete indifference towards your own child? That was staggering. Newt claimed he was “over it”, but how did you get over that exactly? He had to ask Roan if he “got over” his abusive and presumably monstrous treatment at the hands of some of his foster parents, but he didn’t, because he knew damn well Roan wouldn’t tell him.In a way, that made it worse, because the mind could imagine a lot of horrible things that must have happened to lead Roan into being the slightly masochistic, marytr wannabe avenging angel that he was. No superhero ever came from a good home. If they were well adjusted, they wouldn’t want to be a superhero. (Fuck Superman.) Of course, that was true of supervillains as well. The only real difference between them was whether they were fighting for people or against them.Newt, for his part, was neither.For his shitty background, he was a remarkably normal drug addict. Well, okay, he did aspire to be the next Hunter S. Thompson in his lucid moments, so maybe not that normal.
“Need help?” Ahmed asked, making no move to get up from his cozy couch.
“No, I got it. Thanks for dinner.”
“Any time. Be nice to Scott, huh? He puts up with you, and that’s gotta be as rare as hell.” Ahmed grinned at him, in a way that suggested he was kind of joking, but probably wasn’t.
Holden frowned at him, but he knew it would just encourage him, so he kept it brief. There was probably some truth in that, but he felt he deserved a minor award for putting up with Scott, which could be tough by itself, not even considering the fact that he was in the closet. He was a jock in a stupid sport that put him on the road for most of the season, and it could cripple him or maybe even kill him if he was extremely unlucky. Also, Scott liked to text more than call, and Holden hated reading texts, so he wouldn’t bother to check those messages for days, and he’d find that Scott had texted him dozens of times in the interim. Frankly, there should have been a relationship jail of some sort for the compulsive texter. Maybe they’d have to wear thumb splints, or give non-reciprocated blow jobs. Something.
That reminded him to check his phone, although he waited until he was in his car to see what text messages were waiting for him. It was a rare single digit number, with the most interesting one being :‘Cu 2morrow?‘ He quickly went through the messages until he found the one that said, ‘Coming back 2 C Tank & G. Roan 2 I hope’. G, in Scott’s text language, was Grey. (Also, pretty much his nickname for him in real life too.) Grey was coming back? He didn’t know that, but then again, he wasn’t on Grey’s email list. He knew Tank was coming in, but that was because Fiona was back, at least temporarily. Grey too? So it was a Falcons reunion or something? Or maybe just a bunch of straight boys (and one bi) who wanted to moon over Roan a bit, since they all had the same size crush. Although Scott was the only one to get a tattoo to that effect, at least that Holden was aware of. Maybe that had changed. Maybe they all had lion tattoos now.
Should he text him back? He hated doing it, he felt like a tool, but it would be faster than emailing him later. So he settled on the simple text of Yes. He probably would see Scott tomorrow. But what it meant he still didn’t know.
What was he going to do about Scott? At least he had until tomorrow to figure something out.