AN: This story is prompted by the song Slumming Angel by Rory Gallagher for a Crime Fiction contest. I attempted my own twist to how the song plays out. Happy reading!
The late afternoon sun filtered through the mist floating over the streets like meandering smoke. James leaned lazily against the cold metal support of the bus stop shelter, staring out at the bustling street corner without focus or interest in the dulling day when suddenly the Slumming Angel appeared before him, her unexpected glimmer of light sliced through the haze.
She didn't belong. Her futile attempt to blend into the environment had him watching her every step, gesture, and facial expression. The designer jeans hugged her figure, the set of stud diamond earrings flashed in her ears, and her Gucci leather jacket was a stark contrast to the second-hand coats and working man's uniform worn by the people rushing past her.
He became more curious as to her purpose. What had her slumming? Was it for a thrill these unforgiving streets could offer, a rush of danger? Surely, she had no real understanding of those dangers encircling her. She spoke desperately to anyone who would stop and listen. Was misplaced and attempting to get home to the golden safety net that waited for her on the other side of the tracks.
He knew her kind. The glow that emanated from her spoke to the wealth and privilege that eluded those who resided in the neighborhood. These pretentious frauds greedily exploit those who painstakingly work in their factories. These spoiled royals only saw wretched, angst-filled streets teeming with rage and grief manifested in the faces of the damaged and underprivileged souls trapped in a cycle of poverty. At first glance, one could make this simple deduction. The chipped paint and crumbling brick buildings were either half boarded up or shielded with heavy bars on the windows and doors. Gangs didn't patrol the streets as outsiders would think, but the tags marked their territories along with unspoken rules that laid out an expectation of respect. You didn't see the drug dealers just discarded syringes littering the gutters.
The ignorant Angel in front of him would only see the impoverished and run-down buildings instead of recognizing there was a strong sense of community. Street vendors secured their favorite corners or rolled their carts down the busy sidewalks selling delicious varieties of homemade specialties. Neighborhoods were active with kids on their bikes chasing each other down cracked and pothole-laden asphalt. Women held court in their yards. They gossiped and discussed the ritual of the weekend barbeque where neighbors gathered. The inviting fragrant smoke from the grills would fill the air along with laughter and a sense of togetherness a Slumming Angel like herself would never experience in her high tower.
James sidelined his growing disdain for her when she briefly glanced his way Her desperation was palpable. The bus cut through his line of sight, abruptly interrupting his profile of her. He blinked several times, attempting to see through the metal and glass obstructing his vision of his new Angel. The bus door whooshed opened to the impatient stare from the driver. James was rooted in place unable to determine his next move.
"You coming, man?" the driver huffed in clear annoyance to James' lack of urgency.
James failed to acknowledge the question and stepped away from the callous driver. His decision had been made. He was aware his choice was impulsively emotional, but he felt the surge of excitement for what the evening could hold.
James cut around to the back of the bus. As he gagged on the black smoke that spewed from the tailpipe now hanging heavy in the vacant spot left by the bus, he searched across the street for his Angel. He jumped off the curb and recklessly weaved his way across the street, dodging cars that blared their horns at him. Making it to the other side, he spun a slow three hundred and sixty degrees to try and catch sight of what direction his Angel had headed. She had vanished. Panic squeezed his chest as he gasped for air. Where was she?
When her auburn ponytail finally appeared in his line of sight, a cool rush of relief flooded through him. As he watched her hair bounce in response to her purposeful movement, he couldn't help but notice the aura around her resembled angelic wings. He quickly shook off his awe and admiration and headed in her direction. His pace quickened to close the gap between them but slowed when she curled around the corner and entered the liquor store. James pulled up short of the door and decided to wait until she re-emerged to engage with her. He didn't want to look desperate and took in a breath to control his racing heart and regain composure. There was no real plan beyond making contact. He knew he had to be in control but wanted her to think it was hers.
James pressed his back against the wall and attempted to look uninterested when she stepped out into the greying evening. When their eyes met, she smiled slightly and stepped toward him. She had a folded piece of paper, which she began to open, but he couldn't look away from her light brown eyes. The only thing that tore his eyes from hers was the movement of her hand brushing a few stray strands of hair off her brow.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but have you seen this woman?" she asked, presenting the paper to him.
He pretended to study the photo and squinted his eyes in a faux attempt to care. He didn't care. The only focus he had was to use the exchange as the opening he needed to get his hooks in and keep them in.
"Maybe," he responded and took the paper to get a better look. "Who is she?"
"My sister. She hasn't come home for days, and the last place she was seen was around here."
Another Slumming Angel, he thought.
"Is it normal for her to take off for a few days?"
"Yes and no," she whispered. "It's a long story, but she's relapsed." She took the paper from his hand and carefully folded it back into itself.
He could feel her urgency and had to think quickly to keep her from drifting away. "I can tell you after a score, this isn't where she'd stay. You might want to try the abandoned buildings near The Camp."
"It's where the majority of this city's homeless live and a perfect spot to indulge in those illicit drugs. Maybe you shouldn't go down there, though. It's not a very welcoming place."
"Why, because I'm a woman and alone?"
"Whoa!" He threw his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "I'm sure you can handle yourself. I would say that to anyone venturing in that direction."
She acknowledged his answer by standing taller and throwing her hands on her hips. She attempted to appear wise to the way of the streets, but she had no idea the sun falling behind the buildings meant the monsters were about to emerge. Him being one of them.
"Which way?" she asked.
He lifted his arm and pointed in an abstract direction. Her brows narrowed in annoyance to the lack of information.
"You won't be able to miss it," he promised.
"What an amazing set of directions, thanks." She didn't hide the sarcasm riddling her tone.
He lifted his shoulder in a show of indifference but felt amused at their banter. "I can take you if you want."
"I saw you at the bus stop," she said and crossed her arms. "What makes you think I trust any of your intentions?"
He fought his facial reaction to her acute observation as he searched for a response. "You looked upset and scared. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. These streets can be a lot to handle if it's not what you're used to."
"Who's to say I don't know these streets or can't handle them?"
"You can't deny you stick out like a sore thumb."
She raised an eyebrow and studied him for a moment, then looked away. When she brought her head back around, she sighed. "I admit I'm a bit turned around. Maybe you can walk in front of me, but once we're there, we part ways."
"Sure, whatever you need," James responded as he pushed off the wall. "But, who's to say you aren't out here to hurt me?" He laughed and gestured for her to follow.
"You never know," she countered, a bright smile breaking the scowl she wore.
As they walked, James' confidence built in how his night would play out. Even though she remained a beat behind him, he kept tabs on her movements and tried to read her ever-changing energy.
"I'm Mitch." He lied, then tilted his head in her direction. "What's your name?"
"Just lead me where I need to go."
He spun around and exaggerated a salute. "Yes, ma'am."
His antics barely fazing her intrigued him even more. She held a tough exterior unlike any other Slumming Angels he had encountered. He figured she attempted to be stronger and less fearful than she was.
"Can I ask you a question, Mitch?"
He slowed his progress and turned to face her. "Now you want to chat. I thought this was a business transaction?"
"You consider yourself extremely perceptive, right?" she asked, ignoring his dig.
"Yeah." He beamed. "I recognized you needed help right away."
"Interesting," she said with a nod.
"What does that mean?"
"Why did you decide to help me and miss the bus?" she asked, once again disregarding his query. "There won't be another one tonight."
Her knowledge of the bus schedule made him take pause. He doubted anyone of her wealthy status would even consider riding a bus, let alone know the schedule. Why did she care how he got home?
"Being alone on these streets can be extremely dangerous, remember?" She clearly mocked him.
"Please, I'll be fine," he answered in a short clip.
She smirked and with a sharp gesture indicated the conversation was over. Then with a flick of her wrist, she silently ordered him to continue leading them on their journey. James felt his body tense at her demand. With her unappreciative attitude toward his selfless assistance, his resentment toward her began to rise. His mind was screaming for him to react in violence. He had to stay calm, so he walked faster and focused on his breathing.
They were closer to The Camp because working streetlights began to spread further apart. The shadows grew more ominous and the air turned cold. Un-bathed bodies, urine, and general filth wove the fabric of the homeless sector. It was a place plagued with forgotten souls unconcerned with other's fate. It was a perfect spot to make his move and not be seen, as no one would even flinch at what he was about to do.
He turned and raised an arm to halt their movement. The dilapidated and vacant buildings loomed above them and stretched out for half a block. The space between each of them created a dark narrow path.
"The quickest way is down the spooky dark alley," he said. His tone was light, hoping to give her a sense of relief and not feel the danger she might face in the alley.
She let her head fall slightly and then looked around at the surrounding darkness and down the direction he had indicated.
"I get why this area is perfect. It's isolated, and away from watchful eyes," she commented.
He wasn't sure the point of her statement but assumed it was about her sister choosing a drug house to partake in her addiction.
"That why druggies come here. Maybe you'd feel more comfortable walking around the long way," James suggested. "Or better, you come back tomorrow."
"Tonight's my last chance to do right by her." She creased her lips into a thin line. She looked away from him and stepped toward the alley.
James realized his time to act was now. His blood grew hotter and his hair stood on end as excitement about the endless possibilities with her flew through his mind. He had to proceed carefully, but his confidence she would be his grew with each passing moment. He slowly moved his arm to access the knife sheathed on his belt.
With his precise action in mind, he eagerly anticipated the fear destined to fill her eyes. He imagined her pupils would grow so big the amber brown that had sparkled earlier would be lost.
His fantasy shattered when their eyes met again. No terror consumed her features as her face pinched in a tight scowl. He only saw the same emptiness he felt in himself. His confusion about her sudden change in demeanor transformed into shock as she lunged toward him. With her sudden proximity, a sharp, unexpected pain radiated through him.
"I guess you're not as observant as you thought." She leaned in close to his ear as she pushed the blade in further. "I've been watching you hang out at that bus stop for weeks, but you didn't even bat an eye until today."
"What?" James gasped through a painful cry. He searched his memories, but he didn't remember her. Why had she singled him out? Why was she stalking him?
"You've been on the hunt again." She cupped his chin and forced him to look at her. "I guess my sister wasn't enough for you."
Keeping him pinned against the cold, unforgiving wall, she unfolded the photo and shoved it close to his face.
"Look at her," she demanded. "Does she look familiar, now?"
James tried to respond but found his voice caught in his throat. He could only look helplessly at the protruding handle still in her grasp and the bleeding hole in his abdomen.
"She remembers you, James."
Stunned by her words, he looked back up at her. How could she have known his name? Who was she? Suddenly, the halo that had radiated above her head when she first appeared before him began to flicker and fade. It cracked and split, crumbling away only to be replaced by the milky glow of the streetlight above them. Her face twisted in satisfaction in the same instance she further plunged the knife into his soft flesh and brutally twisted the blade, fully enjoying his agony.
When she stepped back, her eyes slowly drifted from the blood-soaked blade in her hand to James as he slowly sank to the damp cement.
"The hunter has become the hunted," she mused as she wiped the blood across the leg of her jeans.
Consumed by his mortality, James laid in intense pain as his gaze followed her retreating form. She was not the Slumming Angel he assumed had been delivered to him as a gift. The angelic feathers that once flared brilliantly behind her began to molt, leaving a luminous river of white in her wake. Her new wings extended wide as she shook and stretched them out. The feathers were so glossy black and polished they reflected the minimal light filtering through the alley.
An Avenging Angel, who had seamlessly mirrored his evil. She had come specifically for him, punishing him and putting an end to his deadly cycle. This singular thought consumed his mind as he faded into the abyss.