The night is clear, and crisp. A full moon illuminates an empty balcony on the 17th floor of a high rise condo complex. The night is silent, except for the ever present drone of the 8 lane superhighway that runs north-south across the city. The gulf is dark, vast, and empty. There is no horizon – the line that separates sea from sky is lost in the continuity of the blackness. The intermittent twinkle of the few stars is barely visible, hidden by the glow of the city. The balcony is suddenly flooded with light from inside, the door opens, and a lone figure walks out, hands searching through many pockets. The door closes and the balcony is dark again. A small flame flicks into life and briefly illuminates a face.
The man has dark features and long black hair hanging precariously above his eyes. His thick eyebrows are furrowed, as if the tiny flame has the potential to blind him. His lips are pursed around a cigarette; his breath reeks of bourbon. His face is dirty and unshaven and his eyes are dark and sunken, cold and dead.
The light from the flame goes out, and is replaced by the faint glow of the burning cigarette. It glows brighter as the man inhales, savoring the burning sensation running down the back of his throat. His heart races, his ears burn despite the cool night. Sweat drips down his face and onto his lips, where the salty taste lingers.
The man moves his free hand to his left pocket, which has started to vibrate. The phone he pulls out shines, even in the dim light of the moon. The vibration stops, and a message appears on the screen: “Please stop”. The man lets out a bitter chuckle before dropping the phone 17 stories onto the street below. He doesn’t even hear it shatter.
A few feet away from the remains of the phone, a cab pulls up to the building. A man and his wife scurry out of the taxi. He wipes his sweaty palms on his pants before pressing the elevator call button. He runs his hands through his dirty blonde hair and exhales deeply. His cheeks are red and his eyes are bloodshot. His wife is crying. The elevator arrives.
They open the balcony door just in time to catch a glimpse of the back of his head before it disappears. They don’t even hear it shatter.
The valet’s in front of the complex were idly chatting when an Aston Martin convertible pulled in. The valets looked at each other, grinned, and then stood up right. The driver dropped the car into neutral, gave it some revs to announce his arrival, and hopped out of the car, tossing the keys to one of the valets.
“How are we today sir?”
“Okay, but we’re about to be a lot better. Is he up there?”
“He came in about an hour ago.”
“Thanks boss, we’ll be down in a minute.”
The driver jogged up the few steps to the door, and entered the building. He was a thin man, about 5’5”, with very distinctive dirty blonde hair that looked like it had been highlighted. He wore khaki shorts and a yellow t-shirt advertising a scuba emporium in the Keys. A pair of Oakley’s rested on his head, and his skin had a pale tinge to it as if he hadn’t seen sunlight in days.
The door to the condo was unlocked, as usual. The dark haired owner of the condo was lying on the couch, the hose to a hookah in one hand and the remote to the 61 inch plasma in the other. The TV was on mute, and the captions were on.
“What the hell…why are you watching Man vs. Wild on mute?”
“Do you ever knock? I swear I’m gonna be bare ass naked standing in front of the door with a throbbing hard on next time you enter without knocking.”
“You’d enjoy that, wouldn’t you?”
“Says the man who can’t get laid without my help.”
“Yeah whatever…what’s the deal for tonight?”
The blonde sat down in front of the coffee table and pulled out a sandwich bag packed with marijuana.
“I hear Mark’s in town for a while, you wanna head over there later?”
“Is he still staying in that shack in Petersburg?”
“That’s a $600,000 house that you’re calling a shack.”
“Dude is a freaking billionaire and he’s staying in that piece of shit. Fuck that, tell him to come through here. We’ll throw him a party. Tell him to bring his sister too.”
“Hah. Yeah because that went well last time didn’t it?”
The dark haired man grabbed his phone from the coffee table and started dialing. The blonde had cut up a cigar and was now sealing up his blunt. The dark haired man talked to Mark for a few minutes.
“He’s coming. And he said ‘fuck you’ when I told him you inquired about his sister. You want some of this?” The dark haired man offered the hose to his friend, who now finished rolling his blunt, graciously accepted. The coal on the hookah glowed and smoked as the blonde took a hit.
The condo was spacious; a wide entryway led to the living room on one side and the gourmet kitchen on the other. The door to the balcony was opposite the entry way, and a wet bar was directly to the right of it. The two bedrooms were down a hallway from the kitchen, and a clear paneled door opened up to the library from the living room. The condo was sparsely decorated, three white couches in the living room, a few stools at the bar, and a small kitchen table in the dining area. The vast wrap-around balcony sported a few designer chairs, a fire pit, and a grill. Designer ceramic tiles floored the condo, and an oriental rug lay in the living room. The windows were open and a ceiling fan lazily spun round and round. Sunlight bathed the room in a warm yellow glow, entering from floor to ceiling windows facing the bay.
“How’d you like that brunette from last night” asked the blonde.
“I called her a cab at 4:30 this morning. She snores like a hog; I couldn’t sleep at all with her next to me. Fine as hell though, good looks on that one.”
The blonde choked on his hookah hit and laughed openly.
“Wow you are a douche bag, you know that?”
“I’ve been told. I don’t agree though. She served her purpose, and was more than happy to take her cab home. She even said she’d call me today.”
The blonde rose from his seat, picked up his blunt and searched his pockets for a lighter. Unable to find one in his pockets he grabbed one off the table, and the duo headed out to the balcony. There they sat and smoked and talked for a while. The sun bled all over the sky and painted it red and eventually orange. A few clouds drifted lazily, as if enjoying the Florida sun themselves. The two men, feeling quite good by now, grabbed a drink a piece from the fridge, and headed out the door.
The condo was empty, and the sun was going down slowly over the bay. The shadows cast by the couches in the living room grew longer and fine particles of dust floating in the air became visible because of the way they caught the light. The ceiling fan spun, and a clock ticked.
The sun had drowned itself in the bay long before the duo returned, and the condo was dark. The room was much cooler now that the sun had gone, and the blonde shivered a bit as he entered. Both were carrying shopping bags full of liquor and mixers, in preparation for the night. They walked to the bar and started putting away their shopping.
“Did I tell you my older brother and his wife are coming out here next weekend?” the blonde asked casually.
“Yeah, the asshole. I’m already mentally preparing myself for an hour long lecture over dinner about how I need to get my shit together and stop messing around with you all the time. He calls you ‘Mr. Trust Fund’. I, of course, respond by calling him ‘Mr. Head-up-my-ass’.
The dark haired man laughed at this. “Come on dude, you’ll be okay. You know he’s only looking out for you.”
“We’re not kids anymore, and we don’t live in the hood anymore. He doesn’t have to “look out for me”, I’m fully capable of taking care of myself. Anyways, I’ll be tied up with him for a couple of days the next few weeks.”
“It’s cool, probably won’t be doing anything special anyways. Tell him I said hi though, and to Christy too, I haven’t seen her in a long time.”
“I will if he ever lets me get a word in.”
Done putting the bottles away, they went outside to light the fire pit and put on some music.
Half an hour later the condo was filling up nicely. The balcony had a cloud of smoke over it, and both men were chatting up a pair of girls to great success thus far. Mark, the guest of honor for the night, showed up an hour later with a large group of people.
“Ladies and gentleman, you can stop worrying and looking at the clock, I have arrived!” The crowd laughed and clapped for him. The dark haired man was the first to greet him.
“Didn’t give the valet any trouble did you?” He asked jokingly.
“Oh you know I don’t let any valet touch the Roller. How’ve you been man? Still tearing up this city all day and all night?”
“You know it. How’s the hotel business?”
“In the shitter. The economy is dead right now, and no one’s booking rooms. I’ve moved on from that line of work.”
“And what have you moved on to?”
Mark reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a large Ziploc bag, completely stuffed with white powder. The dark haired man was speechless.
“What are you Scarface now or something? What the fuck are you thinking! You’ll get locked up for that shit man; I thought you were smarter than that.”
“It’s not like I’m on the streets myself. We can’t all be plastic surgeons like you now can we? Anyways, I know you used to be a huge fan of this stuff, so let’s not worry about my line of work and cut a few lines eh?”
Mark walked away and greeted the blonde man. They disappeared together with a group of ladies and a bottle of cognac, clearly excited by the prospect of free cocaine. The dark haired man walked towards the bar to get himself another drink. Lost in his thoughts, he poured out a shot. His palms were sweaty and his back was tense. He swirled the dark liquor in his glass, watching it create little whirlpools of alcohol in a world of crystal. He threw back his shot and exhaled sharply. His eyes wandered over to a familiar face, walking over to the bar with a smile on her face. Lost in her eyes, he relaxed.
The next few hours passed in a daze of drunkenness. People came and people left. In between greeting friends and making out with the beautiful girl with the familiar face, the dark haired man’s eyes occasionally wandered over to the balcony, the door to which was wide open. But before he could so much as ponder what was happening, he was distracted. Time passed. The moon had disappeared, and the street below became less and less busy, until there was only the occasional car passing through. The condo emptied.
Somehow, the dark haired man found himself alone. He wandered around for a second, remembered where he was, and decided to go to the balcony for a smoke. The balcony. Smoke. The room span, the lights were bright. Leaning against the walls, and regretting there wasn’t more furniture to hold on to, he stumbled outside. There, lying on the concrete floor, was his blonde friend. His face was blurred, but his dirty blonde hair couldn’t be mistaken, even in this state. He was coked out of his mind. Mark was in a chair, passed out, with an open bottle still in his hand, spilling liquor onto the floor.
“Shit” he thought. He tried to lean over to talk to the blonde, but he fell, and was on his knees before he knew it. He shook him, and the blonde stared at him. His pupils were wide, and he was lost in the music. His hands were shaking, and his lips trembled.
“Time to go to bed. Come on get up.” In his drunken stupor it was difficult to say anything. His blonde friend got up, still shaking. The Ziploc bag was still open, and still had a good amount of white powder in it. He couldn’t resist. He grabbed the card laying on the table and cut himself a line. The dark haired man, upon realization of what his friend was doing, tried to tell him he had done enough, but words were beyond him now.
A fat line cut up, the blonde grabbed half a straw. Kneeling over the table, he took the line in its entirety, searching around when he was done for any remaining bits of cocaine. He rose from the table, looked around as if unaware of where he was, and fell. His nose bled freely. The river of deep red liquid gushing from his nose traveled down his face and neck. His bright yellow t-shirt soaked it up. It turned orange.
The parking lot in front of the condo complex was tinted orange in the incandescent glow of the street lights. The full moon loomed overhead, peering down into the lot like a lonely child waiting for his parents to come home. The air was still, but cool. The drone of the superhighway was drowned in the roaring scream of a Ferrari V8 bouncing off the walls of the skyscrapers that lined the street. Tires screeching, the source of the sound, a dark grey F430 pulled into the lot. Parking right in front of the building in a handicapped spot, the dark haired man got out of his car. He paced restlessly. The drive back had been a nightmare. The yellow lines in the middle of the road seemed to have lost their straightness. They were wavy, like the scribbles of a 3 year old that had gotten a hold of a pen.
The voice of his blonde friend’s brother screamed in his head, over and over. Surly he wasn’t thinking clearly, he couldn’t have seen it coming. 7 years of cocaine abuse and he had turned out fine. There’s no way he could have expected this. It was random, simply a bad night. There’s no way he could have expected this.
No one else saw this coming,
No one else cared.
I was drunk out of my mind.
That’s your fault.
I didn’t know he would do that.
Then you didn’t know him.
He was getting angry now.
WE’VE DONE IT BEFORE!
Not like that.
HE SAID HE COULD TAKE CARE OF HIMSELF!
Of course he did, but you were his best friend.
He let me down!
And you let him down.
There was no point. No way to clear his name, no way to justify his actions, or lack of action. Lost in his pain, seeking redemption, he stumbled up the few steps that he had walked up before so many times. So many times with him by his side, laughing, joking, hitting on the receptionist; so many times they carried bags full of liquor up these steps. So many times they had both stumbled into this building, drunk as anything, slurring jokes to each other, bumping into each other, and laughing. As he reached the door he looked back. In the far corner of the lot he spotted a convertible Aston Martin, sitting there, empty. So many times had he seen his smiling face in that car wearing those stupid Oakley sunglasses, his dirty blonde hair all over the place from driving like a maniac. Never again. The door opens and closes.
A sickening crack as 190 pounds of flesh and bone splatter against the pavement. Christy’s shriek pierces the night air. Sirens.