Small Mercies

July 7th

I never expected to meet my guardian angel nor to find that he dresses in black.

I did something really stupid last night – no, it was the stupidest thing I have ever done and it nearly cost me everything.

Lenny came to see me at the office last week and I just about lost it, I was so scared. I don't know how he found out where I worked but he was there. Luckily he was alone, had left those two overgrown gorillas behind but I was freaked out. He said he wanted his money by the end of the month – or else. I nearly laughed in his face when he said that. It was so cliché, so typical loan shark, that I felt I like was stuck in some bad gangster movie and that at any moment Clint Eastwood or Robert de Niro would walk in and call me a punk. I didn't laugh though, I was too scared.

And I saw one of Lenny's gorillas outside Matt's school when I went to pick him up on Tuesday. At least, I think I saw him – maybe it was my imagination but I couldn't take the chance that it wasn't. If Lenny knew where I worked, then he knew where I lived and about Matt and Terry. I was petrified.

I knew that the moment I walked into Lenny's dreghole I was making a mistake. But I was desperate. I had received final notice from the bank about the house and my credit cards. Marge was looking at me funny when I asked to borrow money, again, but the lights were overdue. The funeral home kept leaving polite, but ever increasingly stern reminders on my vid-mail about their long overdue payments. I had to beg the bank to give me one more month – just one more month.

I know Terry is helping out but it was like a drop in the ocean – a drop that got swallowed up by Warren's gambling debts. Those damn gambling debts! And I was so close – SO Close! I had it all figured out. Lenny was the last of the debtors and I had managed to pay every other two bit hood every red cent Warren owed. Except Lenny and I thought he would be the easiest to handle. He seemed so .. pleasant, so businesslike. So I asked him. Let me borrow a little bit more to pay off my real, honest debts and I would then pay him back. And he agreed – just like that. I should have known .. I really should have.

So Terry thought he was making a difference at last, Matt got to have that damn vidplayer he was nagging me for 24/7 and I could breath for a while. Except Lenny's payments got higher and higher, more and more. Every cent I could spare went to that dreg and still it wasn't enough. I couldn't go to the cops, I couldn't ask Mr Wayne – it was just .. I walked into it with my eyes wide open and this is what I got.

So, after Tuesday I phoned him and asked him flat out what I owed him. He gave me this ridiculous sum, and slimed something about killer interest. I just nodded and asked if a single payment of that sum by month end would suffice. He laughed at that – the slimy, rotten halfwit laughed at me and said that the only way a broad like me could get creds like that in less than four days was by working for it – flat on my back.

I told me to meet him in four days and hung up on the twip. And thought about what he had said. And it was true. Marge at work had told us about how her twip husband had tried to write off his 'escort' expenses as 'business' expenses at work and how in two days he managed to get fired and served with divorce papers. Marge is a mine of useless information but she told us all, even if we didn't want to know, about her husband's favourite stretch of street. She had paid a P.I. good money to find out and wanted to get every cents worth.

I thought that if I worked three nights, maybe two, I could get enough creds and that would be it. Problems solved, Lenny gone and I could pretend it had never happened. I wouldn't have to deal with the scum that Warren had brought into my life, and I could close that chapter and move on.

So I did it. I went down to 6th and Broad, dressed in the skimpiest clothes I owned and chickened out. I let fours cars go by I was so nervous. I kept to a small alley mouth away from the rest of the girls down there – and their pimps. I didn't want trouble and I figured one night on 6th and another somewhere else would do it. It was getting late – or rather early in the morning and I hadn't been able to approach a single car. Desperate, afraid I wouldn't have the guts or stupidity to do this again, I approached a guy in a red car. I don't know what he thought when he looked at me – a forty something mom in a skirt two sizes too small and shivering like it was the middle of February and not July but he nodded and asked how much. I stammered out the pittance my good name and self respect were worth and he barely flinched. I refused … I wouldn't get into his car and tried to convince him to come into the alley with me. He did.

And it was then, when I saw his face in the half shadows of that rotten alley, I knew I was the dumbest dreg in the world. No one paid what I was asking, for a quicky in an alley and no one, not even the dreg in front of me, would pay what I was asking, for a forty year-old mom. Not unless they had something else in mind.

He shoved me up against the wall and I nearly screamed when I felt the tip of a knife slip under my shirt. He didn't shout, or snarl or anything – he just looked at me and I knew – knew I had better just shut up and let him or …

I tried, I tried to relax and just … let him but when my bra fell to the floor, I screamed. And he hit me. My head was still reeling from the blow and I was trying to cover myself up when he arrived. My guardian angel.

The dreg didn't know what hit him and he landed with a very satisfying thump into the wall opposite me. He didn't get back up. I looked up to see black on black, something that should have climbed straight out of hell, but was an angel instead. I could only really see his eyes and that big red bat on his chest, but I felt safe – at last.

I tried to stammer a thank you as I pulled the remains of my shirt around me but I couldn't stop crying. Batman stood there for a while, and I couldn't look at him, just in case he was looking at me.

"Go home. You don't belong here."

His voice was soft, almost tender and it cut right through me. For some reason, shame like nothing I have ever experienced coursed through me. I nodded, and mumbled a thank you before running off. I think he followed me – I think. It was probably my imagination but I felt like someone, someone kindly, was watching me to make sure I did in fact go home.

It's strange, last night I made the biggest mistake of my life, and narrowly escaped … something awful. The thought of Matt and Terry losing their mother, of the police telling them that she was killed turning tricks – it makes my blood run cold. I still have no idea what I am going to do about Lenny. I have three days to pay him and somehow, I just don't care. It's probably shock and will wear off soon and I'll be back where I started.

At least… at least Terry and Matt don't know. They don't know that their mother lost her mind and did something incredibly stupid – I can thank Batman for that. I may never be able to look at myself in the mirror again, without loathing what I see, but at least my boys don't know. It's one small mercy.