A Shame of Love, Part Four

Story begins Here.

Thursday, March 18th, 1993

“Who turned her out?” Kane asked.

Clyde put his cigarette in his mouth and sucked on it. Kane watched what he thought were the wheels turning, or at least grinding.

Clyde exhaled, turned to Kane, and looked him in the eyes as though staring down danger. “That was before my time. I took her in when I found her working the streets in Commerce City. She had a string of bad boyfriends before I met her. A couple of them didn’t treat her right and a couple of the others turned her on to harder stuff. She’d started spiking before I met her. I got her off it for a while, but she went back on.”

Kane thought about the last time he’d seen Stephanie, when he was in college and had been working the same hustle he’d worked in high school, picking up product in the old neighborhood, working the parties before he returned to Midtown where he sold on campus. He’d barely recognized her. She’d been at a house party, and she’d been stoned, sipping a Zima. She’d seemed full of life, an older, more developed version of the girl he’d known. She’d been with her boyfriend, a guy named Duncan, who’d appeared to Kane a dumb jock, the type of guy who talked about “chasing tail” and “getting swoll.” Kane had thought Stephanie too good for him, but it wasn’t his choice to make. She’d looked right through Kane, hadn’t recognized him, and he’d ever seen her again.

Clyde said, “Her last boyfriend was Richie Cole. He was probably the worst.”

“Richie Cole? The Richie Cole who shot Dusty Sharstrum?”

“That’s the only Richie Cole I know.”

Kane and Richie Cole had been in the same kindergarten class, and they’d been on the same cell block in prison. Cole had always been a piece of shit, a cruel, self-absorbed whiner, the type of guy who expected everything and was never willing to do anything. During the year their prison terms overlapped, Kane didn’t know what he hated more, the fact that he couldn’t leave the prison or that he couldn’t get away from Cole.

One day, two guys cornered Cole outside the bathroom. Kane saw it happening, and he stepped in. One of the guys died, and the other spent the rest of his sentence in the hospital. Kane learned later that Cole had impregnated the dead guy’s sister, but at the time, Kane saw someone from his neighborhood in trouble, and Kane had acted accordingly.

Kane said, “Stephanie and Cole?”

“They got together after Cole’s release from prison, dated on and off for a couple of years. They were quite a pair, always fighting in public, never sober. He was strung out, and she started hooking.” 

Kane didn’t know how to respond.

Clyde said, “Cole overdosed last year. I heard he was in tough shape before the end.”

“Probably deserved it.”

Clyde whistled through the gap where a tooth should’ve been. “You’re a cold son of a bitch.”

Kane had worked for Bruno for a few months when Bruno had him bartend and handle the weekly payoff at The Prancing Worm, a gentleman’s club run by Dusty Sharstrum. Sharstrum specialized in turning out his dancers. He’d start by making them feel special, telling them how much better they were than any of the other girls, how much he cared for them. Then, he’d give them the cold shoulder. When they’d approach him about what was wrong, he’d make a back handed remark. After a week or two of the cold shoulder, he’d turn the charm back on. Each time he’d go cold, he’d lash out a little more, drag them a little lower. When he returned hot, he’d bring them a little higher, make their relationship a little more personal. He chose his women carefully, only the weak ones, the ones he knew he could break.

Kane knew Bruno had sent him to The Prancing Worm to see Sharstrum’s process, and for six weeks, Kane had watched Sharstrum, a middle-aged degenerate with leathery skin and a receding hairline, date women half his age and talk those women into sleeping with his friends, his bouncers, and eventually his customers. 

When Bruno asked Kane what the young man had learned from Sharstrum, Kane had shrugged. 

“He’s a ruthless bastard,” Bruno had said.

Kane had agreed.

“If you want ruthless bastards like that to work for you, you need to be more ruthless.”

“I’ll never do what Sharstrum does.”

“You don’t need to. If you did what he does, we wouldn’t need him. But understand, he’s a necessary part of the business. If you can’t handle it, choose a different line of work.”

“It’s a little late to make a change.”“That’s what every one of Sharstrum’s girls said each time he pushed them a little further.” Bruno had leaned forward and looked Kane in the eye. “That’s the lesson. Options are power. When somebody feels like they’ve got no options, they’ve got no power.”

Continued in Part Five.

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