The Blood That Bonds

Chapter 1

Darkness and Despair

Vermont Street. October.

Her name was Two, and she sometimes thought she could smell her death, blowing in from the cemetery that lay south of her building in East New York. Sometimes she even hoped for it. Stinking, muttering, moldering death. Cold and dark. On these occasions, she felt as if even the dirty embrace of the grave would be better for her than the squalor she lived in now. She thought, maybe, she might find some sort of peace that had been missing all her life.

Darren owned her building, like he owned the girls who occupied it. Three stories tall, four rooms to a floor. They lived two to a room, two bathrooms per floor, two kitchens in the building. Just over twenty girls, every single one of them selling her body each night at his command. In return for the money they brought him, he gave them food. He gave them shelter. He gave them drugs, and the drugs gave them escape.

Two was not supposed to be here. She reflected on that often, and if she'd ever believed in a God, she'd have cursed him now. Fickle, twisted fate had delivered her into Darren's arms. Promises of salvation, undercurrents of doubt, desire, desperation. The cold prick of a needle.

She tried not to think about it.

Darren held the plastic bag filled with heroin above her now, like a treat for a dog. Little better than a dog she was, really, down on her knees, eyes wet with tears ready to spill over. Angry, vengeful Darren, so filled with hate. Hate for his parents, who'd given him his gorgeous mulatto features and then abandoned him on the street. Hate for his ex-wife, who'd left him immediately upon discovering the nature of his business, but still found fit to take half of what it had earned him. Hate for the girls he had made his slaves, and who had made him rich. Hate for the very money they handed over to him every night.

Darren didn't know of his own hate, but it burned in him so brightly it scarred his features. Twisted, cruel lips. Pinched brow. Two might have understood this hate, seen reflected in it her own self-loathing, but Two spent most of her time thinking about the heroin now. She had no sympathy for Darren, or his girls, no sympathy for herself. Lucid existence was the time between sleep and drug, drug and sex, sex and sleep. Short bursts of clarity, ever more painful, amid an otherwise blurred, waking dream.

“Beg for it, Two,” Darren snarled, and Two's mouth formed words of penitence against her will, pleading through tears without even realizing she'd meant to do it. She begged apology for some imagined slight, some invented twist in her voice that had caused this punishment.

“Darren, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry for what I said!” But what had she said? She'd only asked for her daily ration of the drug, in the same manner she had for the past four months. If Darren had detected any real change of inflection, it hadn't been intended. But here she was, on the floor, begging and pleading for something she didn't even want. Begging and pleading and dreaming of death.

* * *

Born Two Ashley Majors, her initials - substituting the number for her first name - worked out to the approximate time she had been conceived. Her parents had thought this terribly clever. Two would have gladly held it up as evidence before God that, whatever mistakes she had made in her life, never appreciating her parents was not one of them.

For her