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Savage Lover: Chapter 9


I wake up early so I can get as much work done as possible before I have to head over to my second job of being a degenerate drug dealer.

I’m so pissed about this I can barely concentrate. I’m supposed to swap out an oxygen sensor in an old Chevy, and it’s taking me twice as long as usual.

My dad is still sleeping. My worry about him is another rock added to the backpack of stress I’m carrying around all the time. If he doesn’t perk up in a day or two, I will physically drag him to the drop-in clinic. Even throw him over my shoulder if I have to, like that asshole Nero did to me.

I guess he did save me from a ticket, or worse.

But then he had to fuck with me after. There are no favors from Nero. He’s always a coin with two sides.

I’ve known him for years, from a distance. Well enough to know that falling for Nero Gallo is the most stupid, self-destructive thing I could possibly do.

Yes, he’s gorgeous. Yes, he smells like pure sex and sin. Yes, he can occasionally be the slightest bit helpful, when the whim catches him.

But he’s a black hole of selfishness. He eats up female attention with voracious appetite, and never, ever, gives anything in return.

Not to mention that every minute I spend around him is likely to land me in jail, one way or another.

I don’t need that. I’m doing a pretty good job of destroying my future all on my own.

Fuck, I’ve got to go get my car back, too. That means a pricey Uber ride, or a long-ass journey on public transit.

I finish up the Chevy so I can get going, then I change out of my coveralls. I’d rather wear my work clothes—that’s how I feel most comfortable. But I’ve got to make Levi take me seriously. I’ve got to get some kind of dirt on him, or else Schultz is never going to leave me alone.

I take the L and then a bus, and then I walk several blocks over to Lower Wacker Drive. My car is still there, thankfully in one piece, and thankfully parked in the shade so it’s had a chance to cool off. When I try the engine, it rumbles for a minute, then starts up. It’s not exactly running smooth, but it should get me over to Levi’s house.

I roll out cautiously, gathering speed once I’m sure it’s not going to blow up in my face. I head back over to Levi’s neglected Victorian on Hudson Ave.

The house looks even worse in the daytime. Trash and empty beer cans are scattered across his lawn. Also an overturned couch, and a hammock with somebody sleeping in it. Levi’s steps are sloped from the frost and melt of the Chicago seasons. The painted woodwork is so chipped that it looks like peeling skin.

I climb up on the porch, briskly rapping on the door. There’s a long wait, then a big Samoan dude cracks the door.

“Sup,” he grunts.

“I’m here to see Levi,” I say.

He stares at me a minute, then moves his bulk aside just enough for me to slip by.

The inside of the house has that musk of too many people sleeping over, and nobody washing the sheets. There’s at least five people in various states of consciousness in Levi’s living room. They’re sprawled out over the dusty old furniture that his grandmother must have bought in the 70s—long, low couches. Recliners in shades of mustard and puce.

The end tables are studded with beer bottles, ashtrays, and drug paraphernalia. The TV is playing, but nobody’s actually looking at it.

Levi himself is wearing a robe, open to show his bare chest. He’s got on striped boxer shorts and a pair of puffy slippers that look like bear paws. His slippered feet are propped up on the coffee table and he’s smoking a joint.

“My newest employee,” he announces to the room. “Everyone, this is Camille. Camille, this is everyone.”

I’m gonna need to get their actual names. I don’t think Schultz is going to be impressed with “everyone.”

I nod to the people who actually bother to look in my direction.

Levi takes a long pull off his roll-up. His eyes already look glassy and bloodshot.

“Here,” I say, tossing him a wad of cash—my earnings from the race. “That’s for the pills my brother lost.”

Levi nods to the burly Samoan, who picks up the money and stows it away.

“You get that from Bella?” Levi snickers.

“From her boyfriend,” I say.

“He’s not her boyfriend. He’s just fucking her,” Levi laughs.

“Who is he?” I ask.

“Grisha Lukin.”

“What kinda name is that?”

“Russian,” Levi says. His gaze sharpens slightly. “You’re kinda nosy, huh?”

“Not really.” I shrug. “I just thought I knew most people in Old Town. I’ve lived here forever.”

“Yeah, but you don’t ever come out of your little shop,” Levi laughs. “I don’t think I ever saw you drunk in high school even. Now you’ll get your fun, though.”

He holds out the joint to me.

“No thanks,” I say.

“I’m not asking,” he snaps. “Sit down.”

I sit down on the couch next to him, trying to keep space between us without making it too obvious. He shoves the joint in my hand.

I take a pitiful little puff. Even that makes me cough. The thick, skunky taste fills my mouth and my head spins. I don’t like pot. I don’t like being out of control of myself.

“There you go,” Levi laughs. “Now you can chill the fuck out.”

It does make me relax—physically, at least. I sink back in the cushions, feeling mildly dazed and in less of a rush to get out of here.

I recognize the girl on the other side of me. Her name is Ali Brown. She was three years ahead of me in school. Her parents own the flower shop on Sedgewick.

“Hey,” I say.

“Hey,” she replies.

She’s got straw-colored hair and freckles. She’s wearing a crop-top with no bra, and a pair of boy’s underpants with Superman logos all over them. She looks half asleep.

After a very long pause, she says, “I know you.”

“Yeah,” I say. “We both went to Oakmont.”

“No,” she says. “I saw your picture.”

She’s way more high than I thought. Still, to humor her, I say, “What picture?”

She pauses again, breathing shallowly. Then she says, “The one where you were eating ice cream on the pier.”

I stiffen. My dad had a picture like that. He took it when I was fourteen.

“What are you talking about?” I say.

“Yeah,” she sighs. “It was in the change room, taped to the mirror. I bet your mom put it there.”

Now my face is flaming. She’s talking about Exotica. Ali must have worked as a dancer, or a hostess.

“Who’s your mom?” a guy sprawled on a beanbag chair says.

“She’s a whore,” one of the other guys snickers.

“Shut your fucking mouth,” I snap. I try to jump up from the couch, but Levi pulls me back down again.

“Relax,” he says. “Pauly, don’t be a dick. We call them escorts.”

“My mother wasn’t an escort,” I hiss. “She just worked as a dancer.”

“A stripper,” Pauly laughs. “She teach you any moves? There’s a pole upstairs. Why don’t you show us how mommy shakes it?”

“Why don’t I shake your fucking head off your shoulders!” I roar, struggling to get out of the low, sagging couch while weak and enervated from the weed. It’s easy for Levi to yank me back down again.

“Nobody cares what your mom did,” he says. He slings his arm around my shoulders, which I don’t like at all. I can smell his sweat and the heavy reek of weed in his robe. “My parents are a couple of fuckin’ yuppies and that’s just as embarrassing. You can’t be fighting, though. You gotta be a good girl. Do your work. Make some money. Have some fun.”

His fingertips dangle over my right breast. He lets them touch down, with only my t-shirt between us. I force myself not to squirm away.

I see Ali watching us. Not like she’s jealous—more like a kid watching the fish in an aquarium.

“Yeah, whatever,” I mutter. “I need more Ex, then.”

Levi nods to the Samoan. The guy comes back about five minutes later with a paper bag, the top folded over. He hands it to me.

“Where am I supposed to sell this?” I ask Levi.

“Anywhere you want. Parties, raves, campuses . . . sky’s the limit. You’re your own boss. Under me, of course.” He grins.

“Do you make this?” I ask him. “How do I know it’s good? I don’t want any of my friends getting sick.”

Levi’s veneer of friendliness peels back. His bloodshot eyes peer at me from too close, his arm tightening around my shoulder.

“You know it’s good because you trust me,” he hisses.

He’s only in his twenties, but his teeth are as yellow as an old man’s, and his breath is atrocious.

“Right,” I say. “Okay.”

He lets go of me at last. I heave myself up off the couch, clutching the paper bag.

“You can sell ‘em anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five a pop,” Levi says. “You owe me ten each.”

I nod.

“Bring me the money in a week.”

I nod again.

The Samoan leads me back toward the front door, even though it’s only ten feet away.

“See ya,” I say to him.

He gives me a disdainful look, closing the door in my face.

Even though it’s hot as hell outside, the air tastes fresh after the fug of Levi’s house. I do not want to go back there. Especially not in a week.

And where the hell am I supposed to keep coming up with the money for this? I don’t want to actually sell Molly.

I drive a couple blocks away, then I pull over to call Schultz.

“Hey,” I say. “I got another batch of pills from Levi. What do you want me to do with it?”

“Bring it to me,” he says. “I’ll meet you at Boardwalk Burgers.”

I silently groan. Is today going to be a tour of all the people I least want to visit?

“Fine,” I say. “I’ll be there in fifteen.”


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