GOOD GIRLS BLEED TOO, a Noah Milano short story by Jochem Vandersteen(firstname.lastname@example.org)
I was honored to have two lookers in my office like the mother and daughter who were sitting in front of me. The mother wore a blue blazer and skirt. Her brown hair was coiffed perfectly. The outfit was not overly expensive, but cost more then I made in a three months. Upper middle-class. Her name was Lydia Tanner
Her daughter, Lisa, sitting next to her was a cute girl. She looked to be about sixteen and had the girl-next door look most of us guys are suckers for. You know the type, they don’t get to be in a rap video, but when they play their cards right might turn out to become Miss Cornfield or something like that. Her hair was the same color as her mom’s. Her eyes were deep brown and she had nice lips. Her wrists and hands were full of knive cuts.
“What can I do for you ladies?” I asked.
“I want you to make sure my little girl never gets hurt ever again,” Lydia said. Her words were direct, but her voice was sexy. She clearly was on of the new carreer woman who manage to hide their balls in a short skirt. Those who use a combination of male agressiveness and womanly charms to get them whatever they want.
I leaned back a little. “I’m afraid I can’t give you any guarantees about that one. People get hurt, it’s just life. Sometimes you just don’t see that bus coming or a piano drops down on your noggin.” Always best not to give people too high expectations. I hate it when they ask their money back.
Lydia took one of Lisa’s cut-up wrists and held it out to me. The kid winced a little. “What I mean is, you make sure the punk who did this to my girl never does so ever again.”
“I can’t watch her every day of her life. I’m not the most expensive bodyguard in the world, but I do need to eat.” In fact, I was particularly low on dough that week. Ever since I decided to cut my ties with my mobster father as part of a promise to my dying mother I had to live on a ant-sized budget. Being a security consultant slash private eye doesn’t bring in the big bucks.
“I don’t need you to bodyguard her. I just want you to talk to the asshole who did it.” I was almost expecting her to breathe fire. Of course, if somebody put a knife to my little girl’s wrists I wouldn’t exactly speak high of the guy either.
“I’ve got a feeling you don’t want me to stick to just talking to the guy.”
“It depends if he wants to listen.”
“Listen, I’m not sure what you’ve heard about me, but I’m not some kind of legbreaker. I run a legitamite business here.”
“We both know you’ve had an interesting past, mister Milano.” Somehow my illustrious past always manages to come back and haunt me. “I just want you to scare this monster a bit.” She opened her purse and flashed me some green. “I’ll pay you handsomely.”
As I already mentioned I was pretty low on cash that week. “The least I can do is listen to what you have to say, I guess. Who is the asshole, slash punk, slash monster in question?”
“It’s Lisa’s ex-boyfriend. Some anti-social white trash kid called Zach Morrisson. She dumped him, and just because of this he decided to teach her a lesson or something. The asshole put a razor blade to her hands and wrists.”
“Asshole indeed. Did you go to the police?”
She grunted. “Then what? He gets off on some stupid plea-bargain because he’s still a minor and just comes down harder on my kid because she ratted him out.” She had some nice cop show dialogue going. Since Law & Order got so popular everyone sounded like a veteran on the force.
“I don’t know, ma’am. Something like this is pretty serious. I’m sure they’d treat it with utter care. I know a few guys there who I can reccommend to you.” Guys who hated my guts, but were stand-up cops all the same.
Then the girl spoke up for the first time. Her voice was so soft I had to strain myself to make out what she said. “Please, sir. I don’t want him to hurt me anymore. Please tell him to leave me alone.”
That’s when they won me over. The pleading eyes of a young girl can make a guy do more stupid things then all the money in the world. “Fine. I’ll go over to this Zach kid and do my little Italian goomba bit. He’ll probably leave you alone after that.”
Lisa got up and hugged me. She smelled of jasmin. “Thank you very much, sir.”
“Since we’ve hugged I feel it would be okay if you just called me Noah,” I offered.
They’re really out there and it never ceases to amaze me. The guys you see on the Jerry Springer show I mean. The all-American trailer trash. Accept no subsitutes.
I parked my Mazda in front of the banged up old trailer where, according to Lydia Tanner teenage scumbag Zach Morrisson resided. Well, was hauled up sounded more accurate then resided.
I banged the door. I could smell the air of reefers through the window.
The door opened and an unwashed kid in a flannel shirt and torn jeans opened up. He had a stubble on his chin and a mullett. Mulletts are hip again I read a few days ago. Did that mean being trailer trash was cool now? God forbid. In a few weeks they might become VJ’s on MTV.
“Whoyou? Whaddayou want?” the kid asked.
“Zach Morrisson?” I ventured.
“You really need to learn how to articulate or you’ll never become a VJ.”
I pushed him inside the trailer. “You and me need to have a little talk.”
The inside of the trailer was the mess of empty pizza boxes, beercans and dirty underwear you’d expect and would dread to find. I remarked his housecleaner probably had the decade off. He didn’t think it was funny.
I set him down on top of an empty spot on a ripped up couch.
“Listen to me. Lisa. Leave her alone. Don’t ever hurt her again”
“Is that what this is about? That crazy bitch? I dumped her a long time ago. She wanted me, not the other way around. Shit, skanky whore.”
I covered his mouth and cheeks with my right hand. I squeezed. Classic bonebreaker intimidation tactics. It was like being twenty years old and at work for my dad all over again. It sent a shiver down my spine. I let him go. “Just play nice, okay? Leave her alone and keep leaving her alone. That way I’m happy and off your back. You bother her again, I come back and thrice as pissed off as I am now.”
Zach rubbed his hurt cheeks. “Whatever, man. Just leave me alone.”
Nothing to do but hope I had made my point. I could almost hear the whisper of my old mentor, my dad’s top enforcer and hitman Kane, in my ears. Telling me killing someone is the only way to make sure your point sticks.
I left the trailer feeling oddly dirty.
I drove over to Lydia’s place to tell her I put the scare on Zach that she wanted. All the way over there I tried to understand how much I’d changed over the years. In my past I’d intimidated people a lot more innocent than that stoner asshole. How did I sleep well in those days and was I bothered so much by my actions now? When my mother died I’d made her a promise I would try to make an honest living for myself, but that didn’t seem to be the only reason. Maybe I’d been trying to do so much good the last couple of years I’d actually begun to see myself as one of the good guys.
As I approached Lydia’s I saw an old Pontiac parked around the corner. It seemed like an odd place to park a car. Somewhat like Kane and I used to do when we were scoping out a mark before doing the hurt on him.
I slowed down and peered into the car. Behind the wheel was a kid in a Murderdolls T-shirt with a shaggy haircut. Next to him was a pretty young girl in a black Nine Inch Nails longsleeve, wiping away black lipstick from her face. I had to blink a few times before my brain accepted the information I was looking at Lisa.
I stopped my Mazda next to the Pontiac and opened my window. I leaned out. “Hi, Lisa. Halloween time?”
She gave me a startled look. Like a kid caught with it’s hands in the cookie jar. “Mister Milano?”
“Yep, you know me so it must actually be you, Lisa. I wasn’t sure, with the goth look and all.”
“Hey,” the kid with the shaggy cut exclaimed. “You trying to make fun of my girl?”
“The macho routine doesn’t work with a haircut like that, kiddo. Leave it to the pro’s. I just want a few words with her, okay?”
Lisa told him it was okay and Shaggy left us to our talk.
“You just have to understand, mister Milano. My mom would kill me if she saw me dressed up like this. I just dress up like a good little girl again when I get home so she doesn’t go all hysterical, okay? Please don’t tell her.”
I shrugged. “Hey, I was young once. Mabye a shorter time ago then you’d realise, with you insisting on calling me mister. I’ve had my rebellious streak. There’s worse things then being a goth, a punk, or whatever. Just stay out of trouble and make sure Shaggy there next to you treats you right.”
She gave me a wide smile. The remnants of black lipstick couldn’t hide the youthfull innocence that radiated from it, however hard she would try to. It’s a strange thing, innocence. When you’re a kid you try to do everything to lose it, and when it’s gone you’d do everything to get it back.
“Time to tell your mom what a good job I did,” I told Lisa and drove away.
Lydia welcomed me inside. She was wearing a grey pleated skirt and a white sweater. Her hair was perfect as it was in my office when she hired me. She ushered me inside the living room, which seemed to come right out of some magazine. Just the right, fashionable magazines spread across the glass coffee table, designer couch, tasteful art on the walls. No wonder Lisa felt the need to rebel.
“You come to bring me good news, mister Milano?”
“I guess so.”
“Can I offer you a drink?” she asked and without waiting for an answer she opened the liquor cabinet. Obviously she had a few more good points except for perfect hair.
“Some Jack would be nice if you’ve got it.”
“Sorry. But I can offer you some Bushmill’s.”
“I’ll make due,” I said smiling.
She poured me my drink and handed it to me. She took one herself. “So you were succesful?”
“I had a nice little talk with mister Morrisson. I’m pretty sure he won’t bother your daughter again.”
“Did you hurt him good?” She sounded like Morticia Adams.
“Just a little. I wasn’t there to hurt him, just to scare him some.” The Bushmill’s suddenly had a very bitter taste to it.
“Fine. If he ends up hurting my child again, though, I want my money back.”
“I don’t usually give any kind of warrantees, but sure, he hurts Lisa you get the money back and the Morrisson kid delivered on your doorstep, in a bodycast.”
She laughed. She sounded like she’d learned to laugh from soap opera diva’s. “Very nice, mister Milano. Very nice. Maybe I’ll make use of your services more often.”
I downed some Bushmill’s. Free drinks are free drinks. “Just watch out for your daughter, okay. Give her a break now and then. That way she won’t seek out any more bad kids, you know what I mean?”
“Seek out any bad kids? What’s that supposed to mean? Morrisson sought her out, not the other way around. My Lisa is the perfect daughter. She even does her own laundry, cleans her own room. Her only bad habit is that she uses the bathroom a little too long. And she cleans that up perfectly as well.”
“I’m sure she’s little miss perfect. I didn’t mean to imply she wasn’t.” It was just every single thing Lydia said sounded wrong somehow. It felt like looking in a funhouse mirror. There was some semblance of normality in the image you saw, but somehow it was deformed, not right.
She gulped down her drink faster than I could’ve. “Spare me you sarcasm. She really is, you know. Ever since I got divorced she’s been so good to me. Understanding when I had dates over, never bothering me when I did.” She meant Lisa probably locked herself away in her room listening to Nine Inch Nails while her mom banged her tennis coach.
I downed the last of my drink and set it down on the coffee table. “Yeah, you’re a lucky woman. See you around, I’ve got other kids to hurt.”
Two weeks later I was having diner with my best friend Minnie at a little Mexican place. She was having a bad day.
“What’s up baby? Why the glum face?” I asked her.
“Had a sad case today. A young girl cut her wrists in the bathroom.” Minnie’s not only my best friend. She’s also an L.A. County Medical Examiner.
“Sounds bad. Suicide?”
Minnie played around with her taco, but didn’t really seem ready to eat it. Her long brown hair hung in front of her eyes. I knew the signs. She really felt bad. “No, not on purpose anyway. She was seeing a therapist about her cutting and burning herself.”
“Why? Why was she doing that? It wasn’t her intention to kill herself you said?”
“The therapist told me it usually starts out as some kind of ritual. Seems it’s more common than you’d expect. Especially among girls from 16 to 25.”
I started to feel uncomfortable. I drank a good helping of Corona to ease my suddenly dry throat.
Minnie took a little bite from the taco. “It seems irrational to others, but apparently, when people are depressed, it can seem like a way to let out the tension or pain. The reasons for self-injury may be to take risks, rebel, reject parent values, make a personal statement, or to be accepted. Some might do it out of feelings of desperation, anger or attention-seeking.” She sighed and dropped the taco from her fork. “I sound like a fucking textbook.”
I reached across the table and reached her hand. “I think what happened to that girl is very terrible. I also think it’s very nice that, after all the years as an M.E. you can still feel sadness for a lost life.”
She smiled. Minnie has the best smile a girl can have. She even had Lisa beat. Lisa. The uncomfortable feeling again.
“Minnie, I might be completely wrong and about to do something very stupid. But I think that young girl’s death may not have been in vain.”
She looked at me like I’d just told her I was going to vote for Bush. “Come on, I said. I might need your help.”
We left the money and most of the food on the table and went outside.
I didn’t bother waiting untill Lydia ushered me in this time. As soon as the door was open I went in, Minnie by my side.
“What’s this supposed to mean? Why are you barging in like that?” Lydia barely managed to avoid me from stepping on her toes.
“We need to talk about Lisa before it’s too late,” I told her. “Please sit down for a minute and listen.”
“What? You can’t just come whaling in here like this and just tell me...” I held up a hand to silence her.
“Please, just listen,” I said.
“Trust him, please,” Minnie assured Lydia. Minnie often has a very calming effect on people, even those that don’t know her. It’s someting in her voice, her eyes and smile. There’s an innocence and compassion there that’s just beyond belief. That’s why I’m so very happy she’s my best friend.
Lydia sat down, straightening her skirt as she did so. “All right. You have ten minutes.”
“We have reason to believe Lisa might haven been injuring herself,” I said.
“What? How did you come up with that idea? That Morrisson creep did that!”
“Did you ever stop to think why Lisa stays in the bathroom that long? Maybe it’s to cut herself! Maybe she stays in her room when you’ve got the company for that as well. Maybe she cleans her own clothes and room to prevent you from finding any blood.”
Lydia shook her head violently. “No, no way.”
“You know, I really had an odd feeling about Morrisson. Somehow I didn’t think he was the type to cut anyone. He was just a no good slacker. He showed no sign of a violent personality when I confronted him whatsoever. A lot of the profile for a self abuser fits Lisa. I bet you haven’t seen her wearing shortsleeves in a very long time. In fact, the only time you saw her naked arms since a long time was when you discovered the injuries.”
The shock on her face was very evident. “My god.” She folder her hands in front of her lips. Her eyes started to get wet. “Maybe you’re right.”
“We’d like to talk to Lisa,” Minnie said. “Take her to a therapist. Someone who can help her.”
Lydia nodded and tried to say something. She couldn’t form the words.
“Is she in her room?” I asked. Lydia just nodded.
“Are you going to be all right?” Minnie asked her, a hand on her shoulder. Lydia just nodded again.
I went up the stairs. Minnie followed me. I could hear music coming from one of the rooms upstairs. Nine Inch Nails. Obviously Lisa’s room.
I knocked. No answer.
I knocked again. Still nothing.
“Lisa, open up. It’s Noah. I want to talk to you.”
I tried to open the door, but it was locked. I glanced at Minnie. She understood my unvoiced question and nodded. I kicked the door three times. It swung open and we went in.
Lisa was lying on the floor. Her arms were bleeding bad. There were candles lit in the room, the curtains were closed and I could smel some incense. As Minnie told me, sometimes self mutilation takes the form of some kind of bizarre ritual.
I knelt next to the lifeless form of the young girl. “Lisa? Lisa?”
Minnie joined me. “She’s still alive, but with the amount of blood she’s losing it might not be for long. Call an ambulance. I’m going to try and stop the bleeding.”
I took out my cell phone and dialed 911. Minnie tore Lisa’s bedsheets to use as bandages.
“I went too far... I just went too far...” Lisa whispered. At least she could still talk. When she could talk at least she was still alive.
I brushed her hair and told her everything was going to be all right, that we were going to save her. Minnie started to bind her arms with the sheets.
Lydia was in the doorway. She was as white as the sheets and just stood there crying.
God, how I wished that ambulance would hurry up.
A week later Minnie and I were visiting Lisa in the hospital. She’d managed to survive, thanks to Minnie’s quick thinking.
I’d brought a large white teddybear with me. It had a big red heart embroidered on it. “I brought you someone to keep you company when we’re not around.”
Lying in her bed, her arms all bandaged up, Lisa took the teddy and hugged it close. “I’m so sorry for all the trouble I caused you.” There were tears in her eyes.
“It’s okay. I’m just glad we were there in time to save you.”
“I’m sorry I falsely accused Zach. I just couldn’t tell mom how I got those cuts. It started innocently, just burning myself a little with candles. Just to feel I was alive. Just to have an outlet for the anger and lonliness I felt. There wasn’t ever really there for me , you know. My mom was always to busy acting like Ms. Perfect. My dad has been gone for years. The kids at school were always just jealous of my mom’s money.”
“I’ll be here for you,” I told her. “If you ever want to talk, be with someone. Just call me.”
“Or, if you don’t feel like talking to an Irish-Italian hunk you can call me,” Minnie added.
Lisa smiled. It looked wonderful to see her still smile. “Thank you so much for saving me. I didn’t mean to try and kill myself. The cutting was a way to prevent myself from trying to kill myself. A way to cope.”
I took her hand. “I understand. We’ll make sure you get the right therapy. I’ve talked to your mom, she’s willing to undergo some therapy as well. We’ll make things right. I know the pain inside of you can seem impossible to deal with sometimes, but you’re a fighter. You pulled through when you were almost bleeding to death. You’re going to pull through again.”
When, after visiting hours were over we walked out the door Minnie took my hand. I squeezed it. I felt like I was one step closer to understanding I wasn’t the person I used to be. Maybe I really was one of the good guys these days. I’d just saved a life, and maybe it would make up just a little bit for the ones I’d ruined.