17 He’s on fire and you’re gasoline

“Give me your phone.”

“Not a chance,” Chris said.

Jesse felt sorry for him.  He mentally predicted what would happen.  George will reach out an arm, yup, put it on his shoulder, and there ya go, Chris is off the stool, and for a second they look like they’re gonna dance, and then — called it! — George is standing back blinking with the phone in his left hand.

Chris tried to hit George.

Jesse couldn’t take it anymore, it was like watching a baby get punched out.  He scooted behind Chris, put his hands between Chris’s elbows and back, and said into his neck, “Nuh unh.”

“Get the fuck off me, ya goon, I need my phone!” Chris said, pumping his feet uselessly and squirming.

“And you’ll find it, with its battery, once you unpack,” George said. “In the meantime I don’t want you to have easy access to Drew’s social media, or the texts he never stops sending you, or the texts his new squeeze sends you for fun when Drew hands his phone over.”


“Textual analysis indicates two different kinds of illiteracy,” George said, looking at Chris’s phone.

“All this and a grammar Nazi too?” Jesse asked, aghast. Raven was always going on about how class and worth were policed and bounded by a narrow and stultifying interpretation of grammar rules that were dying at the time they were first codified. From this Jesse had slowly and painfully extracted the idea that you shouldn’t assign moral value to another person’s chosen mode of communication. He painfully resisted this conclusion, mentioning people like Derrida and McLuhan (whom he only knew about because Raven was always going off about them) and he kept coming up with exceptions until Raven got mad at him for being so pointillistic. “Quit looking at the dots and look at the whole picture!!” she would say. It had been a relief when she stopped going to university and got into local activism and shelter work instead.

He didn’t hear George say, “If textual analysis helps me figure out that both of them are involved in gas-lighting Chris, yes.”

“Wait a minute,” Chris said slowly. “How did you get access to my texts.”

“I’m looking at them, and I’m listening to them send you one.  You know that them texting you is against the peace bond you swore out, right? Ditching your old phone and getting a new one would really help with that now.”

“I can’t get next to removing Chris’s agency like this,” Jesse said. He knew George would ignore him, but if he didn’t make it clear he was on Chris’s side he’d never get him out of the apartment when the time came. It still was not clear to Jesse where Chris was going to end up or whether he would even come out of his emotional coma and flee like a sensible person, and George was in a mood he’d never previously displayed.  He knew George would be perfectly happy to restrain and remove Chris, but Jesse was already tiring of this approach to miscreants, as much fun as it had been at first; to decide it was the appropriate way to treat clients tonight seemed a bridge too far.

He knew that was one of the reasons George was so adamant about being paid up front, a rule he’d broken twice, once with a happy outcome and once with a night which had been expensive and painful and humiliating even before the police had arrived. But as George said, if he got paid up front, he still had the money if they decided not to like him afterward.

“I don’t want to go to the police,” Chris said plaintively.  He was in his late thirties, but apart from a tiny paunch, he looked a decade younger, and younger still in his misery.

“Then don’t,” Jesse said. “But you have to get out of here tonight, and go someplace safe, and let us deal with them if they come back. The last time you were lucky you didn’t get hit in the head with flying glass.”

“They’re still out there. I think they’re snorting something, they sound a little confused,” George said, putting his finger to his ear.

“Couldn’t you have lifted that off them while you were planting the bug?” Jesse said, referring to the drugs they were ingesting.

“It was in the car,” George said, shrugging.

“I can’t not have a phone,” Chris said.

George pulled out a burner and held it and Chris’s Samsung up. Gesturing with them, he said, “You can have this one. You’ll get this one back when things have died down. If they did turn on tracking, the battery’s out now, and that’ll prevent you from giving away your location. Since he knows where you work, you should either quit, go on vacation or ask for a leave of absence.”

“I can’t do that,” Chris said numbly.

What a fucking gumptionless numpty this guy is, Jesse thought. His feelings did not show on his face. And he’s a victim of the worst domestic violence I’ve seen so far. My history of abuse and my understanding of the mechanics of DV mean nothing.  I see a man in this situation, and rather than pity I have contempt.  What a long fucking way I have to go, Jesse thought.

“Well, you should,” George said in a much more reasonable and pleasant voice than he’d previously used. “They’re actually plotting to kill you.”

George pulled the earbud out, and once again, before Jesse could get a good look at it, he swiftly put it in Chris’s left ear. Chris jerked his head away, and said, “That’s freezing.”

Then, as he heard their voices, hotly contesting how they should kill him, and where and when, laughing with harsh ragged hoots, pounding the dashboard, his eyebrows rose higher and higher and higher. He listened for perhaps two minutes, an eternity to Jesse as he watched the hurt and confusion rush in successive waves across Chris’s face. Then George, reading his body language, plucked the earbud out before Chris could touch it. Chris sagged. His eyes were wet, but he didn’t weep. He made a hiccupping noise which might have been a sob.

“Will you leave now?” George asked Chris, exasperated.

His mouth opened and closed. He took a breath and said, very quietly, “I guess I have to. How could he? I knew he was a diamond in the rough —“

Holy shit, thought Jesse.

“ — but I never thought he could do something like this.  It’s that fucking drug addict new boyfriend of his. If he was gone Drew and I could go back to how it was —“

And again, thought Jesse.

George broke up the sweet alternate reality reunion which was happening in Chris’s head. “Uh, Drew is talking about sawing your head off and the two of them taking turns having sex with your neck. Chris, I truly think the barque of reconciliation has shoved off — and now he’s snorting something again,” George said in disgust.  “I don’t think he should be driving,” he concluded uneasily.

“You could always zap strap them to the steering column until this is over.” Jesse said.

“I’d love to, but a) you hate it when I do that — “ at which Jesse made a mild sound of disbelief  “— and b) I’d prefer it if whatever they’re tied to is a long way from here. We still have a lot of work to do.”

“It isn’t Drew, it’s the drugs,” Chris said anxiously.  “He’s really a very cool guy.”

George said, “He’s put you in hospital twice.”

“He’s got a temper,” Chris said.

George pulled at his face with one hand like a cartoon character, and then said, “You’ve been abused by Drew for a long time, and you’re in a very precarious mental state. Can you trust us to look after your long term interests tonight? It’s hard to believe now, but your situation will look and feel different to you when you’ve got some distance.  You have more friends than you know; they’ve all been scared off by Drew.”

“If they were my real friends, they would love Drew as much as I do,” Chris said.

“No they wouldn’t!” Jesse said, more energetically than he intended.

“You can love someone body and mind without sacrificing your one wild precious life to him,” George said, and the anger had now vanished, leaving only a melting sadness.

There was a bang on the door.

Chris jumped.

“Showtime,” said Jesse.

“Oh God,” Chris said, and folded himself up into a tight ball on the sofa, arms wrapped around his knees.

George, who didn’t look concerned, answered the door to a stout black woman in her mid-forties, who started when she saw George and then looked past him to Chris.  “You know Drew’s in the parking lot, right?”

“Has Drew ever bothered you?” George asked.

“Bothered?” the woman asked. Her tone was gentle, but she frowned.

“You okay, Chris?” she called into the apartment.

“No. Drew wants to kill me,” he called back.  He had started to shake, very slightly.

“You gotta get out of here! It isn’t safe.”

“We’re trying,” George said. “We haven’t figured out where the furniture is going or where he’s going to stay.”

“May I come in?”

She picked her way across the floor, along a pathway cleared of debris, and sat, bolt upright, next to Chris.

Seeing his distress, she sagged a trifle. She put a hand on his knee and looked into his face. “Chris you’ve got to leave. He’s on fire, and you’re gasoline,” she said tenderly.

“Okay,” he said, and his voice broke.