At first, I don’t know what wakes me, but then the annoying chirping from the phone jolts me upright. I fumble for it on the bedside table as I look at the digits on my alarm. Six thirteen in the morning. It’s an unknown caller, but I know who it is. “You can come pick her up now.” Ivan’s gruff voice cuts through my hazy head. “Be there in thirty.” I disconnect and pull the shirt over my head, hopping on one leg to the kitchen as I yank up my jeans along the other leg. I make a quick cup of coffee, and down it, much too hot, in a few gulps. My eyes tear up, but I can’t linger. They expect me to obey without delays or questions. Taking the steps two at a time I rush down the stairs to my car and make my way the few blocks to the underground garage where the limo is parked. My stomach clenches, thinking about the girl. I’ve driven plenty of them, before and after. Some have cried. Some have had dead, empty eyes. I wonder what state she’ll be in. The city is barely awake. It’s early Saturday morning. The rising sun hasn’t chased away the fog yet, and the skyscrapers look as if they have no foundation, their feet drowning in the mist. It’s beautiful. I love San Francisco and I’ve saluted myself many times for coming back here. Things are looking up. I’ll get to be in on the next hit. I’ll be one of the guys. More cash will come my way. It’ll be good. Gotta do some dirty work, but it’ll be worth it. The guards nod at me, and I drive past the gate as soon as the opening is wide enough. I park right outside the entrance, turn off the ignition and hop out. The air smells clean, birds chirp. The sun hasn’t begun to heat the day yet and I enjoy the crispy slight chill. The door opens and the giant that is Ivan comes down the stairs, carrying a little shape, wrapped in a yellow blanket. I twitch to life and open the back door so he can get her inside. Ivan puts her on the seat, slams the door shut and looks at me as if he dares me to speak. “Got a bit rough,” he mumbles. I look at his broad back as he ascends the stairs and disappears back inside the house of horrors. Rough. I turn and regard the tinted window that hides the girl, Carmen, remembering the whimpers. I bet it got rough. Fucking monsters. I dread hopping into the car, I’m afraid she’ll cry, need comfort. I won’t know what to say. When I get back behind the wheel, the first thing that meets me is the stench of semen. I wrinkle my nose. Oh for fuck’s sake. As the engine hums to life, I glance in the rearview mirror. She doesn’t stir. Maybe she’s asleep? That would be a relief. Then my chest clenches. Maybe she’s dead? Do they expect me to get rid of her? What in the flying fuck? I pull up by the side of the road, on a little patch of gravel in a pocket with a steep slope on the other side. The view of the valley is breathtaking, but I have tunnel vision. Putting the car in park, I turn it off and twist around so I can take a better look. “Carmen?” A little grunt from under all the fabric has me exhaling with relief. “Are you all right?” She scoffs. “No.” “Oh… I’m—I’ll drive you home.” “I can’t ever go home.” It’s no more than a whisper, but the words carry such sadness it’s like a blow to my stomach. “What do you mean? It’s just down the hill.” “You’re so stupid.” “I’m not stupid! You’re not very coherent.” Suddenly the blanket flies off her and on my backseat lies a naked, bruised girl. Her eyes flare. She’s bruised beyond anything I’ve seen and yet there’s such fire in there I can’t believe it. “I’m not coherent?” she rasps. “You want to fuck me too? I’m nobody anyway. I’m nothing. I’m meat.” There’s not one single cell in my body that wants to touch this girl sexually. All I want is for her to feel safe. I hop out of the car and get into the back with her, sitting on the opposite seat. She flinches and stares at me, her eyes widening. I hold out my hand. “I’m… I’m not gonna touch you.” She relaxes but makes no effort covering herself back up. Carefully, one inch at a time, I lean over, grab the edge of the blanket and pull it back up again. “Disgusted to even look at me?” “No, well… I just wanted you to have some privacy.” Her short laugh is tainted with bitterness. “Privacy.” “Do… do you need Tylenol? Something?” “Do you have a gun?” “No… Why?” “What kind of a mobster are you? You don’t have a gun?” She scoffs and opens her eyes, meeting my gaze. My cheeks heat up. “I’m just a driver.” “He’ll call for me again, you know.” “No, he won’t. No one goes there twice. He likes the fresh faces. You’re good.” “What’s your name?” “Lucas.” “Lucas.” It’s as if she tastes my name. It sounds exotic from between her lips, a hint of a foreign accent to it. “Lucas. Trust me. He will. It can’t happen. I need to die before that. Can you help me?” I lean forward and stroke a patch of her forehead that isn’t black and blue. “No, I can’t, and no, he won’t call for you again. What makes you say that?” “I saw it in his eyes, Lucas. He knows he didn’t break me. For a long while I thought he did, but in those last moments, I knew I needed to live.” “Then hold on to that, Carmen, whatever it was that made you feel it.” She nods. I wipe off a tear, along with some snot, that hangs from the tip of her nose. “You’re right. I will. Thank you.” I motion for the door, unsettled by this strange girl with the fiery dark eyes. I want to hold her, and I want to escape her, both at the same time. “I—I’ll drive you back ho… To the house. Okay?” She nods and pulls the blanket tighter around her body. I stare at her petite form, at her ravaged body, and remember how I pictured Salvatore fucking her last night, how it got me off. Shame, raw and scorching, blackens my soul as I hop into the driver’s seat again and take her to her not-home. I have a bed, but I feel homeless too. I lack purpose. There’s no meaning to my life. In a way we’re maybe not so different.