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Even before, in his other life, he had been woefully, pathetically bad at it. Old friends, classmates, coworkers, distant relatives; inevitably he would find himself staring blankly into the face of a stranger, trying to figure out how they knew his name, and why they were so incredibly blown away to see him. More often than not he would have to feign recognition, mirroring their reactions and waiting for the little clues they may drop that would help him remember before they caught on that he was only pretending. From time to time it would come to him in the end, but on most occasions he would walk away bewildered, his hands in his pockets, hoping the situation didn’t come up again anytime soon. It had been a burden then, just another unpleasantness to deal with, but now he was grateful for what had become a convenient and merciful talent. Why would he want to remember faces and names, as fleeting as they were? It made no difference, and if his companion was to be believed, it would be extremely beneficial to be able to feign complete ignorance if he ever ran into one of those faces again. How that would ever happen, he didn’t know, but he went with it. Names and faces were instantly dismissed, his own included. There had been a point in his life when he went for more than a year without looking in a mirror, and now when he caught his reflection he couldn’t remember the name that went with the face looking back at him. Something with a ‘D’ maybe, but he wasn’t sure anymore if he was just mixing one memory with another. There was only one face and one name that he would never forget. By some fluke it was burned into his mind like an ugly persistent scar, and no matter how much he tried to write over it, the memory would spring back up like an evil, grinning jack-in-the-box. Dash. Dash St. fucking Thomas. They hadn’t even known each other for long, an hour, two at most that they had both been awake and aware of each other, but that was all it had taken. It frustrated him. If his memory was actually right, and all the details were as they should have been, he shouldn’t have even been able to remember Dash’s face, and the fact that he had even learned his name had just been a coincidence. The room had been dark, too dark for him to have actually seen more than a fleeting impression of Dash’s face, and at that point he had probably been too distracted and otherwise occupied to care who he was or what he looked like, and yet Dash stayed with him. Dash had been sitting across the room from him when he woke up, hungry and tired and unwilling to commit to be being conscious and aware for more than a few minutes, but somehow he had noticed the man crouched in the corner of the room, cursing under his breath and working furiously as something he couldn’t see. He had shifted, moving his numb legs and repositioning his raw rope burned hands, and that little movement in the darkness had been what called Dash’s attention to him. “Hello?” He hadn’t answered the man’s call. His throat was too dry and his body too tired; eventually the man would have learned that it wasn’t the right idea to waste what energy had on yelling and screaming, but he didn’t correct him. He did move
again though, just an adjustment of his sore shoulders against the wall, and the man had taken that as a reason to continue. “Who’s there? Hello? I can’t see. It’s too dark.” Those words stuck in his head. Of course it was too dark. They were underground, and even if the light had been on, it was just a single forty watt bulb on the ceiling; hardly adequate light, all considered. The light switch was on the other side of the door, where they couldn’t reach it, anyway. He still hadn’t answered, but his new roommate had kept babbling on. He recognized why the man had did it, now that he knew more, but at the time it had just been annoying. “My name is Dash. Dash St. Thomas. I’m a salesclerk in town on personal business. I have two older brothers and a younger sister who just had a baby girl. Her name is Chelsea…” The man stopped talking, and he could see him peering through the darkness, trying to get a better look at him. His eyes were much more adapted to the dark than Dash’s but he seemed to do well enough. “Did he get you too? Do you need help? What’s your name?” He had thought about not answering, but the question had been asked of him so many times lately that he replied almost automatically. “Copper.” “Copper?” Dash sounded confused. “That’s your name?” “Yeah.” “Okay.” Copper saw Dash stand, moving in the awkward way that was unavoidable when your hands were practically useless and look around the room. There was only one door and no windows, and Copper thought that Dash was very soon going to be disappointed by the prospects. “Copper. I’m Dash. Do you know where we are?” He closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall. He did know, in a very vague way that wouldn’t have helped anyway. “I think I can get out of these ropes. Are you tied up? Can you move?” Copper unconsciously flexed his hands. The tips of his fingers were numb with cold and too little circulation, and he wondered vaguely how long he could stay like that before he lost them. “Yes.” “Yes what? You’re tied up? You can move? What?” Copper remembered that the question had confused him. He had thought his answer was pretty self explanatory, so he repeated it without elaboration. “Yes.” Dash shuffled around the room, uncertain of his footing in the darkness. “Are you fucking dumb? Whatever. Listen. I think I can get out of my ropes. I need your help to break down this door.” “Why?” He remembered that Dash had looked in his direction, not exactly at him but close. “Are you kidding me? Cause some psycho tied me up and locked me somewhere, and I’m not waiting to find out what comes next.” Copper had just shrugged and closed his eyes again. Dash could do what he wanted, and if he wanted to yell and scream and pound at the door like a child, let him. It didn’t affect Copper any, except for making his head hurt. Somehow Copper had fallen asleep despite the noise, drowning out the banging and cursing and
Dash’s repeated attempts to make him stand up and help. Whether or not he had been right about being able to get out of his binds or not Copper wasn’t sure, but when he opened his eyes again it was against a bright, painful light coming in from the hallway outside, through the open door. For a single second he thought Dash had actually succeeded in breaking down the door, but as his eyes slowly adjusted he saw a familiar figure silhouetted against the light. Dash hadn’t done anything. He had just run out of time. The light overhead had switched on, and Copper had covered his eyes against the new and intrusive light as the figure in the door stepped inside. Dash didn’t try to do anything, fight back or any of the wild plans Copper had heard him muttering earlier, and he could guess why. The new man no doubt had a gun, a big one, and that was enough to make even a grown and determined man cower back. “What do you want from me?!” The new man ignored him and shut the door to the hall. Gun or not, Copper knew he wouldn’t take any chances. Dash continued, repeating the mantra he had used earlier when he had tried to appeal to Copper. “My name is Dash St. Thomas. I’m a salesclerk from Charlotte. My sister just had a baby girl, that’s why I’m in town….” The new man cut him off. “Hello, Mr. St Thomas. You can call me Gates. Have you met Copper?” Dash had looked at him, confused and a little scared, and Copper had only blinked dispassionately as Gates strode across the room, keeping the gun trained on Dash. Gates was bigger than Dash, but he took no chances. Gates had pet him on the head with his free hand, and Copper had noted the greater confusion and fear that creased Dash’s face. The situation was becoming too unpredictable, and that was scaring the hell out of Dash. “You could use a shower, Copps. Your hair is greasy.” “I know.” “Maybe in a little while.” Gates crouched next to him, resting the gun against his knee. Dash watched him, and for a second Copper had thought he might try something, but rather than attempting to get the upper hand, he had just kept talking. “Listen, I’ll do anything you want. Is this about money? I can get money. My family will pay. Just please, let me go.” Gate clicked his tongue. “Money? Tell him, Copper. Is this about money?” Copper shook his head. “Copper,” Gates reproached. “No.” “Exactly right.” Gates had pressed the gun into his hands then, and Copper had had a difficult time holding it with his wrists bound and fingers numb. But he had grasped it as best he could, keeping it pointed where Gates had intended. “Hold that for me, Copps. Nice and steady.” He began to work the knots out of the rope, loosening them slowly and letting the blood run back into Coppers hands. It made them warm and tingle, and Copper had wanted to drop the gun and rub them together until all of the feeling returned. Gates kept talking as he worked, his tone relaxed and calm, just like they had been discussing the weather. “I don’t care about
money, and offering me some isn’t going to change anything. It’s bad luck that your sister had her baby when she did, but sometimes things happen for a reason. Call it God’s plan if you…” Gates had never finished the sentence. Dash, whether sensing he had the advantage with Gates busy and distracted, or out of sheer desperation, had lunged, swinging his clenched fists at the exposed back of Gates’ neck. BANG In the closed space the sound had been so deafening that instantly Copper felt his ears ring and his head swim. The gun had kicked back in his hands and smacked his chest, leaving a bruise that would linger for weeks afterwards, and Dash had fallen backwards with a stunned expression. The bullet had caught him low in the chest, too low to have hit the heart, and torn a hole straight through to his back. Copper could hear his breath wheezing out of it as Dash tried to catch his breath, laying sprawled and shaking on the floor. Copper thought he might have tried to speak, but he wasn’t sure. Maybe it had just been the look Dash gave him; shock, bewilderment… wondering why Copper had fired, on him, on another captive, someone in the same predicament… Gates’ hand had closed around the top of the gun and pulled it from Copper’s shaking hands, shaking his head as he stood and walked over to Dash’s limp, pathetic form. “That was a truly impressive display of stupidity. It turns out you aren’t faster than a speeding bullet. Looks like,” Gates reached out and touched the edge of the entry wound, and Dash had groaned in pain. “He caught you in the lung. It’ll probably collapse soon, if it hasn’t already. And in case you are wonder, Dash St. Thomas from Charlotte. I’m not going to call for help. I’m not going to try and stop the bleeding, or give you CPR. When your heart stops, I’m going to wrap you in a tarp and put you in a drainage ditch outside of town.” Dash had let out a little sound that had almost been a sob, almost a moan of pain, and Gates had stood and returned to Copper’s side, helping him to his feet so he could move closer to where Dash lay. Copper had looked down at him almost without caring, not bothered by the stench of blood or the fact that Dash had soiled himself when the bullet had hit. The once defiant man looked like nothing now, a wounded animal, and Copper had accepted the gun that was pushed back into his hands. “I had something else planned for this, Copper, but sometimes things change. You did good.” Gates helped him kneel again, and kept his hand over Copper’s as he guided the gun to press in the center of Dash’s forehead. “Why don’t you show our friend Dash some mercy, and then you can come upstairs and take a shower?” Copper hadn’t even thought twice. He had earned his shower, and when he went to sleep that night the events from earlier hadn’t even entered his dreams. It wasn’t until later that Dash’s face started to come up in Copper’s memory, and by then he wondered why he cared. Dash had been a pathetic, defiant man who hadn’t even had enough sense to figure out how to stay alive. Everyone after him had faded into the background, forgotten, but Dash stuck with him. Copper stuck the tip of his knife into the tabletop and twirled it, carving out a small, perfect circle of soft wood. Gates would be done in the basement soon, and
when he was, it would be Copper’s turn to go down and finish up any mess that had been made. That was his job, and he was damn good at it. He knew all the tricks for getting rid of stains and smells, and by the time he was finished the basement would be good as new. From time to time he wondered if Gates would come back upstairs when he was finished and declare that he had decided to adopt a new member into the family, but it had never happened. Whatever had made Copper so special hadn’t been present in any of the others. Copper crossed his legs and yawned. Gates was a true night owl by necessity, and Copper had almost fully adapted. Almost. The door to the basement clicked open, and Copper had shut his mouth and straightened, watching Gates come upstairs and wipe his hands on a rag. His knuckles were bloody, but other than those few abrasions, he seemed clean and unscathed. Copper wondered why kind of mess he would find downstairs. It was always a surprise with Gates. Gates smiled at him and tossed the rag into the corner. “You shouldn’t have much work to do. It’s my treat to you. Did you know today marks the third year anniversary of when I decided to take care of you?” Copper hadn’t. If he had bothered to look at a calendar he would have known; April 22nd was a date more important than is birthday to him, and probably to his family somewhere back home. “I wouldn’t have minded cleaning a mess.” The smile on Gates’ face grew, and he stepped close, brushing his hand through Copper’s hair and kissing his forehead. “How very kind you are.”
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