It was Sunday and Mark had slept in. Ranger was next to him in bed and was purring noisily while pushing his paws into the pillow next to Mark’s head.
Mark looked at him sleepy, mumbling, “Hey buddy, are you waking me up?”With his yellow eyes Ranger looked right at him and purred even louder.
The cat had been with Mark over a year. He had found it at an adoption event outside a Target store. Ranger wasn’t a kitten anymore, he was 5 years old already when he was up for adoption because his previous owner had passed away. Now he was almost 6 years old and was Mark’s companion. The cat had been nothing but good for him, always there, calm and peaceful, never annoying. Ranger had been a source of content for Mark and he enjoyed having the cat around. On many nights when Mark was plagued by nightmares Ranger would come up and push his paws into Mark’s chest waking him up and pushing his nose onto his face. It’s like the cat could sense his owner’s distress and never strayed far away from Mark. It had helped to have the cat there and Mark didn’t want to miss it.
Mark heard the rain outside and stayed put in his bed. He was still in the same position he had fallen asleep in, on his belly, his legs somewhere under the blanket motionless and still. Sometimes during the night, spasms would wake him up but it had been a quiet night and Mark felt rested. Back in the days he would have either jumped out of bed, or would have caressed a sleeping woman by his side, waking her up with gentle kisses. He would have made it into the shower quickly, whistling songs or even singing. Nowadays it took him a lot longer to even move his body into a sitting position, then transfer into his wheelchair and make his way into the bathroom.
With it raining outside he would most likely not go anywhere. Being in a wheelchair was one thing but being in a wheelchair in bad weather was even worse. Fall was around the corner and he wasn’t looking forward to it. The long dark days and the bad weather ahead were anything but good for his mind and body.
He took it easy that morning, getting himself onto the toilet for a bowel movement and then getting into his shower. He had all the time in the world really and he needed it most mornings. Everything took longer being paralyzed. At almost noon he finally sat dressed in his sweats and socks in his living room watching national news and eating a bowl of cereal from the seat of his wheelchair. Outside it was pouring and Mark didn’t have any plans to leave his apartment except for maybe dinner.
Ranger was rolled up on the couch and was sleeping deeply. Only when Mark shifted in his wheelchair, Ranger opened his eyes and watched curiously what his owner was doing. Mark played Video games all afternoon but he still thought about the night before. When he got his T-Shirt and sneakers from the bedroom he saw the money Chiara had given back to him and picked it up and took it to the kitchen with him. He stared at it for a moment. He still pondered if there was any way he could give this money back to her again.
He texted Corey:
Hey Corey, you don’t remember where you guys got that hooker from?
It didn’t take long and Corey replied:
Dude, I don’t remember exactly but I think it was somewhere off 99. Mitch actually found her. Maybe you can text him. Why?
Just wondering. I’ll text Mitch.
Corey replied with a thumbs-up and Mark found Mitch’s number and texted him:
Hey man, I heard you’re the guy who knows where the hookers are. Where did you find the one for my birthday?
Mitch didn’t reply.
It was around six that evening when Mark decided to go for a drive and get some dinner. He didn’t change but stayed in his sweats and T-Shirt and just pulled a hoodie over his head. Before he wheeled out he grabbed the $ 250 from the counter and stuck it into his hoodie pocket.
He headed over to the carport where the Challenger was parked and was somewhat protected from the elements. Mark would have preferred a closed garage but the apartment complex didn’t have any garages. He always worried some about his car. It was his way out on many days when the apartment seemed to close him in and he just needed to get out. Losing his car would be devastating and he had installed an extra alarm that would hopefully warn him if anyone should ever try to even come close to his car. Soon after he had been released from the hospital and rehab, he had started looking around for a car. During his rehab he had been able to practice driving with a car that had hand controls installed and it didn’t take him long to learn to drive that way and his Physical Therapist had signed off on the papers that Mark would be allowed to drive a car with hand controls. It had then been his number one goal to get a car as soon as he could. When he had bought the car, he had hand controls installed right away.
Mark’s neighbors were mostly low-income folks who admired his car and he had taken one or another out for a ride before. The car definitely stuck out with its green metallic color and the metallic silver racing stripe down the middle. It was his treasure and one luxurious possession and also a way of independence making him feel like he was somewhat normal because when he drove no one knew he was paralyzed. He didn’t have a disabled placard showing in his windshield, instead he kept it in the glove box. He didn’t want to be recognized as a disabled person. In his car he wanted to be looked at as a regular man with a cool car, nothing else. In his car he sometimes had the courage to smile at a girl in a car next to him maybe at a traffic light or crossing the street.
In his car he felt almost like the guy he used to be, an Infantry soldier and a single guy with women on his mind when he didn’t work. He was anonymous in his car, just a guy. He unlocked his car and pushed his wheelchair right next to the driver’s seat. With one hand balled into a fist on the car seat and the other one on his wheelchair seat he boosted his body over with his butt landing on the car seat. He then pulled his legs into the car with his hands and adjusted his feet in the floor board. He took off the seat cushion and the wheels off the TiLite’s axles. He then folded down the mid high backrest and stashed all items including the frame of the wheelchair in the passenger seat, making sure it wasn’t visible.
With the key turned in the ignition the car came on with a strong engine roar and Mark pulled out of the apartment complex. It was still raining some but not like in the morning. Now it was merely a drizzle and he thought about what kind of food he wanted to get for dinner.
As he was driving he didn’t really think too much and instead of getting dinner right away he decided to drive around some. Burien wasn’t far from Seattle and on the back roads where he could avoid the Interstate he was in Seattle in about twenty minutes. His route took him toward the Sodo district and also the port of Seattle. Without any sports events going on at the stadiums the mostly industrial area lay somewhat quiet on this Sunday evening. Mark was trying to think of where women could be found walking the streets. He really didn’t know but just drove around and just as he was at a light the text from Mitch came in:
Pat said you didn’t want that chick. You turned her down and she gave you the money back? Why you want to know where I found her?
As soon as he was able to go he pulled into a parking lot and replied:
I want to give her the money back again.
Mitch replied quickly:
WTF dude, just keep the damned money. Look at it as your birthday present. I don’t know where the hooker hangs out. I found her somewhere off Highway 99.
Mark felt a slight frustration at Mitch’s obvious careless attitude about the woman:
Well, it’s my money I guess and I can do what I want with it. Thanks man.
He didn’t really want to write anything else to Mitch and instead he got back onto the road and drove around Sodo, taking some back alleys and dark roads looking for any obvious signs of prostitutes. The signs were all but obvious as prostitution was illegal even though it was out there. He saw some tent camps with homeless people and he got some stares from them when he drove through with his car. It was somewhat risky behavior on his part because if anyone wanted to hijack his car with him in it, he would be putting himself in a very dangerous situation.
He made his way through some back road slowly edging down toward the Viaduct and driving along underneath it toward downtown. As he looked over to a side road he saw some women and turned into that road. He slowly drove along the narrow alley and came up to the first woman standing on the side. She looked at his car and he pulled up slowly. She carefully neared his car as he let down the passenger window.
She leaned down and looked into the car skeptical, “Hey baby, what’s up?”
Mark was nervous talking to the woman. He had always been a wild one and had had his share of flings and one-night stands when he was young and still on his two legs but he had never been with or talked to any hookers except for Chiara. This girl didn’t look even close to his type or even pretty at all.
She looked tired and worn out, even a little sick as she leaned into the car, “Hey hot stuff. What do you need?”
She glanced at his wheelchair disassembled in the passenger seat, “What’s all of this?”
Mark didn’t answer the question and turned down his radio, “I’m actually looking for someone.”
“Of course, sugar, you can have me for starting at a hundred bucks for thirty minutes.”
“I’m looking for a girl I met. Her name is Chiara. Long red hair.”
“What the fuck baby…I’m as good as any Chiara you met.”
“I really just need to find her for something.”
The girl threw her bleach blond hair over her shoulder, “Whatever baby! Come on, I’m exactly what you need tonight. Tell me anything you want baby, I give you a special price.”Mark ignored her offers, “So, you don’t know a girl named Chiara?”
She now stood up and answered angrily, “No, I don’t know a fucking Chiara. I can be your Chiara or any other fucking bitch you want me to be if you let me.”
“Thanks, but no. I really just need to find her.”
The girl backed off from Mark’s car and for a moment he was worried she would be angry and kick his car, “Get out of here motherfucker. You don’t want me, you don’t need to be here.”
Mark put his car in gear and slowly pulled away from her, hoping very much she wouldn’t do anything to his car. She didn’t, instead she walked up to another car coming up into the alley behind him.
Mark came to another girl and slowly let his window down again.She leaned into the car right away, “Hey baby.”
This time he explained right away, “I’m not here for any services. I’m actually looking for a girl named Chiara, long red hair.”
The girl outside his car had short black hair and she was nicer looking than the first one but he didn’t care about anything like that.
“Why are you looking for her?”
For a moment he thought and then came up with a reply that would hopefully work, “She’s my sister. I’m worried about her. I’m worried she’s in trouble.”
Now the girl’s expression changed and she seemed sincere, “Oh fuck, I’m sorry. Yeah, there are a lot of girls out here that shouldn’t be here really. Sometimes the cops come through and pick some up. We always have to be on guard. You’re not a cop, are you?”
“I’m not a cop, just a guy looking for his sister.”
“Well, I’m sorry baby, I don’t know a Chiara. I mean there are red haired girls out here, plenty of them and they change their names sometimes.”
“I see. Are there other areas around here where I can find girls?”
She now explained where other streets with girls were located and Mark thanked her, “I really appreciate it.”
Mark nodded a Thanks to her.
He kept driving through and instead of asking anymore girls he just looked at them from his car and when some of the girls yelled at him for not stopping he decided to just leave the area. He was too worried about his car.
The black-haired girl had given him some pointers to other areas in Seattle where prostitutes could be found but Mark was tired and didn’t want to look anymore. He was also disheartened at the apparent issue of most likely never finding Chiara. More and more he felt that it had been a dumb idea to try to give her the money back.
He left downtown and made his way back out to Burien where he picked up a Burger meal and then drove home. It was raining harder again and he was glad to be home when Ranger greeted him at the door. During his dinner he thought about the girls he had talked to and it depressed him really. Chiara had not looked like a hooker. With different clothes she would have looked like a normal young woman. He still remembered her green eyes and slender hands as she had rubbed over his thighs outside the bar. It had been a nice view to see her hands on his paralyzed legs even though he couldn’t feel it. But just having a woman close again was a nice thought and view in itself.
He was lonely a lot. There were times when he didn’t really get up because the spasticity in his legs was too strong and annoying or the times when he was just tired and didn’t want to get up. Most of the times his friends took his mind off the loneliness but he couldn’t deny that on many occasions he missed the closeness of a woman and even his friends couldn’t fill the void. They had girlfriends and even wives whereas he was alone.
The new week started slow and without his counseling session at the VA there was really nothing going on for him. He had been down at the unemployment office weeks earlier and signed up for part time job placement but nothing had come in the mail or email. Part time work was hard to get by and especially for a man. Men didn’t work part time and no one wanted a paraplegic to work for them anyways. In the Army he had been in the Infantry and had spent some time in a Ranger battalion. His military career hadn’t helped him very much in civilian life. He knew how to fight and shoot, and he had always been an expert shooter and he had killed a few people throughout his deployments. He knew how to be a combat warrior but in the civilian world combat warriors were not needed, especially if they were paralyzed. The warriors in the civilian world were police officers, firefighters, or security personnel. He couldn’t do any of those things.
His friends all worked during the week and usually he was just at home playing Video games when he wasn’t at the gym. He had debated to maybe start volunteering some but he just had not had the motivation.
On Monday he went to his local gym. He always felt good at the gym and was somewhat comfortable since the staff knew him and lots of the regulars also had become friends in the quest of being fit. Throughout the day it wasn’t too busy and most machines were available when Mark needed them. He was able to take his time with the transfers onto the machines and in the weight lifting room he usually had other guys or staff spot him when he lifted. Usually everyone was helpful and encouraging him to keep going and pushing him. Working out kept his mind occupied and made him feel the parts of his body that still had sensation. He wanted to feel the muscles in his arms and in his chest, he wanted to feel the burn when he worked out.
There were girls in the gym too and he didn’t mind at all. He enjoyed checking them out but when it came to actual contact he usually shied away nowadays. He wasn’t confident anymore in his flirting abilities and so the girls who had tried to talk to him at the gym had eventually stopped trying when nothing really came back from Mark. He was always glad when there weren’t too many people who could see him transfer onto the machines or drag his still legs around behind his body.
He did his workout routine that day and felt refreshed but also exhausted on his way home. He took a shower and spent the evening at home.
His days went by without anything happening and on Thursday night he got into his car again and headed for downtown again. He still had Chiara on his mind and he was going to look for her once again.
This time he didn’t drive into the same back alley that he had already been in but headed for another area the black-haired girl had told him about.
It was an area close to Chinatown and it was dark and not very inviting. Old industrial buildings lined the streets and looked threatening and eerie. At night these buildings were uninhabited, during the day they served as warehouses. Behind the buildings was were the black-haired girl had told him to go and look for Chiara. He realized that the alley was just wide enough for one car to get through and he did see the One-Way street sign and slowly edged his way into the alley. He dimmed his headlights and saw the reflections of women standing in the shadows. As he neared the first one she stepped out and made herself visible for him. It wasn’t Chiara and he decided to just keep driving.
There were more girls lined along the walls and as soon as he neared them with his car they stepped out and he was shocked to see that some of them seemed very young still. Towards the end of the alley he actually let his window down planning to ask one of them.
The girls were on his driver’s side which made him somewhat uncomfortable.As he neared one she came out of the shadows and said softly, “Hey baby.”
She wasn’t bad looking but also looked tired and came up to his window, “How can I help you honey?”
Mark didn’t want to beat around the bush, “I’m actually not here for any services but I’m looking for a girl. Her name is Chiara, long red hair. She’s my sister and I’m trying to find her.”
“Are you a cop?”
“No, I’m not a cop.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
Mark really had no good answer, “How about this stuff here?”
He pulled one of his wheels over and the girl asked, “What is that?”
“It’s a wheel to my wheelchair.”
“That doesn’t mean shit to me. You could still be a cop.”
Mark sighed, “Well, I don’t know what else to say. I’m not a cop. Do you know where I may find Chiara?”
The girl called over two other girls, “Hey ladies, come over here.”
Two other girls came out of the shadows and came closer, standing next to the first girl, “This guy here is looking for someone and says she’s his sister and he’s not a cop.”
One of the other girls asked, “How do we know you’re not a cop?”
Mark became frustrated, “Listen, I’m not a cop. I’m just a guy looking for his sister.”
“Sister my ass. Guys don’t come in here looking for their sisters.”
Mark asked tensely, “What do you want me to do to prove that I’m not a cop?”
He pulled out his wallet and showed the girls his retired ID card from the Army, “Here, I’m a veteran. Used to be in the Army, got blown up in fucking Afghanistan and now I am in a wheelchair. What else do you want to know?”“Why do you need to find this girl who is in no way your sister?”
Mark put his ID card back in his wallet, “I…I need to give her some money.”
The third girl stepped forward, “You can give me the money and I may give you a blow job.”
Mark now sighed frustrated, “Well, guess what, a blow job doesn’t do shit for me. Nothing does because when I got blown up, I ended up paralyzed in a wheelchair and I can’t feel shit from my chest down. My dick is dead.”
The first girl now stepped forward again and leaned on Mark’s window, “Show me the rest of your wheelchair!”“I showed you the wheel.” He held up the wheel again.
“The whole thing. Get out of your ride and get into your wheelchair.”
Mark was getting angry now, “I won’t do that.”
“Well, I guess I don’t know where Chiara is then.”
He really didn’t know if the girl had any idea where Chiara was or even knew her or if the girl was just trying to get him out of his car and possibly mug him right then and there. It was too risky.
He sighed, “Listen here. This girl I’m looking for…my friends hired her for me for a birthday thing. They paid her $ 250 and she met me at a place. I didn’t know about this and once I found out what she was there for and why she was talking to me I panicked. I didn’t want that and as I told you I’m not exactly a horn dog anymore. I’m paralyzed from my chest down, my junk is dead. I can’t get hard anymore, I can’t come anymore and so I turned her down and she gave me the money back. I want to give the money back to her because I feel bad and I think her asshole pimp beat her up because of it.”
The three girls stood there and stared in disbelief at Mark in the car.
He pleaded, “If you know where I can find her I would very much appreciate it. I have been down by the Viaduct and couldn’t find her there either.”
The first girl stepped closer, “Wow, that’s an interesting story. You want to give her the money back?”
“Yes, it’s hers and I don’t want to keep it.”
The other two girls giggled and mumbled things about Mark being such a gentleman. They were making fun of him.
The first girl leaned down to him again, “You know if you find her and her pimp finds out, she’ll get beaten up. You care about this girl, you leave her alone. You should not go looking for her.”“I will take that risk but I do want to find her.”
“You’re a crazy guy with lots of integrity. And you’re pretty hot too.”
Mark lowered his eyes somewhat embarrassed and then looked back up at her, “Well, I want to make things right.”
“Have you tried over off International Boulevard? There are a couple of roads where you can find girls.”
“I haven’t tried there yet. That’s outside the city.”
“Yeah, lots of girls are out there. You should try it. I think I may remember a Chiara out there.”
Mark was somewhat excited now, “Long red hair?”
“There are lots of girls with long red hair. Some change their hair all the time. I had blonde hair yesterday.”Mark nodded, “Okay, I see. I’ll try out there then.”
“Good luck paralyzed gentleman. If I would have been that girl I would have kept the fucking money. She must actually have morals.”
Mark didn’t know what to reply and thanked the girls and slowly drove out of the alley. He didn’t expect much from the next location and had basically given up in finding Chiara ever again but she stayed in his mind. In a way though the more he had failed in finding her so far, the more he was driven to keep looking for her. It wasn’t so much about the money anymore, it was becoming a quest to get a girl out of a bad situation. He didn’t know anything about Chiara though and he was going back and forth in feeling determined to keep looking and thinking of himself as a complete idiot in even considering it. The streets turned from somewhat busy to somewhat empty as he made his way out of the city and through the Industrial areas heading toward International Boulevard.