It’s nearly 2am when he pulls up beside the house. The lights are on. He can see the TV blaring through the curtains as he takes a moment to compose himself.
He might hurt him, he thinks, taking a steadying breath in. He might hurt him if he feels threatened. I need to be calm.
He takes another deep breath and gets out of the car.
He knocks on the door.
Alexander’s father opens it almost immediately. The smell of marijuana hangs in the air.
“Ronny fucking finally! This is my last…” His face falls when he sees James standing there. “Oh. It’s you. What the fuck do you want?” He takes a long drag on his joint. “Back to break my nose again?? I signed your goddamn papers, didn’t I?? I signed them! Now leave me the fuck alone!” He tries to slam the door shut.
James catches the door before it fully closes and rips it open. All thoughts about being calm vanish and he punches him in the mouth before he can stop himself.
“WHERE THE FUCK IS HE?!” James screams, shoving him backwards. “WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE?!”
Alexander’s father stumbles and catches a table along the wall to steady himself. He spits out blood and a tooth.
“What the fuck are you –” His sentence is cut off by James’ fist connecting with the side of his face. His eye begins to swell shut almost immediately.
“WHERE IS HE?!” James screams again, trembling so much that his entire body seems to be vibrating. “I SWEAR TO GOD IF YOU HAVE HURT HIM I WILL KILL YOU! I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU, YOU GODDAMN SON OF A BITCH!!”
“You’re fucking insane! You’re crazy! I don’t know what the fuck –”
James runs at him, tackling him to the ground. The table topples over and the drawers fall out, spilling onto the ground.
They see it at the same time.
They both reach for it, scrambling through sheets of paper and boxes of tobacco to get to it. Alexander’s father gets it first. He stands up unsteadily and points it at James.
“Get out of here, you fucking nutjob! Get the fuck out!”
James lunges for him, knocking him off his feet. The father lashes out with the knife, but his depth perception is off and he only nicks James’ shoulder. James pins him down and wrestles away the knife. He holds it against his neck.
“Tell me where he is.” James pushes the knife against his carotid artery. “You have five seconds to tell me what you’ve done to him before I slit your throat. Five…”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“I don’t know!”
Alexander’s father starts to sob. “Please! I don’t know! Please!”
James pushes the knife against his neck hard enough to break the skin.
Suddenly someone grabs James from behind and rips him away, tossing him across the room. He quickly regains his balance and spins around, ready to snap the neck of the person responsible.
“I woke up and found you gone! I figured you might have come here.” He sees the knife in James’ hand. “Shit, James! Shit! What did you do?!”
“He has him!” The look in James’ eyes terrifies Michael. “He has him and I –” James lunges back towards the man on the floor, fully intending to kill him. Michael grabs him by the waist and drags him towards the door.
“Let me go!” James screams, thrashing against Michael’s hold. “Let me go!!”
Michael grips him tighter and throws him out the front. James stumbles backwards, but remains standing. He runs towards the door, but Michael is faster. He catches him and holds him in place.
“James! JAMES! Stop! Alexander isn’t in there, okay!! He isn’t in there! If he was his father would have told you by now!”
“You don’t KNOW THAT!” James screams. “That fucking piece of shit took him! I know he did! I fucking know!!” He tries to get away from Michael, but he can’t. Michael’s grip tightens.
Michael shakes him. “Stop! STOP! Calm down! We will find him, J, I promise you we will find him! But not like this! Not by killing some innocent man!”
“He is NOT fucking INNOCENT!”
“Okay! He’s not innocent. But this isn’t the way, J! If you kill him, you’ll go to jail. Think about Alexander! Think about what that will do to him! He will have lost the closest thing to a father he has ever had!”
All the adrenalin drains from James’ body. His energy saps away, leaving him hollow.
“Michael.” His face contorts in pain. “I can’t…He’s…I can’t lose him. I can’t.”
Michael nods. “I know, brother,” he says. “I know. You won’t. I promise.”
“I’ll never let anyone hurt you,” he whispers fiercely, putting Alexander down and kneeling before him. “I promise you. You are safe now. No matter where we go or what we do…You are safe with me. Always.”
Alexander keeps his hand in James’ hair. He twirls a strand around his tiny fingers.
James nods. “I will always fight for you. Remember that.”
Alexander sticks out his pinky. “Pinky swear.”
James hooks his pinky around Alexander’s outstretched one. “I pinky swear. I’ll never let anything bad happen to you. Ever.”
James sinks to the ground.
“Come on,” Michael says quietly, pulling him up by the arm. “Let’s go home.”
James allows himself to be led. All the fight has left him. Before they leave Michael looks over at Alexander’s father, who is still cowering on the floor.
“Listen to me, you low life piece of shit,” he snarls. “You’re going to pack up your shit and leave town tomorrow. If I see you again, so help me I will kill you myself. Do we understand each other?”
He nods. He looks terrified.
“Good.” Michael gets right in his face. “And if you’re thinking about calling the cops…” He watches the blood leak from his nose into his mouth. “…Just know we have friends in high places. Are we clear?”
Alexander’s father nods again.
“Perfect. Now I never want to see your ugly face again.”
He leaves and slams the door, leaving him lying in a pool of his own blood.
Later, once they get back to James’ house and Michael has caught a cab to go back and pick up his own car from downtown, James notices that his pinky is swollen and turning purple. He tries to move it. Pain shoots through his entire arm.
Just like his promise.