Asher walked quietly into the hospital room, angry with his brother because he once again put himself into a situation where he was beaten up. He thought Ryker would have learned his lesson the last time he ended up like this. They were still paying for those hospital bills. Obviously, he hadn't. But when he saw the shape his brother was in, he stopped dead in his tracks, and his anger disappeared.
Asher drew in a deep breath and made his way over to the bed. His brother was sleeping. He most likely needed it. His face was pretty much covered with bandages, and what wasn't, looked red and swollen. He had two black eyes, and his left arm was in a cast. Asher could see bruises and cuts on his right arm and on pretty much any other exposed skin. Thankfully, he had a sheet over the rest of his body. Asher probably didn't want to see his other injuries. He knew what they were, though, after talking with one of his doctors. Ryker had a couple of broken ribs in addition to his broken arm and a torn ligament in his right knee. Shit! What had the fuckers done? Used a baseball bat? There was no doubt his brother was in pain. Asher pulled a chair over to the side of the bed, intending to wait until Ryker woke up, though he didn't have a lot of time. But the moment he sat, Ryker's eyes fluttered open. Asher stood again and looked down into his brother's face.
"Hey," he said gently. "How you doing?"
Ryker answered by closing his eyes again. A small tear escaped the edge of his right eye and traveled down to his pillow. He sighed.
"That bad, huh? What the hell happened?"
Ryker barely moved his head back and forth, keeping his eyes closed, without offering an answer. Typical.
"Okay, I'll be right here." Asher sat down, pulling out the manga he'd brought with him. "I'll just sit here and read the newest volume of Higurashi." Ryker jerked his eyes open at the mention of his favorite manga series. He turned his head slowly, and what appeared to be painfully, to look at him. There was a grimace on his face, but it was probably meant to be a smile. Asher grinned. "Yeah, it came in today, so I picked it up for you. Thought you would like to have it, seeing as you're going to be laid up for a while." Asher did see a smile then. He handed the book to his brother.
Ryker took the book with his right hand, and they both realized at the same moment it would be difficult for him to actually read it when he didn't have another hand to turn the pages. Asher laughed and stood. "Let me raise you a little. If you sit up, you should be able to handle it." He grabbed the remote from the side of the bed and pressed the up button until his brother was sitting at a better angle; but, when he saw him frown in pain, he immediately stopped. "… sorry… are you okay?"
Ryker gave a tiny smile and nodded, sweat breaking out on his face. "Yeah…" he croaked out.
Asher sighed. "Listen, you're going to have to tell me what happened. The police are going to want to talk to you, too…"
"No!" his voice cracked again. "Stay out of this. I'm not talking to the police." He went into a small coughing fit. "… damn…"
"Okay, okay, don't worry…" Asher was sorry he had brought it up. The coughing had to hurt. "Just… concentrate on getting better for now, okay? Everything else can wait."
Ryker quieted down and closed his eyes.
"Should I lower your bed again…?"
"Yeah, a little…" Ryker whispered.
Asher grabbed the control and, this time, pushed the down button until the head of the bed went down a few inches. "How's that?" His brother didn't respond. "Ryker?" Just like that, he was asleep. Unless he was pretending. Asher took the manga and put it on the table next to the bed, hopefully where Ryker could reach it. Then he lightly touched his brother's hand. "Hey," he whispered, "I have to go to work, okay? I'll be back later. Try to stay out of trouble." He turned and headed toward the door.
Asher stopped and turned back. Ryker still had not opened his eyes. "Yeah?"
Asher smiled. "Yeah."
The sun had set a while ago. Asher walked out to the sidewalk, intending to wave down a taxi to his new job as a waiter at the high-class club, Rise. His friend Rogan, who worked there as a bartender, had pulled some strings and set up the interview for him; and, somehow, he'd landed the job. With tips, the job would pay more than he'd made in a long time. Ever since their mother died, things hadn't been easy, especially since Ryker had developed some very bad habits from hanging out with the wrong people.
Asher was sure this latest incident probably had to do with money he owed someone. The story was always the same, and maddening as hell, since Ryker was his older brother and Asher always felt like he was babysitting. Ryker, at times, did not act his age when it came to the tables, legal or otherwise, usually otherwise. The problem was Ryker sometimes came out on top. Those few successes gave him the confidence to continue when he should have stopped or rather not started. 'But this time,' he would say, 'this time I'll stop in time.' But, of course, he never did. He had to 'go one more time' until not only were the winnings gone, but he would be back in the red and running from the bad guys again. They rarely caught him. Tonight, obviously, they did.
Although past losses had been considered light and the money they had in the savings account from their mother's estate had thankfully covered them, it would not last forever. Even 'light losses' added up. The money had been meant to pay living expenses, and keeping Ryker alive turned out to be very expensive. Asher's dream of earning a good living as a photographer was not taking off as quickly as he would have liked either. So, this job was a godsend.
Lost in thought, Asher never heard the man coming up behind him. Suddenly, a hand covered his mouth, and a strong arm circled his thin waist, pinning his arms to his side. Asher realized he was being pulled into an alley. He struggled to break free but couldn't. The next thing he knew, he was turned around, and his back shoved hard against a brick wall with a forearm to his throat. Asher looked into the face of his attacker as he grabbed the man's arm to try to loosen the pressure. He could still breathe, so the man must not want him dead.
"Madden? Asher Madden?"
Great. The man knows my name. That can't be good. Asher blinked but didn't answer.
"Your brother, Ryker, is a… friend of mine."
Asher coughed. "Yeah… I… bet." Okay, he couldn't breathe so well.
"And my friend owes me a lot of money."
Well, there's a shocker. The man loomed over Asher, no surprise there either, and filled Asher's field of vision with his broad shoulders and large stomach. So, the fact Asher was still alive truly meant the guy wasn't going to kill him… yet. His dark hair was a little wild. He had probably been waiting out here in the wind for Asher to come out. He couldn't make out the eyes; but, right now, they looked black. Asher noticed, even in the dark, the man was wearing a cheap suit. "How much…?" Asher asked.
The pressure lightened up a bit. "Twenty. Four. Thousand. Dollars." He emphasized each word as if, to Asher, it would be more effective.
Asher choked and not because of the arm at his neck. What? Twenty-four thousand dollars? Dollars? How could Ryker owe so much? Who, knowing Ryker at all, would be stupid enough to let his debt get that high? Suddenly, the arm was gone, and Asher bent over coughing. How the hell would he pay this one off? They had nowhere near enough in savings. At best, he had half. Damn it, Ryker! He straightened back up to look at his attacker again. "What do you—" Asher coughed "—want me… to do?" He coughed a few more times.
"That's a stupid question, don't you think?"
Asher had to agree. "I don't have that kind of money…"
"Not my problem, now is it?"
Asher actually didn't agree with that comment. "Well," he took a deep breath, "how is it mine?"
Asher was shoved back as the asshole's arm came up across his throat again. Dark, angry eyes were inches from his own. "Oh, I think if you want your brother to live through the night, you'll make it your problem." He pulled back, once again releasing Asher.
Shit, that hurt. "Okay, okay, but we don't have… enough money. I can get you… half…"
The man put a big hand under Asher's chin and lifted it. "Half? Not good enough. But I tell you what, you're pretty cute." He looked Asher up and down, leisurely, before continuing, "I would be willing to consider using your body to pay for the missing half. What do you say?" His other hand had wandered to Asher's crotch and squeezed.
With a small surprised cry, Asher jerked back to try to dislodge the guy's hand, but it held tight. He then knocked both of the man's hands away with his own. "Stop it! What the hell are you doing?" his voice came out squeaky.
"Look, punk, I want my money. You either pay in cash, or you pay with this." He indicated Asher's cock. "Up to you. What will it be?" The man took out a cigarette and lit it, shaking the match out before throwing it to the ground.
"Wait, I have a good paying job now as a waiter at a club called Rise. If you allow me to pay weekly, I can probably pay you pretty fast…"
Asher blinked. "Yeah…?"
"Isn't that the club Max Tyler owns?"
"I don't know. I never met the owner."
"Hmmm. Rise, huh? Well, well, well. I like it. It might be just fine."
"… what… will be fine?"
"You working there. You see, my knowing someone who works for Tyler might generate some interest… I could use someone on the inside."
"What do you mean 'on the inside'?"
"Never mind, for now." He handed Asher a business card. "I'll give you a couple of days. You just send half the money to this address, got it? I'll contact you when I want you to repay the rest."
"Let me worry about that." And the man simply walked off into the night.
Ryker, you idiot. Asher rubbed his throat where the asshole had held him. Hopefully, he wouldn't bruise. Try explaining something like that to a new boss.
New boss! Shit! He was going to be late and on his first day.