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The sound coming from the alley caught Peter Skinnerâ€™s attention. He paused on the sidewalk, staring into the shadows between the two buildings. Tugging out his mace, he thought about the promise heâ€™d made to Les, his boss. He wasnâ€™t supposed to go into dark alleys anymore, not after the last time when some kids whoâ€™d wanted to steal his wallet had beaten him up. It didnâ€™t matter that both Les and Max had taught him some self-defence moves.
Peter snorted quietly. Who was he kidding? Even though heâ€™d learnt some moves, that didnâ€™t make him a black belt or anything. Heâ€™d be lucky not to hurt himself if he tried something.
A pain-filled moan emerged from the alley again, and Peter took a deep breath. He couldnâ€™t walk away when someone might be in there, and might be hurt. Maybe he should call the police. It would be the smart thing to do, but Peter didnâ€™t want to do the smart thing. He wanted to do the brave thing, which would be to enter the alley. As long as he had his mace and his phone ready, he should be okay.
"Hello?" he called out, unsure he wanted an answer. He wasnâ€™t brave, not really. Peter could admit that to himself, if not anyone else.
Another moan drew him closer, and he decided it was now or never. Not going in really wasnâ€™t an option for him, not if someone really was injured or dying in there. After straightening his shoulders, he strolled into the alley like he was six-five and muscle-bound.
Max had told him that one way not to become a victim was to act like he knew what he was doing. 'Keep your eyes up, and shoulders back. Meet a personâ€™s gaze as they approach you. That way theyâ€™ll know youâ€™ve seen them. It makes most people hesitate before attacking'. He could hear Maxâ€™s explanation in his head.
Peter hadnâ€™t gone very far before he almost tripped over a man sprawled on the ground.
"Oh shit. Iâ€™m sorry. Are you all right?" Peter crouched next to him, but answered his own question. "Of course youâ€™re not all right. If you were fine, you wouldnâ€™t be lying in an alley."
The stranger muttered something, and Peter leaned closer to him. The smell of alcohol and sweat hit his nose with all the force of a wind storm. He rocked back on his heels, gagging slightly. Not even Yancey, after helping a horse give birth, had smelt that bad.
"Great," he muttered. "I came back here to save a wino."
Peter might have disliked the fact that the man was drunk, but he couldnâ€™t very well leave him helpless in the alley. He reached to grab the manâ€™s arm.
"Iâ€™ll help you out of here."
"What are you doing?" The strangerâ€™s rank breath caused Peter to wrinkle his nose in disgust.
"I just said I was trying to help you out of here. I actually think I should call an ambulance. You should really go to the hospital." Peter grimaced as he practically lifted the man to his feet. "Iâ€™m Peter, by the way."
"Iâ€™m Chaz, and I wonâ€™t go to the hospital. Iâ€™ll be fine. Just need a place to crash for a few days." Chazâ€™s head rolled on his shoulders, a dirty, disgusting version of a ragdoll.
Peter shook his head. "I really donâ€™t think thatâ€™s a good idea. You smell like youâ€™ve been on a three-day binge without stopping to take a shower or brush your teeth. Iâ€™ve seen pigs that smell better than you."
"Donâ€™t know you, man. Not sure you have the right to judge me." Chaz sounded indignant.
Peter couldnâ€™t help it. He snorted as he dragged Chaz towards the alley entrance. "Chaz, Iâ€™m not judging you. Iâ€™m simply stating a fact about the way you smell."
They got to the sidewalk where Peter lowered Chaz to the ground. The man leaned against the building then rested his head back on the brick wall. Standing there, Peter studied Chaz, unsure why his heartbeat increased as he looked at him. It had to have been because of dragging Chaz from the alley. Yet Peter knew that was a lie.
Chaz was covered in dirt, obviously not having made the acquaintance of a shower at any point in the last couple of days. It was hard to tell the colour of his hair because of the grime. His green eyes were bloodshot and there were dark bags under them. Peter doubted Chaz had had any sleep in the last several days.
He noticed that Chazâ€™s hands shook and his skin was sickly pale under the dirt. Peter couldnâ€™t be a hundred per cent sure, but he thought Chaz might have been high, or coming down from a high.