|:/: OTHER SHORTS :\:|
Lucy had once spent a Summer in a work camp for juvenile delinquents. Boys and girls with attitudes and rap sheets stuffed into cabins, surrounded by chain link fences topped with razor wire. Camp, they called it, but everyone knew it was really just a prison with training wheels.
She remembered the night a Summer storm had rolled through. City storms were not like country storms. There were no skyscrapers to shield you, no back alleys to hide in, no sirens or gunshots to compete with rolling thunder. In the country, you could see the sky; you could bear first-hand witness to the terrifying smallness of yourself under the pitch black sky crawling with lightning streaks.
She'd shivered, shivered until her teeth chattered, until her bunk shook. But at least it was the top bunk. She’d bitten off the toe of a butch girl to get it. A girl who wanted nothing more than to stake her claim as a bully, if only to feel powerful and strong for a little while. But it’s hard to feel strong when you’re watching your own blood run down the chin of a girl like Lucy. It's impossible to feel any sense of power when a girl like her has your toe firmly wedged between her teeth.
Lucy had tried desperately not to shake and tremble with each crash of thunder. A familir sense of helplessness, smallness pressed on her. Outside, the storm raged. Trees splintered, dropping their branches onto the tin roofs of the cabins. Thin wooden walls swayed and creaked with each blast of rain. Girls cried and whimpered in the dark.
Then Teddy's grumbly voice had appeared in her ear, his soft, furry muzzle pressing against her neck. He’d told her to feel relieved. After all, it was just a storm; there were no “uncles” around. None of Mommy’s boyfriends. There were no floorboards creaking under the weight of tip-toeing feet, no bedsprings squeaking, and no shushing. The shushing was always the worst part.
“Shhhhhhhh . . . let’s not wake Mommy.”
Those terrible shushes, like breezes full of rot.
It had been a bad night. The younger girls peed themselves, knowing they’d face ridicule in the morning. The older girls had already learning how to use pillows and mattress to mute their sobs.
But Lucy . . . Lucy snored like a baby . . . while Teddy whispered sweet nothings in her ear. Tomorrow, we’ll find out what it’s like to be like one of those wolves we heard, to sink our fangs into someone’s soft, white neck and taste blood.
She’d considered consoling one or two of the other girls, the ones she liked well enough. She’d considered crawling in with them, wrapping them up in her arms, kissing an ear or a shoulder and chanting, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
But she hadn’t.
The cabins were full of criminals who whimpered like little girls while they cowered in their bunks, covering their heads with see-through thin sheets, biting their lips. And Lucy was the biggest coward of all.
It was a particularly vivid memory, because it was her last night in the camp. What she did the next day ended her stay forever.
She didn’t even remember what had started it, only that she’d found herself sitting in a puddle of mud, staring at the back of another girl. Then like one of those extra-bright lightning flashes, she was suddenly on top of the girl, her teeth sunk into the girl’s neck, and biting, vicious, voracious, biting deeper, her mouth filled with the coppery taste of hot blood. She swore she remembered an actual spurt on her tongue. She had the girl’s ponytail wrapped around her fist, her knees on the girl’s arms, her seemingly weightless body pinned, while she tried to chew her way through to the girl’s spine.
The rattling of a cow bell snapped her from her reverie.
The stormy night faded, the taste of blood, the shushing of an “uncle”.
She blinked, grabbed a can of soda from the long line, and closed the glass door.
Teddy glared at her in the reflection, his furry mug, his toothy grin, his red bow tie, his dark eyes flashing with menace.
Wake up, shithead. There's trouble.
Sure enough, she heard the spattering stutter of the Pakistani clerk begging, his thick accent indecipherable. She couldn't remember, but she thought the guy's name was Prem. Or maybe it was fucking Ali-baba. What did it matter?
Don't forget your . . . y'know . . . girl stuff, Teddy reminded her, blushing as much as a bear can blush.
I didn't forget.
She hated the girl aisle, the aisle with the pretty pink boxes and the wads of cotton that cost an arm and a leg just so you could shove them in and out of your privates all day.
She felt like shit. But then, she'd eaten shit. Her cramps had begun at six in the A.M. She felt flushed, and thick, and fat and ugly and like she'd caught the flu off a dozen immigrants fresh off the boat from some diseased monkey jungle.
She grabbed the Always box without the fucking wings that liked to come unglued and grab her fucking pubic hair and bring her to her fucking knees.
Y'know, you could be screwing your .45.
It was Teddy's way of saying, put on your fucking silencer if you don't want to wake the fucking neighborhood. Although, it would hardly make a splash in this place. There were still bullet holes taped up from the last robbery.
Still, he had a point.
She thought about waiting, but dammit all if she wasn't in a hurry. She was out of fucking tampons and her fucking period was due. She didn't want to even think about it, and she sure as hell didn't want to have to ask to use the employee-only bathroom.
By the time she made it to the counter, there was only Prem and no one else. She hadn't heard the cow-bell door chime again, so she knew the asshole was here, but even a surreptitious check of the mirrors didn't reveal the fucker. She set her soda, caramel-popcorn, chocolate bar and tampons on the counter and let the print of her index finger slip across the trigger guard in her pocket.
Out of the corner of her eye, through the large plate-glass window, she just caught site of a police cruiser finishing its patrol. It waited at the light forever, turned and disappeared down a side street.
"Wu-wuldad be all, Miss?"
She studied Prem's eyes. Too wide, too wet, too willing. His usual swarthy brown complexion was two shades too white.
"Yeah, I guess."
Fuck! Teddy cursing was never a good sign.
Check Ali-baba's eyes.
She thought she had, but sure enough, his gaze kept flitting down. He was either trying to subtly mime that he had the schlong of a Stallion-esque coke-fiend or he had company behind the counter.
She thought about how she might find out for certain.
"Can I . . . get a pack of menthols?"
Prem blinked. He knew her well enough to be surprised. She’d never asked for smoke before. He turned, took a few steps and reached up, pausing. "100 lights," she added, and he hopped up on his tip toes and did a nice yoga stretch for the top rack.
She gazed long and hard into the plastic shelves of the porn magazines, and could just make out the shape of a person on the floor, pistol raised.
While Prem was stretching, she reached over and blindly emptied her silenced .45 into the floor behind the counter.
It took Prem a full second to realize what she’d done. It only took half of a second to dive over the counter top and out the door, ringing the cowbell in record time. She popped out the clip and fished around in her pocket for another one. She slapped it in just time to round the counter.
There, bleeding, wheezing on the floor was a black man in a ski-mask with a pool of blood already forming around and beneath him.
She knelt beside him, peeled the mask from his face and admired his dark eyes. They were filled with shock and terror.
She smiled at him and pointed the muzzle of her silenced pistol at him. He shook his head, as much as he could anyway.
"Don't worry. It's just a precaution. I figure the cops aren't in any hurry to get here or anything. Besides, it's kinda beautiful to watch you guys when you go. I hope you don't mind. I'd kinda like to watch. Would that be okay?"
He sputtered, spit up blood, mouthed some unheard words that might not have been words at all, maybe just spasms. She wiped the blood from his mouth with his shirt collar, and giggled. "Bet'cha didn't think you'd end up here today, didja?"
He tried to shake his head, but could only manage a couple of slight jerks.
She removed the gun from his clenched fist, shushing him. "Now, now, you won't be needing this anymore. You made your choice." She couldn’t help chuckling. "You fucked up."
She laid down on the floor beside him and gazed into his eyes, watched them as they dimmed, the spark of life, the consciousness, the intelligence fading. His eyelids lowered, bit by bit. His leg twitched a little, then his hand, then his lip. Interesting. She was watching his body shut down, his brain cutting off all systems but the most crucial system of all, itself. How selfish.
"Did you have a shitty life?" she whispered. "Or a rewarding one?"
He was too busy snatching one last breath to respond.
Slowly, almost thoughtfully, his eyelids closed and his face relaxed. Despite the bloody hole in his neck and the sprinkle of blood on his cheek, he was almost beautiful. His thick, squashed nose, neck like a tree trunk, his sexy plump African lips. The shine of his dark skin, his heavy brow, his sunken caveman eyes.
She heard a siren in the distance.
That police cruiser had certainly been in the right place at the right time.
She dashed out the back, tucking her .45 into her pocket. She would like to have fled home, but there was no point; she had unfinished business.
She went up the alley, but the siren got louder. She paused to reflect on the rolled up cardboard with the filthy feet sticking out the end. Hey! Teddy laughed. Look! It's a human tamale. She heard the frenetic voices of the cops, the slam of their car doors. If they were smart, one would go through the front while the other circled around the back . . . right smack dab into her. They'd want to talk to her, wouldn't they? Maybe take her into custody, what with her holding the murder weapon and all. With a silencer, no less. That was a lot of questions she didn't really feel like answer.
Teddy nipped at her ear. Why not give the tamale-boy some company?
She peeled back the cardboard and gazed down at the guy who grumbled and fussed like Oscar the grouch. He squinted in the sunlight, not quite believing that a pretty girl with such pretty lips would be crawling in beside him. He believed the knife she put to his neck well enough. That made perfect sense. The world was a cruel place, and he was stuck in the shit and mud and now a pretty girl with pretty lips and a pretty floral smell was going to slit his throat.
She snuggled behind him, the cold blade attached to his neck like a piece of venomous jewelry. Shushing him, she kissed his ear and whispered instructions. "Don't worry. I'm just here for a couple of hours. Put out the light, pull up the covers and let's get some sleep, 'kay?"
He was tense, but he did as he was told.
After an hour, he began snoring again.
After two hours, she began snoring as well. * * *
Jesus, you gonna sleep all day? Teddy was better than an alarm clock. He licked her nose and she groaned.
I hate it when you do that, she told him.
He laughed at her. That's why I do it.
She glared at his furry, threadbare nose. You're an asshole.
He smiled, his patented fanged grin, his eyes twinkling like the devil at an abortion clinic. What was your first clue? P.S. You stink!
She would probably have to throw her clothes away or burn them to get the stench of that homeless wretch off her, but then that had been sort of her plan anyway. She rolled back the cardboard and vaguely recalled watching the boots of a police officer run past, the commotion, the earnestness, the drama. Her homeless guy had performed beautifully. Quietly sleeping through the day, hiding her, whether he knew it or not. If she spotted him again, maybe she would bring him a bottle of something and help him die a little quicker, but then she probably wouldn't be coming back to this particular alley ever again. At least not for awhile anyway.
She got to her feet, stretched, yawned, admired the cloudless night, the shine of the streetlight on oily street, wrinkled her nose at the nasty, sour aroma of the garbage bins and made her way down the alley to the back of the store.
She picked the lock of the back door and slipped inside, quiet as a mouse.
She was surprised to find the store dark. It was a twenty-four hour joint, after all.
There wasn't exactly a lot of rooms. Sales floor, storage room and office. There she found Prem, having a drink, looking sullen and alone, a glass of liquor before him. He'd clearly had a bad day.
She stood at the door for a good three minutes before he noticed her. He jerked up, his eyes filled with terror for half a second before ruling her out as a threat.
She nodded, smiled.
"I wan to dank you. I don know if whad you did was right, but I feel dankful anyway."
Her smile turned sad. She shook her head. "Oh, Prem. You really shouldn't."
His eyes fell to the .45 in her hand, extra long with the silencer. He blinked, glanced back up at her with confusion. "I don . . . I don understand."
She aimed for the little wrinkle between his eyes. "If that fuckhead had killed you, I wouldn't have got my money. Oh, and Prem . . . when some asshole wants you to pay for protection, you really should do it, y'know? Otherwise, this kind of thing happens. Now, they want you to be an example. See?"
"But . . . but, no . . . I have a wife and children. Two girls. Daughters."
Teddy sighed. Tell me you're not gonna listen to this shit, sap sad story.
"Tell me something," she said, "do you love them? Have you been good to them?"
He blinked, and for a moment she thought maybe he hadn't heard the question.
"I've . . . I've tried. I’ve tried . . . so hard."
She made a sappy, weepy frog face and sniffled, ignoring Teddy's rolling eyes. "Then they won't forget you."
She papped him between the eyes and for a moment was lost in the tree-like spray of blood on the wall behind him. He fell forward and rolled off the chair, doing a somersault, head over heels over head until he sprawled out flat on the floor.
After a long moment, while they both stood and stared, Teddy began to clap. Sweet! He laughed and put two furry fingers in his fanged mouth to make a whistle. He slapped his knee like a character out of Hee-Haw.
She chuckled, watching him carrying on.
He caught her gaze. What? Well, seriously, it's not like a corpse does acrobatics every day. God--fucking--God! I wish we had that on film! That was so . . . FUCKING COOL!
She headed for the back door but paused. Her pants were suddenly wet, sticky, tacky with blood. "Goddamit!" In all the commotion, she'd forgotten her period and now she was leaking. "I really liked these pants, too."
Teddy stuck his furry nose between her legs before she could stop him, then gave her a gentle pat on the thigh and gazed up at lovingly at her. You smell like a three day old condom.
Thanks a lot.
She wandered through the dark store, grabbed a can of soda, a box of caramel-popcorn, a chocolate bar and some tampons.
Y'know, Teddy warned her, you're probably leaving evidence all over the place, what with your mess and all.
Yeah, I thought of that.
He grabbed her hand and waddled beside her toward the backdoor. Maybe we should go back to Chicago, whaddya think?
Fuck it, she told him.
He stopped short, even as she pushed through the back door and into the cold night air.
What are you thinking? he snarled, sounding dubious and strangely threatened.
Get the fuck out! Really?
Yeah, why not?
He contemplated it, waddling after her, enjoying the echo of the soda can pop-top off the brick walls. After a moment, she felt his grin appear in her mind.
She stopped and glanced down at him. He gazed up at her with a wide, devilish grin.
I've always wanted to . . . y'know. . . .
She laughed aloud. "Okay, Teddy . . . we'll kill a cowboy."