Abernathy drove a forest-green ’72 Mustang through a narrow downtown avenue. She wore her favorite outfit, red vinyl over black wool. The gold in her ears glittered like the gold flecks in her eyes.
She waited for the passing light of a streetlamp, and corrected her makeup in the rearview, straightening the ridged black lines between panels of medieval color.
It had been the asshole riding next to her, Ishii, who’d smeared her makeup. He was unconscious now, which was a kindness given the state he was in, a kindness he didn’t deserve.
The Mustang was his. Even the Black Dragon Brothers don’t like Jap cars, Abi thought, and chuckled.
She’d warned him a month ago, after a shootout at the Friendly Acres meat packing plant. Her warning had taken the form of a mild beating and a trip to the police station. He’d had a warrant out for unpaid child support and spent a couple weeks in a cell.
Abi had warned him, but he wasn’t smart enough to take her seriously, and now there were two dead kids. She felt more responsible than she knew was logical. One of them had been a new recruit for the Brothers, a kid who should have been in school instead of slinging dirt. The other was a bystander caught up in the Black Dragon Brother’s turf war with the Phoenix Feathers.
Ishii had passed out when she’d taken her crowbar to his second kneecap. But she’d continued. She hadn’t been thinking clearly as she’d worked on him, but, it’s hard to kill kids when your cartilage is paste and your bones are powder, had been spinning in her head like a prayer.
She screeched to a stop in front of the University Medical emergency clinic, because he didn’t have any warrants out on him this time.
Abi reached across his lap and opened the passenger door before kicking Ishii out onto the curb. She leaned over further, straining as she reached for the open door.
Ishii wasn’t moving, she worried for a moment she might have killed him, but she was sure, even if she had been a bit frenzied, she hadn’t done anything but crush his hands, feet, knees, elbows, and clavicles, nothing necessary to life.
Red and blue light flashed across her fingers, and she sat up, seeing the cop car parked behind her.
She peeled out, and the door slammed closed. She realized that would have been easier to begin with.
Her Mustang had twice the horses as the cop’s Dodge Diplomat, and she’d gained half a block before the cop had even gotten going, but he was on her then, and it was cornering she needed more than horsepower in those narrow streets.
She made it to Broadway and accelerated, weaving through the mild evening traffic. She could have lost him, for a few miles anyway, but then there would have been helicopters and road blocks.
He was right on her tail, against training for good reason, and she slammed on her breaks. She always found car crashes louder than she expected, even though she’d been in dozens. Her head was spinning. She’d lost time, probably from a forehead impact with the steering wheel.
Abi climbed out, checking her lead pipe was still in the back of her pants. The gawkers were already gathering, cars stopping, drivers peering at her through safety glass.
She started running, but stopped within a few steps. It hadn’t been much of a crash, just a little rear-ender, but she had visions of faces cut up by broken windshield. She didn’t want the first man she killed to be a cop. It wouldn’t read well in the papers.
Abi turned back, and saw the cop getting out. He looked a bit shaken but very much alive and holding a pistol. She started running again.
She’d heard his footsteps after her at first as she dashed down a dark alley, but she seemed to have lost him. She tried door after door, locked as they should have been, but one steel door opened and she ducked in.
The room was familiar, she thought at first, a laundry, probably, by the commercial scale jugs of bleach and bundles of china doll white dish towels. She grabbed one of those towels, and started scrubbing at the newly repaired makeup on her face revealing the milk chocolate skin underneath. After the car crash, and that day’s harrowing events, she was ready to call it a night.
“Hello Miss,” a woman said, and Abernathy jumped.
Abi realized where she was, the Double Quick Laundry on First. And the grizzled old woman in front of her was Ms. Chu.
“Hi,” Abernathy said. “I’m sorry about the towel…. I’ll pay for it.”
“No, no,” Ms. Chu said, smiling wrinkles at her.
“Do you think- if a cop shows up, tell him you haven’t seen me, okay?”
“Of course. Do you have wheels?” Ms. Chu asked.
“No… I’m wheel-less at the moment.
“I am parked at the end of the block. The white Lincoln,” she said, holding out a set of keys, and pointing at a spot on the brick wall like she had x-ray vision.
“My grandson will drive me home,” Ms. Chu said, smiling again.
Taking favors was against Abi’s code. It made it feel like she was getting paid for a service, which ruined it. But she tried to look at Ms. Chu’s offer as manna from heaven.
“Thanks,” Abi said, grabbing the keys and dashing out.
What she’d done for Ms. Chu was really more like a favor than part of her work. Ms. Chu’s grandson had gotten jammed up with an armed robbery charge. It had been her grandson’s wannabe-gangster friends doing the dirt, and they’d copped to it a few days later, after Abernathy persuaded them.
She found the white Lincoln, and climbed in, ducking down low as a cop cruiser sped past.
Abi pulled out slowly, thanking God for Ms. Chu’s obsession with pale skin and the resultant dark tint on the Lincoln’s windows.
Her mind quickly turned to the logistics of returning Ms. Chu’s car. She could just drop it off in the morning and catch a cab home, but she had plans for tomorrow. She decided she would take the cab down to Twenty-Ninth Street territory and jack a ride off a street pusher. The Twenty-Ninth Street boys were next on her list anyway.
Abi hopped out, lifting the roll shutter on her rented garage. She parked and locked up again. It was another block home. She was pretty sure she was outside the search radius, but she still walked casually, keeping the thought I’m out to buy milk in her mind, which seemed to regulate her gait.
Mediatrix of all Graces, the church where she stayed, was in sight, and her heart raced. She was very well aware of the irony in getting busted on her doorstep, and irony’s way of creeping up out of nowhere.
It was a beautiful building, made more so in Abi’s eyes by the plaster that had discolored with age. It had been closed for remodeling for the last year, but from her basement she hadn’t heard any work being done.
She passed behind a shrub, through a hole in the hurricane fence, and continued quietly through the small graveyard and down the concrete steps to the basement.
Abi had changed the lock when she’d moved in, and had the only key in her hand as she turned the deadbolt. It wasn’t locked. The inside entrance to the basement was thoroughly blocked, and she was sure she’d locked up that morning.
She drew the lead pipe from the back of her jeans and slipped in. It was light inside, but only barely. Her camp lantern cast flickering shadows through the dozen shelves lined with books, dusty reliquaries, and hundreds of plaster statues of Mary. Those statues had been meant for a festival more than a year ago, before the church roof had collapsed. She knew she’d snuffed her lantern that morning, and even if she hadn’t it would have burnt out by now.
There were two woman sitting on her hide-a-bed. One looked Russian. Abernathy realized she didn’t know what a Russian looked like exactly, but Olena had pale skin and high cheek bones.
The other looked like a librarian, conservative and white, but was actually a spirit medium, and was holding a small black baby in her arms. She was named Berylanne, and had slipped Abernathy a heavy dose of hallucinogens the last time they’d met.
“Hi,” Berylanne said, waving one of the baby’s little arms, as Olena jumped to her feet.
“Your housekeeper let me in,” Olena said.
“…Housekeeper?” Abi asked.
“Your friend seems to have misunderstood,” Berylanne said.
“She’s not my friend. The one time we met she was pointing a rifle a little girl-”
“I had meant to kill the father not the girl- I’m sorry….”
“And you poisoned me, Berylanne-”
“It wasn’t poison-”
“I was vomiting for hours,” Abi said.
“That is the toll we must pay.”
“I don’t remember crossing a fucking bridge!” Abi said, imagining how often a toll booth operator had to clean vomit out of the coin receiver, probably too often.
“Please watch your language,” Berylanne said, dramatically covering the baby’s ears. She and Elisabeth, her partner, had named the baby Dumuzid.
“…My name is Olena.”
“I just… did not introduce myself properly, before,” Olena said, fidgeting as she stared down at her feet.
Olena’s eyes jolted up as she took a step back. She turned quickly to Berylanne, glaring at her like she’d been cheated. “I thought- I must have been mistaken.”
“Yes, you’ve misunderstood again…. You see those,” Berylanne said, pointing at the plaster figures.
“The statues?” Olena asked.
“…They are statues, but also the form your dea takes on Earth. This Mary is the same,” Berylanne said, pointing at Abi this time, “but formed from Abernathy rather than plaster.”
That seemed too true a statement for Abernathy to argue, but it was also high praise. She felt her head swelling.
“Why are you here?” Abi asked, referring to both of them, but Olena answered, dragging a cloth sack from behind the couch.
“I have brought you these, Miss Abernathy,” she said, handing her the sack.
Abi opened it hesitantly, seeing something shiny and red, and thinking of a time she’d raided a squat house and found a bag full of hands.
“Apples,” Olena said. “They were picked two days ago, thirty miles from here…. They taste of roses.”
“And you?” Abi asked, turning to Berylanne who’d started playing peekaboo with the baby.
“Ah, yes. Elisabeth asked me to come,” she said, tapping a finger on a small brown plastic record player on the table next to her.
“I have a deck,” Abi said.
It was July, she confirmed in her head. She wondered if there was some holiday she’d missed, and hoped they didn’t know her birthday, but that was two months off anyway.
“I know that now,” Berylanne said, which meant she’d rummaged through Abi’s things. “But I also brought this.” She held up a record, Teardrops on Your Letter by Hank Ballard.
“…Is it good?”
“Absolutely, but it’s really the b-side, The Twist.”
“…Not the one by Checkers?”
“This is the original,” Berylanne said.
“I prefer The Stones- What’s this about?” Abi asked.
“Would you like to hold Dumuzid,” Berylanne asked, holding up the baby.
“No,” Abi said.
“You’re too mean,” she said, putting the record on the player and dropping the needle.
“And listening to rock and roll’s gonna help that?”
“No. But dancing will,” Berylanne said, as a simple blues baseline started up, and, presumably Hank Ballard, sang come on baby.
“I think I have whiplash, and I don’t know how to Twist,” Abi said.
“You just… go like this,” Berylanne said, giggling. “Really though, you can dance however you like, and, once you do, I’ll leave for today.”
The idea of Berylanne leaving was a tempting one, though Abi was bothered by the today in her statement. “You too,” Abi said, turning to Olena. “I don’t want to dance by myself.”
“Y-Yes,” Olena said.
Abernathy tried her best at The Twist, mimicking faded memories of noisy black and white TV. Berylanne giggled, and the baby gooed and gawed as Abi ground her teeth.
It seemed Olena hadn’t grown up with American TV, and was probably too young anyway. Her dance was interpretive, but her rhythm was like a metronome. Abi reminded herself it wasn’t a competition.