The Moon at Her Feet

by lingonberryjelly

The Moon at Her Feet

by KECG

“Mel!” Becka yipped as her friend appeared next to her in the dark.

“Hey there, Sweety.”

Mel twitched. Maybe she wanted to give her a hug, but she didn’t try it.

“Whatcha been up to?” Becka asked as they started down the grimy and narrow alley she’d been hiking before her friend’s appearance.

“This and that,” Mel said, looking at her toes as they walked. “…You know, it isn’t so bad.”

“I know,” Becka said. They turned a corner onto Thirty-Ninth as a yellow El Camino zipped past.

There was a man wearing a wedding veil behind the wheel. Their eyes met for a moment. His girlfriend, Jane, sat shotgun. There was an actual shotgun in her hands. She coiled out of the passenger window and shot at the tires of a car that screamed after them.

“I’ve been keeping busy,” Becka said.

“That’s good,” Mel said. “Becka-”

“Poly will be fine,” Becka said. “Tim will be a very nice man, and Poly will love him, probably too much, but there’s nothing I can do about that.”

“I wasn’t…” Mel said, lying.

Mel was kind by nature. If not kind, then at least pleasant, but when it came to her daughter, Polydora, she could be ruthless. Jack had looked after Poly after Mel had left, and Becka had taken up the charge upon Jack’s passing. It was something Becka had already planned to hand off to Tim when they finally met.

“Thanks,” Mel said.

“Stop it. I love Poly too.”

The oversized engine of an eight-cylinder Norton roared in Becka’s ears. The bike was matte-black and huge, a two wheeled tank. Its rider seemed, as always, like a man out of time. Declan wore average looking black bike-leathers, though probably thicker than average and armored, and had the usual long-hair-and-beard outlaw-look. He chose not to cover the gaping hole where his left eye should have been; Becka wondered how often he needed to muck out the dead bugs.

On a shiny Sportser to his right, rode a chick in pink leathers that matched her bike. Her hair was huge, blond and curly. She was Valorie, Declan’s wife according to rumor. Older rumors suggested Declan had taken his time with the man who’d put the long Pink scar on Valorie’s neck.

Trailing behind them, and weaving on the road, was a boy wearing a dress. He had hair like an oddly stylish fox-skin cap, the ruddy-blond clashing terribly with the construction-orange of his Vespa.

“You love him, don’t you?” Mel asked, as Becka watched Declan’s clan rolling to a stop in front of a Toni’s Pizza.

“Tim?” Becka asked. She hoped the lingering gaze she’d cast in Declan’s direction hadn’t been so misunderstood.

Mel nodded. Mel didn’t show up often, and almost never without Jack appearing beside her. She’d probably wanted a girl talk. Even if Becka felt like Mel was a friend, she’d never had any confirmation.

“We haven’t really met yet,” Becka said.

“That doesn’t make any difference.”

Becka slowed her pace. Declan, Valorie, and the kid, were clumped around the entrance to Toni’s. Becka didn’t want a chance encounter and the ensuing small talk to make her late for her next appointment.

“Why do we need pizza at midnight on a Friday?” the kid asked, his orange hair flopping from side to side like an angry cat’s tail.

“Don’t you have something to say to Valorie?” Declan growled.

“I should be home right now- Tobie’s home, and we were cuddling on the couch until you-”

“Jo,” Declan said.

“…Sorry,” Jo said, staring intently at one of his fingernails.

“Good,” Declan said with a nod.

“I’m sorry you’re a dried up old whore!” Jo screamed, spittle sprinkling Valorie’s face as he skittered back to his scooter. He was veering off down the street before Declan could take a step.

“Don’t worry about it,” Valorie said, touching her finger’s to Declan’s cheek. “…No anchovies, right?”

“I was thinking mushroom and olive.”

Becka resumed her hike after Declan and Valorie were safely inside. It was really Jo who’d stood an unacceptable chance of slowing her down.

There was a man Becka needed to meet, he drove a key-lime Datsun he used as a transport vehicle. He sold cheap cuts of meat out of the back.

It was the exact same Datsun she’d owned for a day a few months earlier. She wondered what had happened to it since, a night in a police impound was a given, and then possibly an auction.

Their meeting would take place twenty-two minutes later. She would relieve him of the Datsun, among other things.

“I thought you’d probably be upset,” Mel said, distracting Becka from counting her steps. “I was kinda broken up, when I figured out it was over…. Even Jack-”

“I’ve been keeping busy,” Becka said, trailing off as she realized it was a line she’d tried already. “…We’re friends, yeah?”

“Totally,” Mel said, but then she seemed to freeze. “I mean, I think so. It’s kind’ve a weird question… maybe we’re like devotees of the same god-”

“I’m not religious,” Becka said, spying a black woman in her thirties and an old man of wrinkly-indeterminate age walking down the concrete steps to the basement of a red-brick church. Abernathy Green on her way to a late night meeting of anonymous alcoholics, with Tom as escort, it seemed.

That wouldn’t end well.

Abernathy was five days sober. She’d been to a dozen meetings so far, twice already that Friday. She’d sat on the same hard, straight-backed wood bench in that same church basement three times previously that week.

Tom had been with her the whole way. He was a preacher, the rare kind that preached to those with nothing to give.

She’d always hesitated to think of him as a friend, hesitant to ruin her last connection to her faith, but the way he’d followed at her heels for the last week, sleeping on a pallet next to hers and giving her a gentle tut-tut when she’d glanced longingly through the window of a 7-Eleven, felt more like the actions of a friend.

“What are you thinking about?” Tom whispered.

They were supposed to be listening to a man droning on about the coin collection he’d sold out from under his seven-year-old. Abi wondered if half the hackneyed stories those assholes told were true; they all sounded a bit too public awareness campaign.

“I was thinkin’ about you, I guess….”

“I’m too old for you,” Tom said, the wrinkles rippling out across his face as if his smile were a dropped stone.

Abi smiled too. She should have stretched first, because it felt like she’d pulled something.

The asshole stopped telling his boring story, and Tom joined the rest of the crowd in thanking him.

Abi felt a tingle down her spine and turned back to the entrance. She’d half expected to find Olena hiding in the shadows.

Olena was as Russian as her name, as were a couple more women in Abi’s clique; they could finish a bottle of Stoli apiece and still do cartwheels. Wendy, a very quiet girl from Cincinnati, tried her best to keep up. Pashtana, Olena’s best buddy, seemed to have been raised Muslim, but that didn’t slow her down a bit.

They weren’t the best company for Abi’s present endeavor.

She glanced up from a cut on her hand she’d been worrying. Freddy, or Jeffery, or something, a little balding white guy who was the leader of this group, was staring at her.

There was something disgusting in his eyes. Abi crossed out anything sleazy, even if he was looking at her like she was meat; she was almost certain he was gay. And it wasn’t race, because she’d seen him with actual black friends, rather than the usual pretend ones.

Then she realized, he wasn’t looking at her like she was meat. He was imagining himself as a slab on the dinner table. He was looking at her as if she were wearing her face paint, seeing her for what she was, Abernathy Green, The Glass Virgin, not the Abi Blank she’d introduced herself as.

He was frightened, and the look in his eyes made her nauseous.

The room full of desperate sweaty people was the wrong kind of quiet.

“This isn’t you, right Tom?” Abi asked squeezing his hand.

“No, Abi.”

She’d already known before he’d opened his mouth, and his gentle tone cut her more deeply than any blade or jacketed nine-mil.

“You might be able to slip out,” Tom said, his eyes glancing at what was either a back exit or a closet.

“No,” Abi said, standing up from the bench. “I guess Anonymous means jack-shit.”

“I- I have a duty, to the group as a whole,” Jeffery-or-Freddy said as the doors slammed open.

Men in black riot gear poured in, stomping their steel-toed boots on the musty wood floor. Most of the anonymous assholes hit the deck squealing while a few tried to dash out.

“I’m sorry,” Abi said, helping Tom up. “For asking if you ratted me…. I wasn’t thinking.”

Two-dozen black carbines circled around them like a huge training collar, but Tom seemed oblivious.

“You’re still having trouble with step one, right?” he said, smiling again. “The apologies can wait for later. You’ll get sick of ’em.”

She watched Tom’s back fade into the sea of riot-police as he hobbled his way out.

“Olena!” Abi screamed. “Don’t fight! Run!”

“Is Olena the one who put a knife to my throat?” Billy asked, wading through the other cops until she stood on one side of the circle and Abi stood on the other.

For some odd reason Billy was wearing her dress-blues with a gold shield on her breast and a cap that was a little big on her head.

Billy Seward was real police. Where most cops did it for the pay checks, it seemed with Billy it was more of a calling. She’d even dragged in the Masked Killer once.

She was shorter than most black girls, probably from the milk in her chocolate, but she didn’t need to paint her face to strike fear in her quarry; the hell-fire in her eyes was enough.

“Olena’s the one who chose to let you live,” Abi said, reaching her hand back to the lead-pipe tucked under her jacket.

“Hold!” Billy snarled as the riot cops took aim. “Only fire on my order.” Billy ignored the pair of huge revolvers that hung from holsters on her belt and drew a club instead. She held it out in front of her with both hands, taking a pose straight out of Zatoichi. “This time, we can have a fair fight.”

“So, you win, I get clinked, I win, they shoot me?” Abi asked, gripping her pipe like a rolled up newspaper.

A smile pulled at Billy’s lips. “That’s about what it is.”

“Fine by me,” Abi said.

She threw herself forward, swinging her pipe and clearing ten feet in a step.

The pipe left her hand and seemed to hang in the air. The pain climbed up her arm like an army of centipedes.

Her view of a dozen steel-toed boots faded to black.

The restroom at Manni’s Quikstop was conveniently located around back, and the lock had been busted for months. It was also disgusting beyond measure, caked with so many flecks of brown it appeared to have been painted shit-hue from the start.

Olena’s eyes were drawn to a particular brown patch on what must have been a white tile floor years earlier. It looked like dried blood.

She looked over at Tanya who was working on her face-paint in the steel-wool polished mirror. Better not to distract her.

Olena returned to her task, finishing up the angular black lines on Tinatini’s face. She’d already finished the fractured patches of deep red, green and blue.

When Olena first met her lady, Abernathy Greene, Abi had used surplus Halloween make up and eyeliner pencils to achieve her stained-glass camo; if she had time she used to finish with a spritz of high-gloss hairspray. But for the last couple of months she’d been using latex paint. It was shinier, and less likely to smear if some asshole managed to touch her face.

Olena had gone to basic training rather than finishing school. Her arts-and-crafts skills were sorely lacking. It had taken her three tries to finish Ketevan’s face-paint, and four tries on Wendy’s, due to foolish errors, but she was improving. Tinatini was looking solid on the first try.

Ketevan had the round features of a horse-trader on the steppe, and Wendy was an average looking black girl with a very square jaw, but Tinatini was the perfect subject. She was like a living skeleton wrapped in a layer of sheer white cloth, exactly like the icons Olena had grown up with. The paint just finished the picture.

Completing the final line, Olena thought of redoing her own face. It had been her first attempt, and she was sure it was inferior. She didn’t have time. The sun had set, and for once her lady actually needed her. And it was her fault.

Olena was sure if she hadn’t been chatting happily with Tanya she would have seen the police trucks rolling down the street.

She’d thought the tingling in her finger tips was simple nervousness. Tanya had been talking about her feelings while subtly suggesting that Olena do the same.

Olena had only noticed the police assault when Abernathy had screamed an order to run.

This face-paint…. The image of Our Lady in glass…” Olena said.

In her experience, operations were far more likely to succeed when the commander gave a good speech at the outset. And with Abernathy imprisoned she was left in charge.

Tinatini stared back at her with round glassy eyes, and the other girls, Ketevan and Wendy, stared up at her from their seats on the filthy floor.

Olena wished she’d taken a moment to think before speaking, but now she had no choice.

This face-paint, it makes us like statues, as if we have become the statues in church,” Olena said.

The girl’s heads bobbed while Tanya continued staring into the scratched-steel mirror.

There are big miracles and small ones,” Olena said, finally realizing her point. “It might be that a man parted the Red Sea, and it might be that be a man struck a rock and water sprang forth- These things could very well have happened, as the world is large and all that we see is as if through fogged glass, but… transubstantiation we will prove tonight!”

The girls’ painted faces were blank, probably confused. Olena had failed.

Her thoughts turned to missions she’d completed successfully following a terrible speech from an incompetent commander. It had happened at least twice, she was sure.

…Tanya,” Olena said.

Tanya turned away from the mirror with her face-paint complete. There was a streak of shiny red on her black bangs, but she’d done a very nice job. Her face was almost as perfect as Abernathy’s usually was, and on her first try.

Olena’s mouth opened, very nicely done, she’d meant to say, but the words had stuck in her throat.

Tanya was staring at her. It wasn’t the confusion she saw in the eyes of the other girls. It seemed to be fury, the kind of rage that could set fire to nations.

We need teargas,” Tanya said. “And more efficient bludgeoning weapons than crowbars and pipes.”

I… have… chain,” Wendy volunteered. Wendy was from Cincinnati, but it seemed she’d picked up enough Russian to hold her own.

I agree…” Olena said. “Our enemies this night will be stronger than our usual prey.”

Tanya’s glare hardened as she smiled. It was sickly, her skin wrinkled under the stiff latex, pulled back by straining muscle. Olena’s heart raced.

Their relationship had been on shifting ground of late. Tanya was her oldest friend, but it had seemed she’d changed in the years they’d spent apart.

Olena realized now, the soft tenderness Tanya had shown her wasn’t something new, just a part of herself she’d never felt safe enough to let free. But the black pit inside of her, so much blood held so tightly it absorbed the light, that part of her was still there.

They would need it.

Jane pounded on a big steel door, and an eye-level plate of steel slid to the side. A pair of suspicious eyes peeked through.

Howdy,” Jane’s boyfriend said.

Her boyfriend was looking sharper than usual. After one of Tom’s itinerant friends had up-chucked on the front of his coat, Jane had insisted on making a stop at a coin-op laundry. She’d taken the chance to give his veil a wash too; she’d been a little worried, but apparently, whatever the shimmery see-through fabric was, it was machine washable. She’d even played home-maker for a minute and given his gray canvas coat an ironing.

This might be tough,” he said, turning his dead eyes in her direction.

Rolling Jimmy?” she whispered as the big door swung open.

Nah,” he said.

They stepped off the slime covered asphalt of a china-town alley and into the musty hall leading to Jimmy Xi’s storeroom.

The heavy Xi kept as a doorman looked like a member of the golden horde poured into a tracksuit.

It’s just, starting shit with the cops is always trouble,” her boyfriend said as the heavy started patting him down.

When he’d finished with her boyfriend, he turned to her, his hands drifting toward her breasts until Jane’s glare froze him in place.

He finished his search uneventfully, and they started down the hall.

Jimmy Xi wasn’t exactly the go-to arms dealer in town, maybe third down the list, but he sold cheap. He was also a little creepy.

Jane had been looking forward to taking him out as soon as the opportunity arose, and their lack of arms and lack of cash was at least motivator if not opportunity.

Jimmy sat in a big chair behind a big oak desk in a dimly lit room that, from the dangling fixtures, looked like it might once have been a restaurant kitchen. He was wearing a suit like Cagney’s in Public Enemy, and couldn’t pull it off.

There were half a dozen chinagirls around him wearing dresses that looked to be made from Christmas wrapping-paper. One of them was rubbing Jimmy’s round shoulders while another topped up his glass. It looked like good scotch. Jane figured they’d swipe it for the after-party.

Mr. Masked Killer, and your woman,” Jimmy said, “how pleasant a surprise.”

Yeah,” her boyfriend said.

Jane’s eyes were drawn to a new feature of Jimmy’s office, a small fish bowl on his desk, home to a pair of frilly fish with scales shimmering the same bright colors as his servant-girls’ dresses.

So, what can I do for you today?” Jimmy asked.

They’d planned this job, as far as things go. Jimmy kept a gun under his desk and had made the unfortunate mistake of taking it out to show off.

So, the plan was, Jane would dive across the desk. She would tackle Jimmy to the ground and give him a licking while her boyfriend would get the big shiny pistol and hold back the heavy if he was of a mind to interfere.

Jimmy was a slime-bag, but he hadn’t really done anything to deserve killing. They’d only planned on robbing him.

Jane was supposed to dive across the desk, and she needed to quick because they hadn’t planned on any patter, but the colorful fish hadn’t done anything to anybody.

There was an odd creaking sound, and then a thud. Jimmy didn’t seem to notice.

Her boyfriend cleared his throat. “We need three boxes of nine-mil, and ten boxes of forty-five.”

Abernathy was in jail, Jane and her boyfriend had read about it in the morning paper. That was why they were there, or why they needed guns at least, but Jane was staring at five Abernathys, five Glass Virgins. Highly disconcerting.

Hello, Jane,” Olena said. Her face-paint was a little screwy, lopsided, and Abi’s girls didn’t usually paint their faces.

Wendy was easy to recognize, but Jane couldn’t tell Tinatini from Ketevan under the paint, and there was a fifth member of their crew she’d never met. She had some weird name, Abi had told her but Jane couldn’t remember.

Hey,” Jane said. “Whatcha doing here?”

We require teargas, and possibly black jacks, if these are available,” Olena said, and the new girl nodded.

Teargas, yes,” Jimmy said. “I have some very fine truncheons, if they would suit your purposes.”

Olena looked over at the new girl who nodded again. “We have no money,” Olena said. “We have come to rob you.”

We had the same idea,” Jane said with a smile.

This isn’t funny,” Jimmy said, his hand moving slowly for the pistol under his desk.

Hey there,” a deep voice growled, and everyone turned back to the entryway.

Jane reached for the pistol that wasn’t in her belt. Declan wasn’t a target anymore she reminded herself. The giant biker with a missing eye had been trying to go straight, after she and her boyfriend had put a few holes in him.

Door was open,” Declan said, “and Yao seems to be taking a nap…. You get the crossbow I ordered?”

M- Mister Declan,” Jimmy said. “I will pay you ten thousand dollars to kill these… bandits.”

Bandits, huh?” Declan said.

Jane’s boyfriend chuckled, something like the sound of a rattlesnake leaking through unsmiling lips. “Seems it’s been a hard month all-around,” he said.

Well,” Declan said. “Two problems…”

Jane noticed something strange, stranger even than the night had gone so far. In the shadows behind Jimmy and his chinagirls, there was something moving, writhing in the dark.

…First, I usually get paid ten-grand a head,” Declan said. “Second, I’m playin’ it straight now.”

He got married,” Jane’s boyfriend added. Olena stared at Declan like she was wondering what wifey must have looked like; rumor was, Valorie used to trick.

The writhing darkness came into focus. It was a girl fumbling with something, an electric plug. A neatly coiled string of Christmas-lights started blinking in her arms. The girl was named Becka.

Jane didn’t really like thinking about it, introspection being the first step on the path to suicide, but she figured she and her boyfriend were pretty well adjusted. They’d just chosen an unusual line of work. But Becka was serious-crazy.

She seemed to pick her victims randomly; though they’d gone after the same target often enough that maybe there was some moral criterion. Her choice of weapon was equally random, and then there was her fashion sense.

Today she wore a red dress, low cut and fit for a dinner party before it had been speckled brown with dried blood. She had a pair of orange flip-flops on feet that were cloaked in pastel Easter-egg socks, probably chosen to match the pair of white bunny ears sprouting from her headband.

She also talked to ghosts.

So… about that crossbow,” Declan said.

The whole lot of them, Declan, Olena and her crew, Jane and her boyfriend, and Jimmy’s girls, were all watching Becka now as she shambled toward the back of Jimmy’s seat. Jimmy himself was the exception.

Jimmy’s eyes were still darting nervously from face to face as Becka dropped a loop of Christmas-tree lights around his neck and yanked.

She turned her back to him and leaned forward, dragging him up out of his chair.

Jimmy started kicking as his girls screamed. There weren’t any clear exits so the girls skittered for the nearest corner.

Jane picked up the bowl of colorful fish just as one of Jimmy’s Italian loafers put a dent in the desk’s oak veneer.

Hey, Becka,” Jane’s boyfriend said.

Jimmy stopped kicking. His bugged-out eyes were matte and still, but Becka hadn’t dropped him yet. “Hello,” she said, too musically for the context.

Olena’s group muttered to each other in Russian as Declan started rummaging in a stack of cardboard boxes. Jane’s boyfriend was still watching Becka work. She’d let Jimmy down and was now rifling his pockets.

Becka came back up holding a gold Zippo and gave the crowd one of her casket-smiles. “The Big Noodle on Sixth,” she said. “Tomorrow at noon.”

Having killed her prey, taken her bounty, and had her say, Becka receded back into the darkness.

What was that?” Jane asked.

Lunch invitation, probably,” her boyfriend said. “I guess we’ll all live through the night.”

I wish the Big Noodle served pizza,” Jane said.

You hear The Virgin’s in the slammer?” he asked, looking at Declan now who was still rummaging in the boxes. Olena’s jaw clenched.

Yeah,” Declan said. “I figured I’d help out.”

Jack ask you too?” Her boyfriend said.

Jane owed Abi for giving her shelter a while back, but her boyfriend was along on their quest to grant the dying wish of a dead buddy. Jack had apparently asked him to look out for Abi if he got the chance.

No,” Declan said. “Funny story, Mel had a gun to my head one time- D’you know Mel?”

A little,” her boyfriend said.

It’s not that funny a story,” Declan said. He tossed an empty box to the side and started checking over a heavy looking crossbow with a wood stock. “Anyway, Mel would’ve wanted me to help.”

So, they were both doing favors for dead people.

A six by nine cell behind gray-painted steel bars. Concrete floor. Concrete walls. Concrete ceiling. Bars over the little window; it was too high to look out. The whole place smelled like a skid-row hospital.

Abi had only been a resident for 22 hours, but she was already going stir-crazy.

It was about eight on a Saturday night. She would usually be on the hunt. It was a good place to dry out at least.

Abi rubbed at the throbbing lump on the side of her head, where Billy Seward’s club had clipped her.

She wondered when they would turn the lights out, because even if she wasn’t tired, sleep seemed like the only option.

She lay down on the hard bed and shut her eyes tight. She tried to will herself to sleep.

There was something whirring and pounding in the distance. She thought maybe she was hearing her pulse. She turned her head from side to side, and, no, it seemed to be coming from the tiny window.

She jumped up and set her back against the cold bars, standing on her tiptoes. The angle was wrong, and all she could see was a tiny barred-rectangle of dark sky.

Abi vaulted forward and up, planting a boot on the steel sink and launching herself at the window. She grabbed the bars and felt her biceps scream as she wrenched her face closer to the dirty glass.

There seemed to be a riot brewing outside, or maybe a student protest. A huge number of people were holding up poorly painted signs and chanting something.

There was a red-headed girl on an orange scooter slowly driving back and forth in front of the crowd. She was cutting a line between the protesters and a bunch of cops in riot gear and seemed to be yelling something.

Abi strained her eyes, slightly curious what they were protesting; it was a distraction from staring at the concrete.

Mirror of Justice, one sign read. It was held by a young black guy, college-type, with an incensed look on his face. Jail Killers not Saints, another read.
Abi recognized the old woman holding it, Ms. Chu, owner-proprietor of the Double Quick Laundry. She was surrounded by most of her congregation.

Abi finally realized what they were chanting and let go of the bars. She dropped to the concrete floor and rubbed at her arms.

Shit…” she said. Free Abi Greene. It had a ring to it.

You Abi Greene?” a woman asked.

Abi saw a pair of dark eyes staring at her through the bars across the hall.

Yeah,” Abi said.

Well don’t you feel special.” The woman smirked. It wasn’t just a crooked smile, her lips were split by a scar that ran from chin to ear. It was only one of three scars on her face, evenly spaced, the third bisecting her right eye. It looked like she’d had a tussle with a bear.

Fuck off,” Abi said.

The woman kept staring at her. Her smile eventually slipped. “I was just playin’.”

There was a clunk-clunk at the end of the hall. Jail-dinner seemed to be served at six; it had been terrible. Abi hoped for a book cart.

Two minutes, tops,” someone said, and the door clunk-clunked again.

Abi heard footsteps echoing down the hall. The scar-faced woman flopped back on her bed and started picking at her nails.

An odd thought occurred to her. Olena was usually tiring, sometimes directly annoying, but Abi realized she really wanted to see her. But these weren’t a woman’s footsteps.

Miss Greene,” a young man said. “Can I have a moment of your time.”

He was a little on the thin side, a brunette, average over-all, except for his outfit. His brown slacks and very white shirt were sharply ironed, and his vest was patterned in subtle paisleys. If it weren’t for the sleeve-garters he would have looked like a lawyer. Who wears sleeve-garters, Abi thought.

The fuck you want?” she said.

This was the asshole-journalist who’d cornered her when she was on a bender and tagged along with her for a night. Abi couldn’t really remember the events of that evening. She’d avoided reading the article out of a general feeling of disgust, and she couldn’t remember his name.

Ah… Miss Greene, I was hoping for some background on… how you got here-”

Why?”

…My name’s Tobie Sanders, Senior Reporter with the People’s Voice-”

I know that,”Abi lied. “…You probly know more than me- They have some witnesses lined up?”

Yeah… I mean, yes, a hundred and eight of the people you’ve assaulted- attacked… the criminals you’ve taken off the street.”

That’s a big number,” Abi said, whistling a pair of off-key notes. “Don’t quote me.”

I wouldn’t, without permission,” Tobie said, shaking his head. “…But a quote would be nice- I already got one from Billy Seward.”

…What’d she say?”

Ah…” Tobie said, flipping through a notepad. “First she said, back off, and she started reaching for her pistol, and I freaked, and I think she felt bad, so she said, just doing my job.”

You hear anything about Olena?” Abi asked. “The girls get away okay?”

Your compatriots?”

I’m not a dike- You’d better not print that shit,” Abi said. She watched while Tobie flipped to another page and pointedly crossed something out.

…I haven’t heard anything about your friends,” Tobie said, “and the police would have been singing from the rooftops-”

The door clunked again and the guard’s voice echoed down the hall. “Time’s up.”

Thanks- for talking to me,” Tobie said quickly. “Anything you’d like to say to the public?”

Let’s see where this goes, I guess.”

Thanks,” Tobie said, beaming. “I’m… rooting for you.”

He dashed down the hall and was quickly out of sight.

…And you’ve even got a reporter in your pocket,” the scar-faced woman said. She had her chin resting on her hands as she lay on her bed, staring at her again.

You know I cripple people for a living?” Abi said, suddenly feeling tired enough to sleep.

You gotta learn to take a joke,” the woman said. “I’m Hilaria.”

…Abernathy.”

I can’t call ya Abi?” Hilaria asked.

Her dead ex-husband used to call her Abi, and, thinking about it, she kind of hated it.

You’re a lot prettier than I thought you’d be,” Hilaria said. “I thought anybody who paints their face has something to hide.”

The rumbling idle of Declan’s eight-cylinder Norton died out with a pop. He kicked the stand and dismounted.

He knew the claymore and fifty-pound sledge were securely strapped to his back, but he checked them anyway.

He’d parked in front of an average starter-yuppy dwelling, white stucco single-story with tar-paper shingles. The lights were glowing through the blinds in the windows.

He stalked across the lawn and hopped over the picket fence at the side.

The side-yard was gravel. It crunched under his boots.

The angels who made a habit of whispering in his ears were quiet, he wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or bad.

He snuck a peek through a side window. He was looking into the living room. There were a pair of cops, no real way to tell ’cause they were plain-clothes, but they were cops. They were sitting in Lazyboys on either side of a crim who was eating a micro-dinner while watching a sit-com; Declan could hear the laugh-track.

He looked up. The roof was two feet out of reach. He jumped, caught the ledge with his finger tips, and pulled himself up.

He tried to step quietly, but someone below said loud enough for him to hear, what’s that?

Declan pulled the sledge from his back. He struck down at the roof and heard a shriek from inside.

He drew the claymore from its sheath and knelt low before launching himself straight up. He tucked in his knees and hit the tar-paper hard. The roof gave way.

He crashed straight through in a hail of wood-chips and plasterboard. A banal what-thuh hit his ears as his feet hit the TV-table holding the crim’s dinner and the tip of his claymore plunged into the crim’s heart.

The man looked up at him with dying eyes as the cops fiddled with the guns strapped to their hips.

Go home to your mamas,” Declan said, as he ripped the claymore clear from the witness’s chest.

Blood sprayed, a hot mist on his face, and the cops drew their pistols.

Declan dove out through the window he’d peeked through and into the night.

How many’s this? Six?” Jane asked. Her face felt greasy and her bones were tired.

She didn’t tend to feel much for the evil fucks they put in the ground, but there was still a kind of moral exhaustion that kicked in toward the end of a killing spree.

Eight,” her boyfriend said. “This’ll be eight.”

They were standing next to their El Camino, parked across the street from a midtown police safe-house.

You can take a nap in the car,” he said. “If you need a rest.”

That sounded like a dig; He didn’t usually fuck with her though, so it was probably her mood.

D’you ever think, maybe….” Jane was really tired. She’d only gotten up at sunset, so it wasn’t like she had an excuse; she should have waited for the after-party before starting on the scotch. “This guy… one of those guys with the end-of-days signs, he told me, a year before Jesus comes back, all the good people are gonna get raised up into heaven.”

Sure,” her boyfriend said.

D’you ever think, maybe, if all the good people were lifted up, maybe nobody’d notice?”

His dead face turned on her. She thought for a moment maybe she’d pissed him off; with his vacant expression it was hard to tell. But then he started to laugh.

I’ve had that thought,” he said.

Al had been a cop for fourteen years. He was satisfied walking a beat. Working without a uniform felt odd. Very odd.

They had him wearing a sweatsuit and pretending to be a civvy. He was one of a half-dozen from his precinct watching a piece-of-shit perp who had some dirt on the Glass Virgin.

The asshole was in the bedroom snoring while Al sat in a hard metal folding chair next to the front door.

He heard rustling. Shift change was supposed to come a little before dawn. He wondered if he might have dozed off at some point and lost a few hours, but there was more coffee in his bloodstream than blood, so that seemed unlikely.

Who’s that?” Al said, standing up from his seat and putting his ear to the door.

Please, Sir. Our car has become broken,” a girl said in a weird accent.

Al put his eye to the peep-hole. He saw a quiet suburban street. No movement.

Please, Sir, we are in need of an Alan wrench.”

Al opened the door a crack, as far as it would open with the door chain in place. He still couldn’t see a thing.

Everything went black for a minute. In hind sight, the door chain hadn’t stood up to a well placed boot heel, and the corner of the door had fought with his forehead and won.

He lay on his back on the dingy safe-house carpet.

People walked around him. Women, some in black jumpsuits and a few in shiny cheongsams.

There was a shrieking wail somewhere in the house. Wailing all around him. Women screaming like angry ghosts and men screaming in time to the sound of bones breaking.

A woman stood over him, high cheek-bones under shiny paint. Red, green and blue in a pattern like a broken mirror. Her dark irises stood starkly in fields of empty white, a twin solar eclipse. She stared down at him like someone staring at a dead baby.

Do not be afraid,” she said, her accent like a nesting doll. “Our lady has taught us. We do not kill. We only maim.”

Abernathy was still trying to sleep. As the night had quieted the chanting had only become more pronounced.

What’d you do?” she asked. Hilaria might have been asleep already; the lights were out, but Abi didn’t care.

Killed a guy,” Hilaria said. “How ’bout you- I know you beat a lot of people.”

Yeah,” Abi said. “Who’d you kill?”

Not sure what his name was. One of the Juju Brothers. A pusher steppin’ in on our turf.”

You don’t know his name?” Abi asked. It wasn’t like knowing his name would have made it better, but that still seemed pretty cold.

I think my shit of a brother stitched me,” Hilaria said.

Abi wasn’t sure if it was anger she was hearing. Hilaria’s tone had been jovial enough, but that was cover.

…You might not wanna hear it now,” Abi said, “but… if you ask for forgiveness, it helps.”

The Goddess justifies my actions,” Hilaria said.

The uncertainty was gone, replaced with a kind of fanaticism Abi didn’t want to relate to, but did.

…You ever feel guilty?” Hilaria asked. “I mean, you have regrets, right?”

Abi had to think about it.

After getting shot up by an over zealous boy-in-blue a few weeks back, she’d turned to liquor for the pain. Drink didn’t agree with her, and she regretted the stupid humiliating shit she’d gotten up to but barely remembered. That wasn’t what Hilaria was talking about.

It’s like… I’m wracked with guilt every minute, but… I regret nothing,” Abi said through clenched teeth.

That’s… wonderful,” Hilaria said. “I’m gonna steal that, if I ever get out of here… the boys’d love it.”

The dark sky turned yellow-blue like a week old bruise, as Jane finished painting a long line of gasoline with a heavy five-gallon can. She’d paced a circle around the gym at the W. T. Sherman middle school, quietly hammering pine wedges under the back exits and preparing for a school’s-out-forever act of arson.

They’d already killed a dozen of the hundred and eight fucks who were going to rat Abernathy at her Monday arraignment, but that was just a drop in the bucket.

According to the itinerant network, the pigs had circled wagons and about thirty of the remaining witnesses were holed-up in that middle school gym.

Her boyfriend seemed to have finished digging the ditch he’d been working on.

There was a patch missing from the lawn, a hole in the dark earth behind a pair of Browning auto-rifles they’d found in Jimmy’s stash.

Jane thought back to middle-school. Her first heavy petting session had been at night on the football field. The guy’s name had been John. She’d hated him a little. More so after, when he’d told his friends about it.

Her boyfriend waved her over before laying down in the pit.

You think we should warn ’em?” he asked, rifling in his infinite-duffel.

Let me,” she said.

He passed her a mega-phone as she lay down beside him. She pushed a button and the mega-phone shrilled.

Alright you fucks!” she screamed. “The choice is smoke-pork, or just roasted dog!”

…You think they’ll get what you mean?” her boyfriend asked.

Probly. When the smoke hits’ em,” she said. She closed her eyes and struck a flare, tossing it blind to save her night vision.

Her boyfriend chuckled as the flames started climbing.

Abernathy Green!” a voice said. “You’re out.”

Abi had only just drifted off, or at least it felt that way; it had been dark out, but now it was dawn.

There was a man, a guard, standing at the door to her cell with a ring of keys in his hand. He fumbled with them while Abi wiped the sleep from her eyes.

You really are special,” Hilaria said.

The chanting outside had ceased. Maybe they’d won.

I’m startin’ to feel that way,” Abi said. She really wanted a drink. The sweet warmth of cheap bourbon would go a long way toward settling her stomach. She wondered if she could find Tom before she gave in.

Hilaria Vela,” Hilaria said as the key clunked and the door to Abi’s cell swung in.

…This was nice,” Abi said. “I haven’t joked around with somebody since… a long time.”

You could write me, care of corrections. Hilaria Vela. V, E, L, A….”

…Yeah,” Abi said. “I’m probly a lot less eloquent on paper.”

I don’t mind-”

What the fuck is this!?” Billy Seward screamed. She stood in the doorway at the end of the hall, strangling her right wrist with her left hand, probably trying her best not to draw a pistol.

She looked about ready to cry blood.

Becka sat in a hard blue chair at a hard red table at the Big Noodle on Sixth.

Jo, Declan’s red-headed kid, and Tobie, Jo’s reporter boyfriend had shown up first. Becka hadn’t invited them directly, but a party wasn’t a party without party-crashers.

Jo was sneering at her while Tobie was alternating between staring at Becka’s evening dress and staring at her bunny ears.

Becka thought the bunny ears were appropriately festive for a going away party.

Declan had shown up after them. He was sitting at a table by himself and staring down at the plate of noodles in front of him. He seemed to be pissed off at Jo and hadn’t said a word.

Did you have a nice evening?” Becka asked.

Declan looked over at her for a moment, before turning back to his noodles.

I haven’t slept,” Tobie said. “I got a great story though- Are you the Phantom Killer?”

No,” Becka said.

They tried calling me that too,” Jack said from the empty seat beside her.

I kinda like it,” Mel said.

I made a bunch of 911 calls,” Jo said. “The cops were tied up all night, chasing clowns exposing themselves on Twenty-Ninth and cannibal vagrants down an alley off Broadway.” He was clearly trying to hold back laughter. He failed, and diet-grape sprayed from his nose and all over the table. Tobie patted his back.

The door pling-plonged.

-Nine dead cops,” Abernathy said, casting sword eyes at Olena who held the door for her.

We killed none of those men,” Olena said.

Abernathy froze for a moment, noticing the party she’d walked into, but her escape route was blocked by her crew. Her group of followers had grown with the addition of three Chinese girls in silk brocade.

…Becka,” Abi said, pulling out a chair and flopping down. Becka smiled at her and noticed Olena’s hand drifting toward the pipe she had in her belt.

The Infinite Noodle Bowl begins in two minutes,” Becka said.

…That was always Jack’s favorite,” Abi said.

M- Miss Abernathy,” Tobie said. “Any comments on the DA dropping all charges.”

Seward was really pissed,” Abi said. “She looked like she wanted to claw out my eyes or somethin’.”

Can I quote you-”

No,” Abi said.

Hey,” Jane said, as the door pling-plonged again. She looked haggard beyond reason and slightly scorched around the edges. The Masked Killer stood on the sidewalk behind her and gave a wave.

Just dropped by to say hi,” she said. “Cops seem a bit irate…. We’re gonna blow town for a while.”

Jane,” Becka said.

…Yeah?” Jane said as her boyfriend walked up to loom in the doorway at her back.

Look out for Tim for me. If you get a chance.”

Becka watched the subtle shifting of the muscles in the Killer’s face. Nothing so dramatic as to move his eyebrows or lips, but he seemed to play through the stages of grief in the blink of an eye.

We’ll have his back,” the Killer said.

Becka gave him a smile and he walked off. Jane waited a little longer.

We’re even now, right?” she asked, shooting a hard-case look in Abi’s direction.

I guess,” Abi said, and Jane was gone almost as soon as she’d finished the words.

…I think I could sleep for a week,” Abi said.

I don’t sleep,” Becka said.

The door was still closing on its piston as a young man caught it and stepped in. He had hair like a field of wheat in harvest season and eyes like the summer sky.

Becka smiled at him. Everything else seemed to fade away.

I’m Tim- Timothy. You can call me Tim,” he said.

I know,” Becka said as she pulled out a chair for him.

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