By E. A. Haltom
She traces her finger through a large bead of blood on the table, creating a gummy, maroon river that ends in her distinct fingerprint. There is no need to worry about cleaning up. Not this time.
Voices carry over from down the hall. Arguing.
Her nostrils sting with the bitter scent of gunpowder and singed hair. Comforting in its familiarity. Her hands feel light, empty without a gun in them.
Footsteps, one person approaching, pausing in the doorway.
“Get up.” He sounds apologetic. His gun is tucked into the waist of his jeans. He’s pretending he isn’t going to kill her.
He swallows, but it doesn’t help. His mouth is dry, his hands are wet with sweat. Everything is backwards.
She turns to look at him, eyes narrowing, taking in the details. In a manual for reading body language, his posture would be labeled “SHAME.” She wonders if the scratches she left on his back two nights ago have healed. She should have dug in deeper. She sucks her lip in and chews the edge of it between her teeth, a distracting gesture while she collects herself. The body seated next to her, torso and remains of head sprawled across the table, will block a bullet. The slender man standing in the doorway in front of her will not.
“I’m going to kill you.” It seems only fair that she should inform him, not that she owes him anything, but because that’s who she is. She knows who she is. That’s why she can do this work, disappear into the vilest worlds to live and breathe in the muck and bring the worst of them out to the surface, to the light of day, to answer for what they have done.
She didn’t count on her partner betraying her. She didn’t count on him forgetting who he was, switching sides, choosing to stay in this world.
“I don’t think–”
“Hey!” She cuts him off.
A tall, thick man walks to the doorway.
“Why is she still here?” he asks the slender man, ignoring her.
“Congratulations, the business is yours now.” she says loudly, sure of herself. “So you’ve got to choose which of us you can trust. Which of us is going to work for you, and which of us is going to screw you. Are you sure you’re picking the right one?”
The larger man is young, flush with victory and bloodlust. Easily confused.
“Fucking kill her now or I’ll kill you both.”
“Ask him what’s in the right front pocket of his jeans.”
Her partner–ex-partner–freezes, mouth hanging open, staring at her with wide eyes.
The man looks down, thrusts stubby fingers into the other man’s jeans pocket and fishes out an object. It’s a key to a locker.
“Now ask him what’s in the locker.”
She knows what’s in the locker: spare equipment and supplies for the job. An emergency cell phone, five hundred dollars, an untraceable 9mm and extra bullets. What is not in the locker is the two hundred thousand that went missing two weeks ago, that made everyone nervous, that made the mutiny possible and led to the dead man beside her. That money was long gone.
But the thick man in front of her doesn’t know that. All he knows is he’s got two cops in his new organization, and only one of them is going to be useful. The other one is going to be dead.
In the time that it takes the thick man to pull his gun, the slender one turns and she dives behind the body beside her, waiting for the popping sounds to stop. Shouts and men running up the stairs. Two bodies slumped in the hallway. She picks up an empty chair, throws it through the window, jumps onto the ledge and teeters for a moment. There is nothing to hold onto that isn’t jagged and sharp. She bends forward and propels her body out, landing on the grass one floor below. She tries to roll with the impact, tries to protect her ankles and knees and roll under the bushes. In her boot her foot turns badly as her weight crashes on top of it. The crunching is like gravel under a tire. She grits her teeth to stay quiet and rolls against the wall of the apartment building, cutting her arms on the shards of glass lying around her. She has to get up. The men’s bodies block the doorway, giving her three more seconds. Three seconds to live. She puts all of her weight on to the good leg, pushes with the bad one. She crosses the lawn, into the street, waves down an approaching car and gets in, grateful for unlocked doors.
“Take me to the hospital.”