Disclaimer: These Uber characters are very clearly based on the characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, Ares, Ephiny, Phantes, Marcus, etc. and are thus the property of MCA/Universal/Studios USA, Renaissance Pictures and/or whatever future incarnation thereof. I am using them without the expressed permission of MCA/Universal/Studios USA and Renaissance but as Im not making a profit, Im thinkin this is okay if not, Im sure theyll let me know.
Violence Warning: Yep. Theres violence. But nothing too graphic and Im pretty sure its nothing you havent seen in the show (except for the guns) so you shouldnt be too put off by it. Ive read worse.
Profanity Warning: I do believe a significant number of George Carlins Dirty Words are used here, and then some; this is a modern tale about adults and those folks tend to cuss from time to time, some more than others. If this were a movie, itd be an "R" due to language.
Subtext Warning: Its there. Youre not imagining it...but patience is a virtue with this one and the tone is very much in keeping with the show itself...of course if you watch the show (which Im thinkin you do) and are a subtexter (as I am) then you realize this leaves me a whooooole lotta room in which to maneuver...
Nuns Warning: There be nuns in this here story though no effort is made to foist a particular religious point of view upon the reader. I just happen to like nun stories. I have no idea why...Actually, the notion to use them first came about as I was struggling to think of a modern equivalent of Amazons (its true) and since lesbian biker bars a) arent my style and b)have been done to death, I searched for another all-female institution where our two leads could find refuge. Hence, nuns. Strangely, it worked well. Hmmmm .
The "Why I Wrote This" Section: When I started this story it was supposed to be a short, 40 page exercise to keep my writing in shape while I suffered through a nasty case of lit block. Clearly, it grew beyond that. Im glad it did, though, because I learned a lot from doing this, not the least of which is that I actually can do something outside the parameters of what Im used to.
Gracias Section: Mucho thanks go out to Judis66 and ParNone for reading this here monster as it unfolded and pointing out the myriad of spelling/continuity mistakes I made along the way. Sometimes I just get agoin and forget about the details... Anyway, theyve been the best through this all and I thank them enormously! Hi five!
RESA: Prologue - Chapter 6
Beginnings, she decided with a heartfelt sigh, were a pain in the ass.
After all, her fingers had held poised over the keyboard for nearly an hour now and she was no closer to finding her starting point than when she arrived yesterday in this God-forsaken desert motel perched on the edge of forever.
Well, okay, more like Indio, California but, really, the effect was the same. She was tucked away with a solitary purpose in mind and failing abominably in her efforts.
The words of Professor Hendrix reverberated through her ears: "Be sure to show the story not tell it. Let the reader experience the events first-hand as if theyre right there as they unfold so theyll have an emotional investment in the characters."
The problem was, as she well knew, the characters here were not mere malleable creations to do her bidding; they were much, much more. And narrating their story, no matter how cleverly obscured, meant exposing herself to the exploration of emotions that were still painfully raw to the touch.
So Jennifer Logan sighed yet again, stepped away from her laptop, and paced the confines of the motel room in abject frustration. Perhaps she was trying too hard to convey all that she knew, all that she felt, in the first sentences of a story that held for her a wealth of meaning, the ultimate depth of which she could barely comprehend.
The walls around her grew oppressive and she opened the motel door to wander outside in hope of escape. The desert air had cooled remarkably from earlier that day, leaving the night a perfect 70+ degrees.
Jennifer strolled down the stairs and somehow ended up by the surprisingly clean and utterly deserted motel pool. There werent many other residents in this wayside hideaway so her solitude wasnt unexpected. Heck, it was one of the reasons shed chosen this particular location in the first place, to keep distractions to a minimum.
Without a second thought, she slipped off her sandals, plopped to the ground, and dipped her feet into the warm water. Heavenly! It served to relax her and she leaned back onto the cold, concrete surface, hands linked behind her head. Above her lay a blanket of stars the likes of which she could never begin to glimpse unaided in Los Angeles and it brought home to her, as times such as these always did, the randomness of life.
It also brought with it the memory of Resa.
She felt the swell of countless emotions rise up in her chest and tried to sort through them all but, as always, could not. Instead she closed her eyes and after several moments of silence broken only by the occasional splash of the water, her mind drifted on the wave of recollection as it took her back...to the beginning...
Oh. My. God.
Professor Hendrixs words reverberated in her ears and she felt her heart slam against her chest.
A complete novel, no fewer than 300 pages, by the end of the Spring Semester...or fail the class and ultimately her major and, while were at it, destroy all the best laid plans for the future which she had been crafting for herself since the early stages of her childhood. Shit! Mentally she calculated whether it was too late to switch out of this class and into something easier, say, molecular biology or advanced quantum physics, then remembered this specific course was required for graduation and tried not to panic.
Im doomed, she thought as she gathered her books to her chest and filed out of the classroom with the other twenty students. A novel? What did she know about writing a novel? It was as foreign to her as Greek or Latin. She wanted to be a journalist for Heavens sake. Short, concise articles that dealt with the importance of real-life issues were her specialty. Make believe held no interest for her but as a writing major she was often forced to take courses to which she was not personally attracted. It was the sort of bureaucracy that controlled all academic institutions no matter how vast or -- in the case of St. Marys Catholic College neatly tucked away in a corner of Santa Monica, California -- how modest.
She rubbed the crease between her eyebrows in an effort to ease the tension coursing through her and grew so caught up in the exaggerated mental gymnastics of her own self-pity she lost track of where she was going until --
She walked into a brick wall and was thrown unceremoniously backwards onto her butt. Dazed she glanced up...and up...and realized it hadnt been a wall that shed run into, but rather a man. A very tall man. A very strong man.
"Goddammit!" she muttered in frustration as she scurried to gather her stray papers floating about.
"Are you all right?" he asked as he quickly knelt down to help her.
She squinted into his face, no longer back-lighted by the afternoon sun, and blinked. He was absolutely, positively drop-dead gorgeous. Sandy brown hair cropped close to his head in a fashionless style did nothing to diminish his impossibly blue eyes or the square nature of his jaw line. Yet none of these aspects captured her attention quite like the clean, white cube in the center of his otherwise black collar.
This man was a priest.
"Oh, shit," she breathed, stricken by her profanity. "Im sorry!"
The Priests grin was lop-sided as he handed her papers to her. "Dont worry about it," he said, his voice a rich baritone. He extended a large, strong hand. "Im Father Hector."
She slipped her considerably smaller one into his palm and marveled at how his fingers engulfed her own. "Im -- mortified, nice to meet you."
He laughed and helped her to her feet. "Hello, Mortified. Dont suppose you go by anything more mundane, like Anne or Kate or Megan or -- ?"
"Jennifer. I have a niece named Jennifer. Never get to see her often enough." Father Hector briefly glanced at her papers, then did a double take. "You take writing courses?" he asked, suddenly quite interested.
"Yes. Im a writing major actually."
"Really?" Blue eyes swept over her in contemplation. "What year are you?"
"Im a Senior."
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "A Senior? Id have said Freshman for sure, maybe Sophomore at the most."
"I know, I know. I look young for my age and one of these days Ill actually appreciate that. Or so Im told. Right now its kind of a pain in the -- ummm, its difficult."
"Especially when you go to bars," he added with a wry pull to his lips.
She felt a blush creep over her cheeks. "Well..."
"Please. Im Irish. I know." He cocked his head to one side. "You wouldnt happen to be in Ian Hendrixs class this Semester, would you?"
"Yeah. In fact, I just came from there." She twisted to point to a specific window in the red brick building behind her. "Thats his classroom right there."
"I know. I was just on my way to meet with him." He continued to watch her closely. "I guess youre participating in the course on The Novel then."
"Because I dont know the first thing about writing a novel. Its so..." she struggled to think of the proper word and finally settled with a sigh on: "Fake."
He considered that for a moment. "Do you have an idea what subject youre going to write on?"
She scoffed. "Hardly. I only just found out I had to write it at all. I thought we would be studying aspects of several novels, not actually writing one ourselves. They seem to have left that little part out in the course syllabus."
"Hmmmm," was his reply but she could practically see the wheels spinning in his mind. "Whats your last name, Jennifer Mortified?"
He crossed his arms and stroked his chin in contemplation. "Because I have a dilemma, Ms. Logan...and I think you just might be able to help me with it."
* * * *
"Okay, one herbal tea, right here. Watch it, s hot." The waitress set the wide, mustard colored mug in front of Father Hector and turned to set the steaming white cup before Jennifer. "And one black coffee with no sugar, no milk, and extra caffeine for you."
"Cool. Thanks," Jennifer said.
The waitress clapped her hands together. "K, then. Can I get you guys anything else?"
"No, thank you," Father Hector replied with a smile and Jennifer noted the last curious look the waitress threw in their direction before she departed. Clearly, they were an odd pair to be sitting in such an ultra-hip coffee shop like The Existentialist Mecca -- a priest and a Mid-Western girl wearing nary a stitch of black -- but it had been the first place they ducked into where they could talk. Add to the mix Father Hector looked like no priest shed ever before seen, and frankly Jennifer couldnt help but agree with the other womans silent yet blatant assessment. Peculiar indeed.
Father Hector cupped both broad hands around the hot mug and focused his attention on Jennifer.
"Thanks for coming here with me like this. I know its a little -- odd, and probably not how you prefer to spend an afternoon."
"Dont worry." She waved off his words. "I have to admit to being more than a little curious about this dilemma of yours. Well, actually Im more than a little curious about practically everything, but this has really piqued my interest. I dont often get to talk with a guy who has a direct line to God."
He grinned. "Well, I dont know about that. Its more like I do most of the talking."
"And does He or She ever answer?"
"Absolutely. You just have to know how to listen. For instance, today, here, with you. This could very well be an answer to a question I posed not too long ago."
"Me?" she asked, incredulous.
"The answer to a question you posed to God?"
"Yep." She gave him the strangest look and he laughed. "Ill explain." He paused and she could tell by his expression that, for whatever reason, what he was about to say was important to him. Very important. He drew a breath and plunged forward.
"Ive been a parish priest in Los Angeles for about fifteen years now," he began. "Its been one of the most amazing, positive, rewarding experiences of my entire life, mainly because of the people with whom Ive been able to interact. Ive been assigned to the Santa Monica area for the last four years but I started my time here in the various parts of the Latino hood of East L.A.. The bario."
She raised her eyebrows a fraction at this. East L.A. had garnered its reputation for a reason and the idea of living there sent shivers through the heart of many Anglos, especially the transplanted ones whod grown up in the Mid West, such as she.
Father Hector noted her reaction and nodded. "It wasnt always the easiest place to live, Ill admit. But, once I settled in and met the people, I realized that everywhere around me was this remarkable community filled with people who could teach me more than Id ever dreamed to teach them. And even though I was eventually reassigned to Santa Monica as part of the Churchs practice -- " She frowned a little and he paused. "Do you know about that?"
She shook her head.
"Oh, see, the Roman Catholic Church reassigns their parish priests to different communities on a regular basis. Its their way of keeping parishioners attention on the liturgy and not on one priest in particular. Anyhow, Im getting off track here. The point is, even though I left East Los Angeles, I couldnt begin to leave the people there, too. They were my friends, my family to an extent, and I couldnt just drop these relationships simply because I had to move. I cared for these people, still care for them, and have a responsibility toward them that I feel deep within my soul." He paused here for a long moment, blue eyes a million miles away as some distant memory danced across his mind. "There is one person in particular...who I feel...needs my help. More than even she realizes." He returned his attention to Jennifer with a surprising intensity. "Have you ever heard of a woman named Resa Gustavez?"
She frowned. "No. Who is she?"
"Resa Gustavez is, or rather was, the leader of the Vartan Bloods, a Cuban street gang that emerged about thirteen, fourteen years ago and waged a war for total domination against all other Latino gangs. For a very long while there it wasnt safe to go outside during the day and the nights were pure terror. Gunshots were as common as the crickets chirps, sometimes more so." He shook his head sadly at the memory.
"You said she was their leader. Not anymore?"
"What happened? Is she dead?"
"No. She left the Vartans."
"But, I thought it was impossible to get out of a gang once you were inside."
"Practically is. Blood in, blood out is how the saying goes. And its quite true. But Resa...Resa is different."
It looked as if he was about to get lost in his thoughts again so Jennifer pressed forward. "How?"
"Lets just say she can be a very determined individual when she makes her mind up to do something."
"Like get out of a gang?"
"Like get out of a gang, exactly. But, as determined and strong-willed as she is, shes not invulnerable to the persuasions of her former life. Especially when she doesnt have anything positive on which to focus her energy. Right now I fear she could be in danger of slipping back into her old ways. She hasnt done anything yet, but --"
"Youre afraid she might."
"Yes. You see, Ive played something of a roll in her reform. Ive helped her to come to understand that violence begets violence, to see the destruction in which her life was headed and its inevitable end. The decision to change was and is wholly hers but for the last few years Ive been there for her when shes had her doubts and questions. I dont feel it prideful to say Ive helped her through some extraordinarily difficult times since our first meeting...But thats about to change."
"The Church has reassigned me again. To Lincoln, Nebraska."
Jennifer leaned back in surprise. She had grown up in Lawrence, Kansas so she was aware more than most just how dramatic a change this would be compared to Los Angeles. Aside from the physical distance, the cultural discrepancy was vast. "Wow. Thats so...wow."
"Yeah. Quite a change. But more than that, I simply wont be here anymore and that really worries me. You see, Resa doesnt have close friends and her relationship with her family...is bad. To put it mildly. Shes a strong person but not even she has her limits. Im afraid she may become susceptible to temptation with no one here to support her, with nothing positive on which she can focus her new life."
They were both silent a moment, then Jennifer leaned back to assess the priest before her. "This is all very interesting, Father, but..."
"But what does she have to do with you?" he finished, nodding his head knowingly.
"Well...yes. I mean, I see the dilemma you mentioned, but I cant imagine what I could possibly do to help. I mean, I would if I could, of course -- "
"Do you mean that?"
Jennifer looked at him a moment, realizing that proclamation had been more of an off-hand statement than anything approaching a conscious pledge. Unfortunately shed said it to a priest and even though the last time shed entered a church of any denomination was a distant memory, a wave of guilt forced her to stutter,
"Good. I was hoping youd say that..." A fierce determination glimmered behind his eyes as Father Hector leaned forward to deliver the one simple sentence that would forever change her life. "...because I want you to help her to write her life story."
Ahhhh, guilt. Always such a remarkable tool for persuasion. And Jennifer wasnt even Catholic. Just sensitive. One look into the gentle blue of Father Hectors eyes as he pleaded his case pretty much cemented her fate, at least for the time being. So, three days and two hours after their coffeehouse chat young Jennifer Logan, blonde-haired, green-eyed daughter of the Middle of America, found herself driving alone into the bosom of East Los Angeles.
What would her mother say?
Jennifer grinned to herself. Dear Mrs. Logan would freak. Her daughters mere decision to transfer her college to Los Angeles from Kansas University in the first place had created a maelstrom of controversy in the family which lasted to this day and that was with her living in Santa Monica! Home of the beach-bound movie stars and the crass Third Street Promenade. The mere whiff of a hint of a possibility that Jennifer was in the remote vicinity of East L.A. would send her mother into a tantrum the likes of which Jennifer had no desire to endure.
So, she decided not to tell her. Often this was the best way to handle Mrs. Logan...and most parents for that matter.
Besides, Jennifer had already made up her mind that this was to be a one-time event, never to be repeated. Shed go to the location decided upon by the infamous Resa Gustavez (with whom she had yet to have any direct communication as the arrangements had been made through Father Hector) to chat just long enough to assuage her conscience and head back to the balmy beaches of her home. After all, this really wasnt a good idea, no matter what Father Hector might say to the contrary. The pressure was too intense. What? Was she expected to save the life of this woman (whom she did not know) through her writing? Ha! Hardly. She was a good writer, but not that good. Furthermore, what could she say about this woman that wouldnt come across like so many other stories of ex-gang members who fought to leave their pasts behind? And all this was poised to be a huge waste of time if Professor Hendrix (with whom Father Hector claimed to be longtime, childhood pals) refused to allow her to write a non-fiction story for her grade, which would be just his style.
Still, here she was, driving down Figueroa Boulevard in the late afternoon on a Sunday when she had class first thing in the morning (and hadnt even begun to prepare for the quiz), on her way to meet with a woman who had done God-only-knows how many horrible things in her life, in hopes they could...chat. Right. Brilliant idea, Jennifer. Simply brilliant.
She looked up at the sign checked the address again. 12667 Figueroa. Yep, this was the place. She pulled her pine green, 98 Land Rover into the parking lot, swerved to avoid a mammoth pothole, and parked.
The sign read Bar. That was it, just Bar. Actually, it more closely resembled Par since part of the lower B was missing from the black and white sign, but the point was made. This was a no-frills establishment where the concept of Happy Hour surely had a completely different meaning than the one with which she was familiar and chances were so, too, did hot wings.
Oh, boy, she thought with a sigh and wished shed remembered to pack a baseball cap into which she could tuck her long locks. Being a life-long blonde, she knew exactly the sort of reception that awaited her.
Sucking in a deep breath to shore up her withering determination, Jennifer exited her car and headed into the bar called Bar.
The interior was practically pitch and it left her momentarily blind as her eyes struggled to adjust to the sudden shift. However, her ears worked just fine and the half-dozen or so catcalls she received upon entering came through loud and clear. She knew enough Spanish to want to turn on her heel and hightail it right on outta there but some deeper part of her was infuriated enough by their demeaning behavior to forge ahead, if only to spite them.
She blinked twice and could vaguely discern the outline of the actual bar to the left. The surprisingly convoluted interior was fitted with booths around the perimeter and various stand-alone tables in the center but was ultimately too deep for her to see all the way to the back.
The only inhabitants that she could make out at this still relatively early hour were a group of about eight men who took up a booth and a couple tables toward the center. All of whom had their attention focused on her.
Ignoring the blatant stares, Jennifer walked an almost self-assured path to stand before the bartender. He was a large, heavy-set man in his 40s, with pockmarked skin and an unhurried yet watchful quality behind his brown eyes.
"Hi, there," she began with a hearty cheerfulness she didnt remotely feel. "I, uh, Im here to, um meet someone an-"
"Im right here, baby!" someone shouted from across the room and was followed by a chorus of raucous laughter.
"Someone specific," she added, inserting an edge to her cheer. "Ive never met this person before but she cant be that difficult to spot around here now can she?" She chuckled a little at that but no one else did so Jennifer cleared her throat and nervously continued. "Im a little late, seeing as this is my first time to, um, this are-, ahem, place and I had a tiny degree of difficulty finding it here so its entirely possible shes already been and gone by now which, I think, is understandable...since Im late, of course, no other reason -- "
"Who you wanna find, Miss?" the bartender asked before she could babble on any further.
"Do you know a Resa Gustavez?" she asked.
The background murmuring grew silent and a prickle of unease washed over her.
"Who did you say?" asked an incredulous voice to her right. She turned to find a wiry man in his early 20s with a shaved head and small, devil tattoo on his upper right cheek staring at her as if shed just called his mother a whore.
Was it too late to fall back on that hightail it right on outta there option?
"Resa Gustavez," she repeated and was proud that her voice didnt quiver.
He spat at her feet and she jumped away in disgust. The look of hatred in his eyes backed her into the bar.
"Puta!" he snarled then went off in Spanish that was far too rapid for her to fully comprehend. Nonetheless, the hostile inflection conveyed the meaning clearly enough. Finally he stopped and stared at her with expectation. She cast a hopeless glance at the bartender.
"He asks if you are a friend of Resas," the bartender translated.
"No. I was just, Im supposed to, um, meet her here is all --"
"Bullshit!" the angry young man said, stepping closer until she could smell the alcohol and cigarettes on his breath. "Youre lying."
Jennifer drew herself up in indignation. "I am not."
He took another step closer in a move designed to intimidate. It worked. But shed never let him know it.
"Resa Gustavez doesnt have the cojones to show her face here," he sneered.
"Oh, really?" came a voice behind him.
All eyes in the bar whipped around in the direction of a shadowy booth in the corner by the glowing green Exit sign. From the darkness a figure arose from its seated position and slowly stepped into the light.
She was tall, broad-shouldered, and even from this distance and in this poor lighting, Jennifer could sense the strength in her presence. She wore black pants of some nature and a tight, dark tank top that emphasized every curve of her body. Black hair fell long down her back and she wore it with a loose impracticality. Such a style served to enhance the fullness of her cheekbones that sat high and proud within her round face and gave her an imperial bearing which belied her impecunious heritage.
Then a shaft of clear light reached her face and the piercing blue of her eyes shoved all other impressions to the background. Even without the benefit of a formal introduction, Jennifer knew without a doubt she had just gotten her first glimpse of Resa Gustavez.
And, boy, does she know how to make an impression, she thought.
"Hello, Manuel," Resa said, carrying herself with a confident, almost feline grace as she moved toward them, her eyes never leaving those of the man with the devil tattoo.
"I dont believe it," he whispered in Spanish.
"Believe," she drawled. "And lets stick to English, so we can all understand, dont you agree? Its only polite and I know how you hate to be rude." Her smile was clearly mocking and Jennifer subconsciously noted only the slightest trace of an accent in the other womans speech.
Manuel spun away from Jennifer to focus solely on Resa.
"Are you suicidal?"
"Not especially. Why dya ask?"
"For you to come here like this, you must have a death wish after the shit you pulled."
Resa stared at him for a long moment. "I only gave as good as I got, Manny. You know that."
"I tell ya what I know. I know you deserve to die."
"Maybe. But theres no one here man enough to do the job."
Manuels eyes flared at the insult and he reached into his jacket to draw out a pistol. But before he could even raise it to her level, none other than the watchful bartender pressed the barrel of a shotgun against his temple. Resa never even flinched.
"Not here, Manny," the bartender said and the steel glint to his eyes showed he meant it. "I just cleaned the place."
Manny stood a long moment, contemplating his next move. He looked from Resa to the bartender and back. Finally, reluctantly he returned the gun to his jacket pocket but his hatred for Resa never dimmed.
"You watch yourself, puta. Ill kill you and everyone will thank me. Ill be a hero."
"Yeah. Youll be a big man, Manny. Just like Vincent."
He flinched at that last remark, then turned to signal to a table filled with five of his buddies and all headed out the door.
"Say hi to Alfons for me," Resa called after him.
Once they were gone, the bartender set the shotgun atop the wooden bar and Jennifer let out the breath she didnt know shed been holding.
Resa nodded to the man. "Gracias, Palo."
The bartender nodded gravely and turned away.
Jennifer watched the much taller woman a moment longer, then shook her head in wry amusement.
"Resa Gustavez, I presume," she said.
Suddenly sky blue eyes were focused exclusively on her and she felt an almost physical jolt run through her, down to her toes. For a long moment the other woman didnt reply, just stared at her, then:
"Yeah," she said, then looked Jennifer up and down. "And you gotta be Jennifer."
"What gave me away?" she asked with a grin.
"Oh, call it a hunch," she said, then turned on her heel to return to the booth by the Exit sign. Jennifer followed and sat opposite the former gang leader. A ray of light cut across the darkness and drew her attention to where she noted the back door propped slightly adjar by the handle of a broom. Must be how Resa entered the bar without being noticed, she realized. Tricky.
She glanced around briefly at the shadowy ambiance. "Guess they call this mood lighting, huh?" she commented.
"Depends on what mood you're goin' for."
Resa snorted and leaned back against the vinyl booth. "You know, you're almost exactly like what I imagined the Padre would send."
"Well, I feel vaguely insulted," Jennifer said lightly, then frowned. "Why the almost?"
"I figured you'd never make it out of your car, let alone come through the front
Comprehension dawned on Jennifer. "Oh, now I get it. You deliberately chose this place to freak me out." Resa gave no reply. "Why?"
Resa shrugged one broad shoulder.
"Don't you want me to write your life story?" Jennifer continued.
"But I thought "
"Look, the Padre is a good man with good intentions. But he and I don't always see eye to eye. This is one of those times."
Jennifer was thrown a little by this revelation. She had assumed this notion to write Resa's life story was one upon which the ex-gang leader had agreed. It never occurred to her that the opposition might be mutual. Now that it did, however, she felt herself grow
"What's your objection?"
"Let's just say, I've never been good at sharing," she murmured dryly, her hand absently toying with an empty ashtray.
Jennifer cocked a brow. "Didn't your Mamma ever teach you it's good to share?"
Resas hand stilled and her eyes grew narrow. "My Mamma never taught me much of anything."
The quiet loathing in her tone only served to heighten Jennifer's curiosity. "Really? She didnt teach you anything?"
Cold eyes met hers. "She taught me to mind my own business."
Jennifers eyebrows shot up at the none-too-subtle rebuke. "Ouch." She drummed her fingers on the tabletop and chewed on the corner of her mouth in contemplation. This defiance on Resa's part should have made Jennifer's earlier decision that much easier...yet it didn't. Rather the opposite effect was taking hold as her infinite curiosity --- a source of much consternation in her youth --- stirred to life. Was this woman hiding something and if so, what? What about her past did she want to protect? It could be so many things, with her history...but...
Resa leaned forward, her eyes narrow and her silky voice low with warning.
"I see all sorts of thoughts running through your brain over there, college girl, so let me make myself perfectly clear: I am not going to let you or anyone else tell my life story, no matter how positive the Padre may think it will be for me. Get it?"
After a long pause, Jennifer murmured, "Got it."
Jennifer inclined her head to one side in contemplation. "You're not much for small talk, are you?"
"Uh-huh..." A long, awkward pause hung between them, then Jennifer tugged on her ear and shrugged. "Well...I guess there's really no reason for me to stay here and bother you anymore, now is there?"
She received silence for her response. Jennifer nodded once to herself but deep down still struggled to come to terms with this nebulous sense of frustration. After all, hadn't she just been telling herself this entire concept was foolish not twenty minutes earlier? That this was a one-time situation? So why now this feeling of disappointment?
"Okay," she said at last. "Sorry to waste your time." She stuck out a hand across the table to the ex-gang leader. "Good-bye."
Resa glanced at Jennifer's outstretched hand a long moment before taking it in her own, much larger one. Her fingers dwarfed Jennifer's and even though she applied little pressure, the astounding strength was evident. Jennifer glanced up and caught Resa's intense blue stare. For a moment, they remained unmoving as an unexpected current impossible to define passed between them. Then Resa withdrew her hand and sat back, her cryptic expression made unfathomable in the dim lighting.
Jennifer swallowed hard, strangely disturbed by the moment...Then she stood and, forcing herself not to glance back, headed across the bar. She would leave this place and, in all likelihood, never again encounter the enigmatic ex-gangster. And all would return to normal...
She was almost to the front doors when she heard a voice call out:
She turned as Resa appeared by her side and for a moment she felt an unexpected trill of pleasure. She had changed her mind. She did want to work on the story. She did want --
"You shouldnt go out the front," Resa said brusquely. "Manny and his crew are probably waiting."
"He thinks youre my friend. That puts you in danger."
Jennifer rolled her eyes. "Oh, thanks," she said. "Next time you decide you dont want to do something, promise to just call ahead first instead of working this whole intimidation angle, okay?"
Resa was not amused. She moved past Jennifer in the direction of the bar.
"Palo, I need your help again."
The large man looked up, his face still impassive, but there appeared a trace of displeasure behind brown eyes.
"Once today is enough. I dont wanna think how much trouble Manny is gonna cause me later cause a you."
"This isnt about me, Palo. Its about her," she nodded in Jennifers direction. "Its not safe for her to leave this bar to go to her car right now. Manny and the others could be waiting for her."
"She shoulda thought of that in the first place, fore she came here."
"She came here because I asked her to."
"Then you shoulda thought of that fore you asked her. I owe you, Resa, but even I gotta draw the line somewheres."
"Palo, look at her. Shes a white kid from Santa Monica. She gets killed here at your bar, what kind of heat do you think thatll bring down on you, huh? Blonde haired kid like her? Copsll be all over the place, press too. Some idiot will probably put up a plaque, line the parking lot with flowers, or hold an all night, candle-light vigil." She cocked a single brow. "You wanna talk about bad for business..."
Resa leveled a long, hard stare in Palos direction until the older man dropped his shoulders in defeat.
"You dont play fair."
"You got that right."
He rubbed a meaty paw over his deeply lined face then let out a deep sigh. "What do you want me to do?"
"Get her car and drive it round to the alley out back. Park it outside the Exit sign and well come out to get in. If you see Manny or any of his posse, dont stop. Just keep going and well figure out something else."
Jennifer took special note of her choice of we instead of she and it made her wonder. What did Resa have in mind?
Palo considered this for a moment, then nodded. "Okay. But then were even, ya hear?"
"I saved your life, Palo. Were closer to even but ya aint there yet."
Jennifer noted Palos grudging acceptance of those terms. Resa turned to her and held out her hand.
"Gimme your keys."
The demanding tone drew Jennifers indignation. "Try please."
Resas lips thinned. "Try now."
Smart enough to know when to let an issue slide, Jennifer reached into her pocket and placed her keys in Resas outstretched palm. Resa, in turn, handed them to Palo.
"Its the green Land Rover," she told him. "You cant miss it."
Jennifer was mildly surprised the other woman knew the specific identity of her car. Had she watched her arrive? Clearly. But only with the hopes the younger woman wouldnt have the gall to enter the bar. For a brief moment, the image of Resa watching her unnoticed came to her mind and Jennifer couldnt help wondering what sort of first impression she created on the former gangster. She could probably guess. Silly college girl, never been east of Hollywood during her entire stay in Los Angeles and way out of her league right now. It was an accurate portrait, of course, but one that still irked her to consider. Then she promptly chided herself. What did it matter to her what the former gangster noted or didnt note about her?
Palo exited through the front door, clearly displeased by his task but still going along. Jennifer wondered what it was exactly that Resa did to save Palo? What debt did this large man have to her? Yet another question about a woman who had no inclination to share any answers. Which was a shame, really, since she evidently had lead quite an intriguing life thus far and it would have been interesting to learn more about her.
As if sensing Jennifers thoughts, Resa looked up and locked eyes with the college senior.
"Cmon." Resa headed back toward the exit sign once again, naturally assuming Jennifer would follow and, despite feeling like a dog trailing its master, follow her she did.
Resa stopped outside the partially open doorway, still propped ajar. She set the broom to one side and pushed the door open a fraction to listen. Moments later they heard the sound of a car approach. Resa glanced back at Jennifer.
"Stay close behind me."
For the first time a trickle of fear went down Jennifers spine. As odd as it may seem, she hadnt felt a sense of danger in her situation until this very instant. The entire scene with Manny had felt surreal to her, as if the events had happened to someone else and she was a mere observer. But this here, this moment, felt frighteningly real. "Now."
Jennifer moved close enough behind the ex-gang leader to feel the heat emanating from her body. Resa reached behind her to grab Jennifers elbow in strong fingers and tug her after as she stepped into the alley.
Jennifer saw the Land Rover only a few feet away with Palo standing by the drivers door and started to relax -- until she caught the look in the bartenders eyes and a bolt of dread shot through her. Something was terribly wrong...
Then everything happened at once and Jennifers brain could barely comprehend it all.
Blurred figures came out from all sides of the alley, from behind trash dumpsters and shaded doorways.
Resa reacted with a speed impossible to define. She pushed Jennifer back through the bar alley door, then spun to deliver two swift kicks to the face of the nearest attacker. It was as if she anticipated their actions before they could get off a single blow. Two figures were on the ground -- dropped by quick shots to the throat -- before Jennifer even saw them approach. Two more lunged at her with flashes of metal in their hands. One held a knife, the other a gun.
Resa easily disarmed the first one, then threw his knife into the chest of the second. He dropped his gun and fell to the pavement, blood already flowing. She then flipped the former knife-wielding attacker over her shoulder and stepped with all her weight onto the center of his throat. The gagging noise he made was sickening.
Suddenly Jennifer saw another figure -- Manny -- come from a darkened doorway, gun in hand. Later she would wonder at the origin of her instinctive actions but she was grateful they chose that moment to materialize. Her hand fell upon the nearby broom handle. Without a moments hesitation, she clutched it, raised it above her head, and brought it down on Mannys wrist, knocking the gun from his hand...but not before he got off one round.
The crack reverberated through the alleyway and Resa gasped, clutching the curve from her left shoulder into her neck.
Manny turned an incredulous face toward Jennifer right as she brought the broom handle hard across the bridge of his nose. She heard the snap of the bone and saw him clutch his face in pain before he collapsed.
She didnt wait. Instead she dropped the broom, picked up the gun, and ran to Resa. The older woman seemed slightly dazed, still holding the dip of her shoulder. Jennifer shoved her through the open drivers side door and quickly followed. Fortunately the car was still running and she had only to slip it into reverse before peeling out. A hard bump told her shed run over something in her haste but she didnt have time to think about that now.
Now she had only time to drive like hell.
And she did.
A series of shots rang out after them, one hitting the rear windshield. The glass splintered and Jennifer screamed but neither woman was hit. Within seconds, they were out of range and speeding down another block.
Jennifers adrenaline flooded her ears. She could feel it wash over her like a tidal wave, reducing her breaths to quick, shallow intakes and sending her body into uncontrollable shaking. Tears burned the backs of her eyes and spilled over onto her cheeks. Oh, dear God, what the hell just happened?
A hand fell gently upon her shoulder and startled her. She jerked away with a cry and almost crashed into a parked car before righting her direction.
It was only Resa.
For a split second shed been so caught up in her own panic shed forgotten the other woman. Then she saw the blood seeping through Resas fingers where she held the curve of her neck and gasped.
"Ohmygod! Youve been shot!"
"Im okay --"
"Okay? Youve been shot!"
"Yeah, Im aware. Take a right up here at this light."
"We have to get you to a hospital."
"Dont argue with me. Take this right --" She let out a grunt of irritation and started to turn the wheel herself until Jennifer grudgingly complied.
"Is this the way to a hospital?"
"Why not?" she demanded, incredulous.
"Because were not going to a hospital. Turn left at Cabarras Street."
Jennifer did as instructed but her irritation still showed. "Youre bleeding. You need help.
"Its not that bad."
"Not that -- !"
"Didnt hit anything major and went out the other side." She glanced in the rear view mirror to see if they were being followed.
"How the hell do you know that? Its by your neck. You cant see anything."
"Ive a lot of experience in these things. Turn down this alley here, by the pink apartment complex."
"You can tell all that -- ?"
"-- by the feel alone, yeah, I can. Now pull up by that Honda," she pointed ahead, "and park."
Jennifer did just that, turned off the ignition, and turned to Resa who was already looking quite pale beneath her natural tan.
"This is insane," she said.
"Im going to need your help for a bit." Resa said.
"You should be at a hospital."
"People like me dont go to hospitals."
"Is this about insurance, because -- "
"Look," her voice was firm. "I am not going to a hospital. I cant. Now, are you going to help me with this or not because if you arent -- "
"Of course Ill help you," Jennifer said with irritation, then sighed as she raised her eyes to meet Resas. "What do you need me to do?"
Jennifer gleaned only a fleeting impression of Resas apartment as she first stepped inside, with the main focus of her attention being on the bleeding woman by her side. The stain of blood that soaked her shoulder was rapidly growing larger and it sent a shiver of concern through Jennifer. They should be in a hospital. It was as simple as that. But the look in Resas eyes brokered no discussion on the subject.
Resa closed the door behind them and set the five locks into place with a quick familiarity born from routine. They were secure.
Jennifer flicked a glance around the living area.
There was sparse and then there was Resas apartment. Granted, it appeared to be a one bedroom which made it larger than many living spaces in Los Angeles, but the distinct lack of furniture created a bare-bones atmosphere in which only a monk would feel at home.
"Bathrooms this way," Resa said as she made her way down the short, narrow hall. Jennifer watched after her with concern for a moment, then followed.
The bathroom was barely big enough for one, let alone two. A shower, toilet, and sink were all packed in a space half the size of Jennifers own walk-in closet.
Resa examined her wound in the mirror and frowned. Jennifer wasnt sure, but she got the feeling it was somewhat worse than the other woman had first thought. Lord knew the amount of blood pouring forth was enough to make Jennifer a tad nauseous.
"Bastard musta had a .22mm," Resa muttered, then sighed and sat on the closed toilet lid. She glanced at Jennifer standing in the doorway. "In the cabinet in the hall is a white box. Says MLK, Jr. Hospital on the lid. Get it for me."
Jennifer didnt think twice. She stepped back into the hall, found the cabinet, and opened it. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. Before her was a veritable smorgasbord of medical paraphernalia. Shots. Bottles of medicines and disinfectants. Wraps. And a whole host of other things she couldnt identify but knew she must have seen used in an episode of ER.
This was the sort of thing no normal person would have in their home...well, no normal person from her world at least. Who knew what people from Resas way of life had or didnt have? No wonder she didnt want to go to a hospital, Jennifer thought. She has one right here.
On the lower right shelf she noticed the box as Resa described. She grabbed it and went back to the bathroom. The other woman didnt hear her return and for a moment she caught the weakened Resa with her defenses down. She looked shockingly vulnerable. The pain she was experiencing was plainly greater than shed let on. It surprised Jennifer a little and caused her to draw a quickened breath. Resa heard her and immediately the walls came up again. She straightened without meeting Jennifers eyes and pointed to the sink.
"Open the box and take out a needle."
Jennifer set the box on the sink, flipped open the lid, and glanced through the various sealed packages until she found one that contained a needle. It looked like a regular sewing needle, except larger.
"Now find the synthetic thread. Should be on the left." Jennifer found it. "Im gonna need you to thread the needle with the synthetic."
She did as instructed and moments later handed the threaded needle to Resa. She stepped out of the way as the tall woman stood and faced her reflection in the mirror.
Jennifer averted her eyes as she realized what the ex-gangsta was about to do. This was getting waaay beyond what she felt capable of dealing with. As a kid she couldnt stand the sight of blood and got the closest shed ever come to fainting when she was seven and saw her own badly scraped up knee after a terrible fall from her bike.
This situation before her was a whole nother league of gross.
And it was about to get worse.
She heard Resa let out a deep grunt of irritation and peeked up. The womans hand was shaking to such a degree she couldnt hold it still enough to begin the process. Sky blue eyes met hers in the reflection of the mirror and a feeling of dread took hold. She knew what was needed of her without a single word spoken between them but the idea made her head reel. Still, somewhere deep within her a strength she didnt know she possessed assumed control and she took the needle from Resas unsteady fingers. With a gentle hand on the other womans good shoulder, she guided her back to the toilet seat and eased her down. She knelt before her and wiped the wound with a sanitized towel until she could see it clearly. Not that she had a great deal of experience in these things, but it seemed like a fairly clean hole.
"I dont have HIV," Resa said. "But you should put on some gloves just the same. Theyre in the box."
Jennifer met her gaze with a steady one of her own. "Thanks." She found and put on the green rubber gloves.
"You know how to sew?" Resa asked.
"I can sew buttons back on my shirts. Its the same principle, right?"
"Sorta. For what we gotta do here, yeah. Thatll work for the time being."
Jennifer paused, feeling the faint tickle of sweat form on her lip and brow.
"Shouldnt you take a sedative or aspirin or, or something?" she asked nervously.
"No. Im numb enough already. Getting shotll do that you." Amazingly, the corner of her lip curled up in a slightly bemused smile.
Jennifer shook her head. "Ill take your word for it." She took a deep breath to calm her nerves. "Okay." And she inserted the needle into Resas skin.
After the initial, almost overwhelming sense of disbelief washed over her, Jennifer was able to focus solely on the task at hand. So much so she nearly forgot she was sewing up a person. It was the only way she could function. In, out, in out. Draw with a slow and steady hand. Pull firm, but not too tight and make sure the loops are close. Then tie it off at the end. It was quite similar to sewing buttons or rips in her shirts, really, only the fabric here was a human being and the rip a gunshot wound.
Through it all, Resa never made a sound even though she had to have been in unbelievable pain. The only indication Jennifer had that there was anything amiss was the deep, forced rhythm of her breathing and the clench of her jaw. She could practically feel the other woman willing herself not to react, not to let the pain grow too much for her to bear.
After several minutes of silence, Jennifer sat back.
"Im done," she said softly and wiped her damp brow with her forearm.
"Wrap me up." The voice was barely above a whisper.
Jennifer took gauze and adhesive tape and covered both the entrance and exit wounds. Next she spooled a long, ace bandage around the shoulder and fastened it with a butterfly clip until the wound was firmly bound. She knew the bandages would have to be changed on a regular basis and for the first time wondered who would do that for the injured woman.
Then an unexpected weight sank on her right shoulder and she realized with surprise Resa had laid her head down upon her. Exhaustion had apparently won out and she could no longer hold herself upright. The simple act by one as strong as she affected Jennifer deeply. She quickly drew off her gloves and placed her arms around the other womans upper body in an effort to comfort her.
"Its okay. Its okay. Were done," she murmured as if to a small child, stroking her back and noting the hard, sinewy muscles that rippled beneath her touch. She could feel the intense pounding of the other womans heart vibrate against her breast and seep into her own as if, for a fraction of a second, they were one. She closed her eyes against the sensation and marveled at the urge to cry that suddenly seized her.
After a moment, Resa drew away but her weakened condition was obvious.
"I need to lie down," she whispered in a graveled voice, then swallowed hard. Jennifer dabbed the sweat from the other womans face and tried to fight down the sense of distress that gripped her chest. Resa looked terrible.
"Lean on me."
Together they stood but Resas weight was more than Jennifer anticipated and they fell back against the wall. It took a fraction of a second for Jennifer to recover (she was much stronger physically than she initially appeared) and force them both upright. Jennifer held the other woman tight around the waist and led her into the hall.
At a time like this the cramped size of the apartment worked to their advantage with only a few steps required for them to reach the bedroom. Jennifer lowered the much larger woman to the bed, careful to angle her so the wounded shoulder received no weight. She shoved pillows behind her to prop her up, then drew the plain blue comforter up to her waist.
Resas eyes were closed from exhaustion, as they should be. Getting shot in the movies was one thing; heroes received countless bullets and acted as if they were mere mosquito bites. But getting shot in real life was like being hit by a car; no matter how tough the person may be, they wouldnt just shake it off.
Jennifer glanced around the bedroom that, if possible, was even more Spartan than the living room. There was just the bed and a closet, the door of which was open, affording her a clear view of a series of shelves that held a few scraps of clothing. Minimalism apparently applied to every aspect of Resas life, attire included. Jennifer noted the bloody tank-top the older woman still wore and fought the desire to have her change into something clean. Right now it was more important that she get some sleep.
She then noticed the bars on the window for the first time and it puzzled her. They were on the second floor of the apartment and bars of this nature were usually reserved for first floor only. But, in a neighborhood such as this...in a world such as this...it would seem bars were a necessity at all levels.
"Im going to sleep for a while," Resa murmured, though her eyes remained closed. "Recover."
"For how long?" Jennifer asked softly.
"Few hours. Maybe more. Call Father Hector, tell him what happened."
"Make sure he knows Im gonna be okay." When Jennifer didnt answer this, Resa slowly opened her eyes. "I am gonna be okay."
"Youve lost a lot of blood -- "
"Ive had worse."
"That doesnt mean your condition isnt serious this time. How will I know if youre just sleeping and not in a coma or something?"
"That wont concern you cause you wont be here."
Jennifer was incredulous. "I cant leave."
"What - what - "
"Dont argue with me." There was no ignoring the edge to her voice. "Youre leaving here to call Father Hector and thats the end of your involvement. Kid like you shouldnt be messed up in this."
Jennifer stood there, anger and frustration rendering her immobile. Resa stared hard at her.
Jennifer backed away from the bed, a thousand arguments on the tip of her tongue but one look at Resas haggard face silenced her completely. Jennifer sighed but, in her heart, didnt give in. After all, there were many ways to win a battle...
She turned to go.
She stopped, surprised to hear her name softly spoken by the other woman. She glanced back to find Resa with eyes closed yet again, on the brink of a deep repose but still with strength enough to murmur:
* * * *
For two hours after Jennifer rolled the memory of that single word over and over in her mind. It was merely one word. Just thanks. That was it. Yet, coming from Resa, that one word meant a great deal. Even Jennifer who had met the woman but a few hours earlier could recognize this and it warmed her inside.
She liked her. As strange as it was, as little as she knew about the other woman, she, nonetheless, found the former gang leader intriguing. And she liked her. Though, frankly, she didnt quite know why. It wasnt as if the dark-haired woman had gone out of her way to be nice to her. In fact, shed been downright rude for the most part. But there was an undeniable intelligence that lay behind those extraordinary blue eyes that gave Jennifer pause. What this woman might have been under different circumstances...
Jennifer stood in the fresh produce aisle of the East Los Angeles Luckys Supermarket, plastic basket draped over her arm, fingers resting lightly on a smooth, white egg and wondered what it would have been like if her life had been reversed with Resas. Would she have been able to avoid the pull of the street gangs? Or would she, too, have been drawn into their cycle of violence? What was it that made Resa, a woman who now lived her life in apparent isolation, join a gang in the first place? And what was it within her that made her ultimately leave?
Jennifer had to know.
She quickly checked the rest of the eggs in the carton to make sure none were broken then placed the package into the basket and headed toward the checkout line.
Yes, it was really that simple. Resa may have told her to leave her, but that wasnt an option now. Curiosity had taken hold of her and, well, Jennifer never could resist the pull of a good riddle which was exactly how she saw Resa -- as a conundrum waiting to be broken. A mystery waiting to be explored.
Jennifer practically tingled at the thought. The fact that Resa clearly wanted to be left alone was easily brushed aside. The ex-gansta just needed to get to know her first, that was all. Resa was obviously not a people person so it would take a bit of time but a little voice deep down told her the effort would be worth it.
Then that same little voice reminded her that she was a student in college whose time was not yet her own and she paused. Damn. This might prove to be a problem. And what if Professor Hendricks failed to allow her to use this for her grade? Now such a possibility brought a sinking feeling of dread to her stomach where before it had been a way out. Except now she didnt want a way out. She wanted a way in.
She chewed on the corner of her mouth in contemplation. What to do, what to do ? She drew in a deep breath and expelled it in a determined huff. Well, well just have to cross that bridge when we come to it, she told herself. Right now she had to deal with more immediate matters. Like the English Lit quiz for which she was no closer to being prepared for than she was that morning when she promised herself shed study for it that night. Hmmmmm Still, she had a solid A in the class, one missed quiz wouldnt devastate her grade and once she told the professor the reason behind her absence, surely shed be able to make it up. After all, the excuse of I-was-helping-a -former-gang-member-recover-from-a-gunshot-wound-she-received- while-helping-me was significantly less common than the-dog-ate-my-homework to warrant believability right?
She certainly hoped so.
Jennifer exited the supermarket and headed for her car, which wasnt difficult to spot in this parking lot. Her green Land Rover stood out like a beacon on a moonless night amidst the significantly less upscale modes of transportation. It was probably the only one of its kind for a couple square miles.
As she headed toward the car, she was gripped by the strangest sensation of being watched. She glanced around her and noted several pairs of eyes upon her but quickly dismissed it. She was, after all, a blonde woman getting into a luxury car in the middle of East Los Angeles, of course there were going to be looks. It was to be expected. It didnt make her feel any less uncomfortable, however.
She deactivated the alarm from several feet away and hopped inside, making sure to lock the doors behind her before she started the engine and pulled away.
Sleep was a dark, swirling curtain that enveloped Resa in its folds and bound her tight. She did not dream on this occasion, which was likely for the best. Too often her dreams evolved into nightmares that chased away the solace of rest and tonight she needed as much comfort as she could get.
In the end, she was out a long time. And she might have been out of it even longer had her senses not been awakened by the tantalizing aroma of food. Warm food. Good food.
Like a swimmer struggling to make it to the surface, she pulled herself out of her slumber and opened her eyes. For a moment or two she didnt recognize the bare, white walls of her surroundings. Was she back at -- ? But then her memory returned and she sat up.
The pain on her right side hit her like an electric jolt and the slightest hint of grogginess instantly evaporated. Motherfuckthathurt! But she said nothing aloud. Shed learned long ago to make no noise when pain was being inflicted. It was second nature to her now.
She let out a slow, steady breath, swung her long legs over the side of the bed and glanced about her room. She could tell by the way the sun streamed through the window it was already well past noon. She must have slept a long time, longer than she realized but she felt refreshed and surprisingly good, given her condition.
Her hand fell upon a the soft fabric of a white T-shirt left folded for her and she glanced down at the bloody tank top she still wore. She could definitely do for a change. As gingerly as possible, she removed the ruined garment and tossed it across the room, then grabbed the new shirt and slipped it over her head. Someone had left her the T-shirt to change into and that someone was probably in the kitchen, right now. Cooking.
It had to be. The kid must have gotten him for her...
The kid. Jennifer Somethingoranother. Nice gringa she turned out to be. Not at all what she'd expected. Sweet. And brave. Really brave. Stupid brave. But a good kid. Talked a lot, that was for sure. She smiled a little as she remembered the Kids expression when she first walked into the bar. Priceless. But, to her credit, she hadnt backed out when she realized what sort of establishment she was entering. Course, that was what caused all the problems to begin with. Resa hadnt considered for a second that some nice, pretty, white kid from Santa Monica would even make it into the parking lot of a place like Palos bar, let alone have balls enough to walk on in. Yet thats exactly what The Kid had done.
And blew Resa's plans all to hell. Now Manny knew she was back in the neighborhood and if Manny knew, that meant Alfons and the other Vartans knew, too. It was an invitation to trouble. No two ways about it. She was fucked.
What you get for underestimating that kid, she chided herself. You're getting out of practice. Gotta think of every angle.
She stood up and had to wait a second to regain her equilibrium. No matter how many times she'd been shot or stabbed or whacked around -- which was more times than she could remember -- it never felt good the day after. And it'd been a while since she'd had to go through anything like this.
She stepped out into the hallway and made her way towards the kitchen. Whatever the Padre was scrapin together smelled mighty good. Huh. Who knew the big guy could cook? He was full of surprises that one.
Then she turned the corner to enter the kitchen and stopped dead in her tracks.
It wasn't the Padre who was cooking up a storm.
It was the Kid.
She had apparently stayed the night.
"I thought I told you to leave?" she said harshly.
Jennifer jumped at the sound of her voice and turned around from the stove.
"Oh," she said, breathless, her hand instinctively coming to her chest. "You startled me." She looked Resa over in concern. "How do you feel?"
"Better. What are you still doing here?"
Jennifer turned back to the stove to take a skillet off the open fire. "Making an egg-white omelet." She scraped out the eggs onto a dish, set the skillet aside, then brought the dish over to the card table on which Resa ate her meals. "Here, sit down. You have to be hungry. Youve been asleep for hours."
Resa hesitated but the Kid was right. She was hungry. Starved was more like it. And what she was making would have smelled amazing even if shed just eaten a full meal, which she hadnt. She wanted to force the Kid to answer her question, find out what was she still doing there...however hunger won out.
Without a word, she sat, grabbed a fork, and took a bite of the eggs. Mio Dios...
Jennifer took a seat in the folding chair opposite Resa, her eyes watching the other woman closely. She frowned at Resas expression.
"What? Does it taste bad? Is it overcooked? Under? You dont like mushrooms or the cheese -- ?"
Light green eyes widened with pleasure. "Yeah?" Her face beamed. "You like it?"
"I just said it was good."
Jennifer sighed. "I know, but there are other adjectives in the English language that can be used to expound on the idea of good. I just thought you might want to try one out." Resa just stared at her. "Or, not."
"What did you call this?" She held up a fork full of egg.
"An egg-white omelet?"
"Yeah. Ive never had one before."
"Are you serious?" Her tone was incredulous. "But its such a basic breakfast dish."
"Basic where you come from."
"Well, what do you consider basic?" Resa stared at her hard and Jennifer rolled her eyes. "This isnt a trick to needle info about your quote-unquote past. Its just polite conversation between friends." Off Resas look, "Or friendly acquaintances in our case." Resa arched a brow. "Or just acquaintances of a non-hostile nature, if that makes you feel better."
"Wheres the Padre?" Resa ignored Jennifers question with one of her own and shoveled another bite into her mouth. "I thought I told you to call him for me."
"I tried. But hes in Tijuana with a group from his church rebuilding some homes. He wont return until tomorrow or the next day. I left word for him to contact you as soon as he gets back." She stood and grabbed a plate from the kitchen counter. "Do you like biscuits?" A tiny grin pulled on the corner of her mouth. "You do know what those are, dont you?"
She proffered the plate of piping hot biscuits before Resas nose and wiggled her eyebrows. The older woman pushed the dish away and shot Jennifer another look.
"Yeah. We Latinos have heard the term. Even had a few." Then her hunger got the better of her and she peered over the plate. God, they smelled amazing and she was soooooo hungry. As nonchalantly as possible, she grabbed three and put them on her plate.
"Do you want honey? Or marmalade?" Jennifer asked.
Resa shook her head. "Did you knock over a grocery store while I was asleep?"
Jennifer laughed. "No. I went shopping. You had no food whatsoever so I picked up some basics."
"Like marmalade?" she asked, her voice dry.
"Okay, basics where I come from. What you consider basics I have no idea. So which do you want?"
Jennifer plopped a plastic honey bear container in front of the former gangster then sat back down.
"You know, when I was young, my brothers and I would grab the bear and make our Dad pour the honey right into our mouths until we practically got sick on the stuff." Jennifer laughed. "Wed stand there with our mouths open just like little birds waiting for their Mamma to give us a worm until the honey was almost all over our faces and wed laugh and laugh...Thats one of my favorite memories from growing up." She looked at Resa. "Did you ever do anything like that?"
Resa swallowed a bite. "No."
Jennifer was silent a moment. "Guess we kind of had different childhoods, huh?"
Resa met her gaze. "Yeah." Then took a bite of the biscuit. They definitely had had different childhoods, with Resas devoid of such things as egg white omelets and marmalade and a Father who poured honey into the mouths of his laughing children.
Resa polished off the biscuit and reached for another.
"How does your shoulder feel?" Jennifer asked.
"You already asked me that."
"Yes, but think of this as an opportunity to elaborate on better. Do you feel light headed?"
"Is the pain in you shoulder sharp or a dull throb."
"Sharp when I move and a dull throb when I dont."
"And the stitches feel all right?"
"Yeah. You did a good job."
Her face brightened. "Really?"
Resa held back a grin. This kid reminded her of a little puppy, eager for attention. "Yeah. For a beginner."
"Thanks. Hopefully I wont have much opportunity to perfect my craft." They lapsed into a brief silence. "Resa?"
"Yeah?" she drawled, knowing the quiet couldn't have lasted too long with this one.
"How many times have you been shot?"
She figured that one was coming. But, to be fair, it was a natural question for a kid like her to ask. Someone like Resa, an ex-gangsta from the bario, must be pretty foreign to a kid living in Santa Monica. They may share the same sales tax rates but their lives were worlds apart.
Resa scooped up the rest of her omelet before answering. "Three times."
"Including this latest one?
"Was this the worst?"
Resa almost smiled again and shook her head. "Not even close."
"What was "
"You're asking a lot of questions."
"Its called a conversation. People who dont know each other very well often engage in this ritual known as conversation as a means of getting to know one another better. You obviously are unfamiliar with the concept."
"Im familiar with it. Just dont like it much."
Resa rolled her eyes. "Im going to call you Jeopardy because everything you say comes out like a question."
Jennifer laughed. "Hey, that was funny."
Resa just shook her head and started to plop the last bite of biscuit in her mouth when she heard it. It was faint at first, far too faint for the untrained ear but Resa had learned long ago the ignoring the most insignificant of noises could have deadly consequences and thus attuned herself to everything. She cocked her head to one side to listen.
"What - ?" Jennifer began but Resa swiftly put up a hand to silence her and, to the college students credit she didn't need to be told twice.
There it was again. Stronger this time and more distinct. Footsteps. Many footsteps. Coming down the cavernous hallway outside her apartment, headed in their direction. She quickly determined there were at least five. Likely all men. She could tell that by the distinctly heavy and aggressive sound of their footfall despite the fact they were all wearing rubber souled shoes. The Vartans. She was certain of it. Oh, this was bad. Very, very bad indeed.
She vaulted out of her chair and opened the cabinet under the sink. In less than two seconds she located the automatic pistol shed taped against the far wall and ripped it free. It was loaded, with a bullet already chambered and ready to go.
She barely had time to register the look of shock that crossed Jennifers face upon seeing the gun before she heard the first knock come from the front door. She grabbed the younger womans wrist and hauled her after her as she ran down the hallway to the bedroom.
Resas apartment was located in the back of the low-rent building, on the second floor. It had been the only thing shed insisted upon when Father Hector and she had gone looking. It had to be the second floor, for just this occasion. Most people would have asked for the first floor, but Resa knew better. You live on the first floor, problem like this comes along and youre a sitting duck. Second floor you dont have to worry about people waiting for you below because they figure youre trapped.
She shoved Jennifer into the room and bolted the door, then turned to see Jennifer standing clear as day in front of the window. She instantly tackled her, hearing the girl's umph as they hit the floor together.
"Stay down!" she hissed in the smaller womans ear before reaching up to grasp the handle embedded in the wall. It was the emergency release lever for the security bars, created in case of a fire so the occupants wouldnt be trapped.
"What is it?" Jennifer whispered in fear.
The knock on the front door came again, harder this time. Demanding.
"They found us."
"The Vartans. I dont know how - " She looked down at the blonde woman whose face was only inches away. "Of course! You went shopping!"
The knocks turned to pounds, then the sounds of mens raised voices.
"Never mind. We dont have time. Im gonna pull this here lever and itll release the bars. Then Ill lower you as much as I can before you jump."
"What?! Are you out of your mind?"
"Just do it!"
I'll break my legs!"
Resa stared hard at her. "Bend your knees and roll when you hit the ground."
She heard the distinct sounds of the front door being kicked.
"But - "
"Look, you can either go out that window and risk breaking something or stay here and have the guarantee youll get shot. You decide." With that she pulled down hard on the lever, releasing the bars drilled into the outer wall. They came free with a tremendous ripping sound and dropped to the ground in a resounding thud. Resa sat up and peered over the edge of the window but saw no signs of any of her former homeboys laying in wait. Good. The Vartans were a merciless group, of that she was all too aware, but they werent always the most organized. At least since she left their ranks. When she had been with them, it was a whole different story.
She glanced down at Jennifer whose green eyes stared back at her with a mixture of fear and determination. "Are you coming?" Resa asked and even as the words crossed her lips she somehow knew the answer.
Jennifer reached up her hand and Resa pulled her to her feet. The blonde glanced over the edge, then back at Resa.
"Bend my knees, huh?"
"And roll. Its important."
Jennifer nodded. "Riiiiiight."
"Once your down, dont go to your car. Its possible they have someone there waiting for us."
"Then where - ?"
"St. Agathas Church is just around the corner. To the right. Go there, youll be safe. Ill find you. Trust - "
"You," Jennifer finished. "I know, I know." The two women locked eyes and Resa allowed herself to grin, even if it was only a little. The Kid did have spirit.
They heard the sound of wood splintering and mens voices growing nearer. Jennifer quickly hoisted one leg over the ledge, then the other. Resa reached down to grab her by the wrist and helped lower her another couple of feet. She was careful to keep as much strain off her wounded shoulder as possible, but the pain was nonetheless excruciating. Behind her she heard the men pound on her bedroom door. She held Jennifers eyes an extra moment before letting go and watched as if in slow motion the younger woman fall away from her to the ground, angling herself so she fell in the opposite direction from where the security bars had landed. Per instructions, Jennifer bent her knees and rolled upon impact with the earth and though it wasnt pretty, it got the job done. Seconds later she was on her feet, wobbly but moving. She glanced up at Resa who waved her on before turning back to the door and the shouts of the men behind it. Instinctively her grip tightened on the gun in her hand...
* * * *
* * * *
Jennifer liked to work out. She made getting up early to head to the gym a part of her almost daily routine and running was a very important part of that workout. She liked to think she was good at all of it, too, but especially the running. It was always her favorite part. Shed throw on the tiny headset for her Sony Walkman, click play to listen to her favorite tunes to get her in the mood, and the next thing shed know an hour would have passed and shed be drenched in sweat. Thats how shed know if the run had been worth it, by how soaked her T-shirt would get and it was almost always dripping by the time she was done.
But never in all her exercises, in the untold hours on the treadmill or jogging down at the beach had she ever, ever run as hard or fast as did seconds after dropping from Resas apartment window. If shed been in a more jovial mood she would have hummed the theme from Chariots of Fire but all levity had vanished the moment she heard the front door being broken down and the sounds of several men enter the apartment.
Her senses detected no evidence of anyone following her after she landed but still she ran as if being chased by the hounds of hell.
Oh, God, I hope Resas all right, she thought. Part of her wanted to stay to help the other woman fight, but she knew shed do more harm than good. Shed never used a gun in her entire life and now was not the time to get in a little practice. No, in this she truly did have to trust Resa. Shed said shed find her and somehow Jennifer knew instinctively that she would.
She rounded the corner and spotted the top of what had to be a church steeple. St. Agathas. Her heart leaped at the sight and she managed to run even faster to make it to the gates of what her mind identified as sanctuary merely on the basis of Resas words alone. She was nearly to the front doors of the gates when she heard the first sound of gunfire. For a second or two her untrained ears mistook the series of pops for firecrackers but then she quickly recognized the sounds for what they really were and stopped in her tracks. Resa. It had to be coming from her apartment.
Jennifers heart caught in her throat and as if of their own free will, her feet were suddenly taking her back in the direction of the gunfight. She hadnt the slightest idea what she would do when she got there, only that she had to go.
She was in the middle of rounding a street corner when out of the side of her eye she caught the briefest glimpse of a shape coming at her. She didnt have time to react before a hand clamped down her over mouth and arms of incredible strength pulled her down into a cluster of nearby bushes. She struggled immediately until she heard a harsh yet familiar voice whisper:
Jennifer instantly stilled. The other woman wrapped one arm around her waist and the other still over her mouth, pulling Jennifers back into her own chest and holding her secure within their impromptu hiding place. Thin branches scraped against their faces and tangled in their hair but the leaves were dense enough to provide ample coverage. Which was crucial. Mere seconds passed before Jennifer heard the pounding footsteps of several people running past where they lay. She could hear the mens angry, guttural shouts in Spanish as they passed and her heart was slamming so hard against the walls of her chest she was convinced that it would give them away. But the men continued on, completely unaware of how close they were to their prey.
Resa didnt relax her hold on Jennifer for some time after the men were gone. Once she was certain they wouldnt return, however, she let her hand drop away from the younger womans mouth and leaned back. Jennifer immediately twisted her body to face Resa, pushing aside some of the branches to get a clear look at the other womans drawn expression. Jennifer was at once concerned. The stitches had clearly opened up as a fresh and sizable bloodstain appeared over Resas shoulder but a quick glance over the rest of her revealed no new injuries.
She met Resas pale blue eyes. "I heard gunfire. Did you get hit?" she asked in a voice barely above a whisper. The Vartans may not be right there, but they could come back and she would take no chances.
Resa shook her head. "No."
Jennifer accepted this. "How did you get out of there?"
"Hid in the closet until they broke in, then jumped out the window before the geniuses could figure out where I was." She grinned a little to herself. "Made sure to take one of them with me to break the fall."
Jennifer almost laughed. "Good thinking, though I bet he wouldnt agree."
"Probably not. If he was he conscious, which he isnt."
Jennifer reached her fingers to lightly brushed aside the T-shirt and get a glimpse of the ace bandage that was seeping blood. She frowned in consternation. "It looks like the stitches have ripped."
Resa sighed. "Yeah, I figured."
"Are you in a lot of pain?"
Resa shrugged slightly. "Ill live." She nodded to Jennifer. "You okay?"
Jennifers eyebrows shot up somewhat before she could stop herself. A question of concern from the ex-gangsta? How novel. "Yes," she replied. "Im fine." Then, with a wry grin, "The rolling part helped."
A corner of Resa mouth twitched upward. "Told ya."
Jennifer found herself smiling in return and for an instant neither women moved. It was a strange moment for the first tenuous bonds of a friendship to form -- hiding in the bushes after being chased by a group of gangsters bent on killing them -- but when Jennifer looked back on her time with Resa as a whole, she would come to this moment and know it was here that their journey together truly began.
"Are all your days like this?" Jennifer asked finally, shaking her head in wonder.
"No...Some are worse."
"Greeeat," she drawled, then glanced down at the bloody T-shirt and she grew serious. "We have to get you bound up again. By a professional this time. No arguments."
Resas eyes widened a bit at her tone. "All right," she said at last.
Now it was Jennifers turn to be surprised. "Did you just agree with me?"
Blue eyes narrowed. "Yeah, but dont get cocky. Were still gonna do it my way."
"Really? And what way is that?"
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