Disclaimer: Some of you may remember me…some may not. If you’ve gotten this far into this tale, I would hope you would at least remember my name. I’m Mariana, and I’m here, briefly…to tell you that Morrig owns these characters. They are hers, although they may make you think of two other beautiful women. Take heed, imitating the deeds of the people in this story is highly discouraged. They’re just not safe. As a matter of fact…they are downright lethal. If you are under eighteen, please go watch an episode of your favorite TV program, as I’m pretty sure the contents within these pages could be considered corruption of a minor. At least, I would think so. The language is…filthy. The violence…well, it’s violence. Sex? Yes, and it’s not all women on women, though there is enough of that as well. This story…may be too harsh for some sensitive souls, but if you have enough courage or resolve, and you have read Absolution and Penitencia…come, venture into the world we’ve built…and hear our—


By: Morrig

Everyone has that dream where they step off a curb but never reach the ground. It usually ends with a jolt and the dreamer awakes. For Magali, the ground never came and, although the jolt did, she couldn’t wake from the nightmare. Along the borders of her sleep, the waves of pain loomed at a distance for awhile, teasing, before they swept over and tortured her once more.

Eddie’s voice echoed in her head telling of Casey’s sacrifice, and the deal to go with Julia in exchange for her life. Her hands vibrated with the feel of the steering wheel speeding along the highway, a chase through New York traffic. Have to reach her, before she goes…before…a spasm ripped through her and she dug her nails into her palm. The thought vanished. Her sight wavered, the traffic around her blurred, her shoulders ached with the force she used to try to turn the wheel in her hands. She could hear the roaring engine of the Jeep as she swerved to avoid the slower moving vehicles, in and out, almost there…when she’d felt the lurch, the sway—a malfunction in her typically faultless vehicle—as she lost control and…Madre! The accident that had destroyed her Jeep, left her gasping to breathe, almost killed her. She screamed, her gut twisting with lightning. Magali felt a brief sting, then a rush of warmth and the images faded as she dropped deeper into the darkness. How the fuck am I alive, why am I? Or am I?

Hours later, her mind again struggled toward consciousness, toward knowing. The pain and distress were almost unbearable. It would be easier to surrender…die already. She was tempted to just let everything go. She hovered on the border of indecision, stones from the edge of the abyss gave way under her feet. Waking? Or blessed relief? But there was something… Something I have to do… Her life depended on it. Mi vida… She grasped at an elusive thought and captured it with a feeling of triumph, became an observer of the events that filled her head. She could tell she was hurt bad and needed to get to a hospital. Her eyes flickered beneath the closed lids as, even now, her body flinched from the remembered pain and the desperation. No. Can’t do that. Broke my parole…I’ll be arrested. And then, Callie was there. Callie…It’s Callie’s fault I’m breathin’. There was something funny about that—putting her life into the hands of her assassin, who had taken her to the loft; but her constricting abdomen and the rising bile in her throat killed her laughter. That day, Callie used her scalpel for something other than taking a life. Fuck, who knew she could do that? The searing touch of the knife pierced her then faded into nothing. Consciousness loomed closer as her recall became more clear, more focused. Insects crawled over her bare skin. Callie, she shot me up full of dope…the bleeding, it slowed, she…Almost awake, a small rueful smile curled Magali’s lip. Casey isn’t going to like that. I promised… With that trigger, everything began unfolding before her as if she were the audience, watching a slow-motion film. Fuck! It was Casey…Casey hit me…And when I finally came to…have to make Julia pay…Her restless body twitched with her need—her need for action, and her need for the drug. Never made it to the airport…The Jeep…The crash… The flames licking from out of the black smoke that had done away with more than the heap of twisted metal that had been her vehicle; they had also eliminated her only chance of getting to Casey before she left for L.A. with Julia. They had set the circumstances for her breaking parole; and they had prompted Callie to learn a new skill, to do what she had to in order to save her life and now…I’m addicted. Full awareness rushed back into Magali with that realization, and the bits and pieces coalesced into painful clarity. Got to get to Casey! She struggled, futilely, to rise, but for once her body would not respond to even her strong will and she subsided. Feeling a weight on the mattress beside her, Magli’s eyes opened briefly to see Callie next to her; then she felt the bite, and slipped into oblivion.

It was purgatory-- between heaven and hell-- though her position in it was definitely closer to damnation, and salvation was too far away for her to even catch a glimpse of it. For the moment, surviving the wrath of her own body was all consuming. Her anchor was, once again, the image of her Saint’s smile.

The addiction was physical not mental, and she was lucky for that. Once her body learned to live without the murk that was heroin coursing through her veins, she would recover. Some didn’t come out of withdrawal alive. She had long since ceased her straining against the bonds Callie had placed on her to keep her from running in a blind fury towards relief. Her body too weak to continue, she let the pain cover her, and swam in it until it melted away.

In the hopes of diminishing the icy grip that firmly held Magali, Callie had turned off the central air of her loft and left only the ceiling fans spinning. She knew it was futile, that the heat of the summer would burn more than soothe the woman, but it was the only thing she could think to do. She had felt helpless for far too long during the course of the sickness.

Callie hadn’t slept in over two days, even the headphones covering her ears, blasting Korn, couldn’t prevent her from thinking of what was happening in her bedroom. Lying on the leather sofa and covering her head with a pillow simply muffled the screams into gut wrenching cries of lament, and she was grateful at their cessation. Only occasional slams and the metallic rattling of chains filtered down from the platform room now.

The silence was eerie, and heralded Magali’s return from the land of the dead. She pushed one padded earphone back and listened for any changes, there were none. For the past few hours Magali had done nothing but shiver. Callie had chanced a peek or two in from the edge of the steps. She hadn’t dared look often; the sight of her object of worship struggling over bloodstained and sweat-soaked sheets was wrenching.

What had perturbed Callie the most was the way that Magali had screamed out for Casey, not the drug, but Casey, as if the name alone could save her from the realm of demons through which she waded. When it was over, there would be stitches to replace, bandages to re-do, and a soul—what was left of it, if any—to mend. It would be Callie that tended to these tasks during this most vulnerable chapter of Bajo Zero’s life. If anyone had the desire to, and there were plenty who did, it would have been easy to kill the usually invincible woman in her current state. As it was, Callie was her only safeguard against the predators that waited for her to weaken, but she could do nothing to shelter Magali from herself.

Lying curled on her side, she shivered as if in extreme cold, though drenched in the sweat and tears wrought from her agony. It was almost over; she knew that with the shakes her body would finally collapse, and she would wake without the need, and without Casey.

"Callie," Magali’s hoarse voice screamed down to her. The sudden bellow gave her a start, and Callie nervously tugged down the tank top that had managed to creep up to just under her breasts. Her skin was damp and it stuck to the leather of the sofa as she quickly stood, causing her to wince at the sticky pull, dropping the CD player to the ground. At the top of the stairs, she caught her first full view of Magali in hours. Disheveled and with the strain of suffering on her face, Callie still found her to be beautiful, magnificent even in misery. Barefoot, she padded to the side of the low captain’s bed and knelt on the floor, stroking back thick, dark locks that clung to Magali’s face.

"What is it, Mami," Callie questioned in a tender whisper, adding on a term of endearment customarily spoken between lovers.

"Get these things off me," Magali croaked back, feebly pulling on the chains tethering her to the bed. Their length had been enough to let her flail and struggle, often forcing her body to contort into uncomfortable positions, but not to reach the buckles of the straps and undo them.

As she undid the restraints, Callie’s eyes grew wide. "God damn, Zee." Callie noted with exasperation that the eyebolts that had held the chains had nearly been pulled out, splitting the wood of the bed’s frame. "You owe me a new fuckin’ bed."

Without looking at the smaller woman by her side, Magali’s words carried a grateful undertone. "Thanks." It wasn’t an expression of thankfulness for removing the bonds that had secured her, but for having them put on.

Callie nodded; she understood. "Want a smoke?" she asked as she rose, pulling away the chains and letting them crash to the floor. "I have a pack downstairs. I’ll be right back."

After the younger woman left, Magali tested her limbs. Her joints were sore, and her throat ached. The sharp pangs from her side wound were merely a dull throbbing in comparison to what she had endured. She inhaled the hot air and bit down on her lip. Everything hurt, but it was life, and she had survived her run through hell. A small breeze separated the sheer curtains of the bedroom window, bringing with it the smells of the street outside. Callie returned, two cigarettes hanging from her mouth as she lit them both and handed one to the dark woman.

Magali braced herself and pushed her trunk up to lean her back against the wall. "How long?" she asked, taking a pull from the cigarette and throwing her head back.

"Altogether, two and a half weeks."

"Fuck." Magali drew her knees up and rested her arms on them, bowing her head, the pains from her broken rib teasing her.

"Yo, you’ve been through worse, right? It wasn’t so bad." That statement drew a chortle out of the dark woman, and Callie took a risk to further lighten the atmosphere. "I’ll tell you what, though…you haven’t smelled so bad…ever. By the time you wash off, you’re gonna owe me a new bathtub, too…Ah, you can afford it. Let me fill it up some. You can’t soak, though, not with those stitches in you still, but you can get clean. Alright?"

"Yeah," she mumbled from her lap.

"Need help?"

Magali raised her head and arched an eyebrow. "No."

Callie shrugged and left for the bathroom attached to the bedroom. Magali heard the water run, and caught the mischievous look from Callie as she returned.

"All yours."

The bathroom was a smaller platform raised from the bedroom floor by a step and separated from the rest of the room by a frosted wall of block-cut glass. Magali was pleased to find that "the tub" was really a small Jacuzzi-- large enough for two, or for her to stretch out in. Unfortunately, Callie was right, wetting the stitches would delay her healing. With all the abuse of her body apparent, she moved carefully onto the bowled step of the tub and cautiously sat. The water reached to her waist, its warmth welcome even in the heat of the summer. She ran her hand over the surface, letting the liquid form waves over her fingers. So much had gone wrong within the past few months, and she wished she could wash it all away, everything but her Saint. Two and a half weeks, she could be anywhere by now…with Julia. She kept me from killing that bitch. Why? I should have been watching my back…Fuck that was careless. But she left with her…to save me. Julia was gonna kill me, and she stopped her. What the fuck were you saving, Casey? Magali dunked her head into the water, wincing, as she had to bend her body to do it. By the time she finished rinsing off the soap, there were definite food smells wafting up to her from the lower level of the loft. From a hook on the wall she grabbed a white, terry cloth robe. It was a bit snug around her shoulders, and its length reached only to mid-thigh on her, but it would do. Her clothes had been irreparably damaged. As usual.

She had difficulty walking down the steps, her legs shaky after spending so much time on her back. The loft had once been a warehouse, and unpainted, blue steel beams rose from floor to ceiling. Magali found Callie in the kitchen stirring the contents of a large steaming pot. The kitchen was a rather large space tucked into the back of the loft, with brick walls, a polished wood floor and a wooden island. Scraps of various Caribbean tubers littered the counter’s surface. One of the room’s walls was no more than a barn door that opened up into a backyard, where an enclosed garden of green vines and brightly colored flowers surrounded a bricked deck. A small stereo system in a niche of the wall played Tito Puente’s greatest hits, and Callie danced to the magical rhythm of the drum’s solo. She turned as Magali approached and jumped back in surprise. Her hair was the light honey-brown it would turn under the summer’s sun, and she still wore her tank top with a very short pair of cut off jeans underneath. Still barefoot, a delicate golden chain hung around her ankle with a tiny medallion of La Caridad.

"Puņeta, you scared the hell out of me, Zee."

"Puņeta? It doesn’t look like you’re jerking off. Que haces?" Magali smirked. In all her dealings with the woman, she had never seen this particular side of her. The assassin was nowhere to be seen.

"Que hago? No, Mami, what are you doing? You’re supposed to be upstairs. Tssk, Ave Maria, I would have brought you up a bowl; I know you gotta be starvin’," she exaggerated and picked up a dishtowel and dried her hands.

Magali glanced down at her belly; she was pitifully empty. The struggle had left her with a rather urgent need for food, though she didn’t think she could stomach any. "I don’t think I’ll be able to keep it down, Callie."

"You’re kiddin’, right? It’s a sancocho, Zee. Just some yuca, malanga, platano, batata, papa, eņame…some roots and shit. Anybody can keep this stuff down."

"Sancocho, huh? I haven’t had that in years." Shit, since before moms died. "I guess I can try to put that in me. It’s just a soup anyway."

"Trust me. Why don’t you go sit down outside? Man, you could use some sun on you," she said, taking a hold of Magali’s hand and leading her out through the garden door. "Go on, take a seat. Te traigo un plato aca afuera, okay? I’ll be right back wit’ it."

"Just one plato, Callie! And a small plato. Don’t try to bring me one of those ‘you’re too skinny’ plates." Her voice was too hoarse to yell effectively. Somehow, even if she could, she didn’t think her protest would register with her assassin anyway.

The bowl was huge, and even pushing aside the chunks of tubers in the thick broth did nothing to reveal its bottom. Callie sat across from her with her own much smaller bowl, and a cold Heineken in her hand. She had brought Magali a tall glass of ice water, which she had had to refill twice before the woman would begin eating. Still, Magali did little more than spoon out the broth.

"Where’s the meat? Isn’t this supposed to have, like, pork or somethin’ in it?"

"I made it without meat, Zee. You’d puke that shit all over the place if I had."

"I need meat," Magali said, nearly pouting.

"You need rest. Finish the sancocho." Callie took a swallow of the bitter beer, enjoying the cool feel of the bottle and her badgering of the lethal woman.

"You sound like a…" Wife.


"Nothin’." Magali muttered, putting a full spoon in her mouth.


With the A/C back on, snuggled and naked under a quilted blanket, Magali slept soundly. The cool scent of clean sheets was comforting, and the aspirin Callie had given her eased some of the tenderness of her injuries. She could have slept for days with the sounds and smells of a home long lost cradling her-- spicy scents of Caribbean condiments and roasted meats, the slow sad tune of a saxophone dancing with percussion. In the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, she could almost feel the place, way back before she was ever Bajo Zero, before the violence and the wrath consumed her into the smoking ashes of what she had become. The sudden noise of a struggle broke the tranquility and, groggily, she forced her eyes to open, her hand slipping under the pillow beneath her head for the weapon hidden there. Two sets of footsteps sounded on the staircase, ringing in her ears. Slowly her vision focused on the sight of her bare forearm near her face, and she scowled at the red marks and long blue streak left by her "medication". Its telltale markings would take some time to disappear.

"Look at what I caught. This motherfucker says he knows you, Zee," Callie growled, an assault rifle pointed at the back of a tall form Magali recognized immediately.

"Daly…" she snarled, hefting her own gun to point at the subdued enforcer. "It’s about time you fuckin’ showed up. Took you longer than I thought."

"You look great, Zee. I see you’ve been taking care of yourself," he remarked with a sarcastic note, eyeing the track marks on her arm.

"Stop, please, you’ll make me blush with all those compliments," she retorted, narrowing her eyes. "You gonna try to take me in?"

A look from Magali to Callie, and the smaller woman was poking him in the back with the tip of the rifle’s barrel, forcing him to take a step forward. It had taken him days to figure out where the woman had gone, and then even longer to verify her whereabouts. The loft was vulnerable on only one side, over the garden wall, and even then it was a risk because of its openness. He had chanced it when he thought he would not be seen, but Callie’s keen senses and stashes of weapons had prevented his furtive entrance. I need to run a few training exercises, I’m getting slow, he thought when Callie took him by surprise. He wished he could be tender with the dangerous woman. She looked to him like death warmed over, and it was clear to him that she was in no shape for a fight. Had he wanted to take her in, he had the chance.

"That’s not what I’m here for, Zee," he said without any mirth.

"Then what the fuck do you want now?"

"There’s a parole officer keeping an eye on your place. I wouldn’t go near there if I were you."

"You want me to believe you came to warn me?"

"Yes. That…and…you need to establish communication with Winslow. You’re out of the loop right now. If he starts to think you’ve backed down…we could lose him."

"You sonofabitch. You set that whole thing up, didn’t you?" she barked rising from the bed.

Daly gulped at the sight of her naked form, battered yet sleek in its form. "Does it matter," he asked, diverting his eyes away from her.

"No, I guess it really doesn’t, whether you did or didn’t. What’s done is done…Isn’t that the way it goes? But you made a big mistake, Daly, when you put Casey in this shit."

Callie twitched nervously, taking in the hostile scene with a hunger for action. "Let me kill him, Zee. I’ve got some of that acid shit, eat his fuckin’ body up when I’m done."

"No. Leave us. This sonofabitch is gonna do something for me…Go on, break out," she ordered pointing to the stairs with the gun in her hand.

Magali waited through Callie’s hesitation, the desire to kill crystal in the woman’s eyes. She didn’t appreciate her sanctum’s violation. Pouting, as if her favorite toy had been stolen away, Callie turned and stomped down the stairs.

"What can I do for you, Bajo Zero?" Daly queried, a bit more at ease without the impulsive assassin’s presence.

"You are going to make that parole violation disappear."

"What? I can’t do that!"

"If you don’t, how do you expect me to keep turning up the dirt?" she asked coolly.

He met her with silence, digging his hands into his pockets.

"Come on, Daly. I know you can get this done." She stepped inches away from him, nailing him with her eyes, the gun hanging from her hand. "You better do something, because I swear, I will not be going back in to do another six months. They’ll have to kill me first, and you can be damn sure I’ll be taking some to the devil with me as tribute."

"It might take a little while, Zee. That’s not exactly a department I work with often."

"When?" she asked determinedly. Time was beginning to take on a new meaning for her. A premonition that she had precious little of it left and that she had wasted too much, haunted her, leaving the urgency to salvage every priceless waking moment.

"I’m not sure. It could be a few weeks, maybe a month or--"

"Do it."

"I can’t guarantee anything."

"Neither can I. When it’s done…send me an email." Magali stepped back, crossing her arms at her chest, the gun resting against her forearm. "You’re dismissed, Daly. Callie, get this sonofabitch out of my sight."

Noiselessly, Callie emerged from her hiding place on a lower step of the staircase, the assault rifle still in her hands she pointed with it for him to follow. Grudgingly he took his leave, shooting Magali a secret look just in time to see her step falter a fraction of an inch. He was tempted to give her a hand.

The energy it had taken to become the menacing figure of Bajo Zero bled her of her strength, and Magali sank back onto the soft surface of the bed’s mattress. Pulling the corner of the sheet to cover her pelvis and, hanging her hands between her legs, she contemplated her fingers, the raised veins in her wrists, the marks along her forearm, the dark weapon she held. Over a decade spent in the shadows, running, looking over her shoulder, laying waste to all and everything that crossed her path, gave her a manner of existence and an instinct for survival that was barbaric and ruthless in nature. Yet when death came knocking, she had fought it with tooth and nail, all for a smile and a love she deemed herself undeserving of.

Is it worth it, Casey, to bring you back? Here, into my world, into this pit filled with blood and grime brought forth by these hands? I made my bed. Is it fair to have you lie in it with me?

"What ya thinking about?"

Snapped away from her thoughts by Callie’s mildly concerned voice, she stuffed the weapon she was holding back under the pillow and shook her head. "Nothin’"

Callie nodded once and pursed her lips in disbelief; experience told her Zero was most dangerous when she was silent. "Eddie just pulled up. He needs to talk to you about somethin’."

"Send him up then."

"Ummm…you’re type naked, Zee. He could have a heart attack," she chuckled lightly.

Magali took in her form. She was a sight, and it dawned on her that she hadn’t thought of her nakedness when she had negotiated with Daly. The numbness was growing. Without Casey’s presence, what little of her humanity there was left, was diminishing.

"Have anything that’ll fit me?"

"Are you kiddin’? Naw, but I did get you something the other day when I went out for food. It’s in the closet, I’ll wait downstairs."

It amazed her that the young woman could pick out her size with the ease of a professional tailor. The loose fitting khakis were the perfect length; the pair of boots conformed flawlessly to her feet and the pack of fresh A-shirts were just the right size, snug yet supple; the Hawaiian shirt soft against her skin; she didn’t bother to button it. With her mind on her Saint and the imminent troubles of life as a fugitive, the screaming protest of her body against any movement was a mere whisper. She washed her face at the bathroom sink, pushed back her hair with wet hands, and took one last look into her own dead eyes. Her demons lurked just under the ice blue coloring of slave trading ancestors, who raped and conquered for a share of wealth not given to those born second; not much had changed in the last few hundred years.

Eddie was playing a video game on the immense screen of Callie’s entertainment system. The gleam from his freshly shaven head was almost comical with its red glow from hours in the sun. His goatee and mustache were trimmed into thin delicate lines around his mouth and chin; Mariana took great care of him. He growled when a zombie emerged unexpectedly from behind a column and began eating the brains of his character. "End of game flashed" in dripping blood letters across the screen. On the coffee table next to Eddie’s riding helmet were her holster and gun, and the antler-handled knife she carried in her boot. They spelled disaster.

"What’s up, Eddie?" she asked, her eyes darting to the weapons on the table.

He looked away from the TV, the grimace on his face becoming a gentle smile at his sighting of Magali. "I thought you would want these," he replied, pointing at the tools of her trade. "I had Nelson sneak into your place and get them." He shrugged. "Just came to ask your permission to take your nurse here on a ride."

Callie sat on an arm of the sofa, her arms crossed. "Think you can take care of yourself for a little while, Zee?" she asked with a smirk. The multi-colored leather of her riding pants crunched as she moved.

"You’re a real comedian, Callie. Don’t quit your day job, alright? There’s work?"

Eddie nodded. "Nothing we can’t take care of, Zee. Little snot nose motherfucker downtown thinks his balls grew. Word I got was he was makin’ moves to take over a block. He keeps tellin’ people you’re dead."

Magali’s eyes closed briefly as she gave a short nod of understanding, her lips tightening into a sneer. "He’s mine." She had been dead.

"Naw, Zee, I tol’ you. We can take care of it, man." Eddie stood to take hold of her arm, conscious that her wounds were more painful and more debilitating than she would ever admit.

She pulled away from him, pulling off her shirt and grabbing the holster that waited for her hands. "Don’t play daddy with me, Eddie. I’ve been grown for a long time. If I don’t show my face, this shit is gonna keep happening."

"What about the cops, Zee?"

"They gotta catch me first," she said, smiling wickedly at Callie’s parked Ninja.

Sunlight streamed in as, clanking and grinding, the garage door of the loft opened and let out two screeching sports bikes. Their bright colors distracted from the inherent darkness of the killers that rode them, their faces hidden behind the smoky shields of their full-face helmets. Callie was settled in behind Magali, her arms secure around the tall woman’s waist, careful to use only the amount of pressure needed to not fall off. Against her belly she could feel the bony handle of the sheathed knife Magali wore at the small of her back; the boots she wore hadn’t been high-cut enough to hold it. They crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, a pile of cobblestone and steel that connected Brooklyn to Manhattan’s Alphabet City, a neighborhood that bordered Chinatown and acted as a buffer for Wu’s activities. For generations it had been the first stop of immigrants entering New York City, flashing through time as a ghetto for the Irish, Germans, Italians, and finally Puerto Ricans. Unlike the rest of the island, its streets weren’t named, they bore titles of letters and numbers only, hence its moniker "Alphabet City".

Summer intensified the vile smells of the street, leeching the ammonia of urine and the rot of sewage from the concrete, the heat appearing as waves off the asphalt, cars, and bricks of tenement buildings five stories high. Rats scurried and competed for garbage scraps, hydrants washed the streets with rivers of cool water, carrying debris; in the distance, sirens screamed and faded. To get out of the stifling heat and stale air of their apartments, the populace filled the sidewalk with plastic beach chairs and card tables topped with dominoes. Small children rode their cheap bicycles along the sidewalks, plastic tires streaking the concrete black.

They called him Lager because his mother would fill his baby bottle with beer to keep him quiet while she peddled her body. A thick gold chain hung from his neck and laid a crucifix heavily against his bare caramel stomach. The black Do-rag he wore shielded his shaved head from the gleaming sun, and his baggy jeans rode lightly just above his pubic area, the muscles of his waist sharp and defined. His claim to beauty was the hazel eyes with which he had been blessed; and they never stopped moving. Magali caught the dark handle of his gun protruding from his waist as she brought the bike to a stop half a block away. Eddie rode past her and parked before the stoop where Lager was casually lounging, a troop of younger boys around him. Instantly, Lager’s attention was focused on him, his stance unchanging. Eddie strolled to him, a smile on his lips when he heard the lyrics playing from a boom box sitting on a step. "If you love the money then prepare to die for it, you can lay in the flames or hug the sky for it."

"What up, Lag?" Eddie droned, stepping close to him.

"Chillin’, bro’. You comin’ for a piece of me?" he sneered.

Eddie widened his smile, the boys that Lager had been standing with cringing away as he did. "Naw, bro’. Not me," he spat, tilting his chin. "Her."

Lager heard the snap of the gun behind him, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. Innocents went running for cover.

"You ain’t learn to bite before you bark, huh, hijo de puta?" Magali’s voice was close to his ear, and the curse stung more than she knew: he was the son of a whore. "Face me, motherfucker."

Magali took a step back as the young man turned, keeping the gun she held close to his temple. "Heh, not too comfortable with the heat at your dome? I heard you wanna be me, you little shit. I’m a show you what it’s like…It’s crazy simple. Get your piece."

Shaking, Lager palmed the handle of his weapon and pulled it from his waist. His eyes-- as always—searching, a trickle of sweat falling past his lips. Magali grabbed onto his wrist, pulling his hand up towards her face and pressing the end of his gun against her own temple.

Eddie stood his ground, quickly reaching into his pocket and producing a wad of money. He held it out for all to see.

"Who shoots first?" she hissed into his face, terror flashing in his eyes. "That wad of green, goes to anyone with the balls to kill you." she announced to the crowd.

Lager’s lips curled into a sneer, a brief second of deliberation that ended with six inches of steel twisting its way into his guts. Magali cut into his abdomen with a deft hand practiced in death.

A warm gush of thick red wound through her fingers, dripping off her wrist, and she shrugged. "Two hands. Game over...I win."

Lager slumped to the ground, falling first to his knees before he slid onto his side lifelessly. Another life ended with the force of her hands lay at her feet, taken without remorse or feeling, the void in her growing larger without the presence of her Saint to bring her out of the darkness. Magali wiped her blade off on his jeans and stared at the onlookers. "Anyone else think they can fill my shoes?" Blank looks greeted her question, a mix of awe and fear that she knew well. In the background the discordant sounds of sirens and traffic parting cut through her challenge. It was her cue to leave, and Callie patted her back.

They were gone before the first yellow flashes of light fought the brightness of the sun, riding through the streets with the rush of adrenaline in their veins. Through the cluttered, steady traffic they swerved, edging close to the flawless paintjobs of luxury sedans, and the rusty, exposed bumpers of old, vehicles—city veterans. Sirens approached and waned, blood pumped savagely with the exigency for survival that urges on the hunted. They turned onto the highway, speeding down its lanes, revving engines that purred with the delight of speed. A closed ramp led down to a deserted park along the river’s bank; there the newly built cardboard village of the destitute hid them away. They killed the engines, and those without names fled their presence. Breathless minutes later, sirens passed, leaving them unseen and with a slight reprieve.

Magali pulled the helmet off. Once Callie swung herself off the back seat, she leaned the bike onto its kickstand. Breathing in the slightly salty air of the polluted, dark roiling waters of the river, she padded to its edge. Across the murky waters towered the sheer cliffs of New Jersey. She glanced at her hands; coagulated, black blood dried under her fingernails and stained her hands. She plunged them into the winter-cooled water and scrubbed at them with disdain. A dark stain marred the front of her shirt, and she ripped it off, throwing it into the water where it was carried off by the strong currents. The blue of the sky could do nothing to reflect off the black surface, and she knew that somewhere under the celestial canopy was Casey. Without her, she was lost; the evidence of it was floating away in a crimson tinged swirl.

"What now, Zee?" Eddie asked behind her.

"Now?" she said narrowing her eyes, gazing at the expanse of water before her. "I disappear. When things cool down, I’ll be back. If you need me…email me. You and Callie take care of everything."

"And where are you gonna go?" Callie asked, kneeling by her side.

"It’s better if you don’t know." She continued to rinse her hands, then dried them on her pants.

"You’re goin’ after her…aren’t you?" Callie spat.

"After who, Callie?" she questioned, standing, meeting Callie face to face.

"The blonde. What the fuck’s she gonna do for you, huh?"

Magali silenced her with a look, cutting short a conversation that may otherwise have ended with more violence. "I have to get a few things, then…you’re dropping me off, and that’s the end of it, understand?" Callie turned from her and donned her helmet. "Eddie, it’s all in your hands. I’m sorry I have to do this to you again, bro’."

Eddie smiled. "Anything for you, Zee. Don’t worry about it, and…tell her I said ‘what’s up?" he finished with a wink.

Callie dropped her off at Broadway and 231st under an elevated subway track. She had pocketed the roll of money she had offered for Lager’s head, and now walked the avenue on a short shopping spree, spending a quarter of it and stopping at a drugstore, a clothing shop, a liquor store, and an optical before hailing a gypsy cab.

The Van Cortland Motel, at the tip of the border between Manhattan and the Bronx, was a haven for the anonymous. Its rooms could be rented by the day or by the hour, and rarely were its sheets changed, but there were fresh towels in the bathroom. Magali let the cool stream of water from the shower course down her body. The stitches in her side had begun to itch with the ferocity of healing, and the soreness in her ribs had been overridden by the flush of the day’s activity. Rough tufts of carpet scraped at the soles of her feet as she walked across the room and towards the bed. She had spilled the results of her shopping on the mattress: a hair trimmer, a container of bleach, a freshly rolled ace bandage for her ribs, a comb, deodorant, shampoo, three T-shirts, jeans, and a new pair of riding boots—the ones she had worn were stained red.

She pried open the box containing the trimmer and tied the towel around her waist. Over the bathroom sink, she plugged in the trimmer, and took a long look in the mirror. Long dark strands fell to her shoulders and tickled her bare back. Magali pushed it away from her face and flicked the power switch on the trimmer to "on". It hummed in her hand as she took the first swipe through the thick locks; they fell to the floor, pooling around her feet. Half an hour later, she was sitting on the floor in front of the abused TV set of the room. White, sticky goo plastered the inches long spikes that were left. The pungent smell of the concoction made her eyes tear, and she took it as a sign that it was time to wash it all out. Suds lined the tub, and after four washings, the smell was finally gone. In the mirror, she took in her new appearance. Gone were the long dark tresses, replaced by a short blonde Caesar that sharpened her features and gave her naturally bronzed skin a darker hue. Opening the dual compartment contact case she poked out a dark brown contact. The counterfeit duskiness turned the piercing, endless blue orbs mysterious and forbidding, effectively hiding her trademark eyes. She smiled; someone describing her would be giving a depiction of anyone in a generation of thousands. Contrary to popular belief, it was easier to hide in plain sight.

Dressed, she pulled the thick curtain covering the window aside, and peered through the crack she created. Night had invaded, massacring the day’s heat with a sweep of its feathered hand. She kept an eye out for anyone lounging around the parking lot or a stranger that seemed to be out of place, but aside from those stealing into rented rooms for an hour of debauchery, there was no one. She lit a cigarette and took a swig from a square bottle of tequila, remembering the song lyrics of Bon Jovi belting out "sometimes you tell a day by the bottle that you drink." It had definitely been a blue agave day.

Callie had been right, she was going after Casey, but she had no idea where the woman was, other than the city of Los Angeles. She had been there only once and knew it was too large a place for her to guess her Saint’s location. Immediately she could think of three men who would know exactly where Casey was. The first of them had to be kept in the dark, the second would ask for something in return, but the third— he was fair game; and he owed her.


Antonio always had trouble falling asleep. Even as a child his mind tended to wander in all directions just as he was trying to relax. He envied his sister for her uncanny knack of sleeping at the drop of a dime, no matter how tortured her sleep was afterwards. Luckily his new position with Christopher Winslow left him completely exhausted at the end of the day and, even had he wanted to, he was hard pressed to stay awake. Although he could afford not to, he preferred to stay at his father’s house, and gratefully he settled onto the firmness of his bed, secure that he was well guarded. When a pillow suddenly came down on his face, smothering him, it was more shock than fear that caused him to fight. Strong hands battled him, keeping him pinned as he struggled for air.

"Say one word out of turn, Efrain, and I’ll slit your throat." He heard his sister’s unmistakable growl and nodded in agreement as best he could. She was standing in the shadows, making it so he could only see the outline of her silhouette. The gun in her hand was obvious.

"If I’d of known you were coming, Zee—"

"You’d have prepared an army?"

"Funny. So what brings you out from that rock you crawled under?" he dared as he sat up.

"Two things. One, you let your boss know that we’re still on. I’m under some heat right now, but it’ll cool off."

"Okay. And the second?"

"You know where Julia Winslow went…You’re going to tell me, and then forget that you did," she threatened none too subtly.

"Why should I?"

"Efrain, no one knows I’m here, and I’m in a bad mood. How about makin’ this easy, and you just tell me, then I’ll be on my way; or, you can keep making stupid, snide remarks and…"

He heard the snap of the gun’s chamber and stiffened. "Alright, alright. She moved to Pacific Palisades. That’s all I can tell you off the top of my head. I don’ t know the address by heart," he pleaded, holding his hand up as a weak shield.

"Good enough. Tomorrow night I’ll call you…here. You make sure you know it all, or that insomnia of yours could get much, much worse."

Then she was gone, as she had promised, leaving nothing but the scent of his own fear to keep him company through another sleepless night.


It was surprisingly cool in the garage where she stored her bike, a sleek, black Harley Davidson Night Train. She hadn’t laid eyes on it since Christmas Eve, the night she and Casey had played Santa Claus to the children of the ghetto she owned. Like the Jeep, it was registered under a false name, and the extra money she’d shelled out kept its location a secret, as well as its body clean and dutifully waxed periodically. Her helmet was locked onto the front wheel with a combination U-lock, and the saddlebags, except for tools, were empty. She put her gun, and the two other T-shirts she had bought, along with an army blanket and towel she purchased last minute, into them. For the time being, it would be all she owned, along with the four hundred dollars she had commandeered from Eddie. Effortlessly she slid the key into the ignition and sat on her toy, realizing that it would be the chrome and steel horse that carried her across the country to her Saint. She would ride at night until the original thirteen colonies were far behind her, then turn ever westward into the setting sun, in search of her light.

With a powerful roar, the bike sprang to life, its growling breath echoing off the walls. The George Washington Bridge was just a few blocks away, and it would be her road out of the city and into destiny. The bike was heavier than she remembered, but she was confident that would change. Disconnecting the in-helmet speaker system and throwing the wires into a saddlebag, she pulled on the helmet. A quick flick brought down the shield. Its cushions pressed against her jaw and forehead, a security large amounts of money provided.

Luminescent, overhead lights cast a pale gleam on the black tarred surface. Harsh and cloaked in darkness, the mass of New Jersey stood as a wall at the end of the bridge. The material of her T-shirt fluttered in the wind as she crossed the divide, cooling her skin with the crisp river air. Her rosary thumped against her chest with the force of the wind. Behind her, towered millions of lighted squares, windows where someone relaxed before a TV set, worked on a computer, kissed a loved one goodnight, or ate dinner alone. A green, rectangular sign read, "Welcome to New Jersey." Its simple words eased some of the tension in her shoulders, and she exhaled, realizing that she had been holding her breath.

There was a certain degree of freedom given to a rider by the hum of an engine and the blurred pavement under the tires. Not for the first time, she was tempted never to return; it was a phenomenon that occurred whenever she left the streets and fumes that nurtured her. To abandon the streets that loved and raised her with their cruelty and blunt truths, scarring her skin, molding her spirit, freezing her heart, making her supreme ruler of an empire that thrived on blood and guts. She cursed it all for manufacturing what she was, understanding that it was an inseparable part of her being, knowing she would miss it in a few day’s time. The grime and grit flowed through her veins; the pulse of the city was her own; its decay, her breath, birthplace and grave all at once. Every day in its arms threw her deeper into the abyss, to wallow in shadows that stole time away from her, forced survival the way a doomed beast fought for its life. It was an existence of hate, pain and anger without the raw sensations of unknown emotions found in a pair of emerald eyes, and gentle hands that held her for no other reason than that they wanted to.

She passed the brightly-lit tollbooths collecting the fare for crossing over into the City, and turned onto the New Jersey Turnpike headed south. A few miles later she was on I-80 headed west, mentally genuflecting into the night, out of habit.

I’ve lost my fuckin’ mind, completely…without question. Out here in the middle of the night, ridin’ like a god damned lunatic to the other side of this freakin’ country, with shit money, a warrant on my head, and no I.D. Shit, I don’t even know if she wants to be with me…What the hell am I talkin’ about? Of course she does, you idiot. Alright, no time to doubt yourself now, Zero. Crap, I’m talkin’ to myself. Heh, yeah that does it-- I’m insane. Insane or not, I need you, Casey. You make me…feel. I’ve done so many things wrong. God, please, let me do this right.


Somewhere a garden fountain trickled noisily. If she closed her eyes she could imagine hearing the whirling of the waters below the steep, rocky incline that led down to the river, sense the light touches of the streaming curtain touching her shoulders as she stood on the bedroom’s balcony. Magali would be sound asleep, naked and draped with the soft sheen of her sweat, legs tangled in featherweight linens. She inhaled deeply, imagining the sweet odor of their lovemaking on her skin, the sounds of her breathing, the coiled energy of her body, the scars that told her story.

A firm hand softly rested on her shoulder with a gentle squeeze. Fingers she recognized not as her lover’s, but as her captor’s. A warm breeze blew, caressing her through the folds of the silk robe and camisole she wore, her legs exposed to mid-thigh. She wore no jewelry save for the leather collar at her neck with its heavy O-ring resting at the dip between her collarbones. Casey opened her eyes and banished the fantasy she had fabricated in her mind, gazing out onto the dropping walls of the canyons sheltering luxurious estates and residences. She stood on the marbled veranda that surrounded the house on three sides and overlooked the garden and pool enclosed by security, brick walls. Ionic columns cast curved shadows over the floor. In the darkness she could make out the shapes of tall palm trees, and wished for them to be pines. In the background a piano played, along with the mournful tone of Tori Amos singing. "I’ve been looking for a savior in these dirty streets. Looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets. I’ve been raising up my hands, drive another nail in. Just what God needs…one more victim. Why do we…crucify ourselves, every day, I crucify myself, nothing I do is good enough for you…"

Julia’s arm encircled her waist from behind, and her chin rested on Casey’s shoulder. A hand caressed one of her bare thighs, and she could detect the aroma of Julia’s diversions heavy on her skin, the scent of gin mixed with latex and lavender oil. The lassitude of the taller woman’s body told her she was too exhausted to need any further entertaining.

"Come to bed," Julia whispered into her ear. "I’m tired," she sighed and walked away, her bare feet padding across the polished wood floor.

Casey inhaled the Santa Ana gust crossing the California dust and followed quietly, stripping off the robe as she did so and laying it at the foot of the Sneem Range, hand-made, Celtic bed. Its head and foot boards were of barred steel, a gold bar curved atop each, extending from brass knobbed post to post. Although it was king sized, Julia never failed to touch her while she slept, and as soon as Casey was tucked under the sheets, she threw an arm across her belly. Casey made no move to be tender; she had no desire for it, nor had she been commanded. The hand draped over her waist sported a thin bandage covering the small wound made by the micro-surgery Julia had undergone to fix her damaged wrist. The ligaments had been torn by the force of Magali’s anger; money definitely expedited recovery.

Casey turned on her side when Julia’s breathing grew deep and rhythmic, and hugged the pillow under her head. She had left the balcony door open to stare out into the night. Lazy hours left her listless. Her days were spent in hours by the pool, while Julia worked. Sometimes she was summoned away from her boredom to participate in the decadent scenarios Julia performed. In a week she would start her classes at UCLA medical school, then she would have something to do other than amuse the sadistic empress. Shortly after their arrival, Julia had made a few phone calls and had her admitted to the prestigious school. The house was a veritable parade ground for influential men and women.

A lone star peeked through the pollution of the Los Angeles sky, twinkling in the unusually clear air. The night was silent, and she missed the sirens and honking horns of New York. Most of all, she longed for the sense of purpose that came from speeding in her ambulance towards a crisis, the gnawing worry in her gut that a life depended on her every move-- and the feel of her Black Velvet. She thought Magali would have come after her, would have made some sort of attempt to at least get a message through. Weeks of anxious waiting had come and gone without a sign from the dark woman, and she wondered whether there would ever be one.

Did they tell her the truth? Was she angry? Did she understand why I stopped her? Does she even know? Maybe she gave up on me…She’s not the type to. Where the hell are you, Gali? I can get out of here…I can…do nothing. Not with Julia monitoring every cent I spend, every move I make. And where would I go? Back to Gali? She could hate me; she could think I sided with Julia; she could think so many things. Damn it, I should conform already; every time I try to get out of this shit, I just end up right back where I started. If I could just accept that this is my life, then maybe I wouldn’t be so damned miserable all the time. Stop thinking about her, she’s not coming-- she’s too busy killing people and making money. That’s what matters to her: her damn stubborn pride, her drugs, her money, her power…No different from Julia, so different from Julia. Please be thinking of me, Baby. Christ, why do I do this every night? she chided herself, closing her eyes and searching for sleep.

When Julia’s roaming hands woke her, the room was frigid with the conditioned air blasting through the vents. The woman was a creature of habit, and every morning brought a scheduled orgasm to allow her to work without the bothersome annoyance of arousal. If she wasn’t there, Casey was sure that Julia would have done the honors to herself. It was of little consequence that Casey’s passivity in the ordeal wasn’t submission but rather silent protest, Julia would climb over her and demand. Apparently the taller blonde was in no mood for delay, and pulled Casey’s camisole up to her shoulders to reveal her tanned torso. Forcefully, Julia grabbed her wrists and pinned them above her head, holding them in place with one hand while she used the other to roughly grasp her breasts and pinch her nipples. Casey gave way with an involuntary cry, and Julia straddled her thigh pushing her wetness onto the silky skin. Casey turned her face away, revealing her neck, which was immediately and painfully devoured. It was over quickly; Julia’s moans grew intense, louder and then ceased in quick breaths. When Julia rose away from her, she didn’t move, staying in the same position until Julia silently left the room and entered the master bathroom. After the door slammed, Casey curled on her side, biting her lip.

Julia ran the water in the upright shower booth adjacent to the old fashioned tub, and pulled a fresh towel out of the linen closet. She turned the gold trimmed handles of the sink’s faucet and stared at the stream of water gushing out. Turning it back off she pounded her fist onto the marble surface around the water-filled bowl; Casey was becoming intolerable. The shock sent a tingle up to her elbow from her still healing wrist, and she scowled at it. Another reminder, as if Casey’s day-long pining over the hood weren’t enough. On a long, slender, alabaster pedestal sat a white princess phone, put there for convenience, and Julia stomped towards it in bare feet. She rapidly dialed a number she could have spun blindfolded. A sleepy male voice answered.

"Christopher," she crooned sweetly.

"Julia, good morning. Is that love in your voice, beautiful, or did you get my message?"

"Your message, Chris. I’m wondering what on earth you could have that would convince me to lend you the Senator’s ear?"

"A tape."

"A tape? Christopher don’t you have enough pictures of me to line your closet walls? Really, have you grown that lonely?" she asked, testing the water of the shower.

"It’s some news footage that never aired, Julia, and I think it would be most helpful to you in your…newest dalliance."

"And what ‘dalliance’ would that be?"

"Come, come, love, I’m not dumb. Casey. You have her with you, I know."

"Heh. If you want to give me anything of value when it comes to my stubborn little blonde, then I suggest you bring me the head of that goon of yours," she spat, scowling and then straightening into her reserved self.

"If I’m right, you would be referring to Magali Guerrero, correct?" Her silence answered him. "This tape I have…may be a suitable substitute," he sing-songed.

"Really? She wouldn’t be hanging off a cord, mutilated, would she?" Julia asked with the tone used to order an appetizer.

"Umm, no."

"Then what is it?"

"Her Jeep…in flames. I could have…just the right voice over put on it if you like. Now, when did you say the Senator would be calling?"

"Christopher? Do you practice at being such a conniving bitch?"

"Darling, careful now. Remember, we are what we eat."

Julia frowned; she had no taste for a duel of wits with Christopher so early in the morning. "Send me the tape, and you’ll get your call. Toodles."

"Good morning, sunshine," she said, hanging up the phone and greeting an indifferent Casey, who grunted and grabbed a robe from a hook behind the door. Her slender form barely concealed under the string bikini she wore, Julia relished every inch of the sight when she turned and walked out of the room. "Enjoy the sun," she called after her, receiving no answer but the closing of the bedroom door.

Casey dipped her foot in the water at the edge of the Roman tiled pool as she walked along its side. It was cooling compared to the dry, hot air touching her. She untied her robe and pulled it off her shoulders, throwing it across the warm wood of her favorite lounge chair. Concha, the cook and first servant to be in the house each morning, would bring her out a plate of freshly squared pieces of fruit-- perhaps a quarter of a honeydew melon-- toast and coffee, beautifully placed on a silver tray. The sun would hang over the white gazebo’s roof, then trace its customary path across the sky, bathing her with its rays and heat. Julia would yell at the chauffeur for being late, though he wouldn’t be, and the immense Ford F350 with a cargo of servants in its covered bed would appear. One by one, men in dirty jeans and long sleeved plaid shirts, wearing baseball caps or straw hats, would go to work about the residence’s garden. Some would return for weeks to trim and mow, dig and build, before disappearing off to another job or field to pick fruit. They were nameless, silent and smelled of hard work and earth. Casey tried not to look at them too closely; it only angered her to know that they too were being exploited for their physical capabilities. The sounds of their shoulder-hung machines disturbed the air, and Concha played classical music over the speaker system to keep their toil from spoiling the young mistress’s peace. As she predicted, the day began, and with her plate of melon pieces, strawberries, orange slices and grapes, Casey imagined the warmth of the sun was her Black Velvet’s stroke.


If she rode any longer, she would collapse over the tank of the bike. The day’s sun had beaten down on her until she pulled off the road and cut off the sleeves of her T-shirt with the knife hidden in her boot. Sweat ran down her neck from her full-faced helmet, dampening her back. It was unwise for her to ride the major highways during the day, and although the back roads took their toll in time, they afforded her some anonymity. She followed the road, keeping her eyes on the dotted white line, trying hard not to count the blurred slashes as they passed under her. Her stomach grumbled for attention, something cold, liquid perhaps. Along the way, she passed signs with directional arrows pointing out the route to some town or another. One in particular caught her attention, Sigourney; she always did like her in Aliens.

The two-lane highway led straight into town. A few small, lonely streets branched off in different directions. They weren’t the neatly patterned avenues of New York City, but she could at least identify the center of town by the small square of park and the presence of businesses surrounding it. Evening cloaked the village square with its inert stillness, and a neon sign flashed pink from a dark rectangular window, announcing the sale of Busch beer. The pub’s open door let out the sounds of breaking glass and voices shouting; a man flew out and landed on his side with a grunt before picking himself up and staggering away. It seemed like her kind of place. Parked out front were two Harley Davidsons, and she slid in next to them, killing the engine and pulling off her helmet.

Inside, the lights were turned down low except for the blinding spot of white over the faded green pool table top. John Mellancamp played on the jukebox. She could make out figures sitting in the dark, their backs against the wall, and took up one of the many empty stools by the bar, grateful for the mirror that allowed a view of what was behind her. Bald and frail, the bartender eyed her while wiping down a large mug with a dirty dishtowel. She folded her hands on the counter top, and patiently waited for him to make his assessment of her. The counter was sticky.

"Whadda yer having?" he called out to her from his perch.

"Beer, whatever you got on tap. Any food here?"

He nodded, filling the same mug he had been cleaning and sliding it along the counter with a quick hand. "Burgers, fries…that’s about it."

"Fries then," she replied, catching the offered mug and after draining it, slid it back down the counter to him. "Fill it back up."

"I’m supposing you have the money for it?"

She flicked a twenty-dollar bill towards him as her response, caught the second mug of beer he flung, and watched him walk away with her money towards what she assumed would be the kitchen. A commotion behind her caused her fists to clench, and she stole a look in the mirror. Leaning over a slender redhead, the man seemed to be an animated bear, pressing onto her and forcing her back onto the surface of the table. She was trying to claw away from him, pushing and punching at his chest with her small hands. Magali shrugged to herself: a hero she wasn’t, but the man was annoying. His increasing demands for the redhead to surrender to his affections were becoming more than forceful. Magali wiped the sweat from the mug and took another swallow of the watered down golden fluid.

In a lucky move, the redhead squirmed out from under the bear and ran towards the bar as his chest crashed onto the edge of the pool table. He was after her before she got too far, heaving his immense bulk at her and toppling the stool next to Magali. The man’s elbow nudged her as he fought to gain control over his squirming, protesting prey. She finished her beer, then tapped him on the shoulder. Turning, he scowled disdainfully at her smirk, his breath reeking of beer and cigarettes. When the empty mug came into contact with his face, it shattered, leaving only the smooth handle of it in her hand. The redhead seemed grateful. From the shadows, another equally large man approached, his sleeveless denim shirt exposing his muscled arms. Magali reached for her knife. Stabbing it into the wood of the bar counter, she crossed her arms at her chest and cocked her head.

"That guy you just clobbered is married to my cousin," he stated flatly in his deep, growling voice, pointing at the unconscious, bleeding bear.

"And?" she spat in challenge.

"And…he’s an asshole. Good work."

Magali chortled and sat back down on the stool, turning her back on him, but fixing him with her eyes in the mirror, the knife still embedded in the bar’s wood. The redhead swung over the counter and poured a fresh mug, placing it in front of her with a smile; she noticed with a frown the extra cleavage she was being purposely shown as the woman leaned over the counter.

"Thanks," the redhead said through her smile. "I’m Amy, that ox behind you is Carl."


"Zee, huh? You staying in town?"


"I wouldn’t if I were you," the man behind her interjected hastily.

"Why not?" she asked, turning on her stool and facing him.

"Asshole there’s the sheriff’s son."

Magali looked down on the colossal man out cold on the floor, and cursed under her breath. "Guess not then."

"I know a place you can stay, though," he said, smiling and winking at Amy.

Magali never did get her fries, and her gut let her know it. When she opened her eyes, the first sight that greeted her were the stacked bottles emptied of beer, horizontal in her vision. A weight on her stomach told her she was not alone, and when she stuck her hands under the flimsy sheet that covered her, she found bare warm flesh. She remembered riding out into the night with Amy’s arms wrapped around her waist, past farmlands and down dirt roads; Carl’s bike carried a lone rider. They had arrived at what she recalled being Carl’s trailer, nestled somewhere in the middle of nowhere. His wife had yelled at him, and then brought him out a bottle of Jack Daniels and a few six packs of beer. Magali could recollect sharing it all with the rowdy strangers and then passing a joint, but the rest was a fog. How she had ended up asleep on the trailer floor, with beer bottles and sofa cushions strewn about and, what was more, a naked Amy asleep on her, was a mystery.

Shit, I hope I didn’t fuck her. Aww, hell, she’s naked, what else could have happened? That’s just like you, Zee. But I’m dressed…

"Up, get up, sharpshooter. Sheriff’s coming!" It was Carl’s voice raised in alarm, aggravating what promised to be a doozy of a hangover.

"What the—?" Amy complained, as Magali jumped to her feet.

"There’s a road behind the trailer. You can get out of here, and they won’t know better. Hurry, they’re still a ways down the road!"

She scrambled for her boots and knife, the only things of hers she immediately recognized, and hoped the rest of her belongings were still with her bike. For all she knew, the entire evening and morning could have been set up. Once out the door, she could see the dust rising as the police car, still a dot on the horizon, made its way down the dirt road. As far as she could tell, her saddlebags had not been opened. Even if they had robbed her blind, she had no time to seek reparations; if it had all been a con, they didn’t really know the can of worms they were opening, and Magali was in no rush to enlighten them, either.

"My helmet? Shit, where’s my helmet?"

"Take mine! I’ll find yours later!" Carl yelled from inside the trailer.

Magali flipped the German style helmet on and, without buckling the strap under her chin, brought the bike to life. Seconds later she was flying down the back road, leaving the trailer and its inhabitants to become one more mishap in a long line of errors.

Country hospitality my ass.

Continued - Part 2

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