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Love is honoring your partner’s made-up backstory no matter how stupid it is.

Previously: Batya is flat-out stoked about planning the sword heist. She even trained with a pearl diver to learn how to hold her breath long enough to swim through a very small sewer pipe to the dairy. I hope all that effort pays off!

— 40 —

Night fell upon Folly Dairy, tucked there at the foot of the Palaces, far inland, right up against a sheer granite cliff. A great steel ziggurat, surrounded by a moat. An unfriendly bridge guarded by unfriendly sentinels leading to its front entrance. A semicircle of floodlights at its base pointing heavenward. Honestly, it looked like a diabolic castle thrumming with eldritch magick.

Adorning its highest tier was a too-big fiberglass sculpture of Donna the Magic Cow—just the head—smiling beatifically, a straw hat betwixt her horns, gazing out upon the perplexing tangle of Fort Hook.

A row of girthy oaks ran along the dairy’s north side, and that’s where Mina sat, waiting, duffel bag in her lap. She checked her watch, then remembered she’d never worn a watch. She looked at the stars and they told her nothing. Her sister should’ve emerged from the dark stinking moat a half hour ago. Mina felt sick with dread.

But then: Batya stomped out from the thick black night and gave Mina a lackluster wave. She wore a wetsuit with goggles around her neck. She carried a pair of flippers in one hand and a wooden ladder under her arm.

Mina leaped up. “I thought you drowned! You’re supposed to be on the other side of this wall!”

“Change of plans,” Bat said, hurling the ladder at Mina’s feet.

“What happened?”

Bat said nothing, then said, “I may have maybe misjudged the size of the pipe.”

Mina did not laugh. “You didn’t fit. I should’ve gone. I blame myself.”

“You wouldn’t’ve fit either.”

“Oh no. How small was it?”

“A fuckin greased baby wouldn’t’ve fit in that pipe god dammit!” She threw her flippers at a tree and they bounced back at her.

Now Mina laughed a little bit. “I told you your plan was too complicated. So now what? The ladder?”

“Yeah, I ran over to a hardware store and bought it. If we return it tomorrow we can get a partial refund.”

The sisters scaled the stone wall—it took like five seconds—and landed on the inner lawn. Bat made a mental note to pick up the ladder on their way out and immediately forgot about it. They waited for a couple creepy fingers of cirrus to pass in front of the moon, then tiptoed toward the access gate to the south, avoiding guards along the way, then hid inside a little pool of darkness between sodium-vapor lamps. Bat unzipped the duffel bag and pulled out a set of plastic components, swiftly locked them together like a sniper rifle. She then dressed the resulting child-sized mannequin—liberated from the sidewalk outside of Star Medallion Fashions—in a jaunty sailor suit.

“Philippe is quite the little gentleman,” Mina said.

“So handsome,” Bat said. “All right, our schedule is all kinds of screwed up so we’ll just have to wait for whenever the next truck shows up.”

“What do we do while we wait, boss?”

“We can each start one topic of conversation, I’ll go first. I’d like to talk about how disappointed I am I didn’t get to use my poison powder.” She’s referring here to her homemade rotenone, made from a yam bean plant, intended to kill the piranhas or sea snakes in the moat, assuming there were any.

“I have a topic,” Mina said.

“We’re not done with my topic.”

“Remember when you were in love with that doof from the Grunt gang and he gave you a cupcake and I ate it and you were so mad you couldn’t even think of a bad thing to call me so you just shouted out some kind of made-up name?”


“What was it? I was trying to remember while I waited for you.”

“Horkbucker. Which is what you were. Quit laughing, truck’s here. Get into position.”

The south gate opened and a Folly delivery truck with Donna painted on the side came through, then paused by a little intercom embedded in one of the lamps. A milkman leaned out and murmured something—a code that Bat had been unable to identify during her recon—and a narrow drawbridge in the side of the building lowered over the moat, revealing a passageway into the dairy’s bowels. As the truck pulled forward, Bat ran at it and hit its side with her shoulder as hard as she could. Mina started screaming. The milkman slammed on the brakes. Bat flung the mannequin behind the front wheels and limped around to the rear bumper. Mina burst from the shadows and cried, “Oh my god, Philippe!” The milkman hopped out of the truck, terrified, ashen. “You ran over my nephew Philippe who is visiting from the Territories!” (Bat had worked out a whole backstory, and Mina, despite all her grousing about this plan, really did want to respect her sister’s vision, and tried to include as much as possible.) “He wanted to be a cowboy when he grew up!” The milkman saw the body under his truck, one leg entirely detached from its torso (this wasn’t on purpose, the mannequin kind of fell apart when it hit the ground) and let out a cry. “You can still save him, mister! Give him mouth to mouth!” She grabbed the milkman by the shoulders and dragged him down toward the head. The milkman thrashed back in horror but he was close enough. Mina hit a switch behind the mannequin’s ear and out sprayed a mauve mist from a hole drilled in its smiling mouth. The milkman gasped, taking a full hit of Bat’s special knockout formula. (Very chemically similar to the piranha powder but with a few modifications to make it non-lethal.) (In most applications.) Unfortunately, Mina also got a whiff. She and the milkman both suddenly stopped what they were doing and collapsed on the road.

Meantime, Bat was trying to strip off her wetsuit but it got bunched up around her ankles. She hopped back around the truck to see the milkman conked out and her sister puking.

“You’re supposed to hold your breath,” she said, not unkindly.

Mina coughed, shrugged.

Bat took her drooly chin in her hand, studied her pupils. “Scale from one to ten, how hard is it for you to think a thought?”

“Parakeet,” Mina said. “How’s your shoulder? I heard it make a bad sound.”

“Hurts,” Bat said, smiling. Then she kicked at the stupid wetsuit until it finally flew off her feet. “Can you denude this guy?”

“Thought you’d never ask.” Mina got up, fell back down, got back up, and went to work on the milkman’s uniform. Bat studied his face and found it disappointingly generic aside from his frozen look of terror. Somewhere in the duffel bag was a bald cap, an array of fake mustaches, a scar application kit, various sideburns and moles and crooked teeth, etc., but nothing that would make her look like this guy. Oh welp, she thought, shifting Phase II of the plan into an alternate sub-branch.

She retrieved the duffel, dug through it to find a handful of binder clips and several lengths of rope, stuffed the pieces of Philippe back inside, threw it into the cab. Mina used the rope on the now-naked milkman’s wrists and dragged him into the back of the truck, nestling him among the empty crates and galvanized milk cans, then joined him in there. Bat put on his uniform—pressed white shirt and slacks, black bowtie, black and white delivery cap (she skipped the shiny black shoes, opting to go barefoot for the remainder of the heist)—cinching the shirt with the clips to make it fit better.

She checked in on her sister. “You here?”

“I’m here,” Mina said, curled up next to the milkman. “Dizzy.”

“Take a quick nap on his abs,” Bat suggested, then slammed the rear doors shut.


This has been Chapter 40 of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland.

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