4 min read

My Adorable Mean Crybaby

C’mon you two, have a nice long hug and make up.

Previously: A woman named Margaret runs a shady courier service called, for some reason, Hawthorne Grain. She grills Batya to see if she’s got the mettle for the job. Bat does, indeed, have the mettle. Barely!

— 05 —

Batya staggers out of the office where her sister is waiting with open arms. “So? You kids hit it off?”

Bat’s in no mood. “We got a tonight now job. Meter’s running.”

“Tonight now?” Mina’s arms fall to her side.

“Boss lady hopes having me tag along will keep you from bungling it up as usual.”

“I know. But I thought I’d have some time to talk you into it.”

“Well you don’t. Midnight deadline.”

“What time is it now?” Mina, also, never wears a watch.

“No idea.”

Bat has always treasured watching her sister have a hissy fit. They only last a few seconds but are nevertheless a delight. In this latest one, a seismic spasm of rage courses through her entire body—you can track its progress as it journeys southward—and she kicks a wall twice. Then she pulls it together and says, “OK, junior, we need to hustle. Sal will have the particulars upstairs.” She takes Bat’s sweaty hand and drags her down a passageway toward an elevator.

Bat yanks free. “Do not hold my hand.”

“Don’t be a pill.” They shove into the elevator. A tinny calypso song is playing. “What’s wrong with your eye?”

“Your boss put a pen in it.”

Mina leans in close to examine the damage, gently running a thumb along Bat’s eyebrow. Bat flinches and pulls away, knowing her sister won’t like that, and she doesn’t.

Mina, huffy, turns and pokes a button labeled with a silhouette of a crab. “You passed the audition, that’s all that matters.”

The elevator groans and slowly starts ascending. Bat looks at Mina, who is very showily not looking at her. She decides, unfairly, that her sister looks noticeably older since the last time she saw her, at the dairy heist. They have the same dark hair, same dark eyes, but Mina is taller, sharper. A few years ago when they were arguing about something inane, Bat said, “Someone took the ideal physique—mine—and stretched it out way too far, and that’s you.” And then Mina said, “Funny, I always thought someone took a perfectly good body and crumpled it up into a squat little fireplug, and that’s you.”

Bat leans in, forces her sister to make eye contact. “What if I didn’t pass it?”

“Doesn’t matter, you did.” Mina stabs the button a few more times. “God, this thing is so slow. Margaret got this whole place at an auction, used to be a marine biology research facility.”

“But let’s say for grins I didn’t pass the audition.”

Mina gives her a look like: can we please change the subject please. “I would’ve gotten axed. Probably literally. Still will if we bungle up this job, as you say. Now, why don’t you shut it and give me a nice long hug.”

“How about you hug my nuts?”

Mina laughs. “I thought you might’ve grown up a little out there on your own, but you’re still my adorable mean crybaby.”

Bat shows Mina her bruised fist. “You see this? You know what it can do to that lip?”

“Yes, I know.” Mina pushes the fist aside and goes in for the hug and Bat lets it happen and it’s nice.

Mina lets go, studies her. “You are hurt. You’re breathing wrong. You sure you’re up for this?”

Bat senses they’re back above sea level and already feels her head starting to clear. “I’m always up if someone’s paying. What’s the take on this one?”

“It varies. Our accountant has this whole formula.”

“You said the money’s good.”

“Did I?”

“Mina. I need cash. It’s urgent.”

The elevator finally grinds to a halt. Mina keeps the door open with her shoulder. “Exactly how urgent are we talking here, missy?”

“Kneecapping urgent.”

“Bat! What did you get mixed up in?”

“Stupid shit, what do you think? So I could really use a payday. That’s the only reason I didn’t kick a hole in this water coffin and swim away.”

“It’s not because you love me? Because you want to protect me from the evil of this world?”

“That’s way down the list.”

“But it is on the list.”

“I’m here, ain’t I?”

Mina takes her hands, squeezes too tight. “You’re here.”

“Unlike some people,” Bat says, “I would never abandon my sister and leave her to her doom.”

“That was different.”

“You’re right, it was about infinity times worse. But I’m here because I’m a good person and because I feel bad for you because you’re a bad person.”

“OK, little Batya, thank you.”

They put their foreheads together and whisper their ancient incantation into each other’s mouths: we do the job / and then we nap.

This has been Chapter 5 of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland.

Next up: All Paper is Edible