An Arousing Itch
Who among us has not brawled in the bathroom of an ice cream parlor?
Previously: Bat and Mina race to get to the streetcar terminal before the midnight deadline for their delivery. They hitch a ride from the Invoker and then don’t pay her, which is bad, but what do you want, they don’t have any money, that’s why they’re doing this job in the first place.
Clingingsmith’s is a delightfully sparkling establishment, perfectly chilled, redolent with waffle. Shiny vinyl booths along one side, gleaming chrome bar along the other. A dozen customers very deep into their treats and not wanting to be looked at. Spoons clinking against dessert coupes. Paper placemats with scalloped edges.
Bat scans the space, ignoring the codger behind the soda fountain wearing a pink-striped shirt with whip cream ruffles, hands piebald with frostbite, saying, “You ladies here for the fanciest ice cream in town or what?”
Then she spots it. Flanking the drinking fountain are two bathroom doors, one labeled with a unisex cone-shaped icon, the other with a taped-up piece of paper featuring the circle-X-wavy-line symbol.
“Ah, beautiful Nurse Randy!” Mina says, jumping in place.
“Rusty,” Bat says.
“Sweet darling Rusty.”
Behind the symbol door are sinks, urinals, stalls, hand dryers, your classic men’s room except for two things: a spiral staircase in the far corner, and a bouncer leaning against it. Easily one of the top three burliest women Bat’s ever seen, at least in terms of pure muscle mass.
She feels an arousing itch in her palms.
“Evening, friend,” Mina says. “We have an urgent delivery.”
The bouncer’s reading a well-loved paperback called Wolfman Fuckfest. She doesn’t look up as she says, “Password.”
Bat hears the muffled roar of a crowd from upstairs. She gives Mina a look: That must be the place.
“Mind if we head up there for a moment?” Mina says, taking out the job sheet and skimming it. “We’re looking for, quote, a striking gentleman with a moth orchid on his lapel.”
The bouncer reads another sentence, then dog-ears the page. “Password.”
“Of course,” Mina says, getting closer, locking eyes with the bouncer. “You would like to hear the password. The password you are expecting to hear.”
Oh god. Oh no. Bat knows what’s coming. She has to stop it from happening.
Mina shushes her with a not now mommy’s talking finger. “I am going to say the password to you now. Ready? The password is…”
It’s difficult to describe the sound that comes out of her. It could be mistaken for a sneeze, perhaps, or the noise you make when you’re in the middle of saying something and trip down a couple stairs. A sudden exhalation of vowels, along with a smattering of startled consonants.
Mina’s Password Theory: When someone is waiting to hear a password, that word is frontmost in their mind, like thinking of their card during a magic trick. And if you can make a sound that gets close enough to what they’re expecting—or so vague that it could encompass almost any word—then they just might hear what they want to hear. The gibberish will take the proper shape in the listener’s mind. So far, this theory has never been proven true.
The bouncer just looks at her, concerned.
Bat rubs her shoulders. “You’ll get em next time, slugger.”
Mina abruptly switches gears. “Listen, my sister here is very sick…”
The bouncer goes back to her book and for all intents and purposes turns into a block of ice, forever barring the last few feet between them and Moth Orchid.
Mina glances at Bat and Bat does not like what she sees one bit. Something she hasn’t seen in a long time. Mina’s scared. She knows that here, now, this bathroom, is as far as she can go. Another bungled job. The last bungled job.
It’s like Margaret the boss-lady said: She’s a lock pick. But it’s not always a lock that’s the problem, is it? Sure, Mina picked the lock at the radio station, but ain’t nobody talking their way past this bruiser here.
So, Bat steps in. She starts by doing the old routine where she empties her pockets. She places her knife and shuriken next to the sink, like: I won’t be needing these. “There’s a thing I can do with my elbow,” she informs the bouncer. “You won’t like it.”
The bouncer starts paying attention again. Even looks a little curious. “Why’s that.”
“You got kids?” Bat takes off her jacket and hands it to Mina, who folds it nicely.
“You maybe want to have kids someday?”
“Well, the thing I can do makes it real simple. It’ll take the option away.”
“And you’ll need to use a cane the rest of your life. And I hear you get pretty bad migraines.”
“Sounds serious,” the bouncer says, putting her book down, shifting her position so her feet are slightly wider apart than her hips.
“I don’t like doing it,” Bat sighs. “That’s the thing no one really talks about. When someone delivers a top-notch professional ass-kicking, it hurts the ass-kicker, too. Mentally, I mean. It’s tough to live with the knowledge that you can grind a person into, like, meat jelly.”
“I can only imagine.”
“So then maybe do us both a favor and let us by.”
“Sure,” the bouncer says. “Right after you tell me the password.”
And the two go at it, and it’s fast and ugly. They tangle up and immediately hit the floor, shoes squeaking on the tiles. Knees in eyes, fingernails in throats. Mina tries to help but accidentally kicks Bat in the head. A guy strolls in with strawberry ice cream in his beard, turns around and goes back out.
Bat tries to make up for her size disadvantage by being balls-out insane. She screeches and bites, then stops entirely once or twice, giving the bouncer a free turn and taking the pain, just to show she can. Things she would never do on a regular job but doesn’t hesitate to do now.
Because, despite everything, Batya will gladly, eagerly, tear herself apart for her sister.
This method works. Soon enough the bouncer understands that Bat’s not hired muscle, this is personal, and it’s only going to get messier. So she pins Bat to the floor and raises an open hand to say: Uncle, but you and I both know I’m being generous. Bat nods, grateful.
The bouncer gets to her feet and hauls Bat up like she’s a rag doll. “Go ahead,” she says, jabbing a thumb at the spiral staircase. “No girls allowed up there, by the way.”
“Excuse me?” Mina says, quickly gathering up Bat’s things.
“Men only event.”
“Ugh. What are they doing?”
“Wagering,” the bouncer says. “Just keep quiet and leave me out of it.”
“Thanks, sister,” Bat says, panting, eyes already blackening. “Maybe we get a drink sometime.”
“Sure, I know a place.”
As they head to the stairs, Mina turns and says, “What was the password? Was I close?”
The bouncer goes back to her paperback. “There ain’t no password.”
This has been Chapter 12 of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland.
Next up: Rye + Delirium