You Girls Look Horrid
Hang on, this entire story has taken place during ONE crazy night?
Previously: The outcome of the surgery battle is violently contested as hordes of men beat each other up. The sisters find the recipient of their delivery in the midst of this blood-soaked fracas and it turns out to be someone they know. Hm!
Batya and Mina are slouched in a booth in Clingingsmith’s, which was totaled in the aftermath of the surgery riot. The men took their rampage down into the ice cream parlor, where they knocked over stools and smashed glasses until they felt better, then paraded out into the blazing heat of The Pit for drunk food.
The floor is gummed up with smears of hot fudge and trampled maraschino cherries. Smoke from a burning waffle cone maker drifts up to the ceiling.
Margaret steals a three-gallon tub of pistachio and drops it on their table with a thud. “This one’s on me,” she says, and Bat presses her bruised face against its cool exterior.
Mina’s ticked. “So this whole job was just a sham?”
Margaret tucks her man-wig into her coat pocket, loosens her necktie. “I wanted to see if two Hull sisters were actually better than one. In a situation that wouldn’t upset me if you failed. Again.”
Bat sees her sister is about to get bristly so she steps in: “Did we pass?”
“You were a tad late. I believe the request said midnight tonight not one second later.”
“How late?” Mina asks.
Margaret takes out a pocket watch, clacks it open. “Seventy-three minutes.”
Bat cracks up. “Yikes.”
“Did you just pick the most annoying drop point you could think of?” Mina says.
“No, Miss Mina, I was heading here anyway and figured it’d be a suitable challenge. Hawthorne could use a better healthcare provider, so I wanted to check out this Dr. Manz. And I had some money riding on him. Which reminds me.” She flicks her wrist and a little blowgun slides out from her sleeve. “Get rid of this for me.”
Mina takes it, sniffs it. “You didn’t kill that old doctor, did you?”
“Of course not. It’s something Sal whipped up. Just made Vickers go numb for a titch.”
Mina pockets the blowgun (Bat knows she has zero intention of throwing it away) and says, “Well then, we square?”
“We are not,” Margaret says, slipping into her overcoat. “Before anything is square, I’ll need to see this little combo here do some real jobs.”
Bat, mouth full of ice cream, says, “I was just doing my brat sister a favor, ma’am. I ain’t looking for work.”
“Of course you are.”
Just then, Bat realizes that the pen Margaret put in her eye is the same one she used to write NICE and JOB.
“Also,” Margaret says, “I have a delivery coming up in a few days that’s very important. To me. And potentially very lucrative. To me. And I think you two would be perfect for it.”
“Why us?” Mina says.
“Because all the other couriers refuse to do it.”
“And why is that?”
“Because they’re terrified. And rightly so.” Margaret pulls on a pair of driving gloves. “You girls look horrid. Get some sleep. I’ll brief you tomorrow.”
“Can we get paid first?” Bat says.
“I don’t handle company cash, darling. Take it up with Agnes. But here.” She tosses a few dollar coins onto the table, then heads toward the door. “Go buy yourself a watch.”
Bat snatches the money, then gives her sister a good solid glare.
“Don’t even start,” Mina says.
“I’ll start as much as I wanna start. I’m not getting in bed with that one. Or you, for that matter. I have a big beautiful Mina-free life now. It’s so nice. It’s so relaxing.”
“Yeah? How’s it pay?”
Bat slumps back against the booth. “Squat-fifty an hour.”
“That’s what I thought. And word is you’ve got kneecappers hunting your kneecaps. What’s that all about?”
“I took out a loan,” Bat says. “A bad one.”
“Oh god. For what?”
“Doesn’t matter. What matters is I need to pay it back last week.”
“Who’d you go to?”
Bat mutters some syllables.
“I said the Hand.”
“The Hand!” Mina says. “That’s funny.”
“Actually it’s about the unfunniest thing I can think of.”
“Here’s what’s hilarious. Margaret’s been pushing hard to convince him to use Hawthorne as his go-to courier service.”
“Does she know we know him?”
“I kept that to myself. Anyway, last week he wanted an item delivered to him personally, and Margaret assigned it to me and told me to, quote, put the moves on him.”
“Gross. How would that even work?”
“I don’t know, I had a few ideas. But it’s moot anyway since the item got snatched by a competitor en route.”
“Someone we know?”
Mina shakes her head. “New to me. Real prick. And he was definitely not intimidated by this.” She scrabbles through her satchel and slams a huge hunting knife down onto a paper placemat.
“Mina! The dickens you doing with that?”
“I need something out there. But it didn’t scare the guy off. He took the item and I earned myself another failed delivery. The Hand now wants nothing to do with Margaret, and Margaret was finally done with me. So I did a little song and dance about how if my toughie sister had been there it all would’ve gone smooth—”
“Which it would’ve.”
“…and I said c’mon give me one more chance. And she did. And here we are, together again, back at it, putting smiles on faces, only seventy-three minutes late.”
“That is funny,” Bat says. “Also funny is how I’ve had zero say in any of this.”
“You can walk if you want,” Mina says. “And I’ll cry about it. But you’re a grown woman. Technically. I just thought you might want in on this. Hawthorne’s just getting warmed up. Steady pay, room and board, maybe a ladder to climb.”
“Oh so that’s why you cannonball’d me. It wasn’t some last-ditch move to save your own skin, it was because you wanted to help my career.”
“They can both be true.” Mina smiles, carves out a spoonful of ice cream. “You didn’t miss this?”
“Miss what.” Bat picks up a napkin and dabs at a bloody gash on her chin.
Mina gestures at herself, at the smoking ruins of Clingingsmith’s, then out the window at Fort Hook, the bad forest and the docks and the sea and the darkness.
Bat shrugs. “Maybe.”
“Please stay with me, Batya. I missed you so much.”
“Uh huh.” Bat yawns. She doesn’t need this. She doesn’t need anyone if you really want to know the truth. She is an extremely cool person.
The smoking waffle cones finally set off the fire alarm.
“Now it’s your turn to say you missed me!” Mina yells over the noise.
“I can’t hear you!” Bat says.
“Say you missed me!”
The napkin is stuck to Bat’s chin. She is not extremely cool. She feels teary and that makes her madder than anything. “OK fine, I did!”
“I missed you! God! Whatever!”
Mina nods, smug. She takes Bat’s hands, and then they put their foreheads together and whisper their ancient incantation into each other’s mouths: we did the job / and now we nap.
This concludes Part One of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland. Part Two will begin in October, but I’ll send you something nice in the interim.
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