5 min read

The Hot Crimson Haze

Why is everyone wrecking you tonight?

Previously: We flash back to about a month ago when Batya was working in a food truck. A mysterious woman shows up and gives her a mysterious box to deliver, and then dies. (Non-mysteriously. Shot in the gut.)


— 27 —

Batya hugs Kuniko’s crumpled body. Suddenly so small and light. This woman, icy as they come, was nevertheless a friend. Well, as much a friend as you get in this line of work. And now she’s just someone else who’s gone. Someone else to not think about. Someone else who spoke their last words to Bat.

She’s heard so many last words.

She’s about to have one of her five-second cries when the truck is slammed by something large and heavy, knocking it on its side. Pork and skillets and cutlery and Kuniko go flying.

Bat finds herself sprawled out next to the hissing grill, her legs in the air. She’s frantic, rattled. She burns her arm as she gets her bearings, then hauls herself up through the shattered service window, cleaver in hand.

Squealing tires off to her left. An ambulance is barreling toward her for round two. She barely manages to fling herself out of the truck before the ambulance rams into it again. She smacks gracelessly against the pavement and her cleaver skitters off into the gutter.

The ambulance’s engine and the truck’s undercarriage are now permanently commingled. Guy behind the wheel hops out, blood flowing through his gaudy mustache. “Why, if it isn’t little Battery,” he says.

Bat, nauseated, shakily gets to her feet. She squints. Oh it’s this guy. She doesn’t know his real name but he goes by Vinnie Vinegar. Works for the utterly mediocre syndicate known as the Butterfly Boys. One of her many colleagues in the Fort Hook thug industry. He dresses kind of like a riverboat gambler: gentleman’s paisley vest, western bowtie. He sucks.

“You’re the worst ambulance driver I ever seen,” she says.

“Some do-gooder called the paramedics for your friend,” he says. “But I knew she wouldn’t need ‘em. It was too late. So I commandeered the vehicle for my own purposes.”

“You the hussy that shot her?”

He does a fancy sort of bow that Bat finds deeply irritating. “And yet she still managed to do a number on my dangly baubles and give me the slip.”

“Finally some good news,” Bat says. “She do that to your face, too?”

He withdraws a lace handkerchief from his vest pocket and timidly dabs at his broken nose. “No, I reckon the collision with your truck did that.”

Bat glances at the wreckage but looks away before it makes her burst into tears. “I did a lot of things I really didn’t want to do to pay for that truck.”

“My condolences. I was improvising.”

“Were you also improvising when you murdered a fellow goon?”

“I was doing my job. Your confederate stole something my employer wants.”

“So cut a deal! What about the code? What would your hideous mother think?”

Vinnie resets his nose with a sickening crack. “I’m afraid we haven’t spoken in a while. She is a cantankerous old lass.”

“Yeah I know all about her moods, seeing as I give her the bone every Wednesday night.”

“It is kind of you to attend to the needs of the elderly.” He produces a pistol from deep within his pantaloons. “I shall endeavor to reconcile with her, after you hand over that ring box.”

“Don’t know what you’re on about,” Bat says, feeling that old diabolical frisson boil up. “Kuniko bled to death before she could tell me what’s what. Her last words were: Do me a favor and finish the job on Vinnie’s stupid balls.”

He raises his gun but she’s already on him. The loss of both Kuniko and her truck has knocked her right into berserker mode.

It is too terrible to describe.

Then the hot crimson haze fades from her throbbing skull and Vinnie Vinegar is down on the cobblestones where he belongs. Breathing funny but otherwise mum.

A paramedic peeks out from behind a trio of garbage cans there at the far end of the street. “It over?”

“Yeah,” Bat says, panting, disgusted with herself. Couldn’t even go one whole week without getting someone’s blood on her.

The paramedic comes over, looks at the totaled ambulance in dismay, then kneels down to study Vinnie. “You tuned him up pretty nice.”

“He’ll be all right. Woulda made a bad father anyway.”

“My partner turned tail as soon as this one flashed his piece,” the paramedic says, scanning the dark boulevard, now devoid of hungry drunks. “I guess I’ll have to drag him to the ER myself.”

“There’s a dolly in my truck,” Bat says. “If you can salvage it, it’s—”

Then another car slams into her truck. This time some kind of metal flake roadster. Bat can’t believe her god damn eyes.

The driver perches herself atop the bench seats. She says, “Looking for Kuniko.”

Bat’s having trouble gathering the shattered fragments of her feelings into coherent language, but eventually manages to howl this: “Why is everyone wrecking me tonight?”

The driver snaps her fingers. “Focus, darling. Kuniko.”

Bat tears herself away from her poor truck to see what exactly is talking at her. Some snooty-looking dame. Leopard coat, bright red moue. Bat gives her a look that I’m going to go ahead and describe as dank viscid loathing. “Oh I am very focused, sister,” she says. “I’m focused on tearing the skeleton out of your body and flushing it down the nearest john.”

“Missy, there is no need for—”

“Kuniko is in there,” Bat says, jabbing a finger at the smoking debris. “Dead. Killed by that stain on the ground behind me. Take a gander if you want to see what happens to people who run into my truck.”

“I see it.” The dame pulls a cigarette from a fancy copper case, taps it, takes like three days to light it, really makes a meal of the whole thing. Eventually: “You have the box?”

Bat’s not a particularly inventive liar, nor is she good at playing angles. That’s Mina’s modus. “Yeah I got the box.”

“Where’d she want you to take it?”

“None of your business but Sunshower.”

Pelotudo,” she spits. “Give it to me, I’ll pay you double.”

“Double zero is zero.”

“Huh. Never known a goon to do a job gratis.”

“Kuniko’s dying wish, what do you want. I ain’t a monster.”

“Tell that to the stain over there.”

“Tell it yourself.”

The dame flicks her cigarette into the street, sits back down and puts the car in gear. “Hop in.”

Bat, flabbergasted, turns to look at the paramedic, who’s taking Vinnie’s vitals. He shrugs. She turns back to the dame. “Why the hell would I ever hop in?”

“Because I’m going to buy you a drink. And you need a ride because your truck is dead.”

“I can buy my own drinks.”

“I doubt that. Let’s go, sweetheart. I want to tell you how that little box ruined my life and what you’re going to do about it.”

⚓︎

This has been Chapter 27 of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland.

Next up: A Thick Slice of Baloney