5 min read

The Hot Pillow Joint

We hear the WHOOMF of a large fire igniting.

Previously: Mina cant believe Bat ran her own food truck during their time apart. Bat cant believe her new boss was all set to slit Minas throat for being a terrible employee. I cant believe this story hasnt been adapted into a profoundly mediocre Netflix show.

— 32 —

Bat and Mina’s next stop is the Threnody district, in particular the hot pillow joint that squats above a barber shop. There’s a sign out front that says The Oil Slick but nobody’s sure if that’s the name of the shop or the joint or both.

An ancient barber is sitting on a stump out front, smoking, watching girls go by. He takes one look at Bat’s hair and shakes his head. “Can’t do nothin with that.”

She gets up in his face. “This,” she says, “looks good, and doesn’t need anything done with it.”

“Then why you on my stoop?”

“Heard there was a mean old coot here who needed some manners beat into him.”

“If you think I’m too kindly to bust knuckles with a lady, you don’t know me too good.”

“I know enough to know you’re already dead, just too lazy to go to the boneyard and lie down.”

Mina says, “Batya, why are you threatening this frail codger?”

“Who’s frail?” the barber says, extinguishing his cigarette with his fingers and stashing it in his shirt pocket for later.

“You. Folks really pay you to get near their heads with a straight razor? With those trembling hands?”

“They do. Not much, but some.”

“We got a drop to make upstairs,” Bat informs him. “If you’re still here when we get back I’ll pop those dentures into your gullet for you.”

“I’ll be here long after you two harpies sass yourselves to death.”

The two harpies head up and find a row of numbered doors, each one more dilapidated than the last. Mina consults the job sheet, points at the fourth door down. “This one’s a favor for Margaret’s lawyer. He’s dealing with the will of a…says here he’s a, quote, wretched rakehell of the highest order. And the estate is an absolute god damn snake pit of petty grievances and unnecessary convolutions. So he’s asked us to visit the deceased’s son and give him his inheritance and deal with any, quote, unseemly repercussions.”

“Sounds like yet another one where they won’t be happy to see us,” Bat says, doing a couple squats. “I’m gonna kick the door open.”

“No,” Mina says. “Why.”

“Because I can’t remember the last time I kicked a door open and it’s one of life’s great pleasures.”

“Bat, this is not a door-kicking job. This is a be-sensitive job.”

“I promise the kick will be very sensitive.” She readies her dominant foot and leans back.

Just then the door opens and a meek, balding guy peers out, glasses propped up on his forehead. “Please don’t kick the door.”

Bat loses her balance and Mina says, “Are you Paulo Barretto the Fourth?”

“They call me Ivy.”

“Hello, Ivy. We have a delivery here from your family lawyer.”

Ivy looks deeply bewildered. “I have a family lawyer?”

“Yes, J. Radcliff, Esquire,” Mina says. “He’s our lawyer, too. I hear he’s…not completely disreputable. Anyhow, he’s handling the particulars of the late Paulo Barretto the Third’s final will and testament—”

“Wait, you’re telling me my father is dead?”

The sisters both get identical stricken looks on their faces. Mina says, “I…I’m sorry, didn’t you—”

“I apologize, I’m joshing. Just trying to lighten the mood.”

“Hilarious,” Mina says. “Well, one of your father’s last requests was to, uh, bequeath you this item.” She unbuckles her satchel.

“I wonder if it’s valuable,” Bat says, just to pass the time.

“Here we are.” Mina pulls out a locked wooden box and offers it to Ivy.

“I bet it’s valuable,” Bat says.

Ivy doesn’t move. “This is from Trey?”

“If that’s your father. The will stipulates that you need to open it now, here. We’ll act as official witnesses.”

“I’m a notary public,” Bat lies.

“It’s locked,” he says.

“Yes,” Mina says. “Radcliff said you should have the key.”

“The key,” he says.


The key.”

Bat, blueball’d from the interrupted door-kicking, is losing her patience. “Whatever key, friend, just open it so we can make tracks.”

Ivy looks like he’s considering throwing up. Instead he pats his pockets, then glances back into the dank room behind him. “Either of you have something sharp?”

“I have lots,” Bat says, taking the opportunity to also peer into his room. She spies a woman sitting on an utterly exhausted bed, wearing nothing but bifocals and reading the want ads.

Ivy turns back around, seeming to remember the sisters are there. “My father gave me a key. This was a long time ago. Forty, forty-five years. He told me to hang on to it, keep it safe until he asked for it back. He said he’d want it maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. But whenever the time came, he’d want it right then. Not stashed away somewhere. I had to have it ready to go no matter what.”

“You still have it?” Bat says.

“Do you have a pair of scissors or..?”

She takes out the shipwright’s recorder knife and hands it to him. “Don’t mind the blood, it’s mine. It’s elbow blood.”

He accepts the knife and rolls up a sleeve. “I lost track of the key once. It was just for a minute, but it kind of gave me anxiety for a few…well, for my entire life.”

“Your old man a flinty sort?” Bat asks.

“That’s one way to put it,” Ivy says, making a cut along a white scar near his wrist.

“Uh,” Mina says. “Let’s not do anything drastic.”

He hands the knife back to Bat. He digs his fingers inside the cut. He plucks something out from between the tendons. He drops it, bends down, scrabbles around for a moment, then stands back up holding a tiny key. He takes the box from Mina. He cleans off the key with his thumb. He inserts it into the box, turns it with a click. He opens the lid.

They all lean in to see. It’s a little scrap of paper, like a fortune cookie fortune.

Ivy stares at the paper for what feels like forty, forty-five years, then picks it up and reads it. He nods.

“What’s it say?” Bat asks.

“Bat, that is none of our business and against the courier code,” Mina says. “But I am on tenterhooks.”

“It says: What, you just do anything anyone tells you to do?

“Funny,” Bat says.

“Yes, he was a funny guy,” Ivy says, idly examining his bloody wrist. “And he always did love his little lessons.”

“Sorry for your loss,” Mina says, already turning to go.

“Thank you. It was so sudden. They’re still not sure how the fire started.”

Bat looks him over, sheathes the recorder. “Freak accident of some kind?”

“Tragic,” Ivy says, giving her a tight smile. “Just tragic.”


This has been Chapter 32 of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland.

Next up: A Hint of Sulfur